Herman, her union lawyer met her at Canter’s Deli so they could prep for the departmental hearing. The process had slid downwards a couple of notches. Cleared by Internal Affairs with a personal reprimand that wouldn’t go on her record–assigned to temporary desk duty–but the Mayor’s crony captain still wanted to show the people of Los Angeles his boss loved every stinking one of them. Even Chicano arm choppers. And Sweet Jane turned out to be nobody, a runaway, a Jane Doe. Not even a councilman’s daughter. Not even a studio head’s estranged trophy chick who put on shows for all his pals. So a departmental hearing open to the public would be held. A show trial. Star witness Officer Gibson and the Bang Flag Gun.
Herman and Cheryl sat along the wall of the delicatessen, her on the long black leather couch, him in the brown leather chair. Herman, a once-upon-a-time New Yorker haunted Canter’s like so many of his Manhattan and Brooklyn brothers transplanted to Gollywood. Too fat for pot roast anymore, he tried to satisfy himself with cottage cheese, a canned peach half, a maraschino cherry and a pickle on the side. Good luck with that.
Cheryl felt no such compunction, shamelessly ordering corned beef and chopped liver on rye with slice of tomato and Bermuda onion. Back in New York, one deli called it a Bill Cosby. A real big daddy of a sandwich. That schmear of chopped liver made it go down real proper. Without extra coaxing or extra sauce.
Herman stared at it lovingly, smiling sadly, "Oh, those were the days."
Which made her laugh. But Herman sighed and went back to his cottage cheese plate in measured denial. Getting on with business:
"Look, this is where we stand. Let’s start with the obvious. You’re African American, you’re a gal, you’re gay, you’re a friggin’ rainbow Rambo–they can’t touch you."
He slid a newspaper clipping across at her. A printout of the LA Times.
RAINBOW RAMBO – Freeway CHiPs Chippy Bangs Banger. Cheryl thought the headline a little loosey-goosey for the Daily Sedation that wrote dudlines like: Man Found Dead in Demi Moore Swimming Pool. Kinda assumes the reader knows who Demi is in the first place, but see, it’s LA–who wouldn’t?
Heck, the paper probably still had a reporter looking for OJ’s knife–but thankfully the item slanted her way, with bits about what a cocksucker the late and lamented Chico Montoya was. Doubtless some of the local Spanish papers were calling him a choir boy. As it turned out the recently deceased Montoya was part of the VHG gang, the Varrio Hawaiian Gardens gang; a slew of them recently arrested by the Feds for targeting blacks, trying to "eliminate" persons of the African American persuasion from the Hawaiian Gardens suburb in Southeastern LA. As Cheryl and Jane Doe were both "persons of color" – albeit coffee and cream as some wretched bloggers were now calling Jane Doe the Hindu Princess. In any case, Sweet Jane wasn’t lily white – so this whole incident could be tagged onto the US Attorney’s spectacular indictment of sixty or so of Varrio’s "Hate Gang" members.
Herman played with his cottage cheese. "This hearing is just for show so the undocumented community can wave the La Raza flag and go back home for another taco and trim. So, testify. Let the panel rumble a little. This isn’t going anywhere. You got a house, you got a mortgage. You’re a citizen."
"That’s my problem," Chippy told him, and for a few long moments Rachel’s sullen eyes in the bathroom mirror crept back into her head. The deeper message on Rachel’s face as Cheryl’s one and only came to the inescapable conclusion that she’d bit off more than she could swallow, much more than she bargained for, and a lot less than she could hope to salvage. Sure, if it meant honor and vows Rachel would fight thigh to thigh with her, but that single devastating look told of a thousand days of doubt, a thousand mute nights and morning regrets in the makeup mirror.
The worst of them, that standing thigh to thigh wasn’t Rachel’s first choice. Just mopping up the trail of mud Chippy had tracked inside their house, the litigation, the depositions, the liens, the writs and appeals–which were fine for somebody else–but God, you wouldn’t want them on your own living room Bokhara. No cop’s salary could possibly clean that rug up.
Cheryl came back to the delicatessen table and Herman’s cottage cheese wondering if she’d been talking to herself in public.
"That’s my problem," she repeated, leaving out what she’d been thinking, "Things that aren’t going anywhere." And nevertheless finding the bottom line, "But this might just take everything, Herman. I killed a kid. The family of the bereaved served me. He was a worthless, macho slice and dice artist and now he’s dead. His mamacita’s crying and his name was on my bullet. I’m thinking of moving back East." She took a breath. "Besides, my father was Italian. I’m half an octomaroon or something."
