Anthony lay inside the grassy courtyard of my apartment complex, his hands behind his head. I studied his face while draining my bottle of Bud light; I swished the amber bottle and held it up to the setting moon. I hated Bud light—seriously hated it. It was what New Mexicans drank, though, so how could I complain? Anthony had driven me home in his old Ford truck, stopping at the nearest convenience store for a six-pack. At least he hadn’t purchased an entire case.
I stuck the empty bottle back into its cardboard sleeve and reached for another. “Are you related to the Carrillo family in Los Lunas?”
“No, are you?”
I choked a little on my beer. “Do I look like I am?”
“They have a few gueros in that family. There’s Aunt Lydia’s guerita daughter. She has green eyes and blonde her, exactly like yours.”
“My eyes are dirt brown about like yours, Anthony. Don’t worry, I wouldn’t want to admit it, either. I’m always denying my relations.”
Anthony’s dirt-colored eyes were half-closed under heavy lids, the sleepy eyes of the Carrillos with the familial mono-brow like a widow’s peak arching below his forehead. It looked better on him than on his Aunt Lydia. There were two sides to the Carrillos: the educated, upstanding-citizen half, and the drug-dealing low-lives that dwelled in Los Lunas.
“My family lives in Sandia Heights,” he said.
“Right.” If that was true, then he was definitely an upscale Carrillo. “And you want me to work for you—why?”
“You’re Bernadette’s daughter.”
I couldn’t deny it, and it didn’t surprise me that he knew my mother. Most people did. My stomach felt achy, and I wasn’t certain whether it was from the beer, or from thinking about my mom. I laid my head in the grass near his and wrapped my arms over my abdomen.
He rolled onto his side and looked at me with those sleepy eyes. “And I went to high school with your brother.”
“What did you do to get into the military academy?”
“I set off a bomb in my friend’s locker.”
Ah, that Anthony Carrillo. Even after twenty years, I still remembered the news stories intimating that sixteen-year-old Anthony was little better than a deranged terrorist who had diabolically plotted to blow up the whole school, if not the whole city.
“So was it an accident, or did you do it on purpose?”
“I said it then, and I’ll say it now. It was my project for the science Olympiad. I was storing it in my friend’s locker because there wasn’t room in mine.”
“You don’t have to convince me. Would I actually be a detective if I worked for you?”
Anthony snorted as though he were disgusted with me. “I work alone, except for a secretary, oh, and the partner I used to have. I had a secretary, an office, and a partner. I had a wife, too. Now, I have nothing, and I need a woman to straighten out my life for me.”
“You want the last beer?”
He flipped off the cap and tossed it into the grass, now littered with six such red coins. “I need a woman to clean my house, then my office. Oh, and answer the phone.”
“I could do all that, as long as you have the money to pay me. I don’t want to lose all of this luxury, you know.” At least it seemed luxurious from the vantage point of the meticulous courtyard surrounded by its wrought iron gate, erected to keep out the world of University Blvd. Inside my apartment was the usual one-bedroom with dirty, mottled-blue carpeting alongside a square of cracked yellow linoleum that pretended to be a kitchen and dining room in one. It was all I had, though.
“We’ll keep it on the down-low, under the table. Get what I’m saying?”
“Sure. As long as you keep me off the streets. Oh, and, by the way, can I ask you why you don’t have a secretary, partner, or wife anymore? Is it because you’re an alcoholic?”
“Well, yeah, sure I’m an alcoholic, but that’s not why my wife left me.”
“The life of the detective isn’t good for a marriage. I knew it was over when I called her from a week long trip in Santa Fe, and she told me she didn’t have a husband and didn’t know who the hell I was. And then my partner ran away with my secretary, and I started drinking, and the law offices I worked for fired me.”
I couldn’t help it; I had to laugh. I masked it with a cough, though—such a typical subterfuge. It was a sad story, really sad.
“Are you mocking my pain?”
“No, I would never do that. I shouldn’t say this, I know I shouldn’t, but you sound like you were a character written by Dashiell Hammett.”
“I’m the real deal, Chiquita. So do you want to work for me, or not?”
With that, he reached over to clink my bottle of Bud with his. Mine being empty, it fell over. “So, that didn’t work. Let’s shake on it, instead.”
I should have thought twice, I guess, about making such a pact with Anthony Carrillo. His hand was hot, and I could feel his alcoholic tremor. There was something about him, though, something about his eyes that attracted me.
“Is your office near a bus stop? Because my car’s broken.”
“I’ll pick you up in the morning—early, so be prepared.”
“It’s already early in the morning.”
He groaned, rolled onto his back, and rubbed his eyes. “I need to sleep. Tomorrow morning.” And he promptly began to snore.
I wondered what management would think of an alcoholic sleeping it off inside their gated courtyard. In about an hour, though, the lawn sprinklers would automatically shoot up and thoroughly souse him. Meanwhile, I relaxed into the coarse buffalo grass and let my mind drift into the white-dawn sky.