CRAIS: EXCERPT - THE FORGOTTEN MAN
Late during one of those perfect twilights when the sky shimmered with
copper like the last pulse of heat burning out of a body, Padilla and
Bigelow turned off the highway onto a narrow residential street that
brought them directly into the sun. They reached for their sun visors at
the same time, both of them squinting, as Padilla thought, Christ, it
was like driving head-on into hell.
Bigelow sat forward when he saw the women in the
"On the left. I’ll call it in."
Bigelow had three months in the car, compared to
Padilla’s nine years and change, so he was still excited by that stuff,
the radio, the days when Padilla let him drive, and responding to a
possible capitol crime.
“Call, but try not to sound so excited. You sound like
you got a chub over this. Let me tell you something, you get these
calls, they’re bullshit, they want attention, they’re just confused,
they’re drunk, whatever, so try to sound like you know what’s what.”
“Sound bored, like you finally figured out being a cop
“You think I’m going to embarrass you?”
“It crossed my mind.”
The women and children stood in the street between rows
of cramped stucco houses, everyone in shorts and sandals, maybe seven or
eight of them altogether. Ford pickups and an occasional boat were
parked in their driveways. The neighborhood was similar to Padilla’s,
only Padilla was closer to town where the valley was green, not out here
where the hills flattened into something like desert. Out here,
landscaping was lava rock, blue gravel, and dead grass.
Padilla pulled over and got out as Bigelow made the
call. He hated getting out of the car. Even at twilight, it was a
hundred and five.
"Okay, what do we have? Who called?"
A heavyset woman with thin legs and wide feet stepped
past two teenaged girls.
"That would be me, Katherine Torres. She's on the
floor. I think it's her, but I couldn't tell."
They had been dispatched to a 911, the Torres woman
screaming her neighbor was dead with blood everywhere. Dispatch put out
the call and now here they were, Padilla and Bigelow, uniformed patrol
officers with the Temecula Police Department. Katherine Torres’ hand
waved as if a nervous life possessed it.
"All I saw were feet, but I think it's Maria. I called
through the screen ‘cause I knew they were home, so I looked in. The
feet are all wet--and the legs--and I don't know it looks like blood."
Bigelow joined them as Padilla eyed the house. The sun
was almost behind the mountains and most of the houses were showing
lights. The house in question was dark. Katherine Torres could have seen
anything--a towel someone dropped on the way from the shower, a spilled
Dr Pepper, or feet wet with blood.
Padilla said, “They got a dog?"
"No, no dog."
"How many people live here?"
One of the teenaged girls said, "Four, the parents and
two children. They're really nice. I sit for the little girl.”
Bigelow, so anxious to get to the house that he shifted
from foot to foot like a kid having to pee, said, "Anyone hear any
shouting, fighting, anything like that?"
No one had heard anything like that or anything else.
Padilla told the women to wait in the street, then he
and Bigelow approached the house. The ground crunched under their boots.
Large black ants crossed the earth in an irregular line, come out in the
deepening twilight. The copper sky had purpled in the west as the
darkness chased the sun. The house was quiet. The air was still in the
way it can only be still when it floats in the emptiness of the desert.
Padilla reached the front door and knocked hard three
"Police officer. Frank Padilla with the police. Anyone
Padilla leaned close to the screen, trying to peer inside, but it was
too dark to see anything.
"Police. I'm going to open the door."
Padilla drew his flashlight, trying to recall how many
times he had tapped on doors and windows all hours of the night, usually
checking on old people someone feared had passed away, and twice they
had, but only twice.
"Officers here! Coming inside, knock knock."
Padilla pulled open the screen. He and Bigelow snapped
on their flashlights at the same time, just as Bigelow said, "I smell
Their lights fell to the woman's body, early to
midthirties, face-down on the living room floor, most of her hidden
behind an ottoman that had been pushed to the center of the room.
Bigelow said, "Oh, man."
"Watch where you step."
"Man, this is nasty."
Outside, the woman called from the street.
"What do you see? Is it a body?"
