Right Choices

Jon could sense something was wrong the moment he stepped into Rodriguez’ pickup. 

Rodriguez greeted Jon with his usual affable smile. “We good to go, amigo?”

“ … Yeah,” Jon said warily.

Rodriguez put the brand new Ford F in gear and they rolled towards South Avenue 10. Exactly the same ritual as countless other mornings. But the fine web of lines under Rodriguez’ jovial eyes seemed more pronounced.

“You have the Kachina route today?” he asked Jon.

Jon nodded, his eyes restless.

The Yuma suburb was still mostly asleep, although Jon saw that both old Henderson and the new twenty-something couple at the end of the street had lights on. The onset of dementia or young love—which would last the longest? He pushed away the morbid thought.

Focus, man. Focus. 

In the rear-view mirror, he could see that the sun had already made the roofs of the houses glow slightly with fierce background light as if they were coals in a relit barbecue. Just another day …


“How was the evening?” Rodriguez asked, still smiling a little too much.

“Oh, you know. The usual.” Jon rolled down the window and leaned his elbow on the sill.

“Your better half okay?” Rodriguez continued.

“Yeah … ”

Jon didn’t want to think about last night’s verbal slugfest with Carrie, one of hundreds, because Michael had banged all the lamps and cried his eyes out before he would surrender to sleep—around 11 PM. As usual. But worn as Jon felt, now he was going to work.

Crazy, but in some ways also the best time-out, right?

For the same reason, he decided he wouldn’t pry Rodriguez. The man had probably lost a bet again …

“It’s good that Carrie is okay.” Rodriguez swerved out onto E 32nd. Jon raised a brow but kept quiet.

They drove by a lonely Walmart and clusters of pale business buildings. A few other cars passed them heading out of the city. Beyond the road, there was the big empty space of the desert, sand and gravel with emu bushes as the only decoration. Quiet. 

Or maybe not.

“You know, about the game last night … ” Rodriguez started.

Jon broke in quickly. “Sorry, I couldn’t make it. Had a date watching talking heads on TV. Some of them, anyway.”

“Elena, too,” Rodriguez chirped. “She loves getting pissed about politics.” He shook his head in mock sympathy. 

“Yeah,” Jon replied absently. “So does Carrie. Was it a good game?”

Rodriguez’ cheerfulness shot up another notch. “It was awesome, man. You should have been there!”

Jon knotted his fist on the sill. “Not all of us have teenage kids who can do just fine on their own.” His voice hardened. “Why don’t you ask me if I was up two hours after I went to sleep to help calm my son from a panic attack?”

Rodriguez fell silent with a snap. He clenched the wheel. The car sped up. 

Jon allowed himself to take a breath. The air was already getting hot even if the sun wasn’t very high up yet. “Look, I’m sorry, man. But you know how it’s a never-ending …” 

He would have said ‘nightmare’ but then he remembered finding one of Michael’s books in the hallway before tip-toeing out to wait for Rodriguez. It was one of the few books Michael wanted him to read. All the time. A rhyming book called Brown Bear. Michael loved that book.

Jon bit his lip. “Forget about it. I’m just tired. Station coffee will wake me up.”

“No problem, hermano. Absolutely no problem. Everything’s fine.”

It was only five more miles to the station but Jon decided not to say anything and let his colleague stew. It wasn’t often Ernesto Rodriguez shut up for more than a few minutes.

Jon liked Rodriguez a lot—and they had a long track together—but too often … Ernesto just didn’t think before he let his mouth run.

After a short while, they came to a halt in the parking lot outside the Highway Patrol HQ, and Jon got out. Rodriguez kept sitting behind the wheel, staring at the steel fence that separated the department grounds from the road.

Jon was about to close the passenger door but stopped himself, a bad taste in his mouth. “Come on, buddy. I’m sorry for being a spoilsport. I’ll buy you one on our break today.”

“He was arrested,” Rodriguez said, remaining in the driver’s seat like a statue.

Jon felt like somebody had shot at him. “What?”

“Jorge got arrested.”

“How? When?”

“Last night. In Cibola.”

“What the fuck was he doing in Cibola?” Jon got back into the truck.

Rodriguez raised his hands from the wheel. They trembled slightly. “He was with … some of his friends. That’s all I know. Elena called me up during the game, and I went downtown. They are going to hold him for now.”

“For what … ?” Now Jon stared out the windshield, too. “Possession?”

Rodriguez nodded. “Elena’s got her lawyer-brother on it now but it seems pretty clear cut … ”

“Shit … ”

They both stared into the blankness outside. It was like everything out there had become a shimmering haze—the fence, the parking lot, HQ. 

Jon had to ask the question. “Was it our guys, or PD who got him?”

“PD,” Rodriguez confirmed and leaned heavily back in his seat. “Not that it matters much. Lester will know soon enough.”

Jon put his hand on Rodriguez’ shoulder. “Hey—just like before, buddy—you have done nothing wrong. And the Chief can’t fire you for what your son did. There are rules—”

“I know there are goddamn rules, Jonathan!”

For a moment they both stared helplessly at each other.

“He is probably going to juvie this time.” Rodriguez forced a smile again, but his voice was thick.

“I swear if there is anything I can do—” Jon started.

Rodriguez shook his head. “Just don’t mention it to anyone. Let me handle that.”

“Of course.” Jon looked at him again. “Buddy, you should have told me right away. I’m sorry I—”

Rodriguez stopped him. “Don’t. I know you have your hands more than full. It was my fault. I should not have brought this up, but I … ” He shook his head and looked down.

“No, no,” Jon said, “you should definitely tell me things like that. We have known each other for ten years. You mentored me. You—”

“Please, drop it, Jon. We both know how hard it is for you and Carrie. You need to focus on the job here. You don’t need shit like that to think about, too.”

“But … you are my friend.” Jon’s voice faded.

“That’s exactly why I should have kept my mouth shut.” Rodriguez finally got out of the car. Jon followed.

The older man took one last grim glance at the desert on the other side of the station. “With all you’ve got to deal with at home, it would have been the only right thing to do.” Then he walked towards the entrance of HQ.

Jon gritted his teeth and started walking the long fifty yards to HQ, too. 

He wasn’t so sure what was right anymore.


Cover photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash