"Tell me about the thumb. I know what you told me on the phone, but tell me everything now." Starkey inhaled half an inch of cigarette, then flicked ash on the floor, not bothering with the ashtray. She did that every time she was annoyed with being here, which was always.
"Please use the ashtray, Carol."
"You didn't miss."
Detective-2 Carol Starkey took another deep pull on the cigarette, then crushed it out. When she first started seeing this therapist, Dana Williams wouldn't let her smoke during session. That was three years and four therapists ago. In the time Starkey was working her way through the second and third therapists, Dana had gone back to the smokes herself, and now didn't mind. Sometimes they both smoked and the goddamned room clouded up like the Imperial Valley capped by an inversion layer. Starkey shrugged.
"No, I guess I didn't miss. I'm just pissed off, is all. It's been three years, and here I am back where I started."
"Yeah. Like in three years I shouldn't be over this shit."
"So tell me what happened, Carol. Tell me about the little girl's thumb." Starkey fired up another cigarette, then settled back to recall the little girl's thumb. Starkey was down to three packs a day. The progress should have made her feel better, but didn't.
"It was Fourth of July. This idiot down in Venice decides to make his own fireworks and give them away to the neighbors. A little girl ends up losing the thumb and index finger on her right hand, so we get the call from the emergency room."
"Who is 'we'?"
"Me and my partner that day, Beth Marzik."
"Yeah. There's two of us in CCS."
"By the time we get down there, the family's gone home, so we go to the house. The father's crying, saying how they found the finger, but not the thumb, and then he shows us these homemade firecrackers that are so damned big she's lucky she didn't lose the hand."
"He made them?"
"No, a guy in the neighborhood made them, but the father won't tell us. He says the man didn't mean any harm. I say, your daughter has been maimed, sir, other children are at risk, sir, but the guy won't cop. I ask the mother, but the guy says something in Spanish, and now she won't talk, either."
"Why won't they tell you?"
"People are assholes."
The world according to Carol Starkey, Detective-2 with LAPD's Criminal Conspiracy Section. Dana made a note of that in a leatherbound notebook, an act which Starkey never liked. The notes gave physical substance to her words, leaving Starkey feeling vulnerable because she thought of the notes as evidence.
Starkey had more of the cigarette, then shrugged and went on with it.
"These bombs are six inches long, right? We call'm Mexican Dynamite. So many of these things are going off, it sounds like the Academy pistol range, so Marzik and I start a door-to-door. But the neighbors are just like the father-no one's telling us anything, and I'm getting madder and madder. Marzik and I are walking back to the car when I look down and there's the thumb. I just looked down and there it was, this beautiful little thumb, so I scooped it up and brought it back to the family."
"On the phone, you told me you tried to make the father eat it."
"I grabbed his collar and pushed it into his mouth. I did that."
Dana shifted in her chair, Starkey reading from her body language that she was uncomfortable with the image. Starkey couldn't blame her.
"It's easy to understand why the family filed a complaint."
Starkey finished the cigarette and crushed it out.
"The family didn't complain."
Copyright Robert Crais, 2000. All rights reserved. Published by the permission of the publisher, Doubleday. No part of this book may be reproduced without permission from the publisher.
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