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Combination of stories being edited from TBAWOT forensic novel. Feedback welcome
The Video Vigilantes

Chapter 01

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.

Chapter 02

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.

Chapter 03

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?

Chapter 04

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.

Chapter 05

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.

Chapter 06

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.

Chapter 07

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.

Chapter 08

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.

Chapter 09

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.

Chapter 10

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.”

Chapter 11

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.

Chapter 12

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.

Chapter 13

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.

Chapter 14

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.

Chapter 15

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?”

Chapter 16

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.

Death by Chocolate

Chapter 17

The morning TV weather forecaster predicted rain for San Francisco and the surrounding area. It would be heavy enough for classification as a gully washer, if there were such a thing in that part of California. Up in Petaluma, people were lining up for the first tour of the morning through the local chocolate factory. It was a favorite tourist destination for those who were not in San Francisco strictly for the shopping and seafood.

At exactly 8:30, the doors to the factory opened, and the small crowd of patiently waiting men, women, but mostly children entered to walk down the long hallway into the factory area. Busy workers created delicious confections in rooms branching off the hallway. One large room contained the large vats where chocolate swirled endlessly. The tourists viewed these rooms through large glass windows. The tantalizing smell of chocolate drifted out to the hallway making some of the children overly excited as they waited for their “sugar fix”. Parents looked at each other in dismay. They suddenly realized what they were getting themselves into with their hyperactive and noisy offspring. However, it was too late trying to convince the children that a trip to Alcatraz would be more fun.

Employees went about the various tasks needed to create the chocolates favored through the United States. Halfway down the hallway, the tourists stopped by one window opposite a particularly large vat. Suddenly, a skinny woman wearing a gaudy flowered sundress with a matching sun hat screamed and pointed through the window. On top of the thick dark chocolate pushed round and round by turning paddles floated a human hand.

As her husband pounded on the window to get the attention of the employees inside, the woman fainted. Meanwhile, the children looked eagerly at this unexpected treat, not bothered at all since most of them played more gory video games. A human hand floating in chocolate just was a bonus to what had so far been a boring morning. As one 10-year-old boy said, in response to seeing the hand, “Kewl!”

A male employee covered in a white uniform and obligatory white hat to cover his nonexistent head of hair came over to see what the ruckus was about. He spotted the hand, pointed out by the man who didn’t know whether to continue gesturing toward it or pick his wife up off the floor. The severed hand won.

Chapter 18

The shocked tourists left the factory and went on their way with large free boxes of chocolates. The factory’s manager hoped these bribes would keep them from talking with the press. Another group of people soon invaded the factory. It consisted of the Petaluma police and three forensic scientists, today on loan from the SFPD. Jeff Randall, the handsome middle-aged shift supervisor, and two of his staff, Anthony Greene and Angela Starkey, walked through the factory room. It was now empty of employees except for an older man. The man, Mr. Pitts of Security, was pale and trying hard not to look at the vat, now surrounded by a yellow police tape. Two police officers stood just at the door to the room, staying out of the way but ready to help if needed.

After thoroughly checking the room for anything that looked out of place, Angela returned to the vat. While Anthony took photographs, she carefully removed the dripping hand. “Male,” she said this quietly, examining it by turning it around to view it from both sides, “and married.” This statement came from the sight of the simple band on a finger, color at this point unknown.

“Probably Asian!” offered Anthony, although how he could tell through the thick coating of chocolate had Angela squinting at the hand to see what he had seen. At her unasked question, he grinned at her and pointed, “Size. Small married male, probably Asian, though we won’t know until Burke cleans this up.”

Randall, who had been quietly talking with the factory employee away from the vat, returned to confer with his two people. “Anything to report?”

“Well, chocolate-covered hands will not be a big seller here!” Angela couldn’t resist this quip. She instantly regretted it as Randall didn’t crack a smile but just stared silently back at her. Angela winced, remembering too late that he lost his sense of humor at crime scenes.

“What have you found so far?” he continued as if Angela had not spoken. Anthony rushed in to save her from a further faux pas with the information the hand might belong to a married Asian male. “Angela, be sure to get it to Dr. Burke right away. Anthony, come with me. We can check outside since there’s nothing else here for us.”

As Angela bagged the hand and left for the morgue in San Francisco, Mr. Pitts guided the two men outside to check out the factory’s grounds.

Chapter 19

The three men left the factory through the candy store’s shop that led outside to a beautiful flower garden. This was a large area to check for signs of a crime, over two acres, but Randall quickly made a decision. He told Anthony only to check for footprints just along the perimeter leading into the garden. They left Mr. Pitts sitting nervously in the latticed-covered patio, wishing this terrible day would end.

Three hours went by as the two men took off in opposite directions. They slowly examined the gravel and soil but came up empty. When they met back at the patio, it surprised but pleased them to find the security man had brought out tall cold glasses of iced coffee for the now-overheated men.

The air over the morning had become muggy, a precursor to the expected storm later that day, and their shirts were sticking to their bodies with sweat. Randall, wearing his normal black work outfit, was suffering the most. The only sign of his discomfort, however, was a thin sheen of perspiration on his forehead and upper lip. The curls in his dark brown hair did appear tighter than usual, as always happened in moist heat, making him look even younger. Anthony immediately sat down at the table inside the patio, practically gulping down the iced coffee. He was grateful for it and the shade the patio’s wooden roof provided from the hot sun.

As Randall sat down to join the two men, his cell phone went off. Taking a long sip of the refreshing coffee before answering the cell, he heard Angela’s voice on the other end. He listened to what she had to report, closed up the phone, and looked at Anthony with a grim expression on his tired face.

“You were wrong, but then so was Angela. You know, you two shouldn’t jump to conclusions before all the evidence is in.” He said this in a mock scolding tone and waited patiently for Anthony to press him for what he was talking about.

Chapter 20

Earlier, back in the autopsy room and watching the rotund Dr. Burke washing the severed hand, Angela stood quietly next to the table. She wondered what else, if anything, the two men had found back at the chocolate factory. However, she was glad she had received the assignment of bringing back the hand to this air-conditioned room rather than being outside in the hot weather as they were.

“Angela, did you say you and Anthony thought this probably was a married Asian male?” Dr. Burke’s question pulled her out of her daydreaming. As she walked over to the autopsy table, she nodded. This made her blonde hair dance around her shoulders. The good doctor smiled at her. He rarely got to see such a beautiful woman here in his room of death, such a beautiful live woman. Angela was a favorite of his, and he always enjoyed her way of innocently flirting with him.

“Yes, because of the size of the hand and ring, and it’s definitely from a man, isn’t it?” As she questioned the good doctor, she realized that just perhaps they might have jumped the gun and decided facts before all the evidence was in. Although she enjoyed Randall’s company, she was glad he was miles away right now. He had often stated his mantra of “Don’t get ahead of the evidence!” Once again, she and Anthony might have rushed to judgment before having all the evidence.

Angela pitied poor Anthony, having to be there with Randall when told of this new evidence. On thinking that, she just realized something. She had to call their supervisor about this and possibly hear the implied “I told you so” in his voice.

”Okay, where did we go wrong?” Angela wanted to get the news from Dr. Burke quickly. No, what she wanted was to get that phone call to Randall behind her. Like the rest of those who worked for him, she hated to have him disappointed in her even in such a small way as this was.

“You were right in the sex of the hand; it does belong to a male. However, the size is that of a child, a teenager maybe between 15 and 18.” Angela grimaced at this news, as all of them hated dealing with a crime case where the victim was a child. Randall especially always seemed the most affected, so now she really dreaded making that call.

“What about the wedding ring on his finger then?” She suddenly remembered this and hoped Doctor Burke had made a mistake about the man’s age.

“Friendship ring, Angela, not wedding.”

So much for a reprieve from making that call to Randall, she thought. Dr. Burke held out the ring to show the inscription inside that read “To Bobby with love from Alice.” Now all they had to do is find out whom this Bobby was, if he was still alive and only missing a hand, or if there was more of him to recover and return to his family for a funeral. Determined not to run before the evidence again, she refused to consider this a murder yet. It could have been an accident, though how it could be with a hand in a vat and a missing body, alive or dead, she didn't know.

“Thanks, Doc. I’d better let Jeff know what you’ve found.” With that, Angela walked out of the morgue and used her cell phone to call the rest of her team at the chocolate factory. She had been right, it turned out, in figuring that Randall would be upset, although only someone who knew him as long as she did would have detected the change in his voice. In a polite but rather stilted voice, Randall asked her to stay back at the labs while they continued to search as long as it would take for more Bobby bits.

