When LAPD homicide detective Fey Croaker is promoted to the elite Robbery-Homicide division, her team's first case plunges them into a deadly investigation rife with betrayal. Not only does it pit them against a daunting list of high-profile suspects and an underground abused-child protection ring, the case also brings to light the legacy of Fey's own abusive father, who may have knowingly put an innocent black activist on death row. That man now claims to hold the key to the current investigation, and "female tough guy" (The Washington Post) Detective Croaker is about to face her darkest demons dead in the eye.
Change was coming. Fey could sense it in the mood of the squad room.
Tall and angular, dressed in his traditional black, Arch Hammersmith paused in the process of typing a follow-up report and swiveled his head to make eye contact with Fey. She shrugged.
The West Los Angeles area detective squad room was full of the normal late-afternoon activity. The CRASH unit was holding a briefing by the robbery unit's desks, and the juvenile unit had three handcuffed delinquents sitting on a low bench in front of the detective lockers.
Devoid of partitions, the squad room was filled with individual clusters of desks. Each defined an investigative unit -- Homicide, Major Assault Crimes, Robbery, Juvenile, Burglary, Autos, and the CRASH unit -- and appeared to be separate crime-fighting amoebas, a gathering of fanciful antibodies poised to fight the diseases of the human condition.
Rhonda Lawless also raised her head, responding instinctively to Fey and Hammer. Known affectionately as Hammer and Nails, Hammersmith and Lawless were the homicide unit's point guards, partners in marriage as well as the job. She was only slightly shorter than Hammer, her build a twin of his slender, wiry muscularity. Her high cheekbones let her get away with the spiky punk cut of her hair.
The unit had gone four weeks without a homicide in its jurisdiction. For the moment, West L.A. was a haven of tranquillity.
Brindle Jones and her partner, Abraham Benjamin Cohen -- referred to as Alphabet by anyone who knew him for more than thirty seconds -- were bent over a desk going through a case file from a two-year-old unsolved murder of a local transient.
Their pairing was a study in contrasts. Brindle's skin was a dark mahogany, her movements spare and pantherlike. By comparison, Alphabet was a dump truck on legs. Balding and round, he displayed all the grace of an unmade bed. The scut work the pair were doing was driving them, and everyone else, crazy.
"You think we've got a cold one?" Brindle asked.
Fey had a reputation for almost psychic instincts when it came to anticipating imminent change.
"Maybe, but I don't think so," Fey said. "It doesn't have that feel."
Before the discussion could go further, the Detective Division's commanding officer, Captain Mike Cahill, stuck his head out of his office and beckoned Fey.
"Here we go," Fey said. She grabbed a coffee mug from her desktop and gulped the contents.
Inside Cahill's office, the captain waved Fey to one of the chairs around a large circular table. "What have you been doing that I don't know about?" he asked.
"Heck of an interrogatory technique, Mike, but you forgot to read me my rights."
"Quit fooling around, Fey," Cahill said. "I just received a call from the chief's office. The man himself wants to see you."
"You know I don't kid. What have you done?"
"Nothing." Fey raised her palms. "I've been behaving. There's been nothing new on the books since the new chief took over a month ago."
Cahill looked frustrated. "Come on, Fey. Homicide supervisors don't get called to a private audience with the chief of police without cause. I'm trying to make commander here, and I can't afford to have any screwups."
"It is all about you, isn't it, Mike?"
"That's not what I mean and you know it. I've always backed you."
"If you say so."
Cahill knew better than to push the issue. "What about Hammer and Nails? Could they be into anything?"
"Always, but since their baby was born, they've been pretty calm."
Hammersmith and Lawless had been partners for most of their careers, but their off-duty relationship had been kept as private as possible until eighteen months earlier, when Nails became pregnant. Since then, they had married in a small civil ceremony and Nails had given birth to Penny Hammersmith -- or Sledge, as the detectives called her.
Married detectives working the same assignment were unique in the department, but Hammer and Nails had more friends than enemies in high places, and they had enough evidence on their enemies to keep them quiet.
"If it's not something you or those two Rottweilers have done, what do you think the chief wants?"
"How do I know? Maybe he wants to give me a medal, or kick my butt. Maybe he wants a date for Saturday night." Fey shifted in her seat. "When does he want to see me?"
"Then I better get down to Parker Center."
Cahill looked concerned. "If you take a fall, promise you won't drag me down with you."
Fey grinned. "Hell is supposed to be a lonely place, Mike, but somehow I'm sure I'll see you there."
Paul Bishop is a thirty-five-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department. He currently supervises the West Los Angeles Sex Crimes and Major Assault Crimes units. His previous assignments include a three-year tour with the department's Anti-Terrorist Division and ten years' experience in the investigation of sex crimes. Twice honored as Detective of the Year, he has published several novels, including the two previous Fey Croaker procedurals, Kill Me Again and Twice Dead. He lives in Southern California.