All the hell started on Monday morning while I was driving north to work along the Loop near the pulsing heart of Austin. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper—I could have made as much headway on foot.
I kept seeing this red roadster. Flashy. One of those kit jobs that make no pretense at posing as original. One minute it was behind me and I could see it in my side view mirror, then in a flash past me, several cars ahead, then I passed it again. I wouldn’t have cared too much about the roadster, only there was this girl. Story of my life.
A man gets up into his late thirties and the chances are he stops looking and begins observing. I don’t know when exactly this happened to me. Couldn’t pin it to a day or even a year, really. Just sort of crept in and one day I found myself completely aloof in my watching; peripheral vision on automatic. Not shifty, no. But peripheral. That in spades.
The girl in the roadster that morning knew I was looking, but I got the feeling that she didn’t mind so much. I caught just the hint of a smile as she trundled up even with me one more time, just before I had to pass her again.
She had big hair, even though it was tied off into a ponytail. Women with ponytails do funny things to me. This one had both a ponytail and hair with actual mass to it, but at the same time her hair looked fine, like baby hair. It was reddish blond, the color of an East Texas sunset—that’s where I’m from—and it rippled like the wind through the high grass. Also, she wore huge, snotty sunglasses. In a word she wore “bitch” like a totem, except of course for her mouth, her glorious soft mouth.
Behind me, ahead of me, behind.
I didn’t turn my head. Not even once.
But then she came right alongside. My exit lane was coming up, but suddenly I wasn’t taking it. I had bigger fish to fry. My aging heart, God bless it, didn’t even miss a chug—too seasoned to stop working over a goddess in traffic. There was a dead standstill ahead, likely some kind of accident. Happens every day in the big city. Unlucky for somebody else, but so far I was liking it.
My peripheral vision extended to encompass points west, like maybe Fiji Island. My window was cracked just two inches—enough to muss my hair a little—and the wind was coming from that way and upon my life I could smell her.
My finger jabbed at the window button, lowering it to half mast. I knew she was still looking. It felt like she wanted me to look at her.
I counted: one-miss-iss-ipp-i-two-miss-iss-ipp-i-three-miss-iss-ipp-i, and turned slowly. No smile. Just deadpan. A guy in traffic on his way to work.
She removed her sunglasses and smiled a little and old faithful betrayed me: Clang!
I looked at her and tried not to smile, which was difficult, the way she smiled at me. Playful, as if to say: “There are possibilities here. The door is slightly ajar. Maybe you could come on in. Maybe not. We’ll see.” She was the cat and I the mouse and some kind of game was in progress.
I wasn’t paying any attention to what was going on ahead of me, and it just so happened that that was the game she’d been playing all along—distraction.
She looked forward, taking those lovely eyes off me.
When I finally looked forward. The line ahead of me had moved up perhaps fifty or so yards.
My right foot began the motion to switch from brake to gas and before that small space between foot and pedal was closed completely I heard rubber peeling on asphalt in a growing whine. There was a red and white blur just as I pushed on the gas and my reflex was to brake again, but before I could even do that the beautiful girl with the man-slaying smile and the bitch glasses and the red roadster that I wouldn’t have minded too much sitting in my own driveway darted into the narrow space between me and the car ahead of her and my heart lurched and my ears winced in anticipation of a metal-on-metal screech that didn’t come.
I suppose my ears turned red. It felt like that, anyway. Maybe someone behind me had seen it all and knew that I’d been played for a fool.
And maybe not. The problem was that I knew.
As the shock wore off I moved forward again, my window full up now and destined to remain so. I’d been thoroughly put in my place.
By the time I got caught up to the traffic in front of me the red roadster with the snotty little bitch had switched lanes again, merged into moving traffic and was gone.
So what does a man who’s a blink away from forty do? He does what he’s supposed to do. He goes to work as if nothing has happened at all.
“Good morning, Mr. Travis,” Penelope, my receptionist said. No difference between this and any other given morning. Sometimes I wished Penny wasn’t so damned cute. That morning her cuteness was slightly accusatory.
