Submission Details

After the Goode – A Jake Roberts Novel (Book 3)
After the Goode – A Jake Roberts Novel (Book 3)
Cary Allen Stone
Thriller
Yes - full manuscript is available


Detective Jake Roberts went outside the law to capture serial killer Jared Hamilton. His superiors in ... Atlanta Homicide gave Jake a choice––retire, or face criminal prosecution. He decided to retire and move to LA with his Hollywood agent girlfriend Caitland. He writes best-selling crime novels. Caitland and Jake go to Phoenix to visit his childhood friend. Fred and Andrea take them to the opening night show of superstar comedian Bobby Goode. During the show, Bobby humiliates a heckler. Phoenix homicide detectives Wynter Williams and Vince Farina are investigating a murder. Jake happens onto the crime scene and is asked to consult on the case. Jake and Wynter have growing suspicions about who the killer might be. They arrive to see Bobby's last show before he leaves for New York City. "Shots fired!"

Chapter 1
1 Beneath a blazing sun, the B737-800 descended over the Four Peaks to the east, past Lake Roosevelt and Lake Saguaro on the EAGLE Arrival. The autopilot's NexGen navigation system captured the final approach segment for Sky Harbor International Airport. It was First Officer Fred Campbell's turn to land the aircraft. The Pilot Monitoring, Captain Mann, made the radio calls to Air Traffic Control. "JetWest 753, you're following American on short final, three miles in trail, cleared to land on runway Two-Six." "JetWest 753 has the traffic on short final and we are cleared to land on Two-Six." The tragic crash of the Asiana flight in San Francisco was in their thoughts. Both pilots kept a close eye on the automation and traffic. "Make me look good, Fred. I'm the guy who has to say goodbye to the folks at the gate," Mann said. As if he needed to be reminded, the first officer laughed. "I make you look good on every flight, sir." The exchange was typical pilot banter. The sky was clear and the visibility was better than ten miles. From over the mountains, the air currents churned and caused the wings to rock for the remainder of the otherwise smooth flight. Passengers sat up in the seats and tightened their seatbelts. It was always uncomfortable when your hands weren't on the controls. They had forgotten they saw the silver-gray hair of the captain during boarding. Campbell held a firm grip on the control wheel and wrestled the aircraft to the runway using the painted runway numbers as his target point. The robotic voice of the radio altimeter counted down over the cockpit speakers. "One hundred, fifty, thirty, twenty, ten." At ten feet, Campbell raised the aircraft's nose and flared the large Boeing. The burbling currents under the wings dissipated. A second later, the main landing gear kissed the runway leaving behind a bluish-gray cloud. Campbell held the nose up for a second longer, and then eased it down to the runway, until the nose wheels made contact with the pavement. The ground spoilers extended automatically. He brought the thrust to idle, and slid his left hand forward, grabbed the thrust reverse levers and deployed them. The captain verified both the ground spoilers and thrust reversers performed as required. "Extended, deployed," Mann said. He watched the airspeed decrease. "Sixty knots." The captain was prepared to take control of the aircraft. "Great job, Fred." Campbell verified the transfer of control of the aircraft back to the captain. At the high-speed taxiway, Mann used the tiller to turn off the runway and commanded the flaps to be retracted. When clear of the runway, Campbell called the ground controller and told him their assigned gate. The controller gave taxi instructions, and the rest of the after landing workflow was completed. As they approached the gate, the captain first slowed, and then stopped the aircraft as the ground crew signalman's orange wands crossed. The Jetway bridge bumped against the fuselage. Mann verified ground power was connected and shut down the engines. He called for the Parking Checklist. Both pilots completed the required paperwork. It was the end of an uneventful three-day trip, the kind every pilot prefers. Campbell launched out of his seat before the captain. Mann knew he was headed to another gate to meet a friend. Campbell was a six-foot-three black aviator and needed extra room to climb out from the cockpit. "See you next Wednesday, Bill." Mann shouted a goodbye, but Campbell was already gone. The captain contemplated how co-pilots always had friends to meet at gates. He smirked as he remembered chasing tail in the Old Days, alongside Orville and Wilbur. As Campbell bolted up the Jetway bridge, he knew the captain thought he chased women, a popular pilot recreation. He hadn't chased any since he had fallen in love with Andrea. He was simply anxious to get to the inbound flight from LAX, and find his lifelong best friend. Both of them left Atlanta about the same time for the change of scenery west of the Mississippi. Fred went to Phoenix. Jake went to LA. Fred and Andrea had only made acquaintances since they had arrived in his new base. He knew it would be great to see a familiar face, and talk about old times, life. He hustled to D Concourse. The gate door had just opened, so he hadn't missed Jake's arrival. Passengers streamed out into the terminal. He knew Jake would be the last one to deplane. After the stream became a trickle, after strollers and parents, college kids with earphones, and old women and men in wheelchairs, out came Jake. They first became friends in grade school, inside one of the first desegregated schools in Atlanta. Jake was a poor white kid from the Holy Cross Home for the Perpetually Abandoned. Fred's neighborhood was long forgotten after white flight to the suburbs. Fred knew Jake was color-blind when, at their first meeting, Jake tried to hustle him for cash. Fred respected that. They became partners in crime from that day forward, but in spite of all of their antics growing up, no charges had ever been filed. Their teachers believed "the boys" were destined to do hard time in dismal penitentiaries. Both proved them wrong. Fred became a skilled, professional airline pilot. His career approached twenty-seven years. An uncle, who flew with the famous Tuskegee Airmen, was a major influence for him. Jake had encouraged him to follow his dream. Fred couldn't prove it, but he always thought that the loan he got from Jake for his private pilot's certificate came from one of Jake's many shady scams. Fred trained in a single-engine Cessna, and progressed to multi-engine aircraft, and corporate jets. After he accumulated enough Pilot In Command time, he applied and was hired by a major airline. It was quite an accomplishment to get a foot, or a wing, in the door, at a time when the door wasn't open to black aviators. Late one night, when Jake was seventeen, he was about to be arrested for a misdemeanor. As he stood against the police car, handcuffed, the officer decided instead to encourage him to use his skills for the good guys. They had a long talk. The result was Jake became one of Atlanta Police Department's homicide detectives. During his years on the force, he had seen it all, the gruesome and horrific. He had cracked a few cold cases, and sent murderers into the justice system. His first criminal arrest was a guy he used to hang out with on the streets. Mid-career, he shot and killed a suspect during an intense firefight. He also saved many lives. They gave him commendations medals, but he never hung them on display. He believed those close to me, who died in the line of duty, deserved them more. The last case He worked had nearly cost him his life. To avoid prosecution for the tactics he used in the apprehension of a serial killer, he was "retired" from the APD. Caitland and he relocated to Los Angeles. She was a high profile, Hollywood agent and encouraged him to write novels. She guided him into a successful career as a novelist. He also opened the Roberts Agency that does private investigations. As he walked up the Jetway bridge, Jake saw a small, pampered pedigreed dog in a baby stroller. The dog belonged to a woman in her mid-thirties. Looks like a hamster. The puny dog bared his teeth and added a ferocious growl at Jake. When the woman turned away, he snarled back at the canine. As he passed, the woman sized him up. She made note of his scrutinizing cop eyes. She thought he was her type and hoped he loved dogs. She knew men didn't like cats. As he passed her, she only received a weak smile from. She knew right then there was no future for them. Her expensive perfume gave him a headache. He thought women's perfume should smell more like a cold beer in order to entice men. He had a random thought that all adult humans should enjoy the same treatment as the dog received. Maybe it would calm everyone to be babied, and pampered for a day. He found, at his age, such mundane thoughts creeping more and more into his head. Time and experiences changed a man. Inside the terminal door, he received his first chest bump, and man-hug since he left Atlanta. They got multiple glances from those in the terminal, who didn't think the gesture was appropriate. The black culture thing didn't play well in Phoenix. The residents preferred firm handshakes, and cowboy etiquette, to fist bumps and street-cred. "Hola, Fred." "Welcome to Pumpkinville, dawg," Fred said He said it loud enough for everyone to hear. "My ticket said Phoenix." Jake turned to go back through the gate door. "That was the original name, man." "Because it was carved and had a candle in it?" "That's my bro," Fred said. Fred turned to the passengers and made an impromptu announcement. "Hey people, my man, Jake's in town!" They flashed a reluctant round of smiles. Fred shrugged. "Where's the love, people? Hey man, since you're a famous author, let's go by pseudonyms while you're here. You can be Wyatt, and I'll be Doc." "Doc wasn't a pilot." "Who cares, get in the mood, man. Those dawgs were famous gunslingers here. Andrea and I went to the Heard Museum. The Hopi clerk in the bookstore and I talked about flying. He gave me the Native name Blackbird. Cool, huh?" Fred said. "Do you know the other two black people in town?" Phoenix was a different social climate. It had different cultural experiences, different worldviews, and a different time zone. They didn't think about the `hood save for the Latino neighborhoods. Atlanta, on the other hand, was all about the `hood. They hugged, because they didn't care if anyone liked it. "Yo, Wyatt!" "Serious?" "You know, Wyatt, Phoenicians don't know they call it hip-hop, because that's how the kids learn to walk to keep their low-riding jeans from dropping to their ankles." Jake shrugged this time. He pointed at the plane that brought him there through the concourse windows. "I hate to fly, even short hops. I still cannot believe they let you fly. Oh, thanks for the buddy pass. What makes those big cylinders stay up in the air?" "Stop it, detective. I thought you read a lot and were all into science and shi--oops, I'm still in uniform being adored by the passengers, can't say shit. You know it's your fault I became a pilot," Fred said. Somehow, Jake knew it was his fault. Fred remembered the days when pilots were respected professionals, before they were called bus drivers. The only attention the traveling public paid the crew in recent years was for delays, bad weather, or a hard landing. "I do read a lot about science; the God-particle Higgs boson, evolutionary trends, HAARP spinoffs, and China's new lady astronaut. Voyager is in an unanticipated region at the edge of our solar system. Transcriptors, little DNA-engineered transistors, are on the horizon. We know the rings of Saturn rain on the planet. The Internet of Things, a network of intelligent devices, will automate our entire lives just like your autopilot. They're getting up-close photos of Pluto, but enough about education, I came to play." "Amen, brother. You can leave those books on the shelf. You're not in A-T-L anymore. Some folks here still think the earth is flat. I think they buy dinosaur pet food. Speaking of Pluto, maybe