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11:30 P.M.—706 East Thirty-eighth Street

In the dirt by the door sat a half-gallon stainless-steel dog dish with three hardened king-size dog nuggets, next to a coiled dog chain and monster collar, a silent unmistakable message to potential intruders to back off, low-tech security provided by an imaginary Doberman named Wolfgang. Woofles for short. I opened the door onto an American living room, so well-kept and at the same time inviting that I was always surprised to remember it was my own. Rachel trailed me in and pushed the door closed.

I turned to her. With her going-out-to-dinner heels on, she nearly reached my height at six feet even. We squared off, Rachel staring me down with her big, dark blue eyes with a slightly Asian turn at the corner, smooth skin and chestnut brown hair brushed back from her low forehead. She moved near, a close-cut dress calculated to show off the curves of breasts and hips, to show others what they were missing, what I went home with. I kissed her, then drew back and looked into her eyes.

If I had a photo album, it would look like this: My mother, a glamour shot, taken around 1950. My parents' wedding picture, her hair piled up as she towered over my scrawny dad, the unlikely Mr. and Mrs. Reles (rhymes with "zealous"). Me as a baby, my mother cradling me, kissing my tiny hand; my dad looking on, brooding. Me at ten, in the front window of my parents' apartment in Elmira, New York, the day of my father's release from prison, as my mother packs her bag, kisses me goodbye and disappears in a blue-and-white taxi. Me at fourteen in boxing gear, at a Mafia gym in Elmira, a hard look in my eyes as I fight my way up the ranks of the Golden Gloves competition. Bleary-eyed at fifteen as my father wakes me in the middle of the night to tell me he's made an influential enemy and we're leaving the state-now! At eighteen, graduating from Austin High School, class of '71, capped and gowned, my eyes blank. In my MP uniform in Frankfurt. At the University of Texas in jeans and a T-shirt, but on the inside, wound up to my core: uptight in relaxed clothes, looking like a narc. Marrying Amy, a tiny blonde with a domestic dream, cuddled in my big arms. Being left by Amy, punching the walls of our little, empty house on Avenue F. Making rank, Sergeant Dan Reles, and no one to share it with. Appointment to Organized Crime Division. Reassigned to Homicide. With my mentor Joey Velez. With his widow, Rachel.

Rachel and I had gotten a place in the Cherrywood section of Austin. I'd pushed for a rental, even though she could have gotten us a great deal and added her commission to our bank account. She laughed off my reluctance to buy, tacked it on to the fact that, after two and a half years together, I hadn't dropped a hint about marriage. She'd dropped a few. The house itself sat on the south side of a public golf course, a run-down patch of grass and shrubbery with a few holes and no fence around it. A gesture of democracy, it allowed the poor to impersonate the space-consuming rituals of the rich. If you grew up in the area and wanted a place to get high at night or make out with your girlfriend or maybe rape someone, that was the spot. A hundred feet away, on the western border of the golf course, sat the house Rachel used to share with Joey Velez.

Senior Sergeant Joey Velez had recruited me eight years earlier to work on the Gautier case, pulling me from a low-level assignment I'd been working since I'd made sergeant. With a little help from me and a dozen others, the Gautier case targeted major and minor players of a cocaine and car-parts racket operating out of Bertrand Gautier's famous blues dub, and landed them in prison; and it got Joey and me assigned to the newly founded Organized Crime Division. A political shift bounced us off the division, and Joey saved me, mentoring me onto the Homicide squad and becoming my first real friend. He was like a father to me, except that he gave useful advice. If he knew my greatest desire was to jump on his wife, Rachel, he kept his mouth shut about it. And then he died. Now, three years after he was gone, I'd still catch him whispering advice, or as often, goofy things into my ear when I was supposed to be paying attention. I tried not to listen, part of my practice of pretending to be sane. I tried not to blame Rachel for his death, for not loving him. And I tried not to blame myself, for loving his wife.