Padilla drew his gun. His heart was suddenly so loud he
had difficulty hearing. He felt sick to his stomach and scared that
Bigelow was going to shoot him. He was more afraid of Bigelow than the
“Don’t shoot me, goddamnit. You watch what you shoot.”
Bigelow said, “Jesus, look at the walls.”
“Watch the goddamned doors and where you point that
gun. The walls can’t kill you.”
The woman was wearing frayed cutoff jean shorts and a
Frank Zappa T-shirt torn at the neck. Her shirt and legs were streaked
with crusted blood. The back of her head was crushed, leaving her hair
spiked with red gel. Another body lay between the living room and the
dining room, this one a man. His head, like the woman's, was misshapened,
and his blood had pooled in an irregular pattern reminding Padilla of a
birthmark on his youngest daughter’s foot. The floor was smudged as if
they had tried to escape their attacker and splatter patterns ribboned
the walls and ceiling. The weapon used to kill these people rose and
fell many times, the blood it picked up splashing the walls. The smell
of voided bowels was strong.
Padilla waved his pistol toward the hall leading to the
bedrooms, then toward the kitchen.
"I'll clear the kitchen. You wait here watching the
hall, then we’ll do the rooms back there together.”
“I ain’t moving.”
Padilla said it all louder than necessary, hoping if
someone heard him they’d jump out the window and run. He moved past the
man's body, then into the kitchen. The body of a twelve-year-old boy was
on the kitchen floor, partially beneath a small dinette table as if he
had been trying to escape. Padilla forced himself to look away. All he
thought about now was securing the damned house so they could call in
Bigelow called from the living room, "Hey, Frank--"
Padilla stepped back through the door. The rooms were
bright now because Bigelow had turned on the lights.
"Frank, look at this."
Bigelow pointed to the floor.
In the light, Padilla saw little hourglass smears
pressed into the carpet; tiny shapes that Padilla studied until he
realized they were footprints. These footprints circled the bodies,
tracking from the woman to the man, then into the kitchen and out again,
around and around each body. The prints lead into the hall toward the
Padilla stepped past Bigelow along the hall. The
footprints faded, grew dim, and then vanished at the final door. Padilla
stepped into the dark room, his mouth dry, and flashed the room with his
flashlight before turning on the lights.
"My name is Frank Padilla. I'm a policeman. I'm here to
The little girl sat on the floor at the foot of her bed
with her back to the wall. She held a soiled pillowcase to her nose as
she sucked her index finger. Padilla would always remember that--she
sucked the index finger, not the thumb. She stared straight ahead, her
mouth working as she sucked. Dried blood crusted her feet. She could not
have been more than four years old.
Bigelow came up behind him, stepping past to see the
"Jesus, you want me to call?"
"We need an ambulance and Social Services and the
detectives. Tell them we have a multiple homicide, and a little girl."
"Is she okay?"
"Call. Don't let the people outside near the house, and
don't let them hear you. Don't answer their questions. Close the front
door on your way out so they can’t see.”
Bigelow hurried away.
Frank Padilla holstered his weapon and stepped into the
room. He smiled at the little girl, but she didn't look at him. She was
a very small girl with knobby knees and wide black eyes and blood
smudges on her face. Padilla wanted to go to her and hold her the way he
would hold his own daughter, but he didn't want to scare her, so he did
not approach. She was calm. Better for her to remain calm.
"It's okay, honey. It's going to be okay. You're safe
He didn’t know if she heard him or not.
Frank Padilla stood looking at the tiny child in the
bloody house with the miniature footprints she made as she walked from
her mother to her father to her brother, unable to wake them, going from
one to the other, circling through red shallows like a child lost at the
shores of a lake until she finally returned to her room to hide in plain
sight against the wall. He wondered what had happened to the little girl
and what she had seen. Now, she stared at nothing, nursing her finger
like a pacifier. He wondered if she still wore a diaper and if the
diaper needed changing. Four was old for a diaper. He wondered what she
was thinking. She was only four. Maybe she didn't know.
