Monday, September 5, 2011




Fey Croaker looked up from the arrest report that had been occupying her attention and saw Lieutenant Michael Cahill crossing the squad room toward her. As she watched his approach, she felt a familiar chill of anticipation wash over her. Goose bumps thrilled up her neck. Her Irish mother always told her the feeling came from someone walking over your grave. If that was true, Fey hoped they were walking softly.

"The first stiff of the new year?" she asked when Cahill was close enough.

The detective lieutenant shook his head in genuine amazement. "Damn it, Fey. How do you do that? How do you always know when I'm coming to tell you we've got a cold one? It's spooky."

"It's instinct."

"I don't care if it's ESP. It's still spooky."

Fey took off her reading glasses and let them drop by their cord onto her chest. "Where's the body?"

"2008 Mirrorwood." Cahill held out the pink phone memo with the scribbled information.

Fey took the note and glanced at it quickly. Without her glasses on, she had to hold it at arm's length. "Isn't that the new town home complex? What's it called? Oak Vista Estates? The one only dope dealers and Ferrari salesmen can afford. Up off of San Vincente and Barrington."

"Yeah. And it's a sure bet the homeowners' association isn't going to be real pleased about the situation. The people who live in the complex are paying through the nose for private security and all the other amenities."

Fey looked at Cahill. "Come off it, Mike. Those people put more money up their nose in a day than they pay in homeowners' fees. That kind of stuff is just pin money to them."

"Anyone ever tell you you're a cynic?"

"Yeah. It's why I'm good at my job." Fey stood up from behind her desk. She checked her watch. Eight-thirty a.m. A hell of a way to start a day. "Who found the body?" she asked.

"The maid. She thinks it's the owner ..." Cahill grappled with his memory and then pointed to the memo he'd given Fey. "I wrote the name down."

Fey gave the pink slip of paper another long-distance glance. "Miranda Goodwinter?" she read with a question in her voice.

"Sounds right," Cahill said. "Anyway, the body is female, white, forty something. Naked. The maid didn't take too close a look. Too much blood."

"So no positive ID?"

"Nothing beyond the maid's guess, which is probably going to turn out to be good."

"I don't recognize the name. Any political or big-time money overtones yet?"

Cahill snorted. "Hey, you know how it works. This is West L.A. Unless the stiff is a homeless, there's always political or big-time money overtones. Do you think the Oak Vista Estates homeowners' board are going to stand by quietly while we go about our business? Hell, no. They're going to be screaming bloody murder to both the chief's and the mayor's office. If we don't solve this one in a hurry, our butts are going to be in the middle of the skillet."

The West Los Angeles Division was the jewel in the crown of the Los Angeles Police Department—the gem of all twenty-one geographic divisions. Many of L.A.'s richest areas, including Brentwood, Bel-Air, Cheviot Hills, and Pacific Palisades, fell within its jurisdiction.

Beverly Hills had their own Japanese-technology-worshiping police department bordering the West L.A. Division to the east. The city of Santa Monica had a similar setup on the division's west wide, although they favored a more liberal mode. And the northern border along Mulholland Drive possessed some of the most expensive and isolated estates in the city, if not the world.

West L.A. was the rich filling in a money sandwich.

When Fey had first promoted in to West L.A. as a Detective II with sixteen years on the job, Mike Cahill had taken her aside to explain the divisional facts of life. Things were handled differently in West L.A., Cahill told her, because the rich never went up the chain of command. Instead, they started at the top and let the crap roll downhill. The rich were different and expected to be treated differently.

This different treatment didn't mean the rich never went to jail. But it did mean officers better be damn sure of what they had before slapping the cuffs on some movie star's brat. It also made things very tough for an officer who stopped someone for drunk driving only to find out the lawbreaker was on his way home from a thousand-dollar-a-plate fund-raiser for the mayor.

Neither did the difference mean the rich automatically had all their crimes solved and recovered all their property. But it did mean a detective better be prepared to jump a little higher when a councilman's wife said there was a trespasser on her grounds while her husband was out of town on a junket. This was true even if there was no trespasser, and the only reason the wife had called was because she was lonely and horny and wanted some attention from the stud of a uniformed officer who she knew would respond to her 911 call.

Fey played the game with the rich very well. She was known for her bedside manner and for her ability to soothe even the most ruffled of feathers. She was also known to solve a lot of crimes and put a lot of suspects behind bars. In an enclosed world where reputation counts for almost everything, Fey was a rising star. The respect, however, was still grudging because she was still undeniably a woman in a man's world. A bitch in the locker room. A nigger in the woodpile. Different generation, but the same prejudice.

After four years in West L.A., her abilities led to her promotion to Detective III. Two years later, she was given the homicide unit to supervise. It was the top detective spot in the division, and Fey was the first woman to ever head the unit. She was very pleased at first to have overcome that barrier. Then she found out orders had come down from on high to put a woman in the spot—not because a woman, or specifically Fey, deserved the spot, but because a token had to be presented for public relations purposes.

