Two hundred and six bones make up the adult human skeleton.
And on a Wednesday night in June, I was perfecting my hammer fist, an efficient strike that could break at least four of those bones.
Fifteen minutes into my Krav Maga class, the bell tower rang—a ring tone chosen for Lieutenant Zak Rodriguez. And even though I was hammer fisting; even though, a yard away, my friend Lena was flirting with Avarim as he taught her how to break from a choke hold; even though I was off duty and needed this workout and was observing the tradition known as “having a personal life”—duty called.
For whom the bell tolled.
Elouise Norton, LAPD Homicide Detective, Southwest Division.
I excused myself from my trainer, Seth, and padded over to the mirrored wall. I scrutinized my abs, a part of my body that rarely saw the sun and was always hidden beneath silk shirts and six pounds of Kevlar. Not to brag, but my belly looked awesome in this light.
I grabbed my iPhone and towel from the floor and glanced at the phone’s picture of a middle-aged Latino with smoke-colored eyes and a Clark Gable mustache.
And the bell tolled again.
I took a deep breath, then said, “Lou here.”
“You’re not answering your radio,” Lieutenant Rodriguez shouted. Sirens blared in the background.
“Because it’s in the car.”
“And why aren’t you in the car?”
“Because I’m on the Westside, getting in some exercise.”
Lena, also getting in some “exercise,” was now sticking her ass into Avarim’s crotch and cooing, “Like this? Like this?” Newly divorced, Lena was tiny and dazzling. More than that, she could filet men like a hungry grizzly could filet salmon.
I swiped the towel across my sweaty forehead. “What’s up, LT?”
“A Jane Doe hanging in a closet.”
Unimpressed, I lifted my left knee to my chest and held it for two seconds. “Oh, yeah?”
In this city, Jane Does were always found hanging around. In closets, off bridges, in shower stalls …
“Yeah. A security guard found her in one of those condos over on Santa Rosalia near the Jungle, the ones still under construction. You know ’em, right?”
I had started to lift my right knee but froze. My grip tightened around the phone because yeah, I knew Santa Rosalia, and yeah, I knew the Jungle. From age three and on to my eighteenth birthday, I had lived in that part of black Los Angeles. Worse, my big sister, Victoria, had been snatched off those streets, never to be seen again. I hated the Jungle, and yet I had never left.
“From what the first officer told me,” Lieutenant Rodriguez was saying, “she’s pretty ripe, more than five hours old, and … Hey, you there?”
I stifled a sigh. “Yep. I’m … good.” But his words must have spooked me—Lena had abandoned sexy Avarim to come stand beside me. Big brown eyes wide with worry, she touched my wrist and whispered, “You okay?”
I nodded, even though, no, I wasn’t okay, not entirely. “I don’t understand,” I said to my boss. “Why am I catching this? Last time I scanned the board, there were blank spaces by Guerrero’s and Dolby’s names.”
“First,” he said, “you know the people in that area better than Guerrero and Dolby, so it won’t take thirty years for you to figure out your ass from your elbow. Second: Guerrero and Dolby are on everybody’s shit list for screwing up that Sizzler robbery, and this Jane Doe in a closet could be something, and I really don’t wanna read in the Times that two Southwest Division dicks forgot to fingerprint the scene. I swear those two are SOS.”
He paused, then added, “I know you have two cases simmering right now, but you know and I know that our clearance rate is shit right now. I need the A-Team on this.”
“One more question,” I said. “May I ask why you’re heading out to a suicide? Not that I don’t enjoy your company.”
“Again: she’s on Napoleon Crase’s property. That worries me.”
Yeah. That worried me, too.
“I just want everything done right,” he said. “I already called Taggert and he’s en route to the scene. He’s an ass, but he’s now your ass, so be nice to him, all right?”
“I’m always nice,” I said with a smirk.
He chuckled. “Oh, yeah. You’re a black Marie Osmond. Meet you over there.”