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

I used to make it a point to call Jeanette every year on February 8th, and then she wisely proclaimed that she didn’t want to mark the day as if it were some kind of anniversary commemorating something.

This year, February came and went as best as I can remember.

Then one early morning, it might have been in March, I was in my car going somewhere I no longer remember. I weaved my way through the Venice streets heading toward Abbot Kinney Boulevard—the Melrose of the Westside. I waited at the corner of Palms and Abbot Kinney for the traffic to clear. On my left side was an overpriced clothing boutique named Steven Alan, and there was a man outside with a hammer smashing the ceramic lettering on the side of the building. The traffic cleared, and I eased my way onto Abbot Kinney thinking, hmm, they must have gone out of business. In my mind, for a brief moment, some construction worker was out early removing the signage. But then clarity struck me: That wasn’t a construction worker; it was an angry homeless man causing vandalism.

By the time I’d swung my car around and headed back with my iPhone ready to capture him in the act, he’d disappeared. I circled several blocks looking for him to no avail.

Later that afternoon, I went back to the store and told the manager I’d seen a guy smashing his sign. I gave him a description, told him the approximate time and left him with my contact information. Several days later he phoned me to tell me he’d contacted the police and had pulled some surveillance footage of a guy in front of the store matching the description I’d given him. He told me that the police had requested he gather all the material and show up at the station with the witness who could identify the vandal. We agreed to meet at the Pacific Division of the LAPD the following day.

The store manager and I showed up at the appointed time and as we were filing the report, we entered into idle chitchat with the officer behind the desk. He was young, he had an Italian name, and I wondered if he was being punished with front-desk duty or if he’d simply drawn the short straw for the day. I casually asked him if Detective Mora still worked there. He looked up at me with blank eyes and shook his head, no. I was confused by that because what I knew of Cagney was that she was a lifer—and she was probably still too young to retire.

The store manager, whose name I don’t remember, asked if the public could take a tour of the police station. The young Italian said that sometimes school groups came through but that was about it. But, he added, “You can ask to have a ride-along with one of the officers. Sometimes they let people hang out with a cop for a day so you can see what it’s like.”

For some reason I decided to respond with—”I did that with Detective Mora once. It was a long time ago.”

The young Italian looked up and met my eyes. They seemed to soften. Then he said, “She died a few years ago. Cancer.” And he looked back down to the computer.

It was the last thing I expected. I think I fell forward and caught myself on the counter. My eyes immediately began to tear up. I quickly pulled the sunglasses out of my pocket as a cover. All the blood drained out of my body. We finished, the store manager thanked me and I bolted toward my car where I erupted in tears. I sat for a long time, swimming, trying to catch my breath.

I phoned Jeanette from the car.

“How could Cagney be dead, and I’m still alive?” she asked, incredulous.

I cried all the way home, and for days, the sadness overwhelmed me.

Once home, I googled her name in a mad search for information. All I could come up with was a fundraising event the police officers held in her honor to help with mounting medical bills due to the rare form of cancer she apparently had. Well, that and a very brief obituary post from 2008.

I still have some anger and regret about this. I hate not having known this. I just hate it. I hate not having been given a chance to help her when she needed it. I hate that the most. Because I would have pulled out the stops for her, and I would have been so happy to do it. I hate not having another moment to reconnect—to talk to her about what happened, the role she played in our lives, how supportive she was…

All I could do was write a fucking blog about it.

I always imagined that we’d talk about this after time had passed. I always imagined I’d write about it, and I’d have her to confer with. I always imagined I’d get to see her notes and her thinking and the extent to which she went to help us. I never imagined that she would die well before her time. Just didn’t fathom it as possible.

This morning I went to the police station to see if I could get the police files on the case.

…go to Part 20