Los Angeles is booming. Money is pouring in. Buildings are going up. But someone is killing architects.
Detective Sam Carver journeys through sins scattered across the City of Angels, where hipsters, homeless, immigrants, producers, politicians, movie stars, and cops collide in mysterious ways. Every move Carver makes is anticipated by the killer, Dylan Cross. She has hacked his computer and knows his diaries and secrets. She sees in him a kindred and damaged spirit, a man who can understand her crimes, heal her scars, and love her. Dylan is reclaiming herself from a past of brutal injustices inflicted by a world of misogyny and power. Detective Carver is dealing with his own troubled history: an elusive and violent father.
My Detective is a story of obsession set against vengeance and prayers of forgiveness in a city that is as cruel as it is fantastical. It captures modern Los Angeles in real time, an eerie glide through the imagination, where winds gust high above the San Gabriel Mountains and neighborhoods stretch toward the ocean like the flash and tremor of a dream. The novel speaks to our sense of beauty in a new century and the demons we rouse when we dare to create a new metropolis.
About the Author
Jeffrey Fleishman is a Pulitzer Prize finalist and longtime foreign correspondent. He has had postings in Rome, Berlin, and Cairo and has covered wars in Iraq, Libya, and Kosovo. He now writes about culture and film for the Los Angeles Times. He has written three other novels, My Detective (the first Sam Carver book), Shadow Man, and Promised Virgins: A Novel of Jihad.
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I sneak up from behind, yank his chin, lift the knife. So fast. The blade tugs at first but slides across the throat. His shoulders go slack; his chest softens. His feet do a puppet dance, but I thought there'd be more fight in this wiry rattle of a man. I lower the blade. He falls. Wobbly, slow, spastic. Facedown, blood spreading from his throat like a blown scarf. Knock-kneed, pigeon-toed. One arm stretched like a swimmer's, the other like a hinge. I kneel and wipe the blade on his jacket. I sheath it and look around. A thin wind and a whirl of papers. The sidewalk on this stretch of homeless territory is empty except for two shadows more than a block away. They can't see me beneath the broken streetlight outside the Chaplin Hotel. I'm black as a crow's wing: Lycra tights, long-sleeved running top, ski mask, gloves.
I put my ear to his mouth — silence — and brush back his hair. His profile hardens against the concrete. The conceit he brimmed with in life slithers away. It is splendid and strangely sacred, and I think that in the last beat, in the final act, he becomes almost human again, a sad, vulnerable creature succumbing to eternity. What power in this moment. What joy. I am in no hurry. I am strong. Deliberate. Precise as an equation. None of me will be found. I rise, glimpse the ragged corner, and slip the knife into my waistband.
I walk toward the neon, pulling off my mask and gloves, gliding up Main, turning left toward Spring Street, anonymous among downtown revelers, as if strolling home from a late workout at Planet Fitness. Voices, footsteps, music. I'm shaking a little but not so anyone can see. My pulse surges, my brain like ice. I breathe in and think that a killing, like a cathedral, or a bridge in the Balkans, can be marveled at for the intricacy of its design. I walk for a while and veer off Spring back into the darkness, heading past tents and vagabond murmurs to my garage, rented from a peculiar man with a lisp who prefers burner phones and cash, where my Beemer waits and my strapless Herve Leger hangs on the wall.
The air cools.
I'd prepared for months, slicing with knives through rump roasts and working out on weights and treadmills, banging and heaving a punching bag. My trainer, Javier, a bulked Nicaraguan illegal who raps about Latina brides and car fins on the eastside, wiped sweat from my face last week and told me, "Dylan, you hit like you wanna hurt the world."
If he only knew.
My six-foot frame — my Croatian father taught me to embrace it — is imposing. "For a girl." That's what they'd say when I was a kid: "You're tall for a girl." Why the qualifier? Statistically speaking, it was accurate, but it bothered me until I realized that those who fit differently into the world were held to a crueler light. What a shame. But back in my tennis days, I moved with the grace and wonder of a prayer; my forehands flashed like comets. I am still a cry of nature. Michael Gallagher was so speckish and puny in my grasp. My only flaw is the chipped fingernail in my glove. Careless. It could have ripped through the leather and left a clue. Note to self: A killer can afford no vanity.
