A Romilia Chacon Novel
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: Red Hen Press
Title Page, Copyright, Frontispiece, Dedication
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Marisa Jackson had a painful last name. Jackson. Unfortunate for Marisa. Good for the cause. Karen Allende wanted to believe that Marisa’s name might have saved the girl. It was so obviously American, like Andrew Jackson, or Michael. But Marisa’s thick black hair and dark eyes and walnut skin called back to another country. And her...
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I’m losing him. Or maybe it’s the other way around. The thought rose up from under the weight of three drinks. Three whiskeys on ice. Little ice. I had already discarded the add-cubes-with-eachshot routine. Now I just added the Wild Turkey. No use fooling myself; I didn’t necessarily want it cold. “That’s a man’s...
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Mamá was out of the shower and drying her hair. From the couch I asked if she wanted something to drink. “No thanks. Oh, before I forget, you got a phone call from someone. A man.” “Who was it?” “Here’s the name and number.” She handed me the paper. Darío. I didn’t know him. Which...
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Before I knew that the phone call from the guy named Darío was about Karen Allende, I had already been thinking about her. It had crossed my mind to give her a call to see how she was doing. But I knew she was doing fine. A hell of a lot better than before. While Mamá kept Sergio from going after a second Gogurt before dinner, I closed the door to my bedroom and...
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After those first weeks, talking with the famous Rigoberta Allende became commonplace. Whenever she left town for a shoot in Toronto or Italy, Rigoberta would call me. “Just, if you have some free time, Romi,” she’d say, “if you could give Karen a call.” I happily obliged. They invited me to Karen’s major events. I attended her graduation from the high school in Brentwood...
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This was desperation. Both Nancy and I knew it. We hadn’t talked since the night of a birthday party some five, six weeks back, when I had smarted off a bit too much for Nancy’s comfort. All I had wanted was some blunt honesty from her. I’ve played the little soap-operatic moment in my head a few times, knowing now how embarrassing it was to me and to all the other people at the party—the...
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They had Karen in a holding room. I passed by the one-way mirror and smiled; they had given her what she asked for, a Hershey Bar and a Diet Coke. No woman on earth craved chocolate more than Karen Allende. And still she stayed so thin. To be that age again. On second thought, no. Karen had been charged...
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Karen was right about some things, such as me not being very enthused over visiting a crime scene, especially that of a dead thirteen-year-old girl. This, again, may have had something to do with age and the need to mete out my energy. One easy parameter: don’t get involved in other jurisdictions. Work on your own turf. That didn’t have anything to do with toeing the line; more, it had to do with...
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We were now in Mexico. Nancy and I shined our lights in half-circles around us. Saenz stepped back, giving us room. “Don’t move too far, please,” I said, afraid he would walk over evidence. “My pleasure to stay.” I ignored that. I turned and looked at Marisa’s body, which had now been there too many hours. The sun was rising over both our countries. In a few moments I could flick...
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Karen saw things that Romilia has yet to see. Had she been at the border with Saenz, Karen would have understood what the Mexican cop meant when he had said, There is a third . . . country here. No confusion. In fact, Karen might have complimented Saenz on his alacrity, his ability to say in six words what this was all about. How large all of this was. Which is why she...
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Nancy and I drove into Los Angeles just as the sun was coming up. We hadn’t talked much in the past half hour, each of us in our own worlds. I had no idea what Nancy thought about. I was thinking about the To-Do list Karen had given me. I had done one of the three requests, checking out the crime scene of the dead girl. Next on the list: the little web virus of desertwomentruth.com and an apartment...
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There were open files of cases on my desk; but it was Monday, and I had those promises to keep. I reported my findings to my boss, Special Agent in Charge Leticia Fisher. She already knew of my San Diego road trip with Nancy. “Sounds like your Karen’s in hot water. Hot and deep.” Fisher has a baritone voice, like a gospel preacher’s. Though still...
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There were no less than four ways to go about this. Take Whimpy Boy to a local precinct and have him questioned. Follow the van. Find the girl. Find out which apartment they were heading toward, and the landlord, and why the landlord would rent out a place for older men and little girls. This meant the...
