Hood sat on the safe-house couch and loaded a new disc into the recorder. He made sure the time and date were right. Wyte’s aluminum-cased laptop sat on the coffee table before him. Out on the deck Marlon was setting up the tripod. Suzanne stood with her back to Marlon, taking in the afternoon view of Marina del Rey through the shaggy-headed palms.
Hood could hear their voices through the screen door:
So this is what a safe house looks like.
Safe apartment is all.
What makes a safe house safe?
Only the good guys get in.
Bora Bora Way. Fifth floor. Sunset views. Nice.
We try. You bring the sunglasses?
All I own. Three pair.
Hood watched Suzanne stand at attention before Marlon as he adjusted the glasses like she was a star and he was a director who wanted everything just right. They stood face-to-face, and the breeze blew brown strands of her hair into his face, and they both smiled. Then Marlon positioned her facing the Pacific again and stood back beside the tripod and studied her for a moment.
Try another pair.
I’ve got my Jackie O’s.
Hood watched her trade out the first pair of sunglasses for her Jackie O’s. They were big and curvaceous and dark and Hood figured they’d be perfect for Lupercio.
I don’t get why all the sunglasses. Something tells me it’s not about the way I look.
It’s about the message you send.
She cocked her head and looked at Marlon. Then she turned just enough to see the palms and the beach and the whitecapped ocean beyond them. She turned farther and looked through the sliding glass door to Hood.
The reflection. He’ll see all this in my glasses.
But we want you to look good, too. The Jackie O’s are perfect.
Hood took the camera out onto the deck.
Ten takes later they had it right. Suzanne reassured her friends and family and colleagues that she was fine, she was safe, and this would all be over soon. She told everybody not to worry.
Hood and Marlon listened from the curtained kitchen so as not to be caught on the video. Later, watching the various takes on disc, Hood could see the apartment complex and the palms and the beach and the ocean reflected in the dark lenses.
“It’s Marina del Rey, all right,” said Suzanne. “It’s these apartments. It can’t be anyplace else.”
“Not if you know L.A. like Lupercio does,” said Marlon.
“And Valley Center, Torrance and Bakersfield,” said Suzanne.
She looked at Hood, then at Wyte’s computer, then back at Hood with an odd expression. Hood wondered if the laptop looked as orphaned to her as it now did to him. If so, it might be dawning on her where its owner was, which was downstairs working on her car.
“We appreciate this,” said Marlon. He ran his comb through his shiny black hair. It was a rockabilly do and Hood knew that Marlon was proud of it and wanted Suzanne to notice.
“I appreciate it, too. Thank you. Well, gotta go.”
They shook hands, and Hood walked Suzanne to the elevator then out to her Sentra.
“Where’s the Goat?”
“Give it back to your friend?”
“Don’t try to figure where I’ve been, Charlie.”
Which is exactly what Hood was doing, going back to the night before. He figured she’d boosted the Goat for the BK job but as yet it hadn’t made the hot list. Sometimes, if the car’s owner was out of town, a stolen car went unreported for days or weeks. Long-term airport parking lots were popular places to make a grab that wouldn’t immediately hit the hot list. But he’d looked hard at the ignition when Suzanne wasn’t aware and it looked new to Hood, factory. And if she pulled the door lock with a slide-hammer, then she’d either gotten lucky and been able to work the assembly back in or she’d replaced it.
“Guess I don’t have to tell you to keep moving,” said Hood.
“No. Vaya con Dios, Hood.”
Back upstairs Wyte was on the couch tapping the keypad of his laptop. A man that Hood had never met sat at the dinette table, two more laptop computers open before him and a box of discs off to one side. He was slender, silver-haired and tanned. Hood recognized him from headquarters-a surveillance specialist. Marlon sat across from the specialist, watching playbacks of Suzanne on the camera viewfinder.
Wyte introduced Hood to Bruce Lister from tech services. “Bruce and I got the tracker on the Sentra while Jones did her video.”
“Take eight’s the best,” said Marlon.
“Check this out, gentlemen,” said Wyte.
He set his laptop on the coffee table. Hood and Marlon sat on either side of him and leaned toward the screen, which displayed a map section of Marina del Rey. A blinking red indicator light moved northbound on Via Marina. The light advanced and the map quadrant slowly scrolled down in accordance with the speed of Suzanne Jones’s Sentra.
“Solid,” said Marlon.
Lister nodded but didn’t look up from the discs and laptops before him.
They watched the Sentra head toward the 405 Freeway. Hood found something mesmerizing in this, something covert and omnipotent.
Lister brought over the two laptops and set them up on the coffee table, one for Hood and one for Marlon. The same map of Marina del Rey scrolled slowly south as the Sentra moved north on the freeway.
