After a panicked call from his best friend, Mattie Hardwin, Luc Actar must return to Los Angeles and the life he fled three years earlier. Mattie’s husband, a prestigious lawyer named Spencer Hardwin, has mysteriously disappeared. Desperate for assistance, Luc enlists the help of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in his search to find Spencer, despite his better judgment. But he soon learns that the detectives have their own reasons for locating Spencer—the lawyer has become the prime suspect in a drug dealer’s brutal murder.
As he hunts for the man he thought he knew, Luc’s history with Mattie haunts his dreams and drives him to the depths of the misery he once escaped. Back on the streets of Los Angeles, Luc employs old friends and encounters childhood rivals to take on the sheriff’s department, while a slew of lawyers impede his every move to save those closest to him from an unknown killer.
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Melissa M Garcia
Tuesday, November 2, 2004
At the same time a young man was being shot to death in Southern California, I was holding an impromptu batting practice across the country.
The crack of the bat echoed in my ears. I searched my trusty Louisville Slugger,checking for any splits in the wood. It was beginning to look old. It had seen a lot of action. There were new scratches and a few dents, but I was pleased to see it was all still in one piece.
Maybe I should have joined the baseball team in high school instead of trying out for football. I probably would have been pretty good. Baseball coaches probably didn’t yell as much. I hated being yelled at.
I tightened my old gloves and took another long look at the bat. One more swing and then I had to get moving. It was getting late and a cold breeze was chilling the air. I brought the bat behind me and took another major-league swing.
The sound of crushing bones made me smile. The bat still had some power in it. I ignored the screams. Yeah, I could have made the majors.
I zipped up my jacket. Rain would be coming soon. Snow would be waiting around the corner. I hated winter. It was just too damn cold here. Not like LA.
I looked down at the mess at my feet.
“First rule. If you make me repeat myself, you ain’t leavin’ this alley,” I said calmly. “Your name?”
The crumpled heap moved slightly and muttered, “Marcus.”
The distant cry of traffic loomed down the empty alley. As I expected, the screaming was ignored. No one wanted to play hero in this neighborhood.
“Now, Marcus, that wasn’t so hard, was it?” I said, laying the bat down.
The man clutched at his swelling ankle but didn’t respond. His head rested on the hard, cold concrete; his eyes closed. He smelled like a wet dog; he looked worse. His nappy hair hung down, covering most of his bruised face. These bruises weren’t from me.
He seemed young, but I knew you could never tell the age of someone who survived on the streets. I watched him fight the pain with little more than a grimace.
He was determined to not let me see his pain. He reminded me of a younger me.
I searched the pockets of his jeans and found nothing. I grabbed the backpack I had caught him with. His eyes finally opened, glaring at me.
“Hurts like a motherfucker, huh?” I laughed.
I dug out a wad of cash. I counted $154, pocketed it, and continued my search. I threw a pick on the ground.
“You’re one stupid crook. If I was a cop, you’d be in handcuffs right now.” I glanced at him and smiled. “I bet right now you wish I was.”
“I wasn’t stealing nothin’. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m only a kid.”
“How old are you?” I asked as I pulled a nine millimeter from the bag.
“Sixteen.” The kid attempted to wipe the sweat from his face but only succeeded in spreading grease and filth.
“Don’t move. So you’re young and stupid.” I took the bullets out of the pistol and tossed it in a nearby dumpster. It was useless to me.
I learned a long time ago that guns were ineffective on criminals. We don’t care about dying. We all end up in the ground sooner or later. Some of us can’t wait to get there.
As a kid, I used to carry a gun. And when some asshole pulled a gun on me, my thought was to die like a man.
Only once had someone fired. The three bullets missed me completely. Some
said I was lucky. I never thought so. I would have done anything to feel that lead pierce through my flesh, to feel the blood rush from my body in gushes and spurts. To feel alive for just a split second before death engulfed me.
“Who do you work for?” I asked.
“No one,” the kid insisted.
I granted the kid a hard kick to his kidney and he screamed in pain. Both his ankles were possibly broken, and now he was going to be pissing blood for a month. He looked up at me with desperate eyes. I waited for him to beg for his life, but it never came. I wondered if he had lied to me about his age.
“Tell me who you work for, or I move the bat up to your kneecaps. Your ankles will heal. But once you lose a kneecap, you’ll spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair.” I threw the now-empty backpack in the dumpster.
