9:02 AM, Monterey
Kitfox sat at the small desk in his room at the Holiday Inn. He had a view of Monterey’s old residential district, and an overgrown cemetery that reminded him of the Spanish moss around New Orleans or Charleston, but he wasn’t up for the view. Spread out before him were the sparse case notes he had brought from San Francisco, and he was using the information he had gathered yesterday, attempting to piece together a comprehensive chronology, when the phone rang.
“Good morning, Leon Kitfox.”
“Leon, Harvey here,” his boss greeted him. “How’s it going?”
“Pretty well in general. I’m just trying to put all the facts I have together.”
“Well, that’s what I’m calling about. See, it’s nine o’ clock, and we were just wondering why you aren’t back yet.”
“Mr. Krieger and myself. See, all you had to do was check on one simple fact. You’ve been down there a whole day already, and we were rather surprised when you weren’t at your desk bright and early this morning.”
“And you think I’m taking a vacation at the taxpayers’ expense.”
“Now, Leon, I didn’t say that.”
“You might as well have. Is that what this is, a speed contest? I can clear us right now if we’re in a race with somebody.”
“Calm down, Leon. Are we clear, or not?”
“No,” he lied. “It looks like we will be, but there are a few more things to check.”
“All right. Why are you sitting around the hotel, then?”
“I’m assembling a chronology so that I’ll know what events still have questions attached to them. Look, boss, if we’re now the Federal Bureau of Lip Service or something, just let me know, and I’ll be back before lunch.”
“Are you going to lecture me about justice, Leon?”
“I only meant—”
“Answer the question.”
“No, sir, I’m not.”
“That’s good, because then I would have to ask you where the justice was for that woman in Sausalito last spring. You know, the one who got killed while you were down in the sewer playing Beauty and the Beast.”
“I remember, boss.” He did, indeed, remember. The girl’s throat had been slashed so deeply, she had almost been decapitated. It was a raw nerve for him; he expected it always would be.
“I’m glad you do,” Dixon said. “A lot of people here remember it, too. Look, I’m trying to help you. You’re a good agent, except for you watch too much science fiction. Take this case, for example. You’ve got a woman down there who stabbed a guy to death. That’s not in question. Your assignment is to find out whether she did another one, but no, you’ve met her, you like her, and right now as we speak, you’re trying to pull some scenario out of your ass in which the aliens beamed down from the mother ship, cut this guy up like stew meat, and handed her the knife, aren’t you?”
“No, of course not.”
“Look, Leon, you keep messing around with this, you’re going to get your ass in a sling that I can’t get you out of. Now, find the page, and get on it. It’s, did she do Nevada, yes or no. That’s all that’s necessary. Got it?”
“Good. Now, just find out what her alibi is, and try to break it. Once you do, or you don’t, get back up here. This desk of yours can’t hold too much more.”
“Oh, thanks, boss.”
“Don’t thank me, you’re the one that’s gone. Just get on it.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll call as soon as I have something. Good bye.”
He hung up the phone without really knowing why he hadn’t told his boss about Susan Darnall’s work schedule on that fateful Sunday.
10:02 AM, Monterey
To say that Zamora found Kitfox to be an unusual study for an FBI agent would be an understatement. Not that she’d worked with that many, but those she had were always so stuffed-shirt, just-the-facts that she somehow felt she was a suspect herself. Kitfox not only didn’t think she was a suspect, he didn’t seem to think her suspect was a suspect.
She pulled her unmarked car into the brownstone parking structure between Del Monte and Franklin, and parked on the first level.
“This is the garage where Durant parked every day,” she said as they got out. “He would have walked here from the bank, two blocks up Alvarado.”
“Any possibility Darnall was following?”
“We’re pretty sure she was lying in wait,” Zamora said as she began to walk toward the south elevator.
“Making it capital murder.”
“Well, that means she would have had to research the man, his habits, his car, where he parked it, even known he was going to put in three hours overtime on the night of the murder.”
“Maybe that explains the clothes,” Kitfox said as she pushed the button for level three. “Maybe she expected him much earlier, and she wound up waiting up here for three hours.”
“That’s possible, though not likely. I’ll show you why when we get up there. In any case, it doesn’t change anything. Whether she had to wait up here or not, the important circumstances remain in place.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
The elevator stopped, and the doors opened on Level Three. This was a very different scene. While there were still plenty of cars up here, it wasn’t the packed and bustling scene of Level One. Most cars had at least one empty space beside them, and there was no one in view anywhere.
