By Unknown – NASA website: http://www-spof.gsfc.nasa.gov/stargaze/Sjewcale.htm, Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Maksim., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=629170

From a practical standpoint, I’m not much of a believer in horoscopes. It’s hard to balance the concept of star signs with the fact that the light we’re seeing from the stars that supposedly guide us was emitted millions of years ago. The stars in that constellation I was born under might have gone supernova by the time I came along, and we won’t know it for another thousand years.

But that doesn’t mean that horoscopes aren’t fun! Cloistered to Death ends on Jamie’s 38th birthday, which got me thinking about birthdays and horoscopes. I thought it might be entertaining to see how well Jamie and his family’s personalities fit their signs.

All of the below quotes come from https://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/horoscopes-astrology/

Jamie was born May 17, so he is a Taurus. “Tauruses born on May 17 enjoy the pursuit of excellence. They are intelligent though not showy about what they know; for this reason they may not be perceived as especially brilliant by others. And that’s fine, since they are not concerned with how their actions are perceived by others. Because they have considerable leadership potential, May 17 individuals are likely to surround themselves with more “followers” than equals. They are so strong-minded that to be with other people like themselves can create conflict. In love and romance, they are discerning partners. They know what they want in a mate and will not settle for anything less. They often marry later in life.”

Sounds about right, huh?

Kevin, born March 24, is an Aries. “Aries individuals are willful, positive, and independent. People born under this sign have amazing stamina and a potent drive to succeed…Even if he isn’t handsome — though he usually is — he’s the one noticed by everybody when he walks into a room…Key characteristic: Leadership.”

Nailed it.

Pete, born July 3, is a Cancer. “Cancer individuals are intelligent, organized, generous, home-loving, and tenacious. They are also devoted to family members and provide enormous emotional support…With their gentle and caring spirit, Cancerians are the ones to whom others turn with problems, worries, and life-choice concerns. Despite their ability to support and nurture their pals, they do not make friends easily. This may be because they take friendship seriously and don’t bother to indulge superficial associations…With their talent for introspection and self-study, July 3 individuals make fine counselors, therapists, and psychologists.”

Heh. I swear I did not consult astrology before I assigned these guys their birthdays.

Dave Brodie is a Sagittarius, December 16. “A December 16 Sagittarius is extraordinary. They have a disciplined nature and can live on little, as long as they can express their inner fire…They have much wisdom…They have an intense love nature and may prefer abstinence if no one special is in their lives…With Jupiter as the ruling planet, people born under this sign are considered to be understanding and principled…The typical Sagittarian man is well-traveled and well-read. He has boundless enthusiasm. Sagittarian men need to love their work. Career concerns often take them away from family life, but they aren’t as driven as other fire-signs. They are philosophical and a bit old-fashioned.”

Jeff’s birthday is January 28, which makes him an Aquarius. (Full disclosure: I’m an Aquarius too.) “Aquarius individuals are intelligent, progressive and independent. With Uranus as the ruling planet, people born under this sign are free-thinking and unconventional. They will fight avidly for the rights of others…They [Aquarius men] care about a number of issues — politics, the environment, the economy — and believe they can make a difference…They have the common sense to be as tolerant and forgiving of their own faults as those of others…They have an affinity for math, science, and music and may find a rewarding career in these fields.”

I haven’t assigned specific dates for birthdays for the other characters. I’ll get around to that one of these days.



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New short story!

This takes place back in December, and actually precedes the story Retirements that I posted here on New Year’s Day. I couldn’t not comment on the fires that had such an enormous impact on both Westwood and Oceanside, and thereby on all of the Brodies.



Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The first indication that something was wrong came at 5:12 am, 48 minutes before my phone alarm was due to sound. Instead, my phone rang. Insistently, it seemed. The ringtone was the theme from the old TV show Hill Street Blues. Kevin was calling.

I was instantly awake, adrenaline flooding me, dreading news of some family disaster. Pete grunted and rolled over, pulling the pillow over his head. I answered, “Hey, what?”

“You probably shouldn’t go to work today. There’s a fire up by the Getty and the smoke is blowing right over UCLA.”

Not what I was expecting, and I was momentarily confused. “What? The Getty is burning?”

“No, the fire’s still east of the 405.” Kevin was outside; I could hear wind whipping past his phone. “Most of Bel Air is being evacuated.”

“Holy shit. Including your house?” Kevin and my sister-in-law, Kristen Beach, owned a house in Bel Air that was originally Kristen’s and a condo in Westwood that was originally Kevin’s. They spent weeknights at the condo and weekends at the house.

“Yeah. Everything between Sunset and Mulholland, and the 405 and Roscomare.” Kristen’s house was not far north of Sunset, on a cul-de-sac called Ashdale Place.

“Can you get to the house?”

“No. It’s okay. There’s nothing there that we can’t lose, and I doubt the fire will make it that far south. I hope.”

“Where are you?”

“At Sunset and Bellagio, directing traffic. Anyway, it’s smoky as hell out here. Your asthma would flare up in a hot second. You need to stay inside, regardless of what UCLA does about closing or staying open.”

“Okay. Be careful.”

“I will.” He hung up.

I dropped my phone on the bed in front of me. “Well, shit.”

From under Pete’s pillow came a muffled grunt. “Huh?”

“There’s a wildfire across the 405 from the Getty. They’re evacuating half of Bel Air.”

He scrambled to a sitting position, which sent the pillow tumbling to the floor. “What?

I repeated what Kevin had told me. “He says I need to stay inside.”

Pete sniffed the air tentatively. “I’ll check outside.” He swung his feet to the floor.

Our yellow Lab, Ammo, scrambled to his feet. Pete hurried down the stairs ahead of me and edged through the back door. He returned in a few seconds. “Jesus. The smoke is terrible.”

“Can you see flames?”

“No.” He glanced down at Ammo, who was dancing around his feet in anticipation of a walk. “I guess you have to go out, buddy, but you won’t want to stay long.”

“Do you need a filtration mask?” We had a box somewhere, bought for times when the outdoor air quality would affect my asthma. Like today.

“Nah. I’ll breathe through my shirt.” He hooked Ammo’s leash to his collar, and they eased out the door.

I got a whiff of smoke and tried to think. Even if we stayed home all day, Ammo would need to relieve himself several times. Inevitably, the smoky smell would insinuate its way into the house. I went upstairs and closed the doors to our bedroom, the guest bathroom, and our office/second bedroom, then dug into our hallway linen closet and found the filtration masks. I carried the box and two beach towels downstairs with me, and stuffed one of the beach towels along the bottom of the front door. It was well sealed with weather stripping, but I thought it better to practice an overabundance of caution.

Pete and Ammo returned in just a couple of minutes, Pete coughing and Ammo snorting and pawing at his nose. Pete said, “It’s getting worse.”

I held up the second beach towel. “While the back door is closed, let’s use this.”

“Good thinking.” He bent to unleash Ammo. I passed him to shove the towel against the door, and sniffed. “Ugh. I can smell it on you.”

“I’ll take a shower right now.”

“I closed all the doors upstairs. Let’s keep them closed.”

“Right.” He trotted upstairs.

I went to the living room with a banana and orange juice, turned the TV to the local news station, and gasped at the sight of the entire hillside along the 405 in flames. It looked as if drivers were headed into the mouth of hell. I grabbed my phone and began to text – first to my supervisor, Dr. Madeline Loomis.

Hi Dr. Loomis, I’m going to take a sick day. Pete went outside and says the air quality is terrible.

She responded immediately. Yes, I’m watching the news right now. I haven’t heard what the U. plans to do but can’t imagine they’ll hold classes.

I wasn’t so sure about that, but answered, Let’s hope not.

Indeed. Take care.

You too.

My next text was to Ali Fortner, who lived with her wife, Mel Hayes, about a mile southwest of the Getty. Hey, are you smoked in? You’re not going to work today, are you?

We’re smoked in here, but our current job is in Pasadena, so I could go to work. But I might not be able to get back home. If the fire jumps the 405, we’ll have to evacuate.

OMG. Surely it won’t.

Dunno, but I don’t want to leave Mel here alone to handle that by herself. I can send Drew, Melissa, and Amanda to the job. They all live east.

Drew, Melissa and Amanda were three of Ali’s employees. Sure. Keeps the client happy and you out of danger. Kristen’s house is in the evacuation zone.

Shit, that’s right. Were they there?

No, at the condo. Kevin’s on traffic control at Sunset and Bellagio.

Poor Kev. You’re staying inside, right?

Oh hell yeah. If you all have to evacuate, come here. Keep us posted.

Will do.

My next text was to Liz. Are you awake?

Of course. Jon was called out for traffic control. He’s at the 405 on ramp at Wilshire.

