This is Chapter 18 of Nica of Los Angeles, the first novel in the FRAMES series.
Things only got worse from there. Getting charged with crimes lowered my status and, from that point on, they dragged me from one holding room to another and interrupted whenever I tried to speak.
Better treatment resumed when my new lawyer showed up. Kathleen Kick-Ass Kimball. That was how I instantly came to think of her. She was half the size of anybody else in the room but nobody dared look down on her. Her make-up was thick – and beneath the professional suit jacket her sequined top promoted cleavage – but nobody dared come on to her. Her nails were professionally-honed talons, the color of fresh blood, the kind of nails that don’t lift a dime or type a sentence. She was the youngest person in the room but nobody questioned her credentials. She radiated cum laude and her card said she was a partner in Beauregard, Collins, and Ishikawa, a firm even I had heard of.
Four eighteen in the ayem she arrived. She wore a complex fragrance of perfumes, plural, and maybe aftershave and maybe vodka. I guessed she had been clubbing and threw on a suit when she got the call to get me the hell outta there. As we exited the police station, I said, “I didn’t know lawyers worked crazy hours but I’m glad you do. I almost went to law school. Got as far as the LSAT before I lost interest. Better then than later, huh?”
“So how do you know Ben Taggart?”
“That is not a name I recognize.” As I geared up to explain the connection, she cut me off. “I charge by the minute. Does your defense require me to know Taggart?”
“Not that I can see. So what happens now?” I jumped to the fast and easy conclusion that to get me a lawyer, Ben had called in a favor that called in a favor. During the jumping, I missed her next question. “Cha-ching. Could you repeat that?”
She considered the feasibility of a smile. “It’s very late. Come to my office at 135 p.m. tomorrow to discuss next steps. Get some sleep before then.” Her Mercedes matched her nail color and was compatible with the shade of red along the curb where she had parked. She didn’t wave when she u-turned through my crosswalk and sped away.
If she had offered a ride, would I have accepted the ride? So many things are not ours to know.
The Henrietta was only a few blocks, an easy walk if I didn’t think about how completely empty the streets felt. My walk sign began a countdown. Fourteen thirteen twelve seconds to get my ass across the intersection before the light changed. The signals were timed and orange numbers flashed offset countdowns at the next block and the next and the next. When I had three seconds, the next block had twenty-three. Allow 1000 feet in the block, twenty seconds to travel, it was simple algebra to calculate the speed a body must move to hit nothing but green lights. Let me know what you come up with. I always hated word problems.
It was still borderline hot, which meant today was going to be a bitches’ barbecue. I shed my blouse and the air felt cool against the shoulder the Cobra injured. The strap of my tanktop chafed skin that felt damaged, yet showed no sign of injury. My head throbbed, or it was the bass from that car stereo – hey, was that Tupac hey! Benny’s van!
Hernandez was stacking zzz’s, head turned, cheek on hands that clutched the wheel. I whistled for Fang, the beagle of my childhood. Hernandez opened one eye then the other, much like Fang used to do. By the time we got back to the Henrietta, I had filled him in on my police station adventures. He had once encountered Mathead at the Henrietta, so was also stunned to learn she is a detective. We agreed she must be a detective and a tweaker, not an undercover cop masquerading as a tweaker.
We parked in the Henrietta’s basement, in the reserved spot next to the elevator. I insisted he stop there. As exhausted as we were and as empty as the garage was, Hernandez intended to drive down a level to the unreserved spots.
“Stop the van here. It’s fine. Watch.” I found a used envelope in the glove box, ripped a neat rectangle from it, printed on the un-used side Watkins and S.T.A.T.Ic., inserted the rectangle in the placard holder under the Reserved sign. There. Now this was my parking space.
“Okay if I return Ben’s keys when I start my shift?”
“Of course. Thanks again for waiting for me. I’ll let you know what happens at the lawyer’s tomorrow I mean later today.”
I assumed he intended to borrow the van to go home and I was in the elevator before I realized he hadn’t driven away. I exited one floor up – the lobby – and took the stairs back down to the basement. Inside the van, he was already asleep, again with his cheek resting on hands that clutched the steering wheel.
“I thought you wanted to drive home?”
He kept his eyes shut as he replied, “Thirty-minute drive each way. I’d rather get the extra sleep sitting up.”
“Then come upstairs. We can rig something more comfortable for sleeping than you’ve got here.”
He opened his eyes. “No, I don’t want to interfere with your -”
I was tired enough to interrupt his gentlemanly refusal with the kind of truth one usually keeps to oneself. “Don’t worry, I’m way too tired to molest you tonight.”
On the way up in the elevator, we pondered the implication of what I might opt to do when I was rested. He kept squinting at the elevator doors like he was replaying the comment, looking for alternate interpretations. Every once in a while a smile flickered, which set me flickering in return. I don’t fraternize with co-workers but this guy just might require an exception.
Now that I had opened the door to the steam room, I couldn’t get the temperature down again, even though the only thing either of us wanted to do was sleep. Without talking, we worked together to open the futon in my office, then worked together in the waiting room, pushing chair seat against chair seat to makeshift a bed for him. Our arms brushed once and my skin remembered his touch when we were lying separately in the dark.
I glimpsed his profile when he raised his phone for a final text to his daughters, who were staying with Edith. After the phone light clicked off, I could still see the blunted edges of his nose and chin. “Good night, Nica,” He lay facing my office door.
