Ramon Luis Navarro
“But if Carlos’s father talked him out of killing Navarro, why didn’t he do the same with Eduardo?”
“Eduardo was wild; he did what he wanted and didn’t answer to anybody, even his father. The only one he seemed to have any affection for was Carlos.”
“Do you know what Santino did?”
“Sort of; Mateo had a history of the Cortez family written. It’s in my office. He asked me not to read it, said it was too brutal. Do you want to see it when we get home?”
Junior spoke up. “It is too brutal.”
“You’ve read it?” Alma asked, aghast.
“Last year. I’d heard all sorts of rumors about the family, and I wanted to know the truth.”
“What happened to Eduardo?” I asked.
“He died almost ten years ago,” Lonnie answered.
“How?” I questioned.
We were still in the limo and I was glad I was sitting down. After I was sure we’d reached a dead-end, trusting an old man’s memory, I’d been almost blown out of the water with the amount of information I’d received in the last twenty minutes. Now I had to read the Cortez family history and check with Robin to see if she’d found any information on Santiago Navarro. And just to be safe, on Nicolás and Valentina. I pulled out the dreaded cell phone and called the office. “Simon Private Investigations,” she purred into the phone.
“When did you start answering the phone that way?” I asked.
“Last Monday. Are you mad?”
“Nope, just surprised. I guess it had to happen sometime. Talk to me about Santiago Navarro.”
“I’d love to, but the only thing I can tell you is I can’t find him.”
“What about Nicolás and Valentina?”
“Them I have information on. Are you coming by the office?”
“I wasn’t going to, but I guess I should. I’ll be there in about,” I checked my watch, “forty-five minutes. Don’t eat lunch.”
“Because I’m taking you to lunch.” I wasn’t hungry, but I could stand a quesadilla and another Bloody Mary.
“Who is this really?”
“Your sorry-assed boss. I don’t want to drink by myself.”
“I knew there had to be a reason.”
“Alright, I’ll be on my way soon.”
“Drive carefully, Rick.”
“I’ve already wrecked a car this week. One per week, that’s my limit.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
We’d just arrived back at the mansion and I hopped out of the car. Gerald assisted Alma and then came back down the steps with my keys in his hand. “Let me take the Rolls back to the garage and I’ll bring your car back.”
I almost laughed. I don’t think Gerald could bring himself to say, “Toyota.”
“Sure.” He was back in less than five minutes and he left the motor running. “Thanks, Gerald. Tell Alma I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”
He nodded and started up the stairs. I put the RAV4 in gear and took off, towards my office.
Robin was true to her word. She came out the front door and locked it behind her, then got in my car. She looked particularly nice today, and I told her so. “Stop, stop, I can’t stand any more of the new Rick Simon.”
“Better get used to it. I’m tired of being a curmudgeon.”
“You weren’t a curmudgeon. You were just . . . edgy.”
“Yeah, an edgy curmudgeon.”
Robin burst out laughing. “Where are you taking me?”
“El Torito. Can you stand that?”
“Sure I can. You know I love their salad and quesadilla combo.”
I didn’t tell her it was Eddie who remembered things like that. “Did you bring the data on the Navarro’s?”
We were stopped at a light and she handed me two pieces of paper, folded in half. I slipped them inside my coat, where they’d be safe until I could get them back to the mansion. “And nothing on Santiago?”
“Nothing since he was seventeen years old.”
“What was there before that?”
“Petty things. Shoplifting, joy riding, assault, possession of Marijuana. That kind of petty thing.”
“And there were no arrests or convictions since then?” I pressed her.
“Not a one. I couldn’t find anything about him at all. He seems to have fallen off the face of the earth.”
“But no report of death?”
Robin shook her head and her long blonde hair swung back and forth. “Nope, not unless he was buried without notifying anybody.”
“Thank you, Artie Johnson.”
“You’ve been watching reruns of Laugh-In, haven’t you?” She was addicted to those programs.
She blushed and didn’t answer just as I pulled into the parking lot at El Torito. I went around to open her door and, as I reached for the handle, I heard a single gunshot. A piece of concrete flew up and hit me in the cheek. “Stay down,” I ordered. Now, there are a lot of criminals mad at me for one thing or another, but there’s only one that’s threatened to kill me. Billy Flatbush. I hadn’t seen anyone following us, so I have no idea where he came from. I pulled my gun and shot in the direction I thought the bullet had come from, but there was no returning fire. There was, however, a siren. Here we go again.
