I knew Officer Whitney Lewis would be waiting for me when my flight got into Sacramento. I didn’t know she’d be one of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen. Neither her uniform nor her severe buzzcut could disguise the lithe way she moved, or how the light found her cheekbones. Seeing her should have been diverting, but it just made me angry. Ike would have been awed by her, would have elbowed me in the ribs, thinking he was being subtle. Ogling hot women: just one more item on the endless list of things my little brother would never do again.
Standing at the gate, she noticed the curves of plastic and steel where my right foot used to be and then immediately switched her gaze to my face as she came forward.
“Private Annalee Lincoln? Whitney Lewis. We spoke a couple of days ago. I thought I’d give you a ride into town and we could talk. Do you have more luggage?”
“Just this,” I said, lifting the roll-on bag I’d been living out of for the last three months.
She hesitated for half a beat. “Are you okay to walk a way?”
“Sure. I’m a wonder of modern science.”
“All right,” she said. She started off and I fell in step beside her. “I didn’t know you’d been wounded.”
“I never came within a thousand miles of combat,” I said. “I was working in the motor pool in Frankfort and a faulty jack dropped an armored Humvee on me.”
“Jesus. When was this?”
“About four months ago. Spent a month in the hospital, got a medical discharge. Since then I’ve been kicking around Europe trying to figure out what to do next. And then you called. Officer, what the hell happened to my brother?”
“Let’s talk in the car,” she said.
Her city cruiser was parked in a security lot near baggage claim. Lewis put my bag in the trunk, nodding me into the passenger seat. She pulled into traffic, driving smoothly and confidently. “I’ve got your uncle’s address.”
“I want to see Ike first,” I said.
Again, there was the barest pause. Whitney Lewis liked to think before she talked. “I’m sorry, Private Lincoln, I assumed you knew. Ike has been cremated.”
I snapped my head around. “Cremated? I thought I was going to make it in time for his funeral. It’s only been, what, three days?”
“Your uncle said that that’s what Ike wanted. No ceremony.” Lewis kept her eyes on the road, sweeping her gaze back and forth across the lanes in front of us.
“What Ike wanted? Bullshit. The old bastard just didn’t want to lay out any cash.”
“I can’t claim to know Mr. Lincoln’s motives,” Lewis said carefully.
“I’m telling you his motives.” I looked out the window at the city I hadn’t seen in almost three years. Except for the trees, and that big open California sky, we could have been anywhere in America. All the same signs. All the same cars. All the things I hadn’t wanted to come back to. “That miserable prick never gave a damn about either of us. He just had to take us to get what little money our parents had when they died. He pissed that away quick enough. What he didn’t drink he gambled.”
“Are we talking abuse, Private? Or just general neglect?”
“Call me Annalee,” I said. I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. “I’d call it abuse, sure. We both got more than our share of bruises. He broke Ike’s arm once.” I opened my eyes and looked at the roof of the car. “I’m not here to talk history. You need to help me understand what happened.”
“That’s what I was hoping you could do for me.” Lewis signaled and the police car glided onto an exit from the freeway. “On the surface it’s clear enough. A security guard found Ike trying to break into a storage unit. He ran, so the guard chased him, and he went into the street and was hit by a bus.”
I don’t know what to call the sound I made when she said that.
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be insensitive. For what it’s worth, it was quick. I don’t think he knew what happened.”
“That’s not Ike,” I said. We were in the old neighborhood now. Del Paso Heights. A lot of it looks calm, middle class, maybe even suburban. You have to look closer to notice the fences, the vacant lots, the graffiti. You have to live here to know which blocks you shouldn’t walk after dark. “You know this place. You know there are gangs here. Easy money, if you want it. Ike could have gone that way. He never did.”