“Most of the locals who work downtown park up here,” she told him. “Level One and, during the season, Level Two are full of tourists, and the people who prey on them. Up here, your car is less likely to be broken into, or bashed by the door of a rental car whose driver couldn’t care less. You can see how it is now, and this is late morning. You can imagine what it’s like after everyone has gone home.”
“Yes, I see.” He followed her toward the south face as she continued her narrative.
“One of the first things we did was go door-to-door among the businesses, asking everyone we could find who parks up here whether they saw anything unusual on the night of the murder. After they said no, we asked specifically about any suspicious persons lurking around with no apparent reason to be here.”
“And did anyone remember Darnall?”
“No. I have to believe that if she’d been up here for three hours, somebody would have seen her.”
They arrived at a parking space against the south face, empty, and Zamora pointed out a large brown stain straddling the line between it and the next one, which was occupied by a red Nissan.
“This is where he was stabbed multiple times by his assailant. If you look around, you’ll see there are no nearby hiding places.”
“There could have been a large vehicle parked nearby.”
“Not according to the report. The patrol officers were up here within minutes.”
“A lot can happen in minutes.”
“We checked the records. Nothing left during those minutes. Anyway, despite that, we’re pretty sure she ambushed him.”
“How do you know that?”
“All but one of the stab wounds were in the front, administered as he lay on his back, already dying, but one, the only one that had to have been delivered first, was in the back. Punctured his right kidney, and probably damaged the small intestine. It was likely the pain of that one that knocked him down.”
“So, if she got over here quickly and quietly enough to hit him during the short time he was unlocking his car, that implies some sort of martial arts practice, be it the military, traditional karate-type training, something like that.”
“It seems to.”
“Did you check?”
“She denies having any. We certainly couldn’t find any records, although a lot of that stuff goes on person-to-person, and isn’t recorded. She certainly hasn’t served in the military.”
“And that’s where your theory breaks down.”
“No, she did it. There’s just some other explanation. She may have studied dance or gymnastics when she was younger. Those people can be pretty light-footed. What we have to do now is crack through this amnesia, which I’m still not entirely convinced is genuine, by the way.”
“Has she had an evaluation?”
“No. Her lawyer is demanding a court order first.”
“That’s good. You violate her due process, it’ll cause all kinds of problems later. But, let’s say she committed one of the bloodiest crimes in local history. If she’s really the devoted pacifist she says she is, the realization could have set up a block to reality.”
“Hey, come on!”
“No, you come on. If she’s really the devoted pacifist she says she is, then she didn’t dress for a fight, select a weapon, and lie in wait so she could butcher one of the community’s most respected businessmen like a hog. You’ll need another theory, Lieutenant.”
“Maybe so. Have you seen enough?”
“Yeah. Not much more we can infer from here.”
“Let’s get out of here, then.”
“Oh, one other thing. Did Darnall drive here?”
“No, she walked. She lives on Anthony, by the park. It’s only five blocks. Her husband and son didn’t even know she’d left. Come on, I’ll be late for court. Lunch is on me.”
12:58 PM, Monterey
A casual tourist in slacks and a polo shirt, Kitfox strolled through the capacious aquarium. Zamora would be tied up in court all afternoon, he was a paying guest, and no one would be the wiser as he conducted his research.
The grandeur of the place was staggering, and he had no difficulty entering his role as a fascinated tourist. He had stood spellbound before the gently waving fronds of the Kelp Forest for twenty minutes, watching a thousand fish ply their trade among the big brown leaves as the crabs and lobsters foraged below. Now he was staring through the world’s largest window into the murky depths of the Outer Bay, and wondering how on earth they had gotten predators and prey to coexist like this. That was a trick that law enforcement could profit by learning.
Watching the big seven gill shark cruise past the glass one last time, Kitfox made the unconscious adjustment to work mode, and began to tackle the task at hand. Strolling left to a corridor decorated with breathtaking open ocean photography, he headed back toward the Flippers, Flukes, and Fun area, his ears assailed by the rising sounds of excited children as he approached.
Turning left from the hall, he saw that all the children were in a room beyond, doing he cared not to see what. To his left was a snack window manned by an acne-plagued surfer type, and it was to this window that he went.
“May I help you, sir?” the kid asked before he even reached the window. Fresh young go-getter, just like at Disneyland.
“Fritos and a Pepsi,” Kitfox said, opening his wallet. “Is Susan working today?”
“Little blonde Susan?”
“No. Thirtysomething, dark hair.”
“Oh, Mrs. Darnall. Are you a friend of hers?”
