Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Everything I have so far...pardon the cut off point

Chuck Steiner would later boast to his friends that his first thought upon seeing a corpse floating near the rocks of the Berkeley Marina was, “Christ, not again.” How he told it in later recollections depended on who he was trying to impress. To his more seasoned colleagues of the marina’s waste disposal crew, he had been frustrated, inconvenienced even. He had sighed, rolled his eyes and damn near rumpled up his sleeves to pull the bastard out himself if he could’ve done it without wrecking the crime scene. To his friends and family in Princeton NJ, he was grieved, but not surprised by the sight of another casualty of the gritty underbelly of Berkeley. Though the truth was, when he first saw it, he thought it was another dead seal. Dead seals were a common nuisance, often tumbling in with the waves and resting on the beach at low tide, or at high tide softly crashing against the rocks. That’s when Chuck would call Animal Control and wait by the pier three hours for a pickup bed lined with tarps and a student in waders carrying a pole with a hook on the end. He was dialing their number that very moment when he looked up and noticed that this seal had a tattoo and a full head of hair. In spite of himself and the morning cold, Chuck began to sweat. Then he wondered if Animal Services could still come. After all, he thought, we’re basically animals when it came down to it. Still, he couldn’t help but find something wrong with that idea and it was about a minute before he realized what it was and dialed 911.

Adam Brahe noticed the commotion by the Marina during his morning jog with his roommate Oliver. The patch of rocks next to the pier was crawling with figures in white disposable jumpsuits and booties, all standing or crouching and gesturing to each other. The lights from the police cars and ambulance flashed and reflected against the white sky. Slowly, Adam stopped running and bent down to catch his breath, panting clouds of steam. Oliver followed suit, and surveyed the scene casually.

“What do you suppose that is?” he huffed. Adam looked up, waiting for his eyes to refocus. Jogging this far had been a mistake he decided. He had been out of shape these past few weeks, using all of his free time to study for his Organic Chemistry midterm which he had slogged through the day before. Now there were no more excuses to be sedentary and that morning Oliver had torn the blankets off him, throwing a wife-beater and shorts onto his bed. This was the drill living with Oliver, and Adam would oblige because he knew he could be the same way whenever he found a new study on fish scales or autism or the number of vacuum cleaner related deaths in the fiscal year. They both would have their bursts of energy, but not usually at the same time and rarely over the same thing.

“It’s a body.”

“No, you don’t think so do you?” Oliver said as he gestured to the ambulance in the parking lot. “I mean it could just be an injury.”

“Those aren’t paramedics,” Adam panted, “They’re cops. And look at the stretcher they’re bringing over.”


“‘Sgot a body bag on it.” Silence.

“Holy shit.” Oliver finally said. He looked back where Adam was standing, but Adam was already sprinting back to their apartment.

“Whoa, what are you doing?” Oliver called out. Adam turned and stopped.

“Where do you keep your Daily Cal press pass?” he called back.

“Um, on my doorknob, but what—” But Adam was off again, waving his hand behind him to say, “Bear with me”. Aw crap, he thought.

Into a police walkie talkie, a tired voice grumbled:

“Hey this is Sergeant Campbell, we’re bagging the John Doe right now, we’ll send him over shortly, over.”

“Hello Officer, I’m Oliver Kowalski, I’m with the Daily Cal. May I come through?”

The officer on duty looked at his walkie talkie in confusion. Then with a start he noticed someone else was speaking to him. He pocketed the walkie talkie and surveyed the whelp in the cheap suit standing behind the crime scene tape. He was standing on his tip toes, despite being tall enough to see, trying to look over the officer’s shoulder to the scene panning out in the background. I can’t wait to hear this one, he thought.

“Oh the Daily Cal, is that the student newspaper?” he sneered. Without a touch of irony, the whelp nodded.

“Well, I’ll have to see your press pass then Mr. Kowalski.” The officer said, holding out his hand. The boy took the pass hanging around his neck and held it out like a laminated crucifix. There was a tense silence as the officer scanned it. Then he motioned for the whelp to lower it, but he did not wave him in. The whelp seemed confused.

“You’d better return that to Oliver, otherwise he’ll have to miss out covering the joint rolling contest.” The boy swallowed, avoiding the officer’s glare.

