The Lost Witness: A Novel

The Lost Witness: A Novel

by Robert Ellis

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With his novel City of Fire, Robert Ellis debuted a dynamic new character in Los Angeles detective Lena Gamble, but also captured a vivid picture of the city of Los Angeles. Readers and critics made City of Fire an instant phenomenon, as the book became a Los Angeles Times bestseller and was named a top summer read by People magazine, USA Today, and The New York Times.

Now Lena Gamble is a cop held in disgrace by department higher-ups for the explosive way the Romeo case played out, though she's still hailed as a hero by her colleagues for catching the killer. For her punishment, she hasn't handled a real murder investigation in eight months. When the chief finally tosses her a case, she's thrilled until she gets a look at the scene and realizes he's probably setting her up to be exiled once and for all: The victim is unidentified, and there are no witnesses, and no leads. Just the body, chopped into pieces and dropped in a Dumpster—gruesome enough to ensure that once again the media will be following Lena's every move.

Robert Ellis delivers another high-speed, commercial, powerful read, featuring one of the most engaging and vibrant police characters on the shelf today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429921688
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/03/2009
Series: Lena Gamble Series , #2
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 566,501
File size: 408 KB

About the Author

Robert Ellis is a former filmmaker and political media consultant from Los Angeles. He is the author of three bestselling crime novels, Access to Power, The Dead Room, and the critically acclaimed City of Fire, which also garnered praise from authors as diverse as Michael Connelly and Janet Evanovich.

Robert Ellis is a former filmmaker and political media consultant from Los Angeles. He is the author of three bestselling crime novels, Access to Power, The Dead Room, and the critically acclaimed City of Fire, which also garnered praise from authors as diverse as Michael Connelly and Janet Evanovich.

Read an Excerpt

The Lost Witness

By Robert Ellis

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2009 Robert Ellis
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-2168-8


She glanced at the screen on her iPhone and groaned. It was 10:17 p.m. Exactly three minutes and twenty-one seconds since the last time she checked. Even worse, she had run out of people to call. No one was left on her speed-dial list.

She didn't like waiting. And it was getting late, so late that it felt like the entire night was slipping through her fingers. A total bust while all her other friends were having fun.

She took in a deep breath and exhaled, watching the vapor fog the windshield. She shivered in the cold night air. It was mid-December in Los Angeles. Twelve days before Christmas. Last week it actually snowed in Malibu. She had seen it on the news. Kids riding down the hills on pieces of ripped cardboard. Snowmen overlooking Santa Monica Bay. It seemed like the world was coming undone and no one on TV was saying anything.

She shook it off, found the keys on the dash, and fired up the engine. Checking the heat vent, she adjusted the driver's seat and tried to relax. After a while the fog began to clear from the windshield and she could see the motel and restaurant just past the Dumpster on the other side of the parking lot.

She could see the girls dressed in their sheer tops walking in and out of the place, the men eyeing them openly and hungrily as if they were ridingcardboard sleds and had become little boys again. Faint bursts of laughter hidden in the wind began to push against the car. When she caught the scent of a wood fire, her eyes rose to the building's roof. A neon rooster was mounted to the chimney. Below the rooster another neon sign read Cock-A-Doodle-Do, The Best Chicken Pieces In L.A.!

She giggled, then caught herself. Two men were staring at her. They were leaning against the rail outside the restaurant, smoking cigarettes while they picked chicken out of their teeth. It didn't take much to guess that they were looking her way because this was the Cock-a-doodle-do, their stomachs were full, and now it was time for dessert. Even from a distance she could tell who they were and what they were. She moved her head into the shadows and looked at their low-rent faces. The creases on their foreheads and the deep lines around their eyes. Their cheap clothing from aisle seven at Wal-Mart. She wanted to tell them to stop looking at her. She wanted to tell them that she didn't fuck truck drivers or losers, only doctors and lawyers, movie stars and agents — but she didn't. Instead, she cracked open the window, fished her cigarettes out of her purse, and lit one. By the time she turned back, two blondes had approached the creeps and all four were purring.

