Read an Excerpt
Cut, Paste, Kill
A Lomax & Biggs Mystery
By Marshall Karp
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2010 Mesa Films, Inc.
All rights reserved.
She scraped the salmon croquettes from her dinner plate into the cats' bowl.
Dizzy, the overweight tiger-striped tabby, took one ladylike nibble of the reheated, three-day-old fish, and walked off. Wayne, the black-and-white longhair, was curled up nose to tail in his favorite spot on the window seat. He didn't even pretend to be interested.
"At least try it," she said. "It's got omega-3. It's good for you."
Wayne yawned, the cat equivalent of giving her the finger.
"I know," she said. "If it's so damn healthy, how come I didn't eat it?"
She poured herself a cup of chai, stirred in five packets of Equal, added a splash of nonfat milk, and took a satisfying sip. Coffee gave her the jitters — definitely a handicap when you've got a pair of razor-sharp scissors in your hand. But the black tea had just enough caffeine to give her the kick she needed to work on her scrapbooks long into the night.
She opened a kitchen cabinet and pulled out a three-quart Tupperware storage bowl. Wayne bolted up.
"I figured this would get your testosterone going," she said, laughing.
The lid was opaque, but the kiwi-colored bowl was transparent enough to see what was inside.
Three weeks ago there were twenty. Each one carefully numbered with a fine-point Sharpie.
Numbers six and fifteen had already been pulled.
That left eighteen Ping-Pong balls. Eighteen possible victims.
She swirled the bowl around, and four cat ears went on point as the balls skittered softly against the sides.
"Lotto time," she announced, as if the two smartest cats in Los Angeles needed any further explanation.
Then she shook the bowl vigorously. The little white celluloid spheres ricocheted against the polycarbonate container like a rattlesnake attacking a roll of bubble wrap.
Dizzy and Wayne were at her feet, swiping at her skirt, yowling for her to make her next move.
"Not so catatonic anymore, are we?" she said, trotting out the same old joke the kitties never seemed to get tired of hearing.
She pried off the top of the Tupperware and flung the contents against the kitchen wall.
The cats went batshit.
Dizzy waddled under the kitchen table in hot pursuit of a trio of balls. Wayne headed the other way, pounced on number 14, and sent it scooting under the stove.
Lotto night was traditionally a fish night, and since she had tossed the salmon, she decided to treat herself to some dessert. Ben & Jerry's Phish Food ice cream. She took a pint from the freezer and put it in the microwave for thirty seconds to get it nice and soft.
As soon as the timer dinged, she grabbed a spoon and began digging into the carton of creamy chocolate that was laced with caramel swirls, gooey marshmallows, and little fudge fish.
She sat down at the table, just as both cats, chasing the same ball, collided head-on.
It was a total hoot, and she only wished she could tape it and post it on YouTube. Look everybody ... here are my two cats helping me pick a murder victim. I call it Feline Felons.
It took three minutes before Wayne nosed one ball into a corner and sank his teeth into it.
"We have a winner," she called out to the invisible crowd.
Wayne knew the drill. He hopped up on her lap, unclenched his teeth, and loudly demanded his reward.
"Number eleven," she said, examining the ball.
She lifted the cat from her lap, went back to the cabinet, and removed a Ziploc bag filled with leaves and stems.
"Game, set, match," she said to Dizzy, who was still too busy chasing Ping-Pong balls to know that the contest was over. "Nepeta cataria for everyone."
She opened the bag, grabbed a small fistful of catnip, and sprinkled it on the kitchen floor. Both cats dove in.
She put on a clean pair of white cotton gloves, went to the bedroom, opened her closet, and twisted the dial on the four-hundred-and-seventy-pound AMSEC safe that protected her precious scrapbooks from fire, water, and nosy Parkers.
Each scrapbook was sealed in its own numbered manila envelope. She felt giddy as she removed number eleven from the safe's plush velour interior. Although she had crafted every page of every scrapbook to perfection, she didn't know which book was in which envelope.
That was the whole idea. Random selection. Each scrapbook went into an identical envelope, then the envelopes were shuffled and numbered.
Dizzy and Wayne chose the winner.
Or in this case, the loser.
She closed the four-inch-thick steel door, yanked the handle and listened as the dead bar clanked into the belly of the safe. She twirled the chrome-plated dial and carried the Lotto-winning envelope to the kitchen.
Sitting down at the table, she scraped up the dregs of the ice cream and sucked the spoon dry. "Would you like to see who you picked?" she asked.
But Dizzy and Wayne were too busy licking themselves, licking each other, and rolling around in the intoxicating weed.
She laughed as she tore open the manila envelope. "Stoners," she said.CHAPTER 2
"So, Mike, how's it going?" my father asked, tears streaming down his face. Granted, he was chopping onions, but still, there's something unnerving about watching a grown man cry.
And Big Jim Lomax is a man full grown. Six-foot-four, which is easy enough to verify, and three hundred pounds, which isn't. He's been claiming that same perfect bowling score weight since the Clinton administration, but I'm betting his scale simply ran out of numbers.
