Summer in L.A. had been hot, and not just the temperature. The Bloods and the Crips had split into so many different gangs they were more likely to shoot themselves than they were each other. Worse than gangs were the guns that landed on Los Angeles doorsteps. When the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives got called in to try and stop the weapons being shipped in from China, their success rate was the lowest in the nation.
The L.A. Police Department was doing everything in its power to slow the influx of AR-15s, AR-10s and AK47s into the city, but weapons they confiscated were rapidly replaced with new shipments from the east coast. Each of the ‘cities’ in the Los Angeles area was doing its best to seize all the weapons they could. Everywhere from Burbank to Torrance was trying to take weapons off the streets. None seemed to be succeeding. Something out of the ordinary needed to be done.
Dani Coleman had returned to Southern California right before the end of the summer, and I stopped being the sad, desolate man I’d been the whole time she was in New York. It helped that I found out she hadn’t told me not to call her; it had all been a misunderstanding between Sean and me. He was miserable for a day or two after we figured it out, but I couldn’t be mad at him. He was so invested in learning the business and trying to help with foreign tasks that he assumed I knew what he meant when he explained Dani’s flight to New York. I, of course, did my usual when I didn’t completely understand something and made the wrong assumptions. Sean hadn’t even remembered to tell me he had a younger brother, Finnegan, a Captain in the U.S. Air Force, stationed in Afghanistan for his third tour of duty, and a jet pilot. At least he hadn’t remembered to tell me until Finn called one day to tell his big brother he was coming home.
Finn was almost a dead ringer for Sean, except that he had better memory and a big problem. It took us a while, but once we solved the problem, Finn decided it was time to leave military service. He was still debating flying commercial jets vs. buying and running a small, private plane.
Dani and I had a glorious reunion, even though we hadn’t solved all the issues that had driven us apart to begin with. She did seem more conscious that my business would always come first in my life, but she would come first in my personal life. That was the way it had to be, and she knew if I was pulled away, I would always make it up to her. After almost seven months apart while she painted in New York and I sulked in California, that solution seemed to work for both of us. We were still working on learning to communicate more completely with each other, but I was determined we would get everything worked out. I loved this woman and had every intention of marrying her someday.
It was Indian Summer, and we were enjoying it. Sean was spending a lot of time with Deanna Bradley, our attorney’s assistant, and the four of us, along with brother Finn and our assistant Robin, rented a boat out of Terminal Island to try water skiing. Dani found that highly amusing, considering I hated snow and would not learn to snow ski, but I had no problem water skiing. What I couldn’t make her understand was the innate differences between snow and water . . . snow was cold and water was warm. I could get seriously injured on snow, but about the only thing I’d get in the water was wet. It made perfect sense to me, but then what do I know? I’m only a private detective.
We’d rented a convertible and were on the way to the boat, driving down the 110 Freeway through north San Padro, intending to connect with State Highway 47, which is what the 710 Freeway turned into when it ended. Sean was at the wheel when suddenly the car veered wildly out of control, and my partner had to fight to keep us from running off the freeway and down a hill, where we probably would have turned over. When we came to a halt, Sean and I stared at each other. “Did we blow a tire?” Finn questioned his brother.
“Get down!” I yelled. “Everybody get down!”
Six people did their best to make themselves as flat as pancakes. Suddenly another noise reverberated through the air, sounding like another flat tire. Only we were standing dead still.
“That’s a gunshot!” Finn barked before either Sean or I could.
“Stay down!” It was Sean’s instruction as we heard the pop of a gun and the car was struck by another bullet. Dani was trying to lay flat next to me, and I did my best to cover her up and protect her. One more gunshot, this time followed by a yelp from Sean.
“Were you hit?” I practically demanded.
“Grazed,” came his answer.
I managed to get my phone out of my pocket and call 9-1-1. “Shots fired at a moving vehicle on the 110 Freeway driving south about a mile north of State Highway 47. Driver injured. White Mercedes-Benz California license ZBJ482. Send help, passengers trapped in the car. This is Rick Simon; I’m a PI and one of the passengers. Yes, send an ambulance. And hurry.” I checked with everybody. “Anybody else hit?”
Getting no answers, I assumed everyone else was okay. “I can’t breathe,” Dani managed to get out.
“I’m sorry, baby, just hang in there. I don’t want you hit,” I apologized. I could hear Deanna crying softly. Robin wasn’t making a sound. “Robin?”
“I’m here, boss. Finn and I are fine.”
It was less than a minute before I heard the sirens. “Sean?” I asked.
