Authors: Baxter Clare
Tags: #Lesbian, #Detective and Mystery Fiction, #Hard-Boiled, #Women Sleuths, #Romance, #Contemporary
|Baxter Clare - L.A. Franco 3 - Cry Havoc|
|Bella Books (2003)|
Lambda Literary Award Nominee
Lieutenant Franco faces a psychotic killer.
Case closures are up and homicide rates are down for LAPD’s 93rd Homicide Squad. “Frank”, Lieutenant L.A. Franco, is revitalizing her depleted detective crew while quietly mending private scars. And Frank is about to need all the back she can muster as she faces her own personal demons while trying not to jeopardize her developing relationship with Gail.
When a corner hustler turns up dead with a headless rooster in his lap, Frank realizes she’s up against Mother Love-Jones, renowned psychic, drug dealer and santería priestess.
Soon Frank becomes inexorably pulled into Mother Love’s ambush. Heedless of the warnings around her, Frank plunges into battle with Mother Love and her violent minions: A battle as dark and deadly as the ancient bloodied sands from which it sprang.
If the devil rode a Harley it would sound like the Santa Ana winds bellowing through the Cahuenga Pass at seventy miles an hour. The dead air gusted into the City of Angels, bent on trailing havoc in its wake. Jails filled, hospitals ran out of beds, doors slammed and dishes were hurled. The desiccating heat was relentless.
Lieutenant L.A. Franco glanced at her Timex. Eight fifteen and it had to be at least ninety already. She watched her rookie detective prowl the scene. The kid’s first homicide, and wouldn’t it have to be a dead man sitting naked in an ‘88 Caddy with a headless chicken in his lap.
Dark faces peered from porches and doorways, but the body wasn’t drawing the usual onlookers. The lieutenant passed that off to the heat. The last two days had set record highs for October. Still, it was odd that there wasn’t a drunk or some cluckhead hanging around the scene hoping to peddle useless information for a pint or a hit off a crack pipe.
Must be the chicken,
Frank thought. She studied the gaping smile carved under Danny Duncan’s chin. She didn’t need the coroner’s people to ID him for her. He’d made sure in his short life that everybody knew who he was. Street entrepreneur, hustler extraordinaire for his aunt, Mother Love Jones, the biggest crack dealer in South Central Los Angeles.
Cheryl Lewis paused next to her boss and Frank said, “Congratulations. Looks like your first case is a dump.”
Lewis accepted the decision stoically. Frank admired her placid exterior, but the sweat soaking Lewis’s blouse wasn’t just from the sun. Frank knew the rookie was burning with self-consciousness and second-guessing her every move. Was she missing a waving red flag that everyone else saw? Was she stepping all over critical evidence? Was she making notes that would turn out to be useless? She’d only have one chance to get everything right. Once the body was moved all she’d have to work with were notes, photographs, and whatever was collected as evidence.
Frank watched Lewis eyeball every item on the street, trying to turn each scrap of garbage and litter into valuable evidence. Lewis was walking a thin line between savvy and naivete. A black woman who had come up through the ranks, Lewis was well aware that her first mistake would bring howls of derision. Lewis’s partner, Noah Jantzen, was already calling their victim Colonel Sanders. If Lewis did something stupid enough (or brilliant enough) she’d get a nickname too.
Lewis knelt and inspected a ground out cigarette butt near the car. Noah knelt too.
“Unfiltered Lucky Strike,” Lewis noted. “Looks fresh.”
“Sure does,” Noah agreed.
“Should we have SID bag it?”
“Nah,” her partner said. “You can collect little stuff like that yourself. Just mark the date and location on the label.”
Lewis frowned, glancing at Frank. She knew that the Scientific Investigation Division collected all the evidence at a crime scene.
Frank nodded and Lewis shrugged. Noah handed her a baggie. Lewis scrupulously collected the crushed cigarette. When she finished, Noah indicated an older cop smoking at the periphery of the scene.
“You see Haystack over there?”
“Okay,” he told her. “Give him the bag. Tell him to pick up his own goddamn butts next time.”
