Authors: Louis Trimble
BODY ON THE BORDER
“Lucky” Tom Blane’s luck as a private eye had run out when his crooked ex-partner, Enrico Pachuco, took off with his rep and his funds. So Rosanne Norton was like an angel from heaven when she offered to pay him to keep tabs on this same Pachuco, who was now operating his slippery game in Rosanne’s home ground—the border between Texas and Mexico.
Blane jumped at the prepaid opportunity to clear his own name and get even besides. But when he finally ran the crook to earth, it was to find the man tortured and stabbed to death—and Tom Blane everyone’s favorite suspect.
The cops of two nations were converging on him fast when Blane set out to unravel the frame … with nothing to help him but a double-crossing set of two-faced females and an unknown knife-thrower aiming for his back.
Tom learned that the right decisions can often bring the wrong results.
The only thing she ever really paid for were her husband’s mistake.
Calvin talked for his living, but he wouldn’t talk to save his life.
For an innocent young thing, she’d been around plenty.
He was a forceful bully, which is one reason the ladies liked him.
Acrobatic dancing was both her profession and her side-line
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in the two small rooms that remained of my once plush Mexico City office. I was waiting for Rosanne Norton. I had nothing else to do, so I kept myself busy wishing. First I wished that I could get enough money to go and find Enrico Pachuco. Then I wished that if I did find him, I’d be able to figure out some way of making him admit publicly what he’d done to me. And finally I wished that I’d never taken him in as a partner in the first place.
I lit my last cigaret, crumpled the pack, and threw it at the wastebasket. It missed. I blew cheap Mexican tobacco at it and wondered what Rosanne Norton would look like. At nine this morning, she’d called me from some place called Fronteras, Texas. She hadn’t bothered to ask if she could see me; she’d told me that she was flying to Mexico City and would be at my office at two o’clock. She’d spoken in one of those let’s-have-no-nonsense voices that reminded me of my seventh grade teacher.
Outside, bells tolled two o’clock. Inside, the bell on my outer door tinkled. Rosanne Norton had arrived. I suspected anyone who would bother to be so prompt.
I took my feet off the desk, swung my chair into a businesslike position, and pulled at the open file in front of me. The file was full of unpaid bills. I’d read them all before.
The inner door opened. I closed the file and looked up. A woman came in, but I decided that she wasn’t Rosanne Norton. What I saw didn’t match that telephone voice at all.
On the other hand, this woman was obviously American. And, also obviously, she was not a tourist, since she didn’t peer into the corners as if expecting to find someone with a knife.
She was a pale, silver blond. One of those who, when dressed in white, look cool enough to chill a drink on a hot day. And she was wearing white—white linen suit, white shoes and sling bag, white gloves, but nothing of any color to hide her hair. She had strikingly regular features and deep gray eyes. If it hadn’t been for telltale signs on her neck, I’d have guessed her about twenty-five. I decided she was closer to thirty-five, my own age.
She came straight to the desk. I got to my feet as she took the final step. There was a chair across the desk from me. I waved a hand at it. I said in heavily accented English, “Be pleased to seat yourself,
She seated herself. She crossed her legs and tugged her skirt over her knees without making a production of the job. I sat down. She said, “Your name is Thomas Blane and you come from El Paso, Texas. So save yourself the effort of the accent.”
Her voice was as cool as her appearance. It was also the voice I’d heard on the telephone. So I was wrong. She was Rosanne Norton. Her gray eyes would have been exciting if they hadn’t been filled with frost. Except for the eyes and a trap-like expression at the corners of her mouth, she was terrific. Her figure was all there and in the right places. But I thought of my seventh grade teacher again. I felt a little sad.
I said, “The tourists expect an accent.”
“I hear you’ve had an excess of tourists lately,” she said. She got out a pack of cigarets and took one. I leaned over with my lighter—the one I hadn’t pawned—and held the flame out to her. She didn’t even bother to thank me with a nod.
She said, “It must be quite a come down for you, tracking hubcaps and cameras for tourists.”
I said, “Did you fly all the way here to discuss my present condition?”
“I just want you to know that I’m aware of it,” she said. “It will save you the trouble of bargaining with me.”
I was beginning to work up a strong, healthy dislike for this woman. There was an arrogance of manner about her that she probably thought would command respect. In me, it only aroused irritation.
