- The Last King of Texas
"Like the days before you worked patrol?"
Gerson's doughy face mottled with red.
"Why'd they demote you, Ozzie? You never talk about it."
"Drop it, Navarre. You weren't the son of the guy that hired me, you'd be walking home right now."
The Latinos got their cigarettes and paid for their gas and left. Ozzie looked disappointed. He wadded up his hot dog paper tray and made a basket in the trash can. "Screw it, anyway. I protested some bullshit evaluations from the new chief. It was all fucking politics, okay?"
He started toward the door, waved for me to follow. "See you, Mabel."
"Can't wait," she called.
We hadn't gone half a mile in Ozzie's unit before the call came through, not over the radio but on the cell phone, which meant Dispatch didn't want the media overhearing.
Ozzie said "Yeah" a few times, then checked the information that was clicking across his MDT in glowing orange. "36; P-32. Got it."
The patrol car was accelerating before he even hung up.
"Speak of the devil," he said. "They just got a warrant. Sanchez is bunking at his brother-in-law's house, just off Green Road."
"That's close to here."
He smiled. "Sheriffs jurisdiction. SAPD is requesting uniformed presence from us immediately. You up for this?"
He didn't wait for an answer. We hit eighty mph and subdivisions started falling away, the land turning to farms, rows of ripening watermelons, horse ranches.
"Trees," Ozzie murmured. "I retire, man, my place is going to have trees in the lot."
Then we careened in frightening silence onto Green Road and west toward Zeta Sanchez.
If you didn't know better, you might think the right side of Green Road is lined with rolling hills — gray dunes covered with worn-out toupees of spear grass and skunkweed and now, in late April, an occasional stroke of wildflowers. But there are no hills in this part of Bexar County. What lines Green Road are mounds of landfill, compliments of the BFI city dump. When the wind blows in your direction, that quickly becomes apparent.
On the left side of the road were shacks of impoverished farmers, county welfare recipients, Texas backwoods families who'd been there for generations before the dump moved in. Their dirt yards were littered with plastic children's toys bleached white from the sun, stunted chinaberry trees, and patches of wild strawberry. Many had handmade cardboard signs in front that read BFI STINKS! Watermelon fields stretched out behind mobile homes that leaned and sagged at weird angles on cinder-block foundations.
On one front porch, a flock of half-naked toddlers, tanned the color of butterscotch pudding, scampered around, climbing in and out of an old clawfoot tub. Pale hairy adult shapes, also half-naked, moved through the interior of the shack.
Ozzie kept checking the telephone poles for block numbers, only occasionally finding evidence that we were going the right way. The idea of these shacks having mailing addresses seemed about as unlikely as them having Web sites. Click here for a virtual tour of my hovel!
After a half mile we got stuck behind a caravan of yellow BFI garbage trucks. Ozzie cursed and blasted his bullhorn, but there wasn't much space for the trucks to go on the shoulderless two-lane. Finally Gerson punched the gas and pulled into oncoming traffic. In the space of eighty yards we came close to smearing three truckloads of migrant fieldhands and ourselves all over the road. We swerved back into the right lane nanoseconds before colliding with a wide-eyed farmer in a Ford.
"Have a nice day," Ozzie grumbled without slowing down. I pried my fingers loose from the dashboard.
The land flattened to field and fence, shacks and farmhouses spaced farther apart. We left the dump behind.
"When we get there," Ozzie said, "we do nothing stupid. If we're the first, we sit on the house and wait for backup. If it gets bad, you stand behind the passenger's door, use it as a shield. Got it?"
"What's the brother-in-law like?"
"Hector Mara. West Side veterano like Sanchez. They go way back."
"Everybody's dangerous. Show me a wife in a domestic disturbance call, I'll show you dangerous. But Hector Mara? Next to Zeta Sanchez he's a big old pan dulce."
Then we were on top of 11043 Green, and we weren't the first. The property sat on the Y intersection of Green and another, smaller farm road. Thick tangles of banana trees and bamboo lined both sides. The only visible entrance was blocked by an SAPD patrol car with both doors open and the headlights on. Two more cars, unmarked blue Chevrolets, were pulled off the shoulder nearby. Four people stood in the shade of the banana trees to the side of the driveway—two SAPD uniforms and my good buddies from homicide, DeLeon and Kelsey.
We pulled in behind the SAPD unit.
Through the break in the foliage I could see two houses on the lot. The nearest, about thirty yards up the gravel drive, was cinder block from the waist down and unpainted drywall from the waist up, still decorated with the green tattoos of different building-supply companies. The building made an L around a covered cement porch that overflowed with mangled bicycles and broken lawn chairs. Bedsheets covered the windows.
Twenty yards farther out was a small mobile home of corrugated white metal. The field around both buildings was overgrown with yellow sticker-burr grass and swarmed with gnats. One car was visible on the lot — an old silver Ford Galaxie parked under an apple tree. No signs of life except for three chickens in a coop. Near that, a well-tended garden patch of sunflowers, cabbages, tomatoes. Ozzie and I joined the SAPD party in the shade. In the afternoon heat the huge banana plants exuded sticky, bubbly goo at the joints and smelled disconcertingly of sex.
