Saturday, June 28, 2008

Gangs on Drew Street III

The Drew Street neighborhood in northeast Los Angeles was back in the news with a huge multi-agency sweep that netted 28 suspected gangbangers and nacro-traffickers. By huge I mean it took 500 agents to roust those 28 people. Maria Leon and her bad luck 13 children made their trademark appearance in the piece. The rousted were sometimes ungrateful, as in the scene shown here. Check out Roberto Saviano's Gomorrah for why poor people in gangster-run neighborhoods don't like the cops. No, it's not because they are gangsters themselves or love their oppressors, but because the cops come and make a big show, break down the door and terrify the kids, and then they leave. Nothing changes. The journalists say it's because Drew Street is a clan transported almost intact from a "lawless region" of Sinaloa - yes where the big killings of top police happened last week - and that they have a quasi-innate hatred of cops. Naw. It's because the cops don't actually make things better.

Couple of other problems with the journalist view:
  • If the Avenues gang has been in the neighborhood for 60 years, it's interwoven into the society. The neighbors are right that cops and sweeps won't make a difference.
  • If convicted, the 54 Avenues now in custody will go to prison - from which la eMe runs the Avenues. The biggest "gang haven" in California is California's prisons.
What to do instead? Spend some redevelopment dough. Try much better schools and straight jobs. Do lots of good street work - without cops. The real revolution: decriminalize the big-money narcotics.

A final word on the end of gang week in the LA Times - their story on "Big Mike," a former Grape Street Crip turned gang interventionist. Big Mike fits the neighborhood in topping out at $17,000 a year. And he has left the neighborhood to raise his daughter in "the high desert."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Road Rage Strike Again

Here's a truly screwed-up road rage story from San Francisco, plus a handy homicide map for the city this year. Random death from random idiots. As my friend Lisa likes to say, "Love humanity. Hate people."

Monday, June 16, 2008


“Sponsored parties? And those are…allowed?” Even after an hour of Alex’s thorough explanation of the newest IV phenomenon, Barry had trouble wrapping his head around the idea.

“Are you kidding? They pay you to get absolutely obliterated. They’re not just allowed, my man. They’re encouraged!” Alex, frustrated that he had to spell out everything to Eva’s “brilliant” new boyfriend, tried to put things into simpler terms. “You provide the house and they throw in the alcohol, mixers, music and chicks. As long as you let them advertise and do some sort of promotion for them, you basically get hooked up with a free party.”

“They bring the girls, too?”

“Yes, Barry. Stupid drunk guys make their friends take pictures of them with girls way out of their league and, BAM! The girls are all over the internet. But more importantly, so is the logo,” Eva elaborated.

“So, this girl, the dead one. She was just a walking advertisement?”

“That’s my best guess. These girls get paid pretty well to walk around, pretending to be interested in these half-wit college boys and making sure everyone is nice and toasted. Tina at the restaurant used to work for a similar company before she started waitressing. I’ll ask her about it when I go in tonight,” Eva with her bright eyes and biting wit made a killing waiting tables downtown. Between her nosey coworkers and gossipy regulars, Eva was bound to know someone who knows something about the beaten girl.

Barry decided he wanted to learn a little more about this new breed of parties. “What did you say the address to that place, Alex?” he asked.

“6611 Trigo.”

He made a mental note to poke around after he dropped Eva safely off at work.


“Are you sure you don’t want me to walk you inside?’ Barry asked for the third time as Eva unfastened her seatbelt and started to open the passenger door of his aging silver Camry.

“I think I’ll be alright for about, what, twenty-five feet,” she giggled and grabbed her purse from the backseat.

“Well, call if you need anything. I’ll be back at 2 to pick you up, unless you get off early?”

“Not a chance Dan’s letting me go before last call again. Besides, I need all the cash I can get my hands on. Saving up for that rape whistle, remember?”

“That’s not funny, Eva,” Barry muttered after she slammed the door and waltzed into work. “Not even a little bit.”

“You’re late, kid,” Eva’s manager greeted her with his usual criticism as he tossed her an apron and a bar rag. “Get to it. Tina’s got the whole floor by herself and she’s about to start panicking!”

“Sir, yes sir,” she quickly clocked in, said hello to Jordy, the regular Sunday night bartender, and started picking up tables.

Tina, brisk and blonde as ever, whizzed by her and nearly sent an entire tray of pint glasses flying. 10 p.m. and the evening rush was in full swing. Eva put on her game face and prepared herself for another hectic night at the pub.


Barry stopped by his house before beginning his midnight excursion to the street of Isla Vista to grab some dinner and collect his thoughts. His roommate Logan had beat him to the kitchen and had just about finished preparing a microwavable lasagna.

“Hey, man. You want to get in on this?” Barry eyed the bubblying heap of cheese and preservatives, and though he knew his lactose intolerance would later bite him in the ass, he was too distracted to cook anything substantial for himself.

“Sure. Yeah. Thanks, I mean.”

“You ok?”

“Yeah. Long fucking day,” the two physicists sat down on their cluttered kitchen table and Barry proceeded to fill Logan in on the cause of his angst. As they devoured the mediocre Italian food, he told him his plans for the evening, but Logan stopped him in his tracks.

“You’re insane. I mean, why not just call the cops and let them poke around these punks’ house?” Logan got up from the table and cracked open a beer for Barry and one for himself. “For such a smart guy, you’re absolutely nuts. I don’t see why you’re so interested in some unexceptional rape case.”

Though they had lived together for the last six months and worked in the same research group, Barry couldn’t find the words to answer his roommate’s inquiry. They were close, but their friendship revolved primarily around baseball, beer, and the occasional drunken, emotional rant. He could never tell Logan about Laura, his disdain for law enforcement, or the real reason he moved to California. He couldn’t tell him about the broken engagement, about the nightmares, about the crumbling of his entire existence. Not without losing it all over again.

“I’m curious, I guess,” he rinsed off his plate in the sink and took a generous swig from the IPA Logan always kept in the house, hoping he wouldn’t have to answer any more questions. “Thanks for dinner, man. I’ll be back later.”

“Don’t do anything stupid!” Logan called after Barry as he ran out the door just as abruptly as he arrived. He sighed and finished his own beer, too tired to deal with Barry’s irrationality.


“Why must all of the damn streets in IV look exactly the same?” Barry thought to himself as he trudged along what he thought was Trigo. “Fuck!” Too dark to see the street sign until it was too late, Barry realized he was on the 6700 block of Sueno. He turned around and headed towards his destination.

The night he lost Laura must have been a night very much like this, the air disturbingly still and crisp. May 14th, a month before graduation and three weeks into their engagement. Barry was working late in lab trying to squeeze in some last minute alterations to his senior project when Laura popped in to drop off some dinner and moral support. He briskly thanked her for the leftovers and told her he had a lot of work left to do but he’d call her in the morning. He brushed her off as if it was nothing, and she left sulking and resentful. He was so absorbed in his work that he didn’t even hear her scream.


When he finally got to her, it was too late. She lay whimpering in the bushes mere feet from her car, beaten within an inch of her life. Nearly naked, shivering like a dying animal, and dried blood crusted on her thighs, she let out a strangled cry when Barry reached for her.

