That night in his small Silver Lake apartment Hood watched and recorded a TV news special on Allison Murrieta. He ate his dinner and drank beer. The windows were open for the cool air, which in August smelled like nightshade and frying tortillas.
The show was hosted by Dave Boyer. It had jolting edits and a soundtrack of very loud and sudden noises, like bullet trains passing or maybe cell doors slamming. The images were of Allison robbing businesses, intercut with the self-promotional video that Boyer had played at the interagency task force briefing.
There was a still shot of an old drawing of Joaquin Murrieta. He was long-haired and appeared crazed. Then the screen split and a still image of masked Allison appeared beside that of her alleged great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. If there was a resemblance, it was faint at best to Hood.
But again he thought he saw Suzanne Jones behind Allison Murrieta’s jeweled mask. When they showed a clip of Allison leaving a McDonald’s after robbing it, Hood watched the way the back of her blouse creased in alternate directions with each step, and he remembered comparable creases in the nightshirt Suzanne wore that Sunday after she’d smelled his face up close then walked away, waving over her shoulder.
As evidence I now present comparable creases, he thought. He burped and shook his head. What were the hundreds of people who knew Suzanne Jones thinking when they saw Allison Murrieta on TV? Good question. Apparently not what he was thinking.
He got out the copy of Suzanne Jones’s phone bill and flattened it against his knee so he could read it.
He chose a Los Angeles number and a woman answered. Hood identified himself as a Los Angeles County deputy and said that he was trying to locate Suzanne Jones. She had suddenly gone out of contact and he was concerned. Hood offered his badge number and a number to call at LASD if she wanted to verify that he was a deputy on official business.
“Did you talk to Ernest?” she asked.
“He’s out of contact, too.”
“And she’s not at home?”
“The family moved out suddenly on Sunday night,” said Hood. “There was an incident in the neighborhood.”
“She was fine. Her children and Ernest were fine. Then-she stopped returning our calls.”
Then, thought Hood-I almost got her murdered at a motel up in Torrance and I can’t figure out why she hit the wind.
“I’m sorry,” said the woman. “I just don’t know where she would go. We work together at L.A. Unified. But she lives way down in San Diego and I rarely talk to her during the summer. I wish I could help.”
Hood got an idea but he was afraid it was a bad one. At least that’s how it struck him at first but he decided to air it anyway. Maybe it was the beer, but Hood figured if Lenny Overbrook could tell a difficult truth then he, Hood, could ask a difficult question. Something in this woman’s voice made him believe he should try.
“Are you close to a TV set?” he asked.
“I’m asking for your help. Turn on Channel Four.”
“Are you serious?”
There was a pause. Hood could hear the phone hit something solid like a table or counter. A moment later she was back.
“Allison Murrieta,” she said. “She robbed a place over in Long Beach last night. I kind of like her but I’m afraid she’ll kill somebody someday. What’s this got to do with Suzanne?”
“Do they look alike?” asked Hood.
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Well, no. They don’t look much alike. Suzanne is tall and athletically proportioned. This robber is thicker. Look at her. She’s not tall, and she’s full. Allison has black hair but Suzanne’s is light brown. Of course the mask hides the important features, so there’s no resemblance to be seen.”
On-screen Allison was finishing up her KFC heist of Tuesday night, hamming it up with a burly workman who was down on his knees in front of her.
To Hood the guy looked big, even on his knees-thick thighs and heavy arms and a head the size of a Dutch oven-which could make someone standing beside him look shorter. And Allison Murrieta’s loose-fitting black leather vest and roomy, run-for-it trousers-they widened her, suggested a few pounds that might not really be there.
“What if that’s a wig?” Hood asked.
“Possible, but I doubt it. You can almost always tell.”
“What about the face?”
“Same basic face type, maybe, but it’s not her. Suzanne doesn’t carry herself that way. I know how she walks and moves.”
She gave Hood her name, Julie Ensley, and Hood gave her his cell number and asked her to call if she learned anything. Hood said that he would have Suzanne call her when he found her.
“You’re right,” he lied. “Suzanne and Allison don’t look that much alike to me. It was a false hunch.”
“Women notice women more than men do sometimes.”
He got another beer and dialed another Los Angeles number.
Sid Welch, Suzanne’s principal, had not spoken with her since the last day of school back in June. He had no idea where his teachers went for summer break. Suzanne had a way of showing up at pretty much the last minute. Welch’s words were slightly slurred and his attitude was jocular, but Hood didn’t ask him to turn on a TV.
He dialed a Temecula number and got the recording for Oscar’s Septic Service. And another recording for Quality Motors in Alpine.
Then he tried an Anza Valley number.
“Growers West,” said the voice.
And Hood pictured the dour blonde and thought: There it is-a connection between Barry Cohen and Suzanne Jones.
The message was interrupted by a female voice.
Hood reintroduced himself, told Ronette the Suzanne Jones story, offered his shield number.
“Sorry, Deputy. I don’t know any Suzanne Jones. Where’d you get my number, anyhow?”
“From Suzanne’s phone bill.”
“Then you have a problem, dude.”
“What do you grow?”
“The most beautiful flowers on Earth. Nice talking with you. Good-bye.”
Hood stood up and went outside to his deck. From Barry to Melissa to Octavia to Derek to Fred to Ronette to… Suzanne Jones?
He felt flush with luck. Back inside he cracked another beer and called information and wrote down the address of Growers West down in Anza Valley, Riverside County. Meth country, thought Hood, Tweak City.
He blew into his hand as if it held dice, then dialed a Bakersfield number and got a woman with a dusky voice but few words.
She listened to his intro, and he could hear her writing down his badge number and the HQ number that would confirm his identity, rank and assignment.
She asked him to call back in ten minutes, which Hood did. Her name was Madeline Jones and she was Suzanne’s mother. She agreed to talk to him in her home at eight the next morning. She gave him her address and hoped that he would be on time.