The unmarked Crown Victoria wound its way into the Hollywood Hills, bathed in the orange glow of sunrise. Far below, the smog seemed almost alive, swelling with a yawn and a stretch, while the city of Los Angeles stirred slowly to life.
The detectives’ car crested a hill and leveled out, Frank Russo at the helm, while James Crawford sipped a large coffee in the passenger seat. He adjusted his grip as a pothole juddered through the vehicle.
Okay, yes, he was fearful of spilling it down his crisp white shirt, or ruining the tie his wife gave him, especially for today. But it wasn’t vanity. Not just vanity, anyway. Buff and handsome, tall and black, Crawford had literally been a poster boy for LAPD recruitment a couple of years ago, while the fifty-ish Russo was built like a warning flyer for heart disease. Maybe it was for this reason Crawford sensed an air of jealousy from the man behind the wheel, and—knowing how the old-timers in the unit joshed and joked—spilling coffee down himself invited ridicule. Still, the captain told him Russo was one of the best.
Listen, learn, do as you’re told.
Sure, Crawford would do that. Mostly. Probably.
Russo parked on a dusty lookout, climbed out, and stood at the edge, taking in the panorama. In his polo shirt and chinos, he should have appeared slovenly, but even in casual attire, his unkempt grey hair and spreading gut were the only imprecise things about him. Even the gun holstered on one hip, badge on the other, seemed like a part of him.
“Los Angeles,” Russo said, his New York accent still strong after all these years. “She’s beautiful this time a’ day.”
Crawford sat on the Crown Vic’s hood, sipping his over-sized coffee, still stain-free. “So why am I awake two hours earlier than usual?”
“Not many people see the city like this. First time I set eyes on her, I knew I was in love. Knew it was where I’d probably retire.”
“Very poetic. Why’re we here again?”
Russo waved a dismissive hand. “Because I seen guys like you. You come out a’ vice and think everyone’s a pimp or hooker or drug dealer. Ain’t like that.”
“So what’s it like?”
As if Russo were commanding the heavens to act on cue, the sun glowed brighter and both men donned sunglasses.
“The city,” Russo said, “she’s an angel. Never forget that. People in it? That’s sometimes another story.”
Crawford drained his cup and crunched it in his hand. “So folk are basically assholes? Thanks, Frank. Yoda better watch his back.”
“I came out from New York with my daughter, lived here fifteen years. You know what never changed? The city. Sure, she’s shinier now, the buildings got taller, more cars showed up. But she stuck around. Remember this view, James. Remember, this is why we do the job. For her. To keep her goin’.”
Both men fell silent. Just two guys, enjoying the view, until Russo looked expectantly at Crawford. Like this was some pop quiz.
“So the city itself makes it all worthwhile?” Crawford said.
Russo turned back to the LA cityscape. “People will always let you down, James. But LA? She’s worth it.”
* * *
In a cheap but clean motel room, that same sunrise cut through a small gap in the curtains. Chantelle Knox slept naked in the bed. A skinny young woman, blankets covered most of her body, and champagne bottles littered the room. She looked peaceful here. Serene. Almost happy in her slumber.
Sitting in a worn armchair beside the bed, Sean Madeley watched her.
He knew, in his five-thousand-dollar suit he could be mistaken for a Wall Street broker, but his tan skin and blond, sun-bleached hair marked him as an ageing Angelino rich kid. He leaned over Chantelle, and spoke quietly but firmly.
“You could have been anyone you chose to be.”
Chantelle stirred, opened her eyes.
“And you chose this,” Sean said. “Threw away your chance of a life. Stuck a needle in your arm, or smoked some stupid drug.…”
Chantelle rolled her eyes. Sighed like she’d heard this shit before.
“Could be you chose to have unprotected sex, then chose not to abort the resulting fetus. Perhaps you were too lazy or too busy screwing the football team to educate yourself, get a job. So now, lying on your back, charging men for a short term rental of your vagina, is preferable to making a positive difference.”
