He put down his glass, careful to do it silently. His eyes fixed on me. Normally
startling green, they were gray-brown in the tobacco light. His heavy face was
so pale it looked talced, white as his sideburns. The acne pits that scored his
cheeks and chin and brow seemed deeper, crueler.
He pushed black hair off his forehead. "Okay," he said very softly. "Besides
exquisite irony, what does it mean?"
"I don't know," I said. "It just seems too cute."
He frowned, rolled his forearm along the edge of the table as if rubbing an
itch, raised his glass for a refill, thanked the waitress when he got it, sipped
his way through half the whiskey, and licked his lips. "Why are we even talking
about it? I'm not gonna close this one soon, if ever. I can just feel it."
I didn't bother arguing. His hunches are usually sound.
Two months later, he caught the Claire Argent homicide and called me right away,
sounding furious but sparked by enthusiasm.
"Got a new one, some interesting similarities to Dada. But different, too.
Female vic. Thirty-nine-year-old psychologist named Claire Argent--know her, by
"Home address in the Hollywood Hills, just off Woodrow Wilson Drive, but she was
found in West L.A. territory. Stripped naked and stashed in the trunk of her
Buick Regal, back of the loading dock behind the Stereos Galore in that big
shopping center on La Cienega near Sawyer."
That side of La Cienega was West L.A.'s eastern border. "Barely in your
"Yeah, Santa loves me. Here's what I know so far: the shopping center closes at
eleven, but there's no fence at the dock; anyone can pull in there. Real easy
access because an alley runs right behind. West of the alley is a supplementary
indoor lot, multiple levels, but it's closed off at night. After that, it's all
residential. Private homes and apartments. No one heard or saw a thing. Shipping
clerk found the car at six a.m., called for a tow, and when the driver winched
it up he heard something rolling around inside and had the smarts to worry about
"Was she cut in half?" I said.
"No, left in one piece, but wrapped in two garbage bags, just like Dada. Her
throat was slashed, too, and her eyes were mangled."
"Chopped into hamburger."
"But not removed."
"No," he said irritably. "If my storage theory about Richard is correct, it
would explain why she wasn't cut in half. Dr. Argent was five-five, folded
easily into the Buick. And guess where she worked, Alex: Starkweather Hospital."
"Really," I said.
"Ghoul Central. Ever been there?"
"No," I said. "No reason. None of my patients ever killed anyone."
She'd asked to meet at Plummer Park in West Hollywood. I followed Milo,
connecting to Laurel, turning east on Melrose. On the way, I passed a billboard
advertising a kick-boxing gym: terrific-looking woman in a sports bra drawing
back a glove for a roundhouse. The ad line was "You can rest when you're dead."
The park was scrubby, crowded, more Russian spoken than English. Most of the
inhabitants were old people on benches, heavily garbed despite the heat. A
sprinkle of kids on bicycles circled a dry oval of grass in the center,
sleepy-looking dog walkers were led by the leash, a few scruffy types in
designer T-shirts and cheap shoes hung out near the pay phones trying to radiate
Heidi Ott stood by herself under a sad-looking carrotwood tree, arms crossing
her chest, checking out the terrain in all directions. When she spotted us, she
gave a small wave and headed for the only vacant bench in sight. A pile of fresh
dog turd nearby explained the vacancy. Wrinkling her nose, she moved on and we
followed her to a shady spot near the swing set, under an old Chinese elm. The
surrounding grass was bruised and matted. A lone young woman pushed her toddler
in a gently repeating arc. Both she and the child seemed hypnotized by the
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