BY: TRISHA O’KEEFE
Los Angeles attorney, Alex Carreras, has it all—a position with a prestigious law firm, an engagement to the boss’s daughter, and a budding political career—until the night he stops to help a murdered girl in a battered Chevy van. Now he’s a suspect. The cops are saying he knew her. He didn’t, but, in order to clear his name, he must get to know the victim—and everyone she knew—very well.
Alex is clearly being set up, but by whom and for what reason? Most of the investigators on the case just want to close it and move on, but Detective Murray Schmitz believes there’s more to story than meets the eye. And she not only has the ability to track down the real killer, she has the desire. Both Alex and Murray want to find the truth, no matter the consequences. But while it can clear Alex’s name and cement Murray’s reputation in her department, it can also lead them both to the same end as the girl in the van…
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Poseidon’s Eye by Trisha O’Keefe, Alex Carreras is an attorney on the run. Falsely accused of a murder he didn’t commit, he decides he has a better chance of clearing his name if he is not in jail. One of the cops on the case, Murray Schmitz, isn’t convinced he’s guilty, and she decides to go undercover to see if she can both find Alex and prove his innocence or guilt, one way or the other. But the forces at work are more than either Alex or Murray is prepared to take on, and they will both be lucky to walk away with their lives.
A chilling mystery, filled with intriguing characters and numerous twists and turns, this one will be hard to put down.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Poseidon’s Eye is the story of racial prejudice, greed, and corruption. Alex Carreras is an LA attorney. A Hispanic, he doesn’t know that he is the token minority in his law firm and his engagement to the boss’s daughter is a sham. Until, that is, the night he stops to help an injured motorist on the highway. But the girl is beyond help, and Alex is soon charged with her murder. He knows it’s a setup, but to prove it, he has to stay out of jail. Most of the cops on the case are convinced they have their man, if they can just find him. But Detective Murray Schmitz isn’t so sure. Things just don’t add up for her, and she decides to go undercover for more information and evidence. But neither Alex or Murray is aware of just how high up this conspiracy goes, and how much is on the line. From bigots to terrorists, Alex and Murray dodge one danger after another, only to run into a worse one each time. It is hard to imagine how they can possibly get out alive.
O’Keefe tells a chilling tale, with a solid plot full of surprises. The story caught and held my interest from the very first paragraph. This one is a page turner and you won’t want to stop until you’ve read the very last one.
“What’s her name again?”
“Driver’s license says Shelby Turner,” Jonesy said around his toothpick. “Diamondback City. Age seventeen. Birthday November something. If you’re going to be a detective, Schmitz, you have to carry your file with you at all times.”
If you’re going to be a detective. If. Murray Schmitz took a breath, held it for a count of three, and exhaled without a trace of rancor. The jab was only the first of many she would have to take as the only female detective in the county. It went with the all-male territory she was invading. On the other hand, it had been a long day and her patience was running thin. “In that case, can I take a look at yours?”
Detective Jones was equally fast on the defensive. “I was off-duty at my three-year-old-daughter’s birthday party when I got called in. But they filled me in on the vitals.”
“I was in the middle of a drug bust when I got the call to come straight down here to the hospital.” As they headed down the long haul to the hospital’s temporary morgue, their voices echoed off the white tiled walls which always reminded her of the corridor between life and death described by the dying. Only in Kern County Hospital, the corridor smelled of formaldehyde. “Where, I was told, a senior officer would be there to assist me. I am, remember, still attached to the Juvenile Crime Division.”
“Just filling you in on standard op.” Excuses were wasted on Ronnie Jones. Taking the lead, he pushed open the outside door to the lab and went in, leaving it to swing back on her. Chivalry was a dusty word around Bakersfield. It matched the scenery. “I understand it’s a long learning curve, Detective. But it’s also Sunday at seven-thirty in the evening, and I should be home with my kid. Didn’t mean to get in your face.”
“No problem.” But it was definitely going to be if they had to work together any longer.
