A new short story for you, inspired by my buddy in the photo.
Kevin Brodie was having a bad morning.
He had squabbled with his wife, Kristen Beach, about her parents’ upcoming visit. Then he’d discovered a hole in the shirt he’d pulled from the closet to wear. To top it off, their coffee maker had chosen this day to die. As a result, he’d been forced to drive through Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee, and he’d been five minutes late to work.
So he was not in his happiest mood when he strode into the detectives’ room at the West Los Angeles Police Station. His mood further soured when he found his partner, Jon Eckhoff, sorting through a plastic mail bin that was stuffed to the gills with envelopes.
Jon glanced up at him with a smirk. “We’ve got mail.”
“I don’t want to see it.” Kevin dropped into his desk chair and turned on his computer.
Ever since Kevin and Jon had become two of the featured detectives on the hit reality cop show Two Days to Solve, they’d received an avalanche of fan mail. Most of it was dealt with by the LAPD’s Media Relations Division, but they forwarded anything that they thought Jon and Kevin should see. Usually those missives consisted of letters from kids, who wanted to be cops when they grew up.
It was Kevin’s firm opinion that kids shouldn’t be watching Two Days.
Some people sent gifts. Some sent pieces of artwork; one particularly well-done pencil sketch of Kevin and Jon leaning against a patrol car was now pinned to one wall of Jon’s cubicle.
Some people sent stuffed animals, typically teddy bears in little police costumes. Jon had kept one; the others had been passed on to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
But Kevin had never seen anything like what Jon was removing from a large clasp envelope.
“What the hell is that?”
“That” was a stuffed…something. About ten inches high, kind of a yellowish-tan color. Round black eyes and nose, a curved smile, and a choker-style necklace of rainbow-colored beads.
Jon turned it over. “I dunno. A rabbit? But there’s no tail.”
“Rabbits don’t come in that color.”
Jon reached into the envelope. “Here’s a note.” He read it and started to laugh.
Jon handed the note to Kevin, who read aloud. “Hello! My name is Joey. I’m a baby kangaroo, and I am Detective Brodie’s biggest fan!” He groaned. “Oh, my God…”
Jon was still snickering. “It gets better.”
Kevin read on. “I’ve had lots of adventures already, but I would LOVE to ride in a real police car. And I would be the happiest ‘roo EVER if I could solve a case with you!”
Jon picked up the toy and tapped its nose. “He’s adorable. We should take him along with us. I bet he’ll be good luck.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes, I am. Why not? He doesn’t take up much room.”
Kevin sighed and read on. “Once we’ve solved a case, please send me home. Thank you so much!” The letter closed with an address in the suburbs of San Diego, and a hashtag. #gooduncles
“What does good uncles mean?”
“No idea.” Jon was fluffing the critter’s ears. “He needs a Kevlar vest.”
“Oh, for God’s sake…”
Jon gently removed the vest from his teddy bear. “Joey can borrow Barney’s vest while he’s here.”
His partner’s expression exuded innocence. “What?”
“Not in the car.”
“Oh, come on. How will Joey help us solve a case if he isn’t there?”
Kevin gritted his teeth. “He has to ride in the back seat.”
“Well, duh…” Jon was smirking, pleased at his triumph.
For the tenth time that morning, Kevin sighed deeply.
Their supervisor, Tim Garcia, stepped from his office, waving a slip of paper. “Kevin, Jon, you’re up. A stabbing on…” He stopped when he saw the stuffed animal. “What is that?”
Jon held the toy up for Tim’s inspection. “Our new mascot. A baby kangaroo.”
Tim’s expression was incredulous. “Where… oh, never mind.” He handed Kevin the slip of paper. “There’s the address.”
The scene was just a few blocks southwest of the West LA police station, near Stoner Park. Not too far, but far enough that Jon had time to break into song as he drove. “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree, eating all the gumdrops he can see…”
Kevin rolled his eyes. “What the hell is that?”
“You don’t know the kookaburra song? It’s Australian. I’m making Joey feel at home.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake. You are certifiable.”
Jon jerked his thumb backwards, indicating Joey. “He likes it. Look at him smile.”
“He’s always smiling.”
“Of course he is. We’re his good uncles.”
They arrived at an apartment building, where two patrol cars were already blocking the street. Jon parked behind them and turned on the flashers.
A uniformed cop, Ben Butler, met them at the entryway to the apartment building’s courtyard and pointed them to a second-floor apartment. Inside, Butler’s partner, Mike Shands, was on guard, and crime scene techs were already gathering evidence. Jon and Kevin donned protective booties and entered the apartment.
A woman was lying in the kitchen floor in a semi-fetal position, face down, in a wide pool of blood. Dark hair in a messy bun, blue t-shirt, jean shorts, barefoot. Kevin scanned the apartment; it was neatly kept. No sign of a struggle other than in the kitchen. A smashed coffee cup was lying against the far wall, a plate of food was upside down on the floor near the victim’s feet, and the knife block was lying on its side. One slot was empty.
A bloody knife lay beside the victim.
Jon knelt to get a closer look. Kevin asked Shands, “What’ve we got?”
