having pulled the pin two months ago.

'Could I take a look at his shop?' Shane asked.

'What possible good could that do?'

'I'm a detective,' he fudged. 'Sometimes I find it's a good idea to study the events that occurred just prior to an incident.'

'Oh,' she said. 'The other policemen didn't ask about that.' She led him through a house filled with discount furniture. Despite her husband's disappearance, the room was freshly vacuum-tracked and dusted. Shane had witnessed this behavior before. The families of a victim often busied themselves with chores, as if the mere performance of those everyday acts restored order and normalcy. Look how nice the carpet looks for when he gets home, and I've polished the furniture. Everything is all right.

Doris Medwick turned on the garage lights and left him alone. Shane found himself looking at a very professional woodshop area. He moved to Captain Medwick's workbench and glanced down at the skill saws and jigs, the power sanders and drills. In the corner, vise-clamped to the bench, was an almost completed prefab birdhouse. The box it came in called it a Squirrel-Proof Robin's Roost and Feeder. The sides were glued and the screws countersunk. The roof had been assembled but not attached, and a plastic water dish was fitted into a wooden feeding tray. It was made of fresh-smelling, unpainted pine and was about two feet square, not counting the pitched roof. It was easy to confirm what had happened: Carl had run out of brass screws. The empty box was on the bench, and two drilled holes in the underside of the bird-house remained empty. The project lined up with Doris Medwick's story.

Shane stood there, looking down at the unfinished birdhouse while a feeling of deep-seated unease swept over him. Carl Medwick had been Jody's commander at Detective Services Group. Carl had identified Jody's body. He'd finished his tour on the LAPD, pulled the pin, and, thirty-four months after Jody's suicide, had started his retirement. Then yesterday, the day before Shane saw Jody on the San Diego Freeway, Carl runs out of screws, goes to the hardware store, and mysteriously disappears.

The timing of these two events, like the unfinished Robin's Roost, was for the birds. He turned off the lights and left, pausing at the back door to say good-bye.

'You will call if there's anything, anything at all?…' the distraught woman pleaded, still not registering the fact that Shane was not part of her husband's missing-persons investigation. He had a strong feeling that Carl Medwick was going to stay lost.

'Absolutely,' he said, adding, 'who did you talk to at the Missing Persons Bureau?'

'A woman, Detective Bosterman.'

'Thanks. If I get anything, I'll be in touch.'

He left, in a hurry to get away from there, lickety-splitting down the trimmed driveway, past the gardening shack by the garage with its neatly stored rakes and hoes and top-folded bag of Lawn-Grow. Mrs. Medwick tracked him from the back porch until he got around the corner. He could feel her bloodshot eyes on him, steady as government radar, pinpointing a spot directly between his shoulders.

It took Shane half an hour to get Lauren Dean's new address, finally finding it through his old Homicide Division, getting Sergeant Bill Hoskins to grab it off the computer for him.

Lauren had moved since Jody died and was now in a small, one-bedroom duplex in a run-down section of Downey.

By the time Shane pulled up, it was already three-thirty in the afternoon and he was scheduled to be at Moonshadows restaurant in Malibu by six forty-five. It was going to be tight.

Shane parked in front of an old, weathered-concrete two-story building with paint-chipped shutters and tried to come up with an approach. How would he tell Lauren that he had seen her dead husband on the freeway just that morning? He sat there, trying to find a subtle opening, finally realizing there just wasn't one. He decided he had to ask straight-out if she'd viewed her husband's body as everyone claimed she had. He could see Jody's old green Chevy Malibu in the drive, so he figured she was home.

Shane climbed out of the car and walked into the courtyard. The building was badly in need of maintenance. The drainpipes were broken at the gutter spouts, the wood trim unpainted and termite-eaten. What the hell is Lauren Dean doing living in a dump like this? But in the next instant, he realized the answer:

because Jody had committed suicide, the widow wasn't entitled to any Department loss-of-life death benefits.

He rang the bell and stood there while fear swept over him. What am I afraid of? This is all going to make sense eventually. It had to. There are no ghosts, no paranormal events. Facts were just missing, and those missing facts were creating a distorted picture. When he filled in the blanks, it would all make perfect sense… It better start making sense, he thought.

Lauren Dean opened the door. Since he'd last seen her two years ago, she'd gained forty pounds and looked twenty years older. Cynicism and disgust had pulled the once happy curve of her mouth down into a permanent scowl that she seemed completely unaware of. Once beautiful-stunning, in fact-Lauren Dean was now plump and used up: her skin mottled, her clothing dirty, her fingernails a nerve-frayed war zone of nibbled cuticles. It was as if he were looking at somebody else-the ghost of Lauren Dean, or her ugly older sister.

'Shane?' she said, and he could smell scotch on her breath.

'Lauren, I need to talk to you about Jody.'

She looked at him for a moment, not moving or breathing. 'Jody?' she finally said.

Again, he could smell the liquor. 'Could I come in?'

A hard question for her. He could see indecision seesaw back and forth in her pale green eyes. Then she stepped back reluctantly and let him into the apartment.

The place was a mess. Round pizza boxes dotted the living-room furniture like giant tomato-stained mushrooms. Shane picked a spot on the sofa and sat across from Lauren.

'What about Jody?' she challenged.

'Lauren… I need to find out something. It's gonna sound a little strange, so hang with me here, but I think I saw someone today on the San Diego Freeway who looked a lot like Jody. In fact, exactly like him.'

'Oh, Jesus, gimme a fucking break.' She snorted a puff of stale scotch at him.

'I know… I know… But it's bugging me and I just wanted to get clear on this. When they called you after he… after he… did the… did the…' Shane couldn't say it, even now, almost three years later.

'You mean after he blew his fucking head off?' Lauren finished the thought for him, bitterness and anger stretched across her face, pulling her mouth down farther, flattening her features like a nylon stocking mask on a drugstore bandit.

'Yeah, after they found him. They called you down to the ME's office. Did you get a good look at the body? Was it him? Were you absolutely sure? 'Cause the guy I saw… I didn't talk to him, but it looked like he recognized me… I could sorta read it in his eyes.'

'I always used t'wonder about you two guys finishing each other's sentences, like you were hooked together by cable,' she said, not answering his question. 'After I first married him, before Jody ate the nine and turned my whole life to shit, he used to say he thought you and he had both been the same person in another life, said he could tell what you were thinking, say it before you said it.'

'He could-sometimes he could.'

'And now… It's hard for you without him, you miss him. So subconsciously you're trying to bring him back.'

Shane started to answer, but stopped. Was that what he was doing?

'Let him go, Shane. Let Jody go. He's dead. Believe me, I know. D-E-A-D. Dead.' And then she smiled at him. A ghastly smile it was, too. Her teeth were tobacco-stained, and her new double chin quivered. 'Let the motherfucker go. Hasn't he done enough to the both of us? Hasn't he?'

'Did you identify the body like it says in the death report?' he persisted.

'Yeah. Yeah, I looked at him. The back of his head was gone, but it was him. It was our precious, go-to-hell Jody, no doubt about it. I don't know who you saw on the freeway, but it wasn't him. Jody walked out on us, babe. The selfish prick put that cannon in his mouth and blew all three of us away with one shot.'

Shane looked at the wreckage that was now Lauren Dean. He wondered how she could have let this happen.

'I'm sorry, but you can't stay,' she said abruptly. 'I was just going out… I have an appointment.' She slurred

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