7:30 a.m. – My run is getting easier; I am running late and skip breakfast.
9:00 a.m. – I pull off the road outside of Willie’s house. It has changed in two years with a new adobe fence around the acre lot a hundred yards outside of the Tucson city limits. The original bunkered house is now one of four low connected ells. Three Mexicans lay bricks for an out-barn fifty feet behind the house; their home, a one bedroom trailer, is parked behind the house, the same place it has been for four years. They work for Willie for minimum wage minus room and board; they have full time hard labor jobs beyond the ten hours a week they give him.
A young Hispanic maid skims debris from the surface of the pool. She leaves when Willie’s wife, Esmerelda, steps onto the veranda. She and two other women take chairs around a white table; the three women light cigarettes and wait until the maid returns with coffee. Esme was a poor refugee from Nicaragua, but she is now accustomed to the finer things. The women appear to be arguing when Esmerelda stands and points at the driveway; I barely hear her voice above the traffic, Get out. Willie … then the traffic drowns her out. I make a right into Willie’s driveway; the fence line is wavy; he gets what he pays for. The convertible Mustang pulls even with me before making a right turn into traffic. Two very pretty girls, no older than twenty-five, squeal onto the road; the license plate is DO-ME.
9:30 a.m. – Willie’s hacienda looks like he paid a professional landscaper. The young maid is Indian; Si? Mrs. Lopez, please?
Esmerelda: she does not recognize me; How can I help you?
Me: Esmerelda, I’m CB Green. We met at your wedding reception.
She hugs me, then leads me into the living-room.
E: No, please call me Esme.
Esme is close to fifty, and the years have treated her well. She is five-eight, one-forty, and the lines of age sit lightly on her skin. It is hard to believe she lived in a shanty town until she was thirty-five; then she came to the states, legally, got a degree in nursing, went to work at the TMC; she still works there three days a week.
Me: Esme, I’m so sorry about Willie. It must be a great shock to you.
E: Why would anyone kill Willie, he was a harmless old man?
Me: Willie came to my house after he was shot. He rang my bell, but he died before I could open the door. She nods. Esme? Her black eyes focus behind me. Esme, Willie came to me for a reason. I am a private investigator, and I will find out who did this to him. I need your help.
E: How can you find a random murderer? Steel enters her voice, Willie is dead. No one had a reason to kill Willie.
Me: I haven’t seen Willie in more than a year, Esme. He’s never been to my house in Tucson, yet he found me. Why? He wanted me to help him. Yes, he’s dead, but I still want to help?
E: But how can I help you?
Me: I want to learn more about Willie.
E: But you’ve known him forever.
Me: I haven’t had a long conversation with Willie in five years. I have to catch up. Did I ever have a long conversation with Willie? No, but a million little snippets.
Me: This will take a while. You might want to freshen up.
I pace the room, reconnecting with Willie. His taste in art hasn’t improved; there is an oil painting of a unicorn and a stylized Mexican scene on black velvet. The furniture is new and the walls recently painted, but the room stinks of cigarettes. I step into Willie’s man cave of video, stereo and computer equipment; Willie needed the amplification. Esme returns wearing a loose fitting Hawaiian muumuu; she has a drink and a cigarette.
Me: Maybe you could catch me up on what Willie’d been doing.
E: What do you need to know?
Me: Why don’t you start with anything unusual.
E: Unusual? Willie? Everything was unusual with Willie. Esme changes gears; Willie was good to me. He was what we Spanish call a real man, in all the ways that counted. Three years was not enough to really know him, but I would do anything for him!
Me: I’ve known Willie a long time. He wasn’t easy to know.
E: No man, especially a gringo, could know Willie. He was kind, attentive in lots of little ways, caring to me. Willie was a woman’s man. He knew how to get and hold love. When my daughter in Houston was married, Willie took the part of her father and gave her the most extraordinary wedding; he was the father she always wanted. When my son needed an operation, Willie was there for him. He let me stay in Houston for a month while he recovered. Then he moved Eduardo to Tucson for me. Willie was a generous man.
Me: Generous? What about Carrie? He’s owed her money for a long time, long after he could have paid her.
E: Anger; She’s a bitch. That’s what Willie said. She wanted his body and when he would no longer give it to her, she accused him of theft. He gave her no more than the minimum, and even that she did not deserve. If she crawled in here on her hands and knees, I would kick her.
Me: But it was her money, he stole from her.
E: How do you steal from such a woman? She is old and wrinkled. She was stealing Willie’s youth. [Carrie is fifty-three, Willie sixty-seven.] She should have considered it an even trade and stopped bothering him.
Me: So, that’s what Willie thought?
E: Willie had no thoughts about it. He had no use for the past; Carrie was the past.
Me: So what can you tell me of Willie’s past?
E: I’d barely scratched the present. Until this week I only knew a little. He went to UC Berkeley on a tennis scholarship, but he was injured in his junior year and didn’t finish. He helped his brother through law school. A lot of good that did; now he’s a skid row alcoholic who stole from his family; there is no lower life form.
