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  • Kill the Messenger
  • Written by Tami Hoag
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mystery (36) suspense (21) thriller (17) crime (8) los angeles (6)
mystery (36) suspense (21) thriller (17) crime (8) los angeles (6)
Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

With this new thriller, The New York Times bestselling author Tami Hoag delivers her own message to suspense fans everywhere: Don't turn off the lights, and keep reading if you dare. From the gritty streets of Los Angeles to its most protected enclaves of prestige and power to the ruthless glamour of Hollywood, a killer stalks his prey. A killer so merciless no one in his way is safe—not even the innocent.

At the end of a long day battling street traffic, bike messenger Jace Damon has one last drop to make. But en route to delivering a package for one of L.A.'s sleaziest defense attorneys, he's nearly run down by a car, chased through back alleys, and shot at. Only the instincts acquired while growing up on the streets of L.A. allow him to escape with his life—and with the package someone wants badly enough to kill for.

Jace returns to Lenny Lowell's office only to find the cops there, the lawyer dead, and Jace himself considered the prime suspect in the savage murder. Suddenly he's on the run from both the cops and a killer, and the key to saving himself and his ten-year-old brother is the envelope he still has—which holds a message no one wants delivered: the truth.

In a city fueled by money, celebrity, and sensationalism, the murder of a bottom-feeding mouthpiece like Lenny Lowell won't make the headlines. So when detectives from the LAPD's elite robbery/homicide division show up, homicide detective Kev Parker wants to know why. Parker is on the downhill slide of a once-promising career, and he doesn't want to be reminded that he used to be one of the hotshots, working cases that made instant celebrities of everyone involved. Like the case of fading retty-boy actor Rob Cole, accused of the brutal murder of his wife, Tricia Crowne-Cole, daughter of one of the most powerful men in the city, L.A.'s latest "crime of the century."

Robbery/Homicide has no reason to be looking at a dead small-time scumbag lawyer or chasing a bike messenger...unless there's something in it for them. Maybe Lenny Lowell had a connection to something big enough to be killed for. Parker begins a search for answers that will lead him to a killer—or the end of his career. Because if there's one lesson he's learned over the years, it's that in a town built on fantasy and fame, delivering the truth can be deadly.

Excerpt

Chapter One

LA traffic.

Rush hour.

Rush hour at four hours and counting. Every Angelino busting it to get home before the heavens opened up like a bursting bladder and the rains came in a gush. The city had been pressed down beneath the weight of an anvil sky all day. Endless, ominous twilight in the concrete canyons between the downtown skyscrapers. The air heavy with expectation.

Legs pumping. Fingers tight on the handlebars. Fingertips numb. Eyes on the gap between a Jag and a FedEx truck. Quads burning. Calves like rocks. The taste of exhaust. Eyes dry and stinging behind a pair of swim goggles. A bag full of blueprints in cardboard cylinders riding his back.

The two-way strapped to his thigh like a six-gun barked out bursts of static and the rock-crusted voice of Eta Fitzgerald, the base dispatcher. He didn’t know her real name. They called her Eta because that was what they heard out of her all day, every day: ETA? ETA sixteen? Base to Jace. ETA? What’s your twenty, honey?

He had three minutes to make it to the developer’s office on the seventeenth floor of a building still blocks away. The guard at the front desk was a jerk. He locked the doors at six on the dot and had no sympathy for anyone standing on the street trying to get in. The guy would have turned his back on his own mother, if he had one, which Jace doubted. He looked like something that had sprouted up out of the ground. A human toadstool.

Shift his weight to the right. Cut around the Jag.

He caught the blast of its horn as he ran on his pedals to put a few inches between his back wheel and the car’s front bumper. Just ahead of him the traffic light had turned yellow, but the FedEx truck was running the intersection. Coming up on the right side of the truck, Jace reached out and caught hold above the wheel, letting the truck carry him through the intersection and down the block.

He was a master at riding the blind spot. If the person behind the wheel saw him and didn’t want him there, a messenger could become a bug on a windshield in a hurry. The FedEx drivers were usually cool. Simpatico. Messenger to messenger. They were both connections between people who didn’t give a rat’s ass who they were unless they were late with a delivery.