“I wouldn’t call it that. I come down once in a while to get away from it all, and we’ve talked a few times. She seems nice. Thought I might talk to her again.”
“Dude, we all thought she was nice! Haven’t you heard?”
The kid leaned forward and looked outside the counter before continuing.
“She killed a bank manager the other day. Cut him to ribbons with a butcher knife.”
“No!” Kitfox was properly shocked.
“Yeah, dude! The cops found her right after she did it. She had his blood all over her, the news said.”
“But she was so pleasant.”
“Yeah, she was. Everybody here liked her, that’s for sure. Just goes to show you, I guess.”
“Everybody’s got, like, negative vibes, man, and if you don’t have an outlet for ’em, they’re comin’ out anyway.”
“You could be right.”
“I know I’m right, man. Just look at Susan.”
“I guess so. What’s your outlet?”
“Surf, dude. Nothin’ compares with it.”
“That’s good, kid,” the FBI Special Agent said, thinking of all the kids this boy’s age who had made one wrong turn somewhere, and were doing time or pushing up grass. “Stick with it.”
“Nice talking to you, man,” the kid said. “Have a good day.”
A nice person, Kitfox thought as he stepped around the corner and dropped his snacks into a waste can. Of course, so was Darnall.
He made his way down to the main floor, careful not to look too purposeful, and, feigning interest in the family of Gray Whales hanging from the high ceiling, walked back to the Portola Cafe, really a cafeteria-style snack bar with some of the most outrageous prices north of Sea World. This time he ordered a hot dog and a milk, and as he fished out the seven dollars, he asked his innocuous question.”
“Is Susan working today?”
“Susan?” the middle aged volunteer behind the counter repeated. “Susan Darnall, or Susan Blakely?”
“I don’t know her last name. Dark hair, thirtyish.”
“Are you a friend of hers?”
Good, lady, don’t talk to strangers.
“No. We’ve just met here a couple of times when I’ve visited. I just thought I’d say hi if she was here.”
“Oh, I see. Well, she isn’t here today.”
“That’s too bad. Do you know when she’ll be back?”
“Not anytime soon, I’m afraid.”
“Oh? Is she all right?”
“Don’t you have television where you come from?”
“She’s been arrested for murder. It’s the big story from here to Seattle.”
“My God, I hadn’t heard! She seemed so nice.”
“Yes, they all do, don’t they?”
“Well, whenever somebody goes off and murders their whole family, it’s never some drugged out gang kid, is it? It’s always a decorated Eagle Scout or something. All the school shootings, it’s never someone that anybody suspected, is it?”
“I never thought of that. So, you must have seen it coming, then?”
“Well, not specifically.” She set his hot dog on a paper plate atop the glass food case, and put the cardboard carton of milk beside it. “She had trouble at home, though. The sweet ones always do.”
“That’s a shame,” Kitfox said, trying hard not to sound interested. “What was she, being abused or something?”
“No, at least not so it showed, but she never talked much about her home life. I don’t think it offered her much, if you get my drift.”
“No, I’m afraid I don’t.”
“Well, when you’re just nice all the time, and there’s nothing stimulating going on there, it had to be tough on her husband, tough on her, for that matter.”
“You knew the family, then?”
“Oh, no. He brought their son in a couple of times to pick her up. You can just tell, you know? You’d have to see him to understand.”
“Good afternoon, Sharon,” came a familiar voice from just behind him. “I see you’ve met FBI Agent Kitfox.”
The woman’s jaw dropped, and Kitfox turned to see Donna Maple standing behind him looking none too happy.
“Agent Kitfox is investigating Susan’s involvement in our local murder. But of course, he told you all that.”
“N- no, ma’am.” the woman stammered.
“I see. Are you going to eat that, or was it purchased as a blind?”
“At these prices, I have to eat it.”
“Bring it with you, then,” Maple said, and walked to a corner table. They sat down together, and as he reached for the mustard bottle, Maple continued.
“Agent Kitfox, I appreciate that you are trying to help Susan, or at least, that’s what I thought. Perhaps you lied to me as well.”
“Well, be that as it may, if you wish to come here as a paying guest and enjoy our exhibits, we will be pleased to welcome you as such. If, however, you are working on your case, I will let you in for free, and ask you to keep your credentials in plain sight at all times, do I make myself clear?”
“Crystal clear, madam.”
“Good.” Maple rose to go. “And, Agent Kitfox, take anything that woman may have told you with a large grain of salt. She is the biggest gossip since Judas.”
