The ShortRead of 20 May
The Killing of Bobbi Lomax
Author: Cal Moriarty
What's the story: There's a popular misconception that everyone is supposed to have one book in them. In the case of Cal Moriarty, we hope she's got a few more; her debut novel The Killing of Bobbi Lomax hints at a wealth of talent.
A sinister, slick thriller, Bobbi Lomax is the first to die in a series of brutal bomb attacks in the religious heartlands of America. One survivor, a rare books dealer by the name of Clark Houseman, turns out to be detectives Sinclair and Alvarez's best hope of finding out what linked these unlikely victims, and who wanted them dead and why. A twisting race to catch the killer before they strike again, this doesn't go where you think it will
Release date: Out now
Abraham City, Canyon County
Pig of a day, thought Marty Sinclair as he made his way down the back stairs of the precinct and out into the blazing heat of the lot. Two dead bodies in less than twenty-four hours and if the boom that just shook the precinct was anything to go by, one more at least. What a fucking mess. Marty didn’t usually allow himself to swear, but for this case he was making an exception. Carpe Diem. Make Hay while the Sun Shines and all that. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Pig of a day.
Alvarez was already in the car, lights on, facing the street. ‘What took you so long, man?’
‘Took the stairs. One at a time.’
‘Not in such a rush to get to the next one?’
‘I’d only just sat down.’
Marty exhaled. ‘Bobbi Lomax was bad, Al.’
Alvarez nodded, muttered something in Spanish under his breath and looked skywards.
Prayer for the dead, thought Marty. A prayer for why would have been more use, especially if it was answered before the Governor called the Captain again. ‘Through and through. Like a cannon. She must have tucked it in like this, close to her chest.’
‘Thought it was a FedEx or something?’
‘Yeah. One of the neighbors drove up, saw her lying there, thought Halloween, the Family, some kind of breakfast-time prank.’
‘Trick or treat. Fucker.’
‘Until she got out of the car, took a closer look. Could see the lawn clear through her body.’
Alvarez winced. ‘Shit.’
‘Just married, barely eighteen.’
‘No need to ask what next?’
‘My ears are still ringing.’
‘Almost blew me off the can,’ Marty said as he bit down hard on a fresh piece of gum. Cherry menthol filled his head. Not exactly his beloved roll-ups, but it would do. For now. He could see the Prophet, towering above them, guarding the city. Today, it was almost like the gilded statue was mocking them. He chewed harder, turned his head away. They rounded the corner into a wall of traffic stretching the few blocks to the call.
‘Fire ’em up.’
Alvarez flicked the switch. The sound was muffled, like they were underwater. ‘Thought you weren’t in a hurry.’
The traffic parted on both sides, the Red Sea cometh to Main Street. Up ahead a cloud of smoke four stories high signaled to them. Directly underneath it, the tangled remains of what was once a car. Close by stood a large group of gawkers crowded around something sprawled on the street. Body number three, thought Marty as he reluctantly swallowed the gum.
From the opposite direction he could see the fire trucks. No sign of any other cops yet, tied up with yesterday still. The precinct had been like a ghost town. Alvarez threw the car into a space close, but not too close to the hotspot. If the gawkers hadn’t trodden on all the evidence, there might even be some left without riding a ton of metal over it.
‘Get these people back, Al,’ Marty yelled as he jumped out of the car and moved fast toward the crowd. Alvarez matched him, step for step. They both reached for their badges.
‘Back it up here now, everyone.’ Alvarez’s don’t-make-me-arrest-you tone, one he’d perfected working the beat amongst Venice’s transients through its ’60s heyday and into its downward slide. Blood was creeping across the street. The guy’s leg was a mess. A hole in his chest. Knelt right beside him was a guy, no more than twenty-five, anointing him with holy oil from a small plastic bottle. He looked up at Marty. Saw the badge. ‘Where’s the paramedics?! He’s still alive. I thought he was dead. Me and this other guy dragged him away from the flames. I went to get the oil, I always carry it in the glove box, then he started moving, talking. I . . .’
‘He a friend of yours?’
