I drove back to the mansion and parked the Cadillac out front. I couldn’t go in the house after the build-up I’d given my confrontation with Navarro. I was still sitting in the car when Gerald came out to see what was going on. “Is everything alright, Rick?”
“No, Gerald. Nothing is alright.” I dragged myself out of the Caddy and trudged up the steps. I tried to sneak upstairs until I could figure out where I’d gone wrong but Alma was in the living room and she called to me. I forced myself to join her and collapsed into a chair.
“You weren’t gone long. How did everything go?” I sat and didn’t make a sound. “Rick? Hello, are you there? Rick, what’s wrong?”
“Everything,” I answered. “Everything I’ve been thinking, all the Navarro’s and Cortez’s I’ve been chasing, it’s all wrong.”
“Santiago Navarro is dead.”
“What?!” she cried.
“Dead,” I repeated. “I don’t know where I went wrong, but I sure as hell did.”
“Where do you go now?”
I shrugged my shoulders. I searched for the right words, hoping that I wouldn’t leave Alma wondering why she’d hired me. Right now I wasn’t doing any better than the police. “I have to go back to the beginning and start over. I missed a step somewhere.”
We sat there while I did my best to get my shit together. After a few minutes I was ready to begin again, but I couldn’t do it here. Too many distractions. “Gerald, please bring my car around.” I looked over at Alma. “I’m going back to the office. I’ll be in touch.” I got up and headed for the front door. Gerald had put the Caddy away and brought my little RAV4 around. “Thanks,” I told him as I passed him on the stairs. In just a minute the Toyota was headed toward the office.
I tried to go over the facts while I drove, but I couldn’t keep things straight. I needed Eddie in the worst way. I saw things nobody else did, but Eddie put them in logical order. I was hoping Robin could help. When I got to the office I parked and went inside. Robin was just hanging up on a phone call. I tried my new approach. “Hi, how are you?”
“I’m fine. What do you want?” She saw right through my new approach.
“I need your help.”
“What kind of help?”
“I’ve run into a brick wall and I’ve got to start over. There’s something I’ve missed, something I’m not seeing, and I need somebody to point me in the right direction.”
She stared at me for about ten seconds before she shook her head. “I’m not the right person. But I know who is.”
“Who? And don’t say Eddie.”
“Sean,” she said firmly.
“Sean? Who’s Sean?” I asked, totally confused.
“Sean Donahue, silly.” Like I was supposed to know that.
“I don’t even know him, Robin. Why would he want to help me?”
“Because he was Eddie’s friend, just like you were, and he wants to know what happened as much as you do. And the police aren’t doing a damn thing about any of it.”
I thought about it for about a minute. “Would you call him for me?”
She nodded and I almost kissed her. I hoped he would say yes – he might be a cop, but he was a bright cop. And I could use that right now.
I walked into my office and sat down at my desk. Eddie’s computer was still sitting there. I booted it up and started looking for Billy Flatbush. I hadn’t gotten very far before Robin came in. “He’ll be here when he gets off at three.”
“Thank you,” I told her. She looked at me, skeptically. “What? I really mean that. Thank you.”
“Is there anything I can help with?”
It wouldn’t hurt for me to run everything past her, and it might help. “Have you got time to sit down and listen?”
“I do,” she answered and gave me her brightest smile.
“Alright. It started . . . “ and for the next hour I told her everything I could think of, including the visits to Uncle Carlos, the attempts on junior’s life, a brief history of the Cortez family, a brief history of the Navarro family, and why Eddie was with Sergeant Cortez on the night they were killed. Then I explained everything about Alma and Gerald, the mansion and its history, and the big surprise Ramon Luis handed me just that morning. When I finished, Robin was staring out my window. “Any thoughts?” I asked.
“Where do you start?” she asked me quietly.
“First I thing I have to figure out is how Eddie and Juan got killed. Not blown up in a failed raid on a drug den . . . I know that’s what happened. But I need to know just who was responsible – Colin Murphy or Billy Flatbush.”
“I can give you an answer about that,” a male voice responded. I looked up from Robin to the man standing in the doorway. I almost didn’t recognize him. Sean Donahue looked a lot different out of uniform. He wore jeans and a polo shirt, and his gun was in a holster on his belt . . . just the way I wore mine. If I didn’t know better I never would have taken him for a cop.
“What do you know that I don’t?” I asked as I waved him to a chair.
