"A fresh voice in crime fiction. Fast, funny, heartbreaking and wise...Elouise Norton is the best new character you'll meet this year."--Lee Child
“Hall deserves to be compared to Kathy Reichs or Patricia Cornwell, and it will not be long before she is recognized as every bit as big a crime writing star.”--Daily Mail (UK)
Los Angeles Homicide Detective Elouise Norton encounters her toughest case yet in City of Saviors, the fourth installment in the critically acclaimed mystery series from author Rachel Howzell Hall.
After a long Labor Day weekend, seventy-three-year-old Eugene Washington is found dead in his Leimert Park home. At first blush, his death seems unremarkableheatwave combined with food poisoning from a holiday barbecue. But something in the way Washington died doesn’t make sense. LAPD Homicide Detective Elouise "Lou" Norton is called to investigate the death and learns that the only family Washington had was the 6,000-member congregation of Blessed Mission Ministries, led by Bishop Solomon Tate.
But something wicked is lurking among the congregants of this church.
Lou’s partner, Detective Colin Taggert, thinks her focus on the congregation comes from her distrust of organized religion. But Lou is convinced that the murderer is sitting in one of those red velvet pewsand that Bishop Tate may be protecting the wolf in the flock. Lou must force the truth into the light and confront her own demons in order to save another soul before it’s too late.
"Hall has created a strong and likable African American detective who rivals Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch in grit, intelligence, and tenacity."--Library Journal (starred review)
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The three off-duty, red-faced cops seated in brown vinyl chairs had been broken — by guns, by fists, by life. And at eight o'clock in the morning, I sat across from them, in the sun-brightened waiting room of Matthew Popov, M.D. I harbored fractures, too — mine were as fine as cracks in a china cup that still held tea. But the trio didn't see me or my cracks after their T&A check. Just their casts, their bandages, their bruised balls.
"Them kids just don't get it," crew-cut Darren complained. "It ain't always about color. You look suspicious? I'm gonna stop you."
The nerve beneath my left eye twitched, and the stress headache spilled across my forehead like warm milk. I snatched the month-old issue of People from the coffee table. One glance at the cover — BABY DRAMA FOR KIM — and I tossed the rag back into the swamp of "Divorce Looms for Jon!" and "Charlie's Drunken Night!"
With my God-given tan, camel-colored pantsuit, and delicate ankles, I'm sure crew-cut Darren assumed that a computer keyboard had caused my job injury. Carpal tunnel syndrome from typing some true detective's paperwork. What would he say if he knew that I was that Elouise Norton who had rammed a Toyota Rav4 into a Parks and Rec truck high above Los Angeles? That I'd fractured my left arm, cracked two ribs, and concussed my head in the process? That the monster who had killed Chanita Lords and other girls from my old neighborhood had flown through the windshield and chopped into pieces all because he hadn't worn a seat belt on the way to the place he wanted to kill me? What would Darren say if he knew that I was that Elouise Norton?
Good job, Lou.
Why'd you do something stupid like that?
You got a death wish?
My phone vibrated from my bag — a text message. How was your appointment? Don't forget we're bringing breakfast on Saturday morning. See you then. Love u, Mom. She'd discovered emoticons, and now there were sixty pink hearts trailing "Mom."
Haven't gone in yet, I texted back. I'll call later. Love u, too. Then, I tapped the Scrabble app.
Darren was now rubbing his tattooed left calf as he told Brad and Tony about chasing some banger-trash down Hoover Avenue. "Then, that summabitch hopped over the fuckin' fence like Hussein Bolt."
Tony laughed. "Usain Holt, dumb ass."
Usain Bolt and you both are dumb asses.
"What the fuck ever," Darren said. "I jumped over, too — that's my point — and tore my ACL. Can you believe it?" Out in the parking lot, a gardener wielded a leaf blower. Dead foliage and grit swirled around him like confetti. A garden party.
My phone vibrated again. Get felt up yet? Call me later. I have a proposition. My best friend, Lena Meadows, had also used emoticons — ones that my mother hadn't discovered yet. A lipstick print, a martini glass, and a smiling purple devil.
I texted Lena back. A proposition? Doesn't sound healthy nor wholesome. I rebuke you.