“What do mean? Are you saying I stole this press pass?” he asked. The officer leaned in close to the boy’s face, but the boy just stared off past him, as if trying to imagine that no one was there. He took the pass from around the boy’s neck and pulling it closer, peeled off the small photograph, still sticky with Elmer’s.


“What did you expect to happen you freakin’ moron?” Oliver called out to the slouched figure slowly walking back to him. “It’s the Daily Cal, not the New York Times! Why should they tell you anything, much less let you into a crime scene?”

Adam just stared at the ground, so Oliver tried again.

“What on earth have you accomplished besides giving that guy something to laugh about the second you turned your back?”

At this, Adam looked up at the sky, squinting against the drizzle that was beginning to fall. He would have stayed this way if Oliver hadn’t walked over and snapped his fingers next to his ear.

“Hey! Look at me!” Slowly, Adam complied and much to Oliver’s alarm, he was smiling.

“I saw them bag the body.” he said. Unwittingly, Oliver took a few steps back and thought about what he wanted to say next.


“Over that officer’s shoulder, I saw them do it.” He was grinning now, flaring his nostrils, shaking out his hands at the wrists and shifting his weight leg to leg. This wasn’t a new sight for Oliver. This was Adam reading the medical journals out loud at 3 AM, or watching the toast burning in the toaster and taking notes. This was Adam when he had found something that he thought was brilliant.

“You are way too excited over seeing a dead body.” said Oliver.

“Not his body. His face.” If Oliver understood, he didn’t show it. He tried again.

“His face man! I saw it!”

“What on earth are you grasping at?” Oliver cried. Adam put his hands on Oliver’s shoulders and pulled their faces within inches of each other.

“I-saw-Grossmith’s-face!” Adam let go of Oliver’s shoulders and let it sink in.

“Grossmith?” Oliver began. “Professor Grossmith?”

“Not anymore.” said Adam. Oliver groaned.

“No, I mean it, he hasn’t been a professor for a long time. He made it to the board of directors like, a year ago.” Oliver stepped back and watched Adam resume his fidgeting. His roommate’s behavior was finally beginning to make sense.

“The cops don’t know this do they?”

Adam grinned.

The Berkeley Police department was not enthusiastic when they began receiving calls from some kid calling himself “Mycroft, Devourer of Galaxies” and soon they were threatening the caller with arrest. The calls stopped, but within the hour a very tall kid in cheap suit came in carrying a briefcase.

“Hello Berkeley’s finest!” he declared heartily. “Take me to Sergeant Campbell!”

Molly, the receptionist, was almost done with her shift for the day and when she saw the wild looking kid with bed head, her hopes of getting home in time for Desperate Housewives plummeted. I need to get Tivo, she thought.

“He’s busy right now, can you come back later?”

“Oh. Sure. Of course.”

The kid seemed to deflate from a slow leak in his bellybutton. His plan had not gone much further from here, Molly decided. It also struck her that he was rather cute, in an incompetent way.

“I’ll try to get in touch with him.” she said, lifting the receiver of the beige regulation telephone. He brightened up immediately and chose a seat in the lobby.

Adam held his briefcase on his lap and pretended not to listen to the receptionist hissing into her phone.

“Look he just came in. Yes, he asked for you by name. I don’t KNOW okay? I just want to get home by nine! Huh? No reason.” Adam saw his chance as she hung up. Getting up, he moseyed over to her desk. He leaned in and tried to look like he knew what he was doing.

“Look, if you’ve got something pressing, you could just tell me where to go and you can get out of here.” He gestured at the Desperate Housewives screensaver playing out on her computer and tried to wink. She smiled, and crossed her arms. This’ll teach ‘em for making me work weekends, she thought.

“You can find Sergeant Campbell in room 26A, right across from the drinking fountain.”

“Much obliged…” he paused to read her name tag, “Molly. Now, do you have any idea what he was up to this morning? I was trying to reach him.” He hoped his lie wasn’t too obvious. Molly looked over her shoulder, then lowering her voice she leaned in close to Adam’s face.

“Some John Doe in the Marina I think.”

“So they don’t know who it is?” Adam asked, trying to maintain his cool demeanor.

“Well they’ve been having trouble because he had nothing on him, no ID, no nothing. He was even missing-” she looked around and lowered her voice even more.

“his hands. Someone cut ‘em off after he died.” Her eyes grew wide with an enthusiasm that made Adam’s heart flutter.

“How…how do you know all this?” he finally said.

