In the darkness Hood waited for Lupercio to come into the motel parking lot. The Mariposa was on Aviation near LAX, and when the jets roared over, Hood heard the window glass buzz and the lamp stand rattle on the table.
Sitting back from the window in room 6, Hood could see each parking place and the side of the motel office. Fog had broken the heat wave and now the night was heavy and damp. The Mariposa’s security and courtesy lights were yellow, casting the property in false colors.
There were twenty-six rooms. The parking places were nearly all taken. Around the perimeter was a cinder-block wall that had been heavily tagged and sandblasted and tagged again. A low concrete planter lit by a yellow ground light stood in the middle to divide the incoming and outgoing traffic, and in it grew three sagging queen palms blanched by the foggy illumination.
A pale minivan pulled in, circled around and found a place at the end of the row. So far tonight Hood had seen six new arrivals and eight departures. The Mariposa offered a park-and-ride deal at ninety-nine dollars according to the sign out front.
Suzanne had checked in at four P.M. then met him at a liquor store on Sepulveda to give him the room key and exchange cars. She had already talked to Betty Little Chief about parking Hood’s Camaro out of sight in her garage. Hood hoped she could make Valley Center by six-thirty, which would still be well before dark. He left a cigar box full of tapes of the Bakersfield sound on the passenger seat for her.
Hood drank coffee straight from a thermos and had a bag of snack food under his chair to keep up his alertness. Suzanne’s white Sentra-tinted a sour yellow by the motel lot lights-faced him from the parking space directly in front of his door.
The bait now sat before his superiors.
That afternoon he had told Wyte that Suzanne was checked into the Mariposa for one night. Wyte told him that he and his bride had stayed there when they first came to L.A. The planes kept them awake all night, or maybe it was each other. Then Wyte gave him a look that Hood couldn’t read and turned back to his monitor.
Later Hood told Marlon that Suzanne Jones was spending the night at her home in Valley Center. Marlon questioned her wisdom because Lupercio had already found her there once. Hood said he’d told her the same thing but Jones was stubborn. Marlon said if Lupercio showed up there tonight it would prove he was psychic and they’d have to get the psychic-crimes team on the case.
Hood drank more coffee and listened to the window vibrate and the lamp stand start up again. His department-issue Glock was holstered over his left shoulder and his own eight-shot Smith AirLite.22 was strapped to his right ankle. He had brought his folding chair from home, with armrests and a low seat that was surprisingly comfortable.
He thought of Suzanne down in Valley Center, perched in the tree house in the massive oak that grew in her barnyard. He had remembered the tree house and thought that if Lupercio materialized on her property, Suzanne would be as safe in that tree as an observer of Lupercio Maygar could get.
The idea got better when she showed Hood how Ernest and Bradley had rigged the hidden line that released a rope ladder so you could climb into the tree house, then hoist the ladder up and out of sight once you were in. Hood had sat on a derelict couch on the deck of the tree house and confirmed that you could see the back of the house, the barn, the pond, the outbuildings, the drive and part of the road that led past Betty Little Chief’s house. But there was small chance that anyone approaching could see you.
Hood had given her his twelve-gauge Remington automatic and a box of number sixes just in case, and that was how Hood now pictured her, sitting on the couch-how did they get that up there?-with the scattergun propped against it, listening to the coyotes yapping and the night birds singing and waiting for a glimpse of Lupercio. He liked her new do, but in his imagination her hair was still brown and wavy.
Now Hood scanned the cars parked in the motel courtyard, looking for movement. The perimeter was poorly lit, and the cinder-block wall with its bold swirls of graffiti fooled him into seeing motion. He half expected to see Lupercio emerge from one of the cryptograms.
If so, Hood would deal with him. And later, somehow, with Wyte.
If Lupercio went to Valley Center then Suzanne would see him and they would know that Marlon was their betrayer.
And if what Hood thought would happen happened-if Lupercio stayed out of sight tonight-then either Marlon or Wyte had sensed the trick and called him off.
There was also the possibility that they were in it together.
Hood drank more coffee, slapped his face and pulled a packet of donuts from the bag under the chair while he scanned the yellowed parking lot again.
At four-fourteen a dark old Lincoln Continental rolled into the courtyard, hugging the wall on the far side of the planter.