A while after Joey died, I got promoted to senior sergeant. At work, I still missed Joey, the way you'd miss your father if he died when you were young, his absence felt keenly each day. At home, I tried not to think about the fact that I was sleeping with his widow. Rachel took my promotion as a good sign. We rented this house. She got up every morning at six to stretch and aerobicize in the living room, sunlight scorching her from the east window. I would sneak peeks at her by way of the hall mirror, watch her desperately pounding against the inevitable changes of time and gravity. I kissed and treasured the occasional gray hair I spotted on her head before she found and painted it, the slight shifts in weight and shape that made her more real and human and mine.

That night we'd been out for dinner with Ray and Marissa Tierney, "old friends from Houston, lawyers both." I wasn't supposed to know from the awkward pauses and the avoided eye contact that Ray, now a criminal defense attorney, was an ex-boyfriend of Rachel's, and Marissa his clueless wife, or that Ray had hurt Rachel bad. The bridge-night fantasy Rachel staged served multiple purposes. It convinced Rachel we'd be like other couples no matter how we'd met, no matter that we'd first kissed under the watchful eye of Joey's ghost. And it sent out a message to Ray, one I was glad to back up: cop trumps lawyer.

I left the porch light on, hung up my jacket, looked through the house and checked the locks. The carpet everywhere muffled my footfall, I worried, as it would muffle the steps of an intruder. I spotted Rachel wiggling her ass up the short hallway to the bedroom, wearing a black satin robe I took as a good sign.

By the time I reached the bedroom, she was lying under the blanket with the lights dimmed. I undressed and slipped in beside her. At thirty-seven, I'd kept my boxer's build—beefed up with strategically rounded shoulders—and made a pretty good appearance in spite of a hairline that had slipped a few degrees north at the temples and halted, as if to remind me who was in charge. Along with that, I showed a dozen odd scars and a boxer's nose: broken once when I was a kid and again a few years back. You should see the other guy.

Rachel slid into my arms and greeted me with a full, wet kiss, then settled in and kept still.

I asked, "Is something wrong?"

"No," she lied, it's just...We're always working. We come home in time to floss and go to bed. On weekends we clean the house and play catch-up."

"We just went out tonight."

"That's what made me think of it."

I didn't want to blow the moment if it wasn't already over. Here was a woman who spent her youth coked to the rafters, cleaned up and spent the last ten years making money. She didn't know what a real home was any more than I did.

"Well..." I said, warding off frustration. "What do you want to do besides this?"

"I don't know," she said. Then, "What do people do?"

Between us grew a box of sad, empty space. We had decent jobs, a nice house, each other. Now what?

"Do you have Monday of" I asked.


Monday was Manin Luther King Day, an optional holiday in Texas, on the same level as Rosh Hashanah, Good Friday and Confederate Heroes Day. You could take off anyone of them, depending on your religion or your politics.

"We could take a long weekend, maybe go away. Do something fun."

She thought it over. "Like what?"

"Whatever. We'll think of something."

The space between us fizzled and she was pressed against me, sweetly kissing, when the cordless phone rang on her nightstand, splitting the night, and I clicked that I was the detective on call. Rachel grabbed it on the second ring as I said, "No, don't."

"Yes?" she said, as the hope drained out of her eyes. She held the receiver out to me. The base should have been on my side of the bed since I was always taking the midnight calls, but the line from the base to the wall wouldn't reach and we should have gotten a longer line but we didn't.

"Who?" I said.

She imitated the operator's twang. "'Dispatch, Mrs. V.'"

I took the receiver with a standard apology written on my face. "Reles."

"They need you at 1610 Confederate Avenue. Behind Matthews Elementary. Now.

"Who died?"

"I think a kid."

When I reached over her to hang up, Rachel was facing the wall and smoking a cigarette.

"I'm sorry," I said.

After a while, she shook off an idea and flicked the ash in a tray by the phone.

I stood and dressed. "It could be over by the weekend. We could still go away."

And again nothing as I left the house and double-locked the door behind me.

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