Just an hour before my whole life turned upside down, I was making love to my wife, Alexa, in our little house on the Grand Canal in Venice, California. It was the first week of May and a spring storm was washing across the L.A. Basin, filling gutters and runoffs with dirty brown water, pushing a slanting rain against our bedroom window, blurring the view.
I knew the police department was about to charge me with a criminal felony, I just didn’t know exactly when. I had chosen to make love to my wife partially to ease a sense of impending doom, and partially because I knew it was going to be our last chance.
The Tiffany Roberts mess was already in full bloom, leaking toxic rumors about me through the great blue pipeline down at Parker Center, turning my life and entire twenty-year police career radioactive. Why do I seem to keep volunteering for these things?
So doom and dread hovered as knowledge of what lay ahead turned our lovemaking bittersweet, changing the tone like a low chord that announces the arrival of a villain. We were lying in an uncomfortable embrace, listening to the rain on the windows, when the doorbell sounded.
“That’s probably it,” I said.
“Guess so,” Alexa replied, her voice as dead as mine.
I got up, found my waiting clothes folded neatly over the bedroom chaise. I skinned into a pair of faded jeans and a USC Trojans sweatshirt that I’d grabbed from my son Chooch’s room, then padded barefoot to the front hall and unlatched the lock without bothering to look through the peephole. I already knew who was going to be there.
The door opened into a whipping rain. Standing on my front steps were three uniformed police officers in transparent slickers.
“I’m Lieutenant Clive Matthews, Professional Services Bureau,” the cop in the center said. I’d seen him before, mostly in restaurants around Parker Center. He was an IAD deputy commander. A big guy with a drinker’s complexion. He was supposed to be in AA, but the exploded capillaries on his ruddy face were a death clock that told me the cure hadn’t taken.
“What’s up, Loo?” I said, my voice flat.
“Charge sheet.” He thrust three typed yellow forms at me.
A PSB charge sheet lists the crimes being filed against you by Internal Affairs. It’s basically an accusation of misconduct which starts a lengthy disciplinary process that usually ends at a - career-threatening Board of Rights Trial, which is in effect a police administrative hearing. The fact that a deputy commander in uniform was personally delivering the goods was representative of the gravity of my predicament.
Matthews handed me a sealed envelope. “Your letter of transmittal.” The document confirmed the delivery of the charge sheet and started the clock on an array of procedural administrative events.
“You have to sign the top copy for me. Keep the other,” he instructed.
“You guys couldn’t wait until tomorrow?” I looked past him at the two stone-faced Ios standing a foot back, one on each side of the lieutenant. Water droplets had gathered on the plastic shoulders of their see-through raincoats.
“Nope,” the lieutenant replied. “Chief Filosiani and the city attorney request your presence in his office at Parker Center immediately.”
“I get to contact my Police Officers Association steward before answering these charges at a Skelly hearing,” I said. “That right is guaranteed me under rule six of the city charter. The chief knows that, so what’s with this midnight meeting?”
“It’s not a command performance. The chief is extending you a courtesy. Your POA steward has been notified. If it was up to me, I’d just body-slam you like the piece of shit you are.” He said it without raising his voice or putting any inflection on it. “You might want to get your shoes and jacket. It’s pretty wet out here. You can ride with us.”
“What is it, Shane?” Alexa was coming out of the bedroom, walking down the hall.
I turned to look at her. Breathtakingly beautiful. Black hair framing a fashion model’s cheekbones. Incredible blue eyes that were locked on me. She was belting her robe, her black hair tousled with the memory of sex. I knew these might be the last friendly words we would speak.
“IA. They have a charge sheet. They want me to come with them.”
“It’s almost midnight,” she said, standing behind me. “Can’t it wait until morning?” She should have demanded the circumstances. It was a mistake; but then, I knew she was as upset about all this as I was.
“You might also want to come with us, Lieutenant Scully,” Matthews said, glancing at Alexa. “The chief is waiting in his office with several people. I think you both need to hear what he has to say.”
So that’s what we did. Alexa got dressed. I was in the bedroom with her for a minute to get my nylon windbreaker out of the closet. I looked over and saw that she was putting on her sixth-floor attire --- dark pantsuit, blouse, gun and badge.