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Back at our offices I reported in to Lettie Fisher. “So,” she said, “what do you think?” “I think we need to wrestle this one from LAPD. It deals with child prostitution. It could mean some sort of kidnapping of kids. It’s more than just LA. Karen was down in San Diego. That’s a wider region.” “And?” “It’s because of Karen that we found this ATM guy, and the girl.” It didn’t take Fisher..
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Today Dr. Dibbs was not his usual insecure yet smug self, the image that most cops and agents had of him. All agreed, Dibbs did his job well. But he had a shadow hanging over him, the ghost of a living man, his predecessor: Dr. Noguchi, known popularly as the Coroner to the Stars. Noguchi had made such a name for himself that whoever had come,,
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Karen knew how utterly wrong it was, watching her adopted big sister go down like that, right in the middle of the handprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Still, she couldn’t help but cringe at the scene, not in horror, but in a spark of delight, of laughter. Courtney had tripped Romilia and, in the split second before running...
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This time Nancy and I crossed the border legally. We showed our credentials at the gate. The border guard punched the badge numbers into a computer at his stand, then waved us on. The irony of us being here, together, I’m sure was not lost on Nancy. The last time she and I had crossed the border from San Diego into Tijuana, she drove while I lay in the trunk. Bound...
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In the car we tossed data to see what pieces were missing, what scenarios made sense. After twenty minutes we came up with little. I broke the silence. “So, what did he ask you to do?” “Who?” “Tekún Umán. Come on.” “Jeez, you’re worse than a teenager asking about a boyfriend.” “Was he your boyfriend?” “Romi quit being...
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It was mid afternoon. We still had time to make it to the crime scene before nightfall. Then we could either get a hotel for the night in Tijuana, or drive late into LA. I preferred the latter; I was missing Sergio and looked forward to more time with him. And with my mother. I was hoping to sit with her tonight and not drink and show...
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Karen wished she were still asleep. For this was worse, much worse. This was what it must have been like when she was asleep all those hours, several years ago, when Minos had her bound and gagged. Minos had used a drug on her and on his other victims that made them forget everything. She remembered nothing of the abduction...
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I couldn’t see much. Not because of my sunglasses—most everyone there wore sunglasses. It was a hot day when we buried Nancy. The Presbyterian Church in Santa Monica had been air conditioned. The moment all of us got in our cars, we had to flip the air on high to escape the bake of the afternoon. But now, in the cemetery...
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“She’s still alive. The Latina bitch. Yeah. She was there. I got the white one. No, no it was the Latina puta who saw me on Barrington. I know. What, you wanted me to do it at a fucking funeral? Look I got to take care of your new love, then I got to find out what the cops are doing, I mean the fucking Feds, shit Ritchie it’s the Feds...
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I awoke with a hangover two days after the funeral and one day after the mandatory visit with one of our federally funded psychologists, a young fellow by the name of Larry who insisted I call him Larry so that we could be friends. Larry tried really hard. He ended up doing most of the talking, which obviously made him...
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Lettie Fisher had given me time off, as much as I needed. She had handed the entire case over to Randall and Shrieber. One of the many reasons I got so drunk. I didn’t go to the office. I drove straight to Ballys Gym off Victory Boulevard in North Hollywood. Spent half an hour on the Stairmaster, twenty minutes lifting dumbbells, and another twenty doing laps in the pool, dodging the older...
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Each time I believe I’ve caught up with digital technology, another surprise comes along. A lens in a pendant. A microphone in an earring. James Bond stuff, bought at Circuit City. “It’s fairly sharp, for a micro-cam,” said Maggie. We were in her office at KSAL. She had closed the blinds so I could see the laptop screen better. Or maybe so no one out on the...
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Elaine Madson returns to her home in Encino after visiting her husband Bill in the Van Nuys jail. It’s the only time she’s ever gone to Van Nuys—to visit her husband in jail. Her husband, who was moved from a precinct cell in Santa Monica to the Federal building in the Valley. Van Nuys. Before today there had been no reason...
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“What are you doing here?” Sometimes when Special Agent in Charge Leticia Fisher stands in front of you and addresses you like that, she looks eight feet tall. Bigger than Shaq. Especially when you’ve just turned the corner and there she is, signing another agent’s papers about some other case. “Just handing over some...
