I think I was asleep when the sprinklers shot up and baptized the new morning of my new life. Anthony and I both sprang up; he stumbled to his truck, and I to my apartment without so much as a goodbye exchanged.
And then I slept. I slept for nearly twenty-four hours, shedding off all the years I had worked nights at Manuela’s. On the following morning, I rose early, just as Anthony had told me to do.
After showering, I stood naked and dripping in the early morning heat, and I wondered what exactly I should wear as a secretary to a PI. If my job really included cleaning his house, as he’d suggested, then I would have to wear jeans. So I dressed in jeans and a blue button down shirt and my favorite boots made of tooled Juarense leather that I’d driven all the way to El Paso to purchase. I made myself a few foil-wrapped burritos stuffed with eggs and cheese, a thermos full of coffee, and I was ready.
I looked at the clock. It was seven. Outside, the sky was still white-blue: the color of Anthony’s truck, actually, which was still absent from the lot. I yawned and found a paperback to read, Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep.
At eight, I splayed the book face down and checked my e-mails. At eight-thirty, I cleaned my kitchen. Finally, after I’d made my bed and scrubbed my shower and generally tidied up in a way that I hadn’t for weeks, I heard a knock at my door.
I opened it, and there stood Anthony and, by his side, a short, round man.
“This is my cousin, Walt. He’s going to be my partner.”
“I thought you worked alone,” I said.
He pushed past me into my postage-stamp living room. “You got wireless?”
“Uh, yes. Why?”
“I need to borrow it for a few minutes. I’m not connected right now.”
“Of course, a detective with no internet. Be my guest. Walt, why don’t you have a seat?”
“Smells like coffee in here,” said Anthony, as he settled himself and his laptop at my card table that served as dinette and desk in one. Walt sat across from him and helped himself to the internet on my laptop.
“Would you like some coffee?” I asked, ever the polite hostess, not to mention secretary.
They both nodded, their faces awash with computer glow.
“Cream and sugar?”
Again, they nodded their assent, and I filled three mugs from my thermos and set out the cream and sugar. I sat down to wait and drink my own cup of coffee.
A few minutes rapidly flew by, and Anthony was still tapping away on his keyboard. With the excuse of pouring myself a glass of water, I walked past him and peered over his shoulder to see that he was typing strings of HTML codes.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m building us a website to advertise that I’m back in business.”
Did he really say this was going to take a few minutes? A few hours would be closer to the truth. “Wow, that’s great, Anthony.”
“A la maquina!” He slapped his palms on the flimsy table, and the coffee sloshed over the sides of the cups. “Stupid thing’s not working right.”
I peered over his shoulder again. “You have an extra semi-colon, right there.”
He looked up at me, clearly impressed. “You want to clean up that coffee, before it ruins my laptop? And stop looking over my shoulder. It makes me nervous.”
“That’s what I’m here for.” I was used to cleaning up after people, anyway. Whether it was my purpose in my life was still up for question.
At noon, Anthony’s cell rang, and he pulled it from his hip pouch without bothering to look at the caller ID and threw it at me.
I almost ducked, but, at the last minute, changed my mind and caught the phone. I cleared my throat. “Anthony Carrillo detective agency, how may I direct your call?”
“Hellooo,” said a female with a Spanish accent that reminded me of Selma Hayek doing her best rendition of I am a gorgeous, sexy Latina. “I need to speak to Antonio.”
“May I ask who’s calling, please?”
“My name is of no consequence. He knows who I am.”
“Right, well, I’ll see if Antonio’s in his office. Please hold.” And I handed Anthony his cell phone.
“Take a message and tell them I’ll call back.”
“She says you’ll know who she is.”
Walt looked up for the first time. “It’s Demetria. Let me talk to her.”
“No, she called for me,” said Anthony.
Unfortunately, they both reached for the phone at the same time, and they knocked it from my hand. It hit the linoleum and bounced across the kitchen.
“Now neither of you will be talking to her. But, don’t worry, maybe she’ll call back.”
She didn’t. Five minutes later, I heard another knock at my door.
“Wait, don’t answer it,” Anthony said. “Look through the peephole first.”
“If you insist. It looks like an egg-headed woman with black hair and a red dress.”
“Demetria,” both men yelled, almost in unison.
At that, she flung open my door, which whacked me in the head. She crossed my threshold, her red stiletto heels catching on the matted carpeting.
“May I help you?” I asked.
She didn’t look at me. “You know why I am here, Antonio.”
“Not really, Demetria. Do you have an appointment? You can make an appointment with my secretary—over there, with Ella.”
“You have my money, and you have never solved my case. I trusted you.”
“And I, you, until I realized you were jerking me around. Plus, your money’s gone. You were the one who wanted me to fly to Mexico City. I should have charged you for my time, but I didn’t. So you can thank me.”
“Never. Not until you return to me my butterfly ruby, and you will. Because if you don’t, I will kill you.”
“That would be great if your ruby actually existed. Ella, make Mrs. Gallina an appointment.”
“Sure, in my appointment book, here,” I said, reaching for a spiral notebook. “It appears Mr.
Carrillo has a free spot at ten tomorrow morning.”
“That’s fine,” said Anthony, “but don’t show up here again. This is not my office.”
Mrs. Demetria Gallina smiled. “Don’t worry. I always know where to find you, Antonio.”