Chapter 21

Randall quickly filled Anthony in on what Angela had told him about the hand belonging to a young male named Bobby. He tried to keep his feelings out of his voice, but Anthony had worked with this sensitive man on cases where children or even babies had been the victims and knew how Randall was always deeply hurt by their deaths. He had often thought that Randall would make a wonderful father if only he could find a woman who could hold his interest long enough to get him away from his microscope and test tubes.

“Well, we better finish checking out this place for him then,” said Randall standing up and wearily heading for their last destination at the chocolate factory. Found next to the flower garden was a water recycling plant for private use here since water was like liquid gold in this country prone to droughts. The plant consisted of many small and large open containers with pathways between them stretching for some distance.

Splitting up to make the examinations go faster, Anthony started towards the back of the plant while Randall went to the nearest container and peered over its side. Inside was clear water with no human remains, so he walked to the next one then the next one, all free of Bobby or any part of him. Anthony did the same without finding anything pertinent to the case either.

At the end of two more long hours, the two men exhausted from being out so long in the hot muggy San Francisco weather, walked to the waiting SUV after thanking Mr. Pitts for all the help he had given them.

Randall made a quick cell call to Angela to let her know they were on their way back. His thoughts then went to the child whose hand they had found. Where is young Bobby, and is he still alive somewhere or simply waiting for their delayed discovery of dismemberment?

Chapter 22

With Anthony behind the wheel, as Randall sat next to him working on updating his notes, they sped from Petaluma towards the Golden Gate Bridge leading into San Francisco. Because of an eight-car pileup on the freeway near the county line, Anthony decided to take the back roads between Sonoma and Marin counties. The sky, minutes before filled with bright sunshine, started darkening from the advancing storm, and the first drops of rain began falling. Sheets of driving rain, making driving difficult, soon followed these. However, Anthony didn’t slow down as he was in a rush to get back to work before the roads became impassable.

As the SUV slid around a sharp corner, Randall fell against the passenger side’s door breaking his concentration and making him finally aware of the weather and the dangerous condition of the road. “Slow down, Anthony; let’s get back there in one piece.”

With those words no sooner out of his mouth, there appeared a flooded area only yards ahead. Run-off muddy water gushing down the hillside on their left poured over both lanes, getting deeper by the second. Before Anthony could stop the fast moving vehicle, the SUV hydroplaned, causing it to lose traction on the wet road. Fighting the suddenly unresponsive steering wheel, Anthony yelled, “I’ve lost control. Tighten your seat belt, Randall, and hold on.”

The rushing water pushed the vehicle to the right side of the road, smashing it repeatedly against an old guardrail. Weakened by many years of neglect, the guardrail finally gave way under the relentless pressure of the water. The SUV rolled over it and headed down the steep hill, followed by the fast-moving stream of dirty rainwater. Both men inside watched in silent horror as the SUV seemed, with a mind of its own, to aim for a large rock halfway down the hill.

The rock stopped their downward motion for only a split second. As the vehicle slid around it on the slippery grass, the SUV flipped over on its roof, back on its side, and again upright. The men inside the tumbling vehicle, held in place only by seat belts, instinctively covered their faces. After rolling over twice more, the SUV came to rest against a large tree near the bottom. It ended on its roof, deep in a ditch. No sound came from inside the SUV after the earsplitting noise of the metal against wood ended.

Up on the road, more traffic eventually passed by, but as everyone was trying to watch the road through the almost blinding downpour, no one noticed the damaged railing or muddy tire tracks disappearing on the other side. The quiet at the bottom of the hill continued with only the sound of rain dripping from tree limbs onto the bottom of the SUV. This water then slowly began leaking into the cabin of the vehicle onto the two unconscious and bleeding men hanging upside down, their buckled seat belts holding them in place. Only these pieces of strong material had saved them from crushing to death on their roll down the hill.

Chapter 23

Angela paced back and forth in Randall’s office waiting impatiently for the two men to return. Unable just to do nothing, she turned on the computer at his desk and pulled up the local web site for missing children. During the next few hours she slowly thumbed through the long list, looking for a teenage boy named Bobby. It saddened this mother to see how many lost children there were just around San Francisco and surrounding counties. She promised herself to try to spend more time with her son Billy once this case was over.

Finally, reaching a dead end, Angela concluded that either their Bobby wasn’t missing or no one cared enough about him to report him to the police. About to widen the scope of the web search, she looked down at her wristwatch and realized that almost four hours had passed since her last phone call from Randall. Surely, it didn’t take that long to drive from Petaluma to San Francisco. Having been inside the full time, Angela was unaware of how drastically the weather had changed in the last few hours.

Feeling the need to stretch her legs after sitting at the computer for those long hours, she decided to go outside and wait for Randall and Anthony there. As she reached the front glass door, it shocked her to see the sunny hot day had turned as dark as night with rain already flooding the parking lot. A small trashcan floated by to end trapped next to one of the SUVs used by the Crime Scene Unit. Trees on the edge of the large lot were whipping about in the furious wind, and two small uprooted trees were lying on top of cars near the rim of the lot.

The glass door and front wall of the building that was mainly of glass shook and threatened to break with each powerful gust of storm force wind. Angela ducked back in reflex as the wind picked up a limb from one of the downed trees nearby and smashed against the door not inches from where she had been standing. Luckily, the glass didn’t break, but spider cracks spiraled out from where the limb had hit. Angela, very wisely, decided to wait inside.

However, her worry about the two men out somewhere in this storm increased with every passing minute. Where were they? Were they still out on the roads trying to get back to the labs, or had they decided to hunker down somewhere and wait out the storm in safety?

Chapter 24

Back at the turtled SUV, neither man had regained consciousness. As the rain continued its steady pelting of the vehicle, it seeped into the cabin and slowly started to rise. Soon it reached the top of the heads of the two men hanging face downward. The shorter of the two, Anthony Greene, had his face protected by the inflated air bag on the driver’s side; the passenger’s side air bag, however, had inflated then deflated quickly when broken glass from the side window pierced it. This left Randall’s face almost submerged in the water getting ever closer to him. Had he survived the crash and multiple rolls down the hill to land in the ditch only to drown?

When the water, filthy now from filtering in through the undercarriage of the SUV reached his mouth, Randall started sputtering and quickly regained consciousness. He lifted his head out of the water and quickly saw the danger both of them were in. First task would be to get out of the safety harness holding him in place, and reaching around he found the lock to undo the belt. As he slipped free, he guided himself down to crouch on the ceiling of the SUV now completely covered with rainwater. After feeling for Anthony’s pulse to check for life and finding it, Randall unhooked his still unconscious friend, being sure to keep his head above water, too.

With the water coming in from above rapidly filling the vehicle, he pushed at the driver’s side door against the pressure of the outside water. The door on his side appeared mangled with no hope of getting out that way. Outside the ditch, only recently dry as a bone, had filled up to above the level of the window. This caused that water to pour in faster and faster through the inch or so Anthony had left the window open while driving making opening the door almost impossible. The electrical system had already shorted out, so using the power window switch was also useless.

Having no other alternative, Randall held Anthony’s body out of the way and began smashing at the window with swift kicks from his right foot. It took half a dozen times, but finally the glass shattered. Randall quickly removed the remainder of the glass, cutting his hands severely. There was simply no time left to be careful as the water now was almost filling the cabin. Randall pushed Anthony out of the window, following him out and up to the surface before they both drowned.

Chapter 25

Feeling more frustrated and worried at each tick of the clock, Angela finally decided to call Captain Steele and ask for his help in finding her coworkers. Calls from citizens finding themselves in danger from the storm swamped the regular lines to the police station. However, she was able to get through to him on his private cell phone. After she explained the situation including the finding of the severed child’s hand, she felt relief when Steele agreed to have his units out on patrol look for the CSU vehicle and report if or when they found it.

No sooner had she hung up then her cell rang showing Dr. Burke was calling. “Angela,” she heard his excited voice say when she answered, “I think you’d better get back here. I found something on the hand that might interest you.” Hanging up and now with a definite purpose, she strode down the corridors to reach the morgue, slamming open the door to surprise Dr. Burke with the speed at which she had responded and the noise of her arrival.

