Category Archives: Crime

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The Spider Pool
Part Four

by Michael Larrain

Is it a case of mistaken identity or masterful acting? 2,153 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


"I’ve solved the case."
In the name of showmanship, I had come through
the tunnel and into the house from the wine cellar,
though without any wine. Jade barely lost her composure,
greeting me as though I’d been expected. "I was wondering
how long it would take you to find the other end,"
she said. "Have you made any progress?"
She sounded genuinely hopeful.
"Yes. I even know who moved the body.
We should have champagne to celebrate."
I went to the fridge, lifted the metal cap off the half-filled
bottle of Taittinger, made a point of noticing that
that no pressure was released, and said,
"What do you know? It’s flat. Those things usually work so well."
"Well, tell me. That’s what I’m paying you for, isn’t it?
It wasn’t a superintendent of police, was it?
That would be too much to ask for."
"No," I said, taking a hit off the bottle. Only
private eyes can enjoy flat champagne. "It was you."
"Me?" Her eyes opened, but only by a fraction, with mild
indignation mingled with anticipation. "Why would I
move her, and where would I move her from?
Are you saying I killed her?" "Oh, no. That wouldn’t
line up with 1957. In fact, symmetry with the events
at The Spider Pool may be the only reason you took
the trouble to move her at all, since you only
moved her from the jacuzzi to the pool."
She smiled, indulgently. "Our screenplay
appears to have gone off the rails," she said.

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The Spider Pool
Part Three

by Michael Larrain

Clues start coming together for the P.I. and his film actress client. Prose poem. 2,084 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Jade had walked me to my door the night before,
and draped one of the plumeria leis around my neck
before kissing me goodnight on the cheek.
Her breath smelled of apples, and in her eyes,
when she looked at me in close-up,
an irreconcilable cocktail of mischief and injury glimmered.
Who was she, I wondered, when she wasn’t busy being someone else?
So I climbed out of bed and into my ragtop woody
to stop at the "Made In The Shade"
nursing home in Sherman Oaks where Maggie Amberson
was playing out her string. My timing turned out to be good.
Carrying a box of profiteroles from John Kelly, a confectionary
in Santa Monica, I found her in a reasonably cozy room,
lying abed watching an early Jade Bellinger movie
streaming on Netflix. It had been her first starring role
and offered the pleasure of seeing a good actress
caught in the act of becoming great. She played
a high school teacher accused of having an affair
with one of her students. Somehow, she made this piffle believable,
walking multiple tightropes without ever missing a step.
A nurse nearly Maggie’s age, her name tag identifying her as "Millicent,"
shuffled in balancing a tray of lime jello, a scoop of mashed potatoes
and what appeared to be a cube of meatloaf with carrots and
peas around it segregated into their own little compartments.
She paused on her way out to glance up at the screen and mutter,
"She ain’t no Kate Hepburn, but she’ll do." I felt bad for her,
stuck in a deadly dull job where nothing new would ever
happen, unless you counted the patients passing away.
She didn’t even have the comfort of a glamorous past to look back on.

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The Spider Pool
Part Two

by Michael Larrain

The film actress assists the P.I. in uncovering his father’s police past. Prose Poem. 2,257 words. Part One. Part Three. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


I found a stack of yellowing index cards.
On them, in scrawled handwriting I knew well from long-ago
Christmas and birthday cards, were my father’s case
notes about that night at The Spider Pool in 1957.
In pencil, he had created a maze of scribbles, cross-outs,
arrows, diagrams, rewrites, question marks, underlinings,
erasures, names I recognized and names that meant nothing to me.
I laid the cards out in what I thought was chronological order.
Once I had a handle on his system, I was able to follow his surmises.
At first, he had thought the girl’s secret sugar, Harold Lloyd himself,
to be the killer. But a number of witnesses had testified
to his presence at The Spider Pool when the girl’s life ended
in another location, and his suspicions fell upon Mildred Davis.
He’d gone exhaustively over the phone records
of all the principal players and found a series of calls
initiated by the girlfriend to the wife. He’d been unable to find
a scrap of hard evidence proving that a confrontation had followed the calls,
but it seemed not unlikely. At that point, he’d been stymied. He believed
that Mildred had put up with a series of minor and meaningless
physical collisions between her husband and various young models,
but that this time Harold had fallen in love with one of the girls,
leaving Mildred’s whole life suddenly situated over a fault line.
Then my father had been suspended and lost all official powers.

