When I got back to the mansion, Mrs. Cortez was still awake, but she was in what might be called a living room. It was the biggest damn room I’ve ever seen, and she was ensconced on one of the long, luxurious couches. Still all in black, but it was a dressing gown worn under a black robe. I don’t know how much she was grieving, but she was certainly playing the part. I took my bag up to my room and laid it on the bed. Junior’s door was closed. I went back downstairs to talk to the matriarch herself and that’s when I noticed the brandy snifter and two glasses sitting on the coffee table. I don’t think they were there when I first came in.
“Did Lonnie give you a report on the gunshot today?” I asked her.
“He did. Pour us both a brandy, would you, Richard?”
I did as asked and handed her glass to her. She took it and drained it in one swallow. “Now pour me a glassful.” I had no idea Mama Cortez was a two-fisted drinker. I’d remember that for future reference.
The second glass was more to her liking, and I poured myself one, then sat in a chair next to the couch. “Did he also tell you he tried to slip away from me after class, and if I’d been any slower you’d be planning another funeral?”
“No, he didn’t bother to tell me that part. What happened?” she asked in a calm voice.
“He tried to lose me after Political Science. I tackled him in the hall before the shooter could get off a round.”
“Was it Flatbush?”
I shook my head. I was still mad that Lonnie had tried to get rid of me. “I don’t know for sure. He fired a shot just after I tackled your son and I couldn’t see who it was. I assume it was Billy. And after you made such a pretty speech about him not trying to ditch me.”
Alma took another swallow of her brandy before she said anything. “What do you want me to do about it?”
“Nothing. I don’t think Lonnie thought the threat was real until someone shot at him. We’ll see what he does from now on.” At least, I was hoping the shot had put the fear of the Lord into him.
“What’s your next move?” Alma asked.
I finished my brandy and put the glass down. “For now, I’m going out to see what your backyard is like.”
Alma laughed. “I’ll tell Gerald not to call the police.”
“I’d appreciate that.”
I got up and went back to the front door. Making sure it was locked (Alma had given me a key earlier in the day), I headed east and followed the long path down to the corner of the house. There I turned south, looking in bushes and clumps of trees, places where someone could easily hide. The house went on forever. You could have put the Staples Center inside of it.
Finally I turned west again, prowling around the pool area and checking the cabana’s set up for our aquatic friends. I enjoy swimming, but I prefer it be a little more private, if you know what I mean. I went all the way down to the end of the house, where I encountered a tool shed. It was locked and needed a key to open; the lock looked brand new and didn’t appear ever to have been tampered with. One last turn when I got to the corner and I was headed back to the front door, all safe and sound. I unlocked the door and went in, locking it behind me. The lights were off in the living room, and I went up the stairs to my “bedroom.” Someone had unpacked my suitcase and hung my clothes in the closet, then turned down the bed. I could get used to living like this, I thought, and you better not immediately followed.
I took my gun out of my shoulder holster and slipped it under my pillow, then I took off my coat and hung it up. Might as well stay neat. By the time I was down to my underwear, I stopped and slipped between the sheets. They weren’t silk, but they were the softest cotton I’ve ever felt. They probably cost more than I make in a month.
I started thinking about all the things I needed to tell Robin, and when I had a list as long as my arm, I fell asleep. I’m a light sleeper, but nothing disturbed me this night.
I was up by 6, found the guest bathroom and took a shower and shave, and went back to my room to get dressed. I was in something more casual today, jeans and a shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and a windbreaker to conceal my shoulder holster. I went downstairs and was rather surprised to find ‘madam’ in the dining room drinking coffee. “You’re up early,” I told her as I sat down at the table.
“So are you,” she replied, and I poured myself a cup and refilled hers. “Do you eat breakfast?”
“When it’s available,” I told her. There was no doubt in my mind it would soon be available; I figured I might as well get one meal today, I probably wouldn’t get another.
“Scrambled eggs or a Mexican omelet?” Gerald had appeared out of nowhere and was waiting for our answer.
“Omelet,” I answered.
“Make it two,” Alma ordered. “Did you talk about plans for today with Lonnie?”
“No. I was lucky to find out what he was doing yesterday. How late does he sleep?”
“Until around ten. But then he was in early last night, so he could appear at any time.”
As if by magic, junior walked into the dining room. He seemed startled to see me. “Are you still here?”
“Get used to it, kid. I’m gonna be around until we catch Billy Flatbush – or whoever’s trying to plug holes in you,” I told him. His upper lip curled and he was well on his way to a sneer until his mother told him to sit down and shut up.
“You’re a bright boy, Lonnie. What do you think the word bodyguard means?” Alma asked him.
“Alright, I get it. What’s for breakfast?” he asked as a maid came in with the food.
The omelets looked glorious. They were stuffed to the rafters with cheese, sausage, peppers, onion, tomatoes, and whatever else the cook found in the kitchen. And the food was accompanied by hash brown potatoes. Another maid brought us each a toasted Bagel with cream cheese. I was going to have to run around the house several times to work it off. Junior stared at the food enviously.
“Scrambled eggs or omelets,” his mother told him.
“Can’t I have his?” he asked, pointing to my plate.
“No, you may not. Richard was here for breakfast. You came late. Tell Minnie what you want.”
Lonnie looked at my food again, then at Minnie. “I’ll have the omelet, Minnie.”
Minnie nodded and hurried out of the room. I picked up the coffee pot and filled Alma’s cup, then junior’s, then mine. Alma smiled at me. She really was an attractive woman when she smiled. “Thank you,” she told me as I replaced the pot.
