I don’ t suffer fools, and I sure as hell don’t hire them.
I turned around and watched. Most of the detectives were inside the small West LA apartment. One was seated with me at the dining room table. There were three lab men by the sofa, near to Harry.
Damn it, Harry!
I heard someone say, “Shit happens.”
It made me turn my head away in disgust, anger rising to blur my thoughts.
I couldn’t ask why, not yet, but I would make it my business to learn why. The more troubling
question was: how? Though I knew I could ask the “how” question forever and forever wait for an answer.
Harry Sams was quick and he was solid, clever and strong. Harry was one of my best, my very best. How in the hell could this have happened? Harry Sams was no fool and would never have fallen under the heading of shit happens.
The lab men dusted here and there and jotted notes. One of the lab techs kept sticking a pencil eraser in his ear and wiggling it around. He was chunky guy with a horseshoe of grizzled hair that puffed at his ears and tapered at his neck coming to a sharp, gray point. He was about two weeks overdue for a haircut.
Detective Steward, LAPD, adjusted himself in the chair across the table from me. “Sorry about your man.”
I didn’t look at him. “You said that already.”
I watched as the crime lab people shined lights under furniture, peered into dark corners, picked up sofa cushions, all the while speaking quietly into recorders.
Everyone, me included, were wearing latex gloves and those little paper booties you see in
If my abruptness had hurt Steward’s feelings he didn’t show it. “Did you ever visit the Skin?” he
wanted to know. Whatever else Detective Steward might have been, persistence would have been front-and-center.
“I’ve been there,” I answered him. “But not in a while.”
“It’s a nice club.” Steward watched me, trying on his best puzzled look. “Or so I’ve been
I repeated, “I haven’t been there in a while.”
I looked out the open front door. It was a warm June in LA, even at two in the morning. Outside were a half-dozen uniformed officers and PMT people. They milled about, trying to avoid treading in the flowerbeds and staying well out of the bright lights—anywhere clear of the apartment.
“I would have thought you would be interested,” persisted StewardI finally looked at him. “Why?”
“I mean after who hired you and what you were told?” Steward followed up. “Your lack of curiosity’s a little surprising, don’t you think, Mr. Daniels?”
I turned away from Steward’s persistence and watched the small crowd through the parted drapes. Everyone: the uniforms, the PMTs, the neighbors, even a couple of preteens were up, blinking wide eyed against the flood lights. Every- one waited on the coroner’s wagon, and Harry waited too.
“Mr. Daniels . . . ? the detective encouraged.
“It’s not the way we work, Steward,” I finally responded. “We’re not investigators, but you
already know that.”
“Yeah,” he came back. “But still after being told that they were being threaten at work I’d think
you’d want to visit the club to check it out.”
“I told you, that’s not how we work.”
Detective Steward was the lead investigator on this case. He smiled and fixed me with a cop stare.
“Still, it’s a little odd, don’t you think?”
I was starting to get annoyed with Steward. He had this pesky little way of repeating rhetorical questions. Steward was shorter than me by several inches, which made his attempt to
intimidate me with a stare—his head cocked, looking up at me—not particularly impressive.
“You can think anything you want, detective,” I replied, looking back over at Harry’s body,
wondering why no one had put a sheet or some kind of covering over him.
Steward was asking, “So not having been there—in a while—I guess you never got names on these two guys, Mr. Daniels? The guys that said they was cops.”
“No,” I answered.
Steward grunted. “I can’t get it out of my mind,” he said, nodding confidentially to
himself. “That it’s plain weird. You not being interested enough to look into it. Makes me wonder
why?” Another dangling rhetorical question. “Ya know?”
I got it that Steward was only doing his job, only it was starting to get real irritating, all his
tiny pin-prick jabs, his hints and innuendos.
“We don’t do detective work,” I shot back, gracelessly. “We leave the detecting to the
I doubt that my sarcasm was lost on Steward. The detective was annoying, not stupid. I have a
healthy respect for police. But being on their business end can be annoying as hell. I’d run into
that business end on more than one occasion.
“Sams was a top-notch man, you say?” I nodded.
Harry Sams had been a man that kept his distance, yet always remained cor- dial and polite. He was a true no nonsense professional and a very private guy. Whatever I learned of his life outside of work was strictly casual info dropped in passing. I knew that Harry was of Armenian descent, had changed his last name from Samudio, and was married to an Italian Catholic, which caused some friction with his parents’ eastern orthodoxy. He was the father of two children, both in privateschool—Catholic school—and was responsible for a dependent sister with multiple sclerosis. Harry lived a demanding and expensive lifestyle, yet he was the only man on my payroll that had never asked me for an advance. I liked Harry, and more importantly, I respected him immensely.
