Thursday, May 29, 2008

Murder on Sorority Row (update)--karyn

As I looked around at the boxes filling my new home I could hardly believe that I would have to live here. The memories of my former life flooded my brain, and then I quickly remembered why I had chosen to move across the country. Kimber. No last name just Kimber. She hired me as a body guard early in her career when a stalker tried to cut off a lock of her hair for a “keep-sake.” I quit when she went big in Hollywood, preferring not to deal with the paparazzi. A chance meeting ten years later sparked an intense sexual relationship that had been enjoyable, but lacked any real substance in my opinion, she felt differently. After trying to burn all of my possessions, including the clothes I was wearing, in an attempt to teach me a lesson, I decided to move. I caught the first plane to the only other place I knew and paid a friend to fed-ex my belongings.

Shaking off these thoughts I continued unpacking the remainder of my meager belongings into my one bath, one bedroom apartment that was located a mere four blocks from the Louisiana State University football stadium. Life was shaping up for me. The apartment had not been by choice but by proximity. Upon returning to my un-glamorous hometown I called the only person still willing to talk to me, Benny Bengasi. Since we graduated from high school he had stayed local, married his high school sweetheart, and became a detective while I hauled ass away from the south. It was he who also got me the job as a private security guard for the school. I started tomorrow. Even if the initials were the same Louisiana was nothing like Los Angeles, I reminded myself that this was the change I wanted as I went to bed using my sleeping bag for a blanket.

As I pulled up to the address that Benny had given to me I thought that there had been some mistake. The house had three large Greek letters on it reading Delta Pi Alpha. Benny didn’t answer his phone, and looking into my empty wallet convinced me to ring the doorbell. When an elderly woman answered the door of the sorority asking if my name was Kraig Thompson I became more confused but confirmed and was quickly ushered in. I walked inside and saw the double descending staircase and expansive living room with three chandeliers but was taken instead into a small side room labeled guest. She spoke in a whispering tone explaining that she was the house mom, known to the girls as Iris, and was in charge of the girl’s well-being. When I asked why she was whispering she gave me a confused look, lowered her voice another octave and said “because of the murder Mr. Thompson.”

I was taken aback for a moment as my mind wrapped around the idea that I was unaware of something so significant. I timidly told Iris that I was unaware of the current happenings in Baton Rouge as I had just moved here two days ago. I ventured to ask her what had happened but the look on her face halted my sentence. She quickly became professional and instructed me to take a seat on the bed while she sat at the small desk to the right.

“Well, Mr. Thompson, the reason you are here is because due to recent events I have deemed it necessary for extra protection around the house. I didn’t want to make this fact public which is why our mutual friend Benny has set you up here. He says that you have had high profile cases before and your discretion is quite necessary in this situation. I take it from your earlier question Benny didn’t bother to fill you in on what would be required, so I will. You will be in charge of verifying the identity of everyone who comes into this house and monitoring the cameras that are placed around the perimeter. Due to your limited knowledge I will allow you three days to contact me and let me know if you are willing to take the job, now Mr. Thompson if you could leave out the back door I would appreciate it, the girls are already jumpy enough. I’ll show you the way out.”

I had barely even heard what she had said; my imagination had been going wild with the possibilities of who had been killed and in what manner. Was the star quarter back strangled by his angry girlfriend for impregnating another girl? Did a Ted Bundy wanna-be sneak into a sorority house? Was it a fencing fight gone wrong? Obviously the killer hadn’t been caught or there wouldn’t be a need for security. Maybe the straight A sci-fi buff was tired of being turned down by girls. I sped home to install my wireless and find out.

I love reporters, anything to sell newspapers; all the gory details of the death were in the article. A white female named Cassandra Stokes age twenty-one had been found in the Sigma Tau fraternity house, room twelve. The occupant of this room, Tim Crawford, had come back from a weekend at home to find the body in his bed. Believing it to be “some drunk girl trying to sleep it off” he ripped off the blanket to find a naked body and bloodied sheets. He then ran for the bathroom and subsequently called 911. His upchuck reflex had been triggered by several stab wounds to the chest with the knife still lodged between two ribs of a girl he immediately recognized. Tim had been questioned by the police but after confirming with his parents that he had been home in Nashville the whole weekend he was released. Cassandra also happened to be a member of the LSU chapter of Delta Pi Alpha. The picture in the article showed a statuesque blonde deeply tanned from the scorching Louisiana summers. I wondered to my self who could be capable of killing this kind of beauty.

Wanting to know more about who was suspected I called Benny again. This time he answered with a chuckle and a “So did you take the job?”

“I’m considering, first tell me what you have on this case so I know what I’m getting myself into.”

According to friends Cassandra and her roommate Debbie had left the sorority house around ten thirty pm Saturday night. Debbie stated they first went to a party at the Delta Chi house before heading next door to Sigma Tau. They arrived around midnight and that’s where Debbie’s memory of the night ends. She wasn’t concerned when she woke up and Cassandra’s bed was un-slept in. It wasn’t be the first time she shacked it. The coroner determined that the time of death was approximately three am, Sunday morning. Tim had called 911 around noon. CSI had found white powder in lines and two empty syringes, tests were being run to verify the substances. They had suspicions about a two girls in an opposing sorority who openly hated her for “fucking their boyfriends” but no serious leads at the moment. Her room had been searched and laptop taken for evidence. Currently an officer was sifting through her emails and documents for any clues. Investigators were interviewing other attendee’s at the party, but the level of intoxication at the party was hindering the process. “Here is what we do know” Benny said. “One male noted that she had been dancing on tables around one am and appeared quite drunk. A few people saw her head upstairs alone soon after that, stumbling on several steps. Other than that we won’t have too much until the reports on the drugs and computer come in.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll take the job, but finding this psycho is your job, not mine. I’m on door duty only.”

“Just because you caught a few stalkers in your prime doesn’t mean I need your help,” Benny responded. “I’ll keep you up to date though,” and then abruptly hung up.

My next call was to Iris. She thanked me for my quickness and told me to arrive to the house tomorrow at eight am promptly for a tour of the house and an introduction to the girls. She also informed me that I would be on duty in ten hour shifts with another, rotating with another guard. I was less than thrilled to work ten hours at a time, but something about this situation intrigued me and I wanted learn more.

After the tour and introductions I was lead to my new post beside the door. I was confidant that sitting in a chair for ten hours straight would do wonders for my now softening physique. While I might not be growing any muscles I was amazed at the entertainment I had before me. Not only were there cameras showing the girls tanning on the grass in front of the house, but my location was at some strange vertex of sound. I could hear almost any conversation being had downstairs. I imagined my job as an episode of True Life: I live in a sorority house anytime I became too bored.

