Hood found Ernest and the boys at the beach down by the Oceanside pier. A summer swell pushed the waves high along the pilings, and Hood watched the surfers carve the green walls with their short, quick boards. The sign outside the lifeguard headquarters said the waves were six to eight feet and the water temperature was sixty-six degrees.
Ernest sat in the cool of a portable sunscreen. There were blankets and backpacks strewn in the sand and a cooler with its lid ajar. Kenny lay on his back in his portable crib, head to one side, his eyes locked onto towering Hood.
Hood squatted for a moment, trailing his fingers through the fine gray Oceanside sand.
“That’s Bradley, with the black wet suit and the red-and-white twin-fin,” said Ernest. He nodded to the surfers.
“Big waves today.”
“Children can afford that.”
Ernest’s face was unyielding and his eyes calm.
“Where did your wife go?”
Ernest shook his head. “She’s not my wife and she didn’t tell me.”
“She just took off?”
“There are times when she needs to be out of sight. She doesn’t tell me where she is and I don’t ask.”
“K ind of an odd arrangement.”
“There’s nothing odd about trust. Why do you care where she went?”
“I think she’s in trouble. I think the man who killed the brothers was looking for her.”
“Why does he want her?”
“Maybe she knows.”
“Who is he? Tell me where he lives. I’ll settle it.”
“I don’t know either of those things.”
“But you say he’s looking for Suzanne? You’re not making sense.”
“Why did she run away?”
“Staying out of sight is not running away.”
“Why is she staying out of sight?”
Kenny rolled over to his stomach and strained his head up from the floor of the crib. Ernest looked at him then at Hood, then out at the waves. “I respect her fears and her worries.”
“Ernest, if I could talk to her I might be able to put some things together. The other night she saw this man near a crime scene in L.A. He saw her, too. I think he’s the one who killed Harold and Gerald. But he didn’t go all the way down to Valley Center to do that. He went for Suzanne. He was on her property. He thinks she saw something in L.A., or has something. That’s why I need to talk to her.”
“I don’t know where she is.”
Hood watched Bradley ride a wave. It didn’t matter if Ernest was lying if Ernest wasn’t going to tell where she’d gone. “Tell her to call me.”
“She got your message.”
“Tell her again. Is she going back to school? It starts in a few weeks. She can’t teach history and stay out of sight.”
“We haven’t planned that far ahead.”
“Plan ahead if you want to stay alive,” said Hood.
Ernest stood and reached down into the crib, touching the baby’s head. “Watch the baby. You wanted to talk to Jordan.”
Hood watched the Hawaiian amble down to the surf line. A dark-skinned boy ran past him, slid his skimboard into the receding backwash and jumped on. He raced along, threw a rooster tail and shot into the incoming white water, landing on the back side of it while still balanced on the board. The boy said something to Ernest, who shrugged and took the board and waited for the next backwash. Ernest was big-chested and short-legged, but he rode the board with an easy power, managing most of a three-sixty just before he got air then wiped out. He was smiling and shaking his head as he pointed up to Hood.
Jordan wrapped a towel around his slender shoulders. His teeth chattered while he said that the fisherman was short, dark-skinned and dark-haired. No mustache or beard. His hair was cut flat on top. He was “not an old man and not a young man, either.” He wore jeans and cowboy boots and a short-sleeved plaid shirt and a straw cowboy hat. He was small but powerful. It was really hot that day. His fishing rod and reel looked new and he caught several fish, which he threw back. When they talked, the man said the worms worked best, but you had to hook them so you could feel the tug when the fish bit them.
“Show him what you did,” said Ernest.
Still hunched in the towel Jordan hustled bent-legged over to a backpack and came back with two folded sheets of paper. Hood remembered the child’s paintings and drawings he’d seen on the wall of the room where he’d embarrassed himself in front of this boy’s mother.
Jordan gave him the papers and Hood unfolded them. They were better than any IdentiK it or police artist’s drawing that he’d ever seen. They looked like a well-observed man-not a composite, not an interpretive sketch of someone else’s memory. A man. There were two versions: one with a straw cowboy hat and one without. With a pencil Jordan had shaded in a little behind the portraits. He had signed them. Hood rubbed his fingertip across one pen ciled corner and it came back without a smudge.
“Mom said you would come,” he said.
Hood eyed Ernest silently.
“May I have these?”
“She told me to give them to you. She told me to tell you it was the guy from Miracle Auto Body.”
Hood looked at the drawings again. This run of good luck was making him uneasy. “Why did he take off his hat?”
“To wipe his forehead, but only for a second. His hair was exactly like that-short and straight up and cut flat. Like the deck of a skateboard.”
Hood looked down at the drawings. Jordan’s skill was a gift, he thought. When Hood looked at the boy, his teeth had quit chattering but his lips were pale.
“Will you please tell me everything again? Every single thing you remember. I’m going to ask you all those questions again. Maybe something new will come out. Something you overlooked.”
Hood thought that Jordan Jones, or whatever his last name was, overlooked very little.
“I gotta stand in the sun.”
“Ernest,” said Hood. “Can we go up to the snack bar for a drink?”
“Up to you, Jordan.”
Jordan kept the towel around him and led the way. “That guy caught like eight fish. He put them back. Did he kill Harold and Gerald?”
“I believe he did. Did your mom keep the originals of your drawings?”
“Yeah. She saves a lot of my stuff. We have a whole wall of it at home.”
“Is Ernest your father?”
“My father was Joe Iverson. He died when I was two. There’s me and Bradley and baby Kenny and we all have different dads. Bradley’s cool. Kenny cries a lot.”
“Bradley’s dad come around much?”
“Not a lot. He’s afraid of Mom.”
By the time they went to the snack bar and back Jordan had told Hood his mysterious fisherman story three more times. He remembered nothing new and did not change a single detail from his original version, right down to the number of different lures he used to try to catch a bass that day: thirteen. Hood found it significant that Jordan told Lupercio that the family was going to the movies that day. Apparently, Lupercio had waited down by the stream for them to go, and was interrupted in the barn by Harold and Gerald.
Ernest held his right hand out to Hood, who thought it was to shake, then saw the business card in it. The card was for Ernest Kaleana Electric and featured a graphic red lightning bolt. On the back was a handwritten phone number.
“Try that,” said Ernest.
On the way to his car Hood dialed the number and got a computerized voice telling him to leave a message, which he did.