“No,” Mom’s voice came through on the office speakerphone, “your biological sperm donor of a father really did change his name. Legally, went to court for it and everything. He’s been Harry Murphy for three…four years now, I think.”
Huh. “I don’t know which surprises me more, him becoming what, Dirty Harry?”
“Oh, honey, you don’t know the half of it.”
“Dirty Harry Murphy. Now he’s a Black Irishman. Hah.”
“Hah yourself.” She was moving around the kitchen, getting things ready for dinner (lunch to you city slickers) on the Bowles ranch in Idaho. I could picture her, with the old wall phone tucked between her left shoulder and cheek as she talked, head tilted and shoulder hunched to hold the thing in place. “After Internal Affairs took him down, I guess he must have figured he needed to start all over or something.”
We left it at that, wrapped up with small talk, and finally ended the call. Judi, Sissy, and Jack had all been listening in, private business on Rodeo Iron company time.
Jack could see I was lost in thought, so he jumped up and topped off my coffee for me. His own mug contained peppermint tea; he was taking a break from caffeine, which he said he needed to do every once in a while.
Sissy spoke first. “Tree, I’m a little surprised Louella even knew about your Dad. I thought she’d cut all ties way back when he dumped her and she headed west with you in diapers.”
I shrugged. “That’s what I thought, too. Thing is, I guess, she distrusted him enough to have her brother, my uncle B.J., keep tabs on the bugger. Then when B.J. left Hartford a couple of years ago, he never brought me up to date, but he passed the intel torch on to a contact who was only too happy to give him an update on the former police captain every now and then.”
“What was that about Internal Affairs?” Judi asked the question without even slowing down at her computer keyboard. The girl could seriously type, and yeah, multitask.
“Well…,” I stalled, thinking back over the stuff Mom had told me before I’d flipped the speakerphone switch. “It seems I’m the son of a dear dirty old Dad. Before he transmogrified into Dirty Harry Murphy, unlicensed and cash only P.I., he was an arrogant, womanizing, mostly clean Captain of Po-leece in Hartford…with one exception. Turns out he was also a pimp.”
The office exploded in laughter. Despite it being my genetic sire we were talking about, I had to grin right along with the others. Couldn’t help it.
“That’s right. When IAD figured it out, he was caught running 19 whores. The PD managed to cover it up, didn’t want the embarrassment, so he never faced legal action, but they un-copped him in a hurry.”
Jack Hill was sputtering helplessly. “You mean,” he choked out when he could get his breath, “your old man was–”
“Chill, dude.” Suddenly, it didn’t seem so funny. Mom, at least, had merely been a young cop getting screwed by the dirty rat bastard, not a young hooker getting screwed for him. “I really am going to have to go look for him, you know. I’m not sure why, but I am sure we’ve got unfinished business between us.” I did know why, but I wasn’t ready to share.
The room got quiet pretty fast when I said that. It wasn’t that the company couldn’t do without me for a few days. Tommy Mielsberg and the others were all out of the hospital. All but Benny were back on the job, and the doctor was expected to clear him for work next week. Jim Blake had immediately gone for the idea of selling us the south meadow on his ranch for the purpose of building a company town–not so much because of Jack Hill’s persuasive salesmanship, as it turned out, but because the first home built on the parcel would be occupied by Tommy and Tommy’s fiancée, Mellie Campos.
Mellie just happened to be Blake’s favorite–and only–granddaughter.
Just then, Robert Cranston popped in, grabbing a cup of coffee and settling in at his desk without a word. The welding foreman was nothing if not focused.
“Yeah?” He broke his concentration with an obvious effort, shifting his attention to his boss. Me.
“I need to take a run down to Texas on personal business. Could be gone for, I dunno, maybe a couple of weeks. Figure you’ll be all right here?”
He thought for a moment. “You’ll have your laptop and cell phone, right?”
“Then yeah. Should be okay. The new feedlot customer east of Billings is screaming for delivery, but Chuck tells me he’s hired a subcontractor. They’ll have two flatbeds running by the end of the week. So…sure. Good Lord willing and the crick don’t rise, we’ll be fine. Go for it.”
