"Keep your voice down," Danny said calmly.

"Well it's a hell of a thing to say."

"Yeah, but I'm pretty sure I did. At least indirectly. Or many it's coincidental. Who knows?"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Back up and explain to me why you think you got the undertaker killed," Butch said.

Danny reminded him of how Hunter had been goosing her for information. Then she relayed her conversation with him concerning the bodies of the three men. "You see where I'm going with this?"

Butch may have wondered whether he'd work with a badge again but part of him would always be an investigator and he was putting information together with what he'd heard in the Tavern. "The guy knew Buzzy, or maybe Buzzy knew the guy … that's the word that is floating around. He was some kind of out of town tough. Word spreading is that he was here to do a job."

"Well that has special written all over it. If he was here to do a job …"

"Yeah. Daniella we need an exit strategy."

"Disculpeme? What do you mean an exit strategy?"

"Don't play stupid Daniella, it doesn't look good on you. You know what I mean."

"I can't just pick up and run away in the night. I've got responsibilities."

"Things can be replaced."

"I'm not talking about things," Danny growled.

Butch stopped and said, "The boys will be part of the plan and Nita is safe where she is at, more than safe."

"Tito and Joey yes but … look if these ladrones are as bad as they seem they won't stop and will plow through people. You've heard the stories."

"Dammit woman."

"I can't run. I've thought it out. I run, they just go after someone to get to me. I'm not proof against it. Me? I'll fight like they're drunks on a bad night … hand them their guts and not cry a drop. They go after someone else to get to me? I can't turn my back on that. You, the Maddoxes, Ronnie, Rhonda … even Cindy though she's more likely to give me up than stick on my side."

Butch looked at Danny closely and realized she was dead serious. "We still need to have a plan even if you don't think you'll ever use it. Will you at least admit that much? It's no different than you doing your books for Tito even though you don't need them."

"Oh for … fine. What do you suggest?"

"I've got some ideas. Let me work on it. I can't ask too many questions. People need to think of me as weak, at loose ends, inattentive."

"But you won't be."

"No. But we need to be careful. That means me asking questions like I would normally be doing is out. We'll both need to keep our ears open. Have you heard from Hunter?"

"He pulled me aside while the quack was giving you a last check over. But he was acting … "


"He … he's not sleeping good. If he don't get some sleep soon he's going to shoot his own foot off cleaning his gun. Great dark circles under his eyes; keeps his hat pulled low to keep his face shaded so no one gets a good look. But if you are talking to him face to face you can't help but notice. People are giving him strange looks too. Getting out of his way fast."

"Does he notice what is happening or not?"

"You mean does he notice how people are reacting to him? Not really. He's definitely got heavy thoughts taking up most of his attention."

"What did he say to you?"

"Wanted to know if the guy had come by to harass me any more after he attacked me."

"And you said?"

"No. That I would have run straight to him if he had. I also gave him something to chew on besides worrying if I was putting two and two together."

"Daniella …"

"All I did was tell him why I and the other girls didn't like the undertaker. Then I said that it must have been that the undertaker did a bad job on a friend. Or that maybe the dead guy had heard that the undertaker kept a stash until he could take it to his brother to hock. I'm not sure he bought it though … he wants to but …"

"Why do you say he didn't buy it? And why do you think he wants to?"

Danny looked at Butch and if he had been anyone else he wouldn't gotten his boots spit on for his sharp interrogation. Butch caught the look but didn't ease back. He could either be on the job or off the job, and if he was going to get he and Danny out of hot water he had to be completely on the job whether she liked it or not. "Explain," he prompted once again.

Danny shook her head and snorted. "Buscador," she muttered under her breath. "Because he asked why I had tried to spook the guy by asking about his bosses. He was pretty agitated about it."

Butch was pretty agitated by it as well but tried not to let it get him off course. "In what way?"

"He wanted to know what I knew about the men the guy worked for."

"And you told him what?"

