the word appointment, missing most of the consonants.

She stood and led him to the entry, anxious to have him out of her house. She opened the door and stood by it as he walked behind her in the underlit hallway.

As he was about to pass by her, he saw something that stopped him, made him reevaluate everything she had just said. Jody Dean had zeroed himself out-taken a pine box retirement. Yet there, on the table in the hall, was an unopened envelope just like the one Shane got every two weeks from the City Payroll Department.

She led him out into the late-afternoon sunlight and closed the door without saying good-bye. He stood there on the porch, his mind reeling. 'What the fuck is going on here?' he whispered softly. One more in a series of unanswerable questions. If Jody committed suicide like everybody says, why is his widow still getting paychecks?

Chapter 5


MOONSHADOWS SAT above the rocky beach in Malibu. Waves rolled under it in sets, crashing on the rocks below, throwing a fine sea mist up into the air that refracted in the setting sun.

Buddy, the breakfast-food sales and marketing executive, was already there with Alexa and Chooch, telling a story. Buddy was round-shouldered and pear-shaped with a bushy head of hair, which salt-and-peppered his massive head, '… So the sales rep is telling me he can't sign up the tri-state area, 'cause the little guys, the minimarkets and such, won't compete with the huge category killers-the chains like Ralph's or Vons-on new product lines. I tell the guy: Stop crying, this is a candy store problem, 'cause our money is just as green as theirs, and all you gotta do is find the right palm to grease. Give the local rack-jobber his blood money.'

Alexa looked up and saw Shane approach, jumping to her feet to give him a hug.

'Buddy, I'd like you to meet Shane.' Alexa was trying to orchestrate everything.

Shane shook Buddy's big fleshy hand. Buddy was soft and out of shape, but he was big, almost six-four.

After the introductions, they all sat down to a tense meal where Shane felt more and more like the main course.

'So how bad did Alex's car get mashed?' Buddy asked, getting the conversation rolling. He seemed to call her Alex instead of Alexa, as if it somehow made her one of the boys.

The evening crawled by like a half-crushed bug dragging itself across a four-lane highway. By nine o'clock, Buddy had eaten his main course and half of Alexa's and was just finishing the third basket of complimentary bread, ordering his sister to get a new basket after each one was emptied.

When Buddy wasn't treating Alexa like a servant, he was patronizing her. Never once did he bring up the Medal of Valor award she was going to receive on Sunday. His sister was being given a huge honor, the LAPD's highest, yet he didn't seem to care. It was hard for Shane to believe that someone he loved and looked up to would allow herself to be so overrun by this loud breakfast-food salesman.

Chooch stayed quiet, trying to keep out of the cross fire, while Buddy switched from the subject of Alexa's car to questions about Shane's medical leave.

'So, it's like some kinda shrink deal?' he asked, a concerned frown pulling two cater-pillar-shaped eyebrows toward each other. 'But, you're okay, though, I hope?' Smiling now. 'You're not gonna snap and start comin' at us with a razor?'

'I'm fine. It's no big deal,' Shane said, choking back several more confrontational replies.

'In police work, psychiatric reviews are standard,' Alexa explained less than truthfully.

'But it's with a shrink, right? A psychiatrist,' Buddy persisted. 'The LAPD makes Shane go and see a head doctor. That's what got me worried, 'cause you don't see that happen in business unless the guy's parked out in the ozone, where the buses don't run.'

By ten o'clock, it was mercifully over. Alexa drove Buddy to his hotel. Shane drove Chooch back to their house. Alexa showed up half an hour later and met them in the backyard.

'So, what did you think?' she asked anxiously, wanting his approval.

'Quite a guy,' he said evasively.

'But did you like him?' she persisted.

'More to the point, do you think he liked me?' Shane said, hedging.

'He's a little judgmental sometimes, I admit. But you'll learn to love him. He just wants what's best for me.'

'He sure orders you around a lot,' he finally contributed.

'I'm used to taking care of him. Mother died, so by the time I was ten, I did all the housework, all the cleaning, for Dad and Buddy. I guess he just got used to me doing things.'

'Alex, can you get us tickets to The Producers?' Shane mimicked. 'Can you go ask the waiter to get us more bread? He doesn't have a broken leg, does he?'

'So, you didn't like him?'

'Yeah, I liked him. It's just… He treats you a little like hired help.'

Then Chooch saved him: 'What Dad is saying is, we're used to seeing you be in charge. You're everything around here for us, and we always want to do stuff for you. It's a little different seeing you with your brother… But we think it's neat the way you take care of him. That's what he meant.'

'Exactly what I meant.' He smiled at her.

Chooch went inside to do his homework while they sat in the backyard, looking out over the Venice canals.

Venice was located halfway between Santa Monica and Marina Del Rey. It had been built by Abb ot Kinney in the thirties, to resemble the canals and bridges of Venice, Italy, but the eight-block area had gone downhill. Just two blocks from the ocean, it still managed to retain a sense of quaint, rustic charm, but the once grand houses and reproduction gondolas had been replaced by fiberglass rowboats and a mixture of stucco houses and wood-frame tilt-ups.

Regardless, Shane loved his little house. It spoke to him in ways he found hard to describe. He and Alexa sat in his metal lawn chairs, watching the moonlight waver on the still waters of the shallow canals.

'Aside from wrecking my car and seeing Jody's ghost,' she said, trying to be light-hearted about it, 'how was the rest of your day?'


'I hope you didn't do something else-start running around investigating the Jody thing.'

He didn't answer.

'I'm just interested,' she said softly. 'And a little worried.'

'Captain Medwick is missing. He was building a birdhouse for his granddaughter, then went to the hardware store for brass screws yesterday and didn't come back.'

She sat quietly, her cop instincts buzzing with this fact, just as his had. 'Doesn't have to be connected,' she finally said.

'I know.'

After that they both fell silent awhile. Then he gave her the rest of it: 'I also went to see Lauren Dean. She says that it was definitely Jody on the coroner's tray. She said the back of his head was blown off.'

Alexa didn't say anything.

'Only thing wrong with that is, I think she's lying,' he said.

'Why would she lie about something like that?'

'Because she's still getting paid by the city. There was a City Payroll Department envelope on her hall table. If Jody shot himself, why would the city be paying her death benefits?'

'There could be lots of reasons. She could owe money to the credit union and be getting statements, or it could be tax material… Or she…' Alexa stopped and looked over at him critically as he leaned down and pulled out a blade of grass, then stuck it in his mouth.

'You're not gonna give up on this, are you?'

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