The 37th Amendment - A Novel By Susan Shelley - Copyright 2002. All rights reserved.
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You are reading "The 37th Amendment," a novel by Susan Shelley. Copyright 2002. All rights reserved. This material may not be republished, retransmitted, printed, copied or distributed in any manner, in whole or in part, without the written consent of the author. Permission is granted for publication of short excerpts in the context of a review or commentary, provided the material is appropriately credited.

Chapter One

Los Angeles, California. Monday, February 21, 2056.

The blood on the windshield was the least of it, although from this angle, against the tall office buildings reflected in the tinted glass, the dark red droplets appeared enormous, covering some of the windows entirely and dripping in gruesome rivulets down the walls.

Detective Calvin Whitfield's eyes darted over the reflections in the windshield and he turned around to see the buildings for himself. Two stacks of brightly lit windows stared back at him. Someone working late might have seen it happen, he thought, then realized that the size of the buildings made them appear deceptively close. In fact, they were separated from the parking lot by two long blocks of single-story shops and overpriced restaurants. No help there.

Detective Whitfield stepped away from the car and away from the thick puddle on the ground next to it. He scribbled on the screen of his notebook, too hard, and the stylus snapped in his hand. Swearing, he took another stylus from the pocket of his jacket and scribbled again. His wireless rang.

"Whitfield," he said absently into the microphone clipped to his collar.

"Heads up, Cal, the mayor's on her way over there."

"What?" Whitfield's attention was jarred away from his notebook. "Why? What does she want?"

"I don't know, but traffic control has been told to accommodate the media."

Whitfield winced. "Any report yet on Szafara?"

"Still in surgery."

"Did you reach his wife?"

"She's at the hospital."

"Thanks. Let me know when you hear something."

Whitfield reached down to his belt and pressed a key on the wireless to disconnect the call. His skin felt like bugs were crawling under it and he badly wanted a cigarette. A great time he picked to quit, he thought, two days before this lands on his desk, probably the worst violent crime Los Angeles had seen in five years. He unwrapped a stick of gum and shoved it into his mouth.

Sixty feet away, a young woman was crumpled over a concrete parking block, her clothes soaked in blood, her body as twisted and broken as if she had fallen from a thirty-story building. Her handbag, lying on the ground beside her, held a wallet with $851 and a driver's license that identified her as twenty-six-year-old Maria Sanders of Van Nuys. DNA tests would be needed to confirm that. Her face was smashed to a red jelly.

Officer Karla McMahon, a beefy woman with crisply cut blonde hair, walked up to Whitfield and handed him a disk. "We've taken statements from three witnesses," she said. "One woman says she saw a man, possibly in his thirties, Caucasian, medium height, dark curly hair, walking across the parking lot with a steel pipe in his hand. She said she assumed he was part of some construction crew."

"Did anybody see what happened to Officer Szafara?"

"No. He was flagged down on the street by a woman who heard screaming. We took her statement. She didn't see anything. A man who was across the street says he heard shots. Of course, he didn't see anything either through this thing." She waved her hand disgustedly at the decorative barricade constructed along the perimeter of the parking lot. From the inside it looked like eight-foot-tall sheets of plain painted plywood, but on the street side it was a trompe l'oeil scene of sidewalk cafes and leafy shade trees. The city offered generous tax breaks to parking lot operators who participated in the Beautify Los Angeles effort.

McMahon looked down at her shoes, planted well into the puddle that had collected under Officer Szafara before the helicopter arrived. A slight shudder went through her. "Two bullets fired from Szafara's service weapon," she said, taking two steps to her left and scraping her shoes uselessly on the gravel surface. "The suspect may have been wearing body armor, because he managed to hit Szafara in the head with the same steel pipe he used on the victim. It appears he dropped the pipe where we found it and took off."

"Not on foot," Whitfield said. "He would have been covered in blood. He must have had a car, maybe someone driving it for him."

"He might have stolen a car," McMahon said. "I counted eight cars in this lot when I got here and not one of them was locked."

Whitfield looked at his watch. It was 10:15. "It's been three hours," he said. "Who uses this lot after 7:00 p.m.?"

