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Arnie Robles Jr.

I really, really don’t like that officer

Tamen Pérez, Cloaca 1. 2017, acrylic on linen. Courtesy of the artist.

Pro tip: hit them with that kindness uppercut if you want to start correct—a boss first impression can conquer hearts and set them in your favor, obviously a must, so when you know the poor dudes you work with have never had eggs and machacado to start the day, you bless them with the fuel of kings, straight from the grill to the breakroom counter. Emilio angles the lid open and writes FREE on a napkin as the door opens behind him.

Howdy, Emilio, says Officer Britz, holding the door for Officer Strum.

Morning, Officers, says Emilio.

Bro, says Strum, pointing his latte. Are those fucking tacos right now?

You already know, sir, says Emilio, stepping aside. Bacon and egg in this row, migas in the middle, and if you want something legit: machacado and egg on the right.

No way, says Strum. All these salsas, too!

Who brought them? asks Britz.

Emilio bows slightly.

What a goddamn G, says Strum.

Where’re they from?

San Felipe Meat Market. A few blocks from here.

Never heard of it, says Britz, examining a cup of salsa in the light.

Closest thing Oxcart’s got to a border-town taqueria, says Emilio.

They bang, dog, says Strum, mouth full of scrambled egg.

Wait, Britz says to Emilio, smirking. You’re patrolling with Longoria.

Emilio nods. That’s right. First time. Kind of intimidating, not gonna lie.

Look at you, Britz says. Brought breakfast for the whole precinct before your big day.

Wait the hell up, Strum says. He’s already on patrol with fucking Longoria?

That’s what he’s saying—what’s it been? One month out of academy?

That’s right, sir. So—is there anything I should know about him?

Nah, man, Longoria’s the best, Britz says. He can be scary at first, but he’s a solid dude; you’ll see. Can’t imagine a better coach.

Why am I thinking it was Debs who was training him?

He was, says Emilio. Got put on leave like two days ago.

You didn’t hear about this either? Britz says to Strum.

How the shit did I miss all this?

Yeah, says Emilio. Since Wednesday. No one’s said why.

Chief Sven is such a cuck, says Strum.

Do you know what went down? Emilio asks Britz.

All I know is that it was a house call last Friday night, on the east side, Britz says. But no one wants to say what happened.

Quit playing, Britz, says Strum. No way that’s all you know.

Well, Britz says, eyes on the door. Apparently, a kid was there the whole time, crouched behind a car, recording it all.

Oh, shit.

Will he be able to come back? Emilio asks.

Don’t worry about that, he’s a vet, Britz says.

Dude earned his place. Even under Sven it’ll be a couple paid weeks, tops, says Strum.

That’s what you grind for.

One hundred percent, Emilio says.

Strum and Britz solemnly take another taco each, unwrapping them in their palms.

But what you do have to worry about, Strum says, jabbing Emilio in the shoulder, is getting changed and making it to roll call, motherfucker. Can’t be late meeting the Corporal in that tight little V-neck. Ha!

Go get it, big dog, Britz says.

You’re one lucky fuck to be riding with Longoria, Emilio, Strum says. Keep it tight: that’s the future chief of Oxcart PD right there.

Let the others know I brought tacos, Emilio says, hurrying through the door.

The locker room is swampy and dim, bitter with Axe. Emilio goes to his locker and changes into uniform. He checks his pants for lint, ties his laces—harsh white scuff across the right boot. Emilio licks his thumb and rubs at it.

Officer Emilio?

Emilio looks up—Longoria, what a fucking unit: heavy as a bull, 6’2” or 6’3”, neck so jacked it could break a fucking sword.

Yes, sir, Emilio says as he stands.

Good to finally meet, Emilio, Longoria says, anaconda-ass grip.

You too, Corporal—I’m really looking forward to today, to be honest. The other officers—

Just go ahead and wait for me at roll call, Longoria says, continuing ahead. We’ll talk in a bit.

You got it, sir.

Emilio heads to the briefing, passing the breakroom, now full of officers back from third watch. They are hovering at the counter, clearing out the last of the tacos. Interesting how Longoria’s accent had sounded: hardcore Texan, low, drawling, but with a little border chirp underneath, as if he’d also grown up bullshitting in Spanglish—Wait for me. Roll call.

Longoria comes in with the other higher-ranks, taco in hand, somehow beastlier in uniform. Emilio pulls out the chair beside him and Longoria sits.

Which one’d you get?

Machacado, apparently.

That’s the one.

The room hushes as Chief Sven enters, carrying a tablet. Let’s just get straight to what y’all been dogging me about, he says from the podium, unclipping a laser pen. The lights dim and a presentation begins: Legal Justifications for Keeping Unauthorized Persons Away From Scene.

Emilio lifts the notepad from his chest pocket and begins scribbling in the screen’s hazy light:

• PC 30.05 CRIMINAL TRESPASS
• PC 37.09 TAMPERING WITH OR FABRICATING PHYSICAL EVIDENCE

Longoria sits back in his chair and takes a bite of taco.


Brutal sun out, not a single cloud. Underneath the covered parking spot ahead, a Phantom Cruiser: white and sleek, spaceship vibes, silver Oxcart PD decal only visible if you angle your head exactly right.

How often does it get this hot? Emilio asks, lowering himself into the car. I always thought October would be cooler up in Oxcart.

It’s been getting like this more and more nowadays.

There, the chirp again: nowadays. Longoria taps the dashboard tablet and rolls through the gate.

So smooth, Emilio says. Can’t even hear the engine.

This is it right here.

Even a month in, Oxcart is still a trip to see, old-school and intergalactic at the same time. Next to the famous saloon where all the bachelor parties go off, fortlike with all the dusty agave plants, there’s a giant glass skyscraper going up, thin and pointy as a needle. Nah: this is a whole other level, rolling silent in the spacewhip with the future of Oxcart PD—no such thing as accidents in this world we shape; you put out good, good will swing back.

Emilio.

Yes, sir?

Why were you taking notes back there?

Excuse me, sir?

During the briefing.

Oh, Emilio says. Just want to make sure I know those codes. In case something happens, right?

Longoria turns right onto the frontage road.

How long’s it been since you got sworn in?

A month, sir.

Longoria nods. What made you join?

Where do I even begin, sir?

We got time.

For starters: my job sucked.

What was it?

Emilio winces.

I did all kinds of grinds, says Longoria. You don’t gotta worry.

Baking cookie cakes at the mall.

Baking cookie cakes at the mall?

Yes, sir. It was my mom’s place. I was helping her run the store, getting seventeen bucks an hour—and that’s not bad where I’m from.

But so why the change?

Well, at some point I started to realize: Hey, I’m still living in the house I grew up in. There’s way too many things to do, and 26 is way past time to get moving. It was just time to take a real leap, sir.

