Authors: Robert - Elvis Cole 08 Crais
I tried making conversation with the detectives, but no one answered me. I swatted at the bottle flies, all too aware of where they had been. I didn't want to be there, didn't like it, and would rather have been wrestling Lucy Chenier's couch. When the shadows down in the crook of the mountains made it hard to see, Krantz finally released the body.
The medical examiner's people zipped Karen Garcia into a blue plastic body bag, strapped the bag onto a stretcher, then worked their way up the slope. When the body was gone, Krantz called out to me. "That's all you're here for. Beat it."
He turned away without another word. An asshole to the end.
I watched them load the body into the coroner's van, then drove down to the little strip mall at the bottom of Lake Hollywood, where I phoned Lucy.
She said, "I moved the couch without you." First thing out of her mouth.
"The woman we were looking for was found murdered. Her father wanted me to be there while the crime scene people did their jobs. That's where I've been. She was thirty-two years old, and going to school so that she could work with children. Somebody shot her in the head while she was jogging at Lake Hollywood." Lucy didn't say anything, and neither did I until I realized I had dumped it out on her. Then I said, "Sorry."
"Would you like to be with us tonight?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I'd like that very much. Would you guys come for dinner?"
"Tell me what to bring."
"I'll stop. Shopping is good for the soul."
At the Lucky Market, I bought shrimp, celery, green onions, and bell peppers. I also bought one bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin, two limes, and a case of Falstaff beer. I drank a can of the Falstaff while I was waiting in line, and got disapproving looks from the other shoppers. I pretended not to notice. They probably hadn't spent the day with a young woman with a hole in her head.
The cashier said, "Are we having a nice day, sir?"
"Couldn't be better." I tried not to blow beer in her face.
Twenty minutes later I pulled into the carport of the little A-frame house I have perched on the side of a mountain just off Woodrow Wilson Drive in Laurel Canyon. A fine layer of ash had blown into the carport, showing a single set of cat prints going from the side of the house to the cat hatch built into my door. People in Minnesota see things like this with snow.
The cat was waiting by his water bowl. It was empty. I put the groceries on the counter, filled the cat's bowl, then sat on the floor and listened to him drink. He's large and black, the black shot through with gray that grows from the lacework of scars on his head and shoulders. When he first came to me, he would watch me when he drank, but now he ignored me, and when I touched him, he purred. We had become a family.
When the groceries were away, I made a drink, drank most of it, then went up to my loft and took a shower. I showered twice, letting the hot run until the water was cold, but the smell of the crime scene stayed with me, and even the rush of water wasn't as loud as the buzz of the bottle flies. I pulled on a pair of loose cotton pants and went downstairs, barefoot and shirtless.
Lucy was in the kitchen, looking over the vegetables I had left in the sink.
I said, "Hey."
"Hey, yourself." She eyed my empty glass without expression. "What are we drinking?"
"Sapphire and tonic."
"Pour. What are we making?"
"I was hoping you'd teach me how to make shrimp etouffee."
She smiled then, softly and to herself. "That would be nice."
"Outside on the deck. We rented a tape for him to watch while you and I cook."
"Back in five."
"You take your time."
Her smile pushed the bottle flies farther away.
Ben was on the deck that juts from the back of my house, hanging over the rail to look for the blacktail deer that browse in the wild grass between the olive trees below me. Here in the middle of fourteen million people we've got deer and coyote and quail and red-tailed hawks. Once, I even saw a bobcat on my deck.
I went out, leaned over the rail beside him, and looked down the slope. I saw only shadows.
"Mom said the woman you were trying to find was murdered."
His face was concerned and sorrowful. Nine years old.
"Me, too, buddy." Then I smiled at him, because nine-year-olds shouldn't have such sorrow. "Hey, when are you heading off to tennis camp?" Lucy and Ben were serious tennis players.
Ben leaned farther over the rail. "Couple of days."
"You don't look happy about it."
"They make you ride horses. It's gonna smell like poop."
Life is tough when the world smells like poop.
Inside, I got him set up with the VCR, then went back into the kitchen with Lucy. "He says tennis camp is going to smell like poop."
"Yes," she said. "It will. But it gives him the chance to meet three boys who go to his new school."
"Is there anything you haven't thought of ?"
"No. I'm a mom."
"Also, it gives us two weeks alone."
"Moms know everything."
It took about an hour to make the etouffee. We peeled the shrimp, then wilted the vegetables in canola oil, and added tomatoes and garlic. I found peace in the small motor activity, and in telling Lucy about Frank and Joe and Karen Garcia. To cook is to heal.
Lucy said, "Here's the important part. Pay close attention."
She pulled my face down, brushed her lips against mine, then let them linger.