“My aunt’s the coroner, she tells me some things. I can pick up the rest.” She tapped her nails on the phone, with all the buttons indicating separate lines.

“So why tell me? I could be a dangerous killer.” She raised an eyebrow.

“Oh come on, I could be!” She shook her head and began to clear her desk. Sighing, he mumbled,

“Enjoy your show.”

“Oh I will.” Slam! With a bleeding ego, Adam began down the tiled hallways searching for room 26A. When he arrived, he noticed that it was the only lit room in the whole building besides the lobby. Adam made to knock but then he stopped. What was he doing here? What could he possibly say? Whatever it was that did it, either the receptionist’s jab at his dangerousness, or his own insecurities, Adam felt the urge to leave immediately. He opened his briefcase and pulled out the Cal Alumni Magazine with Grossmith’s face on the cover. He rested the magazine on his leg and with a sharpie, drew a fat circle around the headline, “Why Carmine Grossmith Could Be the Next UCB Chancellor”. Then he slipped it under the door, knocked and ran like hell down the hall.

It took a day for it to happen, but soon Grossmith’s face was on every newspaper in the Bay Area under some form of the headline, “UCB Chairman Found Dead in Marina”. Adam had them all neatly piled on his coffee table. He sat and admired them while he waited for Oliver to get back from work. When he heard the clink and fumble of house keys from the other side of the door, Adam leapt up and flung the door open, grabbed Oliver’s arm and pulled him inside.

“Whoa, hey!”

“I’ve been waiting until you got home. Look!” Adam cried proudly. His friend stared at the two foot pile of newspapers straining the legs of their cheap coffee table. Damn.

“I’m impressed, I have to say. Is this all you?” Adam beamed and nodded quickly.

“Come on, let’s dig in.” he declared.

“Well, actually I’ve got some stuff I have to—” Adam cut him off abruptly.

“Hey, you want to be a journalist don’t you? This is work experience. Now get your ass over here and get reading.”

“Okay, whatever boss.”

Adam fumbled with his pocket knife and began cutting the threads holding the papers together, and the hunt was on. Three hours and six cups of coffee later, the pair found themselves distracted, wired and not much further from where they started, and now they had a living room flooded with newspapers to deal with.

“This didn’t pan out as well as I thought it would.” Adam admitted. Oliver belched in agreement and scratched his forehead.

“Well, what do we know for sure?” Oliver prompted, “We know he has no hands, we know who he is and the paper says he died of some kind of overdose. And—”

“And we know who the police have already talked to, the wife and the lower members of the board of directors.” Adam paused to consider this. “That’s hardly anyone isn’t it? What about his employees? People who might have some dirt on him, you know?”

“Ask ‘em yourself.” Oliver said, then wished he hadn’t. He watched Adam’s features harden.

“I’m gonna need your press pass.”

“Yeah fine, just wait for it to dry this time.”

Since the newspapers provided little information about Grossmith’s associates, Adam struggled to remember names from the magazine article that he’d left at Campbell’s office. There was one, Grossmith’s personal assistant, whose name was distinctive enough to remain halfway in Adam’s brain. He scanned the Yellow Pages for a match and, finding three, tried calling them each until:

“Hello, how may I help you?” buzzed a voice through the receiver.

“Hello, yes, is this Devon Crabtree?”

“Um, yes. This is he.” The voice sounded puzzled.

“Uh, well, hi Devon, I’m Oliver Kowalski, from the Daily Cal and I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions.” The other end was silent for a few minutes. Then:

“Questions about what?”

“Well, questions about your, (ahem!) your late employer, Mr. Grossmith.”

“This gonna be some kind of memorial piece?” The voice asked suspiciously.

“Mr. Crabtree, it can be whatever you want it to be.” Adam replied as confidently as he could. That did it. The voice at the other end became low and conspiratorial.

“I get off at four. Meet me at Lois the Pie Queen. I’m so glad you called.” And the line went dead. Meanwhile, a fuse had been lit inside Adam and was swiftly burning its way through his veins. I’m in, he thought.

Devon Crabtree was a youngish looking black man wearing a tweed blazer and a grey scarf. Though he’d said four, he was so excited he came in at three thirty instead When Adam walked in, he’d already finished his tuna melt and was sitting, fidgeting. Seeing the bewildered looking youth at the entrance, Devon stood up and beckoned. The youth rushed over and they shook hands.

“Hello, Oliver is it?”