"The gym is open." McMahon pointed over the barricade at a two-story glass storefront across the street. "The shops on this block all close at six," she continued. "The two restaurants on this side have valet parking, but people can use this lot and walk if they want to. There's a coffee shop on that side that's open but most of their business is at lunchtime."

"Three hours," Whitfield said. "Any of those people would have been back for their car before now unless they..." His words were pierced by the sound of sirens coming up the street. "That's the mayor," he said.

"The mayor?" Officer McMahon looked skeptical.

A chunky, redheaded woman suddenly ran up to them, waving an ID in a leather case. "Excuse me," she said, breathing hard, "The mayor is on her way. Can you tell me who's in charge here?"

"I am," Detective Whitfield said, without giving his name. "May I help you?"

"I'm Ronni Richards," the woman said, her eyes flitting over the scene. "Chief of Staff to Mayor Martinez. She'll be making an announcement about a reward."

"I see," Whitfield said.

"Why are the cameras all the way across the street?" the woman asked.

"We're not letting any media on the scene until we're finished."

"I see," the woman said. "Well, we don't need very much space. Are you finished with this area over here?" She pointed to an unoccupied corner at the back of the parking lot.

Whitfield looked over the scene, crowded with officers taking measurements, taking pictures, collecting small samples and fragments of evidence and sorting it all into plastic bags. The staff from the coroner's office was standing by, patiently waiting for the police to let them proceed. Whitfield smiled politely. "Officer McMahon, see what you can do to accommodate the mayor," he said. McMahon nodded.

"Can we move the coroner's van?" the woman said in a manner that suggested it was not a question. "It would be perfect in the background against that wall. See how the police lights are reflecting in the windows?"

"It might be best if the coroner's van stays where it is," Whitfield said.

"No, that won't work." The woman pulled a wireless from her bag and keyed in a number. "It's too far away, you won't be able to read it." She held the wireless to her ear. "Hello? Can you hear me? Good, bring everyone around to the Alameda side. Tell the police they'll have to close the right-hand lane to traffic so the satellite trucks have someplace to park. There's not much room here."

Whitfield turned away and walked to the extreme opposite end of the parking lot. He leaned against a white sedan and snapped open his notebook with such force that the stylus popped out, bounced twice and cartwheeled under the car.

Whitfield leaned down awkwardly and felt around under the car without success. Then with an irritated groan he pulled a penlight from his jacket pocket, got down on his hands and knees on the dusty gravel, and aimed the light under the car. He caught his breath.

There, curled up and shaking, was a small child, perhaps two years old, spattered with blood and staring wide-eyed into the narrow beam of light.

Whitfield shifted slightly, the gravel crunching painfully under his knees. He waved his left arm in the direction of two officers nearby, held his index finger to his lips and pointed under the car. Officers Bahr and Setoyan got down on the ground and looked.

"Oh, no," Setoyan said quietly, "The poor little guy."

"I'll call for an ambulance," Bahr whispered, getting to his feet.

"Tell them no siren," Whitfield whispered back. He held a hand out to the child, who made a frightened sound and inched further away. "It's okay," he said gently.

At the sound of his voice, the child unleashed a shrieking cry that brought Officer Bahr running back. "What happened?" he asked. Whitfield turned to speak to Bahr and saw the mayor, surrounded by TV lights, standing above the crowd on her portable platform and looking over in his direction. "Nothing happened," he said, "I guess I scared him." Whitfield stretched out flat on his stomach and made another attempt to reach the screaming child. He heard the crunch of footsteps approaching.

"Maybe we should let Karla try," Setoyan suggested. Whitfield slid out from under the car and saw that one set of feet belonged to Officer Karla McMahon. He stood up, brushing himself off. "There's a little kid hiding under there," he told McMahon. "Maybe a woman's voice will calm him down."

McMahon leaned sideways and peered in the direction of the noise. "Is he hurt?" she asked.

"Don't know yet," Whitfield said.

McMahon got down on the ground and stuck her head under the car. "Hello," she said uncomfortably. The screaming continued. "Hola!" she tried, without success.

The reporter who had followed Officer McMahon across the parking lot stepped back and keyed a number into his wireless. "There's a baby under the car," he said. "Break everything down and set up over here."

Whitfield watched as one, then two, then three of the camera crews in front of the mayor picked up their equipment and headed in his direction.

