Because I Said So – if you’ve read Chapter 1 you know how much Kesa Sapiro wants to say those words to her sister Josie. In this teaser from Chapter 2 you’ll find out why Shannon Dealan is in the same situation with Paz.
Because I Said So – Preview
by Karin Kallmaker
“Very serious.” Paz wasn’t quite meeting her gaze, which meant he was anticipating a bad reaction.
Shannon set her mug on the marble breakfast bar that separated their small, efficient kitchen from the more generously sized living room. She’d suspected something was up with him for the past week. Phoenix Lopez had always shown his feelings on his sleeve, and he’d been acting almost secretive. Given their history, it had of course caught her attention. She’d worried that someone from his past had turned up or that he’d run afoul of some kind of Big Bad on campus or decided to champion a cause that led to dangerous people bringing their guns to the party.
It had never occurred to her that the issue might be romantic in nature. He’d shown little interest in dating, but then the last few years hadn’t held lots of opportunities. “So tell me about this person.”
His big brown baby deer eyes became liquid with emotion. “Her name is Josie and she’s amazing.”
“She must be. Tell me more.”
He visibly relaxed. “She’s really smart and interested in the same issues I am. That’s how we met, at school, during the rally for Nuestras Voces. She’s incredibly articulate, and very cute.”
“When was this?”
“Three weeks ago.” He said it with an odd mix of sheepishness and defiance.
“Is she…I mean, are you—”
“She isn’t pregnant. We know perfectly well how that happens and we’re not taking any chances. Yet.”
“I’m glad you’re careful.” He was ready for her to protest that it was too soon to take such a big step, so she didn’t. “Have you met her family?”
“Not yet. She lives with her big sister, who I gather is a bit of a hard-ass.”
“The same could be said of me.” Shannon kept her expression mild and interested while a voice inside her wailed, “After everything he’s been through, he can’t derail his life, he can’t.”
“That’s true. You are a great big hard-ass.”
They sipped their coffee in mutual silence. Shannon didn’t know which particular memory of their shared journey Paz was recalling, but her mind went right back to the beginning when she’d seen a skinny, ragged teen in the yard next door who wanted to shoot hoops with kids a lot bigger than he was and they wouldn’t let him. He’d persisted, day after day, tearful, sometimes angry. They said no and he came back. The older boys in their group home weren’t exactly mean, but they weren’t kind either.
The evening he’d been outside by himself, staring at the hoop with no basketball, had ended up magical for them both. Maybe it had been the emptiness of the house after her aunt’s death or the realization that all of her aunt’s warnings to keep a good distance from all those boys had robbed her of a simple pleasure neighbors could share. She had nothing to fear from a kid who just wanted to shoot hoops.
She’d hurriedly blown up the ancient basketball in the garage and they’d played one-on-one until the big kids had joined them. Their surprise had been palpable. She was one of the unnamed white lady neighbors, and they had awkwardly expressed sympathy when she told them the old lady who’d barked at them for years about their balls coming over the fence had passed away. They’d let the two of them finish their game, and after that, they’d let Paz play with them—if, they officiously fussed, he’d done his homework. They even asked her to fill out sides a couple of times. They’d all lived on the edge of Boyle Heights then. That was before The Incident.
“I want to hear all about Josie, I really do, but work is calling. Happy Monday.” She finished the last of her coffee and began her ritual of making sure she had her credentials in her pocket and daypack with lunch, book, and declassified case reading she’d brought home Friday night. “Marriage is a huge step. You just got your application in for your master’s program, and there’s a lot of hard work in front of you. Marriage takes time and energy. It’s not like dating.”
He cocked an eyebrow and let silence convey his skepticism.
“Yes, I know. Never-married person giving you advice. I’ve never even been tempted,” she lied. “You know I want what’s best for you.”
“I’m plenty old enough now to know what that is.”
