(This story is the beginning of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice.)

I thought that my only encounter with police detectives would be on television. I was a huge fan of Cagney and Lacey in high school. Before that was The Rockford Files, Barnaby Jones and Mannix, which I saw in late night reruns. And so meeting Detective Melissa Mora was highly unexpected, both in its delightfulness and its awfulness.

She showed up one night at my house and identified herself as a detective with the LAPD. She looked very much like television’s version of a police detective—blond, beautiful, vibrant and even tender. I had spoken with a crotchety, matter-of-fact detective that morning who’d informed me that because we had no evidence, our case was basically closed. The case was certainly not closed for me but I was still too traumatized to have yet developed any kind of formidable strategy.

As I led Detective Mora to the guesthouse in my backyard, otherwise known as the crime scene, she explained that she was just following through with things the day detectives hadn’t finished. I unlocked the door and let her go in first. The place creeped me out. There was blood everywhere: pools that had dried on the carpeting where I’d knelt over Jeanette trying to comfort her until the paramedics arrived, and what must have been a gallon more splashed across the tile kitchen floor. Bloody hand and footprints, both hers and mine, had stained the walls, the phone, the door, the steps.

Detective Mora stepped through the room carefully, her well-trained eyes scanning, piercing, collecting. I could only hope she was assembling clues. She wore beautifully tailored pants that lightly brushed the tops of her high-heeled boots. Her leather jacket was unzipped, exposing not just a fashionable blouse but also a gun and a badge that were clipped to her waistband. She asked me questions. As far as I knew, Jeanette didn’t have any enemies. She’d only relocated to Los Angeles a few months before, and she’d just moved into the guesthouse fifteen days ago. I’d met her through mutual friends upon her arrival, and I was the one who’d encouraged her to wait for my landlord to clear out his graphics business and rent out the converted garage. She spent months sleeping on the couches and spare beds of generous friends while she waited for her tiny beach haven to be readied for her. In those months, we’d become close, and I looked forward to continuing our friendship as neighbors. No, Jeanette barely knew anyone. She didn’t have a maniacal boyfriend; she didn’t have a job from which she’d created rivalries or jealousies; she wasn’t being stalked or followed. Despite the fact that most victims know their attackers, in this case, all roads pointed to a senseless and random act of violence.

Unlike Vargas, the detective I’d spoken with on the phone that morning, Detective Mora was all heart. There was something about this case—both its randomness and its brutality—that had bothered her. I asked if she would be assigned to investigate. She gently explained that only the daytime detectives carried caseloads; her job was merely to follow through with any leads that went unfinished during the day. I told her that her colleague Vargas had been neither helpful nor compassionate. And I pleaded with her to take the case. “Nothing like this has ever happened to me before,” I explained. “And it’s not okay with me.” I did my very best not to cry but that proved impossible. “I need your help.”

Detective Mora showed up again the next night and announced that she was taking on the case. I refrained from hugging her. Instead I smiled appreciatively and summoned all my energy in order to ask the question that had been on my mind since she showed up. “Would it be okay if I call you Cagney?”

She considered it before finally responding, “Okay. If I can call you Lacey.”

…go to Part 2