It was going to be a hot one. Just like yesterday and the day before and the day before that. The Santa Ana winds had come early this year, carrying the bone-dry, super-heated air from the high deserts, up over the Sierras and then dumping it down onto the Los Angeles basin and the parched rock of the Hollywood Hills. Borne on the winds came the faint odour of several wildfires that raged uncontrollably across the southern half of the state, a subtle reminder that all was not well in paradise.
The two detectives stood perched on the slopes of Mount Lee, perhaps sixty feet down from the Hollywood Sign; incongruous figures in their white dress shirts, dark suit pants and city-slicker cop shoes when viewed against the backdrop of the barren terrain. The one detective, big and round and black as a bucket of Kentucky coal, resembled an ageing, overweight footballer, which was actually not too far from the truth. The other was tall and skinny, long-limbed and pale-faced, and many people had noticed his uncanny resemblance to Abraham Lincoln sans the facial hair and top hat. Despite their slightly Laurel and Hardyesque appearance, working together, they had closed more homicide cases than any other team in the history of the department. As such, Detective Sergeant William ‘Beefy’ Goodness (the big one) and Detective Jerome ‘Leafy’ Green (the skinny one) were regarded as something akin to rock stars within the ranks of the LAPD.
Both men stared up at the iconic sign, trying to make sense of the bizarre crime scene. Lodged in the nexus point of the letter Y, a young woman’s naked body lay lifeless, her long, shapely legs dangling down the front of the sign. Her head and upper torso hung down at the back, obscured from the detectives’ view by the sign. Chains hung from her manacled ankles, lending an air of depravity to what was already a sinister scene. Without shifting his gaze, Beefy wiped the sweat from his forehead and then wiped his hand on his trouser leg. Finally, he broke the silence.
“Man oh man. There’s plain old vanilla crazy . . . .”
“And then there’s California crazy.”
The two had been partners for eleven and a half years, and it was not uncommon for one to finish the other’s train of thought.
“Roger that,” affirmed Beefy. “What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking it’s only 10:00 AM and it’s already eighty-seven degrees and sure as hell the mercury will be in the triple digits by noon.”
Five minutes earlier, the fire department had arrived at the top of Mount Lee. They had managed to manhandle a pair of ladders down the treacherous slope and had leaned them up against the arms of the forty-five-foot-high letter Y. As the detectives watched, the medical examiner’s vehicle rolled sedately to a stop beside the fire truck.
“Looks like the ME’s in no particular hurry,” Beefy observed with a grimace.
“She’s soaking in the last dregs of air conditioning before stepping out into this blast furnace.”
“Who can blame her? Just like they say: the corpse aint gonna get any deader.”
The pair trudged their way back up the slope to the epicenter of the tragedy. They had already completed an uneventful graveyard shift when this case had landed on their desk, and it was shaping up to be a long and tiring day.
The original ‘Hollywoodland’ sign was built as an advertisement for the real estate development of that name. Over the ensuing years, generations of Angelenos had witnessed multiple incarnations of the landmark, with the sign itself surviving numerous negative interactions with termites, arsonists, vandals and politicians, to name but a few. The modern-day sign and the surrounding area was now considered a site of important cultural heritage, with access strictly limited and the general public only able to view the sign from some distance away. The officer who had first attended the crime scene was a young LAPD patrolwoman who was stationed in nearby Griffith Park and charged with the specific task of protecting and deterring criminal behavior on and around the sign.
“I thought you guys had this place locked up tighter than Fort Knox?” Leafy framed the statement in the tone of a rhetorical question. “What happened to all the webcams and the twenty-four-seven live monitoring and the state-of-the-art security system? Not to mention the razor-wire fence and the on-site police officer . . . .”
“Yeah,” retorted the young cop, sensing the implicit criticism but unafraid despite Leafy’s hallowed reputation. “Well, so has the White House, but that doesn’t stop the occasional whack-job from dropping in on the President now and again. What’s your point . . . Sir?”
