The .357 was two feet away.

I'd just grabbed it when the rifle boomed and my left shoulder went cold. My legs gave out from under me. I fell forward, into Harold, twisting around with my face to the sky.

It was hard to breathe. Harder still to move my arms. The .357 was in my hands and my fingers kept trying to tighten around the trigger, trying to reload the magazine correctly. The cold was spreading from my shoulder into my chest. Ozzie appeared from behind a tree, back by the ridge, just far enough away that I couldn't quite make out the color of his eyes.

His left shoulder, the one Zeta Sanchez had shot, was now bent at an odd angle. The shirt around it glistened with blood from the ripped-open wound. With his good hand, Ozzie still held the rifle.

He moved forward, talking in a monotone. "Could've been pretty simple. Sorry, Tres. You think I want to kill you?"

I aimed the .357 at him.

Ozzie managed a dazed smile. "Even if it wasn't jammed, kid — even then you couldn't."

He looked around, then took a step toward a small live-oak sapling. He raised the rifle barrel and set it with great care into the crook of two branches. He swung the muzzle toward me.

His eyes were drooping, heavy with pain and blood loss. But not heavy enough to prevent him from finishing. He sighted the gun.

When the shot came the volume was hideous. I convulsed and so did Ozzie Gerson. He raised his rifle barrel in slow motion while the rest of him lowered into a kneeling position. He looked down in disbelief at the hole I'd just shot in his hip, the bloody change that was dribbling out the front pocket of his jeans. The terror of it sent me into a fit of giggling. I felt exhilarated. I loved the sound of the next .357 round that sawed off the live-oak sapling inches to the right of Ozzie's ear.

I don't know how I did it but I got to my feet.

I staggered forward, trying to aim the gun.

Ozzie had fallen on his butt. He was trying to tug the rifle up onto his bloody legs, to lift his knees so he could get the barrel high enough to kill me. His face glistened with sweat. He managed a stuttering wheeze that might have been a distant cousin to a laugh. He muttered, "Well shit, kid. Well shit. That was good. Now come here a step — okay? Come here."

The little blood geyser kept bubbling up on the side of his pants. Ozzie's gun kept trying to slip off his knees.

I managed another step forward, just to be obliging. Anything for a friend.  Ozzie wheezed again, happily. He fired his last shot and something a long way off behind me went ping.

For Ozzie's sake, I hoped he'd finally hit that metal target.

I raised my gun.

Ozzie let the rifle slip and held his hand over his pants pocket, trying to stop the blood.

Then an unwelcome voice snarled, "Put it down!"

I swung the gun to the left and found the muzzle of Ana DeLeon's Glock 23 pointing at me. Ana's skirt and blouse were scratched to hell from a trek through the foliage, her face as cold as the moon.

"You've got that aimed wrong," I heard myself saying.

Then I showed her what I meant. I turned the .357 back on Ozzie.

"I'll shoot you, Tres." DeLeon's voice was steady, louder than I thought it needed to be. "Put the gun on the ground."

I don't know how many chances DeLeon gave me to drop it, how many times she gave me that order. In the end, I was saved by Ozzie himself. He tried to sit up one more time and his face went silk-white. Then his head lolled back, hit the grass. His eyes squinted shut.

I lowered the .357, let it clunk into the tall grass. Then I crumpled into sitting position.

Ana DeLeon kept the Glock trained on me as she approached Ozzie, inspected him. I think she found him still alive. She tossed the deer rifle a few feet away, then knelt beside me. Her eyes burned with anger, but there was something else, too — alarm as she examined my shoulder wound.

"Key Feo," she said. "Kelsey's gang informants in vice used to call Ozzie Gerson that. You goddamn — you set yourself up for this. You stupid bastard."

"There's a doctor," I muttered. "Across the fields. Phone in the house."

"You wanted me gone while you handled this. If I hadn't come back—"

"I'm cold," I said.

Then Ana DeLeon was gone. I sat shivering in the spring sunshine, listening to DeLeon running toward my father's ranch house, cutting through the brush like a small tireless harvester blade.


For the rest of that week, when I wasn't having nightmares, I was getting intimate with the acoustic ceiling tile in my semiprivate room at University Hospital, and with my roommate George Berton's favorite talk shows. Since George had been upgraded from critical and moved from BAMC, Erainya said it only made sense that he and I be roomies. Given our mutual experiences over the last few weeks, it was unlikely we'd end up shooting each other in irritation, however much we might wish to.

George could only speak a few words at a time. These mostly consisted of "No cigars?" when the nurse visited and "Melissa" when he slept and "Bastard, Navarre" whenever I tried to change the channel on him. The first thing he'd done when he'd regained consciousness was to demand his Panama hat. The second was to call Ozzie Gerson a son of a bitch.

While George was sleeping, which was often, I would watch the news and learn about what was happening out in the world.

