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The apartment Hayden entered was unremarkable save for the twenty-year-old black female lying half-naked half off a sofa in a pool of her own blood. The once beige carpet was dark, wet, and thick like a sponge against her flesh. Hayden stared at the disfigured body. Seven or eight thrusts with a nine-inch blade, then a cello stroke to her throat.
He went to a corner and observed the body from a distance. Something was off, he thought. She hadn’t landed half off the sofa, she was placed there. And the coffee table had been pulled out by a yard, making the body a centerpiece.
"Morning, Detective." Hayden turned to see Officer Nolan, who had been first on scene. "Her name’s Lori Nichols. Ready for this? Pete Jackson’s niece."
"Councilman Jackson?" That explained why the Chief of Police switched the investigation from West L.A. to Downtown Robbery-Homicide and why there was so much activity in the room.
"Who’s the guy in the car?" Hayden asked.
Hayden moved closer. A sheer black bra barely covered her breasts. She’d bled out a long time from the chest and stomach wounds before the killer slit her throat. He pulled out his notebook to sketch the scene.
Hayden was aware of the many eyes watching him. His first prominent case without Rich at his side. He chewed the inside of his lip as he did when his nerves wore thin, knowing it would be a canker sore by day’s end. It would burn in the mustard from the burger he would eat at Tommy’s and be a white-hot reminder of the anxiety he felt at this moment, when the dead girl’s eyes stared ahead and beyond.
Two uniformed officers peeked over his shoulder. His sketches enjoyed a reputation in the department, looking more like images from a graphic novel than the standard amoebic circle with the words "dead girl" etched inside. His drawings captured the emotion of the event. They gave the victim a voice that called out for justice, sometimes for vengeance. Hay-den wanted to hear that voice, always.
He finished the sketch and observed the room. The party mess was in piles, as if the girl who lived here, the dead girl, preferred order over chaos. She liked neatness but acquiesced to the party on what most likely was her boyfriend’s behalf. There were books quickly shoved under the coffee table—chemistry, social sciences, modern American history, and the speeches of Martin Luther King. A Yellowstone National Park wall calendar noted in neat, girlish writing the days which she worked two different jobs—the Los Angeles Public Library and Denny’s Restaurant—and the times of her classes, dates of midterms and five consecutive skull-and-crossbones that most certainly symbolized her time of the month. There was an American History midterm at ten o’clock the following morning that she would fail.
The front door was wedged open and the ident technicians sauntered in. Hayden noticed the room number on the door—203—in browned-out copper, oxidized by ocean air. He added it to his sketch of the room. His gaze crossed the walls to view inspirational posters—"If you love something set it free" and "Happiness is wanting what you have," with photos of baby eagles launching off the nest and soft footsteps in the sand. Plastic flowers in vases from Target, a magazine holder with copies of O, The Oprah Magazine and Ebony and Time. This was her apartment, she lived here alone. But there was a strong male influence, a boyfriend who stayed often but kept his distance. Hayden saw it in the DVDs piled defiantly on the entertainment center. Bad Boys I and II, The Godfather trilogy, Dead Presidents, Pulp Fiction, Boyz in the Hood, Alien vs Predator. Pushed to the side were titles that shared a different voice, a voice of cautious optimism and hope—Maid in America, Akeelah and the Bee, The Pursuit of Happyness. This girl had dreams, a plan, and Hayden felt that if she had lived another five years her AA degree from Santa Monica City College would have matured into a BS from UCLA. She might even have followed in her uncle’s footsteps.
Hayden ran through a series of questions in his mind. Did the dead girl know her killer? Did the killer crash the party or was he invited? The floor was a mess of bottles—Coors, Michelob, Mickey’s big mouth. Someone with a little taste brought a six-pack of Moretti and two bottles were left unopened on the stereo. Hayden suppressed the urge to crack one, return this place to a party instead of a crime scene.
Did the killer spend the night? Were he and the girl involved? And who was the dead guy in the car?
The kitchen window looked out above the carport where Victim Number One, a black male in his twenties, sat hunched in the front passenger seat of a red Toyota Camry, a 9 mm hole in the back of his head. Hayden ran a scenario: The killer is a friend of the two victims. After the party, the three rode in the Camry to a convenience store. Girl’s driving, killer in the back, Victim Number One in the front passenger seat. Something happens, an argument, or maybe the killer had it planned all along. Pops the guy, tells the girl to keep driving. Marches her up to the apartment. Maybe it was a love triangle. Maybe something else.
The apartment was loaded with prints from the party, but Hayden doubted the killer’s would be found. This guy was careful. The seats and headrests in the Camry had been wiped clean and the 9mm casings removed. He was a cautious killer, but Hayden doubted he was a pro. A pro didn’t fool around with rape, and he didn’t take the time to stage a scene. This was a man who killed for the joy of it. And he would kill again. It wasn’t about the councilman. It was about the look in this girl’s eye when the knife went in, and the sound of her last breath exhaled. And if she hadn’t been the councilman’s niece, the case would’ve stayed at West L.A.
Det. Lawrence Wallace stood watching Hayden from the hallway. Hands in his pockets, leaning against a wall. This mess was his before the chief handed it to Homicide Special. Larry lifted one hand and made a tip-of-the-hat gesture to Hayden. Hayden gave a quick nod. He didn’t feel comfortable taking a case away from Larry. They had known each other since the academy, when the two battled for top honors in the annual Police Action Pistol Shooting Contests. One year the gold medal went to Hayden, the next to Wallace. They shared a friendly competition for years, until Hayden pulled ahead fast, his star rising at a rate that few could match. Things changed after Hayden made Robbery-Homicide. Larry seemed bitter, and the rivalry wasn’t friendly anymore.