"It's going pretty good," I responded. "Terry and I just wrapped up that gangbanger homicide, and we —"
"I don't mean cop stuff. I'm your father, not Internal Affairs. I meant how's your life going?"
"Diana and I have been in the new house for six months. We finally got the painting done, and —"
"Mike, I've seen the house. I've been there fifty times."
"And two of those times you were actually invited."
He ignored the dig. "Okay, so you and Diana feel good about the house," he said. "How do you feel about everything else?"
Considering the fact that I'm a detective, you would think I'd have picked up on the obvious. When Big Jim asks how it's going, he's worse than Internal Affairs. "It" means my relationship with Diana.
I sidestepped the question. "The message you left on my answering machine said 'lunch at one.' It's 1:15, and we haven't been fed yet."
"Great artistry takes time," he said, giving the last onion a final chop. He put the knife down, wiped his eyes with a dish towel, and cleared his nasal passages with a loud wet snort.
"Very appetizing," I said. "You're lucky I work for LAPD and not the Board of Health."
He turned his attention to a bowl that was heaped with raw chopped meat. "So," he said in that tone of voice that lets you know he's tired of waiting for an answer, "how's it going?"
I deflected the question a second time. "And the rest of your message said there would be an announcement of major proportion. The only thing I've seen of major proportion is a pile of ground round the size of a bowling ball. Do you really need that much red meat for six people?"
"Hey, these aren't dinky-ass McDonald's burgers. These are Big Jim's Famous Cajun Cows on a Bun. The recipe calls for one pound per person."
"I hate to put a crimp in your artistry, but Diana and I can't handle your version of spicy," I said.
"What's wrong with it?"
"The last time I ate one of your burgers it burned the hair right off my chest. From the inside. Hold the Cajun on ours."
"Your loss," he said, digging into the bowl and scooping out a mound of beef. He plopped it into a smaller bowl.
"And hold the cow. We'll each have a dinky-ass burger."
"Hold the Cajun, hold the cow, what next, Mike? Hold the bun?"
"The bun is fine," I said, "but I'd be eternally grateful if you'd hold the transparent questions about my love life."
"Moi?" The three-hundred-pound cherub grinned. "Transparent? I was trying to be subtle, but that never works with you. So here's the question in five words. How's it going with Diana?"
"And here's the answer in five words: none of your business."
"That's four words."
"Do you really need the fifth word? Here's a hint. It starts with an F."
"You guys have a great relationship. I'm just curious if you have any plans to, like, maybe permanentize it?"
"Yeah. We're reading Permanentizing for Dummies. I'll keep you posted."
He started working the onions into the beef. "Diana isn't getting any younger, you know," he said. "Her biological clock is spinning like a windmill in a hurricane. And, for the record, so is mine. Your son needs a grandfather who can teach him to play ball, fly a plane, and take apart an engine. Or would you rather he just visit me when I'm in the nursing home, crapping in my diapers and drooling in my oatmeal?"
"I don't have a son," I said.
"That's my point, Mike. You should. It's time."
"Has it escaped you that Diana and I aren't even married?"
"Your mother and I weren't married either, and I got her pregnant."
"Once again, I fail to live up to your legacy."
The kitchen door opened, and Angel came in. Jim married her a few years after my mother died. My mom was a movie stuntwoman, tall and athletic, with red hair, fair skin, and classic Irish features. Angel is tiny, and her features are classic South of the Border: black hair, dark eyes, and caramel skin.
She walked up to Jim, her head barely reaching his chest. "Are you going to come outside and grill the hamburgers, or are you going to stay in here and grill your son?"
"You're way off base," he said. "We're just having a pleasant father-son chat."
She smiled at me. "He was sticking his nose into your personal life again, wasn't he, Mike?"
"Again? You mean still. And it wasn't just his nose. He was digging with all fours like a prairie dog with an obsessive-compulsive disorder."
She wagged a finger at him. "If we had more time I'd give you the lecture on personal boundaries again, but Marilyn and Terry are here and we're all hungry."
"Terry's here?" Jim said. "Good. At least I'll have someone to talk to who actually likes me."
The truth is, everyone likes my father. It's his style that can drive people a little nuts. His goal is to make people happy. The problem is Big Jim Lomax never bothers to ask what would make you happy. He decides for you. If he sees an old lady standing on a corner, he'll stop traffic and carry her across the street. It doesn't matter if she's screaming, "Put me down, you overgrown idiot. I was waiting for a bus."
He's all heart and no tact. I love him, but since I'm the one whose life he most enjoys trying to fix, I spend a lot of time trying to keep him at bay.
Jim, Angel, and I carried the food out to the backyard. It was late spring, so the place smelled of bougainvilleas and diesel fuel.
The flowers change with the seasons. The oil smell is year-round.
Jim is a trucker. He started out working for the movie studios as a driver. Early on, he realized that the people who rented out the cars and trucks to the film crews made more money than the people who drove them. Today he owns more than fifty equipment trucks, star trailers, and limos. At any given time, a lot of them are scattered over his four-acre spread in Riverside.
I put the food on the table, said hello to Terry and Marilyn, then headed over to Diana.
