copyright Jay Russell 1996. May not be reproduced without permission.
CHAPTER ONE "Mu-thu-fuck-a!" "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 truck?" "It's on the way. There were some more drive-bys early this morning and the coroner's all backed up from the weekend." 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 drizzle. 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. "Witherspoon." "Sir!" 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 down. "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?" Donatelli. "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." "Scumbag." 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 chunks." "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, either." "Huh-boy." "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 Sepulveda?" "Ummmm...." "Uh-oh," Reagan said. "Brolin's there." "Fuck me with a tampon, why don't you? Gargle me with a douche." "Make nice, Lieutenant." "Yeah, yeah." "And Dennis?" "Yo!" "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.