Beliefby Troubleshooter Copyright 2000 all rights reserved.
I've been thinking. Jules would say that's dangerous. She teases me about stuff like that. She's right about my thinking, though. It is dangerous sometimes. I really try not to do it a lot. I don't mean like real thinking. I mean useless thinking, like...well, you know what I mean. I guess dwelling on something would be a better way to describe it.
I keep going back over the whole operation in my mind. There was nothing extraordinary about it. We'd raid ships. We'd do paperwork. We'd work the streets. We'd meet. It was typical police work...following up on leads, talking to informants, trying to find out who was behind it.. And once we had a pretty good idea who it was, we tried to figure out how to get them. Like I said, nothing extraordinary.
They had some undercover people inside. I never went undercover, at least in this operation. Early on, when I joined the department, they used to pull me from patrol and dress me up as a hooker. Go ahead and laugh. I did. They all thought I was crazy. The first time I did it, I took one look at myself in the mirror and laughed for a good ten minutes without stopping. I couldn't catch my breath and tears streamed down my face. I messed up the eye makeup Beverly had put on me. It's probably the hardest I've ever laughed on the job. Beverly didn't find it as amusing as I did.
I wasn't very good at undercover work. You have to be a good actor to do undercover work and you have to be able to blend in. I wasn't a very good actor. And I definitely didn't blend in. How many six foot five hookers do you see? That's how tall I was with those fucking spike heels on. I actually had one john ask me if I was a drag queen. I would have been insulted, but he was right. I did look like a drag queen. And the worst part is, they walk better in those damn shoes than I do. I started laughing again.
When you do a big operation like this, it's hard to keep track of all the players. Everybody's got their own sources, their own informants. It can appear really crazy at times. Jules used to question me incessantly. Drove me nuts at first. There were so many days that I wanted to strangle Joe Duncan. It would have been so easy.
Jules has this little look that she gets when she's concentrating and trying to figure things out. There's this little tiny furrow in her brow, her eyes crinkle a little, and she tilts her head to the side. Always the left side. Not a lot, just a little. Then she'll stare off into space for a while and finally she'll nod, almost so you can't see it. It's like she's sorting things out in her mind. That's when the questions start. The first few months...I'd see her get that look and all I wanted to do was go in the other direction. Fast. I still want to do that sometimes.
She'd ask really intelligent questions though, and sometimes she'd come out of the blue with one that would make me stop and really think. Then she'd ask questions like, "Why do you think these people are doing this?"
Jules always wants to know why. And those "why" questions always have a thousand answers and then really no answer at all. People do things. A lot of the time they don't have a clue as to why they're really doing them. They think they know the real reason, but they don't. If you ask them, they'll give you all kinds of answers, but most of it's just bullshit. Stuff they can point to that justifies their behavior in their minds.
Some of it makes me laugh. A lot of it makes me feel like crying, because the "reasons" are used to justify sick behavior. Take beating on your kids or your spouse. Nothing, absolutely nothing, justifies that. You wanna take me on? That's fine. But your three year old? No one in this world can come up with a good enough reason to justify breaking a three year old's ribs. But people like that won't take me on. They much prefer the three year old. They're cowards, really.
I know all the psychological crap about it. I know that the abused tend to become abusers. That if you look back far enough into someone's past, you can point a finger at the way they were treated and say, "That's why." But does it really matter why? They're doing what they're doing, and it's wrong. What I want to know is when does the part about taking responsibility for your own actions kick in? I mean, I'm sorry that bad stuff happened to them. Bad stuff happens to a lot of people. It shouldn't, but it does. They don't all turn into wife beaters or child abusers.
I'll never understand the leaps in logic or the absolute denial of reality that it takes to continue the behavior. I've tried. I can't do it. Jules...she wants to understand. She wants to understand why people do the things they do. I think that she thinks that if she understands, then she can stop it or change it. I don't necessarily agree with that. Some things she can stop or change, maybe. But not all.
We had a discussion once about the responsibility of society as a whole. It was...interesting. I never ever thought I'd find someone who would talk to me like Jules does. We talk about everything. I call her my conscience. She's certainly pricked it on a few occasions. She tells me that my views on some things are refreshing. I think that's her way of nicely saying that some of the things I think are really off the wall.
Like the time I told her that we should teach morality and ethics in school, starting in kindergarten. We got into a big church versus state argument. Jules is very big on the Constitution and all that Bill of Rights and Amendments stuff. I am, too, I guess, in my own way. But what I was talking about wasn't religious at all. I'm sure you've figured out by now that I'm not a very religious person.
It's about respect and basic, really fundamental things. Why does everyone assume that kids will just know things? We've proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that we've failed miserably as a whole in teaching kids about the fundamentals. What's wrong with someone teaching a kid in a classroom that it is most definitely not okay if your mommy or daddy beats on you or touches you in certain ways? That it's wrong if the kid down the street forces you to do things to him that you don't want to do? And why don't we make sure that kids have enough to eat? How can you expect a kid that's starving to pay attention in school? That they have a coat when it's cold?
It's about the basics for me, I guess. People like to talk about the fundamental rights. Free speech. Self-government. Individual freedom. Personal liberty. None of that means jack shit when you're cold and starving. I think I'm too simple sometimes. It's kind of like that saying, though. Watch the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves. Teach people about the fundamentals, then maybe the decisions they make will be better.
I guess I'm not much of an optimist. I don't see a lot of possibility for change. The politicians, despite the platitudes they spew out, don't do anything. The media spends their time trying to figure out who's screwing who, literally and figuratively, so their numbers will go up. It's fucking pitiful.
