Tame

an excerpt



Chapter 1



Officer Cavan Carmichael had had a weird day. Having just transferred from Oregon to California to help take care of his ailing mother, his first full day working for the West Los Angeles Community Police division had been a mixture of blessings.

His division, which covered the tony areas of Bel Air, Benedict Canyon, Beverlywood, Pacific Palisades, Rancho Park and Rustic Canyon among others, had achieved a record of only three crimes in six days. One was a burglary in Pacific Palisades, the other two were traffic accidents on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Though the division's superior officers were thrilled, they were reluctant to promote this news for fear of street-cruising gangs making their way out west where people had money and the criminal competition was nonexistent. East LA's crime statistics were staggering. Anybody could crime-map Los Angeles online and see the latest reports, but why encourage intruders?

No. The West Los Angeles Community Police division chiefs liked things the way they were. Nice and quiet.

It was a little after eight on a surprisingly warm October night. Cavan had been warned LA could be warm right up until Thanksgiving. He gazed out of the window at the passing parade of celebrity houses on Sunset Boulevard. Halloween was a few days away and he was stunned at the amount of money some of these rich homeowners had spent on their lawn decor. Each house seemingly tried to outdo the other with flying witches, hanging skeletons that had glowing, beating hearts... He'd never known a balmy Halloween week, but then he'd spent the last few years in Klamath Falls, the dying heart of Oregon's timber industry and he knew the weather everywhere was changing. Maybe this was typical California weather now. It was usually cool and wet there and crimes were infrequent and of the "heated argument over borrowed sanding tools" variety.

Cavan and his partner, Ben Ortega, had finished their twelve-hour shift and were on their way back to the precinct on Butler Avenue. All afternoon, they'd fantasized about the meal they'd grab together. All-night diners still existed in Los Angeles and Ben promised Cavan he'd take him to the best.

After completing two weeks of Los Angeles code, weapons and violations training, Cavan had been paired up with Ben and they'd hit it off straight away. They both had moms who'd raised them alone. Cavan was thirty, Ben twenty-eight. They both liked burgers, beers...but deviated over "broads," as Ben called them. Not that Cavan was likely to tell his new partner that he was gay, but newly separated Ben seemed to want a buddy to hang out with as he hit the ground running from one bar to the next. He was a good-looking guy of mixed heritage. His dark looks and even temperament made him a pleasure to be around. Cavan had inherited his mom's brown eyes, athletic build, and, unfortunately, premature grayness.

"We could chase chicks. Hey, it would be great if we met twins," Ben said.

Ugh. That sounded...disgusting. "Not tonight. I'm pretty wiped out. A burger would be great, though."

"That's cool, Cavan." Ben had finally pronounced it right. After wanting to call him Cave-un, he'd finally gotten that it was pronounced like Kevin. Cavan was the Irish version of the name.

They were on their way to eat when they received a last-second report of animal abuse.

"Damn." Ben slapped the dash. "And I was so looking forward to getting that burger. I could almost taste the fries."

Cavan laughed. Ben was driving, which was a good thing. It had given Cavan a chance to absorb his surroundings. Ben pulled over, keying in the details on the computer monitor wedged between them on the dashboard. The dispatcher's voice sounded distorted and Ben had to ask her to repeat herself. Cavan meanwhile, glanced outside at a lawn display featuring pumpkins and goblins, a gigantic vampire whose wings electronically flapped every few seconds and a sign that popped of a fake grave saying, Boo!

"Okay, got it." Ben told dispatch they were on their way and turned the car around. Cavan squinted at the screen.

"Pacific Palisades. Huh. Is it the same address where the break-in happened on Saturday?"

Ben flicked him a glance. "Yeah. Weird, huh?"

Cavan didn't think so. "It's an animal abuse case? Do we get a lot of those?"

"No, but this guy's called three times and said he witnessed his neighbor abusing his dog about an hour ago and the dog yelped and cried. He thinks this time he's killed it."

Jesus.

They were both silent as they used the lights to cut across a very slow set of lights on the corner of Sunset and Mandeville Canyon. Cavan had already learned sirens were not used in West LA except for extreme emergencies.

"I don't care how bad your day gets," Ben said, "your animals should be a comfort, not a fucking tool for revenge."

