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I lay on my back on heavy, dark cotton sheets, under a spongy blue blanket of unnatural origin. Everything in the room had come from a superstore. None of it looked like the home of a hooker.

She lay on her side, her head on my chest. My arm curled around her neck and I stroked her hair.

“Is this what you wanted?” she asked.

“It’s better,” I said. “Do you mind?”

“It’s okay.” Some time passed. “I can’t ask you to spend the night.”

“I understand,” I said, and threw off the blanket.

“You don’t have to go now.”

“I should.”

“I just . . . I don’t want any trouble with the neighbors. I saved for this place for a long time.”

“That’s cool,” I said, pulling my pants on.

“I’m retired now.” She eyed the ceiling. “Semi.”

“What do you do with your time?”

She took a moment. “What does that mean?”

“I’m serious.”

“I have friends!”

I nodded. “I don’t.”

She’d sat up. Light rolled in from the living room. She noticed the path of my eyes and pulled the blanket up over her breasts.

“I’m saving to have them hoisted,” she said.

“They’re fine.” I put my jacket on, left money on the dresser, what I knew from Vice was a typical call-girl rate plus tip. And not so much that I couldn’t afford to come back.

As I headed out of the bedroom, she said, “Good night, Tonto.” Tonto was a nickname she knew from way back, when I was a young detective under an older detective’s wing. Once, I interrogated her. Once, she sold me out. And still I didn’t have a place I could go where
I could count on a warmer reception. Not even home.

I said, “Good night, Vita.”

I drove down Airport Boulevard, past the monolithic cement columns that the Koenig overpass would use to tread through Hyde Park, following the interstate frontage road to Thirty-eighth Street to my house.


I first came to Austin when I was fifteen, leaving my home in Elmira, New York, in the middle of the night when my father woke me with the information that he had fallen out of favor with the Big Boys and that we were leaving the state, now. My mother had walked out years earlier, with the promise that she was leaving my father, not me, though I never heard from her again. Her family had disowned her for marrying a Jew—they didn’t care that he was a mobster. His family, including an ex-wife and two kids, were having nothing to do with either of us. So Pop and I arrived in Texas as a duo. I had a few laughs as a high school hoodlum, then joined the army, saw the world, came back to Austin for college, married my college sweetheart. I got turned down by the FBI, nixing my ambition to get revenge on the Mafia for destroying my family. Joined the police. My wife left. I fell in love with my best friend’s wife, Rachel. He died, we shacked up. She split. Four years later I still rented a house—the house Rachel had lived in with me—catercorner from the one where she’d lived with my best friend. I only thought of her when I saw their house, when I saw our house, when I saw our bed and when I breathed. Like an idiot I’d passed up the chance to marry her. If I’d played my cards right, I could have had a long and happy life with the woman of my dreams. Instead all I had was my job.

It was 1:30 A.M. when I got home, and Jessica greeted me at the door in her flannel jammies, with no acknowledgment that she’d broken up with me barely two hours before. I was too tired to bring it up. She handed me a chalk drawing on a rectangle of construction paper, torn at the edges. The gray chalk smeared my fingers. Jessica bounced on the balls of her feet, saying, “Look what I drew you!”

Jessica had her moments. I tried to put aside that they were always moments of acting like a sweet kid. She didn’t have too many moments as an adult.

“What is it?” I asked. What I saw was an oval in seven shades of gray, on a nearly black background. An egg floating in space.
“It’s the cosmic egg.”

When I first met Jessica a few months earlier, she had been thrown out, she said, by her abusive boyfriend. She moved in with me. We had incredible sex, for two weeks. Then restrained sex occasionally, me trying to hit all the right spots without hitting the thousand or so that would set loose some old trauma. Then that fizzled, too. There wasn’t much that occupied her life, though she was often tired. She didn’t have a job or money, or any desire to cook, clean or even be independent. Desolation brought us together and kept us that way, a union built on loneliness. I would have thought two lonely people together would be less lonely, but the math didn’t work that way. Iknew that she’d previously gone by the names Lizzie, Snow, and Jocasta, after the mother of Oedipus. (If I needed help deciding not have kids with her, that would have clinched it.) I made it a point never to ask or research her real name. I did that once to Rachel, with unfortunate results. As it turns out, people take it personally when you investigate them.

What I’d learned about Rachel, years back, was that she’d had trouble with the law in Houston, that she’d killed a guy in selfdefense, that she hadn’t been arrested for it. I learned also that her Social Security number had a New York State prefix, though she always said she was from Chicago. We never discussed the discrepancy.

Jessica took the drawing. “The cosmic egg rose from the ashes of Eve. It drifted into the stratosphere and when it was ready, hatched the first lesbian.”

“Something you wanna tell me?” The phone rang. “It’s beautiful, thank you.” She reached her arms around my neck and liplocked me, an intimacy we hadn’t shared in a while. I thought for sure she’d smell Vita on me, but she didn’t. The machine picked up, “Please leave a message. . . .” and beeped.

“Captain Action, it’s Jake. Pick up.”

I pulled gently from Jessica and reached for the phone. “Yeah.”

“Got a hot tip. You’re in line for lieutenant.”

I asked, “Didn’t you get a hot tip before?” It was Jake who’d told me I was in line for promotion. A dedicated desk jockey, Jake had hid out in the squad room for years until the brass discovered his talent for computer and telephone research and moved him into administration where he belonged.

“Girl, eighteen, rents an apartment over a house. Landlord comes home, smells something’s up, goes in. She’s in the tub, drowned.”

“Accident? Drugs?” Jessica was kissing my neck.

