permission from the communications division, which I wouldn't get because I wasn't on call. But I grabbed the magnetized bubble light anyway and slammed it up on the roof. I used it intermittently and growled the siren to bust through red lights at intersections. Technically a no-no, but I didn't care. I had the pedal down, passing cars on the right as I sped north on Abbot Kinney Boulevard.

'This be some more-a-that crazy nickel-slick driving,' was about all that Jonathan Bodine kept saying. He had his boots on and both feet stretched out in fear, planted on the floor mats in front of him. He was gripping the door pull with white knuckles.

It took me almost ten minutes to get out of Venice to the 10 Freeway. Then after another quarter hour, I transitioned to the 405 North, growling my siren and flashing my headlights at slower moving traffic until they moved over.

I got off the 405 at Mulholland and headed east, climbing up into the Hollywood Hills past Beverly Glen. The houses were sparse up here, but the ones I passed were big. This was prime L. A. real estate. Pine trees and elms hugged the slopes on both sides of the road. The Valley lights twinkled below as my headlights sawed holes in the dark.

'Slow down, motherfucker,' Bodine said. It seemed like usable advice. I was close to the summit, so I took my foot off the gas.

Then I saw a police circus up ahead. Half a dozen patrol cars and a coroner's van. Sitting in the middle of yards of yellow crime-scene tape, was Alexa's black BMW. I hit the brakes and skidded to a stop, getting out of the car almost before it had stopped, running toward the twenty cops and techies who were milling around beyond the tape in front of Alexa's car.

Raphael Figueroa saw me coming and broke off, intercepting me. He was six feet tall with a weight lifter's build and a tea-brown, Indio face.

'Hold it, Scully! Slow down!' he barked.

'Where is she?'

'Not here. We haven't got a line on her yet.'

I could see a black male slumped over in the front passenger seat of the car.

'Who's that?'

'The guest of honor,' cop-talk for a body. 'Looks like he's been dead about an hour. No lividity yet or rigor.'

I tried to push past Figueroa, but his left hand was holding my arm in a strong grip. Then he put two fingers of his right hand under his tongue and let out a shrill whistle.

'Tommy, get over here,' he yelled.

Tom Sepulveda broke away from the coroner's van, where he'd been talking to Ray Tsu from the ME's office. Ray was a narrow-shouldered Asian man with such a quiet manner and voice he was known by most homicide cops as Fey Ray. Sepulveda was his exact physical opposite, an Italian stallion. Short, bull-necked, aggressive. Like his partner, he was in his mid-thirties and they both knew their stuff. Tommy grabbed my other arm, then he and Figueroa led me about twenty yards away to their maroon Crown Vic, opened the back door, and pushed me inside.

'Let go of me,' I said, and they released me.

'I called you because if that was my wife's car, I'd want a call, too. But you're not on this case,' Sepulveda started by saying. 'That's protocol, and me and Rafie are holding you to it.'

'Don't quote the rule book to me. Where is she?'

'We've done a preliminary search of the surrounding areas,' Figueroa answered. 'It's pretty dark and it's dense foliage up here, but so far no sign of her.'

'Who's the stiff?'

'Unknown,' Rafie said. 'No wallet but he's got gang ink all over him and expensive, chunky, diamond jewelry so he's probably some street G. Whoever capped him wasn't interested in bad-taste jewelry. There's a big ABC tattoo on his right bicep.'

'Crip?' I asked. ABC usually stood for Arcadia Block Crips, a dangerous gang from the Piru Street area in Compton.

'ABC also stands for American Broadcasting Company,' Tommy said. 'Let's not get ahead of ourselves.'

'I need to look in the car.'

'No way!' they said in unison.

'I'm a material witness. I know what was in that car this morning when she left for work. You don't want me to even take a look and inventory that for you? See if any thing's missing?'

Raphael and Sepulveda looked at each other. They both suspected this was bull. But technically, I had a point.

'Okay, Scully. You can go over there with us,' Sepulveda said. 'But that's it. No touching, no asking questions. I don't want a bunch of grief from the rat squad about this later. We square on that?'

'It's my wife's car.'

'We know, man.' Rafie took a breath. 'I'm sorry, but if you get into this, the Professional Standards Bureau is gonna fall on all of us.'

'I get it,' I said. 'I'm not gonna get in your way.

They took a moment and studied me. I have a little bit of a reputation in the department as a walk-alone, and I could see they were slightly skeptical. But operationally, they had no choice, so finally they exchanged a silent nod and led me over to the car. As we ducked under the yellow tape, Ray Tsu looked up at me.

'Sorry, man,' he whispered. Ray and I had worked at least twenty homicides together and had established a good on-the-job relationship. I nodded at him, then we walked over and I looked into the car.

The front seat was drenched in blood. Fear swept over me, almost blinding my vision. I took a deep breath and tried to calm down. I told myself that I was a trained homicide detective and I needed to treat this car as just another murder scene. I willed myself to look at it dispassionately. I already knew this was going to be the most important investigation of my career. Regardless of what I'd told Sepulveda and Figueroa, there was no way I was going home to wait for these guys to call and fill me in. Until Alexa was located, I was going to be all over this. I took another deep breath and began to form a careful mental picture of the crime scene.

The guy in the passenger seat was a middle-aged African-American. His wrists were cuffed behind him and he'd been shot behind the left ear, execution style. The bullet's trajectory looked to be downward and the exit wound had taken out half his right cheek. He was slumped forward with his forehead resting on the dash, still dripping blood and cerebral spinal fluid all over Alexa's right floor mat. He had long, black hair, which was straightened in a Marcel. The impact of the bullet had knocked the Marcel loose and strands of the shiny, straightened do now hung over his ears. He was muscular, dressed in a sleeveless leather vest and pants with gang tats all over his arms. The big ABC tattoo decorated his large left bicep. He also had BTK on his arm Born to Kill. There was blow back and blood spatter everywhere, except for where the driver had been sitting. If the driver was the shooter, and the bullet was fired from the driver's seat, it seemed to me that the trajectory was slightly wrong. Alexa is five-eight and for the bullet to have a downward trajectory, the doer had to either be taller or standing outside, shooting across her. The passenger side window had not been broken by the exiting bullet, so the slug was probably buried in the lower door panel. Alexa's backseat held several old case boxes and a green sweater. All of it had been there this morning. The backseat seemed untouched.

'Looks like someone was sitting here when the shot was fired,' Figueroa said, pointing to the clean spot where the driver would have been.

I didn't respond.

'See anything we can use?' Sepulveda asked, looking hard at me.

'We were doing that retraining day at the jail this morning,' I said. 'She was in jeans, tennies, and a gray, unmarked sweatshirt.' 'Better put that on the air,' Rafie said, and Sepulveda crossed to their car to make the broadcast.

'All that stuff in the backseat was there, but her briefcase is missing. And her purse.'

'Okay,' Rafie said. 'Describe those.'

'Purse was canvas and black. One of those designer deals with pockets all over it. Briefcase was brown alligator. Small. Wafer-sized.'

Rafie said, 'You know the vie?'

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