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Chapter 1

At 6:30 a.m., I received a routine disturbance call out on the Navajo Nation. The manager of the Tuba City 7-Eleven on South Indian Route 101 called in a complaint of kids messing around his propane tank again. He hadn't gone out into the gloom to investigate. That was my job.

The lights from the storefront didn't penetrate into the deep shadows around the tank. Had the tank not gleamed white in the weak dawn light, I would have walked past it for the thick brush and brambles surrounding it.The aromatic scrub released its tang when I pushed it aside. I held fast to my gun with one hand and a heavy Mag-Lite with the other. The body was behind the propane tank in a clump of knee-high weeds smashed down by heavy foot traffic.

The sun was just coloring the horizon a thin crescent of smudged yellow, casting long shanks of light into the dark. I approached the body cautiously, not knowing who might be watching from the scrubland between the 7-Eleven and the few houses scattered across a field to the west. The Mag-Lite shone obscenely bright on the body.

Tiny skitters of fear prickled my neck. I sensed a watcher. The light desert breeze teased tendrils of my hair from the knot at my neck. Something foul licked at the edges of the wind, and a guttural, harsh, whisper, "Hey-ya, hey-ya, hey-ya" swirled menacingly around me.

No one moved in the brush, but I felt a presence. Though his chant no longer rode on the wind, goosebumps rose on my arms and fear banded my chest. I touched the microphone button on my body com unit and called for backup from my fellow officers with the Navajo police.

Fewer than two hundred of us patrolled the largest Indian Reservation in the United States, and I was a young female officer desperate to make my bones. I wanted backup, but I also wanted to be the lead on the murder case.

The body was a young male, sprawled face down and parallel to the tank. A massive amount of blood matted the weeds under his head. Acrid bile rose in my dry mouth. I scrubbed my tongue along my lower teeth to create enough saliva to swallow. He wore battered, saggy jeans. A filthy, light blue T-shirt peeked from under a faded jean jacket. Tats decorated the back of his hands. The overwhelmingly rich, coppery tang of fresh blood filled my nose. He couldn't be alive, not with this much blood loss.

I squatted, not wanting to touch him. Oh, God, no, I didn't want to put my hand on that bloody neck to search for a pulse. Bits of meat and slivers of bone obscured the pulse point. I slipped on gloves, smeared the gore off, and checked for a heartbeat. He had no pulse, but he was still warm under my fingers. He hadn't been dead long.

His jean jacket had been yanked off his neck. A jagged, bloody line slashed across the back of his neck at the hair line. The lips of the wound gaped, wide and deep, separating the fascia and muscle, but this wound was not the source of the huge pool of blood. Between the oozing lips of the neck wound, a glint of white bone shone in the trough of the wound, but it was too shallow to have killed him. When I turned him over, his head lolled back awkwardly, held to his body by only a few strands of muscle. An expression of horror and disbelief was frozen on his dead face. "Hey-ya-hey-yaaaa," sung out from the darkness around me, wafting over the body. The last 'ya' was tremulous, held long and low. A gust of dry wind snatched the sound before it could fade into the stillness. I snapped off the light and let my eyes accustom to the soft dawn chasing the darkness. Nothing moved, and no one sang. The only sound was my raspy breathing and the murmur of the wind. I muttered a prayer to the Holy Ones for protection and longed to hear the sounds of my backup screaming my way.

I played the flashlight over his body. The throat slash arced from under the left ear to just across the center of his neck, as though the killer didn't have time to make the cut all the way to the right ear. The severed carotid artery had caused the boy to bleed out. Was it possible someone had tried to behead him and couldn't, so he snatched back his head to expose his throat and slit it?

Gray powder was smeared around his nose and on his upper lip. His right nostril was flared—something had been jammed inside.

My backup's lights winked into the 7-Eleven parking lot. I gathered my wits, mentally rehearsing my report.

I held my flashlight above my head and waved to help my backup find the kill site. My light flickered across the propane tank, illuminating a crude drawing of a black snake with a triangular head.

