Architects of Armageddon By John L. Flynn

For the fourth time that week, Kate had downed a bottle of whiskey to help her sleep, then spent the night tossing and turning in her twin-sized bed. The inspector for the San Francisco Police Department had forgotten what it was like to get eight-hours’ rest, and it was beginning to take a toll on her.
Architects of Armageddon
Architects of Armageddon By John L. Flynn

She had tried just about every over-the-counter sleep-aid and prescription drug to help her cope with the insomnia. When all of those failed, she turned to homespun remedies, like drinking warm milk or taking hot baths before bedtime, but they didn’t work either. She gave acupressure and meditation a chance; then she smoked pot, took barbiturates, and tried a healthy dose of melatonin to turn herself off. Nothing seemed to work as effectively or quickly as the sour mash. And now, even that was no longer working.

Kate pulled the pillow over her head and struggled to bury her face in the 200-threadcount percale pillowcase. Maybe if she suffocated, she’d finally get the rest she needed. But her alcohol-addled brain continued to race on, like a high-speed train traveling through a never-ending tunnel of degrading images. Condemned to re-visit the nightmare that existed in the twisted kaleidoscope that filled her mind every night, she was a real mess. The tangle of deformed and distorted images of John Monroe, Crystal Rose, Bradley Rutherford, Stephen Collins, and the others, took on a reality of their own playing out like a low-budget, splatter film directed by the criminally insane. Kate was back in the dungeon, chained inside the Iron Maiden, forced to stare at the dismembered corpses and watch the beheadings and ravenous cannibals feeding on the living; horned beast-men raping and scourging slave women—sickening images of depravity from Dante’s lowest circle of Hell.

Somewhere in her mind, Kate knew the images weren’t real. They were the product of the madness that John Monroe inflicted on her and members of the public during his reign of terror as the Angel of Death. The psychology-professor-turned-serial-killer had been responsible for the deaths of seven men, six of whom were powerful and influential in the city, and the other one, her partner, Frank Miller. She surmised that he must have had an agenda that went beyond the murders themselves because he was a brilliant man; everything he did had a purpose behind it. Perhaps his agenda was collecting documents that he pieced together himself, revealing corruption at the highest levels of city government. Or perhaps Monroe just wanted to see if he was clever enough to get away with the perfect murder.

“Kate, when did you first find out?” John Monroe whispered in her ear.

Kate stirred in her bed, uneasy. The images running like miles of unedited film spooling through a Moviola and coalescing into a single, dominant image— that of John Monroe. She thought she heard his voice in her head… but no, it couldn’t be because she put three slugs in him from a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson®. John Monroe was dead. The phantasm that visited her nightly was nothing more than the piece of him she still carried around inside her heart. She was determined to prove it to herself, if only she could awaken.

“When did you realize you could take a human life?” He taunted her with the sweet lyrics of his refined, cultivated speech. Kate once thought she could listen to that voice read random names out of a phonebook and never grow tired of it. Even now, as she heard it again, those feelings of love and desire she fought to suppress washed over her in a cold sweat.

“Never again. Never again,” she repeated to herself.

Kate struggled to move, to rouse herself from the nightmare, but her body was paralyzed. She felt awake, but she couldn’t move a muscle in her body or speak. Lying in bed, she fought to make the steep climb to consciousness, aware of a presence in her bedroom. She watched and listened helplessly as John emerged from the shadows and walked around to the head of her bed.

He leaned over and whispered in her ear, “You know, Kate, we all have it in us.” His hot breath hit the back of her neck. “Ten thousand years of evolution separates us from our beastly ancestors, but when you come right down to it, the mindless primitive is always there. We pretend that we have civilized the ‘beast’ with our laws, our religious beliefs, and our culture, but all we’ve done is enraged, inflamed and frustrated it.”

She strained against the crushing weight on her body that pinned her to the bed.

“Until that day, when it strikes and goes on a rampage killing twenty children and six adults at an elementary school,” Monroe continued, “we delude ourselves by asking all of the wrong questions, such as, what happened and why; when we should be asking, what stops 5 billion people from doing the same thing? That’s the question that should keep you up at night. What’s going to happen on the day when we all realize we can no longer control the beast?”

“I don’t know,” she snarled, struggling, still trapped in that zone between wakefulness and dreams, “but you had better thank your sorry ass that it won’t be today.”

Then Kate threw everything into wrestling the weight of the elephant off her chest, determined once and for all to take control. She had had enough bullshit for one night. She knew it was time to wake up and sound the alarm. And then, almost on cue, her phone rang.

She awoke to the guitar riff on Eric Clapton’s first five bars of Layla. As the ring tone on her iPhone repeated, Kate lunged for it as if it were her only lifeline to reality. The words she heard from the other end of the telephone were coarse and unpolished; they were also some of the best words that she had ever heard in her life. When she first picked up the receiver, Kate had half expected it was a collect call that John Monroe had placed from hell. Now, she couldn’t put a name to the voice, but she knew the instant she heard, it belonged to a fellow cop.

The policeman barked out a few terse sentences, but since her intoxicated brain had not yet fully connected with her higher brain functions, the words ‘murder’ and ‘suicide’ were the only two words that registered with her. She scribbled down the address at Cesar Chavez Street in Noe Valley and turned to wrap up her call.

“Yeah, okay,” she said, not entirely awake. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Kate went to her small bathroom and splashed cold water in her face. She hunched over the sink and looked at the image in the mirror. She almost didn’t recognize the reflection of her own face that starred back. She looked pale and drawn, the flesh around her eyes loose and sallow. “Holy shit!” she said to her own reflection.

A few moments passed before she had managed the strength and wherewithal to get herself together and out the door.

Kate lived in a small studio apartment at Bayside Village in the heart of San Francisco’s South Beach; one of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods. She had always wanted to live there, a few steps from the water’s edge. So, when her marriage ended with her daughter’s death, she managed to call in every last favor that the boys down at the precinct owed her to make the dream a reality.

But she soon learned that dreams like hers came with a hefty price tag. No matter how hard Kate tried to enjoy her early morning strolls along the Embarcadero or the Giants’ games at nearby AT&T Park or the convenient shopping for fruit and vegetables at the market, she still felt empty inside. The events of the last several months hadn’t made things any better for her. In particular, the death of her partner at the hands of the serial killer, who she both loved and feared.

She blamed herself for Frank Miller’s death and for the death of that poor, twisted college girl, Rosemary Murphy. And no matter how many medals they wanted to pin on her for stopping Dr. John Monroe, Kate didn’t feel like a hero. She felt more like the professor’s last victim.

As Kate walked down the stairs from her third-floor apartment to street level, she pulled on a pair of $1200 Louis Vuitton sunglasses she bought at the flea market for twenty-five dollars. She needed them to shield her eyes and evidence of a hangover from the harsh light of day.

The trendy sunglasses, constructed out of a lightweight titanium, looked stylish on her face. A way for Kate to hide the way she felt on the inside, looking put together on the outside. She knew they were cheap knock-offs when she bought them, but she figured that no one else would know, or if they did, say anything about it. On an inspector’s salary, Kate could not afford most of the finer things in life, but that did not mean she had to look as though she shopped at a discount store.

Kate was also smart enough to know that in a city like San Francisco, where the eligible single women outnumbered the men by six to one, she needed every advantage she could muster. Not only to compete with women her own age, but those ten and fifteen years younger as well. So, for outward appearances, her clothes were Versace or Marc Jacobs, shoes were Stuart Weitzman, handbag Fendi, fragrance by Coco Chanel, and an Omega timepiece. These were accessories to an expensive costume.

When her credit was good, she would reinvent herself into someone other than the real woman inside. She also carried a twelve-shot .9-millimeter Beretta in a triple-draw holster under her left arm and was trained in martial-arts to deliver a blow of deadly force.

Kate continued walking along the sidewalk to her car. Attractive, but not the woman that most men would have crossed the street and regarded with a second glance, her looks came more from effort than nature. After all, she had had a child in her twenties and never recovered the figure she once had. Her expensive haircut, cosmetic features, and designer suits masked an urban woman living on the edge.

As Kate approached the spot on the street where she had parked her expensive 5-series BMW the night before, she pulled out her keys and pressed the “unlock” button of her key-fob instinctively. When her car failed to chirp in response, she pressed it again. Only then did she realize that her titanium-silver BMW 5.25i coupe had been replaced by a Silver Birch Aston Martin, which was roughly about the same size and shape and color.

“Dammit!” she shouted, blowing her cool demeanor. “Of all the freakin’ days for this to happen!”