They don’t have a PD where you come from?

You know how it is, Corporal, Emilio says, laughing. Oxcart PD was recruiting all over social media, offering a legit package: way better pay, hella benefits, retirement, plus only twelve weeks of training—and you get to live in this city? Nah, it wasn’t even a question.

Longoria nods. Great to know that campaign’s been working, good chunk of the budget went into it.

It’s been one hundred so far. I get to work with good dudes, finally have my own apartment. No lie: I was starting to go a little crazy at my mom’s, imagining myself getting old there and stuff.

Longoria merges left onto the packed freeway. Well, we’re glad you’re with us now, Emilio, he says.

Young, enthusiastic, team player. I know the guys appreciated the tacos.

That’s how I do, says Emilio, smiling.

But if I can give you a bit of advice.

Always, sir.

Memorizing code shouldn’t be your top priority right now.

All right.

You’re still raw, unfamiliar with the landscape. Can’t be overthinking it out there.

Right.

Focus on developing instinct. Learn to trust it. That’s the most important thing at this stage.

Makes sense, sir.

Bro’s tripping if he thinks he’s the only one who can throw down on a wack-ass burger in the middle of the day.

Tweet

Longoria creeps into the center, behind a livestock trailer. Emilio can see a horse staring numbly at the Cruiser.

Oxcart really is something else, Emilio says. The contrasts.

Wild West meets sci-fi, says Longoria with a smile.

Emilio laughs. Nah, but straight up, sir. That’s exactly how I see it.

Longoria exits, stopping at a red, a gas station and a squat beige strip mall to their right. Never been through this part of town, Emilio says.

Up-and-coming area, Longoria says.

Looks a little hood, no?

It’s changing. All the apps are moving their offices down here.

Oh, Emilio says. This is where WeWatch! bought that old warehouse?

Yup, Grubangel’s building a huge place here, too, Longoria says. Just about to pass it.

They drive past a fish fry, a car wash, and then the steel skeleton of the Grubangel campus, crane turning high above.

Whoa, says Emilio.

Yup, Longoria says. It’s going to be slick. And wait till Phantom’s got the new factory down the road.

I saw the render of it, video game–style; gonna go hard, for sure.

At the next overpass, Longoria parks under the bridge. Just outside the car: a shopping cart full of groceries. Above them: a ragged row of tents, tucked in the shade at the very top of the concrete slope. Longoria taps the window.

All right, Emilio—those tents.

Yes, sir?

What do they make you feel?

Emilio gives it a second.

Shitty.

Shitty?

Yeah. Like, living like that probably sucks.

OK, Longoria says. I’ll put it a different way: You want to go home tonight after your shift is over, have your tacos, unwind, right?

Yes, sir.

How could these tents get in the way of that?

Emilio examines the tents, trying to find the right answer—tough to tell with how packed in they are, slashed-up tarp over them, but has to be eight, seven at least. A scraggly dog rests at the top of the slope.

I guess you can’t really see what’s in them.

There we go.

Or who is in them.

Yes, Longoria says. Exactly.

Emilio nods, pleased.

Now that we’ve established that, tell me: how should we carry ourselves up there?

Carefully, for sure.

Longoria moves his head side to side: half-credit response.

Yes, Emilio, always carefully. But in a situation like this, you need to be ready.

Got it.

Like you said: we don’t know who’s up there. We don’t know what they’re carrying, what their history is, what they’ve been up to.

Definitely.

You sense a bad energy, you feel someone looking at you too long, thinking the wrong thing—there’s gotta be no hesitation.

Understood.

Longoria exits and Emilio follows.

What do you see here, Emilio? Longoria says, pointing to the shopping cart—cans of beans, bottled water, a box of cookies.

It’s just groceries, right?

Anything else? Longoria asks.

Emilio rounds the cart and peers inside a bag: apples, plums, bananas. Fruit?

You’re not seeing it.

There’s something in the fruit?

Longoria sucks his teeth.

Don’t overthink it, Emilio. What’s wrong here?

The cart is . . . blocking the sidewalk? Emilio asks.

Yes, Longoria says stiffly. Can’t this cause a problem?

For sure, sir.

Anyone around here seem responsible?

Emilio nods, looking up at the camp.

Let’s go have a talk with them. Longoria heads for the tents, and Emilio follows him up the slope. The dog begins to bark, and a tent unzips—crusty-ass old dude, looking like Santa got stuck in a giant airfryer, yanking the dog by the collar. He’s 70 maybe.

Hush it, Chugger! the man shouts in a torn, croaky voice.

How’s it going? Longoria asks.

Hi again, Officer, the man says.

Whose cart is that down there?

The man shrugs. I don’t know.

How’d it get here?

The man shakes his head.

It wasn’t here last time.

Officer, I really don’t know.

You’re here all day and night, but you don’t know.

I don’t, sir.

Emilio stands ready, eyeing the other tents—someone in the squad’s a book fiend: about twelve stacked up on a chair by their door, chunks of rock circled around it, like some little homemade Stonehenge.

Remind me your name.

Dangles, sir.

I’m sorry?

Dangles.

OK, Dangles—one more time: can you tell me whose cart that is?

I don’t know, Officer. I can’t say.

What do you mean you can’t say?

I mean, like, “I don’t know.”

How’d it get here then?

I didn’t—

Agitated rustling inside the book-fiend tent. Longoria turns to Emilio, cocking his chin—unclear if this means come here or stay ready.

So, you didn’t see anything, either, Longoria says, turning back to the man.

I swear.

You’re telling the truth?

Yes, Officer.

Because far as I’m concerned, those bags are yours. They’re on the sidewalk, unattended—that’s littering. At the very least, you’re obstructing a public walkway. If that cart rolls into the street, we’ve got a road hazard—so reckless endangerment, too.

The book-fiend tent unzips—literally the most average-ass PE coach–looking lady slips out of the tent, straight up the type you know massacres at dodgeball: strict little face and balding into her ponytail, about 50 with the polo tucked into sweats and everything, 5 feet away from Longoria, pointing at him as if he just tagged out.

Leave! she shouts.

Emilio, Longoria whispers, hand hovering towards his belt.

Leave! she shouts again, snatching a rock from below—this thing’s the size of a mango sliced flat on one end, and Longoria’s hand’s on his gun; she stands firm with nuclear eyes. Get out!

Come on, Emilio, Longoria says, eyes ahead, hand on holster—low-IQ move to try snatching her stone, but drawing the Sig’s gonna get this too active; no way she’s got the skills to clock them dead with a couple rocks.

Leave! she shouts. Longoria draws his gun and Emilio takes a step forward.

Put that down now, ma’am! Emilio says, lifting his hands. We’re going to talk it out.

