The choir rose in their black-and-burgundy vestments and began to sing “Amazing Grace.” The reverend backed away from the pulpit, clasping the worn Bible with both weathered hands, still looking soberly at the congregation after his words of comfort.
Fenway Stevenson shifted in the hard wooden pew, five rows from the front. She hadn’t realized how noisy her favorite black dress was until she’d sat down in the echo chamber of the Ladera Heights First Baptist Church. Even with the choir singing, it sounded like she was ripping up newspaper.
A man in a charcoal gray suit, the shoulders too broad for his frame, sat across the aisle. One of the few white people in the church, he was next to an older woman who was probably his mother. He looked oddly familiar. Then Fenway placed him: Dr. Richard Ivanovich, her opponent in the coroner election back in November. Fenway blinked and looked harder, just to be sure.
He looked uncomfortable. What was he doing here—not just in this church, but in L.A.?
She stared at him for a long time before realizing the hymn was over and the preacher was walking back to the pulpit.
The woman next to Fenway—about her age, though a good six inches shorter than Fenway’s five-ten—kept looking at her out of the corner of her eye. The church was overheated in the chill of the January day, and the woman fanned herself with the funeral service program.
After the hymn and the benediction, the organ started playing another piece that Fenway didn’t quite recognize, and people stood and began to filter out. Some of them walked up to the front row—where several others sat, possibly Nell Godwin’s immediate family or elders of the church—and began to speak with them.
“So,” the woman sitting next to her in the pew said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t place you. How did you know Aunt Nell?”
Fenway blinked. She’d had a story prepared to ease people into it, but the words came flowing out of her like a volcanic eruption. “I’m Samara’s daughter,” she said.
The woman flinched.
“Our Samara?” she asked.
Fenway nodded. “I just found out last week. My mom had been living under an assumed name for the last thirty years.”
The woman blinked. “I thought you looked a little like—” Then she threw up her hands. “Oh, where are my manners, come here!” And she pulled Fenway into an awkward hug, still seated in the pews.
“Right, yes, hi.”
They broke from the odd embrace and Fenway swallowed hard. “My name’s Fenway Stevenson,” she said.
The woman cocked her head to the side. “Fenway? Like the ballpark?”
“Yeah. My dad’s a big Red Sox fan.”
A broad smile broke over the woman’s face. “Well, my momma liked to sing, and that’s why my name’s Lyric. Lyric Godwin.”
“Aunt Nell was my great aunt. My grandpa and Uncle Maurice were brothers.” She stood and adjusted the black shawl over her shoulders. “Last week, you said?”
“I talked to Nell—Grandma—I don’t know. I talked to her on the phone last week. I was on the road, about to drive down to meet her when the nurse from Rolling Meadows called and said—uh, said she had passed.”
“Was it Julia?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Oh, Aunt Nell liked her. She didn’t like the food—too bland. But she liked Julia all right.”
Fenway stood and followed Lyric into the center aisle and out the front of the church.
“So, Fenway,” Lyric said, “the only time I ever see the extended family anymore is at weddings and funerals. You live here in L.A.?”
“Up the coast. Estancia.”
“Oh—I’ve been there a couple of times. Stayed on the beach. Pretty nice. The tar from the beach got all over my feet, but other than that I can’t complain.”
“You have to get back to work, or can you stick around?”
I punched the mayor in the face and they put me on administrative leave, so my afternoon’s wide open. Fenway smiled. “I have some time. I’d like to miss traffic, but I can stay a bit.” Her stomach grumbled. A two-hour service that started at 11:00 a.m. Cruel. She wondered if any of the taquerías in Ladera Heights were as good as Dos Milagros back home.
They moved into the aisle and joined the slow-moving group trying to exit.
Dr. Richard Ivanovich, walking next to his mother, was a few steps ahead of her. Then the person in front of him stopped short, and Fenway found herself elbow to elbow with her former rival.
He glanced and her, then did a double-take. “Oh,” he said.
“Dr. Ivanovich. This is the last place I expected to see you.”
“This is the last place I expected to be today,” he said. “I wouldn’t ordinarily come to a funeral like this.”
He cleared his throat. “My mother wanted to come.”
Fenway narrowed her eyes but didn’t press the point. “I didn’t see you before the service.”
“I was seeing patients,” he said.
“Oh.” They shuffled forward slowly toward the double doors. “How did you know Mrs. Godwin?”