I smiled and nodded and quickly disappeared around the corner and down the hall and into my office. Comfort and safety was to be found there.
I dropped my briefcase into a chair covered with papers and marveled that nothing spilled.
I made a quick jaunt down to the kitchen for a cup of hot coffee and managed to catch Nat Bierstone’s back disappearing into his own office where he’d probably be until about lunch time.
Back to my Corinthian leather executive chair. I propped my Dr. Martins up on my desk at the same time that I noticed a stack of bills that needed to be paid before the week was done. I’d get around to it.
I sipped my coffee, read the sports section and began to enliven.
I was in the middle of an article on Lance Armstrong, who could probably ride through hell and back on a bicycle—and I was enjoying the article—when my phone buzzer went off. That’s almost always the way it happens.
“Mr. Travis, your first appointment is here.”
Appointment? I didn’t have any appointments. I always kept my own calendar, so no one else actually knew my schedule.
“Penny, are you sure this not Mr. Bierstone’s appointment?”
“Uh. Sir. Mr. Bierstone had me leave a message for you. He wanted you to talk to her.”
“I didn’t get any message,” I said, and just as the last word was out of my mouth my eyes came to rest on a small pink phone message tear-out sheet underneath the heel of my shoe on my desk top.
“Wait, think I found it.”
“Okay, Penny. Give me a minute, then send her in.” I hung up.
I quickly started clearing my desk. Where does all the paper come from? I have a theory about paperwork: I’m certain it mates and reproduces during the night.
I swept the stack of bills and the large index card box on top of it (my client file system—I don’t trust computers, or at least not with that kind of information) under my arm, toted it over to the file cabinet, opened a drawer and dropped it, slammed it shut.
By the time I was back standing in front of my desk and surveying the room, the door opened.
And, of course, it was her.
The roadster girl, bitch-glasses and all.
The moment of recognition was priceless.
Her eyes widened, her mouth dropped slightly open. She tried to remove her sunglasses but only managed to drop them. I took three long steps toward her, bent quickly and picked them up just as she was beginning to stoop down.
I smiled, meeting her eyes.
“Hi,” I told her, pressing her sunglasses back into her delicate hand. She looked down at them as if I’d given her a little present of some sort, realized what they were and tucked them into her purse.
“Miss Simmons?” I asked.
“Um. Yes. Listen, Mr. Travis. I have to say I’m sorry for cutting you off like that.”
“What are the odds, huh? Don’t mention it. It’s forgotten. Come on and have a seat. Would you like some coffee?”
I took her by the elbow, guided her, effortlessly.
She was beautiful. I caught the scent of something. An exotic fragrance. Couldn’t name it if I tried. I successfully resisted the urge to ask her what it was.
She took the proffered chair. I sat down at my desk, facing her.
She just sat looking at me. Not smiling. There was a tiny wrinkle in her otherwise perfect forehead, the beginning knit of a frown.
“How can I help you?”
“Mr. Travis. I’m not sure you can. I’m not sure anybody can.”
I’d heard this before. A few times it’s been true. It’s a marvel to me the whole spectrum of trouble that human beings can get themselves into. I suppose I’ve seen most everything.
“I know it must really appear that way,” I told her, trying not to smile. I suppose I was a little amused, and at her expense. “Just about anything can be untangled, if you know which string to pull.”
“Which string,” she said. Not a question. She was no longer looking at me but at the shelf behind me. Actually I’d say she was peering into some dark space in the universe of her mind.
“Right,” I said. “Why don’t you just start—”
”At the beginning?”
“Well. . . Okay. You can start there if you want to.”
Her face reddened. Cheeks puffed up just a bit. There was moisture stealing into the inside corners of her exotic, slightly feline eyes. My stomach did a little gymnastics, a little back flip that it was out of practice on. If she started crying, I thought I might fall in love.
Please don’t cry, bitch lady? I pleaded with her silently.
Damn but she was gorgeous. Those green eyes the color of a field of clover. Shiny auborn blond hair down to her delicate shoulders. A smallish bone structure with a perfect thin neck and oh so perfect little wrists.
