8:09 AM, Monterey
Leon Kitfox was frustrated. Something about Susan Darnall’s situation nagged at him, refused to fall easily into place, and he threw his extra clothes into the small suitcase in response. What the hell could it be? Slam! It wasn’t just that she claimed innocence. Slam! Hell, Richard Speck himself claimed innocence. Slam! What was he not seeing? He was jerked out of this internal dialogue by the blaring ring of the motel telephone.
“There is a call for you from the Monterey Police Department. Will you take it in your room?”
There followed a series of clicks, then the hollow sound of an open line.
“Hello, Special Agent Kitfox.”
“Good morning, Agent Kitfox. This is Lieutenant Zamora. I was afraid I might have missed you. Have you eaten yet?”
“I was going to do that on the road.”
“That’s a terrible way to treat your body. know a great breakfast place down on Tyler. Care to join me?”
“I’ve been told to get back.”
“I don’t know . . .”
“It’s Saturday, Leon,” she told him, surprising him by using his first name. “Nobody’s going to miss you until Monday. Unless you just want to leave . . .”
No, he didn’t just want to leave, and it had nothing to do with the prickly Mexican woman who was asking him out for breakfast. She was right about nobody missing him, either. Oh, someone would note that the weekend skeleton crew hadn’t logged his return bright and early Saturday, but he was off the clock for the weekend.
“You’re right,” he said. “Where is this place?”
“Just park in the garage on Franklin. I’ll meet you. How long?”
“Well, I’m dressed and shaved, so, twenty minutes?”
“Wow. Make it thirty.”
“Thirty it is.”
“See you then.”
He hung up the phone, frustration replaced by curiosity. Was this business? Or pleasure? He reviewed his actions in the presence of the street-smart, independent police professional, and could think of nothing that might have made her believe he was interested in socializing. For that matter, she had done nothing to make him think she was, either. So it had to be professional. But why take him to breakfast? If what she had to say was too sensitive for the phone, why didn’t she call him to the station?
He let it drop. He didn’t know the woman well enough to gauge her methods, and he would find out soon enough in any case. He pulled a sport coat over his tieless dress shirt, and made the two mile drive downtown to find her waiting at the garage entrance in a cream-colored pantsuit that set off her thick black hair like a raven’s wing.
His curiosity went up a notch.
She greeted him at his car, and led him jaywalking across the street to a red brick building from an earlier era. Bonnie’s Home Kitchen, the tastefully muted sign declared. The interior continued the theme, with bare linoleum floors, and small kitchen-type tables and chairs with red-and-white checked tablecloths. A deli case lined to walls, and as Zamora took two menus from a rack and led him to a table, a young man behind the counter wished them a good morning.
“They really serve a good breakfast here,” she said, ignoring her menu as he studied the bewildering array of dishes on his. “Do you come to Monterey often?”
“This is my second visit. How are the eggs?”
“Fresh daily. You live in San Francisco, and you’ve only been to Monterey twice?”
“I vacation north of the city. Big trees and less people, you know. It’s my Native American blood. How about you? Do you get up to the city much?”
“Couple of times a year. I love it. I’d move up there if I could get onto the force.”
“Different world up there. Lots of crime.”
“What’s a cop’s life without crime?”
“Good morning, Inez,” the waitress greeted her. She was a little older than he would have expected, and fit the restaurant’s theme perfectly. “Are you two ready to order?”
“Okay. I’ll have the short stack with scrambled eggs and sausage, black coffee, and a large orange juice.”
“And you, hon?”
“I’ll just have my usual, Grace.”
“Very good. That’ll be right up,” and away she went.
“Your usual? You must come here often.”
“Almost every morning. I come for lunch, too, when I can get away. This deli is to die for.”
“You eat at a deli?”
“Something wrong with that?”
“I just don’t picture you eating at a place like this.”
“What do you think, I buy my groceries at Taco Bell?”
“No, of course not! I just . . . I guess maybe I did.”
“Honesty. An unusual trait in a man.”
His curiosity took a step in a new direction.
“So, what are we doing here?” he asked.
