Monthly Archives: August 2016

Sneak Peek: Trapped to Death

In honor of the first day of the semester at my own college, here is the first unedited page-ish of Trapped to Death. Unfortunately, there is a Thanksgiving scene at the end of the book, and therefore I can’t publish until Thanksgiving – and the election – have come and gone.

This takes place on Jamie’s first day of the fall quarter at UCLA. Since they’re on the quarter system, they start far later than we do. (Lucky.)

Trapped to Death

Thursday, September 22, 2016

“When you’re researching the history of science, your results will be more relevant if you don’t use the science databases.” I pointed to the screen. “We have databases for history and biography. For this class, it’s best to use these…”


By Tulane Public Relations (Student in Class Uploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

As I spoke, my audience gazed back at me, passive as a herd of sheep. In the front row of the classroom, a guy in a Star Trek t-shirt was writing down every word I said. In the back row, a couple of guys were passing their phones back and forth. The rest of the class – nearly forty of them – were either slouched in their seats or propping their heads on their hands. A couple of female students were smiling coyly.

Terrific. I sighed inwardly and plowed on. “The most frequent barrier to success when searching the databases is choosing the wrong keywords.” I tapped the search box at the top of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography landing page. “Don’t use too many words, and don’t type in an entire thesis statement. Use the two or three best words – the key words – that describe your topic. If you’re searching for a person’s name, surround it with quotation marks.”

It was the first day of fall quarter. Yesterday I’d received a panicked call from the instructor, Sam Herzog, an adjunct hired the day before, asking me to do a library presentation for this History of Science class. I’d asked him what his relevant assignments would be; he’d laughed and said, “Dude, I’m still writing the syllabus.”

Dude. I switched the screen to the History of Science research guide. “Everything you need – lists of appropriate databases, websites that we’ve chosen for their reliability and validity, tutorials on using the library website – is here. If you have a question, search here first for the answer. If you need more help, you can email me.” I tapped on the profile box containing my smiling visage and my email address. “My office is in the Young Research Library, and my hours are 8:30 to 5:00 Monday through Friday. If you have any questions once you dive into your research, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.”

Sam Herzog stood up. “Thanks, Dr. Brodie. Students, I hope you paid attention, because at the beginning of class on Tuesday, you’ll have a quiz on the material that Dr. Brodie covered today.”

There were a few audible groans. The guy in the Star Trek t-shirt smirked. The guys in the back sat up straighter and stared at Herzog, their mouths open.

Heh. Served them right, the little assholes. Herzog said, “I’ll see you all Tuesday.”

The class scattered. I logged out of the computer and turned off the projector. Herzog said, “Thanks again. I appreciate this.”

“You’re welcome.” Just doing my job. The suckiest aspect of my job.

He grinned at me. “You’re a history guy, not a science guy, right?”

“Right. Coming to the science building is like visiting Mars for me.”

“Ha! I hear ya.” He shook hands with me. “Thanks. You’re free to return to Earth.”

As I left the classroom a young woman pushed away from the opposite wall. She’d been in Herzog’s class; I recognized her hair – a headful of tiny blond braids that hung down to her waist. She gave me a dazzling smile. “Dr. Brodie?”

I stopped. “Yes?”

“I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your presentation.” She moved within a couple of feet and tipped her head slightly. “I’m glad to know that I can come to you whenever I need assistance.”

Uh huh. “Whenever you need research assistance, I’ll be pleased to help.” I held up my left hand. “But I might be able to save you some time. A, I’m married; B, My husband and I are very happy.”

“Well, dayum.” She grinned and stepped back a couple of feet. “Can’t blame a girl for trying.”

“No, I can’t. What’s your name?”

“Ashley. Ashley Bennett.”

I shook hands with her. “Pleased to meet you, Ashley Bennett. A word of advice?”


“Visit the science library.”

She laughed. “I will. Thanks.”


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Simplified searching for stories


Tag. By Tubezone at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

At the request of one faithful reader, I’ve made it easier to find the short stories on the blog. I created a new category, Short Stories, and tagged each story with its title. Now, if you want to find Best Men, for example, you can search for it by title and it will appear.

I did discover (actually I knew this, and had forgotten) that not all of the stories were published here on the blog. Three of them (Hearts, High Desert and Low Country) only appear within the books – both print and electronic version.

I’ll publish those three on the blog over the next few months, just for consistency’s sake. (Hearts will come first, since it’s the one that generated the request.)

Let me know if this system doesn’t work. And thank you for keeping me on my toes! 😀



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Filmed to Death now at Smashwords!

Filmed to Death, Jamie Brodie Mystery #12 (and the latest novel), is now available at Smashwords. In another day or two it should be available at all of the other e-book outlets. Here’s the link:

FYI, from now on I’m going to publish for Kindle and through Smashwords simultaneously. I’m done with Kindle Select – it’s a terrible deal for authors. So now those of you who read through iBooks, Kobo, Nook, etc. won’t have to wait! 😀

Filmed cover

Jamie Brodie Mystery #12

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There Goes the Neighborhood, Part 6 (and final!)

I went with Alicia to retrieve her car from the underground garage at her apartment building a few blocks from campus and guided her through downtown Santa Monica to the police station as I texted Pete to let him know what I was doing. We showed the duty officer our IDs. A couple of minutes later, Detective Hooks retrieved us from the lobby.

I introduced Alicia to Hooks, and she took us back to her cubicle. Hooks pulled up chairs for us and handed Alicia a list of names. “Tell me if anyone there sounds familiar.”

Alicia gnawed on her lower lip as she read the list. “No.”

I said, “Some of her friends may have gotten married and changed their names. Would you recognize a picture?”

Alicia brightened. “I might. I’ve always been better with faces than names.”

Hooks turned to her computer and began pulling up driver’s license pictures for the people on the list. Alicia studied them, her chin on her fist, her expression growing more glum with each photo. At the end of the identity parade she shook her head sadly. “I’m sorry. No one looks familiar.”

Hooks tucked the list back into a folder on her desk. “It was a good thought. Worth a try.”

I said, “Did Kenzie admit to telling anyone about the book?”

“She said she couldn’t remember telling anyone.” Hooks frowned. “I didn’t think she was lying.”

I remembered what Liz had said. “Did you ask the Carters who’d been at Rich’s birthday party?”

Hooks gave me an odd look and dug out her notebook from under a stack of files. She flipped through it, frowning. “Apparently not. Damn.”

Although she’d made a mistake, I felt bad for Hooks. When an obvious solution was staring a cop in the face, he or she was less likely to consider other avenues. It was an occupational hazard.

Alicia said, “Kenzie was book smart but not people smart, and she was kind of an airhead. If she said she couldn’t remember, that might be true.”

“Yeah, that was my impression of her too. I’ll call the Carters and ask…” Hooks stopped as her phone beeped – just as my phone buzzed in my pants pocket.

We both checked our phones. Our Google alert had paid off. Hooks read the screen and grinned. “Hot damn.”

For sale: James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans, first edition, first printing, original cover and binding. $20,000. The alert included a URL.

Hooks turned to her desktop computer and typed in the URL. The website was called oldbooksfirst, and it appeared to be professionally done. On closer examination, though, I grew suspicious. “Detective? May I?”