“You’re welcome,” I answered out of habit. “What’s on the schedule today, Lonnie?”
“Janelle Milton is coming over today at ten and we’re cramming all day for an exam in two days,” he told me.
“You’re not leaving the house?” I asked, just to be sure.
“No, I’m not leaving the house. We’ll be studying until four or five.”
“Alright, I’m going to the office for a while. And then I’m going to see if I can dig up Flatbush. I’ll be back before five. Don’t go anywhere until I come back. Got it?” Junior nodded as Minnie reappeared with his breakfast. “If you need anything call my private number,” I told Alma as she looked at her phone.
“Is that the 4289 number?” Alma asked me.
“Yes. 424-275-6890 is the office. I’ll always pick up 4289. Robin usually answers 6890.”
“Unless you’re lying dead somewhere,” Junior threw in, just to be funny. At least that’s the way I took it.
“That’s not going to happen,” I replied sternly.
“Lonnie!” Alma sounded very unhappy. In fact she was in Mrs. Cortez mode when she chastised him.
“Sorry,” Lonnie mumbled.
I finished my coffee and stood up. I’d eaten about half of the omelet and most of the hash browns. I hadn’t touched the bagel. “Sorry, that was a lot of food.”
“I’ll remember that for dinner,” Alma told me.
“Alright, I’ll be back later. Don’t let anybody in except whatever her name is.”
Alma smiled at me, junior didn’t even look up. He was too busy inhaling his breakfast. I left and made sure the door was locked, then went around to the garage and fired up the Mustang. She wasn’t as young as she used to be, but she still looked sharp and purred like a kitten. I had a garage man that took care of her. Whatever she needed, she got.
Forty-five minutes later I got to the office. I walked in looking through the mail to see if there was anything interesting. “Advertisements and bills. Is that all we get?” I asked to no one in particular.
Robin answered me. “No, sometimes we get coupons for dry cleaning. Speaking of which, I picked yours up before I got to work today. It’s on your door.”
“Thank you. Did you remember to write it on your expense report? Which you were supposed to turn in to me last Friday.”
“Sorry. We were a little busy last Friday,” she said in a hushed voice. Last Friday was Eddie’s funeral. Damn, I’d forgotten already.
“This Friday is fine.” I tried to sneak out of the front office but I heard her call me.
“Rick. We should talk.”
I looked at Robin with a sudden lump in my throat. “I know. But I can’t do that until I’ve caught Billy Flatbush.”
“Caught him or killed him?”
I flopped down into the chair next to her desk. “Does it matter?” I asked quietly. I was serious. I really wanted to know how she felt.
“No, I guess it doesn’t. As long as you’re okay with whatever happens, then I am, too.” I got back up out of the chair and stood next to her when she said that.
“That’s my girl,” I told her as I patted her shoulder.
I went into my office and sat down. Everything looked the same as it had a week ago, but nothing felt the same. I picked up the phone and called Sergeant Donahue. “Donahue, this is Simon. What did you get from the crime scene yesterday?
“We got a shell casing that matched the one we found where Manny Cortez was shot.”
“So it’s definitely Flatbush we’re looking for?”
“I’d say so.”
“Look, Sarge, I know you and Eddie were friends. I hope we can have the same kind of relationship that you had with my partner.”
“That’s gonna take time,” the Sergeant told me.
“I’ve got plenty of that. Keep me in the loop, would you? Junior’s sitting at home today, so I’m at the office cleaning up some things.”
“Alright. Say hello to Robin for me, would you?”
“Will do,” I told him, and I hung up the phone. Was I the only one that wasn’t friends with Donahue? It sure sounded that way. I shook it off and picked up the phone again. I hated cell phones and used the office phone as often as I could.
This time I called Benny. We used Benny when we needed to know something on the street. He was usually reliable. “Benny, this is Rick Simon. What have you heard about Billy Flatbush?”
“Nothin’ good, Ricky. He’s got a contract on the Cortez kids, and he’s lookin’ to take you out, too.”
“Who gave him the contract?”
“Nobody seems to know. Honest, I been diggin’ because a what happened to Eddie, and I’ve come up dry so far.”
“Keep looking for me, Benny. You know there’s a C-note with your name on it if you find out.”
“I’m tryin’, Ricky, I’m tryin.’”
Nothing. Everybody had nothing. I threw a pencil across the room and in a few seconds I had Robin standing at my door. “What did you throw?” she asked.
“It wasn’t anything breakable.” I was prone to throwing things when I got frustrated. Usually something expensive.
“Good, that’s an improvement.” She sat down on my couch. “What’s bothering you, Rick?”
“Nothing. Everybody’s got nothing. When is somebody going to have something?”
“You have to give it time.” Those were words I didn’t want to hear.
“Eddie doesn’t have any more time.”
“No, but you do. You’ve got all the time it takes.”
I might have all the time it takes, but I didn’t have the patience. “I’ve gotta find this guy, Robin. I can’t let him get away with it.”
“With the Cortez murders or with Eddie’s?”
It was a good question, and I had to be honest. “I don’t know. Both, maybe. Junior’s nothing to write home about, but Alma’s a nice lady, and he’s all she’s got left. As for Eddie . . . “ I picked up the glass ashtray I kept on my desk to remind me that I didn’t smoke anymore. Robin was quicker than I was and she reached across the desk and took it out of my hand. I sighed with frustration.
“You’ve got to find a better way to untie the knots, Mr. Simon,” she told me.
“You’re right, Miss Short. When you find one please tell me what it is.”
She slapped my hand, replaced the ashtray on my desk, and went back out front. Like I said before, sometimes I needed a mommy.