including Franco, was loaded into the car with our luggage and scuba gear. All the way over the Grapevine Chooch talked about college. You could hear how happy he was.

'You gotta go with me during spring ball, and meet the rest of the coaches, Dad.'

'I'm looking forward to it,' I told him-and I was. Chooch had sorted out his priorities and I was proud of him.

We arrived up at New Melones Lake at 10 P. M. and checked into the Pine Tree Inn. The next morning, we got in the car and drove up to the lake. On the east shore was a rental dock where you could lease houseboats. We picked a bright blue one named Lazy Daze. After a short instruction course on how to run it, we loaded the scuba equipment aboard and headed out onto the lake.

I could see the Petrovitch's burned-down Swiss chalet across the water. We maneuvered up close to their dock and put the anchor down.

As I was putting on my wetsuit and air tank, Alexa said, 'I'm sorry I couldn't get the department to foot the bill for this.' She smiled sheepishly. 'With the current budget crunch and the Fingertip case inactive, I couldn't scare up much enthusiasm.'


It was a beautiful morning. The unusually warm weather continued and the temperature was already in the mid-seventies. She was wearing a tiny string bikini, sitting in the back of the houseboat. I was tempted to jump her right there, but Franco and the kids were watching.

On that Saturday, Chooch and I made ten dives, filled our air tanks four times and found nothing. Sunday was more of the same. I dove, Chooch dove. The mountain stream that fed the lake was ice cold, and even with our wetsuits we could only stay down for twenty minutes. We were working a grid pattern I had drawn up, trying hard not to miss a patch of lake bottom. We started close to the Petrovitches' dock and moved out, circle grid by circle grid. It was tough, demanding work. The wind blew the houseboat at anchor and I had to keep sighting against points onshore to keep from missing sections.

On the last dive Sunday evening just before sunset, I found an oil drum secured to the bottom with two Danforth anchors. Chooch and I hooked a line to the drum and floated a buoy. Then I called the sheriff's office.

Monday morning a police dive boat with an electric winch was trailered up from Sonora. We finally hauled the big drum topside and set it on the rear deck of the houseboat. We had to cut the welded top off with a torch.

Inside we found Calvin Lerner.

His body was well preserved due to the icy water at the bottom of that mountain lake.

My luck had finally changed. I found what I'd been searching for.

All of Lerner's fingertips had been cut off and the Medical Corps symbol was carved on his chest, proving once and for all, that Sammy Petrovitch was the unsub.

Later that day the ME retrieved a 5.45-mm slug from Calvin's head. Ballistics matched it to the gun we found on Sammy's body-the same gun that had killed Martin Kobb and Davide Andrazack. With that, the Fingertip murders were finally down.

The Police Commission met the following month to decide on the annual Medal of Valor recipients awarded in May.

Roger Broadway, Emdee Perry, and I were recognized, but Zack Farrell was not awarded a medal.

The commission never explained why. I think, given everything that had happened, it was easier for them if Zack just faded away. 'I'm not a hundred dollar bill,' he'd once told me. 'Not everybody's gonna like me.' It was certainly proving to be true.

The LAPD Accounting Office released Zack's survivor benefits and Fran called to tell me that with the money, Zack Junior would be able to go to USC. He would be a freshman in the same class as Chooch. We made arrangements to get our sons together before school started.

That was pretty much it, except for one last thing.

On a cold day in late May, Alexa and I drove back to Forest Lawn. Rain clouds were threatening on the horizon. We stood by Zack's grave as the air grew heavy with moisture and lightning bolts shot shimmering streaks of electricity toward the San Gabriel Mountains.

Some promises are hard to keep. Where Zack was concerned, I had made too many, and kept too few.

'You're sure you want to do this?' Alexa asked. 'Somebody will just steal it.'

'I don't care.'

I reached in my pocket and took my own Medal of Valor out of its velvet box. The gold medallion hung on a red, white, and blue ribbon. Awards and medals had never mattered much to me. They were only symbols, usually given by people who hadn't been there and didn't know what had really happened. Like love and respect, some things only gain value when you give them away.

I laid the glittering medal pendant on Zack's headstone, then said a prayer and told my partner how sorry I was. How terrible I felt about the way it ended.

'I love you, but you're a strange man,' Alexa whispered, holding my hand. 'How does giving your medal away help? Zach's dead. He doesn't even know.'

Thunder shook the hills. 'Don't worry,' I told her as the first heavy drops of rain fell. 'He knows.'

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