The hospital’s morgue technician clapped Detective Jones on the shoulder with a gloved hand. “Hey, Jonesy, what’s up? Two guesses it’s the DOA we just got in. Nothing else would bring you out on a Sunday night, am I right?”
Murray couldn’t imagine how anyone who worked in such a grim setting could be so cheerful. But Jones was equally breezy, as if the two of them were in a sports bar together having a beer.
“You got that right, Darrel. Hey, watch the meat mitts.” Jones faked a cringe at the sight of the tech’s gloved hand on his shoulder. “This is my good suit I got on. No telling what those gloves have been into or who they’ve been into.” The two men carried on the guy-thing until Jones remembered she was standing there. “Hey, meet Murray Schmitz from Juvie. Murray, meet Darrel the Barrel. Master of the Mmorgue, right hand man to Doctor Death.”
Murray corrected the introduction as she offered her hand. “It’s Detective Murray Schmitz. Murray to you.”
Jonesy traded conspiratorial grins with the lab tech whose nickname was an obvious reference to his significant paunch. “Sorry, Detective Schmitz. Can we take a look at the girl? You up for that, Schmitz?”
“I am if you are.” At first, Murray’s annoyance with Jones superseded the impact of seeing the girl. In the course of four years as a detective, she had seen many dead people. This one was one too many. Drug wars casualties, teen suicides, robbery victims–stabbed, shot, strangled, bludgeoned. None of them were easy to look at, but some were harder to mourn than others. This one, lying in her chilled innocence, brought sudden tears to Murray’s eyes which she tried to hide from the two men.
The girl in her icy tomb was as indifferent to life as a stone effigy. The only indications of violence were two shaved areas on her left temple, daubed with red disinfectant. Murray steeled herself for what might lie beneath the sheet pulled down to her waist. That was the worst part for her, having to remain standing through discussions of sexual crimes.
Murray found herself standing with clenched fists, wanting to wring somebody’s neck. Her stiffened posture didn’t go unnoticed. Clearing his throat ceremoniously, Darrel began the initial exam. “Shot twice at close range with small caliber pistol.” His tone as blank as the concrete walls, he went on pointing at the girl’s body with a ballpoint pen as if she were a lab specimen. “Silencer. No powder burns. Wounds just above right ear and temple. Didn’t see any other signs of violence on the body, but the medical examiner hasn’t seen her yet. Doesn’t look like a sexual assault, though. Clothes were intact. Cause of death pretty clear.”
Something like writing on a concrete wall flickered across Murray’s mind. “Did she die instantly?”
Darrel shrugged. “Maybe. If not, she was brain-dead. One shot entered the frontal lobe. The other shattered the cerebral cortex.”
“So she wouldn’t have been able to grasp anything?” The two men regarded her as if she had made a bad joke. “Just something’s in the suspect’s statement about holding a handkerchief in her hand. And the fingers of her left hand are curled. So she must have been holding something when rigor mortis set in, am I right?”
Darrel was the kinder of the two. “Oh, yeah, I remember now. I already put it in the bag with her other personal effects. Some kind of linen thing you don’t see any more. Embroidered hanky. I’d show it to you, but CSI don’t like anybody touching evidence until they check for fibers and prints and stuff.” He started to proceed, but Murray was at it again.
“You said embroidered? What with?”
“Initials. I’ve forgotten what.” Darrel was just plain annoyed now and Detective Jones was doing a bad job of being indulgent.
“Is this relevant, Detective?” Jonesy said, sending all kinds of back-off signals with his eyes. “I mean, he just said CSI hasn’t looked at the stuff yet. And we need to get on upstairs to meet the parents.”
What they didn’t know was Murray hadn’t gotten where she was without persistence. “Just asking,” she said. “Linen hankies are kind of…” She shrugged. “…I don’t know, obsolete in the age of disposable tissues.”
