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Chapter 9

He turned on his heel, bat still in a crouch, so he was eye-level with her knees. When he glanced up, there was an unguarded moment, and some unidentifiable emotion flitted past Whatever it was, it was quickly overtaken and vanquished by wariness, a most un-Crow-like expression.

"Tess Monaghan," he said flatly, in the tone of someone diagnosing a rash to which he was prone.

"Hi, Crow. Only I hear it's Ed these days. Sometimes Eddie."

"Eduardo in these environs." He stood up, sticking his hands in his pockets, lest she try to reach for one.

"They called you Crow back there?" This was Emmie. Tess kept expecting her to move forward, to stake her claim with an arm around Crow's waist, or a hand in the small of his back, but her interest was polite at best. She didn't even seem to expect an answer to her question, and Crow didn't give her one.

"This isn't what I do," he told Tess.

"You have another job?"

"I mean-" He waved his arm at the emptying room. "Wham songs, for Christ's sake. Boy George, Culture Club. You spin me right 'round."

"Don't forget Manic Mondays, 'Til Tuesday Tuesdays, and it's Friday, I'm in love," Emmie put in, singing the last, the title of a Cure song, one that a Baltimore radio station, in a display of great originality, had been playing every Friday for almost a decade. "We're still working on themes for Wednesdays and Thursdays."

"But if we ever move to the seventies room, we always have the Bay City Rollers to fall back on," Crow said. "S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night! S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!"

There was something nervous in their chatter, like children who had done something wrong, and were still trying to assess if Mommy knew.

"So what brings you to the Alamo City?" Crow asked. "A convention of-what are you now, anyway?"

As if he didn't know she was a licensed investigator. Then again, his letter had come to Tyner's office, not hers. Suddenly, she was angry that he didn't know all she had accomplished over the past summer-the new business, getting on her feet financially, solving a murder case everyone else thought had been solved long ago.

"My Toyota brought me here," she said. "Along with your parents' retainer."

This bad the desired effect. "My parents hired you? I'm 24-fucking-years old and my parents are paying people to come look for me just because I don't want to take their checks anymore? They're only proving my point-I have to disappear if I'm ever going to be truly independent. What more do I have to do? Leave the country? Change my name? As for hiring you-well, that's beyond insulting."

"I happen to be a pretty good investigator, as evidenced by my ability to find you in three days in a state where I didn't know one goddamn person."

"How did you find us, anyway?" This was Emmie, and although she spoke in the same spaced-out, affectless tone, she couldn't quite conceal her interest in Tess's answer.

"I found Gary, Crow's old drummer, in Austin. He told me you had left Austin for Twin Sisters. That led me to Marianna Barrett Conyers's place, and that led me to Marianna Barrett Conyers."

"My godmother would never speak to some stranger," Emmie said with swift conviction. "Especially not about me."

"She didn't tell me much about you. In fact, I think she led me on a bit of a wild-goose chase." Tess was remembering how deep Marianna had dug into her pile of newspapers, providentially finding one almost a month old. She had to have known Little Girl in Big Trouble had already taken on a new incarnation. Obviously, she wanted Tess to run into a dead-end at Primo's, or at least a cul-de-sac.

"Marianna worries about me," Emmie said. "She worries about everything."

"Funny. She didn't seem too concerned that I went to Twin Sisters to find Crow, and discovered a dead body instead."

Ignorance, although a natural state for much of the population, is incongruously tough to fake. But Emmie and Crow seemed truly stunned by this information. His mouth gaped a little, and he stole a quick look at Emmie, who was staring at Tess in wide-eyed dismay. Tess, now used to the dim light of the eighties room, saw for the first time how blue Emmie's eyes were, as blue as the flowers on the postcard Crow had sent his parents. Blue-bonnets. But you didn't notice the eyes so much as the shadows under them. Not bags, just shadows, dark as bruises. Strangely, they only made her more beautiful.

"A body?" she asked. "At Marianna's place? But we haven't-it couldn't…"

"We haven't been there for weeks," Crow put in. "Weeks and weeks. We stayed there after we left Austin, before we found a place to crash in San Antonio. It had the advantage of being free, but it was a little far to commute once we started getting gigs down here."

A young Mexican-American security guard came over, carrying a cup of water. "I thought you might be thirsty, Miss Sterne."

She took the glass without looking at him, her gaze still fixed on Tess. "Thanks, Steve. I sounded like crap, didn't I?"

"Oh no, you were great," he assured her. "Better than ever. You need anything else?"

"I could use a smoke. A joint would be better."

"Not in here," the guard said a little nervously. He wasn't much older than Emmie-perhaps twenty-five or twenty-six-and he had a moon-round face shiny with sweat "Remember, the manager said-"

"Relax, Steve, I don't have any contraband on me. I'm going downstairs to the main bar, so I can buy a pack off the bartender. Do we have time?"

The question was for Crow. "Sure," he said. "No rush."

