Book Summary -- Cover Blurb A Death In Beverly Hills When the

Comments

Transcription

Book Summary -- Cover Blurb A Death In Beverly Hills When the
Book Summary -- Cover Blurb
A Death In Beverly Hills
When the pregnant wife and three year old step-daughter of fading movie star, Tom
Travis, disappeared, a massive, fruitless, search was launched. Three months later, the
body of Travis's wife was discovered in a shallow grave only a few miles from where Tom
had been riding his dune buggy on the day she vanished. Of the three year old little girl,
Sarah, no trace was found.
Arrested and placed on trial for capital murder, Tom Travis is now only a days away
from an almost certain guilty verdict. Desperate to find some way out, his lawyer hires
suspended Ex-Deputy D.A., Steve Janson, to review all the files and find some overlooked clue that might keep Travis off death row.
Janson, whose own wife had been murdered almost two years before, accepts the
assignment, not to help Travis, but in the faint hope of finding Sarah still alive. Janson's
investigation leads him on a twisted path from Travis's mistress to her drug-dealing
brother to the writer and producer of his last movie and on across the landscape of
Southern California until, eventually, Janson begins to wonder if Travis might really be
innocent after all.
Click Here to jump to Chapter One
FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT : WWW.DavidGraceAuthor.COM
Click Here to jump to the Table Of Contents.
NOTE: A screenplay version of this novel is available from the author.
Legal Notices
This novel is a work of fiction. All of the people, places, businesses, and events
portrayed in this novel are either based on the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
Even though the names of real locations may be used in certain parts of this book, none of
the people, places, businesses, or events referred to in any of those locales are intended to
represent any relationship with any real events. Any and all occurrences in this book are
completely unrelated to the actions of any real persons, places, businesses, or events and
any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or real businesses or institutions, or to
any actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright David Alexander writing as David Grace 2009
Smashwords Edition, License Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another
person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you're
reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then
you should return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for
respecting the hard work of this author.
A Death In Beverly Hills
A Novel
By David Grace
Chapter One
1Judge Malcolm Burris' lips drew wide in a tortured line and, with a soft, mewing
sound, he toppled over behind the bench. Defense attorney Greg Markham rushed forward
and found the judge kinked sideways clutching his stomach. Little moans slipped through
Burris' clenched teeth.
"Call 911! Call 911!" Markham shouted,
The courtroom filled with muted shrieks and layers of voices: "What happened?" "Is he dying?" - ". . . heart attack?"
A pair of deputies roughly pushed Markham aside. Slapping dust from his trousers,
he paced back to the defense table where Tom Travis waited patiently.
"Is he dead?" Travis asked, glancing at Burris' up-pointed toes. Travis's tone was
little different than one he might have used to ask the waiter if the sea bass was frozen or
fresh.
With frost-gray eyes and a trim, salt and pepper mustache, Tom Travis had the kind
of face that might have been worn by a Special Forces Colonel who had survived a
lifetime of black ops, or a faded private eye who had loved and lost too many times but
maybe, just maybe, had the heart for one last romance, both of which were movie heroes
Tom Travis had played at one time or another.
Travis had gotten his start in a failed project to revive the TV western. The show
died at the end of the first season but that was long enough to get Tom the lead in a new
cop series that was canceled halfway through its second year. Seemingly charmed, Travis's
publicist managed to cage him a cover on TV Guide the week before the last episode
aired. He started shooting his first starring movie role two months later and never looked
back.
Travis picked up a spiral pad and doodled mindlessly as paramedics pushed through
the crush. Soon the image of a jet plane firing rockets at a mangled tank began to take
shape. It had good perspective, lots of energy. One or another of Travis's paintings, battle
scenes, prize fights, all macho stuff, were usually on display at Ramona's on Rodeo Drive.
Word was that when he was short of money he would knock one out in an afternoon.
"Pocket change," he once smirked off-camera to a talking head from Entertainment
Tonight, but for the last ten years the prices had been slipping. Now, with Travis on trial
for capital murder, the market had re-bounded to it's old level of $50,000 a painting. But
Travis wasn't doing any oils from his cell in the County Jail.
Sleek, Markham decided, that was the word to describe Tom Travis. Fashionably
thin with a sharp angled nose and chin, a trim mustache, short dark hair, thin fingers,
clever hands. Sleek like the spies and assassins, gamblers and gigolos he had imprinted
onto miles of celluloid over an almost thirty year career.
Maybe that's the problem, Markham mused for the hundredth time. The jury was so
used to seeing Tom Travis with a scowl on his face and blood on his hands that they
walked into court already half-convinced that he was the monster who had first cheated on
and then strangled his eight month pregnant wife. He had killed on film so many times,
what was one more murder on his resume?
Markham turned at a clatter behind him. White-faced and hesitant,the jury was being
herded from the room. A couple of them glanced uneasily at Travis who, oblivious,
continued sketching shattering armor and roiling flames, as if death and destruction were
the most normal things in the world. Sensing the weight of the jurors' eyes, Travis turned
toward them and smiled. Embarrassed, they quickly looked away. Travis gave Markham a
happy smile as if to say, "My fans."
Staring at the contempt painting the jurors' faces, the thought, They're going to send
him to death row, trickled like acid through Markham's brain.
Chapter Two
Steve Janson stared at the refrigerator in the corner of his tiny apartment.It held five
cold, long-necked beers, one fewer than yesterday. Behind him the muted TV flickered in
a wash of color. For another moment he considered downing today's allotted beer in four
long gulps. Clenching his fingers he turned back to the couch.
Colonial Indemnity's lawyer needed his review of the plaintiff's deposition by noon
tomorrow. Steve grabbed his red pen. Images swirled on the TV, grabbing Janson's
attention. Head down, Greg Markham appeared and shoved his way through a forest of
microphones. Cynthia Allard's face edged into view, babbling mutely into the camera.
"Trial of the Decade", "Movie Star Murder", "Sensational Details," Janson knew all the
sound-bites by heart.
Frowning, he hit the remote. When she had worked for the D.A.'s office Allard had
been a competentprosecutor and a decent enough person, easy on the eyes too, as the Old
Man used to say. Now she was just another Talking Head. And what am I? Janson asked
himself sourly. A disbarred, no suspended, attorney reviewing whiplash cases for a bunch
of insurance lawyers. Frowning, Steve glanced at the refrigerator then jerked around at the
trill of his phone. He sucked in a hasty breath. It was probably Gustovson wanting an
update on the deposition.
"Janson."
"Steve, it's Greg Markham. You got a minute?"
Speak of the devil. . . .
"How's it going, Greg?"
"You going to be home for a while?"
"What's up?"
"I'd like to talk to you about my case. How about it?"
Janson glanced at his watch, a quarter to four. He had about half an hour's work left
on the file.
"Four-thirty okay?"
"I'll be there." The phone went dead. At this time of day the drive from Santa Monica
was a bitch and Steve wasn't surprised that it was almost a quarter to five when Markham
arrived.
"Thanks for seeing me on such short notice," Greg said, extending his hand.
"Anything for the guy who kept me out of prison."
"They couldn't convict you. You know that."
"They tried."
"Ted Hamilton tried, but he was only going through the motions. The most he really
thought he could get was your disbarment."
"Thanks to you, that didn't happen either."
"I could have gotten you off Scott-free if you'd been willing to fight it all the way
through to the end."
"I needed it to be over. I couldn't let drag out for another year. You did what I asked
you to. I told you to settle with the State Bar for something short of disbarment and you
did. It's done." Steve grabbed a couple of beers and handed one to his guest. "So, how is
Ted Hamilton? Are you kicking his ass?"
"What do you think?"
"He's a jerk and you're not. Enough said."
Markham frowned and shook his head.
"Unless something happens, we're cooked."
"When's the last time Ted Hamilton beat you?"
"The jury hates Tom Travis. Hates him!" Markham took a long pull on his beer. "He
cheated on his pregnant wife and lied to his mistress. A mistress, I might add, that the jury
loves as much as they hate Tom."
"Okay, your guy's a prick, but--"
"He's not just a prick. He's a lying, deceitful, cheating, arrogant, spoiled jerk of a
prick, and they're going to stick it to him and smile when they do it. Nothing I've said or
done is going to make the slightest bit of difference to that jury. They're like the fat couple
in the buffet line, just rubbing their hands and waiting for their chance."
"Look, Greg, you know the facts of life as well as I do. I used to be a Deputy D.A. I
did criminal trials for six years and you've been doing them for fifteen. You've got the
evidence you've got. You do the best you can with it and then its out of your hands."
"That's a great philosophy when your client is guilty, but the D.A. has very little real
evidence that Travis actually did it. No fibers, no blood, no witnesses, no DNA, no prints.
All they've got is that the electrical cord around her neck could have come from a lamp he
used to own or from any of a hundred thousand other lamps. That and the fact that he's a
cheating bastard and that his wife is dead and his step daughter is missing. It's guilt by the
process of elimination. It wasn't a robbery. It probably wasn't a rape gone wrong, so
what's left? Obviously, the lying, cheating, bastard husband did it! Shit, that's a good
enough reason to send a guy to death row, isn't it?" Markham angrily paced the tiny room,
his bottle already empty.
"Why are you telling me this?"
"I need your help."
"What good can a disgraced, semi-disbarred, lawyer do you? Do you want me to sit
at the defense table and put the evil eye on Ted Hamilton? Do you think that maybe my
being there will piss off Old Man Burris so much that he'll make a reversible error?" A
bitter laugh escaped Steve's lips.
"I want you to find me something that will get me a hung jury."
"How am I supposed to do that?"
"I'll give you everything I've got --- police reports, interviews, forensic reports, lab
tests, crime scene photos, autopsy reports, Grand Jury testimony, everything. You were a
cop for nine years before you became a prosecutor. You know how to run an
investigation. The line cops will still talk to you on the QT. They like what happened to
Alan Lee Fry. Find me something the detectives missed."
"Like what?"
"Like what? Like a witness they didn't interview, a piece of evidence they never
examined, a tip they never followed up on. You know they took one look at Tom Travis
and wrote 'The son of a bitch did it' on page one of their Murder Book. They never
looked at anybody else. Anything that pointed another way went to the bottom of the pile
as a waste of their time."
Steve eyed his empty bottle and carefully placed it on the edge of the coffee table.
"Why didn't you have somebody do this already?"
"I did but he wasn't you."
"Who?"
"Ben McGarrey out of the Foster Agency."
"McGarrey was on the Homicide Squad for ten years before he went private. If he
didn't find anything there was probably nothing to find."
"He just went through the motions, documenting his hours. He's not you."
"Meaning?"
"Meaning you're a single-minded, determined son-of-a-bitch who won't let go of
something you really want no matter what it costs you." Markham glared at Steve, then,
embarrassed, turned away.
"Thanks. I'm glad to know that's the kind of person you think I am." Janson's tone
was as dead as ashes. He headed to the fridge for another beer.
"Look, I'm sorry. I didn't mean that the way it sounded."
"No, you did. -- It's fine. Think what you want. It doesn't matter because I couldn't
help you even if I wanted to."
"It would only take--"
"It would take me, what, a week just to read the files and another week, maybe two
to actually do anything? You can't be more than four or five days from going to the jury."
"You didn't hear?"
"Hear what?"
"Your former father-in-law, the Honorable Malcolm Burris, collapsed on the bench
this afternoon."
"Is he--"
"No, he'll recover. Hot appendix. It burst before they could get him to the hospital.
He wasn't in the best of health before so he'll be out for a couple of weeks, three at the
outside. The trial's in recess until he gets back."
Janson gazed blindly out the window. Markham hadn't a clue what bladed memories
were crawling through Steve's head. "Two thousand dollars a day plus expenses,"
Markham said in a hopeful tone.
Janson gave a weary laugh. "So, all those rumors about Tom Travis being broke are
crap?"
"I put a hundred fifty thousand in my trust account for costs the day I took the case.
I need your help, Steve."
"And I owe you for getting me only a two year suspension of my license to practice
law instead of being flat-out disbarred, right?"
"I didn't say that."
"You didn't have to. You do remember what got me kicked out of the legal
community?"
"Let's not go there."
"Let's not go there? You come into my house and ask me to help you get your wifebeating, cheating, lying, scumbag, prick client off the hook and you don't want to 'go
there'? My wife was murdered, Greg, murdered! Her god damn head was cut off
and . . . ." Janson froze and turned away. "And I . . . ." the words caught in his throat.
Steve sucked in a harsh breath and tried again. "And now you want me to help Tom
Travis get away with murdering his wife? And you tell me, 'Let's not go there?'"
"He didn't do it! My prick of a client is innocent, just like your wife was innocent--"
Janson moved quickly for a big man. In an instant he had lifted Markham clear of the
floor. "Don't you ever mention Lynn and that God Damn cheating Tom Travis in the same
breath!" Steve shouted. He held Markham suspended for a full two seconds before finally
dropping him to the couch and storming away.
For a moment Markham sat there, frozen, then adjusted his lapels, tucked in his
disarrayed shirt, and headed for the door.
"How do you know he's innocent?" Steve called from across the room.
"The cops had more than a year and an unlimited budget and the only evidence they
found was that she was strangled with a cord that might have come from one of his living
room lamps, that and the fact that Travis is a lying, adulterous, cheating, bastard, so he
must be guilty. He's not that smart. If he had done it, he'd have left a lot more evidence
behind, trust me."
"So now he's innocent by reason of stupidity?"
"He's innocent because the law says he's innocent unless he's proven guilty. That's
supposed to mean something to us."
"To us? Lawyers? Yeah, well, they kicked me out of the club."
"You let them kick you out of the club because you wanted it all to go away!" For a
long second Markham stared into Steve's blazing eyes, then turned away. "Fine,
whatever." The hinges on the front door squeaked.
"I'll do it," Steve called.
Markham slowly turned around.
"What?"
"I owe you. I'll do it."
"Don't do it because you owe me. Do it because--"
"Now you don't want my help unless it's for the right reason? Do you think Tom
Travis will care why I took the case if I manage to find something that gets him a hung
jury? I said I'd do it. Isn't that good enough for you?"
"Yeah," Markham said after a long pause. "I guess it is. Thanks."
"This squares us, Greg. I do this and we're done."
"Yeah, I know," Markham said and quietly shut the door behind him.
Chapter Three
The bell rang a little before ten. A burley man in brown khaki looked up at Steve
from a paper-stuffed clipboard.
"You . . . Steven Janson?"
"Yes."
"Okay, I've got a delivery for you from . . . the law offices of Gregory Markham."
The deliveryman peered past Steve into the apartment."Where do you want it?"
"Put it in the living room. I'll figure it out later."
The driver made a little grunt and turned away. Two minutes later he returned with a
hand-truck stacked with four cream-colored boxes. Block black letters were carefully
stenciled on the narrow sides of each:
"FORENSIC REPORTS - I"
"WITNESS STATEMENTS A-J"
"MEDICAL REPORTS"
"WITNESS STATEMENTS K-R"
Without a word he wheeled the stack inside and deposited it next to the couch then
headed down the hallway for another load, passing a second worker approaching with
four more cartons. There were eleven in all by the time the deliverymen were done.
"Sign here," the driver ordered and shoved the clipboard into Janson's hands. Steve
scrawled his name. As he handed the pad back he noticed a tattoo of a broken cross in
faded blue ink beneath the deliveryman's right ear. An omen? A moment later the man was
gone.
Steve stared at the three stacks of boxes and imagined the awful truths they
contained. Five minutes later he was still staring as if his mind was stuck like a needle in an
old record. According to the index the police reports had been packaged in chronological
order. Deciding that he might as well start at the beginning. Steve extracted a packet of
stapled pages.
On December 31st the year before last two detectives had visited Tom Travis' Beverly
Hills home in response to a report that his step-daughter, Sarah, age three, and his wife,
Marian Travis, eight and a half months pregnant, had both disappeared.
*
*
*
Simon Katz let his partner, Jack Furley, take the lead while Simon limped along
behind. Margie had started her "See the doctor about your knee" mantra again this
morning, driving him out of the house before he could finish his breakfast. Now at ten
o'clock at night each step felt like a dull knife was sliding beneath his kneecap.
From the sidewalk Simon studied the wall surrounding Travis's mansion. Eight feet
high, constructed of cemented field stones, it looked like something built to deflect a mob
of angry villagers. A far cry from Simon's three bedroom ranch-style out in the Valley.
Furley pressed a button and said "Los Angeles Police Detectives" into the microphone. A
sharp click sounded and the carved teak gate slipped open. A hundred feet across the lawn
a two and a half story beam and stucco house blotted out half the night sky.
What did the property taxes on something like this run, Simon wondered, eighty
thousand, a hundred thousand a year? "Jack, slow down," Katz snapped. Furley was
already thirty feet ahead on the winding slate walkway. Barren rhododendrons framed an
arch over the double-wide front doors. Furley waited for Simon before ringing the bell. A
stocky, mid-forties Hispanic woman in a tan maid's uniform appeared almost instantly.
"I'm Detective Furley. This is my partner, Detective Katz. We're here to see Mr.
Travis."
"Yes, he is waiting for you," she said, her face a worried mask, and led the way deep
into the house. Furley seemed fascinated by the marble statues and gilt-framed paintings.
They passed one room containing a six foot high fountain in the form of a circular
waterfall. Katz limped doggedly on.
They found Tom Travis in a leather massage chair in front of a 70 inch flat-screen.
Some kind of gangster movie was playing, Pacino in Scarface or maybe the second
Godfather film. Travis flicked the remote before Katz could figure out which.
"Guys, thanks for coming." Travis shook hands with Furley, giving him a big smile.
"Get you anything, coffee, whatever?"
"No thanks," Katz said.
"You hungry? Delfina could fix you up a steak sandwich."
"Thanks, nothing," Katz snapped before Furley could accept. Travis shot Furley a
questioning look and the young detective hesitated,then gave his head a quick shake.
Without asking, Katz lowered himself onto a leather couch. "You said there was a
problem about your wife?" Furley took out his pad, ballpoint poised to take notes.
"Yes, maybe," Travis said, giving Katz a quick, embarrassed smile. "I hope not."
Through the windows brief flashes of fireworks flickered across the distant sky. "I came
home around six and she wasn't here." Travis paused. Katz just stared at him. "We were
supposed to go somewhere, New Year's Eve, you know, and, well, she's not here and the
house is dark."
"What about the maid?" Furley asked. Katz kept his face blank though in his head he
was shouting, 'Shut up and let him talk!'.
"She had the day off. When it got past seven and Marian still hadn't come home I
called Delfina and asked her to come in."
"Why?"
"Why what?"
"Why did you want the maid to come in?" Katz asked.
"In case I needed something." Katz and Furley stared as if Travis had been speaking
in tongues. "Well, obviously, I had to stay home and wait for Marian so I would need
someone to make dinner and then clean up."
Katz paused for a beat, then started again.
"Uhhuh. . . . Have you checked with your wife's friends, family?"
"Delfina handled that. . . . Delfina?"
The maid appeared in the study doorway. "Yes, Mr. Tom?"
"Delfina, the policemen want to know who you called about Mrs. Travis."
The maid looked back and forth between the two detectives, finally settling her gaze
on Katz. "I call her father, her brother, her friend, Miss Leslie. No one has seen her."
"Is this unusual, Ms. Travis not being home for dinner?"
"She is very tired now, with the baby. She never stay out. She take naps."
"She has a baby?"
"Soon, soon. Maybe two weeks. She is gordo," Delfina made a gesture with two
hands in front of her stomach, "Big. It makes her tired." Furley scribbled another note.
"Besides, she never stay out this late with Sarah."
"Who's Sarah?"
"My step-daughter," Travis cut in, "Marian's daughter from her prior marriage."
"She is three.A beautiful child," Delfina added, half in tears.
Katz gave Furley a quick guarded look.
"What was your wife scheduled to do today?" Katz asked.
"Delfina," Travis held out his tumbler and rattled the half melted ice, "while you're
up." The maid hurried over and took the glass. "Sure she can't get you guys something?"
"Maybe later," Katz said, muzzling Furley with a sharp glance. "About Mrs. Travis's
plans for the day. . . ?"
"Uhhh, not sure. You know how it is," Travis said, turning to Furley. "The wife's
always yakking at you. After a while you just say 'yes, dear' and go back to the game."
Travis shrugged. "I don't know. Shopping, I guess. She loved to take Sarah shopping. The
kid's got more shoes than the Dodgers starting line-up."
"Where were you today?"
"In the desert."
Confused, Katz looked at Furley, got a quick head shake, and turned back to Travis.
"What were you doing in the desert?"
"I just got a new dune buggy. Christmas present to myself. This is the first chance
I've had to take her out for a test drive."
"I'll need a time line for my report."
"Uhhh, sure. Okay, I hooked up the trailer to my Hummer and pulled out, oh, I don't
know, maybe eight, eight-thirty this morning. I drove to Templeton in San Bernardino
County. Got there around ten-thirty. Had an early lunch and hit the desert around noon.
Quit about four and got back here around six. That's about it."
"Did anybody see you there?"
"Am I a suspect?"
"A suspect for what?"
"I don't know. It just sounds like you're asking me for an alibi or something."
"We're just getting all the details."
"Yeah, sure, I understand. Sorry. I guess I'm more upset than I want to admit. I
should know better. I've played a cop ten, twenty times at least. I know how it works.
Okay, well, sure, I saw some people but I don't know their names."
"Did you pay for anything with your credit card?"
"Just gas on the way back. Everything else I paid cash, but I always save my
receipts." Travis handed Katz a plain envelope marked "Dune Buggy Research Expenses".
Inside was the register tag for lunch at the El Jefe Restaurant, a receipt from the State of
California Bureau of Parks and Recreation for the $20 entry fee to the Double Peaks OffRoad Vehicle Recreation Area, and an ARCO pump printout for nineteen gallons of
premium gas.
"Why did you save these?"
"In my bracket you take every tax deduction you can get."
"This was business trip?"
"Research. I might play a dune buggy racer in my next film." Travis flashed another
quick smile. "At least as far as the IRS is concerned, that's my story and I'm sticking to it."
Katz flicked his eyes and Furley hurriedly copied Travis's comment, word for word.
They spent half an hour longer questioning Travis and the maid but learned nothing
significant. Travis signed a consent for a trap on his phone, gave them his contact numbers
and promised to call if he heard anything from his wife. A babble of noise erupted outside
and red and white flashes lit the sky.
"Happy new year," Furley said in a flat tone.
"Hell of a way to spend New Year's Eve, Marian and Sarah missing like this. You
think they're okay, don't you? It's probably just car trouble or something, right?" Travis
looked expectantly at Furley then frowned and drained his glass.
Ten minutes later Katz and Furley were following the twisting walk back to the
street.A few distant pops tattooed the night.
"Why didn't you let the maid fix us a sandwich?" Furley complained when they
reached the gate. "I'm starving."
"Listen, you never take favors from a suspect. You're already on his turf. You don't
make it worse by accepting his food."
"How many times has somebody given you a cup of coffee on the job?"
"A glass of water, a cup of coffee, a Coca Cola, okay, but you never break bread
with a perp. You've gotta learn that, Jack."
"When did he become a perp?"
"Did he seem like a broken-hearted husband to you?"
"Not so much. "
"You ever had a millionaire just happen to save a cash register tape for a ten dollar
lunch?"
"That could be for the IRS, like he said."
With a grunt Katz settled into the Crown Vic's passenger seat.
"Sure, and OJ was framed."
"I'm just saying--"
"Jack, listen to me. This is not going to end well. Running this case is going to be
like slogging through twenty miles of rain-soaked shit and it isn't going to be pretty when
we get to the end." Katz glared at the eight foot high wall. "Let's get the hell out of here.
My knee's killing me."
*
*
*
Steve dropped the report and closed his eyes. Would he have been better off if Lynn
had just disappeared, if her body had never been found, if he had never gone after the
monster who had killed her? A vision of Alan Lee Fry's face filled his head.
Chapter Four
Somehow you expect the important events in your life to be highlighted with signs
and portents like the scene in the movie where the cop notices the lipstick-stained
cigarette next the body and the music swells. In that instant the hero knows who the killer
is and that she's there, in the dark behind him with her pistol centered on his spine. But in
real life our turning points slip past us unnoticed until it's too late for us to do anything but
remark later on what we have lost.
It had been just such an ordinary day when Alan Lee Fry had showed up at Steve
Janson's cubbyhole at the D.A.'s office. Janson was the paperwork monkey on the
Headless Killer case, preparing the dozens of subpoenas and search warrants the
detectives needed in order to narrow the list of suspects. Phone records, bank records,
credit card purchases, auto repair invoices, DMV transfer forms, orders for the collection
of DNA samples, the scud work that a lawyer has to do to keep a major case moving
forward all fell on him. If he was lucky and the cops caught the guy, Steve's supervisor
might let him second or third chair the trial. He might even get to cross examine a couple
of witnesses.
At about eleven Steve was distracted by the beep of his phone. "Mr. Janson, there's a
Mr. Alan Lee Fry here to see you."
"What's he want?"
"He says it's about the Headless Killer case."
"Does he look like a nut or a reporter?"
"I don't think so."
"Okay, send him back."
A few moments later a slender dark-skinned man about thirty years old appeared in
Steve's doorway. "Mr. Janson?"
Steve gave the guy a brief glance -- dark gray sport coat, burgundy silk shirt, gray
slacks, black shoes, Italian, expensive.
"Can I help you?"
"I'm Alan Lee Fry." He said as if his name carried a deeper significance which was so
self-evident that no further explanation was required -- I'm Alan Lee Fry, the richest man
in the world, or I'm Alan Lee Fry, the President of the United States.
"Yes?"
Fry stepped into Janson's tiny office and plopped into the only chair. "You ordered
the police to search my home," Fry said in an accusatory tone. Steve frowned. He didn't
order the police to do anything. He had probably processed the paperwork that facilitated
the search of Fry's home.
"The Superior Court ordered the search of your home, Mr. Fry." The unsaid words,
So What? floated like smoke in the air.
"Then why is your name on the papers?"
How dare you inconvenience the incomparable Alan Lee Fry? his tone seemed to
demand.
Steve could have taken a deep breath, smiled and carefully explained that he was
merely the Deputy D.A. who presented the cops' search warrant request to the Judge.
That would have been the polite thing to do. But Fry's tone irritated Janson and challenged
him in some unconscious, primal way. Unbidden, hormones dripped into Steve's blood and
he found himself spoiling for a fight as if another, more violent man, had suddenly invaded
his body.
"What's your problem Mr. Fry?" Steve snapped.
"Your police officers made a mess of my house!"
Steve bobbed his head in mock regret. "Sorry to hear that." As if I care.
"What are you going to do about it?"
"You can file a claim with the City Attorney's office for any damage." For all the
good that will do you.
Fry glared and for a moment Steve wondered if he was going to get physical, then, in
an instant Fry changed. His shoulders slumped, his head pulled back.
"So, there's nothing you can do?" he asked in a smarmy tone that, if anything,
enraged Steve even more.
"Obviously the detectives thought you might have evidence that was relevant to their
investigation. I processed their request for a warrant. The judge signed it. They did their
search. That's pretty much how things work." So, stop wasting my time.
"I understand," Fry said with a sudden, saccharin smile. "I'll handle this another
way."
"You do that. Claim forms are on the Internet at the L.A. City Attorney's web page.
The Board of Supervisors will have six months to rule on your claim. After they reject it,
you can sue the County if you want to." Good luck with that.
Fry's face went cold and flat. "Beautiful woman," he said, nodding at the photo on
the corner of Steve's desk.
"What?"
"Your wife?" Fry pointed at the picture of Lynn standing under a tree in Griffith
Park.
"Mr. Fry--"
"I noticed your ring." Fry gestured to Steve's plain gold band. "Any children?"
"I think you should . . . ." Steve began, rising.
"No, if you had children, you'd have pictures of them, a man like you."
"What do you mean, 'A man like me'?'"
Now it was Fry's turn to stand.
"You're very territorial, aren't you, Mr. Janson? You protect what's yours."
"You need to--"
"I understand that. I'm very territorial too. Of course, I don't have a beautiful wife,
like you do. I've never been very lucky with women." Fry sighed. "No, for me, my work
and my home are what I care about. I don't like having either of them violated, defiled by
you and your cretinous thugs. I--"
"Get out of her, now!"
Fry paused a heartbeat, then smiled with all his teeth. "I understand how you feel,
Mr. Janson. Unfortunately, I don't think you understand how I feel. But you will."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"The City Attorney's web site you said, for the claim forms? I'll make my claim, don't
doubt that for a moment."
Fry gave Janson another smarmy smile and then walked out.
This was the point, Steve later decided, when a benevolent God would have tapped
him on the shoulder and given him a wink or a nudge. But eerie music did not swell, no
lightning bolts split the sky. Instead the sun still shined, the birds still chirped, and the
phone was silent for the rest of the day.
No one from the DMV called and warned Janson that someone calling himself
Lawrence Adams had claimed that Steve had dented his car in the Bloomingdale's parking
lot. No one told him that they had given Mr. Adams Steve's home address. The manager
of his apartment house didn't notice the well dressed man who knocked on Steve and
Lynn's door. The technicians at the police crime lab didn't rush to process the items seized
from Fry's home. If they had they would have discovered blood and tissue matches to
evidence left on the first two of the Headless Killer's victims. But the sample sat in their
overcrowded In-Tray.
So, Steve filled out his papers in nerve-deadening solitude, left a message on Lynn's
cell saying that he would be late, and around nine finally returned to a home that after that
night he would never set foot in again.
Chapter Five
Steve opened his eyes and forced himself to leaf through the folders in the first box
of police reports. It held months of interviews generated while the police went through the
motions of looking for a missing person whom everyone believed was dead. The files
contained statements from witnesses swearing that they had seen Marian Travis in San
Diego, Reno, Vancouver, Saint Louis and points east. She had supposedly bought gas in
Tacoma, a burger in Baton Rouge and rented a sail boat on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
One psychic had reported her dead and buried near a large body of water. In another's
vision her lifeless body was covered with rocks ten feet west of a tall pine tree.
Janson skipped them all, flipping almost four months forward to the next bit of
forensic solid ground, the fifth search of the Double Peaks Recreational Preserve. Steve let
his mind slip past the report's stilted police jargon, translating Simon Katz's cold words
into a flickering movie in his brain.
*
*
*
The road was packed dirt and meandered through a valley formed by two crumbling
shale cliffs. Katz and Furley followed a San Bernardino County Sheriff's Cherokee,
choking in its trailing plume of alkali dust. Katz's window vibrated to the rhythm of an
unmufflered engine a quarter mile to the east.
"People do this for fun?" Katz muttered as their Crown Vic bottomed out in a dry
wash.
"Not in a car like this. We need one of those bad boys." Furley pointed at a bathtubsized ATV bounding over a stretch of low dunes.
The Cherokee pulled into blade scraped parking lot. Katz had finally given in to
necessity and today was wearing Sears sneakers and jeans instead of his customary baggy
brown suit.
The deputy, Harley Kress, stepped out and poured himself a cup of coffee from a
chrome Thermos. "You want some?" he asked. Katz tried to identify Kress's accent, some
kind of a flattened twang. Blond and rangy, all elbows and knees, the deputy slurped half
his coffee in a gulp. "You think we'll find her today?" he asked Furley, then glanced at the
sky. Somewhere above a National Guard plane with ground-penetrating radar and thermal
imaging was flying an imaginary grid.
"We've covered sixty percent of the park. If she's here. . . ." Furley shrugged and
shaded his eyes, searching the sky for the buzzing black dot. Of course, Katz reminded
himself, if Travis wasn't the killer, they were wasting their time. But what were the odds
of that?
"Not like the old days, I guess," the deputy said, nodding at Katz.
"I've never searched the desert for a body before."
"I mean the gizmos they've got now, GPS, the stuff in that plane up there." The
deputy waved vaguely at the pale sky. "That guy knows exactly where he is, where he's
been and where he's goin', down to a couple of feet. Try and search fifty wild acres
without somethin' like that, and well Hell, good luck to ya."
Katz nodded, muttered something innocuous, and scratched a line in the dust with
the toe of his new shoe. Gizmos. The bastard, son-of-a-bitch Tom Travis had murdered
his wife and their unborn baby and left them out here in this God-forsaken wilderness and
all this kid wanted to talk about were the latest toys from Circuit City.
A squawk sounded from Kress's radio. "Baker Four, this is Eagle One. Over."
Harley pressed a plastic box the size of a jumbo Hershey bar to his lips. "This is
Baker Four. GA Eagle One. Over."
"Thermal's showing a point of interest nine hundred meters northwest of your
position."
"On the move, Eagle One. Hang on." The deputy jumped into the Jeep and waved at
Katz and Furley. "You guys will have to ride with me the rest of the way."
The Cherokee bounded over rocks and scrub occasionally taking a detour around
boulders and the banks of dead streams too steep to traverse. "Baker Four, turn twenty
degrees to your left," the pilot ordered, then refined his directions yard by yard until they
reached the site.
"You see anything?" the pilot asked once they were on foot.
To Furley the patch of desert looked no different from any other piece of dirt a mile
in any direction. Ahead of them a twenty foot high ledge of mud-colored rock showed
through the side of an eroded slope. More rocks, red, brown, burnt orange and dark gray
littered the earth at the base of the hill, turning to sand and tussocks of wild grass all the
way to the broken streambed behind them. A huge, lonely boulder, twenty feet high, stood
to their left almost at the edge of the bend in the dry creek. In its shadow lay an eight foot
oval-shaped litter of rocks in colors from ashes to chocolate.
"Just some rocks. Why don't you go get back on your grid while we take a look.
Over."
"Roger, Baker One," the pilot said, slipping back into protocol. "Out."
"Okay, boys, let's move these guys." The deputy smiled and grabbed a pitted gray
stone the size of a loaf of bread.
"Put on your gloves!" Katz ordered.
"I can take it." Kress smiled and held up a calloused palm.
"I'm sure you can, deputy, but this is a potential crime scene. First we take
photographs with yardsticks in them for reference. Then we sketch and measure. Then,
wearing gloves, we move the rocks to a specific location for forensic analysis if needed."
For moment the deputy froze then carefully replaced his stone. Fifteen minutes later
they had exposed a ten foot by ten foot patch of gray sand. Furley took three more
pictures then handed Kress a shovel.
"Scrape, don't dig!" Katz shouted before Harley could turn his first spade full of
earth. The deputy frowned but did what he was told. This was the fifth time they had
come out here and the third time they had used the National Guard plane. On each
expedition they were assigned a different deputy. By the time they were done, Katz
figured he and Furley would have trained half the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department in
proper forensic procedures.
"Huh!" Harley muttered and knelt close to the ground. Barely eight inches down the
shovel's blade had snagged something then slipped free. Kress reached down, then pulled.
A piece of grimy plastic ballooned, shedding puffs of gray dust.
"Jack, get a picture!"
"Is this her?" Harley asked, not believing his eyes.
"Back up!" Katz pulled brushes and small garden tools from a bag. Together he and
Furley removed enough dirt to confirm they had an adult female body then called it in over
the deputy's radio.
Harley carefully approached the excavated grave and peered down at the corpse,
then backed away.
"I guess you've seen a lot of them," he said to Furley, "DB's." Jack didn't reply.
Harley turned toward Katz and shook his head. "Gee, Marian Travis. I can't believe we
found her."
"That's not Marian Travis," Katz said almost under his breath.
"Huh? You mean that's some other poor--"
"That's just what's left of the container Marian Travis came in," Simon said wearily.
"Marian Travis, the human being, was lost forever the instant she died. That over there is
just a bag of bones."
An hour later a helicopter dropped the Sheriff's forensic team and all their gear. It
took them eight hours to fully expose, photograph, and remove the body. Every handful of
sand was sifted, every rock photographed.
Katz and Furley were still there when Marian Travis's corpse was lifted from her
shallow grave, a lamp cord still knotted around her neck. A slight swell distended her belly
containing the body of her unborn child, a little girl the coroner later reported.
Secretly, Simon Katz named her Rachel and for her, secretly, he wept.
Chapter Six
As Steve closed the file a heavy brown envelope slipped free. Inside were a dozen
plastic pages each holding six color prints -- the rock strewn burial site, the scratched
earth with one silk-clad arm exposed, a chronicle of the body's excavation and, finally, the
sad, withered corpse that had once contained two human lives.
Against his will, Steve stared at the remains, the matted hair, skin sloughing off the
bone, and then doubled over in spasm. Lynn! Lynn! A voice screamed in his head. Finally
Janson fell back against the cushions, his face clammy and damp. With his left hand he
managed to slide another file on top of the photos.
Behind his closed his eyes a movie began to play: he opened his old apartment door.
It was dark and the light switch clicked loudly. A sealed card was propped in the center of
the kitchen table, Steve was written across the front in Lynn's handwriting.
"Now you're writing me notes instead of talking to me face to face?" he had shouted
toward the light spilling from the bedroom doorway at the end of the hall.
He stormed into the bedroom and saw Lynn's body sprawled across the bloodsoaked bed . . . . Steve pressed his palms to his skull and forced his eyes open, battling the
relentless memory, willing away the horrible pictures. Drained, he half staggered to the
phone.
"This is Steve Janson. I've got to talk to Greg."
The line clicked and in a few seconds Markham picked up.
"Greg, it's Steve Janson. I can't do this. I just can't."
"Steve, slow down. What happened?"
"What happened? What do you think happened? I can't deal with this."
"Greg, you--"
"I can't go through this again, not for Tom Travis."
"He's not that bad. Don't believe everything you read in the papers."
"That's not it."
"Then what is it?"
"I don't want to get into that."
"Are you telling me you have personal issue with Travis? Did something happen
between you two?"
"Just drop it, okay? I don't want to talk about him. I just can't handle this poor
woman's murder."
"But what about the girl?"
"I can't bring back the dead. God, if only I could."
"I don't mean Marian Travis."
"I'm sorry about the baby too, but what's done is done."
"I'm talking about her daughter, Sarah. She's still out there somewhere. What about
her?"
"Sarah, she--"
"She disappeared with Marian but they never found her body. If the murderer had
killed her, why wasn't her body in the grave? The cops searched the whole damn park.
Sarah isn't there."
"So he buried her someplace else. Who knows why people do what they do?"
"She wasn't in the grave because she's not dead. She was too young to identify the
killer so he didn't have to murder her. He just got rid of her, did something with her, kept
her, sold her, dumped her, but she's out there alive, alone, and in trouble. We're her last
hope. Steve, you're her last hope."
"Let the cops find her."
"Officially the cops think Travis killed them both and they've stopped looking for her.
They can't search for her because if they did that would make it look like maybe they
believed Travis didn't do it."
"Travis probably did do it. He's the one who knows where she is. Get him to tell
you."
"Jesus, Steve, if Travis is the killer he'll never, ever admit it and, alive or dead, we'll
never find that little girl. If Travis didn't do it, there's a chance, a good chance, that she's
alive out there someplace, alone and in trouble. Steve, she's depending on you."
"Find someone else."
"There isn't anyone else! The trial's going to be over in a couple of weeks and unless
you find some new evidence Travis is going to be convicted and everything will stop, case
closed. I won't have authority to look for the girl. Once the verdict is in, I'm done. No
money, no subpoena power, nothing."
"Greg, I can't--"
"Stop thinking about yourself for once! You didn't do what you did for Lynn. You
did it for you! It was all about you! Well, fuck you! Fuck you! Do something for
somebody else for a change! This time, God damn it, save the innocent instead of
punishing the guilty! I'm begging you, Steve, do the right thing. Forget about yourself just
for once and save that little girl before it's too late, before she ends up like Lynn. . . .
Steve. . . Steve?"
For a long moment the line crackled faintly, the only sound a hollow, whooshing
noise.
"I'll never forgive you for this."
"Steve--"
"I'll try," Steve whispered and the line went dead.
Chapter Seven
Steve contemplated the vodka bottle for thirty seconds then snapped the seal. He
drizzled the juice from a wrinkled lemon into half a glass of Von's orange juice and
followed it with a handful of ice cubes and then vodka all the way to the top. The
concoction went down like broken razor blades but it numbed him enough to get him back
to the file box on the couch. Randomly, he leafed through the folders without conscious
plan or direction. The air filled with the musty smell of paper and old toner and the stink
of his recently cleaned vomit.
Steve took another sip then laid his head back and closed his eyes. When he opened
them again he had no idea which file he was holding and he squinted at the header on the
first page: "Interview by Katz, S. (Det.) and Furley, J. (Det.) with Thomas Travis"
followed by a date in late January, a bit over three weeks after Marian Travis had
disappeared. Steve was surprised to see that Tom Travis had come in without a lawyer.
More ego than brains, Steve muttered and flipped to the transcript's first page.
*
*
*
"Thanks for coming down, Mr. Travis," Katz began. "We appreciate your help."
"No, I appreciateyour help. And call me Tom."
Katz forced a weak smile and plowed on.
"We here hoping, Tom, that you might have remembered something new about the
day Marian disappeared."
"Gee, guys, I've told you everything I know. You've seen the poster, right?"
Thousands of eleven by fourteen inch placards with the heading:
HAVE YOU SEEN THIS WOMAN?
followed by a picture of Marian Travis in her wedding dress holding a glass of Dom
had been scattered all over Southern California. The phone number in red at the bottom
was 1-800-MISSING. Travis was reported to have paid someone $25,000 for the number.
Katz suspected that he had gotten it in exchange for an autographed head shot and a lunch
at Ivy.
"Yeah, Tom, we sure have," Furley assured him.
"We've already gotten over five thousand tips. Most of them are whackos," Travis
smirked and fluttered his hands like flapping cuckoo birds, "but we've gotten some good
leads too. Turned them over to you guys, of course."
Katz shot Furley an embarrassed glance and turned back to Travis. "Yeah, we're
checking them out. But, back to the day she disappeared, were you able to remember
anything else she said about where she was going?"
"All a blank, sorry," Travis said, shrugging.
"Your maid, Delfina Angelinez, said Mrs. Travis was planning on spending the day at
home with her daughter. Does that ring any bells?"
"Delfina would know better than me." Travis sneaked a peek at his watch, a Patek
Philippe, no thicker than a business card, all done in silver and gold and secured to his
tanned wrist with a silver strap. "I figure that since you found her car at the Beverly
Center, someone probably grabbed them from there."
"That's a possibility--"
"You know, I did a film once, Against The Grain, you remember it?" he asked
Furley. "I played this private detective hired to find a missing rich girl. Daddy was worried
about her but my character thought she had set up her own kidnapping to get daddy's
money. But Razor, that was my character, Razor Sands, he was wrong. Her step mother
had really grabbed the girl so that the Old Man would leave all his money to her. So--"
Travis held up his hand, "so, anyway," he continued speaking faster, "the way they
kidnapped her in the movie, they let the air out of one of her tires at the mall and when she
bent over to look at it, two guys jumped out of the van parked next to her and grabbed her
up."
Travis paused for a quick breath and studied Katz and Furley for some sign that they
were following him. "So, I was thinking, you found Marian's Escalade at the mall, what if .
. . ." Travis paused theatrically, "the bad guys had studied me, you know checked out my
films, and copied that scene. Marian's about to get into the car and bang, the van door flies
open, two guys grab her, throw her in, the door slides closed. Ten seconds later, they're
gone. Nobody's seen anything." Travis looked expectantly at Furley.
"What about the little girl?"
"Sarah?"
"Yeah, what about little Sarah?"
"Okay, well, after they get Marian in the van, one of them ties her up, tape or
something, while the other one grabs Sarah." Travis spread his hands palms up. "Five
more seconds is all it would take."
"We'll take another look at the security tapes for any vans near your wife's car," Katz
said in as sincere a tone as he could manage. Travis gave him a quick smile.
"So, guys . . . ." Travis glanced at his $15,000 watch.
"Just a couple of other things. We don't want to have to ask you to come back
again."
"Hey, I'm the star. They aren't making the movie without me."
"We've been going over the list of people who were in your house in the weeks
before your wife disappeared. There are still some prints we can't match up. Can you think
of anyone else?"
"I gave you the pool guy, right?" Page in hand, Furley checked the list and nodded.
"Let's see, Delfina . . . the gardener, he might have come inside to use the can. He's
supposed to use the one in the pool house but, well, what are you gonna do? He's
probably Delfina's second cousin or something." Travis pursed his lips in thought as if
multiplying two five digit numbers in his head. "My personal trainer, the catering crew for
the Christmas party, all the guests from the party, Marian's family, father, brother-- that
kid's a piece of work. I told you to check him out, right?"
Katz nodded.
"Well, okay. You know how it is. The caterer brings his crew, waiters, bartender,
busboys, who knows?"
"We've printed all of them."
"Sure, you printed the ones they told you about. Half those people are probably
hiding from Imigracion. Last thing they're gonna do is line up to be fingerprinted by the
policia. That's probably who your missing prints belong to. Besides . . . " Travis shrugged.
"Besides what?"
"Well, what are the odds that someone who could have done something like this
would leave his prints in my house and not already have a record? I mean, anybody who
was in my house who isn't already in your computers is probably a producer or a studio
guy, not a kidnapper." Seeing Katz's blank stare, Travis frowned. "I'd like to help you but
I'm just saying that I think this fingerprint thing is a dead end. If you ask me, it's some
whack job like the guy who killed Lennon."
"You think your wife is dead?"
"No, Hell no! I didn't mean that, just that when you're a celebrity, shit like this
becomes part of your life, they paint a target on you," Travis tapped his chest and
scowled.
I don't believe this guy, Katz thought. His pregnant wife is missing and probably
dead and he's complaining that there's a target on his chest!
Simon suppressed his anger and gave Travis another forced smile and as politely as
possible said: "You know, Tom, in cases like this, we have to consider all the
possibilities."
"Sure."
"It's like a pilot, before he takes off, he goes through the checklist."
"It's not that he thinks the gas tank is empty," Furley cut in, "but he still calls off
'Fuel?' and the co-pilot checks the gauge. That way, if something goes wrong later and
someone asks, 'Did you run out of gas,' the pilot can say, 'No, we checked that specifically
before we took off.' It's like that with us. Just because we ask a question doesn't mean we
think something is wrong. We just gotta go through the checklist."
"Sure, I understand. You've got to be thorough."
"Right," Furley said, smiling weakly. "We've got to check off all the boxes."
"Okay, lay it on me."
"You know, Tom," Katz began in a fatherly tone, "we've heard some things, that in
the past maybe you've gotten physical with people now and then. True?"
"I don't let anybody push me around."
"Of course not. You're not some pansy musical star," Furley added. "We get that.
But, we've got to deal with this part of the checklist."
Katz opened a folder and flipped a couple of sheets over the top. "You were in a
fight in August of '98 with a . . . Gary Dolenz?"
Travis waved his hand as if shooing a fly. "One of those guys in a bar who thinks he'll
look tough if he sucker punches Tom Travis. I don't sucker punch that easy."
"December '99 at the Ionic Grill?"
"You guys ever jump off the back of a pickup truck doing thirty miles an hour? The
director couldn't get the shot he wanted and I told him, 'To Hell with the stunt guy. I'll do
it myself.' -- I did it all right. Fucked up my back for weeks. Anyway, long story short,
never mix Vicodin with two bottles of Fogarty Reserve Cab. Did I trash the place? Yes, I
did, and I also paid all the damages the next day. Do I remember what happened?" Travis
gave Katz a level stare. "Not a fucking thing. Nada. One minute I'm ordering the
appetizer, the next I'm waking up in one of your cells." Travis shook his head. "Taught me
a lesson -- never mix pain pills and alcohol."
Katz looked back at his list. "February of 2000?"
Travis frowned. "Yeah, I messed up bad on that one. That one's on me. Valentine's
day. Clare Cantrell had just moved in with me a couple of weeks before. She was my costar in Danger Nights. You do a movie like that with a woman like her, built like a youknow-what, and stuff's gonna happen unless you're playing for the other team, which I
never was. Anyway, we think it's love or lust or some damn thing and the next thing you
know she moves in. Brings her fucking rat dog, and her maid and her dietician and her
personal trainer and her life coach and twenty other losers and starts taking over. 'Don't
eat red meat', 'Don't drink so much', 'Try my herbal tea,' 'Why are you so mean to Mr.
Whiskers?' God damn disaster from day one but the sex was good, so what are you going
to do?
"Let met tell you, by the middle of February I was at the end of my rope. A nice ass
can only take you so far. Anyway, I come home, beat, and she starts in, I don't appreciate
her, I take her for granted, I didn't bring her anything for Valentine's Day. . . . you get the
picture. And she won't shut up. She just keeps going and going and going like the frigging
Energizer Bunny!" Travis frowned and threw up his hands. "I snapped, okay? I just
snapped."
"You split her lip and knocked out one of her teeth," Katz said, reading from his file.
"I just gave her one shot, one little shot, just to shut her up." Travis waved his hands
as if to dispel the unpleasant memory. "She tripped. Yeah, I hit her. I admit that, but not
hard. She got excited, I don't blame her for that, and she tried to back up and caught her
foot on the rug or something and fell against the coffee table. That's how her lip got split
and her tooth knocked out. Hell, you know that, Jack" Travis said, turning to Furley.
Katz glanced sourly at his partner.
"I've told Simon about being the investigating officer that night," Furley said,
embarrassed.
"Then you know what happened," Travis said to Katz. "Jack did a great job. You've
got one hell of a good cop for a partner here. Professional all the way. He got Clare to the
hospital, stayed with her, got her calmed down. An hour later she realized that we were
both out of line and neither of us needed the bad publicity. She refused to testify and I
went to anger management. Best thing I ever did. Changed me, really, I have to admit
that. Hey, we're good friends now. I see her all the time on the Drive. Can't even tell
which tooth was the one that got knocked out. Glued it back in. Fucking doctors are
miracle workers these days." Travis gave Katz a quizzical glance and looked at his watch.
"We just started shooting my new project last week, a horror flick but in sort of a Film
Noir style, The Boneyard. I'll get you guys passes to the premiere.So, are we all done?"
Katz glanced at Furley then closed the file. "Yeah, Tom, we're done. If you think of
anything else, you give us a call."
"You bet. Oh-oh," another quick glance at his Patek Philippe, "gotta jet."
"Tripped on something sticky and fell on something hard?" Katz muttered after
Travis had left the room.
"He hit her with a solid right cross. His ring knocked out the tooth. She figured
pressing charges would just cause her grief in the industry and anyway, at most all he'd get
would be a slap on the wrist."
"Well, at least he took an anger managementclass."
"Yeah. I wonder how that worked out for him?" Furley mused, hitting the 'Off'
switch on the video camera.
Chapter Eight
"Here you go, Mr. Janson." Smiling, Markham's receptionist handed Steve a buff
envelope. Inside was a written authorization to interview Tom Travis in the County Jail,
authorizations to review copies of Marian Travis's and Tom Travis's medical records, a
"To Whom It May Concern" letter attesting that Steven Janson was retained by the Law
Offices Of Gregory Markham as an investigator in the case of 'The People versus Thomas
Travis' and requesting all possible cooperation, and lastly, a check for $14,000 covering
the first week's work. As much as he hated everything about this job, Janson allowed
himself a small measure of satisfaction in taking fourteen thousand dollars of Tom Travis's
money.
Markham's offices filled a restored Victorian in Santa Monica a few blocks from
Kenny's, a deli that Steve hadn't visited since Lynn's death. He was debating going back
there when he noticed a woman standing in the shadows beneath an old sycamore in front
of Markham's gate. As he approached a thin breeze rustled the leaves and gray shadows
crawled up and down Cynthia Allard's bare arms.
"Hi, Steve. What are you doing here?" Expensively dressed in a silk business jacket,
pearl blouse and charcoal skirt, Cynthia extended a ring-free hand.
"I could ask you the same thing."
"Are you kidding? Greg Markham's the lead defense attorney in the Trial of The
Century."
"What is this, the fourth or fifth Trial of The Century in the last fifteen years?"
"That depends on where you rank Michael Jackson." Cynthia glanced quickly from
Janson to the building and back. "Some new development in your case?"
"No comment."
"Don't tell me you're helping Markham with the Travis case?"
"Deal," Steve said with a thin smile and turned to leave.
"Steve, come on, your working on the Travis case is major news."
"Do you have any proof that I am?"
Cynthia gave him a weak smile.
"It's been swell. Now, I'm going to lunch."
"Can I come along, for old times sake?" Steve looked up and down the treeshrouded street."It's just me, no cameras."
"Will I be having lunch with Cynthia Allard, old friend from the D.A.'s office or
Cynthia Allard, Girl Reporter?"
"I'll keep my microphone in my purse."
"Everything that's said between us today is completely off the record, not
background, not deep background. It never happened, right?"
"Fine," Cynthia agreed after a slight hesitation, "you drive."
*
*
*
Kenny's was still as Steve remembered it, huge laminated menus and vinyl booths, each
table holding a bowl of sour pickles.
"So, how are you doing?" Cynthia asked once the waitress had shambled away.
"Okay. I'm mostly consulting for insurance defense firms, summarizing depositions,
doing pre-trial motion research, interviewing witnesses, nothing that crosses the line into
the actual practice of law."
"I don't work for the State Bar, Steve."
"Sorry. Defense mechanism. I know Ted Hamilton's just praying for me to do
something he can prosecute me for."
"He had it bad for Lynn."
"If he had had it bad for Lynn," Steve said with a harsh edge creeping into his voice,
"he wouldn't have tried to have me disbarred."
"I didn't--"
"No, I'm just a little wound up when it comes to Ted Hamilton. Territorial."
"Excuse me?"
"Someone . . . , somebody once told me that I was territorial." Janson took a
swallow of iced tea then carefully set down the glass if it were woven from gossamer
threads. "I'm going to say this very calmly and not lose my temper. Ted Hamilton is a
toadying jerk. He went after Lynn mostly because she was Lynn Burris, daughter of the
Honorable Malcolm Burris, scion of the Burris Family Conglomerate. No fragrance is as
sweet to Ted Hamilton as the scent of old money. The fact that Lynn was beautiful and
smart and fun was just icing on the cake. Ted Hamilton hates my guts because I took
Daddy's family away from him. Lynn was just incidental. Then, in his eyes at least, I got
her killed. He and Daddy finally found something they could agree on, that Steve Janson is
a complete jerk.
"Now Ted's doing his wet dream of a murder case, on TV every day, a million dollar
book deal waiting in the wings, and I'm practically disbarred, living in some crummy
apartment in Studio City, and it's still not enough for him! Hamilton still wakes up every
day asking himself, 'Is this the day I'll get to put Steve Janson in prison?' So, you want to
know why I'm a little on edge whenever anyone mentions Ted Hamilton to me?" Steve
took a bite of a fat pickle as if it were Hamilton's neck.
"You're telling me you're not working for Greg Markham?"
Steve gave Cynthia a sharp glance and she dipped her chin as if slapped. "Sorry."
"Do you like being a reporter?" he asked her a moment later in a transparent attempt
to re-start the conversation.
"It has its moments. I like it more than prosecuting coked-up car thieves. And the
pay is a lot better."
"It hardly seems like there's enough going on in the Travis case to keep you busy full
time. What else are you doing?"
Cynthia fiddled with her sandwich, adding brown mustard in precise dabs. "It's like
an assembly line, cops are investigating one case, the defendant's just been arrested in a
second, the third one is about to go to trial, you know the drill."
"And Tom Travis is just a hop, skip, and a jump from a verdict."
"Until the judge got sick. How is he, by the way?"
"Daddy and I aren't close. You might say I'm off the mailing list for the family
newsletter."
"You said he blamed you for Lynn's death. I would have thought that once he calmed
down he would have realized that it wasn't your fault."
Steve nervously rubbed his nose and turned away. "That's just his cover story," he
began, as if talking to himself. "Daddy was never happy about Lynn and me. Ted Hamilton
went to Stanford. I went to City College. Ted graduated from Boalt Hall Law School. I
took night classes at the UCLA extension. Ted's father was an executive Vice President
for Excell Development Corporation. My dad was a carpenter. You see where this is
going?"
"The Judge didn't think you were good enough for Lynn."
"He thought Lynn had committed the disgraceful sin of letting a mongrel into the
thoroughbred's pasture. Deep in his heart I suspect he thinks her murder was just karma,
life punishing her for having the bad taste to marry below her class." Steve took a swallow
of tea and banged down his glass. "There was one Christmas . . . ." Scowling, he paused in
mid-sentence and gave his head a little shake. "Never mind. That's all in the past now.
How about you? Any new romance in your life these days?"
"No romance at all."
"What about, who was it, Larry Baldwin, the litigator from Crowell and Jones?"
Cynthia grimaced. "That was ages ago. I saw him a couple of months ago," she said,
and suddenly grinned.
"What?"
"Oh, just thinking, one of those 'what if' things. I barely recognized him. He looked
like he weighed three hundred pounds. His head was puffed up so much I thought it was
going to explode."
"Dodged a bullet on that one."
"You bet. How about you? You seeing anyone?"
Now it was Steve's turn to frown. "Too many ghosts."
Cynthia hurried to change the subject.
"So, off the record, what do you think about the Travis case?"
"He's a prick, excuse my French, and he probably did it, but the evidence is pretty
thin."
"If he didn't kill her, who did? Surely you don't buy Greg's serial killer/Satanic Cult
theory?" Cynthia cut the second half of her sandwich into three precise, ladylike sections.
"I must have missed the day in law school where they covered the doctrine of Guilty
By The Process Of Elimination. How does that work? "Once you have eliminated all other
logical motives for a crime, the sole remaining person with a strong motive is presumed
guilty"?
"You have to admit that the girl friend's testimony is pretty compelling."
"I've heard the sound bites on the news, but all they tell me is what I already said, the
guy's a prick. He cheated on his wife and he lied to his mistress about his wife. That
doesn't make him a killer."
"So you think somebody else did it and framed Travis by burying Marian's body in
the same place where he was driving his dune buggy?"
Steve took a bite of pastrami, his eyes darting around the room, drawing out the
silence until Cynthia decided that it was his way of telling her that he wasn't going to
discuss the case. She picked up the last wedge of her own sandwich.
"Nobody cares what a semi-disbarred attorney thinks," Steve said half a minute later.
"I care."
"Okay, then in that case, I think he probably did it."
"But you're not convinced."
"I'm not on the jury. I don't have to be convinced."
"If you found out something that proved Travis didn't do it, would you turn it in?"
Cynthia's asked in a nonchalant tone.
"You think I'd let an innocent man go to prison?"
"He's a prick, you said it yourself. He lied to his girlfriend. Probably hit his wife.
Cheated on her at least. And . . . ." Cynthia let the sentence drop.
"And what?"
"Well, you know the rumors."
"What rumors?"
"Nothing," Cynthia said quickly, "just malicious gossip."
"Gossip about what?"
"I shouldn't have said anything."
"But you did. Now finish it," Steve demanded.
"I'm sure it isn't true," Cynthia began after a long pause, "but there were rumors that
Tom and Lynn went out a few times after he met her at one of her family's charity
functions. She never mentioned him to you?"
"It looks like Cynthia Allard, Girl Reporter, is back in town," Steve said, his voice
flat, harsh. Standing, he dropped a twenty on the table.
"Steve, I'm sorry." Cynthia grabbed his hand. "It's this job, sometimes things just slip
out. I really do want to be your friend." Steve jerked his hand away. "Let me make it up to
you. If you ever need anything, even if it's just a friend you can talk to, call me, please."
"I'll have the waitress call you a cab," Steve said in a tone as dead as clay and turned
toward the door.
Chapter Nine
Steve barely noticed the drive home, his arms and legs operating on automatic pilot
like so many pistons and gears while his mind replayed the last time he had seen Tom
Travis. It had been at the La Paloma Grill up in Malibu Canyon. Two miles east of the
Pacific Coast Highway the villagers liked to think of themselves as residents of another
world, someplace rural and organic and as remote from the grit of Los Angeles as Catalina
island is from the mainland shore.
They had driven up in Lynn's crimson Mercedes SL. Steve remembered tossing the
keys to the all-American kid at the valet parking stand. At his age Steve would have been
thrilled to get behind the wheel of an eighty thousand dollar car. Jaded by Ferraris,
Bentleys and quarter million dollar Aston Martins, the boy looked at the Merc with no
more interest than he would have given his grandma's Toyota.
Behind La Paloma's main building lay a patio sheltered by pale stucco walls which in
turn were almost hidden beneath bougainvillea, wisteria, and climbing roses in sprays of
purple, white and butter gold. Steve remembered everything about that night in
exaggerated colors. Lynn's dress floated in his memory, a lustrous cobalt that matched the
glimmering blue of her eyes.
The patio seemed a fairy garden sunken beneath the bowl of the night. Candles
flickered within crystal lamps and here and there in the shadows twenty dollar cigars
pulsed like oversized lightning bugs. Tom Travis had reserved a table two-thirds of the
way across the glazed brick patio, directly opposite the restaurant's rear doors. Muted
strains of a string quartet drifted on the breeze, a counterpoint to cricket chirps and
distorted voices which all twisted together like the babble of a small stream. When they
reached the table Travis gave Lynn a dazzling smile, stood, and kissed her cheek. Steve
glanced at the empty fourth chair.
"Great to see you guys. Steve, right? Tom Travis." Travis's palm was firm and dry.
"How do you like this place? One of my little hideaways where the tourists can't find me."
Travis swept his arm in an expansive gesture as if proclaiming the La Paloma part of his
personal domain. "It's just the three of us tonight, Elena had a thing," Travis said referring
to his current girlfriend. Travis paused, then broke into a sour grin. "Actually, she's pissed
at me. She doesn't have Lynn's sunny personality. Everything's a freaking drama. I guess
that's what I get for dating an actress." Tom spotted a white-coated bus boy and waved
him over. "Bring me a nice red, French. Champagne for you Lynn? Steve, what's your
poison."
"I'll have whatever you're having."
"Great choice! You got that son?" Travis pressed a twenty in the kid's palm and
turned away.
"Lynn, you look terrific, as always. You hit a home run with this lady, Steve. If I had
had any sense I'd have dumped Sally Sizemore the instant I laid eyes on Lynn, but timing
is everything, right? My loss is your gain." A waiter brought their drinks.
"I couldn't agree with you more, Tom." Steve let his words hang in the air like a
toast and clinked Travis's glass.
"Happy days," Lynn said when Tom's goblet kissed hers.
For a man having girlfriend trouble, Travis seemed in high spirits, regaling them with
celebrity anecdotes and inside jokes. A few times he slipped into reminiscences with Lynn
about some society family or charitable function and Steve used the void to order another
drink.
"So, Steve," Travis said shortly after their meals arrived, "I understand that you were
a cop before you joined the D.A.'s office. You ever in any hairy situations while you were
on the street?"
"I was shot at a couple of times. Luckily, they missed." Steve smiled and cut a piece
of veal.
"You get the chance to shoot back?"
"They frowned on us letting the bad guys get away with that sort of stuff."
"So, did they?"
"What?"
"Get away."
Steve paused and glanced at Travis's glistening face above the candle flame. His teeth
were so white that he seemed like the Cheshire Cat, slowly disappearing until only his
smile was left behind. "No," Steve said, putting down his fork. "They didn't get away."
"So you took care of business, both times?"
"Yeah." Steve finished his last swallow of wine.
"See, Steve, that's how you're different from the phonies in my business. If any of
them had put a guy down, that's all they'd talk about and every time they told the story
there'd be another bad guy in the mix. See, that's why I wanted to meet you.--"
"Excuse me?"
"Lynn told me a little about you, the kind of stand-up guy you are." Steve gave Lynn
a quick glance that seemed to bounce off unnoticed. "I'm doing a new film, In The Dead
Of Night. I play a lawyer who used to be a cop who's defending this beautiful woman
who's accused of killing her cheating husband. We need to hire somebody as the technical
advisor."
"If you're going to play a defense attorney--"
"There are going to be some flashbacks to when the hero was a beat cop. And here's
the twist, when he was a cop he was involved with the defendant, crazy about her, but she
dumped him for the husband. Now, years later, she begs him to defend her, and he's still
crazy in love with her and he keeps remembering being with her during his days as a cop.
So, we'll have to get an advisor for the cop stuff and one for the lawyer stuff." Travis
pointed his finger at Steve like a cocked gun. "Bam, two birds with one stone. We'd only
need you for a few days of actual shooting, maybe you could schedule some vacation
time, and you'd have to look over the script and give the director your notes."
"I--"
"There's a ten grand payday in it. Not like you guys need the money, but, hey, that
would cover a nice little getaway for you two down to Saint Barts. Am I right?"
Steve glanced at Lynn who was working so hard at not showing any emotion that in
the dim light her face looked like a marble mask.
"Maybe somebody from the studio could email me the dates when you'd need me and
I could talk with my boss and make sure I can get the time off."
"Sounds like a plan. Hey, we'll have a great time. Who knows. This could develop
into a nice little sideline for you. I know some cops who do two, three movies a year."
Tom raised his glass and Steve, smiling, followed suit. After that, by imperceptible
degrees, his memory of the evening slowly dissolved. At some point Travis switched to
brandy. His stories became louder, his gestures more expansive. Finally, around eleven
Lynn said something about work and scraped her chair back across the bricks. For an
instant Travis's attention seemed to freeze then he gave them a sloppy smile, rose and
engulfed Lynn in a long hug and short kiss on the lips. Steve got a hug too, but,
mercifully, no kiss.
Once on the street, the air seemed sharper and Steve felt a subtle wobble tilt his
brain.
"Sweetie, you mind driving? I'm not sure I could pass a Breathalyzer test right now."
Instead of answering, Lynn gave him a long kiss. "Ummm, you don't taste drunk to
me."
"I guess we'll have to put that to the test when we get home."
Lynn gave him a slow smile and slipped behind the wheel. "You're not going to work
on the movie, are you?"
"Without the actual shooting schedule . . . ." Steve let the sentence die.
"You don't like Tom, do you?"
"Was I that obvious?"
"In his world he deals with professional phonies. You're nowhere near their league."
"I'll take that as a compliment."
"I meant it as one." Periodically in the distance below them white dots flickered on
the PCH. "He's not that bad, you know."
"I didn't say he was."
"No, I mean he comes off like this self-centered, egoistical person, but underneath,
he's really very sweet." Steve slightly reclined his seat and closed his eyes. "Some people
in this town are very good at making themselves seem a lot better than they really are.
Tom's just the opposite. The harder he tries to play the good guy, the worse he looks. It's
sad, really."
"That's a penetrating analysis. I thought you didn't know him that well."
"Are you jealous?"
"Of a Hollywood star and the most desirable woman in the world? You bet I'm
jealous."
"Good, then my plan has worked."
"So, how well did you know him?"
"He's ancient history. I wouldn't trade you for two Tom Travises."
"But what about three Tom Travises?"
"Hmmm, three Tom Travises? I'll have to think about that one."
They made love through half night until Steve wondered if La Paloma's wines had
been enchanted or drugged. It was only halfway through the following afternoon that he
realized that Lynn never did explain how well she had known Tom Travis, and by then, he
didn't want to find out.
A Porsche Cayenne ran the yellow at Dover and, in a squeal of brakes, Steve
snapped back to the present. That dinner was when? Like an American transplanted to
Paris converting feet to centimeters, Fahrenheit to Celsius, Steve converted time to and
from normal calendar dates as so many days and months BLD and ALD - Before Lynn
Died and After Lynn Died. Dinner at the La Paloma. That was not long after they were
married, about two and a half years, BLD. The intersection cleared and Steve accelerated
on through.
Chapter Ten
Steve spent another three hours reading reports and taking notes. So far the material
in the files pretty much paralleled the details reported on the news. As he progressed it
became increasingly apparent that Tom Travis was his own worst enemy. Not only had he
failed to provide the cops with any other viable suspects or motives, but his personality
pissed them off as well, a fact which he seemed incapable of grasping. And overshadowing
it all was Kaitlen Berdue. Maybe she hadn't hurt Tom Travis as mortally as Monica
Lewinsky had wounded Bill Clinton, maybe, but she was definitely a reef upon which his
ship had disastrously run aground.
It had been barely two weeks after Marian Travis had disappeared when Simon Katz
looked up to find Kaitlen Berdue standing in front of his desk.
*
*
*
"They said I should talk to you." The girl said softly in a breathy, whispering voice.
Katz gave her a quick once over and then looked again. She was five feet five with coal
black hair, pale gray eyes, pouty lips and breasts a man might get lost in. Were he any
younger a girl like her could infect his nights and torture his days. Even now, just looking
at her raised his pulse five or ten beats.
"I'm Detective Simon Katz. You are . . . ?"
"Kaitlen Berdue," she said with a Catholic school girls' smile and extended a slim
hand. Katz took it and didn't want to let it go.
"Please take a seat." He gave her what he hoped was a fatherly smile and released
her hand. "How can I help you, Ms. Berdue."
"Call me Kaitlen, please. It's about Tom Travis, well, about his wife, I guess."
"You have some information concerning her whereabouts?"
"Huh? Oh, no, I mean, I don't know where she is. I never met her. I'm here about
Tom, Mr. Travis."
"You know him?"
"We were . . . involved." A quick frown painted her face.
"Romantically involved?"
"Yes." Her eyes flicked down and her cheeks went from alabaster to pink.
"When did this relationship begin?" Katz asked in as matter-of-fact a tone as he
could manage.
"About ten months ago. I didn't know he was married, well, I mean I knew but he
said it was just for show, that she was gay and that it was just a play marriage to keep her
ex-husband from using the lesbian thing to get custody of her daughter. Tom said he was
doing her a favor, you know, to help her keep her child. I believed him, until I read the
stories in the papers. Is it true, what the paper said about his wife?"
Katz gave her a level stare and a tiny, almost regretful nod. "The father of Marian
Travis' daughter died in a car crash a little less than a year before she married Tom, and as
far as we know, she was not a lesbian."
"So he did lie to me. I'm such a stupe!"
"Uhh, no, Ms. Berdue." Katz wanted to take her hands in his but didn't. "It's not your
fault. Tom Travis is a very convincing person. Remember, he's a professional actor."
"Men are always lying to me." Kaitlen sniffled and pulled a pink tissue from her bag.
"Don't blame yourself." Katz made a note on his pad. "When did your relationship
with Mr. Travis end?"
"Uhh, well now, I guess. I can't continue seeing him after . . . this!"
Katz felt an excited shiver run up his spine. "When was the last time you talked to
him?"
"Last night. We made a date for this weekend. He's, he was taking me to Cabo."
"So, he doesn't know that you know the real story about his wife?" Katz asked in
almost a whisper.
"I didn't want to accuse him of anything until I was sure. You shouldn't believe
everything they put in the papers," Kaitlen said with deep sincerity. "But now that I've
talked to you . . . well, I'll have to break it off." Kaitlen sniffled then jammed the worn
tissue back into her purse. "And I liked him so much! He was always nice to me, except
when he had too much to drink, but he was getting better about that."
"Do you think you could get him to talk to you about his wife?" Katz asked gently.
"On the phone? Because I don't want to see him again, not after the way he lied to
me and all."
"Sure, the phone would be good."
"Well, I guess so. Do you mean you want to tape record what we say?"
"Would that be okay with you?" Katz asked politely and held his breath.
"Well, sure! I mean what if he killed that poor woman? We have a responsibility to
her, I mean as citizens and all, don't we?"
"Yes, Ms. Berdue, we absolutely do. I couldn't agree with you more." Katz wanted
to leap over the desk and smother her with kisses but restrained himself. "If I could just
get your contact information, then we can plan the call."
An hour later Furley wandered into the squad room. Kaitlen was having lunch in the
deli across the street while Katz blocked out her script.
"What are you up to?" Furley asked, pointing at the pile of hand-printed pages. Katz
gave him a wolfish grin. "Jesus, what canary did you swallow?"
"Guess who had a girlfriend?"
"Tom Travis? Is that a surprise?"
"I phrased that wrong. Guess who has a girlfriend?"
"He thinks she won't talk? He can't be that stupid."
"He thinks she's that stupid. He told her Marian was gay and she believed him. He
thinks she still believes him. He thinks he's taking her to Mexico for the weekend."
"Were you able to convince her to help us?"
"She volunteered! She says it's her civic duty to help us find out what happened to
that poor, poor woman."
"Son of a bitch!" Furley shouted and held out his hand for a high-five. "Damn!
What's she like? Bimbo? Skank?"
"Hey! She's very, very sweet."
"Does that mean 'airhead'?"
"Listen up! She's a very nice, very decent young woman. And that's how you're
going to treat her. Do I make myself clear?"
"Jeeze, Simon, I was just--"
"I mean it! You don't treat her right, I'll find a new partner who will. Got it?"
"Sure. I got it. As far as I'm concerned she's Mother Theresa."
"Good. She's due back here in a ten minutes. Help me script her call to Travis."
*
*
*
"What's this word?" Kaitlen asked, tapping Katz's notes.
"Hmmmm." Simon scratched out 'impetuous' and replaced it with 'silly.' Kaitlen read
through the rest of the page.
"I don't know if I can do this," she said, frowning.
"It's really important." Furley gave her his best 'We need your help to catch the bad
guys' stare.
"No, I mean, reading this. I can't keep it all straight. What if I lose my place or he
says something I don't expect? I'm just not smart enough." Her lips pursed and she glanced
down. "Couldn't I just talk to him and ask him about his wife?"
Furley and Katz exchanged a look then a shrug. "Sure, let's try that," Simon agreed.
Travis picked up his cell on the third ring.
"Hi, Tommy, it's me."
"Hey, baby, I've missed you."
"I've missed you too. Tommy, have you told anybody about us, I mean, well, me?"
"Has somebody called you?" Travis asked, clearly concerned.
"No," Kaitlen said with a little tremor, "but with all the stuff in the papers I was
wondering if I should worry about reporters or anything."
"No problem, Sweetie. I wouldn't let you get dragged into this. Nobody knows."
Furley and Katz exchanged another look.
"Have they found out anything, about, you know?"
"It's a mystery."
"What do you think happened to her?"
"Jeeze, I don't know. One minute she's here, the next she's gone."
"Has her ex called? Do you think he did it?"
"Could be. Who knows?"
"You said they had a terrible divorce, with her being gay and all. I was just thinking
that maybe he did it and took the little girl. Is he violent? You said he was a big jerk."
"The biggest. Sure, he could have been behind it."
"But the police are after him, you know, investigating him, right? You told them
about him?"
"Sure, he's their number one suspect, but don't tell that to anyone. It's kind of a
secret between me and the cops."
"This is so sad, even if you weren't really, you know, married, her being gay and all.
Do you miss her?"
"Sure, I miss her, in a way. She was a friend, I mean I married her to help her out
with her custody fight. How many guys would do that?"
"Only you, Tommy. Do you think about her? What was the last thing she said to
you?"
"Oh, Hell, I don't know."
"You're blocking, baby. We've talked about that. You've got to open up to your
emotions, not block them out. Come on, what did she say?"
There was a long pause and Katz's eyes strayed to the cassette's revolving spools.
Finally, Travis responded.
"Sweetie, you know I don't like this touchy-feely stuff."
"You can't fight Karma, Tommy."
"Okay, fine, the truth is, we had a fight."
"Oh no. What happened?"
"Oh, the same old crap. I wasn't supportive enough. I wasn't there for her. All the
pregnancy stuff. She was still on me to be her coach, like her having another kid was my
idea. We both knew the baby wasn't mine but she still wanted me to act like I was the
daddy. It made me feel like a patsy."
"But you paid for the doctors and the artificial whatever it was they did to get her
pregnant. That was a really nice thing. Didn't she appreciatethat?"
"Hell, no. She didn't give a damn about me. The handwriting was on the wall. As
soon as the kid was born she was going to divorce me and move in with her lesbian lover.
That was always her plan. But," Travis sighed, "I agreed to it." Furley and Katz both
rolled their eyes. "I told her I'd cover for the pregnancy and she could have her girl friend,
so long as I could be with someone I loved. I guess I can't complain since that's how I got
you."
Kaitlen's lips formed a little girl's smile.
"Oh, Tommy!"
"It's true, Sweetie. I can't wait to see you. The guy dropped off the ticket, right?"
"Oh, yeah, I got it, but, well, there's a little problem."
"Like what?"
"I'm afraid we'll be seen together."
"Don't worry, Sweetie, I'll protect you."
"That's not what I mean, silly. I mean, I'm worried about you."
"Me?"
"Well, sure. I mean, what if one of those awful photographers gets a picture of us
together or they bribe the maid or the bellhop or something? I mean, the world doesn't
know about Marian being gay and it not being your baby. Here she is like, disappeared,
and pregnant and everybody's looking for her, and if they catch us together, how will that
look? If they find out my name they're going to talk to my friends, my boss, it will all come
out. They'll say terrible things about us."
"We'll be real careful. No one will see us."
"Silly, somebody's always watching, and that was before Marian disappeared. We
can't take the chance."
"But, Katey, honey--"
"What if they come to my job? What if they put my picture in those terrible papers?
'Tommy Travis's Cheating Whore' that's what the headline will say. No, I can't, we can't."
"Sweetie, Katey, it--"
"No, Tommy, not until this is over." A sob caught in Kaitlen's throat. "I have to go.
I'll call you." She clicked off the phone. "Was that okay?" Kaitlen asked Simon nervously.
"Okay?" Furley cut in. "It wasn't just 'okay.' It was perfect."
Kaitlen beamed.
Chapter Eleven
Steve got himself a beer and drank it slowly, enjoying every swallow. Around him
the pile of boxes seemed to have multiplied. He was well into his second day of research
and he felt as if he had barely scratched the surface. Behind the transcript of Kaitlen
Berdue's first taped call with Travis was her background information. The next folder held
a copy of the detectives' interview with Kaitlen's brother, Bobby Berdue.
*
*
*
They found Bobby Berdue in a little house in the north east corner of San Diego
County. The road to Bobby's cottage was cracked asphalt that wound its way past brushfilled canyons and dust devil flats. Dotted along its path were broken-down gas stations,
an evangelical church and a host of honky-tonk bars. Berdue lived in a sagging bungalow
sheltered beneath two ancient black oaks. A Ford F150, headed out, sat at the back of the
dirt drive. As he pulled close to the porch Furley caught the glint of a decaying Airstream
trailer hidden behind the house.
