"Should be fun."

"You and DeLeon used to date, or what?"

Ralph took one last hit from his joint, then pinched the end out with his fingers. "How you getting around town these days, vato?"

I pointed to George's red Barracuda.

Ralph put on his glasses, then nodded approval. "Step up. George would appreciate you keeping her company."

"George would shit."

Ralph chuckled. "We meet at the Boots, say four o'clock?"

"I've got classes. Let's make it five-thirty. And you didn't answer my question."

"Tell Kelly good-bye from me, vato. And you understand, you get to hold her hand today only. After that, I got to kill you."

I looked into those Coke-bottle lenses for a few uncomfortable decades before Ralph said, "Kidding, vato. I'm kidding."

The tone of his voice did not comfort me at all.

He went out to his maroon Cadillac, whistling something that sounded oddly like a funeral dirge.


I was two-for-two at walking into class without lesson plans. I hoped that passing back the essays would make up for it, especially since I'd asked my grad seminar to be ready to discuss three Marie de France lais that I hadn't read in ten years.

Passing back the papers took all of five minutes. Everybody got a B and nobody had any questions. Then I was stuck in front of my eight favorite people with absolutely no clue what to do next.

They'd all come back for more — Sergeant Irwin; Gregory the mail boy; Brian the businessman; Edie and Marfa; the Morticia Addams drag queen; the grunge twins Simon and Blake. None of them had dropped the class. They'd even brought their Marie de France books with them. Shit.

And of course, my department head Professor David Mitchell had come to observe the class. Double shit.

I resorted to that ploy of the desperate — small group work. I broke the class into pairs and had them talk to each other about the lais — to compare Guigemar and Lanval to Bisclavret and look at attitudes toward women in the three stories. Hardly original, but hey.

I circulated from group to group, listening, occasionally asking a question. I hoped that the tightness in my face would be mistaken for keen academic interest rather than weariness and anger and the intense desire to throw up.

Every once in a while I'd sneak a look at Dr. Mitchell in the back of the room. His face was alert, his dress clothes ironed, silver hair neatly combed. Each time he caught my eye he smiled encouragingly, then looked down, frowned, and scribbled something in his notepad.

After milking the group discussion trick for about twenty minutes I got the class back together and acted as scribe for their ideas on the blackboard. I drew bubbles and lines and tried desperately to remember the spelling for misogyny. I am, unfortunately, only a mediocre speller, to the complete glee of everyone who knows I hold a Berkeley Ph.D. in English. I long for a blackboard with a spell checker.

"She's a schemer," Gregory told me. "Woman is a schemer."

I tried to spell schemer. "Why?"

"Jeez — the way the women trick their men. I mean even in Lanval and Guigemar, it's the woman who manipulates. Especially in Bisclavret." Morticia Addams rolled his/her eyes. "Not that damn werewolf story again. You think that chick was wrong? Like, what would you do if you found out your husband ran off into the woods and turned into a wolf every night?"

I was secretly thinking Morticia might find it cool, but I didn't say anything. I waved my chalk invitingly. "Any response to that?"

The businessman's cell phone rang. He muted it and smiled at me apologetically.

Sergeant Irwin sat forward. "I think we've talked about Bisclavret enough. A woman finds out her man's secret, uses that power to destroy him. End of story."

I widened my eyes. "It is?"

Edie looked up from her knitting needles. Her yarn today was powder-blue. "I felt sorry for the wolf."

She looked at Marfa, who nodded sympathetically. "Poor wolf has his clothes stolen, has to stay out in the woods, the faithless wife goes and marries someone else."

I turned and wrote faithless on the board. "Can you relate to her desire for a more... human husband?"

Marfa frowned at her knitting. "I suppose."

"Nothing excuses her betrayal," Sergeant Irwin insisted.

I looked at Professor Mitchell. He was following the conversation, which was perhaps a good sign. Perhaps not. I asked Simon and Blake, "Do you guys feel sorry for the woman at the end?"

Simon grinned. "Oh, man, the nose thing was tight."

I looked at Professor Mitchell. We'd definitely lost him.

I gestured at my class. "Somebody want to recap the nose thing?"

Gregory raised his hand. "The werewolf is saved by the king and kept as a pet. The wife and her new husband come visit the king and Bisclavret recognizes her. He can't talk so he bites her nose off, kills her new husband, leaves her offspring bearing noseless children for the rest of time."

Blake made a fist. "Totally tight."

"The wife reneged on her marriage commitment," the sergeant said. "She was the villain. She got punished, Bisclavret got his humanity back. Happy ending."

"From the wolf's point of view," Morticia said.

Sergeant Irwin shrugged. "You cross a wild animal, you get what you're asking for."

"Anybody else feel sorry for the wife?" I asked.

Apparently nobody did. I steered the conversation back to Lanval and Guigemar, took some more notes on the manipulativeness of women, tried to avoid gagging.