“So it begins,” she said, her voice lifeless.
I went into the bathroom to run a razor over my chin. A consideration to this late-night meeting with the chief. For a minute I saw my reflection in the mirror staring back. A familiar stranger with battered eyebrows scarred in countless forgotten brawls. The face of an unruly combatant. My brown eyes looked back at me startled by the sudden confusion I felt.
Five minutes later I was in Lieutenant Matthews’s car with the two IOs. One was named Stan. I didn’t catch the other guy’s name. Not much talk as we headed to Parker Center, with Alexa following us in her silver BMW a few car lengths behind. I had fallen from respected member of society and guardian of the public trust to detestable scum in the eyes of the three men riding in that maroon Crown Vic with me. In their eyes, I was a turncoat. A cop gone bad.
I thought I knew what to expect, but the truth was I had little idea of what lay before me, little understanding of the mess I had so willingly stepped into.
But that’s life. I guess if you could see all the dead ends and blind turns, it wouldn’t be as interesting. At least that’s what I kept telling myself.
The windshield wipers on the detective plain-wrap slapped at the rain as we rushed along the 10 Freeway in the dead of night, the tires singing in the rain cuts. No red light, no siren. Just a maroon Ford with four stone-faced cops. All of us in the diamond lane, heading toward the end of my career at breakneck speed.
Tony Filosiani’s office was crowded with pissed-off people. Pissed about being dragged to the chief’s office at twenty past midnight, pissed about the reason they were forced to be there. The LAPD sure didn’t need another high-profile scandal right now, and that fact was etched on everyone’s faces.
I immediately recognized all of the people standing there. The chief of police was dominating the large space. Usually a happy, pixiesque, round-faced presence, tonight Tony Filosiani scowled like a Chinese wood carving, his bald head shining in the bright overhead lights. Next to the COP was an assistant city attorney named Cole Nichols. The ACA didn’t want to be there either, but he was filling in for City Attorney Chase Beal, who was up north on some kind of rubber-chicken junket.
Everybody knew Chase was planning on making a run for governor and was always out at fundraisers working on his war chest. Next to Nichols was my Peace Officers Union rep, Bob Utley. He was the only one to hesitantly engage my eyes. Bob was a big heavy guy with a Santa-friendly face who had twice successfully defended me against bogus charges at Internal Affairs. Next to Utley was the LAO, or head LAPD legal affairs officer, a tall black captain named Linc Something.
Next to him was yours truly in my borrowed Trojans sweatshirt and rain-soaked windbreaker. Behind me stood Lieutenant Matthews, the deputy commander of PSB. But by far the most bitter flavor in this alphabet soup was the chief of detectives. The COD was my own wife, Alexa. She stepped across the threshold seconds later and frowned.
Lieutenant Matthews closed the large double doors to the chief’s office, signaling the start of the meeting.
“Detective Scully, I’m not sure you know FBI Agent Ophelia Love,” Chief Filosiani said without a trace of the cordiality that usually marked his demeanor. He indicated a tall, lanky blonde in her mid-thirties whom I’d missed during my first quick scan of the room because she was seated against the far wall near a mahogany console.
Agent Love immediately stood at the mention of her name. She wore a cheap off-the-rack tan pantsuit and had a careless beauty that was partially disguised by rawboned farm-girl features, the most startling of which were piercing ice-blue eyes.
“Bob, what’s going on?” I asked my union rep. I already knew the answer, but it’s always better to play dumb at these things and let the other guy go first.
“Regarding the Venture investigation, you’ve been charged with felony case-tampering and blackmail,” the chief said, cutting in and answering my question.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” My heart rate was inadvertently beginning to rise. We’re into it now, I thought.
“You can deny it, Detective, but your own partner was the one who brought this to our attention. And her concerns have been independently corroborated by Agent Love and the FBI.”
“Detective Quinn turned me in?”
Sally Quinn was my partner at Homicide Special. We had only been working together for about a year. She’d been out of rotation on maternity leave for the last six months and had just returned to duty.
“I only had time to glance at the charge sheet in the car. It says I intentionally lost evidence. I told Captain Calloway how those tapes went missing.”