When the first team of detectives arrived, Padilla
agreed to stay with the little girl in her room. Everyone thought
staying in her own room would be better than having her wait for the
social workers in a radio car. They closed the door. More detectives
arrived, along with several patrol cars, two Coroner Investigators, and
a team of criminalists from the Sheriffs. Padilla heard car doors slam
and men moving in and around the house and voices. A helicopter circled
overhead, then was gone. Padilla hoped the perp would be found hiding in
a garbage can or under a car so he could get in a couple of hard shots
before they hauled the sonofabitch away. That would be sweet, two
jawbreakers right in the teeth, pow pow, feel the gums come apart, but
Padilla was here with the little girl and that would never happen.
Once while they waited, Max Alvarez, who was the senior
homicide investigator and Padilla’s wife’s uncle, eased open the door.
Alvarez had thirty-two years on the job, twenty-four on South Bureau
Homicide in Los Angeles plus another eight in Temecula.
Alvarez spoke softly. He had seven children, all of
them now grown and most with families of their own.
Padilla nodded, fearful that speaking might disturb
“How about you?”
Padilla only nodded again.
“Okay, you need a break, let us know. The social
workers are on their way. Ten minutes, tops.”
Padilla was relieved when Alvarez left. Part of him
wanted to do the cop work of finding the perps, but more of him had
assumed the role of protecting the little girl. She was calm, so
protecting her meant preserving her calm, though he worried about what
might be happening in that little head. Maybe her being so calm was bad.
Maybe a child like this shouldn’t be calm after what happened.
Two hours and twelve minutes after Padilla and Bigelow
entered the house, field workers from the Department of Social Services
Juvenile Division arrived, two women in business suits who spoke softly
and had nice smiles. The little girl went with them as easily as if she
was going to school, letting one of the women carry her with the woman’s
jacket covering her head so she wouldn’t see the carnage again. Padilla
followed them out, and found Alvarez in the front yard. Alvarez’s face
was greasy from the heat and his sleeves were rolled. Padilla stood with
him to watch the social workers buckle the little girl into their car.
“How’s it look?”
“Robbery that got outta hand, most likely. We got the
murder weapon, a baseball bat they dropped behind the garage, and a
couple of shoe prints, but we’re not drowning in evidence. And the
interviews so far, nothing, no one saw anything.”
Padilla studied Katherine Torres and the civilians who
still lined the street. Padilla wasn’t a detective but he had been a cop
long enough to understand this was bad. The first few hours after a
homicide were critical; witnesses who knew something tended to step
"That’s bullshit. Work day like this, all these women
and kids at home, they had to hear something.”
“You think wits always got something to say, you’ve
been watching too much television. I worked a case in LA, some asshole
stabbed his wife twenty-six times at eight PM on a Thursday night, them
living on the second floor of a three-story building. This woman, her
blood trail started in the bedroom and went all the way to the hall
outside their front door, the woman dragging herself all that way,
screaming her head off, and not one other tenant heard. I interviewed
those people. They weren’t lying. Forty-one people at home that night,
having dinner, watching TV, doing what people do, and no one heard.
That’s just the way it is. These people who were killed in here, maybe
all three of them were screaming their asses off, but no one heard
because a jet was passing or some mutt was barking or the fuckin’ Price
is Right was on television, or maybe it just happened too damned fast.
That’s my call. It happened so fast nobody knew what to do and it never
even occurred to them to scream. What the fuck. You can’t say why people
Alvarez seemed both pissed off and spent after that, so
Padilla let it ride. The social workers got themselves buckled in,
started their car.
"Why you think they didn’t kill the little girl?"
"I don't know. Maybe they figured she couldn't finger
them, her being so little, but my guess right now is they didn't see
her. The way her footprints lead back to her room, she was probably in
there sleeping or playing when it happened and they left before she came
out. We’ll let the psychologists talk to her about that. You never know.
We get lucky, maybe she saw everything and can tell us exactly what
happened and who did the deed. If she can’t, then maybe we’ll never
know. That’s the way it is with murder. Sometimes you never know. I
gotta get back to work.”