Mayor Taylor Martinez, gleaming in a cream silk suit, stood her ground on the portable platform and continued her polished and tightly-written impromptu remarks. She decried the savage crime that had disturbed a peaceful Monday evening in her city. She vowed that Los Angeles would never return to the era of random street violence. Her flawlessly made-up face was full of righteous concern. Even the hostile glances she threw at departing camera crews served to convey an impression of moral outrage.

It was the silent arrival of the ambulance that finally persuaded the mayor to wrap it up. She mentioned the reward one more time and promised that the killer would not escape justice. The clatter of tripods collapsing followed hard on her words, bringing an irritated frown to her face. "What is happening over there?" she demanded. Without waiting for an answer she stepped down and stormed across the parking lot, trailed by her redheaded aide and the few remaining camera crews.

Officers Bahr and Setoyan took three long strides forward and blocked the group from getting close to the car. The mayor glared at them. "What is going on here, officers?" she asked in a authoritative voice. Just then, a paramedic slid out from under the white sedan with the screaming toddler strapped to a small stretcher.

"Oh, my goodness," the mayor said, pushing past the officers, "Is he hurt?" The paramedic was wide-eyed to see the mayor of Los Angeles standing in front of him. "No, ma'am," he stammered, "He doesn't appear to be injured."

"But all this blood on his clothes. Oh!" The mayor's face took on a softer expression. "The poor little thing," she murmured, reaching out and gently taking the child's hand. He gripped her finger. "There," she said soothingly, her wide blue eyes fixed on his small face. The crying stopped. "There," she said again. Deftly she unbuckled the straps on the stretcher, lifted the little boy into her arms and turned to face the cameras.

"No child," she said, her voice trembling just slightly, "should ever have to witness what this child saw today. We will find the killer of this baby's mother, and he will pay the ultimate penalty. And make no mistake. We will keep Los Angeles safe. We will never go back to the Los Angeles our grandparents knew. I tell you now, as we stand here today at the corner of 4th and Alameda, that we will not surrender this block, or the next block, or any block of any street to violent criminals and vicious predators."

Bystanders watching from an opening in the barricade broke out into applause. The mayor stroked the child's back reassuringly.

"I announce today," she continued, "a $3 million reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons who killed this child's mother, Maria Sanders, and seriously injured LAPD officer William Szafara, who is still in surgery at this hour and is in all our prayers tonight. Furthermore, I am today releasing emergency law enforcement funds to cover overtime and additional patrol officers until this killer is captured and brought to justice. I've just spoken to the governor and he has approved emergency surveillance at all California airports, on I-15 at the Nevada border, on I-5 at the Oregon and Mexico borders and at other locations where a fugitive might attempt to leave the state. This killer will not escape California and he will not escape justice."

Gently, the mayor cradled the blood-spattered toddler's head against her shoulder. A storm of strobe lights bounced off the buildings.

You are reading "The 37th Amendment," a novel by Susan Shelley. Copyright 2002. All rights reserved. This material may not be republished, retransmitted, printed, copied or distributed in any manner, in whole or in part, without the written consent of the author. Permission is granted for publication of short excerpts in the context of a review or commentary, provided the material is appropriately credited.

Los Angeles, California. Thursday, May 11, 2056

"Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you." Julia Thomsen was in an exceptionally good mood. Her fingers played expressively over imaginary piano keys on the Corvette's dark blue leather dashboard. "Happy birthday, dear Ted, happy birthday to you." She finished with a dramatic arpeggio, sweeping her hand from left to right across the dashboard and up into the open air.

"Thank you." Ted Braden's voice was polite. He made an effort not to say anything about the fingerprints. No point in telling her again. He turned the radio on. "Sigalert on the eastbound 10 west of the 110 junction," a static-covered voice reported.

"Now that's perfect timing," Julia said pleasantly. "I never catch the traffic report exactly when...."

"Sh-sh-sh," Ted interrupted.

"...lanes are closed due to an injury wreck," the voice continued.

"Great," Ted muttered. He made a U-turn at the next stoplight and headed north on Western to Wilshire, squeezing a left turn past the start of a red light. It was 6:55.

