Hernandez nodded almost imperceptibly, then looked at DeLeon. "There was an aggravated assault case about the time you transferred out to sex crimes, Detective. Local crackhead had been terrorizing a neighborhood of senior citizens over by Jefferson. Everybody knew who was doing it, nobody would testify. Along toward Christmas, this crackhead got a little too excited, beat an old lady almost to death. Again, nobody would testify, nobody saw anything. Then, a week later, said crackhead is found with two broken arms, hanging duct-taped upside down from a railroad crossing gate on Zarzamora. He's about half dead, eyes pounded so bad he looks like a raccoon. We cut him down. He gives a full confession for the assault on the old lady, says please will we put him in jail and let him give some money to the victim's family. Real heartwarming. He also refuses to ID his attacker, so we know we got a vigilante out there. A couple of interesting names came up in the case. Some Christmas cards and goodies from that neighborhood got mailed to an interesting address on Queen Anne Street — jam, preserves, fruitcakes."

"Jellied fruits," I added.

"Jellied fruits," Hernandez agreed. He clamped a very strong hand on my shoulder and didn't seem to mind at all that he was stopping my blood flow. "So what I'm saying here, Mr. Navarre, is, things change. Friends move on, the paperwork keeps coming across my desk, favors get depleted, my patience gets thin. You understanding me here?"

"Clear as Cuervo," I promised.

"Outstanding. I hope the rest of the semester goes well for you, Professor."

Hernandez gave my shoulder one more crush, nodded to DeLeon, and went to see about the media who were gathering outside the police tape by the elevator. The other way down the hall, the bomb squad was still hanging out, drinking Dr Peppers, talking about the length of their respective pipe bombs and TNT Ping-Pong balls and occasionally weaving in references to DeLeon's legs and her probable lingerie preferences.

"First case?" I asked her.

It took DeLeon a few seconds to focus on me. "I worked agg. assault for a year, Mr. Navarre. Sex crimes for two. I've seen plenty."

"First time primary on a homicide?"

Her jaw tightened.

"Hell of a case to cut your teeth on," I agreed.

"Don't patronize me."

I held up my hands. Even that much movement made the soreness in my left arm flare. "Kelsey seems pretty sure the Feds will take a pass."

She stared down the hallway. "Like I said, Mr. Navarre, you've got no special privileges."

"He mentioned somebody named Sanchez. Who would that be?"

DeLeon almost smiled, thought better of it. "I'll see you around, Mr. Navarre."

The paramedic got up, began packing his kit, and said he should be getting me to the hospital. DeLeon nodded.

She turned toward the bomb-squad guys, who were still leering at her, then took something from her blazer.

She hefted the thing in her hand for a split second — long enough for the bomb squad to register what it was and notice that its weight was too heavy, but not long enough for them to rationalize that DeLeon wasn't really that insane. I'll be damned if I know where she got the Ping-Pong ball, or what she'd filled it with. Maybe she'd lifted it from the student rec center when she went to wash up. Maybe she'd been carrying it in her pocket for months for just such an occasion. Police are nothing if not resourceful.

DeLeon said, "Hey, Hills, catch."

Then she did a fast underhand pitch at the chest of the blond sergeant. You've never seen a bomb squad scatter with so little room to maneuver and so much Dr Pepper spraying into the air. The Ping-Pong ball hit Sergeant Hills in the chest and bounced harmlessly to the floor.

Hills' face went the color of chalk dust as he looked up at DeLeon. "You crazy fucking bitch."

His fingers splayed open. A large Dr Pepper stain was seeping into his crotch and down his left thigh.

DeLeon responded so softly you almost had to read her lips. She said, "Boom."

Then she turned and walked steadily down the hall, toward the news camera lights.


By the time I got to Erainya Manos' office, the codeine Tylenol from the Methodist Hospital was working fine. My face had softened to the consistency of tofu and I could only feel my feet because in my VW convertible, I can feel everything.

I pulled into the strip mall on Blanco and 410 and found the nearest empty space, thirty yards down from Erainya's office. The agency itself is never busy, but it's wedged between a Greek restaurant and a leather furniture outlet that both draw good crowds.

On the office door, stenciled letters read:


Inside, George Berton was sitting at his desk. Kelly Arguello was sitting at mine, reading Spin magazine. Between them, blocking the aisle that led back to his mother's command center, Jem Manos was kneeling on the floor, constructing a monstrous triple-decker windmill out of Tinkertoys.

As I walked in, Kelly and George gave me a standing ovation. The phone started ringing.

Behind the huge desk at the back of the office, Erainya said, "Can we answer that?"

From the higher pitch I could tell it was the alternate number, the one Erainya calls her "dupe" line.

As it rang a second time, Jem ran up and grabbed my fingers and told me he was glad I hadn't exploded. He tugged me toward his windmill.

Kelly and George started barraging me with questions.

When the phone rang a third time, Erainya stood and yelled at us across the room. "What — you people can't hear?"

Everyone fell silent. Kelly went back to my desk. George went to his and checked the Caller ID display. Jem pulled me toward his Tinkertoys.

