I contemplated the bullet hole in the front wall of my house, the one the cops had dug the bullet out of, and was admiring the beauty of my fuchsia blossoms, when a car pulled insolently into my driveway - two guys in it. I didn't have time to panic. Also, I didn't need some yo-yo's oil spots on my nice brick drive. Why couldn't they have parked at the curb? Who invited them anyway?
I stood scowling at them as they got out of a dusty Ford Fallopia, sure to be a leaky crate, and approached. A matched pair of Cool Dudes; probably the DEA coming to call, already.
Or else they were South Americans, and I was going to get publicly executed. I felt strangely calm, and a little angry about possible oil spots.
Both men were medium sized, medium built, short brown hair, plaid sports shirts, khaki trousers, loafers and, of course, sunglasses. Must be the Drug Enforcement Agency, the pride of America, coming down my walkway.
They stopped a few feet in front of me and still hadn't said hello. Faces expressionless. I breathed slowly and deeply and stared back. Clone No. 1 asked if my name was Dick McNabb.
"Who wants to know?" I asked, John Wayne style. I thought that was pretty cool. They had to be cops. They exuded copness, not South American machismo.
My heart stopped for a moment as both reached for … their wallets, flipped them open to show badges.
Clone 1 said, "Johnson, Drug Enforcement Agency." Ha. I knew it. An obvious alias. Clone 2 would be, …"Wilson, Drug Enforcement Agency." I would have checked the badges closely but Pal had predicted this.
"Jeez, I'm really impressed. What can I do for you?"
Actually, I was really relieved. I was going to live another day. Or at least a couple more hours. Those guys and I were on the same side. I didn't like their apparent attitude, but what the hell.
Johnson wanted to know if we could talk. Inside. "Sir," he said, almost sarcastically.
"Sure." I went in and gestured them to follow.
"You might wanna take off your shades," I said. "I don't want you to slip on a throw rug and sue my elderly ass."
Slowly they took their glasses off; looking very not amused, and put them in their shirt pockets - almost as one, as if they'd practiced their act many times.
I gestured to the couch, which they sat on, arms on their legs, hands folded. Did they want any coffee? They shook their heads No. That's the way it always went in the movies. Or else the host would get coffee and then no one would drink any.
Johnson, who seemed to be the leader, began the interrogation, asking me to recap what I'd told Capt. Palafox. He seemed to be ignoring my black eyes. (I was starting to look like Rocky Raccoon, or maybe a skunk.) "Sir," he added again. Young whippersnapper smart-ass.
I recapped for them. I started to ask them why they weren't taking notes, but decided I'd been snotty enough for this visit. They did seem to be attentive, and asked questions when it was necessary for more info. They got what they wanted, Montecito mansion, big sailboat, plastic shark and all. It took about 15 minutes.
They stood up to go and put their shades back on.
"Thank you, Sir," both said, almost in unison.
They turned to the door as precisely and robotically as the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Maybe they had been guards there at one time. Except their shoes weren't overly shiny, like the patent leather jobs the guards wear.
I figured they owed me, so I asked, "So, what's gonna be done now? What's my role in it?"
They turned back to face me, as one. Damn, these guys were cool.
Johnson said quietly but firmly, "You don't have a role."
That was Wilson's cue, so he said, "We know all about this Carranza asshole. We had plans, and we don't need amateurs foulin' up the works the way you did. We were prepared and about to drop the net, but no, Mr. Private Eye butted in and completely screwed up the case."
He was getting a little excited, and continued: "Your role is to go back to lawn bowling and keep the hell out of the way!" This time, he didn't bother with the "Sir."
"Lawn bowling" was the wrong thing to say. It got my Scots-Irish juices flowin'.
"My role is to do whatever I damn please," I said. I got a little firmer of voice: "Last time I looked, I wasn't on your payroll and I don't take orders from some overpaid government agent waiting for his inflated retirement to kick in. Now get the hell outa here."
I hadn't broken any laws -- that they could prove anyway -- and I didn't have to be afraid of the DEA. This was by-god America. I swung the door open wide, silently signaling to these two robots that it was time for them to get the hell out of my house.
"You've been warned," Johnson said as they turned to go.
I'd heard that before, more times than I cared to recall, and I still wasn't impressed. They glared and I glared back. No fair, I wasn't wearing shades. Then they left, Johnson leading.
So ended another little skirmish in America's battle against drugs.
I started to feel guilty for ruining their plans, but then I wondered why they had been waiting so long to "drop the net". Way too long, it seemed to me. They should have had evidence all over the place.
Hell with'em. Typical government agency. Waste of taxpayers' money. I muttered and snarled the day away. Thawed a steak for dinner. Called a bunch of people who seemed to care.
What was stuck in my craw?
Finally it came to me: I couldn't see Carlos and Loretta being happily married and retiring to Bogota. That most likely meant that he was finally finished with her, she being sort of like wreckage on the freeway of sex. Maybe she was in a ditch somewhere, like the victim in the last case I had. Or maybe she was alive, and I could somehow spirit her away to safety. I had to find her, or find out what had happened to her. But how? Where?
It was time to call Mason and get something going.
To be continued.
# # # #
Gene Cates is a Santa Barbara writer, author of a series
of crime novels involving Dick McNabb, private investigator. McNabb is a retired teacher with a craving for excitement -- which he finds.