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"The Far Fields"

a Pat Maginess private eye story

by

Edward Piercy

"A ripple widening from a single stone
Winding around the waters of the world."

— Theodore Roethke.

Los Angeles, July 1953

The phone rang about 3 P.M. My secretary, Carmen, was out getting some
real-world experience working a divorce case and wasn't there to answer
it. So the ringing continued as I stared at it, big and black and metal
and noisy. It was irritating. I was halfway through a paperback novel I
had picked up at Eddie's news stand a few days earlier and I was at a
really good part of the story.

"Crap" I said. I finally leaned over and answered.

The guy on the line said his name was Clyde Bruckner and that he needed
my help on an important matter. "Why don't you come in and we'll have a
cup of coffee and talk about it" I said, thinking that might buy me some
additional time with the paperback.

"I think it would be best if you were to come see me" he said. "Right
away. It's very important and…there are things I don't want to talk
about on the phone."

"All right. Give me your address." I grabbed my hat and locked up the
office and took a nice slow elevator ride down to the street and my old
Plymouth. The address Bruckner had given me was Beverley Hills. I headed
west and then north and then west again. Eventually I came to a medium
sized house on the fringe of the Hills. By the standards of that area it
wasn't much. But it was big enough to impress most people, people like
me, and cost as much as I would make in the next 10 years.

I pulled in the long drive. The house was a two story stucco and sat
back about 50 feet from the street. When I rang the front door bell it
opened almost immediately.

"Pat Maginess" I said. "You are Bruckner, I take it?"

"Come in, Mr. Maginess" he said in a rush. "Please."

I went in. It didn't take me long once I got into the wide hallway to
figure out why Bruckner had called. There was a man lying on the
hallway floor. And if his wide open eyes weren't lying, he was stone
cold dead. Besides the dead man an attractive and well-dressed
auburnish woman stood looking at me with some bit of curiosity.

"I'm Mariam Bruckner" she said. She stuck out her hand and I shook it.
"Call me Mariam."

"And I'm Clyde Bruckner" the man said, and I shook his hand too.
"Please, call me Clyde. There's no real need for formality here."

"Okay, Mariam and Clyde it is. Well. Now that we have the introductions
out of the way, would either of you like to tell me what this dead man
is doing in your hallway? I admit, I'm sort of curious."

"We don't know how he got here" Mariam said.

"None at all" Clyde added. "We haven't been here since we bought the
house. We haven't even moved in yet. We came over to discuss a few
things about the house and he was just here. Lying there."

"When was the last time you were here?" I asked.

Mariam thought about it. "Six days ago. There have been so many things
to do to get ready for the move. We had some people in over at the old
place to help pack. And I've been packing the special things, the
personal items. You can't imagine how hectic it all has been."

"I've moved once or twice" I said, writing in the notebook. "So what
brought you over here today? I don't see any boxes or moving trucks
around."

"We came back to look at the walls" Clyde said.

"So we can get the painters in before we bring in our furniture" Mariam
added.

"We got to talking about the colors for several of the rooms. I wanted
to paint the main living room a deep maroon color. With black trim."

"I keep telling you, that would be too dark" Mariam said to him. "And we
would have to buy a new rug."

"So? It would look great. A lot better than light green. If we paint it
light green like you want, the walls will be almost the same color as
the carpet. And the drapes. Hell, why not just have everything in the
living room light green? Why don't we just paint the furniture light
green?"

"Walls matching the carpet is a typical decorating scheme" Mariam said
back. "And the curtains aren't green. They're lapis."

"Lapis shmapis" Clyde said. "They're still green."

"Oh now, closer to blue than green, please. I'm beginning to think you
are color blind."

I tapped my notebook with the pencil eraser a few times. "Uh, why don't
we get back to the decorating scheme a little later, folks. Considering
that there's a dead man lying on the floor right in front of you. Why
don't we deal with that first."

Both nodded. I decided to give them the fee and bonus speech later,
given the circumstances.

"Do either of you know this gentleman?" I started.

They looked down at him. "No" Clyde said. Mariam shook her head.

"Have either of you seen him before? Anywhere at all? Take a good look
at him before you answer."

This time both shook their heads no.

I went over to the dead man and squatted down next to him. He was maybe
about fifty, rather Hispanic looking, with hair and a mustache that
were just starting to turn gray. He wore work pants and had on a plaid
cotton shirt with the sleeves cut off short. His right arm had a large
tattoo of a coiled snake with what looked like a ball in its mouth.
I pulled his arm a bit. It was rigid. "Well, he's still in rigor. That
means he's been dead a few hours." Noticing a small hole in his shirt I
unbuttoned it. There was a bullet hole almost exactly in the center of
his stomach, almost as if somebody had shoved a gun barrel right there
dead center. And from the look of powder on the shirt somebody had done
exactly that. I grabbed his belt and turned him on his side and pulled
his shirt up in back. There was a good-sized exit hole in his back, about
one inch in diameter. The bullet had just missed the spine. "He's been
shot" I told the Bruckners. "One shot, straight through. This type of
wound would have bled all over the damn place. So it's obvious he wasn't
killed here."

