Monday, April 9, 2018
Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA
Bad news doesn’t always come in threes. Sometimes it’s twos.
I said it out loud just as Liz Nguyen walked into my office. “Well, fuck.”
She snorted a laugh and dropped into the chair across from me. “Good morning to you, too. Fuck what? Or who?”
“Oxford University Press and major depressive disorder.”
“Uh oh. Has OUP cancelled the second book?”
Last summer I’d taken a sabbatical to write a book exploring the connection between the Bridei kings of the Pictish nation in early medieval Scotland and the Brodie family. My family. As books do, this one had veered off in a slightly different direction as I was writing it to also become the story of the younger sons of the Brodie clan chiefs and their descendants. Of which I was one. Most historical studies of clans concentrated on the chiefs. My book was unique in its focus on the younger sons.
The book was published in January and had become, by academic publishing standards, wildly successful. Sales were closing in on 2000 copies. As a result, Oxford University Press had asked me to produce a sequel of sorts – the stories of the younger sons of the Scottish clan chiefs and lairds through the centuries. I’d agreed a month ago, under the impression that I had plenty of time.
“On the contrary.” I pointed to my screen. “Email from my editor, David Beaton.” I read the content to Liz. “‘Sorry, just received this myself. Proposal, outline and first three chapters for book are due 30 April.’ That’s three weeks from today.”
Liz made an O with her mouth. “Have you started on those yet?”
“Nope. I have ideas but nothing committed to paper.”
“All right. Three chapters, three weeks. You can do it.”
“I could, if these weren’t our busiest two weeks for instruction.” As reference and instruction librarians, we spent most of our days in the first few weeks of a new quarter in classrooms teaching research skills to students in our specialty areas. Mine were history, philosophy, and the history of science. Nearly half of my time over the next two weeks was already booked with classes. “And you’re forgetting my second fuck.”
Liz frowned. “What was that one? Depressive disorder?”
“Yup. This email is from Lola.”
Lola Mack was a colleague of Liz’s and mine, another YRL research librarian whose subject specialties were classics, linguistics, and languages. Lola and I were co-authoring a paper on the subtle differences in language employed by various Roman-era historians.
Back in January, when Lola had proposed it, the collaboration had sounded like a terrific idea. But Lola struggled with major depressive disorder and often had difficulty concentrating on research and writing. As a result, we were behind schedule and the deadline for submission to the journal in which we hoped to publish was Friday, April 20. Less than two weeks away.
And now Lola was bailing on me. I read the message to Liz. “‘Jamie, I am so sorry, but my doctor has changed my meds again and I’m going to be out of work this week. I wish I could promise to work on the paper, but I doubt I’ll be able to. You have my notes and references – if you could please complete the paper however you see fit, I’ll be eternally grateful. ETERNALLY. List yourself as first author. THANK YOU.’”
Liz grunted. “Well, fuck.”
“Exactly. I feel terrible for Lola, but… shit.”
Liz hopped to her feet. “I’m gonna get out of your hair. You have work to do.”
Fortunately, I had no instruction sessions scheduled for this morning. I responded to David Beaton – Thanks for the update, will do – and to Lola. No worries, my friend. Concentrate on feeling better. Then I changed my Skype status to Do Not Disturb and got busy.
I ate lunch at my desk and spent four solid hours writing and revising Lola’s and my paper. At 12:55, I went downstairs to the reference desk for my two-hour shift with Liz. She was already there, chatting with Dolores Lopes and Justin Como, who worked the 11:00-1:00 reference shift. Dolores said, “Liz was just telling us about Lola.”
“Yeah. I hope they can find the right drug this time.”
Dolores was the mother hen of the librarians, worrying about all of us when we had troubles. We called her Mama Dolores. She said, “Oh, I hope so, too. Poor Lola has been through so much.”
We murmured agreement and took our seats at the desk. Liz said, “You concentrate on writing. I’ll handle patrons, unless we have two at once.”
“Awesome. I owe you a drink. Or two.”
She grinned. “Forget drinks. Next paper you write is gonna be with me.”
“You have a topic in mind?”
“Something about the history of elections.” Liz was our political science subject specialist.
“Huh. Intriguing. But let me get these two projects behind me first.”
I started to write again. As promised, Liz dealt with patrons. Thirty minutes later, Clinton Kenneally appeared.
