7:00 a.m. – I run 5 miles on the waterfront past the old wooden hotel. I eat breakfast [$20] at my hotel.
9:00 a.m. – The well-appointed offices of Lapham, Pike and Carew are on the thirtieth floor, and Chuck occupies an outer office overlooking the airport flight path; as a 707 rumbles by, the sound visibly shakes the windows.
Me: A box seat on the runway.
Chuck: It’s got its points, but it can be distracting.
Me: Is this punishment or reward?
C: I guess that depends. In my case I asked for it. I’ve always loved flying, like my dad. Mary said Willie owned a plane inTucson, that he’d offered to fly her toLos Angeles.
Me: Yes, I heard he was flying again.
C: There is a knock on the door; I asked my mother, Rose, to join us so you could get a better perspective on Willie. Rose is a very handsome sixty-year-old. It was through my mother that my uncle contacted us about Willie.
I tell them about Willie’s murder; I ask Rose to describe her ex-husband.
Rose: I haven’t seen Willie in thirty years, which is probably why he was still alive. I remember our marriage like it was yesterday, but you’ll have to excuse the embellishments of the years.
Me: Memories change because we change.
R: I didn’t change. When Chuck said we were meeting you, I went back and read all my diaries, from the time I left high-school until I was thirty, two years after Willie left. I am surprised at how much I am the same person. The girl who wrote those lines is the woman sitting before you today. Reading gave me a chance to recapture the feelings I had, to place my motivations in perspective. I used to write down everything about my life, every morning right before I started breakfast. Life was special to me. My mother died of a form of early onset Alzheimer’s when I was fifteen. She didn’t know who I was. I wanted to never forget my youth, my friends, what I thought, what I did. But until yesterday, I hadn’t looked at the diaries. Sometimes forgetting is less painful.
R: I met Willie while we were attending Long Beach College. I graduated, but Willie never did; he didn’t have the patience for education. He had to do things. There was never the time to gain experience, so he just claimed it. When Willie asked me to marry him, I was a senior and he was an older sophomore. He wanted me to quit school, but I didn’t. But Willie didn’t like the fact that I had more education than he did. It’s a very Hispanic-macho kind of thing, the man is always above the woman. We married right after I graduated and I got pregnant with Chuck. Willie made me give up my job to rest up during my pregnancy, but really it was because I made more money than he did. And things were really good, Willie was the provider, and I was the good mother. Willie started moving up in the company he was in, but it was never fast enough. He was, to listen to him, brighter than any of the dolts he had to work for or with. Despite that, he was making good money and the company had him on the road a lot, for short-notice trips, or so I thought.
R: It was in the days before caller id, or I’d have had his butt in a sling. When I first met Willie, he was a real hot guy, courting the girls, flirting, a skirt chaser. It was my own fault, I should have realized that behavior wasn’t going to change. But when you’re in love, you think it’ll last forever and you’ll always be the jewel in his eye. So for a long time I didn’t know Willie was screwing around, even in my own neighborhood. Chuck probably had a half-dozen half brothers on our own street. But none could be as cute as Chuck. Near the end, although I didn’t know it was the end at the time, Willie got involved in the bar business.
Me: Yes, Willie told me he owned some bars.
R: Owned? Willie owned bars like renters own apartments. Willie’s name may have been on the deed, but that was how hoodlums could own the place. When Willie told me he’d bought three bars, I asked him, ‘With what?’ He said with his good credit. I knew it was a lie, but what was I to do with a four-year-old at home. He was the bag man for three bars, and he worked as the bartender in one of them. He started bringing around friends I didn’t like. He said they were from his old neighborhood. They’d sit around the den drinking and talking Spanish. Seems most of Willie’s old friends never learned English, so being hoodlums was all that was left to them.
R: Well, when you run with bad people, bad things happen. Willie started skimming the bar receipts. He always thought he didn’t get enough, that things were owed him. He called them the perquisites, my how he loved that word, the perquisites of ownership. He must have been pretty good at it, because he got away with it for over two years. We were living well, a new car, Chuck in private school, Willie never at home except to sleep. Then the IRS got involved. They knew he didn’t own the bar, so they did a complete audit, an anal exam of Willie’s finances. They hit him with tax evasion for his personal income, to put a squeeze on him to turn in the real owners, and suddenly he was gone. Seems it wasn’t until the audit that the hoodlums knew Willie was stealing from them. Willie ran because they were looking to break a few bones.
