Bud looked at the half-eaten meatloaf sandwich and grimaced. Thick white grease had congealed on the plate while he'd sat replaying old conversations in his head. He pushed the plate away.
"That do you, Bud? Or can I interest you in something sweet?" the waitress winked.
"No Kay, that'll do," he said, returning her smile. She had kept him company a few times since moving out of Lynn's place. He knew she had low expectations, and so required minimal effort, and she kept his loneliness at bay. Bud rose stiffly from the booth. He tipped her double.
"Good thing the rain finally stopped, huh?" she tried, hoping to engage him in a bit of friendly conversation to break the tedium of her shift. "I thought we were going to have to get more sandbags. The creek nearly flooded." She peered beyond him, out the window at the brilliant, cloudless sky.
Bud didn't look up."Huh. Hadn't noticed."
"See you tomorrow," she called, admiring his broad back as he went out the door. Most guys she had known just wanted to talk about themselves. Trouble was, Bud talked so little, and never about himself, so that she never really knew what he was thinking. They'd had several dates, the latest ones ending with him still in her bed the next morning, but she knew as little about him now as when they'd met.
"Order up!" cried the cook.
Kay picked up the plates. "How's it going with the old flatfoot?" he asked.
"It's not," she said. Her smile lines sagged into deep creases.
"What? I thought he was sweet on you?" the cook teased.
"He's too much work," she said, feeling even more tired than the day before. She scooped the money from the table, watching out the window as Bud lumbered unevenly down the street. She half shrugged and thought, Yeah but he's good in the sack - and a great tipper.
It took him a block to shake off the stiffness. The limp was less noticeable once he got going. More than a few silver hairs blended in with the close-cropped dark ones, glinting in the sun. Daffodils in the tidy flower beds offered evidence of spring's late arrival, but it had no impact on Bud. The rain had been a better match for his mood.
Another block and he was at the office. The single room cinder block box in back served as his apartment. The postman had put the flag on the mailbox down and stopped to empty it. Two bills - electric and phone, and a letter with a return address from Parker Center, Los Angeles. He went into the small front room that was both office and reception area, switched on the police radio he preferred to music and sat behind his battered, second-hand desk. He stared unseeing out the tiny window at the quiet, residential street.
The view was pretty much the same no matter where you stood in Bisbee, Arizona. He had thought it would be a welcome respite from the congestion and sprawl of Los Angeles, but it had taken him a long time to get used to the quiet. He could drive across the whole town in less time than it once took him to get from one station house to the next. Sometimes he drove out into the desert to ruminate but found it was harder to lose himself in the wide-open space than it was among skyscrapers and freeways. The radio crackled static, drawing Bud back to the mail. He opened the bills and absently flipped through a ledger. All the numbers in the black. Business had been slow but hell, he had almost no overhead. He fingered the letter, saw Exley's name on the return.
"Now what?" he asked the empty room. This was the third envelope from Ed in as many years. The first had been an invitation to the opening of Parker Center. Bud didn't waste much thought deciding to skip it. The second envelope came shortly after the first. It was heavy, embossed and clearly not from the Department. It was an invitation to Ed's wedding to the daughter of a California State Senator. Lynn sent a gift from them both.
Ed had been out to see him once while he was in rehab in Tucson. Bud had been embarrassed. He still had the cane at that point, and his speech was laborious. Ed, who would not be put off, had gripped his hand fiercely before leaving and repeated the promise he'd made when they'd last said goodbye in Los Angeles.
"You were my redemption. You saved my life - twice. Once from another man and once from myself. Anything you ever need, just name it."
Bud had returned the handshake but as Ed embraced him he could feel the tears prick his eyes. "Get the fuck out of here," he said, brushing Ed back. Exley going all soft was more than he could handle right then.
Now the cane was long gone but Bud still had to speak carefully to avoid sounding drunk. It reinforced his preference for action over words.
He could have collected disability as a result of his injuries in the line of duty. But he soon realized that if he sat around doing nothing long, he'd kill himself. Chief Parker had given him a recommendation letter filled with praise. Bud thought the Chief must have been relieved to lose him in the desert. Going back to police work seemed out of the question. Alternatives were hard to think up. He did a brief stint as a security guard. Patrolling parking lots and office buildings like a pretend cop made cleaning his ears with his gun seem like an even better idea.
Instead he decided to give private investigation work a try. It had been years since school and he was even more of a bear to live with than usual in the weeks leading up to the exam, but he passed and hung out a shingle. At least that way, he figured, he could be his own boss.
Bud sliced Exley's latest letter open, noting the header: "Chief of Detectives". It looked like an update. The happy couple had bought a house in upscale Hancock Park, a suburb of West Los Angeles. Bud pictured everything going Ed's way. His wife was no doubt a looker, her family had powerful connections, a new house, and Ed's career still moving as fast as a bullet from his Colt. Bud felt a twinge of envy but did not begrudge Ed his good fortune. They were as different as a privileged son and a hard-luck orphan could be, but they'd forged a permanent bond during their last case. Ed had risen faster than anyone in the history of the Department. Bud started to compare it with his own life. He opened the drawer where he kept the bottle and looked at it. He shut the drawer again. Better not think about what could have been, not this early in the day anyway. He found the letter's real purpose at the bottom.
"I took the liberty of speaking with Chief Parker," wrote Ed. "He told me again that you would always have a job with the LAPD." It pricked his pride. Lynn,
he thought, feeling his agitation rise. She must have called him again. Lynn was convinced he was not happy in Bisbee, or so she said. Bud had suspicions there were other reasons she was ready for him to move on. It rankled, the idea of the two of them discussing him behind his back.
"Happy", he scoffed. What a load.
Bud thought back to his internment with the LAPD as a thug with a badge. He'd futilely longed to do detective work while his corrupt commander limited his tools to a sap and brass knuckles.
He got up and jerked open an uncooperative drawer in a file cabinet and pulled out a battered folder. Flipping it open, he fingered the evidence of his competence again, like a rosary of all his past hopes and ambition. The file contained certificates of completion from criminology courses he'd attended in 1952; the letters notifying him he'd passed the Sergeant's exam that same year and the Lieutenant's exam just before he'd left in 1956; the commendation after being wounded in the line of duty; and a letter from Chief Parker stating his job would be waiting for him once he'd healed enough for a return to active duty. Bud kept the Medal of Valor in a dresser drawer, wrapped in a sock.
He moved to toss Exley's letter into the waste can, hesitated and tucked it inside his jacket pocket. He settled back behind the desk to start the phone calls and wait for misery to show up at his door.
Bisbee was a small border town and he had known at the start that there wouldn't be many interesting cases. Most of the calls he got were jealous husbands or wives who wanted him to spy on their spouses and either put their minds at ease or give them grounds for divorce. He tried to tell himself that for fifty bucks a day plus expenses, it didn't matter. But the past few months he was finding it harder and harder to come in to the office each day.
It was late morning and he was in the bathroom he'd converted to a darkroom taking down the photos he'd shot of the mayor and his paramour the night before. The mayor's wife had hired him after becoming suspicious at the usual signs - receipts in his wallet for flowers she never received and a women's clothing store in Phoenix she had never heard of, blaming late night and all weekend absences on meetings and committees that had never taken his time before, and most telling, the smell of another woman's perfume on his shirts. He recalled the first time she'd come in to see him. She said she'd found some things in the trunk of her husband's car that she did not recognize. When she laid the bondage items on Bud's desk he cocked a brow.
"You don't know what these are?" he asked. She shook her head no. "Sure you want to?" he asked, leaning back in his chair and eyeing her speculatively. She was a looker, all right, even for being somewhere past forty. Bud wondered if the mayor had tried to teach her to satisfy his kinks. Had she'd refused him? Or had he decided not to risk it and gone elsewhere?
"Yes. I am prepared for anything," she said.
"That there's collar," he said, jabbing the leather band with his finger, "and those are, um, a kind of restraint."
A crease appeared between her eyes. "I don't understand. We don't have a dog."
Bud's manner softened. "Oh yes, you do." He spelled it out for the mayor's wife as gently as possible.
He looked at the photos in his hands of the corpulent man, bound and supplicant before his mistress in a leather cat suit and four-inch stilettos. Bud admired a shot he'd snapped of her holding the whip mid-crack, very artistic, great tits too. "Shame I left the fat guy out of the shot," he thought out loud. "Can't use it. Guess I'll have to keep this one."
There was a knock at the front door. He wiped his hands and quickly exited the dark room, before going to answer it. A couple in their mid-fifties greeted him.
"Mr. White?" asked a man whose drawn face and dark ringed eyes spoke his grief ahead of his words.
"Yes?" replied Bud. Couples were unusual.
"Could we talk to you about a missing person?" asked the man.
"Come in," Bud invited.
"I'm Jim Harper and this is my wife Florence. We are hoping you can help us find our daughter Shelley," Mr. Harper left off as his voice broke.
"She disappeared almost a month ago," Mrs. Harper finished.
Bud went to his desk and took out a legal pad. He indicated two straight backed chairs across from the desk. The couple settled themselves and Mrs. Harper continued. "We already tried talking to the police in Los Angeles, that's where she lives, but they won't take a missing persons report," explained Mrs. Harper.
"Why not?" Bud asked.
"Because she was with her husband. The police seem to think we're meddlesome in-laws. The officer we spoke to in L.A. suggested they took a long vacation, but we are afraid something bad has happened. She hasn't called us, she always called at least once a week, and her job hasn't heard from her." Mrs. Harper paused. "Shelly had told us there was trouble."
"Go on," Bud encouraged.
Mrs. Harper glanced at her husband and reached a hand to his knee. He clasped it. She continued. "A few weeks ago, she called us crying. She said he'd hit her."
"Her husband?" Bud asked.
"Yes. She said she was afraid he'd hurt her worse and she wanted to get a divorce, wanted to know if she could come home for awhile. We told her of course, but we wanted to know what happened. They'd been married for four years and he seemed to be taking care of her. She was raised here but went to Hollywood to get in the movies after she graduated high school. She was always talking about what a big success he was. We suspected maybe it was really his father that was the big success and he was just living fancy off of him, but she didn't want to hear that. He also told her he was going to help her get into the movies because his family was in the business. We suggested she date him a little longer but..." Mrs. Harper shook her head.
"Give me their full names and dates of birth," Bud asked as he scribbled notes.
