- The Last King of Texas
DeLeon said, "I want to follow up."
Canright ran skinny white fingers through his red hair, shot a look at Hernandez. "Am I not being clear? Ana, honey, am I not being clear?"
"My last name is DeLeon."
Canright made a cup with his hands. "This guy shot an innocent man in his home, Ana. A college professor, husband, father. Then he shot a cop. I don't need a 'why' to nail his ass in court. You took him down. Your first homicide case — you did great. Now it's mine."
"Let me explain it another way, sir." DeLeon took her notepad and pen from her overcoat. She wrote as she said, "I'm. Not. Done. Honey."
She underlined the words, tore off the sheet, and tried to tuck it into Canright's coat.
The ADA stepped back, brushing her hand away. "All right, Ana. That's it. That's it."
"Detective," Hernandez intervened. "You're up for cold-case duty. Starting Monday we rotate you in for three months. Between now and then you should get some rest."
Hernandez turned toward Kelsey, who was leaning against a nearby partition. "Take care of what Mr. Canright needs for court. Follow up."
Kelsey smiled. "My pleasure." He drifted back toward his cubicle. Canright nodded with dry approval. He turned to say something else to DeLeon, probably something appeasing.
Lieutenant Hernandez said, "Good-bye, Mr. Canright. We'll keep you apprised."
Canright closed his mouth, nodded. When he got to the doorway he couldn't stand it. He turned and called, "You did an excellent job, Ana, honey. I mean that."
The homicide office sucked up the sound of his voice. Everything returned to quiet neutral gray as soon as the door swung closed.
DeLeon crumpled her note and dropped it at Hernandez's feet.
"Ana," Hernandez said, "they want a quick resolution. They smell blood. You're a district attorney, you don't see a two-plus-two case like this and beat your head against a wall trying to figure out how you can make it come up five."
"God damn it, Lieutenant—"
"You don't wait for the media to tear you apart for inaction. You prosecute."
"It's incomplete. Canright knows it. You know it."
"It's open-and-shut. Even if it wasn't — you really want to fight for a douche bag like Sanchez?"
She turned to go.
Hernandez said, "Wait."
DeLeon looked back at him icily.
"Between now and Monday, you get no new cases. I stand by what I said — Monday it's the cold squad, before then it's some rest. That doesn't preclude wrapping up your present caseload. As long as it's low-key and quick. Not too taxing on you. I want you fresh for Monday. You understand me?"
The intensity in DeLeon's eyes eased up a bit. "Yes, sir."
"Discreet. Low-key. Nothing that might give Mr. Canright apoplexy."
DeLeon allowed herself a tired smile. "I understand, Lieutenant."
As DeLeon walked away, Hernandez looked around to see who was watching. He met my eyes again, pretended he hadn't, then returned to his office.
I found DeLeon's cubicle at the end of the room, next to one of the sergeants' offices. The sergeant was apparently on vacation. His glass door was closed, the lights off, a woodcut GONE FISHIN' sign hung over the shade.
DeLeon was sitting in her task chair, the Lands' End trench coat shed over it like melted Swiss, her pumps kicked onto the carpet. She stared momentarily at something taped to her computer screen, then bent forward and buried her face in her forearms.
I leaned against the side of her cubicle.
The back of DeLeon's red dress had unzipped itself about an inch at the collar. Three tiny lines of soft hair ran down her neck from the sharp wedge-cut, like jet trails.
"Buy you some dinner?" I asked.
She opened the top eye and peered at me wearily. "Don't you ever go away?"
She sat up, rubbed her eyes, then refocused on the thing taped to her monitor. It was a Polaroid of a stuffed longhorn doll — Bevo, the UT mascot. An anonymous white male hand was holding the muzzle of a .38 against its head. A little handwritten sign under the longhorn's chin said please MOMMY BRING THEM DOUGHNUTS OR THEY'LL VENTILATE ME!! The writing was intentionally childlike and the bull's goofy cartoon grin didn't fit his predicament. On top of DeLeon's monitor, a circle of dust-free space marked the spot where the longhorn had probably sat.
DeLeon yanked the Polaroid off the computer screen. "Bastards."
"Oh, yeah. Me and the boys — we're tight. We snap each other's butts with towels all the time."
I tried not to picture that. "Be a lot worse if they just ignored you."
"You're just the expert on everything, aren't you, Navarre? You and your friend Mr. Air-Force-Special-Police."
"About last night—"
She began shuffling papers with a vengeance, clearing her in box, taking down little stickie notes and division memos that adorned the fabric walls. As the first layer of paper came down, personal stuff was unearthed — a photo of DeLeon getting awarded her detective's shield, a framed B.S. in criminal justice from UT, a picture of her as an air force cadet.
Two things surprised me. One was a photocopy of a Pablo Neruda love poem, "Te Recuerdo Como Eras." The other was a tiny framed picture of a female police officer who looked like a heavier, lighter-skinned version of Ana DeLeon. By the color of the photo and the style of the woman's hair and uniform, I placed the photo circa 1975.
