Even in the middle of the day Melrose is choked, and Highland is worse. Something is shooting in front of the Chinese, and the whole block between Highland and Orange is blocked-off. It shouldn't affect traffic heading up past the Bowl as much as it does, but the hordes of tourists spill out onto the streets, and there are just enough drivers on the road who have just moved to LA and have never seen a shoot before to slow things to a crawl with their gawking. Life in Los Angeles conditions people not to gawk. No matter who you see in the supermarket or at the gas station -- Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Ryan Seacrest -- you're supposed to pretend like it is no big deal. If you look at them at all, it should be out of the corner of your eye. If you accidentally get caught, you nod and maybe smile. You do not gawk.
By the time I get over the hill and back to Burbank, it's nearly 3PM. I park the car and head up to the apartment. My primary uniform is up in Oregon being repaired and, Jason promises, upgraded, so I have to slip on my back-up. It's basically the same look, but much less heavily armored -- just chest and joints -- so I have to be more careful in combat than I'm used to. Of course, where I'm heading right now, I'm not expecting to have to play fisticuffs with anyone. I throw some nylon sweats on over my uniform, head out the door and out the back of the building. I climb through the brush up to the top of my hidey-hill, and, after a quick glance to make certain no one is watching, I strip off the sweats, stuff them into my backpack, and shoot straight up into the air.
"I expected to see you an hour ago," Cleverly says, without looking up from his computer. Detective Dave Cleverly is another of the few people who know my real identity. We were actually in academy together, back in Minnesota, a hundred years ago. He stayed in the Twin Cities area for a few years afterward, working Anoka County and White Bear Lake, while I moved to LA, then to NYC, then back to LA, then back to NYC a second time. When I got back to LA five years ago with Jennie, tail between my legs, still not an Avenger or a Defender or anything, I found out that while I was gone he and his new wife had moved to North Hollywood, and he'd been made an LAPD detective. It turned out that a friend in the police force was exactly what I'd been missing. It was Cleverly who helped me break into my first few LAPD collaborations, and figure out how to eventually meet with Chief Bratton and get unofficially registered.
"Traffic in Hollywood. You know the drill," I reply. I can sense he's waiting for me to take a seat, but I don't. He's got a small office of sorts, but the walls are mostly glass and a dozen desks and a busy front door are plainly visible. Standing superheroes look cool; sitting superheroes do not. "It's crap, you know."
"Well, not entirely crap," Cleverly says as he closes his laptop. "The big guy, whatsisname," he shuffles through a pile of papers until he finds the right one, "Paul McCarthy. Which is really his name, by the way. He's got a pretty serious concussion. Which he didn't get on his own."
"Is he all right?"
"Doctor says he'll be fine. But," Cleverly leans forward to make his point, "he still filed a complaint. And, officially, we have to look into it."
I shrug my shoulders. "I didn't hit him nearly as hard as I could have. And he threw the first punch. I just needed to knock him down quickly so I could get to the other guy before he split."
Cleverly nods. "That's what your report said. But an official investigation is open. It'll blow over, but you should probably watch it in the meantime."
"Thanks," I reply.
Cleverly looks past me through his open door, and then back to me. I reach out and push it shut. "What's up?"
"Nothing, nothing. I just wanted to ask how Jennie was. Exciting, with the show and all."
I shift a little and scratch my neck. It's always bizarre to discuss my civilian life while in uniform. Thankfully, since I can count the folks who know on one hand, it happens only rarely. "Yeah. Yeah, she's great. Trying not to get too excited, you know, since it could bomb and be canceled. But I saw the pilot and it was pretty good. Funny. Single-camera sitcom stuff, you know. Like Scrubs. Not quite as funny, but it probably needs to get its legs."
"That's great," says Cleverly. "She deserves it. She was so great in that play we saw last year."
"Yeah, right," Cleverly agrees. "It's so great to see someone get ahead in LA who really deserves it. She's awesome. Seriously -- give her my best."
"I will." I fiddle with the latch on one of my belt pouches. It's kind of loose -- I should have Jason look at it. "It premieres next Wednesday, by the way. We bought a brand new gigantic TV to celebrate. HD. We'll probably invite a few folks. You should come over."
"I'll talk to Karen, but I'd love to."
"Cool," I say.
"It's gonna be weird to hang out with a TV star." Cleverly sits back in his chair. "You guys planning on getting out of that dump?"
I move toward the door. "We're kind of taking it one day at a time, you know. You never know what could happen. Do I need to do anything else? Fill out any paperwork or anything?"
Cleverly gets up from behind his desk and heads toward me. "No, no. I'll let you know what's happening"
I open the door. "Thanks. Keep me in the loop."
"Absolutely. Like I said, I'm certain this will blow..."
Cleverly keeps talking, but out of the corner of my eye, I see a uniformed officer escorting someone toward the front exit. The man he's escorting is about 5'10", with salt and pepper thinning hair. His skin is caramel-colored -- he could be part hispanic or pacific islander, or even mediterranean with a nice tan. He's wearing dirty jeans and a black t-shirt with a yellow Kingpin logo on the front. The officer is shaking his head and saying something and the man is listening intently. He nods, and the officer smiles slightly. Then the man turns his face my way. His brown eyes lock on mine, just for a moment. He smiles, and turns back to the officer.
"...barely a blip on their radar." Cleverly smiles at me.
"Who is that?" I ask.
Cleverly follows my gaze, just as the officer leads the man out into the sunlight. "Oh. Just a guy we grabbed in a drug bust."
I step out of Cleverly's office. "He's being let go?"
"Yeah. A couple of detectives questioned him. He was rounded up with a bunch of guys, but they figured out pretty quickly he wasn't connected to the others. Just is the wrong place at the wrong time." Cleverly shrugs. "He was pretty cool about the whole thing. Understanding, even. Not the norm for LA, but it's a nice change."
"Huh," I reply.
"Look, I gotta get some work done," Cleverly says. "I hate to kick you out, but after you go people will be popping in here every five minutes asking what you were here for, and I'll be lucky if I can even get half of what I'm supposed to do done before Karen calls wondering where the hell I am ..."
"All right," I laugh. "I can take a hint. You'll holler if anything changes."
"Absolutely." He extends his hand and I shake it. I can feel the other police officers and detectives looking at us out of the corners of their eyes.
"All right. Later," I say, as I head toward the door. As I walk out the door, I pass a young officer, barely out of academy, who looks me straight in the eyes and smiles. "Hey," he says through his broad grin.
A bit startled, I nod at him, take two steps and leap into the air. I look back as I'm rising to find he's staring up at me. I give him a quick salute with my right hand and he waves back. Clearly, he's new in town.