Me: Did he ever get it straightened out with them?
R: I heard from Willie’s mother that it was resolved when the old crook died. Willie did some kind of penance for the two sons and all was forgiven.
Me: Who were they?
R: It’s like that George Foster guy; he named both his sons Manuel. I only met them once and I didn’t like them. In my diary I described them as ‘born mean.’
Me: What about Willie’s parents. They didn’t give you any warnings?
R: Warning! They were his managers. No, that’s not really right. There was some kind of role reversal going on. Willie was like the overbearing parent who kept the kids in line. They didn’t say a thing that wasn’t cleared through Willie. When he lied, they agreed with him. When he embellished the truth, they were there to back him up. It’s like they were yes-men on the payroll, which in a way they were. Willie gave them fifty a week, back when that was a lot of money. I think they owed him.
Me: The Willie I knew seemingly did a lot with his life?
R: I never saw Willie afterwards, but my guess is he did nothing. Willie had a way of building a resume based on the dreams he’d had. He take something that happened one way, or to someone else, and turn it over in his hands, cogitate it, change it, add to it, then sleep on it. By morning it would be a life experience, almost as if he’d lived it. That’s the Willie I knew, the teenage tennis phenom in his mind only. Willie was a person comprised of a lot of almosts. I almost did this, I almost did that. Drop the almost and it made for a great life story, but not such a great life.
Me: So how did he live with himself?
R: I must have said it wrong. Willie didn’t take on these stories like clothes. When he woke in the morning, he actually believed these dreams; they were built into his life experiences, as he remembered them. From that day on they were the facts of his existence, never in doubt. In my diary one day I wrote, ‘Willie is the character he’s written himself to be.’ It was a moment of insight for me, right after he got into the bar business. I wrote a hundred thousand words in those diaries about Willie, and in rereading them, I realized I never knew him at all.
Me: How did you hear about the contract on Willie’s life?
Chuck: Who said life? They were going to beat him to within an inch of his life. Uncle Jaime told mom at a family reunion in Guadalajara two weeks ago.
R: Jaime is a crook, a big time mafia type boss in Nogales, Mexico. I try to ignore this because he’s a very nice man, but he makes a living destroying the lives of others by running drugs. It is an effort, but I try to separate the two personalities. But even Jaime has bosses and maybe they want Willie, so Jaime can’t contact Willie directly. He knows Mary has seen Willie, and that Chuck is friends with Mary. He tells me to tell Chuck that Willie was in big trouble, and Jaime couldn’t buy it off. It was the kind of trouble Willie couldn’t talk his way out of.
Me: No clue as to what Willie had done?
R: None. If Jaime knew, he didn’t tell me. You know, I’m still saddened by his death although I’ve hardly thought about the man in thirty years. I used to love him so much, and then I didn’t, but I never learned to hate him. It might have been easier if I had.
C: What might have been easier?
R: If I had hated him, I would have gotten him out of my system. If I could have seen him grow old, I could have rejoiced in my freedom from him. Instead I can only see the young man who never found out who he was. It’s hard to hate a lost soul, even when he is the only one at fault. I still see the lost boy. Mr. Green. Do you think he found himself?
I’m looking for history, but there was no history. There is no Willie. The people who killed Willie removed the image, the man or boy or whatever died years before. Is it really murder to destroy the image of a man, the movie of a life instead of the real thing? If I am murdered and someone takes the interest to find out who I am, would I be more rea than Willie? Am I, like Willie, a caricatured version of the real thing so much twisted by what I thought I’d done or been that I bore no resemblance to the real me? Are we all Willies waiting for the film to end? No! I was sure Willie wasn’t unique, but I am not Willie. I might not be able to describe the inner me, but I’d know him when I saw him.
1:00 p.m. – I am at a point; I don’t know who the killer is, but I am on the scent, and as one of my bosses once said, I am one dog who can hunt. And what is the scent? It is like an inner compass; and when I’m going the right direction, I’m water running downhill as the clues crescendo over the waterfall. I don’t know where the waterfall is, or what turns there are left in the stream, but right now I feel the downward fall, I hear the waterfall.
Willie no longer has a present. It was stolen, but not by hoodlums out to break a few bones. Willie was killed for a reason; it wasn’t random; it wasn’t accidental; it wasn’t for revenge; it wasn’t even in anger.