1:24 PM, Monterey
She was long and lean, auburn hair pulled back into a short ponytail that lay in a well behaved apostrophe between her shoulders as her fifteen speed bicycle made a graceful, sweeping turn into the garage below the Monterey Marriott. Her name was Kathy Benson, and she was the Social Coordinator for the Hotel and Conference Center. This was one of those titles that meant she did everything but wash dishes, but the outgoing twenty-five year old loved it.
From the heady responsibility of coordinating the facilities and activities of one the Pacific Rim’s most prestigious hostelries to the simple pleasure of working the lobby and mixing with the guests, Kathy was at home. She had started working part time in reception four years ago, and had long since ceased to visualize any other career. Today was her first day back from vacation, and she was fresh, new, and ready to launch herself into her routine.
“Kathy, hi!” The voice belonged to a black-haired woman who opened a side door as Kathy carried her bike up the service stairwell toward the rear. “I didn’t know you were back.”
“Hi, Carmen!” The best friends waved an air kiss toward each other. “This is my first day back. I’ve been in my office all morning.”
“First day back? This is Thursday.” Carmen Medina joined Kathy for the two additional flights to the staff offices.
“Always travel in mid-week,” Kathy advised her. “You miss the weekend rush.”
“So, how was Cabo?”
“Oh, it was heaven! I would have stayed an extra week if we didn’t have this conference coming up.”
“A bunch of stodgy old bankers, and whatnot? We could have handled it, really.” Medina held the door as Benson wrestled her bike through it.
“Have you forgotten what I’ve taught you? We don’t make those judgments. If it’s important enough for them to come here, it’s important enough for our best attention.”
“I was just kidding, but really, we could have done it.”
“I know.” They reached her office, and she leaned her bike against the wall and tossed her purple helmet toward the closet. “I’d been gone long enough. Cabo was nice, but why do I need to stay there when the world comes to me?”
“I need to rent some of that attitude.”
Benson took a hairbrush from her desk drawer, a neat cream-colored hotel “uniform” from the closet, and a rather small purse from her chair, and headed across the hall to the ladies’ room.
“Really, what did you do there?”
Benson stepped into a stall and began to change from her spandex bike suit to her tasteful hotel clothes.
“I swam, I read, I walked on the beach in the moonlight . . . I guess you could sum it all up by saying I rested.”
“And, you know!”
“No, I don’t.” Benson stepped out of the stall dressed now in her suit, looking disheveled, and going to the big mirror in the entry to apply the final polish.
“You know, what about, did you meet any guys?”
“And, what, did I sleep with them?”
“Nooooo! Honestly, Carmen, I didn’t go down there to get laid. I can do that at home.”
“Yeah, with the same old guy. I hear Cabo’s just full of Latin lovers.”
Benson studied her friend’s face in the mirror. She was what people called a voluptuous beauty, a full-blooded Portugesa, a little heavy to Benson’s way of thinking, which was to say that she was round in all the right places, and her olive-skinned face was dominated by wide, full, pouty lips. It was a look that made guys fall down and try to keep breathing, and that quest for the cosmic orgasm she was on certainly didn’t detract from the look. She shook her head at her friend’s brazen talk.
“It isn’t restful to me to be spending my time wondering what my sex partner was doing to who an hour before I met him.” She began to reapply her eyeliner. “Then there’s the little thing about how my fiance would take it if he found out. Not a pretty picture. It was just pure relaxation, from being waited on like a princess to catching up with my reading, to doing what I wanted, when I wanted. They even had nature sounds in the headboard. The last thing I needed was some grunting gigolo screwing that up.”
The two friends shared a laugh at the imagery.
“Well, you make it sound too good for us working girls. I’ll have to get down there some day.”
“I’ll hook you up with my travel agent. You’ll be amazed at how affordable it is.”
“I’ll look into it. I’d better get back to work. It wouldn’t do for Her Highness to come in here and find me socializing with the Social Director.”
“Okay,” Benson said around a lip liner brush, “I’ll see you later on, then.”
2:19 PM, San Francisco
“Harvey, come in, sit down,” Krieger greeted him. Harvey Dixon entered his boss’s office for maybe the thousandth time since he had become an Assistant Special Agent in Charge. This time, instead of being seated behind his desk, SAC Krieger, head of the San Francisco Field Office, was seated at the folding conference table with two other people, a man and a woman. Dixon took a chair across from them, sizing them up as he did so. The woman looked like a liberated feminist from the mid-seventies, a miniature man in a tailored business suit. The man, thin and sallow-faced, had the pinched look of a bean counter.
“Harvey, you know Doctor Fields.”