“Mr. Travis,” she began, and sniffed once, delicately.
“Call me Bill.”
“Bill. Have you ever been afraid?”
There are some people that you just don’t cross. Julie Simmons had made it a point to cross the exactly wrong person, a North Texas liquor baron named Archie Carpin, distant relative to the Carpins of Signal Hill and Stinnett up in the Texas Panhandle.
I’d read up on the Carpin Gang and some of the 1930’s depression desperadoes before, back in the days when I actually did my assigned college research. I’d even gone once and kicked around up in Hutchinson County in North Texas, poked my nose into the abandoned, decaying buildings and rust-encrusted oil derricks of that ghost town. It was private property and I didn’t exactly have permission, but when you’re young you tend to think you’ve got license to look where you want, do what you want. Also, you tend to think and act like you’re immortal—at least I did, which, at that time, was pretty close to the truth. What was amazing to me was that anybody else knew about Signal Hill and those old-time gangsters, but here was this pretty girl who had cut me off in traffic giving me chapter and verse.
Back during the early 1920’s the Carpin brothers ran the small slapped-together oil boomtown a few miles east of Stinnett in what was little more than a den of bootleggers, gamblers and other criminals of low order. During those days of big bands and prohibition, men on the far side of the law either rose to the top of the heap or got stomped under. For a brief time the Carpins were on the top of that heap. When Signal Hill was cleaned out by the Texas Rangers in 1927, the former boomtown imploded and the Carpins, who had managed to avoid arrest and capture, had dispersed. When I went up there to look around back in the mid 1980’s there was little left. So when the girl with the bitch sunglasses and the too-cute frown mentioned Carpin’s name, I naturally questioned her on it, and she not only admitted that the man who was after her was one of those Carpins, but that he was proud of his heritage.
There was one question though, once I put it to her, that she didn’t want to answer, and, therefore, it was the one thing that I had to keep putting back in her court each time she attempted to bat it away. The question was, of course: “What did you do?”
When she finally told me, I had to contain myself from bursting into laughter.
She finished the story. I could tell that she’d left out quite a bit.
“I’m not sure I can help you,” I said. She frowned. There was bit of shocked expression on her face.
“Look,” I said. “Miss Simmons. My clients are. . .”
“Well. I have to walk a very. . . I just can’t—No one could just walk in and ask someone to. . . Look, if we so much as took one step outside of the bounds of—”
She kept turning her head slowly, cocking it, waiting for me to finish. I found I didn’t have the words.
“Mr. Travis,” she said. “It’s two million dollars.”
I’m not normally impressed with money, of any denomination. But two million?
“So you’re not exactly here to turn yourself in,” I said.
“Getting arrested wouldn’t be half bad. I’d stand a better chance of surviving, I think,” she said. “And if I don’t get some help and don’t get arrested, or get somewhere safe, then I’ll be dead.”
She must have caught the quizzical look on my face.
“I don’t have the money on me!” she said.
I looked closely at her, searched for some hint, some shred of evidence in her eyes that something of what she told me wasn’t true. I didn’t find it.
She unzipped her small, tan clutch purse and pulled forth three pathetic-looking, wadded-up hundred dollar bills. She was about to give them to me.
A tear slipped down her cheek.
Very suddenly the room felt warm, like someone had cranked up the heat. Possibly my ears were turning red again. I couldn’t let her give me the money, no matter what else was going to happen.
”Julie,” she said, her voice just above a whimper. Her face was flushed and the muscles around her mouth were tight.
There, across from me over the dark gulf of my rosewood desk, was a girl who was used to helping herself. A girl who took her chances, to be sure, but who normally won out in the end. And here she was at the end of her rope. I at least knew enough to know that I had to know more, and that if it were possible, I would help. And it wasn’t as though I had any choice in the matter.
“Julie.” I said. “Are you hungry?”
“Starved,” she said after a short pause. Her head tilted to the left. A little smile was on the verge of taking up residence.
“Would you like to have a little breakfast with me?” I asked.
