Hood knelt beside the bed in Suzanne’s cabin and photographed the transponder with his cell phone.
He was bewildered by Lupercio’s supernatural ability to find Suzanne Jones, but he knew the explanation would be simpler than ESP. There was an odd-looking line of solder on the transponder housing, just below the manufacturer’s etched logo-Assured Surveillance.
A San Bernardino County Sheriff’s detective worked beside him, videotaping the note on the nightstand, the transponder, the wig, the two neatly cleaved halves of the Styrofoam wig stand and the deep, fresh cut in the old wood floor. His name was Pettigrew. Outside a team of investigators waited for the sun to rise.
Pettigrew turned off the recorder and let it hang at his side.
“So this woman is the witness against the badass Salvadoran everybody’s looking for.”
“He’s more than that.”
“She’s a schoolteacher, right?”
“Yes, eighth grade.”
“Was that locator on the car out front?”
Hood nodded but said nothing.
“Even with that TV press conference, I still don’t understand how she got mixed up with him,” said Pettigrew. “A schoolteacher and a killer. They have a history?”
“Not that we know.”
Pettigrew shook his head doubtfully. “I don’t see how you do it, day in and day out. I hate going down the hill now. You hit that brown stuff they call air, you just know nothing good can happen.”
Hood said nothing. Lupercio’s black art had left no room in his mind for Pettigrew’s fearful opinions.
“I was L.A. Sheriff’s for eight years,” said Pettigrew. “Mostly East Los Angeles Station. So I know what I’m talking about.”
A few minutes later Hood went down the hallway and looked at the splintered door. Lupercio had used a pry bar. Hood could see where the blade had forced the steel lock assembly through the door frame. By the punky look of the wood, it seemed it wouldn’t have taken great force.
For a moment he stood behind the cabin and watched the sunlit morning vapor drift through the branches of the pine trees. He called Suzanne’s cell number again, but she was, as usual, unavailable.
Then he called Assured Surveillance in Worcester, Massachusetts, and talked to an engineer named Schlinger. Schlinger couldn’t explain the solder line on the AS-210, but he was happy to look at the pictures and gave Hood an e-mail address. Schlinger would call back.
Hood stood outside the cabin in the cool dawn as the pictures raced across the continent. Blue jays flitted in the upper branches of a jack pine and Hood could see Pettigrew’s flash unit popping light against the cabin windows.
Five minutes later Schlinger was back.
“It’s been modified,” he said. “We don’t ship them that way.”
“Modified to do what?”
“Open it. Send more pictures. You’ll need a small cross-tip.”
Hood got Pettigrew to dust the transponder but not a single latent came through. Using a screwdriver from the trunk of the Camaro, he opened the housing. The short screws unseated quickly and he set aside the lid.
Hood looked down at the tightly packed microelectronics, which meant little to him. He shot them with his phone camera and sent them through to Massachusetts.
Another five minutes and Schlinger called again.
“It’s been reworked,” he said. “Cleverly. It’s got a signal splitter with a digital arm switch. That switch can be thrown on and off by remote by an operator who knows the frequency.”
“By whoever added the splitter.”
“So, two signals,” said Hood. “I can turn yours off and leave mine on. You get nothing and I get signal.”
“Right. You should report this to your superiors.”
Hood thanked him and rang off.
He thought of how Lupercio had shown up at Suzanne’s home in Valley Center, at the Residence Inn in Torrance, at Madeline’s home in Bakersfield. How could he do that? Because he’s clairvoyant or because he was tipped? Who knew that these were the places where Suzanne would likely be?
Hood did. Marlon. Wyte almost certainly.
Marlon or Wyte, running Lupercio? Delivering Suzanne to the killing floor for a handful of diamonds?
But no one had known that she’d drive up to the Gray Fox Cabins in Lake Arrowhead.
So someone tracked her electronically. Someone who could kill one signal coming from her car and pick up another frequency.
And guide Lupercio here.
My superiors, Hood thought, who approved and arranged for the transponder on Suzanne’s car.