Sam Tohee barreled out of his unit and joined me. "Jessica, you all right?"

"Yeah, take a look before we talk. See it with fresh eyes. I'll look around the tank. Maybe we'll get lucky and find the knife."

The land around the tank was rough and uneven, and I found nothing but weeds and litter. Burrs clung to my pants and shoe laces. I balanced myself on the tank and tried to pick off the burrs, but only succeeded in pricking my fingers on their spines.

Sam called to me, "Graffiti on the tank is the Insane Young Cobras. Dead kid has a Dragon tat. You find anything out there in the field?"

I headed toward Sam. "A lot of smashed-down weeds and trash, but kids walk through here on their way to the store. No blood trail and no weapon."

Sam stood from squatting by the body. "Some idiot tried to behead him with a knife and ended up cutting his throat."

"That's what I thought, but I wanted to see if you came to the same conclusion."

Sam pointed at my cuffs. "You've got blood on the hems of your pants. Quit picking those stickers."

Sirens wailed into the store parking lot. The ambulance driver pulled in as close to the body as he could. "You know who the boy is?"

"Johnny Ketso," Sam answered.

I jerked my head around to Sam. "The Dragon who robbed this 7-Eleven last year? I thought he was still doing time."

"He got out of Winslow a couple of months ago, and he's been hanging with his old Dragon buddies. I heard he missed his last meeting with his parole officer."

The ambulance driver walked up to the body. "Got a cold one." He grinned.

Three years ago I wouldn't have appreciated his ghoulish humor, but now I knew it was a coping mechanism for all of us who worked the bloody crime scenes.

"Give me a few minutes. I need to take pictures of the scene," I said to the ambulance crew. A couple of pictures of the body from all angles, the graffiti on the tank, and I was ready to walk the scene, documenting beer and pop cans, cig butts, food wrappers, and a used condom where it lay in the weeds. Sam and I would collect and bag it all before we left.

The ambulance pulled out dark and silent, taking the body to the morgue in Tuba City where the medical examiner would conduct the autopsy.

We bagged the evidence and headed to the police station in our separate cars. The sound of the chanting voice had skittered over my nerves like knives on bone. Violent death ignited the fury of evil, and evil had swirled in the wind around the body and sung to me.

By the time I parked by Sam's unit in front of the station, I had calmed down. We turned the evidence bags over to an officer for inventory, and I gave him the memory card from the camera, asking him to print the pictures.

Captain Trace Yazzie had come in from home and was waiting for us in his office. He was talking on the phone, and when he said Taylor's name, I backed away from the doorway. It was a private conversation. Taylor was his woman, and the times I had joined them and Sam and his wife, Jordan, for drinks, I had envied them their harmonious relationships. I was still working on that part of life.

"Come," Trace called loudly. Sam and I walked into his office. A wrinkle of concern passed over Trace's face. "How are you doing?"

"The shock's worn off. I'm fine."

"Good. Have a seat."

Sam said, "Not an easy one. That kid lived long enough to know he was dying."

In short, clipped sentences, we answered Captain Yazzie's debriefing questions.

"Someone tried unsuccessfully to hack his head off. He died from a throat wound." I kept my voice neutral, belying my churning gut.

Sam added, "Someone singled out Johnny Ketso for an unusual killing."

"You have any ideas?" Trace asked.

"There's Cobra graffiti at the scene, but I don't know what the hell Johnny could have gotten into that would have gotten him killed by the Cobras." Sam ran his hand over his buzz cut. "He's only been back a short time."

Trace mulled that over. "Get out on the street and talk to the Dragons and the Cobras. Find out if they have more than the usual bad blood brewing between them. I might have the medical examiner's preliminary report by afternoon. I'll call you when I get it."

"I don't think we'll get much help from that evidence we collected. Just trash and beer cans from kids hanging back there," I said.

Trace waved us out of his office. "Stay in touch today."

Sam and I left Trace's office and headed for our units. I paused with my hand on the Tahoe's door handle and said to Sam, "After I get a clean uniform, I'll go out to Blue Wash where the Cobras hang out."