“Yes, but to what purpose? Do you have new information about the case?”
“I’m extending a professional courtesy to a fellow law enforcement officer, is that all right?”
“Is this department policy? Will you be reimbursed for this?”
“Look, can’t I just take a colleague to breakfast because I’ve enjoyed working with him?”
“Sure you can. Why didn’t you just say that when you called?”
“Because I didn’t want you to think . . . Oh, hell, you must think I’m throwing myself at you.”
“Nothing of the kind,” he said. “We’re just two professionals getting through an awkward moment.”
“You’re an interesting man, Leon Kitfox,” she said after a moment.
“Maybe more so than you think.”
“What does that mean?”
“Just small talk.”
“I doubt that.”
“What does that mean?”
“You’re going back today, then?”
“I thought you wanted to prove that Susan Darnall was innocent.”
“I’ve never believed she was innocent. I believe there’s some mitigating circumstance here that we’re not seeing, but there’s no doubt she killed him.”
“And you don’t want to try to find that circumstance?”
“It’s not my place. I’ve been recalled.”
“Maybe FBI assistance would be helpful to us.”
“You know all our resources are available to any police force that cares to utilize them.”
“Sure, but I don’t need a crime lab report. It’s like you said, there’s something here that we’re missing, and you, personally, are tuned in to that.”
“But, alas, you’ll have to do it yourselves. You know I can’t just step into a local investigation without some reasonable cause.”
“How about that the investigating officer needs your help?”
“That won’t fly.”
“Look, I’m not much of a player when it comes to women, but I can’t help thinking that there’s something else going on here.”
“You think I’m hitting on you.”
“I don’t know. Like I said, I’m not much of a player.”
“Susan Darnall. Susan Darnall. That name is engraved on my brain in red flashing neon letters. I’m just like you in that respect. It’s funny, you know, here I am, a Mexican. I enforce the white man’s law, and mostly that enforcement takes the form of snapping the cuffs on people of color. Now I’m involved in the definitive case of my career, I’ve put the cuffs on a suburban, white-bread, card-carrying member of the Rotary Club, and I know in my heart of hearts that the woman I have in that cell is one piece of a big jigsaw puzzle. I know that you know it, too, and I need your mind on this case. I feel like that guy on the Twilight Zone who was the only person who could see the aliens. If you leave, Susan Darnall’s going to the wall, something big is going to get away from us, and we’ll never even know what it was.”
“Oh, so that’s what we’re doing here. I’ll tell you what. The weekend’s mine. If you want to spend it fretting over work, we can start with that.”
10:02 AM, Monterey
“Good morning, San Francisco FBI, this is Merriam. How may I assist you?”
“Merriam, this is Leon.”
“Good morning, Agent Kitfox. Are you back in town?”
“No, ma’am, I’m still in Monterey.”
“Agent Kitfox,” she said conspiratorially, “if you don’t get back here soon, you’re going to get into a great deal of trouble.”
“For what, spending my weekend in a tourist mecca?”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“I won’t. Who’s on the duty desk today?”
“Special Agents Hackworth and Desmond.”
“Splendid. Put me through, won’t you?”
“Are you sure?”
“All right. Hold on.”
He went on hold, catching a bar of How Deep is Your Love. What the hell was that? The FBI should play the Mission: Impossible theme to its callers. A second later, the line went live again.
Kitfox heard the harsh Joisey accent, and pictured Special Agent Rick Hackworth perched on the corner of the desk, coat off to expose his hardware, cheap tie pulled loose and off to one side. He viewed himself as Elliot Ness, engaged in protecting society from Al Capone. Kitfox had never figured out how the screening process had missed this guy.
“Rick, it’s Leon.”
“Yeah, I know. Whaddaya got?”
“I’m expecting a set of fingerprints from Nevada, and it occurs to me they may have gone there. Do you have anything?”
“Hang on, I’ll look.”
There was the clunk of the phone hitting the desk; no elevator music with this guy. He looked up to see Zamora quickly look down, then Joisey was back.
“Nuthin’ in the tray,” he said without preamble. “Anything else?”