“I’m here!” Her unnecessary comment made him smile as he motioned her over to the autopsy table where the severed hand was on display. As she looked down at it, she could now see a small tattoo that had previously been almost invisible because of the wrinkled liquid-soaked condition of the hand. It was on the inside wrist on the folds between the hand and where the arm would have ended and disappeared when Dr. Burke moved the hand.

“Too bad Anthony isn’t here yet.” Angela was referring to his vast knowledge of tats and the various people who performed this body art throughout the area. “He’d know just by looking at it where we should go to find out who did it, and possibly they could even give us the boy’s name.” Dr. Burke nodded in agreement.

“Have you heard from them yet?” He understood and shared Angela’s worry as, even though he liked Anthony, he considered himself a good friend of the supervisor who shared his fascination with the intricacies of deciphering how people had died not to mention their taste for good coffee.

She shook her head no, after thanking the doctor for this new information, took a photograph of it, and left to search the web once again for this particular design. It was a strange looking tattoo and unfamiliar to anything she had seen in past cases.

Chapter 26

As he reached the surface of the muddy water, Randall hooked his right arm under Anthony’s chin to keep his head above it and looked around for a safer place to go. Both sides of the now-widened ditch were a distance away with debris pulled along in the water’s strong flow. Staying where they were was too dangerous as he saw a small tree yanked from the bottom of the ditch coming his way. Holding on tightly to Anthony, Randall struck out with powerful strokes of his long legs towards the left side of the ditch. He had quickly ascertained which side the road was on and headed towards it in the hopes that someone would notice the crashed SUV and rescue them.

The rain was still coming down so heavily that Randall soon found it almost impossible to see the side of the ditch where he was aiming. The weight of Anthony’s still unconscious body was pulling him relentlessly into the fast flow of the water, but he refused to let go. To compound the problem, the howling wind blew water into his face and then lungs making it even more difficult to breathe. Randall was in excellent physical shape, something required of everyone in the SFPD, but he quickly became exhausted from the fierce struggle against nature.

As he tried with one last effort to make some headway to the ditch’s bank, his grasp on Anthony began to loosen. With his final ounce of strength, he tried to get out of the swift current while holding on to the man who had worked beside him all these years. As if to add one final straw for the weakly struggling man, coming down towards him were the remains of an old wooden shack built near the ditch a mile away. Caught up in the sudden rush of water, the debris contained rusting canisters of pesticide and other elements used in farm country such as sharp and dangerous picks and shovels.

All of this was heading at breakneck speed towards the two men, giving Randall mere minutes to get out of the middle of the deadly ditch and to the safety of its banks.

As he looked back and saw what was coming towards them, he made one last super human effort to save both of them from a painful death.

Chapter 27

Steele called Angela as soon as he heard from an officer patrolling on a back road between the counties of Marin and Sonoma. The policewoman had found the damaged guardrail by accident as she drove slowly in the still heavy rain. By now, there was no other traffic on the road, and she was able to take her eyes off the road to check for the missing SUV.

“Well?” Angela asked frantically when Steele momentarily paused. “Where are Jeff and Anthony? Are they okay?” The silence on the other end of the line continued until she wanted to scream.

“Angela, the officer found the SUV at the bottom of the hill; it had flipped over in a ditch that’s now a raging river.” Steele continued with sadness in his gruff voice. “The vehicle was completely flooded inside and about to float away from the strength of the water passing through it, but there was no sign of Jeff or Anthony.”

“What are you doing to find them?” Angela almost screamed into the phone. “They’re probably hurt or dying out there.” At the thought of her two friends dying, this normally cool and collected woman started crying. This brought Dr. Burke out from the morgue nearby.

He took the cell phone from her hands to question the captain further on the progress at finding Randall and Anthony. Finishing the conversation in just a few words, he hung up the phone. With a sad look on his normally jovial face, he turned to the waiting woman.

Dr. Burke walked Angela back to Randall’s office and told her exactly what Steele had passed on to him. “Until the storm ended,” he repeated word for word, “it was too dangerous for the officers to go down to the ditch, now full-fledged river, to find their bodies.”

“I won’t accept that! I won’t!” With that, Angela pushed past Dr. Burke and headed to the front door. There was no way she was staying inside when she could be out looking for the two missing men. On reaching the door, though, she stopped. The water from outside, now slowly seeping in underneath the door, started to cross the floor. So far, it was only a minor amount. Soon, though, it would spread all the way to the corridor leading down to all the labs.

Turning around and heading back, she passed Dr. Burke coming after her. Angela started calling out for Jake and Mary, two of the other scientists. She knew they were in the evidence room working on another case. With Dr. Burke in tow, she quickly found Jake and Mary. After telling them she needed their help, without giving them an explanation, she raced back to the front area. The three people following her had no idea what she was talking about or what was wrong. As their feet suddenly sloshed through the now ankle-deep water, the problem quickly became apparent to them, but not the solution.

With the water slowly seeping under the door, Angela ran back and hunted down some dirty lab coats from the autopsy room. As she and the others were shoving them around the doorjamb, Jake pointed out the rain outside had slowed down while the wind no longer was shaking the front windows. Thankfully, the storm was winding down before the incoming water flooded the labs. They could all rest easy and now concentrate on the more important task of finding their two missing friends.

Angela immediately got on the phone to Steele and practically threatened him with bodily harm if he didn’t send out some officers to find Anthony and Randall since the storm was over. “I’m not meaning in a couple hours, Bob, I mean right NOW!”

“Yes, Ma’am. Right away, Ma’am,” laughed Steele, delighted to finally get off his butt and do something to find them. He immediately notified his officers, including the woman who had discovered the SUV, and had them start searching up and down the banks of the ditch where she found it. With luck and before dark, they would find the two men alive and well. However, Steele wasn’t holding out much hope of that after hearing how trashed their SUV had been.

Chapter 28

Randall was still holding on as tightly as he could with a now numb hand under Anthony’s chin. He managed to loop his other arm around one of the waterlogged pieces of wood from the dismantled shed as it swiftly crashed into him.

Battered all over his body by the material from this shed, he did his best to prevent injury to Anthony who still had not regained consciousness. With no strength left, the exhausted man swept further down with the flash flood, never letting go his death grip around his friend’s neck.

About seven miles from the SUV’s crash site, the water containing the two men raced around a bend in the newly created river. A long low branch of a tree hung out over the area, partially submerged in the water. Randall crashed stomach first into it, knocking what remained of his breath out of his body.

When this happened, he lost his grip on Anthony. The second man slid under the branch, surfacing on the other side to lodge in some of its smaller limbs. Thankfully, his head was above water, but the same could not be said for Randall.

Randall hung over the branch into the water with his face fully submerged. Too exhausted to move and aching in every bone and muscle, he almost welcomed death to end this torture. However, deep inside dwelled a little kernel of self-preservation. This gave him just enough strength, from some hidden well of energy, to bring his head out of the water and rest it on the branch.

By now, Randall’s clothes were in tatters and hanging from his bruised and bloodied body. His hands, severely cut in the attempt to get out of the flooded SUV, no longer pained him. They had long since lost any sensation whatsoever. For long minutes, Randall just hung over the branch. Blinded by the driving rain and dazed, he failed to realize that, only inches away on the other side, Anthony was slowly becoming conscious.

Anthony was groggy but alive and mostly uninjured; more so than Randall was at this point. Throughout their wild ride in the violently thrashing water, Randall tried to protect his friend’s body as much as possible. This was while he took the full brunt of the debris smashing against his own defenseless body.

When fully awake, Anthony suddenly discovered himself snuggled tightly between two small tree limbs with no idea how he had landed there. He wiggled his body out of the limbs deeper into the water and reach out to grab the larger branch in front of him. His hand touched something that felt like flesh, causing him to shudder, knowing he was more than likely touching a dead body.

However, the scientist in him made him overcome his instinctive revulsion and look over the branch. What shocked him was to see the body of his supervisor, who only recently had been warm when he had last seen him . Randall now was apparently cold and dead, draped half on and half off the branch, and not moving.

Randall’s eyes were closed while his body, especially his hands, was covered with cuts still seeping blood. This gave Anthony hope that he was still alive.

By now, the water had calmed down enough for him to duck under the branch. He felt for a pulse, found one, and started yelling from pure relief at finding his boss still alive, even though just barely breathing. Grabbing Randall around his waist, Anthony pulled him toward the bank of the ditch. At this point, the river or ditch slowed the racing current. It was down enough to allow him to drag the limp body up onto the bank, out of the water to safety.

Now came the hard part, keeping Randall alive until help came.