I arrive at the garage and close the door. I slip out of my clothes and toss them in a drum. I douse them with lighter fluid and strike a match. I stand naked before the flame, watching it rise. The smoke stings at first; the scent foul. But after a moment, the fabrics glow in crystalline embers and vanish to ash. The fire makes shadows on the wall. It seems ancient, erotic, to be alone and naked against the flicker and the brick, as if in a purification or some longed-for reckoning. I close my eyes. How lovely. The warmth. I wash my face, neck, breasts, arms, and hands. I pour alcohol over the knife, clean and wrap it in a towel, and slide it behind a loose cinder block that I push back into place. The fire dies. I step into my dress and hear sirens in the distance. My detective — he doesn't yet know he's my detective, my secret crush — will soon be heading toward what I've left for him. I put on my heels, start the car, and smile like a naughty cat.
Suddenly, though, I cry. I grip the wheel and cry.CHAPTER 2
"Ear to ear."
"Watch the blood."
"Not likely. Canvassing now. You got here fast, Detective."
"I live downtown."
"No commute? Nice."
I snap on gloves and bend down. Death moves fast through the body. Skin cools; tissue retracts; clothes seem to grow. I reach into the guy's pocket for a wallet.
"Rules out robbery," says the uniform, a young, scrubbed guy named P. Hanson. "Who is he?"
I open it. Bundle of cash, rows of credit cards. All high grade.
"Shine the light here. Michael J. Gallagher. DOB 1980."
"Expensive haircut. What's he do?"
I finger deeper into the wallet.
"Business card says he's an architect. License says he lives in Coldwater Canyon. Have somebody run it."
The uniform turns away to make the call. I keep my eye on him and quickly reach into Michael J. Gallagher's jacket: change, stick of gum, museum ticket, and a wedding ring, which I slip into my pocket. It's a secret thing I do, like collecting souvenir spoons from states traveled through, before a body is bagged. I take a piece from the fallen — not in any weird, fetishistic way, but to know them, never to forget the moment I saw them lying oddly shaped and gone forever.
"What's he doing down here, you think?" says P. Hanson, stepping back toward me.
"Looking at the buildings. Meeting a friend. Lost."
"Hooker, more likely. We chased most of them out, but a few still run rooms in this place. Kinky shit."
"Know your territory, huh?"
"Dangerous vibe down here, Detective. Primal. A lot of guys are into that kind of thing. Sex, degradation, being bad — all sorts of wacky shit. Twisted fantasies. No question. You got one?" P. Hanson laughs, but I'm not in the mood. "The Hotel Cecil is a couple of blocks up," he says. "Some nut-job serial killer holed up there in the eighties. They made a movie or some shit about it. A song, too. It'll all be boutique soon. The Renaissance is coming, Detective. Whole city's changing. Gangbangers gone, clearing out the homeless. Start-up geeks and trust-fund babies now. L.A.'s hip, man."
"I thought Pittsburgh was hip."
"You should run a tour bus. You've got an interesting way of looking at things."
"I'm more of a poet."
He smiles and starts reciting Kafkaesque verse about cockroaches and candy wrappers. I can't tell whether he's being a wiseass, or really thinks he's a poet. No trace of joke or irony lifts off him. At least, he didn't say he was an actor or a yogi. You get all kinds in the department these days. I wave my hand and cut P. Hanson off. Why can't cops just be cops? The white-suit guys arrive. Swabbers and collectors, a photographer, more uniforms, fire guys, ambulance guys — all kinds of guys clocking overtime. The machinery of the crime scene unit unfolds under pop-up lights like a little army gathered around doom. I'm still warm from the scotch I left sitting on the bar at the Little Easy. The buzz is fading, though, slow, like when day fizzes into night. A small crowd peers in from the edges, mostly young, pierced, tattooed women in ripped shirts and black boots, floating in marijuana haze toward some club or that Mexican place over on Olive Street.
