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Maia thought back to her brief baby-sitting stint with Lucia Jr. “I wouldn’t call that rest.”

Ana put her hand in a square of winter sunlight that was sliding across her bedspread. “You got that right, sister. You got that right.”

JULY 14, 1987

THE MERCEDES PULSED RED AND WHITE in Lucia’s emergency lights.

Despite all her years on the force, her courage wavered when Frankie White got out of his car.

He looked so much like his father, especially in this place, on this isolated road.

She watched him trudge toward her patrol unit, his blond hair and white shirt ghostly in the dark.

He was almost at her car door, intolerably close, before she got out to meet him.

“Well?” he demanded.

“Who’s in the car, Frankie?”

He glared at her as if she were a traffic signal—some annoying mechanism of society. He probably didn’t remember or care that they’d met before, that she’d warned him to stay away from her beat. Why should he? He’d been dealing with cops for years. They all called him by his first name. He was like their goddamn foster child.

“Nobody’s in the car,” he said. “I’m alone.”

Lucia glanced at the tinted windows of the Mercedes. She couldn’t see anyone inside, but back on South Alamo, when she’d first spotted him, she thought she saw a silhouette in his passenger’s seat—a young woman. When Frankie had turned on Mission Road, she’d had no choice but to follow.

“You don’t mind if I check it out.” She started forward.

He surprised her by grabbing her forearm. She yanked it away, felt his fingernails rip into her skin.

“Back off.” Her heart was pounding. “Kneel on the ground. Now.”

“Go away, lady,” Frankie told her, not moving. “Get out of here while you still can.”

“You threatening me? A police officer?”

His eyes were icy with rage. “The police are a fucking joke. You couldn’t arrest my father. What makes you think you can touch me?”

He pushed her shoulders, hard enough to send her staggering backward a few steps.

She drew her nightstick.

“Stop.” Her voice sounded shrill, even to herself.

She knew she should follow procedure. She had a violent subject. She should call for backup. She should not be arguing with him.

But her training was dissolving—the heavy blue thread she’d used to stitch her life together was swiftly coming unraveled. She was nineteen again—a young girl being shown that her power was nothing but an illusion.

“Get on the ground,” she ordered. She heard the wobble in her voice and hated it.

“Fuck you.”

“Do it, Frankie.”

“You get on the ground, bitch.”

Lucia’s arm was bleeding. He’d broken the skin.

So much like his father, yet the anger in his eyes was more volatile—more like what Lucia saw when she looked in the mirror, when she thought about Mission Road.

You couldn’t arrest my father.

Frankie turned. He started back toward his car.

He would drive away, leave her standing there. She was meaningless to him. The years with the badge, the years building herself back up from a thousand shattered pieces, they meant nothing.

She was a girl again, abandoned in a cold ditch, her back snagged on a line of barbed wire, the orange moon glowing above her through the naked branches. Another man was walking away—a man in a beige suit who had just crushed her soul like a balsa wood toy.

Later, she would not remember raising the nightstick, but she felt the crack of wood against bone reverberate in her fingers. Franklin White crumpled.

Her rage left her. Years of police officer composure shed off her like winter clothes. She was alone, horrified.

Afterward, talking to Etch, she would realize how many mistakes she’d made. She would try to piece together what really happened and wonder if she was going crazy. Had she only hit him once? Hadn’t she left the murder weapon with her fingerprints on the handle?

At the time, she had no thought but getting away, running from that place.

She dropped the bloodied nightstick and fled.

Chapter 21


My less-than-heartening conclusion: They looked at how many times it had almost gotten me killed and decided that letting me keep my job was the best possible punishment.

As for Guy White, his only punishment was living his final months under his daughter’s care. Madeleine got him a private nurse, allowed no visitors without her permission. The fire damage Ralph and I caused to the White house was not that extensive, but Madeleine announced that the mock-presidential mansion which had been the symbol of her family’s power for a generation would be razed by New Year’s. She would rebuild to better suit her tastes.

A new police lieutenant was shuffled into Etch Hernandez’s homicide position, but Detective Kelsey became the true power in the department. He moved into Ana’s office. Word was he’d make sergeant by the end of the month. Given that the department had few options for positive publicity, they were using Kelsey as a hero—proof that the SAPD would not tolerate wrongdoing within its ranks, even if it meant busting a superior officer.

The real support of the rank and file went to Ana DeLeon. A cruiser was almost always parked in front of her house—some colleague, making sure she and the baby were okay. Gift baskets, home-cooked dinners, offers for baby-sitting poured in. The police fraternal organization set up a college scholarship fund for Lucia Jr.

