Cloistered to Death is ready to preorder!

Woohoo! You can now preorder Cloistered to Death at both Amazon and Smashwords. Release date is May 28. That’s Memorial Day, so you won’t have to sneak and read at work. 🙂  If you order through Nook, Kobo, iBooks, etc., it should be available in another day or two.

The print version will probably also be released on the 28th, but I can’t set up a preorder through Createspace.


Jamie Brodie is on deadline. The proposal for his second book is due, and he desperately needs uninterrupted writing time. At the suggestion of patron, friend, and former monk Clinton Kenneally – and over the protests of Pete Ferguson, Jamie’s husband – Jamie schedules a week-long writing retreat at a local monastery. But the monastery is not exactly what Jamie expected…which might explain the flicker of disquiet in Clinton’s eyes.

Meanwhile, Kevin Brodie and Jon Eckhoff are dealing with a dead drug dealer, doggie diarrhea, and a camera crew from the reality TV show Two Days to Solve. The camera loves Jon, and vice versa. Kevin’s just trying to refrain from swearing on TV. But when the victim turns out to be someone from Kevin’s past, the case gets a whole lot more interesting.

And there’s no way it’ll be solved in two days.

Cover 2500x1875.jpg



Filed under Books, Publishing

A snippet from Cloistered to Death

Just over a month to go until publication… 😀 Enjoy this teaser!!


Los Angeles, California

Monday, April 23, 2018

5:15 am

Voiceover: Homicide. The ultimate crime. When a murder is committed in Los Angeles, the LAPD’s homicide detectives have two days to solve the crime before the trail begins to go cold.

Tonight, a murder was committed. Tonight, we ride with two of LAPD’s finest, the homicide detectives of the West Los Angeles Division, as they hunt a killer.

Detective Brodie (in the passenger seat, speaking to the camera): Our victim is a male, found in front of an empty house that’s for sale. A neighbor was outside with his dog and heard the gunshot. He didn’t see anything but he called it in.

Detective Kevin Brodie has been with the Los Angeles Police Department for sixteen years, ten of them with West LA homicide.

Brodie: We have far fewer homicides in West LA than in most of the other divisions.

Detective Eckhoff (driving): We may not have as many, but the motives aren’t that different.

His partner, Detective Jonathan Eckhoff, has been with LAPD for fourteen years, seven as a homicide detective.

Eckhoff: Drugs and money. There are a lot of drugs in them thar hills. Lots of money, too.

Brodie: We get a fair number of body dumps. Up in the canyons, this side of Mulholland. Someone’s dog discovers a victim and we have no idea where the crime scene is.

Eckhoff: This time, we know.

The unmarked car is waved through a checkpoint and pulls up to the curb in front of a large house. Uniformed police and crime scene personnel swarm the site. There is a For Sale sign at the end of the driveway.

Brodie (to a uniformed officer): Hey, Ben, what’ve we got?

Officer: White male, shot in the chest at close range.

Brodie and Eckhoff approach the the house, where the victim lies just outside the front door in a pool of blood. The victim is wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and is barefoot.

Brodie: You’re not kidding, close range. (He leans in to study the wound.) Shooter must have been less than three feet away.

Eckhoff: Someone he trusted. (He scans the scene.) Oh, shit. His shoes are missing. Is this a copycat?

Brodie: No way. (To the camera) About six months ago, Harbor Division arrested a guy who’d been stabbing homeless people and stealing their shoes. He’s in jail.

Officer: This guy doesn’t look homeless. Or stabbed.

Brodie (glances down the driveway): It’s gotta be coincidence, but we’ll keep it in mind. How did he get here? (to coroner’s investigator) He doesn’t have ID?

Coroner’s Investigator: Not yet. There’s nothing in his pockets. Not even a quarter.

Brodie (still studying the body): He’s got a defensive wound.

Eckhoff (demonstrates to the camera): Someone knows he’s about to get shot, he’s likely to throw up his hands. Doesn’t help, the bullet goes right through, but it’s a reflex reaction.

CI (kneeling by the body): Chest wound isn’t a through and through, so we’ll get the bullet.

Eckhoff (looks up at the house): This is an odd place for a robbery.

Brodie: I don’t think this started off as a robbery.

Crime scene personnel are taking multiple pictures.

Brodie: He looks vaguely familiar, kinda like a guy I played ball with in college.

Eckhoff (in some disbelief): You know him?


Pre-order links coming soon!


