Foreign Relations: A Finn O'Brien Crime Thriller
Traffic in downtown Los Angeles turns hellish when a woman hurtles from an overpass and crashes through the windshield of a car on the 110 Freeway. When her autopsy reveals a gruesome secret, Detective Finn O'Brien is determined to prove her death was no accident.
Together with his partner, Cori Anderson, he follows a twisted trail that leads into the veiled and exotic world of L.A.'s exiled African community, the luxurious enclaves of Hollywood and finally to the doorstep of a third world despot whose cruelty knows no bounds and whose influence has a stranglehold on the City of the Angels.
“Both heart-rending and heart-warming, Rebecca Forster assures us that despite the reality and the odds, justice, loyalty and love, still reign and rule the day.”
Release date: March 10, 2021
Print pages: 338
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Behind the book
Little Ethiopia is a two block area in the heart of Los Angeles. Blink and you miss it. Stop, park and eat at a restaurant and you'll never forget it. But if you walk a little you'll find a community center with news from Ethiopia and Eritrea. A notice in that window was all it took to inspire Foreign Relations.
Foreign Relations: A Finn O'Brien Crime Thriller
Freeway Overpass, Los Angeles
"Dang if I ain't gonna be shittin' your house, Taylor. I swear, you put your stash up close and it's just tickin' me off. That ain't no way to behave! Taylor!"
Number Four, as he preferred to be called, waved a long-fingered hand at the man who was getting under his skin. Taylor paid him no mind and that didn't set well with Number Four, this being his bridge and all. Folks on his bridge had to respect the space. 'Course it could be difficult stayin' respectable. He understood that.
His own nails were dirty and his white beard unkempt, but his space was laid out proper and there were laces in his shoes and his shirt was clean. In fact, his shirt was new, plucked out of the dumpster behind the sorority house on Hellman Way with the tags still hanging off it. Number Four liked the way those tags dangled under his arm, so folks could see he was no slouch 'cause his shirt cost twenty-four ninety-five. The shirt had red cherries embroidered on the blue cotton. It was a might small because it was made for a lady, so he left the buttons open across the chest. That was A-OK 'cause it showed off the scar he got in Nam, the one that Madam Sage liked so much. She hadn't been to the bridge for a good week or so, but no matter. She would show up one of these days. When she did, Number Four was determined that Madam Sage would be his. 'Course he wasn't quite sure what he'd do with her once he got her 'cause he surely hadn't been with a woman in a very long while. Truth be told, Number Four wasn't even sure Madam Sage was a woman. That was fine with him, too. He liked a little surprise now and again. What he didn't like was all the goddamn mess around his house. He also didn't like gettin' worked up and that's what was going on.
Number Four was gettin' itchy with upsettedness and thinking he might have to take action, so to speak. Once he broke a man's head clean open and that was a mess, so now he was cautious with his upsettedness as best he could be. Instead of ripping Taylor's head off his shoulders or tossing his stuff off the bridge, Number Four called out again.
"Taylor! Move this mess of junk over to that space there. Over there. Give me room to breath. Hear me, Taylor?"
"I hear you, old man," Taylor said back but he didn't move a muscle.
He lay still, hands crossed over his chest, his narrow head stuck inside the towel-draped pizza stand he had found behind Tony's on Third. During the day that contraption protected him from the L.A. sun as good as a cabana at the Ritz; at night Taylor believed he was disappeared if nobody could see his face. Yep, Taylor was smart making up the pizza stand shade but that didn't make the situation no better, so number Four picked up the edge of Taylor's towel and leaned right over him.
"Let me break it down for you Barney style, boy," Number Four growled. "Your stuff's in my way. If it stays there I'm gonna return the favor and shit in that cart of yours. You don't want that 'cause we all know it's hard to come by carts. Come on now. Come on and you move your skinny ass away."
Taylor took the towel out of Number Four's dirty fingers and put it over his pizza stand again. His voice was kind of muffled when he said:
"Nuts to butts tonight. Suck it up."