The woman turns to Emilio—eyes just fucking blazing as she cocks back the rock.

Try it, bitch, Longoria says. Got no problem lighting you and your boyfriend up today.

The woman does not turn—eyes locked onto Emilio as she just lets the rock drop, rolling down the slope, and onto the sidewalk.

Y’all play way too fucking much, Longoria says, lowering his gun, eyes steady on the woman. Go move that fucking cart, Dangles.

Yes, sir.

Longoria turns back down the slope. The woman is still trembling there.

Picking up the rock was crazy, ma’am, Emilio quietly says to her, but her eyes are stuck on Longoria. I get that you’re stressed, but you gotta stay respectful.

Leave us alone, she says—lady’s worn as hell: doughy, sagging cheeks and the hunched-out neck.

Emilio opens his mouth as if to speak, then doesn’t. He nods, basically a mini-bow, and then backs away, down the slope and into the cruiser.

Straight out of I Am Legend–ass hoe, Emilio says. Longoria does not respond as they roll away. One last time, Emilio checks the rearview—plot twist: coach is taking a knee, covering her face, and Dangles is there with her, stroking her shoulder.


Everything OK, Corporal? Emilio asks again.

Longoria doesn’t respond. Emilio turns to the road—OK, understandable to an extent, but still kinda wack to go quiet, as if you could learn from silence or some shit.

They pass cell phone kiosks, nail places, and a big supermarket called Piñata!, technicolor donkey looming over the entrance.

Longoria pulls into Chucho’s Churros, an adobe hut and a lot for four cars, drive-through lane curling around the front. Through the tall tinted windows, Emilio can see the counter, a soda machine, and a single booth.

Twenty minutes. We’re back on at 12:50.

Totally fine with me, sir. I’m a fast eater.

The interior is checkered purple and gold. The mascot is not an animal or a person, just two giant letter Cs—a girl C and a boy C in cowboy hats and bolo ties—one smiling bashfully, the other one winking. Four items on the menu:

#1. Churros with Cheese
#2. Churros with Caramel
#3. Churros with Chocolate
#4. The ChurroChow

What’s the ChurroChow? Emilio asks.

Longoria takes a long breath.

It’s two churros twisted into knots, like buns, he says sternly. Between them is everything you’d get on a regular burger.

But is it good?

It’s what I always get.

Hack as old as time: when shit gets tense, find common ground—bro’s tripping if he thinks he’s the only one who can throw down on a wack-ass burger in the middle of the day.

That’s what I’m gonna get, too, Emilio says.

Longoria orders, then Emilio. The kid behind the register doesn’t look up once as he taps the order into his screen. Shitty but true that despite all the perks people are way ruder in Oxcart, especially if you’re in uniform.

Longoria fills himself an XL soda and seats himself silently in the booth. At this point it’s clear: Emilio fucked up big-time. Best to take the L and own up to it right away, try to reset.

Emilio takes the seat across from Longoria.

So, Corporal, I—

You said you’ve been here four months? Longoria says coldly.

Well, three in academy. Only one actually patrolling with a TO.

And they started you out with a mental midget like Debs, no less.

Longoria pushes his glasses onto his head. His eyes are fiery hazel, the skin below them loose and pouchy.

I’m gonna need you to understand this: Oxcart isn’t some tight-knit little village. People are twisted here. A bit off. Do you understand what I’m saying?

I know, Corporal, I—

If you know, then why didn’t you assert yourself?

You’re right, sir, I—

I called you over multiple times. You knew what to do.

Corporal, I’m sorry. I honestly didn’t even know if you were even calling me over or just telling me to stay ready where I was. Plus, she looked sick. I honestly don’t think she could have hurt us.

Did you see that fucking rock? You think that would have just bounced off you?

To be honest, sir, to me she was bluffing.

Longoria covers his brow, stroking his temples.

Shit, Emilio. A little more cracked out and she would have chunked that right at my fucking head.

I’m sorry, sir.

That would have been one hundred percent on you.

The cashier kid comes by with ChurroChows on one tray and dips on the other. He stares at the floor until they choose their flavors.

Can’t be pulling up to any place in that manner—but to a field interrogation? Shit, man.

Gonna work on improving, sir. Just tell me what I can do.

Longoria takes a long breath and sips his soda. Emilio unpeels his cotton candy dip pack, rolls a fry in it, and bites down. It’s quiet in the restaurant, only the whirr of the AC and the fryers in the kitchen hissing.

I’m just not getting how they’re training kids like you.

What do you mean?

This new thing, this community service type.

Community service type?

That’s right—treating this job like you’re reffing cornhole at church camp.

A pang flashes through Emilio’s chest.

Corporal, I know I made a mistake, but with all due respect—

Chill, Emilio, Longoria says, raising his hand.

Emilio sits back.

No one’s coming after you. Clearly you didn’t get taught right.

Someone in the kitchen is scraping harshly at a metal surface.

You’re just going to have to catch up, Emilio. This isn’t an easy place.

I hear you, sir.

Longoria relaxes, takes a sip.

You’re 26, you said?

That’s right, sir.

I came on fresh, too: also a good kid without a goddamn clue—no offense.

You’re good, sir, Emilio says, chuckling.

I remember my first weeks being so easy. I loved my TO, Chase Gatling—hilarious motherfucker. We would just roll around old Oxcart, before you had all this traffic, writing tickets, breaking up fights, typical bullshit.

Longoria’s look sharpens.

Few months in, January morning, Chase and I are out on patrol. There was a freeze warning from the county, roads were empty like a big holiday—I mean, just completely deserted, relaxed as it could get. We’re just cruising around, talking about school, old girlfriends, bullshit, and eventually we came up on a sedan on the freeway, going real slow, just ahead of us.

Longoria shifts and crosses his arms.

Typically, you don’t engage with a driver like that—might be an old driver, might be scared of the ice —but with all the accidents that had happened the night before, I said we should check what’s up, maybe the driver was having car trouble, we didn’t want him to be a risk to himself or anyone else.

Chase kept saying it wasn’t necessary, but I insisted on it. He said there was no reason for it, but I was dumb and insisted again, saying this guy was a collision risk, the speed was way below limit, we’d end up coming back to the wreckage anyways. I don’t know if it was him wanting me to build my confidence, but he finally agreed. What else was there to do?

So, yeah: we pulled him over on the shoulder at a high point of the bridge—keeping it visible just in case, plenty of space on both sides of the shoulder. I went out by myself, tapped on the window, and the driver rolled it down: car was clean, a pine freshener dangling from the rearview. Everything normal.

But this guy, Longoria squints. Man. So fidgety right off the bat: eyes darting, wetting his lips, not even trying to look straight. Still can’t even tell you how old he was. Could have been 28, or 48, bald and pudgy with his face all pink, like a baby.

What happened?