Hooks traded seats with me. I opened a new browser window and did a Google Images search.


By Ch. Maderthoner (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Except for the Cooper book, all of the items listed for sale on the oldbooksfirst website were pictures of old books taken from Google Images.

Hooks raised an eyebrow. “Pretty slick.”

Alicia said, “Not slick enough.”

I said, “A buyer who was either too naive to check or too crooked to care would be drawn in by the low price. As soon as the transaction is completed, the seller shuts down the website and there’s no trace.”

Hooks sent a screenshot to her printer. “There is now.”

Alicia said, “Now what?”

Hooks grinned. “Now I pretend to be a buyer.”

I stood up and got out of Hooks’s way as she slid back into her own seat. She said, “I need to talk to my captain and get this set up. Ms. Kwan, thanks for coming in. Dr. Brodie, I appreciate all your assistance.”

As we left Alicia said, “That alert must be a relief.”

I said, “More than you know. If she nabs the thief in a fake buy, she doesn’t have to tell her supervisors that she forgot to ask an important question.”

“Do the police make mistakes like that very often?”

“They do. In an acute situation, it’s almost impossible for a cop to remember everything he or she should have asked. But I know she’s talked to the Carters a couple of times since then, and I suppose it just didn’t occur to her to ask about the birthday celebration.”

Alicia gave me a sideways look. “Are you going to ask them?”

I grinned. “As soon as you drop me at my house.”


Alicia left me at our front gate. I went inside to tell Pete what I was doing and found him on the sofa, his laptop open. It smelled like we were having roast chicken for dinner.

I set my computer bag on the loveseat. “Can dinner wait five minutes?”

“Sure.” Pete narrowed his eyes, suspicious. “What are you doing?”

“I need to tell the Carters that an alert came through on their book.”

“No kidding?”

“Yeah, while Alicia and I were at the police station. I’ll be right back.”

It was Renee Carter that opened the door this time. She was surprised to see me. “Jamie. Hello.”

“Hi, Mrs. Carter. I hope I’m not interrupting anything, but I wanted to let you know that we got an alert. Someone’s trying to sell a book exactly like yours online.”

Her eyes widened. “Oh, my! Come in.”

I stepped inside as Renee called up the stairs. “Rich? Jamie from next door is here. There’s been an alert on our book.” She gave me a quick smile. “He’s packing.”

“Ah, that’s right, you’re leaving tomorrow.”

Rich thumped down the stairs. “You’ve found our book?”

“Possibly.” I explained the details of the alert. “Detective Hooks is going to pretend to be a buyer.”

Rich scowled. “There’s no indication of who the seller might be yet?”

“No, sir. If you don’t mind me asking – who was here when you opened your birthday gifts?”
Rich and Renee looked at each other. Renee said, “We’d come back from dinner with Kenzie and her boyfriend. We ate cake while Rich opened his gifts.”

I said, “Is Kenzie’s boyfriend local?”

Rich said, “He is now. They met at USC, and he stayed here for grad school. At UCLA, as a matter of fact.”

Renee said, “We’re trying to discourage Kenzie, without being pushy about it. Michael is getting a master’s degree in literature. If they end up together she’ll be supporting him for the rest of her life.”

I said, “Long distance relationships are tough. Maybe it’ll die out on its own.”

Rich grumbled. “That’s our hope.”

“What’s his last name? If he’s at UCLA, maybe I know him.”

Renee said, “Fitzpatrick.”

Michael Fitzpatrick. I said, “No, that’s not familiar.”

Rich said, “Too bad. You could spy on him for us.”

Oh, hell, no. I smiled, trying to look sympathetic. “Sorry. I’d better go, my dinner’s waiting. I just wanted to let you know about the alert.”

Renee reached out to shake my hand, and squeezed it. “Thank you so much for all your help with this.”

Rich shook my hand somewhat more grudgingly. “Yeah, thanks.”

“You’re welcome. Safe travels.”


I texted Detective Hooks with the name and details of Michael Fitzpatrick; she sent back a terse K. Thx. She was probably in the middle of contacting the online seller.

Who just might be Michael Fitzpatrick.

I told Pete about the developments as we ate. He said, “You’re right, that’s a common mistake. A theft takes place during an event like that, the cops are going to assume that it’s linked to the event. I wonder if the boyfriend has a key?”

“Based on what Rich said about him, I doubt it. Although Kenzie might have given him one without her parents’ knowledge.”

After dinner, I got out my laptop and typed the URL for oldbooksfirst into the browser.

The website was already gone. Hooks must have made contact. I was sure that whoever had the book was anxious to get rid of it and pocket the profits.

I wondered, if Michael Fitzpatrick was our thief, if Kenzie Carter had any idea what her boyfriend was up to.

I hoped not.


Friday, September 6

As I closed the gate between our front yard and the sidewalk the following morning, I saw Detective Hooks approaching from the south. She lifted her hand in greeting. “Good morning. I’m coming to speak with the Carters before they leave town.”

I asked, “How did your sting work out?”

She grinned. “Like a dream. It was Michael Fitzpatrick, Kenzie’s boyfriend, and she had given him a key to the house without telling her parents.”

“Did you arrange a meeting with him?”

“Yep. Told him I needed to bring an authenticator with me.” She grinned. “The authenticator was our other property crimes detective. He’s about twice my size. I didn’t want any trouble.”

“I guess Fitzpatrick wasn’t worried about authentication. He knew the book was real.”

“He wasn’t worried about it at first. When my partner asked for documentation of provenance, he produced a badly faked letter from UCLA.”

I laughed. “When did you spring it on him?”

“We showed him the cash. Drug deal seizures do come in handy. He handed over the book, and we slapped the cuffs on him.” Hooks chuckled. “He never saw it coming.”

“Not a candidate for Criminal of the Year?”

“Hardly.” She shook my hand. “I’d better see the Carters. They’ll want to get this wrapped up so they can leave town.”

“Right. I’ve got a bus to catch. It’s been a pleasure, Detective.”

She grinned. “Pleasure was all mine.”


When I got to the library, I told Liz and Alicia about the resolution of the case. Alicia shook her head. “Poor Kenzie. She always had lousy luck with boyfriends. She wasn’t a good judge of character.”

Liz preened a bit. “I’m going to take the credit for solving this one, since I thought of the crucial question to ask.”

I held up my hands. “Go right ahead. I sincerely hope that my burgeoning career as an investigator is over.”

Alicia laughed. “Famous last words. You probably just doomed yourself to another case.”

Liz poked me in the shoulder. “You enjoyed this one.”

“Only because no one ended up dead.”

Alicia raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, I’d think that would be preferable.”

“Come on.” Liz tugged on my arm. “You can buy me a coffee to celebrate our victory over the forces of evil.”

I laughed and followed her.


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There Goes the Neighborhood, Part 5

Wednesday, September 4

By Wednesday evening the Google alert had been activated for well over 24 hours and nothing meaningful had come through. After dinner, Pete and I were lounging on the living room sofa. Pete was idly flipping through channels and I was texting with Jeff about Gabe’s weekend. We weren’t expecting visitors, so we looked at each other in surprise when the doorbell rang.