I held up my hand. She laced her fingers through mine, and I kissed them.
We were waiting for rice to cook when Joe Pike let himself in. I hadn't expected him, but he'll drop by like that. Lucy put down her drink, and gave him a warm hug. "I understand you knew her, Joe. I'm sorry."
Joe seemed gigantic next to her, like some huge golem masked in shadow even in my bright kitchen.
Ben yelled, "Hey, Joe! I've got Men in Black! You wanna watch?"
"Not tonight, little man." He looked at me. "Montoya worked out a deal with Bishop. We can report to Robbery-Homicide at Parker Center tomorrow morning. They'll assign a contact officer, and we'll be briefed."
"They'll give us copies of all reports, transcripts, and witness statements."
He was giving me the information, but I wondered why he had come. He could have phoned it over.
I said, "What?"
"Can I talk to you about this?"
Lucy and I followed Joe out onto the deck. Outside, the cat appeared, moving between Joe's legs. Joe Pike is the only other human being I've known who can touch this cat.
Pike didn't say anything more. He picked up the cat, and stroked it. Lucy slipped her arm through mine and settled herself against me, watching him. She watches him often, and I always wonder what she's thinking when she does.
Finally, he said, "The Garcias are my friends, not yours, but now you're going to have to carry the weight with the police."
"You talking about Krantz?"
"Not just Krantz. You're going to have to deal with Parker Center. I can't do that." He was talking about the entire Los Angeles police force.
"I figured that, Joe. It's not a problem."
Lucy said, "What do you mean, deal with Parker Center?"
Pike said, "I won't take money from Frank, but I can't expect you not to."
He looked at the cat, and I realized he was embarrassed. "I don't want to forget it. I want to pay you for your time."
"Jesus, Joe. How could you even ask that?" Now I was embarrassed, too.
Lucy said, "Let's pretend I asked a question."
I answered her just to change the subject. "Parker Center is the LAPD headquarters. These cops we're dealing with, the Robbery-Homicide Division, they have their offices there. I'll have to go down tomorrow to get briefed on their investigation. It's no big deal."
Lucy said, "But why wouldn't they co-operate with Joe?"
She wasn't making a point of it. She was just curious, but I suddenly wished she wasn't out here with us.
"Joe and LAPD don't get along. They'd freeze him out."
Lucy smiled at me, still not understanding. "But why on earth would they do that?"
Joe put down the cat and looked at her. "I killed my partner."
The black lenses stayed on Lucy for a time, and then Joe left. The winds had died and the smoke hung over the canyon like a curtain, blurring the lights that glittered below us.
Lucy wet her lips, then had more of the drink. "I shouldn't have pried."
We went inside and had the etouffee, but nobody said very much.
Nothing stops a conversation like death.
Edward Deege, Master Carpenter, citizen of the free world and Dave Matthews fan, waited among the wild acacias that covered the ridge above Lake Hollywood until the twilight sky deepened and the bowl of the lake was dim and purple. The shadows would hide him from the police.
He had watched them work the murder site for most of the day, until the fading light had forced them to stop. Two patrol officers, one man, one woman, had been left to preserve the scene, but they seemed more interested in each other than in walking the yellow tape.
Edward had no knowledge of the murdered girl, no interest in the crime scene, and no wish to be questioned by the police. His interest was simpler: dinner. Restaurants dotted the strip malls at the foot of the mountain, where well-fed people could be depended upon to part with a dollar or two. An hour's panhandling, and Edward could purchase fresh double-A batteries for his Discman, then stroll to the food stands along Ventura Boulevard, where he might choose between a Black Angus hamburger, perhaps, or a came asada burrito, or Vietnamese spring rolls. The choices were limitless.
Later, having fed, he would enjoy the climb back up to the shack he'd fashioned for himself above the lake. There, his interests would shift to partaking of a bit of the evil weed, jotting thoughts on the world eco-balance in his journal, and a satisfying bowel movement.
Now, however, Edward stayed among the trees until he was past the radio car, then worked his way down the spiderweb of roads through the neighborhoods that spilled down the mountain. He knew these neighborhoods well, walking them several times each day on his way to panhandle the traffic lights and freeway exits during the cooler parts of the day, returning to the lake at night, and when the day grew warmer.
Edward, behind his evening schedule because of the saturation of police at the lake, was anxious not to miss the prime panhandling hour. Lost time meant lost wages. He took the fast route down, headphones in place, matching his pace to Mr. Dave Matthews's frenetic, multi-world beat. Edward slipped between two houses, skidded downhill along a watercourse, and emerged behind a gutted house that was being remodeled. He had come this way a hundred times, and thought nothing of it. The house sat on a cul-de-sac, most of the houses there hidden by shrubs or walls. Eyeless houses. Edward often wondered if anyone really lived in them, or if they were movie facades that could be struck and moved at will. Such thoughts creeped out Edward, and he tried to avoid them. Life was uncertain enough, as is.
