Then I ruffled Jem's hair and told him to keep at it with the perpetual motion engine. I anticipated needing one.


By the time I got home the painkillers had started to wear off. The delayed shock of the morning's explosion was starting to do funny things to my brain. As I walked up the sidewalk of 90 Queen Anne, the backward-leaning facade of the old two-story craftsman looked even more precarious than usual. The purple bougainvillea around the awnings seemed fluid and sinister. When I got around the side of the building to the screen door of my in-law apartment, I had trouble making myself touch the latch.

Once inside, I settled onto a stool at the kitchen counter. Robert Johnson leaped up next to me and rubbed against my forearm. I ignored him. I was too busy trying to convince myself that the dots on the linoleum floor were not accelerating.

I pulled down the wall-mounted ironing board and picked up the phone, which is installed in the alcove behind for reasons known only to God and Southwestern Bell.

There was a message from my mom, wondering if I was going to make it for dinner. Another message from Maia Lee in San Francisco, asking if I was okay. Maia apologized for being out of town when I'd called her Sunday.

My finger hovered over the ERASE button for a good five seconds. I punched it.

I called Deputy Ozzie Gerson's cell phone number and found him working patrol on the far South Side. When I mentioned the Brandon murder he grumbled that he'd try to stop by.

Then I went back to the kitchen counter, snapped the rubber band on Kelly Arguello's files, and started reading.

Professor Aaron Brandon. Born San Antonio, 1960, graduated Churchill High in 1977. BA. at Texas A & M, M.A. and Ph.D. at UT Austin. First full-time teaching job: a year here in San Antonio, non-tenure track at Our Lady of the Lake University, 1992-93. Contract not renewed for reasons unspecified. After that, six glamorous years at UT Permian Basin, known among the region's academics as UT "Permanent Basement." Brandon had returned home to San Antonio last Christmas to accept the emergency opening at UTSA. He had been killed three weeks before his thirty-ninth birthday. He had no police record of any kind. His wife's name was Ines, age twenty-four, maiden name Garcia, born in Del Rio, also no police record. They had a five-year-old boy named Michael — older than Jem by two months.

The curriculum vitae Aaron Brandon had submitted to UTSA looked mediocre — a minimum of articles, published in lesser-known journals, a course load that was ninety percent freshman English and ten percent medieval, references that were no more than confirmations of his past employment status. The only violent edge in Brandon's life seemed to be the works he studied. He had an affinity for the more disturbing texts — Crucifixion plays, Crusade accounts of the Jewish massacres, some bloodier stories from Chaucer and Marie de France. The theses he'd written looked adequate if not brilliant. It made me feel just dandy to have been offered the same job as he.

Kelly's search for the name Brandon in the Express-News archives had yielded nothing about Aaron but some about his family.

A business section interview from '67 featured one Jeremiah Brandon, founder of a company called RideWorks. Kelly had highlighted the last paragraph of the story. This mentioned that Jeremiah had two sons he was raising by himself — Del and Aaron.

According to the article, Jeremiah Brandon was a former printing-press repairman who had made a small fortune repairing and building amusement rides for the many carnivals that passed through South Texas. Now with a permanent workshop and fifty employees, Jeremiah was increasing his profits yearly, and had invented such child-pleasing rides as the Super-Whirl and the Texas Tilt. I studied the 1967 photo of Jeremiah Brandon.

He looked like a turkey buzzard in a suit — thin, hardened, decidedly ugly. The fierce hunger in his eyes animated his whole frame. I could imagine him descending on a broken amusement ride like so much delicious roadkill, stripping it to its frame and wrenching out the offending gears with his bare hands and teeth.

The next article, dated April 1993, announced Jeremiah Brandon's murder. The details were sketchy. Jeremiah had been socializing with his workers at a West Side bar on a Friday night. An unknown assailant had entered the bar, walked up to Jeremiah Brandon, and fired multiple rounds from a large-caliber handgun into the old man's chest. The assailant had fled. Despite numerous eyewitnesses, the police had no positive ID to work with. Not even a sketch. The witnesses at the Poco Mas Cantina on Zarzamora had apparently been less than model citizens when it came to exercising their memories.

There were three follow-up articles, each shorter than the one before it, each pushed farther away from page Al. They all said the same thing. Police were without leads. The investigation had failed to produce a suspect, at least none that the police wanted to share with the press.

I flipped through a few other pieces of paperwork — Aaron Brandon's driving records, insurance policies. The lease for Aaron and Ines' Alamo Heights home was made out in the name of RideWorks, Inc.

I was still thinking about the murdered father and son when Deputy Ozzie Gerson knocked on my front-door frame.

"Can't believe it," he said. "You still live in this dump."

"Good to see you too. Come on in."

He inspected the living room disdainfully.

Ozzie was the kind of cop other cops would like you to believe doesn't exist. He had a fat ring the size of a manatee slung around his midsection, powdered sugar stains on his uniform. He wore silver jewelry with a gold Rolex and his greasy buzz cut covered his scalp as thinly as boar's whiskers. His face was pale, enormous, brutishly sculpted so that even in his kinder moments he looked like a man who'd just attended a very satisfactory lynching.