He nodded. "Call me when you're back in the field."

My Corolla sat under a light in the parking lot. She was a junker, but I was as proud of my car as if she had been the latest model SUV because she was mine free and clear. I headed home to change.

Home was a brand-new single-wide trailer anchored to a small plot of land inside the Tuba City limits. The bank and I owned her. My backyard was an oasis in progress, a small herb garden, a couple of fruit trees, roses, and a jumble of sprouting flower seeds—so many that I couldn't tell which plant matched up with the pictures on the seed packets.

Lula was woofing and snorting as I turned the key in the lock. Anxious for attention, she snuffled me and pawed my legs with her big feet. I petted her knobby hound dog head. "I'm going to shower. Use the dog door." She was unreliable about using her doggie entrance. Each morning she seemed surprised to find a hole cut in the door. I pushed the flap open to the outside, and she raised her head and scented the breeze. "See. You can get out." She cowered when the magnetic lip on the door flap snapped down. I headed for the bathroom to clean up and knew I would have to take her out into the yard to do her business before I left. It was going to be a long day.

Lula's howls pulled me out of the shower. My heart was in my throat as I remembered the chanting voice at the crime scene. Could someone have followed me home? I jammed my feet in my shoes, ran outside, and there sat Lula on her wrinkly butt, throat thrust up to the sky, howling at an uncaring opossum asleep in a fork of the cottonwood tree.

"Lula, hush. Come here." She gave me her dopey Basset look and made no move to obey. "Get in the house." No movement from Lula. "Breakfast." She shot through the dog door. The vet told me when I adopted her that a dog's vocab was about seventeen words. Lula never hit that milestone, but she had been the most adorable droopy-skinned, floppy-eared pup at the shelter, and I still adored her, but Lula was a dim bulb like most Bassets. The vet claimed Lula was part bloodhound because of the bony knobs on her head. He warned me her bloodhound DNA wasn't going to enhance her intelligence, only her tracking ability. I followed her into the house, praising her for going through her dog door.

I buttoned my dark khaki uniform shirt over a black T-shirt. My last clean pair of uniform pants lay on the bed by my utility belt and weapon. I was proud to serve. Though in hock over my ears to the government with student loans, I had graduated community college and gone to the police academy. Three years into my career, and I was still thrilled to go to work and take the wheel of my green and white unit. Fifteen minutes at my house, and I was back on the road and ready to interview some Cobras.

Chapter 2

My high-clearance Chevy police unit bumped off the paved highway onto the two-track dirt trail the locals called Moenave Road and rocked over stones that had been uncovered in the spring torrents of flood water. Salt brush scraped the side of my unit as it rolled into Blue Wash. A cluster of rundown shacks ringed a clearing where the Cobras hung out and drank. Alcohol sales and even possession of alcohol by a minor were prohibited on the Nation, but booze was easily available from bootleggers or begged from the tourists. The abandoned shacks were once employee housing for a coal mining company, but when the easily mined coal played out and the company closed the mine, ownership reverted to the Nation. Now the buildings were isolated from Moenave Road by a scraggly stand of cottonwood trees and thickets of salt brush.

A single, old pickup, without enough original paint to discern the color, was edged in next to a dilapidated hovel whose roof had partially caved in. Three young men sat with their backs propped on the outside wall of the shack, legs spread wide apart amid a pile of empty beer cans.

"What do the Po-lice want this fine morning?" A wiry young man belched and rearranged his junk as he stood.

"Morning, Mr. Begay..."

"Call me Slice, all my friends do."

Perhaps a gang name earned for his proficiency with a knife. "Interesting name. Tell me about the Dragon who died last night."

He turned his head to first one then the other of his two drinking buddies who I knew from experience were called Fat Boy and Bill. Fat Boy was barely in his teens. Bill Haskie was a couple of years older than Fat Boy. Both boys were cutting school to drink with Slice. Bill's older brother, Mike, was serving time in the prison over in Winslow for shooting Sam during a gang melee at Crazy Gal's Bar and Dance Hall.

