Sunset Express

An Elvis Cole Novel


By Robert Crais

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When a wealthy entrepreneur is accused of murder in Los Angeles, wisecracking private eye Elvis Cole is hired to prove that the evidence was corrupted and becomes suspicious about the defense attorney’s motivations. Prominent restaurateur Teddy Martin is facing charges in his wife’s brutal murder. But he’s not going down without spending a bundle of cash on his defense. So his hotshot attorney hires P.I. Elvis Cole to find proof that Detective Angela Rossi tampered with the evidence. Detective Rossi needs a way back to the fast track after falling hard during an internal investigation five years ago. But Cole needs to know if she’s desperate enough to falsify the case against Martin in order to secure her own position. As Cole and his partner Joe Pike work their way through a tangle of witnesses and an even greater tangle of media, they begin to suspect that it’s not the police who are behind the setup. The sixth book in the Elvis Cole series, Sunset Express is marked by Robert Crais’s dark humor and edge-of-your-seat suspense.


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Jonathan Green came to my office on a hazy June morning with an entourage of three attorneys, a videographer, and an intense young woman lugging eight hundred pounds of sound recording equipment. The videographer shoved past the attorneys and swung his camera around my office, saying, "This is just what we need, Jonathan! It's real, it's colorful, it's L.A.!" He aimed his camera at me past the Mickey Mouse phone and began taping. "Pretend I'm not here."

I frowned at him, and he waved toward the lawyers. "Don't look at me. At them. Look at them."

I looked at them. "What is this?" I was expecting Green and an attorney named Elliot Truly, but not the others. Truly had arranged the meeting.

A man in his mid-forties wearing an immaculately tailored blue Armani suit said, "Mr. Cole? I'm Elliot Truly. This is Jonathan Green. Thanks for seeing us."

I shook hands with Truly first, then Green. Green looked exactly the way he had the two times I'd seen him on 60 Minutes, once when he defended an abortion rights activist accused of murder in Texas and once when he defended a wealthy textile manufacturer accused of murder in Iowa. The Texas case was popular and the Iowa case wasn't, but both were victories for the defense.

The videographer scrambled backward across the office to fit us into his frame, the woman with the sound gear hustling to stay behind the camera as they captured the moment of our first meeting. Armstrong steps onto the moon; the Arabs and the Israelis sign a peace accord; Jonathan Green meets the private detective. The woman with the sound equipment bumped into my desk and the videographer slammed against the file cabinet. The little figures of Jiminy Cricket on the cabinet fell over and the framed photo of Lucy Chenier tottered. I frowned at him again. "Be careful."

The videographer waved some more. "Don't look at me! Not at me! You'll ruin the shot!"

I said, "If you break anything, I'll ruin more than the shot."

Green seemed embarrassed. "This is tiresome, Elliot. We have business here, and I'm afraid we're making a bad impression on Mr. Cole."

Truly touched my arm, trying to mitigate the bad impression. "They're from Inside News. They're doing a six-part documentary on Jonathan's involvement in the case."

The woman with the sound equipment nodded. "The inner workings of the Big Green Defense Machine."

I said, "Big Green Defense Machine?"

The videographer stopped taping and looked me up and down as if he found me lacking but wasn't quite sure how. Then it hit him. "Don't you have a gun?" He glanced around the office as if there might be one hanging on a wall hook.

"A gun?"

He looked at Truly. "He should be wearing a gun. One of those things under the arm." He was a small man with furry arms.

Truly frowned. "A shoulder holster?"

The woman nodded. "A hat would be nice. Hats are romantic."

I said, "Truly."

Jonathan Green's face clouded. "I apologize, Mr. Cole. They've been with us for the past week and it's becoming offensive. If it bothers you, I'll ask them to leave."

The videographer grew frantic. "Hey, forget the gun. I was just trying to make it a little more entertaining, that's all." He crouched beside the watercooler and lifted his camera. "You won't even know we're here. I promise."

Truly pursed his lips at me. My call.

I made a little shrug. "The people who come to me usually don't want a record of what we discuss."