No message from Syeeda McKay, my other best friend. Or former best friend. Or ... Relationship status: it's complicated.
The door that led to the exam rooms opened. A doe-eyed blonde nurse called out. "Elouise Norton?"
In the vitals alcove, the nurse took my blood pressure (138/90), my weight (120 pounds), and my temperature (99.3). She cocked an eyebrow as she recorded the results in my chart. Then, she led me to the bathroom.
After peeing in a plastic cup, I followed her into exam room 8. I placed my bag in the chair, undressed, then pulled on a blue gown with thousands of ties. With nothing else to do but sit, I studied the posters on the walls.
DID YOU GET A FLU SHOT?
LEARN THE TRUTH ABOUT HEART DISEASE.
DO YOU HAVE POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER?
I gulped, then clamped my jaw before sending my gaze back to flu shots and clogged arteries. And I kept them there until Dr. Popov's gray eyes bore into mine.
His wintergreen breath had almost covered the smell of coffee. "Your blood pressure's up," he said. "Has your pressure been high lately?" I futzed with one of the ties on the gown. "No."
His large soft hands tilted my head this way and that. "Have you been charting it with the machine I gave you?"
"Are you in pain right now?"
My cheeks warmed. "No."
Three lies told in less than twenty seconds. The Hussein Holt of Lying.
Dr. Popov consulted my chart. "You taking anything for the pain you're not having?"
"Ibuprofen every now and then." My nose ached from growing so much and so quickly. "I've been taking allergy meds. A lot of fires burning right now."
"Your elevated BP is a little worrisome. Hasn't been this high since I cleared you three weeks ago for normal duty." The doctor squinted at me. "You smoke?"
I cracked a smile. "What do you have?"
"Seriously. Are you drinking?"
We held each other's eyes. My underarms prickled with sweat, and my upper lip twitched.
Dr. Popov sighed, then examined the last scars high above my right eye, my right ear, and behind my hairline. He pressed on the scalp wound, then held up his fingers. Blood. "You have to stop scratching that. It starts to scab, but then ..."
"I keep forgetting it's there," I said. "I'll stop. Promise."
"Does it still hurt?"
My eyes watered as though his fingers were still pressing the wound. "No."
"You sure? I see tears."
"Allergies because of all the fires."
"You didn't take anything this morning?" he asked.
I shook my head. "Didn't want to compromise my urine test."
"We can tell Claritin from Percocet. The miracle of science." Then, he lifted my left arm.
A dull twang spun in my shoulder like a pinwheel.
"You winced," he said.
"Sore from physical therapy." I smiled. "And I'm back in Krav Maga for strength training."
True, and true.
My phone caw-cawed from the inside of my bag — the eagle ringtone for my partner, Colin Taggert.
"When you're sore like this," Dr. Popov was saying, "what do you do?" "Heating pad and Icy Hot," I replied. "Long baths and hot showers."
After promising to lower my numbers through clean living and exercise, and after receiving a flu shot, I trudged to the scheduling desk where the doe-eyed blonde nurse pulled up a calendar to schedule my next visit.
The eagle caw-cawed from my bag again. This time, I answered. "Happy Tuesday."
"It's not even nine o'clock yet," Colin complained, "and it's already eighty-six degrees."
A heat wave now roasted Los Angeles — yesterday, we hit 103 degrees in the Valley, 94 degrees downtown, and enjoyed 80 percent humidity, courtesy of a hurricane currently destroying Baja California. Fires to the north of us, fires to the south of us, fires to the east of us. All we needed was an earthquake and a Sig Alert on the 405 freeway to complete the "Seasons of LA" bingo card.
I stepped away from the scheduling desk and wandered to a corner. "What's up?"
"All these fires are making my eyes itch," Colin whined.
"You use the drops I gave you?"
"Then stop complaining."
"We're on deck," he announced.
"Just when I was about to go out on the yacht."
"So, you're driving to 8711 Victoria Avenue, off Crenshaw and Vernon."
"What's today's special?"
"A suspicious death. An old guy dead in his old house."
"Dead, you say?"
"Seniors are droppin' from the heat. It's like we're standing on hell's patio."
