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40

Im back at Franklin Intermediate on Wednesday, a week before the students arrive. Its good to see the other teachers, meet the new ones, drink a cup of the bad coffee in the lounge. The teachers are fascinated by what Ive been through-my brush with Allison Murrieta, my bad arrest. But theyre cool about it, too. They cut me a slightly wider swath than usual and I like it.

Even my principal, a hazy and short-tempered alcoholic, seems slightly respectful. He says he likes me with the cropped blond hair, which I take differently than liking the hairstyle. He is an odd man, a bachelor, and he keeps his job because no one can anticipate him.

Ive got my old classroom back, and I like it. I hang my matted copies of the Preamble and the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address up on the walls.

I set up my 9/11 display, which is mostly before and after photographs of the World Trade Center. I bought them right there in 2004 when I was one of the teacher chaperones for an L.A. Unified eighth-grade pilgrimage to Ground Zero. Some of my students wept as they read the posted notes saying good-bye to loved ones in the rubble. It made me proud that they could feel beyond themselves.

I also set up my usual display on the history of baseball in America, since September is the playoffs and lead-up to the World Series. Ill show the students part of Ken Burnss PBS documentary, though to be frank, eighth-graders are more into hoops and extreme sports than guys spitting tobacco juice on the dugout floor. And black-and-white footage tends to put them to sleep.

Luckily, Franklin is a closed and fenced campus and all visitors have to come and go through the office. The office secretary is Wanda and she can be very unwelcoming. By the end of my first Thursday shes turned away four TV news crews, the Los Angeles Times, KNX and KFWB radio and a freelancer hoping to land a Good Housekeeping assignment. Im willing to be temporarily famous but you cant have reporters dropping in on you whenever they want. Ruth is arranging the really big stuff anyway.

By Friday morning the classroom is ready but I still have meetings with the principal and the district and the PTA and the school board and even an LAPD presentation here on gang activity and what to do about it. They claim these meetings are necessary but theyre agonizing beyond description. I wear my sunglasses and stare out the windows and think of Hood under me on the cushions at the Persian restaurant or sprawled on the bed in the Hotel Laguna looking out at the ocean and muttering something about his world being turned upside down. On a notepad I make a short list of the new cars Id like to boost, which includes the new Chevrolet Silverado with the six-liter V-8 and 10,500-pound towing capacity, Porsches naturally aspirated 415-hp GT3 and a Shelby GT-500, which is only a Mustang but with five hundred horses its the fastest pony-155 mph-ever built. There are others.

After the last exhausting presentation by an L.A. Unified risk management team-your best defense against on-site accidents is AWARENESS-I make it to my car and screech out of the lot before any reporters spot me.

Its ninety-two degrees out. My AC needs a freon charge. Driving the Sentra to and from work every day is spiritual punishment for me but thats the way itll be for the next nine months. On my salary I cant show up at Franklin Intermediate in a Maybach. The Friday traffic on the surface streets is awful. It takes twenty minutes to go three blocks. Ahead I can see the freeway overpass and it is clogged with cars that do not move.

I cant do it.

I have my needs.

I call home and tell Ernest Im staying up in L.A. for the night.

I do an hour of hapkido with Quinn downtown, trying to focus but still a little uptight, a little distracted by the last week. I imagine Guy receiving every punch and kick. Im furious at him for stealing my money but I havent figured out how to get it back. Yet. Quinn kicks my ass and sends me out with a throbbing shin, sore ribs and a ringing in my head where he caught me with an elbow. Of course I had my headgear on and my mouthpiece in, but I actually felt my brain hit my skull. Quinn sat me in lotus position and worked my neck and temples until my focus came back, pointing out to me that it wont go down like this on the street.

I check into the Mondrian on Sunset and call Hood.

Charlie. Theres a pause. I figure there might be a few of them.

Hi, Suzanne.

How much do you miss me?

More than a little.

Catch any bad guys?

Only you.

Youve got me all wrong, Charlie.

Okay.

Okay?

They kicked me off homicide. Im back on patrol until I get auto theft. So if Allison keeps up her high jinks I might get a shot at her.

I hope you dont mean with a gun.

No, I mean give her a shot at due process and getting her life back together.

What makes you think she needs to get her life back together?

She needs her life period.

She does take some risks.

If you just came in and spilled it, hired Ruth to represent you, you might do pretty well.

Im innocent.

Hood is silent.

What if Allison disappeared? I ask.

Another pause. The money pause.

I wondered about that, he says.

Say she went away, Charlie. Adios. The public wonders, then they get interested in someone else. You spend some time with me and the boys. Come down to Valley Center on weekends and holidays-youll love it there. We have a pond with bass and the neighbors have horses we can ride, just like you used to do in Bakersfield. Ernest is going to be okay with how things are. Im going to set him up with a dressage rider who needs to experience a real ride. So heres the deal, Charlie: the deputy and the teacher, who met by chance on the night of one of L.A.s worst crimes, fall in love.

Hood chuckles. Yeah. I thought of all that. Except the dressage rider.

What do you think?

I wont do it.

Why not?

It has to do with what I believe in.

Tell me what you believe in.

Id like to.

Can I come over?


Hoods apartment in Silver Lake is like Hood: tall and narrow and neat. Its an older place, with wainscoting, wall cornices and a high, stamped-aluminum ceiling. The furniture looks cheap and new. Hes got a few books and a bunch of music and Ansel Adams pictures on the walls.