Clinton was a patron turned friend, a former monk who visited us daily with a word of the day. He’d first appeared on Liz’s initial day at YRL, nearly nine years ago and had barely missed a day since. He always arrived at 1:30 on the dot.
I paused my hands on the keyboard. Liz said, “Hi, Clinton.”
“Good afternoon.” Clinton studied me. “Today’s word must be frazzled, as Jamie seems to be suffering from that condition.”
I said, “As always, you are correct.” I told him about my deadlines.
Clinton tapped his chin, thinking. “You should avail yourself of a writing retreat.”
Liz applauded. “Oooo. That’s brilliant.”
It was an intriguing idea, but… “Where would I go? If I stay home, I’ll never accomplish anything. If I go to my dad’s, then my family will expect interaction. If I go to New Mexico, I’ll be distracted by everything that needs to be done in the house.” My husband, Pete Ferguson, and I owned a recently-built vacation home in Alamogordo.
Clinton said, “A monastery would suit your purposes. You wouldn’t be bothered.”
Liz said, “How cool. You could write about medieval Scottish clans to the sound of Gregorian chant.”
I said, “I could go to a hotel…”
Liz said, “You’d have to go out for food. And you’d be interrupted by housekeeping every day. I think a monastery is a fantastic idea.”
Clinton added, “The monks will provide your meals at set times. Other than that, you will be free to do as you please.”
I was intrigued. There was a Benedictine monastery in my hometown of Oceanside not far from my brother Jeff’s farm. I’d always found it fascinating and wondered what went on there. “Do you have a recommendation?”
Something flickered in Clinton’s eyes for a second, then was gone. “There is a Benedictine monastery nearby at the end of Mandeville Canyon Road. It is surrounded by wilderness. They welcome guests during the week.”
I located the website. “The Abbey of St. Chad of Mercia. How about that? Mercia was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom.”
“Yes. St. Chad is credited with the Christianization of Mercia.”
Liz said, “Pete could drop you off and pick you up. You can’t get more convenient than that.”
Pete loathed all things Catholic. He’d hate the idea. “Are there any Buddhist monasteries nearby?”
“Nope. Closest one is up in the San Gabriels.” Liz poked me in the arm. “Come on, you can’t turn down a monastery named after a medieval British kingdom.”
“I guess not.” I clicked on the Retreats link on the monastery website. “Here’s the booking form.”
Liz leaned over so she could see my screen. “What do they have available?”
So I booked a retreat and scheduled a week of vacation leave from the library. When I told Pete that evening what I’d done, he stared at me, aghast. “You’ve done WHAT??”
“I have to get this proposal sent out. I need four uninterrupted days to work on it.”
“You could do that here.”
“No, I couldn’t. I’d be interrupted by the dog, by you, by my phone… The retreat will allow me to accomplish a ton of work.”
“You could go to New Mexico.”
“I’d end up painting the bedrooms and working in the garden instead of writing.”
“You could stay at a hotel.”
“Then I’d have to arrange for my own meals. I’d be interrupted by the maid service every day.”
Pete jumped to his feet from the loveseat and began to pace. “I’m not comfortable with this.”
He stopped and glared at me. “You know why.”
Pete had been sexually abused as a teenager by his parish priest. Naturally, the experience had turned him into an implacable enemy of the church. “Pete. These guys are monks, not priests.” Although I suspected it didn’t matter. “And I won’t be interacting with them at all. I won’t be there for indoctrination, I’ll be there to work. Alone. And Clinton recommended it, so it has to be okay.”
“There must be an alternative.”
“If you can present me with one, I’m open to it.”
Two weeks later…
Monday, April 23, 2018
TWO DAYS TO SOLVE
Los Angeles, California
Voiceover: Homicide. The ultimate crime. When a murder is committed in Los Angeles, the LAPD’s homicide detectives have two days to solve the crime before the trail begins to go cold.
Tonight, a murder was committed. Tonight, we ride with two of LAPD’s finest, the homicide detectives of the West Los Angeles Division, as they hunt a killer.
Detective Brodie (in the passenger seat, speaking to the camera): Our victim is a male, found in front of an empty house that’s for sale. A neighbor was outside with his dog and heard the gunshot. He didn’t see anything but he called it in.
