The Devil Went Down To Austin Page 51


At the end of class, the students filed out. Maia Lee stepped down from the back of the room.

’’All right,’’ she said. ’’I must admit you do this rather well. I haven\'t fallen asleep either time.’’

She\'d succumbed to the Texas summer abandoning her business attire in favour of walking shorts, tank top, sandals. Her hair fell loose around her shoulders.

’’The teaching career that might have been,’’ I lamented. ’’Had I not been stolen out of the warm bosom of Academia by a certain lawyer.’’

’’You were in the warm bosom of a bartending job,’’ Maia reminded me.

’’Technicalities.’’

’’You ready?’’ she asked.

’’Do I have to be?’’

She held my eyes.

’’Yeah,’’ I said. ’’I suppose I\'m ready.’’

We walked across campus together under the shadow of the clock tower, through the South Mall. The distribution boxes for the Daily Texan and the Austin Chronicle had been filled with new issues, both carrying lead stories about the family scandal that had recently rocked Doebler Oil the discovery of an heir the family had shuffled aside, apparently because they didn\'t like his Latino father. The Chronicles cover featured a huge closecropped photo of W.B. Doebler\'s face, with the title: ’’Oil or Slime?’’ I promised myself I\'d stop by the Met Club later, get W.B. to autograph a copy for me.

Maia and I walked down the red granite steps that rounded the side of the Poseidon fountain.

Matthew Pena was waiting for us at the bottom.

He was in a wheelchair, his lower half swathed in a crinkly black blanket. His face looked sunburned, as if he\'d fallen asleep under a heat lamp. His moustache and goatee had started to spread into a full beard. It looked like he\'d actually gained weight from his week in the hospital.

Behind him, at the curb, a milky green Lexus was idling. A young Asian chauffeur was talking into a cell phone.

Matthew and I shook hands unenthusiastically. Then Maia offered hers and Matthew clasped it. Maia sat on the granite lip of the fountain, her knees a few inches from the wheels of Pena\'s chair.

’’I leave at one o\'clock,’’ Matthew said. ’’You have an answer for me?’’

’’The doctor give you a prognosis?’’ Maia asked.

Pena rubbed his fingers against the chrome of his armrests. ’’Does it matter for your decision?’’

’’No.’’

’’Then it\'s too soon to tell. I still have no feeling in my right leg. This morning I had a slight tingle in my left. The doctors say that\'s a good sign, but they don\'t know. I\'ll start physical therapy as soon as I get back.’’

He did a pretty good job suppressing the fear in his voice.

’’Encouraging,’’ Maia said. ’’But my answer is no, Matthew. I can\'t work for you.’’

His face paled in a slow wash, like wet sand around a footprint. ’’I have leverage with Ron Terrence. If you won\'t work for me directly, I can get you your old job back.’’

’’No, Matthew. Thank you.’’

’’You could do very well as my lawyer. You could make millions in a very short time.’’

’’Yes, I could. The answer is still no.’’

He nodded. ’’I thought as much.’’

’’Good luck, though, Matthew. I wish you well.’’

He pursed his lips. ’’I\'m sure you do.’’

Across 24th Street, the church bells of University Christian started clanging. A line of startled pigeons rose in a bluegray arc, only to settle again half a block down by the eggroll vendor.

Pena gave me a sour smile. ’’This must be satisfying, Navarre seeing me in a chair.

Hearing Maia tell me no.’’

’’Not at all.’’

’’I should apologize to you. Part of me wants to. Unfortunately, most of me wants you to rot in hell.’’

’’That\'s okay,’’ I said. ’’I\'m not sure which part of you I like better.’’

He looked satisfied with that reply.

Next to us, water cascaded down the front of Poseidon\'s patinaed team of horses.

Across the street, the doors of the church opened and weddinggoers in tuxedos and dresses poured out. I realized it was the third wedding I\'d seen since coming to Austin.

And then I remembered it was June. This was supposed to be a month for weddings.

People threw rice. The bride and groom looked so young I felt like I must\'ve missed an entire generation of people getting married.

A shavingcreamdecorated limo pulled up, and Matthew\'s driver looked across the street with distaste. Probably done his share of wedding gigs. Probably was a whole lot easier driving around one bitter paraplegic in a wheelchair. He called, ’’Mr. Pena?

Plane time.’’

Pena stared at me. ’’Don\'t screw up with Maia twice, Navarre. You understand me?

Every other insult I can live with, even being in this chair, but I could not live with that.’’

The water kept galooshing into the pool. The wedding couple got into their limo and drove off in a blizzard of rice and displaced pigeons. Matthew Pena turned and wheeled himself toward the Lexus. The driver helped him from the chair to the backseat, folded the chair, put it in the trunk. The last I saw of Matthew, he was staring at me with those cold dead eyes, giving me a warning. Then the black glass shut on him like a microwave door.