Time to make nice, nice. Time to party and eat dessert. The best chicken pieces in L.A.

She watched them enter the motel — heard the door slam shut — dumbfounded that the Cock-a-doodle-do even existed. Nothing was hidden. One look and even the world's biggest loser could tell exactly what this place was. She had been sitting here for what felt like half an hour. Two cops had driven by. One even pulled into the lot and waited with the engine idling while his partner ran in for takeout.

For the love of money, she thought. Lots of money. Enough money to grease the wheel. Enough money to cook the chicken. And even more for that dessert.

She took another drag on her cigarette, carefully blowing the smoke out the window and hoping that she wouldn't catch hell for not stepping outside. Then she heard a truck pulling into the lot and smelled the exhaust. As the truck's fog lights swept through the car, she squinted.

It was a bright red Hummer, or maybe even a Land Rover. She couldn't tell through the glare, and either way, she hated both no matter what the color. She hated all SUVs and the stupid people who drove them. If she were cruising on the freeway right now and spotted the asshole, she'd give him the finger with the greatest pleasure.

SUVs were the reason it was fucking snowing in Malibu.

She listened to the oversized tires chewing up gravel as the machine lumbered by and pulled into a space somewhere behind her. The lights snapped off, then the gas hungry engine died out. She could hear someone singing "Jingle Bells." A low, gruff voice cutting through the din. After a few moments the door opened and a man hopped out, but he didn't look much like Santa Claus.

The truth was that at some level he appeared handsome, even cute. He looked about six feet tall, maybe a little less, with short blond hair. And he was just about the right age for her, mid to late thirties — the older type. But what she liked most about him was that he wasn't wearing a jacket in spite of the cold night air. All he had on was a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. She could see his muscles as he slung a bookbag over his shoulder. His tight stomach and sturdy legs, his smooth, tan skin. The more she looked at him, the more he reminded her of an actor she couldn't place. Someone on TV that had hit the wall, but bounced back on cable.

Rerun money.

She drew in smoke and tapped the ash out the window. The man must have noticed because he looked straight at her and flashed a dazzling smile. She couldn't tell the color of his eyes in the darkness, but she could see the spark. Before she could wave back he turned and crossed the lot, legging it toward the Cock-a-doodle-do.

He wasn't a doctor, she thought. And he didn't look like any lawyer she had ever seen before. Maybe not even a real actor. But he was hot. Totally hot.

She checked the time again, but didn't care anymore. Reaching for her iPhone, she fitted her earbuds in place and toggled through the menu. Late this afternoon she had downloaded the title track from the End Brothers new CD, U All In? When she found it, she hit PLAY, heard 187's voice and slipped the device into her pocket. Then she waved the smoke away from her face and got out of the car to finish her cigarette. Maybe she'd even smoke another one without worrying about what the smell was doing to the car.

U all in, pretty woman.
U all in, little darl'n.
That's right baby, u all in,
'Cause u cheated on your daddy,
And now u done.

She listened as 187's brother, XYZ, began to chant — thinking about their rise to the top of the hip-hop charts. She took a last drag on the cigarette, rubbing the head against the Dumpster and tossing the butt in. Then she reached into her purse for a piece of gum and tossed the wrapper into the Dumpster as well.

And that's when she saw him.

The man who wasn't Santa Claus. The man who probably wasn't a doctor, or a lawyer, or even an actor living off rerun money. The hot man with short blond hair who got out of that fucking red SUV singing "Jingle Bells."

He was hiding in the shadows, staring at her. And he was close. He must have snuck around the row of cars when she turned her back. She could see the color of his eyes now, a vibrant blue, ice-cold and vicious. Even worse, he was holding something in his hand and pointing it at her. At first she thought it might be a squirt gun. But when he pulled the trigger, two barbs shot through the air right at her. She could see them clinging to her sweater. They looked like fish hooks, with two sets of wires running between her body and the gun. She could feel the fear. The confusion and panic freezing her in place. Her heart pounding as she scanned the parking lot and looked toward the Cock-a-doodle-do for help.

