The Video Vigilantes
The television and radio stations latched on to the catchy alliteration, video vigilantes, almost immediately. It had been a slow news week, and the idea of bandits attacking adult video stores just struck them as humorous and harmless with nobody hurt. So far, burglars hit three stores in the immediate San Francisco area. This might be the wrong term, though, since nothing left the buildings. Instead, when the police arrived at each scene, they found piles of videotapes and books on the floors covered in what the media euphemistically described as dung, scat, canine and feline feces.
When the SFPD forensic agents entered the third store on a rainy evening, the familiar sight caused Jake Parker to laugh and remark in his southern drawl, "Boss, this is turning into a shitty job lately.” His supervisor, Jeff Randall, shot him an amused look at hearing this mild witticism, but otherwise they didn’t exchange another word for the next 10 minutes.
The third person, Gayle Seaver, cautiously walked around the fragrant pile and headed for the cash register. As usual, the money remained untouched, and she found no fingerprints. However, this time one of the vigilantes had left behind a small piece of himself.
At first, Gayle didn't believe her eyes, but on closer examination, it was what she first thought it was. A strand of hair, gray hair, was hanging from a protruding nail on the high shelf behind the counter. After calling over Randall and Jake, the three of them stared in satisfaction at the hair, not even caring how it got there. If yanked out with attached hair follicular tag, they had DNA and their man.
"Be careful with that, Gayle," cautioned Jake. "It might get you a commendation for catching these thieves."
"Or a promotion!" Randall said seriously. "Right, guys, let's check out the rest of the place then get that back to the lab. We might be able to get out early tonight if we find a match."
With lightened hearts, they returned to searching for more evidence not realizing what would be happening in the next couple days, all because of a single strand of hair.
The lab technician determined the strand of hair had enough DNA, and a subsequent search of various databases found a match. Surprisingly, though, the hair came not from someone with a criminal record but from an 83-year-old retired Navy man. One of the San Francisco video vigilantes was a golden oldie?
Gayle had the lab tech run the data again before bringing this startling information to Randall. Still in her late 20s, she found it hard to believe a man that old would still find pornography interesting enough to complain about or, for that matter, want anything at all to do with any type of sex.
I guess, she thought, even old guys might have sex lives, not much though, since how involved can you get at that age? Ah, the innocence of youth!
When she reached Randall’s office with the DNA verification form, she saw that her boss was deeply in conversation with Jake and Anthony examining something on his desk. Not wishing to interrupt what looked like an intense conversation, Gayle stood at the doorway waiting for someone to notice and motion her inside. As she was still a little afraid, in total awe, and perhaps just a bit in love with her handsome 48-year-old supervisor, Gayle hadn’t learned yet not to stand on ceremony with him and just to speak out when she had something important to share.
Finally, Randall looked up and saw his newest employee hovering at the door. He was intuitive enough to recognize her fear but didn’t understand it. Why are those I supervise sometimes nervous around me? I do expect perfection from them, that’s true, but I also know they will make mistakes now and then. As long as they learn from these mistakes, I really am the kindest of bosses. Aren’t I?
“Come in, Gayle,” he said trying not to show impatience. “You have something for me?” He took the paper from Gayle’s outstretched hand, looking up at her in amazement. “You sure this is accurate?” When Gayle nodded affirmative, Randall handed the paper over so Anthony and Jake could read it.
“Any current address on,” looking down at the paper, Anthony read, “Robert Gilman?”
“Sunnyside Retirement Home, Building C, Apartment 1A,” shot back Gayle, proud that she had thought to go this extra step to find the address before Randall asked her for it. At Randall’s pleased look, Gayle vowed always to try to receive the look in the future.
“Well, what’s holding up the bus?” This came from an impatient Jake, always ready for new experiences. “Let’s go see a man about dirty movies, shall we?” Not waiting to see if anyone was following, he headed out the door towards the parking lot. Grinning from ear to ear at what might await them, Anthony trailed behind him at his usual slow rate followed by Gayle.
Randall called out after them, “Keep me posted, guys!” as he returned to reading what had been of interest on his desk before Gayle came in.
The Tahoe containing the three PD agents rolled up past the front entrance of the retirement home found across the street from a small parking lot. Cars almost filled the area, but Jake was able to find a spot right in front near the walkway over to the huge buildings. A police car already was parked there. Waiting for them was Officer Bradley Norton, a young rookie on his first solo assignment, which was to join them for the interview. After a brief conversation, the excited police officer and three forensic agents headed inside the building.
The Sunnyside Retirement Home was the largest senior citizen complex in San Francisco and consisted of three four-story buildings built in a huge U shape around a central park area. Each self-contained apartment had a balcony where they could see greenery, patio equipment, and other items of outdoor living on many of these balconies while others stood empty, probably as empty as the lives of those who lived or simply existed inside.