The building was in sight. Jace checked over his shoulder, let go of the truck, and dipped right again, cutting across another lane, drawing another blaring horn. He angled to jump the curb in front of a fire hydrant and behind a Cadillac idling in a red zone. The car’s passenger door swung open as the bike went airborne.

Shit.

Jace turned the wheel hard right and twisted his hips left as the bike came down. The old lady getting out of the car screamed and fell back into the Cadillac. The bike’s front tire hit the sidewalk clear.

Jace held his position as tight as a tick on the back of a dog. He touched the brakes with little more than his imagination. Just enough to break the chaos.

Don’t panic. Panic kills. Ice water, J.C. Steel. Focus. Calm.

He kept his eyes on his target. He could see the security jerk walking toward the front doors, keys in hand.

Shit!

Panic. Not at threat of injury, but at threat of being locked out. The customer wouldn’t care that he had sent the delivery impossibly late or that the messenger had nearly been killed by the door of a Cadillac. If the package didn’t make it, there would be hell to pay.

He dropped the bike ten feet from the door, sick at the thought it might be gone by the time he got out of the building, but there was no time to lock it. He bolted for the door, tripped himself, fell like a boulder, and tumbled and skidded, arms and legs bouncing like pickup sticks. Cardboard blueprint tubes shot out of his bag and rolled down the sidewalk.

No time to assess damage or recognize and catalog pains.

He forced himself to his feet, tripping, stumbling, trying to scoop up the tubes even as his momentum carried him forward. The security jerk stared at him through the glass. A lumpy gray face, twisted with sour disapproval. He turned the key in the lock and walked away.

“Hey!” Jace shouted, slamming into the glass. “Hey, come on!”

The guard pretended not to hear him. Son of a bitch. One minute to six and this guy had nothing more on his mind than getting on the freeway and creeping out to Pomona or to the Valley or to whatever nondescript shithole suburb he squatted in every night. He wasn’t staying three extra minutes to log in a delivery. Having the power to walk away was probably the only power he had in his miserable life.

“Asshole!” Jace shouted. He would have kicked the door, but with his luck the damn thing would shatter and he’d be hauled off to jail. Not that he couldn’t have used the rest and three squares a day. In Jace Damon’s life, rest was not an option.

Juggling the cardboard tubes in one arm, he yanked his bike up off the sidewalk and climbed back on. The entrance to the underground parking garage for the building was on the side street. The chain gate would be down, but as soon as a car rolled out, he could slip in. If there was a God in heaven-which he doubted, except in times of dire need-someone would still be in the developer’s office on the seventeenth floor. Hopefully it would be Lori, the receptionist, who was blond and bouncy and would give him a Snickers bar from the stash in her bottom drawer. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast-a day-old bagel and a shoplifted PowerBar.

He parked himself to the right of the garage entrance, back just far enough so as not to be noticed by anyone coming up the ramp. He had learned a long time ago to fly below the radar, to be invisible and furtive and resourceful. Survival skills of the street kid.

His radio made a sound like Velcro tearing free. “Sixteen? You out there? Base to Jace. Base to Jace. Hey, Lone Ranger, where you at? I got Money chewing my ass.”

Money was Eta’s word for a customer. The developer was on the phone screaming at her.

“I’m in the elevator,” Jace answered. He keyed the radio on and off, on and off. “You’re breaking up, Base.”

The chain gate rattled to life and began to rise. A nasty-looking snot-green Chrysler nosed its way up out of the garage. The security jerk was behind the wheel. Jace gave him the finger as he turned into the drive and shot the bike down the ramp.

The Korean guy in the ticket booth barely looked at him as Jace darted around the lowered arm that prevented cars from simply rolling in. He rode the bike straight to the elevator, jumped off as the doors opened and an assortment of well-dressed professional people stepped out, freed from their cubicles for the day. A woman with a helmet of blond hair and a leopard-print raincoat gave him a look like he was dog shit, and clutched her designer bag to her as she stepped around him.

Jace forced a grin. “How’s it going?”

She sniffed and hurried away. People in suits and offices tended to look at bike messengers with wary suspicion. They were rebels, road warriors, fringe citizens in strange costumes invading the orderly, respectable world of business. Most of the messengers Jace knew had tattoos all over their bodies, and more piercings than a colander. They were walking billboards for life on the edge, their individuality screaming from their very pores.