You going to work? I’m not.

Probably, unless the U cancels. Fingers crossed. I don’t wanna go out in this.

Seriously. Later.

I texted Kristen next. Talked to Kevin a while ago.

Yeah. He told you about the house?

  1. He thinks it’ll be okay.

We’ll see. Fire’s entirely out of control right now.

Yeah, I’m watching TV. Awful.

You’re staying home, right?

Yup. Already texted Dr. Loomis.


Pete trotted down the stairs, rubbing his hair dry with a towel, and stopped short at the sight of the burning hillside. “Holy shit. What are they saying?”

“It’s out of control. Ali said they have to be ready to evacuate. I told ‘em to come here.”

“Yeah.” Pete dropped onto the sofa beside me. “You should probably go to your dad’s for the rest of the week. Take Ammo with you. That way neither you nor he has to stay cooped up, and I don’t have to go outside with him here.”

“Great idea. But that’ll leave you without a car.”

He waved that off. “I shouldn’t need one. I’ll call the neighbors if I have an emergency.”

I called my dad as I watched a Breaking News notification crawl across the screen. Santa Monica-Malibu Unified District Schools will be closed today.

My dad answered, “Hey, sport. I just turned on the news. How bad is it?”

“Terrible. Can Ammo and I come for a visit?”

“Of course. What about Pete?”

“He’s gonna stay, in case Ali and Mel have to evacuate. They’ll come here.”

“Okay. Will you start out now?”

“Um – I’ve gotta shower and pack. I’ll leave within the hour, I guess. I’ll text you.”

“Okay. See you in a while.”


Forty-five minutes later I was on my way, heading west on Santa Monica Blvd. I wanted to avoid the interstates until I was as far south as I could go on surface streets. I turned onto Lincoln Blvd. – the Pacific Coast Highway – and headed south.

It was a gorgeous day for a drive, if I didn’t think about what was behind me. Once I got through the rush hour mess around Long Beach and made it to Seal Beach, I relaxed and enjoyed the scenery. Sunset Beach, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach…until finally I hit Dana Point and had to join the 5. Capistrano Beach and San Clemente zipped past, then I was in Camp Pendleton and nearly home.

I dropped from the 5 onto Mission Avenue and zigzagged my way through town. When I got to my dad’s, he was waiting on the front porch with a welcome hug. “Hey, sport. Have you had breakfast?”

“Ammo has. I haven’t.”

He grinned. “Then we’d better rectify that. Blueberry pancakes?”

“Sounds fantastic.”

While Dad cooked, I called Pete. “Hey, we made it. How is it?”

“I haven’t been back outside, but from the TV it looks terrible. Sam texted and said that UCLA is holding classes this morning.”


“I know. Her professors emailed to say they were canceling classes. I bet UCLA will concede to common sense before noon.”

“I hope so. Is the fire still east of the 405?”

“Yeah, so far.”

“Good. Stay inside.”

“I’ll have to water the garden at some point, but I’ll wear one of these masks.”

“Okay. Love you.”

“You too.”

After we ate and cleaned the kitchen, Dad and I took Ammo for a long walk. Back at the house, we both got Cokes from the fridge and parked ourselves on the sofa, the TV turned to the local news channel. Dad opened his laptop and I texted Kristen. Did you go to work?

Yeah, but now they’re sending us home. You’re at Dave’s?

Yup. Watching the news. There are fires up by Sylmar and Santa Clarita, too.

I heard.

Have you heard from Kev?

About an hour ago. He was still at Bellagio.



I spent the rest of the day glued to the TV, between walking Ammo and checking my work email on my phone. UCLA announced that classes were cancelled for Thursday. That was good news for me; I wouldn’t have to use a sick day tomorrow.

Dad made a late lunch/early dinner – shrimp and grits, my favorite – and we bucked tradition by eating in front of the TV. I couldn’t look away.

At about 6:30 that evening, Kevin called. I put him on speaker so Dad could hear him.

His voice was raspy. Dad said, “You sound terrible.”

“I’ve been breathing smoke all day. This must be how dragons feel after torching villages.” He coughed. “They brought us masks eventually, but they didn’t help much.”

I asked, “How is it?”

“Zero percent contained, but it hasn’t jumped the 405, and I don’t think it will. Several houses have burned. The Getty is running its outdoor sprinklers full force.”

“I guess they have filtration systems to keep the smoke out.”

“Yeah.” I heard him moving around. “I’ve gotta take a shower and get the smoke smell out of my hair. Just wanted to let you all know everything was okay.”

Dad said, “Take care of yourself.”

“Yes, sir. Jamie, you stay there.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”


Friday, December 8

I spent Thursday alternating between watching TV, jogging with Ammo, and helping Dad paint the guest bathroom. The Skirball fire in Bel Air, as it had been named, wasn’t growing, but wasn’t under control yet. Schools all over west LA and Santa Monica were still closed.

I woke on Friday to a text message from UCLA, reporting that classes would resume today. I texted Dr. Loomis to tell her I wouldn’t be in; she told me not to worry about it.

I climbed out of bed and threw on some clothes. I heard Dad’s shower running, and decided to let Ammo do his morning business in the back yard. We’d have time for a long walk later. I unlocked the back door and stepped onto the patio – and stopped cold.

I smelled smoke.

Ammo, fortunately, didn’t prolong the elimination process. I hustled him back inside, where I found Dad on the phone, worry painted across his face. He was saying, “Are you coming here? Sure, that works. Okay. See you shortly.” He hung up.

I said, “I smell smoke.”

“Yes. That was Jeff. There’s a fire spreading out around Bonsall. The farm is under evacuation orders.”

“Oh, no.” Jeff and Val, and my teenaged nephews, Colin and Gabe, lived on two acres in the hills of East Oceanside, not far from the border with Camp Pendleton, on the curiously named Sleeping Indian Road. They were just under two miles from the town of Bonsall. “Are they coming here? What are they doing with the animals?”

“The boys are coming with the dogs. Jeff and Val are taking the cats and goats to the clinic.” Jeff was the large-animal veterinarian at Miracosta Animal Hospital, which he owned with his best friend from vet school, Ben Khaladjian.

I said, “I’ll get out sheets and blankets for the boys.”

Forty-five minutes later Val parked at the curb in front of the house. Dad and I helped her carry in boxes and bags of personal belongings, their jumbled contents speaking to the haste with which they were assembled. Ralphie, Jeff and Val’s yellow Lab, greeted Ammo joyfully. Phoebe, their border collie, joined the butt sniffing fray, and the living room was suddenly overwhelmed with canines.

Only Colin was with Val. Once we had everything inside, we gathered in the kitchen. Dad asked, “Where’s Gabe?”

“Helping at the clinic. Some of their patients are being dropped off as people evacuate.”

I asked, “What did you do with the goats?”

“They’re in the largest dog run at the clinic.” Val went to the kitchen and retrieved a bottle of Coke. “I’ve gotta get back. Colin?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Colin was scrunched between the kitchen wall and the dining table. He looked miserable.

“Behave. And try not to worry.” She planted a kiss on his forehead. “At least one of us will see you all this evening.”

Dad walked Val out. I asked Colin, “What’s going on?”

He dropped onto the sofa. “Gabe is an asshole.”

Hoo boy. “What’s he done?”

“He keeps asking questions. What will we do if the house burns down? What will we do if the barn burns down? Do Mom and Dad think that the fire will reach us? He won’t stop.”

Colin was near tears. I sat down beside him. “Everyone deals with danger in their own way, Col. Gabe’s way is to gather as much information as possible. Your way is…different.”

“Gabe didn’t want to stay at the clinic. Dad made him.”

“Your dad understands better than anyone your need to get away from your little brother.”

“I guess.”

I put my arm around his shoulders, and he leaned into me. I hugged, then released him. “What are you working on for school?”

He sighed. “I have math and chemistry homework, and exams next week. I have to study.”

“Then why don’t you? It’ll take your mind off everything else.”

“Yeah, I guess.” He dug into the backpack at his feet and began extracting notebooks.

I said, “You can study in Dad’s office, if you want.”

He looked up at me. “I’d rather stay out here with you.”

“That’s fine, too.” I activated the closed captioning on the TV and muted the sound. Ralphie and Ammo settled at our feet; Phoebe sprawled in the center of the braided rug and promptly went to sleep.

The rest of the day dragged by. Colin eventually fell asleep, curled against the arm of the sofa. I tried to read, but couldn’t concentrate, since I was continually sneaking peeks at the TV screen.

The second time Dad came in from walking the dogs, he was shaking his head. “Jamie, it’s getting worse. Not that I want you to leave, but you might be just as well off at home at this point.”

“I’ll talk to Pete this evening and see what’s going on.”