2:00 p.m. – I have lunch at the burger shop [$22] two blocks from the University on Fourth. Jesse looks pert and pretty at the sidewalk table. No one guesses she is a cop. A man pan-handles the person next to her from the sidewalk, but skips her. Why skip Hispanics? It is a kind of panhandler racial profiling. I watch her; you never know what a person is like when you’ve only met them a couple times, but I think I can read Jesse Wallace, see the person she is as clearly as Willie Lopez was vague. No hidden nooks and crannies, a straight ahead woman who plays everything life throws her.
Me: A buck for your thoughts, lady.
Jesse: I’m no soft touch, Green, but you got everything you’ve asked for.
Me: I don’t see it that way, Detective Jesse. We have the same goal. You’re helping me because I’m on your side, and I hope I’m doing the same for you.
Jesse orders a hamburger and lemonade; me, a cheese burger and a draft.
J: So where were you? I wanted to cancel, but couldn’t reach you. My captain is pissed I begged off his briefing.
Me: I was in San Diego meeting Willie’s son and a couple of ex-wives.
J: You’re spending a lot of green for someone without a client. You’d think a guy with your money would find an easier way to grow old.
Me: It’s not much money for a friend. Okay, so he wasn’t a friend anymore, but he once was.
J: I hope I have a friend so good if someone does me in one day.
Me: Be a friend. Stay a friend. I promise to not let you die unavenged, Detective Jesse. Disarm this, I tell myself. My friends are friends for life, no matter how hard they try to get away. So, do you want to discuss San Diego, or our budding friendship?
J: Tell me everything?
I take a half-hour to get it all out.
J: You’re learning a lot, but you’re not getting anywhere?
Me: Yes, but I’ve got this feeling …
J: You mean like woman’s intuition?
Me: Maybe, but it’s not intuition. A lot of things are coming together and the brain sorts out what’s relevant until the answers bubble to the surface. Willie was murdered by someone who wanted something, not revenge, and they didn’t expect anyone to look beyond the threats of hoodlums.
J: I agree. I’m going to give you a compliment, Green, this one time, understand? I’d be looking for the guys who beat him up, and not much chance of finding them; they’re probably in Mexico. So I’m counting on you to make me look good here.
Me: I’ll do the best I can, Detective Jesse. So what do you know?
J: Like you, I’m accumulating data. Most of it is not that interesting, but here goes. First, I visited the wife, Esme; she didn’t like me so much, so I sent a good-looking Hispanic detective to talk to her. I briefed Jorge before he talked to her, but nothing that might let her know we talked to you. He gave her lots of chances to lie, and she took most of them. I don’t know if there’s anything we can do with that knowledge.
J: The venture capital guys are spooked. Have you spoken to them yet? I shake my head. It’s not so good they know who you are; at least I wouldn’t want them to know who I was. Up close they’re not nice people. But that’s not the surprise.
Me: So tell me.
J: As I am leaving, what do I see on the other side of the street? It’s an FBI surveillance van. I spent a week in the same van as part of a drug bust about a year ago. I have to make sure we’re not treading on their territory.
Me: You can call them tomorrow. I’m going to Resource Tap this afternoon.
J: The Russians will be less nice to you than they were to me. Leave them be.
Me: Thanks for the warning, Detective Jesse, but I’ll be careful.
J: Yeah, you have a great track record for careful.
Me: Anything else I should know about?
J: A little bit more on the background of your friend Willie. From what you’ve told me, he was some kind of marrying machine. Well, I think we found the first one. Willie was married when he was fifteen to a sixteen year-old. They had a daughter a month later. He left her a year after that. They never got a divorce. I had to scrounge for the next tidbit. Seems Willie killed a fellow student in high-school when he was sixteen. Got off as a juvenile, but even at that, they couldn’t find a witness willing to testify against him. Still, he spent six months in a reform school north of LA. Some friends you pick, Green.
Me: You can’t background check every friend you have. And anyway, if you look deep enough, you’ll find problems with a lot of them. You know, we don’t as often pick our friends as they pick us. The easiest people to like are people who like us. Willie went out of his way to befriend me. Sadly, ours was a friendship that always benefited him. I, like the other acquaintances of Willie’s life, was a man he could use.
J: So why so much effort to find the killer?
