Short Stories

Five Star Books ISBN 0-78622897-0

==== Plot Line ====

When several homicide victims turn up in culverts, creeks, and isolated business parks with multiple and fake IDs, Smokey Brandon’s job as an evidence collector gets even tougher. The victims slide into the coroner's van as Juan Does, becoming as invisible in death as they seemed to be in life. Haunted by the death of a young female border crosser found in an urban crash-pad, and burdened with an increasing case load, Smokey almost gives in to futility. Then, linkages begin to emerge just as the anguished 20-year-old son of Smokey's lover confides a terrible secret and swears her to secrecy. While her lover lies in a hospital, Smokey, a former cop and nightclub stripper, goes after the killers with a vengeance, closing a gap in her own maturing while helping her lover's son find a path to his own.

==== Excerpts ====

I’d say the girl was seventeen. I’d say she had been pretty.

Now her forehead shone with an alien bulge, the left cheekbone was a pile of pink pulp, and a bite mark arched across her left eyebrow and mirrored under the eye. Covering her pubis and right leg was a twisted sheet. Welts flowered her ribs. Where the nipple of her left breast should be was only a red smear.

It was a Monday at the end of February, and the air was crisp and clean and the sunlight sharp enough to shatter. I’d parked in front of a murky-green house in a tree-lined, blue-collar section of Orange County fifty miles south of L.A. My silver-haired partner, Joe Sanders, lifted our evidence kits from the trunk and handed me mine. We crossed the street to the address we needed, where a sheriff’s investigator in plainclothes stood talking to a Hispanic man in a white T-shirt and dark pants whose hands were cuffed behind. At the side of the lawn near the house a city cop in blue uniform parted bushes with his baton.

A deputy on the porch signed us in, then pulled open the screen door with screws missing out of its curlicued guard so it flapped with the motion. The mesh itself was a fractured design of punctures and tears. Inside, the odor of death met us; not strong, but unmistakable.

The living room was dark except for sunlight leaking under tinfoil applied to the windows with masking tape. A warren of sleeping bags and blankets covered the hardwood floor. Tipped against the wall on a fireplace mantel was a rendering of a haloed Christ with hands outstretched in benediction.

A deputy came out of the kitchen. He looked like a wary ferret, hard-faced and wiry. Joe knew him, but I didn’t. When Joe said “Smokey Brandon” by way of introduction, the deputy's eyes narrowed. “I've heard of you,” he said, as if trying to recall where. 

(later in the chapter…)

Mrs. Estevez had come to claim her daughter’s body, using most of the money her daughter had sent home which she had been saving for the only child of hers who would get to go to high school, this year, because of Nita. I was at the morgue for a meeting about a different case when Mrs. Estevez was shown the photo that would serve as official ID for her deceased daughter.

From my vantage point in an office across the hall, I watched her take the photo in her hand, suck in a long breath and turn a peculiar greenish color. She dropped the picture, rose from her chair, and walked stiffly to the side door, batting aside a young male companion’s hands extended in solace. I excused myself from the meeting and went after her, but she was moving fast and rounded the corner to the front of the building before I got to her. Her companion jogged up to me, and the two of us watched helplessly as she cried “Asesinos!” then plopped down hard on the sidewalk, leaned to one side, and vomited into the flower bed.