A Bexar County deputy now faced indictment on three counts of capital murder for the shooting deaths of Hector Mara and the brothers Del and Aaron Brandon. The Brandon family maid had ID'ed Sheriff's Deputy Ozzie Gerson as Aaron's killer in exchange for charges of obstruction of justice against her being


Gerson was charged on eleven other counts, including drug trafficking. A raid on Gerson's home turned up two plane tickets for Brazil and two packed suitcases, one of which contained over $80,000 in cash. In Gerson's closet, in a locked gun box, police also found a substantial amount of black tar heroin. While Gerson made no comment about the other charges against him, he had happily offered up the name of Chich Gutierrez as his heroin supplier. Police now had a warrant out for Gutierrez's arrest. The reporter told us that prior allegations for drug trafficking in 1992 had resulted in Gerson's demotion at the sheriff's department. There was "widespread outrage" that this officer had remained on active duty for the past seven years. The sheriff's department was promising an immediate internal investigation.

Anthony "Zeta" Sanchez was still in jail on charges of shooting Gerson and resisting arrest, but was not expected to be charged with any higher crimes. The SAPD brass and the D.A.'s office were praising the homicide detectives in charge of the investigation.

"This is a case where extra diligence paid off," their PR lady told TV viewers. "If we hadn't gone the extra mile, if the detectives involved had settled for the easy solution—"

A reporter interrupted, asking if SAPD detectives had ever settled for the easy solution before, if there'd been any pressure from the D.A.'s office to wrap up the Professor Aaron Brandon murder case quickly. The PR spokesman said, "Of course not."

A last strange twist on the case — Aaron Brandon's widow Ines had come forward and admitted to having a prior relationship with Aaron's supposed killer, Zeta Sanchez. She had, at one time, gone by the name of Sandra Mara-Sanchez. The local news was still chewing on that piece of information, not sure what to do with it, but they reported that Ines Brandon was not at present charged with any crime. After questioning, she had been released to be with her son. In the short clip they showed of Ines, I saw Erainya in the background, along with several high-powered defense lawyers.

I turned off the TV.

Harold Diliberto had failed to make the news, unless you count the early morning coffee crowd at the Sabinal General Store. Harold would live, and as Dr. Janice Farn succinctly put it, "He'll only be a little uglier than he was before."

The hospital room hadn't been quiet for two minutes when my mother appeared in the doorway with a wicker picnic basket. George was snoring, his Panama hat pulled down over his trach tube. Mother was dressed in a beaded denim dress, her neckline dripping with trouble dolls and Zuni fetishes. Her black hair was pulled back, also beaded. She looked like a Shopping Channel advertisement for the Bead-O-Matic appliqué kit.

"You look fine, dear." She sat down, hoisting the basket onto her lap. "You have a little color back."

"I feel colorful. And you don't have to whisper. When George sleeps, he sleeps."

She patted my wrist, then helped me raise the bed to a forty-five-degree angle. "You'll be ready for release this evening, I hear."

I tried to sit up and immediately regretted it. My bandaged shoulder screamed like it was being repierced with a hot glue gun. My not-very-funny doctor had asked me, after some successful minor surgery,  whether I'd be wanting a stud or a dangle for the hole.

"Don't worry," my mother said. "This will cheer you up."

Out of a little lap table she brought a ceramic plate and soup bowl, a spoon and napkin, a vase filled with baby's breath and dried roses and incense — the whole Bohemian breakfast-in-bed kit. Then with a flourish she extracted a foam cup the size of a Bill Miller extra-large iced tea (which is to say, awfully big).

The white top was scotch-taped in place, dripping with steam.

"Caldo res from El Mirador," she announced proudly.

I stared at her blankly. "But it's not Saturday."

One of the many absurd rules Texans learn to live with — El Mirador's famous soup cannot be had for love or money except on Saturday.

"I had a premonition," Mother told me. "I just knew I had to get an order to go this week. It reheated beautifully."

"Thank you."

Mother smiled, gratified. She spooned the concoction into my bowl, and watched, pleased, as I slurped it mouthful by greedy mouthful, spilling a good deal of it on my napkin.

Afterward I sat back, enjoying the warmth, even enjoying my mother's quiet company.

It seemed like hours before she said, "Jess isn't coming back."

Her jaw was set, her lips were pressed together in resolution. Her eyes were ever so slightly rimmed with red — from sleeplessness or anger or maybe crying — but she sounded confident, even upbeat.

"Apparently he came by and got the last of his things while I was doing my installation at the Crocker Gallery," she continued. "It's amazing — three years together, and amazing just how little he really made a mark on that house."

"That house," I assured her, "could never be anything but yours."

She nodded tentatively.

"And nobody makes a mark on my mama," I added.

She cracked a smile.

She gathered her things, replaced the items in her purse, and sat up in a glittery readjustment of denim and black hair and beads.

"I don't suppose I need to tell you," she said, "you scared me to death again."

"No, you don't."

We agreed on dinner next Monday.

Then Mother left me alone with the afternoon light growing long on the walls of the hospital room. I lay there for a long time, listening to George Berton contentedly mumbling his dead wife's name.


To my knowledge, Ralph Arguello had never lived in any one location for longer than six months. He began life moving from shack to shack in the slums of Cementville, a factory-run shanty town where his father worked. After his father's death and his mother's success as a maid, they moved into a small cottage off Basse, behind the Alamo Gun Club, but Ralph, as much as he loved his mother, was constantly shifting from friend's house to cousin's house to God knows where, lying low when the cops were around, making money any way he could.