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Excerpt from L.A Heat

L.A. Heat won the best Mystery/Thriller Rainbow Award for 2009. Here's an excerpt from this winning novel.


Saturday, 12:25 a.m., North San Miguel Road, Eagle Rock, Los

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

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."

"Get him."

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

"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.

"Laine here."

"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

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,

"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

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

"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."

"Scary thought."

"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

"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.

David met Teresa's eyes. "Like the others."

"'Fraid so."

"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."

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