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Authors: Baxter Clare

Tags: #Detective and Mystery Fiction, #Lesbian, #Noir, #Hard-Boiled

End of Watch

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Baxter Clare - L.A. Franco 5 - End of Watch
Baxter Clare
Bella Books (2006)

Francis M. Franco. Shot for three bucks and change. The only witness, his ten-year old daughter.

Thirty-five years later, that daughter is LAPD Lieutenant L.A. Franco. Tired of running, Frank realizes its time to either face the past or die by its long hand. In an effort to quiet her demons she returns home, to New York’s Lower East Side. But the journey intended to rest old ghosts only resurrects them.

While visiting her mother’s grave Frank is stunned to discover a lead in her father’s long-unsolved murder. Aided by NYPD Detective Annie Silvester, Frank follows the lone clue down the unlit steps of memory to a final, unthinkable resolution.

In End of Watch, L.A. Franco at last kneels before Fate and in so doing becomes its master.

CHAPTER 1

Wednesday, 5 Jan 05

home

All right. Here goes. Mary says I should write, that writing will keep me honest, so here I am. She said, don’t think, just write. Ten minutes a day. I’ve got my timer set. Nine minutes and twenty-one seconds left.

Christ, where to start? WWJD? What would Julie (Andrews) do? Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.

Let’s start with Mary since this is her brilliant idea.

I bitch, but she’s a gem. Knocked on my door at six thirty the morning after I tried to eat my gun. Took one look at me and said, “Kid, you look like you’ve been eating rat poison and sleeping under rocks.”

Which was exactly how I felt. I liked her right away. No bullshit. She’s from Brooklyn. Left her husband with two little boys and ran to California, just like I did. Minus husband and kids, of course.

She was a terrible drunk. Now she looks like somebody’s sweet old granny but evidently she did everything short of murder before she sobered up. She’s a retired dispatch operator from the sheriffs department. I can tell her things I couldn’t tell a civilian

from the baby drowned in a bucket last week, to fucking up with Gail, all the drinking on the job. The blackouts. Eating my gun. No secrets. That’s the deal. Got to tell your sponsor everything. She just nods and keeps knitting. She’s fucking shockproof. She’s kept me sober this far

sixty-one days

so I may as well keep doing what she tells me. Beats a bullet for dinner.

Six minutes left.

Got Stan Getz on. Moved the CD into the living room. Too many memories in the den. Easier to be out here. I’ve been going through new CDs like I used to go through Scotch. Hard to listen to the old ones. They remind me too much of wine, or Scotch, or beer, or ad nauseum … a drink for every song.

So Tm making new memories, sober ones, ones I can remember in the morning. Tm loving Getz’s
West Coast Sessions.
He was a junkie. Amazing how many musicians were junkies or drunks

it either killed ‘em or they kicked it. No half measures. Getz kicked it. Died sober. Good deal. One day at a time, right?

Which reminds me. Tm going to New York this weekend. Mary thinks it’s too early, that Tm too vulnerable in my fledgling sobriety, but Tm afraid if I don’t do this now I never will. Been putting it off a long time and I need to make peace with it. It’s only a weekend. I’ll be back on Monday.

Jesus. Gail just called. She got my letter. Wants to come by. She’s going out of town tomorrow and wants to talk before she leaves. She sounds pissed. What could have pissed her off? This is what I wrote (I spent so much time on it I know it by heart): Gail
—I’ll keep this short—
I
know you’re busy and probably don’t want to hear much from me. I knew when I walked out on you that Td made the wrong choice but wrong as it was, it was the only option I could see at the time. And I pursued that option as hard as I could until I was an ounce of trigger pressure away from ending up on one of your gurneys. I got some help and have been sober a while. My head’s clearing and Tm seeing the messes I made.

The worst is what I did to us. For whatever it’s worth, Tm sorry. That doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t make it all better. It’s just the truth. I was wrong

dead wrong

to walk out on you and I have to live with that. I hope it hurts me more than it hurts you, but when I see you at the morgue you look miserable. I hate what I’ve done to you and Td do anything to take it back but I can’t. Please know it wasn’t about you, Gail. It was never about anything you did or didn’t do

one of the things they say in AA is “no human power could have relieved us of our alcoholism.” All our love combined couldn’t have kept me from reaching for the bottle instead of you. I wish I could take that night back, but I can’t. At least please know I loved you then and I love you now.

Always

F.

What’s offensive about that? I can’t see it. Oh, well. I guess she’s going to let me know. Wonder if I should change clothes. Got my old academy sweats on. They’re pretty gnarly. Shit. I wonder what she wants. I swear, it’s easier taking down a rock house than waiting for my ex to knock on the door.

A drink sure would be nice. A couple drinks. Oh well. Not an option. Just gotta tough it out. Okay, okay. Ten minutes is up. Tm going to change my clothes. Later.

CHAPTER 2

The doorbell rang and Frank took a deep breath. She held it a second before opening the door. She thought she was ready but seeing the doc made her guts and her knees go quivery. Gail looked tired and pale, grim even, but to Frank she was still beautiful. Her heart felt like it was being squeezed in a giant fist and she wondered vaguely if that was what a heart attack felt like.

“Hi. Come in.”

Gail stepped past Frank without looking at her.

“You coming from work?”

“Yes.”

“Are you hungry? I can make you something. A sandwich? Soup?” ‘

“No.” Gail faced her. “I’m not staying that long.”

“Okay.” Frank motioned toward the couch. “Staying long enough to sit?”

Gail swept back her bangs with her knuckles and Frank followed her into the living room. Gail primly took one end of the long couch and Frank took the other. She waited for Gail to speak. The doc just stared, until her obvious frustration made her blurt, “Why did you send that letter? What could you have
possibly
been thinking?”

