Faye Kellerman: The Mercedes Coffin

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Faye Kellerman The Mercedes Coffin
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    The Mercedes Coffin
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    Триллер / на английском языке
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The Mercedes Coffin: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Billionaire genius Genoa Greeves never got over the shocking death of her favorite teacher, Bennett "Dr. Ben" Alston Little, murdered execution-style and stuffed into the trunk of his Mercedes-Benz. No arrests were ever made, no killer charged for the brutal crime. Fifteen years later, the high-tech CEO reads about another execution-style murder; this time the victim is a Hollywood music producer named Primo Ekerling. There is no obvious connection, but the case is eerily similar to Little's and Genoa feels the time is right to close Dr. Ben's case once and for all – offering the L.A.P.D. a substantial financial "incentive" if justice is finally served for Little. Lieutenant Peter Decker resents having to commit valuable manpower to a fifteen-year-old open case simply because a rich woman says "Jump!" Still, the recent murder of Primo Ekerling does bear a disturbing resemblance to Little's case, even though two thug suspects are currently behind bars for the Ekerling murder. Decker can't help but wonder about a connection. His first phone calls are to the two primary investigators in the Little case, retired detectives Calvin Vitton and Arnie Lamar. Lamar is cooperative, but Vitton is not only reluctant to talk, he winds up dead of a suspicious suicide twelve hours later. Plunging into this long-buried murder, Decker discovers that even though the two slayings are separated by a decade and a half, there is still plenty of greed, lust, and evil to connect the dots. Decker's team of top investigators not only includes his favorite homicide detectives, Scott Oliver and Marge Dunn, but also his newly minted Hollywood detective daughter, Cindy Kutiel, whose help proves to be invaluable. His wife, Rina Lazarus, continues to be his backbone of support, offering a cool, rational outlook despite her growing concern for her husband's welfare and safety. Rina's worries and fears begin to build at a fevered pitch as past and present collide with a vengeance, catapulting an unsuspecting Peter Decker closer and closer to the edge of an infinite dark abyss. A relentlessly gripping tale spun by a master, Faye Kellerman's The Mercedes Coffin races through a dangerous urban world of fleeting fame and false dreams, making heart-pumping hairpin turns at each step of a terrifying journey, where truth and justice are fine lines between life and death.

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The interior of the Mercedes was empty and there was no sign of Ben anywhere. As the group decided on their next move, a particularly alert officer noticed that the back of the Benz was sagging, and something was dripping from the rear of the car. Gloving up, one of the uniforms fiddled with the lock until the trunk popped open.

Bennett Alston Little was fully clothed. His hands and feet had been tightly bound by generic shoelaces, and a blindfold had been placed over his eyes. He had been shot three times in the back of the head.

Again Melinda found herself talking to the police.

This time they had taken her very seriously.

THE FIRST THING Decker did was sort through photographs. In cases where he wasn’t the original primary detective, he liked to have clear mental images. The premortem snapshots showed that Ben Little had been a very handsome man: sharp light eyes, a wide, bright smile, a strong chin, and an athletic build. The file contained two head shots and one with Ben and his family.

In contrast, the postmortem shots showed the hapless teacher in the fetal position with his knees bent and touching his forehead-an odd position to take after death. Ben’s head was resting in a big pool of blood. Decker continued to read the crime scene report until he found what he was looking for. Several bullet shells had been found inside the trunk, which probably meant that the trunk was the original crime scene. Ben had been living when he had been placed inside and had instinctively curled up in a defensive position. Then he had been executed.

There was something otherworldly about reading original case notes. It transformed a corpse into a living, breathing human being. The two original homicide investigators-Arnold Lamar and Calvin Vitton-seemed to have worked hard, and the file was complete. The resurrection of Ben Little would demand that Decker have a long chat with Lamar and Vitton, but he wanted to form his own opinions first.

Slowly, Little emerged as a complete and complex person. He had his idiosyncrasies-knuckle cracking, a braying laugh, and compulsive list making-but he didn’t seem to have any overt or dangerous vices. According to Melinda Little, her husband was a man of boundless energy, involved with the school, with the faculty, with the troubled students, with the honor students, with community clubs and civic duties, and-not to be neglected-with his family. Once in a blue moon, he’d wear out and come down with a cold or flu, and when this happened, Ben reverted, “as most men do, to a complete baby.”

