FBI Special Agent Leon Kitfox placed his coffee on one of the few flat surfaces to be found on his littered desk, and sat down before the mountain of work. He was a strong man, both physically and mentally, and committed to his work as necessary and meaningful. Picking up the coffee, he studied the folders strewn around his workspace and waited for the day’s inspiration.
There was the murder of a police officer in Watsonville awaiting his attention, and the corruption of a detective over in Napa County. There was an information request from Alameda that would take up half his day, or he could work on his liaison with the Portland Sheriff’s Office, who swore the Marin County Mangler had moved into their jurisdiction and set up shop. Somewhere in the midst of that, he had to attend one of three refreshers being given on search and seizure restrictions.
Kitfox stood up and looked in the direction of the summons. His boss, Harvey Dixon, stood outside his glass office, and waved him over the moment their eyes met.
“Or I could do something else,” Kitfox muttered, walking between the cubicles.
“Sit down,” Dixon instructed. No greeting, no fanfare, just business. “I’ve got a little job for you.”
“I’m a little backed up, sir.”
“Who isn’t? I need you to nip down to Monterey. The cops down there have a murder on their hands. Some bank president or something, mid-fifties, was killed in a parking lot. Stabbed they think thirty-four times, mostly in the chest. No robbery was committed, and nothing sexual, nor anything that looks ritual. Just a stabbing spree.”
“And we have involvement?”
“That’s for you to find out. Ten days ago, the cops in Reno found a college professor out behind one of the casinos. He’d been bludgeoned to death with an aluminum baseball bat. They estimate over fifty blows to the head. Had to identify him with fingerprints. Again, no robbery, nor any other tampering with the body.”
“Different murder weapon, though.”
“That doesn’t rule out a connection. Monterey has a suspect. Because of the time factor, the similarity in overkill, and the condition of the victims, there’s a possibility these two crimes could be connected. Here’s the Reno file. Skim over this while you finish your coffee, then get on down to Monterey, take the file with you, and make your best estimate on whether it’s the same perp.”
“And if it is?”
“If it is, they’ve already caught the guy. Offer them crime lab assistance, and get on back here. If it isn’t, then obviously we have no jurisdiction, so get back here without the offer. Either way, it should almost be a day off for you.”
“Thanks a lot, boss. I don’t suppose you’d agree to not put anything on my desk while I’m gone?”
“Oh, Leon, leave the comedy to the professionals.”
They stood up together and Dixon opened the door. Kitfox stepped out, and almost collided with Kevin Kreiger, the Special Agent in Charge.
“Well, Special Agent Kitfox.”
“Top of the morning, sir.”
“I understand you’re going to Monterey?”
“Let me give you a tip that will ease your path.”
“They have a suspect down there. This suspect was apprehended with the murder weapon in hand, and covered with the victim’s blood. This suspect is a living, breathing human being with a long medical history to prove it. Finally, this suspect either did the Reno murder or not. It’s a simple yes or no proposition. I don’t expect to hear that you’ve taken this office on some half-assed fishing expedition. You just file your report, and get back here. Do I make myself clear?”
“As always, your eminence.”
Kreiger looked him up and down, and said, “Are you still here?”
“No, sir,” Kitfox said, and hurried off toward his desk.
12:31 PM, Monterey
Kitfox liked Monterey on first sight. It’s clean, new appearance had a freshness that San Francisco’s skyscrapers couldn’t bring off, and like so many visitors, his mind began to formulate scenarios that would allow him to live here.
The police station was strategically placed so as to remain unobtrusive to the tourists, yet be in easy reach if needed. Its newness had worn off, but it managed somehow to avoid the stark institutional feel of the fortified prisons he had visited up and down the coast.
Checking in at the desk and stating his business, Kitfox was informed that Detective Lieutenant Zamora was handling the case, and, to his great good fortune, she was in. He was ushered into an office made of partitions, occupied by a desk, two chairs, and a small Latina of indeterminate age who waved him to the other chair as she talked on the phone to someone she didn’t seem to care for.
“I don’t care, Louie— We all have— Louie, God damn it, listen to me. I’m in court tomorrow with this. If I don’t have these results, the case goes out the window, and it’ll be your ass, I’ll see to it . . . Don’t make me come down there . . . Oh, same to you!”
She slammed the phone down, and picked up a sandwich with two bites missing.
“God damned pencil-pushing lab rat,” she muttered. “How about you, mister? Are you here to fuck up the rest of my lunch break?”
“I sincerely hope not,” Kitfox said, producing his credential case. “Special Agent Leon Kitfox, from the San Francisco Office.”