I started going through his pockets. There was no wallet, no
identification or paperwork of any kind. And there wasn't even so much
as one nickel in his pockets. Looking down at the bottom of his pants I
noticed some slight discoloration. Touching it, the area felt wet. I
felt his socks and they were also a bit wet. There was a bit of mud on
the bottoms of his shoes.

"He hasn't got any identification" I said. "You say you haven't been
here at the house in six days?"

"That's right" Clyde said.

"You came in through the front door, I take it. Was the door locked?"

"Probably not" Clyde said. "I thought it odd, the way key didn't really
turn. I thought to myself that the realtor must have left the door
unlocked. So we walked in. And that's when we noticed it. The man on the
floor."

"So why did you call me?" I asked them. "Why didn't you just call the
police?"

"We discussed that" Mariam said.

"We thought that since it was our house that there might be
complications of some kind."

"Complications? What kind of complications?"

"Like the police thinking that one of us was responsible" Mariam said.

"Oh, those kind of complications."

"Mr. Maginess, can't you just find some way to keep us out of this?
We're both very busy people. And in the middle of a big move. This is
the last thing we needed."

"I think it's the last thing in the world that this man here on the
floor needed too."

I didn't know who the dead man was or what had happened. But I was sure
the Bruckners hadn't had anything to do with it. The blood evidence, or
the lack of it, showed that the man had been killed elsewhere. And it
just didn't make any sense whatsoever that if the Bruckners had killed
him that they would have brought him back to their house and dropped his
body in the their hallway. Or, for that matter, that they would kill him
in another part of the house and then move him.

"I'll tell you want I want you to do" I told them. There's an Italian
restaurant in south Hollywood called Geribaldi's. They have a little bar
inside there separate from the restaurant. Have a few drinks. Make a
reservation for dinner for about 6 o'clock. Be real friendly and tip
big, big enough so they'll remember you for the rest of their lives.
I'll meet you there a little after six."

"And why are we doing that?" Miriam asked.

"To get you away from here. I'll take a look around the place. That
ought to take an hour or so. Then I'll call in an anonymous tip to the
police. When the cops question you, just tell them what you first told
me — that you haven't been to the house here since you bought it. That
you don't know anything about any dead body. That you were at home and
then at the restaurant."

"Can't you just call the cops and tell them we had nothing to do with
this?" Clyde said, whining a bit.

"Sure" I said. "And the cops love me so much they'll just take my word
for it. No, it doesn't work that way. One way or another it's your
property and you will have to answer a few questions. And when you do,
you'll tell them you have no idea what they are talking about. At least
this way we put you at a slightly farther distance from the thing."

"We thought that by calling you we could stay out of it altogether."
Mariam said.

"Not possible. Not without moving the body, violating the scene,
possibly destroying evidence. We could get in major trouble doing that.
But I will work on your behalf. I'll work the case and see what
information I can come up with. Information which hopefully will
distance you even further."

"Like, finding the killer?" Clyde said.

"That would be the ideal outcome, yeah."

After the Bruckner's left I did a thorough tour of the house. Just
because I thought the Bruckner's didn't have anything to do with the
incident didn't mean that the murder didn't take place in the house.
There were a lot of rooms to cover. What the Bruckner home lacked in
normal Beverly Hills size it more than made up for in craftsmanship and
elegance. The library was particularly impressive, and it made me think
that perhaps I should get some nice bookcases put in my little house in
Glendale.

I didn't find any blood anywhere in the house, or even any mops and
buckets that might have been used to clean it up afterwards. I went back
outside through the front door. Starting at one corner of the front
yard I did a survey, going back in forth in rows like I was mowing the
grass, looking for any sign of blood stain covering the grass. Finding
nothing, I did the walk down the drive from street to the side of the
house and then around in back. The rear of the house was missing much of
the typical Beverley Hills perks. There was almost no patio, no pool,
and no tennis courts. In fact the back yard was very small, only about
40 feet deep from the back doors to the back wall which separated the
house from the adjoining property. I took a walk over all of it. The
only thing that remained was a three car garage.

I pulled open all three doors to the garage. The garage was dusty and
had all sorts of strange junk laying around. It occurred to me that
I might be standing in one higher priced homes in the city, but
that a garage was just a garage no matter what house came with it —
dirty and full of stuff whose provenance could only be guessed at. The
floor was concrete. I didn't see any blood on it.

Closing up the garage I walked down the driveway a few feet and stopped
for a minute. "Shit" I said to myself. I did some playing with the keys
in my left pocket. Wherever the unknown man had been shot, he hadn't
been shot at the Bruckner place. Which of course left only the entire
city of Los Angeles as a possible crime scene.

Getting back to my car I took a look around the immediate neighborhood.
The houses to each side and across the street from the Bruckner's place
were very similar in size and style. One of the houses just next door
had a sprinkler system, which was in the process of watering the lawn in
quite impressive fashion. I watched the sprinkler nozzels turn back and
forth, listened to the sound of the water eminating from them and
shooting across the lawn. The overall effect was a very peaceful one.
And it reminded me that the dead man in the Bruckner's hallway had cuffs
and socks that were still wet from some source. If the man had been
dead a few days, the rest of him might have been quite wet at one time
also, drying faster than the cuffs and socks. I remembered too from my
survey of the Bruckner's lawn that there wasn't any sprinkler system at
their house. It was just an observation, not evidence. But I found it
interesting, and it gave me one more reason to come back the next day and
interview some of the local residents.