Jonathan Green chuckled. "It may come to that, but let's hope not." He went to the French doors that open onto the little balcony, then looked at the picture of Lucy Chenier. "Very pretty. Your wife?"

"A friend."

He nodded, approving. When he nodded, the two lesser attorneys nodded, too. No one had bothered to introduce them, but they didn't seem to mind.

Jonathan Green sat in one of the leather director's chairs across from my desk and the two lesser attorneys went to the couch. Truly stayed on his feet. The videographer noticed the Pinocchio clock on the wall, then hustled around to the opposite side of my desk so that he could get both me and the clock in the frame. The Pinocchio clock has eyes that move side to side as it tocks. Photogenic. Like Green.

Jonathan Green had a firm handshake, clear eyes, and a jawline not dissimilar to Dudley Do-Right's. He was in his early sixties, with graying hair, a beach-club tan, and a voice that was rich and comforting. A minister's voice. He wasn't a handsome man, but there was a sincerity in his eyes that put you at ease. Jonathan Green was reputed to be one of the top five criminal defense attorneys in America, with a success rate in high-profile criminal defense cases of one hundred percent. Like Elliot Truly, Jonathan Green was wearing an impeccably tailored blue Armani suit. So were the lesser attorneys. Maybe they got a bulk discount. I was wearing impeccably tailored black Gap jeans, a linen aloha shirt, and white Reebok sneakers. Green said, "Did Elliot explain why we wanted to see you?"

"You represent Theodore Martin. You need investigators to help in the defense effort." Theodore "Teddy" Martin had been arrested for Susan Martin's murder and was awaiting trial. He had gone through two prior defense attorneys, hadn't been happy with them, and had recently hired Jonathan Green. All the hirings and firings had been covered big time by the local media.

Green nodded. "That's right. Mr. Cole, I've spoken at length with Teddy and I believe that he's innocent. I want your help in proving it."

I smiled. "Moi?"

The videographer edged in closer. I raised a finger at him. Unh-unh-unnh. He edged back.

Truly said, "We've talked to people, Mr. Cole. You've an outstanding reputation for diligence, and your integrity is above reproach."

"How about that." I glanced at the camera and wiggled my eyebrows. The videographer frowned and lowered the lens.

Jonathan Green leaned toward me, all business. "What do you know about the case?"

"I know what everybody knows. I watch the news." You couldn't read the Times or watch local television without knowing the business about James X and the five hundred thousand dollars and the dumpster. I'd heard Theodore Martin's sound-bite version of it ten thousand times, but I'd also heard the DA's sound-bite version, too, that Teddy and Susan weren't getting along, that Susan had secretly consulted a divorce attorney and told a friend that she was planning a divorce, and that Teddy had offed her to keep her from walking away with half of his estimated one-hundred-twenty-million-dollar fortune. I said, "From what I hear, the police have a pretty good case."

"They believe they have, yes. But I don't think all the facts are in." Green smiled and laced his fingers across a knee. It was a warm smile, tired and knowing. "Did you know that Teddy and Susan loved to cook?"

I shook my head. That one had slipped right by me.

"Teddy arrived home early that night, and they had no engagements, so the two of them decided to cook something elaborate and fun. They spent the next couple of hours making a pepper-roasted pork tenderloin with wild cherry sauce. Teddy makes the sauce with fresh cherries, only they didn't have any, so he ran out to get some."

Truly took a step toward me and ticked points off his fingers. "We have the receipt and the cashier whom Teddy paid. That's where he was when Susan was kidnapped."

Green spread his hands. "And then there's the question of the money. What happened to the money?"

Truly ticked more fingers. "We have the bank transactions and the business manager. The manager says that Teddy was visibly shaken when he came for the money that Friday morning. He says Teddy was white as a sheet and his hands were shaking."

Green nodded. "Yet the cashier remembers that Teddy was relaxed and happy a dozen hours earlier." Green stood and went back to the balcony. The videographer followed him. At the French doors he turned back to me and spread his hands again. I wondered if he thought he was in court. "And then we have the murder weapon and the crime scene evidence."