Officer Norton remained by the front door since Captain Steele’s orders were to simply observe unless needed by the agents. The young woman at the hospitality desk in the front area smiled at the sight of the three people walking towards her. “May I help you?” she asked almost cooing while looking at Jake. The other two agents tried to hide their grins as they once again saw the response Jake usually got from eager females. To be fair, though, Anthony had received his share of hungry looks in the past. The only one who turned the heads of the ladies more frequently was their boss, Randall, but then he didn’t even realize he was doing it.
Jake did and enjoyed every minute of the woman’s admiring looks and beamed his wide smile at her. “Yes,” he finally said bringing the woman’s eyes up from examining his broad shoulders to his mouth. “We’re here to see Robert Gilman on official police business, ma’am.” This was stretching the truth a bit since they were forensic agents attached to the police department and not officially police, but Jake doubted she would know the difference or care.
The woman punched some keys on the desk computer hidden below the wide front counter and gave them the building and room for Robert Gilman, even though Gayle had already provided it earlier. After thanking her with another toothy smile, Jake led the way to a long corridor that led to building C and possibly their video vigilante. Once again, Officer Norton silently followed them.
Apartment 1A was at the beginning of the corridor, right inside the double glass doors that marked the entrance to building C, the right leg of the U shaped complex. The cheery red door to the apartment, fire engine red, had a brass doorknocker with the name “Sparky” engraved on it. Anthony took the lead and lifted the handle of the knocker to rap sharply twice on the door. Silence. Again, he tried and again no one came to the door.
However, on the third try, the door opened a crack showing a safety chain and behind it, the grizzled face of a small elfish-looking man. His remaining gray hair stuck out in spikes as if he just got out of bed. His blue eyes were a bit cloudy from bilateral cataracts. Most of his teeth were missing with the rest yellowed from chronic smoking.
When he finally opened the door and let the four young people inside, they noticed his faded jeans and an old T-shirt emblazoned with “Dirty Old Men” on the front and “Need Love, Too” on the back. This was the video vigilante?
Back at the labs, Randall put aside the piece of possible evidence they were previously examining related to an ongoing case. He pulled a well-read letter out of his pocket. A small smile crossed his face as he read it again, remembering the last time he’d been with the person whose signature was at the bottom of the letter.
Something said back then, “You never know what’s important until you lose it,” made him know without a doubt that what this person lost years earlier had somehow been found. According to this letter, it had been the fact he showed he cared with a nonjudgmental attitude towards the person. Even if this were an exaggeration, and Randall thought it was since he didn’t remember doing anything out of the ordinary, it made him happy to know this woman had found her way off the streets. It made him even happier that it hadn’t meant her death, as he had feared when they first met so long ago.
“Darcy Bennett!” Just thinking her name brought back the memories of the disheveled street woman, once a beautiful actress, fallen on hard times through her use of drugs. When she became too much of an embarrassment to her wealthy family, her brother hired someone to eliminate Darcy. The police, using evidence processed by Randall and the rest of his team, tracked the hired murderer down and then her brother. At first, she didn’t believe the evidence and attacked Randall in the interrogation room when he questioned her about her brother.
Despite having permanent scars on his arm from fingernail scratches, Randall had attempted to help Darcy by suggesting she go to a shelter; as he had watched the woman walk off after turning down his help, he wondered what would happen to her. Knowing how dangerous life on the streets could be for women alone, he feared she wouldn’t live much longer. The letter from her earlier in the day pleasantly surprised him.
“Dear Mr. Randall,” the letter had started, “you probably won’t remember me. I’m the woman you worried enough about to want to help after my brother wanted me dead. Because one person, you, Mr. Randall, didn’t judge me for my behavior even after I hurt you, I started thinking there might be more for me than drugs. So, I enrolled in a local drug rehab clinic. I’m writing this letter just to thank you for helping me find what I needed, a reason to start a new life. Most sincerely, Darcy Bennett.”
Randall didn’t know why receiving this letter had made him so happy today although knowing he had been wrong in thinking her dead might be part of it. In his job, it wasn’t often that bad turned into good. Once more, he carefully folded the letter and returned it to his shirt pocket before turning back to the piece of evidence he had pushed aside earlier.
As Mr. Gilman invited the three men and one woman into his apartment, they walked past a bathroom on the left side with its door open and a compact kitchen on the right. This last area had the refrigerator and stove plus plenty of counter space against the hallway wall. A sink and more counters were on the opposite side with a large slide-through ledge above the counter opening into the next larger room. There, a table and chairs were near the waist-high wall, making it easy to pass food from the kitchen to the table.
The rest of the longer room consisted of a cozy living room with sofas and comfortable armchairs placed so anyone sitting in them could easily see the large TV in the entertainment center. Shelves in the unit contained row after row of VHS videos, stacks of DVDs, and an expensive-looking DVD-VHS player underneath the television. Gayle casually walked over and started checking out the titles on these.