"Shelly Leigh and Richard Alan Dunst. Her birth date is July 10, 1936. I don't know his, but I remember it was in the summer because he liked to take her to a cabin near Lake Havasu his daddy owned, and they went for his birthday," replied Mrs. Harper.
"He is close to her age?" Bud tried to clarify.
"No. He's in his late 30's, more than ten years older than Shelly. That's another thing we didn't like. Anyway, she said she'd asked him some questions about his past." Mrs. Harper's voice wavered. She took a deep breath and continued, "Shelly said she found out he'd had a first wife who disappeared and was never found."
"Is that what they argued about?"
"Yes, she said he didn't like it when she started asking questions," affirmed Mrs. Harper. "She said she feared for her life. We told her to come home right away. That was the last time we heard from her. I tried to call her the next day at her office but she didn't show up for work. That was the first time I called the police."
"Did she tell you anything else about the first wife?" Bud asked.
"No. That's all she said."
Bud sat back and looked at the worried couple. This was different than what normally came though his door. And it smelled bad. "How long did you say they've been gone?" he asked.
"It will be a month next Monday. Can you help us find our daughter?" Mrs. Harper replied.
"I'll do my best Ma'am. I'll make a few calls and see what I can find out. Leave me any numbers or addresses you had for them."
"Thank-you, Detective White." Mrs. Harper held out her trembling hand and Bud clasped it in his strong, steady one.
Bud had the ability to put his clients at ease at once. His voice was calm and authoritative, while his gaze was steady and direct. With his neat shirt and tie and short-cropped hair, he still looked like a straight cop.
Mr. Harper handed him a photo. A pretty brunette in her early twenties, head angled toward the camera. She was laughing. Clearly a more carefree time. "Do you have any children?" he asked.
Bud saw pain and fear in the man's eyes. "No, Sir, I do not."
Mr. Harper nodded tersely, and went outside to compose himself while his wife gave Bud the rest of the information her needed. Bud began making calls as soon as they left. He did not like what he found. He called the West L.A. division because that was where the couple lived and tried to alert them.
"Who'd you say you are?" the intake officer asked.
"Bud White. I'm a PI in Arizona," he said, reluctant to mention his past affiliation.
"Yeah. Well. Thanks for the tip, pal."
"Listen shit for brains, it's not a tip
and I'm not your pal. These are your own records I'm reading from. Easy to look up, but since the family couldn't get you to do a simple missing persons, I'm following through."
"You know what Mister? You've got a real attitude problem and I don't have time to play pretend with a wanna-be cop."
"No! You listen! Since you can't do basic police work and there are two people worried sick about their daughter..." The intake officer hung up on Bud.
"Fuck!" He threw the phone across the room, banged the screen door open, and went outside. He wanted to get in his car and drive to L.A. to see what else he could find right away. He paced the sidewalk for about ten minutes until he calmed down, then went back inside and taped the busted mouthpiece back onto the phone. He called Hollywood division and asked to speak to Sturdevant, a detective he'd kept in contact with there. Sturdevant took the missing person's report from him. The mention of the unsolved disappearance of the first Mrs. Dunst got the detective curious, as Bud hoped it would. The detective promised to get someone to look into it immediately and Bud hung up.
"That might have helped a month ago," he griped.
Glancing at his watch, he remembered his date with Lynn in an hour. He locked up the office. The trip west would wait until morning. He walked back to his little apartment, turning on the television. Tonight meant one last shot at putting things right, he thought, even as he knew that chance was long gone. He suspected Lynn was only going out with him tonight because she knew it was his birthday. Best he could hope for now was a sympathy fuck. At least he'd enjoy a real meal, whether she gave him dessert or not. He usually put a t.v. dinner in the oven to cook while he began his evening zone out with the news and the scotch. He'd been an infrequent social drinker before moving to Bisbee but now he drank nightly - until he or the bottle was gone. He slept most nights on the sofa. He'd wake up mid-morning, shower and change, head to the diner and start the whole process again. Weekends were the worst. He'd try to listen to the ball game. Most of the time he gave in to his darker obsessions.
He shaved his five-o-clock shadow and splashed on some after-shave, wanting to look his best. He peered at himself in the mirror and sighed. The best was in the past. There were crow's feet etched around his eyes and bags under them from the alcohol and poor sleep habits. His once agile body had slowed, more from the twenty pounds he'd gained from lack of activity and bad diet than his injuries. These things plus his generally dour disposition made him look years older than his actual thirty-eight.
The evening did not go well. Their conversation was strained, the easiness he'd once felt with her long gone. She didn't invite him inside after. Standing on the porch, he tried to take her hand, but she pulled away.
"I don't see this going anywhere good. Do you?" she asked pointedly.
Bud didn't reply but reached out to caress her face. It had been months since they'd made love. He wondered how long it had been since she'd smiled at him.
Lynn tried again for honesty. "I thought we could help each other heal. We tried, but there's too much bad from the past between us and I can't get away from it. I know you feel it too."
It was true. At first there had been other things to occupy them. Lynn took him to and from Phoenix for over a year as he'd suffered multiple surgeries, followed by a grueling rehabilitation. The doctors said that while the rest of his body would heal, he may never have normal speech again. Bud was hell on the nurses and therapists but he did not give up. One day when he was struggling and frustrated, his speech therapist pushed him until he kicked his chair over and let rip a blue streak in perfect diction. The therapist applauded him.
Bud knew that Lynn paid for the doctors with the wad he'd seen Exley press into her hand. It was from the drug money Ed had found at the home of her former boss after he was murdered - and everything went to hell. Bud thought of his ruined career and decided it was okay to let the profits of pain pay to help fix him. And he didn't say a word when Lynn bought her house. He figured she'd earned it. But when she tried to buy him a new car, he made her take it back to the dealer. He would not take any personal pleasure from that money.
As he healed and became stronger he noticed a cooling off in their love making. At first he just suspected, but later he was sure. She was faking it with him, like he was some kind of john. Hurt, and no good at talking things through, he resorted to spying on her. He figured one bad occupational hazard deserved another. The image of her with all those other men, some he knew, had never left his mind. His jealousy and suspicion led to fights. Fearful of his own temper, he'd storm out in the middle rather than come to blows. It wasn't long before she asked him to move out. He went without argument and they continued to see each other sporadically. He'd never really expected to hold onto her. She was too smart and too beautiful for him, even if she was an ex-hooker.
"Are you seeing anyone?" He'd asked her the same question before.
Lynn sighed and looked at him with sad eyes. "Does it matter? Go and find whatever it is you're looking for Bud, before it's too late." She turned and went into her house. He didn't try to stop her. Back at his place, he replayed it all in his mind, watching the scotch swirl around in the glass.
He woke the next morning on the sofa, still dressed for his date. Lynn had told him she was going to Tucson to set up the new store. Bud got himself together and went to the diner. He picked up a newspaper from the vending machine out front. Sitting there with his cup of coffee, he opened the paper.
API - Las Vegas, Nevada|
April 7, 1960
The suspect in a Nevada murder case who has also been sought for questioning in the mysterious disappearance of his wife in Los Angeles five years ago has posted bail and been released from jail, according to Bullhead City Sheriffs deputies. Richard Dunst, 39, had been arrested on Monday after a trail of grisly clues led deputies to suspect him in the murder of an unidentified victim.
Richard Dunst is the eldest son of real estate tycoon Benjamin Dunst who was killed in what police described as a possible gangland assassination two years ago. Richard Dunst, heir to the family fortune, was investigated but never charged in the 1951 disappearance of his wife, Susan, in Los Angeles. Dunst claimed to have driven his wife, a nursing student, to Union Station and watched her board a train to visit family in New York, but she did not arrive at her destination and was never found.
A dismembered body was found floating in the Colorado River near Chance, Nevada on Sunday. A family on a holiday fishing trip found a floating torso, and divers then found the severed limbs sealed in plastic bags. One of the bags also contained a pawnshop receipt with an address. This led deputies on a long trail of clues that ultimately brought them to a small cabin in Bullhead City, Arizona, just east of Lake Havasu, where they searched trashcans. There they found spent casings, a hacksaw and a dry-cleaning receipt with Dunst's name. They picked him up at a nearby coffee shop for questioning, but then released him when he quickly posted bail.
The Las Vegas Police Department is now involved in the case since evidence was found across the Nevada border. It was the LVPD who noted the history on Dunst's first wife.
Asked if the Bullhead City Sheriffs knew that their suspect was a wealthy heir with connections to another possible murder, Deputy Dick Sathers said, "To be honest, no. He was dressed in filthy, old clothes, unshaven and dirty - he looked like a drifter. He was in and out of here so fast, he nearly beat us back out to the street."
Bud slapped the paper to the table. They'd had him! They'd had the shitbird and they let him go! His contempt was so large it choked him. Bud scanned the story a second time. No mention of whether the body was a female. He had to get to the office and call the Harpers.
Kay came over, "What'll it be Tiger? The usual?"
"Not today," he said, fighting the urge to run out of the diner. "Just the coffee. I've got an early appointment," he said as he stood, fishing in his pocket.
"Suit yourself." The waitress shrugged. "But that coffee's gonna burn a hole through your empty stomach."
Bud laid a handful of change on the table and left. He stepped outside just in time to see Lynn's car go by. He sprinted the two blocks to the office and was so winded when he arrived that he had to wait, taking deep gulps of air before he could call the Harpers. When there was no answer, he called the Las Vegas Police Department. The Harpers had already been called in and had identified the body. Bud hung up and stared at the phone, remembering the haggard faces of the parents. They must have got the call just after they'd left him. His body had healed long ago but he felt as useless as a cripple. He grabbed the edge of the desk and shoved hard. It tipped over and crashed onto the floor, papers flying.
There was no case left to chase, no one who needed him and nowhere to go, and he knew that he could not endure another day of this futile excuse for a life. He flung open file cabinet drawers and dumped folders pell-mell into a box. There wasn't much he'd thought worth saving from his police career but he tossed those items in too. The brass knuckles and an oversized sap were reminders of the violence he'd done at another man's bidding. He'd vowed when he left the LAPD to never work as muscle for hire again. Anyone who received a future beating from Bud White would get it because he thought they needed it. He tossed the cheaply framed course certificates in too, reminders of what he could have been. He carried it all out and loaded it into the trunk of his '48 Packard. Back into the apartment, he took a suitcase out of the closet and quickly tossed clothes inside. He packed his medal of valor but left the framed photo of Lynn sitting on the television. The last thing he grabbed was his gun.
