realized what he'd done, and came up with a revised plan. He knew he'd be the prime suspect in his mom's murder, so he returned home and pretended to find the body. Then he called nine-one-one. His original story was he'd been at a party, got tweaked on meth and can't remember who was there, stumbled out to the alley and passed out. So basically he had no alibi. Later, in the I-room at Van Nuys Station, they threatened him with a premeditated, lying in wait murder for financial gain. A death penalty case. Under the threat of going down for capital murder, he changed his story, copped to a straight first degree homicide, and took a jolt for twenty-five to life. That was last August. Because of prison overcrowding, he was in the inmate classification center for seven months. They should have assigned him to a Level One minimum support unit because he's basically a brain-dead tweaker with no prior violent crimes, but somehow, he got a classification score above fifty-two. The poor schlub ends up being sent to Corcoran and placed in Level Four with a bunch of hardcore assassins. It's a rough car, full of gang killers.' A car was what inmates called a housing unit.

'That was over two months ago. He now says the confession was coerced, that he didn't do it.'

'Try singing that to 'Over the Rainbow.' It won't change the outcome, but it might sound a little better.'

She ignored me and said, 'You know Internal Affairs is tasked with checking up on incomplete or inadequate investigations. If we get a complaint alleging any problems with due process, it's our job to check it out. I got this one.'

'Sounds like fun.' I had no idea where she was going, and certainly didn't want to find out.

'Actually, it hasn't been fun at all.' She pulled a stack of photocopied arrest and police reports out of her briefcase and started to push them toward me.

'Don't give that stuff to me. I don't want anything to do with this.'

'Just listen then.'

I made my face look disinterested and dull, something I'm uncommonly good at.

'The primary investigator on the case is a lieutenant named Brian Devine. As it turns out, Lieutenant Devine has an I. A. record of borderline brutality cases going back fifteen years. It's a thick folder. He's been in all the high testosterone units: SIS;

SWAT. Suffice it to say, the lieutenant's a cowboy. Now he heads the Van Nuys Division Homicide Squad. How dirtbags like him make supervisor baffles me.'

'If he's the head of Van Nuys Homicide, he should be behind a desk. What's he doing in the field running a murder case?'

'You're right. As a supervisor he normally wouldn't take on a homicide investigation. But his story is he was a block away from the house when Tru Hickman phoned nine-one-one. So he rogers the call and shows up as the primary on Olivia Hickman's one-eighty-seven. After they take this kid in and sweat him, they put him on the Box and, according to Lieutenant Devine, he tanks the polygraph. There's a bloody shoe print at the scene, same size and shape as Tru's boots, and Lieutenant Devine's initial report speculates that Tru made the print. Stepped in his mother's blood while in the act of killing her. Under all this bad news, the kid panics. He's got a laundry list of old drug busts, a deceptive poly, and no alibi. He knows nobody will believe him and he's headed to death row, so in less than forty-eight hours, he accepts a plea.'

'This is fascinating, but it's still no excuse for leaving your car in my assigned parking spot.'

She smiled. Her teeth were pearl white against almond skin. Secada 'Scout' Llevar was a stunner. That smile brought her another few minutes of this nonsense.

'It gets better. Tru Hickman has this Hispanic friend, Miguel Iglesia. Miguel has anglicized his name. He's Mike Church now. Iglesia means 'church' in Spanish.'


'Church is your basic, gang-affiliated, West Valley gorilla. All through high school he ran with the VSLs-the Vanowen Street Locos, a bad Valley gang. He's been banging since he was fifteen and now he's one of their most feared veteranos. Tru Hickman and Mike Church met in tenth grade when both were doing juvie time in the sheriff's Honor Rancho. They're an unlikely pair.

Hickman was in for gas-bagging crystal and selling it around school. Church was doing a stretch for agg- assault and attempted murder. They're from opposite ends of the food chain so it's a little strange these guys hang together at all. Church is a shark. Hickman's bait. In his initial police statement, Hickman said Mike Church came over to his house the day of the murder and got into an argument with his mom. They screamed at each other. Mrs. Hickman didn't like Mike Church because she correctly thought he was a bad influence on her son. Tru told the lieutenant about Church being at the house and screaming at his mother. Before he confessed, Tru said he thought maybe Church was the doer. Lieutenant Devine went out and had a talk with Church about this, and guess what?'

'He has an alibi.'

'Nope. He's got deep knife cuts all over his palms and fingers. The kind you'd get if you stabbed someone using a kitchen knife with no scabbard and your hands slip down on the blade during the attack. Church explains the cuts by saying that he got into a knife fight in a bar, but doesn't know the guy who cut him.'

'That makes Mike Church the new prime suspect. So why is Tru Hickman the one doing Level Four time?'

'Because Lieutenant Devine turned Church loose. He was so sure Tru killed his mother he never went any further with it. The investigators speculated that Truit laid in wait and killed her for the two hundred dollars to buy meth. The lying in wait and killing for financial gain aspects allowed the D. A. to kick it up to a Special Circumstances death penalty case. It looks to me as if Lieutenant Devine didn't want to muck up his slam-dunk murder with another suspect, even one who'd had a recent argument with the vie and had knife cuts on his hands. Classic target fixation.'

Our food came and we started digging in.

'Anyway, I got the letter from Corcoran two days ago, and got permission to work it from Captain Sasso.'

'You report directly to Jane Sasso?'

'Yeah. You know her?'

'She's so driven, can anybody really know her?'

Scout didn't answer, but something shifted behind her eyes. I'd struck a nerve. Captain Jane Sasso had been appointed by my wife, Alexa, to head the Internal Affairs unit. She was a notorious department hard-ass. After a moment Scout nodded, went on. 'I ran Tru Hickman's yellow sheet. This kid is such a loser, he couldn't find the ceiling if he was on his back looking through binoculars. I called him on the phone up at Corcoran and he says he didn't do it. He doesn't understand how he could have flunked the lie detector test. He says that bad poly was the main reason he pled out, but he says nobody ever showed him the test. He never really had a lawyer. The P. D. who got the case met him once or twice for an hour and cut a deal to drop the special circumstances. The straight Murder One plea was accepted by the D. A. and the whole mess cleared the system by the end of the month.'

'This is great pizza,' I said. 'How's the lasagna?'

She frowned at me. 'I've been looking into the case with Captain Sasso's tacit permission for the last two days. She's not too big on these bad due-process things. But the more I checked, the more it seems that what Tru claims in his letter is more or less accurate. They sure didn't look at Mike Church very hard. Lieutenant Devine got a quick confession from a confused guy who'd cooked off too many brain cells doing glass. But now that Tru's had a chance to think about it, he says he was framed.'

'Show him the poly.'


'Why not?'

'It's missing.'


'Also, I can't find any lab work matching the photo of the bloody shoe print to Tru Hickman's boots. I don't think they ever finished that part of the investigation. After Tru confessed, they just never sent it through for a match.'

'That can also happen.'

She wrinkled her nose. She was getting frustrated with me. 'Mike Church has a long and prolific criminal VSL gang history that includes multiple aggravated assaults and multiple attempted homicides. Lame as his story is, I don't think Tru Hickman premeditated his mom's murder, or killed her for two hundred dollars to buy drugs.'

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