the glare of the headlights, the blood on the white door of
the house glistened, slick and shiny.
It was too shiny, Detective Jessica Drake decided. She parked
her Honda behind the black-and-white and hurried across a plush
lawn carpeted with pale purple jacaranda blossoms to the uniformed
policeman guarding the door.
The posts had been smeared dark red. In the same dark red, someone
had painted a six-pointed Star of David in the upper part of
the door; the star was centered around the peephole, an eye
staring blankly at Jessie. Small globules had dripped from each
of the points and coagulated, like droplets of blood.
A mean-spirited, day-late April Fools' joke? Jessie felt a twinge
of revulsion at the hate that had inspired this act and shivered
in her blazer.
She turned to the policeman. She hadn't recognized him, and
he'd identified himself when she'd shown him her badge. Richard
Garcia. He was in his early twenties, his clean-shaven face
reddened with a few eruptions, leftovers of a stubbornly lingering
adolescence, and stamped with the serious earnestness that labeled
him a rookie.
answer the call, Garcia?" she asked, pocketing her badge.
ma'am. Me an' my partner, Steve Kolakowski. He's inside with
the Lewises now. I'm securing the crime scene."
Jessie nodded. She knew Kolakowski--he'd been with West L.A.
for three years, and she'd seen him around the station. "What
Garcia read from a small spiral notebook. "The residents--Barry
and Sheila Lewis--came home at ten-fifteen and found the door
like this. The two daughters--ages seven and ten--were home
with the housekeeper. Didn't hear or see a thing. A couple of
TV reporters and a minicam van came but didn't stay. Lewis wouldn't
talk to 'em."
Jessie didn't blame him. "What's the damage?"
Garcia shrugged. "No sign of forced entry. Nothing trashed inside.
Just this door. I told the Lewises it was paint, not blood,
but Mrs. Lewis couldn't stop shaking."
The wife's hysterical, the West L.A. dispatcher had told Jessie.
Blood on the door. Possible vandalism inside. A death threat.
Two units are there, but Lieutenant Espes wants you to check
it out. So here she was--drama in Beverlywood on a Monday night.
Except that the blood was paint, and there was no other vandalism.
Probably no death threat, either. Even if there was, this should
have been assigned to Crimes Against Persons (CAPS), not Homicide.
The wife probably had been hysterical, though--that would account
for the lookers. Small clusters of women and men and two young
children (what were children doing up past eleven o'clock, for
God's sake?) had formed across the street and on the sidewalk
several hundred feet to the right and left of the large, two-story
house. Beverlywood was a quiet, upscale residential neighborhood;
crime was no stranger here, but it wasn't as steady??or insistent??a
visitor as it was in other parts of the city.
La Ciudad de la Reina de Los Angeles--Jessie's ninth grade Spanish
teacher had taught them the full name: City of the Queen of
Angels. The Queen and her angels were long gone; they'd probably
moved to some small town in Oregon where the air was clean and
the streets were safe. That's what everybody else in L.A. whom
Jessie talked to was doing lately.
From the corner of her eye, she saw that the lookers to her
right had stolen closer. She stared at them, watched them retreat.
She was reminded of a game she and her younger sister Helen
used to play with the neighborhood kids: Mother, may I?
She noticed a small puncture in the center of the door, below
the star. "What's that?" she asked Garcia, pointing to the hole.
was a note tacked with a stick pin. Kolakowski has it."
The death threat? "You talk to the neighbors?"
Garcia nodded. "Nobody saw a thing."
Disappointing, but not unusual. Too bad the lookers weren't
in force earlier. "I'll talk to the Lewises now," Jessie said.
want to use the back door, Detective. In case there's prints
on the front doorknob."
Unlikely. Jessie would call downtown and have Scientific Investigation
Division (SID) send out a photographer and a latent print expert
to dust the knob and the surface of the door and doorjamb, but
she doubted they'd find anything.
right." She smiled at Garcia, remembering how much she'd appreciated
approval when she'd been a twenty-one-year-old rookie. How much,
almost fourteen years later, she still did.