She was silent for a minute or two, standing at the edge of the curb, looking up and down the street for some sign that her worst nightmare wasn’t true. But she could not find it. The finance company had repossessed her car again during the night, she conceded. It was her own damn fault. She could not manage to keep her personal affairs in order. How difficult was it to write a check once a month and put it in the mail or to have an automatic deduction from her account? She shook her head then pounded on the roof of the Aston Martin, like a child throwing a temper tantrum. Her tantrum triggered the car’s security system, and a loud honking sound was blasting the street with noise, alerting everyone in a three-block range.

“Hey! Hey, what are you doing!” a middle-aged, African-American man shouted, waving his right fist at her. “That’s my car.”

Kate sobered up. She stopped pounding on the car roof and straightened her back. She felt there were dozens of eyes looking at her, watching her every movement, and she wasn’t too far off the mark. Several shopkeepers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and even a taxi driver had stopped to see what the racket was all about. Kate caught a glimpse of their reflections in the window.

“Shit,” Kate said to herself.

She turned and nodded to the Aston Martin owner as if he was an old friend or acquaintance she expected to meet.

“I’m really sorry,” Kate replied, playing to the bystanders. “This is where I parked last night, and I thought it was my car.”

“This is my car, lady,” he snarled, clicking the button on his remote access key to turn off the security alarm. He inspected the vehicle for damage, first surveying the roof for any signs of a scratch or dent and next moved to examine the body for dings to the car’s original paint scheme. “I’d be very surprised if your car looks anything like this one.”

“Look, I said I was sorry,” she repeated.

The man pumped his chest up, like a proud father. “Less than one hundred and twenty-five of these were produced by hand and came off the assembly line during the production years 1963 to 1965,” he explained, gliding his right hand over the hood of the car. “This is a vintage 1964 Aston Martin DB-5 coupe with all of its original equipment in perfect working order. It has a magnesium-alloy body, an all-aluminum 4.0-liter engine, a robust three-speed Borg-Warner DG automatic transmission, and three SU carburetors which produce 282 brake horsepower, and a top speed of 145 miles per hour. It is highly unlikely that you have ever seen a vehicle like this one, outside a museum or an automobile show.”

For an instant, he reminded Kate of her former partner, Frank Miller, and a smile came across her face. That’s exactly the way Frank used to talk about the Victorian home he had purchased in Pacific Heights with his retirement fund. Well, maybe not the same words and phrases, but clearly that same sense of pride and accomplishment at having worked a lifetime to acquire the one thing that gave life meaning. She didn’t have that in her life, and perhaps never would. But as she stared at the man’s dark features, which had grown weathered and worn with age, she could see it in his face. She recalled what Frank Miller told her about the limited opportunities that he had as a black man growing up, and how much he wanted to live in a Victorian mansion, not just serve in one.

Kate listened, imagining how this man must have felt when he first saw this car in his youth. Probably devoted a lifetime of scrimping, saving, and doing without, so one day he would own a car just like it. She looked down at the man’s feet, and nodded, acknowledging the old wing-tipped Oxford loafers he wore and Frank used to wear. She surmised that the man had an old rumpled trench coat hanging on his back door at home, as well.

“You’re right, Frank. It’s got character,” she said, still in her reverie, recalling the first conversation they had had about the old Victorian.

“My name is not Frank,” he replied, “and you’ve not heard a single word I’ve said.”

“I’m sorry. You remind me of someone I used to know.”

“Yeah, I’m sure. We must all look alike to people like you,” he admonished, his eyes flashing at Kate. With a half-a-dozen onlookers recording everything with their cell phone cameras, the man played right into the hands of his audience. He exaggerated his movements as he conducted one final inspection of the car, and then he turned back to her. “I’d appreciate it now if you’d just back away from my car and go about your business. The show’s over.”

“Look, if there are any damages to your car, I’d be more than happy to reimburse you for them.”

“Lady, I don’t want your money. I never want to take another dime from someone like you again,” he said with a huff, a huge chip weighing heavily upon his shoulder. The man climbed into the driver’s seat, cranked it, put the car in gear, and pulled away from the curb without a backward glance.

Kate stood there dumbfounded as the vehicle accelerated down the street. She was ashamed to admit that her life was such a mess and that it took the actions of a perfect stranger to put it all into perspective.

For months, she had blamed herself for Frank Miller’s death and had wallowed in her own self-loathing, like an over-stuffed pig in mud. If Miller were still alive, he would have set her straight. Now she had a very clear choice of her own: she could either keep feeling sorry for herself, or do something about it. At long last, she decided it was time to get her act together and make Frank proud.

Kate reached for her cell phone and dialed a familiar number. “Hello, Clark, could you send a car for me?” she said into the receiver. “Yeah, I’m having car trouble again.”

***





Forty minutes later, the black-and-white squad car turned the corner at Church and Cesar Chavez and pulled up next to another police car parked along the 3900 block of the street. Inspector Dawson leaned over the front seat to thank the two patrol cops for the lift and looked right up at the small, brown split-level home through the windshield.

She found the familiar crime-scene carnival. Uniformed police officers were erecting a makeshift barrier to contain neighbors and other interested bystanders, while dozens of other uniformed cops and plain-clothed detectives moved in and out of the house. Several of the tech guys were gathering samples. At the same time, a police spokesman was talking with reporters. Police cruisers were parked everywhere, and the atmosphere was charged with the static of police radios that echoed through the quiet neighborhood.

Inspector Dawson climbed out of the back seat of the squad car and stepped onto the pavement. She looked up and down the street and surveyed the crime scene. The neighborhood had seen more than its fair share of crime in the last ten or twelve years, with robberies and rapes at the top of the list. But she could not recall the last time a homicide took place here, much less a multiple homicide. Things were changing, and not for the better.

Like so many other neighborhoods in the city, Noe Valley started out as a working-class neighborhood for families that lived and worked in the area’s once-thriving blue-collar economy. It was developed as a sub-division just after the 1906 Earthquake, with its borders set between twenty-second and thirtieth streets with Dolores Street to the East and Grand View Avenue to the west. The neighborhood welcomed poor and lower-income residents who were not afraid to get their hands dirty working manual labor jobs ten hours a day. Noe Valley, at one point in time, had the highest concentration of row houses in the city, with streets having four to six and sometimes as many as a dozen on the same side of the street. The rest of the homes were a mixture of the classic Victorian and Edwardian residential architecture for which San Francisco is famous. For nearly a hundred years, the residents lived, worked, and died within these ten blocks. They were traditionally conservative, Catholic, and kept pretty much to themselves. The children all attended the same elementary school and high school their parents and grandparents once attended; then on Sundays, the pews of St. Paul’s Catholic Church were filled to capacity at each of the five services.

But in the last twenty years, as wealthy speculators bought up property in the less prosperous community and bulldozed row homes to build mansions, the move toward gentrification changed the make-up of the neighborhood. Many of the lower-income residents could no longer afford to live in the community as home prices and property taxes climbed. That forced them to seek cheaper residences in the nearby Mission District and other locales. Still, others fought to hold onto the property that had been in their family for years, resisting the temptation to sell out to developers who planned to build one-and two-million dollar homes for urban professionals. Noe Valley was clearly a neighborhood in transition, with upscale homes built adjacent to the old Victorians. A clash of cultures was inevitable as the old gave way to the new, and the rich displaced the poor.

With her badge worn conspicuously on her hip, Kate pushed her way past the police at the front door and nodded at several uniformed officers she passed in the foyer. She noticed the husband sitting next to a friend or neighbor in the living room with hands on his head under the watchful eyes of a uniformed cop. Kate paused briefly to look at the “friend.” He was ruggedly handsome but seemed to be completely out of place, sitting there with the Bible open in front of him. She didn’t know where he belonged, but he definitely didn’t belong there.

She followed the coroner’s investigators out to the backyard where she found Dr. Edgar Brogan, a portly medical examiner with windblown cheeks and bloodshot eyes, working the bodies one at a time. Mikhail and a couple other homicide detectives stood huddled in a corner, listening to William go over his notes with them. Some forensics guys were sifting through the trash in the yard for evidence, while a police photographer snapped pictures.

Jorge handed Kate a cup of coffee. “I figured you could use some caffeine, partner,” he said, his face pale, like a white, linen shroud. The young inspector looked like he was the one who really needed a good stiff drink, and not just coffee. “Madre de dios. What demon would have possessed a woman like that to murder her five children and then take her own life?”

“I don’t know,” Kate replied, taking a sip of coffee, “but I guess that’s what we are here to find out.”

