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When Katherine V. Forrest’s Amateur City was published in 1984, introducing LAPD detective Kate Delafield, it not only marked the beginning of one of mystery fiction’s most successful series, it also created one of the most lucrative genres in gay publishing: the lesbian mystery. With her next six Kate Delafield novels, Forrest’s complex and determined lesbian detective became the most celebrated figure in lesbian fiction. Alyson is proud to present the first and second Kate Delafield mysteries, back in print and...
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When Katherine V. Forrest’s Amateur City was published in 1984, introducing LAPD detective Kate Delafield, it not only marked the beginning of one of mystery fiction’s most successful series, it also created one of the most lucrative genres in gay publishing: the lesbian mystery. With her next six Kate Delafield novels, Forrest’s complex and determined lesbian detective became the most celebrated figure in lesbian fiction. Alyson is proud to present the first and second Kate Delafield mysteries, back in print and ready to captivate a new generation of fans!
In Murder at the Nightwood Bar, Kate investigates the murder of a homeless 19-year-old addict-prostitute, whose battered body is found outside a popular lesbian bar.
In addition to penning the legendary Kate Delafield mystery series, -Katherine V. Forrest has written the lesbian romantic classic Curious Wine and the science fiction novels Daughters of a Coral Dawn and Daughters of an Amber Noon. She lives in San Francisco.
"So tell me about this bar, Ed." She addressed her partner, Detective Ed Taylor, as she angled the Plymouth between the three black-and-whites blocking the road curving away from the street. "This close to the station, it must be one of your hangouts."
"You're kidding, right?" Taylor opened his door and peered up a steeply rising driveway leading to a shrubbery enclosed parking lot. "Private club, gotta be. Anybody'd be nuts to hide a bar up there." Taylor pulled his bulk out of the car and straightened his yellow and green checked jacket. "The Nightwood Bar," he said. "Sounds depressing as hell."
Kate got out and hooked her leather-backed badge over the breast pocket of her jacket. Automatically she reached under the jacket to adjust her shoulder holster, thinking that she liked the name of the bar. The name felt weighted, significant.
She looked down the familiar Los Angeles street with newly perceptive eyes, assessing it as the focal point of the coming investigation. Across La Brea, on the corner, a bright yellow fast food restaurant offered fried chicken and biscuits and gravy. The rest of that side of the block was fenced in with wire and dominated by a long garage of adobe and frame, so immaculately white it might have been a hospital ward for the damaged cars crowded around it. On La Brea itself, the stream of cars slowed only momentarily at the sight of police vehicles splayed all over the off-street area.
Kate turned her attention to her own side of the block, stepping back to survey it, ignoring the knots of staring onlookers behind traffic barricades and yellow police tape. She spotted Deems and Foster half-hidden by a black-and-white, their blue-clad backs to her, questioning two swarthy young men of obvious Middle Eastern descent whose gestures eloquently conveyed bewilderment.
On one side of the steep driveway leading up the hill a dress shop was closed this early Sunday evening, as was the travel agency next to it. On the other side of the driveway, below the motel, a car rental agency and a mail box rental office were still open; the gaping window of an adjoining storefront displayed a For Rent sign. At each end of the block two other businesses catered to the automobile, one specializing in repairs to Volkswagens and Audis, the other selling brakes and shocks. A typical block on this section of La Brea in LAPD's Wilshire division-except for one element.
Kate examined the Casbah Motel, thinking that as many times as she had driven this street she had never really seen the motel for the anomaly it was amid all the varied small businesses and fast food restaurants on La Brea. It was built on the side of the hill, the exotic name contradicting the staid appearance: simple wide slat frame, dark brown, with a broad horizontal stripe of lighter paint running along under the second story windows. Tropical shrubs and palm trees with the thick, dusty, settled look of long existence decorated its street-facing side. A small cafe fronted the motel, the words Turkish Food on a sign the shape of a fez. Twenty-four units at most, Kate guessed, and none of that almost palpable sleaziness of the sex-for-an-hour motels. To her knowledge, the Casbah Motel was not among the Division's hot spots.
Apparently the parking lot on the hill served the motel, the cafe, and the Nightwood Bar. Kate ducked under the yellow tape and walked up the steep hill, pressing her slick-soled shoes firmly into the rough asphalt for better traction, grinning at Taylor's wheezes of exertion.
A coffee-brown frame building with a roof of black-brown shingles was separated from the parking lot by an expanse of brilliant white ornamental rock. Clusters of low fir trees grew out of the crushed rock, vivid green against their background. The lone front window was lit with neon letters in lavender script: The Nightwood Bar.
"Weird," Taylor commented, "but nice and neat."