“I hear them,” he answered. “They didn’t have to send an ambulance.”
“Yes, they did,” I insisted.
“I guess this means the water skiing is canceled, huh?” Robin wondered.
“Sorry, kid,” Finn told her.
The police must have been close because it was only another minute or two before they arrived. The ambulance wasn’t far behind them. Once the police were there, I got up off of Dani and pulled her up. Everybody else got out of the car except for Sean while the EMTs examined him. “Who’s Simon?” one of the officers asked.
“Me,” I replied.
“Rick Simon. I’m a PI. The driver is my partner, Sean Donahue. That’s his brother Finn, Captain in the U.S. Air Force. The ladies are Dani Coleman,” I had my arm around her waist and I could feel her shaking; “Deanna Bradley,” and I pointed, “and the third member of our company, Robin Short.” Robin looked pale but steady.
“Could we ask you some questions, Mr. Simon? Privately?” the other officer wondered.
“Sorry, if you want to ask me questions privately, you’re going to have to wait. I’m not leaving Ms. Coleman.”
“It’s alright, Rick, you can go with him,” Dani murmured.
“No. Can you talk to him, Robin?” I asked her.
“Sure. Officer, where do you want me?” Robin walked over to the patrol car with the cop. I gathered Dani into my arms. She was no longer shaking, but she still looked like, well, like somebody had just shot at her.
“It’s alright, baby. Whoever it was is long since gone.”
“How do you put up with that?” she wondered.
“We don’t have people shooting at us very often, babe. It was probably just some random act. You know how out of control the gun violence has been lately.”
“This goes on all the time, doesn’t it?”
“It’s our fault. We never should have rented a white Benz.”
“You think that’s why they shot at us? Just because we were in a Mercedes-Benz?”
“Don’t forget, a white Mercedes-Benz.”
“That’s terrifying, Rick.”
“It is what it is, Dani. We can’t fix the whole world.” I still had hold of her, but she looked like she was pretty well over what we’d just been through. I saw Robin walking back towards Finn and asked Dani, “Will you be alright while I talk to the officer?”
“Sure, go ahead. And Rick – thanks for staying with me.”
I kissed her and headed for the patrol car. “Officer, do you still want to interview me?”
“Yes, I do, Mr. Simon. You were the one that called 9-1-1, is that correct?”
“What happened that caused you to call?”
“I thought we had a blown tire, but something told me it was a gunshot. Sean was fighting to get control of the car, and when we came to a stop, we heard another shot. I yelled at everybody to get down and we all tried to do just that. There were four shots altogether, including the one that hit my partner. I managed to get my phone out and called 9-1-1-. That’s the whole thing.”
“And you’re sure there were only four shots?” The officer asked.
I looked at the name on his uniform. “I’m sure, Officer Jensen. The first one hit the tire, I couldn’t track the second or third ones, and the fourth one hit Sean.”
“About how long did it take for all four shots, Mr. Simon?”
“Three, maybe four minutes.” I pulled out my wallet and handed him my card. “Here, if you need any more information, you can reach me at this number.”
“Thank you. Let’s see what the EMTs have to say about Mr. Donahue.”
We both went over to the ambulance; Sean was just standing up with a bandage around his right bicep. “Told you I was just grazed.”
I turned to the closest EMT. “Have you released him?”
“Yes, sir. I suggest he see his doctor and get some antibiotics. You never know what’s on a bullet these days.”
“C’mon,” Sean said as he pulled me away. “Call the car rental company and tell them what happened. They can come to change the tire.”
“No need,” Finn told us as we walked back to the car. “I changed it. What do we do now?”
“I don’t know about you,” I answered him, “but I’m sure the girls would rather go home.”
“Next time we try this, we rent a sedan. And no Mercedes,” Sean remarked.
“Ladies, home?” Finn asked.
“How about my place?” Dani volunteered. “We’ve got a great big pool, and we can grill steaks or something. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I want to be someplace I won’t get shot at.”
Everybody murmured agreement, and Finn took over the driving duties. As they all piled in the car, I asked Officer Jensen, “You will send a copy of that to the rental agency, won’t you?”
“Yes, we will, Mr. Simon.”
I hurried back to the car. “I’ll turn the rental in later,” I volunteered. We’d taken Deanna’s van over to the rental agency; all the rest of the cars were at Dani’s.
“If you don’t mind, I’d rather do it now. That way, we can stop at the store and buy groceries,” Deanna suggested.
“You sure you’re okay with that?” Sean asked her.
She took his left arm and nodded. “I’m sure.”
And our day water skiing ended before it had begun.