Photographs of various sizes on the walls depicted fire engines ranging from the most modern hook and ladder to old-fashioned horse-drawn water wagons. It wasn’t hard for the agents to figure out that Mr. Gilman had been in the fire department in some capacity or another. Off the living room through another open door was a small bedroom with a rumpled bed testifying to the fact the old man had, in fact, been asleep when they arrived. At the end of the living room was a French door leading out to a small patio containing a lounge chair and small table. Plants ringed the low brick wall over which they saw the park where elderly tenants would walk during good weather.
After watching Anthony and Jake sit down on the sofa, Mr. Gilman glanced back at the bored police officer who remained standing in the room’s doorway. Shrugging, the old man plopped into one of the armchairs and, with a questioning look, waited for them to explain why they were here.
At this point, Gayle joined them and commented, “Mr. Gilman, I see you like X-rated movies. Do you get them online or from adult video stores?” She said this in an unthreatening tone of voice, trying not to alarm the man.
She failed, however, as the older man bristled with indignation at having this young woman pry into his private life. “Why are you asking? I like seeing hot naked women, so what? I’m old, not dead. What business is it of yours?”
“Sir, sir, please,” interrupted Jake trying with his southern charm to sooth over the man’s ruffled feathers. “We’re asking because of the rash of video stores vandalized recently. At the last one over on Geary, we found a strand of hair containing your DNA, and we need to rule you out.”
“Geary? I never go there. I get all of mine online since I have problems getting around ‘cause of my lung problem.” Almost on cue, he started coughing, spitting up phlegm into a fancy brass spittoon next to the sofa. Evidently, after working at putting out fires for most of his adult life after getting out of the Navy, his lungs had finally started to give out from all the smoke he’d taken in.
“Can you explain why a strand of your hair was there?” For the first time Anthony entered the conversation. He had been sitting there quietly examining what he could see of the man’s apartment for any incriminating evidence to tie the old man to the stores. Finding nothing, he returned his entire attention to what the others were discussing.
“Hell, no!” The old man’s hand went to his sparsely populated head of hair, and he grinned, once again in a good mood. “There’s not much left, and the only one who gets near it, besides me, is Gracie over in building A. She cuts it every few weeks, as she does for some of the others here, too. Haircuts are expensive on the outside, and she does a good job free.” He thought for a few seconds and continued, “Except when she gets too ambitious with the comb and pulls some hair out by the roots like she did last time. It was painful, I’m here to tell you. She was more careful after that ‘cause I guess she didn’t like my screams of pain.”
“And her last name is?” Jake pulled out a pad of paper and pen then wrote down the supplied name of the woman and her apartment address. After thanking the man for his help, the three agents left to track down this hairdresser. It seemed Mr. Gilman hadn’t been such a dead end after all, or at least they hoped not.
Randall tried to concentrate on the piece of evidence from the case he’d been working on, he honestly did, but thinking of the letter in his pocket made him want to see how Darcy had changed. His empathy for wounded and forgotten people like Darcy was strong, and he suffered himself when around them. Because of this, he had tried to build a wall around his emotions for protection, causing others to think him cold and unfeeling.
The exact opposite was the truth, as one or two of his closest friends and coworkers had guessed. They had tried to protect him from cases in particular where children were the victims, but he would have none of that. First for him came helping the victims even if it tore a bit out of him every time it happened. Seeing Darcy, he hoped, would go towards bringing him some peace in this area. To this end, he checked the return address on the letter’s envelope then left the building hoping she would be home and willing to see him again.
As Randall pulled the Tahoe up into the parking lot of the rundown Metro Motel, he again checked the address on the envelope. It was on the second floor way in the back, so he drove back there and pulled up in one of the many empty parking spaces. Since it was now around six-thirty in the morning, he was looking forward to a relaxing day reading his new forensics magazines once he had checked on Darcy. He wasn’t expecting too much of a change in her as she had been in bad physical shape the last time he’d seen her a few years ago, but his curiosity after receiving her letter had gotten the better of him.
Climbing the metal stairs to the second floor, he noticed a light shining through the curtains of the room assigned to her. This gave him hope she was still at home, and he knocked softly on the room’s door just in case she was still asleep and simply left the light on overnight. He could hear soft footsteps coming towards him from inside and tried to steel himself for disappointment if Darcy was still the same shattered woman from before.
As the door slowly opened, he put a friendly smile on his face and waited patiently to see the person there. He almost swallowed his tongue at what he saw standing in front of him.