Number Four sniffed and snuffled and scooted himself back to his tent, a fine domicile he was prideful of. He had been working the off-ramp on Temple where the stoplight was long and folks couldn't help but notice his will-work-for-food-god-fearing-veteran sign when a lady in a fancy SUV got caught at the red. She fell all over herself apologizing that she had no money, thanking him for his service and then, holy crackers, that broad threw a box at him. She took off like a jackrabbit as soon as the light turned green.
The box was all wrapped in pretty paper. The card on it said 'Happy Birthday, Billy'. Inside the box was a little tent. Number Four lugged that tent to this overpass. Ever since that day this had been his place from dusk to dawn.
Now he sat in front of his child-size tent, his long legs crossed lotus style, his scarred chest warmed by the late afternoon sun. He didn't really feel like mixing it up anymore, so Number Four surveyed his territory. He hardly recognized the place these days. There were three tents and two box houses, two bicycles – one without tires – sixteen trash bags and four shopping carts. All of it was pushed up tight as a whore's hot pants on the narrow sidewalks that framed the two traffic lanes on the bridge. The cops wouldn't give 'em no trouble long as they followed the rules: don't obstruct traffic, bed down no earlier than five in the p.m. and clear out by seven in the a.m.
Middle class guilt.
It was all good for a boy like Number Four.
As the sun set though his upsettedness kept itchin' so he didn't feel all that good. He looked over his shoulder and through the iron bar railing that sat atop the short concrete wall. He gazed at the freeway and the buildings and the sky. In the buildings poor people were leaving their work; the sky was as it always was, blue and clear; down below the cars were moving at a good clip.
"You go!" Number Four screamed at the cars and then he leaned his back up against the little wall, put his head against the metal railing and whispered: "You go, you bastards."
Number Four closed his eyes and let his head loll to one side. He listened to the sounds of traffic, and the woman without a name who read aloud from her bible, and the crazy guy, Cliff, who came along each night with a gaggle of imaginary friends he was always fighting with. Number Four opened his eyes and was about to tell Taylor he appreciated him being somewhat normal when he saw something that made him sit up straight.
A man and a woman were coming his way. They were moving kind of slow, the woman wobbling and the man holding her up against him. Drunk as a skunk or high as a kite, Number Four deduced. Either way, it was unbecoming of the fairer sex to be in such a condition. Her long hair was all over her face and the man had a hat on, so Number Four couldn't get a bead on him. He hated it when you couldn't see a man's face and he doubly hated that it seemed like they were looking for a place to set themselves down. Number Four got to his knees and squinted into the late afternoon glare. The upsettedness was a living, breathing, toadie thing inside him now.
When the woman stumbled and the man moved her over to the railing and leaned her up there, Number Four had no choice but to take action. He was on his feet, running through the tents and boxes, pushing aside carts and throwing around bags. He gave out a roar. He did not want those two on his bridge and hoped they would be afeared of his fierceness. When he rushed them, the man turned to look. Number Four was blind with rage and the man was backlit by the setting sun so he still couldn't see the sucker's face when he got closer, but it was no matter.
Number Four went for him.
He did not want these people on his bridge.
No siree, he did not.
Private Estate, Mulholland Drive
Sharon Stover poured herself two fingers of scotch, caught up the phone and went out onto the deck. She was tall and buff and, by Hollywood standards, old at thirty-five. Sharon thought it was a bitch when her star dimmed and she was put out to pasture, but that was the way things happened in the business. Not to mention women with her particular attributes weren't exactly in demand.
Still, by anyone's standards, her pasture was pretty damn green. She had reaped the benefits of her hard work, good fortune and, at times, intelligent and strategic avarice. She was unapologetic for the latter, grateful for the good fortune and proud of the work she had done when she was on her game.
Right now, though, fortune wasn't smiling on her and she was ticked. Actually, she was not so much ticked as she was worried. When Sharon Stover worried she sounded ticked and acted like a bitch on wheels, a behavior that most people put down to the poor hand life had dealt her. If they were holding the same cards, they all agreed, they would be none too pleasant either. What happened to Sharon, though, was actually a blessing in disguise. It had given her life renewed purpose and she bit into her cause like a pit bull taking hold of the jugular. Right now someone was trying to pry her jaws open and she wasn't happy about that. All this work was for nothing if she didn't have the last piece of the puzzle that was promised to her.
