Monday, July 30, 2012
L.A. Boneyard excerpt by P.A. Brown
Bristlecone Pine Press (June 6, 2012)
As the daily grind takes its toll on David’s four-year relationship with California golden boy Chris Bellamere, the handsome Jairo begins a relentless seduction. A moment of weakness threatens to unravel David’s life and leaves Chris struggling to forgive a betrayal of trust.
"Trauma to the throat. Pretty excessive. Lots of hesitation marks. Whoever did this didn't have a clue. A real hack job. Hard to believe someone would sit still for this." In response to David's look she added, "Don't worry, I'll run a full tox screen."
"Cause of death?" David asked, eyeing the ragged throat wounds. It was indeed a mess.
"Could be a knife. I'll be able to tell you more once I get a look at those X-rays. Skull appears intact and is that of a normally developed Caucasian woman. Height is one hundred and sixty-four centimeters or five feet four-and-a-half inches, gross weight... seventy-one kilograms. That's one hundred fifty-six pounds for you nonscience types."
While the morgue assistant began to capture a visual record of the autopsy, Lopez used a sterile swab on the face and throat. Next, she used a syringe to draw fluid from each of the eyes. She stared at the cloudy liquid in the syringe.
Jairo watched Lopez table the two syringes and leaned forward. "What is that you're collecting?"
"Vitreous humor. It has a lot of uses forensically. We can make a diagnosis of alcoholism as well as drug use. Changes in potassium levels, lactic acid, nonprotein nitrogen, and chloride can help us pin down the time of death, unless too much time has passed, then the formulas break down. Sorry, wish I could give you more. But we'll analyze it and hope for the best."
"It'll give us time of death?" Jairo perked up. "I've always understood that's pretty hard to pin down."
"You heard right." Lopez met David's gaze. "Some people expect miracles. This probably won't help much. My best guess is we're looking at seven to ten days minimum. Things have been on the cool side these days. That would slow decomp down."
"Any way to tell if this is the scene of the crime or a dump site?" David interjected.
"Nothing stands out right now," Lopez said. "Not a lot of external insect activity, so she may have been buried the whole time. I'll know more once I open her up."
But before she did that, she used cotton swabs to take samples of the victim's ears, nose, and mouth. Each one she bagged and labeled."Now this is interesting."
David leaned over to get a closer look at what she was pointing at. It was the swab from the victim's nose. Tiny white specks, like undersized rice grains, covered one side of the cotton.
"What is it?"
"My guess? Fly larvae. Unhatched. Which means that the body was exposed to the elements long enough to attract flies but not long enough for them to hatch. We can get one of our bug guys to hatch these babies out and see what kind of fly we're dealing with."
Using rib cutters and a bone saw, she opened the corpse up to their prying eyes. The photographer avidly captured everything while Lopez gave a running commentary aimed at the mike suspended above the table.
David folded his arms over his chest. He never quite knew what to do with his hands during an autopsy. He wasn't allowed to do any more than observe, even though he often thought he could move something faster than Lopez could. He noticed Jairo was taking the notes he'd requested. He also noticed the young man's hands shaking. David felt an irrational urge to take one of those hands and stop the shaking, which was crazy.
Jairo was a cop, for God's sake. A cop who wanted to be a homicide detective. Dead and mutilated bodies were going to be his bread and butter until he came to his senses and went back to being a vice cop catching underage drinkers, which couldn't be soon enough for David.
Lopez swapped the protective goggles for filtering ones, and scanned the body with a UV light, which glowed wherever some body fluid revealed itself. She flipped the light off and pulled down a more powerful white light.
"Still no sign of visible trauma anywhere besides the throat. Let's take a look at the innards."
One at a time, she removed all the internal organs and weighed and took samples of each one. After that, she cut the throat open, revealing the larynx and thyroid cartilage. "Fascia is intact. Resectioning of the thyroid cartilage, incising through the cricoid cartilage before opening the larynx dorsally, inspection of the laryngeal joints reveals the hyoid is intact." She skinned off her nitrile gloves and swapped them for a clean pair. "No overt signs of ligature strangulation. I'll check the lungs for any sign of asphyxia."
When she sliced open the skull and pulled the brain out, David heard Jairo's sharp intake of breath. David glanced sideways at him, hoping Jairo wasn't going to get sick again. Jairo looked green but held his own. The lunch they had had less than two hours ago was in contention with his stomach. David's gaze moved impassively from the wan-looking man to the decaying corpse, and he felt nothing.
Finally, Lopez removed the paper bags from each hand and slid a thin scalpel under each fingernail, trapping whatever came out on small, sterile sheets of paper. Each one was sealed and labeled, and joined the other samples in the growing pile. She lifted the exposed arm into the light and studied the wounds closely.
"Coyote?" David asked.
"What? Oh, yes, definitely canine. What were you thinking?"
"You don't want to know what I was thinking."
"You're a dark one, Detective Laine. I like that in a man."
David tapped the table between them. "Do me a favor, doc, run that tox screen as soon as you can. I really need to know a cause of death. I don't want some suspect telling us later that she was already dead when he found her and he buried her out of respect."
"The baby's father, maybe?"
"He's definitely a person of interest."
"Well, let's see what we can find out." Lopez exposed the fetus, its placenta still intact. It looked considerably less decayed than its mother. She pointed at a tiny, shriveled penis. "Him. About seven months to term."
"Could he have lived if she had been taken to a hospital?"