“Unbeknownst to us, the FBI has been running their own surveillance on Harry Venture for half a year and they’ve got you and his wife on tape,” Chief Filosiani said.
What he was referring to was a Homicide Special case, which I had been working for two weeks. Harry Venture’s birth name was Aviv Zahavi, but he’d legally changed it when he came to America and went into the film business ten years ago, forming Venture
Harry was a fifty-year-old Israeli national who had made his initial fortune as a black market arms dealer in the Middle East. With the hundreds of millions he’d made in the gun trade, he moved to L.A. and went into the movie business, becoming one of Hollywood’s most successful action movie mini-moguls.
Money being the powerful aphrodisiac that it is, Harry soon seduced a budding young
actress half his age named Tiffany Roberts, who was starring in low-budget genre movies when he met her. She was beautiful and had a Playmate’s body and, as the showbiz saying goes, was willing to do “nude” if it was shot “tastefully.” The gossip on the street was that Tiffany instantly saw what Harry could offer and became Mrs. Venture.
Big-budget movies and mega-stardom followed. But after she’d done “tasteful” nude scenes with some of Hollywood’s hottest leading men, Harry’s bedroom seemed to have lost some of its appeal and Tiffany had been quietly hunting around for a hit man to take her pudgy, foreign-born husband off the count. Word of this was quickly leaked to us by a street informant.
Since a murder solicitation by an A-list Hollywood star was an extremely sensitive situation, the squeal ended up going to Homicide Special, which is the elite LAPD homicide squad that typically handles high-profile, media-sensitive investigations.
I’d been working out of that rotation for almost three years and was assigned the Tiffany Roberts case. I was supposed to have been setting Tiffany up, posing as a hit man and wearing a wire when meeting with her behind various discount stores, to work out the terms of the assassination of her husband Harry.
I was supposed to get her solicitation on tape, but told my captain that I had carelessly left the tapes in my car one night while I went into a Ruth’s Chris to get something to eat. My car was broken into and my briefcase stolen. My boss, Captain Calloway, instructed me to reboot the deal and get her to repeat the offer of murder, but Tiffany became suspicious and broke it off. The case is currently in limbo. Now, apparently, the way they were reading it was that I had deliberately lost the tapes in return for some kind of blackmail payoff.
Of course, I’d seen all this coming. As soon as I’d reported the missing briefcase, the shit had started to ooze downhill just as I knew it would. It had ended up as felony case-tampering.
“Why is the FBI involved with this?” I asked, turning to face Case Agent Love.
She glanced at the ACA, Cole Nichols, who nodded his okay, so she started to tell me. She had a low, husky alto voice that didn’t sound like it belonged inside her. The accent was from the South somewhere --- the Carolinas or Tennessee, maybe. She was a no-nonsense fed whose demeanor told me she held me in a good deal of professional disdain.
“I’m here because after five years of working Harry Venture for gun smuggling, we finally convinced him to cooperate,” she began. “He still has financial dealings with some of his old arms-dealing buddies from the Middle East. New Russian-made Kalashnikov 100 series submachine guns and PP-90 M-1s with nine-millimeter breaches suitable for NATO rounds are currently flowing into L.A.
The AK-100-series ordnance is on Homeland Security’s watch list and we’ve pinned this smuggle to the Hispanic Eighteenth Street gangs in downtown L.A. They’ve established a new pipeline bringing this stuff into the country. They’re smuggling it up from the Baja Desert in Mexico. Naturally, we didn’t want Harry’s wife to murder him in the middle of a federal op where he just became a cooperative witness. For two weeks we’ve been taping you taping her. Let’s say your conduct was less than professional.”
I glanced at Alexa, who was standing by the door, her face a frozen mask.
“We can play our surveillance videos for you, but unless you insist, out of deference to your wife I think it’s better to say you’re in the bag and let it go at that.” Agent Love hesitated before continuing. “We accessed your bank statements and discovered you have a recent ten-thousand-dollar deposit, which none of your pay stubs or personal finances support. Unless you can tell us exactly where that ten thousand came from, then we’re going to assume that you got it from Ms. Roberts in return for booting your undercover sting against her.”