He was hurrying around a great blue Dumpster, expecting to see absolutely nothing, the same empty dark street that he'd seen a hundred times before, and was surprised when he saw the four-wheel-drive truck idling in the lightless street. He stopped, his first thought to run, but the hour was late, and his hunger gave him pause.
The truck was familiar. It took a moment for Edward to realize that this was the same vehicle he had earlier described to the two men looking for the jogging girl.
Run, or not run?
Hunger got the better of him. So did base greed.
Edward averted his face and plowed forward, hoping to slip past the truck and vanish between the houses before whoever was within could interfere. He was doing a good job of it, too, until the man with the sunglasses stepped out from behind the wheel. Here it was night, but he still wore the dark glasses.
Edward quickened his pace. He did not like this man, whose muscular arms glowed blue in the moonlight.
Edward walked faster, but the man was suddenly beside him, and jerked him roughly behind the Dumpster. Edward's headphones were pulled askew, and Dave Matthews's voice became tinny and faraway.
"Are you Edward Deege?"
Edward raised his hands, refusing to look into the bottomless black glasses. Fear burned brightly in his stomach, and blossomed through his veins.
The man's voice softened, and grew calm. "I think you are. Edward Deege, Master Carpenter, no job too small."
"Leave me alone!"
The man stepped closer then, and Edward knew in that crazy, insane, heat-stroked moment that he was going to die. This man glowed with hostility. This stranger was awash in rage.
One moment, on his way to earn an honest wage; the next, at the precipice of destruction.
Life was odd.
Edward stumbled back, and the man came for him.
Powered by a triple shot of adrenaline, Edward gripped the Sony Discman and swung it at the man's head as hard as he could, but the man caught his arm, twisted, and Edward felt the pain before he heard the snap.
Edward Deege, Master Carpenter, threw himself backward and tried to scream --
-- but by then the man had his throat --
-- and crushed it.
John Chen on the case.
The next morning, when John Chen ducked under the yellow police crime scene tape that sealed the trail leading down to Lake Hollywood, the pencil caddy in his shirt pocket fell into the weeds, scattering pens and pencils everywhere.
Chen glanced back up the road at the two uniformed cops leaning against the front of their radio car, but they were looking the other way and hadn't seen him. Good. There was a guy cop and a girl cop, and the girl cop was pretty good-looking, so John Chen didn't want her to think he was a dork.
John gathered up the Paper-Mate Sharpwriter pencils that he collected like a dust magnet, then jammed the caddy back into his pocket. He thought better of it, and put the caddy into his evidence kit. He'd be bending over a lot today and the damned caddy would keep falling, making him look like a world-class geek. It didn't matter that once he was down at the crime scene no one would be around to see. He'd feel like a geek all the same, and John had a theory that he tried to live by: If you practiced being not-a-geek when you were alone, it would eventually rub off and you would become not-a-geek when you were around good-looking babes.
John Chen was the junior criminalist in the LAPD's Scientific Investigation Division, this being only the third case to which he'd been assigned without a supervisor. Chen was not a police officer. Like everyone else in SID, he was a civilian employee, and to be just a little on the nose about it (as John was), he couldn't have passed the LAPD's physical aptitude requirements to win a blow job from the Bunny of the Month. At six feet two, one hundred twenty-seven pounds, and with an Adam's apple that bobbed around with a life of its own, John Chen was, by his own merciless description, a geek (and this did not even include the horrendously thick glasses he was doomed to wear). His plan to overcome this handicap included working harder than anyone else in SID, rapid advancement to a senior management position (with the attendant raise in salary), and the immediate acquisition of a Porsche Boxster, with which Chen was convinced he could score major poontang.
As the criminalist assigned to the case, Chen's responsibility was any and all physical evidence that would help the detectives identify and convict the perpetrator of the crime. Chen could have rushed through his inspection of the Garcia crime scene yesterday, tagging and bagging everything in sight and leaving it to the detectives to sort out, but, in the failing twilight after Karen Garcia's body had been removed, he had decided to return today and had ordered the site sealed. The detectives in charge had closed the lake, and the two uniformed officers had spent the night guarding the site. As the male uniform had a hickey on his neck that was not in evidence yesterday, Chen suspected that they had also spent the night making out, that suspicion confirming what he believed to be an undeniable fact: Everybody was getting some but him.