The parking lot, containing perhaps a dozen of so vehicles on its motel side, extended back and behind the Nightwood Bar, a section of the lot not visible from where Kate stood. Several dozen spectators, presumably patrons of the hillside businesses, were clustered across from this section on the motel side, behind another barricade of yellow police tape. Kate rounded the far corner of the dark wood building, and stopped.
Like any other crime scene, the area had been cordoned off. Less typically, there was no designated pathway to the corpse, a figure in white at which Kate cast only a gauging glance. An asphalt parking lot did not present the same problems of scene preservation as a vacant lot or a public street but, Kate thought disapprovingly, precautions were no less vital. Stepping to the edge of the waist-high yellow tape stretching from the corner of the Nightwood Bar to the Casbah Motel, she evaluated the area.
The crime scene was a rectangle accessible from only two sides-the parking lot and the back door of the Nightwood Bar. The parking lot was separated from the heavily wooded hillside by a high redwood fence along its side and outer perimeter. Within the rectangle were three objects: a trash dumpster, a beige Volkswagen van of sixties vintage with its side door slid back, and the white-clad corpse.
"Sergeant Hansen," Kate called to the knot of police officers gathered around the back door of the Nightwood Bar. The stolid Hansen nodded to Kate and Taylor and made his way over. "I want a path." She gestured. "Diagonal, from that end."
He nodded again. "We waited to see what you and Ed wanted, Kate. The bar owner found the victim, Deems and Foster took the call, I looked at her. Then we sealed it all off."
"Good work, Fred. Excellent." As team supervisor she was pleased to have an apparently intact crime scene, and pleased she had not begun this investigation with criticism, even if Hansen's history of misconceived police procedure warranted such criticism.
Hansen looked at his clipboard. "We don't have much yet. The victim is Dory Quillin." He spelled both names. "Twenty-one, the bar owner says. Doesn't look it, though. She looks-"
Hansen's voice seemed higher pitched than usual and Kate glanced up from her notebook. His eyes were focused on a spot somewhere over her shoulder. He said, "I don't know, Christ, she looks like-she's just a kid."
The usually dour Hansen had been involved with innumerable investigations of deaths of young victims. Obviously, something about this homicide had touched him under the toughened defenses of his fourteen years in police work. She knew he did not welcome this vulnerability any more than she would. She said briskly, "So what else have we got?"
Hansen again looked down at his clipboard. "Crushed left temple." His voice strengthened. "Baseball bat, it's at the scene. Aluminum."
"Recent?" Taylor had not looked up from his notebook.
"An hour at the very outside, from the look of her. And she'd just returned from playing baseball. She-" Hansen broke off.
Taylor said impatiently, "So? We got suspects? Witnesses?"
Again Hansen's eyes focused on the spot beyond Kate's shoulder. "Lots of possible witnesses. All of them women, all of them patrons of this bar, Ed." He waited until Taylor looked up at him. Then he gestured toward the Nightwood Bar. "It's a ... women's place."
Involuntarily, Kate turned to stare at the Nightwood Bar. A lesbian bar. She hadn't been in such a place in years, years and years, since....
She wrenched herself back, concentrating on Hansen's words. "We've interviewed everyone, taken names and drivers license numbers, done field interviews-the FI's aren't much help. Except for the bar owner, everybody's uncooperative."
Taylor scratched his head, then pulled strands of lank blond hair across his bald spot. "What about Deems? Would they talk to Deems?"
"With her they got hostile."
Taylor groaned and rolled his eyes. "I don't care if they're lesbians. I don't give a fart if they're Martians. Why does everybody have to be so goddam nuts?"
"Any persecuted minority," Hansen intoned as if quoting from a text, "tends to act with hostility toward the symbols of its persecution."
"Shit," Taylor snorted.
Kate grinned at him. However gracelessly, the issue of what these women were had been brought quickly into the open, and she was grateful. She said to Hansen, "But the bar owner did talk to you?"
Hansen glanced at his clipboard. "Magda Schaeffer." He spelled the names. "I got that from her business permits, not from her. She got a little more cooperative when I suggested there might be grounds for busting her." Hansen's face again took on grimness. "For serving minors. The victim, Kate, if she's twenty-one I'm-"
"False ID," Taylor said in a bored tone. "Bet we find it on her. Got anything else? Where she lives?"
"Right there." Hansen pointed to the van. "The Schaeffer woman says she parked it here mostly, of at the beach."
Kate studied the battered vehicle. "We'll impound it. Parents? Relatives?"
"Parents-West Hollywood, the Schaeffer woman thinks. The other women here claim to know the victim only casually. And that's all we've got so far."