He followed Lynn to Tucson. He waited and watched from the car as the past repeated itself. Lynn and Stan Hines left the store together, leaving her car behind. Hines was a textile manufacturer with factories in Phoenix and Dallas. Bud remembered when he had materialized out of the desert horizon to take an interest in Lynn after she'd opened her shop in Bisbee. He had promised to help develop her designs into a clothing line and had fronted her money to open stores in nearby Tucson and El Paso. He smoked fat Cuban cigars, wore expensive foreign suits and talked big, about a chain with a main store in Phoenix. Lynn's eyes glittered when she listened to him. Bud hated him on sight. It made him sick to realize how much the man reminded him of Lynn's former pimp. She denied all his jealous accusations, insisting that Hines was helping her because he admired her designs and for no other reason. Bud said she'd always be a whore and she slapped him hard, leaving a handprint. That was their very last argument. Since then he'd watched them conduct their furtive affair between Bisbee and Tucson.
Bud tailed well behind, to a motel ten miles out of town. Hines could afford better, but he had a reputation to protect. He lived in Tucson with his wife and kids. Bud pulled over and waited while they checked in. He cut across the highway and drove into the lot with the headlamps off and pulled into a space at the far end. She had told him it was over months ago but habits were hard to break. He had never walked in on them, always leaving after they'd entered the motel. He wondered briefly what he hoped to gain and decided it would be enough just to let her know that he knew she had lied. Fifteen minutes later, the light in the room went out. He left his car and walked soundlessly up to the door. He waited until he could hear muffled moaning from Hines and then he kicked it in. Lynn screamed. Hines rolled off the top of her and landed on his feet, trying desperately to hide his quivering body, naked but for a pair of black nylon socks. Bud waited for the anger but could only muster contempt as he sought and found her eyes in the dim light.
"I came to say goodbye," he told her.
The radio was on in the room. "Oh the shark bites with his teeth dear and he keeps them pearly white."
Bobby Darrin was working it hard in the last chorus.
"I hate that fucking song," growled Bud as he pulled out his Colt .38 and squeezed the trigger. It took two shots to kill Darrin and then the radio exploded, showering sparks across the bed. He didn't bother to close the door behind him. He backed the Packard up and peeled out of the parking lot, onto the highway heading toward Phoenix. There was nothing left in Bisbee for him now.
He hit Phoenix about midnight and stopped to fill the gas tank. From there he turned onto US 93 toward Nevada. A coming thunderstorm blocked out the moon. The Packard streaked straight across the empty desert like a single bullet on a murderous course. Lightning flashes scorched the sky and touched the ground illuminating the red stone tables on either side. In the flat rock faces he saw all his demons rise up to mock him and his failure of a life. He didn't stop driving until he hit the Colorado River at the Nevada border. He stood on the bank, looking at the photo Mrs. Harper had given him of Shelly. His gun felt heavy in its holster.
There was nothing out here last time he'd passed through. Now as he looked up river he saw lights - lots of them. Looks like fucking Christmas in April,
he thought. There was a new bridge and a large hotel lit up like a beacon in pink and green neon. "Chance River Resort" it screamed to the cactus.
May as well have a drink first.
He drove the car over the bridge and parked. The sky was going from black to cobalt streaked with orange at the horizon as he went inside the casino. He looked around, bemused. Just like Vegas, only out here in the middle of Bumfuck, Egypt.
A nattily dressed older man came up to him and clapped him on the back. "Welcome to the future!" he said as if reading Bud's mind. His name badge said Don Chance. The codger pressed a ticket into his hand and moved on, looking for the next customer. Bud read it.
"Good for one free drink in the River Resort Lounge."
Bud made his way through the largely empty casino, past the gaming tables and slots, to a large half circle bar. He sat down on a stool.
"Welcome to the River Rat Lounge," said the bartender. "What's your poison?"
Bud tossed the ticket on the bar. "Scotch. Straight."
The bartender poured the drink and looked Bud over. "You been driving all night?"
Bud drained the glass, set it on the counter, and looked squarely at the bartender. "I'm not much in a talking mood." He pointed at the glass. "Again."
The bartender held his hands up to show he wouldn't press a conversation and poured again. Bud turned around on the stool and watched the people while he nursed the second drink. There were a couple of blue haired widows at slot machines and a gambler who looked like he'd stayed up all night losing shuffling off to his room.
"Lively place," he quipped. His stomach growled so loudly that the bartender heard it. He had not eaten in over twenty-four hours.
"The diner is open round the clock. You can get steak and eggs for a dollar," offered the bartender without being asked. That sounded good to Bud. He found the diner, ate his meal and headed back toward the exit. He passed a shoe shine booth, looked down at his own dusty pair and decided to stop. The shine boy wasn't around so he took a Los Angeles Herald Examiner off the top of a nearby stack and climbed up on the chair to wait. He hadn't even realized what day it was until he looked at the front page.
"April 19, 1959," read the dateline. "Huh," said Bud to no one. "Happy fucking Birthday to me." He saw the picture of Chief Parker next to one of Nikita Khrushchev on the front page. He chuckled over how Khrushchev was mad because Parker had refused to provide him with security for a visit to Disneyland. Only in L.A. Commies want to see Mickey Mouse,
Further down the page a story on Dunst grabbed his attention. The L.A. press had picked up on the murders and done a little digging around too. Dunst had been on the payroll of one of his father's companies for years, but former employees reported he was rarely seen at the office. He had lived at various addresses across the Western U.S., all real estate holdings owned by the senior Dunst. He had vanished for awhile after police interviewed him about his first wife's disappearance, resurfacing shortly before marrying Shelly Harper. Another woman who had known him briefly described him as "strange" and "aloof" and said he had told her he was connected with the film industry and could get her into the movies. He stared at the paper without seeing it and thought how much he'd like to get a look at the crime scene, regardless of whether he was still on the case.
Another article caught his eye. John and Robert Kennedy, heading up the McClelland committee hearings, were on a crusade against organized crime. They were telling the public what Bud and every law enforcement officer in the land knew - that organized crime was thriving from illicit narcotic sales. Police departments in major cities across the country had tried to cultivate the appearance of having organized crime under control with high profile arrests and raids. But the lure of the limitless piles of money brought in by narcotics would ensure the mobs' survival. Parker announced that organized crime was at the top of the LAPD's "hit list". Bud snorted in disgust. Pulp for the press. Glib phrases may sell newspapers and fool most of the people, but the real task required painstaking, often tedious, seemingly endless work.
"Good mornin', Officer." The old shoeshine man grinned up at Bud then bent to his work.
Bud slowly lowered the paper and looked at the top of the man's head, tight curls gone gray. "What did you say?" he asked quietly.
The old man glanced up, smile quickly replaced by a well-practiced look of subservience, then looked back at Bud's shoes. "I said, 'Good Mornin'."
"No. You called me 'Officer'."
"Yes Sir, I did, but I din mean nuthin' by it." The old man buffed vigorously.
"It's all right. But I want to know - why?"
"I din mean nuthin' by it Sir. I jus' thought you looked like a cop is all."
"Are you from L.A.?"
"No, and can't say as I've ever met you before." Seeing only interest on Bud's face, he added, "Your shoes - for one thing. Businessmen, lawyers, doctors - they wear wingtips or tassels. You've got lace-ups with soft soles, good for runnin' and bein' quiet." He warmed to his subject. "And your suit - off the rack. Army haircut. Plus I seen your gun when you set down." He made a last swipe and stood up. "That'll be a dime please."
Bud reached in his pocket for the change and pulled out Exley's letter. He looked at it a moment, then back at the old man. It wasn't the first time someone had made that assumption. In fact it seemed the whole world reacted to Bud as if he were a cop. But at that direction-seeking moment, the old man appeared to him as a compass. Bud handed him a dollar bill and walked toward the registration desk instead of the exit. "You'd make a good detective. Thanks."
The man looked at the bill then after Bud. "Thank you, Sir!"
When he got to his room, he called for laundry service and sent his suit out to be pressed. He laid his Colt on the dresser, turned on the television, and tried to sleep. Too exhausted and keyed up from the day's events, he tossed and turned, winding the sheet around him. The sweats always came with the dream. He was trying to run, trying so hard but his legs wouldn't work right. He looked down and saw his feet getting sucked into wet sand. The monster was closing in, he couldn't see it, but he could hear it breathing and feel its heavy footfalls behind him. If he could just reach the apartment he would be safe. He ran upstairs and stopped. He could hear his own heart hammering in his ears. Somehow the monster had got there before him and was inside. His hand shook and he was already sobbing as he turned the doorknob. He knew what he would see and still he had to look. There she was, lying on the floor in a heap. He was too late. The monster had killed her. He threw himself on her, then tried to lift her up, her dead weight nearly crushing his boy's body. Her head lolled back at a sickening angle and she stared passed with eyes that would never see him or anything again. She was so cold, turning blue, and he shivered, the cold seeping into him. The blue black bruises that crisscrossed her body were the only color left in her. Bud screamed and screamed but no sound came.
He jerked awake and looked around the hotel room trying to remember where he was and how he got there. The dead woman in his arms was now a pillow. The phone rang and he sprang for it, still on high alert, knocking it off its cradle. He leaned over the bed, scrambling for it on the floor. "Yeah," he finally managed breathlessly.
"We have your suit ready, Sir. Would you like us to bring it up?"
He laid the phone back down carefully and took several deep breaths as the dream finished releasing its grip. In the shower, the hot water needled his neck as he went over the details of the Dunst murder again. He decided to pay a visit to the crime scene before moving on.
If Bisbee was a two-horse town, then Bullhead City rated just a mule and it didn't take him long to glean from local gossip the exact location. He found the row of cabins near the water, parked in the back, and walked toward the cluster of activity. Las Vegas Police Detectives stopped him from entering the apartment. Bud explained who he was and one of the dicks recognized his name.
"You're the guy who called L.A. to get the missing person's filed. If you hadn't red-flagged them, they would have never thought to tell us anything about Dunst."
"Still too late to do her any good," Bud said regretfully. "So he cut off her arms and legs? Do you make this guy for a nut?"
"Hard to say, I mean sure, he's probably a psychopath, but it's also what the professionals do," The Vegas detective told him. "You'd be amazed how many bodies get dumped in that river. If the sky hadn't cleared that day, the body would have been pulled down in the current and never seen again. They cut the limbs off to make them sink better."
"These guys from Bullhead Sheriff's - how'd they let him go when they've got his wife in little pieces?" he asked the Las Vegas detective.