we can get you to the Lowell Observatory. Percival Lowell discovered Pluto through the telescope there. The P and L stood for his initials. Better yet, you should go to the Vatican Observatory in Tucson, maybe you could find Jesus," Fred said. Jake let it go. Some of the folks around them were offended. "This is the UFO capital of the world­­lots of abductees who have been probed, know what I'm sayin'?" Fred said. He had Jake laughing. They walked further into the terminal, talking like little boys do, full of mischief, wrapped-up in an adventure, and talking nonstop. It had only been a few years since they had seen one another, but a lot had changed. They needed the connect time, to find some grounding, and recharge. Both of them could afford bail money now. As they walked out through security into the main terminal, Fred made a point of joking with every TSA agent. He paid particular attention to a brown-haired, blue-eyed beauty. He always tried to make those with dreary jobs smile. It gave him a feeling of making the world right on a small scale. Jake thought Sky Harbor was one of the most beautiful airport facilities in the country. The panoramic, plate-glass windows gave the traveling public a breathtaking view of mountain ranges. The interior of the terminal looked bright, fresh, up-scale with rows of high-end shops, and gourmet restaurants painted in southwestern hues and themes. McDonald's and Popeye's were nowhere in sight. The two watched the women in business attire, skirts and heels, with fashionable hairstyles, strut through the terminal. Jake laughed when he saw the young girl in a pink flowered dress, laced-topped socks and sandals, pass clinging for her life, while hitching a ride on her mother's roller bag. Fred told him all the kids do it. Fred pulled Jake into the Arizona Highways shop. He looked at the cactus plants for sale. "Cactus?" "Yeah, originally from Russia, Russian thistle. They end up tumbleweeds I'm told," Fred said. Fred picked out a bolo for Jake. "I'm not wearing that." "It'll make you feel more like Wyatt." "I don't want to feel more Wyatt. I'd rather be the Lone Ranger. Make that, the Alone Ranger." "You need a big, wide cowboy hat to go with it," Fred said. "I don't want a cowboy hat, or a bolo. I was a cowboy once. I was seven. I grew out of it. How about a T-shirt that said, `I'm not a cowboy­­I'm on vacation'?" He handed the bolo to the clerk. "Why is it when you're home, you want to be on vacation? And when you're on vacation, you want to go home?" "What are you saying, Jake?" They turned a corner and entered a long hallway. At the far end was the escalator that took them to the Sky Train Terminal. The murals secured to the walls and the inlaid tiled mosaics running the expanse of the floors, was meant to inspire and distract the travel-weary public. The Sky Train, after one brief stop at Economy parking, left them at the down escalator to the 44th & Washington station, where they boarded the Light Rail. Fred's condo, the tallest residential building in Phoenix, was along the tracks, the right side of the tracks. "Atlanta's MARTA wasn't this clean," Fred said. Jake still did the standard cop surveillance of the passengers onboard. He never could break the habit, because there's no such thing as cop rehab. "I don't get it." "Get what?" Fred said. "All these kids ride the train, but get on with a bike. What's the point?" "They're the future." "College kids with earphones and backpacks, oblivious to anything and everyone else, whose biggest decision-making involves, which tennis shoes, or cellphones, or video games to buy. And why do they dress like refugees?" "Cellphones are the democratization of the world, man," Fred said. "You know, if all you do is stare at your phone, you miss life." Fred shrugged. A few seats forward of them, was a disheveled homeless man, a few blue-collar workers heading home from shift change, a weathered Native American off the Rez, and some young men in suits. "We wore hand-me-downs," Fred said. "We were poor. We had to dress like that. We weren't entitled and pretending to be poor. We used our imaginations. We didn't have Facebook, or YouTube. We spoke to people face-to-face. I wouldn't mind sexting. Isn't sexting on page 129 in the Kama Sutra?" "You don't know what sexting means. I thought you came here to chill out, have fun." "Sorry, it's this aging thing. I'm crankier now. I hum." "Hum?" "Yeah, out of nowhere I start humming, whistling sometimes. I thought old people did that. Now I'm doing it." Fred laughed out loud. "So I can expect to hum, when I get old like you?" The train glided toward downtown Phoenix. The city had a unique feel about it, different than Atlanta, or LA. For a major city, the fifth largest in America, Phoenix had a small cluster of downtown buildings dwarfed by a horizon of mountains. Fred said he had been flying in and out of Phoenix for years, and watched the urban sprawl spread like America's waistlines. Technology, medicine, ASU and industry covered large areas of territory. Like other metropolitan areas, Phoenix had no definable boundaries with Tempe, Mesa, or Scottsdale. The train stopped at 12th Street. Jake scrutinized the passengers getting on and off the train. "I think I arrested some of these folks." "Could be, this is the Witness Protection capitol of the world. Arizona tops the FBI's statistics in murder, identity, and auto theft. Something you would be interested in. We have penitentiaries on every street corner." As the train glided along the tracks, Jake looked out the windows. The U.S. Airways Center and Chase Field, home of the 2001 World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks, passed by. "How's the airline merger going?" "Like the third grade­­long and hard," Fred said. Fred removed his epaulets and tie and shoved them into his flight bag. "We didn't expect the merger, but it happened. We talked about moving for months, and decided we'd go west for the climate change. We like the scenery. It's a whole different lifestyle. We're adjusting slowly. Airline mergers are never smooth, lots of turbulence. Pilots may be best friends when the cockpit door is closed, but they are bitter enemies when it comes to seniority. Seniority means everything to us pilots." "And what about you, Jake? Why LA?" It takes him a while to answer. The train slows for their stop. The train's doors open and they step out onto the platform. "So why LA, Jake?" "Simple­­a woman, why else? I don't have the stomach for homicide investigation anymore, literally. If they ever did an autopsy on me, they'd find rusty pipes, a broken sewer line, toxic fumes, rats and an old Converse tennis shoe in my intestines. Caitland arrives tomorrow morning." They walked down the ramp to the sidewalk. Jake laid his carry on bag on top of Fred's roller bag. "I wish she had found me in the pound sooner. If I had a tail, I'd wag it for her when she comes home every day. She has been my healer, my companion. I can tell her anything, and she still won't turn me in for the reward money. She loves me. She also accumulates heaven points for trying to save me." "Any plans for marriage, make Caitland an honest woman? Mr. Jeffs, the Absolute Ruler of the Church of the LDS who used to reside in Colorado City, had seventy wives they say. Geronimo, the Chiricahua Apache shaman, had nine wives. Can you guess what made him a bad-ass?" "How many travel books have you read about Arizona since you got here?" Fred smiled. He's proud of his acquired taste for the state. "And what makes you think Caitland isn't an honest woman now?" "It's just sayin'." "I can't force anyone to be with me because of a paper. It's a major tenet of my life. She has the option every day to leave if she isn't happy. Plus, she got papers when she picked me up from the pound." "A major tenet? Geez, Jake, that's deep." "I also don't think a bride and groom should exchange rings." "I can't wait to hear this." "I think he should be welded to her. He couldn't go off with his friends. He could never cheat on her. He could not watch sports, unless she watched with him. And, he would always be there for her." "What if they want a divorce, Jake?" "Siamese twins learn to get along." Jake felt introspective. "I think we all look back at our lives, consider the good times and bad, and we find some kind of weird safety in the past, because it's known to us. It's hard to look forward, because it's the unknown." "Okay, Rumsfeld." "You know what I mean. You've had flights that were dangerous, more than others, but you lived through it and stored the memory, it's part of you. But tomorrow, anything is possible, anything can change in a heartbeat." "I get it, Jake, you're afraid." Jake stopped walking. "Afraid? I retired from Homicide. My last case, I chased a serial killer named Jared Hamilton, a rich kid who had an I.Q. that was higher than Einstein's. He started his criminal career as a hacker, then dove into felonies like robbery, but it wasn't enough for him. He decided he wanted to feel what it was like to kill. He had everything any of us could ever dream of having, but he wanted blood. In the end, he focused on me. I didn't know why, until late in the investigation, I killed his stepsister in a shooting. Mika assisted with the investigation through her dad's Robert Scott Company. He passed away a year earlier. She left the FBI profiling business, took over the company and became a major player in the private intelligence gathering business. She took a bullet for me, Fred." Jake's demeanor took a hard turn down Trauma Road. He stopped talking and felt a lump in his throat. Fred put a hand on his shoulder. A deep breath helped. "I read about it in the newspaper. I tried to call, but you wouldn't pick up the phone. I wanted to tell you how sorry I was about Mika. She was a great lady. I always thought you guys would get back together someday." "It still stings, Fred." With his head down, Jake dragged the back of his hand across his eyes. It took another second before he spoke. "I aided in the escape of an inmate, a serial killer herself, to assist me in the apprehension of Hamilton. She shot him and ended his killing spree. Now she's back in the slammer serving out multiple life sentences." "Now you have closure on both cases, right? So you retired?" Fred said. "APD wasn't thrilled about what I did in the pursuit of Hamilton. They suggested retirement, instead of prosecution." He studied the look in Fred's wide eyes. "Yeah, I broke a few department commandments, and a few local, state and federal laws in my pursuit of the perpetrator. There are times when you do what you have to do. I did it to stop Hamilton, even though I couldn't stop him from killing Mika." "You okay now?" "Yeah, thanks to Caitland." Fred changed the subject to help him refill his half-empty glass. "So she's your agent too?" "I'm retired. I'm too young to be retired. I have nothing else to do, so Caitland said I should try writing. I find it therapeutic. She also finds me technical advisor jobs on movie sets. Who would have thought? I make a good living from it along with my pension. I do some expert witness testimony. I also opened The Roberts Agency and do some occasional private investigation for the over-indulged Beverly Hills crowd. The divorce lawyers love me." "Oh yeah, that's got to be money in the bank," Fred said. "Great money. The writing is fun and I only write about danger now, I don't have to live it. It pays well, but it will pay better after I'm deceased, that's how it works for authors." "Is Diane Nyad, swimming from Cuba to Florida at age sixty-four, an inspiration for you and your retirement?" "Yes, she gave me hope. I hope I don't do something that dumb when I'm sixty-four. I think I'd rather be placed in a humanitarium." They walked a block to Fred's condo, and saw protesters demonstrating against the Sheriff of Maricopa County. They wanted the sheriff to resign, because of the profiling tactics he used against the Latino population. Jake had heard about him while in the department in Atlanta. They also passed several homeless men who approached and asked for donations, each with the same scrutinizing stare. Jake told Fred how