Then, hoping to balance things out, I gave a little lecture on the theory of women as the "fourth estate" — on the woman's voicelessness in medieval society and the ways a woman writer might subtly combat that problem. I got blank looks from Simon and Blake and Brian. A suspicious scowl from Sergeant Irwin. Edie and Marfa didn't take any notes but they did manage to finish knitting two booties.

Finally, mercifully, the period was up. We agreed to continue the discussion on Monday and the class filed out.

Professor Mitchell smiled at me. "Do you have a minute, Tres?"


Actually I had fifteen. Which I desperately needed to use getting ready for the undergrad Chaucer class, but I sat down next to Mitchell.

"That seemed to go well," he said.

"Oh — thanks."

"Getting Brandon's papers back to them quickly was an excellent idea."

"I'm a pretty fast grader. You know — the throw-them-down-the-stairs method."

Mitchell nodded absently. He was drawing little circles on the corner of his notes.

"I was kidding," I added.

He looked up, his focus a hundred miles off. Then he came back to the present and smiled. "Of course."

"Was there something else?"

Professor Mitchell's eyes tightened at the corners. "I heard on the news about Mr. Berton. Is he—"

 "He's stable. He's got friends with him around the clock. That's about all we can do for now."

"I'm sorry. It makes it hard for me to say—"

"That the University wants to terminate the investigation?"

Mitchell twirled his pencil. "How would you feel if that were so, Tres?"

"It's understandable. Would Erainya have a few more days to finish up on some loose ends?"

Mitchell let his shoulders relax slightly. "I'll arrange it with the provost."

"Good enough."

Some of the heaviness lifted from his face. He pointed toward my brainstorming on the blackboard. "How is the teaching going so far? How do you feel?"

I wanted to answer like shit, but instead I heard myself say, "I'm enjoying it. It's a change of pace, a way to exercise a different part of myself for a while."

I think Mitchell was surprised and pleased by my answer. Not half as surprised as I was — especially when I realized that I meant it. At some level, I was enjoying it. For a few moments in there, I'd actually managed to get into the technicalities of Marie de France, of sexism and romance in the 1200s. It had momentarily let me forget about George Berton.

"They say a change is as good as a rest," Mitchell offered.

"But not as good as a beer."

The old man laughed. "When this term is done, son, when the grades are in — I'm buying."

The offer warmed me, made me feel almost confident in my new position.

Then Mitchell got up, patted me on the shoulder, and leaned closer to my ear.

"But son, you misspelled commitment. Things like that count. I'll see you Monday."

He left me staring at commitment, wishing not for the first time in my life that the damn C word would just go away.


The Bexar County Jail/Sheriff's Department complex sits just north of the Commerce Street Bridge, its back to the railroad tracks and its face to the West Side.

If the cons ever got to look out the arrow-slit windows of the upper stories, they'd see the parallel one-way streets of Commerce and Buena Vista stretching west, through two miles of the worst heroin dealing and prostituting and gang-banging in the city. In other words, they'd see home. Commerce-Buena Vista was a conveyor belt, moving people from street to jail to street in regular, recursive cycles. Plenty of men spent their whole lives on that two-mile path. I parked in the empty visitors' lot and looked up at the huge orange block of jailhouse. Different levels of roof were topped with black mesh boxes — workout areas for the prisoners. The sounds from up in the blocks were high-pitched and echoey and unreal, like some kind of gigantic aviary.

I went through the north entrance, past the metal detector into the sheriffs office foyer where I'd spent a lot of time playing as a kid.

Finding a deputy who knew me and would arrange a visit with Zeta Sanchez was no problem. Finding a deputy who thought it was a good idea would've been impossible.

I was led through the silvery bulletproofed doors into the sheriffs offices — hallways filled with men in soft uniform jeans and blue polo shirts, the sounds of phones and printers and fax machines.

Past the guards' entrance to the jail, I stopped at the desk so another deputy could go over my clothes with a metal detector wand.

The security doors clanked open. We passed down a long hallway, glassed-in guard stations at every intersection, then left into the visiting area. The room was bisected by a Plexiglas wall that cut through the center of a long wooden table. The table was marked off into three sections by black tape, black letters on the Plexiglas above. My guard escort waved me toward "B," then left.

I was the only person in the room.

I sat down and studied the empty chair across from mine.

I'd just about memorized it when Zeta Sanchez was buzzed through on the opposite side.

Some people look like walking corpses after one night in jail. Then there are people like Sanchez, who actually seem to thrive on incarceration — who look more robust in prison than they ever did out in the real world. Jail is a world guys like Sanchez engineered, one that fits their sensibilities.

His ponytail had been shorn off and the hair that was left had been combed back and oiled. His once-thin line of beard had spread like watercolor ink across his cheeks and neck.

He sat down in front of me, his eyes a brilliant gold. His mouth was still swollen and stitched, but he managed a smile. He looked like a man who had just punked his cellmate out of smokes and dessert and was looking forward to more fun after dinnertime.