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Crack rolled up Highway 290 from Houston to Austin in 1981, the same route the oil bust rode here in '86 and the stock market crash in '87, so by September of '88 businesses were failing, banks going belly-up, and no one in town was making money except the dealers, lawyers and shrinks. The governor struggled to make good on campaign promises to create jobs and reduce prison overcrowding: new policies made to counter a century of Texan excess left old prisoners languishing for the remainder of century- long sentences on minor drug infractions, while rapists and murderers plea- bargained their way to short terms in county jail. It would take another year till our first drive-by forced the press, and then the cops, to admit that gangs had been creeping around since the city charter was ratified. In every quarter, near-prosperity gave way to frenzy. Secure in my city job, I watched the summer heat plow past Labor Day with no sign of slowing down. Then Dirty Sally's famous legs first kicked up smoke and I learned just what my thirty-nine thousand a year would cost me.

That's my partner Joey Velez in the picture, first row, second from right, the big jovial guy with his arm around my shoulders and his trademark chipped-tooth grin. They snapped that shot last Christmas, three months before Joey made The Ultimate Sacrifice-killed in the line of duty. Eulogy delivered by a new police chief he never met, marked in the reception area at police headquarters by the last of a line of plaques, one for every sucker who bit it on the company clock since it was an hourglass. That's me in the Christmas picture, Detective Sergeant Dan Reles—rhymes with "trellis"—Austin Police, Homicide, at six' feet even, just a shade shorter than Joey with the stooped shoulders and busted nose of a mob-friendly boxer the trade my father raised me to before his fortunes turned and we fled prison-town upstate New York for God's country: Southern gentility, high windows, crack dens, trailer parks, whorehouses, six-month summers, dead cops, beautiful wives, fat lawyers, powerbrokers, future governors and fully lawful plans to take over the world. They're not out to get you, folks say, it's just how they do business. A new breed of power is gestating in the Lone Star State, the world's biggest lab of trial and error and you're a guinea pig. Your mother and your best friend and everyone you care about gets lost in the soup, the reed you hang onto snaps, you grab that one last thing you believe in, raging at the injustice as you hold the world together with both hands and as the weight of it drags you under, your air bubbles slop to the surface and you know beyond possibility that it's over-the last thing you give up is hope.


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