Tag Archives: Jamie Brodie Mysteries

An interview with Jon and Liz

The entrance to the condo building on South Beverly Glen Boulevard is unremarkable. Lots of glass; a hair salon to the left and a lingerie boutique to the right, both opening to the sidewalk. I punch the code that Liz provided into the box; the door responds with a satisfying thunk as the locking mechanism temporarily disengages.

I tug the door open then pull it closed behind me. I’m in a wide entryway. On my right, the sales office and mail room; on my left, the manager’s office and a concierge. On both sides, banks of elevators. I walk past them all and emerge into a courtyard… if you can call a space with a 25-meter pool a courtyard.

The pool deck is occupied by a few scattered folks; one man is swimming laps. I skirt the area on a gravel sidewalk lined with foliage, which partially screens the pool from me. Above me, rising 22 stories, are balconies. Around me are paths branching from the main walkway, leading to the front doors of first-floor condos.

I head for the back of the complex. Liz Nguyen and Jon Eckhoff’s condo is in the center of the rear section. I locate the correct path and approach, noting that I can see into the condo. There is a screened gate across the front door, but the door itself is standing open.

I ring the bell anyway, rather than call out. Immediately, Liz appears from the left. “Hey! Did you have trouble finding us?”

“Not at all.” I wait while she unlocks the gate, then step into the foyer. “Your directions were perfect.”

She locks the gate behind us then turns and, to my surprise, hugs me. “I’m so glad you’re here! We’ve been looking forward to this ever since you first met with Jamie and Pete.”

“So have I. And all of my readers. They can’t wait to see Jon in his natural habitat.”

She snorts a laugh. “I bet. Allow me to show you his natural habitat.”

“He’s not home yet?”

“No. He called; he’ll be about a half hour. Come on in. Can I get you anything to drink? We thought we’d order pizza for dinner.”

“No, thanks, I’m good for now.”

193px-Libraryatthebarn

By Ryanf1475 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50059913

She leads me into the great room. On the left is a kitchen bar separating the cooking space from the rest of the room. On the right, a sofa, loveseat, two chairs, a TV on the wall… and bookshelves. Every free bit of wall is covered with shelves; every free bit of shelving is weighed down with books. Books are stacked on end tables and coffee tables. It’s nearly overwhelming.

I say, “Holy shit.”

“Right?” Liz waves her hand at the room. “I used to have art on the walls. Can you believe this?”

“I should believe it. I created it. But… jeez, it’s like a natural disaster. You don’t get the full effect until you see it in person.” I examine the titles on the nearest shelf. History, sociology, anthropology, political science, and psychology predominate. “At least he’s not hoarding John Grisham.”

She laughs. “No. He’s totally a nonfiction guy.”

I scan another shelf. “These aren’t organized at all. How do you stand it?”

“Well…” She grins conspiratorially. “I thought, while you’re here, that you might address that with him.”

“Ha! Let me do the dirty work, huh?”

“He won’t listen to me. But you can make him get organized.” She shakes her head. “For a guy who’s so meticulous about his appearance, he’s such a slob with his possessions.”

“Who dusts all of these?”

She rolls her eyes. “Who do you think?”

“Hm. Well, I can change that, too.”

Her eyes light up. “Can you make him be quiet when he gets called out early in the morning?”

“I don’t know… that might be too far out of character.”

She sighs. “I was afraid of that. Sure you don’t want anything to drink? Wine? We can sit on the patio and chat.”

“Sure.”

Cold glasses of chardonnay in hand, we move to the patio through a sliding glass door that opens onto a private space, lined with redwood fencing and greenery, just large enough for a round table, four chairs, and a gas grill. I say, “This is perfect for two.”

“Yup. Not a lot of room for entertaining, but we don’t entertain much.”

“Your parents bought this for you when you moved back to LA?”

“Right. They didn’t have to drain the budget for my education – I had scholarships for Stanford and worked as a grad assistant at Berkeley – so the condo was my master’s degree present.”

“Must be wonderful, being an only child.”

“It is. Thank you for that.”

“You’re welcome. You must have questions for me.”

“Oh, yes.” She kicks off her flats and tucks her feet underneath her, suddenly serious.

