"It's 6:30 in the morning at KLOS and the day looks to be a hot one for St. Patty's Day in more ways than one, with temperatures expected to top the 90 degree mark in downtown L.A. and we've got the perfect music…"
Fiona reached out with her hand to press the snooze button but before she started to drift back asleep, she remembered what she had to do today.
Damn, she thought as she pulled herself upright, stretching her arms to release the tension in her muscles that had remained from the previous evening. Day three of the California State Bar exam awaited her inside a decrepitated building in downtown L.A. where she and other unlicensed attorneys had been congregating to tackle the marathon test. She had lived in this rental house that a friend from her sorority days had owned for about a year since she had left Montana to join her best friend, Chance, in L.A. to work with him to continue the upward climb and outward expansion of Montana Enterprises. She had only an hour to shower and get ready to head down to complete the exam which she had been studying for the past three months. She had wanted to start preparing for it sooner but she had been busy traveling with Chance across the country and the globe promoting the company to new markets. Not that she minded traveling. She enjoyed going to different places, witnessing different cultures and meeting new people and she and Chance always had mixed business with pleasure whenever they traveled even if it were at a moment's notice. His Lear Jet was more comfortable than the First Class sections of any commercial airline and she enjoyed traveling with him wherever their business took them.
She stood up and winced as she felt a tug of pain in her abdomen. She had been feeling it the past couple days and had struck it up to nerves over the test and bad eating habits from hitting the vending machines during the testing breaks and fast food at lunch. Reaching for her robe, she thought about breakfast but didn't feel hungry this morning. The phone rang and she went looking for it.
"Hello," she said, noticing it was Chance.
"I'm just calling to wish you good luck on your last day of testing," he said.
She sat down and sighed.
"I've got to pass this test," she said, "I've worked so hard but only about a third of people who take it get a passing score."
" Fiona, stop worrying about it," he said, "Of course you're going to pass it. You're the smartest attorney taking it."
She smiled despite her concern.
"You're biased, but thank you," she said, "but what if I don't?"
"Then you try again until you do," he said, "But I don't think you have anything to worry about. You'll pass it with flying colors."
"I can't appear in court for you until I do…"
"Well if you sit on that couch and worry about it, then you won't even make it to the test on time," he pointed out.
"True," she said, "I'd better get going."
"I'll pick you up after," he said, "I know your car is still in the shop."
"Montana…you don't have to," she said, "Ellie's going to give me a lift home."
"I want to take you out to some place special and celebrate," he said, "This is a big event in your life and I'll know you'll do fine but it's important for you to relax and have some fun when it's done."
She weakened as she always did when he put it that way.
"Okay…I'll see you later then."
They hung up and Fiona headed to the shower, her hand absently brushing her abdomen as she did.
Chance looked out from his car at the marina, wondering why he was sitting inside his car on such a beautiful morning and waiting for something to happen as he had been most of the night. Fiona would berate him for not getting any sleep if she had known that he had been staking out a friend's boat. He knew he belonged at the office, dressed in a suit, sitting at his desk and signing another stack of papers but he had been unable to refuse the request of a long-time friend. So instead of spending the morning at his office building in Century City, he had dressed up in worn jeans and an old shirt and had driven down to stake out a boat, in a luxurious marina.
"This is T-Man at KODJ 107.2 on the dial telling you that the first 10 callers for our special St. Patrick's Day getaway package will have to answer a trivia question about this popular '80s song, a real blast from the past. And speaking of blasts, we'll switch it over to our Weather Girl Janice…"
He brought binoculars and picked them up to get a closer look at the deserted boat, which was a nice looking two-sail model with a small cabin beneath the deck. He had always wanted to do this kind of work, as a private investigator and had parlayed the skills he had picked up while working military intelligence to study for his investigator's license at night school. What he really wanted to do was to start up his own agency on the side, at least at first while he spent most of his time being a corporate businessman. Give it a try that way for a while to get his feet wet and then see how serious his workload became before perhaps, pursuing this venture full-time. He hadn't told Fiona his plans yet, but she knew of his interest having accompanied him on a stake out or two when he had needed a female companion to help him blend in with the scenery. In the past several months, she had been so busy studying for her bar exam, in part because she wanted her certification and also to figure out how better to use her legal skills to help him. Then if they both decided to go with the agency full-time, they could figure out how to break it to Murray without giving him a coronary.