Fey's initial reaction to this news had been anger. She almost stalked into Cahill's office to throw her badge and gun on the desk and resign. Cooler thoughts prevailed, though, and on reflection she decided it didn't matter what the motivations were placing her in the position. She—Fey Croaker—was still in the position, and it was up to her to prove she could do the job, not because she was a woman, but because she was a damn good detective.

Fey had worked homicide earlier in her career as a Detective I, and later as a Detective II, and she had learned quickly the supposed differences between the rich and poor were only superficial. When you worked homicide, dead was dead. Murder had no respect for wealth.

Now Fey sighed and massaged the bridge of her nose with the thumb and index finger of her left hand. Her nails were long, but the blood red polish on them was chipped.

She felt a deep sigh dissipate in her chest. You always wanted the first body in January to be easy, a self-solver. It set the tone for the rest of the year. This one felt rough.

She shoved together the paperwork she had been shuffling and stood up. "Have the coroner and the SID lab boys been notified?"

Cahill nodded his head. "The uniforms radioed for them as soon as they saw the stiff."

"How about an ambulance crew?"

"On the scene now."

"Good. Okay. Who are the blue-suiters on the scene?"

"8-A-64. Reeves and Watts."

Fey visibly cringed. "Why did it have to be Reeves? He wouldn't know a suspect if one came up and jumped in the backseat of his police car. He probably hasn't gotten any further in the investigation than trying to put the make on the maid. Watts is okay, but he's still very wet behind the ears."

"What can I tell you?" Cahill asked. "If working homicide was easy, we'd let someone from the mayor's staff investigate."

"Heaven forbid," Fey said, and rolled her eyes before becoming serious again. "Do me a favor?" she requested. "Send the uniforms a message over the MDT to make sure they've got the crime scene taped off, and that they are staying outside the residence. The last thing we need is the crime scene contaminated by Reeves doing his kleptomaniac act or Watts flicking cigarette ash over all the evidence."

"Anything else?"

Fey took a breath before continuing. "Yeah. Make sure they've got an incident log started and that they're keeping the maid isolated from any other witnesses."

"Will do," said Cahill.

"Oh, and make sure they keep the ambulance crew there until we arrive. I'm going to want to interview them and find out what they touched or moved."

Cahill said, "Check." He had a lot of faith in Fey. She was very methodical in her investigations and didn't miss a trick.

Fey picked up the unit's sign-in sheet and stared at it. "I'll take Hatcher with me," she said, making a notation on the sheet.

"Why don't you take Colby?"

Fey gave Cahill a sharp look. It was very unlike the lieutenant to question who she assigned to a case.

Cahill caught Fey's glance and held up a hand in mock defense before she could retort verbally. "Colby asked specifically to be assigned to this one," he said in a conciliatory tone. "And he knows the lay of the land up there."

Fey grimaced. "What does that mean?" She didn't like Colby. Supervising him was bad enough, but she loathed the thought of actually partnering him on a case. "Just because he dresses like a wannabe movie star with the taste of a two-dollar whore doesn't mean he knows the rich any better than the rest of us."

"Come on, Fey," Cahill said. "Give the guy a break. He's a good detective. He just needs a little experience."

"Not to hear him tell it," she said.

As if on cue, Alan Colby came up the back stairs and cut a swath across the squad room. Tall and athletic, he walked past the random clumps of desks that were scattered around the room, and flashed a grin at Cahill and Fey.

"Was somebody talking about me?" he asked, as if picking up leftover vibrations of conversation. "My ears were burning."

"Grab your stuff," Fey told him as she reached down to take a shoulder-holstered Smith & Wesson .38 out of her desk drawer. "As if you didn't know, we've got a stiff waiting for us up in Brentwood."

"Hot dog!" Colby said.

"I'm glad you find death something to be happy about," Fey said nastily.

"Chill out, Frog Lady. I'm just turned on by a challenge."

Fey halted in the process of slipping on her shoulder rig. "I won't tell you again, Colby. Don't—I repeat, don't—call me Frog Lady."

"You got to love that pose, don't you, Lieutenant?" Colby said, referring to the fact Fey's position, half in and half out of the shoulder rig, pushed her arms back and thrust her bosom forward as if it were an item offered for display.

"It's impressive," Cahill said.

Fey just shook her head and shrugged the shoulder holster the rest of the way into place. "Why is it men never grow out of adolescence? Thank God women aren't fixated on various parts of the male anatomy. If we were, then both sexes would be useless."

The lieutenant's secretary giggled when she overheard the comeback. Fey grinned at her. "It's like trying to keep a room full of five-year-olds busy," she said. The secretary laughed again.

"Come on, Colby," Fey told him. "You're slowing me down."


1 comment:

  1. Paul, this is a tempting teaser - whole point of it, of course. All the Croaker covers are simply great!
    Nik Morton


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