Chen grimly put the good fortune of others out of his thoughts and continued along the trail until he came to the little clearing where the vie had been murdered. The wind had died sometime during the night, so the trees were straight and still, and the reservoir was a great pool of glass. It was as quiet as the proverbial tomb.
John put down his evidence kit (which looked like a large tackle box, but weighed more) and leaned over the lip of the bluff to see where the body had been. He had photographed the site yesterday before the body was moved, and had taken a sample from where the vic's blood had dripped onto a bed of olive leaves. A little metal wire with a white flag now stood at that spot. He had also tried to isolate and identify the various footprints around the body, and he believed he had done a pretty good job of separating the prints of the two men who discovered the vie (both were wearing cleat-soled hiking boots; one probably Nautica, the other probably Red Wing) and of the cops and the coroner investigator who had walked around the area like they were on a grade school field trip. The goddamned coroner investigator was supposed to be cognizant of the scene, but, in fact, didn't give a damn about anything but the stiff. Chen, however, had dutifully marked and measured each shoe print, then located it on a crime scene diagram, as he had located (and oriented) the body, the blood evidence, a Reese's Pieces wrapper and three cigarette butts (which he was certain were irrelevant), and all necessary topographical features. All the measuring and diagramming had taken a long time, and by the time he had moved up here to the clearing at the top of the draw -- where the shooting occurred -- he had only had time to note the scuff marks and broken vegetation where the vie had fallen. It was at this point that he had dropped a flag on the play and suggested to the detectives that he come back today. If nothing else, his coming back might score points when promotions rolled around, putting him that much closer to the 'tang-mobile.
Standing at the top of the bluff, John Chen imagined the vie at the water's edge where he had first seen her, then turned his attention to the trail. The lip of the bluff had crumbled where the vie had fallen, and, if Chen backed up a step, he could see a bright scuff at the edge of the trail. The vie had probably taken the bullet there, her left toe dragging as she collapsed, the lip giving way as she tumbled down toward the lake. He noticed something white at the edge of the trail by the scuff, and saw that it was a triangular bit of white plastic, maybe a quarter inch on a side, and soiled by what appeared to be a gray, gummy substance. It was probably nothing -- most of what you found at a crime scene was nothing -- but he took a marking wire from the evidence kit, marked the plastic, and noted it on his evidence diagram.
That done, he considered the trail again. He knew where the victim had been, but where was the shooter? From the wound, Chen knew that the shooter had been directly in front of her, on the trail. He squatted in the trail to try to pick out where the shooter had been standing, but couldn't. By the time the vie was discovered, by the time the police sealed the area and Chen arrived, an unknown number of walkers and runners had come by and damn near obliterated everything. Chen sighed as he stared at the trail, then shook his head in defeat. He had hoped for a shoe print, but there was nothing. So much for coming back the next day. So much for fast advancement and a poontang Porsche. His supervisor would probably raise hell about wasting overtime.
John Chen was listening to the wind and wondering what to do next when a soft voice behind him said, "To the side."
Chen jumped up, stumbling over his own feet as the diagram fell into the weeds.
The man said, "We don't want extra prints on the trail."
The man himself was standing off the trail in the weeds, and Chen wondered how he'd gotten here without Chen having heard. The man was almost as tall as Chen, but roped with lean muscle. He wore dark glasses and short military hair, and Chen was scared to death of him. For all John knew, this guy was the shooter, come back to pop another vie. He looked like a shooter. He looked like a psychopath who liked to pull the trigger, and those two damned uniforms were probably still making out, the girl slurping hickies the size of Virginia all over her partner's neck.
Chen said, "This is a police crime scene. You're not supposed to be here."
The man said, "Let me see."
He held out his hand and Chen knew he meant the diagram. Chen passed it over. It didn't occur to him not to.
First thing the man said was, "Where's the shooter?"
Chen felt himself darken. "I can't place him. There's too much obscuration." He sounded whiny when he said it, and that made him even more embarrassed. "The police are up on the road. They'll be down any minute."
The man stayed with the diagram and seemed not to hear him. Chen wondered if he should make a run for it.
The man handed back the diagram. "Step off the trail, John."
"How'd you know my name?"
"It's on the document form."
"Oh." Chen felt five years old and ashamed of himself. He was certain he would never get that Porsche. "Do you have any business being here? Who are you?"
The man bent close to the trail, looking at it from a sharp angle. The man stared at the scuffmark for a time, then moved up the trail a few feet where he went down into a push-up position. He held himself like that without effort, and Chen thought that he must be very strong. Worse, Chen decided that this guy probably got all the poon he could handle. Chen was just beginning to think that maybe he should join a gym (this guy obviously lived in one) when the man stepped to the side of the trail, and looked in the brush and weeds.