Don't get me wrong. I know that I've made a lot of generalizations. I know everyone is not like that. I know that there are good people out there. Good parents. Good reporters. Good politicians. People who care. People who want to do the right thing. There's just not enough of them. Or if there are enough of them, they're unorganized as hell.
Sorry about the tangent. I told you that thinking's not necessarily a good thing for me.
Jules used to do a lot of the basics with Diego. I think I did, too. We spent a lot of time talking. We'd do fun things, but we'd talk, too. Jules is really good at explaining things. Diego had a hard time in school. He was different, and kids can be mean to other kids they consider different. There's not much tolerance for different. I don't have much tolerance for people who can't handle different. Sometimes, I can overreact a little. I remember coming home one afternoon and finding Jules on the couch with Diego, just holding him. His little body was tucked up against hers.
I knelt in front of them. Diego was sleeping, his little face puffy from crying and I could see the tear stains on his cheek. His uniform shirt had a tear in it and there was a scrape on his arm. I looked at her questioningly.
"A fight at school," she whispered.
"What?" I thought maybe he had taken a tumble on his bike or something.
"I got a call this afternoon from the principal," she whispered. "He got into a fight with Jerry."
I had an irrational urge to go find the parents of this Jerry kid and beat the shit out of them. I hoped Jerry's father was as big as me. I wanted it to be a reasonably fair fight. "What happened?" My voice was a little louder than I wanted it to be.
"Damian, please...relax. I don't need you going off half-cocked and beating on his father."
"I would not!" Apparently, I wasn't hiding my feelings as well as I thought I was.
Jules looked at me with one of those 'yeah, right, that wasn't what you were thinking at all' looks. It probably didn't help that two days before, there was a little incident when we had raided this bar downtown where a lot of the merchant seamen hang out. Know all the stories about how sailors are a wild bunch and they're always brawling? They're true. Never been in one of those places where I didn't get into a fight.
"Is he hurt? What happened?"
"There was some pushing and shoving from what I could gather." She looked down at the top of his head and continued rubbing his back. "His pride and his feelings got hurt, along with a torn shirt and a scrape."
"Why were they fighting?"
"Jerry was teasing him about his accent."
I became irrationally angry. Someone hurt my child, just because he was different. And they were gonna pay. I stood up and put my hands on my hips and stared at Diego. I could feel my body heat rising as I became more and more angry.
"Leave the gun at home if you're going to do something stupid."
It was a soft whisper that seemed to come out of nowhere. It landed hard on my ears. I blinked. That's Jules. She didn't say it with any condemnation or sarcasm. Just a simple statement. I felt the anger leave.
"Why don't you pick him up and put him in bed? We'll let him sleep for a little while. Not too long, though. You can keep me company while I get dinner ready. That is, unless you're going somewhere."
"I'm not going anywhere," I mumbled as I bent down and picked him up.
"Good...I've missed you."
I felt like an idiot right then. "I'll...um, meet you in the kitchen."
It didn't take me long to get him settled in his bed and get back to the kitchen. When I walked in, Jules was sitting at the table, waiting for me. There was a glass of tea in front of my place. "Um, hi."
"Hi." She looked up and down my length before I sat down. "How was your day?" When I was seated, she leaned over and kissed me.
"It was...okay. We're all set for the meet this weekend. He's supposed to be coming in sometime on Saturday. Duncan wanted to know if you were going along." I already knew the answer to that question and couldn't help but smile as she answered me.
"Wouldn't miss it for the world."
"It's going to be boring, Jules. You'll be stuck in a van with me and Reggie and Walt." Vicente de Quintanilla was coming to sell us some coke. We hadn't gathered enough evidence yet to put him away for murder for those kids, so someone came up with the plan to get him and his gang stateside for a buy. We'd do a couple of buys from him, make him feel comfortable and then grab him on cocaine trafficking. Then we'd try to turn some of his buddies to get him on the murders. At least that was the plan. Duncan stuck me in one of the surveillance vans. I don't know if he did that because of Jules or if he was scared that I'd lose it when I saw him. By this time, everyone knew about Jules and I and our adopting Diego.
She shrugged a little. "I could think of worse people to be stuck with, and I've been in worse places."
"Did you talk to Kathie?"
She took a sip of her tea. "Yeah, she can spend the night Saturday."
Kathie was the daughter of a friend of Jules and our babysitter. She was in college, studying nursing, and she was a very serious and responsible young woman. Jules and Kathie's mom, Angela, met at St. Dominic's, the school Diego went to, and hit it off immediately. Angela was forty-eight and her daughter, Maggie, was in Diego's class. Angela already had two daughters that were in high school when she got pregnant with Maggie. From what Jules told me, Maggie had been something of a surprise. When they had orientation at the school, Jules spotted Angela off by herself at a table. Jules had leaned over and whispered to me, "I'll be back" and then she was gone. Next thing I knew, Angela was joining us. Jules does those kind of things. Angela's been a good friend to Jules.
"Good." I glanced down at my hands that were wrapped around the iced tea glass. "I...I'm sorry if I was a little nuts earlier."
"There's nothing to be sorry for, honey." Her hand stroked my arm and I looked up into those green eyes. "When I was driving to the school I went through the same thing you did. Then I did it again when the principal explained what happened to me."
"It's not fair."
"I know." She looked at me with so much understanding. "You need to talk with him. I think this is going to take your special touch."
"He was pretty upset?"
"He...doesn't understand. I tried to explain it to him. How do you tell a little boy that people can be assholes for no good reason?"
I tried to imagine Jules coming up with a substitute for the word "asshole." There's just no substitute for some things. "We'll have a snoball talk." I used to take him to get us snoballs from the snoball stand a couple of blocks away. We'd talk and eat our snoballs.