"Hey," yells a doped-up crazy leaning on a construction fence across the street, "is this for real or are you filming something? I can never tell. Like last time I was down here, Mark Harmon was running around with a gun and gobbed up in makeup. Another time, it was like Ice Cube. Or maybe it was Snoop. Who can tell anymore. It's metaconfusing shit going on."
The moon is full.
"It's the wrath," comes another voice, from under a pile of blankets in the darkness. "Pestilence upon the land. Anyone seen my dog?"
My phone rings.
"Hey, Carver, Ortiz here. Ran that name you just sent. The stiff is apparently some rich schmuck architect. Big political donor. Friends in the mayor's office. Proceed with caution."
Ortiz, my boss. Short bursts of useful information, then silence. I step to the corner and look heavenward. I pat myself for a cigarette and remember I quit. I'd love another pour from barman Lenny, though. I'm looking at a long night. Planes bound for LAX loop and glitter in winds high above the San Gabriels. Cranes rise in the west, and to the south, a gray-black hangs over the 110 beyond Hawthorne and Compton. Neighborhoods reach into one another and stretch through canyons toward the ocean, on and on, like the flash and tremor of a dream, and somewhere deep in the earth, a fault slips into a brokenness waiting to rise, nobody knows when.
My mind drifts lately. I don't know why. Could be age, but I'm not so old. I take a breath, close my eyes and open them. Flashes scatter before me, a city of ghosts bright as paper lanterns, all demanding justice so they can go on their way. To be requited. That's what they want. A piece of truth to prove they were more than atoms and bone, voices and capillaries. I wonder if these flashes are digressions, unwanted fleeting asides, but a man cannot help what he sees. I close and open my eyes again. They're gone. I light a match, shake it out, and toss it to the ground — a quit-smoking ritual I picked up from a cop in vice. I stare into the night, listening and watching shadows, wondering what infinitesimal trace will lead me to the doer.
"Hey, Detective!" yells P. Hanson. "Here's the la-a-ady he was seeing shortly before, you know ..."
A woman in a kimono steps forward.
"I need a lawyer?"
"You do it?"
"'Course I didn't do it. He was a regular."
"Let's go upstairs and talk."
I follow her over the tile floor into a foyer, past a streaked mirror and a little front desk where, in better times, a night manger would have been perched with a liverwurst sandwich, a beer, and a racing form. The hooker leads me into an old sliding-gate elevator. It rattles to the third floor, where the woman — early thirties, red hair (a wig, but a good one), expert mascara, but not much else as far as makeup — waves me through the door to 305, a small perfume-scented room with a scarf over a lampshade, and dozens of charcoal sketches pinned to the walls. All of them nudes of her.
"I know, right? But it's true, my parents actually named me Amber."
I pull out my notebook and pencil, glance at the walls.
"He did those," she says, "all of 'em. They're me. He liked sitting here drinking martinis and drawing me naked before we screwed, and after we screwed. He said I was more supple after."
"He saw you in a lot of ways."
"Tell me about it. It's like I'm facing all these different mirrors. I guess artists do that. He was an architect, too, or something." She points to one of the drawings. "This is my favorite. It's me, but the inside me, you know, like that part you see but nobody else does. He gave me some bullshit about seeing my soul, but he saw something. Plus, look, he gave me perfect breasts in this one, which to be honest, I do have great breasts, but seeing them drawn like that, well, you know, they're just pretty."
She lights a cigarette and, unlike most whores, is not itching for my departure.
"What was he into?"
"Straight up, mostly. Not kinky, but he could get rough. He was kinda nerdy, but he had a meanness. A weird kid's meanness, you know? He was mostly good to me, though. Talked about himself a lot. One time, he brought this other guy to watch. The guy just sat there in a suit, vaping and drinking from a flask. Big, handsome guy. Like that dude out of Mad Men. Never saw him before or since."
"What else can you tell me about Mr. Mad Men? Did he have a name?"
"Not that I heard. He had blondish hair, I think. Like I said, a big guy. Kind of classy. That kind of look about him. But his hat was pulled low, and besides, I was compromised, if you know what I mean."
We both pause, let the thought seep in.
"How long had you been seeing Gallagher?"
"Two years, maybe a little longer."
"You live here?"
