Category Archives: New Mexico Noir

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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New Mexico Noir: The Heat in Albuquerque

My panic button must have stopped working days ago because, when Anthony calmly explained to me that some kids had found my ex beaten to a bloody pulp down by the Bosque, I didn’t faint or swoon, let alone cry out in anguish.  It did occur to me, however, to ask him how he was privy to this information.
 
His eyes did the darting act again.  “I’ve got my contacts.”
  
 “So what did your contacts say?  Why did Victor get beat up?”

It was weird how numb I felt, how my limbs felt like they were falling asleep.  In fact, my body was so tired of standing that I began to shake uncontrollably with tremors that ran up my legs, up my arms, and ended with my jaw.
  
“Let’s talk about this tomorrow, or at least later today.  You need to sleep.”
  
“How can I sleep?  I need to know why Victor got beat up.”
  
“I have a friend who’s a cop.  He called me to tell me what happened, but he didn’t give me any details.  I swear to you that if I knew anything, I would tell you.”
  
“Why would he call you?”
  
“He knew I’d be interested.”
  
“Why would you be interested?”
  
Anthony’s gaze was level this time, square on my face with no evasion.  “Victor worked as an intern at the mayor’s office while your mother was still there.” 

I looked into his red-rimmed eyes, and I told myself that Anthony couldn’t be trusted, that he was stinking drunk.  At the same time, I also knew that what he said was true.  Why it mattered was an entirely different question.

“Yes, I already know.  That’s how we met.  Kind of.  We met at church, and then his family moved away.  He came back to go to college and ended up working with my mom.” 
  
Thinking of our early days together broke me.  My numbness disappeared as an image of young Victor wormed its way into my mind.  Before he’d jumped ship and turned himself into a poet, he had worked toward a professional writing degree.  He had written speeches for the mayor—beautiful, poetic speeches filled with classic rhetoric.  I turned away from Anthony and pressed my forehead against the wall and cried.  I had loved Victor for years.  I still did.
  
Anthony tugged on my shoulder until he’d managed to pull me into an awkward hug.  He didn’t say anything, which was fine by me.  He was probably too good a person to remind me how Victor had treated me over the years. 

Nobody knew the Victor whom I knew, the Victor who awakened my love for language.  He had become my true muse, hidden behind the false one which was merely the printed, painted version of a woman who had lived three-hundred years ago.  Victor was a living, breathing poet who moved under my touch.  He was.  He wasn’t any more.

By comparison, Anthony was an obnoxious alcoholic who stuck his nose into other peoples’ business.  Plus, he smelled terrible, like alcohol and sweat.  I pushed him away.

Later that day, I woke up on my own futon, laid out on one of Anthony’s spare bedroom floors.  Anthony and I were not on speaking terms when we hauled the last of my things from the bed of his pickup.   I didn’t have anything more to say to him after shouting at him for the first hour, whenever he touched any of my things in a disrespectful manner.  Finally, he waved me away and told me to shut up and go to sleep.
  
The house was quiet, except for the whine and rattle of the swamp cooler.  After sorting through my things, I left my new room to discover that I was alone in the house.  It didn’t surprise me, but I wished that Anthony would be a little more forthright with me, kind of how he’d been for a split second earlier in the day.
  
I sat at Anthony’s desk and picked up the phone receiver—still no phone service.  From my own things, I rustled up paper, envelopes, and a stamp book.  It was time to write to my absent parents.  It was difficult to know how to phrase my questions at that point: Dear Mom, why are you hiding in Colorado?  What exactly are you hiding from, and what the hell does Victor have to do with it??  Well, that would do.  Oh, I added, It’s imperative you tell me and be honest because Victor’s dead, and I’m scared.
  
That was basically honest, but I also knew it was best to make an emotional appeal.  She was a mom, my mom, and emotional appeals worked on moms.  Meanwhile, I would pick her locks—technically both my parents’ locks—and search through her things.  I felt disrespectful and decided I didn’t care.
  
