Cover image for Stormy weather : a Charlotte Justice novel
Stormy weather : a Charlotte Justice novel
Woods, Paula L.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton, [2001]

Physical Description:
299 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Detective Charlotte Justice of the LAPD's elite Robbery-Homicide Division takes on a high-profile case where the victim is a pioneering black film director, Maynard Duncan. Following the much-acclaimed Inner City Blues, this journey explores L.A.'s mix of politics and police corruption, secrets and lies.

Author Notes

A native of Los Angeles, Paula L. Woods is the author of the award-winning Charlotte Justice debut. "Inner City Blues", & editor of "Spooks, Spies, & Private Eyes".

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Following the celebrated Inner City Blues (1999), Woods delivers another gripping adventure in the conflicted life of black LAPD detective Charlotte Justice. In the first novel, Woods drew on recent Los Angeles history, setting her story during the Rodney King riots; here she moves to a more distant L.A., as Justice investigates the death of a trailblazing African American movie director. Justice has her own family ties to the movie industry, which makes her all the more committed to solving the murder of director Maynard Duncan, whose closet is full of secrets, both professional and personal. Complicating matters is Justice's conflict with her supervisor, who expects sexual favors from his female detectives. Woods masterfully juggles all her plot elements, seamlessly incorporating the riveting historical material on blacks in Hollywood with an all-too-contemporary story of wrongdoing within the LAPD. There are lots of fine procedurals on the market today, but this one has the added attraction of pitting a black female, committed to being a good cop, against a department infamous for its poor treatment of minorities. --Bill Ott

Publisher's Weekly Review

The suspicious death of respected black film director Maynard Duncan, a pioneer in his field, stirs up passions throughout the minority community's upper-middle-class enclaves in Woods's intriguing take on Old Hollywood from the African-American perspective. Detective Charlotte Justice finds herself more involved than she might like when the LAPD's elite Robbery-Homicide division gets the call. Having grown up in a family connected to the movie business, she feels that the investigation should receive the attention the victim's position and accomplishments deserve. Discovering the darker side of Tinseltown as she sorts through the events involving Duncan's wife and sister, the caregivers, the help, associates and even her own people, Charlotte is consumed with breaking down the reserve she senses in his family and friends to get at the truth. In the process, she confronts some of her own demons, coming to terms with the deaths of her husband and daughter (1999's Edgar-nominated Inner City Blues) while going up against the male superiors who make things rough for women on the job. And then there's the broad-shouldered Dr. Aubrey Scott, who's quite clear about his feelings for her. Woods explores the discrimination and exploitation of an earlier time and how they have evolved, as well as their long-lasting influences into the present in this savvy glimpse behind the celluloid curtain through the eyes of one very determined young woman. (Aug. 6) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Charlotte Justice, a black LAPD detective whose husband and child were murdered some 12 years ago, jeopardizes the first solid relationship she's had since then when she investigates the possible murder of a terminally ill, pioneering, black film director. His death may tie in with a recently solved series of nursing home murders, in which case the jailed perpetrator obviously had help and the police department has mud on its face. Black film history, police department politics, sexual harassment, and family complications add to a lively show. Recommended for all collections. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Truesdale, Justice, And the American Way     When we Justice kids were little and we'd finish watching a movie with my parents, my mother would always ask, "And what was the moral? What have we learned?" And while we would squirm and make faces over how that question intruded on our fantasies, I think I've finally figured out what Joymarie meant.     It's like death. I've probably worked hundreds of homicide cases over the years and they've all meant something different to me, just like my favorite movies. Some homicides pull at your heartstrings--the murder of an innocent child or a battered woman--and haunt you long after the case is closed. Others--gangbangers, a homeless person--make you wonder how our society could stoop so low. Point is, you never know how death will slap you upside the head, or what a homicide investigation will uncover about the victim, the suspects, or yourself.     