I gave the doe-eyed blonde nurse the "one minute, please" finger, then said to Colin, "Old guy, old house, no A/C probably. Nothing suspicious about that. This shouldn't take long."
"You'll get to go out on the yacht after all," he said.
I scheduled my next appointment for October 2nd, then left the medical office of Matthew Popov, M.D., with a bloody wound in my hair, sparks shooting in my shoulders, and sparks shooting at the base of my skull.
I was healed.
At the lobby gift shop, I purchased a bottled water and a morning bag of Doritos (baked Doritos: my first step toward clean living). By the time the elevator stopped at P2, I'd already popped four Advil and a Claritin. I stepped out of the air-conditioned car and into the muggy underground parking garage. My eyes flitted from dark corner to darker corner. Shadows. Weird echoes.
A man stood ... by the ...? What is he ...? He looks like ... him. But's he dead. Right?
That's what I'd been told. That's what I'd read. But those seconds before the crash ... couldn't remember.
I darted to my Porsche Cayenne with my heart pounding, my nerves frayed, my lungs pinched so hard I could barely breathe.
The same state I'd been in when I first arrived.
That shadow moved ... The man, his shadow ...
No. Don't go there. Just the wind. Dr. Bernie Shankman's soothing baritone filled my head. Just the wind blowing, Elouise. Just the wind. Take a breath. Take a breath.
I reached my car, panting as though I'd run a mile in a minute. Knees weak, I leaned against the car door with my eyes squeezed shut.
Your pounding heart? That's the wind. The scent of a man's cologne — but it smelled like his cologne — that's the wind, too. Just the wind, Elouise. Breathe. Breathe.
Second time in an hour that I'd employed visualization to coax me off the ledge.
And now, in my mind's eye, I reclined in a chaise surrounded by palm trees. I was relaxing on my favorite Big Island beach. The breeze lifted my hair and ferried the aroma of Lava Lava Club's sticky-sweet drinks and pineapple-fried rice. Waves. Fluffy white clouds. Blue sky. Quiet. So quiet.
"Open your eyes," I whispered.
I was still hunkered in the dark parking garage. But there were no ghosts now. No shadowy man in the corner. No Zach Fletcher.
Dr. Shankman's relaxation technique worked. Even after a three-minute conversation with my mother, Georgia — how'd it go, what did he give you, do you need to take it easy, do you still like bagels? — my breathing had slowed, and my hands had lost some of their clamminess. But then that clamminess could've been caused by the weather.
It was ninety-six degrees at nine thirty, and Colin was still complaining to me over the radio about the heat. "The end times are upon us," he said, "but no one cares except for the boy from Colorado Springs." He was right — Angelenos had no fucks to give.
The city was up and at 'em. Cars and buses swooped up and down Crenshaw Boulevard. Old ladies pushed rickety carts to the Laundromats. Pods of day workers loitered at the U-Haul store. Just a few years ago, the space shuttle Endeavor had traveled on this wide, tree-lined street. Smiling people of all shades of brown had waved at astronauts, the mayor, and other VIPs. Crenshaw High School's marching band had jammed for us as we tucked into Styrofoam containers of Dulan's smothered chicken and black-eyed peas.
"Happy black people and rocket ships," I said, remembering that afternoon.
Colin chuckled. "God bless America."
"That's all about to change," I said.
He shouted, "The white folks are coming! The white folks are coming!"
And they were. Paler faces now cruised the aisles of Ladera Heights supermarkets, the mall in Culver City, and the hiking trails off Stocker Avenue. The new subway line would rumble beneath Crenshaw Boulevard to the airport. The Santa Barbara Plaza, where my sister Victoria was last seen alive, was now home to heavy equipment bulldozing dilapidated hair salons, night clubs, and art galleries. Replacing it: a new 8.6-acre medical facility.
"And why wouldn't we come?" Colin asked. "Rent's too damned high where I'm supposed to live. Just think: hundreds of coffee shops and benches everywhere. A Trader Joe's. Yoga studios. All kinds of white-people shit."
"Hooray. Bringing with them more ways to stay broke." I turned right at the 7-Eleven, then made another left onto Victoria Avenue.