The ‘sir’ was stretched out with just the merest hint of insolence, and Leafy bit back on some smartass comeback because the kid did have a good point and Leafy suddenly didn’t. Instead, he pulled out his notebook and gestured for the officer to continue with her report.
“First off,” the patrolwoman stated, referencing the points from her notebook. “These guys had all the required permits to be at the sign. They work for a legit company called ‘The West Coast Model Agency’ and they booked this photoshoot over three months ago. The deceased is a Nancy Emily Johnson, a resident of Anaheim. Apparently, she goes by — correction, went by — the stage name N. Emma Johnson.”
“Enema Johnson?” interjected Beefy.
“Yeah, I know,” she affirmed. “It’s an unfortunate-sounding name. I think she might have been going for the J. Edgar Hoover thing. Or maybe L. Ron Hubbard.”
“The Scientology guy.”
“That still doesn’t ring any bells,” injected Beefy, scratching his head.
“How about S. Epatha Merkerson, the actor?” supplied the patrol officer, trying her best to bridge the ever-widening chasm that lay between the generations of the twenty-first century. “You know, Law and Order, the old-school TV show.”
“Now I get you. That used to be one of my favorite shows. Still is, actually.”
“O-kay.” The patrolwoman stretched out the word to indicate the onset of Beefy’s senility, but he either didn’t notice or he ignored her derision. She continued with her report. “Even when you’ve got the permits and paid all the fees for a close-up event at the sign, there are pretty strict rules about what you can and can’t do. Nobody’s even allowed to touch the sign, never mind climb on it. One of the park staff is supposed to personally monitor all visitors for the entirety of the event.”
“Supposed to?” prompted Leafy.
“This agency had booked a two-hour session, and for the first ninety minutes everything went like it normally does, with the attendant watching over things and everybody behaving themselves. Then one of the models goes up to the attendant and says she’s twisted her ankle and could he help her to get back up to the car park. Him being a man and all, and her being a super-hot model in a microscopic bikini and six-inch heels . . . well, I guess he didn’t need too much in the way of persuading.”
“You think it was a set-up to get the watchdog off their backs for a while?” asked Beefy.
“I couldn’t say for sure . . . but yeah, I think so. It was either all planned out or else the photographer just decided to go for it.”
“So how did the deceased get up there?” asked Leafy.
“It’s not that hard to climb up the support frame at the rear of the sign. So while the attendant was away with the supposedly injured model, Enema Johnson got naked, climbed up on the Y and somehow got shot. That’s all I got. When I arrived on the scene everybody was freaking out. So apart from the park attendant, I didn’t get any statements from the on-scene witnesses. When the other uniforms arrived, we herded the witnesses up to the car park and made sure nobody took off.”
“All right, thanks,” Leafy concluded the interview. “Stick around for a while . . . and we’re going to need access to the surveillance and webcam footage.”
“I’ve got all of the security company info on file at the park office. You can pick it up on your way out.”
Leafy pulled out a quarter from his pocket, rested it on the thumb and forefinger of his right hand and smirked at his partner.
“Heads, you talk to the ME and forensics down here. Tails, I get to go interview a gaggle of gorgeous girls up there.”
“Yeah, gaggle,” confirmed Leafy.
“Did you get a dictionary for your birthday or something?”
“Word of the week on my new internet browser. And lo and behold, I finally found a sentence I could use it in.”
“That wild and wonderful brain of yours never stops working, does it?”
Leafy flipped the coin and won the toss, just like he always did.
“Mock all you want . . . and have fun with the ME.”
* * *
Although something of a sexist cliché, it was said that beautiful women in the City of Angels were a dime a dozen and that male heterosexual construction workers — or for that matter, female homosexual construction workers — were spoiled rotten, conserving their wolf whistles and catcalls for only the most outstanding specimens. But those overindulged connoisseurs would not have held their breath with this particular group of females. Every one of them was drop-dead gorgeous, and the most beautiful of them all was undoubtedly the late N. Emma Johnson. While the others scored eights and nines on the old whistle-meter, she scored a perfect ten.