Chantelle shifted in the bed, elbows under her.
“Whatever,” Sean said. “When you think about all the problems in the world, your life doesn’t really matter. You understand exactly what you should have done to avoid this … unproductive existence, but are unable to do anything about it. Or should I say unwilling?”
Chantelle’s eyes darted around. Her mouth opened to speak, but Sean cut her off.
“Don’t say I ‘don’t know nothing about nothing,’ that I don’t ‘get’ your life. Because you’re right. I don’t. I don’t have the first clue why you would sabotage every key decision you’ve ever made … to end up here. But I do know you could have stopped at any time. You have a place to live?”
“Social security number?”
She parted her mouth again, but yet again Sean spoke first.
“Don’t. You disappear, nobody cares. A drug dealer is a customer short; some other skank blows some sad sack for ten bucks. No one that matters will actually miss you one iota.”
Chantelle looked Sean square in the eye. Took a deep breath.
One final shred of dignity. Not bad. But not enough.
“You wanna get to the point?” she said. “You’re kinda boring me.”
He could see it in her eyes: she knew the point.
Sean slid a silenced Beretta from a shoulder holster. She closed her eyes. A tiny whimper. And Sean shot her once in the head. She flopped back on the bed, dead instantly.
Sean surveyed the scene, hands on hips, smiling. The skunk Chantelle smoked last night was laced with a sedative which wiped her out, once he’d had his “regular-people” fun. It gave him time to shower, dress, and clean the room of all trace of himself, including using a DustBuster.
Now he holstered the gun, skipped out the door into the by-the-hour motel’s parking lot, where he strode calmly towards a midnight-blue Ferrari as its roof automatically retracted, and jumped in without opening the door.
Sean Madeley roared the car to life, and sped out of the lot, into the morning glow.
Nothing beats LA at sunrise.
A cordoned-off square of Venice beach buzzed with CSI, uniformed cops, and drew the usual gaggle of lookie-Lous, aching for a view of someone else’s misfortune. It was the morning rush hour for joggers and rollerbladers, as well as stoners making their way home, and the odd homeless person pushing a cart full of their precious cargo that kept them going through the dark times. Today’s first-on-scene witness was a fifty-year-old yoga instructor called Duane who, while preparing for his warm-up sun salutations, discovered the corpse half-covered in sand and crawling with flies. His 9-1-1 call was described by the dispatcher as a “shriek for assistance” so it was a small mercy that, by the time Russo turned up, the unis had taken his statement and an ambulance sedated the guy and carted him off for observation.
As usual, as he approached the scene, Russo wondered about the psyche of such curious types that would surround a murder site. Lives so dull they sought out vicarious thrills, to insert themselves into a little slice of TV show glamor. Perhaps one day he would introduce one of these idiots to a real stiff, have them smell the rot after only a few hours, prod the skin and marvel at its cold rubber texture, maybe feel how heavy the flesh becomes when blood drains to the lowest point, no longer pumping around the vic’s body.
One day, sure.
Russo and Crawford ducked out under the police tape, snapping on latex gloves.
The kid tried to make like this was all routine, but Homicide Special is every detective’s big break and, although Russo respected he’d want to impress a more experienced officer, a little humility wouldn’t go amiss. It was normal these days, though. As the lookie-Lous hoped to glimpse a turned-up toe or the curled dead fingers of a closed-door mystery, so too were a new generation of cops insistent on presenting themselves as the complete package.
The cordon was thirty-feet square, the tape stretching between two streetlights lining the concrete running track, a trash can, and a pole inserted by a member of the team to create the requisite square. Russo lifted the flap and gestured for Crawford to go first.
Must be pretty bad if the DA’s office wanted Russo to look at it.
The body was a Latino male, bloodied and broken. Open fractures to his right arm, knee bent in at an awkward angle, face swollen and discolored, and as much dried blood as there was skin to hold it. Crawford crouched and gave the corpse a cursory once-over.
“Well?” Russo asked.