Cornered, the tech threw her a crumb of information. “The blood had soaked through them, but they were something like AC something. I’ve got it written down.” He consulted a clipboard. “That’s right. AAC. Anyway, like I said, CSI will take a look and give you a better picture.” After a heavy sigh, indicating their welcome was wearing thin, Darrel the Barrel went on. “There were some other personal effects, like a friendship ring on her left hand, engraved on the inside. Birthstone ring, right hand. Small tattoo of a winged heart on right shoulder blade, and ears pierced with nice little diamonds.”
“So, was she right-handed or left-handed? Can you tell?”
“Right-handed. I’ll bet you anything, right-handed.”
“Why? How do you know?” She beat Jones to the question.
Darrel was on a roll now. “The pretty birthstone ring was on her right hand. Probably a gift from her parents or grandma. And there’s a faint ballpoint pen mark on her right thumb where she had been writing earlier in the day. And the bottom of the right thumb and forefinger are slightly calloused where she gripped her pen.”
Jonesy looked restless. “Any questions, Schmitzy?” His eyes said get this over with fast.
“Just one. Can I see her hands?”
Darrel had to pull down the sheet to let her look. The girl was naked and Jonesy glanced away.
Murray touched the girl’s cold fingers. They were calloused, especially the right ones. Left hand was smoother. Was she a migrant’s daughter that she worked with her hands? “You didn’t find anything else on the body? Which hand was she holding the handkerchief in? The left or the right?”
Darrel gave an offended look and consulted his chart. “The left.”
“But the first bullet killed her instantly, you said. So how could she be holding a hanky with her own blood on it in her left hand?”
Darrel shrugged. “That’s for you to find out, I guess. Maybe the killer put it there for some weird reason. I’ve seen weirder things.”
The buzzer on Darrel’s cluttered desk rang, causing the two detectives to jump nervously. Darrel glanced back at the flashing light. “That’s reception. Time to bring the parents down.”
“I want a piece of this guy when we get him,” Jonesy said as they waited for the elevator. “A big piece. Anybody who’d kill Miss Angel Wings back there’s got it coming. And more.”
It took a moment to sink in. “That’s Duncan’s job. I’m with Juvie and I’ve got a bunch of teenagers about to pick up five kilos of crack down in the Valley.”
Detective Jones suppressed a smile. “According to her driver’s license, Miss Turner wouldn’t have been eighteen until November, remember? Don’t worry, Officer Duncan’s going to be there and let him do the talking, okay? He does this stuff for a living as a funeral director on the side. You just offer support, stuff like that. Don’t say anything about what you think happened, don’t ask no questions, got it? Duncan’s the master at this. This is for training purposes only.”
His condescending tone drew fire. “It’s not like I’m a rookie, Detective. I know what to do. I’ve earned my stripes just like everybody else.”
It didn’t pay to get smart with Detective Sergeant Jones. His six-foot-four-inch-something frame straightened to an even six-five. “Then tell you what, Detective Schmitz. We’ll just let you handle this whole thing by yourself, how’s that?” He signaled to the technician to close the drawer and Sleeping Beauty slid away into the darkness. “Let’s go.”
Jonesy’s footsteps across the tiled floor were beating a final tattoo, but Murray couldn’t just leave without a goodbye. She stood before the wall of steel vaults and addressed the one labeled Turner, S.
“I’m going to find out who did this, honey,” she whispered. “Whoever they are, they’re going to pay.” The cold room magnified the echoes of rage in her soft voice meant only for the girl and her.
At the sink, Darrell pretended not to hear as he washed up. But as she followed Jones to the door, he said, “Keep that fire in your heart, Detective. But know you’ve got to be cool to catch a killer. They have hearts as cold as the bodies they leave behind them. Good hunting.”
Outside in the hall, Jones gave her a hard look, the kind that said you weren’t coming up to the mark. “You okay, Schmitz? Look, I know homicides are tough but–”
“Any suspects?” Murray cut him off, all business now. Utter determination took the rose out of her tan skin, leaving her golden from her hair to long legs in her khaki shorts. With her blonde ponytail pulled through her Kern County Law cap, she didn’t look long out of high school herself.