Once, and only once, Johnny Zapata sent his lackey Ignacio around to talk to Ana, to see if she would sell off Ralph’s pawnshops. Within forty-eight hours, the SAPD had found reasons to shut down all of Zapata’s front businesses. Ignacio was tossed in jail on several outstanding warrants. Madeleine White personally visited Zapata’s mother at Mission San José to let her know that her son was bothering a defenseless widow who happened to be a close friend of the White family.

Johnny Shoes got the message. Ana never heard from him again.

As for Ralph’s legacy, nobody, even the cops, had a negative word to say about him. He’d given his life to stop the man who shot his wife. He was a hero. Who had ever doubted that Ana’s marriage to him had been the right choice?

I kept waiting for the shock to wear off. I kept busy, took new clients, spent a lot of time with Maia. I knew the pain was somewhere inside, waiting to rip me apart, but my heart felt like it had been given a shot of morphine.

I drove past Ralph’s old childhood home, now occupied by another enormous family. I brought marigolds to San Fernando Cemetery, where Ralph’s simple gray tombstone stood next to his mother’s, near a spot where we’d once had lunch during Día de los Muertos. I visited Sunken Gardens, the Blanco Café, the stadium at Alamo Heights High School—all the places that had defined our friendship. I kept remembering Ralph’s irreverent grin, his wisecracks, the way he treated the world as a dangerous toy.

And every day I talked to Ana DeLeon, until eventually I got up my nerve to ask her advice about a problem.


The Southtown house smelled like homemade tamales—a gift from some of our neighbors. I hadn’t had the heart to tell them I could no longer tolerate the smell of steamed venison and masa without thinking of Guy White.

Mrs. Loomis, miracle worker that she was, had decorated the house, bought a ten-foot Scotch pine for the living room, and cooked us all turkey dinner.

Sam still had a bandaged ear, but otherwise he seemed in a good mood. He and I had decorated the tree. We’d made ojos de dios out of string and Popsicle sticks to keep away evil spirits. I got a bunch of small frames and helped Sam make ornaments with pictures of his relatives. We made one for Ralph, which Sam seemed happy to add to his collection.

Santa Claus brought Robert Johnson a new scratching post, which he sniffed disdainfully. Then he jumped under the wrapping paper and got crazy eyes.

Sam got a bigger-caliber water gun. Mrs. Loomis got a raise and a new set of kitchen knives, since she couldn’t stand to keep the cleaver she’d used on Titus Roe. She protested that I couldn’t afford either luxury.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said, and tried to smile confidently.

I told Maia not to open her present yet.

She gave me a funny look, but set the poorly wrapped shoebox aside.

“After dinner,” I said, and gestured with my eyes toward the front porch.

WE LEFT MRS. LOOMIS AND SAM in the living room, drinking spiked eggnog and getting sentimental about Nat King Cole.

Maia, the party pooper, was nursing a mug of herbal tea.

She leaned against the porch rail. “Thirty years in America, and I still don’t get Christmas.”

“You decorate a tree,” I said. “Spend a month shopping for crap nobody wants. Pretend there’s a fat guy in red velvet who flies around the world. What’s to get?”

“Thanks for clearing it up.”

Maia’s unopened present sat next to me on the rail. I tried to get up my nerve to say what I needed to say. “Hey, uh, Maia . . .”

She looked at me hesitantly.

“. . . I know you’re pregnant.”

Her eyes were amber, beautiful and immensely sad.

An electric current arced through my chest.

She folded her hands around her tea mug, looked out at South Alamo Street. In the window seat of the café across the street, an old couple was having dinner, dressed in their church best. They must’ve been eighty-something. They were holding hands.

“How’d you figure it out?” she asked.

“The night at the Whites’ party, you mentioned your mom. I kept thinking about that. And the way you’d been acting. Besides, I’m a detective.”

“I’m sorry.” Her eyes were glistening. “I’m really messed up about it.”

I felt like I’d been ripped out of my own life and placed in someone else’s. I was used to solving family problems for other people. I was used to custody battles, adoptions gone wrong, unfit parents, delinquent kids—all the horrors of parenthood from the outside.

This . . . this was like reading through a mirror. Everything felt backward.

I wondered if Ralph had felt this way when he learned he was going to be a father. I realized I’d never be able to ask him.

Suddenly, the morphine wore off. My best friend was dead. I’d spent the last two years of his life trying to push him away.

You want to understand somebody, Ralph had once told me, look at what he’s willing to give up.

I steadied myself against the porch rail.

“Tres?” Maia asked.

“I’m all right.”

She studied my face, knowing damn well I wasn’t all right.

Across the street, the older couple toasted each other with glasses of champagne. Nat King Cole kept singing from the living room.

“I want this baby,” Maia told me. “But it’s dangerous.”

“Better health care,” I managed. “The doctors are good.”

“No. There’s something else. My brother.”