"If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son, who does
not hearken to the voice of his father and the voice of his
mother, and they discipline him, but he does not hearken to
them; then his father and mother shall grasp him and take him
out to the elders of his city and the gate of the place. They
shall say to the elders of his city, 'This son of ours is wayward
and rebellious; he does not hearken to our voice; he is a glutton
and a drunkard.' All the men of his city shall pelt him with
stones and he shall die; and you shall remove the evil from
your midst. . . ." Deuteronomy, 21:18-21
Minutes before Marianna Velasquez's head slumped onto her desk,
streaking blood into feathery fingers across the lined pages
of the daily appointment book, she had been stamping envelopes
while offering comfort through the phone to her eleven-year-old
son, Alejandro, home from school with a stomach virus that had
kept mother and son up all night.
The piercing whine of a saw coming from the adjoining offices
had almost drowned out the chime announcing the opening of the
door to the waiting room. Marianna looked up and pursed her
lips, annoyed with this patient who had arrived late after insisting
on the last appointment.
milk or cheese, just dry toast and tea," she reminded Alejandro.
"I'll be home soon, querido." He sounded so miserable. She was
loathe to hang up and wished she were home to comfort him.
Returning the receiver to the cradle, she forced her lips into
a smile. She was not indifferent to the suffering of others
but sometimes, like now, felt a twinge of impatience with patients--among
them, she'd been surprised to learn when she'd first begun working
here, a fair number of men--whose vanity made them risk cosmetic
surgery and whose "emergencies" weren't always that. Envy, perhaps,
she admitted, of those who could afford what was in many cases
a luxury while she was just beginning to make ends meet.
And the boy had been so listless this morning, his dark brown
eyes deep pools of sadness, his chalkwhite face a stark contrast
to the thick, glossy black hair she had smoothed off his forehead
while he was retching, poor thing.
All this flashed through her mind as she looked through the
open reception window toward the door and the person who had
entered. Her greeting froze in her throat, and she stared uncomprehending,
mouth open, at the gun.
She had seen guns before in the gang-ridden East Los Angeles
neighborhood of her childhood, and later, in Pico-Union, an
area she had finally escaped as a single mother with Alejandro.
She had shoved him countless times onto the threadbare carpet
of the tiny bedroom they had shared, had covered his small body
with her own when shots had rung out in the early evenings,
a grim coda to her lullaby, or awakened them both in the middle
of the night, leaving them huddled together waiting for a cease-fire.
She had never thought to worry about her safety in the offices
of a Century City plastic surgeon, and if she hadn't been so
terrified she might have pondered the rich irony.
she whispered. Her heart was pounding against her ribs, her
body stiff with fear. An inadequate, stupid word, she knew.
She wanted to ask, "Why?" She wanted to say, "Let me help you,
you don't want to do this," but the words wouldn't emerge, and
she sensed that they, too, would be powerless against the dead
expression of the eyes looking at her as though she didn't exist.
Inching her hand to the right, she pressed the intercom button
to alert the doctor, who was in his office reviewing patient
files with his nurse.
tell him I'm here." The voice was as dead as the eyes.
won't." Her fingers jerked back, as if singed by contact with
the phone. She darted her tongue across her lips, terrified
that at any second the doctor's response would testify to her
The phone remained silent, and for the briefest moment she allowed
herself hope-what did this have to do with her, after all? But
the eyes told her she was deluding herself. She clutched the
gold cross, embedded with tiny diamondlike glass chips, that
Alejandro had proudly given her last Christmas, and she was
praying for herself and for Alejandro, so young to be orphaned,
when the bullets tattooed the hollow of her neck.
Her head fell forward, but she was aware that the door to the
inner offices had been opened. Moments later, against the piercing
aria of the nurse's hysterical shrieking, she heard the doctor's
voice, steady and reasonable ("Let's stay calm, all right?"
"If you put down the gun, I know we can talk this through, all
right?"). Both voices were abruptly silenced by another round
of gunshots (or was it the drilling next door?), followed by
a duet of screams that subsided into a single moan.
Marianna's body was shaking with a leadlike cold that had begun
to numb her fingers and toes but had not yet doused the needles
of fire in her chest. She heard feet pounding past her toward
the exit from the suite, the slamming of the heavy door. Finally,
through the intercom, she heard the doctor's raspy voice--too
late! too late!-- increasingly desperate but more distant and
faint with each "Marianna! Marianna!" like the dying, plaintive
echoes of a bell tolling her name.
Or maybe it was her mother, calling her home.
There was something obscenely incongruous, Jessie Drake thought,
about finding bodies brutally shot to death in the beautiful
twenty-fourth floor Century City offices of a plastic surgeon.