every city had its share of the forgotten. Fred noted the men looked like they had been on the streets since the late sixties, a time when revolution filled the air. "I think we need a digital revolution. We should kill all the ones and zeros. Social media burns reputations. There's no shame anymore." "You should post that on your Facebook author page, and see how that goes over. Social media has changed the world, Jake. Look at the Middle East. Think about what would have happened if Crazy Horse and his war party had cellphones at the Little Big Horn," Fred said. "Custer would have called in a drone strike. The Big Father would have sent the Spirit Horse." Jake dropped it. Fred wasn't looking for intellectual debate. It was too hot to debate. He did like Jake's uncomplicated flip phone. He trailed Fred through the double glass doors into the building. "Man, I'm dry. My tongue is stuck to the roof of my mouth. What happened here, nuclear winter?" "You're in the desert, man, 323 days of sunshine. You're only a few miles away from the Great Sonoran Desert. The biggest and oldest nuke plant is forty-five miles west in Wintersburg, the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. It's even too hot for mosquitos. They go north for the summer. You have to drink a lot of water here, or you'll dehydrate fast," he said. Inside the building, Jake luxuriated in the frigid air-conditioning. Fred said hello to the concierge. Standing outside the elevators, Fred started a new line of questioning. "Have you developed a liking for golf yet, Jake? They have a lot of courses here." "Golf, me? No, I already have two balls that rule my life. I was in Homicide man, not a clubhouse. A slice to me means a knife was involved in the crime, not a lost ball. I never saw a hole-in-one, because there were multiple holes from the stabbings and gunshots. I looked for stuff in the woods, but I was looking for a victim, or a murder weapon." Fred holds up both hands flat. "Okay, okay, I get it, you don't golf. Sorry I asked. I have a lot more attitude adjustment to do with you than I thought. But since we're on the subject, do you know what Tiger Woods said when asked why he always did waitresses?" "No, what did Tiger say?" "He said, `Who better than a waitress to appreciate a big tip!'" Jake shook his head. "It always comes down to the size of a dick." "Isn't that what they call you detectives­­dicks? Well ace detective Roberts, if you like Beverly Hills then you will surely like Scottsdale--Beverly Hills East. You'll find plenty of aspiring actresses, actors and screenwriters there. They will make you feel right at home with all of their tight plastic surgery faces, tummy-tucks, liposuctions, and excessive designer-wear." "Caitland made an appointment for us to meet with the owner of a bookstore out there, and do a book signing. They host book signings by every famous author in the industry--Clive Cussler, Tim Dorsey, Randy Wayne White, and Karen Slaughter. I can't wait to see if my novels are on your bookshelf." Jake took an initial read from the look on Fred's face. It's too late to stock them, so Jake told him he brought more. "Pilots don't read unless the book comes with crayons. If it's not an aviation manual, I won't read it." During the elevator ride to Fred's floor, Jake prodded if Fred and Andrea had any plans to have kids. "Kids? No. I've been careful when I sowed my seeds. There's plenty of opportunity in the aviation world you know what I'm sayin'? My moms said that the sound of a baby crying is like the sound of an angel. It's why I'd rather to go to hell." A boisterous laugh followed. We walk inside Fred's condo. The spacious living room had an entire wall of floor- to-ceiling windows that provided a breathtaking panorama of the city, and the mountain ranges. In a few hours, the sun would slip below the peaks. Jake looked out toward the west where the woman he loved was beyond the sunset. Caitland was intelligent, beautiful, with shoulder-length brown hair, and intense indigo eyes, above an alluring smile. Her sensual, soothing voice, along with her heart of gold, comforted him. He remembered the night in Atlanta when he first met Caitland. He had just slid his apartment key into the lock, when she surprised him from behind. He was unaware she had moved into the apartment across from his. He was so wired from the pursuit of a serial killer who had targeted him, that he spun around and pointed his Glock in Caitland's face. He fell in love with her that moment. He wasn't exactly sure when she fell for him. She planned to join them in Phoenix the next day, after she concluded contract negotiations with Johnny Depp. A striking woman walked from the master bedroom and stood next to Fred. She placed both of her arms around him and they kissed. She stroked his muscular arms. "Jake, this is Andrea, the better part of me. Andrea, meet Jake." The greeting included a stern warning. "Don't touch, and stop staring. You're making her feel self-conscious." Andrea blushed, but wasn't the least self-conscious. She knew the effect she had on men. Being an ex-cop, Jake took a second to study her. He couldn't find any flaws in her olive skin, high cheekbones, or her long model legs. She had passionate green eyes and displayed a wide, brilliant white smile. Her strut exuded self-confidence. Her silky, chestnut-colored hair hung to her bare shoulders. She had supermodel written all over her in several languages. He guessed she had an inner beauty as well. Fred, he knew, deserved someone special. His divorce was less than amicable, and bordered on lethal. The deep wound it left behind had never healed. It fascinated Jake how the randomness of time and space, chance and luck, brings two people together to fall in love. Nature has a way. It was clear that when the planets Fred and Andrea collided­­it created a supernova. Jake reached out his hand to her. With the other, pointed at Fred's chest. Fred's eyes narrowed into tight focus. "Andrea, please, explain to me why­­" "Wyatt, it's the O.K. Corral if you go there," Fred said. "Stop calling me Wyatt. Don't make me go Walter White on you. And who were you supposed to be again?" "Holiday, Doc Holiday." Andrea was prepared for the question and simply raised her hands about a foot apart, and smiled. "I knew it!" All three laughed. Fred repeated an old joke we used to share. "Have a good one? I do. What I want is a bigger one." That brought on a high-five slap and another chest bump. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Andrea." "And you, Wyatt." Jake couldn't help but laugh. "Pardon us, babe, come on, Jake, I want to show you the rest of the place." The tour was brief. Jake would stay in the guest bedroom for the night. After Caitland arrived in the morning, they planned to stay next door at the Hotel San Carlos. The morning after that, they'd fly back to LA. Jake dropped his carry-on bag on the bed, peeked inside the closet and checked out the bathroom. He gave Fred an approving nod. "You know I still wet the bed, right." A smirk followed. It was one of his sarcastic remarks he used, whenever he wasn't in my own bed. "I thought the nuns cured you. I never saw a kid take a beating like that with a wooden ruler. Mother Superior didn't stop with your knuckles either! I think she took the gold in ass-kicking at the Olympics." "The good, but vicious Sisters of Redemption wouldn't have been so mean if they had gotten laid once in a while." Our sarcasm had no boundaries. "Just be sure and clean it up before Andrea finds out about it. She may be a beautiful and seductive woman, but she can kick you ass. You don't want to see her Latin temper." "She's too good for you." "And, she knows it," Fred said. "We lived through a lot, you and I. If it weren't for your moms, I'd have never made it through all those years in that orphanage. She was the only one who took me into her heart. She left me on the street, but she took me into her heart." "Yeah, I didn't mind sharing her. She was enough for both of us. You deflected a lot of pain that would have come in my direction," Fred said. The tour continued. They walked out to the open, well-equipped kitchen. Fred loved to play master gourmet chef when he was home. Fred made some drinks, one for each of them, and one for Andrea. She was in the living room sitting on the long black leather sofa, long legs crossed, in a black tank top and beige shorts. On the wall behind her, hung two massive Asian paintings, which added to the peaceful Feng Shui atmosphere. Fred handed the drink to Andrea. He held a hand for her to take, and pulled her up from the sofa. They walked out onto the balcony hand-in-hand. Jake followed behind. A breathtaking sunset was on the horizon. As the sun fell behind the mountains, the last moments of the daylight came in a burst of radiant hues. A backdrop full of stars replaced the sunset. Jake looked over the railing and saw the hot tub on the recreation level, several floors below the condo. A couple cavorted buried in bubbles from the jets. He watched as the Light Rail train snaked along the tracks. Its bell clanked to alert its arrival at the next station. He saw and heard the popping sound of skateboarders performing acrobatic feats on the downtown sidewalks. He sees the bright yellow lights of the Wells Fargo sign illuminate. A hovering news helicopter departed north from over the downtown courthouse, where a famous murder trial had just ended. A fire truck blared a warning on its way to a reported fire, or take-out food. He was glad he had made the trip. Jake needed to reconnect with Fred. He needed to recharge his own life battery. He looked out toward the west again and thought about Caitland. It will only be a day, but he missed her. "I thought the Atlanta skyline was impressive, but the skyline here wins." "Ah, come on, you get this in the City of Angels all the time," Fred said. "Not like this. It must be the desert air, or the elevation, I don't know, but its­­more powerful, more intense." "It's because of the dust," Fred said. Andrea sat on Fred's lap, arm around his neck. "Andrea and I wait for it every night. We feel disappointed if we miss it. We sit here and talk. It's peaceful." "It's a good thing when someone listens." Fred gave Andrea a kiss. "She lets me ramble, then she takes me home," he said. Fred tapped his heart. "Andrea reminds me why we're on this planet. The world doesn't always have to be a cold, hard place. She makes all the difference." "I feel the same with Caitland. She makes today, better than yesterday. We are lucky men." I look over at Andrea and smile. "I can't wait for her to get here," Andrea said. "Amen," Fred said. "You boys are sweet," Andrea said. They looked at her with puppy dog eyes. Andrea scratched behind Fred's ear. "What time does she get here?" Fred said. "Flight gets in at 9:30." "So what would you two gentlemen like for dinner this evening?" Andrea said. "Beautiful, classy, intelligent...and she cooks?" Jake gave Fred an approving smile. Fred pulled him out of his seat, and said to look over the railing again, while he pointed at the building across the street. "Pizza, and not just a pizza­­a Z Pizza! It's right there. I dream about it on layovers. You good with that?" "I'm good with it. Andrea?" She nods. "I'll call it in and bring it out after its delivered. That gives you boys some time to irritate each other." She smiled, stood, leaned over, and gave Fred a kiss on his forehead. She went inside the condo. Both of them retreated from the railing, and sat back down in the patio chairs. "Thanks, babe. Jake, on Friday nights, Z has live music out on the sidewalk. We can hear it up here­­desert nights, eating pie and a free concert." "Do you like Phoenix?" "I do. They've got some different ways. They see the world through different eyes, and it takes some getting used to, but we like it. We've been up to Sedona and Flagstaff. You haven't seen anything like it, spectacular­­the mountains, the colors. They have that laid-back attitude. We should all go up there for a weekend. We could explore." "Andrea looks happy, and so do you." "She's the one, Jake. Never thought this old aviator would ever say that, but she is.