"Welcome to Meth Country," Furley said glancing at the deserted highway and
manzanita choked hills. "What do you think we'd find if we kicked in the door to that
trailer?"
"I wouldn't want to be lightning any matches around it."
As Furley and Katz stepped from the Crown Vic a swirling gust pelted them with
dust and broken leaves. Furley squinted and hurried for the door. Katz's limp was worse
and in spite of not wanting to give his wife the satisfaction of having told him so, he had
finally called the doctor a week ago. He was supposed to see the Sports Medicine
specialist on Friday. Shit!, Katz thought, Sports Medicine! It used to be the 'bone doctor',
then it was the 'orthopedic surgeon', but people got frightened by the 'surgeon' part so
now they called themselves 'Sports Medicine Specialists'. Katz frowned against the ache
in his knee and hobbled after Furley to the door.
There was no bell. Furley pounded on the jam with the side of his fist but the wind
muffled the blows against the background of the plastic rattle of the oak tree's leaves.
"Mr. Berdue, LA Police Detectives!" Furley shouted, then pounded again. An icy
gust cut through Katz's shirt. A tangle of gray clouds rapidly scudded east against an
approaching wall of blue-black thunder heads blown in off the sea. Studded with tufts of
mosquito grass, the rutted earth in front of the cottage flaked off at the touch of the wind.
If they weren't out of here before the rain hit, Katz knew that the mud would be an inch
deep up the sides of their shoes. Katz glanced at his black wingtips. Fifty bucks at Shoe
World and it had taken him three weeks to break them in. Shit!
Scowling, Katz twisted the knob and pushed inside. "Police!" he shouted and angled
forward to where he could see into the kitchen at the back of the house. A young
Caucasian man sat at a dented, white-painted table, a can of beer in front of him.
"Mr. Berdue?" Katz called, watching the man's hands.
"Who wants to know?" Bobby asked then took a long swallow.
"LAPD. Didn't you hear us knocking?"
"Was that you? Thought it was the wind. What do you want?"
Furley and Katz carefully paced toward the kitchen, both keeping a careful watch left
and right.
"You alone here?" Furley asked, his hand hovering nervously near his gun.
"You see anybody?"
"Are you alone here, sir?" he demanded,the 'sir' sounding like a curse.
"Sure." Berdue laughed and took another swig. "You want one?" He held up a gaily
painted can, 'Milwaukee's Pride, Premium Lager.' Furley had seen the brand on sale at
Costco at a case price that worked out to thirty-eight cents apiece.
"Thanks, but we're on the job."
Berdue took a final swallow, crushed it against the scared table, then grabbed fresh
one from the fridge. Foam spurted onto the worn linoleum when he popped the tab.
"This about that Travis woman?" he asked then dipped his head to slurp the foam.
"Mind if we sit down?"
"Help yourself."
Furley and Katz grabbed chrome bent-pipe chairs and arranged them facing Bobby
Berdue.
"Your sister told us she'd been seeing Tom Travis before his wife went missing. Did
you ever meet Travis?"
"Why would he want to meet me? It's my sister he's poking." A sour grin twisted
Berdue's lips.
"So, you never met him?"
"You playin' a game with me?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Let's cut the crap. My sister's one of the 'good people.' When we were kids, it was
always 'Don't do this, Bobby.' 'Don't do that, Bobby.'" Berdue's voice assumed a falsetto
tone. "So, if you asked her if I ever met Tom Travis, she's told you that I did, once, when
she was showing off her movie star boyfriend. You cops!"
Katz gave him a quizzical stare.
"You and your fucking games, always trying to get on top of people, catch them in
something."
"Look, Bobby, is it okay if I call you 'Bobby'?"
Berdue shrugged.
"I think we got off on the wrong foot here," Katz continued. "Maybe me coming
inside like I did was a mistake. We saw your truck and then when nobody answered the
door, I got suspicious. Sorry. Occupational hazard. This is your house and I shouldn't
have come in like that without an invitation. But we're here because your sister has been
very helpful to us, and we're following up on what she told us. We're not looking at you
for anything but we need some help on this lady's disappearance.Okay?"
Berdue stared at Katz for heartbeat, then shrugged. "Yeah, sure, sorry. Like you
said, I was a little pissed off, you coming in here like that." Berdue glanced at Furley then
seemed to relax. "Let's forget it. Hey, you want that beer now, for real?"
"No--"
"Sure," Katz agreed. "It's a hell of a long way out here from LA." Katz nodded at
Furley. "He's driving. I'm not." Berdue popped a fresh can and Katz took a swallow. "That
hits the spot. Thanks." Simon put the can down and opened his notepad, paused, then
flipped it closed. "What's your take on this guy, Travis?" Katz gave Berdue his 'just
between us guys' stare.
"You want to know what I think of Tom Travis?" Katz shrugged. "Okay, okay, since
you're asking, I think he's a prick!" Katz smiled broadly. "What?"
"Nothing, just that you and my partner here," Katz dipped his head in Furley's
direction, "have the same opinion. That's just what Jack called him the first time he came
in for an interview. A prick." Katz took a small sip of his beer. "Go on. I'm interested in
what you've got to say."
Berdue gave Katz a quick smile then held up a finger and got himself another beer.
"Thirsty work," he said. Katz smiled and took another pull from his own can. "Okay,"
Bobby continued, "Tom Travis. First off, my sister's a decent person. Sure, maybe she's
not an Einstein, but she's got a good heart. Too soft-hearted, really. I've told her a million
times, 'Katey, don't let people take advantage of you' but she never listens. She's always
picking up strays and feeding them until they bite her. Then she meets Travis. Did she tell
you how?"
Katz and Furley just stared.
"His wife comes into Katey's studio to sign up for a yoga class. One day Travis
comes in for something or other, the wife forgot her sunglasses, whatever. While he's
waiting for the class to be over he gets a look at Katey in that Spandex thing she wears at
work -- well, Hell, you've seen her, right? Katey walks by and guys jump out of cars, fall
out of trees. Next thing you know, he's coming by almost every day with one excuse or
another. Then one day it's: 'My wife lost her cell, did she leave it here?' and he moves in
for the kill. He thanks her for all the fine work she's doing for his wife and invites her out
for a 'thank you' lunch. That's what he calls it. Takes her to La Belle in Beverly Hills. Then
he walks her around the room. 'Oh, there's Anthony Hopkins. Hi, Tony. There's Julia
Roberts. There's George Clooney. How's it goin', Georgie?' On the way back he gives her
the story about his wife being gay. Give me a fucking break!"
"Did you tell her Travis's wife wasn't a lesbian?"
"How do I know which way she swings?"
"But if you thought he was using her. . . ."
Berdue gave a little shrug. "Truth is, I didn't find out about them goin' out until two
or three months after it started. By then it was too late to try to break them up, not unless
I had a good reason, which I didn't, no proof or nothing. I'm no private dick." Bobby took
another swig of beer.
"And maybe you didn't want to break them up?" Katz asked softly.
Berdue frowned, then nodded. "Yeah, if we're bein' truthful here, maybe I didn't. I
mean, the guy's a big star, lots of connections. Maybe he can do Katey some good. Get
her a job at a studio or modeling stuff. I figure he's at least good for a nice birthday gift or
something for her. Maybe he even falls for her, dumps his wife and marries her. She moves
into the big time. Hey, it happens. At least that's what I thought before I got to know the
jerk better." Angrily, Berdue finished his beer and rang the empty against the table.
"You know what the asshole gave her for Christmas? A purse! A fucking $200
leather purse from Macy's! Katey hates leather. She feels sorry for the fuckin' cows for
God's sake! That's the kind of person she is, somebody who feels sorry for cows. Jeeze!"
Berdue staggered to his feet, muttered,"Gotta see a man about a horse" and teetered from
the room. Furley continued scribbling notes. A minute later a flush sounded and, walking
more steadily, Berdue got himself another beer and slumped back into his chair.
"Sounds like a real tightwad," Katz said. "If I was a movie star and I was dating your
sister I'd do a whole lot better than a purse." Berdue raised his beer in salute and pointed it
at Katz's chest. "What's a thousand or two to a guy like Tom Travis?" Katz continued.
"You've got that right! Shit, with his money, he should've given her something good,
you know, a diamond necklace or a Beemer or something. A fucking purse!" Berdue's
head weaved in a small circle and he put down his beer.
"What did you talk about when you met Travis?"
"What a phony!" Berdue said and took another drink.
"In what way?"
"Look, you guys checked my record, right? You know I've seen the inside of a cell a
few times, this and that. We're having dinner together, Katey, me and Travis, and he starts
off, first thing, asks me what jail is like. Katey is all 'Tommy! What are doing?' but he just
ignores her, like, 'Quiet, woman, we're talking man to man here.'"
"How'd he know about your record? Did Kaitlen tell him?"
"No way! She's in love with the guy. Last thing she's going to do is tell him her
brother's a jail bird. I figure he had some detective check her out and then check me out."
"Was he upset that you had a record?"
"He thought it was cool, like a guy who fights bulls or races sports cars. What a load
of crap. You ever know anybody who thought being locked up was cool?"
"What else did he say?
"He wanted to know what it was like, being in jail. Did I know any really bad guys?
He said he might want to interview some hard guys to get tips for a movie, how to play a
killer, how to play a cop who deals with killers. Then he asks me: 'If you wanted to hire a
hit man, how would you do it? How much does it cost to get a guy knocked off?' All
kinds a crap like that. It pissed me off, let me tell you. Here I am, sitting with my little
sister and he's making me out to be some low-life scum. I mean, who does that to a guy
he's just met?"
"What did you say?"
Berdue waved his hands. "What could I say? I wanted to punch his lights out, but
Katey's sitting there so I went along with it. You gotta understand, he'd had a few drinks
and I'd had a few drinks and I knew that if I said what I was thinking, we were gonna rock
and roll right there, so, for Katey's sake, I kept it together, just went along with his shit,
smiled and told him what he wanted to hear. Cheap bastard."
"He didn't pick up the bill?"
"Oh, sure, he picked up the bill. My steak was like fifteen bucks."
"So, it wasn't Spago's?"
"Marco's Rib House in Burbank. Mr. Movie Star."
"Did you ever talk to him again after that?"
Bobby paused and stared out the window at the gathering storm.
"Yeah, once," he said finally, his voice beginning to slur. A couple of rain drops
spattered the glass. "It was around Thanksgiving and, bam, out of the blue he calls me. I
guess Katey gave him my number. He's all friendly and says he's getting ready to do a cop
movie or something and he really needs to talk to a hit man for background on his role. So
I ask him, 'A real hit man?' and he says 'Yeah, a real stone cold killer, somebody with
notches on his gun.' Notches on his gun? Man, who talks like that?"
"What'd you do?"
"What'd I do? I told him I'd ask around and get back to him."
"Did you?"
"Are you nuts? You think I want to tell some psycho killer that I'm going to give his
name and phone number to a guy who's making a movie? That's not healthy conversation
to have with those kinds of people. Shit, I learned that much in the joint."
"Did he ever call back?"
"Once. He left a message on my cell asking me to call him. I erased it. Then his wife
went missing. I didn't hear from him again and he didn't get any calls from me."
"So, you never gave him any names of guys who'd do the Big Job?"
"No fucking way!"
"When his wife went missing, did you think he did it?"
"Two plus two still makes four, right?"
"You think that's what he wanted the hit man for?"
"What do you think?"
Katz and Furley glanced at each other then slid back their chairs. Katz extended his
hand. "Thanks for your help, Mr. Berdue. We'll give you a call if we have any other
questions."
"Yeah, sure," Bobby said, taking a second or two before he was able to connect with
Simon's hand. He let go and reached for his beer, accidently knocked it over and frowned.
The detectives had just reached the door when they halted at a shout from behind.
"Hey, can you guys call the San Diego D.A. for me? They've got some hummer beef
they're after me on. Maybe you could tell them I've been cooperating with you guys?"
"One hand washes the other," Katz said.
"Huh?"
"If the LA D.A. asks you, are you going to testify about Travis looking for a hit
man?"
"What? Oh, yeah, sure. No problem."
"You've got my card. Leave the San Diego deputy D.A.'s name on my voice mail. I'll
give him a jingle."
Behind them, Katz heard the tab snap on another can of beer. Furley beeped the
remote and they jogged to the Crown Vic through the growing rain. Katz's knee throbbed
harder with every step.
Chapter Twelve
Steve was just putting his dinner plate into the dishwasher when the phone rang. He
peered at the receiver as if it were a coiled snake. Had Cynthia told anyone he was
working for Tom Travis? The phone trilled a second time. Jesus, if the media found out
about him being involved, all the crap about Lynn would come up again. His own voice
filled the room: "Hi, this is Steve. Leave a message."
"Steve, it's Greg. Pick up."
For a second Steve froze, then, reluctantly, grabbed the phone.
"You got any plans for nine tomorrow morning?" Markham asked.
"I'm still going through the files."
"Meet me at the main jail. Tom wants to talk to you."
Steve frowned. "I don't know enough to know what questions to ask him."
"I didn't say you needed to talk to him. I said he wants to talk to you."
"Look, I've got a million things to do here . . . ." Steve stared at the stacks of boxes
he not yet opened.
"We're in the service business. This is part of the service."
"Okay," Steve reluctantly agreed.
*
*
*
As a VIP defendant,Tom Travis had his own cell, isolated from the rest of the prison
population. Freshly showered and shaved, his thinning hair neatly combed, Travis was
escorted into the jail's tiny conference room. A square stainless table was bolted to the
floor. Four metal stools like steel petals extending from an oversize metallic flower sprang
from the central post. Steve took the seat opposite Travis.
"Steve," Tom gave Janson a weak smile and extended his hand to limit of the chain
securing it to his waist. "Sorry we have to meet under these circumstances." A grimace
marked his glance around the barren room. "A little different from La Paloma, I guess."
"Yeah, " Steve agreed, "a little bit."
"Listen, guy, I didn't get the chance to say it before, but I'm really sorry about--"
"Sure, I know. I'm trying to put that behind me."
"She was special lady."
"Yes, she was." Travis seemed genuinely sad, both for Lynn and for his own
situation. Tom had lost weight since their dinner together. Now, clothed in a baggy orange
jumpsuit, he seemed only a shadow of the man he once had been. In spite of his personal
dislike for the actor, Steve felt the beginning of a small sympathetic ache.
"Hell of a thing for us to have in common," Tom said. Markham's face paled. "Both
of us, I mean, having our wives murdered by lunatics."
Steve thought about leaping over the table and burying his fist in Travis's face, but
found he couldn't move, as if rage and pain battled each other for dominance and only
succeeded in locking his muscles in place. Travis seemed to sense he had said something
wrong and pulled back but he didn't seem to know quite what or why. People have been
smiling and kissing his ass so long, Steve decided, the guy no longer has a clue how he
pisses people off.
"Hell of a thing," Markham said and glanced at his watch. That was one gesture
Travis understood.
"Well, anyway, thanks for coming. I was really pleased when Greg told me you were
going to help me. God knows I can use all the help I can get. Nothing against the last
detective, McGarrey, but the guy never believed me. I could tell his heart wasn't in it. But
I know you won't let me down, Steve. We go way back, this guy and me," Tom said to
Markham.
"Tom, you know I've only started going through the files, but since we're here,
maybe I can ask you a few questions?"
"Why not? Everybody else has had their shot at me."
Steve paused while a passing guard peered through the Plexiglas window, then
opened his yellow pad. "Kaitlen Berdue's brother, Bobby, told the police that you asked
him for a referral to a hit man. Something about a movie you were going to do. According
to your interview with the police a few weeks after Marian disappeared the movie you
were shooting was a horror film called The Boneyard, which doesn't sound like it has any
hit men in it. Was Berdue making that up?"
"Not exactly, I mean I said something about needing to research role as a hit man,
but just as, you know, casual dinner conversation." Steve pretended that was the most
reasonable answer in the world and after a brief pause, Travis continued. "There was this
book, Hard Contract, that was really hot. Eastwood, Ridley Scott, and some other guys,
all of them were bidding on it. The main character is this aging hit man hired by a rich guy
to find and kill the person who murdered his wife. The twist is that the killer was a woman
and the deeper the hit man gets into it, the more it looks like the rich guy hired her to kill
the wife and now he wants the hit man to kill her to clean up the loose ends. Of course,
my character starts to fall in love with the target. Hell of role."
"So, you were negotiating for this part when you talked to Berdue? Will the director
and the producer back you up?"Steve stared at Travis expectantly and was met with a
blank stare.
"Fuck!" Travis finally said, banging his fist on the table and turning away. "I gotta
say it? You want me to spell it out?" Puzzled, Steve looked at Greg to see if he had a clue
what Travis was talking about. "This town," Travis hissed, "this town has no heart, it's like
a fucking robot monster. It doesn't care what you've done, who you were, only who you
are. I was the number one box office star for four years in a row. Four years. Now, half
the time they hear 'Tom Travis' they won't even let me read for the part. This was a big
book with real talent behind the movie. I could have played this guy, played the hell out of
him. A-Class director, A-Class production, best seller, this role would have put me back
on top, like Frank Sinatra after From Here To Eternity.
"Yeah, sure I wanted to talk to a hit man. I wanted any edge I could fucking get! I
figured that if I could get some coaching, pick out a good scene from the book and get
them to give me a chance, just let me read for it, I could get the part. So, yeah, I asked
Bobby Berdue if he could help me. I knew he'd been in the joint. I figured maybe he could
turn me on to somebody who could, you know, coach me."
"But he didn't."
"Didn't even return my call. Can you believe that? This fucking small time, ex-con
loser won't return my call. Unbelievable."
"Okay, it's not that bad. Even if you didn't get the part, the director--"
Travis waved his hand and scowled when his wrist snapped to a halt at the end of the
chain. "See, that's the thing. I never got the chance to read for the part. By the time I
figured out I wasn't getting any help from Bobby Berdue there was a story in the Trades
that Eastwood was taking the part for himself. Well, fuck, if Clint Eastwood is going to
star and direct nobody wants to hear from Tom Travis. If I'd have called them after that,
they'd have laughed me right out of town. God damn Leno would have put it in his
opening monolog."
"So you took the horror movie."
"Yeah, I took the horror movie. A million bucks! Christ, there was a time when I
wouldn't cross the street in this town for a million bucks. Hell, if you offered me a million
bucks a few years back and I'd have punched your lights out for insulting me with chump
change." Travis gazed sadly around the cell. "And I thought things couldn't get any worse
than doing some screamer for a million flat, then I end up in here." Travis shook his head.
Have you forgotten that your wife and baby are dead? Steve wondered. He sat
perfectly still, offended into silence and realizing for the first time the immense gulf
between Tom Travis's view of the world and that of normal people, that everything Travis
heard and saw was distorted through the prism of his own celebrity. Steve turned back to
his notes.
"Tom, you told Kaitlen Berdue that you had had an argument with your wife the day
she disappeared. How big an argument was it, I mean was it the typical husband-wife stuff
or was there screaming and shouting?"
"Where I come from screaming and shouting is a normal husband and wife stuff,"
Travis said, smiling. Steve just stared at him. "Yeah, okay," Travis continued, "no flying
plates, nothing physical. Look, it was a constant thing with her the last couple of months. I
put it down to hormones and her being fat. She'd get on my case and I'd tell her to get off.
She'd say something and I'd tell her to go to hell. She'd call me names--"
"What kind of names?"
"Jeeze, we gotta get into that?"
"Think of me like your doctor."
"What kind of names?" Tom muttered. "Okay, 'fool', 'jerk', 'lazy self-centered
bastard', 'narcissistic, lazy, self-centered, bastard'. I thought that last one was just plain
redundant," Travis said with a thin smile.
"Then what?"
Travis scowled. "Then I'd say some things." Steve stared and finally Travis
continued. "I'd remind her that it was my house and my money that paid for it and if I
wanted to sit on my butt in my own easy chair that was my right. I'd remind her that I
started out with nothing, moving furniture, pumping gas, that I'd gotten into the business
risking my neck doing stunts and that I'd earned every dollar she was spending. Then she'd
scream some more, and I'd want to punch her lights out but I wouldn't. I learned that in
anger management. When I started to feel like that, like hitting her, I'd just got out. Went
to the weight room or hit the pool or, like that day, I took off to pound the dune buggy
against the desert.
"So, yeah, okay, we argued, but I never touched her. I just left. I didn't put her in the
back of the Hummer. I didn't take a shovel with me. I didn't bury her in the desert. I was
pissed off, sure. But, like I said, I put her behavior down to her hormones being out of
whack because of the pregnancy. I figured once she had the baby, she'd go back to
normal."
How many women are there on the jury? Steve wondered.
"Tom, I know you've been asked this a hundred times, but I've got to go back to it.
Who could have done this? It wasn't a robbery. It wasn't a sex crime. The odds of this
being a random serial killer are like billions to one. Someone wanted Marian, or you, dead.
Who could it have been?" Travis sat immobile, staring at his distorted image in the steel
table top. "How about Kaitlen Berdue?" Steve asked a moment later.
"Kaitlen couldn't swat a fly. She doesn't have it in her."
"She sure did a number on you. Have you heard the tapes she made for the cops?"
"Yeah, I've heard them. They took advantage of her."
"Tom, the main reason you're on trial" Greg broke in, "is those tapes. They inflamed
the public and turned everybody against you. If we don't find some evidence pointing to
someone else, they're going to get you convicted. If she could set you up that way, is it
that long a jump to thinking that maybe she had something to do with your wife's death?"
Travis kept his head down, slowly shaking it from side to side. "I lied to her," he said
finally in almost a whisper.
"What?"
"It's my own fault. I lied to her, all that shit about Marian being a lesbo." Suddenly,
Travis looked up. "This is all confidential, right, attorney-client privilege?"
Greg and Steve gave each other a quick look and Markham nodded.
"Okay, well, the truth is that I was in love with her, Katey. I figured I'd wait until the
baby was born and when Marian was back on her feet, emotionally I mean, we'd have a
nice quiet divorce. We had a pre-nup so it wasn't going to be any problem, financially. Flat
payment of a million bucks, $10,000 a month alimony for two years and child support. My
divorce lawyer told me that child support would be another $5,000 a month until the
alimony ran out then it would go up to $10K. I had no problem with those numbers.
Anyway, right after the divorce I was going to ask Katey to marry me. Then everything
went out of control. I don't blame her. How was she to know I was going to marry her?
As far as she knew, I just flat out lied to her to get her into the sack. I don't blame her.
Hell, I can't even blame the cops. They took advantage of her sweet nature but I guess
they were just doing their jobs."
Steve shook his head in amazement. "Tom, you do remember telling Kaitlen on one
of the tapes that you and she could get married as soon as the publicity over Marian's
disappearance died down? And she didn't believe you."
"Well, given everything that happened, who would? I guess I'll never get her back
now, will I?"
Steve wanted to grab Travis's shoulders and just shake him. You're about to be
convicted of first degree murder and maybe get sentenced to death and you're still
thinking that the woman who betrayed you to the cops is going to take you back and
you'll both live happily ever after? What fucking planet are you living on?
"Okay, Tom," Steve said more calmly than he felt, "if Kaitlen wasn't involved, who
else is there?"
"My money's on her brother."
"Why him?"
"One," Travis raised his index finger, "he's a low life punk. He could put the hammer
down on somebody, or find a guy who could. Two, he wanted a piece of me. I could see it
in his eyes. He looked at me like some big lotto ticket that was about to pay off. If Katey
and me got hitched, you can bet Bobby planned on being right there with his hand out.
But as far as he knew, that wasn't going to happen, at least as long as Marian was in the
picture. I figure he hired some scumbag ex-con friend to do it and they screwed it up and
dumped her in the desert."
"It was just coincidence they buried her within two miles of where you were driving
your dune buggy?"
"Okay, maybe they kept her body someplace and when everything hit the fan and
Katey turned against me, they figured the marriage was never gonna happen and they put
Marian there to implicate me and take the heat off themselves."
Steve and Greg exchanged a brief look of disbelief.
"Is there anybody else who might have wanted to hurt Marian or get her out of the
way?"
Travis shook his head and sighed. "Like I said, we weren't getting along so good but
there's nobody who'd be angry enough with her to want her dead."
Except you, Steve said to himself. "How about someone who might want to hurt
you?"
"You think somebody murdered Marian to make me look bad? Why not just kill me
in the first place?"
"Tom," Greg said very quietly, "if we can't convince the jury either that someone had
a motive to kill Marian or that they killed her to get even with you, then they're going to
go with Plan A and figure you did it. So, who might have wanted to cause you trouble?"
Travis stared at the wall for a long three seconds, then, reluctantly, gave his head a
little shake. "I've got nothing. What about all those leads that came into the Tip Line? Are
you sure there's nothing there? What about those other pregnant women who went
missing? Why are you so sure this wasn't a serial killer or a cult murder or something?"
"We'll check them again," Steve said wearily.
"And the brother. . . ."
"He's my next stop. I'll have a long talk with him, check out his known associates,
get his credit card receipts and phone calls for the day of the disappearance. Greg, you'll
handle the subpoenas?"
"I've already done it. I'm just waiting for the docs to come in from AT&T and VISA.
It should only be a couple of more days."
"Okay, then." Steve stood and offered Travis his hand. The gleam of perspiration
under the cell's harsh lights made the star's face seem sunken, his hair sparse, his pallid
skin clear beneath the fine hairs.
"I really am sorry, about Lynn," Tom said as he grasped Steve's hand. "I mean, she
was so . . . special. All the phonies I've known in this town, and I meet two real women,
Lynn and Katey, and lose them both. Shit, what a jerk. If I only . . . but Hell, we don't get
do-overs in life, do we, Steve?"
No, we don't, Janson mumbled to himself as the jailer led Tom Travis back to his cell.
Chapter Thirteen
It was late afternoon when Steve reached Bobby Berdue's cottage. The old
Airstream, sagging and weathered, still crouched behind the structure, but Bobby's F150
was nowhere to be seen. Steve parked at the end of the gravel drive and, cupping his
hands, peered through the window. The front door soaked up his knocks without
response. Stepping off the porch, tufts of ankle high grass tugged at his feet. Around him
the air was full of sounds. A raven the size of a small hawk cawed from the top of an oak
tree. The breeze, funneling in through the far end of the canyon, carried scents of spring
grass, eucalyptus, manzanita, camphor and dust as it rustled the oak's fleshy leaves. At the
edge of the valley the highway was as deserted as if man had disappeared from the world
leaving all his works behind. Steve turned at a flicker of movement in the corner of his
eye.
Across the meadow a red tailed hawk skimmed low, his claws darting into a clump of
fennel stalks and emerging with a flailing black squirrel. Involuntarily, Steve glanced over
his shoulder as if fearing that some predator was swooping in behind him, but there was
only the sky tinted in the palest of fading blues and smeared at the edges with streaks of
white and gray. A brief gust ruffled Steve's hair, then died leaving behind the scent of mold
and dead leaves. Steve took one more look at the forlorn landscape then paced back to
Lynn's Mercedes which, together with an oil painting she had bought on their honeymoon
in the south of France, were the last tangible pieces of their life together he still possessed.
The nearest town was Coulton, barely more than a clump of buildings housing a
general store, a church, a bar, and a gas station. The church was closed but the other three
establishments announced their availability with smears of neon tubing in red, blue and
green. A scatter of haphazardly parked pickup trucks and motorcycles filled the asphalt lot
in front of Pilgrim's Bar & Grill. A blue neon blunderbuss spitting red neon sparks
flickered on the roof. The license number on one of the trucks was a match to Bobby
Berdue's.
Inside, the air glowed Marlboro blue in the shafts of late afternoon light. The two
guys playing pool, the bartender, and a pony-tailed thug in the back booth all gave Steve a
suspicious once-over then turned away. Dressed in worn jeans, black t-shirt and a denim
jacket he seemed to have passed muster. Steve wondered how long Greg Markham
wearing his usual button-down collar shirt, $100 slacks and black wing-tips would have
lasted before someone would have accidently spilled a pitcher of beer over his head.
Ninety seconds, Steve decided, barely long enough to use the pay phone to call the Auto
Club.
The bartender had a gut that sagged four inches over his belt buckle and a frizzy
beard that almost covered the swastikas tattooed beneath each ear, prison tats done with a
pin and ball point pen ink, as permanentas death itself.
"Beer," Steve ordered, slapping two singles on the bar. It arrived sloshing over the
lip of the glass. Steve downed it in four long gulps. Wordlessly he put down another two
dollars and pushed back the empty glass. The barman refilled it and wandered away. Steve
took a long swallow, then looked around. Berdue's DMV picture depicted a hollowcheeked young man with pale skin, black hair and blue-green eyes. At five feet eleven and
a hundred forty pounds Berdue was either anorexic or a chronic consumer of crystal meth.
At the back of the bar a shadowed booth crouched between a vandalized jukebox
and the hallway leading to the bathrooms. The booth held two men were engaged in a
whispered conversation. By his profile one of them was Bobby Berdue. The other was the
pony-tailed tough who had glared at Steve when he first entered. Janson turned away from
the booth, his eyes vacant. Propping his feet up on the edge of a rickety chair, his
shoulders angled just enough to see anyone entering or leaving, Steve let himself drift into
a state as close to suspended animation as he could manage. He spoke to no one, looked
at nothing, just gazed vaguely at the hazy mirror behind the bar.
Half an hour later Berdue's companion scuttled through Steve's field of vision and
out into the gathering night. Steve tossed the bartender two more singles and carried the
fresh beer into the booth. Berdue gave Steve a cross-eyed glare.
"You look like you could use a beer," Steve said, pushing the glass over the scarred
table.
"Who're you?"
"I'm the guy buying you a beer."
Bobby squinted in the dim light and gauged Steve's two hundred pounds and six foot
three inch frame, his meaty fingers and big hands and decided that a shove and a punch
were not a wise response.
"What do you want?" Bobby asked suspiciously, but he still took the beer.
"Just a few minutes of your valuable time. Is that a problem?"
"Maybe I don't like guys butting into my life."
"You got something better to do? What's the matter,you don't like beer?"
Bobby sneered and chugged the glass without taking a breath. Steve smiled and
gestured to the barman to bring a pitcher. Nothing further was said until both had refilled
their glasses.
"Okay," Bobby said, two swallows later, "you bought us a pitcher. What do you
want?"
"I was talking to Tom Travis and your name came up. I thought I'd stop by and say
hello."
"You're not a cop and you don't look like a lawyer."
"I'm not, any more. Got disbarred."
"They catch you with your fingers in the cookie jar?"
"No, they thought I had stuck a .45 in a guy's mouth and he didn't pay attention
when I told him to say 'Ahhh'."
"Yeah, I heard they disbar lawyers for that all the time." Berdue laughed at his own
joke.
"The LA D.A. doesn't like me very much but when he couldn't lock me up he did the
only thing he could and had them pull my ticket."
"You're breaking my heart."
"I'll get by. It all worked out though. You know why?"
"Why?"
"Because the guy they think I killed is still dead." Berdue gave Steve an uneasy
glance. "So, let's talk about Tom Travis."
"World class jerk," Berdue said, sticking out his chin as if inviting an argument.
"Yeah, that's the general opinion. He ever hit your sister?"
"He's still got all his parts, don't he?"
"Is that a no?"
"Yeah, it's a 'no'. Anybody hurts Katey has to answer to me."
Steve let the boast pass. "Know anybody who disliked Travis enough to kill his wife
and pin the job on him?"
"Nope," Berdue said instantly and refilled his glass.
"You didn't think about that answer very long. How about we increase the incentive?
Five hundred bucks for the name of anybody who might want to hurt Travis or his wife."
"And if I don't know anybody?"
"Then you don't get the money. Come on, its easy work. Nobody's got to know. Like
you said, I'm not a cop."
"Why should I trust you?"
"Trust? Who said anything about trust? You're selling me your opinion for cash.
Where's the trust in that?"
"Why should I help Tom Travis?"
"Hey, am I speaking Martian here? For-the-money." Steve gave him an 'Am I talking
to an idiot?' stare.
Berdue fiddled with his glass as if five hundred dollars for some hot air was a hard
decision for a guy who risked five years in prison for every packet of Meth he sold out of
the back of his truck.
"I've heard some rumors," Berdue said finally.
"Rumors are good. I like rumors."
Bobby scratched his lip. "Well, did Travis tell you he was into prescription drugs?"
"That sort of slipped his mind. Tell me more."
"Well, okay," Bobby leaned across the table, "when the three of us had dinner and
Katey went to the ladies room, Travis leans over to me and says, 'Bobby, I need your help
with something,' real secret like. So, I ask him what, and he says he needs a source for
some special drugs. I ask him what, crank, X, smack, what's he talkin' about? And he says,
'Prescription drugs, the real thing, not the junk you get on the Internet.' So I'm thinking,
'What the hell's goin' on here? The guy's loaded. There must be twenty Beverly Hills
doctors he can get to write him a scrip for whatever he wants. Hell, Elvis didn't have any
problems in that department,why should Tom Travis?"
"Did you ask him what he wanted, specifically."
"Sure, but he wouldn't tell me. 'It's confidential,' is all he'd say, that and that he
needed to keep it off his medical records. He said that in Hollywood the reporters paid
nurses and janitors to steal the medical records on guys like him, that they even hacked
into the drug stores' computers. He said that he couldn't take the chance of getting a
prescription from his doctor, that somebody might find out and put it in the papers."
"Why not just get the stuff in Mexico?"
"I asked him. 'Who's not going to recognize me?' he says. 'Besides, what if its
counterfeit?' So, he gets in may face: Do I know a guy who can hook him up with honest
to God real prescription drugs with no bullshit Chinese copies or don't I?"
"And?"
Berdue shrugged. "And I gave him a name."
"You ever find out if he called the guy?'
"Yeah, right!" Bobby laughed.
"I say something funny?"
"Who do you think these guys are? You ask them any questions about their business,
they'll gut you like a pig. It's like that Army thing, 'Don't ask, don't tell.'" Bobby laughed
and poured another beer.
"Did he ever mention it again, ever give you any clue what it was he wanted?"
"Not a word. Me, I figured it was Hillbilly Heroin. Fancy guys like him are scared of
needles. They want something they can chop up in their hundred dollar electric coffee
grinders and then put up their nose."
"So, what's this got to do with somebody killing his wife?"
"Like I said, these are dangerous people. What if he disrespected the guy? What if he
opened his mouth and it got back to the guy? What if he shorted him on a payment? You
think the dealer's gonna hire a lawyer and sue Travis for the money? These are two strike
people. One more conviction and they're gone for life. They don't fuck around with
anybody. Movie star? They don't give a crap. If Travis even looks like he's gonna cause
them any trouble at all, it's TCB baby."
TCB was a patch sometimes embroidered on a gang member's jacket -- Took Care of
Business. For an instant Steve imagined those letters burned into his own chest.
"So?"
"So, you asked if I could think of anybody who Travis might know who could have
knocked off a pregnant woman. That's all I've got."
"And if I offered you a thousand for another name?"
"Hey, I'll give you all the names you want, John Smith, Bill Jones, but they'd all be
bullshit. I gave you what I had, there ain't no more."
"You didn't give me the guy's name."
"Hah!" Berdue barked. "You keep your money and I'll keep my life."
"Where were you the day Marian Travis disappeared?"
"You think I'd off a pregnant woman just to get even with Travis for screwing over
my sister?"
"No, but maybe you'd kill a pregnant woman so your sister would have a clear shot
at marrying Travis and movin' on up to the big time, like the song says."
Berdue just snorted and drained his glass. "That's not my act, man. I've done some
stuff, no good lying about it, but murder a pregnant woman? I don't have no TCB on my
arm." Steve just stared at him. "Okay," Berdue continued ten seconds later, "I was in jail,
the main jail in San Diego. The Sheriff grabbed me on a bogus beef the day after
Christmas. Some cowboy deputy said I'd sold him half an o-z of speed. Give me a fucking
break. You think I'd sell half an o-z to somebody I didn't know? Please! Anyway, I didn't
get out until January fifth."
"You made bail?"
"Katey got me out."
"She get the money from Travis?"
Berdue gave him an embarrassed smile. "Yeah, I guess she wheedled it out of him.
She was always a good sister." Berdue looked down at his empty glass. Steve stared at
him for a long moment,then started counting out his payment.
"Shit!" Bobby hissed and put his hand over the bills. "Don't show that kind of money
in here unless you want to end up dead by the side of the road." Berdue crushed the pile in
his fist and pulled it out of sight.
"You owe anybody any money, Bobby?"
"What's that to you?"
"I'm just wondering if you might be motivated to help me out some more, earn some
more cash, easy money too."
"I guess I have a few bills."
"Anything big and pressing? Is there anybody about ten minutes away from putting
you in the hospital, or worse? Do you need to disappear for a while in order to stay
healthy?"
"I don't give people any shit and they leave me alone."
"What about that Prince Charming you were talking to a little while ago?"
"Business, just business," Bobby muttered,his voice tight and low.
"So, nobody's got you on the short list for a tune-up?"
"Man, you watch too much television." Bobby turned his back to the bar and quickly
counted the money, then shoved the bills down into his shorts. "What else you need me to
do?"
"Write down your cell number. I'm Steve Janson. You make sure you pick up when I
call." Maybe it was the speed with which Berdue scribbled his number or the anxious smile
he gave Steve when he handed back the card, but someplace in Janson's head an alarm was
ringing. "You sure you're not in some deep shit with your buddies?"
"Crap! Who are you, my mother? What's my life to you, anyway?"
Steve leaned over the table until Bobby's face was only six inches away. "I was just
thinking, Bobby, that if you maybe got yourself into a really big hole, a fatal kind of hole,
that there was only one thing you could sell that might get you out."
"Yeah? What's that?"
"Tom Travis is crazy in love with Kaitlen, still, today, even after all the shit she's
done to him. If you owed the wrong guys a lot of money they could either kill you, which
gets them only a little satisfaction, or they could take the long view -- get Marian Travis
out of the way and wait for you and Kaitlen to climb on the gravy train -- all aboard!"
"Great plan, Einstein, except that Travis is goin' to the slammer for the rest of his life
and Katey and I got nothin'. If the wife was killed as part of this big plan for us to cash in,
how'd we end up here?"
"Once you start with the idea of killing somebody," Steve said, his gaze slipping back
into a vacant stare, "things can get fucked up real fast in ways you never, ever imagined."
A kaleidoscope of memories raced through Steve's brain, all in smears of black and red. A
moment later his eyes snapped back into focus. He glanced briefly at Berdue's confused
face, tipped over his empty glass, and headed out into the night.
Chapter Fourteen
It was now full dark and Steve picked his way through the forest of chrome and
dented steel clogging the Pilgrim lot. In the shadows of a massive redwood tree he could
just make out the dim glimmer of the Merc's door handles. As he ducked through the gap
between a Silverado's front bumper and the corner of the building something came at him
out of the dark. Steve sensed a flicker of movement and dropped straight down. A
baseball bat whooshed through the space previously occupied by his skull. A fraction of a
second before his attacker could chop down, Steve rolled into his assailant's legs. For an
instant the guy teetered, then fell straight back, the bat extended up above his head. Steve
scurried up the man's legs and slammed a short punch into his groin.
He was rewarded with a grunt and the hollow clunk as the bat hit the paving. Steve
scrambled to his feet and saw the blur of a pale face rising off the ground. The bat was
moving too, still clasped in the attacker's right hand. Steve kicked and caught the guy in
the ear. This time the bat clattered free. Steve kicked the man a second time then grabbed
the bat.
The thug was groaning now, half for show Steve figured, and rolling to his left,
trying to get his arms under him so he could rise to a fighting crouch. Steve whacked him
in the head with the bat, more a bloop single swing rather than a home run. This time the
cry of pain was real and the guy collapsed. Steve stood a foot behind his shoulders and
pressed the top of the bat against the man's forehead, pinning his skull to the ground. The
attacker's legs made little twisting motions while his hands cupped his groin. All the while
little groans, Emmmmm,Emmmm,Emmmm, spilled from his lips.
"You stop moving around or I'm going to turn into Barry Bonds." Steve pressed
down hard and after half a second the man held still. "Okay, now we have a basis for
discussion. That okay with you? Do you want to talk or do you want me to practice my
swing?"
"Talk," the man wheezed.
"Good. What's your name."
"Fuck you."
"Fuck You. Interesting name." Steve leaned on the bat forcing pieces of gravel into
the back of the guy's scalp. "How about I just give you a concussion, take your wallet, get
your name from your ID, and then grab your keys and take your ride on my way out of
town? That sound like a plan, Mr. Fuck You?" Steve leaned forward even harder.
"Son of a bitch! Terry Monroe. Fuck, all right!"
"Ding! Okay Terry, you've now advanced to the next level. What the Hell is this crap
all about?"
Terry wheezed and closed his eyes and if too injured to continue. "Shit! Now I'll just
have to kill him," Steve muttered,pressing harder.
"You think you can come up here and do business without talking to me?" Terry
demanded, his eyes flying open. "I own this town. Nobody moves a flake of product here
without it going through me!" Monroe squirmed and tried to roll free. Steve lifted the bat
an inch and brought it down on Monroe's nose, then moved it back to center of his
forehead.
"Next time I'll break our head like a kid's piggy bank. Listen, asshole, I'm not into
crank or any of the other shit you've got going."
"So what are you doin' here?" Monroe growled, spitting blood.
"None of your fucking business. What do you think you're gonna do, whack every
guy who buys a beer in this place?"
"If he buys one for Bobby Berdue, yeah."
"That bartender your main squeeze or are you just stringing him along?"
"You're a dead man, you just don't know it yet."
"So, my telling you that I'm not interested in drugs isn't going to do any good?"
"Tell me the one about the three bears."
"Look, Berdue's sister's all over the news, you know that, right?"
"Yeah, so?"
Steve sighed at the persistence of stupidity. "So, she's news. Her story's worth money
but she won't talk. I tracked down her brother, figured I'd get a story about Tom Travis
and his sister out of him. I paid him five hundred bucks for the inside scoop on Travis."
"You ain't no reporter," Monroe said, his tone slipping into uncertainty.
"I used to be a cop. This pays better." For a moment Steve considered asking
Monroe if he'd ever sold prescription drugs to Travis, then changed his mind. He couldn't
believe a word that came out of Monroe's mouth and just asking the question was likely to
get Bobby Berdue killed. Easier to ask Travis himself. "So, how do you want to end this?"
"I see you in this town again, you're a dead man."
"And if you don't?"
"I don't have time to waste on you."
"Sounds like a plan. Roll over."
"What?"
"I'm the shy type. On your stomach."
Reluctantly, Monroe complied. Steve instantly swung a glancing blow off the back of
his head. Terry groaned and his hands made little flapping motions. Steve went through his
pockets and grabbed Monroe's driver's license and his keys. Thirty seconds later he was on
the highway heading back to LA. Ten miles down the road the bat, wiped free of prints,
disappeared in the brush along with Monroe's keys. Steve kept the driver's license with
Monroe's address on it, just in case.
Chapter Fifteen
Steve started making lists, organizing what he knew and didn't know and what he
wanted to find out. He only did that when things were going down the dumper and he
couldn't figure out what else to do. Lynn's shrink friend, Irwin Shapiro, had told him once
that it was a manifestation of his need to feel as if he were in control of his environment
instead of the other way around. Physician, heal thyself, Steve thought.
Steve got a fresh sheet of paper and drew an inverted "V" on it. At the bottom of
one leg he drew a box and inside printed "Travis Did It" and then a second box with
"Travis Innocent" inside. From this second choice he drew four lines, whose ends he
labeled "Travis Real Target - Wife Killed By Mistake - Travis Framed"; "Wife Real Target
- Travis Framed"; "Wife Killed Specifically To Frame Travis"; and "Random Killing."
Steve considered the "Travis Framed" sections then put down the pencil. It was impossible
that by pure coincidence the body was found two miles from where Travis had been
driving his dune buggy.
Was there anybody other than Tom Travis who might have wanted Marian Travis
dead? Steve made a note to review the police interviews with her family and friends to see
if any of them had let slip some clue.
Did anyone hate Tom Travis enough to want him dead or framed for murder? The
guy was a jerk but this was Hollywood. If having a bloated ego was a sufficient motive for
murder the town would have more dead people than 1983 Cambodia. Could Terry
Monroe or some other drug dealer have been after him? It didn't feel right. Those guys
were about as subtle as a pair of brass knuckles. If they had wanted Travis hurt or dead
he'd have been found floating face down in his pool with is balls cut off. Which didn't
mean that Travis hadn't pissed off somebody badly enough for them to want to ruin his
life.
Steve tapped his pencil on the "Random Killing" box, Tom Travis's favorite
explanation next to a kidnap plot gone wrong. The idea of a serial killer happening to pick
a movie star's house, getting past the alarm systems, doing the crime and then framing
Travis for it was almost laughable. A kidnap plot gone wrong? Please! Where was the
ransom note for Sarah? Even if she was dead, the location of her body would still be
worth big money to the tabloids.
Assuming Travis was innocent that left only three meaningful possibilities: Someone
else wanted Marian dead; Someone wanted Travis dead, was surprised by Marian and
settled for killing her and framing Tom, or someone wanted Travis locked up for the rest
of his life and decided that murdering a pregnant woman was a good way to get that done.
Yeah, that must be it.
Could Marian Travis have been the target all along? What kind of person was she?
Steve checked the file index and found an interview the cops' had done with Delfina
Angelinez three days after Marian's disappearance. Katz and Furley had concentrated on
strangers in the house, hang up phone calls, unknown cars in the neighborhood, and other
suspicious behavior. At the end of the interview Delfina had slipped a bit off track and
described a shopping trip she, Marian and Sarah had taken a few days before Christmas.
*
*
*
"I'm getting too fat for this," Marian said, struggling reach the petals with the seat
retracted far enough for her stomach to clear the wheel.
"I could drive for you, Missy Marian," Delfina volunteered from the back seat.
"If I let you drive and we had an accident,Tom would have a heart attack."
"I am a good driver."
"I know you are, Delfina, but Mr. Travis doesn't want anyone but me driving the
car."
An empty space appeared but at the last instant a Boxster chirped its tires and dove
in ahead of them.
"He take your space!" Delfina snapped and lowered her window. A thirtyish man in a
black suit, open necked black shirt, gold Rolex knock-off and gold necklace unbent
himself from the Boxster's cabin.
"You take our space!" Delfina shouted out the window. The man gave her a quick,
bleached smile, hit the remote on his key fob and sauntered away.
"It's all right, Delfina. His karma will catch up with him." Marian pulled the Escalade
into a spot three rows farther back.
"It is not right you should have to walk so far," Delfina complained as they headed
into The Grove.
"Life's too short to worry about small things. I refuse to let myself get upset."
Barely a minute after they entered the complex Sarah pulled free from Delfina's hand
and raced for a Jack Russell Terrier attired in a green and blue sweater.
"No, Chica," Delfina called, hurrying after her. "Sarah, stop. Don't touch him. He
might bite you."
The dog's owner gave Delfina a sour glare.
"Doggie!" Sarah called, running her hand over the terrier's rump. Stoically, the dog
allowed himself to be petted until Delfina pulled the child away. "Doggie!"
"Sweetheart, you shouldn't pet someone else's dog without their permission," Marian
told Sarah when she caught up. "It's not polite. . . . Hello," Marian said to the owner, a
jewelry-encrusted Caucasian woman in her late fifties. "Would it be all right if my
daughter pet your dog?"
"He's rather uncomfortable with strange children," the woman answered stiffly.
"I understand. Thank you. . . . Come on, Sweetie, we have to buy Grandpa's present
before I get too tired." Marian took Sarah's hand and gently pulled her in the direction of
the Sharper Image.
"When are you due?" the lady asked before Marian could turn away.
"A little over three weeks. I can't wait."
"I remember when I was pregnant with my Gerald." A wistful expression briefly
clouded the woman's face then fled. She turned to Sarah. "If you are very gentle, you can
pet Regis. Will you be gentle?"
Sarah nodded yes.
"All right then, go ahead." Sarah gingerly approached the dog and, with infinite care
ran her hand down his back. "Yes, that's very good. You're a smart little girl, aren't you
dear? What's your name?"
Sarah looked her mother. "It's all right, Sweetie. . . .We've taught her not to give her
name to strangers," Marian explained.
"I'm Sarah," the child announced proudly.
"How old are you, dear?"
"I'm three." Sarah held up three fingers.
"What a darling child," the lady told Marian. "Regis likes you, Sarah. You can pet
him any time."
"What do you say to the nice lady, Sarah?"
"Thank you," the little girl squeaked.
"Come on, Sarah, we've got to buy grandpa's present before mommy gets too tired
to walk back to the car." The lady gave Sarah a sad little smile and waved goodbye.
How long will it take her? Marian wondered. For the next thirty feet Sarah looked
straight ahead, her jaw set in concentration. None of the store windows attracted her gaze.
Oversized trains circling Santa's Village were ignored. Rocking Santas and smiling Snow
Men were impotent in the face of Sarah's single-minded contemplation of her dilemma.
Marian and Delfina exchanged knowing glance. They made it all the way to the Sharper
Image before Sarah could no longer restrain herself.
"Momma," she began, practicing her sweetest smile.
"Yes, Sarah?"
"If I promised to take care of him . . . ." her lower lip held the slightest tremble as she
studied her mother's placid face, "could we have a little doggie?" The end of the sentence
came out all at once in a prayerful rush.
"Oh, wouldn't that be wonderful?" Marian agreed. "If only we could." She glanced at
Delfina, a twinkle in her sea-blue eyes. "Isn't it sad, Delfina, that we can't have a cute little
dog all of our very own?"
"Oh, yes, Missy Marian," Delfina agreed. "It would be so much fun. Sarah could feed
him and take him for walks and brush his hair and clean up his poops."
"Yes, she could pick them up and put them in a little plastic bag three or four times a
day. You would enjoy that wouldn't you, dear?"
Sarah frowned, sensing this was trick question.
"But," Marian sighed deeply, "it's not to be."
Confused, Sarah paused and glanced from her mother to Delfina and back again.
"What's 'not to be' mean?" she asked.
"It means, Sweetie, that the fates are against us."
"What are 'fates'?"
"Alas, the stars have failed to align."
Sarah peered at the sky. "I don't see any stars."
"It means, Miss Sarah, that you cannot have a dog," Delfina explained.
"Why?"
"Because it's not meant to be," Marian said, reaching for the door.
"Why?"
Delfina rushed forward and opened the door.
"That's a mystery which you must solve, Sweetheart."
"Why?"
"How else will you learn why we can't have a beautiful little doggie?"
"I don't understand," Sarah said, standing her ground.
"No one does, Sweetheart. Now, come inside so we can buy grandpa his Christmas
present." Her face both serious and confused, Sarah allowed herself to be pulled through
the doorway.
*
*
*
"Mi hija! My sweet baby!" Defina sobbed. Katz patted his pockets and extended a
tissue. "Where is she! What have they done with my baby?" Delfina buried her face in her
hands and wept, ignoring the detectives as if they did not exist.
*
*
*
Steve closed the folder with a noisy slap. If someone wanted Marian Travis dead, he
doubted it was because of any personal animosity. If she was really the target and not
killed as collateral damage, it was likely because she was standing in someone's way. And
right now the only person who fit that description was locked in the depths of the L.A.
County jail, and he was still dreaming about Kaitlen Berdue.
Chapter Sixteen
It was six o'clock and Steve hadn't a clue what to do next. Since Lynn had died it
seemed as if his life had been shuffling along on autopilot, each day blending seamlessly
into the next. Once or twice he thought about calling his old friends or joining a singles'
club but then he visualized the moment when someone asked what he did for a living and
he told them that he was a semi-disbarred attorney whose license had been suspended
because people thought he had murdered someone. In his mind's eye he watched their
smiles harden as they searched for an excuse to escape. He glanced at the kitchen clock
which ticked loudly and snapped forward to 6:01. He had to do something, anything, to
get out this apartment.Grabbing a light windbreaker he headed for the door.
Entering O'Malley's Pub was like pushing through a curtain of sound -- shouts, the
clink of glasses, laughs and groans. TV's were tuned to ESPN and ESPN2. In spite of the
no smoking law a layer of blue haze floated above his head. Who were these kids? Steve
wondered, feeling older than his years. He grabbed a small table in the corner and waved
at one of the waitresses who worked her way through the crush.
"Do you still make the lamb stew?" Steve asked, shouting over a sudden roar in
response to a three pointer that was all net.
"Irish lamb stew with dumplings? Sure."
"Bring me that and a Gordon Biersch."
The girl nodded, scratched something in her pad, and disappeared into the crowd
already two deep at the bar.
Whatever happened to Artie McKay? Steve wondered. They used to come down
here after work almost every Friday, before Artie met that girl, what was her name,
Olivia? He's probably put on twenty pounds and fathered a couple of kids, Steve decided.
Probably living out near Silver Lake and trying to decide whether to buy the Voyager or
the Grand Voyager. Shit. Life goes on. And where's yours going? the little voice inside
him taunted.
Steve shifted his chair and tried to track the game but the players dissolved into blurs
of color bouncing around in random motion like the ping pong balls in the lottery bin. The
waitress, Jennifer according to her name tag, returned with his beer, a coaster, a napkin
and a bowl of pretzel sticks. Steve found himself staring at her sidelong. She was maybe
twenty-two or three, rounded in the right places, pretty in a wholesome sort of way, cute,
the way a puppy is cute, and no more romantically attractive to him than one. Steve
remembered a time, a few years before he met Lynn, when he would have already been
halfway to getting Jennifer's phone number. Now he couldn't care less.
"I'll bring your stew in a minute. Is there anything else I can get you?" she asked
giving him a big smile.
"That'll be great, thanks." Her smile slipped the tiniest bit and she turned away. For
the next ten minutes Steve tried to immerse himself in the aura of the place, the shouts, the
laughs, the cheers when a dunk was made, the groans when a shot was blocked, but found
it impossible, as if he were psychically insulated from the people around him. He felt like
an invisible observer, a member of the audience watching a play.
Stolidly, he ate his stew and let his eyes wander over the crowd, now and then trying
to guess someone's occupation or some detail about their lives. He made it into a game.
That guy, a secret agent enjoying a drink before his next mission? That girl, the heiress to
a paper products empire? And what about himself? What would one of them imagine
about Steve Janson? Cold-blooded murderer and semi-disbarred attorney? He almost
wished he had a mirror handy so that he might peer into it and answer his own question.
When was the last time he had been here? BLD or ALD - Before Lynn Died or After
Lynn Died? His eyes unfocused as he forced his memory to reel back over the years.
Finally it hit him. The last time he had been here was the last time he had seen Irwin
Shapiro. It was July, not long after the cops had identified Alan Lee Fry as Lynn's
murderer, only a few days after his boss, Arnold Finestein, had told him that Fry had fled
the country.
*
*
*
"We'll get him back," Finestein said weakly, "but it may take a while."
"He's disappeared?"
"Oh, no. We know where he is." Finestein glanced down. "Havana."
"Then what's the problem?"
Finestein had the decency to look embarrassed. "According to the Feds Fry's father
was a British Communist who emigrated to Cuba in the sixties. His political ties and
family money convinced them to grant him Cuban citizenship. He married a local girl but
apparently his wife didn't share his love for the Communist way of life because she
escaped to Miami in '73 when she was pregnant with little Alan. Because he was born in
the U.S. Fry's got duel American and Cuban citizenship. Now he's back home and the
Cuban government won't extradite a Cuban citizen to the United States."
"But he's a serial killer!"
Finestein ineffectually raised his hands. "Maybe when Castro's gone a new regime
may be more cooperative but given our current relations with Cuba extradition is out of
the question. We're exploring other options. The State Department has promised to look
into it."
Washington bureaucrats were going to solve this problem? The 'Would you like
another cup of tea?' pencil necks were going to bring Fry to justice? Steve wanted to hit
him.
*
*
*
That conversation with Finestein had torn at him all week and by Friday night he was
ready to twist off somebody's head. A pitcher of Sam Adams had done nothing to calm
him down. Then Irwin Shapiro wandered through O'Malley's door. Shapiro always looked
like someone haphazardly assembled, arms and legs too long, torso too short, big hands, a
long face and small ears. Irwin paused just inside and glanced around as if plotting each
patron's position on an invisible map. Shapiro was really Lynn's friend and Steve knew him
only by association. He had been her father's roommate at Yale and they had stayed close,
Shapiro becoming Lynn's Godfather, Uncle Irwin, Lynn called him. But he was a shrink
and cops and shrinks were natural enemies even more so than cops and lawyers. Steve put
up with him for Lynn's sake. She loved the old guy.
Shapiro spotted Steve alone with his almost empty pitcher of beer and shambled over
as if his arms and legs were connected by elastic strings.
"Can I join you?"
Steve looked up, red-eyed and a little wobbly, and waved at an empty stool. "Funny,
you don't look Irish." Steve gave Shapiro a twisted smile.
"Actually, I came to see you. I tried calling you a couple of times to see how you
were doing."
"Yeah, well, you know how it is."
"Because," Irwin said as if Steve had not spoken, "as a friend I wanted to offer any
help I could."
"Now, now, none of that shrink stuff for me, Irwin. I'm okay."
Shapiro caught the truculence hiding beneath Steve's placid expression, and gave a
little shrug. "Can I join you for a beer?"
"Good idea." Steve waved at the waitress and held up his empty pitcher, then pointed
to Irwin. A moment later she arrived with a new pitcher and a second glass. " L'chaim,"
Steve toasted, clinking mugs.
"Is there any word on the man who . . . on the suspect?" Irwin asked a moment later.
"Oh, there's word. There's word all right." Shapiro stared, waiting. "The word is,"
Steve took a long swallow, "that they're working on it."
"Working on it?"
"That's exactly what I said! You see, he's escaped to Cuba, the land of his ancestors.
So the D.A. and Interpol and the State Department are all working on it." Steve banged
his mug on the table.
"They're going to bring him back for trial?"
"No. No they're not."
"But . . . ."
"In light of the state of U.S.-Cuban relations, Cuba will not extradite a Cuban citizen
to the U.S. so he's untouchable." Steve took another gulp.
"But there must be some way . . . ."
"The State Department has asked the Cubans pretty please to send him back and
they've said, very politely, 'No.' But, we have a plan. Our plan is to wait for a year or two
or three or ten until Fry gets tired of Cuba. They figure that eventually he'll try to sneak
back into the United States under a forged passport and then we can grab him, if we can
find him. Isn't that a great plan?"
"And there's nothing anyone can do?"
"Oh, there's something somebody can do," Steve said with a vicious grin.
"What do you mean?"
Steve poured himself another glass. "Somebody could get justice for Lynn.
Somebody could do the right thing. Somebody," Steve said, banging the half-empty mug
on the scarred table, "who cared about Lynn could go down there and see to it that the
son of a bitch pays for what he did!" A couple of people at nearby tables glanced over
uneasily and Steve lowered voice. "How about you, Irwin? Do you want to do something
about this unfortunatesituation?"
"Steve, you've been badly hurt. We all have."
"Oh? Did you find your wife's murdered body on your bedroom floor?"
"I was there the day she was born, Steve. I was there for every birthday, every soccer
game, every school recital. I loved her like my own child. Don't tell me I'm not in pain."
Steve gave Irwin a long stare then a little nod of surrender. "Yeah, sorry, I know, I
know you loved her. We all loved her and that . . . bastard . . . ." Scowling, Steve turned
away.
"I understand you may not be comfortable taking counseling from me, but I could
give you the names of some very good people." Steve stared at the TV. "They could help
you, Steve."
"Do you know what's going to help me? Seeing him dead. That's going to help me."
"What are you saying?"
"He's a monster and he needs to die," Steve said, staring evenly into Irwin's eyes.
"He'll be punished. At the right time, in the right way."
"You're right. He will be punished. Every day that animal lives is like a knife in my
heart. I swear to God, all I want to do is put a gun to his head and pull the trigger."
"If you keep thinking that way you'll destroy yourself. Hate is a poison."
"Oh, I'll stop hating him all right, as soon as he's dead. Once I blow his brains out,
there'll be nothing left to hate. Problem solved."
Over the years Shapiro had learned to distinguish an idle boast from a serious threat
and what he saw in Janson's eyes frightened him.
"Killing him would destroy your life." Janson looked down at his glass. "Steve, if you
were to kill him, you'd still hate him, both for what he did to Lynn and for what killing him
will do to you. People who aren't psychopaths can't just kill someone face to face in cold
blood and then forget about it. That's something that affects you as long as you live and
not in a good way."
"If that's what it takes," Steve said as if resigned to a terrible fate. "He has to pay."
Shapiro cocked his head to one side and studied Janson.
"What happened between you and Lynn?"
"What?"
"This self-destructive obsession to punish Fry, it's more than just wanting revenge.
Did something happen between you and Lynn? Was there some problem--"
"Shut up! You shut up about her!" Steve shouted, half rising from his chair.
Shapiro reached over and patted Steve's hand. "I loved Lynn and she loved you. I
care about you too, Steve. Let me help you. Please, before you do something you can't
undo."
"Will you help me kill Alan Fry?" Steve asked, deadly serious.
"No."
"Then there's nothing you can do for me."
"I can help you. If you would just come in--"
"I don't need my head shrunk. I need justice."
"You won't find justice in the barrel of a gun."
"That's where you're wrong, Irwin. That's where we always find justice if we're
strong enough to look for it." Steve gave Shapiro a rueful smile. "You know the old
saying, 'Heroes find splendor where cowards fear to tread.'"
Irwin's long face twisted in pain. "Please don't do this."
"I'm doing it for Lynn."
"No, you're not. You're doing it for some other reason, something you don't want to
talk about, something you don't want to face up to--"
"Shut up! No more shrink crap!"
"Steve, please--"
"You need to leave now, Irwin," Steve said softly, his hands knotting into fists.
"Don't--"
"Now, Irwin."
Slowly, Shapiro stood, then dropped his card on the table. "Please call me, any
time. . . . I loved Lynn too."
"Goodbye, Irwin."
Shapiro tried to speak then turned and shambled out the door. Steve carefully tore
Irwin's card into a dozen tiny pieces then began to form his plan to track down and kill
Alan Lee Fry.
*
*
*
Steve looked up at the TV. The uniforms had changed colors. Apparently the old
game had ended and a new one had begun. Well, Fry was dead. He had gotten justice for
Lynn. Why wouldn't it all go away? Could Irwin have been right? Steve had no answers.
He finished his beer and went home.
Chapter Seventeen
According to the file, Marian's father, Gerard Fontaine, lived in La Jolla, a wealthy
community just north of San Diego. During college Steve spent his summers working as a
deck-hand on the San Diego based tourist boats and he knew from the address that the old
man actually lived in a elite neighborhood the locals called Bird Rock, a slice of sea and
cliffs where, on a good day, you might be able to buy a one bedroom shack for a million
five.
If the trial had been in session Gerard Fontaine would have been in L.A., a gaunt,
long armed figure sitting zen-like in the third row behind the prosecutor. Steve had
debated between calling ahead for an appointment or just showing up at Fontaine's door.
Proceeding on the principal that it was always easier to begin acting politely and devolve
to rude and confrontational behavior than do things the other way around, Steve called
Fontaine on his private line.
"You're working for Tom Travis?" Fontaine asked in a deep, dead voice.
"Yes, Mr. Fontaine, I am. I know you think Tom Travis is guilty--"
"Have we ever talked before, Mr. Janson?"
"No, sir."
"Then you don't know what I think, do you?"
"No, Mr. Fontaine, I don't. I'm sorry."
There was a pause for half a second and Steve braced himself for the CLICK of a
disconnected line. "People assume things, a bad habit making assumptions," Fontaine
continued in a weary voice.
"Would you be willing to meet with me so that I don't make any more potentially
inaccurate assumptions?"
"When?"
"Tomorrow morning?"
"I've got an early appointment.How about ten thirty?"
"That would be fine."
"Do you have a pencil?"
The next morning Steve was heading down the 5, one eye on the speedo and the
other watching for the La Jolla exit. The address Fontaine had given him was a stucco
sided cube three blocks back from the ocean, nestled behind one of the dozen or so real
estate offices that populated La Jolla the way other towns had Starbucks. Gold script on
the door facing the parking lot identified the business as La Belle Culinary. Culinary what?
Academy? Catering? Behind the door was a small office that looked like a failing
veterinarian's waiting room, vinyl chairs, a scared, unoccupied desk, and two doors, one
on the back wall and one to the right. Steve took the one on the right and found himself in
a short corridor. Kitchen sounds rang from the far end where the hallway opened into a
huge room that occupied most of the building.
The thirty foot high ceiling was dotted with three parallel "V"- shaped skylights like
fins on an I.M. Pei designed shark. Six gas stoves dotted the gray vinyl floor, alternating
with butcher block tables, rings of hanging pots and pans, and racks of knives. Nine
earnest white people and one Asian woman peered intently at a mirror slung at a forty-five
degree angle above a table at the front of the room. With the precision of a metronome
beating at 16/16 time, a portly woman of indeterminate age effortlessly shaved half an
apple into twenty identical slices.
"So," she said, looking up from the cutting board, "once we've sliced the apple, we
place it in acidified water to keep it from . . . what?"
"Discoloring," a young man in the front answered briskly.
"Yes, discoloring. And, if you don't have any lemon juice. . . ." a chuckle rippled
through the audience. Not have any lemon juice? Hah, hah, as if that could happen to any
real cook. ". . . . then here's a trick for you. Use your meat pounder to crush a vitamin C
tablet inside a Ziplock bag and dissolve it in water. The ascorbic acid will keep your apples
from turning brown." Everyone smiled appreciatively.
Janson scanned the class and picked out Gerard Fontaine from the news clips
showing him stoically marching through the rabid-dog reporters on the way to his car. He
was hard to miss -- about six feet four, a skull with receding gray-black stubble shaved
almost into invisibility, long basset hound face, gaunt cheeks, droopy eyes, dressed in a
gray and brown flannel shirt over baggy chocolate colored pants that looked like they had
been new sometime around Nixon's second inauguration.
"Now," the instructor continued, unconsciously brushing back a lock of butter
colored hair, "make sure that you keep your three kinds of apples in three separate bowls
so you can alternate them when you make your galette. Margaret, what are the types of
apples we're using?"
A thin, bright-eyed woman in the second row lifted her chin. "Pippin or Granny
Smith for tartness, Fuji or Gala for sweetness, and Macintosh to add complexity and flavor
layering," she said, giving her classmates a nervous smile.
"Excellent." For an instant she paused and glanced at the clock on the back wall. "All
right class, that's the end of this session. For those of you who are staying for the second
half, we'll resume in . . . ." she studied an oversize steel watch on her left wrist, "half an
hour." Fontaine turned, pinned Steve with a weary glance, and joined him at the edge of
the room.
"Would you like to get a cup of coffee or something?" Steve asked after they had
shaken hands.
"Let's just take a seat over there." Fontaine pointed to a butcher block island in the
corner then snagged a couple of tall stools. "People like to gossip," Fontaine said with a
resigned tone, "not to mention the reporters sneaking around this town. Coffee?" Steve
nodded and Fontaine filled two pale blue glass cups from a French Press. The brew was
deep and sweet with an undertone of chocolate and hint of spice. Steve raised his
eyebrows in appreciation.
"If you can't get good coffee in a cooking school . . . ." Fontaine began, then
shrugged letting Steve fill in the rest for himself.
Steve glanced at the Garland stove. "Apple galette?"
"Three kinds of sliced apples, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and tapioca flour
piled in the center of a pie crust with the sides folded up like an Indian teepee. You brush
the outside of the dough with warn apricot jam and bake it on a cookie sheet for about
forty minutes."
"Sounds good."
Fontaine shrugged. "It's easier than making a pie." His voice sounded tired and
defeated,like a that of a boxer who's barely survived his bout only to discover that the Ref
has absconded with the purse. "So, you're been hired to help Tom Travis."
"You know the fable about the blind men and the elephant?"
A wary smile creased Fontaine's lips. "The point being that how a man perceives a
situation depends upon his point of view."
"If Tom Travis did it, then whatever I do won't make any difference. I'm just
spending his money, which I don't mind doing." Steve took a sip of coffee and stared into
Fontaine's eyes. "And if he didn't do it, then maybe I'll find out who did. That's worth
doing, don't you think?"
"Unless you just kick up enough dust to confuse the jury and get Travis off."
"You've been in court every day. Do you think there's any way in the world that jury
is going to give Tom Travis the benefit of the doubt?"
Fontaine's face remained absolutely blank for a long heartbeat,then twitched left and
right. "He's finished," Fontaine said. "He was finished before the first witness was called."
"Do you think he did it?"
"The evidence says he did."
"But do you think he did it?"
"Can I trust you? Are you an honest man?"
A dozen thoughts raced through Steve's brain, not the least of which was, 'If I
weren't, would I admit it?' Finally, he gave a mental shrug. "Yes, I'm an honest man."
"You won't repeat my answer to anyone?"
"I won't."
Fontaine stared intently into his cup as if peering into a crystal ball. "I don't think he
has the heart for it, for murder," he said softly, not looking up. Fontaine took a swallow
and turned back at Steve. "The first time I met him I figured out the kind of man he was."
Fontaine stared intently into Steve's eyes and smiled. "You think I'm some crazy old coot,
but there's no point in denying who you are or what your talents are. I understand people.
Always have. That's how I got so God-damned rich. I'm no genius, I can barely read a
balance sheet. Sending an email is a struggle for me. How the Hell else do you think a guy
like me could have made forty million dollars?" Fontaine tapped the side of his head. "I
understand people, like they were made of glass and I could see into their souls and read
everything that's written there. Believe me or not, I don't care." Fontaine sighed and
looked away.
"Sometimes I think that maybe I made a mistake. Maybe I should have become a
psychiatrist or something, helped people with their problems instead of just buying and
selling stuff." Fontaine made a little grunt and took a sip of coffee. "But I never liked
school. I guess I just took the easy way out. Got rich. Lived a good life. Had the most
beautiful daughter the world has ever seen . . . ." Fontaine's voice thickened and he bowed
his head and Steve looked away. "Anyway," Fontaine continued a few moments later, his
eyes glistening, "I've had a good life. Marian married Teddy Caldwell, a sweet, sweet man,
then he died so horribly -- burned up in a car crash on the 101 -- hell of away to go, but at
least Marian and Sarah were spared. Then she met Tom Travis."
"You didn't like Travis," Steve said, not asking a question.
"What's the poem about the Hollow Men?" Fontaine sadly shook his head. "He's not
a bad person at heart, just, well, weak, or maybe he has some strength someplace deep
down but he just doesn't know what's worth fighting for and what isn't."
"Did you tell Marian not to marry him?"
"Mr. Janson, you don't tell your children who not to marry, not in this country. I
didn't fight it. If I had thought Tom Travis was a bad person, mean, evil, maybe things
would have been different.But I didn't, so I let her do whatever she was going to do."
"And now?"
"Now? People can do strange things. People can surprise you, but," Fontaine
frowned and shook his head, "I don't think he has it in him to do . . . . that to Marian, not
even if she were the worst woman on earth instead of the best."
"Could he have hired somebody else to do it?"
Fontaine looked down and shook his head then lifted his chin. "The first time I met
Tom Travis, he drove up in this brand new silver Humvee. I guess he figured he'd impress
me." Fontaine gave a little snort. "Then he got a look at the Rolls in my garage. Marian
never told him what I was worth, you see, so he didn't know I had more money than he
did."
"Was she worried about fortune hunters?"
Fontaine barked a quick laugh. "No. Money was never important to her, one way or
the other. She never understood why rich people cared about it so much. Greed was as far
beyond her understanding as nuclear physics."
"So Tom didn't get very far comparing bank balances with you?'
"He was smart enough not to try. No, he spent the first hour trying to impress me
with how manly he was, how he worked his way up from stunt man to leading man. The
cars he had wrecked, the horses he had fallen off of, like some kid who'd spent the war in
the motor pool and comes home telling his buddies how many battles he'd been in and how
many Nazi's he's killed. It was a little sad, really." For a moment Fontaine got a faraway
look in his eyes then he slipped back into the present. "Finally, around the end of the
evening, he just sort of gave up. That's when he got interesting and I actually started to
like him."
"Interesting? How?"
"Once he stopped trying to impress me, he turned into a kind of a normal guy. We
talked about painting."
"Monet, Rembrandt, that kind of painting?"
Fontaine smiled. "His own paintings. He thought he wasn't very good, but he didn't care.
That's what I liked. He admitted he wasn't any good but he didn't care. He enjoyed
painting for its own sake. It meant something to him, personally. In a strange way I think
it nourished his soul. That's when I knew that there was a real person buried someplace
inside all of that Hollywood crap. That's why I decided not try to stop the marriage. I
figured there was a decent person buried in there someplace and that maybe Marian,
knowing Marian's heart, would bring it out." Fontaine shoved his cup away. "Maybe I was
wrong. Maybe he snapped and . . . . A man in his business, a man with a fragile ego . . . ."
Fontaine shrugged.
"What would have made him snap?"
Fontaine looked away. "Who knows what happens between a husband and a wife?"
He said in an offhand tone, and in that instant Steve knew he was lying.
"But there was something going on, some problem. They were fighting about
something. Travis claimed it was just her hormones from the pregnancy, but maybe there
was something else."
"You'd have to ask your client. He was there. I wasn't." Fontaine's face went blank as
if a gate had slammed shut behind his eyes.
"You've been very kind to talk with me, Mr. Fontaine," Steve said, backing off. "I
appreciate how difficult this must be for you."
"Yes," Gerard said, clearly anxious to escape.
Steve switched topics. "You have a son? Riley, I believe? That's an unusual name."
"My mother's maiden name, Kathleen Riley. I named him in honor of her."
Janson decided to take one more stab at getting some useful information. "Can you
think of anyone, anyone at all, who might have had the slightest motive to want to hurt
Marian?" Fontaine shook his head. "I'm not suggesting that she did anything that justified
someone having a grudge against her. It could be something very simple that wasn't her
fault at all. Maybe she found out some secret about someone. She was active in charities, I
believe. Could someone have had their hand in the till and she found out? That would be a
motive. If she was on the board of some foundation or a major stockholder in some
company, those might be motives for the wrong person to want her out of the way."
"I'm sure there was nothing like that going on. She would have discussed any
business problems with me."
"Maybe she inadvertently learned something embarrassing about a friend or
acquaintance -- that the husband of one of her friends cheated on his bar exam or faked
his college degree or was in the closet." Fontaine shook his head. "What if one of her
friends was cheating on his wife and Marian found out? With pre-nups all the rage these
days, a cheating spouse would have a lot to lose --h
"Mr. Janson, I'm going to have to ask you to leave now," Fontaine said sadly. "I
don't have any information that will help you and this is just . . . . just too painful."
"I understand." Steve slipped off the stool. This was a man who could not be pushed
and trying would only make things worse. "If you think of anything, anything at all, please
call me. As painful as that might be, Sarah may still be alive and we'll never find her, never,
if we don't discover who really murdered your daughter. I'm begging you, Mr. Fontaine,
not for Tom Travis, but for Sarah's sake, please call me if you think of anything at all that
might give me a lead to someone with a motive for Marian's murder. Will you promise me
you'll do that?"
Fontaine stared at Steve, his eyes glistening with unshed tears. For an instant he
seemed ready to speak, then the moment passed and the gates closed again. Steve
extended a slip of paper and a pen. "If you would give me Riley's address. I'd like to talk
to him too."
Gerard paused, then block printed three or four lines. Steve exchanged the paper for
one of his cards.
"I want you to know that I'll keep my promise," Steve said pocketing the note.
"My opinion's not proof of anything--"
"But you don't want Greg Markham putting you on the stand and asking you if you
think Tom Travis is innocent."
"Maybe he's not. Maybe my gift has left me. Maybe I'm too close to this to see things
the way they really are. But--"
"You still don't think Tom did it."
"He doesn't have it in his heart to kill a man," Fontaine said, glaring into Steve's eyes
with sudden intensity, "not like you. You could kill a man, Mr. Janson. I can see that
written in your soul, clear as day."
"All right, class, our dough has rested," the chef called from the front of the room.
"It's now time to make our galette."
Fontaine gave Steve an unreadable stare and walked away.
Chapter Eighteen
Steve punched Riley Fontaine's address into the navigation system and headed north
on the 5, replaying his meeting with Fontaine as he went. Gerard Fontaine had surprised
him. More decent and fair-minded than Steve would have been if it had been his daughter
who had been murdered. Then again, maybe Gerard Fontaine had other reasons, secret
reasons, for believing that Tom Travis hadn't done it. But if he did, why had he done
nothing to identify the real killer? Why would he let the monster who killed his daughter
get away with it?
Fontaine said he thought Travis was innocent because he had a psychic gift
oooohhh. Ninety five percent of that stuff was the ability to read facial clues. The FBI
routinely trained its agents how to translate the blink of an eye, the tilt of a head into
indications of deception or truthfulness. And as far as Fontaine's peering into Steve's own
murderous soul, the stories about him were common knowledge. Three mouse clicks on
the Internet and it was right there for anyone to see. The bottom line was that when
confronted with the guy who had probably killed his daughter, the only thing most fathers
wanted to do was slit the guy's throat.
No, Steve didn't expect fathers to let the men responsible for their daughter's deaths
get away with it. So why was Gerard Fontaine being so forgiving? Steve pulled off the
freeway at Riley Fontaine's exit.
He found Riley Fontaine in a deserted store on Olympic, as trapped and hopeless as
an insect stuck in amber. The sign out front said 'BLACK GOLD - Vintage Music' but was
contrarily painted in faded ivory letters against a deep blue field. Steve paused on the
sidewalk but the display windows were so smeared with smog and snot and human grease
that a determined gaze revealed only hints of isles bisecting rows of blurred merchandise.
When he pushed through the front door Janson was rewarded with a screech as if a
nervous parrot had been tasked to stand guard. Three long aisles ran the length of the
shop terminating at the back in a wide counter half obscured in the afternoon gloom. At
the counter's center was a scarred cash register attended by a young man as different from
his sister as nature might allow two siblings to be. Where Marian Fontaine Travis was
blond, Riley was dark. Where she was clean featured and athletically slim, he was puffy
with rough skin and muddy eyes. Dressed in a long sleeved black shirt and black jeans,
Riley's only hint of color was a silver teardrop bolted into his lower lip.
