#1 in the L.A Series
|Release Date||April 2009|
|Cover Artist||Deana C. Jamroz|
|Available At:||Barnes & Noble (paperback)|
In-the-closet detective, David Eric Laine has kept his desires secret. Until he meets Christopher Bellamere, proud and openly gay. When a series of horrific torture/murders of gay men leads the police to Chris David is torn between his attraction for the most beautiful man he’s ever met and his fears that he’s a vicious killer.
Saturday, 12:25 a.m., North San Miguel Road, Eagle Rock, Los Angeles
THE JOHN DOE had been dead for days.
Flies buzzed around the corpse, crawling over sunken eyes and up collapsing nostrils. From the doorway LAPD Homicide Detective David Eric Laine could see the skin sloughing off dehydrated muscles. He held his breath against the stench. After fourteen years on the force he figured he had seen it all. But sometimes the doers still managed to surprise him with their brutality.
The body had been posed on its back, legs splayed on the blood-soaked rug, hands already bagged to preserve evidence. He knew death had occurred somewhere else. The lack of blood anywhere but on the carpet, and the body itself, confirmed that. Abruptly he turned away. John Doe wasn’t going anywhere; he could concentrate on evidence the killer might have left behind.
This was no drug buy gone sour, or a bad domestic. The way the body lay in the hot, breathless room, empty eyes staring at a filthy window, told him this was worse. He knew the rug had been used to carry the body to this dump site. Just like the others. David felt a familiar tightening in his gut. He had hoped they’d been wrong about the last body, found less than a month ago in a similar state. He had hoped then that there would be no more.
Now he knew how naïve that hope had been.
Physical damage to the John Doe was extensive. Vivid purple abrasions marred the pale skin above the Adam’s apple and dozens of shallow cuts covered the victim’s chest and arms.
If he was anything like the others, he had been a good-looking youth. So how did he end up in a slumlord’s firetrap, dying to satisfy some twisted freak’s perversions?
David smeared wintergreen under his nose and the smell of decay faded, though he knew it would cling to him for hours, haunting his restless sleep. Assuming he got any in the next forty-eight hours.
He pulled on a Tyvek sterile suit, complete with plastic booties, and ducked past the crime scene tape. Teresa Lopez, the deputy coroner from the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office, nodded at him. A few strands of white hair spilled from under her sterile cap and framed her lined fifty-year-old face.
She smiled at him, but as usual he pretended not to see the question in her eyes. He knew her interest in him was based more on the fact that he was one of the few unattached men she met on a regular basis rather than any kind of physical attraction. He knew only too well how he looked. Either way, that was a road he wasn’t going to travel, no matter how safe it might make him.
Darkness engulfed the apartment when Larry Vance, senior technician for the Scientific Identification Division, ordered the lights cut. He scanned the floor with his handheld ultraviolet light. Vance was little more than a trace himself. Thin and sinewy like catgut, he always seemed able to insinuate himself into small places and find what others couldn’t.
The hiss of traffic on the nearby 134 came through the dirt-spattered window. The only furniture in the room was the threadbare rug under the body and a single ladder-backed chair near the bathroom door.
Officer Kurt Henderson, who had been first responding officer, appeared in the doorway. David nodded at the muscular black cop. They had crossed paths before. David tried not to stare at the striking dark-skinned black man. He kept his face neutral when Henderson nodded at him.
“Where’s the building manager?” David asked.
“Partner’s babysitting him downstairs.”
“Collins. Harvey Collins.”
Henderson left. Waiting in the hallway for him to return, David reviewed his notes. At ten minutes past midnight, the switchboard at the Northeast Community Police Station on San Fernando Road had received a frantic call. Responding to it, Henderson and his partner had found Collins in the hall and the body in Room 317.
Henderson returned, leading a heavy-jowled Anglo.
“Mr. Collins? Detective David Eric Laine.” David suppressed his sympathy for the traumatized man. Better for both of them if he did this as dispassionately as possible. “I need to clarify a couple of things. How did you come to find the body?”