On the way to Hollywood I stopped at a drug store and called the police.
I gave them the Bruckner's address and told them that I thought there
was something strange going on there, that I had been driving by and saw
some people carrying what looked like a dead man into the house. Then I
hung up. I didn't give them my name.

Girabaldi's was crowded. I caught the Bruckner's at the bar and put an
expensive bourbon on their tab. I told them that I had searched the
place over a bit. I noticed that the bartender was treating them like
royalty. They must have taken my direction to leave a huge tips. Before
I could get into matters any further the maitre'd came into the bar and
told the Bruckners that their table was ready. We all three went down
the few steps to the dining room and were shown our table. We ordered
drinks again, and were handed menus.

"I get $50 a day plus expenses." I told the Bruckners. "Plus I get some
sort of bonus for the successful resolution of a case."

"How much of a bonus?" Clyde asked. "And what do you mean by successful
resolution?"

"For this one, I would say two grand would be just about right."

"Two thousand dollars? Are you serious?" Clyde asked.

"Yep, I'm serious. Of course, you're perfectly welcome to call some
other private eye if you want."

The Bruckners looked at each other a few seconds, a deep into the eyes
kind of look. Mariam slid her hand across the table and Clyde took it.
No matter what one might have thought of them, and in spite of their
arguments with each other, it was obvious that the two were very much in
love. Given my recent bad history with relationships, I didn't know whether
to feel envious or lucky.

Mariam nodded to her husband. An agreement had been reached between
them. "All right, then" Clyde said. "Two thousand. But, Mr. Maginess,
how would you define the 'successful resolution' of the case?"

"A successful resolution is I keep you both away from it. Distance,
isn't that what you both want? That finding a dead unknown man in your
house won't interfere with your lives?"

"Now, what are we going to have for dinner? I'm starved."

I hated autopsy rooms. I had seen so many of them I should have been
used to them, but I never could get used to them. The next afternoon I
drove around Los Angeles County Hospital trying to find a place to park.
It took a while. I reached into my glove compartment and grabbed the old
Leica camera I had gotten in Europe during the war. Then I did the old
familiar walk into the morgue.

"You have my money?" the Medical Examiner said.

"Yeah."

"Well?" he said, crossing his arms.

I pulled my wallet and grabbed two $20 bills and handed them to him. "As
agreed."

"You are lucky that I could move this autopsy up" he said. "We are
really busy right now."

"Uh huh. Sure."

We left his office and went to the autopsy room. "I just finished the
examination" he said, jerking back the sheet covering the body.

"Cause of death was blood loss from a gunshot wound to the stomach.
Probably a .38 caliber. Tore through the lower stomach and nicked one
kidney. He might have lived if he had gotten to a hospital. I guess he
didn't."

Because there had been nobody around to see him get shot, I thought to
myself. That would explain it. Nobody except the person who shot him.

"Any way you could identify him?"

The doctor shook his head. "Doubt if he has dental records. And it looks
like he's Mexican. Any records like that would be in Mexico anyway."

"What about finger prints? Or the tattoo?" I asked him.

"That's more your area. Or the cops. I have no idea."

He pulled the sheet back over the body. "These damn people" he said.
"Coming to our country all the time."

"He just wanted a better life" I told him.

"Well let them get it somewhere else."

"And where would that be, exactly?"

"Hell I don't know" he said, walking towards the door. "And I don't
care."

On that I totally believed him. Walking back to the autopsy table I
pulled the sheet. I looked down onto the face of a man I had never
crossed paths with, had never known a connection with until the past few
hours, as he lay cold and dead.

I took his picture.

After leaving the hospital I dropped off the film at a specialty photo
lab that I knew did good work and could get them back to me quickly.
But as I drove away I heard a loud pop like a .22 going off. At first I
though it was some car on the street backfiring. But then I heard the
ominous thump-thump of a tire — my front left tire had gone flat.
Luckily I was able to find a parking spot on the street not too far
down.

I hadn't changed a tire in ages. And it wasn't exactly like riding a
bicycle, I found I couldn't just jump right in. I got the spare off the
back of the old Plymouth and finally found the jack and crowbar
underneath the right front seat. Then I set to work. Or tried to.
Getting the jack under the car I found that I had real trouble jacking
the thing up. I had suffered from a heart condition for several years,
and every once in a while it caught up with me. Trying to jack the thing
up I had gotten out of breath, and was suddenly very tired.

"Need some assistance?" I heard a voice say behind me.

I got up and turned to find a man about 35 years old with the very short
hair that was now the style, dressed in a suit and carrying a salesman's
case.

"Maybe I could use a little help, yeah" I told him.

He put down his case next to the my car and took off his jacket and laid it
across the case. "Okay, then. Let's see if we can get this thing fixed."

