You’re not welcome here, Paul.”
Most places in the world, a statement like that sounded normal. Unfriendly, perhaps, but still common, still acceptable.
Most places, but not at a Catholic church.
“But someone’s following me,” Paul said. “And it’s cold out.” Paul’s eyes flicked left, flicked right, too fast to take anything in. He looked haunted.
That wasn’t Father Esteban Rodriguez’s problem. This man, if he could be called that, would never again be allowed in the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption. Never again.
“You’ve been told,” Esteban said. “You’re not part of this church anymore.”
Paul’s eyes narrowed, cleared. For a moment, Esteban saw a glimmer of the wit that had made Paul so popular, so engaging.
“What about forgiveness?” Paul said. “That’s what we’re all about, forgiveness of our sins. Or are you better than Our Savior?”
Esteban felt rage — a rare emotion — and quickly fought to bring it under control. “I am only a man,” he said. “Perhaps a weak one at that. Maybe the Lord can forgive you your sins, but I can’t. You may not seek shelter here.”
Paul looked down. He shivered. Esteban shivered, too. San Francisco’s evening chill — a wet, clinging thing — rolled through the church door that Esteban blocked with his body.
Paul wore a sagging blue coat that had once probably been puffy and shiny. Maybe it had looked nice on the original owner, whomever that might be, however many years ago that was. Paul’s pants were dirty — not caked with filth, but spotted here and there with finger streaks of food, grease, other things. Years ago, this man had helped care for the homeless; now he looked like one of them.
“I have nowhere to go,” Paul said to the ground.
“That is not the church’s problem. That is not my problem.”
“I’m a human being, Father.”
Esteban shook his head. This disgusting, demonic creature before him thought himself human? “You don’t belong here. You’re not wanted here. This is a sanctuary — one doesn’t let wolves in among the sheep. Why don’t you go somewhere you do belong? If you don’t leave, I’ll call the police.”
Paul looked away, down the street. He seemed to be searching for something, something . . . specific. Something that wasn’t there.
“I told the police,” Paul said. “Told them someone was following me.”
“What did they say?”
Paul looked Esteban in the eyes.
“Pretty much the same thing you did, Father.”
“Whatever a man sows, this he will also reap,” Esteban said. “Hell has a special place for people like you. Leave, now.”
Sadness filled Paul’s eyes. Desperation, despair — perhaps the final understanding that this part of his life was over. Paul looked beyond Esteban, through the door to the church interior. The look of sadness changed to one of longing. Paul had spent many years in this very building.
Those days were gone forever.
Paul turned and walked down the church’s wide steps. Esteban watched him reach the sidewalk of Gough Street, then cross and continue down O’Farrell.
Esteban shut the door.
Paul Maloney hunched his shoulders high, tried to burrow his ears into his coat. He needed a hat. So cold out at night. Wind drove the fog, a fog thick enough that you could see wisps of it at eye level. He walked down O’Farrell Street, home to strip clubs, drug dealers and whores, an asphalt swath of sin and degradation. Part of him knew he belonged here. Another part, an older part, wanted to scream and yell, tell all these sinners where they would go unless they took Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
The gall of Father Esteban. Hell has a special place? Maybe for Esteban, maybe for men like him who purported to preach the Word when they didn’t even understand it. God loved Paul Maloney. God loved everyone. Someday, Paul would stand by his side — it would be Esteban who would feel the fires.
Esteban, and the others who had kicked Paul out of the only life he’d ever known.
Paul turned left on Jones Street. Where would he go? He had a constant, churning need for human contact that continued to surprise him. Not the type of contact that had changed his life, just the normal act of a kind word, a conversation. A connection. He’d spent so many years in the church, so many years in front of a steady stream of people. Even during the long periods of study, of contemplation, his isolation was self-imposed; people were always a few rooms away. There was always someone out there to talk to if he so chose.
But for the past couple of years, no one had wanted to talk to Paul Maloney. He had to be careful everywhere he went — some of the sinners around here would pass judgment with their fists and feet.
Two in the morning. People were still on the street, especially in this part of town, but not many. No kids out at this hour. A shame.
Behind him, a noise, the sound of metal scraping lightly against brick.
Paul whirled. No one there.
His heart hammered. He’d turned thinking he would see the man with the shaggy black beard and the green John Deere ball cap. How many times had Paul seen that man in the past week? Four? Maybe five?
Please, Heavenly Father, please don’t let that man be a parent.
The sound came again.