Elbling

By Felix Engelhardt (originally posted to Flickr as Elbling) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Are we done with Jon’s drinking problem?”

“Yes.”

She heaves a sigh of relief. “Praise the gods. That was not a good time.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

She waves away my apology. “Jon wouldn’t be who he is without it. And I thoroughly enjoyed his conversation with his mother, telling her that he’d quit because I asked him to.”

“Ha! I bet. I can’t wait to delve more deeply into his family.”

She rolls her eyes. “Better you than me. Although I guess I’ll have to be there…”

“For most of it, yeah.”

“It’s okay. I can handle the Eckhoffs. I hope you’re planning to spend more time with my family, too.”

“Yup. As soon as I’m done with Jamie.”

She looks surprised. “You’ll be done with Jamie?”

“Oh, not permanently. But the core story will be told.”

“They’re not moving to Scotland, are they?”

“Not unless they have to. Have you heard from them since they’ve been gone?” Jamie and his entire family are on vacation in Scotland.

“Yeah, he texted me a couple of days ago. Some idiot’s trying to blackmail them.” She gives me the side eye. “I suppose you know about that.”

“I might.”

She snickers. “Will Jon transfer to Homicide Special?”

“That’s the plan. Can’t let all those clichés go to waste.”

“Oh, my God. Lt. Hopkins.” She shakes her head. “Jon had so much fun that week. Poor Kevin.”

I laugh. “I had fun with Lt. Hopkins, too. But yeah, poor Kevin.”

She grows serious again. “Kev and Kristen aren’t going to move away, are they?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

Please don’t do that.”

“The only way that’ll happen is if all of you are escaping. And it’s hard to imagine that short of The Big One, California won’t continue to be safe and friendly. Hell, if the rest of the country blows up, I may join you.”

She grins. “That would be fun. Weird, but fun.”

“Agreed. What else do you want to know?”

“I’m worried about Pete.”

That surprises me. “Worried how?”

“It’s hard to explain.” She frowns, her gaze fixed beyond me. “Since he left SMC, he’s… different. He gets fixated on things, kind of? He never used to do that. Like, if you get him engaged in a conversation about off-grid living, or his plans for New Mexico, he won’t shut up. But… I don’t know. It’s as if his world is narrowing. I don’t think that being alone all day at home is good for him.”

“Too much time for introspection.”

Yes. Exactly.”

“Has Jamie mentioned this?”

“Nope. I don’t think he’s noticed. And Jon doesn’t see it. So maybe it’s just me.” She gives me another sideways look.

“I can’t discuss it.”

“Uh huh. Understood. I won’t…”

We hear a key rattle in the lock of the front gate. I raise an eyebrow at Liz, who simply says, “I won’t.”

“Thank you.” With that, we stand to greet Jon.

He strides into the foyer, beaming. “Miss Margaret! Welcome to our humble abode!” He hugs me, then pulls Liz into a “mwah” kiss. “How the hell are ya?”

I can’t help but laugh. His personality is that infectious. “I am well, thanks.”

“Outstanding.” He peels off his suit jacket and drapes it carefully over the arm of the sofa, then sheds his tie.

I say, “Nice suit.”

He grins. “Thanks. Someone at West LA has to dress professionally.”

“Uh huh. Doesn’t Tim wear a suit?”

“He wears a sportcoat. Not the same at all.” Jon rolls his sleeves up. “You ladies ready for pizza? I’m famished.”

We order pizza. While we wait, Liz pours more wine, and we reconvene on the patio. I note with approval that Jon is only taking tiny sips. “What’s going on at West LA, with Kevin on vacation?”

He snorts. “Not a damn thing. Boooooring. Jill’s working through an online certificate program in forensics, Max is in a continuing ed thing downtown, and Tim and I are going through the Bart Hightower murder book for the eighth time, making sure we haven’t missed anything.”

“Ah. When does that go to trial?”

“David Gillespie is scheduled for October. What happens to Robert Camilletti depends on the outcome of Gillespie’s trial.”

“David and Robert are still blaming each other?”

“Yeah. We’re pretty confident that David pulled the trigger, though. Robert was right – his fingerprint wasn’t on the trigger. We’ll see what the jury says.”

