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Each novel in this compelling new series about Los Angeles cops will deal with a unique and fascinating Los Angeles milieu. In her first outing, Detective Sandra Cameron finds out that drawing cartoons can be deadly, especially when you are as orignial and unorthodox as cartoonist extraordinaire, Patrick Stewart. When the talented but deceased Mr. Stewart is found lying next to a note reading, "That's All, Folks," most people assume he committed suicide.
Detective Sandra Cameron and her colleague Detective Sergeant Tom Rigby suspect Mr. Parker met a much darker demise, one that included some unasked-for assistance. They are even more suspicious after a beautiful dead girl, another cartoon-industry insider, is found floating in her tub. The two cops decide to combine forces, and their relationship teeters on the somewhat fluid boundary between their professional and personal lives. Tom has just been betrayed by an ex-wife, and he is distressed by his feelings for Sandra. She, on the other hand, has her own very comfortable life. She has to ask herself whether romance on the job is ever a good idea--does she really need a man in her life?
What she has in her life is a cold-blooded murder, and as Tom and Sandra struggle with their personal demons, including the ongoing unsolved case involving Sandra's brother, a devilish killer is concocting some chilling scenarios.
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About the Author
Michael Joens has worked in virtually every level of the animation industry--animator, storyboard artist, character designer, director, and producer. He has also written several television scripts, animated shorts, and four previous novels. He is the co-owner of the Stillwater Production Company, a film studio where he has produced and directed numerous animated commercials for Hasbro, Milton Bradley, Kenner and Playskool, as well as many award-winning videos. He currently lives with his wife Cathy and family on a horse ranch in Agua Dulce, California.
Michael Joens is the author of several novels, including Blood Reins, the second in the Detective Sandra Cameron series. He has worked in the animation industry as writer, animator, storyboard artist, producer, and director, and through his studio, the Stillwater Production Company, has produced numerous animated commercials and award-winning videos. He lives on a horse ranch in Agua Dulce, California, where he and his wife, Cathy, breed quarter horses.
Read an Excerpt
An Animated Death in Burbank
By Michael Joens
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2004 Michael Joens
All rights reserved.
Burbank, California. Monday, 11:15 A.M.
Detective Sergeant Tom Rigby of the Burbank Police Department pushed through the crowd of curious onlookers and showed his badge to one of the officers guarding the crime scene. The officer glanced at the badge and nodded perfunctorily as he held out his arm to restrain an eager gawker, whose nose was lifted to the possible scent of death.
Tom slipped under the yellow cordon tape and greeted his partner, Detective Dan Bolt, who had come down from the house to meet him. They started up the walkway to the tile-and-stucco bungalow tucked into the slope of the San Gabriels off Glen Oaks Boulevard. A light midmorning breeze carried with it the pungent scent of the junipers that provided a tangled screen along the property lines. Tom hated the smell of junipers.
Dan tossed a handful of beer nuts into his mouth. "Where've you been?" he asked.
"Busy. Stenton been here yet?"
"What've we got?"
"Good morning to you, too, Tommy." Dan flipped through his notebook, crunching on the beer nuts, a practice that annoyed Tom, but then, he was already annoyed this morning. He had reason to be. Dan read, "' Parker Stewart. White, male.' Neighbors describe him as a Hollywood type ... throws wild parties. Quiet otherwise. Had a live-in for a while but she apparently moved out a couple of weeks ago."
"Any ID on the woman?"
"No. Wait'll you see this place, Tom. It's a regular Looney Tunes."
"Who called it in?"
"Latina woman. Didn't give a name. Made the call from a phone booth in Sunland at ... Let's see. ... Dispatch log puts it nine thirty-seven this morning." He tucked his notebook back into his coat pocket. "The FETs are dusting it. Probably got a million prints on it by now."
Tom looked at the house. "What do you make of it?"
"Suicide, likely. Twenty-five caliber through the noodle. Beretta Minx."
"Beretta Minx," Dan repeated. "Lady's gun. Right through the noodle."
"He was a doper, Tom. Found a dime bag of coke ... all the fixings."
Tom thought about it a moment ... took the score of front steps of the residence two at a time and entered the arched portico entrance of the small Spanish-style residence that probably dated back to the 1930s.