“Oh my God!” She wiped her fingers on a brown paper towel and offered him her hand to shake, which he did. “What kind of name is Kitfox?”
“Well, now that your opinion of the Monterey Police is sealed in stone, what else can I do for you?”
“Forget it. I have great sympathy for overworked law enforcement people. I’m here about the Robert Durant murder case.”
“Ah, yes, Monterey’s national headline. They said the Feds might be interested, but they didn’t say why.”
“Over in Reno two weeks ago a man was bludgeoned to death with a bat. Same overkill, same lack of robbery, same everything except the weapon. I’m to try to determine whether they’re related, which would, of course, invove the crossing of state lines.”
“And would, in turn, involve you taking over the case?”
“I’m not here to step on your turf, just to offer assistance.”
“It wouldn’t bother me. This is the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Our suspect is Susan Darnall, a thirty-four year old housewife. She’s real feminine, girly, you know the type.”
“Whatever. Works part time at the Aquarium. They use her near the entrance because she’s attractive and charming. The night of the murder, she was apprehended running from the scene covered in the victim’s blood, with the murder weapon still in her possession. We didn’t know at the time that a crime had been committed. She ran right into a patrol car. She was dressed in black workout clothes which were not appropriate to the weather, but afforded her both concealment and freedom of motion.”
“I suppose she has some tale of woe about happening on the crime scene and picking up the knife, or some such?”
“Oh, it’s way better than that. She claims to have no memory of the crime whatsoever.”
“That is better. When can I see her?”
Zamora keyed her intercom.
“Mary, get hold of Susan Darnall’s lawyer and set up an interview.”
“He’s in the building now,” Mary replied.
“No, I think it’s about another case.”
“Well, see if you can find him. If he has time, we need to ask a few more questions.”
“Right away, Lieutenant.”
“We still have her here in holding,” Zamora told him. “She’ll be moved over to County in Salinas within a couple of days, but it’s convenient to the investigation to have her here, and with her lawyer’s concurrence, she’s still with us.”
“Who’s her lawyer?”
“Mitchell Pierce. He’s pretty reasonable as defense counsel goes. Seems to be as interested in justice as in any other aspect of a case. I recommend that you play straight with him, and he’ll do the same.”
“Lieutenant.” It was Mary, a young woman probably still in college, opening the door to interrupt. “Mr. Pierce says he has time now if you do.”
“We do. Thanks, Mary.”
They stepped out into the busy squad room where Zamora introduced Kitfox to a tall fiftyish man with a neat silver mustache and a brown tweed three piece suit.
“This is Leon Kitfox of the San Francisco FBI office.”
“Really,” Pierce said as they shook hands. “What does the FBI have to do with this case?”
“There was a similar murder in Nevada recently, and they sent me down to see if there’s any connection.”
“Or to establish one, no matter what?”
They began the walk to the basement holding cells, Zamora watching, no doubt to see how Kitfox would react.
“Not at all,” he said without a trace of emotion. “There is a case that’s somewhat similar. Your client either did it or not, and this is the first step toward finding out.”
They arrived at a desk set up at a wide spot in the hall, occupied by a large African-American sergeant.
“Darnall,” Zamora said. “We’ll need a room.”
“Three’s open,” he said, opening a barred door leading to a corridor of cells. He opened one of them, summoned a short, attractive woman clad in an orange jumpsuit, fastened a pair of handcuffs to her right wrist, and handed the open end to Zamora.
The trio took her to the indicated interrogation room and attached her handcuff to a bar running the length of the Formica table. Zamora turned on the reel-to-reel tape recorder at the end of the table.
“This is Wednesday, November the sixth, two thousand two. It is approximately one P.M. I am Detective Lieutenant Inez Zamora supervising an interview of prisoner Susan Darnall. Present are Darnall’s attorney, Mitchell Pierce, and Leon Kitfox, a Special Agent of the FBI. Agent Kitfox, you may proceed.”
“Thank you. Ms. Darnall, do you understand the charges that have been filed against you?”
“And are you aware of the details of the crime with which you are charged?”
“The police are withholding the details,” Pierce interjected, “as only the true criminal would be aware of them.”
“Of course. Are you aware that the crime involves a particularly brutal level of violence, a level not necessary to take a man’s life?”
He noted her flat monotone. The woman seemed dazed by what was happening to her.
“Do you consider yourself to be a violent woman, Ms. Darnall?”
She looked at her lawyer, who nodded.
“Could you elaborate?”
