them names, it helped me remember that they were once alive, walking around with treasured hopes and dark fears just like all the rest of us. Life is God's most precious gift, and nobody, no matter where they are on the social spectrum, should end up like this.

I looked at Forrest, taking on emotional fuel as the beam from my light played across his face. Then something caught my attention. I moved closer and leaned down. The top of his right eyelid refracted light slightly differently than the left.

'Hey, Ray. Come take a look at this.'

The ME moved over and while I shined my light, he looked down into Forrest's eyes, then took forceps out of a leather case and carefully lifted the lid.

'What's that look like?' I asked.

'Contact lens pushed up in the eye socket. Right one only,' he said, leaning closer, studying it.

'So where's the other lens, I wonder?'

'I'll have CSI look around down here, see if they can find it,' he answered. 'Probably washed out when he was underwater.'

The crime scene van was just pulling in as I got back up to the road and spotted Zack talking to some cops over by our car. As I started toward him he laughed loudly at one of his own jokes. Some of the cops near him shifted awkwardly and frowned. The crime scene is the temple of every investigation. Zack was drunk, defiling our temple.

I was starting across the street when I felt a hand on my arm. I turned and found Mike Thrasher staring at me.

'Your partner's loaded,' he said flatly.

'He may have had a few,' I defended. 'We were off duty when we caught this squeal.'

'This is your murder. There's no excuse. You're senior man and you need to take action, Scully. He's been stumbling around up here pissing on the bushes in front of the press, breathing whiskey on everybody. If you're not going to take care of it, I'll be forced to file a one-eighty-one. With all the bad shit this department has been through since Rodney King, 0. J., and Rampart, none of us need this.'

Of course, he was right. But I felt my heart pounding in anger, my cheeks turning red with frustration.

'It's not your problem, Sarge. You don't know what he's been going through. He's in a messy divorce. He just lost his moonlighting job at the Galleria. He's having big problems. Why don't you just be a good guy and stay outta his business?' Thrasher glared at me, so I said, 'And if you file that one-eighty-one, I'll have to look you up and do something about it.'

After a moment, he turned and walked away.

I'd won. But I'd also lost because I'd been forced to watch all the respect drain out of his cool gray eyes.

Chapter 4

I dropped Zack at the main entrance of Parker Center and watched as my partner trudged up to the large glass double doors, dragging anchor. Zack was in charge of keeping the murder book, so he was heading to Homicide Special to update the case file. While I attended the autopsy, it was his job to start a new file for John Doe Number Four, copy in the names and addresses of our two teenage respondents, Xerox the diagrams I made of the position of the body in the river, then paste them all into the book. Once we got the photographs of the eyelid tattoos, we'd copy them and send the originals to Symbols and Hieroglyphics for analysis. We'd paste in the crime scene photos after we got them, and tomorrow the coroner's report and autopsy photos would be added along with all the other details of the investigation. Little bits and pieces, some of it seemingly worthless, all of it carefully logged, dated, and placed in the murder book along with a detailed time line, until finally we hit some mystical investigatory critical mass and someone yelled, I know who did it! That was the theory, anyway.

The problem with John Doe murders is until you have the victim's ID, it's almost impossible to solve them. Without a name, you can't even make up a preliminary suspect list or question any witnesses. If we'd known who the first three victims were, maybe we could have begun to define the unsub's kill zone and set up a patrol dragnet. As it was, the case was going nowhere.

In an attempt to identify one of my John Does, I had the coroner retouch their faces and had a sketch artist do charcoal portraits. I ran them in the local papers and on TV under a heading DO YOU KNOW THIS MAN? Nada. Of course, most of the people who might have known them lived in doorways or cardboard boxes and didn't watch much TV or read the newspapers.

Now, for the first time in seven weeks, I was feeling hopeful. Forrest might deliver some useful clues. He still had the bullet inside him. The tool marks lab in ballistics would magnify it and graph the striations. Since every gun leaves its own specific rifling marks, maybe we could match the bullet to one used in another crime. He also had those unusual tattoos on his eyelids, which might tie him to some club or gang. Then there was the contact lens. If I could work that backwards, find the lab that made it, and use their records to locate the eye doctor who wrote the prescription, I might find out who the victim was.

These possibilities were spinning my spirits into a more optimistic orbit as I pulled into the stark, ten-story County Medical Examiner's building on North Mission Road. It was 7:45 A. M. when I got off the elevator on the seventh floor where autopsies were performed and walked past the losers from last night's gang war. This group of departed karmas was lying on metal gurneys; a collection of shrunken memories.

I checked the scheduling board and saw that Forrest had already picked up a city homicide number. He was now HM 58–05, which stood for Homicide-Male. The twenty-eighth murder in the city of L. A. for the year 2005. It was only the tenth of January, so not even counting the traffic jam of gang-bangers parked in the hallway, '05 was getting off to an energetic start.

As Ray indicated, Dr. Rico Comancho was doing the autopsy. Rico was raised in a blighted neighborhood in Southwest called Pico Rivera. But he'd been blessed with a high IQ and received a full academic scholarship to UCLA. He went on to med school, and a year after graduation, joined the ME's office, where he made a rapid ascent, eventually reaching the lofty position of Chief Medical Examiner. An exciting success story if your thing is sawing up dead people.

Dr. Comancho rarely did autopsies anymore, unless a press conference was scheduled to follow.

The cut was taking place in Room Four, the big operating theater, which had a twenty-seat balcony for those who enjoyed sipping machine coffee while watching corpse carving. L. A.'s Theater of the Absurd.

I don't generally get along with city administrators, and Rico from Pico was a well-known municipal assassin, but I couldn't help myself, I sort of liked him. He was devilishly handsome, with his full share of Latin charm. His teeth were as square and white as a line of bathroom the and when he wasn't smocked, he wore expensive suits on a lean, athletic body. An oversized gold watch always rode his slender wrist like a tailor's pincushion. He also had a sunny disposition, which was an asset not often seen among those who perform the last act of desecration.

The autopsy was already in progress when I walked through the door. The center of Forrest's chest was cut from breast bone to crotch and clamped open. Dr. Comancho, in goggles, gloves, and smock, was leaning over the body peering inside like a man inspecting diamonds in a Tiffany jewel case.

'Pull that light down, Ray. Let's give Shane a look at the goods.'

Ray Tsu reached up and lowered a large operating theater lamp over the body. The rib cage was already clipped and lifted. The stomach had been removed. Rico pointed at Forrest's internal organs.

'Kidneys are good. Nice and pink. Most of these homeless guys' kidneys look like old army boots.'

I grabbed a chair and placed it where I wouldn't get splattered by the bone saw when Comancho got around to widening the Y-cut.

'If I find anything edible, how would you like it done? I'm told my liver flambe is exquisite.'

'That's good kitch, Rico, very humorous.'

'Guest of honor ain't gonna be needing any of this stuff no more. Might as well get your order in, amigo.' 'You find my bullet yet?'

'Fished it out with needle forceps about twenty minutes ago. It's in pretty good shape. Small caliber. I sent it over to ballistics. They'll weigh it and let us know.' 'Anything else?'

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