“Did you look on my desk?”
“All right, all right, hang on a minute.”
Another clunk, and Kitfox took another look at Zamora, who was pointedly studying the Durant crime scene photos. Kitfox studied her with equal attention, feeling admiration for this tough, capable woman who was busy being successful in one of the last bastions of male dominance.
“Leon, there’s nuthin’ on your desk, aside from all the crap that’s been there since the Bush Administration.”
“How about the receiving log? If they came in, it’ll show up there.”
“Jesus, Leon, what am I, your fuckin’ maid?”
“No, Rick, you’re the duty officer, and this is important. Take your time. I’ll wait.”
This time the phone was slammed down, and Kitfox spent the moments pinching the bridge of his nose rather than surveying Zamora’s landscape.
“Leon, they ain’t on the fuckin’ log, all right? They ain’t here, and that’s that.”
“That’s strange. It’s been—”
“Leon, I don’t know nuthin’ about it, all right? I wasn’t here, I’m not involved. If you think somebody’s fuckin’ with your stuff, maybe you ought to call the boss. Now, you got anything else?”
“No, Rick. Thanks for everything.”
“Sure. See ya,” and with a sudden click the phone went dead.
“Boy, that guy’s a pain!”
“Colleague?” Zamora asked idly without looking up.
“Yeah. Dickhead wouldn’t get off his ass to get out from in front of a train. Hey, maybe he gives good advice, though.”
He dialed the phone again.
“What’s up?” Zamora asked, but the phone was ringing, and he didn’t answer.
“Good morning, Mrs. Dixon, this is Leon Kitfox. Is Harvey in?”
“Yes, he is. Would you like to speak with him?”
“Just a moment.”
There was a brief delay, then his boss came on.
“Welcome back, Leon.”
“I’m afraid I’m not back, sir.”
“You’re not back? This had better be good.”
“Just some bureaucratic foul up, I’m sure. I noticed in the case file that the detectives in Reno had found two prints that didn’t match the victim, so I ordered them when I got here last Wednesday.”
“Well, they haven’t arrived yet.”
“They were probably sent to your office by mistake.”
“No, I just called there. They’re not on the receiving log. I should have had them yesterday at the latest.”
“Yeah, well, they probably got lost in the system. You know how these computerized delivery systems work. That was a good piece of police work, placing the perp at work during Reno. Now, wrap it up and get back here. If you really need those prints, you can resubmit your request on Monday.”
“Mr. Dixon, this woman is just one piece of a larger puzzle—”
“God damn it, Leon, listen to me!” Dixon’s voice dropped to an intense whisper. “I have guests, and I don’t have time to argue with you. Kreiger held a meeting with a headhunter shrink Thursday, about pulling the rug on you. Me and a bean counter from Washington stood them off, but you’re on thin fucking ice, mister. If you choose to disobey my direct order to drop that case and get back here, it had better lead somewhere good, or your ass is gonna be shark bait, do you read me?”
“Loud and clear, sir.”
“All right. If you’re back at your desk Monday morning, this will all blow over, but if you’re not, you’d better have Jimmy Hoffa’s body in your trunk, do you understand?”
“All right. Now, I have to go. Have a nice weekend.”
5:23 PM, Monterey
Kitfox had exhausted all avenues available to him. He had spent the day reading the case files, the arresting officers’ report, the detectives’ reports, the interrogation transcripts. He had walked the route from Anthony Street to the parking garage. He had interviewed everyone he could reach who had any involvement in the case. Everything led to the same conclusion, namely that Susan Darnall had wigged out and killed a man she didn’t know for reasons no one had yet figured out. Even her lawyer was looking into an insanity defense.
And then there was himself. With all of his colleagues around him clamoring to turn the key on her, he alone seemed to think there was something else behind this, something larger and more insidious than a bored housewife who had faced one load of laundry too many. Why? Because he had met her, and she was nice? Lots of crooks were nice, especially when they were facing a room full of hostile cops, but Kitfox was never one to be fooled by a perp, and he didn’t think it was happening this time, but the problem was, you couldn’t take instinct out, hold it up next to the crime scene photos, and compare them. You couldn’t lay it on your boss’s desk and show him what was driving you, either, so until he could get enough of a grip on this to wrap it in words, it was a dead end.
