Hood stood in the Residence Inn parking lot and looked where the chain-link fence had been. The flattened mesh lay a hundred feet into the adjacent lot along with three ripped-up stanchions.
Torrance PD had taped off the area sometime during the night, but they were gone now, a little after sunrise. They’d made no arrests, had not identified the vehicle involved. They wrote it up as vandalism.
On the sun-faded asphalt Hood saw the tire marks in front of the cement parking bumper, and the broken headlight glass behind it. There was another set of tire marks-the kind left by heavy acceleration or heavy braking-and these were set more widely apart and the tires were fatter than the first set. Hood pictured the big black Lincoln bearing down on Suzanne Jones, whose little Sentra had already lost a headlight. Too bad she wasn’t in the yellow Corvette. He had the thought that Suzanne Jones had used up a lifetime of good luck in the few days he’d known her. He called her again but she didn’t answer.
Hood spent an hour in his temporary homicide cubicle, writing an affidavit for an arrest warrant for Lupercio Maygar. It was his first warrant request and he knew the wording had to be right. He was a slow but accurate writer and when he was done with the statutory page he read it to himself and was convinced that the judge would issue.
He sat in the empty courtroom as the judge read the request in chambers. He called Suzanne again but she wouldn’t pick up. He was starting to think that he couldn’t help her if she wouldn’t let him. He regretted what they had done in Laguna but wanted to do it again. A few minutes later a bailiff walked the signed and stamped warrant to Hood and said, Good luck, I hope you stick this guy.
Hood sat across from Melissa Levery in a coffee bar on Gower. It was noon by now, but they got a corner table in the crowded little room. Melissa was a fair-skinned and dark-haired young woman with a pretty face. She was heavily made up in spite of what appeared to be a nearly flawless complexion. Her eyes were green and remarkably beautiful. She had wiped away a tear when Hood sat down, but now, several minutes into the story of her poor treatment by Barry, something hard and eager had come into her eyes.
She told him that Barry had owed money to the Wilton Street Asian Boyz, and that he wanted to pay them in diamonds, which of course were insured. The Boyz were happy because Barry totally misrepresented the value of stolen diamonds. Barry got the idea of cutting in another gang for less payment and he knew some Salvadorans-a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul thing and that was pure Barry because he was smart but not real smart. Story of his life.
Melissa told Hood about the money she’d lent him and he’d promptly lost at the Caesar’s Sports Book-ten thousand dollars of a Roth IRA she’d earned as a Lanc^ome rep-and the way Barry thought he could run her off and cancel his debt to her by taking up with other girls and he’d done just that, taken up with them. This was where Hood had seen the hardness in her eyes. She began describing the girls. One had been a friend. Hood liked the way she talked on without a comma because it bode well for his main purpose here. He wanted to get her back to the bigger picture, but it was a hard thing to be subtle about.
“How much did he owe the Asian Boyz?”
“Seventy-five grand.” She took another sip of the elaborate coffee drink that she had ordered a few minutes ago. She had been drinking one when Hood got there, so this was at least her second.
“You told me the rocks were worth forty-five grand on the street. So Barry was underpaying them, dramatically.”
“The Boyz didn’t know that. And they sure didn’t know they were going to get ripped off by MS-13. I read the papers. There were more people there than Barry thought would be there. It was a bigger thing than he was ready for.”
She looked down now at the cheap wooden table, scratched at the surface with a manicured nail, exhaled. “Barry didn’t deserve that. He was basically a good guy. He was Barry. He didn’t deserve what happened.”
“He stole from you and betrayed his partners and brought this upon himself,” said Hood. And he thought that Barry had set up five Wilton Street Asian Boyz to be murdered by Mara Salvatrucha. Maybe Barry wasn’t sure about numbers, but he was sure about outcome.
“But he didn’t deserve to die for that.”
Hood wanted to explain that according to the rules of the Asian Boyz and Mara Salvatrucha, Barry certainly did deserve to die. And he’d walked into that world, full of bluster and bad ideas. To Hood the definition of a fool is he who can’t see consequences. But none of this would help Melissa.
She looked at him. “I talked to your boss, the guy with the fish’s name.”
“Yeah. He asked me straight-out if I knew about the meeting and I said I did. So next he wants to know if I came in and scooped up those diamonds. Then Barry’s insurance company investigators, they pretty much told me I’d ended up with the diamonds. They’ve been following me not very cleverly. They want to sweat me. Is that why you’re here? You going to bust me?”