Kate looked at the Casbah Motel, its L-shape framing the opposite side of the parking lot, and at the blank squares of beige curtained windows. She gestured. "Who've you got over there, Fred?"
"Davis and Ploski."
"Deploy every officer you can spare, I'm sure they'll allow us a permissive search. Have them interview everybody they can find. A motel, Sunday night-people will be checking out. Get addresses. Make sure you have the license plates of every single vehicle in this lot and in the off-street area down on La Brea. The motel registration, we can work with that, too." She said to Taylor, "Let's get started here, before we have the lab people all over the scene."
In her notebook she made a quick sketch of the rectangle, the position of the dumpster, the van, the body. She recorded the time she and Taylor had arrived, 7:13 pm, and the date, June 16, 1985, and the approximate temperature, 70 degrees.
Skirting the edge of the yellow tape, moving past spectators who shrank back as if to avoid infection, Kate and Taylor walked to the far end of the rectangle. Kate entered first, Taylor waiting for her signal. She moved carefully, in a straight line toward the van, scrutinizing the ground with each step.
The parking lot was unusually clean. A few scraps of fast food wrappers had drifted against the fence, but most of the debris had blown in off the hillside-leaves, pine needles, twigs, deposited in patterns by eddies of wind. She bent several times to examine cigarette butts and match sticks ground into the pavement, days old from their state of decay. The killer or killers had left a signature-all killers did-but it was unlikely, Kate reflected, that that signature would be found here in the open.
As she glanced around at what appeared to be the usual oil stains on pavement, her glance froze on staring silver-blue eyes.
Dory Quillin's face was the color of pale wax, framed by white-blonde hair so fine it stirred in the faint evening breeze. The delicately wrought face, the small, tender mouth, reminded Kate of the exquisite perfection of an infant's features. But it was the wide silver-blue eyes that held Kate; they stared at her in supplication, in bewilderment.
Kate tore her own eyes away. Composing herself, reminding herself that the descent into death could freeze features into any configuration, she completed her scrutiny of the oil stains. Concentrating on placement of her steps, so crucial to the preservation and collection of evidence, she halted before the body.
The white clothing was a baseball uniform, a black stripe down the side of the pants, no lettering on the front of the jersey. Both arras were outstretched and both legs drawn up, the cleats caught in the pavement, as if Dory Quillin's last act had been an attempt to rise, to reach for her killer. And with those outstretched arms and that unbelieving face, she had died....
A kid, Hansen had said in his inarticulate, unwilling grief. Her white clothing added the greater symbolism of innocence to her youth and beauty. And those eloquent eyes told Kate that she could not comprehend her betrayal.
At a cautious distance Kate lowered herself to one knee. Dory Quillin's head was in three-quarter profile, the trauma to the left side partly concealed but graphically conveyed by the liquid pool that lay darkly under the declivity along the angle of forehead. Kate did not have to see the entire wound to know how it would look, the swollen edges, the surrounding tissues filled and black with blood.
Wishing with all her soul that she could reach over and close those unbelieving silver-blue eyes, Kate forced herself to examine her. No visible marks on any of the exposed skin, and the baseball uniform seemed to be intact; apparently there had been no added violation of Dory Quillin. She wore a digital wrist watch with a plastic strap-worth no more than a few dollars, Kate judged-and a pinky ring. The palms of both hands were upturned, and Kate could not determine if the ring had a stone of value. The short rope chain around the neck was gold. The jaw and neck, places where rigor mortis usually began, appeared still soft and pliant. Skin surfaces were insufficiently visible for telltale bluish or reddish signs, but lividity seemed unlikely.
Hansen was right; this homicide had occurred very recently. The killer of this woman-child could not be very far away. Perhaps even right here, in that crowd of avidly staring faces across the parking lot. As she signaled for Taylor to join her, she studied and committed their faces to memory. She would have Shapiro, who would arrive momentarily, work in some shots of them as he photographed the general area.
She watched Taylor following her path, placing his big awkward feet down carefully, double-checking, as he was supposed to, the terrain she had already studied. Then she watched him look down at Dory Quillin, watched him push his fleshy lips in and out. Ordinarily she only mildly disliked Taylor's gallows humor at a death scene; it distracted, lessened some of the grimness and tension. But if he offered any ghastly joke now, she vowed she would hate him forever.
He looked up at her silently; and his soft brown eyes mirrored mourning.
She said quietly, "All of us ate supposed to be God's children. She looks like one."
"We're all God's assholes." His voice was a resonant growl. "Of we wouldn't do the shit we do."
She turned toward the van. An aluminum bat lay in its shadow. She looked at the bare metal of the handle.
Excerpted from Murder at the Nightwood Bar by Katherine V. Forrest Copyright © 1987 by Katherine V. Forrest
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.