I finally remembered to pass along Donahue’s greetings to Robin. She smiled and said nothing, so I knew if there was anything more there I wasn’t going to hear it from her. I piddled around and cleared up a few small things at the office, and then I decided to take matters into my own hands. An action that usually gets me in trouble, but I was tired of waiting. I told Robin I’d call in later but I’d see her tomorrow, and I left to see what I could stir up on my own.
I stopped first at Jimmie’s, a dive bar down on 85th street that Billy was known to frequent on occasion. I’d known the bartender for a long time, and the best he could do was give me a warning. “All I heard was he had a contract on the Cortez family and he’s tired of you doggin’ him. You know how he gets.” Yeah, I knew how he gets. That wasn’t anything new. My next stop was Tiny’s, another of Flatbush’s favorite places. I heard the same thing there. Then on to the Kitty Kat Club. It was like an old broken record. Flatbush was after the Cortez family, with a side of Simon. Finally I stopped at Set ’Em Up Joe’s, and I heard something new. The contract was from an old enemy . . . but they didn’t know who. An old enemy, huh? I needed to see Alma Cortez, and hope she had knowledge that would lead me somewhere. I was tired of chasing my tail.
I got back in my car and drove back to the Cortez house. Gerald informed me that madam was napping and didn’t wish to be disturbed. I went upstairs to junior’s room; the door was closed and there was a lot of giggling going on inside. At least I knew somebody in this house was happy. Temporarily stymied, I went next door to my room to brood.
I paced the floor for a while, going over everything to make sure there wasn’t something I’d overlooked. Then I decided to go back outside and check the grounds in the light of day. It was still extraordinarily hot outside, but I was used to it by now. I walked the perimeter, getting a better feel for the house and its surroundings, and found myself once again facing the pool. Going over to the other side of it, I looked up at the house. Junior’s room was highly visible, and he and a girl were standing in the window kissing. Where was the best spot to take a shot at that window? One of the cabanas lined up perfectly, and for just a moment I thought I saw movement there. Convinced I was seeing things, I turned my back and started to walk away. I hadn’t gone three steps when I heard the click and dashed back to the cabana, trying to draw my gun as I ran.
There was no time to do anything but knock the long-range rifle down as he fired, the bullet hitting the inside of the pool. Flatbush yelled something unintelligible and we struggled back and forth for a few minutes. I finally got my weapon out and I thought I had him, but he hit me with an uppercut that sent me and my gun flying. By the time I recovered both my weapon and my senses, Flatbush was gone. I struggled to look at Lonnie’s bedroom . . . he was still visible in the window. Grabbing hold of the cabana pole, I pulled myself to my feet and held on for dear life. I was still feeling the after-effects of the punch. Once I could stand without trying to fall over, I made my way to the back door and struggled to find the key. Before I could the door swung open, and I almost collapsed in Gerald’s outstretched arms. “Are you alright, Mr. Simon?”
“I will be, Gerald. Just give me a minute.” The room was an eat-in kitchen, with a table and chairs in the middle of the room. I lunged for one of the chairs and dropped onto the seat. Flatbush had hit me harder than I thought.
“Do you need some water?”
“No.” Probably three or four minutes passed while I sat there, and when I got up I headed straight for junior’s room. The door was still closed and I pounded on it rather indelicately. “Lonnie, open up!”
It took some seconds for him to get to the door and I was just about to pound on it again when he pulled it open. “What do you want?”
“Come with me. I want to show you something.” I grabbed him by the elbow and marched him over to the window, right past his little ‘study partner,’ who was lurking in the vicinity of where we were headed. “What do you see down there?” I asked him as I pointed towards the pool.
“The pool and the cabanas,” he answered weakly.
“I was just down there. Do you know what I saw? I saw you, clearly standing in the direct line of fire from the cabana. Do you know why you’re not dead right now? Because I happened to be down there when Billy Flatbush decided to shoot you. Your pool was shot instead and mortally wounded. Don’t you have better sense than that?”
“Is that all you’ve got to say?”
“I didn’t think . . . “
“That’s just it, you didn’t think,” I interrupted him. “If you keep going the way you’re going now it’s only a matter of time before your mama is standing at your gravesite weeping. And she doesn’t deserve that. Stay away from windows. Is that clear enough for you?”
I marched back out of his bedroom and slammed the door behind me. I went back into my room and looked for something to throw. Fortunately there were a lot of pillows in the room.
My jaw was really doing a number on me, so I went looking for some aspirin and a glass. There were both in the guest bathroom. I swallowed three of the aspirin and drank a water chaser. I felt like Billy hit me with a tire iron. Lying down for a while seemed like a good idea, so I did just that. In just a few minutes I was asleep.
I don’t know how long I slept, but I awoke with a start when I realized someone was standing in my doorway. I blinked two or three times and saw that it was Gerald, the butler. “Are you coming down for supper, sir?”
“Is it that time already?” I asked like an idiot. No, Rick, Gerald’s just here to annoy you. “Yes, I’m coming down.” I got up from the bed and actually felt better. The aspirin had a chance to work and my jaw didn’t hurt near as much. I was steady on my feet, too. “Thank you, Gerald.”
“You’re most welcome, sir.”
I followed Gerald down the stairs to the dining room. Alma was already seated, and Lonnie sat on her right hand. “Sorry I’m late. I fell asleep.”
“Yes, Gerald was quite concerned about you. Do you want to tell me what happened? Lonnie seems to be strangely silent about it.”
“We had a, uh, misunderstanding.”
“Did the misunderstanding put a hole in the pool?”