“Cuando el diablo no tiene que hacer con el rabo mata moscas,” he said, looking at Kate. Then, when Jorge realized that she had not understood him, he repeated, “In my culture, we say, ‘the devil finds work for idle hands’ to remind people to keep busy. But it also has another meaning, a deeper meaning. Those who sit around all day, doing nothing—no hobby, no running errands, no care for children, no attempt to better themselves—are pressed into service by the devil’s spawn to do something wrong. This is the work of a very bad demon.”

“Let’s not get all weirded-out now, Jorge,” Kate said, patting his back. “We have no reason to think there are supernatural forces at work here; just a few murders and a suicide.”

“You’re right,” he confessed, putting on a calm demeanor.

“Frank used to say that every crime scene has its own story to tell,” she said, with a distant look in her face. “We just have to slow ourselves down and listen very carefully to the whispers of truth it has to offer.” Kate paused for a moment and listened. “Do you feel you’ve calmed down now? Are you ready to listen for those whispers of truth?”

Jorge shrugged his square shoulders.

“Good,” she replied, “Now let’s put our ears to the ground and see if we turn up something the others haven’t found yet, like motive.”

“Right,” Jorge agreed. He smiled warmly at her and walked down the cement path toward the murder scene.

Kate was eager to join him, but she lingered just long enough to swallow down the rest of her coffee. For the last hour or so she fought a headache from the booze and lack of sleep, so caffeine became her drug of choice. If she could work out the science behind it, she could inject the coffee directly into her bloodstream. She figured it was likely to be a long morning, and her body would have never made it without some kind of stimulant. She was about to set the cup down when two large, calloused hands took it from her grasp.

“You’ve been drinking again,” Lieutenant James Roberts said. The head of Homicide brought the empty cup to his nose and sniffed inside, then ran a finger around the bottom of the cup for trace evidence.

“Just coffee,” she replied.

“Don’t fuck with me today, Dawson. I’m in no mood.”

Startled by his tone, Kate took a step back.

Roberts was a big, hulking man who towered over her, like a modern-day Goliath. She had never liked the Lieutenant, but she attributed that more to the fact that her late partner often clashed with him over departmental operations rather than a personal, deep-seated dislike. James Roberts had no imagination. He was such a slave to the job’s routine that he never thought outside the box, and that’s where, Kate reasoned, most good, investigative police-work happened. She had a name for men like him: pragmatist. He was the very model of a pragmatist, a person with all four feet on the ground.

“Okay, if you must know, I had a drink last night, maybe two,” she confessed, without guilt. “I don’t recall reading any regulations that prohibit a cop from having a drink or two when they’re off duty.”

“A homicide detective is never off duty,” he said.

“Well, if that’s true, then maybe you should take that up with my union rep. I’m sure he’d have something to say about that.”

Roberts scratched the stubble of beard that was growing on his face and then reached up to adjust the small horned-rim glasses on the end of his nose as if to bring the microscopic image of the female police inspector into focus. “Your union contract states that you’re supposed to be physically fit and ready to work your shift on time, every day,” he reminded her. “You were late again this morning. Christ, how many times does it make this week? Three? Four? I’ve lost track.”

“I had car trouble,” she protested.

“You can only claim to have car trouble if you actually have a car. Impounded cars don’t count.”

Kate nodded. “I’ll have that fixed this afternoon.”

Roberts shot her one of his patented steely looks. “I can also spot a hangover from a mile away,” he said, with a sense of pride. “Your eyes are so bloodshot you can barely see out of them.”

Kate folded her arms across her chest and looked down.

“Must have been one helluva party last night, Inspector,” he concluded, raising his hands above his head, shaking them like tambourines and dancing a two-step. “Let them Wild Turkey chasers flow.”

She was silent for long moment then said, “What would you know about it, sir?”

“Nothing. Not a damn thing,” he replied. “Personally, I don’t give a fuck if you drink alcohol every night and wake up every morning feeling like shit. But as long as you carry a gun and a badge, I expect you to be the model of the perfect police officer between eight a.m. and five p.m. You got that?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Keep your eleven o’clock.”

“Now, wait a minute, Lieutenant,” she said, knowing that her protest would set him off. “Do you want me to work the crime scene, or do you want me to meet with the fucking department shrink?”

“I want you to do what I tell you to do,” he snorted, then pushed his way past her. Thumping his chest, Roberts added, loud enough for everyone to hear, “The last time I checked my name was on the door as the head of the department, not yours. You do what I tell you to do, or you find yourself another job.”

“This is bullshit, Lieutenant!” Kate blurted out, unaware that their private conversation had turned public. As she turned and looked around, she saw everyone had stopped what they were doing and were watching the two of them. She straightened up, brushed the folds out of her Versace blazer, and tried to pull the rest of herself together.

“You only have yourself to blame for that, Dawson.”

Lieutenant Roberts walked away from her, starting down the concrete path that led from the back of the house to the large oak tree. He barked out several orders, and all at once, the crime scene was a flurry of activity again. The forensics team returned to sifting through the trash in the yard for evidence, while the police photographer continued to snap pictures of the crime scene. Mikhail had pulled Jorge into a conversation and was arguing with the other two homicide detectives, while his partner William Clark scribbled a few notes into his notebook. Two uniformed cops stood around talking, not in any hurry to return to their beat. Neither was the Lieutenant. Roberts just stood back and watched the action unfold, his chest pumped up, his hands raised in the air like a conductor before a symphony orchestra.

“Asshole,” she whispered under her breath. Then she caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of her eye.

In the shadow of the oak tree, just beyond the hustle and bustle of the scene-of-the-crime boys, Kate watched as two members of the coroner’s office took the bodies of the children down from the tree. Yet, when laying them out on the ground, the team treated them with gentleness; in order of birth, from the youngest to the oldest. One by one, they untied the knot and removed the nylon rope from around the child’s neck then carried the child between them, placing the small body on a simple white cotton sheet. Each body was then covered with another white cotton sheet.

Kate’s bloodshot eyes misted over, and a tear ran down the side of her cheek as the five little angels were laid to rest. She thought about her own daughter and started to recite the Lord’s Prayer to herself when Roberts’s bombastic hollering made her jump and crashed the solemnity of the scene when calling his team of investigators together.

“Okay, so what have we got?” he demanded.

Clark waved his notebook in the air. “All five victims were children, aged six years to eighteen months,” he said, reading from the page. He stepped gingerly over their little bodies, identifying each one as he spoke. “Sarah was the eldest. Then Hope and Charity were the twins, followed by Rachel and Connor. They are related by blood as siblings and members of the Ross family.”

Kate flashed raised eyebrows at Jorge, standing buddy-buddy with Mikhail and the other two homicide detectives, as she crossed to join Clark on the opposite side of the yard. She hunched down over the bodies of the children and pulled back the white shroud that covered the eldest, Sarah. The bright morning sunlight cast a warm glow on the child’s pale cheeks. She seemed to flush and come to life, but only for a moment. Kate covered the face of the little girl with the shroud and stood up. “How long have the children been dead?”

“Their skin turns gray when I press it. This kind of discoloration is about right for eight to ten hours,” the medical examiner replied.

He looked down at the dial on the thermometer he placed in the mother’s abdomen and checked his watch. “Eighty-nine degrees, give or take an hour for each degree, places the time of death around eleven p.m., plus or minus.”

“We might as well make it official,” the Lieutenant said, addressing Brogan but looking into the faces of each of his detectives. “We can speculate all we want, but I want the cause of death entered into the record.”

“Physical evidence suggests the children died from asphyxia due to hanging. It is consistent with the injuries to the neck and the overall condition of the bodies.” Dr. Brogan concluded. “In laymen’s terms, when the ligature—rope—tightened around the child’s neck, it choked off or forced the closure of the carotid artery, causing cerebral ischemia. Cerebral ischemia is the condition where there is insufficient blood flow to meet the metabolic demands of the brain, and that lack of oxygenated blood is why a victim loses consciousness and expires. Each of the children probably expired in a manner of minutes.”

“What about the mother?” William Clark asked, pencil in hand, ready to add the transcript to his notes.

“I’m afraid to say that things are not as clear cut for her,” Brogan said, with a deep sigh, “and I would be lying if I told you, with one hundred percent certainty, this was a suicide.”

“Are you saying it wasn’t a suicide?” Roberts asked.

“I’m saying, I don’t know,” the medical examiner replied. With much effort, the chubby man squatted down over the mother’s body and pulled a hand out from under the white shroud. He pointed to the woman’s fingers. “The fingers on both of Wendy’s hands are badly bruised, and the fingernails are cyanotic—blue.”

“Blue,” Mikhail repeated.

