Skies of AshOccupation: LAPD Homicide Detective

Even with a bloody hole in the middle of her buttermilk-colored forehead, Dianne Hannigan made the cops standing over her sigh and whisper, “Wow.”

Colin ran his hand over his spiky blond hair. “She shouldn’t be dead.”

I shrugged. “A woman this beautiful only has so many places she’ll end up.” I paused, then added, “Like, in a L’il Wayne video.”

“Or with some king from some Middle Eastern country,” he added.

“Or on a floor,” I said, “soaking in her own blood.”

Dianne Hannigan was not Queen Noor of Jordan nor was she shaking her ass to “How To Love.” She lay on the hardwood floor of the den in her Baldwin Hills ranch-style.

Three lemon-scented candles burned on the mantel. Two near-empty glasses of red wine sat on the coffee table. Pages of the Wall Street Journal spread across the couch cushions, and Essence magazine had fallen to the Persian rug. Looked like a normal Sunday night.

Until you glimpsed crimson blood splatter darkening to maroon, drops of it violating the Diego Rivera print and the white keys of the baby grand piano.

The dead man collapsed beside Dianne Hannigan was more Jimmy Walker than Idris Elba. The back of his skull had been blown out, and bits of brain and skull-bone had landed in the lace neckline of his wife’s pink nightgown. Middle-age gut, receding hairline and jagged fingernails—Abner Hannigan had not been a vain man.

The couple’s matching platinum and diamond wedding bands told me their story.

So did the Smith & Wesson revolver still in Abner’s right hand.

Colin peered at me with clear iceberg blue eyes. “Lou, you there?”

“Barely.” I swallowed, but my mouth remained dry.

“The neighbor said that they’d been arguing a lot this week,” Officer Anderson shared. “Friday night, Mrs. Hannigan threatened to divorce him right there on the front lawn.” The chubby cop glanced at the little steno pad clutched in his brown paw. “Then, Mr. Hannigan flipped out, ran back into the house, came out with a golf club and fucked up her Escalade.”

“Damn,” Colin and I both said.

“The kids—Keith, twenty, and Ava, sixteen—witnessed the fight,” the R/O continued, “and they called us. Said their parents were drunk-ass drunks, always fighting. But the golf club, that was something new.”

“Anybody get arrested?” I asked.

“Nope,” Anderson said. “It was all a misunderstanding, nothing to see here, officers.”

Colin and I stared at the Hannigans as Officer Anderson wandered to the foyer. He opened the front door and sounds of radio chatter, emergency vehicle sirens and sobbing drifted into the den until that door closed again. The loud parts of death investigations blocked again by solid wood.

Dianne Hannigan’s long sepia hair spread about her head in a clumpy halo. The drying blood pinned her to the wood planks. Abner’s right hand, curled into a fist, sat in a pool of blood above his head, and the silver Apple watch…

I cocked my head.

“What?” Colin asked.

“I spy, with my little eyes…” I pointed to Abner’s high-tech watch.

“Pretty sweet,” Colin said. “I hear that it tracks—”

“Who cares?” I snapped. “I’m sure it’ll provide some cool ‘aha’ moment tomorrow, but right now, I’m old school. He’s wearing it on his right wrist.”

“Yeah? So?”

“Your watch is on which wrist?”

Colin lifted his left hand—his gaudy Tommy Hilfiger piece shimmered in the light.

I also lifted my left hand—my classic Timex, a college graduation gift from Mom, kept on ticking after twenty years. “You’re right-handed. I am, too.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Again: So?”

“His watch is on his right wrist—unless he’s gauche, that would mean he’s left-handed.”

“Ha. Gauche. Left. I see what you did—” Colin stopped and stared at me. Then, he slowly turned to look down at Abner.

“And if he’s left-handed,” I said, “why is he holding the gun in his right hand?”

Colin’s Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat. “You could be wrong.”

“It’s happened before,” I admitted. But the gnawing in my belly, the familiar ache that always warned, ‘Here there be monsters,’ goaded my righteous rightness the longer I stood over this dead couple. The pounding in my head quickened as I said, “You don’t shoot a gun with your off-hand and actually hit the target.”

“And he hit his target twice,” Colin noted. “The middle of her forehead and, I’m guessing, whatever he was aiming at when he stuck the gun in his mouth.” He took a deep breath but held it as he peered at me.

I nodded. “Strange, right?”

He took a minute before he nodded and finally exhaled. “We need to talk to the kids.”

Abner and Dianne. . . What the hell happened here?

You can read more about Detective Elouise ‘Lou’ Norton in Skies of Ash, the second book in the “Detective Lou Norton” mystery series, published by Forge Books. The first book in the series is Land of Shadows.

GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment by 12 a.m. eastern on June 5 for the chance to win a copy of Skies of Ash. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. Winner will be notified within 48 hours after giveaway closes and you will have three days to respond after being contacted or another winner will be selected. Make sure to check your SPAM folder.

About the author
Rachel Howzell Hall lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter. Her first novel, A Quiet Storm, received a starred review from Library Journal and was a featured selection for Borders’ Original Voices program, as well as an alternate selection for Black Expressions book club. Skies of Ash is her second novel featuring Detective Elouise Norton. Visit Rachel at

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