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The Spider Pool
Part One

by Michael Larrain

Elusive film actress hires P.I. to probe a mystery. Prose poem. 2,438 words. Part Two. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


It was Halloween for eye-candy around the pool,
starlets, models, actresses of considerable reputation,
trophy wives on the arms of powerful producers.
But they were all extras on this set, a backdrop for Jade Bellinger.
Even the other professional glamour-pusses, present in the hope
of becoming the center of attention, couldn’t tear their eyes off her.
As a final proof of her allure, jealous wives, instead of glaring at
their wonderstruck husbands, had chosen to concentrate their own gazes
on the woman.
"Hello. I’m Jade."
It was gracious, though hardly necessary, for her to introduce herself.
She was the toast of Hollywood. She carried a kind of
deep effortless glamor not seen since the days of Garbo and Dietrich.
She had turned down Vogue and Vanity Fair covers,
and chose not to pimp herself out on talk shows or social media.
Said to be the most elusive interview in town,
she wouldn’t even go out on promotional junkets for her own films.
"You may be wondering why you were invited," she said.
It was a wrap party for her new movie, Seeds Of Doubt,
held at her home high in the Hollywood Hills.
"Are you familiar with the history of this place?" she asked.
"I know the legend, the rumors, nothing in particular.
Didn’t it used to be known as The Spider Pool?"

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Manhunt
Part Five

by Dale Kutzera

Cop turned screenwriter Nick Chapel finds another body and puts his own in danger. 3,036 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


I’m riding shotgun in the LAPD department issue Ford Taurus going south on the 405 and trying not to imagine the sources of the stains, tears and burned holes in the fabric around me. The seats are wide and the suspension spongy. My slacks and blazer will have to be laundered and even that may not erase the smell of fried food and cigarettes. I crack the window, but it’s not big enough to air out this kind of stink.

For the longest time Ayers says nothing, focusing on the intricate sequence of lane changes required when traveling through West L.A. and Culver City. He’s a meticulous driver, head on a swivel, checking his mirrors. Perhaps he was in the military, or played ball in college. I sense team sports in his background, but the lanky frame that impressed high school recruiters has gone soft.

“So you and Brandt were a team,” the police detective finally says. “I hear you didn’t suck. A real hard charger.”

“I liked putting the cuffs on bad guys.”

“Hard chargers burn out. That what happen to you?”

I smile at the jab, then explain, “I got a job on a TV show and it stuck. Now I’m a screenwriter.”

“I need you to just remember one thing: you’re not a cop anymore. So who is this mook we’re trying to find?”

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Manhunt
Part Four

by Dale Kutzera

Former LAPD detective turned screenwriter Nick Chapel follows a lead in the serial murder case. 2,096 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Five tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


There is a reason I specialize in rewriting crime stories. It’s not just the compelling nature of murder, and the ease of breaking a second act that is propelled by the search for a criminal. It’s the simple motivation that drives the hero to his or her goal. No boring exposition is needed to explain why a police officer or private investigator endures trials and hardships to solve the crime and catch the villain. It’s simply what they do, and who they are. It defines them.

It’s the detective who doesn’t pursue the killer that requires explanation. He knows the criminal is out there somewhere. The same sun beats down on him. He wears sunglasses to cut the glare, just like I am, and maybe even a hat to protect his sensitive scalp. The same hot wind blowing in from the desert burns his lungs. I drive east, sketching out the backstory of a man I’ve never met.

He works in show business, or used to, but the reality never matched his dreams. That made him angry, enough to kill, but he’s no wild man ranting on Hollywood Boulevard about what might have been. He’s quiet and thoughtful. Intelligent. He has a plan and a place to do his work that must be private, where no one would notice his comings and goings, or the bodies he carries.

