Linus Brophy struggles to his feet and approaches the big man.
Seconds later, someone else approaches the big man, arriving from the opposite directionthe mouth of the alley, at Lodi Place. Linus Brophy stops in his tracks, retreats into darkness, sits down next to the Dumpster.
The new arrival, a man, also good-sized, according to Brophy, though not as tall as Baby Boy Lee and maybe half of Baby Boy's width, walks right up to the singer and says something that sounds "friendly." Questioned about this characterization extensively, Brophy denies hearing any conversation but refuses to budge from his judgment of amiability. ("Like they were friends, you know? Standing there, friendly.")
The orange glow of Baby Boy's cigarette lowers from mouth to waist level as he listens to the new arrival.
The new arrival says something else to Baby Boy, and Baby Boy says something back.
The new arrival moves closer to Baby Boy. Now, the two men appear to be hugging.
The new arrival steps back, looks around, turns heel and leaves the alley the way he came.
Baby Boy Lee stands there alone.
His hand drops. The orange glow of the cigarette hits the ground, setting off sparks.
Baby Boy sways. Falls.
Linus Brophy stares, finally builds up the courage to approach the big man. Kneeling, he says, "Hey, man," receives no answer, reaches out and touches the convexity of Baby Boy's abdomen. He feels moisture on his hand and is repelled.
As a younger man, Brophy had a temper. He has spent half of his life in various county jails and state penitentiaries, saw things, did things. He knows the feel and the smell of fresh blood.
Stumbling to his feet, he lurches to the back door of the Snake Pit and tries to pull it open, but the door is locked. He knocks, no one answers.
The shortest way out of the alley means retracing the steps of the newcomer: walk out to Lodi Place, hook north to Fountain, and find someone who'll listen.
Brophy has already wet his pants twice tonightfirst while sleeping drunk and now, upon touching Baby Boy Lee's blood. Fear grips him, and he heads the other way, tripping through the long block that takes him to the other end of the alley. Finding no one on the street at this hour, he makes his way to an all-night liquor store on the corner of Fountain and El Centro.
Once inside the store, Brophy shouts at the Lebanese clerk who sits reading behind a Plexiglas window, the same man who one hour ago sold him three bottles of Red Phoenix. Brophy waves his arms, tries to get across what he has just seen. The clerk regards Brophy as exactly what he isa babbling winoand orders him to leave.
When Brophy begins pounding on the Plexiglas, the clerk considers reaching for the nail-studded baseball bat he keeps beneath the counter. Sleepy and weary of confrontation, he dials 911.
Brophy leaves the liquor store and walks agitatedly up and down Fountain Avenue. When a squad car from Hollywood Division arrives, Officers Keith Montez and Cathy Ruggles assume Brophy is their problem and handcuff him immediately.
Somehow he manages to communicate with the Hollywood Blues and they drive their black and white to the mouth of the alley. High- intensity LAPD-issue flashlights bathe Baby Boy Lee's corpse in a heartless, white glare.
The big man's mouth gapes, and his eyes are rolled back. His banana yellow Stevie Ray Vaughan T-shirt is dyed crimson, and a red pool has seeped beneath his corpse. Later, it will be ascertained that the killer gutted the big man with a classic street fighter's move: long-bladed knife thrust under the sternum followed by a single upward motion that slices through intestine and diaphragm and nicks the right ventricle of Baby Boy's already seriously enlarged heart.
Excerpted from A Cold Heart by Jonathan Kellerman Copyright© 2003 by Jonathan Kellerman. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, 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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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