Janson ambled down the right hand aisle, stopping here and there to flip through the
tubs of vinyl LP's, now almost as much artifacts of a bygone era as 78's and Edison
gramophone cylinders. One section labeled 'Folk Music - L' sported a smiling Glen
Yarborough under the title: The Limelighters At The Hungry I. The price tag said $38.50.
Steve shook his head and moved on. Behind him the rich afternoon light penetrated the
smeared glass as if through a Vaseline-coated lens and filled the little shop with the
saturated colors of an antique diorama. Riley Fontaine bent over a sheaf of printed forms,
his pencil making little jots and scratches. Steve glanced at the front door forty feet away
then back to Riley Fontaine who ignored him with the passionate indifference of a Parisian
cab driver.
"Excuse me," Steve began. Fontaine briefly held up his left hand and continued
scribbling. Thirty seconds passed. Steve looked around. The store was empty, as
energized as an immanent bankruptcy. "Hello?" Fontaine's head did not move, the only
sound was the scratch, scratch, scratch of lead on paper. Thirty seconds more slipped by
and after a quick glance at his watch, Steve reached over and pulled the pencil from
Riley's hand.
"Hey! You don't have to--"
"Apparently I do. Are you Riley Fontaine?" The kid gave Steve a go-to-Hell glare
and reached for the pencil. Steve snapped it cleanly with a flick of his thumb. "You do a
great business here," Steve said, looking at the empty store. "You must sell . . . . two,
three records a day? Hell, at that pace I guess you barely have time to ring up the orders."
"I don't know who you think you are but--"
"That's part of your problem, Riley. You didn't take the time to find out who I was
and what I wanted before you went into your asshole routine." Fontaine pouted like kid
who's just been told he's not allowed anymore to poke the family dog with a stick. "Let's
start over." Steve gave Riley a quick smile and extended his hand.
"Hi, Mr. Fontaine. My name's Steve Janson. I just met with your father and he gave
me your address. I'm filling in some holes in your interview with Detectives Katz and
Furley." Steve dropped a copy of Riley's police interview on the counter. "Now, do you
want to give me a few minutes of your time to nail the bastard who murdered your sister
or do I need to haul your ass down to some little room with plastic chairs and a court
reporter for three or four hours? Your choice." Steve dropped the broken pencil on the
counter and gave Riley his best tough-guy look. The kid broke eye contact and tossed the
pieces into the trash. The pout still painted his face but now it was joined by a hint of
uncertainty creeping in behind his eyes.
"When's the last time you spoke with your sister?" Steve asked, not waiting for
Fontaine's agreement.
"I told the other cops--"
"I've read your statement," Steve snapped, ignoring the 'other cops' reference. If the
kid, and that was the only way Steve could think of him no matter what his chronological
age might be, wanted to assume that Steve was a police detective, that was his problem.
"This will go a lot faster if you just answer my questions instead of arguing about
everything. So, the last time you talked with your sister was. . . ?"
"Uhhh, sometime before Christmas," Riley finally mumbled.
"Sometime before Christmas isn't good enough. When, exactly?"
The kid gave Steve a surly expression, then lowered his head and muttered, "Two
days before Christmas."
"What did you talk about?"
Fontaine took a breath as if about to complain that he had already told that to the
other detectives, then he caught Steve's gaze and changed his mind. "Holiday stuff, what I
was getting dad, if I was going to be home for Christmas dinner, what I was doing for
New Years."
"What were you doing on New Years?"
"Hanging loose."
"'Hanging loose' doesn't cut in my report. Account for your day from eight a.m.
December 31st through ten that night."
"You're telling me I'm a suspect?"
"I'm asking you to account for your time so nobody else can claim you're a suspect."
Steve poised his pen above his spiral pad.
Fontaine gave him a sour look then began. "Okay, I got up around nine-thirty. The
store was closed for the holidays. I had breakfast. listened to some music, watched TV,
stuff like that until about noon. I got lunch at Fatburger and then went down to Funland. I
drove the carts, go-carts, and hit the arcade. I did some shopping, had dinner with a
friend--"
"Who?"
"Larry Spartezian. You want his number?" Steve held out the pad and pen.
"Go on."
"Well, okay, we had dinner at Jacko's on the pier, went to a movie, Dive Bomber,
then hit a couple of clubs. So, does that get me off the suspect list?" Riley sneered.
"Sounds good to me. I'll give your pal Larry a call. Tell me about your sister."
"What about her?"
Steve sighed. Dealing with this kid was like herding a cat. "She's, what, five years
older than you?"
"Seven."
"Okay, what kind of a person was she?"
"Very nice." The pout was back.
"I'm sure she was very nice, but I need to understand her better."
"What's that matter now? She's dead."
"Yeah, I know she's dead. That's the point, isn't it. Tom Travis is saying he had no
motive to kill her. If we understood better what might have set him off. . . ." Steve tilted
his head to the side. "She wasn't an angel, was she? She was human, right. It's possible
that she might do something to piss a guy off, right?"
Riley's lips tightened and he gave Steve a sudden nod. "Yeah, she could piss people
off," he agreed in a soft tone.
"Okay, tell me about it." Steve picked up his pen.
Riley glanced around the empty store, then leaned forward, his voice just above a
whisper. "She had this way of saying she was helping you but really she was screwing you,
like when your mother tells you that you can't go to a party but it's for your own good,
you know what I mean?"
"Hey, I had a mother. She used to drive me crazy with that stuff. So, Marian was like
that? How?"
"My mom died when I was ten and Marian sort of stepped in and took over. It was
like my sister disappeared. I mean, she was only seventeen, still in high school and all of a
sudden she's telling me I can't do this and I can't do that, do this and do that."
"That must have been a pain."
"I didn't mind the rules so much but it was the way she did it. She always treated me
like I was a jerk who couldn't tie his own shoes. I figured that when I got older things
would change."
"But they didn't."
"They got worse," Riley snapped. "Everything I did was wrong. And she'd get this
look on her face. . . ." Riley's lips curled down.
"What kind of look?"
"Like I had fucked up again, just like she expected me to do. Like, 'Poor Riley, I
really hoped you could handle this but I should have known that you'd mess it up. You're
just a big loser and you always will be.' It was like she blamed herself for being stupid
enough to believe that I could do anything right. One look at her face and I could hear her
speaking inside her head, like she was saying to herself, 'Well, next time I'll know better
than to trust Riley not to fuck everything up.'"
"That must have been rough. What about your dad? How'd he handle it?"
"Dad? Marian was his little angel. She was perfect.She could do no wrong."
"Well, fathers and their daughters--"
"I didn't mind that, him liking her better than me," Riley complained, "but, it wasn't
fair, her turning him against me. 'You know we can't trust Riley, dad. It's not his fault that
he's a fuck-up. He just is, poor kid.' I could see it, I could see what she was doing,
poisoning his mind against me, but no matter how hard I tried, it didn't make any
difference. She convinced him that I was worthless, nothing." Riley slapped his palm on
the counter like the shot from a gun.
"One time, for his birthday, I planned this really great party. I saved my allowance for
weeks. I made dinner reservations at his favorite restaurant, everything. I worked so hard.
Is it my fault the damn car got a flat tire? What was I supposed to do about that?" The kid
looked like he was about to cry.
"What happened?"
"What happened? The same thing that always happened. It all turned to shit! . . . I
got out the spare and started to fix the tire and then Marian started in on me. 'Riley, you
don't know what you're doing. Wait for the Auto Club.' I couldn't wait for the fucking
Auto Club! We had reservations for seven o'clock. I had booked that restaurant two
months in advance. By the time the damn Auto Club got there, it would have been too
late. But she wouldn't shut up. She just wouldn't shut up!" Riley pounded his fist on the
counter. "She'd keep at you in that sweet, fake-friendly voice of hers, 'Riley, leave the
spare alone. Riley, you'll get your pants dirty. Riley, I don't think the jack goes there.
Riley, you're a jerk and you're going to screw up again, like always.' It was all her fault.
She got me so upset I couldn't think straight. If she had just left me alone, I would have
fixed the flat, no problem. But no, she just couldn't shut the fuck up!" Riley pounded his
fist into the wall and turned away.
"The car slipped off the jack?" Steve asked gently.
"Bent the rotor. They had to tow it to the dealer. It cost dad a thousand bucks. A cab
took us home. Marian cooked dad his favorite dinner and gave him her present, which he
loved. And I'm sitting there, with nothing, looking like a fool. What have I got to give
him? Nothing! So, she ends up the hero and I'm the fool, just like always."
"Was your dad pissed?"
Riley gave Steve a heartbroken smile. "No, I was the idiot son who couldn't do
anything right no matter how hard he tried, like the dog who just can't help peeing on the
floor. 'It was a great birthday, thanks kids,' that's what dad said, but he was looking at
Marian. Then he looked at me like, I'll never forget that look, like he was sorry for me. It
would have been better if he had just yelled at me for screwing up the car. At least then I
could have told him that it was Marian's fault for keeping at me, nagging, nagging,
nagging, driving me nuts until I was so shook up I couldn't think straight but it was that
look of pity, that . . . . If she had just shut the fuck up and let me do it on my own." Riley's
face was twisted into a painful mask.
"Do you think that's how she treated Tom Travis, nagged him until he couldn't take it
any more?"
"She could have. She was so beautiful and so nice and everybody liked her and
everybody wanted her to like them and when she gave up on you, when she let you know
that you just weren't good enough, it was like, you know, a knife in your heart, because
you knew that no matter what you did, that she was done with you forever, that she would
never, ever change her mind about you, that you had failed her and you could never fix
things again. Maybe if she did that to Travis, I mean when your wife tells you you're
nothing, that it's over, well, wouldn't that make you mad enough to want to kill her?"
Inside Steve's head an alarm began to ring. Had it been all over between Marian and
Travis? Had she told him that she was leaving him?
Riley blushed like a kid who's mentioned a party that the rest of the people at the
table hadn't been invited to. "I don't know," he mumbled, "I'm just guessing about what
could have happened to make Tom mad enough to, you know."
"But there were problems in the marriage? She was thinking of leaving him?"
"Hey, I told you, I don't know! We never talked about personal stuff like that. We
never talked about much of anything except her plans and how I fit into them or not."
"You weren't close then?"
"You're asking me?" Steve just stared at him. "I mean, if you asked Marian, she'd
say, 'Sure, Riley and I are like two peas in a pod' but if you're asking me, no, it was all
about her daughter, her stuff, her charities, her life. Never about me. Look at this place."
Riley gestured at the empty shop. "This was Marian's and dad's idea of how to get me out
of the way. 'Riley's too stupid to do anything on his own. He's too stupid to run a real
business. Stick him in some little shop where he can't do any damage and can't lose too
much money. Something that will keep him busy and out of the way.'
"Dad pays the rent and I can keep whatever's left over. I can sit here until I'm old and
hobbling around on a cane for all he cares. This was her idea to get me out of the way, so
here I am. You think Marian was such a wonderful person, so perfect, well think again.
She could hurt people, she could make someone want to . . . ." Riley lowered his eyes.
"She could make enemies, just like anybody else. Could she have gotten Tom Travis so
pissed off that he'd want to see her dead? Oh yeah, for sure." Riley lifted his gaze, his eyes
burning.
Steve stared at him for a long heartbeat, then closed his pad and held out his hand.
"Thanks for your time, Mr. Fontaine. I appreciate your help. If you could make a list for
me of your sister's friends, especially her girlfriends, I'd appreciate it. I'd like to talk with
them to see if she mentioned any specific problems with Tom Travis. Who knows, maybe
she told them about some threat he may have made. You can do that for me, can't you?"
"I suppose," Riley said with no great enthusiasm.
"Terrific. Fax it to me at this number, would you, save me another trip."
Riley examined the scrap of paper, then gave Steve a reluctant nod.
A moment after Janson turned away the kid was back scribbling on his wrinkled
forms. Steve looked at the empty store, the cash register at the back instead of near the
door where any merchant with half a brain would put it, the sign that should have been
black on gold to match the business's name, the stocky dark-haired kid with muddy eyes
and pock-marked skin so unlike his fair-haired sister, and wondered, as Gerard Fontaine
must have wondered every day of his life, if some dark night nine months before his birth
Riley's mother hadn't jumped over the back fence. And if she had, mightn't her pregnant
daughter, Marian Fontaine, have done the same? Something like that could be a motive for
murder.
Chapter Nineteen
The Killer saw Marian Fontaine Travis in flickers, skipping moments between
consciousness and sleep when her face, just before he hit her, would slide across his vision
like a fleeting reflection in a shop window. Then he would play it all out over again
looking for the mistake, but each event was born in perfect logic from the one that
preceded it. Sometimes shit just happens.
It always started the same way, with Marian yelling at him. If she just hadn't bitched
at him with that condescending tone, hadn't given him that outraged look, like he was
some no-account mutt she had caught fucking her prize poodle, he might have backed up,
turned around and left, something. But she was so fucking superior, beautiful, rich, smart,
and when she stood there and looked down her nose at him, like El Jefe chewing out some
wetback gardener, well, he knew he couldn't let her get away with that.
So he punched her, BAM, felt her nose crunch under his fist, saw the astonished look
on her face, like she couldn't believe anyone would dare do that to her. The second punch
felt even better, a left hook that knocked her clear off her feet, and, as she fell, he finally
saw fear in her eyes, the beginnings of the respect she should have given him in the first
place. If she had only treated him with respect from the beginning maybe things would
have been different, maybe he would have just turned around and left, but now it was too
late for that.
As soon as she hit the floor, he knew it was too late. He'd gone too far. What was
done could not be undone. If he left now the cops wouldn't be far behind and with his
record and her being pregnant, fuck, they'd crucify him. She didn't leave him any choice,
really. He could finish her with a knife from the kitchen but knives were messy. With all
that blood some was bound to get on him.
Sure, there was a little on his hand but his shirt and pants seemed perfectly clean. She
made a moaning noise and in a minute or two she would try to get up, and then things
would get messy again. He'd have to strangle her. There was no other way. He looked at
his hands. Most people didn't realize how much strength it took to strangle someone to
death. And they struggled and scratched for a long time before they went. He didn't want
any scratches nor any of his flesh under her nails.
His eyes lingered on the table lamp. A quick yank and the cord pulled free. Across
the room she moaned again. Shit, she was coming to. Hurry, hurry. He rolled her over
onto her bloated stomach and straddled her back, looping the cord twice around her neck.
Then he wrapped the ends around each palm and pulled. Her head and shoulders rose a
few inches off the floor and he relaxed the pressure, shifting his position until his right
knee was planted between her shoulder blades. Then he pulled again. That was better. He
had good leverage now.
She made little choking, coughing noises at first but they decreased and soon
stopped. After thirty seconds all he heard was a soft 'aak. . .aaak. . . .aak' noise. He
ignored it. Then she stopped making any sounds at all. He wasn't fooled. He knew it took
a person several minutes to suffocate.How many times had he seen divers brought back to
life after two or even three minutes under water? So he kept pulling, almost four minutes
by his watch, just to make sure. Then he grabbed a towel from the kitchen and wiped his
prints from the wire. Her head was in profile, one blind blue eye looking up at him. Soon it
would cloud over with a gray haze. Inside her the baby kicked and soundlessly slipped
away. Marian's tongue protruded limply from her open mouth. She wouldn't nag anybody
with that tongue ever again.
He had to stop and think now, be smart. He had to get her out of there. Everybody
knew about CSI. He'd put her where they'd never find her and if they did, by the time they
did, they wouldn't find any evidence of him on her. Should he take her car? No, if anything
happened, a flat tire, a speeding ticket, they might tie him to it. No, he'd use his own
wheels. He parked it next to the back door, put her inside and covered her with an old
plastic tarp. He'd dump that later too. There was a little blood on the hardwood floor next
to the patio door where her body had fallen. He cleaned it up with Pine Sol then splashed
it with Clorox for good measure. Everyone knew that bleach made it impossible to get
DNA from blood. What else?
The lamp! Somebody might notice the missing cord. He'd get rid of that too. He
looked around. Was there anything else? He took a deep breath but couldn't think of
anything. He needed a plan. Dump her someplace, then get rid of the tarp and the lamp. It
didn't seem like enough. There had to be something else, something clever that would lead
the cops in the wrong direction, something that would make them think she had been
mugged or car-jacked or something.
"Mommy?" What the hell? "Mommy?" A little girl in a purple t-shirt, kid's jeans and
pink sneakers appeared in the doorway. He saw it all in one shocked glance. "Where's
mommy?"
"She's at the store." It was the first thing that came into his head.
"The nice stores?"
That had to be the Beverly Center. "Yes, the nice stores. I'm going to go pick her
up."
"Why?"
"Because her car broke down. You go back to your room. Mommy will be home
soon."
The kid stared at him for about three seconds, then turned and walked away.
Another God damn loose end! Everything was happening too fast. It was all getting
out of control. He had to think. What if they found her car at the mall? Maybe with a flat
tire or something. The cops would figure she'd been grabbed there. But how the hell could
he set it up? He looked at his watch. Could he leave the kid here alone? No way. There
had to be some tape in the kitchen. Five minutes later, screaming and crying, Sarah was
trussed and gagged with duct tape and wrapped up in the blue blanket from her bed.
The dirt bike made the short trip from the garage to the back of Marian's Escalade.
Decked out in a baseball cap, oversized sunglasses and a turned-up collar, he parked the
SUV in a remote corner of the mall, slipped the house gate's remote control into his
pocket, and waited. When the coast was clear he unloaded the bike and rode away. He
was equally careful when he returned to the house, waiting until the block was empty then
hitting the remote and slipping through the gate unnoticed. It was the work of a few
minutes to wipe down the bike and return it to the garage.
What about the kid? She knew too much. But, shit, a three year old kid? Deciding to
decide later he dumped her in the back with Marian's body. He have to get rid of them
both. He just needed a little time to figure it all out. And he had figured it all out. He had
done what he had to do.
Now he still thought of her, from time to time, usually just before he fell asleep. If
she hadn't been such an arrogant, pissy bitch, none of it would have happened. But once
he hit her, there was no going back. She had nobody to blame but herself.
Chapter Twenty
Steve could feel time pressing on him like a slow-moving avalanche burying a fleeing
skier, foot by foot. He'd only read a fraction of the prosecutor's files, had interviewed only
a few potential witnesses, and he had discovered nothing. Maybe with Riley Fontaine's list
of Marian's girlfriends he might learn something new, some motive for murder the cops
hadn't wanted cluttering up their case. He shot a glance at his silent fax machine. There
was something missing, something that Tom Travis knew but wasn't talking about. He had
sensed it when he interviewed Gerard Fontaine. Fontaine knew more than he was saying
about what had been going on between Travis and Marian. Riley was holding something
back too. The fax remained mute.
Steve pulled out the log of police interviews. The cops had had one final session with
Tom Travis before he shut up and got a lawyer. It took place two days after they had
discovered Marian's body.
*
*
*
"Tom, thanks for stopping by," Jack Furley said, extending his hand. "Simon and I
are both sorry for your loss."
"Terrible, the way the press is handling this," Katz added. "Believe me, we kept them
as far away from the scene as we could, but with a big star like you . . . ." Simon shrugged
and threw up his hands.
"Get you a coffee, soft drink?" Furley asked. Travis shook his head and they took
that as a signal to sit. The cops had borrowed a conference room on the third floor with a
large window and soft chairs. For this meeting they wanted Travis relaxed. Katz clicked
the record button on a mini-cassetteand gently laid it flat in the center of the table.
"Tom, thanks again for your continued cooperation with our investigation. We'll be
recording this meeting to make sure we don't miss any important details. Before we get
started, is there anything you'd like?"
"No, I'm good," Travis said in a subdued tone.
Furley gave him a thin smile. "Well, if want to take a break, get something to eat,
make a call, whatever, just say so." He paused for half a second, took a deep breath, then
continued. "Tom, as you know from the press reports, two days ago we found a body in
the Double Peaks Recreational Preserve. We didn't want to call you in until we had
forensic confirmation of the identity, which we got this morning. I'm very sorry to have to
tell you that we've confirmed that it was Marian's body."
Travis's face became even more somber and his head tipped forward. The room grew
quieter until the only sound was a faint hum from the AC.
"How'd she . . . what happened to her?" Travis asked without looking up.
"She was strangled."
"Strangled? And the baby?"
Furley glanced at Katz. "The doc says she didn't feel a thing."
"So, it was a girl?"
"You didn't know?"
Travis's shoulders shuddered, or maybe it was just a shrug.
"Do you have any clues who did it? . . . . That God-damned movie!"
"Movie?"
"Against The Grain. That has to be where they got the idea of grabbing her from the
mall. It couldn't be a coincidence." Furley and Katz exchanged a glance. "What I don't
understand is why they didn't ask for a ransom. Why kidnap her and then just . . . . without
even asking for any money? Do you think it was me?"
"Excuse me?" Had Travis finally realized he was the prime suspect? Katz wondered.
"Do you think that someone did this to get even with me, payback or a loony stalker
or something?"
Again, the detectives exchanged a brief, surprised glance. "Well, ahh, we're exploring
all possibilities, Tom," Furley replied. "What we'd like to know is--"
"Oh, jeeze!"
"What?"
"What about Sarah?" Travis's voice trailed off and he looked expectantly from Furley
to Katz.
"Uhhh, no, Mr. Travis. We didn't find any sign of Sarah."
"Thank God! That means she's probably alive, right?"
"Well, we--"
"I mean, if they were going to, you know, Sarah, they'd have left her with Marian,
right? I mean, if she was . . . dead," Travis's lips froze and he bent his head. The room was
still for ten seconds. "Anyway," he finally continued, head still down, "her not being there
probably means she's still alive, doesn't it?" Suddenly Travis's chin lifted and he stared
pleadingly into Furley's eyes.
"It's, aah, it's a good sign, for sure, Tom" Furley agreed, giving Travis a little nod.
"So, you're still looking for her?"
"Absolutely."
"Good, that's good, because, well, she's innocent, isn't she."
Innocent? Katz gave Furley a puzzled glance. And your wife wasn't? Katz turned
back to Travis.
"Do you think Marian did something to cause this, that she wasn't innocent?" Katz
asked softly, scenting blood in the water.
"No, of course not, who deserves to be kidnapped and murdered, except maybe
somebody like Osama Bin Laden? I just meant that we're adults, you know, we've all done
things in our lives, good and bad, but a little kid like that, who could she have ever hurt or
betrayed? I know I'm not perfect. I've made mistakes. You know my record with women.
There are probably lots of people out there who'd want me hurt or dead, but who the hell
would have any right to blame a three year old little girl for anything? Maybe that's why
she's still alive," Travis suggested, his face suddenly brightening. "Maybe the guy realizes
that she's just an innocent bystander and he's going to let her go."
Furley stared at Travis as astonished as if he had just broken into song. What planet
was this guy from?
"We'll do everything humanly possible to find her, Tom," Furley assured him.
"When you do, and I'm going to keep a positive outlook here, I'm going to adopt
her."
"Excuse me?"
"Well, her dad's dead. Her mom's dead. Grandpa's too old. Uncle Riley's a loser with
a capitol L. Who else does the little kid have? Hell, I can afford it. She'll never want for
anything. I get her the best schools. I'll send her to Harvard, Stanford, put her through
medical school if she wants. Anything, anything she wants, I'll make sure she gets it. I'll
take care of her like she was my own blood." Travis looked expectantly at the detectives.
"That's very decent of you, Tom, a really decent thing to do," Katz said, giving
Travis a nod.
"But you know, Tom," Furley added, "right now we've got to find out who did this
to Marian. If we want to find Sarah, then first we have to find Marian's killer."
"Right, yeah, I guess I got a little ahead of myself. This is all . . . . look, I'm no pansy
but this is hard. I'm not thinking too straight right now."
"Perfectly normal, Tom. It would shake anybody up. But getting back to Marian,
we're still not sure of the order of events. She might have been kidnapped from the mall,
but maybe not. We have to eliminate the possibility that she was taken from the house so
we can focus our resources in the right places."
"You think maybe she let the guy in, like a cable guy or something, that he killed her
in my house, and then he dumped her car at the Beverly Center to divert suspicion?"
"It's a possibility."
"But if he put her in the Escalade, then what would he have done with the body once
he got it there?" Travis asked, puzzled, then his face seemed to light up. "Do you think he
had an accomplice? Somebody who met him at the mall and they transferred the body to
another car?"
"Could be," Furley agreed after a long pause.
"Then they took her to the desert because that's where the press reported I'd been, to
divert suspicion onto me?"
"Makes sense. You know, Tom," Furley said in a confidential tone, "we should also
check on who knew you were going out there that day."
"In case they planned this in advance, you mean?"
"Sure."
"Gee, I don't know. I was sort of a spur of the moment thing."
"So, you got up that morning and decided to try out your new dune buggy?"
"Well, not exactly." Furley gave Travis an interested stare. "I had been thinking
about taking it out since Christmas. At first I was thinking New Year's day then I changed
my mind, then, changed it back again." Travis held up his hands. "It was all sort of . . .
open ended. I think I might have said something to some of the guys from the movie--"
"That was . . . ." Furley flipped through his notes, "The Boneyard?"
"Yeah, we were in pre-production then, scouting locations and stuff like that. Glenn
Malvo, the producer, wanted to go over some stuff with me and when we got done I went
over the stage we were going to use for the interiors, just to look around."
"Look around?"
"Check out the sets, schmooze with the crew. I always get along great with the crew,
that's probably because I started out as a stunt man instead of an actor."
"And this was . . . ?"
"I don't know, sometime between Christmas and New Years. I remember because I
was thinking 'Doesn't this guy', Malvo I mean, 'Doesn't this guy have a real life? He's down
here the day after Christmas trying to figure out if it's cheaper to film in Mexico or
Palmdale.' Anyway, I wandered over to the set and said Hi to some of the guys pounding
nails, shot the shit for, oh, what, fifteen, twenty minutes. Did the AD, that's Assistant
Director, know his stuff, were they getting good quality on the props or cut rate shit, that
kind of stuff." Travis gave Furley a quick shrug.
"And?"
"And? Oh, yeah, the dune buggy. Well, I remember talking to the guys about
Christmas presents and I guess I mentioned buying the dune buggy but that I hadn't driven
it yet. They asked when I was taking her out and I said something like, 'in a couple of
days' or 'if nothing else comes up, maybe New Year's day,' or 'Friday or Saturday'
something like that. But none of those guys would have killed Marian. They all love me.
Besides, they're in the union."
Furley tried to hide his confusion over what the union had to do with anything, and
instead asked, "Can you give us any names? We need our reports to be complete."
"Names? Hmmmmm." Travis furrowed his brow. "Hell, ahhh, one of the guys was
Lance something. I remember because he didn't look gay, and I wondered how you
survived in this town as a straight guy named Lance. There was an old guy, I always called
him Freddy." Furley wrote down the name. "But, I don't think that was really his name. I
just called him Freddy because he reminded me of Fred Mertz, you know, on the old Lucy
show." Furley scratched out the name. "That's all I've got." Travis looked at Katz who had
been concentrating on a spot on the wall above Travis's right shoulder. "So, can you tell
me when she was buried?"
"What?"
"I was thinking that they must have held her for a while, until the press carried the
story about me being at the RV Park, then they buried her to put suspicion on me. So, I
was wondering if you can tell how long she was dead before they buried her."
Katz looked at his pad, trying to hid his disgust.
"I don't think there's any way to test for that."
"But you do think that's what happened."
"Until we get some evidence, it's all speculation. What we really need to do now is
nail some things down."
"How can I help?"
"Well, Mr. Travis," Katz leaned forward, "did you ever video tape the contents of
your house for insurance purposes, in case there was a fire, so you'd have a record of what
was lost?"
"Gee, my business manager would take care of something like that. I don't
understand. What good that would do?"
"It might eliminate the house as the original crime scene. If the recordings we took
after Marian disappeared match your original tape, then that might indicate that nothing
happened there. On the other hand, if the killer broke something or moved something
during the attack. . . . ." Katz let the sentence drift.
"But it's been months," Travis said, shaking his head. "You looked the place over
right after Marian went missing and you didn't find anything."
"That's true but we video taped where all the furniture and vases and things were at
that time. We're hoping that comparing that video with your old insurance video might
reveal if something had changed or was missing."
"Or not," Furley broke in. "Either way, it helps us narrow our investigation, points us
one way or the other."
"It sounds like you know something you're not telling me."
"There are always--"
"No, it's okay. I know you have to keep some details back so you can be sure you've
got the real killer. You mentioned a vase. Was Marian hit with vase or something like
that?"
"I'm sorry, but we can't comment on the details, Tom."
"Yeah, sure, I understand."
The detectives stared at Travis for another five seconds before Furley broke the
silence. "So, Tom, you gonna help us with that insurance tape?"
"Huh? Oh, sure. I'll call my business manager as soon as . . . ."
Furley slid his cell across the table. "Time is really crucial at this stage, Tom. You
understand." Hesitantly, Travis picked up the phone. "If he could bring it over right away,
we'll copy it and give it right back." Travis stared at the cell as if it were the trigger for a
bomb, then, reluctantly it seemed to Katz, began pressing buttons.
Forty five minutes later Sheldon Morris arrived with a digital mini-cassette. Furley
asked him to hand it to Travis who in turn gave it to Katz.
"I think that's all we've got, Tom," Furley said with a thin, forced smile. "We
appreciate your help."
"You'll call me about Sarah?"
"You bet. You'll be the first call we make." Everyone shook hands and a confused
Sheldon Morris walked Travis out the door.
"What did you tell those guys?" Morris demanded once they reached the sidewalk.
"We just discussed the case, my theories on who might have killed Marian."
"Jesus!" Morris said, appalled.
"What?"
"Fuck, Tom, you're suspect number one. Those guys are going to take everything
you say and twist it into a rope to hang you with."
"But I didn't do it."
"That's what OJ said."
"Yeah, but he did do it."
Morris grabbed Tom's shoulder and spun him around. "Tom, right this minute those
guys are measuring you for an orange jumpsuit. What did you tell them?"
"Nothing."
"Why did they want that insurance tape?"
"They want to compare it to the tape they shot after Marian went missing to see if
maybe she was grabbed from the house."
"Dear God!"
"What?"
"They want to see if anything's changed or missing so that they can say that you
killed Marian at the house and then took her body to the RV Park in your dune buggy."
Morris enunciated each word as if he were talking to a kid in the slow class.
"That's crazy. A body wouldn't fit in the buggy."
Morris took a deep breath and tried again. "You could have put the body in the
Hummer, then, once you got to the park, stuck it in the back of the buggy when no one
was looking and driven out in the middle of nowhere, buried it, then come back without
it." He stared hard at Travis to see if he was getting through. "Did they ask you for
permission to examine the Hummer and the buggy?"
"Just now? No." Morris started to relax when Travis continued, "They checked them
out the day after Marian disappeared." Morris's face fell. "What? I didn't do it. I've got
nothing to hide."
"Oh, shit! Have you at least talked to a lawyer?"
"Sure, I called Waxman, first thing."
"Sam Waxman is a contracts attorney. He doesn't know shit about criminal law.
What did he tell you?"
"He said to get a criminal lawyer and not to talk to the cops."
"So, of course, you went out and talked to the cops."
"What am I speaking Esperanto or something? My wife and step-daughter were
missing. I didn't do it. Of course I talked to the cops. If I had refused to talk with the cops,
I'd have looked guilty. The tabloids would have had a field day with that. Remember the
Ramseys?"
"Yes, and I remember that the Ramseys were never arrested or charged with
anything."
"But everybody thought they did it! A guy in my position, I'd be finished in this town
if people thought I had killed my pregnant wife. Have you seen any movies with OJ in
them lately?"
"Who did Waxman say to get?"
"What?"
"What was the name of the lawyer Waxman told you to hire?"
"Ahh, Marks, Marker, Markham! Gary Markham, I think."
Morris pulled out his cell. "Information, I'd like the number of an attorney by the
name of Gary or G. Markham . . . . Gregory Markham, criminal law? Yes, that's it. Yes,
please dial it for me." Morris gave Travis a frustrated glance and looked away.
*
*
*
"I've got one . . . two . . . three . . . four lamps in the family room," Furley said,
peering at the grainy image.
"I've got one . . . two . . . three." Katz tapped his finger against the screen as he
counted.
"Far left coffee table?" Furley called out.
"Check."
"Far right table between the blue chair and the patio doors?"
"No, a flower vase on the table."
"I've got a red and gold vase in the center of the mantle."
"Nope, some kind of glass sculpture. I'll get the techs to print an 11 by 14 of each of
these frames." Katz walked over to Furley's TV and tapped the image of the missing lamp
on the screen. "There's our murder weapon," he said with a wolfish grin.
Chapter Twenty-One
Steve checked the indexes but could find no record of any contacts between the
police and any of the crew on Travis's screamer movie. From the transcript of Travis's last
interview, Steve had to admit that it didn't seem like much of a lead, but maybe Travis had
said more about his dune buggy trip than he remembered. Maybe there was some link
between one of the carpenters or grips and Bobby Berdue or Riley Fontaine or someone
else who might have had a motive to get rid of Marian. Who am I kidding? Steve asked
himself, wishing he had something to punch or break. He was grasping at straws, but his
eyes were going blurry from reading reports that the cops and Markham's clerks and Ben
McGarry had all read before him, and in which all of them had found nothing. If he didn't
start turning over some new rocks soon Travis was cooked. Wearily, he picked up the
phone.
The producer, Glenn Malvo, was in Romania scouting locations for some kind of
Nazi movie. His assistant/receptionist/bootlick assured Steve that Romania was the new
Canada, especially when you needed a thousand extras in German uniforms. The
Boneyard's director, Alan Page, was in town but would be in meetings for 'several days.'
Steve figured he'd have to tackle the guy outside whatever restaurant was hot this week,
maybe dress up like the valet and kidnap him when he came to pick up his Ferrari. The
movie's writer, Jack Statler, was not only in town but agreed to meet Steve at eight the
following morning at the north end of the Promenade that ran for miles between the PCH
and the sea.
Statler was about five ten and thin, all angles, with receding brown Brillo-Pad hair.
"Just find the guy who looks like a younger, less handsome Art Garfunkle," Statler told
Steve on the phone and barked a laugh. This morning Statler was dressed in Nike sneakers
with lights in the back that blinked with every step and an electric blue running suit
sporting white stripes down the shirt and pants. He took one look at Janson's ragged
Reboks, jeans and black tee and burst out laughing.
"You've got to be kidding," he said. "You actually run in public in that?" Steve didn't
know how to reply so he just shrugged. "Man, you're really not in the business, are you?"
"I used to be a cop."
"Okay, that explains the blue collar chic."
"Why blue collar? Maybe I was a rich cop. Maybe my father was the president of
Union Oil and I became a cop because I wanted to help people."
"And maybe my dad ran a pig ranch." Jack's face split in a sarcastic grin. "You can't
get any more blue collar than cops. It's the last major profession that has no graduate
school, no special degree, no licensing, no supervised training. Get out of high school, join
the army, join the cops, or get a job in construction, the blue collar trilogy." Statler
smirked. "Now, my people," he said, grinning, "figure that if you're not a doctor, dentist,
or lawyer, maybe you won't disgrace your family too much if you become a writer or a
teacher, but college only. If it's high school they stick you at the kids table at Thanksgiving
and tell all the relatives that when you were in grade school some anti-Semite hit you in
the head with a rock and you've never been the same since." Ho, Ho. Statler thought he
was hilarious.
"So--"
"I get it. The name fooled you. Statler. Used to be Steinman but in this town it helps
if a writer isn't too much of a Jew, just sort of . . . Jew-ish." Statler laughed again, a
miscast Jay Leno.
"Look, I--"
"See, if you're a lawyer or a doctor and the sign on the door says 'Jacob Steinman'
you're in. But as a writer, that's a little too much. All those decent people in the Red States
see Jacob Steinman on the movie credits and it makes them nervous. They start worrying
about what leftist, Zionist, commie bullshit that Jew-writer has slipped into their oh-somoral, family values movie. But, Jack Statler, now that's a normal American name that
doesn't upset them at all. Of course, you've got to let people in the community know. If
Jacob Steinman starts walking around town as Jack Statler, buying Christmas presents,
ordering ham on rye and pretending that 'Baruch atah adonoy' is Klingonese," Statler
shrugged, "the closest he'll get to the movies is the bargain matinee. So," Statler said,
giving Steve a friendly wave, "you want to get some exercise?" Without waiting, he
jogged off at a mild trot. A few seconds later Steve caught up and, side by side, they
headed down the asphalt path.
"You want to talk to me about Tom Travis?" Statler asked, looking straight ahead.
"How well do you know him?"
"Well enough to dislike him and feel sorry for him both at the same time."
"Why's that?" Steve asked though he more or less knew the answer already.
"At first, you think that if he weren't in this business with sycophants kissing his ass
twelve times a day that he would be an okay guy. But he wouldn't." Steve didn't reply, just
dodged around a woman pushing a stroller and kept on going. "The thing is, Tom Travis
is basically an insecure narcissist who wants everybody to like him and who secretly
believes that he's not good enough to deserve their respect. If he was a ditch digger, it
wouldn't change anything. He'd still be the jerk at the corner bar telling everybody about
the guys he's punched out, the women he's screwed, stuff that if it was true would be
bragging and if it was a lie would be pitiful, except then he'd have a shittier wardrobe. A
guy like that just can't win, unless he's a celebrity, in which case everybody kisses his ass,
and in this town he fits right in."
"Maybe your mother was right. You should have been a shrink."
"I'm a better writer pretending to be a shrink than I would be a shrink pretending to
be a writer." Steve spent a second or two trying to figure that out, then gave up.
"Was Travis buddies with anybody on the movie? Grips, stuntmen,carpenters. . . ?"
"He wanted to be." Statler led Steve off the path to let two muscular guys in
wheelchairs go by. "Let me re-phrase that, a writer's prerogative. He wanted people to
think he was buddies with them, the 'common touch' and all that. He wanted the
reputation of being a regular Joe who preferred having a few cold ones with the guys,
playing poker and swapping stories about monster trucks and monster jugs, but that
wasn't really him."
"What was?" Steve asked but Jack had already taken off. Steve caught up and
repeated the question.
"The paintings he doesn't sell, the ones he keeps, they're the give away. Ever seen
any of them?"
"No."
"The stuff in the galleries, battleships, tanks, dive bombers, football games, all the
macho action shit, that's just cover, like a queer with a centerfold on his arm. But the ones
he keeps for himself, one look and they'll tell you all you need to know."
"Such as?"
"The guy's got a soul, like Spike."
Steve couldn't keep up with Statler's mental bobs and weaves.
"Not a Buffy fan, huh? Okay, Spike is this mean, heartless, vicious vampire who
inadvertently has his soul returned to him. He doesn't want it, doesn't want a conscience,
doesn't want his humanity, but he's stuck with it anyway. In a lot of ways Tom Travis
would be a lot happier as a conscienceless, thoroughgoing prick, but he's stuck with this
damn inconvenient soul." Jack glanced at Janson and saw only confusion.
"Look," he said pulling to a halt next to the wooden railing that separated the trail
from the cliff and the boiling sea below, "his art goes directly from his soul to his fingers,
bypassing his puny, insecure little brain, the express run, no stops. When he turns it lose,
not the macho shit he draws with tanks and machine guns, but the stuff that just comes out
on its own, it has energy and emotion and heart. He did an oil of a day laborer and his
hotel maid wife at some ratty car lot in San Pedro, shoulders hunched, trying to scrape up
enough bucks to buy some shitty ride that would get them to their next shitty job just this
side of bankruptcy. Man it was terrific! I mean great! I begged him to sell it to me."
"But he wouldn't."
Statler laughed. "No fucking way. He didn't want anyone to know that he would
paint something like that. Bad for his macho self image. But that painting, man, that was
done by a guy with real talent and real heart, a guy with a soul. It was Spike all over."
Statler retied his shoe and nodded and both men took off.
Steve tried again to get back on track. "Back to Tom's friends, there was nobody on
the crew he was really buddies with?"
Five seconds passed and Steve wondered if Jack had heard him. "Maybe a stuntman?
I think somebody mentioned that Travis used to be buddies with a stuntman, but I got the
feeling that was two or three years ago. It was one of those comments that if you know
the back story makes sense and if you don't, nobody's going to take the trouble to explain
it you."
"And you didn't?"
Statler shook his head. "It was just a couple of words, the look on Glenn's face, the
tone of his voice. You got the idea that whatever they had been, bosom friends, drinking
buddies, whatever, it was all over now."
"You don't know the guy's name." Statler gave his head a quick shake. "Do you
remember the names of any of the guys on the crew who Tom might have talked with?"
"Sorry." Another head shake. "Glen's office would have all the names and addresses,
Impact Productions."
"Glenn Malvo's in Romania."
"Oh, yeah, No Man's Land. I heard that was his next project. Couldn't you subpoena
them or something?"
"I guess we'll have to," Steve held up his hand and reluctantly, Statler slowed then
stopped. Steve pressed the button on a stone-wrapped fountain while Statler took a
couple of mouthfuls from a Calistoga bottle Velcroed to his waist. "Is there anybody you
can think of who might have had a motive to hurt Tom Travis or his wife?"
"Specific names? No."
"How about stories you heard about Travis that might give somebody a motive?"
Statler considered the question as if he had been asked to define the meaning of life.
"You hear a lot of stores, most of them bullshit."
"Let me figure out which is which."
"You ever hear of Santana Sinn?"
"Sounds like a porn star."
"Bingo!" Jack said, pointing at Steve's chest. "Porn star at eighteen, wannabe legit
actress at twenty. She made the rounds a few years ago, around the same time Travis
married what's-her-name--"
"Marian."
"Sorry. Marian. Breathtaking, heartbreaking, Santana I mean, until you got a look in
her eyes. Soulless black holes. A vacuum. A vast wasteland of need and want."
"Turned you down, huh?"
"Like a leper trying to crash Trump's wedding. No matter what my parents think,
writers are the bottom of the ladder in this town. They'll give the keys to the city to some
has-been relic comic off a thirteen week canceled sitcom before they'll give a free bus pass
to Pulitzer-winning writer."
"Like you."
"Hope springs eternal."
"But Travis. . . ."
"Is a star, maybe on the down side of the B List these days, but a star nevertheless.
To hear him tell it, he banged Santana left, right, up, down and diagonally. Claimed she
was the greatest fuck since Eve's little sister. The thing is," Statler gave Jack a sideways
glance, "I heard a few months ago that she was trying to get the Guild to cover her
medical bills. AIDS. It's only a rumor, but, hey, rumors in this town are like blood to a
vampire."
"So, if she has AIDS . . . ."
"Did she have it then? Did Tom give it to her? Did she give it to him? And if he's got
it, did he give it to his wife? A man like Tom Travis tomcats around with a porn star, gives
his wife, and maybe their unborn baby, AIDS, that sounds like a motive to get rid of both
of them before some lab tech sells their blood tests to the tabloids."
"You're suggesting that Tom Travis killed his wife and unborn child to avoid some
bad publicity? You think he's that big a monster?"
"People have been killed for less. But, hey, I'm just 'supposing.' I'm a writer.
Conspiracy and betrayal, suspicion and violence, that's the stuff that puts food on my
table. I see evil everywhere. But, it's just a rumor, after all. Maybe Santana doesn't have
AIDS. And if she does, maybe Travis didn't get it. And if he did, that doesn't mean he gave
it to Marian, or if he did, it doesn't necessarily mean that he would do something that . . .
extreme.Come on," Jack, smiled again, "we gonna run or what?"
"Do you know anything else that might give somebody a motive to hurt Tom or
Marian?"
"Sorry, that was the only film I worked with him on. For anything more, you're going
to need to talk to Glenn Malvo. From what I hear, he and Travis go way back." Statler
gave Steve a small laugh. "Hell, maybe you can get him to tell you the story about the
stuntman Travis used to be buddies with." Statler looked down the winding asphalt path
alive now with dots of color, women in red Spandex, speed walkers in lime and sapphire
and lemon-gold, kids on rollerblades, old people tottering on polished aluminum canes.
"Last chance."
Steve shook his head. "Thanks for the info."
"Sure, call me when this is all over. Who knows, there may be movie in it."
"Oh, there's a movie in it, all right" Steve agreed. "I'm just worried right now about
how it's all going to end."
Chapter Twenty-Two
Steve checked again with Glenn Malvo's office. 'Maybe he'll be back by the end of
the week' was the best they could do. The in-tray on his fax machine was still empty.
Apparently he was going to have to bounce Riley Fontaine's head off his cash register to
get that list of Marian's girlfriends. He thought about trying to shake some answers out of
Tom Travis, starting with 'Who's your old friend, the stuntman, and where can I find him?'
and ending with 'Did Santana Sinn give you AIDS?' Sure, that would work. Steve was
convinced that Travis was incapable of giving anyone a straight answer that might make
him look bad. Who else had been close to Tom Travis who might be able to suggest a
motive or a suspect? Steve could think of one person, Kaitlen Berdue. According to the
police report, Kaitlen worked at the All About You Spa & Wellness Center in Westwood.
Steve knew he was in trouble the instant he walked in the door.
"Help you?" the clerk, a hunky Black kid, asked in a disinterested tone. Steven
glanced in the mirror behind the counter and did a quick mental check: gray flannel pants,
fly zipped, black Burberry sport coat, white shirt, black wing tips, black socks, yes, he
had shaved and combed his hair.
Steve pulled out a card, one of the new ones that said "Law Offices Of Gregory
Markham, Steven Janson, Senior Associate" and slid it across the counter. The kid
glanced at it for a millisecond and flicked it back with the snap of a perfectly trimmed nail.
"I wonder if I could talk with Kaitlen Berdue."
"We don't allow visitors during working hours," the kid, Marcus, according to his
name tag, said with a frown.
"I'll only need--"
"I guess you didn't hear me." Marcus straightened his shoulders and puffed out his
chest like some movie version of a mobster's bodyguard. "She's doesn't see anyone but
customers during working hours."
"Fine, I'm a customer. Sign me up."
Marcus's lips twisted in an evil grin. "Sure, that'll be one-twenty-five for an
introductory membership. That entitles you to up to four hours of yoga training per week
for the first month."
What a rip! But, Steve consoled himself with the fact that it was Tom Travis's
money.
"We take VISA," Marcus prompted, holding out his hand.
"So, I can get a lesson with Kaitlen as soon as I sign up?"
"All our lessons are conducted by licensed Yoga instructors."
"I want to see Kaitlen Berdue."
"You can have any instructor who's on duty and who has room in her class. Card
please."
"Is Kaitlen on duty now and does she have room in her class now?"
"We don't work that way," the kid said in a flat voice. Steve put his wallet back into
his pocket. "Sir, this is private property. If you're not a member, I'll have to ask you to
leave."
"And if I don't? You want the cops in here dragging me away in time to make the six
o'clock news?"
"Sir," Marcus said, smiling and flexing his muscles, no doubt envisioning himself as a
younger, blacker, Arnold, "I don't need any help from the police."
Steve just looked at him, struggling not to laugh. "Marcus," he said in a lighthearted
tone, "you've been watching way too many movies. Why don't you . . . ." from the corner
of his eye Steve caught a glimpse of lustrous black hair, red pouty lips, prominent breasts,
all stuffed into a pink leotard, and he immediately headed across the room.
"Excuse me, Miss Berdue," he began before Marcus could get out from behind the
counter. "I work for Tom Travis's attorney. I'm helping with Mr. Travis's defense. I was
hoping that I could talk with you for a few minutes." Steve held out another of his cards.
For a moment, Kaitlen gave him a confused look, then, tentatively, accepted the
card.
"I'm sorry, Kaitlen," Marcus said, grabbing Steve's shoulder. "Ill get rid of this guy."
"Please take your hand off my shoulder," Steve asked with exquisite politeness.
Marcus grabbed tighter and began to pull him toward the door. Steve gave a little mental
shrug, turned, grabbed Marcus's wrist, twisted, and swept the kid's foot out from under
him. In about a quarter of a second Marcus was face down on the sweat stained carpet, his
right hand locked against the base of his skull.
"Look, kid, I was on the LAPD for nine years and in that job I had to deal with real
bad guys. I don't want to hurt you, so I'm going to let you up and you're going to go
behind that counter and we're going to pretend this didn't happen. Okay?" Steve released
the kid's wrist and stepped back. Marcus slowly got to his feet and, scowling, stomped
back to the cash register. "Now he's going to call the cops and make an even bigger fool
of himself," Steve told Kaitlen in a stage whisper. Marcus scowled some more, apparently
his favorite expression next to his macho man act, and angrily punched the buttons on the
phone.
"Marcus," Kaitlen called, and when she had his attention, shook her head.
"This guy can't--"
"Marcus, it's fine, really. Please don't call the police. It will only get in the papers and
make things worse for me."
Marcus paused for a second. "Fine!" he snapped and slammed down the phone. "I'm
going on break," he announced to no one in particular.
"My friends get a little protective," she told Steve, giving him a little girl smile that
almost melted his heart.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cause any trouble. I just need a couple minutes of your
time and I'll be out of your hair."
"My lawyer told me not to talk with anyone. She said it might compromise my
testimony."
"I understand, but I'm not here to interview you for the tabloids or get a product
endorsement. I can guess how you feel about Tom Travis but whatever he's done, he
didn't kill his wife. I don't blame you if you hate him--"
"I don't hate him. He hurt me, that's all. It's not the first time but . . . this one was
really bad. All those terrible stories in the paper and the things the reporters shout at
me. . . ." Her eyes glistened with the first hint of tears.
"I'm on your side, Ms. Berdue, really I am. But that doesn't mean I can't be on Tom
Travis's side too. You gave the police hours and hours of your time to help them get
evidence to convict Tom. Can't you give me three minutes to help me get evidence to
prove that he's innocent?"
Those big gray eyes turned up, studying Steve as if he were Indiana Jones promising
that he would save her from the merciless villains who were pursuing her, if only she
would trust him, and now, with the Nazi killers' footsteps pounding up the stairs behind
them, she had to decide if she would. Jesus, Steve thought, now I understand why Tom
Travis was crazy in love with her. You just wanted to fold her in your arms and protect
her.
"Give me a couple of minutes," she said in that soft, innocent, breathy voice, and, the
picture of grace and sensuality in one pink package, she disappeared into the hallway at
the far end of the lounge. Steve looked around the deserted room and took a seat in front
of the muted big screen that was showing a college basketball game on ESPN2. Five
minutes passed, ten. What the hell? Had she slipped out the back? Steve checked the
corridor. The only doors led to the men's and women's locker rooms and a fire exit to the
parking lot.
Well, if she was gone she was gone. If not, she was in the women's locker room and
he wasn't going in there. He decided to wait another five minutes before giving it up as a
bad job all the around. Four minutes later the front door opened and the Beast walked in.
Five feet one inches tall without enough meat on her bones to keep a hungry poodle
alive over a long weekend, Margo Mansell stormed into view. Newsweek had once called
her 'The Angriest Woman In America.' Steve had seen seasoned prosecutors shrink away
and bow their heads when she passed through the bar to address the court.
Today she wore a leprechaun green wool top and matching skirt with polished gold
buttons, gold necklace, earrings and bracelet, her white blond hair poofed out to the size
of a basketball in vivid contract to her muddy, latte-colored skin and cinder black eyes.
Steve noticed her shoes and, unbidden, the image of her pounding one of those green
three-inch spiked heels into his heart filled his brain.
"Steven Janson?" she demanded staring down at him, too close for him to stand
without knocking her over, which, Steve decided, would not be a good idea. Steve held
out his hand. It might as well have been a stick covered in ants. "What the Hell do you
think you're doing trying to interview my client outside of my presence?"
"Miss Berdue is not an adverse party to any litigation, Ms. . . ?" Steve asked just to
piss her off.
The Beast gave him a smile as icy as Siberia. "Margo Mansell. I represent Kaitlen
Berdue. All communications with Ms. Berdue goes through me."
"So, if I want to ask her to, oh, pass the salt or hold the elevator or maybe give me
the time, I have to pass that through you?"
"Now you're getting it," Mansell agreed, her teeth bared in a yawning wolf's grin.
"We can do this the hard way," Steve replied evenly, "subpoena her, sit her in a room
for a day or two answering questions."
"Sounds peachy."
"Fine, we'll do it the hard way."
"I love the hard way."
"Of course, we'll have to pay extra to tape it, but I guess Tom Travis can afford the
cost."
Mansell's eyes blazed. No, Steve thought, you don't want your meal ticket on any
video tape you don't own. No freebies for Sixty Minutes.
"We'll get a protective order."
"Be my guest. Get two. This is still a murder case and she's still a central witness and
the defense has the right to take her video taped deposition." Mansell's normally puffy lips
grew thin. "Of course, your protective order evaporates once the trial is over. But that's
okay with you, isn't it? Your client just wants to help the judicial process, right?"
Margo shot him another dagger of pure hate, then took the opposite seat, gave him a
brief, humorless smile and pulled a packet of folded pages from her emerald purse.
"Steven Janson," she began reading, "Uniformed officer with the LAPD for nine
years," she paused and looked up, "what's the matter,couldn't pass the detective's exam?"
"Addicted to donuts and high speed car chases. What can I say?"
Margo scowled and turned back to her Internet printout. "Attended night school at
the UCLA extension law school, went straight into the D.A.'s office where you eventually
rose to a mid-level position trying undistinguished cases--"
"Does it really say 'undistinguished cases' or was that your editorial contribution?"
Margo gave him a 'you're not as funny as you think' grimace and continued, ". . .
until your wife of three years, Lynn Burris, daughter of the Honorable Malcolm Burris,
was murdered by a serial killer you had interviewed and let go." The Beast's eyes flicked
up accusingly. "It's believed that you followed the alleged suspect to Havana where you
murdered him in cold blood. Thereafter you were charged with acts of moral turpitude
and, in a case of gross misconduct, that's me editorializing, you were only suspended from
the practice of law for two years instead of being disbarred. As of now, you've got a little
less than a year left on your suspension."
"Congratulations, you can both type my name into Google and print the result."
"Steven Janson, Senior Associate," Margo recited.
"And you can read too? You're a triple threat."
"And you're practicing law without a license."
"Does my card say, 'Steven Janson, Attorney At Law'? Did I miss the 'Attorney At
Law' part?"
"Come on, Janson, everybody knows that 'associate' means a lawyer who's not a
partner."
"Do they? Gee, then there must be a lot of lawyers working at Walmart because
they're all Sales Associates, and at Computer World, because I'm sure I bought a printer
last week from a guy whose card said 'Junior Associate'. You want to look up 'Associate'
in Black's Law Dictionary and see if it says, 'Associate is a synonym for Attorney'?"
"We'll see if you're so smart when I haul you in front of the Bar Association."
"And we'll see if you're so smart when I sue you for defamation, tortious interference
with contract, and invasion of privacy. I bet you've got a lot more money than I do. And
there are all those wonderful punitive damages. Do you think I could find, oh, I don't
know, twenty or thirty people who would testify that you harassed them and made their
lives a living hell without good cause? A common plan, scheme and design as lawyers like
to say. So, how about it, you want to be a defendant for a change or do you want to stop
all this bullshit and get down to business?"
The Beast stared at him for a full second, then gave him her most frightening
expression yet, a smile of true pleasure.
"You think that now that you've waved your legal penis in my face that I'll get all
'Let's be reasonable and work this out'? Dream on! You want to sue me? Do it! I'd love it!
I will grind you up into a little paste and piss you into the gutter. I don't care how long it
takes, five years, ten, twenty. I will keep you in court for the rest of your miserable life
and then I'll tie up your estate for twenty years more after you're dead. You want to
depose Kaitlen? Go ahead and try. Try to get your order. Try to serve it. Try to enforce it.
Then try to get her to answer any questions. Then try to defeat my motion to quash. Then
you can fight my appeal."
Margo's eyes became glowing coals and little drops of spittle clung to the corners of
her lips. Her nostrils distended and her mouth opened wide, showing pulsing purple-pink
gums. "You want to fight with me? Bring it on! I will make you sorry you ever saw me,
ever heard my name!" A drop of spit landed on Steve's lapel and he raised his hand to
ward off the spray. "You want to hit me? Go ahead, you bastard, I dare you! Go ahead!"
A cylindrical canister suddenly appeared in her hand.
"If you press that button," Steve said in as calm a voice as he could muster, "I
promise that I will punch you right between your eyes as hard as I possibly can, in self
defense, of course." The canister wavered in a small circle. "Before you press that button
think about what I'm supposed to have done to Alan Lee Fry and ask yourself what I'm
capable of."
For three seconds longer Margo glared at him, then suddenly gave Steve a vicious
smile, dropped the tear gas container and took two steps toward the door. "If I ever catch
you talking to Kaitlen Berdue," Mansell told him with icy certainty, "I will put a bullet in
your brain. In self defense, of course." Glaring, she strode from the room.
Shit! Steve thought, his shirt soaked with sweat. If I didn't know before why they
called her The Beast, I do now. His next thought was to wonder whether the police had
included Kaitlen Berdue's home address in their report.
Chapter Twenty-Three
The club was about half full, not bad, Edwin Bleaker thought, for a Monday night.
Red, blue and yellow spots roved the place giving it the appearance of a festive
concentration camp just before a mass escape. Bleaker leaned against the bar and scanned
the faces, elbows, shoulders and breasts that popped briefly into view in the dancing lights.
About a third of the people he recognized with greater or lesser degrees of familiarity. A
couple of times he had chatted up the girl with the pale blue lipstick that fluoresced
glowed gunmetal gray under the UV glow.
He dismissed her as a small town girl in a big city body. He remembered the way she
had frowned at his beefy torso and bulging waist when she thought he wasn't looking. He
figured that deep down she imagined that if she came here two or three nights a week that
it would be only a month and a half, two tops, before some Prince Charming carried her
away in his S500. Until then she worked as the assistant manager of a Starbucks on
Wilshire.
Bleaker rattled his glass and the bartender, built like a Greek God and as queer as the
proverbial three dollar bill, splashed in four ounces of watered down Sprite. It was too
early to start on the booze. Bleaker pushed a five across the bar.
He scanned the dance floor again, methodically working a grid pattern, but she
wasn't there, hadn't been there since the trial began. He had tried a few subtle probes at
work, offering to buy her dinner or a cup of coffee but she always turned him down. He
figured that if he managed to run into Kaitlen in a place like this that she might loosen up,
give him a chance, especially now that that asshole Tom Travis was out of the picture.
He caught a flicker of long dark hair and pale skin, then the golden beam moved on
and the face returned to the shadows. Bleaker took half a step in her direction then she
turned. Early twenties, Hispanic, large on top, but Bleaker noticed her thick wrists and
solid neck. She'd run to fat and bloat up like Kirstie Alley by the time she was thirty. Not
like Kaitlen Berdue. Kaitlen would never get fat and if she did, she'd still be beautiful, fat
and all. But Kaitlen wasn't here, maybe never would be here. Time to start thinking about
cutting one of them out of the herd.
The brunettewith the white blouse tied just below her tits, gold necklace and painted
on red pants looked like a good prospect. She was heading toward thirty, a lot of mileage
for most of the girls in this place. He'd have to split her off from her friend, the blond with
the big hips. Bleaker glanced at Clark and gave him a subtle nod. Knowing eyes flicked
back. Clark would make sure the brunette's drinks had some kick in them. The music
slowed as the DJ changed the mood. Bleaker took a step forward and suddenly a big guy
was standing in front of him.
"Ed Bleaker?" Steve half shouted over the swelling music.
Bleaker frowned and caught a glimpse of the girl already swinging to the rising beat
with a new partner. Well, okay, in five minutes she'd be even thirstier.
"Who are you?"
"Steve Janson. Can I talk to you for a minute?" Bleaker gave the brunette another
glance, marking her spot in the crowd.
"Okay," he said, "but keep it brief. I'm meeting someone." Edwin gestured to the
hallway to the right of the bar. A moment later the music had been reduced to background
roar pounding up through the soles of their feet.
"I work for Tom Travis's lawyer and--"
"And you want some dirt on Kaitlen Berdue," Bleaker said, half turning away.
"No, not at all. I talked with Ms. Berdue earlier today--"
"You talked to her? Where?"
"At her job."
"My studio. I don't like people bothering my employees at work."
"She seems to be a very nice young lady," Steve said, trying to get the conversation
back on track.
Bleaker glanced at the dance floor then looked back at Steve.
"Look, you've got me all wrong. I'm just talking to everyone who knew Tom Travis
and his wife, trying to find leads to somebody who might have wanted to hurt either of
them. I'm sure Ms. Berdue is a fine, decent person. I just want to find out if she, or you, or
anyone else can point me in the direction of somebody who's not so nice, somebody who
might have wanted to hurt Tom Travis or his wife."
Bleaker thought that over while he listened to the music behind him. He knew this
cut. It was going to be another four or five minutes before the next break.
"I met Travis a couple of times when he came in to my place. I thought he was a
jerk. And that line of crap he gave Kaitlen . . . ." Bleaker's lips bowed as if he had tasted
bitter fruit. "Anyway, I don't know anyone who disliked him enough to want to hurt him."
"What about Kaitlen?"
"Too good for the likes of him. There are a lot of sleazeballs in this town who'll take
advantage of a sweet girl like Kaitlen. You want to tell her what a guy's like, that he's just
using her, but, what are you gonna do? People never want to hear it."
"I'm guessing that Kaitlen was different from most of your employees."
Bleaker paused, his expression distant, wistful. "I won't disagree," he replied a
moment later.
"How so?"
"She was. . . ." Bleaker paused again, gathering his thoughts. ". . . She was
special. . . ." he continued, his voice barely audible over the drumming beat. ". . . innocent,
not stupid, not naive. More like . . . untainted. Most of these girls who come to me,"
Bleaker snorted, "they're half a step away from turning tricks, except the guy's got to take
them someplace hot, maybe give them a little blow or weed, and, bam, they put out like
bunnies as long as he's got a Porsche instead of a Toyota. They don't see it as hooking, but
that's what it is, the pay's just different."
"But not Kaitlen?"
"Are you kidding? You could offer her five grand and she'd just slap your face. If she
liked a guy it didn't matter if he had a Maybach or a Mazda. Sometimes I thought she was
like those old ladies bringing home wounded animals. She always seemed to attract the
strays." Bleaker sighed. "That's why I couldn't figure her with Tom Travis. Sure, he was a
bullshit artist, but he wasn't any lost lamb with a thorn in his hoof."
Steve ignored the mixed metaphor and nodded for Bleaker to continue.
"She must have seen something needy in him, though." Edwin shook his head. "Once
it all came out about his wife, I told her to forget him, move on, find herself a decent guy
for a change. . . ."
Like you, Steve thought.
". . . but it was like she was stuck. I don't know. Sometimes people just don't know
what's good for them."
"What about the guy before Travis. What was he like?"
"Typical loser."
"Did he dump her or did she dump him?"
"Who'd be crazy enough to dump her?"
"So she dumped her old boyfriend for Travis?"
"I guess."
"Maybe he wanted her back but Travis was in the way. Maybe he figured that if he
got rid of Travis, he'd have another shot at Kaitlen."
Bleaker shrugged.
"What was his name?"
"Carl, no Carey . . . like two letters of the alphabet . . .EB, yeah, Ebbe, that's it. He
was some kind of auto mechanic. More than that. . . ." Another shrug.
Another name, another interview. A month wouldn't be enough time. What did he
have left? Seven days? Ten? Steve looked into Bleaker's eyes as a roving beam painted his
face.
"You like her," Steve said flatly.
"Yeah, I like her a lot. She's special, not like these . . . ." Bleaker gestured toward the
gyrating mob behind them. The music began to swell. "Well, what can you to do?"
"One more thing--"
"I've got nothing else to tell you."
"I need her address. I've got to talk to her."
"Sorry." Bleaker began to turn away but Steve grabbed his arm.
"Look, I don't want to camp out in your spa or in your parking lot. If I do that and
the press gets wind of it . . . ." Steve shrugged.
"Sounds good to me. Free publicity."
"Maybe Kaitlen doesn't want any free publicity. Maybe she'll quit to avoid it. I just
want to ask her about anyone who might have wanted to hurt Tom Travis." Bleaker
looked down at Steve's hand. Steve let go. "You don't want something to happen that
makes her quit, do you? Five minutes is all I need."
Bleaker stared at Steve for a couple of seconds, then scribbled an address on a scrap
of paper. "Don't tell her where you got that."
"Right. Thanks." Steve slipped the note into his pocket.
"Don't thank me." Now Bleaker grabbed Steve's arm in a crushing grip. "If you hurt
her, I'm going to put you in the hospital. You see if I don't."
Steve looked into Edwin's blazing eyes and nodded. "I believe you. And I won't."
Bleaker's hand slipped free and he turned back to the dance floor. Five minutes later he
was at the bar with the brunette at his side. The lights spilling through the bottles sent
vague colored shadows rippling across her face.
"I'm Ed," Bleaker said, handing her a tall glass.
"Kathy." the woman held up her drink in mock salute.
More like thirty-two, maybe thirty-five, Bleaker decided, catching a patch of tiny
wrinkles at the corner of her lips.
"You're in great shape. Do you have a health club?"
"Tiger's on Doheny," Kathy shouted over the din.
"I own the It's All About You Spa in Westwood. Would you like to stop by
sometime as my guest?"
"Gee, Ed, that would be great."
Yeah, thirty-five, Bleaker decided, motioning Clark for another round.
Chapter Twenty-Four
Kaitlen Berdue lived in a two story stucco building in the hills above Sunset, in
daylight a landscape of pale blues and beige, ivory and soft green with a few faded
flamingo bungalows scattered here and there for good measure. After dark the moonlight
reflected faintly off the pastel walls, tinting everything in muted tans and grays. A flight of
twenty steps led from the sidewalk up the side of the hill, stands of century plants and
rhododendrons flanking the bricks.
At the top Steve paused and glanced at the city spread out below him. A school of
red and white lights streamed down Sunset. The highway was dotted with the reds and
greens of the traffic signals and the store windows' neon blaze. In the background white
and salmon street lights disappeared into the distance. A cool breeze brought with it the
muted sounds of tires on asphalt, humming engines, a dog's bark, a solitary horn and
carried the scent of night-blooming star jasmine. Janson felt as if he had stepped into a
fairyland populated by a mysterious and exotic offshoot of humanity.
The walkway led beneath a twelve foot arch and into an interior courtyard where
swings and a teeter-totter dominated a rectangular patch of late spring grass. Four
apartments faced the courtyard on each side of the ground floor with four more on each
second floor above. Guarding the back end of the lawn was a little fountain with an imp
holding a terra cotta vase from which a thin stream of water splashed into a shallow pond.
Kaitlen Berdue's apartment was the last one on the right. Steve checked his watch. It
was a little after ten. The shade behind Kaitlen's eight-paned window emitted a yellow
glow. Softly, as if he were summoning an elderly priest to early mass, Steve tapped on her
door. The pinprick of the spyhole briefly flickered then the door opened to the limit of the
security chain. A gray eye and a sliver of Kaitlen's face appeared in the gap.
"Margo said I shouldn't talk to you," Kaitlen said in an uncertain tone.
"Margo just wants to keep you under her control so that nothing messes up her
marketing plans."
"She's trying to protect me."
"She's going to sell you like a new flavor of chewing gum. Which is fine, if that's
what you want, as long as an innocent man doesn't get sent to death row because of it."
"Do you really think Tom is innocent?" Kaitlen asked in the same sort of voice
Steve's niece might have asked, "Uncle Steve, do you think there really is a Santa Claus?"
Steve looked nervously around as if afraid that the Beast might appear at any
moment from behind the hedge of crimson bougainvillea.
"Could we talk inside, please?"
Kaitlen gave him another long stare then closed the door. Steve held his breath. The
spyhole flickered again, as if she were checking to see if he had changed his mind and
gone home. Five seconds later the chain rattled and the door pulled back. Steve entered
and the panel snapped closed behind him. Kaitlen stood back as if afraid that Steve was
about to become violent.
"May I sit down?" he asked politely.
"Sure." The room was about fifteen feet wide with a couch against one wall, two
upholstered chairs and a TV against the other with a coffee table in between. Steve settled
into the couch and Kaitlen took the chair next to the TV. Beneath her blue chenille robe
she wore a pair of ivory silk pajamas. Hardly an outfit from Victoria's Secret. The table
lamp's thick yellow light seemed to heighten the highlights in her hair and the creamy
perfection of her skin. Unconsciously, she tightened the robe, pulling the lapels closed
almost to her neck.
"You asked me if I thought Tom Travis was innocent," Steve began. "I could give
you a lawyer's answer, that all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty and
that I've seen no evidence that convinces me that Tom is guilty. But I won't do that." Tom
paused under Kaitlen's intense gaze. "The truth is that when I was a Deputy District
Attorney I learned that killers don't look like killers, they don't sound like killers, that
people can fool you. Having said that, from everything I know about Tom Travis,
everything I've learned about him, my gut tells me that he doesn't have a killer's heart.
There's a certain toughness you need to have to kill someone in cold blood, and that's just
not in him."
"Are you sure?"
Steve ran his hand through his hair. "No," he said finally. "I don't know how anybody
can be absolutely sure about something like that."
"But you know what it's like to kill someone?"
"Some people think I do." Steve looked away.
"In cold blood?"
"Yes. In cold blood," Steve said, studying the grain of the scared coffee table. Finally
he looked up to find Kaitlen staring at him as if he were some rare beast on display at the
zoo.
"What do you want to know?"
"Can you think of anyone who might have wanted to hurt Tom or his wife?"
"He never talked about her."
"Never?"
"I would ask him, sometimes, how her custody thing was going but he never wanted
to talk about it."
"Did he say anything at all?"
"Just that everything was going fine and that he'd be free by June, last June," she
added hurriedly.
"Is that the language he used, that he'd be 'free' or did he say that the divorce would
be over by June?"
Kaitlen furrowed her brow. "Both, I guess. Sometimes he said 'free' and sometimes
he said she would file for divorce in the Spring and that it would be all over by June."
"How did he seem, emotionally, when he said that?"
"Seem? I don't know. It was different almost every time. Sometimes he seemed sort
of sad about it, then he'd laugh and say he was getting rid of the 'ball and chain.' He said
they didn't love each other, you know, the gay thing, but I sort of thought it hurt him that
she was so anxious to get rid of him. I told myself that it was an ego thing, you know."
"What about Sarah?"
"Sarah?"
"Marian's daughter. Did he ever talk about her? Was he going to miss her?"
"He never, ever talked about her. I asked once, because, I mean he said Marian was
doing this to keep custody of her so I knew that Marian keeping Sarah was a big part of
their . . . well, what he told me was their deal."
"What happened?"
"Tom got really, really upset. He said he didn't want to talk about Sarah. When I
pushed him he grabbed a vase off the table and smashed it against the wall and stormed
out. He didn't call me for two days, then it was like nothing happened. I never asked about
her again. From then on, he acted like she, Sarah, didn't exist. Tom's like that, he doesn't
like to think about anything that hurts him or upsets him. He says it only creates negative
energy."
Kaitlen folded her arms and looked down, and the silence stretched out, one of those
unplanned lulls when you suddenly become aware of the wind rustling through the trees
and the creaks and groans of a weathered house. Steve glanced around. To his left was a
small kitchen and dining alcove with a counter between them. To the right a doorway led
to the bathroom and a small bedroom directly behind the opposite wall. Had Travis turned
off the money spigot when Kaitlen's treachery hit the papers?
"I like your place," Steve said to cover his roving eyes. "It's quiet and the view out
front is terrific. Have you lived here long?"
"A couple of years, just after I met Tom," Kaitlen replied, fiddling with the cord on
her robe.
So, Tom wasn't playing sugar daddy. It sounded like she had met Tom, dumped her
old boyfriend and moved in here all on her own.
"Ms. Berdue, you're obviously a beautiful woman. I assume you had a male friend
around the time you met Tom. How did your old boyfriend take it when you and Tom
started going out?"
Kaitlen wiggled her shoulders and hunched down in her chair. "Carey was upset. It's
never easy when someone breaks up with you." Steve wondered if Kaitlen had ever been
the dumpee instead of the dumpor, and figured the odds at a million to one. "But it was
over. He didn't want to see that, but it was."
"Did he blame Tom?"
Kaitlen's eyes flicked down. "I . . . I let him blame Tom. I didn't want to tell him that
it was him, I mean that, well, the feelings weren't there for him any more, so I just let him
think that Tom had, you know, swept me off my feet or something."
"So, maybe he thought that if Tom were out of the picture, he might have another
chance?"
"I guess."
"Did you hear from Carey after Tom was arrested?"
Kaitlen hugged herself more tightly and focused on a spot on the wall next to Steve's
shoulder. "He called a couple of times but I told him that too much had happened, that
you can't, you know, go back, that you have to move forward."
"How'd he take it?"
"He was pretty upset. He said a lot of stuff about what we had been through
together, that Tom had tricked me, stuff like that. I told him that it was impossible to
change the past. I read that in one of those relationship books and it's true. He just had to
understand that."
"You said his name was Carey . . . Carey what?"
"Ebbe," Kaitlen said after a little pause. "You don't think he had anything to do with
Tom's wife's . . . you know?"
It was Steve's turn to shrug. "I don't think anything. It's just another name to go on
my list of things to check out. Where can I get in touch with him?"
Kaitlen closed her eyes.
"If he had nothing to do with this, then there's nothing for me to find. I just want to
check out where he was when Marian went missing."
Kaitlen's lids slowly opened and she stood and headed for the kitchen. A minute later
she returned with a scrap of paper with the name 'Performance Cycle & Auto' and an
address on the edge of East L.A. Steve copied the info and gave it back to her.
"Do you have to tell him you talked to me?" she asked in that soft little voice.
"No. I'll tell him I got his name from one of your friends and that I tracked him down
through a skip trace service." Kaitlen's face relaxed, almost invisible worry lines slipping
away. "Did he ever hit you?" Steve asked with an intensity he hadn't planned.
"Sometimes Carey gets upset and loses control."
"Does he know where you live?"
"I don't know. He only had my number from work, but he could have followed me
like you did."
Steve briefly turned away to hide his embarrassment. "If he, or anyone, tries to hurt
you, call me." Steve scribbled his home number on the back of his card. "Day or night. I
won't let anyone hurt you."
Kaitlen took the card without expression, doubtless a speech she had heard a
hundred times before from a hundred different men and Steve wondered how many of
them had ended up hurting her themselves. She laid her head against the chair's pale green
fabric, worn shinny from the passage of the years, and seemed more than ever like some
innocent child prematurely thrust into a grown-up's world.
"Thank you, Kaitlen," Steve said, standing and extending his hand. "I appreciate how
uncomfortable all this is for you." Listlessly, she walked him to the door. "I meant what I
said, about helping you."
"I know you did," Kaitlen said wearily. "You men always do."
Slowly the door swung closed leaving Janson alone in the dark, the thick scent of
jasmine filling the air.
Chapter Twenty-Five
The name 'Carey Ebbe' did not appear anywhere in the index to the police reports.
Steve re-read all the interviews with Kaitlen Berdue and found no reference to Ebbe there
either. Time for a trip to the horse's mouth. According to the Department, Simon was
working the day shift out of Robbery-Homicide.
Steve waved at the Uniform on the front desk. The guy gave him a little nod and let
him pass. Whether he knew and approved of Steve's reputation for vigilante justice or just
recognized his face from Janson's years in the D.A.'s office, Steve didn't know, or care.
This morning the Homicide Squad room looked no different from the last time Steve had
been there when Katz and his old partner, Ben Olivera, were the lead detectives on the
Headless Killer case. Simon's desk was still on the far left side, near the room's only
window, a perk for his years of dedicated service.
For a long moment Steve stood in the doorway. The morning sun glared across
Simon's hunched form. Today the seams in his face seemed deeper, his cheeks more
hollow than Steve remembered. The crisp light picked out each furrow in Katz's neatly
parted salt and pepper hair. Perhaps it was only the color of the beams but Katz's skin
seemed faintly yellow like old ivory. Steve began to cross the room and halfway there
Katz's head snapped up and locked on Steve's face. There was no warmth in his gaze.
"Simon," Steve said smiling and extending his arm. Katz reluctantly reached out,
barely touching Steve's fingertips before pulling his hand away. "May I sit down?" Katz
pointed listlessly to a chair behind the empty desk across the aisle. "The old place still
looks the same."
"What do you want?"
"Just checking out a couple of things."
"You a PI now?"
"You've got to have a license for that. You think I could get one?"
"So, why are you here?" Simon asked, twisting his chair to face Janson head-on.
Steve noticed a faint stain on Katz's tie and found his mind wandering back to their
hurried take-out lunches, what was it, seventeen years ago, when Simon was his training
officer, only a couple of months before Katz made detective.
"Like I said, I just need to check out something," Steve said, dragging his thoughts
back to the present.
"I'm not the 411 operator."
"I'm reviewing the Travis case files for Greg Markham--"
"So, it happened last night."
"What?"
"Hell froze over. Jeeze, Janson, you need money that bad?"
Steve felt his face stiffen, all expression draining from his eyes and lips.
"I didn't see any reference in your reports to Carey Ebbe," Steve said in a cold, flat
voice. "Did you ever interview him?".
"If we had interviewed him, the report would have been in the file, wouldn't it?"
"So that's a 'no'?"
"That's a 'no.' Anything else?"
"Did you ever run him through NCIC?"
"Not as far as I remember.Anything else?"
Steve took an angry breath, then paused. Grimacing, he silently counted to three and
started again. "Okay, Simon, you don't like me, fine. That's your privilege. You think Tom
Travis is guilty, that's fine too. But I've got my doubts. And I've got my own reasons for
investigating this case, reasons that don't have anything to do with money--."
" Let me guess. Greg Markham called in his IOU. I get it."