Hood backed his chair farther away from the window without taking his eyes off the car.
The Lincoln moved along the wall, turned and turned again, then came back toward Hood alongside the cars parked outside the rooms.
The windows were smoked and he couldn’t see the driver, or if there were passengers. It looked like the one from the sand hills outside Bakersfield. When the car had come full circle to the exit, it turned hard left into the entrance lane and began the circle again. Like someone looking for a good parking place, Hood thought, or someone looking for his room.
Or someone else’s.
A jet roared over, and Hood’s heart beat steady and fast as the Lincoln cruised the lot again. It slowed at Suzanne’s Sentra, almost stopped. He couldn’t see in. When it got to the exit, it stopped then bumped onto Aviation and went south toward the airport.
Hood hit the door running, made the Sentra in seconds. He started it up, slammed it into reverse, then punched it off the lot and onto Aviation southbound.
Ahead he could see four sets of taillights, red halos in the fog. He closed hard on them, flashing the brights and honking, hoping to cut Lupercio away from the pack.
The Lincoln jumped into the fast lane and accelerated. Hood floored the little four-cylinder and closed the distance as they approached Century. He thought he saw a backseat passenger in his high beams, a faint face looking at him.
Hood rode the Lincoln hard, flashed his lights again, backed off a little.
To his surprise the Continental signaled right and pulled over.
Hood followed it to the curb then gunned the Sentra again, shot past the Lincoln and skidded to a stop ahead of it. The Lincoln didn’t move. He hit reverse hard and backed almost into the Continental, then rolled out of the Sentra and came up with his Glock out and ready as he crouched and ran toward the car. He stayed outside of the headlight beams and yelled for the driver to step out. He kept the door of the Lincoln just above his front sights, and when it opened slightly, he dropped to his knees in a shooter’s stance and swung his left hand up to support the weapon.
“Get out and step away from the car!”
He watched the door open halfway, then swing all the way out.
A heavy, round-faced woman dislodged herself and took three hurried steps through the fog, away from the car toward Hood. She raised her hands. Hood saw the car keys dangling from the right.
“Don’ shoot! Don’ shoot! I have my daughters! We are not a gang! We are lost!”
She whirled and rattled off rapid Spanish toward the car and then Hood saw the back door open and a young woman get out, followed by another who looked exactly like her.
Away from the yellow lights of the Mariposa lot, Hood now saw that the Lincoln was not black but dark green.
The girls raised their hands and stood on either side of their mother. Hood brandished his shield and came toward them, pistol pointed up at the sky. He kept them in his vision, but what he focused on was the interior of the car.
“Los Angeles Sheriff’s,” he said. “Don’t move.”
The mother and the second girl out had both left the doors open, and Hood saw no one else in the car, but he knew Lupercio was small and nimble, so he trotted past the women and aimed his gun into the car as he walked completely around it to make sure it was empty.
Back at the driver’s-side door Hood leaned in and ran his left hand along the bottom of the dash until he found the trunk release.
He pulled it and heard the lock disengage and saw the trunk lid open an inch or two.
He walked closely alongside the car, and when he got to the trunk, Hood reached over with his left hand and lifted it up.
Then he stepped back and circled the rear of the car, aiming his gun in.
There were three large suitcases, a folding garment bag and three carry-ons.
He holstered his pistol.
“Please come over here,” he called to the women.
They hustled over, and suddenly Hood smelled their perfume and hair products and makeup. Their eyes were wide and their faces looked stunned but hopeful.
“What were you doing at the Mariposa?”
“We want to go to the Hacienda.”
“It’s south of the airport. El Segundo.”
“Please tell me how to go there. We are lost. We have very early flight to Caracas.”
“I am a United States citizen. My daughters are United States citizens. We will show you passports.”
Hood eyed the three big pieces of luggage in the Lincoln trunk.
Then looked down at the mother’s passport: Consuelo Encarnaci'on, DOB 12/26/1970.
In his dawning humiliation Hood asked to see her driver’s license also.
The daughters obeyed, too, and Hood examined all three CDLs, every few seconds glancing over at the big suitcases in the trunk of the Continental.
“Thank you,” he said, returning Serena Encarnaci'on’s current and valid driver’s license.
“Thank you,” he said, returning Lucia’s. “Wait here, please.”