“I got a phone call.” Collins said. “I checked it out.” He swallowed and rubbed his bulbous nose. His gaze tracked around the hallway, settling everywhere but on the open door to the apartment.
“What phone call?”
“He said the police were too slow, that I gotta call them.”
“What time was this, Mr. Collins?”
“I always watch the news at ten…KTLA. It was right after that was over. He told me the police had to find this body.”
“So that would have been around eleven, eleven-ten?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“And you waited over an hour to call 911?”
Collins’s jaws worked around something bad-tasting. “Hey, I thought it was a crank.”
This got better by the minute. “Did you recognize the voice? A former tenant, maybe?”
“I don’t think so.”
“When was the last time the unit was rented?”
“Two months.” Collins scrubbed his hand through his thinning hair. “The last guy did a midnight run on me end of June.”
“Anyone look at the place since then?”
“Nobody who’d do this.”
David didn’t pursue the non-answer. He’d get to Mr. Collins’s evasions later. Maybe they were just the usual lies and half-truths everyone tried when faced with suspicious cops. Sometimes he saw the lies before they formed. Sometimes he saw lies that weren’t there at all.
“Place is unfurnished. That the way you rent it?”
“Sure, tenants gotta bring their own stuff.”
“What about the chair?”
“Must been left by the last tenant.”
“The fly-by-night one?”
Collins scowled. “Yeah. Him.”
Lopez, the coroner, emerged from the apartment. Her stained Tyvek suit ballooned off her undersized frame. “We’re ready to bag it.”
David motioned to Henderson. “Take Mr. Collins back to his apartment. I’ll be along later to get a written statement. We’ll get a list of incoming calls, see where our helpful friend called from. See if you can get a list of tenants, too. Past and present.”
His cell phone rang. He held up one finger to stall Lopez.
“Davey,” the voice on the other end said. It was his partner, Detective Martinez Diego. No one else had the temerity to call him Davey. “I’m stuck in traffic. Looks like a semi was dancing with a pickup out here.” Martinez grunted. “Pickup lost.”
“Lopez just called me back in to the apartment.”
“How’s it looking?”
“Like our guy.” David glanced at Lopez, then looked away from the friendliness in her dark eyes. “Same injuries. Body wrapped in a rug.”
Martinez swore, then said, “I’m clear here. I’ll be there in two.”
David hung up and clipped the cell back onto his belt.
Lopez raised one silver eyebrow. “Martinez?”
“On his way.”
“So how’d you luck into this?” Teresa glanced over her shoulder at the room behind them. “Spending too much time loafing at your desk?”
“Just finished a drive-by on Drew when the call-out came.” David gave her a thin smile. “I think the watch commander’s words were ‘Sleep can wait. Get your ass over there now, Laine.’”
“They’re working both of you too hard. When was the last time you went home?”
“What year is this?”
He shrugged. “Goes with the territory, right?”
David reentered the apartment.
Silver powder coated doorjambs and window ledges, revealing the smudges and swirls of the usual collection of latent prints a place like this collected. SID had set up spotlights. Larry had replaced the UV scan with a handheld vacuum, which he ran over the carpet and floor, collecting and labeling bags of debris.
David scanned the room, along the walls, up toward the unlit ceiling light, then back to the corpse, where the fly feast continued. Then his gaze flew back to the light fixture, a simple white shield over a single light bulb. A shadow on one side drew his eye.
David heard Martinez and one of the EMTs joking and laughing about their respective families before he ducked past the crime scene tape. His Tyvek suit clung to his beefy form.
“You starting this party without me?” Martinez asked.
“Just warming things up.”
Martinez, David’s partner for the last five years, peered down at the body. “Looks like somebody let their party get out of hand.”
Teresa approached, stripping off one pair of stained gloves and replacing them with clean ones. “You’re late, Martinez.”
