L.A. ’56

An excerpt from the book:

Danny Galindo stands on the corner of East First St. and Alameda, not far from the downtown Police Administration Building. He glances up at the sign for the Christmas Hotel, which he just learned from talking to the guy is named for Leonard Christmas. Danny doesn’t know if that’s his real name.

Earlier that morning Christmas peered over room 329’s transom and saw the two bodies. On the bed, partially covered by a sheet, was Gijou T. David, three gaping gunshot wounds in his belly and chest. On the floor next to the bed was Wardell Holman, a hole in his right temple to match the .32 pistol lying near his open hand, his naked corpse blocking the door. The cops had to break through the window and move the body’s legs before opening the door. Danny got there just before the coroner and confirmed the powder burns on Holman’s hand and forehead, leaving murder-suicide as the only justifiable conclusion. Nothing else in the room suggests a third party, and the only thing that bothered Danny, confirmed with the coroner, was how long it took David to die. Judging by the amount of blood, his heart kept pumping a while, maybe hours, so what Danny wants to know now from Miss Cecil Lloyd, who lives in the next room, was what she heard and when.

“It was ‘bout seven-thirty,” she says. “They was arguin’.”

“About what?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know, or you won’t say.” He can see her hesitancy. She’s embarrassed. No need to press why.

She looks down. That’s her answer.

“All right, then what did you hear?” he asks.

“Gunshots,” she says.

“You’re sure? You know the sound of gunfire?”

Now she looks at him like this must be his first day off the bus.

“Yes sir, I do,” she says, a little disgust in her tone.

“Well then, Miss Lloyd,” Danny says, “if you’re familiar with what a gun sounds like, and you hear it at least four times, and then the voices that you’ve heard before suddenly stop, how come you never called the cops? Or anybody? If you had, one of those men might be alive.”

Now she’s got nothing to say. Neither does he.

He looks up one last time at the decaying Christmas Hotel sign and wonders if Christmas will ever be the same.

Copyright 2012 by Joel Engel. Reprinted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press.