Julia's hand was planted in a death grip against the burled wood interior of the passenger door, her long legs gripping the edge of the leather seat with the insides of her knees. Ted turned north on Rossmore and made an immediate right turn into the Sixth Street tunnel. Three tightly-packed lanes of eastbound traffic were moving smoothly at a speed of about forty miles per hour. Ted sighed in relief. "Good," he said. "I thought we were going to miss the tip-off."

"Are you ever going to get the top fixed?" Julia shouted. The traffic noise in the tunnel made conversation a challenge in the convertible.

"Still trying to track down new latches," Ted said. "You know what it's like getting parts for classic cars."

"Uh-huh," Julia answered. She opened a concealed storage console under the dashboard, retrieved a silver barrette and clipped her shoulder-length blonde hair into a sporty ponytail.

Ted smiled at her. "That looks cute," he said.

Julia smiled back. "I have a surprise for you," she yelled.

Ted felt a wave a tension tighten his neck and shoulders. "Really?" he asked.

"Yes." Julia leaned as far to the left as her shoulder belt would allow. "I made reservations for the Kite Festival in Montecito next weekend. For your birthday."

Ted fought hard to keep a grimace off his face. "You shouldn't have," he said.

"I know," Julia chirped. "But I just felt like having a romantic weekend away with you. We haven't gone away in so long. And the Kite Festival is so beautiful."

Ted lost his battle with the grimace. However, with timing a comedian would envy, he was rescued by the flashing blue and red lights of a police car behind him.

Ted groaned convincingly, turned on his right turn signal and made three cautious lane changes to the narrow shoulder against the concrete wall. He stopped the car and killed the engine, although in the noisy tunnel he could barely hear the difference.

A moment later a member of the Los Angeles Police Department was standing next to Ted's door, his eyes taking in every detail of the car; the curved fenders, the leather interior, the reedy, bare-legged blonde in the short pink linen dress. "Evening," the officer grunted.

"Evening," Ted answered.

"This is an incredible car," the officer said. "What year is it?"

Ted's face lit up with a smile. "2011," he said. "But the design is 1961. This is the 50th anniversary edition of the Mako Shark Corvette."

"No kidding." The cop's tone was respectful, even awed. "Is this the original paint?"

"Mostly," Ted said. "It's a nightmare to match it."

"I'll bet," the cop said. The Corvette was painted an iridescent dark blue on the upper body and pearl white on the sides and lower body, blending seamlessly from one to the other like the natural coloring of the shark that inspired it.

"Look at these," the cop said, and he ducked down almost out of Ted's sight. He was examining the four parallel chrome sidepipes that emerged from the lower front fender and swept sleekly to the right, disappearing into a chrome muffler just below the door. "Beautiful," the cop murmured, "They look like gills."

"No, the gills are at the front," Ted said, leaning out and pointing. "See? In front of the tire?" The cop nodded, running his hand lightly over the sculpted fender. A gill-like cutout concealed the turn signal. "Beautiful," he said again. Cars whizzed by behind his back and he stood up.

Ted smiled. "Would you like to see what's under the hood?" he asked.

"That'd be great," the cop said.

Ted reached under the dashboard and popped the hood release. Then, with a wink at Julia, he got out of the car and lifted the hood. The engine glittered silver-blue under the lights.

"Toxic," the cop said admiringly. "Four hundred horsepower?"

"Four twenty-five," Ted said. "V-8."

"Toxic," the cop said again.

Ted smiled and nodded. The unfamiliar slang from the twenty-something officer left him feeling unpleasantly mature.

"I can't believe this is a 2011 car. Forty-five years old and it looks like it just rolled off the showroom floor."

"Thanks." Ted smiled.

The cop nodded.

Ted nodded.

"The thing is," the cop said, "You can't drive a car with an internal combustion engine inside a tunnel in Los Angeles. Only the gutless wonders are allowed down here. I'm going to have to ask for your license and registration."

Ted glanced at his watch. "No problem," he said, reaching for his wallet. He handed over the license, closed the hood and walked back to the driver's side of the car. Julia already had the registration in her hand. She held it out to him. "Thanks," he grunted.

"Hey," the cop said, handing the license back to him, "I'm not gonna write you on your birthday. Turning fifty is bad enough."