“It’s me, sweetheart. It’s me. You’re safe, now, Laura,” but she wouldn’t be coddled, she wouldn’t be comforted, and she wouldn’t even look him in the eye. It took two female EMT’s and several police officers to calm her and hoist her into a stretcher. Barry’s guilt consumed him, but regret quickly took a backseat to anger upon listening to the law enforcement discuss Laura’s assault.

“When will these girls learn not to walk around at night by themselves?” an officer scoffed, as if it were her fault for being an easy target, as if she tempted her aggressor to take advantage of her.

They never caught the bastard that plundered his beloved. They didn’t even try, said it could have been anyone. It was too late to catch him. And what was the big deal? She was still alive, wasn’t she?

Laura recovered, physically at least. Barry did his best to support her. He stayed with her at her apartment night after night, sleeping on the couch and protecting her from the evils of the outside world. But still, she refused his touch. One night he made the fateful mistake of cuddling up next to her after she had fallen asleep. She cringed violently and, half-conscious, became hysterical.

“Don’t you fucking touch me! Don’t you ever touch me!” she leaped out of bed and locked herself in the bathroom for the rest of the night, sobbing uncontrollably. Nothing Barry could say or do would bring Laura back to him. Devastated, he broke off the engagement, declined admission to MIT, and drove cross-country to California. He left Boston, Laura, his shame, his failure, and his love forever.

Barry had worked himself into a fit of rage and his hunger for retribution dominated his thoughts. He knew intuitively this house was the source of the atrocity he witnessed earlier in the afternoon. This was the place, these were the men responsible, and they would pay for the cruelty and negligence. The mildew infested stairs creaked under his weight, but Barry finally made it to the front door of 6611 Trigo. He knocked furiously but no one answered. What was he thinking busting in on these kids like this? Kicking their asses wouldn’t bring Laura back to him nor would it revive the girl he found on the beach. But it might quiet his anger and provide him with an outlet for his unadulterated hatred.

He jiggled the doorknob and the faulty lock readily malfunctioned, practically inviting him into the dimly lit living room. He poked his head into near darkness and scanned the house quickly. “Hello? Anybody home?” No answer. He stepped into the house and noticed a business card sitting carelessly on an end table right next to the doorway.

Gordon Kane

Executive Promotions Coordinator

Amnezia Corp.

Barry pocketed the card, confirming the link between the girl, the company, and the residents of this house. He continued down the hallway where he noticed a beam of light emanating from a bedroom door left ajar. He peaked in and immediately noticed the stench of stale urine and human sweat. Inside the room sat a young man crumpled pitifully in the corner. Scratches covered his arms and his skin looked nearly peeled off to the bone. His eyes, hollow and crazed, were barely human. This must be the bastard that did those terrible things to her, Barry thought. A fucking tweaker, completely out of his mind, had beaten and violated that poor girl in a fit of meth-induced insanity. Barry was about to make his presence known when a firm hand on his shoulder startled him.

“Who the hell are you?” A deep voice growled from the shadows. Barry turned around and found himself nose to nose with a stout wall of a man.

“Uh, I, uh,” he fumbled. “I think I left my keys here the other night at the, uh, the party this weekend.” You idiot, he though to himself. What kind of imbecile would buy his pitiful attempt at covering his ass? Apparently, this thug didn’t need further convincing.

He loosened his grip on Barry’s shoulder. “Let me look around for you,” he flicked on the hallway light and led Barry back to the living room. In the light, he saw remnants from quite the rager. Beer cans, panties, pizza boxes, and empty bottles of Amnezia, of course.

“I’m Cameron, by the way,” the pug-nosed young man introduced himself. “You want a beer while I look around, or what?” Barry shook his head no. The last thing he was interested in was cheap beer.

“What’s…uh, what’s up with him?” Barry asked, trying not to sound invasive and overly interested.

“No clue. He’s been like that the last few days, jittery as hell and pretty much unresponsive.”


“I doubt it,” Cameron cracked a Natty Light for himself, clearly finished looking for Barry’s allegedly missing keys. “Keith had a healthy appetite for blow last quarter, but kicked it after his psychiatrist put him on Zoloft. I don’t know that he’s been using again, but I’d be pissed if he was and wasn’t sharing!”

“And you haven’t thought of taking him to the hospital?”
“He won’t go. The fucker tried to bite me the other day when I offered to take him to Student Health. I figure if he doesn’t want to go that badly, there’s no sense in forcing him. Besides, I’m sure he’ll get over it once he comes down…if he is doing coke again.” Right. You just outgrow psychosis like an old pair of jeans. Barry new something else was up, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. The pieces just didn’t fit together. If it wasn’t drugs, what could make a person look and smell like that? Guilt? Murder? Barry knew the kid did it, that much was clear. It was written all over his scabby face. But what could he do? Coerce his roommate into turning him in? This oaf would rather sit in a drunken coma than talk to the cops.

Barry’s pocket vibrated and he fumbled for his cell phone. Eva, the screen flashed. “Shit, I have to get out of here,” thanking Cameron for his time, Barry scuttled off to go pick up his girlfriend.


“I can give you a lift home if you want,” Tina offered as Eva hung up her phone, frustrated that Barry didn’t pick up.

“No, it’s ok. I’m sure he’ll be here soon enough. It’s not even 1:30 yet,” the Sunday night regulars had already cleared out and the two girls were wiping off the last few dirty tables.

“Well, I’ll wait with you until he gets here. Wouldn’t want you getting killed or something like Anna.”


“Yeah. Anna MacKenzie. The girl they found at the beach today,” Tina explained. “I used to work with her when I promoted for Red Bull. We both quit around the same time and she started working for Amnezia when I got the job here at Joe’s. She hated it, or it seemed that way from what she told me.”

“Really? You mean, you knew her?”

“Oh yeah. We weren’t close or anything, but we partied together a lot. She was always bitching about how awful that job was, but she couldn’t quit because the money was too good. If you ask me, I think she was doing more that just promoting,” Tina scoffed as she reached in her apron to count out tonight’s tips.

“What are you talking about?” Eva untied her own apron and sat down on a barstool across from where Tina was organizing her money.

“Some companies have an unwritten policy about what is expected of these promotion girls. We used to get bonuses if the people throwing the party agreed to throw another one. And…well, there are certain motivational techniques that can be effective in ensuring this sort of bonus.”

“So, you girls are encouraged to what? Sleep with these guys until they agree to host another party? That’s disgusting.”

“No, it’s not quite like that. I mean, when I was working at Red Bull, we were told to “socialize” with the hosts and pay a little more attention to them and their close friends. But we were never forced to fuck any of those clowns.” Eva could see why Tina quit and moved to surprisingly less exploitive line of work as a cocktail waitress.

“God, whatever happened to Women’s Lib? What did our mother even fight for?”
“The right to saggy breasts and shitty tips,” Tina sneered as she finished counting out for the night. “Can you believe that? Only sixty measly bucks! What bullshit.”

Barry arrived at Joe’s CafĂ© just before closing time and reunited with Eva. They both briefed one another in the car ride back to Barry’s place.

“There’s something else going on, Eva. I mean, Anna could have just been going above and beyond the duties of her job and jostled the libido of a drunk, aggressive, careless SOB. But there’s something missing, something more. You should have seen him, this Keith character,” Barry cringed just thinking about that smell. “He hadn’t slept or eaten for days, but I’m sure he pissed himself a few times. He looked like an animal.”