Detective Kevin Brodie has been with the Los Angeles Police Department for sixteen years, ten of them with West LA homicide.
Brodie: We have far fewer homicides in West LA than in most of the other divisions.
Detective Eckhoff (driving): We may not have as many, but the motives aren’t that different.
His partner, Detective Jonathan Eckhoff, has been with LAPD for fourteen years, seven as a homicide detective.
Eckhoff: Drugs and money. There are a lot of drugs in them thar hills. Lots of money, too.
Brodie: We get a fair number of body dumps up in the canyons this side of Mulholland. Someone’s dog discovers a victim, and we have no idea where the crime scene is.
Eckhoff: This time, we know.
The unmarked car is waved through a checkpoint and pulls up to the curb in front of a large house. Uniformed police and crime scene personnel swarm the site. There is a For Sale sign at the end of the driveway.
Brodie (to a uniformed officer): Hey, Ben, what’ve we got?
Officer: White male, shot in the chest at close range.
Brodie and Eckhoff approach the house, where the victim lies just outside the front door in a pool of blood. The victim is wearing jeans and a t-shirt and is barefoot.
Brodie: You’re not kidding, close range. (He leans in to study the wound.) Shooter must have been less than three feet away.
Eckhoff: Someone he trusted. (He scans the scene.) Oh, shit. His shoes are missing. Is this a copycat?
Brodie: No way. (To the camera) About six months ago, Harbor Division arrested a guy who’d been stabbing homeless people and stealing their shoes. He’s in jail.
Officer: This guy doesn’t look homeless. Or stabbed.
Brodie (glances down the driveway): It’s gotta be coincidence, but we’ll keep it in mind. How did he get here? (To coroner’s investigator) He doesn’t have ID?
CI: Not yet. There’s nothing in his pockets. Not even a quarter.
Brodie (still studying the body): He’s got a defensive wound.
Eckhoff (demonstrates to the camera): Someone knows he’s about to get shot, he’s likely to throw up his hands. Doesn’t help, the bullet goes right through, but it’s a reflex reaction.
Coroner’s investigator (kneeling by the body): Chest wound isn’t a through and through, so we’ll get the bullet.
Eckhoff (looks up at the house): This is an odd place for a robbery.
Brodie: I don’t think this started off as a robbery.
Crime scene personnel are taking multiple pictures.
Brodie: He looks vaguely familiar, kinda like a guy I played ball with in college.
Eckhoff (in some disbelief): You know him?
CI: He looks older than you.
Eckhoff: Detective Brodie’s regimen of clean living has preserved his youthful countenance.
Brodie (rolls his eyes at Eckhoff): Ha ha. If it’s the same guy, he was a couple of years older than me. He was a utility infielder. What the hell was his name?
Eckhoff (trying to help Brodie remember): Was it a common name?
Brodie: No. His first name was a last name. Wait… Bartlett. Like the president on West Wing. That was his first name. Everyone called him Bart. (He snaps his fingers.) Bart Hightower.
CI: How sure are you this is him?
Brodie: Not sure at all.
CI: We’ll print him, see if he’s in the system.
The coroner removes the body. Crime scene investigators scour the scene.
Brodie: Let’s talk to the neighbor.
Brodie and Eckhoff meet a man in pajamas and a bathrobe standing at the end of the driveway with several uniformed officers.
Eckhoff: Thank you for speaking with us, sir. Can you tell us what happened this morning?
Neighbor: I’m not typically outside this early but my dog has had – um – intestinal issues. She woke me up, in a hurry to go out. We used the front door because it’s closer. I was waiting for the dog when I heard the shot from this direction.
Eckhoff: What did you do?
Neighbor: I can’t see over or through the fence. I took Princess – the dog – inside then went down my driveway and around to this gate. It was open, which it shouldn’t be, and I could see the man lying there. I called 911 right then.
Brodie: How long has this house been for sale?
Neighbor: At least six months. The owners moved to Switzerland.
Eckhoff: Did you see or hear anything else?
Neighbor: I might have heard a car start while I was getting Princess back in the house. But it didn’t pass my driveway so it must have gone up the hill.
Brodie: Has anyone been over here, other than realtors?
Neighbor: Not that I know of. But it’s an extremely private neighborhood. I wouldn’t necessarily have seen anyone.
