I always loved going to the Department of Vital Records. It made Eddie crazy every time he came down here.
Mrs. Murphy was at the window today. “May I help you?”
“I need a birth certificate for Ramon Luis Navarro, born October 6, 1970.”
“Are you a relative of Mr. Navarro’s?” Once upon a time you had to be a relative to get a birth certificate. No more.
“No, Mrs. Murphy. They changed that law a long time ago.”
“Oh, that’s right. Ramon Luis . . . “
“Navarro. Born October 6, 1970.”
It took her almost twenty minutes to find the right one, but when she came back with it I paid the $5.00 fee and took my birth certificate to the nearest counter. It should have the information I needed on it.
Mother – Luisa Montoya Navarro dob April 23, 1946 Father – Ramon Navarro, Jr. dob May 14, 1944
I went right back to the window. Mrs. Murphy appeared, looking confused. “Weren’t you just here, young man?”
“Yes, I was, Mrs. Murphy. But I need another birth certificate.”
“A different one? Who this time?” She still looked confused. I have a habit of doing that to people.
“Ramon Navarro, Jr., born May 14, 1944.”
Another twenty-minute wait. Another $5.00 fee. Back to the same counter. Once again I found what I was looking for.
Mother – Bonita Sierra Navarro dob June 9, 1910 Father – Ramon Navarro dob July 17, 1909
There was my man, the original Ramon. One more trip to the window. Mrs. Murphy was back. “Goodness. What do you want now?”
“This is the last one, Mrs. Murphy. Ramon Navarro, born July 19, 1909.”
She must have sent somebody else to search for this one, because it was Mrs. Clark that came back with empty hands. “Hello, Rick. Sorry, there’s no birth certificate. It must have been improperly filed.”
“Nothing? Nothing at all?”
Mrs. Clark gave me a sorrowful look. “That’s all I can tell you. Did you need anything else?”
“No, ma’am. That will do it for today. Thanks.” I double-checked just to make sure I had the first two certificates and walked away.
I looked at my watch. It was five o’clock, and traffic would make it almost impossible to get to the library now. I decided I’d go tomorrow morning instead, and went back to my car. At last I felt like I was getting somewhere.
I drove back to the Cortez mansion. Gerald met me at the front door, and told me madam was having cocktails in the living room. “What would you like, sir?”
“Do you have any iced tea, Gerald? “ He looked the way Mrs. Murphy had looked earlier, confused, so I clarified. “Real iced tea, not the alcoholic beverage.”
“I’m sure we do, sir. Do you want anything in it?”
“Nope, just straight tea. Thanks. I’ll be in with Mrs. Cortez.”
I wandered into the living room to find Alma reading the paper. “Richard, you’re back. Was your trip successful?”
“I think so. Take a look at this,” and I handed her the birth certificates. She took her time looking them over and handed them back to me when she was finished.
“So there really was a Ramon Navarro.”
I nodded my head, trying not to get excited. “Ramon Navarro Senior, Ramon Navarro Junior, and the current Navarro, Ramon Luis. President of Bankers Trust, born in 1970. Ramon Navarro Senior would be the one your Uncle Carlos was talking about.”
“Have you found anything about him?” she asked me, and picked up her Martini glass. I saw the olives and assumed it was vodka. That meant she’d probably been drinking all day, yet she sounded perfectly sober.
“Not yet. I was going to the library but it got to be too late. I thought I’d better come back here and find out what Lonnie’s schedule was for classes tomorrow. I’ll work around that and get to the library when I can.”
“I never can remember. You can ask him at dinner, which should be ready soon.”
“Are you alright?” I asked, pointing at the Martini glass.
“Oh, that? Just a before dinner cocktail.”
Right at that moment Gerald entered with a tall glass of iced tea. I took it from him and said, “Thank you.”
“And what about you?” She pointed at my glass.
“That’s iced tea. You know, the drink you make with tea bags and a tea kettle?” She looked as if she didn’t believe me. “Go ahead and taste it,” I said, handing her the glass. She took a swallow and made a face. “I don’t lie, Alma.”
