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ALSO BY FAYE KELLERMAN
Sacred and Profane
The Quality of Mercy
Milk and Honey
Day of Atonement
Prayers for the Dead
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2003 by Faye Kellerman
All rights reserved.
Warner Books, Inc.
Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Visit our website at www.HachetteBookGroup.com.
First eBook Edition: August 2003
I saw him frantically waving the white flag, a man admitting defeat. As I pulled the cruiser into one of the alley's parking spaces, blocking a silver Mercedes S500, I realized that the banner was, in fact, a napkin. He wore a solid wall of white, the hem of a long, stained apron brushing his white jeans midshin. Though it was night, I could see a face covered with moisture. Not a surprise because the air was a chilly mist: typical May-gloom weather in L.A. I radioed my whereabouts to the dispatcher and got out, my right hand on my baton, the other swinging freely at my side. The alley stank of garbage, the odor emanating from the trash bins behind the restaurant. The flies, normally shy in the dark, were having a field day.
The rear area of The Tango was illuminated by a strong yellow spotlight above the back door. The man in white was short, five-seven at the most, with a rough, tawny complexion, a black mustache, and hands flapping randomly. He was agitated, talking bullet-speed Spanish. I picked up a few words, but didn't ask him to stop and translate, because I heard the noise myself—the high-pitched wails of a baby.
"Where?" I yelled over his words. "Dónde?"
"Aquí, aquí!" He was pointing to an army-green Dumpster filled to the brim with blue plastic refuse bags.
"Call 911." I ran to the site and pulled out several bags, tearing one open and exposing myself to a slop of wilted salad greens, mushy vegetables, and golf balls of gray meat and congealed fat. As I sifted through the trash, my clean, pressed uniform and I became performance art, the deep blue cloth soaking up the oils and stains of previously pricey edibles. "I need help! Necesito ayuda! Ahorita."
"Sí, sí!" He dashed back inside.
The crying was getting louder and that was good, but there was still no sign of the wail's origin. My heart was slamming against my chest as I sorted through the top layer of bags. The bin was deep. I needed to jump inside to remove all the bags, but I didn't want to step on anything until I had checked it out. Three men came running out of the back door.
"Escalera!"—a ladder—I barked. "Yo necisito una escalera."
One went back inside, the other two began pulling out bags.
"Careful, careful!" I screamed. "I don't know where it is!" I used the word "it" because it could have been a thrown-away kitten. When agitated, felines sound like babies. But all of us knew it wasn't a cat.
Finally, the ladder appeared and I scurried up the steps, gingerly removing enough bags until I could see the bottom, a disc of dirty metal under the beam of my flashlight. I went over legs first and, holding the rim with my hands, lowered myself to the bottom. I picked a bag at random, checked inside, then hoisted it over the top when I satisfied myself that it didn't contain the source of the noise.
Slow, Cindy, I told myself. Don't want to mess this up.
With each bag removed, I could hear myself getting closer to the sound's origin. Someone had taken the time to bury it. Fury welled inside me, but I held it at bay to do a job. At the bottom layer, I hit pay dirt—a newborn girl with the cord still attached to her navel, her face and body filthy, her eyes scrunched up, her cries strong and tearless. I yelled out for something to wrap her in, and they handed me a fresh, starched tablecloth. I wiped down the body, cleaned out the mouth and nose as best as I could, and bundled her up—umbilicus and all. I held her up so someone could take her from me. Then I hoisted myself up and out.
The man who had flagged me down offered me a wet towel. I wiped down my hands and face. I asked him his name.
"Good job, Señor Delacruz!" I smiled at him. "Buen trabajo."
The man's eyes were wet.
Moments later, the bundle was passed back to me. I felt grubby holding her, but obviously since I was the only woman in the crowd, I was supposed to know about these kinds of things.
Actually, I did know a thing or two about infants, having a half sister eighteen years my junior. Her mother, Rina—my stepmother—had become very ill after childbirth and guess who stepped up to the plate when my father was in a near state of collapse? (Who could have blamed him? Rina almost died.)
