Category Archives: serial novel

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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New Mexico Noir: Shadows of the Past

My family had a long history with the church. I had a long history of falling asleep in the church. New Mexico mission churches are thick-walled and shadowy. Plus, the only variation in the liturgy occurs when the priest chooses matins instead of service one in the hymnal.

Father Garcia was an old man when I was a child, even older now that I was an adult, and he respected the largely elderly congregation by not forcing us to stand too frequently during the service. Taking all of that into account, I wondered why the entire crowd didn’t knock their heads back against the pews in slumber.

Angelica elbowed me. I started awake.

She whispered in my ear, “I can’t believe you dragged me here, and you’re the one falling asleep.”

I straightened my back and trained my eyes on the statues, which were set up in an alcove at the front. Windows had been cut into this alcove, such that beams of morning light fell from either side on the bowed angels. I’d always wondered why they’d chosen to place a statue of St. Felipe at the highest point, above the altar, rather than a symbol or statue of Christ.

San Felipe de Neri was not the duskiest Catholic mission in New Mexico. For a start, they had painted the walls white, and had hung cylindrical lamps from the high ceiling that cast a rosy glow. Despite that, it was just shadowy enough to emphasize the bright beams of sun at the front, and to create a hushed atmosphere.

It was in this peculiar, church hush that I felt as if my family were there with me in the service. We had always attended church together, all four of us. As an adult, I had not desisted from regular masses because of disillusionment over my belief in God, but disillusionment over the unity of my family, who no longer worshiped here.

Yesterday, my brother had insisted he knew as well as I did the whereabouts of our parents, which meant that he had no idea. When his words brought me to tears, he reluctantly hugged me.

“And Anthony?” I asked. Earlier, I’d asked him directly what he knew of Anthony Carrillo, and he had skirted the subject, drifting to the current one that involved the sudden loss—or disappearance, rather—of our parents. His embrace was not unwelcome, even though he was as hot and sweaty as I was. I laid my head on his shoulder and felt the kinship flow between us. We were both orphans of a sort.

“Anthony Carrillo?” He pushed me away from him, yet held me by the shoulders at arm’s length. “Anthony was in a different class from me. He’s your age. I didn’t know him all that well.”

“What do you know about him now?”

“Obviously, only that he’s still in love with you.”

“If you recall, Bro, Anthony and I just met. How could he be in love with me?”

“Back in high school, he was in love with his idea of you. Mom sent me family photos every year, and he fell in love with your image on film. I told him you weren’t as good to look at in person, but he wouldn’t listen to me.”

I couldn’t help smiling at this news. “But what does that have to do with now? Should I be worried working for him?”

“No. Why should you be? He’s as good as gold. I promise. But I wouldn’t go back to your apartment if I were you. Stay with Angelica, or with me if you have to. You can watch Caitlyn when I’m at work.”

After Matthew’s divorce, he and his ex-wife split their four-year-old in half—not literally, of course, even if it felt that way to Caitlyn. “How come you never told me you needed help?”

“Because, up to now, you worked nights and slept during the day. She’s been staying with Granny Helen, who can’t really keep up with her.”

Granny Helen also happened to be Grandma Steadman, the woman I wanted to speak with at church. She was our adopted grandma, the woman who cared for my brother and I after school and made us pinwheel macaroni and cheese, a soupy dish that involved more milk than cheese, and a hint of tomato sauce. Thinking about her pinwheels brought tears to my eyes.

Where was she, anyway? The pastor’s sermon was winding down, and he was exhorting us to carry the light of the gospel to a dark world once we’d left the church that day. In New Mexico, however, this particular exhortation always struck me with the certain irony that I would be assailed by the brighter light of the sun outside the church.

After the pastoral blessing, I rose and scanned those crazy enough to attend early mass on a Sunday morning. It was not a large gathering. I could see that Grandma Steadman was not in attendance.

“Why did we get up so early?” Angelica asked.

“So we could go to church and then go over to Grandma Steadman’s house to see why she’s not here.”

“I guess the blessing in all this is that I got to attend a mass without my ADD sons for once.”

We emerged into the gentleness of the August morning, walked through the grounds, and out onto the plaza. Old Town was empty, except for the other martyrs of the faith who were leaving church before most people had risen from bed. The shops and restaurants were closed, the sidewalks empty, the trees still sleeping and casting dappled, morning light over the grass.

Angelica sighed and slipped her sunglasses over her eyes. “I think we should take a nap in the grass,” she said.

It did sound like a delicious idea. We could rest peacefully and then walk over to Little Anita’s for breakfast enchiladas or carne adovada and eggs. But, no, we had business to attend to. We needed to find Grandma Steadman.

Angelica drove us down Rio Grande a few blocks, then turned left to find my childhood neighborhood. Grandma Steadman’s house was three doors down from parents’ old house. Her stucco was cracked and dirty, her yard weedy, and her flower garden unkempt. The sight of it made me sad, because I remembered her flower garden as the best on the street, a riot of seasonal flowers, including a mass of variegated tulips in the spring. Now, wild desert marigolds grew in unwieldy clumps, alongside heavily drooping hollyhocks.

