Damn Hernandez. Fucking cop had had Titus’ balls in a vise grip for years.
The irony was, eighteen years ago Titus really had been approached about killing Frankie White. The parents of Julia Garcia, one of Frankie’s first victims, had come to see him, desperate for justice. They’d even offered him a grocery bag full of twenty-dollar bills. Titus had looked into their hollow eyes and felt truly sorry. He knew the hope of vengeance was the only thing keeping them alive. If the target had been anyone other than Guy White’s son, Titus would’ve taken the job immediately. As it was, he asked for a few days to think about it.
Before he could give the Garcias an answer, someone else had taken care of Frankie White.
Titus took one last look at Maia Lee, standing in the middle of the dark road.
He put the Volvo into drive, swung a U-turn and headed back toward Presa. Lee would have to come back that way. The other direction, Mission, led nowhere but a dead-end cluster of trailer parks.
Titus pulled in behind the Loco Mart. He pointed the nose of his Volvo toward the street and waited.
Three minutes later, Lee’s black BMW drove by.
Titus followed, back toward King William.
Lee crossed the Arsenal Street Bridge and stopped on Titus’ favorite block—a row of bungalows hugging the limestone cliffs above the San Antonio River.
Upstream were Victorian mansions, warehouse art galleries, architectural offices. The river was smooth and placid, neatly walled by concrete.
But below the bridge, the water broke into a noisy stream. It spilled over the rocks and rushed, foaming, beneath the tiny run-down houses, as if the water were angry for being constrained so long, made to dress up for tourists.
Titus parked on the bank opposite the houses, in the Pioneer Flour Mill visitors’ lot, where the curve of the river gave him a good view of the street. He got out his binoculars.
Lee was climbing the steps of a denim blue cottage with peeling white trim. Whirlybird propellers decorated the dirt yard. Beer cans pocked with BB holes lined the porch railing.
She tried a key in the lock.
Titus liked her hair from behind, the way her ponytail snaked between her shoulder blades. He wondered how the T-shirt seller girl would look in an expensive wool dress like that. He decided she didn’t have the right figure for it.
Lee’s key didn’t seem to be working.
Titus wondered what she was up to.
Then he remembered it didn’t matter. He was supposed to be doing a job, and this was his chance. He would drive by with his window rolled down, his Colt ready. He’d call her name, wait for her to turn—
But before he could start his car, Lee stepped away from the door. She shook her head, muttering something as if cursing herself for being stupid. Then she marched down the steps and around the side of the house.
Titus refocused his binoculars. The gravel drive led back to a tiny garage.
“Not in there,” Titus murmured to her. “Come on back, honey.”
Lee’s key slid into the lock on the garage door. She rolled it open and stepped inside.
Now Titus would have to get out of his car and walk up the drive.
At least he could shoot her out of sight from the street.
He wrapped the bloody rags a little tighter around his left hand. It hurt like hell, but it wasn’t his shooting hand. Even with the arthritis, he could grip the .45 just fine with his right.
He pulled his Volvo out of the Pioneer Mill parking lot and headed across Soledad Bridge.
No mistakes, this time.
The pretty lady would never feel a thing.
MAIA STEPPED OVER A PILE OF shattered beer bottles and worked her way toward the back of the garage.
Stuff was piled everywhere—dusty baskets of women’s clothing, plastic Seventies furniture, makeup kits and ammunition boxes.
In front of a grimy window overlooking the river, a worktable was spread with photo albums and scrapbooks—the only things not covered in dust.
Maia picked up a yellow legal pad scrawled with notes. She recognized the handwriting, the same shaky script as on the note Mike Flume had given her.
For some reason, in the not-too-distant past, the old fry cook had been making a timeline of Lucia DeLeon’s life. He’d arranged Lucia’s scrapbooks in chronological order, even marked certain pages with Pig Stand receipts.
First stop: A South San High School yearbook from 1964. Senior “Most Likely to Succeed” Lucia DeLeon looked uncomfortable in her bouffant hairdo, black dress and pearl necklace. Despite the requisite Sixties uniform, something decidedly rebellious flickered in her eyes—a challenge. Maia imagined the men back then would’ve picked her out of the crowd. They would’ve felt intrigued or threatened. Probably both.
The next album, Ana’s baby book, started only two years later. Mike Flume had noted this, too, on his legal pad: Ana born—1966.
He’d bookmarked a photo of Lucia in her hospital bed. The new mother looked exhausted, sweaty, blue around the eyes as if she’d just been pummeled in the delivery room. An elderly couple, probably Lucia’s parents, were holding the infant.
Standard childhood pictures followed: Ana with pureed yams on her face, Ana using Barbie dolls as drumsticks on her high chair tray. Ana with her first birthday cake. A family barbecue. The elderly couple again, looking frailer, holding toddler Ana up to a Christmas tree.
No pictures of Ana’s father.
Maia could figure out that missing piece easily enough.
Unexpected pregnancy. The boyfriend cuts and runs. Catholic family. Abortion not an option.