Pete looked through the peephole and said, “Oh, it’s Helen.” He opened the door as I picked up the remote he’d dropped and muted the TV.

Helen held out a basket full of tomatoes. “I come bearing gifts. Hi, Jamie.”

Pete took the basket. “Wow, those are beauties. Thank you.”

I said, “Come on in, Helen. Can I get you something to drink?”

“No, no. I’ll just stay a minute.” She took the loveseat. “I’m not interrupting, am I?”

Pete had deposited the tomatoes in the kitchen and come back to the sofa. He said, “Not at all. How was the block party?”

“Very nice. I don’t know which caterer they used, but the food was delicious. All of the new neighbors seem like pleasant people. We had a lovely day until the police came.”

I said, “We were amazed to hear that the Carters had even gone to the party.”

“Yes.” Helen rolled her eyes. “Alyssa insisted. I know Rich didn’t want to go, but Renee has a soft spot for Alyssa.”

Pete said, “Rich should have stayed home, given what happened.”

“Oh, yes. And wasn’t he furious when he found out that their door had been left unlocked. The police had to separate him from Renee so they could get a word in edgewise.”

I said, “Renee thought this was a safe neighborhood.”

Helen said, “It is a safe neighborhood, relatively speaking. But for heaven’s sake, this is still Los Angeles. One doesn’t leave one’s doors unlocked.”

A thought struck me. “Did the police make anything of the fact that Alyssa encouraged the Carters to leave the house?”

“Yes, they questioned her extensively. Micah allowed the police to search their house and cars, and Alyssa was able to convince them that they knew nothing about Rich’s book.”

Pete asked, “Did any of the new neighbors know the Carters?”

“Not at all. I saw Detective Hooks this morning on the sidewalk when she came to speak to the Carters. She said that none of the new residents have any connections to the Carters.” Helen nodded at me. “She’s depending on that alert system you set up for her.”

I said, “There’s been zero action so far.”

Pete said, “It’s still possible that the thief sold it to someone in person.”

Helen said, “In that case, Rich may never see his book again.”


Thursday, September 5

When I left the house the next morning, there was an AT&T van parked at the curb. A technician was gathering equipment from within the van, and Renee Carter was standing at her front gate, watching him. I said, “Hi, Renee.”

She blinked at me. “Oh, hello, Jamie. We’re having a home monitoring system installed.”

“Ah, that’s a good idea.”

“Yes, since we’re in town so rarely. Rich wants to be able to keep an eye on the house


By Intel Free Press [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

remotely.” She sighed. “This used to be such a safe neighborhood.”

I didn’t have time to discuss that misconception with her. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Detective Hooks tells us that you set up an online alert in case someone tries to sell our book online.”

“Yes, ma’am. I checked it again a half-hour ago, and there’s been no notification so far.”

“Do you suppose the thief might be waiting? Maybe he or she thinks that the police will lose interest after a few weeks.”

I smiled. “If they believe that, they don’t know cops.” The technician had closed his van and looked like he was ready to start. “Good luck with your installation.”


When I got to work I checked all the other search engines I could think of, with all the search terms I could think of, to see if there was any mention of a book that might be Rich Carter’s. There wasn’t. I sighed and turned to my own work.

When Clinton approached the reference desk, he smiled. “The word of the day is remplissage.”

Liz checked the definition. “Needless padding in literature.”

I snickered. “Like The Last of the Mohicans.”

She grinned as she recorded the word. “Any progress in finding the book yet?”

“No. Although…” I snapped my fingers. “I forgot to ask the detective about something.”

I took my phone out and texted Scilla Hooks. Forgot to ask you. Was anyone else from the neighborhood at the party?


It was after 3:00 and I was back in my office when she answered. Yes. Several residents from the apartment building at the other end of the block, across from the hospital. Same apartment management company.

They all checked out with respect to Carters?


OK, thanks.

I wandered next door to Liz’s office. “Let me think out loud for a minute.”

“About the book theft?”

“Yeah.” I held up one finger. “Whoever stole the book had to know that the Carters owned it, and that Renee had brought it here. They also would have needed a reasonably good idea as to where in the house it was, since the Carters were only out for twenty minutes.”


I held up a second finger. “The thief also had to know that the block party was going on.”

Liz asked, “Was the party advertised beyond your block?”

“No. Everyone at the party was from our block. And Detective Hooks said that there are no connections between any of the party attendees and the Carters.”

“Someone’s lying.”

I looked at Liz in surprise, then nodded as the truth of that sank in. “Yes. Because here’s another thing.” I held up three fingers. “The thief went in the front door. Any experienced burglar would have gone in the back. He or she would never have taken the risk of being seen, no matter how small that risk might be. Rich or Renee could have glanced across the street at any time.”

“How would the burglar know the Carters were going to the party?”

“They wouldn’t, necessarily. If they were already at the party and already knew about the book, they may have seen an opportunity when the Carters showed up. Although that’s leaving a lot to chance.”

Liz said, “How would the burglar know that the front door had been left unlocked?”

I smiled as the realization dawned on me. “They wouldn’t have needed to know that if they had a key.”

Liz looked smug. “And if it was someone who could explain her presence in the house, then anyone who saw her go in would think nothing of it.”


“The daughter.”

“But why would the daughter steal the book? She doesn’t need money. Even if she did, her parents would probably just give it to her. Besides, she wasn’t at the party.”

Liz said, “Then a friend of the daughter’s. Someone who lives in those apartments who lied to the cops about knowing the Carters.”

“But a friend wouldn’t have the key.”

Liz cocked an eyebrow. “Unless the daughter was involved. Or maybe she innocently gave her friend a copy of the key at some other time.”

I mused. “Maybe the friend needed money. The daughter knew the book was insured, so the theft wouldn’t be a financial loss to her parents, and offered to help out.”

“But no one has sold the book online yet.”


Liz said, “Know anyone who went to USC recently?”

A grin spread slowly across my face. “Yes, I do. And so do you.”

Liz grinned back as it hit her. “Alicia.”

Alicia Kwan was a new graduate of UCLA’s MLIS program and was working in our East Asian Library on the other side of the second floor from Liz’s and my offices. She’d gotten her bachelor’s degree in East Asian Studies from USC three years ago.

I texted Pete. Any idea what Kenzie Carter’s college degree is in?

He answered immediately; he was likely to be home by now. I only know about her major because I asked her once, soon after I moved in with Uncle Arthur. Asian-American studies.

I laughed out loud. “Bingo.”

Liz said, “Could be coincidence.”

“You should know by now, cops don’t believe in coincidences.”

She grinned and stood up. “Let’s go find Alicia.”


Alicia was at her desk, frowning at her computer monitor. The frown morphed into a smile when she saw us. “Hi, guys. What’s up?”

I said, “A long shot. Do you know anyone from your days at USC named Kenzie Carter?”

“Yeah, I do. I had several classes with her, and we lived in the same dorm.”

Liz applauded. I said, “Did you know any of her friends?”

“Some of them. Why?”

I gave Alicia a quick synopsis of the theft. “I think Kenzie may have told someone about her father’s birthday gift, and that someone may be the thief.”