Sissy shrugged. “Security issues? Nothing pressing for Rodeo Iron per se. Got the beef rustling problem for Trace Ranch; Jennifer’s lost three prime yearling steers to date.”
Damn. I’d forgotten about that. “Need me to–?”
“Nah.” My six foot, part black, mostly Indian lover grinned fiercely. “If Jennifer and Horace and Judi and I can’t figure out a little old low rent rustler problem, we might as well pack it in right now. You head on down to Corpus Christi, find your dear dirty old Dad.”
“Yeah,” Judi bobbed her pert little head in agreement, “Maybe your dream’s wrong and he’s not really homeless. Maybe he’s got himself a whole new whore harem going down there. He might treat you to a hotsy totsy little hooker.”
I twinkled at her. “You two are pretty much all the hotsy totsy I can handle.” I know where my bread is buttered, yes indeedy.
Judi cocked an eyebrow. “Pretty much?!”
Oops. Did I say that part aloud?
It was 19 degrees above zero and snowing when Jack Hill and I cleared Helmville Canyon, heading for I-90. We’d follow that east and south into Wyoming, then pick up I-25 south, all the way through Colorado and most of New Mexico, where I-25 merges with I-10. I-10 would then run us through much of Texas, to San Antonio. If we didn’t get lost on the San Antonio beltway, I-37 would take us the rest of the way to Corpus Christi.
Freeway all the way.
“I swear,” Jack shook his head, studying the road atlas while I piloted my 1989 Pontiac Grand Prix, “I miss the days when there were nothing but game trails running from here to there. Plenty of rivers to cross, easy to get drowned, all that, but still….”
“You’ve been to Corpus Christi before?”
“Not quite. Passed through Laredo once, back when it was nothing much. I understand Corpus Christi is totally different, though. Subtropical. Humid. Well, lookee here.” He’d switched from eyeballing the atlas to working his laptop. “I just checked the Weather Channel. Says it’s 67 degrees in Corpus right this minute.”
“Uh…totally cloudy, but only ten percent chance of rain.”
“Hmm…gimme a sec…looks like between a third of a million and half a million, depending on how much metro area you include in your tally. But listen to this, Tree. It says here that close to 60% of the people are Hispanic, around a third are white, very small percentages of anything else. Which I guess makes sense; it’s not really that far from the border.”
That threw me a bit. “I didn’t really think about the size. You know, before deciding to go track down my sperm donor. If he’s really there; it wouldn’t be the first time one of my dreams flat-out lied to me. Or, not lied really, but I misinterpreted it. But that many people, humid but basically mellow climate except, I suppose, hotter’n the Devil’s kitchen in midsummer. Point being, if he’s homeless, he could be sleeping anywhere the cops won’t roust him. Other homeless dudes would steer way clear of that one.”
“Yeah,” Hill agreed. “they would. Wikipedia says the record high is 109 degrees. Not that much really, except when you add in the humidity. Glad we’re going in the winter.”
“Me too. Besides, come spring, I’d never be able to get away anyway.”
We fell silent for a time, listening to the hum of the all season tires eating up the miles, each of us occupied with his own thoughts. We’d be making a couple of introductory sales calls in each state we passed through, enough to legitimize our journey as a business trip in the eyes of the IRS and also to give us some cover. There was no reason to believe anyone would take it unkindly, me just logically looking for my precious, slimy ex-cop scuzzbag of a father, but neither Jack Hill nor I believed in advertising our private business to the world at large. We might not have any reason to be sneaky, but it couldn’t hurt to stay sharp, to practice our deceptive maneuvers.
I’d told Mom, though. She hadn’t been happy about it.
“He’s not worth the effort, Treemin,” she’d said. Believe me, I know.”
“I’m sure you do, Mom. And I’m not saying he is worth it. It’s just something I have to do.”
At least, she hadn’t asked why we weren’t flying to Texas. No one in the family had stepped aboard a plane since the TSA got all touchy-feely, groping grandma, terrorizing little kids, mocking the overweight among us. We had a suspicion that TSA actually stood for Terminally Stupid A**holes. One flight would be enough to send us all to prison for coldcocking a few arrogant agents.
