His Father’s Eyes – Snippet 22
“That includes your reporter friend.”
My hackles went up. He was talking about Billie. Who the hell was he to be dragging my personal life into our professional arrangement?
“My friend is none of your damn business,” I said, none too wisely. “And when I say I won’t tell anyone, I mean just that. Discretion is part of my job, and I’m here because you know how good I am at what I do.”
“Your confidence pleases me, Jay,” Amaya said, looking and sounding more pissed than pleased. “Because I’m counting on you to get me the information I want. I’m paying you a good deal of money, and I expect results from that investment. As Luis will tell you, I don’t take disappointment well.”
“Are you threatening me?”
“Not you alone. Your father, your girlfriend, your ex-partner.”
At least he was honest.
“On the other hand, if you meet or, better yet, exceed my expectations, you’ll find that I can be a valuable friend.”
I held out my hand. He stared back at me, holding my gaze for several seconds before setting the check on my palm. I folded it and tucked it in my wallet.
“I’d like regular progress reports.”
“I’ll be in touch when I have information for you.”
His smile was reflexive. “Fine.” He pulled a business card from his shirt pocket and wrote a number on the back of it. “That’s my private cell number. You can always reach me that way.”
I slipped the card into my wallet beside the check and crossed the room back toward the front door. “Thanks for the beer,” I said over my shoulder.
Luis, Rolon, and Paco scrambled to their feet as I passed them and followed me to the door.
I didn’t say a word until we were back in the lowrider and pulling out of the driveway.
“He’s a piece of work, Luis.”
He swivelled in the front seat with a rustle of cloth on leather. “And you’re fucking loco talking to him like that. You think you’re invincible or something? You think you’re fucking superman?”
“I didn’t say anything that would make him want to kill me,” I said, hoping it was true. “But he’s got some nerve threatening Billie and my Dad that way. And threatening a cop? That’s pretty loco, too, don’t you think?”
“It’s only loco if you can’t back it up.”
It was a point worth considering.
“Seriously, Jay. Amaya went easy on you today, and he’s not the evil bastard that he’s made out to be in the media. But he’ll kill you if you cross him. He does business with the Mexican and Colombian cartels. All of them. You don’t screw around with somebody like that.”
I nodded and stared out the window. Luis was right. I needed to be more careful, for Billie and my Dad if not for myself.
“You ever played around with dark magic?” I asked.
Luis glanced at Paco and then at Rolon before turning his dark eyes back on me. “Yeah, a little. A long time ago. You?”
I shook my head. “I was always afraid to. Watching my Dad go nuts was bad enough; I always figured that the dark stuff would send me over the edge sooner.”
Luis gave a small shrug. “I don’t know. Seems to me that part of the attraction is that some of the rules don’t hold for the darker stuff. It might be that they can find a way around the phasings, and keep themselves sane.”
“Jacinto wouldn’t like that you were talking that way, mi amigo,” Paco said.
“Well, Jacinto isn’t going to hear, is he?”
They dropped me back at my place a short time later, and to my surprise gave me back both my Glock and the magazine they’d taken from it. The fire in the Western sky had nearly burned itself out, and the first stars shone brightly in a velvet sky.
I still planned to go out to Wofford again. I couldn’t remember the last time I had arrived at my father’s trailer so late in the evening, but I had promised him that I would be back, and on the off chance that he remembered, I didn’t want to worry him. More to the point, I wanted to make sure he was all right, especially now after speaking to Amaya.
I grabbed a change of clothes and some toiletries, hopped in the Z-ster, and started out toward his trailer. Along the way, I called Billie, so that she wouldn’t worry either.
“You’re alive,” she said upon answering.
“It sounds like you’re driving.”
“I am. I’ll be spending the night at my Dad’s. But if you’ve got time tomorrow, I’d like to see you. We can try lunch again, maybe.”
“I’d like that,” she said, her voice warming.