I said, “Then you have a job you want me to do, but you don’t want to pay much for it.”
“I always pay my employees fairly,” she said.
I took the butt I’d crushed out and straightened it. I relit it carefully. I said, “I’m all a-twitter.”
That was too flippant from the employee. Her nose lifted two notches. But that could have been because of my cigaret. I was smoking
. You couldn’t find tailor mades any cheaper.
She said coldly, “The work is simple. It will take at the most two days. I’ll give you fifty dollars a day.”
“Bringing me information on Enrico Pachuco.”
Here she was, appearing like a fairy godmother all ready to grant my three wishes. I wanted Enrico Pachuco, and she was offering me money to find him. Being a fairy godmother, she should have had a star hanging over her head. But she didn’t.
I said, “You know all about me, don’t you?”
“I know what I need to know,” she said.
I said, “It won’t take me two days to tell you all I know about Enrico Pachuco.”
“I don’t know what he looks like,” she said. “I never saw the man. I don’t know anything about him except what I read in the papers—in connection with you.”
I said, “You aren’t making any sense.”
Her voice came out frostier than before. “He spoke to me on the telephone. I know where he is because of that. Now I want to know what kind of man he is. I want to know what he is doing. And I want to know what he plans to do. You know him well. You should be able to judge his future actions better than I.”
She still wasn’t making much sense. But she was making enough now for me to know that I liked her offer less and less.
I lied. “Fifty dollars a day is a lot less than I usually get.”
She said, “It’s more than the tourists have been paying you to hunt for stolen cameras and missing hubcaps.”
I said, “All right. I’m properly humiliated. Now tell me the rest of the details.”
She said, “Pachuco is in Rio Bravo, the Mexican town across the Rio Grande from Fronteras. I want you to go there and check on him. Then you are to come to Fronteras and report to me.”
I said, “Rio Bravo is a pretty fair-sized town. Do I just wander around looking for him?”
“I suggest you start at the Cantina de los Tres Cabrones. And register at the hotel Rio Bravo. You should find him in one place or the other.”
I said, “And you think I can get Pachuco to tell me what he’s doing in Rio Bravo, is that it?”
“I don’t even expect you to make contact with him,” she said stiffly. “I want him watched. Then I want you to tell me what he’s been doing and what you think he’s planning to do.”
“What if I need more than two days?”
“You’re being paid for two days.”
I stood up. I said, “Mrs. Norton, I haven’t run out of things to hock yet. Nor have I run out of friends. It’s been no pleasure to deal with you, and may I show you out now?”
She went white. She said icily, “I don’t care for your humor, Mr. Blane.”
“It wasn’t humor. Go find someone else to kiss your feet or whatever your preference is.”
She couldn’t get any paler, but I’m sure she tried. She said in a rigid voice. “You’re being very independent for a man in your position, Mr. Blane. Just what are your terms?”
I said, “Decent compensation for decent work. Since I am pretty thoroughly discredited as a detective in both Mexico and the United States, I can hardly expect the rates I formerly received. But I happen to be the same man I was before Pachuco ruined me, and so I still give honest work for honest pay.”
“I’m not concerned with your ethics nor your problems,” she said.
“I’ll put it in dollars and sense,” I said. “Fifty dollars a day for each day. If the job takes one day, I get paid for one. If it takes two, I get paid for two. If it takes ten, I get paid for ten. And I want transportation and expenses while I’m away from home.” Before she could raise the standard objection, I added, “And I won’t take any more days than I absolutely need to finish the job.”
She didn’t have to answer that. I was obviously the only one she could use for this particular job. No one else knew Enrico Pachuco like I did. That’s the way I figured her. And I seemed to be right.
She said, “I’ll accept those terms.”
She said it so quickly that I decided she was desperate. I said, “And I don’t like busses. I can fly to Rio Bravo and be there by tonight. I might even be done by morning.”
Her expression told me that she knew she was being pushed. But she merely nodded. I remained silent, waiting. Finally she dug her wallet out of her bag, opened it, and began to lift out those green bills. They were dollars, not
. She counted out the round trip plane fare to the penny and laid it in front of me. She added enough for meals and hotel room for two days—providing I wanted neither a suite nor three heavy meals a day.
