Hau Tree Green

The room was done up like the English library in some fancy decorator’s imagination. Any spaces that weren’t filled with the kind of books nobody had ever read were colored dark maroon or else covered in leather. Gaynor stood with his back to me at a bank of tall windows, looking out at what his money had bought.

“Come in, Crowe,” he said. “You’re three-quarters of an hour late. I suppose punctuality doesn’t count for much in your line of work.”

He didn’t bother turning around to look at me. He was the kind of man who was used to giving orders and having them obeyed. He expected to be admired, and manipulation was what he used for love. I had met his type before. He was accustomed to making people afraid of him, and he had gotten his own way for so long it had made him crazy.

“I’m confused,” he said. “My employees don’t usually call meetings so that I can explain myself to them.”

“I’m not anyone’s employee,” I said. “And I don’t work without some slight idea of what I’m working on.”

“I was advised to hire you,” he said. “I did so, even though I don’t have much respect for your kind. Your private detective work seems to me a kind of make-believe… as much a profession as illustrating children’s books or selling ice cream at the beach. It isn’t something a serious man does.”

“I’ve tried to be a serious man,” I said. “It didn’t take.”

He turned around, and his face was furious. It was a rage that was being held back with both hands. There was real craziness in his eyes, the kind of madness that ran up the street laughing wildly and throwing handfuls of confetti before it started killing. He put up a civilized façade, but when he went home at night and took off necktie and mask, poured a drink and put his feet up, I thought he was probably a very dangerous character indeed. I wouldn’t want to be his dog.

“The first thing I asked you to do, you refused,” he said. “You disrespected my secretary, which means you disrespected me. I won’t tolerate it.”

I didn’t much care about what he tolerated. Most people get trained to respond in a certain way to the kind of authority that is assured by its simple existence. The more lunatic it is, the greater its weight, which is why madmen run countries. I wasn’t brave; I was just too broken inside to pay attention to any of it.

“Your ticket’s already halfway cancelled in this town,” he said. “Do you want me to cancel the rest of it for you? Would you like to never work in this city again… or worse?”

“That’s a threat?”

“I don’t make threats,” he sneered. “I just pick up the telephone and things get done.”

I thought about Annie, and Corazón Rosa. There was a cemetery on the edge of town, built into a hillside. It was a lovely place, because they did it different in Mexico. The graves were tucked here and there under the roots of huge trees, and wandering paths and stairways were marked by a carnival of cement statues. The dead had their own city, littered with flowers and balloons and faded photographs, and they slept in the warm shade and bothered nobody at all.

“I don’t much care,” I said, truthfully. “It would be a kind of relief, really.”

He stared at me for a long minute. I stared back at him. Maybe it was the Scotch, but I was exhausted. I was tired of all of it, the late nights and secrets, the lies and dirty little motives. I was tired of people in masks who never stopped talking about themselves.

“Make the call,” I said. “I didn’t take a nickel from you, so you can go to hell. Do whatever you like.”

I had the door open and one foot in the hallway, when he took an audible breath and spoke from behind me. There was a different tone in his voice that stopped me, and turned me back around to face him.

“Wait,” he said.

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