Leafy laid the glossy promotional photograph of the victim on the hood of his vehicle, lit up a cigarette and pondered his next move. He had already talked to the lovely ladies and had learned nothing of any real consequence, except that they had heard several gunshots in quick succession. None of them had seen the shooter. None of them could think of any reason why N. Emma Johnson would be killed in such a fashion. They had all really liked her and seemed genuinely shocked by her untimely demise. Additionally, none of them claimed to have foreknowledge of any plan for the deceased to climb up on the sign, including the girl with the phony sprained ankle. Leafy ground out the cigarette butt under his heel and walked across the car park to the police car where the photographer was being detained. He nodded to a uniformed officer who opened the rear door of the cruiser, allowing the witness to get out and onto his feet.
“Am I under arrest?” the young man demanded in a prissy tone Leafy really didn’t much care for.
Leafy checked him out for a minute, taking in the elaborately mussed-up hairstyle, the designer jeans, the obligatory arm tattoos, the perfect suntan, the quarter-inch facial stubble and the ever-present phone clutched tightly in his right hand. He was a good-looking kid, handsome and well-built. He was also an asshole. His assholeness oozed from every pore of his body. Leafy took an instant dislike to him but he didn’t let it show. After all was said and done, cops dealt with assholes on a daily basis. It was just the same old, same old. He’d seen this type a million times or more: all piss and no vinegar.
“At the moment, you are not under arrest.” Leafy paused to let that news sink in. “But that could change in a heartbeat. It all depends on what you say next.”
“Maybe I need a lawyer.”
“Maybe you do.”
“Shouldn’t you or one of these other cops have read me my rights? Like, I don’t have to talk to you if I don’t want to, right?”
“That’s right. You don’t have to talk to me. Is that the way you’d like to proceed?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Fair enough. Officer, cuff this guy and take him down to central booking.”
“Wait a minute. You said I wasn’t under arrest.”
“You’re not being arrested. Right now, you are a person of interest in a homicide investigation. You said you don’t want to cooperate, so you’ll be held for forty-eight hours in the city lockup until we decide what to do with you.”
As the uniformed officer pulled out his handcuffs, the young photographer’s bravado folded like a proverbial cheap suit.
“All right! Chill out a little, dude. What do you wanna know?”
Leafy decided it was time for the faux father routine.
“Listen, son . . . you seem like a good kid. I don’t want to give you a hard time, but if you tell me even one little lie, I got no choice but to lock your ass up in jail. Hindering a homicide investigation is a very serious charge. A person has been murdered here . . . and you’re the one who brought the deceased to her place of execution. Do you get where I’m coming from?”
“Totally. I totally get where you’re coming from.”
Leafy had been down this road before and he sensed the young man’s complete and sudden desire to be compliant.
“Good. Was it your idea for Enema Johnson to climb up on the sign?”
“Yeah, it was.”
“And I take it that was some kind of publicity stunt . . . like the prearranged kind of publicity stunt?”
“Yeah, I planned it out with her a couple of days ago. N. Emma Johnson was special. I took a personal interest in her career and I became her kind of unofficial manager. She was from Iowa and she had no street smarts whatsoever. If I hadn’t stepped into her life she’d have been eaten alive in this town. I kept her safe.”
“Yeah, you kept her safe all right,” concurred Leafy, but the unsubtle irony seemed lost on the younger man. “The girl with the twisted ankle, was she in on it too?”
“No. I just asked her to do it and she went for it. She’s a bit of a wingnut, if you know what I’m saying.”
“And your assistant? Is he going to corroborate your story?
“So what’s with the chains?”
“Plastic stage props. You know, to add a little drama to the scene. The ends of the chains have these suction cups that were supposed to stick to the sign so it looked like she was chained to it by her ankles and wrists. We were going to post the images online under the title: ‘A Hollywood Crucifixion.’ It would have put us on the map, no question about it. A force to be reckoned with. But I swear to God, I never thought it would turn out like this.”
“I guess her being naked also added to the drama?”
