'Did Lieutenant Scully show up, by any chance?' I asked.

The nurse checked her clipboard and shook her head.

'It would probably have been less than thirty minutes ago.'

'Nobody by that name has been here.'

I had a momentary inkling that something was wrong. I called Alexa's office and got her assistant Ellen.

'She left here almost an hour ago,' Ellen said. 'She was going to see Tony at the hospital. You could try there.'

'That's where I am. She didn't show up. Tony is already sedated and asleep.'

'Maybe that's it,' Ellen said. 'Alexa said something about trying to fit in a short appointment. She could've called from the car, found out he was asleep, and gone to the meeting instead.'

'You're probably right.'

I hung up and dialed our house. The phone rang ten times before the machine picked up.

I tried her cell. It went straight to voice mail.

I wondered where she was.

Chapter 3

He changed all the admittance forms,' the pretty nurse said. She was tall with a lean body and glossy black hair. Her nametag identified her as Sheala Whitman, RN. We were standing by the check-in desk and the admitting clerk reached across the counter and handed me the forms I'd filled out twenty minutes earlier identifying the patient as Jonathan Bodine, address unknown. That name had been erased on the top of the page and something illegible was now smudged there in pencil.

'Can't read this,' I said, squinting at the writing. 'He told me his name was Jonathan Bodine.'

'Now he's Samik Mampuna, Crown Prince of the Bassaland,' the nurse said. 'He says he's from the Bassa Tribe that lives in the Central African rainforest.'

'Prince Mampuna,' I said, trying to sound impressed. 'We should all be sure and get our pictures taken with him before he jumps on the royal jet back to Africa.'

She didn't think it was funny. 'We need his real name on the admitting form.'

'Look, Nurse Whitman, the guy's not quite there. He stepped in front of my car and I'm trying to do the right thing and get him fixed up. If he wants to be Crown Prince Mampuna, I'm all for it. He's just a homeless guy who hears voices and needs medical help. The city will pay for this. What's the problem?'

'And you're Shane Scully of the LAPD,' she said.

'Mostly I'm Shane Scully of the LAPD, except when I'm Lord Bullwinkle, the Vicar of Kent.' I gave her a loony smile and she finally relented, stifling a laugh.

'Okay. He's all yours, Lord Bullwinkle. Get him outta here. None of us down here can take much more.'

What happened next was right out of a Steve Martin movie. I bundled him into my car and drove from the ER back to the Nickel. My theory was, when trying to return something, it's usually a good idea to put it back exactly where you found it.

'I'm just gonna drop you on the corner of Alameda and Sixth,' I said casually. I was in a hurry to get all his junk out of my car and go home to Alexa.

'Ain't no good squat spots on Sixth. Assholes all whizzin' by like there ain't no tomorrow. All a buncha reckless-don't-give-a-damn-hit-and-run half-steppers, like you.'

'Right. Okay.' I choked down a few more confrontational responses. 'So, where do you want to go?'

'Anywhere but the VOA,' he said, referring to the Volunteers of America drop-in center. 'Them Bible-beaters all hump yer leg fer Jesus. Maybe the Southern…'

The Southern is a recently remodeled single-room-occupancy hotel on Fifth Street across from San Julian Park. For years it had been a hellhole where street people would pay for their drugs at the front desk and then go stand behind the hotel and wait for the dealer to drop the cut down from the roof in baggies. A developer took it over, cleaned it up, and renovated. Single rooms went to homeless people for about one hundred ninety dollars a month. For SRO housing, that was considered pricey.

'Pretty expensive over there,' I said. 'You got the cash?' I asked.

'No. But you do,' he said.

'I'm not gonna buy you a month in a hotel!'

'Lookit this!' he said, holding up his plastered wrist. 'This be my green and gold lifetime pass. Green for da money, gold for da honey. This here's gonna cost you. I can't be scuffling for quarters with no broken wrist.'

'You were jaywalking, stop trying to shake me down!' I was running out of patience.

'I'm going to the Legal Aid!' he shrieked. 'Gonna hire me a kick-ass-get-some-money street lawyer. Got some big-time payback comin'.'

I needed this guy out of my life without a lawsuit, and I figured if a hundred and ninety bucks did it, then it was probably a good buy. 'Okay. I'll give you the money,' I finally said. 'But that's it between us. After that, we're done.'

'Righteous.' He grinned.

The Southern was an old, five-story hotel. The brick front, which had not yet been sand-blasted, was still stained brown from eighty years of L. A. smog. But the interior was renovated, the marble in the lobby and the open balconies that ran down the long hallways had been repaired. Fifty-five rooms overlooked a large square atrium. I'd been inside a few times in the past, to make drug arrests. Now, with the renovation and the new management, it was a favored spot on the Row.

When I pulled up in front, five homeless men were sitting on the steps. As Jonathan got out of my car, they all popped up like they were shot from air rams.

'It's Long Gone John,' a big red-faced guy with a beard yelled. 'He stole my radio! Get him!'

Bodine turned to face them. 'You leave me be, Tuck. This here's the po-lice.' He waved an arm at me, but one of the men threw a beer bottle in our direction. It broke on the pavement behind us.

'Get outta here, you jack-rollin' piece of shit!' a third man yelled.

Then they all started advancing on us.

'Git this pile a bolts moving,' the Crown Prince of Bassaland commanded as he ducked back into the car.

They were throwing bottles, and since I didn't want to get hit or scratch the paint on my new silver Acura, I ignored my required police response to a felony 415, jumped back behind the wheel and sped off up the street.

The same thing happened at the Simone and the Union Rescue Mission. The minute anybody saw Jonathan Bodine, they started throwing stuff. In five minutes, he got two death threats and several promises of permanent injury.

'They really love you down here, John,' I said, wondering how I was going to unload him. 'You also a typhoid carrier or something?'

'I'm having some temporary problems with these lie-like-a-crack-whore half-steppers,' he grumbled. 'Get over it.'

'Everybody's calling you a jack-roller. Does that mean my trunk's full of other people's property?'

'I ain't gettin' outta this car till you find me a squat spot with windas,' he said, crossing his arms and slumping defiantly in the seat.

I tried twice more to unload him, once at the Weingart Center and once in the park. Both times it was like the last reel of a zombie movie. Guys in rotting overcoats lurched toward us growling. Throughout this miserable experience, I continued to call Alexa on her cell and at home, but voice mail kept picking up.

I don't know what moved me to take him home with me. Probably guilt for running him down, or maybe a deep-seated feeling that I was still legally responsible, but mostly, I think it was because I was tired of screwing around with him and wanted to get home because of a growing concern over Alexa.

'I hate Venice,' he said, as we drove down Abbot Kinney Boulevard. 'Nothing but panhandlers and such on that beach.'

He sort of had a point. The current wisdom on L. A.'s homeless was that panhandlers went to the beach, either Santa Monica or Venice. Teenage runaways ended up in Hollywood, and only the most desperate down-and-

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