"They had no clue he had money and could make bail that fast. He really made himself look like a transient. Hell, they didn't even know he had a wife. The papers mentioned the arms and legs, right? But they didn't say he'd hid the head in a shallow grave two miles upriver," he smiled. "That's the evidence we found Nevada side. It took them over two days to find all of her." Bud's look said he wasn't impressed with the excuse.
"Yea, I know, it was sloppy work," conceded the Vegas dick. "Their first clue that they'd made a big mistake came when your missing person's report crossed from L.A. My guess is his first wife is somewhere at the bottom of the Pacific, feeding the sharks."
Another unmarked car pulled up and a man Bud guessed was their captain got out and looked at him suspiciously. "Who posted bail?" Bud asked the sympathetic detective quickly.
One eye on his advancing captain, he answered, "It came from an L.A. address. That's all I can tell you."
Bud was gone. He entered the open desert again at Mohave Valley Highway, picking up the I-40 west within twenty minutes. The night before he drove only to put distance between himself and a failed detour. Now, as the noon sun beat down on the Packard, he had a destination and a purpose again. He had to find out if anything good remained of his previous identity. Bud tried hard to be a man of reason but down deep he was still the son of a superstitious, God-fearing, Irish Catholic woman. There had been too many signs pointing him back home to ignore. In Barstow he stopped to fill the gas tank, then turned onto the I-15 south, sipping a bottle of grape Nehi.
He arrived in L.A. late afternoon. First he cruised out Temple past City Hall, familiar territory, then went south on North Los Angeles street two blocks to Parker Center, LAPD Headquarters since 1955. It had been completed and opened less than a year after Bud left town. He parked the car across the street, watching officers come and go for several minutes. He could imagine the conversations taking place inside. He pushed down the knot of anxiety forming in his gut as he went through the front doors and followed the markers to the Chief's office. He had thought of calling ahead but couldn't figure out what to say. Bud decided it was best to meet face to face. That way he could gauge whether Exley had been blowing sunshine up his ass or if Parker really wanted him back.
The officer who served as the Chief's personal adjutant was new. "Do you have an appointment?"
"No. Can you just tell him Bud White is here?"
"He's not in now. You'll have to make an appointment. What's this regarding?"
Bud made an appointment for the next week. He was leaving when voices boomed down the hall. Parker and two Deputy Chiefs were coming toward him.
Parker stopped his conversation when he saw Bud. "Saints betray me if it's not Wendell White. Have you come on business, Son?"
"Well come in then." Parker dismissed the others. "Gentlemen." Bud followed Parker into his office and stood at attention as the Chief sat behind his desk. "Close the door Wendell. Ed told me I might expect a visit from you. I had some trouble believing that, but here you are. What can I do for you?"
"Well, Sir. I need a job."
Parker nodded silently and clasped his hands on his desk. "I always liked your directness Wendell. Things did not work out well in Arizona?"
"No Sir, they did not."
"As I recall, your greatest liability was your temper. Some situations require a strong show of force. The trick is to be in control of your reaction rather than letting the situation control you. Have you matured any, Son?"
"I like to think so, Sir."
"Ah. Ed assured me that you had. But then, he's a terrific liar, isn't he?" Parker smiled. It was easy to read the guilt all over Ed when he came to him, making a big pitch for Bud's return. Ed's career had skyrocketed ever higher while Bud's life foundered. Parker was reassured to know that Ed's conscience exceeded his ambition, because there had been times he doubted it. Parker had cut Ed off and told him he was preaching to the choir. He'd always liked Wendell. It was Ed who had needed convincing. Parker had written a letter, placed in Bud's personnel file, stating that he was to remain on inactive status indefinitely. Bud never formally resigned. For each of the last three years at review time, the Captain in charge of Personnel would pull his file, note the letter, and return it to the cabinet.
"I've said it before Wendell, you always have a job here. The last time I saw you, you were in a hospital bed. You threw your Medal of Valor back in my face and told me I could go piss on your promotion. Or rather, you scribbled it on a note pad since you couldn't speak. Is that correct?"
Bud paused and blinked. "Yes, Sir. I'm sorry about that, Sir, I..."
Parker waved him off. "So what did you have in mind now?"
"Well, Sir. I was hoping Homicide, working cases." Bud tried to clear the thickness from his throat. It was hard to sound relaxed discussing something he'd desperately wanted and completely given up on.
Parker nodded. "Homicide might be too narrow. You can start out in the Detective Bureau - all kinds of cases. We'll have you float between Divisions for awhile, but once you get your bearings I want to see you get some experience supervising. You will need it if you are going to advance to an administrative spot. I need men I can count on - men who are incorruptible." He'd take one Bud White over one hundred of the new hires. Parker thought sadly that Bud was one of a dying breed.
"You'll get your shield and gun Monday morning." Parker stood and the two men shook on it. "The department owes you a debt of gratitude for your courage and selflessness in the line of duty, Lieutenant. Any further advancement will be based on merit from here onward. And another thing: there will be no vigilante sweeps of wife beaters, except as you may encounter them in the course of an investigation. Understood?"
Bud's head swam from the unexpected praise and welcome. He was stunned to hear the Chief using words like "administrative" and "advancement" in connection with him. The man certainly loved the sound of his own voice, but Bud believed he'd meant it. He only hesitated because of the last restriction.
Parker sighed heavily, reading his resistance. "Think of all the female-abusing vermin you'll come across as a Detective. I think more officers would remember why they joined the Department to begin with if they had a cause, a reason to care about the job, so keep yours, just play it clean and keep your focus on the case. Can you do that for me, Son?"
"Yes, Sir." Bud responded. He saw how Parker had aged. Hair gone nearly white, tired lines around his eyes and mouth pulling his face down with the weight of all he'd seen.
"I want you to know, Wendell, that I think what happened to you was criminal - in too many ways to count. You were a good cop, loyal to your fellow officers, with an excellent work ethic and an unshakable belief in justice. The fact that you're willing to return to police work at all is quite frankly astounding. I'd like to give you another chance to put that belief in justice to good use."
Parker had never forgiven himself the guilt of his ignorance. He had authorized the Organized Crime Task Force that had corrupted or killed several officers. That White had nearly lost his life, and the Department had lost him, was one of the consequences Parker regretted most. Here was an opportunity to absolve some of his own sin if he could aid in White's rehabilitation.
As Bud left Headquarters the sun had turned the smog pretty colors. Just another L.A. trick. It's all done with mirrors here. He was home, for lack of a better word, if home was where you came when you had nowhere else to go. As the sun disappeared behind the city and dropped into the Pacific he realized he'd waited a long time in purgatory for no reason save his own stubbornness.
One down, one to go, he thought as he got back in his car. Heading west he stopped at a liquor store and asked for "two bottles of whatever people take to housewarming parties." On toward Hancock Park, an upscale suburb of West Los Angeles, past the new country club with its carefully manicured golf course and tennis courts, looking for the street address. Ed was moving up in the world. The house was big and brand new, straight lines, glass and open space. It looked like every light in the place was on.
He rang the bell and heard a female voice with a note of panic, "Ed! Will you get that?"
The door swung open and there stood Ed, collar up, tie not yet tied. A child about two years old clung to his leg. The toddler took one look at Bud and ran into the house. Ed gaped stupidly, blinked hard.
"How's it going, Exley? Nice house." Bud thrust the bottles at him.
"Oh my God." Ed fumbled the bottles, stepped forward and pulled him into the house.
"Come in, you son of a bitch. Parker just called me." Bud looked around. It was hard to tell the inside from the outside where a sky-lit atrium extended to the second floor ceiling.
"You okay?" Ed asked.
"I'm standing here aren't I?" Bud deadpanned.
Ed called into the house, "Vi! Come here! We have a guest." Ed led him from the entry into a den with floor to ceiling bookcases. Bud noticed they were filled with leather bound volumes, too new and perfect for anyone to have really read them. "I thought you might never come back, even to visit," said Ed. He looked toward the doorway where a slender blonde in her late twenties had appeared. "Vi, meet Bud White. You remember me telling you..."
Vi cut him off. "You're Bud White?" Her blue eyes wide with interest, she held out her carefully manicured hand.
Bud took it and nodded politely, "Pleasure to meet you Ma'am." She was staring at him so that he wondered if he'd grown a third ear.
"I've heard a lot about you," she said a little breathlessly.
"I never got to congratulate you on your marriage. I'm about two years and a kid late." He smiled at Vi. "Your husband is a first-rate cop."
Ed looked from Vi to Bud and quickly put a hand on his wife's back. "You'd better finish getting ready Honey, the rest of the guests will be here soon." He propelled her back toward the doorway.
Vi was reluctant to go. "I'm so glad you could come," she said, looking back over the shoulder of her chic black cocktail dress.
"I think this was a bad time." Bud said, putting down his drink. "Can we talk sometime this week?"
"No, not a bad time at all. It's nothing fancy. Vi's mom and dad will be here. Did you know he is a Senator? And the new DA and his wife are coming." This was not what Bud had in mind at all. The last thing he was in the mood for right now was a party with Exley's social climber friends.
"I just wanted to settle up debts before Monday."
Ed looked stricken, "For Christ's sake, Bud, don't thank me. But do stay. Some of the guys will be here soon. They would kill me if they knew you were here and I let you go." The doorbell rang and Ed went to answer it. The caterers bustled in and began to set up.
"Have something to eat. Come on, I'll show you around while we're waiting." Ed moved Bud along much as he'd done to his wife, to a living room with a wet bar. Ed poured them both a drink and raised his glass to Bud.
"Don't be a drama queen," Bud said but Ed held his glass aloft and waited patiently. "Okay, okay, redemption," Bud repeated.
Ed showed Bud the back yard. The patio was festooned with multi-colored paper lanterns and gardenias floated in the pool. Ed kept him talking out there so he couldn't bolt so easily. Soon the doorbell was chiming continuously. As his host went to greet the other guests, Bud stayed tucked as far away as possible, near a small rock waterfall. Voices floated out to him. He never knew what to say at these goddamned things. What if he didn't know anyone? Worse, what if the ones he knew didn't remember him? Bud had imagined seeing his fellow officers again for the first time on the job, not in Ed Exley's back yard sipping mai-tais. He decided to make a break for it.
"White! Over here!" Too late, he'd been spotted. Exley flagged him back inside and led him over to a group of men he recognized. Kleckner, Fisk, and several other detectives were there with their wives or girlfriends. Bud steeled himself. These guys worshipped Ed. They had never treated Bud as anything but a dumb thug.