“What can I tell you, bro? This is Tinseltown. You’ve gotta spice it up if you want to get noticed. Listen, officer, I’ve told you all I know. I’m sorry N. Emma Johnson’s dead . . . but I swear I had nothing to do with her getting shot and I have no idea who would’ve wanted to hurt her. The whole thing just doesn’t make sense. I mean, she was just a sweet little country girl trying to make it in the city. Can I go now?”
“Yeah, you and the girls can take off. We’ve got your contact info and we may have some more questions for you. Make sure you’re available if I call.”
As the photographer turned towards his vehicle another question occurred to the detective.
“There’s one more thing I gotta ask you. Was it you that came up with the name Enema Johnson?”
“Yeah, I did.”
“Now for that you should be arrested.”
* * *
Over the years, psychological studies had been conducted on the effects of the Santa Ana winds on the minds of people. It had been statistically proven that an increase in the rates of suicides and homicides was directly linked to those periods when the winds were active and that the amount of that increase was directly proportional to the winds’ duration and strength. But for the average Californian, those less prone to extreme acts of violence, the effects of the Santa Ana winds were somewhat more subtle. Irritability, anxiety and depression were generally recognised as the chief symptoms associated with this meteorological aberration.
Leafy sat behind the wheel of their unmarked Crown Victoria, air conditioner cranked and blasting full in his face. For whatever reason, he was feeling irritable, anxious and slightly depressed, and he put it down to a lack of sleep and an empty belly. The car sat stationary beside the park office and he watched through the windshield as Beefy finally concluded a series of phone calls and headed back towards the vehicle. The large detective eased his weight onto the passenger seat and slammed the door shut.
“Damn! That’s crazy hot out there.”
“There’s nothing like stating the obvious,” Leafy quipped, sounding irritable, anxious and slightly depressed.
“I know, I know. But damn! That’s crazy hot out there.”
Leafy placed his hand on the gearshift and his foot on the brake.
“Are we done here?”
“Yeah, I think we’ve ticked off all the boxes,” affirmed Beefy as he studied his notes.
Leafy shifted into drive and headed back down the mountain, listening carefully as his partner began to rhyme off what he had gleaned thus far in the case.
“Okay, let’s see now . . . the Iowa State Troopers are notifying the next of kin. They’ll check things out at their end and see if there’s a hometown connection to the case. Could be there’s some farm boy back in Iowa pissed off that his beauty-queen girlfriend dumped him and then took off to Hollywood to find fame and fortune. If anything comes up, they’ll let us know. The Digital Forensics Unit is on its way over to pick up the webcam and surveillance video hard-drive data from the security company. Hopefully they should have something to show us by mid-afternoon. Now, you know how much Angelina hates to go out on a limb . . . .”
“You two boys will just have to learn to be patient and wait for the autopsy,” Leafy mimicked in a creditable imitation of the formidable Latino medical examiner.
“Yeah, well, in this particular case, you don’t need a degree in pathology to figure out the cause of death: a single gunshot wound fired from a medium-calibre long gun. The round entered from the front through her left lower ribcage and exited from her right shoulder blade. Angelina said the victim would have bled out in a matter of seconds.”
“Any chance the bullet’s still in the body?”
“She said she’ll fast track the autopsy, but judging from the size of the exit wound, it would be best not to hold our breaths on that one. She also said it reminded her of a battlefield wound: straight in and straight out, no matter what’s in the way. And you know what that probably means . . . .”
“Steel-jacketed military round, possibly NATO but not US. Probably Warsaw Pact.”
The United States military had long since adopted the relatively small .223 caliber as the standard infantry rifle round. Most European NATO forces had similarly changed over from the 7.62mm to the 5.56mm round, which was effectively the metric equivalent of the two-twenty-three. These decisions had been made during the Cold War, when the military planners had felt that the infantry would either be fighting at close quarters with the communists in the densely packed cities of Europe or in the confined jungles of Vietnam. The slightly less powerful round was much lighter than its predecessors and enabled the average infantryman to carry a lot more ammunition onto the field of battle. Armies of the former Soviet Empire, however, had stuck steadfastly to the tried and tested 7.62mm ammo, which had a longer range, was less susceptible to deflection and imparted more kinetic energy onto the target than its western counterpart. Mandated by the Geneva Convention, most armies of the world now use steel-jacketed ammunition because of its tendency to pass straight through the human body and thus reduce the medical complications associated with bullet fragmentation and infection. Both ex-military men, this was all second nature to the two detectives.
