Stephen Cannell

Cold Hit

Chapter 1

2:30 A. M. The phone jack-hammered me up out of a tangled dream.

'Detective Scully?' a woman's voice said. 'This is Homicide Dispatch. You just caught a fresh one-eighty seven. The DB is on Forest Lawn Drive one block east of Barham Boulevard, under the bridge.

'In the L. A. River again?' I sat up and grabbed my pants.

'Yes sir. The patrol unit is there with the respondents The blues say it looks like another homeless man so the duty desk at Homicide Special told us to give you the roll out.'

'Isn't that in Burbank? Have you notified BPD?'

'According to the site map, it's just inside L. A., sc there's no jurisdictional problem. I need to give patrol an ETA.'

'It's gonna take me forty-five minutes.' I started to hang up, but hesitated, and added, 'Have you notified my partner, Detective Farrell?'

'We've been trying,' she replied carefully, then paused and said, 'He's not picking up.'

There was doubt and concern in her tone. Damn, thought. Did even the civilian dispatchers in the Communications Division know Zack Farrell had become a lush?

'Keep trying,' I said, and hung up.

I rolled out of bed, trying not to wake my wife, dressed quickly in fresh clothes, and went into the bathroom where I did my speed groom: head in the faucet, towel dry, hair comb with fingers, Lavoris rinse, no shave. I checked myself for flaws. There were plenty. I'm in my late-thirties and look like a club fighter who's stayed in the ring a few years too long.

I snapped off the bathroom light, crossed to the bed, and kissed Alexa. Aside from being my wife, she's also my boss and heads the Detective Services Group at LAPD.

'Wazzzzit?' she mumbled, rolling toward me and squinting up through tousled, black hair.

'We got another one.'

Coming up to a sitting position immediately alert, she said, 'Son of a bitch is six days early.'

Even in the half-light, Alexa took my breath away. Dark-eyed, with glossy hair and the high cheekbones of a model, she could have easily made a living on the covers of fashion magazines. Instead, she was down at Parker Center, in the biggest boys club on earth. Alexa was the only staff rank female officer on the sixth floor of the Glass House. She was an excellent commander, and deft at politics, while managing to avoid becoming a politician.

'The L. A. River?' she asked.

'Yeah, another homeless guy dumped in the wash near Barham just inside our jurisdiction. I don't know if the fingertips have been clipped off like the other two, but since it's almost a week off his timeline, I'm praying it's not our unsub.'

Unsub stood for Unknown Subject, what lay enforcement called perpetrators who hadn't beer identified. We used to use words like him or his, bu with more and more female perils, it no longer math sense to use a pronoun that eliminated half the population.

'If the vic's homeless and is dumped in the river, then it's our unsub,' she said. 'I better get downtown. Did dispatch call Tony?'

Police Chief Tony Filosiani was known affectionately by the troops as the Day-Glo Dago, a term earned because he was a kinetic fireplug from Brooklyn. The chief was a fair, hard-nosed leader who was also a pretty good guy when he wasn't causing havoc by reorganizing your division.

'You better check Tony yourself. I'll let Chooch know.' I said.

We'd converted our two-car garage into a bedroom for my son when his girlfriend, Delfina, lost her family and came to live with us last year. I stopped there before leaving the house.

Chooch was asleep with our adopted, marmalade cat Franco curled up at his feet. At six-foot-three-and-ahalf, my son was almost too long to fit his standard-sized bed. When I sat on the edge, he rolled over and squinted up at me.

'I'm heading out,' I said.

He was used to these late-night callouts and nodded.

Then his eyes focused as he gained consciousness and his look changed to concern. 'What about tonight?'

Chooch was being heavily recruited by three Division-One schools for a football scholarship. Pete Carroll from USC was coming over for a coach's visit at six this evening.

'Don't worry, I'll be here. No way I'll miss that. Gimme a hug.' I put my arms around him and squeezed. I felt him return the embrace, pulling me close. A warmth and sense of peace spread through me.

I jumped in my new gray Acura and pulled out, wondering where the hell Zack was. I prayed my partner wasn't drunk, propped against a wall in some after-hours joint with his cell phone off. I owed Zack Farrell a lot. He was my partner for a rough two years when I was still in patrol. I was completely disillusioned and close to ending it back then, tick-tocking along, heading toward a dark future. After work I'd fall into my big recliner in front of the tube, swig Stoli in a house littered with empty bottles and pizza boxes, and stare numbly at my flickering TV. By midnight I'd be nibbling my gun barrel, looking for the courage to do the deed.

In the morning my crotch was usually wet with spilled booze, my gun poking a hole in my ass somewhere beneath me. I'd dig it out, stumble to my car, and stagger back to work for another bloodshot tour. I was disheartened and circling the drain.

After two years working X-cars in the West Valley together, Zack left patrol and we hadn't seen much o each other in the years that followed. When Chooch and Alexa entered my orbit they gave new meaning to my life. But the reason the lights were still on whey they arrived, was because Zack Farrell had watched my back and carried my water for those depressing twc years. He refused to let our bosses take me down. All] had back then was the job, and if I had lost that, I know one night I would have found the strength to end it. It was a debt I'd never be able to square.

I pulled my life together after that and was now a Detective III assigned to Homicide Special on the fourth floor of Parker Center. This was Mecca for the Detective Division because all unusual or high-profile murders picked up on the street were turned over to this elite squad of handpicked detectives.

When I was assigned there, I found to my surprise, that Zack was also in the division. He told me he didn't have a partner at the time so we went to the captain and asked to team up again.

But I hadn't paid enough attention to some troubling clues. I didn't ask why Zack's last two partners had demanded reassignments, or why he'd been in two near-fatal car accidents in six months. I hadn't wondered why he only made it to Detective II, one grade below me, despite two years of job seniority. I looked past these very obvious warning signs, as well as his red eyes and the burst capillaries in his cheeks. I never asked him why he'd gained seventy pounds and couldn't take even one flight of stairs without wheezing like a busted windbag. I soon came to realize that I didn't really know him at all.

Two weeks ago I looked up one of his recent partners, an African American named Antoine Jewel. After almost twenty minutes of trying to duck me, Jewel finally leaned forward.

'The man is a ticking bomb,' he said. 'Stressed out and completely unreliable. Been so drunk since his wife threw him out, he actually backed over his own dog in the driveway. Killed him.'

I certainly knew about his messy divorce, but Zack hadn't told me about the dog, which surprised me. Although by then, most of his behavior was hard to explain.

I made a detour so I could shoot up Brand Boulevard through Glendale to the apartment Zack moved into after his wife, Fran, threw him out.

Like so many buildings in Los Angeles, the Californian Apartments were ersatz Mexican. Two stories of tan stucco with arched windows and a red-tiled roof-Ole. I could see Zack's maroon department-issued Crown Victoria

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