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Chapter 1
2 Bobby Goode's name on the marquee of the comedy club glared in sun-yellow sequenced bulbs against the deepening twilight. Other businesses posted less aggressive solicitations. His shows sold out within a minute of availability through the ticket outlets. Excited ticket holders stood beneath the marquee and looked for an opportunity to cut the line. Some would try the corridor between the comedy club and Copper Blues the nightclub next door. Blue and white-collar workers, arriving from the downtown business suites and government complexes, shuffled in line alongside vacationers, convention attendees and locals. All of them were impatient to get the show started. The younger patrons wiggled and shifted as if standing on an exposed electrical wire. The elder generation tried to alleviate their back pains from standing on the thin red carpet covering the concrete. A variety of local Phoenix comics gathered in a corner outside the club. Bobby had once been one of them, a member of a unique band of rebels, each chasing their dreams. Each came to learn from the master, to study his every nuance and intonation, and to dissect every punchline. They prayed to be as lucky as Bobby, and be discovered by an agent, or producer looking for the next face of comedy. Brian Stone had won the club's Open Mike competition a week earlier. Bobby asked him to open for him on Friday night, and the kid became an instant celebrity among his peers. Phoenix loved comedy. It was a comedic oasis in the desert. The Valley lay open its arms to anyone who could make them howl. From their seats, they had watched A to Z list comics gnaw at their funny bones and solicit gut wrenching laughter. Bobby had succeeded without inner demons driving him, unlike his peers who carried their personal psychosis and dependencies as crosses to the stage. Fallon saw that in Bobby. The only fear he had was losing it all, the fame and fortune. Bobby believed his Goode luck and timing would always see him through. He had just played San Francisco and was scheduled to do four sold out shows in Phoenix, before moving on to the Apple. Once there, it was a sold out Radio City Music Hall and a stop by the Fallon Show to say thanks to Jimmy for believing in him. It was also a special night for him because his career began in Phoenix. He was a hometown boy, Arizona born and raised. It was the place where he got his chops playing the small clubs. Growing up there, in high school, he became infamous for time spent in detention halls and for antagonizing the system. An incessant wise guy, Bobby's teachers were frustrated by his constant disruption of classes with jokes and pranks. The dean of the school called his father and complained about his behavior. George Goode could only empathize with the dean. He knew what a handful Bobby could be. He knew the family's funny gene had been passed down to his son from a family tree full of jokers, who had survived life's hard times by using humor to alleviate their pain. He simply asked the dean if he thought his kid was funny. The dean said that Bobby was hysterical, but that he still needed relief from the problem for his own sanity. In the end, George negotiated a settlement. Bobby got the first five minutes of class to tell jokes. For the rest of the time, he promised his son would be respectful, and do his classwork. Bobby tried to comply, but failed. He was suspended, and eventually expelled. It was years later when the funny kid finally earned his GED. He worked odd jobs, meaningless dead-end jobs, during all hours of the day just to pay the rent. Bobby knew he wasn't made for regular work. He knew inside what he wanted more than anything in the world­­a comedian. He wanted to get paid to be himself. It was all he thought about. He just needed to be dedicated enough to get there. He decided to dig in for a year, and eat, sleep, and breathe comedy. He wrote some jokes and worked up some courage. He started with every open mike night around Phoenix. He fumbled, fell down, and got back up again on stage. He worked strip clubs in between the flying tits, ass and legs. He got booed off stage, but kept coming back. He believed in himself and his Goode luck. On his twenty-first birthday, Bobby opened for a headliner at the Comerica Theater. The owner of StandUp Live saw his act and invited Bobby to emcee at his club. A year later, Bobby filled in at the club for a cancelled act. A producer from NYC had been in the audience and approached him after the show. The man told Bobby he knew a great agent named Louie Steinberg. If Bobby were interested, the man said he would introduce him. The agent and Bobby met a short time later, and after seeing Bobby perform, Steinberg signed him for one year. He booked him on a small national tour. Louie closely monitored Bobby as he fine-tuned his routine. By the end of the contract, Louie got Bobby a steady gig as a writer for Jimmy Fallon. It was a dream job for Bobby. He worked hard and put in twenty hours a day, while his talented co-writers filled bar stools until three in the morning discussing their personal woes. Bobby believed in himself. He believed he was destined to make it big. He was determined to prove to everyone, especially his parents, that he wasn't a failure. A year passed before he felt secure enough to get an apartment in the city and stop sharing everything in the house with the other guys. He found an efficiency apartment and focused all of his energy on taking his bite out of the Big Apple. A few more months passed. On a Tuesday afternoon, Jimmy walked into his writer's out-of-control conference room, and shouted for the horseplay to stop. With a serious look on his face, Jimmy looked at Bobby and asked him to step out into the hallway. Walking out through the door, Bobby's stomach ached. He knew it was bad news. He thought he was finished. Jimmy started slowly. He complimented Bobby's hard work and determination. He paused and looked Bobby in the eyes. He told him that he hated to do it. "It's time, Bobby." "Time for what, Mr. Fallon?" "For your dream to come true. To become a star, Bobby, I can't keep you from it any longer." Bobby froze. Jimmy threw an arm around him. "Make me proud tonight." On the same stage, where extraordinary stars had visited the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, standing with the Roots on his left, and Jimmy and another guest to stage right Bobby stepped into the national spotlight. He killed. It changed Bobby's life forever. He swore he would never leave the stage. He was convinced it was his hard work, his dedication to the craft, his focus, and his Goode luck that got him there. He would do anything to stay in the spotlight. The comedy stage became his entire life, his reason for being, everything he was. He travelled the world and performed for kings, queens, and the common folks they ruled. He brushed shoulders with other successful comedians, movie stars, corporate suits, and even performed for the President at the White House Correspondents Dinner. He made them all laugh to tears. Comedy Central adored him. Bobby ended up selling the same jokes and pranks of his youth to the television network as a sitcom about his life. The powers in the film industry signed him to do a feature film with options for more. The world rolled beneath Bobby's feet. He was a superstar. There he stood, behind the curtain at StandUp Live waiting to perform, reminiscing about how far he had come in his life, how much the concert held special meaning for him. Most everyone waiting to get inside to see his show was familiar with his background. Every kid who had ever been incarcerated with him in detention had a story and a ticket, and so did every teacher, including the dean. After he closed in Phoenix, he was headed to the Big Apple to perform beneath the Klieg lights, awash in the spotlight once again, in a sold-out, one-night stand in the Radio City Music Hall. It would bring his "Wurld Comedy Tur" to an end. He would follow the thunderous ovation by appearing on the Tonight Show to thank Jimmy for believing in him. *** Donald and Betty O'Malley stood in the long line with the others, waiting patiently, while trying to cope with the bad news they had received earlier in the day. Betty did her best to nurture her brokenhearted husband. It was the first vacation they had taken after twenty-eight years of marriage. They had saved every penny and were determined to go first class. They booked a great hotel, an expensive rental car, and bought clothes just for the deserved adventure. That morning, Donald had just finished his room service breakfast. Betty had sipped at her tea. She smiled as she watched Donald saunter inside the hotel suite in his boxers like Rocky Balboa taking quick jabs at the air. Watching Donald walk on the top of the world, feeling invincible was her dream come true. She fell in love with him the first time he turned the corner into homeroom and knocked all of her books from her arms. After he had gathered them all off the floor, he looked into her deep blue eyes to apologize. Behind them, Donald saw the most beautiful girl in the world. During Donald's Rocky moves, the telephone rang. He listened and spoke in a muted tone. Betty watched his face change, his festive mood disappear. He slowly hung up the phone and found a place on the edge of the king-size bed where he held his face in his hands. He had just received the worst news of his entire life from the VP of HR. They no longer had a position for him. A computer program that had no age limit, no retirement, no health care, and needed no vacation, had replaced him. The company hired a kid to program the computer, because Donald had never learned to use one, preferring instead to do his job the same way he had done it since he was hired thirty years earlier. He was a dinosaur that hadn't melted into oil. The VP's "I'm sorry" was no consolation, the severance package was meager. Donald wiped away the tears, and told the love of his life what had happened. He was devastated. Betty was stunned by the news. She felt the ache in her stomach grow. Her fingertips touched her lips. Her eyes moistened. She took Donald in her arms to comfort him. "I don't understand it. I've been with that company all these years. I never called out sick. I was never late. Why wait until I'm on vacation to tell me I'm finished? The guy they brought in to clean house was told get the old out, and make room for those young kids. Experience doesn't mean a thing to an accountant. All those years I was patted on the back for a job well done, only to be thrown out with the trash." "Honey, it's okay. We'll get through this. We put our beautiful kids through college. They're doing fine, and we'll be fine, like always. Let's make the best of the vacation we earned, you and I. It'll be okay." Sullen didn't begin to describe Donald. Still, he didn't want to spoil the vacation for Betty. She had always been at his side since they first met, inseparable they said. He tried his best to hide his anger. Betty held him while his tears fell. The day dragged through the minutes and hours. They tried to soothe their pain as they watched kids leaping into the Sheraton's pool. They studied the mountains in the distance. They talked about keeping on schedule. The Diamondbacks were playing a home game that afternoon, and Donald was a huge baseball fan. They made it inside Chase field in time to get a cold beer, hot dogs, a souvenir autographed baseball and a D-Back's baseball bat before the first inning started. During the walk back to the hotel after the game, they passed the sign on Jefferson Street announcing that Bobby Goode was appearing later that night at StandUp Live. Realizing that it was a struggle to get back in the vacation mood, Betty stopped Donald and held his arm tight. "Let's do something different! Let's go off schedule tonight," Betty said. He looked at her with sad eyes. She pointed at the sign. "You want to go to a comedy club?" "Why not? It may be the perfect solution to our­­" "It's a sold-out show, no tickets! I never heard of this guy. I don't know, honey," Donald said. "Someone always has tickets to sell. We can go around the corner and find some. You know how to do that. Remember when we saw The Who back home? They sold out their show, but you came back with seats in the second row." "I don't know anybody in Phoenix." "Come on, Donald, let's do it, please. It'll be good for us." He could never resist that look in her eyes. He was determined to salvage what he could of the vacation. At 7:30 p.m., Donald and Betty, with scalped tickets in hand, shuffled inside with the rest of the crowd. Betty grasped his arm and told him how much she loved him. *** The double doors finally opened. Just inside the entrance, the DJ's sound booth was bathed in LED lights. The club's name was painted in large block white letters on a brick wall. Life-sized lithographs of headliners hung from the others. The loft ceiling was painted black. Small details revealed that the club was upscale. Even the tables and chairs had class. The freezer-locker air conditioning was a welcome relief from the microwave heat outside the doors. Anxious husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, gays and straights, right and left wing politicos, religious and atheists, millenniums to retired, rushed into the venue. The surge forward felt like the Hoover Dam's floodgates had opened, or like a tsunami wave had hit. Staff escorts led couples, groups, and solo stragglers to open tables and reserved seating through aisles too close together to pass through without brushing shoulders. The club was filled to capacity with a healthy mix of ages, races, sizes and orientations. The electrified guests found their nests and got settled in each waving at the staff with urgency. Once seated, Bobby's raucous fans guzzled pitchers of beer and specialty drinks to intensify the madness of the night. Four Peaks and Devil's Ale seemed appropriate. The staff knew how to work the crowd and made recommendations for food and beverages. They delivered the orders like parent birds to chicks, worms in the Tequila with a waterfall of alcohol. The kitchen went heavy on the salt for a reason. The patrons were panting like dogs, straining against tethered leashes. They wanted Bobby to test their sensitivities and disrupt what they believed to be true in life. They wanted to be upended, convoluted and twisted. The world was too tense, and not like the joke about Apache Junction­­a teepee and a wigwam, but sinister, dangerous, more threatening than ever before they believed. They wanted to be free for a few hours from the workplace, family dramas, financial troubles, and all the reported traumas in the world. They desperately needed to laugh until they cried tonight, or they would cry and never stop. They had come to watch the best in the business do the comedy routine they could recite word-for-word. They couldn't do that with the American history