Me: I don’t know if I can verbalize all the reasons. I became a PI to – now don’t you laugh at me Detective Jesse – to make justice happen. What happened to Willie was wrong, and I want to right that. The more I learn about Willie, the less aggrieved I am, but there’s an entire backwash of Willie’s life that has drawn me into his extended family. I feel more beholding to them than I do to Willie. You might call this a useless exercise, but there are two sides to justice. One is righting the wrong of Willie’s death, and that is less important to me than it was two days ago. The other is meting out justice to a killer for being a killer. I have this tiger by the tail and I can’t let go if I want to.
J: That’s okay, Green, I understand.
Me: Is there anything else I can tell you, detective?
J: One thing. I can’t find Valerie Heintz. You know where she is?
Me: I lie, No, and she knows it.
2:30 p.m. – I find the administrative services building of D-M AFB, building 18. Tom Battle manages over two hundred materials control personnel in purchasing and tracking of the thousands of planes on the ground and the warehouses of repair parts. Battle’s is an ordered office. We’d met briefly when I toured the bone-yard with Willie. If the Air Force needs one hundred A-10s battlefield ready in a week, he is the man.
Battle: It’s nice to see you again, CB.
Me: I appreciate you’re remembering me, Colonel. We met so briefly.
B: If I meet someone, they’re here forever. He taps his temple. You wanted to discuss Willie’s contract with the Air Force. How can I help?
Me: I hear the government has put a stop on contracts to WLE. Does it have to do with Willie’s murder?
B: What’s your concern in this, CB?
Me: Colonel, Willie died on my doorstep. It happens I’m a private investigator. I put those two facts together and took Willie on as a client.
B: Yes, you have it right. WLE’s contracts were put on hold, but not because of his death. It had been in the works for about two months. It was a performance issue.
Me: New work, or what he did here?
B: You were Willie’s boss years ago, so manufacturing’s not a mystery to you. Well, Willie came in here and did the impossible. When I came here five years ago, my people and an ever increasing group of expensive consultants had been working eight years to make our inventory systems work. I mean, we knew where the planes and the parts were, because our people kept records in their desks, on micros, everywhere but in the central system. You know the kind of problems that causes. We were into just-in-case purchasing. If my people thought they’d ever need it, they ordered it whether or not the computer said we had it in stock. That’s one manifestation of the lack of control, but it did prove to be the most expensive. I think we have over a hundred million in excess. Willie fixed that his first month here. No big deal, he hired two gophers whose only job is to develop the inventory status on every part on a purchase order out of this facility. I’ve saved twelve million a year since.
Me: He did good things; what was the beef?
B: Willie was hands-on. He built his systems with people inserted into the flow. It ain’t the way the government does business. Willie believed systems shouldn’t straight-jacket the employees, because it becomes an excuse for doing the job badly. In a way he was short-term right, but in a bigger way he was long-term wrong.
Me: And your systems started to spontaneously degrade?
B: I’ve always said systems rot, but that’s not what happened here. Willie constructed off-system procedures and trained the people how to use them. I called it training, but it was more rote following of rules they didn’t understand. Well, after a year as people were promoted, retired, resigned and transferred, new people took their places. When you have people who don’t understand why they’re do what they’re doing, the jobs lost a little in the translation. The systems were falling apart, in some cases precipitously.
Me: Why didn’t you get Willie back in here to straighten it out?
B: Willie stepped on a lot of toes when he was here. There are people who wanted him to fail; some are my peers. They said we shouldn’t pay Willie to come in and fix what he didn’t get right. They carried the day, and Willie was his usual bullheaded self, he said no way. His blamed the government for being unable to run any system. This is not the way to win a dispute, even if he was right. He could have worked around it, but he fought it instead. He had no idea this was coming, but the hornets nest he created was destined to sting him.
Me: So, Colonel, between us boys, what did you think of Willie?
B: As a worker?
Me: No, as Willie. Colonel, I’ve known Willie twenty years, and it’s as if I didn’t know him at all. Willie’s been buried, but I want to know who he was.
B: It must be a feeling Willie inspires in us. I personally think Willie was an asshole. Let me give an example; if I found out he was going to marry my daughter, I’d kill him, and I don’t even have a daughter. Willie had a way of making you thankful because of his results, but I couldn’t get by the fact that I didn’t like the man. Though I fought for his contracts, it was less than if I’d liked him. Willie’s the kind of guy that when you point at the wall and say I want a door right there, thirty minutes later there’s a door. It’s not up to code, and he ruffled more than a few feathers putting it in, but there’s a door. Willie was always ready to blow up at some perceived injustice at his status in life, and as soon as he had power over other lives, he’d make them know how stupid he thought they were. He offered me a chance to buy into his business, and conflict of interest aside, I turned him down. I wasn’t willing to bet on getting my payout before Willie went ballistic.