“That is tea. Yuck! How can you drink it like that?”
Gerald appeared and announced, “Dinner is served.” I followed Alma towards the dining room and we were almost run over by Lonnie barreling down the stairs.
“When do you have classes tomorrow?” I asked him.
“I don’t have anything until Political Science at three-thirty.”
“I’ll meet you here at three. Don’t leave without me,” I warned him.
“I won’t,” he answered. “I don’t want any more lectures.”
“Good. There’s hope for you yet.”
After dinner the three of us went out to the enclosed porch and sat and talked. We touched on a lot of subjects, and I found myself changing my opinion of junior. Once you got rid of the attitude he was bright and funny, and had some interesting ideas. Alma and I relaxed, and eventually, Gerald brought the brandy snifter and glasses. The sun had gone done by that time and it had cooled off outside, making it easier to keep the porch cool. Finally junior went back upstairs and it was just Alma and me. She told me what she knew about the bootlegging days and wove some fascinating tales. Before it got too late we broke up the party and I left for bed, after telling Alma I would see her at breakfast.
I lay in bed and couldn’t sleep; I found myself thinking about Eddie. All the things we did together . . . I didn’t have anybody to do them with anymore. More importantly, I’d lost my best friend, somebody that I bounced all my crazy ideas off at work, my partner. I knew eventually I was going to find another person to work with, but there would never be another Eddie. Sometime during my ruminating over everything that had happened, I fell asleep.
The next morning I showered, shaved and dressed, then went downstairs to see if there was any coffee. There was, but there was no Alma yet. I poured a cup and wandered into the living room, looking out the windows at the grounds around the mansion. “It’s a lovely view, isn’t it?” Alma’s voice asked.
I turned around and smiled. “Good morning. Coffee’s ready.”
“I need a cup, after we sat up and talked last night. Let’s go to the dining room.”
When we got there I pulled out a chair for her. Minnie came in and asked if French Toast and bacon was good for both of us, and we gave it two thumbs up. I poured Alma’s coffee and we discussed our schedules for the morning. I was going to the library; Alma had a meeting to attend. Breakfast came and we ate in silence; halfway through, junior showed up.
“Are you still here?” he asked, laughing. What a change in attitude from the first day I arrived!
“Only until I’m done with breakfast,” I told him. “Remember, stay away from windows and don’t leave this afternoon without me.”
Almost thirty minutes later I was in the Mustang driving to downtown Los Angele. It had cooled off somewhat, and the poor car wasn’t straining to try and keep ahead of the heat. I found a parking space and headed inside, paying attention to my surroundings and everyone I could see. I didn’t want to be surprised by Flatbush like I had been at the cabana.
There are times you just can’t find exactly what you’re looking for on the internet, and I expected this to be one of them. I doubt if anyone was interested in Navarro Senior besides me. I went through the first encyclopedia and found nothing besides his date of birth and date of death. I’d just finished writing down the date of death before I realized something that could be important – January 12, 1944. That meant he died before Ramon Junior was born. And he was only thirty-four years old.
I went through three more encyclopedias and found the same thing – date of birth and date of death. One of them finally referenced a book called The Birth and Death of Bootlegging. I went looking for it and found it in the True Crime section of the library. Inside was the card that listed the dates the book was checked out. The last date was February 2, 2019. I sat down with the book and found the index. There was a listing for Navarro, Ramon, page 73. I turned to that page, immediately.
There wasn’t much, but what was there was a gold mine. Reading it slowly, I went through it three times before striding to the courtesy desk to check it out. You would have bet I didn’t even have a library card, wouldn’t you? While there I asked if I could find out who had checked out the book last. I pulled out my P.I. license and flashed it just long enough that no one was sure what it said. For all anyone knew, I could be FBI “It might take me a few minutes,” The librarian told me.
“Take all the time you need,” I replied.
Less than five minutes later the librarian came back and handed me a slip of paper. On it was written Delores Navarro – February 2, 2019. I checked out the book and returned to the Mustang, heading it once again towards the Department of Vital records. I hoped Mrs. Murphy was off today.