"You fucking better know I'm not."

"Because I could sympathize. It was hard getting Jem here today, too, Mrs. Brandon. You know where he and I were last night? You remember that man I asked you about — the one you didn't know, Hector Mara? He went over to my friend's house last night. Good friend of mine — George Berton. The two of them were talking, probably about your husband's murder, when somebody came in and shot them both."

Ines' face had turned chalky. "I don't..."

She took a step sideways toward a small live oak tree and steadied herself against the trunk.

"Mara's dead," I told her. "My friend's not quite — yet. Jem, his mom, and I walked in right after the shootings, stayed at the scene until almost two."

"What do you want me to say?" Ines asked me harshly. "That I'm sorry?"

"Somebody with a .357 put my friend into a coma. That person is still out there."

"I didn't ask your friend to get involved, Mr. Navarre. Or you, for that matter."

"That's right. You're right. Forget the shootings are connected to your husband's murder. I don't know why I thought you'd care."

"Don't you dare presume to know what I care about."

"Look, Ines—"

"Go away, goddamn you. Leave Michael and me alone."

I pinched the bridge of my nose, tried to remember I didn't have a reason to be arguing with this woman. "I need some help."

"I don't want any part of it."

"My guess is that your brother-in-law Del is behind the shootings somehow. He and a heroin dealer named Chich Gutierrez. You're telling me you wouldn't like a chance to nail Del Brandon?"

"I can't help."

Mrs. T. rang a handbell. Kids dropped off playground equipment and started forming lines in front of the classroom doors. Jem was in the middle, walking with his fingers pinched to the shirt of the boy in front of him. The teacher glanced uneasily in our direction one more time, then followed her charges inside.

"The kids get out at one-thirty," I told Ines. "What are you doing until then?" She was silent, her lips thin and angry.

"You have other plans?"

"The move—"

"Yeah," I said. "Michael's room. Come with me instead. Help me dredge my car out of the river."

She stared at me, then laughed uneasily. "What?"

"You heard me. How often do you get an offer like that?"

Her mouth quivered, formed a fragile smile. "I don't even like you."

"So come watch me be humiliated. It'll be a blast."

She looked down toward the street, her mouth hardening again. "Would we be even?"


"You drove me home from Aaron's office Wednesday. If I drive you today, would we be even?"

She held out her hand. I shook it.

"Charm and diplomacy win again," I said.

"That," Ines Brandon said, "and the fact I never want to owe you anything, Mr. Navarre. Never."

Then she turned and started down the sidewalk toward her car, leaving me to follow or not.


"At least your VW knew when to quit," Ozzie Gerson said.

We were standing in the drainage channel on the banks of the river, watching the tow-truck guys connect their winch hooks to the carcass of my VW. Ines Brandon sat nearby on the hood of Ozzie's police unit.

The VW lay on its back, half submerged, bashed to hell on the passenger's side and smeared with toilet paper and river garbage. During the night some adventurous kids had come by and spray-painted PUTA!! in white across the VW's exposed underbelly. Whore. The final indignity to an old, unappreciated


Up on the rim of the ditch I could see the flattened section of guardrail the Bug had smashed through, the path of destruction it had made rolling down the muddy slope through the bushes. The chaparral I'd been thrown into was about thirty feet from the first point of impact on the slope. I was trying to figure out

how I'd ended up there in one piece.

"You got lucky." Ozzie's pale blue eyes were cold with anger and frustration. "Luckier than Berton, anyway."

"You offered to help," I reminded Ozzie. "I need to know where to find Chich Gutierrez."

The mechanics attached the first hook to the VW's fender and pulled the line tight. Metal groaned. I think maybe I did, too.

Gerson lifted his left arm stiffly, testing the muscles. The bandages under his uniform shirt crinkled. "You sure that's your job — taking revenge?"

"Anything I needed, you said."

"I don't want you getting killed on my watch, Tres. Your father'd haunt me forever."

The tow-truck guys started their winch motor. More groaning metal. The motor bellowed like a wounded sea lion but made no discernible progress getting the VW out of the muck.

"Tell me everything," Ozzie said.

I told him about the SWAT raid at Hector Mara's house; the George Berton cigar wrapper in Sandra's closet; the white van I'd chased down Riverside. I told him, too, about Ray Lozano's read of the crime scene at Palo Blanco.

"George found out something about the Brandon murder," I said. "Something that bothered him enough to try solving it quietly, on his own. He talked to Hector Mara at the Poco Mas on Wednesday. Then he had another meeting with Mara last night. He and Hector were coming to some kind of agreement. I don't know what it was, but George intended to have the case wrapped up with Mara's help by the time Erainya and I showed. The guys in the white van didn't let it happen."

