The Gift of Power by Dan McNamara - HTML preview

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Jonathan

In LA, the Stewards prosper. Connie is accepted by Rosa and Eileen in the beginning. She sorts through existing staff, gets rid of a couple of questionable gardeners, hires a better chef and overall, takes to the job with ease. She maintains her own home in Calabasas, but stays at the mansion incognito, rarely going out, happy to retire to her room, to read, write, and watch TV. Though her time as a call girl was brief, it was enough to sour her on men and on the relationships and marriages she helped them betray.

There is one exception. It’s a piece of forbidden fruit that she fantasizes about as she satisfies herself during her private moments. It is the Steward son, Jonathan. He had just turned sixteen when Connie arrived. She is captivated by the teenager’s radiant blue eyes, his chiseled jaw, his frame, his pheromones, everything about him.

Connie understands the libido of a sixteen year old boy. She toys with him, but with discretion, knowing anything considered intentional would be frowned upon, to say the least. Her favorite game is to leave her bedroom door open a crack on occasional Sunday mornings, minutes before Jonathan passes her room on his way to the stables.

She sits on her vanity chair with her silk robe open, parts her legs and uses a pair of trimming scissors to shorten her sparse red hairs. She hears him walking down the hall, passing and stopping. She’s amused that he doesn’t realize the silence of his tiptoeing back is a dead give away, that she knows he is peeking in and watching her. She puts down the scissors, pours some lotion on her hands and rubs the creme with both hands up and down her thighs. She stands and rubs the excess up her belly and briefly across her breasts. She abruptly closes her robe and steps into her bathroom, leaving Jonathan in a sweat outside her door.

It is an erotic show she performs for him each frequently. One Sunday, for her amusement, she turns the chair around just enough to prevent him from seeing what she is doing. She knows he is out there, watching as usual, and must be frustrated he is denied the show that has become the core of his new world of sexuality. She sees him several times that afternoon and comments ‘innocently’, “Well, you’re not having a good day, slamming doors, moping around the estate, walking in circles. And you’re not singing today. Is something wrong?”

Jonathan’s face flushes, “No...I...I lost a cufflink, that’s all. I’m fine. I’m fine.” “Oh, that explains you outside my door this morning, you were look for your cufflink.” Jonathan’s head pounds, “Oh, yes, but...it wasn’t there...either.” The following Sunday, she turns the chair back. The show must go on. Two years later, when Jonathan turns eighteen and is preparing to leave for college, he

asks Connie to Sunday Brunch. She is a little uncomfortable with the idea, asking, “What about your mom and grandmother?”

Jonathan beams, “They’re still sleeping. They won’t mind. Come on, it will be fun.” Robert, the chauffeur is surprised by the two of them going anywhere together. He’s uncomfortable with the drive. He is compelled to report anything unusual to Rosa. Rosa is a ‘shoot the messenger’ kind of boss.

In a corner booth at Le Prizzi, Connie lets Jonathan sip on her Mimosa’s, followed by her Gimlet’s. After sharing the fourth one, both of them are feeling no pain. Jonathan slurs, “I know I’m younger than you, but I hava tell ya, you’re the moz beautifical woman I have ever laid eyes on, even evry model, evry actress, Hell Brerry, Jenniver Armnistonin---”

Connie is turned on in spite of or perhaps because of the consequences, but stops him with a finger to his lips, “Jonathan, you’ve had too much to drink. You will meet and fall in love with someone much prettier and younger than I, before you finish school, I’ll bet.”

“No. No, I won’t. There’ll never be anyone but you. Give me a shance, let me sow you I can be a man, I can be your ‘No Tell Lover’, I can---”
“Jonathan, shush.” She moves closer to his side and places his hand on her bare leg, just above her knee, cruelly teasing him. She gazes at him with her emerald eyes wide open, “I do admire the size of your hands, Jonathan. They’re so...big.” Jonathan melts. He bends to kiss her, but she pulls away. “No Jonathan. Not here.” He looks at her with desperate eyes, “Pleeze,”
In the limo, as Robert is signaling the turn into the gate, Connie sips on her Screwdriver from a “ To Go” cup and says within Robert’s earshot, “Well, Jonathan, we will all miss you. Good luck with your studies.” Connie confirms Robert is watching the road as she places her hand on his crotch and kisses him on the mouth. The kiss lasts only seconds, her tongue digging deep into his mouth as she squeezes his firmness in her grip. That’s all it takes.
“Oh my God, I’m zo zorry---”
Connie pours her drink onto his pants and quickly interrupts, “It’s okay, Jonathan, I shouldn’t have brought this into the car. Here, use this to wipe up.”
That ends it. They enter the mansion, each going in their own direction. Jonathan is staggering, loudly humming and whistling, “What a Wonderful World.”
The next morning, Connie frowns as she looks in the mirror, admonishing herself in a whisper, "Quit acting like a slut. You’ve got the gig of a lifetime and you’re risking it for a kid? Grow up." She decides to stop the Sunday shows.
Rosa is outraged when Robert tells her about the incident in the car. Jonathan has already left for college. Rosa calls Brink, “I want her out of here. Molesting my son, I won’t stand for it!” Brink tries to calm her, “I can’t pull her out. She did, ah, something to earn her job. I’ll talk with her. I can assure you nothing like this will happen again.” Brink understands Rosa. He wants her satisfied.
Rosa puts the matter aside. She avoids Connie for weeks until Brink calls a meeting in the parlor one Saturday morning. Rosa, Eileen and Brink are enjoying a sip of ‘tea’ when Connie comes in with a folder of papers.
Brink begins, “Thank you Connie. Okay, time for business. Rosa, Hampton has made a major banking change and as our largest customer, we need you to sign these documents.” Connie hands the papers to Rosa. Rosa notices Connie’s distorted left hand. She looks at Brinkley. She is aware of his practice of digital amputation. Brink is working hard to hold back his grin.
Cruelly amused, Rosa thinks to herself while signing the papers, “I bet she regrets giving him the finger.”
As he is leaving, Rosa pulls Brink aside, “I knew you were going to have a talk with her about Jonathan. I didn’t expect her to be harmed.”
“It wasn’t that. During our talk, she called me a name. Something unacceptable.”
“What name?”
Brink clutches Rosa’s left hand, “You don’t want to know.” He smiles and looks around, "Is there a Chili's around here?"

****************************

Jonathan is gone for almost a year. He returns the first summer, eager to speak with Connie alone. She avoids any communication, even the simplest eye contact. On the first Sunday, he steps quietly into the hall after waiting up all night for this moment. Her door is not ajar as he had hoped. It is shut. He tries the knob. It is locked. He whispers, “Connie. Connie. I need to talk with you.” Connie is sitting inside on the edge of her bed, ignoring his pleas.

He tries to speak with her several more times throughout the summer break and is shunned at each turn. By the end of the season, he has given up all hope.

He returns each summer and over the holidays, never again speaking with Connie in private. He earns his MBA from Harvard and in 2008 takes two years off to live in Europe: Venice, Stockholm, Berlin, London and Barcelona. His social life is endless. His looks and wealth and charm are irresistible. He rejects opportunities to be with gorgeous girls and women of all nationalities almost every night. The dozen times he allows himself a night of pleasure, he learns he cannot perform until he closes his eyes and pictures Connie. Their brief moment together in the limo builds up in his head, haunting him every day.

He takes her picture from his case, “Ah, Connie. What is it? Why can’t I function with you? What will it take to have you?” He kisses her image gently and dreams of another life in which they could be together.

It’s 2010 before Jonathan comes home for good. To Rosa’s delight, he immediately immerses himself into Steward Pharmaceuticals. Rosa has lost interest in the company, acting more as Chairman than CEO.

Jonathan joins her for tea in the parlor, “Mother, I’ve watched you for weeks now. What’s wrong. You seem distant to your staff. I’ve heard rumors you are often seen sitting in your office in a daze.”

Rosa responds, “What? I mean, Jonathan, what rumors could you possibly hear. Employees don’t speak of such things with you, anymore than they would me.” Rosa knows she must stay involved if for no other reason than protect the distribution arrangement with Hampton. But it’s getting hard to stay interested.

“That’s not entirely true. I have my sources, people who care about the company, about me, and about you.”
She snaps back, “And you’re assuming I should care in return? Jonathan, just learn the business. And leave it at the office, don’t bring it to the parlor.”
He is appointed Executive Vice-president and Chief Operating Officer of Steward Pharmaceuticals. He is elected to the Board and soon recognizes his mother’s neglect of the firm. He’s intent on helping her, to relieve her troubles, let her fully retire.
He’s determined to learn every aspect of the business, working nights pouring over sales reports, profit margins, expenses, public relations, government affairs, legal claims, patents, personnel. Rosa shows her appreciation, but continues to drift off a bit further each day.

****************************

The gloved hand punches the security code into the pad, overriding the alarm to the Steward mansion. The man in black enters through the side door that is furthest away from the downstairs living area. It is midnight, quiet and dark inside. The nearest bedroom, occupied by Eileen, who is always asleep by 9:00 is on the second floor. He knows Jonathan is in Chicago on business, so that is not a concern.

He inserts his key into the elevator which rises quietly to the third floor, the location of Rosa’s private quarters. He opens the master bedroom door.
"There you are," Rosa speaks sweetly, "I was starting to worry."
He is carrying a leather bag which he sets on the nightstand and answers, "Hi sweetheart. You look lovely tonight. I like that robe.” He immediately starts undressing, "Get me a little drink, will ya hon."
Rosa pours him a Scotch, straight up, and hands it to him as he rolls his naked flesh onto the mattress. They chat idly for a few minutes, then watch an episode of “How I Met Your Mother”. Rosa is casually fondling him, frequently looking into his eyes, trying to be patient. Finally, he says, "Ready?"
"Sure," Rosa takes off her robe and lays nude on top of the blanket. She is flat on her back, arms to her side.
"You're gonna love this stuff. It's the best." He draws something out of his leather bag, "Only the best for you, baby.” He ties a thin, brown rubber hose around Rosa's right arm just above her elbow. He flicks the largest of the veins swelling in her forearm. He tests the syringe and inserts the needle, injecting her body with the finest heroin in the world.
"Sweet dreams, baby."
“Thank you, Brink. You're the love of my life.” Rosa feels the rush flooding through her. Her mind soars, escaping to the heavens. An image hovers in her sight. It’s her father, Romero peacefully resting, waiting for her and her mother to join him.
This is what she lives for now. This is all she needs.

****************************

Weeks after his return, Jonathan finally gets Connie alone, in the combined storage/utility room behind the kitchen. Rosa and Eileen have gone shopping. Jonathan speaks to Connie with uncharacteristic bluntness,

“Connie, I have given our, ah, relationship a lot of thought. I admit I was enraptured by you, your beauty, your heart. Yet, this is the start of my adult life. I have a tremendous responsibility to my mother, grandma and, of course, my dear departed father.”

Connie shakes her head and feigns clearing her ears as she scoffs, “Jonathan, haven’t you been paying attention for the past eight years? We don’t have a ‘relationship’. We never have and never will.” She is nervously rubbing her thumb across the stub on her left hand, constantly reminding her of the price of disobedience. She walks around him to leave as she adds, “Jonathan, I have nothing to---”

He grabs her and kisses her with a passion that has boiled over, night after night, year after year. Connie pushes him, struggling to break free. She punches him, tries to turn her head away when, without logic or warning, her own pent up desire explodes inside of her. She is pressed against the room’s back wall. She grabs his shoulders, opens her lips and pulls his tongue inside, then pushes it back with her own.

He clutches at her left thigh with his open hand. She twists her body, shifting his hand closer to her fire. They break their mouths away to gasp and then reconnect just as Jonathan’s hand reaches her. She erupts, soaking his palm, her legs give way, her entire being collapses, only to be held up by this beautiful, strong, lustful man. Jonathan moans to her, “I must have you.”

“Yes. Yes. You must have me.” She entwines her left leg around his upper thigh. They never stop kissing, licking, biting as they fumble with inconvenient clothing, He finally enters her, not moving until she thrusts against him. Their bodies move in imperfect rhythm, stumble, pull apart, scramble, reattach, scratch, and finally collapse haphazardly onto the washroom floor.

Neither move for minutes. Jonathan is on his back, Connie aside him, her head against his shoulder, both gasping. He begins to object when she starts to get up.

“Shush.” She touches his lips with her index finger, “We will talk later, okay. Say nothing of this to anyone, promise?”
“Of course not, I don’t---”
Connie presses her finger harder against his lips, cutting off his words. She stands and fluffs her hair, smoothes her skirt and sneaks out, rushing to her room to clean up.
Hw lies still another moment, stepping outside himself, viewing what just happened, edited to perfection. His grin widens, his years of longing for her is replaced by an indelible surge of pure joy. He rises, straightens his clothes and proceeds to his room, delightfully humming Daughtry’s “Home”.

The next morning at breakfast, Jonathan sits with Rosa and Eileen and says, “I’m leaving for Pakistan now, Mom.” No reaction.
“Mom? I said I’m leaving. I’ll be back in a three weeks, not two.”
Rosa returns to reality and reacts, “I know, son. We’ll miss you.” She drifts off again.
“I’ve decided to stop in Hawaii on the way back for a chance to recharge. I’ve got a lot of plans to get started on when I return. We’ll talk then.” Jonathan gives his mother and his grandmother a long hug.
Eileen is concerned, “You be careful out there. They kill Americans ya know. Try to act like you’re from Russia or Poland or something.”
Rosa comes alive again, interjecting, “Mother, he’s fine. Jonathan, this is your first visit to the plant. Be sure the employees know we’re thinking of them, grateful for their efforts.”
Jonathan goes to his room to gather his luggage. On the way out, he stops by Connie’s room and leaves her a ticket under a lace mat on her dressing table, a first class seat to Maui made out to Monique Andrews, along with a matching passport. On the back of the ticket envelope are directions to the hotel, a property map, and an Executive Pass Code allowing her to get settled in her own room without checking in. He sings a verse aloud, “Night and you, and blue Hawaii, da-da-da-da.”
The sun is setting when Jonathan arrives at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Kapalua, Maui two weeks later. His suite faces the ocean with two private lanais. On the dining room table, he finds a drawing in pencil of a hammock between two palm trees, letting him know where he can find her.
He is dressed in a rich-blue linen jacket and contrasting tan slacks. His Bruno Magli loafers slip onto his feet with ease. He stops at the lobby bar for two Volcano’s and walks into the lush yard bordering the beach.
Connie is swinging gently in a hammock, wearing a green thong bikini and a braided sun hat, finishing a Zombie. She looks up through her oversized sunglasses as Jonathan approaches and grins, “Jonathan, what are you doing here?”
“Is there room in there for me?” Jonathan asks. He sets the drinks on a glass-top table and without warning, throws himself into the hammock, rocking it, nearly causing it to tip, grasping his fingers into the weave to hold on.
Connie laughs, “Whoa. Aren’t you going to feed me first?”
Jonathan kisses her, then looks at his watch and tells her, “There is a five course dinner being served in my room in, ah, twenty-two minutes. I will try to keep my hands off you during our meal, but no guarantees, my Monique.”
“You’re assuming we can get out of this hammock together without a disaster. Poor planning on your part, Mr. MBA.”
“Call me ‘Theodore’.” Their lips lock, their hands grab at each other. The hammock rocks and flips, dropping them both, causing them to laugh in delight as they roll on the grass.
They enter Jonathan’s suite. It’s the only ‘Ritz-Carlton Suite’ in Hawaii: 2650 square feet of space. Connie feels completely free, perhaps for the first time in her life. No one knows her. No one is judging her. Jonathan is enraptured by her, treating her like a woman, not a whore. He’s humming “Pretty Woman.” Connie makes an unintended connection and is amused.
After dinner, while still at the dining room table, Jonathan starts. He stands behind her and, with a mouth warm and moist, begins with her neck while softly caressing the center of her back. He unzips her and lightly scratches her under her shoulder blades, the same way he did the first time they made love ages, or was it only weeks, ago. 
He continues his journey, stopping for seconds to linger on distinct parts of her. He lays her on the table, removes her clothing gently and kisses, licks, and suckles for endless moments, raising her anticipation of what he will do next.        
He can read her. The pressure and movement of his lips are as perfect as if she could kiss herself. Her body soars in sweet convulsion, rising higher and higher with each magic moment.  She explodes, shattering the night with her glorious scream. She has to stop him. She can’t take any more. He knows it as well and brings her body and soul in for a soft, gentle landing. 

They sit on one of the lanais, both in Ritz terry-cloth robes, wine glasses in hand. Jonathan speaks, “ So, I’m in Pakistan, a driver, Mr. Fajid, greets me and drives me in a brokendown Town car to my hotel. The hotel is rated five stars and priced accordingly. My expectations were dashed by the smell of urine, the grit, and the insects rushing under the moldings. I sank into the bed and slept for nine hours after arriving.”

“Did you get laid?” “Connie, I’m not like that. You know that, don’t you?” “Who’s Connie. I’m Monique. By the way, you’re Theodore, but I’ll call you Ted. ‘Ted

and Monique’, Part I’.” They click glasses and laugh. “Anyway, be patient with me, Ted. I’m having a hard time believing I’m with a real man.
Sorry.” Jonathan reaches over and kisses her gently, “I am for real. That you can take to the
bank.” Connie thinks his remark is ironic. “Anyway, the plant manager, a Mr. Bahaar greets me
in the lobby of the plant the next morning. I know him by telephone only. He is a first rate
operator on top of his plant every day. Bahaar says he hasn't taken a vacation in three years.” “So, I visit the various work stations, wanting the people to understand they are important
to the company and the family. I spend hours learning how the plant tracks in the raw material, how quality control is executed, how sampling techniques help assure consistency and purity. I go through their computer systems, shipping and export documents, and packing and loading procedures. I watch as they complete loading an ocean container. By the end of the day, I feel
like I made great headway in better understanding how the operation really works.” Connie yawns, “I’m excited for you. Can we go to Ka’anapali for lunch tomorrow?” “Of course, my sweet. So, as I’m leaving, the last Hampton semi, hauling a loaded
container headed for the US is pulling out of the lot. I tell Mr. Fajid to follow the container to the
port, just to watch it get delivered. It is completely incidental.” Connie sits up and listen for the first time. “We are on the main highway. Mr. Fajid stays a half-dozen car lengths behind the truck
when suddenly, the semi pulls off onto the first exit. I figure the driver has a girlfriend or
something. The driver continues down a secondary road and flashes his right turn signal. I see a
service station on the right and assume the driver is stopping there. If so, I’ll introduce myself
and ask if I can ride with him to the port. But the driver turns onto a dark street just past the
service station.” “So, I ask Fajid to go down the same road a bit. We drive past a number of low-rise
warehouses, all dark. I notice some lights from a building up ahead at the end of the road. The
car stops three-hundred feet short of a fence that surrounds the dimly lit building. I can see the
container backed against the building's loading dock. Two men with forklifts are unloading the
cases.” Connie fakes bewilderment, "What on earth?" Jonathan continues, “I’m thinking, are they stealing the drugs, replacing them with
capsules filled with something worthless. Sand perhaps? I can't see what they are doing to the
cases inside the building. What surprises me is the forklift drivers are reloading the cases almost
immediately. I’m thinking, they must be adding something to the cases? Are they smuggling
something? Weapons? Child porn? Drugs? Bootlegs?” “I don’t trust informing the authorities in Pakistan. I’d be a rich American accusing local
citizens of what? Unloading and reloading a container? So, I figure, whatever these guys are
doing, they have to undo it at the other end. There must be a similar ‘stop’ between the pier in
New York and our distribution center in New Jersey. I’ll get the NY authorities to seize the
container as it exits the Port in New York and inspect its contents before the container is
stripped.” Connie is focused, “You can do that?” Jonathan finishes his thoughts, “I didn’t want to risk spying any longer. I got back in the
Town Car and told Fajid that I forgot, that Hampton sometimes reconfigures our containers to see
if there is more space, to save costs in the future, ya know.” Connie dares ask, “So, what are you going to do?” “I’m flying to LA on Tuesday to meet with my attorney, get a subpoena going, then head
straight to New York to personally meet the container. I’m going to blow this wide open. From
there, I’m going back to Pakistan and press charges against whoever in our company is behind
this.” Connie reacts with feigned sincerity, “Oh, Jonathan. That’s so cool. You are my hero, my
stud.” Connie concludes Jonathan doesn’t have a clue what is really going on. To be certain, she
asks, “What about your mom?” “I’m not going to bother her with this. She’ll appreciate it when she hears about it after I
make the nab. Until then, I’m keeping her in the dark.”

***************************

 

Connie calls Brink on her cell from her room later that night. Brink tells her, “You know what you need to do, right?”

Connie hesitates, thinking about what is going on around her. She likes Jonathan. Likes him a lot. She hesitates a tell-tale moment and says, “Yeah, I know. Look, this needs to be a homer for me. Tell me it will be, what will happen afterwards?”