Her nose wrinkled as she made a face. "For someone who doesn't like sweets, I can't believe you eat those things."
Snoballs are something that's uniquely New Orleans. I've heard lots of people say that they're sno-cones. No way, no how. They're made with shaved ice, not crushed, and they're fluffy and soaked with flavored sugar syrup. My favorite's strawberry with condensed milk on top. Guaranteed to put you into a sugar coma. Diego loved the bubblegum flavored ones. They're blue. He'd stick his tongue out and look down and laugh at how it turned blue.
I want to hear him laugh again.
I've got to go. The parental units are ready for transport back to the airport.
I want one day. One day where the world and our memories leave us alone.
When we got home from bringing mom and dad to the airport, there was a letter, along with some papers, in the mail for Damian. The letter was from St. Vincent's Orphanage. Seems they were going through some old records and found some that belonged to Damian. Or more correctly, to Damian's mother.
She read the letter. The amount of control that she can demonstrate...it's so amazing to me. Just that little twitching muscle in her jaw. God, that muscle gets a workout. I have no idea how it hasn't ruptured from all the energy and anger that it's trying to dissipate. She didn't even look at the papers. She handed me the letter, crumpled the papers up into a ball and threw it in the trash, then announced that she was going outside for a run. If I had to guess, she's probably already in Dallas.
I retrieved the papers from the trash. I haven't read them. I won't until she does.
It's very hard for me to not do anything. She's so damned angry about it. It's hard to believe sometimes that she can still be this angry after thirty-three years. It just goes to show you that unless you deal with something, it never, ever goes away. I don't pretend to truly understand. I think that, in order for me to truly understand it, I'd have to have experienced what she did. And I didn't.
All I can do is be there for her. Listen to her. Hold her. I'm not even sure that I'd know what to say if we really talked about it. I can tell her that I'm sorry and that I would have given anything if she wouldn't have had that pain in her life. I can't fix it and I can't make it go away. I hate that.
I have made sure that I understand, as much as I am capable of, what it is that happens to people who were orphaned or adopted. Both of us...we made sure that we read everything we could get our hands on because of Diego. It's helped me tremendously in dealing with Damian. I can't tell you the number of times it's made things that she's said or done make sense to me. It's saved me from a lot of hurt feelings as well.
She has this innate sense of not being good enough...that she's not worth the trouble. It has nothing to do with her profession or anything that's external. Send her after the bad guys and they're toast. Give the woman a task and it's as good as done. And usually, it's perfectly done. Show her someone who needs help and she gives it to them. We've been together a little over three years now. Ask her why I love her. Ask her why Diego loved her. She'll tell you that she has no idea. She won't be lying to you. It is unfathomable to her. She can mimic back the reasons that I've given her, but she doesn't believe them. Maybe in some small way she does, but it's so difficult for her to see what I see. She's learned to accept what I say and take it for the truth.
I remember the first time that I told her something personal...the way I saw her in my mind's eye. She said flippantly, "You need glasses." I felt like she was calling me a liar, and I told her so. I didn't talk to her for two days.
When we're talking about things, I can see the war that goes on in her head. As in control as she can be, that's how expressive she can be. Her eyes...there's a war being fought in that brain and you can see the battles played out in her eyes...on her face.
Joe Duncan once looked at me after he and Damian had it out about something or another and sputtered angrily, "You, Juliana, are a saint for putting up with...with...her."
I didn't answer. I just shook my head and walked off. I'm no saint. I try to understand her. I try to not take things so personally. Above all, I try to love her with everything I have. I fail. Sometimes miserably. But in the long run, I am sure of my commitment to her and of her commitment to me.
This makes my heart break. I wish there was something that I could do. It's so damn frustrating.
And it's killing me to know what's in those papers. Curiosity killed the cat. It's a good thing for me I'm not a cat, because I would have been dead a long time ago. My curiosity has gotten me into trouble on occasion. Some really bizarre trouble.
One night, when I had gone with them on a raid, I started wandering around the ship. It was a container ship and I found this open container and peered inside, then walked into it. I wanted to see what it looked like up close so I could describe it for my story. The ship pitched, the door slammed and I couldn't get out. I got very up close and personal with the container until they found me. My hands were hurt and bruised from beating on the door. I realized where the bruises had come from on the people I had seen them taking out earlier.
I still cringe when I think about it. Not because I was locked inside the container. It was Damian's reaction. For a split second, when the doors opened, I saw the panic on her face. Then the relief. Then she got angry. She stomped around the ship for the rest of the night. She stomped down the pier to get in the car. She even managed to stomp while driving. I still haven't figured that one out.
When we got home, she yelled. I tried to act contrite. I failed miserably. I couldn't help but laugh. All that stomping. Then I felt really bad, because I realized I had scared the hell out of her. This wasn't an ego thing on her part. I really terrified her. I knew I wasn't in any danger. But she hadn't. Damian has quite an active imagination when she lets it go.
We had found some people on the boat that were being enslaved for debt bondage. In her mind, they had missed some bad guys and I was already someone's sex slave in some foreign country. I tried to inject some humor into the situation by telling her that the only person's sex slave I would ever be was hers. Seems like her sense of humor had been left behind in that container.
She was so angry she was shaking. Then she got angry at herself. I really, really, really tried not to laugh when she looked at me and said, "But Jules...I misplaced you." She is so incredibly adorable. She eventually got over it.
I don't think she'll ever get over her mother abandoning her. She won't even deal with it and give herself a chance to heal.
She was so good about that with Diego. They'd go off and have talks. What I wouldn't give.... I need to stop that. I can't change what's happened. Damian would take Diego off and they'd go outside and throw a football back and forth or play baseball or swing. And they'd talk. It seemed that it was so easy for her to talk to him. I think that in some ways, it was very healing for her.
