"That Ana DeLeon's just your type. And knowing that should be enough to warn you off."

"You're so far off base—"

"'S'okay, man." George flipped his aluminum foil ball. "You like the fortress women, the unapproachable ones. You like the challenge. Try to settle for somebody who can't out-think you and beat you at arm-wrestling — you're disappointed, can't stick with it. Annie, Carolaiyn, how many others didn't make the cut since Maia Lee, man? I've lost count."

There was no bitterness in his voice, no criticism. His smile was even a little wistful.

"I won't dignify that with a response," I told him.

"Don't need to."

He turned the aluminum ball in his fingers. His smile disintegrated.

"What?" I asked.

George shook his head. "Old Jeremiah Brandon. It's just that the more I hear about him, the stories, the way Sanchez brought him down—"

"I know."

George shook his head. "I don't think you do, ese. What Brandon could do to the people who worked for him, the young women especially, the things he got away with — it hits me in a place I don't want to be hit. I start feeling glad somebody shot the old man, start wishing I'd even been there to see it. I begin thinking of Zeta Sanchez as a hero. That scares me, ese. It scares me a lot." We sat listening to the water sluice into the fountain, the pigeons pecking at a potato chip under a nearby table.

I looked over at Jem, who was circling the rim of the water fountain, his arms out like an airplane, his Captain Chaos clenched in one fist.

The sight of Jem made me smile, as it always did. Thank God for that kid. I looked over at George. He was apparently thinking the same thing.

I said, "You bought Jem that damn figurine, didn't you?"

George put his fingers on his chest. "And break Erainya's no-toy rule?"

"Affection-buying bastard. What can I do while you're out chasing leads?"

George smiled, a little sadness still in his eyes.

"You can teach your classes, Professor. What else?"


"Full name," Detective Kelsey demanded.

"A guy hits you in the stomach," I said, "and you don't remember his name?"

The detective pushed back from his desk. His big Irish nose turned brake-light red. "Did I ask you here, asshole?"

"Jackson Navarre. You want me to spell it?"

"Give me your license."

He propped it on his keyboard and began clacking the information into the computer, using index fingers only.

I scanned the corkboard on his cubicle wall. There were pictures of Kelsey in camouflage next to a dead ten-point buck; Kelsey in bowling clothes; Kelsey in a TCU football uniform; Kelsey in SWAT black with an H&K 94 carbine. Lots of pictures of Kelsey. Lots of sports equipment and guns and deceased animals.

Zero other human beings.

Down the central walkway of the SAPD homicide office, foot traffic was light. It was Wednesday evening but could just as easily have been three A.M. Monday or one P.M. Friday. No windows gave away the time, no change of lighting, no clocks. To the left and right, gray walls and gray carpet and gray five-foot-high dividing walls stretched out, the colorlessness punctuated here and there by a troll doll goggling over someone's cubicle, a sad ivy plant, a buzz-cut head asking something of the buzz-cut head next door. The space was devoid of noise and smell and temperature, designed like an emotional sponge to suck all the passion out of the events the investigators handled every day.

Kelsey's cubicle was not in a position of privilege. He was next to the case files closet, close to the interrogation rooms, within ear-pulling distance of Lieutenant Hernandez's office.

Kelsey stopped typing. He put his index finger on my license, looked back and forth between it and the screen to make sure he got everything right. His finger hesitated over my middle name. "Tray?"

"Trace. You know — Spanish. Numero tres."

Kelsey grunted, hit RETURN. "Statement."

I went through what I'd seen yesterday during the apprehension of Zeta Sanchez at Hector Mara's farm. I didn't mention Kelsey's hesitation responding to Ana DeLeon's call for help. Kelsey did not type in how I had punched him in the gut. We were fast friends that way.

While Kelsey finished composing, I looked through the big glass window of the commander's office. Lieutenant Hernandez was having a deadly serious conversation with a well-dressed Anglo who had the reddest hair and the whitest skin I'd ever seen.

"Who's the leprechaun?" I asked.

Kelsey followed my gaze. He thought for a second, probably debating whether or not he had anything to lose by answering. "Canright. ADA on rotation to homicide this week. Lucky us."

I looked again through the window. Canright was holding up gold-ringed hands and shaking them, like he was showing the size of an imaginary fish. Hernandez leaned on the edge of his desk, his hands pinched tightly under his armpits. The lieutenant's face had its usual metallic hardness.

"So what's the argument?" I asked.

Kelsey pointed behind me with his chin. Down the side corridor, I could just see the doorway of the first interrogation room. An armed, uniformed deputy stood outside. The face of Ana DeLeon passed briefly behind the tiny one-foot-square window — mid-pace,  mid-conversation.

"Celebrity guest," Kelsey said. "Zeta Sanchez stonewalled the ATF for twelve hours yesterday. Now DeLeon's giving it a try. Guess Canright was expecting we'd have a confession by now. We're holding up his political career."

At that moment, the commander's door flew open. Canright stormed out, Hernandez right behind him. Their argument re-formed around the doorway, five feet away from us.

