By Gary Phillips
Like the rest of Los Angeles and its environs, Luke Warfield heard about the incident at the restaurant on the news. And like the rest of the city, he assumed the accused perpetrator had had some type of psychological break. It was two days on since then, and so far her questioning by the authorities had yielded the same response over and over, that this man on the other end of her phone call had asked her to kill whoever was physically close to her and she did. She couldn’t explain why she’d obeyed the request. The call to her phone had so far proved untraceable.
Maria Donovan claimed she was remorseful and as dumbfounded as everyone else as to what had compelled her to do such a heinous thing. Warfield compartmentalized these reflections as he listened to his Chief Operating Officer in the offices of his venture capitalist and philanthropic operation, Essex Limited.
“I’m catching the redeye to Chicago tonight,” Clara Goodacre said, sitting near his large desk. The breath-catching woman, routinely stopped in the street and offered acting and modeling opportunities from legitimate and shady individuals, crossed one leg over the other. “I should be able to settle the Grayson Industries acquisition when I’m there.” Grayson was an energy company that was making strides in clean energy.
Among the items on Warfield’s desk was a landline phone. One of the call buttons blinked on this. The light became steady, indicating the receptionist had taken the call. Warfield, a chiseled six-two burnished bronze frame, his back to the morning light shining though a big window, had his arms folded.
“Sounds right. You have time to get over to New York, sit in on the GlobeTech board meeting.”
A wry smile on her copper-colored face made her look even more alluring. “You’re just trying to avoid your friend the widow on that board. Playing hard to get is just going to encourage her.”
“Way I hear it, she’s been looking to broaden her horizons. It might be you she wants to get between the sheets.”
“Or both of us.” She touched open an icon on her phone, looking for a particular file whose contents she wanted to discuss with Warfield.
He chuckled. “Switching topics.”
“Yes…” she drawled, having found what she was looking for and looking up at him
“Are we set on the mayor’s fundraiser?”
“I was just searching for the e-mail I got from his chief of staff.”
She was about to go on when the door to the outer office banged open and in came the receptionist Yvonne Garza. She was young and pretty, wide hips sheathed in a mid-thigh length business skirt. She walked quickly in her sensible shoes, holding a brass antique letter opener alongside her head like a deranged killer poised to strike in a slasher movie. Incongruously her face remained blank.
As one, Warfield and Goodacre were in motion. Garza had covered the space between her the COO and struck with the makeshift knife. But Goodacre had also been fast and was out of her seat and easily deflected the attack. Warfield was now in position and a quick chop to the base of Garza’s neck dropped her to her knees, stunned. Goodacre, binding the woman’s arm with hers, wrenched the letter opener out of Garza’s hand.
“Yvonne,” Warfield began, kneeling beside her. He and Goodacre had pressed her face down on the carpet. “How do you feel?”
“I feel fine, why do you ask?”
“What were you just trying to do?”
“Kill you and Clara,”’ she said pleasantly.
“On whose orders?” Goodacre said.
“He asked me to. He has a nice voice…the Death Bringer.”
Warfield asked, “Do you still want to kill her?”
“No, but,” and this was the first time there was a faltering in her voice. “If he asked me again, I’d do it.”
Raised deep amid the cracked concrete and weathered palms of South Central L.A., weaned on the images of Kirby and Steranko in comic books, and Hammett and Himes in prose, Gary Phillips also draws on his experiences – ranging from being a community organizer, teaching incarcerated youth, to delivering dog cages – in writing his tales of chicanery and malfeasance. His latest work includes the graphic novel Big Water, co-editor of Black Pulp, and the novella, The Essex Man: 10 seconds to Death.