Homicide detective Davie Richards is called to an airport parking garage to investigate the shooting of a retired U.S. Army Ranger. Missing personal items point to a robbery, but Davie suspects a more sinister motive when she notices only one military dog tag around the Ranger's neck. Could the murderer have taken the other as a memento of the kill? As Davie unravels baffling clues, one murder becomes two and a pattern begins to emerge. Racing to save the killer's next victim, Davie is led to a shocking twist that challenges her physical and emotional endurance and tests the bonds of brotherhood and friendship.
"[Richards] makes a dogged and determined heroine...Readers will want to see a lot more of her."Publishers Weekly
"[Smiley] moves the plot as deftly as she moves the reader, with lots of action and just enough heart."Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Patricia Smiley is a bestselling mystery author whose short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Two of the Deadliest , an anthology edited by Elizabeth George. Patricia has taught writing classes at various conferences throughout the US and Canada, and she served on the board of directors of the Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and as president of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles. Visit her online at www.PatriciaSmiley.com.
Read an Excerpt
Outside The Wire
A Pacific Homicide Novel
By Patricia Smiley
Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.Copyright © 2017 Patricia Smiley
All rights reserved.
Davie Richards woke up at 4:00 a.m. as she had most mornings for the past few months — sweat drenching her T-shirt, throat raw from crying out in her sleep. Flashbacks. The shrink had told her to expect them. A symptom of post-traumatic stress syndrome, he'd said. For what seemed like the millionth time, her mind played back the response.
"Soldiers in Kandahar have PTSD," she'd said. "I don't have PTSD."
"Other traumas trigger symptoms. For example, people who've survived a car accident or an earthquake. They have nightmares and trouble sleeping, too."
"I do not have PTSD."
He had picked up his pen and scribbled some words on a note pad. She imagined it read something like — PATIENT IN DENIAL AND RESISTANT TO THERAPY. PROGNOSIS HOPELESS.
She had told him early on how often she thought about the shooting, the sound of gunfire, and the sight of blood pooled around the man's head. True, she was going through a rough spell. For the past three months whenever she went to qualify at the firing range the smell of burnt gunpowder sent her heart racing. Loud noises made her flinch. Those reactions would fade over time. She just had to park the bad memories in an inaccessible compartment of her brain, just as she had always done.
She got out of bed, letting her coppery red hair tumble down her back. Her oversized white T-shirt had wicked some of the sweat, but the sheets were damp. She examined them for a moment, wondering if she'd reached The Limit. It was a cop term for the number of dead people you could see before it was beyond your ability to cope. She'd seen her share of bodies during her nine-plus years as an LAPD patrol officer and in the past year as a detective. She'd known other homicide detectives who'd investigated hundreds of murders and never reached The Limit, but none of them had killed two men in the line of duty. She had.
Sometimes she felt overwhelmed with guilt, thinking about the families that had been left to mourn, but she never questioned her decision to fire her weapon. The shootings were righteous. Her actions had saved innocent lives. But there was a price to pay for taking the life of another human being. She was only beginning to understand that cost.
The department required everybody who'd been involved in an officer-involved shooting to be evaluated by a shrink. After the first incident, she'd been released after only one visit. Her relief was palpable, because extending therapy might have damaged her career. After the second shooting she continued seeing the shrink because he hadn't released her and because a part of her didn't want him to.
Davie pulled the sheets away from the mattress before heading toward the kitchen to make coffee, hoping her workday would be uneventful.CHAPTER 2
Davie heard the sound of jet engines roaring overhead and the long, impatient honk of a car horn. Warm, stale air blasted through the open window of the detective car as she drove up the corkscrew ramp of the parking facility adjacent to the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX. An hour after arriving at work, she and her partner Det. Jason Vaughn had been called out to investigate a body found on the second floor. Davie disliked the closed-in feeling of parking garages. Lately, they made her feel claustrophobia.
Vaughn ended his phone conversation. "Communications Division didn't get any calls about a disturbance before the body was found."
"Probably no witnesses then. Just our luck."
He looked at her and smiled. "Another opportunity to use our superpowers."
Davie had known Vaughn since their academy days, but had only worked with him for the past several months at Pacific Area Homicide. They didn't always agree on how to approach the work, but they always hashed out their differences without any permanent damage to the friendship.
After Davie parked, she stepped out of the car, inhaling the acrid odor of motor oil and tire rubber. Pacific patrol officers had already established the crime scene perimeter to protect any evidence and marked it off with yellow tape that read police line — do not cross. She instructed them to cordon off all entrances to the garage, list the make, model, and license plate numbers of nearby vehicles. She also assigned one officer to maintain the crime scene log and another to canvass the area for witnesses.
She and her partner always followed the same routine. They studied the area from different angles to compare notes later because the truth was sometimes you couldn't see the forest for the trees. Davie jotted down their arrival time and the weather conditions — 57 degrees and overcast — and noted that the lights in the garage provided limited visibility.