Filed under Books

New short story: The Rest of the Story

Happy Easter, everyone. In Oceanside this morning, Dave and Claudia are having breakfast together…

The Rest of the Story

Claudia Stratton parked on South Tremont Street, in front of Dave Brodie’s house, and cut the engine. She stepped out of the car and sniffed the air. Bacon. Yum.

She climbed the steps to the porch. Dave’s front door was open, the screened gate across it closed. She called, “Yoo hoo…”


By Renee Comet (Photographer) – English | Français | +/−, Public Domain,

Dave hollered, “Coming!” She heard something clatter, then he appeared in the entry hall, grinning as he unlocked the gate. “Sorry. I’d just taken the muffins out of the oven.”

“Perfect timing, then.” Claudia kissed him and dropped her purse and tote bag in the living room.

Dave locked the gate behind her. “Hungry?”

“God, yes.”

In the kitchen, the scent of bacon and blueberry muffins was heady. Claudia breathed in deeply. “Mmmm. Anything I can do?”

“Nope. Just pour yourself a cup of coffee.”

Claudia complied, then sat at the table as Dave set a plate of muffins and bacon in front of her. “Thank you. This smells wonderful.”

He passed her the butter. “Dig in. Happy Easter.”

“Happy Easter to you, too. What are Jeff and his crew doing?”

“Jeff’s on call, so they’re staying home. I think they’re transplanting tomatoes today.”

“Ahh. Can’t wait for tomato season.”

“No kidding.”

Claudia almost inhaled her first muffin then crunched a piece of bacon. “Did you take the boys to church when they were little?”

“On Easter and Christmas, yes. The impetus came from my dad, though. I wouldn’t have.”

Claudia considered, then decided the conversation was appropriate for Easter. “Do you believe in God?”

Dave shook his head and sipped his coffee. “No. Vietnam made me an agnostic. That old saying, ‘There are no atheists in foxholes?’ That’s BS. Foxholes create as many atheists as they convert.”


By Icemanwcs – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

“I don’t doubt that.”

“Then Julie’s death finished the job. Convinced me that life is entirely random. I stopped believing that night.”

Claudia hesitated, thinking, Do I really want to ask this? Dave noticed. “Out with it.”

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. But…what happened that night?”

A deep sigh, his gaze fixed somewhere beyond the back door of the house. “I wasn’t worried yet. It was only 10:30. She’d said they’d be home by 11:00. I was feeding Jamie his last bottle before I put him down for the night. Jeff and Kev were already asleep.”

“How old was Jamie?”

“Six months to the day. We’d thrown a little six-months-old party that afternoon, just the family.” He smiled sadly, remembering, then the smile faded. “When the doorbell rang, I couldn’t imagine who it was. When I saw the state troopers, I couldn’t begin to process why they might be there. Then one of them noticed Jamie, and his face changed…and I think I stopped breathing. I don’t even remember exactly what they said.” He winced. “Everything went out of me. Right through my feet and into the floor. I just…folded up. And I dropped Jamie.”

Claudia sucked in a breath. “Oh my God. But he was okay?”

“Yeah. One of the cops caught him. The bottle hit the floor, he squawked, but then settled right down. The other cop caught me and maneuvered me to the sofa. Everything after that is kind of a blur. The cops were asking me questions, but I couldn’t answer any of them. It was as if I was underwater. I couldn’t hear right. I guess the one who was holding Jamie went into the kitchen, saw the list of emergency numbers on the fridge, and called the Arbogasts next door. So they were there, then Charlie Fortner was there. June Arbogast told me later that she put Jamie to bed. Then Jeff woke up and came to the living room. All the grownups there freaked him out, and he started to cry. Then I started to cry.” Dave had been holding his knife; he set it carefully on the edge of his plate. “And I didn’t stop.”

Claudia’s heart was breaking for him. She reached out; he took her hand and squeezed it. “Next thing I knew, my brother Denny was here. Somehow he finagled an overnight cross-country ride in the rear seat of an F-14. Landed at Miramar and borrowed a vice admiral’s driver to bring him here.” He snorted softly. “Your tax dollars at work.”

“It must have been a relief to see him, though.”

“Yeah. He took charge of everything. My dad arrived later the next day, and my oldest brother Doug the day after that.”

“When did you learn what had happened?”

“It was on the news the next morning. I didn’t see it, but Denny did. He told me. I didn’t know until then about the others. That Tracy was dead, too.” Dave drew in a deep breath. “I wanted to see Julie. I got it in my head for a while that it wasn’t true, that I wouldn’t believe it until I saw her. So Doug and Denny went with me to the medical examiner’s office.”

