"Professor," he said. "You pulled me out at yard time, man. I was playing some B-ball."

I said, "Hector Mara's dead."

Sanchez's sated expression didn't change. He sat back, crossed his arms.


"My question to you," I said, "is why are you still protecting Del Brandon?"

"I was shooting three-pointers, man. You pull me out for this?"

"Del lied to you, Zeta. There was no affair between Jeremiah Brandon and Sandra. I think you know that now. I think that's why you were asking around about your wife before you got arrested. Hector Mara was going to say something to a friend of mine last night — maybe something about what really happened six years ago. Now Hector's dead and my friend is dying. Chich Gutierrez saw to that."

Sanchez's eyes were gold ice. "I'm listening."

"Del wanted his father out of the picture. He decided he wanted him dead. He gave you the bait about Sandra and you made his kill. Del helped you out of town with a big thank-you handshake and the hope that you'd stay gone forever. Guy with your temper, it was a pretty safe bet you'd end up in prison somewhere. So when you came back, Del got a little nervous. He'd been striking up some business with Hector Mara and one of your old enemies, Chich. None of them were sure they wanted you finding out about that, or asking questions about what really happened to your wife. You wouldn't feel good learning that you'd gone into exile for six years for the murder of an old man who never even touched Sandra. Kind of make you feel stupid, wouldn't it?"

Sanchez put his large hands on the table between us and tapped his fingers slowly, as if trying to remember a keyboard routine. His eyes stayed fixed on me. "You know something for a fact?"

"Not yet."

"Then you got nothing to sell."

"You could help me along. Or you could keep sitting there behind bars, quietly taking the rap, trying to convince yourself that your old revolver just got into the police's hands by some weird accident. Surely good old Del couldn't have set you up."

Sanchez's face darkened. "I'm a patient man."

"You're waiting to be sure of things before you open your mouth. It bothers you, doesn't it — wondering if Sandra's dead, or with somebody else in some other state, or maybe laughing at you right here in town."

He sat forward an inch.

"You want a deal, pendejo?" he said calmly. "Bring me the bitch. Or tell me where she's buried. Then we can talk. Until then, you've got nothing I want."

Zeta stood. He strolled to the barred door, rapped against the window, and told the guard he had a basketball game to get back to.


Fifteen minutes after I'd decided she wasn't going to show, Ana DeLeon walked into my apartment.

She wore boot-cut jeans, the hems tucked into black Justins, her white collarless blouse overlaid with a denim work shirt, the sleeves rolled up. Her short black hair was tied with a red bandanna, the triangular flap hanging loose in the back. She looked like a Sandinista poster girl.

"I'm here," she said, like she was trying to come to terms with the fact.

I was sitting cross-legged on the floor between the futon and the coffee table, the final stack of undergraduate papers in front of me. I'd saved the freshman-comp gems for last. I had my trusty red pen in one hand and a Shiner Bock in the other and Robert Johnson draped across my shoulders like a fox stole — a habit that was somewhat cute when he was a kitten but many years and twenty-one pounds later had become chiropractically unsound.

On the kitchen counter, my aging Sears boom box was blaring out Son Becky's blues band, live from a San Antonio roadhouse in 1937.

I sized up DeLeon's outfit. "You look—"

"Different," she interrupted. "That's the point. Anybody asks who doesn't need to know otherwise, I'm your girlfriend."

"My girlfriend."

"That's right."

I started to laugh.

Her eyes flashed me a warning. "What?" she demanded.

"Sorry," I said. "You just don't seem like the girlfriend type."

"Oh really."

She came over and sank next to me on the floor. Robert Johnson evaporated from my shoulders. DeLeon calmly grabbed my neck with hard, warm fingers and pulled me forward. I figured my neck was going to snap like a twig.

It was a rough kiss, meant to cut off circulation rather than show affection. Her face smelled like apricot scrub. The force of her mouth left me seeing black spots, left my lips doing funny things for several seconds after she pulled away.

"What's the problem?" she asked. Her face was completely dispassionate, freezer steel.

I tried to say, "Wow." What came out instead was a muted honk.

"Sex crimes division, Navarre. Two years. I learned to play a lot of roles. A woman with her own identity, not belonging to anybody — people remember her. But somebody's girlfriend? Girlfriends are invisible."

"Invisible. Sure. Just don't ask me to stand up for the next ten minutes."

She tried to backhand me with her fist. I caught it.

"I'm your girlfriend," she repeated.

"Far be it from me to mess up a woman's cover."

I pushed her fist away.

On the boom box, Son Becky started pounding out eighth notes on his barrelhouse piano with enough gusto to put Jerry Lee Lewis to shame. "Black Heart Blues."

DeLeon looked down at my paperwork. "What are you working on?"

My body kept circulating blood around at unnatural speeds. Parts of me were just now feeling the punch of DeLeon's kiss, notifying my brain that she was still sitting there, shoulder to shoulder with me, and what the hell was I going to do about it? With effort, I focused on the stack of essays. "Grading."

