Happy New Year! May the coming year be better days for all of us.
There are changes coming to West LA Homicide for 2018. This story kicks them off.
December 30, 2017
Pete tugged the red cotton sweater over his head and fiddled with the collar of the red-and-white striped button-down shirt underneath it, gazing worriedly into the full-length mirror that hung on our bedroom wall. “Does this look okay?”
The shirt collar was folded upside-down in the back; I stepped in to straighten it for him. “Of course it does. What are you nervous about?”
“I’m not nervous.”
I scoffed. “Right. Try again.”
He didn’t look my way. “I’m gonna be seeing a lot of people I haven’t seen in years. I just want to look my best.”
“Then you have nothing to worry about. Because you look great.”
We were attending a retirement party for Elias Pinter, a homicide detective with the LAPD’s West LA Division. I knew Elias and his partner, Jill Branigan, thanks to my involuntary involvement with several murder cases over the past few years. My brother, Kevin, and his partner, Jon Eckhoff, were the other two homicide detectives at West LA; they’d be at the party, too.
Pete had been a patrol officer in the West LA Division for ten years, five of them as Kevin’s partner. He’d left the force in 2007 to get a Ph.D. in psychology. I knew there were several cops still at West LA who’d been there during Pete’s tenure, and that he hadn’t always enjoyed friendly relationships with all of them.
A year or so before Pete left the force, his then-boyfriend had purposely outed him to the police department by calling human resources to ask about same-sex partner benefits. Once it was known that Pete was gay, several of his homophobic brothers in blue had turned on him.
With that in mind, I asked, “Are you afraid of coming across as too gay?”
He turned sharply, staring at me. “What?”
“There are still cops there who used to harass you, right? And you’ll be there with me…are you subconsciously worried about that?”
“No.” He turned back to the mirror, and reconsidered. “Maybe. But I shouldn’t be. After all this time…”
I said, “It was a lousy year of your life. It’s understandable.”
“But I’ve been back to the station plenty of times.” Pete and I had sat behind a one-way mirror for interrogations more than once, when our expertise could help to determine whether people were telling the truth. “It never bothered me then.”
“Yeah, but those were work-related situations, and we didn’t stray from the detectives’ room. This is the first time you’ve been back in a social situation.”
He smiled, but it was a half-hearted effort. “You know me too well.”
“There’s no such thing as too well.” I smacked him on the butt. “Quit primping and let’s go.”
He laughed and followed me down the stairs.
When we arrived at the station, we found Kevin and his wife of two and a half months, Kristen Beach, and Jon and his wife, Liz Nguyen, getting out of a car. Jon grinned. “Perfect timing! Make yourself useful.” He handed me a wrapped box.
I wasn’t prepared for the weight of it, and staggered for a moment. “What the hell is this?”
Kevin said, “A bowling ball. I thought I told you.”
He had. Pete and I had contributed to the purchase of Elias’s custom-made gift weeks ago. Apparently, Elias was an outstanding bowler. I said, “Right. I forgot.”
Kristen handed Pete a tote bag that rattled. “Here’s the champagne. Don’t drop it.”
The party was being held in the room that was used for roll call and briefings every morning. The room was still half-heartedly decorated for Christmas. A drooping string of
colored lights was draped over the whiteboard on the front wall, and a spindly artificial tree – decorated with tacky ornaments and handcuffs – stood in the corner. Folding chairs lined the walls. Two tables at the front of the room groaned with food. There were multiple coolers and plastic tubs holding ice and drinks; Liz and Kristen commandeered two of the tubs for the champagne, and Pete helped them shove the bottles into the ice.
People were still filtering in. I scanned the room, and spotted a familiar face in one corner. Max O’Brien, until today, had been a homicide detective at Pacific Division. As of tomorrow, he was Elias’s replacement. Max’s first partner at Pacific had been Jon; since then, Max had been partnered with a woman named Susan Portman. As with Elias, I’d met Max and Susan on murder cases.
Max was with his husband, an ER doctor whom I’d met back in October at Kevin and Kristen’s wedding. I crossed the room to them. “Hey, Patrick. Max, welcome to West LA.”
Max grinned. “Thanks. I understand we’re gonna be on TV.”