“That’s what the patrols thought. Empty pill bottles. They called Marks, and he wrote it off without coming to the scene. He didn’t want to leave the banquet, and he didn’t want his boys leaving either. But the patrol at the scene found semen on her bedspread. He called us, and I’m calling you.”

Jessica was working on my fl y. She’d decided that I was better than independence and that she had to do something once in a while to keep me from tossing her. But her timing was off. I took her hand.

“Why?” I said to the phone. “I’m not Homicide.” They’d transferred me to Family Violence a couple of years earlier, which made as much sense as anything.

“I’ll clear it. Ace this and you’ll show up Marks for his fuckup. Put you in line for a promotion you richly deserve.”

“Jake . . . why are you doing this?”

“You saw those promotions go to those dumb rednecks.”

“And Torbett,” I said.

“And Torbett. God knows what they want from him. The Family’s got most of that locked up.”

I’d practically never heard the Family mentioned by name before, and I worried that someone might be listening in to Jake’s phone.

“So?” I asked.

He said, “They have the Family. You have me.”


It was nearly 2:00 A.M., and the shift had changed by the time I stepped into the formaldehyde chill of the morgue, still in my banquet suit, fluorescents shining down on a room of gurneys and file drawers. Three new guests, one named Faith.

The graveyard-shift attendant pulled the sheet away. Faith Copeland, eighteen, white, female. They’d found her in the tub. Thin body, but a face bloated with water, giving her the round look of a girl with baby fat. She read younger than eighteen. Pale blond hair combed back. I ordered the body sent to the medical examiner and drove to Faith’s home.

Drowning is a bad way to go. You struggle to hold your breath, and when the need for oxygen gets desperate enough, you suck in desperately and your lungs fill with water. Homicidal drownings are rare: People will struggle to stay alive. Except in the presence of drugs.

A patrol named Scotto waited for me in the back alley behind Avenue B, at the wooden steps leading up to the apartment. He looked tired.

“I tried to punch out at one,” he said. “They told me to come back here and wait for you.” He led me upstairs and into the apartment, a humble one-room operation with a bathroom. “No prints anywhere, even hers. They wiped every smooth surface, which knocks out the possibility of suicide.” I nodded. “Sorry.”

“Go ahead,” I said. “What do you think?”

“Department of Public Safety didn’t find anything on the rug but gravel, and she could have tracked that up herself. The landlord came home a little after nine, parked in the garage, saw the ceiling wasdripping. Knock, no answer, goes in, she’s dead in the tub, water splashed around the bathroom. He calls, we show up around ninethirty.” The bathroom had an old-fashioned tub against the wall. The killer would have been standing right in front of it, or kneeling, if he held her under. Scotto showed me the empty Valium bottles, one dated last week. Another from another doctor. “Before we checked for prints, we figured she OD’d and slipped into the water. But . . .”


“If she’d meant to kill herself, wouldn’t she have been wearing something? People don’t like to get found naked. And if it was an accident, why was there water all over? I called Homicide about this, and I got transferred to Marks—”

“And he didn’t want to leave the banquet, so he said it was an OD.”

Scotto nodded. “And then I saw the bedspread.”

A male visitor, Scotto said, had left a sample in the middle of the bed. We guessed Faith was on the bed at the time. DPS had taken the bedspread with them.

I scoped the room. No pocket calendar or personal phone book, but the killer could have lifted those. Small refrigerator, yogurt, granola, vegetables. Vegetarianism as an excuse for anorexia. Crystals and trinkets read hippie chick, close to the earth. Rolling closet. Inside: Office dress, cocktail dress, evening gown. Like a set of costumes. Drawers: makeup, lots of it. Pimple creams. Moisturizers. Like any other young woman, only more so.

“I feel bad,” Scotto said as I yanked open the warped wooden drawers of her dresser, one by one.

“Why?” Socks, stockings, panties.

“I was a fan,” he said.

“Of what?” That’s when I saw her photos.

As it turned out, American popular culture went on long after I stopped paying attention to it. Faith Copeland was once the star of her own TV show, which ran briefl y in the 1987–88 season. Her star rose and fell in the span of twenty-two episodes. A series of black-and-white glossy eight-by-ten shots showed her face go from cute (age eight) to less cute (eleven) to desperate. At eighteen she was an old kid, way over the hill by Hollywood standards, living in a Hyde Park garret and forgetting to lock the door.

I found a fat wallet, stuffed with cash-machine receipts, pawn tickets, phone numbers and a credit-card bill. A business card from a cabdriver. One phone number read “Mom,” with no area code. I figured local. I called information and got the address, then told Scotto to request Faith’s phone records. His jaw dropped.

“Tomorrow,” I said. “Go home.”

I drove west on Forty-fifth Street, past the state school and the national guard, to the area where the river curved north and wound around to Tanglewood Trail where Faith’s mother lived, wondering if I should give this poor woman one last decent night’s sleep rather than waking her to tell her that her daughter was dead, the tragedy of what happens to your children when they’re out of your care, when I pulled in front of the house and saw the living room light on. I stood at the front window. A flag waved on the TV screen, and Mrs. Lucille Copeland lay sprawled on the sofa, a tumbler clutched in her hand. She wore a fl oral kimono. Peroxide-yellow hair burst from her head in curls. She was something once. I rang the bell twice before she got up, staggered to the door and opened it.

“Yes,” she said, eyes half shut, absently puffing her curls out with her splayed fingers.

“Mrs. Copeland. I’m Dan Reles.”


“This is about your daughter, Faith.”

“Oh,” she said. Then she smiled bright. “Are you an agent?”


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