“What’s happened at the monastery?”

“Ha! Get this. Trent Gillis was elected as the new abbot.”

“No shit! Maybe he’ll be good at that.”

“I think he will.”

I ask Liz, “How is Clinton doing?”

“He seems okay. The past few weeks, especially, he’s more like his old self.”

“Have you been to dinner with Clinton and his sister yet?”

Liz laughs. “Not yet. You should be there for that one, shouldn’t you?”

“Heh. Probably.”

We finish our pizza, chatting about UCLA and LAPD matters, then Liz gives me a significant look. I say, “Okay, Jon, I have a task for you. Liz and I will help.”

He’s immediately suspicious. “A task?”

“Yes.” I stand. “We are going to organize the books in your living room.”

His mouth forms an O. “But…”

“But what?”

“But then the books in the office won’t be organized in the same way. So why start?”

“Okay, maybe we’ll include those.”

Liz is grinning. Jon stares at me. “This will take all night.”

Liz says, “It’s Friday. Where else do you have to be?”

I say, “It won’t take all night. This is gonna be quick and dirty. Large categories of subjects, not LC call numbers. Come on.”

He sighs. “I have to change.”

“Okay. Liz and I will formulate our plan.”

Jon disappears into the hallway leading to the master bedroom, shaking his head. Liz and I repair to the living room. I say, “What do you think? Separate piles for history, anthropology, etcetera?”

“Sure.”

Liz and I quickly establish categories in the center of the living room floor, with one book each representing its subject. Jon returns, barefoot, wearing jeans and a Two Days to Solve t-shirt. Dressed down, he looks five years younger. I say, “They have t-shirts already?”

“Yeah. Handed them out to all of us when they left. So what are we doing here?”

We show him the pre-placed categories. He says, “What if a book fits in two places?”

Liz groans. “This is why we never get started with this project.”

I say, “Then pick the one where you’ll remember to look for it.”

“Uh huh. How are you two gonna make that decision?”

I grin. “You are going to have to trust us.”

“Oh, God….”

An hour and a half later, we have all of the books from the living room shelves on the floor. There are stacks sliding off stacks, and the boundaries are starting to blur, but we’ve made excellent progress. I say, “Okay. Now to the office.”

Jon grumbles. “It’s weird that you know where our office is.”

“No, it’s not, I created it. Come on.”

There are twice as many books in the office. We empty two walls of shelving, then pause for cold pizza and a beer. Liz says, “We’ll have to start reshelving some of these, if we’re not gonna start walking on books.”

We’re all aghast at the idea of walking on books. I say, “Okay, Jon, what subject do you want in the living room?”

“Um…history, I guess.”

“Okay. I’ll start shelving the history pile. You two keep bringing books from the office. Let’s get back to work.”

Jon groans. “You’re a slavedriver.”

Liz just grins.

I don’t worry about the order of the books I shelve, even though my librarian nerve cells are twitching to put them in alphabetical order. I figure Liz can tackle that later, if she wants. In a half hour I’ve depleted the history pile in the floor. Jon adds an armful of books to the criminal justice pile, and looks at me hopefully. “Should we start reshelving another subject?”

“How many more history books do you have in the office?”

“Oh. Never mind.”

It’s nearly midnight by the time all of the books are off the floor and back on shelves. The living room is full of history, anthropology, and sociology. The office holds criminal justice, psychology, philosophy, and other. We are sweaty and exhausted. I stand back and spread my arms. “Look at this. Better, right? And there’s still some space at the end of each shelf to add another book or two.”

Jon brightens. “See, Lizzie? Room for more.”

I hold up a finger. “One or two more. Once the shelves are filled, you have to start following the one in, one out rule.”

He sighs deeply. “Okaaaaaay.”

“And another thing. As of right now, you are responsible for dusting these. Every week. And you might as well dust the office and living room in their entireties while you’re at it.”

“Okaaaaay.”

Liz is smirking. I say, “I’ll know if you don’t.”

Another sigh. “I know.”

Liz says, “Want anything to eat or drink? Water? Beer?”

“No, thanks. I’d better get to the hotel.” I’m staying in a dorm on campus, which is empty for the summer.

