At ten o'clock on a Friday night on the streets of Hollywood, the sound of sirens aren't likely to turn a lot of heads. Even if those sirens are accompanied by police helicopters, their search lights strafing Sunset Boulevard, swinging to illuminate the dark cracks and crevices behind and around Grauman's Chinese theater, occasionally clashing with spotlights midair like some kind of matter-antimatter event.
And that thought you can blame on the movie I just saw here in the theater.
The latest sci-fi feature had opened amid the proverbial glamour of Hollywood, complete with lines that circled the city block, clowns and street musicians, vendors peddling cheap flashing lights, Darth Vader and Spider-Man soliciting five bucks per photo from the tourists, and an exsanguinated body in the men's room stall.
That last was the reason I was standing in the rain, chatting with a Marilyn Monroe look-alike, instead of in a nice warm bed fucking the socks off a certain somebody.
Okay, first let me explain.
It was a Friday night and Peter and I were, for lack of a better term, “on a date.” That's right, dinner and a movie. With a good chance of an aperitif at his place later.
Now, if you know me, you know dating's not exactly my shtick. But after years of finding Peter conveniently available whenever I was in the mood to drop in, I'd found Peter inconveniently being “courted” by a younger man and, well, I felt called upon to step up to the plate, as they say.
“You want to see that?” We were near a construction site, the plywood walls built around it plastered with posters for one movie.
Peter dragged his gaze away from the poster he'd been ogling. “Nah,” he said.
“Yes you do.”
He sneaked another peek at the life-size image of a gorgeous young man in a spandex costume with a little logo on the left breast. “When I was a kid I wanted to be James Kirk,” Peter confessed sheepishly.
I eyed the poster. My guess was Peter had wanted to do James Kirk, but I had an intuition suggesting this would be like suggesting he'd wanted to do his priest, so I kept my yap shut.
“Well, then. Let's go see it next week.”
There, I'd surprised him. “Okay.”
Jonathan, the aforesaid young man, had taken Peter to some symphonic performance a few weeks previously. Peter kept telling me that he and Jonathan were just friends, but nobody lays down a couple hundred bucks on tickets to sit in a stuffy room and listen to men play violins unless he has ulterior motives. A man is a man; I don't care how pink cheeked and bright eyed that man may be. So, not to be outdone, I'd gone whole hog. Gotten tickets for the opening week in the main theater at the Grauman's Chinese, reservations at Peter's favorite restaurant. Kind of place you have to wear a tie.
“Hang on.” Peter brushed at invisible lint on my shoulder. “Turn around,” he commanded.
So I did the runway turn there in his hallway. “Peter, we're going to be late.”
When I faced him again, he had that smile he sometimes gets. Like he knew a secret about me that even I didn't know. A look in his eyes that made me want to tear off both our suits and drag him into the bedroom. It'd been a long time since I'd seen Peter anything but worried and exhausted. Made the whole damned rigmarole worth it.
Things started going wrong right off the bat, of course. Firstly, it was the coldest day on record since 1922 in the city of Los Angeles. Rain poured from the sky as if from a bucket. The traffic was an unholy mess from the mountains to the sea, and the restaurant I'd made reservations at had a flood in the basement that blew out their generators and shut the place down.
“It's okay,” Peter said. And he still had that smile. “We'll pick up something on our way back to my place.”
Then while we stood in line at the theater, it started to rain, again. Peter had to give his umbrella to a couple of old people in front of us, so we got good and wet and waited in line pressed up under the eaves of a pawn shop, trying to stay out of the direct downpour.
Peter's head was damp enough that the tips of his short blond hair were dark. The ends of his fingers, when I surreptitiously grabbed his hand, were freezing cold. I could feel water dribbling down the back of my neck, uncomfortably combining with the itch of the wool suit.
But none of that mattered, really. Peter's cheeks and the tip of his nose were pink, the way they got when he was happy. And as we stood there, I observed a couple of boyish hops for glee. In the theater proper he actually sneaked his hand over and squeezed my leg, and I figured payback afterward was going to be something to write home about.
My mistake was running into the men's room before leaving. Damned buttered popcorn goes through me like chaff. Anyway, the minute I walked through the door I sensed it. Something particular and very familiar.
