August 9, 1979
Alleged air-conditioning," said Darius Fox. "What's your take, John
Jasper? Motor pool morons set us on bake or broil?"
Jack Reed laughed and used a meaty, freckled forearm to clear sweat
from his face. Scanning the night-darkened Dumpsters and butt-sides
of shuttered, low-rent businesses that lined the alley, he sucked
on his Parliament and blew smoke out the cruiser's window as Darius
kept the car moving forward at ten mph.
Ten years ago, to the day, the Manson Family had butchered Sharon
Tate and a whole bunch of other people. If either Fox or Reed was
aware of the anniversary, neither thought it worth
Crazy Charlie's crimes might as well have been on another planet;
big-ticket outrage on high-end real estate. Fox and Reed's
Southwest Division shifts were filled with nonstop penny-ante crap
that sometimes blossomed into stomach-churning violence. Reality
that never made the papers because, as far as they could see, the
papers were works of fiction.
Fox said, "Man, it's a steam bath."
Reed said, "Alleged, as in this is a motor vehicle. More like a
shopping cart with a cherry on top."
Fox had prepped for driving the way he usually did, hand-vacuuming
the driver's portion of the bench seat, then wiping the steering
wheel down with his private bottle of Purell. Now it was his own
sweat coating the plastic. "Hand me a tissue, J.J."
Reed complied and his partner rubbed the wheel till it squeaked.
Both men continued to study the alley as they crawled. Nothing.
Good. One half of the shift had passed.
Jack Reed said, "Alleged, as in Jimmy Carter's a commander in
"Now you're getting unpleasantly political."
"That's a problem?" "Night like this it is."
"Truth is truth, Darius. It was Peanut Boy helped that loony
towel-head back into Eye-Ran and look at all the crap that brought
"No debate on Farmer Bucktooth being a nitwit, John Jasper. I just
don't want to pollute our precious time together with small things
like international affairs."
Reed thought about that. "Fair enough."
"I'm known for my fairness."
Slow shift; the usual drunk and disorderlies at Mexican dance halls
on Vermont, a couple of false-alarm burglary calls, an assortment
of miscreants warned and released because none of them was worth
The last call they'd fielded before embarking on alley-duty was yet
another noise complaint at a USC fraternity, already taken care of
by the campus rent-a-cops by the time Fox and Reed arrived. Rich,
confident college boys saying yessir and nossir, scooping up beer
bottles from the lawn, hurrying inside to continue the merriment.
Wink wink wink.
Reed smoked his Parliament down to a shred, pinched it cold between
his fingers, flicked the remnant out the window. He was a ruddy,
blond fireplug, five nine on a good day, two hundred muscled
pounds, thirty but looking older, with skin leathered by the sun
and a nose flattened by high school football. A hay-colored crewcut
topped his bullet skull. A naturally grainy voice was coarsened
further by two packs a day.
Three years out of the service, all his time spent running an
armory in Germany.
He said, "Tell you what alleged is, Darius: L.A. nights cooling
off. Night like this, might as well have stayed in Bull Shoals."
"And missed the opportunity to ride with me?"
Reed grinned. "Perish the thought."
"Damn heat," said Fox, dabbing sweat from his straight-edge
mustache. He was a tall, rangy black man, thirty-one years old, a
former air force mechanic who'd been told by many people that he
was handsome enough to act.
Jack Reed, a small-town Arkansas boy, was comfortable with black
people in a way northerners could never be. He found L.A. scary.
Everyone pretending to love everyone else but the streets hummed
Working with a black man-sitting side by side, eating, talking,
trusting your life to a black man-was a whole different level of
comfort for a transplanted southerner, and he was surprised how
fast he'd gotten used to riding with Darius.
Knowing what Darius was thinking without Darius having to put it
He could only imagine what his cousins would say if he bothered to
talk to them anymore, which he didn't. All that ignorance and
stupidity was history.
He contemplated another cigarette as Darius exited the alley, drove
a block, entered a neighboring back lane. More garbage and
accordion-grated rear doors.
Same old same old; both patrolmen were bored and crazy-hot.
Darius used his forearm to wipe sweat off his chin. Shiny nails
flashed. Jack resisted the urge to kid his partner about the weekly
manicures. Night like this, no sense being tiresome.
Jack had been to Darius's neat little bungalow in Crenshaw for
barbecues and the like, played with Darius's little boy, made
chitchat with the woman Darius was supposed to be committed to till
death do us.
Madeleine Fox was a small-waisted, curvy, strong-featured white
girl who thought she was an artist but had no talent anyone else
could perceive. Great teeth and hair, even better body. Those big
soft . . . Jack imagined Darius getting close to her. Sliding down
the bed and putting his manicured hands on . . . Jack's own face
and body and hands transferred to the scene.