Leafy continued his train of thought. “Then unless it’s a hunting rifle or an obsolete NATO gun — which we don’t really see that much of on the streets of LA — it has to be that good old weapon of choice for both terrorists and gangbangers alike: an AK-47.”
“You betcha! And as we don’t really get too much in the way of terrorism around here, that might mean we’ve got some kind of gang connection. How does that fit in with the victim’s lifestyle?”
“From what I’ve been told, it doesn’t fit in at all. If you believe what the other girls say, Enema Johnson was just a sweet, innocent young girl. No drugs, no alcohol, no bad habits . . . just lots of fun and easy to get along with. A veritable saint.”
“It’s still early days in the case,” offered Beefy, “and we’re just bouncing around a few ideas. We’ll stick the gang thing on the back burner for now, subject to future confirmation.”
“Is there any good news? Anything solid that we can get our teeth into right now?”
Beefy consulted his notes.
“CSI found a total of five bullet holes in the sign. Four of them show signs of weathering and had been fired from completely different angles. What is it about signs that people love to shoot at them? Anyway, they’ve got nothing to do with Enema Johnson’s murder. The fifth hole is brand-spanking new, maybe five feet lower than the killing round and penetrating the first L of ‘Hollywood.’ Actually, it’s two holes — an entry and an exit from the same projectile at the front and back of the sign — and forensics have got an approximate fix on the position of the shooter by laser-sighting back along the trajectory of the holes. Uniforms are already searching with metal detectors above and below the sign for casings or projectiles. The K9 unit is on the way with propellant-sniffing dogs. If there’s anything out there, we should be able to find it. That’s all I got so far. What’s the story on the witnesses?”
“They didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know,” explained Leafy, with little in the way of enthusiasm. “Enema Johnson moved to the LA area about six months ago. She shares a small apartment with two other girls in Anaheim. She worked part-time as a waitress at a sushi restaurant near Angel Stadium. She’s dated a few guys but has no regular boyfriend. She wanted to be a successful model. All pretty standard stuff, nothing too exciting. The photographer’s just another LA schmuck trying to take advantage of the young hopefuls. He admitted to planning out the sign-climbing thing as a publicity stunt — apparently the city is gonna be laying charges for that at a later date — but he definitely aint no killer. Besides, who in their right mind would set up a hit in such a public place in front of so many witnesses? The problem I got with this whole case right now, Beefy, is that I’m just not getting the motive. I feel like we’re flogging a dead horse.”
“Isn’t it feeding a dead horse?” offered Beefy. “Or maybe it’s fooling?”
“I thought it was flogging, but now that I think about it, it could be fondling.”
“I know this much: you can lead a dead horse to water, but you can’t make it sink.”
“Really? I thought it was: You can fondle a dead horse in the water, but you can’t make it think.”
“No way, José. I’m pretty darned sure it’s: You can feed a dead horse in the water, but you can’t make it shrink.”
“You know what, Beefy? They’re all donaldishly effective in their own special way.”
“Very, very true.”
While it was not necessary to prove a motive for murder to attain a successful prosecution in a court of law, a successful conclusion to a murder investigation could be very difficult to achieve without knowing the reason behind the crime. The motive defined the direction of the case and served to narrow down the list of suspects. In Leafy and Beefy’s world, motivation for murder fell into four general categories: Love, Money, Grudge or Crazy, in descending order of likelihood and solvability. There was also another somewhat esoteric category that they had labelled Political, but that had never come up on their watch. Due to their random and sometimes incomprehensible nature, cases in the Crazy category were always the hardest to close.