they learned in high school. Laughter was the best medicine. They wanted Dr. Goode to medicate them. Bobby was good medicine for the tribe. He would have them in the palms of his hands for ninety minutes. A comedy club was a free zone from prejudices of every kind, and Bobby's material had no boundaries. Ethnicity, gender, or religious beliefs weren't immune from his knife-edged wit, sarcasm and irreverence. He shunned political correctness. They needed his rants. In spite of the chaos at its perimeter, the stage had the peacefulness of a cemetery. The island was a lonely, desolate place with a single microphone resting in the cradle of a mike stand with a snaking cord to a jack in the floor. A simple wooden stool stood to the side with two bottles of Fiji water standing on top like Emperor penguins surveying the crowd. On the screen behind the stage, a rolling silent film of the man at work had some of his most famous punchlines overlaid, the same lines they expected to hear when the house lights dimmed. A comedian didn't need pyrotechnics, laser beams, and jacked-up Marshall amps to be funny. Bobby Goode used his index finger to open the curtain ever so slightly to survey the audience. He was looking for victims for his razor-edged wit. He knew the feeling in his stomach well, still churning even after all of the thousands of performances. He knew the minute he crossed the boundary to the stage his fear would turn to bravado, and he would kill them with laughter. The DJ's music came to an abrupt endnote. There was a timed pause. The pause was followed by the blast of Ladies and Gentlemen, by Saliva. The overhead strobe lights flashed. The spotlights criss-crossed the room and the emcee's voice cut in. He and reverberated the rules of the house and a gratuitous introduction for the opening act. Bobby stood behind the curtain and nudged his opening act out onto the stage, and then he continued to finger the curtain to watch the crowd. No one expected much from the wiry comedian taking the mike from the stand. No one came to see him. Some patrons found it the perfect time to relieve themselves in the nearby restrooms. Still he gave it his all and shouted out. "Hello Phoenix! Are you ready for a great show tonight!" Then he kicked some ass with incapacitating one-liners. The audience was taken by surprise. He worked the crowd until they rallied for him. He got them ready for the headliner. The comedian had seen it happen before, every time he opened for Bobby. He knew it was a matter of time before someone opened for him. The applause grew louder as he said goodnight and then disappeared behind the curtain where he high-fived Bobby. The management made note of the crowd's reaction. The DJ cued up Red Rider's Lunatic Fringe, the star's anthem. Bobby got pumped as the music drove through the monster speakers. He wore black jeans, boots and a longsleeve black shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow revealing a fashionable black leather and sterling silver clasped bracelet. His face had a three-day stubble that was very Duchovney-esque. His spiky black hair was in disarray. Looking blue-collar and talking white trash was part of the act. The common man and woman related to the rebel image of "I don't take shit from the man!" In reality, everyone knew they worked for the man, even famed comics. That was where the paychecks came from so everyone could play. In real estate, the rule was "location, location, location" but in comedy, the rule was "attitude, attitude, attitude." The volume of the song dropped, while the DJ's voice rolled like thunder. His tone resembled an introduction to a WWF fight. "Are you ready Phoenix? Are you ready for the bad ass of comedy?" They screamed louder. The introduction listed Bobby's awards achievements, his Grammy's, Emmy's, and the royalty he had performed for. "And after countless class-action lawsuits, multiple charges filed, and with a few outstanding warrants, please give a giant round of applause for our very own­­BOBBY GOODE!" The spotlight hit its mark on the curtains. Before he stepped onto the stage, they shot out of their seats, arms raised, hands slapping hands in cheerful applause. Showtime. There was a powerful connection between Bobby and his fans, part mystical, almost spiritual, and very near orgasmic. "Hello Phoenix, Arizona! It's good to be home! Home Sweet Home!" He pandered adding prayer palms and a slight respectful bow. They ate it up. He high-fived several attendees in the immediate front row, pointed at recognizable faces. He begged them to stop, but the screams, cheers and whistles only became more intense. He pumped a fist in the air. "Thank you, thank you so much! Please, if I don't get started I don't get paid!" They roared and then managed to settle down. "Thank you, so much. Save some of that for the rest of the show, please." He shaded his eyes from the bright lights, and looked out toward the back of the club. He saw his mom and dad, sister and two brothers sitting in the VIP area. Kelly, his mom, had her hands clasped together, fingertips against her lips as if she were in a moment of prayer. She was actually in a moment of pride. George Goode, his dad, beamed because he knew that one night, forty-five years ago, in three minutes, he had produced a superstar. His parents did not expect to reach the level of excitement they did watching him receive the People's Choice Award, but they planned to have a great night anyway. His sister sipped at her third drink. She hadn't been out much since the newborn arrived. She finally got her lazy husband, who acted like he was her other child, to babysit. His younger brothers stopped flirting with the waitress while Bobby pointed them out. "Sitting over there are some very special people­­my parents, brothers and sister. They came tonight to make sure you're getting your money's worth from me." The family received a respectful round of applause. "Don't be too good to them. I'm still grounded from that thing I did when I was fifteen. My sister ratted me out so mom and dad wouldn't get mad at her for a D minus on her math test. She's the smart one in the family­­normally a straight D student. My two brothers just got out of Tent City...one was an inmate, the other from shift change, one of the sheriff's Posse." "Officer Goode, did you get me Big Joe's autograph?" "No habla English!" his youngest brother shouted. The audience hooted. "I thought I'd try something different tonight. I thought I'd see if I could still improvise, be spontaneous. You remember Spontaneous. He was an old Roman emperor who had a comedy club in the Coliseum. His comics used to perform between gladiator events. I think it'll work. What do you think?" The audience went wild. They felt special because they believed Bobby cared enough about them to try it. Alex, his best friend and manager, was caught totally by surprise. It wasn't planned, and definitely wasn't rehearsed earlier in the afternoon. Bobby hadn't said a word about it. The staff dodged all of the raised arms that encouraged Bobby to let loose. He surveyed the front rows and zeroed in on his first victim. "Sir, the older gentleman with the snow on top and excellent goatee. I have to say, the woman with you is a very beautiful, young, and sexy woman. Bravo, sir! Let me ask you if I may, how many Viagra does it take to keep her happy?" The gentleman waved off the crack with one hand. "I don't use Viagra." Bobby looked around the room. "Come on sir, we're all friends here. We promise that your answer will not leave the room. Please, tell us how many Viagra it takes to keep your stunning, super-model date coming back?" "I don't use Viagra. I still use Rohipnol." The gentlemen with a confident smirk on his face continued. "Roofies have worked well for me for forty years. No one gets a headache, she can't testify, and we both get a good night's sleep." There was a crescendo of moans and laughter. Catcalls echoed against the walls. The gentleman had one-upped him. Bobby bowed to him. He placed the microphone under his arm and applauded the gentleman who returned a gracious nod. He offered the mike encouraging him to come on stage but the gentleman declined. The young woman gave the gentleman a naughty smile as she slid her hand onto his inner thigh and squeezed tight. "Even I didn't see that coming. Bravo, sir." Bobby moved on and found another victim sitting in the second row. "Okay, how about you sir, with the discount hairpiece and the '50s bowling shirt. Yes, you sir. I have to ask, is that your real face?" Donald wasn't in the mood. He wasn't smiling. He didn't want to be in the club, or be part of the show. He only went there for Betty. He took serious offense at the remark, joke or not. Bobby pressed him. "What? You look offended. You do know you're at a comedy venue. Is it the early stages of Alzheimer's? I would have thought you heard the same question before tonight. The lady next to you, with the peroxide blond ratted hair, she ought to consider a makeover at one of Scottsdale's exclusive salons." "Hey funny man, how about I rearrange your face?" Donald didn't like being a target, but ranking on the woman he loved was out of bounds as far as he was concerned. It had been a bad enough day. He didn't need some wiseass cracking on them and making it worse. "Is that how you got yours, someone rearranged it? I know, happened when you pulled your head out of your ass. Bet it's dark in there!" Donald looked at Betty. She pulled at his arm and gave him a reassuring look. "He's just joking. It doesn't bother me, it's just a joke, honey." He pulled his arm away hard. The audience wasn't laughing with them. They were laughing at the couple with the unfortunate seats. Donald decided to try to be as funny with his retort, as the older gentleman was with Bobby. "Hey, you may not like my face, but I'm sure no woman will suck your tiny dick!" He drew a round of applause from the audience for his tenacity. "How do you like it, pencil dick?" Donald said. With a resurrected smile, he looked at Betty. She turned fifty shades of red. Bobby snapped back with a line. "Small as mine may be, at least I have one." The audience shouted. Humans found extreme pleasure in smack downs. They loved it when Neanderthals exchanged blows. The only thing missing was the Coliseum and lions. The wait staff could not refill drinks fast enough. Management was ecstatic. "Hey wiseass, your momma never complained about the ride!" "Ouch! Hey, you're the guy who fucked her and never paid! She's still looking for you!" Bobby's mom covered her face, embarrassed with the exchange. She thought everyone in the room turned to stare at her. Betty felt the same way. Donald lost it. Inside, he became an enraged bull that saw Bobby waving a red flag. Bobby became Donald's ex-boss. He exploded. His wife understood his anger. She tried to pull him back down as he rose from his seat. "Honey, stop it, he's just­­" Donald booed as loud as he could. The audience shouted at him to stop. "Sir! Hey! Stick with the clever retorts, no one boos anymore." That was about all Donald could take. He started toward Bobby pushing seats and other customers aside to get to the stage to inflict a serious beat down. "I'm going to kick your fucking ass!" Bobby looked over at security. They intercepted Donald before he reached the edge of the stage, and escorted him out of the venue with an embarrassed Betty following close behind pleading with him. She didn't know a brawl would ruin the first night of their vacation. "Well, so much for spontaneous! Bobby surveyed the audience. "What do you say we go back to what you all know so well? Back to the script." Alex and the management of the club breathed a sigh of relief. Bobby repeated the same stories and punch lines that had made him famous. The audience loved it, because they knew they could be part of the show. "So, I went out on a blind date..." The audience shouted back the punchline. "She wanted to know what I looked like so she hit me twenty-eight times with her red and white cane!" Bobby chuckled. "I don't know why I even bother to show up at these shows. I'm supposed to do my act­­so shut up already! They pressed him for more. "The first time I slept with a mute..." "Was the first time I saw my name in sign language!" The crowd felt part of him. "I went to a flea market and bought a can of fleas..." They couldn't stop. "I wanted to get my dog back for taking a dump on the carpet!" It's what they came for, what they wanted. They couldn't get enough of Bobby, or enough of the alcohol. He was funnier with every swallow, like picking up a girl at two a.m. before the bar closed. "When I use my credit card I tell them it's stolen." "It's called felony pre-notification and my lawyer said we'd use it at my next trial!" Laughter was coupled with applause. Fists raised into the air. They finally let him tell the whole tale before finishing it. "It was a dark night when the Penisulans penetrated the Falopians territory. Some charged through the Putangian Jungle. Dirty Sanchez swam from Astoria across the Red Sea. They climbed Mt. Clitoria until they reached GSpotia. They met stiff resistance. It took a high-concentration of the potion alchoholia to subdue the Falopians. The Penisulans charged and retreated until spent. It the end, all the Falopians wanted was to talk." All the men in the comedy club shouted in unison. "Penisulans! Penisulans!" All the women yelled the refrain. "Falopians! Falopians! Falopians!" Bobby told the story of how Aruba was the new divorce vacation­­a one-way ticket for her. He said the Congresswoman from Arizona who was shot outside a mall, after her recovery, resigned from Congress. The most memorable statement from her farewell address to Congress was, `I need this job like I need a hole in the head!'" The entire audience groaned. "Got it, I crossed hallowed ground," Bobby said. He looked over at Alex. "Scratch that last one from the set." Another forty-five minutes and Bobby took his bows. The first ovation brought him out to do a few more jokes. After the second ovation, he said good night. He was back home and loved it. Opening Night was over, the curtain closed. The house lights went bright and the audience got up to leave. They were satisfied Bobby had given them a memorable evening. It was time to stagger next door to Copper Blues and continue the party. In the Green Room, Bobby toweled off the sweat. Alex and he briefly discussed going off script. Bobby subconsciously placed the holster in the back of his jeans and covered it with his shirttail, a habit since he was old enough to carry a concealed weapon. In walked the owner of the club. "Jeez, Bobby, planning to shoot your way out? I didn't think it went that bad, although the off-script idea tanked." They laughed. "I don't think I'll go there again." He reached behind his back. "Oh, and this? I remember what happened to Lennon." In walked Bobby's parents, hugs and kisses followed. He hadn't seen them since he arrived in Phoenix. He got there in the morning and went