He paused in the foyer to sign in with the forensics officer. A sweep of his eyes took in the immediate surroundings: dining room and adjoining kitchen to his left; living room, hallway, and bedrooms off to his right. His eyes widened. The walls of the living room were covered with framed posters of cartoon characters, old heroes of the big screen like Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Pinocchio. A horizontal celluloid featuring the characters of Sleeping Beauty hung over the sofa against the west wall. The other three walls were covered by floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, two crowded with all manner of toys and cartoon action figures dating back, Tom guessed, to the late 1920s. The third wall of shelves was stacked with art books and comic books. It seemed he had entered the fantasy world of some child. He smelled death.
Dan huffed through the doorway and stood beside him. "I told you it was Looney Tunes, Tom. You ever see anything like it?"
Tom noted the near-chaos of field evidence technicians in white lab coats moving from room to room, bagging, tagging, dusting, vacuuming, snapping photographs. "Anybody think to get shots of the carpet for footprints?"
Dan shrugged. "Sure. Look at all this stuff." He fed himself another handful of beer nuts. One fell to the floor. He picked it up, wiped it on his coat, and popped it into his mouth with a grin. "Five-second rule."
Tom shook his head. "Where's the dead man?"
"In the back room. That way." Dan pointed to the right. "The coroner is with the body now."
Tom and Dan crossed the living room and went down a narrow hallway. Black-and-white photos covered the walls. Landscapes. They squeezed past a couple of white lab coats, exchanging nods of greeting, turned left into a spacious back bedroom, and paused just inside the door.
"Over there, Tom." They walked across the room.
The dead man was a twisted wreck on the floor beside a large, L-shaped computer desk in the far left corner of the room. Phil Carlton was hunched over the corpse, like some white-coated vulture picking over a recent find. Balding, blue eyes, five-tenish, slight of build — the coroner, not the dead man.
The dead man lay on his right side, belly swollen out beneath an old tie-dyed T-shirt — legs twisted in the base workings of a swivel chair — right arm stretched behind the back, palm upward, fingers curled clawlike, the left arm thrust forward, as if the corpse were attempting to swim the sidestroke.
"There's a Kodak moment for you," Dan said, munching another handful of beer nuts.
Tom's gaze went to the dried scab of blood at the left temple, saw where the blood had leaked out of the tiny bullet hole, collected in the eye socket and nose bridge. "What've we got, Phil?"
The coroner, just slipping a bag over the dead left hand, looked up from his work. "Hey, Tom. Whaddaya know?"
Tom nodded, repeated the question.
Carlton grinned. "What we have here is a dead man."
Tom didn't laugh.
"Oh, you want specifics? Sure, Tom." Carlton stopped what he was doing, began a clinical recitation. "Potassium chlorate residue on the victim's left hand. Powder burns and tattooing on the skin of the left temple. Hairs scorched around the entry wound ... "
Tom noted the diamond stud in the left earlobe, long red hair pulled back into a scraggly ponytail, as Carlton described in detail the probable route the bullet had taken into the brain.
"... Pistol discharged at a very close range. An inch or two, maybe. All in all, it's got the makings of a suicide, I'd guess. That's off the record, of course."
Tom found himself staring at the ample buttocks of the dead man, showing over the faded blue jeans. He looked at the grisly face, right cheek and nose pressed into the carpet, lips pulled back from clenched teeth in a feral snarl. The visible left eye, half-shut, stared dully at the desk leg. Lovely. "Suicide, huh?"
Carlton finished bagging the hand and secured it with a rubber band. "It's consistent with the evidence so far. There's the probable culprit," he said, indicating a tiny nickel-plated automatic, bagged, on the desk next to the computer. The magazine had been extracted and bagged separately. Likewise the spent casing. Sitting next to the Mickey Mouse telephone on the desk return, the gun looked like another toy.
"Got it marked there," Dan said, indicating the adhesive tape on the carpet, about a yard from the victim's left hand.
"Any ID on the piece?"
"No. Low serial numbers. Pre-'68."
Tom grunted. In the wake of the assassinations of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, the Gun Control Act of 1968 had been passed, legislation that forced gun store owners to keep tighter records of handgun sales. Prior to the Gun Act, records of serial numbers were sketchy at best, sometimes ignored altogether. A pre-'68 meant that they would, most likely, be unable to connect the serial numbers of the Beretta with the gun's original owner. Tom looked from the Beretta back to the dark scab of blood at the temple. "No exit wound, you say?"
"No," Carlton said. "Bullet might've fragmented inside the skull cavity. Maybe used a hollow-point." He chuckled. "Did the job, though."