"I said I had been fishing, look for a way to poke the bear and make him leery of coming at me again. That it didn't take a professor to see there were three of them, all dressed similar, all with the same make of gun. Biggest thing was that all three tried to pay their tabs with federal scrip. The dead guy got real angry when Ronnie, who'd brought him his bill, said he couldn't take it, that all we took was state scrip and coins. And that's when I got involved because he'd thrown Ronnie against the wall pretty hard after giving him a shake that rattled the poor kid's teeth."

"Tell me again what happened from that point and tell me if you left anything out to Hunter."

"Same thing I told you before. Guy tried to manhandle me, I grabbed his family jewels and walked him out the front doors and off the porch. He tried to come at me again even though his friends tried to stop him. I let him know it was a very bad idea and cut him twice letting him know the next time it would be his tripes. His friends are trying to pull him out of there, he's shouting, I'm giving it to him in Spanish because he's made me so made I can't see straight, I threaten him with the decency committee and checking to see if his name is on a poster which gets his friends really bothered and they're pulling him with all their strength but he's not moving and in fact acts like he's untouchable and that's when I make a guess and poke the bear."

"You really were just guessing. You've never seen or heard of the guy before."

"Butch, with the way things are I wouldn't lie about something that important. I'd never seen the two guys with him either. They've never been in or around the Tavern while I've been present. I did see one of the guy's friends Sunday. Idiot came in running his mouth. I let him know that bar stool spins both directions. He left and no one around acted like it was any great loss."

Butch nodded. "A small crowd followed him across the ramp to suggest he needed to see Hunter to give a deposition and explain what he was doing in the area. I heard he got on his horse and rode off before anyone could find Hunter and make their 'suggestion' stick."

"Couldn't find Hunter because he wasn't around or couldn't find Hunter because he didn't want to be found and get involved?"

"That's the question of the day … or one of them anyway. Now what did you mean that Hunter looked like he wanted to believe you?"

"Oh he believed what I was saying about what happened. What he wanted to believe – or so it seemed – is that I thought the guy was just a bad dude, maybe that I believed the undertaker finally got what was coming to him. He read me a lecture about brawling with customers and said if it happened again he would have to ticket me so it didn't seem like he was showing favorites … that people were beginning to talk."

"About what?"

"He made out like people were talking about me and him. Nearly made me laugh. If they're talking it is … uh …"

Butch sighed. "We knew it was coming. Decency Committee will be next."

"No, it won't."

Danny's tone had Butch looking at her sharply. "Daniella …"

"Let's just say that certain people need to be very, very careful of living in glass houses and throwing stones. And we'll leave it at that."

"You blackmailing?"

"No. Not even if they push me, and they've tried on occasion. But they make a wrong step and irritate me and there are things I know about most of them – and if not them their spouses or children – on that so-called committee that would make your hair stand on end. I won't bother blackmailing, I'll just make sure certain things come out."

"What things?"

"I'm neither a snitch nor a gossip. What I know and how I know it is my business Butch."

"This a line you are drawing?"

"It is a boundary I put in place a long time ago. Having a brain like mine … where I remember everything … it can be a tool or a weapon. Father Brannigan made me promise to never let my anger turn it into a weapon. It is no one's fault that I can't forget stuff, but it is my responsibility how I use it. I can't forget the hurt but I can … can forgive it, let it go before it eats me up. But if I have to … if I have to … I … I will …"

Butch reached across the table and took Danny's hand. "You don't like what you can do." Butch shook his head. "As an investigator I'd love that talent."

Danny closed her eyes and said, "No. Because you can't turn it off. Once you know something about someone or some thing you can never forget it. Once you feel something you can never unfeel it or forget it … hear, see, taste … all of it." She opened her eyes and looked dead at him. "I still remember how my mother's cooked flesh smelled. I still remember how it felt each time the whip came down on my back. Every time a customer vomits. All the blood I've seen over the years. All … all the pain of losing people. You don't want this Butch. No one should ever wish for this. It all builds up and there are days …"

Danny shuddered and Butch got a closer look at the woman she was than he'd ever gotten before. The one that continued to deal with the people of this area not because of what she knew of them but in spite of it.

"Butch … just make sure … make sure that …"


"That you know what you're saying when you say you want to know the real me."

Butch looked deep into her eyes and nodded.