“Through my mother.” Dr. Ivanovich motioned toward the woman next to him, who was chatting with the woman ahead of her. He turned to Fenway and cleared his throat. “Did you drive down last night?”
“Uh—no. Left early this morning.”
“How did you know the, uh…”
“She was my grandmother.”
Dr. Ivanovich chuckled. “Isn’t that something.”
“You think this is funny?” Fenway walked through the threshold of the double doors into the foyer with him.
His face fell. “No. Sorry.” He turned to the right and went down the side hallway, following his mother. Fenway watched him go.
“Do you know him?” Lyric asked as they walked out of the foyer. The January day was overcast, but the sun peeked through then ducked back behind a cloud.
“Oddly enough, yes,” Fenway said. “He was my opponent in the election for county coroner in November.”
“Like, two-months-ago November?”
Fenway chortled. “It feels like a lifetime ago, but yes. Tail was between his legs then, too.”
“So you won?”
Fenway smiled. “Yes, I did.”
“Good for you,” Lyric said. “I bet that was something to celebrate.”
“Well, yeah. My boyfriend lost the mayor’s race, though. So it wasn’t all fireworks.”
“Oh. I hope he wasn’t a big baby about it.”
“Nah, he was good. Turns out he didn’t really want to be mayor. He just didn’t want the other guy to win.” The other guy. Fenway’s fist hurt just thinking about Barry Klein—though she wasn’t sure if the pain was from regret or a desire to punch him in his smug, entitled face again.
“Listen,” Lyric said, “do you want to get some coffee? I was going to have a late lunch with my momma at about two after she gets out of her choir uniform, but she decided to go to lunch with her friends instead.”
“Coffee would be great,” Fenway said. “Maybe some lunch, too. I had no idea it would last that long. I’m starving.”
“Sure.” Lyric walked across the front courtyard of the church and stood in front of a concrete bench inside the wrought-iron gate. “Aunt Nell never got over Samara disappearing, That was one of the great mysteries of the family.”
“I’ll tell you what I’ve been able to piece together so far,” Fenway said, “although I still don’t know why she left and changed her name.”
“Lunch is on me then.” Lyric chuckled. “I’m always a sucker for a good story.”
A petite white woman, blonde and about forty, hurried up to them, phone in hand. “Are either of you Fenway Stevenson?”
Fenway held her hand up. “That’s me.”
“I’m Julia. From Rolling Meadows?”
“Of course. Nell’s nurse.”
“I’d do a better job of introductions, but I have a woman named Piper Patten on the phone for you. She says it’s an emergency.”
Fenway frowned. Piper had her mobile number—so why was she calling a stranger? She took the phone out of her purse, but Julia shook her head.
“She says you have to talk on my phone.”
Fenway blinked. Talk on Julia’s phone? That was weird. Still, she took the phone from Julia’s outstretched hand and hesitated a moment before speaking. “Piper?”
“Oh, good, Fenway, you’re there.”
“Everything okay with McVie? You know, you could have just called me on my cell—”
“I need you to shut up and listen to me.”
“You trust me, Fenway, right? This is an emergency. Listen to me very closely and do exactly as I say.”
“Uh—Piper, you’re kind of freaking me out—”
“Barry Klein has been murdered. You’re the prime suspect.”
Fenway’s heart sank.
She still could see, in her mind, Barry’s eye start puffing up and his lip begin bleeding. Her fingers were still sore from the punch, but it was a good kind of sore.
This was not the good kind of anything.
“Ditch your phone, your ID, your car—everything that has a number connecting you and the name Fenway Stevenson.”
“Wait a second, Piper—”
“You don’t have a second. That’s what I’m telling you. The police are on their way to the church to arrest you. Get rid of everything you have and get out of there.”
“Not my badge, surely?”
“Your badge too.”
“I can’t, Piper—that’s against the law.”
“Yeah, well, so is murdering Barry Klein. Get rid of everything.”
Fenway blinked. Her vision narrowed—everything went away for a moment.
Is this what it had been like for Samara Godwin when Eddie Drake had been killed?
“What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to get home from L.A.?”
“I’m working on it.” Fenway heard keys clicking on the other end of the phone. “There’s an Angel City Wireless at the corner of Slauson and Overhill. Go there and, uh—let me see—ask for The Admiral.”
“Is that a phone model?”
“It’s the nickname of the owner. He owes me one.”
“Piper, what the hell is going on?”
“I’m saving your ass is what’s going on. You can’t solve Barry Klein’s murder if you’re locked up, and frankly I don’t think Sheriff Donnelly can solve it on her own.”
