A married assistant D.A. falls for a vagabond girl living in the seedy Beach Flats area of Santa Cruz, California. His double life may lead him to a killer, but at the cost of his marriage and career.
Dennis "Denny" Anders is a young lawyer chafing under the hierarchy of the D.A.’s office, where he is relegated to lower level crimes. He is eager to prove himself—perhaps too eager—as he is always stirring the pot, butting heads with the other D.A.s.
Denny’s hobby of astronomy reveals a majestic, expanding universe, but his own universe is shrinking. His wife, increasingly jealous of his career and preoccupation, has a growing alcohol problem, and his five-year-old daughter seems as remote as the galaxies he watches from his backyard.
Denny is an outsider among clannish jocks of the office who sleep with female cops, witnesses, and even victims. Whenever a homicide case arises the young DAs battle for it and bask in the publicity that comes with it. As a recent hire, Denny is at the bottom of the pile, handling drunk drives, barroom brawls, and even “weenie waggers.”
After work, Denny begins "cruising" the famous Beach Boardwalk to avoid going home. He rides the Big Dipper Roller Coaster because it’s the one place where a grown man can scream his lungs out.
Surrounding the Boardwalk is a neighborhood called "Beach Flats," full of crime and prostitution. One day Denny meets a beautiful young vagabond, LAUREN, who lives there in a house full of surfers. Lauren is vulnerable, a risk-taker, with no visible means of support. Denny goes to bed with her, feeling guilty yet unable to resist this rebellion and passion in his life. He tries to soothe his conscience by telling himself he will “rescue and reform” Lauren. He convinces her to apply to junior college and sneaks away from his wife to help her with her homework.
Two female D.A.s MADELEINE DREYFUSS and SHERRI CROCKER, are office buddies of Denny’s. Madeleine tries to be “one of the boys,” while Sherri cannot pass the Bar Exam due to her panic disorder and so can’t be a full-fledged DA. She knows "the guys" are running a pool, taking bets each time she sits for the exam.
Madeleine is a cute, gritty New York lawyer, age 28, with a weakness for cops; she gets used and hurt in failed love affairs. Sherri, Madeleine and Denny soon team up in the office.
The DA’s investigators, MEL FIELDS and DAN STAGNARO, are in their fifties, tough as old nails. They not only know where “all the bodies are buried” --- they’ve dug a few up! They also know many of Santa Cruz County's deepest secrets -— the vices, affairs and so forth.
Mel is a gray-headed barrel of a man who carries a pearl-handled 9-millimeter given to him by the Mexican government after his partner was killed in a dope shootout. Dan drinks too much and smashes up county cars from time to time; it's always hushed up.
The chief “DA jocks” are thirty-something BEN DIAMOND and JOHN CONNELL. They are battling it out to take the place of the DA himself, ED CHONG, a talented Korean alcoholic with his eyes on a judgeship. Beneath them are the younger attorneys like Denny, eager to make their reputations. They even go along on drug busts, armed to the teeth.
Denny's wife, GEORGETTE, is alcoholic, as are Denny's parents. Denny wonders why he married an alcoholic like his mother. When Georgette was pregnant, Denny kept her under 24-hour police surveillance so that she would not drink. His child, ISOBEL, was born healthy, but Georgette has never forgiven Denny for the humiliation.
While these small dramas are taking place, a crime is unfolding in the dense picturesque redwood forest near the University.
Meanwhile, the office is having its customary Thursday night after-work “happy hour” bash.
By nine p.m, the DA's go off hot-tubbing with women they have picked up in the bar. Denny, Madeleine, and Sherri are left twirling their swizzle sticks, listening to "war stories" from the bartender, a retired DA’s investigator.
Denny needs the sympathy and support he gets from Madeleine and Sherrie. They have a "gallows humor" laugh and pat Denny on the back. Sherrie leaves to study for the Bar.
Denny is “on call” that night while the others party. “At least nothing ever happens on my watch,” Denny jokes with Madeleine. "I need my sleep."
But moments later, a cop comes in to the bar to report that two mushroom gatherers have unearthed a corpse—maybe two—up in the woods near Empire Grade Road. Should he call the DA himself (who will immediately assign the investigation to one of his ambitious favorites? No way! thinks Denny.
In the deepening gloom, Denny and Madeleine drive out to see the body and secure the chain of evidence. They are accompanied by Mel the investigator, two Santa Cruz County sheriffs and a cub reporter, TOM, from the Santa Cruz Sentinel newspaper, who was manning the night desk.
Denny finds himself with his first real murder case, at a time of great turmoil in his life. As he investigates, the case gets wider until he realizes he has unearthed true evil.
The key to solving the murder will turn out to be Denny's girlfriend LAUREN, but he realizes that their affair will come out when she talks, ruining his marriage and reputation in the pursuit and conviction of a serial killer named ROYAL HAYES.
Sea of Love
I wrote the feature film, Murder in Fashion, about the killing of designer Gianni Versace by serial killer Andrew Cunanan. The film played at theatres and festivals and was reviewed in the NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/22/movies/22murder.html?_r=0
I collaborated with producer Don Murphy (Transformers, Natural Born Killers) on the script "Fast Fade" on the life of tragic film noir actress Barbra Payton.