"You said Hector Mara's salvage yard was taking away some of your fencing business."

"That's right."

"So are you siccing me on Hector because you think it might help me? Or because you want to get rid of the competition?"

Ralph grinned. "Your perception of the world is overly grim, vato. Enjoy your date."

I could hear him laughing quietly all the way through my house.


Aaron and Ines Brandon's house was a driftwood-colored craftsman on Castano, a few blocks east of Alamo Heights High School.

The street was one of those San Antonio gullies that floods in the smallest rainstorm, houses perched atop forty-five-degree yards on either side, the cars on the curb caked with dried flood lines of oak leaves and pecan pollen.

I parked on the street behind a red Fiat and walked up the sidewalk, over a Big Wheel, through a scatter of street chalk.

There was a brass mezuzah on the doorjamb.

I was just raising my hand to knock when the door swung open and a large Anglo man collided with me. He was maybe two hundred pounds, my height, loud yellow shirt, and a square face.

He muttered, "Damn, fricking—" then pushed past in a wake of cheap sports cologne.

I watched him lumber down the unlighted walk. The back of his retreating head looked like gorilla-mask fur, greased and combed. He skidded on a piece of pink street chalk, cursed, kicked the Big Wheel, then kept trudging down the steps toward the Fiat.

Glass shattered somewhere inside the house. A woman yelled angrily. I took that as an invitation.

The living room was stark white — carpet, walls, sofa, molding. Against the right wall was the limestone fireplace I'd seen in Detective DeLeon's crime-scene photo. The freshly scrubbed bricks still retained the craters of two .45 rounds that had slowed down not at all traveling through Aaron Brandon's body. Open moving boxes clustered next to the sofa. Through an archway on the left, in the dining room, glass shards of a newly broken window dangled from the frame. At the far end of the sofa, a woman stood with her back to me.

She was leaning over an oak end table forested with framed family photos, her hands clamped tightly on the table corners as if she were contemplating a war map. She was a light-skinned Latina, tall and slender, her hair shoulder length and silky red-brown, the color of roasted peppers. She wore a beige blouse and black jeans. If she'd been any more earth-toned she could've laid down in a South Texas oil field and disappeared.

I rapped on the doorjamb.

"Forget something, Del?" Her voice was small and cold. "You want my checkbook, too, you fucking bastard?"

I cleared my throat. "Wrong bastard."

She whirled to face me.

Her mouth was wide and pretty, her nose slightly crooked, her eyes so large and brown the color seemed to tint her corneas like a cinnamon overdose. It was the kind of face that strikes you as beautiful because of a successful combination of flaws.

"Who—" She stopped herself, shook her head vehemently. "No. I don't care who you are. What the hell are you doing in my home?"

I wasn't technically inside, but I remedied that by stepping over the threshold. "Sorry to disturb you, Mrs. Brandon." I plucked an Erainya Manos Agency card from my front pocket, held it up. It was one of the granite-gray executive cards. Somber. Professional. I tried to make my expression match the card. "I came by to ask you some questions. Your brother-in-law Del ran over me on his way out, then I heard the window break. I got concerned."

She made a little feral noise. "Another goddamn cop. You people think you've been here so often you can just walk in my front door now?"

She picked up the nearest potential projectile — a lead-framed photo. "Vete ya! No more questions. No more cops."

The granite-gray executive approach didn't seem to be winning me many points. I tried for a smile.

"There's no need to break things," I assured her. "Actually I'm not—"

The photo banged into the wall two feet to my left. Glass cracked when it hit the floor. Little pieces spiraled into the air.

Mrs. Brandon picked up another piece of ammunition. She motioned toward the front door with the new frame.

"You don't want to throw that," I told her.

In fact, she did. I had to lurch forward and catch her wrist before she could. She tried to hit me with her free hand. I intercepted that too.

We stood in that dance position for a few heartbeats, Ines Brandon glaring up at me.

Her breath smelled faintly of red wine. Close up, the little crook in her nose looked like an old break, probably some childhood accident. She had the faintest white scar across the bridge, about where reading glasses would sit. Whatever she'd run into so long ago, she looked like she'd never quite gotten over the indignation.

"You can goddamn well let me go," she growled.

I released her wrist, took away the photograph she'd been about to throw. Mrs. Brandon stepped back and sank to the edge of the sofa.

Her eyes became hot and vacant, like jettisoned rocket rings.

"Well?" She gestured around listlessly. "Ask your questions. Search the house. What do I care? It's not mine anymore."

I looked at the photo — a wedding picture of her and Aaron, taken in front of a grimy adobe chapel with freestanding pink silk flower arrangements on either side. The setting, and the look of desperate, guilty excitement in the young couple's eyes, screamed bordertown wedding. I set the photo back on the table.