Me: How about any specific animosities with his fellow workers here?
B: Specific, no, though most had equal portions of fear and dislike for Willie. Two guys owe their divorces to Willie, but he was only a catalyst to inevitable events. You ever been to Wilmot Station? I nod. Eight or ten people from here went out every Friday night after work with Willie. I wasn’t one of them. I went only once, but there was a distasteful aura about the place and what I called Willie’s lordship. After Willie died, a few of us went out to lunch; Willie was the topic of conversation.
B: A lot of reminiscing, not all of it friendly. One of the guys said Willie changed in the last few weeks. You know about his VC guys, Resource Tap? Well something happened between Willie and them and they stopped showing up. Then two Mexicans, he said they were brothers, but I think he got it wrong. They were named Manuel and Manuel. Whenever they walked in, Willie went from blustery to quiet, like a submissive dog. Willie doesn’t scare easily. They said he was scared.
Me: I’ve heard that.
B: One other thing. We were discussing our favorite Willie stories and Joe Morgan, he was directly responsible for Willie’s projects in that first year, mentioned he’d been contacted by an insurance investigator a little more than two years ago, doing a credit check on Willie. He wanted to know the likelihood of Willie’s continued employment. The strange thing was the man came to his house to discuss it, said it was a very sizable policy and asked Joe not to discuss it with Willie. Joe said he’d never have remembered, but then last week he saw the guy again in the parking lot driving out behind Willie. He didn’t remember his name, but he was a thin short Hispanic with a pencil mustache and Sonoran plates.
4:00 p.m. – At City Hall I am directed me to the Hall of Records. I check the computer for a marriage license for Willie Lopez, then Guillermo Lopez. I get ten hits, but none were Willie. I try Esmerelda Lopez; hits but no Esme. I select the menu for real estate and find Willie’s property; it is owned by Esmerelda Lopez alone. Willie was smartening up in his old age, putting as much as possible into his wife’s name in case everything went to shit. But was Esmerelda Willie’s wife?
4:45 p.m. – I take the elevator to the fifteenth floor of the First Arizona Building. The Resource Tap offices take up a quarter of the space for the floor; there are five names on the entrance doors. The receptionist is an extremely light colored black girl with the lightest eyes. I ask to talk to Bob or Ray about the death of Willie Lopez. A big Mexican saunters out to meet me; he is hulking and his body rocks as he moves. You want to talk to Ivan? I say yes and he turns me to the wall and pats me down, removing my gun from its shoulder holster. The receptionist puts it in her desk. He takes me to an office and we wait. The office is comfortable without being plush, the furniture expensive but not over the top.
Me: Listen Pedro, I came here to meet Ivan or Boris, not the hired help.
Pedro: Don’t make me mad.
A tall man with a square Slavic face sits at the desk. He is not friendly.
Ivan: My name is Ivan Breshenko. What do you want?
Me: Willie Lopez was a friend of mine. I’m a PI. Put it all together and I’m trying to find his killer. I thought maybe you could help.
I: You should pick your friends better, Green.
Me: Sometimes your friends pick you, Mr. Breshenko.
I: Yes, that’s true, but we don’t know ahead of time which of those friendships we are better off without.
Me: I know about the video Willie made of you with and Boris with the girls.
I: I only got first names of the girls. Do you know where they are?
I: Do you know where Valerie Heintz is?
Me: I shake my head.
I: Then we have nothing to talk about. Pedro, show Mr. Green out. Let him know he is no longer welcome. To Me: Mr. Green, yours in an inherently dangerous profession. Looking into Mr. Lopez’s demise could be fatal. He leaves the room.
P: Up. You heard the man. We don’t want to be seeing you around here.
Me: I think he wanted you to whack me one, Pedro.
P: Nah, not yet. But next time I get to beat you to a pulp, wise guy.
Me: I pick up my gun, then to Pedro, I’d find less dangerous work if I was you. This operation has history written all over it.
A plaque on the wall highlights a magazine article; there are six people; one is Valerie Heintz.
5:15 p.m. – As I get out of the elevator, two men stop me. Green, we need you upstairs. We go to the fourteenth floor and make a right into the offices of Korean Composites; the space is directly below Resource Tap. In the corner office are two men; the office has coffee pots, old pizza boxes and two recorders; earphones rested on the table top.