Brink repeats firmly, “You know what you need to do, right?” Connie hangs up. She understands Brink’s message. She thinks about a possible future with Jonathan, “He’s a rich guy. He’s hot. He’s hot for me. Why not bet on him instead of those creeps?” She rubs the stub on her left hand, deciding, “I have to look out for myself.”
They order from room service again the next night, Jonathan saying on the house phone, “Ah, we’ll take two of every appetizer, four Mai Tai’s and a bottle of 1994 Chave Hermitage.” UB40’s ‘Red, Red Wine’ hums from his lips, matching the steel drums playing from The Beach House bar in the distance.
After making love, Connie lays in bed and tells him of her background, including the killing of her uncle. She leaves out the part about setting up Jonathan’s father, of course.
Late that evening, at Connie’s suggestion, they drive Jonathan’s convertible down the road to an isolated beach near Makena. The night air is glorious. The sky is a moonless planetarium. The road to the beach is deserted. They arrive in pitch darkness. Jonathan asks, “Are you ready for a little snack?”
Connie doesn’t respond. Instead, she jumps out of her seat and runs toward the water, stripping off her beach cover on the way. She’s naked when she reaches the sand. She calls back to Jonathan as he is trying to bring a food basket along and laughs, “Drop that thing and your drawers and get ready for a new kind of surfing.”
“Connie, come back. You know I can’t swim.”
“Just get out here. Trust me, I won’t let you drown.” Connie is up to her neck by the time Jonathan enters the water.
They lock their arms around each other, squirming against in the cool water. They drift out to a ten foot depth, Jonathan doing a lame dog-paddle, Connie pulling him out further, daring him, “Race ya to the bottom. Ready?” She pushes him under, kicking him deeper with her legs.
She swallows a chest full of air and follows him down, reaching him coming up and pulling down on him further to the bottom, her lips kissing his chest and belly. Down they go. She’s above him as she takes him into her mouth, trying her best to bring him total pleasure.
Jonathan is carried away by the eroticism of the moment. He lies back and drifts with her momentum to the bottom. His body is suspended, her lips and hands are stroking him, caressing him. He’s in heaven.
His survival instinct kicks in and he signal her...they must go up for air, quickly. She nods and pulls away, but places her feet on his chest, kicking both legs downward, shooting herself to the top as she pushes him back to the bottom. She breaks through and gasps fiercely for air.
Jonathan is desperate to breathe. He squats on the sandy floor and springs toward the surface. Connie sees him about to surface. She stops his rise with her legs, again pushing him downward. She feels his grasp around her ankles, trying to pull himself, to climb her body to the surface. She almost panics, but thank God, his grip melts. She pushes down on his shoulders a third time.
She is treading on the surface beneath the black sky. She looks back and forth and around a dozen times. “Be certain,” she admonishes herself. She tirelessly dog-paddles, finally concluding he’s down for good. She begins her short swim to the beach.
On the beach, she looks around again, assuring herself no one is in sight. She dons her beach cover and sits on the sand, staring out into the light surf, half expecting him to float in. She waits ten minutes more. She walks toward the car. Jonathan’s clothes lie on top of the food basket left on the ground. With lacquered fingertips, she carefully opens the basket and extracts one of the two wine glasses, and one of the two sets of silverware Jonathan had brought from the suite. The light breeze is already covering their tracks in the sand. She picks up her handbag and walks toward the road, further away from the Ritz, ending a mile inland at the Makena Inn. She checks-in as Constance Torres and pays in advance in cash.
After gathering her effects the next day, she shreds her “Monique” ticket and purchases a flight out to SFO. Once in her hotel in Sausalito, she reads about the “Young, wealthy bachelor disappears in Maui.” Connie is grateful the story is so brief. She says to his photo, “I’m sorry, Ted. You made me happy, would’ve given me anything. Rosa was a problem, though. Brink was a bigger problem. They would have got to both of us. What good is love and wealth to the dead.”
She calls Rosa from her cell, “Rosa, I’m so sorry to hear about----”
Rosa’s voice crackles in response, “You are the last person on earth I want to talk with. Brink is here and is just leaving. I told him to take out the trash on the way.”
“The trash? What do you---?
“You. I want your ass out of my house, out of my sight. I don’t care what you or Brink or any---” Rosa breaks down in tears, dropping the phone. Connie listens to the scuffling in silence until Eileen picks it up,
“Connie, dear. She’s upset. I don’t think it’s a good idea to speak with her right now. Maybe you should speak with Mr. Brinkley before returning. Do you like that idea?”
“Of course. Thank you, Mrs Cantano.” Connie reaches Brink as he is entering his car, “Why is she upset with me? Does she suspect something?”
Brink is inspecting the eclair he left on the seat as he responds, “Nah. She just never got over that thing with you and Jonathan years ago. We really don’t need you there any longer. Rosa is not going to talk about our relationship. You need to get back to your old line work while you still have a few good years. I’ll help you out. I’ll have you back on your knees in no time.” Brink chuckles.
“Fuck you. I did what you wanted and I expect to get paid, big time.”
Brink tries to calm her, “Relax. We’re going to take care of you. We just need a little time to pass, that’s all.”
“How much time? And how much money?”
Brink assures her, “Just a few months. It will be over a mil.”
Connie is forceful, “I want three. Not a penny less. Or else.”
Brink takes offense, “Or else what? You’re the one with blood on your hands. You gonna go to the cops and confess? Get real, girl.”
“There’s nothing to confess, because there’s nothing to prove. It’s the Feds that will be interested. In your little Pakistan scam.”
“Stop the crap, Connie. I told you I’d take care of you. You need to trust me. In the meantime, stay home, work if you want, or don’t work. I don’t care. Just stay away from the Stewards.” Brink hangs up and calls Avery.

***************************

Three months later, Connie is sitting on her back patio overlooking her sparsely landscaped yard. She is fuming inside, shouting to herself, “Not a fucking penny yet. That fat-ass is not going to get away with this. I gave him my best years. What I did for him!”

She’s forced financially to start working. Brink’s network provides a couple of dates. She finds it almost impossible to endure in her thirties the things she accepted at twenty. The first man demeans her, forcing her to crawl naked and lap vodka from a bowl on the floor. The second customer is worse. She runs a couple of ads and begins finding her own clients. They are no better.

She writes a plan out in her head, “First, I need some protection, then I’m going after Brink and his entire bullshit organization. They will buy my silence. Then, I’m out of here. The South Pacific, maybe Australia.” She picks up her phone and calls an old regular, Shawn Broderick. It takes her three days to get through to him. He’s an Assistant DA, LA County.

“Come now. I know you remember me. Connie, Connie Watson. We were, ya know, very close in the late 90s, when you were working for Macmillan and Schmidt.” She listens to his response and replies,

“Yes, yes, that was me. I knew you would remember.” Connie listens with a hopeful grin. “Ha, yes, of course I remember that.” She listens to his response. “No, I stopped that years ago. I worked in real estate in BH for the past twelve years. I

made a few good investments, channeled it all offshore. Here I am, retired would you believe?”

Her confidence swells as she judges the tone of his response and replies, “I know. I didn’t call you for that. I just thought we could get together, have a few laughs. You are a special memory for me. There was something about you, ya know, that I just can’t get out of my head.” Her grin breaks into a full smile, certain she has him on the hook.

“You’re wife doesn’t know you’re on Facebook?” Pause. “Sure, I’ll send you an invite. We can exchange profiles, although I’ve seen your picture already. How have you managed to stay so fit?” More listening.

“Got it. Take a look. I think you’ll be pleased.” she adds, her eyes beaming with delight. “Yes, believe me, I understand. We are totally on the same page. I want nothing but simplicity in my life. I’m just reconnecting with a very select number of old friends.” More listening. “I look forward to it.” Connie disconnects and congratulates herself, her mind racing forward, “Brink won’t touch me if I’m seeing Broderick. That would be crazy.”

****************************

Lovejoy

When João Rodrigues Cabrillo and his guide Bartolomé Ferrelo first set eyes upon the coast of Santa Monica in 1542 A.D., the coastline was pure, God given. They were not distracted by biplanes pulling banners reading ‘Happy Hour 4-7, Whale and Ale Pub‘. Cabrillo and Ferrelo view one of the most stunningly beautiful vistas on the planet in it’s purity. Cabrillo’s diary says they both gasped at the sight. They died of starvation three weeks later.

William Brinkley just finished a double order of Egg Foo Young. He sits on a park bench at the edge of the Santa Monica beach scanning the 2010 World Series stats, munching on fortune cookies, stopping to read each slip as the bag empties.

Beware. All accidents have purpose.

A tall, slim fifty-something man in an olive green suit strolls up. He looks like a doctor, perhaps because he is a doctor, provided you consider an optometrist a doctor. He sits himself casually on the opposite end of the bench. Brink is a friendly guy, “How ya doin’?”

“Doin’.” “Want to know your future?” The odd looking man scratches the large mole on his forehead, “Huh? Oh, I see. Thank

you. Don’t mind if I do.” He takes the last cookie and bites it in half, pulling the narrow slip of paper out of his mouth. It reads:

Connie Watson 24826 Pso Primario 91302. Any style. “Good one.” They both nod and smile. He offers Brink a cigar, which is politely refused. As the man lights up a rare Gurkha for himself, Brink is apparently bothered by the smoke. He wishes a nice day, gets up and walks away, his hands reaching into his pockets in search of dessert.
Doc Lovejoy understands ‘Any style’. It means it doesn't matter if it looks like an accident, a murder, natural causes, whatever. He also knows it is urgent. Messages from Brink are understood to be urgent.
He pauses a moment to look out over the sea. He mutters, “I spent my first thirty-three years longing to live next to this mass of water and here I am, twenty-two years later, rarely bothering to come down here.” He takes in a mouthful of smoke and salty air, holds the blend for a mental count of six and releases it through his nostrils. Each time, he heaves heavily and exhales faintly. He looks down at his aching body, taking a quick snapshot of his status.
“Hello.”
“Leave the man alone, Matthew.” The young mother looks up from her boy to address Lovejoy, seeing his face for the first time,
“I’m sorry,” The overly tanned, disconcertingly thin young woman in a terry-cloth beach cover-up immediately looks away.
Lovejoy stoops and buries his rare cigar into the sand and speaks to the four year old boy, “Hi there. How old are you?”
“This many.” The child struggles to display the correct number of fingers while tugging away from his mother’s grip. Lovejoy’s facial expression remains stoic, his stare at the boy lasts a second too long. The mother is uncomfortable and starts to pull her son away.
“What’s this in your pocket?” Lovejoy points his finger at the boy’s jacket, hardly touching him. Mom frowns. The child looks down and digs his fingers into his pocket, pulls out a small yellow and orange stripped Super-ball and beams at his mother with delight, “Mommy, look!”
“Very impressive. You must be a magician. Are you?” The mother finally smiles and nods to Lovejoy.
“Yes, I am. Among other rather obscure talents.” He regrets his smile, knowing it accentuates his lifelong homeliness. He hands her a business card, “I do private parties for a very reasonable fee.”
She nods and tells her son, “Thank the man, Matthew. Thank him.” The encounter ends pleasantly. Lovejoy lingers a bit longer, reflecting, “He’s cute. Just the size and age I like.” He glances again at the fortune, “I’m getting too old for this.”

****************************

Lovejoy’s stark white Chevy van is parked less than a block away, still hot from the trip to the beach. His twenty-year old son, Jeffery is at the wheel, waiting, anxious. Jeffery’s laptop is at his fingertips. He greets him, “Well, Dad, what up? You get something?”

“Connie Watson. Lives on Primario in Calabasas”

Jeffery starts keying her name into his Mac Air, “Got it. 24826?” “Yeah, that’s her.” Jeffery spends another couple of minutes pumping his keyboard, then announces, “Lives

alone. Small neighborhood. Good topography. House sits above the street. Vacant foreclosure directly behind. She’s thirty-one, 2005 Mercedes, E-class, black on black. Not working, at least not on record. Let’s see. Yep. Craig’s list. Outplacement modeling.” He digs a little deeper, “Dad, she’s a hooker.” He hacks into her LinkedIn bio and photo, “And wow, she’s a looker. A hooker and a looker. Hot.”

“I know. I met her some time ago. 1998 if I remember.” He holds his hand up in objection to an unexpressed question, “No, I wasn’t a ‘john’. Of course not.” Lovejoy is reflective for a moment, “She was in her early twenties then. She didn’t like me. I didn’t like her. What else?”

“Ah, Visa, Platinum AX, Nordstrom's, Bloomingdales. A 630 credit rating from Equifax. Not good. A lien from a paving company, late payments to Citigroup. Here it is. Comcast, TV and internet. Ready?”

“Go.” Lovejoy orders. Jeffery starts the van and pulls out, ignoring the oncoming traffic. They drive the twenty-four miles to Connie’s neighborhood. Jeffery is talking too much, as usual, “Dad, what are you making for this? I mean, is it enough?

“It’s plenty.” “What will you do if you get caught? What will Mom think? Are you sure it’s worth it?

Why not reopen your....?” “Stop talking. Just drive. You know where you’re going?” Jeffery pulls to the side of the isolated entry street. He gets out and opens the back door,

reaches in and pulls out two magnetic “Comcast” signs, adhering one to either side of the van. He takes a blue-stripped shirt off a hanger, slips it on and buttons it up, casually brushing lint off the name tag sewn above the left-hand pocket. He grabs the black handle on his orange plastic toolkit and closes the door. It refuses to shut without fighting back. Finally, he gets back in and drives the van further, taking a left onto Pso Primario.

It starts to drizzle. The wipers pump in rhythm to the throbbing in Jeffery’s head. He observes his Dad’s ever-rigid profile, seeing him perhaps as no one else does: the lines deepening in his chiseled face, the eyes continually worsening, his left fist clenching repeatedly, the only sign of aging, yet seemingly out of control.

“Dad, if I get in there and there’s no one else around, why don’t I just----?

Lovejoy is irritated, “Do you think it’s that easy? Listen, even the easiest is hard. There is always a moment when the entire body fights with everything it has to save itself. The burst of energy and power is often underestimated.”

“Dad, you know I know that. I’ve done this a hundred times in my head. I’m prepared to handle it.”
“Look, we’ve had this conversation too many times,” Lovejoy is calmer, picking on a frayed piece of worn leather between his legs, “I don’t want you going that far.”
“Dad, I’m not going to make a life of it, just---”
“You need to stay clean. We’ve got bigger plans for you, remember? “
“Of course.”
“Besides, scoring during this stop would be risky. Neighbors might notice the van, tie it together. Are the plates fresh?”
“Of course. Switched ‘em while you were in the park. Dad, you’re getting up there. You can’t keep doing this.”
“I don’t intend to. And you don’t need to start on me. You are brilliant with unlimited potential. I want to get you through school, then I’ll retire.”
“Dad, quit putting what you do on me.”
“If you want to help, get through school quickly, with good grades.”
“Dad, you’re a killer and a---.”Jeffery prays for a shift in the time continuum, wishing for a chance to retract his words. .
“You will not disrespect me. Withdraw your words.” Lovejoy’s body stiffens, sitting him upright, leaning him close to Jeffery.
“Sorry, Dad. I’m sorry. I just want to---” Jeffery muddles through undefined thoughts, “Why do I feel like this? Why does he scare me?” Jeffery pulls to the front of Connie’s home, oblivious to the wheels scrapping against the high curb. “I’m sorry, Dad. I will do whatever you say, I promise.”
“Yes, you will.” Lovejoy slumps back into seat. “Now, go.”
Jeffery exits the van. He stands outside the driver door just long enough to recapture his confidence.

****************************

Connie is staring at her bedroom ceiling, fretting, “Oh God. So easy to wake up, so hard to get up.” She runs her open palms up and down her face, momentarily relieving the stiffness.
Her first thoughts are filled with dread, “Last night. God. I’m too old for this. They ain’t buying the “I’m twenty-six” line anymore. First night ever with no tip. It’s my hands, dammit. The veins. Gotta get ‘em fixed. Stay focused. Get the money from that fat headed bastard.” A long grey and white cat aggressively licks at her eyebrows.
“Prentice, stop it.” She reaches out, scratching the feline behind the ears. “Good morning, angel. You hungry already?” Prentice awaits the ceremony that is expected to follow.
Connie throws the quilt off and stands, glancing in the dresser mirror at her undressed body, “Saggy.” She straightens her shoulders and sucks in her tummy, “Better.”
She slips on a faux-silk robe, runs her hands up the back of her head, fluffs her red hair and half-stumbles to the kitchen. The doorbell rings. Prentice is not happy with the interruption.
“What the fu---” She sneaks up to the door, looks out the side pane and sees the bushyhaired young man, spies the white Comcast van, and calls out briskly, “What do you want?”
“Ma’am, I with Comcast. Got a new booster to install. Only take a few minutes.”
“I didn’t order anything.”
“No, ma’am, its complimentary. You’re internet speed will increase by over half. They sent you a postcard.” Jeffery pauses for affect, “There’s no charge, ma’am”
Connie deems him harmless, disarms her security, unlatches double deadbolts, slips off the chain, opens the door, squints to read his name tag and says, “Jack, I haven’t had my coffee yet. Can you come back in an hour?” She tries to smile, but her lips inform her it’s too early to cooperate.
“No ma’am. You’re my only stop around here. I’m headed to Glendale next. You can call this 800 number to reschedule.” He offers her his card and starts to walk away.
“Wait. How long will this take?”

“Less than fifteen minutes, ma’am.” He stops in his tracks, looking at her over his shoulder but still turned toward the street.
“Okay, come on in. The computer is in the kitchen. Just don’t speak to me. Nothing personal.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Connie leads him in, points at the laptop sitting on the kitchen counter and starts a pot of coffee.
Jeffery sits at the counter, opens his toolbox and takes out a small plastic device with cables protruding from each end. He disconnects the cable to her modem and inserts the device inline. Connie ignores him as he speaks, “Now, I just need to load some software and you’re all set.” He loads the software for the device: a miniature digital camera and voice recorder. He then installs pirated copies of SpectorPro and Eblaster onto her hard drive. The programs will monitor her every keystroke and email reports to him via a public-access PC every fifteen minutes. He verifies the software is invisible, no indication in her applications folder, no history of it’s installation. Perfect.
Connie’s fiddling with her TV remote as he thanks her upon leaving. “I just need to adjust the outside cable entry point and we’re all set. You’ll see an increase in speed starting this weekend.” Her back is turned. She’s thoroughly engaged in her search for Fox and Friends. He has three-feet of cable in his hand and hesitates, fantasizing, “I could do it right now. Dad’s wrong.” He pictures his dad reaching out, thanking him. Then the fairy-tale image shifts to the reality of how his father would really react. Jeffery immediately steps back, composes himself and lets go of his foolish impulse.
“Thank you, ma’am. Have a great weekend.” The irony of the cliche doesn’t elude him.
He leaves as she double locks and chains the door. He walks toward the backyard, casually sticking a magnetic GPS monitor under her right-front wheel well. He takes note of the vacant yard, the quiet privacy.

****************************

A few minutes after five, Jeffery sits in his dad’s kitchen, banging away, taking notes on a spiral pad. Water is being heated on the gas stove, preparing for the egg noodles to be added. Doc Lovejoy wakens from his afternoon nap and asks his son from the doorway, “So, anything yet?”

“Tons, Dad, tons. Did you know she is named in a divorce by the wife of James Broderick, one of the assistant DA’s? Our little Miss Watson sent out a ‘brewing’ email to him this afternoon.

“Yeah. The affair was in the papers. Nothing came out of it though, right?” “Not that I can see. She’s still doing him though. Meeting him tonight at nine at the

Sheraton.” Lovejoy sits on the vinyl-covered chrome chair across from his son, “Forget that. Too
risky. What else?” “She went out about three today. Left through the garage, but her car is kept outside in
the drive. She went to Ralph’s, charged $72.00 including a couple of bottles of wine. She came
back about ten minutes ago and turned on CNN. Sounds like she’s just sitting around. She has a
‘nooner’ at her place tomorrow, but the john’s bringing his wife. Then an outcall at ten tomorrow night, just one guy. Booked it on her cell phone. Sounds like he’s an out of towner. She asked
him about the weather in Denver and all.” “I like that. Where is she meeting him?” “At the Ritz in Marina Del Rey, thirty-five minutes away from her. She should be leaving
her house by 9:15.” The next evening, Jeffery drives his dad in his forest green Avalon to the vacant house on
Cam Codorniz directly behind Connie’s. They actively listen to Connie walking, shutting off the
TV, running the water in the kitchen. At 9:05, Jeffery hands his dad his satchel. Doc takes it with his dark-brown gloved hand
and confirms its contents: an Espada knife, his Walther, and a Dustbuster, filled with the dust, dirt
and hairs sucked from the restrooms of the state prison and at a neighboring bar in West Lake
Village earlier that day. Dressed in a black runner’s outfit with plastic shoe covers, Doc leaves
the car, takes his position in Connie’s yard behind the corner of her house, and waits patiently. At 9:15, Connie gives herself a final once over in her powder room and checks her bag:
wallet, avocado oil, two joints, a lighter, Trojans, and her Glock 27. She fills a red plastic cup
with Ferreri-Carano chardonnay, inhales a generous gulp and takes a deep breath, “Prentice, hold
down the fort. Mommy will be back in a little while, okay?” She punches off and on the security system and exits through the garage door with her
wine and bag and quicksteps to her car. Lovejoy moves toward her from behind, knife in hand.
He clasps his left hand brutally across her mouth. She tastes the leather. He firmly slices through
her vestibular fold, severing both vocal cords and her throat with such ease, he wonders why
anyone would ever buy an electric knife. The first spurts of blood shoot out the sides of her neck like an unplugged ketchup bottle,
squirting across the drive at least five feet. The second only two feet, then less than one. The
blood flow transitions from ‘fountain’ to ‘seepage’ rapidly as her heart stops. He lays her on the
concrete careful to avoid being stained. The hand-crafted wound smiles up at Lovejoy. He waits
a long twenty-seconds. No change. He shudders. Satisfied she is dead, he bends down and with overconfident arrogance, lightly kisses her
mouth. He stands and takes the Dustbuster from his satchel, flips the switch from Intake to
Outflow and starts blowing the accumulated dust and hair all over her face, neck and breasts. He
stops when the hand vac is half empty, kicks her over and empties the handy tool across her
shoulders blade, nape and hair. He glances around, satisfied nothing has been seen or heard. He treads his way back to
his car, Jeffery is sending her date an email canceling their plans, and promising to call him by
noon tomorrow. “Dad, everything okay?” Doc gets in his seat with disturbing nonchalance, ignoring his son’s question, “Go. I need
a shower.” Jeffery knows better than to inquire further. “Jeffery, stop at the ‘In-N-Out’. I’m dying for a burger right now. And a large Dr.
Pepper.” Doc opens his i-phone and checks the S&P futures for tomorrow and says, “Looks like
it’s going to be a good day for the market.” Jeffery shivers, shakes his head and drives forward.