“He is an animal! What kind of human being does that to another person?” The lowest, foulest, kind of human being, Barry thought. The kind of person that hurt Laura, the kind of selfish and desperate beast that killed Anna. The kind of person that could hurt his precious Eva.

“Stay with me tonight,” he pleaded. He needed her badly. He’s lost so much already and he couldn’t part with her, even for the night.

“Of course, B.”


They collided gracefully, flesh upon flesh, and collapsed in a heaving heap of glistening skin and rumpled sheets. She made love like a goddess and Barry held his delicate nymph close to his chest, watching over her through the night. Her vulnerability pained him, to think a man with less noble intentions than his own could take soil such overwhelming beauty. He pushed aside all thoughts of death and destruction, and for the first time all evening thought only of her and the way her gentle breath warmed his neck.


In the morning, Barry woke quietly so as not to disturb Eva, gloriously naked and still sleeping. Logan sat in the living room, mindlessly dunking a strawberry Poptart into a cup of coffee.

“Hey. How’d last night go, Sherlock?” he taunted Barry as he plopped down next to him.

“Not what I expected.”

“Did you hear? They caught the guy.”


“Yeah, I guess they got a confession out of him and everything. Apparently his roommate turned him in late last night after he attacked him with a kitchen knife,” Logan slurped up the rest of his coffee and set the empty mug down. “They think it was drug related or something.”

“No kidding,” Barry then spilled everything, even his darkest suspicions, to Logan. He showed him the business card.

“Amnezia, huh? You know, Carl, Chemistry Carl? He used to work for these guys doing product development and shit. You know, seeing how much taurine and ginseng and caffeine you can squeeze into a drink before you kill a man,” Logan joked, but a light bulb went off in Barry’s head. Of course, it was the drink. The fucking sports drink. Once again, he bolted on Logan and headed to campus to visit his chemistry guru.

He poked around the Chemistry building and paced outside Carl’s office for what seemed like hours. It was still early, but Carl was usually on campus before the crack of dawn on Monday’s to get a head start on his research before teaching snot-nosed undergrads basic OChem. He showed up soon enough and greeted Barry with a hearty hug. Carl was a hugger, and Barry ignored his latent homophobia and accepted the embrace.

“How’ve you been, bud?”

“Oh, you know. The usual,” Barry was too anxious for small talk. “Do you have a few minutes?”

“I’ve got a lecture in half an hour but I’m all yours until then,” Carl winked and invited Barry into his office. Carl was a rather successful assistant professor with a taste for expensive shoes and slightly effeminate ties. His sexuality was somewhat of an enigma, though Barry had his suspicions. “What can I do you for?”

“Do you know Gordon Kane?” Barry pulled out the disintegrating business card.

“I’ve heard of him, but I didn’t work at Amnezia long enough to get properly acquainted,” Carl took a seat at his desk and began rifling though some loose papers. “I quit after a few months.”


“Didn’t like what I was seeing. Didn’t like creating a product that could hurt people.”

Barry pressed on, sensing he was getting somewhere. “Hurt them how?”

“I saw some shit, Barry. Amnezia is marketed as a supplement so it isn’t regulated by the FDA. We could put whatever we wanted to into the beverage without any real consequences. The toxic cocktail of “supplements” mixed with alcohol, anti-depressant, or even the right neurochemistry is enough to drive somebody completely off the wall. One test group we did permanently ruined this poor guy who was taking Prozac for mild depression. He went absolutely bonkers. Violent. Impulsive. Inhuman, almost. It was scary as hell. So, I quit.”

“Just like that?”

“No, it wasn’t quite that easy. See, I was on the inside and letting me go would be too risky.”

“So, what’d they do? Swear you to secrecy?”

“In a way. I get a nice stipend from them every few months. Their way of keeping me quiet, I guess,” Carl grinned and Barry suddenly realized where he was getting the funding for his couture accessories. “Well, I’ve got a lecture to prepare for, but I hope I helped you out a little.”

“In more ways that you know,” Barry got up to leave. “Thanks, Carl.”


Keith was poisoned, clearly. Seduced by corporately encouraged flirting and poisoned by unregulated substances, he went off the handle and killed Anna. And though he could not be entirely blameless, certainly Amnezia ought to bear some of the burden for exploiting the desires and addictions of young men while objectifying women to the point of no return.

Barry went to the cops, but they proved as unhelpful as they were in Boston. Assholes. Total, incompetent, half-witted assholes. He had one person left to turn to. The elusive Gordon Kane, Executive Promotions Coordinator. That rat bastard.

His trembling fingers dialed. 893-742-6187. Three rings and a female voice answered. Gordon Kane’s personal secretary. “I’d like to speak to Mr. Kane, please.”

“If this is related to the incident regarding Anna MacKenzie, Mr. Kane and the Amnezia Corporation are under strict order not to discuss matters related to the case,” apparently, Barry wasn’t the only one who suspected the company’s involvement in the “incident”.

“No, I received his number from a friend. I’m interested in hosting a party in Isla Vista…” Barry was getting better and better and lying through his teeth, and dangerously comfortable with it.

“Please hold,” the drone of Muzak assaulted Barry’s ears, but he didn’t have to wait long.

“Mr. Kane would like to inform you that until further notice, Amnezia will no longer be sponsoring parties in your area. Thank you for calling. Goodbye.”

Barry froze in his tracks, the deafening dial tone resonating in his head and he knew. He knew no matter how hard he fought, how deeply he dug, nothing could take back what had happened to Laura. She was lost to him forever and nothing could resurrect what ought to have been buried long ago. But he could prevent it from happening again, from happening to Eva and girls like Anna. Humans do remarkably despicable things to one other without incitement. To exploit man’s tendency to violate and kill others is as unforgivable an act as the killing itself.

Barry knew he was a nobody, that he could never stop the Gordon Kanes of the world. But he knew he had to keep fighting. He had to keep trying. And more importantly, he knew he had to keep loving.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Karyn--murder on greek row

As I looked around at the boxes filling my new home I could hardly believe that I now lived 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 I bothered to keep in touch with, Benny Taylor. Since we graduated from high school he had stayed local, married his high school sweetheart, and became a detective while I had 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 Cooper 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 Dukes 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 blood on his sheets. He then ran for the bathroom and subsequently called 911. His upchuck reflex had been triggered by the fact that his own hunting knife was 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 had left the sorority house around ten thirty pm with Debbie Hudspeth on 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. Debbie had also told the police about two girls in an opposing sorority who openly hated Cassandra for hooking up with their boyfriends. Debbie claimed there were a lot of people who disliked Cassandra, “she was beautiful and guys noticed, she tended to steal the spotlight, even from their girlfriends.” However, she couldn’t think of anyone who would kill over this. Cassandra’s room had been searched and her laptop was 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 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,” he said as he abruptly hung up.

My next call was to Iris. She thanked me for my quickness and told me to arrive at 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 eight to ten hour shifts, 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 didn’t grown any new 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 would imagine 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 petty things like who took who’s favorite dress, but one seemed particularly juicy. “Look this was not my fault, Cassandra was my best friend. 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 a girl I recognized as 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. Dukes 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 definitely learn to 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, it’s early 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. Except here is where it gets real strange though, the toxicology report did detect cocaine and GHB in her system.”

“Wait, if there were real drugs at the party, why would there be fake drugs on the nightstand, and does this mean that the girl was raped, are you looking for male suspects?