I told him he wasn’t in trouble, that we just wanted to check in, with the weather and all that. Not receptive. Guy starts grumbling about how everything’s OK, he’s just a Texas boy, the icy roads make him nervous, the heater’s not working well either, but his hands, man—his hands were just fucking wringing the wheel, itching to go. I’m noticing this and tell him my partner is from Michigan, grew up in the snow, that I’d get him to come out, give some tips, talk him through it a bit. And then as I walk past the trunk, there’s this thump. Real hard. Like kicking a trash can. Couldn’t believe it until the second one—harder—right after.

Jesus, Emilio says.

I didn’t let myself react, just walked back to the car and told Chase. He didn’t believe me at first, but I told him how the driver was acting, how he was gripping that wheel and that—that’s what got Chase’s face to change.

So, yeah: he comes out and as we’re heading to the guy’s car, shit, another kick, and another, and another, just fucking thrashing in the trunk, making the car shake. The driver’s yelling, shouting like a maniac, and Chase is drawing his gun, rushing to the door before this guy gets away and, yeah—gets hit four times. Stomach, neck, and two in the chest, I think. Chase just hit the ground, you know, squirming, clutching his gut—before anything made sense, the driver had already sped away.

Longoria rakes his hand through his hair.

The thing that still gets me about it was Chase’s face: looking up without looking, like there was no part of him that could understand what had happened. Imagine dying with a look like that stuck on your fucking face.

Emilio looks away from Longoria, from the dull stillness of his eyes.

Emilio.

Yes, sir?

I need you to get serious.

Emilio nods emphatically.

I got you, Corporal.

Good, Longoria says, sitting back.

Maverick’s Milky Goods. Love that rowdy place.

Tweet

Emilio squeezes out the whole cotton candy dip onto his churro bun and takes his first bite. Longoria tries to dip as much burger as possible into his honey BBQ cup, but the patty is too thick.

Cold hard truth: you never know what the fuck someone’s gone through, and that’s why you can never take shit personal—dude actually cares, just shows it in his own way; every warrior has his strength, and when shit gets tense, find common ground.

Do you like living here? Emilio asks. Despite everything?

Longoria wipes his mouth, clears his throat.

Overall, sure.

But not really?

I don’t know what to tell you, man: the way things are getting, you can only like a place so much.

I feel you.

Just wait till it’s July and they put you on bike patrol—the smell of hot shit and piss under those bridges. You’ll never forget it.

Fuck that.

But I’m being an asshole; it really is a solid place, compared to everywhere else, Longoria says. You got good weather, lakes and rivers, fun bars, hot chicks. With some luck, you could maybe still find a house for cheap—tell me again where you’re living?

801 Cannonball, right off the freeway, by this big milkshake bar.

Ah, Longoria says, smiling. Maverick’s Milky Goods. Love that rowdy place.

There’s the chirp: place.

I need to check it out, Emilio says, leaning forward. Not to change the subject, Corporal, but can I ask you something?

What’s up?

Where was it that you moved here from?

You mean where I was before Oxcart?

Yes.

Couple different places, Longoria says, setting down his ChurroChow, reaching for a fry.

But where did you grow up?

Where did I grow up?

Yes, sir.

Longoria sits back, crosses his arms.

Why?

I’m just gonna be honest, Corporal, Emilio says with a smile. I was born in Venezuela, but I grew up on the border, so I guess I feel more Mexican or Mexican American, or whatever. Your last name is Longoria, and you look like my cousin Javi Rincón. Even Britz said we look—

I’m from Tangelo.

Emilio lunges forward, gripping the edge of the table.

Hold up—Tangelo? In the Rio Grande Valley?

Yup.

Emilio claps thunderously, lets out a yippy Valley laugh.

Eeeeee—I fucking knew it! I’m from Tangelo, too! Puro 956 a la verga, primo! Emilio shouts, sputtering. Goddamn, foo, I fucking knew!

Knew what?

That you were from the Valley!

What are you talking about?

It was your accent, vato.

Accent?

Nambe, raza! Quit playin’. We have that Spanglish touch to the way we talk. On the Es and the As and shit.

The “Es and the As and shit”? Longoria says, eyebrow cocked.

Emilio presses back into his seat, his breath tightening.

Wait, Corporal, I’m not trying to disrespect.

Longoria stands up and puts on his sunglasses.

Either throw that away or wrap it up.

Longoria takes his burger and walks out of the restaurant toward the cruiser. Emilio said the wrong thing, or said it the wrong way. Damn. You have to be careful with superiors. It was dumb as shit to have forgotten something so fucking 101.


Emilio stands on his balcony, watching the freeway rush by like a rapid. The vintage signpost for Maverick’s Milky Goods towers into the peachy sky—Turkey Leg + Whiskey Milkshake = $16.99.

Sad facts: life out here is lonely—a positive mindset can overcome any adversity, but shit’s an expert-level challenge when nobody in the halls stops to chat or uses the ping-pong table in the clubhouse.

Emilio checks his phone, opening the group chat he set up an hour before:

yooooo dogs! a true pleasure to shoot the shit over proper tacos this AM . . . what yall getting up to tn? im off tomorrow . . .

Britz, two minutes ago: Hey, Emilio. Sorry, brother. Got plans w/ wife tonight. Another time. Nothing yet from Strum; must be on his ghost shit.

Fridge is looking bleak: ziplocked honey ham, orange juice, a mushy cucumber, jumbo cup of horchata from the meat market.

Emilio hears music playing, muffled through the kitchen wall—that one moody throwback: “Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star. What a babe, that neighbor—the sharp, dark-haired mom with the strong stride and fire playlists, definitely his age, maybe Latina, probably living alone, too.

Controversial facts: people are the loneliest they’ve ever been, floating around like ghosts who don’t even know they’re dead like a bunch of Bruce Willises—once you see, you can’t unsee; but even truer is that every problem is an opportunity, paradigm shift, and real change can only ever start with you.

That’s how we do it in Oxcart, Harper shouts.

Tweet

Emilio pulls out his phone and Grubangels a box of pastor tacos from the San Felipe Meat Market, marks it as a gift. On the custom message box, he writes: New neighbor just saying what’s up! Keep rocking that Mazzy Star —Emilio, next door.

In the bathroom, Emilio washes his face, brushes his teeth, fixes his hair, and slips on a clean tee, glancing down at the little cartoon angel, soaring across the city map. Fresh, Emilio waits at the door, watching through the peephole as the Grubangel sets down the bag and retreats.

When the footsteps fade, Emilio steps out into the hallway and picks up the knotted white bag, takes a breath, and rings Hot Mom’s bell. His heart is racing, standing here in front of her apartment. Seduction hack: any move can pull long as you do it chill, almost like you’re not doing it at all.