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There was a phone message at my desk from the Medical Examiner’s office. “You were right,” Dibbs said. I called. He explained. “The object you found in the desert, the two pieces of leathery material are human flesh, apparently skin from around and including the areolas. DNA has yet to come back. But I eyeballed both pieces, compared them to...
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The killer had laid Jessica out as if on a cutting board. Why I thought of that image, I don’t know. Did anyone else in the room, Detective Blaze from Santa Monica, the detective from the San Fernando district, and all of those Valley cops, did they think what I thought, gutted on a cutting board? Or did...
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There are moments in a cop’s life, or a detective’s or an agent’s, that make you feel you are not worthy of the job. When you doubt everything you do. The gutting sensation of knowing that you are inept, impotent before the great charge of energy and power that is murder. Nothing rouses this sense of nihilism quite like meeting...
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“What have you said to the cops, you bitch?” Pico didn’t speak fluent Spanish. He was a pocho, a Latino in the States who struggles with the mother language. And he lived up to the name: ‘Pocho’ is an insult. It’s Spanish for “hollow log.” Nothing inside. When he got mad, he didn’t say puta,...
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Sasha hadn’t blown it. She didn’t tip off Pico that we were coming after him. As far as he was concerned, he simply had a heated conversation with a pissed-off, mourning, laborer. Sasha had given us the make of his car, a three year old Lexus, dark brown with gold trim. “He shines it like a new pair of shoes,” she had said. San Diego soon found...
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Bruce called for another car to meet us near the border. We handed Pico over to the two agents, who would take him to the San Diego field office. Then Bruce and I returned to the neighborhood of Precinct Seven and waited for Saenz to get off work. I figured Saenz would head home, change clothes and spend the evening either in a gym or at...
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Randall and Shrieber had the video all ready for me. “I think you will be very pleased,” said Randall. He turned to his partner. “Got it all set up, Klack?” So. Not only had they heard about their nicknames, they had embraced them. Shrieber took a DVD, smaller than the ones we rented at a movie store, placed it inside his laptop and slid the cartridge in. He clicked around with the built-in mouse. “What...
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Nobody saw what I saw. And I didn’t want to see it. Fisher tried to be rational. “Lots of blue Camrys in the world,” she said. “And the dent, that may mean it’s clearly another vehicle.” But then she added, “You really think it could be the same car?” “Yes.” Fisher studied. “I don’t get it. She gets in the car of a woman who’s involved with the child...
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Agent Randall and I stood outside the room at the open door, drinking coffee. Shrieber sat next to Robert at the laptop. Shrieber was giddy. Robert was pleased to have an older guy sitting next to him, both of them hunched before the screen. Sometimes I picked up phrases they said, but they may as well have been speaking Yemeni. “He could be a real...
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“Oh yeah,” said Detective Blaze. “The porn shop off White Oak? I remember it. One of those times the local harping from the neighborhood paid off.” “How’s that?” I said. Randall drove back to the offices while I talked with Blaze on the cell. “That’s the Balboa Lake area. They were cleaning up the neighborhood, trying to be more respectable. Did it too. Two things they wanted to do: separate from Van Nuys...
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“She was a James Bond background babe,” was the first thing Blaze said after he shook hands with Randall. We stood in our offices, around my cubicle. “And she played a sexy nurse sometimes on MASH.” “How’d you figure that out?” I said. “Her name was familiar. Usually in this town, that means they’re in the business. So I plugged...
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“Mom died two years ago,” said the young woman who lived in Candice Seaburt’s small house with the dry rot window frames and the chipped stucco. The house stood on Eustace Street, just a block away from Ritchie Valens Park and below the roar of the Ronald Reagan Freeway. Her name was Patty. She lived alone. She had hints of her mother, when I compared her to the...
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Blaze put three black garbage bags of videos and photographs and cash in the back of the car. Randall was already sneezing. He drove with one hand and held a tissue to his nose with the other. But he didn’t complain. “Where to?” he asked. “Back to the Bureau,” I said. I turned and looked at Blaze in the back seat. “You want to call it a night? Or do you feel like staying up?” That was more an invitation than a question...