“God, yes,” she said, smiling suddenly past her tears.
“Good,” I said. “I know just the place.”
The Last Call
There are places to get good coffee and a decent breakfast and be in your own crowd. The place I took Miss Simmons was nothing like that. Nestled in a predominantly lower class neighborhood on the East Side of Interstate 35 there is a hole-in-the-wall place where they start the barbecue about ten years ahead of time and the wood smoke hangs about in the late morning hours like London fog. We had places like that back where I grew up, and I made it a point to find one about the second day of my life in Austin, Texas.
My old Mercedes was parked underneath probably the only willow tree in East Austin, not ten feet away.
The two of us sat just outside the screen porch at a rickety, paint-peeled picnic table as the April sun rose toward zenith between draping willow branches. I found myself wondering whether or not I’d died and gone someplace I couldn’t begin to deserve. Her sunglasses lay not an inch from my right hand, which held the scalding cup of coffee from which I sipped.
I heard the familiar crunch of heavy footsteps drawing close from around the wisteria bush close by.
“Julie,” I said, “I’d like for you to meet a friend of mine.”
She stood up halfway, and I suppose because of my upbringing, I found myself standing as well.
“This is Lawrence White,” I told her. “Lawrence, meet Julie Simmons.”
Lawrence White was a gentle giant. He was a mountainous, dark-skinned, Haystack Calhoun-of-a-man with a blood-red apron already stained with his homemade barbecue sauce. The smile Lawrence wore on his face that morning was slightly nervous, as if he was in the presence of royalty. I’d never seen the man act that way before, but then again I’d never seen him in the presence of a beautiful woman before. I’ve seen men who have gone through some of the worst hells that men have ever experienced under fire who when they came face to face with a beautiful woman became slightly less articulate than your average garden squash, which is descriptive of how Lawrence White was acting.
“Lawrence,” I said. “Shake her hand.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Lawrence.”
“Uh. You too,” he said.
Julie’s arm got a good workout as he shook it up and down.
“Lawrence,” I said. “How about two plates of your world-famous breakfast?”
“You got it, Chief,” he said, finally looking at me, his face breaking into a huge, boyish grin.
For a moment he just stood there, his attention back on Julie, who sat back down and look uped, smiling at him.
Just great, I thought. But then he looked back at me and must have noted my frown, because he turned back around and trudged back to the house, his shoulders now properly hunched.
Within ten minutes we had two small paper plates in front of each of us complete with plastic fork, two fried eggs sunny side up, a slice of Jimmy Dean sausage and a healthy pile of banana pudding.
For awhile there under the shade of that willow tree on that first morning, I would have sworn that the woman was happy. What a difference. Twenty minutes before she had looked like the most pathetic creature in existence.
Okay. Not a bitch, I decided.
I watched Julie as she attacked her eggs, not chipping away at the flanks but going for the heart.
I suppose I was smiling at her, enthralled.
“So what’s your story?” she asked me between mouthfuls of egg.
“Everybody’s got one.”
“So they say,” I told her.
“Yeah. So let’s hear it.”
“Well, lessee,” I began, not knowing quite how to do so, so I just started at the beginning. “I was born and bred about a hundred and forty miles east of here, been to more Texas A&M bonfires than I can count, survived junior high and high school somehow and the idiots graduated me. I took some pre-law classes at Sam Houston State, then decided that it wasn’t my thing. I went to grad school at the University of Houston and again somebody goofed and I got a sheepskin. One marriage, ten years. Bad divorce. No kids. Still love her, though. Suppose I always will. I know. Stupid of me. Three year fiancee-ship with another one, but we broke up and got back together so many times that any marriage would have been doomed. For awhile though, her kid was my kid. Good kid. Not the best mother, though. So. . . I’m here in Austin and it’s all work and no play makes Bill a dull boy. That’s about it.”
“Gonna stick to that story, huh?”, she asked, forkful of banana pudding suspended in time and space between us for emphasis.
“Yeah, except in my case it’d be a lot different.”
“So your turn now,” I said. Bold of me.