“I’ll see you at the library at noon, then.” Liz hugs me. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Me, too.” I hug back. “Thanks for everything. I’ll see you tomorrow.” I’m finally getting my tour of YRL.

Jon says, “I’ll take you to campus.”

I watch as he dons his shoulder holster. “Do you wear the gun even when you’re not on duty?”

“Yup.” He gives me a significant look as he shrugs a windbreaker over his shoulders. “You never know, right?”

“Right.”

We take the elevator to the garage, where Jon unlocks Liz’s car and opens the passenger door for me. It’s a short trip to campus, so I don’t waste time. As soon as Jon has backed out of the parking space I say, “You must have questions for me, too.”

“Yeah.” He glances at me, suddenly serious. “Will Liz get tired of me eventually?”

“Get tired of you?”

“Yeah. I mean…” He frowns at the gate as it rises. “I’m so hyper. And my hours on the job can be lousy. I don’t know why she puts up with me.”

Jon. You and Liz are golden. Trust me. You two will be together until you’re old and gray. And in case you hadn’t noticed, she’s a tad hyper herself.”

“You have a point. But…”

“But what?”

“My family.” He shakes his head as we turn onto Beverly Glen Blvd. “My parents still think we’ll have kids.”

“But if they don’t like Liz, why do they want you to have kids? You need to sit them down and explain the facts of life to them. What about your brother?”

“They’ve been trying for years and can’t. Seth and Sarah have spent a fortune on fertility treatments. My parents have helped pay for them. No dice.”

“That’s sad. But it doesn’t mean you have to reproduce.”

“I know.” His expression is sad. “Liz will always be a pariah to them, won’t she?”

Abc1069

By 1069abc – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34551201

“Probably. Why don’t you start to pull away from them a bit? Being with them only stresses both of you out. It messes with your Zen.”

“I know we should stay away.”

I punch him lightly in the arm. “Come on, Detective. Strengthen your resolve. Tell ‘em they can accept you and Liz the way you are, or they can see far less of you. Their choice.”

He nods, intrigued. “I will.”

“Good man. What else do you want to know?”

We’re at the stoplight at Beverly Glen and Wilshire, which turns green. Jon looks both ways before pulling out to turn left. “Will this social work deal work out for Kevin?”

“It’s funny that you ask. I’m not sure yet. But he is quitting the force, at least actively.”

“I hate to go to Homicide Special without him.”

“I know. But I have a treat for you to make up for losing Kevin.”

He lights up like a little kid. “Ooooh! What?”

“Susan Portman. You and she will be partners, and the two of you will become legends.”

Jon hoots with laughter. “Oh my God, that is awesome.”

“See? There’s life after Kevin. What else do you want to know?”

We’ve reached the dorm; Jon pulls to the curb and cuts the engine. “Why did you decide to write gay mystery? Why is Jamie gay?”

The question takes me aback. “Whaaaaat?”

“I’m curious. We’re all curious.”

“You’re the first to ask, though.”

“Well, all is relative. Jamie figures it’s because he’s gay. End of story.”

I shrug. “That’s right.”

He shakes his head. “Nunh unh. There has to be more.”

I consider my answer. “Well… I wanted to explore a long-term steady gay relationship. How do two guys navigate a marriage? Especially when one of them isn’t content to take on the housewife role? And, you know… het couples are boring. Meh. No offense.”

He laughs. “None taken. It has been interesting to watch Jamie fight off traditional roles. He’s told Liz about some of what Pete had to work through.”

“Yes. It’s still a struggle for Pete… not so much the heteronormative stuff now, but the navigating part.”

“It’s a struggle for Jamie too. He’s so frickin’ independent.”

“True. Plus, he’s not used to having a dependent partner. All but one of his exes were independent types.”

Jon drums his fingers on the steering wheel, frowning slightly. “Pete’s been changing since he left SMC.”

“Yeah, Liz and I discussed that. It’ll be addressed.” I yawn. It’s waaaaay past my bedtime.

Jon notices. “Oh, it’s late. I’ll walk you in.”

As we enter the lobby I say, “Time for one more question.”

“Can I have a dog?”

I burst out laughing. “Maybe.”

Maybe? What does that mean?”

