denial.'

We stared at each other, locked in his beige-on-beige, forty-minute time capsule.

'Will she get better?' I finally asked.

'Recovery from traumatic or acquired brain injury can take years. A patient will sometimes experience mood changes, major shifts in behavior parameters, even temper control problems. Sometimes these changes will only be temporary and the patient will return to normal, other times not. I'd have to have many sessions with your wife to determine what, if any, of these things are present and how permanent they might become. The meds you found in her purse indicate she's having seizures. Maybe that's what caused the traffic accident.'

'She won't book an appointment with a psychiatrist. She has a neurosurgeon in Westwood, Luther Lexington. He did her surgeries and he recommended a psychiatrist last summer. She only went to that doctor once and never went back.'

'A mistake.'

'You don't understand. She's running one of the highest-profile bureaus in the city. If it gets out she's going to a shrink or having seizures, crashing her car, or whatever, it's going to destroy her career.'

'I'm hesitant to make a diagnosis not having seen the patient.

But I will tell you this much. I don't like what I'm hearing. If I were you, I would get her help regardless of the danger to her career.'

I looked at my watch again.

'If you have someplace to go, don't let me keep you.' Somehow he managed the sentence without sounding snotty.

'I'd have been better off going to McDonald's. At least I would have gotten lunch.'

'Then I won't charge you for the hour.'

'No. I want to pay. I want… I want to come back next week.'

'Why?'

'I don't know.'

'Same time, same place?'

'Okay.'

I stood, accidentally hitting the little table with a Kleenex box next to the chair and tipping it over. Another slight smile. I righted the table and replaced the tissue box.

'Well, I guess that does it then,' I said.

'That does it,' he replied, wheezing it at me through tiny teeth buried in a fleshy smile. His chubby hands were laced across his belly. He had no intention of standing to see me out.

I turned and walked to the door.

'Detective?' I stopped and looked back at him. 'People change. Even people who didn't get shot in the head. Change is an inevitable part of life. Sometimes by embracing change, it becomes less frightening and we open ourselves to the good that may be hiding there.'

'I see.'

The smile flickered again. Then he said, 'Here's something you can do. Keep a diary. Everything that she does that bothers you, write it down. To be valuable, it should be mostly about what you feel.

'Okay.'

'Next week, then.'

It was the first day of summer, but I stepped outside into an unseasonable Alaskan cold front, which had roared out of the north, blasting Los Angeles. A frigid wind whipped down the mountain passes, into the Valley. Even though it was June, it felt like November. The palm trees that lined Van Nuys Boulevard creaked and bent, swaying like gaunt old men in the brisk wind, leaning over to peer down as I wandered in confusion toward my car.

Chapter 2

I drove to my assigned parking space on the third underground level of the Police Administration Building at Parker Center. When I arrived, there was a black-and-white 'shop' parked in my spot. 'Shop' was cop terminology for a patrol car. This one was a slick-back with no light bar, and I could tell from the '00' city tag number that it was a detective car from Internal Affairs. The Professional Standards Bureau is located in the Bradbury Building, five blocks over on Broadway. When I. A. dicks come to the Glass House on business, they tend to poach our parking spaces. After all, who in their right mind is going to have an Internal Affairs car towed? But today, I was in no mood for some iron-ass from the rat squad. I decided to park directly behind this rude bastard and lock my car, forcing him to come looking for me. Then I would set him straight on PAB parking etiquette. I pulled in, blocking the vehicle.

Just as I was getting out of my car, a woman's voice said, 'Detective Shane Scully?'

I turned and saw an extremely attractive, raven-haired lady in a tan pantsuit, carrying a briefcase. She looked Hispanic, early thirties, nice shape.

'Is this your slick-back?' I asked, nowhere near as annoyed now as I was a second before, beauty trumping anger. 'Can't you read my name on the sign?'

'I parked it there because I wanted to talk to you and I didn't know what you looked like. I'm Secada Llevar.' She smiled and handed me her card. D-III Investigating Officer with Professional Standards.

'Don't tell me I'm in trouble over at PSB again.'

'Not that I know of.'

'There's a first.'

'I need to talk to you. I didn't want to do it upstairs. You mind if we go get a bite? I haven't had lunch.'

I studied her for a moment. Her demeanor said she was used to getting her way. I reasoned this was partly because she knew she was hot looking, and partly because she had natural self-confidence. Whatever it was, it was working.

'Get in. I haven't eaten either. We'll leave your shop where it is.'

She settled into the front seat of my Acura MDX and I headed up the garage ramp. Her perfume immediately filled the car with a lavender scent. Or maybe it was peach. Whatever it was, she smelled great.

We picked an Italian place called Leonardo's, two blocks from the Glass House. The joint was Godfather corny with plastic checkered tablecloths and wine jugs hanging in nets from the rafters. The pungent smell of garlic clung to the walls. We took a booth in the back and ordered. Lasagna for her, pizza for me. After the waiter left, I faced her with my dumb, hard look in place. Whatever Secada Llevar wanted, I was determined to fend her off.

'I'm sorry I took your parking space. Seemed easier than going upstairs and asking around.'

'What's on your mind, Detective Llevar?'

'Call me 'Scout'; everybody does.'

'What's on your mind?'

'I'm having a little problem and I thought maybe you could help me.'

I didn't respond. Experience has taught me that dealing with I. A., at best, is never much fun. If she was having a 'little problem' and managed to lay it off on me, then I was going to end up hosting a disaster.

'I got a letter from Corcoran State Prison two days ago,' she began. 'It was sent to me by an inmate named Truit Hickman who's doing life for Murder One. Tru is twenty-five and a crank addict. He pleaded guilty to killing his mother, Olivia Hickman, a little less than a year ago. The police report states he got into an argument with his mom over two hundred dollars she apparently had in her purse and wouldn't give him. She had just cashed her paycheck from a part-time job as a checker at a Vons Supermarket. The detective report speculates her son wanted the money to do crystal meth.'

'I've only got about twenty minutes. Is this going to be a really long story?'

'I'll go fast,' she said. 'According to neighbors, Tru and his mother hadn't been getting along for years. The police report says when she wouldn't give him the cash in her purse he waited that night for her to come home and stabbed her to death with a kitchen knife. Then he took the money and ran. According to the primary detective's notes and the confession he eventually signed, Tru woke up from a drug haze the next morning in some alley,

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