I took a quick shower and put on a pair of jogging shorts, running shoes, and a tank top and went out for a little run to the nearest mail drop-box.  Just out the front door, a wall of heat confronted me that told me it was late afternoon and, therefore, too hot for exercise.  Apparently, it was not too hot for shouting matches because Mrs. Garcia’s family members, Herman and Sabrina, stood in her front yard cursing at each other and generally expelling bad chi all over the place.
  
Herman caught sight of me and waved and smiled, so I waved back.  It didn’t matter that a second before he’d accused the young girl, still clad in a half shirt, of stealing from her own grandma—using language I’d rather not repeat.  It was a typical Albuquerque day.
  
I stepped up the pace a little and was about to round the corner when a shiny black car passed.  The windows were dark, but not dark enough that I couldn’t see who was inside.  It was Demetria, either la mariposa or la gallina—I wasn’t sure.
 
But I was sure that she was headed for Anthony’s house, and that he would not want her there alone with unlocked doors.  I turned around and headed back.  The letter would have to wait.     
   

   
     
    

    

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New Mexico Noir: Mr. Spade or Mr. Darcy?

I sank under the weight of the hamburger and fries in my gut. I wasn’t a soda drinker, but I could understand that a sugary and caffeinated beverage provided a necessary boost after such a meal. Normally, I would have washed it down with an unsweetened iced tea and lemon wedge. Walt didn’t know that, of course, and had ordered me a diet Coke.

I took one sip and nearly gagged on the poisonous taste of the beverage. I could not understand how anybody thought that stuff tasted all right. I set it aside and drank another cup of black coffee. It was time to get back to work, lethargic as I felt.

Anthony was taciturn all afternoon, my very own low-class Spanish Mr. Darcy, who spent the rest of the day sitting at his desk and writing himself notes, or hiding in his bedroom, where all his mysterious boxes sat in stacks.

Walt, on the other hand, had no Jane Austen character equivalent. He was more of a Sancho Panza. He wandered off never to be seen again, ostensibly on foot, rather than on an ass.

The silence of the house mixed with the drone of the swamp cooler was delicious. I filed the rest of the folders away until dizziness set in and my leg muscles cramped. At some point, I noticed, Anthony had placed a black telephone with answering machine on the desk, and I could see the various wires snaking across the floor. I could see where they were plugged in the wall, even though they appeared lifeless.

I looked at the phone time and again before I finally rose and lifted the receiver. It was dead, no dial tone, nothing.

I walked down the hallway and knocked on Anthony’s bedroom door and pushed it open without waiting for a response. The room was in complete disorder. It looked as if Anthony had frantically opened any and every box without regard to the labels he’d written on them as guides. Books and photographs fanned out across the floor.

“Are you going to get phone service any time soon?” I asked him.

“You can use my cell phone if you need to.”

“I need to.”

He dutifully handed it to me, and I carted it away so I could speak privately to my brother. I sat in the swivel chair set at Anthony’s desk, and I felt satisfied with myself. Surely, I, as the secretary, must have the only available desk.
I fully expected to leave a message on my brother’s voice mail. He surprised me by answering.

“Hey, Matthew. I need to stay at your place.”

“What? Why? What phone are you calling from?”

“This is my work number.”

“That’s great, I’ll add it to my contacts. You can’t stay here, Ella.”

His voice had a familiar distant ring to it. It was the ring I’d heard often when he was married to his ex. “I don’t understand. Just the other day you told me I could stay with you and help you watch Caitlyn.”

“Shania and I are trying to work things out, and it never works with you around. You hate Shania.”

What was he saying? Shania was his ex-wife. Wasn’t it a little too late to work things out? It was always like this with my brother, though. Shania did it to him. “I don’t hate her, exactly. I don’t like the way she cheated on you and lied to you, but other than that, we had so much in common. Like, for example, we both have older brothers who are idiots. How can you get back together with a woman you divorced?”

A long silence filled the space from phone to cell tower to phone.

“Mateo? Are you still there?”

“I’m here. We never signed the divorce papers. I thought it would be better for Caitlyn if we didn’t divorce. I knew Shania would eventually come back.”

I closed my eyes and tried to collect my thoughts. There was no use in telling him that her mother’s games weren’t good for Caitlyn either. There was no use, particularly because Caitlyn would always be subjected to her mother’s games, as long as Shania had partial custody.

