7:43 AM, Monterey
Kitfox double-checked the address. 2998 Anthony, a pleasant little house dating back to the early fifties. The lawn was well-kept, the paint was spotless, but things were deteriorating. It looked like the last trash pickup had been missed, and a few cans and a plastic bag were clustered around the modest porch. Well, that was to be expected.
The door was answered by a tall man, well but lightly built, who wore suit pants with an unbuttoned shirt, and an undone necktie hanging down.
“We don’t want any,” the man said, juggling a coffee cup and cordless phone.
“Special Agent Kitfox, FBI,” Kitfox said, holding up his card case. The man stopped all his disorganized motion and stared at him for a moment.
“Bill,” he said to the phone, “I’ll call you back . . . Yeah, it’s important . . . Within the hour, then . . . Bye.” He switched off the phone and laid it down, but made no move to open the door. “You here about Susan?”
“That’s right. Can I come in?”
“I don’t know. Do I need a lawyer?”
“That’s up to you. Why don’t you let me start the interview, and if you feel like you need a lawyer, I’ll wait until you can get one.”
“Okay.” The man opened the door then, and waved Kitfox toward the couch. “Coffee?”
“No, thanks,” Kitfox said, looking around at the decor. Again, the room was well ordered, but things were beginning to pile up. The television was small and unobtrusive, bearing out what Susan Darnall had said about loving to interact with people. “You’re the husband?”
“Oh, sorry. Yes, Jeff Darnall.” He extended his hand, and Kitfox shook it. Darnall sat down in the matching armchair and said, “I have to tell you, officer, I’ve already been interviewed close to a hundred times, and I don’t intend to tell you anything that’s going to incriminate my wife.”
“I’m not going to ask you to. I’ve read the reports, and I’ve met your wife, and I don’t think we’re seeing everything that’s in front of us.”
“But the police said there was no question.” Darnall looked confused, and took a drink of coffee.
“The circumstances seem to show conclusively that she wielded the knife, but in my interview, and in the police transcripts, I never felt like I was listening to a murderer. I guess that’s why I’m here. Something about this case just doesn’t feel right, and I thought perhaps if there was a medical reason, or she was under some extraordinary pressure, the husband might be in tune with it, and able to offer some insight.”
“Or are you here to gain my confidence in some sort of good cop, bad cop routine?”
“That technique is used mostly to break an alibi. The local police feel that they have an ironclad case against her. I just want to make sure that we understand all the factors that may have led up to her cracking.”
“Susan didn’t crack!” Darnall leaned back and took a deep breath as he studied the ceiling. “Susan’s always been so together, you know, so calm. She’s like the eye of our little storm here, always unflustered, no matter what’s going on around her.”
“Sometimes people like that snap when they’ve just taken too much. Was she under a lot of pressure at work, maybe?”
“What, at the aquarium? Have you been down there? Have you seen that environment?”
“She thrived down there. She came home to us better than ever.”
“How about this banker, Durant? Did he recently turn you down for a loan, something like that?”
“No. We didn’t even know the man, or I didn’t, at least. Oh, we knew of him. He’s a pillar of the community, or was, but that’s not even our bank. We’re with Union.”
Kitfox stared at the coffee table, stroked his beardless chin. There was something else here, if he could just nail it down. While he struggled to capture the elusive clue that shifted constantly to stay just out of his view, a boy ran down the stairs with a stack of books, clothes unkempt, darting into the kitchen without a glance around. This would be Peter, the Darnall’s nine-year old.
“Gotta go, Dad!” the boy said, returning with a huge chocolate donut in his small hand. Then he noticed Kitfox, and stopped.
“Are you a policeman?” he asked.
“Yes, I am, son.”
“I’m not your son! Are you gonna send my mommy to prison?”
“I sure hope not.”
“Hurry up, Petey, you’ll miss the bus. Let’s have a kiss.”
The boy gave his father a peck on the cheek, and they exchanged a long hug. As Kitfox watched this domestic scene play out with its shadow of tragedy looming in the background, he knew that woman in the jail cell didn’t give all this up to kill a man she’d never met, no matter what the provocation might have been. So, where was the key? It was maddening, this feeling that something was right in front of him, and he couldn’t see it. He needed to think.
“I apologize for him,” Darnall said when his son had bounded out the door. “He isn’t taking this well.”