Since there was no one around to bitch to, Sharon lowered her blood pressure the only way she knew how: she stood on the deck, looked at the view, breathed deep and drank. When she was done with the ritual Sharon rested her glass on that rail, let her eyes roam over the incredible vista and welcomed the calm that came over her. This had been her go-to place for peace since the first time she'd seen it.
Her late husband, Frederick, had spent two million back in ninety-eight to suspend an infinity pool over his slice of Mulholland Canyon in the Hollywood Hills. Frederick had been warned that building the pool would end disastrously when the big one hit. Since the architect and contractor had been the best money could buy, Frederick had every confidence that he would be lounging in the pool, cocktail in hand, as L.A. crumbled in the distance. In the off chance that the naysayers were right, Frederick was happy that he would at least go out in style. If there was one thing Frederick had it was style.
A year after the pool was finished he spent another hundred thousand to extend the teak deck. W Magazine featured the pool and the deck on the cover. It was unheard of for a fashion magazine not to have couture on that prime spot, and the editor took a lot of flack for her decision. Frederick Stover's deck and pool, the besieged editor argued, set design precedence. He had taken a risk, produced what others said was impossible, raised the lifestyle bar and that, after all, was what W was all about – celebrating the impossible and the impossibly chic.
Sharon, usually hard to impress, was so taken by the picture that she drove herself up to the house, got over the tall gate – which wouldn't have kept a cat out much less someone as talented as she was – and made her way to the deck just to see what it felt like to stand on it. Security was alerted to an intruder but they weren't needed. Frederick Stover had already found Sharon taking a dip in the pool, naked and unapologetic.
Frederick knew a lot of women in Hollywood like her – beautiful and bold – so he was prepared to entertain her until he was no longer entertained by her. But when she got out of the pool and he saw her leg, Frederick was gob-smacked. Poor guy had a thing for flawed beauty and Sharon's flaw put the beat back in his heart. He married her six months later and had the decency to die three years after that leaving her the caretaker of everything he had created in life: his house, his fortune and his kid. Right at the moment, given the gamble she had taken with that legacy, Sharon's life felt like a house of cards standing in the path of a tornado.
She picked up the phone, dialed again and then listened to a phone ringing while she focused on the ribbon of freeway running through downtown and thought about how much she had to lose if that phone wasn't answered soon.
110 Freeway North, Approaching Downtown L.A.
"The captain hates us with a hatred deeper than the deep blue sea, Cori."
Finn O'Brien, detective new to the Wilshire Division, drove and groused, complaining as he had complained since finding out that he and Cori had drawn twice the community relations assignments than anyone else.
"Oh Lordy, stop squattin' on your spurs," Cori chortled. "We're the new hands on the ranch so we get to clean out the stalls. Simple as that. Besides, we don't have anything on the books that can't be set aside for a few hours."
Cori Anderson adjusted her visor against the late afternoon glare, but she couldn't find the sweet spot to block that low hanging ball of fire. Only time and physics would solve the problem of the sun; Finn's whining she could do something about.
"Maybe Fowler sends us out more often because we're the best looking of the bunch."
"That I'll grant you." Finn raised his chin, took one hand off the wheel and ran it over his shaved head. Cori snorted, amazed as always at how simple it was to get a peacock to spread his tail feathers – even one named Finn O'Brien.
"There are worse things than being sent out to talk to a bunch of kids about police work," she reminded him. "Not to mention we're good at it. We had them eating out of our hands."
"Sure, look it," Finn said back.