Feeling like a shit, he shut down the movie, lit up another
"You okay?" said Darius.
"You got fidgety. Pumping those knees, like you do."
"You fidget when something's bugging you."
"Nothing's bugging me."
Jack said, "All that intuition, apply for detective."
"Big fun," said Darius. "Sitting on my ass all day typing, no more
stimulating conversation with you? Not to mention fringe
Jack had been riding with Darius for thirteen months, knew the
perks his partner was talking about. Comped meals, "donations" of
merchandise by grateful civilians.
Last week, both he and Darius had gotten brand-new pocket
calculators from an Arab with a store on Hoover after they'd busted
two kids trying to shoplift cassette tapes.
Darius's favorite perk had nothing to do with tangible goods.
Police groupies. Hit the right cop bar at the right time and they
swarmed like ants on molasses. Sad girls, for the most part, not
Jack's thing. But he didn't judge.
Sometimes he wondered, though. Darius married to a good-looking,
downright sexy girl like Maddy, nice backyard, cute little
Jack ever got married, he was pretty sure he'd never step
Sometimes he thought about Maddy, those teeth. The rest of the
package. Sometimes that brought on headaches and long, itchy
thoughts. Mostly when his crappy little single in Inglewood got
real quiet and Penthouse wasn't gonna cut it.
Darius said, "Wind blows the heat in, then the heat just sits down
and stays until another wind finally decides to kick its ass out of
Jack said, "Tonight's weather report is brought to you by Cal
Worthington Dodge. Now for the latest on them Dodgers."
Darius laughed. "Nasty night like this, almost a full moon on top
of the heat, you'd think we'd be having more fun."
"People carving each other up," said Jack.
"People shooting each other full of holes," said Darius.
"People stomping each other till the brains ooze out of their
"People strangling each other till the tongues are sticking out
like limp . . . salamis."
"For a moment I thought you were gonna say something else-hey, look
at the land-yacht."
Pointing up the alley to a big white car idling, maybe ten yards
up, pulled to the left. Lights off but the security bulb of a
neighboring building cast an oblique band of yellow across the
vehicle's rear end.
Darius said, "Caddy, looks pretty new. How come it's smoking worse
He rolled closer and each of them made out the model.
Big white Fleetwood, matching vinyl top, fake wire wheels. Tinted
windows shut tight.
Someone's A.C. wasn't alleged.
Darius rolled close enough to read the tags. Jack called in the
One-year-old Caddy, registered to Arpad Avakian, address on
Edgemont Street, no wants or warrants. Darius said, "East Hollywood
Armenian. Bit of a drive to Southwest."
Jack said, "Maybe something worth driving for."
"Real worth driving for."
Both of them thinking the same thing without having to say it: no
logical reason for Arpad Armenian or whoever was using his wheels
to be in this crap-dump neighborhood in a newish luxury boat unless
someone had a serious jones.
Dope or sex.
Guy with a fresh Caddy had the potential to be a fun bust, bit of
diversion from the brain-dead locals they usually dealt with.
If Arpad was polite, they might even let him go with a warning.
Some of those Hollywood Armenians owned stereo stores and the like.
Nothing wrong with chalking up another grateful civilian.
Darius got closer, put the cruiser in Park. Got out of the car
before Jack could place his hand on the door handle.
Jack watched his partner hitch up his trousers, approach the Caddy
with the cop swagger that originated when you learned to walk with
all that heavy gear on your belt. Like making your way on the
rolling deck of a boat; eventually, you came to like it.
Darius walked right up next to the Caddy, shined his flashlight at
the driver's window, holding it high, the way they were trained, to
prevent it being grabbed. His free hand hovered near his holstered
.38, and Jack felt his own paw settling on his weapon. Nowadays
everything had to be logged, so he called in the stop, caught a bad
connection on the radio, tried twice more before reaching
Meanwhile, Darius was rapping on the window.
Tinted almost black. It stayed closed.
"Police, open up."
The Caddy sat there, smoking away.
Maybe suicide? Or a carbon mono accident? Normally, you had to be
in an indoor situation to asphyxiate yourself with exhaust, but
Jack had heard about venting gone bad.
"Open up now." Darius put that menacing edge in his voice. You'd
never know this was a guy who loved his weekly salon
The Caddy's window remained shut.
As Darius repeated the command, he reached to unsnap his holster
and Jack moved for his own gun and opened the cruiser's passenger
Just as he got to his feet, the window slid down silently.
Whatever Darius saw relaxed him. He dropped his gun arm. Smiled.
Jack relaxed, too. "License and reg-" The night cracked.