Alvarez joined another detective and the two of them
walked around the side of the house. Padilla didn’t want to go back to
work; he wanted to go home, take a shower, then drink a cold beer in his
backyard with his wife while his children watched television inside,
but, instead, he stood and watched.
The social workers were slowly working their car around
the civilians and cops crowding the street. Padilla couldn’t see the
little girl. She was too small to see, as if the car had swallowed her.
Padilla had been a cop long enough to know that the murders that had
occurred tonight would haunt everyone involved for the rest of their
lives. The neighbors who lined the tape would worry that the killers
might return. Some would feel survivor's guilt, and others would grow
fearful. Insecurities would flare, marriages would fail, and more than
one family would sell their house to get out of Dodge before it happened
to them. That’s the way it was with murder. It would haunt the people
who lived here and the cops who investigated the case and the friends
and relatives of the victims and the little girl most of all. The murder
would change her. She would become someone other than she would have
been. She would grow into someone else.
Padilla watched the car turn onto the highway, then
Padilla whispered, "I'll pray for you."
He turned and went back into the house.
called me to view the body on a lost spring morning when darkness webbed
my house. Some nights are like that; more now than before. Picture the
World's Greatest Detective, reluctant subject of sidebar articles in the
Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles magazine, stretched on
his couch in a redwood A-frame overlooking the city, not really sleeping
at 3:58 AM when the phone rang. I thought it was a reporter, but
"This is Detective Kelly Diaz with LAPD. I apologize
about the time, but I'm trying to reach Elvis Cole."
Her voice was coarse, reflecting the early hour. I
pushed into a sitting position and cleared my throat. Police who call
before sunrise have nothing to offer but bad news.
"How'd you get my number?"
I changed my home number when the news stories broke,
but reporters and cranks still called.
"One of the criminalists had it or got it, I'm not
sure. Either way, I'm sorry for calling like this, but we have a
homicide. We have reason to believe you know the deceased."
Something sharp stabbed behind my eyes, and I swung my
feet to the floor.
"Who is it?"
"We'd like you to come down here, see for yourself.
We're downtown near Twelfth and Hill Street. I can send a radio car if
that would help."
The house was dark. Sliding glass doors opened to a
deck that jutted like a diving platform over the canyon behind my house.
The lights on the opposite ridge were murky with the low clouds and
mist. I cleared my throat again.
"Is it Joe Pike?"
"Pike's your partner, right? The ex-cop with the
"Yes. He has arrows tattooed on the outside of his
delts. They're red."
She covered the phone, but I heard muffled voices. She
was asking. My chest filled with a growing pressure, and I didn't like
that she had to ask because her asking meant maybe it was.
"Is it Pike?"
"No, this isn't Pike. This guy has tattoos, but not
like that. I'm sorry if I scared you that way. Listen, we can send a
I closed my eyes, letting the pressure fade.
"I don't know anything about it. What makes you think I
"The victim said some things before he died. Come down
and take a look. I can send a car."
"Am I a suspect?"
"Nothing like that. We just want to see if you can help
with the ID."
"What was your name?"
"Okay, Diaz--it's four in the morning, I haven't slept
in two months, and I'm not in the mood. If you think I know this guy,
then you think I'm a suspect. Everyone who knows a homicide victim is a
suspect until they're cleared, so just tell me who you got and ask
whatever it is you want to ask."
"What it is, we have a deceased Anglo male we believe
to be the victim of a robbery. They got his wallet, so I can't give you
a name. We're hoping you can help with that part. Here, listen--"
"Why do you think I know him?"
She plowed on with the description as if I hadn't
"Anglo male, dyed black hair thin on top, brown eyes,
approximately seventy years but he could be older, I guess, and he has
crucifix tattoos on both palms."
"Why do you think I know him?"
"He has more tats of a religious nature or his
arms--Jesus, the Virgin, things like that. None of this sounds
"I don't have any idea who you're talking about."
"What we have is a deceased male as I've described, one
gunshot to the chest. By his appearance and location, he appears
indigent, but we're working on that. I'm the officer who found him. He
was still conscious at that time and said things that suggested you
would recognize his description."