“Aw man!” she said in sudden disappointment and dropped her fork.
“Pudding is too sweet!” It could have been a report like Micronesia sinking beneath the sea or killer tornadoes in the Midwest.
The shifting pattern of willow frond shade and sunlight in her hair with shimmers of pure spun gold, delicate sharp pink tongue removing pudding from her front teeth, soft yet piercing green eyes with too much knowledge about the world and not enough of the mundane; and dark secrets hidden like treasures, the way squirrels will hide their nuts. I suppose from that moment I was in love. A dead man. No mourners, please, just shovel in the dirt and shut up.
“Besides,” she said. “You wouldn’t be interested.”
“Oh, believe me. I am.” I took a strong draw of coffee and the movement of the earth slowed a bit.
The most amazing thing happened! She clucked, three times. Her tongue against the roof of her mouth pulled down quick. My idiot heart stopped, then resumed a full three beats later.
“Okay. You really wanna know, I’m gonna tell you. I survived a bad cocaine addiction when I was in the tenth grade. Was pregnant in the eleventh and carried it for six months, then miscarried. My mother and father were murdered while I was away in rehab for the second time. They were watching Punky Brewster and he, or maybe they—no one really knows—just came in and blew them both away and made off with the jewelry, the silver, the electronics, everything. I never graduated from high school. No GED either. I married the Coca-Cola guy from the rehab just so I would have a place to go after I got out, you know, somebody to take care of me. Three years later I realized I had his I.Q. plus another forty points, so I hopped on a bus to Las Vegas. I won’t tell you what I did there. You wouldn’t approve. I’ve lived in Sacramento, New York, Boston, Greensboro, Fort Myers, Mercer Island, and six months on a pineapple plantation on Molokai. Then, of course, back to Vegas. While I was there this last time I ran into a really bad character named Carpin who had more money than sense—that’s had, for sure—and that about brings us up to present time. I’ve been married four times but I’m not wearing any rings now. And all work and no play makes Julie a dull girl. That’s it.”
I checked to see if my mouth was wide open. It wasn’t.
“I understand.” It’s all I could say.
Her jaw dropped. I swigged at my coffee.
“No. You don’t understand, Bill. My middle name is Trouble. You should run. Now. Very fast.”
I had no excuse after that. I’d been officially warned. A lot of good it would do me.
“But you won’t,” she said. “Will you?” I couldn’t tell whether she was begging me to get up and leave or begging me to stay. Probably more than a little of both.
“Not on your life. How old are you Julie? I’m thirty-nine.”
“Thirty-two.” There was a long pause. You could almost say the pause was pregnant. “So, Mr. Travis. Bill. What do you want to do now?”
I didn’t even have to think about my response. “If you really want to know, what I’d like to do more than anything is spend the rest of the day in bed.”
“With me?” She didn’t miss a beat.
“Not by myself.”
Her face turned a shade of scarlet.
“Yeah,” she said. “Let’s go.”
I’ve always had this strict policy. Never take a client to bed. It’s a violation of just about every ethical code imaginable.
The only problem is there has to be one exception to every rule. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Julie and I spent most of the rest of that first day in the sack with only the occasional jaunt to the surface for air, food, water, and other necessities.
We finally came all the way up to the surface of our ocean of lust long enough to dress ourselves and step out for awhile.
I took her out on the town. After driving around for a good hour I remembered a very special spot I hadn’t visited in a few years: the Captain’s Cabin, down at Ski Shores on Town Lake. It was the most out-of-the-way venue I could think of going and still stay in the same city. The place is one of Austin’s little-known secrets.
Sure enough, the place was still standing.
Over a couple of beers at an outdoor picnic table right on the water of Town Lake we got to know each other a little more, even over the melodic din of a native-Austin folk singer with a good sense of lyrics, not a bad voice, and a propensity to turn the amp up too loud.
After the food arrived we ate, made eyes at each other and soaked up the atmosphere and the loud music. As we finished our hamburgers and onion rings, the singer took a break.