"Right with you on that one." Cavan loved animals. As they turned left on Marinette Road, he was astonished when veered toward the mountains off Sunset Boulevard and plunged into a decadent, lush, tree-lined street. He saw a sign indicating they were near the entrance of Will Rogers State Park. That explained the exotic arbors lining the entire road. As the Los Angeles county-issue Ford Crown Victoria police car drove farther up the hill, Cavan marveled at the scenery. He felt as if he'd stepped into an incongruous wilderness bang-slap in the middle of the city. He had to peer through the clusters of trees to even see a single house.

"Wow, this is something else. I suppose this is how the other half lives." The neighborhood dripped the kind of silence and serenity only money could buy in a city like Los Angeles. Cavan checked the computer monitor's GPS tracking system. They were close. It was hard to find a street number on any of the houses hidden from view, but the vehicle's side mirror searchlights finally picked out the digits painted on the curb.

"Do you want to check in with the neighbor first?" he asked.

"We could. I'd like him to show us where he saw the abuse take place, tell us what he knows. Since he's called so many times but if it's as bad as he says it is, maybe we shouldn't wait."

Cavan waited for Ben to decide. "I'll call the neighbor." Ben pulled out his cell, made the call, but got no response. When they waded through a couple of feet of eucalyptus trees and approached the house of alleged abuse, they could see lights on inside and hear a dog barking.

Motion sensor lights flicked on, flooding the area around them with light so bright it seemed like daytime.

"That kills that idea of going next door," Ben said. "Guy knows we're here already."

The house had a rustic ranch-style to it, but with expensive-looking light fixtures and a BMW in the driveway. Ben knocked on the door, his knuckles still on the wood panel when it opened.

A middle-aged man, looking as if he'd been woken from a nap, peered out at them from a two-inch wedge. Cavan saw the glow of a TV illuminating the man's halo of disheveled hair.

"Sir, may we come in? I'm Officer Ortega. This is Officer Carmichael. We've had a report of animal abuse."

The man looked stunned. "Animal abuse? Who from?"

"I'm not at liberty to say, sir. May we come in?"

"Probably that asshole next door. He really needs to get a life." The man jerked his thumb to the reporting neighbor's house.

"Sir, may we come in, please?" Ben asked a third time.

The man held the door open about an inch. Cavan heard a dog growling.

"Buster, quit it," the man yelled. The dog started barking.

"You can tell he's real obedient." The man gave an apologetic half smile as he opened the door wider. "But as you can see, he's healthy as an ox."

Buster was an overweight basset hound who rushed Cavan and Ben with licks and frantic pawing.

"What is your name, sir?" Ben pulled out his report book. His tone was frosty. He was bad cop, Cavan was good cop. He bent to pat the dog's head.

"Luke Masterson. Are you writing that down? Why?"

"I have to file a report. How many animals do you have here, sir?"

Cavan straightened and took in the man's T-shirt. The breast pocket read, Parr Lumber: Go where the Builders Go!

Luke Masterson showed them around. He wore jeans that were either really old or expensive new ones made to look that way. His flyaway gray hair was thinning on top and scraped together in back into a scraggly ponytail. He shoved his feet into loafers and he introduced them to another, smaller dog that sat on the sofa and thumped his tail happily. He seemed fine, too.

The house was overfilled with movie memorabilia, DVDs, videos. The rooms were simply stuffed. Cavan noticed every type of horror movie stacked floor to ceiling on one wall. He shuddered when he saw the title I Spit on Your Grave. Cavan had never been able to watch horror movies after his older brother made him sit through The Exorcist when he was nine. He'd never gotten over the experience.

He and Ben went through every room, one of which was entirely devoted to werewolf movies and memorabilia.

"You ever been to Comic-Con?" Luke Masterson asked. "I met the makeup artist Rick Baker. He did all the special effects makeup on An American Werewolf in London. He transformed movie makeup with this film. He said the whole process took sixteen hours a day and that the actor David Naughton had to have all his meals blended so he could drink them through straws. He could hardly move his mouth with his wolf fangs." Masterson's nose seemed to twitch in excitement. "Rick admitted that the scenes where David transformed into the werewolf were sometimes painful. He said he tried his best to make the werewolf's limbs comfortable..."

He moved right in front of Cavan for a moment, so close, Cavan detected a familiar and very pleasant smell—sawdust.

"I bought all these signed behind-the-scenes from him." Masterson pointed to a series of framed photos on the wall. "I think his werewolves are great. I love his gorillas, too. Oh, and my pride and joy is my Dracula room."