Apparently life was not so great all the time. In the first week in the house I overheard several arguments break out, mostly over who took who’s favorite dress, but one seemed particularly juicy. “Look this was not my fault and Cassandra did not have this coming to her. Just because you were Suzy High School doesn’t mean that your daughter had to be. She might not have been the pinnacle of perfection but at least she knew how to enjoy life and have fun, something you wouldn’t be able to do even if you pulled that stick out of your ass!”

Holding back my initial urge to laugh I turned my head to see who these harsh remarks had come from. I saw Debbie sitting on a nearby couch crying, her hair cascading down to cover most of her now pink flushed face. I decided to follow my urge and asked her if she was okay.

“I will be as soon as that bitch leaves town,” she said. “I mean Cassandra had always told me what a bitch her mom was but I didn’t think she would do this. She called my parents and told them that it was my fault that Cassandra was doing drugs and partying with a different guy every night of the week. She told them that they better send me to rehab before I get what’s coming to me.”

I didn’t know what to say so I stood up and sat next to her on the couch, trying to put a comforting look on my face. Debbie took this as encouragement to continue talking. “Thank god my parents and I are close or she just might have convinced them. Cassandra used to tell me stories about how her mom would put her nose where it didn’t belong just to make sure that the people she didn’t like would always remain below her. She told me that once her mom rigged cheerleading tryouts to prevent the daughter of a rival co-worker from making the team. We would laugh about how crazy it was to do those types of things but it doesn’t seem so funny anymore.” She tilted her head to rest it on my shoulder and said “It’s nice to know I will have some protection from Mrs. Stokes while you’re around.”

When I got home that night I thought about what Debbie had said and reminded myself of what had happened in the past when I became involved with girls in need of protection. As I feel asleep that night I tried to push the smell of Debbie’s hair out of my mind, that lush fresh tropical smell. I dreamed of the beaches in Tahiti that night.

I had the next morning off so I gave Benny a call and we went to Waffle House for breakfast. As we sat down and ordered I remembered how much I used to love simple food like cheese grits. I could live without the L.A. trend food like wheatgrass shots. My thoughts were interrupted by Benny’s voice. “So we got the lab results and toxicology report back early this morning. You won’t believe what they said.”

“I’d rather not play the guessing game Benny, just tell me.”

“Well, the drugs on the table next to the body, they weren’t drugs. The lines of what looked like coke was baking powder and the syringe had nothing in it, it was brand new. Now I know sorority girls don’t have the brightest reputation, but if I had to guess I would say that the supposed drugs were planted to make it look like the girl was using. Here is where it gets real strange though, the toxicology report did detect benzoylmethyl ecgonine in her system.”

“So the victim did cocaine at some point in the night, was stabbed in Crawford’s room and then someone planted fake drugs to make her look like a druggie. Am I getting this right Benny?”

Part 1 Rewrite and Part 2

Barry finally roused himself out of bed, crippled by a throbbing headache. Last night’s overindulgence proved to be more excessive than his body could handle and getting up to face the day proved to be a daunting, if not impossible task. But the promise of her in a tempting sundress, her greased olive skin glistening in the Santa Barbara sunshine, was motivation enough to get his hung over ass out of bed. He splashed water on his face, threw on a pair of ragged jeans, and trudged the half mile to beach where Eva awaited him.

It had been nearly a year since his big escape to California, and he still wasn’t accustomed to the lack of seasons and accents. Boston at this time of year was rainy and the winter snow was surely just starting to thaw. Spending hour upon hour in his lab proved nearly impossible with his current surroundings, especially with Eva keeping him perfectly distracted. Long nights of tweaking temperature controls and adjusting lasers had turned into endless evenings in bed, fucking until sunrise. For the first time in months, he felt an inkling of affection for another human being. Love? No, not quite. Not this easily.

“Hey, B!” Eva spotted him lumbering towards her on the sand. His head hung low and his drooping sunglasses reminded her of a weary hound dog, tuckered out form the endless hunt. “You look like absolute shit, lover.”

“Funny. I feel accordingly,” kissing her on the cheek, Barry inhaled deeply and let the heavenly mixture of herbal shampoo and fresh pot taunt his nostrils.

“I got started without you, but it looks like you need this more than I do.”

“Well, I appreciate your charity,” she passed him the smoldering remnants of an immaculately rolled J. Barry eyed her craftsmanship admiringly and drew in a deep breath. The smoke went straight to his head and the contents of his skull finally settled upon the exhale. This was new. The drugs, yes, but mostly the freedom. Laura never let him smoke, even to east the pain of his faulty shoulder. The motorcycle accident his junior year of college permanently weakened the major joints of the left side of his body, but this mattered little to her. He gave up more than recreational drugs for her sake, more than she would ever know. But that was ages ago, before graduate school, before California, before that fateful night in the Physical Science parking lot, and long before Eva. The vivacious undergrad did crazy things to his body and even crazier things to his mind. Eva made him forget, made him feel. Hardly twenty years old, she was far too young and beautiful for the affections of a jaded physicist and Barry’s idiot friends urged him to proceed with caution…after asking if she had any available and attractive girlfriends, of course. She had become his peace of mind over the last few months, but all that changed upon the discovery of the body.

It peeked out of the drainage pipe where the lagoon met the Pacific and flowed outward. Like Ophelia, adorned with garlands of moss and muck rather than daisies and violets, the serene bluish female corpse bobbed just below the surface of the water with death and sorrow written all over her decaying face. Barry’s weak stomach betrayed him and he felt hot vomit churning deep within his abdomen.

“Jeezus, Barry!” Eva yelped as he unloaded the contents of his boiling belly mere inches away from her bare feet. Embarrassed, disgusted, and unable to explain himself, Barry collapsed on the sand and pointed to the woman that had undone his digestive tract. Eva approached the stagnant pool of salt water to get a better look. Indeed, a young woman barely Eva’s age lay beaten and nearly unrecognizable. Clothed only in the remains of a black halter-top emblazoned with an obnoxiously neon sports drink logo, she showed signs of sexual assault. Bruised thighs. Bashed face. Broken and helpless.

Soon enough, Eva and Barry were no longer the only sickly fascinated spectators. A crowd, paralyzed by curiosity, had quickly gathered to gawk at the freshly deceased woman. Someone must have called the police because within minutes, the SBPD arrived and demanded statements from the civilian onlookers. Eva hastily pocketed her paraphernalia and told the pigs everything they wanted to know about the body.