Chapter 29

The various officers conducting this life-or-death search slowly started reporting in to Steele about their success, or lack of it, at finding the two missing men. They had started at the point where the totaled SUV was and fanned out on both sides of the ditch. As was usual in this terrain, once the rain had stopped, the water inside the ditch started sinking into the parched ground. This left a thick layer of mud in its wake. What shortly before had been a wild and dangerous flash flood settled down to a trickle in the middle of the ditch, and then nothing.

The hot sun that had disappeared for a few hours now came out in full force to finish drying out the area. It beat down relentlessly on both searchers and victims alike. Within an hour, the temperature at the waning hours of that long day shot up to an almost unbearable 100 degree. Only the quickly coming nightfall promised respite from the heat.

As the afternoon progressed without any sign of the men, Steele authorized scent dogs. Two cinnamon-colored bloodhounds soon were investigating the SUV. They headed off down the ditch towards the city of San Francisco with their female handlers holding on tightly to their leads. The dogs continued with heads close to the ground and ears scooping up any scent that might be helpful. Mile after mile, humans and canines searched the banks of the ditch, looking for some sign of the missing men, hope fading with each mile.

With the darkness of night being only about half an hour away, Steele considered calling off the search until the next morning. His optimism had eroded with each passing negative report. He knew it was no longer a search and rescue operation. He also realized he had to consider the safety of his officers out there in such a dangerous terrain. Sadly, tomorrow would have to be soon enough for what now would be a search and recovery for the bodies.

After quickly telling the people waiting back at the labs of his decision, he checked in with the woman heading the search out in the field. Hating himself for doing it, Steele ordered her to notify the others to return to the department for debriefing. She agreed reluctantly and started making the cell phone calls to the men and women up and down the long twisted ditch. One by one, she reached them, and they started back to the central meeting place near the SUV.

The last called were the two young women, Rachel and Amy, from the K9 unit. They managed to get ahead of all the other police officers with the two dogs and refused to give up even with the call to return. Their excuse for not returning immediately was "last in, last out".

Chapter 30

With the sun now dipping below the horizon, the cold desert night settled in. Shivering and knowing that a drop in temperature might be fatal to the barely alive Randall, Anthony wrapped his arms around the other man’s chest. This was in the hopes he could share some of his body heat. He also knew he needed to stay awake in case help was close and decided singing might do the trick.

Since Jake constantly was teasing him about trying to be another Neil Diamond, he started out with his “Solitary Man” then switched over to another song, “I Am…I Said”. Singing this at the top of his lungs, he hoped someone would find these solitary men.

Randall, sliding into delirium from weakness and shock, started to struggle. He mumbled about wanting some of Dr. Burke’s coffee and complained about being so cold. Anthony silently agreed that hot coffee would be perfect, but just seeing a friendly face would satisfy him. Even the acid-tongued supervisor on the other shift, George Dennison, suddenly showing up would be okay. Damn it, he thought, feeling sorry for himself. I’m alone with Randall who’s dying in front of me. I’m freezing and hungry. Never in his life had his spirits been so low. Even returning to singing did not help.

Chapter 31

Shining her flashlight over towards the other K9 handler, Rachel stopped suddenly to listen. “Amy, do you hear that?”

“What?” The taller woman also stopped and reined in her dog sharply. She knew from working with her longtime coworker that Rachel had excellent hearing. The other woman often could hear sounds that she could not. Her own better vision balanced this out and made them a perfect team.

The redhead started laughing and aimed the flashlight ahead of them. It shone into some trees next to the ditch they had been following for hours. “It sounds like one of those songs you’re always playing, something about a frog and a chair.”

“Could that be them? Still alive?” The two women started running. The bloodhounds, finally catching the scent of the stranded men, pulled them along even faster.

Chapter 32

Randall was slowly slipping into his final sleep. Unaware of this, Anthony still held him tightly. The young man was leaning against a tree with his eyes closed, still singing, but now more softly from exhaustion. With a yell of surprise, as a wet nose nuzzled his face, he jumped to his feet. When doing this, he dropped Randall back on the ground.

It had been one of the dogs, of course. However, Anthony could only see the two women, angels from Heaven with dirty but happily smiling faces. The dogs jumped up on him. They then decided the man lying on the ground was more interesting. As Randall opened his eyes, a slimy tongue greeted him by licking his face. The other dog was busy sniffing all the delicious smells covering his torn clothes and bruised body.

Gently pushing the dog away from his now wet cheek, Randall again closed his eyes. He became aware of the excited voice of Anthony talking with two women. A big smile crossed his handsome face, believing he was dreaming of a welcome into Valhalla by the Valkyries. The presence of Anthony in Valhalla confused him for a moment. That was until he remembered his young friend was a warrior at heart. He was unaware one of the women was making a hasty cell phone call to her commander at the staging area near the SUV. Randall stretched out on the ground searching for the warmth, suddenly taken away from him.

Seeing him shivering with his mostly exposed body covered with cuts and bruises, Rachel took off her K9 unit jacket. She placed it over Randall’s long, bloody, and nearly naked legs. Amy looked over and saw the condition the man on the ground was in, She handed her own jacket to the other woman to use as a cover over his chest. They tucked the two heavy jackets in tightly around him to hold in whatever heat his body was still generating. At that point, the three other adults sat down around him to wait for the promised help to come from upstream.

Chapter 33

Angela led the charge over to Memorial Hospital where Steele said the paramedics took Randall and Anthony after finding them. The message he received from the commander of the search unit matched the happiness generated by his phone call to waiting scientists. After he had confirmed that both men were alive, if not in perfect health, Steele had taken time to go into his office. The tired man felt his body slump in relief as the good news settled in.

No one would ever know from this gruff and often grumpy man how he had been dreading seeing the dead bodies of the two men. One was a friend whose intelligence often mystified him. He had watched the other man grow from a nervous academy graduate into a man he trusted. Knowing that Randall still was in danger did worry him, but he refused to believe he would lose this old friend after all the man went through.

Leaving the department in the care of the remaining officers, Steele quickly drove his Taurus the short distance to the hospital to join the others in waiting to hear about the condition of the two men. Angela came over to him as he walked into the ER waiting room. The lovely blonde surprised him by putting her arms around him to give him a big kiss on his cheek. “Thank you, Bob, for not giving up!” she whispered. “They owe you their lives.”

Steele felt guilty but did not tell her that he had called off the search. He did this before two stubborn K9 unit women, who refused to obey their commander, found the men. He made a mental note to thank these women personally first chance he got.

Chapter 34

An hour later, Anthony walked out of the ER, slightly the worse for wear, but walking under his own steam. His head wore a white bandage around it. A spot of blood showed from the newly stitched wound caused in the initial car crash. On seeing their condition, the nurses threw away his torn and bloody clothing. In exchange, they gave him an ill-fitting pair of jeans and plaid shirt from Memorial’s Lost and Found Department. He was barefoot since he had lost his shoes in the river with no pair found to fit him. Despite that, he failed to even notice the cold industrial-strength linoleum under his feet. The love coming to him from his friends gathering around him warmed his body as no shoes or even that longed for hot cup of coffee could.

Still rather weak, he sat down and slowly told his audience what had happened between Randall’s phone call to Angela and the K9 unit and their wonderful dogs finding them. Looks of disbelief and horror alternately crossed their faces as they realized the danger these two men had been in for hours.

Anthony did not know all the details of the wild trip down the flooded ditch to their final resting place. However, he figured out part of them from seeing Randall’s bruised and bleeding body. The fact that he was in much better shape helped fill in some of that missing time while he had been unconscious. He knew that Randall saved his life, just not how many times that day.

Even while telling his story, Anthony and the others constantly looked to the doors leading to the ER, anxiously waiting for news about Randall. They did not even know if he was still alive or if they had lost their favorite boss man. Time dragged on. Now and then, one of them would remember something about him they wanted to share with the others. Only Angela kept her memories to herself, knowing there would be a large hole in her life and in her heart if Randall died.

Chapter 35

When everyone had settled down, quietly waiting for word from the doctors, Anthony suddenly thought of something. “Angela, did you find out anything more about the boy with the chocolate hand?” She glanced over at him, looking for his second head. He surely had grown another one to be thinking about work at a time like this. Deciding to humor him, though, she did describe the tattoo Dr. Burke had found. Anthony surprised her with a big smile suddenly crossing his face.