It certainly had. Tom looked at the dead man's left hand, as if seeing it for the first time. "Southpaw, huh?"
"It appears so, Tom." Carlton was fitting a baggie over the dead man's bare right foot. Tom noticed the dirty toenails. "Got a pretty fair callus on the inside middle finger," Carlton went on. "Nothing on the right hand."
Tom jotted in his notebook that the victim had apparently fired the weapon with his left hand, flipped the page, and began a sketch of the body. He was a lousy artist, but then, he wasn't entering any contests — Draw Stiffy: Win an art scholarship! "Where was the Beretta?"
"I told you," Dan said, indicating the tape. "You had your coffee yet, Tommy?"
Tom ignored the remark. "Guesses on the time of death?"
The coroner shrugged. "From the amount of rigor — more than twelve hours, less than thirty-six. Yesterday sometime. Maybe late in the afternoon, early evening. We'll tie it down later."
Tom wrote in his notebook: Sunday afternoon. Late. March 31 — a date he'd remember for a long time.
"Got a cut on the inside lip," Carlton said, folding the lip back to better examine it. "Lower lip ... left side. Looks like his tooth made the cut."
"Somebody pop him?" Tom asked.
Carlton examined the outer lip. "Might've. Happened a couple of days ago, by the look of it."
Tom turned to his partner. "He leave a note?"
"Check it out." Dan nudged the computer mouse with the end of his ballpoint pen and brought the computer out of its sleep mode. Across the monitor screen, in 36-point Helvetica Bold, were the words: THAT'S ALL, FOLKS!
Funny man. Funny dead man. Tom grunted. Arrayed across the desktop was a Macintosh computer with a Sony monitor, an Epson printer, scanner, fax machine, and the Mickey Mouse telephone.
He glanced around the room, a close copy of the one he had just come from. Covering the walls were framed cartoon posters of Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Sylvester and Tweety, Batman, some Japanese robot monsters, a collage of others. Some were color prints; others were painted on celluloid sheets and mounted against painted backgrounds; others, old pencil drawings on paper, brown with age. More floor-to-ceiling bookshelves crammed with toys and cartoon action figures; more stacks of comic books. A gold Academy Award statuette stood on a little perch by itself. "I want those dusted."
"Already on it, Tom," Dan said.
An easy chair and lamp in the center of the room faced a 56-inch Panasonic high-definition television in the inside right corner as you came into the room. At the edge of a small, round coffee table in front of the chair was a 12- by 12-inch mirror, a dime bag of coke, opened, and a single-bladed razor. "Somebody taking care of that?" Tom asked.
"I'll get somebody on it," Dan said, and left the room.
"I'd like a toxicology report ASAP," Tom said to Carlton.
"You'll have it as soon as I have it."
Tom picked up a cellophane-encased piece of paper from the computer desk. On the paper was a pencil drawing of a heroic-looking rabbit in a spacesuit. At the bottom of the page were three holes: two ½-inch–long rectangular holes, one on either side of a circular one, about the size of a small pea. He noted the number 5 in the lower left-hand corner of the page, above it was what looked like a chart of some kind, drawn in pencil: a single vertical line cut by four horizontal lines. There were additional numbers beside the horizontal lines of the chart — the numbers 1, 3, and 5 ... 1 and 5 circled. Beneath the chart were the initials P.S. "What's this?"
"I think they found it in the scanner," Carlton said.
One of the FETs, a tall, rawboned man named Hal Peters, entered the room ahead of Dan. "It was flattened against the lid there when I opened it. Didn't see it at first. Vacuum suction held it, I guess. How're you doing, Tom?" he asked on his way over to the coke fixings.
Tom shrugged, lifted the scanner lid, a 14- by 20-inch rubber-lined surface, and looked at the drawing. He wasn't in the mood for chitchat. "Dead man was an artist of some kind, huh?"
"An animator," Dan said. "Check out the desk."
"I want the computer impounded," Tom said as he stepped over to the desk.
"You got it," Peters said.
The animator's desk was separated from the computer desk by a curtainless window open to the backyard. Late-morning light streamed into the room and threw a trapezoid of light over the dull blue carpet. Set into the desktop was a round, metal-framed disk, maybe two feet in diameter, with a rectangular piece of frosted glass, about 14-by-20, cut into the disk. A window. Adjustable metal bars, with white-painted calibration ticks on them, went across the top and bottom of the disk and framed the glass. There were ¼-inch–high metal pegs protruding from each bar, a round peg with horizontal pegs on either side.