Gracie Morrill turned out to be a sweet blue-haired little old lady who looked like she just stepped off a Norman Rockwell painting. She greeted the four young people who had come to see her and fussed over them until they sat down on an overstuffed divan in her living room. Only Officer Norton remained silently alert and standing. After that, she went into a kitchen similar to that of Mr. Gilman’s and returned to place a large tray of coffee and homemade applesauce crumb cake on the table in front of them. Jake, still a growing boy at heart, took her up on her offer immediately while it took the other two only a minute to see the look of delight on his face at the first bite of cake to help themselves, too. Office Norton regretfully declined the offered coffee and crumb cake.
“Now, what can I do for you?” The woman looked at them to be sure the other three were all eating before asking this question. “You mentioned Robert Gilman. What has that old reprobate done now?”
“Nothing, ma’am,” replied Jake, jumping in before the other two could swallow their food and answer. “He did mention you had cut his hair in the past, and we were just wondering if you remember the last time you did this?”
”I think it was last week….no, two days ago on Tuesday because I had to rush to get to my karate class over in the recreational room. They hold it every Tuesday at four in the afternoon, so I remember that clearly.” The pictures in the minds of the three young people had her felling innocent villains, a true oxymoron, with her karate chops, and they couldn’t say anything for a couple minutes as this image sunk in.
“What did you do with his hair clippings after you finished?” This obvious question to the other two PD agents came from Anthony, but it still put a puzzled look on the woman’s face.
“Why, in the wastebasket, of course. Where else would they go?”
Continuing in the same vein, Anthony next asked, “And where did you empty your wastebasket?” By now, the confused woman wondered why an old man’s hair interested the three of them, but decided to humor them. Without saying a word, she got up and went into her kitchen. On her return, she had the wastebasket in her hand and gave it to Anthony. After that, she returned to her seat, still silent.
The other two came over to help Anthony look through the container that was full. They pulled out the contents one item at a time until reaching the bottom where there was a light dusting of gray hair. When he examined them more closely, Anthony saw one or two still had follicular tags attached, evidently some of those pulled out by the comb. Anthony looked over at Mrs. Morrill. “Is this only Mr. Gilman’s hair?” At her nod, he had Gayle who had pulled on her latex gloves scoop out some of the hair and put it in the bindle paper Jake handed her.
Thanking the helpful old lady, the four left, not wanting to bother her further. As Officer Norton headed toward his police car, the other three returned to the Tahoe. While on their way back to the labs, none of the agents realized one important question was not asked or even thought of by any of them. They would only find out this mistake much later.
The vision standing in the doorway of the motel surely couldn’t be the same drugged-out emaciated woman Randall had watched walk away from him only a few years ago. She resembled pictures of Darcy he had seen during her acting days but with a few years and a handful of added pounds. In Randall’s eyes, she looked more beautiful now than when she had been a too-slender actress. Her body had filled out nicely as seen by the fitted jeans and off-the-shoulder blouse she wore. Her eyes were bright and clear, and her shoulder-length brown hair was shining with good health. All in all, Darcy had cleaned up nicely, and without thinking, Randall told her just that.
The sound of her laughter at this made Randall realize how rude that might have sounded and tried to apologize, but she just shook her head at him still laughing. What a lovely sound it was to his tired ears.
“Mr. Randall, I didn’t expect to ever see you again, but it’s such a pleasant surprise for you to visit me.” Her smile was so contagious that he broke out in a matching one, the exhaustion from working long hours for the past week draining out of him.
“Please, call me Jeff. Mr. Randall sounds so formal. May I buy you breakfast somewhere? I’d love to hear what you’ve been doing since the last time I saw you.” He stopped with a sudden thought. “That is unless you were going somewhere just now.”
“No, I’m off work until this evening, so I’m free as a bird.” With that, Darcy followed him outside and, after locking her door, went with him to his vehicle down below. “By the way, I like the beard. Suits you!”
After all the good-natured teasing he’d got from his coworkers when he came back with the beard after a recent vacation to New England, it felt good to know at least one person liked it. He couldn’t get over how wonderful she looked and almost swerved the Tahoe into oncoming traffic once or twice, as he kept glancing over to admire her. Randall was not normally in awe of women, although he did enjoy them as any normal male would. However, Darcy reminded him of a lowly caterpillar who had suddenly changed into a beautiful butterfly while he wasn’t looking.
At the Denny’s about a mile from the motel, Randall and Darcy settled down to a breakfast of pancakes and coffee while he caught up on what had happened to change her life so drastically. For over an hour, he ate and listened as she told him without being overly dramatic about the good doctors at the free clinic who helped her get clean. One even had found a job for her working weekends and evenings at a nearby beauty salon as a front desk receptionist. “In fact,” Darcy proudly told him, “I’m currently taking classes at The Academy of Cosmetology here in downtown San Francisco to learn a new skill. It’s exciting to be doing something new!”