“Hey, now, Sheriff Donnelly is—”
“Pay attention,” Piper snapped. “Angel City Wireless. The corner of Slauson and Overhill. Be there in forty-five minutes.”
“Forty-five minutes. Okay.”
“And I mean throw away everything. Throw it all away. Especially your phone.” Piper hung up.
Fenway stared at the phone for a moment, then handed it back to Julia.
“Is everything okay?” Julia looked at her with wide, concerned eyes. She was probably an excellent nurse. Attentive, empathetic, just the right amount of concern.
“I—I don’t know,” Fenway said. “I’ve got to—” Her mind raced. “It’s a work thing. I’m the county coroner, you know, and apparently there’s been—uh, something I have to investigate.”
“The Admiral?” Lyric asked.
Fenway jumped. She’d forgotten Lyric was standing right next to her. “The Admiral what?”
“I just—well, I thought this Admiral person might have been the one who died.”
“I—I didn’t get a lot of information,” Fenway said. She forced a smile onto her face. “Can I take a rain check on that coffee?”
“Aww,” Lyric said. “And I was really looking forward to hearing what happened to Samara.”
“I’ll contact you soon,” Fenway said, not knowing if there was any way to keep her promise. “I’ve never met anyone on my mom’s side of the family before today.”
“Okay,” Lyric said. She started digging in her purse. Fenway turned and hurried out of the courtyard through the wrought iron gate.
“Hey!” Lyric called, but Fenway pretended she didn’t hear.
She turned the corner and spied a garbage can on the far side of the street in front of a convenience store. The cross traffic was heavy.
Get rid of everything, especially your phone.
She looked up and down the sidewalk and saw a bench in front of a bus stop. Hurrying over, she sat down and started rifling through her purse. Her wallet—she’d gone to the ATM the night before and had about two hundred dollars, not knowing what exactly she would need in L.A. She pulled out all her cards—credit, debit, auto club, gym, coffee club—everything. She folded all the credit cards back and forth until they snapped. She grabbed the leather case that held her badge and hesitated. She opened the case.
A silver seven-pronged star stared back at her, with “Dominguez” etched around the top of the inner circle and “County” around the bottom arch. In smaller letters, in a sash across the top two prongs: “Coroner”—although it was so small, the letters so spaced out, and the shadows of the etching so deep that it was hard to read. Then the number below—327. She lightly caressed the silver with the tip of her thumb.
Nope. She couldn’t do it. Not her badge.
A zippered pocket on the inside of her purse. She put the badge in there and closed the zip.
She trusted Piper with her life. Piper knew how to dig for information—and when she said Fenway was in trouble, Fenway believed it.
And I mean everything.
Fenway hoped she didn’t come to regret her decision to keep her badge.
She dug for any sort of paper clip or hairpin in her purse so she could take her SIM card out of the phone, but after a minute or two of searching, she gave up. She looked up and down the sidewalk, and no one seemed to be paying attention.
She looked at her shoes. These were the same strappy high heels she’d worn the night she solved her first murder. Almost poetic that these impractical heels would continue to serve such practical purposes.
Fenway put her phone on the ground, just in front of the edge of the bench, then stood up, the heel of her right shoe in the middle of the screen.
The crack would have been much more satisfying if the phone hadn’t been so expensive. She felt her heel go past the screen into the electronics. She held the bus stop sign pole for balance and put all her weight on her right foot, and there were two more cracks, one right after the other.
No more tracking her phone.
She sat down and pulled the phone off her heel, taking care not to cut herself on the broken glass from the screen. She stood again and looked toward the convenience store across the street. The light was green, and with the broken phone and snapped cards clutched in her right hand and her purse in the other, she crossed the street, walked past the garbage can and dropped everything in.
She looked up at the street sign bolted to the stoplight pole. This was Slauson. She wished she had looked at the map before she destroyed her phone.
Three police cars came screaming around the corner onto Slauson, lights swirling and sirens blaring, zoomed past her, then turned hard down the street toward the Baptist Church, tires squealing.
Fenway felt her knees go weak and had to lean against a building.
A few more minutes and they would have caught her in the church courtyard.
It didn’t look like it was a friendly We’re so sorry, we’re sure there’s been a misunderstanding visit. No. Three patrol cars. They meant business. That was the kind of visit where people got thrown on the ground face first before their hands were cuffed behind their backs.
Fenway really was a murder suspect.
She pushed off the wall and kept walking.