straight to the hotel. He rehearsed all afternoon. Pleasantries were exchanged and the owner left. "See you tomorrow night! Great set Bobby!" Bobby put his arm around his mom. "I'm sorry if I embarrassed you. I got into character and focused on the heckler." "I can take it. I'm Booby Goode's mother. He did make for one interesting opening night, that crazy man." She giggled from the martinis she consumed. She slurred a few words. "Okay, I was embarrassed." George patted the middle of her back. "Great show, son. I taught you everything you know, except the bad stuff." He laughed heartily from the margaritas he drank. "We're on our way over to the VIP room now, son. The rest of this family horde will be there too, except your sister, who has to go home and change her husband's diapers, oops, did I say that?" George said. His mom covered her mouth, but the words escaped. "I don't doubt he dropped my grandson twice since we left." They didn't like the son-in-law. His two brothers walked up arguing over who got the waitress's phone number. Bobby asked them if they had even seen the show. They said they had a great time. The youngest told Bobby the waitress left her number on the back of the check. They couldn't decide for which one of them it was intended. Bobby told them to wait outside on the patio. He said there were usually some young, wasted, giggling girl fans that would turn up and they wouldn't have to share one waitress. "You did say the number was from a waitress, right, not a waiter?" The brothers punched at one another. Bobby laughed. He told them he would see them at the after party. Alex finished talking with George and walked over to Bobby. "Outside of that a-hole and you're free-lancing, I'd have to say it was a great first night. Thank God for the security guys. If that guy clamped you we would have had a real mess." "Just a drunk, he wasn't close. The owner didn't say a word," Bobby said. "What could he say with a four-night sellout?" "Great job as always, Alex, couldn't do it without you." The two friends for life bumped fists. Bobby and Alex mixed the clay. Together, they formed a shape on the wheel. Bobby made the fine carvings. Alex painted. When they were through, it was a masterpiece. Inside, the staff hurriedly cleared the tables and headed for home. Some had to study for exams, others headed for a stop at another club. The management team discussed what they could do to better handle crowd control in the future. The owner walked up and spoke to his general manager. "Find the guy and his wife and give them some complimentary passes for tomorrow night." "I heard him tell his wife they were going back to the Sheraton and start packing." The GM wasn't worried. He knew they'd never be back. The comedy club was one of the best in the U.S. and had no trouble selling out every night. Outside of the club's double entry doors, there was a patio area where the comics could meet fans and sign autographs. Bobby stood patiently and talked with loyal fans that swarmed around him like bees. They bought his Comedy Central and HBO DVDs. They loved his stenciled T-shirts that read: "Be Goode--Bobby." After the bees buzzed off, and he had signed the last autograph, he turned to Alex and told him what he said every night after a performance. "I need a walk." Alex knew the routine. Bobby needed to decompress and review his performance. He had to see it in his head, in spite of having done the same show for years. For all of their free spiritedness, comics were solitary, pained individuals. They used their time on stage as a type of therapist's couch, to talk about their lives, failings and fears. For Bobby, applause with a check and a walk afterward were therapy. Nobody broached the subject of Bobby being a solo act. He had been in love once, but came to realize the young starlet didn't love him, she loved the life. It took a few years for Bobby to get it, and get over it. He also became so involved in his sitcom and the Hollywood scene that he forgot what a real relationship was. He relied on one-night stands, something he knew about, to fill in the empty spaces. He walked off into the night alone. He would return later to the after party and enjoy the adulation of those who paid VIP rates to get close to him. He would have a chance to catch up on family issues with his parents. He would harass his brothers if they showed up without the waitress. He stood at the corner of Central and Jefferson, looked in each direction, and decided to head west past the courthouse, City Hall and toward the Comerica Theater. Downtown had changed a lot. Some buildings looked familiar to him, but most had changed. Before he crossed Central, he had to stop in the crosswalk when a black Cadillac with tinted windows nearly sideswiped him. He watched as the car sped away. He waited for an apology but none came. He gave the driver the finger, but realized the driver wouldn't get a good look at it through the windows. He looked in both directions again and crossed the street. Why waste a Goode finger anyway? Phoenix, like other US cities, suffered when the economy collapsed, but it had risen from the ashes like the legend. Smaller comedy clubs Bobby performed at were gone. The free market, like evolution, had taken a toll on the weak. At the Comercia Theater, he headed north past the government buildings. At the Orpheum Theater, he remembered opening for another comic for a charity. He pictured his name at the bottom of the poster in small font. It seemed like a lifetime ago. He walked past the Crescent Ballroom. An Indie act rocked the hall. The atmosphere wasn't upscale, more bohemian, with real folks. He thought he saw the same car that came close to running him over earlier pacing a block behind where he was. He became concerned for a moment then decided to let it go. In his head, he heard the words to an old Buffalo Springfield song: Paranoia runs deep. Into your life it will creep... He kept walking and reviewed every line of the show in his head. He was so deep in his thoughts that he didn't realize how much the neighborhood had changed. Fewer streetlights were illuminated. He had wandered into unfamiliar territory. He heard a car's revving engine. It approached from behind him. He looked, but the halogen headlights temporarily blinded him. It raced past him a few car lengths and screeched to a stop with its red brake lights flaring. The car backed up fast and reckless. Bobby was certain it was the same black Cadillac­­a CTS model. The driver's side door flew open as if it had been blown by dynamite. A man ran toward him. He had a baseball bat clenched in his fists. "You motherfucker!" Bobby pivoted on his heels to the left to avoid the blow and extended his arm to block. The man swung hard and caught Bobby across the right shoulder. Bobby wrenched and fell to one knee. The pain in his shoulder was searing, nothing funny about it. He stumbled back and fell onto the sidewalk. Bobby reacted on instinct and drew his Glock from the holster in the back of his belt. The decision was already made in his subconscious, not one open for debate. He was an Arizona native, grew up with firearms. He squeezed the trigger once. The orange and yellow flame exited the barrel. He heard the sound of the gunfire an instant later. The powerful recoil of the discharged weapon pushed him farther back. Time and space slowed. Bobby saw the single round penetrate the chest of his attacker, a enter shot. He had a phantom feeling of the round penetrating his own chest, felt the pain of the fire, as he watched a crimson flare erupt out of the man's shirt. Later, during the autopsy, the ME would determine that it was a long-range shot, greater than sixteen inches, with no burn marks around the entry point, no residual powder and no stippling, or as forensics expert Dr. Di Maio called it--tattooing. The distinct odor of cordite and the copper smell of blood were strong. Donald was lifted off his feet from the gunshot. He hit a replanted palm tree then crumpled to the ground. He rolled face-up and stared into the last night sky he would ever see. Bobby watched the body drop to the concrete. Gravity pulled the man back toward the dirt. He saw the man's grip on the baseball bat release. He leaned over and saw the blood exiting from the wound. A trickle fell from the corner of the man's mouth. He heard the gasping and gurgling, the death rattle­­the man's last breath. Bobby reached for a pulse, but saw the man's eyes roll back and dilate to an abnormal size. It was too late to revive him, no point to rush him to a hospital. The man was dead. Bobby felt spider lightning shoot through his spine. "Oh shit, no!" Bobby grabbed his cellphone and was about to dial 911. After the blast of the gunshot, it was as eerily silent as the inside of a crypt. The leaves in the trees were still, no rustling breezes, completely stagnant. The full moon overhead aided the dim light from the streetlights. He looked at the man's shirt. It looked familiar. When Bobby got a good look at the face under the streetlights, he realized it was the heckler from his show. His mouth opened in disbelief. The Glock felt heavy in his hand, so he laid it down next to the body. He eyes moistened and he wiped them with his forearm. He fought to stay calm and rational. He analyzed, debated, questioned. He knew it would be the end of everything, his fortune and fame, if anyone knew. He saw the faces of his parents and siblings. He had made the world laugh, donated millions to charities, performed benefit concerts for every cause, but killing the heckler was all they would remember. He never dialed 911. Bobby's conscience unraveled. He thought about Heaven and that he would never see it. He thought about Hell and what it would be like to spend eternity in flames. Then the poised stage professional lost all sense of right and wrong. What the fuck? Did anyone see what happened? He scanned the city street looking for witnesses. He looked for the homeless hidden behind buildings and benches. He looked to see if window lights in the surrounding buildings illuminated to see what the crack of thunder was. In an area where gunfire was normal, they showed no interest. It was just dead Donald and shooter Bobby. Bobby felt around outside the man's pants pockets for the shape of a set of keys until he remembered they were in the ignition. He ran to the driver's side door and pressed the trunk release. He ran to the rear and pushed the lid higher. He looked left, right, up and across the deserted street. He saw no one. The man's skin turned pale and taut. His muscles relaxed releasing the contents of his bladder and bowel. Even in the bristling summer heat, the man's body dropped in temperature. With his adrenaline pumping, Bobby hefted the dead weight of the body into the trunk then slammed down the lid. He took a longer look around for security cameras and traffic cameras on the street corners. He saw none. He got into the driver's side and put the shift into drive. He looked over his aching shoulder and pulled into the street. Phoenix was largely a ghost town at night and he was far enough away from the club. Convinced that no one saw anything, he drove away from the scene. The farther he went the more unsettled he became. He tried to control his breathing. He got his bearings and found a few familiar street names, and generally knew where he was. What he didn't know was where and how to get rid of the body. Growing up, he heard that west of Tucson, on the Tohono O'odham Reservation, skeletal remains were found lying on the desert floor, but that was too far to drive. He remembered reading a news story earlier that a body, a man killed by blunt force trauma to his head, had been dumped out on Black Canyon Highway in the desert and burned. A witness had come forward so he had to make certain that would not be the case. He knew he had to move fast. Everyone was awaiting his arrival in the VIP room. The philosophical debates inside his head about right and wrong came to a halt. He decided nothing else mattered except for his survival. There were no rules. His mind raced. He ran through a gauntlet of possibilities. He had to dispose of the body so that it could not be identified. He had to leave nothing behind that would lead to him. He decided to make it look like the man wanted to party, got lost in the wrong neighborhood, and got robbed by the dealer. Some out-of-town freak buys some drugs from locals who recognized he wasn't from the area. They do the standard hustle, sell him some packets believed to be meth, give him some Haloperidol instead, and wait for the effects to cause loss of consciousness so they could take his cash and car down the road. The same sad story was repeated in the newspapers every day. Butonadiol was available on the Internet. Unless some gangbanger drug dealer recognized him during the buy, in the brief instant of the transaction, and was willing to testify, Bobby was home free. He made his living being quick-witted under high-pressure scenarios. He knew he could do it. He just needed to steady his nerves. Lying was a way of life now. No one told the truth. Reality television was proof of that. Still, Bobby knew, it would have to be the performance of his life. He believed he was too smart to get caught. He thought no one would ever suspect a superstar comic. No one would ever suspect Bobby Goode. He convinced himself he could do it. After the buy, he'd find an empty lot, somewhere where he could park the CTS, stage the scene and then light off the gas tank to cover his tracks. He had seen the same plot on thousands of crime shows and movies. He couldn't be seen by anyone. He was too recognizable. What he needed most was for his Goode luck to hold out. The plan made sense to a man not thinking right. What he didn't think of, and what no one ever thought of, was that good guys made bad criminals. Then he panicked again. Shit, he was with a woman. Where is she? He did the math and concluded that the guy wouldn't have taken her with him. Why, mister? Why? He drove on searching for a dealer. It had been some time since he was back in Phoenix, but he still knew what direction to head to find the drugs. As he drove, he rehearsed the scene in his mind. It wasn't but a mile down Van Buren when he pulled up alongside a shadowy figure outside a boarded-up house. The neighborhood's wholesome values had disappeared along with the white flight to the safety of suburbia. Every window had bars across it. Though technically not considered a gated community, the yards were bordered by fence and razor wire. The neighborhood was so dangerous the Phoenix PD refused to go in there. Bobby only had to worry about the bad guys. The watchful eyes of the gang had already scrutinized the vehicle as he drove in. One kid approached the Cadillac. He had a cocky, conspiratorial smirk on his face. He dared Bobby to make a wrong move. Another shadowy figure, near a corner of the building, held a Tech Nine pointed gangsta-style sideways at him. He gripped the Glock between his legs. He cracked the tinted window enough to replace the cash with drugs. It took a millisecond. Then he drove away. No one wrote down the license plate. Another mile west, he pulled out his cellphone and pressed the rapid dial number for Alex. He had always been Bobby's most reliable co-conspirator. No one knew more of Bobby's secrets than he. Alex knew that Bobby had taken him along on a piggyback-ride on a meteor to stardom. Alex would take a bullet for Bobby, but only in the philosophical sense. "Where are you?" Alex's voice mimicked a dentist's drill. It had some physical connection to the size of his parrot nose, Bobby thought. The sound of it kept Alex as celibate as a priest through high school. It hadn't lowered much since he reached manhood. "Everyone's waiting for your grand entrance." "I ran into an old friend." Bobby thought that was funny in a sick sort of way. "I'm headed in your direction. Just tell everyone to keep eating and drinking." "You got it, Bobby." Alex thought he heard something different in Bobby's voice. "Are you okay?" "Yeah, why?" "You sound out-of-breath." "Too far...longer than...