She voiced this in an undertone to her partner, Phil Okum, who
nodded but kept his attention fixed on the medical examiner's
gloved hands, busy with their preliminary exploration.
Looking around, she tried to imagine the room's preshooting
appearance and noted the decorative details that had barely
registered when she'd arrived over an hour ago.
Lush yellow, maroon, and gray cabbage roses blooming in profusion
on the chintz of the overstuffed love seat. A handsome mahogany
desk and chair. Two wood-backed armchairs upholstered in yellow
and burgundy stripes. A silver tray centered on the polished
mahogany credenza held a floral porcelain tea set (the Limoges
pattern was one that her mother, Frances, had long admired),
and ornately framed reproductions of Cassat and Monet watercolors
hung on two of the banana-colored papered walls.
A third wall was taken up by a picture window that on a clear
day, Jessie supposed, offered a view of Santa Monica and a tantalizing
hint of the Pacific. Not today, though. It had been a hazy November
morning and afternoon, with the temperature in the low sixties
and the timid sun held captive behind a semiopaque curtain of
smog that had erased half the city.
The overall effect of the room's decor, inviting and gracious,
had been fatally marred by gunfire that had riddled the love
seat, armchairs, desk, and art work with bullets holes, and
by the presence of the two bodies being probed by the medical
examiner while SID technicians finished dusting for fingerprints
and collecting evidence. That, and the rank perfume of fresh
blood and death that made Jessie's stomach churn even after
fifteen years on the force and a generous protective dabbing
of Vicks in and around her nostrils.
The tea set had survived intact, orphaned, its delicate beauty
grotesquely out of place amid the shambles.
The diplomas-they, too, had come under assault-were on the wall
behind the desk. From the pocked parchment behind the shattered
glass, Jessie had learned that Ronald Bushnell, M.D., had been
certified by UCLA and was a member in good standing of the American
Board of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. He had also received
an impressive number of awards and commendations, including
one for his work with burn victims.
On the credenza, near the tea service, was a silver-framed photo
of a grinning, tanned, strikingly handsome Bushnell in a gaudy
Hawaiian print shirt, his thick, dark brown hair ruffled by
a breeze coming off the wave-capped green ocean in the background.
One arm was around the waist of a tall, broad-hipped blond woman,
the other around a reed-thin adolescent blond girl. Wife and
The man on the bloodstained, pale yellow rug was Bushnell, but
whatever tan he'd possessed had been leeched by death, leaving
his face a sickly blue-gray. He'd apparently tried to get help-a
phone lay next to him, the receiver off the hook, the transparent
flat cord stretched taut across the desk, straining against
the wall jack.
Blood had darkened the front of Bushnell's china blue shirt.
It had forever stained the white blouse of the woman in the
far corner of the room. More blood had been sprayed on the love
seat, armchairs, and ceiling, and smeared in wavy rows along
the wall down which the woman had slid to the hardwood floor.
She had been found slumped forward, her head with its bright
auburn curls bowed, a dejected Orphan Annie sent to the corner
for some nameless infraction and for whom the sun would not
come up tomorrow or any other day.
thought she was a patient," Edie Colton, one of the West L.A.
patrol officers who had responded to an anonymous 911 call,
had told Jessie and Phil when they'd arrived. "But the gal down
the hall said she's a nurse. Nicole something. Doesn't know
her last name, though."
Her name was Nicole Hobart, and she was thirty-five, Jessie
had learned from the woman's driver's license, which she'd found
in a purse in a lower cabinet in the small rectangular reception
office. My age, Jessie had thought, with a flutter of discomfiture.
The nose in the license photo looked fuller and longer, the
cheekbones less pronounced. Bushnell's work, maybe. Perks of
Jessie had found the other dead woman's purse, too. Marianna
Velasquez, twenty-nine years old. The receptionist's head was
obscuring the bloodied pages of the appointment book, but Jessie
would have to wait until Henry Futaki, the M.E., had examined
the body before she could check the book to see the entries
of today's patients.
An SID crime scene tech had photographed the bodies, offices
and bloody shoe prints in Bushnell's office and on the patterned
carpeting running along the hall. He'd placed lettered plastic
tags next to the fingerprints on the doorknobs to the waiting
room and Bushnell's office (probably a useless effort, given
the number of patients and staff who had touched the knobs),
the shoe prints, and the numerous bullet holes--evidence that
couldn't be recovered and booked. Another tech had collected
blood samples from the shoe prints with a cotton-tipped applicator
dipped in distilled water. Numbered plastic tags, used to mark
evidence to be picked up and booked, had been placed earlier
next to the three dozen plus bullet casings, which had already
been secured in evidence bags.