Truly ticked more fingers. He had used up one hand and was starting on the next. "There were fingerprints on the hammer, but none of them match Teddy. There were also fingerprints on the garbage bags that Susan was in, but those don't match Teddy, either."

I said, "You think he's innocent because of that?"

Green came back to the director's chair, but this time he didn't sit. He stood behind it, resting his hands on the wooden posts that hold the back. "Mr. Cole, I don't win the number of cases that I do because I'm good. I turn down ten cases every day, cases that would bill millions of dollars, because I will not represent people I believe to be guilty."

The videographer went down to the floor for a low-angle shot, the woman with the sound equipment with him, and I heard him mumble, "Oh, man, this is great."

Green said, "I don't represent drug dealers or child molesters. I only take cases that I believe in, so that every time I walk into court I have the moral high ground."

I leaned back and put my foot on the edge of my desk. "And you believe that Teddy is innocent."

"Yes. Yes, I do." He came around to the front of the chair and tapped his chest. "In here I know he's innocent."

The videographer muttered, "This is fabulous," and scrambled around to keep Jonathan Green in the shot.

Green sat and leaned toward me, elbows on knees. "I don't yet know all the facts. I need people like you to help me with that. But I do know that we've received several calls that are disturbing."

Elliot Truly said, "Have you heard of our tip line?"

"I've seen the ads." Green's office was running television, radio, and print ads offering a reward of one hundred thousand dollars for anything leading to the capture, arrest, and conviction of James X. There was a number you could call.

Green said, "We've received over twenty-six hundred calls and there are more every day. We try to weed out the cranks as quickly as possible, but the workload is enormous."

I cleared my throat and tried to look professional. "Okay. You need help running these things down."

Green raised his eyebrows. "Yes, but there's more to it than that. Several of the callers have indicated that one of the arresting officers has a history of fabricating cases."

I stared at him. The videographer scrambled back across the office, again running into the cabinet, but this time I did not look. "Which officer?"

Truly said, "The detective who claims to have found the hammer. Angela Rossi."

I looked at Truly. "Claims?"

Jonathan Green, Elliot Truly, and the camera stared at me. No one spoke.

I looked back at Green. "Do you believe that Angela Rossi planted evidence against Teddy Martin?"

Green shifted in the chair and the camera swung back toward him. He looked uncomfortable, as if the subject bothered him. "I don't want to say that, not yet, but I believe that the possibility exists. She was the first to go down to Susan's body, and she went alone."

Truly said, "She had the opportunity to recover the murder weapon and secrete it on her person."

"A full-size ball-peen hammer."

Truly smiled. "Where there's a will."

I shook my head. "Why would she take the chance?"

Green said, "Elliot."

Truly leaned toward me, serious. "Rossi was on a fast track up the promotion ladder until she blew a homicide investigation two years ago. She failed to Mirandize a suspect who subsequently confessed, and the suspect walked. She might feel she needs a headline case to resurrect her career, and if she tampered with evidence to make this case, it may not be the first time she's done so." Truly made a little hand move at one of the lesser attorneys, and the lesser attorney slipped a manila envelope from his Gucci case and brought it to me. Truly said, "Rossi arrested a man named LeCedrick Earle five years ago for possessing counterfeit money and attempting to bribe an officer. He's currently serving a six-year sentence at Terminal Island." Terminal Island is the federal facility down in San Pedro. "Earle phoned six days ago and told us that Rossi planted the money." He gestured at the envelope. "He's been saying that he was set up since day one, and sent us a copy of his case file and the various letters of complaint to prove it."

I opened the envelope and fingered through the arrest reports, legal correspondence, and letters of complaint. Terminal Island return address, all right. I said, "All perps claim they're innocent and every cop I know has had charges brought against him. It goes with the job."

Green nodded, reasonably. "Of course, but Mr. Earle's claim seems to have a bit more merit than the others."

Truly said, "A former LAPD officer named Raymond Haig told us about the Earle case, also. Haig was Rossi's partner."

I said, "Haig was her partner at that time?"


"And he said that she planted the goods?"