We made our plans and said goodnight, and I drove the rest of the way to the trailer in silence, thinking about Jacinto Amaya, Mando Rafael Vargas, and Regina Witcombe, and wondering what the hell I’d gotten myself into. A part of me would have liked the chance to question Vargas. I didn’t expect that he knew much about dark magic, but I was an admirer of his work, and I knew that Billie would be impressed. I also knew, though, that the Feds and the PPD were not about to let a PI anywhere near the man. And Amaya would have told me to concentrate on Witcombe.
Upon reaching my father’s place, these other thoughts fled my mind. My Dad was still outside, sitting where I’d left him, his damn binoculars still resting in his lap. The trailer was dark; the only light came from the dull orange glow of the distant city lights and the gibbous moon hanging in the eastern sky.
As soon as I got out of the car, I heard him muttering to himself. I was able to see his outline in the dim light, but not his face. I could tell, though, that he was still flinching.
I walked to where he sat and kissed his forehead. His skin was as cool as the desert night air. He fell silent and looked up at me.
“It’s me. Justis.”
“I told you if you came you’d make it easier for them to find you.”
“Yeah I remember. You should be inside.” I took hold of his arm, intending to help him up. But he jerked it out of my grasp with a motion that was quicker and more powerful than I would have thought possible.
“I don’t want to go inside. It’s too damn hot in there. It’s cooler out here. The burning doesn’t bother me so much. The rest is as bad. But it’s cool.”
“All right,” I said. I grabbed the other chair, unfolded it, and set it next to his. “Do you want anything?” I asked before sitting. “Are you hungry?”
I laughed. “You had ice cream for lunch. You need some real food.”
A smile crossed his face and I knew a moment of relief so profound it brought tears to my eyes.
“Did I really?” Recognition glimmered in his eyes. “You were here today.”
“Right. That was when you warned me not to come back.”
He nodded, the smile slipping. “I remember. It’s not Tuesday.”
“No. What can I fix you? Are those steaks still in there? The ones I brought the other day?”
“Steak sounds good.”
The increasingly rare moments when my Dad was cogent were to be treasured. These past few weeks had made that much clear to me. I needed to treat each lucid moment as if it might be the last; I was glad I’d made the drive out here this evening.
I went inside and pulled from the refrigerator the New York strips I’d brought him on Tuesday. I rubbed them with salt, pepper, and garlic and poured some Worcestershire over them, then stuck them in the broiler. I also sliced up a tomato and put salt and pepper on that. I brought the tomato out to him, along with a beer, and settled down next to him.
He ate the tomato in about a minute — I managed to salvage one slice for myself. He didn’t argue when I took the plate and went back inside to slice another for him. Whatever was going on with him was making him ravenous. Either that, or he was eating so infrequently that he was starving himself. After a few minutes I flipped the steaks. When I came back out, he was sipping his beer.
“Can you tell me more about what’s been happening to you?” I asked him, sitting once more.
“It’s the damn brands. Burning, burning, burning, burning, burning, burning. So many burns.” He held out his arms again, spilling a little beer, wincing once, twice, a third time. “They won’t stop. And then they do, but they start up again, and I can’t make them go away. They won’t listen when I tell them that I don’t matter.”
I let out a breath through my teeth, taking care to do it silently, so that he wouldn’t hear. Two clear minutes. And now he was gone again.
I got up without a word and went back in to check on the steaks again. Even inside, I could hear him and I could make out what he was muttering to himself.
“. . . You’re wasting time with me, damnit. I’m nothing. Ow. I’m not a stone or a mirror or clear water for you to see your goddamned portents. I’m nothing. I’m husk.
“You leave her alone, you hear me? Just leave her be. She did nothing to you. And the boy is not for you either, no matter what you might think. So go away. Ow. Go! Go, damn you! You can take me down to the Cottonwoods, and you can light every damn one of them on fire, and you can leave me in the middle of it, let me burn until my skin peels away, but it’s not going to do you a damn bit of good. You won’t have her or him, and you won’t kill me. You won’t. Ow! Shit! No you goddamn will not!” He paused, and after a few seconds I heard the beer bottle clink lightly on his chair. “You don’t like that, do you, you little fuckers? Well, good. I’m not as helpless as you thought, and I’m not here for you to play your little games. I might not matter, but I’m not helpless, not yet.”