“One.” Jones pressed the elevator button, watching the down arrow as if it would rescue him from further situations in which he said the wrong thing. “Some LA lawyer. His stuff’s all over the scene. Claims he just stopped for directions to a gas station and found the girl dead. Says somebody in a car like his drove away just as he got to the murder scene. Even I could think of a better story than that. Guy must be strung out on coke. Only LA lawyers can afford it nowadays.” His cell phone rang, relieving him of having to be jovial.
“They’re here,” he said, after a two-word conversation. “Duncan’s on his way. Been bowling or something. You’re on your own until he gets here. Remember what I said. You don’t know anything. Just listen. They’re up in the Visitor’s Lounge, first floor.”
“You’re leaving?” It dawned on her she would be alone with these stricken people. “Can’t you just wait until Duncan gets here?”
Jonesy’s glance softened. “Why do I get the feeling you can handle this, Schmitz? And I’m sorry if I put you down earlier this evening. You realize one of us minorities has got to get the edge. And being all male, it’s my duty to my gender to be alpha dog.”
He found out the cool blonde looked even prettier just before she cut you off at the knees. “Great. Have a good evening, Leader of the Pack. Remember, the pack always follows the bitch.” While he was thinking of a reply, the elevator came.
The Turners were easy to spot in the crowded Visitors’ Lounge. Other visitors were chatting or watching the blah television show with canned laughter. The girl’s parents clung to each other like people in a windstorm. The man encircled the small, slender woman with an arm as strong as a tree branch. Parents were written all over them. “Mr. and Mrs. Turner?”
Turning in tandem, they faced Murray as if she were commanding a firing squad. “Yes, that’s us. How’s Shelby doing? Is she all right?”
Their eyes pleaded, begged her for good news, anything to relieve three hours of hell. And, like a dry well, she had nothing to give them. She had worked in Juvenile Crime for four years, first as a beat cop and recently, as a detective. Her own youth and gentle beauty had only earned her the unenviable task of giving parents the terrible news of their child’s death.
But Murray had never mastered the words to assuage grief. Maybe because there just weren’t any. Everything she thought of saying echoed with the platitudes of sympathy cards.
“Let’s talk over here in this room. It’s a little more private.” She gestured toward a small alcove doubling as a chapel with a couple of candles flanking a cross. They followed her, still clinging together like drowning people.
As she led the way into the claustrophobic room, Murray silently begged Duncan to show up with all the right words. But deep down, she knew he wouldn’t. They had assigned her this task because it was the one law enforcement hated most: to admit to a family that, with all their training and weapons, they had failed to stop a criminal from taking a loved one from them.
She stalled as long as she could, waiting for help to arrive, but there was no putting off Mr. Turner. A weathered, wiry version of Ronald Reagan, he took aim with a question. “Is our daughter dead or alive? We need to know.”
Murray swallowed. “She’s passed, I’m afraid.” She used the colloquial form of the word for dying, bridging the gap between legaleeze and the language of the people.
Mrs. Turner shriveled down into a pew, but he stood tall and straight as a mountain pine, refusing to crack in a storm. “Did she suffer any?”
Softening the truth, she replied, “No, sir. I believe it was instantaneous. Death, I mean.” As if they didn’t realize all their fears had been validated.
“Mind telling us how it happened?” His gaze was relentless, trying to relive his child’s last moments with her.
She ran out of the right words then. “Mr. Turner, I–I’m waiting for another officer, and I shouldn’t–”
But their eyes, leaking wounded souls, wouldn’t let her beg rank. “Young lady, if you were us, you’d want to know, now wouldn’t you? Please.”
Murray nodded. “She was shot, point blank. Twice in the head.”
“My God! By who? Who shot her?”
She knew now how interrogated prisoners felt. Trapped by barbed questions. Stepping over land mines. Dodging bullets.
“We’re still investigating. She was found in her car–van, as if she had just pulled over for some reason. She had two dogs with her. Shepherds.” Murray, in turn, pleaded to be let off the hook. “They were scared, but okay.”
