“I fed old Freddy a couple of nights a week,” said Davis. “He was a harmless old drunk.”
“There’s no such thing,” said Svoboda, “as a harmless old drunk. The majority of society’s ills are directly related to the consumption of alcohol.” Svoboda opened a desk drawer and removed a virgin bottle of Canadian Club. He cracked and uncorked it; offered the bottle to Davis.
Davis took the bottle, shrugged, and swallowed twice.
“I don’t know how Prince Frederick got in the Saab’s trunk,” said Svoboda. He pronounced Saab to rhyme with cab. Svoboda motioned for the bottle and drank, his turkey-wattled Adam’s apple bobbing four times. “But I recognized the murder weapon.”
“For Future Glue.”
“—which makes Woody a suspect.”
“Woody just had twenty people at the ranch. Future Glue’s stuff is all over the ranch and Nightingale Meadows. Half the population of Nightingale should be suspects, Svoboda. Are you arresting Woody?”
“I know where to find him, and he ain’t going nowhere.” The cop plopped his feet on the desk and cradled the Canadian Club like an infant. “You vote today?”
“I’d have enjoyed it if that Arizona bastard won.”
“He’d shake things up a bit.”
They shared fifteen seconds of silence.
“Who’d want to kill this booze hound, Davis?”
“Who’d want to stuff him in my trunk, Svoboda?” Davis noticed the heels of Svoboda’s boots were worn on the inside: a pigeon-toed cop.
Svoboda burped and settled deeper into his chair. “Why’d you pop your trunk?”
Davis explained the Theroux’s sense of humor and the milkcrates.
“A man,” said Svoboda, “was just found strangled to death with an item your former partner will admit to owning and the body found in your car. Earlier this week another corpse was discovered in a restaurant you run.” He drank. “Do you realize what kind of trouble you’re in?”
“I called the cops both times, Svoboda.” Davis massaged his temples and decided to shut up. He stared at Nightingale’s Police Chief. His face always seemed freshly shaven. He had a thatch of thinning, choirboy hair. His plump lips were chapped. This banal, delicate face masked deceit and treachery and peril. “Do I need to call a lawyer?”
Svoboda reached tentatively toward the computer on his desk. He regarded computers as a caveman dealt with fire: necessary, but mysterious and capable of inflicting pain if you came too close. After several hunt-and-peck keystrokes he said, “After Wanda Marie got whacked I entered the names of John Barleycorn’s ex-and-present employees. Then I did a universal search on criminal records. Nothing much. A couple of DUIs, outstanding tickets. The only one who did time was Woody.”
“That’s common knowledge.”
“Damn near folklore,” said Svoboda. He placed his feet on the floor, the bottle on the desk, and his chin in his hands. “But I did discover that you were convicted of manslaughter.”
Davis nodded and ran his hand through his hair.
Davis pointed to the computer. “Consult your data base.”
“I have, the case file has been closed by the Supreme Court of the State of Nevada. I’d need a court order.”
“Get a court order.” Davis turned to leave.
“Sit your ass down and explain, or I’ll arrest you for the murder of Freddy Finnegan. I’m serious.”
Davis leaned against the wall and teeter-tottered on his boots.
“The truth is the only thing keeping your ass outta jail, Davis.”
“The day,” said Davis, “I decided to kill him I sat in the hospital waiting room—Veteran’s Hospital in Reno?”
Svoboda nodded, letting Davis find his own pace.
“Other people, nurses, relatives from both sides of the family, wandered in-and-out. I smiled and chatted with everyone. After dinner, finally, he and I were alone. I looked at him, studied him, in his bed. He was mute, unconscious, drooling. He wasn’t the man I knew. He wasn’t human. I already considered him gone; I knew he was gone. I unplugged the monitor, that beeping flatliner thing over his head. Then I switched off the machine that kept him alive. He shuddered and died. Neat and clean and simple. Ashes to ashes and all that sanctimonious buffalo shit. It was on my eighteenth birthday.”
“Who was he?”
Svoboda offered Davis the bottle. He waved it away: “Dad had a stroke and it fried my liver seeing the cantankerous old sonuvabitch lying there diapered and drooling. So I pulled the plug. I should have done twenty years, but I walked on a technicality: the official time of dad’s death was thirteen minutes before my time of birth and I couldn’t be tried as an adult. The Supreme Court didn’t want a precedent like this on the books, so they buried it. Bob’s hardly spoken to me since. We haven’t really been brothers since.”
Svoboda drank, “You got ballsack, O’Kane. I’ll give you that. Real sack.”
“Are you booking me?”
“No. But I have to impound your car.”
Davis shook his head; he’d lost a house today, now a car. Someone knocked, tentatively, at the door. “Yo!” yelled Svoboda.