At dinnertime, the only family member to arrive from the veterinary practice was Jeff. Colin had moved to the kitchen table, where he had homework papers spread out. Dad let Jeff in the back door and I heard him greet Colin, then he came into the living room and dropped onto the sofa, his head falling back, face pointing to the ceiling. “Oh. My. God.”

I said, “Are Val and Gabe staying at the clinic?”

“Yeah, they have air mattresses in my office.” Jeff lowered his voice. “I told Gabe that he could come with me if he could keep his mouth shut for five minutes. Five minutes. He couldn’t do it.”

“Colin was really upset when he got here.”

“I know.” Jeff sighed. “Yes, Gabe is thirteen, but he has to learn to consider the feelings of the rest of the family. Right now he’s like Val’s youngest brother. He barrels ahead with whatever he’s thinking, regardless of who else is listening.”

“I told Colin that Gabe was dealing with stress by gathering information.”

He huffed a laugh. “Yeah, I suppose there’s some of that.”

I nodded at the TV. “From what I can tell, you all are safe so far.”

“Yeah. We should be okay.” He rubbed his eyes. “A bunch of horses up at San Luis Rey died.”

The facility at San Luis Rey trained thoroughbreds. Hundreds of incredibly expensive racehorses lived there. “Oh, no. They weren’t your patients, were they?”

“No, they have their own vet. But I’m going down to the Del Mar Fairgrounds tomorrow, where the horses and other large animals are being sent, to help their vet out.”

“Are Val and Gabe at the clinic alone?”

“No, Ben and Carrie are both there.” Carrie Olmstead was Jeff and Ben’s newest partner. “We’re overflowing with people’s pets. The waiting room is full of dog crates.”

“Think anyone will get any sleep?”

“Not much.”


After dinner – Dad made Manwiches, one of our favorite comfort foods – I called Kevin. He answered, “Hey.”

If anything, he sounded worse than yesterday. “Hey. There’s a fire out at Bonsall. Jeff and Val are evacuated, and we’re getting some of the smoke. If it’s no worse there than here, I might as well come home.”

“It’s still terrible here. The fire isn’t growing, but the air quality is in the red zone. I can’t imagine why UCLA held classes today.”

“Because it’s the end of the semester and there’s no time for makeup days. Were Santa Monica schools still closed?”

“Yeah. Right now the plan is for them to open on Monday, though.”

“Okay. You sound awful.”

“No shit.” He cleared his throat. “Today was my last day of traffic control, though. Patrol will handle it from now on. They’re starting to lift the evacuations.”

“Is your house okay?”

“Yep, it’s fine.” I heard Kristen’s voice in the background. “Gotta go. Kris has a pan of boiling water for me to stick my face in so I can breathe steam for a while.”

“A poor man’s sauna. Go for it.”

We signed off. Dad said, “Still bad up there?”

“Yeah. Kevin sounds like he’s been gargling glass shards.”

I called Pete. He answered, “Hey, how’s the farm?”

“Safe, so far. Jeff and Colin are here this evening. I just talked to Kevin. The air quality here isn’t great, but he thinks it’s probably worse there.”

“Yeah, it’s still awful. Stay where you are. Maybe tomorrow it’ll start to improve.”

“Have you been getting lots of work done?”

“Sure. I’m caught up with grading papers, and I’ve been cooking all day. Now I’m glued to the TV.”

“It’s a fascinating psychological phenomenon, this inability to look away.”

He huffed a laugh. “Yeah, I’m sure there are hundreds of studies on it already. Ammo’s doing okay?”

“Oh, yeah. He, Ralphie and Phoebe are having a grand old time. This house is not big enough for three dogs. I don’t know how we managed it, growing up.”

“You were smaller back then. You didn’t take up as much space.”

I laughed. “Yeah, okay. Sleep tight.”

“You, too.”

I hung up with a sigh and looked around the house. The dogs had grand-old-timed out and were slumbering on the living room rug, each having staked out his or her favorite piece of it. Colin was back at the kitchen table with his homework. Jeff was in Dad’s study, talking to Val. Dad was in the shower.

I retrieved my book – Quid Pro Quo: What the Romans Really Gave the English Language – and tried to ignore the flickering TV screen.


Saturday, December 9

By Saturday morning I was afflicted with a serious case of cabin fever. After breakfast, Jeff and Colin headed for the Del Mar fairgrounds, and I decided to brave the outdoors long enough to drive to the YMCA. It was in the direction of the fires, so the smoke would be worse there, but I’d only be outdoors between the car and the building.

Even so, by the time I got to the Y my lungs were reacting to the smoke. I hustled inside and showed my membership card from the Santa Monica Y, then took a puff from my rescue inhaler before I went to the pool.

After an hour of swimming laps I felt considerably better. Once I was dressed I decided to stop by the veterinary clinic, to see if I could help.

I was greeted in the waiting room by a cacophony of barking. There were at least thirty small dogs, all crated, lining the walls and bench seating. Denise, the receptionist, was on the phone, a finger jammed into her free ear. She was saying, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Steele, but we are overflowing. No, ma’am, none of the evacuations have been lifted, so no one has picked up their pets yet. I wish I could help, but we simply do not have room. Okay. You’re welcome.” She hung up and rolled her eyes at me. “Hey, Jamie. Can you believe it?”

“No. This is crazy.”

“Tell me about it. And that woman is upset because she’s going on vacation, and the kennel where she was going to board her dog is full. She’s not even one of our patients.”

I started to reply, and the phone rang again. Denise said, “Val’s out by the dog runs. Go on back,” and answered the phone.

I went through one of the exam rooms – also containing crated dogs, these two considerably larger – and encountered Ben Khaladjian, Jeff’s partner, studying an X-ray mounted on a viewing box. He turned in surprise. “Hi, Jamie. I didn’t realize you were in town.”

“Yeah. The air quality is far worse in LA than it is here. I thought I’d see if you needed any help.”

“Nah, we’re okay. All the techs are in. We’ll have to pay some overtime, but it’s worth it.”

“No kidding. I’m gonna say hi to Val, then.”

“Okay.” He turned back to the X-ray.

Val was in an oversized dog run, hip deep in goats, scooping goat chow into dog dishes. Gabe was wielding a garden hose, cleaning out the back half of the run while the goats were occupied at the front half. I said, “Looks like everything’s under control.”

Val straightened up. “Yeah, we’re managing. What are you doing out and about?”

“I went to the Y to swim. Hey, Gabe.”

“Hey, Uncle Jamie.” Gabe turned off the hose. “Are you going back to Grampa Dave’s?”

“Yup.” I raised an eyebrow at Val, not knowing whether I should offer to take Gabe with me.

She considered for a minute then said, “Okay, Gabe, you can go. Colin can spend the night here tonight. Get your backpack.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He hurried in the direction of the offices.

I asked, “Is he behaving?”

“Better than yesterday. We’ve been running his little ass ragged, which has helped considerably.”

“Good.” I coughed.

“Uh oh.” Val frowned at me. “You need to skedaddle.”

Gabe reappeared, hauling a backpack. I said, “Skedaddling. See ya.”

As we drove west, I noted that Gabe was more subdued than usual, and he didn’t look my way as he spoke. “I miss Colin.”

“Gabe, listen to me. When Colin asks you to please stop saying something, you’ve gotta do what he asks.”

“I wasn’t saying anything bad. I was just speculating.”

“Yes, but you were doing so at a time when the entire family was under enormous stress, and your speculation was only making things worse. When your parents tell you to keep your mouth shut, you keep your mouth shut. Period. No arguing.”


I held up a finger. “See what I mean?”

He slid down in his seat, pouting. “Yeah, okay.”

By the time we got to Dad’s, I was coughing again. Dad shook his head at me as I came through the back door. “You shouldn’t have gone out.”

“I’ll be fine, now that I’m back.” I used my inhaler again and took a deep breath. “See?”

“Uh huh.” Dad turned to Gabe. “Hey, pal. Do you have homework?”

“Yes, sir.”

Dad pointed to the kitchen table. “Then get busy.”

“Yes, sir.” Gabe plopped into a chair with a dramatic sigh and started rooting through his backpack.

I went to the living room and called Pete. “How is it?”

“Still nasty, but improving slightly. What’s going on there?”

“Jeff and Colin are at the fairgrounds tending to farm animals, and Val’s still at the clinic. I stopped by there on the way home from the Y. You’ve never seen so many dogs in one place at one time.”

“You went out? Why?”

“Because the only exercise I’d had for 24 hours was moving from sofa to kitchen table. Anyway, I brought Gabe back with me.”

“You shouldn’t have done that.”

“What? Picked up Gabe?”

He snorted. “You know what I mean.”