*****************************

Denson

Randy Denson is a smart-looking man who is smarter than he looks. LAPD’s Homicide Chief John Steng tells of the time they were playing chess and Denson got a call from some friend at NASA with a question. There was a conflict between Hawking’s Quark theory and Jung's Synchronicity Principle. Something like that. It takes a few minutes for Denson to explain the solution to the caller’s dilemma. During the conversation, Denson takes three more moves and leaves Steng checkmated. That is the first and last time Steng played him.

Denson runs the Monterey Hills CSI group. He is not dissimilar in appearance to the actors who simulate his life on TV, except he’s older, and more remote, if that’s possible. He grew up in Atlanta, then moved to California and attended UCLA, completed medical school and moved to Fresno. His early years are uneventful, until he meets Suzanne.

Now, he spends too many evenings sitting in his small, rustic home alone, dwelling on his life, missing his soul-mate. He whispers to the fireplace, “I’m lost, Sue. Years out of medical school, sixty-two years old. We finally got everything we dreamed of together and you’re taken from me. Without reason. For what purpose?”

“Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” is set on repeat, playing softly in the background. “Somewhere in Time” was their favorite movie. The music carries him decades to a the first time they meet. It’s on a blind date set up by his apartment manager.

“Hi. I’m Randy, Randy Denson. Please tell me you are Suzanne.” She replies with a warm smile, “If I’m not, I’ll fake it.” Randy blushes, “Well, I must admit, this is the best start to a blind date I’ve experienced.

Ready to grab a bite?” They never cease talking, careful not to dominate with their own points, their own tales.
Dinner is Italian. Two plates of spaghettini bolognese sit before them, hardly eaten. Suzanne tells
him about her banking career: her start, progress and ambitions. She ends her brief summary
with a frank statement to Randy, “So, I admit I’ve never dated a mortician. Sounds like a deadend job.” “Never heard that one before.” Suzanne appreciates his sarcasm as he continues,
“Working as a medical examiner for the California State Department of Justice CSI is not exactly
like being a mortician. Mortician’s put bodies together, I tend to take them apart.” “Wow, I’m glad I didn’t order the meatballs.” “Sorry, I just meant that---” “Hey, I’m kidding. I admire what you do. I just want to understand how you got into it in
the first place.” “To start, I’ve always been fascinated with the human body.” Suzanne straightens her bra, “Well, I do my best, yet---” “You’re funny. I like that, very much. Not much humor at the office, you know.” “Hey, try banking. But really, how do separate the reality of living people from the
victims you examine?” Randy explains, “I go out of my way to know little of the person before I start.
Otherwise, it risks objectivity. I might jump to conclusions, miss something important.” “I can understand that.” “It’s strange when there is a murder involved and I face the killer, usually months later, in
court testimony, watching and listening to someone still full of life, yet knowing them only by
the destruction they left behind.”

“That has to be hard. Isn’t there satisfaction though, in bringing the person to justice?”. “Sure, but it’s often a long road between making a determination and turning evidence over to Homicide and an arrest and conviction. Sometimes I never know the outcome. And Homicide is frustrated when they fail to apprehend anyone, or they find the culprit and he gets off on a technicality. Denson looks out the window, speaking to the world, “What bothers me the most is when they know the killer is just a puppet and they are unable to get to the person behind the crime.”
That night sitting on her porch, overcome and totally out of character, he asks her to stand. He kisses her gently, then takes her left arm in a dance pose and sways with her back and forth, music not needed. He places the crook of his fingers under her chin and lifts her head, speaking softly, “Sue, will you be my baby?”
“Yes, Randy. Yes, I’ll be your baby.”
They are married for twenty-four years. They work hard, venting their work frustrations to each other each night, always cooking and cleaning up as a team, laughing together, touched the same way by movies and songs. Their biggest argument is over making coffee.
“Could I have a knife and fork? I need to cut this up before I drink it”
“C’mon, it’s not that strong.” “How ‘bout you just serve it on a stick.” “Think of it this way, if we are ever divorced, you will certainly have ‘grounds’.”
The only time they are separated is after September 11th. Randy is sent to New York for two months. He returns scarred, changed inside. Suzanne knows why and says sympathetically, “I wish I could have been with you, absorbing some of the pain.”
“Yeah. So many bodies, parts of bodies, scrapings of flesh, all belonging to someone. Wives, husbands, sisters, fathers---”
“I can’t imagine. Terrible.”
Randy responds with a rare spark of anger, “There are men laughing about this, relishing in the destruction and deaths. We need to get to Bin Laden. He’s the evil behind this.”
“I agree, of course.”
“This is so much like what I run into on murder cases. I wish I could do more to get to the source of the murders, beyond the killers, to the puppet masters like Bin Laden and so many others.”
“You can do anything you want, Randy. You can do anything and everything.”

****************************

Denson memories move forward to the recent past, to that night they first discussed her problem, seven years ago. Suzanne is pointing her finger at her slightly raised chin, "It's small, but I've had it for several weeks now. I call it my perpetual pimple. It won't go away. I'm sure it's nothing, but I thought you should know."

"I noticed it. I'm with you. It's nothing. Go see McCleat. Have him do a biopsy, just to be sure. Then have it burned off. The scar will be unnoticeable. Only you and I will know it’s there. Finally, a flaw in my otherwise perfect wife."

"Oh, Randy, you are too much. I'm just glad your eyesight is fading as rapidly as I am aging." She gives him a peck, followed by a warm, deep, wonderful kiss that lasts a lifetime.

The pimple proves to be cancerous. Denson tells McCleat to ‘overkill it’. The resulting scar runs from her chin three inches up her jaw line. The swelling at the end of the scar grows into a cyst. The cyst became a tumor almost before their eyes. Suzanne pleads with him with helpless eyes, "I'm scared Randy. What's happening to me?"

He endlessly offers hope. What else could he offer? All of his skill, training, his position, love, her inherent strength is useless against the relentless attack on her loving face. Its growth is noticeable, sometimes daily. By the end, she can hardly speak or eat, the swelling overtaking the petite features of the woman he loves beyond all things.

He lays beside her, stroking her hair, massaging her temples with his powerful hands. They are long past facing the inevitability of her death. At first, their reactions were overwhelming, Suzanne crying, scratching her nails up and down their bedroom wall, Randy hitting himself in the head with his fist, crying out to God, cursing and begging in a single breath. They are at peace now. Randy whispers, “Wait for me. I’ll be along shortly. I won’t be able to live without you.”

“Don’t think like that.” She closes her eyes, her speech slurs, but she is understandable to the man who adores her, holds her soul in his hands, “I want you to do something for me, something to make life better, longer for others”

“What do you mean, baby?” His focus bores deep into her, causing his eyes to water, a single tear continuously trickling down his left cheek. She tries to continue but can’t speak clearly enough. Frustrated, she grabs paper and pencil and writes her plea, “You have so much skill. Make the world better. No matter what it takes.”

She passes that night, Randy not yet absorbing the full meaning of her final words. He still keeps the note in his end-table drawer. He buries her and dies himself in so many ways. The wind blows cold as he is watching the crane lower her casket into her grave. Her brother, Jackson stands beside him, intentionally using his body to block the harsh wind from striking Denson directly.

Jackson speaks as they walk toward the car, “She was so proud of you. She always talked about how much you meant to her. You were her hero.”
He walks down to the river that night and sits for hours looking at the flow, thinking, “I wish I were a drop of water, a raindrop or something, skydiving off a cloud, the earth racing toward me, falling into the river and floating to San Francisco Bay, settling on the ocean floor.”
“How can something so bad happen to someone so good?” he asks Pastor Keenen.
“God needs her at His side. I cannot say why, but you must believe in His wisdom.” Keenen pauses before adding, “There is also a reason for taking her and leaving you here. Respond with faith, from your heart and all will become clear someday, I promise you.”
He transfers to Monterey Hills, just to get away from the Fresno area and all of its reminders of their life. His job is his sole salvation. He soaks himself into his work, taking time each day to pour over scientific procedures and learn skills acquired by other states, cities, countries. He studies historical forensic successes and failures, always trying to grow away from himself. He tries to identify with the bodies he examines each day, but to him, they are still just carriers of hard, cold evidence. Carcasses, not former lives. The rational part of his brain recognizes this as a shortcoming, something that compromises his work.
“I feel I am failing you, Suzanne. I’m not a hero. I’m a highly skilled mechanic, but a mechanic just the same.”

****************************

Denson can’t understand why it takes seven squad cars to attend a murder scene. The six or seven LAPD teams rarely learn anything but the obvious. Sometimes they make his job harder. Why not one car, two officers, check it out, report the crime and get out of the way?

"Denson," says Steng as they are conducting a cursory examination of the body and site, “I can’t believe you’re here. Why’d they send you in?”
“Long story. I’m just here to help.” Steng raises his right eyebrow, “Denson, who ya talking to?”
“You know I haven’t been called in officially. Let’s just leave it at that for now. Whatcha got?”
"Well, to start with, I've never seen so much evidence: hair, dead skin, bug parts, unbelievable."
"That's not a good thing?"
"Funny. You know this one crosses over. The abundance is confusing." Steng shifts to his professional, impersonal self, typical of him, "The neighbors say she operates a housekeeping service. We found enough leather and bizarre toys in her bedroom to believe she was probably hooking, at least part time. Her cell phone history is heavily inbound, so that fits. And there’s a drawer full of cash, loose $100 bills.” He reaches for a cigarette and adds, “Oh, by the way, she's missing the little finger from her left hand. Taken off surgically awhile ago. Not part of the crime, but unusual."
"Yeah, I noticed that. Stacey," Denson's assistant is standing nearby eager to help, "get all this to the lab. Push this. It's going to be a tough one. Get me a prelim by 3:00. Try to get the CODIS results back by the end of the month. Steng, I’ll keep you plugged in, of course.”
Stacey Rollins is thirty-seven, a Bryn Mawr grad. She initially worked on the police force, but decided to pursue a second career with CSI. She’s been working for Denson for three months. She is 5'7" with a slight hourglass figure, tightly cropped brown hair, a thick lower lip and perfect cheekbones. She catches the eye of most men, except Denson. She refuses to believe he isn't interested in her, thinking, “He’s just obsessed with his work. I’m sensitive to his being a widower, but God, it’s been seven years.”
"Yes sir, I'll get on it right away. Hey, I'm stopping at Ippolito’s for dinner tonight. Join me if you’d like to talk about the case."
Denson doesn't seem to hear her. He walks down the driveway and stands just behind the LAPD spokesman, a young man the reporters apparently don’t consider resourceful. All five reporters aggressively divert their instruments to Denson. He spots a KTTV camera. Someone’s mike hits Denson on his cheek. "Back off,” he barks.
One voice jumps out of the pack, “Why did they bring DOJ in on this?”
The LAPD rep gestures to Denson to take over, “My name is Dr. Randy Denson. I’m with the State Department of Justice, CSI.”
"We know. That’s why we asked. Who's in charge of the investigation, doctor?"
"Captain John Steng, LAPD Homicide.”
“Are you here because of the victim’s ties to Broderick?” asks one of the veteran reporters from the Times. Denson isn’t going to admit to the call he received from Broderick’s office requesting he personally look into the killing.
“No. It’s because a woman was killed brutally by someone in her own driveway. LAPD is concerned about the safety of its citizen’s. Steng asked if I could help sort through the evidence. Nothing more than that.”
“Does it look like a serial killing or rape or a robbery or what?” asks a female reporter holding an Olympus digital voice recorder. Denson doesn’t recognize her.
“Any of the above or none of the above. We don’t know. We’ve only been here an hour. We’ll keep you informed of our progress as the facts unfold.” There is a momentary pause. Denson prods them, “Speak up or I'm leaving."
The same reporter, her credentials obscured from his sight asks about DNA. Denson responds, “You’re new at this, aren’t you?” He answers with the usual script, "It’s a mistake to overstate the value of DNA. It's helpful, sometimes instrumental, but most often it just supports good detective work."
"If you have DNA at the murder scene, doesn't that lead you to the criminal?"
Denson is noticeably irritated, "Are you serious?” She looks at him quizzically as he answers her, “Okay, that's a common misconception. Our DNA files are limited, but will be checked. DNA samples will be run through CODIS, The Convicted Offender Index from all the states. CODIS uses two sources to generate leads: profiles of individuals convicted of a felony, sex offense and other violent crimes, and the Forensic Index which contains DNA profiles developed from other crime scenes.” He continues, “So, if any of the DNA gathered is that of a convicted criminal or has shown up at another crime scene anywhere in the country, about six million in all, we'll have a lead. If not, it won't come into play unless or until we develop a suspect on our own, through more traditional police work."
"How long before we know, doctor?" the green reporter persists.
"It's a national system. We get in line with hundreds of other requests. Serial killings and child rape get to the head. A murder like this will get some priority, but you could be talking weeks or months." Denson looks at his watch. The reporters are busy writing. When they look up, he is headed back up the drive, ignoring their shouts.

****************************

Denson sits at his desk looking at his clock. It’s 2:57. He is extreme about precision. If he were about to die in a plane crash, he'd accept it as long as the flight was running on time. Stacey wets her lips before entering and hands him an unusually thick report at 3:03.

"You're late. Have you got another job lined up?" Denson checks his watch against the oak clock on his wall, then the red-digital alarm clock on his desk.
"Sorry, sir, I was trying to get this better organized."
He reads the report. It’s as he feared. He thumbs through fifteen pages of local DNA records from three counties. Stacy comments, “We initially identified twenty-two individual traces. These are the ones matching our local data.”
"Have you pared this down? Taken out those in jail, in the hospital, out of the country?"
"We did, sir and eliminated several in the process."
"Still too many. What's going on? Somebody handing out free steak satays in downtown Bombay wouldn't be in close contact with this many felons.” He pitches the report across his desk and it falls at her feet. Denson continues, frustrated, "I know she was a call girl, but c'mon. She'd have to be the busiest hooker in LA.”
"She was semiretired. I know it's a strange situation, sir, but the report is what the report is."
"Brilliant. Revise it and have it on my desk at 6:00 tonight."
"Revise it how, sir?"
"Take out the females. Connie Watson was a tall, strong woman in good shape. This was a hit. They wouldn't have assigned it to a woman.” He adds, “And take out the minorities. Her neighborhood is lilly-white. No minority could hang around long enough to scout the place, then get in and out without being noticed. Also, eliminate any evidence extracted below the bottom of the breasts. Anything relevant to the murderer will be higher up."
Stacy looks at him with childlike admiration, "Anything else?"
"I want to see the evidence myself. How is everything packaged? Who here handles what and sends it where and when? I want to be kept in the loop. No screw ups. Capeesh?"
“I understand, sir.”
Denson announces to the entire lab as he walks through, "Nobody's going home tonight until I have some answers!"

****************************

Steng is standing outside, his remaining strings of hair pulled straight back over his glistening skull. He removes his thick brown plastic bifocals, seeking relief from chronic eye strain. He is wearing a single white latex glove on his left hand, holding a cigarette, rationalizing to himself, "I hate the smell of smoke on my fingers. Don't like the taste either.” He crushes the cigarette, rips the glove off and swigs from a travel-size bottle of vanilla Listerine, spitting the residue into a flower pot as Denson approaches, "Hey, how's it hanging?”

"Low. My wife won't do it anymore." He takes a long, deep drag. "Don't blame her. Why?”

Steng half-jokes, "I took her for a ride on a blimp a couple of years ago, chartered it all to ourselves. It was our anniversary. We did it up there. Said it was the best for her ever. Maybe it was the floating feeling, I don't know."

"So?" "So, we haven't had sex since Goodyear went Chapter Eleven.” "Too bad. How about Fuji?" "They have a blimp?” They both chuckle. "Hey, don't bitch. At least you gotta wife." “I’m sorry, man. It slipped my mind, I mean I haven’t seen you and---” Denson holds up his hand, “Stop. I understand. Seriously, are you and Betsy going to be

okay?” Steng wonders why no one has asked him this before, it’s well known throughout
Headquarters. His answer is unpracticed, “Not really. I mean she’s moved out, so I guess it’s
pretty well over.” Steng stares at the pavement as a turned-over beetle desperately kicks its legs.
Denson gazes across the hazy parking lot, opening his emotions, a rare moment, "That’s tough.
I’m sorry, man, I really am. It’s hard to be alone.” The silence hangs just below the afternoon
smog. Denson closes up as suddenly as he had opened, "So, want to know what we've got? How
many possibles?" "Sure."  Denson rolls his eyes like a high-schooler, "Would you believe twenty-two? I wish it
were crap, but it's not.”   Steng puts his latex glove back on and lights up, "How many matches?” “Fifteen so far, plus what comes in from CODIS, which won’t be much. Our files are
pretty complete.” Steng nods, “I know you. You’ll trim it down.” “Yeah, my people are working on it. I’ll get a revised list at 6:00. My guess is about eight
locals you can get started on. You going to be around?” “If you let me use one of your offices.” “Sure,” Denson wants him close, “What’s your take on the Broderick angle?” “I doubt it. Broderick’s ass was already nailed. What good would it do him to kill her
now? “Yeah, but the press was heavy.” Steng shrugs, “Slow news day. Hot chick. Whatever.” He continues, “There’s nothing she
could have disclosed about their relationship that wasn’t already rumored in the press, or that he
couldn’t deny. That was yesterday’s scandal.” “There’s something else going on here.” “Yeah. This was a slick hit. Top choice pro. Did you hear about the spyware and
monitoring devices we found?” “No, but I’m not surprised. It just confirms it was professional.” Denson hesitates before
bringing up a persistent thought, “You know, if this is a pro, there’s someone behind him, there’s
something deeper going on.” “I agree.” “John, I want to accomplish something more, get at the root of one of these cases. Not
just the hitter, but the source behind it all. I want to dig deeper, work closer on this one. Work
closer with you. Who knows what we could do if we tackled one arm in arm.” “You got the time, really?” “It’s time I take the time. My Commander doesn’t care. He knows I’m retiring soon
anyway. I just sense there’s more here than meets the eye, a really bad guy somewhere pulling
the strings. It would be nice to take someone like that out. Permanently.” “I’m with you. I’m game if you are. We can work closer.” He grins, “Just don’t touch
me.” “In any event, I could use some more street perspective and you could use a little
intelligence.” “I agree. I know the street,” Steng retorts, “and you certainly have a ‘little intelligence’.” Denson looks at his watch, “I've got a haircut appointment at 5:00. I need to leave. What
else you got?"  "It's only four. Where's your barber?"  "Over on Huntington."   "That's less than two miles from here."  "I know, but I can't be late. She'll start on someone else, make me wait. That would piss
me off.” Steng shakes his head, looking down, using his lit butt to light another. He closes his
sore eyes for a brief moment. When he looks up, Denson is walking away. Steng shrugs, already
questioning Denson’s out of character attitude.