Hood shook his head. “I don’t think you have the diamonds.”
“You don’t seem the type to come waltzing into a place with dead men all over, steal something, then step over your boyfriend’s body to make your getaway. I apologize for the images.”
“A cop who believes in innocence here in twenty-first-century Los Angeles?”
“I believe in nonguilt.” Hood smiled and Melissa did, too. “But someone did take the diamonds.”
“Really. Not a diamond was found at Miracle Auto Body.”
Melissa sat back. “Who?”
“It was someone who knew.”
“Barry talked a lot.”
“So did other people, Melissa. It’s the natural thing to talk. I need the name of every person you told. Every one. This is very important, maybe the most important thing you can do for me, and for Barry.”
Even through the makeup Hood saw her blush. She admitted telling some of the people she worked with, some of the women in her book group, some of the people in her AA group, some friends, her hairstylist, mother, father and an aunt, and a guy she happened to be sitting next to in a restaurant bar one night.
“You told them all?”
“Well, yes. I did. But not everything to everybody.”
“Who knew the most?”
Melissa thought, green eyes roving up. “Octavia, from work.”
“Did she know the time and place of the payoff?”
“Yeah, eventually. She asked me about things almost every day. You have to know Octavia to know what a sweet and absolutely harmless person she is.”
“Melissa, this is very important-who else knew the time and place of the payoff?”
Melissa thought, and Hood slipped a short stack of coffee napkins across to her, along with his extra pen.
“Oh, come on,” she said.
She shook her head and squared the napkins on her left, then picked up the pen with her left hand. “In order of who knew most?”
Hood found Octavia Dumont at Macy’s in the Sherman Oaks Galleria. She had even more beautiful skin than Melissa’s. She struck him as good-hearted but dim, and she freely admitted to telling the “Barry and His Diamonds” story to several people. The main ones were her boyfriend Derek and his roommate Frank. Octavia said Frank was in the market for an engagement ring, and when he heard about Barry’s situation with the gangsters he thought he smelled a deal. Frank managed the two Heavy Petal flower shops in L.A., but they weren’t making him exactly rich. So Frank was curious. He always wanted to know how it was going with the diamond broker. He asked lots of questions. Octavia figured he was looking for a way to buy a good rock on the cheap for his future wife.
• • •
Hood found Frank Short at the Heavy Petal on Wilshire. The shop was sunny and cool and smelled of blossoms. Frank was early twenties, tall and pale, with straight brown hair in a ponytail and a gold stud in his left ear.
Hood had him get an employee to work the front, then followed Frank to his office.
It was cramped and humid and smelled not of blossoms but of bleach. Frank spoke softly and without apparent emotion. He said he would have loved a distress sale on a good piece of ice, but mainly he was curious about Barry because it was such a cool story. Barry getting killed in the shoot-out seemed appropriate, Frank said.
“I never met him, though, you know?”
Hood nodded and watched the young man. Diffident people disturbed him.
Then there was a knock on the door and a young blond woman pushed through. She wore jeans and hiking boots and a sleeveless blue plaid blouse. Her arms were wiry and tanned.
“What,” she said, looking at Hood then Frank.
“Not a problem, Ronette,” said Frank. “You’re early today.”
“I’ve got some killer protea.”
“Uh, Ronette, meet Deputy Something-or-other. He’s interested in Barry.”
She was blue-eyed and freckled and didn’t smile.
“Ronette’s one of my suppliers. I should let her show me what she’s got. That’s all I know about the diamond guy.”
On his way to the Camaro, Hood noted the faded and slouching Growers West van parked at the deliveries curb outside the store.
He interviewed three more people on Melissa’s tell-list that day. One was a very talkative hairstylist, one was a girlfriend named DeVry, one was Melissa’s Aunt Shirl. He made notes as they talked, but nothing popped or contradicted what he knew or pointed in the direction of who might have used Melissa’s generous gossip to interrupt the diamond payoff from Barry to the Asian Boyz.
The next day he tracked down the other six, putting close to two hundred and fifty miles on his old IROC. In a traffic jam on the Hollywood Freeway the car began to overheat, so Hood pulled off and found a place to park and wait awhile for the radiator to cool before he put in some fresh fluid from the trunk.
He got more names, but each new possibility was further removed from Barry than even Frank, who had never met him. Hood sensed the degrees of separation widening with every interview, wondered if he was sniffing the wrong trail. Then he worried that he might have overlooked something obvious, or maybe seen something rough and ordinary on the outside but missed the gleaming diamond within.