Three Little Mice and One Big Rat
“You were right,” I told Alma two hours later. “The movie was good.”
“Has anything come to you yet?” she asked me.
“No, but the nagging feeling hasn’t gone away.”
“Maybe it would help if we went over everything. Out loud, I mean.”
“I’m game if you’re game.” I was willing to give anything a try at this point. Now was when I needed Eddie the most. We’d always been able to bounce things off each other and one or the other of us would figure out what we were missing. Damn it, Eddie, why’d you have to go on that raid with Juan?
“Back to the living room.” Gerald appeared out of nowhere. “Gerald, bring us some brandy.”
I settled into a comfortable chair opposite the couch Alma was getting situated on; Gerald brought in the brandy and left, closing the doors behind him. Alms put her glasses back on and I started. “Ramon Navarro, Sr., born July 17, 1909. Married Bonita Sierra January 1, 1943. Died January 12, 1944. Son Ramon Navarro, Jr., born May 14, 1944. Married Luisa Montoya July 6, 1968, Son, Ramon Luis Navarro, born October 6, 1970.” I stopped to take a drink. “See what I mean? It’s a straight line from Senior to Junior to Luis. It’s too easy.”
“Did Junior have any other children?” Alma asked me.
That thought hadn’t occurred to me. See what I meant about missing Eddie? “I don’t know. I was so busy following the Ramon’s I forgot to check. Do you have a computer?”
“In the office.”
I got up and left the living room, going straight to Alma’s office. Her computer was already on, and I searched for Ramon Navarro, Jr. Not only did he have Luis, he had Santiago, Nicolás, and Valentina. I had more digging to do, and I didn’t want to leave a trail on Alma’s computer. I’d go to the office in the morning and research the other kids. I cleared the internet search on the computer and hurried back to the living room. “You’re brilliant. He had three more. I’m going to the office in the morning.”
“After I take you to Enterprise.”
“Of course. I don’t want you to think I’m an idiot; I’m just so used to having Eddie to bounce things off. And he’s not here anymore. It’s like I lost half of my brain.”
She nodded slowly. “I know. I always went to Diego when I had a problem I couldn’t solve, and he’d help me find the answer. It’s not easy when the person you relied on most is gone.”
“No, it’s not.”
“We still don’t know how Ramon Sr. died.”
I agreed. “It has to have something to do with the Cortez family. But what happened exactly I haven’t been able to unearth as of yet. If I keep running into brick walls we may have to go see Uncle Carlos again.”
“Just let me know, and I’ll make arrangements.”
“I better get this worked out this weekend. I’ve got to be with Lonnie on Monday for his test,” I reminded her.
“I’ve had enough for one day,” Alma told me. “I’m going to bed.”
I agreed wholeheartedly. “That sounds like an excellent idea. I’ll walk upstairs with you.”
We went up the staircase a lot slower than Lonnie came down it. I started to go one way and Alma the other at the top when she stopped me. “Goodnight, Rick, and thank you.” She stood on tiptoes and kissed me on the cheek.
“What was that for?” I asked.
“For being such a good man. Sleep well.”
“You, too, Alma.”
I wasn’t a good man. Not when push came to shove. If I was, I wouldn’t want to put a bullet into Billy Flatbush so badly. But it was alright if Alma thought I was.
I was up at seven the next morning and followed my usual routine. Shower, shave, get dressed, go downstairs. There was a coffee pot and two cups on the table, but no sign of Alma. I sat down and poured myself a cup and waited for the lady of the house to arrive. She showed up some fifteen minutes later; I helped her into her chair and poured her a cup of coffee. “How was your night?” I asked.
“Restful. And yours?”
“Peaceful. No nightmares.” That was always a plus, when I could get through an entire night without some kind of monster attacking me in my dreams.
“Do you want breakfast?” she asked me.
“It’s up to you. I’m not in any frantic rush, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Gerald, have Minnie make waffles.”
Alma had hit my weak spot. I can eat waffles anytime, anywhere. I must have lit up like a Christmas tree, because Alma looked at me and smiled.
“You like waffles?”
“I love waffles,” I told her. “I remember my mother making waffles when I was little. They were so good, and I never got enough of them.”
“Is your mother still alive?”
