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"Where's the rest of him?" Special Agent Parson rasped, his throat tight with anxiety. He thought he had seen everything in his line of work--until today.
Before him, the upper half of US Senator Alexander Brockett sprawled in his own congealing blood.
Some ten feet away, a young blond LAPD lieutenant, his face an ashen mask, pointed at the rest of the dead body, from the waist down, that lay next to the immaculately pruned shrubs.
The drying blood had turned the green blades of grass around the corpse a muddy color under the relentless afternoon sun.
"Did some nut take an ax to him?" asked Parson and coughed on the sulfurous smog.
"That's what we thought at first but hotel guests said they heard a shot." The square-jawed lieutenant gestured toward the glitzy pink Beverly Hills Hotel that loomed behind him. He walked a few yards along the front lawn toward a squat palm. "Then we found this."
He stared at a bloody lump close to the palm's bole.
Parson eyeballed the lump. It did not look like anything recognizable. "What is it?"
He stooped to get a better look at it, his trousers cutting into his potbelly and eliciting a wince of discomfort from him.
"Don't touch it," said the lieutenant.
"Forensics should be here any minute."
"I doubt you'll get any prints off it."
"We'll try anyway. We don't want the media blasting us for incompetence," said the lieutenant, his voice evincing the disgust he felt for the bloodsucking media ghouls that would descend on the scene in no time.
Parson grimaced at the lump. "What the hell is it?"
"I didn't know either. The sergeant told me what it is."
"Yeah?" Parson impatiently waited for the lieutenant to tire of building the suspense.
"He's an arms buff. He collects antique weapons. Says it's chain shot."
"Never heard of it."
The lieutenant nodded all-knowingly, as though he had expected Parson's answer, and commenced his explanation.
"Our guys used it in the Revolutionary War. You fire it out of a musket and it'll cut a man in half at fifty yards."
The lieutenant sounded impressed, Parson decided, but he could not decide if the lieutenant was impressed with himself for his newfound knowledge or with the destructive power of the chain shot.
"Can you use it on trees?" Parson asked.
The lieutenant ignored Parson's feeble attempt at gallows humor. "If you look closely, you'll see it's a length of fine chain coiled there and coated with gore and spinal fragments."
Parson rose miserably. "I don't plan on eating it." His knees were killing him.
"I'd say it's about two feet long."
So what? Parson was thinking. "Why would anyone use chain shot to kill the senator?" Figure that out and you would be well on your merry way to catching the killer.
The lieutenant shrugged. "You tell me. You're the Bureau man. I'm just an overworked, underpaid cop."
"The CIA's gonna butt in on this too. Senator Brockett was on the Senate Intelligence Committee."
In the offing, an ambulance drove at speed down Sunset Boulevard, its siren shrieking in crescendo. Driven by paramedics, it keened toward the hotel lobby.
Even as a camera crew in a TV news van tailgated the lurching ambulance, a cameraman trained a Minicam out the van's open passenger window on the paramedics.
Parson disappeared into the shadows. He did not want TV exposure till he had good news to report.