"No you’re a complete maroon if you don’t do that hearing, the union can represent or co-represent on the civil suit." Hard-headed cops were his specialty. "Like you have a choice. Look if you were a cookie or a 17th Century gentlewoman, I’d name you Lorna Doone. You stood up. You did your job. And you’re married to a lawyer, for crying out loud. The little craphat would have killed you stone cold if he could have and then bragged about it later. You know you’re going to testify. Even if you move, you’ll want another job. You’ll need a recommendation from the department. You’ll have to be cleared. Capping a perp out in LA won’t look so bad back east either."
"I know, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it."
Herman cut a chunk of peach with his spoon, found some cottage cheese for it. "Who says you do? And since when is Gibson an Italian name?"
"It isn’t. But Gibone was. I think we were all lucky Great Grandpa Woppo G didn’t change it to Gibbon."
"Well, look at the bright side," Herman told her. "Once you put all this behind you, leave CHiPs, take a little tip from me, take a little trip–someplace far away where nobody’ll call you Chippy any more."
Cheryl’s angst dissolved like the sugar in her ice tea. Low Rider again, what was this, catching? Some kind of mental disease? Oh no, c’mon.
The Lady Blue crew had somehow mysteriously found its way onto the sidewalk outside.
Maybe she should autograph a Canter’s menu for them.
Herman glanced at the TV ghouls on the other side of the plate glass window and shrugged. Not the weirdest thing you’d ever see in LA. He pushed his messed up plate of curds away from him. "So…you need a divorce lawyer too?"
*
That time she didn’t bother answering. It wasn’t like that between her and Rachel. Their thing wasn’t about things. It was about them. Each other. The Big Trust, which a single look in the mirror had shattered. Everything deteriorating from there…How pitiful, truly pathetic. And moving day had arrived. Meathead Movers, the student-athlete movers of California–with their specialist Princess Packers, young ladies in pink who helped you, carefully packing the unmentionables.
Now it was Rachel’s turn to find the tequila bottle a little too often. She sat at the spectacular safety glass table in the dining room under the $2000 chandelier she’d gotten half price. The Cherokee Ironworks, it ran the length of the thick safety glass like a pool table light, translucent parchment behind paper-thin iron silhouettes marching along its sides. The lamp was called Cattle Drive: little doggies and longhorns wandering between cactus and cowboys on horseback. The lamps behind always made it look like sunset. Pure kitsch, but Cheryl loved it. No, not something she could unbolt from the ceiling and take away.
A cloying melancholy had descended on both of them. No shouting, no hair pulling, no anger or recriminations. No jealous love scenes. And maybe no divorce either, just a separation. It sort of depended on what the lawyers said. There had to be some kind of asset protection but maybe not. If divorce meant Rachel’s liability could be limited, they’d do it. If it didn’t…well, Cheryl still had to get away.
"You can take what you want," Rachel told her.
"I know."
"We could fight it out here, together."
"I know." She took a sip from Rachel’s shot glass. "Let’s just see how things go, okay?"
But she knew she was lying. Moving back east pretty well broke it. Rachel wasn’t about to give up her lawyer job and put the house up for sale. One of the movers rolled an overstuffed wardrobe box towards the front door, its sides bulging under the watchful eye of a young, blond Princess Packer. The Pep Squad Queen in charge of all those party clothes.
Rachel pounded back the rest of the shot. "You’re going to be the best dressed lipstick lez in all of Dutchess County."
"That’s not hard, sugah."
"I know," Rachel reached for the bottle again. "I’ve been to Dutchess County."
One of the movers, a buff, bald guy with bulging pecs popped his head around a hallway corner. "Hey, there’s somebody out here for you."
He meant Cheryl.
*
She stopped short as she came out the door. A man was waiting by the moving van, dark suit, open collar. Never seen him before. Broad, open face and scruffy graying beard, intelligent, sad knowing eyes. The fellow seemed a cross between John Q. Citizen and a well-established foreign gentleman, originally from somewhere in North Western India; now standing in her driveway in American clothes. A guy some people might have called a Dot-head or Sabu when he wasn’t looking. He’d come in a rental full size black SUV Ford Explorer, anonymity in four wheel drive. And he spoke in a whisper-soft voice:
"Miss Gibson," the man asked. "May I come in?"