Her lips pursed in a controlled smile.

"What?" I asked.

"Nothing. You just don't seem like the grading type."

I showed her a hand gesture.

She picked up the paper I was halfway through, flipped back to the title page. She raised her eyebrows at me. ' 'The Symbolism of the Boiling Pot in Three Medieval Plays?"

"Aaron Brandon had a taste for the violent. I suppose it got the better of him in the end."

She pressed her mouth into an M. "I didn't tell you — I'm sorry about George. Kelsey caught the Hector Mara murder from the night squad this morning."

"That makes me feel tons better."

"Don't underestimate him, Navarre. Kelsey's dedicated."

I let it pass. "The shooting changed your mind about coming with us?"

"My mind hasn't changed. It's still a shitty idea."

"Then why?"

She got up from the floor, offered me a hand, then pulled me into standing position. "Besides the fact it beats you and Ralph Arguello on the loose by yourselves? Maybe if I had a few more months, I wouldn't do it. I'd keep picking away. But since I have exactly three days before they throw me to the cold-case squad, I feel the need to get inventive."

"Just let me get my baseball bat."

I capped my pen, threw it on the essays, then went to get my car keys and wallet off the kitchen counter. Son Becky's "Black Heart Blues" segued into "Midnight Trouble."

DeLeon walked over to the tai chi swords on the wall, dismissed them, then checked out the books on my shelf. She pulled a title — Marquez's Cien Anos de Soledad. Colombian first edition. DeLeon's eyes fixed on the bookplate on the inside cover — Ralph Arguello's inscription.

"Are you going to make me ask you again?" I asked.

She looked up at me, caught my meaning, then looked back at the book, flipping a few pages. "There's nothing to tell."

"How serious was it?"

"Ralph and I went out together. Once."

I stared at her.

"Go ahead and laugh. I'd never heard of him before. I ran his name and license plate through TCIC, came up with nothing. I was stupid. I didn't look any further."

"You wouldn't have had to look far — pawnshop detail, theft, vice."

If I hadn't spent some time around her the last few days, I probably wouldn't have noticed the hesitation.

"Ralph lied to me," she said. "I bought it. When I found out, I wanted to kill him. End of story."

I still couldn't get an image of DeLeon and Ralph together. I wasn't sure I wanted to.

DeLeon flipped the Marquez novel shut. "I told you that because now that we're about to see him it's less awkward to tell you than not."

"Of course."

"Now can we drop it?"

I held up my house key and locked my lips with it.

DeLeon put the book back on the shelf. She looked over at the futon, where Robert Johnson was kneading himself a sleeping spot. "My mother was a cop for twenty-seven years — one of the first women in the department to do something besides youth services. You know that? She expected me to follow in her footsteps, wanted me to be the first daughter to inherit her mother's shield number."

"And did you?"

DeLeon nodded.

"Must've made her proud."

Ana's face stayed blank. "If she'd lived that long, I think she would've been proud. I've never ignored a lead, Tres. I've never backed off anything because it was risky or unorthodox. But I'm not lying — going anywhere with you and Ralph could end my career."

"You want me to tell Ralph to forget this?"

"You'd do that?" DeLeon locked eyes with me.

"I'd try. The thing is, it's personal now. Ralph knows George Berton."

"That's worse," she said. "Personal makes it worse."

Son Becky kept singing — "Mistreated Washboard Blues." Robert Johnson reclaimed his place on the futon, sniffed it cautiously, then curled into a ball. DeLeon kept looking into me, trying to assess how serious my offer to call our expedition off was. I could see what she was thinking, and in the end I don't know what disturbed her more — the realization that I was serious, or the realization that she wasn't going to take me up on it.

She glanced over wistfully at Robert Johnson, now sound asleep.

Her face hardened. "Are we going or what?"


Tell any San Antonian, "Meet me at the Boots," and they'll instantly know what you mean — the three-story-tall pair of white-and-brown shitkickers standing outside North Star Mall at Loop 410. It's a popular place for radio announcers to do live broadcasts, or occasionally for P.I.s to use as an easy rendezvous point. This afternoon we were lucky enough to have both.

Those crazy folks from KJ97, "all kinds of country," had set up a trailer platform next to the right heel. Two scraggly DJs with beards and black KJ97 T-shirts and headphones were bantering with each other into the mikes, making vapid jokes and promising fabulous giveaways and otherwise trying to lighten up the homeward commute of all the schmucks fifty yards away, crawling down 410.

Ana parked her Miata in the covered mall lot and we walked across the driveway to the asphalt island from which the Boots rose.

About fifteen people had gathered to watch the DJs. As we skirted the crowd, one of the DJs introduced a new song by rising local star Miranda Daniels. "This is — what, Joey, the third cut from her debut album to hit the charts?"