The place wasn't crowded, but there were two guys standing at the urinal. They both gave me a look and shifted their shoulders, dropping eyes immediately. I'm a big guy, and men tend to do that when they feel vulnerable. For instance, when they've got their pants unzipped and their dicks out. Anyway, neither looked up and into the mirrors again, which was a good thing because it gave me a few minutes to suss out the source of the particular something.
The end stall was closed and, I noted, jammed shut. Both of the dudes finished their business without looking or commenting, while I jerked on the door a few times until whatever it was tore loose, and I could swing it open.
A young Caucasian male had been propped, fully dressed, on the pot. Legs spread, head back and resting against the wall, lips parted, eyes closed, but not in sleep. Deader than the proverbial doornail. He was white white and still, with two big red holes in his neck. He hadn't been there long. I guessed maybe an hour, maybe less. I discerned this by running a few tests that a crime scene tech would gag to observe.
I heard the door to the men's room swing open, footsteps on the tile, and then Peter calling, “Hey, Adam, you almost finished?”
“Sure, Peter, give me a second.”
What to do with my unfortunate friend?
Because the minute Peter found out there was a dead body in there, our date was over.
Peter's a homicide detective, and he'd undoubtedly feel it was his duty to call in a dead body. Then stand around waiting for the officers to answer the call, then helpfully inform said officers of anything he might have noted and then, probably, end up working through the night.
The man was dead. Had been dead, as I said, for at least an hour. What the hell difference could it make if Peter spent a few hours relaxing and maybe getting some for the first time in weeks?
Not that I'm selfish or anything. Okay, hell yes, I'm selfish. In the past six months, I don't think Peter has taken one day off.
Close on the heels of the investigation resulting from the death of yours truly, Peter had been assigned the murder of Howard Snipes, a flamboyant former child actor frequently in the news before he had been found at the foot of a flight of stairs, a red silk scarf knotted around his throat, face blue, tongue extended--an image that had hit every tabloid's front page almost before the body had made it to the coroner's office.
It had been one of those investigations cursed from the get-go. From the compromised crime scene to questions of jurisdiction and a challenged will.
And then one day a former girlfriend had simply walked into the LA Sheriff's Department Compton office and confessed.
Peter had a break. For the first time in years. And I planned to take full advantage of it.
Here's something I'll tell you from the unique perspective of having all eternity to look forward to: no job in the world is as important as you think it is. Peter works too hard. I've told him so before. We've argued about it a bit actually. There are over one thousand homicides in the city of Los Angeles in a year. No way these guys are ever going to catch up. What's one more stiff, I reasoned.
Rigor hadn't begun to set in, so I was able to push the corpse's head down between his knees, pulling his feet up and his arms around so that his body assumed a kind of ball shape. Which I fitted neatly onto the toilet seat. Then I kept the door locked, pulled myself up and over the stall wall, and came out of the stall next door.
Peter watched me worriedly. “What are you doing?”
“Door was stuck,” I said. I turned on the tap and washed my hands, raising my head to check my reflection in the mirror and, as usual, getting that small shock when all I saw was the row of stalls behind me. I looked away from the mirror and saw that Peter was still eyeing the bathroom stall door. “You want to stop for something to eat or you want takeout?” I asked him.
But Peter had begun shaking the stall door, frowning. And then he leaned over and looked underneath it.
Dammit all to heck.
He stood up, flipping open his cell phone, just giving me that look.
Etcetera, as they say.
Peter sets a higher standard for me than I feel is reasonable, given my past, but he read me the riot act anyway. Cheesed off at me for tampering with the crime scene and the body, he commanded that I put everything back exactly as I had found it.
Meanwhile he secured the scene. He flashed his badge at a guy who tried to enter and then jammed the door closed with a trash bin. He brought out a slim black notebook from his inner pocket and licked at the pencil nub before starting to jot down notes.
“Exactly as you found him,” he said to me.
“Yeah yeah yeah.”
It was when I was lifting the stiff off the toilet that a derringer fell off his lap and clattered onto the tile floor.
“Don't touch it,” snapped Peter needlessly. He dug around in his pocket and brought out a pair of gloves. Peter's such a Boy Scout, he carries them with him everywhere. He gingerly lifted the gun by the corner of the handle and gave it a tentative sniff. He looked at me. “It's been fired.”
“Fat lot of good it did him.” I propped the body up as best I could. I had no idea where the gun had been originally, so I just stuffed it in a pocket. Peter had already begun looking for the bullet.