"Here's the surprise I said I had for you." Ed gestured toward Bud as if he'd just pulled him out of a hat. There was a moment of stunned silence before chaos erupted. For a split second Bud thought they were attacking him. Thumps on his back so hard they nearly knocked him down. He was a war hero - their war hero. They wanted to know everything - all the shit he didn't want to talk about, like his recovery. They told him about all the changes that had gone down in three years. He kept setting his glass down - he wanted to keep his head, but someone kept handing him a fresh one. They knew about him becoming a private dick from Exley. Bud heard his story change as the men told it back to him. It was no longer about a man, ruined and desperate, but about a man who could not be killed, who always landed on his feet. Incredulous, he looked up and caught Ed watching.
"We've got a ton of food out there guys. Go out back and get a plate," Ed sent the men off in search of food and their women. "Better get used to it. You're a hero," Ed advised.
"What a load of crap." Bud stood up and rubbed the back of his neck. He shook his head in dismay, trying to get a handle on the day's events, "Honestly, that was, uh, not what I expected."
"I don't know why. You were always well liked." Ed stated matter-of-factly. "I made a convenient media hero for the Department but the rank and file, they know the score." Bud looked at him curiously.
Ed smiled, "I got what I wanted, but the men will never respect me like they respect you. We were both royally screwed. I saw an angle and played it to the top. You took it on the chin and became a legend."
"Oh Christ, Ed. What? You'd do any of it different today? Give me a fucking break. Are you going to tell me you'd give up being Deputy Chief just so more of the guys would have a hard-on for you?" asked Bud.
"I never cared about being well-liked when I was younger. All I cared about was climbing the ladder. It wasn't until I got up here that I realized the men holding the damn thing in place for me had better not hate my guts," confessed Ed.
"You also cared a great deal about justice," Bud pointed out, unnerved by Ed's self-critique.
"As did you. Here's to us," Ed lifted his glass in mock salute and drained it. "I'm going to eat."
Bud needed some fresh air. He followed Ed outside then wandered over to the buffet table with the others and idly began putting things on his plate. He noticed a group of younger men talking together and drinking beer at the other end of the yard.
"Rookies?" Bud asked Fisk, indicating the group.
"A few are. You know you're getting old when they start looking like they should still be in high school. The tall one is a hotshot deputy DA, Henry Healy. His younger brother, the big blonde one, is a rookie cop," Fisk filled him in. While he asked about them, three of the young men were swapping tales about bad Bud White outside his earshot.
"I heard he took out the get-away driver after getting blasted three times at close range. Killed the asshole with his bare hands," related one recent Academy graduate.
Hugh Healy, also a first year officer, hoped that someday people would tell such stories about him. "You can't kill that guy. So what's he doing back here? I heard he got fed up and went out on his own as a private dick."
Henry Healy, the eldest of the Healy trio, Henry was reedy and dark haired. He had been in the DA's office back when Bud was still on the force. "I heard he altered crime scenes to fit his reports and sometimes acted as judge, jury and executioner. I think he left town because he had to."
Hugh made a gun with his fingers and pretended to blow a bad guy away. "That's the way to do it. Don't leave it for the lawyers to cock it up."
There was a redheaded woman with them. She wore a pale blue coatdress with a wide belt and a matching pillbox hat. She smiled politely when one of the men made a joke, and then stifled a yawn behind her hand. Bud knew that trapped look - it was just how he felt. She kept checking her watch. She abruptly lost her bored look and leaned in to hear. One of the men must have said something she found interesting. Bud was caught off guard when she turned quickly and looked right at him. He guessed she was trying to decide if something her friends had said was true. Caught staring, he gave her a half smile and slight nod. She held his gaze for several seconds before looking away.
Bud thought out loud, "Pretty girl."
Fisk turned to him. "Better watch yourself - you've got that shiny new reputation to uphold. So how's it feel to be an icon?" he asked snidely.
Bud scoffed. "You're full of shit Fisk. You always were."
"Exley told me you're not here on a social call. I hear Parker gave you a swell new rank. Not bad, going from goon squad to Lieutenant Detective after a three year vacation in the desert," Fisk said jealously.
Bud's eyes narrowed. "Yeah, and three slugs in my body. "
Fisk rolled his eyes, "I'm making a note to myself: get shot up for career advancement."
"What the fuck is that supposed to mean? I got a worthless medal and three years jerking off in the desert, wondering what the fuck happened to my life. If Parker wants me back it's because I earned it with damn good casework," Bud growled. He never did like Fisk and this was exactly the kind of reception he'd been anticipating. Bud was prepared to grab hold of Fisk's snappy tie and tell him just what he thought of him when Vi Exley took hold of his elbow. He hadn't seen her come up behind him.
"The girl's name is Helen. I went to school with her. Let me introduce you," Vi offered, linking her arm through his and moving him toward the group. Vi began the introductions. "Bud, this is Henry Healy and his wife Jane. Henry is with the DA's office. They just bought a house down the street so we're neighbors!"
The rookies eagerly lined up to pump his hand. They prodded him for stories he had no interest in telling. The fuss and attention were making him irritable and being called Sir just made him feel old.
Vi finally got around to the girl, "Helen and I were in the same sorority at UCLA together, isn't that right?" Without waiting for Helen to respond, "In fact, we go back further, we're both from Pasadena - and if you can believe this - we were on the '49 Rose Court together! Of course only one of us could be Queen." Vi smiled at Helen like a benevolent monarch.
"Jane and I were just saying to each other how the LAPD must list 'handsome' as a criteria on the hiring checklist," continued Vi, blind to Jane's discomfort as she glanced nervously at her deputy DA husband. "Wouldn't you agree with that Helen?"
Helen scrutinized the young men in their party doubtfully. "I don't know..."
Vi tried in vain to telegraph her sorority sister to play along. "Well! I'd say it was a requirement when they hired my Ed and Bud here." Vi arched her brows and inclined her head toward Bud, but it was no use.
"But wouldn't that be unfair, Vi?" Helen played dumb. "There must be some plain men who would make fine officers. Although it's true, Ed does have lovely bone structure." She looked at Bud over the rim of her champagne glass.
"We were just having a discussion about the merits of due process versus expedient punishment. I wonder if you'd care to comment Mr. White?" asked Henry, irritated by the fawning.
"Not really," replied Bud.
Henry was taken aback. "That's too bad. With your experience, I'm sure your viewpoint would be fascinating."
"I believe in justice," Bud answered flatly.
"You make it sound simple, yet I'm certain you know it's a complex issue," plied Henry.
Typical, thought Bud, giving Henry a thin smile of contempt. Lawyers liked to complicate a thing until you couldn't see it for what it was anymore. "I guess you could say I'm a simple man." Bud decided he'd already had enough of this conversation and turned away, nearly walking into Helen.
"I wonder if you'd humor me, Sir, with your expertise since I find this topic fascinating. Hypothetically of course, if you knew beyond a doubt that the man you'd apprehended was guilty of a heinous crime, would you prefer to personally mete out his justice, so that you'd be certain of it? Or is it better to let the judicial system determine and handle punishment?" Helen asked.
Bud blinked. Her dress exposed her lovely, pale neck and a good amount of her shoulders. She was incandescent in the lantern light. The trace of freckles across her upturned nose seemed at odds with her penetrating, dark eyes. The way she thrust her little pointed chin at him made clear she was stating a challenge. Too many big words coming out of those full, red lips left him suddenly confused and annoyed.
"I'd prefer," he said evenly, "what works."
"So the end justifies whatever means you feel necessary?" Helen felt vaguely guilty pressing him, but she didn't know how else to keep his attention.
"I'm guessing these gentlemen were telling you stories about my former work with the LAPD?" Bud cocked his head. These idealists were all alike. They had no idea about the realities of police work, and they didn't want to know either. Helen nodded, rendered mute by his intense gaze.
"The answer is yes. I never hesitate to do what's needed. Do I enjoy hurting or killing men? Not usually. I lost the stomach for that part of the job long ago." Sorrow and regret were etched so plainly on his face that Helen felt awful for having baited him. She reflexively fingered the cross at her neck.
"Forgive me," she began in a voice so soft no one but Bud heard it, and he would have missed it too if he'd been able to look away from her.
Hugh cut her off. "You'll have to excuse Helen. She follows in our father's pinko political footsteps."
"Hugh..." older brother Henry looked a warning at the younger, brasher Healy, who was well on his way to being roaring drunk.
Hugh brushed him off. "What? You know it's true!" he said indignantly. "It wasn't enough for him to unionize the berry pickers. Now he's after the LAPD!" Hugh was fair, broad-shouldered and square-jawed. He looked like the college linebacker he had been.
"Our father was just appointed to the Police Commission. He was with the Public Defender's office for years and has long aided groups like the California Fieldworkers Coalition," Helen explained carefully. Bud saw she had colored to her ears.
"You sound like a press secretary." Hugh rolled his eyes. "Daddy's little girl," he needled, jealous of the close relationship between his older sister and their father.
Vi tried to reroute the conversation. "Politics is such a dull topic Helen. I'm sure Bud would rather hear about your other interests. Helen has a lovely singing voice."
Sibling rivalry was louder. "That's right. Helen's interests include making paper flowers and rolling tamales." Hugh teased.
"I can do what I please with my free time," she replied tartly. "I taught my student's mothers some English. They wanted to teach me their work in return, so what?" Helen was devoted to Hugh but sometimes she wished he would just shut his mouth.
"You teach?" asked Bud.
"Yes, sixth grade. In the Pueblo district," she replied.
"Why there?" he asked.
She knew why he asked. She was white, well educated, and from an upper middle class family. It was unlikely she lived downtown. Friends, family, even her fellow teachers had all asked her the same thing. The school's principal had been grateful to have her youth and enthusiasm at a poor school that attracted little of either. Helen knew they needed bilingual teachers and while her Spanish was basic at best, it was enough to help her bridge the gap. Her sense of public duty led her to the job, but it was her need to be needed that kept her there.
She met Bud's question with a smile and a little shrug, to signify it was all really no big deal.
"I speak a little Spanish. I thought they might need me more there. After four years, I've found that I need them."
"It's the curse of a social conscience. Our parents are big proponents of public service," said Henry. He had aspirations of being a big shot private attorney. He tried so hard to be rise above the Healy good works. He was slightly embarrassed by it, yet he was no more able to escape it than his siblings, pouring his convictions into every case he tried for the DA's office.