She looked spectacular — blond, tan, and at forty-three, totally hot. When my wife, Joanie, died I couldn't imagine ever loving another woman. I was wrong. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Diana Trantanella. I was about to put my arm around her when my cell phone rang.
There are only four people who would call my cell on a Sunday. Three of them were here. That left Brendan Kilcullen, my boss.
I answered. "It's a beautiful Sunday afternoon, Lieutenant. I'd have thought you'd be out on the golf course."
"I was," he said. "Until the watch commander called. That's the thing about homicide, Lomax. It hunts you down, even when you're about to birdie the seventh hole. A woman was stabbed to death at The Afton Gardens Hotel. I need you and your partner on the case now. Do you know where he is?"
"Yes sir. Detective Biggs is ten feet away, contemplating suicide."
"I'm not in the mood for comedy," Kilcullen said. "Tell him to put his gun down, and —"
"It's not a gun," I said. "It's a cholesterol bomb. Should I tell him to cancel his lunch plans?"
"Lunch, dinner, Christmas, Easter. You two don't eat till you solve it. From what the watch commander tells me, this one is high profile."
"They're all high profile, boss. In Hollywood, even the murder victims are celebrities. What's the dead woman's claim to fame? Big screen, small screen, or straight-to-DVD?"
"None of the above. She's more of an O. J. Simpson type."
"She's a sports star?"
"No," Kilcullen said. "She killed someone last year and got away with it."CHAPTER 3
"Lunch will have to wait," I said. "That was Kilcullen. Terry and I have a date with a hot chick, and she's getting colder by the minute."
The three women took it in stride. Marilyn and Diana, because they're used to having their plans sandbagged by a homicide call, and Angel, because living with Big Jim is like training for the Who-Knows-What-The-Hell-Will-Happen-Next Olympics.
"We can go to Riverside Plaza," Angel said. "Chico's has some cute new summer tops."
"I'm game," Marilyn said.
"What about those of us who already have all the cute new summer tops we need?" Big Jim asked. "What am I supposed to do with six pounds of raw meat?"
"Knowing you, it won't go to waste," I said. "But Terry and I will take one car and be back as soon as we can for dinner and our womenfolk."
"And your father's big surprise," Diana said, putting her arm around as much of Jim's size XXXXX-L back as she could.
Jim softened. "At least somebody cares about my feelings. The problem with —"
Terry was already in the car, with the Kojak light flashing. He hit the siren and cut Jim off.
"Can't hear you, Dad. Gotta run." I jumped in the car.
"What have we got?" Terry asked as we peeled out.
"Woman stabbed to death at The Afton Gardens Hotel."
"That's the little hotel a few blocks from our office," Terry said.
"Yeah, it would have been incredibly convenient if we were at work, instead of an hour away, about to eat lunch."
"Forty minutes with lights and sirens," Terry said. "As for lunch, open these." He handed me a large bag of sour-cream-and-cheddar potato chips.
I flipped the bag over to look at the nutritional chart. "Wow, only a hundred and sixty calories and ten grams of yummy fat per ounce."
"Hey, I knew we were going to go hungry, so I grabbed it off the table. It was the healthiest snack he had."
"One three-hundred-pound Lomax is enough," I said, rolling down the window and flipping the bag onto the highway. "You can order room service when we get to the hotel."
"I don't think I can afford it. The Afton Gardens is pretty la-di-freaking-dah," he said. "We've had to send a couple of units out there for the occasional Drunk and Disorderly, but it's not the kind of hotel where you get a homicide."
"Kilcullen said we're dealing with a high-profile victim."
"That narrows it down to everyone in show business," he said. "Including Oprah's hairdresser."
"According to Kilcullen this woman's not in the biz."
"How else do you get to be high profile in LA?"
"She killed someone."
"Well, there's your motive," he said. "Who did she kill?"
"He didn't give me any details. You know Kilcullen. He just wants you to think this is the biggest case you ever caught."
"I'm hoping it'll be the fastest. Those burgers your father was whipping up looked like a meal and a half."
"The burgers weren't all he was whipping. Before you and Marilyn got there he was on my case about his new favorite subject."
"Ah yes ... dropping little hints about grandkids?"
"He's done with hints. He brought out the big guns. He made it clear that Diana's biological clock is running out of juice, and that the bus that's taking him to the nursing home is double-parked outside."
"Knowing your father the way I do, I'd say that borders on subtlety," Terry said. "So what's this big announcement he's going to lay on us? Marilyn thinks he's going to retire."
"Fat chance. Big Jim has been renting and driving film trucks for forty years. It's the cushiest job in the world. He drives to a location, sits around doing nothing all day, then when the crew wraps, he drives back. If he retired, he would still sit around doing nothing; only he wouldn't get paid for it."
"So what do you think this big announcement is?"
"I don't know, but if I'm lucky, there's one thing he can say that would make me deliriously happy."
"'Great news, everybody — I've decided to take a vow of silence.'"
Excerpted from Cut, Paste, Kill by Marshall Karp. Copyright © 2010 Mesa Films, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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