Monthly Archives: January 2018

Now for something completely meta…

Interview_logo

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

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

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

Enjoy!

*********

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

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

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

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

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

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

He grins. “I’ll do my best.”

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

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

He cocks his head. “Beer?”

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

“True. Okay, beer sounds great.”

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

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

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

“Ohhh.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They speak in stereo. “Huh?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where did you place the reference desk?”

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

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

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

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

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

Jamie is frowning. “That’s weird.”

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

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

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

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

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

He can’t deny it. “There is that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jamie asks, “What about Liz?”

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

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

“Sure, why not?”

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

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

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

His eyes widen. “What??

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

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

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

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

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

“Neither.”

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

“Kevin was first.”

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

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

Pete smiles. “Kev will enjoy knowing that.”

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

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

I say, “Remember Blue Tartan Tours?”

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

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

“Scots-Irish?”

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

“Have you been to Brodie Castle?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Uh huh.”

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

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

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

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

“Well…”

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

He has a point.

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

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

I mimic Pete’s dry tone. “Uh huh.”

He grins. “What’s in Catalina?”

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

“That’s so weird.”

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

“Do you make much money off of us?”

“Nope.”

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

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

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

“Why?”

“You don’t know?”

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

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

“No kidding! The one where Ashley Bennett…”

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

“And he can afford it.”

“Thanks to you.”

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

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

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

“How many?”

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

He grumbles. “Okay, fine.”

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

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

I grin. “Best dad on the planet.”

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

“Entirely possible.”

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

I laugh too. “Maybe you will.”

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

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Filed under Books

Marking the passage of time

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

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

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

IMG_1585

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Books, Travel

A new story for the new year!

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

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

Retirements

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

Buffet_Food_Platter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

I asked, “Has anyone hassled you?”

“Not yet.”

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

“Oh, God. Don’t even say that.”

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

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

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

“Do you know them?”

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

“What happened?”

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

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

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

Potato_salad_with_egg_and_mayonnaise

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

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

“Oh, no.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s depressing.”

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

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

“Sure.”

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.

Heh.

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

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

“Thanks. I do what I can.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

“Ah. Okay.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hopkins snorted. “Rats leaving a sinking ship.”

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

“Yes, sir. Thank you.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What will happen to them?”

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

I nodded. “Sounds acceptable.”

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

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

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

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

He just laughed.

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you disappointed?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Nah. He wasn’t fast enough.”

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

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

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

But he didn’t stop me.

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