Me: So what did you learn this week about his past?
E: Willie did not tell me he’d been married before. I know, it was naive of me, but I never asked. Then last week, the day before he died, she shows up on the doorstep, his daughter, from Los Angeles. Whatever she tells Willie scares the hell out of him, but he won’t tell me about it.
A large man about thirty, swarthy and hulking enters, bringing his own dark shadow; the same man who escorted Esme into the police station. Esme speaks very quick Spanish.
E: This is my son, Eduardo. We shake. He is helping me in my time of grief.
Me: How can I reach this daughter?
She exits and returns with with a card; she hands it over like it is electric; Mary Lopez is a stockbroker with Morgan Stanley.
Me: What happened then, Esme?
E: He rushed to the office. He called me in to say he was staying at a motel. He said he couldn’t come home until things quieted down, but that he loved me. He told me to … She stopped, then, That’s all I know.
Me: What about his business?
E: I don’t know about the business. You’d have to talk to his partner, Ron Cook.
Me: Didn’t you meet any of his business acquaintances?
E: At the Wilmot Station. They didn’t usually discuss business. If they did, it was much too noisy for me to hear.
Me: He must have introduced them?
E: Ron came a couple times a week, usually with one of the new hires, or clients. They’d mix, they’d have a good time. They never brought female clients or employees, at least not after the first time.
Me: Why’s that?
E: A little blond bitch they’d hired, she got drunk and went off and got laid with a guy she met at our table. She blamed Willie, said the guy put powder in her drink. There was a big stink with the police.
Me: Who else came?
E: His venture guys came once a week.
Me: Who were they?
E: It was a company called Resource Tap. They have offices in one of the downtown towers. I don’t remember their last names, but Willie called them Bob and Ray. He used to laugh at it, like it was a joke, but it meant nothing to me. I think they were Russians, but they always brought a bodyguard, and he was Mexican. They never talked about business at the table. They were good time guys, you know what I mean?
Me: Those kind of guys are always getting into trouble.
E: Yeah, one night Bob made a play for some other guy’s girl and got punched in the face. The next day they found this guy beaten to a pulp behind the bar. He was lucky he didn’t die, but he doesn’t walk so good anymore. But that had nothing to do with Willie.
Me: Esme, you don’t want to talk to me. Don’t you want to find Willie’s killer?
E: You know, Willie believed in God, though you’d never guess it from the way he talked and how unpiously he lived his life. Willie’s dead, and if there is a God, Willie’s not in Heaven. I say prayers every day to hopefully right that wrong, because Willie was a good man. But, right now I’m more concerned with the living. I can’t change what’s happened.
Me: I switch gears, So who were your two friends driving out as I came in?
E: Shocked; They weren’t friends, they were Jehovah’s Witnesses. I kicked them out of here.
If they were Jehovah’s Witnesses, I might give religion another try. I stood and wished her well. Esmerelda Lopez is scared. She’d tells me as little as she could; bit, if you’re not going to tell the whole truth, you’re better off shutting up, and I am catching the scent.
10:15 a.m. – I call Carrie and say not to expect any further payments.
10:45 a.m. – Eduardo’s black 67 Impala exits the driveway trailing, makes a sharp right into traffic and squeals the tires to tailgate the car in front. He turns right onto Houghton, and then onto Duval Mine Road before south on highway 19 towards Nogales.
Noon – Eduardo exits at Green Valley and parks in a handicapped spot at a rundown diner; he has a handicapped license plate. I park in the shade out of the line of sight, roll my windows down. My stomach gurgles; I haven’t eaten since supper last night.
1:10 p.m. – Eduardo spends an hour in the restaurant. When he exits he is followed by a short skinny Hispanic man sporting a pencil thin Cesar Romero mustache and wearing a shiny gray suit reminiscent of sharkskin; a bright tie reflects the sun like a mirror. The two shake hands; the little man watches Eduardo spin his tires in the dirt and exit the parking lot. The man takes off his coat, shakes out the dust, removes his tie and folds both over his arm; he shakes his head. He sets his jacket in the back seat of a red beat up Honda with Sonoran plates. I catch up to him after the INS station ten miles up the road. He exits at Duval Mine Road retracing my original ride past the pecan orchards and takes Houghton to Tanque Verde followed by a right onto Sabino Canyon; and lastly a right into my townhouse development. I wait before pulling into my garage. The Honda is parked on the street, but when I get out of the truck, he is gone.
2:30 p.m. – I have coffee and a two donuts downtown at a bakery.
3:00 p.m. – I am panhandled on the steps of the police station as uniformed cops pass by. I am directed to Jesse’s cubicle; her desk is piled with papers.
Me: Willie Lopez?
J: No, Willie’s one of four current murders I’m working, all attackers unknown. Applying the statistics of success means one eventual conviction, three into the dead file.
Me: I thought most murders were solved right away, a person the victim knew?
