Blood Red Butterfly
An excerpt from the novella by Josh Lanyon
"Bad news," Hernandez said. "Your homicide suspect's alibi just turned up."
"No way." Ryo grabbed a paper towel and dabbed at the fleck of mustard on his navy silk tie. He shot Hernandez a look in the mirror over the bank of sinks in the john. "You're kidding me."
Hernandez shook his head. He was not a kidder.
"No. Way." Now Ryo was angry. Still watching Hernandez in the mirror, he scrubbed ferociously at his tie. "Torres is not walking away from this. He popped the Martinez woman and he's going down for it. And no little chiquita--"
Hernandez' sour grin stopped him. "The alibi is male."
"Male?" Ryo stopped rubbing his tie. "You mean...?"
"I mean you might even know him." It was not a dig. Hernandez had been Ryo's partner for a couple of years back when they were both street cops, and he knew a thing or two about Ryo's personal life that Ryo didn't generally share. "Might be something you can use. I don't think the Sotels are an equal opportunity employer, you know what I mean?"
Yeah, Ryo knew what he meant. As badly as he wanted Torres, he wasn't sure he liked that idea. He'd prefer to break Torres' alibi, which should be easy enough to do because Torres had murdered that old woman in cold blood. Nothing and nobody was going to convince Ryo otherwise. "You believe this punk's credible?"
Hernandez shrugged. "Torres used his one phone call to get this guy over here. See what you think. He's sitting at your desk biting his nails as we speak."
Ryo curled his lip, double-checking he didn't have a piece of lettuce between his teeth. He ignored the derisive sound Hernandez made. It wasn't about looking good, though Ryo knew he looked good-- on a scale of Russell Wong to Dean Cain, he fell comfortably in the middle of Yeah Baby!-- it was about conveying bulletproof confidence and unassailable assurance. Attitude. It was half the game.
He straightened his tie. "I don't think this is going to take long."
Hernandez said nothing.
* * * * *
The punk was still sitting in front of Ryo's desk, though he had stopped biting his nails. Ryo had a quick impression of a slight and slouching boyish figure clad in jeans, a pair of chucks, and a gray hoodie. Across the noisy room someone slammed a file drawer and the kid flinched. Ryo smiled inwardly. Yeah, he'd smash this bogus alibi in less than twenty minutes and get back to building his slam dunk case against Mickey Torres. And this time Torres would not be getting off lightly because of his tender age and deprived childhood. This time he was going away forever. Or what counted as forever in the screwed up Los Angeles County judicial system.
The punk looked up and Ryo almost walked into a chair. A pale, pointed, delicately boned face, chestnut hair, wide dark eyes like a faun--assuming a faun was what Ryo thought it was.
The Ice Princess.
No fucking way.
Mickey Torres' alibi was the same guy who had three times blown off Ryo at Fubar, a gay club he used to frequent. In fact, the Ice Princess was the main reason Ryo had quit going to Fubar. A guy could only take so much rejection.
So this little stuck-up femme dude had cold-shouldered Ryo, but was willing to offer his bony ass to Mickey Torres? Willing to supply gang banger Mickey Torres with an alibi for homicide?
Ryo smiled unpleasantly, noisily dragging his chair out from behind his desk. "I'm Detective Miller. You have information for me Mr....?"
The Ice Princess jerked up straight. His face went whiter, his eyes went wider, but there was no recognition in his red-brown eyes. Just fear. Maybe the fear a lot of honest citizens seemed to feel dealing with the law. Maybe the fear of someone about to perjure himself to the police.
"Tashiro. Kai Tashiro." His voice was light and husky. A young voice. A young man. But not as young as Ryo had originally thought. Probably in his mid twenties. Twenty-three or twenty-four.
"How can I help you, Mr. Tashiro?" Tashiro looked about as Japanese as the big-eyed androgynous figures in the manga Ryo's little nieces loved so much. It was another point against him, though Ryo knew that wasn't fair.