The money stopped coming. I said, “My usual retainer is the first day’s fee.”
She pulled fifty dollars slowly from the wallet. She glanced at the pile and laid down the fifty. I gave her an itemized receipt. I put the bills in my wallet, alongside the one
note I had there. A
is worth eight cents in Texas money.
She stood up, slung her bag over her shoulder, pivoted on about thirty-five dollars worth of hand-made shoe, and marched toward the door. She stopped and said, “You can contact me in Fronteras. Norton Enterprises, Incorporated, on Grande Avenue.” She opened the door. “I’d appreciate quick service,” she added, as if I were the waiter at her country club.
I could have pointed out that a bonus was customary to insure quick service. But I let it ride. I didn’t want her having a stroke until she got away from the office.
When the outer door closed, I sat down. I thought about going out for cigarets, but somehow I had too bitter a taste in my mouth to want to smoke. I got up and opened the window. It was one of those clear, nippy days the Mexican plateau sometimes gets in winter, but I preferred the cold to the expensive odor of Rosanne Norton’s perfume.
I sat back down and thought about Enrico Pachuco. The last time we’d met, I broke his nose. That had been the day we formally dissolved our partnership.
Since then, I’d wished more than once I’d broken his neck.
most of the dollars into
at the legal rate of exchange. I knew where I could do better, but I saw no point in deliberately hurting the Mexican economy, even a little bit. Until recently it had been pretty good to me. And I always hoped that it would be good to me again.
I flew by way of Torreon and Saltillo. When I stepped from the plane at Rio Bravo, warm air, moist from the Rio Grande, made me perspire a little. I wasn’t accustomed to eighty degrees of heat and nearly seven thousand fewer feet of altitude.
A taxi took me to the Hotel Rio Bravo. It was a gray stucco building across the plaza from an ornate, two-towered church. I went into the cool, tiled lobby and allowed myself to be given a room that looked onto the alley in back of the building.
The room was cool and airy enough and the shower, after the fashion of most Mexican hotels, was big enough to hold a dance in. I used the shower, scraped off my five o’clock shadow, ruffled my Mexican style crewcut, put on my Mexican drape suit, flashed myself a white-toothed smile, and decided that except for a slight tendency to oversized hands and feet, I could pass for a
even in Rio Bravo. In Mexico City, where the natives come in all assorted shapes, sizes, colors, and even names—including Svensen, Hartzen-busch, and O’Mahoney—only my friends took me for a
By the time I was ready, it was well after six. The late winter sun had set. The air had grown definitely cooler, but it still didn’t call for a topcoat or a hat. I whistled my way down to the lobby from my second floor room and strolled into the plaza. It was lighted now and a few young couples walked about, carefully not touching one another. Black bombazined duennas watched carefully from strategically placed benches. Despite the border being less than a half mile from this spot, I was still in old Mexico, and much of the code of the Spaniards was still observed.
This was not the tourist section of Rio Bravo. That comprised a two block area by the river. This was the Mexican city itself, complete with walled houses and iron-grilled windows and metal shutters drawn down over the doors and windows of the shops. I enjoyed it all as I hunted lazily for the Cantina de los Tres Cabrones.
The name means the Bar of the Three Goats, but when I located it a block off the square, I found only one person inside who could even vaguely qualify. This was a sleek looking character with his hair receding back in two horn-shaped areas on either side of a widow’s peak. He had a big, bulky body and a round face, shiny from being overfed. He was at a dining room table. There was a napkin tied Italian style around his neck and he was eating—of all things—spaghetti.
had two parts, one strictly bar and full of male
, and the other a dining room complete with rustic tables and electrically wired kerosene lamps. It was touristy looking but not without charm. It was also empty at this hour except for the spaghetti eater.
I stood in the door, waiting for a waiter to come and guide me. The man at the table lifted a pudgy hand and snapped his fingers. A waiter appeared from some dark recess and beckoned me to a small table placed next to that of the man who had summoned him.
I sat down. The waiter gave me a menu. I opened it. The writing was in English; the prices were pure American.
I said in Spanish that I couldn’t read the thing and anyway,
, I was not a
to afford such prices. The man at the next table gulped a forkful of spaghetti, washed it down with a gulp of dark wine, and turned to me.
would prefer spaghetti?”