“I’m still trying to figure it all out, but there wasn’t any sign of any kind of sexual activity, and the cause of death was the GHB, the victim was allergic. I talked to the lab specialist myself just to make sure I wasn’t reading the damn report wrong.”

“Jesus, then who the hell would stabbed the poor girl?”

“God only knows, but we do have a few leads now. We finished interviewing the students at the party and a few of them remember Cassandra’s roommate holding her up and helping her into a room upstairs. The same roommate who claimed she didn’t remember anything. Also there were some emails between Cassandra and a freshman named Nicole Barrett. It’s probably nothing but Miss. Barrett sent a pretty nasty email claiming that Cassandra told everyone not to let her in during rush and had been urging a face to face meeting, which Cassandra never responded to. Anyways I’ll be interviewing them both today so I’ll be on campus. Give me a call if you take a break from the strenuous job of watching sorority girls.”

It was about three hours into my shift when Benny rang the doorbell. I bypassed the normal ID check and asked him who he wanted to speak to. “I told you this morning Cooper I need to speak to the roommate, Debbie Hudspeth.”

“Wait, Debbie is the roommate? I thought she didn’t remember anything.” I said trying to hide the shock in my voice. I couldn’t believe I didn’t make the connection that Debbie was Cassandra’s roommate. And now Debbie was a suspect. This would happen to me I thought as I walked Benny to Iris’s room. “You already know Iris, just knock she’ll get Debbie for you.”

Back at my station I wondered if Debbie had been putting on an act the whole time, if the blackout was a convenient excuse, if she had been the one to shove the knife in Cassandra, ending her life. When Benny came back out to the foyer I asked him what had happened. Give me a call when you get off work, now is not time. I’m on my way to meet with Nicole Barrett at the coffee hut on campus.

I didn’t see Debbie the rest of my shift. I immediately called Benny when I got off, hoping to hear news that the killer had been caught and Debbie was exonerated. Instead I found out that Debbie had confessed to remembering a little more than she let on. She had told Benny that she had been with Cassandra when she did coke and that later when Cassandra had gotten too drunk she put her to bed in Tim Crawford’s room knowing that he was out of town. She claimed that after putting her in bed, fully clothed, she went back to the party. She also said that there was nothing on the nightstand when she put her to bed. This was around one thirty am. Benny told me that she had been crying trying to explain to him that she wanted to help catch the killer she just didn’t want people to know that Cassandra used cocaine. She was trying to protect her friend’s reputation. While they didn’t have enough to arrest her, Debbie was the main suspect.

“What!” I exclaimed. “What happened to your interview with Nicole Barrett?”

“She said that she and Cassandra had met up about a month ago and Cassandra explained that she had nothing to do with her getting dropped. They had known each other in high school through their parents so Nicole believed her and apologized for the email. There’s nothing there Coop.”

“Maybe you just weren’t asking the right questions, I know Debbie didn’t do this!” I said before I could stop myself, and immediately regretting it.

“Listen I know we’re friends and you’ve had a rough time meeting women since you moved here, but I’m only going to say this once. A twenty-one year old college sorority girl who is the main suspect of a murder is not someone you want to get involved with. And if you for one moment get in the way of my investigation, I will have to arrest you,” he said in a tight voice before slamming down the receiver.

I knew he was right but there was something about Debbie that made me believe she didn’t do it. Something beyond just the way I felt about her. When I arrived at the house the next morning I immediately went and knocked on Debbie’s door, ignoring the no men allowed upstairs rule. When she answered her eyes were red and puffy and showed a mix of shock and relief. She threw herself around me in a hug and started crying. “I didn’t do it I swear, Cassandra was an amazing person,” she whimpered when she calmed down.

“I know I believe you, the thing is the police don’t. I shouldn’t be telling you this but they’re trying to build enough evidence against you for an arrest. You are pretty much their only lead at the moment.”

“What do you mean pretty much? Is there someone else?”

“Just this Nicole Barrett girl who sent an email but she said everything was resolved.”

“Wait, Barrett, is she a freshman?”

“Yea, she accused Cassandra of keeping her from getting in a house during rush. Why?”

“This fall during parent’s weekend I remember Cassandra’s mom getting into an argument at Yamato’s with a woman named Mrs. Barrett, it was brutal. Everyone was watching; Cassandra was so embarrassed. She told me that the Barrett woman was involved in her parents divorce. Hold on I’ll go get our rush binder, if she tried to rush there will be a picture with her application.”

Before I could even comprehend what she had said Debbie was back, with an overstuffed four inch binder. “Here she is,” Debbie exclaimed, ripping the photo from the book. “Go to your station before you get into trouble; I’ll ask the girls if anyone saw her at the party.”

Wondering who was really in charge I went back downstairs and about an hour later Debbie came up to me with a grin on her face. “I was right, both Margaret-Bailey and Katie-Lynne saw this girl following Cassandra around at the party. Grab your coat it’s up to us to find Cassandra’s murderer if the police refuse to.”

I wondered at what point in time it had become ‘us’ and at what point in time this girl was going to get me arrested. “Look Debbie, I believe you, the thing is I can’t just leave here, this is my job.”

“This is my life. I know this girl is hiding something, but I need your help. Please.”

The earnestness in her eyes led my hands to my coat before my mind had time to think. As we drove to campus my mind began to catch up. I was about to storm the freshmen dorms on the hunch of a sorority girl. Christ I hadn’t even fucked her and she already controlled me.

I was relieved to find that Nicole was not home when we got there, I wasn’t ready for an epic battle. As we poked around the room it seemed like the normal room of a freshman girl and I began to question how much I was risking in being here. But then I heard a gasp from behind me, expecting to see an irate Nicole I turned slowly but was instead met with an excited Debbie. “I knew it, she drugged Cassandra, look in her top drawer, there’s a picture of Cassandra in Tim’s bed naked with drugs on the table, but no knife. She was there, she planted the drugs.”

I knew enough about police procedure that none of this could be used in court if the police didn’t use a search warrant. “Listen Debbie we need to go, I’ll tell the police about this stuff, I have a friend on the force. They will catch her I promise.”

Debbie looked worried but agreed and I took her hand leading her away from the desk. I was about to grab the door knob when the whole thing swung inward, almost knocking me out. In front of us stood the life size picture from the rush book and she didn’t look pleased. “Who are you and what the fuck are you doing in my room” Nicole shouted.

Before I had a chance to come up with a lie Debbie was racing at her. In an instant everything was out of hand. Debbie had her hands around Nicole’s neck and was screaming “Why did you kill her! What did she ever do to you?” A few doors in the hall way began to open at the commotion. I heard someone yell “call the police in the distance.” I knew Benny would be pissed. I knew I should be the one to call him but as Nicole’s face began to turn blue I knew I had no time. I pried Debbie off and held her back as Nicole fell to the ground gasping. “It was an accident,” Nicole got out between heaving breaths. “I never wanted to kill her.”

By this point a crowd had gathered to watch the scene. “Tell me, tell me why you did it!” Debbie screamed, frantically scratching to get out of my arms. I heard sirens and thought of Benny. I knew I was fucked but at the moment I was too busy preventing a second murder to think about going to jail. Looking around Nicole noticed that everyone had heard her say it was an accident, it slowly dawned on her that she was caught.

By this time there were police were in the building, but Debbie wasn’t ready to leave it to them. She bit down hard on my arm and I reflexively released her. She ran straight for Nicole, who still lay on the ground. She pinned her to the ground screaming “tell me, tell everyone, why did you kill Cassandra!”