He told me once that he didn't know who his old parents were, but that he would never forget his new parents. It made me cry. Mixed somewhere in that statement was the assumption that we'd go, too. No amount of verbal reassurance on our part would make him believe otherwise. I hope that he knows these things now. Truly knows them.
Damian talked about it once. The going away thing, that is. She said that it's just an assumption she makes. It's based on experience. She gets so...aloof, maybe...more like distant, I think, when she talks about it. I don't know where her mind goes, but the look on her face...in her eyes...she's a million miles away.
"People come and people go." She shrugged and looked out the window. "They say they love you. Then they leave you." She hesitated and swallowed. "You get burned a couple of times and you learn not to care so much. Not to feel so much."
I reached out and stroked her cheek. "Sometimes, sweetheart, they don't have a choice."
I didn't know if she meant that it doesn't matter that they didn't have a choice or that it doesn't matter if they had left.
She came back from wherever she had gone to in her mind before I had a chance to ask. "Let's go out to dinner. Spend some quiet time together. Have somebody wait on us."
A subject change. I let it go sometimes. Sometimes I don't.
"Sounds good." I looked at her for a minute. "Will you answer a question for me?"
"You think I'm going to go one day?"
Her eyes dropped and she shoved her hands in her pockets. "I...I don't know...I hope not."
I realized then that what she feels about this, how it's affected her...it's really got nothing to do with me. I didn't cause it. I can't fix it. That's a hard thing to swallow. I had no intentions of going anywhere. Only time would prove me right.
It makes me think. There really are no guarantees for anything, are there? I've seen it happen in lots of instances. A young man...bright, good-looking, hard-working...he has his whole life ahead of him. He's driving home one day and he blinks. He's dead. Broad-sided by a car at an intersection.
It happened with Diego. All the plans we had...the dreams. Gone. I knew he was going to grow up. Go to college. He might have even received a scholarship, but it didn't matter. We were already saving for his college education. He'd find a nice woman, like his mothers did. He would fall in love. Get married. Have kids. It's not going to happen.
What the hell happened? Why did it have to happen to us? Why did that maniac resist arrest and try to shoot his way out? Why was it that only Damian had a clear shot at him? I want to know why and no one can tell me.
I've grilled everyone I know about Vicente's shooting. Joe even let me read the reports. It was so strange to read Damian's report. It seemed so cold. I wondered if my stories seemed cold. It was a clean shoot. I already knew that. Damian wouldn't just kill someone unless she felt she had no other choice.
Do you know what gunfire sounds like? I thought I knew. But that night, it was as if I had never heard it before. It was actually early morning. Four thirty two a.m. to be exact. I had just looked at my watch.
I was in the royal bitch from hell mode. We had left at three-thirty from FBI headquarters. They were going to arrest Vicente de Quintanilla and his compadres. It was his third visit to New Orleans and he was staying in a suite at a French Quarter hotel. He was very comfortable with the whole set-up, and according to the agents on the inside, he didn't suspect a thing. There was plenty enough evidence on tape, and all they had to do was arrest him.
Vicente always ordered room service when he got in from a night of partying. They'd follow room service in. A couple of guys would rappel from the roof to the balcony, the only other exit from the suite. Hell, the hotel was only four stories tall. Not a very complicated plan. There must have been fifty agents and officers positioned all over. Every avenue of escape was blocked off. It looked so simple on the blackboard.
I got to sit in the car outside and wait. I was not happy and let everyone know it. I could at least have been allowed in the hotel lobby.
Damian was happy. For once, I would be safely tucked out of the way. She would get to do her thing.
The tension was high. She was dressed in her raid outfit, that all black urban terrorist thing. I remember leaning over in the car and poking her to make sure she had on her body armor. She rolled her eyes at me. I was worried, but I wasn't worried. The violence touching us...that was an abstract concept to me. It shouldn't have been, but it was. We had been on so many of these raids and hadn't once encountered any real trouble. I guess I was complacent.
I sat in that damn car for thirty minutes after they had gone inside. I was about to go crazy. There were people milling about on the streets, most of them still out partying. I was in the French Quarter. No one ever sleeps here and the bars only close after the last person's gone, if at all. I looked at the people some more. Who's going to notice me?
I got out of the car and started walking around. We were parked around the block. What could it hurt if I nonchalantly looked around the corner? I knew that Vicente was already in the hotel. I had been listening to the radio in the car. If you go out with a cop, you learn to understand those radio transmissions. Besides, I thought it would be kind of cool to watch those guys rappel down the side of the hotel. It's the details. You've got to pay attention to the details. My mind was already writing the story. If I couldn't be inside, at least I could see a little of what was going on.
I made it partially down the block before I saw the guys start to rappel down. I stopped and stared. They were like shadows floating in the air. They landed quietly on the balcony, then took up their positions at either end of the balcony, assault rifles at the ready and pointing at the sliding glass doors. They were to be in position fifteen seconds before room service would knock.
I mentally started the countdown and held my breath. One one thousand. Two one thousand. Three one thousand.. I could see shadows pass on the inside of the curtains. Four one thousand. Five one thousand. Six one thousand. As soon as they let those guys in, I'm going up there, I told myself. That will mean it's clear. Seven one thousand. Eight one thousand. Nine one thousand. There were five rooms in the suite. Two bedrooms, a kitchen-parlor thing and two bathrooms. Ten one thousand. Eleven one thousand. Twelve one thousand. Damian was fourth in and clearing the second bedroom. Thirteen one thousand. Fourteen one thousand. Fifteen one thousand.
