Today's Reading

I hadn't thought about a guest book. I didn't want my presence known anywhere in Santa Barbara. I just wanted to sit in the back, pay my respects like a decent person, and leave before anyone I knew saw me. That's the least I owed Krista.

I guess I could write John Doe or make up a name. But that would put me right back in the Vons parking lot with the wrong answer to Irene Faye's question.

The least I could be was a man who didn't lie at a friend's funeral.

I signed my name and walked into the nave of the church. Four rows of pews across and ten or twelve deep were full of men, women, and some children, all dressed in black and dozens of male and female cops in their dress blues. Cement pillared grand arches separated the two outside pews from the two in the middle.

More cops and Santa Barbara Sheriff's Deputies stood lining the outside of the pews and all around the back. There were at least a couple hundred cops wedged into the church. This was one day the Fire Marshal would look the other way. Law enforcement personnel came from all directions when a police officer is lost in the line of duty. Krista's death had been an accident, but the outpouring of support from her brothers and sisters in blue showed how much she was respected. And loved.

I'd forgotten what it felt like to be a part of that family. The only memory I had left was my excommunication from it. I scanned the rest of the church looking for a soft landing. None. I decided to remain in the back behind the phalanx of law enforcement. Easy access to the exit to leave unnoticed when the service was over.

The undertaker type from the guest book solemnly walked over to me and led me through the rows of cops to the last pew in the far corner of the church. No one took much notice; all eyes were to the front. I hadn't seen an opening to sit, but sure enough there was a space next to the wall beside a young woman in a black skirt and sweater. I shuffled along the pew whispering "sorrys" and sat down. The organ started playing a dirge as soon as I sat.

The church, the music, the solemn black-wardrobed congregation. Colleen's memorial came rushing at me from the dark corner of my mind where I kept it hidden. The malevolent glare from her father, mirrored in her sister's eyes. Standing in the aisle because her family wouldn't make room for me in the front pew. Mourning in silence, fighting off tears, denied the chance to speak about the woman I loved. Not willing to show weakness in front of those who hated me. Who thought I murdered the daughter, sister, friend, they loved. Who still think I did.

Even on the day Colleen was memorialized, my pride, stubborn will, wouldn't let me express my grief in public.

That I did alone, away from Colleen's family, and even my own.

The priest began the service, and I pushed Colleen, her family, and my failings back into the darkness.

I scanned the backs of heads of Krista's mourners looking for familiar ones from over a decade ago and finally gave up and paid attention to the service. That's why I'd made the four-hour drive. To honor Krista's memory, not worry about the past.

Krista's brother, Stephen, made his way to the pulpit to speak. Tall and wide shouldered, he looked much the same as when I first met him at one of Krista and her husband's barbeques. Just less blond hair above his forehead. He was a Santa Barbara Sheriff's Deputy and spoke about how proud he was to follow his father and big sister into law enforcement. He spoke of a childhood when Krista was the toughest kid, boy or girl, on the block, and someone who never forgot a birthday and doted on his children, her nieces and nephew.

Former Santa Barbara Police Chief Lou Siems was next. He'd been the chief while I was on the force and now owned a cop bar in town. Respected and well-liked by the rank and file, Siems was also rumored to have been a bit of a player. He was on marriage number three when I did my short stint on SBPD. Siems' once jet black hair had gone mostly gray and his face was rounder, but he still had an infectious smile and spoke charismatically. He called Krista a cop's cop and a trailblazer for female police officers in Santa Barbara to follow.

Last to speak was Police Captain Ted Kessler. He'd joined the force a few years ahead of me. I never had much interaction with him on the job. I worked the streets and he worked the brass. He made lieutenant young, but his only command was Chief Siems' car. The Chief's unofficial driver and official ass-kisser. He was in command of MIU and had been Krista's supervisor. I would have thought he'd be at least Deputy Chief by now. I guess Chief Siems retired too soon. In his early forties, Kessler still looked like a beach volleyball player. Tall, lean-muscled with a wedge of gelled blond hair on his head. He was smooth at the podium, but lacked Siems' charm.

Through all the speakers there were some tears, but more laughs. The stories made me remember the Krista I spent over a year next to in a patrol car on the streets of Santa Barbara. Smart, tough, charming, and just cunning enough to imperceptibly shade a police report to reveal the hidden truth. I suddenly missed the time we spent together and the thirteen years we never talked.

I owed her a lot. But I never forgave either of us for being together when I should have been with my wife the night she died.

People rising up and exiting their pew a few rows in front of me brought me back to present day. The time had come to pay final respects. The burial would be private. I was the last one out. The exit from the church was just across the way. I'd so far been spared the glares and not so low whispers that I'd be sure to encounter when someone recognized me. I'd come to church and celebrated Krista's life. I'd mourned her quietly. I'd done everything a decent person does but pay my last respects. A right turn out of the pew and I'd be on my way home.

What kind of a man was I?

I exited the pew and turned left. Down the aisle toward Krista's closed casket.

This excerpt ends on page 16 of the hardcover edition.

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