Liz said, “Oh, this just occurred to me. Maybe the thief knew about the book because she was at the dad’s birthday party.”

I made a mental note to ask Detective Hooks who’d attended the birthday party and said, “Or Kenzie took it herself.”

Alicia wrinkled her nose. “Nah, that doesn’t sound like Kenzie. She wouldn’t pull a prank like that, and she wouldn’t need the money. She might have told someone, though.” She shook her head. “Kenzie was naive. She trusted everyone. She was always getting stuff stolen from her room because she’d leave the door unlocked or she’d leave her laptop unattended in the library while she went to the restroom.”

Maybe Kenzie had inherited that trait from her mother. I said, “Would you be willing to look at a list of names and tell the Santa Monica police if you recognize any of them?”


I called Detective Hooks, who asked Alicia if she could come to the station in an hour. Alicia agreed, as long as I could go with her. Hooks said that was fine.

Good thing, as I’d intended to show up anyway.

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There Goes the Neighborhood, Part 4

Monday, September 2

I was jolted awake the next morning by a crash from the kitchen. Pete sat straight up in alarm. “What the hell was that?”

“Dunno.” But I had a suspicion. I pulled on a pair of sweatpants and tiptoed to the guest room.

As I’d thought, the door was open and Gabe wasn’t in bed. I went to the kitchen to find Gabe hurriedly stacking cereal bowls on the counter. I said, “What’s going on, buddy?”

He froze, guilt written all over his features. “I was getting a bowl.”

“I see that. You knocked a few over, huh?”

“I couldn’t reach the top of the stack. So I tried to get the one on the bottom. Nothing broke.”

Fortunately, our cereal bowls were nearly-indestructible Corelle. “Did all of them hit the floor?”

“No, sir.” He held up one bowl. “This one was in my hand.”

“Okay.” I took Gabe’s bowl, poured cereal and milk, and placed it on the table. “Here. Eat.”

“Yes, sir.” He dug in, but kept watching me.

I opened the dishwasher and loaded the bowls that had landed on the floor. “Do you get your own cereal at home when Dad and Mom are still in bed?”

“Dad and Mom always get up before me.”

“Ah.” Life on the farm.

Pete staggered downstairs, rubbing his head, making his hair stand up. “What happened?”

“Gabe knocked over a stack of bowls. No damage done.”

Gabe said, “Sorry, Uncle Pete.”

Pete ruffled Gabe’s hair. “It’s okay. Ready for a hike?”

Gabe grinned, relieved that he’d gotten away without reprimand or punishment. “Yes, sir.”


We gathered at the entrance to the East Topanga Fire Road – Ali, Mel, Lauren, Dustin, Kevin, Abby, Pete, Gabe, and me. Gabe hopped back and forth between Kevin and me as everyone strapped on their backpacks and tightened the laces of their boots. I asked Lauren, “What are your parents doing this morning?”
“Visiting friends in Tarzana. They’ll beat us back to the house.”

The Fortners were taking Gabe home with them; we had his full backpack in the Jeep. I said, “Maybe we’ll tire Gabe out on the hike and he’ll sleep in the car on the way home.”

Lauren laughed. “Has that ever happened?”

I just grinned.


Topanga Canyon. By Rneches (Rneches) [CC BY 2.5 (, via Wikimedia Commons

We started up the trail, Gabe bouncing between Kevin and Abby at the front. “Uncle Kevin, guess what? The cops were at Uncle Jamie’s house when we got home yesterday.”

“To be exact, they were next door.” I explained.

Kevin said, “Oh, God. Not another rare book case.”

Pete said, “My sentiments exactly.”

I said, “This one seems to be a simple burglary. The mystery is, who knew the book was there?”

Kevin frowned at me. “You’re not getting involved, are you?”

“Me? Nah.”

Pete snorted.


By the time we we were halfway back down the trail after lunch, Gabe was dragging. We distributed the items from Kevin’s backpack into everyone else’s, and Kevin piggybacked Gabe for a while. When he got tired, we made Gabe walk again, but in a mile or so he was complaining. Kevin took Pete’s backpack and Pete took Gabe, then I took my turn.

By the time we reached the parking lot, we were all sweaty and exhausted – except for Gabe, who’d been resting for several miles and had regained his exuberant energy. He ran in circles, arms out, pretending to be an airplane, while we sorted everyone’s belongings and transferred Gabe’s backpack to Ali’s car.

I stepped in front of Gabe and scooped him up, spinning him around a couple of times and making him laugh, then stopped and held him against my chest. “Hey. You’re going to behave on the way home, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do what Miss Lauren tells you.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Can you remember to tell your dad to text me when you get home?”

He grinned. “Yes, sir. But what if he’s not home?”

“Then tell your mom, you nut.” I hugged him and set him down. “Love you, buddy.”

“Love you, too.” Gabe wiggled out of my grasp and hugged Pete, Kevin and Abby. Kevin made certain that Gabe was strapped securely into Mel’s car, and we waved goodbye.

When they were out of sight, Pete sagged against the side of the Jeep. “My God. How do Jeff and Val do it?”

Kevin chuckled and slapped Pete’s shoulder. “Listen, Gabe’s a tranquil child compared to some I’ve seen.”

Abby said, “Compared to some of the brats in my family. At least Gabe does what you tell him.”

I smiled inwardly. My goal in bringing Gabe up for the weekend had been to disabuse Pete of the notion that he might like to have a kid of our own.

Sounded like I might have accomplished my mission.


Tuesday, September 3


As soon as I got to work the next morning I sent an IM to Lisa Bello in Special Collections.

Hey Lisa,

Let me know when you have a minute this morning. I need your expert advice.

Happy Monday!


Twenty minutes later she responded. I’m in the bindery, if you can come down now.

Be right there.

When I got to the door of the bindery, Lisa was demonstrating a repair technique to a pair of MLIS work-study students. “Keep these edges overlapped and make sure the glue doesn’t seep out. You both try a couple, and I’ll be right back.”

Lisa was a foot shorter than me with a snub nose and curly black hair that refused to obey the laws of gravity. She came into the hallway smiling. “You haven’t found another page of the Book of Kells, have you?”

“Ha! No, the item in question this time is considerably newer.” I told her about the theft. “What’s the most likely avenue for the thief to try to unload the book?”

“It’ll have to be a private sale. No reputable bookseller will agree to handle it. There’s a database of stolen items that an honest dealer would consult if someone approached with a book like that on offer.”

“Ah. So if the thief didn’t know about the database, that would be one way to track him. Or her.”

“Right. But you said the thief apparently knew exactly what he or she was looking for. If so, chances are they know about the database.”

“A private sale like that could be handled either online or in person, I suppose.”

“Right. Unless the book was stolen with a specific buyer in mind, though, it’s likely to take place online.”

“Is there any super-secret way to uncover a transaction like that?”

She laughed. “Nope. I’d use a Google alert for that just like I would for anything else.”

“Perfect. Thanks, Lisa.”

“You’re welcome.”

My phone rang as I was climbing the stairs to the second floor. I pushed the fire door open as I answered. “Hello?”