When Nicole hesitated Debbie grabbed for a knife she had in her pocket. God I really do choose the craziest ones I thought as backed away slightly, informing the recently arrived police of what was going on. Upon seeing both the blade in Debbie’s hand and the rage in her eyes, Nicole began to talk.

“Okay, oaky, I’m sorry, it was an accident. This fall when I rushed I was dropped from every house on the first day. I didn’t understand what had happened, so I asked a close friend of mine and she told me that a woman named Dukes had sent bad character references to all of the houses, claiming that I had severe mental issues and had recently been hospitalized. I was shocked at first, but then I became angry. I emailed Cassandra, the only ‘Dukes’ I knew, but she refused to respond, so I made a plan to embarrass her and get even, maybe even get here kicked of out DPA. That night at the party I tried to talk to her to give her a chance to explain, but she kept walking away from me. It made me mad, she wouldn’t even acknowledge what she had done to me, I knew I had to get her back so I slipped a GHB pill into her drink and waited. After I saw you put her to bed that night, I snuck upstairs. I set up what looked like drugs and undressed her in some guy in the frat’s bed. I took a picture, planning to post it on Facebook so that everyone would think that she was a drug whore, but then something went wrong. Cassandra wasn’t breathing anymore, I thought that the alcohol mixed with the GHB must have done something to her and I freaked, I didn’t know what to do. I saw a knife on the dresser and shoved it into her dead body to try to make it look like some serial killer or something, I panicked,” she finished shaking with tears. “I swear, I didn’t want her dead I just wanted her to fell as embarrassed as I was.”

As she finished her sentence Debbie face had turned entirely white in disbelief. One of the officers grabbed the knife from Debbie and both girls were placed in handcuffs, too emotional to even realize they were being arrested. But then, right when Benny walked up, Debbie had a flash of anger, “it wasn’t Cassandra, it was her mom,” Debbie muttered. As they dragged her and Nicole away in different directions she yelled louder, “it was Cassandra’s mom who wrote the letters, it was her fucking bitch of a mom.”

I was overwhelmed with information. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I couldn’t believe that Debbie had pulled a knife, I couldn’t believe that rush was that important to someone, I couldn’t believe that Baton Rouge was just as crazy and fucked up as Los Angeles.

As the area cleared out and officers got everyone’s statements Benny came up to me and offered me a ride home. “You know,” Benny said as we headed for his car, I really should have you arrested for impeding a police investigation. You’re lucky Nicole confessed or this would have been your ass.” Benny walked ahead, turning around as we reached the car and saying “and you know you might want to find a new job, a new profession for that matter, or else one of these days, one of these crazy bitches you always fall for is send you to the morgue.”

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Claire's entire skeleton story--whole new scenario

Even at 9 in the morning I was sitting with my face in the fan, wishing Cairo was a little closer to Santa Barbara but grateful for the distance from bill collectors, when she walked into my office. I greeted her and waited. Waiting is always useful for observing. In the dim light of my shuttered windows, I was surprised to see that she was white, since she was wearing a chador. Not something you usually see on a white girl. She hadn't wanted to be seen. Why not? And since I'm a fairly recent arrival and don't really advertise my skills to the American community, I knew she must have spent some effort to find me.
Without sitting down, she spoke abruptly. "I want you to help me. You're a woman, and nobody around here pays any attention to what a woman says or does, so I think you'll be better than a man."
In agreement at least as to her opinion of me, I waited. "I asked around at the University of Cairo where I have friends, and Caroline Marquez gave you a good recommendation." Indeed, I had helped Caroline resolve a slight matter involving a stolen doctoral dissertation.
"My professor has disappeared, and no one believes me. They think the Professor has gone back to the States for more publicity, and that WAS supposed to happen. But there were..." she paused as if to pick her words carefully, "certain items left ...of a personal nature...that would never have been left behind." She did not elaborate. "I know there's been a kidnapping, and perhaps murder. And I know who did it." She sat down, now, heavily. She got very quiet, and I could again hear the vendors in the street below waylaying the tourists with cheap imitations of the Sphinx.
"What do you need me for?" I asked. "If you have evidence, the local police must investigate, even if you are a woman."
She got up and went to the window, looking through the lowered slats. "They won't listen to me because of who did it. It would be a huge scandal and bad for the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities." Noticing my expression, she sighed. "I hoped you would know about them, having dealt with Caroline, but I guess I need to start at the beginning."
I agreed that the beginning is always a helpful place to start. I got out my notepad, and she began to talk.
"Last year, Professor Sanders stumbled, literally, across an undiscovered archaeological site, Gebel Hagg. It's been forever since a brand new site was found, and as you can imagine, there was huge buzz. Everyone wants to work a site like that, but for the discoverer it can be particularly lucrative: for their career, as they do publicity appearances, newspaper articles, and of course peer review journals. The increase in scholarly credibility is huge. It can be the difference between tenure at an Ivy League school and teaching on a semester basis at the community college. Of course Professor Sanders immediately applied for permission to survey and excavate. No one expected any obstacles because the concession already belongs to the University that Professor Sanders works from. But Belac couldn't stand it. He had--"
"Who's Belac?"
"Belac is a professor who works for the Sorbonne, in France, although he himself isn't French. Early on in their careers, Belac made some assertions which Professor Sanders disproved. Ever since then, Belac has hated the Professor, and never misses an opportunity to harass, criticize, slander, anything he can. Because he's prominent in the field, sometimes he can even get people to listen. He's been a thorn in the side more times than I can count. Anyway, Belac applied to the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (the group who oversees all archaeological digs in Egypt) for control of the site. He dragged up some old lies about a former dig and stated that the Professor was unprofessional and incompetent. He said that the Professor is a modern-day Belzoni." She paused, looking at me taking notes. "Belzoni was an explorer in the 1800's who was not, shall we say, overly picky in documenting everything he found, or of who paid for his work and where he shipped the things he found. Very much frowned upon by the Egyptian government, so you can see it's a serious accusation. I worked with the Professor writing a letter to the Council refuting the claim. We were able to keep the site, but only because the Professor has maintained really good relations with the local officials and has had tea with the Council Head once or twice. A good reputation can really make a difference sometimes."
I had tons of questions, but first: "What makes you think that Belac would resort to something so desperate?"
She leaned forward, her eyes lighting up. "The site at Gebel Hagg was extraordinary. Nothing like it had been discovered. It's a graveyard, and not only does it cover almost 500 years of a period about which we know very little in Lower Nubia, all the other contemporary sites have been buried under Lake Nasser for 20 years. It covers the period from the start of Egyptian Colonization of Lower Nubia all the way through the Late New Kingdom. It's the find of a lifetime, and the maker of a star if an excavator wishes to put himself in the spotlight. And Belac does!"