Paul turned so fast he stumbled. What had made that scraping noise? A pipe? Maybe some bag lady pushing a cart with a broken wheel? He looked for the bearded man, but the bearded man wasn’t there.
Paul put his cold hands on his face. He rubbed hard, trying to shake away the fear. How had it come to this? He hadn’t done anything wrong, not really. He just loved so much, and now this was his life: one foot in front of the other, walking through loneliness, until he died.
“I must be strong,” he said. “I will fear no evil, because you are with me, thy —”
A whisper of air behind him, the sound of something heavy falling, the slap of shoe soles against damp concrete.
Paul started to turn, but before he could see what it was, strong hands locked onto his shoulders.
Good Morning, Sunshine
As the sun rose, the shadows crawled along the streets of San Francisco, shrinking away into the buildings that spawned them.
Bryan sat on the ledge of his apartment building’s roof, watching the dawn. Bathrobe, boxers, a cup of coffee, feet dangling six stories above the sidewalk below — a little slice of the good life. He loved his daily rooftop ritual, but normally his work ended with the rising sun.
At dawn, Bryan Clauser usually went to sleep.
He rarely had to work the day shift, a perk of both his seniority and the fact that few other people wanted to pursue murder investigations from eight at night until four in the morning. His beloved night shift would have to wait, however — the Ablamowicz case had stagnated, and Chief Amy Zou had to show some kind of movement or the press would eat her alive.
When a local, loaded businessman is found floating in three separate barrels in the San Francisco Bay, the media wants answers. Zou would masterfully ration pieces of information, steadily feeding the media hounds what they wanted to hear until those hounds gradually lost interest and moved on to the next story.
Zou had a press-conference playbook so predictable that the cops she commanded had labeled the steps — Step I: Gather Information but Don’t Make Assumptions, then Step II: Put Our Senior People on the Case. She had already moved past Step III: Creation of a Multidisciplinary Task Force and sailed headlong into the media-pleasing Step IV: Assign Additional Resources. In this instance, additional resources meant pulling in the night-shift guys. Zou gave orders to Jesse Sharrow, the Homicide department captain, and Sharrow gave orders to Bryan.
So, day shift it was.
Bryan scratched at his short, dark-red beard and his hands came away wet; sometimes he forgot to dry that off. It was getting a little long — not too bad yet, but he’d have to trim it in a day or two or his look would slide from casually cool to newly homeless.
He pulled his black terrycloth robe a little tighter. Chilly up here. His bare feet dangled six stories above Laguna Street. He sipped his coffee and looked north to his “view” of San Francisco Bay. Not much of a view, really: a postage-stamp-size space at the far end of Laguna that showed a strip of blue water, then the dark mass of Angel Island, and beyond that the faraway, starry-light-twinkling of sleepy Tiburon. He couldn’t even see the iconic Golden Gate Bridge from here — too many taller buildings in the way. Views were for the rich.
Cops don’t get rich. Not the clean ones, anyway.
People called his job “homicide inspector,” but that wasn’t how it felt to Bryan. He didn’t inspect, he hunted. He hunted murderers. It was his life, his reason for being. Whatever might be missing from his world, those things faded away when the hunt began. As corny as it sounded, this city was his home and he was one of its protectors.
He’d been born here, but his dad had moved around during Bryan’s childhood and teenage years. Indianapolis for grade school, Atlanta in junior high, Detroit for his freshman and sophomore years. Bryan had never really felt at home anywhere, not until they moved back to the city for his junior year in high school. George Washington High. Good times.
From his robe pocket, his cell phone sounded the tone of an incoming two-way message. He didn’t have to check who it was, because only his partner used that feature. Bryan raised the phone to his ear and thumbed the two-way button, the bee-boop sound chiming when he called out, the opposite boo-beep sound signaling Pookie calling in.
“I’m ready,” Bryan said.
“No, you’re not,” Pookie said. “You’re probably up on your roof drinking coffee.”
“No, I’m not,” Bryan said, then took a sip.
“You probably aren’t even dressed.”
“Yes, I am,” Bryan said.
“You’re an L-L-W-T-L.”
Pookie and his made-up acronyms. Bee-boop: “What the hell is an L-L-W-T-L?”
Boo-beep: “A lying liar who tells lies. It puts on the clothes, or it gets the horn again.”
Bryan drained the coffee mug and set it on the ledge to his left. Three other mugs were already sitting there. He made a mental note to grab them the following night. He usually didn’t bother with the orphaned mugs until there were five or six sitting there like a little ceramic calendar marking the last time he’d bothered to clean up after himself.