The Wednesday before Thanksgiving found me downtown at my desk at the PAB, aka Parker Administrative Building, reading the newspaper and trying to get motivated to eat the tuna sandwich I'd bought off the local roach coach. It was unusually quiet in the third-floor bull pen that housed the ten men and two women in the Homicide Special unit of the department's Robbery-Homicide Division. Almost everyone was out in the field; the rest had cut out early to get a head start on an extended holiday weekend. Among the absentees was my partner, Gena Cortez, who had decided at the last minute to take a few days off.     We should all be so lucky, I grumbled to myself as I began unwrapping the stale sandwich before me. I was saved from my mean cuisine by Ma Bell in the form of a call from Billie Truesdale. Billie and I had worked a couple of homicides during the Rodney King riots and had ridden out the ensuing publicity storm together. Our trial by fire had forged a sisterly bond between us, despite the difference in our sexual orientation. That and the fact Billie worked South Bureau Homicide, location of some of the city's most brutal murders, while I was firmly, but increasingly unhappily, entrenched as the only black woman in the celebrated and celebrity-driven RHD.     "Hail to the conquering heroine," I teased Billie by way of a greeting. "I was just reading about the verdict in the Little Angel of Mercy case in the Times ."     A year ago, Billie and her partner had hooked up a registered nurse for the murders of several terminally ill hospital and nursing home patients. An employee of HealthMates, a South Bay home health agency, Angelo Clemenza had just been convicted of moving through a dozen healthcare facilities and private homes, leaving a trail of dead bodies in his wake. His "mission" had gotten the diminutive, soft-spoken man tagged by the right-to-die fanatics and the media as the Little Angel of Mercy, a loose translation of his name in Italian.     The fact that over half of Clemenza's victims were elderly black men had raised the specter of the Atlanta child murders back in the eighties as well as the more recent Jeffrey Dahmer case, and had stirred up the CTs, or conspiracy theorists, from here to Chicago. Billie Truesdale and her partner had done a heroic job during the investigation, even appearing with the LAPD Public Relations commander at town hall meetings and on black radio programs while following Clemenza's devious trail through the South Bureau's jurisdiction as well as several neighboring suburbs. Clearing the Clemenza case was what my acronym-spouting father would call a CEA--career-enhancing achievement--and I was as happy for Billie as I would have been for myself, conspiracy theorists be damned.     "At least now you can get the CT contingent off your back," I joked.     Taking note that Billie didn't laugh along with me, I was even more curious when she asked, her voice uneasy and low, "Are you tied up on something, Charlotte?"     I looked at the forms on my desk. Steve Firestone, my team leader, was heading up a task force composed of me and Cortez, a couple of detectives from Robbery, and some uniforms loaned out from Central Bureau and assigned to solving a series of home-invasion robberies and murders that were occurring in L.A.'s most exclusive neighborhoods.     But despite the nature of the case and my years on the job, I had been relegated to maintaining the murder books and all of the related paper for the Home Invasion Task Force. My sixth sense kept telling me that my string of back-room assignments was part of Firestone's ongoing campaign to get me into his bed or break my spirit and either get me to quit the department or transfer out of RHD.     Not that those thoughts hadn't occurred to me, especially after the trail of blue slime I'd seen left in the wake of the Rodney King fiasco. For over thirteen years now, my career had been the center of my life, part of my personal mission of restoring the balance in our communities disrupted by crime. But what I had seen and experienced in the past few years had been so disillusioning, sometimes I wasn't sure what good I could really do.     But if I left the LAPD it would be for my own reasons and under my own steam, not because a jerk like Firestone railroaded me out of the department. Shoving the paperwork to a corner of my desk, I replied: "Nothing that couldn't wait. What's up?"     "Meet me at Teddy's." * * *     She was already at the diner when I arrived, ruining her lungs with a cigarette under an awning in the drizzling rain. Although I hadn't seen her in a couple of months, Billie Truesdale looked great. Her pixie haircut had grown out a little, soft black tendrils framing her heart-shaped face and the three moles that rode under her right eye. She was wearing a red, short-jacketed pantsuit that contrasted nicely with her sepia-toned skin and fit her smallish frame perfectly. But her hug was perfunctory and her right eye, always a bit lazy, was way off kilter, a sure sign she was stressing about something.     Helga Roosevelt, a grandmotherly German immigrant who'd lived in Los Angeles longer than I've been alive, gave us both a Brunhildean hug and showed us to my regular booth, a suncracked relic near the back. While Helga was getting our drinks, Teddy, her husband and co-owner, saluted us from his post at the grill. "Well, if it ain't Truesdale and Justice," he shouted over the sound of frying food. "All y'all need is the American Way!"     Groaning at Teddy's pitiful Superman pun, I shot back: "For a man whose mother actually named him Theodore Roosevelt, you sure got your nerve, old man." Teddy's was one of my favorite hangs, as much for the good-natured dozens the elderly black man played with his customers as for his double chili cheeseburgers, which in my mind were the eighth wonder of the world.     Teddy came out from behind the grill to take our orders himself, a bantam rooster in a chef's toque. "Saw you on the news, Detective," he said, beaming at Billie. "Glad it was you who caught that Angel of Mercy lowlife. Doubly glad it wasn't one of us what did the deed, if you take my point."     Billie ducked her head and scooted around in her seat.     "Always happy to see cullud folks gittin' ahead," he went on, oblivious to her discomfort, "'specially in a plantation like the LAPD. They gon' make you gals overseers soon!"     Teddy was old enough and crotchety enough that he could call grown women "gals" or black people "cullud" and not give offense. And I could call him an old man and get only a mock-insulted wave of his dish towel in my direction and a chuckle and nod of agreement from his long-suffering wife.     Billie, however, seemed unable to join in our good-natured banter, unable to look even me in the eye.     "I've got a potential problem," she began as soon as our drinks arrived and Teddy was out of earshot.     "Is it the Little Angel of Mercy case?"     Her good eye fixed on mine. "How did you know?"     "You didn't seem too enthused when I mentioned it on the phone, and with Teddy just now ..."     "Guess that's what I get for talking to a detective." She laughed, but her fingers were locked tight around her glass, another sign of trouble.     "So?"     "I'm beginning to wonder if we hooked up the wrong man."     "Is this a legitimate concern, or is this just you second-guessing yourself in some sort of `I don't deserve all this attention' crisis of confidence? Because if it's the latter, you're just going to have to get used to it, girlfriend."     She gestured quickly with one hand, said, "It's nothing like that," and knocked over her iced tea in the process. She jumped to wipe up the mess with napkins while Helga ran for a dish towel.     "Well, be careful," I cautioned, moving my glass out of the way. "You can see where that kind of notoriety has gotten me--ostracized and targeted by my D-III as if I had a bull's-eye on my back."     "Steve Firestone is a skirt-chasing wannabe!" she said heatedly as she passed Helga the wet napkins. "Did you ever tell your lieutenant about him coming on to you?"     My jaw and neck muscles tightened, but I forced a smile and shook my head. "Nice try, my sister-in-blue, but we're not here to talk about my troubles. Tell me why you think you hooked up the wrong man."     Billie slid forward in the booth, her voice low. "What have you heard about Maynard Duncan?"     "Just what was on the news this morning." I sipped my drink and remembered: "Seventy-six-year-old black filmmaker and community activist died last night of cancer, right?"     "That's what the paramedics first thought," Billie replied. "Duncan had suffered from lung cancer for a year and a half, so they were prepared to chalk it up to respiratory failure. But when they were examining the body last night, one of the paramedics noticed something funny and called out a black-and-white from the Wilshire division."     "And they called you?"     "No, actually it was Mikki Alexander. When she arrived on the scene behind the detectives, she discovered the vic had been a patient at Green Pastures Nursing Home last summer. Four of Clemenza's victims were patients there, and she'd investigated those cases for the coroner's office."     "But hasn't Clemenza been in custody for the last year?"     