"Look, Cole, I'm not trying to be difficult. It would
be better if--"
"What did he say?"
Diaz didn't answer right away.
"He said he was your father."
I sat without moving in my dark house. I had started
that night in bed, but ended on the couch, hoping the steady patter of
rain would quiet my heart, but sleep had not come.
"Just like that, he told you he was my father."
"I tried to get a statement, but all he said was
something about you being his son, and then he passed. You're the same
Elvis Cole they wrote the stories about, aren't you? In the Times?"
"He had the clippings. I figured you would recognize
the tats if you knew him, me thinking he was your father, but it sounds
like you don't."
My voice came out hoarse, and the catch embarrassed me.
"I never met my father. I don't know anything about
him, and as far as I know he doesn't know me."
"We want you to come take a look, Mr. Cole. We have a few questions."
"I thought I wasn't a suspect."
"At this time you aren't, but we still have the
questions. We sent a radio car. It should be pulling up just about now."
Approaching headlights brightened my kitchen as she
said it. I heard the car roll to a slow stop outside my house, and more
light filled my front entry. They had radioed their status, and someone
with Diaz had signaled their arrival.
"Okay, Diaz, tell them to shut their lights. No point
in waking the neighbors."
"The car is a courtesy, Mr. Cole. In case you were
unable to drive after you saw him."
"Sure. That's why you kept offering the car like it was
my choice even though it was already coming."
"It's still your choice. If you want to take your own
car you can follow them. We just have a few questions."
The glow outside vanished, and once more my home was in
"Okay, Diaz, I'm coming. Tell them to take it easy out
there. I have to get dressed."
"Not a problem. We'll see you in a few minutes."
I put down the phone but still did not move. I had not
moved in hours. Outside, a light rain fell as quietly as a whisper. I
must have been waiting for Diaz to call. Why else would I have been
awake that night and all the other nights except to wait like a lost
child in the woods, a forgotten child waiting to be found?
After a while I dressed, then followed the radio car to
see the dead.
The police were set up
at both ends of an alley across from a flower shop that had opened to
receive its morning deliveries. Yellow tape was stretched across the
alley to keep people out even though the streets were deserted; the only
people I saw were four workers from the flower mart and the cops. I
followed the radio car past an SID van, more radio cars, and a couple of
Crown Victorias to park across the street. No rain was falling there in
the heart of the city, but the clouds hung low, and threatened.
The uniforms climbed out of their radio car and told me
to wait at the tape. The senior officer went into the alley for the
detectives, but his younger partner stayed with me. We hadn't spoken at
my house, but now he studied me with his thumbs hooked onto his gun belt.
"You the one was on TV?"
"No, he was the other one."
"I wasn't trying to be rude. I remember seeing you on
I didn't say anything. He watched me a moment longer,
then turned to the alley.
"If that was you, I guess you've seen a homicide scene
"More than one."
The body was crumpled beside a Dumpster midway down the
alley, but my view was blocked by a woman in a tee-shirt and shorts, and
two men in dark sport coats. The woman's tee-shirt was fresh and white,
and made her stand out in the dingy alley as if she was on fire. The
older suit was a thick man with shabby hair, and the younger detective
was a tall, spike-straight guy with a pinched face. When the uniform
reached them, they traded a few words, then the woman came back with
him. She smelled of medicinal alcohol.
"I'm Diaz. Thanks for coming out."
Kelly Diaz had short black hair, blunt fingers, and the
chunky build of an aging athlete. A delicate silver heart swayed on a
chain around her neck. It didn't go with the rest of her.
I said, "I'm not going to know this man."
"I'd still like you to take a look and answer a few
questions. You okay with that?"
"I wouldn't be here if I wasn't."
"I'm just making sure you understand you don't have to
talk to us. You have any doubts about it you should call a lawyer."
"I'm good, Diaz. If I wasn't good, I would have shot it
out with these guys up in the hills."