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We found Shrieber and Robert hard at work, still in front of the laptop, with cola cans and empty Ding Dong and Pocket Lunch wrappers over the table. “We’ve made contact,” said Shrieber. As if Courtney came from Mars. Along with all the trash on the table, there were printouts of long paragraphs. I picked up one, scanned it, picked up another. They felt heavy. Not the sheet, but the contents. All those words. Websites dedicated...
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It would take almost two hours to get her to a phone. In that time she and Robert turned to the more personal. Robert did a nice job of baiting her. He moved it along, starting with how insecure he was feeling, and that he was worried for her and for Karen. And then he focused just on her. He typed: Courtney, you’re so strong, I find that, I don’t know, so amazing. So, attractive, really. Oh she liked that....
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Courtney Singleton had a fine tattoo of a spiked dog collar completely around her neck. She had a belt of earrings all the way up to the top of her ear, a nose ring punched through the left nostril and an eyebrow ring, fairly new, according to the puffiness. Her hair was blonde and scarlet. Her skin was white as snow. At first all she said was, “My dad teaches law at Princeton.” “Yeah and my...
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According to Rigoberta there had been no ransom note. No demands placed upon her for her daughter’s return. Karen simply left the house on a Monday and had not been seen since. And when Rigoberta asked Randall, “Why? Why are you asking about a ransom?” Randall assured Rigoberta about the Bureau’s need to be thorough. Klick did a good job, talking with Rigoberta. I would not have held myself together like...
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“Child Protection Services will not let us get anywhere near the girl,” said Lettie Fisher. “And if we do, they’ll stink the media up like a mini-Waco, blaming the Bureau for psychologically traumatizing her even more.” Fisher explained how, after Blaze had initially interviewed Prissy, one of our own bilingual Bureau...
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“I’m sorry, what group did you say you were with?” “Children’s Rights Division, FBI,” I said. The young man at the door of the halfway house was impressed by the credentials. And my badge, which said FBI but nothing about children. His name was Peter. “Come in, please,” he said, then called out for his house mate, a woman named...
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Before we parked in front of the phone booth on a street corner in San Diego, I told her to be careful: According to my lie, Ritchie had sent me, a corrupt cop, to pick Prissy up in the half-way house. Now I was disobeying orders, letting Prissy go to Ingrid first. It was better for Prissy to tell Ingrid that she had simply escaped...
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We did not go to Mexico. But this did not feel like the United States either. Adobe shacks alongside the road. An abandoned church and its desert yard, overgrown with brush; I could see the cross in the moonlight. An old poster of Jennifer Lopez, posing for one of her CDs, was stuck on a large wall. Then the building, one that could have been a school or a company or any number of offices but...
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Ingrid took me to a place of many doors. A dark hallway with gray walls that connected with another hallway. No lightbulbs, only moonlight through the windows. We stopped where the two halls made a T. I looked down the first hall, then left and right to the second. More than a dozen doors. It was night. It was quiet in the building, or...
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What we learned from Ingrid: she and Ritchie were indeed brother and sister. They were from Mexico. Their parents were illegals, caught by Immigration and sent back to Mexico and never heard from again. Richard Tanner, porn businessman with a specialty in children and a sex slavery ring, had gotten his wife to take Ingrid and Richard...
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I’m starting to wonder if one image tries to help you survive another. My father, for instance: he started to fill my head more than usual. And not my drunk father, but my sober one. For I have memories of him sober; and in these days I’ve been relying on those images. Maybe it was what...
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Mamá paid for the plane tickets. I’d handle the rental car in Oahu. We had plans. A week in Hawaii. Back home to L.A., then a week in Big Bear, just to mix it up. Then two more weeks for me at home with Mamá tearing out the rug in the living room and polishing the wood floor underneath, something we’ve wanted to do since we moved in. I actually looked forward to...
Other Works in the Series
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Young Ingrid rests her back against the bars. This has become her favored position to smoke. Not on the bed where the ashes tended to fall on her chest. But here with her head rested back on the iron bars, where she can look across her cubicle and smoke and try not to think. The smokes are illegal...
About the Author
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Two-time Emmy Award-winner Marcos M. Villatoro is the author of six novels, two collections of poetry and a memoir. His Romilia Chacón crime fiction books have won national acclaim (named a Best Book of 2001 by the Los Angeles Times) and are...
Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2011