Jace made no such statements. He wore what he could get for little or nothing at Goodwill-baggy shorts and sweatshirts with the sleeves cut off, worn over bike shorts and a long-sleeved T-shirt. His hair stuck up in spikes through the openings in his helmet. The swim goggles made him look like an alien.

He pulled the goggles down and rubbed at the grit in his eyes as he rolled the bike into the elevator and punched 17. He could smell himself-stale sweat and exhaust fumes. He had run twenty-three packages that day and could feel the filth of the city clinging to him like a film. He had skinned his knee on the sidewalk out front. Blood was running in a slow, thick trickle down his dirty bare shin to soak into the top of his baggy gray sock.

When he finally got home and could take a shower, the day would come off him like a mud slide and he would become a blond white kid again. He would spend a couple of hours with his little brother, Tyler, then hit the books until he fell asleep on them. Too soon it would be five-thirty and another day would begin with him shoveling ice into the coolers at the fish market they lived over in Chinatown.

My life sucks.

He allowed himself to acknowledge that fact only once in a while. What was the point in dwelling on it? He didn’t plan on staying where he was in the grand scheme of things. That was the thought to focus on: change, improvement, the future.

He had a future. Tyler had a future-Jace had made sure of that, and would continue to make sure of it. And their futures would be a thousand times better than anything life had given them so far. It was only a matter of time and focus and will.

The elevator dinged and the doors pulled open. The developer’s office was down the hall on the left. Suite 1701. Major Development. Lori the cute receptionist was gone, along with the chance for a free Snickers. Mr. Major Development was standing at her desk, shouting into the phone. He stopped abruptly and slammed the receiver down as Jace walked in with the blueprint tubes.

“Well, it’s about fucking time!” Major shouted. “My eighty-year-old mother could have gotten here faster with her walker!”

“Sorry.” Jace said, handing over the manifest. He offered no excuse or explanation. He knew from experience it wouldn’t matter. What mattered to Mr. Major Development was that he now had his blueprints and could get on with his life.

Major snatched the manifest away from him, scribbled a signature, and shoved it back at him. No thanks, no tip, no nothing. Lori the receptionist might have noticed the scrape on his knee and given him a Band-Aid and sympathy along with the Snickers bar. All he got was the fantasy. At least in his imaginary social life he could afford to take a girl out someplace decent.

Back out on the street, he radioed Base to confirm the delivery. He would make it back to the base office in fifteen and spend half an hour matching his delivery receipts with Eta’s floaters-the notes she made assigning jobs to messengers. By seven-fifteen he could be standing in the shower.

“Sixteen to Base. Jace to Base. Got POD on Major Pain In The Ass.”

“Ten-four, angel. You’ll go to heaven yet.”

“I don’t believe in heaven.”

“Darlin’, you got to believe in a better world than this.”

“Sure. It’s called Malibu. I’m gonna get a house there when I’m rich and famous.”

“And I’ll come be your kept woman. Give you a big ole’ dose a brown sugar, baby boy.”

Eta weighed two hundred pounds, had three-inch purple fingernails, and a Medusa’s head of braids.

“You’ll have to get in line behind Claire Danes and Liv Tyler.”

“Honey, I’ll eat them skinny white girls for lunch and pick my teeth with their bones.”

“Eta, you’re scaring me.”

“That’s good. How else can I boss you around and tell you you got one more run?”

The groan came from the deepest part of his soul. “No way. Not tonight. Call someone else.”

“Ain’t no one else left. You’re it, Lone Ranger, and baby, you’re the best.”

She gave him the address for the pickup and delivery and told him he could use the tip he would get to buy her a diamond ring.

Jace sat on his bike under the security light beside the garage entrance and stared at the note he’d written with the name and address, and he thought of the only tip anyone had ever given him that was of any real value: It’s better to be lucky than good.

As he folded the note, it began to rain.
Tami Hoag|Author Q&A

About Tami Hoag

Tami Hoag - Kill the Messenger

Photo © Exley Photo, Inc.

Bestselling author Tami Hoag's novels have appeared regularly on national bestseller lists since the publication of her first book in 1988. She lives in Los Angeles.

Author Q&A

Kill the Messenger involves a bicycle messenger named Jace Damon who finds himself caught between the police and a shadowy group of killers. Your description at the beginning of the novel of the harrowing day of a bicycle messenger was breathtaking, and set the pace for the remainder of the book. Where did you learn about the types of mishaps a bicycle messenger faces in the course of an ordinary day?

