Captain Wyte handed the drawings back across the desk to Hood.
“A ten-year-old did those?”
“We should hire him.”
“Do you recognize the man?” asked Hood.
“Lupercio Maygar,” said Wyte. “One of the original MacArthur Park MS-13 gangsters. Our most recent photograph of him is ten years old. He broke ranks with Mara Salvatrucha and vanished. They say-well, they say a lot of things. Have you heard any of them?”
“People need heroes and enemies. So they make them. Look at Allison Murrieta.”
Wyte went to one of the three black file cabinets along one wall. Hood saw that he moved slowly and unevenly. He pulled open the top drawer of the left-hand cabinet, reached in and removed two thick files.
He set the files on his desk and sat. “Here’s the last known photograph of your man.”
Hood looked at the picture. Lupercio Maygar was thirty-eight years old at the time of the picture, about to be discharged from San Quentin State Prison in September of 1998. Lupercio looked like many of the Salvadoran gangsters: compact, fearless, ageless. Even at thirty-eight he looked like he could have been eighteen, or forty-eight, or anything in between. Hood set Jordan’s drawings on either side of the photograph. The flat-top was new. But if you put that haircut on the ten-year-old photo of Lupercio Maygar, you had the same guy.
“When he got out, his own people turned on him,” said Wyte. “When they couldn’t catch up with him, they killed his wife and his family, sent their heads to him UPS. He vanished, then MS gangsters started dying even faster than usual-seventeen of them in 1999 alone. These weren’t youngsters. They were high-ranking OGs, captains and pistoleros. Lupercio looked good for twelve of them, possibly more, but we never got to warrant because everyone was afraid to talk. They’re still open, all twelve of those murders.”
“Twelve,” said Hood. He studied the photograph some more. He’d lost faith in numbers in Anbar-the numbers of people killed by soldiers, IEDs and suicide bombers. The numbers of Shiites murdered by Sunnis, and vice versa. There was never agreement. There were U.S. Command numbers, Coalition numbers, UN numbers, Iraqi army and police numbers, American media numbers, BBC numbers, Al Jazeera numbers and of course the numbers muttered in the mosques and marketplaces and alley-ways.
“Mostly with a machete,” said Wyte. “That’s the village method from Salvador-because a machete is personal and quiet and makes a dramatic statement. There was a truce in late 2000 between Lupercio and Mara Salvatrucha. There was some fond hope he’d gone to Salvador for good. Maybe run into a death squad and tasted a little of his own medicine.”
“Do we have anything working on him at all?”
“Just this ancient history. After prison came the murders and the truce, then-he disappeared. Next thing we know, he’s down in Valley Center murdering Native Americans.”
“It’s tied to Miracle Auto Body,” said Hood. “But I don’t know how. Lupercio was both places-the body shop, then Valley Center.”
“Lupercio at Miracle? Can you put him there for sure?”
“Close to for sure. We’ve got a good witness.”
“The woman from Valley Center,” said Wyte. “This kid’s mother.”
Lupercio in two bad places, thought Hood. And Suzanne in two bad places, too.
Wyte leaned back and frowned. “Why would she be at an auto body shop a hundred miles from home?”
“She was driving by. Heading home after seeing a relative who lives up there. She saw Lupercio pulled over, in his black Lincoln, talking on a cell phone.”
“The Lincoln,” said Wyte. “I remember it well-always polished and perfect. He drove something else for a few years because he knew we were onto the Lincoln. Now it’s apparently back in action.”
Hood told Wyte about pulling her over for speeding and hearing her description of Lupercio. He silently cursed himself for failing to get the name and number of Suzanne’s alleged relative that night, then failing to get them again the very next day. Wyte listened, tapping his keyboard. Hood noticed that Wyte’s computer wasn’t a department-issue plastic one like everybody else’s but a brushed aluminum laptop that looked like it could withstand an IED. He remembered hearing that Wyte built his own computers, had built one for the sheriff himself.
“Then Lupercio must have seen the woman, just like she saw him,” said Wyte. He shook his head slowly, as if only grand stupidity on Suzanne Jones’s part could have allowed this. “And he’s after her because she’s a witness, or he thinks she is. Where is she now?”
“Her boyfriend isn’t telling.”
“Forty-eight hours in a holding cell would help.”
“I don’t think he knows.”
“Where’s the boyfriend?”
