V-TV was just beginning its third season. However, according to the show’s main title, the police legacy of its host, Nix Nash, had started twenty years earlier in Miami Beach.

Most cops across America knew Nash’s history by heart, because we all watched the show like ghoulish rubberneckers checking out a freeway disaster. In the mid-nineties Nix Nash had been a patrol officer in South Florida. After just three years on the job, he’d decided to change professions and quit the police force to go to law school.

As a lawyer he found his way to L.A. and began practicing here. The majority of his clients were violent predicate felons who, by the account of most, were guilty as hell of the charges brought against them. Despite that fact, Nash did very well getting them off, usually by claiming every imaginable brand of police impropriety. His favored courtroom tactic was to put the arresting officers on trial.

From 2000 to 2006 he expanded his L.A. practice to cover civil lawsuits against cops. The word around the courthouse was he was not above buying false testimony, although, in all fairness, that claim had never been proven.

If there is such a thing as karmic payback, it made a heartfelt appearance in 2006 when one of Nash’s partners turned him into our bunco squad for embezzling from his own law firm to support an over-the-top Hollywood lifestyle. Needless to say, a lot of overtime went into that investigation, but not one of the cops working it put in for even an hour. The case quickly rose to the level of divine providence.

This magnificent investigatory effort resulted in a three-year sentence for Nixon Nash at Corcoran State Prison in Central California and the stripping of his law license. However, because of “good time” served, he got out in eighteen months.

While in jail, Nash wrote a book about his adventures taking corrupt cops to court. The book was titled Vigilante. It won the Prison PEN Award, was published in New York, and became a national best-seller. With its success, Nash arose like a battered zombie in a George Romero film. Nash optioned the rights to Vigilante TV to a local TV station in his hometown of Miami and continued his crusade against local law enforcement there, only now it was playing to a much larger audience. The guy was like a fungus you couldn’t kill.

The first season of V-TV with Nixon Nash aired on a local channel in Miami Beach. At the end of the year the show had left a trail of broken police careers in its wake but had earned a huge Nielsen share in the Miami market. That encouraged a big syndicator to pick it up and distribute it nationally.

Then V-TV moved on for a second highly rated season in Atlanta, this time going after two homicide detectives who had mishandled a serial murder case that took place in Piedmont Park. Because of Nash and his show, the two Atlanta detectives were humiliated on national TV and took early retirement. Two months later, under intense media scrutiny, the Atlanta police chief also resigned.

Now Nix Nash was in L.A., ripe for vengeance against the city that had cost him his license to practice law. The third season of V-TV was about to start, but nobody yet knew what case they were going to cover. So far the show had been riding our radio calls, and sending crews to crime scenes, where they would shoot a little test footage and leave.

“Maybe this will just be another dry run,” I said hopefully, looking over at Hitch, who just grunted as he turned to look through the front windshield at the murder house we were pulling up to.

Ricky Laguna was waiting by the curb. He was a short, stocky forty-year-old Hispanic detective who wore his too-tight blue suit uncomfortably, like the costume from his high school play. He had a low forehead, lots of black hair, and tobacco-stained teeth. His garish tie was too wide and out of style. The whole ensemble screamed cop. Adding in his drinker’s red nose, all that was missing was the white socks.

His partner was a tightly wrapped female detective named Pam Becker who, after we all introduced ourselves, stayed outside with Patrol, busily organizing the yellow tape detail.

We got what we needed from our briefcases, stuffed our pockets, and got out of the car. Rick Laguna walked us up to the house. He seemed glad to see Hitch.

“I seen your movie. Good shit, homeboy.” He grinned as he pulled aside some yellow crime scene tape blocking the front door, then said, “Better put on your paper booties.”

Hitch and I reached into our pockets and pulled out hospital slippers to protect the crime scene from unnecessary shoe prints. We put them on and stepped inside.

The front room of the house had several bedsheets tacked up on the front windows. I wondered why. All the lights were on. We followed a premarked entrance path strung with yellow tape along the east side of the small living room that had been set up by the patrol officers. They had also taped off the murder room and marked an egress path. All of this was standard academy-taught procedure for primary responders on any murder scene. It kept the swarm of LAPD officers and crime techs from inadvertently leaving their own trace evidence near the body. I glanced around the living room. It was strewn with old Coke cans, fast-food boxes, and magazines.

“Is it okay for you to tell us now who the vic or vics are?” I asked Laguna as we paused outside the kitchen, which had a big X in yellow tape across the threshold, identifying it as the murder scene.

“One vic. Female. Looks like she got beaten first, then double-tapped in the face with a large-bore weapon.”

“You got an ID on the deceased?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” he said, and rocked back on his heels like a man surveying a tall building.

“So who is it?”

“Lolita Mendez,” he said.

“Shit,” Hitch hissed under his breath.

“Lita Mendez lives here?” I said, looking past Laguna into the kitchen, where a woman’s lifeless body was sprawled.

With the V-TV van parked half a block up the street I instantly knew that this was the case Nix Nash had been waiting for.


Standing in the kitchen doorway, I noted that the inside of the house had a faint but pungent odor of garlic. I looked down and studied the body.

I’d never seen the deceased in person, only in an occasional newspaper photo, or once or twice on TV, but it was now easy to understand why Hollenbeck Homicide had kicked this one over to us.

Lita Mendez was one of the city’s most aggressive police critics and gang activists. She’d filed over a hundred civilian complaints against Hollenbeck Division police officers on behalf of Evergreen gang members and their families. As a result, quite a few cops had lost grade and pay. Some had even lost their pensions.

I’d been in break rooms in different stations over the years when Lita’s name had come up, and the hatred that poured out was genuine and overpowering. She hated us and we had returned that hatred in full measure. She’d been arrested several times by overly ambitious cops on questionable charges. None of those arrests stuck.

Her younger brother was a notorious Evergreen banger named Homer “Conejo Loco” Mendez. The Crazy Rabbit was incarcerated in Corcoran State Prison for conspiring to kill a police officer, something Lita Mendez always maintained was a trumped-up charge and another example of police harassment against her family.

I remember reading a news story once that claimed Lita had nothing more than a tenth-grade education. That hadn’t slowed her down, because with natural intelligence and street guile she’d served up a lot of trouble for the LAPD.

Hitch and I took two short steps into the kitchen so we could view the crime scene but stayed well back from the body. The victim was lying on the floor and, in death, no longer seemed as formidable. She just looked shriveled and sad. It was still hard to believe she was dead.

I saw that the “Chalk Fairy” had been here. Patrol officers all carry chalk to mark the pavement during traffic investigations. Occasionally, on murder scenes, they develop the unreasonable urge to draw an outline around the body before detectives arrive. This is in violation of all the rules of a homicide investigation, starting with disturbing the crime scene and up to and including potentially leaving the patrol officer’s own trace evidence on the victim,

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