Using graph paper and a tape measure, Jessie and Phil had drawn
to scale both rooms and their furnishings and the positions
of the bodies, which they had been careful not to disturb. Waiting
for Futaki to finish, Jessie was studying the ceiling in Bushnell's
office-you never knew what evidence you might find on ceilings,
she'd learned-when the medical examiner rose from what must
have been an uncomfortable squat.
After peeling off and disposing of his gloves, he approached
Jessie and Phil, careful to avoid the lettered tags next to
the footprints. He was thin and short-an inch shorter than her
five feet six--and was dwarfed by Phil, six four and burly,
an imposing figure even after losing fifteen pounds over the
past two months through serious dieting and exercise prompted
by an episode that turned out not to be a heart attack but could
easily have been one.
Futaki had assumed his customary frown, merging his brows into
one dark, unruly bush that overpowered his small, almost dainty
face. He cleared his throat in a way that smacked of self-importance:
pay attention because I'm not repeating this.
woman was shot in the chest and abdomen," Futaki began in his
dour monotone, as though he were alone at his desk, dictating
into a tape recorder. "It would appear that she died almost
immediately. The man was shot at closer range, in the chest,
head, and genitals."
Phil grimaced and held his large hands over his crotch. "That's
he was already dead?" Jessie glanced at the body and the black
trousers camouflaging the bloodstains.
profuse bleeding in the genitals would suggest that his heart
was still pumping." Futaki directed this to Phil, clearly ignoring
her, but she'd expected rudeness and refused to let it bother
head wound, however, appears to be postmortem. I won't know
for certain until the autopsy," Futaki continued. "The star-burst
splitting indicates that there was direct contact between the
barrel of the gun and the skin."
style," Jessie observed, addressing Phil. The contact wound
explained the bloody shoe prints leading from Bushnell's body
out of the room and down the hall. The patterns of the soles
suggested that the prints had been made by an average-size athletic
shoe. One pair of shoes, as far as Jessie could tell. One shooter.
An SID criminalist would make the determination.
sending a message." There was no banter in Phil's voice now.
"But what? And for who?" He played with his reddish brown mustache.
your department, not mine," Futaki said. "Call Western Union-better
yet, AOL. You might get a faster response." His short laugh
sounded like a sea lion's bark.
Not even remotely funny, Jessie thought, suppressing a groan,
but Phil chuckled and shook his head appreciatively, scoring
a half smile from Futaki.
the game," he'd urged her more than once. "Would it kill you
to make nice?" Well, she'd tried "nice" over the years, and
Futaki had never thawed. Maybe because she was taller than he
was, maybe because she'd ended a relationship with a cop who
was his close friend. Maybe because he thought women on the
force should be sitting behind a desk or directing traffic.
He wouldn't be alone in thinking that.
else can you give us?" Phil asked.
can't tell you which victim was shot first, and without an autopsy
I can't determine cause of death. In all likelihood, the chest
wound for the male, the abdominal wound for the female. But
don't hold me to it."
do you have?" Futaki asked.
got an anonymous call at four forty-one. Aside from that, nothing.
Most of the offices on this floor are closed for the day. The
few that are open are way at the end of the hall. Plus there's
construction going on in the office next to this one. Bottom
line, no one heard anything." Phil shrugged. "Can you pin it
down any closer?"
Futaki referred to his notebook. "No rigor yet in either of
the victims. The body temperature of the male is ninety-six
point seven. The female, ninety-six point nine. Based on that,
the approximate time of death is an hour and a half ago, or
a little after four. But there are variables."
Like the amount of clothing the dead person is wearing, or any
illnesses he or she may have, or the room temperature. Following
death, Jessie knew, the body cools approximately 1.5 degrees
Fahrenheit per hour under normal circumstances, with the assumption
that the body's temperature at death is 98.6 degrees.
mentioned that Bushnell was shot at closer range," she said.
Futaki pursed his lips, as if annoyed at being reminded of her
presence. "Without knowing the kind of weapon used, it's difficult
to be exact." His tone implied that an experienced detective
would have known that.
Screw you, she thought. "Was there stippling?"
did find stippling on his neck and chest, none on the woman,"
Futaki allowed grudgingly. "I'd say the woman was more than
five feet away from the shooter. The male, between one and three
fits." Phil nodded. "We found over three dozen casings just
inside the room, about two feet from where Bushnell's blood
no blood on or around the doctor's chair," Jessie said, "or
on the wall behind the desk. So he wasn't hit at all while sitting
there. Maybe he approached the shooter to try to reason with
him or her."
disarm him," Phil added. "Any sign that they struggled?"
