CRAIS: THE FIRST RULE
Frank Meyer closed his computer as
the early winter darkness fell over
his home in Westwood, California,
not far from the UCLA campus.
Westwood was an affluent area on the
west side of Los Angeles, resting
between Beverly Hills and Brentwood
in a twine of gracious residential
streets and comfortable, well-to-do
homes. Frank Meyer—more surprised
about it than anyone else,
considering his background—lived in
such a home.
Work finished, Frank settled back in his home office,
listening to his sons crash through
the far side of the house like baby
rhinos. They made him happy, and so
did the rich scent of braising beef
that promised stew or boeuf bourguignon, which he
never pronounced correctly but loved
to eat. Voices came from the family
room, too far away to make out the
program, but almost certainly the
sound of a game show on television.
Cindy hated the nightly news.
Frank smiled because Cindy didn’t much care for game
shows, either, but she liked the
background sound of the TV when she
cooked. Cindy had her ways, that was
for sure, and her ways had changed
his life. Here he was with a lovely
home, a growing business, and a
wonderful family—all of it owed to
Frank teared up, thinking how much he owed that woman.
Frank was like that, sentimental and
emotional, and had always been that
way. As Cindy liked to say, Frank
Meyer was just a big softy, which is
why she fell in love with him.
Frank worked hard to live up to her expectations, and
considered it a privilege—beginning
eleven years ago when he realized he
loved her and committed to
re-inventing himself. He was now a
successful importer of garments from
Asia and Africa, which he resold to
wholesale chains throughout the
United States. He was forty-three
years old, still fit and strong,
though not so much as in the old
days. Okay, well—he was getting
fat, but between his business and
the kids, Frank hadn’t touched the
weights in years, and rarely used
the treadmill. When he did, his
efforts lacked the zeal that had
burned fever-hot in his earlier
Frank didn’t miss that life, never once, and if he
sometimes missed the men with whom
he had shared his earlier life, he
kept those feelings to himself and
did not begrudge his wife. He had
re-created himself, and, by a
miracle, his efforts had paid off.
Cindy. The kids. The home they had
made. Frank was still thinking about
these changes when Cindy appeared at
the door, giving him that lopsided,
“Hey, bud. You hungry?”
“Just finishing up. What am I smelling? It’s fabulous.”
Pounding footsteps, then Little Frank, ten years old
and showing the square, chunky build
of his father, caught the door jam
beside his mother to stop himself,
stopping so fast his younger
brother, Joey, six and just as
square, crashed into Little Frank’s
Little Frank shouted, “Meat!”
Joey screamed, “Ketchup!”
Cindy said, “Meat and ketchup. What could be better?”
Frank pushed back his chair, and stood.
“Nothing. I’m dying for meat and ketchup.”
She rolled her eyes and turned back toward the kitchen.
“You’ve got five, big guy. I’ll hose off these
monsters. Wash up and join us.”
The boys made exaggerated screams as they raced away,
passing Ana, who appeared behind
Cindy. Ana was their nanny, a nice
girl who had been with them almost
six months. She had bright blue
eyes, high cheekbones, and was a
fantastic help with the kids.
Another perk of Frank’s increasing
Ana said, “I’m going to feed the baby now, Cindy. You
“We’ve got it under control. You go ahead.”
Ana looked in at Frank.
“Frank? Anything I can do?”
“I’m good, hon. Thanks. I’ll be along in a minute.”
Frank finished putting away his paperwork, then pulled
the shades before joining his family
for dinner. His office, with its
window facing the night time street,
was now closed against the darkness.
Frank Meyer had no reason to suspect
that something unspeakable was about
As Frank enjoyed dinner with his family, a
black-on-black Cadillac Escalade
slow-rolled onto his street from
Wilshire Boulevard, the Escalade
boosted earlier that day from a
shopping center in Long Beach, Moon
Williams swapping the plates with an
identical black Escalade they found
outside a gentlemen’s club in
Torrance. This was their third time
around the block, clocking the
street for pedestrians, witnesses,
and civilians in parked cars.
This time around, the rear windows drooped like sleepy
eyes, and street lights died one by
one, Jamal shooting them out with a
.22-caliber pellet pistol.
