short-just at department height minimums-but he's made up for his diminutive stature by building an upper body that looks like it belongs on the pages of a Marvel comic. The Haitian Sensation. You screw with this guy at your own risk. But I liked him. He was a good boss who stood up for his detectives.

I caught him going through a budget analysis, something no supervisor likes to do, so he seemed glad for the interruption.

'How's Sally doing?' he asked as I came through the door.

My partner, Sally Quinn, was in her eighth month of pregnancy. She was out of the office, testifying in an old Valley murder case of hers that had come up on appeal, leaving me with phone calls and paperwork on the few open cases we were handling. After the trial she was going to take maternity leave. In the meantime, I was an assigned floater, picking up odd cases with other detectives whose partners were out sick or on vacation.

'She's still in court,' I answered. 'That trial is really dragging on. I got a little problem, Cal.'

'Let's hear,' he said, pushing some spreadsheets aside.

'It's personal. As long as Sally is out, I thought maybe I could take a few vacation days.'

'Everything okay?' his expression projecting more than his words.

Everybody knew that Alexa was upstairs tearing the paneling out of her office. Things hadn't been right since she came back on the job three weeks ago. Temper tantrums, unexplained absences, opening unauthorized investigations. Before Chief Filosiani left to go to London for an international police conference, he told her that she was going to have to undergo a performance review upon his return. It was scheduled for next week. She was going crazy getting ready for it. Half the building was rooting for her to pass while the other half wanted her to fail. The last month had cost her a year's worth of goodwill.

I just shrugged, not wanting to get into any of this with Cal.

'I guess you can take a few days,' he said.


'If something comes up, I may need to pull you in, so keep your cell on.'

'Right. Thanks.'

It was only three o'clock, but I was in no mood to shuffle paper on old cases, so I left Parker Center and killed some more time by going over to the criminal courts building. I rode the elevator down to the subbasement, to the evidence lockers. The Hickman file was under my arm. I figured this shouldn't take me long. I had already decided to just take a cursory look at the evidence boxes so I could tell Scout I at least gave it a nod before I sent all this back to her with a 'no thanks.' I found the police graybeard assigned to the court property room. He led me to a storage alcove.

Evidence boxes for current court cases were held down here for a year or until the appeals had cleared the system, then they were moved over to a warehouse facility downtown. The Hickman case wasn't being appealed because it had been plead out. It was close to the year cutoff, but we were running about six months behind on filing this stuff so I was pretty sure the material would still be here. It was.

I collected four cardboard boxes, sat down at a small wooden table, and opened the first one. More crime scene photos. These were originals and now, since I could actually see them, I examined them carefully. Whoever killed Olivia Hickman had done a damn thorough job of it. She'd been stabbed twenty times. What we call in law enforcement, overkill. When you see that many knife wounds it generally indicates extreme anger and usually the perpetrator is someone with a strong emotional attachment to the victim. Like her son. It was probably one of the reasons that Lt. Devine was initially so fixated on Tru Hickman.

I kept looking. I saw many pictures of the bloody shoe print. All the downstairs windows and doors had been photographed. No forced entry. Whoever murdered Olivia Hickman either had a key, or at least had entered through the door. Again, this fit her son.

There were two boxes of physical evidence. The first contained Tru Hickman's boots and clothing. I picked up the boots and looked at them. I couldn't see any blood, so I put them back.

His clothing was carefully packaged in glassine envelopes, and upon examination, appeared to be free of blood spatter. The second box held his mother's bloody nightgown with twenty knife holes in it and a pair of slippers splattered with blood. There were little Baggies with vacuumed hair and fibers all neatly labeled living room, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, etc.

Her purse.

Taped to the plastic handle was an inventory tag with a list of the contents: lipstick, hairbrush, Kleenex, eyebrow pencil, comb, and wallet. I opened the purse and looked inside. It was all there as listed. I opened the wallet. Vons market employee ID card, union card. No credit cards or paper money, incidental change. I put everything back inside the box. Just before I replaced the purse, I noticed a small zipper concealed in a fold of the lining. I patted it carefully and felt a slight bulge, then unzipped the pocket and pulled out the contents.

It was a wad of bills. I straightened the money and counted it carefully. Two hundred dollars. Exactly the amount that Tru was supposed to have killed his mother for.

Why hadn't Lt. Devine found it? Could he possibly be that careless?

Of course, that led me to a much bigger question. If Tru Hickman hadn't killed his mother for this money, then what the hell was his motive for the murder?

Chapter 4

I went back to Parker Center and took the elevator to the sixth floor to check on Alexa. I found her dressing down a new administrative assistant. Detective II Paul Paskerian was a clean-cut guy in a suit who had only been assigned up here since Alexa's return. Because you had to go through Paul to get to Alexa, and because cops love nicknames, everybody quickly took to calling Paskerian, 'Pass Key.'

'You can't post crime stats for homicide divisions on the COMSTAT board without a cross-reference to division troop strength,' she scolded him. 'What the hell is wrong with you, Paul? I can't do the percentages without the prime numbers. Do you think, just once, you could do something right?'

Paul turned and left, looking angry but resolute. Then Alexa glanced up at me.

'Not now, Shane.'

'Jesus. What did / do?' I stood there looking at her, my hands on my hips, trying to decide which way to jump.

'I'm sorry. It's not you.' She crossed quickly to the door and shut it with a little too much force. Before it closed, I saw her assistant Ellen frowning.

'I can't seem to get any decent help up here. This damn performance review of Tony's… Why the hell am I wasting time defending my performance when I've got a city full of hitters out there? I should be doing my job instead of wasting a week covering my ass.'

'I was wondering if you wanted to catch a bite downtown after work. You pick the joint.'

'Can't you see what's going on here?' She motioned toward a stack of papers on her desk. 'That stuff alone is just support figures for the city crime reports I did last year. I have to go through all this material and present it again.' As she stood there looking it, without warning, her lower lip started to quiver. 'Dammit, don't cry, Alexa,' she ordered herself angrily as tears started to flow.

I went to her and took her into my arms. She is so beautiful and strong that sometimes I forget how vulnerable she's become recently. I held her and rubbed her back. She felt stiff. Her muscles jumped under my touch.

'Listen, honey, this performance review isn't the end of the world.'

'What if Tony sacks me? What if he sends me down on a medical? I can't deal with this.' She pushed away from me and turned back to her desk, looking down at the reports with frustration, gathering her emotions under her, getting set for another run at being tough.

'Alexa, you can only do so much. Ten months ago you were lying in a coma in the UCLA neurology ward. Nobody, including your doctors, thought you were going to survive, much less recover. I was advised to think about unhooking your life support. Now you're back here trying to manage two hundred detectives. You're not ready yet.'

'I don't want to hear it, Shane. This is such bullshit. I just.. I was out so long. I got behind. I'm swamped. It's

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