She didn’t say that at thirty-nine she knew exactly how clueless she’d been when she was twenty. She’d always known she was a lesbian, but that didn’t mean she’d known anything about love or sex or what could motivate people. He wouldn’t be twenty-one until this summer. He wasn’t even fully grown into his body yet. Some days, when he came into the kitchen in his ratty robe, yawning and eating cereal out of the box, he was every bit that skinny kid she’d just met.
As she slung her bag over her shoulder, he said, like he usually did when she went to work, “Be safe out there, wey.”
She answered with her usual rejoinder of, “You too, dude,” and added, “Campuses are scary places these days.”
“You’re telling me shit I already know.”
“Language,” she chided.
“Sorry,” he said without any sign that he was.
She wanted to pat his cheek as she’d done when he was eleven, but his dignity no longer allowed endearments like that. “Leftover ravioli for dinner. It’s your turn to shop. If you get spinach or arugula I’ll make a salad to go with.”
“Um, I was going to have dinner with Josie.”
“Oh.” It was a jolt. “More ravioli for me. Dinner or not, you still have to do the grocery shopping this week.”
“Sure, I know.” He waved as she closed the door and headed down the short, cobbled walk from the bungalow to the street.
It was a cool Southern California morning with yellow-orange sunshine pouring out of soft blue air. It was no hardship to walk the three blocks to the bus stop. Hill Street service was brisk and frequent, and she’d be downtown in fifteen minutes or so. She could drive, but she had better uses for the twenty-five dollars a day it cost to park near the Federal Courthouse.
The plum tree on the corner she used to benchmark the subtle change of seasons was snowing delicate white-pink blossoms across the sidewalk. Her footsteps puffed them back into the air in a delightful dance that felt like a touch of magic to start the day. The branches were covered with tight green sprigs of future leaves, which meant plenty of shade when the morning temperature was 90, not 65. Aunt Ryanne’s house in Boyle Heights had had plum trees in the front yard too, and she was pleased that the new house she and Paz shared had reminders of the old neighborhood.
She leaned against the bus stop shelter, but instead of reaching for her book she tried to sort out Paz’s surprising news. What on earth was she going to do? He couldn’t get married. Love at first sight was so…so…impossible. She knew how it felt, but it wasn’t real. They’d unpacked the final moving box only last weekend. After working so hard to get into UCLA’s engineering program he couldn’t afford the distraction of a wife.
Good lord, what about kids? He was not ready to be a parent. He still drank milk out of the carton and thought toasting Pop Tarts took too much time.
The bus arrived in a cloud of diesel fumes. There were no seats left, which happened on Mondays more often than not. She clung to the overhead bar after making sure the zips on her bag were turned against her body. As usual one of the business-suited guys wanted to make eye contact. She knew what he saw: a stick figure with shoulder-length dusty blond hair, thin lips without a trace of gloss, and breasts scarcely noticeable under the clearly off-the-rack jacket. All of which scarcely qualified as average by LA standards. Nevertheless, female and employed counted for something.
Wrong tree, your dudeship. She turned aside and pushed her sunglasses more firmly into place.
It wasn’t years on the calendar that made Paz too young for marriage, either. He was old in some ways. The world had made him intimately aware of its dark side. He’d had little experience of the bright sides of life either. It seemed as if he was drunk on his first taste, and she did remember what that felt like. The first woman she’d dated had changed over the course of that year of self-discovery in college. Shannon had changed too. They hadn’t so much broken up as stopped making dates. This girl could change, or Paz could change—it happened. “Dreams are like pie crust, they always crumble,” her aunt had often said.
A hard lurch to the right made Shannon realize she’d mulled away most of the ride, thinking about lost loves—mostly the one that had hurt like hell. She didn’t want that for Paz. But an experience like heartbreak wasn’t one you could warn another person about. They had to feel it for themselves, like a hot stove, before they’d think about keeping their distance.
The bus lumbered to a halt in the downtown transit center. Two gates and a flight of stairs later she was buying an iced can of Diet Mountain Dew. The dollar she dropped into the street vendor’s basket for her daily indulgence completed her morning rituals.