“Oh, Dave. How awful.”

“Doug and Den tried to convince me not to, but I had to.” He swallowed. “It wasn’t as bad as it could have been. She was…she had a cut, here.” He drew a line across the right side of his forehead. “And a few nicks from glass fragments. But otherwise, her face was untouched.” He picked up his knife again and examined it. “They wouldn’t let me see the rest of her. Months later, during the trial, I found out why. The engine from Tracy’s car had ended up in the front seat with her and Julie. They were both crushed. The pictures of the car that they showed at trial…” His voice faded.

Claudia was deeply regretting that she’d started this conversation…but maybe it was good for Dave to talk about it. She hoped so. She said tentatively, “It must have been instantaneous.”

“Oh, yes. The cops and the medical examiner all assured us of that. That was…I was glad to know that.”

“When did your dad come to stay?”

“Doug stayed for two weeks. During that time Dad went home, closed the house and packed his things, and drove his truck back here, cross-country. Once he was here and settled, Doug went back to Germany, and the rest of our lives started.”

“How were the boys?”

“Jeff was a mess. Poor little guy. He was almost three…every morning he’d wake up asking, ‘Is Mommy home yet?’ We had to keep reminding him that she wasn’t coming home. He kept that up for almost a year. I guess he finally got old enough to process it.”

“That must have been terrible for you.”

Dave shook his head. “Ripped my heart right out, every day.”

“What about Kevin?”

“He was confused for a few weeks. He asked where she was a few times. But he was only twenty months. It didn’t take him long to forget.”

“I suppose Jamie wasn’t affected.”

“No. He was a happy baby anyway, and he was getting plenty of extra attention…he was fine.” Dave smiled, remembering. “That state trooper, the one who caught Jamie? His


By California Highway Patrol – Own work, Public Domain,

name was Ray Peña. He had a boy the same age, Damon, and three older daughters. Ray lived in Carlsbad, but he stopped by a few times, just to check on me, I think. One time he was off duty and had Damon with him. Damon and Jamie played together and got along well, and Ray and his wife started inviting the boys over to play. Jeff was in a clingy stage and never wanted to go, but Kevin and Jamie would have a grand old time. Damon and Jamie ended up playing youth rugby together. They’re still friends.”

“What a nice man.”

“Yeah. Ray and his wife are fine people. He’s retired now, but if he’s up this way, he still stops by.”

“How long did Jeff’s clingy stage last?”

Dave chuckled. “Until he was about a month into kindergarten. Hoo boy, was that a fight. He did not want to go to school those first few weeks.”

“He was afraid you’d be gone when he came back.”

“Subconsciously, yes. Fortunately, Charlie Fortner’s daughter, Lauren, was in Jeff’s class, and she and Jeff became best buds. The Fortners, Jeff and Lauren’s teacher, and Dad and I all joined forces to help Jeff, and it worked. We knew he was better when he started asking if he could go home with Lauren after school.”

Claudia squeezed Dave’s hand again. “You and your dad did a terrific job. Your sons are a credit to both of you.”

He smiled. “Thank you. Sometimes I wonder how they would have turned out differently, if Julie was here.”

“Do you think it would have changed them significantly?”

“Probably not. They were born with their personalities. But maybe Jeff would have been a bit more confident, growing up. And Jamie wouldn’t have experienced as much pain from Dad’s rejection of him when he came out. Otherwise…not much difference.” He stood and reached for her coffee mug. “Refill?”


He set the full mug in front of her and wrapped his hands around his own. “We need to plan a trip East. My family is eager to meet you.”

“Likewise.” Claudia stirred cream into her coffee. “Can we visit Arlington while we’re there?”

Dave was sipping coffee; his eyes crinkled in a smile over the rim of his mug. “Absolutely.”


Filed under Short Stories

An interview with Kevin and Kristen

No explanation necessary. (Except, I had to use a picture of the UCLA police department because I didn’t have any LAPD photos.)


The house is gorgeous, a two-story, stucco exterior, with pots of flowers lining the front porch. The Lyft driver drops me at the top of the circular drive. As I climb the porch steps, Kevin Brodie opens the door.

He’s even blonder in person than I’d imagined, and I’m surprised – though I shouldn’t be, at this point – by how much he and Jamie resemble each other. Their coloring is different, but they have the same basic face.

Kevin grins broadly. It’s dazzling. “Hey, Ms. Perry.”