With an exaggerated expression of innocence, Slice claimed, "We didn't know a Dragon done died. Why, hell, it's a celebration day."

Fat Boy and Bill scrambled to their feet and stood by Slice. All three did the beer can salute to the Dragon's death.

"Which one of them losers up and died?" asked Bill.

Slice stepped one pace toward me. My hand tensed on my holster. I touched my shoulder com unit and called in my location. "Officer needs assistance and a wagon."

"What did you go and do that for? Good-looking piece of ass like you, we coulda had us a party." He bobbed his head and smiled. "We'd give you a ride you wouldn't forget."

My stomach roiled, but my gaze never wavered. Slice was a twenty-something blowhard who had quit school years ago, never worked, but always had plenty of beer money—and hung with the younger Cobras. "Where were you last night?"

Bill glared at Slice and Fat Boy whose endomorphic body matched his name. "We were allll together," he answered for Slice.

Slice chugged his beer and grabbed Fat Boy's shoulder to keep himself standing, causing Fat Boy to lose his balance and fall to the dirt.

All three of them were so smashed they could barely stand. Slice crumpled on top of Fat Boy.

"Oww! Get off me!"Fat Boy shouted.

"We're just drinking," Bill said.

"On the Nation. You know the law—particularly you Slice. You're of age. Tell me about last night."

"We didn't do no Dragon," Fat Boy wailed.

"Where were you all together last night?"

"Right chere," Bill slurred.

"I don't think so. Try again."

"We was here," Fat Boy protested and wiped his snotty nose on his sleeve.

"Try harder." I spread my feet a foot apart, keeping one hand on my holster. We stood and stared at each other for several minutes. The first one to speak would be the loser.

"Mebbe we was over at my grandma's sheep camp partying last night." Fat Boy turned to the others for approval.

All three nodded vigorously. "Yeah, we wuz at his grandma's," Slice affirmed.

While I listened to this fiction, the sound of a motor ground low, and a heavy vehicle rumbled onto the dirt road. All three swiveled their heads to the sound like birds perched on a wire. The white van lumbered to a halt in front of the boys. An officer stepped out and opened the barn doors at the rear of the vehicle.

"These the lowlifes?" Officer Lewis Bahe grinned at me.

"Yep, they're all yours." My personal cell rang. Mom. "Excuse me, I have to take this. Ask Fat Boy where his grandma's sheep camp is, please."

"What? We ain't important to you anymore?" Slice shouted as Lewis hustled them toward the wagon.

Lewis called over his shoulder to me. "I got this. See you when you get back."

Mom never called with anything good. I turned my back to the group. "Mom?"

"Ricky's at the hospital. He's been suspended from school."

Those two sentences about my younger brother didn't fit into a coherent story. "What happened?"

"Ricky got in a fight over at the school, and he's hurt. Can you go to the hospital? I can't. My bitch of boss will dock my pay. I'm barely feeding Ricky as it is," she whined.

Her complaint was probably true, but she wouldn't keep this job or the next one, or the one after that. She tried, but couldn't or wouldn't lick the drinking. She was lucky she was certified as a nurse's aide and her job skills were needed, or she and Ricky would be worse off. "I'm out off Moenave. I'll swing by on the way into town."

I followed the thick dust trail left by the police van to the paved county road. I reported to dispatch that I was swinging by the Indian Health Service hospital over on North Main and was put through to my captain. "That was a gang fight at the high school. Get Ricky's story, and when you get him squared away, meet Sam over at the school."

"Will do. Lewis is bringing in Slice, Fat Boy, and Bill Haskie. When they sober up, I'll talk to them again."

***

Did Mom know Ricky had been in a gang fight? If she had been told, her compensatory measure was to ignore it. Ricky was fifteen years old, the youngest of the three of us. My older brother, Joe, was in his early thirties, married, and had two adorable little girls. He refused to help Mom with Ricky. He was barely on speaking terms with Mom, and not at all with our brother. I didn't know why. I only knew I was the glue between the two camps, and I adored Joe. He had always been there for me, providing support and love when Mom was deep in the bottle.