****************************

Denson returns from his haircut at 5:45. Stacy is waiting there, eager to hear him say to her, "Okay, what do we have now?"
"Excluding women, we cut it down to eight, sir.” She hands him the revised list.
 "Good. Still too many, but---" He turns from her and walks out the office toward the front lobby.
 Denson finds Steng outside and shows him the list, saying, "Here they are. Eight names. All possibles. By the way, Broderick shows up.”
“Doesn’t matter. I’ve already checked him out. He was in Sacramento with the Governor’s people, left LA the morning of. Must have banged her the night before.”
Steng is reviewing the names and stats. Denson adds, “Also, I called in a couple of favors. We'll get the CODIS report by Tuesday."
 Steng looks up, "That’s cool. We can start these interviews now. Anything else?"
 "Sorry, but I'm plumb out of ideas. You need to bring the next hand to the poker table."
 Steng scratches his forehead with the middle finger of his right hand. The finger is facing Denson straight on. Denson doesn’t notice. Steng shakes his head slightly, “You’re being ass. I thought you wanted to work as a team on this one. What happened?”
Denson pauses, looks Steng in the eyes and says, “You’re right. Old habits die hard. I meant what I said. Forgive my rudeness. Let’s nail the hitter, together and then go for the puppet master.” Denson extends his hand.
Steng takes it and places his left hand on top of the joined grip, “Ya know, you got to me when we talked. You’re right. I think we share the same empty spot in our lives. We’re together on this for a reason, a reason larger than the lives or deaths that brought us here.” His gaze into Denson’s eyes is unwavering, sincere and powerful.
Denson responds in similar tone and purpose, “Done, my friend. Done.”
Four days later Steng comes by and gives Denson and Stacy an update, “Here are the matches with your local DNA pool who don't have alibis. It’s a start. Any one of them could have killed Watson.” Steng passes out a summary, "There’s a hit and run, an Academy dropout and--are you ready—a prior murder suspect."
 "Which one's the murd---I see, Jack Scully. Five years ago. I don't need the details right now. Can you give me the Cliff Notes version."
 Steng responds, “Stacy, you did most of the back story. Go ahead.”
Stacy speaks nervously, "Well, he does construction work, in Glendale, mainly. He still lives there, works there and in Burbank and---"
 "I asked for the short version." Denson stirs impatiently.
 Steng jumps in, "Five years ago, Scully went on a camping trip in Arrowhead." 
 "What happened?”
 Stacey regains her confidence and takes back the reins, "There were four of them. One was Jack’s brother, Jason. The brothers got into a heated argument the second night. On the third morning, when they wake up, Jason is missing. They figure he got up during the night to go to the bathroom, lost his bearings and is roaming around somewhere. They scour the area for a couple of hours and find nothing."
"The brother was the victim?”
“Yes,” Stacey continues, “They call for help. The next two days there are choppers everywhere. They find Jason’s body in a ravine. His throat is cut, nearly decapitated. Jason was questioned, took a polygraph and eventually dropped as a suspect.
Denson asks the obvious, “Anything with the weapon. Is there a possible match?"
Steng responds, "Maybe. Your people are working on that.”
Stacy continues, "The police never solved the crime, but they had a lead. Jason had a girlfriend, an ‘image consultant’ working with a company, Hampton Enterprises. It is learned most of her money is earned as a hooker. Her name was Suzie. Suzie Reynolds. That may connect her somehow to Connie Watson.”
Denson responds, “Yeah, two hookers, both in LA. Well, I think that pretty well wraps up the case.”
Stacy is understandably defensive, “There's more. Jason and Suzie got into an argument a couple of weeks earlier.”
Steng is half-reading from Stacy’s report as he adds the next point, “They are in his kitchen around midnight. Jason is scrambling some eggs and frying bacon. The argument gets heated. Suzie throws a plate at him. It breaks and slices his face from his ear to his chin.” He flips the first page, continuing his survey, “Jason loses his cool and throws the bacon pan at her, an iron skillet, I believe. The pan misses, the bacon misses, but the bacon grease hits the bulls eye. Scars the entire left side of her face essentially beyond repair."
Denson frowns, "I'm sorry, but I still don't see the connection."
Stacey persists, “There’s more. Suzie gets forced out of the business because of what Jason did. What if that pisses her boss or pimp off and he or they retaliate against Jason. And what if Connie did something to piss them off, too? I have no idea. They get the same guy to slice her throat. That's the connection."
Denson is skeptical, "That's slim, thin, and floating on air. I don’t see it other than they were both call girls.”
Steng reacts, "We agree, except there is one more point, thanks to Stacy’s tenacious research. Suzie Reynolds was admitted to the hospital the night of the burning. The admittance report shows she was missing a finger, her left pinkie."
Denson is suddenly alert, "Now that’s significant. Great job Stacy.” For the first time, Stacy feels he is really looking at her, “Can we talk with this Suzie gal?” Denson asks her.
“No. She disappeared shortly after being released. There’s no trace.”
Denson turns to Steng, “So, you’re concentrating on Scully?”
“Of course, but we haven’t even questioned him yet.”
“When you do, do it at his place, where he lives.” Denson is studying the DNA comparison conducted by his lab, frowning,
“Something seems odd. His DNA match to the crime scene appears to be corrupted. See if you can get a fresh sample. I know it can’t be used in court, but we can use it to confirm our thoughts. Is that okay with you?” Steng is surprised. He knows Denson’s suggestion is way off procedure. He tries for cover, “For Stacy’s sake, I must inform you such an act is illegal and will not be done, under any circumstances.” Stacy nods as Steng and Denson lock eyes sufficient to understand each other.
As Steng leaves, Stacy hangs by the door, trying to think of a way to stay with Denson, even if for only a minute longer. She turns, saying, "Perhaps a drink after---?" Denson is already gone out the other door. Stacy is befuddled, thinking, “Maybe it’s his hearing.”

***************************

Steng meets with Denson in private the next day. Denson conducts polymerase chain reaction tests from the loose hair Steng was able to secure from Skully. It is a long three-minutes before Denson looks up, “It’s a match, but something with the sample off Watson’s body must have gotten corrupted. Shit.”

“Do you mean the DNA from Watson’s body---”

Denson finishes Steng’s sentence “---can’t be used in court. That doesn’t mean he’s not a suspect.”
“Well, there’s another problem. I met with him last night. He tore a tendon in his left ankle two days before the hit. He’s still a possible, but less unlikely. Certainly a bump.”
Denson shakes his head, “I see. Let’s focus on the other two for now.” Steng does followup phone interviews with both of the suspects before updating Denson and Stacy later in the day.
Denson reacts, "So it could be either or neither. What do you think?"
"Valemont, the Academy dropout could’ve physically done it, had the training, needs the money. No alibi and he had a couple of beers nearby at Bogies in West Lake earlier in the day. Says he doesn’t know Connie. Neighbors of his say he and his wife are ‘an inspiration to lover’s everywhere’. We’re getting a warrant to search his place, his car, but my sense is he’s not our guy.”
Steng is wrapping up, “The hit and run, Dr. Lovejoy is highly unlikely. Forty-three, ex eye doctor, a bit of a wimp. Doesn’t fit anyone’s profile of a ‘hit man’. Looks like we’ll have to wait on CODIS.”
Denson is tenacious, asking, “Tell me about Lovejoy? What was the hit and run deal? What happened?”
“He slammed a guy standing near the curb in Gardenia. Says he didn’t realize it, wouldn’t have kept going if he had. The prosecutor didn’t care about the victim, some hustler, high on coke, seen bouncing on and off the curb. Lovejoy took a reckless driving/endangerment charge and was released in thirty days.”
Denson is almost convinced, “Hmmm. What’s his background?”
Steng scans his file again, "He was a successful ophthalmologist in BH with wealthy clients willing to wait months for an appointment to see him.” Denson, always sensitive to particular words reacts, “What do you mean ‘he was’?”
“He up and quit a few years ago. Sold the business. Said he never wanted to be an eye doctor, that he was forced through school by his dad. He amassed enough money over a few years of practice and decided to ‘pursue his childhood dream’ to be a magician. That’s what he’s doing now.”
Stacey is resting her chin on her right palm, gazing at Denson, trying to connect the freckles on his forehead, unlocking the mystery to his heart. The word ‘magician’ gets her attention. She blurts, “Huh? That doesn’t sound right. I have something on that. Give me a minute.” She scrambles through her personal stack of folders. Denson and Steng ignore her and continue their meeting. Stacy bursts back into the discussion.
"Here it is, Lovejoy. It’s what I thought. He was a doctor, an eye doctor. Finished school in ’91, but in the summers, he worked as a magician."
Denson gets it before Steng, "Steng, are you sure Lovejoy said 'pursue my childhood dream’? He didn’t say 'resume'? Choice of words matter."
“He clearly said ‘pursue’.”
Stacey is beaming.
"Stacey, Lovejoy works as a magician now, right? Who gets him his gigs, who pays him?"
"He's on his own, sir. Works corporate events, grand openings, lots of birthday parties. Looks like he set up an LLC, pays himself a salary."
"Common to do that now, rare back then, for a college kid. Did someone else pay him at that time?"
"I've got that--here it is. Oh my, Hampton, Hampton Enterprises, the same---."
Denson and Steng lock in. Denson pleads, "Can I go with you to talk with the Hampton folks."
“Of course.” Steng nods firmly
As they are leaving, Stacy calls out, “Be careful sir---I mean guys.”
Denson turns and smiles and nods as they are leaving. He and Stacy’s eyes connect for a brief moment. Stacy ponders to herself, “Is he just being polite. No, not Randy. He’s definitely interested. I think.”

**************************************************

The drive down I-405 is as jammed as ever. The tensest of the commuters ride up the side, on the grass, breaking in before the next bridge, just to get a few cars ahead. Steng calls, identifies himself and asks for the CEO. Brink answers and is friendly and agrees to wait for them. It’s after 6:00 when they walk into Bill Brinkley’s office, Steng in front, Denson behind.

"Nice of you to see us without notice, Mr. Brinkley." They both fight to keep their expressions stoic, in spite of the mass of a man they are seeing for the first time. Denson thinks, “Christ, this guy makes the Fat Elvis look anorexic.”

Brink is sitting back, overflowing in his chair, picking through a box of Whitman chocolates, "Law enforcement is tough, important. Solving a crime can mean saving a future victim. Hey, I could be that victim. What's up? How can I help you gentlemen?"

Steng starts, "There is a former employee of your---" Brink interrupts, "Excuse me. To clarify without confusing, we don't have employees, per se. We have independent contractors. We pay them fees and commissions, not salaries. It's a technical difference, but I don't want you misled.”
"This person, per se," Steng says with a pinch of mockery, "may be connected to someone who was murdered recently. We are trying to learn as much about him as possible."
"Somebody murdered? Who was murdered?”
Steng answers, "Her name was Connie Watson. Do you know her?”
Brink is momentarily silent. No sense pushing his luck. He responds, “No, but I’ve got 8,000 subs. Let me take a look. I’m no whiz at computers, but this is simple, even for a guy like me.” He punches the keyboard with impossibly fat fingers.
Brink looks up, shrugging, “Nope. No Connie Watson. Nothing in the record. You might have come to the wrong place, with all due respect. Maybe you’re thinking Hamilton, you know, the blender people. Lots of people get us confused.” Steng and Denson resent the sarcasm.
Denson edges into the conversation, "There is this other woman who was an image consultant for you. Suzie Reynolds. Her boyfriend was killed several years ago."
Brink checks, “No. No record of her either.”
Denson challenges him, “We’re pretty certain about Miss Reynolds. Would you check again?”
Brink pushes back in his chair, "Excuse me, let me understand. You're talking to me because a woman, not working for me, in fact, never worked for me, was murdered, and years ago the boyfriend of another woman, who may or may not have worked for me was killed. Have I got that right?"
Denson says, "There's also the man---"
Steng interrupts, "You're right, sir. We got off track. We're wasting your time. Our apologies."
"It's all right. Stick around. I've got linguini coming within minutes, enough for six. Join me?"
"Thank you, Mr. Brinkley, but we have to run, to make up the time lost. Our fault entirely."
They are on the elevator. Denson asks, "Why didn't you let me bring up Lovejoy? That would have tied it together."
"This guy's too smooth, too in control. All we'd have done is tip our hand if we are right.” Steng adds, “I’ve been around a long time. This guy is too arrogant. He’s involved and loving the attention. We’ve found our link. Brinkley gave the order. I’d bet on it.” They reach the lobby, “Right now, let's focus on Lovejoy. I’ll try to get a search warrant on Lovejoy's house, car, look for the murder weapon. I think the judge will give us a shot.” ****************************

Lovejoy II

Doc Lovejoy is sitting with Jeffery on his front steps, taking in the scent of cactus flowers blooming in their yard. They’ve been there for ninety-minutes, waiting for the ‘Keystone Cops’ as he calls them, to finish puking his belongings all over the house. Doc is grateful his wife is in the hospital for more tests. Steng walks up the walkway, looking for his lead in the search: Officer Larry Prince, a deceptively young-looking junior detective.

"Sorry for the mess, Mr. Lovejoy," Steng says insincerely. No response. Steng kicks Lovejoy in the thigh as he steps over him, "Sorry, again.” Jeffery jumps up, ready to defend his father.

“Calm down, young man. We will be out of your way in a few minutes.” Jeffery unclenches his fists, “Just leave us alone. We haven’t done anything.” Prince and two others have torn the house apart, stuff everywhere. For all the debris,

Steng can't tell if Lovejoy has hardwoods or carpet. Steng states the obvious, "Judging by this mess, I assume you didn't find the weapon." "Nothing, sir. This guy doesn't even eat meat. Doesn't own a steak knife, much less a---”

"Okay, let's wrap it.” Something catches Steng's eye as he walks across the room, "Lar, what's that. That thing, that plastic thing in the corner?" "I don't know, boss, it's certainly not a knife." Steng picks it up. It has a chord, a battery case, a logo, ‘Dust Buster’. Steng opens the

canister. It is been cleaned, inside and out, and fit with a new bag. “Prince, don’t you think it’s odd? The switch is set to Blow. Why?” “I don’t know.” “This could explain the excessive DNA taken from Connie Watson. Check the trash.”

Steng pulls the bag out of the canister, “Look for a bag like this, but used. The contents could have been filled with all the crap that was found on the body.”

Prince spews, "Shit, you’re right, if anything in that bag matches the murder scene---" Prince barks orders to the others as they again search the entire place.
Two hours later, Steng sits in Denson’s office on the phone with Prince, "You are absolutely certain? Yeah. Too bad. That’s okay. Wrap it up." He heaves a sigh and looks at Denson, “That was Prince. No luck. Lovejoy must have dumped the bag somewhere, anywhere. I’ve got the vac for you to take a look for traces, but it’s squeeky clean. Check the motor for traces, but---”
“Yeah. That’s a loose connection unless we find traces of Connie herself. And that’s not likely. He wouldn’t have had to touch her with it.”
Denson adds, “But, it’s good. It’s helpful anyway.”
"Good how?"
"We don't have any evidence, true, but now we know for certain Lovejoy is the killer. That will work out for us eventually. Have you put a tail on him?"
"Yes, started this afternoon, 24/7."
Stacey adjusts her bra before bursting into Denson's office, breathing heavy, unable to control her panting. Maybe Denson will notice. She announces, "I think I might have found something new on the Watson case."

Denson smiles at her, sincerely this time, "Calm down. What'd ya find?" "I Googled everything we had, trying to connect Lovejoy, Reynolds, Watson, Hampton, Brinkley. Nothing. Then I did a search on ‘Red Head’ and ‘Blonde’ and ‘LA’ and ‘News’. I cross pollinated all the responses into a single matrix. Look what popped out early among the 21,000 matches."
Denson reads the local newspaper story Stacy found regarding the death of a rich guy named William Steward, thirteen years ago. The point of the story is that everyone wrote off William’s death as a heart attack during a round of golf with two male friends. The story’s reporter claims he was on the course that day and saw Steward and his buddies with a couple of ladies just before Stewards death. A blonde and a red head. The reporter wrote he was frustrated the police barely looked into it and never followed-up.
Denson concludes, “Everyone else blew him off too. No one picked up his story. So you think the blonde was Reynolds and the redhead was Watson, is that it?"
"It's possible, isn't it?"
Steng isn't all that excited, yet says, "At the very least, we should talk to the Steward family, see what they know." Steng assigns the matter to Prince.
Prince knocks on the door of the Steward mansion and sits in the parlor for twenty minutes before Rosa arrives, “Have you learned something about my son. Have you found his body?”
“No, ma’am. This is about an entirely different matter.”
Rosa looks down at her hands, commanding them to cease wringing. She resents this intrusion. Time to strike. “You’re a detective?” Rosa doesn’t chuckle, she laughs aloud, belittling Prince for his youthful looks, “I’m sorry. I thought you were here selling Boy Scout cookies.”
"We're looking for someone, a woman."
"Well, I'm a woman, Mr. Prince. Do I fill your little mission?” She shifts her attitude as she sits down, “Cut through it, my little friend. What's this all about?"
"Your husband, William, died of a heart attack, while playing golf thirteen years ago, right?"
"Yeah, I heard about it from the staff."
"Please, Ms. Steward, this is a serious matter.” Prince joins the masses and doesn’t like Rosa, "There is one loose end we're trying to close.” He tells her about the old news story.
"Oh my God! Are you suggesting my husband might have been cavorting with other women? Those two-hundred tabloid pieces, those photos of every slut in LA sitting on his lap night after night, were true? I'm mortified."
"Mrs. Steward, please. I have only one question. Did you know either of the women referred to by the reporter?"
"Do I know about a couple of women the police at the time wrote off, who probably didn't even exist? No, Mr. Prince, my crystal ball was in the shop at the time."
Prince is offended by her attitude, “Look, I am sorry to bother you with this, but---”
“Bother me? Bother me? I lost my son a couple of months ago. That’s what bothers me. I don’t care about my dead husband. Just leave. Leave me alone.”
Rosa escorts him to the door. He turns and asks, with no sensitivity, "We think we might know their names. The blonde was named Suzie Reynolds."
"Never heard of her."
"The redhead, Connie Watson?"
Rosa hesitates for a single blink, "Her neither. Go on now and come back and visit after you lose your virginity."
Prince stops and walks away, soaked by her cynicism. He gets into his car and reaches for his cellphone.

*******************************************

Denson and Steng call a meeting on the Watson case. The conference table is stacked with files, reports. A grey tub containing Connie's personal belongings sits to the side. Denson starts, "It looks like we've hit a wall. Anybody got any fresh ideas?"

Stacy starts with a list of everything everyone already knew. Denson doesn't pretend he is listening. He starts picking through the stuff in the grey tub: lipstick, keys, a wallet, make-up, tampons, a coffee cup with red lips kissed upon the edges. He goes through Connie's wallet, picked through a dozen times since the murder. Credit cards, an AAA card, license, $67 in cash, some coins, a library card.

A whore that reads?

Denson interrupts Stacy, "This card, it's old, says it was issued in '99. The address, it's not the Primario residence. It's 224 N. Roxbury, Beverly Hills."
Prince jumps up and stretches his right arm across the table, takes hold of the card and says, "That's the Steward address. The mansion. Watson lived there?”
Stacy adds, "It’s not in her records, but apparently she did, at least in 1999."
Steng gestures to Prince, "Let's go, Lar."
Twenty minutes later, Steng and Prince arrive. They sit in Rosa’s parlor. Rosa slept until 3:00 PM that day, awakening only an hour ago.
Steng starts, "Ms. Steward, you told my assistant that you never heard the name Connie Watson. We have indications that she lived here at one time."
Rosa's face is calm, but her brain is soaring through outer space, racing to catch hold of Haley's Comet, and says, "Well, that's true. I knew her as a hired hand, for a while."
"So you lied?"
"Not really. I mean yes. I've been ridding myself of her contagion for so many years, denying her came naturally."
Pretty good, Rosa!
"Give us the real story. Tell us everything you know about her."
"Can we keep what I tell you confidential? I wouldn't want it in the papers, getting out."
"I'll consider it. I promise you if you're not frank with us, you'll be up on obstruction of justice charges. How does that sound?"
Rosa is still half out. She starts to ramble, “Watson worked here for a while as mistress. Did an okay job. I had a son, Jonathan, a fine young man, helped me run the company. Now, he’s gone. He’s gone.” She starts to sob, then cry. She stands and rushes into the foyer bath, closing the door, wailing in pain, tears pouring out of her eyes, her nose running, streaming, buying time. Steng and Prince wait patiently. She returns after five minutes somewhat composed.
Rosa apologizes and continues, "Anyway, when Jonathan was younger, very naive, before he went out of state to college, the bitch took him to brunch, got him plastered. Tried to molest him. She was a pedophile. Jonathan was only eighteen.” She starts to sob again.
Prince comments, "Technically, if he was eighteen, it was not child----"
"Larry,” Steng turns back to Rosa, “Please continue, Ms. Steward."
"Regardless, she sullied him, dirtied him. It would have been embarrassing to the family, maybe even the company had the filth gotten around. Liberal ideas may abound all over the country, but to the old farts that live around here, this incident would have provided enough fodder to fill a dozen silos.” She has second thoughts, "I was upset. Not enough to slice her throat years later, if that's where you're headed----"
"You're not a suspect, Ms. Steward. Other than keeping a lid on the incident, what happened between you and Ms. Watson?"
Rosa ponders for a nanosecond, "I didn't do anything except tell Brink. I can't tell them that.” She responds to Steng, "I fired her, of course. Got her slime off my property. Haven't seen or heard from her since."
"Anything else?"
Silence. "That's enough for now. One of my detectives may come by to talk to you further. Good afternoon.” They leave what appears to be another dead end.

