- The Last King of Texas
Sanchez wavered. "Peanuts."
DeLeon held out her hand to the deputy and tapped her fingertips against her palm. The deputy grumbled, then fished around in his pockets until he came up with some quarters. DeLeon bought Sanchez some peanuts.
We walked back down the hall and into the homicide division. As we passed Hernandez's office a new, calmer conversation was taking place inside — Hernandez, Kelsey, Canright. The three men's eyes fixed on us like sniper sites as we walked past. They noticed the peanuts.
When we got to the interrogation room, DeLeon waved Sanchez and me inside. She told the deputy to stay by the door.
The room was the size of a closet, walls painted the same homicide gray as outside. There were two hardwood chairs and a little desk with a computer terminal, some manila folder files, a tape recorder. Zeta Sanchez sat in one chair. At DeLeon's insistence I took the other, next to the terminal. My chair had one leg that was slightly shorter than the others. When I moved it went bimp-bump like a wooden heartbeat.
Sanchez strained his wrists against the plastic cuffs, trying to get some circulation. With difficulty he opened his peanuts and emptied the bag into his mouth.
DeLeon reached over and punched RECORD on the cassette machine. She gave today's date and all of our names, then leaned back against the door frame.
"So, where were we?"
Sanchez chewed his peanuts. DeLeon hugged the elbows of her khaki coat, pushing the side of one red pump against the tile floor. I found myself shifting in my uneven chair. Bimp-bump.
Finally Sanchez swallowed. He crumpled his peanut bag, let it drop. "We weren't nowhere."
DeLeon nodded. "That's right. You know who this is here, Anthony?" Sanchez avoided looking at me.
When Sanchez finally met my eyes I tried to suppress any emotion. I went blank, the way I do in tai chi, forcing my thoughts to sink into my diaphragm. Sanchez's eyes were gold. They had an unreal quality to them — a brilliant and completely merciless sheen. I suddenly understood why his old boss Jeremiah would've gifted this man a gold-plated .45.
"This is Dr. Navarre," DeLeon said. "He's the new English professor out at UTSA, replacing Aaron Brandon. I want you to apologize to him."
"You want me to what?"
"Navarre thinks you want to kill him. He's been losing sleep over it. Guy's an English prof — figures you scared one of his predecessors to death already, blasted the second one. He figures you've got a thing against UTSA and now you've got it in for him."
Sanchez's eyes drifted up to the ceiling. The thin beard line around his jaw, trimmed under his chin, looked like some kind of black bird. He had a scar across his neck that I hadn't noticed before — a beige line the texture of jute. His smile started to re-form. He tried to control it, then broke out in a laugh.
He looked at both of us, sharing his cold mirth. "Say what?"
"Apologize for scaring him so bad," DeLeon said. "That's all. Tell him it's okay."
Sanchez shook his head, grinning in a dazed kind of way. "You want me to say I'm sorry. For a bastard I didn't kill."
"You want a lawyer present yet?" DeLeon asked.
"I don't want nothing."
"Just checking. Apologize, Anthony."
He laughed, looked at her for several seconds to see if she would keep the straight face. She did. That just amused him more. He looked at me and his golden eyes sparkled. "Yeah, man. Sorry."
He bent over, the laugh bordering on the hysterical now. He shook for a while, wiped his eyes with the backs of his bound hands.
I sat perfectly still.
"That's fine," DeLeon told him. "Now let's see if we can clear away some of these details, just so Professor Navarre feels better. We've agreed that you didn't kill Aaron Brandon, right?"
Sanchez sat up, laughed a little more.
"Okay. So last night we found a .45 three blocks away from Brandon's house, stuck in a drainage ditch. We got a match to the bullets that killed Aaron Brandon. The gun has one of your thumbprints just inside the revolver chamber. We got a witness who saw you coming out of the Brandons' house the night of the murder, after she heard two shots..."
DeLeon shook her head, like she was annoyed with the evidence, then looked at Sanchez for help. "You make sense of any of that, seeing as you didn't kill anybody?"
His gold eyes kept their amusement. "Nobody saw me there, 'cause I wasn't. You plant a gun, say it's mine — I can't do shit about that."
"It was a revolver, Anthony. A gold-plated revolver."
Sanchez's face darkened. "You fuckers couldn't—"
He stopped himself.
DeLeon waited. "We fuckers couldn't what, Anthony — have that revolver? The one you killed Jeremiah Brandon with six years ago? And why would that be?"
DeLeon stepped over to the table and grabbed a folder, slid a piece of paper out of it and dropped it onto Sanchez's crotch.
"I was wondering why you came back now, Anthony, why you waited so long — at least now we got the answer to that. How was prison in Mexico?"
Sanchez looked down at the discharge document. I could read the words Nuevo Leon, Sistema Penitenciario Federal, Mexican state seals on either side. "I show you sometime," Sanchez offered to DeLeon.
"That throat-slitting just about heal, did it? I hear the other guy looked even worse."
Sanchez just smiled.
DeLeon retrieved the paper with two fingers, slid it back into the folder, and tossed it onto the table. "Why'd you go to Hector Mara's, Anthony?"
Sanchez licked his lips. "We're friends, man. Old compadres."
