Today's Reading

Jackie fell backward in a heap next to the woman who had gone with her to a Britney Spears concert in the fifth grade. Estrella colored Jackie's hair with henna before her first date. She held Jackie's ponytail while she retched into the toilet after her first keg party. She managed Jackie's student council campaign for president her senior year in high school. She held Jackie's hand at Daddy's funeral.

Tony's sobs sounded more like screams. Jackie fought the urge to scream with him. She clasped her hands over her ears. God, God, God, God. You brought Jairus's daughter back to life. And Lazarus. Why not Estrellita?
 
A run-of-the mill doctor couldn't bring back this woman who had celebrated her thirtieth birthday Memorial Day weekend. One moment she was arguing social justice issues like the path to citizenship for Dreamers. The next she lay shattered and still, in the aftermath of a bomb, alongside her boss.

Part of the councilman's face was missing.

Jackie rubbed Tony's back. "She's gone on ahead of us, Tony. She's dancing with Jesus right now."

Estrella's unflinching faith offered the one silver lining in this dark, unfathomable moment.

Tony wiggled closer. She put her arm around his shoulders and held on as if they could buoy each other up on a storm-lashed sea. They were both drowning.

"Get out, get out." An SAPD officer in bomb gear lurched toward them. "Evacuate now."

"I'm not leaving her." Tony struggled to free himself from Jackie's grip. "I'm staying right here with her."

"We have to go." Jackie released him.

"Sweet dreams, my friend." She kissed Estrella's still-warm forehead and gently closed her eyelids. "We have to go, honey, but we'll make sure they take good care of you. We have to help the police find who did this."

Find them and make them pay.


CHAPTER TWO

Only a coward would look away.

Jackie fought the urge to rip her gaze from the body bags on gurneys in the triage tent set up on Municipal Auditorium Way across from the Tobin Center. The bomb squad had cleared the building without finding another incendiary device, and the removal of bodies had begun.

One, two, three, four, five. Five body bags. Estrella occupied one of those bags awaiting transport to the Bexar County medical examiner's office. By now crime scene investigators had photographed and videotaped her body from every angle. An ME investigator had done a preliminary review of her body and injuries. The final indignity of an autopsy still awaited her. Who were the others who faced the same ignominious procedures?

Head down, cell phone to his ear, Tony stood next to Estrella's gurney. The bandage on his brown forehead shone white. His face was red and swollen from crying. His free hand patted the bag every few seconds as if to comfort his fiancée.

Bella hovered close by. Whether as a friend or a reporter remained to be seen. Life became even more complicated in the aftermath of an explosion that ripped their lives into tiny pieces and scattered them across eternity.

Only a coward would refuse to look. Just as only a coward would detonate a bomb in a crowded auditorium.

Focus. Jackie tightened her grip on an elderly woman who wore a pink suit splattered with blood. Together they hobbled on punctured bare feet to the triage tent. The woman kept saying the blood didn't belong to her. She was fine, she said, but she wasn't. The gash on her rouged cheek needed attention. An EMT took the handoff with a murmured thanks. He held out a blanket.

"You look cold."

It would take years to shake this chill. Jackie settled the blanket around her shoulders and headed back into the fray. They wouldn't let her inside the building, but she made the rounds to the other victims who'd been deemed able to wait while the more critically injured were transported to area hospitals. She offered them what little she could—a kind word, a hug, a blanket, a cup of hot coffee made by Victim Assistance.

She pulled the blanket tighter, turned, and bumped into City Manager Jason Vogel. His normally perfectly coiffed black hair stuck out in tuffs on what had always struck her as an absurdly oversized head. The knees of his navy pinstriped suit were torn, his tie askew, and his hands caked with blood. His lips were blue. His teeth chattered. "Do I know you?"

Technically he was her boss. Ultimately all twelve thousand-plus city employees worked for him.
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