He hurried to the fire escape and started down to his apartment. If he wasn’t down on the street by the time Pookie’s Buick rolled up, the man would lean on the horn until Bryan came out. Bryan’s neighbors just loved Pookie Chang.
The damp metal steps felt cold on Bryan’s bare feet. Two flights down he reached the narrow landing just outside his kitchen window and climbed inside.
His kitchen was so small you couldn’t fit two people in there and open the fridge at the same time. Not that he ever had two people in the kitchen. Six months he’d lived in the one-bedroom, and he still hadn’t unpacked most of his boxes.
Bryan dressed quickly. Black socks, black pants and a black T-shirt. His black Bianchi Tuxedo shoulder holster came next, followed by a nylon forearm knife sheath. He scooped up his weapons from his coffee table. Tomahawk tactical fighting knife for the forearm sheath. SOG Twitch XL folding knife, clipped inside the pants to the left of the crotch, hidden from sight but within easy reach. Sig Sauer P226 in the holster. The SFPD issued the .40-caliber version to the entire force. It wouldn’t have been his first choice for a main weapon, but that’s what they gave you and that’s what you carried. The shoulder holster was equipped with two additional magazine pouches and a small handcuff holster. Bryan dutifully filled these as well.
Where a lot of cops carried a backup piece in an ankle holster, Bryan wanted the full effect of an onion field gun — a gun that might be missed by perps should he be taken hostage. His was a tiny Seecamp LWS32, a .32-caliber pistol so small it fit in an imitation wallet and slid into his back left pants pocket. He’d actually been a hostage once, been at the mercy of a perp who’d missed several days of meds. Bryan never wanted to experience anything like that ever again.
He shrugged on a black hoodie and zipped it up, hiding his holster from sight. As he slid past still-packed moving boxes and out his apartment door, he heard the faint, steady sound of a car horn.
What an asshole.
Bryan skipped every other stair as he shot down four flights to the old-school lobby, sneakers slapping against chipped marble floors. Right out front was Pookie’s shit-brown Buick — double-parked, completely blocking a lane.
Passing cars honked, but if Pookie could hear them over his own car’s horn he didn’t pay any attention. After six years together as partners, Bryan knew Pookie’s attitude all too well. Pookie was a cop; what was someone going to do, give him a ticket?
Bryan shot out the door, onto the sidewalk and around the Buick. As usual, a stack of beat-up manila folders filled the passenger’s seat.
Pookie Chang did not believe in technology.
Bryan scooped up the teetering mass, held it in his lap as he sat and shut the door.
“Hey, Pooks.” Bryan reached across and patted Pookie’s belly. “Did the Buddha like his donuts this morning?”
“We can’t all have the metabolism of a hummingbird,” Pookie said as he pulled into traffic on Vallejo Street. “The choo-choo don’t run without some coal in the engine. And Buddha? I could have Internal Affairs bring you up on racial intimidation charges for that. How would you like it if I called you a potato-eating Mick bastard?”
“Clauser is a German name, genius.”
Pookie laughed. “Yeah, all those members of the Master Race have red hair and green eyes just like you.”
Bryan shrugged. “Dark-red. Irish have bright-red. I’m German through and through, going back three generations. Besides, oh sensitive one, I was talking about your big Buddha belly, not your slanty eyes.”
“Slanty eyes? Oh, yeah, that’s so much more politically correct. And I’m not fat. I’m big-boned.”
“I remember when you bought that coat,” Bryan said. “Four years ago. You could button it then — can you button it now?”
Pookie turned south on Van Ness, then cut across two lanes of traffic for no apparent reason. Bryan automatically pressed his feet to the floor and grabbed the door handle. He heard honks and a few screeches as drivers quickly hit their brakes.
“We Chicagoans like to eat,” Pookie said. “You have your tofu and bean sprouts, Cali boy, I’ll keep my brats and bear claws. Besides, the ladies love my belly. That’s why in our cop show, you’re the brooding, misunderstood, tough-guy rebel. I’m the pretty one that gets the babes. In the grander hot-or-not scale? I’m ranked like nine hundred levels above you.”
“That’s a lot of levels.”
Pookie nodded. “Most assuredly.”
“How’s the script coming?”
Pookie’s latest hobby was writing something called a series bible for a police show. He had never acted a day in his life, never been involved in show business, but that didn’t slow him down in the least. He attacked everything in life the same way he attacked a buffet.