The kid spit, wiped his mouth, and stared at me. This kid was no amateur. I was just like him at sixteen. Too skinny and too dirty. But stronger than hell. His arms revealed his heavy workouts. His eyes showed regular abuse. The threat of the bat wasn’t cutting it.
I drew my knife and held it to his face. He tried to focus on the large blade. I could take his eye out in one swift move.
“Remember rule one? Don’t make me repeat myself.” I placed the tip of the blade under his right eye and watched it waver. Pain is always a worse threat than death.
“Louis. His name is Louis.”
“What is Louis’s last name?” I said pulling the blade slightly away.
“He doesn’t have one.”
Because I don’t like making idle threats, I always make it a habit to follow through. Since Marcus wanted to play games, I ran the blade along the kid’s cheek.
The crimson drops burst from the cut as the kid shrieked in pain. Not a man’s scream, this time. His hands attempted to grasp at his face, but I stopped them.
“What is his fucking name?” I asked again.
“I only know Louis. I don’t know his last name. He hangs on Thirty-Fourth Street. He runs these streets. He told me to steal the car. That’s all I know.”
Committing the name to my list of enemies, I wiped the blood from the blade on the kid’s torn jacket and put it away. The kid’s new screams would bring the police in a matter of minutes.
“You tell Louis that the cars on these streets belong to me. If he wants one, he needs to talk to me first.”
Taking one more look at the kid, I put the bat back in my gym bag, followed by my gloves. I don’t normally beat up on kids. But Marcus had committed the cardinal sin: trying to steal what I already had my eye on. He would pay. Louis would pay. And the Porsche would be mine by morning.
Sirens screamed in the distance. I pulled out my cigarettes. Only one left. I would have to stop for more. Hopefully before the rain started. I looked up to the graying sky.
“I’m gonna give you a choice. A choice I was never given.”
My bag rang. I snatched the cell phone from it.
“Speak,” I barked. Marcus didn’t move.
I lit my last cigarette. It did little to keep the cold away.
“Luc, it’s Mattie.”
My stomach plunged to my feet. The tension and anger dissolved.
“Hi, sweetheart.” My voice was sweet now. Gentle.
More sirens. I didn’t look at the kid.
“Spencer’s gone.” She stated it simply. Charlie barked in the background.
I didn’t understand. Her voice wasn’t normal. Pitchy. Strange.
“What do you mean?”
The sirens grew louder. Closer. I slung the bag over my shoulder and sprinted down the alley.
“He’s gone. He disappeared. I don’t know…” Her voice trailed off.
She was crying. I couldn’t remember the last time I had heard her cry. She didn’t cry when she fell from her tree house. She didn’t cry when she broke up with Carl. She didn’t even cry at her own wedding.
“Mattie, tell me what’s going on.”
I eyed the pedestrians on the street. No one looked at me. I kept moving.
“He didn’t come home last night. I thought he was working late. But he never came home.”
I looked at my watch. It was almost six o’clock. Three in LA. Five-hour flight.
I was too far away. She was still crying. Shit.
“Mat, I’m coming out there. Have you called the cops?”
“Yes. They’ve been running through the house all morning. They keep asking me all these questions and I just don’t know.”
“The cops have been there already?”
I slowed my pace. I was moving too fast. Too obvious. Think.
I had spent my entire life studying cops. This was not standard procedure.
Alarms blazed in my head. Lightning flashed above me.
“When did you call them?” I asked.
“I called them this morning when I woke up, and he wasn’t here. Luc, they want me to take a polygraph.”
Polygraph. For what?
“Mattie, calm down. What did the cops tell you?”
“Nothing. They won’t tell me anything. They just keep asking me questions. I’m so scared. What if something happened to him?”
She paused, and I could hear her talking to someone. I flicked the cigarette into the gutter and kept moving.
“I have to go, Luc. They don’t want me talking to anyone.”
And there it was. All my anger returned. No one got in the way of me talking to Mattie.
Thunder shook the buildings. Umbrellas opened and people ran for cover.
“Mattie, listen to me. Tell the cops to get the hell out of the house. Tell them you won’t talk until I’m there with you.”
“They said they have to look through his things.”
“Tell them to come back with a fucking warrant!” I screamed.
People stared. Mattie cried. And then the sky opened and the rain fell.
“Tell them to get out. Now. If they refuse to leave, call your father. Stay in the house and wait by the phone. I’m on my way.”
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