“Have they ID’d that poor girl yet?” Eva asked, sliding next to her distraught boyfriend on the couch as he started blankly at the evening news. “God, that could have been me, could have been any one of us.”

Her roommate Alex looked up from his laptop and scoffed. “Don’t sensationalize this, Eva. People die everyday. Women are raped, tortured, and murdered by the minute, but as soon as it happens in sleepy little Santa Barbara, pepper spray and rape whistle sales skyrocket.”
“Your callousness is astounding. Are you even capable of feeling, or is there just a black, tarry mess where your heart ought to be?” Eva turned to Barry for support, for empathy, for something. “You don’t think I’m being paranoid, do you? You saw here, that gaping mouth twisted in a terrified plea for help, her legs black and blue with bruises…”

Barry’s stomach did a triple aerial back flip just upon the mere mention of the Lady of the Lake. “Can we not talk about it. Her. The body? Whatever.”

“Hey, did you see the pictures I put up from Thursday night? There’s actually a pretty adorable shot of you two before you disappeared,” Alex, an obsessive Facebook user and a classic ADHD case, turned his Mac towards Eva and Barry.

“I can’t see that from here. Tilt your screen down a little,” Eva abandoned her position on the couch and snatched up Alex’s computer. “Aww, how disgustingly adorable.” Barry saw a look grow in her eye, the kind of dangerous feminine twinkle that hints at babies, homemaking, and eternal monogamy. Too soon for such a look, but he quickly forgot his commitment issues upon closer inspection of the tagged photograph.

“Hey, see that in the upper left, just above your head?” Barry pointed to a blurry advertisement, obscured by the low resolution of the digital photography. Further explanation proved unnecessary.

Eva gasped and put two and two together. “That logo…Jaxxx Energy Burst…that’s the logo…”
“On the girls shirt, right?” Indeed the chartreuse script surrounded by an electric magenta ellipse matched the icon on the tattered clothing they stumbled upon earlier in the afternoon. “Alex, do you have any other pictures from that night?”

“Let me look,” the stalkerish advantages of Facebook proved to be more valuable than Barry ever anticipated. Quite the amateur photographer, Alex documented and posted everything onto his virtual account. Clicking on an album cleverly dubbed “Getting Shitty, Spring 08”, he opened up a photo of Eva and her housemates posing, drinking, laughing, and dancing like careless undergrads.

“There,” Barry stopped Alex just past the original photo he had showed Eva of the two of them outside an apartment on Trigo. “Did you guys end up going upstairs to that party?”


“And do you have the pictures to prove it?”

“You know it, bro,” Alex clicked to the next photo of two of Eva’s other housemates shot-gunning cheap beer with the same logo in the background. It appeared to be hanging over a balcony, draped like an advertisement for all those roaming the streets of IV to see. The next few photos were more of the same; idiotic binge drinking, scantily clad coeds, glazed eyes, and crazed smiles.

“Wait, go back one,” he backtracked and an image slowly loaded back onto the screen of three men Barry had never seen before posing with two identically dressed, busty, blonde young women. Clad only in black miniskirts and that increasingly recognizable halter-top, Barry knew they were onto something.

By the Book, Part II

A jab in the side that ranked somewhere between hard and painful brought me out of my head and back into the courtroom. My lawyer was giving me a less-than-friendly glare. “Don't drift off. You'll alienate the jury.”

I considered asking Johnnie Cochran here if he thought a detailed description of how I had supposedly slaughtered seven teenagers and mutilated their corpses wouldn't alienate the jury. Nate had assured me that this guy was the best defense attorney in the county. I grudgingly turned my attention back to the trial.

The DA was questioning his first witness, the SBPD detective who had investigated the first four murders. I had been a bit upset when I'd learned that he was testifying against me. He seemed like a decent guy, and we'd gotten along pretty well when he was working the case. If he thought I'd committed the murders, it didn't bode well for me with the jury. But then, we hadn't met under the best of circumstances. After Nate had told me the killer's MO, I had become somewhat obsessed with learning as much as I could about the murders. I visited every crime scene, talked to every witness, friend, and policeman who would give me the time of day, and generally made a nuisance of myself. The more I'd learned, the more things lined up with my book. Besides the greek letters carved into the palms, every victim had been killed and disposed of in a manner and location that almost perfectly matched the scenes I'd written. Single diagonal cut across the femoral artery, leading to death by exsanguination. Bodies wrapped in a shower curtain and dropped in four different dumpsters in four different parts of town.

All four victims (another murder occurred a week or so after I started looking into them) were in their late teens, recent graduates of the local high schools. One was a student at the local university, while the other three were working entry-level jobs at local companies. All four were male, but that was where the physical similarities ended. One was Hispanic, the rest white. Two blonde, two with black hair. Three were average height, the other tall but not remarkably so. No two victims lived in the same neighborhood. With no hard evidence to go on, the police were working day-in and day-out to find a common thread linking the four young men, and they weren't having much luck.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Daily Grind - Part II

Four years ago I would’ve laughed at someone like me—a twenty-six year old working some pansy-ass job at a coffee-house, complaining about the early hours and how much cream cheese I have to make. At one point I had wanted to move up in the world, make something of myself. But change has never come easily for me, not in my life, not even in the form of that wonderfully brassy clink! at the bottom of the tip jar after an especially meaningful transaction. Yes, I had graduated from a University. But these days a degree has to be accompanied by internships, a fancy resume, and giving a shit. And all the shit I had to give was already gone.

I was just about to put the key in the door to the coffeehouse when the early morning silence was brutally interrupted by my co-worker.

“Morning Jake!”

“Morning, Melanie.”

Melanie was one of those girls who got up every morning with a smile on her face and, I’m assuming, a teddy bear. But she was alright, I guess. There’s no law that says not having boobs is a criminal offense, and I have to admit that I was somewhat amazed by this fact. I mean, those babies were practically concave. I found myself staring and eventually shifted my focus back to turning the key. After briefly holding the door open for her, we headed inside. Three steps into the shop, however, Melanie looked quizzically back at me.

“What happened to the alarm?” She asked with pity in her voice.

“Some idiot must’ve forgot to set it last night… Liz is going to have a field day.” I, too, felt sorry for the poor sap. There are only two actions that can lead to getting fired from this place—forgetting to set the alarm, and not properly maintaining the pastry case. Whoever it was had broken the second most important rule. Melanie shrugged and continued to skip towards the light switches. I, on the other hand, headed straight for the espresso machine.