Eckhoff: You said the gate was supposed to be closed?
Neighbor: Yes. The realtor has the code that opens it.
Brodie: What about the neighbor on the other side?
Neighbor: Oh, that house is unoccupied at the moment, too. It belongs to an actor who’s appearing on Broadway right now. He’s been in New York for about six weeks.
Eckhoff (hands the neighbor a card): We appreciate your cooperation, sir. If you remember anything else that might be helpful, please give us a call.
Neighbor: I will.
Brodie and Eckhoff walk back toward the crime scene. Eckhoff examines the fence between the properties, which is overgrown with vines.
Eckhoff: He’s right, you can’t see through this at all.
Brodie: These people moved to Switzerland.
Eckhoff (grins): Sixteen years in West LA and you’re still not accustomed to the lifestyles of the rich and famous.
Brodie (to camera): This is why Detective Eckhoff always initiates the interviews of witnesses and suspects in this part of town. He grew up with people like this. He knows how to handle them.
Eckhoff: It’s a gift.
A uniformed officer approaches the detectives.
Officer: Kevin, Jon, take a look at this.
The officer points to the base of the gate at the end of the driveway.
Brodie (squats down to see): Black duct tape over the sensor… so the gate wouldn’t close?
Eckhoff: But then the killer left it there? If the gate had closed and the neighbor hadn’t heard the shot, the victim might have lain there for a while before anyone saw him.
Brodie: The killer was in a hurry to leave.
Eckhoff: And lucky for us, the neighbor did hear.
Brodie: Thank God for doggie diarrhea.
Back at the station, Detective Eckhoff gets a phone call.
Eckhoff: Eckhoff. Hey, tell me something good. Seriously? Fantastic. Thank you. (He hangs up and turns to Detective Brodie.) We got a fingerprint match. It’s your guy.
The victim is identified as Bartlett Corcoran Hightower IV, age 41.
Brodie: He’s in the system?
Eckhoff: Yeah. A couple of busts for possession several years ago. Would Pete remember him?
Detective Brodie calls his brother-in-law, who might know the victim.
Brodie (on the phone): Hey. Gotta question for you. Yeah. Remember a guy from college ball named Bart Hightower? A couple of years ahead of me, so a couple of years behind you. Right. You remember much about him? No kidding. Yeah, I’ll call him. See ya. (He hangs up.) He remembers him. Said he got suspended from the team for drugs once.
Eckhoff: Is your coach still around?
Brodie: Yeah, he’s retired up in Ventura County somewhere. (To camera) I went through UCLA on a baseball scholarship. Bart was a junior when I was a freshman.
Eckhoff: Was he any good?
Brodie (shrugs): Good enough for a scholarship. Not good enough for the majors. As I remember, he was a local.
Producer: Will your acquaintance with the victim cause a conflict of interest?
Brodie: Nah. We’ll check with the boss to make sure, but I haven’t seen Bart in nearly twenty years. We were never friends. It won’t be a problem.
Eckhoff (sits at a computer): Okie dokie, let’s see what we can learn about Mr. Hightower.
Brodie (sits at a different computer): I’ll call the realtor then search for next of kin.
Santa Monica, California
Pete spent two weeks seeking an alternate retreat location for me, but didn’t find one. Not for lack of effort. He’d scoured the internet searching for a retreat center to which a person could retreat. Most included a schedule of activities – yoga, pottery, meditation, drumming, whatever. None allowed the visitor to remain unoccupied for long stretches of the day and evening.
So I was going to St. Chad’s.
I stuffed socks into the crevices of the duffel, then turned to my toiletries bag. Pete watched for a minute, morose. “Do they even have internet there?”
“Yes. And a library. And three meals a day.”
He took a deep breath, as if he was steeling himself for something. “You know, it’s 2018. And this time you’re doing the two-year thing.”
I stopped in confusion, toothpaste in my hand. “What thing?”
“Remember? 2012, 2014, 2016? Moving in together and the conference in Oakland and Aunt Ruth’s bus tour to Scotland? This time, it’s you making the decision without consulting me.”
Yikes. This had to be handled delicately. “Okay, you have a point. But this is not exactly the same. Those times before, the decisions you made either forced me to do something I didn’t want to do or prevented me from doing something I did want to do. This time, it only affects me. At least from an active standpoint.”