Now would be the knock. I imagined that Vicente was telling one of his bodyguards to get the door. He wouldn't go himself. He was too important. If someone was going to try to blow him away through the door, it wouldn't be him they'd get. The bodyguard would be looking through the peephole right about now. He'd see one of the agents, dressed in the room service outfit, who had said "Room Service" as he knocked on the door. It was the same agent who had delivered the room service the night before and the night before that. A scrawny, pimply faced kid who was about the farthest thing you could get from the looks of a cop.
I imagined the look of surprise and shock on the bodyguard's face as he opened the door and had a big gun shoved in it. He's probably being pushed back right now and they're all rushing into the room. Damian's breaking to the left and going for the second bedroom. Not the master suite. Joe Duncan wouldn't let her go for the grand prize. She'd have to settle for a couple of underlings. I looked at my watch. Four thirty two. Another couple of minutes and I'd be inside.
There would be shouts in the room now. People screaming "FBI" and "You're under arrest" and all those police things they scream. Some people would be on the floor, already being handcuffed. Others would be standing with their hands in the air.
I never expected the shattering glass and the sound of it crashing to the sidewalk below. Or the scream from one of the agents on the balcony as a bullet ripped through his thigh. Or the gunfire. The seemingly endless stream of popping noises that came through the broken glass door. And that final shot. Different from all the others. Then silence.
I didn't hear anything else because I took off running for the lobby.
I have no idea how I ended up on the fourth floor. I think I ran over some guy who was holding a shotgun in the stairwell. I can't tell you how pissed off I was that they wouldn't let me get to Damian. I started screaming at Walt. He told me that she was okay.
"You're full of shit!" I screamed it at the top of my lungs. I saw a black-clad, boot-wearing leg on the floor just inside the room. It was Damian's leg. Don't ask me how I knew.
"You can't go in there, Juliana." He tried his best intimidating look with me.
"Get the fuck out of my way, Walt." Lady-like behavior's the first thing to go when I'm stressed.
He took a step to the side to block me.
"Do you have a cup on, Walt?"
I kneed him in the groin. He doubled over and I got into the room to find Damian on the floor, one hand on top of her head, her eyes squeezed shut and her other hand balled into a fist pounding the floor. I scanned her body and didn't see any blood.
I knelt down next to her and reached out to touch her cheek. "Honey?"
Those eyes popped open. "Why aren't you in the fucking car?"
"Shut up. Are you hurt?"
She struggled to sit up. "No. Get out of here, Jules."
It looked like she was having trouble breathing. "You're hurt."
"No, but other people are."
It was then that I noticed the two holes in her tactical vest that she had on over her shirt and the body armor. "You got shot!"
Paramedics were rushing in and it seemed like chaos was reigning. One knelt down on the other side of Damian. "Go...someone else. It's just a couple of bruises. The vest took the hits."
It was then that I looked around and saw bodies sprawled all over. People I knew. I had seen such scenes before. Much worse, in fact. But it was never people I knew. Except for Vicente de Quintanilla. I didn't know him. He sat slumped against a wall in a pool of blood, a machine gun pistol by his lifeless hand.
I wanted to vomit.
She came home with those two damn bullets they dug out of her vest. I made her throw them away. Maybe I should have let her keep them. She was so lucky. Two agents died that night.
Holy Shit, Bat Girl!
Crude, but very apropos.
I absolutely hate it when she's in pain, but that pain sometimes comes out in the most wonderful of ways.
She came back from her run yesterday with that look in her eye. I don't think there are words that have been invented to do it justice if I try to describe it. All I know is that it evokes the most intense, amazing feelings in me.
I've always thought that she has a volcanic core. Volcanos, at first glance, leave me with the impression of simplicity. There's really not much there but the bare lava rock formation. Very little, if any, vegetation. As far as rock formations go, they're certainly one of the less flashier ones around. But you know how wrong first impressions can be. What's just under the surface...their core.... Swirling. Bubbling. Searing. Molten. Liquid. Nothing else in nature is like it.
When she stares at me with that look in her eye...it's like I'm standing at the peak of the volcano and looking down into the core. I can see the molten liquid of her soul swirling and bubbling. I can feel the heat. My heart starts pounding. My breathing quickens. I can feel the blood singing through my vessels. It's exhilarating. It's terrifying. I want to jump in.
That look boils down to the essence of life for me. It's primal. Animalistic. It leaves no room for thought. Choose life. Choose death. In an instant. It's as intense and basic as you can get in life. I choose life and I'm taken on a journey that goes far beyond my wildest dreams. I choose death and I live, but my soul dies. Which would you choose?
My nice, quiet Catholic girl. Oh God, I love her. Can you tell that she absolutely thrills me?
I have absolutely no idea what we're going to do when we both go back to work full-time. It's so nice to be able to stay in bed and make love all day. Of course, with Damian, you generally don't get to actually stay in the bed when she's in one of these moods. She seems to have a love for flat surfaces of any type. Some odd shaped ones as well. As long as it doesn't cause undue pain, it's fair game.
It's not that we get our bodies into these incredibly weird positions. Neither one of us is a contortionist. I think it's just atmosphere, if you will. A change of pace from the bed. It's like that position they refer to as sixty-nine. Not that it's an incredibly weird position. If you want to see weird, rent some of those movies or look on the internet. I'd be in traction for days if I tried some of those positions.
We're just not built for it. Her body's longer than mine. Either I'm comfortable and her neck's about to break or I can't reach. And frankly, when her mouth is on me, I'm so distracted by what she's doing that I forget what I'm doing. So it's a choice. We either have sex in that position, which would really be just for the sake of using that position, because she's like me about getting distracted, or we don't. We choose not to. I mean, we might play around a little bit, but nothing long-term. When we're into it long-term, we definitely get comfortable. You are supposed to enjoy it, right? What's enjoyable about back spasms? So we get comfortable.
