I’m from La Jolla, but most of my clients are from Texas, mostly Dallas. They drive here in Lincolns and Cadillacs so the wives, the children, the grandchildren can spend the summer at the country club while the husbands fly back and forth weekends.
Mostly they come to me when they can’t find a spouse or a child. Usually I can find them. Sometimes I find them in circumstances that the client doesn’t like. Sometimes they need what I bill as special services.
It was early morning, or early for me, and I looked out the window of my office at the La Jolla Cove where the air is clearer than clear, the water bluer than blue, and the seals play in the surf. I used to have a bare bones office with a desk, two chairs and a view of a wall. I provided a special service for the guy who owns the building and now I get to enjoy the cove, furniture you can spend the night on, all the amenities.
My head ached from the night before, and I went into my little kitchen. In the morning I like a bloody Mary and a boiled egg. My suit was not rumpled. I pay extra for suits that don’t rumple.
I heard jingling at the door, and a figure loomed dark grey in the frosted glass. I pressed the buzzer. An old woman walked in. She had Dallas written all over her: blue hair and a blue-grey Shantung suit. She had rings on most fingers, real diamonds, and the jangling I had heard were her bracelets and earrings.
She walked past my leather comfort-the-client chair and with surprising agility parked her hip on the corner of my desk exposing skinny legs in silk stockings and one foot with a piercing heel.
“I understand you can find people around here,” she said. Her voice was oleaginous with mature petro-dollars.
I watched her. She reached into her purse, took out a gold vape and ignited it.
“Sometimes,” I said, “if the price is right.”
“My granddaughter Mildred is missing. She’s been gone a week.” Again with the purse, she brought out a photograph with colors more vivid than life. The girl looked like she was in her late teens. She wore tennis shorts, a peasant blouse, and stood on a tennis court with a racket in her left hand. She was tall, maybe as tall as I am. Nice legs. She looked into the camera with defiance masked as sullenness.
“Have you called the cops?”
“No, I can’t have talk back home.”
“I understand,” I said. I asked her the usual questions about where she had last been seen — at the club on her way to the beach.
I asked about boyfriends. Her grandmother denied them.
Enemies? Well she was outspoken, but grandmother didn’t think her kid had really offended anyone.
Who were her friends? They were all from Dallas at the country club. Questions like that. I told her my hourly rate and specified a high retainer. She reached into the purse and plunked C-notes on my desk.
“There’s one more thing,” she said. For the first time uncertainty diluted her arrogance. “You know Emma Parker?”
I remembered Parker. She had required special services. But I never divulge names.
“She says she was a client of yours.”
I held my quiet face, not that my face is ever cuddly. I had told Parker to keep her mouth shut.
She leaned toward me and asked, “Have you turned to stone?”
“Well, if it should be necessary, I can pay for that too.”
“I’ll bet you can.”
I left my Glock in the safe and drove to the club in the afternoon. It’s up on a rise a few blocks from the beach — apartments with hotel accommodations dressed up as a Spanish mission dropped in the middle of a golf course, plus swimming pools, tennis courts, lawn bowling, you name it. A shuttle runs a few blocks to the beach.
None of the guests acknowledged me, but some of the staff did. I learned that Mimi, that was her name for Mildred, had told friends that she was going to the beach, but the shuttle driver knew her and said she had not used it.
I was beginning to think it was an inside job, but two of her friends told me she had had a couple of dates with a guy on a motorcycle. I asked what kind. They said Harley. I asked them if she knew where they’d gone, but she’d been tight-lipped with them.
“You know, she can be a bitch,” one of her friends said.
La Jolla is not exactly a hot date town. First place I checked after I talked to her friends at the club was one of our several Italian restaurants, but it was a dead end. I won’t recite all the places I visited —sleazy on the outside and luxurious within or vice versa. I talked to women who were attracted to me, or pretended to be, or pretended not to be. You’ve heard all that stuff; you know how it goes. It’s hard, boring work.
It led me to the house of an old special-services client of mine named Enzo Gonsolvo. I packed my Glock.
Gonsolvo now lives in a ranch-style house in the hills with a distant view of the sea, an elaborate newly landscaped front yard, and a three-car garage full of motorcycles. Mostly Harleys. He was the past president of a 1% bikers club called the Mongols.
The Mongols have a system like Deng Xiaoping set up in China. After a few years, the president retires and the vice president becomes president. The president moves somewhere and lives in straight comfort with his family but still wields a lot of influence.
Gonzalo and I had met before. The Mongols were having drug turf wars with the Outlaws and people had died.
I showed him the picture of Mimi and told him what I picked up about her and her movements. He was a plump man with crew-cut black hair and a Stalin mustache. He was wearing blue jeans and a red silk shirt. He put aside the picture.
“Beats me,” he said.
“You owe me,” I said. I could make out a hair-thin scar all across his neck.
He nodded. He unpocketed his phone, excused himself and went into another room. He knew I understood Spanish. He was gone for some time. I could hear the rhythm of his conversations but not the words. He made more than one call.
He came back carrying his phone. He held it out to me. There was a map with a red arrow pointing to a spot in the wild country in the eastern part of the county.
“Send it to me,” I said. After some finger fumbling by each of us it appeared on the screen of my phone.
I went to my car and spread the map. The red arrow tipped in Anza Borrego state park. Judging by the fineness of the grey lines on my screen, it would be four-wheel country. I drove my venerable Toyota to a rental agency and picked up a Jeep.
It’s about a two-hour drive. I took I-8 to Ocotillo, where I stopped for a drink in the Lazy Lizard saloon, and then State Route 52, San Diego’s loneliest highway, north. I was in no hurry and stopped at the Carrizo Badlands Overlook.
It was late afternoon by the time I got there, and the sun from the west accented the drama of the treeless plateaus and gorges. Before I reached the town of Borrego Springs, Siri talked me off the highway onto a well-maintained gravel road, then a not-so-well maintained road, then a rough branch where I appreciated the power steering. Then the nearest microwave tower lost me.
The road, if you could call it that, ended dead. I got out and examined the gulches. The car door banged loud in the vast silence. Soon I saw her, lying against some boulders halfway down a jagged slope. She was wrapped in white linen. I wished I had gotten hiking shoes along with the Jeep.
I half-climbed, half-crawled to her and pulled the linen aside. She was in blue jeans and a flannel blouse. Her feet were bare. Her arms looked bruised from rolling down the slope, but she’d been dead when they tossed her. A small bullet wound marred her forehead.
She’d been shot from the front with a small-caliber weapon at a range farther than close.
I shifted to a secure position and lay my hand on her forehead. I could feel the hole and its rough edges. I closed my eyes and concentrated on being there. It was a great place to do that, still and indifferent. The wound was diminishing under my fingers. When I looked, only a star of tiny lines, barely visible in the fading light, remained.
The sky to the west was brilliant blue, but in the purple east stars were beginning to make themselves known. I bent and kissed her, not a passionate kiss, not a mere touch — a comfortable kiss.
She began to move. She opened her eyes and jerked uncomfortably on the rough slope. She gave me a look both incredulous and sullen.
“Who the fuck are you?” she said.