“When I first examined Wendy Ross, the injuries to the neck and body were consistent with a woman who killed each one of her children without resistance and then put a noose around her own neck and jumped to her death,” he said, counting each of the points on his hand. “The body was hanging there from the tree, right next to the branch she used to hang her toddler. Her arms dangling at her side, her feet—the toes pointed straight down—were about four inches from the ground. She was dead as a doornail, having suffered the same asphyxiation as her children. By all intents and purposes, it appears she planned and executed her own death flawlessly. End of story.”

“But…” Roberts interjected.

“But the physical evidence suggests that Wendy Ross might have had a change of heart about committing suicide or struggled against someone who wanted to make it look like she committed suicide. In a possible last-minute attempt to break free of her strangulation, the thirty-four-year-old woman must have reached up with both hands and put her fingers between her neck and the noose. The compression on the fingers would account for the bruised knuckles and the cyanotic fingernails I found. With her brain slowly dying due to lack of oxygen, she may have realized that she only had a couple of minutes, more or less, to force the rope over her neck before she lost consciousness and died. She must have tried everything she could think of to break free. But in the end, the weight of her body and the force of gravity were far too much for her to overcome.”

“But if you found her arms dangling free, someone must have tampered with the body,” Kate said.

“Exactly,” Brogan replied. “We should have found the fingers from both of Wendy’s hands between the rope and her neck, not dangling at her side. That’s why most people who are hanged have their hands tied behind their back.”

“The husband?” Mikhail suggested.

Lieutenant Roberts nodded his head. “You’ve got a better suspect?”

“No, but then I’m fresh out of motives, too,” Mikhail said. “I can’t figure out why a woman would murder her entire family, and then take her own life?”

“Why would a father kill all of his children and then try to frame his wife for the children’s murders?” Clark asked.

“Madre de dios,” Jorge said and made the sign of the cross. “This is truly the work of a demon.”

Mikhail turned to Jorge. “You said it, brother.” “Suppose the husband didn’t do it,” Kate countered, pacing, pulling her thoughts together. For an instant, she glimpsed the Lieutenant watching her. His determined blue eyes were unsettling, like beams from these great searchlights of truth that swept over her face, penetrating her brain and reading her thoughts. She tried her best to shake them off and stick to the point. “Why would he care if it looked like his wife had second thoughts about what she was doing? More importantly, why did he sit on his hands for ten hours before he called 911?”

“Yeah, come to think of it, why didn’t he call 911 sooner?”

“Far too many questions—” Mikhail began to say.

“—and not enough answers!” Clark finished his partner’s sentence.

The Lieutenant scratched the stubble of beard growing on his face, thinking, then said, “Wasn’t there a recent murder-suicide in Oakland that bears some of the same characteristics as this one?”

Inspector Clark nodded, thumbing back through his notes. “It didn’t get much play in the press, but I remember taking a note about it. Yes, here it is. Sixty-nine-year-old Gladys Stevens poisoned her four grandchildren and herself in an apparent murder-suicide.”

“But it wasn’t a murder-suicide,” Kate said. “That’s right,” Mikhail said, jabbing his partner in the ribs, while Clark rifled through his notes.

“The old woman poisoned her grandchildren, but it turned out to be a mistake, nothing more,” she added.

“Well, what about it, Clark?” Roberts asked. “The Alameda County coroner initially ruled it as a murder-suicide,” Clark reported, reading from his notes. “But upon further investigation of the crime scene—and with the cooperation of the children’s parents—he determined the deaths were accidental.”

Kate tried not to frown, but the look was all over her face. “Ms. Gladys Stevens stored rat poison in the same pantry she kept her baking goods,” Kate explained. “She had problems with glaucoma, and her eyes were not as sharp as they once were. So, when she went to make chocolate chip cookies as a treat for her grandkids, she reached in the pantry for sugar and came up with poison.”

“Madre de dios,” Jorge repeated. “Good grief!” Mikhail exclaimed.

“I can’t imagine the grief those parents must have felt coming home to find their children dead,” she said. Kate’s train of thought was trying to connect the dots. “As a matter of record, we should run down all the other apparent murder-suicides within the Bay area, see if there’s any connection.”

“Clark, see to it,” Roberts ordered. “Gimme everything you can find, say, in the last month or so.”

“Do you want me to include that bizarre house fire up in Walnut Creek?” Clark asked. “You know the one, where the six children died of smoke inhalation, but the parents escaped with only minor injuries.”

“Sure. Just report anything out of the ordinary,” Roberts added.

“Affirmative.”

Lieutenant James Roberts walked over and tapped Jorge on the shoulder. “Ramirez, I want you to bring Philip Ross in for questioning. Make it look routine, and for Christ’s sake, keep it quiet. We don’t want a media circus down at the precinct,” Roberts explained, “And we certainly don’t want them polluting our investigation with a lot of unsupported rumors and half-assed opinions from Monday-morning quarter-backs. If anybody asks you, just say it’s routine, and leave it at that.”

“Understood, sir.” Jorge nodded.

“Clark, I want you and Dawson to do the interview.” Lt. Roberts was desperate for answers, and regardless of his personal feelings about the female inspector in his department, he knew Kate was the best at interrogating suspects. “Get him first thing in the morning before he’s had his breakfast. That should soften him up a bit, and make him more anxious to talk with us.”

“Agreed,” William said, noting the time in his notebook.

“Thanks, Lieutenant,” she said.

“Don’t thank me, Dawson,” he replied sourly. “Just be there on time, and for Pete’s sake, be sober.”





Chapter Two





Booking at the Central Booking office was a tedious process that morning because the suspects had to be processed by hand. There were electrical outages all over the building, and most of the computers were down. Kate suspected the power grid for most of the city’s buildings hadn’t been updated in years, and they were just one major disaster away from the Stone Age. The extra time it took to photograph the suspects for their mug shots with print film, fingerprint with ink, and take saliva swabs for a DNA test cost the department time they didn’t have. Kate and her partner Jorge had to wade through the slow process of hand-written paperwork just so they could question Philip.

By the time Dawson huffed and puffed the three flights of stairs to the police psychiatrist’s office on the sixth floor of the Hall of Justice, San Francisco Police Department headquarters, the clock was showing eleven-fourteen a.m. Outside the door, she bent over and put her head between her knees, trying to catch her breath, drinking in deep gulps of air between clenched teeth. She knew she was out of shape—the booze and sleepless nights—but didn’t realize how bad it was until she found the elevator out and forced herself to run up the stairs. Thank God, she cast out a secret prayer, Roberts had not seen me fight to catch my breath or he would have pulled my badge for sure.

She watched the digital clock click over to eleven-fifteen a.m., and reached for the office door. “I’m sorry, Dr. Glass,” Kate said as she pushed into his office. “I got hung up at Booking and just lost track of the time.”

Kate seemed more upset at her tardiness than the staff psychiatrist did. Dr. Barry Glass was leaning back in his great leather chair, eyes closed, listening to Don Giovanni on his iPod, oblivious to everything around him. At fifty-nine years, the balding 1970s Berkeley graduate had been with the department for nearly thirty years. Not once did he breach ethics or have one departmental policy violation in all the time he served the SFPD. Dr. Glass was the model of professionalism, even though his appearance and dress were unconventional for a member of the police department.

He sported a white beard kept neatly trimmed, and put what was left of his hair in a long white ponytail. He also preferred wearing loud, flashy Hawaiian shirts from Tommy Bahama to a suit and tie. At one-hundred-fifty dollars per shirt, Kate knew they were too rich for her pocketbook, but then she recalled that besides working as the department shrink, Barry Glass consulted at San Francisco General and was an honorary board member on the State Board of Psychiatric Health in Napa. In addition to his real passion, which was opera, Glass had filled his office with photographs of his wife, six children, and thirteen grandchildren.

Kate was caught off guard looking at the pictures of Dr. Glass’ family when the staff psychiatrist leaned forward in his chair. “You’ve not hid your feelings about this process,” Glass said, removing the ear buds from his head. “I’m really not too surprised about your being late. A little passive-aggressive behavior?”

“No, I was caught up in Booking,” she replied.

He nodded, as if genuinely satisfied by her answer. “Okay, that’s fine,” the doctor said. “Why don’t you sit down? We’ll talk, have a cup of tea, and just relax. No harm in that.”

Kate shrugged.

Like most cops, she had never cared much for shrinks and had harbored doubt lurking deep down inside of her about the practice of psychiatry. She felt it was demeaning to be forced to talk about her feelings with a stranger who was most likely going to go home and jerk off over something she revealed. After her recent experience with Dr. John Monroe, she had grown to despise the way they played head games to trick you into saying something you had no intention to say. She also felt there was something downright creepy about being able to look into a person’s soul and tell them what they were thinking. After her daughter’s death, she spent a few months with a therapist, trying to pull the pieces back together, and was prescribed Trazodone, an anti-depressant that made her weak and vulnerable. Kate spent a lot of time crying and feeling restless, down about herself, and suicidal. When she finally stopped taking the drug, she vowed that she would never let another person get that far into her head again…and then she met John Monroe.

