Read an Excerpt
Nearly getting killed can change your life in interesting ways.
There’s the physical healing, but that’s tedious to think about. What fascinates me is how people behave when they know you’ve come close to death.
Some you haven’t heard from in a while get in touch out of obligation. Most of the time they have no idea what to say or do and you end up assuring them you’re fine and trying to make them feel better. Or maybe that was just me, reverting to the psychologist’s role.
I’m close to only two people on the planet.
The woman I live with handled the whole thing beautifully, pulling off the perfect balance of caring for me and allowing me space when I needed it. Even more impressively, when Robin allowed herself to get angry at me for being in danger in the first place, she was able to talk about it reasonably.
My best friend, a homicide detective, was overcome with guilt. I’d been working with Milo when a lunatic nearly crushed me to death. No one’s fault, reasonable precautions had been taken. Just one of those things that happen. But, still.
He’d worked hard at keeping the guilt in check but I could tell. Our conversations began ebbing into long silences, terminating when he told me I needed to rest.
Eventually, his visits tapered off, though he tried to keep up with regular phone calls. But he avoided talking about work, which peppered the calls with awkward silences.
Worst of all, he stopped calling me in on cases. The “different ones” where he tends to overestimate my talent. When I brought up the subject, he claimed the two new murders he’d taken on were open and shut.
Four months after being injured I sat with Robin on the second-story terrace that fronts our house, eating and drinking and enjoying the weather that keeps people in L.A., and said, “Still nothing from Big Guy.”
She said, “Can you blame him?”
“I think he’s overdoing it. Objectively, he did nothing wrong.”
“Who’s ever objective, Alex?”
I poured myself another finger of Chivas—the pricey gold stuff I’d never buy for myself. A guilt offering from Milo.
Neither of us talked for a while and I resumed rubbing the big, knobby head of our little blond French bulldog, Blanche. She’s also been perfect. Sitting next to me as I knitted, silent and patient, careful not to touch the torn muscles in my chest. She’s always been a wonderful companion, intuitive, perceptive, more keyed in to nonverbal cues than any human could hope to be. But this was more. She knew something was different and she cared.
Robin said, “All those custody cases came in but you’re still bored.”
“I could use some variety.”
“Know what you mean.”
That surprised me.
She said, “Why do you think I do what I do, baby? Every instrument’s different, it’s not like I’m making the same armchair over and over.”
I said, “So you wouldn’t mind if I diversified. Maybe got into macramé?”
She grinned and placed her small, strong hand over mine. Her hair’s thick, auburn, and curly and when she’s not in her studio, she wears it loose to the midpoint of her back. Tonight, the moon was medium strength and it gilded all those curls and limned her oval face, her pointy chin. The slightly oversized milk-white incisors that had attracted me in the first place.
“Would I prefer if you never got involved in all the ugly stuff? Part of me would. But I’d be living with a very unhappy man.”
She laughed. “Don’t tempt me. Anyway, I’m sure he’ll call when he really needs you.”
She poured herself another half glass of Zinfandel. Daintily polished off a stuffed grape leaf. Greek takeout, tonight. Blanche had scored bits of rice and lamb. Everyone happy.
Except me. I’d been faking serenity for a while, had never stopped feeling incomplete.
It took another two weeks for that to finally change.
The call came in at nine a.m. on a glorious Sunday. The familiar voice, tight with battle readiness but tinged with uncertainty.
“Too early for you?”
“No, been up for a while.”
“How you feeling?”
“Well . . . I’ve got one, been here since seven thirty, I figured maybe . . .”
“Also,” he said, “not far from you. If you’re feeling up for it. Back in the old days you probably coulda run over here.”
I said, “Give me the address.”
The trip was four point eight miles from my house in Beverly Glen. A feasible run B.C.—before crushing—but even then I’d have driven because I like to get to scenes fast.
I wheeled the Seville down the nameless former bridle path that winds down treacherously from our half acre, drove south on Beverly Glen past the skinny chockablock houses that line the road in our neighborhood, and transitioned to the grand estates just north of Sunset Boulevard.
At Sunset I hooked right and continued to the western gate of Bel Air, sped up Bellagio Road before turning onto a series of serpentine side streets. Reversing the process: eight-figure palaces followed by progressively more modest houses on limited woodsy lots.
Every crime scene’s unique but there’s also a sameness to them. The procedures, the activities of those who’ve chosen to work with worst-case scenarios. The emotional tone.
The first thing you see is what I’ve come to think of as Death’s Parking Lot: detectives’ unmarked sedans, patrol cruisers, crypt vans, hybrid compacts driven by coroner’s investigators.
Behind all that, the inevitable yellow tape. Canary-bright and sadder for that.
This was my first crime scene in four-plus months and simply arriving tweaked my brain and made me feel alive. No point wondering what that said about me. I was imagining, wondering, lasering the layout.
This lot was so thickly wooded that no structure was visible from the street. To the right of the vehicles, a burly young officer stood guard. The foliage hid neighboring properties, as well, creating an illusion of forest.
Usually, Milo informs the cops that I’m coming and they lift up the yellow strand. Sometimes they even smile and welcome me by name.
This time I had to show my I.D. to Burly, who looked to be allergic to smiling.
He examined my driver’s license as if it were written in hieroglyphics, re-read, checked me out squint-eyed, stepped away and made a call. Returning, he favored me with a lemon-sucking frown, said, “Okay,” reluctantly, and left me to lift my own damn tape.
Trying not to read too much into any of it, I ducked under and picked up my pace, ignoring the twinges in my ribs that followed each footfall.
Aiming myself toward the old days.
The forest turned out to be little more than a poorly trimmed amalgam of ficus and eugenia backed by huge, shaggy silver dollar eucalyptus. Decades ago, a plague had killed off most of the eugenia hedges in Southern California but a few survivors remain. The ficus tack-on said someone had settled for a quick fix in lieu of re-landscaping.
Getting past the greenery landed me in front of a small, flat lawn fronting a one-story, cedar-sided ranch house.
In a suburban setting, another dated sixties throwback. In Bel Air, five million bucks if you hired the right real estate agent.
A second tape barrier ran across the front door. A black Maserati convertible sat in a gravel driveway to the left of the house. Newer model, the name of a Beverly Hills dealer framing the license plate. Littered with dust and leaves. Tennis racquet and balls on the passenger seat.
When the driveway reached the house, it converted to concrete and continued, ungated, toward the rear of the property.
The only feasible entry this morning. I walked along the house. Thought about easy access to a killer.
No sign of Milo or anyone else until I reached the end of the drive and turned right and there he was along with a pair of techs, a C.I., and half a dozen uniforms with nothing to do but look official.
Milo looked the same; why wouldn’t he? Tall, mastiff-jowled, top-heavy above oddly thin legs, he wore wrinkled khakis, pink-soled desert boots, a spinach-green sport coat, a white wash ’n’ wear shirt with a defeated collar, and a skinny black tie patterned with something hard to make out.
Sunlight waged a full-on assault on his pale, pocked face, having its way with every pit and lump. His black hair, slicked down hours ago, had rebelled and bristled. A limp flap in front diagonaled a brow the texture of cottage cheese.
He was on his phone, saw me and nodded. Grimly, I thought. But maybe not. Who cared, anyway? He’d called. Time to focus and not get sidetracked.
I got close enough to see the tie pattern. Goose heads. Rows of beaks pointing to the right. He clicked off and said, “Thanks for coming.”