Melinda claimed that she was more than happy to wait on him hand and foot, to give back because he was always giving to others. As far as she knew, there were no other women.

“When would he have time?”

He was always leaving her schedules, addresses, and phone numbers of his meetings in case of an emergency. And the few times she had to locate him, he was always where he said he would be.

He didn’t drink, and he didn’t take drugs. They had money in the bank, a retirement plan, life insurance, and college plans for both the boys. If Ben was spending money on a vice, he wasn’t taking anything out of their savings account. The house didn’t have a secret second mortgage, the car payments were timely, there was always money for birthday and Christmas presents, and he and Melinda always made a point to get away alone at least once a year. Ben was kind and thoughtful, and if he had one fault, it was his overextension. A few times, he had missed the boys’ play-off games and a couple of their school plays, but wasn’t that the case with most working husbands?

When pressed, Melinda admitted that Ben had occasional down periods. There had been a student who had died in a car accident, another who died in an overdose. A promising girl had gotten pregnant. Those kinds of things made him blue, but his favored way of coping was to throw himself into another project. He didn’t dwell on what was out of his control.

At the time of Ben’s death, his sons, Nicolas Frank and Jared Eliot, had been fifteen and thirteen, respectively. They’d be thirty and twenty-eight by now. Decker wondered about the boys’ perceptions now that they were adults. They needed to be interviewed.

By the time Decker was done with the file, it was three in the morning. His eyes were shot, his back hurt, and his shoulders felt the crushing weight of obligation. He tiptoed into his bedroom and slipped under the covers of his bed, taking precautions not to wake up his wife. As soon as Rina felt the shifting of the mattress, she nestled closer to her husband.

“Everything okay?” she asked.


“Love you.”

“Love you, too.” Decker was exhausted, but even so it took him a little time to fall asleep. His dreams were disturbing, but when he woke up the next morning, he couldn’t remember them, only a hollowness somewhere in the recesses of his heart.


TOOLING THROUGH THE Santa Monica canyons with the windows opened provided Decker with a blast of misty brine in his face, a welcome change from the hotter and drier climate of his work and residence. Here in the Palisades was the California dream: multimillion-dollar houses cut into rocky hillsides with landscaping that was far too green to thrive without the help of additional irrigation. Towering eucalyptus and ficus stood like sentries on either side of the asphalt. The sun was breaking through the fog, patches of cobalt peeking through the gray clouds. The temperature was mild, and at ten in the morning, the day was shaping up to be a good one.

Decker pushed his hunk of junk Crown Vic upward, straining with each twist and turn of the road. The address put him on the top ledge of a prominence where parking was limited but at least the street was flat. The house that corresponded to the numbers was modern, fashioned from wood, glass, and concrete.

Melinda Little Warren answered the door before he even rang the bell. She invited him in and offered him a seat on a white sailcloth sofa. No small talk; the woman was all business.

“After all these years…why now?” Melinda wanted to know.

Decker gave the question some thought while looking out the window at a commanding view of the Pacific blue. “I could tell you it’s because your late husband, Ben, was a good man and the open case has always bothered a lot of people. And that would be true. But the real reason is someone offered LAPD a big endowment if the case gets solved.”

The woman must have been in her midfifties, but she looked younger with her dark flashing eyes, a mane of blond hair, and legs that wouldn’t quit. She wore olive drab capri pants and a white linen blouse and had sandals on her feet.

“It’s always about money, isn’t it?” She raked long fingernails through miles of ash-colored tresses. “I suppose I should have thought about that myself. Of course, I did hire a private detective after the case went cold. It cost me a lot of money and a lot of heartache.”

Taking out a notepad and a pencil, Decker said, “Did he have any success?”

“Certainly nothing that cracked the case.”

“Do you remember his name?”

“Phil Shriner. I haven’t talked to him in years.”

“I’ll check him out.”

“Fine if you do, fine if you don’t.” She shook her head. “When I think about what Mike took on when he married me…my rock-bottom finances, and my needy boys…admiration for the man just grows logarithmically.”

Mike was Michael K. Warren of Warren Communications. His techno specialty was voice activation. He and Melinda had lived in this piece of paradise for ten years. The interior had natural wood floors, a two-story fireplace, and walls of glass. The furnishings were white and spare, but the place didn’t blow a frosty attitude. Maybe it was all the knickknacks-the tchotchkes, as Rina would say.

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