She stood up and, leaning forward towards me, placed her hands flat on my desk. "From the beginning Belac's been arguing with the Professor's conclusions about the site. I think that somehow he has gotten hold of the results of our dig this fall proving that the Professor's conclusions are accurate. Belac won't let it be credited to Professor Sanders if he can help it. Not only is this going to make Professor Sanders as well known as Howard Carter to the public, Belac will have lost face and credibility with the entire archaeological community. It's not impossible that the Sorbonne could even stop his funding. Belac still has friends on the Council who think he should have gotten control of the dig, and who've been watching very closely via the Council official who accompanies all digs. As far as he knows, there's only one copy of the report--it just got finished and archaeologists are required to file their findings with the Council before making the information available to anyone else. If Professor Sanders disappears or otherwise "withdraws" and the report is "lost," Belac will gain control of the dig and can "publish" the findings as his own, claiming to have made the analysis of the artifacts that the Professor was "unable" to do. What no one knows is that I have a copy of the report. I'll do anything I have to to keep him from getting it. He doesn't deserve Gebel Hagg!"
By now she was growling, and I almost expected her to bare her teeth. She stood up straight, turned around and began to pace. "Do you know---that jerk actually took a swing at me when we appeared on the Jerry Springer show to talk about new trends in Egyptology and the Gebel Hagg site came up."
Having watched Jerry Springer a time or two, I wondered what the show had REALLY been about, but said nothing.
Still panting, but a little calmer, she looked at me and gave a small, slightly discomfiting smile. "Good thing I know Aikido. He went right off the stage into the camera." The smile disappeared. " Can you believe he actually came to my room later to try and apologize for his unprofessional"--she used her index fingers to frame the word in quotations--"behavior!"
"Sounds like a gem," I said. "Ok, some questions. Where is Belac now? Is he still in the States? Does he have an obvious alibi? I don't want to investigate someone without cause. After all," I paused, "I have my credibility to protect as well."
"No," she said, "he's back here in Egypt. I just ran into him on the street the other day. He wanted to buy me coffee, again apologizing. I tried to beg off, but he was insistent. I think he likes me. I told him I'm involved with someone, but I don't think it helped. Anyway, he was full of questions about the site and what we've found, etc. I didn't tell him too much, but I could tell the wheels were turning. The last thing he said was, 'Well, best of luck. After all, "there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip." When I asked him what he meant, he just smiled and said it was an old English phrase. Then he left, and I went on to the dig."
"When did you last see the Professor?" I asked.
"We had dinner two nights ago. We were celebrating the end of the season, and the great stuff we'd got so far. We both know that we'll be working together for a long time, and that's good news for both of us. We've been friends for some years, since I first took a class as an undergraduate. After dinner, we both went to our rooms to finish packing. We were supposed to eat breakfast together and go to the airport, but I ate alone. When I didn't hear anything and it came time to leave, I went upstairs. No one was in the room, but everything was still there, unpacked. I've checked everywhere. No one has seen or talked to, or had any contact from the Professor. I can't think of anyone else to ask," she sighed, and leaned against the wall.
I had been thinking while she talked, and I already had a few people I'd like to ask questions. "Write down the names, titles, addresses and telephones of everyone you can think of related to the dig or who knows the Professor, anyone who might have heard from him. Include family or friends in the States if you know any." After a few minutes, she handed me a surprisingly long list. Seeing my look, she said quickly, "When you work a dig together, everybody gets really close. And as I said, we've been friends for some time."
"Sure, I know how it goes. Leave me a copy of the report and the other paperwork. I have a safe I'll keep them in, so you can put your mind at ease about that. I will make some calls and snoop around and find out what I can. I'll try to give you a call later."
She handed over the papers, and headed to the door. She turned in the doorway, and with tears in her eyes, said, "Please hurry. I don't know if there's a chance it's still just a kidnapping, but I know if too much time goes by, it will be a murder for sure. I don't mean to be melodramatic, but without official help, Professor Hawkins' life is hanging upon you."
"Don't worry," I said. "I will follow up immediately, and as soon as I get anything, we'll go to the police. Go on, now, and let me get to work." She left, and I picked up the final report. What could be so important it would be worth killing for, I wondered? Then I remembered other work I'd done, and knew it could be almost anything, depending on the person. I put it in the safe, and turned to the telephone. I made an emergency appointment with the Council Head (whom I had neglected to state I knew myself). I asked my questions. I got some very enlightening answers, including the name of Belac's hotel. I went and talked to the concierge. For a substantial investment into his son's Student Exchange with the U.S. Fund, I found out that Belac had had a meeting 3 nights earlier with a woman and been overheard. Gebel Hagg had been mentioned numerous times, as had Professor Sanders and how undeserved it was that Belac didn't have the dig.
Next, to the hotel Professor Sanders stayed in, to look at the room. Whatever those things "of a personal nature" were, I didn't see anything fitting the bill. Among other interesting conversation with the desk clerk, I confirmed that the Professor had been seen going upstairs two nights ago, and not since then.

"Oh, shit." I said to myself. Walking out, I hailed a taxi. Holding the report, I directed the taxi to the airport. By the time my chartered plane (boy, was her bill going to be high) landed near Gebel Hagg (near being relative), it was close to sunset. A sense of urgency had grabbed me, and wouldn't let go. If I was right, time was almost up. In the desert, thirst is ever present and one of the ugliest ways to go. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. Well, ok, maybe on my ex-husband....After asking around, I found a driver to take me to the site.
When I arrived, they were dismantling the last of the camp. Asking to speak with whoever was in charge, I was taken to a short chubby man with bright blue eyes and a cheerful if tired smile, who introduced himself, while wiping his face, as Ass't Professor Adams. Even though twilight was here and dark not far away, it was still hot enough to sweat. The dark brings little relief.
"What can I do for you?" he asked. "I understand it's a matter of some urgency?"
"Yes," I said. "I understand that one of the pyramids you excavated last season is set to be demolished when the road is rebuilt. Is that true?"
He grimaced. "Unfortunately, it is. You would think they would be willing to wait, but oh, no. One season and one season only for that pyramid. We excavated everything, took pictures and video, and sealed it back up. It has a personal interview with a bulldozer tomorrow." He sighed, looking down. "It breaks my heart."
"Could you please take me there? It's extremely important that I see it."
He looked dubious. "It's dark, almost, and the entry is down a passageway. Even with a light, you won't see much. All of our spotlights are packed away."
"I only need to check a few things. It won't take long." I added, "Please, it's important. It could make a huge difference to Professor Sanders."
"Of course, of course. Let me get a flashlight." When we picked our way across the site to the pyramid, I stopped for a moment and just looked at it.
"Not as big as Khufu's, but probably just as impressive to the guy who built it," he said, smiling.
"Yes, they really had a style all of their own, didn't they?" I answered as I hurried down the passageway. At the end, I looked for the marks I was hoping to see. There weren't any. I looked again. I knew they had to be here. There! They had been sanded lightly, not enough to show on the rock, but enough that anyone not REALLY looking would never notice it. "We have to open this tomb. I think the Professor is inside!" I said. "Look at these marks--the seal has been broken and then patched. Please, go get some more help." When the three guys the Professor yelled for came running up, I got out of the way so they could open the door. Inside, on the floor, gagged and bound, was Professor Sanders. "Bring water!" I yelled. Untied and the tape removed, the Professor staggered forward and drank. "Oh, Thank God!" Then she started crying.
The next day, back in Cairo, I called my client. I told her I'd found what we were looking for, and could she come to my office immediately.
"You work fast! I'll be right there." She arrived within 30 minutes. I met her at the door. "Good news," I said as I gestured her toward a chair.
"You found proof Belac did it, didn't you? I knew it! I knew it! Oh, poor Professor Sanders." She made a little moan. "It was too late, wasn't it?"
"Actually, the only person I was too late for is you." She stared at me. "You neglected to tell me a few things. Like the fact that Professor Sanders is a woman. And that you are not only good friends, but have lived together for years. As lovers. You didn't tell me that Professor Sanders had ended the relationship, and that's why you got your own room as of a week ago. " I looked at her, and smiled. "Nothing gets past the desk clerks in Cairo. They don't like lesbians here. Against the religion, you know." I waited, but she said nothing. "You also didn't tell me that you were second in command on the site, and that you would get the concession if something happened to Professor Sanders. Your only competition would be Belac, You couldn't allow the chance that the Council might give control of the site to Belac. After all, you were the only one with a copy of the report. If you could pin Professor Sanders' death on him, you'd be scot free. There was certainly enough hostility that it would be believable. And when the hooplah died down, you could print the findings as if they were your own analysis. YOU invited Belac to your room after the Jerry Springer show--don't you just love concierges--YOU invited Belac to coffee when you 'happened' to run into him, and YOU invited yourself back to his room, talking about Gebel Hagg all the way. He must have thought it was his lucky month! Little did he know you were setting him up as a patsy." I, having had the presence of mind NOT to sit down, leaned back against the wall. "It was actually pretty close to working. Everyone on the site was supposed to be gone already, but there were problems with a truck breaking down. Even so, nobody thought it strange when you were there in the morning, saying you got in after everyone was asleep. Actually, you'd spent the night opening the door and putting the Professor into the pyramid, then resealing the door. Pretty clever. Once the road was regraded, there'd have been no chance of her ever being discovered.
"That's a very nice little story you've concocted," she said. "If there was any proof, I'd be concerned." She leaned down to pick up her purse.
"But there is proof," Helen said, stepping out from behind the closet door.
"Oh, God, you're alive!" What should have been a cry of joy was one of dread instead.
"Yes, I'm here, and whatever you put in my tea didn't kick in 100% until we were in the taxi headed to the site. The driver won't be hard to find. Belac's agreed to give his statement to the police." She paused, and said, "You should have just let me go, Melissa, instead of trying to take me out. I can't help you anymore."
As if finally putting it together, Melissa jumped up and headed to the door. One of Cairo's finest was standing outside the door, blocking her way. As he walked with her downstairs after cuffing her, I could hear him explain to her that she had the right to call the embassy, since she was an American citizen.
Turning back to the Professor, I said, "You'll probably have to testify, you know."
"I know," she said quietly. "Hardest thing I'll ever do, except for those two days in that tomb." Slowly, she crossed the room. At the door, she paused, without turning, "I should thank you. You saved my life. 12 more hours and I'd have been crushed under the rubble, if not dead of thirst already. But I think you'll understand when I say that the life I got back isn't the one I left. It's like I lost my life anyway."
"I do, indeed, understand." I said. And I do. That's why I live in Cairo.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Natalie's Story, part II