"No, you don't. You're pissed at me for Alan Lee Fry--"
"Yeah, that must be it! A cop I thought believed in the law turns out to be a cold
blooded murderer and you think that pisses me off. I guess you figure I must be getting
grumpy in my old age." Katz's eyes glittered. "Let me tell you something, Steve. You're a
murderer, plain and simple. As far as I'm concerned you betrayed your badge, your oath,
and me. I'd lock you up in a heartbeatif I could and be glad to do it." Katz's lips drew into
a thin line and a pale pink flush crept into his cheeks.
"Your big speech about the majesty of the Law and every man deserving his day in
court is real fine, Simon," Steve spat back, "if the guy goes to court. But that cuts both
ways. The victims are entitled to their day in court too. Where was Lynn's day in court?
Tell me that! You look me in the eye and tell me that Alan Fry was ever going to face a
judge and a jury and I'll admit that whoever killed him was wrong. But you can't. Alan Fry
took the courts and judges and juries out of the equation. He's the one who put himself
outside the law and he's got no complaint when he was punished outside the law. And
neither do you."
Katz pushed his chair back as if he might leap to his feet and knock Janson on his
ass. "That's a pretty cute argument coming from a guy who's done exactly the same thing.
How about if Fry's brother hires some guy to kill you because you aren't going to court
either? Is that okay? Is that how we're going to run things from now on? Fry kills your
wife and you kill him and Fry's brother kills you and your uncle kills Fry's brother? What
do you think this is, the damn Hatfields and the McCoys? This is America. We've fought
wars over this stuff, a little something we like to call the Bill of Rights. I've spent my life
making sure that's not the way things work in this country, just like you were supposed to
do, before you pissed on your badge and your sworn oath, and on me." Katz looked
pointedly towards the door.
"I still need Carey Ebbe's rap sheet."
"I don't work for Greg Markham."
"If you'd never heard of Carey Ebbe you'd have asked me right off who he was. But
you didn't. That means you know damn well who he is and that means you checked him
out. You're too good a cop not to have checked him out. So, fine, don't give me the rap
sheet. But Greg Markham's going to ask for sanctions against you and Ted Hamilton for
holding back the paperwork. You want to get on the stand and perjure yourself about
never having heard of Ebbe, be my guest. That puts you in the same box you've got me in.
But we both know you won't lie under oath. You're still a guy who believes in the Rules.
If Markham puts you on the stand we both know you'll admit you deliberately left Ebbe's
paperwork out of the files you turned over to defense counsel, and you can't do that. So
give me the fucking rap sheet."
"And I used to think you were a stand-up guy," Katz said, shaking his head.
"I could say the same thing about you, Simon."
"Don't touch anything." Katz slowly got to his feet and headed for the NCIC
computer terminal in the next room.
"You're the guy who blew away Alan Fry."
Steve jerked back in surprise. Jack Furley had crept up on his rubber-soled shoes and
now stood barely three feet to Janson's right.
"Jack Furley," the detective said, extending his hand. Steve gave him a quick onceover and wondered if there wasn't some cloning factory in Bakersfield that popped out
LAPD detectives in any one of four or five basic models. Furley was the Blue-Collar-AllAmerican-Eager-Young-Go-Getter right down to the health-club flat stomach, olive tie
over a chocolate brown shirt, short-cut light brown hair, hazel eyes, broad shoulders and a
miniature handcuff tie clip.
"Steve Janson." Steve accepted Furley's grip knowing the guy was going for the
crusher shake. Each man gave the other a hard squeeze and then called a truce. Furley
pulled up a gray metal chair and turned it around, resting his hands on the curved back.
"You gonna take Katz out for an early lunch?" Furley asked with a twinkle in his eye.
"Simon's not real happy with me these days."
"Yeah, I think I heard him say something about that, once or twice. For what it's
worth, I told him to lighten up. One more asshole down the well, that's my philosophy."
"You turn him around with that argument?"
Furley laughed and drew his finger across his throat. "Fuck, I thought he was going
to take my head off."
"Duty, honor, country," Steve said.
"Yeah, that's Katz."
"You can take the man out of the Marines . . . ."
". . . But you can't take the Marines out of the man." Furley paused and then gave
Steve a clever stare not entirely camouflaged by his easy tone. "So, what brings you down
here?"
"Greg Markham's got me reviewing all the paperwork on the Travis case. Simon
accidently left out the rap sheet on Carey Ebbe."
"Carey Ebbe?"
"See, that's what Simon should have said instead of telling me what a traitor I was
for taking Travis's dirty money."
"Sorry," Furley said, still smiling, "the name doesn't ring a bell."
"You'll do real good on this job, Jack. I can tell." Furley just shrugged. "What about
the little girl, Sarah? You ever get a lead on her?"
"That depends on who you talk to. The Tip Line got four, five thousand calls. Why?
You got some fancy defense planned for Travis based on the kid?"
"That's not it," Steve snapped, the fake good humor gone from his voice.
"Yeah, so what is it?"
"I don't want to start sounding like Simon."
"Meaning?"
"Look," Steve said with sudden heat, "Travis is a jerk. He killed his wife, he didn't
kill his wife, whatever. But the kid's a different matter. If she's dead, she's dead. But if
she's not, that changes everything."
"You think you'll find her and she'll point the finger at the 'real killer'?" Furley asked
with a smirk.
"God damn it! If she's alive somebody's got to find her! Somebody's got to save her!"
Furley gave Steve a long look. "My dad was a part-time preacher, Steve. I know that
look. Damn, you're not a cold blooded killer after all. You're a Boy Scout who lost his
faith. No wonder Simon's so pissed at you. You knew better and you did it anyway."
"I thought you were glad another asshole went down the well."
"I am. That's not the point. Simon, he'd expect me to do something like that, no
surprise there. But a guy like you. Man, you're like the reverend who boinked the
babysitter. Simon figured you to know better. He's not so much mad at you as he's
disappointed in you, which is a hundred times worse for a guy like him." Furley scanned
the room then leaned forward and gave Steve a cagey stare. "You want to waste your
time looking for the little girl?"
"How much time? How sure are you that it's a waste?"
"A waste? One hundred percent.Time?" Furley shrugged. "An hour, maybe two."
"You got a snitch doing life who claims he'll tell you where the kid is if you'll just cut
him loose?"
Furley laughed. "Worse. Wooooooohhhh," he chanted raising both hands in the air
and shaking his fingers.
"Oh, crap. . . ."
Furley scribbled a name and address on scrap of paper and shoved it into Steve's shirt
pocket. "She's out in the Valley."
"Where else?"
"But she's very polite. She'll give you a cold drink and if you're very nice, maybe
she'll read your palm and chart your tea leaves as a parting gift." Furley giggled and
slapped Steve on the shoulder, then quickly backed up and frowned when he saw Katz
heading toward the desk.
"We never interviewed him," Simon said, shoving a sheaf of papers into Steve's hand.
"Here's his rap sheet."
"Thanks, Simon, I--"
"We're done, right?"
Steve stared at Katz's thin face, the frowning lips, his muddy brown eyes still
showing a spark of the fire from his youth and Steve tried to remember the younger man
who once wore Simon Katz's body. That man was still in there, Steve decided, still as
dedicated and courageous as ever, the weight of the years not withstanding. And Steve
saw bitter disappointmentflaring in Katz's eyes.
"Yeah, Simon, I guess we're done," Steve said softly then folded the papers into his
inside pocket and slipped from the room.
Chapter Twenty-Six
Steve berated himself all the way up the grade on the 405. There was enough
unfinished work on this case to keep him busy for a month and here he was wasting time
on a psychic. They always said things like: "The victim is buried under a tree near a body
of water." Great, try and find someplace without a tree near a body of water. Then, when
you eventually found the poor bastard buried in the neighbor's backyard, the psychic
pointed to the Johnson's swimming pool a block and a half away. "See," he said, "just like
I told you." Steve pounded his palm on the wheel, but kept driving. He turned left past the
Van Nuys airport and headed toward Topanga Canyon.
It was a typical Valley house, a one story ranch on a six thousand square foot lot
sheltered by a big sycamore in front, orange trees and jacaranda in back. Steve had been
building a mental image of the woman, Rebecca Minton -- five feet five, a hundred and
seventy pounds, dressed in a floral muumuu with a streak of gray running front to back
through a briar patch tangle of auburn hair. A wild glitter in her eyes. Maybe a heavy gold
and jade necklace around her throat with a silver pendant in the shape of a pyramid with
an emerald eye in the center. Why was he wasting his time? But his imagination had also
fashioned a picture of Sarah, terrified, emaciated, pleading for someone, anyone, to save
her. Well, the woman had sounded reasonably sane on the phone.
He rang the bell. A young woman, twenty five or so, blond and blue, dressed in a
white cotton blouse and jeans appeared at the door. Sister, daughter, nanny?
"Hello, I'm Steve Janson. I'm here to see Ms. Minton."
A thin smile creased the girl's lips and she held out her hand. "I'm Rebecca Minton.
Come on in."
Without pausing she lead him through the house and out to a covered patio in back.
Red climbing roses just starting to bloom formed a tapestry to Steve's right. To the left an
unfolding sea of purple bougainvillea coated a stucco wall. Two small pitchers, one of
lemonade and the other of iced tea, sweated in the center of a glass-topped table. Rebecca
waved him to the patio chair facing the roses then took the opposite seat for herself.
"I guess I'm not what you expected," she said, pouring a lemonade. "Help yourself."
Steve paused a moment then took the iced tea. "Maybe you'd be more impressed if I had
a pentagram tattooed on my forehead, a tasteful one, of course."
"I don't know what to say."
"Did you lose a bet?"
"Excuse me?"
"I may be young but I've dealt with the police enough to know how their minds
work."
"And how's that?"
"You think I'm either a crackpot who believes all her dreams are visions or I'm some
kind of crook out to scam the grieving family for as much as I can get. So, the only
possible reason you could have for coming all the way out here is because you lost a bet,
I'm guessing to Detective Furley, who by the way, is not nearly as clever as he thinks."
Janson listened to her with a strangely detached air, as if her words were the spillover from a radio in the house next door. He thought that he should have found her face
thin but instead the word 'elfin' came to mind. She was more slender than the women he
was normally attracted to but somehow her body seemed larger than its mere physical
measurements, as if it extended off into a strange dimension that balanced everything out
and made her proportions just right.
"Are you just going to sit there and stare at me?"
Steve blinked and wrenched his eyes from her face. "Sorry, I was just. . .thinking."
"I'm a psychic, not a mind reader."
"Furley's not my friend," he snapped.
"What?"
"Jack Furley and I are not friends. In fact, sending me out here was his way of giving
me a hard time. And I didn't lose a bet."
Rebecca stared at him, confused. "Then why are you here?"
"I want to find Sarah."
"You believe that I can help you?"
Steve gave his head a small shake. "No, I don't. I don't believe in psychics. Not at
all."
"Then why are you here?"
Steve shrugged. "I guess I'm hoping against hope that you'll prove me wrong."
Now it was Rebecca's turn to stare. It seemed to go on forever. "Would you like a
sandwich?" she asked finally.
"What--"
"Roast beef on white with lettuce and tomato or sliced chicken and salami on rye."
"It's only ten thirty."
"You'll take it with you." She stood and led him into the kitchen. "Sit down."
Rebecca pointed to a white enameled table on chrome pipe legs then opened an old
fashioned bread box and gave Steve a quick, penetrating glance. "Chicken and salami for
you, I think. I'll put on some sweet roasted peppers. I inherited this house from my
mother," Rebecca continued without looking up as she slathered mayonnaise on a couple
of slices of rye bread. Steve snapped his head minutely back and forth as if trying to keep
track of her disjointed monologue. "You mind bringing the drinks inside?"
When Steve returned he found her fishing soft red and yellow peppers from a jar. A
few moments later the sandwich, encased in a double layer of plastic wrap, occupied the
center of the table. Rebecca took the seat opposite Steve and fiddled with her drink.
"I guess I should tell you about Sarah," she said lowering her eyes as if embarrassed.
"That would be good."
"I don't see visions. Hallucinations are generally more a sign of psychosis or
schizophrenia than psychic powers." She gave Steve a long look but he didn't speak.
"Mostly, it happens when I'm sitting down, relaxed. I get a tingling sensation and I close
my eyes and I see a movie in my head, as if I were dreaming even though I'm not asleep. I
can't control it. I see what I see and nothing more, nothing less. I can't look around or ask
questions or make it go slower or faster. It happens as it happens and it stops when it
stops. All I can do is watch and remember. If this helps you, good. If not," Rebecca
shrugged, "I'm sorry." For an instant her eyes seemed to plead.
"Sure," Steve said automatically. "I understand. Whatever you can tell me is more
than I know now." Steve thought his response a meaningless courtesy but Rebecca
seemed relieved.
"All right, here's what I saw," Rebecca began, tilting her head back and closing her
eyes.
*
*
*
She had been covered with her favorite blue blanket, fuzzy and soft and smelling like
the ocean wind when mommy took her to the pretty beach far away but over the last few
minutes with the bumps and the thumps and her kicking her bound legs, the top of the
blanket had pulled down to just below her nose. The car was big, like mommy's car, but it
bumped and thumped and rattled in a way hers never did and everything seemed dirty and
banged around.
Sarah tried to move her hands but they were taped to her sides. She could raise her
feet but only a little bit and only both together because there was some kind of silvery tape
around them as well. She was very thirsty, but when she tried to ask for water only a tiny
muffled noise escaped the swath of silver tape across her mouth. For a very long time she
had lain there in the dark, seeing nothing, smelling the ocean in her blanket and oil and
gasoline and a wet doggy smell and sour dirt that made her want to sneeze.
Once the man had stopped and lifted up the blanket and looked at her, his face all
confused and upset as if he were having an argument with himself. Then he went around
the back and she heard clanks and bangs and a minute later he stood over her with a bent
old shovel. When she saw the shovel she thought he was going to put her in a hole
someplace and bury her alive and she started to cry. He just stood there, staring. Finally,
he glared at her and pulled the blanket over her head again and slammed the door as if she
had done something very bad. A moment later she heard the shovel clatter into the back
and then the engine started up and they drove away.
Everything stayed black and the smells got worse until she couldn't smell the ocean
any more. Once she heard muffled voices and the words "visit" and "good time" then lots
of cars and people jabbering in a language that she couldn't understand but sounded like
what Delfina talked to the gardener, and then that all gradually slipped away. The road got
worse and she bumped around a lot and lost all track of time. Finally the car stopped and
the light through the windows dimmed as if they were inside a building. A few minutes
later she heard voices, muffled but becoming clearer. Suddenly the door opened and her
blanket was pulled away.
"We have a deal?" the man asked.
Another man with shinny black hair and little holes all over his leather-colored skin
stared at her as if looking at an animal in the zoo. He reached down and ripped the tape
from her face and she began to cry.
"You sure she's not infirma . . . sick?"
"One hundred percent perfect health."
"Because my customers don't want no sick kids. They don't want nobody palming
off some kid with AIDS or a bad heart or something on them. A-Number One quality is
what they're paying me for."
"Don't worry, Jorge, she's perfect, I guaranteeit."
"You better.I don't take no broken merchandise."
Jorge studied her for a moment then closed the door. "Okay, I take her," he said, his
voice muffled by the closed door.
"She can't be tied back to me."
"You know what the Policia will do to me if they catch me? I don't know you. You don't
know me."
"Right."
There was sudden muffled CLICK . "You open your mouth, it's the last time. I have
amigos in LA. Cut you into pieces if you open your mouth."
"Put it away. We're both screwed if anyone finds out. Now, you gonna pay me or
what?"
There was a pause then another, softer, metallic click. "I get your money." The side
of the car boomed as a palm slapped the sheet metal. "You get rid of this, right?"
"Right."
The door opened and a pair of leather-colored hands reached for her and she started
to scream.
*
*
*
Rebecca opened her eyes and unconsciously rubbed her cheek. "That's all I saw."
"No street names or building or signs?"
"Just what I told you."
"How about a sound, like a train or a factory or--"
"I told you everything. I only see what I see, hear what I hear, nothing else."
Steve tapped his fingers on the chipped enamel and gave a little sigh. "But she's
alive?"
"She was alive. If that was Mexico and that man was going to sell her, who would he
sell her to? A pedophile, a--"
"No. A pervert wouldn't care if she was healthy or not. He'd use her for awhile then
kill her so she couldn't identify him. People who want healthy kids are thinking long term."
"He's going to sell her to someone who wants to adopt but can't?"
"Someone who has money. My guess, it's somebody around here, L.A., San Diego,
maybe Tucson or Phoenix or Vegas, someplace he can drive to. Airports have too much
security." Steve played with his empty glass, lost in thought. "Did you notice any logo or
model name in the car?"
"I don't know if it was a car or an SUV or a van. I didn't see anything that could
identify it. It felt big, bigger than a normal car. I think it was a van or an SUV but I can't
be sure."
"What about the Mexican guy, Jorge? Could you work with a sketch artist to draw a
picture of him?"
so."
Rebecca closed her eyes for a long breath then opened them and nodded. "I think
"What about the driver?"
"He's kind of a blur."
"But you said he looked at you, stared at you while he was trying to decide what to
do. That he looked angry."
"He did but . . . it's like in a dream when you pick up a book or a newspaper or
something. You know it's a newspaper but when you try to look at it, you can't read it.
You try and you try but somehow the words just go out of focus and slip away. His face is
like that. It just . . . slips away."
"So, it could be anybody."
Rebecca's face subtly changed displaying an emotion that Janson could not identify.
"What?"
"Like I said, I can't tell you who the driver was . . . ."
"But?"
"But, I can tell you who it wasn't." She paused for a instant then stared into his eyes.
"It wasn't Tom Travis."
"Are you sure?" Rebecca gave him a little nod. "How do you know?"
"I don't know!" Rebecca flapped her hands in frustration. "I just know it wasn't him.
This man was younger, his voice was different, his hair was different. He was mean, deep
down angry and corrupt."
"How do you know Tom Travis isn't evil and corrupt?"
Rebecca suddenly seemed on the verge of tears. "I don't know! . . . Look, I told you
that I just know some things. I don't know how I know them. I can't control it. I just know
that this person was younger than Tom Travis, that it wasn't Travis."
"You said his hair and his voice were different.In what way?"
Rebecca started to speak then looked away, took a breath, and closed her eyes. "His
hair was thick. There was no gray in it. And his voice was, I don't know, just different. In
his movies Travis has that sort of gravelly undertone when he speaks." Rebecca paused
then shook her head. "That's it. All the rest's a blur. I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry!" Steve snapped, then continued in a softer tone, "I appreciate your
help."
"It wasn't much help. I don't have any clues to where she is or who kidnapped her."
"At least I know it wasn't Tom Travis."
"But that doesn't help you, in court, I mean. My . . . vision isn't evidence."
"No, but it helps me."
"You believe me, then?" Rebecca asked with a note of hope in her voice.
"Yes," Steve said, not sure why. Maybe he just wanted to believer her. He looked
around the room. A bumble bee droned just outside the screen door. "Well. . . ." He stood
and clasped her hand in both of his. "Thanks."
"Don't forget your sandwich." She shoved the plastic wrapped package into his
hands.
"Thanks. I'll eat it when I get back to my place."
She walked him to the front door. Outside a mild breeze rustled the greening
sycamore and Steve smelled orange blossoms on the wind.
"If I think of anything else. . . ."
"And maybe I can call you, sometime, just to talk. Maybe something will, you know,
come to you."
Smiling, shyly, Steve thought, she closed the door.
Chapter Twenty-Seven
Carey Ebbe studied the Escort's front left brake assembly with sour disdain. Son of a
bitch calipers were half locked up with rust and mud and sand. What did the guy do, drive
it through a couple of feet of salt water for ten or twenty miles? Where the hell was his
rubber mallet? He'd break the fucker loose or break it off, one or the other.
Out of the corner of his eye he noticed a big guy come in and start talking to
Romero. The guy was about six three and in pretty good shape, dressed in slacks, an open
collar blue shirt and dark gray sport coat. Tool salesman? Insurance agent? Carey didn't
recognize him as a customer. Turning back to the Escort he lifted the mallet and
whammed it against the frozen caliper. It made a thunk noise and bounced off. Fucker!
Carey slammed it down again and thought he felt the slightest bit of give. Then his back
tingled and he took a quick glance over his shoulder. Romero was still talking to the big
guy and then pointing at him.
Carey did a quick mental check of any unpleasant business that might be trailing him.
A couple of speeding tickets and a reckless driving charge he had dodged, but this guy
wasn't a cop, and besides cops in plain clothes didn't come after you for traffic tickets.
He'd clocked some guy outside of the Brass Penguin, what, a month ago? Naw, they'd
both walked away dripping a little blood. 'Mutual altercation' the cops called it. Could
Jenny have tracked him down? Was this about child support for her brat? No, she didn't
know where he was and if she did the first thing she'd have done was garnish his wages,
real quick like, before he could skip out and get a job under another name.
Two handed he pounded the caliper. This time he definitely could feel it give. Behind
him he sensed the big guy's approach. Run or play it out? Shit, maybe it was nothing. He
got ready to smack the thing again.
"Excuse me, Mr. Ebbe?"
Mr. Ebbe? At least the guy was starting out polite. That was probably a good sign.
"Yeah, who are you?"
"Steve Janson. I'm investigating the Marian Travis murder. Can I talk to you for a
minute?"
"You got a badge?"
"No, I'm working for the lawyers. Would you prefer to talk with a cop? I can ask
Detective Katz to invite you down to Robbery-Homicide if you like. Of course, you'd miss
half a day's work."
Carey lifted the mallet and turned back to the Escort. "What do you want to know?"
Thump.
"Where were you the day she disappeared?"
Thump. "When was that?"
"New Year's Eve day year before last."
"I don't remember." Thump.
Suddenly the mallet was yanked from his hand and Carey stumbled back against the
fender.
"Hey, you could've--"
"I could have broken your fucking neck." Janson held the mallet even with his waist.
"I still can." Carey gave him a mean glare which Janson ignored. "I've treated you politely
but I guess you're one of those guys that doesn't work with, so we can go another way if
you want."
Carey stared at the mallet for a second then seemed to subtly slump. "My boss don't
like me missing work. I'm on the clock here."
"Then answer my questions and I'll leave."
"I've got work--"
"Your boss can't fire me, only you. So, how long do you want to play this game
because I've got all day." Slap, the rubber hammer head slapped against Steve's palm.
Carey stared at it then at Steve and figured he meant it.
"When was that again?"
"New Year's Eve day, year before last."
"How am I supposed to remember that?"
"It doesn't matter how who you are, rich or poor, everybody remembers what they
did on Christmas and New Years so stop stalling."
"New Year's day, year before last," Carey mumbled as if the concept was just too
complicated to grasp all at once. "Yeah, okay, now I remember.I was in Mexico."
"Where in Mexico?" Janson demanded. Carey could see interest flaring in his eyes.
"Where to you think? TJ."
"Tia Juana? What were you doing there?"
"Drinking and chasing whores like everybody else."
"At ten in the morning?"
"I wasn't even awake at ten in the morning," Carey said, snorting a laugh.
"Take me through your day."
Carey took another quick look at the rubber mallet and then at the office where
Romero was giving him the evil eye, and shrugged.
"Okay, I woke up about, I don't know, ten thirty, eleven. I hit the Fat Burger for
lunch then Phil Pentacoli and me, that's Phil over there," Carey pointed at the thin,
hatchet- faced man two bays down, "hooked up. We kinda drove around then decided to
go to TJ. We got there about seven, got some dinner then partied til midnight. Then we
banged a couple of hookers to celebrate the new year, drank some more and went to sleep
in Phil's van. He's got a couple of air mattresses in there." Carey barked a laugh. "Phil
woke me up about four in the morning, puking his guts out then he grabbed my shirt to
wipe his face. We got back here around noon, New Year's day."
"And Phil will confirm this?"
"Go ask him," Carey sneered.
"He's your buddy. He'll say anything you want him to."
"Hah! We ain't buddies no more."
"Why's that?"
"Why's that? Because I punched his fucking lights out for getting his shit all over my
shirt. Almost broke his fucking nose, damn pansy." Carey reached out and grabbed the
mallet. "If you're done breaking my balls, I've got work to do. Go over there and bother
Phil, Hot Shot."
Ebbe turned his back on Steve and began to wiggle the caliper on the Escort. Steve
studied his back for a moment then headed for Phil Pentacoli. It only took two minutes to
confirm Ebbe's alibi. Pentacoli was no friend. "Son of a bitch half broke my nose!" he
complained bitterly.
Steve mentally crossed Kaitlen's old boyfriend off his list of suspects. Another dead
end. As he left the shop he heard a loud thump-clang.
"Got you, you son of a bitch," Ebbe shouted behind him.
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Steve made one more stop before heading home, Riley Fontaine's record store. For
about half a minute a solitary customer roamed the aisles then, shaking his head at
Fontaine's astronomic prices, shuffled out the door. Steve immediately headed for the
counter. For about thirty seconds Fontaine feigned memory failure before a vision of
Sarah tied up in a closet someplace overwhelmed Steve. An instant later Fontaine found
his head being ground into the back wall.
"All right, all right!" Riley croaked.
Steve shoved a pen and a notebook into his hands. "Start writing the names of your
sister's girlfriends."
In a scribbled, half printing, half sloppy longhand, Fontaine scratched out a list of five
names and cities of residence with a few cryptic descriptions, 'girl friend from woman's
shelter charity'; 'old college roommate'; 'grew up together as kids' and the like.
With an angry flourish he shoved the pad into Steve's hands. "You're a degenerate,
you know that?" Riley rubbed the edge of his neck where Steve had half-strangled him.
"If you had kept your promise you'd have no reason to complain."
"You lied to me. I checked you out. You're no cop. You're were asking me to help
the guy who killed my sister."
"No, I asked you to help the guy who's accused of killing your sister, which is a
whole different thing." Why am I wasting my time? Steve asked himself and turned away.
"How long do you think you can keep doing this?"
"Until the trial's over," Steve said, not looking back.
"I mean beating up anyone who gets in your way."
Steve paused and shot Fontaine a quizzical glance.
"It's karma man. What goes around comes around."
"You should go on Doctor Phil." Steve took a step toward the counter and Riley
flinched.
"Your skull, man, it's like a bag of worms, all slithering around and pounding on the
inside of your head. I can see them man, every time I look into your eyes." Steve took
another step forward. "That's why I didn't give you the list, if you want do know the truth,
because I knew you were all fucked up inside, just struggling every day to keep the top of
your head from blowing off."
"If I'm as violent as you think, saying something like that could get you into serious
trouble."
Riley retreated a step until his back was pressed against the wall. "There's no love in
your heart man, just a crazy vacuum inside there. I don't want anything to do with you."
His face clouding with barely repressed rage, Steve leaned over the counter. "You
got your list man," Riley whined, "so get the hell out of my place before I call the cops."
For a heartbeat all Steve could think about was pounding the smirk off Fontaine's
face and then erasing the kid's accusations with a half a dozen shots of Scotland's finest.
As Steve gauged the distance to Riley's head, the height of the counter, the reach of his
fist, his brain seemed to fill with a hissing black squall that drowned out all rational
thought, and all he could think about was the last time he had heard that black moaning
inside his skull. It was the day he had killed Alan Lee Fry.
Suddenly, Steve's vision cleared and he noticed Riley Fontaine the way a hiker spots
a spider sitting on his arm. All of a sudden Fontaine was just there, his t-shirt clamped in
Steve's fist. Riley had leaned as far as he could away from the madman on the other side of
the counter. Steve blinked and noticed his left fist pulled back, ready to strike. For a long
second he stared into Fontaine's terrified eyes then released him and headed for the door.
Chapter Twenty-Nine
A pale, flat-faced deputy escorted Travis into the lawyer's conference room. Tom
seemed almost a stick figure in his floppy orange jumpsuit as if the prison were slowly
leaching the flesh from his bones.
"Can you remove those please?" Steve asked, pointing to the manacles that tethered
Travis's wrists to his waist.
"Sorry," the guard said in a bored tone. He didn't sound sorry at all.
"I'd like some privacy, please."
"Rules are that we keep the prisoner under observation at all times."
"You can observe him through the window."
For a couple of seconds Steve and the deputy stared at each other then the guard
sourly positioned himself on the far side of the door. The room was cement all around and
contained only a small steel table and two steel chairs bolted to the concrete floor, an
environment as inviting as a keg of nails.
"They giving you a hard time?" Steve asked nodding at the guard's doughy face
peering through the Plexiglas.
"He's just doing his job."
That guard hates your guts, Steve wanted to scream, but didn't.
"Tom, some things have come up--"
"It was her drug dealing brother, wasn't it? It's just the sort of thing a coked-out loser
would do. Shit, if he had just waited, Kaitlen and I--"
"Tom, hold on. One step at a time."
"Yeah, sorry." Travis gave Steve a tight smile and bit his lip.
It's finally starting to sink in, Steve thought. He's finally starting to get it that he's
heading over the cliff and the cavalry isn't going to show up to save him.
"Tom, you can't hold anything back, nothing. I need to know who might have
wanted to hurt you or Marian."
Travis shrugged. "You tell me. After all the time you've spent on this haven't you
found anything?" he complained.
You really do know how to piss off people, don't you Tom, Steve thought, biting his
tongue.
"I talked to Ms. Berdue and she gave me her ex-boyfriend's name. He's got a solid
alibi. I talked to her brother and he was in jail at the time. I've just gotten the names of
Marian's friends and I'm going to see if she said anything to any of them about somebody
stalking her. . . ."
"Don't waste your time," Travis broke in.
"Not necessarily. It could have been someone she knew from one of her charities,
some man who became obsessed with her, a. . . ."
"Steve, I appreciate your thoroughness, really, but you're barking up the wrong tree
there. Marian didn't have any enemies. My money's on Kaitlen's scumbag brother. Sure,
maybe he was in jail but he had plenty of friends who were capable of something like this.
Maybe he was trying to sound like a big man, tells his buddies his sister is dating Tom
Travis and they start to see dollar signs. Maybe it started out as burglary and Marian
walked in on them--"
"If it was a burglary, why didn't they take something, paintings, silver, electronics,
the Escalade? That doesn't fit."
"Fine, maybe it started out as a kidnapping. They figured I'd be good for a couple of
million in ransom." Tom tried to point his finger but the chain to his waist held him back.
"If it had been a kidnapping they would have tried to get some money out of it, for
Sarah if not for Marian."
Travis shook his head. "Not if they had killed Marian accidentally and panicked.
Something happens, she hits her head, suddenly they--"
"Steve, she was strangled with an electric cord. That wasn't an accident."
"Okay, there are two of them. One guy goes to check out the house and the other
one goes nuts on her. The first guy comes back, finds the second guy standing over her
body, they panic . . . That's what happened in Blue Steel Justice. I played this homicide
detective and--"
"For Christ's sake, stop it!"
"Hey, I was just--"
"This wasn't a burglary gone bad. It wasn't a kidnapping gone bad. It wasn't one of
your movies come to life. Not one fucking person in the world believes that. If Greg tries
to tell the jury that the burglar did it, they'll laugh him out of court. Jesus!"
"Okay, okay--"
"Tom, please God, listen to me. They're going to hang your ass. That jury hates you.
The public hates you. The judge hates you. They can't wait to put a needle in your arm.
Fuck! I'm trying to save your life here and you're giving me God damn movie plots!"
Travis went ash white and Steve forced himself to stop shouting then counted to five.
"Does that include you, Steve? Do you hate me too?" There was no anger in Travis's
question, just a quiet inquiry, like some pathetic husband asking his fleeing spouse, "Don't
you love me any more?"
The poor son of a bitch was pitiful, pale skinny arms poking out of oversized orange
pajamas, thinning hair, gray at the roots, chained up hand and foot.
"Steve, I don't hate you. I don't think you did it. I believe you're innocent. But--"
"You mean that? You really believe me?" If Travis had only been a good enough
actor to fake that tremor in his voice, the sad quiver at the corner of his lips, he'd have
won an Academy Award by now.
"I'm absolutely certain, Tom, that you didn't have anything to do with Marian's death,
but what I think doesn't matter."
"It matters to me."
"But not to the jury." Steve began to pace around the room. "You've got to level
with me."
"I have! I've told you everything I know about this."
"Then tell me, who wanted to hurt you enough to kill your wife and pin it on you!"
Travis just shook his head and slumped in his chair as if anyone ever seriously
disliking him was a concept he found impossible to comprehend.
Shit!
"Okay, let's try something else. I understand that you talked to some guys on the
crew about going out with you on your dune buggy. Who were they?"
Travis just shook his head.
"Steve?"
"It was thirty seconds almost a year and a half ago. I don't even remember
mentioning it to anybody, leastwise what their names are. I went alone so what does it
matter anyway?"
Steve took another breath and tried again. "Somebody told me you had a stuntman
friend. Maybe he knows something that might help."
"Nope. No way," Tom insisted.
"Still, I should give him a call. . . ." Steve's voice drifted to a stop in the face of the
insistent shaking of Travis's head.
"Just let me have his name anyway. You never know when--"
"That's a dead end. I cut my ties to my old crowd when I married Marian. You don't
have enough time left to waste any of it raking up ancient history." Travis paused then
looked up, embarrassed. "Look, you know about my anger management problems. Well,
most of them had something to do with booze. You get in with a group of guys and you
get into a pattern, not a good one, and stuff happens, a lot of stuff I don't want dragged
back into the papers. You start talking to people about the old days, that will give them
ideas. The next thing they'll do is call the tabloids and try to sell them some dirt. All that's
going to do is make me look worse.
"I made the decision when Marion and I tied the knot that I was going to clean up
my act and to do that I had to cut some people loose. And I did, so. . . ." Travis held up
his hands to the limit of the chain. "I mean, we don't have a lot of time left here. You've
got to stick with the leads that have a shot at going someplace, not wasting your time
digging up stuff that happened years ago, right?"
Steve wanted to argue but Travis's flinty expression stopped him. For whatever
reason Tom wasn't going to talk about his failed friendship with some stuntman and when
it came right down to it, what did it matter? If he hadn't seen the guy since his wedding it
didn't sound like his ex-friend would have anything worthwhile to add to the case. Travis
was a vain man. Maybe the ex-friend knew something from some movie set years ago that
made Tom look like a pansy and Travis was holding back because his ego was too fragile
for him to handle Steve hearing the story.
"Okay, Tom, I'll move on. I talked to Bobby Berdue." Travis's face twisted into a
frown. "He said that you asked him for a connection to somebody who could get you
prescription drugs and that he hooked you up."
"Yeah, right!" Travis snorted. "Like I need some gangbanger to get me a bag of
Lipitor."
"So, he's lying?"
"You really think I need to get legal drugs from Bobby Berdue?"
"You see the problem I've got, Tom, is that you didn't answer my question. Listen,
guy, this is your life here. I'm not writing your biography. I'm trying to keep you off Death
Row. For Christ's sake, stop bullshitting me!"
Travis's frown deepened and he looked away. Ten seconds passed. Finally, he looked
up. "This can't get out."
"Shit, Tom, nothing you tell me will make you look half as bad as being found guilty
of murdering your pregnant wife."
"Yeah, okay."
"Okay, what?"
"Okay, I bought some speed."
"And?'
"And nothing. You get past forty and your energy level drops but you gotta keep
going -- meetings, reading scripts, staying up all night to learn your lines, and I still do a
lot of my own stunts, always have. People expect it of me. I just needed something to
keep me going. You start to look old and tired in this town and they'll eat you alive. So,
okay, I bought some speed and I used it for a while but it started to make me crazy and I
stopped, cold turkey. End of story. It's got nothing to do with anything."
"You bought it from Bobby Berdue?"
Travis gave his head a little shake. "I didn't want it getting back to Kaitlen. I made
her a promise to stay clean and sober. I told the kid I needed some prescription drugs so
that if it got back to Kaitlen it wouldn't sound so bad. I told him that I wanted them on the
outside so some clerk couldn't sell my medical records to the tabloids. Once the kid
hooked me up, I bought some speed."
"From whom?"
"From whom? Big Frank in the third alley on the left. Jesus, how the hell would I
know? The kid gave me a number. I called it and left a message. I got a call back, 'Meet
me in the park' or something. I show up, give the guy a couple of Ben Franklins and he
slips me a paper bag, bing bang, he's gone, I'm gone. We didn't exchange resumes."
"You paid him the full amount? You didn't hold back--"
"Hold back? Shit, you think I'm retarded or something? Those guys would cut your
throat for looking at them the wrong way. I paid him. He gave me the stuff. He left. I left.
We never saw each other again. Like I said, end of story."
Steve paced around the table then looked down at Travis's worried face, his sincere
eyes, and he didn't believe a word of it. Travis was hiding something. Tom looked back,
politely waiting for Steve's next question. Whatever it was, Travis had decided that it had
nothing to do with Marian's murder and that he wasn't going to admit a thing.
"Tom, you're not giving me much to work with here."
"I can't tell you what I don't know."
"So, I guess that's it then."
Travis gave another of his abbreviated shrugs.
"I'll let you know what I find out." Steve waved to the deputy who patted Travis
down before leading him to the door.
"Steve, you're gonna find something, right? You're gonna get me out of here?"
Travis pleaded over his shoulder as the guard led him away.
"Sure, Tom, I'll find something," Steve called back, not believing a word of it.
When he entered the plaza outside and felt the sunlight on his face, it was as if a set
of shackles had been removed returning him to the company of free men. And then he saw
the Beast.
Chapter Thirty
Today her outfit was pink, from a ridiculous little pink pillbox hat to a pair of shinny
pink high heels. It only made her look more monstrous, like dressing Frankenstein in a
tuxedo. Steve looked away and kept on walking but it did no good. The Beast zeroed in
on him like a guided missile.
"You talked to my client," Margo said in a voice with an edge sharp enough to cut
bone.
"We've already had this conversation."
"I usually don't have to repeat myself."
Steve increased his pace. Margo's heels clip-clopped beside him as she broke into a
jog to keep up. "You're only making things worse."
Steve glanced over his shoulder and the sheer meanness twisting her face brought
him almost to a halt.
"I'm a busy man. Say what you've got to say and then get lost."
"I'm not having you ruin Kaitlen's reputation. I won't allow it."
"Threat noted. Anything else?"
"You don't believe me, okay. Maybe you think that just because I'm a woman--"
"Are you sure?"
"About what?"
"That you're a woman. Has anybody run a chromosome test?"
"You son of a bitch," Margo whispered, leaning close, her lips twisted into an evil
smile, "when I get through with you--"
"Yeah, I heard the threats last time. Do you have anything specific to say or are we
done?"
"Stay away from Kaitlen Berdue."
"At the present time I have no more questions for her."
"And stay away from her friends, her job, her--"
"Ex-boyfriend, Carey Ebbe?" Margo's eyes widened then snapped back. "Didn't think
I knew about him, did you? Before you threaten me again, I've already talked to him. He's
got an alibi for the day of the murder, which exhausts my current interest in your client. Of
course, something new might come up. Brother Bobby was in the San Diego jail at the
time but he's got some very unsavory friends. Meth dealing biker gangs are capable of
almost anything, including murdering a pregnant woman.
"Of course, they'd need a motive. If Bobby owed them money and they figured that
with Marian out of the way, Travis would marry Kaitlen and that would put some cash
into Bobby's pocket. . . . Or maybe Bobby set the whole thing up and got himself locked
up just so he'd have an alibi, then Travis was arrested and that ruined the whole scheme.
Not much of a plan, I admit, but nobody said Bobby was a genius. What do you think?
Does that sound like a possibility to you?"
"That sounds like an alcohol induced delusion that nobody's going to believe."
"Yeah, you're probably right. I'd need some evidence to make something like that
stick. I guess I'd better get busy. Like I said, if I have any more questions for Kaitlen, I'll
give her a call."
"Over my dead body." If only, Steve thought but kept his mouth shut. "If the tabloids
mention one word about Bobby Berdue or Carey Ebbe, I'm coming after you."
"You mean if they figure out that Bobby's a drug dealer or that Carey's got a child
support warrant out after him? Right now I've got no motive to call to the tabloids. My
suggestion is that you keep it that way."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You know what it means. I don't want to see your smiling face again. Ever. Who
knows, maybe we'll both get what we want. Are we done now?"
"Remember what I said," Margo warned before turning away.
"Wait, there is one more thing."
"What's that?"
"Kaitlen Berdue is a sweet girl. I like her. I wouldn't want anything unpleasant to
happen to her. I'd take something like that really badly."
"I don't get your meaning."
"If you lay one manicured little claw on her on her creamy skin, we're going to find
out between the two of us who the real Beast is."
Margo's face went from white to red, passing through an in-between shade of pink
that almost matched her hat. For a moment Steve wondered if her head might explode,
then he paused and his face went slack as if a switch had been tripped. Without wanting
to, the thought of an exploding head triggered Janson's memories of the last time he had
seen Alan Lee Fry.
*
*
*
Steve barely noticed the airport or the flight to Cuba or anything else once he'd
conned Katz's old partner, Ben Olivera, into giving him Fry's address in Havana.
"You're not gonna do anything stupid, are you Steve?" Olivera asked in that quiet,
laid-back voice he used when he got a suspect in the Box.
"You're not gonna lie to me, are you, Miguel?" Olivera would begin. "I've treated
you like a man, haven't I? I've treated you with respect, right? So, you're not going to
insult me by lying to me, right?"
And half the time the gang-banger or wife-beater or general drunken, coked-up mope
would nod and look Ben in his friendly brown eyes and tell him that he hadn't meant to do
it but one thing just sort of led to another until everything turned to shit, just like the rest
of his life. Then Ben would smile and thank him for treating him with respect and not lying
to him and ask him, politely, if he'd like a Coke or a bag of chips or something. As soon as
he was out of the room, Olivera would write down the guy's confession, word for word,
and seal his fate.
Steve gave Ben a smile and said, "No way" with as much conviction as he could
muster. "I'm just going to hire an off-duty cop down there to keep an eye on the guy. I'm
betting he'll get tired of Havana sooner or later and try to slip back into the states under
another name. I just want to be sure that the Feds are waiting for him at the airport when
he does."
Ben gave Steve another of his grand-fatherly smiles and a little nod and slid the scrap
of paper across the desk. "Anybody asks, you got this out of the file," Olivera slapped the
four inch thick mound of paper with the flat of his hand, "while I was in the can."
Steve nodded and slipped the note into his pocket without even looking at it, then
forced himself to sit there shooting the shit with Olivera for another ten minutes before
heading for the door. It was just his bad luck that he passed Simon Katz on the way to the
elevator. Steve knew that he had no time to waste. Simon was going to ask Olivera what
Steve was doing there. The guy was more terrier than pitbull but he was going to keep
after his partner until he got an answer.
Steve had no illusions. Olivera would give him two or three days, tops, then he'd
admit to Katz that he had left Steve alone with the Headless Killer file sitting right there
on the desk. Katz would try to track Steve down and when he couldn't find him Katz
would call the Havana police. Simon couldn't help himself. The Law, the idea of the Law,
was as sacred to Katz as his wedding vows or the oath he took thirty-five years before
when he joined the Marines and swore to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution
and laws of the United States with his very life.
The only notice Steve took of Havana were indirect glimpses interspersed with
meaningless details that clung to his brain like houndstooth and ragweed. The airport was
crowded and echoed with a polyglot of voices. The humid air stank of humanity and
strange spices. The cab driver, a compact brown-skinned man with a short, thick neck and
ebony hair curling at the ends, cursed and pounded the wheel as he shoved the Toyota
Tercel through a river of ancient steel, maneuvering as if by brute strength alone.
The traffic was a strange mixture of Tercels, Audis and Daewoos intermixed with
1953 Chevys, '56 Fords, Plymouths, DeSotos, a '49 Mercury, all lovingly cared for.
"You speak English?" Steve asked when the horns and shouts had declined to a
background clamor.
"A little."
"Cities," Steve waved his hand around, "can be dangerous. Dangerous. Peligro."
"Yes," the driver agreed, "dangerous."
"I would like to buy a gun, pistola, for protection."
"Pistola?"
"Yes." Steve bent his fingers into the shape of a gun and snapped his thumb back and
forth. "Bang, Bang."
The driver studied Steve carefully in the mirror.
"Can you help me, ayudame con pistola?" Steve held out five one-hundred dollar
bills. The driver eyed the money longingly. Steve added another hundred to the pile and
they almost crashed into a '55 Dodge. A seventh bill joined the stack. Steve waited for five
seconds, then began to put the money back into his pocket.
"Okay," the driver said and turned onto a side street and parked.
"My name is Juan," Steve said, tapping his chest.
"Jaime," the driver replied. Nervously he eyed the bills. "La Policia. . . ." he began
and looked around. Steve showed him his U.S. passport but covered his name with his
thumb.
"Secreto," Steve said.
"Secreto," Jaime agreed, then stared hard at Steve. "Tu no sabes mi. Yo no sabo tu."
"Yes, Si," Steve agreed.
Jaime studied the passport again. A flick of his tongue caressed his suddenly dry lips.
"Okay," he said, reaching for the money.
"El dinero por la pistola."
Jaime bit his lip then nodded and pulled away from the curb.
A few minutes later they parked outside a bar and the driver left Steve in the car. Ten
minutes later Jaime returned with a paper bag which he placed on the floor in front of the
passenger seat, then tore off again, eventually pulling into the parking lot behind the
ancient Hotel Sevilla on Calle Trocadero. Looking around carefully he passed back the
bag but retained the clip.
It was a model 1911 Colt .45, big and heavy and awkward and with as much subtlety
as a chainsaw. Steve thought it was perfect. He handed over the Ben Franklins which
immediately disappeared into Jaime's underwear. After Steve left the cab, the driver
slipped him the clip. Steve surreptitiously stuck the gun into his belt at the small of his
back and waited for the cab to disappear, then he walked over to the Hotel Telegrafo on
the Prado a few blocks away.
After checking-in he took a nap and then a cold shower to jar him to consciousness.
He was too nervous to be hungry but he forced himself to eat anyway, as much to kill time
as anything else. First, he decided, he'd check out Fry's place. Steve figured it would be all
gates and locks and guards. He might have to watch him for a couple of days before
he . . . before he did what he came there to do. He didn't let the phrase 'kill him' pass
through his mind.
He had arranged with the hotel to rent an Audi and it was the work of a few minutes
to pick up the paperwork at the Telegrafo's Guest Services desk. It was after ten and the
city was jumping, jammed with Germans, Poles, Brits and Canadians all taking advantage
of the great weather, friendly locals, and bargain prices. In Old Havana the sidewalks were
thronged and cars danced through the glowing blue smog like chorus girls in a basement
cabaret. The restaurants were busy, the fancy places filled with tuxedoed waiters, young
men in pale silk suits, gorgeous women sparking in sequined sheaths of ruby and emerald.
The neighborhood bistros were equally crowded, candles and cigarettes flaring like
glowbugs in the dark, but in the Miramar District the wide, plane-tree shaded streets were
subdued.
A few couples glided through the shadows while dark windowed Audi's and BMWs
whispered past, headed for the clubs and restaurants on Calle 23. Fry's building, a four
story white stucco apartment house, stood at the end of the block. An eight foot high
black iron fence circled the property. Within its confines was a swimming pool and a
garden of palms and boxwood and hedges of flowering rosemary and yellow and red
lantana. Each floor housed two luxury apartments with balconies on the upper floors. Fry's
place was on the third floor, facing the pool. A yellow radiance poured through the patio
door and in the balcony's shadows the stub of a single cigarette pulsed with an orange
glow.
Steve waited until an elderly couple turned the corner then he slipped into the
entranceway. A numeric keypad flanked the steel-latticed glass door. Inside the lobby a
guard in a gray uniform watched a mini-DVD player, occasionally pausing to glance at the
elevator. Steve ducked to one side and gave the door a closer look. The frame around the
glass was steel, inset with a Yale deadbolt lock. So, the first question was, did the tenants
need both a code and a key or either a code or a key?
He caught a flicker of movement and scuttled back to the street a second before the
guard peered through the glass. Steve walked casually back to the car and killed a couple
of hours before returning around one a.m. He had barely parked when a young couple got
out of a cab and headed for the lobby. Steve pulled out a miniature telescope and focused
it on the entryway. Too fast for Steve's eyes to follow the man punched in a four digit
code and pushed through the door. Okay, then, you needed either a code or a key, but not
both.
Steve crouched in the Audi for another twenty minutes then crept up to the building.
The guard was tilted back in his chair, drowsing if not fully asleep. During his two hour
break Steve had located a drug store. Glancing over his shoulder, he pulled out a plastic
bottle of talcum powder and puffed a white cloud over the pad. After another quick check
on the guard Steve blew on the keys as if he were making a birthday wish. The four most
frosted numbers were 2-6-7-9, that meant twenty four possible four-digit combinations.
Now for the big question, did the door make a sound when any combination was pressed
or only when the right one was entered? Half holding his breath, he tapped in 2679. A
small LED at the corner of the pad flashed red three times, then went dark. Steve peeked
through the window. The guard was still tilted back in his chair.
Okay, next would be 2697 then 2769 then 2796 and finally 2967 and 2976 at which
point all the codes beginning with '2' would be exhausted. He got all the way to 6972
before the green LED glowed and the lock began its electric imitation of cricket. The
guard snapped awake and stared at the door. Steve was already halfway to the sidewalk.
Half an hour later he was back in his room at the hotel and still trying to figure out how he
was going to do this thing.
It had seemed simple back in L.A. as complicated things often do from a distance.
Monster kills your wife and flees the country. Follow him and kill him then come home.
Simple. But real life's messy and inconvenient details had started to get in the way. What
did Fry do with his days and nights? Where did he go? Who did he see? Should he kill Fry
secretly in the dead of night? Maybe he should rent a van, hide in the back and jump out
when Fry returned home or left. Shoot him down in the street like a mad dog? On the way
into the building or on the way out? Or, Steve, wondered, maybe he should sneak into the
building when Fry was away, knock out the guard, use the doorman's key to let himself
into Fry's room and then shoot the bastard as he came through his own front door. Steve
knew he couldn't keep coming back to that neighborhood, that was for sure. But he
thought he could risk it one more time.
Around eight the next morning he parked just out of view of the front door. A few
cars exited the underground garage and a few more drove past, none of them paying much
attention to him. On the way there a quick stop at a local garage had added a small
crowbar to his supplies. Dressed in a dark gray suit, white shirt and gray tie at least Steve
looked like he belonged in this neighborhood. At about twenty after eight the front door
slammed open and a chunky black-haired woman in a red and blue print dress stormed
down the walk. Shouting, the guard boiled out of the lobby half a second behind her. She
paused only long enough to scream some insult at him and then flounce away. The guard
broke into a run and, with a worried glance over her shoulder, she took off a few paces
ahead of him.
Without thinking, Steve slipped the crowbar up his sleeve and headed from the door.
His fingers sweating, he punched in 6972 and slipped inside. The elevator dinged and he
flattened himself against the wall. A maid sauntered out, a net shopping bag in her hand.
Steve slipped into the empty elevator just before the doors closed then hit the button for
the third floor.
The doors opened onto a small foyer. To the left was a door marked "3A" and to the
right "3B." Fry lived in 3B. For two long seconds Steve stood rooted then the elevator
trembled and he ducked past the closing doors. For another second he listened but heard
nothing. Shit! He slipped the crowbar into his hand. The apartment door was locked.
Behind him the elevator whined. Leaning his shoulder against the door, Steve slipped the
tip into the slight gap. Now it was a matter of leverage. The wood made a little crunching
sound and the space widened. He shoved the tip in deeper and pulled. More crunching
sounds then a sharp PING immediately followed by the echo of metal clattering across
ceramic tile. Steve shoved the bar in all the way and gave it hard, fast pull. The panel
resisted for half a second then something snapped and pieces of wood and screws broke
loose. The door swung open on silent hinges. Steve hurried inside and pushed the door
closed. Unless someone gave it a careful look they wouldn't notice a thing, Steve told
himself.
Straight ahead was a glass-walled living room, to the right a large kitchen and to the
left a hallway leading to the guest bath and master bedroom suite. Beyond the kitchen was
another corridor leading to another bathroom and two more bedrooms. Scattered here and
there were pantries, closets, a laundry room and a study-game room. The place was silent
except for the faint hum of the AC. Steve cautiously made his way down the hall, placing
his ear to each closed door. Only one of them seemed to have an occupant. He paused
outside and took a deep breath then, gun in hand, burst through the door and raced for the
rumpled bed. The mound under the comforter shifted and a bleary-eyed face peered up.
For an instant Fry lay froze then sucked in a quick breath, preparing to scream. Steve
rapped the gun barrel across Fry's head before he could make a sound.
The blow made a thudding noise like a blanket-wrapped hammer glancing off a brick.
Stunned, Fry bent forward, cradling his head. Droplets of blood dribbled through his
fingers and stained the tented bedclothes between his knees. A soft whooshing sound like
a pregnant woman's breathing in Lamaze class escaped his lips. By degrees, Fry's cries
changed into a mewling whine, 'ooohhh, oooohhh, oooohhhh, oooohhh'.
Steve twisted his victim onto his belly and used his belt to tie Fry's hands behind him.
It was the work of a few seconds to rip a strip from one of the sheets and secure his ankles
as well. Finally, Steve twisted Fry into a sitting position, his back against the headboard.
Gauzy curtains covered the windows overlooking the pool and through them Steve
could see a blurred garden and the gently swaying trees as if a Monet landscape had come
to life. An errant thought comparing the bucolic scene below with the gory work that
awaited flitted through Steve's head. Blood leaked from Fry's forehead, around the curve
of his eye and on down to his chin where it dripped onto his pajamas. Slowly, Fry became
aware of his surroundings and a pair of lazy eyes fixed on Steve's face.
"If you try and shout, I'll shatter your teeth and then knock out one of your eyes. Do
you understand me?"
Fry didn't answer aloud but he didn't need to. The fear clouding his face said it all.
"Do you remember me? Do you?" Steve swung the gun as if preparing to strike
again.
"Lawyer," Fry mumbled.
"Wrong. I'm the husband of your last victim."
Involuntarily, Fry smiled, a smear of blood staining his teeth. Steve jammed a pillow
over Fry's face and smashed his kneecap with the butt of the gun. Fry bucked against the
pillow and a muted scream trickled through the goose down.
"You think that's funny? You think butchering my wife is funny?" Steve smashed the
knee a second time and was rewarded with a protracted muffled scream. Half a minute
later he released the pillow. "Who am I?" Steve asked, looming over Fry's pale form.
"Husband of the woman I killed," Fry wheezed.
"Why do you think I'm here?"
"To punish me."
"Right again."
"S-not right," Fry mumbled, then spit out a gob of blood that had drained into his
mouth.
"Was killing my wife right, asshole?"
"I'm a sick man. I can't help myself."
"Maybe I'm a sick man too. Maybe I can't help myself."
"You're a lawyer. You know better.You can't do this."
"Did you enjoy it? Killing my wife."
"What do you want me to say?" Another gob of blood hit the sheet.
"The truth."
"Why would I do it if I didn't enjoy it? My father abused me. Screwed me up. It's the
only way I can--"
"Shut up!" Steve hissed raising the gun like Barry Bonds wiggling his bat.
"Whatever you say. What are you going to do? You can't get me back home like this.
How do you think you're going to get me on a plane?"
"Plane? Who said anything about a plane?"
"Why else are you here?"
"Moron, I'm here to kill you."
"You can't do that. I have a right to--"
"Shit!" Steve growled and a soundless explosion seemed to detonate inside his brain.
His head filled with fire in brilliant reds and blacks. In an instant a web of invisible chains
seemed to dissolve, releasing a screaming beast inside him. Janson shoved the pillow over
Fry's face. The .45's muzzle sunk deep into the goose feathers and Steve yanked the
trigger.
Even muffled by the cushion the automatic made a frightful roar and feathers swirled
like snow in a squall. Fry let out a muffled scream. Steve lifted the pillow and saw a
ragged gray-rimmed hole in Fry's left cheek. Shit, that wasn't going to kill him. Thrashing
and screaming Fry tried to escape.
Not thinking about Lynn or about anything except murder Steve folded the pillow
around the pistol and pressed it against the center of Fry's forehead. Janson's only emotion
was a blood lust as ferocious as a shipwrecked sailor's craving for the sight of land. For
half a second he paused then, unable to think of any reason not to, yanked the trigger. The
gun kicked and blood splattered in a spray of sodden red feathers. That should be the end
of that fucker. Better make sure. Steve grabbed a second pillow and pounded two more
slugs into Fry's head, leaving it as broken as a morning-after Halloween pumpkin.
If anyone had asked Steve what he was thinking when he fired those last two bullets
into the leaking corpse he couldn't have told them to save his life. At that instant his head
was filled only with a swirl of random sounds and twisted images like a traveler on the
Kansas prairie suddenly sucked fifty feet up inside a tornado.
Some seconds later the roaring in his brain dissipated and Janson stepped back from
the bed. Was Fry dead? Could a man live through that? He should check Fry's pulse but
Janson couldn't make himself touch the dead thing on the bed.
Steve wiped the gun then washed his face and hands in the bathroom sink. The water
swirled red and little bits of brain and bone poured down the drain. He threw off his coat
which seemed, miraculously, to have protected his shirt from all but a few microscopic
stains. In the mirror a wild-eyed man stared back at him. Janson paused a moment to
study the stranger.
Carefully he combed his hair then, as if waking from dream, grabbed his coat and
returned to the bedroom. He retrieved his belt from the body and made his way through
the apartment,pausing to wipe his prints as he went. At the lobby he marched out looking
neither left nor right. For a moment the guard glanced at him. Was this man a guest of one
of the tenants? Had he arrived during the night guard's tour?
He babbled something in Spanish. Steve waved without turning around and opened
the door with a handkerchief-wrapped hand. Had someone reported the shots? Was the
guard going to check on the tenants or call the cops or just go back to his paper? Steve
neither knew nor cared. Only one thought filled his mind: drive to the airport and fly away.
Wiped clean of prints the gun went into a garbage bin outside a busy restaurant five miles
away. He didn't go back to the hotel, didn't check out, didn't pick up his bag, didn't return
the car, just parked it in front of the rental agency with the keys inside and raced for the
terminal as if he was late for his flight.
The next plane headed in the right direction was a Mexicana flight to Cancun. Steve
didn't care. It could have been headed for Nassau or Caracas for all that it mattered to
him. The ticket cost him $984, one way. His VISA was no good down here so he paid
with traveler's checks then staggered onto the plane and slept as if drugged. A few hours
later he walked onto a half-full L.A. bound flight and landed on U.S. soil a free man.
For several days Steve waited to be arrested but nothing happened.
"Everybody thinks you killed Alan Fry," Greg said as soon as Steve entered his
office.
"I did."
"Don't ever admit that to anyone." Markham leaned forward. "Let's go over what
they can prove. You were in Cuba--"
"That will be hard for anyone in the States to prove."
"Why?"
Steve laughed. "The Cuban government wants American tourists so they kindly
refrain from stamping U.S. passports. As far as my records go, I was in Nassau."
"Credit card charges?"
"VISA and Master Card aren't accepted in Cuba. I bought Traveler's Checks at
Barclay's Bank in Nassau."
"Which is out of the subpoena range of U.S. courts," Greg said, making a note on his
pad. "So, the U.S. authorities can prove you were somewhere in the Carribean during the
period that Fry was killed but they can't put you in Cuba. Did you leave any evidence, the
gun, fingerprints, witnesses?"
"It was a black market gun. I paid cash and I never gave the guy my name or where I
was staying. I didn't leave any prints or physical evidence behind."
"The clothes you were wearing . . . ?"
"I dumped them in the Cancun airport when I changed planes. They're long gone."
Steve looked away. "The only witness was the guard at Fry's building and all he saw was
the back of my head. I don't think he could ID me. If they find the gun and trace it back to
the guys who sold it to the cab driver and then back to him, he could pick me out of a lineup, but that's not what's bothering me."
"Which is?"
Steve gave a wry laugh. "The courts in Havana aren't exactly on my side. Once I'm
back there they don't need any evidence. They'll just lock me up on general principals."
"Are you planning on going back to Cuba?"
"Not voluntarily, but I don't figure they'll give me a choice."
Now it was Greg's turn to laugh. "That will never happen."
"Won't they just extradite me . . . ?" Steve's voice trailed off at the shake of Greg's
head. "Why not?"
"Without overwhelming evidence of guilt, and probably even with it, no American
court is ever going to extradite an American citizen to Cuba on the charge of killing a
Cuban citizen. The more the Cubans scream for your blood, the more the U.S. will tell
them to take a hike. But, of course, it will never get that far."
"Why not?"
"The Cubans are never going to ask for your extradition. Ever. Ever!"
"I don't get it," Steve said, clearly confused. "I went down there. I killed one of their
citizens in cold blood . . . ." Steve threw up his hands as if it was all self evident.
"You've got to look at this from Cuba's point of view. Fry was a big embarrassment
to them. The U.S. was making them look awful in the international media for sheltering a
serial killer. They were taking a beating in the press. If it was any country asking for Fry's
head other than the United States, he would have been gone in a New York Minute.
Castro is a very Law and Order kind of guy, but they couldn't give in to El Diablo, Uncle
Sam. They were stuck. Until you came along and solved their problem for them. Arrest
you? Hell, they'd probably like to give you a big kiss on the lips.
"They sure would never, ever try to extradite you. The last thing the Cubans want is
a six month long extradition battle splashed across the world press, especially in a case
that they know they would lose in the U.S. courts anyway. It's a lose-lose for them."
Steve's expression made it clear that he was still confused.
"Look, they want tourism and, surprise, giving asylum to serial killers is not real
good for business. They don't want anyone reminded that the Headless Killer was a Cuban
citizen and they don't want Cuba to get the reputation as some sort of a criminal haven.
Do you think they want to give other would-be Alan Frys the idea that they should escape
to Cuba? You're talking about a national heart attack here. Believe me, the Cuban
government wants no part of going after you, besides which, from what you tell me, they
didn't have any evidence anyway."
"But if they find the cab driver. . . ."
Greg waved away the suggestion. "There's no percentage in tying himself to
gunrunning and murder. Down there it would be pure suicide. No way he talks. Plus the
fact that the gun had to be untraceable before he gave it to you. The way that country
works there's no way he would have given you a piece that could be traced back to him or
his friends." Markham shook his head. "People may suspect you did it. They may believe
you did it. But the only person who can prove you did it is you, and you're not testifying,
even if the Cubans were to try to extradite you, which I guaranteethey won't."
"So, I'm in the clear?" Steve said, not quite believing it was true.
"In the clear? Steve, you murdered a guy in cold blood. You can't just ignore that."
"He deserved it," Steve said angrily.
"What's that line from Unforgiven, when the kid tells Clint Eastwood that the guy
they killed had it coming? Eastwood gives him that hard-eyed squint and says, "Hell, kid,
we've all got it coming."
Steve just frowned and walked out of the office as if he hadn't heard a word Greg
had said. But he had.
*
*
*
No, the Beast's head did not explode. Steve had seen a head explode once and as
much as he wanted to suppress the memory, to wipe it from his mind like some fevered
dream, it would not go away. Standing there in front of the Courthouse, watching the
Beast storm into the smoggy haze, Janson remembered everything he had seen with
perfect clarity.
Chapter Thirty-One
It took the promise of a corned beef on rye with all the trimmings to get Jack Furley
to meet him in the plaza near Parker Center. From a hundred feet away Furley gave Steve
a quick nod and headed for the far side of the park where he hoped he wouldn't be spotted
by anybody from the detective division. Steve grabbed a bench under a spreading plane
tree and dropped the deli bag on the slats next to him. Dressed in a brown sport coat and
pants over an olive shirt and black tie Furley settled on the bench looking exactly like what
he was, a young detective catching a quick sack lunch.
"They forget the pickle?"
"It's on the bottom."
Furley dug through the bag. "Yeah, okay." For a few moments squawks of ravens
and Stellar Jays competed with the pop of Furley 's Coke can and the crunch of his teeth
decapitating the kosher dill.
"Mmmmm, this is good. You get this at Saul's?" Furley asked around a mouthful of
thin-shaved corned beef.
"Only the best for my friends on the force."
"Unhuh," Furley mumbled and took another bite. "Didn't get any breakfast. You're
not eating?"
"I'm not hungry."
"Unhuh," Furley repeated in a knowing tone. He noticed the small beads of sweat on
Janson's forehead and that his lips had that pinched look guys got when it was all they
could do not to think about a six pack of sweating long necks and tall red-strawed glasses
filled with ice and good scotch. Half his life Furley had seen that look on his father's face.
"So, you wanted to talk about something?"
"There's this guy, a biker meth-dealer, into some bad stuff. I need his rap sheet and I
need to know where he was the day Marian Travis was killed."
"Is that all? Shit, you didn't need to buy me a sandwich to ask me for something like
that." Furley took another bite. "So, are we done here?"
Maybe it was the smell of the corned beef, but in the deli the old cravings had hit
Steve like a runaway train. He could taste the cold splash of hops against the back of his
throat, he could feel the slippery bottle sweating in his hand. His mouth felt like cotton.
Steve licked his lips and squinted into the sun.
"The guy's name is Terry Monroe," he said in a raspy voice. "He's Bobby Berdue's
wholesaler. A guy like him could have popped Marian Travis and never given it a second
thought."
"Him and about ten thousand other guys in this county." Furley grabbed the second
half of the sandwich. As soon as he finished eating, Steve knew he would be gone.
"With Marian out of the way, Kaitlen marries Travis and brother Bobby's on easy
street.These guys don't care who they kill if there's a payday in it for them."
"Do you have anything, anything at all, tying Monroe to this murder?" Furley waited
three long seconds, then laughed. "That's what I thought."
"So, eliminatehim as a suspect. Get a dump on his phone, run his credit cards--"
"What have you been smoking, Janson? That requires a warrant and a warrant
requires probable cause. You were a D.A. for Christ's sake! You know better." Furley
shook his head and crunched the last piece of the pickle.
"Okay, fine. At least you can run him through your system and NCIC. Maybe he got
a parking ticket in Beverly Hills that day or maybe--"
"Or maybe they nailed him for running a red light in Thousand Oaks? If you're feeling
that lucky, maybe you should give me a set of lottery numbers while you're at it."
"Jesus, it's just a wants and warrants check. If nothing comes up, nothing comes up.
You know Tom Travis is no killer."
"Yeah, how do I know that?"
"You busted him way back when, didn't you? You talked to the guy, got to know
him a little. Half the reason he talked to you guys is that he thought you were his friend."
Steve lips twisted in a sour expression and he squinted at a gull swooping down on a trash
can halfway across the plaza. Finally, he turned back to Furley. "He doesn't have it in him
to kill a pregnant woman in cold blood and bury her in the desert. You know he doesn't."
"What I know is that you never know what people are really capable of," Furley
snapped, remembering when he was fourteen and he had sat up all night with a crowbar
under his blanket and waited for his old man to creep down the hallway to his little sister's
room. "Thanks for the lunch." Furley crumpled the aluminum foil and shoved it into the
empty bag.
"I talked to the psychic," Janson said suddenly.
"What?" Furley paused, about to apply a one-handed crush to the Coke can.
"She said that Sarah's still alive, that the doer sold her to some guy in Mexico who
runs an adoption mill for yuppies who can't qualify to get a kid the regular way."
"Oh, that's different. I'll just go out and pick her up in that case." The can made a
metallic crumpling noise and disappeared into the bag.
"She told me it wasn't Travis."
"The psychic told you that Travis is innocent?"
"She saw the guy taking Sarah to Mexico. She told me that it wasn't Tom," Steve
said in a defeated tone.
"And the vision of some psychic out in the Valley is supposed to convince me we got
the wrong guy?"
"I'm just asking you to run wants and warrants on Terry Monroe for the day of the
murder."
"They could put me back in the bag for something like that."
"Fine, she's not worth your job. Go back and get a new notch on your belt when they
put Travis away. To Hell with the kid, she's nothing to you, right?"
Red-faced, Furley smashed the bag into a small white ball and stormed across the
plaza.
Steve watched a jay fight a gull for a scrap of bread then closed his eyes against the
pounding in his head. Five minutes later he headed back to his apartment where he spent
the rest of the afternoon tracking down Marian Travis's friends then pouring through the
forensic reports for some shred of evidence that might be inconsistent with Tom Travis's
guilt and intermittently calling Glenn Malvo's office to see if the big-shot producer had
returned from his travels. Finally, around four-thirty, his persistence was rewarded.
Malvo had just returned and would give him ten minutes tomorrow morning. Steve
was feeling reasonably pleased with himself until he got a call from Greg Markham. The
judge was feeling better too. The trial would resume in one week.
"We're running out of time, Steve," Markham reminded him unnecessarily. "Do you
have anything that looks like it might do us some good?"
"A little smoke, no fire, but I've still got a few places to look for new leads."
"Do you need some help, another body?"
"If you get nine pregnant women together can they deliver the baby in only one
month?"
"Just asking. Call me if you need anything."
Steve hung up just as the clock ticked past five. Finally he could have his daily beer.
He had just grabbed the icy bottle when then the phone trilled. He stared at it, almost
tasting the beer sliding down his throat. He grabbed the receiver on the fourth ring, the
bottle still clenched in his other hand.
"Janson."
"No arrests in your time frame," Furley almost shouted. In the background Steve
heard traffic and pedestrians swirling past a payphone someplace downtown. "But on the
day she went missing a uniform in San Pedro filed an FI on Monroe and his bike.
Suspicious circs, possible drug dealing, but they didn't find his stash so they kicked him
loose."
"What time?"
"Around eleven. No way he was in San Pedro making a crank delivery in the middle
of pulling off a murder-kidnap."
"Thanks, I. . . ." Steve began but the line had already gone dead.
Chapter Thirty-Two
Steve drowsed on the couch, a pile of police reports sliding off his lap when the
phone dragged him back to consciousness.
"How are you doing, Steve," Cynthia Allard asked as soon as he said 'hello.'
"Uhh, okay. How are you?" What's happened to Tom Travis now? was the only
thought that entered his head.
"Lonely and bored. I need a laugh or two."
"So you called me?" Smooth, Janson, very smooth.
"I've got two tickets for the nine o'clock show at The Stand-Up."
Steve glanced at the kitchen clock -- seven forty-five. Dinner had been a can of chili
an hour ago, Hearty Ranchhand Style, according to the label. He'd washed it down with a
second beer, then fallen asleep on the couch. He was living the high life now for sure.
"I don't think I'd be very good company."
"Greg Markham working you too hard?"
"What?"
"Oh, come on, Steve. I've got one of your new business cards. Senior Associate?"
"How did you--"
"This is my job, Steve. People tell me things." She wants something. She thinks I
know something, the little voice in his head muttered.God, I wish I did.
"I can't comment on the case."
"I'm not asking you to comment. I'm asking you to join me for couple of cocktails
and a few laughs. . . . strictly off the record."
Steve looked at the disarranged piles of boxes, stacks of manila folders, the worn
couch, the dish-filled sink, the painting he and Lynn had bought from their honeymoon in
the south of France, a landscape of a flower strewn meadow, and suddenly felt as rootless
and lost as if, dazed, he had wandered on stage in some play without knowing any of his
lines.
"Strictly social?" Does she mean it? Is this really a date?
"Completely off the record."
Steve glanced back at the kitchen counter and the empty chili can, Ranchhand Style.
"Where are you?"
"I'll pick you up," Cynthia said and hung up before he could change his mind.
*
*
*
In the early sixties The Stand Up would have been The Mystic Eye or The Purple
Dahlia and would have featured pale women strumming guitars and singing about Peace
and Love to the accompaniment of an espresso machine. In the seventies it would have
sported one or more mirrored balls and lasers pulsing to a disco beat. Having morphed
through several more identities over the years, it now boasted about twenty scarred tables,
a hefty cover charge and five dollar beers. Comedians performed sets that ranged from
fifteen to forty minutes each that, together with breaks for refreshments, ran to about two
hours per show.
Cynthia handed the keys to her five series Beemer to a nineteen year old aspiring
comedian working his way up from parking lot valet. Her tickets and an Andrew Jackson
disappeared into the pocket of a young woman who looked like she had just missed the
cut for one of the featured roles in the re-make of Charliehs Angels.
"You think she's pretty?" Cynthia asked once the girl had hurried off to seat the next
party.
"Her?"
"I saw the way you looked at her."
"I was just wondering if she was old enough to work in a place that serves liquor."
"So, you don't think she's pretty?"
"I guess," Steve said, trying to sound uncertain. "She's a little . . . pneumatic for my
tastes."
"Pneumatic?" Cynthia repeated,laughing. "Where'd you get that?"
"Brave New World. Wasn't that the book where all the women's chest sizes were
described in inflatable terms?"
"I'll have to check that out." Cynthia smiled and squeezed Steve's hand. "You ever
been here before?"
"Not for years. Last time I was here Drew Carey showed up to try out some new
material. Bumped the regular kid out of his spot."
"Who was that?"
"Warren Zweigel," Steve said, throwing up his hands. "It was Drew Carey. Who
remembers?"
"I bet Warren Zweigel remembers."
"Sure, when he's not asking people, 'Do you want to supersize that?'"
Cynthia laughed again and caressed Steve's shoulder. "You're terrible!" Steve found
himself smiling. Even casually dressed in black jeans and a simple burgundy blouse Steve
found his eyes being drawn to her, watching the tilt of her head, the way her eyes seemed
to notice everything around them without staring, the tapered elegance of her hands. How
long had it been since he had just spent time with a woman, relaxed, shared a laugh,
noticed the twinkle in her eyes when she looked at him? He tried to remember what he and
Lynn had talked about the last time they were together, the day before that, and the one
before that. It was all a blur -- I may be late -- Will you pick up the cleaning -- Hanson is
such a jerk -- Mom and dad want us to come over for dinner -- Ted's promised me second
chair on the Sanchez kidnapping. . . . . The arguments, We can't afford a kid . . . . The
unasked question, Are you she gaining weight?. . . .
"What?"
"What what?" Steve asked, his eyes snapping into focus on one of Cynthia's earrings.
"For a moment there you looked like you were a thousand miles away."
Are you gaining weight?. Could he manage a smile. "Uhh, nothing, sorry, just
thinking about Tom Travis." Steve waved his hand as if dispelling a cloud. "All done.
Work over." Steve gave her a quick grin.
"I think you're a man who needs a drink." Cynthia signaled one of the jeans-clad
waiters.
"You must be psychic."
"What can I get you folks?" The girl asked, pulling out some kind of electronic
device.
"White wine," Cynthia said then looked at Steve.
"Scotch over."
The girl tapped a plastic stick twice against the plastic screen and disappeared.
"This place is just full of pneumatic girls," Cynthia said, her eyes following the
waitress through the crowd.
"You're never going to let that go, are you?"
"Not a chance." Cynthia squeezed his hand then rubbed her fingertips across his
knuckles before letting go.
Steve smiled but inside his head was spinning. Do I want to do this? It's been a long
time. Then What about Lynn? as if she were still alive. When their drinks arrived Steve
took a long swallow but the whiskey contained no answers. It never did. Then the house
lights dimmed.
The first comedian was a late twenties white guy with a southwestern accent. For
twenty minutes he babbled on about rednecks and pickup trucks, hound dogs, small town
diners and women with big hair named Peggy Mary Lou. Steve laughed politely and was
more than ready for a refill by the end of the set.
The second performer was an energetic young black kid. Maybe it was the second
scotch or not having to think about anything, but Steve felt as if some spring inside his
chest was slowing uncoiling. He found himself laughing at the kid's riffs about the life of
young black people in L.A. from techniques for dealing with Driving While Black traffic
stops to the difficulties faced by African-American kids who didn't fit the stereotype and
wanted to play professional chess or become CPAs. He went ten minutes over his time
limit to wild applause.
"I think I've created a Frankenstein," Cynthia joked when Steve finally stopped
clapping.
"I can't have a good time?"
"You can, and should." Cynthia reached for his hand and this time didn't let it go. "I
wish we had done this a long time ago." Steve just gave a little shrug and squeezed her
hand back. "No, I mean . . . I'm sorry, Steve. I should have called you before, when you
really needed a friend. I guess I was so busy trying to survive in the media jungle . . . You
have no idea what people will do get a job on TV."
"Even cable?" Steve joked.
"Especially cable." Another squeeze, then she let Steve's hand slip away when the
waitress brought their next round. Cynthia slipped her a twenty.
"You should let me get that."
"My treat.I asked you."
"You pick me up, get the tickets, buy the drinks. A guy could get used to this. This is
a side of dating I've never seen before."
"You ain't seen nothin' yet," Cynthia said, patting his hand just before the lights went
down for the final performer, a slumped guy in his forties, world-weary and exuding
frustration like a fog.
"Hi everybody, I'm Chip Stein. Chip Stein. Hell of a name for a Jew. It's like my
parents were hoping for something else. 'Let's call him Chip and when he grows up maybe
he'll have blond hair and blue eyes and he'll be a world champion surfer.' So, what do you
think? Do I look like a 'Chip'? Hey, it could have been worse. My mother was holding out
for 'Troy.' That would have worked. Even the Hasidic kids would have beaten me up. 'It's
not Saturday so let's make Troy cry.' POW.
"I knew when I said it could have been worse, some of you people were going, 'Oh,
he's one of those 'the glass is half' full kind of guys. No. The glass isn't half full. The glass
isn't half empty. The glass is just badly designed.
"Stupid people -- I hate stupid people. Not retarded people. They're doing the best
they can with what they've got. I hate the people who are stupid because they're just too
damn lazy to think. You know who you are.
"'Yeah, I know there's a smarter way to test my brakes than racing my car down a
steep hill covered with ice with a big concrete wall studded with steel spikes at the bottom
but I'm just too damn lazy to figure out what that might be.' WHAM!
"You see, if I ran the world -- do you ever think like that -- If I ran the world, oh
boy, there'd be some changes made! Hey, we'd do things right if I ran the world. Give me
a break. You know damn well that if you ran the world you'd fuck it up in about twelve
seconds. Now, as I was saying, if I ran the world -- hey, I'm a lot smarter than you are -things would be done right. For example? Is that what someone said?