"You're no different with the LAPD," he said to Hugh, quoting the Department's motto, "'to protect and serve'."
Hugh propped himself up with one hand on the back of a patio chair, his back to the pool and slurred, "Yeah, that social conscience keeps her so busy she has no social life!" He grinned at his own wit and drained his beer. "When was the last time you had a date Helen?"
Deeply embarrassed in front of Bud and fighting for dignity, she pulled herself up to her full five feet three inches.
"I'm going to ignore that. My work is very important to me." Bud caught the little gleam in her eye as she nudged the leg of Hugh's chair with her foot. It collapsed under his hand and he lost his balance. Arms windmilling, he toppled backward into the pool, spraying the group with water. The women squealed and the men laughed, then helped fish him out.
Bud moved closer to Helen and said quietly, "I saw what you did." He was trying not to laugh.
Helen held her arms straight out, wrists together. "Take me in. I know two attorneys who will get me sprung before you finish your report," she said with mock drama.
"Don't listen to him," Bud encouraged, moving still closer. "I know all about doing crazy things because you think someone needs you. I'm sure those kids need you. And teaching downtown is definitely crazy."
"Thank you, I think." she laughed, surprised by his declaration of respect. What Helen did not believe, even though people often told her, was that her radiant smile transformed her from a pretty girl to a beauty.
Bud felt like the sun had come back out just to shine on his face. When she laid her hand against his upper arm his mouth went dry and his heart began a heavy, dull thud in his chest. You can't ask her out, he chided himself, you must have ten years on her. The smoldering look in his eyes told her he was reacting to the contact but she could not withdraw her hand. The urge to reach out and trace the star shaped scar on his cheek with her finger was almost overpowering. Helen forced herself to turn away and fade back behind her brothers. Vi pulled Bud away to meet other people he didn't want to talk to, but he kept an eye on Helen until she left.
At ten minutes past eight Monday morning, Bud stood before the men assembled for the supervisor's meeting at headquarters. Parker gave him a concise introduction and presented him his badge and gun. He was reinstated and promoted to Lieutenant Detective, without fanfare. Parker silently nodded his approval then moved on to other business, concluding with a lecture on appropriate police behavior. He held up that day's edition of the Los Angeles Times.
"As I'm sure you all know, there was a disturbance in a bar frequented by officers of the Rampart Division over the weekend. Two officers in a dispute over a woman shot up the place," he began, and heard suppressed laughter from the men assembled. Parker slammed his fist down on the podium. "This is not an example of LA's finest! I will not have the LAPD as the butt of jokes across this city." Silence met his glare as he scanned the room. "The officers involved are being punished accordingly. But everyone pays for this kind of behavior. We will have to increase our community outreach time, taking away valuable time from casework, just to offset the damage. Never forget who you are and what you represent. And don't let your men forget it either. The Department is counting on you," he said, jabbing his finger at them. "That is all," he concluded abruptly, turning the meeting over to his Deputy Chief of Staff to finish announcements and business.
Ed approached the Chief as the meeting disbursed. "Sir, I thought I'd take Lt. White to lunch today - to mark his return and give some of the men who knew him a chance to say hello."
"Ed, you're not Chief yet," Parker scowled. "What the hell. I haven't had a corned beef in a week. Let's go to Emile's."
Lunch went well. Several of the guys Bud had known from Central and Hollywood stations turned up to welcome him back to the fold. Long wooden tables and benches, sawdust on the floor, corned beef and French dips. Emile's had been feeding the men of the LAPD, the Criminal Courts building and City Hall "since 1928" as the sign out front proudly claimed.
They walked the two blocks back to headquarters. The rookie officers cut him a wide berth and spoke of rumored exploits in low, respectful tones after he passed in the halls. His status was further enhanced by the very unusual personal interest from Chief Parker, who was widely revered by the rank and file. Bud found the whole scene completely unnerving.
Parker had one more item on his agenda for Bud before he went off to his new assignment. "The junior officers seem to look up to you Wendell. I think you could be very useful to the Department as a role model."
"A role model, Sir?" Bud nearly choked on the phrase.
"Yes. I'd like to see you teach a training course at the Academy next term." Parker was surprised and a bit concerned at Bud's hero status. Funny, he thought, how absence colored people's memory, but there was no help for it. He had given it some thought and decided the best way to keep Bud from playing the Lone Ranger was to keep him highly visible.
"Sir, I've never taught." Bud, who knew no fear while chasing armed suspects, got clammy palms just thinking about teaching a roomful of rookies.
"It should have been part of your Sergeant's stint. Your Commander was very negligent in your training. Shame that. You would have made Lieutenant by now, even without taking those three slugs. All senior officers participate in the Academy's training program. You know that. Maybe a course in surveillance techniques? I seem to recall you were very good at that." Then Parker had what he considered a flash of brilliance. "Didn't you box? Won us a couple of trophies?"
"Yes Sir, but that was a long time ago."
"Excellent. You can start with that. Our coach had a heart attack last week and we've got the State Police and Fire Games coming up in August. You can get to know some of the rookie officers. Report to the Academy gym before you go home today." Parker clapped him on the back and acted like he'd just given Bud a present, even though trainers volunteered their time unpaid.
Bud checked the classifieds and rented the first place he found. A one-bedroom apartment in Echo Park, already furnished, it was cheap and close to work. It was also an improvement over his last two places. The bed didn't fold down out of the wall and there was no crack in the cement floor to let the roaches in.
The first thing he did back on the job was to contact the Hollywood detective he'd spoke with on the phone from Arizona about Dunst. "White! Welcome back to public service. Yeah, I heard," laughed Sturdevant. He gave Bud the name of the bail bondsman who'd wired the money to spring Dunst.
Bud paid a visit to the bondsman's office and when he could not get full and immediate cooperation he applied a little pressure to the reluctant bondsman's testicles. That got him the name of Samuel Dunst, youngest son of Benjamin Dunst and Richard's baby brother, as the bond payer. Bud checked the records on Samuel and found an old money laundering investigation, back when Benjamin was still alive.
He took all this back to Sturdevant. "Yeah, I remember that guy. Sammy is a CPA with a creative itch. We got a tip from an informant down at the shipyard that Benny Dunst had some additional sources of income besides beachfront property, like smuggling high end goods from Asia - jade, ivory, maybe opium - for rich people he knew through his real estate dealings. Don't know if he was avoiding customs or was really bringing in dope, 'cause we could never bust him with the stuff. He started a movie company, but he had no experience we could see, and it seemed kind of hinky. We suspected the books were cooked."
"Money laundering?" asked Bud.
"Yeah, we figured it for a bunko scam. But the production company was just legit enough. They made some real movies. Real bad ones, that is. Richard was supposedly in charge of talent. Sammy wrote the scripts and ran the business end of it. He's a better accountant than screenwriter. We could never nail them," said Sturdevant.
"Sounds like a perfect blind."
"That's what I thought too. But if that's what was going on, Benny's death put an end to Sammy's screenwriting career. I'll pull the files for you. I don't remember anything else about Richard except for the missing wife."
Bud decided to pay Sammy a visit to try and find out if it was just brotherly love that made him post bail, or if maybe he was looking to restart their old business venture. He felt an obligation to the Harper's, even though it was too late for their daughter, but it was more than that. During his early years on patrol, he'd responded to each domestic disturbance call hoping to find his father. It made sense to Bud that if the old man had got away with murdering his mother, he was likely to brutalize someone else. The most treasured dream of his youth - catching the old man and killing him painfully - had never happened. It felt like old times, knowing that Shelly's killer was still free. He knew it was the reason the nightmares had come back.
He pulled the unmarked police car up a steep drive flanked by giant oaks to a ranch-style house. A small, effeminate man with receding hairline and wire-rimmed glasses answered the door.
"Samuel Dunst?" asked Bud.
"Yes?" replied the diminutive accountant.
Bud had just flashed his badge and introduced himself when a snarling flash of fur launched itself through the doorway and onto him. "Get him off!" Bud roared as he pulled out his Colt. "Get him off now or he's dead!" He cocked the hammer. The German Shepherd sporting the red bandana ripped at his trouser leg clutched in his teeth. Bud tried to get a bead, and began to squeeze the trigger.
Sammy bent forward and clapped his hands excitedly. "Sparky! Off! Off!" The dog ran back to Sammy, pacing and whining behind his master.
"I'm so sorry about that, Lt. White, was it?" He eyed Bud appreciatively, noting the flared nostrils and blazing eyes. "Oh, my" he murmured, "We've got you all agitated. Come in. Come in. I bought him from a couple that breeds police dogs." Sammy tittered. "He must like you. He didn't break any skin I hope?" He looked back pointedly at the rip in Bud's trousers, then his eyes traveled higher. "Oh, my," he murmured again.
Bud sneered in disgust at the back of his head as he followed Sammy inside the house.
"To what do I owe the pleasure?" Sammy fawned. "Can I offer you a drink?"
"I'd like to ask you a few questions about Richard Dunst."
Sammy pouted. "Pish posh. Used to be all anyone ever wanted to ask me about was Dad. Now it's Richard. No one likes me for me."
"Why did you post his bail in Arizona?" Bud asked, ignoring Sammy's affectations.
"He's my brother. How could I refuse?"
"Are you aware that your brother is wanted for the murder of two women?"
"Yes. About time, dont you think? That psychopath skated on the first murder, for what, eight years? I'd say you boys have not been at the top of your game," answered Sammy.
"Has he been in contact with you?"
"Do you know where he is now?"
"No I don't. But I'll be sure and give you a jingle when I hear from him," Sammy said brightly.
"Listen shitbird," Bud leaned in and began through clenched teeth. Sparky gave a low menacing growl. After a brief but meaningful stare down, Bud backed off.
Sammy patted the dog on the head. "It's okay sweetheart. Lt. White is just very serious about his work. I've been over all this before with those Hollywood detectives. They even took my books, but I guess they didn't find anything interesting because they left me all alone." He sighed dramatically. "Come on back here and I'll show you something."
Sammy sashayed back to a room that spanned the length of the house. Floor to ceiling windows looked out over the wooded creek. The moon shone bright and there was an art deco lamp casting a small pool of light over a desk. Sammy picked up a framed photograph of himself and his father.
"Whatever monster he may have been in the rest of his life, my father was good to me. He accepted me for what I am. I had been trying for years to get someone, anyone, to read one of my scripts." He shrugged. "My father saw a way to help his son and do a little creative accounting." Sammy clapped his hands to his cheeks and bent to the dog. Sparky licked him in the face, tail thumping.
