Lupercio watched the scenery in the lenses of Suzanne Jones’s sunglasses. She was part of the evening news that was now playing on a large screen behind the Bull. The picture was vibrant and clear and Suzanne Jones’s face was almost as tall as Lupercio’s entire body.
“Marina del Rey,” said Lupercio. “One place I know not to look.”
“Exactly,” said the Bull. “She won’t be hard to keep track of now.”
The Bull shrugged.
Lupercio was used to having his questions dismissed by the Bull but this gesture seemed particularly brief and disrespectful. After much thought, Lupercio had decided that the Bull had once been a law enforcer, perhaps still was. Little else could explain his arrogance and his abundant information. That the man was also a successful criminal set off no alarms in Lupercio-witness to the disappeared, finder of loved ones’ bodies in the human piles of Puerta del Diablo, brother and son of El Salvador, the Savior.
The Bull sat above Lupercio as usual, surrounded by his aluminum-cased computers and peripherals, the low-voltage bulbs overhead throwing shadows down his face. He rolled his chair across the dais, casters echoing lightly upon the wood. He tapped at a keyboard.
Lupercio turned, and through the windows of the big office he could see the Port of Long Beach, its legions of trucks and trailers tending the immense walls of stacked containers. The sun was still high and the harbor was silver and the great cranes cast black reflections on the water.
“Watch,” said the Bull.
Lupercio turned back and watched the big TV screen split. On the right side of the screen Suzanne Jones’s face froze in all its oversized beauty. On the left side appeared another face of equal size and similar shape. This one had straight black hair and wore a jeweled mask.
“Allison Murrieta,” said Lupercio. He enjoyed her exploits and liked it that she gave some of her money to the poor. She had saved the life of an old man. Lupercio’s wife and daughters were much more interested in Allison stories than in the “reality” shows they watched. Lupercio hoped that the cameras would be there when she died in a hail of bullets.
“What do you see?” asked the Bull.
“What can anyone see behind a mask?”
“Are they the same woman?”
“I don’t know. That is why she wears it.”
“Are they the same woman?”
Now Lupercio shrugged. There was too much in the world that went unseen to speculate on what was not even visible.
“A mask can hide many faces.”
“This only hides one.”
“Jones has the diamonds unless she sold them,” said Lupercio. “If Allison Murrieta also has them, it is not my concern.”
The Bull stared down at him. “I admire your economy of thought.”
The Bull still stared down at him. “Are you feeling pressure, Lupercio? Because of the attention in the news, your pictures being shown on television, the various law enforcement agencies all focused directly on you, the reward money?”
“I do what I must do to remain unseen.”
The Bull smiled. “You cut your hair.”
“I find it very entertaining,” said the Bull, “that here in the twenty-first century, some of our deadliest enemies hide from us in caves. And that here, in this huge city, with all of our manpower and technology, all of our vast and fast lines of communication, our most wanted man simply cuts his hair to remain invisible. And our most wanted woman wears a simple mask. And for a time, it works.”
“True. But then where did they get the drawing of you they showed on TV? Someone not only saw you, but observed you closely. Right down to the hair you had to cut.”
“Her son. The shirt in the drawing I have worn only one time.”
“Why did you let the boy see you?”
“He was my opportunity to search for the diamonds.”
Lupercio wondered if the Bull had been a federal enforcer or a Sheriff’s deputy or a municipal policeman, or perhaps an insurance investigator.
“Will he live?” asked the Bull.
“He chose his path the moment he talked to me.”
“You are an unforgiving thing, Lupercio.”
“I’m simple and true.”
“He’s a boy.”
The Bull turned and looked at the big screen behind him, which still contained the split-screen images of the women.
“Where is she?” asked Lupercio. “I want to finish this work.”
“I want you to finish it, too.”
The Bull rolled over to one of his computers and guided the mouse. He consulted his laptop. The light from the monitors shifted on his face. A moment later he leaned back and crossed his thick arms over his thick chest.
“She’s in Lake Arrowhead, at the Gray Fox Cabins. She’s driving a white Sentra.”
The Bull gave Lupercio the address and the license plate numbers.
“How many police are with her?”
“The police are in Marina del Rey.”
“If you know where she is, then they must know where she is.”
The Bull smiled and entered something on a keypad. “No. I’ve got a little helper. I control it. If I want, it talks only to me and gives static to everyone else.”
A little helper, thought Lupercio. The Bull has many little helpers. A criminal policeman with many helpers, such as myself.
“She might have a friend with her,” said the Bull.
A sheet of paper emerged from a printer and he plucked it out and looked at it. He set it on the edge of the big desk, and Lupercio stood on his toes in order to reach it.