“There’s no reason in the world why this girl should be dead,” continued Leafy. “If she fell off the sign and broke her neck, I’d get that. If she was stabbed during a mugging, I’d get that. If she was shot during a robbery at the sushi restaurant, I’d get that. If she was kidnapped and murdered by a sexual predator, I’d even get that. Something aint right here, and I’m already starting to get a bad feeling about this case.”
“Don’t say that, man! You’re gonna jinx the case right from the start. Let’s just concentrate on the ‘who, what, where and when.’ We’ll worry about the ‘why’ later.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Sorry about that. I retract my previous statement. We’re good to go and there is no jinx. Everything’s totally cool and the case is still fresh as a daisy and completely un-jinxed. Is that good enough for you?”
“You know the rules, Leafy,” chided Beefy. “Once something’s been jinxed you can’t just un-jinx the jinx at the drop of a hat. You gotta run with the jinx. Chill with the jinx. Maybe have a few beers with the jinx, get to know the jinx’s family. And then, when you’ve gained the jinx’s confidence and you’re up close and personal and the jinx is sleepy and off guard . . . that’s when you un-jinx the jinx.”
“Let’s go get something to eat.”
Of the two detectives, Beefy, at the age of forty-nine, was the senior man. He had the sergeant’s stripes, with almost twenty years of service with the department and experience in specialized police units other than homicide. Leafy, on the other hand, was forty-two years old, had never bothered to apply for promotion, had a thirteen-year service record and had transitioned directly from being a humble patrol officer to the homicide bureau.
Leafy had been a first-year rookie detective when the powers-that-be had decided, in their infinite wisdom, to join him and Beefy at the hip. Leafy’s first impressions of Beefy had been that his new partner was an arrogant and humorless know-it-all. Beefy, for his part, had protested long and hard to his superiors, citing Leafy’s overall disrespect for authority and generally frivolous nature as the main areas of incompatibility; but it was all to no avail. There was no appeals process when it came to the assignment of employees within the department, and unless Leafy stepped over the line through either incompetence or misconduct, Beefy would have to suck it up and somehow make the partnership work.
Eleven and a half years later, Leafy had never stepped over that line, although he had come close a few times. He was too smart for that. Beefy now realized that under his partner’s oftentimes impermeable layer of superficiality there lay hidden a highly disciplined individual dedicated to the apprehension of violent criminals. So, over the years an initial dislike of each other had slowly metamorphosed through several stages of pupation, from grim acceptance to grudging respect to professional tolerance to tacit admiration to genuine friendship and then on to the ultimate goal of any positive relationship: unwavering trust.
Even though they sometimes disagreed, even about agreeing to disagree, both detectives wholeheartedly agreed that they weren’t always disagreeable. And on very rare occasions, they agreed to be as agreeable as possible without appearing to be disagreeable on matters that they had previously agreed to disagree upon, unless that matter was so utterly disagreeable that they had no choice but to agree.
Both men acknowledged privately and to each other that their unlikely partnership was the real key to their success as investigators and that their oftentimes polarized viewpoints, when combined, allowed for a much wider and deeper field of vision. The differences in their personalities remained to this day. But the overlapping area that had become their common ground might best be summed up with the introduction of an imaginary, melded persona of the two, which for descriptive purposes could be called Bleefy.
While Leafy was a slightly left of center democrat; a navy veteran; a confirmed smoker; a consumer of unhealthy foods who never gained weight; a twice-divorced man who expressed disbelief in the American dream; a lover of rock and roll music and also a jovial pessimist. Beefy, on the other hand, was a slightly right of centre republican; an army veteran; a rabid anti-smoker; a consumer of healthy foods who never seemed to lose weight; a happily married family man who believed in the American dream; a lover of country and western music and also a serious optimist. The blended Bleefy character, however, was wary of politicians of all stripes; pro-military; had flexible rules about second-hand smoke; couldn’t care less what people ate or their body mass index; did not delve too deeply into other people’s private lives; was fiercely patriotic and was an enlightened sceptic. Additionally, Bleefy had sympathy for the underdog, tolerance for minorities and a degree of empathy for just about everybody on the planet except for cold-blooded murderers.