I laughed. “Whether you want to or not, right?”
Kevin and Jon had been recruited by LAPD brass to appear on the reality TV show Two Days to Solve, where cameras followed a team of homicide detectives as they worked a murder case. Max and Jill would surely be caught up in the filming.
Patrick said, “It almost makes me wish he was staying at Pacific.”
Max elbowed Patrick. “Nah. It’ll be fun. Besides, the cameras won’t be in a car with Jill and me.”
I said, “Kevin’s not looking forward to it.”
Max said, “I bet he’s not. He agreed to it for Jon’s career, right?”
“Right.” Appearing on the TV show would boost Jon’s chances of being promoted to the elite Robbery-Homicide Unit downtown – also known as Homicide Special – when the time came. “I understand Susan’s headed to Homicide Special now.”
“Yup. We had her going-away party two nights ago.” Max laughed. “It was somewhat less sedate than this one will be.”
I snickered. Susan, when she wasn’t catching killers, was typically out in the desert on her Harley with an informal gang of other tattooed lesbian biker cops from around the Southland. “I can’t wait to watch as Susan transforms Homicide Special.”
Patrick shook his head, grinning. “They won’t know what hit ‘em.”
A commotion drew our attention to the front of the room. Elias and his family had arrived – his wife and two grown daughters, with their husbands and kids in tow. I knew that one of Elias’s daughters was with LAPD’s Human Trafficking Section. I couldn’t imagine how emotionally draining that must be.
There was a bit of noisy mingling, then a whistle blew. All the cops faced front. A man at the door – I couldn’t see well, but thought it was the new West LA captain, Dan Kazuma – called out, “Welcome, everyone! We’ll let everyone fill their plates and get settled, then we’ll formally embarrass Elias. Don’t be shy, there’s plenty of food.”
Patrick said, “I’m hungry. Let’s eat.”
I found Pete leaning against a wall, sipping a can of Coke. He brightened when he saw me. “There you are. I’m hungry.”
“You didn’t have to wait for me.” I glanced around. “Where are Kev and Jon?”
“Up there.” Pete nodded to a spot near the food tables, where Kevin, Kristen, Jon, and Liz were talking to Jill Branigan and her boyfriend, Cody Mendoza, a firefighter/paramedic. I’d met him at Kevin’s wedding, too.
I asked, “Has anyone hassled you?”
“Good.” I rubbed my hands together. “Bring ‘em on.”
“Oh, God. Don’t even say that.”
By the time we reached the food, most of the seats were taken. I had to trust that Kristen and Liz would save chairs for us. I loaded a plate with as much as it would hold – ham, potato salad, green beans, baked beans, cole slaw – and scanned the room. I spotted Kristen, who waved at me, and we headed toward her.
Kevin was in deep conversation with a cop I recognized, Ben Butler, who’d been Jill Branigan’s partner when she was still in uniform. Jon was chatting with another cop I’d met at Kevin’s wedding, Marcellus Bivins, a vice detective. I sat beside Liz carefully, so as to avoid dumping my plate, and waved my fork at the room. “Looks as if the whole division turned out.”
“All the ones that aren’t on shift, anyway.” Liz nodded to a small group of women across the room. “And those guys’ wives came.”
“Do you know them?”
“I’ve met most of them.” Liz wrinkled her nose. “There’s a loose, informal organization of cops’ wives. They’ve been inviting me to their meetings, but they always met during work hours. A couple of weeks ago, they had an outing on a Saturday, up in Griffith Park, so Kristen and I went. It was illuminating. To say the least.”
“First thing we noticed, everyone was white. I was the only person of color there. Second, everyone had kids. There weren’t any other childless wives. Then, once they found out who we were, the unspoken assumption was, ‘Oh, your husbands are detectives, you think you’re better than we are.’” Liz rolled her eyes. “And you should have seen the looks Kristen got.”
“I can imagine.” Kristen was statuesque, stunning, and carried herself exactly like Kevin did, with a commanding confidence that was as intimidating as hell even when she wasn’t trying to be. Half the people at UCLA were afraid of her.