“I was outside for a total of maybe two minutes. Besides, the smoke is blowing more in the direction of Pendleton than toward town. I’m fine.”

“Uh huh.”

“I’m going to come home tomorrow. UCLA has already reopened.”

“If it’s considerably less smoky there…”

I said, “It’s not less smoky enough to keep me here. You can drive me to work. You’ve been keeping the smoke out of the house, right?”

“Of course. Let’s see what it’s like here tomorrow morning before you set out.”

I rolled my eyes, not that he could see me. “Okay. I’ll talk to you this evening.”


Sunday, December 10

After deliberations and consultations, I started in the direction of Santa Monica on Sunday at 11:00. I retraced my steps, leaving the 5 at Dana Point for the PCH. I stayed on Lincoln all the way to Arizona Avenue this time, where I turned right and headed home.

When I got out of the car my initial thought was, I should have stayed at Dad’s. The air quality seemed significantly worse to me here. But was I going to mention that to Pete?

Hell, no.

I let Ammo pee against the garbage bins, then he bounded up the steps to the back door ahead of me. Pete let us in and hurriedly re-stuffed the beach towel along the bottom of the door. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” I showed Pete my inhaler, from which I’d taken a puff as Ammo peed. “It hasn’t left my side.”

He kissed me hello then surveyed me with a critical eye. “You look okay…”

“Good grief. I’m fine. What’s going on here?”

“As you can probably smell, the fire isn’t out, but it’s 85% contained. All the evacuations have been lifted. What’s going on in Oceanside?”

“Jeff and Val are still under evacuation orders, but the containment percentage is growing and the fire itself doesn’t seem to be spreading.” I dropped my duffel bag on the landing of the stairs that led to the second floor, and snagged a Coke from the fridge. “Colin and Gabe are speaking civilly to each other again, so Val took them to the beach this morning to play Frisbee and burn off some energy. So to speak.”

“Maybe they’ll be allowed home tomorrow.”

“I hope so.”


Monday, December 11

Asthma is a bitch. This time, she won.

Pete drove me to work on Monday morning, dropping me at the back of the library building, as close as he could get to the front door. I hustled inside, only to find – to my deep dismay – that the first floor smelled like smoke.

Dr. Loomis apologized when I went to her office to say hello. “We couldn’t keep the smoke out on Friday. Every time the door opened, it rolled in. I’m afraid it’s gotten worse over the weekend.”

I said, “My office has been closed since Tuesday evening. It should be fine in there.”

And it was. I kept the door closed but unlocked, and posted a note. Come on in. I was fine until 11:00, when I had an appointment with a grad student in the first-floor research commons. I should have suggested moving to the third or fourth floor, but it didn’t occur to me.

I ate lunch in my office, Liz and Kristen joining me, and felt better afterwards.

But then it was time for my reference shift. On the first floor.

Liz was concerned. “I can handle reference by myself. You should stay up here.”

“Nah.” I took a puff from my rescue inhaler. “I’ll be okay.”

But I wasn’t.

When Clinton appeared at 1:30, he frowned at me. “Jamie, should you be here?”

Liz poked me in the shoulder. “See?”

I waved them both off. “I’m fine.”

“Hm.” Clinton wasn’t convinced, but he didn’t argue. “The word of the day is amphiptere.” He bowed and walked away.

Liz read the definition. “A winged serpent found in European heraldry. A type of dragon.”

I chuckled. “Kevin said last week, after his first day on traffic control, that he knew how dragons must feel. Breathing smoke all day.”

“Exactly.” Liz studied me. “Your color isn’t right.”

“What? My color is fine.”

“No, it’s not. Take a deep breath.”

I pulled my shirt up over my lower face and inhaled deeply. Or tried. I didn’t get far. My attempt produced a coughing fit. “Damn.”

“Uh huh. Why don’t you go to the ER before you fall over? Save an ambulance charge?”


Liz picked up the handset on the desk phone and punched in a number. “Hey, Kristen. Would you mind coming out here and escorting your stubborn brother-in-law to the emergency room? Thanks.” She hung up and gave me a smug look. “You won’t argue with her.”

I sighed, to the best of my ability. “Fine.”

Kristen appeared, her purse already slung over her shoulder. “Do you have your wallet?”


“Then let’s go.”

I meekly obeyed.

Unfortunately, we had to cross campus to get to UCLA Hospital. By the time we arrived in the ER, I was considerably shorter of breath than I had been when we started out. I sat down and tried to breathe while Kristen took charge, and was soon in a cubicle, donning a gown and allowing an IV to be started.

The nurse attached a nasal cannula for oxygen and adjusted the flow. “The doctor will be here in just a second.”


Kristen smirked at me. I stuck my tongue out at her.

A short, young guy in scrubs appeared at the end of my gurney. “Mr. Brodie? I’m Dr. Waverly.”

He looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him. I said, “Hi.”

“So, your asthma is kicking up?”


He reached into his hip pocket and produced a notepad and pen. “When were you first diagnosed with asthma?”

What? I knew how this was supposed to go. Treat first, ask questions later. I said, “I was


By No machine-readable author provided. Mendel assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=355712


He made a note. “Uh huh. How frequent were your attacks as a child?”

Oh, shit. I remembered now. Back in 2012, when I’d been here with a cologne-induced asthma attack, this guy had been an intern. He’d tried to take an extensive history then, too. But if he was the doctor now…

Kristen, bless her, took over. “He’s having an attack now. Why the hell does it matter about his childhood?”

Waverly’s tone was condescending. Major mistake. “Establishing a history of the disease is essential to understanding the current problem. Ma’am.”

I’d have laughed if I’d been able. Kristen said, “Oh, for fuck’s sake. I’m going to find someone who knows what she’s doing.”

Waverly said, “Now, wait just a minute…”

Fortunately, I saw another familiar face walk past. I mustered all of my remaining breath and squeak-hollered, “Eric!”

Eric Padilla, Los Angeles Fire Department paramedic/firefighter and one of my ex-boyfriends, stopped and turned. “Jamie? Is it your asthma?”

I said, “Yeah,” and pointed to Waverly.

Eric was obviously familiar with Waverly’s tactics. “Ah. Be right back.” He hurried away.

Waverly glared at Kristen. “As I was saying. How frequent were your attacks as a child?”

“Three, four. Times. A year.” My ability to speak was diminishing. I seriously needed a nebulizer.

Eric returned with a woman, tall and imposing, with flaming red hair, already slinging her stethoscope from around her neck. “For God’s sake, Jim Bob. You’re gonna let him die while you ask him questions? Get outta my way.”

Waverly was incensed. “This is my patient.”

“Not anymore. Mazeroski wants to see you.” She stuck the bell of the stethoscope on my chest and grinned at me. “Hi. I’m Dr. MacMillan. Breathe.”

I breathed. Waverly stomped off. I was vaguely aware of Eric and Kristen introducing themselves to each other. Dr. MacMillan straightened. “I’ll get a nebulizer. Be right back.” She disappeared around the curtain.

Eric was saying to Kristen, “He’s a moron. He’s already flunked the internal medicine boards twice. He’s gonna kill somebody someday.”

I said, “Not me.”

He laughed. “Not today, anyway.”

“What are. You. Doing here?”

“Restocking the unit. Usually we do that at County, but they were out of saline and D5 today.”

Paramedic jargon. If I concentrated, I could interpret what he’d just said. Instead I waved my hand at Kristen. “Kevin’s wife.”

“So I understand. Small world. Cody Mendoza is my partner now.”

Oh.” Cody Mendoza, another LAFD paramedic, was the boyfriend of Jill Branigan, one of Kevin’s fellow West LA detectives. “Cool.”

Dr. MacMillan returned with the nebulizer setup. “Hanging in there?”

I grunted. She set about attaching the mask to my face. Eric said, “Gotta go. Jamie, feel better. Kristen, good to meet you. Tell Kevin I said hello.”

Kristen said, “Will do.”


As my lungs absorbed medication, Kristen called Pete. He showed up a half hour later, shaking his head. “I knew it.”

Kristen related the details of our afternoon, so I wouldn’t have to, then checked her watch. “Gotta get back to the library. You are not coming back to work this week.”

I attempted a protest. “But…”

Dr. MacMillan was in the cubicle, checking my IV settings and making notes. “She’s right. You may return to work when the air quality index falls below 100. Not before.”

I sighed. It was getting easier to sigh. “Yes, ma’am.”

Kristen left, and Pete perched on the stool that she’d been occupying. “You should have stayed at your dad’s.”

“Shoulda, woulda.”

“I know.” He rubbed my shoulder. “Lucky thing Eric was here, huh?”

“Uh huh.” I asked Dr. MacMillan, “Is his name. Really Jim Bob?”