Normally, she and Vaughn agreed on a path that everyone would use to enter and exit the crime scene to keep contamination at a minimum, but she was annoyed to see their protocol had already been breached. An officer and a sergeant from the Airport Police had walked through the crime scene and were standing near the victim. Before approaching them, she made a sketch in her notebook, including the position of the parked cars relative to the body on the pavement. She was no artist, but the diagram had to be completed before calling in the criminalists. Sometimes things got moved or disturbed and she had to know exactly how the scene looked when she arrived.
The Airport Police had a stormy history with the LAPD, so when she introduced herself to the sergeant, she wasn't surprised that his greeting was short and curt. The sergeant's chin tilted upward in a gesture of defiance. "I called the coroner's office. They're on their way."
Davie could almost feel her blood pressure spike, but she wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of knowing that. What he'd done was improper and he knew it. This was Pacific Homicide's crime scene, not his. The sergeant was just leg lifting, marking his territory.
No ambulance had been called to the scene so it would be the coroner's job to determine time of death and later to check the victim's body for hair or fiber evidence. She had an hour to make the first call to the coroner's office but that was only to give them a heads up about the body. The investigator wouldn't respond to the scene until Davie called the second time, because once he arrived, the corpse belonged to him. Between the two calls, detectives and criminalists had a chance to take photographs, collect fingerprints, as well as other evidence without having everybody and his brother tramping through the area.
Her tone was low but firm. "Stand down, sergeant, before you piss off the wrong people."
The sergeant's stony expression told her he was unmoved by her warning. "Just trying to speed things up."
Vaughn shot him a hard stare as he pressed numbers on his cell keypad. "I'll call Dr. Death. Tell him to put us on the list but not to roll out until we phone again." He turned his back on the sergeant and walked a few feet away to talk in private.
Davie was petite — five feet one, a hundred four pounds. Men often used their bulk to intimidate her. It never worked. "We only have one chance at a crime scene. You screw that up and a killer goes free. You want that on your conscience?" The sergeant glanced at the officer by his side and then answered in a matter-of-fact tone. "You're preaching to the choir, detective."
Davie thought about pressing her point but suspected any attempt to change his attitude would be unproductive. Instead, she jotted down his name, serial number, and rank. "Who found the body?" "A schoolteacher," the sergeant said. "She came back from a wedding in Las Vegas. On her way to the car, she found him slumped on the ground." He pointed to the body lying by the trunk of a four-door Audi A6. "Over there."
"Where's the witness now?" Vaughn said.
Davie flinched at the sound of her partner's voice. He'd obviously completed his call to the coroner's office, but she hadn't heard him creep up behind her.
"In the back of our patrol car," the sergeant said. "She's pretty freaked out."
"I'll grab the tape recorder from our Murder Kit and have a talk with her," Vaughn said. "Maybe she saw the hit go down."
As soon as her partner left, Davie squatted next to the victim. He was a white male with muscular arms and a trim waist. Judging by the wrinkles on his face and loose skin on his neck, she estimated his age as somewhere in his early sixties. Still, he looked unusually fit. None of his clothing was torn. There were no visible defensive wounds, so the victim hadn't put up a fight. He was laying in the fetal position, which was often a reaction to pain. Rigor mortis hadn't yet set in, so it was unlikely he'd been dead for long.
A pool of blood from a perforating bullet wound on the right front side of his skull had saturated the victim's black leather jacket and white polo shirt. She was no forensics expert, but the shot looked like it had been taken at fairly close range. The neat hole on the back of his head was smaller, which told her the bullet entered from the front and exited in the back. She flashed back three months to the suspect she'd killed with a similar shot and then forced her eyes closed to keep the memory at bay.
When she opened them again, she saw that a dog tag, wound loosely with black electrician's tape, was attached to a ball chain around the victim's neck. The tag lay near his left ear. The placement seemed unnatural, as if it had been staged.
She glared at the sergeant. "Anybody touch the body before we got here?"
"I moved the dog tag, ma'am. I was hoping to identify him, but I gloved up first."
Davie turned toward the voice. The name on the Airport Police uniform pocket read, luna. The officer had wide-set eyes and full lips. Close-cropped hair made his ears look like wings. Stitch marks were still visible on a jagged scar that stretched from his right ear to his chin.
"Nobody touches the body until the coroner gets here," she said, recording his name and serial number in her notes. "You should know that."
The sergeant crossed his arms over his chest to convey his disapproval. "He told you, detective. He didn't touch the body."
Luna's expression was impassive. "I served two tours in Afghanistan, ma'am. Army infantry. I saw the dog tag. I thought he might be a bro."
Davie studied Luna's scar and wondered if it was a battle wound. Then she pointed to the victim. "This guy looks at least thirty years your senior. It seems unlikely he's still on active duty."
"That doesn't matter. He's still my bro."