I grin as I press the elevator button. “Good night, Jon. Drive carefully.”

He laughs and pulls me into a hug. “Yes, ma’am.”

 

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Filed under Short Stories

New short story: Moving Day

Here’s your first short story of the summer! Dave’s house has been relocated to the lot beside Jeff’s farm, as planned in Cloistered to Death, and it’s time to get the house ready for habitation in its new location.

 

Moving Day

Saturday, May 26, 2018

“Wait.” My sister-in-law, Kristen Beach, pointed as I zipped past the Highway 76 exit, the first after leaving Camp Pendleton, headed south on the 5. “You missed the exit.”

Kristen, my brother Kevin, and I were in my new Jeep, on our way to my dad’s house. Dad had chosen to relocate our childhood home, lifting the house from its foundation in one piece and trucking it slowly east, to the lot beside my brother Jeff’s farm. The actual move had taken place on Wednesday. Today we were coming down to help Dad, Jeff, and the rest of the family move Dad’s belongings into the house.

I said, “No, I didn’t. I want to go by the lot first.”

She turned and gave me a sideways look. “Are you sorry your dad did this?”

“No. We just want to see. Right, Kev?”

Kevin was in the back seat, where he’d been absorbed in reading material for one of his social work classes. “Um. Right.”

Kristen’s expression read, Yeah, sure. “Uh huh.” But she didn’t pursue it further.

That suited me. I wasn’t in the mood to dissect how I felt at the moment.

I took the next exit, Mission Avenue, and drove east, then turned left on South Tremont Street. My dad’s address for 44 years. We cruised slowly down the street and pulled in at the curb where our house used to stand.

June Arbogast, my dad’s neighbor for most of those 44 years, was on the lot. The Arbogasts had bought the lot from Dad, with the intention of gardening on it and having more room for their grandkids to play. She straightened up, shading her eyes, then smiled when she saw us. “Jamie, Kevin, hi! It looks weird, doesn’t it?”

Kevin said, “Yes, ma’am.”

I pointed to the holes in the ground, where fence posts had stood. The fence had been removed to allow the house to be transported. “Will you replace the fence?”

“Yes. We don’t want the kids to be chasing balls into the street, or people roaming through to steal oranges.” She waved at the orange tree, which used to shade my dad’s bedroom window. “Your dad’s moving in today?”

Kevin said, “Yes, ma’am. They got all the utilities hooked up yesterday.”

Moving_a_house,_LA

Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

“Good.” She shook her head. “That was a strange sight, I have to say, watching your house go around the corner up there.”

I said, “I bet it was.” It wasn’t a sight I’d wanted to see. “We’d better go. We just wanted…”

She smiled sympathetically. “I understand. You stop by any time you want.”

Kevin smiled. “Yes, ma’am. We will.”

Kristen had kept quiet. We got back in the car and I pulled away from the curb, shooting her a glance. “What?”

“Nothing.”

“It’s Dad’s life. He has to do what’s right for him.”

“Agreed.”

“Stop looking at me.”

She laughed.

 

My husband, Pete, would join us later today. He – and our dog, Ammo – had been in Arizona for the past month, helping his sister, Christine, at her family’s ranch while her husband, Andy, recovered from a broken ankle. Andy was still in a walking boot and unable to ride horses for at least another two weeks, so Pete would drive back to Tucson on Tuesday. But Ammo would come home with me.

When we got to Jeff’s, Kevin passed the property and pulled into the next driveway – at the end of which stood our house. My dad’s house. I said under my breath, “Wow.”

Kristen said, “It fits.”

“He needs to paint it now.” The pale gray color, which had fit the setting well in town, didn’t look right out here. “It needs to be green or blue. Or brown. Or something.”

Kevin laughed. “I bet that’s on the agenda.”

Dad’s belongings were stored in Jeff’s barn, in an empty stall. We’d helped move most everything last weekend. He was having new appliances and furniture delivered tomorrow; he’d gotten rid of his living room furniture, which was admittedly pretty shabby. Once those trucks arrived tomorrow morning, we could start carrying boxes into the house.

Today was reserved for painting the interior of the house.

