The Empty House
Temecula, California

     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 street.
     "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 is bullshit.”
     “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 times.
     "Police officer. Frank Padilla with the police. Anyone home?"
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 something."
     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 murderer.
     “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 the dicks.
     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 bedrooms.
     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 help."
     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 girl.
     "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 now."
     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.
     “She okay?”
     Padilla nodded, fearful that speaking might disturb her.
     “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 forward.
     "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 do anything.”
     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 crossed himself.
     Padilla whispered, "I'll pray for you."
     He turned and went back into the house.

Next of Kin


     They 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 answered anyway.
     "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 sunglasses?"
     "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 car."
     I closed my eyes, letting the pressure fade.
     "I don't know anything about it. What makes you think I know?"
     "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 spoken.
     "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 familiar?"
     "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."
     "I don't."
     "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 darkness.
     "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 the news."
     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 before."
     "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 father?"
     "Why would total strangers think I'd loan them money?"
     Pardy said, "Were you down here or anywhere near here tonight?"
     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?"
     "Ask him."
     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 particularly impressed.
     "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 adversarial."
     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 gloves.
     I said, "No wallet?"
     "No, they got it. All he had were the clippings, a nickel, and two pennies."
     "No keys?"
     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?"
     "That's right."
     "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."
     "I'm sure."
     "Okay, well, whatever; your call."
     I started back to my car, but she stopped me.
     "Hey, Cole?"
     "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.


Contents of this web site are copyright 2017 by Robert Crais.
Photo of Robert Crais by Greg Gorman
Website designed and maintained by Dovetail Studio