Down the other way, the interrogation room door opened too. Ana DeLeon led Zeta Sanchez out by the upper arm. The surprised guard lurched into formation behind them.

DeLeon wore a khaki Lands' End trench coat over the red dress she'd had on the night before. From her eyes and makeup and hair it was clear she'd never gone to bed.

Sanchez was dressed in orange prison scrubs and plastic sandals. His wrists were clamped together in plastic cuffs, the kind they reserve for the most violent offenders. The side of his face was swollen from DeLeon's pistol-whipping yesterday, and he sported an even newer injury — a busted lower lip that was stitched up and oozing on the left side like a bisected caterpillar. The mustache and beard made a cursive W around his lower face, a shape mirrored by his high hairline. His eyes were calm, sleepy. The undamaged side of his mouth crept up in a little smile that made my stomach go cold.

DeLeon walked him in our direction until Hernandez and District Attorney Canright intercepted her, right in front of Kelsey's desk. Kelsey and I stood up, making the walkway mighty cozy.

"Where are you going?" Canright demanded.

DeLeon raised her eyebrows. "The bathroom."

"The what?"

"He needs to pee, sir. You know — the little boys' room?"

Canright's face erupted in strawberry spots. He looked at Hernandez, whose expression stayed neutral. Zeta Sanchez, for his part, had his eyes on DeLeon. He kept pushing the tip of his tongue suggestively against the busted side of his lip.

"Detective—" Canright started.

"We're crossing our legs here, sir." DeLeon looked at Hernandez for a green light. "My interview, my suspect, and he really needs to pee. Okay, Lieutenant?"

After a moment of silent deliberation, Lieutenant Hernandez gestured toward the exit.

"Thank you." DeLeon looked at me for the first time, dispassionately, like I was an overdue stenographer. "Walk with us."

ADA Canright's face turned even redder. "Wait just a goddamn—"

DeLeon was already pushing past.

I was almost too surprised to move but fell in line behind DeLeon and Sanchez and the deputy guard. The four of us went out the reception area of homicide, past two secretaries and a group of crying women, into the hallway. The outer corridors of the department were tiled in green, fluorescent lit, with metal rolling equipment carts abandoned here and there and windows looking into dark rooms. It reminded me of a hospital delivery ward. We walked to the end of the hall where the vending machines and rest-rooms were, our heels clacking against the tiles.

When we got to the men's room door, DeLeon let loose of Sanchez's arm. "Go ahead."

Sanchez looked from her to the door, calculating.

DeLeon asked, "You need one of the guys to help you find it?"

Sanchez gave her a mildly surprised smile, as if the insult pleased him. He went inside.

The deputy started to follow but DeLeon stopped him. "That's okay."

The restroom door closed.

DeLeon leaned against the vending machine and let her posture deteriorate, her weariness have its way. She rubbed her eyes, then the back of her neck. Finally she focused her bloodshot eyes on me. "Your job is to be silent."

"Not my best role."

"You visited the Brandons, didn't you? Saw that little kid and his mom?"

"I did."

"It shows in your eyes when you look at him. The anger. Tone it down."

I hadn't even realized it until she said it, but she was right. Two minutes in Zeta Sanchez's company had eroded any doubt that the man was a murderer, that he could have walked with smugness bordering on stupidity into Aaron Brandon's home in Alamo Heights, plugged him twice with a .45, and walked out, expecting complete impunity. Looking into Sanchez's face, I stopped wondering about motive and connections and possible frame-ups. The man was loosely packaged, industrial-grade violence.

When I thought about the sheet cave in Michael Brandon's room, about Ines Brandon's tears, I wanted to wipe that little smile off what was left of Sanchez's face.

The door of the restroom opened. Sanchez came out. He looked around uncertainly, like he himself couldn't believe he hadn't tried to make a break for it. DeLeon clucked her tongue disapprovingly. "I didn't hear water running."

Sanchez took a moment to focus on her and register the comment. "What?"

"You didn't wash your hands."

The hardness in his eyes diluted with confusion. "What?"

DeLeon sighed, looked at me, then back at Sanchez like a mother with strained patience. "I might have to shake your hand later, Anthony, and I know where it's been. Go back and wash your hands."

He stared at DeLeon, then at the bathroom door. Then he went back in. This time we heard water running. The shudder of pipes as the faucet shut off. The printing-press sound of the towel roll dispenser being pulled down to fresh cloth. Our deputy guard looked at the floor, shook his head, muttered something about a waste of time.

Sanchez came back out. He showed DeLeon his clean hands, the webbing between his fingers still glistening with water and soap foam. He looked at DeLeon with intense curiosity, as if he was really interested in what she'd say. "Okay." She started to lead us back down the hall, then stopped abruptly, turned back, and almost ran into Sanchez. "You want a Snickers?"

Sanchez hesitated, shook his head cautiously.

"No?" DeLeon looked at me with the same question, but her eyes were giving me a dead courtesy, an act. I shook my head.

She tried again with Sanchez. "Peanuts? M&M's? You got to be hungry."