(garbled)" Alex tried to make out what Bobby said from behind his hand covering the cellphone. He heard a few more unintelligible phrases. "I can't hear you, man." It was what Bobby wanted to hear. "I just...good time..." "What? I can't hear you." "(Garbled) ...soon!" Bobby shouted as if he hadn't heard the last question. The line went as dead as the heckler in the trunk. At Roosevelt and Grand Avenue, a patrol car's lights flashed. Bobby froze for a moment not knowing that it was parked there every night because it was a high-crime area. He turned onto Grand Avenue, but kept his speed at the limit. Grand Avenue, he knew, would take him to the industrial district. He could find a quiet vacant lot. The cop in the car glanced at the black CTS that passed, but went back to checking the computer screen in his patrol car. A mile down, Bobby pulled into the deserted, cracked concrete rear parking lot of the Church of the Light. It was right next to the interstate, the Black Canyon Freeway. Below the overpass was an industrial area. Gang tags and razor wire, colorful and definitive fashion statements, covered every wall of every building. He heard sirens in the distance. A sign with a bright neon cactus was on the roof of a popular Mexican restaurant. It gave Bobby enough light to survey the surrounding area. He checked for security cameras before exiting the car. He waited. His head swiveled in search of witnesses. There were no dumpsters for the homeless to hide in, no one strolling by pushing a shopping cart. When he felt satisfied the area was deserted, he exited the car, but continued his scan in every direction. He was startled when two Dobermans with hungry eyes and threatening snarls stood up behind a Century fence. Their barking was enough to wake the dead, except for the one in the trunk. The air was heavy with pollutants. The moon and stars had changed their azimuth farther toward the horizon in the black canopy of sky. The sound of the racing cars on the interstate became stronger and weaker as they passed. After torching the CTS, he needed to find a way back. He figured he would have to walk for several blocks before he would find an all-night restaurant, or a rat-infested, sleazy hotel, somewhere where he could find a ride. He knew how to boost cars as a teenager. He was on high alert. His eyes were wide open. His heart rate climbed higher. He moved fast. He wasn't a religious man, more of a contemporary non-believer. He had his personal dogma of spirituality inside his own personal church. He didn't attend church on Sundays and found it funny he was at one now. He wondered if God was watching him. He took one last hard look around to make sure he was alone, then reached down inside the driver's side door and released the trunk latch. He walked to the rear of the CTS and looked down at the dead guy. Why did you come after me? It was a joke! It had only been half an hour and already the man's skin was purple, waxy, the arms blue. His lips and nails were pale. Because of the violent exertion of the assault, rigor mortis had advanced. Lying at an angle, the man's blood had collected at the lowest point causing fixed lividity. It would later tell the ME the body had been moved. The guy's flattened eyes from the loss of fluid disgusted Bobby. He didn't want to touch him, but he knew he had no other choice. The body began to stink as it decomposed. Bobby gagged. It was to the death scent that the insects were drawn. They were already at home in the victim's eyes, nose, mouth and ears laying their eggs. In a normal death, their young would hatch within twelve hours. The maggots would start feeding on the dead tissue. When unable to consume more, they would depart and the beetles, spiders and millipedes would finish devouring the corpse. The forensic entomologists were going to be cheated this time. Bobby planned to kill everything in the fire. Dead and decaying, Donald was barely flexible enough for Bobby to maneuver into the driver's seat. Moving the guy left stains on Bobby's arms and clothes. He rationalized that body position didn't matter, as it would contort because of the fire. He took anything he could see of value to make it look like a robbery. He reached down and pulled the lever to open the gas tank door. He twisted the cap and took another hard look at the area. He took the newspaper he found in the car, opened to the Arts section with the comedy club's ad circled, rolled it up and shoved it into the gas tank. He lit it with the car lighter then took off as fast as he could to avoid the explosion. He froze when the snarling and barking Dobermans lunged at the chain link fence. He regained his senses and took off fast. The car took what seemed like an eternity to ignite, but when it did, the blast was impressive. The fireball could be seen a millisecond before the sound of the concussion could be heard. Razor-sharp shards of glass from the windows in the buildings blew out in every direction. One Doberman took a hit and was killed, the other Doberman ran for cover. Bobby fell forward against the road from the blast. He regained his footing and ran harder. Someone called 911. Emergency vehicles were dispatched. The Cadillac was engulfed in flames when the first police car arrived. Bobby jacked a car a few blocks away. He found an alley near the hotel to abandon it in. He walked three blocks to the hotel staying out of view. He knew about the hotel security cameras in the lobby and that there were none in the stairwell to his floor. Without detection, he entered his hotel room through the second door to the suite. His clothes reeked of gasoline, sweat and cordite. He tore them off and stuffed them in a plastic garbage bag. He didn't have any way to get rid of them, so he placed the bag above the drop ceiling in the bathroom. He planned to discard them the first chance he got. There was blood on his hands. As he scrubbed them clean, he realized his leather bracelet was gone. He panicked, started retracing his steps in his mind. He would have to wait until morning to search for it. He showered and tried to eliminate all evidence of the crime. Bobby saw his reflection in the floor-to-ceiling closet mirrors. He couldn't look into his own eyes. He put on a white hotel bathrobe, grabbed a towel, and massaged his wet hair as he joined the party. Everyone was surprised to see him. Alex walked up and gave him a hug. He noticed the faint odor of gasoline. "Why didn't you say you were back? We were about to close down and send everybody home." "I got lost, crazy huh? But here I am­­let's party!" He continued to rub the towel over his head. Someone handed him a bottle of water. Everyone applauded as he toasted the audience. "Thank you so much, let me throw some clean clothes on and we can get this party rocking!" Alex knew something wasn't right. The music played louder while Bobby changed clothes. In spite of what had transpired­­expired, Bobby thought things were going smoothly. He was in survival mode, a mode he would be in for the rest of his life. His parents thought he was acting different, jittery. They hoped he wasn't doing drugs. They didn't want to bury their son because of that celebrity madness. Bobby flinched when his dad put a hand on his shoulder while talking about how proud he was of him. A young female reporter from the Arizona Republic Arts section asked a pointed question. "Bobby, does anything make you cry?" "I don't get that luxury. It's my job to make all of you forget your troubles and laugh." *** Donald had never disappeared before for any length of time. He was as reliable as a sunrise. He had told her that he needed some air to clear his head when he got back to their hotel room. At midnight, he still had not returned. When she saw the faces on two detectives who knocked on her hotel door in the early morning hours, she knew she had lost her Donald. They made the formal notification of his death. They told her how he was found, and asked about Donald's use of drugs. She grasped her face. Tears welled in her eyes. Her faced contorted in terror. She saw Donald's face. She watched him shadow box where she now stood. She felt light-headed, she said. She had gone into shock. They gave her some water to hydrate and sat her down her sit down. Somehow, through the tears, she was able to tell them that neither she, nor Donald, had ever touched drugs in their lives. It had to be a mistake. The hotel doctor gave her a sedative.
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Chapter 1
3 The flames shot up into the black night sky. Emergency vehicles raced en route, sirens blared. The first blue and white arrived on the scene and the young officer driving yanked the Halon bottle from the rack. He sprayed down the burning car as best as he could. The pump truck with the obnoxious wailer and flashing light bars came to an abrupt stop behind his patrol car. The firefighters in yellow protective gear sprang out of their vehicle. They finished dousing the flames then checked the area for smoldering that could re-ignite. One firefighter got close to the car and observed the crazing and charring. Another pulled the rookie cop back from the car. The officer listened while he was schooled from behind a helmet with a Plexiglas face guard. The supervising lieutenant got out of his fire department SUV. He made the call for an arson investigator. After the flames were smothered and his scolding was over, the uniformed cop proceeded to look inside the CTS and saw the smoldering body. He scoured the immediate area for a suspect, or suspects, witnesses, the person that called in the fire. He didn't see any weapon to secure. It was his crime scene for now. From all of his training, he knew it was up to him to secure the area from evidentiary contamination. Officer Rodriguez knew he was the first one in the chain of custody, and the forty-eight-hour clock had started. Besides other patrol units, the next to reach the scene was the watch commander. He set up for a long night. He made the call to his best investigators who were already working another crime scene on Indian School Road. The lead detective there shouted out to the forensics techs near the Crime Scene Response Team van. She needed some of them to head over to the Grand Avenue scene. Detective Wynter Williams and her partner Vincent Farina arrived in their unmarked vehicle with a single blue light flashing. They spoke to the watch commander. He handed Wynter a case number and introduced both detectives to Rodriguez. They collected all of the information he had. Later, they would read and verify the officer's statement. Wynter looked at the victim's name, traced from the rental car's license plate­­Donald O'Malley. Thirty years old, single and attractive in a wholesome way, Wynter had been on the force since she was old enough to swear an oath. She was a cop-brat. Generations of cops in her family went all the way back to Tombstone. She approached the crime scene from a different angle than the other investigators. Bending, poking, smelling and surveying, she catalogued the notes in her head, some on her digital recorder. She asked herself what, and what wasn't, there. Her father, John Williams, was her guide and mentor. He had been a homicide detective ten years before she had been born. He was retired now, but he followed her to every crime scene. He couldn't let go of the life, she knew, so he became her personal consultant. Otherwise, she thought, he would end up in some humiliating rent-a-cop job, or worse, pressing his thirty-eight to his temple like some retired cops do. She wasn't ready to bury him. She didn't remember burying her mom. John Williams watched from outside the yellow crime scene tape. She was exceptional at her job. She was all business, meticulous, and methodical as she went about her investigation of the crime scene. Her male counterparts were jaded and saw everything through a repetitive blur. She still had the heart for the job, the curiosity. She wasn't just there until her retirement papers let her walk away. She cared a great deal, about the victims, the law, and justice. She kept her feelings to herself, which led her co-workers to see her as aloof, a cold Wynter. The first impression she made came with a firm, wrestling-strong handshake, and direct eye contact. When her peers criticized, corrected, or gave opinions, they thought she took things too personally. It wasn't that Wynter was too sensitive, not as a homicide detective, or because she was a woman, or younger. She had investigated as many violent crime scenes as the others. She just became irritated, frustrated, if the answers she sought didn't come fast enough. At the scene, she was deliberate, adding one piece of the puzzle at a time. It was what made her good. When she thought it was necessary, she was able to go outside the box, disregard the lines, but it was rare. She also brought more energy to the table unlike many of the short-timers, like her partner Vince, who found it easier to do less after so many years on the job. The males in the herd felt uneasy knowing that Wynter was new school. They were comfortable sitting at old school desks. The men were stuck in the 1950s mentality that said women weren't to leave the kitchen, weren't supposed to be independent thinkers. They still thought birth control meant a woman squeezed an aspirin between her legs. Women certainly didn't belong at a crime scene doing man's work. The men saw the changes in attitudes and traditions in the society as the end of the American Empire. They believed there was a lack of religious values. If only the liberals understood the damage, they were doing and how tyrannical the government had become. They all stayed away from discussions of religion and politics that were louder than a whisper. Wynter kept working, trying to stay oblivious to the rusty thoughts clanking inside their cranky old heads. She had heard them all complain, at