The positive side was the sisterly bonding, at least on my part. Hannah Rosie Decker was my only blood sibling, and they didn't come any cuter or better than she. I adored her. Matter of fact, I liked my father's family very much. Rina's sons were great kids and I loved them and respected them as much as anyone could love and respect step-relatives. Rina took wonderful care of my father, a feat worth noting because Dad was not the easiest person to get along with. I knew this from firsthand experience.
"Did anyone call 911?"
"Yo hable." Delacruz handed me another clean rag to wipe my dirty face.
"Thank you, señor." I had put a clean napkin over my shoulder and was rocking the baby against my chest. "If you can, get some warm sugar water and dunk a clean napkin into it. Then bring it to me."
The man was off in a flash. The baby's cries had quieted to soft sobs. I suddenly noticed that my own cheeks were warm and wet, thrilled that this incident had resolved positively. Delacruz was back with the sugar water–soaked napkin. I took it and put the tip of a corner into her mouth. Immediately, she sucked greedily. In the distance I heard a wail of sirens.
"We've got to get you to the hospital, little one. You're one heck of a strong pup, aren't you?"
I smelled as overripe as rotten fruit. I placed the infant back into Delacruz's arms. "Por favor, give her to the ambulance people. I need to wash my hands."
He took the bundle and began to walk with her. It was one of those Kodak moments, this macho man cooing in Spanish to this tiny, displaced infant. The job had its heartbreak, but it also had its rewards.
After rotating my shoulders to release the tension, I went through the back door of The Tango and asked one of the dishwashers where I could clean up. I heard a gasp and turned around. A man wearing a toque was shooing me away with dismissive hands. "Zis is a food establishment! You cannot come in here like zat!"
"Someone dumped a baby in the trash outside." My stare was fierce and piercing. "I just rescued her by opening up fifteen bags of garbage. I need to wash my hands!"
Toque was confused. "Here? A bébé?"
"Yes, sir! Here! A bébé!" I spotted a cloud of suds that had filled up a sink. Wordlessly, I walked over and plunged my hands inside very warm water. What the heck! All the china went into a dishwasher anyway, right? After ridding my hands of the grime, I ran the cold water full blast and washed my face. One of the kitchen workers was nice enough to offer me a clean towel. I dried myself off and looked up.
The ambulance had arrived, red strobe lights pulsing through the windows. I pointed to Mr. Toque and gave him my steely-eyed look. "Like heartburn, I'll be back. Don't go anywhere."
The EMTs had already cut the cord and were cleaning her up. I regarded the medics as they did their job. A sturdy black woman was holding the baby in her arms while a thin white kid with a consumptive complexion was carefully wiping down the infant's face. Both were gloved.
"How's she doing?" I asked.
They looked up. The thin kid smiled when he saw me. "Whew, you musta been hungry."
The kid's name tag said B. HANOVER. I gave him a hard stare and he recoiled. "Jeez. Just trying out a little levity, Officer. It breaks the tension."
"How's she doing?" I repeated.
The woman answered. Her name was Y. Crumack. "Fine, so far … a success story."
"That's always nice."
The infant's placenta had been bagged and was resting on the ground a couple of feet away. It would be taken to a pathology lab, the tissue examined for disease and genetic material that might identify her. For no good reason, I picked up the bag.
Crumack said, "We'll need that. It has to be biopsied."
"Yeah, I know. Where are you taking her?"
"Mid-City Pediatric Hospital."
"The one on Vermont," I said.
"Only one I know," Hanover said. "Any ideas about the mom?"
"Not a clue."
"You should find her," Hanover informed me. "It would help everyone out."
"Wow, I hadn't thought about that," I snapped. "Thanks for sharing."
"No need to get testy," Hanover sneered.
Crumack opened the back door, strapping the baby in an infant seat. The wailing had returned. I assumed that to be a positive sign. I gave her the bagged placenta and she placed it in the ambulance.
"She sounds hungry," I said.
"Starved," Crumack answered. "Her abdomen is empty."
"Her head looks … I don't know … elongated, maybe? What's that all about?"