Truly smiled again. "He wouldn't say that, but he says that he knew her and that she would do anything to further her career. He suggested that we look into it."

I said, "If Earle made the allegation, there would've been an internal police investigation."

The smaller lesser attorney said, "There was, but no charges were filed."

Green said, "Mr. Haig indicated that Detective Rossi has a history of excessive behavior."

I put the envelope down and tapped at the edge of my desk. The videographer crept back to the watercooler and focused on me. I said, "Mr. Green, you should know that my partner, Joe Pike, is a former LAPD officer."

"We're familiar with Mr. Pike."

"I work with LAPD often, and I have many friends there, and in the district attorney's office."

He leaned toward me again, very serious now, sincere. "I'm not looking for a stooge. I have plenty of those, believe me." He tried not to glance at the lesser attorneys but couldn't help himself. "I'm looking for an honest detective who won't just tell me what I want to hear. I want the truth. Without the truth, I have nothing. Do you see?"

I nodded. Maybe I could see why he was one of the world's greatest defense attorneys after all.

Truly said, "What we're discussing with you is only a small part of the larger picture. We have sixteen investigators working with us now, and we'll probably have as many as thirty, but you'll be the only investigator working on this aspect of the case."

The larger lesser attorney said, "We have fourteen attorneys on board, in addition to the investigators."

The smaller lesser attorney's head bobbed. "Not to mention eight forensic specialists and three criminalists." He seemed proud when he said it. Peace through superior firepower.

I made a whistling sound. "The best defense money can buy."

Jonathan Green stayed serious. "As I said, there's plenty of work to go around, and more work every day. Will you help us, Mr. Cole?"

I leaned back, thinking about it, and then I held up the envelope. "And what if I find out that Rossi's okay?"

"Then that's what you find. I owe it to myself and my client to exhaust every possibility. Do you see?"

I said, "Wherever it leads."

"That's exactly right."

"The moral high ground."

"My reputation rests on it."

I watched the Pinocchio clock. I looked at the picture of Lucy Chenier. I nodded. "If Rossi's clean, that's what I'll report."

"I wouldn't have it any other way."

Jonathan Green put out his hand and we shook.


We worked out my fee, Elliot Truly cut me a check, and the Big Green Defense Machine left me to get on with it. I stood in the door as they walked to the elevator, watching the videographer record every moment of the departure. Cindy, the woman who runs the beauty supply distribution office next door, came out of the elevator as they were getting on and saw Jonathan. She stared at him until the doors closed, and then she smiled at me. Incredulous. "Isn't he that guy? The lawyer?"

"Jonathan Green."

"I saw him on Geraldo. He's famous."

I held out crossed fingers. "We're like this."

Cindy opened her door, then cocked an eyebrow at me. "I always did think you were cute."

"Big time. I am nothing if not big time."

She laughed and disappeared into her office. That's Cindy.

I went back into my office, closed the door, and looked at the picture of Lucy Chenier. She was sitting in her backyard wearing shorts and hiking boots and an LSU T-shirt. I had had the picture in my office since Lucy sent it to me a little over three months ago, and I looked at it a lot. Lucy was a lawyer, too, but she hadn't been on Geraldo. His loss. I stared at the picture. Something about it wasn't right and, being an astute detective, I deduced that this was because the videographer had bumped the cabinet. It was not too late to rush down the stairs and shoot him, but that would probably be overreacting. Besides, he was part of the Big Green Defense Machine, and teammates shouldn't shoot each other. Jonathan Green might think me small.

I adjusted the picture, then went back to my desk and dialed Lucy's office in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. If Cindy was impressed with Jonathan Green, so might be Lucy Chenier. I am also nothing if not a show-off.

A warm southern voice said, "Ms. Chenier's office." Lucy's assistant, Mrs. Darlene Thomas.

"It's me." I'd phoned quite often in the three months since I'd been in Louisiana, and the calls were becoming more frequent.

"Hello, Mr. Cole. How are we today?"

"We're fine, Darlene. And yourself?" Small talk.

"Very well, thank you. I'm sorry, but she's in court today."

"Oh." Dejected.

