in the garage, but his personal car, a white, windowless Econoline van, was drunk-parked, blocking most of the driveway, which would make it impossible for his neighbors to leave in the morning.

I walked toward his downstairs unit and found the front door ajar, stepped inside and called his name loudly, afraid he would come out of an alcoholic stupor, pull the oversized square-barreled cannon he recently started packing, and park a hollow point in my hollow head.

'Zack? Hold your fire. It's Shane.'

Nothing.

The place had the odor of neglect. A musty mildew stench tinged with the acrid smell of vomit. The room were littered with empty bottles and fast-food wrap pers. Faded snapshot memories of my old life flickered on a screen in the back of my head.

I found him in the kitchen, out cold, sprawled on the floor. Zack was almost six-three and well over three hundred pounds, with a round Irish face and huge gelatinous forearms shaped like oversized bowlin pins.

He was face down on the linoleum. It looked as ii he'd been sitting at the dinette table, knocked down one too many scotch shooters, passed out, then hit the table tipping it as he rolled.

How did I deduce this? Crime scenes are my thing and this was definitely a crime. There were condiment scattered on the floor and blood under Zack's right cheek, courtesy of a dead-drunk bounce when he hit.

'Hey, Zack.' I removed his gun and rolled him over His nose was broken, laying half-against his right cheek. Blood dripped from both nostrils. I got a dish towel, went to the sink, wet it, then knelt down am started mopping his face, trying to clean him up, brink him out of it.

'Fuck you doing here?' he said, opening his eyes. 'We got a fresh one. Vic's in the L. A. wash just like the other three. Dispatch couldn't raise you.'

I helped him sit up. He put both catcher's mitt-sized hands up to his face and started polishing his eye sockets. 'Let's go,' I said.

'Isn't our guy. Too early.'

Our unsub was on a two-week clock and this was only day eight. But sometimes a serial killer will go through a period of high stress and that pressure will cause them to change the timetable.

Zack winced in pain as he discovered his nose was bent sideways and in the wrong place. 'Who broke my goddamn nose?'

'You did.'

He touched it gingerly and winced again.

'You want me to straighten it? I've done mine four times.'

'Okay, I guess.' He turned toward me and I studied it. Then I put a hand on each side of his busted beak, and without warning, pushed it sharply to the left toward the center of his face.

I heard cartilage snap and he let out a gasp. I leaned closer to check it.

'Perfect. Gonna hafta send you a bill for my standard rhinoplasty, but at least you qualify for the partner's discount.' I helped him up. 'Now let's go. We gotta make tracks.'

'It's fuckin' killin' me,' he whined, then started with half a dozen other complaints. 'I ain't all together yet. My eyes are watering. Can't see. Gotta get another coat. This one's got puke on it.' He looked around the kitchen like he was seeing it for the first time. 'How' I get here? You bring me home?'

'Stop asking dumb-ass questions,' I snapped. 'W gotta go. The press is gonna be all over this. I'm twenty minutes late already.' Okay, I was pissed.

While he changed his coat and tried to stem his nose bleed, I moved his van. Ten minutes later he was in the front seat of my Acura leaning against the passenger door. He had twisted some Kleenex and stuffed a plug up each nostril. The dangling ends were turning pink with fresh blood.

'The Kleenex thing is a great look for you, Zack,' I said sourly.

'Eat me,' he snarled back.

I stopped at an all-night Denny's on Colorado Boulevard and got him some hot coffee, then we went Code Two the rest of the way to Forest Lawn Drive.

When we finally arrived at the location there were more satellite news trucks there than at the 0. J. trial. This was the first big serial murder case in Los Angeles since the Night Stalker. The press had dubbed out unsub 'The Fingertip Killer,' and that catchy title put us in a nightly media windstorm.

Two overmatched uniforms were trying to keep fifteen Newsies bottled up across the street away from the concrete culvert that frames the river. Occasionally, cameraman would flank the cops, break free, and rur across the street to try and get shots of the body.

'Damn,' Zack said, looking at the press. 'They appear outta nowhere just like fucking cockroaches.'

We parked at the curb and ducked under the police barricade. Camera crews started photographing us as Zack and I signed the crime scene attendance log, which was in the hands of a young patrolman. A damp wind was blowing in from the coast, chilling the night, ruffling everybody's hair and vigorously snapping the yellow crime scene tape.

'Detective Scully,' a pretty Hispanic reporter named Carmen Rodriguez called out as she and her cameraman broke free and ran across the street, charging me like hungry coyotes after a poodle. They ducked under the tape uninvited.

'Is this another Fingertip murder?' she asked.

'How would I know that yet, Carmen? I just got here. Would you please move behind the tape? We put that up to keep you guys back.'

'Come on, Shane. Don't be a hard-ass. I thought we were friends.' She was trying to keep me occupied while her cameraman pivoted, subtly maneuvering to get a shot of the body in the culvert forty feet below. I moved up and blocked his lens.

'You shoot that body, Gary, and I'll bust you for interfering with a homicide investigation.'

'Everybody calls me Gar now,' he said.

'Unless you turn that thing off, I'm gonna call you the arrestee. Now get behind the tape. Move back or you're headed downtown.' Reluctantly they did as I instructed.

From where I was, I could just make out the vic, lying half in and half out of the flowing Los Angeles River.

Chapter 2

Zack watched Carmen and Gar head sullenly bad across the street to the news vans parked in fron of the sloping hills of Forest Lawn. The cemetery stretched along the lip of the river running for almos three miles, fronted by Forest Lawn Drive.

'Least they won't have to carry the stiff far to bury him,' Zack noted dryly.

'Quality observation,' I growled as I looked down into the culvert at three cops and paramedics standing a few yards from the body.

Zack and I started along the lip of the hill, looking for the crime scene egress that I hoped the uniforms had been smart enough to lay out and mark for us.

As soon as we started walking, the pack of video predators across the street got active. They switched on their lights and moved parallel to us, gunning off shots as we headed toward Barham, looking for a pre-marked path.

'We're gonna have to start wearing makeup,' Zack grumbled, sipping at the last of his coffee.

'Homicide Special,' I called out to the group of uniforms standing down on the levee. 'You guys mark a footpath?'

'Go further left. It's all flagged,' one of the Blue yelled back.

Zack and I picked our way along the ridge, being careful not to step on anything that might later qualify as evidence. We found the trail marked by little orange flags on the ends of metal spikes. Everybody coming and going from now on would use this path down to the levee. The idea was, by using a remote trail to the crime scene we would limit unnecessary contamination of the site.

If this followed the pattern set by the three previous homicides, our unsub had shot this victim at some other

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