It took almost two hours to get everything straightened out. Every time I had to use my gun it took forever to convince the police who I was, that I had a concealed carry permit, and that I’d been shot at. While we were waiting for my identity to be verified I could feel something wet running down my cheek. “Give me your handkerchief,” Robin ordered, and proceeded to wipe blood off my face.
At last I heard the magic words. “Alright, Simon, we’re done here.” I took Robin’s arm and guided her inside the restaurant.
“Two for lunch?” the hostess asked.
“Yes,” Robin and I said at the same time. Once we were seated I asked, “Are you alright?”
“Sure, I watch you get shot at every day. No, I’m not. Do you think it was Flatbush?”
I nodded and wiped more blood from my cheek. “Who else? What do you want to drink?”
When the waitress came I ordered a Marguerite and a Bloody Mary, spicy. When the drinks arrived, Robin ordered the salad and quesadilla combo. “Make it two,” I told the waitress. Then I took my cell phone out of my jacket and called Alma. “I’ve had some trouble but everything’s fine. I’ll be longer than I thought. Sure.”
“Checking in with Mommy?” Robin asked me.
“Just letting the client know when I’ll be back.”
“I sure wish you were staying at your apartment. You’re easier to keep track of.”
“Sorry. This is a necessity; you know that,” I reminded her.
“I just . . . I’m lonely, in the office by myself.”
“I wish I could be there to keep you company.”
“It’ll be better when you get a new partner.”
That stopped me in my tracks. A new partner – I hadn’t thought about getting a new partner; I already had a partner. I might find somebody else to work with, but I didn’t think I’d ever have another partner. Robin must have seen something in my face, because she tried desperately to do some backpedaling. “I mean when we get somebody else in the office.”
Lunch came and I buried myself in it, saving my companion any further embarrassment. I knew she hadn’t meant anything by the remark, and she was right – I was gonna need somebody else to work with. I had no idea how to find that person, but I guess I’d figure it out when the time came. But now wasn’t the time, any more than it was the time to sit down and have the talk I’d been promising Robin. I had a psycho trying to kill me and junior, and I needed to figure out who had hired him. If I was really lucky I might be able to persuade them to call him off.
We ate in relative silence, Robin chattering on about everything going on at the office – none of which I needed to know. When we were finished I paid the check and we walked to the door. “You stay here and I’ll bring the car.” I ran outside, retrieved the car, and then drove it up to the restaurant’s front door to pick up Robin. There was no sign of Flatbush. Still, I breathed easier when she was strapped into her seat.
I let her out at the door to the office and waited until she was inside before I parked the car. I sprinted to the front door and got inside without further incident. “I’m going to call Benny,” I announced before I went to my office.
I was in luck, Benny answered on the third ring. “Benny, it’s Rick. Have you had any luck locating Santiago Navarro?”
“Not a bit, Rick. As far as the world is concerned, the man doesn’t even exist.”
“Damn,” I said under my breath. “Okay, call me right away if you hear anything.”
“Will do, Rick.”
Everything I discovered led me to a dead end. A man doesn’t just fall off the face of the earth after he turns eighteen. My computer was at the Cortez house, so I went into Eddie’s office to borrow his. It was dark in there, even with the light on, and I opened the blinds to let in some sunlight. The office looked just like it had when Eddie left it the night he died. I shook my head to clear out the cobwebs and found his computer on his desk. I picked it up and took it with me, leaving the blinds open.
I knew all his passwords, so I had it opened and functioning in just a minute. Then I started prowling around all the places I might find somebody that didn’t want to be found. No luck. Robin was right; Santiago really had vanished. I still had one more card to play. I called Bankers Trust and asked to speak to the President. When his secretary tried to get rid of me, I said the magic words. “Tell him it’s about his brother Santiago and the Cortez family.” In something under a minute I was speaking to Ramon Luis Navarro.
“Who is this?” he asked impatiently.
“My name’s Rick Simon, Mr. Navarro. I was hired by Mrs. Alma Cortez to protect her youngest son from an assassin named Billy Flatbush.”
“What has that got to do with me?”
“I believe the assassin was hired by your brother, Santiago.” It was a longshot, I will admit that, but it was a risk worth taking. There was a long moment of silence on the other end before anything more was said.
“What do you want from me?” Navarro asked.
“I want a meeting with you, and I want to talk about Santiago and Santino. How about ten o’clock tomorrow, in your office?”
“Fine,” he said at last, and hung up on the call.
Now I had to hurry back to the mansion and spend another night reading.