I did the only thing I could; I changed the subject. “Do you have a key to mom and dad’s house?”

“No. Why?”

“I need to get something I left over there. And they’re impossible to get a hold of. Does anybody have a key?”

“I don’t know. Why would they tell me if they’d given somebody a key? They didn’t tell you, did they? And you’re their favorite.”

I let out a sigh of exasperation. “Whatever, bro. I’ll talk to you some other time. I hope things work out for you and Shania.”

I slammed the phone shut.

“Cuidado!”

I looked up, startled, to see Anthony standing about two feet away from me: damned gumshoe on carpeting, or whatever had made it possible for him to creep silently into the living room and eavesdrop on my conversation.

I handed him his phone. “Do you know how to break into houses?”

“That depends on why you’re asking me.”

“I need to break into my parents’ house and look for something. You don’t have to worry about them pressing charges. They wouldn’t do that to me, and, really, it’s my house, too. My bedroom is still there, with a lot of my stuff from high school that my mom refused to get rid of. So, it wouldn’t really be breaking in at all.”

“I’ve got a set of lock pick tools I can teach you to use, if you promise to only use them for the purpose you just mentioned.”

“On my honor.”

The vision of Anthony as my Spanish Mr. Darcy faded as suddenly as it had sprung up. Mr. Darcy would never have known how to pick locks. My life seldom reflected the literature that I loved, the books I’d read for my degrees in Spanish and English literature.

My jobs rarely reflected my education, either, unless my pulp paperback noir mysteries counted as part of a different sort of education altogether. I looked at Anthony, who was checking the messages on his phone.

A nervous thrill ran down my spine. It should have sent warnings signals to the rest of my body, but the only messages I received were yes, yes, yes.

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New Mexico Noir: The Cranes

I looked up from my spot on the floor to see Walt and Anthony lounging against the antique desk they’d moved into the living room. Apparently, their one big effort of dragging it in here was enough to justify doing nothing.

I admit that they’d had to play at contortionist tricks to fit it through the doorway, and then maneuver it through the crooked hallway, but now they were the ones acting like antique fixtures. For heaven’s sake, they weren’t talking or anything. All I could hear was the whine of cicadas that drifted in through the open windows.

For my part, I was filing away folder after folder and finding nothing from the famous year, 2008, or the alcoholic year, 2009. My blood sugar had dropped to a dangerous level hours before. Plus, the heat made me feel prickly with annoyance. Sweat dripped down my back and past the waistband of my slacks.
I bent over to pull the last stack of files from what now seemed a cavernous box.

“Ay, nalgacitas!” Walt said.

The idiot could speak. I pushed myself up and stood and glared at them: Walt with his blank face, as if he’d not said something inappropriate, and Anthony with his amused smile. When literary characters stare daggers into people, it must be highly satisfying for them.

“It’s too damned hot in here,” I said. “And I could use a lunch break, if you don’t mind.”

“Hey, Walt,” said Anthony.

Walt continued to stare blankly at a spot on the wall behind my head.

“Walt, come back from Mars and go hook up the swamp cooler.”

Walt’s blank eyes rolled up to the ceiling. “I’m afraid of heights.”

“Fine, I’ll do it. You go buy some burritos from the burrito lady. Ella, you can take a break.”

“Why thank you, Anthony,” I sweetly said. Not that I needed his permission. I knew my rights as an employee, W4 or no.

Anthony put his hands on my shoulders. “Relax.” He squeezed hard and stared at me intently for a moment before letting go.

Obviously, he was the one who needed to relax. The combination of his intense gaze and his painfully short and hard massage were enough to make me want to collapse in fear.

Moments later, I heard his heavy footsteps clanging up a ladder and clomping over the rooftop. I stepped down into the kitchen to see if I could find the necessary supplies for making coffee. Happily, I plugged in an old coffee pot to discover that it still worked. I also found an old can of store brand coffee. It wasn’t Starbucks, but it would do.

I was just sipping a fresh hot cup of coffee when the swamp cooler magically blew moistened air on me. At the same time, Walt and Anthony banged in the door, Walt carrying several Blake’s Lotaburger bags that smelled of hot burgers and fries.