Her windows were dark, her porch cool from lack of sun. Spider webs hung thickly in the corners and under eaves.

“Should we knock?” I asked.

Angelica nodded. I knocked, very softly at first. With each knock, I pounded a little harder. Then we stood and waited, listening to the heavy silence that answered us.

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New Mexico Noir: No Shelter from Exes

Victor was my kryptonite. I might have considered myself a strong woman, if it weren’t for him. The pattern had been set so long ago that I didn’t try any longer. No, that was wrong. If I could do nothing else, I would turn around and run.

Actually, what happened was this: Angelica told him if he didn’t move his sorry behind and sit down as he was supposed to do, then she would politely ask him to leave. In an instant, he was gone, and his face was all I held in my mind.

Angelica carried out his breakfast.

“Don’t be sad, Ella,” said Pedro. “Angelica should have left at two. You know the way it is. But she’ll be ready to leave any time now.”

I couldn’t wait for “any time now” because, at any moment, Victor would find another way to talk to me. He would run around to the back of the restaurant, as I had done. I peeked around the kitchen door by the soda machine.

“Angelica,” I whispered.

Unfortunately, Victor caught me. He jumped from his seat. “Ella, I need to talk to you.”

“Call me, all right, Victor? My number hasn’t changed. Angelica, are you off the clock, yet?”

“I was off the clock an hour ago. Pedro says you’re staying with me, tonight. Hang on a minute and let me get my things. I bet you’re exhausted.”

“Ella, I mean it,” said Victor, who was leaning over the coffee counter with a look of appeal on his face. He really did have a beautiful face, with his straight teeth and clear eyes. He could appear so sincere, too. “I need to talk to you. And I know you. You won’t answer when you see my number on the caller ID.”

Angelica took off her apron and shook out her thick, black hair, as though she were ready to wear her superhuman uniform. “Victor, would you leave her alone? It’s just like you to show up at the worst possible moment. I’m taking Ella home so she can sleep. She’s been through enough tonight as it is.”

“I think you should stay out of this, Angelica. This is between me and Ella.”

“Oh, whatever, Victor.” I was beyond exhaustion at that point. I had come out the other side and was now buzzing a little from a new release of endorphins, my fight or flight response having renewed itself at the sight of him. “Like I said, my number hasn’t changed. Angelica, can we go?”

“Yes.”

We disappeared through the kitchen. I had no desire to remain in the same building as Victor, not as long as I didn’t have to. Yes, I’d expected to marry him at one time and live happily ever after together with him in the same house, but that was then. I paused only long enough to give Pedro a parting hug.

Angelica lived in the neighborhood surrounding the university, as I did. Essentially, we both worked at our neighborhood diner, even if there were any number of restaurants and pubs around campus. Her house, although a bit too close to my own apartment for comfort, was pleasant, enclosed by a fence that sported a creaking gate, and protected by a mutt that looked and barked enough like a German Shepherd to scare most people away.

Angelica’s husband had turned the front yard into a rock garden with a pond and fountain, shadowed by an old walnut tree and a few apricot trees. Relief instantly descended on me as we entered through the gate. Even the wind soughed softly through the leaves of the trees, bringing with it the moisture trapped in the leaves. The rocks held the smell of the river they’d come from.

I’d stayed in Angelica’s spare room before, and so we didn’t bother with host-to-guest politeness. I gratefully washed my face with soap and water, brushed my teeth, and fell into the single bed with its smooth, clean-smelling sheets. I loved staying here; it was an enclave of soft sounds and comfort. The 1920s era dresser that sat by the bed held a gurgling fish tank. I drifted to the sounds of water, thinking of the river and the bosque that surrounded it, along with the high white moon.

As my body relaxed, my mind reached out to Anthony, letting him know I couldn’t abandon him at a time like this. There was something I knew that could help him. I had to help him, and it had nothing to do with Demetria. It had everything to do with me. But blackness descended before I could work out the details.

I don’t know what time it was that I woke, but it was bright outside, and there was an awful commotion occurring outside. My comforting enclave had been breached. The dog was barking, and I heard a ruckus of shouting voices. I dragged myself from bed and padded with sock feet to the dining area, which looked out over the back patio. Angelica was already there, looking outside, where her husband and Victor were shouting at each other.

“I’m calling the police,” she said. “Victor’s drunk.”

“Oh, please don’t. They’re going to think I attract trouble. Besides that, they’re only shouting. I’ve never seen Victor get violent—manipulative, but not violent.”

“Ella, I have never heard Dave shout, ever. Victor must have really ticked him off. I’m afraid for Victor, not Dave.”

I slid open the glass door and stepped onto the patio with my stocking feet. It was true: Angelica’s husband rarely spoke, let alone shouted. I probably looked like a wreck, which was always something I thought of when Victor was around, but I also didn’t think Dave should have to fend off my drunk ex first thing in the morning.

“What is going on?” I asked.

“Ella, go back inside. I’ve already told Victor to get the hell off my property. He’s stinking drunk.”

“Tell your mother to watch out,” Victor shouted. “I tried to tell you last night, Ella. I tried to warn you, but you wouldn’t listen to me. You’ve never listened to me.”

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New Mexico Noir: Demetria

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.”

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