Three shots in rapid succession. Each hit Darius square in the
chest. Each caused him to buck. He didn't fall back the way they
did in the movies. He sank down into a sitting position, hands flat
on the asphalt, as the Caddy lurched into gear and shot
At first glance, just a guy resting.
Crazily, Jack thought: He's okay.
Then Darius pivoted, half faced Jack. What looked like motor oil
leaked through Darius's tailored navy shirt. His face was that of a
Jack screamed and fired at the fleeing car. Emptying his revolver
as he ran to Darius.
"Oh man, oh Jesus, oh man, Lord Jesus . . ."
Later, he'd learn that one of his bullets had pierced the Caddy's
rear window, but that hadn't slowed the big car down. Darius
continued to sit there. Three wet holes in his chest.
Jack cradled him, put pressure on the wounds. "Hold on, Dar, you're
gonna be fine, just hold on hold on hold on." Darius stared at the
sky with dull, sightless eyes. His mouth gaped.
Jack felt for a pulse. Gimme something, c'mon, c'mon, gimme . . .
Darius's skin turned to ice.
Jack began CPR, covering Darius's cold mouth with his own.
Like breathing into an empty cave. Darius lay there. Still as the
heat that had blown in from the desert and decided to stay.
By now, Aaron Fox understood Mr. Dmitri.
Once a level of trust had developed, he'd stay out of your
Aaron's favorite type of client. Real deep pockets made Mr. Dmitri
the perfect client.
Before his first meeting with the guy, Aaron had done his usual
research. Googling Leonid Davidovitch Dmitri and coming up with two
dozen hits, the most informative a rags-to-riches tale in a
business journal: Moscow born, trained as an electrical engineer,
Dmitri had been stuck for fifteen years in a dead-end Communist job
measuring noise levels at restaurants and filing reports that never
got read. At the age of thirty-seven, he'd emigrated to Israel,
then the U.S., taught night school math and physics to other
Russians, tinkered in his kitchen, inventing numerous objects of
dubious value. Ten years ago, he'd patented a tiny, wafer-thin
stereo speaker that produced outsized sound and was perfect for
cars-especially high-end sports models with their limited cabin
Aaron's Porsche had been outfitted with Dmitri's gizmo when he'd
had it customized and the fidelity was kick-ass. The article
estimated Mr. Dmitri's net worth at a couple hundred million, and
Aaron was expecting to meet some tycoon sitting behind an acre of
desk in an over-the-top inner sanctum crammed with imitation
Fabergé and God knew what else. What he encountered was a
short, bald, stubby-limbed, bullnecked man in his late fifties with
a pie-tin face blued by stubble, sitting behind a plywood desk in a
no-window hole at a factory in a Sylmar industrial park.
Dmitri was maybe five five, at least two hundred, lots of that
muscle, but also some fat. Dark brown laser-sharp eyes never
Two hundred biggies, but the guy wasn't spending it on wardrobe.
Short-sleeved pale blue shirt, baggy gray pleated pants, gray New
Balances. Aaron came to learn that it was Dmitri's uniform. Cheap
Fake-o tongue-and-groove covered all four walls of the office. Same
for the door, giving the place a claustrophobic feel. That first
meeting, he'd played it safe clothes-wise, not knowing what kind of
rapport he'd have to develop with the client.
That kind of individual attention was one of the many keys to
Aaron's success. Variety was what he liked about the job. One day
you might be meeting at Koi with a pathetically tucked,
youth-chasing record producer still thinking he could pull off
hip-hop. Chopsticking miso black cod and waiting as the client
struggled for nonchalance, inside he's rotting from insecurity as
he fumbles to explain his reason for hiring a detective. Finally
the confession: He needs to know, is his twenty-seven-year-old
fourth wife blowing the good-looking guy someone saw her with at
Fred Segal, or is Darrett really a gay hairdresser she took along
as a shopping buddy?
Situation like that, you don't dress down to the client's level but
you don't wear a suit. Aaron met the poor fool wearing indigo
Diesel jeans, a slate-colored, retro Egyptian cotton T-shirt from
VagueLine, unstructured black linen jacket, perforated black
Santoni driving shoes.
The following day, he was at a downtown law firm, corporate client
talking through a six-hundred-dollar-an-hour mouthpiece, needing
someone to check out the goings-on at a Temple Street construction
site where tools and building materials were disappearing at an
alarming rate. For that one, Aaron chose a navy pin-striped Paul
Smith made-to-measure, pearl-gray Ferré shirt, maroon Sego
tie, blue pocket square, brown kidskin Magli loafers.
Excerpted from TRUE DETECTIVES © Copyright 2011 by Jonathan
Kellerman. Reprinted with permission by Ballantine Books. All