While Walt and I scarfed food with the relish of a skinny girl and a fat man respectively, Anthony ate about three fries before his bat ears pricked up to the sounds outside. He found a pair of binoculars in a kitchen cupboard and took up post at the kitchen window.

“What’s he doing?” I asked with my mouth full of burger.

“Sabrina’s over at Mrs. Garcia’s,” Walt said and wiped ketchup from his hands and face. “Give me the binocs, Tony. I want to see what’s going on.”

“I’m investigating, all right?” Anthony held the binoculars out of reach of his short primo, just as a child would do.

With my naked eye, I could see a petite, dark-haired girl in silhouette with low-cut jeans and white half-shirt which was a bare covering for her small, perky breasts. Irritated with Anthony’s voyeurism, I snatched the binoculars from him. Not only was I almost as tall as he was, unlike Walt, but he wasn’t expecting my assault.

“What are we looking for?” I asked.

The girl hugged Mrs. Garcia’s shoulders with her thin butterscotch-colored arms. It wasn’t exactly damning behavior.

“You aren’t looking for anything,” said Anthony, and snatched the binoculars back from me.

“Voyeur,” I muttered. Sugary skin-tone notwithstanding, the girl was not yet out of high school.

“What? You think I want to check out sixteen-year-old tramps? My daughter’s sixteen.”

I felt justifiably defensive for the girl. “How do you know she’s a tramp?”

Walt snorted with laughter. “Everybody knows that.”

“Logical fallacy number one,” I said.

“She’s wearing red lipstick, hoop earrings, and a tummy-less shirt,” said Anthony. “I wouldn’t let my daughter leave the house like that.”

“Yes, but why do you care?”

It seemed an obvious question to me. Even trampy girls need time with the local neighborhood grandma. Herman rounded the corner from the backyard, so it seemed that grown men also needed time with Mrs. Garcia. As soon as she saw Herman, Sabrina stalked off to the house, letting the screen door slam as she disappeared from view.

“I don’t trust her,” said Anthony. “That’s all there is to it. She didn’t have any time for her Grandma before now, so what’s she up to?”

“Maybe her family life is bad,” I suggested, which warranted no response. “Maybe you should just go over there and find out what she’s doing. In any case, I can’t see how you’re going to learn something by watching her through binoculars, unless, of course, you really are a voyeur.”

Anthony set the binoculars on the windowsill and resumed eating. In Mrs. Garcia’s yard, Herman was demonstrating his Tai Chi crane posture. Mrs. Garcia watched him for a minute and then tried the posture herself. I hated to say it, but neither looked as if they would be flying gracefully away any time soon.

And Anthony only seemed to care about the graceful girl who’d hidden herself away in the adobe house across the street. To me, Herman with his grand bigote was far more fascinating.

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New Mexico Noir: In the Light of Morning

It was Monday morning, bright and early, and I had nothing better to do than stare at my sad reflection in the mirror.  To my eyes, my nose was still enormous, and the bruising still evident, even though my brother had made only a passing reference to its hideousness on Saturday, and Grandma Steadman hadn’t said anything at all.

I don’t know why I should have cared.  I had no place to go aside from Anthony’s house. Sadly, thanks to my brother, Anthony was the reason I cared.  Even if Matthew’s claim was true, that Anthony had fallen in love with a picture of me back in high school, it was inconceivable that I could conform to a made-up, seventeen-year-old version of myself, not at thirty-eight.  After all these years, it was unlikely that Anthony still found me attractive.

Of course, Anthony wasn’t any younger than I was, and I found him attractive.  That was the real problem, I decided.  I was attracted to him, and I didn’t want him looking at my nose all day.

Angelica was asleep, or I would have asked her for some concealment advice.  We both played the female beauty game half-heartedly at best, but she had a slight advantage over me, in that she was naturally gorgeous.  Plus, she had a husband worth pleasing—not that she had to try very hard.