He did all the work. And he did a good and fast job of it too. In about
five minutes the old tire was off and the new tire was on. I guessed
that salesmen who put a lot of hours on the road were used to handling
flats.

He stood up and smiled at me. "Guess I'll have to wash up before my next
call" he laughed, looking down at his hands.

"Let me pay you something for this. I literally could not have done it
without you."

He held up his hand like a traffic cop. "No, no money necessary" he
said. He put his jacket back on.

"But I would like to thank you for your kindness. Please, take just a
few bucks. Buy yourself lunch or something."

"No, that's okay. Just help somebody else out sometime. Okay? Think you can
handle the old tire yourself?"

The salesman walked to his own car and drove off. And after a few
minutes I managed to get the old tire put away.

The Bruckners had given me the name of their realtor and the realty
outfit she worked for, and I made that my next stop. The office of
Parker and Peterson was a small office, but a very nice one, definitely
decorated to impress. I told the receptionist that I was there to see
Mrs. Peterson and then spent about 20 minutes in a chair leafing through
an architectural magazine. It occurred to me that many of the houses in
the magazine could have comfortably provided a home to 25 people. But I
knew that in most cases they probably housed 8 or less. As for the
yards, you could have made a pretty decent living planting corn in many
of them.

A woman emerged from a hallway. She was about 50, dressed to the nines
but in a conservative type of way, hair and makeup perfect. I left the
chair and went over to her.

"Mrs. Peterson?" I asked, knowing full well.

"Yes?"

"My name is Pat Maginess. I am currently working for Clyde and Mariam
Bruckner. And I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions."
Peterson looked at the receptionist, who was staring at us, and then she
looked back at me. "Please come back to my office" she said.

Once in her office she safely positioned herself in the chair behind her
desk and waved me to one of two big soft leather chairs in front of it.
"So you are working for the Bruckners" she said. "In what capacity?"

"As a private investigator."

The answer threw her off a bit, but she quickly regained her composure.
"And what are you investigating?"

"I'm afraid I can't tell you that. But if you'd like to call the
Bruckners and ask them to provide details, you are welcome to."

"That won't be necessary" she said after a minute, leaning up to her desk.

"What I can tell you is this is important. And any information you can
give me would help them greatly. Okay, first, do you hire people to sort
of clean up the houses before you show them? Or maybe make the grounds
look nice?"

"Of course we do. We hire a service for that. We can hardly show a
property that looks in poor condition."

"Or sell one" I said.

"That also."

"What cleaning service did you use for the Bruckner's place?"

"I would have to look that up. But you know, I'm rather pressed for time."

"I would appreciate it if you could check real quick right now. And I'm
sure the Bruckners would appreciate it too."

She gave me a suspicious look. "Very well. For the Bruckners, I'll
check." She went through her Rolodex. It took some time. "The service is
called White Glove Cleaning and Landscaping. Need the address?"

"I'll look it up. Now this cleaning service, Mrs. Peterson, does it happen to
employ any workers from other countries? Say, Mexico?"

"Why, I hardly think so. I hire only good companies."

"And when the cleaning service goes in to clean the house, do you go
over and watch them clean, supervise them?"

"That is not what I do for a living" she said. "I do check the property
before I show the home to make sure everything looks as good as
possible. But I don't supervise the cleaners. I'm a realtor, not a
cleaning woman."

"Well then you really don't know who the cleaning service hires, do
you."

"I told you" she said, now angry, "I hire only the good services."

I stood and put on my hat. "I don't think you really know any of the
companies you hire, Mrs. Peterson. Let alone the people who work for them."

She gave me a dirty look, and I left.

After interviewing Peterson I made a quick stop at the photography
place, memories of the flat tire rushing through my head, and picked up
the photos. I had a couple of head shots and a couple of the tattoo on
the dead man's arm. They turned out a tad bright but good enough to show
around. I also used their telephone book.

By the time I got to the office of White Glove Cleaning Service they
were closed. There being no choice but to come back the next day, and it
being way past dinner time already, I decided to drive over to my
traditional hangout, the Alley Cat Lounge, for a few drinks and some
food. Will Chang, the long-time cook there and now part owner of the
place, fixed me up with one of his "oriental steaks." As usual it was
great. Will was always using me as his guinea pig, and this time he
served me some sweet potatoes as a side dish. Except they didn't taste
like the candied variety I had always known. The yams were spicy, with a
kind of delayed and very hot kick to them as they went down your throat.

"Chipotle" Will said later. "A Mexican herb not known much outside
Mexico. I know a couple of people here who raise the plant. Kind of a
side-line for them."

"Chipotle, huh. And what's their usual line other than the chipotle?"

"They work the fields" he said. "A tough job."

"Illegals?" I asked.

"If you want to call them that. My grandfather worked up North when he
first came over from China. He did what he had to do to make a living
for himself in this country."

"My Irish did the same back East."

"We're all just visitors to this planet anyway" Will said. He slapped me
on the shoulder a few times. "Well, back to work. That food doesn't cook
itself. Try to stop back in Saturday, Pat. I've got this new noodle
dish I've been working on. I want to try it out on you."

