I spend the rest of the day with my boys and Ernest, moving back into our home down in Valley Center. It’s blazing hot but the sky is clear and the air is clean and I feel a great relief spreading through me as I look out at my home and the barn and the big oak tree and the pond.
Bradley boards and Jordan fishes. I love the sound of the skateboard wheels on the wooden half pipe and I love the sight of Jordan out there trying to fool the crafty bass that live in the cattails near the pond’s south edge. Baby Kenny rides Ernest’s broad shoulders, his tiny hands clamped to his father’s ears.
The dogs bound around the property, re-pissing on things and fruitlessly chasing the rabbits and ground squirrels and bullfrogs.
Ernest is very quiet as always, but I can see the hurt in his face since I told him about the new arrangement here. It’ll be tough for a while. I don’t doubt for a second that Ernest will find suitable female company-he’s got the look and the talk when he needs it. I won’t let him brood. I’ve gotten to know some of the single women down here. They’re country craftsman types-horse people and farmers and makers of things-and they like Ernest’s broad-backed humility and good humor. I may try to nudge one or two his way. No matter what I’m doing with whom, I’m going to keep Ernest in my life and in Kenny’s life as much as Ernest wants to be. We need him. We need all the fathers we can get.
Bradley’s father, of course, cut out after I shot him. I’ve told him a thousand times that he’s welcome around here. He comes around now and then but he acts like a dog that’s been kicked too hard too often. His wife is bitterly ugly which pleases me. He is now a man almost completely devoid of everything I was once attracted to. He still has good teeth.
Sometimes it’s hard to understand why his son is a prince. Even at sixteen Bradley is wise, charming, articulate, acutely aware of others and the world around him, mentally incisive, athletically gifted, physically beautiful, flawlessly polite and agonizingly shy. He tested at 160 on the Stanford-Binet IQ test they gave him this year. The results embarrassed him. He’s pushing six feet tall already and still growing. They call him Radley on the varsity football team, where he started at wide receiver and safety last year as a sophomore. He hits extremely hard. His freshman English teacher called me to say he was the most talented writer she’d ever had, and you know how much I value the opinions of teachers. On the downside, he bores easily and has a genuine appetite for risk and danger. He has little if any sense of his own mortality. But with his black hair to his shoulders and his chocolate eyes and his silly goatee he looks like a god-in-training, a poet-warrior, a hero. I’ll take some of the credit for that but I think history is more responsible for Bradley than any of us are. Now I sound like my mom.
So I look at Bradley out the window and I know it’s time for me to have the talk with him. The truth of me and Jack and Joaquin, of the old clothes and the Cahuilla arrow and the head preserved in alcohol out in the barn. The truth of Allison Murrieta and the diamonds and Lupercio and Harold and Gerald and the cops in Bakersfield. The truth of Hood, who knows a small part of this.
Is it Bradley’s truth, too?
You can see the pickle I’m in. Few mothers on earth would send their son into the world as an outlaw, even the world’s most handsome and potentially successful. But if Bradley is who I think he is, he suspects already. He’s seen me the same way Hood and my mother have seen me, and although Bradley hasn’t quite put it all together, he might. The truth can make us free but it can also lead us to prison or get us killed.
I may say nothing to Bradley and let him figure it out or not. In spite of the long reach of history, there is plenty of free choice to be had: I didn’t have to carry Bradley to term but I chose to, and I didn’t have to kill Lupercio but I did.
But without my great-uncle Jack I would not have found the beginnings of my story, and without me Bradley might never find his. Send him into the world without the truth of who he is? I don’t know. Maybe an absence of truth would be the most valuable gift I could ever give him-a chilling notion.
Jordan’s dad is dead of cancer and that’s a shame. Great guy. Ernest means a lot to Jordan although there is an empty and yearning place in the heart of a boy whose father has died. Jordan told me that he was very impressed by the calm and bravery of Deputy Hood because he fought in Iraq.
When Jordan asks if he’ll see Hood again, I tell him I’m not sure.
To be honest I can’t blame Hood for what he did. I said some ugly things to him but that was just anger and humiliation. Allison may well be the death of me, and for Hood to have seen me in her puts him on a different plane than other people. My mother told me that someone would see that Allison was me, or that I was Allison, and that person would have a special connection to me. My mother has a strangely fated but romantic view of things-half Mexican folktale and half paperback bodice-ripper. I don’t know how romantic it is, but Hood was the one who made the connection. He saw. And boy, did I see him.
But as soon as Hood saw, he was really stuck because he’s a cop and it’s his job to put people like me behind bars. The fact that I was, and still am, abundantly hot for him only made matters worse. I played him like a good guitar. Talk about star-crossed.
I don’t see a way to keep Hood. The DA might drop the charges against me but Hood won’t. I might be able to persuade him into an occasional sexual escapade but that would be small potatoes to us now. There for a while, when he was having me and knowing who I was, it was hard on Hood’s soul. I weakened him. I think he’s stronger now that I know he knows. The spell is broken. I really wish I could cast it again but Hood has that thing inside, the simple Man Thing that you just can’t get around. He let me around it while he made up his mind what to do with me. But I can’t get around it without his permission. And I don’t think I’ll get that again.
If Allison vanished, never to return, Hood might accommodate me. Might not. I think it would stick in his craw forever if he let a car-thieving armed robber who committed murder go free on his watch. Hood’s not wired to let that happen. And Allison isn’t going to vanish, because I need her. I’m not wired to let that happen.