“His first name is Jim. Jim Bob is the only nickname he has that I can repeat in polite company.”

“Gonna have that. Tattooed on. My chest. No Jim Bob.”

She laughed. “Sounds like a plan.” She handed Pete a sheaf of paper. “Discharge orders and prescriptions. Who’s your PCP?”


“Good. Make an appointment with him ASAP when you get home.”

“Can I go?”

She gave me a look. “Your peak flow is only at 72%. You know it has to be over 80. I’m just getting the paperwork out of the way.”


She said to Pete, “I bet he’s a handful.”

Pete rolled his eyes. “You’re not kidding.”

I said, “Hey!”

She laughed and lightly smacked the bottom of my foot. “Behave. I’ll be back.”


The air quality in the basin remained lousy, even after the fires were contained. The semester ended before the air quality index dropped below 100, so I didn’t go back to work until January.

It occurred to me that, after we moved to New Mexico, my asthma should improve to the point of vanishing.

I was eagerly anticipating that benefit.


Filed under Short Stories, Writing

Now for something completely meta…


By Interview (http://www.interviewmagazine.com/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Let’s pretend, for a moment, that a portal opens between the real and the fictional. If I could visit Pete and Jamie at home, how would that conversation go?

(Full disclosure: I totally stole this idea from Josh Lanyon.)



It’s a gorgeous spring evening in Southern California. Blue sky, a light breeze. My Lyft driver drops me at the gate leading to Pete Ferguson and Jamie Brodie’s front gate, and I ring the bell.

The first sound I hear is a deep “woof.” Ammo. Then I spot Pete, who studies me curiously as he approaches. I say, “Hey, I’m Meg.”

He almost hides his surprise, but isn’t entirely successful. “Hi. I’m Pete. But you know that.”

I laugh as he unlocks the door. “Yep. I’d know you anywhere.”

Jamie is on his feet, by a wrought iron table with three chairs. “Hey, Ms. Perry. I’m Jamie.”

I shake his hand. “You have to call me Meg, okay? And no ma’am-ing me, either.”

He grins. “I’ll do my best.”

Pete asks, “What would you like to drink? Coke?”

“Oh, no thanks, not this late in the day. Water’s fine.”

He cocks his head. “Beer?”

I hesitate, and Jamie says, “You’re not driving.”

“True. Okay, beer sounds great.”

Pete disappears into the house, and I take the opportunity to say hello to Ammo. “Hey, big guy. What a beautiful boy.”

Ammo wriggles with delight. Jamie says, “Did you have Labs?”

“Yup, two of them. One was named Ralphie.”


Pete returns with a bottle of Carlsberg, and we sit. I ask Pete, “You looked surprised when you saw me. What was that about?”

“Oh.” He blushes. “You’re – um – older than I thought you’d be.”

“I’m almost as old as both of your dads. Why did you think I’d be younger?”

He shrugged, sheepishly. “Um – because we’re younger?”

I waggle my bottle of beer at him. “Isn’t that kinda ageist, Dr. Ferguson?”

“I didn’t mean it that way.” Now he’s flustered.

“I’m teasing. It’s fine. My editor is younger than both of you. He keeps me from making old-lady mistakes.” I look around the front garden. “This is a terrific setting.”

Jamie says, “Yeah, thanks for this. It’s one of our favorite spots.”

I fortify myself with another drink. “You know… You live in the wrong location.”

They speak in stereo. “Huh?”

“I modeled your house after a place that I found on Trulia, back when I started researching the books, but I forgot to write down the address. I thought the model was here, but it’s actually on the other side of Wilshire.”

They’re both eyeing me with a combination of fascination and horror. Jamie says, “Which building?”

“The one with blue trim. Several buildings back from the bagel place.”

Pete is laughing now. “How’d you figure out the mistake?”

“I came here last summer, looking for your house. The building that sits here in real life is nothing like I had pictured. But I knew you were somewhere on 17th near Wilshire, so we searched until we found it.”

Jamie is grinning. “What else have you gotten wrong?”

“Your library. I thought there were two public entrances.” I shrug. “Oops. And I have no idea where the reference desk is, and I don’t think that there actually are any offices on the second floor. It’s hard to tell from the floor plans.”

“Where did you place the reference desk?”

“Sort of vaguely down the hall from the front door…”

He laughs. “I’m not gonna tell you where it is, you know.”

“Yeah, I know.” I sip my Carlsberg. “So. You two must have questions for me.”

Pete asks, “What have you got against moms?”

Not the question that I was expecting. “What? Nothing. I can’t tell you why Jamie’s mom had that car accident, or why your mom was such a bitch. It’s just something that I knew, same as I knew that you both were gay. It’s almost like you told me yourselves.”

Jamie is frowning. “That’s weird.”

“Try writing fiction sometime. Weird shit happens. For example.” The beer is warming me to my subject. “Jon Eckhoff. When I first put him on paper, I had no idea he’d turn out to be a major character. I didn’t know that he and Liz would be an item until he walked up to the reference desk.”

Jamie says, “Seriously? That’s amazing.”

“Like I said. Weird shit. Don’t tell Jon. What else do you want to know?”

They exchange a glance, and Jamie crosses his arms. “What’s this we hear about you closing out the series?”

“Twenty is a nice, round number. I like round numbers. Aren’t you sick of stumbling over bodies?”

He can’t deny it. “There is that.”

“I’ll check in on you from time to time. Promise.”

Pete says, “You’re not gonna kill us off, are you?”

“Of course not. These are cozy mysteries. Main characters don’t die.”

Jamie asks, “But secondary characters might? Is that what you’re saying?”

I sigh. “I’d be violating the Prime Directive if I said more.”

Pete snorts. Jamie laughs. “Yeah, okay. Which of us librarians is modeled after you?”

“Good question! I’ve spread myself out amongst you, to some extent. You and I share opinions on almost everything. When you react to something, you’re usually speaking – or swearing – with my mouth.”

That gets another snort from Pete. Jamie asks, “Who else?”

“Sheila Meadows is basically me. West Virginia native, Florida State alumnus, close in age, and I have an MBA from the University of Central Florida, same as she does.”

“Ah.” Jamie grins. “What about Kristen?”

“I wish I was like Kristen! She’s one of my favorite characters.”

Pete says, “I hope we’re your favorites…”

“Well, of course, you two are my favorites. You’re my stars.”

Jamie asks, “What about Liz?”

“I adore Liz. One of my friends in my writing group said once, ‘Liz is Jamie’s id.’ She’s right.”

That gets both of them laughing. Pete notes my nearly empty bottle. “Another?”

“Sure, why not?”

He goes inside. I lean closer to Jamie and lower my voice. “Listen, I’m sorry about the sexual incompatibility. How’s that…going?”

He instantly sobers. “I hate this phrase, but it is what it is, right? We’ve settled into a comfortable compromise. It’s the best I can do.”

“I apologize again. You know, initially I was going to leave you with Ethan.”

His eyes widen. “What??

“Yeah. The life you were planning with Ethan? The original idea was for you to have it. But a writing coach told me that you needed conflict in your life.” I nod at the door. “He’s your conflict.”

Jamie stares at me. “You are shitting me…”

Pete comes back through the door and hands me a second bottle, glancing back and forth at us. “You have the strangest looks on your faces. What were you talking about?”

Jamie seems at a loss for words. I say, “Conflict. The spice of life.”

Pete looks skeptical, but doesn’t pursue it. “Which of us did you create first?”


That breaks Jamie out of his stunned state. “What?”

“Kevin was first.”

They both sit back, regarding me with interest. Their facial expressions are so alike that it’s funny. Pete says, “No kidding.”

“It’s true. Kevin is the character whose head I can’t quite get into, but he was the first character I had.”

Pete smiles. “Kev will enjoy knowing that.”

“What, that I can’t get into his head?”

Jamie laughs. “Yeah, that too. So, tell us about your Scottish roots. You must have them.”

I say, “Remember Blue Tartan Tours?”

Pete groans, and Jamie snickers. “Don’t tell me you’re an Elliot.”

“Guilty as charged. Also Armstrong and Williamson. All Lowlanders, as far as I know.”


“My Armstrongs were, yes. My Williamsons came directly from Fife.”

“Have you been to Brodie Castle?”

“Oh, yes. You’re going back this summer.”

Pete frowns. “The fact that you know that suggests that we’re gonna have trouble there.”

I wave my bottle airily. “Don’t worry. Your vacation will be nearly hitch-free.”

“It’s that word nearly that I don’t care for.”

“Seriously, there’s nothing to worry about.”

“Uh huh.”

Seriously.” I’m feeling more buzzed than I should, and check the time. “I’d better get back to the hotel. I’m catching the ferry to Catalina in the morning.”