Murder wasn't fair.
"I got a call from a fr-- Mickey Torres. He said he'd been arrested and he needed me to-- " a nervous swallow, "verify where he was three nights ago."
Ryo opened the long desk drawer, removed a file, and slammed the drawer closed harder than he had to. Tashiro gave another one of those little jumps. Ryo opened the file, read for a moment, and then studied the man on the other side of his desk.
"Did Torres tell you what he was arrested for?"
"Homicide." Tashiro's voice was almost inaudible.
"That's right." Ryo shoved the file with the Martinez crime scene photos across the desk. "He killed a seventy-year old woman by the name of Esther Martinez. Take a look at what he did to her. Take a good look."
Tashiro looked-- he couldn't avoid it-- and closed his eyes. He opened them almost at once. "Mickey didn't do that."
"Yep, he sure did. He strangled her and then he beat her head in for good measure and because he's a fucking animal with no conscience and no self-control." Ryo kept his tone cool and cordial, hoping nobody at the surrounding desks was listening too closely.
Tashiro gave a shake of his head. "He was with me, Detective Miller."
Ryo took the file back. He considered his strategy. There were a couple of ways to play this. He hadn't missed Tashiro hesitation using the word "friend" in regard to Torres.
"Okay," he said easily. "He was with you. From when to when exactly?"
Tashiro was still wearing his the hood of his sweatshirt pulled up. It gave him a strangely monkish look. "From about eleven-thirty to seven-thirty the next morning."
"About eleven thirty? So is that eleven-fifteen, eleven-twenty, a quarter to twelve? You're going to have to be precise about the time when you stand up in court and swear to it in front of a jury."
Tashiro's eyes flickered, but he said, "When we left the bar, the clock on my car dashboard said eleven twenty-eight."
"And what bar was that?" Ryo pulled out his notebook and jotted down the times.
"Fubar. Hm. I think I've heard of it. Where's that located exactly?"
"Santa Monica Boulevard."
"That's a gay bar, right?"
Tashiro nodded, not meeting his eyes.
Ryo put his pencil down. "Do you really not recognize me?"
Tashiro looked up and his eyes went wider still. "Huh?"
Ryo picked up his pencil. Made a sharp notation. "So you and Torres leave Fubar together at eleven twenty eight on Tuesday night. Then what happens?"
"We drove to my place."
"Which is where?"
"1409 Armacost Ave."
Ryo grunted. "Nice." Very nice. Half a million nice. What the hell had the neighbors made of street scum Mickey Torres? And what the hell did Kai Tashiro do for a living that he could afford that kind of prime real estate? Nothing legal probably. "Then what? You guys sat around and played Chinese checkers all night?"
Tashiro turned a shade of pink that would require some serious crosshatching in manga. "No. We had another drink and then we...went to bed."
"Went to bed? Yeah? Did you watch Letterman? Give each other backrubs? Tell spooky stories? I bet Torres has a few of those. Has he shared with you how he wound up in prison the first time?"
Tashiro shook his head. "We...had sex."
"I didn't catch that."
"We had sex."
"You fucked. Is that what you mean?"
Tashiro's look was murderous. Ryo smiled. He had a very white and charming smile and he knew how to use it for maximum annoyance. "So you're gay?"
"No, no. We try not to make insensitive assumptions on the police force. So you're gay and I guess Torres is gay?"
"That news is going to cause quite a stir with the home boys. Homosexuality is not popular with Torres' gang. And I use the word gang deliberately."
"Is that it?" Tashiro asked. "Are we done? Mickey was with me. I'll swear to it in court if I have to. Can I go?"
"You don't want to wait around for Torres to be released?"
Tashiro's brows drew together in confusion that was at least partly dismay.
"I'm kidding you," Ryo said. "It'll be hours before he's out. Lots of paperwork involved. In the meantime, we need to get a little more background on you, Kai."
Copyright 2000-18, Josh Lanyon.
All rights reserved.