(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)

Jeanette was ahead of her time; she was sporting a fantastic lightning bolt scar on her forehead years before anyone had ever heard of Harry Potter. Unfortunately, right after acquiring hers, it became infected and in order to help it drain, she had a toothpick jutting out from between her eyes. With pus and blood dripping down her face, she met with a bankruptcy attorney who took one look at her, gathered all of her paperwork and told her that he wasn’t going to charge her because he didn’t want this to be her experience of Los Angeles.

Although the image of her—jaw wired, crushed cheek and nose, facial lacerations—may have been daunting, it certainly wouldn’t be her worst look. That was still to come.

On our second visit to Dr. Keller’s office, Jeanette’s car broke down. I hoped it wasn’t a sign that moving forward was going to be challenging; maybe it simply meant she had an old car in need of attention. Regardless, Dr. Keller and Dr. Lacombe outlined a plan for the year ahead: rebuilding her nose, inserting a cheek implant to replace the missing tissue, and performing collagen and laser treatments to minimize the scarring.

The following evening, on Friday March 5th, we all gathered at Mary’s apartment for a farewell party for Jeanette’s friend Jeff who’d been her caretaker for the last week. Those sorts of parties happened on a regular basis. As one friend arrived to be with Jeanette, another left. The comings and goings were always marked by celebration. The next morning, Jeanette’s brother Richard was arriving from Florida. Jeanette had been waiting for Richard to come; he was the prince who could comfort her like no one else. She had wanted to go back to her home, the scene of the crime, and pack all of her things up, and she felt like she would have the strength to return with Richard by her side.

I excused myself from the laughter and party noises so I could check my phone messages. Those were the days before cell phones when voicemail was recorded onto machines with cassette tapes. I sat in the stairwell as I listened to Cagney’s voice on my machine.

Her game of good cop/bad cop had paid off. She’d questioned a perp in the holding cell who said that a prostitute told him about a guy who was bragging about following “some white woman home from Ralph’s to beat her up.” The perp said that the guy’s name was Rodney. He lived near the 76 gas station in a rundown house with a porch. He wore a distinctive ring on his right hand. He had a history of beating up prostitutes. He was known to be crazy, but he became dangerous when he mixed alcohol with cocaine.

I started shaking and phoned Cagney back immediately.

“Hey, do you know what a strawberry is?” she asked.

I hesitated. “I guess not.”

“A strawberry is a prostitute who trades sex for drugs. And one of them can ID our guy. All we have to do is find her. I’m heading over to check out this house where Rodney lives. Do you want to come with me?”

I loved that Cagney wanted to share the most exciting development of the case with me, but oddly, that was where I had to draw the line. I felt sickened by the thought of seeing that man’s face and knowing where he lived. I needed him to be arrested before I could ever face him. I asked Cagney if we had anything else that could link him to the crime. We didn’t. Not yet. So I told her she’d have to do the next part without me.

…go to Part 16