Fumbling for her flashlight, Louisa scrambled to her feet and started running away from the field and back to her campsite. Though she tried to forget the horror she had just seen, her mind could not stop thinking about the man lying dead and deserted in the field. Louisa remembered the ranger’s station at the entrance to the camp ground, and turning around in its direction, decided to see if there was anyone who could help. The bobbing light from the ranger’s station grew bigger and brighter as Louisa ran down the road in desperation. As she closed in on the little shack, she noticed the back door was still open. Bolting inside, and locking the door behind her, Louisa was dismayed to see that no one was there, horrified by the fact that the man she had found dead was the ranger on duty for the night. Spotting a phone on the desk, Louisa reached for the receiver, shaking as she dialed 911.
The dispatcher had told Louisa to hang tight and relax as she waited for the officer to come make the report. “Yeah, no problem, I can totally relax when a killer is on the loose,” she thought. She was currently sitting with her legs crossed tight on the ranger’s desk chair, staring the window out into the pitch blackness, just waiting for the killer to emerge out of the dark, pointing the big tranquilizer gun straight at her. She cursed the day she ever decided camping would be a fun idea. She was scared to death, cold, hungry, tired, alone, and above all, she still had to flippin’ pee. Louisa couldn’t believe the whole camp was sleeping soundly as she was locked up in a ranger’s station, fearing for her life. Trying to take her mind off of what might be outside, Louisa turned her attention to the magazines and newspapers strewn about on the desk. As she picked up the Examiner, Louisa noticed the gleam of a small mirror on the desk’s surface, covered with little specks of white powder. “I guess it makes sense”, Louisa muttered to herself. “This job isn’t exactly the most exciting”.
The lights of the patrol car beamed in through the window of the office and Louisa tried to get a good look at the person inside. The car’s engine hummed to a stop, and a big handsome policeman stepped out, adjusted his hat, and walked up to the door. Finding it locked, he knocked politely while Louisa slid off her chair and opened it for him. “Good evening, miss” the man said, “I’m officer William Gitson, and I’ll be working this case. Are you alright?” “Yeah I guess. I’m fine”, Louisa answered. She was relieved this would all soon be over. “That’s good,” William said with a smile. “So can you take me to the body?” he asked. Louisa was still scared over the possibility of a killer being on loose. “Do you have a gun?”
Satisfied with William’s answer, Louisa opened the door of the station and walked with William over to the field, passing first the bathrooms whose convenient, field-side location had gotten her into the whole mess in the first place. “Uh, do you think that first I can go to the bathroom?” William smiled with empathy and even agreed to check every stall in the women’s restroom before Louisa went inside for her long-awaited pee. Things felt much better after that, and Louisa led William over to where she thought the body lay. The two were surprised to see that someone else was already there, kneeling next to the corpse on the ground. Louisa shrieked.
“Stop, police!” William shouted with authority. “Step away from the body. What are you doing out here, sir?” The man looked up from the corpse, blinded by the flashlight. “Oh, thank God you’re here! I just found him as I was walking around the campgrounds” the man exclaimed. “Alright, well I’m out here to make the report. If you could, sir, please just show me your hands so I know you aren’t armed”. “Oh, yes of course,” the man replied and lifted his arms in the air. Louisa was relieved to see there was nothing there. William stepped forward, and came to one knee on the side of the body. “Its ranger Randy Cowler”, Bill said. “Tranquilizer dart, park ranger standard. Well that helps with the suspects. It’s gotta be someone who has access to their guns.”
It was almost morning by the time William had finished taking Louisa and the man, Walter’s, eye-witness reports. Louisa didn’t know what to think about Walter. He was a retired physics professor from UCSB who liked hunting. Hunting! Louisa was sure he would know his way around a big gun. She was also just creeped out by his presence at the scene of the crime just as she arrived with officer Bill. For all she knew, Walter could have been coming back to dispose of the evidence!
Just as officer William was about to leave, Louisa remembered something. “Hey officer, did you notice the cocaine on Randy’s desk?” she said, proud of her own detective work. “Well, no actually,” he said. “Can you show me where it is?” Louisa went up to the desk as William slid out from the desk in his chair. She picked up the newspaper where she has seen the mirror, but nothing was there. In disbelief, Louisa moved around all the other newspapers and things on the desk, but there was no trace of the cocaine. “Oh, its not here anymore” she said, dumbfounded. “Are you sure it was there to being with, Louisa? You sure have had a long night. You probably just imagined it”. And getting up swiftly from the chair, Bill assured Walter and Louisa he would find the killer, and wished them a nice Saturday.
“Hey, Louisa”, Walter said. “I think you were right about the cocaine. I noticed some white powder on Randy’s face when I found him back in the field.”
“Really? Well its good to hear I’m not crazy,” Louisa responded. “But why would officer William want to cover up something like that?”
“I don’t know,” Walter said. “But it makes me want to find out.”
Louisa would have said the same thing if Walter had asked. She didn’t know why, but for some reason, she really wanted to solve this case. There was something in the victim’s expression that conveyed such complete and total loss of hope, and somehow, Louisa felt that if she could figure out the reason for Randy’s death, she could restore the hope to the world that Randy never had.