Steward replied, “Still, it’s a curiosity.”
I responded with a shrug.
About as personal as Harry ever got with me was one time asking me to sign a petition to get a plaque at the downtown Federal building recognizing the Turkish massacre of their Armenian
population at the top of the 20th Century. Harry had been nervous and uneasy about bringing it up to me. Being nervous did not suit Harry. That was the only honest, personal glimpse I had into the workings of Harry’s mind. I signed the petition. The plaque was never placed. Another political straw to drop across the camel’s back.
“You never went poking into it?”
“If that’s a double entendre, detective, it’s damned out of place?”
Steward smiled. “Not my best, I guess, but it does make the point.” He added a chuckle to the
smile. “So to speak.”
I gave Steward a leaden look. “I don’t see how stupid quips fit this situation, Steward.” I was
really getting tired of the same questions. “There’s a body of my friend over there and you’re not that funny, and I can see you have no idea how we work.”
Steward nodded half apologetically and went on. “So you don’t know anything about the guys that came into the Skin Shop looking for the Hispanic chicks?” He eyed me. “The two cops, you were told?”
“I already told you, no.”
“And you didn’t want to know?”
“I told you, Steward,” I replied, no longer bothering to disguise the irritation. “We’re not a
LAPD Detective Steward was overly polite, not as dumb as he looked, and a bit friendlier than was called for. Even though he was easy-going, his manner was highly professional, which leaked a frosty tint into his smile, only you had to look close to see it, the smile, not the frost. I took some of this to be his personal style, and some of it as simply how police detectives work. I had met my share.
I added, repeating what I had already told him, “Ruth’s sister never told me they knew anything about them. They never saw those cops. I’m sure they didn’t know their names. They’d have told me—or Harry. Sandra only said they were cops.”
“How’d they know that they were police, Mr. Daniels?” He’d asked me that before too.
“Steward, why don’t you check with the manager of the club. I’m sure he saw ID’s on them. He might remember the names.”
“We’ll do that.” Steward followed my gaze to Harry’s body. “He a good man—Sams?”
Harry Sams was big; he was a guy that could really hurt someone. Harry was my height, six three, or near that, two hundred thirty pounds of solid weight lifter. He was a real bodybuilder’s big, but not slow in his moves. At least once a week I made all my people work out with me at the Kenpo studio where I had trained for years. It was what I called our staff meeting. Harry never took meto the mat but that was mostly dumb luck. He had a focused kind of meanness that could be a bit scary.
“Harry was the best,” I answered Steward. “Well, not tonight,” Steward responded casually.
That got me pissed. “You might do some serious detecting and see if there’s any connection to the Guzman murder.”
He eyed me for a second. “I’ll do my job, Mr. Daniels.”
Harry’s face was pushed against the dark green carpet and shoved under the coffee table. His brains were blasted out. They had turned black and splotchy all over the carpet. His legs were twisted up, spread in a Y across the cushions. One of Harry’s loafers had snapped off his foot. The shoe had sailed across the room and landed beneath a magazine rack. Both Harry’s hands and his head were enclosed in plastic bags. Why his head? Gun powder residue? I wasn’t police anymore, and had lost touch with the protocol of investigation procedure. It suddenly occurred to me that I had not spoken with Harry in a couple of days. I looked back at Detective Steward.
“Yeah,” I said to Steward. “You do that.”
I was less than a few yards from Harry’s left leg. There was a lab technician close by. He had
plucked Harry’s shoe from under the magazine rack and put it in a paper bag.
Steward leafed slowly back through his notepad. “Now, let me see if I have this right . . . . Your
man Sams was to come on duty at eleven?”
“Yes,” I answered. “And he would have been punctual.” “A steady employee?”
“The best,” I replied. “He was to meet the women here, after they got off work, and stay with them until morning.”
“Isn’t that an odd way to provide security?”
“It was the way the women wanted it. It was what they could afford.”
I could feel Steward coolly rolling his eyes all over my profile. I was sorry that I had added
“what they could afford”.
