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Angel Of Death

Chapter One

Back to Angel Main| Reviews

In 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.

"You answer the call, Garcia?" she asked, pocketing her badge.

"Yes, 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 happened?"

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.

"There 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.

"You'll 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.

"You're 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 in.

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.

"They're 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 a note?"

"On 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.

"Blood" 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.

"So 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?

 

Look for Angel of Death at abebooks or half.com. Or check the Deadly Directory at the Cluelass website for a list of bookstores that carry out-of-print and used titles.



 

On sale October 25
($13.95)



 

In paperback

 








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