“Yeah, that’s a gang tattoo, the SF Brothers.” Anthony stopped smiling when he realized what this meant. “They are a vicious group of youngsters who hate any adult. At the age of 18, the member is either just kicked out of the gang if a high-up member who’s earned his stripes or killed in a bizarre ritual if not.” Knowing where they found the hand, Anthony went on to tell the others that part of the ritual was to place body parts of their murdered comrade in public places as a way of shaming the member for becoming an adult. There were few places more public than a tourist trap like the chocolate factory.

“Where is the rest of him then if he’s dead?” Jake asked this out of curiosity, morbidly fascinated by the different ways people attain death. “I mean, you and Randall didn’t find the rest of him there, did you?” Anthony shook his head, wondering the same thing. However, he knew that they might never find the body. The SF Brothers had years of practice disposing of bodies in all the hiding places San Francisco and the surrounding mountains had to offer them. All that remained was to identify Bobby, and that they would leave in the capable hands of others. Their job of processing evidence was done in this case as far as he was concerned.

Chapter 36

The night hours dragged by slowly. More and more people, including George Dennison and police he had worked with over the years, came to join Randall’s immediate circle of friends. Doctors and nurses came in and out of the ER doors. People waiting for other patients either walked out with them or left to be with them on another floor. Some of the anxiously waiting group did manage to snatch some sleep. Most, though, just sat there numb with worry or silently praying for the life of the man who was the father and protector of his shift.

Just before dawn, a doctor came out of the ER to join them. He looked tired but pleased with having some good news to report for a change. So many times, his words to those waiting contained the death of a loved one. This time, he was glad he did not have to do this. He knew, from having seen many news reports about him, that Randall was a special human being to many people, whether they knew him personally or not. Over the years, Jeff Randall helped bring countless criminals to justice and closure to the families of innocent victims.

“He’s alive, still seriously ill, but out of danger.” These few words settled over Randall’s friends like a comfortable blanket, wrapping them in the joy of knowing they would not lose him. “He has fractured ribs, a collapsed lung, and so many cuts all over his body we lost count stitching him up,” he continued. “We want to keep him in the hospital at least a week for observation. When he goes home, though, someone should live with him for a few days. He’s going to be weak and will need help with basic activities of daily living.”

Dr. Martin started laughing as everyone in the room volunteered at once to stay with Randall as long as needed. Yes, he thought happily, it was a pleasure to have a happy ending like this, wasn’t it?

Years of Wonder

Chapter 37

CSI supervisor Jeff Randall got the call just as he came on duty for the night. The police found three adult bodies at a local school for exceptional children, and they needed him to process the scene. Grabbing his kit and paging Anthony Greene, the only other forensic scientist on duty a few minutes before shift change, he quickly walked out towards the parking lot and the unit’s black SUV.

As Anthony joined him, Randall made sure to aim for the driver’s seat as he was in no mood for the other man’s NASCAR type of driving tonight. He quickly drove the SUV out towards the street and almost ran into a car speeding into the lot. Out jumped an irate blonde whom he recognized as his co-worker, Angela Starkey. At another time, he might have enjoyed watching his friend lose her temper since she did it with such style and verve, but he quickly interrupted her tirade to explain his hurry.

“Well, Jeff, what are you waiting for then? I’ll follow you there.” At that, she got back into her car, made a U-turn, and raced down the street behind the SUV.

Anthony winced as Randall took out his cell phone to call back to the lab; Randall tended to concentrate on one thing at a time when on the job. Driving now was a second priority to catching the other three scientists who should have arrived at work by now. When Mary answered the phone, he explained the situation to her and gave her the address where he wanted her, Jake, and the new guy to meet them. With three bodies and a crime scene to process, it might need all members of the night shift. This was as good a time as any for Simon to start learning the basics of the job.

Since Gayle Seaver recently returned to school to work towards her advance degree in criminal justice, Randall had acquired another recruit. Simon Davis was a recent academy graduate, well versed in the theoretical side of forensics, but needing additional field training. Randall liked the single-minded, intense young man who reminded him of himself when younger.

Anthony looked towards Randall as they drove through the city and asked, “What do you know about this school? I heard it’s for brainy kids, genius level ones. Randall took his eyes off the road to look over at Anthony causing his passenger instantly to regret the question. Before they slammed into an oncoming car, Randall remembered what he was doing and returned his attention to driving. “Randall, why don’t you let me drive for a bit?” This came out in a pleading tone, but Randall already was pulling into a circular driveway that led to a low brick building. Expertly manicured grounds, beautiful when seen in the daylight, surrounded it. Now in the middle of the night, they appeared only vague shapes and shadows of bushes and trees.

In the driveway nearest to the building was the Taurus belonging to Captain Steele, Parked nearby were two police cars and the coroner’s van just waiting for the release of the three bodies. The flashing blue and white lights of the police cars eerily lit the scene with no lights on in the building except those coming from the front room. Captain Steele stood at the open front door waiting patiently for the two CSIs to leave their SUV and reach him.

Chapter 38

“Body count still the same, Bob? Three adults?” The stocky police captain nodded an affirmative to Randall’s question and led the two men inside to the front room stopping at the doorway. It was a large room, clearly used for impressing visitors with its understated elegance. A reception area was off to one side with comfortable chairs surrounding a long glass and mahogany desk. Seated in the executive chair behind the desk was a slender brunette, probably in her 40s, whose head was resting on the desk as if she were asleep. Only the blood that had dripped off the table onto the cream-colored rug gave evidence that she was dead and not simply sleeping.

While Randall walked further into the room, Anthony stopped to examine the woman’s body. Taking out his camera, he took pictures from many angles before checking out her head wound with his gloved hands. “It looks like blunt force, Randall, at least two blows to the back of the head,” he called out. Randall turned around with a quick nod to acknowledge this information, and then continued to the second body. This was a male in his 30s, dressed in an expensive dark gray suit with a sparkling white shirt, now ruined by the large amount of blood showing on both sides of his dark-blue tie. He was on the floor next to the third body, a woman also in her 30s. She was bleeding from a chest wound that stained her beautiful Chanel suit of pale green silk. Her long blonde hair spread out around her face where there was still a look of surprise caught at the moment of her death.

Randall knelt down without touching either body and just studied them for about 10 minutes. Finally, he got up and walked back to the doorway where Steele was quietly waiting. Anthony followed him and was about to go outside to join Angela. She had been watching for the arrival of the others, per Randall’s instructions.

“Bob, I noticed a door at the far end of the room. Have you cleared the rest of the building yet?” While asking, Randall pointed out the door’s location to Steele. Something told him there was more to this crime scene needing investigation.

“Not yet. Once they found these bodies, the officers who had responded to a silent alarm called me, and I called you.” Hugging the wall, Steele, followed closely by Randall, headed for the door. Anthony, knowing that his supervisor probably wouldn’t think to take out his gun, decided to follow them as backup….just in case. With Steele in the lead holding his own gun in front of him, the three men reached the closed door. As Steele slowly opened the door, they discovered it led into a long unlit wide corridor with about half a dozen rooms on each side.

Randall, as Anthony had predicted, didn’t take out his gun, but turned on his flashlight instead to light the way for the three men. Steele looked in and cleared the first two empty classrooms quickly. As they kept walking down the corridor, Randall sniffed the air and made the comment, “Copper. Can you smell it? Blood, lots of blood back here.” Both of the other men nodded and became more alert, adrenaline racing through them. Steele quickly checked and cleared the third room, evidently a library. He did the same to the fourth and fifth, two more classrooms. By now, the smell of blood had become even stronger.

Chapter 39

They found the door to the sixth and last room on this corridor closed, unlike those of the other five rooms. Motioning for Randall and Anthony to stand back, Steele opened the door, and then stopped in horror at what was waiting for the three of them. Not pausing for Steele to tell them the room was clear, Anthony followed him in, but quickly moved aside to let his supervisor in. He heard a low sound come from Randall half way between a moan of pain and a growl of anger. Knowing from past experience how this older man felt about any death of a child, Anthony could only imagine what the sight in front of them did to him.

Randall and Anthony aimed the lights from their flashlights around what turned out to be a well-equipped laboratory. On the floor in various positions of death were the bodies of five children, three boys and two girls. They ranged in age from around six to early teens. Blood had congealed around all the bodies creating a macabre tapestry reminiscent of a portrait by Dali.

“My God, what went on here?” Randall managed in a rasping voice to get these horrified words out as he stood there unable to move for the moment. He took a shuddering breath and turned towards the two waiting men. “Anthony, you’re on point in this room. I’ll send Jake and Simon back to help you.” As he walked back out of the room, Steele followed him.