I turned the handle of the espresso device and pressed GRIND. Instead of the usual brrrr brrrr brrr of the espresso beans being ground, however, the machine sounded like it had developed one of those old people coughs. Angrily, I smacked the hopper a few times with the palm of my hand. Still, haaa-ck-k-k-euu-bleh. God damned machine. Begrudgingly I lifted the lid off the hopper and shoved my hand down into the beans. My hand had barely brushed past the surface when I felt something… hairy? Suddenly, the sound of Ted’s techno blasted through the coffeehouse. Fucking Ted.

“TURN THAT GODDAMN MUSIC OFF!” I shouted as I began slowly removing beans from the hopper.

“What the…”

“What’s going on Jake?” Melanie leaned over my shoulder to get a better look. As soon as I got a handle on whatever the hell was in that hopper and yanked it out, Melanie screamed. Fuck, I thought. Immediately I dropped it. Staring at me from the floor was the face of Ed, one of our regular customers, sawed at the neck apart from his body, and partially ground.

Crime scene

Kevin could tell this morning was not the time to tease her for her excessive drinking so he got right to the point. "We need your help on a case. A young model, Carmen Donovan killed her husband two days ago. We know she did it. She had a motive and the opportunity. It's perfect, except we don't have any proof. However she killed him, she did a good clean job. Well... evidence-wise."
"What do you mean 'however she killed him'? Don't you have the body?" Monica asked.
"Yes, we have the body, but the thing is disgusting. No autopsy yet, but a wound to the head where he was bludgeoned was found and a potential stab wound in the stomach, not to mention that he was pushed off the twelfth story of The Mark Hopkins. Now we're assuming one or more of these things are what killed him. Although the corpse is a rather messy ordeal, the murder was clean—no evidence, no weapons, no fingerprints, no videos, nothing."
"Does Carmen have an alibi?" asked Monica.
"She was out shopping with her friends at the time the body fell from the building," Kevin responded. "We've interrogated all her friends. The alibi seems airtight. They all have the same story but it's not too exact like a rehearsed story. I just can't figure it out."
"Well, you always did have a problem with difficult cases. I guess that's why I've always been a better detective than you," Monica pointed out spitefully. Unfortunately for Kevin, it was true. He was a decent detective, but Monica was brilliant. He chose to ignore the comment.
"So, are you in or out?" he asked her.
"I don't know," she hesitated. She hated working with the police; they were arrogant and incompetent, a terrible combination. However, her conscience and current boredom got the better of her. "Fine, I'll help you," she sighed, "but I won't like it."
Kevin chuckled. "You don't have to. I'll see you at headquarters in thirty minutes."

"So now the idiots need my help," Monica concluded in telling an overview of her knowledge of the case so far to Charles. "Wait! Stop here."
"But, madam, we are not at the there yet," Charles objected, but he slowed the car down. They were next to the Mark. The police had cleaned up the body remnants nicely; there was no trace of Harold Donovan's fall. Charles pulled over and helped Monica out of the car. She glanced around, apparently looking for something, and then started wheeling her wheelchair over to an alley. Charles followed her.
"Good to see you, Al," she said. Charles rounded the corner to find her talking to a homeless man. He was dressed in a strange assortment of dirty discarded clothing. There were dark circles under his eyes, his unhealthy, yellowish skin was broken by numerous sores, and his smile revealed a disgusting row of rotting teeth. A drug addict, no doubt, thought Charles.
"Monica! What are you doing here?" asked the man.
"I'm on a case, the one about the man who fell from the Mark a couple
days ago. What do you know about it?"
"Who, me?" he asked, feigning innocence.
"Don't sass me," she snapped. "I know you know something. You monitor that hotel as if you owned it."
"Fine, I might have something for ya," he confessed. Then he glared at her. "But why should I tell you anything?"
"Oh, that's not nice. I've always provided generous compensation for information. You'll be able to afford a week's worth of hits with the money I give you," she bargained. "How about two hundred bucks for all the information you can give me." Al looked pleased at that. He reached under his blanket and pulled out a stack of scrap paper with writing on it.
"Here are my notes on people going in and out of the hotel. It's yours," he handed Monica the papers. "Look at three days ago," he winked at her.
"Ah, perfect. Thanks Al," She handed him two Ben Franklins and wheeled around. Charles stared at her in amazement as he followed her back to the car.
"He used to be a doorman for the Mark, until his drug problem caught up with him," Monica explained to Charles. "Now he sits there on the corner, stoned, and watches the activity around the hotel. He knows everything and everybody. Very useful."
"I see, madam," Charles said crisply.
"It's 'miss', Charlie," Monica impatiently reminded him. She studied the papers
from the homeless man, Al; the list of people that had entered and exited the hotel was in
chronological order and there were detailed descriptions of every person.
They arrived at the police headquarters and greeted Kevin. He took them to his office where the beautiful Carmen was standing there, looking like the ultimate of cool all decked out in Gucci, pouting and glaring, obviously disgruntled at being held there. Kevin handed Monica the police report of the crime.
"This is for you. All the information on the case is in that file. Call me if you have any breakthroughs," he told her.
"Look, obviously, the reason you can't solve the case is because you overlooked something, probably many things. You called me. You want my help, you have to do things my way. Now, I refuse to get my information from a written description. We are going to make a trip to the hotel room. I may be crippled, but I'm not bedridden, damn it!" she said angrily. "Let's go."
Kevin shot her an exasperated look and beckoned Carmen to follow him out the door. A little while later the four of them entered the expensive hotel lobby filled with modern art and crossed to the elevators. They went up to the twelfth floor and walked to suite 1214. The suite was in a classy beige and blue color scheme with lush carpeting, and plush furniture. The fridge and bar were fully stocked, and, of course, there was a great view of San Francisco from the infamous window that Mr. Donovan fell, or was pushed, from.
Monica wheeled herself over to the window and inspected it. It had been closed for security reasons, but judging by its prime condition, she assumed it had been open when Donovan had met his end. It was a luxurious window, stretching from about a foot off the floor to the same distance from the ceiling and, for safety, the bottom foot of the window was unopenable. Just outside the window, there was a decorative mock balcony that stuck out half a foot and to go with it, a decorative railing of wrought iron, with
grisly spires guarding the window ominously. She carefully inspected this little deck and the bottom of the one above it as well.
"Where's the screen?" she asked Kevin.
"It's on the bed," he answered. She immediately led the group to the bedroom. This room, like the other, was well furnished but had that cold hotel feeling. The screen was lying completely intact on the bed.
"So the killer bothered to take off the screen before she or he push Donovan out the window, huh?" Monica commented ironically. Without waiting for a response, she wheeled herself into the adjacent bathroom. This was where the luxury of the hotel really made itself evident. There was a whirlpool tub next to the shower, a huge vanity, and a telephone next to the toilet, which Monica smirked at. She meandered around the bathroom, looked in all the cabinets, in the shower, the hot tub and the toilet.
"There's something in the toilet," she called. Kevin came over.
"Where?" he asked.
"Right there," she pointed inside the toilet bowl where a smidgeon of something white was just barely visible. Kevin reached in and pulled out a medicine bottle. He stared at Monica incredulously. How had she seen that? They had had a whole swarm of police detectives in the room the day before and none of them had caught that. She grinned at him, looking smug.
"May I see the bottle," she held out her hand. He handed it to her. "Unisom, sleeping pills. Hmm." She turned around to face Carmen, who had quietly been talking to Charles, batting her eyelashes in Kevin's direction occasionally.
"Mrs. Donovan did you or your husband have troubles sleeping often?" she inquired, waving the empty bottle at Carmen. The model frowned.
"Yes, Harry had troubles occasionally, but those aren't his pills. I hold his pills for
him in my purse." She dug around in her large Gucci purse and withdrew a similar white
medicine bottle. "I don't know what those are," she insisted.
Kevin slipped the bottle into an evidence bag and put it in his coat pocket. Monica gave the entire suite one more visual sweep and decided that she was ready to leave. The group went back to headquarters and Monica thanked Kevin for allowing her to inspect the crime scene for herself. Then she and Charles left Kevin to deal with Carmen and the other menial concerns that being a policeman entails.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