“Dr. Brodie, this is Detective Scilla Hooks. I’m calling in reference to the theft we discussed on Sunday.”

Doctor Brodie? She’d been checking up on me. “Yes, ma’am. I just came from talking to our rare book specialist.” I repeated my conversation with Lisa. “Did you know about the database of stolen books?”

“Not before Sunday. After I left you, I spoke to someone at LAPD’s Art Theft Unit who told me about it. I added Mr. Carter’s book to the database Sunday evening. Do you know how to set up one of these Google alerts?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Where is your office?”

I gave her directions to YRL. “Stop at the front desk and they’ll call me.”

“All right. I’ll be there within the hour.”


Liz had come out of her office as I was finishing my conversation. “Who’s coming to see you?”

“A Santa Monica PD Property Crimes detective.” I told her about the Carters’ theft as I unlocked my office door.

She sat across from me, shaking her head. “I know this is blasphemous for a librarian, but I just don’t get collecting old books like that.”

“I think our problem, if you want to call it that, is that we see books as books. To be read, enjoyed, shared. Someone like Rich Carter is only looking at this book in terms of its investment value. Although, he did say Cooper was his favorite writer.”

Liz wrinkled her nose. “Did you ever read The Leatherstocking Tales?”


“They’re supposed to be pro-Native American, but they’re not. The difference between Cooper and other writers of the time was that he didn’t believe the tribes should be exterminated, just relocated. That supposedly made it great literature.”

Liz was half Hawaiian and one quarter Vietnamese. I said, “I’m sure your grandparents have strong opinions on European colonialism.”

She snorted. “You could say that. I was always in trouble in school for standing up in class and announcing that what the teacher had just said was the product of centuries of Anglo-European oppression.”

I grinned. “I wish I’d known you when we were kids.”

She grinned back. “I was a total brat. You might have hated me. And then where would we be now?”


Thirty minutes later I was studying the Booktiquities website when I got an IM from Connie Bright at circulation. You have a visitor.

Be right there.

When I got to the first floor, Scilla Hooks was looking around in interest. “Not as busy as I expected.”

“We’re on the quarter system. Fall classes don’t begin for two more weeks. Can I buy you a coffee?”

We went to Café 451, where Hooks took a sip of her latte and smacked her lips. “Damn, that’s good. You ever had police station coffee?”

“No. But I’ve smelled it.”

“I guess you have. I checked up on you and Dr. Ferguson.”

I grinned. “Our secrets are out.”

“I got curious. How would a librarian know about an LAPD homicide case?”

“And now you know.”

“Yep.” She took another sip and leaned back, giving me an appraising look. “Have you spoken with the Carters?”

“Yes, ma’am.” I repeated my conversation with Rich and Renee. “I checked out the seller website. It looks legitimate.”

“Yeah. I called a couple of the rare book dealers in town this morning, and they confirmed that.”

I said, “I saw the Carters’ daughter and her boyfriend at the house. Is their son in town?”

“No, and the daughter didn’t go to the block party. You know her?”

“I’d never met her before. Pete says she went to USC.”

Hooks looked thoughtful. “Why would Kenzie steal her dad’s book, though? I ran a check on both her and her brother. They have clean records and good jobs. Neither of them is hurting for money.”

“No idea. It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing you’d do for a prank.”

“No.” Hooks picked up her latte. “Why don’t you show me how to set up this alert?”

We went to my office, where Hooks looked around in interest. “You’re quite the book collector yourself.”

“Yes, but none of these are rare or valuable. I read and use almost all of them.”

I logged on to my computer and opened the Google Alerts page, typing in “Last of the Mohicans” “James Fenimore Cooper” “first edition” “first printing” “for sale” “on offer” “available”.

I asked, “Are there any search terms you want to add to that?”

“Can’t think of any.”

“You want the alerts immediately, right?”


“What’s your email address?”

“Scilla dot Hooks at smgov dot net.”

I added her email address to my own; I was curious to see what alerts, if any, came through. Hooks asked, “How long will this last?”

“Until you tell me to stop it.”

“Okay.” She stood and shook my hand. “Thanks for your help.”

“Yes, ma’am. One more thing – we have the same edition of the book that was stolen, if you’d like to get a visual on the item you’re trying to retrieve.”

She brightened. “I’d love to.”

“Come to Special Collections with me. I’ll show you the book and introduce you to our rare books librarian.”

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There Goes the Neighborhood, Part 3

When I rang the doorbell, Rich Carter yanked the door open. “I’ve told you everything–” He stopped. “Oh.”

Good thing I wasn’t the cops; that attitude wouldn’t go down well. “Hi, Mr. Carter. I don’t know if you remember me. I’m Jamie Brodie, from next door.” I pointed in the direction of our house.

Rich scowled. “Right. What can I do for you?”

“I’m a librarian at UCLA. Detective Hooks told me about your theft, and she’s asked me to introduce her to our rare books librarian on Tuesday. I thought you might be able to give me some information that would speed the process along.”

He gave me a calculating look. “You know about rare books?”

“I have some knowledge, yes. I’ve also been involved in solving two cases of rare manuscript thefts in the past.”

He thought about it for a second, then opened the door wider. “I guess it couldn’t hurt. Come in.”

“Thank you.” I stepped into the Carters’ living room, which was a mirror image of our own. The fireplace was on my right, the kitchen up a half-flight of stairs to my right. It was disorienting.

From the kitchen, I heard Renee’s voice on the phone. “Yes, that’s correct…”

Rich said, “Renee’s talking to the insurance company. Have a seat.”

“Thanks.” I lowered myself gingerly onto the floral upholstery – it felt like silk – of the overstuffed sofa. “When did you realize the book was missing?”

“When we got back from the party. I’d left it on top of my dresser. I went up to the bedroom and saw it was gone.”

“How long had you owned the book?”
“Renee bought it a couple of months ago, but I didn’t find out about it until yesterday.” His expression was sour. “It was my birthday gift.”

“Oh. Happy Birthday, although under the circumstances it doesn’t seem quite appropriate.”

He snorted. “Yeah, thanks. I had the thing for less than 24 hours.”

“So Mrs. Carter brought the book here for your birthday.”


“Did she insure it?”

“Yes, thank God. I’m amazed that she remembered.” He shot a scowl in the direction of the kitchen. “She was the one who left the door unlocked this afternoon.”

I didn’t want to throw any fuel on that fire. “Do you know where Mrs. Carter bought the book?”

“Some outfit online. She showed me the receipt. Not a place I’d heard of.”

I’d ask Mrs. Carter for the name, if she ever got off the phone. “The police seem to think that someone from across the street stole the book.”

Rich shrugged. “Who else would it have been? Other than Helen, those kids next door and us, the only people at the party were from the new building.”

“No one else from the street came?”

“Not that I know of.”

I heard someone coming down the stairs. A female voice said, “Dad? Who…”

I stood up as a young woman with Rich Carter’s eyes, and a dark-haired young man in a UCLA t-shirt came into the living room. The girl stopped abruptly and said, “Hello.”

I said, “Hi. I’m Jamie Brodie, from next door.”

Rich said, “This is my daughter Kenzie.”

Kenzie glared at her father and added, “And, this is my boyfriend Michael.”

