Mission Road eBook: Page1

Rick Riordan (2005)


Page 1

  To Jim and Ben Glusing, for many years of friendship and support

  Chapter 1

  ANA HAD TO GET THE BABY OUT OF THE HOUSE. Things were about to get ugly.

  She called Ralph’s sister, told her one of them would drop off Lucia in ten minutes.

  She packed a bag of diapers, bottles, extra clothes, Lucia’s favorite blanket and stuffed beagle.

  In the kitchen high chair, Lucia was finger-painting her tray with yams, her meaty little hands coated with orange goo. She’d managed to get some in the black tufts of her hair.

  Ana stared at the mess on her daughter’s bib and realized she was thinking about blood-splatter patterns.

  Looking at her own daughter, and thinking about the homicide case.

  Ana had to end this. Tonight, before she lost her nerve.

  She zipped the travel bag, unlocked the high chair tray and immediately got yams on the sleeve of her blazer.

  “Damn it,” she muttered.

  She hadn’t bothered changing from work. She’d only taken time to empty her shoulder holster and lock the service-issue Glock in the hallway closet where it always went the moment she got home.

  She was trying to figure out how to get the baby cleaned up without ruining her clothes when Ralph stormed into the kitchen.

  He’d showered and put on his old traveling outfit—black jeans, steel-tipped boots, crisp white linen guayabera, black leather jacket. His newly braided ponytail curled over one shoulder.

  He clunked a Magnum clip next to the baby’s sippy-cup and started loading his . 357.

  “What are you doing?” Ana demanded.

  He gave her that high-voltage look which had been bothering her for weeks.

  Since laser surgery, Ralph had set aside his thick round glasses for contact lenses. There was no longer any shield between his ferocity and the rest of the world. His stare reminded her too much of the people she worked with—cops and killers.

  She wasn’t afraid of him. She’d never been afraid of him. But tension from their earlier argument hung in the air like the smell of burnt fuses.

  He finished loading the gun, hooked it inside his pants—a makeshift holster rigged from a coat hanger. “Johnny Shoes has a lead for me. I’ll drop Lucia on the way. ”

  Johnny Zapata.

  That’s how desperate they’d become: begging for help from a drug lord who literally cut his enemies to pieces.

  “Ralph, the last time you saw Zapata—”

  “I’ll be fine. ”

  “He tried to kill you. ”

  “You want to give me a better lead?”

  He must’ve known she was holding back. She’d asked for time alone tonight. She only did that when she needed to make an important decision. And this time, their lives hung in the balance.

  “I can’t,” Ana told him.

  “You know who killed Frankie, don’t you?”

  “I’ve already told you more than I should. ”

  He considered that, his eyes boring into her. “Yeah. Maybe you did. ”

  “Ah-ba. ” Lucia held up her gooey hands to her father. “Ah-ba. ”

  Ralph unfastened the seat strap and lifted the baby out of the yam disaster area. Her fingers made streaks of orange on his white guayabera, but Ralph didn’t seem to care. He kissed the baby’s messy cheek, put her over his shoulder. Lucia made a high-pitched squeal of delight and kicked her bunny feet against Daddy’s belly.

  Ana’s heart felt sore.

  Lucia never acted so happy when Ana picked her up.

  Career necessity. Lieutenant Hernandez hadn’t put his butt on the line recommending her for sergeant so she could take six months off to change diapers. Still, the first year of Lucia’s life, mother and daughter had spent most of their time telling each other goodbye.

  “Hey, Sergeant. ” Ralph held out his hand, his tone so fierce he might’ve been issuing a challenge. “It’ll be okay. Tú eres mi amor por vida. ”

  She wanted to cry, she loved him so much.

  Two years ago at their wedding, her police friends had given her horrible looks. Hernandez had pulled her aside, eyes flooded with concern, fingers like talons on her forearm: Ana, how can you love this guy? He’s a goddamn killer.

  But they didn’t know Ralph. He loved her the way he did everything else—with absolute intensity. Since the day he’d decided he wanted Ana, she never stood a chance. He had boiled over her like a wildfire.

  She laced her fingers with his.

  She couldn’t let anything happen to him. She should never have opened that cold case file.

  “Zapata will have proof,” Ralph promised. “Anybody does, it’s him. And he’s going to give it to me. Believe that, okay?”

  She knew what Ralph was capable of. Which was exactly why she didn’t dare tell him everything she knew.

  He gave her hand a squeeze, kissed her lightly. His whiskers were rough. He smelled of patchouli.

  Ralph cradled the baby against one shoulder and slung the travel bag over the other. He stuffed an extra clip of ammunition in his pocket.

  The kitchen door swung shut behind him, winter air gusting into the room.

  Ana listened to his footsteps crunch down the gravel walkway. He was calling Lucia his little niña, singing her a Spanish carol, “Los Animales,” as he strapped her into the car seat.

  His headlights swept across the kitchen, illuminating the Christmas ristra and the empty high chair, then disappeared down Ruiz Street.

  ANA SAT IN THE LIVING ROOM, trying to formulate a plan.

  He would be here in fifteen minutes.