That same, nagging feeling woke her up again. “Geez, must I be cursed with such a ridiculously small bladder?”, Louisa thought as she turned over and tried not to think about rushing waterfalls and trickling pools of water. Not that she had been getting the most restful sleep anyway. She and some friends from school were on their annual camping trip at Lake Cachuma in the Santa Ynez Mountains just half an hour from Santa Barbara. Louisa never found it easy to sleep while on camping trips, she always stayed up hour after hour preparing for a bear to rip its way through the tent and devour her whole, or a bolt of lightning to strike down on her campsite. It also didn’t help that she was practically spooning with her friend’s dirty feet due to the fact that she and all her seven friends had decided to share the same four-person tent. Being thankful she was the person nearest to the zippered flap to freedom, Louisa wiggled her way out of her sleeping bag, quietly opened the zipper, and slithered out into the night.

Since she had already been times before, and was armed with her trusty maglight, Louisa had no problem finding the path that lead to the bathrooms. Crossing the wide open field in front of her, Louisa shivered as a cool breeze blew across her jacket, darting down the uncovered parts of her skin, making her grasp helplessly for more material that wasn’t there. Louisa concentrated on the beam of her flashlight that bobbed across the ground in front of her, and tried in vain not to think about what could possibly lay ahead in the pitch-blackness that surrounded her. In that very instant, Louisa’s beam caught a glimpse of something that was not green grass, but rather an upside-down park ranger’s hat. Following her flashlight beam a little farther from the hat, Louisa discovered a man sprawled out facedown in the grass, a tranquilizer dart sticking out from his back. His arms were flung out and his head turned to the side as if he had been running from something when he fell. Gasping with horror and fear, Louisa fell on her knees beside the man, frantically feeling for a pulse on his arm. The man’s skin was cold to the touch, and though Louisa concentrated her very hardest to find his heartbeat, no movement came from the man’s limp wrist.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

There's one thing that no amount of late night Law and Order or Boston Legal will teach you about a trial: they're damned boring. After all, you can only listen to people go on about how you're a dangerous psychopath for so long before it gets old. I had been sitting at the defense table in department four of the Santa Barbara Superior Court for over an hour now, and was currently struggling to stay awake through the opening statements.

The DA had gone first, laying out all the reasons that the jury should find me guilty beyond a reasonable doubt (“the evidence will show that Kenneth Short did willfully, and with malice aforethought, take the life of seven innocent people”). My over-priced defense attorney had just finished making what I thought was a pretty weak case to the contrary, which basically summed up to “someone else did it, but we don't know who or why.” It took every ounce of my willpower to suppress a sudden urge to jump up and earnestly inform the jurors that I really wasn't a bad guy. Bake them a cake, maybe belt out some Andrew Lloyd Webber or Gilbert and Sullivan ("A British tar is a soaaaaaa-ring soul, as free as a mountaaaaaaaain biii-ird"). In short, show them that I was an all-around friendly fellow who just wasn't the serial killer type. Somehow I got the feeling that the judge wouldn't have approved of such a display, though, so I choked it down and went back to admiring the ceiling tiles and thinking about how I had gotten into this mess in the first place.

Ever since high school, my goal in life had been to be a famous writer. I spent all of my free time either reading, writing, or coming up with ideas for new stories. I had started my first and only book in my junior year of college, and taken a year off after graduating to finish it. It had everything I thought a good book needed. A compelling main character (in this case, a deranged, yet oddly sympathetic killer who ritualistically mutilated his victims' corpses), comic relief (in the form of a ludicrously inept detective), and just the right amount of social commentary. And of course, a snazzy book jacket. Long story short, it sold about as well as a rock swims and I went back to school, eventually getting a job teaching Literature classes at Santa Barbara City College. I all but forgot about my book until one day, six years later, my best friend and publisher Nate Goodwin called me up with some highly disturbing news.

“Kenny, my man. You been watching the news lately?” Nate's voice sounded a bit shaky, but I figured he was just high. It was the weekend, after all.

“Nah, I check out the primary results every once in a while, but I don't really care which movie star is in rehab this week. Why, what's up?”

“A few homeless guys have turned up dead the past couple weeks. The police suspect that they were all killed by the same person.”

As cliché as it sounds, a chill actually ran down my spine at that. “A serial killer in Santa Barbara? I bet the Mesa folks are raising Hell.” Santa Barbara did attract somewhat unusual people, even for Southern California, but in one way they were much like every suburban community in America: they hated it when their little bubble of sanity and safety was disturbed. A serial killer did a number on that bubble.

“Actually, that's not what I called to tell you. At least, not all of it. There have been three victims so far and all of them have had weird designs carved into their palms.”

If my spine had been a bit chilly before, it was now downright frosty. I didn't bother to ask what kind of symbols, because I knew perfectly well what the answer would be. Greek letters carved into each palm, inverted so that the top of the letter lay toward the fingers. Now I knew why Nate had called me. I walked over to his desk, opened the top drawer, and pulled out a seemingly brand-new hardcover novel with a still-snazzy book jacket. The bottom of the jacket read “Omega Calling”. The top read “Kenneth Short”.

