As soon as we entered Apartment 3204, I thanked the universe for Francis J. Townsend, the inventor of Noxzema. I whipped out my tiny cobalt jar from my jacket pocket and slicked cream beneath my nostrils. “I’d stay the hell away from Mason if I were you.” I offered the jar to my partner Colin Taggert.
“Don’t worry, Lou.” He took the jar and dabbed cream on his upper lip. “We had snakes in Colorado, too.”
We eased down the unit’s hallway, nodding to the responding officer who had called it in. As we reached the bedroom door, my step faltered. That smell. Iron. Anger. Spilled beer. Spilled blood. Getting stronger even as time passed.
Colin blanched and his Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat. “Wow.”
I wrinkled my nose. “Gonna be murder getting that smell out. Ready?”
He nodded, but his eyes jittered in their sockets.
I twisted the doorknob.
Dark. Bare. Except for the dead woman laying somewhere on the tattered carpet.
The roving spotlight of our LAPD helicopter played against the walls alongside the red-blue globes of light from emergency vehicles parked three stories below on Nicolet Avenue. Sometimes, the bright light glinted off the scraps of aluminum foil, the silver needles on used syringes, off the backs of roaches, dead and alive.
Heaven, a seventeen-year old hooker, lay somewhere in that trash. The helicopter’s light showed us her left heel before it swung back to the wall.
“How did she get mixed up in all this?” Colin asked.
A gunshot echoed outside, from the ground floor.
“What the hell?” Colin asked.
We left the girl there—alas, she wasn’t going anywhere until the coroner arrived—and ran down the stairs and out of the apartment building. The wet heat slammed into me but I pushed past it and raced down to the carports in the alley.
Officer Mason Kaminski paced near the fallen body of a black male. He rubbed his red face, then let a hand drift to his sweaty bald head. His partner Billy Verrano gaped at the body on the ground.
Sixteen, maybe seventeen years old, the dead kid lay face-up on the asphalt. That crimson stuff that kept us all alive blossomed on his white t-shirt while the stuff that kept us toxic-free darkened his red Dickie’s. The BPS tat on his neck shone with sweat.
“What the hell happened?” I kneeled beside the kid and gripped his wrist.
“He was a wise guy,” Mason said. “Says to me, ‘What up, cuz?’ I told him to stop, to get back over here. He reached for his waistband, and I shot.”
I studied the ground around the kid—cigarette butts, a carton of ZigZags, a single bullet casing.
“Two crime scenes,” Colin said. “Damn.”
Mason frowned, “Crime scene? I ain’t done nothing wrong, Colorado.”
Colin held up his hands. “Relax, dude.”
I beckoned Verrano. “Let’s talk, us three.”
Veranno followed Colin and me toward the stairs.
“So what happened?” I asked.
The patrol cop told me the same as Mason. “But Mason pulled first. If he hadn’t, we’d both be dead.”
Back at the carport, Mason sat on a dilapidated Cutlass, chatting and laughing with two other uniforms. The victim still lay there on the bloody asphalt. . . gun in his left hand.
Was that gun there before?
I’d been up all night dealing with pain in my neck and shoulder. Didn’t sleep. Couldn’t sleep. When was the last time I’d had a good sleep? Was fatigue now making me—?
“Did you run his name?” I asked Mason.
The patrol cop nodded. “T’riq Sellars, seventeen. Jacket as long as the Mississippi River. Future Pelican Bay scholar.”
Colin nodded. “All-American Bad Guy.”
“You said that the kid said, ‘What up, cuz,’ then pulled the gun.”
I pointed to the dead boy. “This kid said that?”
Verrano and Mason both nodded.
I sighed, then backed away from the scene.
Colin followed me. “What’s wrong?”
“The kid’s BPS, Colin,” I said. “A Blood. He’d never say that. And the gun. Was it there when we first got here?”
Colin peered at me. “Umm. . .”
If it had been, I’d missed it. And I’d have to admit that I hadn’t been the same after my car accident up in Bonner Park. And if I admitted that, the powers-that-be would question everything I did.
But if I hadn’t missed it, and the gun was planted after the fact, then, we had a problem. A serious problem that could end with investigations and riots, open season for all cops bullshit.
And when Lieutenant Rodriguez said, “Lou? Was the gun there?”
I swallowed, then said. . .
Trail Of Echoes is the third book in the Detective Elouise Norton mystery series, published by Forge Books, May 2016.
On a rainy spring day in Los Angeles, homicide detective Elouise “Lou” Norton is called away from a rare lunch date to Bonner Park, where the body of thirteen-year-old Chanita Lords has been discovered. When Lou and her partner, Colin Taggert, take on the sad task of informing Chanita’s mother, Lou is surprised to find herself in the apartment building she grew up in.
Chanita was interested in photography and, much like Lou, a black girl destined to leave the housing projects behind. Her death fits a chilling pattern of exceptional African-American girls–dancers, artists, honors scholars-gone recently missing in the same school district, the one Lou attended not so long ago.
Lou is valiantly trying to make a go of life after her divorce and doing everything she can to avoid her long estranged father. She races to catch a serial killer, but he remains frustratingly out of her reach, sending cryptic cyphers and taunting clues that arrive too late to prevent the next death. This one is personal, and it’s only a matter of time before he comes after Lou herself.
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About the author
Rachel Howzell Hall is the author of the Detective Elouise Norton series. Land of Shadows and Skies of Ash (Forge) were included on the Los Angeles Times’ “Books to Read This Summer” for 2014 and 2015, and the New York Times called Lou Norton “a formidable fighter—someone you want on your side.” The third novel in the series, Trail of Echoes, was recently published in May. A featured writer on NPR’s acclaimed ‘Crime in the City’ series, Rachel also served as a mentor in AWP’s Writer to Writer Program and is currently a member of the Mystery Writers of America. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter. Connect with Rachel at rachelhowzell.com
Giveaway: Leave comment below for your chance to win a hardcover copy of Trail Of Echoes. US entries only, please. The giveaway will end June 6, 2016 at 12 AM EST. Good luck everyone!
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