You are reading "The 37th Amendment," a novel by Susan Shelley. Copyright 2002. All rights reserved. This material may not be republished, retransmitted, printed, copied or distributed in any manner, in whole or in part, without the written consent of the author. Permission is granted for publication of short excerpts in the context of a review or commentary, provided the material is appropriately credited.

Ted trotted down the concrete stairs of Chick Hearn Arena with Julia barely keeping up behind him. There were four empty seats on the aisle at rows 26 and 27. Ted stopped at row 27, and as he turned to allow Julia in ahead of him, his face looked like a thundercloud.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

"He's not here."

"Who's not here?"

"Rob. The guy that sits there." Ted pointed to the empty seat in front of him.

"The guy you made the bet with?"

Ted nodded. "Five hundred bucks," he said.

Julia smiled and stood close to Ted, stroking the zipper of his leather jacket possessively. "Oh, well," she said. "I'd rather be alone with you anyway."

"He'd better show up," Ted said, ignoring her. He was humorless about basketball.

Julia sat down. "I'm sure he's just late," she said. "I'm sure he's not missing a playoff game just to stiff you. You'll get your money."

"It's not the money," Ted said. "He started in on me right at the beginning of the season. 'The Lakers have no team.' 'The Lakers have no defense.' 'The Lakers won't make it out of the first round of the playoffs.' So just to shut him up, I offered to put five hundred dollars on the Lakers making it into the second round. I mean, there was no doubt. Not only did we beat Barstow in five, we've got home court advantage against Denver. And he doesn't have the guts to face me, that's what it is."

Julia nodded absently. "I'm going to buy you a beer for your birthday," she said. "I'll be right back." She stood up and walked past him to the aisle.

Ted reflected on the bad luck that had game one of the second round of the NBA playoffs landing on the same day as his birthday, an event for which Julia had ordered an elaborate catered dinner for two and decorated the living room of her three-bedroom house southeast of Hollywood. He had no choice but to take her to the game, even though she hated any sport that wasn't ice skating or gymnastics. Then Julia had refused to be rushed through dinner, so the dinner was in her refrigerator, waiting to be heated up after the game, and Ted was hungry, and cranky, and fifty, and out five hundred dollars from the deadbeat no-show who still wasn't in his seat.

Ted Braden looked younger than fifty, perhaps because most people in Los Angeles who were fifty were actually sixty-two. Six-foot-four-inches tall and lean, he looked like a serious weekend athlete, with muscular legs, broad shoulders and a deep tan. His dark brown hair was carefully tousled in front to conceal the early evidence of a receding hairline.

The first quarter was well underway by the time Julia returned with two cold beers and a bucket of popcorn. "You wouldn't believe the line," she said. There was a loud roar and Julia flinched as people jumped to their feet all around them. "What happened?" she asked.

"Turnover!" Ted shouted, punching a fist at the air. Julia sighed and looked up at the scoreboard. A little over six minutes to play in the first quarter. She sat down on the yellow plastic folding seat and crossed her legs. The two seats in front of them were still empty. "Maybe you were right about him," Julia said, pointing to the seat in front of her, "Still not here."

"I'm going to call him when I get home tonight," Ted said. "I don't remember his last name, but he gave me his card once. I'm going to find it."

"Tonight?" Julia asked.

The crowd roared, and Ted turned back to the game.

Hours later when the final buzzer sounded, Julia was instantly on her feet. "I'm starving," she said. "Let's go."

"Me, too," Ted lied. With the Lakers comfortably ahead late in the third quarter, he had ducked out on the pretext of going to the men's room and paid the guy who was first in line at the concessions window fifty bucks to buy him two hot dogs.

It was a seven-block walk to the only garage where Ted would consider parking the Corvette. Julia snuggled against him as they walked, wrapping her arm around his waist. "Are you cold?" Ted asked. "Do you want my jacket?"

"No," Julia cooed. "I want to get married."

And Ted had thought the Kite Festival was bad news.

"Married?" Ted said before he could stop himself. "Nobody gets married."

"I'm old-fashioned," Julia said. "I want kids, and I want to be married. Let's get married."

Ted heard himself exhale in a sigh that could have rocked a building.

"What does that mean?" Julia asked sharply.