He walked over to the Lincoln and pulled the carry-ons and the folding bag from the trunk and set them on the ground. He unzipped the big black suitcase that was on its back, saw clothes and no Lupercio, shook his head. He wrestled the other two over and checked them next. He heard one of the girls giggle. He felt like a fool.
Back with the women he apologized and said he was looking for Lupercio Maygar.
Hood saw recognition on the mother’s face.
“We saw the TV,” said Consuelo. “We don’ know him.”
The twin girls silently looked at the ground.
Hood had seen the same look on Iraqi people, a look of anger and shame at being mistaken for criminals or killers or sectarian rabble. But it was a look that not only the innocent could produce.
He checked the Lincoln’s registration and wrote down the plates, and the names, dates of birth and address for the Encarnaci'on family of Fontana. Consuelo gave him a phone number.
Hood apologized then gave them directions to their hotel.
He trailed them three cars back, down Century to Sepulveda, then south to the Hacienda. They turned into the busy check-in area, and Hood passed them, then swung a U-turn back toward the Mariposa.
In room 6 he waited out the sunrise with donuts and lukewarm coffee. He wanted badly to do something right. He thought about the mother and twins and if he should drive out to Fontana for a look around. He doubted that Lupercio had shown at Valley Center either, but the plan was for Suzanne to call when it was light.
At six-thirty she called-no Lupercio, she said, and no sleep, not a creature stirring except an owl that floated out of the big oak tree at three-twenty and just about gave her a heart attack then flew back into the tree thirty seconds later with a pale shiny rattlesnake that buzzed until the bird ate its head. The owl was still perched there, eyes closed and the shredded carcass hanging over the oak branch. She wanted the rattle for Jordan but couldn’t figure out how to get it.
“No Lupercio, Hood?”
“No. Just a mother and two daughters on their way to Venezuela.”
“Tell me about that.”
Hood did, as he pulled the curtains almost shut. He returned to the chair, stepping through the snack wrappers and chocolate milk cartons and the spent energy-vitamin packet.
“Now what?” she asked. “We still don’t know which of your bosses is ratting me out.”
“He sensed the trap.”
“But we’re okay if nobody saw us, right? We’ve got our little traitor wondering if we’re as dumb as he thinks we are.”
“Who are your suspects, Hood?”
“You don’t know them.”
“What do they look like?”
She was quiet for a beat.
“When I get a mouse in the pantry, I put the peanut butter on the trap but I don’t set it the first night. I just let him eat. Second night I put on peanut butter and set it. Kills them every time.”
“He’s smarter than a mouse.”
“I’m not going to live like this anymore. If I wait for Lupercio to find me, he will. I have to act.”
“Act how, Suzanne?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“You sound like you do.”
She didn’t answer, and Hood listened to the silence then the rumble of another jet lumbering out of the sky toward the runway.
“You must really miss me, Hood.”
“It’s light here now and I’m still in the tree house. I’ve got your shotgun leaned up against the wall. The sun is coming up over the hills and colors are starting to form. The pond is dark shiny gray. It looks like the mercury that Jordan spilled out of the thermometer a couple of weeks ago. There are hills the color of lions and no houses on them. If a herd of wildebeest came down from Betty’s right now it would look perfectly natural.”
“It’s more than nice.”
Hood pictured her. “I wish I could have met you some better way.”
“You get what you take.”
“It’s the other way around.”
“The other way around is bullshit.”
Hood saw Allison Murrieta from the news the night before, nervously clowning around with the surfers and the 7-Eleven clerk just before her gun discharged. The clerk said he thought it was an accident. One of the surfers said he thought she was showing off. She took seven-hundred-plus dollars. The TV reporter said that in the last two days, five Southland charitable organizations had reported cash donations apparently made by Allison Murrieta, one as high as twelve thousand dollars. A San Diego charity said they got five thousand. The L.A. Police Foundation admitted getting an envelope in the mail with an undisclosed amount of cash and a card from Allison Murrieta.
“How should we have met, Hood?”
“Maybe you would have won a big hapkido tournament and I would have won CIF at tennis, and the Bakersfield Sun would have run our pictures on the same page.”
“What’s better about that?”
“It’s better than you being stalked by a killer.”