“I love my husband. I love my son. I work at the Aquarium because I love to be around the people who come there. I feed the otters sometimes when they let me. I don’t know what you want to hear. I don’t allow a gun in my house, not even a toy. My son isn’t allowed to play football because it glorifies violence. I can’t even imagine killing someone, not with one clean shot, let alone mutilating the body, as they say was done to this man.”
“I understand. Would you describe your activities on the night of the murder?”
“I’ve already done that a hundred times.”
“But you haven’t told me. Would you please, just once more?”
“It’s all right, Susan,” Pierce said to her questioning look.
“All right. As I’ve said repeatedly, I have no memory of committing any crime, least of all a murder.”
“But the bulk of your memory is intact?”
“The murder was committed Monday night about nine. What’s the last thing you remember before that?”
“I was at home. The family had eaten, and I’d put the dishes into the dishwasher. The boys were watching TV, and—”
“Who are the boys?”
“My son and husband.”
“They were watching TV, and I was laying out my clothes for work Tuesday. That’s when everything goes blank. The next thing I remember, I had handcuffs on, and I was being put into a police car.”
“You’ve had plenty of time to think in the past two days. Have you tried to remember what happened during this gap?”
“What do you think?” she snapped. “If you couldn’t remember the most devastating event in your life, would you waste your time daydreaming?”
Good. A little emotion.
“Of course not. What happens when you try?”
“I get a headache. The more I try, the worse it becomes, until I’m nearly blind from it.”
“I see. Well, Mr. Pierce, I think that’s all I need for now. Lieutenant?”
“No, I have nothing new.”
“All right. Thank you, Mr. Pierce. I think we can consider this session complete.”
As Zamora summoned the sergeant to escort the prisoner, Kitfox stepped out into the hallway with Pierce.
“Any impressions you’d care to share with the defense, Special Agent?”
“I don’t know. She certainly doesn’t fit the profile.”
“No, she doesn’t, and yet, given the conditions of her arrest, I don’t know how I’m going to defend her. This looks like a classic insanity plea.”
“No, that leaves a long history of aberrant behavior. Maybe some form of multiple personality disorder. I don’t know much about it, but I have an appointment with a local research psychiatrist who I’m hoping can give me something.”
“As am I,” Kitfox agreed. “As it stands right now, I can’t rule her out of the Nevada case. If she slipped out of consciousness once, she could have done it before. I have a few more items to check. If you come up with anything I should know about, give me a call.”
Kitfox handed him a business card.
“I will,” Pierce told him, producing a card of his own. “You do the same. Maybe between us, we can get to the bottom of this.”
“I sure hope so.” Kitfox offered his hand. “A pleasure meeting you, Mr. Pierce.”
2:17 PM, Monterey
“Do you seriously believe that woman down there stabbed a man over thirty times?”
Kitfox sat in Zamora’s office awaiting a return call from his boss, Dixon.
“You’ve read the report,” Zamora told him, leafing through some paperwork from another case. “She was apprehended under conditions that preclude any alternate explanation.”
“It doesn’t add up. That was a rage murder, done by someone who hated his guts. Have you established any connection between them?”
“Not yet.” She raised her voice over his next statement. “All that means is, not yet.”
“All right. What about the premeditation aspect? She supposedly dressed for the crime, studied his habits, laid in wait, and so forth. Does it seem reasonable that in the midst of all this commando-style planning, she overlooked the need for an escape plan and an alibi?”
“Maybe amnesia was her escape plan. You don’t have to fake it anymore, it can be induced by drugs.”
“Who are you talking about? This is a part time receptionist, for God’s sake.”
“Yes, and a very charming woman into the bargain. You’re with the FBI. Did you ever get to meet Jeffrey Dahmer?”
“I’ve heard he was one of the most charming people you could ever ask to meet. He just showed his affection by eating his lovers.”
“Oh, this is nowhere close to similar. Dahmer was—”
She held up her hand as the phone rang.
“Homicide, Zamora . . . He’s right here, sir. I’ll put him on.”
She passed the phone across the desk.
“Special Agent Kitfox.”
“How’s it going down there, Leon?” asked Dixon’s voice from the other end.
“Strange case, sir, strange case.”
“This suspect they have just doesn’t fit.”
“What the hell do you mean, she doesn’t fit? I’m familiar with the particulars. It’s a slam-dunk case.”
“Sir, I’ve met the suspect. She’s—”
“Well, yes, sir, but—”
“No buts, Leon. They caught her red-handed.”
“Sir, I believe red-handed qualifies as a racial slur.”
“Leave the comedy to the professionals, Leon. The woman did Monterey. All we need from you is whether she did Reno. Now, quit hobnobbing with the suspect, and find out whether she can be placed at Reno on the date of the murder there. Do you read me?”
