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Alex wore a navy blue suit and aviator’s shades that must’ve left him completely blind in the dark.

My skin crawled when I saw him. He looked so damn much like Frankie. Or maybe my skin crawled because I realized he was about my size, and the accountant’s clothes I was wearing might very well belong to him.

“You’re late,” he said.

“Any trouble?” Madeleine asked.

“With the getaway, no. With you supposed to be at your father’s party half an hour ago, yes.”

“He knows where I am.”

Alex snorted.

“What?” she demanded.

“Nothing. Let’s get out of here.” Under his breath, he muttered something that rhymed with itch.

Madeleine grabbed his lapels, hauled him to his feet. “Navarre and Arguello, will you excuse us a minute?”

She dragged Alex away through the crowd.

Ralph didn’t pay any attention. He was holding his wallet open like a tiny hymnal, staring at a photo of Ana and the baby.

I’m not sure why, but a wave of irritation washed over me. I told myself that wasn’t fair. Ralph had every right to miss his family, to feel shock and grief. Maybe he even had the right to shoot at Johnny Zapata. It had been my choice to follow him out the window . . .

I stopped a vendor, bought a couple of beers.

I sat next to Ralph and handed him one of the cups. “Salud.”

It took him a minute to focus on me. “Sam okay?”

I told him the story. I apologized that he’d risked getting captured just so I could check out a shot-off earlobe.

“S’okay,” he said. “Friends help each other.”

“Is that what we’re doing?”

Ralph stared at me. I hadn’t meant to sound so angry.

“Something you want to tell me?” he asked.

I should’ve shut my mouth, but I’d been saving up hurt I hadn’t even known about. Now it was boiling over. Too many hours on adrenaline. Too many frayed nerves.

“Been a pretty shitty reunion. Longest we’ve spent together since you got married. Look what we’re doing.”

“You saying it’s my fault we haven’t been hanging out?”

“You got a family,” I said. “I understand that.”

“I wonder if you do.”

“Christ, Ralph, you pushed me away when you got married. You amputated your whole goddamn past. Watching you today with Zapata—I don’t know. Maybe you weren’t meant for a regular family life.”

Ralph blinked. “I wasn’t meant . . . Vato, if you were anybody else telling me this shit—”

“You’d what?” I demanded. “Prove my point? Shoot me?”

“You don’t want to be here, vato, that’s cool. I didn’t ask you. But don’t start jacking with me about who cut off who.”

“Aw, come on—”

“We invited you over a dozen times, man. Whenever Ana saw you she’d ask you. I left messages on your machine. Don’t tell me you didn’t get them.”

Ralph finished his beer, crumpled the cup. “Anybody’s afraid, vato, it’s you. I think it scares the hell out of you that I got a wife and kid.”


“You hate it that you’re the last person you know who hasn’t settled down.”

I wanted to yell at him how wrong he was, but my anger balloon had burst. I felt empty inside.

Mary and Joseph kept moving through the park. Their donkey must’ve made a deposit somewhere along the path. I caught a scent on the night air that was definitely not fajitas.

“We brought Lucia Jr. here last year,” Ralph told me. “She was a newborn.”

The Blessed Couple moved toward the cathedral doors across the street.

Ralph studied his wallet photo, then slipped it back into his pocket. “I got a bad feeling, vato.”

“You’re going to see them again soon,” I managed.

“You’d watch out for Ana—”

“Stop it, Ralph. Besides, Ana doesn’t need watching. She’d kick my ass if I tried.”

“But you would, right?”

I sighed. “Yeah.”


“Yes, already.”

I drank my beer, tried not to feel uneasy. Ralph was just scared for his family. He was entitled to sound a little despondent. We would get through this together. We’d been in scrapes this bad before. Almost.

The crowd shifted. I caught a glimpse of Madeleine giving Alex a deadly serious lecture. He was smirking at her. I wondered if his insolence was bravado, or if he actually had enough pull in the organization to stand up to Guy White’s own daughter. I wondered what his plans were once the old man passed away.

“We could leave right now,” Ralph said. “Forget the White family.”

“We could.”

“But the answer’s back at the White house . . . isn’t it?”

I felt as reluctant as Ralph sounded, but I had the same gut feeling.

I kept coming back to what Sam had said. Even if Guy White didn’t want to admit it, the old gangster knew the truth about his son’s death.

I wondered again about the intruder who’d broken into my house. I wanted to think it was the same person who’d shot Ana DeLeon, but I had a hard time believing it.

A guy who could set up a meeting with a homicide detective, calmly pull the trigger and walk away didn’t fit the image of the man who’d broken into my place. Ana’s shooter wouldn’t have been vanquished by a meat cleaver and a water gun.