“Bill,” she said. “You know all that stuff I told you about all the husbands and miscarriage and everything. Some of that’s not completely true.”
“Why’d you tell me that stuff, then?” I asked.
“Because,” she said and then looked down at the table, unable to look me in the eye. “I wanted to shock you. I wanted you to not be interested in me. It didn’t work. Did you believe me?”
“I believed everything you said. And I believe you now.”
“Because. Because you look like you could use a little faith right now. And because I damn well like you. I don’t think there’s anything you could tell me that would make me not like you.”
And then the tears came again, slow but certain, and then, afterwards, came a smile like warm sunshine.
“Bill,” she said. “You never did answer my question this morning.”
“Which question was that?”
“Have you ever been afraid?”
“Can’t say as I have,” I told her.
“That’s what I thought,” she said and upended her Budweiser long neck.
I found myself looking out over the water at her back. Across the lake there were mansions on the height, new homes built by new money scant yards from the cliff and a hundred yard tumbling fall. Out on the lake the jet skis and pleasure craft had lessened with the rapidly descending twilight. But all the while I was really looking at Julie, my new lover, and hoping it would last, thinking that it just could, and also hoping I’d be able to harden my heart a little just in case it didn’t.
And it hit me.
Fear. It’s what I felt right then and there.
Traveling back home that evening as a brilliant, fading sun tracked the last arc of purplish sky, Julie and I took the winding, twisting City Park Road through the rocky countryside west of Austin. A sense of calm and surreality came over me. I turned to look at her as I felt her fingers interlace with mine. She flicked her eyes my way and smiled, then turned back to take in the vista as we topped another hill. Something in my chest thudded fatalistically. I was either sinking or swimming. I had no way of knowing which as yet. If I drowned soon, then I’d know, or, conversely, if I didn’t, I’d also know.
By the time we made it back to my split-level home in Westlake Hills night had fallen and it had grown cold out.
Once inside I opened a bottle of port and got the fireplace going. There was one rough moment when I realized I’d forgotten to open the flue and managed to singe some of the hair off my arm getting it open. The house got a little too smoky so I opened up a few windows. Julie laughed at my antics. That sort of stuff seems to happen to me all the time. By the time the flames were roaring and the small pine knots were cracking and we were sipping our port, all the questions that I had been holding back from asking her seemed to be wrong for the mood I had set. So, instead of talking we found other things to occupy us.
One time during the night we found ourselves both awake and whispering to each other.
“Bill?” Julie asked.
“What is it that you do?”
“I help people, darlin’,” I said. I didn’t have to pause on that one.
“If that’s not a practiced answer, I’ve never heard one.”
“Yeah. Okay. I’ve said it a few times too many.”
“Yeah. So answer.”
“People who have problems with money come to me. I solve their problems.”
“You launder money?”
“Hey,” I said. Not a whisper. “I do not launder money.”
“What do you do then?”
“I spread it around. And it comes back. But the people who come to me are good people—meaning not criminals.”
“I’m no criminal,” she said. Did I detect a little poutyness in her voice?
“No. You’re not a criminal. You’re just a thief.”
Julie talked in her sleep, or rather she talked in her nightmares. Those squirreled-away secrets normally kept hidden behind her soft green eyes and even softer lips came out and showed shadows and corners of themselves.
Across her delicate face there was a soft splash of blue light from my fish tank. In there I keep Tiger Oscars, Jack Dempseys, and an African Knife, all chichlids imported from Lake Victoria, a dark ocean and an even darker continent away. Huge fish shadows swam over her face, possibly evoking these dreams, these torments. I could have awakened her, sure. But then again I was under some kind of spell. Really, I could no more have brought myself to do it than I could have granted her immortality.
“Doan,” she murmured, which I translated as “don’t.”
“Please. Not there. Doan shoot me there…”
Shoot? Either a gun or a needle. God, I thought, please let it be only a needle.
She cried out and a shiver knifed through my stomach.
I reached for her but my hand didn’t even make half the distance. She awoke, eyes stark and wide in the blue light and she was in motion and hitting me and screaming.