J: Her laugh is self-deprecating, These aren’t those. Those happen and are solved like you described it. These are the random killings, or the more sophisticated murders, or gang hits. We’ve all got a few. They get ninety days, then nothing. It’s the way it is. I’d like to change it, but there’s nothing I can do about it. Personally, I want to take every killer off the street, but it’s not possible, and I don’t have the time.
Me: So what’s your answer? How do you deal with it?
J: I do triage. This scum bucket pimp beat his girls. He’s got an arrest record ten years long and he’s never done a nice thing in his life. Somebody tortured him until he was dead. I’m not working real hard on it. When bad things happen to good people, that’s what gets my attention. That’s Jesse Wallace triage. To me, So, what’s up with you, Green? You’re starting to look like trouble.
Me: I’m not trouble; I’m trying to find out what’s going on.
J: That’s my job.
Me: So call me your helper.
J: You know, Green, for a PI, you have had your share of problems. You’ve been hit by three bullets. She holds up her hand; Yeah, I know, not your fault. I’m ten years a cop and I’ve yet to be shot at. You’re dangerous, and my guess is not only to yourself; so remind me never to work with you. You take too many chances and I don’t want to worry about whether you will get yourself killed out there on my case.
Me: Look Detective, I have two speeds to live life, fourth gear and neutral. I want to find out what happened to Willie Lopez. He came to me for help, and I’m going to try. I don’t plan on getting in your way, but I won’t be sitting on the sidelines. You have four other unsolved murders, I have one. You have divided attentions and loyalties, I don’t. I’m not knocking you for that, but that is how it is. I don’t do triage, Detective. You’re like a doctor in the hospital, you can’t take time to care. It’s not, and it shouldn’t be, in the job description. But I care.
J: I know you care, but that’s not enough. You get in my way and I’ll haul your butt into jail. And I won’t think twice about it. You’re an amateur, Green, a dangerous amateur. And I know you’re going to make my life miserable. I feel it.
Me: Detective Jesse, I don’t want to do that, but I have to move forward and I’d like your support, starting with …
J: Look, if I have even the slightest reason to suspect interference, you’re in jail. Is that clear?
Me: Hey, I’m on your side, why can’t you be on mine?
J: Green, I hardly know you and you’re already wearing thin. I have real work to do. Why don’t you go away and play your detective games.
Me: I write on a scrap of paper; I need to know who owns these cars, one in Arizona, one in Sonora.
J: What do I look like?
Me: You look like a cop with too much on her plate, a cop who needs the help of a thoughtful public minded individual like me.
J: Why would I do this for you?
Me: Hey, because I’m one of the good guys. Because when I find something out, I’ll tell you. I have no client, so I’ve nothing to hide.
J: So what can you tell me if you’re dead?
Me: Good question. I put my briefcase on her desk. This is my laptop, or as I like to refer to it, this is my memory. If I turn up dead, you find this and you know everything I know, at least to within twelve hours. Detective, I’m going to do what I’m going to do. You’ll do the same and with any luck we’ll both get what we want. I really need those license plates id-ed.
J: Get out of here, she whispers, but she tucks the scrap under her the casebook.
Me: Detective Jesse, I think you’re swell, and I don’t for a second think you won’t arrest Willie’s killer; but I need to do my part. I’ll call you about the licenses.
4:00 p.m. – I walk to the library; the man at the front desk gives me a password for the computer. I scan the Arizona Star site and find nine entries. The man in the sharkskin jacket turns to the copy machine and settles ten feet from me; he smiles at me; he doesn’t know I know he is tailing me. I print the pages I want, then turn to him; he gets up to scan the stacks.
The three year old announcement reads, ‘Willie Lopez, the president of WLE Inc., a Tucson-based defense consulting company, married Esmerelda Lopez, a recent immigrant to the US. The wedding was attended by a small group of friends. Mrs. Lopez was given away by her son, Eduardo.’ It is a good picture of Willie; he wears that dopey smile like he’d swallowed the canary. Esmerelda looks happy in a controlled way. Another article described Willie’s weekend talk show, a lone Mexican American voice against enviro-left-wackos. There is a picture of him bent over the microphone, and a number of quotes from one of his hour-long shows. A bio describes Willie’s desires to run for the US Congress. The article about WLE was a small headline in the business section, ‘Local Consulting Company Strikes Defense Gold.’ It contains a number of quotes by Willie about why WLE was so important to the Air Force. Willie is the only person mentioned in the article, but there is a picture with Vice President Bob Cook, and a one line reference to Resource Tap as his venture capital source. Willie’s company had grown from three people to sixty in eighteen months, so the need for cash was substantial. The one article about Resource Tap says it is two years old; the venture firm made some very profitable investments in Silicon Valley, but no big scores yet in their home base of Tucson; the two principals were Russians, Ivan and Boris Breshenko, but the source of their funds was wealthy Mexicans; the firm also owned real-estate and rental properties.
My Mexican tail is gone; I stow the papers in my notebook and fold ten blank sheets into the wastebasket. As I exit I see him pull my paper from the bin. He looks at me; he winks Touche.
7:30 p.m. – I cook halibut and onions in balsamic vinegar, and finish it with yogurt.