“Beaten to death,” Crawford said. “Vic worked out, so it’s not a hobo attacking him for nickels. Tats all over, but this don’t seem like a gang thing. Probably showed attitude to the wrong group of drunks. Probably five or six.”
Russo nodded and left the tent. Crawford followed. Both men ducked out under the tape, stripping off their gloves.
“You use that word too much,” Russo said.
“My old captain would agree. But it’s how I think. I like that word.”
From behind, a woman asked, “What word?”
The detectives turned to a slim forty-year-old in a no-nonsense business suit, holding her shoes and a briefcase.
“‘Probably’,” Russo said. “Ain’t what police work’s about. James Crawford, you know Assistant District Attorney Audrey Baxter? James is our new first grade in Homicide Special.”
Crawford extended his hand. “I’ve seen your name on a few memos.”
Audrey shook the hand, but attention remained on Russo. “You took ninety minutes to get here. Hope it was worth it.”
“Yeah,” Russo said. “Was showing the kid my perspective on the city. But this won’t be high profile. Ain’t a serial. Don’t look like a Robbery Homicide gig.”
Audrey nodded. “Thrill-kill?”
“Snappers, prob’ly. Leave it with Pacific here in Venice. Maybe turf it over to the gangs task force. See if they know him.”
“He’s got ink,” Crawford said.
A little eager to get in on the conversation. But that was okay. There are lessons to learn on every first day.
Russo pointed to a burrito stand. “Nothin’ for us here. Except breakfast.”
Crawford looked to the stand, back at Russo. Russo didn’t react. Crawford’s shoulders slumped ever-so-slightly, and he departed for the burrito vendor.
The finished article knows when to shut up.
Russo turned to Audrey. “Anyway, yeah. Like my partner says, vic’s got himself some tats, and he wasn’t robbed. He ain’t our problem.”
“Okay, I’ll get Henderson to send a couple of guys over.”
They stood still for a moment, Audrey’s arms folded, waiting.
Russo broke first. “So come on. The DA’s office don’t send in the heavy-hitters this early. You called me here to gimme shit over that Martino case you screwed? ’Cause I’m puttin’ a claim in for the mileage draggin’ me over here.”
“You roughed up the witness, Russo. Defense tore him a new one yesterday.”
“I did not ‘rough him up.’ I defended myself while interrogatin’ him. It got an arrest. Everythin’ else is your job.”
Audrey’s arms dropped to her side. “Cops like you, Russo, you live and die on arrest rates. They get you promoted until you swan around picking and choosing your cases in Homicide Special. Well, you’re not special, Detective. You’re the reason so many public prosecutors switch sides, go private.”
“Don’t let me stop you.”
Crawford returned with three burritos and offered Audrey one of the foil-wrapped meals. She regarded it like he was holding a turd.
“There are two kinds of cop, James,” she said. “Those with the police in their blood, a ‘mission’ if you like, and those who see it as a nine to five. A paycheck, nothing else. I already know what type Russo is.”
Russo just sighed, grabbed two burritos, and moseyed back toward the car.
* * *
The drive to the Police Administration Building in Downtown took a shorter-than-usual fifty-five minutes, and as Russo and Crawford walked the corridors of what was known by its inhabitants as “the Glass House,” Russo dabbed at a new sauce stain on his shirt. Crawford carried a small cardboard box alongside.
“You gonna tell me what she meant yet?” Crawford asked. “What she said about two kinds of cop?”
“She thinks I’m killin’ time til I draw my pension.”
“You don’t have faith in her, she don’t have faith in you. So it’s, what? A diligence issue?”
“Diligence? You diligently screw a thesaurus for breakfast?”
“No, I was up too early for breakfast, on account of my new partner callin’ me to go watch the sunrise together.”
“Huh, when you put it like that, it sounds kinda romantic.”
They rounded a corner.
“Are you gay?” Crawford asked. “’Cause I’m cool with it. Lotta older guys’re comin’ out now—”
“Fine. Cop on a mission, cop who treats is like a job. Cop on a mission sends some gang baby down on a dime. Cop on the job gets an anonymous tip, cuts the baby loose, and the gangs task force busts another ten snappers.”