Something in his manner, the sincerity and gentleness made it so she didn’t want to refuse. But he could see she was a little apprehensive. "My name is Dr. Bhakti Singh." That meant nothing to her. He held out a photo of a young lady, smiling with daddy at a birthday party table. Daddy was wearing a silver cone hat. The girl was kissing him on the cheek, like she’d just got her first pony. Sweet Jane. Sweet Jane alive, before she became an armless Jane Doe torso in the back of a Chevy.
"Janet was my daughter."
"Oh my God, come in."
They sat at the long glass table; Rachel had magically pulled herself together, tequila bottle back on the shelf, water for green tea on the bright red Viking range. Boy, was she good. But this sudden appearance of Sweet Jane’s father stopped Cheryl. How the hell had he found his way to her door? Maybe he read Officer Gibson’s name in the papers. But that didn’t come close to explaining how he made the leap between Sweet Jane and his Janet. With no photos ever released Sweet Jane always had been a Jane Doe.
The man apologetic, "I’m sorry for disturbing you. I can see you’re busy. And I won’t take much of your time. The coroner’s office gave me your name, after…" he paused to breathe; then with some effort, "after I identified Janet’s body. I hope that was all right?"
"No, please–it’s all right." Still, Cheryl remained confused. "Did you register Janet a missing person? We never got a CODIS hit, nothing. How did you know to come here?"
"Just lucky I guess." He looked down at his large hands, they left faint sweat outlines on the safety glass table. Then somewhat embarrassed, admitting, "I saw an astrologer in New Mexico. She told me. No kidding." He paused to see what effect that bit had. Not much.
"I’m from Texas," he said finally, with the exhausted look of a man who’d just driven from Texas. "Three weeks ago, my Janet went across the border to a little Mexican town on the other side of the river with a friend for a local music festival. And neither of the girls ever came back. I’ve been looking for her since."
The green tea arrived; kind of pointless now. Bhakti stared at the steaming cup; and nodded at it, as if finally recognizing the stuff. "I don’t think Janet’s DNA was properly entered into the system–so that’s why there was no CODIS recognition. I just–" His eyes clouded over. "Some people have asked me, how it was possible for such a homely man like me to make such a beautiful daughter," he reached into his breast pocket for a handkerchief. His swarthy face pale but he patted it anyway. "I just came by to say, I know it doesn’t make any difference now–" he choked a moment; then regained his voice. "I just came by to say thank you. And invite you to the funeral. I know that’s not the way to say it, but Janet only has me now. Someone else should be there too. You found her. That would be nice. She’d like that."
An invitation to a funeral. How friggin’ perfect.
And Cheryl knew–of course she’d go.
For a long moment no one said anything. Then suddenly the noise of a commotion in the driveway. Another car had arrived crowding the moving van.
Naturally, Lady Blue crew–right on cue.
You could hear the lady host of the show barking directions to her trog and her dink:
"Let’s get them coming out–that’s the father. And make sure you background the Meathead Moving truck and the Princess Packers. Moving day. Perfect. Looks like Romea and Julietta are getting a divorce American style. Pack first, lawyers later…"
The two women and Bhakti were drawn to the windows by the front door. The crew of Lady Blue setting up among the Meathead Moving guys.
"Who are these people? Bhakti asked.
"Lady Blue." Rachel said. "It’s a reality TV show on LA’s Finest Females…" Rachel took a breath. "I’ll take care of this."
"No, let me."
Before Cheryl or Rachel could stop him, the Professor Bhakti Singh had gone out the front door and planted himself before the troglodyte holding the Lady Blue camera:
"Thank you for allowing me this moment. My name is Professor Bhakti Singh. I would like to offer two hundred and fifty thousand dollars for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for what is commonly known as the most recent Sweet Jane murder. Janet Singh who some on their websites call the ‘Hindu Princess’–was in fact, the daughter of a Sikh. Me. Anyone with information can contact this television program, Lady Blue."
He paused as the lady TV host began to vibrate with delight.
Then Bhakti asked:
"So what is your name?"
TO BE CONTINUED . . .
Adapted from END TIME by Keith Korman – Tor, August 25, 2015

Check out the next piece in this release, The Green Beings Coffee Folk by Peter Gleason!
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