Authors: M. Z. Kelly
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TABLE OF CONTENTS:
The screaming suddenly stopped.
“Lindsay, is that you?”
My voice was frantic as I glanced down at my phone, realizing the call from my sister had been dropped. I didn’t recognize the number and hit redial. Lindsay had been in an abusive relationship and I wondered if her boyfriend had battered her again.
I turned to Collin Russell and excused myself for a moment. I took a few steps off his porch with my canine partner Bernie following. The hillside home in Malibu had a magnificent view with the sun reflecting off the ocean.
The number I called rang but no one answered, so I called my sister’s number. She picked up on the third ring and said, “I made it clear to Robin that I didn’t want to talk to you.”
Robin is my brother who had called Lindsay earlier on my behalf, trying to make peace. Despite what she’d said, she sounded rushed, and out of breath.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I just got a call and heard someone screaming. I was worried and thought…”
“Maybe it was someone else whose life you’re trying to control. Don’t call me again.” The line went dead.
I heaved out a breath and put my phone away. My sister had recently returned to Boston where she’d reconciled with her boyfriend Brody, or Ice, as he was now calling himself. I’d repeatedly tried to convince Lindsay that he was dangerous but she wouldn’t listen. I knew it was only a matter of time until he abused her again.
I tugged on Bernie’s leash and walked back over to Russell. The man I was meeting for the first time had green eyes, almost the same color as mine. His hair was thinning and gray, but I could tell it had been brown at one time, like mine. We shared the same even facial features.
My earlier anxiety over meeting him was gone, maybe because I was still upset about the conversation I’d just had. I introduced myself and then asked the question that I had come here wanting an answer to.
“Are you my father?”
Collin Russell’s laughter came out in a burst that was so intense it made the fur on Bernie’s back lift. The one-time actor brought his hands down to his knees, resting them there as he bent over and another spasm of mirth hit him. I realized for the first time that his clothes were covered with blotches of paint; a spectrum of nearly every color in the rainbow.
I waited, now irritated by his response. I even had a thought about turning and walking away.
“I’m sorry,” he finally said, controlling himself. Even though he’d stopped laughing, his face was lit up like he had a big secret. He waved me and Bernie into the house. “Follow me and I’ll explain everything. I’m working on Mona. She’s from the planet Zoltar and…” He glanced back at me. “You’ll see.”
As I followed him, Bernie and I exchanged a look. Maybe we were both wondering if the man we were trailing behind was insane or had an alien creature held captive somewhere in his basement.
Maybe I should explain how I ended up in Malibu, talking to a man who I thought might be my father, and who was quite possibly crazy. For that you’re going to need a little background.
My name is Kate Sexton. I’m a detective with LAPD’s Robbery Homicide Division, or RHD. My canine partner Bernie and I are assigned to Section One, a homicide unit that operates out of Hollywood Station and handles some of the department’s most difficult and high profile cases. I was on temporary paid leave because of a shooting review from my last case. I had no doubt that I would be cleared of the shooting, but, in the meantime, I was happy to have some time away from my job.
Bernie, who’s about a hundred pounds of muscle and testosterone, is an integral part of our unit. He’s also a bit of a wayward soul, always on the lookout for a canine version of Kate Moss or Miranda Kerr. He’d sired a love puppy named Bubba not too long ago who was being raised by a man named Hudson Mackenzie. I guess you could call Hudson, or Hud as he prefers, a friend, even though we were more than friends at one time. More about him later.
Bernie and I live in an apartment building called the Barkley Bungalows in North Hollywood, right next door to my best friends Natalie and Mo. Natalie’s in her early twenties, British, and gorgeous, with a mouth that defies the typical English reserve. Mo, is her opposite, African-American and heavyset, and with a mouth that gives you a piece of her mind whether you want it or not. My friends work as part-time actors on a sitcom and as private investigators. They try to insert themselves into my cases every chance they get, not to mention my personal life that’s lately been a bigger mess than the Malibu hillsides in a rainstorm.
As for Collin Russell, it’s a long story. For now, let me just say that I thought he might be the bio-dad I never met because he’d starred in some old movies with my deceased actress-mother, Judie Crawford. Judie was murdered by her husband, Ryan Cooper, the same man that murdered the man who raised me when I was a little girl. As they say, it’s complicated, so I’ll hash out more of the details for you later.
Instead of a basement, Russell led us into a large light-filled sunroom that had several paintings displayed on easels, including one that he explained was Mona. “I work in abstracts, including a series based on what I believe extra-terrestrials might look like.” He glanced down at the woman in the painting. She was blue-green in color with orange dreadlocks. There was a scattering of starlight in the sky above her. “Mona is a celebrity. She has her own clothing line and stars on a show called the
Real Housewives of Zoltar.”
As he went on about his creation and her backstory, my earlier irritation with him was gone. While Collin Russell might be teetering on the far side of the eccentricity scale, there was something about him that I liked. It occurred to me that he was probably harmless and happy with the odd life he was living.
