A man walks into a trendy Los Angeles restaurant -- a disgruntled ex-employee with an automatic weapon -- and seconds later, thirteen people are dead and thirty-two more have been wounded. It is a heinous act of mass slaughter that haunts Homicide Detective Peter Decker.
But, though eyewitnesses saw only the lone gunman -- who apparently took his own life after his bloody work was done -- evidence suggests more than one weapon was fired. It is a disturbing inconsistency that sends Decker racing headlong into a sordid, labyrinthine world of Southern California money and power, on an investigation that threatens to destroy his reputation and his career.
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May 01, 1998
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Excerpt from Serpent's Tooth by Faye Kellerman
Nobody noticed him.
Not Wendy Culligan, who was too busy pitching million-dollar condos to a half-dozen Japanese businessmen more interested in her rear than in residences. Still, she patiently went about her spiel, talking about in-house services, drop-dead views, revolving mortgages, and great resale values.
Leaning over the table, showing a touch of cleavage while spearing a jumbo shrimp off the seafood appetizer plate. Along with the prawns were oysters, abalone, gravlax, and raw sea-urchin sashimi, the last item a big hit with the Asians -- something about making them potent.
Men -- regardless of race, creed, or color -- thought only about sex. And here she was, trying to earn an honest buck while they popped squiggly things into their mouths, washing the tidbits down with sake as they licked their lips suggestively.
What's a poor working girl to do?
Inwardly, Wendy acknowledged that Brenda, her boss, had been generous in arranging the dinner at Estelle's. The restaurant was exquisite -- all silver and crystal and candlelight. Antique mahogany buffets and chests rested against walls lined with elegant sky-blue Oriental silk screens. Exotic flower arrangements adorned every table -- giant lilies, imported orchids, and twotone roses. A hint of perfume, but never overwhelming. The chairs were not only upholstered in silky fabric but comfortable as well. Even the bar area was posh -- plush stools, smoked mirrors, and rich walnut panels, all tastefully illuminated with Tivoli lights.
She felt as if she were dining in a palace, wondered why the rich ever had any problems. So what if they came with baggage -- their scheming mistresses and lovers, their tawdry secrets and perverted kinks, their whining children and mooching relatives. Wendy could have withstood the pain, just so long as those big bucks kept rolling in.
Transfixed by the splendid surroundings, so intent on doing her job -- getting a fat and much-needed commission -- Wendy didn't blink an eye when the young man with the green sport coat walked through the door, eyeing the room with coldness and calculation.
Neither did Linda or Ray Garrison.
At last, Ray was enjoying a little solitude with his wife of thirty-five years. Recalling the anniversary party that their daughter, Jeanine, had thrown for them even if she had thrown it with his money. At least it had gone well. Jeanine was one hell of an organizer. The guests had remarked what a wonderful party it was, what magnificent parents he and Linda must have been to have raised two such devoted children...politely including David in the same category as Jeanine. No one had dared to hint at his son's recent jail term.
An elegant affair. But Ray knew it had been just as much for Jeanine as it had been for Linda and him. Lots of her "club" friends -- people Ray barely knew -- had come along for the ride.
Still, it had been fun. And David had behaved himself. At last, the boy finally seemed to be moving in the right direction, was using his God-given talents. Ray would have disinherited him years ago, but it had been Linda's soft heart that had kept the avenues of communication open.
Linda. Soft, beautiful, generous, and solid, his backbone for three and a half decades. At times, he was aware of the age in her face, the webbing around the comers of her eyes and mouth, the gentle drop of her jaw and cheeks. But Linda's imperfections, completely absent in her youth, only served to increase his desire for her.
He loved her with all his heart. And he knew that she returned the sentiment. At times, their closeness seemed to exclude everyone else, including their children. Maybe that was why David had grown up so resentful. But more than likely, their love for one another had nothing to do with their son's problems. Weak-willed and cursed with talent and charm, Dave had drifted into a Bohemian life at an early age.
But why think about that now? Ray reprimanded himself. Why think about Jeanine -- her spending habits, her high-strung hysteria, and her fits of temper when she didn't get what she wanted? Why think about David's repeated stabs at rehab? Concentrate on the moment...on your lovely wife.
Ray took his own advice and reserved his remaining attention for Linda. Although his eyes did sweep over the young, grave-faced man in the green jacket, holding a drink, they failed to take him in.
Even if Walter Skinner had noticed the odd man, he wouldn't give the punk the time of day. At this stage in his life, Walter had no patience for youngsters, no patience for anyone. He had worked in Hollywood for over fifty years, had earned himself a fat bank account and a modicum of recognition and respect. He wanted what he wanted when he wanted it with no questions asked. If you didn't like it, you could take a long walk to China.