Research, research, research.  I was walking around in a bookstore one evening, thinking I should start on the research for Kill the Messenger.  I turned a corner, and there in front of me was a book called The Immortal Class: Bike Messengers and the Cult of Human Power, by Travis Hugh Culley.  Eerie, huh?  More importantly, great book.  Culley, himself a bike messenger, is also a fine writer.  His book gave me a terrific insight into that particular world.

I also did a lot of research on the web, and I found out where the LA messengers hang out between runs.  I went downtown and spent some time observing them in their natural habitat.

Who was your inspiration for Jace? What made you decide to make him a bicycle messenger?

The idea to write about a bike messenger came quite by chance.  I was living in the middle of nowhere at the time, and had no knowledge of messengers at all.  Like another character in Kill the Messenger, I have a habit of having televisions on all over my house so I won't miss anything as I go from one room to another.  Some news magazine was playing.  I wasn't paying much attention—until they announced a segment on Los Angeles bike messengers and the role they play in the criminal court system.  That was the hook for me.  I sat down and watched the piece, and knew I had a great premise for a thriller.
 
The character of Jace came and introduced himself to me entirely in my imagination.  He isn't based on anyone I know.  I don't feel like I constructed him.  He was just there, this fascinating kid with a mysterious upbringing.  I wanted to learn more about him.

A favorite aspect of Kill the Messenger was the relationship between Jace and his brother Tyler. A number of your books deal with sibling relationships. Why are sibling relationships so important to you?

I've always explored relationships in my work, all different kinds of relationships.  I think my particular interest in sibling relationships comes from not having that kind of close relationship in my own life.  I'm the youngest in my family by ten years, so for all intents and purposes I was an only child from age 8 on.  I never had that in-house confidant, protector, and co-conspirator.  In writing about those relationships, I get to have that relationship vicariously.

Jace works hard to create a sense of family for his brother in a world where they have none. At the same time, he has his own sense of loyalties to Eta and Madame Chen for what they have given him. Did you set out to give Jace strong women role models in his life, or did this evolve?  Why have you chosen this over the seemingly more typical strong male role model?

Well, I try very hard never to do the typical, so there's that.  It wasn't really a conscious decision to put those strong women in Jace's life, but at the same time, I knew he had no male role models.  I knew Jace had always been the man of his family, and that he's taken his role very seriously.  His mother had been his primary influence, trying hard to instill an interesting mix of street smarts and a moral center in him.  And while Jace remains in part emotionally isolated after his mother's death, and considers himself to be without family—aside from his brother—these other strong women in his life serve loosely as surrogate mothers.

We particularly enjoyed the edgy relationship in Kill the Messenger between L.A. Police Detective Kevin Parker and his rookie partner Renee Ruiz. Where did you draw the character of Ruiz from?
 
Ruiz was another of those characters who just showed up at the party.  I didn't know a thing about her until she walked on stage, so to speak.  She was a total surprise, the Tami Hoag anti-heroine.  She's not like any other female cop I've ever written, and she's certainly no one I would hang out with.  Her personality is abrasive and chaotic, which serves her well in keeping Parker completely spun around.

You captured the tension between male and female law enforcement officers. While in many professions the war between the sexes has eased up, it is apparent that in law enforcement the old walls remain. Can you share what you think about this?   


While women are much more accepted and much more prevalent in law enforcement than they were ten years ago, they're still playing on the boys’ turf, and there will always be men who resent that.  That's not to say all male cops are Neanderthals.  I know cops who have absolutely no problem working with women.  And I know cops who do.  Bottom line: people are people.  Everyone comes to the party with their own particular set of baggage.  It's how they carry it that matters.

e were surprised to read your stat that L.A. only has 9,000 police officers for a city of 3.4 million compared to 38,000 police in New York City. This one statistic showed the urgency with which the officers need to get their cases closed. Were there other surprising things you found about the L.A. department as you did your research?

I was stunned to learn that statistic myself.  Of course, New York City has twice the population.  But half the NYPD's force would be 19,000—still more than twice the number of officers in LA.  Detectives carry heavy caseloads.  The average murder can take only a few days of priority time before another case gets put on the board.