“You okay, Jeff?” asked Steele in a worried voice. He also knew how the sight of the massacred children must be affecting his friend. Randall kept walking as if he hadn’t heard before abruptly stopping halfway back down the corridor.

“Simon!” He said this one word as if just realizing what he was about to ask that young man to do. “Bob, I can’t let him see those kids that way. He’s just not ready to process this type of massacre.” The sadness Steele had seen in his friend’s eyes grew even more pronounced at these words.

“Simon might surprise you, Jeff. Besides, he has to lose his work cherry at some time, and he’ll have all of you to be there with him to help him through this.” Steele put a comforting hand on the other man’s shoulder. At Randall’s quick nod of agreement, Steele started walking again, and the two men exited the corridor back into the main room.

Chapter 40

After passing once again through the reception area, Randall continued outside where an impatient Angela stood with the other newly arrived staff members. Steele had stayed behind to talk with a uniformed officer, who then walked to stand by the closed door to the back of the building. When the captain finally joined the others outside, he listened as Randall handed out the various work details to his crew.

“Jake, Simon, you’re with me. There are five dead children inside,” said Randall softly. “I’m sorry, Angela, but I want both you and Mary to stay in the front room and process the three adult bodies.” When Mary started muttering under her breath about a newbie like Simon going into the actual school instead of her, Randall heard her. He turned and spoke in a sharp voice she had rarely heard, “Mary, I’ve given you your assignment. If you’re not willing to do your job, you may go back to the lab or go home. It’s your choice!” With that stinging rebuke, he left her standing in shock while motioning the rest to get to work.

Without another word, Jake and Simon followed their supervisor into the building, past the officer guarding the corridor door, and down the long corridor. Angela stood for a moment to see what Mary would do. She started inside when she saw the younger woman’s shoulders slump in defeat. Without a word passing between them, they got to work processing the bodies of the three adults, looking up now and then at the closed corridor door, wondering what was happening behind it.

As the three men walked down the corridor, Randall thought to warn Jake and Simon about what they would be seeing. However, since words seemed inadequate, he kept quiet but watched for signs of their inability to handle the massacre in the room. Jake, being more familiar with the bloody smell of death, braced himself mentally for what was ahead. He glanced at Randall and feared the worse when he saw the worried expression on the tall older man’s face when looking at the unsuspecting newest member of his shift.

Randall led the way into the laboratory where Anthony was already photographing the oldest child, a boy of about 15 years. They saw the body slumped on the floor against a work counter. A Bunsen burner continued to burn under a nearly empty flask of yellow fluid. After photographing and dusting for prints, Anthony had turned the burner off before the fluid evaporated. He then took a sample of the liquid for trace analysis.

Jake followed Randall into the room, shocked speechless by what he saw. The sound of gagging behind him warned him that Simon didn’t have the strong stomach the rest of them had cultivated from long experience in the field.

Randall’s quick glance towards him had Simon catching his breath to choke out, “I’m okay, sir. The smell just got to me for a second. Where do you want me to start?” His supervisor gave him a pleased look of encouragement then pointed him towards a girl near where Anthony was working. The child was lying on the floor in the fetal position so the cause of death wasn’t readily apparent. Only when Simon came nearer could he see she no longer had a face. What must have been a gunshot at close range blew it off. Forcing down the bile rising into his throat, he knelt and started taking the required photographs.

Chapter 41

With Simon processing the young girl who was about 12 years old, Jake headed for the next child. This was another preteen girl dressed in a pink dress, white ankle socks, and dainty Mary Jane patent leather shoes. It crossed Jake’s mind that she should be safely at home playing with her toys instead of lying on a schoolroom’s floor butchered by some unknown maniac. Like Simon, he immediately got to work, forcing all useless images away to concentrate on what he needed to do.

Three children now had a caring silent man near them while the last two, both boys in their early teens, waited their turns. Anthony finished with the first child and phoned Michael, the coroner waiting outside, to come and remove him. Before moving on to the next body, he cornered Randall just as his supervisor started processing the last child. Pulling him out of the earshot of the other men, Anthony gave Randall a curious look.

“Jake just told me you’d told the women they weren’t to come back here. Randall, you’ve never played the “must protect the fairer sex” card before. Why now? Both Mary and Angela are going to be mighty pissed at you for pulling it on this case. What gives?” Knowing he might be stepping over the line with his supervisor for questioning his decision, Anthony nevertheless puzzled over Randall’s reaction. It wasn’t as if the two women hadn’t seen bloody crime scenes or dead children before; it had to be something else.

Randall opened his mouth to answer, but the arrival of Michael wheeling in the autopsy room gurney interrupted him. “Go show Michael which body he can have. I want you to take the trace items to Steele for transport back to the lab.” Realizing the moment for an explanation had passed, Anthony returned to the side of the boy’s body and gathered the camera, liquid sample, and other meager trace elements he’d found. After Michael had lifted the body to the gurney and zipped it into the small body bag, both men left the room with Anthony leading the way.

When they reached the front room where Angela and Mary were working on the two females, Anthony steeled himself for the questions he knew would be coming. To his surprise, Mary just stared at the gurney without a word while Angela, noticing the size of the body bag, realized what must be going on behind that closed door.

“How many?” She didn’t even have to say more as Mary swung towards her, understanding sinking in finally.

“Five. All children, all dead!” Anthony’s softly spoken words echoed throughout the whole room. “Don’t ask me why Randall wouldn’t let you back there. I asked, but he didn’t tell me.” With that, he continued after the coroner out the front door leaving the two women to wonder at Randall’s strange action. He had never shown any signs of being sexist before, so Angela knew it had to be something else. But what?

Chapter 42

The hours passed slowly as they photographed, examined, and removed body after body for transport to Dr. Burke’s autopsy room. After Mary and Angela completed the three adults in the front room, Randall had Mary return to the labs with the evidence collected from them. Following his terse instructions, Angela stayed behind to give that large room a thorough going over for any clues the killer or killers possibly left behind.

Meanwhile, they took all five children, one by one, outside to the waiting coroner’s van. While the three younger men stayed behind to further examine the laboratory, Randall followed Michael with the last gurney out around 6 a.m. and noted there had been a light rain falling sometime during the night. Puddles of muddy water dotted the front lawn, and the mornings air smelled fresh and clean after his long hours in the bloody room. He also saw that a small group of neighbors, interested bystanders, and members of the media had started to congregate at the far end of the driveway, kept away from the crime scene by Steele’s vigilant officers.

As he walked towards Steele, who was leaning against his Taurus sipping stale coffee from a Styrofoam cup, Randall noticed a young woman standing next to him. She held the leash of a large dog, a St. Bernard mixed with what looked to Randall to be Old English sheepdog. The beast, no matter what its parentage, was huge, hairy, and not an animal Randall in his tired state wanted to annoy. He slowed his steps on reaching the small group, not to alarm the dog. The dog just sat there by the woman, drooling as dogs of his breed do, ignoring the approaching man.

“Miss Hutton,” said Steele standing up to introduce the two people, ‘I’d like you to meet Jeff Randall. He’s in charge tonight.” Turning to his silent friend, he continued, “Jeff, this is Miss Hutton, one of the teachers here. She has the list of the students who came to last night’s special chemistry class and is curious about where the other children are.”

Chapter 43

Randall stared in shock at Steele, trying to get the question out that was circling wildly through his mind. He opened then closed his mouth again since he had suddenly lost the ability to speak at the idea of more slaughtered children waiting for them somewhere in the building. How much more were he and his crew forced to undergo, and when would this terrible night end? Even though he had seen so much horror and senseless death in his many years doing this job, he was at the point of emotional exhaustion. How could he expect the less experienced crew he was responsible for to process even more dead children?

Seeing his friend was almost at the point of total collapse on hearing this news, Steele took pity on him. He replied to his unasked question in an emotionless monotone, “There are two more children missing, Joshua and Sue Beth Wilson!” Randall closed his eyes for a second or two before slowly turning and walking into the building. He didn’t acknowledge or even hear Angela calling out to him, but just continued back to where the three younger men were finishing packing evidence in preparation for their return to the lab. Their conversations suddenly stopped as they caught sight of Randall’s face. The deadly silence went on and on while he tried to frame how to tell them there still was more work ahead of them. The only sounds were the ticking of a clock on the wall near the door and a slight rustling from somewhere in the room.