"What does what mean?"

"That big sigh."

"Oh." Ted considered his words carefully. "Come on, Julia, you know what it's like in California. Once you get married it's almost impossible to...." He hesitated. "If it doesn't work out, we would both have a huge financial headache. You know how the covenant law works. We'd have to spend two years in court-ordered counseling and then there's that whole thing with the state trust fund if we have kids. Why go down that path? Let's just keep things the way they are."

"Ted, I'm thirty-two. We've been going together for five years. If you don't love me enough to marry me, maybe I need to move on."

"Julia, be reasonable." Ted stopped and stepped aside to let two police officers walk past them on the sidewalk. "Let's talk about this. Maybe you're just hungry."

Julia glared daggers at him. They reached the parking garage and Ted held the glass door as Julia stormed through it ahead of him.

It was a cool drive in the convertible on the way back to Julia's house.

"So how's work?" Ted tried.

"Busy," Julia said. "We're installing a new software back-up system for Brownell & Edwards."

"You've got some big clients."

"Yes, we do."

Ted nodded.

"How's Flynn?" Julia asked.

"She's great. She was spending the day shopping with her mom, but she'll be home tonight."

"Good," Julia said. "Tell her good-bye for me."

"Julia, be reasonable," Ted pleaded. "Nobody gets married."

"You don't even want to live together. You won't even give me a key to your house."

"It's hardly ever locked," Ted said.

"That's not the point," Julia fired back. "I love you and I want to be married to you. And you don't feel that way about me. Do you?"

Ted was silent.

"Five years," Julia said, her voice breaking.

"Julia, you know I care about you."

"I love you, Ted."

Ted was silent. Julia turned away and fixed an angry glare on the passing buildings. Crowds of people were out walking along Western Avenue. The movie theaters and restaurants were still open, though most of the shops had closed at ten. Police officers ambled idly on the sidewalk.

Ted made a right turn on Beverly Boulevard and a left turn on Hobart Place. He parked in front of the driveway of Julia's house and turned off the engine.

"I guess you don't want to come in," Julia said.

Ted was silent. Julia turned sharply and looked at him. "You bastard," she said. Her hand gripped the door handle and nearly pulled it loose as she tore open the car door.

"Julia, wait," Ted called out. The car door slammed with enough force to rattle the windshield. Julia's high-heeled sandals clacked fiercely on the driveway, followed by the sound of her front door slamming.

"Beautiful car."

Ted turned around. A police officer was standing next to his door. He was writing something on a pad.

"If you ever think about selling it, give me a call," the officer said. He ripped the sheet off his pad and handed it to Ted. It was his name and phone number.

You are reading "The 37th Amendment," a novel by Susan Shelley. Copyright 2002. All rights reserved. This material may not be republished, retransmitted, printed, copied or distributed in any manner, in whole or in part, without the written consent of the author. Permission is granted for publication of short excerpts in the context of a review or commentary, provided the material is appropriately credited.

Ted drove west on Sunset, up Cahuenga, west on Franklin and then north into the winding tangle of side streets that comprised the historic and tax-advantaged neighborhood of Whitley Heights. Built in the mid-1920s in the style of an Italian hilltop village, the development had once been home to silent movie-era luminaries Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson. Judy Garland had lived there, and Janet Gaynor and Wallace Beery. Today, the elegant Mediterranean hillside homes, all white stucco and graceful archways under Spanish tile roofs, were owned mostly by overpaid film buffs seeking a deduction with a view. The costs of maintaining a 130-year-old house had made the deduction more substantial than Ted had intended, but the view, especially after a rainy day when the air was crystal clear, was worth it all, even the plumbing repairs. Ted put the Corvette into the garage, opened the door and walked inside.

The street-level entrance was on the fourth floor of the house. One flight up was the small bedroom Ted had turned into an office. His bedroom and Flynn's room were on the fourth level, the kitchen and dining room one floor down. Below that was the living room with its spectacular views, and on the lower level, the best room in the house: an honest-to-God ballroom. Ted had left the hardwood floor in its original scuffed condition, his tribute to the 1920s Hollywood parties that had once danced across it. There was a massive carved mahogany bar along the side wall, a nice touch for a house built during Prohibition, and wide glass doors that opened out to the terraced back yard, where Ted had sunk thousands of dollars into a so-far-unsuccessful effort to restore the spooky and overgrown network of white stone fountains and shallow ponds.

