A girlfriend of Quentin’s had called and told me where my son was. I got to the bridge; I walked toward him. Quentin looked at me. He was already somewhere else. We stood only sixty feet from each other, the distance from the pitcher’s mound to home plate when Quentin played baseball. I gave him the thumbs up, our… code. Quentin shook his head, and stepped over the rail. Gone.

I was lucky. I had my own bridge in that beastly medicine chest stocked with ready ampules of liquid cocaine along with the entire library of the mind-numbing FDA alphabet that nudged me over the side into a spiral of year-long bingeing. My Gehry-inspired manse became ground zero for the glitterati who were spectacular at fawning over a surgeon with a notoriously generous script pad. If you liked dropping into the deadening, syrupy, and sexy warming of the Quaalude, I wrote for Methaqualone. The young, slouched A-Listers, who found a certain artistic romance in chipping horse, scored my compound for the righteous heroin substitute. No reason to cop your cartel tar over on Melrose: I was the man with the medical degree. I was legal. I was a physician. Everybody loved me. Until the volume of pharmaceuticals flagged the attentive DEA agents who decided that it was good having a bona fide Hollywood Hills plastic surgeon who would owe them. And so they came up with what they considered a tremendously brilliant idea: recruit me as their own personal plastic surgeon—although I thought they all looked pretty damn good already.



Two young agents in crisp, dark suits with plastic badges clasped to their breast pockets sat across from me. We were at a dull gray laminate table, in a small room spiked by not so very flattering lighting. Both agents were pretty fit and I guessed they did a lot of cross-training. I would have to remember to ask.

The shorter agent, who I’ll call Robert McKinney because his plastic laminate said so, pushed over a thick, beige folder secured by bright, metal clasps.  “Here you go, Doctor. Take your time.”

The fat folder sat in front of me, looking every inch the government-issue dossier on somebody. And because my name was spelled correctly on the black and white label, I didn’t need to open it. I also passed on watching the surveillance videos.

“Just so you know, we don’t do the good cop/bad cop thing,” McKinney said. “Way over the top. We’re more, uh, what’s the word? Subtle?” Marshall’s question carried a proud smirk. I disliked the smirk in general, and even more so when sitting directly across from one.

Marshall got up from the table, walked over to the miniscule water cooler. He pressed the blue button, filling his Dixie cup. “Can I get you anything?” he asked, looking back at me.

“Water’s good,” I said, thinking now might be a good time to turn over a new leaf.

Marshall looked at me blankly, then tilted the cup back, draining the tiny, paper reservoir. “I was just kidding about the ‘get you anything’ part of the morning. He poured himself a second cup, came back, sat at our table and put the Dixie in front of Agent McKinney.

McKinney swallowed his, crushed the cup, pinched it into a beady paper ball, then flicked it across the table, delighted as the ball skidded over the top and into the metal wastebasket next to me. He was probably pretty good at foosball, too.

McKinney beamed. “Hey Tim, on second thought, maybe we should do the good-slash-bad-cop deal?”

“Jesus, you think? Maybe, long as we know who’s who.” Marshall shrugged his shoulders, raised his eyebrows, while looking at me.

“I get a lawyer, right?” I asked.

“This is the U. S. of A—course you do.” McKinney glanced over at Marshall. “Except for maybe right now.”

“Yeah, right now, is what we call our ‘interview,’ and this is our ‘get to you know’ time—you’re special,” Marshall said.

Very.” McKinney emphasized.

“My lucky day,” I said. “But I will be talking to my attorney.”

“Maybe, maybe not—depends,” McKinney said.

“If I play ball?” I offered.

“See that? Already a team player,” Marshall said.

“Ditto,” McKinney said. “I’m feeling all warm and fuzzy, too.” Good cop.

“Let’s start with some water,” I said. They looked at each other, surprised at the demand in my voice.

“Can we do that, Agent McKinney?”

“I believe we can, Agent Marshall.”