Darlene said, "She'll call for her messages, though. I'll tell her that you phoned."

"Tell her that I'm lonely, Darlene."

Darlene laughed. "I'll tell her that Mr. Cole says he's lonely."

"Tell her that I miss her, Darlene. That the longing grows with every passing moment and has become a weight impossible for me to bear."

Darlene gasped. "Oh my, but you do go on!"

I was grinning. Darlene did that to me. "Darlene, have I ever said that you've got a very sexy voice?"

"Get on with you, now! You stop this nonsense before I tell Ms. Chenier!"

We said our good-byes and I called Joe Pike to tell him that we were once more employed. His answering machine picked up on the first ring and beeped. He used to have a one-word message that just said, "Speak," but I guess he felt it was long-winded. Now, there was just the beep. When I asked him how people were supposed to know who they had gotten or what to do, he'd said, "Intelligence test." That Pike is something, isn't he?

I said, "This is the Lone Ranger, calling to inform you that someone has once again been foolish enough to give us money. We're working for Jonathan Green." I hung up. It might be days before I heard from him.

The envelope that Truly left contained a copy of LeCedrick Earle's arrest report as well as a formal letter of complaint written by a public defender on Earle's behalf. The arrest report was written by Officer Angela Rossi and stated that Rossi had arrested Mr. Earle at his home after Mr. Earle attempted to bribe his way out of a traffic code violation with eight hundred dollars in counterfeit one-hundred-dollar bills. The letter of complaint alleged that Rossi had planted the counterfeit money on Mr. Earle and that Mr. Earle was innocent of all wrongdoing. The arrest report said little, and the letter of complaint said even less. She said, he said. A single sheet bearing both Angela Rossi's home address and Raymond Haig's business address and phone number was the last entry in the file. A newspaper photograph of Rossi was clipped to the sheet. It was an old photo that showed an attractive woman with a lean, rectangular face and intelligent eyes. She looked determined.

I put everything back into the envelope, then called my friend Eddie Ditko at the Examiner. Eddie has been a reporter for about ten million years, and he answered with a voice that was maybe three weeks away from throat cancer. "Ditko."

"Is this Eddie Ditko, the world's finest reporter?"

He made a hacking sound like a cat gakking up a hairball. "Yeah, sure, it says that right here on my Pulitzer. Hold on a minute while I wipe my ass with it." That Eddie. Always with just the right thing to say.

"A guy named LeCedrick Earle was busted on a funny money beef five years ago. He claimed it was a setup by the arresting officer."

"They all claim that. It's a natural law." You see?

"The arresting officer was Angela Rossi."

"I'm hearing Notre Dame." Bells.

"Rossi put the cuffs on Teddy Martin. She found the hammer."

Eddie made the gakking sound again. "You're shitting me."


He wasn't saying anything. Thinking. Sniffing the words and smelling a story. "What's this to you?"

I didn't say anything.

He gave the big sigh, like I was asking for an organ donation. "What do you want?"

"Whatever you've got on the Earle arrest, and anything in your files about Rossi." Ever since the Christopher Commission the Examiner kept a database on LAPD officers. The Fourth Estate's version of Big Brother.

"What's this have to do with Teddy Martin?"

I didn't say anything some more.

"Yeah, right. I'll get back to you." Then he said, "You really give me ass cramps."

He hung up without another word. Always the pleasant conversationalist.

I put everything back in the envelope, then locked the office and drove up through Hollywood and the Cahuenga Pass and into the San Fernando Valley. I left the Hollywood Freeway at Barham and drove east along the foot of the Verdugo Hills through Burbank into Glendale. Raymond Haig owned a Mr. Rubber Discount Tire franchise in an area of gas stations and falafel stands and flat single-story buildings with shops that sold secondhand clothes and wholesale electronics. A weathered Hispanic guy in a broken straw hat had set up a little churro cart outside the tire store, the churros hanging in ropes inside the glass cart. The Hispanic guy was decked out in cowboy boots and jeans and a wide leather belt with a gleaming silver buckle inlaid with the image of a Brahma bull. A vaquero. A couple of kids with skateboards were holding fistfuls of wax paper and long brown churros, and a black dog with a bandana around its neck was sitting between them, looking first at one, then the other. Hopeful.