“I shouldn’t imagine he would be. Anyway, I’ve taken up enough of your time.” He stood and offered a business card to Darnall. “If you think of anything that might help your wife, call me anytime day or night. I’m at the Holiday Inn here. That number’s on the back.”
“I will,” Darnall said, rising to walk him to the door. “Why is the FBI interested in this?”
“There was a similar case out of state. I was sent to look for a connection.”
“Is there one?” Darnall opened the door.
“Not likely. Your wife was at work when it happened.”
“Well, that’s good, at least.”
“Yeah. Oh, hey, I don’t know whether this amounts to anything, but three months ago, Susan and I were going to go to Cabo San Lucas to get away for a week. Something came up at work, and I couldn’t go, but I sent her anyway, just to relax, you know. Ever since she got back, she’s had monster headaches, two, sometimes three a week.”
“Yeah. Never had them before.”
“Did she see a doctor?”
“Yes. We thought she might have picked up something down there, but he couldn’t find any physical cause. Suggested she see a shrink.”
“Hell, no! She’s not crazy, she just has headaches.”
“Yeah, I see what you mean. Well, if you think of anything else—”
“I’ll call you right away.”
“Good day, Mr. Darnall.”
“Yeah, so long,” Darnall said distractedly, studying the card he held in his hand.
What kind of name is Kitfox, anyway?
11:46 AM, Monterey
Dressed in her black leotard, the one with the fuchsia panels down both sides that gave her the appearance of the long, lean body line she so coveted, Kathy Benson stepped from her office closet and downed the remainder of the health shake she had mixed. Her lunch hour didn’t start until noon, but that was too far off to sit at her desk and pretend to work, and too near to start a new project. What the hell, no one would mind if she left a few minutes early, and anyway, her appearance was very much a part of her job.
She arrived at the second floor health spa, acknowledged the greetings of a few guests, and hung her towel on a bar. She consumed ten minutes in an aggressive stretching routine, then stepped behind one of the unoccupied pec decks and pinned the weight stack at eighty pounds.
Taking a seat, she pressed her forearms against the pads and grunted out five or six strokes before returning to the back and resetting the stack at one hundred. Sitting down again, she pressed out twenty reps, helped by the facial expressions of a woman in labor, took a thirty second rest, and ground out twenty more. After another short rest, she hung her towel around her neck, moved to a treadmill, and began a brisk jog.
Suddenly, Carmen Medina stepped onto the treadmill next to her, and began to jog in time with her friend. A wave of irritation swept over Benson at the blatantly sexual outfit Medina had chosen, black Spandex with brightly colored stripes up both sides. Did the woman have no shame?
Surprised at both the thought, and its intensity, Benson said, “Hi, Carmen. I didn’t know you were here.”
“I was warming up behind you. What’s with the hundred pound crunches?”
“Nothing special. I’m trying to get in shape, that’s all.”
“Get in shape? You already look like you could mix it up in the MMA!”
“Don’t be silly,” Benson dismissed her, turning up the speed slightly on her treadmill. “I just got a good start on my vacation, and I want to keep it going.”
Medina turned up her speed to match.
“You keep it up, and you’ll wind up looking like those steroid chicks in the magazines.”
“Okay, wrong. First of all, I’m not a chick. Second, I’ll never look like that, because I don’t overdo it. I just get a healthy buzz from all this.” She turned her treadmill up again, running like a gazelle as she entered an area where Medina dared not follow. “Besides, these headaches just melt away when I work like this.”
Her friend just stared in awe as Benson powered through a domain commonly reserved for professional athletes.
12:54 PM, Monterey
“Mary, I need the deposition from the DeWarrens file, and I also need an appointment with Captain Stanning for tomorrow morning.”
“Oh, and Mary,” Zamora said, turning back to her, “tell Patrolman Carstens to see me before his meeting with the CA Office. We have to be rock-solid on his probably cause for the Enriquez arrest.”
“I’ll see to it.”
Kitfox admired efficiency without regard to the gender of its wielder, and Zamora caught him smiling at her when she turned.
“Special Agent Kitfox,” she greeted him.
“What brings you back to the zoo?”
“I just came by to say good-bye, and check out.”
“Say good-bye?” She turned him by the elbow and began to walk him down a long hallway. “Are you finished already?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“I’ve placed Susan Darnall at work at the aquarium in plain view of credible witnesses during the time the Nevada murder was being committed. No state lines were crossed, no bombs were used, no police were involved in the actual killings, so my work here is done.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that.”