Pookie shrugged. “So-so. I thought a cop drama would write itself. Turns out not so much. But don’t worry, I’ll lick it like I licked your mom.”
“Name the show yet?”
“Yeah, listen to this. Midnight Shield. How’s that sit in your mouth?”
“Like bad sushi,” Bryan said. “Midnight Shield? Really?”
“Yeah, ’cause the characters are cops like us, and they work the overnight shift, and —”
“I got the wordplay, Pooks. It’s not that I don’t understand it, it just sucks.”
“The fuck you know about entertainment?”
Pookie swerved sharply to cut off a Prius. He probably did that on purpose — he wasn’t a fan of green energy, green technology, or anything else green that didn’t come complete with the face of a dead president.
“Pooks, anyone ever tell you that you drive like shit?”
“I may have heard that once or twice, Bri-Bri. Although I stand by my theory that feces can neither apply for, nor pass, a driver’s license exam.” He accelerated through a yellow-turning-red. “Don’t worry, God loves me.”
“Your imaginary Sky Daddy is going to keep you safe?”
“Of course,” Pookie said. “I’m one of the chosen ones. If we get into an accident, though, I can’t say what he’ll do for you. You atheists are a bit lower on the miracle depth-chart.”
Pookie unexpectedly slowed and got into the left-turn lane at O’Farrell. They were supposed to start the day at 850 Bryant, police headquarters. For that, they’d stay on Van Ness for another four blocks.
“Where we going?”
“Someone found a body this morning,” Pookie said. “Five thirty-seven Jones Street. Kind of a big deal. Remember the name Paul Maloney?”
“Uh . . . it rings a bell, but I can’t place it.”
“How about Father Paul Maloney?”
“No shit. The child molester?”
Pookie nodded. “Child molester is too nice a word for the guy. Was too nice a word, I mean. He was murdered last night. Call him what he was — a rapist.”
San Francisco hadn’t escaped the wave of accusations that had crashed into the Catholic Church. Maloney first came to attention because he helped cover up early accusations against other priests who were clearly guilty. As more and more adults came forward about what had happened to them as children, the reasons for Maloney’s efforts became clear; he wasn’t just protecting pedophiles, he was one himself. Investigations ensued, producing enough clear-cut evidence that Maloney was finally defrocked.
It didn’t surprise Bryan that someone had killed the man. That didn’t make it right, not by any stretch, but it wasn’t exactly a shocker.
“Wait a minute,” Bryan said. “Time of death?”
“Word is about three or four a.m.”
“So why didn’t we get called in?”
“That’s what I’d like to know,” Pookie said. “We’re temporarily assigned to days and all, but the Maloney murder is just as high-profile as Ablamowicz. The press is going to circle-jerk all over this one.”
“Circle-jerk might not be the best metaphor, considering.”
“Sorry, Mister Sensitive,” Pookie said. “I’ll refrain from sexual innuendo.”
“So who got the case?”
Bryan nodded. No wonder Pookie wanted to get to the scene. “Polyester Rich, nice. Your favorite guy.”
“I love him so.”
“So we’re driving to the crime scene, to which we’re not assigned, to be a pain in Verde’s ass.”
“You’re very deductive,” Pookie said. “They should make you a cop or something.”
A murder scene, in daylight. That might bring about an uncomfortable situation Bryan desperately wanted to avoid. “Any word on who the ME is for this?”
“Don’t know,” Pookie said. “But you can’t avoid the girl forever, Bryan. She’s a medical examiner, you’re a homicide cop. Those things go together like chocolate and peanut butter. It’s just been dumb luck she hasn’t been at one of our scenes in the past six months. Maybe we’ll luck out and Robin-Robin Bo-Bobbin’s pretty little face will be perched over the dead body.”
Bryan shook his head before he realized he was doing it. “I wouldn’t call that lucky.”
“You should really give her a call.”
“And you should really mind your own business.” He didn’t want to think about Robin Hudson. Time to change the subject. “Verde still working with Bobby Pigeon?”
“Verde and the Birdman. Sadly, that would be a pretty kick-ass name for a cop show. But Verde is just plain ugly, and they don’t make prime-time dramas about stoner cops.”
Pookie turned left on Jones. This part of the city was a mix of buildings, two stories up to five or six, most built in the 1930s or 1940s and with the city’s trademark angled bay windows. Just half a block away, three black-and-whites blocked the area. Pookie reached his hand out the window to place the portable bubble-light on top of the Buick, then pulled a little closer and double-parked.