“Don’t you have to prove that before just accusing me?” I challenged.
“We think we can,” Chief Filosiani said. “Right now Harry Venture is going through his wife’s bank withdrawals. If he finds one that was issued on or about the end of last month in the amount of ten thousand dollars, then that fact will be established and added to your charge sheet.”
“This is all pretty damn circumstantial,” I said. But I knew it wasn’t. They would find that withdrawal slip. I was going down for this.
Cole Nichols, the ACA, said, “I’ll take that kind of circumstantial case any day. I can also get the FBI video and, along with the fact that you reported your UC tapes stolen, it will make a very compelling picture for a jury.”
“Then why am I here?”
“The city attorney and the feds both want to prosecute you, but I convinced the mayor and the federal attorney that this department doesn’t need any more bad press or police department scandal,” Chief Filosiani said. “I’m willing to offer you a take-it-or-leave-it deal. You have to decide right now, tonight. It’s off the table after this meeting.”
“A deal?” I looked at Bob Utley, who gave me a hand gesture indicating I should shut up and let them finish. I ignored it.
“I don’t want to cop to this flimsy bullshit.”
“Your IA file is thick enough to choke a goat,” Lieutenant Matthews chimed in from behind me.
“Nobody is going to believe anything you say. If I was you, I’d listen to the chief.”
“So what are you offering?”
“Resign,” the chief said. “Make a statement for the file indicating guilt so we don’t have to worry about facing a lawsuit over it later. You’ll cop to a lesser charge and then we’ll dismiss you for cause and seal the case for the benefit of the LAPD. What really happened in this room tonight, the real reason for your dismissal, will remain a closely guarded secret.”
“What about my pension?”
“You lose it. You confess to the lesser charge, waive your pension and quit,” ACA Nichols said. “This is a great fucking deal, Detective. You don’t deserve it. If the department wasn’t still in PR trouble from the Rampart scandal, O.J. and the immigration rights melee, they wouldn’t be cutting you this much slack.”
“If I try this case, I promise a conviction. You’ll do three to five, easy. Even if the sentence is halved for good behavior, that still puts you in the dog pile at state prison for at least two years. I’ll make sure there’s no special housing unit for you. A cop in gen pop is a prime target for yard aggression. That five-year stretch will turn into a death sentence.”
I looked at Bob Utley. He was supposed to jump up and object, but he said nothing. Every time I glanced at Alexa, her face was cold with fury.
“Could I have a minute with my client?” Utley finally said.
We were shown into a little six-chaired conference room that adjoined the chief’s office. Bob shut the door. When he turned, his eyes weren’t Santa-friendly anymore. He was staring daggers. Like all honest cops, he hated police corruption. He knew I was dirty, and it pissed him off.
“They can’t” I started.
“Take it,” he interrupted.
“Admit I was on the take? That I took money to boot the case?”
“You tanked a solicitation-of-murder investigation and got into a sexual relationship with that movie star. I know it, and they all know it. Take the deal. It’s a lifesaver.”
“And sign away a twenty-year pension?”
“If you’re convicted, you’ll lose your pension anyway. If you fight this, you’ll go down, Shane. They’ve got a very tight case backed by videotape of you and Tiffany Roberts swapping spit all over town.”
“Take the fucking deal! You’re damn lucky the department doesn’t want to eat any more bad press.” His voice was rising in anger. We’d been friends for years, but I could tell he had nothing but contempt for me now.
“What’s the lesser charge they’re gonna accuse me of?”
“Obstruction of justice. It’s a misdemeanor requiring no time served but results in your immediate resignation without benefits.”
“Can’t I at least have a day to think about it?”
“No. The chief said the offer comes off the table the moment this meeting is over. After tonight, you’ll face the full IA charge sheet.”
“How come I get the feeling you’re on their side?”
“Shane, take the deal.” Frustration with me was packed into every word.
“Okay, okay,” I said. “Calm down.”
“I’ll do it. I’ll sign the damn confession.”
Excerpted from ON THE GRIND: A Shane Scully Novel © Copyright 2011 by Stephen J. Cannell. Reprinted with permission by St. Martin's Paperbacks. All rights reserved.