“Yes.” Dixon nodded toward the woman, Dr. Jacqueline Fields. Dr. Fields was a psychologist with the Office of Professional Responsibility, the dreaded OPR, a branch which investigated allegations of misconduct by field agents. It operated out of Washington, directly responsible to the Deputy Director, but for the past four months, this shrink had been attached to the local office, and no one could find out why.
“And this is Oscar Stevenson of the Inspection Division. I’ve asked him to sit in on this meeting for evaluation purposes, and because he might have something to contribute.”
“How do you do?” The Inspector rose to a crouch and offered a cold-fish handshake.
“Pleased to meet you.”
“All right,” Krieger began, “to get right to it, the subject of this meeting is the performance of Special Agent Leon Kitfox, currently on a routine assignment in Monterey. As you all have been briefed, Agent Kitfox was sent to Monterey yesterday on a simple jurisdiction determination concerning a suspect the local police have in custody. We anticipated a few hours at most to make a few inquiries and report back. It is now coming up on two days, and Agent Kitfox has offered no finding on his assignment, other than to say the suspect, who was caught quite literally red-handed, doesn’t fit the profile, and he’s still investigating.”
“Is that unusual?” the bean counter asked. “I mean, you want a fair and complete assessment, don’t you?”
“Special Agent Kitfox has a predisposition toward fantastic scenarios,” Dr. Fields responded.
“Now, hold on, Doctor,” Dixon said. “That’s a pretty serious allegation to level against a field operative.”
“It is nonetheless true,” she said, making a show of flipping pages in a folder before her. “According to his own reports, last year he was sent to Sausalito in response to their request for Bureau assistance with a serial rapist. While he diverted local law enforcement resources into a fruitless search for some imaginary denizens of the storm drainage system, another woman was raped, and this time killed in the attack.”
“I say!” Stevenson exclaimed.
“And if you’d spent as much time looking for facts as looking for faults,” Dixon told her, “you’d also be noting that he was following a perfectly legitimate evidence trail at the time.”
“A trail that was planted by the perpetrator to mislead his pursuers.”
“How nice it would be if we could all spot false leads without the benefit of hindsight!”
“Use of the deductive process is supposed to eliminate the pursuit of false leads.”
“Bull Shit!” Dixon said, making it two distinct words. “Have you ever been out there with nothing to investigate but a cigarette butt and three pubic hairs while victim after victim piles up around you?”
“That’s beside the point.”
“That is the point! It’s pretty God damned disingenuous—”
“Harvey,” Krieger warned.
“Pretty disingenuous for you to send him out on an assignment, then sit around here second-guessing him while he’s trying to work. If you don’t trust him to work in the field, then fire him, or put him on admin duties, but as long as he’s a field agent, he deserves better than this.”
“Harvey, you’re overreacting,” Krieger said.
“I have to agree,” said Fields.
“I guess you’ll be making a file on me next,” Dixon said.
“I’m afraid I must side with the A-Sack on this one,” said Stevenson. “This smacks of politicking over any sort of operational evaluation.”
“With all due respect, Inspector, who asked you?”
“Why, you did, Mr. Krieger. It would have been child’s play to hold this meeting while I was otherwise occupied, but instead you made a point of inviting me to it. I can only take that to mean you expect an opinion. Your assistant is absolutely right. If this agent is incompetent, then gather your evidence and charge him before the OPR. Otherwise, if you choose to send him into the field, he deserves your full support. I’m afraid this little kangaroo court will command a prominent place in my report to my superiors.”
“Now, look,” Krieger said in an entirely different tone, “we have these little discussions all the time. It’s like playing devil’s advocate. It’s how we keep involved with our field operations. There’s no need to put a negative spin on it.”
“I don’t have to,” the bean counter said, getting up and closing his notebook. “This is the most appalling back room maneuvering I’ve witnessed in my four years with the Inspection Division. If you’ve no further need of me, I’m going outside for some clean air.”
“I’ll join you,” Dixon said, getting up without asking for permission.
“All right,” Krieger said, “we’ll continue Kitfox in place for now, but I’m warning you, there’d better not be any little green man from Uranus in his report.”
Dixon left without answering, and joined the Inspector in the hall.
“I’d like to thank you for taking my side in there,” he said, thinking that allies could be found in the strangest places.
“No thanks necessary, A-Sack. Right is right. I may have frightened your boss off with my little speech, but that shrink is a different matter. She seems to have her sights set on your agent for some reason of her own, and he may be in more trouble than anyone knows right now. You’d do well to keep an eye on her, Dixon. Well, good day.”