5:00 a.m. – I run and think on Willie. I am nearing the end as the facts distill into information. The discrepancies, the holes, are becoming more important. I focus on what I don’t know yet. I tick off the facts, but something is out of place. A scent of out-of-season jasmine overwhelmed me.
10:00 a.m. – Her car is parked out front, and she is not surprised to see me. Her roommate Jackie slides between us to the back of the apartment with a quick goodbye.
Me: You knew I’d be back?
J: Thought you might. Fifty-fifty.
Me: Why are you a hooker, Jasmine?
J: I told you. It’s a living, a very good living. I save for my retirement, and I take care of my mother in Los Angeles. And it’s in my genes.
Me: Did Willie know he was your father?
J: Of course not. Do you think someone as self-centered as Willie could ever look for a reason for someone else’s actions? Willie was like a bulldozer through life; little signals were lost in the noise. What you picked up would have required neon lights and a marching band for Willie.
Me: So why didn’t you tell him?
J: Tell him what? That his daughter was a hooker? It might not embarrass him, but it would embarrass me.
Me: How did you find him?
J: Find him? Oh, I see what you mean. Willie was never far away. He and my mother remained lovers until maybe ten years ago. He gave her money for my teeth, for my education. Whenever she asked, he gave. I think he really loved my mother, as much as Willie could love anyone. I used to watch him from the window when he picked her up, three or four times a year for fifteen years. Back in the early days he was still a handsome man and I saw him grow old, usually in little bits, sometimes in large doses, as if life had been really tough for a few months. When I got to Tucson, I saw he had aged. He’d never met me, but he’d done so much for me, I wanted to do something in return, to enrich his life. I adored him for not forgetting me, for not letting me feel like a bastard.
Me: There are no bastards, Jasmine. How did you meet Jackie?
J: My first week in town, before I found Willie. I met her in a bar with Esme. Esme was a nurse, but when she first got to this country from Nicaragua she turned tricks to work her way through school. I don’t begrudge her that. She and Jackie were with me the first time I met Willie. At first Esme wasn’t interested, then after a couple of months, something changed and she was all over him. After that, she had him tied up and bundled for marriage in less than a month. I hated her for it. Maybe that’s why I sicced Jackie on him.
J: The thing with those venture capital guys. While we were doing them, I felt real fear. Not for me, for Willie. I knew these were not guys to be diddled with. If Willie thought he had something over these guys, he had to be kidding. Willie didn’t know how to read body language. These guys would cut his heart out and smile the whole time.
Me: Did you tell him?
J: I tried. I told him he was stupid to try to blackmail these guys. I thought he was going to hit me, but he didn’t. I think that was because he believed me. He turned a sickly white and told me to go. That was the last I saw of Willie.
Noon – I park next to Geraldo Diaz’s Honda outside the diner inGreenValley. Diaz rises to shake my hand. We order breakfast [$21].
Diaz: Your message said you had an interesting offer for me, Mr. Green?
Me: Cut the crap, Diaz. Monday morning you met with Eduardo Lopez, and then drove to Tucson where you parked outside my townhouse. Later you followed me to Los Angeles. Now I know it, and you know it, so if we can get by that, we can do business.
Me: I’ll keep it simple. Tell me everything you know about Willie Lopez, Eduardo and Esme, and anyone else. If you’re good at what you do, you know I’m close. You can save me time and money. What do you want?
D: I need a thousand. That’ll make up for what I expect to be stiffed.
Me: I don’t care about you being stiffed. It’s worth five hundred to save a day or two, and fill in some cracks.
D: Okay, you win. Let me see the money.
I pull out my wallet and count ten fifties. He reached for them.
Me: Not until I get the story. If it’s complete, I’ll throw in a two hundred bonus.
D: I don’t know the whys, only the whats? This woman, Esme Lopez, comes to Nogales; she wants the complete skinny on a Willie Lopez, or as she described it, right back to his first girlfriend, every woman he ever laid, every child he ever had, every dollar he ever made. She paid me two grand up front for expenses and another two when I finished. It was hard work. I mean, he left a trail as clear as day, but it was long, and there were a lot of dangerous people. And I found the bank where he was hiding his money.
Me: Which bank?
D: AZ-Mex Savings and Loan on Broadway east of Houghton.
Me: This was all before they were married?
D: Married. Yes, married. If you get a chance to see the wedding album, you’ll find me in my priest’s outfit. She got it from some holy roller. Eduardo was the best man. It made great theater.
Me: So, what are you doing now? Who’s paying for it?
D: Esmerelda is paying the bill. A thousand in expenses up front, and a hundred a day. You got her and that jerk son of hers all wound up, but they haven’t paid me yet and I spent the expense money keeping up with you.
Me: You do anything for the Resource Tap guys? You were seen trailing Willie a couple weeks ago.
D: If you know all this stuff, why ask me? Yes, two weeks ago I go see this Ivan guy. He gives me five hundred and I tell him the whole story. He’s says it’s not news to him and he has that lug of his, Pedro, take back three hundred. Whacked me up side the head and kicked me out.
D: This is news to you, right? Next day these two Hispanic brothers from Los Angeles, Manuel and Manuel show up. He opens his shirt to display a healing red cut down his sternum. Didn’t pay me a cent. I didn’t hold a thing back.
Me: God, you’re discrete, Diaz. How do you get customers?
D: Hey, you be discrete Mr. rich detective in the states. I got five kids and a pregnant wife. I gotta put food on the table. So keep your morals to yourself.
Me: Okay. You’re right. Sorry. I pushed the money. What else you got?
D: All I got is seven hundred bucks. I’ll try to collect the rest, but it’s not going anywhere. I’ll try that sister of hers.
D: Esme Lopez’s sister, Jackie, what’s her last name, yes, Mendez. You were at her house; she lives with that other hooker, Jasmine.
2:30 p.m. – I pull into my garage; a gun presses into the small of my back.
Ivan: Keep on moving, Green.
Me: Where’s Pedro?
I: Skipped town. I want Valerie, now!
Me: I don’t know where she is.
I: Look, Green, they got my wife and my two daughters. They want the recording and Valerie. If I don’t get her, I might as well be dead.
Me: I don’t know.
He comes up to my face with the barrel in my eye. I hit him in the gut and duck. The hammer clicks on the empty cylinder. He falls to his knees crying. I can’t hurt him again, and there isn’t anything I can do for him.
Me: Call the cops. They can help you.
I: Please, my family.
Me: Breshenko, you can’t have Valerie. She’s gone. What about Boris?
I: He’s gone, took his whole family. But they’ll find him, I know it.
Me: Go to the cops.
I: I can’t.
Ivan drops the gun into his pocket and leaves without another word.
3:00 p.m. – I call Valerie.
Me: Valerie, I saw Ivan. Send the recording to him. His family’s been kidnapped. Without it they’ll all be dead.
V: CB, they don’t take anyone and then let them go. I’ll send it to Jaime. I think maybe I have to get farther away.
Me: If you need more money, let me know, all right?
V: I’m okay, but I have to lay low for a while.
Me: Go to the feds, Valerie.
V: No, that’s a death sentence. If I send you a power of attorney for my bank account, can you get my money out for me.
Me: How much you got in the account.
V: Forty four thousand.
Me: Valerie, get someplace far away, soon. Set up a bank account. I’ll transfer forty-four grand in the same day. Send me a check from your account before you get on the road. I’ll deposit it to my account.
V: How can I ever thank you?
Me: What goes around comes around; have a good life, Valerie.
3:30 p.m.- I try Jasmine’s number but there was no answer.