Futaki shook his head. "No defense or hesitation wounds. No
tissue under Bushnell's nails. No scratches, bruises, et cetera.
None on the woman, either. I found no powder smudging on the
male to indicate he was close enough to struggle for the weapon
when he was shot." He closed his notebook and slipped it into
a pocket. "I'm going to examine the other victim. I'll try to
do the autopsies by Friday."
was hoping for sooner," Phil said pleasantly.
Futaki glowered at him, his joined eyebrows forming a vee. "It's
Monday, and I'm drowning in bodies. Do you have any idea how
backlogged I am? We're understaffed, underfunded, and everybody
wants answers yesterday."
I'm easy. I'll settle for tomorrow." Phil smiled.
wants crimes solved fast," Futaki snapped, "no one wants to
pay for it. You want quicker results, get voters to put the
crime lab bond on the ballot next time."
He caught the attention of an assistant who was talking to one
of the SID techs. "I'm done here," he announced crisply and,
grabbing his satchel, strode out of the room. The assistant
hurried behind him like a puppy.
doesn't feel like a random shooting by some punk out to have
a good time," Phil commented to Jessie. "And there's no indication
the shooter was searching for something. No desk drawers or
file cabinets ransacked. Drug supply seems untouched."
She surveyed the room again. "Somebody was pissed off."
Phil followed her gaze, and nodded toward Bushnell. "Yeah, with
the doc. He was a hunk. Suppose he was doing one of his patients,
and the husband or boyfriend found out. Or maybe Bushnell's
wife found out."
A basic rule in a homicide investigation: check out the victim's
immediate family. "Could be Bushnell botched a face or owed
a lot of money. Or what if he's involved with organized crime?
That would explain the shot to the head."
watching too much Sopranos. Shooting Bushnell in his privates
says the killer's beef was personal, Jess."
business. 'You screw with us, we screw you.' And you're assuming
that was intentional," she added, though she didn't disagree.
"Could be the shooter had terrible aim or didn't know how to
handle the weapon. That could account for the whole place being
shot up like Swiss cheese. Even Bushnell's diplomas." Anger
could account for it, too.
seemed just fine with the humans," Phil said.
She blinked away the mental picture of Bushnell and the two
dead women--their gaping wounds, all that blood-and resigned
herself to another night of restless sleep. She'd asked Phil
how he dealt with the images, and he'd told her sometimes he
didn't. Futaki, she guessed, slept fine. He probably never thought
of bodies as ever having been alive.
must've thought he had a chance at talking his way out of this,
or he wouldn't have approached the killer." Jessie studied the
rug. "I think the nurse was on the sofa when the shooter arrived.
The chairs are full of bullet holes, but little blood. Lots
of blood on the sofa and the rug next to it, more blood leading
to the wall where he shot her again."
Phil nodded. "Bushnell approaches the shooter. Shooter takes
out Bushnell, then shoots the nurse. She runs to the back to
open the bathroom door but doesn't make it. He finishes her
off. Or he does her first, then Bushnell. Depends on who his
main target was."
The shot to his head says so. So why shoot the others?"
on." Phil flashed her an impatient look. "Eliminate the witnesses.
The shooter arrived around four, probably figured the place
would be more or less empty."
if he or she made an appointment for that time, or knew Bushnell's
schedule." Jessie considered. "Or maybe he was acting on impulse
and not thinking clearly."
you go." Phil smiled.
She stepped aside as two men entered the room carrying a gurney
and an opaque plastic sheet to wrap the body. They approached
the dead woman and unfolded the gurney.
Jessie returned her attention to Phil. "Suppose the shooter
wasn't impulsive, Phil. Even if he came around four, and he
was the last patient, he'd have to figure there would be staff
Phil sighed. "Are we back to this?"
he was angry only at Bushnell, why shoot him here? Why not follow
him home or take him out in the parking lot? It's a big place,
poorly lit, lots of shadows. Not many people around when we
parked. No witnesses to eliminate."
Phil shook his head. "The shooter couldn't count on that, Jessie.
And what if a security guard happened to show? As far as why
not at the doctor's house, it's easier to get into his office.
No alarm or locks to worry about. Just waltz right in, do the
deed. If he has to take out a few more people, he doesn't care.
And if it's the wife, shooting the doc and the others at the
office draws suspicion away from her."
sense. But we have to consider the possibility that the shooter
had a problem with the doctor and his staff. An unhappy patient,
or an angry employee."
Phil nodded. "Lots of office shootings these days. That lawyer
in San Francisco, the day trader in the south, the other guy
in Hawaii. That Boston guy killed seven co-workers in seven
minutes. What the hell's going on, anyway?"