Home > Tres Navarre #3 - The Last King of Texas

Tres Navarre #3 - The Last King of Texas
Author: Rick Riordan


Rick Riordan - Tres Navarre #3 - The Last King of Texas

The Last King of Texas
Rick Riordan

fantasy/new adult/young adult

 

ONE

Dr. David Mitchell waved me toward the dead professor's chair. "Try it out, son."

Mitchell and Detective DeLeon sat down on the students' side of the desk, the safe side. I took the professor's chair. It was padded in cushy black leather and smelled faintly of sports cologne. Walnut armrests. Great back support.

Mitchell smiled. "Comfortable?"

"I'd be more so," I told him, "if the last two people who sat here hadn't died."

Mitchell's smile thinned. He glanced at Detective DeLeon, got no help there, then looked wearily around the office — the cluttered bookshelves, file cabinets topped with dreadlocks of dying pothos plants, the tattered Bayeux tapestry posters on the walls. "Son, Dr. Haimer's death was a heart attack."

"After receiving death threats and being driven out of the job," I recalled.

"And Haimer's successor?"

Detective DeLeon sat forward. "That was a .45, Mr. Navarre."

When DeLeon moved, her blazer and skirt and silk blouse shimmered in frosty shades of gray, all sharp creases and angles. Her hair was cut in the same severe pattern, only black. Her eyes glittered. The whole effect reminded me of one of those sleek, fashionable Sub-Zero freezer units, petite size.

She tugged an incident report out of the folder in her lap, passed me a color Polaroid of Dr. Aaron Brandon — the University of Texas at San Antonio's new medievalist for one-half of one glorious spring semester.

The photo showed a middle-aged Anglo man crumpled like a marionette in front of a fireplace. Behind him, the limestone mantel was smeared with red clawlike marks where the body had slid into sitting position against the grate. The man's hands were palms-up in his lap, supplicating. His blue eyes were open. He wore khaki pants and his bare, chunky upper body was matted with blood and curly black hair. Bored into his chest just above his ni**les were two tattered holes the size of flashlight handles.

I pushed the photo back toward DeLeon. "You homicide investigators. Always so reassuring."

She smiled without warmth.

I looked at Mitchell. "You really expect me to take the job?"

Mitchell shifted in his seat, looking everywhere except at the photo of his former faculty member. He scratched one triangular white sideburn. The poor guy had obviously gotten no sleep in the last week. His suit jacket was rumpled. His rodentlike features had lost their quickness. He looked infinitely older and more grizzled than he had just six months ago, when he'd offered me this same position for the first time.

It had been mid-October then. Dr. Theodore Haimer had just been forced into retirement after his comments about "the damn coddled Mexicans at UTSA" made the Express-News and triggered an avalanche of student protests and hate mail the likes of which the normally placid campus had never seen. Shortly afterward, while the English division was still boxing up Haimer's books and interviewing candidates for his job, the old man had been found at home, his heart frozen like a chunk of quartz, his face buried in a bowl of dry Apple Jacks. I'd decided against teaching at the time because I'd been finishing my apprenticeship with Erainya Manos for a private investigator's license. My mother, who'd arranged the first interview with Mitchell, had not been thrilled. A nice safe job for once, she'd pleaded. A chance to get back into academia.

Looking now at the photo of Aaron Brandon, who'd taken the nice safe job instead of me, I thought maybe the whole "Mother Knows Best" thing was overrated.

"We offered you this position last fall, Tres." Mitchell tried to keep the petulance out of his voice, the implication that I could've saved him a lot of trouble back in October, maybe gotten myself killed right off the bat. "I think you should reconsider."

I said, "A second chance."

"Absolutely."

"And you couldn't pay any reputable professor enough money now." Mitchell's left eye twitched. "It's true we need a person with very special qualifications. The fact that you, ah, have another set of skills—"

"You can watch your ass," Detective DeLeon translated. "Maybe avoid making yourself corpse number three until we make an arrest." I was loving this woman.

I swiveled in Aaron Brandon's chair and gazed out the window. A couple of pigeons roosted on the ledge outside the glass. Beyond, the view of the UTSA quadrangle was obscured by the upper branches of a mesquite, shining with new margarita-green foliage. Through the leaves I could see the walls of the Behavioral Sciences Building next door, the small red and blue shapes of students making their way up and down steps in the central courtyard, across wide grassy spaces and concrete walkways.

Icicle-blue sky, temperature in the low eighties. Your basic perfect Texas spring day outside your basic perfect campus office. It was a view Dr. Haimer had earned through twenty years of tenure. A view Aaron Brandon had enjoyed for less than ninety days.

I turned back to the dead man's office.

Yellow loops of leftover crime-scene tape were stuffed into the waist-high metal trash can between Brandon's desk and the window. On the corner of the desk sat a pile of ungraded essays from the undergraduate Chaucer seminar. Next to that was a silver-framed photo of the professor with a very pretty Latina woman and a child, maybe three years old. They were all standing in front of an old-fashioned merry-go-round. The little boy had Brandon's blue eyes and the woman's smile and reddish-brown hair.

Next to the photo were the death threats — a neat stack of seven white business envelopes computer-printed in Chicago 12-point, each containing one page of well-written, grammatically correct venom. Each threat was unsigned. The first was addressed to Theodore Haimer, the following six to Aaron Brandon. One dated two weeks ago promised a pipe bomb. One dated a week before that promised a knife in Brandon's back as a symbol of how the Latino community felt about the Establishment replacing one white racist with another. The campus had been swept and no bombs had been found; no knives had been forthcoming. None of the letters said anything about shooting Brandon at home in the chest with a .45.

"You have leads?" I asked DeLeon.

She gave me the Sub-Zero smile. "You know Sergeant Schaeffer, Mr. Navarre?"

I said, "Whoops."

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