Author: Joe Allen
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 2
When his ex-wife drowns in her back yard, Denis Rosa encounters guilt, drugs, violence and solace trying to repair his psyche and his family.
When his ex-wife drowns in a hot tub in California, Denis Rosa sets out to bury her and sell the house. He confronts her philandering history and her fixation on young chicano boys, and is the victim of a vicious attempted murder without ever knowing why. The house on the cliffside on Rocky Point Road holds a ghost, a hidden treasure of some kind, and decades of memories for the Rosa family. When Detective Sue Mason is assigned to the case, her son and his soon-to-be husband and two dogs move into the house with Denis to protect him from further attacks. Is it drug-related? The wife was alcoholic and smoked grass, but nothing hard. Denis confronts his ghosts as he finds himself attracted to Sue. The key to the plot is found when Denis slides off the edge of the cliff.
He looked at his sons and wondered what could have happened if he had hung out there instead of going away. Fishing trips to Catalina maybe, stuff like that, tickets to the Rose Bowl, although he was not a football fan, picnics with the grandkids.
The doorbell snapped him out of that. It was two plainclothes police officers, a stocky man of about fifty with salt-and-pepper, short-cropped hair and a well-tailored suit, and a fit-looking woman of about the same age with pants, a white blouse open at the neck, low, stacked-heel pumps and her dark hair up in a bun. No ring. They were Detective Ron Furman and Detective Sue Mason from the LA County Sheriff's Department.
He showed them into the living room and offered to make them some coffee. They declined.
"Mr. Rosa," Furman said, "we got the results of the autopsy, and you were right that there were indications that your wife had ingested GHB, as you apparently did yesterday. The bottle of vodka had GHB crystals dissolved in it. Alcohol is an excellent solvent for GHB."
"So she died of a drug overdose?" Rich asked.
"No. She died from drowning, her lungs were full of chlorinated water from the hot tub, but she was certainly unconscious when she slid under the water, or was pushed under the water. There were no signs of a struggle."
"She was murdered then."
"That is a possibility," Furman said. "We need to investigate more. She could have taken the drug on purpose. It is called Liquid Ecstasy in the clubs and lots of people abuse it recreationally. And you did find marijuana in the freezer, and some poppers, and there were a variety of uppers and downers in the medicine chest."
"But you'd have to be suicidal to take a drug and then sit in a hot tub," Denis said.
"Or just drunk," Detective Mason said, looking directly at Denis without blinking.
"Was she drunk?" Paul asked.
"She had a lot of alcohol in her system, yes."
"Then she was murdered," Denis said, standing up. "I had some of that vodka and it threw me on the floor in a matter of minutes. I could not have drunk enough of it to get even tipsy before I passed out. Someone must have added it to the vodka after she had been drinking."
"That's a possibility," Mason said. "Or she could have added it to the vodka herself."
"And who put it back in the pantry?"
"She could have done that herself, and then taken the drink outside in the hot tub, although according to the report there was no glass found at the hot tub, so maybe she just chugged some vodka and then got in the water."
She’s trying to find a logical sequence of events. He looked at her making notes. She's pretty. But that doesn't change the fact that Elissa was killed by someone else.
"We want to have a funeral," Denis said. "And she wanted to be cremated."
"The coroner will release her to you for the funeral and there is no reason you cannot carry out her wishes. The coroner has some specimens, x-rays and photos if we need them."
"One other thing," Furman said. "There was sperm in her, so we have DNA from a guy who was with her fairly recently."
"That's not a surprise," said Denis. "She had an eye for guys, I guess you would say."
"Does that bother you?" It was the woman asking.
"It used to. That was mostly why I moved to New York a decade ago. I stopped worrying about her sex life at some point."
"And you were in New York when this happened?"
"Well, we're very sorry for your loss, as I am sure others have said," she offered, looking like she meant it, not a trace of sarcasm or officialdom.
The detectives gave them all business cards and said they should call if they had information or questions. Then they left.
"They don't know whether to call it suicide or homicide," Paul said. "I wonder what the final police report will say. God knows who was fucking her that night."
Denis walked out to the retaining wall that was attempting, unsuccessfully, to keep the clifftop from eroding. The adobe bricks were uneven and water from the spring rains had formed little channels under them. He stared at the beautiful vista that he had known since childhood, the blue hulk of Catalina Island taking up most of the straight-on view, and a clump of pine trees on the point that formed the southern end of Lunada Bay.
"It wasn't suicide," he said. "It just wasn't. We may not have gotten on well enough to live together, but I knew her, knew her bad habits and her good impulses. She would not have killed herself. Someone did this to her, whether it was the guy she was with, or someone else. Someone murdered your mother. Someone murdered my wife, and if I had gone swimming after that drink instead of before, that same person might have murdered me without even being here."