Twin Towers

Matthew Yasavolian

English 193A, 5/20/2008

The drive had finally ended. We made the four hour trip in our Lexus SUV that is the car we designated for long trips. The ride had been quite uncomfortable with the car fitting eight people maximum and, of course, we filled every seat available. It was the whole clan which included my brother, sister, grandfather, aunt, uncle, mother and father. The second we parked, I opened the door and sluggishly fell out as I couldn’t feel my legs anymore because the car was so packed with people plus laptop and book bags jam packed the leg room.

It was a bright, gorgeous day in Santa Barbara. The sun was out and heated the sky as the cool breeze drifted in from the ocean. It was like nothing I had ever imagined. Coming from the bay area in northern part of California, the only days that we ever witnessed like this were the best days produced in the summer and even those days didn’t last long. Often, they would be accompanied by gusts of wind or clouds that drifted and covered the ever-so-promising sunny forecast that the weather man had promised us the day before. I hadn’t before visited Santa Barbara and my decision to go to the university was based on rejecting my other college options. It was UCSB or either UCSD, which had a bad reputation for a non-existent social life or UC Davis, which was in the middle of farm land and their hottest seasons there made it possible to fry an egg on the gravel. Plus, I wanted to live near the beach knowing it might be the only opportunity I get.

After I took a moment to soak up what seemed to me as heaven and to regain feeling in my legs, my brother called over to me, yelling numerous times when I finally heard him the third time. He motioned me over to where my parents were grabbing rolling bins that were available for students to put there belongings in to take up to their dorm rooms. I looked up to take a glance at my future home for the next year and was amazed at what I saw.

I wiped my eyes to make sure I wasn’t dreaming but sure enough, it was real. It looked like a small resort with a pool surrounded by palm trees and a huge grass lawn right next to it. The dorm looked like a hotel. It was over nine stories up and consisted of two towers with elevators in each one. The dorm was called Francisco Torres and it was the only one of the dorms that didn’t reside on campus, being about a mile off campus. We were finally able to gather all my things and make it to the ninth floor where my room was and started to unload.

I noticed my future roommate had beaten us to the room and unpacked all his things. However, it seems as if he packed for just the weekend. His side of the room was a mess; his dresser drawers were open as some clothes were neatly folded and others hung from the ends of the drawers. His bed sheets were carelessly put on the bed and looked like someone had already slept in it. On his desk were his fifty-year old computer and monitor and an old printer that looked to have some cobwebs on it. I hadn’t met my roommate before but I was already beginning to get a sense of who he was. We had just talked a couple times on the phone to coordinate what each of us was to bring to contribute to the room. I agreed to bring a television and he agreed to bring a small fridge. The day before move in day, he called and told me he couldn’t find a fridge that would fit in the room and asked me if I could bring one. I seemed to have over packed in comparison, bringing my laptop, printer, sound system, mini-fridge, and the television with its stand. I felt I should bring everything with me in one trip so that I wouldn’t have to drag my parents through this again and make multiple trips. As we were finishing up unpacking, my roommate showed up with his mother and younger siblings and hands full of snacks. He seemed like a very mellow character, very simple plain white t-shirt and jeans and slippers. Our parents and families eventually left and we had time to talk and get a feeling for how the year would span out. My roommate decided to take a nap, but I decided to go out and meet everyone else on the floor. The two guys next door seemed like guys I associated with in High School. They both played on the football team in high school and one of them also did wrestling. I played a lot of sports myself, being the captain of the soccer team and track team and playing 3 years of high school football. I wasn’t the typical jock, the one that picked on nerds or made fun of geeks that stayed after school and had chess club meetings. I was a student that came home after games, did homework and helped my mother with chores around the house.

There were also some weird characters on our floor. I didn’t have the chance to meet her, but I walked past this one door and took a quick glance inside. This girl’s back was facing the doorway and I saw something I knew I would never forget. She had wires that ran through small hooks in her back with tattoos beneath. The scariest thought I would ever see. After meeting everyone else on the floor, I headed back to my room and relaxed and turned on the television. The next day, the first day of classes began and things ran smoothly for the first week. In the dining commons everyday, I would eat with my roommate and our sweet mates and some of our new friends. Each time, I would also notice something; there would be this one kid that seemed rather geeky and didn’t seem to fit in. He wore glasses, tight jean pants, turtlenecks and sneakers. He sat alone at every meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner. He looked like a typical high school nerd directly out of those old 1990s television shows. He ate his meals and left, and did the same thing every day.

The Friday night after the first week of school was crazy and everyone seemed to be eager to go out and party. The amount of alcohol being passed that night was more than I had seen my entire life. I decided to stay in that night and relax so I wouldn’t be incapacitated the next morning. I went outside to the pool and relax on a lawn chair and talk with some friends and all of a sudden I heard a loud scream.

We got up and went around the corner into the parking lot and saw there was a large crowd of people huddled around a car in the parking lot. The same girl was still screaming. We pushed our way through the crowd and there laid a body smashed into the hood of the car. The face was hard to recognize at the time because it had taken a serious beating by the hood of the car. The body seemed like it had fallen a long distance and sure enough, I looked up and there was a smashed glass window on the ninth floor of my tower. In fact, the window was from the room right next door to mine.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

First Page - Erika

My head throbbed, intensified by the uncharacteristically sweltering Santa Barbara weather and the toxicity of last night’s overindulgence. In the midst of a torturous hangover, the beach is usually not the greatest route to rehydration and recuperation, but the promise of her adorned in a tempting sundress, her greased olive skin glistening in the spring sunshine was motivation enough to drag me out of bed and into the sunshine. Lately rhyme and reason had released its hold on my formerly scientific, ordered thought process. A normally solitary creature absorbed and obsessed with my research, I’d been yanked from the comfortable world of condensed matter and electron spin by a vivacious literature undergrad. Long nights in lab tweaking temperature settings and painstakingly charting, graphing, and analyzing everything were quickly replaced with endless evenings in bed talking, laughing, and quite possibly loving? No. Not just yet.

“Hey, B!” She spotted me trudging towards her, my head hung low and sunglasses drooping like a weary hound-dog tuckered out from the endless hunt. “You look like shit, lover.”

“I feel accordingly,” kissing her the cheek, I inhaled deeply and let the heavenly mixture of herbal shampoo and marijuana smoke invade my olfactory receptors.