"Any chance of it killing me?"

"Hmmm. No, not much I don't think." He laughed and went back to the
kitchen.

Early the next morning I was back at the cleaning service. The place was
run by a guy named Zabrinski. After a few preliminaries I told him why I
was there. I didn't mention the dead man the Bruckner's had found. I
decided to hold back that card as it might make the guy unwilling to
talk.

"So this is about the Bruckner place?"

"Yeah. I just wanted to know what days you were there. And also maybe
who you had working on it."

"Humm. Can't say I get many people curious about that kind of thing.
But, I do remember that it took three days."

"And what days were those, exactly?"

"Last Friday through Sunday. No, wait, it was Saturday through Monday.
Yeah, that was it."

"How may people did you have working on the place?"

"Just three I think. That's what I normally do for these real estate
places if the place is big. Three people, two for the inside cleaning
and floor scrubbing and one for the landscaping."

"Can you tell me who you had working on that?"

"Was there some problem?" he said.

There really was no choice at that point. I had to get information and I
had to let him know that it was serious. I reached into my pocket and
took out the head shot of the dead man and put it down on his desk.
"Recognize that guy?"

"Oh my god" he said hoarsely. "Is he…dead?"

"Afraid so. Can you tell me who he is?"

Zabrinski leaned back into his chair. "Wow. I can't believe it. That's
Antanacio I think it was. But everybody called him Tony."

"Do you have a last name?"

"Afraid not. You can probably understand that it's better if we don't
ask too much information about that. Better for them, better for us,
better for everybody."

I pulled out the photo of the tattoo. "Did Tony have a tattoo like
this?"

He nodded sadly. "Yes. That's him. We used to give him all sorts of shit
about it, joke about him being a sailor. Wow, I can't believe he's
dead."

"How do you pay your people? I take it you probably don't write any
official check, given the circumstances."

"Cash" Zabrinski said. In fact I had just paid the crew for their time
on the big house. That was a few days ago."

"How much did you pay Tony on that one?"

"Uh, thirty dollars. Ten dollars a day. Three days work."

"Do you happen to know where Tony lived?"

"Uh, up north. He lived with his family, they were working one of the
farms up there. They had been there for about a year I think. His son
used to drive him into L.A. early every morning. Then pick him up again
at night."

"Can you tell me exactly where they lived? I would like to inform the
family."

Zabrinski sighed. "No. I'm afraid I can't help you on that one. We don't
use the normal applications for these type of jobs. But you might ask
Raymond. He might know."

"Raymond?"

"The other guy on the crew. He was doing the yard work on that job. I
think he knows Tony pretty well."

"And who was the third person on that job?"

"Rosie. She's my main inside cleaner. She's older, a little bit slower
these days, but I know that when she does a place it will get done
right."

"Did she know Tony?"

"I don't know. I would imagine she did. They worked together sometimes."

"Can you tell me where I might find this Raymond person?"

He shrugged. "Don't exactly know where he lives either. But what I can
tell you is if you go down to Max's Bar over on Thomas Avenue, he's there
pretty much every night. Or at least that's what he told me. He's just a
young kid, really. Likes to have a good time with his money."

Ideally, my job on this case was to find the dead man's murderer and to
discover how his body ended up at the Bruckner's house. Either one would
serve to separate the Bruckners from the crime and earn my bonus. But
the second task seemed the easier of the two. Remembering the moisture
on the victim's pants, and having observed the sprinkler system of the
house next to the Bruckner's place, I decided that might be a good place
to start.

Almost as if on cue, the sprinkler system of the house next door to the
Bruckner's came on as I was halfway up to the front door. I hustled a
bit, but still got some moisture on my slacks. Getting no answer I
hustled a bit more through the sprinklers to the side of the house.
Getting no answer to the side door I went around in back.

On the small back patio I found a well-groomed and rather athletic
looking man sitting at table sipping what looked like a margarita. A big
bag of golf clubs leaned against the table in front of him. He looked
over and saw me coming, giving me an almost analytical look.

"Are you the owner of the house here?" I asked him.

"Yes." He didn't volunteer and more than that.

"Well I could use your help. Can I ask you a few questions?"

"Okay" he said, taking a sip of his drink.

"This sprinkler system you have, how often does it run?"

He started at me a second. "Every two hours. In the Summer."

"Every two hours, huh. And it stays on for…?"

"Forty-five minutes. In the Summer."

I grew frustrated. I had interviewed rather taciturn types before in my
job. And it was never easy. I pulled out a chair and sat down at the
table with him. "My name is Pat Maginess. I work for the Bruckners next
door there. I'm doing some real estate research for them. And what would
your name be, if you don't mind. Just curious."

"Steve Clark."

"So, what do you do for a living, Steve?"

"I'm the golf pro out at Paradise Gold Course."

"Ah, a pro. Ever been on tour?"

"Of course. Eight years. Didn't like traveling though. Living out of a
suitcase — don't like it. And I had to deal with too many people."

"Don't you have to deal with people at your current job?"

He shook his head. "Not very many."