Somebody—not the police—had taken the time to go through Harry’s pockets, probably after he was killed, the contents of which were littered around his body. His wallet had been trashed, but the money inside the wallet, about sixty- five dollars, had been left in place. That somebody had wanted to know who Harry was, and what he was doing in the Ortiz apartment. They must have found his ID because it was missing from the wallet. Okay, so now that somebody knew he was from my company, Praetorian Inc.
“Look, Steward,” I said. “I need to get to the Skin and find Sandra.”
“I already sent a car for her,” Steward replied with a tone that said at least he
was on the job.
There were two other bodies in the bedroom: Ruth Ortiz and her boyfriend, Eddy Castro. Both were naked. Eddy had taken two bullets, one under his right eye, knocking half his face across the room, and the second bullet striking him to the left of the sternum, no doubt turning his heart into steak tartar. Castro must have sat up in the bed and probably taken the first slug in the chest, but it did not really matter which bullet he took first. Either would have done the trick. Ruth Ortiz had been hit with only one bullet behind her left ear. Whoever had done the work seemed to have stretched her across the bed to do the job properly. There had been no sexual interest in her. It had been an execution.
Harry was probably the last to be killed. That was the police theory. They suspected that there had been at least two intruders. It looked as if Harry had been shot in the back of the head at close range as he entered, pitching him forward and over the sofa. It was hard for me to picture—Harry Sams being taken that unaware. “So it looks like your man must have surprised someone or something going on in the apartment—walked in and took a bullet in the back of the head. Sams have a key?”
None of the neighbors had seen or heard anything, which probably meant sound
suppressors. It was a sophisticated job. Any notion of a home invasion rob- bery was unlikely. I
looked again at Harry. Any two-bit burglar or home-invader who would have run into Harry—well, that would have been a bad ending for him—or them.
“You ever recover his gun?” I asked.
“No.” Steward looked up. “Sams have a permit to carry?”
“Of course,” I replied, and then added somewhat unnecessarily. “We all do.” “Okay.” Steward
shrugged vaguely. “We’ll look for the gun. Make sure you
turn in the serial numbers and report the loss.”
Detective Steward was not big, but wide, getting thick in the middle. He was a fortyish man with a round open face. His teeth were small, with a slight overlap between the two in front. Steward looked as if he had not shaved in about twelve hours.
“And Sams never contacted you after eleven?”
“No.” My tone was almost a bite. “I hadn’t heard from him in about forty- eight hours. Until I got your page I had no reason to suspect that this job was anything other than routine security.”
The LAPD detective had contacted me almost immediately. All my people wear an ID bracelet with necessary medical information and added instructions to the finder to page me in the event of an emergency.
Steward had caught the edge to my voice. He watched me for a second, the corners of his mouth lifting. I usually like cops. I was starting not to like this one, which is not the same thing as not respecting him. Like I said, I respect police.
“Is your work ever routine, Mr. Daniels?” Steward was again pushing around with that blunt probe at just the wrong time.
“That all depends on which dumb shit routine I’m dealing with.”
Detective Steward took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I can imagine the stress you’re
under.” He continued note taking. “But it’s always best to cooperate.”
“Are we done?” I asked. He nodded. “For now.”
Steward was closing his notebook when a commotion started at the front door. We both turned. I saw Sandra Ortiz trying to push her way inside the apartment. Two uniformed police were blocking the doorway, keeping her out. Her eyes drilled onto mine and froze, crossed between anger and fear. Then she spotted Harry’s body and the look grew big. The hot, spot lamps splashing over her features, turning her dark eyes into hollow sores punched in her face. She looked back at me, her mouth opening but nothing coming out. She had the look of someone suffocating. I jumped up from the table and bolted to the door.
Quickly, the uniforms hustled Sandra outside. Steward pushed past me. He needed to question her.
The uniformed officers held me back. Even if Steward was a jerk he needed to do his job.
My regrets were building. I had not been good enough to see any of this coming. I had taken the
sisters too casually, Sandra and Ruth, on the day they entered my office. I had almost humored the women, patronized them. Looking back I could see all my mistakes lined up like little clay pigeons ready to be shot.
I stepped back from the doorway. I couldn’t get near Sandra Ortiz, not until the police were
finished with her. I again looked down at Harry Sams. I wanted in the worst way to take his legs
off the sofa back. There was something clownish in the up-side-down posture and Harry was no clown, no fool.
I wondered how much of his face was left. I wondered if it was going to be a closed casket funeral.
I wondered how far away I could stand away from Harry’s wife and kids at the funeral.