“Huh. Must’ve skipped class that day at the academy.”
Russo stopped to consider whether that was a dig at him or not, but Crawford pressed on ahead. Russo let it go.
He caught up and the two entered Homicide Special Section—busy, open-plan, even when only half-full of detectives. They weaved between desks toward their own, Russo acknowledging the pool of middle aged cops, most in better shape than him. He paused to name-check Crawford with a group of four gathered at DiMarco’s desk, although DiMarco was nowhere to be seen. They chatted briefly about the body in Venice, then continued toward their allocated space.
Russo slowed. A teenaged girl sat in his chair with her feet up on his desk, thumbs a blur over her phone. A natural blonde, skimpily-dressed in short-shorts and a vest top, as if engineered to fit the term “beach-ready.” The kind of girl Russo would expect to see running along that track by the dead snapper. And goddammit, it wouldn’t be long before he couldn’t stop her.
“Dad!” she said as she looked up from her phone. “Hi!
She sprung up and threw her arms around him. He returned the hug, but broke away after seconds, glancing around at the squad room.
Russo had long-suspected she dressed like this on purpose. Forcing every guy in the station to keep his eyes off her, knowing who her dad was, and how he’d happily flush his career down the toilet depending how long the wrong stare lingered. It radiated a notion of power, a feeling teens yearned for but rarely achieved.
He said, “What are you doing here, honey?”
“Oh, you know, the usual.”
Faking that he was annoyed, Russo took out his wallet and handed her fifty bucks. “Sorry, forgot about the mall.”
“Yeah, you left so early. You get a call?”
“Somethin’ like that. Who you meetin’?”
“It’d be easier if you just gave me a card so I can access your account.”
“Yeah, and how about the keys to my Camry too? Or you wanna get your license first?”
“Daddy, daddy, daddy, if you’d let me take my test—”
“When you pass my test, you take their test. Now, once again, who are you meetin’?”
Kim smiled, accepted the money. “I’m not allowed secrets? You don’t tell me everything.”
“I’m a grownup. I need secrets. Now, since you won’t tell me, I’m gonna spend my day thinkin’ you’re bein’ groomed by some age-inappropriate hunk.”
“Aww, come on, don’t use that word. I’m not six. Besides, rest easy. You know you’re the only man for me. Or … maybe not.”
She peered around Russo at Crawford unpacking his box of personal junk. Crawford caught her eye, photo frame in hand.
“So, Dad,” Kim said. “Who’s the hottie?”
Crawford’s skin bloomed darker around his cheeks. “I’m James. James Crawford.”
Russo rolled his eyes. “Relax, Romeo, she’s just dickin’ with you.”
“Hi,” she said. “I’m Kim. Russo’s daughter.”
Crawford shook her hand. “You call your dad Russo?”
“Yeah. I’m, er, I’m … married.”
Crawford showed her the photo in his hand, his wife Marcie and baby daughter Tabitha, and positioned it on his desk.
Russo weighed up whether to make it more uncomfortable for Crawford or rescue him and get on with their day. In the end, he gestured as if directing cattle. “Okay, Kim, move it along. You goin’ to the mall or just hanging round here dishin’ out heart attacks?”
Kim flashed one big smile at both men. “Bring Crawford round for dinner. His wife too, of course.”
“No,” Russo said.
“Oh, come on, it’ll be just like that old film, Lethal Weapon. Think about it.”
She kissed her dad on the cheek and skipped on out, not a single male head rising from his paperwork as she passed.
Crawford blew out his cheeks in a “sheesh” expression. “She’s … umm …”
“Sixteen,” Russo said. “She’s sixteen, thinks she’s thirty-six.”
“What’d you mean she takes their test when she passes yours?”
“I take her round the LAPD track sometimes. Get her skills up so she’s ready for real drivin’.”