“This case should be ours,” he said as he got out. “Especially if this is some vigilante bullshit.”
“I know, I know,” Bryan said. “Rule of law and all that.”
Five thirty-seven Jones Street was a two-story building sandwiched between a parking garage and a five-story apartment complex. Half of 537 was a locksmith, the other half a mail services building.
Bryan saw little movement inside the buildings. Up above, however, he saw bits of motion.
Pookie pointed up. “The goddamn roof?”
Bryan nodded. “Curiouser and curiouser.”
A whiff of something strange tickled Bryan’s nose. There, then gone.
They ducked under police tape. The uniforms smiled at Pookie, nodded at Bryan. Pookie waved to each, calling them by name. Bryan knew their faces, but most times names were beyond him.
They entered the building, found the stairs and headed up. Pookie and Bryan stepped onto a flat roof painted in many gloopy layers of light gray. A morning breeze hit them from behind, snapping their clothes just a little. Rich Verde and Bobby “Birdman” Pigeon stood near the body.
Fortunately, the ME was not a hot little Asian woman with her long black hair done up in a tight bun. It was a silver-haired man who moved with the stiff slowness of age. He was squatting on his heels, examining some detail of the deceased.
Light-colored roofs aren’t a good complement to splattered blood. Long brown lines and streaks marked the rough gray paint, creating a Jackson Pollock canvas of death and dirt.
The body lay twisted in a rather unnatural position. The deceased’s legs looked broken — both forelegs and femurs.
“Wow,” Bryan said. “Someone had it in for that guy.”
Pookie put on his aviator sunglasses, then feathered back his heavy black hair. He’d started doing that since he began the series bible — Hollywood wasn’t calling yet, but Pookie Chang would be ready when it did.
“Had it in for a child rapist? Gee, Bri-Bri, I can’t imagine a connection like that. What’s under the tarp, I wonder?” Pookie pointed to the right of the body. A blue, police-issue tarp flapped in the light morning breeze, its corners held down by duct tape. The tarp lay flat against the roof, no room for body-sized lumps — or even severed-limb-sized lumps — beneath it.
Some of the streaks of dried brown blood led under the blue material. The wind caught an edge of the tarp, just a little, lifting it. Like the flash of a fan dancer, Bryan saw a here-then-gone glimpse of what was underneath. Was that a drawing of some kind?
“Hey,” Pookie said, “the ME . . . is that Old Man Metz?”
Bryan nodded as soon as Pookie said the name. “Yeah, that’s the Silver Eagle all right. I haven’t seen him outside of the ME’s office in . . . like five years or so.”
“That pisses me off,” Pookie said. “I mean, even more than before. Did you know Metz was a consultant on that Dirty Harry reboot? Metz knows Hollywood types. And Verde gets to work with him? Verde is a pig-fucker.”
Metz wore a blue uniform jacket — gold braid around the cuffs, two rows of polished brass buttons down the chest. Most of the people from the medical examiner’s office wore windbreaker jackets for pickups, but not Metz. He still sported the same formal attire that had been de rigueur for his department back in the day.
Metz had been the main guy in the ME’s office for thirty years. He was a law enforcement legend. When he walked into a courtroom, lawyers from both sides trembled. Under examination, he often made lawyers look like idiots. He’d written textbooks. He’d been consulted by some of the world’s top crime writers. What Metz didn’t do anymore, though, was go out into the field. The guy was pushing seventy. Even the great ones have limits.
“I’m pissed,” Pookie said. “You ever see Metz in a courtroom? He’s so effing cool. And he’s the only one with a better nickname than you.”
Some people in the department called Bryan the Terminator. “I’m half of Schwarzenegger’s size and I don’t look anything like him.”
“It’s not about looks, dummy. It’s because you kill people,” Pookie said. “That, and you have all the emotional response of a used Duracell. Don’t be so sensitive. People only say it because they respect you.”
Pookie would think that. He saw the world through rose-colored glasses. Pookie didn’t seem to hear the condescending tone with which people used the nickname. Some guys in the department thought Bryan was trigger-happy, a cop who used the gun as a default action instead of as a last resort.
“I’d rather you didn’t use that name, okay?”
Pookie shrugged. “Well, work as long as Metz and get that fabuloso gray do, and maybe they’ll call you the Silver Eagle instead of him. I mean, look at that hair. Home-slice looks like a walking shampoo commercial.”
Metz looked up from the body. He stared at Bryan and Pookie for a second, gave a single nod — chin down, pause, chin up — then went back to work.
