Authors: Michael Prescott
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural, #Thrillers, #Crime, #Suspense, #Contemporary Women, #Science Fiction, #Space Opera
Copyright © 2005 by Michael Prescott
Published by E-Reads. All rights reserved.
IN MEMORY OF
SAMUEL REESE COVINGTON
In those days there was no king in
Israel: every man did that which was
right in his own eyes
Rain was in the air.
Kolb had never given much thought to the weather in Los Angeles. Most days were seventy-five degrees and sunny. But in January came drenching rains that flooded the streets, causing traffic snarls and fender benders and, sometimes, fatal accidents.
The rains could kill.
Kolb was counting on that.
He sat behind the wheel of his gray secondhand Oldsmobile. The car was parked in a public lot near downtown. He’d chosen the lot because it was used primarily by workers in the surrounding office complexes, which meant that at two thirty on a Wednesday afternoon it would be crowded with cars but nearly empty of people.
He had been waiting for a half hour. A pair of women had parked nearby, but he knew he couldn’t handle two of them together. A solitary man had sauntered past, but Kolb wanted a female victim. A woman would be easier to control. There was a reason they were known as the weaker sex, even if that knowledge had been suppressed in today’s dandified world, a world dedicated to expunging the masculine principle from society.
Besides, it would be more fun with a woman. A man ought to enjoy his work.
He checked his disguise in the rearview mirror. False mustache. Mirrored sunglasses, unnecessary on this overcast day, hiding his pale blue eyes. A baseball cap over his crew cut, which had been pure blond but now was littered with gray hairs, like a scattering of iron filings in straw. He shouldn’t be graying so young—he was only thirty-one—but spending nearly a year in a state prison had a way of aging a man.
The key to a disguise was not to get too creative. Make just a few simple changes that added up to an easily readable story. Put a man in a neutral-toned jumpsuit, give him a toolbox and a cap, and he was a repairman. Give him a suit and a briefcase, and he was a businessman. People didn’t see or remember someone who raised no questions in their minds.
Today, Kolb was a deliveryman. He wore a nylon windbreaker two sizes too big, helpful in concealing his wide-shouldered, prison-buffed physique. Hand-stitched to the back of the jacket was the name of a pizza chain. The cap matched the uniform’s colors.
After he was finished, he would dispose of the jacket and cap. He wouldn’t be needing them again. His plan was never to use the same ruse twice. Although he was no master of disguise, he would not make any obvious mistakes. He had known plenty of criminals, both on the street and in stir, and most of them were stupid. That was why they got caught.
Under the windbreaker he wore a navy blue pullover, matching his denim jeans. Night would have fallen by the time he left the tunnels, and deep blue fabric blended into the darkness better than jet black. If something went wrong and he had to run and hide, he was prepared.
But nothing would go wrong. He’d worked out all the angles. He wasn’t even scared. He had thought he might be—opening-night jitters and all. But he was enjoying himself. He liked risk. He liked dancing on the edge.
And he liked what he saw coming toward him.
She was young and slender, a brunette in her twenties. No briefcase, only a handbag. Too young to be an executive. Somebody’s secretary, probably. From a distance he couldn’t tell if she was pretty. He hoped she was.
“‘Many an innocent flower,’” Kolb whispered.
She passed the row where he was parked. He got out, careful not to shut the door. Old cop trick—the slam of a car door would alert his prey.
A quick scan of the parking lot confirmed that he and the woman were alone amid the arrays of windshields and chrome. Anyone might be watching from the surrounding office buildings, but he would do nothing to attract attention.
He caught up with her as she reached her Toyota. She was unaware of his presence, and that made it easy for him to wait until she slipped into the car, then interpose himself between her and the door. She sucked in a shallow, strained breath.
“Don’t scream.” He had rehearsed the words. Everything would be ruined if she screamed.
She didn’t scream. Didn’t even exhale. Just stared at him, her glance flicking to the gun in his gloved hand, then to his face. “Oh, God.”
“Oh, God.” Her gaze returned to the gun.
He read her thoughts. “Yes,” he said, “it’s real and it’s loaded, and I
use it if I have to.” He didn’t add that the gun was untraceable, the serial number filed off.
“Please,” she whispered.
“Just cooperate and you’ll get through this.”
She nodded. She had wide brown eyes and smooth, pale skin.
“What do you want me to do?” she asked, her voice curling into a whine.
From his pocket he took out a writing pad and a pen. The pen was a felt-tip marker, chosen because it would be useless as a weapon. He handed both items to her. “Write what I say.”
“Write?” She echoed the word as if it were in a foreign language.
“That’s what I said. You can write, can’t you?”
“Then here goes. First, write ‘My name is…’ and fill in the blank.”
“Angie. I mean, Angela. Angela Morris.”
me. Write it down.”
She wrote slowly, her hand fisted over the marker. He dictated the message to her. She seemed to be focusing her full attention on putting it down on paper with a minimum of mistakes. She misspelled some words anyway.
When she was finished, she stared at the message as if taking it in for the first time. “Oh, God,” she said again.
He was tired of hearing her say that. “Give it back to me. Your wallet, too.”
“I only got thirty dollars in there.”
“Just give me the fucking wallet.” She did. He glanced around the car and saw a small plastic box on the floorboard. “What’s that?”
“Video. A rental. I was gonna return it today.”
“What movie is it?”
“The one with Tom Cruise and, uh, that Hoffman guy.
It was so perfect, it gave him an idea. “Take it with you.”
“Take it.” He smiled behind his store-bought mustache. “You don’t want to be charged a late fee, do you?”