Russo pulled his stained polo shirt over his head, demonstrating he was actually in better shape than most assumed. He had the gut and the face of someone ready for rehab, but he thought he looked pretty good for a guy in his fifties.
He also revealed a thick, long-healed-over, two-inch scar on the right side of his chest.
“Hey, where’d you get that?” Crawford asked.
Taking a fresh polo shirt from his desk, Russo glowered at Crawford. “New York,” he said, and set off toward the doors.
“Where you going?”
Without looking back, Russo said, “Be back in ten. Man the phones.”
Before Crawford could object, Russo was on his way. A glance back saw Crawford staring at the phone on his clean desk. Opposite was Russo’s space: neat, but stacked with files. The clock said nine a.m.
* * *
Russo breezed into a room full of computers and technicians. Tech Support was always cooler, too, due to the abundance of something called “servers” that had something to do with storing information and processing … stuff.
Kim was perched, legs dangling, on a desk manned by Gladys Munroe.
Gladys exuded a shabby, bookish exterior, but that hid a lightning-fast brain attuned to almost all aspects of these damned things that control the modern world. Kim was in awe of her, and when Gladys and Russo dated a couple of months ago, she latched onto the older woman, thinking it might be one career option. The level Gladys operated at, though, put her off after a while, Kim being—in Russo’s fatherly opinion—more of an arty soul than an analytical one.
Russo rapped on the next desk.
“Oh, hey, Dad. Thought Gladys could come for dinner too. Y’know, when you invite James over.”
Russo grunted. “You go round Robbery-Homicide invitin’ everyone, we’ll need a bigger house.”
“Then make it a barbecue.”
“And Detective Crawford is busy with his family.”
Gladys patted Russo’s arm. “Frank, it’s okay, I can’t anyway.”
“Fine,” Kim said, hopping down. “I’ll leave you two alone to, y’know, talk. Bye.”
Kim hugged Gladys like they were best girlfriends and sashayed out. Again, every male tech kept their eyes firmly on their screens.
Russo called after her, “No more dinner invites.”
Gladys watched the door through which Kim exited. Russo said nothing. After a moment, Gladys leaned back and waited for Russo’s attention.
“Are you sure she’s gone?” she asked.
Russo peeked out the door before returning. “Yeah.”
Gladys breathed out heavily. “I thought we were busted, Frank. When she turned up, I thought … I mean if she finds out—”
“She hasn’t found out.”
“You know, it’d be easier if you’d let me email it instead of printing everything.” Gladys snatched a file from under her keyboard and thrust it at Russo. “This is the latest.”
Russo opened it. “This why you called me?”
“Stuff you might be concerned about. I’d be concerned. If she were mine.”
Russo scanned the file, but the words swam and made little sense. He couldn’t tell if it was Kim’s fault or the presence of Gladys.
“I’m sorry about Kim,” he said. “She liked you. A lot.”
“I wasn’t sure what to tell her. About dinner.”
Russo looked through the papers again, pausing occasionally to reread something he didn’t quite understand.
“Besides,” Gladys said, “I’ve been seeing someone.”
Russo flicked a page loudly, but didn’t look up. “What am I looking for?”
“What you’re usually looking for.”
“She’s not drinking is she?”
Gladys shook her head.
“A boy, huh?” Russo read for a second longer, then stopped. “Hmm. Sublime Freedom dot com?”
“She’s been in chat rooms before.”
“I backgrounded the one calling himself ‘Night Warrior.’ Lance Krispin. Nineteen. No priors, although his dad’s currently on a stretch for assault.”
“She talks to boys all the time.” Russo read a little more. His heart chilled momentarily, but figured he was overreacting and looked up at Gladys. “Guy’s a serial killer fan, huh? Likes his John Wayne Gacy? Didn’t realize killers get fans like that.”
“Lonely women have even married them. In jail.”
“Yeah, I heard that. Figured they was in it for the money or something. Not actual, y’know … fans.”
“Whatever the detail, there’s something off about these types. You want Kim meeting this guy?”