We parked to the side of the drive and clambered out. I walked up to the front porch, skirting the newly-poured sidewalk stretching from the driveway, and peered in the front living room window. It was strange to see the house empty. Kristen followed me as I went around to the back, where another batch of concrete forming a patio was curing. She said, “I like the additions.”

“Me, too.”

“Satisfied?”

“For now.”

We struck out across the field between the house and Jeff’s property. When we got there we were enthusiastically greeted by Ralphie, Jeff and Val’s yellow Lab, and Phoebe, their border collie. Dad; his girlfriend, Claudia Stratton; Jeff; Val; and Colin and Gabe, Jeff’s kids and my nephews, were in the kitchen, where Val was in the middle of canning something.

Val was always in the middle of canning something. Kristen went to investigate. I hugged Dad and Claudia. “When do we start painting?”

Dad said, “We were just waiting for you to get here. The rollers and paint are already over at the house.”

I said, “I like the patio and sidewalk.”

Kevin said, “Me too. They turned out well.”

Dad grinned. “They did, didn’t they? I’m going to get a new grill as soon as the concrete is solid. Next weekend, probably.”

Kristen asked, “When are the horses coming?” Jeff and Val’s plan was to use the bulk of Dad’s two acres as pasture for two new draft horses.

Jeff said, “After we get back from Scotland. They’re bought and paid for, but the owner’s holding them for us until we’re ready.”

We were taking a three-week family vacation to Scotland in July. Kevin said, “Plus, you have to get the fences up.”

“Exactly. The installers are coming Monday to start that job.” A large fence would ring the back of Dad’s property for the horses; a smaller fence would surround the house and yard, keeping the horses out of Dad’s garden beds.

Val lifted a rack of jars from the canning boiler and turned off the burner on the range. “That’s it. You guys fill that cooler with what you want to drink, and we’ll go.”

Kevin and I filled the large cooler with ice and drinks – water, Coke and beer – and we set out back across the field, Kevin and I lugging the cooler between us. Jeff locked the dogs in the house, and he, Val, Dad, Claudia, Kristen, and the boys trailed after us toward Dad’s house.

We carefully climbed onto the front porch without stepping on the new sidewalk and left the cooler there. Dad opened both the front and back doors, and we went around the house opening all the windows. Dad had already spread drop cloths. He said, “Okay. The paint for each room, with rollers and brushes, is already in the room it belongs to. Claudia and I will take the kitchen. You guys can divide up the rest however you want.”

Jeff said, “Val and the boys and I will take the living room.”

It was the biggest room in the house. It made sense. Plus, the boys would probably need supervision. Colin was 16 and Gabe was 14, and should be old enough to paint within the lines. But we could never be too cautious.

Kevin said, “We’ll take the back bedroom and bathroom.”

I said, “That leaves me the front bedroom.” Dad and I had already painted the guest bathroom a few months ago, when I’d evacuated to Oceanside during the Skirball fire in Bel Air.

Dad said, “Sounds good. Whoever finishes first will tackle the office.”

We assented. Dad made a circular motion above his head with his finger. “Let’s roll!”

We scattered to our assigned rooms. I had two gallons of eggshell finish paint for the walls of the bedroom and closet and one gallon of semi-gloss for trim. When I cracked the lid of the first eggshell can, I found a light yellowish coral color. When the evening light came in the front window, which faced west, this room would glow.

I poured the paint into the tray and got busy. This room had been my childhood bedroom, but I discovered that I wasn’t being assaulted by memories. Dad had converted our room to a guest room once I’d gone away to college. I’d slept in it plenty of times as a guest room since then.

Two hours later the bedroom walls were complete. I went to the porch to grab a Coke, just in time to see our car turn into the drive. Pete and Ammo were here.

He parked, waved, and went to the back seat to release Ammo, who bounded toward me

Aquincum_tegula_with_footprint_of_dog_IMG_0923

By Bjoertvedt [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

joyfully. I yelled, “Ack! Ammo, stop!” But it was too late. Dad’s new sidewalk would now have the faint impressions of four doggie paws.

Pete hustled after him. “Oh, shit. I didn’t know that was there.”

“It’s okay. Dad won’t care. It adds character.” I ruffled Ammo’s ears then pulled Pete into the house for a hug and kiss. “Welcome home.”