She leaned in a little closer, the aged Naugahyde-covered seat beneath her squeaking in protest. "That's what's been gnawing at me since Mikki called this morning" she whispered.     Although California voters had recently defeated an assisted suicide proposition, it had stirred an intense debate between a vociferous few who supported the concept of euthanasia and those in the medical ethics and religious communities who felt passage of the bill would lead down a dark path Americans were not equipped to travel. In the current climate, and with the Clemenza case so fresh in her mind, I had a pretty good idea where Billie was headed. "So you're thinking what ... that this old man's death was an assisted suicide made to look like Clemenza's work?"     "Or maybe" she whispered, her errant eye wandering from her clenched hands to my face, "a second Little Angel of Mercy working in tandem with him"     Billie proceeded to tell me how, during a search of Clemenza's apartment, she and her partner had discovered a detailed scrapbook, complete with pictures of his victims, obituaries from the newspapers, and lengthy letters and diary entries addressed to someone Clemenza called "the Twin." Clemenza seemed to think this twin's and his destinies were intertwined, a fact he wrote of in more than one hundred items taken into evidence. "We initially thought he meant a literal twin--until we found out he was an only child," Billie explained. "So the DA's investigators started checking out his friends and coworkers, but no one seems to have been that close to him. They finally concluded the letters and the rest were a bunch of delusional nonsense."     She shifted uneasily in her seat. "But with this new victim sounding like the others, I'm wondering--what if we were wrong and the defense was right? What if Clemenza was being framed with those vics? Or maybe there were two of them doing these old men together."     Los Angeles had endured its share of infamous serial killers, some of whom were suspected of working in tandem. The idea of another deadly duo caused the hairs on my arms to tingle. "Who's the primary over at Wilshire?" I demanded, digging into my purse for my notebook.     "Ron Neidisch." A look of frustration crossed Billie's face. "But he just 'bout bit my head off me when I called over there to give him a heads-up."     Her response brought me up short, forcing me back in my seat. I remembered Ron Neidisch from the Academy. Why would he be uncooperative with a detective from another shop, especially as closely as the neighboring South Bureau and Wilshire had to work together?     "Neidisch's response just seemed weird to me," she continued, echoing my thoughts. "That's why I'm pulling your coat on this one. The original Little Angel of Mercy case stretched across so many jurisdictions, you guys should have handled it from the get-go, but you know our CO wasn't about to let RHD get its foot in the door after what happened when you came in on one of our cases the last time. But now ..."     Her voice trailed off as Helga put the chili cheeseburgers before us, two masterpieces of grease and goo. Billie studied her burger, but made no move to pick it up. "My CO would have me shot at dawn if I even hinted that RHD should be called in on this thing," she confided. "But with Neidisch getting all hincty, I was thinking ... you know Mikki Alexander pretty well ... maybe you could chat her up, get something concrete you could take to Armstrong ..."     Captain MacIverson Armstrong was the pony-playing commanding officer of Robbery-Homicide Division. I knew for a fact he was pissed that Billie's CO had managed to keep the Little Angel of Mercy case in South Bureau, but I wasn't sure if he'd want to disrupt his social calendar to get caught between two hard-charging homicide units.     "He and the chief coroner are pretty tight. I can always put a bug in his ear and see if he ferrets out the details."     "Anything you could do would help," she replied, her hands relaxing for the first time since we sat down. "I just don't want somebody from Wilshire futzing around with the Clemenza case and undoing what I know in my bones was a solid collar. After all the good press South Bureau's gotten on this case, having it blow up in our faces would be a disaster all the way around."     For the bureau as well as the detectives on the case--my friend and colleague chief among them.     "You know I'd love to help you out, Billie. But RHD's taking over the case doesn't mean our team would be the ones working it. There're a whole bunch of detectives senior to Firestone, Cortez, and me who line up for the celebrity cases. And twinning serial killers ... they'll be tripping over their tongues to get put on that one. I bet we'd be the last team who'd get an assignment like that."     