"Sparky! Did I just say that? Yes I did!" He stood and looked at Bud. "Not that I'm admitting anything," he said coyly, "and not that it would matter now that he's dead and all his estate is well accounted for. He left living allowances, but I needed Richard to sign off on a bigger check, that's why I bailed him out." He picked up and dropped a heavy manuscript on the desk. "See this? A can't-miss murder mystery, I'm going to turn this baby into the 1961 Oscar winner. Maybe '62. I don't know if Montgomery Clift is available yet."
"You don't worry about him turning on you?" Bud looked at the little man doubtfully.
"No." He scratched Sparky behind the ears. "Should I?"
Bud tossed his card on the desk. "Call me if you hear from him."
"I will if you promise to stay in touch too! It was fun!" Sammy called after him. Bud rolled his eyes and left the way he came in. He went back downtown and arranged to have the phone line tapped and the house watched.
Helen rose at four thirty every morning to be ready on time for school. She had her grapefruit, toast and black coffee and walked three blocks to the bus stop. She read the Times and graded papers on the trip that was less than 20 miles but took well over an hour on the MTA route. After disembarking at Union Station downtown, she walked four blocks south to San Pedro Elementary, one of the oldest school sites in the Los Angeles area. This left her about fifteen minutes before the bell rang, signaling the start of the school day. Some of her students were already there, waiting for her. These kids had mothers who caught the bus across town in the dark morning hours to clean big homes in West L.A. or Beverly Hills. The children whose parents worked close by in the Pueblo District or Chinatown were generally better off.
She began distributing little boxes of dry cereal and cups of juice after discovering in her first year that many of the children were arriving without having breakfast. Growling tummies affected their ability to concentrate. She took great satisfaction watching as their still sleepy little faces grew bright and ready for learning. It was a very poor school so Helen paid for the food as well as most of her teaching supplies out of her own modest salary.
When she first began teaching at San Pedro, another teacher, a male Hispanic, had accused her of seeing herself as the white savior of brown children. As she stayed he gradually came to see that Helen loved the children and respected their culture. What really won him over was when she asked his help in setting up a literacy project for the mothers. When she returned for her fourth year, he admitted he'd misjudged her and began to pursue her romantically. Raul had a dreamer's black eyes and wavy hair. Soon he was visiting her classroom daily, giving her rides in his car, and she had recently accepted an invitation to dinner. Helen joked that Raul only liked her after he learned that her dad was friends with Cesar Chavez. Raul had started leaving small presents on her desk - a book of poems in Spanish, "so you can practice," and a vase of yellow daffodils.
Bud had been floating as a Detective for Central Division since his return. He was investigating complaints by local business owners of increased narcotic sales and extortion attempts by gun-wielding youths. It was disturbing in part because organized crime activity had been under tighter control in the area for a couple of years, since the big sweeps of '57. He thought it sounded too much like what was happening in Southeast and Harbor in the past year, where they had seen a coalition of street gangs from East Los Angeles, calling themselves the Mexican Mafia or La Eme.
Similar activity had been reported more recently in Hollenbeck. The gangs employed many of the same strategies of the traditional Mafia, including extortion and codes of conduct governing personal relationships, and were so quickly successful that some in law enforcement believed that they must have been getting outside help. Their primary trade was narcotics.
Bud had investigated a deadly confrontation the previous night at a laundry on Broadway. One of the youths came back for the next month's payoff, brandishing a gun when the owner refused. The Korean owner responded by pulling out his shotgun and pumping a round of buckshot into the kid's chest. They found a tiny pistol that looked more like a child's toy than a real weapon near where the sixteen-year-old landed. They had begun to see a lot of these little but deadly guns, easily and cheaply made in Mexico. A case of them had been found on a bust in Boyle Heights, side by side with the dope. They misfired and injured the shooter almost as often as the intended victim.
He was heading back to the station in an unmarked Plymouth near the 6th Street late one afternoon when he saw Helen cross at San Pedro. Recognizing her instantly, he followed her to Union Station and watched her board an MTA bus. He remembered she said she taught downtown and backtracked until he found the school. A little earlier the next day, he took the car back out; telling himself it was just idle curiosity. He drove west on San Pedro and parked across the street, watching until he saw her exit the elementary. He soon knew her route and her schedule. Sometimes after school she went to the produce market in Chinatown, and she often detoured to Olvera Street.
Many of the children lived there in the puesos
with their families. After school, the younger ones played with their friends in the plaza while the older ones helped run the shops and stalls that lined the bustling marketplace. Helen often bought trinkets there to stock her classroom treasure chest. Students who did exemplary work could select a small toy or candy. Helen knew the artisans and business owners by name, and they always welcomed her warmly.
"Ah, Senorita Healy, is it not a beautiful day today? And how is my Hector doing? Is he being a good boy for you?"
Following her in his car, especially in the chilly early morning, Bud wanted to pull over and offer her a ride. Afraid she'd turn him down, he followed at a slow pace to match the one she kept in her low heels, admiring the way her simple cotton shifts fit snug to her hips. It was a Friday morning in June, just before school let out for the summer, and he'd been stalking her nearly a month. He sat in the car pretending to fill out a report but really watching her walk up San Pedro. Something caught her attention and she turned back toward him. The sun lit her from behind, setting her hair ablaze and clearly outlining the curves inside her dress. He heard someone call her name. A young, fit Chicano man walked up to her and pushed a strand of hair out of her face. Bud was keenly aware that the man shared the same stunning view. The difference was the other man was touching her and talking to her, while Bud sat anonymous in the car, half a block away. He saw the young man take her bag and carry it the rest of the way to the school. As they disappeared from sight he looked down and realized he'd snapped his pencil in half. He decided it was time to make his move.
That afternoon he went to Emile's with some of the cops from Central for lunch. They were just leaving when Bud spotted Helen going into the bakery across the street.
"You coming to the poker game tonight, White?" asked John Booker.
"Um, don't know. Have three reports to write yet," Bud replied as he eyed the bakery anxiously.
"Well, we're gonna cut the deck about eight o'clock, but come by whenever you get off. We'll have food and beer but no girls this time. It's at Tommy's house and his wife would bust his nuts if she caught him with a whore." Tommy D'Errico was a patrol cop whose partner had been caught in a Vice sting with a hooker while still on duty and subsequently kicked off the force. Word was Tommy would have been caught too if he wasn't such an exceptionally quick shot, finishing and leaving before the bust.
"Maybe. We'll see," said Bud distractedly.
"Just thought I'd tell you. We was sure surprised when you tossed the girls out last time. Didn't know you had a thing about whores." Booker had been with the Department nearly thirty years and had heard the rumors about Bud's traveling companion to Arizona.
"I don't have a 'thing' about prostitutes except that they are illegal in California, and as police officers, you guys should really know that," said Bud with open contempt.
"Jesus, White. Ease up a bit. You're no fun anymore," Booker complained.
"Nah. He was never any fun." Sam Barnes added with a chortle, "Just mean." Barnes was another old-timer near retirement, but he was a straight cop who had Bud's respect, which was more than Booker or D'Errico.
"I have an important contact to make. You guys will have to walk back," Bud told them and sprinted across the street.
"You got a sudden hankering for donuts, Bud?" Barnes called after him as he ducked into the bakery.
"That son of a bitch has the car keys," noted Booker. The older men looked at each other in disgust and started walking up the street.
"Hey!" protested a man as Bud cut in line between him and Helen.
Bud flashed his badge. "Official police business," he said in a low growl.
"Like what? Emergency shortage of danish at the station?" Bud gave him a warning look, but the old man did not care. He flapped his hands in exasperation.
"Do you believe this?" he loudly asked of the woman behind him.
"Listen, Mister," Bud began menacingly.
"No you listen! I run the newsstand at Union. Last week I got shook down by some punk. Insurance, he called it, just like he was some big time hood. I laughed in his face and told him to beat it and he flashed a piece. Holy crap, I thought, what's this kid doing with a gun? So I gave him the money and after he takes off I holler to one of your guys standing just down the street. I told him what happened and he gave me the brush off! He comes and takes a paper every day and he never pays," the elderly man nearly shouted.
"Lt. White?" asked Helen in surprise, turning to see the source of the conversation.
"Hello, Miss Healy." Bud tried to shift gears from authority to cordiality but got stuck between. Helen wondered why he was scowling at her. He seemed so out of place in this neighborhood that was so familiar to her.
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
"I was going to ask you the same thing," he said, trying for nonchalance. The customer in front of the line finished her business and it was Helen's turn.
"Missy Healy! How are you? Is it someone's birthday?" the baker greeted her.
"I'm fine, Phillipe. And yes, it is little Marguerite's birthday. I meant to stop by this morning but the bus was running late. Had to hurry over on my lunch hour," she explained.
"Ah! In that case, I have the perfect thing for you! I just finished dusting some cupcakes with colored sugar," the baker told her.
"The kind with the swirled icing on top?" Helen asked.
Helen bit her lip. "They love those. Darn! There is no way I will get two dozen of those back to class without dropping them." She sighed, "No. Better make it two dozen of the decorated cookies."
"I can help you with that." Bud stepped forward. Helen looked up in surprise to see that he wasn't scowling anymore. He was smiling all the way to his lovely blue green eyes.
"I'm sure you have more pressing matters," she tried to decline, flustered by his attention. "I'll take the cookies," she told the baker.
"Not at all. We'll take the cupcakes, Phillipe," said Bud as he stepped to the counter. Turning back to Helen, he mimicked her gently, "they are for little Marguerite!" Phillipe chuckled and went to box them up.
"So you teach near here?" Bud asked, pleased she was smiling at him.
"San Pedro Elementary," she answered, thinking how handsome he was.
"I'm at Central right now. The guys wanted donuts." He shrugged at the lie and glanced away.
"Gee. I'd think they'd send a junior officer on that errand," Helen said, suspecting he wasn't telling the whole truth.
"We wouldn't trust a rookie with donuts," he deadpanned and thrilled to hear her laugh as Phillipe came back out. "Give me two dozen - three jellies, three old fashioned, six cake and six glazed," Bud told the baker.
"That's not two dozen. You're six short." Helen corrected automatically.
"I am? Huh, how about that? If my teachers were as pretty as you I would have paid more attention," Bud smiled down at her.