The door opens slightly, chain stretching to the bolt—nah: what a straight-up 9.5; hair black like a raven’s, the cleanest photoshoot skin, chiseled cheek and mean little lips straight out of the Andes or something. She’s cocking her chin at Emilio, phone wedged between ear and shoulder; baby out cold in her arms.

I’m your new neighbor, I brought some food, Emilio mouths, holding up the bag. She shakes her head slightly, like she can’t understand.

I’m your new neighbor, Emilio whispers, pointing at the bag and then at her. Got you some food. She waves for him to back away and shuts the door. Emilio raises his hand back to the doorbell but quickly drops it, letting it hang loosely at his side—that happened way too fast; he could have explained in Spanish if she had at least given him the fucking chance.

Emilio steps back—persist: there’s also the bomber jacket guy across the hall with the pimped-out purple sports car, def a fun and rowdy dude, but shit gets way too gay if you actually picture it: him standing anxiously at another man’s door with this clumpy bag of tacos, hoping to become friends. Undeniable. God-tier cringe.


Maverick’s Milky Goods is colossal: a metal warehouse with wooden saloon floors, Skee-Ball ramps, a mechanical bull, rows of picnic tables packed with people, and dozens of screens hanging down from the dark like scoreboards.

One Turkey Thursday combo, please, Emilio tells the bartender as he takes a stool at the end of the bar. A few yards away, people are two-stepping in a wrestling ring. On the TV above: an archery tournament.

Bull’s-eye them shits, shouts a tall dude in a pearl-snap shirt sitting just off to his right. Come on!

Next to the wrestling ring, there are three women at a silver garden table, the type abuelas have in their backyards, funny to see in a place like this: the curved legs, the vine-patterned top, iron dense enough to bruise you if you ran into it catching a pass. Each of the women has her own blue margarita served in a Mother Mary candle holder. They’re Emilio’s age, more or less, bopping in their seats to the country music.

I’m telling you, pearl-snap guy says to Emilio. These bitches came to party.

Yeah?

Hell yeah, partner. It’s there if you want it.

One of the women looks fully numb. The blonde one next to her has a stank face. And the pale one with the chestnut hair and crop top, definitely the babe, looks tense and on edge, glancing all around, chewing her nails.

That one’s pretty fine, Emilio says, gesturing his milkshake glass toward her, but the commercial break is over and pearl-snap is tuned back in.

A guy in a trucker hat approaches the trio, talking up the numb one. He plants his hand on their table, nodding slowly as they answer his questions. All three stand up, following him up the ladder and into the wrestling ring. Standing in the flashing lights, on-edge girl looks tall as hell, maybe 5’10”. She glances Emilio’s way, locks eyes for a moment.

No way a baddie like that’s fishing for Emilio of all dudes, alone at the bar with a milkshake in one hand and a chewed-up turkey leg in the other, watching her dance from a barstool. But she looks again, no doubt, and she smiles back as Emilio holds the glance.

Did I just see that? pearl-snap guy says, hot beer breath wafting out.

The song ends and on-edge girl comes down from the ring, striding playfully toward Emilio as he sets his glass on the counter, wipes his hand on his jeans, and reaches out as she approaches. She takes his hand, leading him back to the ring as pearl-snap guy hoots from behind.

What’s your name? Emilio asks, leaning up into her ear, climbing the little ladder.

Harper, she says, big smile. You?

I’m Emilio.

What?

Emilio. My name’s Emilio.

Oh! Emily-o.

Harper’s friends leave the ring with trucker-hat guy, headed to Skee-Ball. Emilio and Harper have the whole ring to themselves, flashing blue and white. Aren’t you glad I pulled you away from that weirdo?

Damn, Emilio says. You knew I was crying for help?

It was all over you.

Seduction hack: any move can pull long as you do it chill, almost like you’re not doing it at all.

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Another country jam starts to boom through the speakers. Instead of two-stepping all stiff, Emilio lets his hips loosen, just to see from the start what Harper can handle. She laughs and closes into Emilio, gripping his waist, rolling her body into his. She lifts the margarita to his lip, tilting the slush into his mouth. A loose crowd is forming around the ring, watching them go.

You get down, though! Emilio says into her ear.

That’s how we do it in Oxcart, Harper shouts.

A reggaeton banger starts playing, massive hit from eighth grade, and Emilio goes for it, rapping it breathlessly, the verses in Spanish, in English, breaking it down low, smacking the floor. Harper is laughing and clapping, strutting around him—his muse, his queen. The song ends: applause, shrill whistles, and the PA announces a short break.

Those moves, Emily-o, Harper says, leaning back against the ropes, collarbone glistening. My God.

That’s what they all say, Emilio says, smiling, wiping sweat from his forehead.

What do you even do with all that energy?

I’m a police officer. Oxcart PD.

No!

Yes.

I never would have guessed.

Really? What would you have guessed?

Hm—a teacher.

A teacher?

In the best way: Good listener, super positive and enthusiastic.

I guess that makes sense. What about you?

Real estate agent.

For real?

Fo’ real, says Harper, tugging him by the belt. And where are you from, Emily-o?

Texas.

Harper narrows her eyes.

Like where I was born?

So you weren’t born here.

Damn, you got me, Emilio says. I was born in Venezuela but grew up in the Rio Grande Valley.

Wow.

And you?

Wait—what’s it like down there?

Down where?

The first place.

You actually want to know?

I’m asking, aren’t I?

Emilio pauses—the lights are strobing a bit too intense. Some water would be nice. It’s really beautiful. You got all types of nature down there: beaches, snowy mountains, hella sand dunes, rainforests straight out of Jurassic Park. Food bangs, too. And yeah, people like to dance.

Sounds amazing. Do you miss it?

I don’t know. It’s kinda messed up now. So many people are leaving.

Yeah. I’ve heard about that.

It’s all good though. Gotta trust the plan, Emilio says, shielding his eyes.

But do you still have family there?

A little. Cousins and stuff.

Wow, Harper says, in a tragic tone. And your parents are here?

My dad passed away when I was little, before we came. My Ma. Emilio’s eyes sting. He hides his face. She got Covid last year, in the Valley; just wasn’t being careful, and—

Sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.

No, it’s OK. I’m just drunk.

What matters, Harper says, reaching for Emilio’s arm, is that you’re here now, right?

Straight up.

We need people like you.

Yeah?

I mean it. Where are you living?

Right across the bridge, actually.

No!

I swear. I have a balcony.

OK, Officer.

And a bathtub.

And a bathtub?

Did I stutter? Emilio says, smirking.

Hm, Harper says, smile matching his. Two more shots?

You already know.

Harper kisses Emilio on the cheek and steps down from the ring, swimming through the crowd, toward the bar.