They were alone. All alone. Everyone was eating dessert.

The man started laughing at her, and then something flashed through her body. The jolt. The juice. A bolt of lightning so painful that it felt like her body had been cut in half.

When she came to she was lying face down on the ground. The man rolled her over on her back as if she were roadkill. She couldn't move. Couldn't think. No matter how hard she tried — even with all her might — she couldn't scream. She couldn't even remember where she was.

She looked up and thought that she saw a jet lowering its landing gear in the black sky. When she turned back, the fish hooks were still clinging to her sweater, the wires tangled up with her iPhone. She saw the man holding the gun, staring down at her with those dead eyes of his. He said something she couldn't hear through her earbuds, but guessed from the look on his face that the news wasn't very good. Then he pulled the trigger again and she felt the electricity making a second jagged pass through her wrecked body and charred nerves.

When her mind finally bobbed back to the surface, she could see the man throwing her purse into the Dumpster. When he picked her up and tossed her into the backseat of his SUV, she couldn't feel anything. Not even the dread swimming through her stomach into her chest.

And then the SUV started chewing up gravel again. He was taking her away now. She looked through the window at the parking lot, but not much registered. After a moment she thought she saw someone hiding in the shadows between cars. If they were calling for help, she guessed that they were ten to fifteen minutes too late. But maybe it wasn't anyone at all. Maybe it was just a hope or a dream or a phantom born from the electricity inside her body that deadened everything.

The man turned from the front seat and smiled at her, but didn't say anything as he pulled out of the lot. Sensing that the truck was picking up speed, her eyes drifted back to the window. She could see that neon rooster on the roof. The Cock-a-doodle-do vanishing into the night. Another jet lowering its landing gear.

When the window went blank, she tried to turn off what was happening and concentrate on her iPhone. She tried to use the music to gather strength. If she could just pull herself together and get moving again, she'd dial 911 and call for help. Maybe even push the door open and jump the hell out.

She listened to the music and tried to focus. She knew that the singer's legal name was Derek Williams, but he went by the number 187. His brother Bobby had changed his name to XYZ. She liked their voices. She liked them a lot. But about a mile or two down the road, 187 stopped singing, and so did XYZ. The track finally ended and the music ran out. ...


Lena Gamble poured herself a fresh cup of coffee and walked it around the counter to the table in the living room. As she sat down, she took a first sip through the steam and gazed out the window at the city. It was two o'clock in the afternoon. The piping hot brew tasted rich and strong, with just enough kick to revive her. She had taken the day off and had done nothing but read the newspaper and listen to music. It was the first day she had worked at doing nothing in a long time and she was reveling in the vibe.

The repairs to her house were finally complete, and she was celebrating. The roof that had blown away in the Santa Ana winds eight months ago had been replaced — the work guaranteed for fifteen years. The ground cover around the house had been pushed back twenty yards in case of another wildfire. And her brother's furniture — and all of the evidence that went with it — had been removed and replaced. Yesterday the painters finally cleared out. All that remained was the smell of fresh paint and polyurethane. Nothing was left but silence. Emptiness. That feeling that she wished David was still with her. Still here to live and play his music in the small home they once shared on top of a hill overlooking Hollywood and the city of Los Angeles.

She turned and looked into the bedroom. Through the far window she could see the two-story garage on the other side of the drive. Just after moving in her brother had converted the space into a state-of-the-art recording studio, attributing the success of his band's third CD to the acoustics. But that was all over now. The studio had been dark for nearly six years. As her eyes fell away from the building, she wondered about the word closure — who invented it and why. It was one of the few words that had no meaning for her. No definition or purpose.