“Naw. What if we were back-to-back winners on Millionaire? And they’d want our pictures together after the show-you and me and Meredith? And after drinks at a very posh bar our natural-born hotness for each other just took over? And we each took a year off work to do nothing but travel and learn the history of the world and have sex in totally cool hotel rooms?”
“That’s a good one, Suzanne. There should be a great car in there, somewhere, for the U.S. portion of our travels.”
“With a million bucks you can buy a lot of great cars.”
“I like the Camaro, but if I had the money I’d get the Cayenne Turbo.”
“I’d get a Saleen Mustang and a Harley fat-boy and still have more money left over than you.”
“You know how to stretch a dollar.”
Suzanne laughed and Hood laughed, too. He was still sitting in his canvas fold-up chair, back from the window, where he could see the flash of cars coming and going from the Mariposa and hear the slamming doors of travelers and the rising noise of traffic out on Aviation.
“You know, Hood, we could actually do all that without winning a game show. We just take a year off, put our money together and go. Make a perfect world.”
Hood thought about that one. He had eleven grand in the bank but eight of it was an IRA.
“What about your boys?”
“They got this thing called mail. And telephones. Ernest is a very good father and stepfather. They all might like me gone for a year. I’m overcontrolling when I’m home too much. I get fussy about the littlest things. I even drive me crazy, but I can’t help it.”
Hood reached down under the chair and retrieved his last donut. He had the surprising thought that running away with Suzanne for a year would be a good way to keep Allison Murrieta from getting shot.
“I could do it.”
“But you won’t. You’re chicken. You’ll stay straight and narrow, try to get your sergeant’s stripes before you’re eighteen. Or however you deputies prove your greatness.”
Hood laughed again. “You don’t know what I am.”
“I can tell a lot about a man just by being sexually assaulted by him.”
“Yeah,” she said dreamily. He heard her yawn. “The owl just spun his head around and he’s looking at me with one eye. It’s yellow.”
“The parking lot of the Mariposa Motel is hopping.”
“There’s a mockingbird down in the coral tree outside my bedroom. They make such pretty sounds.”
“A bus just pulled in, big black cloud.”
“Smells like damp grass and fresh water here.”
“I got floor cleaner and cigarette smoke.”
“If I go to the edge and look straight down, I see where the trunk goes underground and I know there’s a root ball the size of the tree itself under there.”
“If I look down, I see an empty pack of donuts.”
“I had donuts last night, too. We’re so much alike-great minds, and all that.”
“This is us,” she said.
They were quiet for a long minute. Hood watched the cars jostling in and out of the lot and listened to the sound of Suzanne Jones’s breath in his ear. When she spoke again, it was almost a whisper.
“Charlie, back when I was a teenager I had this policy about people moving me around, making me do what they wanted instead of what I wanted. My policy back then was don’t let it happen. Ever. Don’t give in and don’t turn away. Fight until you bleed if you have to. I based it on Roosevelt’s ‘Speak softly but carry a big stick.’ And that’s still my policy today. I won’t let someone move me around. Not your bosses and not Lupercio and not anybody. You should know that.”
“Let me figure out what to do about Lupercio, Suzanne.”
Another silence, another jet. “You figure it out, Hood.”
Just before nine A.M. Hood pulled up to the Encarnaci'on address in Fontana: The Hosier & Reed Funeral Home.
On the off chance that Consuelo and her daughters actually lived there-perhaps one or more of them acting in an after-hours capacity-Hood walked the building in search of an apartment or guest quarters.
The building was one story and not yet open for business. Around the side Hood walked a chain-link fence that surrounded a healthy green lawn. There was a covered patio with some plastic chairs and an ashtray on a stand. A fountain stood in the middle of the lawn and a raven dug its head into the water then straightened and gave Hood a canny stare.
The building looked too small to accommodate a business and living quarters for three. The rear half of it had few windows, and the rear door was not a residential one but an electric roll-up large enough to accommodate a hearse or a van.
He dialed Consuelo’s number on his cell phone but was told that the call could not be completed as dialed. He tried it twice more with the same results.
Hood felt less foolish for having rousted the woman and girls. They’d fooled him with fake ID but he still wondered if they were somehow connected to Lupercio Maygar. If so, Lupercio would soon know that instead of Suzanne Jones, a young LASD deputy had been waiting for him at the Mariposa. And if that was true, then she had been betrayed by Wyte.