"Probably from being pushed out of the birth canal. Main thing is, it isn't crushed. She was real lucky, considering all the things that could have gone wrong. She could've swallowed something and choked; she could've suffocated; she could've been crushed. This is an A-one outcome." She patted my shoulder. "And you're part of it."
I felt my eyes water. "Hey, don't look at me, thank Señor Delacruz," I told her. "He's got good ears."
The man knew enough English to recognize a compliment. His smile was broad.
"Any idea how many hours she's been alive?" I asked the techs.
Hanover said, "Her body temperature hasn't dropped that much. Of course, she was insulated in all that garbage. I'd say a fairly recent dump."
"So what are we talking about?" I asked. "Two hours? Four hours?"
"Maybe," Crumack said. "Six hours, max."
I checked my watch. It was ten-thirty. "So she was dumped around four or five in the afternoon?"
"Sounds about right." Crumack turned to his partner. "Let's go."
I called out, "Mid-City Pediatric!"
Hanover reconfirmed it, slid behind the wheel, and shut the door, moving on out with sirens blaring and lights blazing. My arms felt incredibly empty. Although I rarely thought about my biological clock—I was only twenty-eight—I was suddenly pricked by maternal pangs. It felt good to give comfort. Long ago, that was my primary reason for becoming a cop.
The clincher was my father, of course.
He had discouraged me from entering the profession. Being the ridiculously stubborn daughter I was, his caveats had the opposite effect. There were taut moments between us, but most of that had been resolved. I truly loved being a cop and not because I had unresolved Freudian needs. Still, if I had been sired by a "psychologist dad" instead of a "lieutenant dad," I probably would have become a therapist.
I unhooked my radio from my belt and called the dispatcher, requesting a detective to the scene.
When was the trash last emptied? … Before Mr. Delacruz?"
I was addressing Andre Racine, the sous-chef at The Tango. He was taller than I by about three inches, making him around five-eleven, with broad shoulders and the beginnings of a beer belly hanging over the crossed strings of his apron. His toque was slightly askew, looking like a vanilla soufflé. We were talking right near the back door so I could keep an eye on what was going on outside.
"Ze trash is emptied at night. Sometimes eet is two days, not longer."
"The back door was open at the time. You didn't hear anyone crying or rummaging around back here?"
The man shook his head. "Eet is a racket in a keetchen with all zee equipment and appliances running. Eet is good if I can hear myself think!"
I had spoken to several other kitchen employees and they had said the same thing. I could confirm the noise myself. There were the usual rumbles and beeps of the appliances, plus one of the guys had turned on a boom box to a Spanish station specializing in salsa music. To add to the cacophony, the restaurant featured a live band—a jazz combo that included electric guitar, bass, piano, and drums. The din would have driven me crazy, but I supposed that these men felt lucky to have steady jobs in this climate.
Though the back door was open, the screen door was closed to prevent infestations of rodents or pesky, winged critters. It was hard to see through the mesh. Nothing seemed suspicious to my eyes, no one was giving off bad vibes. Quite the contrary: All these good people had come out to help. They were exhausted by the incident and so was I. Looking up from my notepad, I thanked the stunned chef, then walked outside to catch my breath and organize my notes. My watch was almost up and a gold shield was on the way to take over the investigation. I began to write the names of my interviewees in alphabetical order. After each name, I listed the person's position and telephone number. I wanted to present the primary detective with something organized … something that would impress.
A few minutes later, a cruiser pulled up and parked in the alley, perpendicular to the spaces behind The Tango, blocking all the cars including mine. Greg Van Horn got out, his gait a bow-legged strut that buckled under the weight of his girth. He wasn't fat, just a solid hunk of meat. Greg was in his early sixties, passing time until retirement. He'd been married twice, divorced twice. Rumor still had him as a pussy hound, and a bitter one at that. But he was nice enough to me. I think he had worked with my father way back when, and there had been some mutual admiration.
Greg was of medium height, with a thick top of coarse gray hair. His face was round with fleshy features including a drinker's nose. His blue suit was boxy on him. Anything he wore would have been boxy. I gave him a thirty-second recap, then showed him my notepad. I pointed out Martino Delacruz. "He lives on Western. He's worked at The Tango for six years."