“He’s so cool,” Pookie said. “I’d like to be as cool as that when I’m his age, but I think I’ll be busy filling my pants and drooling on myself.”
“Everyone has to have goals, Pooks.”
“True. Oh, that reminds me. Later I’ll tell you about my stock tip. Depends adult undergarments. An aging boomer population makes that stock gold. Brown gold, Bryan.”
“Not now,” Bryan said. “What the hell is that under the tarp?”
Rich Verde looked up from the body and locked eyes with Bryan and Pookie. He shook his head. It didn’t take advanced skills to read his lips: these fucking guys.
Pookie waved, high and happy. “Morning, Rich! Helluva day, ain’t it?”
Rich walked over. Birdman followed, already shaking his head slowly and rolling his eyes.
An odder couple you could not find. Rich Verde was pushing sixty. He’d been busting ass back when Bryan and Pookie were in diapers. Verde still dressed in the cheap polyester suits that had been in style when he’d made his bones thirty years earlier. His pencil mustache just screamed douchebag. Birdman had been promoted from Vice just a few weeks earlier. With his scraggly brown beard, brown knit hat, jeans and tan Carhartt jacket, he looked more like someone who would be the arrest-ee than the arrest-or.
Verde walked right up to Pookie until they almost touched noses.
“Chang,” Verde said. “What the fuck are you two cocksuckers doing here?”
Pookie smiled, reached into his pocket, pulled out a small plastic case and gave it an audible rattle. “Tic Tac?”
Verde’s eyes narrowed.
Pookie leaned to the left, gave an upward nod to Bobby. “Hey there, Birdman.”
“ ’Sup,” Birdman said. He smiled. The morning sun glinted off his gold front-left incisor.
“Bobby, don’t talk to this asshole,” Verde said. “Clauser, Chang, get your asses the fuck outta here.”
Pookie laughed. “You kiss your mother with that mouth?”
“No, but I kissed yours,” Verde said. “With tongue. Far as you know, I’m your daddy.”
“If so, I thank God that chronic halitosis isn’t congenital.” Pookie leaned to the right, looked over Verde’s right shoulder. “I see the Silver Eagle came out for this one. That’s good, Rich — that means everything will be shipshape when Bryan and I take over.”
Verde pointed to the roof door. “Get lost.”
The wind reversed direction, bringing with it that smell — urine.
Urine . . . and something else . . .
“Jeez,” Pookie said. “Speaking of Depends, did someone forget theirs today?”
Birdman nodded. “The perp pissed on him, man. Pretty messed up, huh?”
Verde turned. “Shut the fuck up, Bobby.”
Bobby held up his hands, palms out. He walked back to Metz and Paul Maloney’s body.
“Hey,” Bryan said. “You guys smell that? Not the piss . . . that other smell?”
Pookie and Verde both sniffed, thought about it, then shook their heads.
How could they not smell that?
Pookie offered Verde the Tic Tacs again. Verde just glared.
Pookie shrugged and put them away. “Look, Polyester, do me a favor and be thorough with your report, okay? Once the chief sees the vic’s name, you know she’s going to give the case to us. We’d hate to have to call you to fill in the blanks.”
Verde smiled, shook his head. “Not this time, Chang. Zou put us on this case herself. I wouldn’t rock the boat on this one if I was you.”
Pookie’s ever-present, condescending grin faded a bit. He was eyeing Verde up, seeing if the man was telling the truth.
The roof suddenly shifted; Bryan stumbled left, trying to keep his balance. Pookie caught him, steadied him.
“Bri-Bri, you okay?”
Bryan blinked, rubbed his eyes. “Yeah, just got dizzy for a second.”
Verde sneered. “Take some advice, Terminator — save the bottle for off-duty time.”
Verde turned and walked back to the body.
Bryan stared after the man. “I hate that name.”
“It’s only funny when I use it,” Pookie said. “Bri-Bri, I want to go on record that I am officially unhappy with this staffing decision.”
“Zou’s call,” Bryan said. “You know that means we have to accept it.” Pookie, of course, knew no such thing — he’d be angling for the case nonstop, no matter how exhausting that became to Bryan.
“Come on,” Bryan said. “We have to get to the Hall.”
Pookie adjusted his sunglasses and re-feathered his hair. “Fine by me, Bri-Bri. Can’t really tell which one of them stinks like piss, anyway.”
Bryan went down the steps first, that smell still tickling his nose. He was careful to keep a hand on the rail.