Emilio slouches against the ropes, shielding his eyes—somehow all that lightness from five minutes ago is gone; stomach’s heavy and churning, full of acid. Some water would be good.


Emilio is on a golf course, following the sound of a crying child. After crossing mounds and ponds and pits of sand, he finds it under a yellow flagstick: a fuzzy baby bird, stuck in the hole.

Safe with me, little guy.

The bird quiets as Emilio carries him in his hand, heading up the fairway. They search for his nest or burrow, but there is nothing. The golf course does not end. Emilio heads for the bench ahead.

Time to regroup.

As Emilio sits to scan the horizon, he finds that the bird is missing, gone from his hold. Emilio calls then shouts for him. When he stands back up, he finds the little bird has been sat on, flattened on the seat like an old splat of gum.

Emilio scrapes at its edges, trying to peel the little guy up, but he’s crushed. It is dead, somehow

Emilio has killed it, and all he wants to do is hit undo.

Emilio wakes up in a spasm. He is here, in his bedroom.

Dark conscious going crazy, Emilio says to himself, exhaling—but actually: insane how brains put on the artsiest movies for your sleeping ass to see, and if you wanna get them, you gotta ponder hard; obviously Emilio’s Emilio, and Harper’s for sure the bird, screeching crazy for Emilio, dicking her down with her boots still on; kind of a kooky chick, to be honest, dirty talking you’re so not a white guy as if Emilio were actually super brown; but also the bird dying could’ve been his dick, shriveling in her grip like a slug; fucking sucks, but still wild to dip without a cuddle or long talk, especially after so much finesse; would be funny if the bird was Longoria, though, getting crushed flat like an old splat of gum.

Inception-type beat, Emilio says, wiping his eyes.

Only the thinnest hint of sun is cutting in through the blinds, but the room is already stuffy—type of day to hole up with the lights off, AC blasting, rest till tomorrow. Emilio reaches for his phone and opens Grubangel—Priority Grub: tall stack of cottage-cheese-and-blueberry pancakes from Sappy Sal’s.

He turns on the TV, browses the main screen of WeWatch! looking for something light. Could be the dream, or the hangover, or the general vibe last night left behind, but it’s like his brain is clogged today, seeing these titles and descriptions but not registering them, not getting the meaning of the words.

The phone buzzes on Emilio’s chest.

Hello?

Yes, is this—Emalio Rinkin?

Yes, it’s Emilio. Who’s this?

Your Grubangel.

That was fast, Emilio says. Do you need me to open the gate?

This isn’t your address.

What do you mean?

You tell me, bro, the Grubangel says. You’re the one who fucked up.

Emilio sits up.

What are you talking about?

Just look at the app and check the damn address.

On the screen, the cartoon angel is floating above a house far from Emilio’s, across town, on Cannonball Road—not Cannonball Ave.

Shit, man, Emilio says. I’m sorry.

What do you mean?

I think I put in Cannonball and it must have automatically filled in Cannonball Road instead of Avenue. But you’re still coming here, right?

If not, you’ll give me a bad rating—right?

Emilio inhales.

I mean, I did pay for those pancakes.

Man, fuck this shit.

Come on, dude. It wasn’t anyone’s fault.

Ha! “It wasn’t anyone’s fault.”

I’ll tip you well for the extra trip, Emilio says. I just want my pancakes.

The Grubangel does not respond.

So, do you know how to get here?

You literally just said it, doofus: Cannonball Avenue.

Don’t be an asshole, man. It was a legit mistake. I’ll be outside so you won’t miss—

The Grubangel hangs up—a wrong address is no reason for this piece of shit to get so goddamn aggressive, puro victim mentality bullshit, as if Emilio had gotten him lost on purpose, wanting to fuck up his day. He calls back, but the Grubangel doesn’t answer.

Emilio gets out of bed, puts on sweats and a shirt, and goes downstairs to wait by the gate under the shade of a skinny mesquite.

Come on, grouchy ass, Emilio says, watching the angel on the map, stuck in place. I believe in you. Emilio refreshes the app: the Grubangel has leapt closer, just a few minutes away. The sun shifts, spearing through the leaves.

Goddamn, Emilio says, stretching his shirt by the collar, refreshing the screen.

A honk at the gate. Emilio points his keychain remote and the gate groans open: an old maroon shitcan with tinted windows. He checks his phone: Are you ready to chow down? 🍕 🤗 🤩 Your Grubangel has landed in a 2004 Ford Crown Victoria (GR7-O89Y)! 😇🙏🍔

Emilio waves his phone. The car rolls slightly forward, stopping halfway through the gate. The Grubangel does not come out or roll down the window.

Emilio gestures him in. The car doesn’t move, engine gargling loudly.

Jesus, man, Emilio says, walking out onto the asphalt. Remember anger’s a trick: throwing hot coals means the hands will burn, and that’s not counting how hard they’ll pelt you back. Put out what you want to be given back: no dude ever built his Rome with hands charred to ash.

Finally, the window squeaks down. The Grubangel is young and shaggy, sneering at Emilio. The box of cottage-cheese-and-blueberry pancakes is open on his lap.

Those aren’t my pancakes, bro?

Are you Emalio, bro? the Grubangel sneers.

Dude, Emilio says, lowering his voice. Why are you in my food?

The Grubangel raises his hand, tensing his fingers into a claw, and plunges it viciously into the pancakes. He’s bursting all the fruit, fucking mashing the food.

Yo! Emilio shouts. What the fuck?!

The Grubangel stares flatly at Emilio, twisting into the mush.

I’ll fucking kill you! Emilio shouts, reaching in through the window frame, and the Grubangel slings the shit at Emilio’s face.

Fuck! Emilio cries, rushing backward, scraping the sludge from his eye, tripping backward onto the sidewalk.

Baby-faced bitchboy!

Emilio hears the car tear away, screeching onto the highway.

Gunks of grit and cheese are splattered on his face, like piss in the eyes. The sun above is scorching, and there isn’t a single cloud.


Emilio marches toward the Phantom Cruiser, where Longoria is waiting for the Sunday shift to start.

Longoria’s sunglasses are sparkling; face is shaved and moisturized.

Feeling rested, Officer Emilio?

Oh, for sure, sir; it’s essential for me. How about you?

I’m feeling great.

Solid, sir.

Another scorcher, but bullshit muggy, clouds packed shut as if it’s about to storm. Longoria boots up the dashboard tablet and adjusts the mirrors. Today, benchwarmer mode: keep quiet, keep alert, don’t complain, and when you’re called up, stick to the script—all simple, no shame. Longoria is silent as they roll through downtown—monsoon vibes got everyone hiding out apparently, no bikers in the lanes or hipsters on the café patios, even este Longoria tucked away too, as if Emilio messed up that fucking bad.