I shook hands with them both. “Glad to meet you.”

Kenzie said, “You, too. Dad, we’re going out.”
“All right.” Rich watched them leave then shook his head. “You expect when your kids become adults that they’ll stop being idiots.”

I didn’t think I should reply to that, and tried to draw Rich back to the problem of his lost book. “Do you know anyone that lives across the street?”

“How the hell would we know any of them? This is the first time we’ve been here since the apartments were finished.”

“Who else knew that Mrs. Carter had bought the book?”

He made a dismissive gesture in the general direction of the kitchen. “She apparently told all sorts of people. Everyone in our family and probably half of Manitou Springs. Seems the only one who didn’t know was me.”

I heard Renee say goodbye, and she came down the stairs. “Who… Oh. Hello. Jamie, isn’t it?”

“Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry to hear about your burglary.”

She shook her head. “Unbelievable. This was such a safe neighborhood. Any time they let renters in, trouble always follows.”

Rich said, “He’s here because he’s helped track down old books before. The detective’s going to work with him.”

Not exactly true, but I wouldn’t correct him.

Renee’s expression lightened. “How interesting. Are you in the book business?”

“In a way. I’m a librarian at UCLA.”

“How can you help find our book?”

“I’m going to take Detective Hooks to our rare book specialist on Tuesday. We’ll put our heads together and see if we figure out a plan to get it back.”

Renee clasped her hands together. “That would be wonderful.”

I figured I’d better dial back on the confidence. “We may not be able to track it, if the thief has already sold it on.”

That deflated her slightly – the effect I was hoping for. “Of course. I understand. I appreciate whatever you can do.”

“Yes, ma’am. Did you give the detective a copy of your receipt for the book?”

“Yes. Do you want one as well?”

“No, that’s not necessary.” I could ask to see the detective’s copy. “Do you happen to remember the name of the seller?”

“Yes. Booktiquities. It’s an online seller.”

“Booktiquities.” I’d remember that without having to write it down. “Is there anything else you can think of that might be helpful?”

Rich had been glaring at Renee throughout her conversation with me. Now he said, “It would be helpful if she remembered to lock the door.”

Oh, no. I said quickly, “Do you collect old books, Mr. Carter?”

“Only Cooper.” He allowed himself a faint smile. “He’s always been my favorite writer.”

“Yes, sir.” I stood. “Thank you for answering my questions.”

Renee said, “If we think of anything else, should we tell you?”

I said, “No. Call Detective Hooks. You have her card, right?”

Rich said, “We do.”

Renee said, “You’ll keep us informed, won’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am. How much longer will you be here?”

“We’re leaving Friday morning.”

“All right.” I held out my hand to Rich; he took it somewhat grudgingly. I gave him a firm grip that widened his eyes slightly. I allowed a tiny smirk to flit across my expression – he wasn’t expecting the gay guy to have a manly handshake. “I’ll be in touch.”


The patio was clean. Gabe’s shoes and the broom were propped beside the front door. Inside, the air was redolent with the fragrance of tomato soup. I sniffed appreciatively as I locked the door behind me. “Smells wonderful in here.”

Pete and Gabe were on the sofa, watching a nature show; Pete muted the sound but activated the closed captioning so Gabe could continue to watch. “We ate so much this afternoon, I figured we’d have a light supper. Did you learn anything?”

“I did.” I told him what Rich and Renee had said.

“Interesting. But it doesn’t sound like anyone local was involved in the sale.”

“No. And it doesn’t sound like anyone local knew the Carters had the books.”

“Are their kids here for Rich’s birthday?”

“The daughter is – I met her briefly. You think maybe she told someone?”

“She went to USC. I know she has friends in town. Maybe she mentioned it to someone who took the opportunity to make a quick buck.”

“That person would have to know about the block party, though.”

“Yeah…” Pete shook his head. “However many people Renee told, there are that many possibilities.”



By unknown, неизвестен [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

At eight I supervised Gabe’s preparations for bed then tucked him in. “Do you want me to read to you?”


“Did you bring a book?”

His face fell. “No…”

“No worries. Be right back.” I retrieved my phone and opened the Project Gutenberg website. “This is a book called The Last of the Mohicans. It’s about Native Americans.”


I began to read. “It was a feature peculiar to the colonial wars of North America, that the toils and dangers of the wilderness were to be encountered before the adverse hosts could meet. A wide and apparently an impervious boundary of forests severed the possessions of the hostile provinces of France and England. The hardy colonist…”  

Gabe was asleep in five minutes.


I closed the door softly and joined Pete on the living room sofa. He said, “Is Gabe asleep?”

“Yeah. I read him the first couple of paragraphs of The Last of the Mohicans and he was out like a light.”

He looked surprised. “You have that book?”

“No. It’s long out of copyright. It’s freely available online.”

“Why would anyone spend forty grand on a book that’s free?”

“Because the first edition, first printing that Rich owns is extremely rare. We have a copy in Special Collections. People don’t buy books like that to read. They’re considered investments.”

“Still seems like a waste of money to me.”

“For an individual? I agree. Did you ever read it?”

“No. You?”

“I tried. I found it tedious. Not as bad as Moby Dick, though.”

Pete grunted. “Seriously. Those 19th century writers needed editors.”

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There Goes the Neighborhood, Part 2

We stayed for several hours, eating, drinking, and talking. I made Gabe stay out of the pool after he ate. After he’d played Fruit Ninja for thirty minutes, Kevin took him to the yard beyond the pool to toss a baseball.

The party began to break up in late afternoon. The Fortners were staying overnight; Neil and Mark had another gathering to attend. We confirmed the details of our plans for a mountain hike the next morning, convinced Gabe to pack up his belongings, and headed home.

At the stop sign at California Avenue and 17th Street, we saw the flashing lights on the other side of Wilshire. They looked as if they were right in front of our building.

Police Car Lights

By Scott Davidson from United States (Police Car Lights) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Gabe said, “Oooo, cops!”

Pete said, “Well, crap.”

I said, “Turn right.”

Pete turned right onto California and drove past the middle school, turning onto 14th Street to cross Wilshire. We continued on 14th to Arizona Avenue and returned home the same way we’d left, parking in our spot under our first-floor deck. We went into the house through the back door and walked right out through the front door to see what was going on. I put Gabe to work pulling weeds from the flower beds by the patio so I could keep an eye on him.

We were immediately approached by a uniformed police officer. “We’ve been knocking on your door. Where have you been?”

Pete said, “We were visiting friends and just came in through the back. What’s going on?”

The cop wasn’t ready to answer any questions yet. He pulled out a notepad and pen. “Name?”

We gave him our names, showed him our driver’s licenses, and offered up Neil’s name for confirmation of where we’d been all afternoon. When he was satisfied, he put the notebook away. “Stay here, sirs. The detective will want to talk to you.”

Pete and I looked at each other in alarm. I said, “Detective? What the hell?”

The cop spoke to a woman in jeans and a windbreaker, pointing at us. The woman headed our way. Pete said, “We’re about to find out.”

The woman nodded to us and held out her badge. “Mr. Ferguson, Mr. Brodie, I’m Detective Hooks, Property Crimes, Santa Monica PD.”