******************************

Avery is firm, "Take Rosa out." Avery is a man of today, but his instincts are rooted in the raw violence of the past.
"But Avery, she's harmless. I've got her completely under control. I've got her hooked. And I'm doing her. What more can you ask? “
“I didn’t ask you to do her, or anything. You advised me taking Connie out would shut this thing for good. You were wrong. Do you understand me?” Caesar VI runs up his arm, peering into his ear hole.
Beads of sweat, held in escrow in Brink's forehead for a dozen years are suddenly released, free to roam an enormous plain, "Of course I do. Understanding you is my job, my life."
"Well put.” The phone dies.
If Sergeant Chance Burke could choose between a stakeout and pulling out his own teeth, he’d be gumming three meals a day.
Burke’s a good looking, well-built black man proud of his record with the force. He likes action and quickly lobbied from desk assignments to the street. Sometimes, however, the street can bore you to death. Tonight is one of those sometimes.
Burke looks at his watch. It’s nine o'clock on a Thursday evening. He talks to himself during stakeouts to keep awake, “Nothing. I need to talk with Steng tomorrow, convince him this watch is a waste. It’s been three nights of Lovejoy and his kid just sitting in the house, no lights, except the glow of his ancient TV.”
“He ain’t gonna listen to me. Hell, he don’t listen to himself. I’d like to see his ass out here all night. Couldn’t take it. Candy-ass.”
Chance Burke watches Lovejoy's Avalon back down the drive, “Holy shit.”
Burke waits patiently, perhaps foolishly long as the car drives past him, rationalizing, “Stakeout 101, don’t get ID'd.” He pulls forward, keeping a safe distance.
He calls in and is connected to Steng, “I’m on him. He’s headed for the South I-5 entrance.” Pause. “Yeah, drove right past me. Can’t miss a guy a with a mole that big.”
Lovejoy’s car suddenly U-turns and soars past Burke. For a moment, he is certain he lost him. He pounds his fist on the steering wheel, “The guy is a fucking magician! No. Wait. There he is.” Burke turns and goes after him, seeing him turn left a block up ahead. He’s only two car lengths ahead at a stop light when two blondes in a Mercedes 500SL convertible pull beside the Avalon. The passenger starts shouting out to Lovejoy. He yells something back and she starts laughing, her hand stretched out telegraphing a high-five.
Burke cries out, “What the---? That makes no sense. That broad wouldn’t be coming on to ol’ man Lovejoy.” It hits him, “Fuck, it must be his kid.” Burke throws his car into reverse and races back toward Lovejoy’s house. He calls in, “He must have marked his forehead. He had on a hat and glasses. It never occurred to---” Pause. Burke pulls the phone away from his ear as Steng is yelling.
“Hold on boss. I see him, the white van. He’s a couple of blocks ahead. I’m on it.” Lovejoy pulls into the Convention Center valet. Burke stays on the street and waits three minutes before dropping his car off. Burke registers for the only event. Some charity thing. He touts out the $100 entry fee and waits several more minutes for a receipt.
There are two to three hundred people inside the main hall, all babbling, all drinking, all experts on whatever they are rambling on about. Burke grabs someone’s white wine off a vacant table and wanders, trying to look like he is not looking. No sign of Lovejoy. He does, however, spot someone he recognizes from the pictures in the file. He pulls out his cell.
"Boss, I'm at the Convention Center. I've lost Lovejoy, but—I know, sir, I am a fuck off. You're right. Sir, call it a coincidence, but that woman involved, the old broad, Rosa. She's here.” Pause. “Yes, sir. I’m sure. Yes, I will. I know. I'm sorry, sir, I just----" The cell goes silent.
Burke continues to walk around, keeping an eye on Rosa at all times, as directed. Trays of salmon, little wieners wrapped in cookie dough, overcooked stuffed mushrooms are pushed at him every minute or so. He eyes someone that catches his attention for an entirely different reason. He thinks to himself, "I've been many places, seen a lot of ugly people, but I've never seen a woman as ugly as that one. How in hell did she get born? If either of her parents were this ugly, no one would have made it with them."
He strolls closer, still watching Rosa but wanting to more accurately describe this beast to his buddies tomorrow. It starts to come together slowly in his head, "Ya know, if Lovejoy covered his mole and--- Holy crap, it's him. She’s---I mean, he's Lovejoy.” Burke starts to visibly shake as he steps closer. Lovejoy, in drag, starts walking toward the restrooms and steps inside the one with a calligraphic ‘L’ on the door.
Burke enters the adjacent Men's Room. It’s small. A urinal and two stalls. He steps out to the edge of the foyer and observes. Soon the comings and goings of various women suggest two things to Burke: the Woman's Room has three stalls, and Lovejoy must be sitting in one of them.
He sips from the stranger’s glass, thinking, "He's sitting, waiting, ready to strike when Ms. Steward shows up. Burke reminds himself, “Be patient, back up will be here any minute.” He grabs his cell to report in as he spots Rosa approaching the Ladies Room. She paws through her purse as she leans the door open. Burke doesn't know what to do: warn her, follow her, wait, listen for choking sounds? He slams his cell shut and mutters, “No time. He could be killing her right now.” He screams silently to himself, “Do something you ignorant ass!" He leaps, throwing his 250 lbs. against the door. It didn't occur to him it wouldn't be latched. He flies in and across the small tiled room hitting the mirror above the sink at a G-force of twelve, glass scattering. He struggles to his feet, dizzy from the collision, and looks around, hoping the shattered glass hadn't hurt anyone.
Rosa is screaming from inside the stall. It’s not really a scream, more like a squeak, or a series of squeaks. She is grasping on the stall opening, struggling to pull herself out with Lovejoy pulling her back. “Holy Christ!” He can see why her sounds are muted. Who can scream with fishing wire around their neck? He starts his dive again as Lovejoy throws Rosa at him, stopping him as he and Rosa smash together. Lovejoy tries to run out of the room. A long shard of mirror catches him in the right calf as he is dashing out. He stumbles to his knees, then rolls onto his back within the restroom doorway.
Rosa gets to him first, grinding her high heel into his stomach, moving lower with each stab. Lovejoy is looking at Burke, pleading with his eyes for help. A crowd is forming. Eileen is trying to break through, "Where's my little girl! Rosa!” It takes Eileen only seconds to assess what is happening. She paws her way through the couples standing in her way, looks down at Lovejoy, and shoves her left heel into Lovejoy's crotch, "You won't be screwing with her anymore, you cock-biting transvestite!"
Burke is trying to stave off the crowd and pull Rosa and Eileen off Lovejoy at the same time. Eileen shoves him back and stands over Lovejoy, grinding, "What the fuck are you doin' in the Ladies Room? Your dick too small to use the urinal?” She steps back and kicks Lovejoy in the face. Two other women rush in to join her. Lovejoy’s arms are flailing.
Burke realizes he has lost control. He shoots his Glock 22 into the ceiling. Everything stops. Everything. The place is like a still photo. Burke’s pistol is still pointed in the air as he looks down at Lovejoy and smiles, “How's that for magic, mother fucker!"

********************************

Steng

Steng lights one up using the burning end of the one he just finished and speaks to Denson, "Well, the attempted hit on Rosa certainly ties her and Watson. Anyway, we got Lovejoy. Assault and battery is certain. Attempted murder more likely. The case against him for the murder of Connie Watson is coming together."

Denson is curious, asking, “I’m surprised he was selected for a hit on Rosa, given it was obvious he was a suspect.”
“I’m not. He was a good choice. He had a vested interest, Rosa was a threat to him. Also, he must have somehow known he was being watched. That’s an advantage. We just got lucky this time.”
Denson understands, "Well, are we ready to go the next step? Lovejoy was the batter. We want the coach."
"Yes, but assuming it’s Brinkley, how are we going to get him? Lovejoy knows he would be shoving an ice pick in his own brain if he squealed. He knows that better than to---" "We tail him."
"Tail who? Brinkley? That's a waste. He lives a clean life, never dirties his hands. Spends the day rescuing kittens and----"
"Normally I'd agree. Right now, things are different. For Brinkley, I mean." Steng listens. Denson is rarely far off course. "Brinkley ordered the hit on Rosa, no doubt. He didn't want to. His boss made him do it.’
"Brinkley's got a boss?” Steng responds sarcastically.
"Brinkley was told to take out Rosa. He didn't want to. If he did, he'd have taken her out sooner, right before or after Connie. He obviously didn’t think it necessary, that he could somehow control her. He was overruled. His boss must have been more concerned than Brinkley.”
"Like why?"
"I don’t know. All I know is Brinkley obviously thought it necessary to eliminate Watson. It didn’t work. He was told to go after Rosa.”
"Well, if Brinkley or his boss still needs to wipe out Rosa, Brinkley’s not gonna do it himself.” Steng scrawls for the butt he tossed away a few minutes ago.

"Wrong, camel breath. Taking orders to do what you don't want to do is a nightmare for a guy like Brinkley, a street fighter, always in control, don’t you agree? However, blowing the orders, screwing it up is worse, much worse. He needs to redeem himself. Brinkley's not going to trust anyone else on this again.”

“Then we should stake out Rosa."

"Well, you can, if you want, but four acres, 50,000 square feet, seventeen doors? Good luck getting the county to lend you the manpower. Tail Brinkley, that's my suggestion."
“That’s crazy”
“Yeah, I know. That’s why we should do it.” *********************************************************

Burke is on Brinkley that night. Brink never stops drinking and partying at the St. Regis, moving from bar to bar.
"Look at that bastard. He's got three of the hottest women I've ever seen in my life," Burke watches Brinkley and company leave to Cabana's, a nearby club. A luscious brunette is rubbing Brink’s crotch as the limo pulls up. He starts to give instructions to the driver, but the blonde locks his lips with a deafening slurp.
Is that drool?
An hour later, Burke tails them back to the St. Regis to the 74th floor. He keeps discreetly behind, listening every thirty minutes at the door of the room, just to reassure himself, “There are only two rooms on the penthouse level, only one with howling inside, room 7402.” He squats on the floor twenty feet around the corner for four hours, confident he can see anyone come or go. Carts of food are delivered three times, one every sixty minutes or so. No one enters or exits the room. Each cart is left outside the room until one of the girls opens the door and pulls it in. There is no doubt Brinkley is in the room all night.
At 4:00 am the four ‘occupants’ emerge. Brink looks like the start of the day. The girls look worn, tired, out of warranty, stumbling down the hall. Brink escorts them to the elevator, then returns to his room. Burke is relieved at 6:00.

***************************

Stacey sits at the bar at Looney's in Santa Monica, "I'll have a Chablis, please." The bartender says, "We have a Pinot, if that's all right." "Fine. Pinot Chablis, my favorite." "Stacey? That you?” Denson sits down next to her, "I've never seen you here before. First

time?” "No, but it's been a while," she fibs. "Hell, I'm here every night, my second home. Can't sleep after work unless I cleanse my

brain. Love this place. Except Monday's. They're dead. Some Monday's, there's no one here but me. Boring."

"Yeah, but quiet, right?” Stacy tries her ‘available but not easy’ blink. Denson doesn’t seem to notice.
"Right. Ya know, I've had a bit to drink, so forgive me if this comes out wrong, but I like you, always have. Never time during the day to chat about anything but corpses, bullet holes, stab wounds."
Stacy hides her shock well, "That's because we're dedicated, perhaps obsessed with our responsibility."
"Well put. Well put. That table over there in the corner, that's my table. Always on hold for me. I wouldn’t mind sitting there with you sometime. I know I'm older than you, but what's the limit on age between friends, huh?”
Stacy looks around for a hidden camera or the crew from the show, “Punk’d”, "Thank you, sir, that sounds so---sincere?"
"I am sincere. Listen, if you're ever free, like on a Monday night, bored, drop by. We'll chew on some appetizers, maybe share a bottle of wine. Vent."
"Sounds good, maybe, someday, if I'm free and it's Monday and----" Shut yourself up! Stick a straw in your nose if necessary.
"What ya doing next Monday?" Denson asks.
"I'm on vacation. Going to Alca---alcohol, going to be drinking a lot of alcohol. On vacation, ya know, like I said."
"Jerry, ya got any alcohol here?” Denson chuckles, “Put her on my tab.” He turns back to Stacy and speaks to her in a personable tone, “If you’re in the area next Monday, stop by. I’ll be here at 8:07 PM.” He is intentionally mocking his own fetish for precision.
Stacey searches for a way to continue the conversation, "So, I'm curious. Tell me about Steng. He seems 'soft' at times. How'd he make Chief of Homicide?"
"Well, that's a long and complicated story. Let me give you a snippet on Steng, something that will give you a better idea of what kind of man he is."
“That’d be great.”
“His first street case made the national press. There was this serial killer in eighty-eight. Seven connected victims. Maybe you read about it. Killed ‘em with various tools: screwdrivers, pliers, crosscut saws. We called him the Hardware Killer, or Mr. Guts. The killings always included wrapping the intestines around the throat of the victim."
“God!”
“We’re pretty sure we tagged him after a few months of tedious work. Pinned it down to one strong suspect. Steng gets the daytime tail. Follows him for days. The guy does nothing but drive. Fast. All day up and down highways, side streets, back roads, widened horse trails, kicking up dirt and dust.”
“One afternoon, the guy makes a sudden sharp right in front of this blue building on the corner of some country road, in Orange County, no less. Steng follows and when he turns, he almost smacks into The Hardware Killer's rear end. The blue unmarked building is an old gas station.”
“So, the suspect is there, all 6’5” of him, stepping out his car to fill his tank. Steng is stopped at the pump behind him. He tries to relax, getting out casually to fill his own tank. He looks over and the Toolkit Killer is turning his way, pointed pliers dangling from his belt, looking nasty.”
“God!”
“Steng is concerned he's been busted when the monster pulls the dagger-like weapon out of his belt. He’s holding a small sledgehammer in his right hand, and starts walking Steng’s way. Steng's gun is out of reach. It’s on his passenger seat, just in case---just in case he needs it. Ha. He feels stupid that he left it there. He can’t get to it in time. Physically, he’s no match for this guy, hand to hand.”
“Anyway, the monster says to Steng, ‘You been smacking my ass and leaving marks on my cheeks. What's your game, scab?’ Denson is momentarily embarrassed by the crackle he inserted into his voice, “I mean, he sounded something like that. Let me just say it’s a nasty threat.”
“I’m sure.”
“Steng says ‘I’m minding my own, sir. You might do the same.’ Steng is trying to seem indifferent, hoping to blow him off.”
“The creep points his weapon/tool at Steng, ‘Fuckin' third time I’ve seen you since lunch. You need to go back to dodge-em cars 101. I'm going to turn you into a ‘Brave-heart pie.’ The killer lunges at Steng. Steng jumps to the side to avoid the pointed pliers puncturing his right pupil. He manages to knock the sledge hammer out of the killer’s right hand as he stumbles. Steng is struggling to stay on his feet, the gas hose still in his hand. He’s leaning, half sitting against his car. He takes his butane lighter out of his pocket. Steng smokes, by the way.”
“Really?”
“Yeah. Anyway, Mr. Hammerhead is coming back at him, apparently ready to clip Steng's personal power lines. Steng said he was telling himself, ‘I only have one shot at this.’ He aims the lighter at the gas hose. He flicks it, ready to touch it to the gas hose as he squeezes the handle. There’s nothing, no gasoline, as Steng expected.’’
“The futility of Steng's attempt convinces Screwy-driver this is going to be an easy kill. Hardware boy is mocking him, saying, ‘The hose won't pour out gas unless the nozzle’s locked into a car’s gas tunnel. You may be an asshole, but you know nothing about gas-holes.’ The cold blooded killer is making jokes. Weird, no?”
“At that point, Steng is looking at the handle and blusters out something like, ‘What the f....?’ Pardon the language.”
Stacy is left hanging, “No problem. Go on. What on earth happens?”
“Well, the killer reportedly starts laughing, something like, ‘Ha Ha Hoo Ha’. He says, ‘Funniest thing ever. Hey, you deserve to die easy. I owe ya. I'll kill ya before I remove your pancreas, spare you the puncturing. Trust me, nobody likes that part.‘“
“The madman steps closer, Steng is still leaning against his car with nothing left but luck between him and an ugly death. He is desperate. He tosses the gas hose up with his left hand, a half foot or so in the air and catches it firmly on the way down, by the metal nozzle.”
“Steng says, half-bluffing, ‘You're right. You need to press this little release lever.’ He wiggles his pinkie to show him how it works. Unfortunately, Steng drops his lighter while trying to use his right hand to squeeze the hose handle. Steng is just grateful gas shoots out. He starts spraying the ogre with enough gas to cause him to stumble backward.”
“For a moment, it looks like the tool guy is going to let it go, get in his car and split. Instead he lunges toward Steng, swinging his fists and trying to pull the hose from his grip.”
“Steng hangs on with both hands while the man pummels him, Steng’s left hand is jamming the cut off valve, his right hand is still squeezing the handle. Gas continues pouring out, this time all over both of them.”
“Wasn’t there anyone else around?” Stacy interjects.
“Yeah. Sure. Five or six people had gathered, keeping clear of the gas but cheering them on nonetheless, with no idea what is going on.”
“So, they continue to struggle for the hose, swiping, snatching, soaking and slopping each other, stopping only when they are so drenched, they both let loose, wiping the gasoline out of their eyes, nose and throats. Mr. Wacko breaks away and grabs this small Hispanic kid who is standing alone watching from the side. The kid’s maybe seven. He holds the boy by the neck and pulls him into the front seat of his car, using him as shield.”
“He shouts out the passenger window in Steng's direction, ‘We'll finish this someday soon.’ He drives a hundred feet forward, stops and pushes the boy out the window, then speeds down the asphalt driveway.”
“A Mexican man, about fifty, who we later learned he was the boy's grandfather, is standing near the exit to the street. According to Steng, the old guy casually lights one of those old metal Zippo lighters, the kind that stink of lighter fluid but never fail to light, just as the madman drives by with his window still opened. With a perfect side pitch, the old man tosses the blazing lighter into the car window and onto the gas-sopped driver's lap. The flames are instant, ablaze in all of their red, blue, yellow and orange splendor. It was something else, I guess.”
Stacey jumps in, "Did it kill him?"
"Kill him? He was a screaming-alive 'Friday the 13th' victim for the first five-ten seconds, 'till the gas tank went off. Ka-boom! Hard to believe a single tank can cause such a blast. Steng claims the crowd sounded the international firework chant, ‘Oooooooh!' followed by the obligatory 'Aaaaaaahhh!’.”
“The explosion blows him into so many directions, we were never able to reconstruct the body. I was working in the morgue at the time. If I didn’t tell you it was a person, you never would have guessed."
"Anyway, that's just one of the Steng stories. You can describe him a number of ways, but ‘soft’ ain't one of them."
As suddenly as the conversation started, it ends. Denson downs his drink, "I gotta run, early for a change. Have to wrap my air ducts, my bills are going through the roof. See ya!"
Stacey gathers herself as he briskly walks out. She is pleased she finally connected with him. She looks in the mirror behind the bar.
It's the lighter eyeliner. I knew it!

****************************

Steng walks into Denson's office at noon, a cigarette butt stuffed into his white, short sleeved shirt pocket, "She dead. Just got the call. In her private bedroom at her house. Heroin OD."

"I knew it. I knew it!“ Denson clasps his hands while shaking his head, “What about

Brinkley?" “Solid alibi. Burke was on him all night. Brink raised quite a ruckus at the St. Regis and
some neighboring clubs. He was the center of attention, probably intentionally. He took three
broads to his room from about eleven to at least six in the morning. The coroner says Rosa
expired sometime between 1:00 am and 4:00 am.” "You heading over there?" "Yeah. Ride with me?” They walk into Rosa's private bedroom. Burke and Bill Stevens, one of LAPD’s top
analysts are inching their way around the crime scene. Steng starts to speak, but is interrupted,
"One minute, boss," Burke is at the corner of the bedstead, "Billy's found something." Bill is
stooped over scooping up and bagging what he discovers, explaining, "It looks like the end of a
french fry. Possibly bitten off, dropped and stepped on once or twice." Denson is alert. This could be significant, saying, "If this can be tied to Brinkley, we've
got something on him, solid. Puts him at the crime scene, in a private bedroom requiring codes
and keys to enter." Steng is skeptical, "Yeah, if it's recent. How do you know it's not two, three days old?" "We'll have to age test it, but come on, look around this place. You couldn't find a day-old
aphid turd in here if your life depended on it. Probably scrubbed down daily.” "How long to tie the fry to Brinkley?” Steng asks. "We don’t have Brinkley’s DNA. We’ll need a sample. For that, we’ll need a court order." “You won’t get one. His alibi is too tight to even qualify as a suspect,” Steng shrugs,
"And without a DNA match, we have nothing." "I don't want to pull back. Too many bodies popping up. We gotta take this guy off the
streets, even for a couple of months, get his DNA and then bank on the lab tying him to this.” "What are we going to arrest him for, screwing three women at once? I don't know if I
can get a warrant, but I might get the judge to issue a blue ribbon or a trophy." Burke intercedes, “Oh, there’s one other thing. Rosa was a user, probably a junkie. This
wasn’t her first space walk.” “She shoot up herself?” “Not this time. Considering the angle, someone administered it for her.” Denson summons Steng into the hall, “Brinkley did it.” “Couldn’t have.” “Must have. Who else saw him last night?" "Here's a list of those we talked to: the bellman, two bartenders, four guests in the lobby
this morning.” Steng’s thoughts are galloping in other directions. “Every one remembers him, of
course. Most of them talked to him at some point. There's also the statements from the girls he
was with." Denson reads the girl’s words and looks up, "Interesting. Listen to this: ‘Can you state,
under oath, with no reasonable doubt, that you were with William Brinkley between the hours of
8:00 PM and 6:00 am?’”

Steng is bored by Denson’s rehash, "OK, now pay attention. The first girl answers 'Absolutely'. The second girl says 'Without doubt'. The third girl says 'Yeah’.”
Steng looks at Denson, trying to comprehend his point, "So? They all confirm what everyone knew, Brink was busy last night. No question about that."
"I don't agree. The third girl, Missy Starshine, is not as adamant as the other two. Words matter. We need to talk to her. Her place is on the way back."

*******************************************************

 

They rap on her apartment door. Denson is not surprised that the door is a bright red. Just a hunch. "Whatta ya want? You woke me up, you fucking queers. Get outta here.” Starshine is apparently not a ‘daytime’ person.