“Yes, sir, but—”
“No buts, Leon, God damn it! You are privileged to work for the real FBI, and the real FBI doesn’t have an X-Files branch. You weren’t sent down there to find UFOs. In case you’ve forgotten, your ass is still on the dime over those imaginary ‘Sewer People’ you went after up north last year. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll settle down and do some police work. Do I make myself clear?”
“Quite clear, sir.”
“Good. Then call me when you have something to report.” The phone clicked in Kitfox’s ear, and he handed it back to Zamora.
“Not very understanding, is he?” she asked.
“Not very. Do you have the number of Darnall’s office at the Aquarium?”
“Yeah, it’s in the case file, there. Got an idea?”
“No, Ma’am. Just following orders.”
3:18 PM, Monterey
Kitfox walked past the ticket window and joined a short line at the Aquarium entrance. Opened in 1984 at a cost of 55 million dollars, the Monterey Bay Aquarium had established a standard for oceanographic exhibits that had yet to be met anywhere in the world. Its building, a replica of a Steinbeck-era cannery, was only the first hint of the grandeur within.
Kitfox wasn’t here for the grandeur, though, and he made that clear when he reached the young woman at the turnstile, and instead of a ticket, produced an FBI identification card.
“Special Agent Leon Kitfox, FBI. I’d like to speak with someone in charge of staffing, please.”
The girl was a picture of adolescent California beauty, tanned and toned with streaky blonde hair, probably still in high school, and upon seeing his FBI card, her eyes widened, and her mouth opened in a small “o.” Kids were funny. An honest kid saw the FBI standing in front of him, and he became a little frightened; show this card to a kid with a record longer than Capone’s, and he just got more belligerent.
This young lady recovered her wits quickly enough.
“Certainly, sir. Wait right here, please.” She indicated a spot right beside her, and as she continued greeting patrons, she picked up a microphone and keyed the public address system. “Ms. Maple to the main entrance, please. Ms. Maple, main entrance.”
He didn’t have to wait long for a severe-looking woman to approach at a brisk walk. She wore a skirted business suit and sensible shoes that hid any sign of femininity, and her brown hair was pulled back into a bun that he was certain had crossed the threshold of pain. He felt a sudden pang of pity for the young girl beside him, even before she snapped, “What is it, Cynthia? I’m quite busy, you know.”
“This gentleman’s here to see you, Ma’am.”
“I’m afraid we aren’t hiring,” she said to Kitfox without missing a beat.
He saw the girl stifle a smile at that.
“I’m afraid I’m not applying,” he answered, holding up his FBI credentials. “Leon Kitfox, Special Agent from the San Francisco Office.”
She looked even more serious for a moment, then said, “This is about Susan, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Ma’am. Is there someplace private we can talk?”
“Of course. There’s my office. This way.” She walked him back past the entrance to a carefully unobtrusive wing of the building, designed to go unnoticed.
“Donna Maple,” she said as they walked, “Director of Personnel.”
“Pleased to meet you.”
“What kind of name is Kitfox, anyway?”
“I see.” They entered her office. “Have a seat, Mr. Kitfox, and let’s get your questions answered.”
Her office was small, but cluttered with souvenirs of life, the bookshelves and file cabinets given spirit by a profusion of figurines, small toys from a generation ago, and new baby pictures, obviously of a grandchild. He revised his opinion in a favorable direction.
“I’m trying to establish Ms. Darnall’s whereabouts for the afternoon and evening of October twenty-seventh.”
“And why do you want to do that?”
“Police business, Ma’am.”
“And the contents of my personnel records are the business of the Board of Directors. What if I tell you that you’ll have to subpoena them?”
“That can be done, but it isn’t— Look, the Bureau is looking into whether Ms. Darnall might have been involved in a similar crime in another jurisdiction on the twenty-seventh of October.”
“Something you wouldn’t mind proving, no doubt?”
“I just want the truth, Ma’am. If the woman didn’t do it, it’s a waste of time and money to prosecute her. If we can put her somewhere else on the date in question, that’s that.”
“I see. In that case, I’ll help you. The twenty-seventh, you say?”
She pulled a folder from a groaning in-basket and thumbed through a stack of what were obviously work schedules, sheets laid out in gridded squares with name after name typed in, lined out, printed in ink, circles and arrows everywhere. This didn’t look promising.
“The twenty-seventh was a Sunday.” She gave him a look intended to convey significance, and went back to work. “Sundays are a big day for us. We tend to pull in extra staff. Ah, here we are.”
