Flipping Out Chapter 3 of 5

FO.NEW.jpgReggie Drabyak is not the most dynamic cop on the force. Average height, slightly more than average weight, slightly less than average personality. In two years, when he retires and hangs a “gone fishing” sign on his door, that’s exactly what he’ll be doing. Fishing. For him, police work is just a way to pay for his boat and his bait.

Jo Drabyak, on the other hand, was chatty, funny, and bubbly—a total charmer. Five years ago, after a series of colorful but unsuccessful career choices, she became an event planner. Weddings, bar mitzvahs, and because it’s LA, parties of every imaginable stripe for the Weird and Famous.

Jo grew up in Summit, New Jersey, and dropped out of high school to become a modern dancer. She had the desire and the drive, but not the knees. She moved to Los Angeles to conquer Hollywood and wound up as a production assistant on The Price Is Right. That’s where she met Petty Officer First Class Reggie Drabyak. Reggie was in the audience with a bunch of other sailors. He got the call to come on down and won himself a washer-dryer. Jo’s job was to ship the prizes to the winners. Reggie didn’t have much use for major appliances on an aircraft carrier, so he said, “Have dinner with me, and you can ship my Maytag to your house.”

A year later, Reggie quit the navy, joined LAPD, and offered Jo the chance to spend the rest of her life washing and drying his laundry with hers. From what I could tell, it was a damn good life.

Until today.

“I guess you knew Jo Drabyak a lot better than I did,” Terry said as we followed the caravan of cop cars west on Sunset.

“I like Reggie,” I said, “but I was never a big fan of sitting in the hot sun all day hoping to catch my dinner. So, when I first met him, I didn’t hang out with him much. Then my wife met his wife at a cop picnic, and they really hit it off. Joanie and Jo went to yoga classes together, they’d have lunch, go shopping—they really got close. Eventually, we wound up doing a lot of couples stuff together.

When Joanie was dying, people would call or send cards, but only two cop wives were there in the flesh. Your wife was one of them. The other was Jo.”

The Drabyaks lived on Alta Vista in a mission-style white stucco house with a red tiled roof. It would probably go for a million plus, which is modest by LA standards, but completely out of range for the average cop and his wife. Luckily, they bought it fifteen years ago when a two-income couple could still afford a down payment and a mortgage.

Terry pulled in behind Wendy’s car. She had a street map in one hand and was already delegating detectives to spread out and canvass a six-block radius. “The lieutenant’s waiting for you in the garage,” she said.

Jo was lying on the floor a few feet from Reggie’s pickup. Her legs were at a right angle to her torso. One arm was extended to the left, the other was pinned beneath her. Her left cheek was resting on the oil-stained concrete. Reggie had said she was working a wedding last night, and her clothes seemed to bear him out.

She had on a flowery summer dress and sensible tan shoes with low heels. Her honey-blond hair fanned out across her back and shoulders, but one of the fan blades was missing.

I knelt down beside her. “I’m not sure, but it looks like a hunk of her hair has been chopped off. Can’t really tell because of the blood.”

“Bullet to the back of the head,” Terry said. “Looks more like an execution than a random homicide.”

“Don’t jump to conclusions,” Kilcullen said.

“I always jump to conclusions,” Terry said. “It’s just that you’re not usually on the scene to watch me do my job wrong.”

“I’m here for the same reason my boss is here. And his boss. A cop’s wife was murdered in cold blood in her own home. Whatever else you’re doing, shelve it. This case goes to the top of the pile.”

“We both knew the victim,” I said. “Is there any conflict with us handling this?”

“We all knew the victim,” Kilcullen said, his voice kicking up a notch. “She’s one of our own. She was killed in our jurisdiction. It’s ours to solve, and you two are going to solve it.”

“Right,” Terry said. “And if you yell louder, maybe we’ll solve it faster.”

“Sorry,” Kilcullen said, more to Jo than to Terry. He bent down and took a closer look. “They cut her hair. It’s like a violation on top of a violation.” He smacked his fist into the palm of his hand and stood up. “CSU should be here any minute. I’ve got half the station combing the neighborhood. You guys get the fun job. Interview Reggie.”

“Rule number one,” I said. “The husband is always the primary . . .”

“I know,” Kilcullen said. “But I know Reggie, and he didn’t kill her. Let’s just hope he’s got a solid alibi.”

“He’s going to want in on the investigation,” Terry said.

“Well, you know the answer to that one. No fucking way. You need manpower, you let me know. Anyone but Reggie.” He took one more look at the dead woman at our feet. “I don’t get it,” he said. “A nice girl like Jo. I can’t imagine she had any enemies.”

Terry shrugged. “She must’ve had one.”

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