“Hey, Kevin, and I will tell you the same thing I told Jamie. It’s Meg. No argument.”

He laughs. “Meg it is, then. Come on in. Kristen’s not home yet. She and Liz are planning a baby shower.”

“Ah. Anyone I know?”

“Jessie Gaither, now Jessie Narahashi.” He looks at me curiously. “You didn’t know?”

“Nope. It’s like I told Jamie. I don’t know everything that all of you get up to between cases.”

That’s for the best. Something to drink? Water? Beer? Coke?”

“A beer sounds great.”

He extracts two from the fridge, one for me and one for himself. “Come out to the patio.”

The back yard is lovely, about a quarter acre, and completely private. The pool is sparkling. Kevin removes a skimmer that was resting against the arm of a chair. “I was cleaning the pool when you got here.”

“Good man.”

He chuckles. “Thank you for this house, by the way.”

“You’re welcome. I’m so glad you didn’t lose it in the fires back in December.”

“No kidding.”

“Has your voice recovered from the smoke?”

“Yes. It took a couple of weeks, though.” He takes a drink from his bottle then sets it on the table between us. “So. What’s on your mind?”

“Well, since Kristen isn’t home yet…can we talk work?”

He frowned. “My work?”

“In a way. You know I’m from Florida.”

“Right.” He gives me a knowing look. “You want to talk about guns.”

“Yes. You grew up with guns, you carry a gun for your job, you’ve seen the aftereffects of plenty of bullets. In your opinion, what’s it gonna take to stop the shootings?”

He shook his head. “We do not currently have the political will in this country to stop them. If twenty dead six-year-olds don’t force the gun lobby and their toadies in Congress to care, no number of dead teenagers and adults will. Although the Parkland kids…maybe this is a turning point.”

“Let’s hope. As a cop, what would you like to see happen?”

“I would like for the sale of military-grade weapons to civilians to be illegal in this country. There is no reason that any civilian needs to own one. It would save both civilians’ and cops’ lives.”

“What about the self-defense argument?”

He snorts in derision. “Mass shootings are ambushes. Even if you’re carrying a loaded AR-15, you’ll be dead before you can get it unslung from your back. The ‘good guy with a gun’ argument is a total fallacy, perpetuated by the NRA. There was an armed police officer at the Pulse nightclub. It didn’t matter.” He pauses. “If Hunter Mitchell had been carrying an AR-15 at the Hotel Bel Air, then Jamie, Robbie Harrison, and everyone else in that bar would have been dead. Including me.”

“What about the Second Amendment?”

“The men who wrote the Second Amendment never dreamed of automatic or semiautomatic weapons. The Amendment says that we have the right to bear arms. It doesn’t say that we have the right to bear any kind of arms we want.”

“What’s your opinion of the NRA?”

“That they have lost sight of their mission.”

“Are you a member?”

“Hell, no. Neither is my dad.”

“What would you say to those who fear the government coming for their guns?”

He laughs. “I know some of those guys. They have a romantic vision of a standoff with the FBI, like at that wildlife refuge, defending their property and their womenfolk and their right to bear arms. That is not how it would happen. Seriously? If the government comes for your guns, then every single one of your rights is worthless. They’re not gonna dick around and send the FBI or ATF or US Marshals or LAPD SWAT or Homeland Security. There will be no standoff. You’ll be behind your barricades with your hundreds of rounds of ammunition when a U.S. Air Force Predator drone fires a missile through your fucking house. Then they’ll pry your guns from your cold, dead hands.”

“So these citizen militias…”

“Are a joke.” He shakes his head. “Some of those guys are ex-military. They must realize.”

“Maybe they were cooks. Assigned to the motor pool. Something.”


By Mace, Charles E., photographer, Photographer (NARA record: 8464453) – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain,

He laughs. “Maybe.”

“Happier topic. How are the social work classes coming along?”

He grins. “I love ‘em. And my instructors love having me in the classes. I’ve been able to refute some of the misconceptions that some of the other students come in with.”

“You’re still planning to work for the D.A.?”

“Sure. At least for a while.” He drains his beer. “My captain and his superiors in the LAPD have approached me with an intriguing offer.”


“They want me to teach at the academy.”

“No kidding! What subject? You’re qualified for several.”

“Yeah. I told ‘em I wouldn’t do weapons training, but I can teach ethics, how to deal with victims…”

“And you’d still be a cop.”


“So which direction will you go?”

“I don’t know. The academy gig would be part-time. I might be able to do both.”

“Are you still doing paralegal work for Mel?”

