“What happened to your cheek?” was the first thing Alma asked me when I got back to the mansion.
“I was hit by shrapnel,” I told her.
“Do you want me to put something on it?”
“No, ma’am. Can I see the book Mateo had written about your family?”
“Certainly. Are you alright?”
“I am. I’ve got a meeting tomorrow at ten with the bank president. To talk to him about his missing brother, Santiago.” I took the book she handed me. Thank God it wasn’t that thick. “I’m going upstairs to read this. If I finish it I’ll be back later.”
I ran up the stairs and settled in on my bed. It didn’t take long to find out what had happened to Ramon Navarro, Senior. He was run through with a pitchfork, and before he died, he was decapitated. Supposedly this was payback for something even more horrible that Santino Navarro had done when he was trying to run the Cortez family out of the bootlegging business. There was no hint of what Santino’s crime was, only that the Cortez family was devastated by it.
Eduardo Cortez was named as the murderer, but he was never arrested and charged. I read another hundred pages but discovered nothing further that I could use tomorrow. There were so many Navarro’s and Cortez’s in the book that I was having a hard time keeping track of them. I looked at my watch. It was seven o’clock and I was suddenly hungry. I got up and went downstairs to find that Alma and junior had just sat down to dinner. Alma smiled at me and told me, “You’re just in time. We set a place for you in case.”
We ate in relative peace, then Alma and I took our coffee into the living room. Junior went back upstairs, and I wondered if he always spent this much time in his room. Once we were seated I began to explain what happened today. “The bullet went astray and caught a piece of the parking lot. That’s what got me in the face.”
“And then the police showed up,” Alma remarked. “Too late to do anything about it.”
“Like they always do,” I added. That wasn’t quite true, but close enough.
“What now?” she asked. “The meeting with Ramon Luis?”
“Exactly. I’m going to confront him with the fact that Eduardo Cortez murdered Ramon Navarro, Sr., Luis’s grandfather, and that he was never brought to justice by the police. Then I have the information that his brother, Santiago, disappeared after he turned eighteen and hasn’t been heard from since. Santiago is probably responsible for hiring the assassin. With any luck I can get Luis to call his brother off. If he won’t, I’ll go to the police with the information.”
“But you don’t have any proof for any of that. It’s all conjecture.”
“Luis doesn’t know that. I’m sure I can make a convincing case against Santiago.”
Alma looked at me, skeptically. “Do you really think that will work?”
“I don’t know, but it’s the best chance I’ve got.”
“I guess all I can do is wish you luck,” she told me.
“Thanks. I’ll take it.”
I was up early the next day and listened to part of my stomach grumbling for food while the rest of it just churned in ways I didn’t want it to. I did my usual morning routine, but I wore the suit and tie I’d brought with me when I got dressed. I grabbed my briefcase and went downstairs. Alma was sitting at the dining room table drinking coffee and looking glum. I sat down and poured myself a cup. “Breakfast?” she asked.
“No, ma’am. I don’t think my insides would take anything else this morning.”
When Minnie came in to see what we wanted, Alma just shook her head. I guess her stomach was doing the same kind of flip-flops mine was doing. “What time is your appointment?”
“How long do you think you’ll be there?”
“I have no idea,” I told her. “I guess it depends on how hard it is to convince Luis of his brother’s guilt.”
“I want you to drive the Cadillac this morning.”
“Why?” I was curious.
“I want him to know you’re successful and not some slimy investigator looking to make a fast buck.”
“Right now I don’t care what he thinks of me, as long as he believes me.”
It must have been important to her, because she asked me pleadingly, “Please.”
“Alright, if it means that much to you.”
Gerald came by and filled both our coffee cups before I could get to it. I looked up at the tall, graying butler and told him, “Thank you.” He nodded back at me. We sat there for another thirty minutes, drinking coffee and talking before junior came downstairs. He looked at the empty table and went straight to the kitchen. When he returned he had a plateful of scrambled eggs and biscuits.
“You’ll love this,” he told me. “The test on Monday’s been postponed.”
“Really? That’s a shame,” and I gave him my best sorrowful look.
“Yeah, I thought you’d enjoy that.”
I looked at my watch. Time to go. “Gerald, could you bring the Cadillac around?” I asked.
He nodded and disappeared. I finished my coffee and stood up. “I’ll hold a good thought,” Alma said.
“You do that.” I touched her on the shoulder as I went past her, and she reached up and squeezed my hand.
Gerald got out of the Cadillac and left the motor running. “Good luck, sir,” he told me, and I gave him the thumbs up.
It was nine forty-five as I pulled into the Bankers Trust parking lot. I rode the elevator up to the ninth floor and almost immediately came face-to-face with Navarro’s secretary. “I’m here to see Mr. Navarro,” I told her.
“I’m sorry, he’s not seeing anyone today.”
I handed her my business card. “He’ll see me.”
She was gone four or five minutes, and I thought I’d been abandoned. The door to his office was massive and heavy looking. I wasn’t excited by the thought of trying to force my way inside. Finally she came out of Navarro’s office. “Come in, please.” I went through the door and made sure it closed behind me.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what I got. Navarro was short and on the chubby side; he looked like he ate too much of his wife’s cooking. Dark brown hair, almost black, and dark steely looking eyes. “Me. Navarro, I’m Rick Simon. We spoke briefly yesterday.” I offered my hand to shake and he ignored me.
“I know who you are. What is it you want?”
“I want to talk to you about the murder of your grandfather, and the vendetta someone has been carrying out against the Cortez family.”
“Yes, they have been rather cruelly decimated, haven’t they? What does that have to do with me?”
“The youngest of the family, twenty-year-old Lonnie, is being stalked by an assassin named Billy Flatbush,” I paused to see what he’d have to say next.
“And you have an older brother named Santiago who was in trouble when he was a teenager. He hasn’t been seen or heard from since he was eighteen. We believe he’s the man that contracted the assassin to murder all the Cortez children. I’m here to convince you to contact him and put a halt to the vendetta.”
We sat there for almost five minutes while Navarro studied me. Finally he looked right at me and told me, “We have nothing to talk about, Mr. Simon. I suggest you leave.”
“Mr. Navarro . . . “
“That’s final, Simon. Get out.”
I threw the last card at him I had. “If you won’t help me I’ll have to take this information to the police.”
With one little sentence, Navarro stuck a pin in every balloon I had. “I couldn’t talk to Santiago if I wanted to. He was killed when he was eighteen.”