"Green card?" Van Horn asked.
"Yes, he has one. After things calmed down, he showed it to me without my asking." I paused. "Not that it's relevant. It's not as if he's going to trial as a witness or anything."
"Never can tell, Decker." He moved a sausage-size finger across the bridge of his nose. Not wiping it, more like scratching an itch inside his flaring nostrils.
"He went outside to take out the trash and heard the baby crying," I continued. "He was going to call for help, but then he spotted my cruiser. You want me to bring him over to you, sir?"
Van Horn's eyes swept over my face, then walked downward, stopping short of my chest. His eyes narrowed. "I think you need to change your uniform."
"I know that. I'm going off duty in twenty minutes, unless you need me to stick around."
"I might need another pair of hands. Sooner we find the mother, the better."
I gave a quick glance over my shoulder. "Not much here in the way of a residential area."
"Not on Hollywood, no. But if you go south, between Hollywood and Sunset, there are lots of houses and apartments."
"Do you want me to go door-to-door now, sir?"
A glance at his watch. "It'll take time. Is that a problem for you, Decker?"
"No, not at all, Detective. Where would you like me to start?"
Van Horn's nose wrinkled. "You really need to put on something clean, Decker."
"Want me to go change and then come back?" I spoke without rancor. Being polite meant being cautious. As far as I was concerned, the less my personality stood out, the happier I was.
"I take it you have no plans tonight, Decker?"
"Just a hot date with my shower."
He smiled, then took another peek at his watch. "It's late … probably too late to canvass thoroughly."
"I'll come back tomorrow and help you search if you want."
"I doubt if your sergeant will want to pull you out of circulation just for that."
"I'll do it in the morning, on my own time."
"And knowing my stock, that surprises you?"
A grin this time. "You're gonna do just fine, Decker."
High praise coming from Greg.
"While I talk to the people on your list, you cordon off the area and look around for anything that might give us a clue as to who the mother is. I suppose at this late hour, our best bet could be a request for public help on the eleven o'clock news."
A news van pulled up just as the words left his mouth. "You're prescient, Detective. Here's your chance."
"ABC, eh?" A flicker of hesitancy shot through his eyes. "Is that the one with the anchorwoman who has the white streak in her black hair, like a skunk?"
"I don't know. … There's NBC. The others can't be far behind." I patted his shoulder. "It's show time."
"How's your Q, Decker?"
"Me?" I pointed to my chest. "You've got the gold shield, Greg."
"But you found the baby."
"Yeah, but I stink and you're in a suit." I waved him off. "I'll go yellow-tape the area and look around."
"You sure?" But he was already straightening his tie and smoothing his hair. "Yeah, tape off the area. Don't sweat it too much, Decker. I can pretty much take it from here. And hey, I'll take you up on your offer … to canvass the area tomorrow."
"That'll work for me."
"Good. We'll coordinate in a moment. Just let me get these clowns off my back."
"Show 'em what a real detective looks like, huh?"
"You tell 'em, Greg."
Van Horn made tracks toward a grouping of handheld Mini-cams, lurching like a cowboy ready for the showdown.
In Hollywood, everybody's a star.
A half block from the restaurant was a pool of something that didn't smell like water and shone ruby red under the beam of the flashlight. There were also intermittent drips from the puddle to the Dumpster behind The Tango. Because of the location, I thought of a homeless woman or a runaway teen, someone scared and unstable. She would have to be on the skids, pushing out a baby in a back alley, all alone amid a host of bugs and rats.
The blood of childbirth—if we were lucky.
If the mother was someone local, it would narrow the search. Maybe knocking on doors wouldn't be the answer. Maybe my best bet would be to hunt down the throwaways, to crawl through the underbelly of Hollywood, a city that offered so much but rarely made good on its promises.
I showed the spot to Greg Van Horn after he did his dog-and-pony show for the nightly news. He regarded the blood while scratching his abundant nose.
"Homicide?" I asked him.
"Can't be ruled out." His jaws were bulging as if chewing on something hard. "My instincts tell me no. The configuration doesn't look like a murder."
"The concentration of blood in one spot as well as the absence of spatter."