Yurri Briscoe, rotund, with basset-hound eyes, entered. “Chief, “ we have a problem. A dilemma. A quandry.”
Yurri filled the doorway with his bulk, “It’s the girl.”
“The deceased one we had on ice downstairs.” Fig Newton crumbs clung to his upper lip.
“Wanda Marie?” asked Davis.
“Yeah,” said Briscoe, “that one.”
“What about her?” said Svoboda.
“Ah, sir,” Yurri wiped the crumbs away. “She’s gone.”
Davis walked out of the police station and burped sour whiskey into his left hand. He began hiking towards KFLO. LesJimCarl drove by in their van. Davis waved with both hands, but instead of stopping they simply returned their boss’ wave and motored down Sagrado Boulevard. Joan sped by in her Acura; Davis glimpsed the tops of two pigtailed heads in the backseat. His ex-wife, distracted and distant and serious, didn’t see Davis.
He paced down the boulevard, the setting sun at his back, heat from the pavement burning his feet through the soles of his Tony Lamas. Yurri pulled up in his police cruiser, “Where you headed?”
“KFLO,” said Davis. “I need to borrow Dirk’s HumVee.”
“Thanks.” Davis slid into the air-conditioned vehicle.
Yurri merged into traffic. “I hope Svoboda wasn’t busting your balls too badly. He can be so…discourteous…uncivil…and insolent.”
“Screw him,” said Davis. “I haven’t done anything.”
“Except find two dead bodies in the same week.”
“Boy,” said Davis, “what a wacky coincidence.”
Yurri crinkled some cellophane and offered Davis a Fig Newton. Davis waved it away. Yurri popped two in his mouth, munched and said, “You didn’t kill Freddy Finnegan. You were the only guy in town who treated the old dipsomaniac with any dignity. And you sure as shit didn’t kill Wanda Marie.”
He munched another Newton and said, “Because you loved her.”
Policemen—since the first Neanderthal picked up a club and beat someone to death for stealing a saber-tooth-tiger steak—have shared a common trait. They are addicted to control. They crave that extra bit of knowledge that gives them command of a situation. Then they can divulge the tidbit of information and take advantage of their adversary’s confusion. Yurri pulled the cruiser over, shifted to PARK, stared at Davis and said, “It’s what the letter said.”
Davis had to nibble, “What letter?”
“The one I found on Wanda Marie’s body. It was addressed to you and tucked into her panties.”
The day that Woody told Davis he had sold John Barleycorn’s, Davis threw what had to be called a tantrum. He hurled his coffee mug across the office, kicked the safe and used every swear word he possessed. Woody waited until Davis had finished and said, “You don’t know it yet, but your character has been strengthened by this encounter with Woody McGuire.”
That’s when Davis trashed Woody’s desk and headed into the kitchen. Davis threw plates, glasses, silverware, coffeepots, and produce. Seven minutes later John Barleycorn’s kitchen had suffered $4700 in damages and Davis stood panting by the dishwasher, the knuckles on his right hand bloodied. “When,” said Woody, “someone pisses you off like I just did, go hollow inside. Make yourself feel nothing. Slow down your thinking and change the subject—turn the situation inside out.”
Davis, knees cramped near his chest—the five-foot-seven Briscoe needed the seat set forward to reach the pedals—said, “KFLO’s another mile up the road.”
“Aren’t you curious?”
“I’m extremely curious,” said Davis, “why do they call you Yurri?”
“About the letter, smartass.”
“My father told me,” Two mentions of the old guy in less than an hour, “that you wet the bed on an overnight football trip in high school—“
“Adolescent incontinence is a serious and embarrassing affliction.”
“—and the coach nicknamed you Urine which got shortened to Yurri.”
“Get out and walk,” said Yurri.
Davis untucked his sweat-soaked shirt and mopped his face with the shirttails. “Sonuvabitch it’s hot out there.”
“What’s up?” said Dirk.
Davis told him about Freddy, Svoboda, the impounded Saab, and Wanda Marie’s missing body. He was interrupted four times by people stopping by the radio station to drop off sealed envelopes. After Raymond LeBlanc, the fifth interruption, placed another envelope on Dirk’s desk, Davis said, “When did KFLO start handling overflow from the post office?”
“I agreed,” said Dirk, “to hold bets on the Sagrado Derby for Woody. Big mistake.”
“Dealing with Woody usually is. Who is everyone betting on?”
“Against. Future Glue.”
“Future Glue isn’t entered in the derby. You have to qualify.”
“Been studying The Racing Form, Davis?” asked Dirk.
“Yeah, I have. I placed a bet the other day. I won and rolled it over on the election. I lost.” Davis removed his shirt and slipped on a red-and-green t-shirt with KFLO’s slogan in white—KFLO 98.7—SLIGHTLY HOTTER THAN HUMANITY.
