Where You Go
Copyright© 2011 by Robert McKay
I pulled away from Victor Ignacio Sandoval's house and headed for San Pablo. I know that area pretty well – it's one of the areas where you find yourself a lot if you're a PI and you don't care to peep in windows in the Heights looking for divorce evidence. Although these days, come to think of it, I'm not sure that anyone needs photos of people together who shouldn't be in order to decide on divorce; it seems that people treat marriage and divorce the same way they treat getting in and out of bed. They do either one whenever they feel like it.
The quickest route there was Central, and so I swung back north a bit and hit it, and headed east again. The place I was looking for was just past the Fairgrounds, what they're calling Expo New Mexico these days, though I don't know anyone who actually uses that name in conversation. When I was just passing Valencia I felt my cell phone vibrating in my pocket, so I pulled into the shopping center at Central and San Pedro. I turned on the dome light and pulled the phone, which had by now quit vibrating, out of my pocket. The caller ID showed our home phone number. I dialed.
Cecelia answered. "Darvin, where are you?"
"I'm out and about. Why?"
"I was getting worried, Darvin. I'm used to you working all sorts of hours, but I'm also used to you calling about dusk if you're going to be late, and you haven't done so."
It was true – it was nearly full dark by now. "I got occupied, C. I'm on the trail of something and it's got my attention."
She was silent for just a moment. When she spoke her voice was slower than normal. "You are not in the habit of forgetting your family, Darvin, even when you are fully engaged in a case."
"Yeah, well, I've never been tracking down someone who killed a friend of mine either."
Cecelia's pause was longer this time, and when she spoke her voice sounded like it was under tight control. "You are also not in the habit of using sarcasm as a weapon against me."
I took a deep breath. "I'm not in the habit of getting interrogated by my wife either. Suppose you let me do my work, and quit trying to be my mother."
"Very well, then." I heard the icy formality of Cecelia in a rage. "I shan't obtrude on your labors any further." And she hung up. Her movements are too precise for me to hear any rattling and banging as she hung up the phone, but I know her well enough that I was sure she had put it back with some force. I looked at my cell phone for a moment, a vague pain starting somewhere in my chest, and folded it up and put it back in my pocket and got on the road again.
The bar on San Pablo wasn't the kind of place people drop into for a beer after work. Periodically the cops would bust someone there for dealing drugs, or selling child porn, or something else equally pleasant. There were fights there every once in a while, and they wouldn't know white wine from clean towels – which they didn't have in the toilets. I'd been in there a time or two on cases, and it was about my least favorite drinking spot.
I parked by Trumbull Park, on Pennsylvania. I've been working so long in Albuquerque that the gangbangers know me and my vehicle; it didn't take 'em long to realize that the dirty Blazer was mine just as the dirty pickup had been. They leave me alone, partly because I don't treat them with disrespect, partly because they know I can shoot fairly well, partly because I seldom deal with the crimes they commit, and – as I learned after a case where I'd had to draw on a pimp – partly because they've somehow learned about Cecelia and are terrified of what she might do if I get hurt. Now my wife is a tough lady and a much better shot than I am, especially at any sort of long range, but I don't think anyone needs to fear her. I haven't, though, told the gangs that; if a misconception keeps me safe, I can live with it.
I walked up and over to the bar. If it's got a name I've never known it; it doesn't even have a sign saying "Bar." It does have two or three neon beer signs, all American brands. If I'm going to have a beer I prefer German, but most people haven't ever tasted the difference.
I walked in, and found that it was as hot and smelly and noisy as it had been the last time I'd been there. I stood with my back to the wall beside the door for a moment, scanning the crowd and getting used to the noise, and letting my eyes adjust to the dim light. Some of the noise was a jukebox, but most of it was people talking – shouting, actually, so others could hear them over the noise of everyone else shouting. It wasn't quite as dim as most bars are, but certainly not well lit. There was the bar across the back, starting on the left side. Where the bar ended there was a short corridor going back, with the toilets – here they were emphatically not restrooms – on the right, and the office on the left. I'd never been in the office, and after being in the men's toilet once I'd as soon find a bush somewhere.
How I'd never seen Teabeau Rice when I'd been in the place before I didn't know, but I did know his description – black, male, tall, muscular, barbed wire tattoo around his right arm just above the bicep, shaved head. That wasn't exactly a definitive description, but it did narrow things down somewhat. The crowd was about equal numbers white, Hispanic or Indian, and black. That meant that I could dismiss two thirds of the crowd right away. Looking at the blacks scattered around, I saw one at the left end of the bar – left from where I stood – who fit the description.
I wondered whose description I fit. I haven't fit in, as far as appearance goes, for years ... for decades. No one in Albuquerque, except maybe the odd tourist, looks like I do. I wear a bullrider hat, a heavy walrus mustache, cowboy shirts, jeans, and boots with pointed toes and definite heels. It's not that I'm trying to look like a cowboy, though I do, and though I did punch cows for a while. No, it's simply that I am most comfortable in such clothing. I gave up wearing anything else when I quit the cops umpteen years ago. I knew I must stand out in the crowd, not because of my skin – though I've grown used to being the only white in the crowd at church when we visit Leanna – but because of my clothing.