Pete said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Detective. What’s going on?”

Hooks crossed her arms and gave us an assessing look. “Your next-door neighbors were burglarized during the block party.”

I said in disbelief, “The Carters?”

“Yes, sir. Why is that a surprise?”

Our next-door neighbors were Rich and Renee Carter. Their permanent home was Manitou Springs, Colorado; they owned the townhouse next to us as a vacation property.

I didn’t know the Carters well. Since I’d moved in with Pete, they’d only been present for a few days here and there. Pete said they’d barely tolerated his Uncle Arthur and Arthur’s partner Lewis, who had owned the townhouse since the 1980s. As a result, Pete had never made the attempt to socialize.

Pete said, “The surprise is that the Carters would go to the block party.”

“Why wouldn’t they?”

“They’re only here a few days a year. It just doesn’t seem like their kind of thing.”

Hooks looked like she agreed with Pete’s assessment. “The neighbors on the Carters’ other side convinced them to go.”

That would be Micah Sherman and Alyssa Castillo. Micah was a moderately successful documentary filmmaker; Alyssa was a wildly successful food blogger and cookbook writer. Micah and Alyssa were both extroverts who never wanted anyone to feel neglected. I could imagine them dragging the Carters across the street to join the fun.

I said, “Hard to believe they left their door unlocked.”

“Yeah, they’re blaming each other for that. Still pretty bold, though, for a thief to walk right through the front door when the owners are in view across the street.”

I glanced behind me to make sure Gabe was where I’d left him, only to see him throw a weed with a clod of dirt over his shoulder. The patio was half covered with weeds and dirt.

At least he was following instructions. I’d make him sweep the patio when he finished.

Pete said, “So the thief was someone who knew the Carters were at the party.”

“Seems that way. You know anyone in those apartments across the street?”

Pete shook his head. I said, “We’ve barely seen anyone over there.”

“What about the people in that house?” Hooks pointed to the single-family home that was just south of our building.

Pete said, “They’re longtime residents. I only know them to say hello as I walk past. They’ve got to be at least seventy.”

“Probably not viable suspects.” Hooks narrowed her eyes and looked across the street, where more cops were questioning small groups of people. “We think it has to be someone from the apartments.”

I said, “There goes the neighborhood.”

Hooks gave me a sharp look, then a half-smile.

Pete asked, “What was taken?”

“Cash and some kind of valuable old book.”

My ears perked up. “Old book?”

Hooks said, “You know something about that?”

“Not what the Carters owned specifically. But I’m a librarian at UCLA. I know about old books.”

“Ah. The details on the book were…” Hooks referred to a notepad. “First edition, first issue, original binding of The Last of the Mohicans. Mr. Carter says it’s worth around forty grand.”

Pete whistled. I said, “Sounds about right. But who would know the Carters had that?”

Hooks pointed in the direction of the apartment complex. “That’s what we’re trying to find out.”

Pete said, “Nothing else was taken?”

“No. And the Carters were only at the party for about twenty minutes. The thief would have needed to know what he or she was looking for.”

I said, “They’ll try to sell it.”

Hooks asked, “We assume so. How would they go about that?”

“They’d need a dealer. It’s possible that they’re already working with one.”

Pete groaned. “Not another antiquarian bookseller case.”

Hooks looked confused. “Another?”

I said, “LAPD had a homicide case back in January involving antique book dealers. But if the thief knew what to look for, he or she also knows that you all will be checking the local shops. They’re more likely to try to move it online.”

Hooks looked grim. “Which makes it far more difficult to trace.”


“Is there any way to put out an alert for a book like that?”

“Now you’re getting out of my area of expertise. You should check with the librarians in our special collections department. One of them would know.”

Hooks glanced at her watch. “I guess there’s no one there over the weekend, huh?”

“No, ma’am. Not until Tuesday morning.”

“All right. What if I call you Tuesday, and you can make the introductions?”

“Sure.” I gave her my phone number.

“Thanks.” She nodded to us and went back to the apartment complex.

Pete watched her go, shaking his head. “Why would the Carters have something like that at this house?”

“We should ask them.”

Pete shot me a look of concern. “You’re not getting involved in this case, are you?”

“I’m already involved. I’m going to introduce Detective Hooks to Lisa Bello. She’s our rare book specialist. Would the cops ask the Carters why they had the book at this house?”

“They should. But what they probably asked was, who knew it was at this house. Not why.”

“The Carters may have just bought the book. If so, it would be interesting to know where they got it.”

“Am I going to be able to dissuade you from getting mixed up in this?”

“I’m not getting mixed up. I’m just going to express my sympathy to the Carters and ask them a few questions. If they have interesting answers, I’ll call Detective Hooks.”

Gabe sprang to his feet. “I’ll come!”

A reminder that, even though he might be doing something else, Gabe was always listening. I said, “No, Gabers. Are you finished weeding?”

“Yeah! See?”

He’d been thorough, not only removing all of the weeds but a few flowers as well. I said, “Great job. Now you need to sweep the patio. Uncle Pete will show you where the broom is.”

Pete said, “I’d come with you if I wasn’t supervising broom duty. But the Carters may be more forthcoming if they don’t see us together.”

“As in, if they don’t see us together, they’ll temporarily forget their homophobia?”

“Not forget it, just not be acutely reminded of it. And I’m more of a reminder than you are.” Pete turned toward our own front door. “Good luck. C’mon, Gabe.”

Gabe turned to follow Pete into the house. I called to him, “Take those dirty shoes off at the door!”

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There Goes the Neighborhood, Part 1


By Sankar 1995 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Pete stood with his arms crossed and eyes narrowed, his expression radiating skepticism. “How do you know that?”

I grunted as I maneuvered the heavy potted cactus onto the lip of the cargo area of Pete’s Jeep. “Are you going to help me with this?”

My nine-year-old nephew Gabe, staying with us for the weekend, abandoned the soccer ball he’d been kicking against the back wall of the house and ran to me. “I’ll help, Uncle Jamie!”

“Thanks, Gabe, but it’s too heavy for you. This is Uncle Pete’s job.”

Pete unfolded his arms and lifted the other side of the terracotta pot, long enough for me to get the dropcloth fully underneath it. “I’m serious. Is that something Scott taught you?”

“What? No. How would Scott know about anniversary gifts?” I shoved the pot far enough into the interior of the cargo space to suit myself, then turned and brushed off my hands. “Abby told me. The traditional gift for a five-year anniversary is wood. She’s a carpenter and woodworker. People ask her to make things for fifth anniversaries.”

“Oh.” Pete pointed at the cactus. “That’s not wood.”

“I’m aware of that. Think of it as drought-appropriate wood.”

Gabe had resumed his soccer practice. I said, “Gabe, time to go. Buckle up.”

“Okay.” Gabe hurled himself head first into the back seat of the Jeep, then turned and leaped back to the ground. “Can I take my soccer ball?”

“You won’t need it. You’re going to swim, right?”

“Oh, yeah.” Gabe vaulted into the Jeep again.

Pete said, “I have to wash my hands.”

“They’ll just get dirty again. We have to reverse this process when we get to Ali’s. Unless you’re planning to make me lift the cactus out by myself.”