"No. He rented it. I think we were the only two who used it. He had a key. I had a key. He said he liked it down here. Said it felt real."
"You don't seem too broken up."
She offers me a cigarette. I wave it away.
"I liked Michael. I did. We had good times. Look at this room. It's what we created. 'An every-now-and-then home' — that's what he used to say." She swallows and turns away. "I'm sad he's gone. In shock, maybe. A kinda hollow feeling. But it's business, right? He wasn't inviting me to the opera or anything. I wasn't going to be Mrs. Architect planning charity balls at the Peninsula. Play it where it falls. My dad used to say that."
"He ever talk about anybody not liking him?"
"Did he seem upset or not himself?"
"He was chiller than usual. Relaxed."
"You have a lot of clients?"
"A few rich guys I mostly meet on the Westside. But Michael liked it dirtier, I guess."
"You said he was mostly straight up."
"I mean the place, the scenery. You'd be surprised how much scenery has to do with things."
"So I'm told. Where you from?"
"That's different scenery."
"I know, right? I run a second-hand dress shop. Vintage. Don't look at me like I'm making things up. It's hard running a shop. So much they don't tell in community college. I took this course on entrepreneurship. It's fascinating how much goes into a business. Most people don't know. Really. This is my night job. I like sleeping with who I want when I want and getting paid for it."
I shake my head.
"How'd Gallagher find you?"
"Got a call one day."
"What he pay?"
"You the taxman?"
"Fifteen hundred a night."
She's putting on a brave face and talking beyond her depth. I can see she's upset and that when she gets home, she'll sit in her South Pasadena bathtub, run a washcloth over her face, and contemplate Gallagher's slit throat and the wad of cash in her vintage purse. Gallagher left this room about half an hour before the uniforms responded to a call of a man down on the sidewalk. He kissed her on the cheek and was gone, down the elevator to the sidewalk. I look around the room and out the window to the street. I tell her not to disappear. "We'll have more questions," I say. "Leave the charcoal drawings."
"Can I take this one, please? It's my favorite."
"It's a crime scene."
"Please. There's no crime on this paper."
She wants a piece of him. I understand. I nod.
She pulls the drawing of her "perfect" breasts from the wall and rolls it up. I head back to the street and catch the last glimpse of Gallagher's pale face before the zipper shuts.
I call Ortiz.
"He was seeing a pricey hooker," I say. "He was a regular. She's clean. I'm heading up to Coldwater to check out the house. See who's there."
"High-end hooker, down there? Am I missing something?"
"I'll fill you in later."
"Anyway, the guy was divorced. Wife moved back to New York a couple or so years ago. No kids. What's it look like there?"
"Clean, deep cut. Done under a broken streetlight."
"Homeless wacko off his meds?"
"Too neat. Wallet wasn't taken, either."
I can hear Ortiz breathing, thinking.
"All right, go to his house see what's what. I'm tracking down names at his firm. Renowned architects. That's what the prick in the mayor's office tells me. Renowned. Says it real slow, like I don't understand. You know the type. A prick from his asshole to his eyeballs. Anyway, the renowned architects are doing that building near that Whole Foods over on Eighth, that weird-looking glass thing. Got a few other big projects in SoCal, too. You got his phone?"
"Yeah, we caught a break on that. It must have knocked in a funny way when he fell. The screen was still lit. I scrolled it."
"A lot of names and numbers?"
"Anybody who matters. Guy definitely had big-name friends."
I walk a few blocks to my car and drive west toward Coldwater, turning onto Mulholland and feeling lost like I always do up here. My headlights cut through dark, hypnotizing curves. Houses appear like small stars in the thicket; the scents of jacaranda and cottonwoods blow over me. You can feel the money in the seclusion, like a small heaven feeding off the land below, but there are stiffs here, too: overdoses, suicides, drunken drownings in pools — the kinds of deaths that figure in battles over wills and possessions. I find Michael J. Gallagher's house, set back a ways but no gate. Low-slung and angled, long windows, a roof of strange degrees, as if something landed from another planet. An odd silver, glass jewel.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "My Detective"
Copyright © 2019 Jeffrey Fleishman.
Excerpted by permission of Blackstone Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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