"All right. Anyway, were you here at home during the past couple days?
Or were you out on the links?"

"A little of both. Depends when you're talking about."

I grew tired of it. I decided just to hit him over the head with a
hammer and then see how he responded.

"There was a dead man found at the house next door yesterday. His pants
were wet. Like they had been doused by a sprinkler system. So I thought
maybe it was your sprinkler system."

He stared at me. "If you know anything about it" I said, "it might be
best if you told me. Let's just say that right now I'm trying to keep
this real estate research away from the cops. But that could change."

That jerked him a bit. He took another sip of his drink. "Okay" he said.
"I found him laying in my driveway."

"Uh huh. Laying in your driveway. Mind telling me how his body ended up
in the Bruckner's entry hall?"

"I didn't want any trouble" he said. "I moved it. I moved it into the
yard but then I checked their front door and it was open, so I pulled
him inside."

"And when was that?"

"Day before yesterday. I got home from the course right at dark.
Couldn't drive into the garage because he was laying there halfway into
the driveway. I almost ran over him. So I figured nobody could see me so
I moved him."

"Do you know who he was? Ever seen him before?"

"No." Clark took another sip of this drink.

I got up and slid the chair back under the table. "Okay, Steve. Thanks
for the information."

"You going to tell the cops?"

"I don't think so. Probably not."

I left him to his golf clubs and his drink and his own silent world.

Carmen was still out working her case when I got back to the office. It
seemed strange without her, and I got to thinking back to when I was the
only one in the office. It had only been two years since she had joined
up with me as my secretary. But somehow it seemed one hell of a lot
longer than that. I spent the rest of the afternoon starting the case
file for the Bruckner case. Then I stopped at a diner that I liked and
ate dinner, and killed some time making chit-chat with the waitress.
Then I checked the phone book in the booth in the back and made my way
West to Max's Bar.

It was like another world. The deafening music coming from the jukebox
sounded like German polka music. Except with guitars and vocals in
Spanish. I wondered how anyone in the place could have a conversation
with the music being that loud. The bar was packed with men of all ages,
some I knew who had to be under the legal age for drinking, slumped over
the bar as men tend to do in bars. There were only two females in the
place, sitting at a table in the corner with five men. As I walked in
they all turned their heads to look at me, one by one. The look was not
exactly hostile. But it certainly wasn't friendly either. Somehow I
managed to find an empty stool at the bar. After about five minutes the
bartender, a middle aged man with one of the biggest handle bar
moustaches I had ever seen, came over to take my order. I had a funny
feeling that he had been hoping I would go away. "I'll take a beer.
Whatever's on tap."

I needed to find Raymond. But I thought it best if I was there for a bit
before asking any questions. I was starting on my second beer when I
guess the guy sitting on my left got curious about me and turned my
direction.

"Ola!" he said, slapping me on the back. The slap was pretty damn
aggressive and I didn't quite know how to take that. "How are you?" I
said in return, raising my glass to him.

He smiled. "I am fantastic. It is a good night. Not too warm, yes? And
what brings you mister into this place on this not too warm night?"

"I'm trying to find somebody" I said. "His name is Raymond. His boss
told me I could find him here."

"Umm, no, you know I don't know anybody named Raymond" he said, shaking
his head.

I pulled out a photo of Tony and put it down in front of him. "A
friend of Raymond" I told him. "He's dead. Raymond and him worked
together. I want to let Raymond know what happened to him."

The guy picked up the photo for a few seconds and studied it. Then he
handed it to me and looked me straight in the eye. "You with the government,
senór?"

"No."

He nodded, and got up off the stool. When he came back he had somebody
in tow. "Raymond, this gentleman would like to talk with you" he said to
the guy with him. "I think he is okay. You should talk with him."

"What do you want to talk about?" Raymond asked.

"Can we go outside? It is awfully loud in here. I have some important
news about a guy you work with. Tony. Antanacio."

"What news is that, mister?"

"Can we go outside? Trust me, this is not news you want to hear in a
crowded bar."

Raymond looked at me. I could tell he was making up his mind about me.
"Wait" he said. He disappeared into the crowd along the length of the
bar and when he came back he had a pint of rum in his hand. "Let's go
out the back way" he said. "It will be just us, yes?"

We walked down a long hallway past some restrooms and out the back door.
Raymond opened the cap of the rum and took a swig.

"They let you do set-up drinks in there?" I said, pointing at his
bottle.

"Yes. Why not?"

"Why not indeed" I told him. I got down to it. "Raymond, the man you
work for, Zabrinski, told me that you worked with a man named Tony. Is
that right?"

"Why do you want to know?" He extended the bottle and offered me a
drink. Just to crack the ice a bit I took a sip. It was pretty good
rum, actually.

As to Raymond's question there was no point in being subtle about it.
At that point I thought there might be a possibility that Raymond may
have had something to do with Tony's death. In that case the direct
approach might be more informative. I pulled out two photos, a head shot
and one of the tattoo, and offered them to him.

Raymond stuck the pint of rum into his back pocket and and took the
pictures.

"Do you recognize him? Is that Tony?"