He sighed, and shook his head. He was finished here, and he knew it. He was already packed, so all he had to do was grab a bite to eat, and start the ninety minute drive back to the city. He’d be at his desk Monday, and file a report showing that he’d gone the extra mile in the name of justice. The headhunters would go back to Washington, and life would return to normal, at least for everyone except Susan Darnall.
He stood up from the bed, clipped his holstered Glock 21 onto his belt, and was hand-brushing the jacket that would cover it, when the knock came at the door. He laid the jacket down, and stepped to the window to peek around the curtain. He was surprised to see Lieutenant Zamora standing impatiently, looking around and tapping her foot. Did that body language mean she was taking flak over this case, too? Never mind that, what was she doing here?
She had her hand raised to knock again when he opened the door.
“Leon,” she said in an odd tone, “I was afraid I’d missed you.”
“That’s still my car.”
“You could have been out.”
“I guess so. What’s on your mind?”
“Have you had dinner yet?”
“I was just about to go. There’s an interesting-looking greasy spoon down the block.”
“I don’t think so.” She surprised him again by stepping up and straightening his tie. “You look fine. Grab your coat, and I’ll show you a real restaurant.”
“More professional courtesy?”
“No.” She turned and pointed her key fob, and he heard the door locks clunk on a late model Mustang. He was staring quizzically when she turned back. “Aren’t you the least bit curious?”
Her smile was enigmatic, a promise of things to come.
He smiled back, got his jacket, locked the door, and joined her at her dark red car. The pipes rumbled with rich undertones as she started it up, and she turned east on Fremont, away from Monterey.
“I hope you like Chinese,” was all she said during the drive.
It was a short ride into Seaside. It had been a grubby little town when it had pandered to the big Army base at Fort Ord. Fort Ord was gone now, victim of a Democratic administration’s aversion to military spending. Seaside hadn’t completely shaken the old image, but she was reinventing herself daily, and was well on the way to joining the other jewels of the gleaming tiara that was the Monterey Peninsula.
Zamora took a side street into an area that was being transformed from industrial to commercial, and turned into the parking lot of a tastefully garish building calling itself the Orient Express. She parked, they walked to the foyer where he took her wrap, a light, soft beige serape, and within moments, they were being greeted by an immaculate Chinese woman in a black silk dress who looked at Kitfox approvingly.
“Good evening, Inez,” she greeted Zamora. “Table for two?”
“Good evening, Pei. Table for two. Do you have anything near the windows?”
Pei cut her eyes toward Kitfox again, and smiled knowingly. “Yes, ma’am, very good table. Much atmosphere.”
Kitfox followed the two women across the restaurant to be seated at a round black lacquered table looking off a low hill toward the bay. The smoked glass darkened the twilight to magnificence. The woman left the menus, with a promise of quick service, to which Zamora responded, “No hurry.”
“I recommend the kung pao,” Zamora told him. “They’ve left out the heat. You’d be surprised how good it is when you can actually taste it.”
“I’ve had enough surprises tonight. I’m a big fan of Mongolian. Those aren’t your work clothes, and this isn’t a cop bar. What’s going on?”
She looked at the table, then back up at him.
“You don’t know?”
“I know what I think, but I’m inclined to wait and see.”
“I like you, Leon. Could you tell?”
“I had my suspicions. This isn’t about the case, then?”
“We can talk about the case if you like. It is the one thing we have in common.”
“Maybe. Why don’t we talk about the menu? How good is this kung pao, anyway?”
“It’s to die for.”
“Like the deli.”
She gasped, then caught herself.
“You remembered that? That’s interesting.”
“I’m a cop. I remember things. Don’t read too much into it.”
“Would you like the wine list, sir?” A Chinese youth, impeccably dressed in black over white, held the traditional black portfolio toward him. He obviously knew Zamora, but didn’t want to interfere with what he assumed was her date.
