He’d asked the company who the owner was. They said, “Don’t pry.”

Climbing the curvy staircase, every step crunching his knee, the pain riding up to his hip, he began counting out the thirteen stairs like he always did, trying to take his mind off the burning in his leg.

When he called out “Nine,” he saw it.

Oh Jesus.

Heart thumping, mouth suddenly dry as tissue paper, he backed down two steps, reached along the right side of his gear belt.

Touching air.

Now he was the idiot, there’d been no gun for a long time, not since he stopped guarding jewelry stores downtown.

Company gave him a flashlight, period, and it was in the trunk of the Taurus.

He forced himself to look.

Two of them.

No one else, one good thing about the turret, it was round, mostly open to the sky, nowhere to hide.

Doyle kept looking, felt his guts heave.

The way they were lying, him on top of her, her legs up, one hooked around his back, it was pretty clear what they’d been doing.


Doyle felt short of breath, like someone was choking him. Struggling to regain his air, he finally succeeded. Reached for his phone.

Right in his pocket. At least something was going okay.


Milo calls me in when the murder’s “interesting.”

Sometimes by the time I get involved, the body’s gone. If the crime scene photos are thorough, that helps. If not, it can get even more interesting.

This scene was a three-minute drive from my house and intact.

Two bodies, wrapped around each other in a sick parody of passion. Milo stood to the side as a coroner’s investigator clicked off shots.

We exchanged quiet “Heys.” Milo ’s black hair was slicked down haphazardly and his green eyes were sharp. His clothes looked slept-in, his pallid, pitted complexion matched the smog-gray sky.

June gloom in L.A. Sometimes we pretend it’s ocean mist.

I studied the bodies from a distance, stepping as far back as I could, careful not to touch the curving plywood wall. “How long have you been here?”

“An hour.”

“You don’t get to this zip code too often, Big Guy.”

“Location, location, location.”

The coroner’s investigator heard that and glanced back. A tall, pretty, square-shouldered young woman in an olive-green pantsuit, she took a long time with the camera, kneeling, leaning, crouching, standing on tiptoe to capture every angle.

“Just a few more minutes, Lieutenant.”

Milo said, “Take your time.”

The kill-spot was the third floor of a construction project on Borodi Lane in Holmby Hills. Massive frame-up of an intended mansion, the entry big enough to seat a symphony orchestra. The kill-spot looked like some sort of observation room. Or the turret of a castle.

Massive was the rule in Holmby. A whole different universe than my white box above Beverly Glen, but walking distance. I’d driven because sometimes Milo likes to think and make calls while I take the wheel.

A few rafters topped the turret, but most of the intended roof was open space. Breeze blew in. Balmy, but not enough air movement to mask the smell of wet wood and rust, mold and blood and excreta.

Male victim on top, female victim pinned beneath him, very little of her showing.

His black designer jeans were rolled to midcalf. One of her smooth, tan legs hooked around his waist. Brown pumps in place on both her feet.

Final embrace, or someone wanting it to look that way. What I could see of the woman’s hands were splayed, limp. Flaccidity of death, that made sense.

But the leg propped up didn’t fit; how had it stayed in place postmortem?

The man’s legs were well muscled, coated with curls of fine blond hair. Black cashmere sweater for him, blue dress for her. I craned to see more of her, couldn’t catch anything but dress fabric. Some kind of shiny jersey. Hiked above her hips.

The man’s hair was longish, light brown, wavy. A neat ruby hole stippled by black powder punctuated the mastoid bulge behind his right ear. Blood ran down his neck, slanted toward the right, continued onto the plywood floor. Long dark strands of her hair fanned wide on the floor. Not much blood around her.

I said, “Wouldn’t her legs have relaxed?”

The C.I., still photographing, said, “If rigor’s come and gone, I’d think so.”

She worked at the crypt on Mission Road, in East L.A., had managed to maintain the rosy- cheeked glow of a habitual hiker. Lots of outdoor death scenes? Late twenties to early thirties, rusty hair tied in a high ponytail, clear blue eyes; a farm girl working the dark side.

Putting the camera aside, she got down low, she used two hands to lift the man’s midsection gingerly, peered through the resulting two-inch space. The wraparound leg collapsed like a folding chair improperly set. “Yup, looks like she was propped, Lieutenant.”

Looking back at Milo for confirmation, her hands still wedged between the bodies.

He said, “Could be.”

The C.I. raised the male victim a bit higher, studied, lowered him with tenderness. The investigators I’ve seen are generally like that: respectful, swimming in more horror than most people encounter in a lifetime, never growing jaded.

She stood, brushed dust off her trousers. “She’s not wearing panties and his penis is out. Obviously, there’s no erection so there’s no way they’d stay… connected. But there is a crusty whitish stain on her thigh, so even if they were posed, looks like they consummated.”

Kneeling again, she pulled the man’s crumpled jeans high enough to search his pockets. “Okay, here we go.”

Hefting a blue vinyl wallet secured by a snap button.

Milo gloved up. “No car keys?”

“Nope, just this. Let me tag and then you can go through it. I didn’t see any civilian cars parked on the street, maybe it started as a jacking?”

“And everyone ran up here and these two started getting it on?”

“I was thinking an intended jacking, the bad guy changed his mind?”

Milo shrugged.

“Sorry, Lieutenant. For shooting my mouth.”

“At this point,” said Milo, “I’ll take anything I can get.”

“I’m new on the job,” she said. “I’m sure there’s nothing I can teach you-guess it’s time to flip them. I’ll do a liver temp and see if we can close in on TOD.”

Moments later, she was cleaning off the meat thermometer.

Milo said, “And?”

“Probably somewhere during the last twelve hours, I’m sure the docs will be able to tell you

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