Driving through Beverly Hills, I wonder if he is shopping at this very moment. Maybe he is sipping a cappuccino at one of the coffee shops on Robertson, or eating lunch at the Beverly Center. But then he is probably more accustomed to brown-bagged lunches and black coffee from a thermos than hipster meetings at The Ivy. I settle into his shoes, and feel the weight of the implements he uses to cut his victims apart. I should be angry with my ex-partner, LAPD Homicide Det. Jim Brandt for introducing me to this character, but only feel an odd gratitude. Finding Sid Shulman is the least I can do.

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Manhunt
Part Three

by Dale Kutzera

Screenwriter Nick Chapel is back on the LAPD beat looking for a serial killer. 1,894 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


LAPD Homicide Det. Jim Brandt spreads the files on the table. “Fair warning: these are pretty disturbing.”

“Worse than eyeballs?”

“Worse than eyeballs. The Starlet Stalker takes different body parts every time. We’re keeping the specifics out of the press. They know disfigurement is part of the MO, but not the details of what he’s taking. The first victim, Mandy Monroe, played the oldest daughter on the sitcom Daddy’s Home. She was found five weeks ago in a dumpster in back of a Pizza Hut on Pico Boulevard with her breasts cut off.”

Brandt slides the file across the desk to me. I brace myself, then open it, revealing photos of Monroe’s savaged torso. She lies naked in a tangle of garbage, her face frozen in a beatific gaze, a purse and its contents scattered around her crudely slashed torso. Where her breasts should be, eye-shaped holes reveal red musculature and white ribs. For a moment, it’s difficult to process the discrepancy between her external beauty and internal meat. I close the file.

“I flagged the case, but pegged it as a one-off,” Brandt says. “Figured some angry boyfriend or crazy fan, but I was wrong. The second victim, Victoria Foster, was in the teen comedy Senior Year. She got a lot of press from her nude scene. Her body was found in a half-pipe in a Venice skateboard park. Again the breasts.”

“Your guy likes the publicity,” I begin. “This town is full of hot young women, but he goes after the ‘it’ girls, the ones with heat on their careers. He makes no effort to hide the bodies. He wants you to find them. Leaves their purses to help you identify them. And he keeps killing even after you put him on national television. Talk about your ego strokes. This gives him something he’s missing in life, a feeling of importance, that his existence has meaning. I’m sure your profiler has told you he’s probably single, a loner, maybe the victim of abuse.”

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Manhunt
Part Two

by Dale Kutzera

LAPD detective turned screenwriter Nick Chapel is consulted on a serial murder case. 2,272 words. Part One. Part Three tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


The elevator doors open at the lobby revealing Russell, the day man on the front desk.

“Mr. Chapel, are you okay?” he asks. “I caught the whole thing on the security cameras. Should I call the cops?”

“I’m fine, Russell. No need for the police, but don’t open the garage for them. Maybe they’ll miss their deadline.”

Finally, I let out a long sigh. I am home and safe behind metal gates, doors with biometric key card locks, and Russell with his security monitors and taser. With each passing floor, I feel cleaner and safer, high above the dirt, poverty, illegal-immigrant desperation, multi-cultural conflict, gangbanging violence, and star-struck disillusionment of the city below.

The doors slide open, and we are greeted by a reproduction Louis XIV side table topped with a vibrant bouquet of bird-of-paradise. There are only two condos on this level and Lee Chang stands outside the open door to my unit, no doubt having watched the entire affair on the security system inside. He’s not much older than my college roommate’s daughter, Megan Davies, but already a veteran of the industry. Three months as my assistant will do that to a person. Gone is the boy band haircut and saggy skateboard jeans he wore to his interview, replaced by dressy-casual attire from the vintage stores on Melrose. Right now he is bringing me up to speed with his usual efficiency.

“Housekeeping has the guest room all set up for Megan. Mel called about a deal at Paramount. Mrs. Henderson from next door is threatening to take you before the tenants’ board because of all the paparazzi outside. And you’re all over the news. The landline’s been ringing off the hook. Channel 4, Channel 7, the L.A. Times, Entertainment Tonight. I’m letting the machine pick up. What the hell happened?”