Folding her arms across her chest, she sat down hard on the couch. Kate didn’t want to be there, and her body language said it all. Dr. Glass looked at her crossed arms. She was self-protective and closed-off. Her defenses are up, he concluded. She has a great deal of anxiety, likely driven by a lack of trust and sense of vulnerability.

“How do you feel?” Dr. Glass asked, folding his hands on the table.

“That’s a loaded question,” she replied.

“Not at all. I want to know how you are feeling.”

“I’m never sure how I’m supposed to respond to that question. Do I pretend and say I’m ‘fine’ and get thrown into the booby hatch because you think I’m delusional? Or do I answer honestly and tell you that I’m feeling shitty and end up in the hospital with tubes in and out the yin-yang on a 72-hour deathwatch?”

“Naturally, I would prefer it if you answered honestly,” he replied.

“Okay, I’m fine.”

“Fine?”

“Come on, Dr. Glass!” she protested, sitting up straight on the couch. “That’s the kind of head games that Monroe used to play with me. He would lure me into a very safe place within myself then ask me these open-ended questions that would make me feel very vulnerable before he pounced.”

“Is that what you think I’m doing?”

“Yeah, I do.”

Dr. Barry Glass paused for a moment, and leaned back in his chair. He put his hands together and created a point with his two forefingers. Then he balanced his head on the point, thinking.

“Why don’t you let me make you a nice cup of tea? Chamomile will relax you, and refresh your spirit.”

Kate shook her head. “I don’t want to be relaxed. I like being on the edge. It’s what keeps me alive. Without an edge, I’m weak and vulnerable.”

“Well, the sooner we get through these sessions, the sooner you’ll be able to put them behind you. You know as well as I do, I don’t make the policy.”

“The policy is bullshit, Dr. Glass. It lets people like you dissect me, cut open old wounds.”

The doctor smiled knowingly. “Nearly every cop who has ever been sent to my office for psychiatric evaluation has said the same thing, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. I am not your enemy here. Anything you tell me stays right here in this office and never leaves this room.”

“Really?”

“Let’s put our cards on the table, shall we?” Dr. Glass asked, leaning forward in his chair. “These sessions are mandated by Internal Affairs. It’s standard procedure for any cop who’s been through a traumatic experience. Plus, in this instance, a suspect was shot during the course of the investigation.”

“Rosemary Murphy was not just shot, Dr. Glass,” Kate corrected him. “I killed her. I emptied all six shots of my service revolver into that poor girl’s body without hesitation. You know what a .38 caliber round does to a person. She was dead even before she hit the ground.”

“So you feel guilty?”

Kate was silent for a long moment, and then said, “Yes, I can’t imagine feeling any other way. Who wouldn’t feel guilty?”

“That’s very healthy.”

“You know, I knew you were going to say that,” she replied sarcastically. “And then next you’re going to be telling me that, as a police officer, I have a responsibility to the community I serve to protect it from violent offenders, even if it means the use of lethal force.”

Dr. Glass bobbed his head in acknowledgement. “Rosemary Murphy wasn’t a violent offender,”

Kate said, in order to set the record straight once and for all. “She was a sick, twisted little girl who had been abused years earlier by a child molester. Then, she was so manipulated by John Monroe, she became the perfect patsy in his serial murder spree. I was so convinced she was another ‘Crystal Rose’ that when I broke down his apartment door and saw Rosemary Murphy standing there striking him with a whip, I reacted. I didn’t think. I just saw John in danger and reacted.”

The doctor made some notes in Kate’s file, open on the desk in front of him. He wrote longhand on an electronic pad connected to his computer and translated it into a Word file. He was silent and focused when he wrote and paused only to check the time before he resumed his notes. “Are you sure I can’t offer you some tea?”

“No thanks, Doc,” she repeated.

Dr. Glass reviewed the notes he had written in her file.

“Trauma of this type manifests itself in other areas of our lives and makes things more difficult to handle than they need be. For example, are you having any trouble sleeping? Do you find yourself given over to impulsive acts? Are you hearing voices, or are you otherwise troubled by memories of the past? Anything like that? Because I can prescribe something to help you cope with those issues.”

Kate was experiencing all of those things, but she felt if she was honest with him she’d find herself on another anti-depressant and then staring down the barrel of her own gun. “No,” she lied.

“What about your personal life? Anything to report? Anything you’d like to tell me about?”

“My personal life?” Kate repeated the question back to him, and then realized that he was asking about her sex life. She paused and smiled to herself. There really was no point in lying to him. “My personal life is shit. I work ten-hour shifts every day, five days a week, and then on Saturdays I catch up on all the paperwork that I didn’t get finished during the week. There’s no time left over to have a personal life. I consider myself lucky if I can squeeze in a one-night stand from time to time.”

“Drinking? What about alcohol, Kate?” he probed.

“Yes, I have a drink every so often,” she lied, “but it’s no big deal.”

Dr. Glass picked up the file folder from his desk and looked inside. “I have a report here from your supervisor,” he said. “Lieutenant James Roberts says you drink to excess and report to work drunk or with a hangover.”

“That happened once,” she lied, again. “What about drugs?”

“Nothing.”

“No coke?”

“No coke. No amphetamines,” Kate said emphatically. “Dr. Glass, I told you I work my ass off six days a week. I don’t have time for drugs. I don’t even have time for a personal life.”

The doctor paused a moment before replying. “Let's get something straight, Inspector. I don’t have a beef to pick with you. I’m not here to trip you up, and I’m not working with Internal Affairs to get you fired. Frankly, I prefer to find people in perfect mental health.”

Kate nodded. “Okay then,” she replied. “Will you tell them I’m all right? That I’m just your average, healthy, overworked and underpaid civil servant.”

Barry Glass smiled warmly. “Sure, no problem.”

Kate climbed to her feet and started for the door.

“I’ll see you next week, Kate,” the doctor said, “at the same time.”

“But—” she started to raise a protest.

“These sessions are mandated, you know,” Dr. Glass interrupted, then took her file in hand and started to sort the materials on his desk into the file folder. “As long as Internal Affairs wants you to meet with me, we’ll meet on a regular basis and talk about how things are going. Maybe next time you’ll even have that cup of tea.”

Kate and Glass exchanged glances, like the crossing of swords, and then she pushed her way out of his office.





***





At five-fifteen p.m., Kate and her partner Jorge saddled up to the bar at McGinty’s Public House and ordered a couple of drinks. They were joined a few minutes later by William, Mikhail, and a few of the other members of the Homicide Bureau. Kate was still feeling vulnerable after her run-in with Lieutenant Roberts earlier in the day, as well as the department shrink, but she tried to hide her feelings behind a mask of fun. Not everything was as dour as it seemed. She accomplished something by settling the debt on her car and arranging a loan through the Police Credit Union. She was growing up. For two years, Kate struggled to keep her car on the road. That was something worth celebrating, and on her tab she ordered the first round for her friends.

McGinty’s Public House was a bar located a few blocks from the Hall of Justice and was favored by members of the San Francisco Police Department for its hospitality. The Irish-owned and managed bar was modeled after the traditional pubs in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, and it sold hard drinks to the older, more conservative law-and-order crowd. They specialized in hamburger sliders, deep-fried chicken wings, and greasy fries. Even though McGinty’s Public House was a one of a kind, every city had a bar just like it; a place where cops could go to have a couple of drinks with friends, throw a few darts at the dart board, and just unwind after a hard day of protecting the city. Johnnie O’Flynn, a third generation Irish-American, poured the drinks at the bar in much the same way that his father and grandfather poured before him. Straight up shots of bourbon and full-bodied beers filled the counter for the thirsty patrons.

With both hands, Kate picked up her shot of Wild Turkey and the beer chaser and followed William, Mikhail, and Jorge with their drinks to an empty table. She sat down, with her back to the bar, and took a sip of the bourbon before slugging back half of the beer in one gulp. “Ahhhhhhhhhhh,” she exhaled in satisfaction and licked her lips. It tasted mighty good to her.

“Now, tell me again, Clark,” she asked, feeling good, “why you think the wife did it and not the husband.”

“Because statistics show that more mothers than fathers kill their children under five years of age,” he replied, without looking at his notes. “More than two hundred women kill their children each year. I know this is supposed to be shocking—the idea that a mother could possibly be of greater danger to her kids than big, bad dad—but statistics don’t lie. Homicide is one of the leading causes of death of children under the age five, and when you look at the rolls of women who are currently on death row, eleven of the forty-nine are there because they killed their children.”