I parked on the street in front of the churro cart, then went into the store. A young Hispanic woman with tired eyes and too much makeup was sitting behind the counter, staring at a little television. I handed her a card. "I need to see Mr. Haig. If you tell him that Elliot Truly sent me, he'll know what it's about."

She took the card and disappeared through a door leading to the service bay, and a couple of minutes later she came back with a tall guy in his late forties. Haig. He was wearing a plaid shirt and a maroon knit tie, and he had a pencil caddy in his shirt pocket. The caddy's plastic flap said Beamis Shocks. He came over. "You Cole?"

"That's right. Elliot Truly said that someone from his office spoke to you, and that you'd be willing to answer a few questions about Angela Rossi."

His face split with a sleek smile and he put out his hand. "You bet. Let's go in back and I'll tell you everything you need to know about that rotten bitch Rossi." Nothing like an unbiased opinion.

He led me to a small office cluttered with parts catalogs and product manuals and posters of bikinied young women posing on lug wrench displays. Enlightened. A couple of padded chairs sat opposite his desk for customers, and a Mr. Coffee with a tower of Styrofoam cups sat on a table next to the glass door. "You want a little coffee?"

"No, thanks."

Haig poured a cup for himself and brought it to his desk. There was a picture of a younger Haig in an LAPD uniform on the desk.

I said, "How long were you on the job?"

"Fifteen bullshit years." Unbiased, all right. "Best move I ever made was getting out and going into business for myself. Yes, sir." He settled in behind the desk, then picked up an unlit cigar and popped it into the side of his mouth. I took out a little pad and a Uniball pen to take notes. He said, "Rossi's the reason I left the goddamned force."

"How so?"

"I didn't want to ride with a woman."

I smiled at him. "You left because you didn't want to ride with a woman."

He pulled the cigar from his mouth and made a move with it. "Hey, you get these women in a car, they're either scared shitless and not worth a damn when things get hairy, or they're out of their minds aggressive and you never know what they're gonna do."

"And Rossi was aggressive?"

"Christ, yes. Always tryin' to be more man than a man." He had some of the coffee, then sucked at the cigar again.

I said, "You were partners when she made the LeCedrick Earle arrest?"

"Yep. That's the bust got her into plainclothes. She got a big promotion off that bust." He leaned back, and I noticed that small brown flecks of matter were scattered over the catalogs and desk and floor. I squinted at them and wondered what they were.

I said, "LeCedrick Earle claims that she planted the money, and Truly says that you agree." I felt something gritty on the arms of the chair and looked. More flecks. Sort of like brown dandruff.

Haig chewed at the cigar, then took it out and examined it. The end was soggy and frayed, and while he looked he absently spit little pieces of tobacco off his tongue. I saw a piece land on an air filter catalog. I saw another piece land on the framed photo of young LAPD Haig. Haig didn't seem to notice, or didn't care. I lifted my elbows from the chair and brushed at my arms. Yuck. Haig shook his head. "Nope. I didn't say that. I said that I wouldn't put it past the bitch."

"But you don't know?"

He shrugged and spit more tobacco. "If you read the arrest report you know I wasn't listed as an arresting officer. Rossi went back later without me. That way only one name gets credit for the collar. You see how she was?"

"She cut you out."

Another shrug. "Just her way. When it came to wearin' a uniform she was just passin' through and she made no secret of it. All she used to talk about was gettin' ahead, gettin' that gold shield. She told me she'd do anything to get that gold shield, and that's what I told Truly. I had to listen to that every goddamned day like a goddamned matrah."



On Sale
Feb 18, 2014
Page Count
338 pages
Hachette Books

Robert Crais

About the Author

Robert Crais lives in Los Angeles and is the author of many New York Times bestsellers, including The First Rule, The Sentry, the #1 bestseller Taken, and Suspect. In 2014 the Mystery Writers of America honored Robert Crais with the Grand Master Award.

Learn more about this author