Jonathan Kellerman


Book 22 in the Alex Delaware series, 2002

To Gina Centrello


Kat loved breaking the rules.

Don’t talk to strangers.

She’d talked to plenty of them tonight. Danced with a few, too. If you could call the way those losers moved dancing. The big, scary consequence: a stomped toe, courtesy of a loser in a red shirt.

Don’t go crazy mixing your drinks.

Then how did you account for Long Island Iced Tea, which was basically everything tossed together and the best buzz in the world?

She’d had three tonight. Plus the tequila shots and the raspberry beer and the weed the guy in the retro bowling shirt had offered her. Not to mention… hard to remember. Whatever.

Don’t drink and drive.

Yeah, great plan. What was she supposed to do tonight, let one of those losers drive her Mustang home?

The plan was Rianna would limit herself to two drinks and be the designated wheel- girl so Kat and Bethie could party. Only Bethie and Rianna hooked up with a couple fake-o blond guys in fake-o Brioni shirts. Brothers, some kind of surfboard business in Redondo.

We’re thinking maybe we’ll go party with Sean and Matt, giggle, giggle. If that’s cool with you, Kat.

What was she supposed to say? Stay with me, I’m the ultimate loser?

So here she was three, four a.m., staggering out of the Light My Fire, looking for her car.

God, it was so dark, why the hell didn’t they have outside lights or something…?

She took three steps and one of her spike-heels caught on the asphalt and she stumbled, nearly twisting her ankle.

Fighting for balance, she righted herself.

Saved by quick reflexes, Supergirl. Also all those dancing lessons she’d been forced into. Not that she’d ever admit it to Mother, giving her fuel for more I-told-you-so bullshit.

Mother and her rules. No white after Labor Day. That made sense in L.A.

Kat took two more steps and one of the spaghetti straps on her plum lame top fell off her shoulder. She left it that way, liking the kiss of the night air on her bare skin.

Feeling a little bit sexy, she flipped her hair, then remembered she’d had it cut, not much to flip.

Her vision blurred – how many Long Islands had she polished off? Maybe four.

Taking a deep cleansing breath, she felt her head clear.

Then it clouded again. And cleared. Like shutters being opened and closed. Crazy, maybe that weed was messed up… where was the Mustang… she walked faster, tripped again, and Supergirl reflexes weren’t enough and she had to grab out for something – the side of a car… not hers, crappy little Honda or something… where was the Mustang?

With only a few cars in the lot, it should’ve been easy to spot. But the darkness screwed everything up… losers who owned the Light My Fire too damn cheap to invest in some spots, like they weren’t making enough packing the bodies in, the bouncers and velvet ropes a big joke.

Cheap bastards. Like all men.

Except Royal. Would you believe that, Mother finally lucking out big-time? Who knew the old girl had it in her?

Kat laughed out loud at the image. Something in Mother.

Not likely, Royal was in the bathroom every ten minutes. Didn’t that mean a screwed-up prostrate?

She lurched across the inky lot. The sky was so black she couldn’t even see the chain-link fence surrounding the lot, or the warehouses and storage lots that made up this crappy neighborhood.

The club’s Web site said it was in Brentwood. More like the hairy, stinky armpit of West L.A… okay, there it was, her stupid Mustang.

She hurried toward the car, heels clacking against knobby asphalt. Each impact set off little echoes that reminded her of when she was seven and Mother forced her to take tap.

When she finally got there, she groped in her purse for her keys, found them. Dropped them.

She heard the rattle as they landed, but it was too dark to see where. Bending sharply, she teetered, braced herself with one hand to the ground, and searched with the other.


Squatting, she smelled something chemical – gasoline, like when you fill up your car and no matter how many times you wash your hands afterward you can’t get rid of the stink.

A fuel leak? That’s all she needed.

Six thousand miles and the car was nothing but problems. She’d thought it was cool at first, but decided it was lame and stopped making payments. Hello, Re-po Man. Again.

We took care of the down payment, Katrina. All you had to do was remember on the fifteenth of each…

Where were the goddamn keys! She scraped her knuckles on the ground. A fake nail popped off and that made her feel like crying.

Ah, got it!

Struggling to her feet, she flicked the remote, dropped into the driver’s seat, started up the engine. The car balked, then kicked in and here we go Supergirl she was driving straight into the black night – oh, yeah, put on the headlights.

Slowly, with a drunk’s exaggerated care, she coasted, missed the exit, backed up, passed through. Turning south onto Corinth Avenue, she made her way to Pico. The boulevard was totally empty and she turned onto it. Oversteered, ended up on the wrong side of the road, swerved and compensated, finally got the stupid car in the lane.

At Sepulveda, she hit a red light.

No cars at the intersection. No cops.

She ran it.

Sailing north, she felt free, like the whole city – the whole world was hers.

Like someone had dropped a nuke and she was the last survivor.

Wouldn’t that be cool, she could drive over to Beverly Hills, run a gazillion red lights, waltz into the Tiffany store on Rodeo and scoop up whatever she wanted.

A planet without people. She laughed.

She crossed Santa Monica and Wilshire and kept going until Sepulveda turned into the Pass. Off to her left was the 405, just a scatter of taillights. On the other side was hillside that bled into moonless sky.

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