"Ah, yes. But he looks…" He shook his head in unbelief.

"He's dead, Raymond."

"Dead? No, it is not possible. No." He looked at the photos over and
over, shuffling them. "It is him. It is Tony. Ah, dead?"

"I'm afraid it's true. He was murdered."

The look on Raymonds face told me everything. He went white as a sheet.
"Santa Maria!" he whispered, crossing himself.

I gave him a few seconds to collect himself. "Who, who would have done
this? It is a tragedy. A tragedy." He handed me back the photos.

"Did Tony have a beef with anybody that you know of? Somebody who may
have wanted to kill him?"

No, mister. Everybody liked him. Maybe…we had just gotten paid.
Someone rob him maybe."

"We didn't find any money on him. Not even a nickel. So I suppose that's
possible. Who would have known that he got paid?"

"I knew. I got my money from the job just like Tony. Maybe Rosie knew
too. But she is not a thief. And she would never kill anyone."

"Friends or family of hers know? Any friend of yours know about your
payday? That you would be carrying cash?"

Raymond shrugged. "I don't know anybody like that. I really don't have
any friends. Tony was my friend, maybe."

I was beginning to get the feeling that the line of investigation as to
Tony's murderer was coming to a dead end. I was just going to have to
leave the it up to the cops. Finding the killer would involve a lot more
resources than I could possibly throw at it. But having gotten Steve
Clark's statement that he had found Tony's body and moved it, I had at
least gotten the Bruckners out of it.

"Zabrinski told me his son used to drive him into the city and pick him
up at night. Is that true?"

Raymond nodded, a little hesitantly. "Yes, true. That way they could both
work. His son, Justin, he made deliveries up at the farm. So Justin
drove his father in so he could have the car. The old car, it barely
start sometimes. But you know they keep it going by some miracle."

"Can you tell me where his family lives?"

"They live up at the Hillsdale Farm."

"How do I get there? They should be notified. At the very least."

"Go up Route 99. Just past Mettler is the farm. You can't miss it, man. It is
very big."

"Sounds like you've been up there."

"I had dinner a few times with Tony and his wife. I think Tony was
trying to give me someplace to go other than the bars. But he was a good
man, he never said anything to me about it, but I knew. Yes, a good man.
A good Catholic. He would feel terrible when he had to work on Sunday
and he missed mass."

Raymond took a slug of rum out of the pint. I paid him a few bucks for
his time.

"If you see Justin, please tell him how grieved I am." Raymond called
out behind me as I left. "I would like to go to Tony's funeral. If he
could somehow let me know."

The next morning I hit the bank as soon as it opened. After standing in
line a while I got up to the teller and wrote out a check for cash. I
made it out for sixty dollars, which according to Zabrinski had been
Tony's pay plus a bit more thrown in. But as I was signing the check I
stopped. An idea popped into my head, a crazy and I thought totally
appropriate idea. I tore up the check and wrote a new one and handed it
to the teller.

"Two thousand dollars in cash?" the teller said, smiling. "What are you
going to do, buy a new car?"

I laughed. "No. Not exactly. And hey, could I get that all in an
envelope?"

"As always, Mr. Maginess. You always want your cash in an envelope."

Leaving the bank I spent about fifteen minutes of driving this way and
that on the one-way streets and then headed North, towards Route 99 and
towards Hillsdale Farm — if I could find it.

Route 99 seemed to stretch forever, past seemingly endless farm fields
and intermittently past a few isolated businesses. Paved or not it was a
dusty road, and I figured that by the time I got back to L.A. that I was
going to have to give the old Plymouth a good washing. Out in the
fields, at a good distance, I saw laborers. They were too far from the
highway for me to make out faces. They were just sticks in the distance.

Being an investigator I met a wide range of people. And occasionally I
felt myself drawn into their lives — the way their lives were or the
way they had been. But like most people I guess I spent most of my time
more or less within my own life, or within a limited circle of friends.
And as I got older the more it seemed to be that way, the smaller the
circle became. But I knew that outside of my limited sphere there were
other people whose lives were a part of my own without me even being
aware of it. The guy who delivers the towels that are used by the cooks
who make the dinners I ate at a restaurant. The men who fix the tracks
of the railroad that is driven by the engineer who moves the boxcars
which transported my mail. The women in India who make the tiny velvet
boxes that are used by the jewelers to put the diamond ring that I
slipped onto my true love's finger.

And as I drove the old road I wondered how much of the tomatoes and
cucumbers and lettuce that I ate on a weekly basis came from these
fields, tended by these people whose faces were too far away to be seen,
whose lives I didn't know, or perhaps would never know.

Hillsdale Farms, the sign said. There was a small road in front of the
sign on the right side of the highway. I turned off and drove a bit
more, the road now much more narrow and more dusty and now also very
bumpy. A few minutes later I reached a group of small houses, although
the use of the word houses in this instance was a bit optimistic. They
were really shacks — made of thin sections of various types of wood
that barely seemed to hang together. There was some farm equipment on
the edges of the lot, and a few old cars, most of which seemed to be
under repair. There were a few people milling about the small dirt yard.
A woman sat on a chair outside one of the houses working at some sewing.
A few very small children ran about. A couple of old men occupied
themselves with what looked to be an impromptu barbecue made out of a
metal barrel with some grating on it, grilling a large beef or perhaps
pork roast. They turned and looked at me as I got out of the car.