“Mm hm.” Liz had eaten a forkful of potato salad. She swallowed it and said, “Then we figured out that all they were doing was bitching about their husbands’ schedules and
gossiping about the wives who weren’t there, some of whose husbands are apparently cheating on them. Then, a couple of them asked us what church we belonged to.”
By Zeamays (Originally uploaded to Wikipedia, here.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“Oh, yeah. I told ‘em that I was Buddhist, of course, so they pinned their hopes on Kristen.” Liz laughed. “She said, ‘I’m a Deist.’ I’m pretty sure they didn’t know what that was. One of them said, ‘Oh. How interesting.’ We didn’t stay much longer.”
I snickered, then lowered my voice. “Pete was concerned about the homophobic cops that used to hassle him. So far, no one’s approached him. Maybe they’re not here.”
“Maybe.” Liz scanned the room. “I don’t even know who that would be.”
I followed her gaze around the room. “Is it just me, or is there some segregation going on here amongst the ranks?”
“It’s not just you.” Liz shook her head. “The detectives’ unit doesn’t suffer from it, but I know that some of the street cops are a little bit racist.”
I sighed. “Do you suppose we as a society will ever get beyond that?”
Liz scraped the remnants of potato salad from her plate and licked them off of her fork. “Speaking as a woman of color? Nope.”
“That’s the Anglo-European colonial legacy.”
“Ugh.” I reached for her empty plate. “Want me to toss this?”
I located the closest garbage can, in the corner behind the food tables, and tossed our trash. When I turned around, I was face to face with three guys. All were white, all were at least four inches shorter than me, and all had the overly broad shoulders and pimply necks that hinted of steroid abuse.
The ringleader seemed to be the guy in the middle. He was a bit taller than the other two, and his sneer was…sneerier. He said, “So you’re Ferguson’s boyfriend.”
I said, “I’m Ferguson’s husband. What’s your point?”
“Well, you know, we were just wondering. Which one of you is the woman?”
The two guys on either side of the speaker snickered. I laughed. “Seriously? That’s the best you can do?”
All three guys’ grins faded a bit. I said, “What’s your name?”
He scoffed. “I don’t have to give you my name.”
“That’s true.” I crossed my arms. “But I know who you are. You’re the asshole who used to hassle Pete, back when he was on the force. I’m sure he remembers your name.”
The two guys on either side looked as if they might be having second thoughts about participating in this confrontation. The guy in the center was apparently dumber. He puffed up his chest. “Who you callin’ asshole, faggot?”
I shook my head and addressed the guy on my left. “Honestly. They let him carry a gun?”
The guy I spoke to raised an eyebrow. The guy in the middle said, “Hey. He’s not talkin’ to you. I’m talkin’ to you.”
I kept my attention on the guy on the left. “What, he doesn’t even let you speak?”
The guy frowned. “I can talk.”
The guy in the middle said, “Shut up, Rhodes.”
I said, “Rhodes, huh? Good. I figure I need at least one name for the report to Internal Affairs.”
Rhodes turned red. “His name’s Brendan Noonan. You don’t need to report me. I didn’t do anything.”
The guy on the right said, “God, Noonan, you’re a fucking idiot. We should have known better. Come on, Rhodes.” He turned to walk away.
Rhodes said, “You don’t need to report me.”
I said, “You’re right, I don’t. Have a nice day, Rhodes.”
He scurried away with the guy on the right, and they melted into the crowd…except that I spotted Jon and Jill Branigan, casually leaning against the wall about ten feet away, watching them go. I turned my attention back to Noonan. “Some friends, huh, Brendan? Deserting you when the heat’s on. What’s up with that?”
He snarled. “They’re pussies. So I asked you a question, faggot. Who takes it up the ass, you or Ferguson?”
I pretended to ponder, tapping my finger on my chin. “Here’s what I’m wondering…why do you care so much? Maybe you’re jealous. Or…ha! I know. You’re gonna fix a picture in your mind so you can jack off to it. It’s okay, Brendan. Lots of guys fantasize about getting fucked. It’s perfectly natural.”
Brendan wasn’t much of a boxer. He telegraphed the punch he threw at me so completely that I was able to block it, swiping my left arm up to catch his right forearm. He staggered, thrown off balance, and reached for the back of his waistband.
