“So, Juanita, let’s go over this, OK?”
Briggs was leaning back in the metal chair, the crack in the worn vinyl seat cushion pinching his ass. West was leaning against the wall by the door, eyes closed; probably asleep on his feet. Briggs marveled at the skill.
“What you wanna know?” said Juanita. She was a woman for whom the term “spunky” was invented. She was short — maybe four-eleven — and compact, the kind of chick who would have a handful of someone’s hair within the first three seconds of a catfight.
“OK, here’s what I know,” Briggs said. He leaned forward and the chair’s front legs hit the floor. Still nothing from West. “You were Paco’s girlfriend, and –”
“Taco,” she said.
“It’s Taco. You know, like Bell? Not Paco. You’re saying it wrong.”
“Seriously? Nickname, right?”
“Nah, his Papi liked tacos, so…”
“All right. So, you and Taco were boyfriend and girlfriend, right?”
“Yes,” she said as she twirled her long black hair around a finger, clearly bored.
“Then, what, he left you? Slept with your sister? I mean, this is a lot of anger we’re dealing with here,” Briggs said. He looked over at West, still stock still against the wall. They had money riding on this. He said sister, West went kinky and said mother.
“No, not angry.”
“Come on, Juanita. His head had been hacked off and placed on the nightstand next to the bed. Whoever did that wasn’t exactly happy with Taco.”
“OK, I get that,” she said.
Briggs felt relieved.
“You do?” An actual breakthrough! When was the last time a suspect actually agreed with anything a cop had to say in the box? He was going to ask West, but didn’t want to wake him. “I mean, of course you do. So my question is this: why did you do it?”
“Me? I didn’t kill Taco. Look at me.” She stood and twirled. “How could I do something like that?”
Briggs actually had no trouble imagining it, but tried a different tack.
“Can we talk about your ink?” he asked.
“You like?” she said, smiling. She held out her arms, which made Amy Winehouse, God rest her soul, seem demure.
“Let’s talk about the one on your left shoulder. That’s a pretty nice tat of Taco, right?”
He pulled a mug shot from the folder in front of him and slid it across the table. It was clearly the source material for the tattoo.
“Yeah,” she said. “So? I got that when we started going out.”
“A fine expression of love,” Briggs said. “But I can’t help but notice that it has been altered. It’s nice, work, actually. But I can’t help noticing that the arm holding his head up by the hair seems new. Like, really new. That and the bloody neck stump.”
“What? Just because Taco’s head was cut off and I have a tattoo of his cut-off head on my shoulder, that somehow means I did it?” she said, her voice rising to a screech.
Briggs shrugged, impressed that she was going to play hardball.
“I’ll admit, it’s circumstantial,” he said, leaning back again. “The timing, however, makes me wonder. We talked with Tank down at Tattoo You, and he said you had that done yesterday. The coroner is pretty sure poor old Taco lost his head a couple of days before that. Just seems, well, too convenient, you know?”
Juanita sat motionless for a moment, something that seemed to require effort.
“It’s a metaphor for our–”
“Juanita…” Briggs said.
“No, it’s not bad, actually,” Briggs said. “First time I’ve heard that word in this place. But it’s over.”
“The tattoo was a bad idea, wasn’t it?” she said.
“Didn’t help,” Briggs said. “You confess, it might be, well, who am I kidding? You cut off your boyfriend’s head. Emotional distress is the best you’ve got. Did he hit you?”
“No. He fucked my sister, that whore.”
“Damn.” This was West, who pushed himself away from the wall, pulled out his wallet and tossed a twenty on the table. He then grabbed Juanita by the arm. “All right, off you go to lockup.”