Denson downplays the ‘cop’ angle, "I’m with the scientific division, ma’am, State of California. You can help me a lot by answering one simple question. Only take a minute."
She opens the door, disheveled enough to convince Denson she is essentially honest, at least in her greeting. Only an awakened sleeper can be so ruffled. Missy looks at Steng with a scowl. Denson can see she doesn't like him, purely out of instinct. She softens though as she looks closer at Denson. She’s likes ‘old guys’. "Oh, excuse me, I thought it was those badges, always hassling me.” She fluffs her hair and shows her wine-stained teeth. “What can I do to help you solve your little crime?" She tries to suppress a morning burp, releasing her silk robe just enough to be interesting.
Denson takes her through her statement, explaining what is bothering him about her wording.
"It’s nothing. Look, I'm the only one of the three of us that had been with Brink before. I've dated him a few times over the past couple of years. I'd bet a million dollars it was Brink. The same smell, same taste, everything."
Denson pours on the charm, "But there was something, wasn't there? Something only someone as acute as you would observe. Am I correct?"
“Oh, do you think I’m cute?”
Steng starts coughing, thinking, "The flem is getting thick in here.”
She opens up, "Well, nothing that can't be explained. A little unusual, I think, for a man Brink's age. It's usually done when you're young, a baby boy."
"Are you talking about circumcision?"
"Yes, not that I mind either way. It's just that Brink wasn’t circumcised before. He probably just developed an infection or something. It happens. I was just surprised, that’s all.”
As they are driving on to headquarters, Steng starts talking, "Probably had it done recently. So what? I’m sure he can produce medical records, even a doctor's testimony, real or not. Not all doctors are honest, ya know."
"Cute. Brink might have a bigger problem. What if he’s not circumcised?”
“She just told you—”
Denson stops him, “Right, but what if he’s not? Think about it. You can't get recircumcised. I bet when you look at his dick, he'll have a foreskin. I'll be out of town that day, by the way.”
“I can't wait to find out.” Steng is scanning his brain, seeking a funny retort. He gives up, saying, “How and when do we use it, even if it is the case?"
"I realize his dick's not conclusive on its own. Brinkley can always say Starshine simply got it wrong. Too many dicks and only so much brain capacity. What's important is we now know the alibi is fake. Somehow. We need to keep focused on him. Brinkley did the hit. The french fry may prove it. In the meantime, we need to consider all possibilities."
  The Case of the Penis Fry Trap?
  Steng is doubtful, "Well, I can explain to the judge there may be physical evidence of a nature, ah, consistent with his eating habits, a possible relationship with Rosa, etc.  But to state there's a hole in his alibi?  He's gonna want to know more. Too many eye witnesses, we are the only doubters. We'd need to explain how he could have---"
  "He used a double. That wasn't Brink at the St. Regis last night."
  "Ah, excuse me, doc.  You’ve seen this guy. Nobody on the planet looks even remotely like him, much less passable as his double."
  "I'm not talking about anybody, I'm talking about his brother," 
  "His brother? Have you been nipping on something? He has no brother, nothing, not even a cousin. We've checked.  Read the file."
  "I have and some. Look, you want a theory of how it was done? Try this.” Denson continues, "I had Stacey do some deeper research into Brink’s background. She must have spent dozens of hours, given the limited records and the comprehensiveness of her results. She’s quite the gal, by the way.”
“Ah, you are the last to notice, as usual, I might add.”
Denson ignores the dig, “Anyway, Brinkley’s parents immigrated here in the '60s.  The record shows them as Benito Bianchi and Mishea Siran, he from Italy, she from Iran. Days after arrival, their baby is born. They don’t record it. They name the boy William and take on an American sounding last name, Brinkley."  
  "Mishea was pregnant before leaving the Middle East, probably out of wedlock. That's a capital offense over there, still is in some sects. She or they could have been slaughtered at any time, even after arriving here.” Denson adds, "They didn't come to America by steerage to migrate. They were escaping threats of deadly retribution.” 
Steng decides to pull over and listen more carefully. Ironically, he pulls into an Einstein Bagel parking lot.
  Denson continues, "As if life’s not hard enough, the kid is born with a genetic malady, a huge skull, randomly passed on, usually on the mother's side. They struggle to try to get lost somewhere in this new, strange country, a challenge made more difficult with an obviously deformed child.”
“So far, this means little if anything.”
“Let me finish. To complicate their lives further, Mishea gets pregnant again, almost immediately.”
“What? How do you know that?”
“Stacy. She found an old photo and article on one of the earliest women’s lib marches. It took place in October 1960.” Denson hands Steng a copy of a newspaper report from a folder on his lap, “She’s not in the photo, but the reporter talked to her. Stacy searched Archives.com for the name Mishea. It’s an unusual name for a US citizen. Mishea talked with the reporter at the rally. The reporter commented in the article about how ‘it’s disgusting to see an obviously pregnant woman marching in favor of murdering babies.’ Times were different back then.”
Steng contributes a fact, “Brinkley was born in early 1960, according to the immigration records.”
“That’s right. That’s the point. Mishea must have been pregnant in October with a second child, if this article is correct. Add that to Brinkley’s penis and you understand the core of my theory. Can I continue?” Denson tries to place himself into the time and situation facing Benito and Mishea, something that doesn’t come easy. He theorizes, “Benito and Mishea make a tough decision, supposedly for the sake of little William. They determine they are inadequate to handle a second child and sufficiently care for their ‘handicapped’ son as well. After weeks of agony, they decide to give their first born up, adopting him out, hoping to restart their family unblemished by the sins and misdemeanors of their past, with a new baby more adaptable to the American standard of perfection."
Steng skepticism still dominates, "This is fascinating. Was this movie ever in 3-D?"
Denson persists, “Bear with me. I agree the documentation on the adoption is absent. That’s understandable though, given the circumstances. It’s possible they simply left him at a doorstep or something. In any event, they are confident the second child will not be subject to attack since he is a child provably conceived after marriage. The parents name him William as well, to replace the son they let go.  Imagine their despair when the new William, the one we know as Brinkley, has the same skull malady."
“I’m following you. It’s interesting, except they are not twins.”
“No, but the shape of the skull and the spacing of the eye sockets are major determinants of physical appearance. Other things, like eye and hair color, lip thickness, etc. can be modified. Given the skull and their closeness in age, it would be possible to make them look alike. More than some twins.”
“All right, you have me past impossible. Tell me more.”
"This time, with the newly born William, let’s call him Brinkley, the parents don't have the life threatening rationale to dispose of him like they did their first. So, they raise him, not very well, I must add based on the results." “Sometime along the way, perhaps at one of his parents death beds, Brinkley learns of his long lost big brother. He searches for him and finds him. They get along. William One has chosen to go fat for the same reasons as his little brother. They meet and hug, there are tears of joy, whatever, but they never get close to each other. Perhaps because the two of them together look like a runaway carnival act."
 “Got it!” Steng begins to buy in, "Brinkley stays in touch with his brother, albeit loosely. His brother has his own life, his own name, he could be living anywhere doing anything. He is a part of Brinkley’s past, his origin, but he’s not part of his life. William One is just ‘out there’.”
  “That’s right, until Brinkley needs an alibi and thinks of the pulchritude of his brother with a comeliness and manner unlike anyone in the world. Anyone, of course, except himself."
  Steng lights up and takes back over, "Possible. Brinkley flies William in, saying he wants to do something for him, a brotherly act. He promises him the night of his life, calls it a gift, puts him up at the St. Regis, dresses him in custom suits, gives him a wad of cash (‘don’t sign anything, Bro.’). He has three movie star babes ready to screw him to the bedpost. William can't believe it. He's having the feast of his life, memories of a night to take to his grave. That gives Brinkley a perfect alibi.” Steng pauses with a fresh thought, “There’s a problem though. Why did the parents circumcise their first son and not their second?” Steng doubts regarding the entire premise are returning.
“I don’t know. Perhaps they didn’t like the results of the first one. Or they chose to migrate to California right after Brinkley’s birth and never get around to it. I don’t know. But it happens frequently in families that one son is and one is not circumcised.”
Steng exhales, "Randy, you understand the court system. You know we need a reason to arrest Brinkley. Our objective is to get his DNA and put him behind bars on charges long enough for your lab to tie him to the french fry.”
“I understand. What’s your take?”
“Your theory alone will not convince a judge, but combined with motive and the other connections between Brinkley, Watson and Rosa, we may have enough to arrest him and hold him for awhile.
“Let’s get it going, Steng. Capeesh?"
"Capeesh." **************************************

Four hours later, Steng trots into Denson's office, just back from Judge Jenson’s chamber. "Got it. Suspicion of manslaughter. Good for ninety-six hours, but I know he’ll double it if we’re making progress.”

“Well, that will have to do.” “Want to share the catch?" "Wouldn't miss it.” Denson straps on his holster, struggling with the belt, "Whoa, I’ve

gained a few. I just wore this thing, what, a year ago?"

They confirm Brinkley is in his office. It is 7:00 by the time they arrive. Brink is watching a movie on his laptop when they walk in. “Well, well,” Brink looks up from his desk, “The dynamic duo.”

“Excuse our lack of manners, Mr. Brinkley.” "Hey, sit down, the movies almost over. ‘Alive’. Great flick. True story about these plane crash survivors, starving, they start eating each other.” He takes a bite of raw sushi from a tray on his lap, "I looked for this DVD for months. Finally found it. Everyone had it misfiled under Drama. I was looking under Horror, where movies about starvation should be filed."
"Mr. Brinkley, we're not here to watch flicks, eat or even talk. We're here to arrest you. We have a warrant,"
"I'm here to eat Sushi. Eel, roe, shrimp," Brink looks up, smiles, and resumes watching and chewing. "Hey, lighten up. Don't I get a last request? A chance to finish my meal, my rental? Want some? It's fresh." Brink stabs his chop stix into an oversized bowl of wasabi, the hottest possible, and drops it into a cup of soy, mixing the sauces into one, the result the color of sewage.
"I've always wondered if are you watering down the wasabi with the soy? Or are you spicing up the soy with the wasabi? Whatta you guys think? The chicken or the egg? Doesn’t matter. I just love talking about food."
"Come, sir. It's time to go. We're taking you in," Denson enjoys acting like a cop now and then.
"Fine. Everybody in the flick not eaten just got saved anyway. It's over. Now, what's this about again?"
"Here, read the warrant. You have the right----"
Brink stands, grinning as his head shakes, "Stuff it. You clue my lawyer in yet?"
Steng responds, "We have, under promise he wouldn’t contact you in advance. He's on his way to the station right now."
 Brink has the bowl of sauce in his hand. He plucks another shrimp from the plate on his desk, “One more bite."  He chews it slowly, with the look of satisfaction usually reserved for wine tasters, “Magnificent,” he declares, “Ya can't beat eating God's creatures. That's why he put them here, you know. For our pleasure."
“Steng reaches across the desk, "Hand me those sticks, sir, then I'm afraid we're going to have to handcuff you."
 "Sure.” He smiles broadly as he offers Steng the chop sticks with his left hand. His right hand pitches the bowl of wasabi/soy, underhanded no less, directly into Steng's face. 
 Steng flies back, clutching his eyes, howling in pain. Denson is startled, off guard for a momentous second. He pulls his gun out, ready to shoot as Brink casually grabs the lip of his desk with his left hand and flips it forward, causing it to tip over. Two-hundred pounds of Honduras Mahogany crack bones in each of Denson's feet. Denson falls, shooting a bullet into ceiling.   Brinkley easily takes the gun as Denson writhes in pain. He steps over a rocking and rolling Steng and takes his gun as effortlessly. Brink mocks, "I'll go ahead. You guys catch up. I may stop for some jelly donuts along the way. We'll probably all get to the station about the same time. See ya then." He enters the elevator and pushes ‘L’, cursing under his breathe, "Fuckin' pussies. They send two fuckin' pussies for me. It's embarrassing. Fuckin' embarrassing."

  ****************************   Tim Anthony, Hampton USA COO is on the phone with Avery Perelle who is in Greece.

Perelle is clear, "OK, it's yours for now. Keep things smooth.  Don't try to impress me with your bright ideas, at least not for a year. Don't change a thing, unless you talk to me first. Give all this shit time to blow over. Don't hurt anybody. No violence---including that finger thing."  Avery adds, "Also, let me know when Lovejoy walks."

  Brink clinks his Cosmos to Avery's glass of Scotch and water, "Like I was saying, Rosa was never a threat. I had her under control, but, you know best."  He reaches for a slider, heaped with mustard and onions. 

  "Fine, Brink," Avery nods his ancient head, "Doesn't matter. Everything is fine, just fine."   They are sitting on the rear patio of one of Avery's homes, amid the cliffs of Santorini,

Greece.  The view of the ocean stuns. The sun is bright, but setting slowly sending a cool breeze across fifty-feet of slated porch. There is a too long pause between them, “Av, this is only the second time I've seen you even though I've known you for years. You're a great man, the best, if I can say so."

"Hey, you're a good man too. You fucked up. But still, you will be sitting in this seat one of these days. If you are, look out. I'll be dead, but I'll shoot your ass with a lightning bolt if you screw up.” Avery laughs. 

Brink tries his best to keep up with Avery’s confidence and dares say, "Well, it's getting dark, sir. I need to get going, if that's okay.  All they have are those donkeys to take you down to shore, to my boat. Last time I sat on a donkey, I crushed it. Donkey meat is stringy, ya know. Anyway, we still golfing tomorrow?" 

Avery glances at his ‘butler’, Rasoone, standing near the doorway who nods. Avery tells Brinkley, "Yeah, early. Be on time, by six, we can catch the morning winds." They shake hands and hug. Avery pats Brink on the back, as far around his back as he can reach. Brink grabs the last four sliders from the tray and sees himself out.

  "Anything else, sir?” Ras asks Avery in his best Sean Connery voice.    "Yeah, Ras." Avery is slow to respond, "Take him out. Within twenty-four hours."  "Any style, sir?"  "Yeah, any style. He knows too much about how I’m set up. And I’ve lost faith in him.

He’s a loose cannon. So, take care of that, then book a flight to the US, LAX. I’ve got a couple of jobs over there for you. Try to make the first one look accidental to prevent the second target from being alerted. The second should be taken out shockingly, to send a message, ya know.”

“I love a challenge, sir.” His kind eyes transform into a demon-like glow as he steps away.
Avery sighs, “I’m ready for my massage now.”

****************************

Steng is sitting in Denson’s office and comments, "Well, as with most cases, you start with loose strings, loop 'em together and eventually get a circle, closed."
Denson adjusts himself in his wheelchair, lifting his bandaged feet and responds, "That's right. This went beyond most. Brinkley got nailed. I just got a more detailed report. As you know, they found chunks of him in Venice in three separate canals. From the blood discharge pattern, looks like his arms were dismembered before his heart stopped.” “Nice touch.”
“They have a fingerprint match from his passport. We've forwarded our DNA sample from the chopsticks just to be sure. Where’s his brother?”
“Verified back at his job in Seattle. He’s a programmer. Hard to fake that. No, there’s little doubt Brink is dead.”
“We don’t fully understand the connection between Rosa and Brinkley. But it really doesn’t matter at this point, does it?”
 The question hangs from the ceiling. There is a more important issue. Steng puts it on the table, “We’re not satisfied, are we?”
Denson responds, “We should be. We said all along we wanted Brink. We got him, indirectly, but we got him.”
“Yeah, but as you pointed out, Brink has a boss. Given Brink’s gruesome death, it appears the boss was involved, deeply.”
Denson doesn’t hesitate, “Of course. What’s surprising is the boss man wasn’t satisfied. After all, Brink got away clean. We never would have found him. Why the kill?”
“He or they lost faith in him. Or maybe he just wanted to close off all possibilities, wipe out any connection. Or both.” Steng continues, “Brinkley didn’t report to anyone at Hampton we can identify. Hampton US is a sub of Hampton International, but there’s no individual we can identify, nobody giving him direction on this or anything else for that matter. “ Steng pulls a cigarette, suggesting he is ready to leave, but continues, “Everything is done by large committees made up of Directors from all over the world. Even Brinkley’s replacement can’t tell us who appointed him, who he communicates with on a regular basis. It’s all very vague. It will take the Feds to crack it and that could take months, years, if ever.”
Denson comments on the obvious, “It’s frustrating. There is a real person calling the shots, a link to Brink, so to speak. Someone we can target. If we really meant what we committed, we would keep up the chase.”
“I understand. But this is so far out of our reach, our capabilities, I wouldn’t even know where to start.”
Denson rolls his chair closer to his phone, “I’ve got a thought. I’m going to buzz Stacey." 
Stacy is there within seconds, out of breathe, panting before Denson's throne on wheels.
"I just wanted you to come in, no need to run."  
 "Sorry, sir."
 "Find out the container number of the next shipment out of Steward Pharmaceuticals, Pakistan headed to New York. Talk to no one except Captain McCarthy at NYPD. Tell him I’m calling in a favor. He’ll get a kick out of that.”
Steng interjects, “Have him get a subpoena. Tell him we want to personally open the container after it clears customs, but before it leaves the area.”
Denson continues, “Tighten the lid. This has to be a complete surprise. Plug into Captain McCarthy only. Tell him I’ll call him at home over the weekend.” Denson starts to wheel out toward the men’s room.
 Stacy calls out to him, "Yes, sir. I’ll get on it right away.” She can’t help but add, “By the way, just to remind you, it's ah, Monday, sir." Stacy feels certain he's forgotten about meeting up with her.
Denson pauses, "Thanks. That makes tomorrow Tuesday, doesn’t it?"  
 She senses by Steng's expression he thinks she is acting strange. "Well, sir, I just meant that, if I get the subpoena tonight, I mean a copy of it, a fax, would you like me to bring it to you, er, drop it off, ah..."
 "Yeah, of course. I'll be at Looney's from 8:07." Denson is almost through the door when he angles the chair and turns back toward Stacey, adding "I thought you knew that." He winks at her before he speeds away.

