Monday, October 18, 2010
Downtown Los Angeles' old financial distrinct is the heart of this thrilling murder mystery and the unwanted love that grows between a cop with a dark secret in his troubled past and an up and coming world class artist. LAPD homicide detective Russell Hunter. A shadow man, an enigma. He is a man who has purpose but no goal. A figure who walks between the darkness and the light in search of salvation from the terrible mistakes of his past
Between Darkness and Light
MLR Press: October, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-60820-069-6 (print)
Monday, South Spring Street, Old Financial District, Los Angeles, 3:00 am
The woman was dead.
I could see that even before I laid my fingers along her cool throat to feel for a pulse that was no longer there.
Even before I saw the surprisingly small, almost bloodless hole nearly hidden behind the screen of the blood matted bottle-blond hair hiding her face.
Behind me Danny shouted at the 911 operator who must have been wishing this was the night she called in sick and stayed home with the kids.
He was hyperventilating and gasping out words like "Body! Blood! Oh my God, she's dead! She's dead. Oh, God, you have to come--"
I took the iPhone from him and clamped my hand down over his slender shoulder, forcing him to look at me. The blue eyes that met mine were nearly as empty as the dead woman's. I was tempted to slap him, but knew that would only put him over the edge, a place I didn't want to go. Instead I squeezed his shoulder gently, stroking his collar bone.
"I've got it, Daniel," I said, wondering as I did how I could stay so calm when Danny was freaking out. Didn't I feel anything except annoyance this would happen tonight, after such a successful gallery showing? The night spent schmoozing up art patrons on the Art Walk suddenly seemed so distant. Maybe even unimportant.
"Take a deep breath. You're going to be okay." I stroked his back, all too aware of the tension riddling his slim body. "Breathe, baby, breathe."
Danny moaned, but did as he was told. Always such an obedient boy, my Daniel Ordstrom. It made him so wonderful in my bed.
I turned away and gave the 911 operator my name and address. She said a patrol car was on its way. Would I stay on the line until they arrived? Ignoring her, I disconnected and shoved the phone back into Danny's cold hand.
"Put that away." He obeyed again and huddled close to me. I put my arm around his shaking shoulders, patting his still rigid back, wishing I could take him away from this place. Danny was too fragile to endure much more of this, but there was nothing I could do. This was a matter that had to take its course now.
I knew we'd only get into trouble if we entered my loft penthouse. I studied the dead woman who had made it to my front door before being gunned down. I didn't recognize her... wait. I stepped up beside her and crouched down, ignoring the squeak of my new Italian leather shoes on the marble foyer. I stared past the screen of hair, at the face so curiously devoid of life. Her eyes were open and her mouth gaped as though protesting the misfortune of her current state. She reminded me of a figure in a macabre wax museum. Hard to believe this had ever been human, breathing life.
Behind me, Danny still gasped for breath.
I bent down to look at the woman, and he moaned. "Oh God, Steve, please don't..."
I ignored him and peered more closely at the woman's face, trying to see beyond the mass of brassy hair. I refrained from the temptation to brush it off her face, knowing that would totally freak Danny out. I studied the pale skin and wattled flesh under her chin. The fire-stop red lips and garish blue eye shadow. Then I realized what I had thought was blood in her hair was in fact some other red liquid that had partially dried there. I had seen that combination earlier this evening, hadn't I? I sat back on my heels. Shit, I did know her. And I knew where that stain on her hair came from, too. Not blood. Alcohol and cranberry juice. The remnants of Danny's Cosmo. Shit.
"It can't be," I muttered. But I knew I was right. It was Stella Gold, the vitriolic art critic for the Silver Lake rag, The Lake. She'd been at my show, hadn't she? I remembered her poison tongue going on about how I had sold out and couldn't be trusted to give an honest showing any more. "This is just peachy," I muttered.
After her verbal assault had gone on what seemed like forever Danny had flipped on her and thrown his Cosmo in her face. I could still see the sticky strands of cranberry and alcohol in her hair she clearly hadn't bothered cleaning off before she'd stormed out of the gallery swearing she was going to get both of us. Well I guess not any more. Someone had got to her first. But here? That made no sense at all. Stella had no reason to visit me here, or anywhere, for that matter.
Did she come here right after the show, looking for me? Not even stopping to clean herself up. She must have. But why? What had brought her here? Stella and I were hardly on friendly speaking terms. I'd never seen her outside of the few shows we attended at the same time. I couldn't believe she had meant to continue the fight on my home turf. Even Stella couldn't be that stubbornly obtuse, could she? What more could she have said that she couldn't put into the scathing review I knew she was going to write?
The press was going to have a field day with this. One of their own gets snuffed: news at ten. What a fucking sorry mess.
As though in response to that thought, the ancient elevator clanked and groaned into life. I knew even before the copper doors screeched open it would be a pair of uniformed LAPD cops, with their suspicious eyes and nosy, probing questions.
I sighed and pulled my bomber jacket closer around my shoulders, otherwise ignoring the sudden chill that flashed through me, raising goose bumps all over my flesh. Any way you looked at it, it was going to be a long, miserable night.
Mutt and Jeff clearly thought we were up to no good being out of bed at this time of night, standing over a dead woman. The dynamic duo separated us. I was led over to the far wall, by the mullioned window overlooking downtown L.A., awash with lights. The officer I was with asked a lot of pointed questions about where we'd been that night and why we were stumbling home at one in the morning smelling of booze and sushi.