Her partner laughed as Lewis flushed. Pointing to a house across the street, Noah said to Frank, “The lady in there said she won’t come out until he’s gone. She said if we keep messin’ with the Colonel here, we’re gonna get hexed. Her old man was mumblin’ somethin’ about not truckin’ with no hoodoo niggers.”
From across the car, Lewis shot her partner “the look.”
“What?” he defended. “That’s what he said.”
“What else?” Frank continued.
“Nobody remembers seeing the car come up this morning and no one remembers it being here last night.”
“How late we talking?”
When the Figueroa detectives had arrived on scene Lewis had reached up under the car to see if the engine block was hot. It wasn’t. Duncan’s eyes were dull and the blood had crusted around his neck. The dump must have been in the wee hours of the morning.
Noah said to Lewis, “You notice something odd about the blood here?”
“There wasn’t a lot.”
“Right. So where is it?”
“Wherever he got cut.”
“Yeah, but you’ve seen people cut before. A slit jugular’s going to gush all over. The Colonel here should be covered in blood. Why isn’t he?”
“Whoever cut him cleaned him up?”
Noah pulled at his tie and plucked his collar from his neck. He’d already peeled off his jacket and rolled his sleeves up.
“Come on, Lewis, look at this guy. He looks like he spilled tomato soup down his chin, not like he just lost a couple quarts of blood.”
He was right. Duncan’s hairless chest was daubed with blood, so was his neck, but the rest of his body was unusually clean.
“Where is it all?”
“Maybe he got bled into something so he wouldn’t be all bloody and make a mess when they went to dump him,” she guessed.
Frank constantly rode her crew about supposition and she was pleased to hear Noah do the same.
“He, them, I don’t know. All I do know is it’d be awful hard for one man to hold him down and then cut him so clean like. I watched my granddaddy kill a hog one time and he had to have my daddy and two of his brothers help him. They cut its neck over a bucket and got most of the blood but it was still all over. And Duncan here’s a helluva lot bigger than that pig.”
“Okay,” Noah conceded. “Let’s say that for the time being. I agree with you. Too neat for one person to have done this.”
“Unless he was dead already. Maybe that’s why he didn’t bleed out.”
Noah frowned, shooing a fly away.
“Nah. Even if his heart wasn’t pumping he’d have made a lot more mess than this. And look at the way he’s clotted. We can assume he was probably cut around the time he died. Coroner might give us a different cause of death, but until then let’s say someone bled him like your granddaddy’s pig. Hey. Maybe we should call him Arnold. You know, like the pig on Green Acres?”
Lewis scowled, moving off to think on her own.
“Sheeth tho thenthitive,” Noah lisped.
“You think he was bled somewhere?” Frank asked.
“What do you think?” Noah countered.
“I agree whoever did him did a pretty good job cleaning up after himself. Or themselves. But why?”
“Exactly,” Noah said. “Where’s the blood? It’s like they drained this guy, not just cut him. And what’s with the fuckin’ chicken? Is that some sorta warning or something? ‘Tonight Luca Brazzi sleeps with the chickens?’ Jesus,” he spat, “only in South Central.”
“His aunt does fortune-telling or something like that. Maybe somebody’s dissin’ her.”
In addition to founding a crack empire and running a number of legit side businesses, Mother Love Jones also tended the faithful at Saint Barbara’s Church of the something-or-other. Its tenets were vague in Frank’s mind, something like a cross between Baptist revival and Catholicism, but Mother Love’s psychic abilities were legendary. Her devotees came from as far away as Malibu and Beverly Hills to hear what the Mother could tell them about health, wealth, and love. Some came for prophecy, others for the drugs.
“Maybe,” Noah said, scratching under his collar. “But I’d give my left nut for a solid witness.”
He and his partner spent the rest of the day knocking on doors, but as it turned out, Noah got to keep both his nuts.
Frank circled the array of papers and photographs on her dining room table. She had the guts of an old triple homicide spread out before her, but the Duncan case kept breaking into her thoughts. She walked around the table, absently feinting and jabbing at the Duncan case, but not connecting.