She makes me laugh so hard sometimes, right in the middle of making love. I remember one time, I guess it must have been about eight months after we started going out, my friend, Angela, took Diego for the day. Her daughter, Kathie, babysat for us and her other daughter, Maggie, went to school with Diego.
Damian had started to feel more comfortable about suggesting things. She really can be quite funny about it. I had gotten her a few things to read about lesbian sex, female anatomy and physiology, those kinds of things. You can never have enough information. I was standing in the kitchen getting us some water when she walked in and handed me my robe.
"Come on, let's go to the laundry room."
Our laundry room at the old house was outside under the carport. It was closed in, but it was still outside. If you've ever been to New Orleans, you'd know that all the houses are five feet apart from each other. If you live in one of the mansions on St. Charles or out on the Lakefront, you've got maybe twenty feet.
"What for?" I asked as I put the robe on.
"I was thinking." She was so serious.
I could not imagine for the life of me what could be so serious about the laundry room, unless it was on fire or something like that.
"Well, um, some of the guys in the squad room, they were, um, talking about doing it on top of the washing machine." Her eyes must have flickered around the room twenty times when she was telling me that.
"Uh...Calvin..he...well, he said that...."
I interrupted her. "Calvin? Three hundred pound Calvin? He said he screwed his wife on top of a washing machine? I suppose he said he put it on the spin cycle while he did it."
Her brows furrowed as she finally looked at me. "Yeah, how did you know?"
"Lucky guess," I muttered. I sincerely hoped that they didn't talk that much about sex in the squad room. I could only try to imagine the places I might end up. Cops can get pretty wild. It's all the stress. It needs an outlet. I still cannot imagine Calvin and his now ex-wife doing it on top of the washing machine. Maybe that's why she's his ex-wife now.
"So...um, do you wanna...." She moved her head in the direction of the laundry room.
I chuckled. "Sure, baby. If Calvin can do it, I'm sure we can manage."
Our little laundry room foray was interesting. The most telling comments were made by Damian. "Maybe it would be different if the washing machine was unbalanced. More movement that way. What do you think?" We went inside about a minute after Damian proclaimed that Calvin was a "lying son of a bitch." My stomach muscles hurt from laughing so much.
Like I said, we're into comfort.
I told her this morning that I had saved the papers. We were out on the deck having coffee.
"Jules?" She stood and walked to the edge of the deck. "What's the name of those plants you wanted to put on the side of the house?"
"I can't remember. I'll know 'em when I see 'em." I saw this special on one of the local channels about using certain types of shrubbery to discourage burglars. The leaves have sharp points. I decided that we needed to surround the house with it.
I've gotten a little paranoid since everything happened. I insisted that we install a security system when we bought the house. It's like something from a science fiction novel. I think the only people not notified when an alarm goes off is the Pentagon. I can't even figure out half of the things it does.
I know that sounds really irrational. It's not like anyone invaded our home. Diego was taken from school. I wasn't threatened physically, and the closest I got to any of those people was standing on a road on the edge of a jungle in Progresso. And I live with a very competent police officer. But I saw what they did to her. No one will ever do that to her again.
I...my paranoia almost broke us up when we bought this house. I've caused her so much pain that she just didn't need. And I couldn't see it because I was so scared and hurt so much. I should have known. I should have known by the look in her eye when I started going on and on about how I didn't feel safe. It wasn't me that didn't feel safe. All I need is to be in her arms. I was terrified of losing her. I still am. I wanted her to be safe and I couldn't find the words to tell her.
She was in the hospital for a month. My mother and I found this place. I described it to her and brought her pictures of it. Damian said buy it. She didn't care, really. To her, living on the street would have been better than going back to our home with all the memories and reminders.
I was adamant about installing the security system. More than adamant. Rabid, really. She kept asking me why I wanted to spend so much money on something like that. I couldn't explain myself. It was this overwhelming fear and the only thing I said was that I didn't feel safe. I should have been feeling grateful that I still had her. I was so close to losing it. We had only been there three days. Half of our stuff was still in boxes.
She wandered around a lot inside the house. I did, too. It was...I guess we were both trying to look busy. But we weren't getting anything accomplished. I wouldn't let her pick anything up and she really couldn't. Her arm was still in a cast. It didn't stop her from trying, though.
Every time I looked at her I was reminded of how fragile life really is. She had barely survived. But she had survived. She was drawn and pale. She got tired easily. The circles under her eyes...the haunted look. She looked like she had been to hell and back. And we were both so raw emotionally.
It was really the first time that I truly realized that she blamed herself for everything that happened. The doorbell had rung and I answered it. It was the man from the security company with the installation crew. It took them three days to finish everything. All Damian did was stalk around the house and glare at them the entire time. By the end of the third day, I had had it.
I was standing in the driveway, signing the papers saying that the installation had been completed satisfactorily. I could tell those guys wanted to get out of there. I got angrier and angrier at her as I stood there. By the time I went back inside, I had built up a full head of steam. I didn't even cringe when the glass panes in the front door rattled when I slammed it. I stormed into the den where she was seated in a big overstuffed chair, staring out the back window.
"Are you gonna tell me what the last three days have been about?" I couldn't keep the anger out of my voice.
She continued to stare out the window. "Nothing."
"Oh, really?" My voice was so sarcastic.
"Really," came the flat reply.
"You're full of it, Damian D'Avanti. What the hell is wrong with you?"
"Do you feel safe now?"
"Yes, I do."