Hood wondered again if Suzanne had seen Lupercio doing more than just sitting in his car in the vicinity of Miracle Auto Body. For instance, seen him making off with four hundred and fifty thousand dollars’ worth of diamonds that several people knew were about to change hands. That was another pretty good motive for Lupercio to track her down, he thought. But if she’d seen something suspicious that night, why didn’t she tell him? Because she didn’t know what she was looking at? Maybe. Or maybe she knew something about the deal. Or maybe she, too, had been after the diamonds. Hood hadn’t even considered these possibilities until he’d seen Patmore’s video of Allison robbing the Taco Bell in Van Nuys. If Suzanne Jones was Allison Murrieta, things got possible. Strange things. And if she wasn’t Allison, well, then she was just a schoolteacher on her way home from seeing a relative.
“How did Lupercio find her so fast?” Hood asked.
“Maybe he followed her home.”
“No. She lives out in the country. Just a narrow dirt road the last mile to the house. She would have seen him. And he didn’t show up until the next afternoon, dressed as a fisherman and casing her property. If he’d followed her all the way to her house without being seen that night, they’d have found her body instead of the brothers.”
“I give up.”
“You shouldn’t. I was young once, too. And hungry.”
Hood didn’t like that things were fraying: Lupercio seemed to know things he shouldn’t know. Suzanne Jones didn’t look super clean anymore, but she did look like Allison Murrieta. And Allison Murrieta was just brazen enough to think she could lift diamonds from gangsters and live to tell about it, as if the underworld was just another fast-food joint and all she needed to conquer it was an attitude and a gun.
Hood thought of the way Suzanne Jones allowed him to see her in a nightshirt, and what she’d said about liking him and protecting him, and of the way she’d touched her face to his cheek and drawn breath. She had rattled and skinned him.
He began to feel the same clench in his stomach that he had lived with day and night on each of his Iraq tours. He could almost taste the antacid he’d swilled for those months-slippery and separated, crusted on the bottle neck and hot to his throat.
“Where do I find Lupercio?” he asked.
Wyte nodded toward his office window. “After the murders we looked under every rock in L.A. We never laid eyes on him. I suspect he found a woman to take him in and hide him. I suspect he’s no longer living in this city.”
“He finds Suzanne Jones easy enough,” said Hood. “Maybe we can use that.”
“Can you get her to cooperate?”
“I’m not sure I can get her at all.”
Hood silently reviewed his clues: a cell phone number she might or might not answer, an empty home, a boyfriend unable or unwilling to give up her whereabouts, a job she wouldn’t need to report to for another few weeks, three callers who had left her messages on the home phone after she’d taken off with her family early that morning.
“She’ll have to be damned well behaved if we’re going to try that,” said Wyte.
Hood tried to think it through. He stared across the desk at Wyte and saw some locomotion behind his blue eyes. Wyte was large and well built but somehow unstable at the same time. The helicopter crash had killed the pilot. Wyte’s expression now went optimistic and eager, and Hood wondered if Wyte missed the action.
“Listen,” said Wyte. “You might have some luck with this. Bait and wait-we did it in gangs all the time. You keep it small. You stay patient. It could work, Hood. Dangle Jones, then wait and watch.”
“Like a goat on a stake,” said Hood.
“But you’d have spotters, listeners, SWAT if you can get them, and someone close to her. You, Hood-you can hold her hand, calm her down.”
Hood didn’t imagine that.
“I can help,” said Wyte. “I’ll show you what I know.”
“But you’ll have to find her first,” said Wyte. “Keep her alive until we can set up. It can take a little time.”
“I’ll find her.”
“Let me know when you do. When she’s onboard I’ll talk to Marlon.”
Wyte sat back. “Hood, if Lupercio saw her at or near Miracle, he’ll kill her. You should be very aware of that. He’s never let people interfere with him. It’s why he’s alive and a dozen men he used to work with aren’t.”
Hood went out to the lunch truck and got an orange soda and stood in the shade of the headquarters building. His undershirt was stuck to his back and he felt a trickle of sweat behind each ear.
He called the number Ernest had given him and Suzanne Jones answered on the first ring.
“It’s Deputy Hood.”
“Who is that son of a bitch?”
“Lupercio Maygar. Former Mara Salvatrucha. You’re in danger.”
Suzanne Jones said nothing for a moment.
“Where are you?” asked Hood.
“A public place?”
“A hotel room.”
“Can you get to that lifeguard station by the boardwalk without having to drive your car?”
“I can walk to it.”
“Meet me there at three. Stay with the beach crowds.”
“This place is one big crowd.”