Mrs. Turner raised her tear-streaked face, and Murray was struck by how much she resembled her daughter.
“Rusty and Dustybutt. We’ll take them home.”
“They’re at the animal shelter, just for the night. We thought it was the best place, considering.”
“May we see her?” Here it came–the worst-case scenario, having to see a wounded child who was beyond their help, beyond their words of comfort.
Murray tried to stall them. “I have to wait for my superior, Detective Duncan. He does all the paperwork.”
“Please.” It wasn’t the word, it was the look in Mrs. Turner’s eyes. Like that of someone clinging to a cliff, begging to be rescued. “It isn’t a question of paperwork. We just want to see our daughter. To tell her goodbye.”
To hell with the regulations if they’re going to leave me alone in this. “Are you sure? I mean, she looks as if nothing happened, but–”
“No matter what, we just want to say good-bye to our daughter, Shelby. Please.” They were a tribunal of two. Regardless of what Detective Hansen said, they were judge and jury of the moment.
Asking them to wait, Murray went out into the hall and called Jonesy, getting his voice mail. Then she called Headquarters and asked them to find Duncan ASAP. No one returned her call.
Returning to the chapel where the parents sat like stone effigies, regarding nothing, she said, “Come with me, please.” By this time, she didn’t care if she would end up teaching CPR and First Aid for a living.
Darrel the Barrel had gone for the night and the night duty pathologist was in the lab, a young resident who knew as little about procedure as she did. They all went to the holding room where he did a text book job of being objective and technically proficient which was a little much for the lady, but Mr. Turner listened, nodding occasionally. He’d been a soldier, he said, and he could take it. What he didn’t say was that listening to how his child had died was slowly killing him. When it was over, the parents kissed their daughter’s marble face and Mrs. Turner prayed over the body, wrapping a crucifix through the lifeless fingers. The coroner would remove it later and Murray would have to explain how it got there, but she couldn’t have cared less. Saying goodbye was the first step in letting go.
At that point, Duncan arrived and took over, giving her occasional dirty looks. But as she was leaving, the Turners hugged her as if they, through tragedy, had become a family. “You’ll come to the funeral, won’t you?”
She said sure, just give her a call, and surprised herself because she meant it. As they stood in a triangle, holding each other’s hands as if they were in free fall, Murray blurted something she rarely mentioned to anyone, let alone strangers. “I just want you to know, I can relate to what you’re going through. And will go through. My father was a policeman who died the same way your daughter did. His killer’s in prison and your daughter’s will be, too. I won’t give up until I get him.”
“Then I will pray you stay safe.” Mrs. Turner dropped her hand and hugged the tall officer again. “Vaya con Dios, darling,” she whispered.
As she stepped into the fresh spring night outside the hospital, Murray wondered when the turning point came when you didn’t take it home with you.
That evening she put in a load of wash, heated up her TV dinner, and sat cross-legged in front of the TV. A person who rarely did fewer than two things at once, Murray combined eating, folding laundry and drying her hair while watching the evening news.
The news came and went without mention of Shelby Turner. Another roadside murder of a young girl was too common an occurrence to merit expensive air time, it seemed.
But this case differed from the all-too-frequent murders of young California women. There was the style, for one thing. The Turner girl was killed with two shots at close range. No signs of violence to the body. No sign of robbery. It was more like an execution by a paid-killer. Detached. Quick and clean. Efficient.
Except for the oddity of a handkerchief in her left hand, monogrammed with the initials AAC. Apparently, they matched those of the LA lawyer with the fancy Malibu address. Some Hispanic guy who claimed he’d never seen the Turner girl in his life. So if he shot her, why was he still standing there?
Her TV dinner tasted like toasted paper, but she ate it anyway, flanked by stacks of folded laundry. Feeling ignored, the cat brushed her legs and was still ignored. Finally, it jumped into her lap. Detective Murray Schmitz had fallen asleep, still searching for answers across the dreamscape while the cat finished her dinner.
© by Trisha O’Keefe