Pete rolled his eyes, but he was grinning. “Okay, fine.”

I climbed into the passenger seat and turned to check Gabe’s seatbelt. Gabe said, “You and Uncle Pete talk to each other just like Mom and Dad do.”

Pete laughed and started the car.


Five years ago on this day, my friends Alison Fortner and Melanie Hayes got married. I stood on Ali’s side, with her sister Lauren; Mel’s attendants were her college roommate, Sarah DiLorenzo, and her best friend from law school, Tasha Jimenez. The ceremony took place in Ali’s parents’ backyard, in our hometown of Oceanside. Ali, Mel, and I, with our childhood friend Robbie Harrison, had spent many happy hours running and playing in that yard.

Every year since, Ali and Mel had thrown themselves an anniversary party on Labor Day weekend. They were married on Labor Day itself, but when September 1 fell during the week, they celebrated on the weekend.

Ali owned a xeriscaping business and Mel was an attorney, a partner in a thriving practice. Choosing a gift for them was tricky on a librarian’s limited budget. But we couldn’t go wrong with a drought-resistant plant, and a cactus was as drought-resistant as they came.


Pete took the long way out, driving down 17th Court – also known as the alley behind our house – all the way to Arizona Avenue, then back north on 17th Street so we could cross Wilshire at the stoplight.

As we passed the front of our building, activity across the street caught my eye. “What’s going on over there?”

For the past year, a new apartment building had been under construction on the lot across 17th Street from our building. It had been completed in July, and new residents had begun moving in shortly thereafter.

Pete glanced in that direction. “Oh, Helen mentioned that. The apartment management is throwing a block party so we can meet the new neighbors.”

“Ah. You didn’t want to go?”

He gave me a “duh” look. “We couldn’t be in two places at once, could we? Besides…” He made a head gesture to the back seat, where Gabe was playing Fruit Ninja, according to the sounds of exploding fruit and landmines.


“Helen will tell us all about it.”

Our neighbor, retired school administrator Helen Quintero, lived at the opposite end of our four-townhouse building. She had an enormous garden in the small plot that served as a front yard and spent most of her time there. As a result, she knew everything that happened in the neighborhood.

I said, “Is this a common thing in Santa Monica? Because I’ve never heard of it.”

“Neither have I. Maybe the managers are hoping to forestall any complaints about noise.”

Helen had already told us that each of the twelve two-bedroom, two-bath apartments was renting for $2500. “For what they’re charging for those apartments? The people who live there are more likely to complain about us.”


When we arrived at Ali and Mel’s, Kevin and Abby were in the driveway, hauling their gift out of the back of Abby’s pickup truck. The tree that Ali and Mel had been married under in the Fortners’ yard had fallen in a storm months ago. Most of it was chopped up for firewood, but Ali had asked Abby to choose several large chunks with which to make a square coffee table for Ali and Mel’s great room. Abby had taken the wood to her shop at her sister’s house in Palmdale and crafted the table to Ali and Mel’s specifications.

It was a beautiful piece of furniture. Pete whistled and I applauded. “Abs, that is gorgeous.”

Abby beamed. “Thank you.”

Kevin said, “It’s also heavy as hell. You guys want to help?”

We maneuvered the table indoors, Gabe charging ahead of us through the house, then hauled the cactus to the back yard, where Ali was on the deck tending vegetables on the grill. I asked, “Where do you want this?”

“Whoa, that’s a beauty! Um – I don’t know yet. Set it on the other side of the pool for now. I think it’ll end up near there eventually.”

We complied. I said, “Now we can wash our hands.”


Ali’s parents, sister, and brother-in-law came up from Oceanside. Mel’s law partner Neil Anderson and his husband Mark Sivak were there, as was Sunny, their legal secretary, and her wife, Ellen. Mel’s friend Tasha – now a real estate attorney – and her boyfriend were there.

The only person missing who usually attended was my dad.

When I sat down beside Ali’s sister Lauren, she said, “Remind me again what your dad’s doing today?”

I watched Gabe do a cannonball into the far end of the pool, where Kevin and Neil were supervising. “He’s got this new girlfriend, you know. She planned something for them to do with Colin and went ahead and bought tickets, without asking if this was a good day for it.”

Lauren raised an eyebrow. “Oops.”

“Yeah. She’s as yet unversed in the family traditions.”

“How long have they been dating?”

“I’m not exactly sure. A couple of months, I think.”

Lauren said, “I don’t think Mom and Dad have met her.”

Charlie Fortner had worked with my dad for years at Camp Pendleton, training new recruits. They were good friends. I said, “I’ve barely met her myself. They haven’t been up here yet.”

Lauren smiled. “It’d be good for your dad to have a lady friend.”

“Yes, it would. Keep your fingers crossed.”


Once the food was ready and we’d filled our plates, Pete sat beside me. Gabe was on my other side, working his way through an enormous pile of potato salad which filled half his plate. Pete asked, “Did you supervise the filling of Gabe’s plate?”

“No, Kevin did. At least he’s got vegetables.” The other half of Gabe’s plate was stacked with bell pepper and cucumber slices. “He’s not wild about some of the vegan items.”

Pete lowered his voice. “Neither am I.”

As a committed carnivore, I had to agree. “Vegetarian is like visiting another country where everyone is friendly and speaks English. Vegan is another planet.”

“A vegan would say that you haven’t yet tried the right recipes.” Pete speared a potato chunk. “I’ve never asked you about Mel’s family.”

“Ah.” I looked across the pool deck, where Ali and Mel were sitting with Lauren and her husband Dustin. “Mel’s mother and sister refused to accept her relationship with Ali. In high school, when Ali and Mel wanted to hang out together, they had to do it at Ali’s house. When Mel told her mother she was getting married, her mother wrote her a long letter telling her how disappointed she was in her.”

Disappointed? After everything Mel has accomplished?”

“You know how some families can be. The fact that you’re gay wipes out everything else about you. My grandfather was the same.”

“Were they religious?”

“Devout Baptists.”

“Does her mother still live in Oceanside?”

“No. She moved to Nevada after Mel’s sister graduated from high school.”

“What about her father?”

“He lives in Florida with his second wife. He helped Mel pay for college and law school, but the new wife isn’t ‘comfortable’ around Mel. So she talks to her dad on the phone but almost never sees him. He didn’t come to her wedding.”

Pete sighed. “Financial support is better than no support. You and I are so lucky.”

“We certainly are.”

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Filed under Short Stories

Coming tomorrow: Free short story!

As promised! Beginning tomorrow, you’ll find the serialized short story There Goes the Neighborhood. It will run over six days – through the weekend.

Encountered to Death

Jamie Brodie Mystery #5

This is a flashback. The story takes place in September 2013, immediately after Encountered to Death and just before Psyched to Death. Jamie and Pete have been together a little over a year, and Jamie’s dad has just begun to date children’s librarian Barbara Simmons.

The story introduces you to Pete and Jamie’s next-door neighbors, Rich and Renee Carter, who use their townhouse as a vacation home. We’ll be seeing more of the Carters and their house in Deceived to Death, the next Jamie Brodie Mystery, coming in November of this year.



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