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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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.

“Logarithmically,” Decker said. “You must have been a math teacher?”

She smiled. “And you must be a detective.”

“That’s how Ben and you met.”

“Right again.” Her eyes misted. “I’ve had so much misfortune in my life, but I’ve also been overly fortunate in the relationship department. I guess you can’t have it all.”

Decker wondered what her other misfortunes were.

Melinda said, “May I ask who offered to donate the money?”

“ Genoa Greeves. She’s the CEO of Timespace.”

“I’ve heard of Timespace. What was her connection to Ben?”

“She was his student in the early eighties. She describes herself as a typical geek, and according to her, your husband was the only person other than her parents who ever gave her a word of encouragement. Smart people have long memories.”

She raised an eyebrow and said nothing.

“Do you remember her?” Decker asked.

“Not at all, but her words don’t surprise me. Ben was always doing things for other people. I’ve never met a more altruistic man in my entire life. Sometimes I almost wish I had discovered a drug habit or a mistress. It would have made him more human. By now, the man has reached Godlike stature in my eyes. Everyone falls short. Although I adore Mike, he can never…” Tears rolled down her cheeks. “I’m sorry. This is very painful.”

“I’m sure it is, but if I’m going to do this case correctly, I have to start from the beginning.”

She dabbed her tears with a Kleenex. “I’m afraid I don’t have anything new to tell.”

“It would be helpful if you went over the incident for me.”

A heavy sigh. “Why not? I’ve only told the story about a million times. Ben said he’d be home around seven. When he wasn’t home by ten, I started to worry. I got in the car and went down to Civic Auditorium, trying to find someone from the meeting. Everyone was gone. I drove back home and called the police. They told me to call back in forty-eight hours. A grown man missing is no big deal.”

“Do you remember who you spoke to on the phone?”

“Wendell Festes. He wound up apologizing to me for his flippant attitude, but then started saying things like ‘you gotta understand what usually happens.’” Melinda clenched her teeth. “I really didn’t give a damn about what usually happens. The man was rude, and I told the captain that when I spoke to him.”

Decker nodded. “So what did you do after speaking to Festes?”

“A few of my friends came over to the house to keep me company. Their husbands went out searching for Ben. They found his car and called the police, and the police found Ben.” She sat down on a leather club chair and made a swipe at the tears in her eyes. “That’s really all I can recall…I’m sorry.”

“What do you think might have happened that night?” Decker asked.

Melinda shook her head. “I thought about it endlessly for years. His car was all alone at Clearwater Park. Maybe he got a last-minute phone call and was meeting someone there, although his car phone records didn’t indicate that. But he could have made a call from a phone booth. The cell phones back then weren’t reliable.”

“Who would he have met?”

“If he was meeting anyone, it was a student in trouble. I suggested that to the detectives at the time, but that went nowhere.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know how teenagers are, especially the boys. Risk takers. They do stupid stuff and usually get caught. Doing something idiotic doesn’t mean that the kid is a sociopath. Ben was their best advocate. He went the extra mile for them the first time.”

“And the second time?”

“Their pleas fell on deaf ears. Ben had a sense of fairness and justice. If you didn’t prove yourself to be trustworthy, you didn’t get trusted.”

“So it is possible that Ben might have angered the repeat offenders.”

“The chronic troublemakers would have gotten expelled, anyway, regardless of what Ben might have told the administration. You can’t sell pot continually to your fellow students and expect not to be expelled.”

“Do you have a specific kid in mind?”

“Darnell Arlington…a real charmer. One of the few kids who fooled Ben in a big way, but I must tell you, the police checked him out thoroughly. Darnell had moved to Ohio to live with his grandmother. The night of Ben’s murder, he was playing in a basketball game at the local high school. About a hundred people saw him.

“From what I was led to believe, Darnell was turning his life around. His grandmother was a no-nonsense person. But check him out if you want.”

“Do you remember any other wayward students?”

“Not specifically, but there could have been others. I do remember Ben being upset about Darnell even after he moved. For some reason, the kid tugged at his heartstrings.”

“Did Darnell ever come to the house?”

“No, not on your life. Ben kept his students away from his family. He never gave out his home phone number or his car phone number.”

“What about his pager?”

“From what I recall, no one had paged Ben that evening.”

Her memory was correct. No activity was recorded on Ben’s pager on the evening of his demise. Still, Decker didn’t have Ben’s pager records for the previous morning and afternoon. It was possible that someone had paged him earlier in the day and Ben used a public phone to return the call that evening. Maybe a hasty meeting was set up. That would explain why Ben was at Clearwater Park, but it wouldn’t shed any light on why Ben hadn’t called his wife.

“Was Ben familiar with Clearwater Park?”

“We’d been there before for cookouts when the boys were little.”

“So Ben had driven the roads around that area before.”

“Why do you ask?”

“If you were going to Clearwater Park from Civic Auditorium, you’d have to take some small roads and at night. If Ben wasn’t familiar with the park, it would indicate to me that he was driven there by his abductors. If he knew the park well, maybe he was meeting someone.”

“We’d been there a few times. That’s all I can tell you.” She shrugged.

“The primary detectives interviewed scores of people, including quite a few students. What did you think of the detectives?”

“That’s an odd question.”

Decker didn’t respond.

“Arnie Lamar and Cal Vitton.” She smiled, but it lacked mirth. “I suppose they were nice enough; they just didn’t get anywhere. It was always Arnie’s contention that it was a carjacking. That didn’t make sense to me.”

“How so?”

“First of all, Ben wasn’t a fool. If someone wanted the car, he would have handed over the keys. The other option is that they stole the car and purposely put Ben in the trunk while they went on a joyride.” She made a face. “I don’t see kids driving a stolen car with a dead man in the trunk.”

“There’s a case in Hollywood right now that’s similar to Ben’s case: a body was discovered in the trunk of his Mercedes. Two teens are currently in custody.”

Melinda’s hands flew to her mouth. “Do you think they’re connected?”

“The boys that were arrested weren’t even alive when Ben was murdered,” Decker said. “It’s the boys’ contention that they didn’t know the body was in the trunk when they stole the car for a joyride. But that would be the logical thing to say. The victim’s name was Primo Ekerling. Does the name sound familiar?”

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