"And relatives. Oh, sorry. Ex-relatives. I mean, until that little thing between your wife and Jeremiah Brandon. What was her name — Sandra? What is that legally, when your wife skips town because she's been sleeping with your boss, then you go and kill the boss? Does that constitute a legal divorce?"
Sanchez's neck muscles worked into knots, but he said nothing.
"You knew we'd be looking for you, Anthony, right? Even before you killed Aaron. Why stay with your old buddy Hector, visit your old hangouts, talk to old friends like you've been doing? Why keep such a high profile?"
"Just wanted to settle some things, man. That's all."
"Like killing the Brandons?"
Sanchez didn't respond.
"Hey, Anthony, you know, I'd like to think you weren't stupid. I'd like to think you didn't shoot Aaron Brandon. I really would. I mean it's embarrassing — using a weapon you fucking well know will get traced back to you, ditching it so sloppy, leaving a witness. I'd like to think somebody set you up for this to get you out of circulation — somebody who's been holding on to your gun all this time and found it a lot easier to shoot an English teacher than to shoot you. Tell me that's the way it is, Anthony. Maybe I can help."
"Fuck you, missy."
"You're not helping me believe you're smart, Anthony. You shot a cop when we tried to bring you in. Even without the Aaron Brandon murder, you're not making much of a show for brains."
"I hear that fat fuck Gerson's voice, I'm gonna empty a few clips at him. That's the smart thing."
DeLeon held up her hands in exasperation. "You're not helping at all, Anthony. Look at Dr. Navarre — he's practically peeing in his pants."
Sanchez looked at me and we locked eyes a second too long. There was nothing I could do about it. The signal went out. A moment of clear, silent hostility passed between us as hotly charged and unintentional as a thousand-volt arc through a squirrel.
Detective DeLeon tried to get his attention back. "Yo, Anthony. How did Dr. Brandon get dead with your gun if you didn't kill him?"
Reluctantly, Sanchez's eyes drifted away from mine. "No mas, missy. That's all I'm saying."
"You were set up?"
Sanchez shook his head noncommittally.
"But you're innocent."
"Fuckin' A, missy. Por vida."
"Well shit." She looked at me. "So they're going to put Mr. Sanchez away for murder — but I can't tell you for sure he's the man that killed your predecessor. Might still be somebody out there, laughing their ass off that Mr. Sanchez was willing to take the rap. Sorry, Dr. Navarre. Conclusion of interview."
She reached over to the machine, punched STOP.
"That it?" Sanchez asked.
DeLeon nodded. "Why're you letting them do this to you, Anthony?"
Sanchez brushed his fingers over the stitches on his busted lip. "I ain't letting nobody do shit." He focused on me again. "So you a professor?"
He grinned. "You know how they say, you got blood on your hands once you kill somebody?"
"I know how they say that. Yeah."
"Let me see your hands."
It would've been a mistake to look at DeLeon. Or to hesitate. Never mind that we were in the middle of SAPD with an armed guard outside and Sanchez in plastic cuffs. The moment was dangerous.
I extended my right hand. Sanchez took it, turned it over, traced my life line. My skin crawled. His thumb was warm and callused and his frayed cuticle scraped against my palm. The fingers of his other hand tightened around my knuckles.
"It ain't in the hands." His breath smelled of peanuts. "You kill somebody, it shows in your eyes — eyes like you got. You really scared of me, Professor?" He moved quick. Almost too quick. His cuffed hands clamped on my wrist like a vise grip and yanked me down, my face toward his head. If I'd tried to pull back I would've gotten a broken nose. Instead I dropped sideways out of my chair, flipping Sanchez over me in a somersault. He tumbled, slammed into DeLeon's legs, and I back-fisted Sanchez's busted mouth with my free hand as he went down.
I got up slowly. DeLeon had Sanchez's neck in a lock. The deputy was there, his gun in Zeta's face.
Sanchez had trouble coughing with his jaw clamped shut. A long string of saliva and blood swung from his lip.
DeLeon moved away while the guard pulled Sanchez roughly to his feet. Sanchez managed a grin. "Feel good, puhfeffoh? Tell them they ain't getting shit from me, okay? You tell them."
The guard dragged Sanchez out of the room, the felon's mouth a bloody, smiling piece of wreckage.
DeLeon sighed wearily as the door clicked closed. She rubbed the side of her face. "Thanks."
"That was more than they got out of him in twelve hours yesterday. He needed an audience, someone to show off for. For him, that interview was a major success."
I looked at the back of my hand, where Zeta's saliva was still wet, matting my hair to the skin in dark slick triangles that smelled of peanuts and blood. My skin crawled. I felt as if I'd just gotten a big sloppy lick from a mastiff who could just as easily have ripped my throat out.
"Happy to help," I told DeLeon.
"You got evidence," Assistant D.A. Canright said. "Solid witness, ballistics, prints. You got a suspect any jury in their right minds would convict. You did great, Ana, okay? Be happy."
DeLeon did not look happy.
I was sitting at a desk about fifteen feet away, pretending I wasn't paying attention and still needed to be there with the ice pack on my hand. Lieutenant Hernandez had met my eyes several times, but I think he was already so disgusted with me he'd stopped caring.