Frank was surprised. She thought the letter was plain, but she explained, “To apologize. You were right, I was wrong. I guess I didn’t make that clear.”

Gail snorted her disbelief. “I don’t hear from you, except for an occasional nod and a ‘hey’ at work, for nigh on six months and then this letter drops out of the blue. And you’re terribly sorry and contrite and sober, and just what the hell am I supposed to do with all that? Forgive you? Everything’s fine now because you’re sorry? Is that what you thought would happen? That everything would be
dandy,
that all would be forgiven if you just dropped me a little note? That I’d forget you left me for a bottle of Scotch?”

Gail’s vitriol was another surprise, but a good one. Frank reasoned that she’d only be this angry if she still cared a lot. So Frank proceeded on tiptoe through the minefield of her reply. “No. I don’t expect anything like that. I just felt the least I could do was apologize. You deserve that. You deserve a whole lot more and I hope you find it with someone who can be better to you than I was. I don’t expect you to take me back. I don’t even expect you to like me very much. I guess I just need to accept responsibility for what I did. I fucked us up in a big way. It doesn’t change anything. I just wanted you to have the satisfaction of knowing it was all my doing. In case you had any doubt, which it sounds like you don’t.”

Gail retorted, “You’re damn right I don’t,” but her wrath was cooling.

Frank continued her mollifying. “I’m sorry I upset you. That wasn’t my intention. If you want to stay angry, that’s fine. You have every right to. I can’t change that, and if you want I’ll never bother you again. I’m just trying to extend an olive branch. We still work together and I’d like to make that as peaceful as possible. If we can’t get to peaceful”—she shrugged—“that’s the way it is. I don’t know what else to say. Tell me to leave you alone, never talk to you again, and I will.”

Gail’s green eyes burned. She looked near tears and finally thumped the couch with her fist. “God damn you, Frank. God
damn
you. I’ve spent the last six months trying to forget about you and in one fell swoop you obliterate all that effort. And you’re damn right I want to be mad at you. I
hate
you. I hate your damn letter and your damn apologies! You can’t just swoop back into my life like that.”

“Then I won’t,” Frank answered gently. “I promise I’ll leave you alone. I won’t call or write or even say hello when I see you. Is that what you want?” Gail dropped her head and Frank pushed, “Is it? Just tell me. Say the word and I’ll be gone forever.”

“Damn you,” Gail whispered. “Damn
me
for ever falling in love with you. All the red flags were there and I ignored each one.” She shook her head, picking invisible things from her slacks. Frank waited her out. At length Gail admitted, “I don’t want to hate you, but I don’t trust you either. You scare the hell out of me.”

“How so?”

“Because you’re two people. The thoughtful, sensitive Miss Hyde that I fell in love with and the alcoholic Doctor Jekyll that I detest. I never know which one you’re going to be.”

Frank nodded. “That scares me too. I wish I could look you in the eye and swear I’ll never drink again, but I can’t do that. I’ve been going to all these AA meetings and I hear stories about people who were sober ten, fifteen, twenty years and then one day they start drinking again. Seems like the common denominator among them is that they stop going to meetings and stop working the steps. They stop being honest with their sponsors and themselves and eventually they drink again. So I know it happens.” Scooting down the couch, close enough that she could reach out and touch Gail, she added, “All I
can
promise, and I promise this more for myself than for you, is to keep doing the things that will give me the best shot at staying sober. And that starts with telling the truth, being honest about where I’m at and where I’ve been.

That’s why I wrote that letter. I need to admit what I did to the people I hurt. And I need to remember what I did because if I forget then I’m in danger of doing it again. And I don’t want to do that, Gail. To you, to me or to anyone else.”

Frank sat back. It was a long speech for her. It felt strange, talking so much, but it felt good, too. Awkward as it was to get into, the truth fit comfortably once it was in place.

So she continued, “Tell me what to do. Do you want me to leave you alone? I can do that, if that’s what you want. Just tell me.”

“I don’t know what I want. I thought I did until I got your letter. It was beautiful. I cried when I read it.” She half laughed. “Then I balled it up and threw it across the room calling you names you’d be proud of.” Gail hated profanities and the two women shared a tentative smile.

“Look, if it’s any help, I don’t know what I want either. I feel all… disjointed lately. Like I have no idea who I am. I don’t want to be the old Frank but I’m not sure who the new one is. So what do you say we go back to square one? Start all over. No expectations. Just try to be friends again. Maybe see how that goes.”

“It’s not that easy.”

“Why?”

“Because.” Gail’s eyes searched the room. “Because I’d have to suspend my disbelief to be with you. I don’t know that I can be in a relationship with you without expectations. And I’d keep waiting for you to turn into Dr. Jekyll, waiting for you to shut me out again. I don’t know that I’m willing to do that.”

Frank nodded agreement. “Yeah. I’d be scared too. Hell, I
am
scared. I don’t
want
to be Dr. Jekyll again. I can’t afford to be. The cost is too high. If I become her again I can only see two options— one really. Somehow I’d kill myself. Probably in a car wreck or with a bullet—but something bad’d happen and I don’t want to go there. I’ve been close enough to that edge and I don’t want to go back. That’s all I can tell you.”

“I know. I know you can’t make any promises. But neither can I.”

“Fair enough. How about we just try for civility and see where it goes from there?”

“All right,” Gail yielded. “We’ll try that.” She looked like she had more to add, but stood up. “Thanks for letting me come over.”

“Thanks for wanting to.”

Walking her to the door, Frank asked where she was going on her trip.

“New York. I’m speaking at the NAME convention on Friday.”

A grin spread across Frank’s face and Gail interpreted it as confusion.

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