Ricky was fifteen years old and pure trouble—still in the eighth grade, marking time until he could quit school at sixteen. Joe bitterly complained that Mom had spoiled Ricky after Dad left, and Ricky had taken advantage of a no-male presence, first nicking little things from convenience stores, lying, staying out all hours, drinking with a rough crowd, and fighting. This wasn't his first suspension. If he were sixteen, I would expect the school system to kick him out, and Ricky to be relieved.

I pulled into the parking lot of the Tuba City Regional Hospital, the jewel of the health care system on the Nation with sixty plus beds, intensive and emergency care, and a twenty-four-hour walk-in clinic. All of which Ricky had used. The ER charge nurse checked out my uniform and asked, "Are you looking for Ricky Akee?"

Bad sign if she saw a cop uniform and thought of Ricky. "Yes." I extended my hand, "Officer Jessica Akee."

"I see," she said, connecting the last names. "He's in room two."

A nurse was with Ricky.

"Hello, I'm his sister."

Ricky turned his head away from me to the curtains shielding him from the patient on the other side.

"Ricky's going to be okay," she said in her soothing nurse voice. "We're just finishing up here. The doctor will be back and decide if he can go home. "You'd like that, wouldn't you?" She patted Ricky's arm encouragingly. Ricky wouldn't look at her, and the side of his sullen face bloomed with angry bruises.

"What are his injuries?"

"His nose suffered a bite wound, he has some stitches, and he'll be on antibiotics. The human mouth is filthy. You'll have to watch the wounds carefully for any sign of infection. His left arm was nearly dislocated from his shoulder, but it wasn't," she said cheerfully. "It's badly wrenched and sore, but some muscle relaxers will help with the pain."

"Is that all?" I thought he had gotten off light.

"No, he's peeing blood. We assume he took a blow to the kidney. He won't tell us what happened. Maybe he'll talk to you."

"Maybe. How bad is that?"

"The doctor will explain his condition, but my experience is time usually resolves it."

A doctor brushed through the curtains. "How are we doing in here?"

"Jessica Akee, his sister," I said, holding out my hand.

"Dr. Gomez. I'm sending him home. Will he stay with you?"

"No, he'll be with our mom."

He raised a brow. "Is his mom here?"

"She's at work. I'm standing in."

"Ricky is going to have to be on bed rest for two days. Most bruised kidneys and bloody urine resolve on their own with rest. That arm is going to need to be kept in a sling. I suggest you bring him into the clinic three days from now for further evaluation." He hesitated. "And young man, you're too old to be fighting at school. Do what your mom and sister tell you. You're lucky to have them looking out for you."

Ricky rolled his eyes and gave an exasperated sigh. I was grateful he didn't say anything. Ricky had a smart mouth and embarrassed me.

"Thank you. I'll bring Ricky to his follow-up appointment."

The nurse returned with a plastic bag of Ricky's clothes.

"Thank you. I appreciate your care." When the nurse stepped out, I said to Ricky, "Let me help you with your shirt."

"Screw the shirt. Help me with my pants and shoes." He sat up awkwardly, using his left hand to gather the sheet around his waist. He was right handed, and with that arm in a sling, everything was going to be hard.

He had a tiny black snake with a triangular head tattooed below his collarbone. "What's the tattoo mean?"

His grin was triumphant. "Don't play yourself or me for stupid. I'm a Cobra." He pulled his jeans out of the sack, holding them out to me for help.

I shook them out and threaded his legs through his jeans."Where were you last night?"

"Oh, so now you're not my loving caretaker. You're a cop." He jacked his pants up to his waist. Buttoning and zipping with only one good hand was hard for him.

"Don't you ever talk to me like that. Knowing where you were last night is caring for you. Answer me."

He barked, "I was home. Mom was there. She can vouch for me. She's working days."

If Mom was working day shifts, she could back him up—if he was telling the truth. If he wasn't, well, I didn't want to think about it. "I'll ask Mom."