"Good," she said quietly and sincerely. She got up and brushed past me, headed for the kitchen. She wouldn't even look at me.
"Where are you going?"
"To let the dog out."
"Damian?" She kept walking. "Damian? Please...I...I know something's bothering you. Please...let's talk about this."
"Gotta let the dog out."
I followed her into the kitchen. The anger had dissipated, only to be replaced by a sudden nausea as I felt my world spinning even more out of control. I watched her open the back door and Maya scooted out. She shut it, but wouldn't turn around.
"Please...." My voice cracked.
I was totally unprepared for the rage I saw in those eyes when she finally turned around.
"Why are you still here?" she asked me angrily.
"I want to talk about why you're so upset."
"Not...here." She gestured with her good arm. "With me. Still with me. After...I couldn't protect him. I can't...you think I can't protect you. Why don't you just leave?"
The only thing I picked up on was the leaving part. Panic set in. "You want me to leave? I...I...don't understand. I...you can't...."
"It's what you're wanting to do, isn't it? I...the security system...you not feeling safe. You might as well just do it and get it over with. Or better yet, I'll go. None of this is your fault. It's me who should go. I'll be out of your way."
She tried to walk past me and I grabbed for her. "You son of a bitch! Do not walk out on me!" I caught her left arm, the broken one. She almost went down from the pain.
"I'm a bastard. Get your terms right."
I hadn't thought it was possible to feel any more pain in life than I had already felt. But I found out that there had been a small little piece of me that had stayed intact. It shattered. I felt the tears stream down my face. "Please...I love you...can't we just talk about this? If...if, after we talk, you still...." I couldn't bring myself to finish the sentence.
"It's simple, Juliana. This security system thing...it's just representative of what's happened. I failed. Diego died because of me and now you don't feel safe with me. I could have protected him and I didn't. It's the only thing I'm good at in this world. And I failed! You wanna talk about my failures? Then go ahead and start talking, but I gotta warn ya, I already know 'em all."
Her eyes were burning white hot with rage. I have no idea what miracle happened that gave me a moment of clarity as I realized that the rage she was displaying was not directed at me, but at herself.
"Do you want to go?"
"Damian...I need to know. Do you want to go?"
She looked down at the ground and I waited. "It would be best for you."
"You've never been more wrong in your life." I said that sentence with more conviction than I think I've ever managed in my time on this earth.
She looked up, startled. "But...."
"No 'buts.' None." I wiped at the tears and saw her right hand moving up towards my face. I stopped and let her brush them away. Her touch felt so good and I leaned my cheek into her hand. "I love you. You're stuck with me forever."
We did end up talking, long into the night. It's been a long struggle, but she's worth it. We're worth it.
Wow, did I get sidetracked. I don't know where that came from. The discussion about the papers for her mother wasn't nearly so difficult. It seemed like a piece of cake compared to that. She wasn't really angry that I had retrieved them from the trash. In fact, she told me she had figured that I had. She said I could read them. I haven't done it yet. I think I'll go do that now.
Jules has some big brass ones. I asked her mother once if she'd always had them. The answer was yes, in case there was any doubt.
I got a letter yesterday from the home. It had some papers in it that were my mother's. I threw them away. I didn't even look at them. Jules took the papers out of the trash. She wants me to read them. I don't want to. I told her she could read 'em if she wanted to.
What would be the purpose? I asked Jules that. She said, "To know." What the hell is that supposed to mean? Know what? I already know all I need to know. She was a drug addict and a prostitute. She left me at the home when I was eighteen months old. She died when I was four. How much more do I need to know? And what difference would it make? Absolutely none. She doesn't exist for me. She never did.
Jules tries to relate her feelings about her parents to my situation. I have to remind her that they weren't "parents." At least not how she thinks of parents. They were an egg and sperm donor. That's it. Parenting, at least to me, is a lot more than just having sex with the result being that you fertilized an egg. My mother was a prostitute. Chances are she didn't even know my father's name. Probably about the only thing she did know was that the color of his money was green and that it'd buy her some more drugs.
Jules gets pretty upset when I say stuff like that. I don't know why. It's the truth. The truth isn't always what we want it to be. I think sometimes she lives in a little fantasy land. I...I'm sorry. That's not really fair. Jules doesn't live in fantasy land. She wants...I guess she wants things to have been perfect for me. They weren't. But they weren't the worst they could have been either.
Jules is pretty strong-willed, though, so I imagine we'll be disagreeing about this until hell freezes over.
There really isn't a whole lot that we disagree on. I think one of our first fights was when we had just started going out. Jules used to go sometimes to this bar down in the Quarter that all the news people hang out at. It's where she met Linda, the one who got her the job at the paper. They'd all swap stories and talk shop. I was really never very comfortable there. I felt...I guess it would be like someone who wasn't a cop coming into one of the cop bars. Just a different world. The couple of times I did go...I felt like I was being put under a microscope. They couldn't forget that I was a police officer and I couldn't forget that they were a bunch of reporters.
Anyway, Linda had gotten Jules a job with the paper. It was a part-time thing because she was still working on the debt bondage and slavery story. It was something to supplement her income. Jules always likes to do a series of articles. Maybe it's because the topics don't ever lend themselves to being fully understandable in a couple of columns. She was working on this series about some federal grant funding for the housing projects. The city had a real mess with that a few years ago and almost lost all of their funding.
I stayed at Jules' when I could, but the night we first fought, it was really late and I knew she was already sleeping and she had to get up really early for a meeting the next morning, so I went to my apartment. I'm not one that can go directly to bed when I get home, no matter how late it is, so I grabbed some orange juice and sat on the couch and watched the news reruns. We have one of those channels here that does a continuous rebroadcast of the local news.