Randall quickly swiveled toward that last sound as he moved his head back and forth like a sonar unit trying to pinpoint its location. The sudden and continued silence had him wondering if he had heard the rustling or was it just his overtired imagination. After he quickly told them about the two missing children, the men spread out to search the parts of the room not yet examined. Anthony and Jake headed for closets in the back of the room while Simon started opening the large drawers back there that probably held the rarely used instruments of science. The only other place left for Randall was an unexplored area behind a set of cabinet doors underneath one of the tables against a far wall. Since they found the bodies nearer to the front of the room, no one thought to check out the closets, large drawers, or this area under the table.

Slowly, dreading what he might find there, Randall knelt down on one knee to open first one then the other door. Two pairs of wide terrified eyes stared out at him. A boy about seven years old huddled protectively over a silently crying girl a couple years younger. For all the long hours the men had been processing the room, the two children sat there paralyzed in fear, unable to know that help was just on the other side of the doors.

Randall called out quietly to not scare the children even further, “Guys, I found them, and they’re alive.” He didn’t even realized that tired tears of relief were flowing down his face as he slowly reached in to help the two youngsters out of their hiding place. With the three relieved men standing behind him, he used his left arm to pick up and hold the little girl. She immediately put her arms tightly around his neck almost strangling him. As he got to his feet, the boy grabbed hold of his right hand and wouldn’t let go. Neither child said a word, but just held on for dear life to their large rescuer.

With both children snuggled against him, the girl against his chest and the boy almost glued to his right leg, Randall walked out of the bloody room and down the corridor followed by the three exhausted and suddenly cheerful men. When Angela saw them entering the front room, she couldn’t help herself and started smiling at the sight of her good friend, this gentle man, bringing the two living children to safety. Even though she’d seen five small body bags leave, Angela knew finding these two meant the world to him. She walked over to have the men gather her into their triumphant parade with Randall leading the way outside.

Chapter 44

Miss Hutton let out a cry upon seeing Randall with the two children and ran across the muddy lawn towards the group. Reaching Randall, she managed to untangle the little girl’s arms from around his neck and almost smothered the child in hugs as she stepped back with her now gathered in her own arms. Randall, after rubbing his neck to regain circulation, knelt down at the level of the boy to check him out belatedly for any wounds. Finding none, he smiled at the child and looked up towards the woman who was ready to also start hugging the boy.

She even looked, in her complete joy at having the two children safe and sound, more than ready to hug the stuffing out of Randall, too. Seeing this and rather looking forward to it, Randall started grinning, as he got ready to rise from his kneeling position.

“Hey, Randall! Duck, Jeff! Watch out!”

This concert of startled loud cries from his friends confused him until he suddenly felt himself knocked over and slammed to the ground. He landed flat on his stomach with his face in a shallow muddy puddle. Bringing his face up to keep from drowning, a heavy weight covering both his body and head again pushed him back into the puddle. The only parts of him visible were his arms, struggling to lever his body up off the wet ground and away from the puddle, and two feet kicking futilely to get away from what was on top of him.

He felt something sharp and wet at the back of his neck and realized the killer must have returned to attack him with a knife. Was he to die here and now, surrounded by his friends, helplessly bleeding out as the sun slowly came up on another beautiful San Francisco summer day?

The weight suddenly was off him and as quickly returned with a vengeance, forcing his breath out in a rush. His neck again felt the sharp wet attack as he tried to take oxygen back into his tortured lungs.

Where were his friends? Why wasn’t someone helping get the maniac off him? As he continued to struggle under the attacker all the while being pushed again and again back into the muddy water, suddenly feeling someone licking his neck shocked him right down to his bones.

The only coherent thought he now had was, “What the hell was going on?”

Chapter 45

Belatedly putting the little girl back down on the ground, Miss Hutton grabbed hold of the large beast that was affectionately mauling Randall and licking his defenseless neck. “Hoss, drop him! Drop him now! Get off, Hoss!” It took a few more yelled commands to get through to the oversized dog, but finally the heavy weight disappeared from Randall’s pummeled body.

He slowly and painfully rolled over onto his back to stare up at his recent attacker. Strings of drool literally added insult to injury by falling down from the dog’s mouth towards Randall. His own mouth was wide open as he lay there, still gasping frantically for air. Before it reached him, Randall hastily closed his mouth and turned his head away trying to duck the dripping drool. Since mud already covered him with it hardening on his beard, mustache, and long eyelashes, this only added another layer of muck to his face.

Hands reached out behind him and helped him up to a sitting position while the dog strained against his now attached leash to get back to Randall. Hoss wanted to continue playing with his new wiggling toy, while that particular chew toy only wanted to get up and put some distance between them. Trying unsuccessfully to hide his grin at Randall’s discomfort and decidedly undignified appearance, Anthony dragged his friend to his feet. He held on to Randall’s arms until he felt the other man had regained his strength enough to stand on his own.

Feeling something tugging at his leg, Randall looked down and saw the recently rescued little girl gazing up at him with a sweet innocent smile on her face. “Hoss likes you,” she said stating the obvious then added, to the delight of all the nearby adults, “I like you, too!” as she reached up her arms towards him.

Angela arrived just then dragging a chair she’d taken from the building’s front room and carrying a wet towel in her other hand. She easily pushed Randall down to sit in the chair, after which she picked up the child and settled her in his waiting arms. The fact that his clothes were soaking wet from lying on the grass didn’t bother the child as she cuddled up against his warm chest and fell instantly and peacefully asleep.

For the first time that night, Randall also felt relaxed and closed his own tired eyes. Angela gently used the towel to clean the face of the man who was so dear to her and the quiet men standing around them. Joshua, the little boy found by Randall, came over to stand next to the chair. The child still felt the need to protect his sister. He also wanted to be as near as he could get to Randall and to the safety the now dozing man represented.

Not wanting to disturb the sleeping child or exhausted man, his friends went quietly about the business of putting all the collected evidence into the SUV. Leaving Angela behind to stay with Randall and the children, the rest of them silently left to return to the lab. Steele also stayed behind with his two longtime friends but released all the remaining officers to get back on duty. By now, the small crowd of onlookers had also disappeared since all the excitement seemed to be over. Miss Hutton with a reluctant Hoss in tow soon left to try to contact the family of the two living children leaving the sad notification of the families regarding the other five children to the police.

As the morning sun slowly came up bathing the three adults and two children in a warm glow, Angela and Steele brought out a couple more chairs. They sat there waiting for Randall to wake up. Meanwhile, Joshua sank down on the grass at his feet and fell asleep. It had been a long horrible night, and both of the quietly talking adults were thankful it was finally over.

In time would come the difficult task of finding out what had happened earlier that evening and who had murdered those eight people in cold blood. For now, though, the patiently waiting man and woman just sat and watched over their hero and his two sleeping children.

Chapter 46

The SFPD labs were beehives of activity as the forensic agents analyzed evidence and recorded the information. The autopsy room was also crowded as Dr. Burke, helped out by Michael and the other newly arrived coroners, attempted to identify all the bodies and the causes of their deaths. Jake and Simon started their next phase of work by unpacking the bags they had brought back from the school. They settled in for the second shift stretching out in front of them.

With Anthony still in charge, since Randall and Angela hadn’t returned yet, he immediately had gone to find Mary. She was busy researching the trace evidence she had returned with hours before from the three murdered adults. The most important item so far seemed was a letter found in the man’s shirt pocket from the headmistress of the school. Mary had been able to identify it as a blood-soaked letter accepting for matriculation his 12-year-old daughter. Jennifer would have started at the school the following week. Mary had already given his wallet to Dr. Burke for confirmation of the man’s body. The driving license in the purse of Mrs. Susan De Marco found nearby confirmed the body that had been on the floor next to his was, in fact, his wife. Their clothing gave up no immediate clues of the murderer’s identity, or why the person so senselessly slaughtered this young couple.

Leaving Mary to the job of checking out the other objects brought back from the scene, Anthony next walked to the DNA lab. He found lab techs hard at work processing the blood from the eight people. With any luck, they might find some from an unidentified donor, accidentally left behind on the victims. It was slow going with so many bodies, but they found nothing probative so far. Giving the overworked tech lab rat a look of understanding, Anthony next headed for Will’s lab. He found the genial young man checking out the caliber of the bullets Dr. Burke had extracted from the chests of the two adults.

“Well?” As Anthony leaned against a counter, he waited for something, anything, which might point towards the killer. His question brought a cat-ate-the-canary grin to Will’s face. He motioned Anthony towards one of the microscopes on which was one of the bullets.