Darkness followed the Escalade like
a rising tide.
Four men in the vehicle, black cut-outs in the shadowed
interior, Moon driving, Moon’s boy
Lil Tai riding shotgun, Jamal in
back with the Russian. Moon, eyes
flicking between the houses and the
white boy, wasn’t sure if the
foreigner was a Russian or not. What
with all the Eastern Bloc assholes
runnin’ around, boy coulda been
Armenian, Lithuanian, or a
muthuhfuckin’ Transylvanian vampire,
and Moon couldn’t tell’m apart. All
Moon knew, he was makin’ more cash
since hookin’ up with the foreign
muthuhfucka chillin’ behind him than
any time in his life.
Still, Moon didn’t like him back there, money or not.
Didn’t want that creepy, glassy-eyed
muthuhfucka behind him. All these
months, this was the first time the
fucka had come with them. Moon
didn’t like that, either.
Moon said, “You sure now, home boy? That house right
“Same as last time we passed, the one like a church.”
Moon clocked a nice house with a
steep roof and these gargoyle-lookin’
things up on the eaves. The street
was wide, and lined with houses all
set back on big sloping lawns. These
homes, you’d find lawyers,
business-people, the occasional
dilettante drug dealer.
Lil Tai twisted around to grin at the white boy.
“How much money we gettin’ this time?”
“Much money. Much.”
Jamal licked his lips, makin’ a smile wide as a piano.
“Taste the money. Feel it right on my skin, all dirty
Moon said, “We getting’ that shit.”
Moon killed the headlights and pulled into the drive,
the four doors opening as soon as he
cut the engine, the four of them
stepping out. The Escalade’s
interior lights had been removed, so
nothing lit up. Only sound was Lil
Tai’s eighteen pound sledge,
clunking the rocker panel as he got
They went directly to the front door, Jamal first, Moon
going last, walking backwards to
make sure no one was watching. Jamal
popped the entry lights, just
reached up and broke’m with his
fingers, pop, pop, pop. Moon pressed
a folded towel over the deadbolt to
dull the sound, and Lil Tai hit that
shit with the hammer as hard as he
Frank and Cindy were clearing the table when a crash
jolted their home as if a car had
slammed through the front door. Joey
was watching the Lakers in the
family room and Ana was in back
bathing the baby, but Little Frank
had just gone up to his room. When
Frank heard the crash, he believed
his older son had knocked over the
grandfather clock in the front
entry. Little Frank had been known
to climb the clock to reach the
second floor landing, and, even
though it was anchored for
earthquake safety, Frank had warned
the boys it could fall.
Cindy startled at the noise, and Joey ran to his
mother. Frank put down the plates,
and was already hurrying toward the
“Frankie! Son, are you all right--?”
They had only taken a step when four armed men rushed
in, moving with the loose
organization of men who had done
Frank Meyer had faced high-speed, violent entries
before, and had known how to react,
but those situations had been in his
former life. Now, eleven years and
too many long days at a desk later,
Frank was behind the play.
Four-man team. Gloves. Nine-millimeter pistols.
First man through had average height, espresso skin,
and heavy braids to his shoulders.
Frank knew he was the team leader
because he acted like the leader,
his eyes directing the play. A
shorter man followed, angry and
nervous, with a black bandanna
capping his head, shoulder to
shoulder with a bruiser showing
tight cornrows and gold in his
teeth, moving like he enjoyed being
big. The fourth man was a step
behind, moving more like an observer
than part of the action. White, and
big, almost as big as the bruiser,
with a bowling ball head, wide-set
eyes, and thin sideburns that ran
down his jaw like needles.
Two seconds, they fanned through the rooms. A second
behind, Frank realized they were a
home invasion crew. He felt the
buzz-rush of excitement that had
always sparked through him during an
engagement, then remembered he was
an out-of-shape businessman with a
family to protect. Frank raised his
hands, shuffling sideways to place
himself between the men and his
“Take what you want. Take it and leave. We won’t give
you any trouble.”
The leader came directly to Frank, holding his pistol
high and sideways like an idiot in a
movie, bugging his eyes to show
Frank he was fierce.
“Goddamn right, muthuhfucka. Where is it?”