Lena realized that the reason she was probably thinking about all this was because last night had been the first night she hadn't slept in the upstairs guestroom since she closed the Romeo murder case and solved her brother's homicide. It had taken an entire bottle of wine to block out the memories and knock her down. But she'd slept through the night in her new bed without dreams, or nightmares, or any of the ingredients that taunted her and seemed to go with the word closure.

She had been dealt the low card. She knew that. Her brother's murder had been senseless. Something she would walk with for the rest of her days. But now it was time to turn the next card over. Time for a new table and another game. Time to fight the urge to cash out.

She pushed aside the newspaper, opened the slider, and stepped onto the porch. The winds had picked up, drying out the city after ten straight days of heavy rain. In spite of the sun raking the basin from downtown to the ocean, the temperature probably wouldn't climb out of the forties. Still, the view from the top of the hill this afternoon was stunning. The entire city appeared clean and polished, glistening in a wet light. Although she didn't heat the pool, vapor was rising out of the water and drifting toward the sun in a flush of color. She couldn't keep her eyes off it. The peace. The illusion of peace in the city so many people wanted to call their home.

She wondered how long the illusion would last. There had already been 478 homicides in Los Angeles this year. With only eighteen days left on the calendar, she wondered if they'd beat five hundred and expected that they probably would. Over the past eleven months, the prison population had reached 173,000 and become the twenty-fourth largest city in the state. Bigger than Pasadena, even though it was a city without a name, a football game, or even its own parade.

She wondered if the illusion of peace had the power to last.

The heat clicked on, the newspaper sailing off the table from the outdoor breeze. Lena stepped inside and shut the slider. As she picked up the paper, she noticed a photograph she'd missed on page three of the California section. A mansion in Beverly Hills was under a foot of snow. After thinking about what happened in Malibu last week, she started reading the article and realized that the photograph wasn't a result of the storm and hadn't been doctored by a special-effects house in Burbank. The snow was part of the city's grand illusion, manufactured and blown over the house and yard because the owner was rich and he wanted to give his kids a white Christmas. Instead of spending the holiday in the mountains, the house and yard would be sprayed with new snow every day at a cost of ten thousand dollars a pop. Lena did the math. The price tag for a white Christmas in Beverly Hills topped out at a cool $120,000. By all appearances, the illusion everyone knew as L.A., and the insanity that went with it, remained intact.

Her cell phone began ringing from its charger on the counter. Turning over the newspaper, she got up and checked the display before picking up. It was her supervisor, Lt. Frank Barrera from the Robbery-Homicide Division, calling on her day off.

"Good news, bad news," he said. "You cool, Lena?"

"I'm good. What's up? I can barely hear you."

"Hold it a second. Let me close the door."

Barrera was whispering. Lena spotted her coffee on the table and took another sip as she thought it over. Her supervisor's desk sat out in the open at the head of the bureau floor. If he needed to close a door, that meant he was in the captain's office and didn't want to be overheard.

For the past eight months, Lena had been fed a steady diet of Officer Involved Shooting cases. OIS investigations were time consuming, involved a lot of paperwork, and had nothing to do with why she loved being a cop. Even worse, the orders to pull her out of the normal case rotation were coming directly from the chief's office on the sixth floor. Lena understood that it was political fallout, that she was being punished for how the Romeo murder case shook out. That the last domino to fall had worn a badge, and the department's reputation had taken another hit. But what troubled her most was that the OIS cases didn't seem to have an end. The new chief Richard S. Logan, his adjutant Lt. Ken Klinger, and the bureaucrats on the sixth floor couldn't seem to let it go. After all this time she still didn't have a partner. And she was beginning to worry that the rumors sweeping through the division might be true. That the barrage of OIS cases would never end because they were waiting her out. Trying to make things hurt until she asked for a transfer, or even better, decided to quit.


Excerpted from The Lost Witness by Robert Ellis. Copyright © 2009 Robert Ellis. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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