H is for Homicide Page 2

I stared up at the three-story stucco building, which was mostly retail shops on the ground floor, businesses above. I tried to look like an especially law-abiding citizen instead of a free-lance private investigator with a tendency to fib. "Hi. What's going on? I work in that building and I was hoping to get in."

"We'll be wrapping this up in another twenty minutes. You have an office up there?"

"I'm part of the second-floor insurance complex. What was it, a burglary?"

The hazel eyes did a full survey and I could see the caution kick in. He didn't intend to disseminate information without knowing who I was. "May I see some identification?"

"Sure. I'll just get my wallet," I said. I didn't want him to think I was whipping out a weapon. Cops at a crime scene can be edgy little buggers and probably don't appreciate sudden moves. I handed him my billfold flipped open to my California driver's license with the photostat of my P.I. license visible in the slot below. "I've been out of town and I wanted to drop off some stuff before I headed home." I'd been a cop myself once, but I still tend to volunteer tidbits that are none of their business.

His scrutiny was brief. "Well, I doubt they'll let you in, but you can always ask," he said, gesturing toward a plain-clothes detective with a clipboard. "Check with Sergeant Hollingshead."

I still didn't have a clue what was going on, so I tried again. "Did someone break into the jewelry store?"


"Really?" Scanning the parking lot, I could see the cluster of police personnel working in an area where the body probably lay. Nothing was actually visible at that remove, but most of the activity was concentrated in the vicinity. "Who's been assigned to the case, Lieutenant Dolan, by any chance?"

"That's right. You might try the mobile crime lab if you want to talk to him. I saw him head in that direction a few minutes ago."

"Thanks." I crossed the parking lot, my gaze flickering to the paramedics, who were just packing up. The police photographer and a guy with a notebook doing a crime scene sketch were measuring the distance from a small ornamental shrub to the victim, whom I could see now, lying facedown on the pavement. The shoes were man-size. Someone had covered the body with a tarp, but I could still see the soles of his Nikes, toes touching, heels angled out in the form of a V.

Lieutenant Dolan appeared, heading in my direction. When our paths intersected, we shook hands automatically, exchanging benign pleasantries. With him, there's no point in barging right in with all the obvious questions. Dolan would tell me as much or as little as suited him in his own sweet time. Curiosity only makes him stubborn, and persistence touches off an inbred crankiness. Lieutenant Dolan's in his late fifties, not that far from retirement from what I'd heard, balding, baggy-faced, wearing a rumpled gray suit. He's a man I admire, though our relationship has had its antagonistic moments over the years. He's not fond of private detectives. He considers us a useless, though tolerable, breed and then only as long as we keep off his turf. As a cop, he's smart, meticulous, tireless, and very shrewd. In the company of civilians, his manner is usually remote, but in a squad room with his fellow officers, I've caught glimpses of the warmth and generosity that elicit much loyalty in his subordinates, qualities he never felt much need to trot out for me. This morning he seemed reasonably friendly, which is always worrisome.

"Who's the guy?" I said finally.

"Don't know. We haven't ID'd him yet. You want to take a look?" He jerked his head, indicating that I was to follow as he crossed to the body. I could feel my heart start to pump in my throat, the blood rushing to my face. In one of those tingling intimations of truth, I suddenly knew who the victim was. Maybe it was the familiar tire-tread soles of the running shoes, the elasticized rim of bright pink sweat pants, a glimpse of bare ankle showing dark skin. I focused on the sight with a curious sense of deja vu. "What happened to him?"

"He was shot at close range, probably sometime after midnight. A jogger spotted the body at six-fifteen and called us. So far we don't have the weapon or any witnesses. His wallet's been lifted, his watch, and his keys."

He leaned down and picked up the edge of the tarp, pulling it back to reveal a young black man, wearing sweats. As I glanced at the face in side view, I pulled a mental plug, disconnecting my emotions from the rest of my interior processes. "His name is Parnell Perkins. He's a California Fidelity claims adjuster, hired about three months ago. Before that, he worked as a rep for an insurance company in Los Angeles." The turnover among adjusters is constant and no one thinks anything about it.

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