"Yeah"—he sneered—"you do that. Check up on the little bro."

"Stop acting like a jackass. You have a family who loves you, and you have opportunities if you don't screw them all up. Here, throw your shirt around your shoulders. I'm taking you home, and then I'm going back to work."

"Is Mom going to be at home?" He sounded like a little boy, and his eyes were rounded with fear.

"Mom will be home after work. Would you like me to pick you up a burger? You can eat before you go to bed. I'll call and check on you until Mom gets home."

"Yeah, I'm hungry."

Still not a thank you, but less mouthy. He needed help getting up on the running board and into the Tahoe. I drove through Burger King and then on to Mom's house. She lived on the Nation in a weather-beaten single-wide where the three of us had grown up. I vividly remembered the day the front door banged shut behind my Dad. What I hadn't known was his back was the last I would ever see of him.

Mom's trailer smelled faintly of bacon grease. A dirty skillet was soaking in the sink. The bread wrapper was open to the dry air. I twisted the tie shut and put the bread on top of the fridge where Mom kept an assortment of junk, the cereal, and cookies when she was able to afford them.

Ricky wolfed down the burger. I hoped he wouldn't be nauseated. While he used the bathroom, I walked back to the smaller of the bedrooms. His room was a pigsty, heaps of dirty clothes strewn on the floor and over the unmade bed. I straightened his bed. Pages of a magazine peeked out between the mattress and the box springs. I pushed it farther under without checking the title. He was fifteen.

He ambled back into his room, one hand holding up his sagging pants over his butt, a chain dangling from his front belt loop. A hank of long, dirty hair flopped over one eye.

"What happened this morning?"

"Nothing to tell. We just had a little disagreement."

"You and who else?"

"Bunch of guys I don't have much use for," he evaded.

"Names?"

"Nah, can't remember."

"It was a gang fight. The police will ask the same questions I am. Find some answers."

Chapter 3

On the way from Mom's house to the high school, I vacillated between worrying about Ricky and feeling angry with him. He refused to notice that Mom and I both worked our rears off while he hung out with his buddies playing video games in the arcade in the back of the 7-Eleven. And right in the middle of a murder investigation, he needed to be rescued again, leaving Sam in a lurch for backup from me—his partner. All the female officers were sensitive to balancing home and family with the demands of the job. We didn't have wives who had our backs on the home front.

I dialed Mom's cell. "Ricky's going to be okay. He's home and fed. Mom, was he home with you last night?"

"Yeah, why? If they catch me on my cell during work, I'll be written up."

"I'll make it fast. Was he there all night?"

"Smokin' and listenin' to music in his room. All his noise kept me up after I went to bed. He don't have any consideration for me workin' and all. I woke him up to get ready for school this morning."

If Mom could be believed, Ricky wasn't near the murder scene early this morning.

Tuba City High School anchored Warrior Drive right in the middle of town. I parked by Sam's Tahoe near the electronic sign blinking congrats to the Lady Warriors for winning the state basketball championship.

Sam and Tuba City High Principal, Mason Torres, were flanking the front of Sam's unit and deep in conversation with a young man. When I joined them, Sam turned to me and said, "This is Money." He jerked his head in the direction of the student. "He's the Dragon Mr. Torres pulled off Ricky." More softly to me, he asked how Ricky was.

Money heard Sam and thrust out his chest. "I don't care how that worthless piece of shit is."

Money was younger than I expected. Both arms were inked with vicious dragon heads, and a tat of a dragon tail trailed around his neck.

"You will show respect when you address Officer Akee," Torres said stepping between Money and me. He was so tall he loomed over Money.

"Officer Akee," Sam said to me, "we were talking about Mister Money's gang affiliation with the Dragons." Sam gave me entrance into the situation.

"Member. I'm a member of the Dragons. Ain't no affiliation, man. My bros and me, we gonna take care of this. Cobras killed Johnny, and they're gonna pay in blood."

"That's a criminal threat," Sam growled. "If the Cobras killed Johnny Ketso, that's our job to take care of."