“We got reporters outside. They wanna know if this is their Carpet Killer.”
Teresa winced. “‘The Carpet Killer.’” She shook her head in disgust. “Whatever you call him, he’s got four now in six months, raped and butchered. The first one we know about was back in March. Prolific guy.”
Martinez paced the narrow confines of the apartment. He elbowed the bathroom open to look inside.
“He likes what he’s doing. Methodical.” David looked back at the light fixture. “And organized. Can we get a ladder in here?”
A technician entered carrying a folded stepladder under his arm. David pulled on his first pair of thin latex gloves and clambered up the rickety steps. He withdrew a thin leather billfold from the fixture.
“I think our doer likes being recognized for his talents.” He held up the billfold. “How can we give him proper credit if we don’t know the identity of his victims?”
Back on level ground, he flipped it open under Martinez’s speculative eyes. The face that stared back at them from the California driver’s license was significantly better looking than that of the damaged corpse at their feet, but the match was obvious.
“Jason Blake,” David said. “Anaheim.”
They both looked at the chair. It had already been printed.
“Check the seat for footprints,” David said.
A technician hurried to comply.
Martinez reached past David and flipped up a second row of various cards. He tapped a plain white card with a rainbow on the upper left corner. “What’s PFLAG?”
“Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays — actually it should be PFFLAG,” David murmured, feeling the heat on the back of his neck when both Martinez and Teresa looked at him.
“Dios, there’s an organization for everything,” Martinez said. “How the hell do you even know that?”
Lopez saved David from answering. David was saved from answering by Lopez
“You better see this before we bag him,” she said.
While Martinez took his initial impression of the corpse, David changed gloves. The powdery residue inside them felt cool against his damp skin. At only 2 a.m., heat already filled the room. The day to come promised to be another L.A. August scorcher. If the body hadn’t been phoned in last night, it would have been found soon anyway. By tomorrow the whole building would have known about it.
He knelt, knees popping in protest. At thirty-seven old age was creeping up on him.
The rich stench ripened in the expanding heat. David loosened his tie and tugged the stiff collar away from his neck. Already sweat saturated his armpits; the hurried shower he’d had earlier that evening seemed a dimly remembered luxury.
“Someone brought him here several hours after death,” Lopez said. “This guy’s careful — and he plans.”
“He’s a scary guy.”
On the other side of the body, Martinez squatted, arms resting on his knees while he studied the corpse. He tilted his head sideways. “Ever notice how much more violent faggots are when they kill each other?” Martinez said.
“We don’t even have any proof our killer’s gay.”
Martinez gave him the look. “Yeah, like some straight mofo’s going to get his kicks this way.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time.”
“Hey, Lopez. What can you tell us?”
“Rigor has settled out.” Teresa demonstrated by bending the corpse’s right knee. “Livor is almost entirely on the buttocks and feet.” She lifted one foot and indicated the purplish marks on the bottom of the victim’s foot where the blood had settled after his heart stopped pumping, technically known as livor mortis.
“Meaning?” David asked.
“He was in a crouched or sitting position for at least two hours following death.” She ran a gloved hand up the right arm, touching a ring of bruised flesh around the slender wrist. “Bound.”
David met Teresa’s eyes. “Like the others.”
“Full rape kit run?”
“Already collected some swabs and I’ll do a pubic comb-out at post. Tox screen, too.”
With a technician’s help Teresa rolled the body over.
“Calliphora activity is only starting,” she said, referring to the fly family most commonly found on corpses. “The first instar is approximately seven millimeters in length. That puts death about three to four days ago. We’ll hatch some of these out to verify species.”
David caught his breath when she finished rolling the body onto its stomach. A seething mass of tiny maggots spilled out onto her gloved hand. Almost gently she brushed them aside, revealing a yawning wound between the dead man’s buttocks.
“Just like the others. Your killer’s penetrating them anally with a knife. And this poor guy was very much alive when he was doing it.”