Randall reached across the table and took her hand in his saying, “Darcy, you are a true miracle! I wish you’d come by the lab some time so the rest of my crew can meet the “new” you. Do you remember Captain Steele? He’d enjoy seeing you again, I bet.”
After agreeing that she would next chance she got, the two finished their meals and lingered for another ten minutes over coffee talking nonstop. Randall dropped her back at her motel then slowly drove to his own home unconsciously smiling at people in other cars, surprising a few and making some wonder who this grinning idiot was. When he finally was inside his living room, his plan to read his most recent forensic magazines went out the window as instead he decided to close his eyes with some of his favorite classical music playing in the background.
Within half an hour, he had drifted off to sleep, lying on his small sofa with his shoes kicked off, body relaxed. For the first time in months, he wasn’t worrying about work, something that had taken over his life since becoming supervisor years ago.
That evening, the PD crew gathered in the break room waiting for Randall to give out the assignments. Only Mary Kenton was missing as she had finally taken some vacation time to attend her college class reunion in New England. After a hard struggle with the stubborn young woman, Angela Starkey had managed to convince her that this trip would be good for her.
“Okay, people, tonight’s going to be a busy one. Jake, you and Gayle have another video store break-in to investigate. Here’s the address.” Randall handed the paper to him then turned to Anthony. “You’re with me and Angela on a multiple 419 at a strip mall downtown. They don’t have a final count on the DBs yet so you may be able to get back with Jake and Gayle later tonight.” With that, everyone headed out for their respective locations leaving empty coffee cups and an air of anticipation for the night’s work behind them.
After checking the address, Jake drove off for what probably would be another long wasted night. However, maybe they’d get a break and find some more evidence as the gray hair from the last store seemed to be a dead end. Ever the optimist, though, he discussed with Gayle what they needed to do, and the two of them finally arrived and entered the store filled with youthful enthusiasm for the job ahead.
Meanwhile, with Anthony driving in his usual speed demon way, Angela sitting in the front seat and Randall in the back went over what the three of them knew about this case so far, which was not much. It seems about an hour ago, when a night security guard had been checking open 24-hour stores and locked-up places in the row of seven small buildings, he had come across an unlatched door. When he looked inside the dark front room, he’d seen a pair of woman’s legs sticking out from behind a desk and immediately backed out to call 9-1-1. No one had entered since then, and upon arriving there with a squad unit, Captain Steele had immediately called for their help in the investigation. Who was dead, how many, why, and how were all unknowns now.
As Anthony squealed to a stop among police cars with their flashers on, Randall glanced at the sign in the front window of the building where most of the activity seemed centered and felt a horrible premonition about what he was about to see. He just knew deep in his gut there would be more than one person inside with no life left in them. “At least,” he thought hoping he was right, “there should be no young kids there this time of night.” What they would find inside, though, was almost as terrible for Randall and would shake his faith in a Higher Being as little else had.
A feeling of déjà vu came over Jake as he walked into the seedy adult bookstore followed closely by Gayle who was already looking around for the pile of videos they always found on a floor. The seedier life styles of those on the West Coast no longer bothered Jake, a young man originally from south of the Mason Dixon Line. It had taken him years, however, to do this and had sometimes amused his fellow PD friends by the shocked look in his eyes. Pornographic videos still bothered him at times, though, especially those covered in excrement.
This time, though, no feces covered them but something different and even more revolting. Gayle started gagging from the smell of the rotting garbage that had to be at least a week old while Jake covered his nose with his hand to try to keep the smell out. Neither gagging nor covering up helped, as the disgusting smell filled the entire small video store.
With her eyes watering and now trying to breath through her mouth as often recommended by Randall when around decomposing dead bodies, Gayle moved around the pile to get behind the cashier’s counter. Jake went around it on the opposite side to check out the rest of the room for clues. He could hear the sound of the police officer on duty vomiting near the front door.
“I found something, Jake.” Gayle’s voice sounded strained as she tried to talk and hold her breath at the same time. “Someone left a cap behind this time.” In her gloved hand, she picked up and showed Jake a dark navy, baseball cap before carefully sliding it into an evidence bag; the logo on the cap’s front read NY Yankees.
After another half hour of closely examining the store including the pile of tapes, books, and garbage, they gratefully left the store to the tender care of the police officer with the only new clue being the cap. With any luck, their lab would find DNA on the inside sweatband to help narrow down their search.
Back at headquarters, they were lucky and had an immediate hit. However, it seemed another red herring since the DNA belonged to Mr. Robert Gilman. Jake shook his head in frustration but knew they would have to check it out. “Gayle, this time you drive,” said a disgusted Jake. He was not looking forward to visiting the cranky old man at 1 a.m. to ask him why his cap was at the video store. “We have to do it,” he thought, “so we might as well get it over with.”