“Could be a gateway gimme, though. Next thing you know, Doc wants a smoke, too.” Marshall took off his jacket. I could see the sweat stain from the compact firearm holstered up high on his side.

“Got a lighter?” I asked, hoping to mine a vein with whoever was now the good cop.

“Hell yes, Doctor, this is the goddamn American government at your service. We got everything,” Marshall said. “Problem is, you gotta earn it.”

“Even a lousy smoke?”

Marshall walked around behind me, put his hands on my shoulders. “Especially a lousy smoke,” he whispered into my ear.

Marshall and McKinney explained the DEA backstory on deal-making and then rattled off the less desirable federal institutions that would put out the welcome mat for me if I chose to leave the deal on the table. Four hours later, they were still laying out the rest of my life as chief surgical counsel for select Russian mobsters currently squirreled away in witness protection. I would handle facial reconstructs. Russians got new identities. New attitudes required another skill set.

“These assholes, they don’t give a fuck what’s going to happen,” McKinney said.

“We’ve had a few go out on their own and next thing you know, they’re safely belted into rich, French-stitched leather seats of a late-model Mercedes,” Marshall explained.

“Except they’re dead.”  McKinney smiled at me.

“Very dead.” Marshall grinned.

McKinney looked at his phone. He started texting while talking. “Usually drenched in high-octane gas and left to burn outside the family home. But you’ll be okay, we got your back.” McKinney showed his phone to Marshall and said, “Murphey’s on his way.”

“Not much of a choice, really,” I said to my new co-workers. I felt the room shrink. “And the good news?” I asked, hoping for a silver lining—maybe a generous per diem?

“A different agent is assigned to you.”

Both agents laughed.

“Not us.”

“No, we got other fish to fry.”

“Bigger fish.”

“Piranhas.” He held up both hands, palms out, fingers assuming jaws and clamped them closed. “Snap.”

McKinney’s phone vibrated in his pocket. He pulled it out, looked at it, and nodded over to Marshall, who paused, put his jacket on and slipped over to the door, leaning out into the hallway. “Agent Murphey, you’re up.”

McKinney was putting his jacket on too when Marshall stepped back into the room, holding the door open for this new agent.



Jack Murphey was older, medium build, still fit, a strong jaw with a sandy-colored moustache that could use a trim. Slightly thinning hair in a crew cut. His tan-colored cotton suit was a cut above theirs and I could see there was less starch in a more expensive brand of white shirt. His cuffs were monogramed. The dark brown wingtip Oxfords gleamed a high polish.

McKinney made the introduction. “Agent Jack Murphey, your new plastic surgeon, Doctor Dominic Martinez, formerly of the Hollywood Hills. Now a resident of wherever the DEA wants him to be.”

Agent Murphey walked over. I glanced at the slight limp in his left leg. He caught my look. Murphey nodded down at his leg, then his green eyes locked into mine. “Bullets have a way of fucking with your life—or dance moves.”

“I hardly noticed.”

“Don’t be polite.” Jack smiled, and thumbed toward Marshall and McKinney. “These assholes aren’t.” He paused. “Somebody get the doctor a soft drink and an ashtray.”

“Sugar-free if you got it,” I said.

“Sugar-free, diet, whatever. I even think we got an old case of Jolt Cola stashed around here somewhere,” Jack said. “Supply side from the Reagan era.”

Agents Marshall and McKinney offered tight, young Republican smiles.

Jack put out his hand. I shook it. “Nice to meet you, Doctor Martinez; sorry to hear about your boy.” Agent Murphey looked me straight in the eye and firmed the steady force in his hand.

“You fellows can vamanos. Me and Doc got this now. My watch, as it were. Right, Doc?” Agent Jack Murphey smiled at me like we were in it together.

I didn’t say anything. I nodded in a kind of impromptu affirmation that we did, in fact, have this—whatever ‘this’ meant. Marshall and McKinney shot each other a glance. Their slimming suits looked cheaper. I hoped their collars felt tighter.

I got the sense that this guy, Jack Murphey, could be a good or a bad cop.

Time would tell.