"I've already arranged it with their supervisor. You shouldn't be smoking here, Starkey."
"Sorry. I'd better go talk to him, then, and get things organized."
She made no move to put out her cigarette, and Kelso ignored the obvious rebellion.
"Before you do, you'll be working with Marzik and Santos on this."
Starkey felt another Tagamet craving.
"Does it have to be Marzik?"
"Yes, Starkey, it has to be Marzik. They're inbound now. And something else. Lieutenant Leyton says we might have a break here before we get started: 911 got a call on this."
She glanced at Leyton.
"Do we have a wit?"
"An Adam car took the call, but Buck told me they were responding to Emergency Services. If that's the case, then we should have a tape and an address."
That was a major break.
"Okay. I'll get on it. Thanks."
Kelso glanced toward the press again, frowning when he saw an LAPD media officer approaching them.
"I think we'd better go make a statement, Dick."
"Be right there."
Kelso scurried over to intercept the media officer while Leyton stayed with Starkey. They waited until the other man was gone, then Leyton considered her.
"How you doing, Carol?"
"I'm fine, Lieutenant. Kicking ass and taking names, like always. I'd still like to come back to the squad."
Leyton found it within himself to nod. They had weathered that pounding three years ago, and both of them knew that the LAPD Personnel Unit would never allow it.
"You were always a tough girl. But you were lucky, too."
"Sure. I shit luck in the morning."
"You shouldn't curse like that, Carol. It's not attractive."
"You're right, Boss. I'll straighten out as soon as I kick the smokes."
She smiled at him, and Leyton smiled back, because they both knew that she would do neither. Starkey watched him walk away to join the press conference, then noticed Marzik and Santos talking to a uniformed sergeant amid a group of people outside one of the apartment buildings across the street. Marzik was looking over at her, but Starkey walked around to the front of the Suburban and examined it. The Suburban had faced the blast at about sixty-five yards away. The telex cables and security line that Riggio had pulled out with him still trailed from the rear of the Suburban to Riggio's armored suit, tangled now from the explosion.
The Suburban appeared undamaged, but on closer inspection she saw that the front right headlight was cracked. She squatted to look more closely. A piece of black metal shaped like the letter E was wedged in the glass. Starkey did not touch it. She stared until she recognized that it was part of a metal buckle from the straps that had held Riggio's armor suit. She sighed deep and long, then stood and looked back at his body.
The coroner's people were placing him into a body bag. John Chen had outlined the body's location on the tarmac with white chalk and now stood back, watching with an expression of profound disinterest. Starkey wiped her palms on her hips and forced herself to take deep breaths, stretching her ribs and her lungs. Doing this hurt because of the scars. Marzik, still across the street, was waving. Santos looked over, maybe wondering why Starkey was just standing there.
Starkey waved back, the wave saying that she would join them in a moment.
The mall was a small strip of discount clothing shops, a used-book store, a dentist who advertised "family prices" in Spanish, and a Cuban restaurant, all of which had been evacuated before Riggio approached the bomb.
Starkey forced herself toward the restaurant, moving on legs that were suddenly weak, as if she'd found herself on a tightrope and the only way off was that singular door. Marzik was forgotten. Charlie Riggio was forgotten. Starkey felt nothing but her own hammering heart; and knew that if she lost control of it now, and of herself, she would certainly fall to her death.
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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