He was wearing his stubborn face. “You are forcing me to do something I don’t want to do. Sit by idly while you go off to a monastery for a week.”
“Oh, Pete.” I reached out and ruffled his hair, my go-to conciliatory gesture. “You’ve hardly sat by idly. You did your best to find an alternative. There wasn’t one. And it’s not a week, it’s four days.”
He frowned at me for a minute, then sighed deeply and pushed off the bed. “Waffles for breakfast? You’ll probably be eating gruel for the rest of the week.”
I laughed. “Gruel?”
“Oatmeal. Porridge. Whatever.”
“Yes, please. Waffles sound fantastic.”
He went to the kitchen and started banging around. I went to the office to pack my computer bag and then hauled my luggage downstairs.
We sat to eat and I said, “You’ll have a distraction while I’m gone. This is the week that Kevin and Jon start filming for Two Days to Solve.”
Pete huffed a laugh. “That’s right. I’d almost forgotten.”
Two Days to Solve was a reality cop show that followed a homicide investigation from beginning to end. LAPD had only recently chosen to participate, and the top brass had designated my brother Kevin and his partner Jon Eckhoff as the lucky team of detectives to represent the department.
Kevin had agreed because it was a boost for Jon’s career. I knew he wouldn’t have otherwise. But Jon hoped to get promoted to Homicide Special, a section of the elite Robbery-Homicide Unit that operated from headquarters, and Kevin was willing to sacrifice his distaste.
I was digging into my second waffle when my phone rang. When I checked the screen, I was surprised to see that it was Clinton. He almost never called. I answered, “Good morning, Clinton.”
“Jamie, good morning. Are you still at home?”
“Yep, I can’t check in at the monastery until 10:00. What’s up?”
“I fear that I am stranded. I was forced to have my car towed to the Dodge dealership this morning. I was hoping…”
I said, “Say no more, Clinton. Is this the dealership on Santa Monica and Centinela?”
“Hang on.” I lowered the phone and said to Pete, “Clinton needs a ride.”
“Sure, no problem.”
I returned to Clinton. “We’ll swing by and pick you up on our way to the monastery. Where should Pete drop you off?”
Clinton’s voice reflected his relief. “Oh, wonderful. If he would take me to UCLA’s campus, that would be perfect. Thank you so much.”
“Don’t mention it. We’ll see you in…” I checked my watch. “About a half hour.”
“Thanks again, Jamie.”
“You’re welcome. See you shortly.” I hung up.
Pete said, “Funny, I never think of Clinton as having a car.”
“He has to get around somehow.”
“Obviously. I guess I thought he rode the bus everywhere.”
I laughed. “He’s a retired monk. He doesn’t have to be impoverished anymore.”
“Ha! I guess not.”
We were mopping up the remaining syrup on our plates when Pete’s phone rang. He glanced at the screen. “It’s Kevin.”
“It’s awfully early.”
Pete put the phone on speaker and answered. “Hey. Are you at a scene?”
I asked, “Is the camera crew with you?”
Kevin growled. “Yeah.”
Pete said, “Greaaaat. What’s up?”
“Remember a guy from college ball named Bart Hightower? A couple of years ahead of me, so a couple of years behind you.”
Pete looked surprised. “Yeah, I remember. A second-string utility infielder. Is he your victim?”
“Right. You remember much about him?”
“Only that he got suspended when he was a sophomore. He tested positive for coke.”
“I know, you can’t talk about this now. You should call Coach.”
“Yeah, I’ll call him. See ya.” He hung up.
I said, “Well, damn. Now I have to wait to see what’s up with that.”
Pete leaned back, contemplating. “Bart Hightower. I hadn’t given him a thought since I graduated.”
“Sounds like you didn’t know him very well.”
“He wasn’t a friend, that’s for sure. He wasn’t much of a player or student either. He was local and he came from money.” Pete glanced at the clock. “Time to go.”
Clinton was waiting at the door of the customer lounge. I exited the front passenger seat. “Here, Clinton, you take the front. Pete will drop me off first.”
He hesitated, then climbed in. “Thank you. I hope it’s not too much of an inconvenience.”
Pete said, “Not at all.”