Van Horn nodded. "Yeah, exactly."
"I was thinking about someone homeless. Who else would squat in a back alley?"
"I'll buy that." Eyes still on the pond of blood, he took out his cellular phone. "Time to call in the techs."
"Want me to walk around the area, sir? See if I can find some street people?"
"Did you finish roping the area?"
"Sure. Go pretend you're a gold shield, Decker."
Low blow, Greg. I said with a smile, "Just testing out my mettle."
"I thought you already passed that test."
This time the smile was genuine. "That was nice. Thank you."
"Get out of here."
I skipped over the yellow tape, walking about a hundred yards north through the alley and onto Hollywood Boulevard. The sidewalks weren't paved with gold, but they were filled with lots of black-stoned stars set into red granite. Each star represented a different icon of the entertainment media—TV, film, radio, or the recording industry. The good news was that recent gentrification and climbing real estate prices had preserved some of the older architecture and had cleaned up lots of the seedier aspects of the area.
The western part of the boulevard was breaking through, probably like Times Square had done a dozen or so years ago. The city planners were smart enough to face-lift its known quantities, like the famous movie houses—Mann's Chinese Theatre, Egyptian, and El Capitan—as well as the sideshow carnival attractions like Ripley's Believe It or Not and the Hollywood Wax Museum. In addition, the renovated sector now boasted several eye-catching shopping galleries and a spanking-new gold-and-black-granite live theater built by Kodak. These landmarks drew lots of tourists, those hoping to be touched by magic or, at the very least, bask in its afterglow.
It was the night that brought out the predators, individuals who thrived on marginal life. The eastern portion of Hollywood was the domain of tattoo parlors and bail bondsmen, of cheap retail shops, several no-tell motels and fast-food joints.
The Tango sat on the border between the bright lights of old glamour and the slums of decay. As economic revival crept eastward, some of the neon spilled over, but not nearly enough to illuminate the hidden cracks and crevices. I didn't have to walk too far before I found someone. She sat on the sidewalk, her back against the painted glass window advertising 50 percent off bargain-basement clothing. Her knees were pressed against her chest, and a thin blanket was thrown over her body and tucked under her chin. Her age was indeterminate—anywhere from twenty to fifty. Her hair was matted and dirty, her complexion so pancaked with grime that it could have held membership to any race. Black pupils peered out through vacant red-rimmed orbs, her mouth a slash mark with skin stretched tightly over a bony framework. By her side were a coin cup, several paper bags, and a tattered backpack.
I dropped a dollar in the cup. She nodded but didn't make eye contact. I sat beside her and she stiffened. She stank of sweat and misery, but right now I didn't smell too wonderful myself.
"What happened to you?" she pronounced in a raspy voice.
I raised my eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
"Your clothes need a cleanin', Officer."
"Oh … that. I went rooting through the garbage tonight."
"Then we's got somethin' in common."
I smiled. "I don't think we've ever met."
She looked down at her covered knees. "You're Officer Cindy."
I let out a laugh. "Beg your pardon. The mistake is mine."
"It was raining. You gave me a ride. … Brang me to a shelter."
I squinted, taking in her face. "Alice Anne?"
A hint of a smile appeared on her lips.
I made a face. "You promised me you'd stop hitting the sauce."
"I kept my promise."
"For how long? Twenty-four hours?"
"A little longer."
"Tsk, tsk, girl."
This time, she took in my face. "What happened to you?"
"Funny you should ask. I found a baby at the bottom of a Dumpster."
"Ugh!" Alice Anne exclaimed. "That be terrible! Is it okay?"
"The baby is fine."
"Hard enough bein' an a-dult out here." She spat. "Ain't no place for a baby."
"Any ideas, Alice Anne?"
"Me?" She sounded surprised. "It ain't mine, sister."
"I'm not pointing a finger. But do you have any clue who it might belong to?"
She was quiet.
"Come on, Alice Anne. We need to find her."
"Don't know nothin'."
Maybe yes, maybe no. "Could be you've seen someone out here who was pregnant—"
- On Sale
- Aug 1, 2003
- Page Count
- 432 pages
- Grand Central Publishing