Chance stretched his arms and yawned and as he did, he caught a split second of activity out of the corner of his eye. A young man was carrying a package while looking around him, as if he knew he were being watched. Another shipment of drugs that had arrived and the dealers had been using his friend's boat without his knowledge to cover up the delivery. It hadn't been personal as any boat owner could have been the victim, it was just that this young man had once crewed this boat alongside his friend in regattas that had made the revelation of his activities so painful. Chance couldn't patch up the relationship between his friend and the young man who had turned out to have criminal leanings but he could document his activities to provide proof for his friend to give to the police who had been hounding him.
Particularly a sergeant named Burke.
Chance had several run ins with the sergeant who currently headed the division where most of Chance's few cases had been investigated and none of them had ended pleasantly. In fact on one occasion, Burke had two patrol officers handcuff Chance and haul him to the precinct station while they searched the records for his conceal and carry weapons permit. Because the computerized registry had been reluctant to produce results all day, Chance had spent a couple hours in lockup after being interrogated by the sergeant in a conference room. Since then, he made it a point to stay out of his way, but that proved to be easier said than done and he had engaged in two arguments with Burke when their paths crossed while Chance had been investigating other cases. After talking at him, Burke would invariably throw up his hands and say something dramatic and final before stomping off.
Just thinking about him had Chance hoping that he could finish one case without running into him. Maybe this small assignment would prove to be it, he had believed until he had been called down to the station by his friend who had been called in to be interviewed by two brawny looking narcotics officers dressed in jeans and wearing their shields around their necks. Chance had been given a visitor's badge and then had been led into the cramped room where police held his friend for questioning. Burke had looked up and seen him and Chance knew he was in for it.
"What's he doing here," Burke yelled, waving his arms, "Get him out of here."
Chance folded his arms.
"I was called by this gentleman to sit with him," he said, "He's a client."
"Are you an attorney," one detective asked.
"No but I can get one here if you'd like."
Burke looked around and glared at anyone within reach.
"Who let him in here," he asked.
None of the officers present admitted to it but looked back at Burke. He just shook his head and stomped out of the room. Chance could hear him yelling out in the hallway, but couldn't make out all of the words he used. He sat down next to his friend while he was being questioned for a while until the sergeant returned.
"You think you're so smart," he told Chance, "but I've been a
cop a while now and I've seen it all.
Chance didn't doubt that as he watched Burke pace, while popping some Rolaids in his mouth from a packet he kept in his shirt pocket.
"All right stay with your…client," he said, finally, "But when I return, I want you both to be gone. And keep your noses clean okay? I don't want to see either one of you again."
He shut the door behind him as he left.
Now Chance sat in his car watching and waiting for something to happen. Ready to document it if it did, and hopefully capture something that would help his friend. He kept watching the young man with a package as he prepared to board the boat. Suddenly, another man who was somewhat older arrived and the two men exchanged words but Chance couldn't understand what was being said. He picked up his long range camera and started snapping photos of them as they talked, as the younger man showed and unwrapped the package for the other man to examine and finally as they started to walk into the boat.
Chance wished he had taken more advanced photography classes while he'd been in university but he had learned the rudimentary skills when working for the military and that carried him through his investigative assignments.
Suddenly something happened that he hadn't expected. The older man pulled out a silver handgun and the younger man's expression changed and his body tensed so Chance knew that he had seen it. A popping sound filled the morning air and the younger man fell, grabbing his abdomen. The package had fallen out of his hands in the process and the older man scooped it off and tucked it underneath his arm. Chance jumped out of his car and pulling out his own gun ran towards the boat. The older man had already taken off when he arrived and the younger man looked up with intense distrust on his face.
"Get away from me," he said, while a red stain spread across his white shirt and spilled onto the wooden deck.
"Take it easy," Chance said, still with his gun out, "are you carrying?"
"Do you have a gun?"
The younger man shook his head.
"He shot me."
"I saw it," Chance said, "Now why would he want to do a thing like that?"
The man's face twisted.
"How would I know?
"He took your package," Chance noted, as he put his gun away and knelt down to help the man and took out his cell phone.