The younger cop laughed, but his partner didn't. Diaz
lifted the tape, and I stooped under and walked with her to the
Dumpster. When we reached the others, Diaz introduced us. The senior
detective was a Central Station homicide supervisor named Terry
O'Loughlin; the other guy was a D-1 named Jeff Pardy. O'Loughlin shook
my hand and thanked me for coming, but Pardy didn't offer to shake. He
stood between me and the body like I was an invading army and he was
determined not to give ground.
O'Loughlin said, "Okay, let him see."
The cops parted like a dividing sea so I could view the
body. The alley was bright with lights they had set up to work the
scene. The dead man was on his right side with his right arm stretched
from his chest and his left down along his side; his shirt was wet with
blood and had been scissored open. His head was shaped like an upside
down pyramid with a broad forehead and pointy chin. His hair showed the
stark black of a bad dye job and a thin widow's peak. He didn't look
particularly old, just weathered and sad. The crucifix inked into his
left palm made it look like he was holding the cross, and more tattoos
showed on his stomach under the blood. A single gunshot wound was
visible two inches to the left of his sternum.
Diaz said, "You know him?"
I cocked my head to see him as if we were looking at
each other. His eyes were open and would remain that way until a
mortician closed them. They were brown, like mine, but dulled by the
loss of their tears. That's the first thing you learn when you work with
the dead: We're gone when we no longer cry.
"What do you think? You know this guy?"
"Ever seen him before?"
"No, I can't help you."
When I looked up, all three of them were watching me.
O'Loughlin flicked his hand at Pardy.
"Show him the stories."
Pardy took a manila envelope from his coat. The
envelope contained three articles about me and a little boy who had been
kidnapped earlier in the fall. The articles hadn't been clipped from the
original newspaper; they had been copied, and the articles clipped from
the copies. All three articles made me out to be more than I was or ever
had been; Elvis Cole, the World's Greatest Detective, hero of the week.
I had seen them before, and seeing them again depressed me. I handed
them back without reading them.
"Okay, he had some news clips about me. Looks like he
copied them at the library."
Diaz continued staring at me.
"He told me he was trying to find you."
"When this stuff hit the news I got calls from total
strangers saying I owed them money and asking for loans. I got death
threats, fan letters, and time share offers, also from total strangers.
After the first fifty letters I threw away my mail without opening it
and turned off my answering machine. I don't know what else to tell you.
I've never seen him before."
O'Loughlin said, "Maybe he hung around outside your
office. You could have seen him there."
"I stopped going to my office."
"You have any idea why he would think he's your
"Why would total strangers think I'd loan them money?"
Pardy said, "Were you down here or anywhere near here
There it was. The coroner's office was responsible for
identifying John Doe victims and notifying their next of kin. Whenever
the police took action to identify a victim they were acting to further
their investigation. Diaz had phoned me at four AM to see if I was home;
she had sent a car to confirm I was home, and asked me down so they
could gauge my reaction. They might even have a witness squirreled
nearby, giving me the eye.
I said, "I was home all night, me and my cat."
Pardy edged closer.
"Can the cat confirm it?"
Diaz said, "Take it soft, Pardy. Jesus."
O'Loughlin warned off Pardy with a look.
"I don't want this to become adversarial. Cole knows we
have to cover the base. He's going out of his way."
I said, "I was home all night. I spoke to a friend
about nine-thirty. I can give you his name and number, but that's the
only time I can cover."
Pardy glanced at O'Loughlin, but didn't seem
"That's great, Cole; we'll check it out. Would you be
willing to give us a GSR? In the interest of helping us. Not to be
O'Loughlin frowned at him, but didn't object. A gun
shot residue test would show them whether or not I had recently fired a
gun--if I hadn't washed my hands or worn gloves.
O'Loughlin checked his watch as if he suspected this
was going to be a waste of time, but here we were and there was the dead
man. Diaz called over a criminalist, and had me sign a waiver stating I
knew my rights and was cooperating without coercion. The criminalist
rubbed two cloth swabs over my left and right hands, then dropped each
into its own glass tube. While the criminalist worked, I gave Pardy Joe
Pike's name and number to confirm the call, then asked O'Loughlin if
they made the murder for a botched robbery. He checked his watch again
as if answering me was just another waste of time.
