In an alleyway in Los Angeles, an old man, clutching faded newspaper clippings and gasping his last words to a cop, lies dying of a gunshot wound. The victim claims to be P.I. Elvis Cole’s long-lost father—a stranger who has always haunted his son.
As a teenager, Cole searched desperately for his father. As a man, he faces the frightening possibility that this murder victim was himself a killer. Caught in limbo between a broken love affair and way too much publicity over his last case, Cole at first resists getting involved with this new case. Then it consumes him. Now a stranger’s terrifying secrets—and a hunt for his killer—give Cole a frightening glimpse into his own past. And he can’t tell if it’s forgiveness or a bullet that’s coming next. . . .
“Robert Crais is a crime writer of incredible talent—his novels are not only suspenseful and deeply atmospheric but very hard to put down.”—Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code
“A brutal but exhilarating climax.”—USA Today
About the Author
Hometown:Los Angeles, California
Date of Birth:June 20, 1953
Place of Birth:Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Education:B.S., Louisiana State University, 1976; Clarion Writers Workshop at Michigan State University
Read an Excerpt
They called me to view the body on a wet spring morning when darkness webbed my house. Some nights are like that; more now than before. Picture the World’s Greatest Detective, reluctant subject of sidebar articles in the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles magazine, stretched on his couch in a redwood A-frame overlooking the city, not really sleeping at 3:58 A.M. when the phone rang. I thought it was a reporter, but answered anyway.
“This is Detective Kelly Diaz with LAPD. I apologize about the time, but I’m trying to reach Elvis Cole.”
Her voice was coarse, reflecting the early hour. I pushed into a sitting position and cleared my throat. Police who call before sunrise have nothing to offer but bad news.
“How’d you get my number?”
I had changed my home number when the news stories broke, but reporters and cranks still called.
“One of the criminalists had it or got it, I’m not sure. Either way, I’m sorry for calling like this, but we have a homicide. We have reason to believe you know the deceased.”
Something sharp stabbed behind my eyes, and I swung my feet to the floor.
“Who is it?”
“We’d like you to come down here, see for yourself. We’re downtown near Twelfth and Hill Street. I can send a radio car if that would help.”
The house was dark. Sliding glass doors opened to a deck that jutted like a diving platform over the canyon behind my house. The lights on the opposite ridge were murky with the low clouds and mist. I cleared my throat again.
“Is it Joe Pike?”
“Pike’s your partner, right? The ex-cop with the sunglasses?”
“Yes. He has arrows tattooed on the outside of his delts. They’re red.”
She covered the phone, but I heard muffled voices. She was asking. My chest filled with a growing pressure, and I didn’t like that she had to ask because asking meant maybe it was.
“Is it Pike?”
“No, this isn’t Pike. This man has tattoos, but not like that. I’m sorry if I scared you that way. Listen, we can send a car.”
I closed my eyes, letting the pressure fade.
“I don’t know anything about it. What makes you think I know?”
“The victim said some things before he died. Come down and take a look. I’ll send a car.”
“Am I a suspect?”
“Nothing like that. We just want to see if you can help with the ID.”
“What was your name?”
“Okay, Diaz–it’s four in the morning, I haven’t slept in two months, and I’m not in the mood. If you think I know this guy, then you think I’m a suspect. Everyone who knows a homicide victim is a suspect until they’re cleared, so just tell me who you got and ask whatever it is you want to ask.”
“What it is, we have a deceased Anglo male we believe to be the victim of a robbery. They got his wallet, so I can’t give you a name. We’re hoping you can help with that part. Here, listen–”
“Why do you think I know him?”
She plowed on with the description as if I hadn’t spoken.
“Anglo male, dyed black hair thin on top, brown eyes, approximately seventy years but he could be older, I guess, and he has crucifix tattoos on both palms.”
“Why do you think I know him?”
“He has more tats of a religious nature on his arms–Jesus, the Virgin, things like that. None of this sounds familiar?”
“I don’t have any idea who you’re talking about.”
“What we have is a deceased male as I’ve described, one gunshot to the chest. By his appearance and location, he appears indigent, but we’re working on that. I’m the officer who found him. He was still conscious at that time and said things that suggested you would recognize his description.”
“Look, Cole, I’m not trying to be difficult. It would be better if–”
“What did he say?”
Diaz didn’t answer right away.
“He told me he was your father.”
I sat without moving in my dark house. I had started that night in bed, but ended on the couch, hoping the steady patter of rain would quiet my heart, but sleep had not come.
“Just like that, he told you he was my father.”
“I tried to get a statement, but all he said was something about you being his son, and then he passed. You’re the same Elvis Cole they wrote the stories about, aren’t you? In the Times?”
“He had the clippings. I figured you would recognize the tats if you knew him, me thinking he was your father, but it sounds like you don’t.”
My voice came out hoarse, and the catch embarrassed me.
“I never met my father. I don’t know anything about him, and as far as I know he doesn’t know me.”
“We want you to come take a look, Mr. Cole. We have a few questions.”
“I thought I wasn’t a suspect.”
“At this time, you aren’t, but we still have the questions. We sent a radio car. It should be pulling up just about now.”
Approaching headlights brightened my kitchen as she said it. I heard the car roll to a slow stop outside my house, and more light filled my front entry. They had radioed their status, and someone with Diaz had signaled their arrival.
“Okay, Diaz, tell them to shut their lights. No point in waking the neighbors.”
“The car is a courtesy, Mr. Cole. In case you were unable to drive after you saw him.”
“Sure. That’s why you kept offering the car like it was my choice even though it was already coming.”
“It’s still your choice. If you want to take your own car you can follow them. We just have a few questions.”
The glow outside vanished, and once more my home was in darkness.
“Okay, Diaz, I’m coming. Tell them to take it easy out there. I have to get dressed.
“Not a problem. We’ll see you in a few minutes.”
I put down the phone but still did not move. I had not moved in hours. Outside, a light rain fell as quietly as a whisper. I must have been waiting for Diaz to call. Why else would I have been awake that night and all the other nights except to wait like a lost child in the woods, a forgotten child waiting to be found?
After a while I dressed, then followed the radio car to see the dead.