Heat reflected off the adobe, brick, and marble facades of the mid-rise office buildings that lined the streets of the upper downtown district. In spite of the concrete canyons and thick traffic, the air was morning fresh with a spring ocean breeze she’d hunger for by June. The breeze was strong enough to make the palm trees creak overhead. Los Angeles in spring— love it while you can, she thought.
The soda was drained by the time she had made her way across First Street and into the restored art deco building she’d called her workplace home for much of her adult life. Not for the first time she wished they had two security screening lines. There ought to be one for people who were regularly screened and knew how to do it quickly and one for newbies who were digging in their pockets for forgotten keys and loose change. The suggestion always fell on deaf ears. She finally scooped her bag off the conveyor belt and picked up her pace to make the elevator currently loading. There was no penalty at her grade level for being late, but she always felt it got the day off to a skewed, anxious start.
The elevator emptied completely on the fifth floor, the twelve or so occupants streaming in all directions as they donned their credentials for their final destinations. She brushed her fingers over the bold lettering on her destination door before she swiped her credential through the reader and opened it.
Justice. Integrity. Service: United States Marshals Service. Even an investigative research analyst could be moved by those words, and she believed in them. She had never wanted to be a deputy. She was wholly content that what she did was vital. The people with badges did things she could not and vice versa.
The main office was full of people with badges. The persistent singsong trill of landline phones blended with clipped conversations at dozens of squat, industrial, tan desks, all relics of earlier days. The steel chairs were so heavy that anyone limping could be presumed to have walked into one. The floors were indestructible linoleum that looked exactly the same as it had the first day Shannon had walked in fifteen years ago.
The Office of Protective Services was quiet as usual. Conversations were muted, and the only persistent sound was the click of keyboards. Her own cubicle was a veteran of at least eight administrations. Cleverly placed personal photographs and service directives covered stains that were probably coffee, though there was always someone willing to tell the story about “a guy who was here when a detainee shot up the place.” It was a much mythologized event that had likely happened at county lockup where detainees were lodged, courtesy of an interagency agreement between the USMS and the LAPD.
Tau, the keeper of the safe that held all the relevant keys used in their department, tossed Shannon’s set to her as she walked by. “Happy Monday.”
“Back at ya.” Nothing she was working on was ever left out on her desk, and analysts, no matter what their grade, didn’t rate offices. She stowed her bag and went in search of the workday’s first cup of coffee before returning to unlock her cabinets, log into her computer, and pick up where she’d left off on Friday.
Classified raw intel from intelligence services that made any mention of courthouse security was always the first order of the day, especially anything flagged by the analyst who covered weekends. That was followed by standing search parameters for any new or updated info for fugitives in her case portfolio. As one of three analysts at her grade in the Central District of California, she studied fugitive backgrounds or proceedings that needed a top secret security clearance to read the case files and dossiers, which in turn allowed her to assess whether new intel had relevance to finding said fugitive.
As she told people when she glossed over the content of her job for the Marshals Service, she spent her day sifting through random puzzle pieces to find the ones that fit the puzzles assigned to her. She let the emerging puzzle picture tell her a story. Her conclusions then went to the deputies involved, suitably without reference to any of the classified material. She was the person who didn’t let operational secrets get in the way of the Marshals Service’s work. Her intuition and discretion were solid enough that the service had quickly found her a position in Portland when Paz had been relocated there.
“No news is good news,” she muttered as the courthouse search turned up nothing to report onward. She cleared two more standing queries and then turned to her ongoing cases. “Come on, Seychelles. I know you’ve been somewhere.”
She wrinkled her nose as the first file hits for her searches under all the aliases for “Seychelles” rolled up on the screen. She’d seen all of these results before. The fact that the fugitive was the younger brother of an Eastern European head of state kept his file “need-to-know.” He had provided useful intelligence on mutual enemies in the past to handlers at other agencies. When his name had turned up in child trafficking contexts he’d dropped out of sight for several years, with chatter alluding to him by one alias or another but not the one linked to the arrest warrant held by the Marshals Service.
