A silence filled the canyon below my house that fall; no hawks floated overhead, the coyotes did not sing, the owl that lived in the tall pine outside my door no longer asked my name. A smarter person would have taken these things as a warning, but the air was chill and clear in that magnified way it can be in the winter, letting me see beyond the houses sprinkled on the hillsides below and out into the great basin city of Los Angeles. On days like those when you can see so far, you often forget to look at what is right in front of you, what is next to you, what is so close that it is part of you. I should have seen the silence as a warning, but I did not.
"How many people has she killed?"
Grunts, curses, and the snap of punches came from the next room.
Ben Chenier shouted, "What?"
"How many people has she killed?"
We were twenty feet apart, me in the kitchen and Ben in the living room, shouting at the tops of our lungs; Ben Chenier, also known as my girlfirend's ten-year-old son, and me, also known as Elvis Cole, the World's Greatest Detective and Ben's caretaker while his mother, Lucy Chenier, was away on business. This was our fifth and final day together.
I went to the door.
"Is there a volume control on that thing?"
Ben was so involved with something called a Game Freak that he did not look up. You held the Game Freak like a pistol with one hand and worked the controls with the other while the action unfolded on a built-in computer screen. The salesman told me that it was a hot seller with boys ages ten to fourteen. He hadn't told me that it was louder than a shoot-out at rush hour.
Ben had been playing the game since I had given it to him the day before, but I knew he wasn't enjoying himself, and that bothered me. He had hiked with me in the hills and let me teach him some of the things I knew about martial arts and had come with me to my office because he thought private investigators did more than phone deadbeat clients and clean pigeon crap off balcony rails. I had brought him to school in the mornings and home in the afternoons, and between those times we had cooked Thai food, watched Bruce Willis movies, and laughed a lot together. But now he used the game to hide from me with an absolute lack of joy. I knew why, and seeing him like that left me feeling badly, not only for him, but for my part in it. Fighting it out with Yakuza spree killers was easier than talking to boys.
I went over and dropped onto the couch next to him.
"We could go for a hike up on Mulholland."
He ignored me.
"You want to work out? I could show you another tae kwon do kata before your mom gets home."
I said, "You want to talk about me and your mom?"
I am a private investigator. My work brings me into contact with dangerous people, and early last summer that danger rolled over my shores when a murderer named Laurence Sobek threatened Lucy and Ben. Lucy was having a tough time with that, and Ben had heard our words. Lucy and Ben's father had divorced when Ben was six, and now he worried that it was happening again. We had tried to talk to him, Lucy and I, but boyslike menfind it hard to open their hearts.
Instead of answering me, Ben thumbed the game harder and nodded toward the action on the screen.
"Check it out. This is the Queen of Blame."
A young Asian woman with spiky hair, breasts the size of casaba melons, and an angry snarl jumped over a Dumpster to face three musclebound steroid-juicers in what appeared to be a devastated urban landscape. A tiny halter barely covered her breasts, sprayed-on shorts showed her butt cheeks, and her voice growled electronically from the Game Freak's little speaker.
"You're my toilet!"
Excerpted from The Last Detective by Robert Crais Copyright© 2003 by Robert Crais. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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