There are three things I want to square with Hood.
One is that secret of his, from Iraq. He never told me what happened there but I know it’s something he believes he did wrong and it haunts him. I think it hurts him to keep it inside. A gusano. I want to know so I can bear a little of it for him, my contribution to the war.
Second, I’d like to say good-bye to Hood with my whole body and heart, a true extravaganza-you know, the kind of good-bye where you’re making love and crying at the same time and what you feel is the sweetest love there is because you know you’ll probably never see that person again. I don’t know if he’d allow that. I think I can seduce him one more time. I’ll certainly try. Maybe that would be a good time for him to reveal his war ghosts to me.
Third is the necklace I had made for him, that elegant H of diamonds. Guess I’ll have to keep it to myself for a while, which is too bad because I know he’d love it.
Then there’s the problem of Guy, that spooky bastard with the fancy computers who was helping Lupercio find me so he could kill me and take my diamonds. My source inside the LASD has come through for me. Guy is actually Captain Reginald Wyte-one of Hood’s superiors. As I suspected. And thanks to the little GPU that I shoplifted from the Sports Authority not long ago, I know exactly where to find this hideous man who is a buyer and seller of all things, an employer of murderers, and a law enforcement officer.
I’m going to fix his wagon like I did Lupercio’s and I want Hood to know why.
Of course I can’t tell him.
If I tell Hood what I know about Wyte and how I know it, I may as well drive to his apartment in Silver Lake, sit down on his couch and put on my own hand-cuffs. Actually that could be a lot of fun, but enough.
I know how to handle Wyte. But I don’t know how to tell Hood about him.
I stand in the kitchen with the windows open and the AC on, trying to get the house aired out and cooled down. I look out at the boys and Ernest all doing what they love to do. I have their diamond jewelry in my satchel, which I picked up from Quang the day I evened my score with Lupercio. While my sons and Ernest are outside, I get the gifts. Before setting the black boxes on their bed pillows, I peek into each one. Few things in life have struck me as this beautiful.
I’m very happy and content and I tell myself to enjoy it because it never lasts long.
A couple hours later Ruth calls: charges dropped.
“But the heat’s not off, Suzanne,” she says. “They’ll keep looking and digging.”
“They can knock themselves out.”
“Strive to be a model citizen for a while.”
“Easy. I’ve got history to teach.”
“Shifting gears, I’ve had fourteen people call my office about you-print, television and radio. Film and book agents. Producers. Some of these people are serious and big, Suzanne. Interested?”
“It will be a little like selling your soul.”
“I can’t wait to get started.”
“You would have no privacy for a month, maybe two.”
“I can make some interview time. Only the really important stuff.”
“Let me try to establish some kind of priorities, thin out the field. There will be more inquiries, believe me. I may need to sell myself into some of this. You can’t buy publicity like this. It’s priceless.”
“Cut right in.”
Ruth went quiet for a beat. “It’s nice getting to know you a little better, Suzanne. If the media or the cops harass you, call me immediately. Don’t talk to anybody but through me. Anything you say to them now reduces the value of what you say later. I told the DA you were not interested in a wrongful arrest suit, but reminded him that people change their minds. When Ruth Mayer says wrongful arrest, people listen.”
“You’ve got big feet, Ruth.”
“They’re size four.”
By nine o’clock we’ve had dinner and teamed up on the dishes and we’re watching TV just like a regular family. I’ve answered six calls on the home phone and screened six others. All media, except for Betty Little Chief welcoming us back. I don’t know how the reporters and producers come up with unlisted numbers so fast.
My cell throbs against my waist and I take it outside.
“Hello. It’s Guy.”
“I thought you’d call sooner.”
“You’ve been a bit busy. Ruth Mayer is terrific but I hope I never need her.”
“I have unpleasant memories of you.”
“Mine aren’t pleasant either.”
“I made some mistakes,” he says.
“Lupercio got what he deserved.”
“I agree absolutely. I failed to understand you. But now I do. We’re alike. We’re gifted. Trust can make us wealthy.”
“You already said all that.”
“But now I know your secret. In my opinion you are a criminal genius. Allison-I want to work with you.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Of course you do. Laura. Suzanne. Allison. It doesn’t matter what you call yourself.”
I’d like to say: It’s a big city. Let’s go our own ways. We’re free and prosperous and it can’t get much better.
But my position is precarious-I’m a budding celebrity schoolteacher who tried to sell stolen diamonds. If Wyte finds out that I know who he really is, he’ll kill me. Without question. He doesn’t have the stones to do it himself but he can find another Lupercio. There’s always another Lupercio. My ignorance, in his eyes, is what makes him want to work with me, and what keeps me alive.
I look inside at Jordan’s face flickering in the TV light and I see the potential cost of doing business with this man.
“I’ve thought about this a lot,” he says. “And I have a very interesting proposal for you. Name the time and place. No Angel and no Rorke. Just us. I have a way for you to achieve everything you desire. Bring the diamonds and I’ll give you your price. It will get us off on the right footing. Forty-five grand is nothing compared to what fortune will come later.”
“The L.A. River,” I say. “Midnight tomorrow. First Street Viaduct, down at the water.”
“It’s September. There is no water.”
“There’s always a little. Stand out in the open where I can see you.”