Because they didn’t know who he really was the deputies trying to locate him thought he’d gone underground and stayed there. Ultimately, they didn’t care: a fugitive was a fugitive. The problem for Shannon’s peace of mind was that his USMS warrant for bank fraud and flight to avoid prosecution weren’t the highest priority, which meant he might still be involved in trafficking—and she did care about that. There were bad guys, and then there were bad guys, and this was a bad, bad guy. His last rumored location was Toronto and that hadn’t changed.
They’d catch him, eventually. Shannon had great faith in the service, and she loved the work she did.
After another cup of coffee she processed the second daily round of interagency updates and then turned her full attention to digging up reports for a new Most Wanted, a domestic felon with a thick firearms and explosives dossier courtesy of the ATF. After stumbling around with different identities she found the steady chain that linked across activities and names which made it vastly easier to request info. She was grinning into her monitor when Gustavo, her boss, leaned in.
“Got a moment—and why do you look so happy?”
“I deduced that two people are actually one and the same. I like pointing that sort of thing out to my counterparts at Justice. Score one for the Marshals Service.”
“Good on you.” They shared a fist bump.
“What’s up? Or should I come to your office?”
His smile was relaxed, that is, relaxed for him. Former Army, he’d never lost the razor-sharp creases and perfect-just-so shirt and tie, and Shannon doubted his hair was longer now than it had been in boot camp. “Not that big a deal. It’s about time for quarterly reviews and I was wondering how you were settling back in. I think I have my answer.”
“The work is the same wherever I am. This building hasn’t changed, but the coffee is even worse.” She laughed at the last item, but it was absolutely true.
“We cleaned the coffeepot about five months ago and it hasn’t been the same since.” Gustavo seemed about to add something else when his desk phone chirped loudly. “Talk to you again later. We’ll do the formal review next week.”
She put her head back down and wrote up her evidence chain linking the two profiles in the interagency database, then submitted the recommendation to have them officially linked.
By the time the day ended she was eager to get outside again and stretch her legs. Maybe go for a run after dinner. Thoughts about Paz resurfaced on the bus ride home. Who was this girl? If she knew her full name Shannon could no doubt find out more and easily. It would be unethical to use her resources that way except, given Paz’s status as a former protected witness, it would be prudent to make sure the girl was who she said she was. But if she asked him for Josie’s last name, he’d know exactly why she wanted it. Paz was not dumb.
Deep down she knew she was also feeling hurt. Maybe that wasn’t the right word. Supplanted? She wanted Paz to grow up, but did it have to be this fast? It was what happened in the natural order of things, though. She’d liked living in Portland. It was a huge change from Los Angeles. Aunt Ryanne would have hated it there—too many eejits with daft ideas.
Living there had done her a world of good. She’d taken cooking lessons, joined a hiking club, and socialized with people at work as she had in LA, but she had given it up to move back to help Paz settle into college. She probably should have stayed in Portland and let him find his own feet. He’d have been fine without her.
But what if this girl was dangerous? Perps had long memories and families on the outside. She’d encountered plenty of gruesome stories in her line of work to know that her aunt’s perpetual paranoia about bogeymen weren’t without foundation. She could easily imagine harm around every corner in Paz’s life.
She struggled her way around the whole question through dinner. Jeopardy! diverted her for a while, as did a well-deserved bowl of Ben and Jerry’s after she went for the run she’d been telling herself to do for several days. Who was this girl, and could she find out more about her without inciting any resentment or suspicion from Paz? He’d only known her for three weeks.
She heard the echo of Aunt Ryanne’s reedy voice, heavy with warnings about “daft” ideas and reckless choices. She didn’t want to turn into Aunt Ryanne, to be sure, but she did want to protect Paz from All Things Daft. Love at first sight counted.
Because I Said So will be available July 2019.