“NO! I SAID NOOO!”
A rake of nails across my ribs like the track a red hot poker might make. A cuff to the chin and for just an instant there were little splashes of light and my adrenalin kicked in and I was strong and grabbed her and held her.
“Julie! It’s me! It’s Bill!”
Eyes frozen, locked on mine in the submarine glow. First horror. Dawning recognition. Wonder.
“It’s okay,” I cooed to her. “I’ve got you.” I put my arms fully around her and held her to me, tight. “It was a dream.”
“Oh… uh… Bill. God. Bill. I’m… suh… suh… sorry.” Her voice broke.
She cried like that for five minutes until her cries became sobs and even the sobs soon drew away into silence as I held her. We found ourselves looking into each other’s eyes and she kissed me and I kissed her back and we were making love yet again, and I wasn’t thirty-nine but eighteen, or maybe sixteen, and our bodies and our thoughts and what we could see and touch and feel became one thing.
And it wasn’t even Tuesday yet.
The Last Call
It was Tuesday. I usually don’t know what day it is. I met Julie on Monday and either that was ten years ago or yesterday.
I was up by six a.m. and there she sat on my barstool in the breakfast nook, wearing my Notre Dame t-shirt and stirring coffee. An angel if there ever was one. I don’t ever recall using the breakfast nook for breakfast. What guy without a woman would?
“Hey,” I said, and she looked up. A smile spread across her face and I noticed the little dimple in her chin for the first time when she smiled big. Too angelic for even Notre Dame.
“’Morning,” Julie said. It was a good sound for that room.
“Yeah. Bill. I have to tell you something.”
“Here it comes, “ I said.
“Told ya to run.”
“And how fast. So what is it?”
“Bill. I like you a lot. I can’t stay though. There’s Jake and Freddie, two of Archie’s men. They wield guns the way lawyers wield briefs. If they find me I might not live through it, and if you’re with me you definitely won’t. And you’re entirely too cute to fit for cement shoes.”
I took down my David Letterman cup and poured the last of the coffee. She was probably already on her second or third cup.
“Jake and Freddie, huh?”
She sighed, sipped at her coffee and looked off into space. I wished that I knew what she was looking at.
“I don’t want to go, even though I know I have to,” she said.
“Okay,” I said. Sometimes it’s best if a fellow just lets a woman say what it is she wants to say. All you have to do is let her know you’ve heard her.
“Good. Just so you know.” She got up, came over to me where I leaned back against the stove. She put her arms around me and rested her head on my chest. I could smell her hair. It was fine hair, like baby hair. I’d been right that first morning. Was that yesterday? The scent of her stirred around in my head, making my knees weak.
Julie looked into my eyes. It was almost as if they’d changed color. They’d become more smoky, and all leprechaun green.
“Hey,” I said. “What you may not know is that I’ve got friends in low places.”
“That’s sort of hard to believe,” she said.
“Ha! Believe me.”
“Yeah?” she said. Her face was getting puffy, like maybe she’d start crying any second.
“Look,” I said. “I’m gonna help you. Wherever you have to go or whatever you feel you gotta do, I’m gonna help you.”
A tear paused, preparatory to rolling down her cheek.
“Sometimes I think you’re not real,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve heard that before.”
“But you are. You really are. Okay, Bill. You can help. I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to repay you.”
She wiped the tear away.
Fish shadows swam in my thoughts.
“We’ll think of something,” I said.
You can’t learn to get around in your own line of work without learning a little something about the history of your own particular area of specialization. One of my specialties was moving money around—legitimately. My clientele are special and they have special needs.
I’d started off as an investment counselor back in 1988 and quickly found that it’s not so easy to get ahead unless you have clients. I looked around at all the other fellows who graduated with me and found that few of them were earning more than enough than it would take to just begin to whet my appetite, and so I made a conscious decision to strike out in my own direction.
I originally started my firm out of an efficiency apartment three blocks off the drag in Austin. Why Austin? For one thing, I’d quickly grown tired of Houston during my five years there while attending the University of Houston. For another, it appeared that…
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