Ozzie moved his arm again, swore softly. "If George was trying to get Hector Mara to sell out Chich Gutierrez, you can bet Chich would get wind of it. Chich would've had men shadowing Hector. They would've seen him go into George's house and known it was time to hit."

We were back where we started. "So where do I find Chich?"

"Leave that to SAPD. You gave them enough to work with, kid. Don't repeat George's mistakes."

I looked over at Ines, her arms hugging her chocolate-and-beige coat. The wind coming down the drainage ditch made her red hair flicker.

"Aaron Brandon's widow?" Ozzie asked me.

"We met by accident."

"The lady doesn't belong here. And you're not in any shape to be helping each other."

"The lady doesn't want any part of the investigation."

Ozzie nodded, eyes still on Ines. "She's the smart one, then. You been to see George yet?"

"I'm supposed to go this evening."

"I just called the hospital an hour ago," Ozzie said. "His left lung was removed."

"He'll make it."

"A ventilator's breathing for his right lung. He's got a fever from the infection and the antibiotics can't kick it. He's dying, kid."

"He'll make it," I repeated.

Ozzie gave me a weary look. "There's one more thing I thought I'd tell you. I'm resigning from the department."

The winch motor cut off. The VW hadn't budged. The tow-truck guys broke out a pack of cigarettes and stared resentfully at the VWs underbelly as they lit up.

"Early retirement for disability," Ozzie continued. "Half pension." He raised the arm. "The doctor's pressuring me about this. I'm beginning to think he's got a point."

"That's not how you felt yesterday."

"Yesterday was a long time ago, in a comfortable bed. This thing with George, after me getting shot the same week... I started thinking about me and Audrey in Cancun, how we could be there sipping margaritas this time next week. We both got a little money saved up. It's starting to sound real good, kid. What'd you think old Sheriff Navarre would say?"

"You got an extra seat on the plane?'"

Ozzie laughed.

One of the mechanics yelled to him to come help with the cables.

"Idiots should've brought a mobile crane," Ozzie grumbled. "When I get this heap of yours out of the river, kid, I'm slapping a big-ass ticket on the windshield."

"There is no windshield."

Ozzie muttered some more colorful observations about life, then walked down to the tow truck.

I picked my way downstream to Ines.

"Your friend doesn't like me," she said.

"He likes you fine. He thinks you're the smart one."


"Sure. Compared to me."

Ines gazed up at the flattened section of guardrail. In full daylight, the tiny scar on the bridge of her nose was whiter. I found myself wondering how she'd broken it, how she'd look without that slight bend.

She said, "Mr. Navarre—"


She paused, seemed to be mentally tasting my name. I guess it didn't taste that good. "Mr. Navarre. I've already told you. I can't help you."

"The dead man I told you about, Hector Mara, the fact that he might've known your brother-in-law Del — that doesn't bother you?"

"Hostia! Everything about my ex-brother-in-law bothers me. Talking about him doesn't help."

She pulled herself up onto the hood of the police car, crossed her legs at the ankles. Peeking out the tips of her cord sandals were scarlet toenails, with flesh-colored smiles around the cuticles where the nails had started to grow out. I tried to imagine what color Ana DeLeon would paint her toenails. Steel-gray? Black?

I mentally slapped myself. "The first time we spoke, you recognized Hector Mara's name."

Ines' fingertip inscribed something in slow cursive on the hood of the car. She stared down resentfully at her own invisible message. "I suppose if I denied that—"

"I'd only wonder why you were lying."

A sour smile. "It would never occur to you that I'm lying because I hate you, would it?"

"Never in a million years."

"I remembered the name," Ines conceded. "Aaron mentioned Hector Mara once, in a phone argument he was having with Del. Months ago, before we moved to San Antonio. I don't remember the context."

"Did you know Aaron in the spring of '93?"

She scowled. "What does that... You mean when Aaron's father was killed?"


She started to ask a question, then apparently changed her mind. Her eyes refocused on the rim of the basin. "I'd come up from Del Rio in fall '92. To enroll at Our Lady of the Lake. It was my first semester."

"Aaron Brandon's first semester teaching there."

"I was in his undergraduate class. We... started having a relationship."

"And Our Lady of the Lake didn't renew his contract."

"Not because of me. Aaron was struggling. He didn't have any confidence. To tell the truth, he wasn't a very good teacher. Halfway through the spring semester, he knew the university wasn't going to ask him back. Aaron wanted to give up, go crawling back to his father for a job at RideWorks. I couldn't just watch Aaron give up and go back to the family business. I convinced him to stay with his teaching, to take another job for the following year even though it wasn't the best—"

"At Permian Basin."

She nodded. "In April, I found out I was pregnant with Michael. That's why we got married."

"In Laredo?"

One sandaled foot kicked me not-so-gently on the thigh. "What did you do, P.I. — ferret out my marriage certificate?"