“I got started without you. But I figured you might need this,” she passed me the smoldering remains of an immaculately rolled J. I eyed the craftsmanship admiringly, tenderly, and drew in a sharp breath, taking the smoke in straight to my dome. My skull pounded, reverberated, and settled upon the exhale quieting the echo of my ailing head. We walked along the sand conversing and making eyes at one another, enjoying the fleeting serenity of the ocean. Eva made me forget, made me feel rather than think. She had become my peace of mind over the last few months, but all of that changed upon the discovery of the body.

It peeked out of the drainage pipe where the lagoon met the Pacific and flowed outward. Like Ophelia, adorned with garlands of moss and muck rather than daisies and violets, the serene bluish female corpse bobbed just below the surface of the water with death and sorrow written all over her decaying face. My weak stomach betrayed me and I felt hot vomit churning deep within my abdomen.

“Jeezus, Barry!” Eva yelped as I emptied the contents of my boiling belly mere inches away from her bare feet. Embarrassed, disgusted, and unable to explain myself, I collapsed on the sand and pointed to the woman that had undone my digestive tract. Eva approached the stagnant pool of salt water to get a better look. Indeed, a young woman barely Eva’s age lay beaten and nearly unrecognizable. Clothed only in the remains of a black halter-top emblazoned with an obnoxiously neon sports drink logo, she showed signs of sexual assault. Bruised thighs. Bashed face. Broken and helpless.

"The Daily Grind" - 1st Page for Sara

4:45 AM

My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard… Ugh. And they’re like, “It’s better than yours…” Must… find…I could teach you, but I’d have to… snooze button. Clearly, setting my alarm clock to the radio was a mistake. In all fairness, though, this has to be at least ten times better than the techno I’m going to have to listen to in half an hour. Fucking Ted and his techno. He got upset yesterday because some “artist” had decided to put words to the music. As if the words were ruining the music, if you can even call that music.

God it’s dark. The first time I work up this early, I remember thinking how much easier it was to open my eyes, because, hell, you don’t have to adjust to the light when the sun hasn’t come up yet. Talk about a bright side… or whatever. Despite the overwhelming joy I feel at not having to strain my eyes, there seems to be a certain nauseous feeling that has escaped my stomach and is currently circulating in my arms and legs. I stumble out of bed. Three bruises and a head bump later I’m in my car, on my way to work.

Four years ago I would’ve laughed at someone like me—a thirty-six year old working some pansy-ass job at a coffee-house, complaining about the early hours and how much cream cheese I have to make. But I needed a change. Not quite the change that my friend had made in college—the high school valedictorian dropping out of UCLA to join the circus. But I needed out. Working fifteen years as a California Highway Patrol Officer, and eventually as a member of the Anti-Narcotics squadron, left me desiring a better patron-client relationship. It didn’t take long for me to realize that people don’t enjoy small talk when they’re being handed a $377 fine for speeding. And you sure as hell can guess how a meth dealer responds to a question about changes in the weather when at that exact moment the sky is crashing down on a business he worked ten years to build.

And there was the whole "ex-wife" thing.

First Page, Shannon

You know Charlie, I could have won the Olympics, the O-fucking-lympics," Monica swore. "God damn these useless legs." She took another gulp of her scotch. Charles shook his head at her. He was her chauffeur, assistant, and best friend. She was on her fifth scotch now and Charles deemed it to be enough.
"Midnight, madam, time for bed," he said in his crisp English accent. He began to steer her wheelchair into her bedroom.
"It's miss thank you. I'm only 32. I'm not a madam yet, Charlie," she snapped, slurring slightly.
"Yes, miss, and call me Charles," he responded. He helped her into bed and then left her small, one-person apartment, pausing a moment to look out the window at the rather picturesque view of yellow, pink, and blue apartments across her street that were so characteristic of San Francisco.
Monica was rudely awakened at eight in the morning by the telephone. As she floundered around in her sheets and blankets trying to disentangle herself, she could feel the hangover destroying her physical, mental, and emotional well-being. She finally got to the phone.
"What!" she snapped.
"Hangover?" a wry voice asked on the other side.
"Oh, what the hell do you want, Kevin?" She knew what the SFPD detective
wanted. He needed help on a case. That was the only time he ever called her, when the
incapable police force could not do its job and needed her expertise.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

1st page for Claire

"Esconced in the broken-down bean bag as she was, with the smoke from the bong she held embraced in her lap like a baby enclosing her in its own warm embrace of indifference, the pixielated images on the television seemed to move of their own volition, and she roused her eyelids with difficulty--"
Mentally groaning, she put the book down. Five pages in, she thought, and I'm still hearing about the drinking and weed addictions. Two sentences would have sufficed, maybe even one: "Hi, my name is idiot and I'm an alcoholic AND a dope fiend." Why did publishers think people read detective novels? To read endless pages about being drunk or high and unable to get up out of the beanbag chair? Noooo, for a crime. The only thing criminal so far was the writing. Like a stoner even thinks in words like "pixillated" (hell, even the editor couldn't spell it right) or "volition" or "roused." The author was probably a goddamn English major, using all her fancy words just to show her extensive vocabulary. She rolled her eyes at her thoughts and picked the book back up. "You're cranky," she told herself. She'd give it five more pages: ten pages were enough to know whether a book was about criminal activity or if it would drive you to it.
Thumbing to the right spot again, she heard the coffee percolator in the Kirby's apartment start. No one nowadays knows what a percolator is, but she remembered her grandfather using one. She'd wake up on the couch during summer vacations, smelling the coffee and hearing the bubbly-sounding "perk....perk..." but actually, it sounded more like "pur.......pur.......pur.....pur...puuurrrrrcc..." as the water was forced up around and through the grounds to seep back down again. Evaporated milk and honey in coffee still caused olfactory flashbacks for her. The Kirby's had probably bought theirs new.
Well, if the Kirby's were up, so was she. One of the disadvantages to old apartments was thin walls. And odd as it was, she was even more of a morning lark than the Kirby's. Being a rather clumsy lark, she tried to stay considerately in bed reading for the hour until they woke up at 5 a.m. With something very much like relief, she closed the book and put it aside. Maybe she wouldn't give it five more pages after all.
She wondered as she showered how bad the day was going to be today. Understaffed, underfunded, and overworked, every employee in the department was suffering from bad morale and the resultant bad
attitudes, herself included. Watching her new boss try to cope with it all, she was less resentful every day that management had decided that despite their "desire for honest feedback and constructive suggestions," she was
not what they were looking for as a "team leader." Besides, "team leader" sounded like head migrant of the McDonald's day team...not a loss to her resume.
She gave herself a mental shake: knock it off or you'll create your very own bad day. She didn't know it, but it was going to be a very bad day regardless of her attitude. She should have known it when the hot water ran out much quicker than normal and left her scrambling to turn off the water and shivering in her towel.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mexico Drug Wars Coverage

The LA Times offers a little background on the military operations the Mexican government and the Sinaloa drug cartel are conducting against each other. The recent action follows the assassination of Mexico's No. 3 law enforcement official, Edgar Millan Gomez in Mexico City by a petty thief who was waiting for him in one of his supposed safe houses. The Mexican government is portraying the violence as the act of a cartel desperate over its weakening by an effective government crackdown.