"Okay, for example, I would institute a stupid person eradication program. Every
year every adult would have to undergo a 'Too Stupid To Live' test. No, no, this would be
a very scientific test. See, we would put people on random floors of a tall building and tell
them that to pass the test they'd have to find the elevator and take it up two floors. Okay,
here's our stupid candidate in front of the elevator on the eighteenth floor. The doors
open. DING -- A big arrow pointing up flashes a brilliant red. If the candidate looks at the
guy inside the car and says, "Is this elevator going up?" BANG, we shoot the son-of-abitch dead right then and there. Too fucking stupid to live! Scientific!" Stein tapped his
skull.
Half an hour later Stein went into his "You've been a great audience. I'm Chip Stein.
Thanks everybody" spiel and escaped the stage to thunderous applause.
The lights came up and Steve felt a little unsteady as they threaded their way through
the tables, but he put that down to having being stuck in a hard chair in the dark for two
hours. When they got outside the crisp air hit him like a slap in the face.
"Great car," Steve said when the valet pulled up.
"Don't get any ideas. You're riding shotgun."
Steve fumbled with the shoulder belt then relaxed into the seat. The car was still new
enough to perfume the air with the smell of fresh leather. Steve took a deep breath. "Great
car."
"If you're a good boy, maybe I'll let you drive it sometime."
"I'm always a good boy."
Cynthia didn't reply, choosing instead to take a quick left and accelerate through a
yellow.
"Steve, can I tell you something?"
"I'm all ears. No, wait, I'm not. I'd look really funny if I were all ears. Ears on my
elbows, ears on my knees," Steve mumbled in a sing-song voice and started to laugh.
"You know, we agreed that this evening was off-the-record, strictly personal, right?"
"Strictly personal."
"Okay, then I've got something to tell you, off-the-record, okay?"
"Okay," Steve agreed, a cold tendril beginning to caress his heart.
"I told you that I hear lots of rumors. Well, I heard one today about Tom Travis. I'm
not saying it's true, just letting you know in case it is."
"In case it is?" Steve asked trying to figure out what came next. In case it is, then . . .
. what?
"If this rumor is true, Greg Markham will need to prepare for it, so the D.A. doesn't
blind side him when the trial starts up next week."
"Oh, sure, in case it's true. Okay," Steve agreed, the warm scotch glow rapidly fading
away.
"Word is that Kaitlen Berdue got pregnant with Tom Travis's child. He told her he
didn't want any kids and forced her to have an abortion. The D.A.'s implication will be that
Tom didn't want the child his wife was pregnant either but that she refused to have an
abortion and that was one of the reasons he killed her."
"Has Kaitlen Berdue confirmed this?"
Cynthia shook her head. "It's just a rumor. Did Tom ever say anything about Kaitlen
having an abortion?"
Steve felt as if an icicle had been shoved into his belly. Is this why he was here? Was
the whole point of this . . . date . . . to get him relaxed enough, drunk enough, stupid
enough that he'd confirm this abortion rumor for her next broadcast? Sucker!
"I feel sick."
"Are you all right?"
"Pull over."
Steve fumbled with the belt release and staggered a couple of feet into an alley next
to an abandoned auto parts store. A minute later, his face gray and his stomach empty, he
got back into the car but this time the fragrance of the leather seats was overpowered by
the cloying smell of vomit coating his nose and throat. He glanced at Cynthia then closed
his eyes.
"Can you drop me off at my place?" The dead air in the cabin sucked up his words
like stones dropped down a dry well.
"Sure."
A moment later some innocuous classical music filled the car and only another
moment after that Cynthia was shaking his shoulder. "Steve, we're here. Do you need any
help getting inside?"
Getting inside? Steve gave a sour chuckle. He wasn't getting inside tonight. No, not
with Cynthia tonight.
"Did I say something funny?"
"No," he mumbled, blinking against the glow of the dome light. "Sorry." For an
instant some perverse part of his nature dredged up the phrase 'Let's do this again real
soon' but the moment passed. Knees weak, he made it to the sidewalk and leaned through
the open door. "Thanks, Cynthia. I had a good time. Sorry I couldn't hold my liquor. Out
of practice, I guess."
"So. . . ." she began, then seemed to think better of it. "Yeah, I had a good time too.
Give me a call when you feel better."
"You bet," Steve said and slammed the door. When Hell freezes over, he muttered as
he watched Cynthia's taillights disappear into the night.
Chapter Thirty-Three
Glenn Malvo's company, Impact Productions, leased a small suite of offices around
the corner from the Paramount lot. Janson settled into a worn flower-print couch under a
framed poster for a direct-to-cable suspense drama called Night Lies. The office wasn't the
cradle of dreams and romance that star-struck tourists might have imagined. On the
opposite wall hung a lurid poster for Tom Travis's last movie, The Boneyard. Steve leafed
through a copy of The Hollywood Reporter while a very handsome young man alternately
screened calls through a wireless headset and made coffee.
Every two or three minutes he shot a quick glance in Steve's direction as if worried
that if not carefully supervised Janson might make off with the coffee table or the potted
ficus tree. About fifteen minutes later, the receptionist received a silent order and told
Steve that Mr. Malvo would see him now.
Malvo's office was a clone of the waiting room, only more so. Cheap furniture,
movie posters, framed invitations to the Academy Awards, a couple of lumps of glass in
futuristic shapes etched with flowery prose, "The Signus Award for Excellence in . . . ."
something or other. Malvo was on the phone. He gave Steve a quick glance and the flick
of his hand then spun around to contemplatethe second-story view of the traffic on Vine.
"Yeah, I understand, Jerry, but . . . . Uhhuh . . . ." Malvo turned back to Steve and
shrugged, as if to say, 'What are you gonna do?' About five-nine, dressed in black slacks
and an open collar white silk shirt textured with subtle beige embroidery, Malvo frowned
and tapped a pair of heavy black-framed glasses against the arm of his chair. "Okay, Jerry,
you do that and get back to me. Right." The phone clattered into the receiver.
"Hi, Glenn Malvo. You're here about Tom Travis?"
"Steve Janson. I'm helping Greg Markham."
"Have a seat. Chad get you coffee? You need anything?"
"I'm fine, thanks." Steve settled into a chocolate-colored chair that wasn't as
comfortable as it looked.
"Greg's a terrific attorney, a real heavy hitter. Did a hell of a job on the Candace
Lang thing." Malvo gave Steve a long look. "So . . . ?"
"Yeah. I'm trying to pin down anything on someone who might want to hurt Tom
Travis or his wife."
"Let me guess -- you asked Tom for a list of suspects and he couldn't think of a
single person who disliked him." Malvo gave Steve a quick, cold smile. "You've never
been in the business, right?"
"I used to be a prosecutor, before that, a cop."
"Sounds like half a movie right there. Anyway, look, a hundred million people in this
country want to be in the movies. Maybe a five or ten thousand people alive today ever
had a speaking part. Maybe five hundred of them had a part where anyone might
remember their name. Maybe a couple hundred of them are working featured players
today and less then half of them are Stars. Tom Travis is a Star. Okay, he's not number six
or eight any more, but he's still a Star."
"I don't--"
"Making it to the top in this business changes you. Nobody tells you you're full of
crap. Nobody tells you your breath stinks. Nobody tells you you're wrong, about anything.
Nobody hates a Star, except, maybe, another Star. . . .True story, they're shooting a movie
and one of the grips notices his watch is missing. The next day, the star is wearing the
guy's watch! The grip says something, politely, and the star smiles, apologizes for the
mistake, and returns the watch. The next day the grip is fired and the Assistant Director
tells the crew that if the star hborrows' anything don't say a word to him, just turn in a
voucher and the production company will reimburse them. By the end of the movie, the
star had 'borrowed' enough stuff to fill the trunk of his Rolls and nobody opened their
mouth. I promise you that if you asked the if he had any enemies he would have sworn to
you on a stack of bibles that everybody loved him. And he would have believed it. You get
my drift?"
"Starting to sense a reality gap here."
"Now you got it." Malvo pointed his finger like the barrel of a gun.
"Okay, what can you tell me about Tom Travis that he won't tell me himself?"
"How much time do you have?" Another quick grin. "Just kidding. I don't have all
day. . . . Okay, where do you want to start?"
Where did he want to start? "How about women. Tom had something of a reputation
as a ladies' man. Maybe one of them or their boyfriends or husbands . . . ." Malvo's
expression grew sour. "What?"
"I did a courtroom movie couple of years back, Deadly Verdict, lots of 'objectionsustained' crap. We had a legal consultant work on the script. What's that wife-beating
objection -- assumes facts not in evidence?" Steve cocked his head questioningly. Malvo
sighed and tried again. "Tom wanted to be a ladies' man. He wished he was a ladies' man.
He pretended he was a ladies' man, but the truth is, well, you know the old story, the mind
is willing but the flesh is weak."
"You're saying he . . . ."
"Not enough lead in the pencil, if you get my drift. That was all pre-Viagra, of
course. Tom's probably buying the stuff by the case now. The fact is, nobody who knew
the real story was very worried about Tom being in the bedroom with their squeeze. From
what I heard, mostly he just liked to watch."
"Watch?"
"Got off on it. He and his buddy would go cruising. Tom would pick up the girls, no
problem there. Back in the day he had to beat them off with a stick, excuse the reference.
They'd end up in a suite at the Beverly and Tom would ah . . . help out and when he'd
gotten his girl warmed up, his buddy would take over and close the deal. Then the girls
would switch and Mr. Reliable would go to work on number two. At the end Tom would
get one of the girls to give him a BJ and then he'd order champagne and whatever and
everybody went home happy." Malvo flashed another of his quick grins.
Suddenly an image of Bobby Berdue popped into Steve's head. Bobby said that Tom
had wanted some kind of prescription drug that wouldn't show up on his medical records.
Viagra? Cialis? 'I bought some speed to keep me going.' Yeah, right, Tom!
"Son of a bitch!"
"A light just go on?"
"You could say that." So if Tom couldn't keep his soldier at attention . . . . Oh, Shit!"
"What?"
"Did Tom ever get anybody pregnant?"
Malvo shrugged. "Not as far as I know. A lot of the guys get a vasectomy, avoids a
lot of nasty accusations. Who wants to have Marlon Brando's problems, right?"
"Maybe Tom didn't need one. Maybe a shortage of lead in his pencil wasn't his only
problem."
Another shrug. "That I couldn't tell you." Malvo took a quick look at his watch.
"How about managers, agents, co-stars, business partners, anybody who might have
been pissed enough with Tom to want to hurt him or his wife?"
Malvo's head gave a quick shake. "Tom's actually a pretty sweet guy. Sensitive, deep
down. Truth is, I could never picture him wrapping a wire around his wife's neck and
pulling until her eyes popped, not for real. Maybe if she had been shot from fifty feet away
or something, maybe, but up close and personal? I don't think so. Don't get me wrong.
Tom can make it look good for the camera. But in real life," Malvo held up his hands, then
took another longer look at his watch.
"Last thing. You said Tom would get together with other guys to pick up women.
Can you give me a few names?"
"Hmmm, that goes back a few years, PV, Pre-Viagra." Malvo smiled and stared off
into space. "Actually . . . . it was more like, I think, just one guy. For that kind of a job
you need a real stud. It's one thing if Tom can't get the private to salute, but if both of 'em
crap out, well, you can imagine how that could end up as a terminal hit on a guy's ego and
Stars don't have the toughest egos in the world, more egg than ego if you ask me."
"So, Tom found the right guy and stuck with him?"
"Another stuntman, like Tom, except this guy was never gonna be a Star, except in
the bedroom. He might have done some porno. I figure he had been bragging a little about
his stamina while he was waiting to do a gag and Tom heard him and checked out his film.
He must have figured the guy would make him look good, do the job," Malvo pounded his
fist twice into his palm with a meaty smack-smack. "The guy likes the babes. Tom gets off
on the action. Everybody's happy."
"You remember his name?"
Another vacant stare. "Shit, I can see him in my head, about five ten, wiry, long face,
matted, curly kind of hair, blue eyes, his nose was too big to be a star, sort of funny
looking. Couldn't read a line to save his life. Tom tried to get him a small part in a couple
of westerns. Had a delivery like a mackerel. Jeeze, what was his name? Bailey? Bobby?
Billy? Barry! Barry McGee."
"Did Tom and Barry stay friends after Tom got married?"
"Well . . . ." Malvo twisted uneasily in his seat.
"What?"
"I don't know. They were tight then they weren't. I asked Tom if he wanted anybody
special on the stunt team for The Boneyard, keep the star happy, right, and he said 'no.' I
said 'fine, okay' and started to leave and Tom stops me and says, real quiet, 'I'd rather not
work with McGee this time around.'"
"Did he say why?"
"He didn't say and I didn't ask. If a star wants to tell you something, he will. You
don't ask, not unless you don't want to work with him again. You get too nosey and the
tabloids print something, he's likely to think it came from you. Who needs that?" A final
long look at his watch. "Steve I've got . . . ."
"Yeah, me too. Thanks for all your help. Can I give you a call if anything else comes
up?"
"Sure, you've got my number." They shook hands and Steve turned toward the door.
"Hey, say 'Hi' to Tom for me, will you." Malvo called. "Tell him . . . . tell him when this
shit is all over, I've got a script with his name on it. Tell him I believe in him and, uh, that
we'll do great things together. You tell him that for me, okay?"
"You bet." Steve gave Malvo a little wave and headed for his car and wondered if
Google could get him an address for Barry McGee.
Chapter Thirty-Four
Steve finally got McGee's phone number from the Screen Actors' Guild and left a
message implying that he was doing a project with Glenn Malvo and needed somebody to
supervise the stunts. McGee called back an hour later with the suggestion that Steve meet
him at a riding club out in the Valley.
It was a little after one when Steve arrived at The Norcross Academy which
straddled a small valley at the edge of Topanga State Park. Steve slipped the Mercedes
into a lot full of ML430s, Honda Pilots and Soccer Mom minivans. Apparently the
employees were required to park their dented Silverados and five year old Mustangs
someplace out of sight of the paying customers. A mother in black jeans and a tightly
fitted blue cotton shirt herded a bunch of twelve-year-old girls in formal riding costumes
up to the barn. Three were white, one Asian, all wearing black small-billed hats, white
shirts, black vests and black pants. Each clutched a dark brown riding crop. A handsome
young man in blue jeans and a cowboy hat greeted the woman and checked the girls off
one by one against a list on a plastic clipboard.
"Help you?" the kid asked Steve with a smile. Perfect teeth, Steve noted, white as a
fifties refrigerator.
"I'm supposed to see Barry McGee. Is he around?"
The smile slipped three notches and the kid waved toward the barn. "He's in the back
corral." He gave Steve's wingtips a quick glance as if to say 'Watch your step.' Behind
Steve appeared three fifteen year old girls in designer jeans and orange-sequined t-shirts.
Cowboy Bob's smile cranked back up to its full wattage.
The barn was about fifty yards long with large sliding doors at both ends. Inside it
was dark and cool and thick with the scent of horses and old hay. Beyond the far end
Steve spotted a staging area with troughs and hitching rails and beyond that an emeraldcolored field fitted with hay-bail jumps all circled by a white board fence. To Steve's far
right was a dusty, steel-pipe corral populated with four horses and a single sweat-stained
ranch hand whose skin was the color of faded leather. As Janson drew closer he noticed
the man's cap of wiry hair and long face centered with a nose like a splayed lump of clay.
"Barry McGee?" Steve called when he reached the pipe fence.
"Yeah. Janson?" McGee squinted, pulled off his sweat-stained cowboy hat and wiped
a sleeve across his brow.
When they shook hands Steve noticed the rough cuts in McGee's palm. Barry gave
Steve a quick once over and replaced his hat.
"You're in the production end, I guess. What're you, some kind of CPA who wants
to
make movies?"
"Actually, I'm helping Greg Markham with Tom Travis's defense. Glenn Malvo said
you and Tom were friends."
"He did, did he?" McGee mused, squinting into the sun and wandering over to one of
the horses. "Why'd that come from Malvo instead of Tom? You sure you're really working
for him?"
"You can call Greg Markham. He'll vouch for me."
"Okay. What did Tom tell you?"
"He's a little reluctant to talk about the old days. He thinks it's a waste of my time but
I like to be thorough."
"I guess you got your job to do and I've got mine." McGee lifted the mare's hoof and
checked her shoe.
"I just need a few minutes of your time," Steve shouted.
"They pay me to work, not talk," McGee called over his shoulder and bent to check
out another shoe.
"You can't take a break?"
McGee patted the horse's neck and gave Steve a calculating glance. "If you was to
rent one of these ponies here, I could take you on a little ride and we could talk all you
want."
Steve looked at his sixty dollar gray slacks and his black leather shoes and tried to
imagine himself wandering the lower reaches of Topanga Canyon on the back of a horse.
"Up to you," McGee said easily, moving on to the next animal.
A light breeze rippled the wild grasses and in the distance a hawk sailed over the
canyon.
"Yeah, okay," Steve said a moment later when the hawk had receded to a pinpoint
and slipped from view. "Pick out an easy one. I haven't been on one of these things since
Boy Scouts."
"Sure, old Buttermilk here's as gentle as a bunny rabbit. Come on in the barn and
we'll get you fixed up."
Ten minutes later, having waived all claims for bodily injury, handed over his VISA
card and strapped on a borrowed pair of weathered chaps, Steve mounted old Buttermilk
and surveyed the world from a point about ten feet above the ground. McGee led them at
a relaxed saunter down the dirt road that paralleled the steeplechase oval before wending
up one of the finger canyons at the back of the property. As they passed the jumps a few
young girls turned to watch, some covering their amusement,others grinning openly.
"Don't mind them fillies none," McGee said in an accentuated twang. "They're just a
bunch of stuck-up rich kids havin' some fun with daddy's money."
The trail doglegged to the left and soon the green oval disappeared.
"So, how's old Tom holdin' up?" McGee asked, slowing his horse, a chestnut stallion
named Sultan, so that they could ride side-by-side.
"He's hanging in there. It's no fun being locked up."
McGee smothered a grin and made a click-click sound with his tongue to increase
Sultan's pace.
"I know you and Tom were friends," Steve continued. "I was wondering if you knew
anybody who had a grudge against him, anyone who might want to hurt him or Marian."
"I don't know the wife, Marian. Only met her once for about five seconds."
"When was that?"
McGee tugged lightly on Sultan's reins and the big stallion veered off the trail and up
the course of a dried-out stream. Used to being led, Buttermilk followed without
instructions from Steve.
"Right after Christmas, just before she went missing," Barry called over his shoulder,
then ducked beneath the branches of a massive black oak. The streambed widened into an
inch deep leaf-strewn pool and Steve lightly pressed in his heels. Buttermilk agreeably
speeded up until they were again riding side-by-side.
"What was the occasion?"
"Truth was, I needed a job. I hadn't seen Tom in over a year but I figured there was
no harm in asking. I gave him call and asked him if he could help me out. He could've
blown me off but he told me to come over to the house and we could have a drink for old
time's sake. Anyway, she was goin' out while I was comin' in. I said, you know, 'HelloGoodbye' and that was it. Seemed a nice enough lady for all I could tell."
The stream cut to the left and narrowed, its path clogged with rocks. Barry make
another knickk-knickk sound between his tongue and teeth and Sultan clambered up the
bank and out into a field of wild oats. Steve gritted his teeth and did the same. Buttermilk
looked back, a wild look in her eye, and bounded up after them with Steve hanging on for
dear life. They shot past McGee in a trot and Steve was afraid Buttermilk was going to
break into a gallop and run halfway to Calabasas, but she apparently didn't want to leave
Sultan and slowed to a stop all on her own. Smiling, McGee and Sultan sauntered up
alongside.
"You're a real buckaroo, ain't you?"
"Tell that to Buttermilk. . . . So, did Tom help you out?"
Barry gave his head a shake. "Said he wasn't no box-office champ no more, that he
was looking for work himself, that he might have to start making those cable movies for
HBO if he didn't get a break soon. Gave me a hell of a good glass of scotch, though,"
McGee added, smiling.
"So, is there anybody who had a grudge against Tom?"
"Nah. Tom didn't make enemies like that. He always took the easy way out."
"What does that mean?"
"Take a guy like me, somebody bumps me, I bump him back. He takes a swing at
me, I swing back."
"But not Tom?"
Again, McGee laughed. "You bump Tom, maybe he bumps you back, a little. You
take a swing at Tom, he ducks and walks away, unless he's been drinking. You get Tom
sauced, he'll go fist city with you, but the rest of the time, mostly he'll just get pissed off
and walk away, like you're not worth gettin' upset over."
They reached the crest of a long ridge. Below them the land descended to a narrow
valley choked with manzanita and scrub oak. Barry shaded his eyes and stared into the
distance as a breeze scented with wild oats and bay trees brushed their cheeks.
"Is that how Tom felt about you?"
Barry gave Steve a sharp look then shook his head. "Nah, Tom had no complaint
with me."
"I heard you guys used to be tight, then something happened."
"Oh, you heard those stories about Tom and me, did you?"
Steve shrugged.
"Well," McGee said, flashing a self-congratulatory smile, "I suppose some of that's
true. Nobody's ever accused me of being shy with the ladies, and, time to time, Tom
maybe needed a few pointers in that department.We did have ourselves some fun."
"Then . . . ."
"Hah! Then Tom got himself in trouble with that girlfriend of his, Clare Cantrell or
whatever. Anger management!" McGee barked a laugh.
"You don't think he hit her?"
"Oh, he probably hit her all right. Probably a combination of too much booze and too
little performance. My guess is she said something about Tom's moxie in the bedroom
department and that's when he socked her, not that he'd ever want that to come out in
court. I think that scared Tom, maybe that he hit her, maybe that it might get out why.
Anyway, he decided he was going on the wagon and me, I liked to party. Tom had to
either give up the booze or give up me." Another sour smile. "Then he met Marion and the
good times were over for sure. You want my opinion, I think he was afraid that if we
started hanging out together again, one thing would lead to another and we'd be back in
the saddle with the fillies. Goodbye marriage, hello community property. You could say
the wedding pretty much put an end to our friendship."
Barry flicked Sultan's reins and headed off at an angle down the far side of the ridge.
Steve and Buttermilk paralleled them a few feet up-slope.
"So, who could have done this to Marian?"
Barry shrugged. "Maybe it had something to do with her boyfriend."
"Boyfriend? Marian had a boyfriend?"
"Had to," Barry said, fanning his face with his hat.
"What? Why?"
"She was pregnant and Tom wasn't the father. He told you that, right?"
"Tom wasn't the father? Are you sure?"
McGee looked over his shoulder and laughed. "I guess Old Tom left that part out.
Tom and I were doin' these girls one night, sisters, man you ain't lived until you've done
sisters, anyway, he's not using any protection and I say, 'Hey, partner, what you gonna do
if she turns up one of these days with a little Tommy in her arms?' and Tom leans over and
whispers, 'Can't happen. I'm shooting blanks.' That's not the sort of thing a guy lies about,
even if he's had a few. Truth is, Tom was half in the bag. If he hadn't been I don't think he
would have let that slip. Anyway, unless there's been some medical miracle, that kid
Marian was pregnant with belongs to some other guy. Maybe Marian and her boyfriend
had a fight or something and, you know, one thing led to another."
They reached the bottom of the slope and McGee led them single file down a muddy
trail knee deep in milkweed and Italian thistle.
"Dry year," McGee said, kneeing Sultan when he paused to snap up tussocks of
spring grass. "Usually water flowing in this crick well into May."
"So Tom knew his wife was pregnant by another man? How'd he take that?"
McGee smiled and raised his brows. Sultan stopped again and this time McGee let
him feed. Steve and Buttermilk drew up along side.
"What's that mean?"
"You'd have to be blind not to see that she was knocked up, so after she's out the
door, I give Tom a look, like, 'Hey, man, what's that all about?' and he gives me a look
back, like, 'Yeah, I know but what can I do?' What was I supposed to say -- 'Who's the
guy who knocked up your wife?'" McGee gave Steve a helpless shrug.
Steve stared blankly into the distance, his brain spinning. Had Marian told one of her
girlfriends who the father was? Maybe that's why Tom was so anxious to keep Steve from
talking to them. No wonder he didn't want Steve dredging up 'ancient history' with
McGee. Jesus, Travis's his life's on the line and he's afraid someone will find out his wife
cheated on him?
McGee nudged Sultan and he ambled on down the trail with Buttermilk following
dutifully behind.
"Was that the last time you talked to Tom?" Steve called to McGee.
"Yeah, I didn't want to talk to the cops so I stayed away."
"Why's that?"
"I don't like cops." Another short laugh. "And, I didn't want them finding out from
me about the kid not being Tom's. I mean your wife's murdered and the cops find out she's
pregnant with some other guy's baby, I'm no lawyer but in the movie business we call that
a motive."
Steve couldn't see McGee's face but imagined it twisted in a sardonic grin. The baby
thing was what trial lawyers called a 'two-edged sword.' It opened up a whole new pool of
suspects but it also gave Tom Travis a hell of a motive for murder.
Ahead of them the trail curved around the base of the hill and the stables slipped
back into view, the emerald steeplechase oval glistening like a an oasis in a desert of cars
and smog and ninety-nine cent hamburger palaces.
Chapter Thirty-Five
Steve sat in his car in the stables' lot and updated his notes while packs of girls
trooped in and out. Didn't any boys ride horses? He unfolded a map and marked the
addresses of Marian Travis's girlfriends. Four of the five lay along a more or less zigzag
route between the stables and his home, most of them in the platinum triangle of Beverly
Hills, Holmby Hills and Bel Air. Number five was out in the Malibu Colony along the
PCH. It was almost three and Steve decided to hit her tomorrow. For about five seconds
he considered calling ahead and then figured that would just give them a better chance to
avoid him.
The first subject was Tamara Porter. According to the housekeeper she and her
husband were in Sedona, hiking amidst the desert wild flowers, and they would be gone
for another week at least. The second subject was Carol Ann Burke. He got as far as his
name and the purpose of his visit before she politely closed the door in his face. He
spotted number three, Leslie Wahlberg, just pulling out of her driveway and decided to
follow her. In any other neighborhood her hundred thousand dollar silver Porsche
Cayenne would have been hard to miss. In this part of LA it was as common as a Toyota
Avalon in San Jose. On the positive side, Leslie believed in using her turn signals and
Steve never felt he was in much danger of losing her. It turned out to be a short trip.
About ten minutes after they started she turned into the Beverly Garden Center on La
Cienega.
A tide of white people with a sprinkling of Asians and an occasional AfricanAmerican surged through the parking lot, each pushing a rattling flat-topped cart. Leslie
quickly grabbed her own clanking trolley and dived into the throng of shoppers. Late
thirties, pretty in the way that money and attention can push you up a couple of notches
on the beauty scale, she navigated the wide aisles with single-minded determination. Steve
unobtrusively threaded his way behind her. The place was divided into sections, large fruit
and ornamental trees along the rear fence, blooming flowers near the cash registers,
fertilizers and clay pots to the left, garden furniture to the right, vegetables and shrubs in
the middle.
Leslie headed for the edibles and carefully perused the tomato plants which ranged in
size from six inch seedlings to half grown plants a foot and a half tall. Steve debated
confronting her over the Early Girls and Better Boys or just keeping an eye on her until
she returned home. But what if this was the first in a long list of errands? He might waste
the rest of the afternoon, possibly lose her, or be spotted and treated like a stalker. Well,
at least here she couldn't slam the door in his face.
"Ms. Wahlberg?" he asked politely.
Hazel eyes scanned Janson in careful appraisal.
"Yes?"
"I apologize for interrupting your shopping. My name is Steven Janson. I work for
Greg Markham, the attorney defending Tom Travis. Marian's brother, Riley, told me that
you and Marian were friends and I was hoping to talk with you for a couple of minutes."
Steve held out his card.
Two long seconds passed. Leslie's eyes locked on his face. Finally, she took the card,
read it carefully, then slipped it into her pocket.
"I wondered if anyone was ever going to get around to me," she said in a musing
voice and turned back to the shelf of plants. "What do you want to know?"
"Were you and Marian good friends?"
Again a long pause. "Good friends? We knew each other for a long time, liked each
other. Marian was an unusually . . . straightforward person." Leslie paused to find just the
right word. In the shadows cast by the mesh sunshades Steve noticed subtle hints of color
on her cheeks and forehead, an ivory cast that he began to think had not come from the
cosmetic counter at Nieman-Marcus. And her eyes weren't simply hazel but glittered with
green, gold and russet flecks against a background of warm honey.
"Straightforward?" he repeated,trying to force his attention back on the job.
"Direct, the opposite of passive-aggressive. Marian had strong values and she wasn't
shy about telling people what they were and living up to them -- Do you know anything
about tomatoes?" She held up a plant in a square plastic pot.
Steve had the sudden impression that Leslie Wahlberg had a strong personality of her
own.
"Sungold," Steve said, reading the label. "It's yellow."
"So?"
"Tomatoes should be red. Yellow ones wouldn't taste the same even if they did, taste
the same."
Leslie gave him another of her long stares, then replaced the pot. "How about this
one?"
"Beef Master," Steve read. "Much better."
With a the hint of a smile she put it in her cart. Steve found her acceptance of his
advice strangely gratifying.
"Did Marian ever mention that anyone was bothering her, hang-up phone calls,
someone following her or watching her, anonymous letters . . . ?"
This time there was no delay. Marian gave her head a quick shake. "No, nothing like
that." She offered another plant for Steve's inspection. He read the label and dropped it in
her cart. She made no comment and with a clatter pushed on down the aisle to the next
display. A decisive woman. Steve studied her sidelong and noticed that her every
movement was smooth, each step a display of grace and economy of motion. He
increased his pace to catch up.
Now for the fun questions. "I don't quite know how to say this," he began when she
stopped at the next leafy display, "but could Marian have been involved with another
man?" Steve held his breath,expecting another of Leslie's long pauses while she parsed the
question, word by word.
"You mean Robert?" she replied at once without looking up.
"Robert . . . ?"
"Robert Garsen. From your question I thought you knew."
"I suspected, but after your description of Marian's strict moral code. . . ." Steve let
the rest of the sentence hang.
"Her moral code was adherence to the principles of honesty, generosity and
kindness," she said with a hint of steel in her voice.
And remaining faithful to her husband didn't figure into that someplace? Steve
thought but held his tongue.
"She felt she was justified," Leslie said, sensing Steve's disapproval. Her expression
was thoughtful, not accusatory or defensive. Steve marveled at the harmony of the planes
of her face, the balance of line and shadow. How could he have thought that hers was a
beauty that depended on fabrics and potions?
"Justified?"
"Before they were married she told Tom she wanted another child and he agreed.
They kept trying and when she didn't get pregnant she contacted a fertility doctor."
"And Tom refused to be examined?"
"One excuse after another until finally he admitted that he had been lying to her all
the time, that he was sterile and had been for years."
"So, she got pregnant to. . . ?"
"Get even? Punish him? No, Marian didn't think that way. Too much negative
energy. For her it was just a matter of fairness. Tom lied to her about being able to father
a child, and she felt that his lie released her from her commitment to him. Eventually she
met a man she came to care for and who wanted to start a family with her. Of course, she
told Tom."
"That she had met someone or that she was pregnant?"
Leslie's cheeks reddened and she looked away. "That she was pregnant."
Steve tried to imagine that conversation and a gout of acid twisted his stomach. Had
Lynn ever . . . ? Would she have told . . . ? He pushed the offending questions into the
dark place at the bottom of his brain.
"How did Tom take that?"
"Not well," Leslie said, still not meeting Steve's gaze. "He begged her not to leave
him, promised to see a doctor, agreed to an adoption . . . ."
"But Marian wanted out."
"His lies just ended it for her. She didn't hate him. She just didn't love him any more.
She couldn't love someone she couldn't trust."
"But she didn't leave him. Why not?"
"Tom begged her not to. He said it would make him look like a fool or worse if she
left him in the middle of her pregnancy. Everybody would assume he must have done
something terrible to her, beat her up or cheated on her or something worse for her to
leave him like that. The name 'Charlie Sheen' was mentioned. So they came to an
agreement."
Leslie picked up another plant, a large one, and handed it wordlessly to Steve. He
nodded his approval and she placed it in her cart. It was such a small thing, but it pleased
him with a strange intensity, as if it were evidence of some kind of a comfortable domestic
bond. How could he have ever thought this woman ordinary?
"What kind of an agreement?" He asked watching her face, marveling at the
flickering highlights in her honey eyes.
"She would see her lover, discretely, and Tom would be free to do the same. Once
the baby was born they would announce an amicable split. She would wait six months
before marrying the father and in a year or two he would quietly adopt the child and Tom
wouldn't object. She had her own money so the financial details wouldn't be an issue."
Marian's yoga classes were probably in response to her pregnancy, Steve realized,
and Tom's sudden involvement with Kaitlen Berdue now took on a whole new dimension.
"How come you didn't call the police when she disappeared?"
"I didn't think any of this mattered.By then they were living separate lives. Tom's girl
friend was no secret to Marian. She didn't care."
"And later?"
"When they found Marian's body near where Tom had been driving his dune buggy
with the cord from one of their lamps around her neck, I just assumed that he had been
drinking and that she had said something that made him snap. As I said, Marian didn't
sugarcoat her opinions. Sometimes people mistook her directness for cruelty."
"And now what do you think?"
"Now I don't know. How could I? I'm not on the jury." Leslie's cart rattled into the
concrete-floored building near the exit and she began picking through boxes of fertilizer.
"This one?" she asked, holding up a blue and yellow box of Miracle Gro. Steve
checked the label's recommended uses, then nodded. She smiled and a warm glow spread
through his chest.
"You know my next question," he said, giving her a level stare.
"He had nothing to do with it. He loved her."
"You know the old song, 'You only hurt the one you love.' He has to be checked
out."
Leslie glared and pushed off into the checkout line. Steve followed, and when she
came to a halt, poised the tip of his ballpoint above his pad. Leslie gave him another
irritated glance then expelled a long breath.
"Robert Garsen," she said, finally meeting his gaze, "lives in Baldwin Hills. He's in
the insurance business." Steve wrote it down. "He had nothing to do with this. You'll see."
"You're probably right, but he might know something that will lead me to someone
who does. Tom Travis is innocent which means that whoever murdered Marian is still on
the loose."
"Do you believe that or is saying it just part of your job description."
"He's not a killer," Steve said softly.
"Human beings have an infinite capacity to do the unexpected," Leslie replied with
quiet certainty.
Steve shrugged and put away his pad. "Somebody knows what happened and if I'm
lucky they'll tell me something that will lead me to the real killer."
They had reached the head of the line and Leslie paid and pushed the cart back to her
Porsche with Steve trailing along behind.
Steve held out his hand. "Thanks for your help. You've got my number, in case
something comes up."
"Yes, if something comes up."
Steve turned away, then stopped. "Ms. Wahlberg," he called as she hit the remote for
the tailgate,"may I ask you a personal question?"
She gave him another of her appraising stares then a little nod. "I suppose."
"Is there a Mr. Wahlberg? You're not divorced, widowed . . . ." Steve held up his
hands.
Leslie laughed, her cheeks flushing a soft pink. "College sweethearts," she said.
"He's a very lucky man."
"I think it would be better if I didn't tell him you said so."
"I suppose you're right."
"And Mr. Janson . . . ."
"Yes?"
"Thank you."
Steve's eyes followed her car until it was eventually swallowed in a river of steel and
disappeared.
Chapter Thirty-Six
Cynthia Allard's producer, Jarred Whiting, reclined his chair and appraised her with
slitted eyes, his standard signal that he was going to have to make "a hard decision," hard,
of course, on someone else. In a normal person Whiting's waved white hair and pale bluegray eyes might have signified a distinguished, grandfatherly disposition. To everyone who
knew him they only proved that soulless predators could assume a multitude of forms and
guises.
"Your Travis story's dead until next Wednesday, at least. Then it's good for . . ."
Whiting speculatively raised his brows, "what, a fifteen second recap from the sidewalk in
front of the courthouse?"
Cynthia stifled a frown and tried to meet Whiting's gaze. "Not necessarily. The
prosecution's going to want to close strong. My sources tell me they'll put on expert
testimony tying the murder weapon back to the missing table lamp and then close with a
lawyer who'll testify that Marian Travis had engaged him to file divorce papers shortly
after the baby was born."
Whiting waved his hand dismissively. "So, a week from now you'll have a couple of
thirty second spots saying exactly the same thing as every other reporter covering the
story. Explain to me why that justifies your sitting on your can for a week while everyone
else around here actually does some work."
"Jarred, I developed this story. I'm the one who broke--"
"I'm interested in tomorrow, not yesterday. Why shouldn't I let Jeri or Dennis phone
in the daily summary and have you dig into something new?"
"Such as?"
Whiting pulled a scrap of paper from the pile on his desk. "There's a kid in Aspen,
fifteen, supposed to have killed his aunt and uncle in their sleep with a spear gun when
they wouldn't let him go on vacation in Cabo with some of the rich kids from his school."
Cynthia shook her head in confusion. "Didn't that happen a week ago?"
"So?"
"So it's old news. I'll spend four days running around Aspen re-interviewing the kid's
homeroom teacher who'll tell me what a quiet, moody kid he was. What's the point?"
"If he had used a shotgun, maybe I'd agree with you, but the spear gun gives it a nice
twist, real curb appeal. You have something better to do with your time? Sitting around
here on your butt waiting for your phone to ring isn't going to cut it." Cynthia glanced into
Whiting's icy eyes and looked away. "That's what I thought. Okay, your flight--"
"I've got something," she said quietly, not looking up.
"You've got something? Something on the Travis case?"
"Yes."
"Well, don't keep me in suspense. Dazzle me," Whiting demanded, a predator's smile
twisting his lips.
An hour later make-up finished with Cynthia's cheeks and throat and she checked
herself in the mirror. A touch here, a push there and her hair looked right. Back on the set
the sound man slipped the mike under her collar, did a sound check and nodded at the
director who positioned himself to the right of the camera. Cynthia took in and expelled a
deep breath.
"In five, four, three . . . ." The director flashed two fingers, one, then pointed at her
as the camera's light went red.
"Good afternoon, this is Cynthia Allard for CourtWatch." Oversized text slid up the
teleprompter screen and Cynthia's words effortlessly followed the script.
"The Tom Travis murder case has just taken a bizarre turn with the addition of
suspended former Los Angeles County Deputy Prosecutor, Steven Janson, to Travis's
defense team.
"Only a few months before Marian Travis disappeared, L.A. County Deputy DA
Steven Janson was assisting LA Homicide Detectives in the search for the so-called
Headless Killer. In the middle of that investigation, Janson's wife, Lynn Burris Janson, the
daughter of Judge Malcolm Burris, coincidentally the judge who is presiding over Tom
Travis's case, was murdered by the Headless Killer. After her death the police focused
their investigation on a suspect named Alan Lee Fry.
"Before he could be arrested, Fry fled to Cuba where he was immune from
extradition. Only a few weeks after fleeing the country, Fry was found murdered in his
Havana apartment and Steven Janson, the last victim's husband, was the prime suspect in
Fry's death.
"Janson, who never denied shooting Fry, successfully avoided extradition back to
Cuba with the help of Tom Travis's lawyer, Gregory Markham. Nevertheless, in response
to a disbarment proceeding Janson eventually agreed to a two year suspension from the
practice of law on the grounds of moral turpitude for his alleged cold blooded murder of
Alan Fry.
"Now, accused murderer, Steven Janson, former son-in-law of the judge trying the
Travis case, has been hired by Tom Travis's attorney, Gregory Markham, as a so-called
'Senior Associate' to review evidence and interview potential witnesses for Travis's
defense.
"Markham, Janson, and the Prosecutor, Deputy D.A. Ted Hamilton, have all refused
to comment on this strange turn of events, but one courthouse regular, on condition of
anonymity, told me, 'There's an old saying, 'Set a thief to catch a thief. Maybe Greg
Markham thinks it should be 'Set a killer to catch a killer.'"
Cynthia paused and gave the camera a meaningful stare.
"For CourtWatch, this is Cynthia Allard."
"And we're out!"
The red light winked off and Cynthia unclipped the mike and sighed. She felt sorry
for Steve but facts were facts and she had saved her job for another week.
Chapter Thirty-Seven
Steve flipped through the email report he had received from the Foster Agency.
Robert Garsen: age forty-three, divorced, no children, a senior Vice President in a
commercial liability insurance company, Santana Casualty, in which his family owned the
majority of the stock. Salary and bonuses of about half a million a year. Between the
family trust fund and personal assets his net worth was someplace between ten and twenty
million.
Santana Casualty's PR materials listed the company as one of the sponsors of the
campaign to build a new womenhs shelter, one of the charities in which Marian Travis had
been active. He had probably met her over champagne and canapes at some fund raiser.
How romantic. Steve frowned. Liar or not, Marian had married Tom Travis and it rankled
him that she had been out trolling for a new lover while still living in Travis's house and
sleeping in his bed. If she had been sleeping in his bed.
Steve tried to relax. He had no right to be upset with Marian. She wasn't his wife.
Still, a wife shouldn't. . . . Sure, he hadn't been the perfect husband, who was, but Lynn
never would have . . . . Steve squeezed that thought into a tiny pellet and made it
disappear. Lynn loved him and she had never cheated on him. She was too honest. But,
Marian had been honest. No, not really. An honest wife doesn't jump into the sack with
another man no matter how much she wants to have a baby. Just because Steve wanted to
wait another year or two, Lynn wouldn't have stopped taking the pill or found some other
guy . . . . Another forbidden thought to be ground into dust and swept away.
But if that was true, why didn't you read her autopsy report? a little voice echoed
inside his skull. Why didn't you read the card she left you? That extra weight she had been
putting on just before she died, the jeans that didn't seem to fit anymore . . . . No! But,
another little voice assured him, even if she was pregnant, certainly it was yours, had to
be yours. Lynn would never . . . . But you were using condoms the last two or three
months. You told her it was a health issue but if you were both faithful . . . . You know the
real reason, the voice whispered. You didn't trust her. You were afraid she'd accidentlyon-purpose forget her pill, so every time you made love you wore a condom and
reminded her that you didn't trust her. So if you were wearing a condom and she got
pregnant . . . . If she had been pregnant when she died you could have had a DNA test
done on the fetus and then . . . . He recoiled from the thought as if he was about to touch
toxic scum. What was in that card? the little voice demanded. Was she leaving you. Had
she found another man? If you weren't such a coward . . . .
Steve closed his eyes and saw Lynn's face beneath him, that horrible bored, irritated
look she got at the end when she thought he wasn't watching, the 'Fine, go ahead and get
it over with' expression that was like a knife in his heart, and when he caught it he'd thrust
harder, Feel this! Do you feel this? Don't look at me like I'm some dirty job you have to
do! and then, the next time, he'd put on the damn condom again because not using it
would be letting her win.
The fight they had had that last morning, the day she had been . . . the day she had
died, flooded into his head.
*
*
*
"Are you going to be late again?" Lynn asked when he ignored her and reached for
the corn flakes.
"I could be."
"That's helpful. . . . Fine, maybe I'll be late too."
"Knock yourself out."
"Steve, look at me!"
With a clink Janson put down his spoon and gave her an angry stare.
"Steve, it's not like we haven't talked about having a baby."
"We talked about it. We didn't agree to it."
"That's it. Play the lawyer card."
"You know we can't afford a child yet. Maybe in a couple of years--"
"Please! I've got plenty--"
"Of your father's money. You know he thinks I'm some second-rater who only
married you because I'm after your family's money."
"Well, you're sure doing a crappy job of getting any of it."
"I'm not some kind of loser who--"
"Nobody thinks you're a loser. Steve, I want a baby. Now."
"And I want your family to respect me but that doesn't mean either one is going to
get what we want any time soon. . . . I gotta go."
Steve pushed back his chair and headed for the door.
"Steve. . . . Steve?"
*
*
*
Those were the last words they had spoken to each other. Shit! If he could do it over
again, if he could have her back, he'd . . . . But he couldn't. That bastard had killed her
before he'd had the chance to make things right.
Steve looked at the desk. The card was still sitting there, unopened. He tried to make
himself go over there and pull it out, but he couldn't move.
He wanted a drink so badly that it hurt. There was an emergency bottle in the cabinet
over the sink . . . . I've got to get out of here. Steve grabbed his keys and fled the
apartment without looking at the kitchen cabinet. On the way out, Lynn's French painting
seemed to call to him. He hurried past it without allowing his head to turn in its direction.
For a couple of minutes he just sat in his car. No bars, no night clubs. He didn't know
how long he'd stay sober if ended up somewhere like that. Physical exertion, that's what he
needed, sweat the frustration out of his system. The chances of finding a racquetball
partner on short notice were nil. He had never been a golfer so no driving range. The
batting cages? It took him twenty minutes to get to the Fun Center. Two of the cages
were down for repairs and three nervous, frustrated men were already signed up for the
third one. Back in his days on the force, the cops had had a bowling league over at the
Twilight Lanes. If they hadn't bulldozed the place and turned it into a Mega-Starbucks it
was . . . . yeah, about a mile over that way. Steve absentmindedly waved his hand in that
direction.
The Twilight Lanes still squatted in the center of a cracked asphalt lot. On the roof a
storm of animated pink and green neon flashed cascading pins like a beacon in the night.
Once through the double doors Steve was assaulted by the hollow racket of clattering pins
and balls skidding over polished oak. An acre of fluorescents banished shadows and
perspective like an Arctic white-out. Just like old times.
"I need an alley and a pair of shoes."
"Sorry, full up. It's league night. It'll be--"
"Janson, is that you?"
He'd gained twenty pounds around his gut and his mustache was showing white at its
drooping tips but Steve still recognized Mike Leahy from his days at the Ramparts
Division.
"Hey, Mike. You're looking good."
"Something happen to your eyes?" Leahy patted his gut. "What're you doin' here?"
What am I doing here?
"I just needed, you know, to get out of the apartment. I didn't figure on league
night."
"You want to bowl? I can fix you up. The Blue Angles are short a guy." Mike
gestured to a bunch of off-duty cops clustered at the end of alley 19.
"I'm not exactly on the job anymore," Steve said uneasily.
"Don't worry about it. Jack, give him a pair of shoes."
Four guys in blue and yellow bowling shirts looked at Steve with typical cop
expressions of faint suspicion and barely concealed distrust.
"Guys, this is Steve Janson. He was on the job for, Geeze Steve, what was it, eight
years?"
"Nine."
"Nine years, then he went over to the D.A.'s office."
"You're a lawyer?" a thickset Latin guy asked in the same voice he might have used
to inquire if Steve were a homosexual, a pedophile or a communist.
"Used to be. They kicked me out."
"Janson? You the guy who blew away the Headless Killer?" the tall white guy cut in.
Steve shrugged.
"You know how to bowl?" the Black cop asked, sporting a relieved smile.
"Used to have a one sixty five average, but it's been a while."
"So," Mike said, "you guys want Steve to fill in or what?"
"Okay by me," the Latin guy said. Everybody else nodded their approval.
"All right, you've up against . . . ." Mike consulted his list, "The Forty-Fives," Mike
pointed to five guys chatting up the waitress and re-tying their shoelaces the next alley
over. He made a check mark on the page then looked up. "Steve, come find me before
you leave, okay?"
"Sure, Mike, catch you on the other side."
"I'm the Captain, Carlos Arriaga," the Latin guy said, holding out his hand. The
Black guy was Walter Purcell, and the two white guys were Tall Jerry and Regular Jerry.
All were street cops from Central Division.
"I guess I'd better get a ball." Steve wandered past the racks looking for one that fit
his hand.
"Anybody know this guy?" Carlos asked once Steve was out of range.
"I heard he came home and found his old lady's head sitting on the dining room table
and by the time the Dicks had ID'd the doer, he'd skipped the country."
"Put the guy down on his knees and blew his fucking head off with a .45 the way I
heard it," Tall Jerry added.
"Put the whole fuckin' clip into him."
"Seriously pissed."
"The guy killed his wife," Regular Jerry countered.
"Would you do a guy who killed your wife?"
"Kill him? I'd give him a fucking medal."
"Maybe Janson loved his wife."
"What's love got to do with it?" Regular Jerry asked and they all laughed.
"I miss something?" Steve asked, cradling a nicked, black sixteen-pounder.
"Just talking about the size of Walter's dick," Tall Jerry said, smiling.
"He's just jealous," Walter told Steve.
"So, are we gonna bullshit all night or bowl?" Carlos snapped his fingers. "Walt,
you're up, and try not to trip on your prize possession, okay?"
The first game he was a little rocky. Steve kept missing the pocket and leaving
himself splits. He finished with a one thirty two. By the second game he had gotten into
the routine and the constant pitchers of draft helped loosen his coiled nerves. He hit one
fifty seven eclipsing both Walter and Tall Jerry. He had forgotten what it was like to spend
a normal evening with a bunch of guys who weren't wondering if he was going to snap
and start shooting people. By the third game he felt the beer starting to get to him and
switched to coke to the jeers of his teammates until he rolled a one-ninety-two and they
took the match two games out of the three.
"Hey, Clara!" Regular Jerry waved at the waitress. "Time to celebrate!"
Steve glanced at his watch, a little after eleven.
"Two G and T's, a scotch -- Steve, what're you having?"
Janson stared vacantly at Regular Jerry then down at his coke.
"I'm good."
"Pussy!"
"I've got a big day tomorrow. Anybody know where Mike is?"
Tall Jerry glanced at the clock. "By now he's in the lounge sweet talking Ella."
"Thanks, guys."
"So, Janson," Carlos said, grabbing Steve's shoulder, "you want to bowl next week?"
"Sure, but what about your regular guy?"
"Harry fucked up his ankle on a foot pursuit. He's on desk duty for a month."
Steve glanced at the plastic chairs, the screaming lights, the incessant clatter of the
pins and the crash of the balls, the stink of beer and sweat and politically incorrect
cigarette smoke and felt as if some part of him that had been warped out of alignment was
suddenly straight and true again.
"Sure, sounds good. Next week, same time?"
Carlos gave him a level stare and a closed-fist to closed-fist bump. Five minutes later
Steve found Mike in the back corner of the lounge, a tall glass of something beige on the
table in front of him. The almost invisible glow of UV light sizzled the air. The patterns on
Mike's shirt fluoresced in sympathetic response. Mike sipped his glass dry through a red
straw then rattled the ice like a dinner bell.
A latte-skinned bartender, about five ten with ample breasts and high coiled black
hair slipped another cocktail into Mike's hand with a soft "Here you go, Sugar." Steve
caught her eye and shook his head. With a quick wink she headed back to the bar.
"Is that Ella?"
"You know what they say, 'Ella is swella'." Mike laughed at his own joke.
"Everything okay?"
"I had a good time. Thanks for getting the guys to let me in."
"No thanks necessary. They were a man short. Besides," Mike took a long swallow,
"you've paid your dues."
"A lot of people think I belong in a cell."
"Bosses maybe. Not the guys who work for a living. You stayin' busy? You need
anything?"
"I'm good. I'm doing work for insurance companies, PI lawyers, stuff I don't need a
license for."
"That's good." Mike nodded and lazily glanced around the room. For a moment his
eyes locked on Ella and she gave him a secret smile.
"What about you?"
"You mean Ella?"
Steve shrugged.
"Patsy and I broke up a couple of years ago. Can't blame her. Hell, if I was a stayhome-do-your-taxes-water-the-lawn kind of guy, I wouldn't be carryin' tin. So. . . ?"
Steve's finger drew a thin moist line across the table. "So . . . I'm working on the
Tom Travis case for Greg Markham." Mike lifted his eyebrows in noncommittal inquiry.
"It started out that Markham needed help and he called in his marker. A deal's a deal."
"I always said you were a stand-up guy." Another swallow. "But?"
"Damned if I don't think the prick is innocent."
"You got anything that'll stick?"
"You think the jury would take my word for it?"
"So, zip?"
"Yeah, zip. The thing is, the D.A. is right. I don't buy this as a botched burglary or
some serial killer picking her as a random victim. This was personal, but everybody's
singing the same song -- 'Marian Travis was a decent person who had no enemies and
Tom Travis was a lightweight prick who wanted everybody to like him even when they
didn't.' Travis and his wife are not people who were on the run from the mob or who
ripped off some Columbian drug lord. It's like finding a barefoot corpse and two left shoes
next to the body. Nothing fits."
"Sounds like a real who-dun-it. I'm just a dumb beat cop. I run across a dead body
and I stand guard until the Dicks arrive, then I'm gone. Whose case was it?"
"You don't read the papers?"
"Too much bullshit. I get enough aggravation on the job."
"Simon Katz and a young guy, Jack Furley."
"Katz? Your old training officer? He giving you any rhythm?"
"Are you kidding? Katz is leading the parade that wants to see me locked up.
Furley's been decent enough, but nothing that does me any good."
Mike drained his glass and contemplated the half melted cubes. "Well, he ought to
be."
"What?"
"Furley ought to give you a break. He and Travis were tight there for a while."
"Tight? How?"
Mike gave him a surprised look. "You didn't know? Furley busted Travis for slapping
around that actress, Clare something."
"I know about that. So what?"
"Word was he convinced her to keep it cool and Travis appreciated his 'discretion.'
Once the case was over they hit some clubs, you know, lots of girls, lots of action. Travis
picked up the tab. Old Jack was ridin' high on the hog for a while there."
"But?"
"But, it was affecting his work. And then he made the Tattler. 'Movie Star And
LAPD Cop On The Town' with a picture of a couple of centerfolds hanging all over them.
That took about thirty seconds to get glued to Furley's locker. It took the Sergeant, one of
the Born Again types, about ten more seconds to find out. Man, he hit the fucking roof."
"What did Furley do?"
"What could he do? He told the Sarge that he was working as a bodyguard, good
relations between the Department and the movie industry, blah, blah, blah. He got off with
a warning but after that the Sarge was on him like white on rice. Furley had to cool it and
I guess Travis found somebody else to party with. . . ." Mike stared off into space and
Steve wondered if he had lost his train of thought or was just deciding whether or not to
order another drink. "That's all I actually know," Mike finally said, then waved his empty
glass at Etta. Steve put a ten down on the table.
"This one's on me."
"You pumpin' me for information, Steve?" Mike asked suspiciously eyeing the bill.
"Absolutely not."
"'Cause I'd hate to think your showing up here was some kind of scam to help
Markham."
"I didn't even know you'd be here."
"Still, maybe you saw an opportunity--"
"On Lynn's soul, I didn't."
Mike hesitated, then raised his fresh drink in mock salute and seemed to relax.
"Yeah, okay, sorry. A guy starts drinking too much, he starts thinkin' he's maybe makin' a
fool of himself. Half the trouble in the world's caused by somebody doin' something
violent or stupid or both just so people don't think they can make a fool out of him. Fear
does awful things to a man. It makes him do things he shouldn't do and afraid to learn
what he needs to know, or so dear old Father Feeney used to tell us."
"I wouldn't play you, Mike."
"Nah, I know you wouldn't." Mike pushed the bill across the table. Steve pushed it
back.
"Now, I can't buy and old pal a drink? You trying to insult me?"
"Can't have that," Mike said, smiling and palming the ten. "Etta's tip."
"I'll see you next week."
"You joining the Blue Angles permanentlike?"
"Until their regular guy gets back." Steve pushed back from the table.
"There was this rumor," Mike muttered, as if speaking to himself. "The story was
that somebody was giving Tom Travis a hard time about something." Steve gave Leahy a
sharp look. "I don't know who. I don't know when. I don't know why. Story was that
before things could get too far, they caught the guy with four ounces of speed. Possession
for sale. He would have gone to Quentin except it was his first drug offense and he got a
deal for a year in the county jail. Travis's problem was solved."
"And. . . ?"
"There was another rumor," Mike continued as if musing on an old riddle, "that half
the reason Jack Furley eventually made detective was that he busted some guy with four
ounces of speed. "Coincidence? Who knows?" Mike took a sip and smiled. "See you next
week. And Steve, we never had this little talk."
"What talk?" Steve said and turned away. The only sound was the muffled clatter of
pins. Steve started to leave, then hesitated. How could this puffy old boozer be Iron Mike
Leahy the toughest guy in the squad? "Mike, you know if you need help with something . .
. ." He let the offer hang.
Leahy gave him a bittersweet smile and shook his head. "Don't worry about Old
Mike. I've still got a few miles left in me." Then Leahy paused. "You know the old saying,
Steve," Mike said, his gaze suddenly intense, "about people who live in glass houses. Well,
who am I to talk, but you've got the look of a thirsty man."
"I'm fine, Mike."
"Yeah, sure, I know you are, but . . . all I'm sayin' is that I don't know where it was
that my life sort of jumped the track, just that it's way too late now for me to ever go
back. You're still a young guy, Steve, a stand-up guy. I feel bad that I disrespected you.
But Steve," Mike grabbed Steve's arm with an iron grip, "anger and fear will do terrible
things to a man, burn him up from the inside out until all the booze in the world won't put
out the fire. Whatever it is, let it go before it's too late. Before you end up like me." Mike
gave him a crooked smile and opened his hand.
Fear? Steve thought. I'm not afraid of anything, anything except . . . . and he
pushed the thought away before he had the chance to admit it existed.
"You're a good friend, Mike," Steve said and patted Leahy on his shoulder as he
headed for the door.
"Etta, Sweetie," he heard Mike call behind him, "What time do you get off, Darlin'?"
and the black light tubes popped and sizzled and Mike's shirt flickered an ethereal blue.
Chapter Thirty-Eight
Steve was surprised at how popular Cynthia's "Killer Helping On Travis Trial" piece
was. All day long people seemed to be looking at him sideways as if at any moment he
might pull out a .45 and start shooting. A secondary effect of the story was that he feared
the publicity might force Greg Markham to fire him. When he thought about it he almost
laughed. Two weeks ago he wanted nothing to do with Tom Travis and had felt coerced
into taking the job, now his biggest worry was that he would be cut loose.
Janson's cell rang as he was heading south on Wilshire. Markham with the coup de
gras?
"Hello."
"Mr. Janson, it's Rebecca Minton."
"Hi. Have you learned something new?"
"No. Well, not exactly."
Steve glanced at the large silver numbers above a set of oversize doors and figured
he had about two blocks to go.
"I don't understand."
"Do you have any plans for dinner?"
You're the psychic, he almost said, but didn't. "Not right now."
"Could we meet somewhere?"
It appeared that suddenly his company was in high demand. First Cynthia Allard,
now Rebecca Minton.
"Sure. What's up?"
"I'd rather explain in person. Is seven o'clock good for you? Do you know
Franconia's in Van Nuys?"
"I can find it." Steve saw his destination across the street at the end of the block and
dodged into the left lane. "Sorry, what was that?"
"I'll see you there," Rebecca's voice rattled through a sudden burst of static and the
line went dead.
Santana Casualty occupied the twentieth and twenty-first floors of a bronze glazed
high-rise in Century City, a convenient location for the lawyers who lived off the company
either as marauders or defenders. It was Friday afternoon and Steve had no time left for
subtly. He tucked in his shirt, adjusted his coat and without an appointmentmarched up to
the reception desk and asked to see Robert Garsen on urgent personal business. The
receptionist gave him a suspicious stare and asked him to take a seat. Steve figured it was
even money that her next call would be to security and he kept a watchful eye on the
doors for the arrival of large men in blue polyester blazers.
The coffee table held a neat assortment of magazines, The Casualty Reporter,
Insurance Age, Barrons. Steve rubbed his hands and nervously adjusted his cuffs then
caught a glimpse of his shoes and was embarrassed at the scuffs and wear. When he was a
D.A. and they were half living off of Lynn's trust fund, he had had them polished three
times a week.
"Mr. Janson?"
Startled, Steve looked up to see a short slender man in a gray suit standing in front of
him. "I'm Robert Garsen. What's this about?"
About five feet seven, clean shaven, ordinary to the point that you wouldn't look at
him twice, this was the guy Marian had planned to leave Tom Travis for? She was already
well off so it wasn't for his money. Whatever Garsen's charms were, they weren't readily
apparent to Janson.
"I'm Steve Janson. I'm working for Greg Markham, Tom Travis's defense attorney."
Garsen gave him a long stare, obviously weighing his options, then turned and
motioned for Steve to follow him. Garsen had a corner office and had placed his desk
parallel to the door so that when he looked to his right he could see all the way to the
ocean. The sun had begun to slide down the sky and the hour and the tinted glass imbued
the vista with a warm glow.
"Have a seat."
"Great office," Steve said, trying to break the ice with a little polite conversation.
"Life's too short not to enjoy it if you can." Garsen glanced at the distant procession
of waves marching toward the shore, then turned back to Steve. "Where do you want to
start?"
"Obviously, I'm here about Marian Travis." Garsen fidgeted uneasily. At least he's
embarrassed about cheating on Tom, Steve thought. "My information is that you and
Mrs. Travis were romantically involved at the time of her death." Steve deliberately called
her "Mrs. Travis", accentuating the fact that she had been a married woman. Garsen had
the decency to blush and look away.
"Yes, that's true." Garsen admitted, staring into the distance as if fascinated by the
play of light and shadow.
"I'm informed that Mrs. Travis planned to divorce her husband after the baby was
born and that you and she were going to be married."
"Also true," Garsen agreed, still not meeting Steve's gaze.
"The child she was carrying was yours."
"We didn't do a DNA test but Marian told me that she and her husband hadn't. . . ,"
Garsen paused a moment and tried again, "had not been having relations at the time the
baby was conceived." Garsen finally turned away from the window and looked at Steve.
"She said that he had a girlfriend, that Berdue girl I suppose."
"That plus the fact that she told you that Tom Travis was sterile?"
"Yes," Garsen said looking away.
"So, you felt that because Tom was--"
"No, I didn't," Garsen said quietly.
"Didn't . . . ?"
"I didn't think that what we were doing was right just because her husband was
sleeping with someone else. The fact is, it wasn't right and no matter how much I tried to
lie to myself about it," Garsen shook his head, "didn't change anything."
"Did Marian feel the same way?"
Garsen laughed, a sound simultaneously both happy and sad. "You didn't know
Marian, did you?"
Steve shook his head.
"She was . . . one of a kind. Very logical in a kind of . . . pedantic sort of way, the
kind of logic that doesn't necessarily have a lot to do with common sense." Garsen sighed
and in response to Steve's obvious confusion, tried again. "Dealing with her was
sometimes like arguing with a communist." Steve's frown grew more intense. "The thing
is, communism would make sense if its basic premises were correct. If human nature
worked the way the communists wanted it to work, their system would have worked too,
but, of course it doesn't and that's the problem. If the basic premises you're working from
don't match reality, all your brilliance and all your logic is just a waste of time. That's how
Marian was about some things. She'd have this very rational, very logical set of ideas but
sometimes the place she started from wasn't . . . well, I didn't think it had a lot of common
sense behind it."
Steve stared at Garsen's and hadn't a clue what the guy was talking about. With a
sigh, Garsen tried again.
"Marian decided that Tom's . . . lack of candor freed her from her marriage vows and
that her only obligation to him was to be forthright about what she planned to do."
"And you didn't agree?"
"You marry somebody, you do what you promised to do until you're not married to
them anymore. I guess that's kind of an old fashioned way of looking at things, but that's
how I see it."
"But in spite of that, you--"
"I helped Marian cheat on her husband. I was wrong to do it. Absolutely wrong. No
excuses. I fell in love. I wanted her. She wanted me. There's nothing I can say to justify
what I did. I'm not proud of my conduct." Garsen threw up his hands in surrender.
"Did you ever meet him, Tom Travis?"
Garsen shot him an appalled look. "No, I never wanted to meet him or have him
meet me. I was sleeping with the man's wife for God's sake!" Garsen swiveled his chair
back toward the view of the distant sea.
"When was the last time you saw Marian?"
Garsen's face clouded with a strange expression, half embarrassment,half longing.
"Two days before she disappeared, the 29th. We had planned to spend New Year's
day on my boat with Sarah and then Marian . . . as I said, she had a different way of
looking at things, and she decided that after we got back the two of us should go out
clubbing after dropping Sarah off with the sitter."
"And you didn't want to?"
Garsen looked at Steve as if he had made a rude noise. "The eight month pregnant
wife of a famous movie star is going to publically celebrate New Year's Eve with the man
she's cheating on her husband with? And when someone asks where Tom is or who I am
or how we know each other, what are we supposed to say?" Garsen shook his head in
disbelief.
"But she didn't see the problem?"
Garsen's lips bent in a bemused smile. "'Just tell them that we're friends and let them
think whatever they like' she told me." Garsen shook his head. "I couldn't do that."
"You had an argument?"
"A beauty. Nothing I said seemed to get through. I wasn't kidding when I said it was
like arguing politics with a committed communist -- Marian was starting from a very
dogmatic place. Penetrating her logic was like firing a bee-bee gun at a battleship." Garsen
raised his hands in helpless frustration.
Steve tried to picture Garsen strangling Marian with a lamp cord and burying her
body in a shallow grave. He couldn't do it and after nine years as a beat cop and six years
as a prosecutor he didn't think he could be that wrong about somebody. He had been
hoping for knuckle-dragging narcissist and instead had found a guilt-ridden Boy Scout
who worried about not doing the right thing.
"Did she have any enemies? Was anyone following her, bothering her?"
"Not that she told me."
"Did she seem worried, upset?"
"Just the opposite. She was looking forward to having the baby and leaving Tom. So
was I. I wanted us to have a clean break. I wanted to stop feeling like a cheat." Garsen
gave Steve a sudden stare. "Let me ask you a question."
Steve almost laughed. "You want to know if I think Tom did it?"
"I was wondering if you've found any leads."
"You don't think Tom did it?"
"Do you?"
Steve shook his head. "No. I was hoping you might be able to help me find Marian's
killer."
"I wish I could. So, you've got nothing?"
"I'm exploring every lead," Steve said, the investigator's equivalent of 'no comment.'
"Here's my card. If you think of anything, anything at all, please call me."
Garsen glanced at it, then dropped it on his desk. Steve extended his hand.
"You never mentioned why you think Tom's innocent," Steve said.
"Marian told me a lot about him and you don't get very far in the insurance business
without being able to read people."
"And?"
Garsen shook his head sadly. "I just don't think he had the balls for it."
Outside, the sun had slid down the bowl of the sky and now seemed to float over the
ocean like a fat golden ball.
Chapter Thirty-Nine
Franconia's was one of those Italian restaurants that Steve found vaguely confusing.
The waiters pretended to be Italian but their birthplaces were closer to Mexico City than
Milan. The maitre d', probably one of the owners, was continentally distinguished with
curly steel-colored hair but Janson suspected that it was more likely that he had grown up
in Marseille or Buenos Aires than anyplace in Italy. The provenance of the Chef was
anybody's guess from Iran to Viet Nam. At least the menu looked Italian, though he could
have used a flashlight to make out some of the entries. But Rebecca seemed as happy as a
Girl Scout on an outing to the Barbi factory, so Steve restricted his remarks to good
natured questions on the merits of the piccata versus the osso bucco. At least, he decided,
she didn't have any ethical issues about eating veal.
Tonight she wore a semi-shiny burgundy dress with a modest scooped neckline
accented with a heavy gold necklace with rubies scattered among the links, fake ones
Steve assumed. The outfit was a good match to her fair skin and golden hair. The table
featured a votive candle in a tulip glass and the flame flickered hypnotically in Rebecca's
sea-blue eyes.
The waiter delivered a bottle and poured balloon glasses of purple-black Chianti
followed by a platter of calamari looking like a gourmet version of miniature onion rings
with an occasional clump of deep fried tentacles thrown in for good measure. Rebecca
instantly stabbed one with her salad fork and twirled it in a ramekin of aioli sauce.
"Mmmmmm. I love their calamari here. The chef told me their secret is that they add
baking powder to a rice flour batter to make it especially light and crispy."
Steve remembered his meeting with Gerard Fontaine at the cooking school and
wondered if Marion's old man had learned that trick yet.
"You like to cook?" Steve asked as he speared his own piece.
"My mother was a terrible cook," Rebecca replied. Steve stared at her blankly, trying
to figure out if she had said something more and he had just missed it. She caught his
puzzlement and waved her fingers indicating that she would explain once she had finished
chewing. "My friends," she continued a moment later after a sip of wine, "thought I was
so lucky because all my mother fed us was hamburgers and pizza and take-out chicken."
"But not you?"
"She was a doctor," Rebecca said, her conversation ricocheting off on another
unexpected trajectory. Steve figured that eventually it would all make sense and set the
latest fact aside like a jigsaw puzzle piece you bank until its position eventually becomes
clear.
"What kind of doctor?" he asked politely.
"Allergist. No runny noses in my house." Another sip of wine. "Anyway, mom had
her practice and her gardening and making sure we did our homework. Cooking was
always at the bottom of her list."
"But if she was a doctor . . . ."
"How could she feed us junk food? 'That's why God invented multi-vitamins,' she
used to say." Rebecca laughed and Steve dueled with her for the last non-tentacle piece on
the platter.
"And you don't like junk food?"
For a moment Rebecca paused, confused as if she had been giving a well rehearsed
speech and had unexpectedly lost her place. "Oh, mom's cooking," she said an instant
later. "I got so tired of it, the take out. One day I woke up and just craved some fresh
green beans with butter or a piece of rare prime rib or boeuf bourguignon e on a bed of
egg noodles, something, anything except Domino's, Colonel Sanders, Burger King and
Swanson's frozen dinners!"
"Swanson's frozen dinners? Didn't they outlaw them in 1979? What did she do,
smuggle them in from Tia Juana?"
Rebecca laughed again and poured them both more wine. "Once I figured out that if
I wanted different food I would have to cook it myself . . . ." she shrugged.
"You taught yourself?"
"It's not that hard. I started with a meatloaf from the Betty Crocker Cookbook. I still
have it."
"The meatloaf or the cookbook?"
"Silly," she said, taking a playful swipe at his hand. "Both. I pressed the meatloaf
between two pieces of Saran Wrap and stapled it inside the back cover." More giggles and
another swallow of wine. Steve glanced at the bottle's sinking level and wondered if by the
time they reached desert she was going be capable of walking to the door.
"The scallopini?" the waiter asked, appearing out of the darkness.
"For the lady."
"Yes, sir." A petrale sole with a half order of risotto and peas was placed in front of
Steve. Rebecca quickly raised her knife and fork as if she hadn't eaten all day.
"I'm having a wonderful time . . . ."
"Me too," Rebecca agreed. "Mmmmm, that's good." Her eyes closed in mock
delight.
". . . but I was wondering why--"
"Why I asked you to have dinner with me?"
"Something like that."
She cut up another paper-thin piece of veal, if it's really veal and not pork loin,
Steve thought, the oldest trick in the dishonest restaurant operator's handbook, but he
kept his paranoia to himself.
"Maybe I just wanted to see you."
"I--"
"I know you like me," she broke in before he could reply.
"What?" Definitely an unpredictable girl.
"I can always tell."
"Because you're a psychic?"
"No, silly, because I'm a pretty girl . . . . Well, I am." She paused and gave him an
appraising glace. "You don't know a lot about women, do you?"
"Does any man?"
"Ha! That's what men who haven't a clue say to excuse their ignorance. We're not
aliens, you know, in spite of what that guy said in that book."
"Book?" Steve was getting more lost by the minute.
"The Mars-Venus thing. I thought it was overrated, well, at least self-evident, stuff
people should have been able to figure out on their own. It doesn't take a genius after all."
She stabbed another morsel of veal and twirled several strands of pasta around her fork.
Steve gave up trying to follow the thread of her conversation and poked at his fish.
"Where was I?" she asked once she had stopped chewing. "Oh, right, women."
"My thought exactly."
"No, just think about it. If you're a pretty girl, or even not such a pretty girl, as soon
as you hit twelve or thirteen, they're after you, boys. At first it's okay because they're so
clueless, but by fifteen or sixteen, even boys will have figured out most of the basics, so
we girls have to be able to tell which ones like us and which ones just want, you know,
well, they all want that, but some of them actually care about you and the rest just want to
try out the equipment. It's basic Darwinian self defense. You either learn how to separate
the sheep from the goats, or is it wolves?" she shook her head in brief confusion.
"Anyway, you've got to learn or you'll end up pregnant with some guy who'll make your
life a total mess."
Steve had absolutely no idea what to say and stared at her blankly, a thin
noncommittal smile frozen on his lips.
"That's how I know you like me," she concluded and speared a stalk of broccoli rabe.
"Oh." Steve took a few seconds to meticulously cut up the remainder of his fish. "So,
this is a . . . social occasion?"
"Let's wait until desert," she said with a quick, nervous smile.
Between the conversational nonsequiturs and a second bottle of wine, Steve lost
track of the rest of the meal. At least they avoided the usually mediocre tiramisu and
instead split an order of Bananas Foster.
Lingering over cups of double roasted black coffee sweetened with spoonfuls of rum
and melted vanilla ice cream, Rebecca's mood suddenly changed.
"There was another reason," she began, refusing to meet his eyes.
"Another reason for our dinner?"
Rebecca nodded and bent over her cup. Steve took a sip of coffee and waited. She
would tell him when she was ready.
"I've had a . . . feeling, about Sarah."
"A vision?"
"No, a feeling."
"Okay."
"Something's happening, where she is."
"She's still alive? She's all right?"
"She's not all right but she's in no immediate danger. It's very hard for her. She cries
a lot." Rebecca looked across the table and the candle flame gave her glistening eyes a
deep blue glow. "They're going to move her, soon."
"Move her?"
"The people they sold her to. Something's happened. Things haven't worked out the
way they thought, maybe because Sarah is so unhappy. It feels like they thought that
having a child would solve all the problems in their marriage and it's just made them
worse. The husband wants to get their money back."
"She's a child, not a used car!"
Rebecca shrugged. "There was a reason why they couldn't get a normal adoption."
"So, what's going to happen to Sarah?"
"I don't know."
"Is the wife going to keep her?"
Rebecca suddenly seemed on the verge of tears. "I told you. I don't know! It's just a
feeling. It's like watching a movie and suddenly you know how it's going to end. You
don't know how you know, you just do." Her gaze bored into him seeking some sign that
he understood.
"So, one way or another, Sarah's going someplace, either with the wife or back to
the people in Mexico to be . . . re-sold to new buyers." Rebecca gave him a teary nod.
"How soon?"
"I don't know."
"Can you make a guess?"
The candlelight reflected hypnotically from her eyes. "Maybe a week. Maybe two.
Not longer than three,I think."
"And you're telling me because . . . ?"
"You said you wanted to know if I learned anything new."
"You're telling me," Steve said with sudden insight, "so that I understand how
important it is that I find Marian's killer soon, in time to make him tell us the name of the
guy in Mexico before Sarah disappears forever."
"Maybe you understand me a little after all."
"I wouldn't go that far," Steve said sincerely.
"We really are a mystery to you, aren't we?"
"We?"
"Women. You're too direct," she said after a little pause.
"Excuse me?"
"You're a black and white, see the hill, take the hill kind of guy. You'd need to be
more manipulative to be really good at dealing with us. That's all right. I'm glad you're
not."
"I'm lost," Steve admitted.
Rebecca gave him a sweet smile. "I know. It must have been hard for you, with your
wife."
"What?" Had he told her that he had been married?
"It's one of the reasons I trust you so much."
Steve shook his head in confusion. Would he ever be able to follow this woman's
conversational twists and turns. "I don't--"
"It's okay." Rebecca affectionately patted his hand. "She loved you very much."
"What?"
"Your wife."
Was this some kind of a scam? "Did you--"
"It wasn't a vision," Rebecca continued, "Not like I had with Sarah." Steve just sat
there frozen, confused. "It's more a feeling, like I tried to explain, when you know
something even though you don't know how you know."
"You had a feeling about Lynn?"
"It's nothing bad. It just seemed like you really needed to know."
"Know that . . . ?"
"I just told you, that she loved you very much. You'd know that without my telling
you, if you weren't so . . . upset," Rebecca said after a little pause, as if 'upset' wasn't really
the word she wanted to use.
"I don't think--"
"Please don't tell me I've ruined things again," Rebecca said, suddenly afraid.
"Ruined things?"
"I do that, tell people things I think they need to hear and it frightens them away. I
don't want to frighten you away." She squeezed his hand.
Steve's head seemed unbalanced and overfilled with confusing thoughts. Then he
looked at Rebecca's porcelain features and thought about what she had said -- She loved
you very much -- and all his questions slipped away.
"You can't frighten me off that easily," he said and everything was fine. He looked
around the half empty restaurant. "Do you need a ride home? I could give you cab fare to
come back tomorrow and get your car."
"No, I'm all right. I have a high metabolic rate. Alcohol never stays with me very
long."
"You're sure you don't need a ride home?"
"No, besides, it's too soon . . . ." Rebecca paused and gave Steve a long stare. "But
you know that already. Why don't you walk me to my car and kiss me goodnight."
That sounded like a good idea to Steve and he signaled for the check.
Chapter Forty
"What if I threatened to break his face?" Steve suggested. Greg Markham bent over
his putter, concentrated on a spot six inches in front of the ball, held his breath for two
seconds, released it, then swung the club forward in a smooth arc. The ball headed
straight for the hole, then, at the last instant,rolled off to the right.
"Son of a bitch!" Markham muttered and advanced to the next practice ball.
"Greg?"
"What? Oh, yeah, break his face. If the guards weren't watching and a you had a few
minutes to really get to work on him, maybe that would do some good. But I don't think
one punch would do it."
"This makes no sense! It's his life were talking about."
"Life -- Ego," Greg raised and lowered his palms as if adjusting a scale. "Remember,
he's a star."
"But--"
"He doesn't think that whatever he isn't telling us is important to the case because it
isn't important to him." Markham lined up his shot and the ball made a dull thunk as it
tumbled into the hole. "Yes!" Greg looked over at Steve who was nervously shifting from
one foot to the other. "You have to understand that in Travis' world everyone is always
asking you for something, ten, twenty times a day. 'Will you do a benefit? Will you
endorse my product? Will you appear in my movie? Will you meet my friend? Will you
invest in my company? Will you loan me money?' You're always turning people down. It's
routine. To the guy whose kid will die without the surgery, refusing to give him that loan
is a huge deal, but for you it's just another guy asking you for something that you're not
going to give him. So what?"