"You call this an apartment?"

"I tried calling it a love cave," I admitted, "but it scared the women away."

"This isn't an apartment, kid. This is a holding cell. You've got no sense of style."

By my standards the in-law looked great. On the futon, the laundry was clean and folded. Stacks of agency paperwork were tidily arranged on the coffee table. My tai chi swords were polished and in their wall rack. Stuck on the refrigerator, like a normal home and everything, was a kid's watercolor (Jem's) and a postcard (my brother Garrett's, with the endearing inscription IN KEY WEST WITH BUFFETT — GLAD YOU AIN'T HERE!!!). The only possible eyesore was Robert Johnson, who was now lying on the kitchen counter with his feet curled under his chest and his tongue sticking out.

"Track lighting," Ozzie advised. "White carpet. A big mirror on that wall. Go for open. Light and airy."

"I feel it," I said. "I really do. You want to sit down while I call the decorator?"

He pointed over his shoulder. "We can talk and ride."

I turned to Robert Johnson, who had seen Ozzie too many times to get excited by him or his designer tips. "Lock up if you leave."

Robert Johnson curled his tongue in a tremendous yawn. I took that as an assent.

My landlord, Gary Hales, was now on the front porch of the main house, cracking pecans into a large metal pail. The spring afternoon wasn't particularly hot, but Gary had one of those head-mounted mist sprayers slung across his balding skull. The thing must've been on full blast. Droplets floated around him like a swarm of gnats, dripping off his nose and chin and speckling his Guayabera shirt. Gary looked up apathetically as Ozzie Gerson and I walked by, then went back to his work. Just Tres Navarre getting picked up by the police.

Nothing out of the ordinary.

"Last week fucking parade detail," Ozzie told me. "Today I been on duty an hour and already three calls. I need a hot dog."

"Life on the edge," I sympathized.

"Balls." He unlocked the passenger's door of his patrol car, realized he had about sixty pounds of equipment on the seat, then started transferring it to the trunk with much grumbling.

Inside, the unit was about as spacious as a fighter jet cockpit. The area between the seats was filled with cellular phone and ticket pad and field radio. In front, where the drink holder and my left leg should've gone, an MDT's monitor and midget keyboard jutted out from the dashboard. The overhead visors held about a foot of paperwork, maps, and binders. The big book, the one with the whole county vectorized, was wedged between Ozzie's headrest and the Plexiglas shield that sealed off the backseat. I had just enough room to buckle my seat belt and breathe occasionally.

Ozzie took a right on Broadway, then a quick left on Hildebrand.

The week after fiesta and the streets were deserted. Over the weekend, three hundred thousand revelers had trickled out of town, leaving the locals drained, hungover, red-eyed, and stiff from a week of intense partying. The pedestrians all moved a little slower. The curbs were still littered with confetti and beer cups. Pickup trucks passed with empty kegs in their beds. Streamers dangled from trees. It would be at least Friday before San Antonio rebounded for another major party. That, for San Antonio, was an impressive period of austerity.

Ozzie took the McAllister Freeway on-ramp and propelled us south at a speed somewhere between the legal limit and the barrier of sound. The city floated by in detached, tinted silence — Trinity University, Pearl Brewery, the gray and brown skyscrapers of downtown.

"So," Ozzie prompted.

"So. The Brandon family attracts bullets."

Half a mile of silence. "You and Erainya. SAPD. The Feds. Suddenly after six years everybody wants to talk to me about the Brandons."

"We just love you, Ozzie."

Ozzie picked up his transmitter and told Dispatch to show him 10-8, back in service.

"Our unit number's twenty-thirteen," he told me. "Case I get shot or something."

"There's positive thinking."

"I tell the detectives six years ago — I say, 'Look out, this guy will be back.' Three weeks ago, I tell them, 'Hey, there's word on the street he is back.' But do they listen to me? No. They wait until Aaron Brandon is murdered, then they figure it's time to ask me for help. What is that about?"

"Go figure."

"You don't know what I'm talking about, do you?"

"Nope. You going to enlighten me?"

"I probably shouldn't."

"Probably not."

The downtown skyline receded behind us, the landscape ahead turning to a mixture of tract housing and salvage yards and acres of scrub brush. Ozzie took the 410 split into the unincorporated South Side. "Jimmy Hernandez down at city homicide, he made it clear he wants a lid on this until his people are ready to move."

"And your career has been a tribute to following orders from the brass." Ozzie's neck flushed. I thought we'd entered dangerous territory until he glanced over and allowed the corner of his mouth to creep up just slightly. "There's that. You put any of the story together yet? "

"SAPD's got two dead UTSA professors on their hands. Everybody is assuming the Brandon murder at least had something to do with campus politics. Except maybe it didn't. SAPD suspects some kind of connection to the murder of the professor's dad six years ago, something to do with a guy named Sanchez. Until they run down that lead, SAPD sees no reason to tip their hand. They're happy letting everybody think the political angle."