Ted trotted up the stairs to his office, grabbed a faded shoebox and headed down the stairs again to the kitchen. His twelve-year-old daughter was sitting at the kitchen table, reading a magazine article about eyebrows. "Hi, Dad," she said without looking up. "How was the game?"

"Great," Ted answered. He was in a wonderful mood. The fight with Julia had left him feeling surprisingly at ease, even relieved. "How was shopping with your mom?" he asked.

"Fine. She says to tell you happy birthday."

"Thanks." Ted sat down at the kitchen table and emptied the contents of the shoebox in front of him. Flynn looked up from her magazine. "Tax time again?" she asked.

"No, sweetheart, these are business cards. I'm looking for a guy's number."

"Oh," Flynn said. "Want some help?"

"Sure." Ted gathered up a pile of cards and handed them to Flynn. "Pull out any cards for a guy named Rob."

"What's his last name?"

"I don't know his last name. Just Rob."

Flynn sighed an "Oh, Dad," sigh and shuffled the business cards together into a tight stack. They made a thwap sound on the table as she dealt them neatly out in front of her. "Here's one," she said, "Robert Frazier, Coastline Realty." She held the card out to Ted.

"I don't think that's him," Ted said, looking past the card to Flynn's hand. "You had your nails done."

"Uh huh," she answered. "Mom took me."

Flynn's nails were a hideous tattoo green with red threadlike designs running over them like arteries. The nail on the ring finger of her right hand was painted glossy black with a silver lightning bolt and the initials TCB. "What's that?" Ted asked.

"TCB," Flynn said, as if he clearly ought to know. "Taking Care of Business. Elvis' symbol."

"Oh," Ted said. "It's not a drug thing or anything, is it?"

Flynn gave him a patronizing smile. "No, Dad."

Ted sighed and returned to the pile of business cards in front of him. He glanced at them two at a time and pushed them off to the right with his fingertips. After a while, they began to drop off the edge of the table.

Flynn watched them flutter to the floor. "Good-bye," she said to the cards. "We'll call you."

Ted laughed and leaned back. "Well?" he said. "Any luck?"

Flynn pushed a stack of four cards across the table to him. "These are all the Roberts so far," she said.

Ted picked up the cards. "Ince Travel Agency, Robert L. Ince. That's not him." He flipped the card onto the pile on the floor and held up the next card. "Nope, he's not a car salesman. I don't remember what he does, but he's not a car salesman." The next card was the inexpensive kind on standard white stock with black lettering. "Wait a minute," Ted said. "Robert Rand. I think this is the guy."

Flynn leaned over to read the card. "He's a magician?" she asked.

"Yeah," Ted said. "I remember now. He's an actor. He does magic at kids' birthday parties on the side. Or he does magic at birthday parties and he's an actor on the side. Where's the phone?"

Flynn walked over to the little desk against the kitchen wall and rummaged through a stack of envelopes and catalogs until she found the telephone. She handed it to Ted.

Ted was holding the white card at arm's length. "I left my glasses upstairs," he said. "Can you read that number?" Flynn took the card and the phone and started to key the number for him, then stopped. "It's almost eleven," she said. "It might be too late to call."

"I don't care if I wake him up," Ted said. "The guy owes me five hundred bucks." Flynn keyed the last two digits of the number and handed him the phone.

A woman answered on the first ring. "Gary, thank God you had your pager on," she said in a shaky voice.

"Ma'am?" Ted said awkwardly, "Uh, is Rob home?"

"Who is this?" the woman demanded.

Flynn was right. He had picked a bad time to call. "Um, this is Ted Braden, I'm a friend of Rob's. Is he home?"

"No, he's not home," the woman said, breaking into a sob. "He's been arrested."

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You're reading The 37th Amendment, a novel by Susan Shelley. Copyright 2002. All rights reserved. This material may not be republished, retransmitted, printed, copied or distributed in any manner, in whole or in part, without the written consent of the author. Permission is granted for publication of short excerpts in the context of a review or commentary, provided the material is appropriately credited.

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