“Um, yes that’s right. My name is Oliver.”

“Good to meet you. Now, will this be on the cover of the Cal?” Devon began.

“Um, we’re still discussing it.” Then with a twitch he added. “It really depends on what you have to say.” At this, Devon only smiled.

“So Mr. Crabtree, how would you describe your employment under Mr. Grossmith?”

“Well, long nights and a shit load of paperwork is a pretty good place to start. That man never filled out a form in his life. I guess you could say he valued his free time.”

“What did the rest of the board of directors think about that?” Devon pushed his plate away and rested his chin in his palm.

“To be honest, I think they were surprised on the days he actually would show. Which were usually on the days he wasn’t out hunting for big city pussy.” He sat back to gauge the effect of his little bombshell. It was unclear whether the look on his companion’s face was nausea or exhilaration. Devon didn’t care.

“Are you serious?”

“As a heart attack. I can’t tell you how many time’s I’ve gotten a call at four AM from that prick threatening to fire me if I didn’t high tail it to the back alley of the Barbary Coast or wherever and get him after doing god knows what.”

“And the board knew about this?” his companion asked.

“It wasn’t much more than a rumor until one time when the janitor was cleaning his desk and accidentally knocked over a bag with about thirty or forty matchbooks from different strip clubs in it. They were all over the next day. We used to trade them until Grossmith fired someone for it.”


“That’s not the half of it. Here,” Devon reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a folded rolodex card. Gently, he unfolded it and smoothed it upon the paper upside down so that his confidant could read it.

“Look at this.” The youth squinted at it and read it out loud.

“ ‘Janeane Fairfax, 510-673-8182’ Who’s she?”

“Haven’t you guessed?” The kid looked up blankly and shook his head.

“She’s his mistress.”

Adam pulled his untrustworthy ’62 Mercury into his secret parking place, an unmarked space hiding near a Taco Bell parking lot a few blocks from his apartment. He had a few calls to make and he wanted to be left alone. The first one was for Oliver:

“Oliver, stop the fucking presses! I’ve got a hot one for you. Call Devon Crabtree, Grossmith’s PA. I don’t have time to give you the number, he’s in the phone book. Just remember when you call, to mention The Barbary Coast. He’ll know what you’re talking about!” Silence.

“Is this going to get me fired?” Oliver finally asked.

“If you lose this story, you deserve to be fired!” Adam snapped, and hung up. Then, crossing his fingers, he started the car and headed for the address on the rolodex.

Janeane Fairfax had been finding it difficult to get back into the rhythm of things since she’d read the headlines that morning. It sometimes felt like she’d lost control of half of her body and that the other half was struggling to compensate. Her oldest daughter Shelly had noticed it too and her mother’s daily rituals, like touching up her makeup, or taking birdlike sips from a bottle she kept in the plate cupboard were abandoned in favor of sitting on the couch, wrapped in an Afghan cradling a bottle between her knees. Her makeup was only halfway done, and Shelly could see the marks on her neck that were usually covered by pinkish dabs of concealer. Being allowed to see them now felt like trust, a reward.

The doorbell rang and Janeane sat up, suddenly alert.

“Shelly baby, can you get that?” she said, pulling out her compact and her lip liner. She fumbled with the powder in front of the tiny mirror, wiping away all traces of grief. The sounds of Shelly stalling the person at the door floated in from the hall.

“You’ll have to wait a sec, she’s taking a nap.” Thirty seconds later, Janeane emerged, breathless, flushed and a little off balance.

“Is there something you need?” she asked. Adam introduced himself, and awkwardly rehashed his white lie, that he was a reporter from the student newspaper. Janeane’s face fell and she put an arm around Shelly’s shoulder.

“I’m guessing this is about Carmine.” She stated it more than asked it. Even so, Adam nodded.

“You’d better come in then.” She patted Shelley on the shoulder. “Honey, go watch your sister.” Shelley looked up her mom, but said nothing, and trudged back down the hall. Janeane flicked on a light switch, as if only noticing now how dark it was and walked into the living room. Adam caught a glimpse of five or so marks on her throat before he followed her inside.

“What kind of article is this going to be?” she finally asked, once she’d poured herself a glass of wine and sat back on the couch. Somehow, Adam felt he couldn’t use the “whatever you want it to be” line on her.

“We’re still discussing it.” he muttered. She shrugged and waited.

“When did you last see him?”

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