“I had been looking forward to border food—chile con carne or
or tamales—all of which are hard to find in Mexico City where the standard cuisine is frenchified, so I said that I had recently enjoyed spaghetti at the Cafe Milano in Mexico—which means Mexico City—and would prefer the specialty of the house.
“Ah,” he said. “Paco, bring the
So I sat in a Mexican cafe and ate ravioli. But the hard rolls were native and so was the wine, a good burgundy type from Lower California. I finished up with Mexican coffee.
While I ate, the man, who was evidently my host, shoveled in a second plate of spaghetti and a piece of cheese cake. He offered me one, compliments of the house. I accepted. He had his coffee brought to my table and drank it there along with puffs from a fine Havana cigar.
I said, “You are the owner,
, Julio Ricardo Fulgencio Navarro,
a su servicio.”
I had heard of Navarro. He was a kind of tycoon of the border country, a man who dabbled in all sorts of honest enterprises and made them pay. I acknowledged his introduction without giving my own name in return.
I said, “The food was excellent, but I would know why a
would have the strange name of The Three Goats?
He slapped a fat thigh and chuckled. He said, “When I was young,
, my friends would say
‘Navarro mas vale que tres cabrones.’”
When he was young! He looked all of forty now and in good condition. I imagined that he was still worth more than three goats. Or, to put it more delicately, he was still a great hand with the
I said, “And the ravioli,
“In Italy,” he said, “I fell in love with the food. So I brought back an Italian chef. People come from as far away as San Antonio to enjoy my ravioli.”
As distances go in Texas, San Antonio wasn’t far—only a few hundred miles. But I thought it was a little far for even a ravioli lover. I didn’t say so.
He was very amiable, insisting on buying me a brandy. I agreed. I was in no hurry. If Pachuco was coming here for dinner, he might not show up until ten o’clock. Many Mexicans refused to eat before that time. Besides, from where I sat, I could see the street entrance to the bar and I could watch for him in case he went in there.
I drank the brandy. Then I bought a round. Then, fortunately, a party of three arrived and Navarro waddled off to play head waiter. I gave the three a quick, casual look and then concentrated on my brandy. One of them was the ice-and-frost Rosanne Norton. The other two were men, and both were working hard to claim all of her attention. I couldn’t understand their desire, but then she might have hidden charms.
The older of the men was somewhere in his late thirties. He had the hefty build of a cattle baron type and the beaky-nosed, thin-lipped face that doesn’t look right without an expensive cigar stuck in it. To carry the cattle baron look further, he wore narrow-legged riding pants tucked into high-heeled boots and he carried a wide-brimmed hat.
The other man was dressed almost the same, but his clothing had more of a worn look and his boots were strictly from work. So was his battered hat. He was a few years younger, I guessed, than la Norton herself. He was taller than his competitor but not so wide. Still, I thought, in a fight they should be about even.
Rosanne Norton glanced over the room, saw me, and kept her eyes moving on. She was good. Most persons trying to avoid showing recognition would have given themselves away by the obvious effort of not appearing to see me. But she acted perfectly natural in the way she looked. I wondered if she really was a fine actress or if I was just beneath her notice.
The brandy began to have a sour taste in my mouth, but I stayed around. I had no other place to go at the moment.
I ordered coffee and sipped it. I watched the waiter, Paco, give Rosanne Norton’s party the red carpet treatment. I almost stared when I saw them served with fancy drinks. I returned to my coffee, meditating on the sad state of affairs when Texans gave up good bourbon for spiked fruit salad.
Navarro found time to come to my table, even though the room was beginning to fill up. He looked from me to the Norton party. He said, “Rich Americans, those.”
I said, “Which one belongs to the beautiful woman?”
he conceded. “But made of ice. The older man is to be her husband. I believe they are celebrating the engagement. He is the
Porter Delman, a rich cattle buyer of Fronteras.”
I had the feeling that Navarro was curious about my interest. I said, “Is it a local custom to bring a third man to engagement parties?”
“The young one is the foreman of the
ranch.” His eyes were fixed sharply on my face. I wondered what he expected of me. “His name is Jim Kruse.”
I let Navarro see that my interest in the two men was nil. Then a third man joined the party. Navarro called my attention to him. “If you are interested in local people,
there is a man you must meet. The
Calvin Calvin, our famous radio announcer.”