“In my spare time, yeah.”

“When do you sleep?

He laughs. “Don’t worry. I’m an efficient sleeper.”

“Uh huh. How are your knees?”

“The one that I had surgery on is fine. The other one bothers me if I run, so I don’t run.”

“Still swimming for exercise?”

“Yup. And hiking.” He cocks his head, listening. “Kristen’s home.”

I haven’t heard anything. “Wow. Outstanding hearing.”

He grins. “Yup.”

Kristen comes through the patio door, dressed for work in a pencil skirt, flats, and a black-and-white striped t-shirt. Kevin and I both stand, almost automatically. Kristen’s persona commands it.

She smiles and shakes my hand. “Hi, Meg. I’m glad to meet you.”

“Likewise. Did you get the baby shower sorted?”

“Mostly. It’s a month away, so we have time.” She sits and crosses her legs. “Liz says hello.”

“Ah. Tell her hello from me. I’ll be visiting her and Jon soon.”

Kevin laughs. “You’re in for a treat.”

“I know. So. You two must have questions for me.”

Kristen says, “I’m intrigued by my own family dynamic. It sounds to me as if I originally fit into my own family better than I do now. Like I’ve left them behind somehow. Is that what you intended?”

“Not originally, no.” I laugh. “You’ll appreciate this, I think. My editor and I sketched out your backstory late at night, under the influence of several pints of brew, in a bar in Scotland. But I’d already presented you as the take no prisoners sort, during the Stacks Strangler case. So how did you get that way? My thinking was what Liz and Claudia said – Los Angeles changed you. Daniel changed you. At some point during your marriage to him, your adult persona began to emerge and assert itself. Once you were free of him, you were free to be whomever you wanted.”

She considers that. “Huh. That’s logical, I guess.”

Kevin says, “And your family, tucked away in Yakima, didn’t keep up.”

I add, “Not that they should. But, sometimes, leaving your family behind is the act that allows you to realize your potential. That gives you the freedom to become who you were meant to be.”

Kristen says, “Sounds as if you speak from experience.”

“Let’s just say there are some parallels.”

She grins. “Fair enough. Jamie says you’re essentially Sheila Meadows. Or vice versa.”

“In terms of backstory and specialty, yes. I haven’t fully developed Sheila’s personality yet. But I will. Sheila will feature in her own story, eventually.”

“Have we seen the last of Stephen Atcheson?”

She asks the question while I’m taking a drink, and I nearly snort beer out my nose. “Hahahaha!! Magic eight ball says, better not tell you now.”

She groans. “Oh, God…”

“Don’t worry. Even if he does show up, you know that you and Liz can handle him.”

“Who was the woman he was trying to impress? That he met at speed dating?”

“A Russian hooker. She told him she was a supermodel.”

Kevin and Kristen both hoot with laughter at that. Kristen says, “I suspect that Stephen is modeled on someone particular in your world. His antics are waaaaaay too detailed to be pure fiction.”

I grin. “No comment.”

Kevin says, “Jeez, enough about Atcheson. Are you two hungry?”

We are. Kevin orders pizza. Kristen asks, “Another question. Why torture poor Kevin twice before finding the right woman?”

Kevin nearly chokes on his beer this time. I say, “Hoo boy. A number of reasons. First, I needed a reason that Kevin and Jamie would be rooming together, when the books started. A divorce seemed the most plausible reason for Kevin to need a roomie. Plus, it followed the family pattern. Dave was married young; Jeff and Val got married right out of college. Kevin might have thought it was the thing to do.”

Kevin says, “Huh. Never thought about it that way.”

Kristen asks him, “How did you think about it?”

He shrugs. “I thought life as a cop would be easier if I was married, and that Jennifer had a good personality for a cop’s wife. And she did. That wasn’t why we split.”

I say, “I know. And I already knew that I wanted to write a book based on the TV show Hoarders. Jennifer was perfect for that.”

Kevin snorts. “Yeah, she was. And I’m glad that you allowed her to overcome that.”

“Sure. She won’t backslide, I promise.”

Kristen said, “Explain Abby.”

I laugh. “Well, Kevin was divorced in 2006. He wouldn’t stay single long, would he? I liked Abby. Initially, I thought she and Kevin would last. But then at some point I realized that Abby was static. I had nowhere for her to go. The inheritance provided the opportunity for me to make the break. And, Kevin, you haven’t seen the last of Sean Nichols.”

He groans. “Why?

“You’ll see.”

“I suppose I’ll see about this damn TV show, too.”

