Sunday, March 30, 2008



When I swatted my alarm clock at six the next morning, I’d been in bed only four hours. I’d stayed at the office until I finished the audit report, numbering each page and cross-referencing each spreadsheet. I’d stayed awake only long enough to drive home and collapse into bed.

I padded down the short hallway from my bedroom, pulling down the sleeves of my flannel nightgown. I felt the cold floor through my heavy sweat socks. As I peered in the bathroom mirror I noticed that I looked as tired as I felt. After a good night’s sleep my hazel eyes are bright and offer a contrast to my dark brown hair. This morning my eyes were a dull brown, like the mud pies of my childhood. My shoulder-length hair was electrified this morning, and jutted from my head in all directions. It would take a long hot shower and steaming coffee to make me presentable this morning.

I was getting dressed when the phone rang.

“Hey girl, let’s talk about last night. I’ll buy you breakfast.”

“Great idea, we do need to talk.” I would tell Sofía I had changed my mind. Today I would stand my ground, unlike last night.

An hour later Sofía and I were sitting at a table at Cafe Brazil, white ceramic mugs filled with an aromatic blend from Africa and South America in front of us. I arranged my flatware perpendicular to the edges of the place mat, which I squared in front of me. Then I forged ahead without losing time.

“Listen, Sofia, I’ve thought more about last night. I can’t investigate Beth’s murder.”

I interrupted Sofia as she tried to interrupt me. “Ray’s future and possibly his very life might be at stake. He doesn’t need an auditor, he needs an investigator and a good defense attorney.”

“Sara, we go back a long way. I’ve never asked you for anything you couldn’t handle.”

“I know. I still remember when we met in that high school calculus class.”

A smile played at my lips as I thought of the first time Sofia had leaned across the aisle and whispered, ‘Hey, girl, you speak Spanish?’ As the only two Mexicans in that class—the media had not yet invented the ethnic group Hispanic—we forged a friendship out of necessity and earned the only A’s in that class.

“That’s what I mean we’ve been through a lot together.”

“I know we have. I was at your bedside when you lost the baby and your husband was out of town.”

“Yes, and I held your hand when you thought you were pregnant and still in college. And then we celebrated when you found out you weren’t pregnant.”

Sofia reached for my hand across the table and our fingers entwined in a familiar gesture.

“I loaned you money when you and Frank were going to lose your business.”

“We paid you back. With interest.”

“It was my college loan money, I was paying interest.” I sounded very defensive.

“My point is I’ve never asked you for anything you couldn’t handle.”

“And if I thought I could handle this I wouldn’t be sitting here sipping coffee. I’d be out talking to people.”

Sofia’s gaze bore into me.

Sofia, I’ve always helped you when I could.”

“I never thought I’d ever bring this up, but what about when I kept you out of jail?”

There it was on the table. Sofia had pulled out her trump card. She was the only living person who knew about that incident. We both knew how much I owed her.

“I will do anything you ask...but not this.”

“This is what I’m asking.”

I raised my hands in surrender.


“You met Ray once before at my house at a family dinner. Those can get kind of crowded and loud, so you may not have been able to talk to him much. He’s my Aunt Carolina's youngest son, been up here in Dallas since he graduated from UT with an accounting degree. He works for the bank that’s in the rocket building downtown.

I sipped my coffee as Sofia continued. “After he started working, he took classes at SMU and got his MBA. He’s been promoted a couple of times, and now heads up the commercial lending department.

On top of that Ray is chair-elect of the Dallas Mexican Chamber of Commerce. He’ll be sworn in during a ceremony in January.”

I’d been savoring my coffee and looking over the menu, trying to decide between the Brazilian omelet and the French toast, which came piled high with fresh fruit and drizzled with crème fraiche. But at this last remark my head jerked up and I was alert, coffee and menu forgotten.

“That’s the most powerful ethnic chamber in the state. Weren’t they recently involved in a public campaign to get the Dallas police to hire more Hispanic officers?”

“That’s right,” Sofia picked up on my line of thought. “When all that was going on, Ray headed up the Public Affairs Committee of the Chamber. He served as the Chamber’s spokesman.”

Could it be the police were retaliating against the Mexican Chamber by railroading Ray? He had been the most public figure of that campaign. To the police, Ray was the Chamber.

Before we could continue our discussion, the waitress appeared and took our orders.

“Do you know whether anyone else on the Board of the Chamber has been harassed by the police during this campaign?”

“Ray hasn’t mentioned it, but I don’t usually talk to him about Chamber business.”

“What else does he have going on in his life?

“Even with all of that,” Sofia continued, “Ray still has time for a social life. He had several girlfriends, but nobody special.”

Sofia stirred more sugar into her coffee. “That is, until he met Beth. It was like he’d found his soul mate. Once Ray started going out with Beth, he appeared calmer, he didn’t seem as restless. He’s still very ambitious at work, but he’s settling down in his personal life.”

She sighed and shook her head, “How could anyone think Ray would do anything to hurt her? And with your help, we’ll prove the cops wrong.”

Sofía reach into her oversized bag and pulled out a manila envelope and passed it to me across the table. “Here, I brought you this.”

“You’ve been busy.” I scanned the pages she handed me.

“I’ve been up since five o’clock this morning. Figured I might as well do what I can to help.”

Our food came and I slipped the pages into the fat envelope. As we dug into the Brazilian omelets filled with sausage, tomatoes, onions and hot peppers we talked about Sofia’s daughter, Mia, and her upcoming quincerañera, her fifteenth birthday gala.

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