‘No. I was just crossing the street when . . .’
‘What did he say?’
‘Nothing much, he was hallucinating. I couldn’t hear that clear. When are the paramedics gonna get here, he . . .’
Marty cut him off: ‘What do you think you heard?’
The guy looked confused. ‘“Sentence first, verdict afterwards.”’
Marty had heard that before, couldn’t for the life of him think where. ‘Was that it?’ Marty was knelt beside the guy now, in the warm blood.
‘No. He said, “We’re nothing but a pack of cards.”’
‘Nothing but a pack of cards?’
The guy nodded, looked anxiously back down at his freshly anointed patient.
Marty leaned in. ‘Sir, sir, can you hear me?’ Nothing.
‘He hasn’t said anything for a few minutes. Maybe he’s already . . .’
Marty pressed his face close, whispered in the victim’s ear. ‘Sir, do you know who did this to you? Sir?’ Still nothing. And now it was Marty’s turn to be ushered out of the way. Paramedics. As he stood up, the man suddenly seemed to come back to life, reached out to him. Marty noticed the tip of a finger had been blown off, the whole hand badly charred. ‘They’re trying to kill me,’ the soft raspy voice said.
‘Who is? Who, sir?’
‘Hartman. He’s trying to kill me.’
The man’s voice was low, raspy.
‘Hartman? Who’s Hartman?’ Marty crouched down lower, nearer the man’s mouth as he nodded weakly. ‘You got a first name for him?’ The man’s eyes closed. Marty shook him a bit. ‘Sir? This Hartman got a first name? Sir?’
‘Not now, Marty.’ He recognized Rob Peterson’s voice as he felt the grip of his huge hands on his shoulders, pulling him up and away. ‘You can ride with us. I’ll let you know when.’
Stray spray from the fire hose hit him as it found its target, what was left of the still-blazing car. Marty watched in silence as the evidence got washed deep into the city’s sewer system. We’re nothing but a pack of cards. The kid had heard it wrong. ‘You’re nothing but a pack of cards.’
‘Excuse me?’ said Alvarez who had snuck up from someplace behind him.
‘Alice in Wonderland. Used to read it to my kids. You read it?’
Alvarez shook his head. ‘Think I saw the movie once.’
‘Whoever wrote it was doing a lot of whatever passed for acid back in the day.’
‘He could probably tell you who wrote it.’ Alvarez beckoned to where the paramedics were gurneying the injured guy towards their truck. ‘Got a hit on the license plate, found it blown halfway down the block. If that car’s his, he’s a rare documents dealer. Clark Houseman.’
‘Yeah. Manuscripts, books, that kind of thing.’
‘What the hell has that got to do with yesterday? Peter Gudsen, Bobbi Lomax, they’re connected to finance. Property. Gone bad.’
‘I know. Maybe this guy Houseman was an investor.’
‘One of the disgruntled three thousand?’
‘Could be. Or maybe just a passer by?’
‘He’s convinced someone’s trying to kill him.’
‘He said that?’
‘Yeah. Some guy called Hartman.’
Al beckoned to what was left of the sports car. ‘He might have a point.’
‘You can’t have it both ways.’
‘I guess not.’
‘Hartman. Could be the best lead in twenty-four hours. He on the list?’
‘The investors list.’
‘Don’t remember seeing it. I’ll check later.’
‘Sooner the better. I’ll run it by dispatch. See if anything pops their end.’
Marty beckoned for Al to follow Peterson into the back of the ambulance, but before Al could step up inside the truck Marty grabbed his sleeve, held him back. ‘Al.’ Al stepped closer. ‘Page me if you get something.’
‘Yeah, you too.’
Al looked over at Houseman, his arm urgently being pumped full of something by Peterson. Silently, Al looked back at Marty. His eyes said it all. Marty shrugged, shook his head. ‘Who knows if he’ll make it.’
Al was up in the ambulance now. ‘Let’s hope he does. We could sure do with some answers. Anything.’
Marty smiled up at him. ‘Answers aren’t always the answer.’
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(Image: Flickr/Kate Hiscock)