****************************

Ras steps off the plane, clears Customs at LA International and meets his limo driver who takes him to The Four Seasons Hotel. He stops in the Concierge Lounge on his way to his room.
“I’m just going to grab some juice, maybe some fruit.” Ras says to the Lounge steward. He quickly reaches behind the refrigerator and pulls away a baggie holding three keys, numbered to distinguish between them. One is a car key with a sticker identifying its location. The others are house keys.
Once in his suite, he opens his razor-thin Macbook Air, brings up his files and reviews them one more time. He opens a weeks worth of surveillance reports on each of his targets, as well as a schematic of their houses (inside and out), reports on TV and light changes (on and off), phone records and recordings, forensic analysis of their home computers, etc.
He drives his planted car to the first victim’s home, arriving in the dark, parking a reasonable distance up the street. It is 7:30. He knows the sole resident, a very disciplined and organized man never arrives home before 8:30. Based on the records of his habits, when the target does arrive, he will prepare something to eat, check his computer, watch TV until 11:00, retire, read a few pages of a novel while smoking two cigarettes in bed and, then turn off the light. Ras is fully prepared.
Dressed in black with black latex gloves, he uses one of the two keys to enter the house. He begins quickly verifying every table, drawer and cabinet in every room.
This is almost too easy.
As reported, cigarette packs are stored in a single place in the upstairs bedroom dresser drawer. One pack with three missing cigarettes is sitting on the night stand, next to a dirty ashtray. He replaces it with a duplicate pack, opened and missing the same number. He verifies the smoke detectors are disconnected and leaves the home as silently as he entered. He waits patiently in the tool shed behind Steng’s home.
Steng arrives home at 9:44. The lamp patterns in the foyer, kitchen, den, etc. make it clear to Ras this will be a routine night. Sure enough, a minute after 11:00, the den light goes off and the bedroom light goes on. Steng will soon be inhaling a cigarette laced with gammahydroxybutyric acid (GHB).
At 11:30, Ras is reasoning, “Good, the light is still on. Steng would have turned it off by now. He must be passed out.” Ras reenters the home and sneaks directly toward the bedroom, Beretta in hand. As he enters, he anticipates to himself, “Steng should be lying, passed out on the bed.” He is. The butt of the laced cigarette is still in his left hand, his cell phone in his right, his police pistol a few inches away.
Ras moves toward the bed. Steng’s heavy breathing is consistent with the effects of GHB, essentially a “date rape” drug. Ras feels Steng’s pulse and is satisfied he’ll be out for hours.
Ras amuses himself, “I couldn’t awaken Steng right now if I were to light him on fire.” He knows a house fire will make the detection of the GHB in Steng’s body unlikely. “If they are able to spot it, it will take days.”
Ras’s method of arson is as old as the book, a book of matches, that is. Place a lit cigarette behind the matches and angle it to assure it continues to burn. Within a few minutes, the cigarette will ignite the matches resulting in a burst of flame almost certain to start the mattress on fire. Without smoke detectors, the house will be significantly aflame before a neighbor finally calls 911. By the time anyone arrives, the house will be burning brightly. With the best of luck and skill, the firefighters may be able to save the house, but at the very least, the bedroom and its inhabitant will be roasted to a crisp.
Ras lays the lit cigarette and matchbook on the bed and quietly heads downstairs to the outside door. He plans to wait in the car to assure the fire ignites and expands. He will be safely out of the area long before the firefighters and police arrive. He steps outside and is immediately stunned by the glare of a floodlight blasting him in the face.
“Do not move! Do not move!” emanates from a speaker beneath the squad car light. Ras knows what he is facing, he just doesn’t understand how it is possible. He instantly assesses the situation: one light bar means one squad car, two cops. More will arrive any moment.
The Baretta is obvious in his waistband. The speakers blast, “Use your left hand, take the gun butt by one finger and thumb only and slowly drop it. Then hit the pavement, face down, hands behind your head. Now!” Officers Maven and Dunham are spaced eight-feet apart, a standard precaution, enough to make it difficult for an aggressor to shoot both of them before one of them can make the drop.
A less experienced, less daring perpetrator might try to fake the cops, begin to reach for the gun and then suddenly run into the dark side yard before they can react. Ras knows such a fake only increases his chances of getting hit. The cops will be even more ready to shoot at that moment. It is better to move now, while the cops are waiting to see if he is going to obey or not.
Ras leaps like Superman and flies into the darkness, skillfully tumbling in acrobatic rolls onto the backyard lawn.
Maven, standing behind the driver’s side door, shoots into the darkness. Dunham, a lean, black athlete, gun and flashlight in his hands, hesitates a moment, then crouches low and runs into the yard, diving and tumbling in a style very much like his prey. Maven aims the vehicle spotlight into the darkness to light his partner’s way and blind the escapee. For a second, he senses movement to his left. Perhaps not.
The instant Ras hits the pavement he does not do what is natural: run toward the back of the yard or dart to the right outer wall of the property. Instead he runs forward, to the left of the police car just as the spotlight is moving rightward into the yard.
The slice is so quick and clean, Maven thinks he is stung by an insect. He reaches up to touch his suddenly throbbing neck, warm blood spurting in time with his dying pulse. “Arrggg!” His attempts to stop the flow are ineffective as he hits the ground.
“Maven! Heads up! He’s not here!” Dunham shouts from the yard as he dashes toward the squad car, blinded by their own spotlight. “Christ! No!” Dunham pleads as he drops to his knees beside his dying partner. He looks around, starting to panic, panning his pistol right and left and right. He grabs his phone, “Officer down! I repeat, Officer down!” Dunham’s eyes dart around, his body turning back and forth. It is so quiet, Dunham can hear Maven’s blood squirting out, hitting the pavement inches away. He hears the blare of an approaching siren.
Dunham assesses the wound. He grabs a glove from his belt with his left hand and presses it firmly against Maven’s carotid artery. Maven is losing consciousness, indicating he has lost two pints of blood so far.
Ras was precise in his slice. If he cut too deep, the second cop may have seen it as hopeless and continue to pursue him. By limiting the severity, the victim would be conscious for a minute and could survive if the bleeding is immediately contained. Ras is confident the second cop will be immobilized helping his partner.
His biggest risk is being spotted by back-up forces, copters and the like within the first few minutes. He darts into a yard two houses down and quickly slides under a car parked at the top of the driveway. The car is scarcely viewable from the street. He commands himself, “Time to stay perfectly still. Unless I hear dogs.”
“Over here!” Dunham bellows. One of the officers from the first backup car rushes to him in a squatted run, gun drawn. The second officer,
Da'wan Brown, also low and armed, moves toward the house. His peripheral vision catches the brief flash coming from an upstairs room. He opens the door and enters cautiously, gun gripped in both hands, checking right and left each few steps, now certain there is a fire upstairs.
Training procedures call for him to proceed slowly, ten feet at a time until someone can back him up. Brown knows he is in Steng’s house and that Steng may be in mortal danger. He throws the procedure book out the window and runs directly up the stairs, rushing into the burning bedroom. He almost panics as he sees Steng’s body amid the flames speeding across the mattress. Brown grabs him by the left foot and yanks him to the lower end of the bed. He holsters his weapon and uses his thick, muscular arms to lift Steng’s charred body with ease, placing him gently over his shoulder to carry him out of the house as the fire spreads behind them with alarming speed.
Ras waits for the inevitable flashlight to shine into his yard of choice. As expected, it is cursory. Search teams are often dismissive of the houses closest to the crime. Ras muses, “No one would dare hide without distancing himself first.” He lays there unmoving until sunrise, sleeping in short naps through the surrounding ruckus of sirens, fire trucks, concerned neighbors, and the rest.
At the crack of dawn, all is quiet. Ras hears the door of the house open. A man walks toward the car he lays under, enters it and starts down the slanted driveway. Ras doesn’t move as his body is exposed to the rising California sun. The driver is looking out his side mirror, unlikely to spot Ras laying still on his driveway. In a single motion, Ras stands up and steps cautiously to the back of the house. Examining a couple of windows convinces him the house is not wired. He jimmies the back door and quietly enters. He scours the ground floor to ascertain it is unoccupied. If it is not, he’s fully prepared.
Ras casually opens the refrigerator and stuffs two bottles of water in his pockets. He selects three slices of lunchmeat and one of the seven oranges. He grabs a banana off the counter and slips up the stairs. The master bedroom door is ajar and the woman on the bed is sound asleep, laying on her back, breasts exposed, mouth agape, snoring.
Inside a second bedroom closet is the covered opening to the attic. With the strength of a trapeze catcher, he pulls himself up into the attic, re-closes the opening, finds a comfortable corner, and settles in. Ras texts:
Date/time clear. Confirm success

Within minutes, he receives a response: Tuesday, 12 noon. No. Critical, recov 50/50

Ras is stunned. He ponders, “Steng should have been dead before he could be reached. Some fuckin’ hero must have moved in too fast, carelessly. Shit!” Ras texts again:
Where? Best opp?

Response: LA General, ICU. Tuesday, 2nd shift, 12-9 The woman of the house leaves at 11:00 am each day. Tuesday comes and it is no

exception. At half past noon, Ras leaves the attic with his residue, including the water bottles, drank and refilled with his urine. He dons a Tommy Bahama shirt and shorts he finds in the bedroom closet and strolls out of the subdivision as casually as a neighbor. No one notices.

****************************

Denson II

“Ironically it is Steng who set up the emergency system in the first place,” Denson explains to Stacy, “511 signals ‘Imminent danger, full response’, 512 signals ‘Imminent danger, silent response’. Inhaling the GHB provided him seven to nine-seconds of dizziness before passing out. Only Steng would recognize so quickly he was drugged. He must have instinctively concluded he was in danger and his only chance was to use the code. Any second thought would have resulted in his death.”

“Wow!” Stacy is impressed. “Steng is in tough shape, but he’s alive and the prognosis is favorable thanks to Brown.” Denson props up on one elbow, kisses Stacy gently, briefly stroking her hair with his left

hand, “I’ll miss you until Friday. You can text my cell if you need anything.” “Anything? You’re going to be deluged, stud muffin.“ Stacy pauses and frowns,
“Seriously, ya think this is necessary, given your condition and all?” “I’ll be all right. I can even walk, if I have to. Watch this.” Denson gets out of the bed,
stands, and takes a couple of shaky steps. “It looks hard. Is it painful?” “It is, but I can handle it.” “I wasn’t talking about your walk. C’mon back here, let “me” handle it.” “Funny.” Denson sits on the edge of the bed and takes Stacy by the hand. “Look, it’s no big deal what I’m doing. About Steng, that is,” He grins, something he is
doing much more lately. “I’ll be in the room next to him. There’s an officer outside his door. I’m
just there as an added precaution.” Denson understands the Steng hit was professional. Whoever
the pro is knows by now Steng is alive and will likely be determined, if not required, to finish the
job. Denson hopes he tries and it leads him to the man on the top of the heap. He makes arrangements directly with the Chief of Operations at LA General. Only the
head ICU nurse is aware of his real purpose. She informs the other nurses that they found traces
of white arsenic in Denson’s system and he needs to be in ICU for administration of

Dimercaprol, an unusual, sometimes toxic antidote. Bags of harmless saline are re-marked for
IV feed into Denson’s hand. Denson’s bed position in his room will allow him to view the guard in the hall at all
times.

****************************

Sgt. Larry Prince is a ‘good guy’. He dreamed of being with LAPD since he was a child. He loved cop shows. As early as seven, he would stop and salute when a police car would drive by. He continually pictured himself being the best cop in LA, envisioning a ceremony of fellow officers in his future, honoring him for his bravery and accomplishments.

Once on the force, he gets lucky early when Steng meets him and takes him under his wing, deciding to mentor him through his early career. Steng says, “I like the way you handle people. You like people, don’t you?”

Prince tries to be restrained, “Yes, sir. Yes, I do. People are so unique, each carrying a history of experience, their lives unfolding before our very eyes.”

Steng appreciates his enthusiasm, thinking, “I can help him get a head start. He can help me, keep me from getting stodgy.”
Prince believes being the best means thinking and experiencing outside the box. That's what leads him to try heroin. Prince persuades himself, “Get into the head of the addict, understand his feelings, get a sense of his needs.” He starts to insert the needle into his left forearm, but hesitates, “Am I just trying to justify this, am I going too far? Maybe this is an excuse, relenting to a deep instinct, a suppressed desire to go to the dark side.”
“Don’t do it,” he cries out. The needle penetrates his skin, his index finger resisting his will, depressing the syringe. He loses control of his life at that very moment.
He learns he is one of those rare individuals susceptible to immediate addiction. Heroin will occasionally cause instant addiction in the brain. One time, and you are hooked for life. Assuming you live long enough to experience withdrawal, often described as the single worst experience a human being can go through. The cravings alone are enough to cause numerous users to attempt or commit suicide. They reach the point where death is a gift.
An addict will do anything, including selling out his family and career for a reliable source. Prince had the most reliable source in the country: Bill Brinkley. As a result, Prince was at Brink’s disposal. Prince found the Dustbuster bag and destroyed it. Prince alerted Brinkley to Steng’s plan to tail him, resulting in Brink’s recruitment of his brother.
Now, with Brink gone, helping Ras will pay off with a steady supply, allowing him to escape and enjoy his life, at least for awhile. Heroin addicts don’t think much beyond ‘awhile’.
Text to Ras:
D in next room as added security.

Ras texts instructions back to Prince.

Ras calls Avery, his call scrambled through a Department of Defense communication system. A technician at the DOD is also a user and low-level distributor for Hampton. Avery answers, “Well, well. I can’t see your face right now, but I suggest you wipe your mouth and chin. Eating crow tends to make one drool. What in hell happened?”

“It’s a long story, better saved. I have not failed. Just hit a snag.”

For the first time in years, Avery is disappointed with Ras’s response. He would feel better if Ras had admitted he screwed up. “Avoiding ‘snags’ is what you are supposed to do. Amateurs hit snags, pros jump over them.” Avery’s words burn into Ras, “Anyway, what’s the plan?”

“Prince will be the guard after noon today. Denson is in the next room, providing a double check. He’s still in a wheelchair and can barely walk. Hardly a factor. I’ll create a diversion, occupying the attention of the nurses. Prince will enter Denson’s room to inform him what’s going on. I’ll slip into Steng’s room dressed as an intern and take him out quickly and quietly, and leave before anyone can respond.”

“No.” “Excuse me, sir?” “I don’t repeat myself. I like the setup, but you’re hitting it wrong.” Avery continues,

“Have Prince enter Steng’s room at the point of disruption. Denson won’t like that. He’ll roll himself out of his room to reach Prince to find out what’s going on. You’ll be standing to the side of his doorway. Hit him with a hyperemic and wheel him back in. Break his neck. Then take out Steng.”

“I thought of that. But that leaves Prince exposed. He would be forced to try to stop me from hitting Steng. Otherwise, Prince will be left out to dry.”
“That’s right. Unless he’s dead.”

Ras pauses, reflects and continues, “I see---I didn’t think Prince was expendable.” “Everyone is expendable, you ass.” “Sir, please don’t talk to me like that, I---” “Ras,” Avery hesitates for effect, “Shut up.” Avery hangs up. He knows abruptly ending

their call will motivate Ras more than any words. Ras will do everything exactly as instructed.

There are ten private rooms between Denson/Steng and the ICU nurses station. The station is armed with three of the best nurses in the hospital. ICU is a very serious place. Admittance to ICU is normally limited to those who have secured a medical consensus that their life can be saved, but with odds less than fifty percent, even with round-the-clock monitoring and top notch response.

Prince places a tiny transmitter on the back of the monitoring equipment in the room of a patient six doors down the hall from Steng. The elderly occupant is beyond passed out. The nurses miss Prince’s brief stop as he passes on his way to relieve the earlier shift officer.

“Hey, Doc!” Prince is standing in the doorway of Denson’s room, “How’s it going so far?”
“Uneventful. Boring. Noisy. A hospital is no place to get rest. You taking this shift?”
“Yeah. Burson has a family emergency. I stepped up to the plate. Worth the double shift just to be around you and Steng. How’s he doing?”
“Heavily sedated. Starting skin grafts tomorrow. They think he’s nearly out of danger, too ornery to die.”
“Thank God,” Prince says quietly, “Well, I’ll be right here if you need me.”

“Prince. That’s not Steng in there. It’s Murphy. I’m just here to convince the hitter it’s Steng.”
Prince can’t believe this is happening. He admonishes himself, “I thought I had my hand on the pulse. How could I not know this? This makes me look like shit.” He sits down in the hall, sweating, punching a text message to Ras. It’s too late. Ras pushes the remote to the transmitter just before turning the corner into the hallway leading to the Denson/Steng rooms. The alarm sounds.
Prince watches the reaction of the nurse’s station. Ras is already coming toward him, the hypo out as he takes his position outside Denson’s room. Prince is at whit’s end, him mind rambling, “I’m not supposed to look at Ras. Denson will notice and be on guard. But if I don’t alert Ras about Murphy---” He jumps up and dashes into ‘Steng’s’ room and begins speaking to Murphy about the alarm.
“What the fuck.” Denson yells out to Prince, “What’s going on?” Denson grabs his pistol and holds it in front of him as he controls the wheelchair toward the door. He is halfway through the doorway when he feels the sudden chop across his wrist. His gun drops. He is startled by the gloved hand smothering his face as a sharp pain punctures his neck. Denson is not a street guy. He doesn’t think instinctively. He wastes a critical second forming in his mind the chemical interactions he understands are going on in his body. By the time he shifts to survival mode, he blacks out.
Ras likes perfection. Denson is flaccid. He can hear Prince still engaged in conversation. All that is left is to wheel Denson into his room, break his neck, and then get Steng and Prince. He grasps the handlebars and---.
“Freeze!” A soft, yet intense female voice chirps instructions directly to his right. Stacy has never been so scared, thinking, “I’ve been trained for this. Why didn’t I pay more attention? Because this was never supposed to happen.” She can only recall one lesson from her months of instruction,
Look him in the eyes.
Ras sees the gun. The audacity of confronting him combined with the word ‘freeze’ tells him she must be a cop, dressed as a nurse. He doesn’t have time to think about how this happened. He quickly observes all that is about him. He hears Prince still talking. He assesses the ‘nurse’ aiming a Walther P-22 at the center of his chest. He reads her eyes. She’s for real.

He reviews his options for escape. He takes no time in choosing. He grips the handles of the wheelchair and yanks the vehicle sharply downward, toppling it over on its back. Denson predictably rolls off his seat performing a backward half-somersault onto the hall floor. It is enough to distract Stacy. Ras charges at her like a rushing guard, bowling her over as he races down the hall.

The first shot misses him, as he knew it would. It is intentionally misaimed by Prince whose stance is blocking Murphy from joining the gunfire. That gives Ras time to reach the end of the hall and do his best Captain America dive to the left, out of sight.

Stacy is on her knees, yelling for a nurse while checking if Denson is alive. He is, though entirely unconscious as Stacy pleads with him to wake up.
Prince and Murphy slide the last five feet to the end of the hall, guns aimed in the direction of their pursuit. The hallway to the left is empty. They search every cranny. Ras has completely disappeared after dropping three floors down a laundry chute.

******************

It is hours later. Denson is fully recovered. The area is locked down. He looks forward to leaving this house of boredom.
Stacy explains, “I thought you needed a little diversion. I planned to just step in and give you a quick peck while Prince was on duty. I found out everyone knows about us anyway. I rented the nurse uniform. By the way, what do you think?” Stacy stands and turns a tiny-stepped circle.
“I like it,” Denson sighs, “Will they let you convert the rental into a purchase? I want to see it hanging in a closet. Our closet. Ready for you to put on whenever I take ill. I get the sniffles a lot.”
Stacy is confused, thinking, “Our closet?”
His face hardens. He looks at Stacy, but seems to be talking to himself, “I never thought I would be a victim. I have been surrounded by victims throughout my career, always after death occurs. This experience has convinced me, even more. I have to get to the person behind this.” Denson adds, “God is sending me a message. Suzanne is sending me a message. The devil is at work here, doling out murder as if it were a gift. The people I love are on his list.”
“Love? You, er, love me?"
“Yes, of course.”
“But what about Suzanne?”
“Listen Stace. Suzanne understands. Her soul is with me forever. Nothing will change that. Stacy, my heart is now with you. Love has no limits. I can love you without sacrificing my love for Suzanne.”
“I understand. I really do.”
“Understand as well that I want to finish this case, make one final effort.”
Stacy nods, yet is concerned, “I want to help you. Tell me how?”
Denson hasn’t thought about his future in detail, only as a quest. He looks at Stacy and feels the emptiness within him fill with warmth and love, “Be there for me, with me. Be my friend, my confidant, my partner, my lover.” He pauses, wanting to be certain of his next words before speaking them aloud, “I want us to be together, to live together, here.”
“You want me to move in?"
“Yes, Stacy, I do.”
“It’s so sudden, so fast. Of course, but I never expected—I mean, do you love me?”
“I thought I covered that.”
“Randy, stop it.” Stacy doesn’t hesitate expressing the feelings she has held for him for so many months, “And I love you, my darling.” She bends over him, kissing him softly.
“So, ya wanna move in?” Denson grins, their faces only an inch apart.
“Of course, silly boy. I thought I covered that.” Stacy smiles and kisses him again.

******************

Rasoone enters the hotel lobby, takes an apple from the bowl on the reception desk, bites into it and goes quietly to the elevator. He is exhausted. He traveled by foot, a few thousand feet at a time from the hospital, taking over five hours to reach the Four Seasons. He enters his room and is startled by the voice coming from the far corner of his suite: “Don’t move. That’s powdered TATP you see at your feet. The floor is wired, this is the detonator.” The man slightly waves the transmitter in his hand. His massive body engulfs the love seat against the back window overlooking the heart of LA.

Ras understands instantly. He is trapped where he stands. Triacetone triperoxide peroxyacetone was the primary explosive used in the 2005 London bombings. The powder runs halfway across the floor. It’s outer edge is too far for Ras to leap to safely, yet far enough from the fat headed man to not harm the button holder.

“I don’t get it. I killed you in Venice.” “No, you killed my brother.” Ras is not buying it, “Bullshit. We tracked you every step to Santorini then to Venice. I

