Lockdown: cops & wise fools
Some of the characters that come to life on the page just beg to return. One of those was Brother Erasmus, the enigmatic hero of the second Kate Martinelli novel, To Play the Fool.
I couldn’t resist bringing Brother Erasmus back—and, briefly, Kate herself—in a 2008 short story for Mike Connelly (The Blue Religion) called “The Fool.”
The good Brother’s story weaves into Lockdown , as one of the events that builds to this school’s explosive Career Day—but mostly because of the cop involved. In “The Fool” her name is Bonita, but because I had several B names already (you’ll thank me!) her name shifted to Olivia.
She’s the voice of this central coast town. She’s a native, has lived in the town of Guadalupe most of her life, has policed its streets and fields for years. She knows the odors of its air and the habits of its shops and the movement of all its parts. So Olivia knows when something is off…
107 DAYS AGO
When the call came in, Olivia thought it was just another Halloween prank.
Olivia hated Halloween—and had long before she become a cop. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if she’d lived in a more white-bread town, but having the Anglo holiday of candy and costumes smack up against Día de Muertos made for an orgy of sugar and disguises and trouble.
When she was a kid, white makeup scared her and she was allergic to the pungent marigolds that were traditional to the holiday. As a teenager, she’d had some bad experiences at parties. As an adult, she hid in her darkened house as the neighborhood dogs worked themselves into a frenzy. And as a cop . . .
As a cop, she’d seen too much. The mix of manic kids and whimsical death—Día de Muertos has a particular focus on the death of children—made her stomach knot as October wore on.
Her first season in the Department, eleven years ago, an old- timer had warned her that worst of all was when October 31 fell on a Monday. She’d laughed, thinking this was like Friday the 13th or craziness under a full moon, but she wasn’t laughing long: a Monday Halloween followed by the two days of Día de Muertos meant the lunacy began at dusk Friday and didn’t let up until Thursday morning.
This year was her third Monday Halloween on the police force. The Department’s overtime budget for the month was already blown, with two drunken crashes, a house fire caused by a jack-o- lantern, a shoot-out, and eleven brawls: four in bars, one in the bowling alley, two in grocery stores (the bloodiest one over the last package of bargain candy), and the rest in neighborhoods over smashed pumpkins. The movie theater shut when its late-night horror film sparked a little too much audience participation.
She’d told herself all day that by the time darkness fell everyone would be sick of it all—sick, or under arrest—but she didn’t believe it. Once dusk gave way to darkness, the adolescents would come out and gang rivalries would mix with the wildness in the air. If only it would rain! If only Thursday would come. She was tired and cranky and she’d eaten two of the three sugar skulls the desk guy had brought in.
That’s why, when the phone rang Halloween evening, she thought it was a joke.
There’d been a recent surge of prank calls, a thing of the past due to caller ID, when local kids discovered that they could use disposable phones, stolen ones, or the surviving public box behind the thrift store. The fad would die after a couple of arrests, but because the Department was too pushed to hunt down the perpetrators, any call the 911 dispatcher suspected of being a prank—anything short of a blood-on-the-ground emergency—was being diverted to the Department for triage.
The call came in on the dedicated line at 6:40, that dividing line between innocent dusk and troublesome darkness. With a sigh, Olivia put down her case notes from the Gloria Rivas murder and picked up the receiver: would this be a report from the Russian gangster Yuri Nator, or a giggling bomb threat?
“Sergeant Mendez, San Felipe Police Department, how may I—?”
A man’s voice cut her off. “My daughter’s not home.”
He sounded irritated rather than worried, as if Sergeant Olivia Mendez were personally to blame for this disruption of his evening.
“How old is your daughter, sir?”
“Ten—eleven, I guess.”
Olivia carried on a silent conversation with the remaining decorated skull on her desk. The man was drunk—she hoped to hell he hadn’t just arrived home. Or was it worse that he’d been home for several drinks and just discovered his child wasn’t there? In either case, she wasn’t keen on pulling a car off the streets for a guy who’d forgotten what day it was.
“It’s Halloween, sir. Could your wife have taken her trick-or-treating?”
“I don’t have a wife.”
“Well, someone else, then?”
“Why would she go trick-or-treating? She doesn’t like candy.” Then she’s like no other kid I’ve ever met, Olivia did not say aloud. She reached for her pad. “Okay, sir, I’ll send someone by, but it’ll be a while—we’ve got some troubles in town. Could I have your name and address?”
“This is Chuck Cuomo,” he said impatiently—and before Olivia could hunt down why she ought to know his name, he provided it. “I run the car dealership. It’s my daughter, Bee.”
She wrote down Bee Cuomo—father Chuck—and the address, sketching a martini glass on the pad as she asked if he’d phoned any of Bee’s friends, and listened to his bluster that she had no friends, and in any case he didn’t have their phone numbers.
She was about to interrupt—who the hell didn’t know his daughter’s friends?—when he said the words that made all the difference, the words that were to define the coming months in San Felipe, the words that pushed aside the Gloria Rivas murder and the Taco Alvarez paperwork and the paperwork of house fires and bar fights.
“There was a call from her school on the machine when I got home. Why the hell they didn’t use my cell number I couldn’t tell you. Maybe they didn’t have it? I don’t know. Anyway, they called to say she wasn’t there.”
Olivia Mendez sat up in her chair. “Sir? Bee wasn’t where?”
“She wasn’t at school today. Jesus, don’t you speak English?” He made a noise under his breath, and continued with an exaggerated enunciation. “The secretary at Guadalupe phoned and left a message, to say ‘Bee Cuomo was not in school today and was this an excused absence?’ Of course it wasn’t, but there’s nobody answering the phone there at this time of night, so I—”
This time she did cut him off. “Sir, I’ll be right out. Don’t disturb anything in her room, but see if you can remember the names of her friends. And Mr. Cuomo? Maybe you should make yourself a pot of coffee.”
She hung up and yanked open the drawer where she kept her holstered gun.
Día de muertos.
Olivia looked at the sugar skull on her desk, and shuddered.