Masterson kept up a nonstop patter about loving "creature features" and his animals. His bedroom bore a huge painting of Frankenstein over the bed. It was creepy. Really creepy. Cavan must have telegraphed his revulsion, in spite of saying nothing and trying to process the house like a professional.

"What can I say?" Masterson asked, cuddling one of his dogs. "I simply adore monsters."

There were four dogs in all and they all seemed in good shape.

"Rescued all of them. This one here is called Roo. He's a Jack Russell terrier, but I always say he's part kangaroo." The little dog sprang five feet into the air to lick the police officers' chins. He kept bouncing. The guy wasn't kidding. He picked up the dog on the sixth bounce.

"Do you have any outside pets?" Ben asked.

"Absolutely not. We get coyotes in this part of town and nighttime. Why that'd be like ringing a dinner bell. I like blood, officers, but only in the movies."

"Mind if we look?" Ben asked. "Then we'll be on our way."

Masterson looked as if he did mind them going outside, but he undid the many locks on the door and opened it. Buster bounded out, but returned on command.

Ben walked down the few short steps to the grass, walked outside and looked around. There was a jungle-like feel to the trees towering across the property's borderline and the plethora of plants everywhere. Cavan and Ben walked around. It wasn't easy with so little light.

They took their flashlights off their tool belts. Cavan took in the gigantic plants along the right side, some of which were in plastic pots.

"Are there outside lights?" Ben asked.

Masterson put all the dogs inside and flipped on a light over the door. The bulb didn't illuminate much. The yard appeared small, but it was hard to see in the dark. Masterson came back out and closed the door behind him. He stood on the top step as Cavan joined Ben, who could see the neighbor's house to his left. The kitchen had a clear view of the backyard in spite of the high fence and a lot of foliage from a long trail of bougainvillea topping it.

Ben asked Masterson to open his garage.

"There's nothing in there," he grumbled, but he went inside and got his keys.

"He's been building," Cavan said, keeping his voice low. "I smelled sawdust. He's got traces of it in his hair and on his shoulder. And that T-shirt. I know that lumber company. It's from Klamath Falls, in Oregon."

Ben nodded.

Masterson came outside and unlocked the garage. He yanked a long cord above him and fluorescent lights flickered to life. The garage was filled with even more videos in bookshelves lining the walls. Some building materials stood in boxes. Ben looked at Cavan, who had detected a whiff of something else.

Blood.

Under the canopy of a dark, starless night, Cavan stepped into the backyard. He could hardly see, but he kept up a sweeping arc of the flashlight.

He could hear Ben talking to the man now. Cavan concentrated. He had figured out the plants looked jumbled together but the farther he walked, the more they created a small, narrow path to the back of the property. Something made him swing his flashlight to the left. He almost missed it, except the smell of new wood was so strong.

A shed.

He turned and caught Ben's eye. Ben came right to him, tripping over a stone.

"What is it?"

"A shed."

Ben arced his flashlight in the same direction. It was very well hidden.

"There's nothing in there. I don't keep my dogs in there." The man kept babbling. "You can't go in there. That's private."

They inched toward it, the big silver bolt on it glinting under the flashlights' beams. Cavan saw a dark stain on the door. He was sure it was blood.

"Unlock this please," Ben insisted.

"No. There's no dogs in there. Come back with a search warrant."

They reached the shack, Cavan touching the lock. The padlock had not been pushed all the way down.

Inside the house, the dogs started barking like crazy, as if sensing something was very wrong. Cavan pulled out his iPhone with his free hand and surreptitiously began recording.

"The lock," Ben said again.

Unbelievably, Luke Masterson took off running.

Cavan heard Ben shouting something to him, but he didn't respond. He wondered what horrors awaited him as he lifted the lock off the hinge, slid back the bolt and prepared to enter the shack. He heard Ben running and realized he'd gone after their suspect. Cavan braced himself as he got the door open and, flashlight in one hand, camera phone activated, began searching the small room. There in the corner sat a huddled creature chained to the wall, shackles on...his feet. It wasn't a dog. It was a beaten, shivering, shaking, bloodied man. Cavan would never forget how the man tried to make himself smaller. Defenseless. Petrified.

Suddenly, his head came up. His swollen eyes looked right at Cavan.

Holy shit.

"Don't worry," the man said. "I'm tame."