She jumped off the stage, landing lightly, threading her way quickly through the crowd as if worried someone might try to stop her. The security guard watched her go, then retreated into the backstage shadows.

"So what are you going to do?" Crow asked. "Call my parents, tell them where I am?"

"That's what they paid me for."

"Give me a week. I'll call them a week from today if you don't tell them that you found me."

"That doesn't seem right somehow. They're worried about you, all they want to know is you're all right."

"And all I want is a chance to prove I can take care of myself," Crow countered. "What's seven days in the scheme of things? Look, I promise. You can go home, and I'll check in with them next Saturday. I bet you're missing Baltimore already, aren't you? Missing home, and all your little routines. Besides, Esskay's probably pretty lonesome."

"Esskay's not even two mites from here, snoring at a motel on Broadway."

"Really? I wouldn't have minded seeing her."

The implication was clear that he did mind seeing Tess.

"I could ask you the same thing, you know. What's seven days? Why can't your parents know now that you're safe and sound?"

Crow rolled his eyes, as if maddened that he had to explain himself to her. "There's a guy from a record company, someone who's interested in the band. He's coming in for the All Soul festival and he's going to listen to our real music, in this after-hours place we play. It would be nice to call home with good news."

"What if he doesn't sign you?" The question came out crueller than she had intended. She couldn't help being skeptical. Then again, Emmie had been offered a record contract once before, according to Marianna. Maybe she wouldn't be so reluctant to leave Texas, now that she had Crow at her side.

"I'll still call." Crow sighed, and his shoulders slumped a little. "I'll call and give them my number, and we'll take it from there. But I can't take their money anymore, Tess. And they can't not send it. That's their peculiar weakness. They love me too much to let go. I've had the longest adolescence in history. It's gotta end."

Tess thought back to the house in Charlottesville, the carefully preserved boyhood room. From the beginning, from his very conception, Crow had been central to his parents' lives. Perhaps he had been too central? Tess began to see some advantages to having parents who converted your room to a sewing room the moment you left home.

"I have to tell your parents I found you," she said slowly, thinking as she spoke, trying to figure out a way to make everyone happy. "They paid for that information, they deserve it."

"Okay," he said, throwing his hands up dismissively. "Okay. Guess I was crazy to think you wouldn't let me down. Again."

"They also deserve a son who's more considerate of them, but I can't help them with that."

"You do what you have to do."

"I always do."

"You always did," he agreed. "You know your way out of here? San Antonio's a little tricky to navigate. When you headed?"

"On Broadway, near the zoo."

Crow made a face. "That's not so far from us. What are you doing, living on the cheap so you can pocket more of your per diem? I knew it didn't ring true when you started getting all holier-than-thou about wasting my parents' money."

That hurt, if only because it came so close to the truth of the person she had once been. I'm not that cheap anymore, she wanted to tell Crow. I make good money now.

But all she said was: "It was the only place I could find last night"

"It's easy enough to get to from here. Just go up Broadway."

"I know that"

"Tess-"

She waited. It occurred to her it was only the second time he had used her name.

"I love my parents, I never meant to hurt them. Please make them understand that. I hope-I hope they're going to be proud of me, that they'll understand why I needed this time to be on my own."

On your own, with Emmie. But she merely nodded.


Her stomach reminded her that she had not eaten anything since late afternoon, when she had polished off the rest of the Fig Newtons. She stopped at an all-night taco stand on Broadway, a bright pink one, only to be overwhelmed by the unfamiliar choices. Baltimore had not prepared her for the range of possibilities in tacos. What was carne guisada? Carne asada? Barbacoa would be barbecue, of course, but the sign said this was served on Sundays only. She settled for a fajita, feeling wimpy and defeated for settling for something she could have gotten back home.

Even so, it was so much better than anything she had ever eaten in Baltimore that she ordered two more. Charm City's inability to serve a decent taco remained one of its eternal mysteries. However, the Mexican beer, a Bohemia, was an old friend. Dark and flavorful, it smoothed the jagged feelings that seeing Crow had aroused.

What had she expected? What had she wanted? For him to fall into her arms and declare his undying love for her? For her to ride to his rescue, extricate him from whatever mess he gotten himself into, and thus settle the old debts between them? She wasn't sure. Something between the two. But Crow was fine, caught up in nothing more than the inevitable rebellion against one's parents, even if he had come to it much later than most. The pictures in his parents' home may have suggested unfinished business between the two of them, but that was five months ago. Some fruit flies lived longer than Crow's passions.

She looked down at the beef that had fallen from her tacos, and the image of the man in the pool house boo-meranged into her consciousness. How quickly Tom Darden had been dismissed by Emmie and Crow, how incurious they had been. She believed Crow's mystification, believed him when he said he knew nothing about the man, or how he had come to be there.

Emmie-Emmie was another matter. In Emmie's case, it wasn't clear if it was the body that had caught her off guard, or the body's location "at Marianna's place?" she had asked, her voice scaling up.

And neither one had bothered to ask whose body it was.


Chapter 8 | In Big Trouble | Chapter 10