“Thank you,” Kitfox said, taking the list.
“So, do you know your wines, Special Agent?”
“I’m not a wine snob. I know what I like, though.”
“And what do you like?”
“I usually go for a Chenin Blanc with Chinese.”
“I never thought of that.”
“You should keep your mind open to new possibilities. The Chenin Blanc, please.”
“Very good, sir.”
Their waitress moved right in behind him. Again, Zamora was obviously known here, as the girl beamed all over them. He ordered her favorite, kung pao chicken, and she decided to try his, the Mongolian beef.
“Do you ever eat at home?” he asked her.
“I don’t even have a kitchen. Where are you from?”
“This is sort of like a date. I’m making small talk.”
“Oh. I’m from Badger Falls, Utah.”
“Sorry, I don’t know it.”
“It’s a reservation town. It isn’t on many maps.”
“Oh. How did you get into law enforcement?”
“I needed a job.”
“Really. The kids I grew up with were facing some hard choices. Some got out. The ones who stayed gradually became alcoholics, or drug addicts, or criminals, and so eventually, I got out, too.”
“Why the FBI?”
“Federal anti-discrimination laws. That and the interesting cases, opportunities to travel. I just don’t see myself handing out traffic tickets in Mayberry, working for some redneck whose idea of law enforcement is to run a speed trap on tourists.”
“Your parents must be very proud.”
“Mother is, yes. My father disowned me. Says I sold out to the white man.”
The wine came, and they took a break as he tasted and approved. He filled their glasses, and lifted his to her.
“To you, Lieutenant, as fine a cop as I’ve met in my travels, and someone I’m proud to have impressed.”
“Why, thank you.” She smiled shyly, and sipped. “You were about to tell me whether you had sold out to the white man.”
“I don’t think so. The work I do every day benefits every honest American who pays his way and pulls his share, regardless of race or color, and I don’t think that’s what people mean when they talk about selling out.”
“That’s beautiful. I’m going to take that home.”
“Oh? Do they think you sold out, too?”
“Oh, no. I’m third generation law enforcement. I just think Dad would like it.”
Their meal arrived, and there was another pause as a dozen plates and bowls were arranged before them in a timeless ritual that transcended dynasties. Spooning portions onto their plates, he sat back and watched her demonstrate an easy familiarity with chop sticks.
“So, do you feel discrimination in your work?”
“This morning when you talked about snapping the cuffs on Darnall, you seemed pleased that she was, what did you call her, a white bread?”
“Not pleased. Surprised. A woman like that has no reason to commit that kind of crime. But, yeah, I feel a twinge of racism now and then. When I have to cuff a drunk who’s just puked on his own shoes, or some guy who’s killed his mother, and boiled her ass and eaten it, and they tell me to get my filthy spic hands off of them, yeah, it makes you think. Could we talk about something else?”
“Do you like history, Leon?”
“I appreciate it.”
“You’re breathing it. Monterey was the capital of Spanish California, you know.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Did you know that Monterey’s City Hall was the old state capital building?”
“Did you know that there was a whaling industry here that rivaled Nantucket, and that the old whaling station, which still stands, has one of the last whalebone sidewalks in the world?”
“Of course, you know about John Steinbeck?”
“Cannery Row, The Pearl, that stuff?”
“Yeah, that stuff,” she said with a smile. “How about Robert Louis Stevenson? He lived here for a while. He walked on our beaches, courted one of the local women, then he went home and wrote Treasure Island. You can tour the boarding house where he lived, and sit in the garden where he wrote his notes. People think America’s history is all back east. They don’t know about Monterey.”
“You sure do.”
“Born and raised here. I wouldn’t mind getting away for a while, broadening my horizons. Is the FBI hiring, by any chance?”
“We’re supposed to be under a freeze, although somebody up top has the good sense to know that we can’t work without people. I can show you how to apply.”
Their talk continued through the meal in that vein. They laughed over their fortune cookies and rubbed Ho-Tai’s belly on the way out. When they returned to her car, she pulled out and, instead of returning to Fremont Avenue, made the drive down to Del Monte, which followed the water, more or less, back to Monterey. She filled the car with a cloud of light and harmless words until she pulled up before a modern apartment building in New Monterey.