He follows my eye and says thats Yosemite in winter and I try very hard not to but I step across the room and put my arms around him. Next thing Im on the floor looking up at Hoods face above me haloed by the ceiling lamp. His expression is serious. Were slightly slower about it than before, theres some acknowledgment in it, some awareness of a shared history, and its good, fantastically good.

Later he brings a bottle of wine and two glasses back to the bedroom. I pull up with the sheet around me and he tells me about the Iraqi man and his three boys shot to death by seven soldiers and Lenny Overbrook trying to take the blame for all of them, just like they told him to. Hood was a NCIS detective and it was his job to figure out what happened, but he was also right there after this shoot-out and he saw six guys running away and this simpleton Lenny wiping down a Russian gun after putting it on the dead Iraqis lap. And it came down to Lennys word that hed shot up these four men himself, against Hoods that he saw six more running away from the house, but Hood couldnt ID anybody. So he could either take Lennys mostly false confession and send him to prison for four murders he couldnt have committed, or he could let four innocent people get murdered and watch everyone walk away from it. He set the kid free and tried to keep the case open but he got no cooperation up the chain of command and when his tour was done he came home. A snipers bullet hit a wall right next to him one day, broad daylight in a controlled zone, and Hood wasnt sure if it was an Iraqi or a fellow soldier. Hood tells me that that bullet revealed a truth about himself that he wasnt prepared to face-that he was feared and hated. I think the idea that his own men wanted him dead broke part of his heart, though he didnt use those words. He couldnt sleep and he couldnt eat and by the time he got back to Pendleton he weighed fifteen pounds less than at the start of his second tour, and he was pretty much skin and bones even then.

When Hood is done with the story, or I think hes done with it, he takes a Bible from the drawer of his nightstand and opens it up where theres a folded piece of paper to hold the place and I figure its time for Psalms or maybe Job, but he hands me the paper and sets the Bible down.

I unfold it and he explains its a list that Lenny gave him of the six others-names and ranks all written out in handwriting that quite frankly looks like a third-grader in a hurry.

I think about that piece of paper sometimes, says Hood. Some days I think Ill call the navy and tell them what Ive learned. Other days, not.

Let it go, Hood. You did the right thing. Our soldiers should never have been there in the first place.

Thats not the point.

Its the whole point-it should never have happened.

All that matters is what happens. I never thought we should have gone in there either but rules dont get suspended because of what you think. Murder is the same thing in Anbar as it is in L.A. I know those soldiers were furious and scared. You cant even believe the pressure that builds up. Youre surrounded by betrayal and ugliness and hatred. The heat and the dust and the blood. It gets into you and you have to do something. For those guys, the four dead Iraqis were that something.

Thats why you did the right thing, Charlie. Those soldiers were put into an unwinnable situation and they did the best they could. Your letting them go is your part, Hood. Its your duty and youre guilty of doing it, just like they are. Its the guilt that earns your forgiveness.

He looks at me. No. If you make murder okay you make everything okay. And you tilt the world to an angle where you cant build anything. Nothing.

You are not God and you are not your own judge.

I am very much my own judge, Suzanne.

Hood refolds the list of names and sets it back in his Bible. I watch his upper body, the indentation of his backbone and the rounded straps of muscle that run alongside it. Hes got a cool mole and I touch it.

He turns off the light and gets into bed beside me and pulls the sheet up and were alone in the near darkness. His voice is just a whisper.

Im sorry, says Hood.

I know theres no reason to argue with him. Or to deny what he knows. He has seen me. Seen. Hood is Hood and hes got the Man Thing. Nothing sneaky about him. Its my turn to whisper now but the words sound so loud to me.

You cant prove anything. And your sheriff buddies cant. And the DA cant.

His heart beats faster and harder. I set my cheek against his chest. Suzanne, theres guys like Lenny and guys better than Lenny getting killed every day. While you boost cars and stick up minimum-wage workers. Thats disrespect.

The war used up all your forgiveness?

It used up all my something.

Hoods heart is going strong. I put my nose next to his ear, the same place I put it down in Valley Center.

Its an empty feeling when your love isnt enough. Its supposed to be but sometimes its not. I know that Hoods past has shaped him, and that my past has shaped me. These are powerful things. You can enlist in them or rebel against them but in your heart you always know the truth of who you are and you cannot escape it.

I begin to dress in the darkness. I can see Hoods eyes shining down there, stars in the universe. There have been many needs inside me, some all self and others not all self. Some that take, some that honor and make strength, some simple and some imponderable. But not like this. This is his, mine and ours.


Charlie.

Yes.

Its Wyte.

I thought so. Talk to me.

I tell him almost everything I know-the building in Long Beach with the swank computers, Wytes arrangements with the ports, Rorke, Wytes offer of partnership. He says nothing while I talk.

Its all in the notebook in my purse, I say. His address in Long Beach, a phone number. Descriptions of his place, every detail I can remember, which is a lot. Im going to leave it on the counter out there. Its more than enough to get you started. And, Charlie, Wyte doesnt know that I know. You can surprise him.

Did you sell him the diamonds?

Not exactly.

Im finished dressing. Seems like with Hood Im always dressing and undressing.

Theres a moment in the near dark when I can just barely make out his shape. I know hes watching me. I can see the glimmer in his eyes. They look like lights across a vast ocean.

Good-bye, Charlie. Im leaving something for you. Ill put it on top of the notebook.

Vaya con Dios, Suzanne.


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