Greg moved to the next ball on the practice green.
"Okay, I get it, but. . . ."
Greg frowned at the interruption and straightened. "On the other side of the
equation, whoever Tom might have had arrested must have had something on him,
otherwise he would have just ignored the guy, or woman. In fact, a woman makes more
sense. Suppose she threatened to go public with Tom's performance problems or a claim
that he punched her or maybe she had a picture of him fondling her underage sister? That's
a major problem for a star. If--"
"That's just the kind of person we need to know about. How can he not understand
that?"
Markham gave Steve a weary shrug. "As far as he's concerned if the person isn't
important to him, then they aren't important at all. He just doesn't believe that some
nobody would murder his wife over what sees as no big deal. 'Tom, buddy, I need ten
thousand to get my house out of foreclosure.' 'Sorry, can't help you.' -- Nothing important.
'Tom, can you front me a few grand for my wife's eye surgery so she doesn't go blind?'
'Sorry.' --Nothing important. 'Tom, if I don't get this part, I'll lose my union medical
insurance. Please, can you get the director to hire me?' 'Sorry.' --Nothing important. Are
you starting to understand his point of view?"
"Then we have to convince him that he's wrong and it's not nothing. What's he got to
lose by telling us?"
Markham laughed out loud. "What's he got to lose? Are you kidding me? He's a Star.
You know how you spell Star? E-G-O. He doesn't want anyone, including us, especially
us, to know anything embarrassing about him. He wants us, especially you, to respect
him."
"Why me?"
"Because you were a cop, a real cop. You walked a beat. You faced real bad guys.
Macho. GRRRR." Markham grinned. "And you blew away Lynn's murderer. That makes
you a certified Tough Guy. He wants you to like him, to think he's a tough guy too. He
wants you to be his buddy, like in the movies -- Lethal Weapon -- Glover and Gibson."
"Crap."
"Now you're getting it. So how's that going to happen if you find out he couldn't t get it
up and that it frustrated him so much he ended up hitting some girl? If you find that out
then you won't respect him any more and every time he sees you, he'll know that you
know he's a pussy and that will piss him off. If the case were over and he never had to see
either of us again, well, maybe . . . , but he needs us now so he can't stand us thinking he's
a pansy-loser. -- Now be quiet while I make this putt." Greg bent over the ball.
"So Tom tells himself that whoever he sicced Furley on, whatever problems they
were causing him, had nothing to do with Marian's murder and he clams up and hopes for
the best?"
Greg glared at Steve for two seconds then looked back at the ball and swung the
putter. As it neared the cup the ball slowed, caught the lip and angled away.
"That was your fault!" Greg complained. "You broke my concentration."
"What are we going to do?" Steve demanded, ignoring Markham's pout.
"I'm going to see Tom this afternoon and beg him on my hands and knees to tell me
the name of everyone he's ever known who's been arrested for drug possession and I'm
going to promise him not to tell you anything about it."
"What's he supposed to think you're going to do with the information?"
"I'll tell him that I'm going to give it the Foster agency under the name of another
client so it will never be linked to him."
"You're going to lie to him?"
Greg waved for quiet. The next putt stopped an inch before the center of the cup.
Markham frowned. "Of course I'm going to lie to him," he continued in a sour tone. "He's
been lying to us. It's only fair that we lie right back." Steve shifted uneasily. "You've got a
problem with that?"
"No, it's something else."
Markham lined up for his next putt. "Let's have it."
"I've been talking to a psychic about the case."
Markham's club flew forward in a spastic jerk and the ball bounded ten feet past the
hole.
"Have you lost your mind!"
Like a kid trying to explain why his hand was stuck in the cookie jar Steve recounted
his meetings with Rebecca.
"Jorge? Silver tape. A blue blanket? That's it?"
Steve shrugged.
"Terrific," Greg muttered and advanced to the last ball. "If she ever tells you
anything actually useful, let me know."
"I'll fax you a detailed report with everything she told me."
"I can't wait."
"When do you think you'll be able to get me the name of the guy Travis had
arrested?"
"You're awfully trusting for a former prosecutor."
"What?"
"I figure that at best I've got maybe one chance in three of getting the truth out of
Travis." Greg lined up for the putt. "You need to call that cop, Furley, and see if he'll give
it up." This time the ball hit the cup dead center and dropped in with a pleasant THUNK.
"Yes!"
Steve wandered away from the practice green trying to figure out how he was going
to find Jack Furley on a Saturday afternoon.
Chapter Forty-One
Steve poked his head into the Detectives' Squad Room and, like an escaping convict
caught in a searchlight, was immediately speared by Simon Katz's gaze. Katz rose slowly
from his desk by the window. Steve gave him an embarrassed smile and advanced to meet
him in the center of the room.
"I've got to have a talk with the desk sergeant about letting civilians in here without
an escort," Katz said, ignoring Steve's outstretched hand. "What do you want?"
Steve glanced around the almost deserted room. "Is Furley around?"
"You need to stop going behind my back to my weak-minded partners. You want
anything in this office, you come to me."
"Can we at least sit down?" Steve gestured toward Katz's battered steel desk.
Without grace Simon waived him to the equally battered visitor's chair. Janson felt his
temper beginning to rise.
"What do you want?" Simon demanded.
"I'm still trying to get Tom Travis a fair trial."
"Aren't we all."
"Not necessarily," Steve shot back. He could feel his cheeks beginning to burn. Katz
always could push his buttons.
"Oh, now Tom Travis is Dreyfus and you're Emile Zola." Always the intellectual,
Steve thought but somehow managed to keep the comment to himself.
"No, Travis is a jerk, but he's an innocent jerk."
"Yeah, yeah, and you're the only one interested in finding the 'real' killer."
"I didn't used to be. It used to be that you wanted to find the real killer just as badly I
as I did. When did that change?"
"I found the real killer. His name is Tom Travis and the jury's going to back me up."
"Sure, because juries have never convicted an innocent man because the cops only
looked for evidence that made the guy look guilty."
"If you've got something to say, say it straight out," Katz demanded, an ugly hiss in
his voice.
"Fine. I've been killing myself trying to find out who might want to hurt Travis
enough to do this and now I find out somebody gave him a hard time and he arranged for
a friendly cop to have the guy busted for drugs. End of problem. I think a year in the slam
might be a good motive for someone to want to get even with Travis, don't you?"
"Are you saying we planted drugs on somebody?" Katz asked in a soft, dangerous
voice.
"No. I'm saying that the guy on the wrong end of that bust had a good motive for
revenge and I'd like to talk to him."
"Who's stopping you?"
"I need his name."
"Ask your client."
"The stupid son-of-a-bitch thinks that the person in question knows something that
will make him look bad so he's convinced himself that the person couldn't have anything to
do with his wife's murder and he won't tell us shit."
"This is rich! Your own client won't give you the time of day so you want us to do
your dirty work for you? I don't think so."
"I didn't ask you to."
"No," Katz said, thinking hard. "You asked for Furley. What's he got to do with it?"
"Who do you think helped out Travis by making the bust?"
Katz's mouth drew into a hard thin line, his gaze focused on a point in the vague
distance as he remembered the second day he partnered with Jack Furley.
*
*
*
"There's something I've got to know if we're going to work together," Simon told
Furley in their car at the beginning of the shift.
"Sure, what's that?"
"If I'm going to have your back, I've got to know where you're coming from."
"What do you mean?"
"Listen, Jack, I've been at this a long time. I've had partners who were drinkers,
partners who were chasers, partners who were born-again racists, and I could deal with all
of that because I knew what to expect. If you have a drinking problem, tell me now.
You've got a woman problem, a gay problem, a sex problem, tell me now and I'll do my
best to cover for you as long as it doesn't interfere with the job. If I get blind-sided, I'm
telling you right now, you're on your own. Are we clear?"
"Clear."
"You got anything you need to tell me?"
Furley just laughed. "I'm straight, not on the sauce, not a redneck, not born-again."
Simon gave him a hard stare then a nod. "Okay, just remember what I said. I don't
like surprises when it comes to my partner."
"Sure. I understand. You want--"
"One more thing," Katz cut in.
"Yeah?"
"You got any on-the-job issues I should know about?"
"I don't get you."
Katz sighed as if talking to a slow third grader. "Any of the bosses got it in for you?"
"No."
"Have you gotten into any trouble that any of the bosses know about, anything they
could hold over your head?"
"No!"
"So there's no sexual harassment complaint that your Lieutenant made go away but
maybe kept the paperwork in his personal private file?"
"I told you no."
"How about civilians who you did favors for? Is there anybody who might think you
owe them a pass?"
"Jesus, what's this all about?"
Ah, Simon thought, I've struck a nerve.
"This is homicide, Jack. The Big Time. We deal with killers. We don't let anything,
ever, get in the way of nailing a killer. I don't care who did it, the Chief of Police, the
President, the Pope, I don't give a good God Damn. He's going down. Nobody gets a
pass, on my watch, ever. You think I'm a Boy Scout, fine. You think I'm a fanatic, fine.
But that's my rule -- nobody skates on a murder no matter who they are."
"I'm not disagreeing with you. What's that got to do with--"
"Jack, if you owe somebody and we trip over them in an investigation, I need to
know that now. I don't want some scumbag lawyer to surprise me with a claim we blew
the case because you owed some guy a favor and gave him a pass. If you worked security
for a nightclub off the books, tell me now. If you banged some would-be movie star
instead of busting her for grass, tell me now. If you fixed your uncle's parking ticket, tell
me now."
"Jeeze, Simon, I--"
"Of course, if you want to partner with somebody else, that's fine with me."
"Nobody's talking about switching partners."
"Good, then let's have it, because I swear to God that if I ever trip over somebody
you so much took as a free sandwich from, I will make it my business to get you
transferred to the Forgery Division out in the Valley."
Katz leaned forward and stared into Furley's eyes. It took about three seconds.
"Yeah, okay, there was this one thing, nothing illegal . . . ."
"Sure, whatever, let's have it."
Furley glanced out the window then, slightly embarrassed, turned back to Katz.
"When I was in uniform I went out on a call, domestic violence. The guy was Tom Travis,
the movie star."
"Yeah, I know who you mean."
"I talked to the girl, Clare Cantrell. She was shook up but when she calmed down
she didn't want the bad publicity any more than Travis did. I told her that the D.A. would
prosecute even if she didn't push it, but that if she and Travis said it was a mutual dispute
and Travis agreed to apologize and go to anger management class and if she told the D.A.
she was good with that, then the whole thing would go away."
"Did you bang her?"
"No!" Furley paused for a couple of seconds, then smiled. "Wanted to, but," he
shook his head, "I didn't get the chance."
"But she was good with it, you didn't push her?"
"Hell no! She didn't want Travis pissed at her. He was a lot bigger star than she was
back then. She didn't want the old boy's club on her back."
"So, is that it?"
Furley again shook his head. "No." For an instant his fingers patted his pocket
searching for a nonexistent pack of smokes. "Travis figured I had done him a favor talking
her out of it. I let him think that. He played it cool but once he finished Anger
Management and the case was dismissed, he called me and we went out on the town.
Serious partying."
"He picked up the tab?"
"Oh yeah. And the babes."
Katz's eyes tightened.
"All he had to do was look at a couple of hotties and smile, and they'd be all over us.
It got to be kind of a regular thing. Went on for, oh, maybe six months."
"Why'd it stop?"
Furley rubbed his chin and glanced away. "It started getting in the way of the job.
He'd call up, eight, nine o'clock. 'Hey, Jack, let's get a drink." Next thing you know we're
closing the bars and I've got an eight a.m. roll call."
"So, you put a stop to it."
Furley's face grew slightly pink. "My sergeant did. We, Travis and me, made the
Tattler. The Sarge gave me a choice, pick either the job or Travis." Furley shrugged.
"So, is that it?" he asked, but he knew it wasn't.
Furley paused as if deciding how much to admit, then shrugged. "No, there are a
couple of things more."
"Go on."
"First, about those parties with Travis, the thing was, he more or less liked to
watch."
"Watch?" Katz asked, suddenly thinking about his thirty plus years married to the
same woman and cringing at the thought of anyone watching them.
"Yeah, he'd like to get the two girls in the room and then--"
"Stop. I get the picture," Katz said, disgusted. "Were any of these girls under age?"
"No, of course not!"
"Okay, what's the second thing?'
Furley glanced uneasily out the window at the police cars jammed into the back of
the lot, then began to speak without looking at Katz.
"It was about a year and a half ago. I had been working plain clothes a couple of
years and out of the blue Travis gives me a call.
*
*
*
The only part of Travis's phone call that made any sense to Furley was his claim that one
of the crew on his movie set was dealing drugs.
"I tried to look the other way," Travis told him, "but now I'm worried that
somebody's going to get stoned on the job and get themselves or somebody else killed."
"Killed?"
"We've got scenes with guys racing jeeps, riding horses, gun fights, a couple of
explosions. . . ." Travis sighed. "One mistake and somebody could get fucked up real bad.
I don't want that on my conscience."
"Have you talked to the director or studio security?"
"I can't afford to get branded as a snitch with the crew. Besides, if they fire him, he'll
just pick up where he left off on his next gig. I've tried to talk to him--"
"You confronted him?"
"Not exactly confronted. Without proof you can't flat out accuse somebody. I sat
down with him and said, you know, 'I I've seen some suspicious stuff. I'm not pointing any
fingers but if you're involved with that stuff, you need to stop it.'"
"What did he say?"
"Pretty much what you'd expect. 'I don't know what you're talking about. I don't
have anything to do with drugs. . . .blah, blah, blah.' So I said, 'Good' and that was the end
of that."
"But you think he's still at it?"
"Oh, yeah."
"And you want me to arrest him?"
"I guess."
"With what for evidence?"
"He's dealing every day. He's got to have the drugs on him or in his car."
"Are you willing to give me an affidavit so that I can get a warrant?"
"This can't get back to me. The crew would sabotage my scenes until I couldn't get
work any more. This is a union business for God's sake."
"Then how am I supposed to bust this guy?"
"If he had a broken tail light couldn't you search his car?"
"I'm not a traffic cop and no."
"So, you're not going to do anything?"
"I didn't say that."
*
*
*
They were shooting on location out near Lancaster with Joshua trees as far as the
eye could see. Travis had tried to explain the movie's plot to Furley, something about a
bank robbery and a double cross, money hidden in the desert, a small town crime lord and
a crooked sheriff but it all gave Furley a headache. After ten minutes of back and forth
Travis finally agreed to get him and a Sheriff's investigator by the name of Bob Chiappari
passes to the set.
Furley and Chiappari showed up in boots, blue jeans, blue cotton shirts and baseball
caps. They told anyone who asked that they were friends of the caterer and otherwise kept
their mouths shut and stayed out of the way.
The location was split into two parts. In front of the camera was a sandy wasteland
covered in a forest of fifteen to thirty foot tall Joshua trees all the way to the horizon, the
wilderness broken only by a weathered cabin in the foreground and a faint scratch of
power lines three or four miles in the distance. The second part was a ragged line of
cameras, lighting reflectors, booms, motor homes, catering vans, a commissary tent,
portable toilets and the miscellaneous detritus that accompanied any group of
contemporary humans. Travis had explained that they would be on location for several
days of exterior shots, desert chases and a shoot out.
"Lancaster?" Furley had complained. "Why don't we just wait until you come back to
LA?"
"Then I'd have to get you a gate pass from the Studio instead of just asking the AD
to let you on the location. I'm trying to keep a low profile here. Jeeze, can't you just help
me out?"
Furley grumbled some more but eventually gave in.
"Remember, we don't know each other," were Travis's final instructions. Furley
wished that that were true.
*
*
*
"This is pretty cool," Chiappari said, pointing at the beehive of activity in front of
them. The crew had laid down a set of wooden tracks right to left across the sand. The
director sat behind them, his eyes on a TV monitor which received a picture broadcast
from a camera on a little hand car that crew members pulled down the track. The camera's
path paralleled the path Travis and his co-star, a devastatingly beautiful girl of about
twenty-five named Rachel Cain, would take across the sand. In this scene the girl and
Travis were supposed to be hiking across the desert after an escape from the villains.
Travis was supposed to act macho but sensitive in a way that caused her to both love and
trust him over the space of a few lines of dialog, which the audience would accept, the
movie people hoped, in a 'suspension of disbelief.'
It took about an hour to set everything up, then Travis and his co-star began their
stroll. Cain had apparently begun her career as a fashion model because she was about five
feet ten, easily as tall as Tom Travis and he complained that the dynamics of the story
required that his character be more strongly perceived than hers. Two of the crew were
ordered to dig a shallow trench in the sand so that on screen Travis's character, Rick
Black, appeared to be a couple of inches taller than the girl.
The first take was a long shot which caught both of them from the knees up. Then
they did it again with the camera holding tight on Rachel's face. Then they shot it a third
time as a close-up on Travis. At the end of the shot a bug buzzed around Tom's face and
he insisted they do it again. Finally, about two hours after they had started laying track and
clearing a path in the sand, the director had a scene that would be on screen for a total of
about twenty or thirty seconds.
The next shot was going to involve a race across the desert to the shelter of the cabin
amidst a hail of gunfire from the villains chasing them in a jeep. The director called a break
for lunch. Travis had furnished Furley with a publicity shot of the target and Jack stood
back and watched the chow line. A large tent, open at the sides, had been set up with long
tables and folding chairs inside. A catering van formed the fourth wall and the crew
approached the pass-through windows in two lines. The featured cast members had
already placed their orders and had their meals delivered to their air conditioned trailers.
The Director, AD, and cinematographer huddled together at their own table in the back.
A chalk board listed the menu choices as poached sea bass on Mexican rice with a
vegetable medley; grilled pork loin in orange sauce with garlic mashed potatoes with a
Caesar salad, and for the unadventurous, hamburgers and fries. Chiappari turned toward
the line but Furley gently held him back.
"Let's wait and see what our guy does," he whispered. Reluctantly, Chiappari halted
and they slipped to the back of the tent. The target lazily wandered around, slapping
shoulders, stopping to chat and joke with various members of the crew. Finally, after
almost ten minutes of working the tent he joined the end of the line. A couple of his
buddies from the crew entered the line behind him.
"Why don't you get us a couple of burgers," Furley suggested.
"What are you gonna do?"
"I'm going to have a look around while he's eating." Chiappari gave Furley an
uncertain look. "Just get me a burger. I'll be back in five minutes." Chiappari looked at him
suspiciously but hunger overcame his concern.
"Fine, but I'm getting the pork loin."
Furley had already run a DMV check. The subject owned a '92 Camaro which was
parked at the motel. The crew had come out to the location in busses, the stars in their
motor homes with teamster drivers. Virtually everyone who didn't have their own trailer
had brought a knapsack or sports bag with sunscreen, bottled water, paperback books,
extra clothing and anything else they thought they might need. Most of the bags had been
left in a corner of the commissary tent, out of the sun. The target had stashed his in the
stunt trailer with the guns, blanks, and other similar items. Furley checked the door, found
it locked, and headed back to the commissary. Chiappari had a plastic plate with a burger
and fries waiting for him.
"Find the can okay?" Chiappari asked loudly.
"Yeah. Thanks for getting this for me." Furley added some ketchup and took a bite.
"How's yours?"
"No wonder people like this business. If I had free meals like this every day, I'd blow
up like a pig." Chiappari played with his mashed potatoes then asked in a softer voice,
"Anything interesting?"
No one seemed to be watching and Furley dipped his head. "We'll do it on the way to
his car."
"PC?" Chiappari asked in a whisper.
"It's covered."
The director got three more scenes that afternoon, the escape to the cabin and the
shoot-out at the cabin, first inside then outside, and the Assistant Director got the bad
guy's half of the jeep chase with the second unit crew. Daylight savings time had recently
started and they were able to shoot until almost six before the light got too yellow to
match with the earlier scenes. Back in town Furley and Chiappari exited the bus with the
last few passengers and kept an eye on the target as he ambled across the lot to his
Camaro. He had just unlocked the driver's door when Furley tapped him on the shoulder.
"Hi, you got a second?"
"Do I know you guys?" Barry McGee asked, eyeing Furley and Chaippari
suspiciously.
"I'm Jack Furley. This is Bob Chiappari. We were out on location today and I noticed
you talking to the guys in the crew."
"Yeah, so what?"
"Bob here is with the Sheriff's department. He was checking out maybe getting a job
as technical advisor."
"And you're here to do his talking for him?"
Furley pulled out his badge. "LAPD. I just came along for the fun of it. Bob and me,
we're old buddies."
"Tell me your life story some other time," McGee sneered and reached for the door
handle. Furley put his palm against the glass and held the door closed.
"As I was saying, Bob and me were looking around, really hadn't been on a movie set
before so were looking at everything really close."
"Good for you."
"And we were kind of surprised to see you dealing drugs like that right out in the
open."
"What? Are you, nuts?"
"Pretty brazen, wouldn't you say, Bob?"
"I was shocked," Chiappari said with a smile.
"What kind of a cheap ass--"
"Drop the bag. Hands on the roof," Furley ordered, spinning McGee toward the car
and lightly kicking his feet back. Chiappari forced McGee's right hand onto the Camaro's
roof.
"What the hell--"
"You don't want to be resisting a police officer," Furley said in a soft tone. McGee
gave him an outraged stare but stopped trying to pull away. "Frisk him, Bob."
Chiappari slid his hands down McGee's shoulders and under his arms. When he
reached Barry's hip pocket he paused and reached inside.
"Well, look what we've got here," Chiappari said in mock surprise, holding up three
postage-stamp sized glassine envelops containing a pale yellow powder.
"Boy, that sure looks like speed to me," Furley announced.
"Sure does," Chiappari agreed.
"You planted that!"
"Is that so? How'd we plant your fingerprints on them?"
McGee started to say something, then shut up. The envelopes went into a plastic bag
and Furley looked at the sport's bag lying next to McGee's feet.
"He could have a gun in there," Furley announced.
"I'd better check it, just to be safe," Chiappari volunteered.
Furley kept a light pressure on the center of McGee's back while Chiappari pulled the
zipper and picked through the bag's contents. In the bottom corner, inside a crumpled
white athletic sock, he found a Ziplock bag containing fifteen more glassine envelopes.
"Oh--oh," he said, holding up the bag, "this looks like possession for sale to me." A
pair of cuffs appeared out of nowhere and Chiappari pulled McGee's hands behind his
back. An instant later the bracelets made their distinctive CLICK- CLICK sound.
"Barry McGee, you are under arrest for possession and possession for sale of a
controlled substance,methamphetamine.You have a right to remain silent . . . ." Chiappari
recited the rest of the Miranda warning as he steered McGee toward the car. Furley
picked up the evidence and McGee's bag and followed behind.
Five or six crew members had paused at the edge of the lot to watch the arrest and
when he saw them, McGee began to scream, "That son of a bitch Travis set me up! This is
bogus! I'm being framed! Fucking Tom Travis did this to me. These guys are his trained
dogs! That shit was planted on me! Fucking Tom Travis set me up!"
McGee's shouts were finally muffled by the SUV's thick doors but McGee continued
to lurch around the back seat, kicking and pounding his head against the glass."
"You shut the fuck up or I'm going to duct tape you like King Tut," Chiappari
shouted as they headed for the substation.
Furley tuned McGee out and sat back and watched the landscape drift by.
*
*
*
Katz gave his new partner a long stare. "I don't want any BS here. Between you and
me, did you plant that stuff on him?"
"I'm not a crook."
"Is that a yes or no?"
"No," Furley said, slowly and carefully enunciating his words, "I did not plant
anything on him and neither did Chiappari. What do you think he was doing wandering
around the lunch tent, running for union president? He was delivering drugs. He was smart
enough to keep a mental list of who owed him what. He was probably planning on
collecting the money the next day when he wasn't carrying, saying that the guy was paying
off a bet or something. They were his drugs in his pocket and his drugs in his bag."
"Did they check the envelops for prints?"
"He probably wore gloves."
"So no prints?"
"That doesn't prove anything."
"He got convicted out of Lancaster? How'd that work out for you?"
"It was on my tip from my CI. I got a gold star in my jacket."
"Where's the case now?"
"After a lot of back and forth the guy finally copped to possession and got a year in
county jail without time off for good behavior. He got out a couple of weeks ago."
"Is there any way Tom Travis can jam you up on this?"
"It was a clean bust. If anything, I could jam him up if I let it get around that he had
narked on the guy."
"That's it, nothing else?"
"I'm a good cop. You got any other questions?" Furley demanded.
"No." Katz paused, then extended his hand. "Okay, you've got my back and I've got
yours. Partners."
"Partners," Furley agreed. They shook hands and Furley fired up the engine and
pulled the Crown Vic out of the lot.
*
*
*
Katz stared at Steve Janson and frowned.
"You got any proof this guy you're looking for had anything to do with Marian
Travis's murder?"
"Guy?"
"Person," Katz said with a shrug.
"How am I supposed to have any proof if I don't know who he is?"
"You should be talking to your client about this."
"And he should be talking to me, but he's worried about looking like low-life pussy
snitch instead of a macho hero."
"Then that's his problem, isn't it?" Katz looked at the door. "Unless you've got
something else, I've got some real police work to do."
Steve angrily shoved back his chair.
"You don't know what real police work is any more, Simon. You're just like the rest
of these humps, one crime, one guy in the slam and everything's in balance even if it's not
the guy who did the crime."
"I don't need lessons in ethics from you, Janson."
"That's the sad part, Simon. You sure as hell do. That's the real pisser. You know
that. I 'm here trying to get you to do the right thing. That's just pathetic."
"Get out!"
"When you close your eyes tonight, don't think about Tom Travis. You think about
Sarah. It's still not too late to save her, you self righteous bastard!"
Steve shoved the back of his chair so hard it tipped over with a crash and he stormed
out of the room. He was still angry fifteen minutes later as he was nearing his apartment
when his cell rang.
"Barry McGee," Katz's angry voice snarled and then the line went dead.
Chapter Forty-Two
The only unknown vehicle near Travis's house on the day of the disappearance was a
black van with the name "Sunshine Pool Service" painted on the side. The detectives
checked and confirmed that the Sunshine Pool Service had a scheduled filter cleaning and
maintenance appointment that morning for a house at the end of the block. No other
strange vehicles were reported for that morning, but most of the domestics had the day off
and most of the neighbors were either out of town or visiting friends or out shopping for
party supplies. If you wanted to pick a day when a high end neighborhood would be
deserted you couldn't do much better than December 31st.
Nevertheless, Steve put the Foster Agency to work checking DMV records on every
witness or suspect name he could think of and on Monday morning they emailed him the
vehicle registrations as of the time of Marian's disappearance for a dozen people including
Barry McGee, Robert Garsen, Bobby Berdue, Carey Ebbe, Leslie Wahlberg, Riley
Fontaine, even, with a twinge of guilt, Rebecca Minton. He also ordered them build a
dossier on Barry McGee. With the DMV list in hand he dove back into the stacks of
police interviews with Travis's neighbors.
The cops had been thorough and had canvassed every house, on some occasions
returning two or three times until they had talked with everyone who had been in town on
the day of the murder. And they didn't limit their questions to the day of the
disappearance. They also asked about any unusual vehicles spotted in the neighborhood at
any time during the two or three weeks prior to the thirty-first.
A gardener reported seeing a red Camaro parked in front of Tom Travis's house two
days after Christmas. That matched Barry McGee's story about being invited over for a
drink, a story that took on a whole new meaning when you knew that the reason McGee
was out of work was because Tom Travis had set him up for a year behind bars.
I'll bet you thought Travis owed you a favor, Steve muttered to himself. He hadn't
heard from Greg Markham so he assumed Tom was still blocking out the memory of his
part in McGee's arrest. Maybe McGee was lying about the friendly drink. Maybe he had
been in the neighborhood to case the house for a burglary or vandalism and had made up
the story about being invited as a cover in case his car was spotted. At the very least they
needed Travis to confirm that he had invited McGee into his house.
There were three other unknown cars mentioned in the Field Interview Reports for
the two weeks before the murder: a mid-eighties Camry had been seen the week before
that the witness thought "probably" belonged to a relative of the next-door gardener; a
silver BMW X7 SUV that had been parked across the street from Travis's driveway for
half an hour on the thirtieth, and a red Ferrari, (was there any other color?) slowly drove
up and down the street four or five times three days before Marian disappeared.
The cops figured the Ferrari belonged to somebody scouting the neighborhood for a
missing girlfriend, looking to see if her car was parked where it wasn't supposed to be.
Burglars, hit men and the like generally didn't cruise their target zone in a quarter million
dollar red sports car so the cops crossed that one off their suspect list. It didn't match any
of the vehicles on Steve's list either. Without a description of the driver or a partial plate it
was a dead end.
The witness described the Camry as dirty white with an off-center rear bumper and a
cloud of blue smoke pouring from the tailpipe when the driver tried to accelerate. Again,
not the type of car a criminal would choose for a job in the top end of Beverly Hills. The
cops tracked down the gardener in question who rapidly lost the ability to say anything
much beyond "green card." The magic word "imigracion" had only more firmly closed his
mouth. Hermano and viejo Toyota blanco had gotten a guilty look but little more.
Another vehicle slid off their radar. Again, it matched none of the vehicles on Steve's list.
Another dead end.
The last one, the BMW X7, was exactly the kind of car you would expect to see in
that neighborhood. It was a miracle anyone noticed it at all. A Beemer in BH was as
ordinary as a Civic in the Valley. Except in this case, it did match something on Steve's
list. Robert Garsen had bought a new silver X7 two months before Marian had
disappeared.
Steve considered just calling him but he couldn't see Garsen's body language over the
phone. There were reasons why cops wanted suspects interviewed in the box -- it
provided maximum tension and the ability to study their facial expressions and body
language.
Steve tracked Garsen down to a lunch-hour workout at the Executive Gym on the
fourth floor of his building. An incredibly fit young man in a dark green knit shirt over
olive shorts escorted Janson to a Nautilus machine where Garsen lay on his back and
pulled down a pair of bicycle handlebars then slowly released them against the tension of a
set of weights at the end of a steel cable.
"Mr. Garsen, this gentlemen said he needed to talk with you," the kid said with a
nervous smile. The 'I can throw him out if you'd like' part of the sentence was implied.
"Mr. Janson," Garsen said with a soft grunt and pulled the bar down again.
"I just have a couple of questions. It won't take long."
"It's okay, Jamey," Garsen said, giving the kid a slight nod.
"Yes sir. Call me if you need anything." Jamey headed back to the reception desk as
if Janson didn't exist.
"They're protective of their clients' privacy," Garsen said, concentrating on his pulls.
Steve would have figured a guy like Garsen to be decked out in some electric
colored Spandex outfit from Celebrity Sports on Rodeo Drive. Instead he wore a plain red
t-shirt and blue cotton shorts.
"Fifty," Garsen said with a grunt and let go of the device. "Upper body," he
explained as he sat up. "Want to give me a hand with the bar?" Garsen pointed to a
padded tube on the floor next to the machine. Steve fitted it into a couple of clasps at the
bottom of the bench. "A little lower would be good." Set screws allowed the supports to
telescope up and down. Steve lowered them until the bar just touched the tops of Garsen's
ankles.
"I may as well earn my answers, I guess."
"Sit-ups are still one of the best exercises for keeping your gut in shape," Garsen
explained, then put his hands behind his neck and rose to a sitting position.
"Did you ever visit Marian at her home?" Steve asked.
"I've never been in Tom Travis's house." Garsen exhaled loudly and went back down
then up.
"Have you ever visited her neighborhood?"
Garsen rose to a sitting position, then stopped. "Busted," he said, sourly.
"When was that?"
"The day before she disappeared, the 30th." Garsen didn't volunteer any further
details.
"How long were you there?"
Garsen frowned and glanced at the floor. "I don't suppose you're going to drop this,
are you?" He asked, giving Steve an irritated glance. "No, you're not." It wasn't a
question. "Okay, let's get this over with. I told you we had had a fight."
"About New Year's Eve."
"About New Year's Eve. First she cancelled our day on my boat. Things went
downhill from there. At the end she had said, 'Fine, if you don't want to take me out, I'll
go out with Tom. He's my husband after all. Who knows, maybe he'll get lucky, for old
time's sake.' And then she was gone."
"And that pissed you off?"
"It made me crazy. Tom was going to get lucky?" Garsen gave Steve an embarrassed
smile. "She's cheating on her husband with me, and I'm upset that she's going to sleep with
him? Nuts, huh!" Garsen shook his head in disbelief.
"You went over there to . . . ?"
"That's a good question. To tell you the truth, I didn't have a clear idea what I was
going to do. One minute I was going to pound on the door and confront her."
"That would have been a good idea," Steve muttered,unable to restrain himself.
Garsen gave him a sharp look, then a smile. "Yeah, real genius-level thinking.
Anyway, I parked outside the gate for about half an hour, maybe I thought she might leave
and I would follow her and . . . hell, I don't know. She wasn't taking my calls which, of
course, made me even crazier."
"After half an hour . . . ?"
"Sanity started to reassert itself. I calmed down enough to realize that I couldn't
make her do anything. She was going to do what she wanted to do. I had already left her
three or four voice mails so, well, what else was there to do? I figured she'd call me after
the holidays and we'd work something out."
"But she didn't?"
"I never heard from her again," Garsen said quietly, a desolated look on his face.
"You didn't go back on New Year's Eve day, maybe follow her to the mall, try to
talk her out of sleeping with Tom?"
"I wish I had. Maybe if I had been around nothing would have happened to her. But I
didn't."
"Because you figured you'd work it out later?"
"Because trying to push Marian in a direction she didn't want to go only made things
worse. If I had tried to bully her into doing what I wanted, I'd have lost her . . . . which I
did anyway," Garsen said after a long pause. "It's a fallacy, Mr. Janson, to believe that we
can control our lives. Things happen. Chaos theory. If you try to fight that, you'll only
make yourself crazy." Steve wasn't sure if Garson was commenting on his own life or
giving Steve advice about his. "Anything else?"
Steve paused for a long moment then shook his head. "That's it. Thanks."
"Sure," Garsen said, beginning another round of sit-ups. "Any time."
Chapter Forty-Three
Just after lunch Steve found Barry McGee alone in the barn at the Norcross
Academy, shoveling horse shit. Remembering their last meeting and McGee's feigned
friendship for Travis, Steve thought it was an appropriate task.
"Hey, Barry, how you doing?" Steve asked pleasantly.
McGee looked up, a shovel of crap in mid-air, and scowled. He tossed the manure
onto a pile a couple of feet to Steve's left.
"I don't have time to waste with you," he said coldly and scraped the blade across the
concrete floor. "I work for a living."
"This won't take long."
"It won't take any time at all." This time the crap landed a foot closer to Janson.
Steve ignored the toss. "You know, you left out a few things the last time we
talked."
"Oh yeah? Like what?" The manure missed him by six inches.
"Like the fact that I'm going to make you eat that horseshit if you get it any closer to
me."
McGee straightened and gave Janson a menacing grin. Steve extended his hand and
wiggled his fingers in a 'come-on' motion. McGee's smile grew broader and the shovel
rose to port arms. Steve smiled back. Barry fainted with the butt, then choked up and
swung the blade end, counting on Steve to flinch away from the steel. Janson stood
flatfooted and waited until McGee had committed to the swing, then kicked out with his
left foot catching the flat of the blade with his heel. If McGee had been smart he'd have let
it go and barreled forward while Steve was off balance but instead he clung to the weapon
and fell off to his right.
Before he could recover, Steve moved in close, grabbed the center of the shaft with
his left hand, immobilizing it, and, as McGee wasted time struggling to pull it free,
smashed the center of the stuntman's face with short right jab.
Steve felt McGee's nose crack and swiftly punched him again in the same place.
McGee's grip on the shovel went limp and Steve tossed it away. Blood streaming down
his face, McGee struggled to straighten and raise his left to block a third blow. With his
own left hand now free, Steve smashed a crushing left hook into the side of McGee's face
and Barry toppled to the floor.
"Don't get up," Steve ordered. Half leaning against the side of a stall, McGee tried to
set his hands to lever himself up. "If your butt leaves the floor, you're going out of here in
an ambulance." McGee paused, his face a mask of blood, and gave Steve an evil stare.
"Stay down or I'm going to hurt you," Steve warned in a flat, deadly tone. McGee gave
him one more long stare, figured the odds, and slumped back against the stall.
"What's all the hostility about?" Steve asked when it was clear McGee was done.
"I checked up on you," McGee said, wiping a sleeve across his bloody face.
"So?"
"You used to be cop."
"And?"
"I don't like cops," McGee said with a malevolent smile.
"So you're going to take a swing at every cop you meet?"
Another broader smile. "Only the ones who aren't carrying tin anymore. I figure if I
catch one of you guys as a private citizen, maybe it'll be a fair fight, even the odds a little."
Steve stared at Barry as if examining a crazy man. "Maybe that'll work out better for
you next time."
"Maybe," McGee agreed, his smile even wider, then he spit a gob of blood at Steve's
shoes, and missed.
"You didn't tell me Tom Travis got you busted for drug dealing."
"You didn't ask." McGee started to shift position. Steve wagged a finger and McGee
froze.
"Kind of makes me wonder what else you didn't tell me." McGee shrugged. "What
were you doing the day Marian Travis disappeared?"
"Ha!" McGee laughed. "Now you're tryin' to put it on me? Think again. I was in
Ensenada. Drove down on Thursday, came back on Sunday. Cheap booze, cheap
whores."
"Can you prove that?"
"If I have to. The credit card company probablyhs still got some records in their
computer someplace. Find another patsy."
Steve gave McGee a calculating stare.
"Are we done?"
"I was just thinking -- all those times you doubled for Travis, him making five, ten
million a movie and you taking all the risks for a few hundred a day and a life of broken
bones. Tom's sitting on his ass in his Bentley and you're hustling just to keep your Camaro
in spare parts. Then you provide all that valuable stud service to make Tom look good in
the bedroom and what do you get for it? Thanks and a Christmas card? Tell me, did Tom
Travis ever do anything to make that up to you?"
McGee spit another gob of blood. "What do you think?"
"Yeah, that sounds like Tom."
"Stop pretending you're on my side."
"I'm not on your side. I'm not on Travis's side. I'm just doing a job. I don't have to
like the guy. Hell, he hit on my wife. A thing like that doesn't make me all warm and fuzzy
about him."
"You had nothing to worry about. What the hell was he gonna do with her if she said
yes?"
Steve kicked a piece of crap in McGee's direction. "This was after Viagra. . . .You
ever ask him to help you out with anything?"
"I'm no beggar."
"I never thought you were. I'm talking about you getting what you earned. He ever
pay you back any of that?"
"He didn't give me shit," McGee cursed.
"He's not the volunteer type. Did you ever ask?"
"He's the selfish-prick type. All I needed was a loan. I had the chance to go halves on
a prop rental outfit, for TV movies and stuff like that. The owner was an old guy, he'd had
the business for forty years. I put in fifty, my partner puts in fifty, the old guy trusts us for
the rest. All I needed was a little help. I'd have paid Tom back, with interest."
"Only fifty K? And he turned you down? I don't believe it."
"Believe it! You know what that is to him? That son of bitch makes fifty grand in one
day from one of his fucking paintings. One day! All I asked him to do was sell one stupid
picture and loan me the money. I'd have had a shot at a real life. How the hell long can
you go on falling off horses and crashing cars before you're fucked-up crippled for good!"
"Hell of a thing to end up crippled, old, and broke. What excuse did he give you?"
"That's the right word, 'excuse.' The same old bullshit. He had a deal with the bank,
he didn't loan money and they didn't make movies. Ha ha! I told him I'd put up my share of
the business, my car, everything I had. You know what the son of a bitch said? 'What am I
gonna do with a '92 Camaro?' Like I had already lost his money and he had taken my car
and left me with nothin', like everything I had in the whole world wasn't good enough for
him to piss on."
"What did you tell him?"
McGee glared. "You think I was gonna beg him? Shit, I don't kiss nobody's ass.
'Sure, Tom, fine, I'll get it some other way. Have a nice day in Hell, you prick.'" McGee
smiled. "I left off the prick part, out loud anyway."
"That's why you were dealing speed," Steve said, the pieces suddenly falling into
place. "That's how you were going to get the money for the business."
McGee started to get up and Steve took a menacing step forward. Barry gave him a
lopsided grin and sat back down.
"You know, Barry, there's one thing I don't get. Why? Why would Tom Travis go to
all that trouble to put you in the slam? When you were asking him for that loan, did you
happen to mention what might happen if he didn't give it to you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, like maybe if he didn't help you out that you might have to get the money by
selling a few stories to the tabloids about your stud work or maybe getting some ghost
writer to help you come up with a tell-all book?" McGee held his hands palms up in
surrender and gave Steve a toothy grin. "Yeah, that's what I thought. So when you were
telling me that you and Tom were old pals, and that you thought he was innocent . . . ?"
"You're working for the man. I told you what you wanted to hear."
"Now you're telling me you think he did it?"
"You don't know Tom Travis like I do. The one thing in the world he can't stand is
losing anything to anybody. You know that bun in his wife's oven wasn't his. Well, so did
Tom. Every day he saw her, her stomach out to here," McGee gestured with his bloody
hands, "he thought about it being some other guy's kid, how she'd made a sucker out of
him because he was such a pussy in the Man department.Man, it was like acid in his veins.
You think Tom and me weren't pals? You ask Tom. He still thinks we're buddies,
everybody is his pal, as long as stuff goes one way, from them to him and not from him to
them. To him that year I spent in the County lockup is like a mirage. Out of sight, out of
mind. As far as Tom's concerned, it never happened.
"He gave me his hundred dollar scotch like we were blood brothers all over again.
He couldn't wait to whine to me that it had been ten months since he'd fucked his wife. He
wanted to throw her out on her ass but she told him if he did it all would come out in
court. Tom could never stand for that. Not Mr. Ego. Now you know why he killed her.
Are you happy now?"
The blood from McGee's nose had slowed to a trickle. He wiped it with a stained
handkerchief, saw Steve staring and smiled. "No big deal. A bloody nose for me is like a
scuffed shoe for you." McGee nodded at Steve's black wingtips.
"You think he killed her because--"
"Because she didn't give him any other way out. He couldn't kick her out. He
couldn't stop her from fucking other guys. He couldn't touch her himself. To all her friends
his running around with Kaitlen made her the wronged wife and if he looked at her crosseyed she'd tell everybody that he was such a bad fuck she had kicked him out for her
boyfriend because he knew how to put it to her good. In his own fucked-up head Old Tom
is a macho hero. She opens her mouth and he turns him into a limp-dick loser. If that
happens, as far as he's concerned, his life is over. Sure he killed her," McGee said, getting
to his feet and spitting into the matted hay. "I was tryin' to be a nice guy and keep that to
myself, but not anymore. Now I'm gonna tell the jury."
"What?"
McGee gave him an alligator smile. "Yup, I'm gonna tell them the real reason why
Tom Travis killed his wife. I go on the stand Wednesday afternoon. Got my subpoena and
everything. Some old cop by the name of Katz came by my place yesterday and him and
me had a nice long talk. And, asshole," he hissed, glaring at Steve, "I'm gonna tell 'em how
Tom's pet killer beat me up trying to scare me off the case. This here broken nose is
Exhibit A, sucker!"
Steve took a quick step forward and McGee half ducked. Now it was Steve's turn to
smile.
"See you around, tough guy." Janson half turned then lurched back toward McGee.
"Boo!" Barry flinched against the stall and almost fell. Steve grinned.
"Laugh now, asshole. We'll see who's laughing when they come in with the verdict.
He's gonna fry! Thanks to you I'm gonna see to it that that son of a bitch burns in Hell.
You see if he don't!"
"Have a nice day, Barry," Steve called over his shoulder, "and make sure you watch
where you step. There's a lot of horseshit around here."
Steve's smile disappeared as soon as McGee was out of view. If it hadn't been for his
nosing around Katz would never would have followed up with Barry McGee. But he
pushed it, acted as if Markham was going to tell the jury that McGee might have done it.
So Katz did the only thing he could do. Came down here and checked out McGee's story.
Now if Steve didn't find some real evidence clearing Travis, and fast, Barry McGee was
going to pound the final nail into Tom Travis' coffin.
Chapter Forty-Four
Steve, Markham and Travis were back in the concrete-walled interview room. The
guard had brought in a third chair though it bothered him to have anything in the room
that wasn't bolted down.
"I'm guessing you've found something," Travis said hopefully.
Steve figured there was no point sugar-coating it. "I talked to Barry McGee."
"What the Hell did you do that for?" Tom snapped.
"Because he's--"
"He's full of shit."
"He told me--"
"Everything he told you is crap. This is the last guy you want to talk to. If you set
him off, who knows what he'll say. He tried to shake me down and I told him to pound
sand. He's been out to get me ever since."
"He's going to testify tomorrow afternoon--"
"He's going to testify! Fucking Barry McGee's going to testify! What the Hell have
you done to me, Steve? Why don't you just get a God damned gun and shoot me right
now!" Travis glared at Steve then looked away. "I don't believe this."
"Tom," Steve continued uneasily, "McGee's going to testify that you are or were
impotent--"
"That's a God Damned lie!"
". . . and that you told him that you weren't the father of Marian's baby." Travis
started to reply and Steve held up his hand. "He'll testify that you invited him over for a
drink a few days before Marian disappeared and you told him that Marian had kicked you
out of her bedroom and threatened to go public with sensitive personal information if you
didn't do what she wanted." Steve paused and nodded for Travis to respond.
"Lies, lies, lies," Tom said bitterly.
"Were you the father of the child?"
Travis shrugged. "Who runs a DNA test on their own wife?" For an unguarded
instant Steve remembered holding Lynn's card and being afraid to read it, afraid to learn if
she was going to leave him. Angrily he pushed the thought away. He looked back at
Travis who gave him a challenging stare. It was unbelievable. The stupid son of a bitch
was going to lie himself onto to death row.
"Tom, you can't afford this bullshit any more." Travis frowned and looked away.
"You can be sure that right now the DA is having a DNA test run on the fetus. What's that
test going to say?"
"He can't do that, can he?" Tom asked Markham.
"He can and he will."
Travis slumped in surrender, head down.
"Did she threatento go public with your personal information?"
"No! Marian wasn't like that."
"Tom, Robert Garsen told me--"
"Who?"
"Her boyfriend." Travis worked at showing no emotion and almost succeeded. "He
told me that you and Marian had agreed on a quiet divorce after the baby was born, that
she wasn't going to ask for any money and that you were going to give her and Garsen
sole custody of the child. Is that true?"
Travis looked around like a trapped animal, then nodded. "Yeah, it's true. This all
happened because she wanted kids and I didn't. Anything McGee said about . . . about
anything else is bullshit."
Unbelievable. He was still lying.
"You made up the whole story you told us about child support and alimony and the
rest of it?"
"I had to. How the Hell was I going to explain paying no child support?"
"By telling us the truth right at the beginning?"
"You didn't need to know! None of this has anything to do with Marian's murder.
It's, what do you guys say, 'irrelevant.'"
Steve took a deep breath and turned to Markham as if to say, 'Can you get through
to him?'
"It provides a motive for Marian's murder," Greg said softly.
"A motive for me to murder her! All the more reason for me to keep my mouth
shut."
Greg looked at Steve. Your turn.
"Garsen said you told Marian that you were sterile," Steve said reluctantly.
Travis didn't reply and the silence dragged. Finally, after almost half a minute, Tom
whispered "Shit," and bent his head.
"Tom, please, we've got to focus here. The D.A.'s going to argue that Marian's
pregnancy by another man and her plans to leave you for him and her alleged threat to
expose your sexual problems were a constant source of irritation and that over the
holidays you finally snapped and, in a fit of jealous rage, you strangled her with the lamp
cord then buried her in the desert. McGee is going to claim you told him that you and
Marian were fighting and that you were desperate to get even with her for her infidelity
but that her threats amounted to blackmail that kept you from doing anything."
"That's not the way it was," Travis said, his voice beginning to crack. "Marian was a
very decent person. She would never . . . threaten anyone. It was all my fault, all right!
Jesus! What does any of this have to do with anything? It was all my fault! Is that what
you want to hear?" Travis gave Markham a pleading stare and his eyes began to glisten. "I
lied to her about being able to have kids. I had," he flapped his hands, "measles or
something when I was a kid. It made me sterile. Movie tough guy and I'm shooting blanks.
Big joke, right! Have yourselves a good laugh!" Travis rubbed his eyes.
"She wanted kids. She told me so before we were married and I lied to her. I figured
we could adopt or something, I don't know. I just didn't want to lose her. When the truth
finally came out we . . . worked out a deal. I got Kaitlen and she got that . . . Garsen, I
guess. She never threatened me. She was never mean to me. She was a very sweet person.
She just stopped treating me like . . . a husband. It was like we were roommates or
something. She did her thing. I did mine." Travis gave Steve a blazing stare. "I would
never hurt her!"
Embarrassed, Markham glanced at Steve then fiddled with his file and scratched a
few notes.
"Shit, shit, shit! This is why I didn't tell you about any of this stuff. This is exactly
what I didn't want to have happen. This is why I didn't mention Barry McGee. I knew that
if you started sniffing around him, you'd get him all excited and all this crap would come
out. Why the Hell didn't you leave well enough alone, Steve?" Travis turned to Greg.
"You can tear him up on the stand, can't you?" Travis demanded. "He's a drug dealer for
Christ's sake."
"It's not that simple."
"They're going to believe a drug-dealing blackmailer over me?"
"I'm not sure it's a good idea to put you on the stand," Markham said uneasily.
"Then what the Hell are you going to do?"
Markham glanced at Steve.
"Garsen can tell your story," Steve said.
"You're going to put my wife's lover on the stand and that's going to help me?"
"Tom," Markham began in a reasonable tone, "the jury's going to find out about
Garsen no matter what we do."
"Thanks to you!" Travis screamed at Steve.
Markham ignored the interruption and continued, "McGee may be a lying piece of
shit but his story about you admitting you were sterile and not being the father of the baby
is true. They'll have DNA to back it up. One of the neighbors saw McGee's car in front of
your house so we can't claim he was never there. At least Garsen can testify that you and
Marian had worked everything out, that you weren't fighting, that she wasn't blackmailing
you, that you had no reason to hurt her. He's the vice president of an insurance company
and he'll come across as a lot more believable than Barry McGee."
"But he'll back up McGee's story," Travis complained.
Markham held up his hands in a gesture of helplessness. "He's all we've got. Better
that they believe half of McGee's story than all of it."
"Shit! Shit! Shit! If you had only left well enough alone. There was a reason I didn't
tell you about Barry. But no, you had to poke the bear," Travis murmured, his head in his
hands. "I'm screwed." Suddenly he reached across the table and grabbed Markham's
hands. "Greg, you've got to get me out of this. I didn't do it. I swear I didn't do it!" Travis
pleaded on the verge of tears.
"I believe you."
"Steve . . . ."
It had finally sunk home, Steve realized. The moment of truth. Tom Travis had
finally figured out that this wasn't about bad publicity or embarrassing revelations or an
inconvenient interruption of his movie career. People hated him and were seriously out to
take his life and they were likely going to succeed. As a prosecutor, Steve had seen it
dozens of times, usually when the judge was about to pronounce the sentence. The bigger
the ego the more impossible it was for the accused to actually believe that something bad
was going happen to him.
"I know you didn't do it, Tom, but I need evidence to prove it. If I had another
suspect--"
"McGee hates my guts. Maybe you're right. Maybe he did it. He's got a record."
Steve gave his shoulders a little shake. "He claims there are credit card records
proving he was in Mexico."
"Did he show them to you?"
"No."
"Then he's lying. He's a bullshitter from way back.
"I'll see if we can track down the VISA charges, but that could take some time."
Steve frowned.
"What?"
"The problem is that McGee's no master criminal. You had a good security system.
Good locks. He couldn't have gotten in without breaking something and there was no
evidence of a forced entry."
"We left the alarm off during the day when we were home."
"But he would still have needed a key to get through the gate."
"Maybe Marian let him in."
Steve shook his head. "Tom, you don't park a red Camaro in front of a mansion in
Beverly Hills, ring the bell, walk in, murder someone, load them in your back seat and
drive away in broad daylight without people noticing. Nobody plans a crime that way, not
even a guy like McGee. That's amateur hour."
"Greg?" Travis pleaded.
"How could McGee have gotten into your house without anyone seeing him? That
Camaro of his wouldn't have gone unnoticed."
"So he borrowed another car. Is that so hard?"
"And he climbed the wall? Then what? I don't see him picking those locks. And for
what? Do you think he went to your house with a plan to murder your wife and blame it
on you? That's just plain nuts. How did he know she'd be home and you wouldn't? How
do you plan something like that? And how could he be sure the cops would tag you for it?
He's not a Mission Impossible kind of guy and that's what it would take to pull off a plan
like that."
"Okay, then who was it?"
"Jesus, Tom, that's what we've been asking you for weeks. Is there anybody else who
you haven't told us about?"
"No, I swear to God."
Markham sighed. "Then were back to one of Bobby Berdue's friends. Are you sure
you didn't piss one of them off?"
"I told you I didn't."
"Did you have anything going with any mafia people? Borrow any money, hit on
some mob guy's girlfriend? Get into some deal--"
"I've told you a dozen times, no! Shit, we've been through this!"
"Tom, it's just--"
"God damn it, Tom!" Steve cut in. "We've been asking you for weeks who might
have had it in for you and the name Barry McGee never passed your lips. It's only after I
break my butt chasing down every lead I can find that I discover Barry McGee and then all
of a sudden you tell us, 'Oh, yeah, he hates my guts. Sorry, I was hoping nobody would
find out about him but now that the cops have called him as a witness, gee, maybe it was
him. No? Well, gee, then I don't have a clue.' Well, Fuck You Very Much, that doesn't cut
it!"
"Steve . . . ." Markham put his hand on Janson's arm but Steve pulled away and
paced the room.
"Jesus H. Christ, Tom. You didn't tell us about Barry McGee because you were
afraid he would tells us some embarrassing stuff about you? What else haven't you told
us?"
"I didn't tell you because none of that stuff has anything to do with the case and
because I didn't want you to drive McGee into the hands of the cops or the tabloids, which
is exactly what you did!"
"We're on your side for God's sake! What else didn't you tell us?"
"Nothing!" Travis shouted. "That's it."
"That's it? Really? That's it? How about the fact that you were buddies with Jack
Furley and got him to bust McGee for dealing drugs? How about the fact that you and
Furley, one of the lead detectives who built the case against you, used to hit the clubs
together? How about the fact that you and McGee used to take on the girls two at a time
but McGee fucked them while you just watched?" Travis's glare wilted and his head
dropped to the table. "Jesus Christ, Tom, what else haven't you told us!" Janson shouted.
At first Markham counted the cinder blocks in the wall then, as the silence stretched,
he opened his file and pretended to read.
His face flushed, heart pounding, Steve paced the floor looking anywhere but at Tom
Travis whose head remained slumped over the steel table. Finally, Travis looked up and
awkwardly wiped tears from his eyes,.
"You're right, Steve," he said softly, all of his defiance finally gone. "I didn't want
people I liked to know I've been living a lie. I didn't want people I respected to find out
that I'm not a real man. So, okay, you've found out all my secrets. There's nothing left.
The truth is, I don't know who my friends or my enemies are. Everybody lies to you in this
town. Fuck, I thought you were my friend." Travis gave his head a sad shake. "All I can
tell you is that I didn't kill Marian and I don't know who did. You say Barry wasn't smart
enough to have pulled it off," another shrug, "Okay. I just don't know. You want this
Garsen guy to testify, fine. I'll do whatever you tell me."
Steve looked at Travis's pathetic, defeated face, maybe for the first time the true face
of the sensitive painter trapped in the body of a macho, narcissistic phony, and Janson had
never felt like more of a bastard. He started to apologize then stopped. Anything he said
would just make it worse. Son of a bitch! Never in his wildest dreams did Steve think he
could be a bigger jerk than Tom Travis. It just goes to show you, he chided himself,
people will surprise you.
Chapter Forty-Five
One of Ted Hamilton's assistants handed Markham an envelope on the way out of
the jail.
"There's been an addition to the D.A.'s witness list," Markham announced. "Barry
McGee."
"You'll object, right?"
"For all the good it will do. I can hardly claim surprise when they know you've
interviewed him twice. I've got to call my office."
"You're still going to put Garsen on the stand?"
"I'll have somebody serve him with a subpoena this afternoon. I can add him to our
list as a rebuttal witness to McGee." Markham paused in thought. "You think there's any
way McGee might be the guy?" he asked finally.
Steve gave him a dubious glance. "He's no professional burglar or hit man and that's
what this would have taken. He a small timer, but we've got to be thorough. I've told the
guys at the Foster Agency do a rush check on him. If he spent a year in jail the County will
have his pedigree in the probation report -- date and place of birth, social, any prior
charges or convictions. I told Foster to go full bore, to check the court records in every
state in the country, not just California. Maybe they'll pull up a felony conviction
someplace that you can use to impeach him on the stand." Markham nodded and pulled
out his cell. "And," Steve continued, "I told them to get all his arrest records, anything he
was ever charged with even if it didn't stick. Plus, names and addresses of any of McGee's
relatives who were alive when Marian was killed. Who knows, maybe he had a brother
who was a hit man or something or maybe he had cell mate who was in the big leagues.
That could explain everything. I told them to get his life story from the day he was born.
Tom's money's not going to do him much good on Death Row. Maybe they can find
something that makes it look like McGee might have done it. At least it will give you
another suspect to wave at the jury."
"You know Burris won't let me do that."
"Malcolm Burris is your problem, not mine." Steve shrugged. "At least you'll have
another ground for appeal. I'm grasping at straws here."
"What are you going to do?"
A cell began to ring and Steve looked at Greg who held up his phone. "Not me."
Steve patted his pockets and glanced at the display. "I guess I'm going to be talking
to Riley Fontaine," he announced.
Once he'd jammed his Mercedes into the flow of L.A. midday traffic Janson
navigated on autopilot and let his mind drift, hoping that his subconscious would come up
with some clue he had missed. Instead, it dredged up the memory of his last encounter
with his former father-in-law, Malcolm Burris.
*
*
*
Steve had fled Cuba as fast as he could grab a flight off the island. The plane landed
in Cancun and Steve immediately boarded another one headed for L.A. Within hours
Steve was in the cracker-box apartment he had rented in a daze the evening after he had
discovered Lynn's headless body.
Now what? Alan Lee Fry was dead, nothing more than a pile leaking meat. In spite
of his exhaustion questions spun through Janson's brain. Had the Havana police found the
body? Were they already on his tail? Would he end his days in a Cuban prison? Would he
ever be able to get some sleep? His worries finally chased him into a leaden sleep until,
chirping like a maddened cricket the phone gradually dragged him back to consciousness.
He woke up holding the receiver and in the midst of a disjointed conversation.
"So, you'd better get down here," the voice said.
"Sorry, I'm . . . I just woke up. Could you repeat that."
"This is Steve Janson, right?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm Steve Janson. Who's this?"
"Mr. Janson, are you okay? Do you need a doctor or something?"
"No, I'm . . ." Steve shook his head and forced his eyes open. "I was just dead asleep.
Who are you?"
"I told you," the man whispered. "I'm one of the deputies down at the Superior
Court."
"What did you say your name was?"
"It's not important.Jeeze, just listen to me, okay!"
"Yeah, okay, what's this about?"
"Look," the deputy continued his voice gone soft, "Judge Burris is meeting with the
Civil Duty Judge in twenty minutes--"
"Civil Duty Judge? I don't--"
"Do you want to hear this or not?"
"Sorry. Go ahead."
"Judge Burris," the deputy continued, frustration clear in his voice, "is going to
present an Ex Parte Order appointing him the Special Administrator of your wife's estate
with full power to marshal the assets. If you don't want him grabbing everything you and
your wife owned, you had better get down to Department 17."
"I don't understand--"
"If what the morning news is saying about you is true, a lot of people think you're a
stand-up guy. You don't deserve to get screwed this way. You never got this call. Good
luck." The line went dead. No shower, no shave, a wet comb through his hair, somehow
Steve made it to Judge Rodney Walters' courtroom only two minutes behind Malcolm
Burris.
A thin Asian lady sat hunched over a pile of forms in the cubicle outside the Judge's
door. Meticulously, she printed microscopic characters in a tiny box, then looked up. No
tie, wearing a wrinkled blue shirt under a sport coat of some indeterminate shade between
dark gray and chocolate brown, Steve's hurried wardrobe did not impress her. A slight
expectant frown creased her brow.
"I hm here for the hearing on the Lynn Janson Estate," Steve volunteered.
Lips pressed together she gave him a long stare then wordlessly knocked on the
chamber door and sat back down.
Half a second later Steve heard a muffled, "Come in."
The room was dim, the flanking walls covered floor to ceiling in with bookshelves.
Walters peered at Steve as he entered the spill of light from the window behind the judge's
desk.
"Judge Walters, I'm Steven Janson. I understand that Judge Burris," Steve nodded
toward the leather wing chair holding Malcolm Burris's stumpy frame, "is requesting an
Ex Parte Order concerning my wife's estate."
Walters eyebrows arched slightly. "I was given to understand," Walters said,
glancing uncertainly at Burris, "that you were out of the country for an indefinite period."
"I'm sorry someone gave you inaccurate information, Your Honor. I did take a very
brief vacation to the Caribbean but I returned last night. Can you explain what this is all
about?"
"A vacation you say? The morning news intimated something to the contrary." Tall
and slender with a neatly clipped russet mustache, Walters gave Steve his best patrician
stare as if to say, 'I'm a man of the world, Mr. Janson. You can't slip anything past me.'
"I haven't caught the news today, Your Honor."
"Best that you do at your first opportunity," he suggest dryly, again giving Steve a
long, hard stare. Janson stared right back. "Moving on," he continued in a brisk tone,
"have you had the chance to review the proposed order?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about, Judge. I just got an anonymous message
about half an hour ago that Judge Burris was presenting some kind of proposed order to
you. Naturally, I came down here as quickly as I could."
"An anonymous message? How very . . . intriguing." Walters frowned and flipped
through Burris's declaration. "It says here," Walters said, turning to Judge Burris, "that
you left messages on Mr. Janson's voice mail and that you delivered copies of the
proposed order to his apartment.Did you do that personally, Malcolm?"
Burris fidgeted, wiggling his rump in Walters' worn leather chair. "Not personally,
no," he said, fixing his gaze on a crystal rose-shaped paperweight on the corner of the
Judge's desk. "I asked one of my clerks to take care of it."
"And you say you never received any such notice, Mr. Janson?"
"That's correct, Your Honor."
"Hmmmm. Well," Walters continued, flashing Steve a weak smile, "you're here now
which is all that really matters. Let's proceed." Leaning forward he extended a stiff set of
papers in Steve's direction. Stripped of all the procedural mumbo-jumbo, they constituted
a request by Malcolm Burris to be appointed as the personal representative of Lynn
Janson's estate on an emergency basis on the grounds that her husband, Steven Janson,
had left the country for an indefinite period and that prompt and efficient administration of
Lynn's property required the immediateappointmentof a representative.
"Rod, it's obvious--" Burris began but Walters held up his hand.
"I've read your petition, Malcolm. Mr. Janson, your response?"
"Firstly, Your Honor, the alleged reason for the emergency action, namely that I'm
out of the United States for an indefinite period is obviously. . . ." Steve started to say
'false' but swallowed the word, ". . . inaccurate.--"
"From what I hear, you're going to be in prison by the end of the day, so--"
"Please, Malcolm, you'll get your chance. Mr. Janson."
Steve smothered his anger and taking an audible breath, continued. "Secondly, I've
filed Lynn's will with the Clerk of the Probate Department and we have a hearing for the
issuance of Letters Testamentary set for the seventh. Thirdly, since I am the sole
beneficiary of her estate--"
"That's yet to be determined!" Burris snapped.
Again, Walters raised his eyebrows. "Who is named in the will as the personal
representative of the estate?" he asked, looking at Burris. The judge frowned then looked
away. "Malcolm?"
"The so-called will he submitted," Burris said giving Steve an poisonous glare,
"names him as the Executor, but--"
"And does this so-called will also name Mr. Janson as the sole beneficiary?"
"In theory."
"Uh huh. Malcolm, do you have any evidence that the will was forged or coerced or
was the product of undue influence?"
"God knows what a man like that did to my daughter to get her to sign that
travesty."
"I'll take that as a 'no'." Walters gave his head a mournful shake and grabbed his pen.
"Since there are no longer any grounds for an emergency Ex Parte order and since the sole
beneficiary opposes the request, I have no option but to deny the motion." Walters
focused his gaze on a spot on the wall between the two men. With a flourish he wrote
'Motion Denied' across the front of the petition and appended his initials and the date.
Next he drew an oversize 'X' across the proposed order followed by the words 'denied
with prejudice.' "I'll have my clerk put these in the probate department's file for the
information of the next judge who hears this matter." Walters looked pointedly at the
door. "Gentlemen."
As if his joints had become corroded, Burris painfully rose to his feet and marched
stiffly out the door. Janson nodded at Walters and followed several paces behind. His
cheeks red, eyes squinted and burning Burris turned on Steve. "You're not getting away
with this, you son-of-a-bitch!"
"Malcolm, what do you think--"
"You don't get to call me 'Malcolm' or 'dad' or anything else. It's Judge Burris to
you." Burris paused to take a deep breath which only seemed to fuel his rage. "You
bastard! You got my daughter killed! Big man, antagonizing that killer. And who paid the
price? Who! My little girl, that's who! Now you think you're going to get her money too?
You worthless, bastard . . . ." Burris's voice faltered and slowly his face crumbled and
collapsed into a sea of tears. Tentatively, Steve reached out to comfort him and reeled
back at a ringing slap across his face.
"Don't you dare touch me! You will never get a cent of Lynn's money. And I'm
giving you fair warning; I will move heaven and earth to see you disbarred, and arrested
and that you spend the rest of your miserable life in prison, you . . . . you . . ." breaking
down again, Burris turned and scurried from the room. Her forms forgotten, openmouthed the Clerk stared after him. Steve gave her a polite nod and slipped away.
Over the succeeding months Judge Burris did his best to convert his threats to fact. It
was Burris's constant urging, cajoling, and complaining that fueled Ted Hamilton's ill-fated
attempt to have Steve charged with Alan Fry's murder. Burris tied up Lynn's estate for
almost seven months before his meritless objections were finally dismissed. And then he
appealed. The matter had only ended a few months before when the Court of Appeal
affirmed the dismissal of Burris's charges and awarded Steve attorney's fees because of the
frivolous nature of the Judge's complaint and appeal, a judgment that Burris vowed he
would never pay.
All empathy for a father's sorrow now burned away, Steve sent the Sheriff to tow
away Mrs. Burris's BMW 740 IL and three hours later the judgment was paid in full by
certified check.
*
*
*
With a start Janson came out of his funk and realized that he had reached his
destination. Fontaine had asked Steve to meet him at a parking lot on Pico that had been
turned into a flea market for the day. Steve paid five dollars to be let through the gate.
Once inside he found Fontaine flipping through boxes of vinyl LPs at the end of a row of
folding tables.
"Is this where you get your inventory?" Steve asked from behind. Riley flinched and
the albums tumbled forward.
"You made me lose my place," he complained.
"You lose your place. Tom Travis is about to be sent to death row. Life's a bitch."
Steve raised his eyebrows in a quizzical expression.
"I wanted to talk to you about those names I gave you."
"Uh-huh."
Fontaine's gaze grew shifty and he backed away from the table. "That was probably a
mistake." Steve just looked at him. "I don't think I should have let you intimidate me that
way. I don't think that's right." Riley gave Steve a defiant stare.
"Uh-huh." Ten seconds passed.
"Leslie Wahlberg called my dad. She told him you had talked to her about Marian.
She told him that I gave you her name." Another long pause.
"And?"
"And," Riley continued as if talking to a child, "that made it look like I was helping
you get dirt on Marian, and that's not right." Riley fiddled with his watchband. "I don't
want any of that stuff she told you about Marian coming out in court."
"You mean the stuff about Marian being pregnant with another man's baby and her
cheating on Tom Travis? That stuff?"
Fontaine's expression grew petulant, like a child working up to a pout. "Marian is the
victim here and you're trying to make her into something dirty."
Remembering what a jerk he had been to Travis only an hour ago, Steve choked
back a smart remark and reminded himself that the kid had point. Steve gently pulled Riley
out of the stream of bargain hunters into a quiet spot near the chain link fence.
"Riley, you're right. Marian was a decent person who didn't deserve what happened
to her. She is a victim. But Tom Travis is a victim too."
"But if you tell people--"
"We all do what we do. Marian wasn't ashamed of her actions, even if everyone else
was. She was honest with Tom, honest with her lover, honest with everybody. If everyone
were as honest and decent as your sister, this would be a much better world than it is."
Riley frowned as if Steve's words had been delivered in a frequency beyond Fontaine's
ability to detect."I don't have any control over what the lawyers do."
"I could ask the judge not to let any of that stuff in. You got it out of me under
duress," he pronounced the word carefully as if he had just learned it that afternoon.
"Riley, it's the D.A. who's going to bring all that testimony out, not me."
"The D.A.?"
"He thinks it gives Tom a motive for killing Marian."
Fontaine's face grew longer and he scuffed his foot on the asphalt. "This is going to
kill my dad. He thought Marian was perfect."
"Nobody's perfect."
"Marian was, to dad. I was the screw-up. She was the one who counted."
Steve studied Riley's face, twenty-eight going on seventeen, somebody who watched
the world spin past, not understanding much of any of it and not knowing why, and he felt
sorry for the kid.
"Look, Riley, I talked to your dad. He's a very sharp guy. He understands people.
He's the one who gave me your address. Do you think that your helping me was a surprise
to him? Do you think that anything Marian did would be a surprise to him? He understood
her better than anybody. Do you know what he'll say when he hears what Marian did?"
Riley gave him a blank stare. "He'll say, 'Yeah, that's Marian all right. That's exactly what
she would do.' And then he'll laugh because she would laugh at anybody who looked
down their nose at her. From everything I've learned about her, Marian didn't care what
anybody thought. All she cared about was doing what she thought was the right thing.
Nothing's going to change that."
"But people are going to think . . . ." his voice slowed and died away.
"'To Hell with what people think,' that's what Marian would have said."
Riley looked back at the boxes of records. "It's going broke."
"Your store?"
"I'm such a loser."
"At running a store."
"What else am I going to do?"
"What would Marian tell you to do?"
"She always said I should find something I was good at."
"There you go."
"I'm not good at anything."
"Look harder."
"I have."
"A friend of mine told me that we have to look hardest in the places that we're most
afraid to see," Steve said, remembering his conversation with Iron Mike. It wasn't all that
different from the kinds of things Lynn used to say to him in the early days, before things
had gotten so . . . tense.
"What?"
"Sometimes the things were afraid to see are the most important things of all."
"I don't understand."
"Understanding is overrated. Sometimes you have to just do it and figure it all out
later."
"You're not making any sense."
"Actually," Steve said unable to avoid a flood of painful memories, "I am."
More confused than ever Riley wandered back to the record bins but only stared
blindly at the labels and left without buying a single one.
Chapter Forty-Six
Steve called Markham from his car. "What's the latest from Foster about McGee's
records?"
"I got the duty judge to sign a production order based on the D.A.'s last minute
addition to his witness list. Foster's guy should be serving it on the Probation Department
right about now. The rest of the stuff they'll have to get from the credit databases and their
Internet contacts. They'll email each of us a copy of their report before court starts
tomorrow."
"I'll check my email at six tomorrow morning. When's Hamilton going to rest?"
"He'll finish up with Sampson, Marian's divorce lawyer, tomorrow morning, and put
McGee on in the afternoon. Thursday he'll call his tech guy to testify that the lamp cord is
similar to the cord on the other lamps in the living room. He'll have a couple of other loose
ends to tie up and I figure he'll rest sometime on Friday." Steve took a left on a yellow and
ignored the glare from a guy in a Lexus 430 coming the other way.
"Can you stall starting your case until Monday?"
"I can try."
"Don't cross examine McGee right away. Put it off and reserve the right to recall him
next week in case Foster turns up something useful."
"I hate to let his testimony sit there unanswered."
"Give me more time to get you something that will hurt him."
Markham paused then finally agreed. "All right, but I don't want McGee on the stand
any longer than necessary. He a liar and he hates Tom. God knows what stories he'll make
up if I give him an opening."
"Just have the judge order him back to court next week. You don't have to put him
on the stand for long if Foster doesn't come up with something. Who else do you have?"
"My tech guy will testify that the lamp cord was generic and could have come from
anyplace and I've got the people from the dune buggy trip subpoenaed to say that Travis
didn't act like a guy who had just murdered his wife. I'm also going to call the maid to
testify that Tom and Marian got along well. And, of course, Garsen will say that
everybody had reached an amicable settlement on the domestic front. I'll probably put
Garsen on Monday morning, as soon after McGee as I can to try to neutralize his story.
That's it."
"You're not putting Tom on the stand?"
"Right after I shave my head and join the Hari Krishnas."
Steve pulled into his building and cut the engine. "I need more time. Can you stall?"
"With what?"
"I'll go through the reports and fax you a list of everybody who was reported on
Travis's property in the two weeks before the murder, the pizza delivery guy, the
gardener, the cable TV guy, the neighbors, everybody. You included them all on your
original witness list didn't you?"
"Are you kidding? I've got half of Beverly Hills on my list. You always include
everybody whose name shows up in the police reports just in case. Hell, I've even got the
locksmith who installed the security system. Just out curiosity, what am I supposed to ask
them?"
"'Were you in the house? Who else was there? Did you have a key to the house? Did
you see anyone new in the neighborhood? How were Tom and Marian getting along when
you were there?' Just keep them on the stand as long as you can. The more time I have the
better. Who knows, maybe one of them will suddenly remember some stranger dressed in
a black trench coat and sporting prison tattoos peering through a hole in the fence."
"That would be nice."
Steve turned the lock on his front door. "I'll fax you the list."
An hour later he lay sprawled amidst a sea of police reports, at his elbow was a
yellow pad with eight names, the maid, Delfina Angelinez, Barry McGee, and six more,
one of whom was the mailman who had appeared at the front door a few days before the
murder just long enough to get Delfina's signature on a certified letter from Travis's tax
attorney. Steve gave the page one final check then stuck it in the fax machine, one copy to
Greg, a second one to the Foster Agency so that they could get their guys out serving the
subpoenas.
Steve collected all the loose reports into a pile and put them back into chronological
order. The next folder in the carton was the forensic report on Travis's house. It was one
of the first documents he had examined. Steve glanced at the clock. A quarter to six.
There was a frozen something or other in the freezer. The thought alone killed his
appetite.He pulled out the folder and laid down on the couch.
There had been a few unidentified prints but Tom had had a catered Christmas party
a few days before so the only unusual thing would have been if no prints had been
discovered. Steve checked the list of identified prints. Nothing on Barry McGee. McGee
was in the system so the prints from his drink with Tom must have been cleaned up before
the day of the murder. Well, Delfina was a full-time maid.
Nothing except the lamp seemed to be missing from the house. The photos showed
paintings, sculpture, electronic equipment, lots of expensive stuff lying around. Steve was
ready to bet that Tom had at least one pair of ten thousand dollar diamond cuff links in his
bedroom. Steve checked the file. There is was: "HO confirms that no jewelry or personal
articles missing." No a robbery for sure.
A Luminol test had found no traces of blood or semen in any of the downstairs
rooms. That Delfina was some maid. A faint trace of gasoline or some other hydrocarbon
was found on the family room rug in a narrow line about ten inches long. Steve flipped
through the report. No other traces of hydrocarbon spills anywhere in the house. No
explanation for this one. Spot remover? Lighter fluid? It could be anything.
Steve closed the file, went to the kitchen and got a bowl of corn flakes. How could it
be lighter fluid? Nobody used lighter fluid anymore. All lighters these days were butane.
Spot remover in the family room? Delfina was neat-freak. Steve couldn't picture her
spilling spot remover on a white carpet and not cleaning it up. Sure as hell Tom Travis
wasn't removing any spots. The mystery tore at him like an unscratched mosquito bite.
Steve finished his cereal then tracked down Delfina Angelinez's number.
"Hello?"
"Ms. Angelinez? This is Steve Janson. I'm working with Mr. Markham, Tom Travis's
lawyer."
"Yes?" she said cautiously.
"Ms. Angelinez, can I talk with you for a couple of minutes?"
"You are helping Mr. Tom?"
"Yes, I'm working for Tom's lawyer."
"He did not do this thing. He would not hurt Missy Marian," she insisted in a
pleading tone.
"I know he's innocent, Ms. Angelinez. I'm trying to prove it. I was reading the police
reports--"
"They are wrong! It is not true. Mr. Tom is a good man."
"I know. Ms. Angelinez. That's why I'm calling. The report said the police found
traces of gasoline or something like that on the family room rug. Do you know anything
about that?"
"Gasoline? In the family room? It is not possible. I told you they were wrong."
"So you didn't use any charcoal lighter fluid--"
"No charcoal. We use propane, big grill in back. Mr. Tom likes to barbeque." Steve
could hear the smile in her voice as she pictured Travis turning steaks on the grill.
"Did you use any spot remover or anything like that?"
"Impossible. The police are wrong. I tried to tell them. Mr. Tom didn't hurt anyone
but they would not listen to me. Will he be all right?"
What am I supposed to tell her? Steve wondered. "We're doing our best." Was there
anything else he needed from her? Steve paused. "Ms. Angelinez, you came back to work
the night Ms. Travis disappeared. . . ."
"Mr. Tom was alone. I came to help."
"How did he seem?"
"He was upset."
"Upset?"
"He tried to hide it, but he was worried when Missy Marian and Sarah did not come
home. . . ."
Not necessarily helpful. People might interpret Travis's nervousness as evidence of
guilt. Well, it had been worth a shot.
