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"The thing is, they moved the body, Lieutenant."
"What?" Decker strained to hear Oliver's voice over the unmarked's radio static. "Who's they?"
"Whoever's acting as the head honcho of the Order, I guess. Marge did manage to seal off the bedroom. That's where Jupiter was found--"
"Could you talk up, Scott?"
"--point being that the crime scene is screwed up, and the body has been messed with because of the shrine."
"Yeah. When we got here, the members were in the process of dressing him and constructing this shrine--"
"Where's the body now?"
"In a small anteroom off some kind of church--"
Temple, Decker heard a male voice enunciate from the background. "Someone with you, Detective?"
"Hold on, lemme..."
Decker tapped the steering wheel until Scott came back on the line. It took a while.
Oliver held his voice low. "I told them to stop messing with the corpse until you got here. Not being a trusting soul, I've been guarding the body with some self-appointed guru who calls himself Brother Pluto. I sent an officer in there to keep him company so we could talk more privately."
The electronic noise cracked through Decker's ear. He said, "You need to talk louder."
Oliver spoke up. "This Pluto person doesn't want the police here. He keeps insisting that the death was natural, waving this bogus death certificate to prove it, disregarding the empty fifth of Stoli underneath the bed. Which he claims wasn't Jupiter's because Jupiter didn't drink."
"Death certificate?" Decker said. "Has the coroner been there?"
"Nope. It was signed by a gent named Brother Nova."
"Got me, sir."
"Did you explain to them what we're doing is standard procedure in sudden deaths?"
"I've tried to explain it, but Pluto's not listening." A laugh. "I've been biting my tongue, refraining from asking him where Goofy was."
Decker smiled. Oliver was showing unusual discretion. "Did you tell him that we have to transport the body to the morgue for autopsy?"
"Been saving the good news for you. Because right now, Pluto and his toons are not happy campers, though I suspect they've never been a cheerful lot. Who called the death in?"
"Jupiter's daughter. Her name is Europa Ganz. She's on the faculty at Southwest University of Technology. Jupiter used to be a hotshot professor there years ago. His real name is Emil Euler Ganz. Apparently, the daughter's not associated with the Order."
"So how'd she find out about the death?"
A good question. "I don't know, Scott. The details are sketchy." He hesitated. "Find out about Ganz's death certificate. This Nova must be a member of the Order, right?"
"I'd assume so. Probably some kind of in-house doctor. But that doesn't qualify him to sign off on Jupiter."
True enough. Decker's finely tuned psycho-BS-detector was on max. He said, "The static is really bad. I'm having trouble hearing you. Just keep status quo until I get there."
"We're trying. But the parishioners are getting feisty. Is 'parishioners' the right word?"
It was fine with Decker although cult followers seemed more apropos. "Just try to keep everyone quiet."
"How far are you from the holy spot?"
"Four, five miles. Traffic's a little thick. I'll be there in about fifteen minutes."
"See you." Oliver clicked off.
The initial call had come through while Decker was still home, eating breakfast with his younger daughter, who was as skinny as the stick figures she drew. Hannah thought it was great fun to pick the raisins from her oatmeal, leaving behind the grainy mush. Decker was trying to spoon-feed her, attempting to get some nutrition down her gullet until Rina aptly pointed out that the child was five, and capable of feeding herself
He lived about twenty minutes by freeway from the station house, about thirty-five minutes from the crime scene. That was on good days, and today wasn't one of them. Decker ran his left hand through strands of ginger hair now streaked with white, and settled into the seat of the unmarked Buick. He guzzled strong coffee from a thermos. Across the passenger's seat was the front page of the Los Angeles Times.
Eight-oh-five and nothing was moving.
Inching his way up to the next off-ramp, he decided to exit and take Devonshire. The boulevard was one of the main east-west arteries through the San Fernando Valley, six lanes lined with strip malls, wholesalers and industrial warehouses. Going farther west, the street's industry gave way to residences--stucco ranch houses sitting on flat land that once held agricultural orchards--oranges, lemons, apricots. He and Rina had recently purchased a house in the area, intending to move in after a few minor renovations.
Which had turned (predictably) into a major overhaul.
He could have done the job himself if he hadn't been gainfully employed. So they bit the bullet, hiring subs while Rina acted as the contractor. One day, Decker had come to the property to find his wife precariously balanced on a ladder, pointing out to the roofer a defect near the chimney. Her skirt blew in the wind as she spoke animatedly, though Decker couldn't hear a word of the conversation. Apparently the roofer had run the hose over the top of the house for twenty minutes, proudly pronouncing the place water-tight. But Rina had been skeptical. She had run the hose for three hours, discovering a leak after two hours and twenty minutes.
(The first rain would have ruined the hardwood floors, Peter.)
Decker smiled, thinking about her image--that of his Orthodox Jewish wife perched on the highest rung of a tall ladder, one hand pointing out flaws while the other held down that hat she wore to cover her hair.