Excerpt from Sugar Skull by Denise Hamilton, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Sugar Skull

by Denise Hamilton

Sugar Skull
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Feb 2003, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2004, 400 pages

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That settled it.

"Can I see your ID again?" I said sweetly. Chevalier handed it over and I typed all his stats into the computer. Then I compared his license photo with the face before me. A few more lines, a certain tautness around the mouth, but it was him all right. I got his home and work phone and typed that in too, leaving a note for the early editor, who was still upstairs in the caf eating breakfast and perusing our competitor the Daily News to see what stories we had missed. I would be back way before noon if they needed me to cover one of the wire events. But that was all canned, predictable stuff, while the foot-tapping Vincent Chevalier was dangling some very live bait. I made a printout of what I had just typed, tucked the cell phone into my purse, and told the guards they could return to their post.

In the parking lot, Chevalier and I turned to look at each other. In the milky light of a fall morning, I blinked and wondered why I was embarking on a human scavenger hunt to find his daughter.

Chevalier fingered the bill of his tweed cap, then stuck it squarely back on his head. "I'm a single father, you know, and it's been tough since she hit adolescence. She's constantly challenging authority. I understand that, since I was a rebel myself. So I keep the lines of communication open, like the books say. I tell her I love her and I'm there for her and then I let her go. She runs away a lot. Once she was gone for three months. Don't look at me like that, she'd call. Tell me where she was, what she was up to. Tucson, Kansas City, New Orleans. It made me feel better, knowing where she was. She's always come back. Until now."

Yikes, I thought. Mister, she's a fifteen-year-old girl. She needs you to lay down the law, and instead you hand her a Kerouac novel and wish her good luck.

"We'll find her," I told him, keeping my parenting lesson to myself.

He told me to get off the freeway at Western and head north, past Santa Monica Boulevard to a side street called Manzanita. The kids squatted in an old government building that had been damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake and was now condemned and fenced off.

I jotted the directions down, then got in the car and pulled out behind him onto Spring Street. Downtown was empty at this hour, only an occasional panhandler and a few Latino families trudging off for a day's shopping on Broadway. I usually worked in a small bureau in the San Gabriel Valley but pulled an occasional weekend shift downtown on rotation. Today, my number had come in.

Pulling alongside, I glanced at Vincent Chevalier's black SUV. It used to be that you could tell a lot about a person by what they hung from the rearview mirror. Asians decorated their cars with golden pagodas and good luck characters. Little plastic virgins and rosary beads meant Latinos. Fuzzy racing dice, well that was low riders. But then things got all mixed up and the street-racing Asian kids started hanging fuzzy dice and Latinos began thinking pagodas were way cool. Then the white punks appropriated dragons, dice, santos, and milagros and my whole theory went south. Chevalier's windshield was as bare as the Sahara. No window to the soul there.

I let him pull ahead, then grabbed my computer printout and looked at his car again. The plates matched. Check No. 1. Then I groped in my purse, past the squishy black banana I kept meaning to toss, until I felt the smooth plastic of the cell phone. Holding it up to the steering wheel so I could see the keypad, I punched in the home number Chevalier had given me and got a recording saying that Vincent and Isabel weren't home but would return my call as soon as possible. Check No. 2.

Now I dialed the Times editorial library, only to learn that the librarian on duty was working on a deadline project about campaign contributions in the mayoral race. Could I call back after nine, when more librarians came on?

Copyright © 2003 by Denise Hamilton

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