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, it did.”
“Do we need to have a talk after supper?” Alma persisted.
“I think that would be a lovely idea,” I answered pleasantly.
Minnie brought in a platter of prime rib and a bowl of mashed potatoes. Another maid followed her in with the au jus and broccoli. Water and coffee were already on the table. I was closest to the prime rib and I picked up the platter and held it for Alma. After she had taken what she wanted I set it down and took a piece myself. Alma had started on the mashed potatoes and she passed the bowl to me. We repeated this scenario for the au just and the broccoli. Junior never said a word, just waited his turn.
When supper was finished junior high-tailed it back upstairs; he probably figured he was safer up there. Alma adjourned to the living room and I followed her. I couldn’t help but notice that the dressing gown she wore was a soft peach color. No more black? I wondered. At least for the time being.
We got situated – she on the couch and me in a chair, and Gerald brought in a silver tray with the brandy snifter and two glasses. This time the glasses were after-dinner-drink size, and not water glasses like the night before. I poured and we settled in with our brandy.
“Alright, what did Lonnie do?” The tone was that of a concerned mother; nothing else.
My anger had dissipated and I answered calmly. “He did his level best to get himself killed. Do you want details?”
Her lips compressed into a thin red line. “Yes.”
“I came back early and decided I needed to see the grounds in daylight. I walked around the back to the far side of the pool and thought I saw something in one of the cabanas. By the time I realized it was a long-range rifle aimed right at your son, who was standing in the window for God and everyone else to see, I jumped for it. It was Flatbush. We fought for a few minutes and then he hit me with an uppercut that felt like he was using brass knuckles. His gun fired – that’s what shot the pool. My gun and I were disabled. By the time I knew what was happening, Flatbush was gone. I staggered in thru the back door and practically fell over Gerald.”
“Is there more that you haven’t told me?” I didn’t like the look I saw on her face and I hesitated to tell her the rest.
“Uh, yes, and I’m not proud of it.”
“I want to hear it all, please.”
“I made Lonnie open the door and I dragged him over to the window and made him aware of the direct line from the cabana to his window. Then I told him I could see him from the cabana, and he’d be dead if I hadn’t been nosing around on the grounds. I told him to stay away from windows. Then I left.”
“Is that all?” she asked once again.
“No. I went back to my room, took some aspirin and laid down. That’s it. I’m sorry I yelled at Junior.”
“Sorry that you yelled at him? You should have turned him over your knee and spanked him. I might still do it.” She took a sip of brandy. “Are you injured? Do you need a doctor?”
“I’ve got a sore jaw, but nothing I haven’t dealt with before. And no, I don’t need a doctor. But thank you.” Both our glasses were empty, so I refilled them. “I think I scared the bejesus out of him. What are you going to do?”
“Could you see what he was doing in the window?” The concerned mother’s tone was back.
“Not clearly, no.” I had no intention of telling her. That was Lonnie’s question to answer.
She picked up the phone and dialed. “Lonnie. Come down here. Yes, now.”
When Lonnie arrived he still looked like a whipped puppy. “Sit down, son,” Alma told him gently. Maybe she thought he’d been beaten up enough for one day, or maybe it was just instinct that he’d take it better if she didn’t yell. “Are you aware that Rick saved your life this afternoon, again?”
“So he says.” There was still some of the defiant teenager left in the boy.
“What were you doing in the window?”
“You mean he didn’t tell you?” Lonnie cast a glance at me. I wondered if this was how he treated every adult, or if there was some particular aspect of Rick Simon that he couldn’t stand.
“No, he didn’t. Why don’t you?”
I caught another glance from junior, but this one was a lot less hostile. “I was trying to read a map, and the light was a lot brighter over there.” He lied so smoothly, I almost believed him.
“You can’t stand in windows, Lonnie. I’ve already lost your brothers and sister. I can’t lose you, too. Please, listen to Rick. He’s trying to keep you alive.”
“I will, Mother.” Lonnie looked over at me with something that resembled respect, and offered me his hand to shake. “Sorry. I’ll be more careful.”
I don’t know if he was sincere or he was just blowing smoke up my ass, but I shook his hand. I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt, for now, at least. “Is that all?” he asked his mother.
I waited until Lonnie had gone back upstairs before I brought up what I’d heard earlier in the day. “Alma, did the Cortez family have any old enemies? I mean back in the bootlegging days? Any that you might have heard stories about?”
“Why do you ask, Richard?” There was a slightly surprised look on Alma’s face.
“Before I came back here today I spent some time digging. The only thing I heard of any interest was this was all set in motion by an old enemy. Did the family have any of those?”
She was quiet for a minute, as if thinking. When she finally spoke it was in a hushed tone of voice. “I’m not the person to ask. We need to go see Uncle Carlos.”
“You have an Uncle Carlos?” I asked stupidly.
“We do. He’s in a retirement home, where he can receive the care he needs. He’s the one to ask.”
“Do you think he’ll know anything?”
“If anyone does, it’s Uncle Carlos. The question is, will he remember it.”
I knew right away what she meant, and I could only hope that the memory of the old man was sound. “Can we visit him tomorrow?”
“I’ll make arrangements. Around ten is the best time. I assume you want Lonnie to remain at home until we return.”
I nodded slowly. “Yes, it’s best if he does.”
“Alright. I’ll be ready by nine-thirty.”
Having received my dismissal for the night, I went up to my room and got ready for bed. I took two more aspirins before I got between the sheets. I wasn’t sure if I would sleep or not, but, just like last night, I had no trouble drifting off.