"How do you know he's Army?"
Luna returned her stare without blinking. "You can tell by the dog tag. Each branch of the military uses different information. That's why I know this guy was Army, like me."
"Is that printed on the tag?" Luna shook his head, so Davie continued. "What else can you tell me about it?"
"It's painted black. Since Vietnam, the Army requires soldiers who operate behind enemy lines to blacken all insignia."
"You think he served in Vietnam?" she said.
"Hard to say, but the tag looks old. This one has a social security number on it. The Army doesn't use those anymore."
Davie sat on her heels next to the body for a closer look. "Why is it wrapped with tape?"
Luna hunkered down across from her and pointed. "See that plastic bumper around the tag? It's called a silencer. It's supposed to keep the tags from making noise when you're on the move. Sometimes that isn't enough. The enemy can still hear you coming. So, some guys tape the tags together to keep them from jangling."
"You keep saying tags. I only see one."
"There's usually a second one attached by a short chain. When a soldier dies in battle, one tag is removed and taken back to headquarters. The other stays on the body for identification purposes."
Davie pulled a pen from her notebook and slipped it inside the finger of a latex glove. She lifted the tape, exposing five lines of information stamped into the metal: woodrow, zeke c., followed by a social security number, o pos, and no rel pref. She assumed the last two lines represented his blood type and his religious preference — none.
"The tape looks like it was torn," Davie said. "The edges are still clean, so I'm guessing it was recent."
"Yes, ma'am. That's what I thought, too."
"You think whoever tore the tape stole the second tag?"
Davie rose to her feet. "You think the victim could still be on active duty?"
Luna stared at the body. "I doubt it. The Army makes you retire at sixty. He looks a few years older than that."
"If he's retired, why was he wearing dog tags?"
A haunted look settled on Luna's expression as he stood to meet her gaze. "I don't know ma'am. Most retirees don't wear their tags, but you get close to people when you're in the military. Soldiers are trained to get everybody out alive. Sometimes you fail. The victim might be honoring a buddy who died in combat. It's hard to explain to civilians. It's a brotherhood stronger than anything, even family." Davie didn't know what it was like to be a soldier, but she'd been a cop for almost ten years, so she understood the bonds between people who were responsible for keeping you safe. She made a three hundred sixty-degree turn, studying the garage. The murder had been committed in a secluded area in the early morning hours when it was likely still dark and no one would be around. There was no place for the victim to escape an attacker unless he jumped two floors to the street. Robbery might have been the motive for the attack, but it seemed unusual that a killer would find value in old military ID tags. She would know more about what was missing when she searched the car.
A car-key remote lay near the body. It couldn't be moved until it had been photographed but Davie wanted to know if it belonged to the Audi. She gloved up, walked toward the car, and discovered that the driver's side front door wasn't locked. That told her the victim hadn't had time to secure the car before he was killed. Since he fell near the trunk, he may have been heading to get his suitcase.
She made notes and then returned to the body. Without disturbing the position of the remote, she pressed the lock button. The Audi's lights flashed. The victim had likely driven the car to the airport, but that couldn't be confirmed until she ran the license plate. Once she viewed the garage surveillance footage, she hoped to see who fired the shot. She pressed the remote again to return the vehicle to its unlocked state.
A cursory search of the car's interior revealed no obvious evidence. Davie swept her hand under the seats but found nothing. Travelers used this garage because it was across the street from the international terminal. Either Woodrow had come to the airport to meet somebody or he was taking a flight himself. If the later was true, he must have a passport in his pocket or in a suitcase.
During her police academy training, instructors had taught her to write only what she saw and heard at a crime scene, not her hunches or conclusions. But she was a homicide detective now so theorizing was part of her job. She flipped open the trunk using the release lever inside the car but saw no luggage there, boosting the theory that Woodrow had come to pick up a returning passenger. On the other hand, Davie already suspected the shooter removed the dog tag. Maybe he'd taken the victim's luggage, as well.
She heard footsteps and turned to see Vaughn walking toward her. "Did you learn anything from the schoolteacher?"
He pulled her aside so the sergeant couldn't hear the conversation. "She heard tires squealing when she stepped out of the elevator and then a car barreling around the corner. The windows were tinted, so she couldn't see the driver, but she believes the car was a BMW, one of the bigger models. She doesn't think the driver saw her but she's scared. I checked the area for tire marks. The garage is full of them. I'll have the techs take some photos, but I doubt they'll lead anywhere."
"We need a copy of the garage security tapes."
Vaughn gestured toward the sergeant. "We aren't going to get any love from Darth Vader over there. I'll call one of the detectives at our substation and ask them to get them."
"Maybe Luna can help. He seems like a decent guy."
"The photographer and the crime scene peeps are on the way. I'll corner Luna."
Excerpted from Outside The Wire by Patricia Smiley. Copyright © 2017 Patricia Smiley. Excerpted by permission of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd..
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