“Davis, don’t start betting again. Take this as it is: a setback, which you’ll get over.”
“I don’t want to be a bitch about it, but stay away from the track.”
“Thanks, Dirk. I should get back to some GA meetings.” They shared a moment of silence. A stifling wind howled down the valley, “Have you seen the girls?”
“I stopped by this morning. You owe me fifty bucks.”
“Babysitting. That kid next door—“
Dirk nodded, “She’s practically living at your place. Joan’s going apeshit. She’s a terrible mother. It’s an embarrassment, as her father, to say that.”
Davis checked his wallet, “How about we go halfsies, seeing how Joan’s your daughter?”
“Fifty is half. I gave Lisa a hundred. She’s a sweet kid.”
Davis gave Dirk the money and asked for the keys to the KFLO HumVee.
He parked the HumVee across the street from his former residence. His key still worked, Joan hadn’t changed the locks. He packed an overnight bag, remembering at the last moment to snatch the final bottles of Petrus from the cellar.
“How’d you get in here?” asked Bob.
Davis had parked HumVee in front, was asked to move it around back; then he needed to show two pieces of ID to enter the building. “I told the nice gray-haired security guard I wanted to see my brother.”
“Where’s the Saab?”
So dear brother Bob had observed the obstacle course Davis had negotiated in order to enter THE GOVERNMENT BUILDING. Davis sidestepped the question as deftly as a politician, “He said you didn’t have a brother. I had to show him an ID. Same last name, same birthdate. Stuff like that.”
“What do you want?”
“Sure is hot out, eh?”
“What the hell do you want?” said Bob. He hit the screensaver; a geometric overlay of Celtic crosses filled the screen.
“We were just talking about dad, and I thought of you,” said Davis. Except for Bob’s sweat-stained Polynesian shirt and the iMac he worked at, everything was government gray and green. Davis wondered if, in Polynesia, the offices are painted fuschia, ochre, and vermillion and the drones who worked there wore green and gray.
“We?” said Bob.
Davis explained The-Drunk-in-the-Trunk, Svoboda, and his now-impounded Saab. Bob listened with his eyes half-closed; fingers resting almost daintily on the computer keyboard’s spacebar. “I can’t believe Freddy’s dead,” said Davis. “Who’d wanna kill the harmless old sonuvabitch.”
“Maybe,” said Bob, “his son thought he was useless, you know, just taking up space. And strangled him. Technically--”
“—that’s what you did, unplugging dad’s respirator.” Bob pushed off the desk with his hands. His castered chair accelerated backwards and smacked into a drab green filing cabinet. He raised his arms, laced his fingers and cradled his head.
“Would you really be happier if I were locked up in Carson City, sharing a cell with a tattooed biker who called me Ingrid?”
Bob moved his head twice, almost imperceptibly. The movement was so slight Davis couldn’t determine whether it were YES or NO.
A definite maybe. “I want,” said Davis, “to talk to my brother.”
“Sure.” Davis THUNKED his toe against the metal desk.
“I have a theory.”
“You’ve used gambling to subconsciously mess up your life.”
“So now you’re a psychologist?”
“I’m a geologist; but you’ve got a headfull of gravel. So it’ll work.”
“Gambling,” said Davis. “Enlighten me.”
“You pull the plug on dad and mom pulls her own plug three years later—“
“Four,” said Davis. “She was at my wedding.”
“Three years, four, it’s still your fault.”
“Don’t blame me for mom’s suicide, Bob.”
“I don’t need to blame you; I read the note when I found the body: I can’t live knowing my son killed the man I loved.”
Davis realized there was nothing he could ever say to Bob about their mother’s death. Ever.
“Since then you’ve been using gambling to ruin Davis O’Kane.”
“I’ve made some mistakes.” Including coming here to try and talk to you.
“All on purpose. And all gambles.”
“Besides the money I’ve lost,” said Davis, “name one?”
“Marrying that self-centered bitch was the second biggest gamble you ever took.”
Davis scuffed his heels, “What was the first?”
“Having children with her.”
Davis hesitated, listened to the THRUM THRUM of the air-conditioning and studied the granite mountains framed in the window before he said, “Familiarity breeds contempt—and children.”
“I hit a soft spot and you run and hide behind a smoke-screen from Mark Twain’s ceegar,” said Bob. “You are such a chickenshit.”
Davis briefly considered punching Bob, then remembered the whuppings Bob had put on him over the years. “Let me ask you a question?”
”How long have you been working for Ciccarelli?”
“Since he bought into Barleycorn’s. Same as you.”
Davis pointed to a file on the desk and read, “USGS Survey 678-P. CICCARELLI ASSAY.”
“That’s privileged information.”
“What’s Ciccarelli up to with the USGS?”
“Get outta my office.”