“The deputy from Miracle Auto Body,” said Lupercio.
“His name is Hood.”
“Was that him in Bakersfield? Someone came across the desert when he heard the shots.”
“I want my diamonds, Lupercio. I want them tonight.”
Lupercio was coming up the mountain at nine P.M., his Lincoln Continental swaying comfortably through the winding curves. Once in a while a switchback would carry him out into the night and he could look down at the vast ocean of lights south of L.A. The lights were dimmed by the dirty air of the basin below but up here above the cities the air was cool and clean. His car was still scratched and dented from plowing through the chain-link fence after Suzanne Jones, but Lupercio had had time to wash the desert sand of Bakersfield off it.
He wondered if he should make Suzanne Jones tell him if she was Allison Murrieta or not before he took the diamonds and killed her. He failed to see the importance of who Allison Murrieta really was, even though it seemed unlikely that she could be the great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter of an outlaw from long ago who might not have ever existed. In fact he’d wondered at first if Allison wasn’t just a made-up character, part of a new kind of show made to entertain Americans, in which a character is introduced to audiences on the news as if she were real, then gets her own time slot if she’s popular enough. He wondered what it would be like to have his own show, The Lupercio Maygar Show, or just Lupercio.
He parked a quarter mile away from the Gray Fox Cabins and got out. He hooked the curve of the pry bar over his left shoulder then pulled on his oversized brown sport coat, arranged the machete scabbard to be almost invisible beneath it and buttoned it. He set the black felt cowboy hat on his head, hooked his thumbs into his belt and headed down the dark road toward the cabins.
An SUV swept past him, headed for town. Then a minivan, then a pickup truck. Their side mirrors sent breezes against Lupercio’s face, and he noted how close most drivers were willing to get to him, how little reality a small brown man possessed in the world of norteamericanos. It was like being disappeared but you were still here.
The Gray Fox Cabins came into view as he walked over a gentle rise in the road. The office was a large log structure, two stories, and atop the peaked tin roof sat a large sign cut out in the shape of a fox, outlined in a string of blinking red, white and blue lights. The fox wore a blue officer’s jacket and red fez and was up on his hind legs, dancing. The paint was faded. Beyond the office lay the cabins.
Lupercio walked past. There were two rows of five cabins facing one another across a small patch of trees. The forest grew up behind them. Each unit had a car parked in front. The lights around the fox reflected weakly on the Sentra and advanced slowly across it as Lupercio walked by. He saw the light on in the cabin with the Sentra parked in front, though the shades were drawn. It was the end unit of the uphill row.
Lupercio walked two hundred feet down the road then crouched and trotted into the forest. The trees were fragrant and widely spaced, and he had no trouble navigating his way back to the Gray Fox. The red, white and blue lights winked silently. Lupercio lowered his boots evenly and slowly, and when he came up behind Jones’s cabin, he stood still and stared at the faint orange glow of the drawn shade. The units all had back doors. He heard voices and music and laughter coming from the cabins.
An hour later, still within the trees, he had not moved except to breathe and not once had anyone passed behind the drawn shade of the back window. The music and laughter had ended.
Lupercio shrugged the pry bar off his shoulder and into his hand, then crept lightly to the door. He stepped onto the small concrete landing. A thin line of interior light issued around the door, and Lupercio could see where the line was interrupted by the lock. He hefted the pry bar up and gently worked the tip into the space where the lock was. Then he pushed on it with all of his strength, and the steel lock ripped through the soft old pine of the frame and the door wobbled open.
Lupercio was inside in an instant, his machete held up over his right shoulder in a two-handed grip.
The little dining area where he had entered was clear. He was aware of the empty bathroom as he passed it. On his right was a bedroom with its door open and no one in it.
But ahead of him up the hallway the front bedroom door was closed and the light inside was off, and he knew this was where she would be, so he flung open the door and jumped inside. In the dim light from the hallway Lupercio saw the woman sleeping in the bed, covers turned up against the mountain chill. Then he saw the blade of his machete disappear into the pillow and the severed head jump into the air and land on the floor.
After the flash of white that should have been bone Lupercio saw the foam head rocking to a stop on the cabin floor and the wig caught by his blade in the deep gash in the pillow. He buried the machete in the head, the two halves skittering across the knotty pine floor.
Voices now rose from the unit next door, and he thought he saw movement through the window facing the office.
He saw the index card propped against the lamp on the nightstand.
“I trusted you” was written in a graceful feminine cursive script across it.
Beside it lay some kind of electronic emitter or transponder, likely a vehicle locator.
Lupercio ran back into the forest.