An Excerpt from The Body in Griffith Park by “Jennifer Kincheloe”
The wind rose suddenly, carrying with it an ungodly odor.
Joe lifted his head. “What is that smell?”
Anna smelled it too. She gagged a little at the scent—like rotting pork in a sweet sauce.
He groaned. “I’m finally alone with the girl of my dreams, and some creature decides to die in the most romantic spot in Griffith Park.”
“It’s probably a possum. Can’t you find it and fling it off the hill with a stick?”
Anna slid off Joe so that he could stand. His hair poked out in odd directions from Anna’s caressing fingers, but he still looked good enough to eat, and the front of his drawers was pooching out most interestingly. She was starting to see the shape of things.
Anna rose gracefully in her drawers and chemise, stuffed her feet into unhooked boots and took his hand. She wasn’t going to miss one moment of touching him, stench or no. They turned in a circle, sniffing the air.
“It must be upwind.” Joe licked his finger and held it up, then tugged her toward the edge of the hillside and a panoramic view of the city below.
Anna saw a trail of ants marching in a row and followed them. There, near the edge, she saw the source of the smell. A dead man lay on his side with a hole in his head. His hair and face were covered with ants, as if they found whatever oil his barber used particularly delectable. A revolver lay in his limp, open hand. Los Angeles spread out before him.
“Jupiter, a deado,” said Anna. “It’s the curse.”
“You think somebody corpsed him?”
Joe moved closer, “I don’t know.”
Anna noted that Joe’s underwear no longer pooched out so dramatically. Her own skin had grown suddenly cold. This dead man was killing the mood. Petronilla’s curse had foiled her lovemaking with Joe Singer, something she’d ached for since he’d first kissed her on a police sting operation last summer. She didn’t know when they’d get the chance again. But while there was nothing in the world she loved more than spooning Joe Singer, there was one thing she loved just as much.
She might get to help with this case. Take that Petronilla.
Joe stood reverently. “Looks like he shot himself in the head, poor fellow.”
“Are you sure?” Anna let go of Joe’s hand and squatted, trying to ignore the bare, muscular legs now at eye level, and moved forward, examining the ground like an Indian tracker. She felt a breeze through the split in her two-piece drawers.
“Oh Lord,” said Joe.
“Only one set of footprints, and they are clearly from the victim’s own ant killers, by which I mean feet.”
“Anna, not a step closer. How would I explain your little footprints near the body?”
She stood. “Say you were having a lover’s tryst. They don’t care what you do. Just don’t say you were making love to me. Because they’d hang me.”
He strolled toward the body. “Turn around and walk back.”
Anna’s upper lip twitched and she didn’t move. He was bossing her.
“Sherlock, it’s not worth it.” Joe returned to her side, took a scowling Anna by the hand, and dragged her away from the death scene, back to the blanket and the pile of their clothing. He pecked her on the lips. “Anna, sweetheart, I’m sorry. We’ll hunt for truants another day—”
“We’ll have to find a different spot. This one’s spoiled now.”
“Marry me and we won’t have to find a spot. We could make love every night, all night, in your great big canopy bed. Mornings too. And vacations. Mercy. Think about vacations. We could go to the courthouse tomorrow.”
“Mm,” said Anna, considering. It did sound like heaven.
He bent to pick up his pants and shook them out. “Now, I’m going to hike back to the trailhead and use the call box to send for the coroner’s wagon. You stay here and guard the body in case vultures or a coyote or some hiker stumbles on it. Keep every living thing away from the scene. There better not be any girl footprints when I get back.”
The corner of Anna’s mouth twitched. He was still bossing her. He appeared to read her thoughts and threw up one exasperated hand. “Sherlock, I outrank you.”
“Just say the footprints belong to some other girl—a lost hiker or . . . or a prostitute—”
“I’m not gonna lie.”
Joe and Anna somberly dressed themselves—an unhappy event, so unlike the joyful removal of their clothing. Anna sighed as she watched him button up his trousers. He smoothed her hair and straightened her tie, but she would not meet his eyes. Then, she watched Joe’s wool-clad backside disappear behind the outcropping.
She was alone with the corpse and the ghosts. She stared miserably in the direction of the body, which she could smell but could not see. Now she could neither hunt truants with Joe nor help determine whether the death was suspicious. As usual, Anna was denied everything good. “Curse you back, Petronilla.”
She drew a picture of a gun in the dirt with her toe. She drew a picture of Joe in his underwear with a mysterious point in front. She scanned the sky for vultures, just in case, and saw a condor soaring overhead on giant wings. It was a lovely sight, but she’d rather be looking at the deado. It was a cock shame that she was a woman, because if she were a man, she could make love to Joe Singer and examine dead bodies with impunity. But as she was a woman, the two things she wanted most were denied her. It wasn’t fair, just like tight corsets, no votes, and submission to husbands.
And so, Anna did what any lady would do in her situation, faced with grave injustice, alone at a potential crime scene that was begging to be investigated.
She tiptoed to the body.