Jamie says, “Why don’t you let me drive you to the hotel?”

“Oh, no, you don’t have to do that, I’ll summon Lyft…”

“It’s no trouble.” He stands up and gestures for me to follow him into the house.


Pete says, “It’s the least we can do. For, you know, creating us and all.”

He has a point.

Shortly thereafter, Jamie and I are in the CR-V, headed for Del Mar. I say, “You had an ulterior motive for offering to drive me.”

He slides a sideways glance at me. “Not ulterior. Just a side benefit.”

I mimic Pete’s dry tone. “Uh huh.”

He grins. “What’s in Catalina?”

“Meeting up with a group of friends. Several of them are huge fans of yours.”

“That’s so weird.”

“You have a faithful following. My readers love you.”

“Do you make much money off of us?”


“Thanks for the inheritance, by the way.” We’re at a stoplight, and he smiles at me. He does have a gorgeous smile. “I mean, that whole thing was a mess, with Gavin and Alexandra, and Belinda…”

“I know. Do you see much of Drew Jemison?”

“Yeah, actually, we get together a couple of times a month. And we’ll be seeing a lot more of him soon.”


“You don’t know?”

“I don’t know everything you get up to in between cases.”

“Good. Anyway, Drew is buying the townhouse next to us.”

“No kidding! The one where Ashley Bennett…”

He grimaces. “Yeah, don’t remind me. Drew knows, and he doesn’t care. The house has been empty for a while and he’s tired of renting.”

“And he can afford it.”

“Thanks to you.”

We drive in silence for a few minutes. Jamie is clearly itching to ask me something. I finally say, “Okay. Out with it.”

“Secondary characters dying.” He grips the wheel more tightly. “Pete will forget that you mentioned it.”

“Listen. Sometimes, things change as I’m writing, so I can’t always predict what’s going to happen to whom. But you have nothing to worry about.”

“How many?”

I sigh. “Right now, there are two. One expected, one not. And I am not going to tell you anything else.”

He grumbles. “Okay, fine.”

We arrive at my hotel. He parks, escorts me to the door, and waits while I unlock it and turn on the lights. I turn to him. “Thanks for the ride and the beer. I’ve totally enjoyed this evening.”

“Thank you. For everything.” There’s that brilliant smile again. “Especially my dad.”

I grin. “Best dad on the planet.”

Damn straight.” He hugs me – he’s a wonderful hugger – then says, “Am I gonna wake up tomorrow morning and think that I dreamed all of this?”

“Entirely possible.”

He laughs. “You are a hoot, Ms. Perry. Maybe I’ll see you again sometime. Ma’am.”

I laugh too. “Maybe you will.”

He goes back to his car and drives away, waving. I wave back until he turns onto the street and is gone.


Filed under Books

Marking the passage of time

I’ve spent most of my life moving to the rhythms of the academic calendar. That’s why today, the first day that our students are back in class, feels like New Year’s Day – not that day two weeks ago with the football games. 😀 Of course, the new year really begins in August. There’s an excitement to the start of a new academic year, with the fall semester/term/quarter, that isn’t the same in spring.

Fall term says, “Let’s go! It’ll be great!”

Spring term says, “Ugh. Let’s trudge through this. Spring break is only two months away.”


The Janss Steps on UCLA’s campus, looking up from Wilson Plaza

I’ve never attended or worked for a school that operates on the quarter system, like UCLA does. Their quarters are 10 weeks long, so fall term doesn’t begin until late September. Nice! But they pay for it. Winter quarter runs from early January through late March, and spring quarter runs from late March through mid-June. And they don’t even get a real spring break between; they get a three-day weekend, around Cesar Chavez holiday.

It would be difficult to move from semesters to quarters. I wouldn’t want to try.

Jamie Brodie would have gotten used to a type of quarter system at Oxford while he was studying there. If you want to see a weird academic calendar, check this out. Jamie’s never complained to me about the quarter system – 😀 😀 😀 – so I guess he’s used to it.

This spring , he’ll have plenty to keep him occupied. The entire story of Cloistered to Death fits into UCLA’s spring quarter.


Filed under Books, Travel

A new story for the new year!

Happy New Year! May the coming year be better days for all of us.

There are changes coming to West LA Homicide for 2018. This story kicks them off.


December 30, 2017

Pete tugged the red cotton sweater over his head and fiddled with the collar of the red-and-white striped button-down shirt underneath it, gazing worriedly into the full-length mirror that hung on our bedroom wall. “Does this look okay?”

The shirt collar was folded upside-down in the back; I stepped in to straighten it for him. “Of course it does. What are you nervous about?”

“I’m not nervous.”

I scoffed. “Right. Try again.”

He didn’t look my way. “I’m gonna be seeing a lot of people I haven’t seen in years. I just want to look my best.”

“Then you have nothing to worry about. Because you look great.”

We were attending a retirement party for Elias Pinter, a homicide detective with the LAPD’s West LA Division. I knew Elias and his partner, Jill Branigan, thanks to my involuntary involvement with several murder cases over the past few years. My brother, Kevin, and his partner, Jon Eckhoff, were the other two homicide detectives at West LA; they’d be at the party, too.

Pete had been a patrol officer in the West LA Division for ten years, five of them as Kevin’s partner. He’d left the force in 2007 to get a Ph.D. in psychology. I knew there were several cops still at West LA who’d been there during Pete’s tenure, and that he hadn’t always enjoyed friendly relationships with all of them.

A year or so before Pete left the force, his then-boyfriend had purposely outed him to the police department by calling human resources to ask about same-sex partner benefits. Once it was known that Pete was gay, several of his homophobic brothers in blue had turned on him.

With that in mind, I asked, “Are you afraid of coming across as too gay?”

He turned sharply, staring at me. “What?”

“There are still cops there who used to harass you, right? And you’ll be there with me…are you subconsciously worried about that?”

No.” He turned back to the mirror, and reconsidered. “Maybe. But I shouldn’t be. After all this time…”

I said, “It was a lousy year of your life. It’s understandable.”

“But I’ve been back to the station plenty of times.” Pete and I had sat behind a one-way mirror for interrogations more than once, when our expertise could help to determine whether people were telling the truth. “It never bothered me then.”

“Yeah, but those were work-related situations, and we didn’t stray from the detectives’ room. This is the first time you’ve been back in a social situation.”

He smiled, but it was a half-hearted effort. “You know me too well.”

“There’s no such thing as too well.” I smacked him on the butt. “Quit primping and let’s go.”

He laughed and followed me down the stairs.


When we arrived at the station, we found Kevin and his wife of two and a half months, Kristen Beach, and Jon and his wife, Liz Nguyen, getting out of a car. Jon grinned. “Perfect timing! Make yourself useful.” He handed me a wrapped box.

I wasn’t prepared for the weight of it, and staggered for a moment. “What the hell is this?”

Kevin said, “A bowling ball. I thought I told you.”

He had. Pete and I had contributed to the purchase of Elias’s custom-made gift weeks ago. Apparently, Elias was an outstanding bowler. I said, “Right. I forgot.”

Kristen handed Pete a tote bag that rattled. “Here’s the champagne. Don’t drop it.”

The party was being held in the room that was used for roll call and briefings every morning. The room was still half-heartedly decorated for Christmas. A drooping string of


By Paul Williams (originally posted to Flickr as Buffet Food Platter) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

colored lights was draped over the whiteboard on the front wall, and a spindly artificial tree – decorated with tacky ornaments and handcuffs – stood in the corner. Folding chairs lined the walls. Two tables at the front of the room groaned with food. There were multiple coolers and plastic tubs holding ice and drinks; Liz and Kristen commandeered two of the tubs for the champagne, and Pete helped them shove the bottles into the ice.

People were still filtering in. I scanned the room, and spotted a familiar face in one corner. Max O’Brien, until today, had been a homicide detective at Pacific Division. As of tomorrow, he was Elias’s replacement. Max’s first partner at Pacific had been Jon; since then, Max had been partnered with a woman named Susan Portman. As with Elias, I’d met Max and Susan on murder cases.

Max was with his husband, an ER doctor whom I’d met back in October at Kevin and Kristen’s wedding. I crossed the room to them. “Hey, Patrick. Max, welcome to West LA.”

Max grinned. “Thanks. I understand we’re gonna be on TV.”

I laughed. “Whether you want to or not, right?”

Kevin and Jon had been recruited by LAPD brass to appear on the reality TV show Two Days to Solve, where cameras followed a team of homicide detectives as they worked a murder case. Max and Jill would surely be caught up in the filming.

Patrick said, “It almost makes me wish he was staying at Pacific.”

Max elbowed Patrick. “Nah. It’ll be fun. Besides, the cameras won’t be in a car with Jill and me.”