I hardly knew where to begin with all of it. Walking up to the men at
the barbecue I took off my jacket and loosened my tie.

"Sure is hot" I said to them.

"Si, senór" one of them said. "It is July."

"I suppose so" I said, feeling sort of stupid at that point. "You know,
I know a guy in Los Angeles. He's been in an accident. I was told his
family lives here. His name is Antanacio. I would like to talk with his
son, if possible."

"An accident?"

"Yes. A bad one, I'm afraid."

"Well" the other man finally said, "His son is down by the south field.
He will not be back here until dark."

"Is there some way that I can go see him? This is very important."

"I think maybe we could go see him" the first man said. "I will go with
you. You would probably get lost."

I was pretty sure he was right about that and a few minutes later we
were back on the narrow road driving east. "That is the south field" the
man said, pointing to the right. At that point I saw a large number of
people out in the fields. "What do they grow here?" I asked my
passenger.

"We grow all sort of vegetables. Tomatoes. Onions. Lots of onions."

"It looks like backbreaking work" I told him. He looked over at me intently,
saying nothing.

"By the way, my name is Pat, Pat Maginess" I told him. "What's your
name?"

"Sal" he finally said.

"You got a family, Sal?"

"Si. A daughter. My wife, she died. The doctor say it was cancer."

"I am so sorry. I hope she didn't suffer much."

Once again he gave me a rather intense look. "No. By the grace of God,
she did not suffer long. I have my daughter now. She is very smart. She
go to UCLA, you know it? Yes, very smart. She studies to be a nurse."

We came upon a medium size flatbed truck. "This is the place. We can get
Justin, I think." After getting out the man went over and called out
into the field. It took a while, using a kind of chain of communication,
but eventually a young man of around twenty came walking down one of the
rows of crops towards us.

"This man, he has news" Sal told him. "About your father."

It took me about ten minutes to get through all of it. Ten terribly sad
minutes. The whole matter wasn't helped by the fact that once the bad
news was out that Sal, obviously very distraught, went into Spanish, asking
questions that Justin had to translate. Justin was shocked by the news.
But Sal seemed to be taking it very hard.

"Where Sal and your father friends?" I asked.

"Yes. They know each other since they were young boys."

Justin rode with me back to the camp. Sal said he would walk. It was
apparent that he didn't want us to see him in cry. Once back at the camp
Justin took me to one of the houses. The interior had a compacted dirt
floor. There were sheets hanging on clothesline that served to partition
off the single room into sections. Just to one side of the center of the
room was an old coal stove, its pipe going up and out the ceiling. There
was a two inch gap where the pipe went through, probably to keep the
wood of the roof from catching fire but no doubt allowing rain in also.
Over to the right side of the cabin a woman sat at a table, reading. "If
you can just give me a few minutes to tell my mother…" Justin said to
me. Another good long tortuous number of minutes passed. Antanacio's
wife held up well to the news. She was beautiful in her grief.

After a while she looked over at me and said something to Justin in
Spanish. "My mother, Maria, she would like to ask if you were a friend
of my father."

"No" I told him. "Just a person who — " I didn't even know how to
continue.

Justin held his mother's hand, whispering to her. Then he went through
the process of introductions. Maria looked at me in a way that was both
distant yet curious.

"I have something for you" I told them. From my jacket pocket I took the
envelope of cash that I had gotten from the bank and handed it to
Justin. "Your father, he had some money coming. I think it is yours
now."

Justin opened the envelope and slowly went through the bills. "Where did
this come from? It could not possibly have been papa's money. He would
not have made this much money in a year."

"Let's just say it's a bonus. From a couple of people who think he did a
really good job waxing the floors of their house."

Justin put the envelope down on the table. "They must be crazy people"
he said.

I decided it would probably be best not to answer that one, especially
given that the craziness was pretty much my own doing.

Justin slid the envelope over to his mother. Julia opened and looked
through it, shaking her head in disbelief. And then, finally, she broke
down in tears. Justin went over behind his mother and leaned down and
put his arms around her shoulders. Through the tears she spoke to Justin
for a while. Then Justin leaned down and kissed her cheek. "Si, mama."

Justin left his mother and walked over to me. "What was your mother
saying?" I said to him. "If you don't mind me asking."

"She says that now we can give papa a good funeral. With many flowers."

"Oh."

"Would you like some coffee, senór?"

"Sure" I told him. It was pretty damn hot outside for coffee, but I
thought that it might pick me up for the drive back to Los Angeles.

Justin went over and grabbed a cup from a small shelf and walked the few
feet to the old stove. He poured some coffee from a metal pot. "It's
very hot" Justin said, handing me the coffee.

He was certainly right about that. Even the handle of the old tin cup
itself was very hot, and as I brought the edge of the cup up I wondered
if the coffee would burn my lips.

And it did burn my lips. And it was thick, and strong, and good.

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