Russo’s brow furrowed as he thought it through. Read some more. Snapped the file shut.
“Yeah, I’m gonna check this kid out. Thanks, hon.”
And, hoping very much that no new cases had come in worthy of the attention of Homicide Special, Russo hurried out, rehearsing in his head what he was going to say to the newbie.
Crawford was not impressed. He conceded to help Russo but only after the older detective gave him the bullet points of the outstanding cases, convincing Crawford they had an hour to spare on a personal errand. The open files were all stalled, awaiting witness run-downs, DNA lab results, or arrests had already been made, and arraignments were pending. Ten minutes later, Russo was driving the Crown Vic, confessing all to Crawford while Crawford read the file.
“I cannot believe you spy on your daughter’s emails,” Crawford said.
“It’s not only her emails, it’s her whole internet use.” Russo sounded oddly proud at that. “It’s a scary world. She just don’t know it.”
“So you go all Patriot Act on her.”
“You think this guy she met’s some pedo?” Crawford asked.
“No, I think a horny teenage boy wants to bone her and brag to his buddies about the chick he just scored with. Why? What makes you say it’s a pedo?”
Crawford closed the file. “Come on, Russo, we’re supposed to be catching murderers and stuff.”
“Read it. The Sublime Freedom … stuff.”
Crawford sighed and reopened the file at the section Russo marked with a Post-It. “Night Warrior’s our Romeo, right? So I assume Lady-K is our potential ex-virgin?”
Russo shot a glare Crawford’s way.
Crawford ignored it. Whatever his status in RHD—junior partner, newbie in the Special Section, or rookie D1—it didn’t matter; this wasn’t official, so screw seniority.
“Looks like Lady-K’s telling him about some … murders?”
Russo quoted Lady-K’s text from memory: “‘I think this guy may be someone even my dad doesn’t know about. He’s killing no-marks. Snappers. That’s what my dad calls lowlifes. It’s like this guy’s on a crusade to clean up LA, go where the police can’t.’” The quote ended there. “Jeez, a crusade of all things.”
Crawford read on, taking Night Warrior’s section. “‘Like Dexter Morgan. Cool.’” He stopped reading to ask, “Who’s Dexter Morgan?”
“Character on some cable show, and some books, I think. Serial killer, but a good guy. She liked it.”
Russo kneaded the wheel, checking street signs.
“This is bullshit, though,” Crawford said. “Killer like that can’t exist. We’d know, right? Or the Feds would.”
“Nah, it’s just talk. Site’s full a’ kids hooked on serial killers, thinkin’ they’re cool. That they symbolize a ‘sublime freedom.’ Or some nonsense like that. Shunning society’s rules. Don’t like the role models we push their way, so they invent a hero for themselves.”
He steered the car into a mall parking lot. Crawford didn’t catch which one, but it was big.
“They even got a name for this guy,” Russo said. “Callin’ him ‘The Crusader’ at first, but someone coined ‘The People’s Assassin’ and that seems to have stuck. I guess every nut needs a nickname these days.”
“Let’s hope he doesn’t get a girlfriend.”
“You hate all that celeb shit, right? When they get together, they mash up their names. So The Crusader meets the Huntress, they’re ‘Huntsader’ or ‘Crusadress’.”
“Goddamned kids gotta hype up everythin’. Desperate for someone to look up to. Even killers, now.”
“Kim doesn’t seem that way.”
Russo pulled into a space nose-first. “She’s sixteen. Who knows what she’s like really?”
“You do realize, no matter how unlikely this is, we have to check it out. Right?”
Russo winked. “Why we’re here.”
He got out of the car and Crawford followed him toward the mall. The lot wasn’t busy yet, midweek at ten a.m., but a few people gathered at the doors, a steady trickle in and out.
“What’s a one-shotter?” Crawford asked.
