"They oughta hang the son of a bitch came up with this shit," Sam Kovac groused, digging a piece of nicotine gum out of a crumpled foil pack.
"The gum or the wrapper?"
"Both. I can't open the damn package and I'd rather chew on a cat turd."
"And that would taste different from a cigarette how?" Nikki Liska asked.
They moved through a small throng of people in the wide white hall. Cops heading out onto the steps of the Minneapolis city hall for a cigarette, cops coming back in from having a cigarette, and the odd citizen looking for something for their tax dollar.
Kovac scowled down at her from the corner of one eye. Liska made five-five by sheer dint of will. He always figured God made her short because if she had the size of Janet Reno she'd take over the world. She had that kind of energy--and attitude out the wazoo.
"What do you know about it?" he challenged.
"My ex smoked. Lick an ashtray sometime. That's why we got divorced, you know. I wouldn't stick my tongue in his mouth."
"Jesus, Tinks, like I wanted to know that."
He'd given her the nickname--Tinker Bell on Steroids. Nordic blond hair cut in a shaggy Peter Pan style, eyes as blue as a lake on a sunny day. Feminine but unmistakably athletic. She'd kicked more ass in her years on the force than half the guys he knew. She'd come onto homicide--Christ, what was it now?--five or six years ago? He lost track. He'd been there himself almost longer than he could remember. All of his forty-four years, it seemed. The better part of a twenty-three-year career, for certain. Seven to go. He'd get his thirty and take the pension. Catch up on his sleep for the next ten years. He sometimes wondered why he hadn't taken his twenty and moved on. But he didn't have anything to move on to, so he stayed.
Liska slipped between a pair of nervous-looking uniforms blocking the way in front of the door to Room 126--Internal Affairs.
"Hey, that was the least of it," she said. "I was more upset about where he wanted to put his dick."
Kovac made a sound of pain and disgust, his face twisting.
Liska grinned, mischievous and triumphant. "Her name was Brandi."
The Criminal Investigative Division offices had been newly refurbished. The walls were the color of dried blood. Kovac wondered if that had been intentional or just trendy. Probably the latter. Nothing else in the place had been designed with cops in mind. The narrow, gray, two-person cubicles could just as well have housed a bunch of accountants.
He preferred the temporary digs they'd had during the remodeling: a dirty, beat-up room full of dirty, beat-up desks, and beat-up cops getting migraines under harsh white fluorescent lights. Homicide crammed into one room, robbery down the way, half the sex crimes guys wedged into a broom closet. That was atmosphere.
"What's the status on the Nixon assault?"
The voice stopped Kovac in his tracks as effectively as a hook to the collar. He bit a little harder on the Nicorette. Liska kept moving.
New offices, new lieutenant, new pain in the ass. The homicide lieutenant's office had a figurative revolving door. It was a stop on the way for upwardly mobile management types. At least this new one--Leonard--had them back working partners instead of like the last guy, who'd tortured them with some bullshit high-concept team crap with rotating sleep-deprivation schedules.
Of course, that didn't mean he wasn't an asshole.
"We'll see," Kovac said. "Elwood just brought in a guy he thinks is good for the Truman murder."
Leonard flushed pink. He had that kind of complexion, and short, white-gray hair like duck fuzz all over his head. "What the hell are you doing working the Truman murder? That's what? A week ago? You're up to your ass in assaults since then."
Liska came back then, wearing her cop face. "We think this guy's a two-fer, Lou. He was maybe in on Nixon and Truman. I guess the Nation wants to start calling the Bloods the Dead Presidents."
Kovac laughed at that--a cross between a bark and a snort. "Like these dickheads would know a president if he pissed on them."
Liska looked up at him. "Elwood's got him in the guest room. Let's go before he uses the L word."
Leonard stepped back, frowning. He had no lips, and ears that stuck out perpendicular to his head like a chimpanzee's. Kovac had nicknamed him the Brass Monkey. He was looking as if solving a murder would ruin his day.
"Don't worry," Kovac said. "There's more assaults where that one came from." He turned away before Leonard could react, and headed for the interview room with Liska.
"So this guy was in on Nixon too?"
"Beats me. Leonard liked it."
"Brass asshole," Kovac grumbled. "Someone should take him out and show him the fucking sign on the door. It still says 'Homicide,' doesn't it?"
"Last I looked."
"All he wants is to clear assaults."
"Assaults are the homicides of tomorrow."
"Yeah, that'd make a great tattoo. I know just where he can put it."
"But you'd need a miner's hat to read it. I'll get you one for Christmas. Give you something to hope for."
Liska opened the door and Kovac preceded her into the room, which was about the size of a spacious coat closet. The architect would have described it as "intimate." In keeping with the latest theories on how to interview scumbags, the table was small and round. No dominant side. Everybody equal. Pals. Confidants.
No one was sitting at it.
Elwood Knutson stood in the near corner, looking like a Disney cartoon bear in a black felt bowler. Jamal Jackson had the opposite corner, near the totally useless and empty built-in bookcase, and beneath the wall-mounted video camera, which was required by Minnesota law to prove they weren't beating confessions out of suspects.
Jackson's attitude hung on him as badly as his clothes. Jeans that would have fit Elwood were slipping off his skinny ass. A huge down coat in Nation black and red colors puffed up around his upper body. He had a lower lip as thick as a garden hose, and he stuck it out at Kovac.
"Man, this is bogus. I din' off no-body."
Kovac lifted his brows. "No? Gee, there must be some mistake." He turned to Elwood and spread his hands. "I thought you said he was the guy, Elwood. He says he's not the guy."
"I must have been mistaken," Elwood said. "My profuse apologies, Mr. Jackson."
"We'll have a radio car take you back home," Kovac said. "Maybe have them announce over the bullhorn to your 'hood that we didn't mean to bring you in. That it was all a big mistake."
Jackson stared at him, the lip moving up and down.
"We can have them announce specifically that we know you weren't really involved in the murder of Deon Truman. Just so there's no mistake what we had you in for. We don't want a lot of bad rumors going around about you on account of us."
"Fuck you, man!" Jackson shouted, his voice jumping an octave. "You trying to get me killed?"
Kovac laughed. "Hey. You said you didn't do it. Fine. I'll send you home."
"An' the brothers think I talk to you. Next thing, my ass is horizontal. Fuck that!" Jackson paced a little, pulling at the short braids that stuck up in all directions on his head. His hands were cuffed together in front of him. He gave Kovac the eye.
Excerpted from Dust to Dust by Tami Hoag. Copyright © 2000 by Tami Hoag. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.