Complex Exclusive: Joe R. Lansdale's "L.A. Noire" Short Story, "Naked Angel"

Complex Exclusive: Joe R. Lansdale's "L.A. Noire" Short Story, "Naked Angel"

When he finished up his paperwork at the precinct, Coats walked home and up a creaky flight of stairs to his apartment. Apartment. The word did more justice to the place than it deserved. Inside, Coats stripped down to his underwear, and, out of habit, carried his holstered gun with him to the bathroom.

A few years back a doped-up goon had broken into the apartment while Coats lay sleeping on the couch. There was a struggle. The intruder got the gun, and though Coats disarmed him and beat him down with it, he carried it with him from room to room ever since. He did this based on experience and what his ex-wife called trust issues.

Sitting on the toilet, which rocked precariously, Coats thought about the woman. It wasn’t his problem. He wasn’t a detective. He didn’t solve murders. But still, he thought about her through his toilet and through his shower, and he thought about her after he climbed into bed. How in the world had she come to that? And who had thought of such a thing, freezing her body in a block of ice and leaving it in a dark alley? Then there was the paw print. It worried him, like an itchy scar.

It was too hot to sleep. He got up and poured water in a glass and came back and splashed it around on the bedsheet. He opened a couple of windows over the street. It was louder but cooler that way. He lay back down.

And then it hit him.

The dog paw.

He sat up in bed and reached for his pants.

____________________

Downtown at the morgue the night attendant, Bowen, greeted him with a little wave from behind his desk. Bowen was wearing a white smock covered in red splotches that looked like blood but weren’t. There was a messy meatball sandwich on a brown paper wrapper in front of him, half eaten. He had a pulp-Western magazine in his hands. He laid it on the desk and showed Coats some teeth.

“Hey, Coats, you got some late hours, don’t you? No uniform? You make detective?”

“Not hardly,” Coats said, pushing his hat up on his forehead. “I’m off the clock. How’s the reading?”

“The cowboys are winning. You got nothing better to do this time of morning than come down to look at the meat?”

“The lady in ice.”

Bowen nodded. “Yeah. Damnedest thing ever.”

“Kid found her. Came and got me,” Coats said, and he gave Bowen the general story.

“How the hell did she get there?” Bowen said. “And why?”

“I knew that,” Coats said, “I might be a detective. May I see the body?”

Bowen slipped out from behind the desk and Coats followed. They went through another set of double doors and into a room lined with big drawers in the wall. The air had a tang of disinfectant about it. Bowen stopped at a drawer with the number 28 on it and rolled it out.

“Me and another guy, we had to chop her out with ice picks. They could have set her out front on the sidewalk and it would have melted quick enough. Even a back room with a drain. But no, they had us get her out right away. I got a sore arm from all that chopping.”

“That’s the excuse you use,” Coats said. “But I bet the sore arm is from something else.”

“Oh, that’s funny,” Bowen said, and patted the sheet-covered body on the head. The sheet was damp. Where her head and breasts and pubic area and feet pushed against it there were dark spots.

Bowen pulled down the sheet, said, “Only time I get to see something like that and she’s dead. That don’t seem right.”

Coats looked at her face, so serene. “Roll it on back,” he said.

Bowen pulled the sheet down below her knees. Coats looked at the birthmark. The dog paw. It had struck a chord when he saw it, but he didn’t know what it was right then. Now he was certain.

Tags: la-noire, rockstar, fiction
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