“Yes, you will. It won’t be that bad. I promise.”

“Uh huh. Why the inheritance?”

I reach for another slice of pizza. “The entire plot of Avenged to Death came to me all at once. I couldn’t write it fast enough. Your dad needed that catharsis. As it turned out, so did Jeff. And money creates all sorts of conflict, which is necessary for strong storytelling.”

Kevin shakes his head. “You’re not kidding. The inheritance was the catalyst for Dad and Barb busting up, and Abby and me.”

Kristen says, “Jeff and Val had issues, too.”

I say, “Yes. As did Jamie and Pete. And then there’s Josh Marcus.”

Kevin makes a “pfft” sound. “Josh Marcus. Good God.”

“Right? But you all rekindled friendship with Marie Crabtree and Drew Jemison. That’s a positive, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.” Kevin smiles. “Kristen and I are going to the Carolinas this summer for a couple of weeks, and we’re going to visit Marie.” He looked pensive. “The sole survivor.”

We’re quiet for a moment, then I say, “Jamie told me that Drew is buying the townhouse next to his.”

“Yup. He and his girlfriend…Holly something. I think they’re moving at the end of April.”

Kristen notes our empty bottles. “Another beer?”

Kevin and I say in stereo, “Sure.”

She laughs and retrieves refills for all three of us. Once we’re happily quaffing again, Kristen asks, “So, what’s ahead for us?”

“You know I can’t tell you that. I will tell you that, for the two of you, it’s blue skies all around.”

Kevin says, “But not for Jamie.”

“Jamie will be presented with a few…issues. But he’ll be fine.”

Kristen asks, “Are any of those issues related to the library?”

“No comment.”

Kevin says, “One or two of those issues must originate with Pete.”

“No comment.”

Kristen laughs. I ask Kevin, “You know them both so well. What’s your take on their relationship?”

“Oh, they’ll be together forever.” Kevin contemplates for a moment. “They’re almost entirely compatible. The variable is the core of their personalities.”

“How so?”


By Øyvind (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

“Think of them both as concrete pillars.” Kevin demonstrates with two bottles, one empty and one nearly full. “As long as the ground is solid beneath their feet, you can’t tell the difference.” He gently jiggles the table on which the bottles are sitting. The empty one tips over; the full one sloshes but remains upright. “Pete’s pillar is built on sand. Jamie’s is anchored into bedrock and reinforced with rebar. It’s partly due to the difference in our families, in how we were raised, and their childhood environments. The rest is just innate personality.”

I say, “But Pete’s good in emergencies.”

“Sure.” Kevin rearranges the bottles. “Think of it as windstorm vs. earthquake. Windstorms are produced from external factors. Pete stands firm in those. But when the stress comes from below, from the foundation itself…”

Kristen says, “Family problems.”

Kevin says, “Yup.”

I scrape at the label of my beer bottle. “Jamie has lost a few chunks of concrete along the way. Ethan, his experience with PTSD…”

Kevin agrees. “Indeed. But he’s still standing, isn’t he?”

I grin. “Yes, he is.”

Kristen adds, “Long may he wave.”

That sets us to laughing.

We spend the rest of the evening swapping library stories. An hour or so later, I say, “I should get out of your hair. I’m driving out to Lancaster tomorrow.”

Kristen scrunches her nose. “Why?”

“It’s where Pete spent his teenage years. I want to see it.”

Kevin chuckles. “It won’t take you long. I’ll drive you to your hotel.”

I don’t argue.

It’s a short drive to my hotel in Westwood. We chat about UCLA on the way. At the hotel entrance I say, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Thanks for coming tonight.” He grins. “We’ve wondered about you.”

I laugh. “I bet you have. Be careful out there.”

He groans at the cliché. “Yes, ma’am.”

I wave as he drives away.


Filed under Short Stories

Follow me on Pinterest!

Are you on Pinterest? If so, follow me here!

I’ve created several sections: for characters (Family, Friends, Cops, Librarians, Exes), one for places, one for covers, one for Coming Attractions (to give you and me ideas about forthcoming books), one for writing spaces that inspire me, and several others.

If you want to see how I envision Jamie and his family, friends, etc., check it out! Here’s a tidbit, from the Coming Attractions page for the next book, Cloistered to Death.

Mandeville Canyon Rd. Looking North from Westridge Rd.

Mandeville Canyon Road. By Toglenn – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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Filed under Books, Writing



By Unknown – NASA website:, Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Maksim., Public Domain,

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

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


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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