Billie sighed as if the weight of the world was on her shoulders and said, "I'm sure you're busy anyway," pushing her plate aside.     Taking another healthy bite of my burger, I studied the lines furrowing my friend and colleague's brow and knew I'd find the time to help her out somehow. "Let me see what I can do."     "Thanks, Charlotte. I owe you one."     "You sure do." I slid the check in her direction with a smile. "And don't think I won't collect either." * * * When I got back to the office at two, I left heads-up messages about the Duncan case for my lieutenant and captain and reluctantly went back to my paperwork. I'd been at it for a couple of hours when Manny Rudolph walked up to my desk, a mess of files under one arm. A D-II like me, Rudolph had been assigned to the Home Invasion Task Force from the Robbery side of the shop, but was already managing clues and chasing down leads while I stayed virtually chained to my desk. But that didn't stop me from liking Rudolph, who was always quick with a joke that was never offcolor, never insulting to women or minorities like some of my so-called colleagues on the job.     A lanky man with skin the color of cooked lobster, Rudolph scratched at the corner of his gray-blond mustache. "Hey, Justice," he drawled, his voice betraying a bit of Tulsa, Oklahoma, that thirty years in California and even four in Paris at the Sorbonne studying art history had yet to dispel. "Firestone wants these filed into the murder book before you go home tonight."     I cut my eyes across the bull pen to Firestone's empty desk. "Why didn't he tell me himself?" But that was just like Steve Firestone, putting someone else up to doing his dirty work. Always ready to throw a rock and hide his hand.     Seeing my reaction, Rudolph ducked his head and blushed a deeper red. "He had to leave early to pick up his kids from his ex for the holidays."     I could feel my cheeks getting hot, too. "Is that ex number one or ex number two?" Eyeing the stack of files under his arm, I figured I'd be in the office until eight trying to catch up. Why had I promised my mother I'd help her peel apples for pie this evening? "What is that stuff? More tips on the home invasions?"     "Yeah" he replied, almost sheepishly. "Since one of the victim's families offered a reward, we've been busier than a bunch of one-armed paper hangers." He laughed quickly and released the files onto my desk with a thud. "We been runnin' these down over the last week, and they're all dead ends. But ..."     "I know." I tried for a smile but felt my face settle into a grimace. "They've got to be logged and filed in case we need to come back to them later."     Rudolph sat at Cortez's vacant desk across from mine and toyed with his mustache some more. "You're a real good sport to be doing this, Charlotte."     I avoided his hazel eyes. "It's my job, Rudolph, that's all."     "But I woulda thought Firestone coulda had one of the uniforms assigned to the case doin' this kind of stuff. You and I should be makin' headway out in the field. I've heard you've got excellent interviewing skills."     "Woulda, coulda, shoulda," I muttered to myself.     Rudolph frowned. "Huh?"     "I'm sure we could," I said a little louder, "but as the D-III on the case, that's Firestone's call, not mine." Or yours, Rudolph, quiet as it's kept .     He blushed again. "If you keep doing that, Manny, I'm going to have to start calling you Rudolph the Red." I smiled at him, trying to lighten the mood.     The perplexed look on his face didn't go away. "I don't usually work with you Homicide folks, Charlotte, so excuse my ignorance, but is there some reason you're always behind a desk?"     Dropping my head, I busied myself by examining the files to hide the color I could feel betraying my face. "None that I know of, Rudolph" I mumbled. Except that you won't sleep with your D-III, a little voice in my head reminded me.     Eventually Rudolph slapped his knees and rose to his feet. "Well, I'm gonna talk to ol' Steve about it when we get back from the holidays."     I kept my head down to hide the mounting anger I felt radiating down my neck to the pit of my stomach. "Suit yourself, Rudolph, but I'd stay out of it if I were you."     I could feel Manny Rudolph's eyes on me, hear him sigh and move away as if he finally got the picture. I guess all that time at the Sorbonne was good for something. "Whatever you say, Detective Justice. Have a nice Thanksgiving," he drawled.     Surveying the mountain of papers, thinking of the grand diva fit my mother would have when I called to tell her I wasn't going to be able to help her tonight, I mumbled: "I wouldn't take any bets on that if I were you." Excerpted from STORMY WEATHER by Paula L. Woods. Copyright © 2001 by WLG Enterprises, Inc.. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.