“Thanks.” He kissed me back. “What are we doing?”

“Painting the guest bedroom. Come see.”

He followed me to the room. “Oh, I love this color. What’s left?”

“One of us has to go back in the closet.”

He gave me a look. “Huh??”

“To paint, doofus.” I grinned. “We both won’t fit in the closet. Do you want closet or trim?”

“Oh.” He laughed. “The closet, I guess.”

“Okay.” I drained my Coke and we got to work. An hour later Pete and I were both finished. Dad and Claudia were done in the kitchen, and came to inspect our work. I said, “Where are we going to wash out the rollers and brushes?”

“Out in the yard. Wrap ‘em in the drop cloths and we’ll carry them outside.” Dad grinned. “It looks great.”

“Thanks. I love the colors you picked.”

“Me, too.”

I experienced a moment of panic. “You didn’t paint over our heights, did you?”

Every year on our birthdays, Dad had measured our heights against the frame of the door leading from the kitchen to the back yard. He said, “Of course not. But I have taken detailed photos of that entire door frame, just in case this place ever burns down.”

I sucked in a breath. “Don’t even say that.”

Dad patted me on the head with a grin. “Don’t worry.”

 

We hadn’t taken a break for lunch, and we were all ravenous. Back at Val’s, we dug into chicken salad she’d made that morning, with grapes and bits of apple, and thick slices of warm sourdough bread with butter.

Kevin asked Dad, “Have you been sleeping at the house?”

“I did last night, once the water and power were on.”

Pete, ever the psychologist, asked, “How did it feel?”

Dad grinned. “I woke up in the middle of the night, wondering where I was. It took a few seconds. But the view of the sunrise from my bedroom is glorious.”

Kristen asked, “What’s left to do? Window treatments, I know.”

“Yes. I thought about installing them myself, then decided to let the pros do it. They’re coming on Monday.”

Claudia said, “Tomorrow, after the furniture and appliances come, we’re going shopping for new bedding and towels to coordinate with all the new colors.”

I said, “Jeez. It’s almost like a new house.”

Dad gave me a close look. “It’s the same house, sport. We’re just spiffing it up some.”

Of course it was. I said, “Yes, sir.”

 

Kevin and Kristen were spending the night at Jeff and Val’s. Pete and I had brought our own air mattress, to sleep in the front room that we’d painted earlier in the day.

After a couple of hours, Claudia went home – she had dogs to walk and feed. Once it was nearly dark, we said goodnight to the rest of the family and picked our way by flashlight across the field to Dad’s house. We’d closed the windows when we left; now the odor of fresh paint assaulted our nostrils. We went around re-opening windows and turning on ceiling fans, and the smell soon started to dissipate.

We raided the cooler for more beer; the ice was only half melted and the beer was frosty cold. Dad’s porch rockers from the old location were already placed on the front porch. Pete sat on the top step, his back against the post, and Dad and I took the rockers. Ammo settled at my feet. We kicked back and watched the last rays of sunset sink over the Pacific, a sliver of which we could see in the distance.

I said, “This view is fantastic. So much better than in town.”

Dad chuckled. “No comparison. And when the horses arrive, we’ll have them for entertainment too.”

Pete asked, “How much of the two acres will be given over to them?”

“One and a half. I’ve got a half acre surrounding the house. That’s plenty.”

I said, “You’ll have to borrow Jeff’s tractor to mow.”

“Yup.”

We drank in silence for a few moments. Pete asked, “Any regrets, Dave?”

Dad didn’t even have to think about it. “Very few. I hate losing the orange tree, and there were a lot of memories with that old lot – but this is the right move. And I know that Julie would approve.”

My mom, who’d died nearly 38 years ago, when I was six months old. I said, “I bet she’d have loved it up here.”

Dad smiled. “She sure would.”

 

After another beer for each of us, we went in. Dad said goodnight and went to his room; I heard the shower running a minute later. I said, “You want the shower first?”

“No, you go ahead. I’ll blow up the mattress, then I’ll shower.”

When I exited the shower, wrapped in one towel – we’d brought towels and sheets with us – and rubbing my hair with another, Pete was unhooking the battery-powered pump from the air mattress. “There you go. You can make it up however you want.”

