"Okay, then. The third possibility: there was another car ready to take the killer away. Extremely careful planning. Or an accomplice."
Milo rubbed his face, like washing without water. We were at his desk in the Robbery-Homicide room at the West L.A. station, facing the bright orange lockers, drinking coffee. A few other detectives were typing and snacking. I had a child-custody court appearance downtown in two hours, had stopped by for lunch, but Milo had wanted to talk about Dada rather than eat.
"The accomplice bit is interesting," he said. "So is the local angle--okay, time to do some footwork, see if some joker who learned freelance meat-cutting at San Quentin is out on parole. Get to know more about the poor kid, too--see if he got himself in trouble."
Three months later, Milo's footwork had unearthed the minutiae of Richard Dada's life but had gotten him no closer to solving the case.
At the half-year mark, the file got pushed to the back of the drawer.
I knew Milo's nerves were rubbed raw by that. His specialty was clearing cold cases, not creating them. He had the highest solve rate of any homicide D in West L.A., maybe the entire department for this year. That didn't make him any more popular; as the only openly gay detective on the force, he'd never be invited to blue-buddy barbecues. But it did provide insurance, and I knew he regarded failure as professionally threatening.
As a personal sin, too; one of the last things he'd said before filing the murder book was "This one deserves more. Some felonious cretin getting bashed with a pool cue is one thing, but this . . . The way the kid was sliced--the spine was sheared straight through, Alex. Coroner says probably a band saw. Someone cut him, neat and clean, the way they section meat."
"Any other forensic evidence?" I said.
"Nope. No foreign hairs, no fluid exchange. . . . As far as I've been able to tell, Dada wasn't in any kind of trouble, no drug connections, bad friends, criminal history. Just one of those stupid kids who wanted to be rich and famous. Days and weekends he worked at a kiddie gym. Nights he did guess what."
His index finger scored imaginary chalk marks. "Bar and grill in Toluca Lake. Closest he got to delivering lines was probably 'What kind of dressing would you like with that?' "
We were in a bar, ourselves. A nice one at the rear of the Luxe Hotel on the west end of Beverly Hills. No pool cues, and any felons were wearing Italian suits. Chandeliers dimmed to orange flicker, spongy carpets, club chairs warm as wombs. On our marble-topped drink stand were two leaden tumblers of Chivas Gold and a crystal pitcher of iced spring water. Milo's cheap panatela asserted itself rudely with the Cohibas and Churchills being sucked in corner booths. A few months later, the city said no smoking in bars, but back then, nicotine fog was an evening ritual.
All the trim notwithstanding, the reason for being there was to ingest alcohol, and Milo was doing a good job of that.
I nursed my first scotch as he finished his third and chased it with a glassful of water. "I got the case because the Lieutenant assumed Dada was gay. The mutilation--when homosexuals freak, they go all the way blah blah blah. But Dada had absolutely no links to the gay community, and his folks say he had three girlfriends back home."
"Any girlfriends out here?"
"None that I've found. He lived alone in a little studio place near La Brea and Sunset. Tiny, but he kept it neat."
"That can be a dicey neighborhood," I said.
"Yeah, but the building had a key-card parking lot and a security entrance; the landlady lives on the premises and tries to keep a good clientele. She said Dada was a quiet kid, she never saw him entertain visitors. And no signs of a break-in or any burglary. We haven't recovered his wallet, but no charges have been run up on the one credit card he owned--a Discover with a four-hundred-dollar limit. The apartment was clean of dope. If Dada did use, he or someone cleaned up every speck."
Excerpted from Monster by Jonathan Kellerman. Copyright© 1999 by Jonathan Kellerman. Excerpted by permission of Random House, 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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