I pulled out a rumpled pair of slacks from my backpack and shook them out.  They were former waitressing pants, size ten due to my height combined with a big butt, with a waistline that didn’t fit thanks to my scrawny upper half.  Actually, I was scrawny everywhere except in the derriere.  I was like an awkward, gangly colt with an enormous rump.

Such was my desperation, which probably wouldn’t have been so great if Victor hadn’t shown up the other day, that I couldn’t eat breakfast.  Angelica’s dear husband was in the kitchen making himself breakfast, and he handed me a cup of coffee.

“Do you want some eggs?” he asked me.

I shook my head.

“Ella, I don’t know if Angelica told you, but my auntie from Chihuahua is coming for a visit, and we’re going to need the guest room.  You’re welcome to stay, but you’ll have to sleep on the couch.”

I shook my head again.  His aunt always visited them at the end of summer.  I had expected the news and, honestly, had hoped for it.  I didn’t want to be a burden to my best friend and her family.  Going back to my apartment, though—that was not an option. 

“Don’t worry about me. I can stay with my brother.”

“It’s not a problem,” Dave said.  “My couch is your couch, anytime.”

“You’re probably more generous than my brother, but he’s family, so he has to put me up.”

“You’re our family, Ella.”

I shook my head, my eyes clouding over.  I missed my real family.

“Yes, you are.”  He stood up, rumpled my hair like a brother would do, and dumped his plate in the sink without rinsing it.  “I’ve got to get to work, and it sounds like that dude’s here for you.”

The rumble of Anthony truck was distinctive.  “His name’s Anthony.”

“Whatever.”

I pulled myself together, wiped my eyes, and grabbed my backpack.  The sight of the sky blue truck brought me both relief and anxiety, despite, or because of, the loud Metallica pouring out the open windows.

By contrast, Anthony’s old house was peaceful.  Once inside, I was struck by freshness.  It no longer smelled like cat piss, and the rooms were clear of rickety, old furniture.  The carpets still bore curved paths where a steam cleaner had passed.  Instead of furniture, light filled every room, and I realized that Anthony had removed the dusty, sun-warped mini blinds and made an effort to wash the windows, evidenced by the streaks across the glass.

I felt a little ashamed that I hadn’t made that kind of effort cleaning up his house.  “I don’t know why you’re paying me.  You did more work than I did.”

“I wanted to get an office set up as soon as possible.  That’s what we’re doing today.  It’s not perfect.  I’d like to paint the walls and rip up the carpet completely, but it’s fine for now.”  He nodded his head toward his bedroom.  “Let’s get started.”

He had a large and heavy old desk that we could only move out of the room where it was stored with help of Walt, who showed up about mid morning.  Meanwhile, we hauled the empty file cabinets and lined them up against one living room wall.  We dragged out the boxes marked files and cut them open with a box cutter.

“You can start putting these files away and alphabetizing them.  I never throw anything away, so I’ve got files going back more than ten years.  Each cabinet holds five years worth of files, so everything needs to be alphabetized and dated.  Leave out any files dated from 2008.  I want to look at all of those.”

“All right.  But not 2009?”

“I don’t think there is anything from 2009, at least not much.  If you find anything dated from 2009, leave that out, too.”

“You don’t know?”

“I lost most of my business before then.  I also didn’t have a secretary to file anything for me.”

“You couldn’t do it yourself?”

Anthony clenched his jaw and gave me a hard, cold look.  Then, his features softened.  “I was drinking too much, Chiquita.”

“But you didn’t lose all your business?”

“I was still working on the Demetria case.  Look for anything that’s loose, too.  And don’t throw anything away.  I lost a lot of stuff when I moved out of the office.  I had important photos, and I don’t remember what else.  I could have stuff in any of those other boxes back in my room, too.”

I looked around me at all the boxes filled with files, and I thought about the numerous other boxes that Anthony had shoved in the corner of his bedroom. 

“That’s a lot of boxes.”

“Yeah, I know.  That’s why I hired you to help me.”

“Should I watch out for anything labeled with Demetria, or her ruby butterfly?”

“Sure, you could try, but you probably won’t find either. I would look for her last name, Gallina. As far as the ruby butterfly’s concerned, Demetria’s it. There is no other butterfly.”

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