  There had to be a way—something to make him come clean. Their earlier conversation gave her little hope he would listen to reason, but she had to try. She owed him that much.

  On the coffee table, a photograph of her mother stared back at her—Lucia DeLeon Sr. , twenty-nine years old, in dress uniform, 1975, the day she received the Medal of Valor.

  Her mother’s face was a patchwork of yellow bruises, her arm in a sling, but her posture radiated quiet confidence, black eyebrows knit as if she didn’t quite understand all the fuss. She’d saved three officers’ lives, become the first female cop in SAPD history to use deadly force. What was the big deal?

  Ana liked to remember her mother that way—self-assured, indomitable, always firm and fair. But over the years, the photograph had lost some of its magic. It could no longer quite exorcise that other memory—her mother fifteen years older, slumped in bed with the drapes drawn, a glass of wine at her lips, skin sickly blue in the light of an afternoon soap opera.

  Come back when you don’t feel like preaching, mijita.

  Ana put her face in her hands. A sob was building in her chest, but she couldn’t give in to that. She had to think.

  If her mother—the Lucia DeLeon of 1975—had been handed Ana’s problem, what would she have done?

  Ana pulled her laptop out of her briefcase. She booted it up, typed in her password. She reviewed her case notes, the crime scene photos. Poor-quality scans of pre-digital black-and-whites, but Ana could still get the feel. She’d been to the scene many times.

  Ana imagined herself as the killer.

  It was a little before 10:00 P. M. , midsummer, on the rural South Side. She was standing on the shoulder of Mission Road, arguing with the young man she was about to murder.

  A warm rain had just pushed through, leaving the air like steam engine smoke, scented with wild garlic. In the woods, cicadas chirred.

  Ana and the young man had both pulled over their cars—possibly a prearranged rendezvous, though why the young man would’ve agreed to it, Ana didn’t know. There was nothing for miles except ba
rbed wire fence, railroad tracks and old mission lands overgrown with cactus and chinaberry.

  The road was an ancient trail connecting the five Spanish missions of San Antonio. It was also a popular dumping ground for corpses—isolated and dark, yet easy to get to. Homicide department trivia: The first recorded murder along Mission Road had been in 1732. According to the diary of a Franciscan friar, a Coahuiltecan Indian girl was found strangled in the fields of maize. Not much had changed over the centuries.

  On the night Ana was thinking about, the victim was a young Anglo, six-one, thickset, dressed in khakis and a white linen shirt. He wore a platinum Rolex that would still be on his wrist when the police found his body. He had shoulder-length blond hair, parted in the middle, feathered in that unfortunate Eighties style. He was handsome enough, the way a young bull groomed for auction is handsome, but his expression was arrogant—a natural disdain that came from being born rich, well-connected, absolutely untouchable.

  She and the victim argued. There was probably name-calling. Some pushing. At some point—and this was critical—he grabbed her arm. When she yanked away, his fingernails drew blood. He turned away, probably thinking the fight was over. He started back to his car—a silver Mercedes convertible just a few yards away.

  But the fight was not over for her. She grasped the murder weapon—a blunt object, shorter than a baseball bat. She imagined herself striking from behind, cracking the side of the young man’s skull. He went down, crumpling before her, but she wasn’t satisfied. Rage took over.

  Afterward, she left him there—she made no attempt to hide his body or move his car. She would’ve known damn well who the victim’s father was, what kind of hell would break loose when the body was found. She knew what would happen to her if she was ever discovered. She simply drove away, and her secret had stayed hidden for eighteen years.

  Ana could slip into the killer’s skin so easily it frightened her. But then, she knew him well. His size, his strength, his motive, the way he would’ve lost control. Everything fit.

  But how could she make an arrest?

  Light flooded the living room windows.

  A car pulled into the drive—familiar headlights, ten minutes early.

  Ana wasn’t ready. She glanced at the hallway closet, where her gun was locked, but he was already coming up the front steps.

  Don’t panic, she told herself. It won’t come to that.

  The doorbell rang.

  Ana had a sudden desire to bolt out the back, run to the neighbors.

  But no. She was in control. She’d asked for this meeting. She had faced down desperate men before.

  She walked to the front door to greet him.

  HE HAD BEEN IDLING A FEW blocks away in a taquería parking lot, getting up his nerve, replaying the argument with Ana over and over.

  She was so goddamn stubborn. He’d put the obvious answer right in front of her, given her overwhelming evidence, and still she refused to believe.

  He tried to think of an alternative to what he was about to do.

  There wasn’t one.

  He loaded the . 357 Magnum, put the car into drive.

  He wasn’t worried about neighbors. Ana DeLeon’s house fronted Rosedale Park. On either side were vacant lease properties—not unusual for the West Side. The only neighbors were the ones in back, an elderly couple across the alley.

  If things went right, it wouldn’t matter if he was seen. Her husband, Ralph Arguello, was a reliably volatile son-of-a-bitch. Ralph would start the fight. If things went wrong . . . no. He wouldn’t let things go wrong.

  He pulled into the driveway. He could see Ana through the living room window.

  He walked toward the porch, the cold air stinging his eyes. The butt of the unfamiliar gun chafed against his hipbone.