Lucia’s parents would’ve helped raise the child while Lucia completed her education, pursuing her dream of becoming a cop.
Maia looked out the filthy window at a clouded moonrise over the Pioneer Flour Mill.
What right did she have to turn coward?
She was older than Lucia DeLeon had been. Maia had money and a good career. She lived in a time when there was virtually no stigma for single mothers. Even if Tres took the news in the worst possible way, even if she told him her secret fear . . .
The memory rose up unbidden—the pale crippled body of a ten-year-old boy laid on a makeshift funeral bier, draped in the family’s only white sheet. In his dead hands, a rare photograph of Maia’s mother, dead since Maia’s birth eight years ago. As Maia’s father wept, her uncle—her only other living relative—pulled her aside. He smelled like incense and fish from the market stalls.
You’ll live with me now, girl, he told her. Your father will come for you soon.
Maia never saw her father again. A month after the funeral, he refused an order from the Red Guard and was taken away for reeducation. It took her decades to realize her father had done this on purpose, as a form of suicide.
She pushed those images away, opened another album from Lucia DeLeon’s life.
In this one, the time intervals between photos were longer.
There was a picture of Ana DeLeon as a young Air Force cadet, giving her mom an enthusiastic hug. Another picture at a policemen’s picnic—off-duty officers clowning around for the camera, Lucia holding a pork rib like a gun to Etch Hernandez’s head.
The last few pages were a montage of clippings from Lucia’s police career. She’d saved both the good and the bad.
1968: A patronizing editorial about Lucia’s graduating class at the academy—the first to include women trained alongside the men. The headline: Cops in Pantyhose? A photo showed Lucia and five fellow female grads, all wearing skirted matron’s uniforms, looking like grim airline stewardesses.
Seven years later, a news article described Lucia’s award for the medal of bravery. She’d confronted a coked-up ex-bouncer who had clobbered two officers unconscious at the Pig Stand and was holding a third officer hostage at gunpoint. Lucia drew the bouncer’s attention, got him to aim his gun at her, then shot him. Her use of deadly force had been cleared by the review board. She became an instant celebrity.
1987: A brief mention of Hernandez and DeLeon as the officers who found Franklin White’s corpse.
Two years later, a strange article for the scrapbook—a retraction of an earlier news piece. The Express-News had erroneously reported that an off-duty officer, Lucia DeLeon, had been pulled over for drunk driving. Now, a police spokeswoman said that Officer DeLeon had simply been taking cold medication and hadn’t realized how impaired she was. DeLeon was a highly decorated patrol cop. Impeccable record. She’d voluntarily pulled over and accepted assistance from a fellow officer, Etch Hernandez, who happened to be passing by.
Maia read the article twice.
Happened to be passing by.
A month later, the police captain wrote Lucia a letter of commendation, asking her to head a new training program for the department. A scholarship for young women cadets was being created in Lucia’s name, and the captain wanted Lucia to teach a course at the academy. The new assignment was quite an honor.
And one that would keep her off the streets.
Maia wondered what Lucia had thought about that.
She flipped back to the picture of Ana as an Air Force cadet, hugging her mother with so much pride. Ana had followed her mother’s footsteps. She’d joined the police. She kept her mother’s photograph behind her desk in the homicide division. Yet she’d rented Lucia’s house to Mike Flume. She’d left her mother’s belongings in this garage, gathering dust for decades.
On Mike Flume’s yellow legal pad of notes, one final event was starred and underlined:
Lucia dies 1994—alcohol.
Maia wondered why Flume had felt the need to reconstruct Lucia’s life, and why he’d rented her house for so many years.
He’d written Lucia with an upward slant.
He’d spoken her name with regret, maybe a trace of wistfulness. He still remembered what she ordered for dinner. He knew to the minute when she had shown up each night.
Maia’s heart felt heavy. She didn’t want to delve into the old man’s longings, or know what he might’ve secretly felt for a lady cop whom he’d served dinner every night for years.
But it now made sense to her why Mike Flume might’ve lied to the police, if he thought he was protecting Lucia and her partner.
She was considering whether or not to take the photo albums when broken glass crunched behind her.
A cold prickle of danger went down her neck. Instinct took over. She dropped behind a pile of suitcases as the garage window exploded where her head had just been.
Maia drew her .357.
A shadow flickered across the ceiling—someone coming toward her.
She rose up, squeezed off a blast, and took out an impressive chunk of the wooden frame of the garage door.
Her ears were ringing.
She heard feet on gravel—someone running away.
She cursed and charged out of the garage.
When she reached the driveway, a gray Volvo was peeling out in front of the house.
She could’ve let it go, but she was mad.
She dropped to one knee in the front lawn and opened fire—engine block, wheel, wheel, passenger’s side window. The .357 did its work. The Volvo spun sideways, plowed down a brick mailbox and shuddered to a halt in the front yard of the neighbor’s house. The windshield was shattered. Steam billowed from the hood.