Hood began to feel the same sense of unreality that he had felt in Anbar, the sense of entering a world that only outwardly resembled the one he knew. After the murders of Jackson and Ruiz his soul had felt like an open wound that he wanted to hide, but now the wound had grown large enough to be seen on his face and heard in his voice. He could feel the new sunshine on it.
He thought about last night, ordering the flow of events, trying to see if there was a flaw in his logic, something that could blow away his suspicions with cold, bright truth: at six o’clock the evening before, the Sentra had been in Oceanside, not moving, apparently content. He’d kept thinking about Suzanne. He thought about her resuscitating the old man at the Burger King. The news media had really run with it. Armed robber Allison Murrieta turns lifesaver. His Silver Lake apartment windows were open and his music was down low, and the darkness outside seemed lazy and open so he sat awhile on his deck with the laptop balanced on his thigh. Hood liked the simple things about his tiny portion of L.A.-the soft nights, the sounds of car engines on the boulevards, the sweetness of the roses in the beds by his complex swimming pool, the inviting smell that slowed him as he walked by the laundry room.
Then, at eight o’clock, in the middle of his takeout Mexican dinner, the Sentra had begun moving north on PCH in Oceanside. Hood had watched it as he ate his rice. A few minutes later the locator light on the GPU map went dead. Marlon called him immediately to see if Hood’s was still working. Wyte called a minute later to say his was down, too, and that he’d already talked to Lister. Lister called a few minutes after that to say that vehicle transponders were prone to interruption by magnets, heat, cold, moisture and vibration, but Hood thought it was odd that this one had worked so well then failed so completely. Lister said he was doing what he could, and that there was a chance that Suzanne had found the transponder and destroyed it. Hood noted that when the signal went dead the Sentra had been eastbound on Highway 76 from Oceanside, where Suzanne had no doubt been with her children, dogs and boyfriend.
All they could do was wait. Wyte said he’d stay on Lister. Marlon, who sounded pleasantly drunk, said he’d deal with it in the morning.
Hood had finished his dinner and sat on the couch with the laptop beside him and his head bobbing back against the wall every few minutes, which would wake him up for a look at the GPU map screen. But the locator never reappeared.
Suzanne called just before midnight and cursed Hood violently. She told him she’d found the transponder, driven to Arrowhead to arrange a little surprise for clever Hood and the assholes he worked for but it was Lupercio who’d tracked her to the cabin. Lupercio! From a motel room across the street she’d watched through binoculars as he drove by, then a few minutes later walked by, passed the cabin and slunk into the trees. Hours later there was some commotion and she saw the manager hustle across to her cabin. Hood got the name of the cabins from Suzanne before she cursed him again and hung up.
Fuck you, Charlie. What kind of an idiot do you think I am?
Hood went back inside the cabin, thinking: Marlon or Wyte?›
Marlon was uncomplicated and Wyte was smart.
Marlon liked Suzanne and Wyte had never met her.
Marlon was strong and Wyte was injured.
Marlon was a family man and Wyte was a widower.
Marlon had others to provide for and Wyte was alone.
Lister? Hood didn’t know the first goddamned thing about Lister. There was little likelihood that Lister had even heard of Suzanne Jones before the Valley Center massacre, or had known that Hood was going to conduct an interview in Bakersfield. So Hood took him off the list.
He tried to decide which man was more likely to jettison the law, abandon his morals and deliver a woman to be murdered for diamonds and silence. Maybe Marlon and Wyte were in it together.
But Suzanne Jones could blame no one but him.
Fuck you, Charlie.
The uniform with the camera came inside and started shooting interiors. Through the window Hood saw a deputy squatting and running a finger through the pine needles.
Detective Pettigrew set the video camera on the bed. “The schoolteacher is a brave lady. Maybe foolish. That could have been her head instead of a wig stand.”
Hood nodded. He wondered again if Suzanne and Lupercio had pulled the Miracle Auto Body job together and gotten crosswise after. He didn’t think so, but until a few minutes ago there were other things he hadn’t thought either, and now they wouldn’t leave him alone.
“Shit like this is why I don’t come down the mountain. You can have your animals, your whackos. When you’ve seen enough of them down there, you’ll find a way out of L.A.”
“I like L.A.”
“You’re young. You’ll either figure it out or you won’t.”