Russell’s face became more serious. “Back to your question, I’m sorry. No, I’m not your father.”
I wasn’t sure if I was disappointed or relieved. “But you did know my mother.”
He blinked several times. “We were good friends.” His watery gaze moved off for a moment. “She was a wonderful woman and a pretty fair actress as well until…”
“She met Ryan Cooper.”
He nodded. He looked over at a table in the corner of the room and then back at me. “Let me make us some tea and I’ll tell you what I know about her.”
Ten minutes later, over tea and coconut cookies, which he said were his favorite, Russell began our conversation by telling me about his hobby. “I took up painting after studying astrophysics about twenty years ago. One discipline follows from the other quite beautifully.”
I set my cup down. “I’m not sure I’m following you.”
He looked up, taking in the sunlight from the glass ceiling. “The elements that make up our planet and us, including our eyes, our hearts, and our brains were all forged millions of years ago in the fiery inferno of exploding suns.” His starry gaze found me again, a peaceful expression now playing on his face. “We are starlight, which for the briefest instant, has slowed down to become life. Once this instant passes, the light will speed up again, reinvent itself, and light up worlds yet to be born. It’s all quite a marvelous miracle, don’t you agree?”
I smiled, thinking there was a lot more to Collin Russell than I’d realized. I knew from some research Natalie and Mo had done that the man I was sitting across from was a billionaire. He was also a philanthropist, giving most of his money to charitable causes.
“Since you put it so eloquently, yes,” I said. “It really is amazing.”
“And, to think, it took all those millions of years and exploding suns to bring us to this moment; you and me sitting here and talking about your mother.”
“I’ve seen some of her old movies and read a few things on the Internet about her but…” I felt the emotion of what I was saying and paused. “Can you tell me about her?”
His eyes fixed on me as his head went up and down. “You probably know that you look a lot like her.” He rubbed his chin, looking away, before something apparently dawned on him and he said, “Sunlight in October.”
“Have you ever noticed how the sunlight is different in the fall? There’s…” He took a breath, maybe gathering his thoughts. “The seasons change because of the earth’s tilt when it orbits the sun. During the summer, the sunlight is directly overhead in the northern hemisphere, giving the light a direct, bright quality. But when summer slides into fall, the light changes. We see it as golden and diffuse because the rays of light are slanted and cast lengthy shadows.”
What he’d said was interesting but didn’t seem relevant. “We were talking about my mother.”
He waved a hand through the air. “Sorry…I tend to go off on tangents. What I was trying to say is that your mother was like sunlight in October. Whenever I was around her there was a quality…” His smile became wistful. “Judie was radiant and beautiful, but there was also something sad about her—sunlight fading away.” His vision momentarily shifted away from me. “Maybe that was because of what happened to you.”
I thought I understood what he meant. My mother had become pregnant by my biological father before her mentally unstable former boyfriend Ryan Cooper had come back into her life. She was so concerned that Cooper might harm both her and me, if he ever learned that she’d given birth while they’d been estranged, that she’d made a life-altering decision. My mother had given me to her former boyfriend—the man who had raised me who I call my love-dad. Four years after I was born, he was gunned down by Cooper in a park right in front of me. My love-dad, also a police officer, had been killed in a jealous rage after Cooper learned that my mother had been romantically involved with him at one time. I’d only recently learned that he wasn’t my biological father.
I brushed a tear, thinking about the mother I’d never known. “She never made any attempt to see me.”
“That’s because she knew it was the only way she could protect you.”
Something occurred to me about the devoted way that he talked about her. “Were you and my…were you and Judie involved at one time?”
He laughed and spilled his tea on the table. He found a tissue and blotted it, saying, “Heavens no. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m gay.”
He went on for a moment, telling me what it was like to be a gay man, afraid to tell anyone his truth until he was in his forties. I could relate to what he’d said because my brother was also gay. Robin had suffered for years before he finally came out.
I validated what he’d said, telling him about my brother, before getting back to the issue at hand. I gulped in a breath, tried to steady my nerves, and said, “Who…who was my biological father?”
Russell was suddenly giddy, like a small child at Christmas. He stood. “This is all quite marvelous.” He stood up. “Exploding suns…starlight…millions of years…and now this.” He turned away but then stopped and turned back to me. “I’ll be right back.”
While he was gone, I looked at Bernie. My big dog was a cross between a German Shepherd and an unknown breed, a giant hairball who seemed genuinely perplexed by Collin Russell. I shook my head at him and said, “Maybe after our star exploded we both landed in some kind of weird cosmic Twilight Zone.”
Bernie put his head back down and exhaled, probably thinking there was absolutely no hope for the human species.
After a ten minute wait, Russell came back to the table and sat down. He was still excited, beaming a megawatt smile at me. “I can’t tell you who your father was, but Judie gave me this before...” He drew in a breath and lowered his voice. “She wanted you to have it.”
He handed over a weathered manila envelope.
“What’s inside?” I asked, taking the envelope from him.
“It’s a gift from your mother - a letter meant only for you.”