Hayden measured the apartment with his footsteps, which led him to a little yellow Art Deco table shaped like a sunflower. Their only witness, the apartment manager, leaned belly-to-elbows on its surface with his butt anchored in a high-back wooden chair. He wore a sleeveless T-shirt, Bermuda shorts, and sandals. His eyes studied Hayden’s Calvin Klein suit, Jerry Garcia silk tie, and burgundy Prada lace-ups.
Officer Ricky Sung, one of the too-many officers on scene, handed Hayden the old man’s driver’s license and a cup of Starbucks. "He lives next door. Shares the northwest wall."
"Any reason he’s sittinginthemiddleofmycrimescene,OfficerSung?" Haydenasked sharply.
Sung’s eyes darted nervously to Wallace.
"He was in the scene when we found him. Detective Wallace didn’t want him moved until Downtown arrived." Sung excused himself. Hay-den could tell that he didn’t want to end up in the middle of a dispute between two strong-willed homicide detectives.
Hayden looked over at Larry, who was easing his way out the front door, playfully slapping the backs of the patrol officers he passed. Larry was a broad-shouldered black man, a bit beefy around the middle, who seemed relaxed and confident among his peers.
There were stories about how Larry acquired the subtle limp in his left leg. Most thought he took an AK-47 round from Phillips or Matasareanu, the two Bank of America robbers who terrorized Van Nuys for fifty long minutes back in ’97, firing over eleven hundred rounds of armor-piercing bullets into an unsuspecting crowd. But Hayden knew the truth. He remembered drinking it up with Larry at McGuire’s Tavern, a pub they frequented back in the day, when Larry revealed how he got plastered in Pamplona, Spain, during the Running of the Bulls. How he fell into the street and was gored in the ass. It was a story Hayden re-spectfully kept to himself.
"I didn’t see anything, if that’s what you’re thinking," the old man chirped from behind him.
"Were you at the party last night, Mister . . ." Hayden read the license Officer Sung had given him. "Sullivan?"
"Yeah, right." The old man coughed.
Sullivan folded his arms, stared across the table at a mound of grape jam caked on the kitchen wall. "I got a pass key. Nobody tells me I can’t open a door."
Hayden was suddenly aware of a change in the room. He looked up to see a woman surveying the crime scene, directing the efforts of a male assistant carrying a stretcher. The assistant appeared uncomfortable viewing the nakedness of the corpse, seemingly drawn to it and repulsed at the same time. But she was all business and had no patience for his naiveté. When she turned, Hayden saw the large yellow letters that spelled out CORONER on the back of her coveralls.
She was petite, perhaps 5'2'', with shoulder-length dark hair pulled back. Her shape was hidden for the job but she was attractive. On a different day, on her day off, she might be wearing a sundress or tennis skirt or miniskirt and tall black leather boots. Hayden could see the form of her breasts beneath the coveralls. They seemed firm and small and he imagined them very white, like powdered sugar.
He pulled himself back into the paperwork, focused on printing Sullivan’s name and address on the field interview card. Caucasian male, age seventy-one. No known aliases. Hayden noticed that he had misspelled Sullivan’s name twice. He took a breath, exhaled slowly, and corrected his mistakes.
He could sense her sensing him, and when she looked his way he released the thin practiced smile and nod that appeared both professional and inviting. She turned away before he could get a read, distracted by a question from her subordinate, and then she was all business again.
He left Sullivan for the time being and worked his way back to the victim. He pulled a tape measure from his pocket and triangulated the body, setting its measurements between two fixed points in the room.
He felt the excitement as he moved toward the coroner’s arena, her workspace. The physical distance between them would now be reduced and their responsibilities would draw them together. If Charlie were the coroner investigator on duty, they’d be joking and making plans for their days off.
"Worked another double homicide about a month ago, just off La Brea and Third," he managed. She was taking her own measurements, maybe didn’t know the comment was made to her. "Charlie took care of that one," he said.
She leaned over the body, strapping the lifeless black legs onto the stretcher, which was in its collapsed position and just inches above the floor. The back of her neck was sweating from the work. Her body moved under the coveralls like a Christmas present over wrapped, you could shake it and feel the contents slipping under the wrapping and wonder what surprise waited inside.
She turned abruptly when he touched her back. "I just need to get past you a minute." He excused himself as he stepped closer to the body. She turned back to her work, unsure. Hayden reached into his jacket pocket and produced an evidence collection envelope and a set of tweezers. He knelt beside the body and shoveled a sample of dark soil into the envelope, holding it open for her to see.
"This doesn’t look like your typical garden soil, does it?"
She turned away. "I’m not a crime scene technician," she answered. Her voice was soft, deeper than he imagined. He sealed the envelope, used a black Sharpie to write its contents on the label.
"You know you look really hot, don’t you?" he whispered, immediately wishing he could take it back. Still, he held his breath for her response.
The question stopped her for a moment as though its meaning, so out of context, might be understood after a little contemplation. He felt her stare on the side of his face as he made his notes. Then she slowly recoiled into herself. She whispered in her associate’s ear and he nodded, glancing at Hayden. She left the apartment and her assistant assumed her duties.
Hayden avoided the man’s look and returned to the kitchen to continue sketching the apartment.
He couldn’t believe he had said that.
He felt his body covered in sweat.
It was starting off to be a long day. A long time before he would feel the burn in his lip from the burger at Tommy’s.
He wondered when he would see her again.
Excerpted from Boulevard by Stephen Jay Schwartz.
Copyright 2009 by Stephen Jay Schwartz.
Published in September 2009 by Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.