I said, “Kevin’s not looking forward to it.”

Max said, “I bet he’s not. He agreed to it for Jon’s career, right?”

“Right.” Appearing on the TV show would boost Jon’s chances of being promoted to the elite Robbery-Homicide Unit downtown – also known as Homicide Special – when the time came. “I understand Susan’s headed to Homicide Special now.”

“Yup. We had her going-away party two nights ago.” Max laughed. “It was somewhat less sedate than this one will be.”

I snickered. Susan, when she wasn’t catching killers, was typically out in the desert on her Harley with an informal gang of other tattooed lesbian biker cops from around the Southland. “I can’t wait to watch as Susan transforms Homicide Special.”

Patrick shook his head, grinning. “They won’t know what hit ‘em.”

A commotion drew our attention to the front of the room. Elias and his family had arrived – his wife and two grown daughters, with their husbands and kids in tow. I knew that one of Elias’s daughters was with LAPD’s Human Trafficking Section. I couldn’t imagine how emotionally draining that must be.

There was a bit of noisy mingling, then a whistle blew. All the cops faced front. A man at the door – I couldn’t see well, but thought it was the new West LA captain, Dan Kazuma – called out, “Welcome, everyone! We’ll let everyone fill their plates and get settled, then we’ll formally embarrass Elias. Don’t be shy, there’s plenty of food.”

Patrick said, “I’m hungry. Let’s eat.”


I found Pete leaning against a wall, sipping a can of Coke. He brightened when he saw me. “There you are. I’m hungry.”

“You didn’t have to wait for me.” I glanced around. “Where are Kev and Jon?”

“Up there.” Pete nodded to a spot near the food tables, where Kevin, Kristen, Jon, and Liz were talking to Jill Branigan and her boyfriend, Cody Mendoza, a firefighter/paramedic. I’d met him at Kevin’s wedding, too.

I asked, “Has anyone hassled you?”

“Not yet.”

“Good.” I rubbed my hands together. “Bring ‘em on.”

“Oh, God. Don’t even say that.”

By the time we reached the food, most of the seats were taken. I had to trust that Kristen and Liz would save chairs for us. I loaded a plate with as much as it would hold – ham, potato salad, green beans, baked beans, cole slaw – and scanned the room. I spotted Kristen, who waved at me, and we headed toward her.

Kevin was in deep conversation with a cop I recognized, Ben Butler, who’d been Jill Branigan’s partner when she was still in uniform. Jon was chatting with another cop I’d met at Kevin’s wedding, Marcellus Bivins, a vice detective. I sat beside Liz carefully, so as to avoid dumping my plate, and waved my fork at the room. “Looks as if the whole division turned out.”

“All the ones that aren’t on shift, anyway.” Liz nodded to a small group of women across the room. “And those guys’ wives came.”

“Do you know them?”

“I’ve met most of them.” Liz wrinkled her nose. “There’s a loose, informal organization of cops’ wives. They’ve been inviting me to their meetings, but they always met during work hours. A couple of weeks ago, they had an outing on a Saturday, up in Griffith Park, so Kristen and I went. It was illuminating. To say the least.”

“What happened?”

“First thing we noticed, everyone was white. I was the only person of color there. Second, everyone had kids. There weren’t any other childless wives. Then, once they found out who we were, the unspoken assumption was, ‘Oh, your husbands are detectives, you think you’re better than we are.’” Liz rolled her eyes. “And you should have seen the looks Kristen got.”

“I can imagine.” Kristen was statuesque, stunning, and carried herself exactly like Kevin did, with a commanding confidence that was as intimidating as hell even when she wasn’t trying to be. Half the people at UCLA were afraid of her.

“Mm hm.” Liz had eaten a forkful of potato salad. She swallowed it and said, “Then we figured out that all they were doing was bitching about their husbands’ schedules and


By Zeamays (Originally uploaded to Wikipedia, here.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

gossiping about the wives who weren’t there, some of whose husbands are apparently cheating on them. Then, a couple of them asked us what church we belonged to.”

“Oh, no.”

“Oh, yeah. I told ‘em that I was Buddhist, of course, so they pinned their hopes on Kristen.” Liz laughed. “She said, ‘I’m a Deist.’ I’m pretty sure they didn’t know what that was. One of them said, ‘Oh. How interesting.’ We didn’t stay much longer.”

I snickered, then lowered my voice. “Pete was concerned about the homophobic cops that used to hassle him. So far, no one’s approached him. Maybe they’re not here.”

“Maybe.” Liz scanned the room. “I don’t even know who that would be.”

I followed her gaze around the room. “Is it just me, or is there some segregation going on here amongst the ranks?”

“It’s not just you.” Liz shook her head. “The detectives’ unit doesn’t suffer from it, but I know that some of the street cops are a little bit racist.”

I sighed. “Do you suppose we as a society will ever get beyond that?”

Liz scraped the remnants of potato salad from her plate and licked them off of her fork. “Speaking as a woman of color? Nope.”

“That’s depressing.”

“That’s the Anglo-European colonial legacy.”

“Ugh.” I reached for her empty plate. “Want me to toss this?”


I located the closest garbage can, in the corner behind the food tables, and tossed our trash. When I turned around, I was face to face with three guys. All were white, all were at least four inches shorter than me, and all had the overly broad shoulders and pimply necks that hinted of steroid abuse.

The ringleader seemed to be the guy in the middle. He was a bit taller than the other two, and his sneer was…sneerier. He said, “So you’re Ferguson’s boyfriend.”

I said, “I’m Ferguson’s husband. What’s your point?”

“Well, you know, we were just wondering. Which one of you is the woman?”

The two guys on either side of the speaker snickered. I laughed. “Seriously? That’s the best you can do?”

All three guys’ grins faded a bit. I said, “What’s your name?”

He scoffed. “I don’t have to give you my name.”

“That’s true.” I crossed my arms. “But I know who you are. You’re the asshole who used to hassle Pete, back when he was on the force. I’m sure he remembers your name.”

The two guys on either side looked as if they might be having second thoughts about participating in this confrontation. The guy in the center was apparently dumber. He puffed up his chest. “Who you callin’ asshole, faggot?”

I shook my head and addressed the guy on my left. “Honestly. They let him carry a gun?”

The guy I spoke to raised an eyebrow. The guy in the middle said, “Hey. He’s not talkin’ to you. I’m talkin’ to you.”

I kept my attention on the guy on the left. “What, he doesn’t even let you speak?

The guy frowned. “I can talk.”

The guy in the middle said, “Shut up, Rhodes.”

I said, “Rhodes, huh? Good. I figure I need at least one name for the report to Internal Affairs.”

Rhodes turned red. “His name’s Brendan Noonan. You don’t need to report me. I didn’t do anything.”

The guy on the right said, “God, Noonan, you’re a fucking idiot. We should have known better. Come on, Rhodes.” He turned to walk away.

Rhodes said, “You don’t need to report me.”

I said, “You’re right, I don’t. Have a nice day, Rhodes.”

He scurried away with the guy on the right, and they melted into the crowd…except that I spotted Jon and Jill Branigan, casually leaning against the wall about ten feet away, watching them go. I turned my attention back to Noonan. “Some friends, huh, Brendan? Deserting you when the heat’s on. What’s up with that?”

He snarled. “They’re pussies. So I asked you a question, faggot. Who takes it up the ass, you or Ferguson?”

I pretended to ponder, tapping my finger on my chin. “Here’s what I’m wondering…why do you care so much? Maybe you’re jealous. Or…ha! I know. You’re gonna fix a picture in your mind so you can jack off to it. It’s okay, Brendan. Lots of guys fantasize about getting fucked. It’s perfectly natural.”

Brendan wasn’t much of a boxer. He telegraphed the punch he threw at me so completely that I was able to block it, swiping my left arm up to catch his right forearm. He staggered, thrown off balance, and reached for the back of his waistband.

I didn’t hesitate. I hollered, “Gun!” I’d barely gotten the word out when a pile of cops, led by Jon and Jill, threw Noonan to the floor. Marcellus Bivins kicked him in the hand, sending the gun skittering into the center of the floor, where it was intercepted by Ben Butler.

And just like that, the room was silent, except for Noonan’s bellowing. Someone borrowed a pair of handcuffs from the Christmas tree; Jon snapped them into place and hauled Noonan to his feet.

A tall, grey-haired man whom I recognized as Lieutenant Banner, who managed the day-to-day operations of West LA Division, was immediately in Noonan’s face. “Noonan. What the fuck?

“He attacked me! I thought he had a knife!”

Banner looked over Noonan’s head at me. I said, “I did no such thing, sir.”