"Probably. They've got wonderful neonatal care these days."
"If only someone had cared."
"Unless he's the reason she died," she said.
"Wrong girl gets knocked up by the wrong guy," David said. "No happily ever after there."
Jairo seemed upset by the conversation. David looked at him gently. "You need a bathroom break there?"
"No," he said in a strangled voice. "I'm okay. But how can you be so cold? That's a baby!"
"Ah, you got kids," Lopez said. "Can always tell the ones who got kids."
Jairo's nod was almost imperceptible. "Two," he whispered. "Sons. Abruptly he turned away.
"I can finish up here, Jairo. You don't need--"
"No, I am no woman to hide behind tears." Suddenly he flushed. "I am sorry, Dr. Lopez, I meant no disrespect."
"None taken. Well, if you think you can handle this, let's get on with it."
* * *
Saturday, 3:50 p.m., Figueroa Street, Los Angeles
After stopping at not one, but two West Hollywood stores, and a side trip downtown to grab a latte for Chris at a new Espresso café he'd heard a lot about, they took surface streets as they headed back to Chris's Silver Lake home. From Figueroa Street, they swung north toward Sunset, passing the distinctive Bonaventure Hotel and the downtown Marriott.
Des chattered animatedly all the way, waving his hands as he described what he had seen in each store. Des was never more in his element than when he was trashing the competition.
"Did you see that green thing in that storefront? I mean, is Joan Collin's campy slut look back? And where on earth did they find those hideous shoes? Even the Olsen twins would be repulsed by those. I don't care if they were Jimmy Choo's."
"You don't even sell women's clothes, hon. What do you care what they wear?"
"Honey, I don't, but I still have to walk the planet with them. Wearing something that butt ugly can ruin even my appetite."
Chris barely heard him. His thoughts were still on this morning and David. David was a solid, levelheaded rock; he could also be a solid bonehead--usually when he thought Chris was being idiotic with his money, which was why they stayed away from financial discussions. Every month, David put money in their joint account, and that went to pay house bills. When Chris wanted to spend his money on something, David thought it was wasted money, what he called Chris's eight-hundred-dollar jeans binges. This time it was a Barker Black loafer. David was being unreasonable--Chris could have gone for the eleven hundred dollar Lobb's.
But David never saw it that way. And David never argued. He was logical and sensible; two things Chris wasn't. "So why shouldn't I buy a nice pair of shoes?" Chris snapped. "I have a new job. I may have to travel, at the least meet with CEOs. Even David wouldn't want me to look shabby."
Ahead of them, the Santa Ana and the Hollywood freeways formed sinuous loops of concrete overpasses. Lines of vehicles moved in streams, like salmon moving upstream. Chris saw the flashing lights of a white, unmarked CHP car that had pulled over some hapless driver on the freeway ramp. The uniformed officer stood behind the driver's door, reading something handed to him, while traffic flowed past. His black mirrored shades reminded Chris of David and the flat, unfeeling gaze Chris hated on his lover. He looked away.
Before they had passed the access to the ramp, the khaki-suited cop strolled back to his vehicle with the red lights pulsing inside. Instinctively, Chris looked at the speedometer, but he wasn't speeding, probably why everyone else was passing him.
Des seemed to notice where his gaze was, because he said, "You know, ever since you and David hooked up, you've become a real Nelly drive safe. I like the old, reckless Chris."
"No, you don't. How many times did I have to listen to you complain that I needed a keeper, that I was always getting into trouble?"
"Okay, I may have said that on occasion--"
"Try once a week." Chris laughed. "I gotta admit I'm glad we're buddies. You're the only one I could vent to like this."
"You love the big lug. You know it."
"Yeah, yeah. You don't have to live with Mr. Perfect." Chris raised his coffee to his mouth; it was too hot, and he set it in the drink holder.
"All he ever tells me is to get over it. That works for him, but not me. Do you think he understands that?"
"Well, you know David, as buttoned-down as he is, he's just more levelheaded than you."
"Are you saying I'm not levelheaded?"
"Face it, hon, you can go from zero to bitch in twenty seconds, but your brakes don't work so fast."
Shaking his golden head, Chris reached for the coffee again and sloshed the hot liquid onto his lap. He cursed and dropped the cup.
Resting his chin on the steering wheel, he groped under the seat for it before it could dump its contents on his carpet and stain it.
They headed into the shadow of one of the dozens of overpasses that turned the downtown interchange into an Escher maze. The roar overhead from the two freeways, and the nearby Pasadena freeway, penetrated the sealed vehicle and thrummed through Chris's feet. He touched the cup, but felt it slip away. Looking down, he saw it was leaking.
Horns blared and rubber screeched. Beside him, Des yelled. Chris snapped his head up in time to see a flat-bed truck carrying a load of plate glass, veer into his lane. He jerked the steering wheel hard right, slamming on the brakes at the same time. The Escape shuddered and fishtailed. With the flat-bed truck on his left and the concrete abutment now dead ahead, there was no place for the Escape to go. A sickening crunch was followed by the scream of tearing metal and shattering glass.
The last thing Chris remembered was the air bags deploying in an explosion of powder. He was slammed back into the seat. Beside him, Des cried out.
The Escape listed alarmingly to one side. Chris could barely move. Or speak. When he tried to call out to Des, he barely managed a weak, "Des, you okay? Please, Des...."
In the distance, all he could hear was the tick-tick of cooling engine parts and the tortured creak of metal.
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