killed that guy. You must be Brink’s brother. Listen to me. You’re over your head.” “You and your genius boss made a mistake. You knew my brother played the shill at the
St. Regis, but never expected me to send him to meet Avery. You were wrong. You
underestimated me. He’s the one you tracked---and killed.” It takes a moment for Ras to absorb what Brink is telling him. He’s impressed, “I’ll be
damned---” “It wasn’t that hard to convince my brother he could be me. Screw hot women, fly to
Venice, first class, charter a boat, meet with Avery who hadn’t seen me in thirteen years, be set
for life. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse.” Ras calms himself and says, “Well then, go ahead. Kill me. What are you waiting for?”
Ras starts to place his hands in his pockets. “I will if you don’t keep your hands at your side. I think I told you not to move. Don’t
flex another muscle. I need you,” Brink continues, “I want Avery Perelle. I can’t get to him. You
can. With my help, I can assure you riches beyond your dreams.” “I’m already rich. Why would I help you?” “You failed twice. Steng and now Denson. When he finds out about me, that will be strike
three. You know Avery. You’re toast.” “That may be, but killing Avery Perelle would be suicide just the same. I’ll be enemy
number one with Avery’s people. There will be trained killers all over the world after me.” “Not if you get killed too.” The fat-man smiles. Ras is curious. He thinks about his pending future. His role in communicating with the
Afghan’s has been appropriately delegated. Avery is tired of him as a lover. He is little more than
a hit man and body guard, easily replaceable for the first time in his life. Ras sees the vengeance
in the fat-man’s eyes. He hesitates one more moment, then says, “Let’s talk.” “First, do not move except as I tell you. Drop the apple and slowly, ever so slowly lift the
strap without touching the pouch around your waist and toss it to your left, out of your reach.” Ras obeys. “Now, strip down to your underwear.” Ras complies. “Slowly sit, injun-style on the floor where you stand. Again, slowly. You know what I
mean.” Ras sits there, in black jockeys, legs crossed, hands clasped together. “Now, I have a three-part test for you. First, where is Avery right now? Be specific.” “He’s in Mumbai, The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Registered as
Ganeshwaran.” “What is his sister’s name and where does she live?” “Cantalisa. She lives somewhere near the coast in the Apulia region of Italy. Even I do
not know specifically.” Brink tosses an object toward him, landing at his feet, a small pair of garden shears and
instructs, “Take off a finger. Your choice. It’s a small price to pay for your life.” Ras looks at the fat-man. This is typical of him. His signature. Ras picks up the tool. He
opens it and presses the parted blades around the little finger of his left hand. He starts to
perspire, uncharacteristically hesitant. He squeezes enough for the blades to slice into the flesh.
The pain is not important, the bleeding is meaningless. Losing the finger is regrettable, but he has
faced greater losses in his dangerous life. He stops, overwhelmed by the idea of self-destruction.
He remembers his father’s final words: Your body is your shell casing. It is all you will need. He tosses the shears to the floor. Blood is dripping down his hand onto his forearm. He
recrosses his legs and says, “I won’t do it.” “Good. You passed. If you were determined to kill me, you’d have made the sacrifice
regardless of what it took.” He stands up, pulls the plug connecting the wire mesh netting spread
across the floor, picks up Ras’s pouch and says, “Get dressed. Let’s go downstairs and talk. I’m
starving.” Brink continues, “I’ll call housekeeping and have them vacuum up. If the room is still
here when we come back up, we’ll have a nightcap.” He grins, this time without the bear-trap
look in his eyes. In a quiet corner in the lounge, Ras starts, “Let’s get to the point. You have a plan of some
sort. Let’s hear it.” “Hold on a minute.” He sends a brief text message, slices into a cheese ball, puts twothirds of it on his plate and passes the remainder to Ras. Ras grips the cheese knife firmly as a
young man approaches. Brink says, “Have a seat. You two know each other, but I don’t think
you’ve ever met. I must admit, this young man is a ‘prince’ of a fellow.” Ras squirms. He says to Prince, “I appreciate your assistance. Who the hell was the broad
with the gun?” “She works for Denson in CSI. I guess they’ve got a thing going. Her showing up was
completely unexpected. Just one of those things.” “I don’t believe in ‘one of those things’. We should have known about her.” “That’s not reasonable. She was there on her own. I doubt anyone knew. Get over it!” The fat man interrupts, “We can decide who has the bigger dick later. Let’s get serious.
We have a rare opportunity here. I want revenge for my brother’s death.” He then speaks to Ras,
“And you want to avoid execution.” “And you,” addressing Prince, “want an endless supply of quality product.” Brink
continues, “Avery is coming to LA next week to meet with the President of Pakistan, Pervez
Sadari.” “Yes, I know about that. I’m meeting Avery at LAX. He may bring another bodyguard
with him, Al Sorento, a very capable pro. That’s a problem.” “You don’t know where the meeting is, right?” “He never discloses that until the last minute. Sadari is traveling incognito, probably with
three to four bodyguards. He’s meeting with the Deputy Secretary of State, John Steinberg
intentionally outside the eyes of the Washington press corps. Avery is meeting Sadari to reach an
understanding just before Sadari faces off with Steinberg. “Of course. Steinberg must inform LAPD beforehand. Prince will be with Sadari from
the time he arrives LAX.” He turns to Prince, “You’re confident you can get assigned to the
watch?” “Not a problem. I provide the key guy in dispatch with coke. I’ll get the assignment.
Probably not alone though.” “That’s all right. Immediately following the meeting, Ras, you will take Avery out.” “What about Sorento?” “If he’s there, Prince and his partner will detain him for possession of drugs before the
meeting.” “So I take down Perelle, then what?” “You’ll run, in full sight. Prince will spot you, order you to stop and then he’ll overreact,
shooting you three times, Hollywood style, of course. Prince will order his partner to stick with
Avery’s body. By the time EMS and back-up arrives, you will have escaped.” “Escaped? I thought I was dead? That was our deal upstairs.” Prince jumps in, “When I reach your ‘body’, you take off. I’ll cover the dicks, tell them I
must have only grazed you. They’ll take my statement, talk to a few people, then focus of
Perelle’s corpse.” Ras is frustrated, “I hate to repeat myself, but I thought I was supposed to be dead at that
point.”
It’s all administrative. A simple switch in the files at headquarters with a deceased
homeless or unidentified stiff will report confirmation of your death. Same with the EMS report.
I can set up a record in the morgue system as well. It’s all on computer now, no paperwork
involved.” The fat-man takes over, “It won’t be perfect, but it’ll be enough to fool Avery’s men.
Besides, I’ll be in charge and redirect them to other matters. It will be old news in a matter of
days, if not hours. Their focus will be on the power struggle to gain my approval..” Ras sits silently for a long moment and says, “There are several risks. Someone from the
State Department could join Prince in the pursuit, a crowd could form too quickly, the bullet
charges on my body or the switch could fail.” “The State guys will care less about an LAPD shooting. They will focus on protecting
Sadari and Steinberg. Gunfire will chase everyone else back, for a few minutes at least. That’s all
it will take. The risks are not serious. Seriously.” Ras stares at Brink, then turns his head and takes a scalp to toe assessment of Prince and
says to them both, “Let’s do it.”

******************

Denson is stirring in bed. Spending each day in a wheel chair is taking its toll. By the time night arrives, he’s tired of being stationary, staring at the same walls twenty-four hours a day. He gets up and starts pacing, waking Stacy in the night.

“What’s wrong, hon?” “I can’t sleep. My body is full of adrenalin and my mind is racing in the Indy 500.” “You’re walking pretty good. Is it still painful?” “Yeah, but I don’t care. I’m going in the morning. I’m gonna stop and see Steng on the

way. He’s in a regular room now, doing well. I need to dump on him, get his perspective.” “Are you upset about the container arriving with no drugs?” “Sure, that was a set-back. They must of known, somehow. Getting to this bastard isn’t

going to be easy. I need another way, another solution. Maybe Steng will have some ideas. “Just be careful. Now, get in here and let me put you out.” Denson reaches Steng’s room in the morning. He looks at him, half asleep in his bed.

Denson opens the blinds. The California sun enters the room in slices, waking up Steng in an instant. Denson greets him, “You look good. Keep the bandages though, maybe that will help you attract more women.”

“Kiss my ass.” “Fine, I like fried food.” Denson and Steng clasp hands. Steng can’t believe it when

Denson bends down and hugs him. Steng responds, “What’s come over you? You’re acting like you have feelings.” “I’m in love. With Stacy. I feel like a teenager again.” “She’s what, thirty-seven?” “Love is ageless. She’s special. She’s gorgeous, dedicated, caring. And she listens to me

when I talk.” “Deaf, dumb and blind. Perfect for you.” They chat for a bit and Steng asks, “What happened. I heard about the attempt on you.

I’m glad you’re okay. Give it to me first hand.” Denson takes him through it. Steng starts shaking his bandaged head saying, “No, it doesn’t fit.” “What do you mean? The guy came back for you. He saw I was there and wanted to take me out first. It makes sense.”

“Listen to yourself. You must be in love. You’re not thinking straight. Way too many assumptions. First, how did he know you were there?”
Denson is still defensive, “That wouldn’t be hard. He could have scouted the area, recognized me. He set the false alarm knowing I’d come out. He was waiting. If not for Stac...”
“Stop looking at what happened and think about what could have happened, should have happened. Fine, he knew you were there. Fine, he knew you’d come barreling out like Ironside. But how, in the first place, did he know Prince would go into Murphy’s room, leaving you vulnerable?”
Denson pauses, embarrassed for the first time in Steng’s memory, “You’re right. Prince knew it wasn’t you. I told him. When the alarm went off, he could’ve stayed put or stepped into my room first. Going into Murphy’s room was way too convenient to the hitter.”
“Exactly. Prince is involved, up to his knees. Hard to believe. I’m disappointed. I was mentoring the boy. Tell my Chief. He’ll know what to do.”
Denson drives to LAPD headquarters deep in thought, “This is a sign. An opportunity.” He turns off the radio in order to concentrate. “If I tell the Chief, Prince will be locked down in a minute. That won’t help. Prince is more than a sellout, a shank. He’s the way to the source.”
He remembers his promise, “No matter what it takes.”
He spends the entire day pouring over Prince’s file. He reads his reviews, his assignments, his accomplishments. The young detective is clean, showing promise and stability. Then he finds it.
Stacy sits at dinner with her mouth agape, her roast going cold on her plate, uneaten, “My God. He’s like a brother to me. I spent months riding with him.”
“I agree his behavior at the hospital was suspicious, but not conclusive. I needed a motive. Now I have one. There’s no question he’s an addict. There were traces of
didehydro and diol diacetate in his blood during his last physical. Why wasn’t this flagged by their lab?”
”They’re like us, swamped. There was no reason to look. Prince was so squeaky clean, the fair-haired boy, good family, pristine school record, charity work. Physicals are more useful in confirming the causes of symptoms. This report was buried in a sea of data, probably scanned but not read.” Denson fills Stacy’s glass with Liberty School cabernet and then tops off his own glass with the rest of the bottle.
Stacy moves on, “Going after you and Steng makes it clear the hitter is tied to Hampton, Brinkley and Brinkley’s boss. This means Prince can lead…”
“Exactly. He can lead me to the assassin and possibly to the “man’ himself. I’ve got to follow through and...”
Stacy stops him, “What do you mean ‘I’? You’ve got to go to Steng’s Chief with this”
“I know. I will. Just not yet. Look, I found out Prince is assigned to the visit from Sadari, the Pakistan guy meeting with Steinberg this week. If I tell the Chief, he will pull Prince and begin an internal investigation. That will signal the bad guys. In the meantime, he’ll alert the State Department and smother the meeting with security.
“I don’t believe in coincidences. Pakistan, Steward Pharm, Hampton, reported smuggling, heroin. Our target may very well show up at the Sadari meeting. I want to be there, spot the bad guys, then tell the Chief. This is a unique opportunity. I don’t have to do anything but be there and observe from a safe distance. It’s possible I will have a chance to ID the assassin and the boss. I promise I’ll turn over whatever I learn to the Chief immediately after.”
Stacy looks at him with deep love and confidence, “All right, but take me with you.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Why not? If it’s safe? I don’t have to stand at your side. I’ll observe as well, from a different spot, a different perspective.”
“I don’t need a bodyguard.”
“It’s not about that. I’ll be your second set of eyes and ears, that’s all. I’ll go crazy anyway, knowing you’re there alone. The worse that can happen is a waste of a day. Let me be there with you, darling.”
Denson is reluctant. He doesn’t want to endanger Stacey. He also doesn’t want her to hold him back. “OK, but stay in the background, no matter what happens.”
They discuss the details of their plan, where they will split up, what to look for, how to behave, taking pictures if possible, etc.
Later, they make love with a passion that comes from deep inside Denson, a passion that explodes the pain within, freeing him for the first time since the loss of Suzanne.

******************

An obscure, but spotless Escalade pulls up to the airport curb. An aged, humped-forward man is early, waiting. Avery’s hands shake throughout the day now, yet his eyes retain their fearless, youthful gaze. He enters the vehicle. Ras grabs his boss’s bag and stows it in the backseat, greeting him, “Good to see you, sir.”

“It’s not so good to see you.” Avery pulls out Caesar, “The only reason I’m using you today is it isn’t possible for you to screw up again. Besides, Sorento is in China, otherwise I would have him here. Doesn’t matter. Anyone, even you, can handle this without fucking up.”

“I appreciate your confidence, sir.” “Don’t get smart with me. Fail again and it will be time for you to retire, permanently.

You’re too old anyway.” Ras is pained by the irony of a seventy-five year old man telling him he is too old. Only
Avery Perelle can talk to him with such rudeness. Ras doesn’t believe he will get ‘another
chance’ regardless of what he does. “So, how was your trip, sir?” “A pain. I gave them the wrong passport in Zurich. It was uncomfortable for a moment or
two. Fortunately, security consisted of a near teenage girl and a half-asleep old shit, nodding off
as they put me through one of those x-ray contraptions. The girl thought the bulge in my pants
was a weapon. She was either embarrassed or impressed, I’m not certain which, when she
learned by a frisk it was not.” “If I would have been there, they could have called me over to verify it is, in fact, a
weapon. I would have taken pleasure in identifying it, knowing it as well as I do.” “None of that. We have work to do. I don’t want any trouble. The meeting with Sadari
will not extend beyond fifteen minutes. If it does, be ready, because something else may be going
on.” They pull up to side of the hotel, Shutters on the Beach on Pico in Santa Monica, just
south of the pier. Avery is dressed in a dark Hawaiian shirt, crème pants and sandals. Ras fits into
the Southern California tourist look as blatantly. No valet, no special treatment. They enter
adjoining rooms on the third floor, facing the beach. Ras was at the hotel earlier, checking in for
both of them under assumed names and inspecting Avery’s room, not just for security. The toilet,
the faucets, the TV, the AC, etc. all have to work to perfection. Lord help him if there is ever
anything wrong with Avery’s room. At 1:00, they exit together to meet with the Pakistani leader in one of the small
ballrooms. Standing outside the larger ballroom entrance further down the hall is LAPD. Ras is
reassured when he sees Prince and a single partner, Sgt. Joe Murphy. Ras has the three miniature
explosives taped to his back, the remote in his pocket, his Baretta ready. Avery sits down at the table in the conference room. They are alone. Sadari and two of
his personal guards enter through the door connecting from the larger ballroom. Avery is a charmer. He speaks fluently in the provincial language of Panjabi. Sadari is
impressed. Avery gets to the heart of the matter, “I ask nothing of you but your word that our
situation in your country will not change, no matter what the US promises or threatens today.” Sadari responds, “I want the same. However, I will need to make a strong impression I
am trying to end your processing operation. You must assure me you and your people will not
over react. You have six weeks to relocate before my forces will strike. When they do, both of us
will sacrifice a few lives in battle, but it will be for appearances only. You can restart in your new
location without concern.” “I understand. The new plant will be outside the Balochistan area, of no interest to the
Chief Minister, or his US watchdogs” “Your payments must be redirected as well, to Yemen. I will inform you of your contact
there shortly.” Denson is sitting in the lobby, just off the ballroom area, reading the Journal. He’s in light
blue denim pants with deep pockets and a white T. His dark shades and ball cap obscure his
looks. At one point, Prince walks by him and looks directly at him with no recognition. Stacy is
sitting in her parked car in the first row of the front lot. He almost misses the two men entering
the smaller ballroom down the hall. He thinks to himself, “Who are those guys? An old wop and
a hard-bodied companion. They could be the ones.” He etches their faces onto the hard drive
whirling in his head. He watches Sadari and his people enter the side entrance of the larger ballroom. Denson
is curious, wondering, “Sadari’s meeting with Steinberg is not for another thirty minutes. He
must be meeting with the old fart first.” I’ve got to get over there. Denson stands and walks casually toward the small ballroom entrance, reading the paper
as he strolls. He hears talking in Arabic through the crack in the door, but he is reluctant to open
it to see what is happening. He walks away, down the corridor, then turns casually, and strolls
back. He is self-conscious and concerned about drawing attention to himself. Ten minutes pass. Through the far door, he sees the two guards precede Sadari as they walk out, heading to
Sadari’s collection of rooms. Denson observes Prince directing Murphy to follow behind the
troupe. Prince takes a stand against the far wall, appearing nervous. His eyes are bulging, his
hand fumbling inside his jacket. Denson is confident Prince is focused on the large conference
room door and overlooking or ignoring him. He takes a risk and opens the small conference
room door a crack, nervously peering through the slice of the opening. He squints, trying to focus better. He spent weeks anticipating this moment. He is not
ready.
He nervously peers through the crack of the door and silently watches the old man and
his younger male companion begin to stand, ready to leave the hotel’s small ballroom. Denson is affixed, of course, his mind torn. Here they are right in front of him. The old
man must be the puppeteer, the kind of evil he promised his dying wife he would root out and
put to an end. The companion must be the assassin sent by the old codger to kill him and Steng
only days ago. “What on earth...?” He’s stunned as the companion pulls his gun out and points it directly
at the presumed boss man. His instincts overrule all logic. He draws his pistol from his denim shorts and throws
himself into the room, assumes his best Jack Bauer stance, and stammers out his command, “S-stop. Police. Lower your weapon. I’ll sh-shoot!” “What the hell are you doing here?”Rasoone is clearly bewildered. And annoyed.
Avery ignores Denson and interjects calmly, “Ah, Ras, excuse me, but I’ve got a few
questions. Like, who is this clown, why is he here, why did you pull a gun on me? Questions of
that nature.” “It’s Denson, the CSI guy. I don’t know how or why he’s here.” Ras keeps his gun
pointed at the ancient’s forehead. “And why is your gun aimed at me?” “Oh...that...I’m going to kill you.” Denson thrusts his gun forward, astonished he isn’t being taken seriously. His pleas to
God for more confidence are ignored, “N-no you’re not. If you shoot him, I’ll sh-shoot you. I’m not good enough to maim you.
I’ll have to g-go for your upper body.” Denson has never stuttered in his life. “You’re going to take me down? Are you crazy?” Ras intended to speak unemotionally,
as always, but can’t help himself, “If you shoot me and arrest him, your family, your friends, will
die. This is fuckin’ Avery Perelle!” Denson never heard the name before, but his suspicions are confirmed. The hairs on the
back of his hands start to rise, signaling his body is about to panic, or go into cardiac arrest. He knows the man is correct. It will be pointless to arrest Perelle. He has no evidence.
Avery Perelle will walk and all he will have, if he has the guts to use the weapon chattering in his
hands, is a wounded or dead assassin. “You’re the one,” Denson speaks to Avery while keeping his eyes on Ras, “I know it in
my soul.” Salty sweat is dripping from brow to lashes as he cranks his torso and pistol toward
Avery Perelle. Ras is amused by Denson’s dilemma. As if he just noticed him, Avery finally speaks to
him from a lifetime of cynicism,
“Go ahead, shoot me. I’m seventy-five years old. I don’t care
any more.” Avery means it. Yet he doesn’t. Denson hesitates, questioning himself, “What the hell am I suppose to do now?” Ras’s gun has never wavered, steadily aimed at Avery. He’s getting frustrated, knowing
it’s time to take both the old farts down and get out of here. The momentary pause proves fatal. Prince had seen Denson enter the room, finally recognizing him. He thinks through the
implications. How can he recover from this unforeseen interference? “I have to act. If Denson is
here, he knows about me. There’s no other explanation. I have to act. Now.” Desperate, Prince storms in and through the main ballroom, then bursts into the small
conference room and immediately shoots at Denson. Denson is hit in his left thigh and drops. Ras turns his Baretta toward Prince and places a
bullet directly into his left eye. Nothing personal. The fat-man told him in private Prince was too
big a risk. There is an alternate plan for Ras to escape retribution. Avery is the instinctive survivor he has been all of his life. The Prince distraction is
enough for him to shake his arm and fire a 399 foot per second bullet from the two-inch long
SwissMiniGun that drops into his right palm. He shoots Ras through the mouth. Ras stumbles in disbelief, trying to utter a sound.
Bloody drool and tooth chips dribble onto the floor. He drops. Hard. Denson rolls under the long table and prays. Avery shoots at him twice, the second bullet
hits Denson in the same thigh. The septuagenarian hops over Ras’s body as he hears Sgt. Murphy
stomping through the large conference room. Two bodies on the ground distract Murphy long
enough for Avery to get to the rear exit. Denson has one chance. He is no crack shot. Still lying on the floor under the table, with
two bullets in his leg, he aims for Avery’s buttocks as Avery rushes out. He is certain he will
miss. He is not even close. His bullet blows apart the back of Avery Perelle’s head like a melon. “What the hell is happening?” Murphy is still on an adrenaline high. He quickly
discounts Ras, stumbles over Prince’s corpse, and drops to Denson’s side, “You’ve been hit.” “No shit. Check on Prince. Don’t trust him. He’s dangerous.” “What?” Murphy moves toward Prince. He reaches for his radio as people start to cautiously enter
the room, the hotel manager, a Muslim guard, a couple of tourists. Denson rolls his body toward the door, squirming in pain. He pulls his body forward a
few more inches and grabs at Avery. He wants to see the ‘face of evil’. He manages to turn him
over. The face is gone, blown away by Denson’s misdirected shot. A small mouse scurries across Denson’s body and runs under the door. Stacy rushes in, barking orders as she grabs two large table napkins. She falls to her
knees and begins pressing the cloth against Denson’s leg wounds, crying, “Oh my God. Randy.
Baby!” Stacy presses the napkins harder and says, “Randy, you’re okay. The bleedings not that
bad. Help is coming, baby.” She bends and kisses him on the forehead. Denson tries to smile as he moans, “I’m sorry, hon. But I got him. I stopped him. I can’t
believe it. I got him.” Randy closes his eyes as Stacy tries to smile.

******************

Brinkley III

At a distant hotel in Newport Beach, William Brinkley sits on his balcony facing the sand, chatting on his phone. The man sitting with him is sipping on a glass of orange juice, ignoring the paper umbrella stuck inside.

“Got it. See you then.” Brink shuts off his cell and turns to Al Sorento, Avery Perelle’s second bodyguard, “Everyone is happy. I have complete control of Hampton International. You work for me now. We’ve got a lot to do.” He reaches for his glass of Scotch.

“What about the LAPD and DOJ guys? Is there still an order to take them out?”

“No. Drop it. Not important. Never was. You’ll never get a crap assignment like that as long as I’m around.”
Sorento clinks the glass in his left hand with Brink’s. He nods and smiles as he discreetly draws out his Stiletto with his right hand and says, “Congratulations. Too bad your tenure will be so short.”
He moves so quickly, the knife pierces the fat man’s right chest before Brink realizes what is happening, “This is for William Steward.”
Brink’s eyes bulge as he drops his glass and grabs his chest, both hands grasping to stop the spewing blood.
“And this is for Rosa.” He stabs him again, in the belly,
“And this is for Connie.” He grabs Brink’s right hand and hacks off a finger, “I thought that would be appropriate, all things considered.”
“And this one, which is very painful, I’m sure, is for me.” He stabs Brink lower, in the crotch, intentionally adding to the shock.
“Allow me to introduce myself. I don’t believe we’ve ever met. My name is Jonathan. Jonathan Steward.”
Brink is gasping, “But you drowned. There’s no way---” “You and Connie underestimated me. Bloated beyond identification? Yes. Braindamaged? A little, they say. Unconscious for a few weeks? Sadly, yes. Drowned? Dead? Wrong, fat head. I just wish I would have wakened in time to save my mother and Connie. Instead, this will have to do.” He stabs Brink a final time.
Jonathan grins as he steps backward, watching Brink die, softly humming Police’s “Every Breathe You Take.”

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