Jill said, “Eckhoff and I witnessed the entire confrontation. Noonan was unprovoked. He lost it, sir.”

Captain Kazuma pushed his way through the crowd. “What the hell’s going on here?”

Banner said, “Officer Noonan drew his weapon on an unarmed civilian, in this room full of civilians and children. Eckhoff, Branigan, if you’d escort Noonan to my office?”

Jon said, “With pleasure, sir.” He gripped one of Noonan’s elbows. Jill grabbed the other, and I saw Noonan wince.


One of the women who’d been sitting in the wives’ conclave scurried after Banner, Jill, Jon, and Noonan. I figured she had the misfortune to be Mrs. Noonan. Captain Kazuma turned to the crowd. “Okay, folks, we’ll get this sorted out. In the meantime, there’s still plenty of food! Eat up!”

A hubbub rose from the crowd. Marcellus Bivins and a man I didn’t recognize had a word with Noonan’s co-conspirators, then guided them from the room. Several people lined up at the buffet table to refill plates. I moseyed back toward my seat, but was brought up short by Elias Pinter. “You sure know how to liven up a party, Dr. Brodie.”

“Thanks. I do what I can.”

He laughed. “In the future, when the old cops are sitting around reminiscing about epic retirement parties, mine will be at the top of the list. Thank you.” He slapped me on the back and headed for the opposite side of the room.

Back at my seat I was greeted by Pete, Kevin, Kristen and Liz. Kristen said, “For fuck’s sake. What did he say to you?”

I glanced at Pete, who had his arms folded, his expression guarded. I said, “Probably about the same as he used to say to Pete in the locker room, back in the olden days.”

Liz said, “What did you say that made him want to shoot you?”

“I suggested that his questions were prompted by homocuriosity.” I pointed to a cold can of Coke, unopened, that Kevin was holding. “I hope that’s for me.”

Kevin handed me the can; I popped the top and took a long drink. “Mm. Thanks. And I appreciate that you didn’t rush in to save me. I didn’t need it.”

I didn’t think you did.” Kevin shot Pete a look, and I thought, Oh. “But I never imagined that Noonan would be dumb enough to bring a gun to a retirement party.”

I said, “I think your captain might have an issue with steroid abuse among the rank and file.”

“Jill’s been saying that for years. I’m sure she’ll mention it to Banner.”

Liz said, “Well, you certainly created a flutter in the wives’ corner. And the woman who seems to be Mrs. Noonan is one of those that asked Kristen and me what church we attended, when we were at the picnic.”

I drained the Coke. “Sounds like she needs to attend to her own house before she worries about anyone else’s.”


Twenty-five minutes later, Jon and Jill reappeared and made their way to us. I asked, “What’s going on?”

Jill said, “Internal Affairs has arrived. They want to talk to you.”

“Ah. Okay.”

I followed Jill through the labyrinthine hallways to Lt. Banner’s office. To my surprise, I knew both IA officers. One was Detective Hines, who’d investigated Kevin’s shooting of Hunter Mitchell over four years ago.

The other was Lt. Nelson Hopkins, the cliché-spouting cop who’d recruited Kevin and Jon for Two Days to Solve, back in the fall. He brightened when he saw me. “Dr. Brodie, as I live and breathe! Who’d a’ thunk it?”

I said, “Hi, Lt. Hopkins, Detective Hines. Sorry about all this.”

Hines said, “From what we understand so far, it wasn’t your fault. Tell us what happened.”

I related my encounter with Noonan et al. Hopkins took notes; Hines listened, his expression grave. When I was done he asked, “There’s no history between you and Noonan?”

“No, sir. I’d never met him. But I suspect he’s one of the cops that used to hassle Pete Ferguson when he was an officer here. Pete and I are married now.” I shrugged. “Noonan must have seen us come in together.”

Hines asked, “And neither Rhodes nor Callaway said anything offensive to you?”

“No, sir. They deserted Noonan pretty fast.”

Hopkins snorted. “Rats leaving a sinking ship.”

I raised an eyebrow at Hines, who rolled his eyes ever so slightly and said, “Thanks, Dr. Brodie. If we have any further questions, we’ll let you know.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you.”


The rest of the party was uneventful. We toasted Elias with champagne, then he and his wife cut the enormous sheet cake and opened his gifts. I was pretty sure that the bowling ball was his favorite.

Elias and his family formed a sort of receiving line at the door, saying goodbye to guests as they left. Kevin, Kristen, Jon, Liz, Jill, Cody, Max, Patrick, and Pete and I stayed behind to clean up, and made short work of the mess. I was tying up the last garbage bag when a voice said, “Dr. Brodie?”

I straightened to see Captain Kazuma beside me. “Yes, sir.”

He held out his hand. “Dan Kazuma. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I apologize for what happened.”

I shook his hand. “No apology necessary, sir. It was my pleasure to deal with that problem for you.”

He huffed a laugh. “I’ve only been here for six weeks, but I already knew that Noonan and his buddies would present difficulties. It’s a relief to have them out of the way.”

“What will happen to them?”

“That’s up to IAG, of course.” Internal Affairs Group. “But Noonan will be fired, and he’s likely to have his pension reduced, if not stripped. Rhodes and Callaway will be reprimanded and transferred to someplace far less desirable.”

I nodded. “Sounds acceptable.”

Captain Kazuma eyed me. “You seem to be made of the same stern stuff as your brother.”

“Yes, sir. We were raised by Marines.”

“Ah. That explains a lot.” He gestured to the room, in which the others were replacing the folding chairs into rows facing front. “Thanks for your help with this, too.”

“You’re welcome. Kev and I were taught to clean up our messes.”

He just laughed.


Pete hadn’t said much since my confrontation with Noonan and his friends. As we walked home, I rattled on about Liz’s experiences with the cops’ wives, what Elias had said to me, seeing Lt. Hopkins again, my impression of the new captain… Pete didn’t say a word.

When we got to the house, he spoke. “I’m gonna change.”

Did he think I wouldn’t? “Um…yeah, me too.”

In our bedroom, he peeled off the red sweater and tossed it over the back of the recliner in the corner. I retrieved it, turned it right side out, and re-draped it neatly. “All right. What’s on your mind?”

He turned to face me, frowning. “I thought they’d confront me. Not you.”

“Are you disappointed?”

He looked startled. “What? No.” He considered for a moment. “Well…kinda. I’d planned scenarios in my head of what I’d say and how I’d handle them. I was ready for them. But then Noonan went for you.” He spread his hands. “I hadn’t imagined that.”

“You wanted to wade into the fray, didn’t you?”

“Yeah. Kevin stopped me.” He shook his head. “He was right. I’d have only made it worse.”

I said, “You told me once that Noonan – I assume that Noonan is the guy who tortured you at work – didn’t do it when Kevin was around. He was afraid of Kev, right? He most likely still is. He probably figured that if he tangled with you, Kevin would intervene. He didn’t know my name and didn’t realize I was Kevin’s brother, or he probably wouldn’t have approached me either.”

“No, he wouldn’t have. He’s a coward.” Pete crossed his arms and frowned at me. “He could have shot you.”

“Nah. He wasn’t fast enough.”

He shook his head slowly, his arms still crossed…but a smile was stealing across his face. “I can’t take you anywhere.”

“Uh huh.” I went to him and started to unbutton the red checked shirt. “I thought you said you were getting undressed.”

He laughed. “That is not what I said.”

But he didn’t stop me.


Filed under Short Stories, Writing

I have a short story featured at Josh Lanyon’s blog today!


Young Research Library, UCLA

Once again, Josh is turning over a chunk of her yearly Advent Calendar blog to other writers and artists. I wrote a story featuring Jamie and Liz at the reference desk, waiting out the end of the semester, when they encounter one of Josh’s characters from the Adrien English Mysteries.

You can find it here. Enjoy!!


Filed under Short Stories

And we have a winner!

As you can see from the widget to the right, I have once again “won” National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. I’ve written the first draft of several of the Jamie Brodie Mysteries this way.

Image_of_a_ghost,_produced_by_double_exposure_in_1899 (1)

By The National Archives UK (Ghostly sighting?) [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

This year I tackled book #17, Haunted to Death, which will be published late next year. It’s the first time that I’ve managed to keep myself from editing as I wrote, which is a bad habit of mine. Even so, I ran out of story at about 47,000 words, and had to supplement it with a couple of new short stories (coming within the next year) and some scenes from Cloistered to Death, the next book in the series, due this spring. (I figure if I wrote it in November, it counts, right?)

Anyway, I am not crazy about Haunted to Death in its current first-draft form, but I guess that’s to be expected. It’s great to know that I can depend on my writing group to fix its flaws eventually.

And I am so glad that November is over.


Filed under Books, Writing