DeLeon had changed into new clothes — rust-colored blazer and skirt, a fresh white silk blouse. She leaned calmly against a fence post, gently slapping a folder full of paperwork against her skirt.
Her partner Kelsey had shed his coat. His baby-blue dress shirt had half-moons of sweat around the armpits and his tie and collar were loosened. In the sunlight I could see the fine red network of capillaries in his nose. He glared at me as I walked up.
"What the hell is this doing here?" He looked at Ozzie Gerson. "You brought a fucking civilian?"
Ozzie took a pack of Doublemint from his shirt pocket and shook a stick loose, unwrapped it and put it in his mouth. "He's with me, Detective. Don't worry about it."
"Leave it," DeLeon ordered. "What's the twenty on the other units?"
One of the uniformed officers spoke into his field radio, got an answer. "Five minutes, maybe."
The uniform stifled a yawn. Probably, like Ozzie, he'd been pulling fiesta duty all last week. "Half the shift called in sick at the substation, ma'am. We're covering the whole South Side today."
DeLeon sighed, turned to Kelsey. "I wanted SWAT here. Where are they?" \
"No point," Kelsey said. "I told the lieutenant not to bother."
DeLeon stared at him. "You what?"
Kelsey put a piece of spear grass to his mouth. He bit the end and spit it out.
"This ain't that hard, partner. We going to bust Sanchez or wait here all day under the poontang trees?"
The second uniformed officer suppressed a smile. Kelsey grinned at DeLeon, waiting for her response.
"Probably be unwise to stay here," I broke in. "Been so long since Kelsey's smelled the real thing."
Kelsey's nose reddened.
Ozzie laughed louder than he needed to, slapped me on the back. "Smelled the real thing. That was good, Navarre. Joke, Detective. You know?"
Kelsey didn't smile. He pointed his middle finger at my chest. "You sign a release to ride in that car?"
"Sure he has," Gerson lied.
Kelsey nodded. "Which means something unfortunate happens in the course of our work, Mr. Navarre, I got no legal liability. With that said, you want to come along, fine by me."
He nodded to the uniforms and they fell in line as Kelsey trudged up the gravel drive. After a resentful glance at me, DeLeon followed. Ozzie and I brought up the rear.
"Kelsey's okay," Ozzie assured me. "First time I had to work with a piece of ass, it was tough on me too."
I told Ozzie that made me feel a lot better. Apparently Ozzie took me seriously, because he patted my shoulder paternally. "Nobody's going to hurt you, kid. Stick with me."
Friends are grand.
We walked toward the porch of the cinder-block building.
Kelsey stopped ten feet from the edge of the porch. He looked at the high grass and sticker burrs and swarms of gnats one would have to tromp through to get to the back of the house, assuming there was even a door on that side.
"This looks like the back entrance," Kelsey decided. He smiled at DeLeon. "I think you should have the honor of taking the front, since you're primary. Don't you?"
DeLeon didn't hesitate. She dropped her paperwork, took her Glock from the holster. "Absolutely."
She made a wide arc around the house, using her gun to part the weeds. Kelsey grinned at the uniforms, then directed one of them toward the white mobile home farther out in the field. He was about to step up on the porch when Ozzie nudged his arm. "Yo, Detective. Sheriffs jurisdiction?"
Kelsey waved him ahead with an exaggerated flourish. "Be my guest, Deputy."
Gerson pointed at me, then pointed far away. I backed up to the open edge of the porch. Kelsey and the other uniform moved to the other side, where the foot of the L-shaped house jutted out.
Gerson banged on the door. It was a particleboard job, thinly painted white, no window or peephole.
Shouting erupted from the mobile home across the field. I looked over and saw a dark-skinned man standing in the doorway, yelling at the uniformed officer. The officer was holding up his hands, trying to get the guy to quiet down. The man in the doorway looked like he had been asleep thirty seconds before. He wore only grimy white boxer shorts. His upper body was well muscled and his head was bald and rown as an egg.
"What the fuck is this, man?" he yelled. "Otra vez?"
He looked in our direction. When he spoke again it was even louder, like he wanted us all to hear. "I got to go to work in a few minutes, hijo de puta. Respectable job. What the hell, damn pinche cabrones on my chingate property—"
He kept cursing in Tex-spanol, shifting his weight stiffly from foot to foot. From the way the uniform was reacting, and from the bland look Kelsey gave the altercation, I got the feeling Baldie was not the man we really wanted.
Ozzie Gerson banged on the door again. "Yo, Zeta. Open up, man. Got some friends out here—"
The first shot made a splinter-flower in the door. The second ripped a hole through Ozzie's left shoulder.
Immediately a third shot punched through the particle-board door, a little bit higher, but Ozzie had already turned and dived full force into the cement. He started scrabbling away, trailing blood.
Kelsey and the uniformed officer hit the ground on top of each other, their weapons drawn. The uniform swung around the corner of the building, firing two rounds into the door. On the second shot Kelsey lunged out at ground level and tried to grab Ozzie by the collar, but someone in the house returned fire and Kelsey fell back to the wall. Ozzie kept crawling on his own. Time slowed to the consistency of sap.