copyright Jay Russell 1996. May not be reproduced without permission.

           CHAPTER ONE

          "Man!  There be dead and there be dead, but that
     motherfucking shit is fucking dead."
          Dennis Reagan looked up from the bloated corpse.  A
     couple of bums -- homeless people, he reminded himself -- had
     wandered right through the cordoned perimeter and flanked him
     as they evaluated the body. 
          "Ain't got no balls t'all" the shorter one said.
          "Maybe born like that," the other suggested.
          "Whachoo mean born like that?  Motherfucker born wit'out
     no fucking balls?  Suppose he born wit all them holes, too? 
     Huh, motherfucker?  Born wit the eyes torn out his head.  That
     what you think?"
          "Jes sayin' could be.  Ain't sayin' t'is."
          "McKean!  Morrison!" Reagan yelled.  He glanced
     pleadingly at the sky, but saw only the thick morning
     overcast.  The fine rain picked up again and Reagan took it as
     a snide response to his unspoken prayer.
          The uniformed patrolmen tramped across the filthy sand. 
     They came to a semblance of attention in front of Reagan,
     trying mightily and none too successfully to avoid eyeballing
     the corpse.
          "Sir!" they said in unison.
          "Would you get these bums out of here, please?" Reagan
     said.  "And let's see if we can't keep the fans in the
     bleachers?  I mean, let's at least pretend we know how to
     follow procedure."
          "Homeless individuals, sir," Morrison said.
          "What?" Reagan whispered.
          "Homeless individuals.  Per current departmental
     directive, 'homeless individuals' is the officially..."
          "Jumping-Jesus-on-a-trampoline!" Reagan shrieked.  "Just
     get them the fuck out of here."
          "Yes sir," the patrolmen again chorused, and prodded the
     two raggedy men back toward Ocean Avenue.
          The voices faded into the distance as Witherspoon
     reappeared, keeping his back to the body.  He looked deathly
     pale despite his tan, his thick hair disheveled.  Why don't
     the assholes ever go thin on top? Reagan wondered. 
     Witherspoon had left his jacket and tie in the car, but
     several tell-tale vomit stains dotted the front of his shirt
     and bits of barf-encrusted sand stuck to a moist patch on his
     right shoe.
          "Comedy team," Reagan mused, shaking his head.
          "The homeless individuals?"
          Reagan looked to see if Witherspoon was making fun of
     him, but the young sergeant seemed dead serious.  "Yeah,"
     Reagan said, "them, too."
          "Sir..." Witherspoon started.
          "Forget it," Reagan said.
          "It's just that..."
          "I said forget it.  It happens.  What about the meat
          "It's on the way.  There were some more drive-bys early
     this morning and the coroner's all backed up from the
          Reagan nodded.  The gang shit was out of control.  Again. 
     Twenty or more homicides every weekend.  Drive-bys, turf wars,
     random thrill-kills and endless Tunnel inspired lunacy.  And
     not just in South-Central anymore.  Shootings were up thirty
     percent over last year on Reagan's own Venice beat.  And the
     media -- the fucking media, Reagan corrected himself -- were
     having a field day with it.  The blow-dry pundits -- who,
     Reagan noted, never suffered with receding hairline either --
     were set on chewing the department a juicy new asshole. 
     Especially when it came to Tunnel.  You couldn't turn on a
     television without some square-jawed pretty boy whining about
     how Tunnel was tearing apart the fabric of society.  Christ! 
     Had they already forgotten about crack?  Whatever happened to
     the good old days?
          And as long as the fucking media stayed obsessed, it was
     priority-one with the downtown suits who lived and died by the
     holy grace of the six o'clock news.
          Reagan glanced back at the corpse through the thin
          He couldn't believe this one didn't connect with the
     gangs.  Reagan hadn't made the tube for months and he needed a
     ticket.  Hell, he'd only intercepted the call from Herbst
     because it sounded like a sure thing.  But the victim looked
     lousy for it: too white, too old and no signature.  When the
     gangbangers did a number like this, they signed their
     handiwork in letters big as the Hollywood sign. 