I was a homicide detective for a bit too, and even I could feel the wonkiness of the situation. Here was a guy totally drained, and no blood anywhere. Not even a dribble on his shirt. Holding a piece, but with no sign of a gun having been fired in the small room.
“It didn't happen in here,” I told Peter, who stood in the center of the room, head down, hand rubbing at his still-damp hair in that thoughtful way of his. It made the short blond ends stick up in peaks at the back. Which made me think of my original agenda for the night, which made me sound a little snarly.
Peter knew me so well he could feel every nuance in my voice, and he shot a look at me. His eyes were tired. “I'm sorry,” he said. And I immediately felt like the worm I am.
“I just need to wait until a unit arrives,” he told me. “Then we can leave.”
I didn't express my doubts about this statement but proceeded to check out the corpse. He had been youngish, midtwenties I'd have guessed. I searched the body and found his wallet, still full of cash and a couple of credit cards that identified him as a Justin Lake out of Thousand Oaks. Thirty-two.
“He looks more like a kid,” I said. He was dressed in a green hoodie with the recognizable skater company logo emblazoned across its front pocket. This had been pulled back by his attacker to reveal a band T-shirt. His feet were long and bedecked in checkered black-and-white skater shoes.
Peter had finished his perusal of the scene and was once more staring at the corpse. “Is he going to...” His brow acquired that pained wrinkle it always did when we talked about my “condition.”
“No, I don't think so.” It's not a science, this thing. Plenty of people get turned accidentally, yours truly being a perfect example. But our bloodless friend had a sticky, soft, meat-gone-bad feel to him that usually meant he was just dead. Not pre-undead.
“Look at this,” I said, drawing back his sleeve.
The watch on his wrist would have set Peter back two months' pay. Who wears a Rolex with a Target T-shirt? Bit of an enigma, this Mr. Lake. On the back of his hand, one of those marker stamps you get at a club. A pale blue cloud.
“Why leave the watch?” I asked. Most of the time the victim was robbed as well as drained. Undead creatures of the night need cash as much as anybody. Not everyone's lucky enough to have a deal like mine.
I turned Lake's head a little to check out the bite marks. They were perfect. Round and black-red in the center where the remaining blood had coagulated, with clean pink edges.
“Never seen such a neat job,” I told Peter.
The human being in Peter warred with the homicide detective. He wanted to know more, but he didn't want to know more. The homicide detective won. “What do you mean?”
“Well, see. A lot of guys kind of lose control, start chewing before they're done. There's no bite marks to indicate that kind of savagery.” I checked out the closely shaved skin of Lake's cheeks and neck. “Not even bruising. And he didn't spill, didn't drool out onto the floor, or spatter. You know what I mean.” Peter had seen me eat from the blood bags he delivered to me. It was probably like watching a pig feeding at a trough.
He looked at me, his dark blue eyes troubled. Six months ago, he would have asked me if I'd done it. If I'd been the one to eat the guy in the stall. It was a measure of the progress we'd made that he knew better than to ask me that now.
“Your prints are all over him,” he said. “That could raise some eyebrows.”
“God knows how long it will take SI to process the evidence,” I answered. Currently, the LAPD was ten months behind on forensic processing. Unless the stiff was the king of a foreign country or a state senator, odds were those prints wouldn't be matched to mine for some time.
“Maybe you could save us the trouble,” said Peter hopefully.
aren't on this case. You
are on a break, remember?”
“No. No buts
. You have a week off and you are going to spend all seven days of it doing nothing, Peter.” Nothing but sex and replays of the championship, that is. I'd recorded the whole damned thing for him.
“When the ME sees the COD there's going to be a lot of hard questions. I'd just rather we had a few answers.” Exsanguination via holes in a major artery had been happening in Los Angeles County with increasing frequency. The coroner's office and select homicide departments had already begun to notice. It was just a matter of time before it hit the media radar, but until then those in the know at the LAPD and sheriff's homicide division were trying to keep it under wraps. “Adam, did you see anybody?”
“Two guys were in here when I came in.” I gave him a quick description. “Neither could have done this.” I'm getting so I can spot my fellows, you know?
“But they might have seen something.”
“They might have.”
We'd been hearing voices and thuds outside the door as various people tried to get into the restroom.
“Maybe they're still out there,” said Peter. “Can you go out there and look around? And, Adam? SI will search outside for the original scene. But it's been raining hard all night, and there's got to be a thousand tourists out there,” he said. “Could you...you know, to save time?”
