I found an open spot, grabbed my briefcase, and climbed out of the car, cinching my raincoat more tightly around me. It was the first week in November, and the autumn dampness had already begun to settle into the air and into my bones.
As I walked across the parking lot, I noticed neighbors peering from behind their blinds at the obvious bustle. A few had stepped outside their condos, some still in robes and holding coffee cups, trying to ascertain what could have brought so many uniforms and marked vehicles to this quiet enclave.
The learning curve in the Major Crimes Unit had been a steep one, and by now I knew the ropes on a call-out. I showed my badge to the officer monitoring access at the scene, watched as he logged my entry onto his clipboard, and then ducked beneath the tape that roped off about a quarter acre surrounding an open carport.
Jack Walker caught sight of me in his periphery and waved me over. He stood with his partner, Detective Raymond Johnson, in front of a black Mercedes S-430 sedan. The personalized plate read SNOOP. Even in a lot stocked with late-model yuppie-mobiles, that one stood out.
As I approached, I saw two crime-scene technicians rise from where they must have been kneeling next to the front driver's-side tire. A blur of crisp white linen flashed between them; then they carefully maneuvered a covered gurney through the tight corner in front of the vehicle. I nodded as they passed on their way to the medical examiner's van.
Johnson and Walker met me just outside the carport. Some of the other detectives referred to the pair as Ebony and Ivory. Even beyond the obvious contrast in melanin, the two couldn't have been more divergent physically. Walker wasn't much taller than my five-eight, but about twice as wide, testing the buttons of dress shirts that were almost universally short-sleeved. Johnson's frame, on the other hand, was tall, fit, and always tucked neatly into whatever suit he'd brought home that month from the Saks men's store.
Regardless, the partners were two peas in a pod. I couldn't imagine them working with anyone but each other.
"So who's our dead guy?" I asked, glancing back at the techs loading the gurney into the van. The MCU culture required a kind of nonchalance toward death -- or at least the appearance of it.
The two detectives exchanged a glance. Using whatever silent language partners tend to share, they must have decided to let Johnson break the news.
"The one and only Percy Crenshaw."
"The reporter?" I asked incredulously.
"Didn't I just say he was the one and only?" Johnson retorted.
I shook my head. "This is not good."
'Try telling that to Crenshaw," Walker said dryly.
Percy Crenshaw started out doing "on your side" pieces for the Oregonian's Metro section. If a restaurant fed you bad meat, or your used car oozed mystery melt, or your new hairdresser surprised you with a blue mohawk, Percy Crenshaw was the go-to guy. More recently, though, he had managed to make a name for himself as a celebrity muckraker in this relatively quiet little city. Of course, like all good muckrakers, he had done that by turning what usually would have been relatively quiet stories into salacious tales of sex, greed, and corruption.
Last year, just for instance, I had worked on a case involving the murder of an administrative law judge. Sure, it had all the ingredients of a good scandal: bribery, betrayal, adultery, the works. At its heart, though, it was the sad story of a woman whose own mistakes had gotten her killed. Crenshaw had nonetheless managed to sell his version of the story, including every last irrelevant detail of the victim's sex life, to L.A. Magazine.
From Close Case by Alafair Burke, Chapter 1, pages 3-17 of the hardcover edition. Copyright © 2005 Alafair Burke.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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