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35

The next evening on TV Hood saw the pictures and video of Allison Murrieta posing with the death car. She sat astride the heap with her knees up and her boot heels hooked into the wreckage, braced on her hands like a cowgirl on a corral. There was smeared blood on the tip of her chin.

Dave Boyer explained that the images he was about to show would be accompanied by a scrambled voice-over supplied by Allison earlier in the day. The voice sounded to Hood just like the one that Boyer had played for the cops at the task force meeting seventeen days ago:

Hi, Dave, Allison Murrieta here. Im sure you have the video clip and images I made up for you and I hope you have it on-screen. So your viewers know, Lupercio Maygar is dead in this car. Im sorry the police couldnt find him first but theyve had ten years to do it. This man murdered two brothers down in Valley Center, and those two cops in Bakersfield. Frankly, Id had enough of him. This city doesnt need him. Now Suzanne the schoolteacher can go back to work without being hunted down by a killer. And by the way, sorry to the surfer in Huntington Beach-hope your ear is okay, honey. It was an accident! Get tubed and vaya con Dios!

Earlier in the day Hood had seen Boyer hustling down a headquarters hallway toward the sheriffs office. With him were an assistant sheriff, Wyte, two lieutenants and Marlon. Hood was not asked to attend, but Marlon briefed him afterward. He told Hood to watch Boyers news show that night and to expect a call when the Allison story was over.

After a commercial for sleeping pills, Boyer was back with video links to three guests-a UCLA law school professor named Mark Tice, UCI professor of social ecology Kimber Wells and Los Angeles Times media reporter Josh Steiner.

Hood picked at a burrito from the corner taquer'ia as he watched the experts.

BOYER: Professor Tice, give us a briefing here-what exactly are we looking at in legal terms?

TICE: The first thing I noticed was that the woman-whoever she is-does not admit to anything criminal. Id say shes looking ahead to her day in court. Incidentally, counting the killings that this woman alluded to, Lupercio Maygar was suspected in sixteen Southland murders but never charged.

BOYER: Professor Wells, just how possible is it that this woman is a direct descendant of the notorious outlaw Joaquin Murrieta?

WELLS: Virtually impossible, Dave. Were not even sure that the legend of Joaquin Murrieta is based on a true character. True characters, more likely.

BOYER: But, men being men and outlaws being-

WELLS: Right, Dave. If there was a Joaquin Murrieta-and some historians say there were actually three Joaquins hunted down by lawmen-then he certainly could have helped conceive a child.

BOYER: If shes not a descendant of Joaquin Murrieta, then who is she, Professor Wells?

WELLS: I think she may be co-opting that legend to fuel her alter ego and help justify her actions. Its also possible that shes very ill. Schizophrenia with a delusional subset and episodic violence. Im no psychia-

BOYER: Josh Steiner, whats your take on this?

STEINER: I dont know who she is, but people are fascinated by her. Shes had a hundred inches of ink here in the Times. Shes racked up almost three hours of television coverage over the last three months-thats right here in a tough media market. Shes gotten the cover of both the L.A. and Orange County weeklies, scores of write-ups and pictures in community newspapers, half a page in People and a fat paragraph, with picture, in Time. Were getting letters about her every day. Personally, as I go about my everyday living, guess what people are talking about? Allison Murrieta, thats who. After this thing with Lupercio Maygar, well see Allison get even hotter.

BOYER: What are people saying, Josh?

STEINER: Most people love her. Shes half Catwoman and half Robin Hood. Shes a superhero with a tude. Shes mysterious. Shes beautiful-

BOYER: Well, I see you love her-

STEINER: She donates to charity! But you know what people really love? This woman takes the victimization that happens in our fear-driven, consumer lifestyle, and she turns it into power. If you ask a hundred people if theyve ever wanted to express their frustration by swift, decisive action, every last one will say yes. Allison Murrieta turns anger and frustration into something dramatic; she expresses it.

TICE: She expresses it through criminal violence, Josh. Weve seen her commit felonies on TV. Thats a real gun she brandishes-just ask Trent Brown, the surfer she refers to. These are real crimes against real people and real property. I did some rough calculations earlier today. Based on her robberies caught on camera, and the cars shes allegedly stolen at gunpoint, not counting the vigilante murder of Lupercio Maygar-if Allison was convicted and given minimum recommended sentences, shed be looking at one hundred and sixty years in prison.

BOYER: If she doesnt stop robbing and stealing, do you think Allisons going to hurt or kill someone innocent, someone who just happens to be out picking up some KFC for the family?

WELLS: Its inevitable that-

TICE: I agree with Kimber.

STEINER: Absolutely. Thats one of the reasons people are so fascinated by her.

BOYER: Will she stop?

TICE: I hope so.

WELLS: She enjoys it too much.

STEINER: She wont stop. She loves the action and the attention. I guarantee you that shes watching us right now. She thrives on us just like we thrive on her.

