Cover image for The heroin factor
The heroin factor
McEachin, James.
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Publication Information:
Encino, CA : Rharl Pub. Group, [1999]

Physical Description:
340 pages ; 24 cm
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FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf

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A black Los Angeles police detective fights his two biggest problems himself and his addiction.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Detective Wyatt McKnight, a lieutenant in the narcotics division of the LAPD, is called in to investigate the murder of Sergeant Verneau B. LeCoultre, a fellow officer and McKnight's personal nemesis. LeCoultre is also a worthless alcoholic, possibly a drug addict, who was found shot to death in a car with a gift-wrapped package of pure uncut heroin. McKnight wonders why a black narcotics detective is asked to investigate the murder of a man who had shown racist disdain toward black officers. But his captain's threats and the carrot of a preretirement promotion for McKnight give him ample incentive. He also meets Lady Leslie Van Horn, who called police after LeCoultre's car spun off the road. McKnight learns that her involvement is anything but coincidental. Despite their divergent personalities and backgrounds, they share souls tortured by heroin trading and addiction. This is a compelling novel with a lead character who is more three-dimensional than the typical black hero often presented to counter negative images of black men. --Vernon Ford

Publisher's Weekly Review

Though it starts off with a couple of hoary old clich‚s, McEachin's offbeat but never off-kilter thriller eschews conventional action-suspense resolutions. There's a "no love lost" subplot between cranky L.A. narcotics lieutenant Wyatt McKnight and equally crusty Chief Herman Ault, who assigns McKnight to investigate the murder of fellow officer Verneau LeCoultre, a drug addict who's found shot to death after apparently being mauled by a dog. A "new partner" subplot blooms when Ault teams McKnight with a German policeman visiting L.A. to observe U.S. police methods. The two detectives quickly discover that LeCoultre's girlfriend, Angie, worked as a distributor for eccentric Leslie Van Horn, a British woman who suffers from a psychotic disorder and makes pure heroin from poppies grown on her own farm to distribute to the homeless. While locating Van Horn is relatively easy, the arrest is anything but. There are disastrous complications for McKnight's search, including violent bouts with a madwoman, a near-fatal gunshot wound, amnesia and a year of medical leave for recuperation before McKnight can track Van Horn to Bath, England. There he meets her deranged and dangerous family, and the showdown is a grisly one. McEachin's (Farewell to the Mockingbirds) third novel is not so much a mystery-thriller as an unusual, nearly unresolvable case history. As a result, the climax hinges not on the apprehension of a killer, but a search for answers, and ultimately a mutual redemption between cop and criminal, who share more than just a crime between them. It's not the story one might expect from the first few pages, but McEachin's strange twists make it a palpable, addictive one. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One He stood there in the rain trying to puff on the butt of a soaked cigarette with shaking hands. His memory had been shattered, and swirling around a bankrupt mind was the phrase: Please don't die .     It was shortly before 4:30 a.m., and downtown Los Angeles had not done a very good job of tucking itself away for the night. Because of the fish and produce markets only a few blocks away, traffic still rumbled by and the homeless still wandered around aimlessly. Those who had concern about the rain found shelter in alleys and doorways or snaked inside soggy cardboard boxes they had fashioned into mini-quarters. Diagonally across the street from where he was standing there was a giant Buddha that towered in the yard of a Korean church. From his room on the third floor there in a drug rehabilitation facility that was racked by neglect, the few times when he was able to think clearly he used to gaze down at the Buddha.     Last night the Buddha had gazed back. It was made of stone.     The two detectives parked at curbside continued their wait. When he first shuffled out from the building, Devro, the chunky black one, rolled the vehicle's window down and hollered, "Hey, we're over here, Lieutenant."     Seeing that he wasn't going to move, Devro started to holler out again.     From behind the wheel, Kiesner, his German companion motioned for him not to. From the way the man looked he thought they would have to get out and escort him to the car. "And don't forget, Devro," Kiesner said, "he's a captain now."     It was a very sick man they were talking about.     Mentally he was in and out. When he was in, he was troubled. When he was out, he was a wreck. He suffered emotional turmoil, delusion, and confusion. A police psychiatrist described his condition as a type of schizophrenia. Its subtitle: Brief Psychotic Disorder. An episode lasted a day; the longest was a month.     