“What was that about?” Dawson asked Strickland as they walked to his car, parked half a block down, in front of an upholstery fabric warehouse.”
“You know, Porter’s sister was kidnapped by someone taking some furniture up from Baja.” Strickland informed him.
Like most cops, Dawson knew her history, “Long time ago, yeah?”
“Yeah–” Strickland acknowledged, “Hays’s been here longer, though.”
Dawson looked around at two other furniture import warehouses. “Still a long shot, though.”
“I’ll get a rush from Wisnevitz and arson on the cause then, depending, we can try and track down that Myrna.”
“Sounds good.” Strickland agreed then added, “I might ask around a little tomorrow, though-”
Dawson shrugged, “Suit yourself. I’m working an NCIS film shoot down on Olympic and fifth. Text me if anything turns up.”
Strickland nodded. They got in Dawson’s car. As they drove toward headquarters, Rhea pulled out of her parking spot and headed west on Fourth.
Dawson dropped Strickland at Headquarters. Strickland got his car and drove home.
Strickland knew in his saddest bones that the fire would be ruled accidental. End of story. Their bodies would remain unclaimed. Their ashes would be stored in small paper bags at the county crematorium with the hundreds more of unclaimed bodies that year. They’d all be buried in a single mass grave at the county cemetery on the corner of 1st and Lorena streets in Boyle Heights. “2017” would mark the plot. He also knew there might be more to this. He also knew he needed Rhea.
He parked his Honda in the underground garage and quietly walked up the steps to the courtyard. He walked past Rhea’s old place. It was dark. Moonlight shone down on a palm tree, next to the pool. RHea was standing there, leaning against the tree, finishing off a bag of Fritos. She tugged at her T-shirt, pulling the V neck down to flick off bits of salt and crumbs. She looked up and saw him there; caught him looking where her tugging had highlighted her cleavage. He blushed.
What the fuck? she thought as the heat of realization rippled through her. It threw her for a minute. It was weird. For all the unsuccessful homework imagining she’d done about fucking him, she’d never considered the fact that he thought of her that way. I mean, good lord, he’d scraped her off the sidewalk more than once. Pulled her out of a dozen dark nights. Wiped her flu snot. Wiped her ass when when they’d both eaten some bad Chicken Mole on the Day of the Dead. Sure, if she thought about it, he was kind of hot in a James Comey way but he was a second father to her. More than that, he was nice. She didn’t know what to do with this. Neither did he.
“How’d you get in?” he asked.
She pulled the garage gate clicker out of a pocket. “Through the garage. They never asked for my clicker back. What’s at the warehouse?”
He knew she had followed them to the the warehouse. He’d expected her to. He took a breath.
“Let me back.”
He started to walk away.
“What do I have to do?!”
He did walk away.
“Oh come on, Strickland–” she whined then begged, “Don’t do this to me–”
His apartment was on the other side of the pool. He could hear her start to follow behind. He heard a little clunk. Then a swish. Then the sound of bare feet on the cement. He turned and looked back. She’d taken off her shoes, her skirt and was lifting her T-shirt up over her head, laying bare her breasts. She dropped the t-shirt on the ground. All she had on was a pair of men’s boxers.
She slipped those off – paused for him to get a good look – then she dove in the pool.
He watched her swim under the water – rippling, shimmering, open, wet. He looked away and went inside.
Rhea treaded water, looking around for Strickland. His lights were out. Maybe he’d just popped in for a towel, she thought as she waited for him. But she could feel something else, a vibe. It wasn’t a good one. She swam to the steps, got out, pulled her clothes on over her wet body and hurried out of there.
She knew she’d made a mistake, a big one. But she wasn’t going to think about that. No way. She needed chili cheese fries. They had some good ones at Tommy’s on Hollywood and Bronson.