“I'll look around outside and see what I can find,” I told him. Besides, the sound of sirens warned me that my former colleagues were about to arrive. Technically, I'm dead. I've been collecting death benefits at any rate, via Peter, who I'd named as my next of kin. And it would be pretty hard to explain my reanimated corpse to any LAPD officer who might recognize me. So I elbowed my way through the crowd that had gathered on the other side of the door and scanned the wet pavement outside.
Now, when I say “scanned” what I really mean is “smelled.” I try not to smell the warm blood around me most of the time. It's like a dieter surrounded by chocolate. It's best just to ignore it. But now that I was paying attention, the smell of the people around me had me salivating. I focused as best I could and isolated something older. Something deader. And that's when I saw the little puddle of pinkish water in Burt Lancaster's footprint.
“You find something?” Peter had come out of the men's room holding his shield aloft and loudly ordering the crowd to back off.
“Trail of his blood leads that way,” I said, pointing and averting my face. The smell of blood brings the change on. Especially when I haven't eaten in a while. I could feel my upper lip receding, which meant the pointed canines were showing. My eyes had that bulging sensation. I knew from seeing others like me that my pupils were probably slitting and my green eyes going pale and luminous. I hated Peter seeing me like that.
Peter followed the direction of my pointing finger. “Looks like there's a breezeway between the buildings there.”
A few more paces in that direction and the evidence of my nose was undeniable. “I smell fresh blood,” I told him. “There's your crime scene.”
And then LAPD was on the scene, so I dissolved into the crowd while Peter received the officers and showed them what we'd found.
I stood about watching as the coroner's van trundled across the alleyway and right up onto the pavement. Only when it had inserted itself between them and one of the exits did the crowd finally realize this wasn't business as usual. Then I intuited that something more than your average homicide was up just seconds before a pair of LAPD black vans pulled onto the sidewalks, disgorging a phalange of men in military black, shiny black helmets with black reflective visors, black rubber-coated batons and black boots. Like a black hand, they pushed back Martha and George from Idaho with a fierce efficiency.
Tourists are more tenacious than cockroaches. The terrifying show of military force only made them give a few feet of ground, and now their cameras were flashing. Like the cops were part of the entertainment.
I saw the great eyes of betacams coming from several directions, aggressive news reporters adding to the fray. And I knew
. The stiff in the stall was somebody.
This was not my night. I groaned out loud despite myself. Something out there was obviously determined to put the kibosh on any after-hours activities I had planned with Peter.
Because if the dead guy was somebody
, LAPD was sure to assign his murder to Homicide Special, their elite homicide detective branch. Which happened to be the division in which Peter worked.
Sure enough, I saw Peter straighten, his gaze scanning the crowd until he spotted me and nodded, mouth grim. He flipped open his cell phone, and a minute later mine rang.
“Sergeant Davis lives out in Riverside. He'll be an hour with the rain and the traffic, so he asked me to supervise until he arrives,” he said.
Davis was Peter's superior in Robbery Homicide Division.
“Adam, I'm sorry, but it looks like it might take some time to process this scene. They went to the alleyway you indicated and found quite a mess back there. Looks like it might be the original scene, but there's still not as much blood as they'd expect. Did you get a chance to check it out?”
“The units showed up before I could.”
“Did you happen to spot the men from the restroom?”
“No sign of them.”
“Well, according to the prelim liver temp, he'd probably been in there for around forty-five minutes.”
“I told you that.”
“I know.” I saw a uniformed officer come up to him at that point. She held up a clipboard, and he signed something and then pointed the pen at a spot on the ground. When he came back on the line, he said, “I'm going to help them question the kiosk employees. It's Friday night, they're understaffed and...”
“It's okay, Peter. I understand. I'll meet you back at your place?”
The hesitation before he answered told me all I needed to know. “I don't know how long this might take.”
“You aren't up next on the rotation. Who's been assigned?”
A pause, and I saw him scanning the crowd until he spotted me. “I'll call you,” was all he said.
“Sure.” I hung up and let loose a few swear words. The Marilyn Monroe look-alike standing nearby fanned herself and grinned appreciatively. Her fake eyelashes drooped as she scanned me from head to toe.
And got stuck on a certain part of me that was making its presence a nuisance more and more of late.
“Darling,” she said in a husky contralto that barely concealed her actual gender.
I snarled something ungentlemanly and marched off.