“And what about the innocent Ms. Darnall? Don’t you want to stay on and try to clear her?”
“You know the rules on FBI involvement in local cases. Anyway, I don’t think I ever said she was innocent.”
“But you don’t think she’s guilty.”
“No, I just don’t think she fits the savage killer profile. There’s something else going on here that we’re all missing.”
Zamora stopped and lifted an eyebrow.
“Like sewer people?”
Kitfox fixed her with an unamused stare.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “Listen, have you had lunch yet?”
“Just came from there.”
“Yeah, me, too. Come on, I’ll buy us some coffee.” She walked a few doors along the hall and led him into a painfully institutionalized coffee mess. Two uniforms sat at a cheap Formica table drinking from paper cups and comparing notebooks. They nodded at the Lieutenant and went on with their work.
“This is more like it,” Kitfox observed as she drew two cups of rough station house coffee.
“Well, you wouldn’t think a quiet little town like this would keep its cops this busy.”
“This is a quiet little town, my friend, because we stay on top of it. Sugar?”
“Sugar. In your coffee.”
“Oh. No, thanks.”
She passed him one of the steaming cups.
“So, what do you think it is that everyone’s overlooking?”
“If I knew that, we wouldn’t be overlooking it, would we?”
“But you’ve seen something.”
“Nothing the rest of you haven’t seen.”
“Your perp. You’ve got a middle class, white bread suburbanite who abhors violence to the point that her kid can’t watch football who butchers a banker like Jack the Ripper. Am I the only one who sees anything wrong with that?”
“Hey, it happens. How many times have you seen the Eagle Scout honor student go off and murder his family?”
“Twice,” said one of the cops.
“How’s that?” asked Kitfox.
The cop was creeping up on fifty, still in shape, but obviously relying on his partner for the foot chases.
“Saw it twice. Once up in Seaside, summer of eighty-five, I think, or was it eighty-six? Anyway, the kid was an honest-to-God Eagle Scout. Flew off the handle one day, blew his parents away with a .410 shotgun.”
“Yeah, and then, I guess it was three years ago, nice place by the park, this kid was on the football team at Monterey High. Shoo-in for a scholarship. Had an old jalopy he and his dad were fixing up. He had a brother about four. One Saturday he was working on the car, little brother was getting on his last nerve, you know, ‘why, why, why?'”
“Kid threw him up on the work bench and drilled a hole in his heart. Dad was right on the other side of the car. Happened so fast, he couldn’t do a thing. You never know what’s going to set somebody off.”
“Yeah, but this banker wasn’t a family member. Darnall didn’t even know him.”
“That hasn’t been established yet.”
“Maybe not, but she just doesn’t fit, and you all know it.”
“And you don’t want to stay around and try to solve the mystery?” Zamora asked.
“Nothing I’d like better, but you know the rules. If we’re not involved, we’re not involved, and that’s that. Anyway, this seems to be a good police force here, and she has a competent attorney. You’ll sort it out.”
“I hope you’re right. Are you going back tonight, then?”
“Probably. I’ll call my boss first. It’s Friday afternoon. Maybe he’ll grant me a day of R-and-R.”
5:20 PM, Monterey
The underground garage of the Marriott was seldom crowded during the dinner hour, and Kathy Benson knew to take advantage of the light traffic to make her way up to the street. Entering the garage from the stairway door, she leaned her expensive mountain bike against her hip and strapped on her helmet. As she checked the rear carrier that held her work clothes, a blast from a shrill treble horn shocked her, and she jerked around to see Carmen Medina in her lime-green Mazda Miata pull up behind her.
“You’d better save some of that energy!” Medina shouted. “It’s only a week until PacRim starts.”
“Don’t remind me!” Benson said with a laugh. “This is part of my training regime.”
“Like getting ready for a title fight, huh?”
“Yeah, one that goes on for a week!” She straddled the bike, getting ready to push off.
“Okay, hon,” Medina said, “see you tomorrow. Be careful out there. The streets are full of idiots.”
“Don’t worry about me,”Medina said with a smile, “I’m one of them!”
With that, she floored the accelerator, screeching the tires all the way to and around the corner, shooting up the ramp to the street, and screeching them again as she barely slowed before rocketing out into rush hour traffic. Benson smiled and shook her head, and peddled away toward the exit.