Russo pushed open the mall doors. “One bullet to the head, one slash of the throat, one hit with a bat, whatever. Kim says it’s his ‘calling card.’ Like that Century Killer asshole they caught in Britain, ’cept that guy was exclusive to his victims’ hearts. This hero, apparently, he goes for the kill like a random assassin. It’s bullshit.”
Inside, Crawford took the lead, moving through the sparse crowd. He still didn’t understand what they were doing here.
“So she’s researchin’ serial killers,” Russo said. “Comes across this site, gets chattin’, finds a boy she likes.”
“Probably the other way round. Finds the boy, does the research.”
Crawford tutted at himself for letting another “probably” slip out.
“But whatever,” Russo said, climbing a staircase next to an elevator. “She knits some bullshit snapper murders together and tells this Romeo asshole what he wants to hear. Speakin’ objectively, she’s a teenage girl tryin’ to impress a peer group. Speakin’ as a father, my little girl’s hangin’ out with a bunch a’ serial killer groupies.”
“So you don’t think this is real?”
Russo paused for breath on the second floor. “Snappers die from single wounds all a’ the time. Cartels like the neck-tie, mafia likes a head-shot. Knit a bunch a’ unsolved together, it ain’t a serial. It’s a bunch a’ unsolved professional hits. She just wants approval.”
“That’s a pretty unchlorinated victim pool. Anyone hunting there using different weapons … he’d be hard to pick up.”
Russo narrowed his eyes.
“Devil’s advocate,” Crawford said. “I’m just saying, if it was true—which it isn’t—he’d be hard to pick up.”
Russo nodded as they stepped out fully onto level two. “Unless he strings ’em up and paints symbols with their blood.”
“Or sends the cops a note,” Crawford said.
Russo smiled wryly. “I never had a note. Why do you think that is? Somethin’ about me?”
Russo halted, stared at nothing in particular for a moment. “This is stupid. There’s no killer.”
They moved forward again, pausing only when they reached a barrier looking down over the food court.
“Okay, then,” Crawford said. “Why are we here?”
“Gonna scare the crap outta this Night Warrior kid, pick up Kim, lock her in the house til she’s twenty-one.”
Crawford laughed. “Seriously, man. What do you hope to accomplish?”
When Russo didn’t reply, Crawford followed his gaze down to the edge of the food court, where Kim waited. Alone.
“Good,” Russo said. “He ain’t here yet.” He arrowed toward the next staircase.
Crawford realized Russo may not have been joking about intercepting his daughter before Night Warrior arrived, and although it wasn’t really his business, he guided Russo inside a lingerie shop.
The two assistants, both in their sixties, cast constant sideways glances whilst rearranging a display. Russo shook Crawford off his arm.
“Think, Russo. If you pick her up, she’ll know you were spying on her.”
Russo stared at him hard. When Crawford didn’t break, he looked at the floor. Then snapped to attention.
“How old’s your little girl?”
“Tabitha? She’s three months.”
“Right. So you’re a rookie detective and a rookie dad. You don’t tell me how to protect my daughter. When Tabitha’s sixteen and meetin’ strange serial killer groupies, maybe your opinion’ll count. Right now, get outta my way.”
Russo made for the door, but Crawford stood in his way. Russo shoulder-checked him, but came off worse.
“Jesus,” Russo said. “You living in a gym?”
“Before Tabby came along, almost. Buddy’s an ex-SEAL, runs a place not far from Hollywood Division—”
Russo moved around him instead, but Crawford blocked the exit again.
“Okay, okay. Just wait. Frank. You’re the boss. I get that, but it’s only ten years since I was a horny teenage boy, so I got some insight here.”
Russo stopped. Waited. “Fine. Dazzle me with insight.”
“When she’s fifty and you’re on your deathbed, maybe she’ll forgive you. But if you confront her, if you let her know you were spying on her, then that syrup-sweet daddy-daughter thing you got going will be gone. Forever.”
“I got plenty mad when my mom found my Playboys. I got over it.”
“This isn’t Playboys. This is like reading her diary, or planting a bug on her phone. How would your relationship with your mom have fared then?”