harder. I'm just holding that post till the chief appoints a captain to the job.'

'Honey, Filosiani isn't going to replace you. You're acting head only because you're still a lieutenant and, technically, they can't put a lou in that slot. But I can read that guy-you got the job.' He grinned. 'You is da man, woman.'

'Well, de man-woman gotta take her sorry ass to work.'

'I'll stick around here for another hour until they do the steak fry, then drive over the hill and pick you up. You got an address?'

She handed him a slip of paper, then kissed him on the lips. 'Only one more thing before I leave…'

'Say good-bye to Nora?'

'No, that's done. I gotta run this bitch in the pedal-pushers off my guy.'

'Come on… she's happily married.'

'Maybe, but in Hollywood, marriage is an eight-letter condition with the half-life of a chocolate-chip cookie.'

Alexa moved off, stopped next to Catherine Zeta-Jones and said something to her. The two stood there for another moment before the actress threw back her head and roared with laughter.

Alexa turned and smiled at Shane, then went out the front door to the entry hall to wait for the sheriff's car. That would have been all that was noteworthy, except for one last thing that happened just before he left the party.

He said good-bye to Nora and was heading up from the beach, when he decided to cut through the pool house to save the longer walk around the side of the estate. He went in the beach entrance and was immediately greeted by a heavy cloud of cigar smoke and male laughter coming from the front room. Shane walked down the hallway toward the sound, listening to Farrell's voice. He was telling some kind of story when Shane reached the back of the main room.

The pool house was large-about the size of Shane's entire house in Venice. It had windows on the west that overlooked the ocean. The windows on the other side fronted Farrell's Olympic-size pool. Nora had decorated the pool house in a quasi-African theme: lots of bamboo, grass rugs, and native art. There were ten or twelve men in the room with Farrell, all smoking Cuban Cohibas. Nobody was paying any attention to Shane.

'So, Farrell, you get Kenny to draw you up a prenup like I advised?' one of the guests asked.

Farrell lit the man's cigar with a large gold lighter. 'Listen, that kinda shit's good for you guys who can't take care of business, but I don't need no stinking prenup.' He did that last part like the Mexican bandit in Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

'Everybody needs a prenup. Ask Johnny Carson or Burt Reynolds. It's the law west of Sunset,' the man persisted.

'Not me.' Farrell seemed a little loaded. 'Didn't need one with my last two wives. When I got tired of those ladies, they both got some bad shellfish and died of food poisoning.' There was some nervous laughter, not much but some. Then Farrell swung his eyes around the room until his gaze ended up on Shane.

It's hard to explain to a civilian how a cop's hunches work, because they live in some intellectual and emotional no-man's-land somewhere between a guess and a feeling. In the end, they're not really hunches at all. They're based on keen instinct mixed with physical and emotional observations. In this case, the physical part was in Farrell Champion's dark eyes when they found Shane in the back of the room. They hardened momentarily. Even from twenty feet away Shane could see it: a tightening of the skin around the sockets, a shadow on the cornea that came and went so quickly it would have been easy to miss if you weren't trained to spot it. Suddenly the look was gone and the smiling Farrell was back.

'Hey, Shane, that was just a bad joke. Don't get the handcuffs out.'

'No sweat.' Shane smiled. 'Why pay for a divorce if you can knock 'em off with bad shrimp?'

Farrell laughed. 'Exactly.'

Now Shane was feeling awkward, sort of on the spot, as everyone in the room had turned to stare at him. 'Thanks for the great time. Thanks for having us.'

'You bet. Good you could come.'

As Shane left, he could feel Farrell's eyes on him, tracking his exit across the pool deck and into the house.

The valet delivered the dusty Acura. Shane pulled out of the Colony wondering what he should do about Farrell's bad joke.

Hey, Shane, don't go over the falls in a barrel here, he lectured himself. It was just a joke. But he had seen the look in Farrell's eyes, the shadow. He'd caught a partial glimpse into Farrell Champion's soul.

It could have been embarrassment at making a morbid joke, but something told Shane that there really were two women in Farrell's past who'd died of food poisoning.

It was a terrible dilemma because if he did anything to screw up this wedding, he had a hunch his beautiful wife would kill him.

Chapter 3


The crime scene was on Oro Vista Boulevard. Shane's badge was still in Captain Haley's safe, but he knew one of the blues guarding the chain-link gate that fronted an avocado orchard. It displayed a sign identifying it as Rancho Fuente del Sol.

He drove up the lane to a spot where the police crime-scene vehicles were parked. The makeshift dirt parking lot was within sight of Tujunga Canyon Road, which ran just north of Oro Vista in Sunland. Shane got out and locked the Acura. He walked around the front of the crime tech's van and coroner's wagon, past the three slick- backsblack-and-white detective cars without roof lights. As he glanced across Tujunga, a carload of black teenagers wearing blue headbands drove by.. The car was a BMW four-door full of gangsters who stared across the street at the avocado grove, creeping along in the right lane for a block before speeding up. The car looked to Shane like a Crip mothership-a gang leader with his bodyguards. Shane waited. A few moments later, he saw another car, a primered Ford Fairlane work car with two bangers in the front seat, both heavily federated, wearing their colors blood red. They also slowed and looked the crime scene over before speeding up and passing on. Shane watched for five more minutes as two more motherships and half a dozen work cars drove by.

These were not curious African Americans from Sun-land High. They were Crips and Bloods from South Central who had heard about Stone's death, and were out there cruising the crime scene. Shane didn't like the feel of it. Any moment, these rival sets could open up on each other. It seemed strange they hadn't done it already.

As Shane watched, a car full of Crip bangers parked across the street. One of the teenagers got out wearing a blue-hooded sweatshirt with the sleeves ripped off. His muscles glistened in the overhead xenon street lighting. Even at this distance, Shane could read the angry scowl.

Shane made his way down a marked trail between a row of trees, and finally came to an opening where the lab techs were still working. It was a dirty, disorganized crime scene. Not so much because of Stone's blood, which had dried and looked black in the moonlight, but because the shooters hadn't bothered to 'police' their brass, or scuff out their footprints. The forensics team was marking, bagging, and photographing the hundred or more shell casings, then logging them into evidence. The hope was that there would be a fingerprint on one of the casings. Of course, the chance of this happening was less than one percent, because the rule was that anybody who didn't pick up their brass had probably worn gloves when loading clips. The shooters were teenagers, but they were very savvy in the art of murder.

The lab would also study the casings for tool marks-the tiny scratches and indentations left by the breech as it fired and ejected the casings. Tool marks were specific to each weapon and could be used to identify the firearm if it was ever recovered. They were also pouring plaster of paris into the footprints, making molds and marking each one.

Alexa was near the body as the coroner's assistant started to roll him. Shane approached and stood silently

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