The street had been blocked by cop cars with swirling lights, fire trucks with swirling lights, an empty ambulance that had turned off its swirling lights — never a good thing for folks who had called EMTs.
"You go in yet?" I asked Colin.
"Nope," he said. "Wanna share those first moments with you."
A firefighter in dingy yellow pants and galoshes vomited on the sidewalk. Seeing that made me sit a little longer in the car.
Colin, tanned and big-eared, weaved past the parked emergency vehicles to approach my SUV. He wore the too-small blue shirt with the stubborn taco-sauce stain on the cuff — a shirt he refused to toss because a cute assistant district attorney said the color brought out his eyes. And now he saluted me, then clicked his heels. "What's up, Sarge?"
My promotion to detective sergeant wouldn't make the dead man inside 8711 Victoria less dead or more alive. I rolled down the driver's-side window and stared at the sick hero. "Umm ..."
"What'cha waiting for?" Colin's gaze followed mine. "Oh yeah. That."
"Why is he doing that? Vomiting?"
Colin shrugged, but the vein in his neck jumped. Liar. He knew something.
With ice in my belly, I climbed out of the car.
"The heat," I said. "That's probably why he's throwing up."
"A fireman not used to dead people in the summer?" Colin asked. "Sure: I'll take that answer."
Fifties-era California bungalows with square angles and wide lawns lined the block. A McMansion had been shoved into every fifth lot — an elephant crammed into a zone designed for zebras. Sunlight glinted off glass, chrome, and the badges of patrol cops gathered on the sidewalk and made Victoria Avenue disco-ball bright.
"I used the eye drops," Colin said.
"Yep, but looking at this place, it's not gonna matter much."
This place. A dingy yellow Craftsman with wide eaves, a raised porch, big windows ... and a junk pile beneath the colossal magnolia tree. Another pile of junk blocked that raised porch. Another heap almost hid the rusted gray Chrysler Le Baron. Old toilets. Broken who-knows-what. Flashes of fluffy pink this and plastic black that. A breeze thick with the stink of dead things and animal urine. Weeds and large yellow dandelions sprouted between the occasional gaps of trash. Some of the junk within the piles ... moved.
"Cats," Colin explained. "Cats and their enemies."
I slipped off my blazer. "Enemies — you mean mice?"
"Rats. And then, the raccoons come. They mostly come at night ... mostly."
I swallowed. "Tetanus and rabies and ... Aliens would be cleaner and ... My lord, what are we about to see?"
The four uniforms gold-bricking beneath the magnolia tree glanced in our direction. Then, they whispered to each other.
My ears burned — the side eyes and gossip involved me.
"Fitzgerald, one of the jerk-wads over there," Colin said, nodding toward the klatch, "he's the R/O."
I grabbed my leather binder from the passenger seat. "He's doing the best he can with that tiny brain of his."
Tavaris Fitzgerald turtled toward us, passing a rusted toolbox, a tangled nest of wires, and an abandoned air-conditioning unit. He wiped his sweaty brown face with his wrist, then gave Colin the "what-up" nod. He regarded me as though I'd eaten the apple fritter he'd been saving all day.
"Who's our special guest this morning?" I asked him.
Fitzgerald flipped open his steno pad. "Eugene Washington. Lives here alone. A Bernice Parrish" — he pointed to the closest radio squad car, where a pair of thin brown calves ended in feet clad in dusty gladiator sandals — "found him in the den around seven fifty this morning. She claims to be his girlfriend. Has a key to the place. Anyway, EMT got here about ten minutes later, pronounced him dead, and they've been throwing up ever since."
The now-recovered fireman was patting the back of another vomiting hero.
"And we're here because ...?" I asked.
"The EMTs found a gun near the body. No obvious bullet wounds, but ..." He shrugged. "It was there and we can't ignore it." Suspicious death? Sure.
"You talk to anybody other than Bernice Parrish?" I asked Fitzgerald.
"Anybody other than you and the EMTs enter the house?"
The patrol cop smirked. "You don't have to worry about lookie-loos going off in there." He eyed my silk blouse, my slacks, and loafers. "Must be nice."
Excerpted from "City of Saviors"
Copyright © 2017 Rachel Howzell Hall.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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