"We don't make it for anything right now. We're
six blocks from Skid Row, Cole. We have more murders down here than any
other part of the city. These people will kill each other over six cents
or a blow job, and every goddamned murder clears the same. He sure as
hell wasn't carrying government secrets."
No, he was carrying news stories about me.
"Sounds like you've got it figured out."
"If you'd seen as many killings down here as me, you'd
have it figured, too."
O'Loughlin suddenly realized he was talking too much and
seemed embarrassed. He glanced at Diaz.
"Kelly, you good with letting Jeff have the lead on
this? It'll be a good learning experience."
"Fine by me."
"You good with that, Jeff?"
"You bet. I'm on it."
Pardy turned away to call over the coroner's people,
and O'Loughlin went with him. Two morgue techs broke out a gurney and
began setting it up. I studied the body again. His clothes were worn but
clean, and his face wasn't burned dark like the people who live on the
streets. When I glanced up at Diaz, she was staring at him, too.
"He doesn't look homeless."
"He's probably fresh out of detention. That's good news
for us; his prints will be in the system."
The alley was a long block between commercial
storefronts and an abandoned hotel. The letters from the old neon
'hotel' sign loomed over the dark street. I could read the hotel's faded
name painted on the bricks--Hotel Farnham. But without the police
lights, it would have been impossible to read. The darkness bothered me.
The body was a good sixty feet from the near street, so he either took a
short cut he knew well or came with someone else. It would have been
scary to come this way alone.
"It was you who found him?"
"I was over on Grand when I heard the shot--one cap. I
ran past at first, but I heard him flopping around in here and there he
was. I tried to get a handle on the bleeding, but it was too much. It
was awful, man . . . Jesus."
She raised her hands like she was trying to get them
out of the blood, and I saw they were shaking. The clothes she wore were
probably spares from another cop's trunk. She had probably changed out
of her bloody clothes in the ambulance and washed with the alcohol. She
probably wanted to throw away her blood-soaked clothes, but she was a
cop with a cop's pay so she would wash them herself when she got home,
then have them dry-cleaned and hope the blood came out. Diaz turned
away. The coroner techs had their gurney up, and were pulling on latex
I said, "No wallet?"
"No, they got it. All he had were the clippings, a
nickel, and two pennies."
She suddenly sighed, and seemed anxious and tired.
"Nothing. Look, you can take off, Cole. I want to
finish up and get home to bed. It's been a long night."
I didn't move.
"He mentioned me by name?"
"What did he say?"
"I don't remember exactly, something about trying to
find you, but I was asking what happened--I was asking about the
shooter. He said he had to find his son. He said he had come all this
way to find his boy, and he never met you, but he wanted to make up the
lost years. I asked him who, and he told me your name. Maybe that isn't
exactly what he said, but it was something like that."
She glanced at me again, then looked back at his body.
"Listen, Cole, I've arrested people who thought they
were from Mars. I've busted people who thought they were on Mars. You
heard O'Loughlin--we got bums, junkies, drunks, crackheads,
schizophrenics, you name it, down here. You don't know what kind of
mental illness this guy had."
"But you still have to clear me."
"If you were home all night, don't worry about it.
He'll be in the system. I'll let you know when the CI pulls a name."
I turned away from the body and saw Pardy staring at
me. His pinched face looked intent.
"It's not necessary, Diaz. Don't bother."
"You sure? I don't mind."
"Okay, well, whatever; your call."
I started back to my car, but she stopped me.
"I read the articles. That was some hairy stuff, man,
what you did saving that boy. Congratulations."
I walked away without answering, but stopped again when
I reached the yellow tape. Diaz had joined O'Loughlin and Pardy as the
coroner's people bagged the body.
She and Pardy both turned. Rigor had frozen the corpse.
The techs leaned hard on the arms to fold them into the bag. A hand
reached out from the dark blue plastic like it was pointing at me. They
pushed it inside and pulled the zipper.
"When you get the ID, let me know."
I left them to finish their job.