Longoria takes the highway and rolls down the windows. The wind pummels in, rank as mud, and the dispatch starts crackling, passing a truck, an 18-wheeler, words crushed under this pounding wind.

Corporal?

The dispatch crackles again.

Corporal Longoria.

You don’t get big wind like this often, Emilio, says Longoria, shutting the window. I heard you the first time.

. . . all units. Unruly male, Hispanic, potentially intoxicated. Causing disruption at 184 Scout Circle.

They gotta be punking me right now, says Longoria, leaning toward the receiver.

Copy. Patrol Unit 77. Longoria. I’m on the expressway, right near there; can be there in three. Toodly-doo and toodly-dee again?

Copy, Corporal. Mr. and Mrs. Turner.

Longoria switches right and takes the exit ahead, passing the fish fry, the car wash, the Grubangel campus.

This is becoming something else, Longoria says, shaking his head. Like a fucking skit.

What is it?

No one wants to budge, Longoria says. The couple: snobs. The neighbor: batshit insane. I don’t know how it can’t break through with him—you try the carrot, you try the stick. Last time, I showed up with a fucking counseling voucher; you believe that?

But what’s he been doing?

Trespassing. Clear-cut.

Trespassing.

Except again, and again, and again; guy has to be a wacko at this point; there’s no other way.

So, he’s stealing their stuff?

Get this: crying and yelling. Again and again.

So he’s a drunk?

Longoria shakes his head.

Can you believe it’s not even that?

Shit. So what is it then?

It’s his mom; died some months ago. Guess it cracked the guy and now he can’t get himself back together.

Humpty Dumpty shit?

Longoria snorts.

Dumb, Emilio.

But, OK, what’s his mom got to do with trespassing?

That’s the thing: he grew up there, technically, Longoria says, turning left into a subdivision. His aunts used to live next door, shared the lot with his mom—two little houses, one big yard kind of deal. After they passed, his mom sold their half, and the Turners built their place on it.

They pull into a narrow cul-de-sac. This is their house? asks Emilio.

That’s the one, Longoria says, stepping out.

I’m not seeing how this keeps happening when you have an easy fix right there, Emilio says. I mean look at it: a first-grader could hop that.

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High-key villainous house, overlord-core: bare hulk of concrete under sliced-off roof, upper windows slit thin like visors, with a catwalk balcony bolted all around; yard’s a bunch of gravel, and apart from the two saguaros guarding the dumb cherrywood door, security is literally just a steel fence, high as a calf pen.

Oxcart at it again with that Westworld shit.

I need you to get serious, Emilio.

To the left: a slouchy wooden house fenced in by chain-link, hella tires and scrap in the weeds—and here’s the couple, rushing out; the woman in front, little older than Emilio, ponytail and marathon shirt, dark yoga pants. The husband catches up behind her, 35 or 40, tall, plain gray hoodie, cotton sweats, black Apple Watch.

Good morning, sir, Longoria says. Good morning, ma’—

We really, really need to get this straightened out, guys, the woman says, coming to the edge of the sidewalk, crossing her arms.

We understand the frustration, ma’am, Longoria says.

Hi, again, Officer, the man says, approaching, hand on her shoulder. I’m sure you know we really need this to end.

Of course, sir.

It’s been four times, the woman says. Four!

Yes, Mrs. Turner, Longoria says. But let’s just take a breath and go over exactly what happened,

OK?

But what is there to go over? the woman says. It’s the same as last time.

June, the man says, rubbing her back.

It’s just procedure, Mrs. Turner. Every incident is different, paperwork-wise.

Even if it’s exactly what just happened three days ago?

Ma’am, we can’t actually address anything until we get your account.

Emilio looks over at the suspect’s house—with the wobbly fence and the chipping Easter-yellow paint, it’s crazy how much it looks just like the houses in Tangelo, the little ones out in the brush, way past the grapefruit groves.

Ridiculous, but fine, the woman says, quieter. This morning, around nine, we’re still in bed, trying to enjoy our Sunday and—I’m sorry; you just wouldn’t imagine how much we’ve got going on right now; we barely have any downtime anymore.

I totally get it, ma’am. Just keep going.

Right—so I hear his voice, in Spanish, speaking in, I don’t know, a distressed fashion, like he was about to cry, just like last time, and the time before that. Imagine having to wake up to this day after day; that kind of screech, the man adds, pinching his fingers at his ear.

Not easy, says Longoria.

Not at all, Officers. We have been so patient. We have given him chances, the woman says, looking to Emilio—tricky situation for sure, but Barbie and Ken are getting a bit extra, as if every story doesn’t have two sides.

Very similar to last time; what happened next?

Well, I’m up now, starting my day with that scream in me—

How are you supposed to get anything done that way? the man says.

Let me speak, Stockton—so I’m hoping to God he’s not in our yard again, that he’d at least stay on his own property this time. Stockton goes to the window and nope—he’s right there, again, curled over on the ground, sobbing on his knees. Very, very kindly he asks him to please leave and—

He says, “Get out of my house!” the man says to Emilio. Just imagine that he’s telling us that; I lost my shit there; told him to get out immediately.

Did he leave? Longoria asks.

Of course not, the man says, wincing, shaking his head at them both, as if it were the stupidest question of all time. He kept crying, curled over in our yard with his face in the dirt.

How did he end up back home, then? asks Emilio.

Because he heard me calling for you two, says the woman. Literally the only thing he responds to.

All right: neighbor is definitely out of hand, but these two are top-shelf cunts, standing on the sidewalk so they can better wag their fingers at Emilio and Longoria, the lowest worms in the world.

At this point, I have no idea what could happen next, the woman says. I refuse to be intimidated and harassed in my own home.

You’re worried he’ll break in?

Jesus Christ, man, the man says, shaking his head erratically. Enough with this. Of course, she’s worried about that! We don’t know who this guy is. We don’t know his history, his record, if he’s always been this insane. He keeps coming over the fence, telling us to get out of his house! What the fuck comes after that?

Nah: how does this dude just get to go off on the future of Oxcart PD like this, spittle on his lips, neck vein about to burst like a fucking cyst.

OK, but have you even considered installing a better fence? Emilio says.

Excuse me? the man says.

I’m not seeing how this keeps happening when you have an easy fix right there, Emilio says. I mean look at it: a first-grader could hop that.

Officer Rincón, Longoria says, turning.

Maybe they haven’t taught you this yet, but trespassing is trespassing, the man says. Irregardless of fence height.

People literally get shot over this, the woman says.

Still: you’re saying you want to be understanding while keeping yourselves safe—why not change your fence?

The man scans Emilio, then smirks.

Is he serious right now? the man says to Longoria.

Mr. and Mrs. Turner, Longoria says, reaching for Emilio’s shoulder, squeezing. I’m deeply sorry. I’m going to have to ask you to excuse the trainee. He obviously has no idea what y’all have endured. It’s the fourth time, you said?