He had been that way for a year.     His fall had been long and hard, and for that year he had carried his illness from the hospital to various rehabilitation facilities and back again. He showed no signs of full recovery. The question remained: Would he ever come back? His two subordinates waiting in the car believed he would. The department didn't know. Moreover, the department wasn't concerned.     The Los Angeles Police Department had its reasons.     Long before his fall, he was not a well-liked policeman. He was not known for keeping his views to himself. Most of the whites in his division considered him a racist. Most of the blacks thought he was aloof. He was neither. He was a veteran of the dark streets of Los Angeles, and he was therefore angry.     He had been in the department twenty-eight years; a lieutenant for nine. Before his illness he had passed the test for the rank of captain, coming in first on the list. He was not interested in the rank.     He was dark; six feet, two inches; smoked too much, not a specimen of good health, didn't watch his diet, and worked out only occasionally. He had been working in narcotics eight years. He worked alone. He preferred it that way.     It was exactly a year ago, on the night of June 25, when he had been summoned to the chief of detectives' home. It was Friday; the weather typical. The call came in at nine. At eleven he was still thinking about it. He wasn't feeling well to begin with, and now his captain was pulling him off a job and he didn't like it. The captain didn't like him. Equality was working. He didn't like the captain.     Midnight, and the detective was on his way to the captain's house. It was a bland little cookie-cutter nestled in the heart of Northridge. Northridge was suburbia at work. Chartered in the `40s, raised in the '50s, and spanked by a 6.7 earthquake in the '90s, it was located in the northwest section of the San Fernando Valley. On a fast drive it was twenty-two minutes from the hustle and bustle of downtown Los Angeles. The distance made for good neighbors. The blacks were at arm's length, the Mexicans hadn't invaded, and the median income topped the fifty-thousand mark.     The captain saw the car when it drove up. He should have. He had been planted in the window for over an hour, his already fierce eyes steaming. Herman Ault was his name. He was a short, bald, uncouth man with no racial tolerance. Once while relieving himself in the Whitehurst division john he referred to the urinal as an NAACP blood bank. There were no blacks in the department around when he said it. Had they heard it, they would not have taken the matter upstairs. They would have provided their own discipline. One in particular would have come close to killing him. He was the one the captain was waiting on. His name was McKnight, Wyatt W.     The stumpy man, who had a face that looked as if it had been molded in concrete, waited for the graying black man to walk up the walkway. When he threw away a cigarette he had been puffing on and granted a reluctant foot permission to touch the first step, the captain withdrew from the curtains where he had been waiting. He would choose not to ask why it had taken over two hours for his subordinate to show up. Instead, he tightened his bathrobe and stepped out the door, saying, "The wife just had the carpets cleaned."     The black man knew it was a lie. The white man didn't want him in his house. It was fine with the black man. Being in the company of a bigot was bad; being in his home was puke-inducing.     Captain Ault was swift and really wasn't concerned about an answer. He leveled an eye. "What about the Dinaldi operation?"     "I've got tabs on everything."     "What's that supposed to mean?"     "It means I know who's pushing where, distribution points and pickups." McKnight started to reach for his handkerchief. He stopped.     The captain caught it. Suspicions growing, he said, "And?"     "The stuff is coming in through an import/export furniture dealership on Figueroa. The owners and operators are the Fortmullers, Gail and Matt, a good couple gone wrong. I can give you more details, but I'm sure that's not why I'm here."     "You're here because you were told to be here."     "You snatched me off a job."     "I know that."     There was nothing said for a moment. The reason why nothing was said was that the captain was still hard-eyeing. And he was burning inside. The tension was obvious. The stumpy man finally spoke. "They scraped LeCoultre's body from a ditch. He was murdered. I received word at 8:17, a few minutes after it happened. Looks like he was pumped through the car window and chewed up by a dog."     "Sounds rough."     "Murder always is. A cop's is even worse. Double it if it's one of mine."     "Was the dog in the car?"     "How should I know? I wasn't there."     "Where'd they find him?"     "In the Valley?"     "Whereabouts in the Valley, Captain?"     "Encino."     "That narrows it down to how many square miles?"     Suppressing the urge to order the man off the property, the captain said, "He was in a hotshot car near that Park & Ride thing on Hayvenhurst. Near the Sepulveda Dam."     "Where was his partner?"     "If you'd read the board, you'd know LeCoultre was on the second week of a three-week vacation." Ault shoved a piece of paper into the black man's hand. It read: "His last words: Can harm ."     McKnight scanned it. "I don't get it."     "Neither did the Highway Patrolman who found him."     The detective looked closer at the small, notebook-size paper. The writing was scribbled. "What is this `his last words'?"     "Can't you read? Or hear? I just said they were his last words. The Highway Patrolman wrote Sergeant Verneau B. LeCoultre's last words down on paper. Notebook paper. Presumably with a pen. A ballpoint pen. The words were: Can harm . According to him, that's what he thought the idiot said before he died. And to make matters worse, again, according to the Highway Patrolman, it looked as though he hadn't crapped, shaved or bathed in a month of Sundays. Your job is to find out why."     "Check it, Captain. Murder is homicide's job. I'm in narcotics."     "I'm chief of detectives, I know what you're in. Or maybe I should say, what you're into. But if you're telling me you're not going to accept an assignment, I'll hang you out to dry."     "Put it on ice, Captain. You know I've only got thirteen days before I hang it up. Try reading my disability report. It's on your desk. It's on your desk because you are chief of detectives. As chief of detectives, you make the assignments."     "That's what a chief is paid to do."     "Well, let's go back and check the records to see what your pay has led you to do to me."     "You're a W10. Your assignments have been as good as anybody else's. If not better."     "Somebody on this porch has a defective memory. From day one, under your command, I've been mired in the ghetto, chasing junkies, pushers, hopheads and assorted crud, all while the more privileged under you weren't doing much more than waiting for the change of seasons."     "That's your version."     "It's not a version. It's fact. Now, let me finish. Because I happen to remember one night in particular. I needed a backup, and I needed him in a hurry. And who did you send? This same peanut-brain who not only needed a road map to find South Central, but wouldn't get out of the car when he got there. And the results? I got the left one shot off. But don't you or the department worry about it, I have the remains. Home. Pickled in a jar. Thirteen days, Captain. And the clock is running."     "First of all, you're talking about something that happened years ago. And if you're still bent out of shape because your testicle was hurt and your night life shortened, that's your problem. Not mine. LeCoultre was a cop, just like you. If he arrived late and didn't get the job done, you should have taken it up with the chief. Not me. Now, I don't have time to stand out here in the middle of the night, arguing about something you're still boiling over. I know you're going out, and to be frank about it, I'll be glad when you do. You're a pain. But you ought to cool your heels long enough to consider something. I can arrange it so that you can go out with full pay. How? Don't ask. You just handle the case. Leave the rest to me."     "You can't make that deal."     "City Hall can."     "I don't trust City Hall."     "I do."     "I don't trust you ."     "I'll put it in writing."     "Witnessed and on my desk by 9 a.m.?"     "Six p.m. The end of the working day."     "And no later."     "And no later," the captain confirmed. "Now, who do you want with you? And don't say nobody."     "Then I'll take the next person to it. Devro."     "He's in robbery."     "From the looks of this place, so are you."     "Wyatt William, you're a goddamn cynic. And it's that same cynical attitude that keeps me hoping you never make captain."     "Herman," McKnight said, not appreciating being called by his middle name, "I'm sure it's not my cynicism alone. Now, who do you want on the case with me?"     "Whatsisname. The German. That kraut who's over here under the pretense of method-learning and international goodwill , whatever the hell that is. He's probably a goddamn Commie, selling secrets to the Russians."     "The Russians are no longer a threat, in case you haven't heard."     "I don't need you to tell me that," huffed Ault.     McKnight maintained his composure. "What's the story behind the case?"     "LeCoultre had a problem. The Highway Patrolman who found him said there were enough tracks on his arms to run a train."     "If he was on horse , he was a junkie ."     "I don't need you to tell me that either. And besides, no one but a relic uses the word horse. Or junkie. That kind of talk went out with high-button shoes."     "I'm glad I'm following suit."     "I can't wait. The sooner the better," the captain flatly agreed, then muttered through tightened jaws, "Imagine, a goddamn addict in the police department, as if we didn't have enough problems."     "I don't see why you're surprised. This is the LAPD. You've got every other kind of loser in here."     "You need to be in counseling, you know that, Lieutenant?" the captain responded harshly, for the first time calling him by rank. He came back to LeCoultre. "And keep this thing hush-hush. A case like this could give the department a bad name."     "Give the LAPD a bad name? You're a funny man, Captain."     "Don't get cute, McKnight."     The detective opened his mouth to respond, and didn't. He started to reach for his handkerchef, changed up, and patted for a cigarette. He thought better of it, and said, "I'm still a little confused about something. A cop's been shot. A detective sergeant. It's been a couple of hours ago. Why isn't there a team assigned to it? And how're you going to keep it hush-hush with all the media around?"     "We've held off the hounds before. We can do it again. As to a team, it'll be done. After you do the prelims."     "Why not assign it to homicide now? If word gets out that a cop was murdered and you've only assigned a single ..."     Ault wouldn't let him finish. "Don't you ever think ? Verneau LeCoultre was on horse ; he was a junkie . Your words. He became a 'junkie' on `horse,' if you can say such a thing, by using narcotics. LeCoultre was also a policeman. A detective sergeant. Common sense should tell you that if a detective sergeant was a hophead on the job, somebody else on the department could be involved. The last thing we need after the heat we've been taking from that so-called trial-of-the-century fiasco is the public coming down on the department again."     "We've had a couple of trials of the century. Which one are you referring to?"     "That modern-day version of the Scopes Monkey Trial, with that nip on the bench."     "You'd better watch your mouth, Captain."     "You threatening me, Lieutenant?"     "I'm advising you, Captain."     Ault turned to go back into the house. "Get on it, and get back to me as soon as possible." He stopped. "Oh. And notify the son of a bitch's wife."     "You make me glad I've never married."     "You were," answered the captain. "To the department. When you used to be good."     "You're blowing smoke again, Captain. It makes me think it might not be a bad idea for you to call the chief while I'm here and tell him what the deal is."     "C'mon. The man's way over in Hawaii at the police chiefs' convention. And he's staying over there for a couple of extra days."     "The area code for the Ili Kai is 848."     "What's that supposed to mean?"     "It means that the Ili Kai is a hotel in Hawaii with a telephone. The chief is in that hotel in Hawaii with a telephone. You can call the chief on the telephone at that hotel in Hawaii. Again."     "What do you mean `again'?"     "I'm sure you called him before to tell him of the demise of one of his officers."     Ault bit on it for a moment. "How would you know what the area code for Hawaii is?"     "Maybe I'm part Hawaiian."     The captain simply did not like the man or his black skin. He glared at him for a long moment, and went back inside to make the call.     The weary detective had been standing on the first step for the better part of the conversation. Handkerchief out, he moved up and held by the door. He could hear the captain as he dialed the numbers. The voice was deliberate; gruffly obvious. "Area code 1-848. Telephone number 603 da-da-da-da. ....Chief Verier of the LAPD's suite. .... Chief ...? Captain Ault. Sorry to wake you. Listen, Chief, I've got Lieutenant McKnight here. He's been looking a little hollow and burned-out lately -- and that tells me something, but I'm assigning him the LeCoultre case.... I'm glad you agree, sir. Now, as you know, Mac has less than two weeks to go before that disability.... What was that, Chief? ... Right, he is a damned good man, and we'll all be sorry when he goes. It'll be a helluva loss. You'll be glad to hear I've just worked out a deal with him, since he's our primo man in narcotics. Now the way I see it, LeCoultre probably burned somebody in the ghetto and was popped in the Valley. I promised Mac that if he'd get on it and wrap it up as quickly and quietly as possible ... Huh? ... And that's exactly what I told him: We gotta play it close to the vest. And if he does that, I told him we'd see to it that he goes out with full pay. And with lots of honors.... You do agree? Right. And as you say, it is the least we can do for a man who has dedicated his life to law enforcement. Thank you, Chief.... I'll pass that along. .... Bring some of that good Hawaiian sunshine with you when you get back." Apparently the chief said something that amused the captain. He guffawed and hung up.     He came back outside to the lieutenant. "You heard the call. It's all set. And I hope you noticed I went out of my way to praise you."     "That's fine, Captain," said McKnight. "But the next time you dial Hawaii, try using the correct area code. I suddenly remember: It's 808. Not 848." (Continues...) Copyright (c) 1999 James McEachin. All rights reserved.