“This is where I live,” she announced, suddenly serious. “Would you like to come up for a nightcap? Or anything?”
“Inez, I don’t know where this is going, and maybe I’m flattering myself, but, I’m in a relationship.”
She suddenly looked hurt, and he didn’t feel good about it.
“No chance of a little harmless fun, then?” she added with a sickly smile.
“It’s a gay relationship.”
“Oh.” The little smile disappeared as she turned and stared at the glowing green instruments, knuckles white on the steering wheel. “Stupid!” she whispered.
“Inez, I’m sorry,” he said, taking her hand. “The last thing I want is to hurt you. At first it was none of your business, and by the time it became something you needed to know, it was too late to mention it casually. I was hoping we wouldn’t get to here.”
She turned and studied his face, eyes darting from feature to feature.
“Would you like to come up anyway?” she asked finally. “I can make some coffee, and we can talk, or watch a movie.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” she answered quickly. When he didn’t answer, she repeated, “Yes, definitely. All this other stuff aside, I feel like we’ve been friends for years.”
“Maybe we have,” he replied, gently patting her hand.
8:19 PM, Monterey
Kitfox forced a laugh at the cinematic antics of John Cleese, a comedian who normally sent him into stitches. The TV Guide pointed out a Fawlty Towers marathon this evening, and as Zamora had never encountered this particular piece of zaniness, he had recommended it. She seemed to be enjoying herself, and for that, at least, he was grateful.
He took a drink of coffee, looked at this delightful woman, and wondered for the millionth time if he was wrong, or evil, or just insecure. He had questioned his budding homosexuality in his adolescence, fought against it as a young man, and finally come to accept it, though never without a strong undercurrent of guilt. Now he sat in the private company of a vital, attractive young woman who was willing to show him pleasures that would transcend the bonds of flesh, or at least she had been an hour ago, but while he admired her as a professional, and enjoyed her company, he had no such feelings for her, and knew with the certainty of death that he never would. He suddenly wished he hadn’t accepted her invitation.
“I should go,” he said, putting the coffee down.
“Don’t,” she said plaintively.
“This isn’t right. I shouldn’t be here. This isn’t what you had in mind when you asked me up.”
“No, but it’s good. Do you know what my evenings are like? In another hour, I’d be turning out the lights and heading off to bed, nobody here but me and my cat.”
“You have a cat?”
“Felix,” she affirmed. “He’s stuffed. I tell him all my dirty little secrets. The poor thing had a nervous breakdown, and now he can’t talk anymore.”
He smiled at that. God, this woman was a treasure! If only . . . If only.
“This is the first time in years I’ve had a man on this couch who wasn’t trying to crawl up my skirt. I’d forgotten how nice that could be. The funny thing is, that’s exactly what I brought you home to do.”
“That is funny.”
“Not really. Do you realize what I just said? I haven’t had a man just sit and talk to me in so long that I’ve forgotten it’s a normal thing to do. Sometimes I think—”
Brrrrrrrrring! She was interrupted by the harsh blare of an old-style telephone bell.
“Sometimes I think they’ve installed a hidden camera in here.”
“They’re sure getting an eyeful tonight,” he said as she got up to answer it.
“Probably calling to complain. Hello . . . Yes, Frank, it’s me . . . No kidding? . . .”
Kitfox turned his attention to Cleese as Basil Fawlty, contemplating the burden of existence after failing for the umpteenth time to put one over on his shrew of a wife.
“Zip! What was that? That was your life, mate!” He allowed himself to join in the canned laughter at the antics of a comic genius. Zamora returned to the couch, and without sitting down, muted the television.
“That was my snitch on the night watch, Sergeant James. You’ll never guess what’s just happened?”
“Reno PD just caught the perp in that so-called related murder over there. He’s a twenty-something kid who flips burgers at a drive-through, and you’ll never guess what he said.”
“You’re probably right.”
“He’s claiming amnesia.”