Without waiting for an answer, he slapped Frank with
the pistol. Cindy shouted in panic,
but Frank had been hit harder plenty
of times. He waved toward his wife,
trying to calm her.
“I’m okay. It’s okay, Cin, we’re gonna be fine.”
“Gonna be dead, you don’t do what I say!”
He dug the pistol hard into Frank’s cheek, but Frank
was watching the others. The bruiser
and the smaller man split apart, the
bruiser charging to the French doors
to check out the back, the little
guy throwing open cabinets and
doors, both of them shouting and
cursing. Their movements were fast.
Fast into the house. Fast into
Frank’s face. Fast through the
house. Fast to drive the play, and
loud to increase the confusion. Only
the man with the strange sideburns
moved slowly, floating outside the
perimeter as if with a private
Frank knew from experience it wasn’t enough to follow
the play; you had to be ahead of the
action to survive. Frank tried to
buy himself time to catch up.
“My wallet’s in my office. I’ve got three or four
The leader hit Frank again.
“You take me a fool, muthuhfuckin’ wallet?”
“We use credit cards—“
Hit him again. Harder.
The man with the sideburns finally stepped out of the
background, appearing at the table.
“See the plates? More people are here. We must look for
Frank was surprised by the accent. He thought it was
Polish, but couldn’t be sure.
The man with the accent disappeared into the kitchen
just as the bruiser charged out of
the family room to Cindy and Joey. He held his
pistol to Cindy’s temple, shouting
at Frank in his rage.
“You want this bitch dead? You want me to put this pipe
right in her mouth? You want her to
suck on this?”
The leader slapped Frank again.
“You think he don’t mean it?”
The bruiser suddenly backhanded Cindy with his pistol,
splashing a red streamer from her
cheek. Joey screamed, and Frank
Meyer suddenly knew what to do.
The man with Frank was watching the action when Frank
grabbed his gun hand, rolled his
wrist to lock the man’s arm, and
jointed his elbow. Frank had been
out of the life for years, but the
moves were burned into his muscle
memory from a thousand hours of
training. He had to neutralize his
captor, strip the weapon as he
levered the man down, recover with
the pistol in a combat grip, put two
into the big man who had Cindy, then
turn, acquire, and double-tap
whoever was in his field of fire.
Frank Meyer had gone automatic. The
moves flowed out ahead of the play
exactly as he had trained for them,
and, back in the day, he could have
completed the sequence in less than
a second. But Frank was still
fumbling with the pistol when three
bullets slammed into him, the last
shot hitting the heavy vertebra in
Frank’s lower back, putting him
Frank opened his mouth, but only a hiss escaped. Cindy
and Joey screamed, and Frank fought
to rise with the fierce will of the
warrior he had been, but will was
The man with the accent said, “I hear someone. In the
A shadow moved past, but Frank couldn’t see.
The leader appeared overhead, cradling his broken arm.
Huge shimmering tears dripped from
his eyes and fell in slow motion
like rain from his braids.
He said, “I’m gonna get me that money.”
He turned away toward Cindy.
Frank’s world grew dark, and all he had left were
feelings of failure and shame. He
knew he was dying, exactly the way
he had always thought he would die,
only not here, and not now. All of
that should have been behind him.
He tried to reach for his wife, but could not.
He wanted to touch her, but could not.
He wanted to protect her, but had not.
His index finger was the only part of him that moved.
Twitching as if with a life of its own.
His trigger finger.
Pulling at empty air.
Outside, with its shades drawn, the Meyer house
appeared peaceful. Heavy walls muffled most
of the sounds within, and traffic
noise from nearby Wilshire Boulevard
was loud enough to mask the rest.
Those screams which could be heard
might have been from a home theater,
a nice Surround Sound system.
Cars passed, some leaving home to go out for the
evening, others returning home after
a long day at the office.
The dull thump of a gunshot within the house was muted
and unnatural. A Lexus sedan
passed, but with its windows up and
an iPod playlist rocking the
exquisitely engineered vehicle, the
driver heard nothing. She did not
Another thump pounded within the house a few moments
later, accompanied by a flash like
distant lighting behind the shades.
More flashes followed.
© 2010 by Robert Crais