“But your statistics don’t explain the reason why,” she said.

“They’re not my statistics,” Clark said, defending himself. He took a good stiff drink of his caffeine-free Sprite and put the glass down. “The explanation seems obvious enough: it’s because women are usually the primary caregiver in any household and thus more likely to be dealing with demanding children throughout the day. If you couple that with an absentee father, the stress is that much higher and the likelihood of violence that much more.”

Mikhail spoke up. “My money is still on the father. He seemed awfully cool and collected for a guy ho had just come home from a prayer meeting to find his wife and children dead.”

“You noticed that, too,” Kate said, taking another sip of the bourbon and swigging the strong brown beer down as if she needed it to sustain her very existence. She smacked her lips and quickly downed another.

“The father,” Jorge added, “didn’t seem to be in much hurry to make that 911 call. I say he was possessed by a demon.”

“Say that one more time,” Mikhail cautioned, “and I’m getting an exorcist.”

“You making fun of me?”

“No, never,” Mikhail said, and then smiled a big, toothy grin.

Clark leaned forward in his chair and said, “Did any of you get a good look at the guy Ross called for spiritual advice? He looked like some backwoodsman who had just come in from chopping down trees. I would have never taken him for some Bible-thumper. Maybe Paul Bunyan, but not a Bible-thumper.”

“I thought he was really hot,” Kate sighed, remembering him.

“He looked like that crazy guy, Euell Gibbons. You know, the one who was always out in the woods eating the bark off trees,” Mikhail laughed.

“Better looking,” Clark said, for the record. Mikhail winked at Kate from across the table.

“Well, I’m sure Kate wouldn’t mind getting down on her knees with him, Bible-thumper or not.”

“Fuck you, Jawara,” she replied.

“Any time, sweetheart,” he said, drawing the first two fingers on his right hand into a V and sticking his tongue through several times in rapid succession.

“Oh,” she groaned, “you’re disgusting.”

“What do you plan to do about it?” Mikhail demanded.

With that, each of them squared off, across the table, like two gunslingers in a showdown at the O.K. Corral. She squinted at Mikhail, and he squinted back at her, hands ready at their sides, low on the hip. But instead of drawing six-shooters, they grabbed their drinks off the table, tossed them back, and slapped the empty glasses face down on tabletop. A draw! They looked at each other laughing out loud together. Kate was not feeling any pain, and for the first time in months she was having a good time. She couldn’t remember the last time she had laughed, much less smiled. They continued laughing and joking and drinking.

“No matter how you cut it,” William said, with the nod of his head, “we’ve got a real freak show on our hands.” Everyone stopped laughing.

“A real freak show,” Mikhail repeated.

“This word ‘freak.’ It means the same as ‘demon,’ right?” Jorge said with his tongue firmly planted against his cheek.

“No!” Mikhail shouted.

Kate was drunk. She put her finger in the air and pointed it at Clark. “Just once, I’d like to walk into a normal crime scene, whatever the hell that is,” she bellowed out loud, slurring the words, “and find an arrow pointing at the scumbag’s prints and his DNA all over the place.”

“How about catching him red-handed with the murder weapon?”

“I’ll drink to that, Clark,” Kate said and raised the glass to her lips. She drained her drink then wiped her mouth with the back of her sleeve and waved the empty glass at the bartender. “Hey, Johnnie, how about another round here?”

“Sure thing, Kate,” said the bartender.

Johnnie O’Flynn put a fresh glass up on the counter and filled it with a shot of bourbon, but then he didn’t deliver it to their table. Instead, carried on a fresh gust of wind that blew from the open door through the bar, Lieutenant Roberts scooped the drink up and walked it over to the table.

“Here’s your drink, Inspector,” Roberts said, taunting her with the alcoholic beverage. “Bottoms up!”

Kate sobered up. She took the drink but didn’t bother to look up at him. She had seen that look of disgust in the Lieutenant’s steely glare before and knew she was likely to see it again.

“We’re discussing the case, Jim,” Clark said. “Why don’t you pull up a chair and join us?”

“No, thanks,” he replied, an old sourpuss. “I stopped by to make sure my team was ready for tomorrow. We can’t afford to make any mistakes. The story made the late edition of the paper. By tomorrow afternoon, we’ll have every nut in town wanting to confess or dropping into Central Booking to be part of the circus.”

“Yeah, yeah, do you remember that creep that used to come in once a month and confess to be the Zodiac killer? Only he would have been like three years old when the first victim was killed,” Mikhail said. “Turned out he was on welfare, and his meds would run out before he could cash his monthly check and renew them.”

“Arthur Davidson,” Clark recalled.

“Damn! How do you remember shit like that?” Mikhail added. “Partner, we should put your ass on Jeopardy and double-down on all those daily doubles. Watch out, Alex Trebek.”

“I have an eidetic memory,” Clark confessed. “I know it’s kind of weird, but I remember every moment of my life in perfect detail, right down to the precise location and timing of my footsteps. The problem is that, when I try to remember details from other people’s lives or their crime scenes, they get cross-wired with my own. That’s why I take notes.”

“You just remember to get your ass to the station on time tomorrow morning—and sober,” the Lieutenant replied gruffly to Clark, while eyeballing Kate.

“This is a soft-drink, sir, not hard liquor,” Clark said, with a sigh.

Kate swallowed her drink down hard and glanced over her shoulder at Roberts with fire in her eyes. He was standing there, like a great big hulk of a man, looking back at her. She knew the comment was meant for her, not Clark, and fought to restrain herself from striking back. “I’m off duty, Lieutenant,” she said, struggling to control the rising anger in her voice. “You hear that? I’m off duty. I’m here having a drink and discussing the case with my partner and two fellow detectives. If you’ve got a problem with that, then you’d better write me up and file a formal complaint with my union. Otherwise, get off my back.”

The Lieutenant took a deep breath, as if that alone would extinguish the anger he felt toward his female inspector. He let the air out slowly, through clenched teeth. “I’ll see you first thing in the morning,” he said as he turned away to leave.

“Holy shit!” Mikhail exclaimed. “Where the fuck did he come from?”

“Out of thin air,” Clark said.

“No, he’s been dogging me for a while now. Ever since we wrapped the case on John Monroe,” Kate said, feeling a bit uneasy. She glanced around the room to make sure he was gone. “I’m almost afraid to take a crap without first checking to see if he’s in the stall right next to me.”

“Take it easy, partner,” Jorge said.

“It’s not you, Dawson,” William added. “The Lieutenant’s been riding us all pretty hard since Miller’s death.”

Mikhail was suddenly sober and reflective. “When that fucking butch-dyke filed charges against me for slapping her around, Roberts chewed my ass right up and spit it out,” he said. “I landed in that god-forsaken hole they call Records and spent the worst three weeks of my life there!”

“Kate, I got suspended for three days, without pay, for sharing a classified file with someone who was on suspension,” Jorge reported.

“Yeah, I heard. I’m really sorry about that, Ramirez.”

Jorge shrugged his shoulders. “No importa.”

“See what I said? It’s not just you,” William repeated. “We’ve each had our turn at bat, playing his private whipping boy, even me. None of us liked it, but it’s just the way things are. Now it’s your turn.”

“That’s just what I wanted to hear,” she said, with a hint of sarcasm.

Kate pushed her chair back away from the table and stood up. She swallowed down the last of her Wild Turkey and licked her lips one last time. The drink still tasted good, almost as good as it had an hour ago. She gathered up her personal effects and then counted out a handful of bills.

“You leaving?” Mikhail asked her.

“Yeah, we’ve all got a big day ahead of us tomorrow, so I thought I’d call it an early night. You know, go home and get some rest.”

“Let me ask you something, Kate,” he said.

“The answer’s no, Mikhail,” she replied, folding her arms across her breasts, as if erecting an invisible barrier between the two of them with her action. “I may be a little tipsy, but I’m not that drunk.”

Mikhail got right in her face. “And what makes you think I want to fuck that boney white ass of yours, anyway?”

“You mean, you don’t want to fuck me?”

He took Kate by the arm and pulled her away from the table. When they reached a safe distance, he whispered, “Scuttlebutt around the office is that you’re seeing the department shrink.”

She looked at him sharply. “What the hell?”

“Don’t pretend you didn’t hear me.”

“I heard you,” she said, with a raised eyebrow. Kate glanced at the two detectives who were seated at the table and figured they were already a couple of steps ahead of her. “I hate my life being part of the rumor mill. Does everyone know?”

Mikhail bobbed his head.

“Son-of-a-bitch,” she swore, under her breath.

“Look. I need to warn you about Dr. Glass,” he confided.