some point in her career, near her desk in the precinct. Thank God, she thought, her dad didn't harbor such chauvinistic feelings. Maybe he had voiced such sentiments early in his career, in the department, but he had discarded them long ago. He had always encouraged her. He gave her the advantage of the wisdom of his years, information she needed to know, to become one of the best homicide investigators in the Valley. Knowledge was power. He made sure she was powerful. It was just the two of them now. Her mother had passed when she was five. Without the help of the photos on the wall along the stairs to her room at the house, and the nights she listened while her father told the same stories until he would tear up, she could barely remember much about her mom. At the crime scene, she told the precinct's photographer to include a shot with the Panoscan, which captured a three-hundred-sixty-degree photo that put everything where it was for easier recall later. The Panoscan was new technology and a great asset. The human mind could do trillions of things well, but remembering wasn't always one of them. Memory was often selective, or shaded with desire and not with logic. Time caused it to fade, helpful when experiences were traumatic. She directed the forensics techs to not leave any stones unturned. That meant they were in for a long night because Phoenix was overrun with rocks. She took a long look at the charred, rigid remains in the front seat of the torched Cadillac. The ME's people stood by waiting for permission to haul it away. Wynter's head rose. She wanted to know if the RAMAN Spectroscopic Imaging could get any prints off the burned paint, or leather seats. The tech closest to her only gave it a 60/40 probability. She grimaced while looking back inside the interior of the car. She inhaled deeply trying to smell odorous clues other than the obvious. Hey mister, how'd you end up here? There were no signs of a struggle. Outside of the charred, curled remains, there were no visible signs of any injuries, and there were no valuables either. It was a big step over the line just for a robbery. Personally, if I had gone through all the trouble...I'd have kept the car. Fire. Everyone believed it eliminated all leads, but it usually gave as many as it destroyed. Wynter told the techs how to do their jobs all over again. She wanted a DNA sample done on the victim to confirm identity. She wanted prints off the vehicle. She told them how to bag and catalogue the evidence. Their forensics facility was an accredited lab and adamant about contamination. The techs were meticulous about following Standard Operating Procedures. "Maybe the vic couldn't take the old lady any more," Vince said. Vince was a coarse, unhappy man. He walked hunched over with weary hound dog eyes beneath quarter-moon eyebrows. The other cops ragged him about his prominent Kirk Douglas cleft chin. He was three years from retirement but the job and his bad habits made him look a hundred years old. Wynter kept the defibrillators in view. "If that was true, wouldn't she be the victim inside the car?" "Good point," he said. Then he did his trademark move of holding up his fist, and extending his index finger at her. John Williams, from a distance, made a note to speak to Vince about it. They used Vince's crime kit because they had used hers at the last scene. Both put on latex gloves, grabbed more plastic bags, and used Maglites to aid where the streetlights didn't shine. Wynter extended her hand behind her. "Hand me the--" "Hey listen, Watson, it's a.m. thirty and one-hundred and eight degrees out here. Let's wrap this up quick and get back into the AC. The guy got lost, drove into the wrong neighborhood, and got whacked like the other morons who accidentally wandered into druggie land. And there isn't a gang member--not a Cripp, a Blood, or a Latin King, who will come forward and claim this guy." "I don't recall the part in the criminal code that said you only do your job if you can stand the heat. What section is that in again?" "It's in the Arizona Criminal Statute, Subtitle F, Section U, Subparagraph C, Subpart K, pages oo-ff: `After twenty years, or more on the job, an investigator's partner may, upon so choosing, become more and more of a pain-in-the-partner's-behind." Wynter didn't look at him. "I've got it, Sherlock, why not head back to the refrigerator. In fact, you can be present for the autopsy. It's cold in the morgue." "Is it any wonder you don't have a boyfriend?" Vince said. "Is it any wonder you've had three ex-wives?" The truth be told, they worked well together. The banter wasn't anger. Besides, her dad watched from the sidelines. His old partner was hers now, and he knew Vince would protect her at all costs. Vince wanted to show off his knowledge base. John had told him back in the day the same thing he told Wynter­­knowledge was power. For Vince, it was a power that usually backfired. "I bet you didn't know that no autopsies were performed before the Renaissance. They thought it was an affront to our humanity. The Catholic Church first allowed one in 1533 so that conjoined twins could be examined to see if they had one soul. In Padua, 1593, they started allowing public autopsies after public hangings. Today, these MRI machine and brain scanners give us virtual autopsies with exact details. The hospitals hate them because they sell well in lawsuits." She didn't acknowledge him. He waved his arms in protest. Postmortem changes were increasing and the medical examiner's personnel were impatient. The arson investigator poked around the car. He knew that unlike suspects and witnesses, evidence told the truth for the most part. The trick was to get it to say what you wanted. He looked at the blown-out windows on the surrounding buildings in the deserted neighborhood. He studied the burn patterns. He had no doubt it was arson. The ME's people were relieved when the investigators concurred they could go to work. After Donald was bagged and tagged, Wynter took a closer look inside the CTS two-door coupe. The driver's seat had a large indentation from the body. With her gloved left hand, she pushed the seat lever and it creaked forward. Lying across the back seat was a charred, souvenir Diamondback's baseball bat. Before she backed away, she popped the trunk latch. She rounded the rear bumper and leaned into the trunk. There appeared to be discolorations resembling blood splatters. See pointed them out to the techs. Besides the notes she made on her digital recorder, she also made a sketch. "How's the wife doing? Did she give us anything?" Wynter said. Wynter hated talking to the family. She wasn't good at holding hands and comforting. "She's still in shock," Vince said. "The hotel doctor sedated her so it will be a while before she'll be coherent. She can do the identification of her husband later in the morning. She has to arrange to take the body back to Detroit, make funeral arrangements and family notifications. She's got a long way to go, a lot of pain ahead." Wynter was surprised at how sympathetic Vince was. "She did say that they had been high school sweethearts. They have been inseparable all those years. She was adamant that they never did drugs, wouldn't even know what drugs looked like if they saw them." He dragged his hand across the burnt paint. What a waste of a great car. "We saved up for our entire lives for this vacation, and in a day, in a heartbeat, this happened. He just got shit-canned from his job after thirty-some years I think she told the guys. Management­­heartless fucks!" "Vacation, huh?" Wynter wondered what it must be like being in love, how two people could stay together for so long. All she knew was that she was married to the job, sort of like a nun to the church. *** Vince walked past the freezer lockers. He enjoyed the icy temperature in the morgue after working outside in the triple-digits. He was never fazed by the dead bodies beneath white sheets, with attached toe tags that rested on gurneys. He stood alongside the Chief Medical Examiner while she completed the autopsy of Donald O'Malley. The morgue still did not use virtual autopsy technology. Dr. Sonya Lee was the feisty ruler of The Land of Morgue, and a consummate professional. She graduated with honors from the University of Arizona with a degree in Cellular and Molecular Biology, then with honors from Midwestern University's Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine. She continued her certification in legal investigation of death and forensic pathology. Her heritage insisted that she be exceptional in all things. Her reputation preceded her to expert witness testimonies across the nation. Her Asian features; the almond eyes, the high cheekbones, the perfect smile and black, silky hair were included in a petite package. She wore green surgical scrubs, a face protector and mask, and latex gloves. Vince wore his rumpled suit and held a white mask over his mouth. Dr. Lee dictated her findings into the overhead microphone. She had concluded that Donald had suffered traumatic shock, a massive hemorrhage, and multiple organ failures. The penetrating chest wound had a clear bullet track. There was trauma to the heart and evidence of pneumothorax. There was soot in the windpipe and one lung so the victim was still alive when the fire started. She had sent out blood samples and requested a toxicology test be completed. She thought there might be traces of Butonadiol. Otherwise, Dr. Lee was ready to sign the death certificate and toss it inside the case file with the recovered personal items, photographs, and legal paperwork. "May I?" Vince said. "Don't make a mess like the last time you were here, detective." He returned a half-hearted smile. "Accidently knock over one bottle of hydrogen peroxide and you're going to punish me for life?" "But the domino effect cost my assistants a whole afternoon to clean up after you. We do not have time for that. I have too many of these cases to do and we are always short-handed," Dr. Lee said. "Job security. I appreciate you putting this one ahead of the others. I know you did it for Wynter, but thanks just the same." "Vince, I did it for you too. I know you'd rather be in here than outside." Vince wasn't used to anyone being pleasant to him so he returned the best appreciative smile he could. He took a quick glance at his cellphone before he speed- dialed Wynter. He still wore a wristwatch, because it still had not run out of time. The giant wall clock with the sweep second hand on the morgue's wall clock also confirmed it was just past seven a.m. He had a fascinating discovery to tell her. With his free hand, he picked up the tweezers and poked at something in a petri dish. He pinched the object and brought it up for his eyes to inspect more closely under the strong fluorescent lights overhead. Wynter answered the call and heard a voice in the background. "Don't lose that!" Dr. Lee said. Vince smiled at her and put the deformed bullet back into the petri dish. "What's up, Vince? What did you do to make Dr. Lee mad this time?" Wynter said. "We have us a solid clue, one nine-millimeter hollow point. Mr. Vacation was shot in the chest then burned to a crisp. He died twice. Dr. Lee here found stippling around the wound. It was hard to see at the scene because the fire curled him so bad you couldn't see the wound until they broke him apart." "Good and bad for him," Wynter said. "And, our favorite ME has no preliminary indication of drug use. Toxicology will have the final word on that, of course." Wynter said what she was thinking. "So, Mr. Dead Man, what else can you tell us?" "You don't have to make this personal, Wyn, it happens when you get to my age...I take the pill when the old lady is horny." Her partner knew he would get a rise out of her. "Not your dick­­the other dead man." She paused, realizing he did it on purpose. A small smile pulled across her face. Her normal, all-business demeanor took a break. Her baby face had no lifelines yet, no creases from the hardening of the job. "Vincent." She took a second, swung her head to check and see if anyone else saw her smile. "I'm sorry," Wynter said. "Tell your old man my dick is fully-functional, promise." "Sure, he'll be glad to hear it." She looked at the ground around her. "I'll catch up with you back at CID." "See ya," Vince said. She put her phone back into the holder. Her eyes stayed on the ground and the area around her. Umm. She realized there might be shoe prints they could mold, the killer's shoe prints in the dirt. Some of the indentations had partial, but distinct patterns, possibly tennis shoes. She knew there were new developments in the science of forensics that could match up shoe prints just like fingerprints, because of all the unique patterns on the bottoms of shoes. Each shoe also apparently was just as unique as fingerprints, because the wear on them was unique to the individual wearer. She heard a familiar voice behind her and she looked up. "Over there, that's the only place where no one has trampled." Her dad stooped down and pointed. Dressed in a blue dress shirt and charcoal pinstriped pants, not a uniform, or jeans, her Glock holstered with her gold shield next to it on her belt, Wynter stooped down next to him. Her coppery red hair fluttered in the breeze. She followed his finger and with the right angle of sunlight and shadow, she saw some undisturbed impressions. "Think they're too far away from the scene?" "Not for someone interested in leaving in that direction," John said. He stood up and looked out through some warehouse buildings to the left and right. She rose. He stood next to her, but didn't say another word wanting her to make the conclusions on her own. Wynter shouted. "Hey!" The other officers' heads came up to see who was calling. "I need some impressions here." "Verbal, or teeth?" one shouted back. Even at a crime scene, humor ran rampant. It helped lower the stench level. Her dad turned and walked back to behind the crime scene yellow tape stopping only to reach into his pants pocket to take out a dog biscuit. It was a habit. He carried them while on the job because every bad guy, and most civilians had a junkyard dog. He held one out through the fence for the Doberman who had survived the blast. The dog sniffed the gift and took it. The dog knew he was lucky. His partner was on his side and rotting from the heat. Wynter watched some crime scene techs arrive with some casting materials. They started in on the shoe prints. They found a long line of them leading from the scene. She wanted to tell her dad thanks but, as always, she would wait until she got home. She respected him. She was grateful she had been born to such a man. If only the rest were like him, just a tenth. She wanted to be like him in every way and she was determined she would be. She knew it would take years to do what he did by second nature. She could not have had a better mentor. She was so proud of him. She loved him. He knew she did.
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