"Animation disk," Dan said. "Animators draw on 'em — the glass part. A light turns on inside so you can see through your drawings."
Tom looked at him.
"My niece," Dan said. "She's taking classes at Cal Arts. She's pretty good, I hear. Must get it from my sister. I can't draw a straight line with a ruler."
Tom allowed a smile. Dan — a year his senior at thirty-four — had always reminded him of a load of stones piled up in a six foot heap. Today, a stone heap wearing an ill-fitting beige sports coat and dark brown trousers. Food stains on the paisley tie and pale yellow shirt. They had been partners on the force for three years; however, their friendship extended back to Burroughs High, where quarterback Rigby and offensive tackle Bolt had led the varsity squad to a division championship. Dan was solid, loyal. A wall of steel and guts between the enemy and himself.
"Pretty fancy rig, huh?" Dan said.
Tom followed his gaze to the desk. A stack of horizontal wood shelves, fourteen inches deep, a space of six inches between each shelf, ran about four feet over the middle section of the desk. They were empty, save a ream of blank hole-punched paper on the bottom shelf. A wooden tower, two feet high with swing-out trays, full of artist's tools, brushes, pencils, color markers, and erasers, stood to the left of the desk.
"That's a taboret," Dan said.
"Taboret, huh?" Tom had seen a setup like it at Disney World, when he and Carolyn visited her parents in Orlando, years ago. They had taken the animation tour, stood behind a glass window and watched animators at work on a Roger Rabbit cartoon. It had reminded him of a zoo, and he made a joke — "Animators in their habitat." Carolyn had laughed.
Tom looked out the bare window at the trees and shrubs on the hill that rose off the low brick retaining wall, beyond a swimming pool and spa. His mind made the calculation back over the weeks and days and finally the night they had made love on the boat. They had sailed to Catalina to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. It was one of those perfect Southern California nights, warm with just a hint of a cooling breeze that gently rocked the 42-foot sailboat against its moorings. Almost zero humidity. They'd eaten a meal of broiled red snapper and stir-fried vegetables and eased it down with a bottle of chilled Chablis. Then, as the lights an stars of Avalon danced a dwild choreography over the harbor, they recon-summated their vows, then slipped over the edge of the boat into the cool water for a midnight swim. Tom felt an ache deep in his chest. That was the night. Had to be.
"What's eating you, Tommy?"
Tom looked at Dan then down at the drawing in his hand, at the three holes at the bottom. "Nothing," he said quietly. He placed the drawing over the animator's disk. They aligned perfectly with the three metal pegs. "This the only drawing they found?"
"The only one by the computer," Dan said. "Are you gonna tell me, or do I have to guess?"
"What's this number here?" Tom said, indicating the number 5 at the bottom corner of the drawing.
"Drawing number five, I guess."
"No other drawings?"
"None by the computer. There are stacks in the file cabinet." Dan opened one of the wooden files to the right of the desk, again using his ballpoint pen. He extracted a manila folder of drawings with a handkerchief and handed it to Tom. "What'd she do now?"
Tom ignored him, thumbed through the drawings: a coiled cartoon snake, striking and biting a bear on the rear end, each drawing advancing the action toward the bite and the comedic reaction of the bear.
"Pretty funny," Dan chuckled. He smoothed a hand over his ample stomach then pointed. "See, there. ... Each of the drawings is numbered. Got to be some kind of animation sequence."
Each drawing was numbered like the one found in the scanner, and every few drawings there was the little chart of numbers off to the side. The initials P.S. were beneath each of the charts. Parker Stewart, Tom guessed. "No rabbits in space suits?"
Dan shrugged. "None in the file cabinet."
"We're finished with the preliminaries, Tom," Carlton said. "Anything you want to look at before we haul the body down to the icebox?"
Tom glanced at the dead man, the position of the body outlined with masking tape. Neat. Bullet hole through the noodle. That's all, folks! "No, you can have him, Phil."
Tom handed the folder back to his partner, took a single sheet of animation paper and went over to the scanner. He raised the lid and placed the paper flat on the glass surface, aligned the left edge and lower left corner against the edge of the scanner, then closed the lid. He waited a moment.
Excerpted from An Animated Death in Burbank by Michael Joens. Copyright © 2004 Michael Joens. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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