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Daily Grind, Part III

“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 had fallen into the beans and yanked it out, Melanie screamed. Fuck, I thought, as I tossed it down to the ground. Laying there on the floor was a blood-stained, mutilated hand—severed apart at the wrist, and partially ground. I was just about to say, “Dude, you probably don’t want to see this…” when Ted nudged past Melanie to see what had happened. In a kind of silent horror, Ted dropped to his knees and examined it at a short distance. I watched as his hand slowly rose up to his chest and grasped at something. He seemed unable to react as he contemplated the situation. As I glanced between Ted and Melanie, who by this point had gone completely white, I realized that I would have to be the one to do something. I picked up the phone and dialed my boss’s number.

“Hey Boss, you’re never going to believe this one.” After I told her what happened, she sternly instructed, “Just don’t call the cops quite yet, alright? I don’t want to end up like fucking Wendy’s. Just give me ten minutes.” I set the phone down on the receiver and turned my attention back to the mutilated hand. Much to my dismay, I noticed that blood was beginning to drip out of the espresso head. Ted shook his head and said, “I’m outta here, I don’t need this shit.” Fucking Ted. At least I wouldn’t have to look back on this day and remember Techno as the background music to the investigation.

As the back door slammed shut, Melanie seemed to regain consciousness of the situation. We both looked at each other expectantly, each of us waiting for the other to make a move. Finally, I bent down to get a better look. From what I could tell, this hand was nothing particularly special—although from the amount of knuckle hair I suspected it must have belonged to a man. I couldn’t tell if the wrinkles were due to age, or the fact that all the blood had been drained out of the mutilated piece of flesh, causing the skin to dry out and form tiny ridges. Nevertheless, I suspected the guy must have been at least thirty. Finally, my focus shifted to three tiny black markings along the inside edge of the thumb. Tattooed in one of those gothic fonts were the letters: BRC. B-R-C? I was briefly reminded of an old employee, Irving, who had his name tattooed onto the back of his hand, along with “Est. 1985,” the year he was born. Dumbass. I thought maybe this man had been stupid enough to do the same, tattooing his initials onto his hand so he wouldn’t forget or some shit. I began to look at the hand in a new light. No longer was this just a mere piece of mutilated flesh, but now this hand had a soul—albeit an idiotic one—but a soul nonetheless. It did, at one point, belong to a human being, and I was determined to find out whom.

Just then, the front door swung open, and there stood my boss—looking as though she had just been brutally awakened from her slumber by a bear. Her expression was one of curiosity, anger, and deep dissatisfaction. I felt as though when she did find whoever had done this, she would inexplicably shame him or her to death. How dare they commit a crime in her coffeehouse. Her anger, however, seemed to subside as she took control of the situation.

“Alright,” she said with a kind of breathy, ‘lets get this over with’ kind of voice. “We need to figure this out before we can notify the police. If the media gets a hold of this before the crime is solved… well, you all know what happened to Wendy's. You two are the only ones that can know… Where’s Ted?”

“He bailed.”

“I’ll call him,” Melanie offered eagerly. I couldn’t believe this bitch was still sucking up to the boss when there were body parts floating around.

“No, I’ll take care of it later. For now, why don’t we all have a look around the coffeehouse in case this motherfucker decided to leave any other body parts lying around.”

Thursday, June 05, 2008

By the Book, Part III

Looking back, I'm not really sure what moronic reason I had to start investigating the murders. A bit of abstract guilt, I suppose, coupled with a sense of morbid fascination. Having long been a fan of classic detectives like Holmes, Poirot, and Wolfe, I had always wondered if I would be able to, as Poirot would say, “use my little gray cells” to solve a crime should I have the opportunity. Now it seemed I had one. Any great detective's first step is to gather as much information as possible, so I set about learning what I could about the murders.

The first victim's name was Tommy Green, and he had lived in downtown Santa Barbara on De la Vina. His roommate Steven (never Steve) looked at me a bit oddly when he opened the door and wasn't inclined to let me in at first, but after a few minutes of convincing (and some not-so-subtle implications that I was working with the police) he relented. The screen door squeaked loudly as I entered. He told me that he had been watching TV with Tommy, and had gone into the bedroom to take a phone call from work. When Steven came out about 10 minutes later, Tommy was gone. A day later his body was found in a dumpster behind a Mexican restaurant a few blocks away.

“Have you cleaned the apartment since then?”

“No,” he replied, “With everything that happened, I just...I've been kinda out of it.” That made sense, but piqued my curiosity. The apartment was quite neat, with nothing broken or noticeably scuffed or dented. No signs of a struggle. No blood on the carpet, which considering how messy a slash to the femoral artery is, almost certainly meant he had not been killed here. But then, Steven hadn't heard anything unusual while he was on the phone, either. The couch faced both the door and the only window at an angle, so it was unlikely that anyone could have come in without Tommy seeing them. Filing this information away in my head, I looked around the living room carefully, in a Holmesian attempt to observe every detail. One chair sat at a right angle to the couch, making a squared off area in front of the TV. A coffee table sat in the middle of the room, with a couple newspapers and a coaster on it. In the corner next to the TV sat a guitar stand with three guitars, and next to that stood a bookshelf. I glanced briefly at the books in it, noting that the top two shelves were primarily science fiction, while the bottom three were a mix of historical novels and crime fiction. One book on the lowest shelf, oddly enough, was reversed so that the pages were showing rather than the spine. I reached to correct it, but was interrupted by Steven, who had been watching me with a certain fascination.

“So are you some kind of private detective, or what?” He looked positively fascinated by the idea.

“I guess you could say that. How soundproof is the door to the bedroom?” I was still trying to work out how the killer had managed to get Tommy out of the apartment without causing some kind of commotion.

Steven grimaced. “Not very. Tommy's sort of a player, and when I crash out here I can hear everything pretty clearly. The shit that guy would say in the sack, man, you would not believe...” He seemed to suddenly remember that the man he was talking about was now dead. “I mean...shit, man, I know that probably sounded pretty callous but-”

“Don't worry about it. It still hasn't quite sunk in. I understand.”

He looked grateful. “Do you want to look at the bedroom? The police did, even though I told them Tommy wasn't in there.”

“I don't think so. Could I have your phone number in case I think of anything I need to ask you later?”

“Sure man, whatever you need.” He told me his number and I put it in my cell phone. Then I walked back out to the street, pausing for a moment to consider what I'd seen. No matter how hard I thought about it, I could not come up with a way to enter the apartment without being noticed by someone on the couch. Even if Tommy had gotten up to go into the fridge and grab something to drink, the sound of the screen door opening should have alerted him immediately that someone was there. For that matter, if the door was as thin as I'd been told, Steven should have heard the screen door too. But he'd been on the phone, so it was possible that he'd simply not noticed it.