I buckled my seatbelt. “Pete had an old Jeep Cherokee that spent a lot of time in these service bays. What do you drive?”
Clinton cleared his throat. “Er – a Dodge Neon. My sister and I took a drive in the mountains over the weekend and the brakes overheated.”
Pete and I made sounds of commiseration. I said, “It was the brakes that finally did that Cherokee in, too.”
Clinton slipped his sunglasses on; I was amused to see that they were tortoiseshell Wayfarers. Pete asked, “Will you need a ride later to pick up your car?”
“No, thank you. I have arranged with Liz to transport me after work.”
Pete turned right onto Santa Monica. “If you change your mind, let me know.”
Mandeville Canyon Road originated at Sunset Boulevard and wound its way north through multimillion dollar homes to its terminus a couple of thousand mostly-vertical feet shy of Mulholland Drive. About halfway up, we passed one house with an LAPD black-and-white parked across the driveway and yellow crime scene tape strung between the pillars supporting the gate.
I wondered if that was Kevin and Jon’s crime scene, then decided not to raise the subject. Pete was chatting with Clinton; he didn’t indicate that he’d noticed the patrol car, and he wouldn’t take as a positive sign a murder which just happened to occur on the same road as my monastery.
Sky Valley Road split off from Mandeville Canyon Road near its tip, dead-ending at a T intersection. At the T, an unmarked dirt road continued straight for another 500 feet. There, surrounded by a thick border of mountain scrub, eucalyptus, and aged trees, stood the Abbey of St. Chad of Mercia.
There was a tall wrought-iron fence across the front of the property. Beyond it, the driveway was paved. We stopped on the circular drive in front of the Spanish-style building, cream-colored stucco with a red tile roof.
As we pulled up, two men in black monk’s robes came out to greet us. One was a stereotypical monk in his mid-sixties, tubby, with a fringe of hair around the back of his head. A genetically endowed semi-tonsure. He approached the car, a wide smile on his face. Pete muttered, “Ugh.”
“Shhh. I’ll FaceTime you this evening.”
I retrieved my bags from the cargo area, slammed the hatch closed, and Pete sped away. The portly monk held out his hand. “Mr. Brodie?”
“Yes, sir.” I shook his hand.
“I’m Father Gregory, abbot of St. Chad’s. Welcome! We’re so pleased to host you this week.”
He gestured to the other monk, standing two steps behind him. “Brother Martin will escort you to your room. You’ll dine with the other guests at my table this evening. I’ll see you then.”
Father Gregory turned, nodded curtly to Brother Martin, and disappeared into the building. Brother Martin was young, probably in his early thirties – five or six years younger than me. It was difficult to discern body type under the robes, but I had the sense that he was wiry. He had a full head of brown hair and sported an impressive black eye. I said, “That’s some shiner.”
Brother Martin’s solemn expression didn’t waver. “Yes. I was head-butted by one of our goats.”
“Ack. Goats will do that.”
“Yes.” He reached for my duffel bag. “Allow me.”
Jamie Brodie is on deadline. The proposal for his second book is due, and he desperately needs uninterrupted writing time. At the suggestion of patron, friend, and former monk Clinton Kenneally – and over the protests of Pete Ferguson, Jamie’s husband – Jamie schedules a week-long writing retreat at a local monastery. But the monastery is not exactly what Jamie expected…which might explain the flicker of disquiet in Clinton’s eyes.
Meanwhile, Kevin Brodie and Jon Eckhoff are dealing with a dead drug dealer, doggie diarrhea, and a camera crew from the reality TV show Two Days to Solve. The camera loves Jon, and vice versa. Kevin’s just trying to refrain from swearing on TV. But when the victim turns out to be someone from Kevin’s past, the case gets a whole lot more interesting.
And there’s no way it’ll be solved in two days.
Learn more about author Meg Perry and her Jamie Brodie Mystery series via her website:
From Meg’s website:
“I’ve been writing the Jamie Brodie Mysteries since June 2012. Hard to believe! Jamie is (like me) an academic librarian. Not like me, he’s a gay man, a Rhodes Scholar, a rugby player, a son, brother, uncle…and boyfriend (eventually, husband). Jamie’s boyfriend (eventual husband) is psychology professor Pete Ferguson, and they share a townhouse in Santa Monica, CA.”