“It was a hit, alright, but it was Colin Murphy that blew everything up, not Billy Flatbush. Every once in a while the force does something right, whether they mean to or not. Murphy got stopped for a busted taillight, and by the time they were finished with him he’d confessed. He was after the Sarge – as far as he was concerned, Eddie was only a happy accident.”
“Happy accident my ass,” I spit out.
“I’m just telling you what Murphy said. If I had my way, I‘d put my hands around his throat and choke the life out of him. But that’s not the way the police operate.”
I was beginning to like Donahue. “You sound just like Eddie and I did when we quit the FBI.”
“We talked about that. We had a lot of things in common.” That seemed to be as far as he was going to go.
“Did you know Santiago Navarro was killed at eighteen?” I asked him.
“I heard that. Him and an unknown party were drag racing on Sunset, and Santiago crashed and burned.”
“I thought he was behind Flatbush. Shows you just how wrong I can be,” I was curious to see what Donahue would answer.
“Eddie used to tell me about the things you saw that nobody else did. The little stuff that would crack a case wide open. I was amazed at some of the items you pointed out to him.”
I nodded. “Yeah, but he’d take what I saw and string it all together. That’s what I’m missing now.”
“Why don’t you tell me what you have, and maybe I can see where you made the wrong turn?”
“Alright, I’ll tell you what I told Robin. It started . . . “ and I went through everything with Sean that I’d told Robin. When I was finished he gave me two or three ideas, things that I’d missed. He wasn’t Eddie, but it was sure better than beating my head against a wall. Somewhere during that long afternoon I concluded that Sean Donahue was alright.
I drove back to the mansion, running come of the things Sean had pointed out through my head, and I began to have an idea. I was going to have to do some quiet digging, but at least I was looking in a different direction.
Alma was waiting for me in the living room. “You left so suddenly. Is everything alright? Did you find something out?”
“Let’s just say I have some ideas. I have to investigate before I say anything.” She probably wasn’t satisfied with that answer, but it was the only one I was willing to give her. I turned around and headed upstairs. I had a lot of computer work to do before I could go any further.
By dinnertime I’d set some wheels in motion. I’d requested a lot of information from several different banks, I’d probed Alma’s lawyer Fred Walton’s files, and I did a deep dive into Alma’s family history. That was enough for this afternoon, and I went back downstairs to have dinner with my employer. I felt lighter, somehow, because I knew that Billy Flatbush hadn’t killed Eddie. The drive to murder the murderer was no longer there, and I just wanted to catch him and put him in prison forever for the hurt he’d already caused. Alma didn’t have much to say but she didn’t seem upset; junior had eaten earlier and his mother and I had a pleasant meal. “Will you join me in the living room for coffee, or do you have more work to do?” Alma questioned me.
“Coffee in the living room sounds good,” I told her, and Gerald followed us with a silver tray holding the coffee pot and two cups. He poured and gave one to Alma and one to me.
“You seem calmer than you did before.”
I took a swallow of coffee before I answered her. “I am. I found out that Flatbush didn’t kill my partner.”
“Oh? What happened?”
“It was the drug dealer, Colin Murphy. He was after Sergeant Cortez, and Eddie was there at the wrong time.”
“That must ease your mind somewhat,” she almost sounded disappointed.
“It does, since I know Murphy’s in prison. They’re gonna try him for first-degree and second-degree murder. Don’t worry; he’s already admitted what he’s done. He’ll never see the outside world again. At least you can have some peace about Juan’s death.”
“Thank you for telling me. It didn’t make any sense to me – why someone would be after my children and Juan, too. Unless it was some crackpot that thought because they all had the same last name . . . “
“I’m sorry about Juan. He was a good cop.” I meant it, too. Juan Cortez was a straight shooter, and he never shared any information that he shouldn’t have shared. I was sure the police would have promoted Donahue to Lieutenant after Juan died, but for some reason they didn’t. Maybe that was the motivation for Donahue’s disgruntled sounding remarks to me earlier about the police. And maybe I had just imagined things.
“He loved being a police officer,” Alma explained. “Ever since he was a little boy that’s the only thing he wanted to be.”
“Tell me more about Juan.”
We sat there for about thirty minutes while Alma filled me in on Sergeant Juan Cortez’s life. It was a real shame that Murphy was such a sleaze. Juan and Eddie should both be alive.
“I need something to cheer me up,” Alma told me. “How about we go see a comedy?”
“Got any films in mind?” I asked her.
“Yes. Late Night with Emma Thompson.”
“Sounds good to me.” I offered her my arm. “Shall we go?”
“Yes, sir.” And she finally smiled at me.