L upercio stood before the Bull with his hands folded in front of him, looking down at the crease in his trousers left by the tie of the machete scabbard. He repeated the license number of the yellow Corvette and watched the Bull poke at his PDA with the stylus. Lupercio wondered at the tools of men: a machete, a computer, a stylus. He didn’t know the man’s name.
Above him the Bull sat behind a very large brushed aluminum desk on a raised dais. The wall behind him was mirrored all the way to the ceiling, where recessed low-voltage bulbs blared down a bright white light. In the glass Lupercio saw the reflection of the Port of Long Beach behind him, the great cranes rising against the first rosy light of the morning, sunrise on steel. Even early Sunday the place was moving. Lupercio had heard that the longshoremen who ran the cranes got a thousand dollars an hour on Sundays and holidays.
“What model year was the Corvette?” asked the Bull. His voice was clear and forceful.
“This year,” said Lupercio. “The license plate holder said Gooden Chevrolet.” You’ll get a good’un at Gooden, he thought.
Now the Bull tapped at a keyboard. There were four flat-screen monitors on the desk, two on each side of him, and four keyboards. Four printers. Under the desk were four computer towers. All of the computers were housed in handsome brushed aluminum cases, finished in such a way to catch light and reflect it in soft colors, like a muted rainbow. They were nothing like you saw in the computer stores or on the TV, noted Lupercio. They made urgent humming noises. There were very few cable connections between them.
The Bull glided to his right on a wheeled office chair that rolled on the raised platform with the sound of distant thunder. He tapped at the keys again. Then he rolled and looked down through the opening between the monitors, and Lupercio felt the weight of his attention.
“Did you see her in actual possession of the material?”
“Describe what you saw.”
Lupercio described it for the third time. It was plain to him that some kind of experience with law enforcement had taught the Bull the power of repeated questioning. Lupercio had been questioned by every American law enforcement agency from the FBI on down to the local police and sheriffs, and he had never been asked a question just once. Never. He wondered again if the Bull’s experience had been as the questioner or the questioned.
Lupercio told him again. As far as he was concerned the Bull could ask him a thousand more times, if that’s what it would take to convince him that a young brown-haired woman in a yellow Corvette had almost certainly driven off with the diamonds, not Lupercio. The Bull had told him before that Lupercio had “final responsibility” for his work. That was why Lupercio was paid such high commissions. Responsibility was what the Bull looked for in a partner. It was more valuable than any metal or any stone from the earth, he said. Responsibility was the son of faith, whatever that meant.
Lupercio turned and looked out the big windows. The morning light was full now, and the container ships and tugs and port cranes continued their eternal transportation of the world’s goods. One of the Bull’s men passed by the window wearing a suit and sunglasses and a tiny wireless headset fixed between one ear and his shaven chocolate-colored head.
“And the year and make of the Sheriff ’s patrol car?”
Lupercio turned and told the Bull the information for the second time in ten minutes.
“Did you get the unit number off the side of the cruiser?”
Lupercio gave it again.
The Bull tapped rapidly on the far right keyboard, then rolled to his left and looked down on Lupercio. Lupercio heard a whirring sound.
“Describe the inside of Miracle Auto Body,” said the Bull. “Focus on the location of the men and your interpretation of what happened there.”
Lupercio took a deep breath and tried to clear his mind of everything but that memory.
When he had gotten to Miracle Auto Body at two-ten that morning, he assumed the outdoor lights would be on and the indoor lights off, but the opposite was true. He knew that a diamond merchant was supposed to have arrived over an hour ago with four hundred and fifty thousand dollars’ worth of high-quality cut diamonds to pay off an outstanding loan to the two ranking Wilton Street Asian Boyz. The Bull had told him all of this. And he told Lupercio that four heavily armed and proven MS-13 gunmen would take control of the body shop and the diamonds by whatever means necessary. Their leader was supposed to have delivered the diamonds to a knowledgeable and neutral courier who would divide them in half by value and bring one half directly to the Bull. When the leader never showed, the courier had called the Bull and the Bull had called in his lone wolf-Lupercio. He’d told Lupercio that half of what he recovered would be his to keep.
By the time Lupercio had counted ten bodies, he knew that everyone who was supposed to be there was dead and three men who weren’t supposed to be there were dead, too, which meant that the diamonds could also still be there.
“I knew something was wrong,” he said. “Because of the lights.”
“And this yellow Corvette, what did you think when you saw it parked away from the others, facing out?”
“That it was part of what had gone wrong.”
“Because it’s not a gangster’s car. There’s not enough room for men and guns and products.”
