New Mexico Noir: Hermanas de Corazón

The heat immediately hit me in the forehead as I ran after Demetria’s car.
I arrived breathless at the bottom of Anthony’s drive, my head spinning.  Demetria Gallina stood on the stoop in an offensive stance, her feet spread about two feet apart, her fist raised to beat on the door, or beat it down.

“Hello,” I called out.  “May I help you?”

She spun around, and her hair caught in the breeze and lifted dramatically away from her face.  The woman could have been a shampoo model with her thick black hair that glimmered blue in the sunlight.

Her smile was false.  “I’m here to speak to Antonio.”

“I’m sorry.  Mr. Carrillo isn’t here right now, but if you’d like to make an appointment, you’re welcome to come inside.”

I had the distinct feeling that I was being watched, and I spun around to find Herman staring at Demetria with his mouth agape.  Sabrina had disappeared, and Herman was caught with a rake in his hand.  I wondered if he was stealing it or using it to help Mrs. Garcia in her yard.

“Let’s go inside, all right?” I said.  “I suspect we may have private things to discuss that the entire neighborhood doesn’t need to hear.”

Demetria shielded her eyes to the sinking sun and glared at Herman.  “I agree with that,” she said, and turned to enter the house as if she owned it. 

“Bella!” Herman shouted.  “Wait!”

Demetria and I both turned around.  He’d pronounced bella in Spanish fashion rather than Italian.  Even so, many people insisted on pronouncing my name the same way, and I instinctively responded.  I suspect Demetria simply thought he was catcalling her.

“Yes, Herman?” I said.

“We need to talk sometime.  Let’s have a drink.”

“All right.  Why?”

“Now would be perfect, while Anthony’s out of the way.”

I looked at Herman, short and bulldoggish, and wondered what exactly he had in mind.  “Come over this evening for a beer.  I can’t right now.”

He cocked his head to the side, looked past me at Demetria’s silhouette in the doorway, and smoothed his mustache.  “Now would be better.”

Why were men so pushy?  “Later!”  I waved at him and literally pushed Demetria through the doorway and into the kitchen.

“I need some coffee.  Do you want some?  Anthony doesn’t keep things well-stocked here, so I don’t know if I can offer you milk and sugar.”

“Coffee is fine, but I think I need a formal introduction to you.  Don’t you think?”

I offered her my hand.  “Ella.  I’m Anthony’s secretary.”

“I’m sure you are,” she said, and she looked me directly in the eyes and grasped my hand in a firm handshake.  “Demetria.”

The woman was unnerving, and that was the truth.  I busied myself with the coffee, spooning it into the filter and pouring water in the back of the pot.  I found two mugs and set them by the pot, then ushered Demetria into the newly furnished office with its full file cabinets.  I saw her eyes stray to the cabinets.

“I see he doesn’t keep his files locked up,” she said.

I dragged a chair from the kitchen table and set it in front of the desk. 

“Have a seat,” I congenially offered.  “Should he keep them locked?”

“I don’t know.  It all depends on what he keeps in there.  I noticed he didn’t have his front door locked, either.”

“That was my fault, actually.  I needed to run some errands, but he hasn’t given me a key, yet, so I left the doors unlocked.”

“And the man from across the street?  Do you trust him?”

“Herman is harmless.”

Demetria gazed at me with her big, dark eyes and batted her lashes.  “Are you sure?”

“No,” I said.  “But I’m not sure about you, either, and I’m about to leave you alone with the unlocked file cabinets while I fill our coffee cups.” 

“Antonio has nothing in there I need, or that I don’t already know.”

I raised my eyebrows at her.  How could she possibly know about every case file that was in Anthony’s cabinets?  And why did she persist in calling him Antonio?  I walked away from her knowing full well that she did, indeed, want to rummage through his files.  She wouldn’t have time, though, especially if she was looking for the same files I was, otherwise known as the missing ones.

I poured us each a cup of coffee and carried the cups to the desk, where she sat, her eyes fixed on the file cabinets.  For a split moment, I wondered if she had x-ray vision.

I sat on the investigator’s side of the desk and leaned over it with what I hoped was an intense and profoundly serious expression on my face.  “Tell me about the ruby butterfly.”

She blew on her coffee and took a tiny sip.  “What do you want to know?”

“I want to know what it is and what you have to do with it.”

“I suspected you would.  You’re the one Victor really loved.”

No matter what she told me, I would remain neutral.  I wouldn’t change expression, show my surprise or curiosity.  I wrapped my hands around my coffee cup.  “You must have me confused with somebody else.”

She shook her head.  “No.  I was the somebody else, not you.  I was the a la mode, the desert he had on the side.  You were the one he loved.”

I couldn’t help it.  I had to laugh at that.  “Victor and I broke up a long time ago.”

“That means nothing.  We started seeing each other years before a long time ago.  And he never stopped loving you.”

“Fine.  So he was cheating on me.  I don’t care anymore about that.  Why would I?  But I do want to know about the butterfly.”

Of course, she had long fuchsia painted fingernails, and she tapped them on the surface of the desk.  “Well, Ella, I don’t know what you know already.  You’ll have to tell me that first.”

“I know nothing.”  I tried with some difficulty to mask my annoyance at her fuchsia fingernails, her cat and mouse game, and her heavily put-on accent.  Maybe she thought Anthony’s last name was Banderas, and that was the reason for her purring use of Antonio.

“Anthony says that I was lying to him because he never found anything.  I think he found the butterfly and is hiding it from me.”

“You might be missing the obvious.”

“And what would that be?”

“That he was drinking too much at the time he was working on your case and couldn’t have found anything if he wanted to and probably wouldn’t remember if he had.”

She laughed at me.  She had a merry, ringing laugh, with no guile at all to tarnish its beauty.  “Anthony’s a snake.  That’s what he wants us to believe.”

So he was Anthony, after all.  “Mrs. Gallina,” I said, “if that’s the case, then you need to make an appointment to consult him because I find it hard to believe he would risk his career and his license over some vapid, symbolic nothing called a butterfly that everybody keeps talking about.”

“Fine.  Make an appointment for me.  He is who I came to talk to, not you.”

My letter writing materials were still stacked neatly in front of me.  I picked up a pencil and held it poised above a blank sheet of paper.  I had no idea what Anthony’s schedule was like.  “Is tomorrow at two good for you?”

“Yes, that’s fine.”

“And please don’t bother looking through the file cabinets between now and then.  You’ll waste your own time trying to find something that isn’t there.”

She opened her eyes in wide-eyed innocence.

“Plus, I really don’t want to be responsible for what Anthony would do to you when he found out.”

“But he wouldn’t hurt you, would he, Ella?”

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