The newspaper columnist Jorge Fernandez Menendez has a better explanation, one involving money. He compares the current Sinaloa problem to the decline of Medellin godfather Pablo Escobar in the late 1980s: "The weaker Escobar became, the more enemies he made . . . and the less money he had, the more he resorted to violence to take revenge on his enemies and strike fear in them."

It's not clear why the Sinaloa cartel would be running out of money, given their apparent ongoing control of the Pacific coast cocaine transhipment routes. But at least this story about the international drug trade provides a better context for the shoot-outs in Glassell Park than the dumb recent LA Times story about the mother from Guerrero with thirteen gang children.

One of the best pieces on the overall context suggests that the cartels are turning Mexico into a "failed state." This may seem far-fetched. But when Mexico's defense secretary said "Organized crime is not, and can never be, stronger than Mexico," he raised exactly that possibility.

Hollywood Fall Guy

Late last week the Hollywood wiretap case involving Anthony Pellicano came to an end with guilty verdicts for wiretapping, racketeering, and other charges. The good New York Times piece points out that all the potential big fish got away. Maybe this is a script with "third-act problems," but more likely it's a good version of an even more familiar noir script. Possible top targets were never indicted, including Michael S. Ovtiz, the entertainment lawyer Bert Fields, Brad Grey, current studio chief at Paramount, as well as Pellicano customers Chris Rock, Courtney Love, Alec Gores (billionaire acquisitions specialist, Freddy De Mann, Madonna's former manager, Adam D. Sender, a hedge fund manager. In the noir script, folks like this have enough clout to pressure top law enforcement folks to show quick, definitive evidence against them or lay off. In the noir framework, it's not a huge shock that the government failed "to deal any crushing blows to people in power." One legal academic is quoted as saying “If the government has no plans to go higher than Pellicano, this is a depressingly pedestrian effort that shows a lack of ambition." But with all that money getting deposed and put in the witness box, all the ambition in the world doesn't amount to much.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Problem With Prison

Growing doubts about the value of prison as the country's main mode of crime reduction have hit the Wall Street Journal. A good piece by Gary Fields on Tuesday, May 6th, points out that violent crime is growing again, but that a surprising explanation has cropped up. April 2008 was about 20 percent deadlier than April 2007, and that "the usual reasons - the economy, poverty, gangs and crews, and the availability of firearms" have something to do with it, but can't by themselves explain this sharp a rise.

The explanation that has been "little explore" is "the migration of the prison culture back to the streets. As nearly 700,000 convicts a year return home, some of them may be bringing prison culture with them. 'This is part of the price we're paying for 20 years of mass incarceration,' said David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at New York City's John Jay College of Criminal Justice" (A 16).

What Kennedy means by "prison culture" is the centrality of "respect." "Disrespect can lead to lethal responses at the slightest provocation. . . . There are now many people on the streets who live by a prison code, as the prison population has ballooned to 2.2 million from 330,000 in 1980."

This too is not a total explanation, but mass incarceration has its own noir "blowback" that is finally getting some public attention.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Drug Sting Nabs 75 Students at San Diego State U.

The LA Times coverage of this bust suggested an EME connection, and it's interesting to think of possible connections between specific college frats and the hardcore drug syndicates in Mexico, who some observers believe control the country's federal government, not to mention large swathes of territory, e.g. much of Tijuana. See also Roberto Saviano's Gomorrah, which explains how the Napoli-area "System" and its leading clans have allowed semi-autonomous dealers to access nice middle-class clients like college students without visible mob strings attached.


Story by SARA LIPKA, Chronicle of Higher Education
Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A yearlong undercover drug investigation has resulted in the arrests of 75 students at San Diego State University and 21 other people accused of being involved in illegal drug sales there, university and law-enforcement officials announced on Tuesday.

Eighteen students were arrested on Tuesday, and 15 others were arrested in recent weeks, the student newspaper, The Daily Aztec, reported. The other arrests were made over the past 12 months.

During the investigation, officers have seized $100,000 worth of marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy pills, hallucinogenic mushrooms, methamphetamine, and illicit prescription drugs, according to the district attorney's office for San Diego County. The officers also seized four guns, brass knuckles, and $60,000 in cash.

The university's police department started the investigation after a student died of a cocaine overdose in May 2007, the district attorney's office said in a written statement. Federal drug agents joined the investigation about five months ago. During the investigation, another student, from San Diego Mesa College, died of a drug overdose in a San Diego State fraternity house near the campus.

The officers in the investigation infiltrated seven San Diego State fraternities and made more than 130 undercover drug buys, both on and off the campus, officials quoted in news accounts and in the district attorney's statement said.

The officials said that students had coordinated the deals mainly by text messages. In one case, a member of the Theta Chi fraternity sent a mass text message to his "faithful customers," informing them of a "sale" on cocaine after a brief waiting period while he and his "associates" traveled to Las Vegas.

The university's president, Stephen L. Weber, told The San Diego Union-Tribune that faculty and staff members were not informed that the undercover investigation was being conducted on and near the campus.

"This was not a difficult decision," he said. "We needed to do something about it. We're talking about drug trafficking. That's the thing we were not prepared to turn our backs on. We had to deal with this."

San Diego State has suspended all the students who were arrested, pending due-process reviews, Mr. Weber said in a written statement on the university's Web site.

The university is also looking into whether any fraternities were involved organizationally, beyond the actions of individual members. If it finds that they were, Mr. Weber told reporters, those fraternities will be kicked out as campus organizations.

In a statement issued later in the day, the university announced that six fraternities had been placed on "interim suspension," pending hearings.

Among the students arrested were an undergraduate majoring in criminal justice and a master's candidate who was a month away from a degree in homeland security and who worked as a community-service officer under the supervision of the campus police.

In his own statement regarding the arrests, Mr. Weber called the investigation "a big step forward towards a safer environment for our students, faculty, staff, and neighbors."

"Illegal substances are inconsistent with our values and with the pursuit of our mission," he said. "Certainly today's arrests underscore the scope of the challenges universities face as we fight this major societal problem."

Copyright © 2008 by The Chronicle of Higher Education