She tried not to smile as she realized he'd set her up, but felt the color rise in her cheeks. She tried to put money on the counter but Bud took her coin purse from her, tucked the coins inside and stuck it back in her bag. He paid Phillipe and handed her a box, taking the other two himself. As he passed the old newsstand man he said, "I'll look into it, Sir."
By now, Bud's purpose in the bakery was obvious to everyone. The old man glared at him. Bud loaded the boxes and Helen into the unmarked car. The other three cops stared in surprise when he passed them a few minutes later with a pretty girl in the front seat. Helen didn't know what to think of this sudden and unexpected show of chivalry. She cast him a sideways glance.
"You remember my brother, Hugh? He told me you'd rejoined the force and what happened before you left." She waited but he did not respond. "He said you were shot three times and that you killed several men in the line of duty," she continued.
"That's right," he acknowledged, staring ahead through the windshield.
"What made you come back?" she asked.
"The great benefits," he said sarcastically, but smiled when she laughed for him again. Helen's laugh was the sweetest sound he'd heard since...something tickled the back of his memory.
"You mean like taking cuts in bakery lines and pinching apples off produce carts?"
"I never pinched an apple," he swore, holding his hand up.
As they carried the boxes to her room, she told him, "Hugh is doing his first rotation at Central. Isn't that where you said you're working right now?"
Bud ignored her question. "I guess he graduated then."
"Yes, but he's taking a surveillance class. Now he wants to be a detective. I think he looks up to the instructor," she told him. The bell rang and they could hear the children jostling and yelling as they lined up outside the room.
"I should go," he said.
"No! Stay and have a cupcake! I want the kids to meet the nice police officer. Some of them hear nothing but bad things about cops at home," she smiled and took hold of his arm.
"I don't know," he said, thinking he was about to get into more than he'd bargained for.
"Oh come on! Aren't you guys supposed to put in so many hours of community outreach a month? I'll sign off on your form," she wheedled and arched one brow like it was an irresistible offer.
"You know way too much about the LAPD," he allowed a small smile, trying hard to hide to hide that he was utterly bewitched.
"They're really, really good cupcakes," she said in a breathy, seductive voice, then giggled at her own silliness. She gripped the edges of a student desk and bent over the bakery box as she spoke, unaware of her double entendre or the cleavage she'd just offered to his view. Caught off guard, his eyes traveled down and lingered briefly before he righted himself. He needn't have worried because his lustful look was lost on Helen as she crossed the classroom to open the door. She marshaled the kids into line, then into the room.
"As you all know, today is Marguerite's birthday! Can we sing Happy Birthday to her?" she asked after they had settled in their seats. The children sang first in English and then in Spanish, staring at Bud the entire time. When they were done a big boy raised his hand.
"What is it Manny?" Helen called on him.
"Who's that?" asked Manny, pointing at Bud.
"Where?" Helen looked around and pretended she'd just spotted Bud for the first time. The children laughed. "This," she stood and beckoned him to the front of the class, "is Lt. White of the Los Angeles Police Department."
"I didn't do it!" Came a voice from the back, and was greeted by snickers.
"You're making a joke, but I want to know," Helen asked seriously, "is it a bad thing to see a police officer?"
"If you're doing something bad and you get caught by the cops they can throw you in jail," said an earnest boy.
"That's right," replied Helen. "So is it better to do the right thing or just make sure you don't get caught?" Silence answered her question. Helen knew it was no hypothetical for these kids. They were forced to decide such moral dilemmas daily.
"Are there ever times when you might want to see a police officer?" She called on several raised hands. In the rest of the world you had to be careful what you said but not so in Miss Healy's class. No question was stupid.
"If I was lost I could go to a policeman and he would help me get home," piped a girl.
"Why aren't you wearing a blue shirt?" asked another child.
"Because I'm not a beat cop. I'm a detective."
"Like Dragnet! Do you work undercover?"
"Do you have a badge?" Bud took out his badge and the children looked with big eyes and fingered the shiny shield as they passed it up one row and down the other.
"Where's your gun?"
"I can't show it to you."
"It wouldn't be safe." The excited children peppered him with questions, forgetting Miss Healy's rules of raising your hand and one at a time.
"Where is your nightstick? Did you arrest anybody today? Can we see your handcuffs? Did you ever shoot anybody? Can you do a choke hold?" Helen feared he might actually demonstrate on some of her eleven-year-olds and shook her head at him.
"What if the children know about somebody doing something wrong?" asked Helen, trying to redirect the guest star.
"My uncle says the mob used to shake him down for protection money but now the gang members do it instead," said Sergio. Helen and Bud looked at him in surprise.
hissed his best friend Manny, trying to silence him.
Sergio turned around and answered, "No, callaté tu. No soy yo el que está con el hermano del Mafioso."
Manny was stung to hear Sergio call his brother a gangster, especially since Sergio knew how he worried. Even worse, Miss Healy could understand what they said and was looking at him now.
"What's your uncle do, son?" Bud sat on the edge of Helen's desk.
"He runs the service station on Main," replied Sergio. Bud filed the information away.
"That's a good example, Sergio," Helen covered quickly. "Lt. White, can you please tell the children how to report a crime?"
Bud had just finished a mandatory public relations course that he'd thought was a complete waste of his time. It amused him to think how he was putting it to use now. His speech sounded like a scripted, thirty-second public service announcement. Satisfied with his performance, he stood and was about to say goodbye.
"What if someone in their family is being hurt? Or what if their older brother is involved in crimes that could get him sent to jail, or worse?" Helen wanted more from him.
The first thing Bud had noticed when the children had entered the room was that all of their faces were brown and yellow. Now he looked again and saw faces with worries far too heavy for such tender lives. He also saw that they were listening intently to every word he said. Sixth grade meant these kids would be about one year younger than he was when his mother died, and he wondered what someone could have said to help him back then. He talked to them plain and honest for over half an hour. Then Helen served the cupcakes. It was nearing the end of the school day as she walked him to the door.
"I know I tricked you into that but I can't thank you enough. Several of the kids have come to me with problems and I didn't know how to help them. You handled it beautifully." Her sincerity and deep concern for the children was evident, and he didn't mind she'd taken up his entire afternoon. He signaled her to follow him outside the classroom.
"Can I take you to dinner?" he asked.
"When?" she asked in surprise.
"I can't," she answered, too quickly he thought.
"Tomorrow night then. Tell me when," he pressed, wanting to reach out and stop her.
"I can't. I'm sorry." She was backing toward the door, her hand on the knob. "I just can't right now. Thank you again, Lt. White."
"It's Bud," he corrected but she had disappeared back inside. He stared after her, feeling his heart fall into his shoes. He walked back to the car, berating himself for being a fool. He returned to the station and tossed the box of donuts onto the watch commander's desk. Then he went over to the bulletin board and checked field activity reports from the prior week. No reported assault and robbery at the newsstand.
"These are great. Phillipe's right? Am I right?" asked Booker, day watch Commander, through a mouthful of donut.
"Who's the beat cop assigned to Union Station?" Bud asked.
"That would be Smith," Booker said as he licked at a glob of jelly at the corner of his mouth.
Bud went back out and cruised along the Union beat until he spotted Smith. The young cop was leaning on the counter in Woolworth's talking to the shop girl.
"Smith!" barked Bud. The rookie snapped to attention. Bud inclined his head toward the door and Smith followed him outside.
"You know the old man that runs the newsstand on Union?"
"Yes, Sir, he's on my beat."
"Maybe you should give him the same attention you give pretty clerks in dime stores."
"Sir?" he looked confused.
"He says he got shook down last week and when he tried to report it, you ignored him."
Smith's eyes widened. "This is the first I've heard about it, I swear! The old man said nothing to me." Bud contemplated him for a minute.
"If you see anything like that, you will report it, won't you?"
"Yes, Sir." From what the old man had said, Bud had pictured an older, jaded cop. He couldn't have meant this earnest kid. He drove up to Union Station and went in.
"I didn't think I'd see you again," said the old man.
"Surprise. Can you describe that cop for me, the one you talked to?"
"Yes. Not as tall as you, I'd say 5'10", and older. Black hair starting to gray, little eyes, broken vessels in his face, big red nose, like he drinks too much."
"Thanks." It was Booker. Bud got back in the car and thought about Booker's reputation as a legendary mooch. He never missed an opportunity to press his "policeman's discount" for free or reduced merchandise from local businesses. When he was younger and still worked a radio car, Bud had quite the reputation for procuring party refreshments, even though he drank very little of it himself, and paradoxically believed that indiscriminate abuse of this practice demeaned the badge. Bud hoped that Booker had just been too lazy to file that report, and wandered over to his desk. Booker sat with his head propped in his hand, face away from the room, report in front of him, trying to look like he was reading it. His slumped posture and rhythmic breathing bordering on snoring fooled no one.
"Hey, Booker!" Bud called loudly, standing directly behind the dozing cop.
Booker snorted and jerked awake. "Huh! What? Oh, White. What do you want?"
"I had a conversation with a guy who owns the newsstand at Union. Said he told you some kid tried to shake him down."
"So where's the report?"
Booker shrugged and tried to act nonchalant, but Bud saw the tiny beads of perspiration pop out on his forehead. "I didn't think it was worth the paper. What's it matter to you? Did Baxter die and Parker appoint you captain while I was in the john?" he asked with hostility.
"You don't think a report of attempted extortion is worth the paper?"
"It was some punk kid with a toy gun! What's the big deal?" Booker began to sweat in earnest now.
Bud gripped the edge of the desk and got in Booker's face. "The big deal is, there have been half a dozen reports like this in the last month. The shooting at Chung Laundry - that kid's gun was real enough, and so was the shotgun that blew him back out the door. If you weren't asleep half the time, you might notice there's a pattern here."
"Okay, okay all ready," Booker said, still not looking at him directly.
When Bud got off shift and left the station, he stopped at the service station on Main for a fill-up. A Mexican man in a rolled-sleeve work shirt came out of the garage to the pump. Bud asked to speak to the owner.
"You're looking at him," said. "What can I do for you?"
"Actually I'm wondering if there is anything I can do for you." Bud flashed his badge. "Lt. White, LAPD. We've been getting complaints about extortion in this neighborhood. Has anyone tried to squeeze you lately?"
"Who told you that?" The man was instantly wary. Bud didn't want to get the nephew in trouble for opening his mouth.
"Laundry, two streets over. Owner shot the kid when he came to collect for the month."
"No. Nothing like that."
Bud nodded. "Call me if you do." He tucked his card into the man's shirt pocket and left.