I didn’t hesitate. I hollered, “Gun!” I’d barely gotten the word out when a pile of cops, led by Jon and Jill, threw Noonan to the floor. Marcellus Bivins kicked him in the hand, sending the gun skittering into the center of the floor, where it was intercepted by Ben Butler.
And just like that, the room was silent, except for Noonan’s bellowing. Someone borrowed a pair of handcuffs from the Christmas tree; Jon snapped them into place and hauled Noonan to his feet.
A tall, grey-haired man whom I recognized as Lieutenant Banner, who managed the day-to-day operations of West LA Division, was immediately in Noonan’s face. “Noonan. What the fuck?”
“He attacked me! I thought he had a knife!”
Banner looked over Noonan’s head at me. I said, “I did no such thing, sir.”
Jill said, “Eckhoff and I witnessed the entire confrontation. Noonan was unprovoked. He lost it, sir.”
Captain Kazuma pushed his way through the crowd. “What the hell’s going on here?”
Banner said, “Officer Noonan drew his weapon on an unarmed civilian, in this room full of civilians and children. Eckhoff, Branigan, if you’d escort Noonan to my office?”
Jon said, “With pleasure, sir.” He gripped one of Noonan’s elbows. Jill grabbed the other, and I saw Noonan wince.
One of the women who’d been sitting in the wives’ conclave scurried after Banner, Jill, Jon, and Noonan. I figured she had the misfortune to be Mrs. Noonan. Captain Kazuma turned to the crowd. “Okay, folks, we’ll get this sorted out. In the meantime, there’s still plenty of food! Eat up!”
A hubbub rose from the crowd. Marcellus Bivins and a man I didn’t recognize had a word with Noonan’s co-conspirators, then guided them from the room. Several people lined up at the buffet table to refill plates. I moseyed back toward my seat, but was brought up short by Elias Pinter. “You sure know how to liven up a party, Dr. Brodie.”
“Thanks. I do what I can.”
He laughed. “In the future, when the old cops are sitting around reminiscing about epic retirement parties, mine will be at the top of the list. Thank you.” He slapped me on the back and headed for the opposite side of the room.
Back at my seat I was greeted by Pete, Kevin, Kristen and Liz. Kristen said, “For fuck’s sake. What did he say to you?”
I glanced at Pete, who had his arms folded, his expression guarded. I said, “Probably about the same as he used to say to Pete in the locker room, back in the olden days.”
Liz said, “What did you say that made him want to shoot you?”
“I suggested that his questions were prompted by homocuriosity.” I pointed to a cold can of Coke, unopened, that Kevin was holding. “I hope that’s for me.”
Kevin handed me the can; I popped the top and took a long drink. “Mm. Thanks. And I appreciate that you didn’t rush in to save me. I didn’t need it.”
“I didn’t think you did.” Kevin shot Pete a look, and I thought, Oh. “But I never imagined that Noonan would be dumb enough to bring a gun to a retirement party.”
I said, “I think your captain might have an issue with steroid abuse among the rank and file.”
“Jill’s been saying that for years. I’m sure she’ll mention it to Banner.”
Liz said, “Well, you certainly created a flutter in the wives’ corner. And the woman who seems to be Mrs. Noonan is one of those that asked Kristen and me what church we attended, when we were at the picnic.”
I drained the Coke. “Sounds like she needs to attend to her own house before she worries about anyone else’s.”
Twenty-five minutes later, Jon and Jill reappeared and made their way to us. I asked, “What’s going on?”
Jill said, “Internal Affairs has arrived. They want to talk to you.”
I followed Jill through the labyrinthine hallways to Lt. Banner’s office. To my surprise, I knew both IA officers. One was Detective Hines, who’d investigated Kevin’s shooting of Hunter Mitchell over four years ago.
The other was Lt. Nelson Hopkins, the cliché-spouting cop who’d recruited Kevin and Jon for Two Days to Solve, back in the fall. He brightened when he saw me. “Dr. Brodie, as I live and breathe! Who’d a’ thunk it?”
I said, “Hi, Lt. Hopkins, Detective Hines. Sorry about all this.”