Me: You guys need a cleaning service.
Me: I’m tired of orders.
S: Don’t make me mad.
Me: Oh, that’s cute. Now you take your lines from Mexican bouncers? I’d’ve thought you had better writers.
The head guy [they all wear black suits with white shirts, like the movies] is blond.
Blondie: Mr. Green, we’re the FBI. We know you want to cooperate.
Me: If only I knew what to cooperate over.
B: Cooperate is the wrong word. We want you to lay off.
Me: Lay off what?
B: Resource Tap. Lay off Resource Tap.
Me: They’re involved in my investigation and I have no intention of laying off. I don’t want to botch up what you’re doing, so I’ll tread lightly. This could be the last time I see them, but, I’ll call you before I contact them again. Okay?
B: Green, I expect you to do that, and at the first sign that you’re not, I’ll be on your ass. But let me make one thing clear. If you screw up our investigation, and a year’s worth of hard work, you’ll be out of the business.
His card says Jackson Pollack.
Me: Mr. Pollack, I always do what I say I’ll do, and I don’t appreciate threats, either from the lugs upstairs or you guys. If you want to do something, do it. I told you the truth and that’s going to have to be enough for you. But if you think you can get me off the street, you got another think coming; and when my lawyer gets through, it won’t be me that’s out of the investigation business.
7:30 p.m. – I call Valerie’s cell.
Me: Valerie? It’s CB Green and we need to talk. Are you still in the city?
Valerie: Mr. Green. I was thinking about you.
Me: Come on, Valerie, it’s not good to pull an old man’s leg.
V: Well, if you had ESP, you’d be blushing.
Me: I don’t want you sweeping me off my feet. You understand?
V: Sure. So, if not me, then what do you want?
Me: Where are you?
V: I can’t be saying that. Let’s meet at the OK Corral and you can buy me a nice supper for my cooperation. It’ll almost be like a date. Say eight-thirty. Don’t be late because I won’t wait.
8:30 p.m. – Willie is dead a week, and for me already too much remembered. No one loved Willie, and no one was too aggrieved by his death. Worse than not being loved though, Willie had no friends. Becky tells me that the average man of forty-five, outside of his family, has no friends, whereas the average woman has lots of friends. Willie was average then. He had lovers and acquaintances, and no more. Any pain felt by the participants in his life resulted from being caught in the wake of his precarious ship. Bob Cook’s family is on the run and he is so scared a federal prison looks like a safe house; and Esme is unmoved by his death; and Valerie can’t go home until things quiet down; and Jasmine with a tenuous loyalty unexpected of a prostitute seems the only person truly affected by his death. I need to rework that ground.
When I get to the table, pretty woman Valerie is dolled up. I smelled her hair.
Me: No smell of horseshit today.
Valerie: She must really be something, that girl of yours. I look like a million bucks, and all I can see is regret in your eyes.
Me: She is something. And so are you.
We order drinks and steaks [$97].
V: So what’s up with the investigation?
Me: I’ve been busy. Today I met with an ex-son and two ex-wives in San Diego, reviewed results with the police, visited the hall of records, met, sort of, with the guys at Resource Tap, and got rousted by the Feds. What do you think, pretty interesting day?
V: Better than mine. This hiding gets old fast. I’ve got a friend near Globe who owns a horse ranch. I might hole up there for a while, do a little fly-fishing, rustle some doggies. Do a girl good to get some rest.
Me: Valerie, you look better by the minute. You sure it’s far enough away from Bob and Ray. Ivan wanted to know where you were, and so do the cops. You’re a wanted girl. Maybe you should talk to the cops.
V: No, I’m in too deep for that.
Me: I saw your picture in that newspaper article on the wall at Resource Tap?
V: You don’t miss much, do you?
Me: Tell me about Resource Tap, and why you’re in too deep Valerie.
V: Between us Indians? I nod. Where to begin? Well, I told you I got out of Cal. No goals, no aspirations, looking for a good time. I hooked up with this small time hoodlum, Johnny Ray Wiggins, what a moniker. Turns out he was running drugs for a crime organization in Nogales and got in hot water. He stole a measly hundred grand at street value, but they caught him in Phoenix. My luck, I was with him. They packed us both into the trunk of a Caddy and took us to Nogales. We were hauled before this Mexican warlord, Jaime Gonzalez. Now they’d beaten poor Johnny Ray to a pulp and he wasn’t looking so good. So Jaime says, ‘What should we do with you, Johnny Ray, now that you’ve cheated us. You got no value to me as a human being. What say you give me the girl, and you can go free.’ Well, Johnny Ray falls all over himself telling Jaime what a great girl he’s getting. No one asks me, but to tell the truth, even from there it looked like a good deal.
