of those big dogs. Some guys and me tried to put it out for the trash collectors but they just left it moldering in the can.”

“Damn Democrats,” Dell said. “Damn Republicans.”

I didn’t have anything to add so we stood there a moment. I pulled out my wallet to pay for the three dollars’ worth of gas that he’d pumped. I handed him a five.

When he was giving me my change I asked, “How do I get up to this crook?”

“Follah Stockton all the way up the mountain till you get to Reynard. Turn there and stay on it till you get to a dirt road with no sign. Take that for a little less than a mile and you’ll see Elmontey. All the mailboxes are there together at the foot of the road.”

THE LOOSE DIRECTIONS worked perfectly. Twenty-three minutes after leaving the Esso station I was at the foot of Elmonte Crook. Number five did indeed belong to Axel Myermann. It was country out around there, dusty shrub country. There were no farms or even big trees. Just dirty green leaves, rocky terrain and blue sky.

Elmonte Crook was a hilly path that was well named. I passed two unlikely driveways before coming to a dark lane that had a small sign that read MYERMANN’S . The path was too steep for my car so I pulled off the road as far as I could and hiked my way down. I got as far as a small brook when I saw the house. Really it was just a cabin. Painted dull red and roofed in green, it had only one window that I could see and one step, even though the doorway was a good two feet above the ground.

The door was unlocked and Axel was not quite dead.

“Help me,” the elder man said.

He was sitting in a chair and holding his chest where blood was still escaping. He was small with a wiry build. Through his sparse beard you could see that he had a weak jaw. He wore a jeans jacket and denim pants too. His T-shirt had been white before the bleeding started. His shoes were brown with eyes but no laces.

“They shot me,” the man said.

“Dean and Merry?” I asked.

He nodded and winced.

“You Axel?” I asked him.

“Yeah. Who’re you?”

“Friend of Domaque.”

“I’m sorry ’bout him. It was just the money was all. The money they said we could get. I shouldn’ta done it. Shouldn’ta.”

Axel coughed and dribbled blood down into his beard.

“You better save your breath,” I said.

“Help me.”

“You got a phone?”

“They pult it outta the wall.”

“Why’d they shoot you?” I asked.

“So to keep the money and be sure I didn’t tell.”

“You told them about Domaque?”

“I’m sorry about that. I really am.”

I looked around for something to use to stop Axel’s bleeding. His home was just one big room, messy, unadorned, and pretty bare. There was a white-enameled wood stove in one corner and a bed in another. Next to the bed was a pile of clothing that he probably chose from now and then when he needed to change. I took out two long-sleeved shirts and shredded them to make a bandage that I could tie around his chest.

“What are you doin’ here, Mister?” Axel asked while I worked on his wound.

It wasn’t bleeding much. The hole, below his right nipple, was even and pretty small.

“Tryin’ to find Merry and Dean. They framed Dom and Dom’s my friend.”

“They’re in L.A.,” the old man said. “Spendin’ my money and laughin’ at us fools.”

“Where exactly?”

“He’s a surfer. Likes the water. So they’re down near the ocean somewhere, that’s for sure.”

“Did they live around here?”

“In a trailer on Bibi Wyler Road. Bibi Wyler Road,” he said again. Then he coughed up a great deal of blood and died.

I WENT BACK DOWN to the Esso station and called the cops, then I got a map and made my way to Bibi Wyler Road.

There was only one trailer on the three-block street. It was abandoned. There were clothes strewn around but no mail or written material of any kind. In one pants pocket I found an empty billfold with a photograph folded into the “secret compartment.” It was of a blond girl with a sharp smile standing arm in arm with a brutish-looking man whose black hair went down to the collar of his shirt.

I considered asking the neighbors about the occupants of the trailer but then I decided that the fewer people who saw me the better. After all, there had already been three murders in Santa Maria and the only suspect was a black man.

I GOT HOME in the late afternoon and played with my children. Bonnie watched me from the back door. I think she was worried but she didn’t say anything.

That night I dreamed about fishing in the ocean with Domaque and Raymond. We were in Jesus’s boat far out on the ocean. Mouse was catching one fish after the other, reeling them in to Domaque’s squeals of delight. I had

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