“Don’t say anything more.”

Kate turned away from him and walked back to the table. Her two fellow detectives were still there, nursing drinks.

“Anyone else need a ride?” she asked, looking from William to Jorge. She tapped her fingernails on the tabletop, waiting for each man to decline her offer, and when they did, she tossed some bills on the table. “Take care of my tab, Ramirez, would you? And have one on me.” Kate then marched right over to Mikhail, hooked her arm into his, and steered him toward the exit.

The blast of cool night air struck Kate in the face. For the moment, she wrestled with her worst fears about Glass as she and Mikhail crossed the parking lot to the spot where she had parked her car. She had vowed never to let another shrink get under her skin, and yet, here was another one, gnawing at the edges of her reality, trying to find what was buried deep within her. She opened her car but kept the door between her and her fellow detective.

“This had better be on the level, Jawara,” she said, “and not some juvenile ruse to get me alone.”

“Christ! You got walls up in front of the walls,” he said, moving his arms and legs wide as he spoke. “That psycho doctor sure done a real number on you, and here I was having one bitch kitty of a time trying tune into my white sister.”

Kate didn’t think much of his joke. “Stop the shuckin’ and jivin’, this isn’t Soul Train,” she insisted. “Just tell me what you know.”

Mikhail smiled, but there was no amusement in his eyes. “Well, after that dust off with Purdy Spriggs— fuckin’ butch-dyke—I was ordered by Internal Affairs to get some professional help for my anger, ‘professional help’,” he said. “They call it ‘anger management’. Who knew? I thought it was the title of a fuckin’ TV series, not some fancied-up 12-step program.”

“Get to the point, Jawara,” Kate said, her patience growing thin.

“Okay, okay,” he replied, putting his hands out, trying to simmer her down. “So, they hook me up with Dr. Glass, and they warn me if I miss a session, I’m off the force. Fine, no problem. I’ve got this, right? But then, you know what happens? First time I’m in his office, he gets right in my face and tells me I’m an angry man. Can you believe that shit? We just met five minutes ago—five minutes! And the fuckin’ doctor thinks he’s got me all figured out—me?”

“Imagine that,” Kate said.

“Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either. What the fuck would this cracker know about being black? Sure, I swallow down a lot of rage, but it’s because assholes like him keep dishing it out day after fuckin’ day. And yeah, I also got a low tolerance for frustration, but then, when you put up with all the bullshit I put up with, you got to be frustrated by it all.”

Kate could feel her own frustration rising. “Besides anger issues, what else did he find wrong with you?”

“I ain’t got no anger management issues,” Mikhail said. “I don’t like fuckin’ dykes! That’s all it is. And here she was getting all in my face, disrespecting me. If she wants to act like a man, she better grow a pair, or get the fuck out of my way!”

“Simmer down, Mikhail,” she advised. “Don’t get so bent out of shape about it. Nobody cares what some shrink thinks.”

They held each other’s gaze for a moment, then Mikhail nodded at her and took a couple of deep breaths of the night air. A patrol car pulled into the parking spot next to Kate’s BMW and deposited two uniformed policemen who nodded and said ‘hello’ as they walked toward door. A detective from vice walked by and winked at Kate on his way to an unmarked sedan. She turned away with a groan, trying to erase the memory of their one-night stand from her thoughts. Mikhail broke the silence between them.

“So, maybe I got issues with anger management,” he confessed.

“We all got issues, my friend. That’s what makes us human.”

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right.”

“What else did Glass say to you,” she asked.

“Oh, just that I hate my father,” he replied, with a bewildered, faraway look in his eyes. “I didn’t know it, but he says I do.”

Kate flashed him a reassuring smile. “For my money, Jawara, there’s nothing wrong with you. You sound like your average fucked-up cop.”

“You think I make the grade?”

“Yeah, I think you make the grade.”

Kate climbed into the front seat of her car and closed the door behind her. She pulled the safety belt over her body and snapped it into place then started the ignition. She was about to drive away when Mikhail signaled her to roll down the window.

“What’s wrong? Do you really need a lift?” she asked, with a smile.

“No, thanks.”

“Okay then, I should get going.”

Mikhail crouched down to her eye level and put his hands on the window ledge of the car to stable himself. He looked to the right and to the left. “Listen, Kate,” he whispered, “watch what you say to Dr. Glass. He’s not what he appears to be.”

“What are you saying?” Kate asked.

“I’m just saying that if you don’t want your secrets known to Internal Affairs, I’d be careful of what I said to Glass. He’s not known for his discretion.”





***





Kate was nearing the Embarcadero, and the turn-off for Bayside Village, when she realized that she had spent the last thirty minutes in traffic, obsessing over the word ‘discretion’ as she drove home. What was it about that word that bothered her so much? The word was linked to its root word ‘discrete’, which meant ‘showing discernment or good judgment’. She wanted to believe that anyone in a position of authority, like Glass, must have exercised some degree of good judgment, or he wouldn’t have lasted as long as he had as the police psychiatrist. She tried to mitigate her feelings about the subject by telling herself that Mikhail, like every other cop she knew, feared what a trained shrink would discover lurking in the dark recesses of his mind. She had many of the same fears. The thought that Glass would submit his report about her to IA terrified her, but there was nothing she could do about it right now. She would have to be on guard at her next appointment and bury her feelings.

She was still obsessing when she pulled into a parking spot in front of her building and turned the ignition off. She patted the dashboard of her BMW and climbed out of the car. She managed to get one thing right that day, and so worked on exchanging paranoid thoughts about Glass for a more positive outlook.

She climbed the steps to the third floor and walked down the length of the corridor. As she approached Lenny Provolone’s apartment, she paused for a moment outside his door. She had not seen him in over a month, and she found that to be rather strange, even for Lenny. For the last several months, he had obsessed over her, following her every move to the point of tasking an experimental surveillance satellite he built for Northrop-Grumman to track her. And then—nothing. It was like he had fallen off the face of the planet. She hoped that he was all right.

Kate wondered when the last time she had seen him was. It was the movies. She had agreed to accompany him to see a restored print of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan at the Historic Balboa Theatre. She fell asleep during the final act when Spock sacrificed his life for the rest of the Enterprise crew. She woke up during the closing credits to Lenny berating her for sleeping through “one of the cinema’s most climatic moments.” She spent the rest of the night listening to Lenny go over the last few scenes of the movie in painstaking detail while he dripped mustard and onions from his hamburger into his bushy white beard.

She wasn’t a fan of Star Trek or science fiction, and certainly didn’t understand how robots, space ships and little green men had such a hold on the male population. Lenny was obsessed with this niche of popular culture. He would dress up in costume and take on the identity of science fiction characters at his conventions. She envied the fact that he had one thing that gave his life meaning. She didn’t have that in her own life, and made a conscious choice to be less critical of his interests. He was odd and quirky, but he was a good friend nonetheless. And he made her laugh.

She knocked on his front door. “Lenny, this is Kate. Are you okay? Is everything all right?”

“Who is it? What do you want?” he asked. He sounded dazed like he woke from a sound sleep.

“It’s Kate. Open the door, Lenny.”

“What’s wrong? What’s the matter, Kate?” he replied, cracking the door and peeking out through the crack. “You’re not here to borrow my car again, are you?”

“No, I don’t need your car,” she replied with a smile. “I haven’t seen you for a while, and I wanted to know you were okay.”

Lenny nodded with his head hung low and stepped back away to open the door for her. She stepped through the threshold and was overwhelmed by pungent odors. Lenny’s apartment smelled worse than the public toilets down on Skid Row. Kate stormed into his kitchen and started bagging up the rotted food covering the counter and floor. “What the hell happened?” she demanded, wading into the mess.

In his dingy gray t-shirt and briefs, Lenny shuffled across the floor, like a dead man walking, and dropped hard into a chair near the kitchen. “I’m a pathetic loser,” he said.

“What’s wrong?”

“The love of my life just broke up with me.”

Kate shot him a sideways glance. She stopped bagging trash and stood there for a moment. Had she fallen through one of Lenny’s science fiction wormholes and landed in a parallel universe where he had a girlfriend. Love of his life? Who just broke up with him? Kate counted the days since their movie date. It was just over a month. How was it possible for her friend to have met someone, fallen in love, and gone through a devastating break-up in thirty-seven days? This was one story she had to hear, if only for her own personal amusement.

“The love of your life, Lenny?” she asked.

“Yes. Rebecca was the one,” he replied, somewhat dramatically with a flourish that made her think that trumpets were now going to start blowing. “My heart is broken, and I have no emotional hit points left for love.”