With Angela in the lead, the three PD forensic agents walked past the officers standing outside, under the yellow police tape, and into the crime scene. Ignoring the dead person mostly hidden behind the front desk for the moment, she and Anthony continued past a low wall covered in plush green plants into a larger room. There they could see four bodies lying at different angles; all were women with, at first glance, multiple gunshot wounds. Angela stopped at the first woman, a redhead wearing a blue uniform with the name Wendy embroidered on the front pocket. Blood covered her face; the killer evidently had surprised her. The pair of scissors jutted out from what had been her right eye.
Meanwhile, Anthony had continued past her to check out the second body. This was an elderly woman wearing a loose blue smock with the name of the shop on it. She was still sitting in the chair waiting for someone to begin work on her but had received a bullet in her heart instead of the expected service. As Anthony reached her and was about to further examine the bullet hole, he heard an agonized cry from the front of the shop followed by a steady stream of low but violent cursing. Recognizing his supervisor’s voice, he looked at Angela then both raced back to where Randall had fallen on his knees next to the body of the beauty salon’s receptionist behind the front desk. Their cool unemotional boss had tears streaming down his face unnoticed by him as he looked up at his two friends standing over him.
“It’s Darcy,” he said in a voice hardly above a whisper now. With no further acknowledgment of them, he bent down to push the long blood-soaked hair back off the face of the woman who had been so alive just hours before.
“Darcy?” whispered Angela to Anthony as they stepped back away from Randall. “Who is Darcy?” Anthony shrugged his shoulders then bent down to look closer at the woman he vaguely recognized. Her body, although now lifeless and growing stiff as rigor mortis set in, looked familiar. He kept getting the image of a dirty street woman in his mind instead. Her identity would have to wait for the two of them as dealing with Randall’s grief came first.
“Randall, can we help?” Anthony put a hand on Randall’s shoulder, only to have the grieving man ignore him. Angela knelt down beside her longtime friend and gently pulled his hands away from the woman’s hair, holding his bloody hands in hers. The look on his face startled her as he now turned towards her. She had never seen him so affected by any of the hundreds of dead bodies he’d seen, even those of children, and knew immediately this woman had been important to him. She was wrong, though, in thinking he had shared a romance with the woman. His loss went much deeper than that. It was a loss of faith in a just Supreme Being, who would allow such an untimely and cruel death for Darcy.
“Angie, you two had better finish this up without me,” Randall finally got out as he stood up with one last long look at Darcy. Without a word of explanation, he slowly left the beauty salon, walking like an old man out to the Tahoe. As he drove away, Angela watched him until the vehicle was out of sight then turned to the woman on the floor, asking, “Who are you?”
Not expecting an answer and not getting one, she started processing this woman all the while worrying about what she had seen in Randall’s eyes as he walked away. There had been a stark emptiness in them that had never been there before, even after he’d witnessed the most gruesome deaths imaginable. They finally finished processing the five bodies, including that of the mysterious Darcy, and saw them taken away by the coroner.
Angela then had Anthony take all the evidence back to the labs in a police car while she hailed a cab and headed towards Randall’s home in Colma. She knew she couldn’t leave him alone at a time like this.
Standing once more at Robert Gilman’s apartment just before dawn, along with Officer Norton who was about to go off duty, Jake grimaced then knocked sharply on the red door. This time it took longer for the door to open, and the angry man inside demanded an explanation why they were here, waking him up in the middle of the night.
He refused to let them inside, forcing Jake to pull the cap out of the evidence bag that Gayle was carrying. “Is this yours?” This simple question came from Gayle who was trying to be as polite as humanly possible under the circumstances; however, it brought on a string of salty words from the older man that turned the air as blue as one of his neighbor ladies’ hair.
Jake worried that this language might shock Gayle, but looking at the woman he saw only an expression of extreme interest as she mentally added some of the new words to her vocabulary. He had forgotten that Gayle was a human sponge, always ready to expand her vocabulary. This included curse words.
“I lost the frigging hat last week. Who the bloody hell is trying to frame me?” Seeing and hearing the man calming down, if his mellowed language was any indication, Jake pressed him for a possible location where he might have lost his cap. When again the name of Gracie Morrill came up since he had been with her that day, it raised red flags in the minds of the two agents. After thanking the still irate Yankee fan only to have the door slammed in their faces, they headed back outside. Waking a man at this time of the morning was one thing, but they thought it best not to bother an elderly woman. A few hours from now would be soon enough. With that decision made, they returned to the PD labs to await the coming of sunrise.
Back there, they found Anthony swamped with processing the evidence of the five women murdered at the beauty salon. They all pitched in, and soon the three of them had the evidence organized efficiently and sent to the various labs. After a couple hours without many words spoken, Anthony called a time-out. As they headed for the break room for much needed coffee, he told them about Randall’s meltdown at the salon and asked if either of them had heard the name Darcy mentioned by him.