Money pushed out an exaggerated sigh and rolled his eyes. "You pansy-asses won't do nothin'. We'll get revenge for our own."

Sam said to Money. "You and your bros back down from any retaliation."

Money laughed out loud. "Sure man, we gonna back down after they sliced and diced our Johnny."

Sam ignored him. "When did you last see Johnny Ketso?"

Money leaned back on the car, crossed one leg over the other, and put his thumb under his chin and his forefinger on his cheek. He posed the campy model of thinking. "Me and Cruiser were hanging with our women at our place. Johnny was with us. He left by himself."

"What's Cruiser's real name?" Sam asked.

"Jimmy Bicente," Torres said. "They live over in the housing on the Nation."

"And where's this place you were hanging with your women?" Sam asked Cruiser.

"Bat Canyon. We got us a sweet little place out there."

"What were the names of the girls with you?" I asked.

"Our women are West Side Wedgewood." He smiled smugly, correcting me.

"New girl gang, only two that I know of, and they run with the Dragons," Torres added.

As Money gave Sam the two girls' names and addresses, he jotted them in his notebook. "Was Johnny afraid or in a hurry to meet someone?"

Money shrugged. "He was just Johnny. You know, that man liked to par-tee."

Sam put Money in the back of his car and slammed the door, leaving me with Ricky's principal for a moment.

"Money had an expensive iPhone," I said.

Torres added, "A bunch of them have expensive phones they can't afford."

Ricky hadn't flaunted an iPhone. If he did have one, he probably would have stolen it.

Sam rejoined us. He glanced at Torres. "These Navajo kids are torn between two worlds, the Navajo Way and the pop culture they see on television. A lot of these kids grow up with few opportunities, but plenty of time to watch the gangs glorified on the tube."

Torres looked up at Sam. "I hear good things about the jobs program you started for the youth."

"Thanks. I hope it's gonna work." Sam pushed off his Tahoe. "I'll go out to talk to Cruiser's folks after I drop Money at the station."

"I'll talk to the Wedgewood girls," I volunteered. "I ran Fat Boy, Slice, and Bill Haskie in for drinking. They were too drunk to question. They'll sober up while I talk to the girls."

Sam nodded at me and shook Torres hand, thanking him for his help. He asked me, "Is Ricky back at your mom's?"

"Yeah."

Sam squeezed my arm. "Good." He knew my troubles with Ricky. "Talk to ya back at the station."

When Sam had driven off, Torres asked, "Do you have a moment?"

"Sure." Torres held open the front door to the school, and I walked into the main hallway with the same feeling of doom I had felt when I’d been sent to the principal's office for skipping a day of elementary school.

I started to initiate the conversation in the hall, just to get it over with, but he interrupted me. "Let's wait until we get someplace private."

Torres greeted his secretary and ushered me into his office, pointing to the two matching chairs by his desk. His office was so small that our knees grazed when we sat. I took in a deep breath and asked, "Tell me what happened today and the part Ricky played."

"The bangers came to school spoiling for a fight. Someone was going to pay for killing Johnny. That's the gang's way. Out came the bats and chains, and the entire school was on the playing fields watching the Cobras and the Dragons slap their bats in their hands and throw taunts."


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I call Austin, Texas home after working on the East and West coasts, the Rocky Mountains, and an island in the Gulf of Mexico. I've come full circle to live and work close to the farm my family settled in the 1850's. Truth is stranger than fiction, and years in the news business provided lots of peculiar characters and stories to write about. My books are set in my favorite places, the desert canyons and peaks of the American West.

Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A.
I put aside my childhood dreams and became a high school English teacher in a tough inner city school until a fight interrupted a lesson on subjunctive mood. I retrained and produced news shows and ran educational television stations for universities. Time to live the dream.
Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
Pinterest. I believe I'm developing an addiction to the gardening, photography, and travel boards.Share your pins with me, please.
Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
Mysteries are complex puzzles solved by complicated, conflicted characters who have interesting relationships.

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