“Sometimes I snore. ‘Dreams,” I murmured and turned to the skylight. Looking away made no difference. I could feel him all around me; deep inside, that glorious ache began – and shut itself down, having expended the last of my energy. The edges of the skylight glittered with city lights, the center glowed with a dawn coming all too soon.
The light was gray when I slid on top of him where he slept with legs tangled in the chair arms. I straddled him, found the spot, eased him inside me with a delicious squelch. He grew as he awoke, grabbed my hair with both hands, pulled me in for a first kiss.
The light was pearly when he joined me on the futon. We had barely begun anew when he stopped. “Are you okay with this?” he asked.
“Best mistake I’ve made in ages. Better stress reduction than a vacation and way cheaper!” But the mood was changed and I shifted to a cuddle.
He cuddled back but remained the voice of damn reason. “There are many kinds of costs.”
We sighed. He was right, and anyway, Anwyl needed us undistracted. We lay together, watching dawn change the skylight from pearl to gold. I pressed against him everywhere I could, savoring that soft smooth skin over those dense solid muscles. “Here’s what I propose. Come morning, we will never speak of this again. That will make us uncertain whether it happened, but we won’t bring it up because ‘Didn’t you and I fuck recently?’ is not a conversation anyone wants to start. We’ll treat this like a dream and for all practical purposes it will thus become a dream. It makes such a nice dream.”
“That can’t work. Can it?”
“It’s all about how much you can keep yourself in the present. When we wake up, this will be past. The past only exists if we allow it to.”
“That is how I talked myself through every night in Baghdad. When the sun came up, the night had never happened.”
“And people talk about denial like it’s a bad thing.” This crack earned my second time getting to hear him laugh. “Your laugh sounds like ball bearings on concrete.”
“Lo siento. That sounds painful to hear.”
“No, it’s awesome. But you make a good point. We can’t really hear our own laughs, can we?”
“Your laugh is like wind in a convertible.”
“Really? Hey. I like that.”
“So do I.” By now we were both just about asleep. We snuggled closer and went the rest of the way.
We never talked about what happened that night. If something happened. If it was a dream, I couldn’t get it to recur, despite much encouragement.
Quacks bleats obnoxious won’t stop blurting hateful must stop. My phone. Incoming call.
Hernandez was gone and there were piranhas in my bloodstream that ripped at my arm torso shoulder. Whatever the Cobra had done to me, it was much worse today.
“Nica, it’s Patti Henson. Did I wake you?”
I dropped the phone as I fumbled it to see the time. It was 923. “You did, and thanks! I need to get up!” I yelled toward the phone, which had slid under the futon. I wrestled it back up to my ear. How do phones always land somewhere importune?
“I got your message. I made a few calls this morning and all I can tell you is what you already know. You stepped in a deep pile last night.”
“Did I step or was I pushed?”
“What are your thoughts on that?”
I told her as much as I could about what I knew. We agreed that my best hope to clear myself of charges was to produce a live and healthy Anya. I didn’t know when that could happen and thus saw it as important to find out what evidence the cops thought they had.
“I wouldn’t recommend that kind of snooping, it could cause you more harm than good,” my new voice of reason advised.
I noted the advice then ignored it. “Did your source mention an eyewitness? How can we find out who that is?”
“I assume you don’t think that we includes me.”
“Only if you want it to.” When she chuckled, I joined in. “Is that tweaker Fitzpatrick working my case? It is important for me to know that.”
“That wasn’t a name they gave me. One last note. I don’t recommend making accusations of drug use against detectives, especially without evidence.”
“Only among my closest friends,” I assured her. “She’s a dirty cop. I can’t prove it but I know it. You heard it here first.”
“If you say so.”
“There’s gotta be proof somewhere.”
“Would you rather focus on getting that proof or clearing yourself?”
“Point taken. But I bet she’s the next Dave Klein.”
“Who? I don’t know many of the names at Parker.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“I did hear something you should know. They volunteered this, so it’s not confidential. They know that your bank account received two big deposits from overseas, the first around the time of the custodian’s disappearance and the second around the time of Anya’s disappearance. That fact is circumstantial but it doesn’t make you look good.”
“Except those deposits didn’t happen.”
“Denying black doesn’t make it white.”
The new tone in her voice made me sad. Maybe we weren’t gonna be bf’s for f after all.
“Weird they would make a claim so easily shown as totally fucking bogus,” I said as I headed for my laptop.
“Exactly,” she agreed.
“I’m logging on right now, I’ll send you a snapshot of my account activity and you’ll see. I have my whole bank life automated, same incoming outgoing every month no changes no sur- but that’s impossible. But how. What the.” Amidst the clockwork predictable automatic deposits and scheduled debits, there they were. Deposit for $10,000. Another deposit for $10,000.
“Patti. Somebody is. Framing me. In at least one Frame.”
“Somebody is framing me.”
“I might believe you. You’ll need twelve more.”
As if on cue, I heard a shuffling step that stopped outside my hall door, but no one knocked or tried the knob. An envelope slid under the door. Big handprinted letters. TO TENANT V. S.T.A.T.Ic. Inside was legalese about how I’d disregarded section 8.2 of my lease, which voided it. Because I’d been living in my office, I now had 30 days to vacate it.
On Henson’s third or fourth round of “Nica? What is happening? Why are you making those noises?” I read the notice to her. If the notice was a hallucination it was a clever one. It used words I don’t know.
Go to next chapter.