Maia pressed her fingertips together. Sprinkles of water from the fountain were freckling her blouse.

’’You okay?’’ I asked.

She looked at me, managed a smile. ’’Just hoping he gets better.’’

’’The scary thing is, he probably will.’’

And then we heard the rumble of motorcycles, looked toward Guadalupe and saw six Harley hogs coming up 24th, disrupting the wedding guests and pigeons alike.

Armand was riding left flank, his shoulder heavily padded but apparently not affecting his biking ability. Four other black leather warriors fanned out to his right, all of them overweight and slightly grizzled. The Metamucil Diablos.

Clyde Simms rode lead, his bike fixed with a brandnew flame emblazoned sidecar in which my brother Garrett rode like some World War II general.

He had dark shades on, his rainbow shirt, his leather helmet straps flapping loosely around his beard.

’’Hey!’’ he yelled. ’’Knew if we circled the campus enough times we\'d catch you!’’

He gave me that crooked piranha grin I hadn\'t seen in a long time.

The bikes pulled over. I shook hands with Clyde, Armand, got introductions with the others. Maia gave Garrett a kiss.

’’Off to see the lizard?’’ Maia asked.

’’Man,’’ Garrett said, ’’I have never appreciated freedom so much. We are off and we ain\'t stopping for anything but concerts and liquor till we hit Key West. You sure you don\'t want to ditch your real lives and come along?’’

Maia and I smiled, shook our heads, though I thought maybe Maia was a little tempted.

’’Speaking of real life ...’’ I said.

’’Hey, man. The check cleared. A little negotiating with Pena, he was able to see his way clear to a cash payment in exchange for dropping a lawsuit. He\'s already in enough trouble with the SEC.’’

Garrett\'s work with the High Tech Unit had indeed managed to trace the leaked security files to Pena\'s computer. In fact, the High Tech guys had been sufficiently impressed with Garrett\'s work to offer him some contract gigs.

’’You going to be working law enforcement?’’ I asked. ’’What would Dad say about that?’’

Garrett shrugged. ’’I got time to think about that now. Oh, and by the way, I got something for you.’’

He dug a manila folder out of his seat, tossed it to me. ’’Maybe I caught the Christmas spirit. Ruby\'s will she left the whole damn marina to Clyde, did you know that? We damn near had to peel him off the ceiling when he heard. I figured Ruby was good enough to do that, I\'d better make her proud of me.’’

I looked at the documents inside the folder, saw Lars Elder\'s name, First Bank of Sabinal. I saw yellow highlighted places, red Xs where I was supposed to sign.

I looked at Garrett. He was grinning.

’’Garrett,’’ I said. ’’This isn\'t right.’’

’’Just sign that puppy, Tres. Make it official. I\'m giving the ranch to you.’’

’’This isn\'t what Dad wanted.’’

Garrett laughed. ’’Come here, ugly.’’

I took his hand and he pulled me into a sloppy hug, then pushed me back with equal force. ’’It\'s what I want.’’

I looked at Maia. She was smiling like she\'d known this was coming.

Garrett told her, ’’Try to keep him from getting shot while I\'m gone, okay?’’

Maia said, ’’No promises. Take care of yourself, Garrett.’’

Clyde Simms said, ’’Concert in Houston ain\'t going to wait, man.’’

Garrett put down his shades, gave the thumbsup, and the caravan moved out in a roar of exhaust and black leather and tiedye.

Maia looked at me, looked at the deed, and had to laugh.

Then she kissed me, and everything went digital sound, colour, all of it superreal.

She pulled away, said, ’’What if I told you I was staying in Austin for a while?’’

I tried to concentrate on the man selling eggrolls across the street. His vending cart, at least, I could think about without raising my blood pressure.

’’Are you telling me that?’’

She pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. ’’I need to get some things out of my system. I was thinking a few months of extreme heat might do the trick.’’

’’Really. What things out of your system?’’

She looked straight at me. ’’Mostly you, Tres. I don\'t know if I\'ve quite gotten you out of my system, you bastard.’’

The wedding guests had all drifted away. Students walked around us, the water fountain churned, the eggrolls\' smell wafted across the street.

Maia\'s smile made me remember a night in Berkeley a dozen years ago, when she\'d left her business card on the bar next to the last round of margaritas I\'d ever mixed for money.

’’I have some calls to make,’’ she said, ’’some apartments to look at. See you tonight?’’

And as I watched her walk away down 24th, I thought what I\'d thought so many years ago in Berkeley that this was a woman who would either change my life or get me killed.

’’Come on, tonight,’’ I murmured hopefully. Then I went to talk to the vendor across the street. His eggrolls smelled awfully good.


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