DeLeon glanced at it, then shoved another folder across her desk. "Yes."
She kept sorting papers, her eyes glassy.
She glared at me, then pulled a color photo out of a case file and flicked it up at me with two fingers. "This is how okay I am."
All I saw in the photograph at first were glaring browns and reds. Then my mind made sense of the shapes and I pulled back, repulsed. It was a young child, African American, murdered and displayed in a way my mind comprehended but refused to process into complete thoughts.
She slid the picture back into the file. "Good thing I was called away from our wonderful evening. Between the Brandon case and a couple of other things the Night CID couldn't handle I got that lovely call. Girl was three."
I swallowed, closed my eyes. The image wouldn't go away.
"No mystery," DeLeon said. "What was it the lieutenant said, a two plus two? Stepdad was a crack addict. Started yelling at the mom because she was stealing his money. It went downhill from there. Young victims. That's why I got out of sex crimes. Now here I am again — otra vez."
DeLeon focused on her blank computer screen. "So what am I supposed to do? I'm supposed to get things in order and take a couple of days off. Simple."
"Hernandez is in a tough spot. Sure you don't want to catch some dinner?"
"Hernandez does what he can. And yes, I'm sure."
"If you needed a little help on the Sanchez follow-up—"
"I'd what? Share information with you? And every damn private investigator in town would be knocking on my door anytime he needed help. The newspapers would be screaming about how we couldn't handle our own cases. No thanks."
"We want the same answers."
"Great. You find out something on your own, come in and make another statement. That's all you are, Navarre: another witness with a statement."
"That why you brought me into the interrogation room?"
She paused. "It was a gamble."
"Gamble again. I have a friend who might help. People don't like talking to cops, they might talk to my friend."
"I don't like your friend."
"I don't mean George Berton."
"Neither do I. I know about Ralph Arguello."
I'd heard police officers speak Ralph's name many times, never lovingly, but DeLeon's tone held a lot more poison than I would've expected.
"You've had the pleasure of Ralph's acquaintance?"
She shot me another cold look, but underneath something was crumbling, eroding. "Will you get out of here, please?"
"Here's an idea. I'll ask if you're giving me a firm 'no' on poking around about the Brandon murder. You don't respond. I'll take that as a silent, completely off-the-record consent and we'll go from there. I'll keep you posted. So how about it — can I look around on the Brandon murder?"
"You're not getting the subtle innuendo routine, here."
She raised her voice a half octave. "Just go."
"Get some sleep one of these days, okay?"
I left her at her desk, shuffling through files and photos with what looked like aimlessness. A shudder went through my nervous system, the aftershock from the photo of the murdered child. I found myself reviewing lines from the Neruda love poem on DeLeon's cubicle wall, wondering how it had made its way there amid the paperwork of violence — "I Remember You As You Were."
I made a beeline out of the neutral gray and the fluorescents of SAPD homicide, heading toward the outside — toward smells and color and moving time. I wanted to see if it was nighttime yet. I had a feeling it might be.
Drifting along the sidewalk in front of police headquarters was the usual parade of undesirables — cons, thugs, derelicts, undercovers pretending to be derelicts, derelicts pretending to be undercovers pretending to be derelicts.
They collected here each evening for many reasons but hung around for only one. They knew as surely as those little white birds hopping around on the crocodile's back that their very proximity to the mouth of the beast made them safe.
Patrol cars were parked along West Nueva. Inside the barbed wire of the parking lot, in a circle of floodlight, five detectives in crisp white shirts and ties and side arms were having a smoke. Outside the fence a couple of cut-loose dealers were trading plea-bargain stories.
I walked across Nueva to the Dolorosa parking lot, got in the VW, and pulled onto Santa Rosa, heading north. I made the turn onto Commerce by El Mercado, then passed underneath I-10 — over the Commerce Street Bridge, into the gloomy asphalt and stucco and railroad track wasteland of the West Side. Ahead of me, the sunset faded to an afterglow behind palm trees and Spanish billboards. Turquoise and pink walls of icehouses and bail bond offices lost their color. On the broken sidewalks, men in tattered jeans and checkered shirts milled around, their faces drawn from an unsuccessful day of waiting, their eyes examining each car in the fading hope that someone might slow down and offer them work.
I turned north on Zarzamora and found the place where Jeremiah Brandon had died a mile and a half up, squatting between two muddy vacant lots just past Waverly. Patches of blue stucco had flaked off its walls, but the name was still visible in a single red floodlight — POCO MAS — stenciled between two air-conditioner units that hung precariously from the front windows.
The building was tall in front, short in back, with side walls that dropped in sections like a ziggurat. Tejano music seeped through the hammered tin doorway.
Two pickup trucks, a white Chevy van, and an old Ford Galaxie were parked in the gravel front lot. I pulled the VW around the side, into the mud between a Camry with flat tires and a LeBaron with a busted windshield, and hoped I hadn't just discovered the La Brea tar pit of automobiles.