“Thanks.” I nearly dropped my towel, before remembering that there weren’t any shades on the window, and turned off the light to don my pajamas in the dark. Then I turned the light back on, and began pulling sheets out of the bag we’d brought. By the time Pete came in, already wearing pajama pants, I had the bed ready to sleep in.

We hung our towels in the bathroom, turned off the light, and slipped under the duvet. Ammo circled three times at the foot of the air mattress and was soon asleep. I stretched out with a sigh. Pete said, “How are you feeling about this now?”

I tried to honestly evaluate my emotions. “It still feels odd, but it doesn’t feel wrong. When Dad first mentioned moving the house, I was a little freaked out. But now that I see it here – it’s still our house. Just in a different place. A better place.”

“This is a great location.” Pete reached over and squeezed my hand. “I predict that eventually, you’ll all be asking yourselves why no one thought of this before.”

I chuckled. “Probably. And it makes me feel great that Dad is here with Jeff and Val right over there. I mean, he’s still in awesome shape, but as he ages…”

“Right. And if Gabe decides to take over the farm, maybe he could live here and help out your dad. Or if he’s partnered up, maybe your dad could move over to Jeff and Val’s.”

Gabe, at fourteen, was showing every sign of wanting to follow in the footsteps of Val’s family, all of whom were farmers in the Central Valley. I said, “And if Gabe decides on another path, heck, Kevin and Kristen might move here sometime. Who knows?”

“Yep.” Pete squeezed my hand again then rested his hands behind his head. “Anything is possible.”

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Get your copy now!

Yay! The day has finally come! Cloistered to Death is here! If you didn’t pre-order, you can now get the print and Kindle versions here, PDF/epub/mobi here through Smashwords, and at all of your other favorite ebook sellers.

Enjoy!!Cover 2500x1875.jpg

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Six days until Cloistered to Death!

While you wait, here’s a brief snippet. Jamie is on a writing retreat at a monastery.

I was deep into a primary document written by a Mackenzie chief when I heard voices from the kitchen. A man said, in a very un-monklike tone, “Fuck off, Trent. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Cover 2500x1875.jpgA deeper voice said, “Yes, I do. You think Father Greg allowed Martin to greet the guests as a reward? Hell, no. He was punishing him for letting Lawrence hit him in the face. You know the rule.”

“Yeah, yeah. No marks.”

“Besides, Joe, you’ve got no reason to be jealous of Martin. Unless you want to be music director.”

Joe snorted. “Noooo, thank you. The turnover rate for that job is way too high.”

Nothing else was said.

I sat there for a minute, reflecting on what I’d just heard. No marks? Unless the monastery had a goat named Lawrence, Brother Martin had lied to me. And what did that remark about the turnover rate for music directors mean? Martin had said that his predecessor had died.

It occurred to me that I probably shouldn’t tell Pete about the conversation. At least not until I got home.

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Cloistered to Death is ready to preorder!

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

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

Enjoy!

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

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

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

Cover 2500x1875.jpg

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A snippet from Cloistered to Death

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

TWO DAYS TO SOLVE

Los Angeles, California

Monday, April 23, 2018

5:15 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eckhoff: This time, we know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crime scene personnel are taking multiple pictures.

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

Eckhoff (in some disbelief): You know him?

 

Pre-order links coming soon!

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New short story: The Rest of the Story

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

The Rest of the Story

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

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

Bacon_(1)

By Renee Comet (Photographer) – English | Français | +/−, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24036670

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

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

Dave locked the gate behind her. “Hungry?”

“God, yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ahh. Can’t wait for tomato season.”

“No kidding.”

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

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

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

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

LRPs_directing_artillery

By Icemanwcs – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28018478

“I don’t doubt that.”

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

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

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

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

“How old was Jamie?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“When did you learn what had happened?”

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

“Oh, Dave. How awful.”

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

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

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

“When did your dad come to stay?”

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

“How were the boys?”

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

“That must have been terrible for you.”

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

“What about Kevin?”

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

“I suppose Jamie wasn’t affected.”

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

CHP_Shoulder_Patch

By California Highway Patrol – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29152153

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

“What a nice man.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Please.”

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

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

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

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