From across the lobby Danny's voice rose until we could all hear his answers to the same questions. Neither cop seemed impressed when Danny informed them haughtily that I was Stephen J. Fischer, up and coming rising star in the Los Angeles art world, just recently off a whirlwind tour of Chicago and points east where I had sold out every show and netted enough money to pay for my new digs back home in L.A. Clearly they weren't art aficionados.
"What happens now?" I asked when the older of the two snapped his report book closed and eyed me with disdain, while I tried to sooth Danny's fragile nerves. Poor Danny. He had made a special effort to impress tonight. New suit, blush and even some mascara. It had been a sweet gesture, but now with his bloodless skin, it just made him look like a clown. It was obvious Mutt and Jeff thought so.
"Detectives will be along to ask you some more questions. It will be up to them to decide the next course of action."
Oh good, we were a course of action now. I wanted to take Danny someplace where people weren't going to stare at him like he was a freak. I sighed. "Can we at least wait for them inside?"
"I'm sorry sir. You need to wait here for the detectives."
"Of course I do."
Once the cops finished their questioning, Danny rushed back to my side. I hugged his shoulder to let him know I was with him and he threw me a sad, lost soul look. The older of the two cops threw us a stern look and I knew they wouldn't tolerate us talking about what had happened. So neither Danny or I spoke. We just took comfort in each other's presence, wishing this mess was over. Knowing it was never going to be over. Not really.
Cops must be like larks, they travel in pairs and they wake up way too early. Probably bonded for life. The first detective off the elevator was a pasty-faced fat man who wheezed and grunted as though he'd walked up the twelve stories to my loft penthouse. I wondered if I knew enough CPR to save him when he went into cardiac arrest.
Detective Lark number two was another ball game. And I wasn't talking baseball.
He strode off the elevator after his partner like he'd been coming here for years. His dark, piercing eyes took in everything in the crowded foyer in one sweeping all-encompassing glance, glancing over the potted ficus and single stalk of phalaenopsis orchid, nodding at the uniformed officers and dismissing them at the same time. Then his gaze turned toward me and I swear every evil deed I had ever committed or even thought about flashed before me. He could see each one of them and was not impressed.
Mutt and Jeff gave their report then went their merry way, leaving Danny and me to face the larks. The pair introduced themselves: pasty face was Detective Doug McBride, and his dark, observant partner was Detective Russell Hunter.
Interestingly enough, they both ignored the body on the floor, focusing their attention on Danny and me. I wondered if that was a calculated move to unnerve us. If it was, it worked. I wanted to tell one of them to have the decency to cover her up or something, but I knew my words would be ignored. They were in charge tonight. We were witnesses, maybe even suspects. I watched enough Law and Order to know the person who found the body was always seen as a likely suspect. Knowing the victim would also make them more suspicious. And the circumstances of our last meeting were not going to go over with this pair. I scrubbed my hand over my face, smoothing my fingers over my goatee. Wishing I could be anywhere but here. McBride led a shivering Danny back over to the elevators and glanced at Hunter who took me to the other side, opposite from where the body lay. I did my best not to look down at Stella.
I watched Danny, hoping he wasn't going to fall apart in front of these two. So far he had held on by his manicured fingernails, but I knew how close he was to the edge of hysteria. And an hysterical Danny would be a handful for anyone. I couldn't imagine what these two would make of it.
Then I was pulled back to the moment by my interrogator. "I need to ask you a few questions. Let's start with the basics, Mr..." Hunter pulled out a small spiral notebook and a pen, glanced at his watch and wrote something down, then waited for me to answer. I'd already told the other officers this, but I knew I had to answer anyway. God knows how many times we would have to go through this before this nightmare day ended.
Pen poised. "Is that your full name?"
"Stephen Jeremy Fischer." I grimaced at my hated middle name, cursing my father who had carried the name and forced it and his memory on me.
Hunter went on to ask all my personal information: address, where I worked, phone, who was my next of kin, my mother's name, my father's name, my height, eye color and weight. He left the door open on my latest tax return and underwear size.
"Well, Mr. Fischer, what time did you discover the body?"
I rubbed my chin and tried not to look at Stella sprawled untidily on my front step.
"We left the show around twelve-thirty."
"What show was that?" He wrote something on the first page.
"Art Slave on Spring Street held a showing of my latest work over the weekend."
"You're an artist?"
"Six years now."
By the time Hunter's partner returned with a still upset Danny whose mascara had by now smeared into a raccoon mask, the coroner had arrived and a host of other people filled my outer foyer. They crowded us in and I found myself next to Danny, who was shivering uncontrollably.
I took his hand, trying to let him know everything was going to be okay. That earned us a couple of glances from the two detectives. McBride looked contemptuous. Hunter seemed torn between bemusement and disgust, most of it aimed at Danny. I was used to that. Even guys who didn't have a problem with gay men had serious issues with the overtly effeminate ones.
Under the curve of my eyelashes I studied Hunter. He was tall, but not as tall as my six-two. Maybe six even and one-eighty and not an ounce looked like fat. He wasn't what I would call handsome in any conventional sense, but he had a ruggedness about him. Black Irish, I thought. Short, black military-cut hair, almost black eyes, an incipient beard told me he shaved a couple of times a day at least. He had a strong chin and full red lips that hadn't smiled the whole time he'd been in my building. Occasionally, when his hounds-tooth jacket would flip open I would get a glimpse of his gun in a holster under his left arm. A chilling reminder these guys weren't here on a social call.
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