I shook my head. “No. She died in 2001.”
“I’m sorry. Do you have any siblings?”
“No, again. I was an only child.”
“Ah, then it all makes sense.” I must have given her a quizzical look, because she told me, ”Eddie was the brother you never had.”
“Yes.” Minnie interrupted us with two plates full of waffles, and I was glad for the interruption. Alma was too damn close to the truth. And I wasn’t here for psychoanalysis.
We dawdled a little over breakfast, with me steering the conversation away from my home life or Eddie. After the third cup of coffee I finally said, “Well, I’m ready to go. How about you?” Alma nodded agreement and Gerald went to get her Ferrari. I might not want to drive it, but I sure didn’t mind riding in it.
Alma took me to the nearest Enterprise Rent-A-Car and waited to make sure everything was in order. Walton had arranged it and all I had to do was show a driver’s license, sign my name and pick my car. I chose a snappy little Toyota RAV4; Alma left for home and I left for the office.
I deliberately parked right by the front door. For some reason I wanted Robin to see that I had gotten a rental. “Hey, boss,” was all she had to say when I walked in.
“No remarks about my car?” I asked.
She shook her head. “Nice ride.” I never will understand that woman.
I went to my office and booted up my computer. In just a few minutes I had what little information I could find about Santiago, Nicolás and Valentina. Junior must have been married before, because Santiago was born in 1966. Nicolás followed Luis, born in 1972, and Valentina was the baby, born in 1974. Nicolás was a Vice-President at Bankers Trust, working for his brother. Valentina worked as a Claims Adjuster for MassMutual Life Insurance Company. There was nothing about Santiago.
Just as I finished, Robin appeared in my doorway. She had a piece of something in her hand, and it wasn’t making her happy. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“We got another invoice for Eddie’s car.” Eddie had leased a Mercedes, and we turned the car in almost three weeks ago. Because of the circumstances, the lease was voided and we were told the account was settled and closed. A week later we received an invoice for the next month’s lease. I threw it in the trash. Now Robin had another invoice.
“Is it for two months?” I asked her.
“Yes, with a late payment penalty on the first payment.”
“Give it to me.” I was in no mood for this, and fully intended to tell the leasing company their ineptitude was not appreciated. Robin handed it to me and the first thing I saw was the big red stamp – ‘Past Due Notice.’ I dialed the phone number on the invoice and listened to it ring. When the phone was answered, I got that “This number is no longer in service” message. I pulled out the notebook I started after Eddie died – all the people and places I had to call. Axel Leasing was listed with a different phone number. I called that number and was told that Eddie’s lease had indeed been canceled, and they hadn’t sent us any invoices. I went out to see Robin.
“Did this come by regular mail?” I asked her, and she gave me that ‘of course it did and you’re crazy’ look.
“No,” she answered innocently, “by courier.”
“Do you have the envelope?” She bent over and dug it out of the trash can. There was nothing remarkable about it, but somebody had tried to get us for two months’ worth of car payments. Who? And why? Just to aggravate me? Or did they really think we’d just blindly pay it? “See if you can track down this address,” and I handed the invoice back to her.
“It’s not from the leasing company?”
“Nope,” and I went back to my desk. I didn’t give any more thought to the bogus invoice. I spent the next hour chasing the Navarro family all over the internet, but I still couldn’t find any trace of Santiago. It was time to call Benny, and I dialed his number. “Benny, it’s Rick. I need you to find somebody for me.”
Benny laughed. “I thought that was your job.”
“It is, but I think this one’s gone underground. Santiago Navarro.”
“Okay. I’ll see what I can find.”
“Good man.” Benny was kind of an all-purpose gopher, but he knew most of the lowlife in the city. I figured if he couldn’t find the oldest Navarro brother, I wouldn’t be able to, either. I got as much information as I could on Nicolás and Valentina, and then went back to Ramon Luis. He had a son that I’d missed before, Juan Pablo, born in 2000. That made him nineteen. The age when we do many foolish things. Like hire a hitman? I’d gone from one suspect to too many; three little mice and one big rat. Only problem was I didn’t know which one was the rat. I had find out just how Ramon Senior died. Maybe I was approaching this from the wrong angle. I needed to talk to Uncle Carlos.