I had heard that there was a shoot-out at one of the projects that afternoon, and so I wasn't surprised to see the story as the lead-off when the rebroadcast started again at three. They even had video footage of it, courtesy of some citizen's home video camera. I was watching it, saw a couple of officers that I knew when all of a sudden, I see this blonde running from behind one car and diving behind another one, trying to get closer to the cops who were shooting back at these guys who had barricaded themselves in one of the buildings. Do I need to tell you who the blonde was?
I spit my juice out. Then I lost it. I ended up getting in my car, driving to her apartment and banging on her door. I had worked myself up into a pretty good state by the time she answered it.
There she was, standing in the doorway with this confused, sleepy look on her face in these cute little pajamas. I started yelling. I don't even think I said hello.
"Are you out of your fucking mind?"
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Jules isn't always in the best of moods when she wakes up. I'm sure that my opening line didn't help much, but I still can't think of any other way to ask that question.
"What were you doing in the middle of a gunfight?"
"Your job? You're nuts! I can't believe you were running between those cars. Towards the gunfire! Whatever possessed you?" I threw my hands up in frustration and anger.
Now she was fully awake. And had an attitude. She put both hands on her hips and glared at me. "I'm a reporter."
Like that's supposed to explain everything. "Where in the job description does it say that you have to put yourself in the line of fire?"
"You do it," she accused.
"It's in my job description." I poked myself in the chest so hard it left a bruise. "Go after the bad guys. It's in big, bold letters, right up at the top. They even teach a course at the academy on it. Spotting the Bad Guys 101. It's right before the course they teach called Bullets Kill."
"I took those as electives."
I wanted to explode right then. Jules can be so very good and logical and right about things. And then at other times.... She can really make me crazier than anyone or anything ever has. I threw my hands up again in frustration. "You could have gotten hurt!"
"But I wasn't."
"That's not the point. You...you...you...." I tend to stutter when I'm really angry, especially when I'm arguing with someone who's being irrational.
A light flicked on across the courtyard. "Damian, do you want to come in and talk about this before somebody calls the police?"
"I am the god damned police!"
I still can't believe she started laughing. "I know, honey, and now the whole neighborhood knows." She reached out and tugged on my arm. "Come on inside...please."
I went in. Never could say no to her.
Turns out that I was scared. Scared of losing her. That was kind of a shock for me. I really don't think about that kind of stuff. At least not with the job. I know the risks and I just do it. I don't worry about my partner or anybody else, at least not how I worried...still worry about Jules. There's that professional concern, but it's not personal. I never really cared enough about anybody before Jules to be personally concerned.
That's why I didn't want her to come with me to Progreso. I was scared she'd get hurt and she has these lapses of common sense that occur at the worst possible moments. We had a huge argument about her going with me. In the end, I said yes. I said yes because I knew that if I had said no and left without her that she would have followed me. And then she would have been in even more danger, because knowing Jules, she would have marched up to that compound and demanded Diego's return. They'd have killed her.
I think that the only reason I'm alive today is because of Jules. She finally got to Joe Duncan. I don't mean like reaching him on the phone. I still don't know what she told him, but he showed up with the calvary. Too late for Diego, but not too late for me. I still wish sometimes that it had been too late for me. When I think about it, I get angry.
When they took Diego, I knew it was the de Quintanilla family. There had been rumors of threats and retaliation for Vicente's killing, but so much time had passed that everyone forgot about it. Even me. Joe Duncan thought I was crazy at first for thinking that, but they checked the records at all the airports and found a plane registered to one of the de Quintanilla's legitimate companies that had flown in and out of here on that day.
Diego had been missing for eighteen hours when Joe told me that little piece of information. Neither Jules nor I had slept any. She had gotten so quiet. We were sitting on the couch and I had my arms around her. Her head was laying on my chest and she was just staring into space. She was so lost. She still gets that look sometimes and it tears me apart.
It's kind of hard to explain, but I felt a little better when I found out about the plane. It meant that I could do something instead of just sitting there. I was about to go crazy. Seven hours, and a knock down, drag out fight later with Jules and Joe Duncan, we were on a plane headed for Progreso.
I...I don't think that I was there for Jules like I should have been. I...I got so focused on what I had to do that I...failed her. Just like I failed Diego. I don't know why I ever thought that I could be any good at this family stuff. That I could be any good at a relationship. She deserves so much more. He deserved so much more. But she didn't fail me. She got me out of there alive. I see her, sometimes, just sitting there, looking at pictures of Diego. I don't know how she can do it. I can't look at them. I wish she had failed me.
I don't consider myself a good or virtuous person. There's not much difference between me and a criminal. In fact, there is no difference. Jules tries to justify what I did. It doesn't work for me. I went to Mexico and used information that I had access to as a cop to do a number of illegal things. I purchased illegal arms in Mexico from an arms dealer that we had information on. I used the information that we had on the de Quintanilla family and the location of the compound and aerial photographs and just about anything else I could get my hands on to get my boy back. I went into that compound with the full intent to get my boy back and to kill the people who had taken him. I had no delusions that I was going in there to nicely ask for my boy back.
Jules was scared enough already, and I know that I made it worse. I couldn't help myself. I did what I had to do. I'd leave the hotel and meet somebody and come back with a package and she'd look at me like she didn't even know who I was. And then I'd unwrap the package and she'd see what was inside and she'd start crying. I...didn't stop once to talk to her or to do anything to comfort her. I...couldn't. And when I finally had everything together and went after Diego.... I'll never forget the look on her face before I turned and walked away.
Fuck this! How is writing about this supposed to make it better? I can't change a God damned thing. I...there are no words for this. I can't do this anymore.
Return to The Bard's Corner