I poured out my beer, crumpled the cup in aggravation.

A tattooed man had broken into my house looking for a woman. He assumed she would be there. A woman other than Mrs. Loomis. A woman he wanted to silence.

A cold, slimy feeling poured over me.

I dug my cell phone out of my pocket.

“I thought you ditched that thing,” Ralph said. “Don’t be risking calls.”

I hit speed dial #1.

Maia picked up, and she was even more direct: “You’re insane. Get off the line.”

“I’ll keep it under thirty seconds.”

“Tres, I’ve got my hands full.”

“You’re in danger. There’s a guy with tattoos—”

“On his arms,” she supplied. “Flowers, right?”

My stomach did a half-pipe. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. I’m holding a gun to his head. He’s driving. We have a nice arrangement.”

“Maia—Jesus, what?”

“I’m taking a picture. Hang on.” A few seconds later: “Check your phone.”

The wonders of technology. Camera cell phones had quickly become a necessity for PIs, but I never thought my girlfriend would be sending me photos of the men she held at gunpoint.

The grainy digital shot showed a fiftyish Anglo with grizzled hair and a pitted face. He was sitting behind the wheel of Maia’s car, looking as if he’d just received an electric shock.

I put the phone back to my ear. “Maia, how—”

“No time to explain. We’re looking for a quiet place to talk.”

“Tell me where. I’ll come.”

“Too dangerous. I’m hanging up.”

“Wait.” I struggled to think of a plan.

Madeleine and Alex had finished their argument. They were trudging in our direction. The Las Posadas carolers had started their final song, welcoming Joseph and Mary to the church.

“Where are you?” Maia asked. “What’s that singing?”

“Some newlyweds and a donkey. They’re looking for a motel room. Look, don’t interrogate that guy alone. Please.”

“The problem is where. You have five seconds to suggest a safe meeting place.”

Madeleine was only a couple of steps away. No doubt she was going to grind my cell phone into rebar. She wasn’t going to be receptive to me giving her chauffeur any more directions, either.

I made Maia the best offer I could think of. As usual, it also happened to be the most insane: “You like mafia Christmas parties?”

DECEMBER 19, 1986

THE LAST THING THAT MADE JULIA GARCIA smile was her murderer’s joke.

They were riding along together, his new silver Mercedes as smooth and silent as a magic carpet. She told him what she wanted to do with her life, and he said, “You don’t want to be a teacher.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’d have students like me.”

She smiled and pushed his arm, but immediately she knew she’d gone too far. He tensed at her touch. His expression reminded her of the eight-year-old boy she’d volunteered with that afternoon, who’d flung the Dr. Seuss book across the room because he couldn’t pronounce the word know.

She began to wonder if her friends at the bar had been right about this man. Julia, hija, you gonna talk to him?

They’d dared her twenty bucks. She’d taken the bet, conscious that the blond Anglo had been looking at her across the room, interested, intrigued.

She felt flush with success: Her first semester over, her grades excellent, her last exam put behind her that morning. By the end of the spring, her professors assured her, she could transfer to a full university if she wanted.

Shoot high, they’d told her. Look at Yale. Look at Columbia.

The names rolled over her like incantations—magical phrases from another universe. No one she’d ever known had gone this far. No member of her family had ever completed high school.

Earlier in the week, she’d dumped her senior year boyfriend. Life was too full of possibilities for her to marry him. She’d broken her last chain. Why not celebrate? Why not show off a little?

The guy at the bar was obviously from that other world she wanted—rich, powerful, groomed for success. It was as if he were put in front of her now, a symbol of what she could have. Did she have the nerve to take it?

They left together, and she turned to wink at her friends, knowing that tomorrow they’d owe her twenty bucks.

He pulled the Mercedes over on the side of a dark road. Mission, she thought, but she wasn’t sure. A crumbling streak of asphalt marched off into the night, scrubby trees and barbed wire on either side like scar tissue.

Her companion’s name was Frankie. That’s all she knew. The name made him seem younger, though he had to be at least a few years older than she.

He put the car in park and looked up at the stars. The Big Dipper, Orion, a bunch of other constellations she couldn’t name.

“Pretty,” she said.

He didn’t respond.

“So . . . you bring many girls out here?” She meant it to sound teasing, but when he looked over, the darkness in his eyes scared her.

“A couple,” he admitted.

She shifted away from him, just slightly. Already planning exit strategies. She would tell him she still had an early exam tomorrow. No . . . she’d already told him she was done for the semester. What else would work? That her friends were expecting a call, maybe.

“My father used to come here,” he murmured.

“Your father?”

“He used to bring women here. It killed my mother.”