Kate bit her lower lip to keep from laughing. “You know, Lenny, it takes time to fall in love, even more time to become friends with someone. Most men I know become friends first with a woman before they try to take her to bed.”

“She woke up in my bed next to me.”

“No, no, no. You must realize how crazy that sounds,” she objected. “Most women just don’t wake up in bed with some guy they don’t know. Even the professionals I’ve met over the years like to work out payment arrangements first.”

Lenny waved off her objection. “Oh, sure, it happens all the time at science fiction conventions,” he explained. He sketched it out on an imaginary white board that stood between the two of them. “You see, when a big science fiction convention, like BayCon or WesterCon, comes to a city like San Francisco, they negotiate to get the cheapest rates from the big hotels.

That cheap rate means that a hotel room that costs two-fifty a night will only cost a hundred.”

“I still don’t understand how cheaper rates for hotel rooms would result with a strange woman in your bed.”

He raised the palm of his hand to stop her from saying anything more and continued, “Enter the average science fiction fan who attends ten to twelve of these conventions per year, that’s a hefty amount to pay. So, one fan books a room and then tries to fill it with as many of his friends as possible. People share the beds, while others sleep on the floor. Maybe one person sleeps in the bathtub. I can remember one time, at a BayCon years ago, we squeezed as many as twelve people in one room, and one guy who was a vampire slept with his arms folded across his chest in the closet.”

“A vampire?” Kate shook her head in disbelief. “Who am I to judge? The point is, we try to cram as many people into the room as we can,” he said. “Okay, okay, I think I understand,” Kate said, sealing the third trash bag she had filled and putting it to one side. “But that still does not explain how the love of your life ended up in your bed.”

Lenny yawned and stretched out on the comfortable leather chair, extending his arms out at his sides. The corners of his eyes dropped ever so slightly with fatigue. “Well, the room at the World Fantasy Convention was my room. I lined up a bunch of friends to share the costs with me, but we had room for a few extras. So, when I passed by Filthy Pierre’s Voodoo Board earlier in the day, I posted a note saying I had crash space.”

“And she saw the note and took you up on your offer,” Kate added.

“More or less. But then, as I said, this sort of thing happens all the time. She probably came in late, saw there was space on the bed, and climbed in.”

“Talk about a fantasy!” Kate was incredulous. “Lenny, I must confess that your account borders on the fantastic. I just can’t believe a woman in her right mind would go into a perfect stranger’s room and climb in his bed.”

“It’s true! I swear it really happened.”

“Are you sure this—what did you say her name was?—‘Rebecca’ wasn’t put up to this by somebody wanting to play a trick on you?”

“No,” Lenny said emphatically.

“Did Rebecca ever try to shake you down for money?”

“No. Do you trust anybody?”

“I don’t believe a word of this story,” she said and returned to cleaning Lenny’s kitchen, opening several drawers and cabinets looking for an additional supply of trash bags. When she found it, she pulled several bags out and started filling them again with moldy pizza crusts and day-old French fries.

“You know I got friends down at the department that would slap your ass into a lie detector if I asked them to.”

“I’m telling you the truth,” Lenny pleaded. “So, tell me what happened next.”

“Well, we woke up in each other’s arms, and she said, ‘I’m pleased to meet you and your excited friend,’” he said, relating the details of the event like they happened yesterday. “I guess you could say we were a captive audience.”

“Just stick to the facts,” Kate said rolling her eyes.

Lenny smiled, his own knowing smile, and continued, “Rebecca and I laid there together looking into each other’s eyes, waiting for everyone to clear out of the room. Then, when we were alone, we did a lot of kissing and hugging and touching. It was nice. I had never had a girlfriend in high school, but here I was feeling like a teenager, making out with my sweetheart.”

Kate tightened the seal on the last trash bag and rolled up her sleeves to tackle the sink full of dirty dishes. She wanted to do a quick rinse and stack them in his dishwasher, provided she could find a clean sponge and some detergent. She looked up from the kitchen sink and focused her attention back on Lenny’s tale of woe.

“And we continued to stay in touch after the convention through emails and text messages. She was much better at writing the long, loving emails than I was. For every six or seven emails I got from her, I may have sent her one or two in response. I have never been very good with follow-up.”

Kate managed to tear herself away from the sink. “Now, wait a minute. Let me try to understand this. After the convention, you exchanged emails and texts, but you never tried to call her? You never sent her flowers? You never tried to get together for dinner and a movie? You just sent emails and texts? Where the hell does this Rebecca live? On the dark side of the moon?”

“No, Sacramento.”

“Lenny, Sacramento is only an hour and a half away!”

“Yeah, well, I was busy.”

Kate resumed her work, stacking the newly-rinsed dishes in the dishwasher. “So, when did you know it was over?”

“I was just getting to that, Kate,” he replied with another yawn. “Last week, I texted her about going to WesterCon with me, and she didn’t reply right away. I left a bunch of messages on her cell phone and sent emails. When she finally did return my text, she told me she had met a new boyfriend, someone closer to her own age.”

“I guess in the course of this investigation,” she said, mocking her own sloppy police work, “I failed to establish the perpetrator’s age.”

“Rebecca is twenty-three.”

“Oh my gosh, Lenny, she’s way too young for you!”

“Sixteen years, that’s not a big difference,” he said. “I’ve never been attracted to women much older than Rebecca. Women over thirty are old and wrinkled and have lost their spontaneity. You’re the oldest woman I’ve ever been out with, and that wasn’t really a date.”

She looked at Lenny as he spoke, then she sighed. “My friend, you are a true one-of-a-kind. They broke the mold when they made you.”

“You think I’m special?” he asked, fishing for a compliment.

“Absolutely!” Kate replied, putting the last of the flat wear in the dishwasher and rolling down her sleeves. She closed the door tight, turned the cycle to wash, came out of the kitchen, and stood in front of him. “Rebecca sounds like she wasn’t wound too tight, and you should consider yourself lucky that she broke up with you.”

Lenny put his head in his hands and began to cry. “It’s the story of my life. I always seem to attract the mental cases, while the normal ones run screaming into the night.”

Kate flashed him a make-believe frown. She started toward the door, and turned. “Do you know that old Supremes’ song, “You Can’t Hurry Love?””

He shook his head.

“Well, Google it, and listen to the words,” Kate advised as she took the handle on the door and cracked it open. “No matter how much you want love to come into your life, you can’t hurry it along. Love takes its own sweet time to happen, and it will often find you when you least expect it.”

“Well, maybe that’s true for other people, but not me,” Lenny said with a sniffle. “I told you once already that I don’t have any emotional hit points left for love.”

“Keep saying that, and you will make it come true.”

“Kate, I know you’re just trying to help, but you don’t understand. You’ll never understand what it’s like to be me.”

She opened the door wide and made ready to leave. “Good night, Lenny. Try to get some rest,” she said waiting for a reply that never came.

Kate closed the door and lingered in front of Lenny’s apartment for a moment. She was worried about him, but she had been unable to reach that part of him that needed reaching. Kate felt very uneasy as she walked down the corridor to her apartment and another night of troubled sleep.





Chapter Three





The next morning, Kate found Jorge outside police headquarters on Bryant Street. He was leaning against the crumpled fender of his late-model Ford pick-up truck, eating a sugared donut and drinking a cup of coffee from Dynamo Donuts. The powdered sugar was all over his face. To Kate, he looked like the subject of a documentary about cops and donuts.

Back in the day, Frank Miller told her not many places would stay open twenty-four hours; just a few diners and donut shops would be open during pre-dawn hours. Cops who were up all night working the third shift would end up eating at the donut shops because that's what they had to choose from. In time, the erroneous notion that police officers only ate donuts and drank coffee stuck to them like an albatross around a seaman’s neck, and it became a stereotype.

“Good, you came to meet me early, Kate,” he said, crumpling up the greasy bag from the donut shop and tossing it into the back of his truck. The flat bed was full of discarded breakfast and lunch bags. It was hard to keep his truck clean because he was so damn busy with his new assignment in Homicide and with his brand-new infant son at home, or so he told himself.

“You had better have saved one for me,” she said, crossing the street, “or you’re in for one serious beating.”

Jorge nodded his head, smiling. He then reached over the side of his truck, and produced a separate bag of greasy donuts, opened it wide, and held it out for her.

Licking her lips, Kate looked inside the bag, pulled one out with a wax-paper wrapping and took a big bite.

“Sticky buns,” she said with a sigh, as she swallowed it down. “My favorite.” Kate took another bite of the donut and reflected, “The only thing that would make this perfect is a good cup of coffee.”

Jorge nodded again, and reached over the side of his truck a second time. He produced a paper cup with a lid.

“Coffee, extra lite with sugar,” he said, handing the cup to her.





* * *

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