Hines said, “From what we understand so far, it wasn’t your fault. Tell us what happened.”
I related my encounter with Noonan et al. Hopkins took notes; Hines listened, his expression grave. When I was done he asked, “There’s no history between you and Noonan?”
“No, sir. I’d never met him. But I suspect he’s one of the cops that used to hassle Pete Ferguson when he was an officer here. Pete and I are married now.” I shrugged. “Noonan must have seen us come in together.”
Hines asked, “And neither Rhodes nor Callaway said anything offensive to you?”
“No, sir. They deserted Noonan pretty fast.”
Hopkins snorted. “Rats leaving a sinking ship.”
I raised an eyebrow at Hines, who rolled his eyes ever so slightly and said, “Thanks, Dr. Brodie. If we have any further questions, we’ll let you know.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you.”
The rest of the party was uneventful. We toasted Elias with champagne, then he and his wife cut the enormous sheet cake and opened his gifts. I was pretty sure that the bowling ball was his favorite.
Elias and his family formed a sort of receiving line at the door, saying goodbye to guests as they left. Kevin, Kristen, Jon, Liz, Jill, Cody, Max, Patrick, and Pete and I stayed behind to clean up, and made short work of the mess. I was tying up the last garbage bag when a voice said, “Dr. Brodie?”
I straightened to see Captain Kazuma beside me. “Yes, sir.”
He held out his hand. “Dan Kazuma. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I apologize for what happened.”
I shook his hand. “No apology necessary, sir. It was my pleasure to deal with that problem for you.”
He huffed a laugh. “I’ve only been here for six weeks, but I already knew that Noonan and his buddies would present difficulties. It’s a relief to have them out of the way.”
“What will happen to them?”
“That’s up to IAG, of course.” Internal Affairs Group. “But Noonan will be fired, and he’s likely to have his pension reduced, if not stripped. Rhodes and Callaway will be reprimanded and transferred to someplace far less desirable.”
I nodded. “Sounds acceptable.”
Captain Kazuma eyed me. “You seem to be made of the same stern stuff as your brother.”
“Yes, sir. We were raised by Marines.”
“Ah. That explains a lot.” He gestured to the room, in which the others were replacing the folding chairs into rows facing front. “Thanks for your help with this, too.”
“You’re welcome. Kev and I were taught to clean up our messes.”
He just laughed.
Pete hadn’t said much since my confrontation with Noonan and his friends. As we walked home, I rattled on about Liz’s experiences with the cops’ wives, what Elias had said to me, seeing Lt. Hopkins again, my impression of the new captain… Pete didn’t say a word.
When we got to the house, he spoke. “I’m gonna change.”
Did he think I wouldn’t? “Um…yeah, me too.”
In our bedroom, he peeled off the red sweater and tossed it over the back of the recliner in the corner. I retrieved it, turned it right side out, and re-draped it neatly. “All right. What’s on your mind?”
He turned to face me, frowning. “I thought they’d confront me. Not you.”
“Are you disappointed?”
He looked startled. “What? No.” He considered for a moment. “Well…kinda. I’d planned scenarios in my head of what I’d say and how I’d handle them. I was ready for them. But then Noonan went for you.” He spread his hands. “I hadn’t imagined that.”
“You wanted to wade into the fray, didn’t you?”
“Yeah. Kevin stopped me.” He shook his head. “He was right. I’d have only made it worse.”
I said, “You told me once that Noonan – I assume that Noonan is the guy who tortured you at work – didn’t do it when Kevin was around. He was afraid of Kev, right? He most likely still is. He probably figured that if he tangled with you, Kevin would intervene. He didn’t know my name and didn’t realize I was Kevin’s brother, or he probably wouldn’t have approached me either.”
“No, he wouldn’t have. He’s a coward.” Pete crossed his arms and frowned at me. “He could have shot you.”
“Nah. He wasn’t fast enough.”
He shook his head slowly, his arms still crossed…but a smile was stealing across his face. “I can’t take you anywhere.”
“Uh huh.” I went to him and started to unbutton the red checked shirt. “I thought you said you were getting undressed.”
He laughed. “That is not what I said.”
But he didn’t stop me.