Jake looked at him in surprise. “Don’t you remember that case a few years ago where this guy tried to have his sister killed?”
“Yes,” said Anthony slowly dredging up the memory. “Wait! Wasn’t that woman who attacked Randall in the interrogation room named Darcy?”
“Right, the druggie who used to be an actress. Darcy Bennett!” Jake nodded while Gayle just listened, as she knew nothing about that case. Her curiosity grew too great to keep quiet for long.
“Someone attacked Randall? Why would he be so upset to find someone like her dead now?” Not having an answer for her, the other two sat quietly drinking their coffee wondering at the odd behavior of their supervisor. When no answers came to mind, they finished their break and returned to the evidence. Around 7 a.m., Jake and Gayle took off to return to the senior citizen home to see Gracie Morrill again. Maybe at least they would solve the puzzle of the Yankee cap.
Angela paid off the taxi driver and walked up to the front door of Randall’s home. She knocked once then twice with no response. Knowing he kept his spare key above the doorframe, not a safe place she had always told him, she reached up and took it down. Quietly opening the door, she found only silence inside. His usual music wasn’t playing, no TV was on, and she couldn’t hear any tapping on his laptop computer.
As she walked further inside, she saw him just sitting on his small sofa with his head bowed into his hands not moving or even noticing her entrance into his home. As she would comfort her young son, she sat down next to him and put one arm around him, drawing his head from his hands onto her shoulder with the other hand. At first, he was stiff and unyielding but soon she felt him give in and hide his head against her neck.
“I don’t understand.” She could hardly hear his soft sad voice and just sat waiting for him to continue. Her hand went up to stroke his hair with a gentle touch as she waited. Minutes went by without either speaking as he took comfort just from her nearness but finally he sat up to stare blankly across the room. “She didn’t deserve to die, not like that, Angie, not now that she had finally come to life again.” As Angela sat there listening, he slowly told her of the letter from Darcy and how he had spent time yesterday laughing and just enjoying being with her.
“Jeff, we can’t choose when we’re going to die.” She knew this was a trite remark, but maybe it would reach him. “You helped give her a wonderful last day, and now it’s up to you to find out who killed her. Maybe then you both can find some peace.” As Angela continued trying to say the right words to him, the emptiness slowly left his eyes. She could see the old Randall coming back right before her as the determination to find Darcy’s murderer vanquished his inner demons. To this end, he got up and went into his bathroom to wash away the ravages of grief from his face then returned with shoulders back and head erect.
Angela smiled in relief and walked with him out to the Tahoe. She still worried about him but knew having a job to do was what he needed right now. Later he could grieve in private if need be, but not now and not alone. She would make sure his friends surrounded him until he could better handle his temporary loss of faith caused by the death of this woman.
With Jake and Gayle again seated on Gracie Morrill’s sofa, and a day shift police officer standing nearby, this time the elderly woman offered them no food. Clearly, she was a bit agitated at their return so early in the day.
“That’s Robert’s baseball cap? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” The flustered woman twisted her hands together as they questioned her about the lost cap. “He never left it here, and I don’t like him saying he did. I don’t let him inside my apartment but cut his hair out on my patio since he drinks and smokes and swears.” Her voice was rising with each word as she became more and more angry.
At this last statement, Gayle stood up, walked over to a small end table near a bookshelf, and picked up a miniature cast iron fire engine. It had been behind a picture of two adorable children, but her sharp eyes had seen it when entering the room. She also saw a glass ashtray back there with an old forgotten cigar end. Without saying a word, she picked up the fire engine and the ashtray and placed them on the coffee table in front of the woman. Jake looked up at her in approval then over to the red-faced woman.
“His?” When Gracie nodded her head, he asked, “What else do you have to tell us? Are you the one trying to frame him for vandalizing those stores?” Again, she nodded not able to look him in the face. “Why? What has he ever done to you?”
She stood up suddenly and walked over to the bookshelf. Picking up another photograph that was in a beautiful silver frame, she returned and handed it to Jake. It showed the two older adults, Robert and Gracie, smiling into the camera at what looked in the background to be an island in Hawaii. “I thought when he invited me to go there that he was going to ask me to marry him. He didn’t and when we got back he dumped me and took up with that floozy Anna White over in building C.” Plump tears welled up in her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. “Now, I couldn’t let him get away with that, could I?”
Shaking his head in disbelief, Jake pulled out his cell to call Captain Steele. After giving him all the pertinent facts of the case, Jake closed the phone and returned it to his jacket’s pocket. For the next half hour, Gayle and Jake listened to the sad story of a betrayed woman and her twisted yet fragrant revenge.
It also came to them that they had failed to ask a critical question during the earlier visit. When checking if all the hair in the wastebasket belonged to Robert Gilman, they failed to ask if that was all of it.
