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The Devil went down to Austin

Rick Riordan

Date: Wed 07 June 2000 19:53:16 0500 From: ‹ host@ashield. com› X Mailer: Mozilla 3.01 Gold (Macintosh? I? PPC) To: ‹host@ashield. com› S ubject: drowning The first time I knew I would kill? I was six years old.

I'd snuck some things from the kitchen-vials of food colouring, Dixie cups, a pitcher of water. I was in my bedroom mixing potions, watching how the dyes curl in the water.

That doesn't sound like much, I know. But I'd spilled a few cup full’s onto the carpet. My fingers were stained purple. It was enough to give the Old Man an excuse.

He came in so quietly I didn't hear him, didn't know he was standing over me until I caught his smell, like sweet smoked beef.

He said something like, 'Is this what we clean the house for? We clean the house so you can do this?'

Then I realized water was running in the bathroom. I remembered what my friend had said.

I tried to apologize, but the Old Man caught my wrists, dragged me backward, using my arms as a harness.

I kicked at the carpet and walls as he pulled me down the hallway. When we passed the bathroom doorjamb, I got one hand loose and grabbed at it, but the Old Man just yanked harder, ripping a nail off my finger.

The ceiling sparkled white. I remember bare avocado rings on the shower rod, plastic starrivets holding up the mirror.

The Old Man lifted me, squeezed me against his chest. I was clawing, grabbing at his clothes. Then he dumped me in.

The cold stopped my blood. I floated, wet to my armpits, my clothes grafted to my chest, heavy.

I knew better than to try standing. I lay low, crying, the water nipping the backs of my ears. My mouth tasted salt.

There was a comma of blood from my ripped nail on the Old Man's shirt pocket, purple smudges from my dyed fingers on his chest.

He said, 'What did you do wrong? Tell me what you were doing.'

His voice sounded kindly in the tiled acoustics of the bathroom, rich and deep.

I couldn't answer. I cried.

'I don't want to hear that,' he scolded.'Until you can tell me what you did, I don't want any sound from you '

I kept crying-knowing it was the wrong thing to do, but crying more because of that.

So he leaned over me, pushed my chest, and the water closed over my head. Sound turned to aluminium. I could hear my own struggling and splashing. Water lapped into the overflow drain, rushed through pipes in the walls like underground machinery.

The Old Man shimmered above me, his hand keeping a warm, constant clamp on the middle of my chest. I clawed at his wrist, but it might as well have been a mesquite branch.

I held my breath, which is hard when you're facing up, the water flooding your nostrils, gagging you.

I tried to be still. I thought maybe if I were still, the Old Man would let go.

I studied the hazy balls of light above the sink.

My lungs burned.

And finally-the first clear decision I ever remember making-I gave up. I breathed in the water.

At that moment, as if he knew, the bastard lifted me out, rolled me onto the tiled floor.

I curled, cold and trembling, belching water, my throat on fire. 'Be grateful,' he said.'Be grateful for what you have.' That was only the first time.

Over the years, he taught me that drowning a thing you hatedrowning it well and drowning it completely-is a slow process. It is an art only the patient can master.

And I learned to be patient. I'll always credit the Old Man for that.

CHAPTER 1

Lars Elder looks like a banker the way I look like a private eye, which is to say, not much.

He was waiting on the porch of my family ranch house, flicking a switchblade open and closed, a computer disk and a can of Budweiser next to him on the railing.

Lars' hairline had receded since I'd seen him last, but he still sported the earring, the Willie Nelson beard. His shirt, vest, and jeans were faded to the colours of a dust storm, and his eyes gave the same impression-dry and turbulent.

'Tres,' he said. 'Thanks for coming.'

'No problema.'

What I was thinking: The Navarre family banker drinking beer at ten in the morning is not a good sign.

Lars closed his knife, looked out toward the wheat fields.

Fifty yards away, past the tomato garden, the ranch caretaker was putting hay into the cattle feeder. Harold Diliberto stopped to watch us, his pitchfork suspended, dripping straw.

'Harold showed me the work you've been doing inside,' Lars said. 'You've been spending a lot of time out here.'

'Some,' I admitted.

I tried not to feel irritated, like Harold had betrayed a confidence.

Truth was, I'd been out at the ranch every weekend since the end of April-scraping old paint, filling in the spreading cracks in the original section of the house that had been my greatgrandfather's homestead in the 1880s. I'd neglected both my jobs in San Antonio, ditched the cell phone, dropped out of my social life with little explanation to my friends.

'Place was overdue for some maintenance,' I told Lars. 'You ask me out here for the Home Beautiful tour? '

He didn't smile. 'Talked to Garrett recently?'

'Maybe four, five months ago.'

'But you'll see him soon. You're teaching that summer class in Austin, aren't you?'

Another surge of irritation. 'British lit, for six weeks. May I ask how the hell you know about it?'

Lars brought the switchblade up like a conductor's baton. 'Look, I'm sorry. I had to talk to you before you left. You know what Garrett's been up to?'

'You mean like Buffett concerts? Smoking pot?'

'His programming project.'

'Must've missed it. I tend to phase out when Garrett talks about RNI.'

Lars winced, like I'd just told him the price of an expensive gift. 'Tres, Garrett isn't working at RNI anymore. He quit over a year ago.'

I stared at him. My brother had worked at the same software company for sixteen years. He practically ran the place, took all the days off he wanted, had a retirement package.

'Got himself involved in a startup company,' Lars told me. 'That was two years ago-spring of '98. Then last year, May of '99, he decided he couldn't keep working both jobs anymore. Garrett just left RNI-no severance, no benefits.'

'Not possible.'

'He's working the startup with Jimmy Doebler.'

I studied Lars' eyes, tried to tell if he was joking. Apparently, he wasn't, and beer for breakfast started sounding like a good idea.

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