". . . he almost could not open the door for me."
"Open the door for you? When you came back that night?"
"The lock, it is . . . deadbolt. You need a key even when you are inside. He almost
couldn't make it work. That's how I know he was upset."
What? "Didn't you have your own set of keys?"
"The new key didn't work very good. It kept sticking."
"You had a new key?"
"Yes. New. Missy Marian got it for me but it did not work right. It always stick."
"What happened to your old keys?"
There was a long pause, then, embarrassed, Delfina finally said "Lost."
"Lost? When? How?"
"I don't know," Delfina said, clearly frustrated. "I always left them in the same place,
then they were gone."
"Where? What place?"
There was crash and a long muffled pause and then Delfina came back on the line.
"No, hijo! . . . My grandson is making a mess. Can you call me later?"
Steve felt an odd shiver down his spine. "No, this is important, very important.
Please."
"Important for Mr. Tom?"
"Yes, very, very important for Mr. Tom."
There was another pause and a faint, "Edwardo, calmate! Estoy hablando en el
telephono . . . Okay, what did you want to ask me?"
"Where did you usually keep your keys?" Steve struggled to keep himself from
shouting.
"Where? In the back door, in the lock. That way, if I had to go outside I could just
turn the key. It was a deadbolt. All of them were deadbolts, like I told you."
"So you usually left your keys in the back door deadbolt lock?"
"Yes."
"And when you went home at night?"
"I lived in the house."
"But when you did go out, did you take your keys?"
"If I went out alone, grocery shopping, then I would take my keys."
"If you didn't go out alone . . . ?"
"If I go out with Missy Marian, then she take her keys and I leave mine in the back
door, so I will know where they are."
"Had you gone shopping with Ms. Marian the day you couldn't find your keys?"
"Yes, she want to go to the Beverly Center. I don't like the Beverly Center. Too big
and crowded. The Grove is much nicer," Delfina volunteered in a low voice. "But Missy
like it."
"So you left your keys in the back door when you went to the Beverly Center and
when you came back, you couldn't find them? Is that right?'
"Yes. I look everywhere."
"Had anyone been in the house while you were gone?"
"While we were gone? No, just the man with Mr. Tom."
The man with Mr. Tom?
"What man was that?" Janson demanded in too loud a voice.
"His friend from the movies. He come in when we go out."
Shit! Shit! Shit!
"What did this friend look like?" Steve asked in as level a tone and he could manage
though his heart was racing.
"He look like a cowboy, from the movies. His nose was funny."
"Funny? Like it had been broken?"
"Yes, like that. Is this important?"
"Yes, this is very important."
"Mr. Tom didn't know I lost the keys," she confessed in a rush.
"What?"
"He would be very upset if he knew I lost my keys. He was very worried about
safety. Missy Marian got the new keys for me. She said not to tell Mr. Tom. Are you
going to tell him?" she asked in a worried tone.
"Don't worry. This is good news."
"Good news? I help Mr. Tom?"
"More than you know."
"Okay. You say hello to Mr. Tom for me?"
"Yes I will. Thank you." Steve had began to put down the phone when he heard
Delfina say something.
"Hello?"
"I remembered something else about that man."
"What?"
"Mr. Tom called him, 'Barry.'"
"Thank you, Delfina, more than I can tell you."
Steve set down the receiver and stared at the stacks of evidence boxes scattered
around the room.
Damn! So that's how McGee got into the house! Damn!
Chapter Forty-Seven
Steve tried to sleep but made a mess of it and staggered back to consciousness
around one a.m. For a while he lay there, awake behind his closed eyelids until he finally
got up and checked the e-mail at a quarter to two. Nothing. He grabbed a paperback, Jack
Vance's The Book Of Dreams, from the pile on his dresser and read until the type started
to swim and he couldn't remember what the last sentence was about, then turned off the
light. This time he was rewarded with a mish-mash of fevered dreams.
At first he was a kid, back home in his dad's garage working on something or other
on dad's old table saw. No matter how hard he tried he just couldn't get the pieces to fit
together and the old familiar hollow feeling poured into his gut. In a flash his father was
there, staring at the crappy thing he had built, all the ends uneven and askew, shaking his
head and frowning. Then his father looked up as if he had just noticed Steve. "Another
piece of shit!" he said, smiling, and tossed the thing into the big green plastic can next to
the bench. Steve watched it hit the top of the pile and shatter into a dozen pieces. He tried
to catch them but they slipped from his grasp. When he turned around his father was gone
and Steve noticed that all he was wearing was a pair of jockey shorts and that he was in a
room was full of people, some kind of cocktail party. A couple of guys weren't wearing
shirts and Steve felt a little better about being half naked, then the guys without shirts
disappeared and people started to give him nervous sidelong glances.
"I'll take care of you," Lynn said and led him down a hallway. Then they were inside
their bedroom and she was wearing her old beige slip and lying on the bed and Steve
started looking around for a condom but he couldn't find one. He pulled out the night
stand drawer and there was the box in there but when he tore it open it was empty.
"Steve," Lynn called but he kept ripping the box apart, looking, looking.
"Steve."
"Can't, can't," he whispered and when he turned back to the bed to show her the
empty box she scowled and he knew she hated him and that he had let her down. He
looked around the room and when he turned back the bed was empty and there was a
terrible puddle of blood in the center and he knew why and he didn't want to look but--"
Ahhhhah Steve groaned and lurched awake. His heart was pounding a slow
sledgehammer beat, thudding so hard that he feared it might fail at any moment and that
he would die in this shitty apartmentin a puddle of sweat without Markham even knowing
the secret he had discovered about Delfina's keys.
Steve closed his eyes and lay back against the plasterboard wall, the crappy bed too
cheap to even have a headboard. He listened to the pounding of his heart, willing it slow
to normal and let him live for another day. Finally, his breathing lost its rasping gasp and
Steve squinted at the glowing digits on the dresser clock -- 4:17. He took a deep slow
breath and closed his eyes. 4:53. In the distance he heard the muted rumble of the freeway.
The monster was already coming alive. Screw it! He stripped off his shorts and t-shirt and
staggered into the shower.
By the time he was dressed and had put water on for coffee the Foster Agency report
was in his In-Box attached to a brief cover note. Most of it had come straight out of the
Probation Department's pre-sentencing investigation in connection with McGee's drug
charge.
The first interesting fact was that the actual charge that McGee had pleaded guilty to
was "offering to furnish methamphetamine to a minor" instead of possession of
methamphetamine for sale. That made the conviction a strike under California's "Three
Strikes" law. Apparently the only way the D.A. would allow McGee to stay of state prison
was for him to carry a strike for the crime.
Steve jumped to McGee's personal history section. Born in Golden, Colorado, his
father was listed as rancher, his mother a homemaker. McGee dropped out of school at
the age of sixteen following a fire that destroyed the family home, then he worked at
various jobs, fast food clerk, Walmart Associate, carpet installer and the like for the next
five or six years.
He was charged with an assault for a bar fight when he was twenty-one but the case
was dismissed as a mutual altercation. He picked up another charge a year later for petty
larceny from the auto parts store where he was employed but those charges were dropped
when the store's records were destroyed in a fire.
The year after that McGee was arrested for attempted murder in a baseball bat attack
on a bouncer in the parking lot behind a strip club. No wonder he didn't like cops. Those
charges were dismissed when the victim refused to testify after his tricked-out Lincoln
went up in a ball of flames one night while parked in his own driveway. That apparently
really pissed off the cops and although they couldn't get him on the attempted murder
charge, McGee ended up pleading guilty to arson for torching the car and did nine months
in the county jail after time off for good behavior. Portrait of a young sociopath, Steve
thought.
Even though his arson conviction was in another state and he didn't get state prison
time, it was still a strike under California law. That made McGee's drug charge a second
strike. After a look at this record, no wonder the D.A. insisted on him getting a strike for
the speed. The D.A. set things up so that one more serious conviction would be a third
strike that would put McGee away for twenty five years! Maybe he figured that would
keep Barry on a short leash.
Once he got out of jail on the arson charge, McGee left Colorado for LA. Like a
million other people he must have decided he was destined for a career in the movies, but
he had better luck than most of them. He started as an extra and apparently discovered a
talent for stunt work. Except for his drug conviction, for the last ten years McGee's record
had been clean.
According to the probation report Barry had a younger sister, married and living in
Denver. The report said they were 'estranged.' His father was dead. At the time of his
arrest Barry's mother, Sheila Travis, had moved to California and worked in a beauty
salon in the north end of the County. The Foster investigator had been thorough and had
run her Social. According to her contribution records Sheila Travis had stopped work
three months before Marian Travis disappeared. A Medical search revealed that she had
suffered a massive stroke and had been confined to a long term care facility out in the
Valley shortly thereafter. She had no current vehicles registered in her name but a back
check revealed that at the time of Marian Travis's murder Sheila Travis was the registered
owner of a 1997 Ford Windstar. The vehicle's color was not included in the DMV files.
The van was listed as having been sold in mid-January, two weeks after the murder,
to a Lorraine Goodwin in Thousand Oaks. McGee's only vehicle was the '92 Camaro
which was still registered in his name.
Uttering a silent prayer, Steve called information and asked for Lorraine Goodwin's
number. After a ten second pause, the computer clicked in and offered to dial the number
for him for a slight additional charge. The phone was picked up on the third ring.
"Hello?"
"Ms. Goodwin?"
"Yes?"
"My name is Steven Janson. I'm working with Attorney Greg Markham on the Tom
Travis murder case."
"Oh my goodness."
"Ms. Goodwin, did you purchase a Ford Windstar van about a year and a half ago?"
"Does it have something to do with that woman's murder?"
"It might. Did you purchase such a vehicle."
"Yes, I did."
"Ms. Goodwin, what color is it?"
"The van? It's black. Why?"
Yes!
"Do you still have it?"
"It's in my garage right now."
Thank you God!
"Ms. Goodwin, your van may contain vital evidence in this case. Would you allow us
to have it inspected? We'll pay for a replacementvehicle."
"When would you need it? I've got deliveries to make. I bake pies."
"I'll have Enterprise deliver a new van to your house by nine this morning."
"Are you sure this is necessary?"
"This may be our only chance to get Ms. Travis's killer. Please, Ms. Goodwin, I'm
begging you."
She paused a second but couldn't miss the desperation plain in Steve's voice. "Well, I
suppose I can do without it for a day or two."
"Thank you. Do you still have the paperwork from when you bought it?"
"It was a private sale, out of the Times want ads."
"Do you have the cancelled check?"
"It was a cashier's check, but I have the carbon copy in my file."
"Who did you make it out to?"
"Just a minute. Let me check."
Steve made a fresh pot of coffee with his left hand while he waited, growing more
anxious with each passing minute.
"I'm sorry I took so long. I had to find the file. I made the check out to the owner's
son. A . . . Barry McGee. . . . Hello?"
Jesus Christ, the son of a bitch actually did it! I was in Ensenada! Bullshit!
"Yes, I'm here. Please don't go anywhere. I'll be there in," Steve checked the clock.
"Forty five minutes."
Steve hung up the phone before she could change her mind or he started babbling,
whichever happened first, then began pounding his fist on the counter as he waited for
Greg to answer his cell.
"I see you got the report."
"The son of a bitch did it!" Steve shouted into the phone.
"What?"
"That bastard, Barry McGee, did it! That prick, that son-of-a-bitch--"
"What a minute! Slow down. What--"
"He stole the maid's keys. That's how he got into the house."
"McGee stole her keys?"
"I talked to her last night. They went missing right after McGee and Travis had their
little drink together."
"And nobody ever mentioned this before?"
"Tom didn't know. Delfina was afraid he'd be mad so Marian covered for her and got
her a replacementset without telling him."
Markham shook his head in frustrated wonder. "Okay, that's good work but--"
"His mother owned a black van!" Steve shouted, unable to restrain himself.
"You've lost me."
"The only unidentified vehicle on the street that day was a black van. McGee's
mother owned a black van. He sold it two weeks after Marian disappeared."
"We've got to find--"
"I already have. Get out your pen. Foster's people need to send a transport to take it
to a forensic lab. The owner's giving us permission to search it and a copy of the cashier's
check she gave to Barry McGee. If there are prints, hair, blood, anything belonging to
Marian's or Sarah still in that van, we've got him!"
"It's been almost a year and a half."
"I've decided to think positively. All we need is one fingerprint. One lousy print!
We'll need comparison DNA samples and full forensics team and a testing lab on standby."
"The D.A. has already typed Marian and Sarah's DNA. I'll have a copy by lunch."
"The owner said she got the van from an ad in the Times. We'll need somebody to
run down their records to prove McGee placed the ad. And we'll need his mother's
medical file or her doctor's testimony to prove she was incapable of driving a vehicle at
the time of the murder." Markham was writing so fast even he could barely read his own
scrawl.
"The van Travis's neighbor saw was supposed to be from a swimming pool company
so I'd better talk to them and find out some way to prove the one the neighbor saw wasn't
theirs."
"Get a picture of one of their vehicles and show it the witness."
"You need to have somebody call Enterprise and have them deliver a substitute van
to the owner," Steve recited her name and address. "I'm on my over there to get her
paperwork."
"Don't forget to get a picture of her van to show to the witness and the swimming
pool people. I'll have Brian get a court order for the Times' want-ad records."
"Are we going to have enough time to get all this done? When I was with the D.A.'s
office DNA tests usually took more than a month."
"I'll ask my questions real slow."
"I'm out of here."
"Steve . . . you did good."
"Hold on to the congratulations until we find out if this works."
Steve slurped half a cup of coffee and ran out the door.
Chapter Forty-Eight
The van witness was a Mrs. Eleanor Roberts who lived across the street and three
houses down from Travis's mansion. Armed with a picture of Ms. Goodwin's Windstar
Steve parked in front of the Roberts' house around ten-thirty. Unlike Travis's walled
estate, the Roberts home had a large open front yard guarded only by a waist-high lattice
fence, now almost completely hidden by roses in bloom. A new Bentley Continental Flying
Spur, royal blue, was parked in the driveway and Steve paused for a moment to admire its
sleek lines and a paint job so lustrous that he felt that if he tried to touch it his fingers
would sink into the surface to the depth of at least half an inch.
"Do you like it?" a thin voice asked.
Steve turned to see a slender woman, well past seventy in spite of a mound of
orange-russet hair. An old-fashioned rose tray hung from her left arm and inside lay half a
dozen blooms in a rainbow of colors.
"It's beautiful," Steve told her. "How long have you had it?"
"About two months. I bought it as a present to myself, when my Walter died." A
cloud passed over her face, then she smiled gamely. "I don't know what I was saving the
money for. I never had a car I really enjoyed before this. It's all Mr. Leno's fault."
"Mr. Leno?"
"I read that he has hundreds of cars, buys them all the time. I was looking at my old
car, Walter's car, really, and I wondered what it would be like to have fifty cars or ten cars
or even two of them. How would you drive them all?"
"I understand that Leno drives a different one every day."
"Yes! That's what the paper said. Well, it started me thinking. I should get a car of
my own, one that I liked. Once I had decided to buy a new one, I had no idea what kind I
should get. I looked in the magazines but it was so confusing. I couldn't make head nor
tail out of it. My grandson, he's at Cal Tech, told me to go on the Internet." Ms. Roberts
laughed.
"How did you pick the Bentley?"
"I called Mr. Leno. One of Walter's friends is a something or other at NBC and he
said to call and use his name."
"And Leno took your call?"
"Such a nice young man. He asked me all kinds of questions about what I wanted the
car for and what I liked and didn't like and how much I could afford to spend. Well,"
Eleanor waved at her house, a ten million dollar property at least, "I don't care about the
money. I just wanted to have a little fun. I don't have too many fun years left," she
admitted with a little frown. "Mr. Leno told me to spend the money and enjoy life while I
can, then he recommended the Bentley. They're owned by the Germans now, you know."
"Really," Steve said, involuntarily glancing back at the car.
"I picked out the color. They'll make in any color you like and they measure you for
the seats. It's all custom built. I thought things like that were a lost art." Mrs. Roberts
stared at the car with an expression akin to love.
"It's magnificent," Steve agreed.
"It's a V-12. It will go zero to sixty in five point four seconds," Eleanor added
proudly. "Mr. Leno came over after I got it and he drove me down to his studio so that I
could watch his show. Such a sweet man," she said with a beatific smile. They both stared
at the car for a few seconds longer, then Eleanor turned back to Steve. "Are you here
about my Bentley?"
"No." Steve handed her his card.
"Oh. I never thought Mr. Travis did it," she confided in a soft voice. "He's such a
nice man. Never made any noise. And he was always very polite. Excellent manners, not
like some of the people in this neighborhood." Ms. Roberts glanced toward the end of the
block and frowned.
"According to the police, you said that you saw a strange van in the neighborhood on
the day that Ms. Travis disappeared."
"Yes, I did. You can't trust the police to protect you, you know. You have to watch
out for yourself these days, what with the gangs and the terrorists and all."
Steve couldn't picture a band a marauding gang bangers from East LA terrorizing
this neighborhood, but kept that thought to himself.
"I couldn't agree with you more. Do you remember what the van looked like?"
"Of course. There's nothing wrong with my memory."
"No, ma'am." Steve stared at her politely.
"Oh, yes, the van." Eleanor closed her eyes. "It was black. Not blue, not brown.
Black. I told that detective that. And it had a sign on the side. A black sign with white
letters, Sunshine Pool Service, with a phone number. I don't remember the number."
"A black sign? The name wasn't painted on the van?"
"I said it was a sign. I know what I saw. It was one of those plastic signs about," she
held up her hands about three feet apart, "that long and," her arms closed to indicate a two
foot gap, "that high. You see them all the time on pickup trucks. Plastic things they glue
on the door."
Steve was about to ask if she had told all this to the police but stopped. Obviously,
she hadn't. Why not? Probably because they didn't ask. He had stopped at Kinko's on the
way over and printed out a picture of the Ms. Goodwin's Windstar from the digital
camera's memory card.
"Does this look like the van you saw, except for the sign on the side?" he asked
removing the eight by ten photo from a manila envelope.
"Hmmm. Let me see." Ms. Roberts slipped on a pair of glasses from a chain around
her neck. "Just for reading," She assured him. "My distance vision is fine. Want me to read
that street sign at the end of the block?"
"No, Ms. Roberts. I'm sure your vision is excellent."
"Except for up close. Let me see . . . ." For a moment she stared at the picture then
hummed, then looked back at Janson. "Yes, that's the van, but, as you said, without the
sign."
Steve gave her a big smile. "That's great, Ms. Roberts. Wonderful. Just to be
absolutely sure, this is the same type and color vehicle that you saw on the street here the
day Marian Travis disappeared, New Year's Eve day, last year?"
"No."
"No? But . . . ."
"It's not the same type of vehicle. It is the very same vehicle I saw, without the sign,"
she said firmly.
"This is the same vehicle?" Steve asked, confused.
"Yes."
"The same actual, identical vehicle that was here on that day?"
"Isn't that what I just said? I'm not senile you know."
"No . . . I . . . how can you be sure it's the same one?"
Mrs. Roberts tapped the picture. "Well, just look at that."
Steve stared at the photo. Eleanor's ruby fingernail tapped the driver's side front
bumper. Steve squinted at the picture. The bumper was dimpled to the depth of a small tea
cup.
"The dent?"
"I noticed that the instant I saw that van. I remember thinking how those tradesmen
drive those things every which way until it's worth your life to share the road with them.
Just look at that dent in that bumper. And there it still is." Eleanor tapped the picture one
more time for emphasis.
"Son-of . . . ." Steve bit his tongue. "Sorry."
"Gentlemen don't use that sort of language, Mr. Janson."
"I apologize, Ms. Roberts. I was just amazed and gratified by your keen powers of
observation and your excellent memory."
Eleanor beamed."Well, in that case, you're forgiven."
Steve gave her an appraising glance. "Have you ever testified in a murder trial?"
"Me? Gracious no."
"Would you be willing to tell the jury what you saw? Remember, a man's life is at
stake."
"Would reporters be there?"
"Yes, they would. It will be very exciting. Unlike anything you've ever done before
or ever will again. Can you stand a little excitementto save an innocent man's life?"
"Well," Eleanor said, considering the matter,"I suppose I shall have to, won't I?"
"We can send a limo to pick you up."
"Out of the question." Eleanor glanced at her Bentley, fluorescing a brilliant blue in
the morning light. "If I must testify in court, I shall arrive in style."
Steve told her that someone would contact her with the details and shook her hand.
She insisted on giving him a rose.
Chapter Forty-Nine
Markham felt a strange sense of deja-vu. Tom Travis flanked by Greg's two junior
attorneys again sat beside him. Malcolm Burris was back on the bench, if anything more
irascible than ever. And Ted Hamilton was his old pompous self, grinning as he led his pet
witnesses through their paces like trained ponies. Hamilton finished with Harold Sampson
Wednesday morning, then plugged some minor holes in his chain of evidence testimony
with various clerks and paper pushers on Wednesday afternoon. He had asked Markham
to stipulate to these points but, mindful of his desperate need to stall, Greg had refused,
ending any hope he might have had for any similar courtesies from the D.A. should
Markham need them later in the trial.
Thursday morning was consumed with testimony from the D.A.'s expert on the
electrical wire which served as the murder weapon. Markham had managed to stretch his
cross out for over an hour with a series of questions that seemed pointless even to him,
surrendering only when it was close enough to noon that he knew Hamilton would be
unable to get another witness on the stand before lunch. When they resumed Thursday
afternoon, Hamilton called his final witness, Barry McGee.
Markham objected and drew out the argument for over ten minutes before the judge,
red-faced with frustration, send him scuttling back to the defense table. McGee was
dressed in black cotton pants, a freshly pressed white shirt, open at the collar, and a wheat
colored sport coat, obviously specially bought for the occasion. Polished oxblood cowboy
boots completed his outfit.
Hamilton began with McGee's name, address and occupation to which Barry replied
with an exaggerated Good Old Boy twang, like, Markham thought, George Bush in a
flannel shirt and jeans campaigning in Oklahoma. 'I'm just a simple country boy,' Markham
heard as a vague echo in the back of his head, 'but I'll tell you the straight story without
any fancy lawyer tricks, I'll tell you what.' But even an idiot could tell that the jury was
buying it. They smiled at McGee's 'aw shucks' simplicity and hung on his every word.
Hamilton was smart enough to begin with McGee's long relationship with Tom Travis, a
little inside movie history that only increased the jury's interest.
"When is the first time you met the defendant,Tom Travis, Mr. McGee?"
"Well sir, that was, oh, ten years ago. I was just a kid. My daddy had a ranch in
Colorado, near Golden, where they make the beer." McGee glanced at the jury and smiled.
They smiled back. "Well, like a lot of kids I got it into my head to get into the movies. It
wasn't as easy I thought." Another grin. "I had been here about three or four months and
I'd just about run out of money when I got a job as an extra on a western, Yuma Sunset.
Tom was the star. He saw me over by the horses and said, 'You look like you know your
way around a pony' and I told him I could ride some. He looked at me and said that it
looked like we were both pretty much the same size. Would I like to double for him in the
big chase scene. He'd hurt his back, you see, and it was real painful for him to ride a horse
at a full gallop. Anyway, I told him 'You bet,' and we've been friends ever since."
"How many movies have you worked on with Mr. Travis over the years?"
"Well, let me see. After Yuma Sunset there was Double Cross, Against The Grain,
Danger Nights . . . I guess maybe ten movies all told."
"Did you always act as Mr. Travis's double?"
"No, he helped me get into the stuntman side of the business. Better pay. If you,"
Barry looked at the jury, "saw a movie in the last ten years where Tom Travis fell off a
horse or crashed a car or was thrown out of a building, that was me." Barry gave the
jurors a proud grin.
"Would you say that you and Tom Travis were friends?"
"Well," McGee said with small sad smile, "as much as crew and stars can be friends."
"What do you mean?"
"It's like when the rich guy goes into the market and says hi to the butcher. He's
friendly but he's not going to invite the man over for Christmas dinner, if you take my
meaning."
"But you and Mr. Travis were on good terms?"
"Oh, sure. Before he got married we used to go out together all the time, hit the
clubs, chase some girls." Another smile. "We had some good times all right."
"What about after Mr. Travis and his wife Marian were married?"
"That pretty much put a stop to our running around, which, of course, was the right
thing, him being married and all. I'd still see him at work though, you know, on the set."
"When was the last time you saw Mr. Travis before his wife disappeared?"
"It was a couple of days after Christmas, right before she went missing."
"And where was this?"
"At Tom's house in Beverly Hills."
"What was the occasion?"
"I hadn't seen him for a while and I gave him a call. I needed a job and I was hoping
he could call some of his producer friends and help me out. He told me, 'Come on over to
the house. We'll have a drink for old times' sake.'"
"So you went to Mr. Travis's home on North Rexford Drive on the afternoon of
December 27th?"
"Don't have to offer me a free drink twice." Another smile.
"Was Mr. Travis alone when you arrived?"
"His wife and the maid was just leaving when I came in. She said hello. She seemed
very nice, real friendly, then they left, her and the maid, and Tom took me into his family
room and offered me a drink."
"Had Mr. Travis been drinking before you arrived."
"There was a half empty glass of scotch on the table next to him and I could tell--"
"Objection, speculation," Markham interrupted."Mr. McGee's not a mind reader."
"Your honor, Mr. McGee has testified that he had gone out drinking with Mr. Travis
on numerous occasions. He certainly has experience in observing the effect alcohol has on
Mr. Travis over time."
"Overruled."
"You were saying, Mr. McGee?"
"I could tell that Tom had already had two or three drinks before I got there. His
face gets this pink color after he's had a couple and I could tell by how he walked and the
tone of his voice that he was at least two drinks ahead of me."
Suppressing a frown, Markham bent over his legal pad and pretended to take notes.
Having established that McGee was a salt-of-the-earth fellow who was a long-time friend
of the defendant, now Hamilton had given the jury a reason why Travis might have been
foolish enough to shoot off his mouth about his marriage. Of course a half-drunk egomaniac might let slip his boiling frustrations to an old companion in the privacy of his own
home. What better venue for Tom Travis to reveal his deepest secrets?
Step by step, Hamilton led McGee through his story, Travis's sterility, his being
kicked out of his wife's bed, her openly cuckolding him with another man, flaunting the
bastard child growing in her belly, and Travis having to swallow every bitter drop of it,
cowed by her blackmail threats, all with McGee there as a convenient witness to the
defendant's growing rage.
"After Ms. Travis disappeared, did you contact the police?"
"No, sir," McGee admitted,embarrassed.
"Why not?"
"Well sir, where I come from a man doesn't volunteer to snitch on his friends."
"But a woman had been killed. Didn't you think this information might be
important?"
A big sigh. "I tried not to think about it. I didn't want to believe that Tom did it, and
besides, the police know their job. I figured that if they wanted to talk to me, they would."
"How then did you end up here in court today?"
McGee hung his head, embarrassed, then looked up. "A police detective visited me
last Sunday and started asking me questions." He turned to the jury and gave them a
sincere stare. "I couldn't lie to him."
"If you know, why did the police finally contact you after all this time?"
"Well sir, someone working for Tom's lawyer, a guy named Steven Janson, contacted
the police and asked them about Tom's old friends. My name was mentioned and Mr.
Janson talked to me. I guess the cops figured that they'd better find out whatever it was
that I told Mr. Janson so they gave me a call. I told the detective the truth and he gave me
a subpoena ordering me to court today." McGee pulled out a piece of paper. "I didn't have
any choice," he added as if testifying against his old friend was the last thing in the world
he wanted to do.
"No more questions, Your Honor."
Clever, Markham thought. Hamilton could have brought out all the dirt about
McGee's drug arrest and the supposed bad blood between himself and Travis on direct but
he decided to take a chance and let it go. Now, when Markham brought it up, McGee
would give the jury his 'Aw Shucks' smile and deny that he was really mad at Tom. Hell,
Tom had invited him into his house for a drink, hadn't he? The cops had come to McGee,
hadn't they, not the other way around. They had even had to subpoena him just to get him
to testify. If Markham tried to make it look like McGee was out to get Travis it would
seem like a desperateattemptto discredit an obviously truthful witness.
Markham looked at the clock. Twenty to four.
"Your Honor, as the Court knows, Mr. McGee was added to the Prosecutor's
witness list just yesterday morning."
"We've been through this, Mr. Markham."
"Yes, Your Honor. My point is that when a witness is added at the last moment, at
the same time that the defense is working night and day to ready its own case, it makes it
difficult to properly prepare for a proper cross examination. For that reason, the defense
wishes to defer its examination of this witness until the sometime next week during the
presentation of the defendant's case. We would ask the court to order Mr. McGee to
return to court upon four hours telephone notice from the defense so that we may examine
him after we have had sufficient time to properly prepare."
Burris frowned at what he assumed was a lawyer in love with the sound of his own
voice. "Mr. McGee, you will come back to this court whenever the defendant's lawyer
calls you on the phone and asks you to. Understood?"
"Yes, sir."
"And Your Honor. . . ."
"What now, Mr. Markham?"
"I would request that the Court instruct the jury not to form any opinions based on
Mr. McGee's testimony until they've heard the whole story after I have had the
opportunity to cross examine him."
"The jury will not form any opinions about this witnesses' testimony or about this
case until they have heard all of the evidence. Anything else?"
"No, Your Honor."
"Mr. Hamilton?"
"Your Honor, the Prosecution rests."
Burris glanced at the clock. "We'll adjourn until nine-thirty tomorrow when the
defense will begin presentation of its case." The judge's gavel made a loud THWOCK and
everyone rose.
"Why didn't you tear him up?" Travis demanded in a terrified whisper.
"I've got to wait until I've got more than just blanks in my gun."
"When's that going to be? We start tomorrow for God's sake!"
"Fear not. The cavalry's on the way."
"What?" Travis asked in disbelief.
"Otherwise known as Steve Janson."
Ignoring Travis's fear and confusion, the deputy clasped handcuffs on Tom's wrists
and led him away.
Chapter Fifty
At nine thirty Friday morning the judge turned to Greg Markham and ordered him to
call his first witness.
"Stanley Haupman," Markham's assistant,Brian Wells called out.
"Who's Haupman?" Hamilton whispered to his Number Two followed by a rattle of
papers as they leafed through Markham's witness list. They finally found the name near the
bottom of the second page: Stanley Haupman, the mailman who had delivered a certified
letter to the Travis house a little over a week before the murder.
While Markham pretended to take notes, Wells led Hauptman through his name,
address, occupation, place of residence, age, educational background, occupational
history, years of service with the Post Office, and every other vaguely relevant question he
could think of, all at a measured, leisurely pace. After several objections, which Markham
secretly welcomed since each took additional time to argue, Wells worked his way up to
the day in question. Hauptman confirmed that he had delivered a certified letter and that
the maid, Delfina Angelinez, had signed the form.
No, he hadn't heard any arguments. No, he hadn't seen anyone suspicious on that or
any other occasion. Yes, he had pressed a buzzer out on the street and someone inside had
released the gate. Finally, Wells could string things out no longer and sat down. Hamilton
asked no questions.
"The defense calls Kyle Paulli," Wells announced after a few seconds delay. Paulli,
the pizza delivery boy who had visited the house three weeks before the murder, was
similarly put through his paces. Then came the pool man. At a quarter to four Markham
ran out of what he described to Wells as 'canon fodder' and noting the lateness of the hour
and the impending weekend, requested an early recess. The judge motioned for counsel to
approach the bench.
"I know what you are doing, Mr. Markham," Burris began, "and I'm not going to
stand for any more of it."
"Your Honor--"
"You are deliberately delaying this trial, wasting the Court's time with pointless
witnesses who have no relevant testimony and I've had quite enough of it."
"Your Honor, I assure you that I am merely putting on my case in a way that I think
is most advantageous to my client."
"I'm not interested in what is advantageous to your client, or what is advantageous to
the Prosecution either, for that matter. I am interested in the proper conduct of this trial
and as of now your stalling is over. I'm giving you until Monday morning to start calling
real witnesses with real testimony or you will find yourself in contempt of court. Are we
clear?"
"Yes, Your Honor. About my request for adjournment. . . ."
Burris frowned. "Step back. . . .We're adjourned until nine-thirty Monday morning,"
Burris announced sourly and slammed his gavel.
That morning Markham's staff together with Janson and the operatives at the Foster
agency had swung into high gear. By six o'clock Friday evening Ms. Roberts had been
contacted with the details of her court appearance; a declaration of the custodian of the
records of the Los Angeles Times want ad department had been obtained; the locksmith
who had installed Travis's security system was subpoenaed; certified copies of the
Department Of Motor Vehicles records on the Windstar had been retrieved; the doctor
who had treated Sheila Travis was served with a subpoena and ordered to bring her
records to court with him, and the forensics experts had completed the disassembly of the
cabin of Lorraine Goodwin's black van almost to the last nut and bolt.
In the process they had found dozens of hairs and fibers, all of which had to be
tested. Most of the hairs were only shafts with no root tag from which a DNA match
might be made. Only six hairs with roots had been recovered and only two of those
matched Marian's or Sarah's coloring. The lab was doing a rush DNA test on both of
them, and on the other four as well, just in case.
That Friday morning Steve had visited the Sunshine Pool Service and silently cursed
Simon Katz for a fool. The company's offices consisted of a double wide trailer at the end
of a large, fenced-in asphalt lot filled with service vans, every one of which was white with
the words "Sunshine Pool Service" painted on the side in blue script. Steve took digital
pictures of the van fleet and obtained a sworn affidavit from the manager that at the time
of Marian's disappearance that Sunshine had owned only white vans similar to those in
Steve's picture. Steve also served the man with a subpoena in case the D.A. refused to
stipulate to the facts contained in his affidavit.
By Friday afternoon Steve and three investigators from the Foster Agency were
working their way through every sign shop in the greater Los Angeles area hoping to find
the one that McGee had used to make the fake Sunshine Pool Service logo that had been
affixed to the side of the black van. Steve had started his search on the theory that if he
were smart McGee would have picked a large, busy sign shop in hopes that his transaction
soon would be forgotten, lost in the shuffle. He also assumed that McGee would have
used a company as far away from his home and his job as possible, maybe even going as
far as Orange County or San Diego to avoid detection. Since they couldn't check all of
Southern California, they had started with the larger Los Angeles County locations most
distant from McGee's haunts, completely without success.
Finally, Steve decided to assume that McGee was an idiot and began checking the
smaller outlets close to Barry's apartment.Late on Friday afternoon, worn and sweaty and
discouraged, Steve entered the eighth store on the revised list, Alfred's All Needs Signs on
Victory Boulevard out in the Valley. Only seventy-three more to go.
As he entered Steve almost knocked over a stout man in his fifties.
"You here about a sign?" the man asked. Steve looked around. Signs of every
description covered the walls. Metal signs: 'Posted - No Trespassing'; plastic signs: 'No
Life Guard On Duty'; large signs: 'Big Sale Now'; small signs: 'Do Not Touch'. Signs of
every color, material and description. The man looked at Steve expectantly.
"Yes, I'm here about a sign." It seemed a safe answer.
"Because I'm just about to close."
"You're Alfred?"
"Who?"
Next to the cash register was an engraved plastic sign reading: "Make All Checks
Payable To 'Alfred's All Needs Signs'"
"Alfred? Alfred's Signs?"
"Oh, there's no Alfred. I just wanted an 'A.'"
"Excuse me?"
"An 'A,' you know, for the phone book. I could have made it Arthur's but, you know,
Alfred comes before Arthur."
"Or you could have made it Abe's."
"Huh?"
Okay, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, Steve decided. Moving on.
"I'm Steve Janson." Steve smiled and held out his hand.
"Everett Yelley."
"Nice to meet you. Do you make those plastic signs, about two feet by three feet
with raised letters that you can put on the side of a van or a truck?"
"Two feet by three feet? I don't know if I can make you one that size. Normally, we
make them twenty by thirty four." Everett screwed up his face in thought. "I think two
feet by three feet would be a special order."
Maybe closer to a spoon than a knife. "Ummm, that's okay, Everett, twenty by thirty
four is fine. So you do make those?"
"Oh sure, I make 'em all the time."
"I'm interested in a black one--"
"Black letters? That's what most people want, standard, you know, but we could
make them blue or green if you like. How about red? Red stands out real good."
"No, Everett, I'm interested in a black sign with white letters. Sunshine Pool
Service."
"Sure, we can do that. What happened to the other guy?"
"The other guy?"
"Did he quit or something, 'cause he was pretty particular about that sign. Knew
exactly what he wanted. Of course, a sign's no good if it's got the wrong words on it."
Everett was definitely operating without net.
"You made another sign for the Sunshine Pool Service?"
"Well, sure. Isn't that why you're here?"
To Hell with it, Steve decided. Go with the flow.
"Yes, yes it is. Do you still have the paperwork on that. It would have been around
mid-December, year before last."
"Sure, I remember. Black sixty mil with white letters, Verdana font." Everett hurried
behind the counter with a rolling gate and pulled out a large green plastic binder. "Yep,"
he announced happily, "here it is. Verdana, just like I said." He laid the notebook flat on
the counter and Steve studied the page. On December 28th a Bill Jackson had purchased a
Sunshine Pool Service flexible raised plastic sign, white letters on a black background,
twenty by thirty four inches for $92.20, including tax. He paid in cash.
"Do you remember this Bill Jackson?" Steve asked, tapping the page.
"Sure. I knew you weren't him, didn't I?"
"Would you recognize him if you saw him again?"
"Why, is he missing?"
"Sort of. What do you remember about him?"
"Cowboy kind of guy, white, with a funny nose."
"Is this him?" Steve handed Everett a DMV photo of Barry McGee.
"If you've got his picture, why'd you ask me to describe him?"
"Just to be sure. This is Bill Jackson, right?"
"He worked for you, don't you know?"
Steve reminded himself that at least Everett was supporting himself instead living on
public assistance.
"Yes, but I need to find out if you know." Steve gave Everett a wink.
Everett thought about that for a heartbeat,then smiled. "Right."
"So, Everett, who is this guy in the picture?"
"That's Bill Jackson," Everett said proudly.
"Did he buy a sign from you, a year ago December?"
"Yes, he did," Everett answered immediately, now getting into the swing of things.
"What was on the sign he bought?"
"Sunshine Pool Service, just like it says here." Everett proudly tapped the invoice.
"Everett, have you ever been a witness in court?"
"No," Everett said uneasily, confused again.
"Congratulations, you're about to get your chance." Steve smiled, shook Everett's
hand, then pulled out a pre-issued subpoena and began filling in Everett's name.
Chapter Fifty-One
On Monday morning, perfectly dressed in a gray pinstripe suit, white shirt and red
and black striped tie, Robert Garsen somberly held up his right hand and promised to tell
the truth. Markham took five minutes establishing Garsen as a multimillionaire executive
and then got down to business.
"Did you know Marian Travis?"
"Yes."
"When and how did you two meet?"
Garsen paused then described talking with Marian at a charity auction to raise money
for a battered women's shelter.
"Did you become friends?"
"Yes," Garsen said, his voice tightening.
"At some point did you become more than friends?"
"Yes."
"You and Marian Travis became lovers?"
Garsen's skin turned clammy and he fixed his gaze stolidly straight ahead. "Yes," he
admitted in a choked voice. A hushed rippled through the courtroom. For a moment,
Travis gave Garsen a burning stare, then pointedly looked away.
"At the time of her death, Marian Travis was pregnant. Were you the father of that
child?"
There was a long pause and Garsen's answer seemed to stick in his throat, then, in a
cracking voice, he said, "I believe so." This time the spectators made a noise like a gust of
wind through a grove of trees. Garsen pulled out a clean handkerchief and wiped his
brow.
Step by step Markham led Garsen through his relationship with Marian, the places
they had gone, the things they had done, their plans for the future.
"Did you and Marian have plans to be together on the New Year's day that she
disappeared?"
"Yes, I have a boat at the Marina. Marian, her daughter Sarah and I were going
sailing."
"When did those plans change?"
"A couple of days before, I mean the 29th."
"Why?"
"Marian and I had an argument about what we were going to do that night, New
Year's Eve, and . . . well the result was the whole day got cancelled."
"Then as of the 27th, Marian . . . you said her daughter Sarah was also coming with
you?"
"Yes."
"So, as of the 27th Marian and Sarah were supposed to be out on the water all New
Year's Eve day with you?"
"Yes."
"Had she told Mr. Travis of this plan?"
"Yes. He knew we were planning on spending the day together."
"So, Tom Travis know of your relationship?"
"Yes."
"Did he know that you and Marian had planned to marry as soon as her divorce from
him was final?"
"Yes."
"Was she going to ask Mr. Travis for any money as part of the dissolution of their
marriage?"
"Not a penny. She was well off in her own right as am I. She was waiving all claims
for community property and support."
"Including child support?"
"It was my baby, not his. My responsibility."
"Was Marian angry with Tom?"
"No," Garsen said emphatically.
"As far as you know, was Tom angry with Marian?"
"She said he wasn't."
"Had everything been worked out amicably between the two of them?"
"Marian told me it had."
"Why didn't she divorce him as soon as she got pregnant with your child?"
"She said it would make Tom look bad if she filed right after she got pregnant. She
said 'Look what happened to Charlie Sheen.' She decided to wait until after the baby was
born to make it easier on Mr. Travis. She didn't want to hurt him. She was going to tell
the press that the stress of the new baby together with Tom's career had put strains on the
marriage and that the split had been a mutual decision on amicable terms."
"So, Marian was leaving Tom on amicable terms and not asking for even one penny
from him?"
"Yes, that's right."
"And she was not angry with Tom?"
"No, not at all."
"And he wasn't angry with her?"
"No."
"No more questions."
"Mr. Hamilton?"
The Prosecutor rose slowly and ambled toward the witness stand.
"Have you ever met Tom Travis?"
"No."
"Have you ever talked with him?"
"No."
"Have you ever had any communication with him of any sort at all?"
"No."
"So, of your own personal knowledge, you don't know how he felt about you and his
wife, do you?"
"No," Garsen admitted.
"In fact, for all you know, Tom Travis could have been furious with Marian for
cuckolding him with you?"
Garsen's cheeks flushed. "Yes, but--"
"The jury is only interested in what you know, not what someone else may have told
you. You said that Marian Travis loved you."
"Yes."
"It stands to reason then that she wouldn't want to tell you anything that would upset
or hurt you, doesn't it?"
"I suppose."
"Would it have bothered you if you had known that Tom Travis hated her for
cheating on him and hated you for sleeping with his wife?"
"Yes, it would."
"How do you feel about what you and Marian did?"
"I'm not sure I understand your question."
"I think you don't want to understand my question, but I'll rephrase it. Mr. Garsen,
are you proud of what you did?"
Garsen's cheeks tinged pink and he briefly bowed his head. "No," he said a moment
later and looked up at the D.A.
"In your opinion, was your sleeping with a married woman, Marian Travis, right or
wrong?"
"Objection. Relevance."
"Overruled."
Hamilton stared at the witness.
"It was wrong," Garsen said in a thin voice.
"I'll ask you again. How do you feel about what you did?"
"I'm ashamed," Garsen admitted,staring at the floor.
"If Marian had cheated on you with another man and had gotten pregnant with his
baby while she was married to you, would that have upset you?"
"Objection. Relevance."
"Overruled."
"Well, would it?"
"Yes."
"If she told you that she was going to have the baby and then she was going to
divorce you and marry this other man, would that have upset you?"
"Yes."
"Then, tell us, Mr. Garsen, can you truthfully testify under oath that you know that
Tom Travis wasn't angry with Marian?"
"No," Garsen admitted reluctantly.
"Can you truthfully testify under oath that everything was all sweetness and light
between Tom Travis and his wife?"
"No."
"Isn't it true that all you know is that you loved Marian, she loved you, and that she
told you what she knew you wanted to hear?"
"Objection!"
"Sustained."
"Thank you, Mr. Garsen. I'm done with this witness, Your Honor."
Chapter Fifty-Two
Markham put his electric cord expert on the stand and managed to keep him there
for the rest of Monday morning. Hamilton questioned him for only five minutes. The net
result of the technician's testimony was that the electric cord found wrapped around
Marian Travis's neck might have come from a lamp similar to the one now missing from
Tom Travis's living room and it also might have come from any one of a hundred thousand
other lamps. The judge recessed for lunch at ten to twelve.
"Any word on the hairs from the DNA lab?" Markham asked as he stacked his files at
the now deserted defense table.
"They promised the results by mid-day tomorrow," Steve told him. "That makes it
Wednesday for McGee."
Markham shook his head. "That won't work."
"Why not?"
Greg glanced at the now empty courtroom. "Witnesses are excluded but not the
press. I've got to put the maid on before McGee and her story about the missing keys will
make the papers. I don't want him to know that we know about that. I want him getting
on that stand thinking that the only thing I'm going to do is try to discredit his story about
Tom's motive for murder. McGee has to go on the same day as Delfina, before her
testimony makes the news."
"Can you stall calling her until tomorrow morning?"
"I hope so." Markham put a folder into his case and pressed the lock. "Why don't
you call the lab and make sure their tech will be in court Wednesday morning to testify,
assuming they have any good news for us."
"Let's keep a good thought."
"From your lips to God's ears."
Steve nodded, checked his watch, and headed for the exit. On the front steps he
paused and studied the talking heads. They were lined up like soldiers on parade, making
their mid-day reports, each trying to get some recognizable piece of the Courthouse into
the background of their shots. Third from the end, between an Hispanic woman from
Channel 42 and a stocky blonde stringer for a German TV network, was Cynthia Allard.
Steve watched her for a moment. She was perfectly coifed and accessorized, so painfully
earnest that Steve imagined her as a little girl dressed-up in mommy's clothes, pretending
to be an adult and hoping that no one would find her out. Disgusted, he turned away and
headed across the street to Elaine's Coffee Shop where he was sure he wouldn't run into
any reporters, correspondents or would-be celebrities.
Steve worked his way to the front of the line and wrote his name on the list.
"You want the counter, Hon?" Margie, a mid-forties woman asked him. Elaine's
waitresses all wore uniforms that looked like an old fashioned nurse's outfit dyed beige in
the body and chocolate at the collar.
"Counter's fine."
"Okay, take the next seat that opens up," Margie said and disappeared with a carafe
of decalf in her left hand.
Steve grunted and turned away and almost knocked over Simon Katz.
"Sorry," he muttered,still angry from Katz's failure to properly follow up on the pool
service van. Scowling, Steve retreated to the corner.
Katz looked at Steve sourly. Janson stared back with equal dislike.
"Your boss seems a little desperate," Katz said, his temperature rising. Who does
that murdering son-of-a-bitch Janson think he is giving me the evil eye? "Tough fighting
a war without any bullets in your gun," Simon said with a smarmy smile. Steve's lips
tightened and he looked like he was one step away from punching Katz in the face.
"What? No smart answers, Steve? You look like you want to hit me. Do you want to hit
me, Steve?"
"Back off, old man," Steve warned in a low, cold voice.
Old man? Barely controlling his anger, Katz moved close and waved a finger under
Janson's nose. "What's the matter, Steve? Haven't been able to find the real killer?" Katz
taunted. He expected to see frustration and anger cloud Janson's face, emotions he was
intimately familiar with after more than thirty years as a cop. But he got something else
entirely. Pride. Satisfaction. The anticipation of payback. What the Hell? "I asked you a
question, Sherlock."
"You're the lead investigator. You're in that courtroom every day. Watch and learn,"
Steve said with sneer.
"So, did you find the real killer, Columbo?" Katz demanded sarcastically, hoping to
goad Janson into revealing what was going on in his head.
"You fucked up, old man. Big time. But not me. Not me."
"What do you think you know, Janson?" Katz snarled.
"I know who--" Steve began, then, with obvious effort, forced his mouth closed.
"You're lucky. You messed up but I found what you missed, you arrogant bastard."
"You can't--"
On the verge of losing control, Steve tapped his finger against Katz's chest. "You
were so sure that Travis did it you didn't even bother to follow up on your own leads."
"And you did?"
"I did."
"And you found something?"
"I found everything! Everything!" Steve shouted, barely controlling his rage.
"And Tom Travis is innocent?"
"Yes!"
"You can prove this?"
"Yes!" Steve said, smiling in spite of himself.
"And you know who the real killer is?"
Steve opened his mouth to scream Yes! Yes, you old fool, it's . . . and then he noticed
the anticipation, the naked desire on Katz's face. Son of a bitch! "Come to court," Steve
told him in a hissing whisper. "Come to court and find out the mess you've made of this
case. Come to court, old man, and watch me do your job for you because you were so
fucking determined to pin this on Travis that you failed to do your job."
"Your seat's ready, Hon," the waitress called.
"You take it," Steve said, glaring at Katz. "I've lost my appetite."
*
*
*
"Something's up," Simon told the D.A. just before court resumed.
"What do you mean?"
"I ran in Steve Janson and--"
"I wouldn't put any faith into anything that psychopath tells you."
"He believes that Travis is innocent."
"He can believe whatever he likes."
"He believes that he's got the evidence to prove it and he thinks he knows who really
killed Marian Travis."
"Who really killed Marian Travis? We both know who really killed her." Katz stood
there, quietly, his face deliberately blank. "You're not saying you believe this crap?"
The words "What if he's right?" escaped Simon's mouth as if some other person had
momentarily gained control of his body.
"He can't be right. We have Marian Travis's killer."
"Whatever you think of Janson, he's not stupid. He says he has evidence. What if he
does?"
"He can't."
Katz wanted to nod and walk away but couldn't. "I won't knowingly send an
innocent man away. I won't!"
Hamilton looked at the Detective as if seeing him for the first time. "You can't be
talking about Tom Travis."
"I'm just telling you that I don't want just anybody convicted. I want the guy who did
it convicted and if it turns out that's not Tom Travis . . . ." Katz didn't need to finish the
sentence.
Chapter Fifty-Three
At one-thirty Monday afternoon Judge Burris gaveled the court into session.
"Call your next witness, Mr. Markham."
Greg looked around the room, making sure that neither McGee nor any of the other
witnesses had slipped in. Only the lead police investigators, Katz and Furley, were immune
to the witness exclusion rule, and Markham spotted them in the row immediately behind
the prosecutor. Greg had spent the last four days trying to figure out how to do this. He
may as well get to it. Markham took a deep breath.
"The Defense calls Detective Simon Katz."
Hamilton glanced at Katz as if to ask, 'Do you know what this is about?'
Katz gave his head a little shake and headed for the stand.
"Detective Katz, you are still under oath," the Judge warned him.
"Detective Katz, you have been a police officer for over thirty years, correct?"
"Yes," Katz answered, a hint of prided leaking into his voice.
"And you have been a detective for over sixteen years?"
"Yes, sir."
"And you have been a homicide detective for more than twelve years?"
"Yes."
"You have investigated hundreds of homicides in your career?"
"Yes, I have."
"In fact, you are one of the LAPD's most experienced homicide detectives aren't
you?"
"Yes, I am."
"And you believe that Tom Travis murdered his wife?"
The D.A. stared at Markham as if he had lost his mind. Why would he want the jury
to hear Katz's opinion that Travis was guilty?
Katz paused a moment,also confused. "Yes, I do," he answered finally.
"And you think he personally killed her?"
The judge looked at Hamilton but if Burris thought the D.A. was going to object, he
had another think coming.
"Yes, I do."
"Did you ever seriously think that Tom Travis had paid or conspired with someone
else to have them commit the crime?"
Where the Hell was Markham going? Hamilton wondered.
"No," Katz admitted.
"Why not?"
Katz was confused but mentally shrugged and began to explain. "If Mr. Travis had
arranged for someone else to commit the crime he would have made sure to give himself
an alibi for the time of the murder. He would have made sure that the body was found
right away and that at the time of death he had witnesses to prove that he was a hundred
miles away."
"Out in the desert riding a dune buggy at the time she was killed in Beverly Hills or
Marina Del Rey or some other place far away from the desert?"
"Something like that," Katz agreed.
"But in fact, Mr. Travis has no alibi at all because the body was hidden and by the
time it was discovered it was impossible to determine the exact time of death."
"Yes."
"Do you believe that she was killed the day she disappeared,December 31st?"
"Yes."
"But you can't be certain?"
"No."
"All right. Is there another reason why you don't believe that Tom Travis conspired
with someone else to kill his wife?"
Katz paused but when there was no objection, he forged ahead. "Because the body
was discovered in the desert near where Mr. Travis was known to have been on the day in
question."
"You're saying that if Tom Travis had used someone else to kill is wife, he would
have made sure that the body was dumped anyplace other than two miles away from
where he was known to be that day?"
"Yes."
"So, to summarize, based on your years of experience as both a police officer and as
a homicide detective and your familiarity with this case, either Tom Travis personally
killed his wife or he had nothing to do with her death?"
"Objection, misstates the witness's testimony."
Burris gave Markham a long look, then did something that completely surprised the
defense attorney.
"Overruled."
Startled by the Judge's ruling in his favor, for an instant Markham just stood there
then looked at the witness. "Detective?"
"Yes."
"Yes, what?" Markham asked, pushing it.
"Yes, it's my opinion that either Tom Travis killed his wife himself, or he wasn't
involved at all."
Hamilton gave Katz a dirty look and bent over his legal pad where he wrote "Idiot"
five times.
"Let's talk about the Travis house. You personally investigated that house, didn't
you?"
"Yes."
"Good locks?"
"Very good locks."
"In the movies burglars seem to be able to pick locks at will. Could these locks be
picked."
"Not easily."
"And if the locks were picked, would there be evidence of that?"
"Almost certainly."
"Scratches, pick marks?"
"Yes."
"And did you examine the locks on the Travis house for scratches or pick marks?"
"Yes. There were none at all."
What the Hell was Markham doing? Hamilton wondered.
"So, if anyone entered the Travis house on the day in question, they almost certainly
used a key?"
"Without any doubt."
Markham scratched his head, looked at the jury, and repeated, "Without any
doubt. . . . Is there a gate across the driveway at the Travis house?"
"Yes, a full steel gate, eight feet high."
"How is it operated."
"At the sidewalk is a kiosk where you can turn a key which will slide the gate back
with electric motors. Inside the wall is a button that closes the gate. The same key
operates a door in the fence and also opens the front and back doors to the house itself."
"One key opens both gates and both the front and back doors?"
"Yes. The gate can also be opened and closed with a remote control device like a
garage door opener. Other remote control buttons for the gate are mounted inside and
outside the front door as well as the one near the gate itself."
"The remote devices you mentioned, I assume, are for the vehicles, so that when Mr.
Travis drove home in his Hummer, he would just press a button and the gate would open
and once inside, he would press the button again and the gate would close behind him.
Correct?"
"Yes."
"And in fact," Markham turned and headed for the defense table where his assistant
handed him a sheaf of papers. Markham dropped one copy on the D.A.'s table and then
approached the witness. "I have here the official police inventory of Mr. Travis's Hummer.
If I may, Your Honor?"
Burris waved his approval and Markham handed the document to the witness.
"On page two, item seventeen -- what's that?"
"Gate remote control opening device," Katz read.
"And there was a similar device in Ms. Travis's SUV?"
"I'm sure there was."
"Hmmmm," Markham mumbled and picked up a second set of documents, again
handing a copy to the D.A. "Detective Katz, I have here the official police inventory list
for Ms. Travis's SUV. It seems very complete, even to the point of listing an empty Diet
Coke can found in the back. Is such careful attention to detail standard practice?"
Hamilton's antennae began to vibrate and he hurriedly began leafing through his own
copy of the list.
"Yes, it is."
"I thought so. Tell me, then, Detective Katz, why is it that no remote control gate
opener is listed as having been found in Ms. Travis's vehicle?" Markham handed Katz the
list. Simon scanned the pages rapidly, reached the end, then went back to the beginning.
Markham made no effort to hurry him.
Finally, clearly frustrated,Katz looked up from the report. "It's not here."
"No, it's not. Do you think the LAPD was so sloppy that the technicians noted every
detail of that vehicle down to an empty soda can and just missed the remote control gate
opener?"
"No," Katz said emphatically.
"I agree with you. I don't think the police missed it, especially since they noted a
similar device in Mr. Travis's car. Like you, Detective, I think it's not on that list because it
was taken from the vehicle."
"Your Honor, counsel is testifying."
"Ask a question, Mr. Markham."
"Ms. Travis's car was found at the Beverly Center mall, correct?"
"Yes."
"Are there surveillance cameras in the parking area of that mall?"
"Yes, but the coverage is incomplete."
"In fact, her Escalade was parked in one of few places in that lot where it cannot be
seen by the cameras, correct?"
"Yes," Katz admitted.
"As the investigating detective, do you think that was a coincidence?"
"Cops don't believe in coincidences."
"So, you think the killer deliberately parked her car in that location so that he would
not be captured on film?"
"I think that's likely."
"All right. Let's see where we are. You tell me when, in your expert opinion, you
disagree. The killer used a key to enter the Travis property." Markham paused and looked
at Katz and when Katz made no objection, he continued. "The killer used a key to enter
the Travis house." Another pause. "The killer murdered Marian Travis and wanting to
divert suspicion and lead the police in the wrong direction, he drove Ms. Travis's SUV to
the mall. . . . He deliberately parked in an area out of range of the cameras. . . . He
removed the gate remote control device from her Escalade so that he could easily gain
entrance back into the Travis home without having to stop and use the key on the exterior
lock. . . . He somehow, cab, bus, rental car, bicycle, whatever, got himself back to the
Travis house where he pressed the button on the remote control device. The gate opened
and he entered the property. . . . Then he loaded Marian and her daughter, Sarah, into
another vehicle, and drove away. Is that your view of the case, Detective?"
"If the other vehicle is Mr. Travis's Hummer, yes."
"What happened to the remote?"
"I don't understand."
"Mr. Travis's Hummer already had a remote. He no longer needed Marian's if he was
the killer. Did you find Marian's remote in the house?"
"No."
"But you searched the house?"
"Yes."
"Thoroughly?"
"Yes, but he could have thrown her remote away."
"Or a killer other than Tom Travis could have used the remote to open the gate for
his vehicle when he left with the bodies."
"Objection, Your Honor. Speculation."
"Sustained. Move on."
Markham glanced at his Number Two at the defense table in case he had missed
something and got a little head shake back. Greg picked up his pad and scanned his topic
list then looked at the clock. It was only three-thirty. Too soon. Markham turned back to
Katz and stared, puzzled.
Katz's eyes were unfocused, his stare blank. Had he just had a stroke? The detective's
attention seemed a million miles away. Suddenly Katz picked up the SUV report and
started flipping the pages.
There it was near the bottom of the last page. "Trace of yellow paint on the rear
driver's side seat belt anchor bolt." What was it Markham had said -- somehow or other
the killer had gotten back to the mansion from the mall parking lot. He had mentioned a
bicycle. There were no yellow bicycles at the Travis house. But there was . . . . Are you
crazy? he asked himself. It's not your job to help the defense. But he couldn't get Janson's
smug face out of his head. You ignored the evidence, old man, and you let the real killer
get away with it. He had never knowingly ignored evidence and never, ever, would he
allow a guilty person to go free. Katz looked at Hamilton. Never volunteer, that was the
rule. Shit!
"May I see the inventory for the search of Mr. Travis's garage?" Katz asked.
Markham hesitated then nodded to his assistant. Katz ignored the D.A.'s angry stare and
paged through the report. There it was.
"You asked me something about how the killer got from the mall back to the house?"
Katz asked.
It was now Markham's turn to be confused. What was going on here? Well, he
needed to find some way to stall . . . . "Yes, Detective, do you have an opinion about how
the killer got from the mall parking lot back to the Travis house?"
"Yes, I do."
From day one lawyers were taught never to ask a hostile witness a question to which
the lawyer didn't already know the answer. Too late now.
"What is that opinion?"
"The lab found traces of yellow paint on a bolt in the back of Ms. Travis's SUV."
Katz held out the report and pointed to the entry.
"Yes, I see it. Please continue."
"The report of the search of Mr. Travis's garage lists a yellow dirt bike, a small
motorcycle."
"Small enough to fit into the back of Ms. Travis's Escalade?"
"I think so. We'll need to measure it to be sure."
"Your Honor, the defense requests a recess so that Mr. Hamilton and Detective Katz
and myself can visit the Travis house, inspect the dirt bike for scratches, measure it, and
take a paint sample for comparison by the police crime lab. We can report back tomorrow
morning, hopefully with a stipulation as to what was found."
Burris frowned. He didn't like surprises this late in a trial. Still. . . .
"Very well," he said reluctantly, "Court's adjourned until nine-thirty tomorrow
morning. Mr. Hamilton, you and Mr. Markham come up with a stipulation on what you
find."
Katz walked back to the D.A.'s table.
"Are you out of your mind?" Hamilton demanded. "What the hell did you think you
were doing going off on your own like that?"
"You don't get it, Ted. That motorcycle . . . ."
"Yeah?"
"It's no good without a key. If the jury believes that the killer rode the bike back to
the house, then the only guy who could have done that is the one guy with a key. Tom
Travis."
For the first time that afternoon, Ted Hamilton began to relax.
Chapter Fifty-Four
Greg had investigators from the Foster Agency sitting on Barry McGee to make sure
that he didn't decide to skip the state. Steve wasn't worried. He figured McGee couldn't
wait to get back on the stand and be the center of attention not to mention having another
chance to twist the blade in Tom Travis's heart. Steve's only task tomorrow was getting
Delfina to court and making sure she and McGee did not meet. Other than that he was at
loose ends. Tonight he drank his beer in front of the TV watching an old episode of
Babylon V.
He had just drained the bottle when a knock sounded on his front door. Steve
checked the peephole and pulled it wide. Carlos Arriaga in a black t-shirt and jeans stood
nervously in the hall.
"Carlos? Come on in. What's up?" Arriaga fiddled with a scrap of paper then shoved
it into his pants. "You want a beer?"
Carlos nervously shook his head. "No thanks. . . I didn't have your phone," he said
uneasily, pulling out the scrap of paper again, "just your address from the sign-up sheet."
Steve took the easy chair and Carlos settled into the couch. "The league's cancelled
Thursday's games, in respect, you know."
"In respect? What do you mean? What's happened?"
"You didn't hear?"
"Hear what?"
Carlos shifted uneasily. "It was Mike," he said and looked away.
"Mike Leahy? What happened?" Instantly Steve wondered if, overcome with alcohol
or depression or both, Mike had eaten his gun.
"God damn bastards!" Carlos cursed and glared. "They shot him, they just shot him
down like a dog!" His fist made a muffled THUMP against the sagging cushion.
"What happened?"
"It was a routine traffic stop. Mike was driving by and saw a Chippy had stopped a
car full of gangbangers so he pulled over as backup. It wasn't even his collar. Then it all
went to shit. Maybe they figured Mike was bringing a warrant or that he had recognized
them, who knows what passes through their excuses for brains. Mike got out of his unit
and when he was five feet from the bastards one of them pulled out a nine and went
Dodge City. Mike's vest stopped most of the slugs but one round caught him in his neck
and he bled out right there on the asphalt."
Carlos cleared his throat and looked away. After a few seconds he was able to
continue. "The Chippy blew up two of them and the other two hit the deck. The son of a
bitch who killed Mike is still sucking air in the jail ward at County. I'd like to go down
there," Arriaga said with sudden heat, "and stick my piece up against that bastard's head . .
. ." but when he saw the sick look on Steve's face he shut his mouth. "Sorry," Carlos said
finally.
"Yeah."
Carlos sat there for another five or ten seconds, staring at this hands, then stood.
"Anyway . . . ." he held out his hand. "The service is Saturday at ten at St. Marks."
"The guys won't mind if I . . . ."
"You're part of the family," Carlos said, gripping Steve's shoulder. "You took care of
business when you had to."
"Don't say that!" Steve almost shouted, pulling back.
"I didn't mean . . . ." Carlos waved his hands.
"You don't know what it's like," Steve muttered, talking to himself as much as to
Arriaga. "You think you do, but it's the stuff you don't expect. . . ." He looked up and saw
only confusion on Arriaga's face. "You remember things, the sound the bullet makes when
it goes through the bone, the smell of hot blood cooking off the lead, the little pieces of
brain that stick to your shirt and you want to get rid of them but you don't want to touch
them because you know what they are." Suddenly he grabbed Carlos's shoulder. "You
think you're ending something, closing a door, but it's just the beginning of something
worse. As much as you try to make the memories go away, they won't!"
Carlos looked into Janson's face and took a step back.
"You know the last thing Mike said to me? 'Anger and fear will do terrible things to a
man. They'll burn him up from the inside out.'" Steve put his hand back on Arriaga's
shoulder. "You've got to let it go, Carlos, before it makes you crazy."
"Yeah, sure," Arriaga said uneasily, stepping away and looking at his watch. "Well, I
gotta go. I just wanted to make sure you knew, about Mike."
"Yeah," Steve agreed in an emotionless voice. "Thanks. Mike was a stand-up guy. . .
. So, Saturday, St. Marks?"
"Right."
"I can't wear my uniform, you know, after . . . ."
"Yeah, that's okay. Mike won't mind." Awkwardly, they shook hands and a moment
later Carlos was gone.
Steve sat on the couch and thought back to the last conversation he had had with
Mike Leahy. What was it Mike had said? "Fear does awful things to a man. It makes him
do things he shouldn't do and afraid to learn what he needs to know."
Steve glanced at the desk drawer, the repository of rubber bands and cellophane tape
and three by five cards and an eight and a half by eleven manila envelope with Lynn's
autopsy report inside. And the card Lynn had left for him on that terrible day. It would be
so easy to just toss them both in the trash. Or, he could read them. Or, he could continue
to do nothing.
What are you afraid of? he heard Mike saying, a tough guy like you.
I'll make you deal, Mike, a little voice inside Steve seemed to say, If we get that
bastard who murdered Marian, if we get Sarah back alive, I'll read the damn report and
the card both.
Bargaining with a ghost? Steve asked himself. Negotiating with God? Trying to give
yourself an excuse to stop living in fear? Or stop living a lie?
Thinking about it he had no clue which, if any of those reasons, were right.
Chapter Fifty-Five
On Tuesday morning Judge Burris called the court to order and looked expectantly
at Greg Markham.
"Your Honor, the People and the Defense have a stipulation."
"Proceed."
"The parties stipulate as follows:
"That Mr. Travis's dirt bike's dimensions are such that it could be fitted into the back
of Marian Travis's SUV;
"That the paint inside Marian Travis's vehicle matches the paint on Thomas Travis's
dirt bike;
"That there is a corresponding scratch on the bike's fender;
"That if called as a witness, Thomas Travis would testify that to the best of his
knowledge the dirt bike was never placed in Marian Travis's SUV and that he never placed
it in her vehicle;
"That no fingerprints were found on the controls of the bike;
"That the bike is started with the use of a key;
"And that there are no scratches or other indications that the ignition lock of the bike
was picked or that it was hot-wired or started in any other way except with a key."
"Mr. Hamilton," the Judge asked, turning to the Prosecutor, "is that correct?"
"That is the stipulation, Your Honor."
"Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury. You may accept what Mr. Markham has just told
you as agreed facts to be considered by you in your deliberations to the extent you think
them relevant.. . . Mr. Markham, call your next witness."
"The Defense calls Lucas Toomey."
Hamilton flipped through Markham's witness list looking for yet another
unrecognized name. Toomey was sworn in and Markham quickly established his residence
and occupation. Lucas Toomey was a locksmith.
"Did you install the locks and security system at the Travis home?"
"My company did, yes sir."
"What kind of locks are these?"
"Top-of-the-line deadbolts. The keys are all registered and numbered and cannot be
duplicated except through an authorized manufacturer's representative, such as myself."
"So not just anybody can make a copy?"
"Impossible. These are special keys and no one has the blanks other than a small
number of licensed dealers."
"You are one of those licensed dealers?"
"I am."
"And if I came to you with such a key, would you copy it for me?"
"No sir, not unless I personally knew you or you could prove to me that you were
the owner of the house where the locks were installed. The company keeps careful records
of the name and address where every lock is installed. We take the security of these locks
very seriously."
"Yes, I can see you do. But tell me this, couldn't you just pick the lock?"
"Could I pick it?"
"Yes?"
Toomey sat quietly for several seconds considering the question. "Perhaps," he said
finally.
"How long do you think it would take you?"
"If I wasn't disturbed, five or ten minutes, if I could to it at all. And the more I think
about it, the more I think that I could not pick it."
"Assuming for the sake of argument that you as a master locksmith could pick this
lock, could you pick it without leaving any evidence that you had done so, scratches and
the like?"
Toomey laughed. "Impossible. No way."
"Impossible. I see. Well, did Mr. Travis ever have you make a new set of keys for his
locks?"
"Mr. Travis? No. . . . But his wife did." Hamilton's head shot up and Markham
smiled. What was that? Did someone on the Titanic just mention icebergs?
"When did you copy the keys?"
Toomey opened a notebook and flipped to a page. "I have my order book here. It
was a year ago December, on the 28th."
"That's three days before Marian Travis went missing?"
"Yes, sir."
I've got your attention now, Ted, don't I? Markham thought.
"How were the new keys ordered?"
"Like I said, the owner has to appear in person."
"Mrs. Marian Travis personally came to your store?"
"Yes, sir. On the 28th. She had called on the phone and I explained that it was our
policy that the owner had to appear in person, that it was for her own protection. So, she
came."
"Did Mrs. Travis tell you why she wanted another set of keys?"
"Yes, sir. She said the maid lost hers."
"What was her attitude?"
"Friendly, happy. She was a very nice lady." Toomey paused for a moment. "She did
ask that I not tell Mr. Travis."
"Did she say why?"
"She said that she didn't want him to get angry at the maid. She asked me to keep it
our little secret."
"Did you?"
Toomey licked his lips and shifted uneasily. "Yes, I did."
"I see. Do you have a list of the keys you copied for Mrs. Travis?"
"Well, let's see." Toomey put on his reading glasses and peered at the invoice. "One
house key. That's the deadbolt lock. We also use the same key for the gate and the front
and back doors. Okay, one key for Mr. Travis's Humvee. That was a special order from
the manufacturer. One key for Mrs. Travis's Escalade, another special order," Toomey
said apologetically. "And one key to a 120 CC Kawasaki motorcycle."
"A dirt bike?"
Toomey studied the form. "Yes. I had to get the blank from the Kawasaki dealer's
parts departmentso I needed the model number." Toomey read it off.
"Your Honor, I would ask the people to stipulate that the model number Mr.
Toomey has just indicated is identical to the model number of the yellow dirt bike we
examined yesterday afternoon."
"So stipulated," Hamilton muttered without looking up.
"Were you able to copy the house key right away?"
"Yes, I had the blanks for that and Mrs. Travis took it with her. The others had to be
ordered from the auto manufacturers."
"Do you know why the maid had keys to Mr. and Mrs. Travis's vehicles and to Mr.
Travis's dirt bike?"
"That's how Mr. Travis wanted it. He wanted a complete set of keys for himself, for
his wife and for the maid. That way, if anyone lost their keys, there'd be two other sets. I
think that he figured he might lose his keys and he wanted to be able to take the maid's for
himself if that happened."
"When were you able to deliver these new keys?"
Toomey checked the invoice. "As I said, I made the maid a new house key right
away. I had to wait for the others from the auto manufacturers. They have a microchip in
them that's keyed to the car based on a code number I give them from the original keys.
The maid picked up the other three keys on . . . January 6th."
"Mr. Toomey, did you ever tell the police that a set of keys to the Travis house was
missing on the day of the murder?"
"No," Toomey said quietly.
"Why not?"
"They never asked me."
"Thank you, Mr. Toomey." Markham tried to hide his smile from the jury as he
watched Ted Hamilton approach the witness.
He's like the captain of the Titanic, Markham thought. The radioman has just told
him there are icebergs in the vicinity and now a lookout has spotted one in the distance.
He's thinking they're a danger, sure, but nothing the Titanic can't handle. The Titanic is
unsinkable. But he's starting to worry.
"Mr. Toomey," Hamilton began, "do you know of your own knowledge that the
maid actually lost her keys?"
"No sir."
"And if she lost her keys, do you know of your own knowledge what happened to
them?"
"No sir."
"For all you know Mr. Travis could have taken her keys himself, correct?"
"Why would he do that?"
"To--"
"Objection. Is there a question pending from the District Attorney?"
"Ask a question, Mr. Hamilton."
The Prosecutor took a deep breath, paused, then turned away. "No further questions,
Your Honor."
"Mr. Markham?"
"The Defense calls Detective John Furley."
Completely lost, Hamilton stared quizzically at Furley who merely shrugged.
"Detective Furley, you are one of the primary homicide detectives on this case,
correct?"
"Yes."
"Your partner is Detective Katz who was on the stand yesterday?"
"Yes sir."
"Before this trial, were you acquainted with the defendant,Tom Travis?"
Hamilton gave Furley a sharp look which the detective chose to ignore.
"Yes sir."
Hamilton couldn't hide his displeasure.
Oh, Furley didn't tell you about that, did he, Ted?
"You used to go to clubs with Mr. Travis while you were still in uniform?"
"Yes sir," Furley said stoically, staring straight ahead and ignoring the D.A.'s
growing rage.
"We've heard testimony in this case from a man named Barry McGee. Did you meet
Barry McGee at any time before this trial?"
"Yes sir," Furley said stoically as if assuring the emergency room doc that he could
take the pain.
"In fact, you had arrested Barry McGee hadn't you?"
Hamilton came out of his chair, eyes blazing. "Objection. There's no foundation for
this."
"I give the court my word of honor that I will absolutely show relevance," Markham
said, turning to the judge, a pleading look in his eyes. Burris paused for five full seconds.
"See that you do. Overruled."
"Yes, I arrested him."
"Was your arrest based on a tip you received?"
"Yes."
"From whom?"
"From the defendant,Tom Travis."
Markham shot the judge a quick glance as if to say, I told you I was going
someplace with this.
"Please recount the circumstances of that incident."
Hamilton started to rise, got a look at the judge's stern expression, and sat back
down.
"Mr. Travis called me because he knew me personally. He said that someone on his
movie set was selling drugs. He said he that the movie included lots of stunts, car chases,
gun fights, explosions, that sort of thing, and that if any of the crew were messed up on
drugs that someone could be hurt or killed. He said he was worried about the safety of the
other people on the set. He identified the individual selling the drugs as Barry McGee."
"Why didn't he just call the studio and report Mr. McGee?"
"He said he didn't want to be known as a snitch but he couldn't ignore the risk to
innocent people."
"So he asked you to investigate?"
"Yes."
"Did you go out to the movie set to check this out?"
"Yes with a Sheriff's Department Investigator, Robert Chiappari. We observed Mr.
McGee's behavior and believed that he was distributing narcotics. We arrested Mr. McGee
and discovered a substantial quantity of methamphetamine on his person and in his gym
bag."
"When you arrested Mr. McGee, did he say anything that indicated that he knew
who had turned him in?"
"He started shouting that Tom Travis had turned him in, that Mr. Travis was the one
who was behind his arrest."
"What was his tone when he said this, calm, sad, upset . . . ?"
"He was screaming at the top of his lungs that it was all Travis's fault."
"Would the word 'angry' be an understatement?"
"Yes, I would say so."
"As one of the arresting officers, did you follow up on the case?"
"Yes."
"Did Mr. McGee end up pleading guilty to something?"
"Yes."
"What?"
"Offering methamphetamineto a minor."
"Is that charge a 'strike' for the purposes of the three strikes law?"
"Yes, it is."
"Did you determine if Mr. McGee had any other strikes?"
"Objection. Relevance."
"I think Your Honor sees the relevance," Markham said, silently praying.
"Overruled," Burris snapped. Markham glanced at the bench and saw something in
the Judge's face he had not expected, curiosity, interest, perhaps even suspicion. The Old
Man was hooked. He wanted to find out what really had happened. Who would have
thought?
"Yes, he did."
"What for?"
"Arson."
"Arson? Where was this?"
"In Colorado."
"So, with this drug conviction, Mr. McGee had two strikes?"
"Yes."
"If Mr. McGee were to have one more conviction for any serious charge, a third
strike, a burglary, for example," Markham said, loudly emphasizing the word, "what
would have happened to him?"
Furley paused, waiting for Hamilton to object but the D.A. knew that that horse was
already out that barn.
"A third strike would get him a minimum of twenty-five years in prison," Furley said
finally.
"Twenty-five years," Markham repeated looking at the jury. "What was Mr. McGee's
sentence on the drug charge?"
"One year in the county jail."
"When did he get out?"
"October or November over a year ago."
"Only a month or two before Marian Travis disappeared?"
"Yes."
That iceberg's getting bigger, isn't it, Ted, Markham thought to himself.
"No more questions."
"Detective," Hamilton began, "is it common for people to be upset when they're
arrested?"
"Yes sir."
"Is it common that they shout and say all sorts of wild things?"
"Yes sir."
"And do they usually calm down after a day or two?"
"Yes sir."
"Did you take anything Mr. McGee said at the time of his arrest seriously?"
"No sir. Like you said, that sort of thing is common."
"You heard Mr. McGee's testimony?"
"Yes sir."
"Did it appear to you that he had gotten over his irritation with Mr. Travis?"
"Objection. Speculation."
"Sustained," the judge said, giving Hamilton a 'you know better than that' look.
"No further questions."
Burris looked at the clock, a little after eleven. "Mr. Markham, would you like a
recess before you call your next witness?"
"No, Your Honor. I'd like to keep going."
Burris gave Markham a long deep stare. What a difference a day makes. "Very well.
Call your next witness."
"The Defense calls Eleanor Roberts."
Who the Hell is she and where the Hell are these people coming from? Hamilton
asked himself.
Wearing a Harry Winston diamond necklace and a blue silk dress chosen to match
her Bentley, Eleanor Roberts marched regally to the stand.
She quickly gave her name and address and listed her occupation as philanthropist
which got a raised eyebrow from the D.A..
"Your house is almost across the street from Mr. Travis's home?"
"Yes, across and three houses down."
"Is he a good neighbor?"
"A lovely man." Eleanor favored Travis with a warm smile.