“Just follow the IBEX icon on the desktop, it’ll take you to the real-time feed. Wherever the car is, you’ll know. The GPU can get you an exact location and you can turn the location into a nearest address with the FIND tab under options. You won’t even lose the map if you minimize. It’s simple enough for a five-year-old.”
The men continued to watch.
Wyte gathered up his custom machine, hit the keypad and waited, then tapped again.
“More goodies,” he said.
He set the laptop on the coffee table and swiveled it out for all to view. On the screen were split images of Allison Murrieta talking about Joaquin, and Suzanne Jones talking to friends and acquaintances.
“Naw, Charlie,” said Marlon. “No matter what you and her mom say, different women.”
“Funny,” said Wyte. “In the flesh Jones doesn’t look a lot like Murrieta, but you get her on video, squeeze them both onto a screen and you can see the resemblance.”
“Exactly the problem,” said Marlon. “With a small screen you’re creating parallels that aren’t there.”
“It’s her,” said Hood. “The sunglasses help. They hide part of what the mask hides.”
“I thought that, too,” said Wyte. “The less you see of Jones’s face the more it looks like the bandita. There’s enough resemblance to bring her in, put some questions to her.”
Marlon shrugged. “Sure, bring in the man in the moon, too.”
“Lister, what do you think?” asked Wyte.
Lister wrapped a USB cable around his hand as he looked at the screen. “Your call. But either way, thanks to that locator you can find Jones whenever you want.”
Hood remembered how many cars Allison Murrieta had allegedly stolen-Patmore had it at twenty-two-and doubted if she’d transfer the locator with each newly stolen car so they could keep up with her. No, it was sayonara to the transponder the next time Allison jacked a ride.
Lister set the cable in his briefcase, clicked it shut and with a curt wave walked out of the apartment.
Wyte sat back and watched the screen. “If we bring her in and can’t crack her, she’ll walk. We don’t have prints, we don’t have DNA, we don’t have a witness except her own mother and Hood here.”
“Not exactly,” said Hood. He told them about Suzanne calling herself Allison in talking to Ronette West about Barry Cohen’s diamonds. And about the faceless phone-only Allison who had followed Ronette’s lead back to Melissa and learned everything she could about Barry’s payoff. Then delivered ten grand in cash to Melissa a few days after Miracle Auto Body. He felt that he was betraying Suzanne but he couldn’t let her break the law and get herself killed.
“You think Jones is Allison and she has the diamonds?” asked Marlon.
Marlon laughed. “Some history teacher, Charlie.”
“Look, you did some pretty good detective work, Hood, but what you got is a rope made out of smoke.”
Hood said nothing, looked at Wyte.
“Really?” asked Wyte quietly. “I think Charlie has come up with more than smoke.”
“Can’t you just unscramble the voice on Boyer’s video?” asked Marlon. “Or maybe scramble Jones’s voice the same way as Allison’s, and see if they match? Then we’ll know for sure. No more moms and cokeheads and pissed-off girlfriends and maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. If you can’t convince me-the homicide sergeant-how are you going to convince a DA or a jury?”
“I’m working on the voices,” said Wyte. “There’s dozens of scramblers she could have used. Some of them you can buy for six bucks in toy stores. Some of them render a human voice one hundred percent unrecognizable, by any means.”
“Well, if Jones is Murrieta then we got the transponder on her car,” said Marlon. “We can catch her right in the middle of one of her stickups.”
“A good way to get someone shot,” said Wyte.
“Then let her pull the job,” said Marlon. “We’ll have helicopters in the air and we’ll spike-strip her car.”
Wyte seemed to ignore Marlon. But he gave Hood a long look. “You sleeping with her?”
Now Marlon stared at Hood. “What? You’re not, are you, Charlie?”
“I just said I wasn’t, sir. I can say it again.”
Marlon looked hard at Wyte. “Where’d that come from?”
Wyte shrugged and very small smile lines ringed his mouth. “Sorry, Charlie. Things get into the air. Must have been just me.”
“You’re fucking her?” asked Marlon.
Hood didn’t laugh with the other two men, and he stayed seated though he knew he was giving off bad heat. Lying about Suzanne Jones felt something like not filing charges against Lenny Overbrook but in Hamdaniya he had been covering a fellow soldier’s ass and now he was just covering his own.
“None of us is fucking her but Lupercio’s trying to kill her,” Hood said quietly.
“After we’ve got him in custody we can figure Suzanne and Allison Murrieta,” said Wyte. “We’ll have a little time to get it right. Some wiggle room-I like that.”
“I do too,” said Marlon. “Just a laugh, Charlie. Lighten up. We’ll stop this guy.”