On the fourth ring, George waved to Erainya, warmed up his fingers, then picked up the receiver with a flourish. "Pro Fidelity Credit — Collections — Samuelson."

He listened, looked up at me, winked. "Yes, that is correct."

George leaned back. Two wide vertical stripes ran down his golf shirt and made his flat upper body look like a bike lane. He nudged his Panama hat farther up his forehead.

I'd developed this theory about Berton — the white leather shoes, pencil mustache, Panama hat, Bryl-ed hair. I suspected George only worked at the turn of the twenty-first century. Each evening he secretly teleported back home to 1962.

"Yes," he continued. "We can verify that. Let me transfer you to Mrs. Donovan."

He punched a button, held up a finger.

Erainya said, "Go, already."

The phone on her desk rang. Erainya answered in a voice that sounded ten years younger and half as testy. "Donovan. Yes, Mr. LaFlore. I have it right here. Yes. We were interested in seeing if he'd been the same sort of problem for you. Frankly, we're considering a lien."

She then sat back and proceeded to get some poor schmuck's credit history. Jem whispered to me about his Tinkertoys. Apparently I'd been wrong about them being a windmill. He was trying for a perpetual motion engine.

"Where'd you learn that?" I demanded.

Jem grinned up at me. Erainya hadn't cut his hair in a month, so his silky black bangs hung in his eyes like a Muppet's.

"Secret," he said.

Jem is advanced for a five-year-old. Erainya thinks he'll do great next fall in kindergarten. I think he'd do great next fall at MIT if they had a better playground.

George logged in some paperwork. I sat on the edge of my desk and looked at Kelly Arguello. She'd gone back to reading her Spin. Her hair was purple-tinted this week, tied back in a ponytail. She was wearing white denim cutoffs and white Adidas with ankle socks and an extra-large black T-shirt that read LIBERTY LUNCH in reggae colors.

Kelly never dresses to show off, but you can't help noticing her swimmer's figure. Even in an oversized shirt and old cutoffs, she has the kind of smoothly muscled body that George, a shamelessly dirty old man, likes to call "Padre Island Spring Break contest-winning material."

Kelly looked over the top of her magazine at me. Her eyes are beer-bottle brown. She focused on my stitched cheek, then wrinkled her nose. "You smell like you're still on fire."

Berton laughed as loudly as he dared. Any more volume and Erainya would've thrown a crisscross directory at his head. I speak from experience. "Always nice to have your coworkers' sympathies."

"We're glad you're okay," George assured me. "Tell us about it."

I told them about the bomb, about Detective DeLeon, and about my decision to accept the UTSA job.

"Instead of P.I. work?" Kelly asked.

"In addition to. Erainya seems to think I can make her money at two jobs now."

" Professor Tres ?"

"Be nice to me, impudent one. Soon I will have access to grades for the entire UT system." I did the mad scientist finger-wiggle in her face.

She said, "Bullshit."

Law students. No sense of fear.

Kelly had been taking classes up at UT Austin this semester on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Tuesdays and Thursdays she'd been driving down to San Antonio to help at Erainya's office. My bright idea. UT was giving her credit for it — legal-related fieldwork.

It wouldn't have been a bad arrangement except Kelly's Uncle Ralph thought I was doing him a favor by being Kelly's big brother. Uncle Ralph has a variety of sawed-off double-barrel weapons that I try not to get on the receiving end of. Kelly, for her part, doesn't always buy into the "big brother" scenario.

Back at her desk, Erainya was still playing Ms. Donovan, bemoaning the state of the personal-insurance industry with some cherished colleague.

"I know," Erainya consoled. "They might as well rob us at gunpoint."

"Gunpoint," George Berton whispered. "That's good."

Erainya glared over at Berton, twisted her fingers upward in a gesture I could only assume had highly negative connotations in Greece.

George grinned, looked back at me. "She's sending me after your terrorist, you know."


"Whoever. Your death-threat writer. Should be fun."

I studied him to see if he was serious, if he felt at all nervous about tracking down someone who pipe-bombed offices and shot holes in English professors. George had dealt with worse, I knew. He'd done a couple of tours with the Air Force Special Police in Saudi Arabia in the eighties. During the Gulf War he'd been standing just outside the bunker in Bahrain when an Iraqi missile blew it to hell. After Berton returned stateside and tested for his P.I. license, his wife had been killed in some kind of camping accident, leaving George ownership of her small title company and a rather sizable life insurance policy. For the past seven years, George had worked investigations only when he felt like it — usually for Erainya, tracking down skips on the West Side when it was clear Erainya and I couldn't get to them ourselves.

In San Antonio, that happened a lot. Anglo investigators could go through the Latino side of town, offering reward money for locating an heir to a big estate, and they'd come up with nothing. Flip it around — a Latino working the white neighborhoods, same thing. You do P.I. work in S.A., you learn quickly you'd better have a partner on the other side. George Berton was one of the best.

"You know where you'll start?" I asked him.