I was also shocked to learn how understaffed the scientific investigation division is.  On TV every crime lab is straight out of CSI, with staff to spare and all the latest gizmos.  In LA county there are three people who deal with DNA evidence.  The lab is so backed up that often times the trial is over before results ever show up.  And LA is not unusual in this.  The reality of funding for law enforcement in this country is appalling.

Your descriptions of the Chinatown of L.A. were so well-done. We could see the fish markets and the trinkets being sold in this neighborhood. Can you share with us how you researched this material? And while you are at it, what would your favorite Chinese takeout order include?

I spent time in Chinatown, walking the streets early in the morning when the fish markets were coming to life, guys shoveling from huge piles of shaved ice, chickens squawking in the poultry markets.  LA's Chinatown is a wonderful mix of old and nouveau.  Traditional Chinese herbalist shops next door to hip art galleries.  The clack of mahjong tiles, jazz drifting out the windows of a club.  Multi-generational Chinese families, and upwardly mobile hipsters snapping up loft space.  As you can tell, I loved it.

My favorite Chinese takeout order?  Won ton soup and Mongolian beef.  My favorite meal on a cold rainy night.

We loved that Madame Chen drove a Mini. It's a car with such a cool reputation, which is slightly incongruous to the way you portray her. Any particular reason you chose this model for her car?

I love Madame Chen, and I happen to think she's a pretty cool lady, so a Mini suited her in a way.  She's a successful business woman, intelligent, always dressed to the nines, involved in the community, but she's not stuffy or pretentious.  She would have looked good in a Mercedes sedan, but the Mini set her apart as a bit of a non-conformist.

Are you planning on returning to any of the characters from your past novels in future books?

While I don't have the temperament to write a series in the traditional book after book sense, I'm always open to returning to characters—if they have a story to tell.  I won't take characters and force a story on them, which is one of the pitfalls of being locked into a series.

I'm currently working on a new book with Kovac and Liska from Dust to Dust.  They weren't finished talking to me.  And I know I will have Kev Parker in my ear until I find another story for him.  I have a feeling I'll be spending a lot of time with him, which is all right with me.  An imaginary boyfriend is a lot less trouble than the real deal.

Of all the characters you have created, who, if any, is your favorite?

That's a tough one!  Like asking a mother which of her children she likes best.  I can't really pick a clear favorite.  I still love Lucky Doucet from Lucky's Lady,  and Jack Boudreaux from Cry Wolf (My weakness for Cajun bad boys is well-documented, on and off the page)  I have a special connection to Elena Estes from Dark Horse, and to Diane Nicholson in Kill the Messenger.

I have to say I'm currently very smitten with Kev Parker from Kill the Messenger.  What I love about Parker is that he recognized his shortcomings at an important time in his life, and has worked very hard to become a better person.  I admire that and find it an all-too rare a quality.  I also love that hip, fun, wry, sensibility he has.  As he says himself, he is the prince of metrosexual chic.  He has a closet full of Armani, a medicine cabinet full of skin-care products, he can whip up a dinner for four with no frozen ingredients, pick a great wine, and he is decidedly and unabashedly heterosexual.  If he were real, I'd marry him.

What are you working on now and when can readers expect to see it?

My current project is Prior Bad Acts.  A judge's life is threatened when she makes an unpopular ruling that sets a suspected multiple murderer free.  Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska from Dust to Dust are assigned to the case—much to Kovac's displeasure.  An old friend of his was the detective who cracked the murder and built the case against the accused, and now he's suspected of harassing the judge.  I guarantee lots of twists and turns, and I guarantee the suspected murderer is not the only person in the judge's life guilty of Prior Bad Acts.  If all goes according to plan, readers should be expecting to see it sometime next year.

 

Praise

Praise

"In a genre overrun with self-conscious jargon, brooding descriptions and fragments masquerading as sentences, her clean, measured prose—full, balanced sentences delivered at a steady pace—doesn’t so much create an ominous mood as draw the reader into the worlds of her characters."—Publishers Weekly"Brisk ... Scandal-prone detective Kev Parker ... gives Kill the Messenger its juice and keeps readers hooked."—San Francisco Chronicle Books

  • Kill the Messenger by Tami Hoag
  • February 28, 2006
  • Fiction - Suspense; Fiction
  • Bantam
  • $7.99
  • 9780553583588

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