On their way out, after turning the woman over to the police officer who had arrived with them, Gayle turned to Jake. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!” she said with a big grin.
When Jake and Gayle finally arrived back at the PD labs, they found Randall deep in thought in the evidence room, looking down at the table. On it was a blood-soaked blue uniform. The name Wendy embroidered on the front pocket. Beside it was the knife the woman had been holding.
Not wanting them to disturb Randall, Angela silently motioned them away; she led them to the break room where Anthony was taking a break for more coffee, the fuel that kept the SFPD agents going on those days of double shifts like today.
“Let’s leave him alone for a bit.” Angela then explained about Darcy and her recent relationship with the still grieving man in the other room. After discussing who would work on what piece of evidence from the beauty salon murders, they all left for their respective areas, and a sense of purposeful peace settled over the lab. Hours passed without any interaction among them, but they did make progress.
When Angela received the call over the intercom from Dr. Burke, she went to the autopsy room only to find Randall already there. Both men were leaning over the body of the redheaded woman, Wendy, whom Angela had been examining first back at the salon.
“Find something, Doc?” Angela asked, joining them at the autopsy table standing beside Randall.
“Actually Jeff found something,” giving credit where credit was due, “and that pointed me in the right direction. Did anyone notice the scissors near her hand were bloody?
“Sure. I did when I examined her.” Angela looked over at Randall in confusion. “I just figured it had dripped down from her wound since the scissors were in her hand right under her head.” She looked back at the doctor. “Did I miss something?”
“Well, the tox screen gave us the answer, and Jeff sent Anthony back to the salon to check further.” Dr. Burke smiled at her growing confusion and decided to let the other man fill in the blanks. “Jeff?”
“Angie, after I had first checked out her body here, I went back and examined the woman’s outfit and knife. Why was the wound in her face from a sharp object while the killer shot everyone else?” Randall raised an inquiring eyebrow and patiently waited for her answer. She shook her head not understanding what he was getting at. “Think it through, Angie.” Taking pity on her, he gestured towards the good doctor. “You want to tell her about the tox screen?”
Starting to feel like the ball in a tennis match, Angela again turned back to face him. “Angela, it showed she had LSD in her system, quite a lot.” With these words from the doctor, she started to see what the two men had already figured out.
“Did Anthony find her gun yet?” At her question, a smile crossed Randall’s face, the first one she’d seen on him since he’d discovered Darcy’s body. She had been right in thinking that working on this case might ease him back from the deep depression into which he’d fallen.
“He just phoned. She’d pulled up one of the plants on the ledge by the reception desk after shooting the three women, put the gun inside, and then returned the plant to the pot. He’s on his way back now with it. We’ll check that it matches the bullets from the bodies, but I have no doubt it will.” Randall paused in his explanation as he remembered the sight of Darcy’s body next to that plant ledge. Before he could sink back into brooding again, Angela prompted him to continue with the explanation.
“Evidently after taking the LSD, probably during her dinner break, she lost control and killed anyone within shooting distance. After hiding the gun, she committed suicide by stabbing herself in the face with the scissors. They went into her right eye, passing through the medial orbital roof to the midline of the left side of the brain. Her death wasn’t instantaneous and undoubtedly painful. At least I hope it was. During those hours until they found her, she slowly exsanguinated.
Angela shivered at the look on Randall’s face as he glanced down at the woman’s body. Remembering how devastated he was at the Darcy’s death, she knew he did indeed wish his friend’s murderer had not escaped her pain so mercifully by dying. Randall was not a vindictive man, never had been, but he had changed during the last few hours.
After a few minutes of silence, Randall continued in a cold emotionless voice. “I once read a paper in the Journal of Psychiatry by a Dr. Keeler written back in 1967 about suicide during an LSD reaction. It’s rare but can happen in an emotionally disturbed person. Darcy told me at breakfast that her boss named Wendy was in the process of a turbulent divorce.” He stopped with a puzzled look on his face. “I don’t know why I didn’t put two and two together earlier that this Wendy was the lady she meant.”
Angela patted his shoulder gently, “I don’t know why either, Jeff.” With that, she left the two men discussing what else they needed to document and returned to find Anthony near Randall’s office talking with Jake and Gayle. After filling them in on the details of the case, now solved, Angela returned to the autopsy room and almost dragged Randall out by his arm.
“Jeff, you’re ready to go home now, and I’m driving you there. No arguing, you hear?” She continued like this as Randall meekly followed her down the corridor towards the parking lot. “I’m hungry, I want breakfast now, and I expect you to cook it for me.”
“Yes, dear! Anything you say.” Randall looked fondly at the woman who had stood by him today during one of the lowest points in his life. The confusion of faith and pain at Darcy’s death was still with him and would be for a long time, but thanks to Angela’s gentle ministrations and understanding, he would get through it one day at a time.