The Bull looked down at Lupercio. Lit from above, the Bull’s face was cleaved by shadows, so his expressions were unreadable. His face was tanned and his nose was wide and formidable. His hair was light and thin and combed straight back and the scalp beneath it was tanned, too. He was barrel-chested-built like a bull, thought Lupercio. A bull who spends time outdoors in the sun.
“Was one of the Asians very young?”
This was the second time that the Bull had asked this same question. He hadn’t asked the ages of any of the other nine men, so Lupercio believed the young car painter had been the Bull’s snitch within the Wilton Street Boyz. Lupercio wondered again if the Bull’s other life-whatever it was and whenever he had lived it-had been that of the interrogator or the interrogated.
“One was a teenager. A car painter. I walked quickly. Then I heard the Corvette start up outside.”
Lupercio told of his momentary indecision when he heard the car start up. He knew it was the Corvette by the sound of it. It would be faster for him to use the front door of the office, but only if that door was open. If it was locked, he’d need to locate a key and that could take seconds, minutes. So he jumped back through the window and ran down the steel catwalk to the parking area. The yellow Corvette was halfway down the access road by the time he got his car keys out.
But he got a good look at her when the Sheriff ’s deputy stopped her-because her interior light was on-and another good look at her at the signal at Eastern.
“Light brown hair, dark eyes. Bonita. Unafraid. She looked directly at me both times.”
“Middle twenties, thirty maybe.”
“How far were you able to follow her?”
“I never even caught up with her tire smoke.”
The Bull rolled to the left side of his desk, appeared to be using a computer mouse. The casters rumbled on the hardwood dais. Then he rolled back to the right and pulled up a sheet of paper.
Lupercio watched him study the sheet, set it facedown on the desk, then pull up a handful more. The Bull took a long time flipping through these. Lupercio heard the air-conditioning click on, then felt a faint gust of cool air on his face.
“Here,” said the Bull, holding the sheets out to Lupercio.
Lupercio stepped forward and took them. Up this close he guessed the Bull to be fifty years old and strong. His neck was thick and his eyes were blue. There was something unusual about his legs.
The top sheet showed a blown-up California driver’s license in color.
“Suzanne Elizabeth Jones,” read Lupercio. “This is her.”
“Of course it’s her.”
The second sheet was a photograph, apparently from a high school yearbook, in which Suzanne Jones looked years younger, naive, and pointedly bored. Sheets three through thirteen were dense paragraphs of information: DOB; Social Security number; credit rating-very good; driving history-no accidents, no traffic citations; arrests-none; interviews with law enforcement-none. There was a ten-year residence history listing addresses in Bakersfield, Los Angeles, Torrance, Norwalk, Santa Ana and Valley Center. Also, school files from elementary through high school, abbreviated college transcripts and medical records. There was an employment history-Kentucky Fried Chicken (ages fifteen and sixteen), Taco Bell and Subway (ages sixteen and seventeen), Dominguez Hills State University (cafeteria food server while a student, ages eighteen through twenty-two), then the Los Angeles Unified School District as a teacher from age twenty-two through “current.” She taught history. There was an immediate family tree that was thorough enough to list Suzanne Jones’s two brothers and two sisters and their young children. Apparently she had not married.
“What grade education did you complete?” asked the Bull.
Lupercio looked up at the heavy face faceted by the recessed low-voltage lamps.
The Bull glanced at the pages. “Is it difficult for you to read and retain information?”
“No. I read slowly and I remember everything.”
“How did it feel to you, looking down at the dead Mara Salvatrucha?”
“I knew them.”
“But that doesn’t answer my question.”
“I am no longer a part of them. My business and my heart are not there.”
“Do you miss the structure, the friendship, the power of being a leader in the most feared street gang on Earth? Do you miss the respect?”
“Those were a child’s comforts.”
“And now you are grown.”
The Bull was nodding, the black shadows in his eye sockets elongating with each downward tilt of his head.
“If there was ever a time for you to be honest, this is it. I can work with honesty. Did you steal my diamonds, Lupercio?”
“I did not.”
“And why should I believe you?”
“Because I don’t lie.”
The Bull smiled, his open lips and the lines of his face catching the downward light at new angles. “Find the woman. Find the diamonds. One-half of what you recover is yours. I remind you that several men have stolen from me. But each only once.”
“This is simple and clear.”
“I wish you good luck, my lone wolf.”
“I would rather have information on the diamond broker.”
The Bull crossed his arms. “It will take five minutes. Go outside. Sit in the cool shade and face the great Port of Long Beach. Watch the sunlight on the cranes and the towers of containers. Say a prayer of thanks for your life this fine Sunday morning.”
Five minutes later Lupercio was back and the Bull was handing down to him another sheaf of papers.