At this distance, all I could see was a small man who seemed to have a tendency to flit as he walked. He didn’t sit down at the table but went from one person to another, bending over to talk to them, so that his face was obscured. I told Navarro thanks just the same but I’d rather not meet anyone tonight.
He seemed disappointed in me. I said, as he drifted off, “I hope the happy couple will celebrate many anniversaries.” I thought that was the least I could offer in return for his information.
Nothing happened for some time, and then I saw Nace. I spotted him as he came into the bar from the street. He stopped and took a quick look around with that characteristic flip of his head. It was a movement made so fast that I never understood how he could see anything. But I’d known him long enough to be sure that he missed very little.
His name was Ignacio Riveres Portales, and in the United States he would have been asked for identification before anyone would dare sell him a drink. He looked nineteen; he was twenty-eight. He was a journalist on one of the Mexico City dailies. In the old days we’d been friends. But since my trouble, I’d hardly seen him. He still spoke to me politely on the rare occasions when we met. It was the politeness I objected to. We’d reached the “thee” and “thou” stage in talking, and for him to return to a formal way of addressing me was insulting. And I had been in Mexico long enough to let such things bother me.
I watched him walk into the room and past my line of vision. I wondered what he was doing here. Usually a place like Rio Bravo would be small pickings to a big city journalist. I thought about Pachuco being here. A few months ago Pachuco had been news. Nace could have followed him.
A few months ago, I had been news too. And Nace could have followed me. Right now he could be waiting for me just as I was waiting for Pachuco.
I was debating whether to go into the bar and approach Nace head on when there was a sudden spurt of noise from the rear of the room. I turned in time to see the dark curtains that formed the rear wall slide apart to reveal a small stage. On the stage was a three piece Mexican combo. The noise came from their instruments—two guitars and a marimba. The marimba player stepped forward and let the customers see his teeth.
I noticed that in the last few minutes the room had filled up considerably, including a fair-sized group of those who had been in the bar. The Norton party was gone, but a group of four had taken their places.
The marimba player was giving out with a typical m.c. spiel, first in Spanish, then in fair English. He wound up by saying, “And I now give you the young lady who has just come from a triumph in Washington, where she danced before the President—the
Arden Kennett appeared all at once—literally. She burst out of the wings in a high flying ballet step, landed on her toes, and then seemed to go all to pieces. One leg went in one direction, the other in another direction. The woman had no joints. Or maybe she had extra joints. I wasn’t too sure. But I was enthralled. I gawked with the rest of the crowd. The guitars and the marimba went through a medley of wild Mexican dance tunes, and this Arden Kennett kept in time by gyrating first one part of her anatomy and then another. She finally gave a convulsive snap and tossed her pelvis at the wings. She went after it and disappeared. I beat my hands along with everyone else. If she hadn’t performed before the President, she should have.
She came out to take a bow. Now she was standing still and I managed to get a good look at her. She might be an eccentric dancer but she was far from an eccentric looker. She was a blond, with hair the color of ripening wheat. She had large green eyes and a mouth made strictly for smiling. Her mouth and eyes were large and between them she had a bit of a tilted up nose with a scatter of freckles on it. She took her bows as if she’d been doing this sort of thing for some time.
The band struck up as she left the stage. The customers
back to their drinking and eating. I decided that it was time for me to get out of this place.
I paid my bill and went onto the poorly lighted sidewalk outside. I walked a half block toward the plaza, found a flight of steps, and perched on them. I was in shadow but I could see the doorway to the
clearly. I settled down to wait for Nace.
The clock in the church tower chimed out ten. I could feel the late winter chill working up wetly from the river and I huddled into my light jacket. At first I enjoyed the cold; it kept me awake. But after a while I was stamping my feet and blowing on my fingers. I began to dislike this part of the country.
The clock chimed midnight. I blinked and wondered where eleven o’clock had gone. I stood up. I was stiff and cold. My mouth was dry and my eyes were gritty. I blinked toward the lights of the
. A fine detective I was, sleeping on a stake-out.
I stamped around on the steps until my circulation began to make itself felt. I swallowed until the saliva began to flow. I lit a cigaret. I debated whether to go into the
and see if Nace was still there or if Pachuco might have come in.