"RideWorks holds the lease on your house," I said. "Del's kicking you out?"

"That's my brother-in-law."

"Quite a human being. How's your son holding up?"

She pressed at the corners of her eyes. "Leave Michael out of this."

"He's here?"

"He's with Paloma. Our — my maid. I couldn't have Michael here with Del coming over. My brother-in-law and I — we aren't exactly cordial."

"Nice guy like Gorilla-Head? Hard to imagine."

She studied my face more closely.

"You were on the news today," she decided. "When they showed that man's arrest. You're with the sheriffs department?"

"Tres Navarre. I'm a private investigator."

She mouthed the word private. "A real P.I. You're joking. For UTSA?"


"Ah-ha. The University wants to be sure they're not liable for Aaron's death."

"Something like that."

She laughed without humor. "I'm not going to sue, P.I. Tell them not to worry."

"The man in custody — Zeta Sanchez. Had your husband ever mentioned him?"

"Don't you have someplace better to be?"

"Or Del? Did he ever mention Zeta Sanchez?"

"Del doesn't talk to me unless he's kicking me off his property. Or calling me a Mexican whore. Sorry."

I looked at the fireplace.

"My language embarrass you?" Ines Brandon demanded.

"No. But keep trying if you want to. Your son's not home. You might as well cut loose."

Her face reddened. She made a fist and then couldn't seem to decide what to do with it. She flattened it on her thigh, dug her fingers into the flesh above her knee. "I don't think I like you very much, P.I."

I tapped one of the boxes with my foot. "Where to? Back home to Del Rio?"

She punished me with some silence. I counted to fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. Tres Navarre, tai chi sage. Man with the Patience of Mountains.  Finally Mrs. Brandon glared up at me, annoyed that I had not yet spontaneously combusted. "I can't go home. Too much to take care of here. Michael and I are getting a small apartment for a few months. The police—" She faltered, took a shaky breath. "The police suggested I make no immediate plans to leave town."

"You were away when your husband was murdered, weren't you?"

"In Del Rio with my son, visiting friends. But you never know. I might've—"

Her voice broke apart. "I might've paid that Sanchez man. The police can't be too careful. I might've — oh, shit."

She slid from the arm of the couch into the seat, brought up her legs and hugged them, her forehead on her knees.

I waited while she shivered silently. I found myself looking at the mantelpiece, the gunshot holes in the limestone. I stepped back toward the front door, ran my fingers along the doorjamb, then went to the front window, looked at the latch.

"Did your husband have a gun?"

She spoke into her knees. "They already asked. A .38. In the bedroom closet. I hated Aaron keeping it in the house with Michael."

"And it's still in the closet?"

"It was. The police took it."

"No forced entry. Your husband answered the door wearing nothing but his jeans. He let his killer in, made no attempt to get his own gun. They talked in the living room, standing up, your husband here in front of the fireplace. The killer shot him twice. If your husband didn't know his killer, it would've played out differently."

Mrs. Brandon gathered her knees closer to her. "My maid will be back with Michael in a few minutes. I want you gone."

"Had Aaron and his brother been arguing recently?"

"I don't want another stranger in the house."

"Had they?"

She exhaled. "They hardly ever spoke — no more than two or three times since we were married. They hated each other."

"Because of the family business?"

"Because of everything."

"But your husband never mentioned Zeta Sanchez."


"What about a man named Hector Mara?"

It was a blind shot, but it hit something. Ines Brandon's face clouded. She seemed to be casting around for some context. Maybe she just remembered the name from today's newscast. Maybe it was something more.

Then her face shut like a blind. "Sorry."

"It could be important, Mrs. Brandon."

"What's important is that my son not have to deal with any more strangers."

"Mrs. Brandon—"

"Good night, Mr. Navarre."

It bothered me that she remembered my name. It meant she'd been paying a lot more attention than I'd given her credit for. But her eyes made it clear that our conversation was over.

I decided to honor that.

When I looked back from the front door, Ines Brandon was still curled in a ball on the sofa, her arms hugging her knees, her eyes fixed on the fireplace like there was something blazing there.


My old teammate from Alamo Heights varsity, Jess Makar, opened the door at my mother's house. This shouldn't have been a surprise since Jess lived with my mother, but it had been a long time since I'd seen him anywhere except seated at the kitchen table, beer in hand, watching ESPN.

Jess scowled at me. His boyish good looks had, over the last three or four years, begun to settle like cement along with his midsection. His blue eyes had become permanently stained with capillaries. Tonight he wore sweatpants and a Dallas Cowboys tunic streaked with motor oil.

"Tres," he grumbled. "Might as well join the party."

His cologne was stronger than usual. It didn't mix well with the usual scents of my mother's house — vanilla incense, shrimp steaming in the kitchen, the dusty aroma of old curios, Indian blankets, spicewood carvings.