BOYER: Mark Tice of UCLA School of Law, you said that Lupercio Maygar was suspected of sixteen murders right here in Southern California. Is what happened to him justice?

TICE: Of course not. Theres no process. Its the worst kind of vigilante action.

STEINER: Which is interesting, because ninety percent of the letters and calls we get about Allison are positive. People like her.

WELLS: Thats why we have a rich history of outlaw lore in this country. People crave stories. People crave heroes. And villains. Remember the old saying, When the facts become legend, print the legend.

BOYER: Interesting. The teacher that Allison mentioned, Suzanne Jones, was nearly a victim of Lupercio Maygar. She had apparently witnessed a crime that he committed. Now shes free to come out of hiding and return to her family and to work. Any thoughts on that?

WELLS: Allison is co-opting Suzanne just like she co-opted Joaquin. Shes justifying herself.

STEINER: Sure. Good deeds make good legends.

BOYER: When someone finally lifts that mask from Allison Murrietas face, who are we going to see? If she isnt Joaquin Murrietas great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter, who is she?

TICE: I wont speculate, Dave.

WELLS: An out-of-work actress.

STEINER: An employee of one of the franchises she loves to stick up.

BOYER: Quickly, now-guess her age.

STEINER: Late twenties.

WELLS: Mid-thirties.

TICE: Old enough to stand trial as an adult.

BOYER: Wig or no wig?

WELLS: I think wig because-

STEINER: Its her hair.

TICE: It looks real to me.

BOYER: Were out of time. Thank you all. I see the phones are really ringing now. Call back later, folks, well be taking calls on our ten oclock hour. We want to know what you think. Thanks to our guests.

Hood finished off the cold burrito and Marlon called.

Wheres Jones?

I dont know where she is, sir. I havent talked to her in two days.

Do you have a number for her?

Not a current one, no.

I want to bring her in, ask her some questions about Allison Murrieta. This whole thing has gotten out of hand. Youll help with that?

Of course Ill help.

Ill take some uniforms and collect her myself. I can keep you out of it.

No, sir. It was my idea that shes Murrieta. Ill face up to that.

Make it happen.

Ill do my best.

Forty minutes later the phone rang again.

Hello, Charles Robert.

You okay?

Im perfect. Merles at the House of Blues. I got tickets at will call.

Pick you up or meet you there?

Im outside your apartment in a rented Cadillac STS. Its black on black and the leathers smooth as your cheeks after a shave, Charlie. I kid you not.

It took Hood a moment to figure how shed gotten his home address. He looked out the window and saw the car. You looked in my wallet at the restaurant.

I confess.

You saw the news?

Did I ever. Ive been with my boys almost two whole days. Right now Im the happiest woman on earth. Im celebrating and Im going to listen to Merle and drink. I rented the car, bought a new blue blouse and some tight black jeans for you. Tomorrow were all moving back home and things are getting back to normal. Except Ernest and I will have separate quarters from now on. Hes cool with that. I start school Monday. Can you hurry?

I need five minutes. Come on up.

Wed never get to the House of Blues.

Five minutes later Hood came down. Before getting into the STS, he went to the drivers-side window and gave her his best traitors kiss.


Merle Haggard looked seventy years old and too mean to die, which Hood figured was pretty much what Merle was. His voice was clear and honest, and his band played the sad old songs with the same lightness and good cheer that Hood had always loved.

Suzanne was beautiful, though Hood missed her brown waves. The new blouse was silk, sleeveless, cobalt blue. She wore a beat-up denim jacket over it and it looked right. She drank four whiskey sours fast then went to seltzer with lime. She kept the beat with a boot toe on the floor and a hand high on Hoods thigh under the table.

She leaned back and caught his eye, smiling big and innocent, and Hood marveled at all she had accomplished in the last days, in the last months, in her short life.

Hood listened to Merles stories of heartbreak and drinking and poverty and prison, and he thought of being young in Bakersfield and how those songs had nudged him toward the right side of the law. The loneliness in them had hit him hardest-the aloneness of the drinker who calls the bar his home, or the con walking to his execution, or the released inmate who cant get away from his past. Now Hood realized that the songs were also about Suzanne Jones and Allison Murrieta and all people who chase their own histories to the edge of their own cliffs. He saw that stories like these get told over and over because they apply to so many of us, only the names of the characters changing with time.

You look thoughtful, Charlie.

Every once in a while one sneaks in.

She held his gaze. I thought about what you said the other morning when I was up in the tree. About us meeting when we were real young, both getting our pictures taken for the newspaper. When you said it I thought it was an unglamorous proposition but I came to like it. Very down-home. Two kids, they fall in love and ride off together. Exactly not what Merle sings about.

I never thought glamorously. Its a fault.

Dont act so humble, Charlie. Youre not that great. Indira Gandhi said that but I cant remember about whom.

Hood smiled back but felt a strong sorrow.

A little past midnight he and Suzanne came through the exit. The night was damp and warm, and Marlon and two deputies were waiting.


| L.A. Outlaws | c



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