"What are you doing," the man asked.
"Calling for help."
Ellie had dropped by as soon as Fiona had gotten dressed and ready and the two of them headed off to the testing place downtown.
"The traffic's pretty bad," Ellie said.
"It's always like this in the morning," Fiona said, "It's L.A."
"I'm not sure I can stay in such a densely packed city," she said, "I'm a country girl."
"So am I," Fiona said, "but my career is out here and I need to pass this bar exam."
Ellie rolled her eyes.
"You graduated the first in your class at Harvard," she said, "You kicked ass in your public defender job in Montana and you've switched to corporate law without taking a deep breath."
"It wasn't quite like that."
"Pretty close to it," Ellie said, "This test should be a breeze for you."
"It hasn't been so far," she said, "It's been pretty tough."
"Don't I know it," Ellie said, "Hey, are you doing anything after we're done?"
"Chance's going to pick me up," Fiona said, "Taking me out some place to eat."
Ellie looked at Fiona
"How are you feeling," she asked, "You didn't feel good yesterday."
"It must have been a bug," Fiona said, "I feel better today."
Well, she felt a little bit better. She still hadn't felt like eating much but she chalked that up to the nerves of the final day of the bar exam and was sure she would make it up later when she went out with Chance.
Ellie honked her horn.
"Damn, this traffic is slow even for L.A.," she said, "We haven't moved in five minutes."
"We're almost there," Fiona pointed out.
She turned to look out the window and winced.
Fiona brushed it off.
"I must have pulled a muscle in cardio class," she said, "It's been sore for a couple of days."
"Don't worry," Ellie said, "It will heal up before we go dancing this weekend."
"I hope so," she said, "I can't wait to try out that new club in Venice Beach."
Ellie turned the car off of the street finally and into the parking lot next to the old building where they would be spending the day.
"Looks like we got here just in time to snag a good parking place," she said, pulling into a spot.
The two of them left the car and joined a crowd of others walking into the building to finish up a test that would determine the direction of their lives.
Chance felt the direction of his life take an unpleasant direction when he heard sirens and saw two squad cars followed by an ambulance pull up in the marina parking lot. Burke stepped out of one of the cars and walked towards him. Chance could already see the expression on his face, the tension in his jaw as he approached.
"What the hell are you doing down here," the sergeant demanded.
Chance held his ground.
"Investigating a case," he said, "But then the shooting happened."
Burke looked at the young man on the ground, who was being tended by paramedics.
"I can see that."
Chance rubbed his jaw.
"He was shot by another man who fled with a package," he said, "They had arranged to meet on the dock."
Burke folded his arms.
"So you saw it."
"It happened right in front of me."
"Did anyone see you," Burke said, "because this could be organized crime involved and they don't like witnesses."
Chance shook his head.
"You're going to have to come down to the station to give a statement," Burke said, "and to give us a description of the shooter."
Chance knew that he had no choice but to do that to help the police in their investigation. The paramedics prepped the young man to be loaded into the ambulance and Chance went back to his car as the detectives arrived to set up their investigation of the shooting.
"Is he going to live," he asked Burke.
The sergeant shrugged.
"That's up to the doctors," he said, "We'll station a cop outside his door so that no one slips through to finish the job."
Fiona tried to concentrate on the questions on her exam and blinked her eyes several times to return her focus to the page in front of her. During the past hour, she had felt as if the room had grown warmer, uncomfortably so and during the break, she had gone to buy some bottled water which she drank on the upper patio of the building. Ellie had frowned at her.
"Are you feeling okay," she said.
Fiona had placed a hand on her abdomen and sat down on a bench, suddenly feeling dizzy.
"I don't know," she said, "I'm sure I'll feel better after we're done here."
But as the morning had continued onward, she felt more dizzy and warm and the words on the page in front of her blurred. She kept trying to focus her eyes but found it difficult. She closed her eyes for a moment, and discovered that moving in her chair caused a stabbing pain to rush through her abdomen. Just a few more hours and then she could go home and crash in her bed for several days. Oh wait, Chance had offered to take her out to eat afterward. She would just call him during the lunch period and tell him she needed to take a rain check and then hitch a ride with Ellie home. But she had to make it through the rest of the most important test in her life first.