She retrieved the video, holding it tight, her fingertips squeezed bloodless.
“Where are we going?”
“Let me go, okay? Just let me go.”
He clamped a hand on her arm. “Shut the fuck up and get out of the goddamn car right now.”
This was the most dangerous part. If she squirmed free and took off running, he wouldn’t be able to chase her without being noticed. He was betting he’d established sufficient control that she would engage in no heroics. That was why he’d made her write the message before moving her. He’d wanted to show her who had the power.
It worked. She made no effort to escape. She walked at his side, shaking all over and blinking back tears, the gun wedged under her armpit. To keep her distracted, he asked if she had any plans for the evening.
“Nothing, really. Order some takeout. Watch TV…”
“You play this smart, you’ll be home in time for the ten-o’clock news. You can watch
“That’ll be fun, right? You’ll be a star. In this town everybody wants to be a star.” He regretted the comment. It was trite, unworthy of him.
He led her to his Olds. Before coming here, he’d replaced the license plates with stolen tags. Later, he would toss the tags and reinstall his own.
He pushed Angela Morris into the car on the driver’s side, then made her climb across to the passenger seat. He kept the gun on her as he got behind the wheel.
“I don’t have money,” she said. “My folks neither.”
“I’m not interested in your money.” He cranked the ignition. “Don’t you remember? I said city revenues. City.”
“Yeah, you did, you said that. City money. You want LA to cough it up.”
“They won’t pay money for me,” she whispered.
“Sure they will.”
Or if not you
, he added silently,
then the one who comes after you
“Why would they?”
“They’ll have no choice. I’m going to squeeze it out of them. I’m going to bring this goddamn city to its knees.”
She shrank low in her seat, staring at him. “Why?”
“Because they owe me.” Kolb shifted into drive. “And payback is a bitch.”
“She was found here,” Crandall said. “On the embankment, just above the waterline.”
Tess McCallum stared through the chain-link fence at the concrete channel of the Los Angeles River. A sullen trickle meandered down its center, past a shopping cart, a tire, broken beer bottles, and other debris. The smell of brackish water rose in the evening air.
“Who found her?” Tess asked.
“Couple of bicyclists riding along the riverbank.”
To Tess, it seemed strange to call this gash in the landscape a river. A dry watercourse for most of the year, it filled with rainwater only during heavy storms. The river snaked south from the San Fernando Valley, through LA’s East Side, and emptied into the sea at Long Beach. For most of its extent it was lined in concrete and flanked by high, inclined banks, fenced off, the occasional padlocked gates bearing signs that warned: TRESPASSING, LOITERING FORBIDDEN BY LAW.
A cool breeze gusted. Tess wrapped her trench coat tighter around herself.
“Have the bicyclists been ruled out?” she asked. It wasn’t unusual for a killer to report the discovery of his victim’s remains.
“They’re clean. Alibied for the time of the abduction. Just a couple of kids, anyway. USC students.” Agent Crandall hardly seemed older than a college student himself.
Tess looked toward the Olympic Boulevard overpass a few blocks north. “When did they find her?”
“A little after sunrise. LAPD took the call. Once they made the vic as Angela Morris, they brought in the Bureau.”
“Pending. But it’s pretty obvious she drowned. You don’t have to be an ME to figure that out.”
“You saw the body?”
“I saw it. Didn’t they send you a pic?”
“Yeah, by e-mail.” She remembered the angle of the corpse, the sprawl of limbs, the net of hair crosshatching a bloated face. Across the channel she saw a large rectangular aperture. “Is that where the water comes out?”
“Right. An outfall, it’s called.”
“Is it the one she came out of?”
“We don’t know. Could have been any outfall upriver. There’s no way to say how far the current carried her before she was thrown up on the bank.”
“So she could’ve been held anywhere inside the sewers.”
“Yes.” Crandall cleared his throat. “Technically not sewers. Storm drains.”
“What’s the distinction?”
“Sewers carry waste from toilets. The storm system carries surface-street runoff.”
“Then why does it smell like…?”
“Like shit? Because there’s shit in there. Dog droppings and other crap that gets washed into the catch basins. Not to mention pesticides, household chemicals, you name it. It’s a toxic smorgasbord.”
“Lovely. It’s untreated?”
“Too expensive to treat it. It flows straight into the ocean. You see these big outfalls on the beach spewing out effluent. Kids play there.”
“I used to read about the ancient Romans throwing their garbage into the streets, and I would feel superior.” Tess looked away. “I wonder if that’s what Angela was to him. Garbage.”
She spent another minute staring down at the channel in the ebbing daylight. It was no one’s idea of a resting place for the dead. Gray algae speckled the embankments, giving way above the waterline to intaglios of gang graffiti. The rumble of traffic from the overpass was the only noise. The flicker of newspapers blowing across the channel floor was the only movement.
“All right,” Tess said. “I’ve seen enough.”
Crandall seemed relieved. “Let’s go, then. Don’t want to be late.”
“No, we wouldn’t want to keep the ADIC waiting.” Because of its size and prominence, the LA office was run by an unusually high-ranking agent, an assistant director in charge, or ADIC. The acronym was pronounced “A-Dick.” In this case it seemed appropriate.
“Well,” Crandall said, “it’s not just the AD. Other people will be there.”
“The mayor, the chief of police…”
Tess frowned. When she’d been picked up at the airport, she’d assumed she was going straight to the field office in Westwood. Only after Crandall had taken the eastbound Santa Monica Freeway had she learned about the meeting downtown. If she’d known, she might have dressed in something nicer than her sensible shoes and gray business suit.