          No, this was shit and Reagan had stepped in deep.  He
     called for it and now he'd have to live with it. 
          This one was a top-of-the-line sicko job and that meant
     silence.  No press, restricted logs, everyone on a need-to-know basis.
     Strict departmental policy: no upsetting the citizens any more than
     necessary.  Not with all the gang craziness and certainly not after the
     department's less than keen handling of the last couple of serial killers.
     And to top it off, he'd probably have to liaison with the goddamn
     Bureau.  There was nothing worse than working with that
     stick-up-their-lily-white-ass bunch.
          Correction: one thing worse.  Reagan had been saddled
     with a chuckle-headed partner.  "Special Duty," they told him. 
     Special bullshit was more like it.  Nephew of Captain Alton
     "Pencil-dick" Witherspoon of IAD.  At first Reagan thought
     that the kid had been sicced on him as a wandering eye for
     Internal Affairs.  But a week of partnering convinced him that
     ol' Pencil-dick had probably been desperate to get rid of the
     moron.  Reagan was just unlucky enough to be the jackass the
     tail got pinned on.
          "Keep an eye on our friend until the coroner gets here. 
     I need smokes."
          Reagan started toward the row of tacky souvenir shops and
     fast food stands along the pier, but a patrolman flagged him
          "Call for you, Lieutenant."
          Reagan sighed and popped a breath mint in his mouth.  He
     slipped behind the wheel of his unmarked Chevy and dabbed at
     his face and thinning hair with a dirty towel he kept in back. 
     It was raining hard.  What a summer this was turning out to
     be.  Reagan picked up the phone.
          "Yeah.  Reagan."
          "What d'you got there, Denny-boy?"
          "Raining like an open tap.  Humid too.  Christ, it's
     slick as the mayor's smile out here.  I just know I'm going to
     catch a cold and there's nothing worse than a summer cold. 
     Must be that global warming or something."
          "It's rough, I know.  I can see the raindrops through the
     window.  Can't hear it above the air conditioning, though."
          There was a burst of something: laughter, static. 
          "So what's the story," Donatelli came back.
          "We got us one ugly stiff.  A floater.  Everything you
     ever wanted in a hack-job and then some.  The nephew blew
          "A Witherspoon from balls to ass.  Talk to me about the
     stiff, Dennis.  Paint me a picture with words."
          "The body's been in the water at least overnight.  Maybe
     two.  Multiple stab-wounds.  Burns, gouges, skinning.  No
     eyes, no dick.  Somebody partied down on this guy."
          "Does it look like the work of our little friends?"
          Reagan sighed.  "I don't think so, Carmine.  This one is
     pretty nasty even by gangster standards.  Nobody signed it,
          "Talk to me, baby."
          "All right.  We're just coming up to speed on a break-in
     and hack-job at some lab over in Westwood.  I knew you had
     something messy, but first word is that the Westwood job is a
     definite gang-related.  I was hoping they'd be a set.  You
     about wrapped up?"
          "Just waiting on the coroner."
          "Okay.  Why don't you leave the junior G-man to mind the
     store and get your dimpled rear over to Phaedra
     Pharmaceutical.  Big complex off Ohio at Sepulveda.  Take a
     hairy eyeball and let me know if there's any likely match on
     the stiffs."
          "Roger Rabbit.  Hey!  Who's fielding the scene at
          "Uh-oh," Reagan said.
          "Brolin's there."
          "Fuck me with a tampon, why don't you?  Gargle me with a
          "Make nice, Lieutenant."
          "Yeah, yeah."
          "And Dennis?"
          "This one's already leaked.  The animals are swarming all
     over it, so behave yourself."
          "The media you say..."
          "The fucking media," Donatelli corrected.  "You're
     heartbroken, I know.  Just get moving."
          Reagan did.