She wished she’d brought that home instead, but the murder of a corner boy hadn’t seemed to demand her attention. On the surface, Danny Duncan’s death looked like the perfectly normal outcome of the business he was in. The motive was probably drug-related, his assailant an associate, competitor, or client. A garden variety South Central murder.
So why’s this bugging me,
Frank asked herself. Despite sparring with the facts all night, she still hadn’t hit the one dangling right in front of her. She knew her brain at a crime scene was like a sponge dropped in water—when it was pulled out, the conscious thoughts were the ones that ran and dripped. The subconscious impressions remained inside the sponge and had to be squeezed out. Frank was trying to wring the sponge dry. Pulling another Corona from the fridge, she gave up. Sometimes the facts just had to surface at their own speed, a subconscious evaporation that was completely beyond Frank’s control.
She flopped on the couch with the remote. Scrolling through the programming menu she realized it was almost Halloween—all the educational shows had a paranormal theme and all the movies were horror flicks. She clicked on a bar that featured
The opening credits were still rolling and she settled back with her beer, glad she’d caught the best part of the movie.
It opened with Max von Sydow in the desert, an old man running out of time. She empathized with the priest’s urgency, his dread for the battle ahead. The dig was over and Father Merrin still hadn’t excavated what he searched for. He returned anxiously to the ruins. It was dusk. His booted footsteps startled the watchman, who jerked a rifle toward the old man. He lowered it in sullen recognition. The priest continued. Dogs snapped and snarled at the ruin edges. Stones rolled under foot. The darkness came closer. The old man stopped. He lifted his head to the leering grin of an ancient stone demon. There it was. Where it had always been. Where he had known it would always be. Time ran between his fingers like sand, yet the priest remained a while longer in the demon’s rough shadow. Now he knew what he had to do.
The scene faded to Washington, D.C. Mired in crude shock appeal, the rest of the movie never delivered the opening’s promise and Frank clicked the TV off. She wished the movie had focused more on the old priest and his dilemma rather than the vulgarities of demonic possession. Frank sipped her beer, noting the silence stealing into the room. Silence, but not stillness. Frank wasn’t moving, but she wasn’t still either. She felt a vague disquietude, and thought to blame it on the movie.
she thought, balancing her bottle on her belly. It had been there before the movie. Had been there since she got home.
Unable to explain her unrest, she justified why it was ridiculous. Stats were up, the boss was happy, and her squad was finally recovering from some serious setbacks. Nothing wrong on the work front.
Something with Gail,
Frank wondered. She’d been hoping the doc would come over tonight but she had to prep for a big day in court. As the Chief Medical Examiner/Coroner for L.A. County, Gail Lawless had to testify that the mayor’s daughter had driven into a jeep at 76 miles per hour, killing herself and three teenaged friends. The then-mayor had threatened to paint Gail’s relationship with Frank to the media with a very broad brush, unless the doc reduced his daughter’s blood alcohol concentration from a flagrant .36 to a more modest .03. Gail had refused, and the mayor had started outing his ME, but at a politically bad time. Riots during the Democratic convention, accusations of a city council rife with fraud, and a transportation strike that cost the city a quarter million dollars a day, paled next to allegations about who the Chief Coroner was playing footsies with. By the time the case made it to court, the mayor had been voted out, and the new Hizzoner didn’t mind rubbing his ex-rival’s nose in the dirt a little more.
Frank thought back over the weekend with Gail, trying to pinpoint anything that might be festering under her skin. The doc had dragged Frank to Griffith Park to ride horses. Watching
on TV was the closest Frank had ever been to a horse and she’d been reluctant to step up onto one. Surprisingly, she’d had a good time. She shouldn’t have been surprised; she always had fun with Gail. Almost always. They had spats, but she was learning she could trust the doc. She could let her guard down and catastrophe wouldn’t necessarily strike. It might, she maintained, but if it did, it was beyond her control. There was nothing she could do about that.