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Hollywood Lazarus
Part Three

by Jeffrey Peter Bates

The showbiz murder attempts mount as famed P.I. McNulty tries to prevent more. 1,570 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Mandeville Moving Pictures was six weeks into a ten-week shoot on A Whisper In The Dark when the stalker finally made his move on Jade San Vincente, Hollywood’s newest and brightest young star who also happened to be the lead actress in Mitch and Billie Mandeville’s newest movie.

“Quiet, please!” the assistant director called out. “This is picture!”

Everybody was gathered at the far end of the Malibu Pier to film a crucial scene where Jade must wordlessly decide if her character will honor her dementia-stricken mother’s pleas to help her die. As Jade took her place at the rail, her assistant held up a parasol to shade the actress from the bright Malibu sun. After a few quiet words with Jade, the director nodded to the A.D. who then ordered the camera operator to “roll camera!”

All eyes were on Jade as a range of emotions flitted across her face. It was a touching moment and Jade was capturing her character’s anguish beautifully. Then, from the corner of his eye, private detective McNulty caught a flash of movement. Someone on a ten-speed bicycle was hurtling down the pier toward them!

The bike knifed through several crew members, knocking them down, and raced straight for Jade. McNulty saw the rider was holding a plastic drink container in one hand. Moving reflexively, The P.I. grabbed the parasol and stepped in front of Jade just as the rider squeezed out a long stream of hydrochloride acid from the container.

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Hollywood Lazarus
Part Two

by Jeffrey Peter Bates

The plot thickens and then doubles as McNulty investigates. 1,922 words. Part One. Part Three tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Coffee bar manager Billie Franklin was startled by the sudden arrival of four men. She recognized Vanguard Studio’s Chief of Security and two of his uniformed security guards. She didn’t know who the other man was but suspected he was the private detective McNulty hired to investigate Mitch Mandeville’s hit and run. And from the looks on their faces, they weren’t there to order chai lattes.

“What’s going on?” Billie asked, clearly puzzled.

The security chief explained that they were searching the premises.

“Do you have a warrant?” she demanded.

“Don’t need one,” McNulty informed her. “The studio lot is private property and its security personnel is authorized to conduct any search they deem necessary.”

During questioning, Billie freely admitted that she and Mitch had been having an affair when she learned of his engagement to his Director of Development Tessa Gower. “He didn’t even tell me to my face,” Billie sobbed. “I had to hear about it on Access Hollywood!”

After turning the coffee bar upside down, the security chief informed McNulty that nothing was found tying Billie to Tessa’s drugging.

“My gut tells me something’s here,” McNulty insisted. “Have you looked in the coffee urns?” They hadn’t. “Empty ‘em.”

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Hollywood Lazarus
Part One

by Jeffrey Peter Bates

Tinseltown’s renown P.I. is back solving movie mayhem and murder. 2,268 words. Part Two tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


“Didja hear?” Micki Finch asked. “Mitch Mandeville died this morning.” She waited a beat, then added: “They say it’s permanent this time.”

“Third time’s the charm,” McNulty said sardonically. “They say how?”

“Died in his sleep at an assisted living facility.”

They were seated at a table at the Spring Street Smokehouse, a small funky joint on the edge of L.A.’s Chinatown. It was a semi-annual get-together the two friends enjoyed when they wanted to catch up over some authentic southern barbecue.

“He finally got it right,” McNulty said.

“Sure as hell had enough practice,” Micki giggled. “Is it true he died twice before this?”

“I wouldn’t say ‘die’ exactly. Murdered twice would be more accurate.”

Micki practically spit her Pinot Grigio across the table.

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On The Red Carpet At Cannes
Part Six

by Duane Byrge

The Hollywood film critic thinks he’s found the Cannes Film Festival killer. 2,626 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Part Five. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Ingrid Bjorge stretched across the hotel bed, then opened her eyes. “Good morning. I did not know you were here,” she said as she propped herself up.