"Do you raise flowers in your front yard?"
"Yes, I do."
"Do you spend a fair amount of time in your front yard, attending to your plants?"
"They take a lot of care."
"Turning your attention to the day we believe Marian Travis was killed, December
31st a year ago, were you in your front yard that morning around eleven a.m.?"
"Yes, I was."
"Did you see any strange vehicles on your street that morning?"
"Yes, a black van. It had a plastic sign on the side that said Sunshine Pools."
"Did you tell this to the police?"
"Yes, I did."
"Your honor, I have here a copy of the Field Interview Report of Detective
Hutchenson memorializing his interview with Mrs. Roberts. I would ask that it be
admitted into evidence."
"I'm sure the People have no objection, do they, Mr. Hamilton?"
Technically it was hearsay but the way things were going Hamilton didn't know what
Hutchinson was going to say if Markham put him on the stand so maybe it was safer to
just stick with the written report. He could always call the Detective as a rebuttal witness
if he needed to.
"No, Your Honor."
"Ms. Roberts, did you observe anything else about this black van?"
"Yes, it had a dent in the front bumper on the driver's side."
"Did you tell this to Detective Hutchenson?"
"No. He didn't ask me what else I saw. He seemed to be in a hurry and, quite frankly,
he didn't seem to think much of me."
"In what way?"
"He treated me like I was a senile old busybody who was wasting his time."
"Clearly, he was wrong," Markham said, looking at the jury. "How's your eyesight?"
"I can see things far away perfectly. Up close, I need glasses. Do you want to hold
up a sign at the back of the court room and have me read it for you?"
"That won't be necessary." Markham walked to the defense table and accepted two
manila envelopes from his assistant. One he handed to Ted Hamilton. The contents of the
second one he handed to the clerk. "Please mark these for identification only." A moment
later she handed them back, numbered, and he slowly approached the witness. Hamilton
shook out his own set of four 8 X 10 color photos.
Here's your iceberg, Ted.
"I am handing you Defense's eighteen through twenty-one for identification. They
appear to be photographs of a black van. Will you look at them please." Markham handed
her the pictures.
"Your Honor . . . ." Hamilton began, rising to his feet.
"All in good time, Mr. Hamilton."
Markham ignored the interruption. "Ms. Roberts," Markham said, his voice slowly
rising, "I ask you, do you recognize the black van depicted in these photographs?"
"Yes, I do."
"Why do you recognize it?"
"That is the same black van I saw on my street on the day that Mrs. Travis went
missing."
"The same van," Markham said, staring at the jury. "Are you sure?"
"Absolutely. There's the dent in the front bumper, just like I testified."
"What about the sign?"
"Obviously, it's been removed. It was only one of those stick-on plastic signs. You
see them on trucks all the time."
"Thank you, Ms. Roberts. No further questions."
That shudder you just felt, Ted, was your case hitting the iceberg, Markham thought
to himself. In the audience Simon Katz's face went bone white. He too had felt the
collision.
"Mrs. Roberts," Hamilton began in a rush. "Whose van is that?"
"I have no idea."
"You don't know?"
"Isn't that what I just said?"
"How did Mr. Markham get these pictures?"
"However would I know that? You need to ask him."
"Who else knew about the dent in the front bumper?"
"No one."
"You didn't tell Mr. Markham or one of his associates?"
Mrs. Roberts laughed. "Mr. Janson was just as surprised as you were when I pointed
it out to him last week. Until I pointed to it in that picture, Mr. Janson didn't have a clue."
At the mention of Janson's discovery of the black van a river of acid poured into
Katz's stomach.
"Do you," Hamilton began, then stopped. "No further questions. However, the
People object to the Defense failing to inform the people of the discovery of this van last
week."
"Your Honor--"
"We'll discuss this outside of the presence of the jury. It being almost noon . . . ."
"If the court please. The defense has one very short witness who's been waiting all
morning. I can have him on and off the stand in five minutes. Then the jury can go to
lunch and we can deal with the People's discovery concerns."
Burris gave Markham a penetrating stare. The defense lawyer was flushed and
sweating, frightened or desperate."All right," Burris said reluctantly, looking at the clock.
"The Defense calls Frank DiFrancisco."
"Who the Hell is he?" Hamilton barked at his assistant. Upset, she tore through
Markham's witness list. "The Defense added him right after we added Barry McGee. He's
the manager for Sunshine Pools," she said a moment later.
"Shit!" Hamilton hissed under his breath.
"Mr. DiFrancisco, you were the manager of the Sunset Pool Service on December
31st when Ms. Marian Travis went missing?"
"Yes, I was."
"Did the Sunset Pool Service have a fleet of vans that it used at that time?"
"Yes."
"Did it have a service call scheduled for the vicinity of Mr. Travis's home in the seven
hundred block of North Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills, on that day?"
"Yes, we did."
"So a Sunshine Pool Service van was in Mr. Travis's neighborhood on that day?"
"Yes."
"About what time?"
DiFrancisco opened a file and checked an invoice. "Between twelve-thirty and onefifteen."
"Not at eleven o'clock?"
Another look at the folder. "No sir."
"On that date, what color were the Sunshine Pool Service vans."
"White with blue script lettering."
Katz felt as if his heart had just been removed leaving a hollow cavity in his chest.
"By 'lettering' you mean the name 'Sunset Pool Service' and the phone number?"
"Yes."
"Was the company name glued to the side of the vans on a plastic sign?"
"No, it was painted on in blue script letters."
"Did you have any black vans at that time?"
"Not then, not now."
Markham had a photo marked and showed it to DiFrancisco.
"Is this a fair and accurate picture of what your service vans looked like when Ms.
Travis disappeared?"
DiFrancisco glanced at the picture and nodded. "That's typical of our vans."
"How about this one, showing you Defense 19 for identification."
"It's black," the witness said.
"It's not one of yours?"
"No way. We don't use black vans. Never have. Never will." DiFranscico handed the
picture back as if it were tainted.
"I'm done," Markham announced.
"Mr. Hamilton?"
"No questions," the D.A. said in a feigned bored voice.
Judge Burris looked at the clock. "Since it is now five minutes after twelve," he said
pointedly, "we will adjourn until one-thirty. Counsel will meet in my chambers to discuss
discovery issues." Burris twocked his gavel leaving Ted Hamilton to ponder what further
surprises Markham had up his sleeve.
Chapter Fifty-Six
Steve checked the benches lining the hallway outside the courtroom and spotted
Barry McGee who gave him an evil smile and a wave. Obviously McGee didn't know they
were on to him. Steve made sure that Delfina was seated at the other end of the hall. At
one thirty five on Tuesday afternoon the Bailiff opened the door and called out: "Delfina
Angelinez."
Delfina swallowed hard and looked like she was going to faint. Steve helped her to
her feet and whispered that everything would be fine. A few moments later she placed a
trembling hand on the bible and squeaked out a tiny "I do."
Smarting from a tongue lashing and two thousand dollar fine for failing to
immediately disclose the discovery of the black van to the Prosecution, Markham turned
toward the witness.
"Ms. Angelinez, how long have you worked for Tom Travis?"
"Diaz, uhhh, ten years."
"Did Mr. Travis give you a set of keys to the house?"
"Yes," she answered in a voice barely above a whisper.
"Please speak up, Ms. Angelinez," Burris instructed Delfina, frightening her even
more.
"Was this a key ring?"
"What?"
"Did Mr. Travis give you keys to the house on a key ring?"
"Yes," she said, her eyes wide and terrified.
"What keys were on the ring."
"Mr. Tom's car. Missy Marian's car. The house key and some other key."
"Was this other key a key to Mr. Travis's motorcycle?"
"I don't know. I never used that key," she said, obviously terrified that she had made
a mistake.
" Ms. Angelinez, please relax. No one here is going to yell at you. Everything will be
fine. Just relax and tell us what you know. All right?"
"Yes," Delfina said, her voice still trembling.
Markham poured water into a paper cup and she gulped it down.
"Better?"
"Yes, a little."
"Okay, let's go back to the keys. Did the house key that you were give open both the
front and back doors?"
"Yes," Delfina said with a weak smile, relieved she had been asked a question to
which she knew the answer.
"And could you open the driveway gate and the people gate in the wall with this
key?"
"Yes, if you didn't have the clicker thing from the car."
"Where did you normally keep your set of keys?"
"In the door."
"In the door?"
"The lock, it was funny." Delfina paused, lost someplace between English and
Spanish. "It was locked all the time. Even when you were inside."
"It was a deadbolt?" Markham suggested. "Even when you were inside, if it was
locked you couldn't get out without the key?"
"Yes, yes, you could not get out without the key when it was locked."
"Did Mr. Travis keep the doors locked all the time?"
"Yes, he was very . . . strong . . . on that. 'Delfina, don't leave that door open!' he
would tell me. 'A crazy person could jump over the wall and then where will we be.' Mr.
Tom was very worried about crazy people like what happened to Mr. John Lennon."
"So you kept the doors locked all the time?"
"Oh, yes."
"And when the door was locked, you couldn't open it from the inside without a key?"
"Yes, yes."
"So, you kept your key in the lock? So you could go outside whenever you needed
to?"
"Yes. That way I always know where the key is."
"Did you always take your keys with you when you left the house?"
"When I was alone, always. If I don't then I have to ask Mr. Tom to let me in. He
would not like that."
"What if you weren't alone?"
"If I go out with Missy Marian, then she take her keys and I leave mine in the back
door."
"Did you lose your keys a few days before Ms. Travis disappeared?"
"Yes," Delfina said, then thinking about Marian Travis, began to sob and hid her face
in her hands. Markham handed her a tissue. "I'm sorry, Mr. Tom," she said turning to
Travis then wiping away the tears.
"That's all right. You were saying that you lost your keys. When was that?"
"Two days after Christmas. I look everywhere for them."
"What were you doing just before you lost them?"
"I took the garbage out to the trash can in back and when I came in I lock the door
and I leave the keys in the lock, like always."
"What happened next?"
"Missy Marian and I go to the Beverly Center. Christmas bargain shopping." A
quick, sad smile.
"You left your keys in the back door lock because you were going with Ms. Travis
and she had her keys?"
"Yes."
"When did you notice your keys were missing?"
"After dinner that night. I looked at the back door and the keys were not there. I
looked everywhere!" Delfina insisted.
"Was there anyone else in the house that afternoon except you and Mr. and Ms.
Travis?"
"Sarah was over at her little friend's house."
"Was anyone else there?"
"No, nobody, except for Mr. Tom's friend."
"Mr. Tom's friend?" Travis repeated loudly and staring meaningfully at the jury.
"He come in when we go out. Missy say hello to him and then we leave."
"Were you there when Mr. Travis introduced this friend to Ms. Travis?"
"Yes."
"Did Ms. Travis tell this person that you were leaving for the Beverly Center?"
Delfina paused a moment, replaying the conversation. "Yes, she told him Christmas
bargains at the Beverly Center and laughed."
"So the keys were in the back door lock when you left?"
"Yes."
"And when you got back, that evening you noticed they were gone?"
"Yes."
"And the only other person who was in the house that day was Mr. Travis's friend
who arrived just as you were leaving?"
"Yes."
"Do you know the name of this friend?"
"No, I don't remember."
"What did he look like?"
"He had curly hair," Delfina touched her head, "and jeans and cowboy boots."
"Anything else?"
"He had a big nose, crooked."
Hamilton turned around and stared angrily at Simon Katz. Katz ignored him. He was
too concerned with the ball of acid that had just exploded inside his chest.
Markham picked up two photos from his is assistant. One went to the D.A., the
other to the Clerk.
"Defendant's Twenty Three for Identification," she recited for the record.
Markham handed the picture to the witness.
"Is this a picture of Mr. Travis's friend, the man who was in the Travis house just
before your keys disappeared?" he asked in loud voice.
"Yes, this is him!" Delfina said instantly.
"Are you sure?"
"Oh, yes. This is the man."
"This is the man," Markham repeated, waving the picture at the jury. "Your Honor,"
Markham said in a ringing voice, "let the record show that the witness has just identified a
photograph of Mr. Barry McGee."
You can feel it tilting now, can't you, Ted. You can feel your case sliding sideways,
getting ready for the deep six as the ocean pours into the lower decks. Man the lifeboats,
Ted, women and children first.
Chapter Fifty-Seven
"It's show time," Markham whispered in Travis's ear. "Hold on to your ass with both
hands at all times."
"Mr. Markham?"
"The Defense calls Barry McGee," Markham announced in clear voice. When the
doors opened and the deputy ushered McGee inside a strange sound swept through the
courtroom like the ripple of an errant breeze just before a storm arrives. All eyes followed
McGee as he walked down the central aisle. Noting the attention, Barry smiled, pleased
that he rather than Tom Travis was the star.
"You are still under oath, Mr. McGee," the Judge warned him.
Markham smiled and ambled toward the stand.
"Mr. McGee, thank you for coming back here today. As I recall your testimony from
last week, you've known Tom Travis quite a long time."
"Yes sir, about ten years." If anything McGee's twang was even folksier than before.
"I suppose that over all those years and all those movies you've taken quite a few
falls for Mr. Travis."
"Yes, I guess I have."
"When he played the hero who was shot out of the saddle, you fell off the horse for
him?"
"I done that a time or two," McGee said with a smile.
"When his car was racing away from the bad guys, you were the one who was in it
when it crashed?"
"That too."
"That adds up to a lot of bumps and bruises, I'd expect."
"I took my share."
"Were you ever hurt taking the falls for Tom? Broken leg . . . ?"
McGee laughed. "A broken leg. A broken arm. Two sprained ankles. Sprained wrist.
Three or four concussions. That's the business."
"I bet Tom was pretty grateful that it was you taking those lumps instead of him."
"I suppose," McGee said, his voice growing cold.
"Did he ever give you little presents, thank you gifts after a tough role or maybe one
of those broken legs?"
"Not so you'd notice."
"Well, maybe he made up for that at Christmas. What kind of Christmas gifts did
Tom give you?"
McGee shot a sour look at the defense table and turned away. "I don't recall any
Christmas gifts from Tom. Must of slipped his mind."
"So after all these years of bumps and bruises and broken bones, Tom Travis never
even bothered to so much as give you a bottle of whiskey at Christmas?"
"I guess he figured the studio paid me for my work and that was enough," McGee
said in a flat tone.
"That's got to hurt. Did he ever help you out any other way? Maybe with a loan
when your cash ran short?"
"Not likely."
"Well, did you ever ask Tom for a loan?"
"Once."
"What did he say?"
"That he didn't loan money and that the bank didn't make movies."
"Ouch! In other words, he turned you down flat?"
"He said I didn't have enough collateral so that he could be sure he'd ever get paid
back."
"What were you going to use the money for?"
"Objection, Your Honor. I don't see--"
"I do, Mr. Hamilton. Overruled."
"I had the chance to buy into a movie prop rental business. Figured I'd get out of
stunt work before I broke something permanent-like."
"That seems reasonable.How much did you ask to borrow?"
"Fifty thousand dollars. I offered to put up the business as security."
"That doesn't sound like much to a man as wealthy as Tom Travis. Are you telling
me that in spite of everything you had done for him, Tom turned you down?"
McGee gave Markham a lopsided smile. "It's his money. He can spend it any way he
likes."
"Is that why you started selling drugs to the crew on his movie?" Markham asked in
a solicitous voice.
"What?"
"We've heard about your arrest for drug dealing. Were you doing that to get the
money to buy into that business?"
"I wasn't thinking very straight when I did that," McGee said apologetically. "It was
a big mistake."
"We've heard that you believed that Tom Travis is the one who turned you in to the
police. Is that true?"
"I thought he did. I can't prove it."
"No, you're right. Tom is the one who turned you in." McGee gave Travis a glare of
pure hate which didn't escape the jury's notice. "You spent a year in jail for that, didn't
you?"
"Yes."
"You got out not long before you and Tom had that drink you testified about last
week, correct?"
"Sometime around then." McGee glanced around the room and forced a smile. "But,
hey, what's done is done. Nobody's got a time machine, right?"
"So, when you called Tom and told him you needed help getting a job, you needed
the help because you had just gotten out of jail, right?"
"Yeah, that's right."
"Considering the fact that Tom's the one who put you in jail in the first place, it
seems like he should have been willing to help you get back on your feet, wouldn't you
say?"
"You'd think so."
"So, like an old friend, water under the bridge, you went over to Tom's house, at his
invitation, on December 27th, correct?"
"That's what I said last week."
"That's quite a house he's got, isn't it?"
"A little rich for my blood."
"Mine too," Markham said with a smile. "Did Tom show you around, give you the
tour?"
"Yeah, he showed her off."
"He showed you his flat screen TV and his indoor fountain and all the fancy furniture
and paintings?"
"Old Tom's done all right for himself."
"Did he show you his diamond cuff links and that fancy Patek Philippe watch of his?"
"I'd seen them before."
"How about his Hummer and his dune buggy and his dirt bike?"
"Yeah, he gave me the grand tour."
"Did you meet his wife?"
"Like I said last week, she was going out when I was coming in. She seemed real
nice."
"Where was she going?"
"Shopping someplace."
"You probably don't remember where."
"It was the Beverly Center," McGee said with a 'so there' smile.
"Did the maid go with her?"
"Some Mexican woman went with her. It could have been the maid."
"So, just you and Tom were left in the house?"
"That's what I said."
"Yes, you did. So, then they left and you sat down and Tom fixed you a drink."
"Tom Travis never fixed me a drink in his life."
"You're kidding."
"You want a drink in Tom's house either the maid or somebody fixes it or you get it
yourself. Tom's don't never do nothin' for nobody."
"You had to fix your own drink?"
McGee smiled. "I know how to pour whiskey."
"Okay, Tom's in the family room and he sends you to the kitchen to grab a couple of
glasses and pour both of you a drink?"
"No, it wasn't like that."
"You tell me."
"Tom, he already had his own drink. He told me there was a bottle on the kitchen
table and to help myself to whatever I wanted." McGee shrugged. "I went to the kitchen,
got a glass, ice, and that was that."
"After you got your drink you chatted about Marian and his marital problems?"
"Like I said last week."
"Did you talk about anything else? Did he brag about his new dune buggy?"
"Tom liked his toys."
"Did he invite you to go with him when he broke it in?"
"No."
"He sat there, bragging about his new dune buggy, told you he was going to take her
out for her maiden run, and then he didn't even ask you if you'd like to come along?"
"It seemed like once I asked him to loan me money, that was the end of us," McGee
said sourly.
"Considering everything you did for Tom and everything he did to you, did you ever
think about, you know, finding some way to get compensated for what he owed you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, with all that jewelry and his fancy watches and paintings and stuff in his house,
did you ever think about maybe coming back some day and taking something to cover the
year of your life he took away when he got you sent to jail?"
"I'm no thief."
"I'm not talking about stealing. I'm talking about getting what you deserved."
"How the heck was I supposed to do that?"
"All you'd need was to get in there when no one was at home. Right?"
"Tom always locked his doors."
"What about the maid's keys? They were right there in the lock in the kitchen back
door. You pour yourself a drink, slip the keys in your pocket, who would know?"
"I didn't steal no keys."
"You're not a thief?"
"That's right."
"Except for that drug thing that you've already explained, you've been a law abiding
person?"
"My daddy raised me right."
Markham nodded and backed away. "Okay. Let's talk about that. Last week you said
you left home in Colorado so that you could get into the movies, correct?"
"That's what I said."
"Didn't you leave your parents home because of a terrible tragedy?"
"I don't like to talk about that."
"Your parents home burned down, didn't it? Is that how your father died?"
"What do you have to bring that up for?"
"I agree. Objection, relevance."
"If Your Honor would give me just a little latitude."
"Overruled, but subject to a motion to strike. Connect this up and get on with it."
"Mr. McGee, the Judge is right. Let's move on. It is true, isn't it, that after your
house burned down you stayed in Colorado for almost five years, correct?"
"I was just a kid when the fire happened."
"While you were still in Colorado, did you get into a dispute with the manager of the
auto parts store where you worked?"
"He was cheatin' us on our overtime and I called him on it."
"He filed a criminal complaint with the police, didn't he?"
"Your Honor, I have to object.This is not proper impeachment."
"I'm not asking for the purpose of impeachment."
"You're right on the edge, Mr. Markham. . . . Overruled, for now."
"Mr. McGee?"
"He made that stuff up to get even with me. They dropped the case. It was nothin'."
"Didn't they drop the case when a mysterious fire burned up all the store's records
concerning the missing merchandise?"
"The whole thing was bogus."
"Moving on," Markham said, glancing at the Judge, "you had another problem with
the police in Colorado, didn't you?"
"They had it in for me."
"Did you plead guilty to burning up the car of a man who claimed you beat him up?"
"That was put up job."
"But you did plead guilty to arson, correct?"
"The lawyer told me that was the fastest way to get the whole thing over with. I did
nine months in county and got the hell out of Colorado."
"So when you said last week that you left Colorado to fulfill your dream get into the
movies, that wasn't completely true was it? You left Colorado after at least two criminal
charges and a conviction for arson."
"I always wanted to be in the movies."
"Let's see, your parents' house burns down. Then the evidence of theft against you
burns up. Then the car of the man who accused you of beating him with a baseball bat
burns up. I'm sensing a pattern here."
"Objection, Your Honor."
"You've made your point, Mr. Markham. Sustained. Move on."
Markham walked to the defense table and Brian handed him a report. After giving
the D.A. a copy and having it marked, he approached the witness.
"Mr. McGee, let me turn your attention to page four of the forensic report on the
investigation of Tom Travis's living room. The place where I've marked in yellow. Please
read that aloud."
McGee stared at the page, frowned, then haltingly read: "Hydrocarbon residue found
on living-room carpet at the location marked J on illustration 14 in a narrow line 10.4
inches long." McGee looked up in confusion and handed the paper back. "What's that
mean?"
Markham retrieved a duffle bag from beneath the defense table and removed a red
and yellow one gallon gas can and a ruler.
"Mr. McGee, it turns out that the edge of this gas can is exactly ten and a half inches
long and if any gas had dripped down the side of a can like this and that can was placed on
a rug, it would leave a thin line of gasoline about ten and a half inches long on the rug, just
like the line of gasoline the police found on Tom Travis's living room rug."
"Objection!"
"I don't know anything about something like that."
"Sustained."
"Did you enter the Travis house on December 31st with the plan to steal what you
could carry off and then burn the house down to get even with Tom Travis for how he'd
mistreated you?"
"No way."
"Objection!"
"Sustained. Put your props away and move on, Mr. Markham."
"What kind of car did you drive when Ms. Travis disappeared?"
"A red '92 Camaro."
"A classic car."
"I like it."
"Did you ever own a van?"
"Never," McGee sneered.
"At the time Marian Travis disappeared did any of your friends or relatives own a
van?"
"Not as far as I know," McGee said in a more restrained voice.
"I believe you said your father was dead. What was his name?"
"Walter."
"What's your mother's name?"
McGee paused. "Sheila," he said uneasily as if admitting a sin.
"Hmmm," Markham mumbled as if confused, and picked up a sheet of papers from
the defense table.
"According to the Department of Motor Vehicles on the date Marian Travis
disappeared Sheila McGee owned a Ford Windstar van," Markham said, handing McGee a
certified copy of the DMV registration report.
That shudder you just felt, Ted, was your case beginning to capsize.
McGee's eyes went wide and Markham moved toward the jury so that they could see
the witness's expression. In the audience Simon Katz felt as if someone had twisted a knife
in his guts. He could guess who Sheila McGee was and her connection to the black van in
the photographs. He tried to sit up straight and felt as if he had lost the ability to breathe.
"What color was your mother's van?"
"I don't remember?"
"You don't remember the color of your own mother's vehicle? Try."
"Black or blue," McGee admitted after rubbing his temples in a theatrical attempt to
prod his memory.
"Did you ever drive her van around the time that Ms. Travis disappeared?"
"I had my Camaro. I didn't need her van."
"So she was the only one driving it?"
"As far as I know."
"How's your mother's health?"
"Not good. She had a stroke."
"Serious?"
"Pretty bad."
"When?"
"I don't remember."
"Hmmmm. Most sons would remember when their mother had a stroke. Would it
refresh your memory if I told you that she had her stroke in September, about three
months before Ms. Travis disappeared?"
"I suppose."
"She wasn't driving her black van right after a serious stroke, was she?"
"I don't know."
"You had a set of keys to the van, didn't you?"
"I don't remember."
"What happened to her van?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know. Do you remember putting a want-ad to sell her van in the LA
Times in January, right after Marian Travis disappeared?"
"I don't remember."
Markham handed McGee and the Prosecutor a sheaf of papers. "Mr. McGee, I'm
handing you a copy of the business records subpoenaed from the Los Angeles Times
showing that you placed an ad to sell that van on January 12th and that you paid by
personal check. Does that refresh your memory?"
McGee made a show of leafing through the pages. "Yeah, I guess I helped my mom
out. What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing at all. You found a buyer for the van, didn't you?"
"Yeah."
"That would be a . . ." Markham consulted his pad, "Lorraine Goodwin?"
"That sounds right."
"In fact, she paid you by certified check." Markham handed McGee a copy of the
check before he could answer.
"Yeah," McGee said sourly.
"Is that a copy of the check?"
McGee made a show of examining the page. "Yeah."
"That check is made payable directly to you?"
"Yes."
A moment later it went into evidence.
"Before Ms. Goodwin bought the van, she drove it didn't she?"
"I guess."
"And when she paid you, you must have given her the keys."
"Sure."
"So you had a set of keys to the van, right?"
"I guess so."
"Please take a look at the DMV record form, specifically the license number of your
mother's van." Markham handed the page back to McGee. "Now, please take a look at
this photograph, Defense twenty for identification." Markham handed McGee one of the
photos of the van. "Does the license number on the DMV record for your mother's van
match the license place in this photograph?"
McGee stared back and forth at the two documents for fifteen or twenty seconds. "I
guess so," he finally admitted.
"So, based on the matching license numbers, the black van in this picture is your
mother's van?"
"Sure, so what?"
Markham ignored the question. "Did you ever have a sign made that said 'Sunshine
Pool Service'?"
"Why would I do that?"
"Did you?"
"Hell no."
"Think carefully. Are you absolutely sure?"
"It's not the sort of thing you'd forget."
"No, it isn't," Markham said, glancing at the jury, then he nodded to one of his
assistants who hurried from the room. "Your Honor, if the Court would indulge me for a
moment." The doors and opened every eye fastened on Everett Yelley's portly form. Brian
marched Yelley up to the bar separating the spectators from the attorneys.
"Mr. McGee that gentleman is Mr. Everett Yelley. He operates Alfred's All Needs
Signs. Do you recognize him?"
"No!" McGee almost shouted.
"Do you see that notebook in Mr. Yelley's hand?"
"Yes."
"Those are his business records for the months immediately before Marian Travis
disappeared. Would it refresh your memory if I told you that Mr. Yelley has identified you
as the person who purchased a plastic stick-on sign bearing the name 'Sunshine Pool
Service'?"
"I don't know what you're talking about!" McGee snapped.
"In due time Mr. Yelley will give his own testimony." Markham nodded and Brian
led a confused Everett Yelley from the room.
"Mr. McGee, it's undisputed that your mother owed a black van. It's undisputed that
you had the keys to the van. It's undisputed that your mother's van was seen on Tom
Travis's street the morning his wife disappeared. It's undisputed that the van had a
Sunshine Pool Service sign on it. Mr. Yelley will testify that you purchased such a sign.
Look around you, Mr. McGee. Look at the jury. Look at the judge. Even the D.A. knows
you were driving that van that day."
McGee's head swiveled like a cornered rat searching for a way out. Sweat began to
trickle down his back. After a quick look at the Prosecutor's frowning gaze his shoulders
slumped. "All right," McGee said in a whisper.
"All right what?"
"All right, I was in the van, okay? I drove by Tom's house in the van. I was going to
rob the place, okay? He owed me!" McGee shouted, looking at Travis.
"So, you--"
"But I chickened out."
"What?"
"I did everything you said but when I got there I chickened out. I saw some old bitty
watching me and I didn't have the remote thing to get past the gate. I figured that if I just
parked there and fooled with the lock she'd be able to identify me, so I just drove on by
and went home." McGee gave Markham and the jury an embarrassed look but Greg
caught a feral glint in the stuntman's eyes. Son of a bitch!
"You never drove your van through the gate?" Markham asked.
"Like I said, I didn't have the remote thing."
"What remote thing?"
"The one that operates the gate."
"How do you know there was such a thing?"
"How else would the people who live there get in and out?"
"Where were you . . . ." Markham began, then paused at the sound of the courtroom
doors opening behind him. He glanced back and saw Janson approaching the defense table
with an envelope in his hand. "Your Honor, may I have a moment to consult with my
associate?"
"A very short moment,Mr. Markham."
Without a word Steve spilled out a set of color pages covered with tables and
graphs.
"What the hell does all this say?" Markham whispered.
"Nothing on Marian," Steve said calmly, "but," Steve tapped the second set, "this
one's a match to Sarah," he said unable to conceal a wide smile. "Her hair puts her in
McGee's van!" Markham made sure that his body screened Steve's joyful expression.
When asked later to describe what he felt at that instant Markham was lost for
words. The most recognizable emotion, he decided, was the absence of an emotion, fear.
In that one moment the terror that he might see an innocent client convicted slipped away.
Taking an extra second or two to compose himself he finally turned back to McGee.
"I'm sorry for the interruption, Mr. McGee. Was that December 31st the only time
you drove your mother's van anywhere around the Travis house?"
"Yeah, sure."
"And on that one occasion, you just drove on by the house?"
"Yes."
"You didn't so much as enter the driveway?"
"That's what I said."
"So Marian Travis was never in your mother's van?"
"No."
"And Sarah, Marian's daughter, she was never in your mother's van?"
"No," Travis said with a little snort.
"Do you know what DNA is?" Markham asked in a suddenly challenging tone.
Ted Hamilton's head snapped up and in Markham' imagination the judge's eyes
seemed to emit a peculiar glow.
McGee paused then muttered,"Something that's used to identify people."
"Yes. Did you know that a person's DNA can be identified from only a single strand
of hair?"
"Whatever you say."
"I hold in my hand," Markham said, raising the gaily colored pages, "a DNA report
on a strand of hair recovered from your mother's van."
Every eye in the room was instantly riveted on the pages, straining to read their
secrets.
"What's that got to do with me? That Goodwin lady's had the thing for more than a
year."
"I will tell you what it has to do with you, Mr. McGee," Markham said in a ringing
voice, then he paused for several seconds to let the suspense build. "This strand of hair
found in your black van," he almost shouted, "belongs to Sarah Travis!"
An involuntary gasp echoed through the courtroom and in the first row, a young
woman began to cry. Simon Katz sat back in his seat and covered his face with his hands.
"It--"
"Don't speak! I know everything."
"I just--"
"I know everything!" Markham shouted. The forensic team had also found blue
fibers in the van.
"You couldn't bring yourself to kill Sarah so you bound her with silver duct tape and
wrapped her in a blue blanket. Do you remember the blue blanket?"
"I don't know--"
"Stop lying!" Markham ordered. "I know everything." Mentally crossing his fingers
and praying that Janson's psychic wasn't a raving lunatic, Markham glanced at Steve, took
a deep breath,then leaned forward on railing in front of the witness stand.
"I know that you wrapped up Sarah in a blue blanket and put in the back of your van.
I know that you drove her down to Mexico. You were terrified when you crossed the
border that someone would find her, but they never searched the van. I know," Markham
began, mentally crossing his fingers and toes, "about Jorge!"
McGee looked as if he had been slapped in the face.
"I know everything! I know how you sold little Sarah to Jorge," Markham screamed
in McGee's face.
McGee flinched and his eyes had the look of a hunted animal.
"How do you suppose I know all this? How could I know?" Markham demanded.
McGee stared dumbly.
"There's only one way I could know. Think! We know because we found Jorge, and
he told us everything!"
Markham struggled to remember everything Steve had reported about his interview
with the psychic.
McGee seemed to collapse in on himself and wedged himself into the back of the
witness chair.
"Jorge gave you up. He told us everything. Do you remember that Jorge asked you if
she was healthy and you said that she was perfect, that you guaranteed it? Do you
remember what Jorge said to you next? Do you? How he looked at little Sarah and then
he looked at you and then he said . . ." Markham raised his pad and in a loud, clear voice
pretended to read: "'I don't take no broken merchandise.'"
A gasp swept through the courtroom.
Hiding his face, McGee bent over and huddled in the chair and feared that he would
cry.
"You didn't mean to kill Marian, did you?" Markham suggested. "You're not a
monster. You're not a cold blooded killer. How did it happen? It was an accident, wasn't
it?" Markham insisted. "Wasn't it?" He turned to face the jury, afraid that he would not be
able to hide the fear and desperation welling up inside him.
A second passed, two, three. Greg held his breath and prayed. Finally, just as he was
about to turn and try again, in the softest of whispers he heard McGee say, "I didn't mean
to do it," then, louder, "It was an accident."
Tom Travis gasped aloud then laid his head on the defense table to hide his tears.
Slowly, Greg turned back to the witness stand.
"You just went there to get what Tom owed you, didn't you?"
"Yes. I didn't mean to hurt anybody," McGee sobbed.
"Tom had told you he would be out riding his dune buggy and that Marian was going
out on a boat with her boyfriend."
"Yes."
"You thought the house would be empty. How could you know that Marian and her
boyfriend had had a fight and that she and Sarah stayed home?"
"No one was supposed to be there!"
"Did Marian shout at you? Threaten you?"
"She said she was going to call the cops. I begged her but she starting fighting and
kicking and I tried to quiet her down and . . . things got out of hand and the next thing I
knew she was dead. I didn't mean to do it. You have to believe me!"
"Then you found Sarah, but you couldn't hurt her."
"She was just a little kid. I'm not a monster."
"So you took her to Jorge in Mexico. What's Jorge's last name?"
"Padillo," McGee said without thinking. "He finds good homes in the States for kids.
Rich people who want to adopt. I wouldn't hurt a kid."
In the audience Katz grabbed his pad and started writing.
"I know. What did you do with Marian's body after you left the house?"
"I rent a freezer for venison, for when I go hunting. I put her in there after I left
Tom's house. Nobody saw me. Then, when the news came out about where he was out
with his dune buggy, I took her out there. I figured it would look like Tom did it if they
ever found her."
"What did you do with the lamp the cord came from?"
"I gave it to the Goodwill over on Reseda."
"What about the remote for the gate and the maid's keys?"
"I buried them in the bushes behind the carport at my apartmenthouse."
"If only Marian hadn't attacked you."
"I just lost it. I'm sorry."
"What's the name of Jorge's town again?"
"Pillarcitos."
"Calle . . . ?"
"Esquella."
Katz stumbled to his feet and in spite of his bad knee sprinted from the room. McGee
never even noticed him leave. Head bowed, tears running down his cheeks, he twisted his
calloused hands.
Markham looked at the sobbing wreck and a hundred questions raced through his
mind, then he shook his head and turned to the judge.
"No more questions, Your Honor," he said quietly.
Burris stared at Greg then turned to the DA.
"Mr. Hamilton?"
"Yes, Your Honor?"
"You have a motion?"
Hamilton looked at the papers strewn across his desk, at McGee, at a red-eyed Tom
Travis, and sighed.
"The People move for the dismissal of all charges against Mr. Travis."
"The case against Thomas Travis is dismissed. Detective Furley!" Burris shouted,
catching Jack's eye among the spectators.
Furley hurried to the bench.
"Yes, Your Honor?"
"I order you to arrest this man on a charge of first degree murder," Burris ordered in a
ringing voice.
Furley pulled McGee to his feet and spun him around.
"Hook him up!" Burris shouted, his voice beginning to break as he remembered his
own murdered daughter. Furley's cuffs made a CLACK- CLACK sound as they slipped
over McGee's wrist.
"Get him out of her!" Burris ordered in a shrill voice. "Get him the Hell out of my
courtroom!"
Markham's most vivid memory of that day was of Jack Furley leading a sobbing
Barry McGee away in chains.
Chapter Fifty-Eight
Three days later Elaine Barrington took a copy of Cosmo from the coffee table and
idly leafed through the pages. From the little closet next to the kitchen she heard a muffled
thump. She ignored it and turned the page. A moment later another thump. Elaine
frowned then stopped herself. Frowning caused wrinkles. Thump. That horrible child!
Ever since Ralph had left she did nothing but make a pest of herself. Elaine hated to admit
that Ralph was right about anything but it was now clear that they should have gotten rid
of the little monster.
She had tried to be a good mother. She had hired a perfectly nice nanny, what a
fortune she had cost, but the girl was just plain willful. Another thump. Clearly she had not
learned her lesson. Elaine put down the magazine. There was no help for it but to let
Ralph have his way and send her back to wherever she came from. Thump.
Elaine frowned in spite of herself and walked deliberately to the breakfront across the
room. She removed the belt in the bottom drawer. I'll teach you to kick my door you little
monster. Turning she slapped the leather against the palm of her hand. Children must be
taught to obey. As she passed the picture window three men in black Kevlar suits raced
across the front lawn, the letters FBI in white printed across their chests. Still favoring his
bad knee, Simon Katz limped along behind.
Elaine slapped the belt a second time and reached for the lock on the closet door. Let
the little monster be somebody else's problem, Elaine decided. She had just begun to turn
the knob when suddenly her front door exploded and four men with assault rifles and
bulletproof vests ran screaming into the room.
"FBI! Search Warrant! FBI! DOWN! DOWN! DOWN!"
What in heaven's name . . . ? Elaine turned and approached the shattered front door.
"What is this--"
A two hundred pound man came flying out of nowhere and smashed into her,
crushing her to the floor. Elaine's arms were yanked behind her and cold steel bit into her
wrists. Around her echoed the sounds of running feet and splintering doors.
"I've got her!" a man's voice shouted from the back of the house. "She's tied up. Get
the medic!"
Elaine was yanked painfully to her feet. Through blurry eyes she saw a woman,
dressed in black Kevlar just like the men, carrying the brat away, crying, as usual.
"What do you think--" Elaine demanded when a huge man with some kind of a
machine gun marched up to her and began to shout at her, reading from a wrinkled piece
of paper: "Elaine Barrington, you are under arrest for kidnapping, conspiracy to commit
kidnapping and transportation of a human being across state lines for illegal purposes.
You have the right to remain silent. If you choose to give up that right. . . ." The rest of
the man's words disappeared in a whirling blur of noise.
This is impossible, Elaine thought even as they dragged her away. This can't be
happening to me. That dreadful child!
"Do you understand the rights I have just read to you?" he demanded.
"Whaaaaa?"
Chapter Fifty-Nine
So much had changed in just a week. Steve had become accustomed to the riot of
boxes cluttering his home and now the apartment seemed almost empty without them.
Instead of files and crime scene reports scattered all over his carpet there was only a single
document on the end table, untouched since Steve had finished reading it half an hour
before.
The first page began with the usual medical jargon, "The subject is a well nourished
Caucasian female, approximately thirty one years of age . . . ." and continued to relate
greater and greater horrors blandly phrased. Somehow he made it to the end. Lynn had
not been pregnant.There had been no baby.
Such a short document, Steve thought, to have taken him two years to read. Had
there ever been a bigger coward or a bigger fool? Carefully, he replaced the report in its
manila envelope and re-sealed the flap.
Next to it Lynn's card still lay unopened on the table. With hands that seemed to
belong to another man he tore open the seal.
Dear Steve,
In case you get home before me, I just want to say that I'm sorry about
the fight and how things ended between us this morning. I know you love me
and I love you and I know that we will work this all out.
I'll be home soon.
All my love,
Lynn
The thought I'm the stupidest man on earth, raced through his head and numbly he
stared down at the card that had terrified him all this time. Finally, he collapsed on the
couch and closed his eyes. Now what? He had no idea. Tomorrow, he decided, would
answer its own questions.
Blinking against the light he idly grabbed the remote and the TV sprang to life. As if
he were the object of some cosmic joke, Cynthia Allard's face coalesced on the screen.
" . . . been quite a week, Cynthia."
"It certainly has, Bob. Today, LA County District Attorney, Mark Halliday,
announced that his office would seek the death penalty for confessed killer, Barry McGee.
And in a related story, Tom Travis and Gerard Fontaine, the father of Travis's murdered
wife, Marian Fontaine Travis, issued a joint press release in which they stated that Tom
would adopt Marian's orphaned daughter, Sarah, and that he and Mr. Fontaine would
share custody. 'Sarah will have both a grandfather and a father,' Travis announced, 'and I
will raise her and love as my own child.'"
"A happy ending to a terrible tragedy, Cynthia. Any word about a new love interest
in Tom's life now that the trial is behind him?"
"Nothing definite, Bob, but there have been rumors that Tom and his former
girlfriend, Kaitlen Berdue, may get back together."
"Even after she helped the police try to convict him?"
Cynthia cocked her head and smiled. "Well, this is Hollywood, Bob. Everybody here
likes a happy ending."
Steve studied Cynthia's vapid face and wondered how he ever could have thought
she was even close to the same league as Lynn. With a click her image flickered and faded
to gray. For a moment longer Steve stared at the empty screen. Had he only seen Cynthia's
broadcast he would have been willing to bet anything that Travis was adopting Sarah only
as a cynical ploy to rejuvenate his tarnished image, that Tom Travis loved no one and
nothing except himself. And, Steve knew, he would have been completely and thoroughly
wrong.
Greg Markham had been there when the FBI brought Sarah back to Travis's mansion
on Rexford Drive. He told Steve that when the police had let Sarah out of their car that
she took one look at Travis and shouted "Daddy!" and ran into his arms and that Travis
had grabbed her and broken into shrieking tears and had cried like baby. Sometimes
people will surprise you, Steve decided.
Was there any food in the house? Not that he was hungry. Not that he felt much of
anything right now, other than relief and the absence of pain. Take out? His musing was
interrupted by a knock on the door. If some reporter had tracked him down . . . . But it
was a uniformed deliveryman.
"Steven Janson?"
"Yes?"
"I have a package for you." He pointed to a cardboard box about two feet by three
feet and four inches thick. "Please sign here."
Steve stared at the box, then, distracted, signed the form. In an instant the man was
gone. What the hell. . . ?
Steve found a knife in the kitchen and carefully cut the cardboard away. An oil
painting slid out, upside down. Steve righted it, set it on the couch and stood back.
It showed a laborer, tired, sweating, leaning on a short-handled hoe. In his left hand
he held a cheap straw hat. His face and bare arms were scorched from countless days in
the fields. In the background was an expanse of lush plants with tiny red and yellow
flowers while off to one side the farm boss frowned as he leaned against the door of a
sixties-era white Cadillac. But it was the foreground that clutched at Steve's soul.
To the left of the laborer was a four or five year-old little girl, clothed in a tattered
red dress and worn-down shoes. Her two hands were raised in front of her, clutching a
frosted glass of lemonade which she held out to her father. But unlike him she was not
tired or sad. Her lips were split in a beatific smile and her face bore the unmistakable
likeness of Sarah Fontaine Travis.
A small yellow note was taped to the top of the frame: "Steve, Thanks for
everything- Tom." and in the picture's lower right corner, very faint in dull maroon paint,
was the scrawled legend: 'T. Travis.'
Steve stared at the painting for several minutes then found a hammer and at the back
of the kitchen drawer. There was only one other painting in the room, Lynn's picture from
their honeymoon trip to the South of France. Steve tapped the nail in just below it and
hung Travis's picture, then stepped back.
The new painting was magnificent, but nevertheless Steve found his eyes wandering
upward, back to the last really beautiful physical link he had to Lynn. For the longest time
Steve stood there, lost in thought, staring at his wife's favorite painting, and remembering
her and how much she had loved him.
David Grace has written ten novels. To see a list of his other books and to read free
excerpts from them, visit his website: WWW.DavidGraceAuthor.Com.
All of David Grace's books are available at Smashwords.Com as well as most other
on-line ebook sellers.
Here is an excerpt from David Grace's novel:
True Faith
Prolog
Mei Ling Shrader, left her desk at the Department of Transportation and hurried for
the elevator. The car was crowded and it descended only a single floor before stopping
opposite the entrance to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Mei Ling
smiled and moved a step back as a little girl and her mother squeezed into the car.
Timidly, the child returned her smile. Mei Ling reached over to press the "Close Door"
button. For an instant the indicator glowed then the world disappeared in a white plasma
glare as eighteen pounds of C4 plastic explosive hidden in the EEOC's file room
detonated.
The blast swept through the third floor in only a fraction of the blink of an eye and
shattered everything in its path. After a diligent search the Medical Examiner's office
succeeded in recovering Mei Ling's head and her left arm. Of the little girl nothing
identifiable remained. Within seven weeks the FBI had arrested five men for the crime:
William Joseph Ayers, Michael Tully, Thomas Bremerton, Jay McNabb and Robert Henry
Allen. It took another year and a half to bring them to trial.
Still, the defendants displayed no obvious signs of worry or distress. Through his
organization, The White People's American Coalition, William Joseph Ayers issued press
releases condemning the Zionist Occupying Government and its FBI "Gestapo." He
confidently predicted that he and his co-defendants would never be convicted of the
bombing.
The U.S. Attorney ascribed Ayers' pronouncements to nothing more than whistling
in the dark, but, in fact, William Joseph Ayers had a definite plan to avoid the imposition
on him of any punishment for the crimes of which he stood accused.
Chapter One
I sat in the back of courtroom 3C, fingered my press credentials, and frowned. I had
wanted to cover Ayers' trial in courtroom 3A just down the hall, to be there to watch the
bastards who had murdered my wife, Mei Ling, squirm, to hear the jury find them guilty,
to watch them being sentenced to a million years in prison or, better yet, to death. But
instead I sat here in Judge Lionel Hendrix's courtroom where I waited to interview a
group of immigrants for a Sunday Supplement article on Baltimore's newest citizens.
Almost four hundred people had been sworn in only three weeks before, but several
of those scheduled had missed the ceremony because of illness. One had not appeared
because his car died with a broken serpentine belt out on Highway 295. Another applicant
urgently needed to receive his papers so that he could start a new job which required U.S.
citizenship. Two more petitioners were friends of a Congress-man who asked the Court,
as courtesy, to schedule his constituents' swearing-in on an expedited basis.
The new citizens were dressed in the best clothes which they possessed. Thirty-five
year old Japanese restaurant owner, Akiye Yoshima, wore a Donna Karan silk dress that
had cost a thousand dollars. Sergei Lemontov, a short, slender, bearded professor of
mathematics who had fled Moscow University for a job writing software compression
algorithms for a computer game company, was dressed in a tweed suit which looked like
one of the outfits that the scientists in the 1950's monster movies wore when the Pentagon
called on them for help in defeating the giant ants.
At nine o'clock exactly the clerk called the court to order as Judge Lionel R. Hendrix
entered the room. Six feet tall, slender, and as brown as the bench behind which he sat,
Judge Hendrix took a moment and surveyed his courtroom, then nodded to his Court
Security Officer.
"The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Maryland is now in
session, the Honorable Lionel R. Hendrix, Judge, presiding. The first matters on the
calendar are petitions for admission to citizenship in the United States of America."
Hendrix turned to the applicants.
"Good morning ladies and gentlemen. When your name is called please come
forward and stand before the bench." Hendrix motioned for the clerk to read the calendar:
"In the matter of the Application of Sergei Lemontov. In the matter of the
Application of Esmail Fatehi. In the matter of the Application of Dennis Whitehurst." She
continued reciting the names of each of applicants for citizenship. One by one, in no
particular order, the petitioners rose and passed through the bar. When all eight had taken
their places, Judge Hendrix looked down at them and smiled.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," he began, "it is both my duty and my pleasure this morning
to administer to you the oath of allegiance.
"You have chosen to leave behind the countries of your birth and to embrace the
United States as your new home. This is an important commitment and one that I know
that each of you takes seriously.
"Your choice this morning does not mean that you must deny the land of your
origin. Pride in your ancestry is important and can never detract from your patriotism. On
the contrary, your pride in your heritage can only make you better Americans.
"What does it mean to be an American? Former Supreme Court Justice Felix
Frankfurter said that an American is someone who loves justice and believes in the dignity
of man.
"As far as I'm concerned, being an American means believing in an idea that was
unique when this country was founded by other immigrants and which, in most parts of
the world, is still unique today. That is the idea that people have the right to worship
differently, even if others don't like their religion, or lack of religion; to speak their mind
even if their ideas are upsetting; to write and publish their philosophies even if those
philosophies are unpopular, and, most of all, it means a belief in the right to be treated
equally before the law even when you are poor or different or disliked.
"This philosophy was, and in most parts of the world still is today, a radical idea. In
America you have the right to blaspheme,to criticize, to disagree and still be treated fairly
by the law and the government. Fair laws, fairly enforced, are necessary for a free people
to live peacefully in a free society.
"In Thomas Jefferson's first draft of the Declaration of Independence he referred to
our 'inalienable rights' but the Committee of Revision, which included Benjamin Franklin
and John Adams, changed that to 'unalienable rights'. Why did they do that?
"Because 'inalienable rights' means those rights that cannot be taken away but which
you can give away. 'Unalienable rights' means inherent rights which no one has the
authority to deny you and which even you yourselves may not surrender. It means rights
which we hold as trustees for ourselves and for our posterity and which even we ourselves
may not voluntarily abandon.
"As Americans we have the unalienable right to grow in our own ways and to learn
what has not yet been taught; the right to privacy and the right to participate; the right to
choose our own jobs, to shape our own communities, to mold our own destinies. Not the
right to destroy, but the freedom to challenge. Not the license to disrupt, but the liberty to
dissent.
"One of the most important parts of my job as a judge, especially as a federal judge,
is to protect and to guaranteeeach of you the right to peacefully dissent.
"In a few moments you will become citizens of the greatest nation on earth. This is
still the land of opportunity. This is still the land where dreams can be fulfilled. But at a
price.
"Remember that in becoming an American citizen you also accept a great
responsibility: the responsibility to participate in your society, to become involved, to
work to make your new country better.
"Today I am honored to have the privilege of bestowing upon each of you both the
benefits of American citizenship and the duties that it entails. I am sure that you will bear
those responsibilities well and I know that your new country will be as proud of you as
you are of it.
"I will now administer the oath of allegiance."
As one, the immigrants raised their hands.
Chapter Two
In Courtroom 3A next door the Assistant U.S. Attorneys gossiped at the
prosecutor's table next to the empty jury box. Three of the five accused sat quietly at one
of the two defense tables at the left side of the room. The other two defendants chatted
with their attorneys near the railing which separated the spectators' from the lawyers'
portion of the courtroom. Two armed U.S. Marshal's Deputies were positioned in front of
the bench. A third Marshal's Deputy was stationed at the double doors at the back of the
room.
The lead defendant, William Joseph Ayers, sat quietly at the far left side of the
defendants' table. Thirty-four years old, five feet eight inches tall, short dark hair neatly
parted on the left, compactly built, Ayers was dressed in a dark gray, almost black,
Penney's suit, a narrow black tie, and a wash-and-wear white cotton shirt, his outfit
unrelieved by any splash of color or ornamentation save for the small, metal American flag
affixed to his lapel and the crossed golden lightning bolts of the White People's American
Coalition emblazoned on a blue and silver tie clip.
Ayers casually reached beneath the lip of the defense table and slid his fingers over
the slight stickiness of the duct tape which secured a Glock 9mm pistol. A two and half
inch deep facing masked the weapon.
Ayers glanced at the man to his far right, Robert Henry Allen, and gave him a slight
nod, then allowed his attention to wander back over the court room, though his eyes never
strayed far from the two armed Marshal's deputies to the left and right of the bench. Allen,
six feet one, blond and crewcut, stared straight ahead without any outward
acknowledgment of Ayers' signal.
Twenty spectators were already seated. Suddenly, two men in the first row began to
argue. George Terry, the deputy nearest the jury box, moved to eject them while his
companion took a few steps forward to keep a close watch in case the dispute escalated
beyond raised voices.
As soon as Terry passed through the gate, Ayers and Allen at the front defense table
and Michael Tully at the rear table pulled free two Glock pistols, a three pound block of
C4, and an envelope containing #4 electric blasting caps and microswitches, all of which
had been taped beneath the defense tables during the previous night. As soon as the
quarreling spectators had been ejected, Ayers motioned to Marshal Terry with a small
wave of his hand. Seeing his partner approach one of the defendants, Deputy House
moved over to cover him.
Ayers stood slowly, the gun invisible beneath the hem of his suit coat. Stepping to
his left, Ayes bent his head as if to whisper to the marshal. Terry took a step forward and
instantly Ayers smashed the pistol into Terry's head. The deputy staggered and dropped to
the floor. Allen leapt for Deputy House who stood rooted to the floor as he tried to make
sense of his partner's sudden collapse. He barely had time to notice Allen's lunge before he
too was hammered into unconsciousness.
Allen, athletic, six feet one inches tall, a veteran of four years in the U.S. Army,
raced through the swinging gate and began to level his pistol at Jack Cahill, the deputy at
the courtroom's rear door. Cahill was already crouching, pulling out his Beretta 92 and
trying to get out of way of the Glock that Allen was swinging toward his head.
A whirl of thoughts flickered through Cahill's mind: Had he released the safety?
Hurry, get his finger through the trigger guard. Line up the weapon. Were any innocent
people in his line of fire? Could he --- there was a sudden explosion and flash from
Allen's gun. Cahill heard a sound between a crack and a pop and felt a huge pressure and
a burning pain in his right shoulder.
Suddenly, Cahill's right arm was dangling and he found the first set of doors
swinging shut behind him. Blood spilled down his chest and time seemed to be moving in
fits and starts. His limp right arm, miraculously, still gripped the Beretta. Cahill staggered
through the second set of double doors and out into the third floor hallway.
Cahill looked left but the elevators seemed to be receding into the distance. In
another moment the defendants would burst from the courtroom and finish him off. To
Cahill's right was the door to the public stairway. Surprised that the crew-cut gunman had
not erupted from the courtroom and shot him again, Cahill leaned against the stairway
door and stumbled onto the third floor landing.
A moment later he discovered that he was no longer able to stand. Well, he could
still aim through the doorway lying down. Now if he could only get the damn gun into his
left hand, he might still have shot at them. Except he couldn't seem to focus too well,
but. . . .
Cahill's hand left a bright red smear as it slipped from the knob and the fire door
swung closed in front of him. No one outside had noticed Cahill's retreat.The courtroom's
double doors had muffled the shot to a snap no louder than that from a popping balloon.
Robert Allen cautiously poked his head into the corridor. There was no crowd of
frightened lawyers, no gang of approaching Marshals -- just a silent, deserted hallway.
While Allen kept watch, the other defendants quickly relieved the Marshals of their guns,
ammunition, keys and handcuffs. At instructions from Ayers, Thomas Bremerton yanked
out the phone lines.
On the way out of the courtroom McNabb grabbed a laptop computer from one of
the defense lawyers. From another he took a briefcase. "Camouflage," he told Ayers as
they hurried into the hallway where Allen still kept watch. Michael Tully fastened one of
the pairs of handcuffs to the handles on the courtroom's double doors. Ayers gave Allen
another of his brief nods and, like a group of lawyers in a hurry to duck out of court early
for a morning's sail on the Chesapeake Bay, the five men strode toward the bank of
elevators near the far end of the hall. They were ten yards away when two uniformed
police stepped out of the men's room.
The escapees continued into the small corridor which ran through the bank of
elevators. Ayers regretted not taking the stairs but it was too late now. The two cops had
never seen the defendants before and Cahill, unconscious in the third floor stairwell, had
not raised an alarm.
Then Tully glanced at the cops over his shoulder, and he looked guilty as hell. And
Bremerton, in spite of his six foot four, two hundred forty pound bulk, looked scared to
pieces. The cops took one look at the five men in cheap suits, one of them surely guilty of
something and another too terrified to even make eye contact and knew something was
wrong.
The older cop, Frank Washington, loosened his weapon in its holster. The younger
man, Bernie Levin, started toward the escapees and called out, "Gentlemen, excuse me
---" which is as far as he got before Tully pulled the Sig Sauer he had taken from Alton
House and fired a shot that missed Levin's head by half an inch.
Levin and Washington hurriedly took cover in the western stairwell. Tully fired two
more shots in their direction then Ayers grabbed his arm and led them all back the way
they had come. The cops carried walkie talkies and Washington was already calling for
help.
As Ayers' men neared the stairs at the east end of the building, the door opened a
crack and a barely conscious Jack Cahill poked out his Beretta and fired a single wild shot.
The officers behind the escapees fired as well and Tully and McNabb loosed three more
shots in their direction. They were now caught in a cross fire.
The left side of the hallway was a waist-high to ceiling glass. To the right was
another set of double doors which opened into the tiny lobby between courtrooms 3C and
3D. 3D was locked and empty. 3C was where the Honorable Lionel R. Hendrix, was now
swearing in eight new citizens.
With barely a pause, Ayers raised his pistol and led his band of terrorists and killers
into Judge Lionel Hendrix's court where I sat quietly and thought about my murdered
wife.
Chapter Three
"When we begin, you will say 'I', then your own name, for example, 'I, Marie
Dermant' or 'I, Dennis Whitehurst'," Judge Hendrix instructed, nodding reassuringly to the
eight new citizens. "Then you will repeat the rest of the oath after me. Would each of you
please raise your right hand then say 'I' and then say your name."
Eight hands shot up and, after a brief smile from Hendrix, each began to speak:
"I, Reza Sanjideh, ..."
"I, Dennis Whitehurst, ..."
"I, Le Thi Mai, ..."
"I, Elena Ortiz, ..."
"I, Marie Dermant, ..."
"I, Akiye Yoshima, ..."
"I, Esmail Fatehi, ..."
"I, Sergei Lemontov, ..."
"... do hereby declare, on oath..."
"... that I absolutely and entirely..."
"... renounce and abjure ..."
"... all allegiance and fidelity ..."
"... to any foreign prince ..."
"... potentate,state or sovereignty ..."
"... of whom or which ..."
"... I have heretofore been a subject or citizen ..."
"... that I will support, protect and defend ..."
"... the constitution and laws of the United States ..."
"... against all enemies ..."
"...foreign or domestic..."
"...that I will bear true faith---"
Suddenly, William Joseph Ayers, Jay McNabb, Robert Henry Allen, Thomas
Bremerton, and Michael Tully burst into courtroom 3C, leveled their guns, and took all of
us prisoner.
Here is an excerpt from David Grace's novel:
Doll's Eyes
ME MPHIS, TENNESSEE
OUTSIDE THE EDEN BAR & GRILL
JUNE, 1984
Chapter One
Willie sat wedged behind the battered Ford's wheel while Johnny Bob fidgeted in the
passenger seat. Big John's orders were simple and direct: wait for the kid to cross Essex,
then nail him.
"If the kid lands in front of the car," Big John told Willie, "run him over again. Then
have Johnny Bob follow you to Colored Town. Wipe your prints and dump the car with
the keys in it. With any luck the cops will figure some Black got himself liquored up and
did it."
Now they waited.
"Johnny Bob," Willie said turning to his helper, "stop jumpin' around. You're drivin'
me crazy."
Johnny Bob's fingertips beat a hollow tattoo on the Galaxy's dashboard.
"If you screw this up, Johnny Bob, I swear that if Big John don't kill you I will."
Johnny Bob pulled out a Lucky Strike and hungrily sucked in the flame.
"This is what I get for using a damn speed freak," Willie mumbled. "Don't you know,
boy, that stuff will kill you sure?"
"You just mind your job, Willie," Johnny Bob said in his sing-song voice, "and I'll do
mine. I'm the one's gonna have to grab the kid and throw him 'neath the wheels if'n you
miss 'im. So you just get ready your way and I'll get ready mine."
Blam, blama, blam, blam, blam, blam -- Johnny pounded out a new rhythm on the
dashboard.
Willie turned away and stared at the Eden's front door. He figured the kid would be
coming out pretty soon. One good thump and he'd be dead and they could dump the car
and get paid.
Blama, blam, blam, blam.
"Come on, kid," Willie whispered under his breath.
ME MPHIS, TENNESSEE
INSIDE THE EDEN BAR & GRILL,
JUNE, 1984
Chapter Two
It was a typical Friday night at the Eden. I was trying to get my not quite comatose
father, Solomon "Sally" Trainer, to his feet and out the door before he was too drunk to
stand. Dad had been making a few bucks playing poker with Big Mac and Little Mac and
a couple of truckers and drinking up his winnings as fast as he made them. I wasn't quite
fourteen and I had to get dad out of there or pretty soon he'd be too far gone for me to
haul him out the door.
Lucy McGuire hadn't come in yet. Around nine-thirty she'd probably show up. I
didn't expect to see Lucy's daughter, my best and only friend, Hannah. Hannah was almost
sixteen and every time Lucy got low on cash she would tell Hannah how easy it would be
for her to "do it," just keep her eyes closed and pretend it was someone else, Paul
Newman maybe, instead of Little Mac or Eddie Connors, or Big John Harnell. Just think
of how much money she (she being Lucy, not Hannah) could get for it.
So far, Hannah hadn't given in to her mother's demands. But Lucy had that wideeyed look lately, like she'd been getting some extra strong stuff, and Big John was staring
at Hannah every chance he got and whispering to Lucy in that quiet, scary voice he used
when he wanted you to do something.
"Hey, kid." Len called me away from dad's table where he was betting on turning
two pair into a full house. "You want to make a couple of bucks? Take the mop and go
clean up the can for me, then take the trash out back."
That was how it was while I was waiting for dad. I'd clean up the bar, run errands,
pick up a burger or a plate of ribs for one of the customers whose luck at the table was
running hot.
"Sure, Len." It was about eight-forty when I finished. Dad's pile was smaller and his
head was weaving in that little circle it made about three drinks before he couldn't stand
up any more. Then I heard Big John shout:
"Lenny, bring me a bourbon with a beer back." He usually didn't come in this early,
but I figured that maybe he was doing a shylock for some guy who didn't want to be in
this part of town too late. When I turned he was looking at me with a peculiar sort of
expression, like a fat man studying the deserts in the bakery window. Then I noticed
Hannah sitting next to Big John. His hand was on her leg and she was looking straight
ahead as if he wasn't there. For an instant I caught her eye, as if to plead: "Don't do this,"
but she gave her head a little shake as if she knew what I was trying to tell her but she had
already made up her mind.
Len brought Big John's order, glanced at Hannah, then, stone-faced, returned to the
bar. Big John downed the bourbon then drank half the beer in three fast gulps. A quick
pass of a soggy napkin across his lips and he was ready.
Big John stood and draped his huge arm around Hannah's shoulder, cupping her
breast in his palm. Hannah flinched as if she had been touched by cold metal, then drew
her face into a pale mask. Big John steered her toward the little room off the back corridor
where Lucy turned her tricks. Biting my lip I started down the hallway, then paused and
turned away.
*
*
*
Big John pushed Hannah in ahead of him, shot a quick glance at the small metal
frame bed, then began to remove his shirt. Hannah stood frozen, staring at Big John's huge
hands and his pale, hairy chest, then lowered her eyes and worried the top button on her
blouse. When Big John bent to untie his wingtips she pulled a nylon sock half filled with
lead sinkers out of her purse and swung it with all her strength. Halfway through the
stroke Big John sensed something and jerked aside.
A swipe of his hand sent the homemade sap flying, scattering the sinkers like a squall
of dull silver rain. Emotions rippled across Big John's face: surprise, pain, anger, cruel
pleasure. Crossing her arms, Hannah slowly retreated to the cartons along the back wall.
"Your mother put you up to this, kid? No, she wouldn't have the guts. So this must
be your idea. Well, you gotta learn the business sometime. May as well be now." Smiling,
Big John removed his belt, folded it double, then snatched at Hannah's blouse. She lurched
away and hurled a glass from a half open crate. It shattered against Harnell's temple,
leaving behind a shallow, bleeding wound. Big John wiped his fingers across his bloody
skull.
"You shouldn't have done that, Hannah," Big John said quietly. "I was just going to
teach you a lesson. Now I have to cut you." Harnell produced a black-enameled pocket
knife and popped out a four inch blade. Hannah's eyes widened and she reached for a
second glass, but Big John grabbed her wrist and squeezed until it dropped. He raised the
blade.
Hannah's free hand scrabbled desperately across the boxes and encountered the
hammer Len used to open the crates. His thigh between her legs, Big John smiled and
brought the knife forward, intending to cut her from her cheekbone to the side of her
mouth. With a sound like the crack of a spoon through an eggshell Hannah smashed the
hammer into the back of Big John's skull.
For an instant Harnell seemed amazed then he collapsed noisily to the floor. Hannah
stared at the bleeding carcass then at the hammerhead now coated with thick blood and
tufts of hair. She dropped it as if it were scalding. There was no movement outside. The
Eden's patrons had been trained not to disturb Big John no matter what noises escaped the
crib-room's thin walls.
In a daze, Hannah pulled out Big John's money clip. There was a thousand dollars
there. Big John liked to flash a roll. After checking her blouse for blood, Hannah walked
shakily to the door.
*
*
*
Hannah's head poked out. Spotting me she made an agitated wave. I looked at dad
but he was still hanging on to consciousness. No one paid any attention when I headed
down the hallway. Hannah was already closing the door behind me when I saw Harnell's
body.
"Jesus! What happen--"
"JT, there's no time. We've got to get out of here."
"Jesus, oh God, Hannah! What are you gonna do?"
"We're getting out of here, both of us. I've got enough money for us to get a long
way from here. Then I'll get a job. I can work. Don't worry, Johnny, I'll take care of you."
Johnny. Hannah never called me Johnny unless things were really, really bad and she
wanted me to know how much she cared about me -- not sex stuff, but like my sister, my
mother, I guess, even though I had never known my real mother.
"But I can't go. Dad--"
"You have to! Johnny, I did this for you. We have to get out of here. We'll talk on
the bus." Hannah grabbed my arm and tried to drag me to the door, but I just stood there,
looking at Big John's body and that awful pool of blood.
"What do you mean, you did it for me? Besides, I can't leave dad. What would he do
without me?"
"JT," Hannah hissed, turning me away from the body, "listen to me! Remember the
doctor and those papers your dad filled out a few months ago?"
"Doctor?-- The life insurance? What's--"
"Lucy told me." Hannah never called her mother "mom." She was always "Lucy."
"Big John's going to have them kill you. Tonight. For the insurance money. Don't
you see? That's why I did this. If you don't leave right now, they'll kill you, and I won't
have anyone left."
"But dad would get the money if I died, not Big John."
"When did your dad ever have money for life insurance? Who do you think paid for
the insurance policy? Don't you think Big John can get anything he wants from Sally?"
I stood there, frozen. It all made a kind of warped sense, the only kind of sense that
existed in the Eden. I thought back to the day dad had announced he was taking me to the
doctor.
*
*
*
"Doctor? I'm not sick. Why do I have to go to a doctor?"
"Because I'm your father and I say so. Get your coat. Willie Lee's giving us a ride."
When we got outside, Big John's bill collector was waiting at the curb. Willie Lee
seemed to know where we were going. Dad just stared out the window at the barren trees
that were almost ready to pop their spring buds.
The doctor's office was down on Blondel on the second floor above a cleaners. It
didn't look like he was one of those rich doctors you see on TV. Not that I was there very
long. He just hit my knee with a rubber hammer, listened to my heart and my lungs,
looked down my throat with a little flashlight, and it was over.
While I was buttoning my shirt the doctor scribbled something on a piece of paper
and gave it to dad in exchange for a twenty dollar bill. In the empty waiting room outside
a little man in a white shirt with a wrinkled collar and a green and brown tie that had a
spot of ketchup on the bottom waited for us.
Dad handed him the paper. The little man nodded, then offered a small, zippered
leather case as a platform for a printed form. Dad scribbled his name at the bottom then
dropped the pen. The little man extended his hand.
"Thank you, Mr. Trainer. It's been a pleasure ...." Dad ignored him and pulled me
toward the door. Willie Lee was waiting when we got outside.
"Any problems?" he asked in a flat voice.
"No," dad told him, "no problems."
Willie Lee drove us back home. No one said anything the entire time.
*
*
*
Hannah stuck her head out of the crib-room and looked toward the bar.
"Hurry," she hissed and dragged me to the back door. For a second she fumbled with
the deadbolt then it slipped free and we were outside. I followed numbly. . . . .Dad.
My father was born Solomon Aloysius Trainer. His mother had hoped that such an
exalted name would confer upon him qualities of wisdom and leadership. In a world of
magic and spirits and mythical events it might have. In pre-World War II Tennessee it did
just the opposite. Faced with the choice of Aloysius or Solomon, my father opted for the
lesser of two evils and answered to his given name. His schoolmates, faced with the choice
of calling him Solly or Sally, of course chose Sally, a nickname he never escaped.
My father could have fought every time he was challenged and become, if not the
toughest kid in school, at least the most combative, or he could smile, take the jokes, go
along and get along. He chose the latter. Somewhere in his twenties dad married my
mother, though she was long gone by the time I would have been old enough to remember
her. Dad would never talk about her when he was sober and if I asked when he was drunk
I stood a good chance of getting a licking.
Most of the time dad worked at odd jobs, whatever he could find: laborer, janitor at
the dog track, driver's helper on the non-union rigs, runner and general gofer for Big John
Harnell. Most of the time when he wasn't working dad would be playing stud or pool
down at the Eden for spare change. Or picking up tips from some of his friends at the dog
track across the river in Arkansas. Usually he did okay, up one week, down the next, until
a few months ago.
Dad had gotten a tip on a long shot in the third over at Southland where he
sometimes did kennel work. Big John took his marker for $500. The dog, Monkey
Business, won but was disqualified when a surprise blood test rang all the wrong bells.
Dad became desperate to recoup his losses. With a vigorish of 10% per week and
Willie Lee as Big John's debt collector Dad was highly motivated. And, like most
gamblers, he figured the best way to get even was to make another bet. And another. And
another. Finally, dad was into Big John for almost $3,000. Big John gave him one more
chance, double or nothing. The next day dad was into Big John for $6,000 with the first
week's interest adding another $600 to the total. Dad was summoned to Big John's booth
at the Eden. Willie Lee sat on one side, Big John on the other.
"You owe me $6,000, Sally," Big John said quietly.
"Yeah, John, I know. I'm gonna take care of that. I really appreciate--"
"How are you going to pay me, Sally?"
"Well, I've got this deal goin' with a buddy of mine over at the track. In just a week
or two--"
"That's no good. You won't be around in a week or two. You're going to have an
accident before that."
"I'll get the money, Big John, don't worry."
"I'm not worried, Sally. You'll get the money, or else. You've got two days."
"Yes sir, I'll--"
"Don't tell me. I don't care how you get it. Rob a bank, steal the mayor's Cadillac,
whatever. It's not my concern. Just get it however you have to. Are we clear?"
"Sure, I mean, yes, Big John. We're clear."
"Two days." Big John stared at Sally, then Willie Lee slipped out of the booth and
let Sally leave. Two days! Where was he going to get $6,000 in two days? Sally actually
got as far as borrowing a gun and wandering around outside the First National Bank on
Union Avenue but he couldn't do it. All those years of going along and getting along had
taken their toll. He didn't have an armed robbery in him. At least not a successful armed
robbery.
Later that night Sally gave the revolver back to Willie Lee and quietly drank himself
into oblivion. He woke up the next morning on the floor next to his bed, washed his face,
and headed back to the Eden. When Big John came in that night Sally's terror on the one
side and his consumption of alcohol on the other kept him balanced halfway between
unconsciousness and sobriety.
"Do you have my money, Sally?" Big John asked him.
"No sir, I do not. I tried but I couldn't do it."
"How are you going to pay me?"
"I don't know. Maybe I could work it off."
"You couldn't work off the interest, you disgusting loser," Big John growled then
reached out a big hand and slapped Sally's face. "So, am I going to have to kill you?"
"Please don't kill me, Big John," Sally pleaded, almost crying. "There's got to be
something I could do, some way I could make it up to you."
"You make me sick. What do you own? What do you have in your life that's worth
anything?"
"Nothin'. I don't have nothin'."
Big John stared at Sally as if a thought had just occurred to him .
"Well, you do have one thing."
"I do? What's that?"
"Your kid, JT."
"I don't follow you. He doesn't have any money or any way to get any. Damn kid's
more trouble than he's worth," Sally mumbled remembering some past inconvenience he
believed I had caused him.
"Life insurance. We could put some life insurance on him. Then, if something
happened to him, you'd have plenty of money. You could pay me what you owed me and
even have a little left over."
"You want me to kill my own kid?"
"Don't talk crazy. I'm just giving you an incentive, that's all. Look, Sally, do you
know what happens when you go to the bank and you want to get a loan?" Sally had
never borrowed money except from shylocks in his whole life. He gave his head a slow
shake.
"They make you take out a life insurance policy so that if anything happens to you
there'll be money to pay off the loan. That's what we're going to do. You're going to take
out a $20,000 life insurance policy on JT. I have a friend who's an agent. He'll handle the
whole thing. I'll even loan you the money for the payments. I'll give you three months to
come up with what you owe me."
"Three months?" Sally said in a voice that a condemned man might have used to say
"The Governor called?" To Sally, three months was forever. Hell, with that much time he
could get Big John's money for sure, one way or the other.
"Three months. You get me my money in three months and we're square. You don't,
your kid has an accident and I get the insurance money. Is that okay with you? Do you
have any problem with that? Because if you do, then I'll have to make other
arrangements." Big John nodded toward Willie Lee.
"Uh, no, I don't have any problem with that. I'll get your money, Big John. Don't
worry."
"I'm not worried, Sally. Because if you don't, you won't have to worry about JT any
more." Big John waved his hand and Willie Lee slid out of the booth.
Of course, three months or three years, it was all the same. Sally had no more chance
of getting that kind of money than he had of being elected governor. So three months later
Willie Lee and Johnny Bob were sitting in a stolen Galaxy out front of the Eden Bar &
Grill and waiting for me to step off the curb.
*
*
*
Once out the back door, Hannah led us down Waldorf toward Latham. She kept
zigzagging on a diagonal toward the bus station. Finally she stopped at a pay phone and
called a cab. It was about twenty to ten when we got there.
It being a Friday night the station was pretty busy. There was a big board with
names of cities and times and below it a counter with two lines for tickets. I felt like a leaf
that had been ripped off its old familiar branch and blown away into the black night.
"What's the next bus that's leaving," Hannah asked the clerk.
"Gate Six, five minutes," the man said, barely looking up.
"Where's it going?"
"Bus 1401, Little Rock, Dallas, El Paso, Tucson, and San Diego." The man adjusted
his butt on his high padded stool and then yawned behind his palm.
"Okay, two one-way tickets for San Diego."
"That'll be $126."
Hannah carefully reached into her pocket and put two one hundred dollar bills on the
counter. Used to stacks of grimy fives and wrinkled tens the clerk gave Hannah a close
look, then shrugged, filled out two tickets and pushed them and the seventy-four dollars
change across the counter.
"Gate Six, that way," he said motioning to our left. Outside the glass doors were
three silver buses, one of which was in the last stages of loading. A stocky man in a gray
uniform closed the luggage bin and climbed inside. Hannah pushed me ahead of her. I
waited on the bus's second step for the lady ahead of me to find her ticket. Idly, I turned
and looked into the waiting room just as Willie Lee and Johnny Bob rushed inside.
"Hannah, look!" Were they after me or her? Maybe both of us. Hannah stood frozen
for a second then pulled out a pile of bills and shoved half of them into my hand.
"What are you doing?"
"We have to split up."
"What do you mean? You can't go out there."
"I have to," Hannah said in a cracking voice. "Willie's going to check with that clerk.
They'll run us down before the bus gets out of town. I'm keeping my ticket and half the
money. I'll catch up with you later. A day after you get to San Diego I'll meet you there."
"Don't leave me!" I pleaded.
"Here," she said pulling her medallion over her head and thrusting it into my hand.
As long as I had known Hannah she had worn that quarter-sized gold-plated medal on a
thin gold colored chain. One side displayed a sun shedding beams of light as it rose over a
mountainous horizon. The other bore the sun in a clear sky which it filled with golden rays
that transformed into little hearts as they neared the edge of the coin. It had been a present
from her father, her real father, the only thing she had from him. It couldn't have been
worth ten dollars but it was her most precious possession.
"You hold this for me. I'll come back for it." She forced my fingers around the chain.
"Hannah, don't leave me!" But she was already turning away. She paused and
hugged me fiercely, then jumped from the bus.
"Son, you got a ticket?" the driver called. Hannah had already reached the far side of
the loading bay. "Go on!" Hannah mouthed and waved at me.
"Son, off or on." I took half a step toward the door and stared at Hannah's terrified
face. "NO!" she mouthed. "GO BACK!"
Feeling like the lowest sort of coward, I surrendered my ticket and slipped into a
window seat a few rows back. The door closed and the bus began to back out.
As soon as she saw that I was safely aboard, Hannah approached the glass doors and
stood there, silhouetted against the light.
Willie Lee had finally reached the clerk and I saw him point toward the loading gate.
Willie followed his gesture and saw Hannah. With a shout to Johnny Bob, he barreled
across the lobby. Hannah sprinted down the loading bay and out into the night.
I hunched down in my seat and watched as Willie and Johnny Bob exploded through
the doors and pounded across the tarmac after her. The bus finished backing out and
pulled into the street. In an instant, Hannah, with Willie Lee and Johnny Bob in hot
pursuit, had all disappeared into the darkness. That's the last time I saw Hannah. I've been
looking for her ever since.
I think that's a big part of why I became a cop.
My name is John Thomas Trainer. I'm a homicide detective. I speak for the victims,
for the dead who can no longer speak for themselves.
Table Of Contents
Cover Blurb - Story Summary
Title Page
"Jump To Table Of Contents" Reference Point
Legal Notices
Chapter One
Chapter Five
Chapter Ten
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-Five
Chapter Thirty
Chapter Thirty-five
Chapter Forty
Chapter Forty-Five
Chapter Fifty
Chapter Fifty-Five
True Faith Excerpt
Doll's Eyes Excerpt