She laid one of the indecipherable sheets before him, and guided his eye with the tip of her pen.
“We first had her in at noon. She worked the group entrance from noon til two, and her signature will appear on the sign-in sheets.”
“That’s a little earlier than we care about.”
“Okay. From two to four, we moved her upstairs to Flippers and Flukes. There’s a snack bar up there. Gives employees a chance to sit down.”
“What was she doing after four?”
“Let’s see, from four until we closed at six, she worked in the Portola. That’s our cafeteria. This “C” by her name indicates that she helped close, which means storing or disposing of the food, as appropriate, and cleaning everything to Health Department standards. The supervisor that night was Mr. Quinn, who considers perfection to be barely adequate. She wouldn’t have gotten out of here before six forty-five. Would you like to see her time sheet?”
“If it’s convenient.”
She took another folder from a file drawer, removed a sheet that consisted of columns of numbers, and laid that before him.
“Here, on the twenty-seventh, she signs out a six fifty-two, and there are Mr. Quinn’s initials. That’s when we lose track of her.”
“Thank you, Ms. Maple, you’ve been a great help.” He rose to go.
“Agent Kitfox,” she asked, pleading with her eyes, “I know you aren’t supposed to tell me anything, but does this help Susan?”
He studied her face for a moment, weighing the wisdom of confiding in a citizen, then said, “Yes, Ma’am, I believe it might.”
9:45 PM, Salinas, California
Uschi Ikhilevich lay on the bed in his middle tier hotel room, shirtless and shoeless, reading a book on the psychology of stress.
Stress, ha! This infernal heat was all the stress anybody needed!
The truth was that it wasn’t that hot. A few days of Indian Summer were moving through the valley, and everyone save Uschi was thoroughly enjoying this dessert of warm, lazy days spent in relaxed comfort. Uschi was accustomed to a much cooler climate.
The human survival instinct considers itself safe when the individual is comfortable, he read, a situation which gives rise to sloth, and makes it much more common than parents and supervisors would like to admit. Conversely, when the individual is forced out of his feeling of comfort by whatever circumstances, be it an attacking lion or a displeased boss, the survival instinct will attempt to correct its status back into its comfort zone. If it is unable to accomplish this, stress is induced.
At this point in the text, the telephone rang, causing Uschi to jump violently. He smiled at this practical demonstration of the very concept of which he had just read. He hated the harsh ring of American telephones, in fact, he hated most of the little details of life in this country. The only thing he didn’t hate was the ease with which comfort could be attained. Rolling to the bedside table, he answered the phone.
“Who is zis, pleese?”
“It’s Dave, old buddy. Don’t tell me you don’t recognize my voice.”
“Dafe? Are you mat? Zis phone is not beink secure.”
“That’s all right, old buddy, I won’t say anything if you don’t. How’s the project going?”
“Eferysing is in place, ant proceeding on ze schedule. It is necessary zat you do not do zis again.”
“I’ll decide what’s necessary, old buddy. It’s my project, and my money that’s funding it.”
“I haff not forgotten from vere comes ze job. If you do not trust me to carry it out, you should haff retained someone for whom you haff ze trust.”
“Save the crap for the hicks,” his caller said, leaving him wondering who the hell the Hicks might be. “I’ll ask you about the color of your turds if it bears on the job. Now, are your people in place?”
“At zis date? Of course, zey haff to be!”
“And they are reliable?”
“You know fery vell zat eferyone I vork vit is reliable. How dare you question zose I haff prepared?”
“Now, you listen to me, pal, and you listen good. I question everything. I didn’t get to this position by relying on the hired help to get it right. You keep giving me shit, you’re gonna find yourself in the unemployment line, do I make myself clear?”
“You vant to fire me, capitalist bastart? You do it now? Maybe I quit, zen ve see vat you can accomplish in ze veek you haff left!”
“Uschi,” the caller said in a soothing tone. Ikhilevich wasn’t having it.
“No Uschi! I know how to do my Got-damn job vizout money-sucking bastart looking over shoulder. I haff prepared staff. Staff is in place. Staff vill carry out instruction viz precision of Bolshoi Ballet. You may go to hell vis speed of express train, for all I care. Am I beink clear?”
“Quite clear, Uschi.”
“Goot. Now, you vish to fire me, or shall I go aheat?”
“Please go ahead, Uschi.”
“Fine, I go aheat. You vish to speak vit me again, you use proper channel. Goot bye!”
Uschi slammed the phone down and tossed his book aside, no longer in the mood to read. Sitting up, he stepped into his shoes. He would go out for a snack. Mexican food had always appealed to him.