“Domestic dispute, looks like. The victim is Beatrice Medina. She’s thirty-three, married but separated. Husband’s name is José Medina. We’ve been called to this address a couple of times in the past, but Beatrice never wanted to press charges. The neighbors say that José moved out a couple of months ago, but comes over about once a week to see their daughter.”
“There’s a kid? Where is she?”
“Next door.” Shands pointed to the left of the apartment. “The neighbor is watching her until social services gets here.”
“Who called it in?”
“The neighbor. A Mrs. Figueroa. The little girl heard her mom and dad arguing, then heard a ruckus, then heard her mom scream.”
Kevin’s heart sank. “The kid found her mom?”
“Yeah. Then she ran next door.”
“Did she see the dad?”
“Don’t know. She wouldn’t tell us. Has some loyalty to her dad, maybe?”
Jon stood up. “I’ll work on finding the dad. You talk to the little girl.”
“Okay.” Kevin asked Shands, “What’s her name?”
“Leia. Like the princess. She’s five years old.”
Jon and Kevin returned to their car. Jon logged into the car’s computer. “Okay, José Medina, we’re comin’ for ya.”
Kevin had an idea. He reached into the back seat and picked up Joey. Jon’s head whipped around. “What are you doing?”
“I’m gonna make friends with Leia.”
Jon started to laugh. “See? I told you he’d be good luck.”
Jon just laughed harder.
Kevin knocked gently on the neighbor’s door. It was opened by a grandmotherly lady in a housecoat and slippers. Kevin identified himself. “Hello, Mrs. Figueroa. I’d like to talk to Leia.”
“Of course.” She stepped aside to let him in.
Leia was small for her age, Kevin thought, with long brown hair and big brown eyes. She was on the living room sofa, hugging a throw pillow, sucking her thumb, and staring vacantly at the TV. Kevin said, “Hi, Leia. My name’s Kevin. Can I sit with you?”
She didn’t answer, but nodded slightly. Kevin sat a couple of feet from her and glanced at the TV screen. “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, huh? I like that.”
Leia turned slightly toward him, a “seriously?” expression on her face. Kevin said, “No kidding. I used to watch Daniel on Mr. Rogers when I was your age.”
Leia’s eyes dropped to Joey, and she removed her thumb from her mouth. “Who’s that?”
“This is Officer Joey. Want to hold him for a minute?”
Leia nodded. Kevin handed the kangaroo to her. She inspected it for a moment, then hugged it. “Why does he have a necklace, if he’s a boy?”
“Boys wear necklaces sometimes.”
Leia seemed to accept that. Kevin said, “Officer Joey is gonna help us figure out who hurt your mom. If you tell him what you heard, it’ll help him a lot.”
Leia balanced Joey on her knees and spoke to him directly. “It was my dad.”
Kevin leaned toward Joey as if he was listening, then said, “Officer Joey wants to know if you saw your dad in the kitchen this morning.”
“Yes. He was running away.”
“Do you remember what he was wearing?”
“That’s okay. Is there anything else you want to tell Officer Joey?”
Leia regarded Joey solemnly. “My dad told my mom lots of times that he’d kill her someday.”
“I’m sorry, Leia.”
She glanced up at him. “Where am I gonna go?”
Kevin heard voices at the door, and spotted a familiar face. Bonnie Morrison, a social worker with the Department of Child Protective Services. She entered the living room as Kevin said, “This is Miss Bonnie, and you’ll go with her for right now. She’ll figure out where you’ll stay.”
“I wanna stay with my nana.”
Bonnie knelt in front of Leia and tapped Joey on the head. “Hi, Leia. Who’s this?”
Leia said, “Officer Joey. He’s gonna find my dad.”
Bonnie raised an eyebrow at Kevin, who said, “Joey is helping us out today.”
“And we should get started on that. Leia, is there anything else you want to say to Officer Joey before he goes to look for your dad?”
Leia hugged the toy. “Thanks, Officer Joey.” She handed him to Kevin.
Kevin put Joey to his ear. “He says you’re welcome, and he’s enjoyed meeting you very much.”
Kevin stood up. “Bonnie, let me know.”
Jon met Kevin when he was halfway to the car. “We got him. A citizen in Santa Monica spotted him jogging down the sidewalk on Idaho Avenue in a bloody t-shirt. She called it in. Santa Monica PD is holding him for us. What did the kid say?”
“That she saw her dad running away.”
Jon grinned. “She opened up to Joey, didn’t she?”
“Yes, she did. And now Joey has solved his case, and he can go back home.”
“Aww.” Jon took the kangaroo from Kevin and scratched its ears. “I’ll miss you, little buddy.”
“We’ve had him for three hours. Not even.”
“Uh huh. You just keep on pretending that you’re a hardass. I think it’s cute.”
Kevin growled. “When they find you dead in your kitchen, it’ll be my fingerprints on your neck.”
“Not if Liz beats you to it.” Jon turned toward the car. “Come on. Let’s go lower the boom on José.”
Kevin deposited Joey in the back, then strapped into the passenger seat. Jon started the car, pulled away from the scene, and began to sing. “Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong, under the shade of a coolibah tree. He sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled, ‘you’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me.’”
Kevin knew defeat when he saw it. He joined in the chorus, which made Jon laugh so hard he nearly hit a parked car. “Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda…”
In the back seat, Joey was still smiling.