“You were asleep when I came in last night. I didn’t want to wake you.” Ryan claimed.

Just as the Norwegian actress opened the room door, Ryan’s girlfriend Delisha nearly collided with her as the fashion model leaned forward to knock. She carried a bottle of Cristal and an envelope addressed to Ryan that was left for him at the front desk.

Ryan gestured toward Ingrid. “Does she look familiar to you?”

Delisha stared at Ingrid for a long second, then gazed at her from a side angle. She pointed to the window. “Look out in that direction with your chin tilted up. Look real serious.” Ingrid followed her direction, angling her head and gazing off with a blank expression.

Delisha clasped her hands. “It’s crazy. Is it true? Is it true?”

“Yes,” Ryan answered.

Delisha embraced Ingrid. “Oh, my God, the star of The Ice Princess. What is going on?”

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Ryan said. “Delisha, you can’t tell anyone in the meantime about Ingrid’s being alive. Not a word.”

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On The Red Carpet At Cannes
Part Five

by Duane Byrge

The Hollywood film critic gets a gorgeous surprise at the Cannes Film Festival. 2,590 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Part Six tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


In the days since Ingrid Bjorge’s death, the entire Norwegian nation had taken the slain actress to its heart. The Ice Princess starlet’s murder when she and her film were supposed to open the first night of the Cannes Film Festival was a countrywide shock. Now her body would arrive on the ferry in a few minutes, then be carried by Viking pallbearers to the pyre.

The Bygdoy Peninsula is the untrammeled part of Norway’s capital city, the area with the museums and the Viking burial mounds. With its aggressive environmental protection laws, the Norwegian nation had kept it largely off limits to developers. An editorial in that morning’s Dagbladet acknowledged the irony of having the multibillionaire oil developer Gunnar Severeid, the mogul behind her movie, using it for the site of Ingrid’s funeral.

Following the autopsy, she had been transported back to her homeland on Gunnar’s personal plane, a Gulfstream G650. Her ashes had been placed earlier that morning in a magnificent oak coffin in Oslo. On this day of national mourning, Norway’s crown prince Harald had delivered a moving eulogy at the Ibsen Theater in Kungs Gate Park.

Erik Bjorge, the costume designer of The Ice Princess and Ingrid’s one-time husband, had gotten little sleep in the last several days. The Cannes police had grilled him, and, even more vexing, Gunnar had questioned him aggressively about the evening of the murder. With his fashion line positioned for the entire world to see at the premiere of The Ice Princess, Erik had believed he would be the Versace of Norway, the Gucci of the fjords. Now that dream was gone. Most of his clothing creations were still on a shipping vessel back in the Cannes harbor. He never bothered to unload it after Ingrid was killed. Instead, he went back to Oslo for her funeral.

Considering that Ryan had been up for several nights, found not one but two corpses, been chased through Cannes by what he thought were cops, had delivered an impromptu speech before a packed room of journalists, Ryan wasn’t too worse for wear. He recalled that Sean Connery line from the third Indiana Jones, where Harrison Ford is whizzing along on a motorcycle with his dad clinging on the back for dear life. “This is not archeology,” Connery groused as Indy accelerated away from the bad guys.

“This is not film criticism,” Ryan muttered to himself.

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On The Red Carpet At Cannes
Part Four

by Duane Byrge

The Hollywood film critic is a suspect in a second murder at the Cannes Film Festival. 2,903 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Five tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


There were enough security guards to stock an island dictatorship. Instead of colorful uniforms with feathered hats, gaudy medals and polished swords, they wore Armani tuxedos. The crack unit stood at attention in front of the mansion gate for the Cannes Film Festival’s elegant party. Despite their disciplined pose, their eyes were riveted on Ryan’s model girlfriend Delisha.

Within seconds, an attendant pulled up with a gleaming Aston Martin V12 bestowed on Ryan for the long drive back to town and belonging to one of the movie producer-distributors. At least half the valet parkers rushed to help Delisha into the passenger side. She slid into the classic vehicle. “Allons y,” Delisha called out, bestowing a celebratory wave.

