Her eyes became moist and her expression tightened. She took a fist and beat it against her breast, and for a moment I thought she might start weeping. She didn’t, though.
“He can’t be here. Jax. Bad people looking for him. Bad men. Do you know about the bad men?”
“They want to hurt him.”
“The Nine-Thirty-Seven Mexican Mafia.”
“They say he was one of them. Say he betrayed them. It’s not so. He was never one of them. He was a good boy. A good boy. Good in school. Look. Look.”
Delfina left the room quickly. When she returned she was carrying a box that originally held a pair of boots. She waved me toward the kitchen—the walls were painted a sickly yellow and the dirty white linoleum on the floor had been worn through in spots. She set the box on a table made of metal and covered with a thick white lacquer trimmed with red.
“Here, here,” she said. “Jax is a good boy. An honor student. Look.”
Delfina took a certificate from the box and handed it to me. It stated that the President’s Award for Educational Excellence had been presented to Jax Abana. Another certificate said Abana won an AP Scholar Award. Another boasted that he was an AP Literature and Composition Class MVP. Delfina produced a faded clipping taken from the St. Paul Pioneer Press that cataloged the top students in every high school graduation class in the area. By virtue of his name, Abana was listed first among the honor students at Henry Sibley Senior High School. Under “Favorite Quote” he’d written: Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing—Vince Lombardi. Under “College” he’d designated Undecided.
“Here, here,” she said again. She handed me a heavy medal attached to a ribbon. The medal was engraved with images of a book, star, Olympic torch, globe, and what looked like a magic lamp. “The lieutenant governor of the state of Minnesota put this around his neck at the graduation ceremony. The lieutenant governor. It means he graduated, my baby graduated, in the top one percent of his class. Number one.”
After that there was an 8? × 11 glossy photograph of six students standing together on a stage, each dressed in a black graduation gown and mortarboard, each with a medal draped around their neck, each smiling brightly. Jax was the only male.
I have to admit I was impressed. The closest I came to the top one percent of my high school graduating class was passing them in the hallway.
Delfina reached into the box and retrieved a college-lined notebook. She opened the notebook and showed me what Abana had written on the first page.
7:00 AM—Shower and dress
7:30 AM—Breakfast (most important meal of the day)
8:10 AM—School bus
8:30 AM—Period one
9:22 AM—Period two
10:14 AM—Period three
11:06 AM—Period four
12:34 PM—Period five
1:24 PM—Period six
2:16 PM—Period seven
3:30 PM (time approx.)—Home from school/quick snack
4 PM—Work at car wash
6:30 PM—Home for dinner
9:30 PM (if time permits)—Read for pleasure
Off to the side of the page Abana had written, Only children play video games, underlining the sentence several times. It was an opinion I shared. Beneath that he’d written another word that he’d drawn a thick circle around. The word was Muffie.
“Jax was not what they said,” Delfina said. “A gangster. He was never that. He was a good boy. I don’t know why they say those things about him. He had to run away because they said those things.”
“He came back,” I said.
Delfina stared at the pic on my smartphone some more.
“You have seen him?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “We’ve never met.”
She turned to me, her large eyes filled with questions. I answered the most obvious.
“I don’t know where he went,” I said. “I only know he disappeared and his girlfriend asked me to help find him.”
“Jax has a girlfriend?”
“Is she pretty?”
“Yes, I think so. Very pretty.”
“She come from a good family, this pretty girl?”
I didn’t know how to answer that question, so I just nodded my head. That made her smile for the first time since we met.
We both heard the front door open, and we turned to face it. A woman, dark like her brother and not much older than Riley Brodin, stepped inside the house. She called absent-mindedly while she wrestled with a white shopping bag adorned with a bunch of red targets.
“Mama, I’m home,” she said.
She saw us standing in the kitchen. Her eyes locked on my face, and her head cocked to one side.
“Who are you?” she asked.
Delfina moved quickly toward her, letting my cell phone lead the way.
“Abril,” she said. “Jax. Jax is home. He’s seen him.”
“What are you talking about?” the young woman asked. She set the bag down and took the cell from Delfina’s hands, examining it closely. After a moment, her head came up and she started walking toward me.
“Who are you?” she asked. “What are you doing here?”
“Get out,” she said.