Additionally, Bleefy no longer believed in God anymore, at least not in the image portrayed by the major religions. The idea of a just and compassionate deity solely dedicated to the welfare of mankind was an absurd concept, given the number of violent atrocities that both men had witnessed over the course of their military and police careers. Putting freedom of speech and twenty-first century ‘enlightenment’ aside, Leafy and Beefy were well aware that such a profession of disbelief would not be well received by those around them and both men kept their iconoclastic views a closely guarded secret. Even their families had no idea about their atheism, and whenever he could, Beefy still dutifully attended church services with his wife and kids, quietly resolved that he would not be the one responsible for bursting his family’s religious bubble. To Beefy, the myth of God was something akin to Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, and his family would either grow out of it or they would not. On the flip side of the equation, both men understood mankind’s age-old desire to find meaning in its existence with the creation of a Creator and the comforting promise of an afterlife when faced with the awful finality of death.
Furthermore, the melded persona Bleefy did not believe in the concept of luck and the implicit suggestion that certain individuals possessed some intangible reservoir of good or bad fortune that the rest of humanity did not. Again, Bleefy empathized with the temptation to attribute the successes and failures of human existence to some underlying supernatural force. Why is that guy richer than me? Why did she get the promotion and I got left behind? Why am I such a thing of beauty when she looks like the back end of a Greyhound bus? Why did kind and gentle Uncle Bob have to die in a multi-vehicle freeway pile-up when infamous serial-killers live on in prison to taunt us with their twisted views of life? As far as Bleefy was concerned, the events of life — both good and bad — occurred in an entirely random fashion, and confirmation of this viewpoint was never better illustrated than on the field of battle.
In his first tour in Afghanistan, Leafy had been riding shotgun in a Humvee as part of a convoy of vehicles resupplying an outlying firebase. The army EOD guys had declared that stretch of the highway to be clear of Taliban explosives, and a total of eleven military vehicles had already passed with impunity over the exact same spot where Leafy’s Humvee was blown apart. Although Leafy could not remember the actual explosion, he did recall regaining consciousness on the floor of the medi-vac helicopter with a splitting concussion headache and a badly bitten tongue. Along with some scratches on his face and hands, that was the full extent of his injuries. The Marine driver and the two army guys hitching a ride in the back of the Humvee, however, had not fared so well. All three had died instantly, their bodies torn asunder into a multitude of barely recognizable chunks of flesh and bone. It was on that short chopper ride that Leafy had ceased to believe in both God and luck. His reasoning was simple and, as far as he was concerned, unassailable. In his heart, Leafy knew that he himself was nothing special, that he was just like the Joe Walsh song: an ordinary, average guy. He was also fairly certain that his three fallen comrades would probably have characterized themselves in much the same way. Therefore, there was no reason to believe that he possessed some well of good fortune that had somehow kept him alive just as there was no reason to believe that his fallen comrades had some well of misfortune that had made them dead. It had been a completely random event with no underlying rhyme or reason. So, if God and luck did not exist during the harsh conditions of combat — when it could be argued that a person might need them the most — then it seemed only natural to both Leafy and Beefy that neither God nor luck exerted any influence over the events of everyday life.
But quite perversely, the two detectives believed very strongly in the power of the jinx, which, by the mere utterance of certain sentiments — overly pessimistic or overly optimistic — the outcome of any situation could be influenced in a negative way. To reconcile this deviation from their avowed creed of randomness, they viewed the jinx as more of a self-fulfilling prophecy that in turn leant more towards the psychological than the mystical.
These latter philosophical ruminations had occurred several years ago when they were just getting to know each other, in a seedy watering hole near the Port of LA after a few liberal shots of tequila had loosened the detectives’ tongues. The subject had never been brought up again, as they felt that their conclusions spoke for themselves. And unless something came up that might change their minds, there was nothing to be gained by restating the case. In general, Leafy and Beefy preferred to keep their conversations on a lighter level, reserving the serious talk for the job in hand. One of their unspoken, but clearly understood, rules of behavior was that there would be no talking shop at meal times.