Ryan idled the car as the iron gates snapped open with crisp precision, spreading their steel in a deferential backward swoop, like an old-fashioned servant. Only then did Ryan punch the pedal and sail through the estate’s stone entrance.

Delisha clasped his hand. “Home, James.”

“Bond, James Bond,” Ryan called out in his best 007 accent.

Delisha giggled and planted a quick kiss on his neck. For the moment, Ryan felt like the glamorous super-agent. The trouble was: he didn’t really know how to work a shift. Maybe, if it was all downhill, they could continue in this gear.

“You’re grinding. You’ve got to let it out,” Delisha said.

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On The Red Carpet In Cannes
Part Three

by Duane Byrge

The Hollywood movie critic, no longer a murder suspect, tries to cover the Cannes Film Festival. 2,640 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four tomorrow. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


When the Hollywood New Times chief film reporter swooped out of the elevator, he nearly ran down the trade’s top film critic, Ryan Hackbert.  “You haven’t returned any of my messages,” Stan Peck said as he came through the entrance to the Hotel Savoy. ”I’d like to get your side of the story.” Peck pulled out a digital recorder and flicked the switch.

“My side of the story is nothing,” Ryan answered. “The police asked me in for questioning and were satisfied with my answers. I know nothing about the murder.”

Ryan quickened his step. Peck clicked off the tape and said unhappily, “You know it’s ironic that you, a member of the press, aren’t talking to me, another member of the press.”

“I’m a very ironic guy. You can quote me on that.”

“Seriously, you were hauled in. You said in your review that she should be strangled.”

“I criticized the dialogue. A new editor mangled it with the scarf thing. The police understood,” Ryan answered.

"This murder of yours is screwing up my Cannes coverage," Peck continued. "I’ve got to go to this stupid press conference about it when I should be having breakfast with the TriCoast people. They’re going to announce a new slate." Peck paused to twist the knife a little deeper. "But a lot of people out there still think you’re guilty. That you killed that blond actress from The Ice Princess at the Carlton."

Despite the momentary high of jerking Peck around, Ryan was pissed at himself for giving Peck between-the-lines hints about the police interrogation. As much as Ryan hated to admitt, Peck reflected a fair amount of what would be movie industry opinion, as berserk as that could be. By doing nothing, Ryan was screwing up everyone’s Cannes Film Festival including his own. This was his eleventh time here. He needed to get back into his normal festival mode.

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The Gift

by Howard Rosenberg

The TV showrunner’s betrayed wife is intent on vengeance. But can she get it? 2,207 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


VALERIE

Outrageous! The price had jumped to eighty-five dollars for a dozen pieces, each no larger than a thimble.

Yet Condazini Triple Chocolate Italian Crèmes were worth it: roasted almond butter with a hint of espresso, and in a dark chocolate shell that melted slowly on her tongue. The complex aroma alone stimulated her taste buds. It was heavenly, and Valerie Lasky adored every sinful calorie.

She paid cash, then watched the sales clerk slip the slender gold box into an elegant Chocolatier bag and slide the guilty pleasure across the gleaming glass counter.

The saleswoman smiled and said, “Enjoy!” Valerie nodded but didn’t speak, careful to do nothing the clerk might recall. A word or a glance could form a memory. Though low odds of that; she was one customer of many. Besides, Valerie felt anonymous behind her dark sunglasses and her hair folded under a generic baseball cap. Plus, Chocolatier was too many zip codes from her Pasadena neighborhood for anyone to make a geographical connection.

By late afternoon, Valerie had disarmed the alarm in the large Craftsman house on leafy Laguna Road. It was empty except for the family’s calico cat. Their eldest son was at Stanford, and the twins, were at summer camp.

The solitude was lovely, the only sound her stiletto heels clicking on the heart pine floors. Valerie now needed privacy. Her husband Raymond had texted in the morning that he would be working late. Again. Something about an emergency reshoot. Again. Such was the predictable unpredictability of a highly paid TV showrunner with a moderate hit and a homelife relegated to a footnote.

This showrunner, at least.

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