That we’ve called, the man says, glaring at Emilio. Emilio holds his weak glare—goofy Vampire Diaries–ass bitch.

So, are we all on the same page, now? the woman says.

Yes, ma’am. Officer Rincón and I are going to handle it, Longoria says. Thank you for your patience.

But you’re actually handling it this time, right? the man says.

Yes, sir, Longoria says. Y’all just go ahead and stay inside; he’s a bit unpredictable, as you know.

Thank you, Officer, the woman says.

Much appreciated, says the man, eyes on Emilio. They walk back to their home and close the door behind them.

Emilio, you’re really pushing—

Corporal, I’m really sorry, but those assholes have no fucking right to talk to you that way. They don’t have any idea what you’ve been through, and I’m a ride-or-die type of dude, and clearly—

Stop, Emilio.

—they’re lying about caring about this guy. The fence is clearly—

Shut up, Longoria says, grabbing Emilio’s arm. Shut the fuck up: you were out of line with them.

You’re out of line with me, now.

Emilio stares at his reflection in Longoria’s sunglasses, hand tight on his arm.

I’m sorry, sir.

This is fucking embarrassing.

It’s not on purpose, sir; I get carried away.

You’re going to go up to that door, get his ass out of the house, and cuff him.

For real, sir? Emilio says, looking over his shoulder at the little house.

I don’t care what the fuck he tries to pull; you need to make it happen.

I got you, sir.

Don’t overthink it, Emilio. No hesitation.

The two walk across the asphalt toward the suspect’s house, Longoria a stride behind—the yard is way overgrown, so much trash in the weedy-ass lot: pots and soda cans; pale, flat balls that look like lungs; wrappers and bags on the doorstep ahead.

A mess, Longoria says, opening the gate to the yard for Emilio and letting him pass.

You’re not coming up?

Nope, Longoria says, leaning on the fence rail. I’ll be here, just in case.

All right.

And don’t be playing dumb with these people again; they can sense that soft shit in you right away.

Emilio trudges through the weeds, up to the doorstep, and knocks—no movement inside.

Come on, Emilio. Harder than that.

Emilio bangs with the ham of his fist, rattling the door in its frame.

Harder, Emilio, Longoria says.

Emilio hammers—stumbling from inside, quick steps coming to the door.

Stand to the side, Longoria says.

Who is it? a voice cries out.

Oxcart PD, Emilio says.

I promise I didn’t do nothing.

We need to ask you a couple questions.

The door stays shut.

Sir, you’re going to need to open the door.

But I didn’t do nothing.

Please open the door.

No response; Emilio brings down his voice.

What’s your name, sir?

Arnie Robles Jr., Officer.

Mr. Robles, I promise this will be over quickly if you open the door.

Can you tell me your name, too, mijo? Arnie says.

Officer Emilio.

Promise you won’t shoot me, Officer Emilio? I didn’t do nothing bad.

Can you promise you won’t shoot me?

Yes, sir. I don’t have any guns.

Open the door, then. Let me see those hands.

Arnie Robles Jr. cracks the door enough for Emilio to see in—a thin, tiny man, trembling in his muscle shirt and boxers. His hair is dark and long, wrinkles baked into his skin like limestone, brown eyes sunken and glassy; the guy doesn’t sleep.

I’m not getting taken away, right, mijo?

I just need you to answer a few questions.

Arnie peers over Emilio’s shoulder, toward the gate—his eyes flash wide, then shoot to the ground.

What is it?

No, I don’t like that officer, sir.

Emilio brings down his voice.

You’re not talking to him today, Mr. Robles. It’s just me, OK? I can hear your side.

I think I’m just having a bad day. I want to go back inside.

No, Mr. Robles.

He causing problems? Longoria shouts from the fence.

Can I please go back inside now, Officer? I promise I’m just having a bad day.

Answer my questions, first, Emilio says. Then, we can figure out what happens.

But I don’t want to figure anything out, Arnie says, eyes darting wildly.

Mr. Robles, I don’t feel safe with you in the house like this.

I really, really don’t like that officer.

Two quick questions and you’ll be done.

I’m going back inside.

Don’t play with me, Mr. Robles, Emilio says, raising his voice. Let me see your hands.

OK, Officer, sorry, Officer, Arnie says, holding them out through the doorframe.

They both stand, taking breaths. Behind Emilio, the brittle crinkling of the fence; Longoria is fidgeting.

Did you go into the Turners’ property earlier?

I don’t know, sir.

You don’t know?

No, Arnie says, looking up at Emilio—hell nah: fuck this dried-up little shrimp, boldface lying as if Emilio were just a gullible little kid.

Quit playing, Emilio snaps. Did you, or didn’t you?

That was my tía Beti’s place, Arnie says, facing down again, violently raking his hair. We didn’t even used to have a fence. We would just go back and forth. She used to have everyone over.

Doesn’t matter anymore, Mr. Robles. That’s theirs. You understand that’s theirs now?

Yes, sir.

So, you admit you went into their yard?

Sir, I honestly don’t remember, Arnie says, shaking his head. Emilio hears Longoria scoff.

Why are you lying to me?

I’m not lying, sir.

You think I’m a fucking clown or something?

I want to go back inside, sir.

Four times, Mr. Robles, Emilio says, amping his voice. You trespassed four times. That could go for ten to fifteen years—did you know that? If you returned to your residence with anything, literally anything of theirs, that’s a burglary charge, too. Do you know how much more you’ll get for burglary?

I’m going to clean my house now, Officer Emilio.

Arnie begins to close the door, but Emilio jams his boot into the opening, grabbing the knob.

Let go of the door and get on the fucking ground!

No, mijo, please, Arnie says, straining.

Let go of this fucking door, I swear to God.

No!

Arnie tries to yank the door shut; Emilio snatches his wrist and pulls him into the yard, dragging him through the weeds; Arnie yelps, digging his heels into the earth.

Cuff him, Emilio!

Emilio jerks him closer, reaching for the handcuffs at his waist, but Arnie whips his arm with incredible force, tearing from Emilio’s grip.

Fucking bitchboy, I’ll—

Emilio chases Arnie, running for the gap in the fence. Longoria rushes to cover, and Arnie freezes, not knowing where to go. Emilio snags him from behind, noosing an arm around his neck.

Yes, Emilio, yes! Longoria says, shaking the fence.

Emilio swings Arnie off the ground, clinching the choke hold. Arnie twists and pulls, but he cannot pry himself free.

Hold it.

Holding him up like this, Emilio cannot believe how light Arnie Robles Jr. is, like a boy or a bird. As he begins to kick and gasp, Emilio squeezes, eyes fixed on Longoria, waiting for his word.


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