She felt the lookers' stares as she walked toward the back,
sensed their disappointment??in dark olive green wool gabardine
slacks and a black blazer, with her long dark brown hair, tousled
from lovemaking, brushed back hastily and held in place with
a black-velvet elasticized "scrunchy," she was hardly the quintessential
cop. She resisted the urge to flip back her jacket and expose
the 9mm Smith & Wesson sitting snugly in the shoulder harness
she'd strapped on before she left her house.
And Detective Frank Pruitt. She wondered if he'd still be there,
in her bed, when she returned, or whether he'd gone home. Probably
the latter. His ex-wife Rona was in town with their two sons;
Frank hadn't said, but Jessie sensed that he worried about his
boys calling his apartment in the morning and not finding him
At the side of the house, she found the small gate Garcia had
mentioned. She opened it, stepped into the backyard, and pulled
the gate shut behind her. Spotlights revealed redwood deck chairs
and chaises around a large oval swimming pool in the center
of a well-tended garden bordered with bushes and hedges. The
air was filled with an almost cloying perfume of roses and jasmine.
Jessie walked to the back door and rang the bell. A moment later
she heard heavy footsteps, then a male voice asking, "Yes?"
She identified himself. The door opened. Kolakowski stepped
outside and pulled the door half-shut. He was in his thirties,
tall and muscular, with medium brown hair and a neat, clipped,
reddish brown mustache.
in the living room," he told Jessie. "She's calmer, almost like
a zombie. He's pretty cool, considering. She's the one who called
the station, by the way." Kolakowski squinted at her. "Jessie
Drake, right? How come they sent you? You switch to CAPS?"
She shook her head. "The lieutenant wanted someone from Homicide."
She felt a prickle of annoyance. Why had she been that "someone"?
And why hadn't Espes ordered her partner Phil to come along?
"Something about a death threat," she said. "I understand there's
the kitchen counter. Both Lewises touched it before we got here."
He shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Shit, you'd think with
all the cop shows on TV, people'd know better. And Lewis is
an attorney, for Christ's sake." He snorted. "I asked them if
they know who could've done this. He said no."
Jessie asked Kolakowski to phone SID from his patrol car. She
rubbed the soles of her flats along the concrete--jacaranda
petals were beautiful but clinging--then entered the house and
passed through a service porch to an enormous state-of-the-art
kitchen. The cabinets and appliance panels were high-gloss white.
The floor was white ceramic tiles with black-granite, diamond-shaped
inserts. The same black granite, polished to a mirrorlike sheen,
covered the counters. There wasn't a glass or plate or dish
rack in view.
Just like my kitchen, Jessie thought, and smiled. She pictured
the small rectangle and the rinsed and stacked--but not washed--dishes
she'd used for the dinner she'd prepared for herself and Frank.
Broiled lamp chops. Baked potatoes. A salad that, basically,
had come preshredded in a bag from Pavilions supermarket. Judging
from the thick butcher block square and the serious knives slotted
at a rakish angle in a wooden stand on the center island, she
doubted the Lewises ate salad that came from a supermarket bag.
A white slip of paper disturbed the sleek, uncluttered expanse
of granite on the right counter. The note. It had been typed
or printed via computer. Jessie leaned over and read it.
The Angel of Death spared your forefathers--will he spare you?
The Angel of Death.
on the doorposts.
Jessie hadn't studied her Bible in years, but she'd seen Charlton
Heston and Yul Brynner enough times in The Ten Commandments
to understand the reference: After Yul Brynner??Pharaoh--had
refused to let his Hebrew slaves leave with Moses, God cursed
Egypt with ten plagues. Nine times Pharaoh relented. Nine times
he recanted. "So it shall be written, so it shall be done,"
Brynner had intoned.
The final plague, the tenth one, was the most dire: God, through
Moses, warned Pharaoh that all Egyptian first born males would
die. The Israelites, following Moses' instruction, smeared blood
on their doorposts so that the Angel of Death would know they
were Hebrews and would pass over their homes. Their firstborn
males were saved. Those of the Egyptians, including the son
of Pharaoh, perished.
it shall be written, so it shall be done."
A grim ending for a ruler who reneged on his word one time too
many and incurred the wrath of the God of the Hebrews.
But what did it have to do with Barry and Sheila Lewis?