Cori smiled. She liked the way the Irish popped out of her partner now and again to oil the gears of their daily grind. Fifteen when he immigrated, his heritage was too ingrained by the time 'his teenage self' got to this country for him to lose the brogue completely. Not to mention his huge family was as thick as thieves, so the culture had moved across The Pond with them and flourished in the California desert that was L.A. Cori wondered if she would find Finn as fascinating if he sounded like all the other rodeo clowns who were chasing her tail. That, of course, was a moot point since Finn O'Brien had no interest in her tail. If he had, there would be no need for him to chase it. Yet after four years as partners – save for the six months of his troubles – the eye he cast on her wasn't lusty. It was one filled with respect and friendship. Cori was smart enough to take what she could get and be grateful for it.
"Some day I want you to tell me what 'sure, look it' means," Cori sighed.
"If I told you, I'd have to kill you." Finn turned his head just enough to cast a smile her way; the one that hooked her heart every time.
"You'd be in for a fight," she drawled and tossed aside her romantic nonsense.
Finn O'Brien did not fit into the grand scheme of her life because the baggage he brought was unwieldy and heavy: a soon to be ex-wife named Bev, the distrust of his peers, and always the memory of Alexander, his long-dead brother. Truth be told, she was no catch either, saddled as she was with an eighteen year-old kid who had a two year-old of her own.
Never one to waste time wishing for what couldn't be, and a firm believer that life was neither fair nor neat, Cori turned her head and eyed the graffiti spilling across the retaining walls of the freeway. She saw nothing new, just the tags of the usual suspects. Cori was neither outraged at the vandalism nor admiring of the artists' talents. The graffiti was simply something more interesting to look at than cars.
"The one with the tats was really hearing you," she said. "How can you complain about that?"
"It's not the kids I'm complaining about, Cori. I like them. Yes, indeed, I like them."
Finn's voice dropped a note and Cori knew exactly what he was thinking. Those kids – those high school boys – reminded him of his brother. If Finn hadn't been a self-important, self-indulgent, cocky seventeen-year-old who couldn't tear himself away from the charms of a cheerleader, he would have remembered to pick Alexander up from grammar school. Instead, Alexander was abducted and killed. In all these years, Finn still believed he could have saved the boy but for his own selfishness. Cori, on the other hand, believed that it had been Alexander's time and for some reason Fate wanted Finn to bear the burden of something that was preordained.
"You know, Cori," Finn ventured when the silence stretched too thin for his liking, "maybe the captain is still trying to keep us from joining the rank and file. Maybe that's why he keeps us on the run. I'm thinking he should put us in the bullpen and give the rest of them a chance to forgive and forget."
"It's going to take a lot of time for everyone to forget that you killed a cop," Cori reminded him. "I vote we don't push it."
"That officer was beating a man to death. He almost beat me to death."
Finn's hand went to the scars on his neck and at his jaw. Cori didn't think he was aware of what he was doing or how often he did it. She wanted to take his hand and hold it. Instead she said:
"Knowing that doesn't make the next guy in a uniform feel better when he turns his back on you. Fowler knows what he's doing. He'll move us when the time is right." She crossed her arms, closed her eyes, put her head back on the seat and settled in. "Besides, you're with me. That should be enough for any man."
Finn glanced at his partner and smiled. She had stood by him, stood up for him, transferred from the Westside to partner with him at Wilshire Division when no one else would. He didn't deserve such goodness and she deserved so much more than him.
Her blonde hair – big, bold, sweeping with the tease and curl that a Texas girl thought of as the height of fashion – was spread out across the back of the seat and glittered gold in the sunshine. Under the corner of her sunglasses he could just see a hint of crow's feet at the edge of her eyes and a sparkle of blue shadow. Her lipstick had worn off and her lips were soft, peach colored and full. She was a strong woman, a truly beautiful woman, a…
"Look at me like that a minute longer and I'll file a complaint," she muttered.
Finn laughed. He took the steering wheel with both hands, checked his mirror and merged into the fast lane.
"You are a frightening woman, you are."
Cori opened her eyes and raised her head.
"Yeah, and you're a—"
Cori never finished her thought. She bolted upright, pointed and screamed, "Finn."
"Holy mother of God!"
Finn hit the brakes just as he saw what Cori was seeing: a body hurtling off the bridge ahead of them.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...