Me: Jaime Gonzalez. He’s not by some chance related to Willie?
V: His uncle. Ivan told me a couple weeks ago, after Manuel and Manuel showed up on the scene. So I was Jaime’s for two years. He treated me really fine, a nice old guy if you don’t cross him. He had his own code of honesty and morals, but as you might guess it had nothing to do with the law, and Jaime never felt responsible for the weaknesses of others. He said dead addicts were justifiable homicide, but he was really bothered by the people they hurt on what he called their slow road to hell. Jaime relied on me to manage the money, the laundering. I thought up the venture capital company. Even laundered money has to be put to good use to grow. We had so much money, risk capital he called it, so we took a flyer. I found Resource Tap, two Russian ex-mobsters running out of the money they’d stolen from the Motherland and needing an infusion. We cut a deal, and Jaime gave me my freedom. I worked with Bob and Ray for two years but I didn’t like it. Willie came along at the right time to take me away from the criminal element.
Me: So you don’t tell Jaime about Bob and Ray’s adventure with Willie’s hookers?
V: Yeah, I told him two weeks ago. I don’t know what happened, but Ivan was in a real sweat. That’s when he told me about Willie being Jaime’s nephew, something he didn’t know until Jaime explained it to him. He said Jaime was going to do some real harm to Willie, and then he’d think about Ivan and Boris. Jaime told them if they didn’t get the tape back from Willie, they’d be looking for work from wheelchairs.
Me: Why did he want the recordings? He could dump Bob and Ray.
V: No, you don’t understand. Resource Tap has grown. Jaime now owns more than a billion dollars of assets, clean assets. He really needs Ivan and Boris, two petty Russian thugs, to be squeaky clean. He thinks the Feds would bust them in a heartbeat, and the recording would be leverage to crack them. In his mind, he can’t afford to kill them, and he can’t afford to have them go under. His risk capital investment has taken on a life of its own.
Me: Do they know you have the file?
V: They didn’t when Ivan talked to me; but I think they’ve guessed.
Me: Why don’t you go to Jaime? Won’t he protect you?
V: I burnt that bridge. I threatened Jaime that I’d go to the Feds and turn the whole Resource Tap thing to shit. I won’t, it’d be a death warrant. But the threat, my stupid threat. It means he can’t trust me. So if I’m in his possession, so to speak, I’m dead. He’ll feel bad, but he won’t risk a billion dollars for me.
V: Willie had his hand in the till. Did you know that?
Me: Yes. It’s in his history. How did you find out?
V: It was that chain he always wore around his neck. He had a key on it. It was a safe deposit box key. He said it was his mad money. I told him not to let Esme find out about it. She’d take the money and run. He laughed, said it took two keys to open the box, and no one knew where the other key was. So I did some intensive looking through the books. I figured Willie stole two or three million right off the revenues, never made it into the corporate ledgers, then he adjusted the billing.
Me: Why didn’t he use that to get his brother out of trouble?
V: I don’t know. I think he decided it was his money, his backstop, and he wasn’t going to dip into it for anything or anybody. He walled it off, probably under a different name with a whole new identity. Willie knew Resource Tap was trouble right from the beginning, and if he didn’t score big, he was too old to try again. It was his nest egg and he was going to protect it at all costs.
Me: Did you tell Jaime?
V: Yes. I didn’t mean to, but it was when I told him about the extortion. That’s why Jaime had to send the guys to beat some sense into Willie. I mean, Willie is family, but sometimes the family’s got to suffer.
Me: I think you’d better get up to Globe now.
V: I’m a little short of cash, and I’m afraid to go to my bank account. Someone’s put my ATM on hold.
I write her a check for five thousand dollars.
Me: Go to a branch of my bank, cash this, and get the hell out of Tombstone. Pay me back when you’re able.
V: You sure you don’t want to come back to my room? No commitment, make a girl feel good by paying back a debt.
Me: Get some sleep, and get out of town the first thing tomorrow morning. I’ve got the cell number, so I can reach you if I need to.