Jack broke into my reverie. “Interesting. Lots of different cultures in the general Corpus Christi area. We can relate to at least two of them, oil workers and cowboys. So we won’t need to pretend we’re anything we’re not.”
“Like a boxer and his trainer?” I asked dryly, thinking back to the scam we’d pulled off in the nation’s capitol.
“Yeah,” he chuckled. “Like that.”
I turned off the windshield wipers. The snow was letting up. Nine a.m., sun already starting to break through as the clouds began to dissipate. Looked like a good day to be rolling.
“You know,” I admitted, “I don’t really have any idea how to go about locating this Dirty Harry Murphy, even if he is in Corpus. If you have any thoughts on that, they’d be welcome.”
“Hm. Well…what do we know about the man so far?”
“Um…somewhere around 50 years of age. Not quite as tall as me, but stockier, and just as dark. Like me, he could give Herman Cain a run for his money when it comes to color. True blue horndog, he’d hump a rattlesnake if somebody would hold the head. Figures he’s not only God’s gift to women, but he’s a know it all; if you don’t do things his way, you’re an idiot. Knows how to fight–which I guess all cops do, more or less, but there are stories about old man Murphy. Killer instinct, too. Mom said it was a wonder he hadn’t gotten himself in trouble with the PD long before he made Captain, let alone by the time he got busted.”
“Okay.” Hill rubbed his chin, staring down the highway, thinking. “Big, angry black man, then?”
I grinned. That was an inside joke between us. “Stereotypical, maybe. Mostly, near as I can figure it, he’s…rigid. Won’t bend for anybody. Believed running prostitutes was okay for him, just not for anybody else. Narcissistic, not to the extreme extent of a Barack Obama, but enough that he never thought anybody else was smart enough to bust him for pimping. Thought he had it wired, had the fix in with the right people, had the wool pulled over the eyes of the street cops, yada yada yada.”
“Hm. Most people I’ve known like that, they don’t get better with age. They get worse.”
“Sooner or later, a lot of ’em, yeah. Not always. Take Alec Baldwin, for example.”
“No thanks. You take him.”
“Heh. No, see, Baldwin fits your description of your Dad–well, except for the fact that he’s not African American–but ol’ Alec will not likely go homeless. He’s too famous, with too much money, and thankfully he’s not in law enforcement. Or running a stable of prostitutes, at least as far as we know.”
“Okay. So…seems to me, Jack, we’re going back and forth here, coming to the easy conclusion that my old man had a predisposition toward going homeless, but I don’t see us coming up with any ideas about how to find him. Think I just sent us on a wild goose chase?”
“Maybe. But partner, here’s a question: Have you and I ever gone on a wild goose chase yet?”
“No,” I admitted. “No, we haven’t. We’ve nailed a few turkeys here and there, but no wild gooses.”
“But we might be due.”
“There is that. And there,” he pointed to a road sign up ahead, “is a rest stop. Time for a pit stop?”
“Sure,” I replied agreeably. “Anything to help out those 167 year old kidneys of yours.”
I hit the turn signal, easing off on the gas. We didn’t have all the answers yet, but when it came right down to it, that hardly mattered. Willie Nelson’s classic, On the Road Again, was running through my head–and come to think of it, Willie hailed from Texas.
Heck, even if we didn’t find dear dirty old Dad, maybe I’d take a serious look at the Lone Star State with Rodeo Iron in mind. Perhaps someday there’d be a chain of franchises running the length of this route, from Rodeo Iron Montana (RIM) to Rodeo Iron Wyoming (RIW), Rodeo Iron Colorado (RIC), Rodeo Iron New Mexico (RINM), and of course Rodeo Iron Texas (RIT).
Yeah, I could see it now. My biography, written by some famous biographer who knew what he was doing, titled: How To Build a Business Empire by Chasing a Pimp.
No, no. Way too long. Maybe…Pimps are Good Business.
Wait. Wait. I got it! PIMPING IRON!
A play on words there, see? Instead of Pumping Iron, Pimping Iron…the movie! And maybe the TV series, too. Starring…no clue. The right actor probably wasn’t even known yet. But I was onto something here; I knew it.
I played with that idea for hours, locking the concept into long term memory. There was no way I was coming out of this trip without something to show for it.