“This bullet comes from a gun with a history,” he said as Anthony looked through the eyepiece. “It matches a bullet found last week in that lady killed in Noe Valley. Do you remember her? It was one of Dennison’s still unsolved, day shift cases.” Now having gained Anthony’s attention, Will continued innocently but with an even bigger grin, “Do you want to tell Dennison about this, or should Randall do it?”

All who worked at the labs knew of the oil and water interaction between the two men. It would be a feather in his cap if Randall and his crew could solve one of the other shift’s cases. Of course, there was the bonus of rubbing Dennison’s nose in the fact that they could solve a case that he couldn’t. Anthony’s smile slowly grew almost as big as Will’s when he decided to let Randall have the fun of telling Dennison. There still was the minor problem of identifying the killer, very minor, but he had no doubts Randall could do it with the help of his dedicated staff.

Mentally rubbing his hands together in undisguised glee, Anthony left Will to his work and headed for Dr. Burke’s domain, the busy autopsy room.

Chapter 47

As he walked in, Anthony could see the good doctor was working on the first of the five children whom he had sent off earlier the previous night in Michael’s care. The three adults, already identified, processed, were waiting for pickup by the mortuaries. Dr. Burke quickly volunteered the information the third adult, the brunette who seated at the desk, was the school’s headmistress. Mrs. Cynthia Leonard’s husband, after notification of her death, was on his way in to identify his wife’s body. There had been no family in the local vicinity to contact for the De Marcos except for their young daughter who no one found so far. Steele had some of his people out looking for her with no luck so far.

Glancing at the body of the headmistress still on one of the autopsy tables, Anthony could see the pieces of shattered skull underneath her shaved head. Her death was unlike the other two adults, apparently shot from a distance. The killer viciously attacked this woman close up. He immobilized her quickly, leaving her to bleed out slowly from her head wounds. This seemed personal while the other two looked to be simply collateral damage.

“Cause of death blunt force trauma?” asked Anthony already guessing the answer.

Michael, who was at the table next to that body, looked up from the little girl without a recognizable face he was working on and nodded. “Some type of heavy object like an ashtray or lamp. We found blue glass in the wound and sent it to trace.” Anthony made a note on his clipboard to check with Mary later if she had found any blue or glass item near the desk.

Dr. Burke called him over and pointed out the gunshot entrance wound found in the young boy’s back. With Anthony’s help, he turned over the body to find the larger chest exit wound. “I found the bullet lodged in the lab table in front of him,” the young scientist said, before Dr. Burke asked him. “Will still is checking it out, but it’s probably from the same gun that killed the two adults.” The doctor nodded without saying a word and returned to examining the body.

With these two handled by Michael and Dr. Burke plus the three remaining bodies checked out by the other coroners, Anthony knew it would be hours before he received all the data. After leaving to let them all get back to work without further interruptions from him, he once more headed back to the evidence labs to check on what progress the others had made. By now, he appreciated all the work the patient Randall usually had to do to pull a case together. This got him to wondering in this free moment as he walked down the corridor how his supervisor was doing back at the crime scene.

Chapter 48

His supervisor was slowly coming awake after a refreshing two-hour nap to find one eyelid gently pulled up. Two small blue eyes peered into his one blue eye. With his other one still closed, he heard a small voice whisper, “Are you in there?”

Although his mouth did twitch from trying not to smile, he didn’t answer quickly enough before little fingers moved to his closed eye. Now with both eyelids wide open “helped” that way by the inquisitive child, Randall found himself looking into the little girl’s face from a distance of only about one inch. He came fully awake to the sound of chuckling behind him as the girl continued in a much louder voice, “I have to go pee….NOW!”

Angela moved in quickly to save Randall from becoming soaked twice in one day and helped the child off his lap. Joshua, who also woke up at hearing his sister’s complaint, joined the two females in their search for a bathroom inside the school. This left Steele to fill Randall in on the progress his CSIs were making back at the lab.

Anthony had just recently phoned the captain with a status report; he also had called to let him know he could call off the hunt for the De Marco girl. She was lying on Michael’s autopsy table faceless but with a library card bearing her name found in the pocket of her discarded dress. Evidently, the headmistress allowed her to audit the evening’s special chemistry class while her parents stayed in front to fill out the required admission forms. Registration cards brought in by Miss Hutton an hour earlier identified the other three children by their fingerprints. It was determined they were shot, the bullets still lodged in their young bodies. After removal, all bullets had gone down to Will’s lab for further analysis.

As he watched Angela return over the now dry grass followed by the two children, Randall knew it was time they returned to the lab. Steele drove off in his own car back to the police department, while Angela loaded the two children in the backseat of her car. After Randall made sure to buckle both in safely, he joined Angela in front for the short and possibly uneventful trip back.

The sound of the boy cautioning his younger sister to behave and sit still or he’d make her get out and walk had Angela laughing. It reminded her of warnings she had given to her own son while out driving. Being an only child and not having any of his own, Randall was unfamiliar with how children behaved but found he was enjoying being around these two.

Soon the lab building came into view, and the adults braced themselves for the long workday ahead of them. The two children who had bounced back from their terrible night’s ordeal looked forward to what would happen next, but first they made known to Randall that they were hungry, very hungry. First on his agenda, he realized, would be to scrounge up some food for them. The unmarried forensic scientist was quickly learning the needs of children come before the needs of the dead.

Chapter 49

With Angela leading the way, Randall walked into the break room with the children holding on tightly to both his hands. The already filled room contained most of his staff, taking a short break and going over what they knew about the case so far. They looked up as one and conversations suddenly stopped. In front of them was their fearless leader, the man known to enter an uncleared crime scene without taking out his gun, now kneeling down to tie the undone shoelaces of the little girl.

Angela sat down but said nothing, enjoying the surprised looks of the others to Randall’s action. She remembered the many times she had seen him at ease being around her son Billy and knew he was a natural with children. He always treated them as intelligent beings by never talking down to them, and they responded with affection to this. She caught Anthony’s look and knew he was thinking that Randall would make a great father as the two of them had once discussed this over drinks.

After finding something edible in the refrigerator, Randall made sure the children were eating then turned to his crew. “Someone want to fill me in on what you’ve found out so far?’ He laughed and held up his hands as everyone started to speak at once. “One at a time, please. Simon, you first!”

Finding an empty chair next to Angela, first grabbing a bottle of water and a leftover stale doughnut, he settled down and listened with pride at how far his people had progressed with the case. As he had known for some time, Anthony was shaping up well as an acting supervisor, and Randall was ready to recommend him for that position permanently. He was the last to report and took delight in giving Randall the news about the connection to Dennison’s murder case.

“What did he say when you told him?” Randall tried without much success to hide his disappointment that he hadn’t been there to see the face of his nemesis when given this news.

Savoring the moment, Anthony looked straight at him, paused for emphasis, then replied, “Nothing really!” At Randall’s surprised look, he continued, “I was saving this piece of news for you to tell him.” He couldn’t resist the little dig at his boss by asking, “May I be there when you tell him? I do admire the way you handle him so diplomatically.” Randall partially closed his eyes to stare at him trying to determine if Anthony was serious or being facetious, having fun at his expense. It did not matter, though, since he planned on letting Anthony tell Dennison to see if he could keep his temper when dealing with the abrasive and irritating man. To be a supervisor meant taking the good with the bad as Randall well knew.

He stood up, crooking a finger at the other man to come with him, and left the break room. It took only a few minutes to track down Dennison who was in the autopsy room hovering over one of coroners, eager to learn all he could about the other shift’s big career-making case.

Chapter 50

“Okay, Anthony. This is your case. Dennison’s all yours!” After he said these words to the startled man, Randall crossed his arms, leaned casually against an empty autopsy table, and smiled that angelic smile his crew all knew and at times dreaded. This was his way of teaching them to improve their skills by learning from mistakes, if necessary.

Never one to refuse a challenge, Anthony walked up to Dennison and politely requested a private talk with him. There was no need to embarrass the man in front of others by telling him they would be looking into his unsolved case. “I’d like to see the evidence on your home invasion case from last week.” He said this calmly but firmly as soon as they had moved a distance away. Dennison looked over at the quietly observing Randall who merely lifted one eyebrow in acknowledgment that he was listening.

“Why? Randall not have enough work to keep you busy that you need to take one of my mine? We’ve almost got it solved anyway.” This he said with a smug look again at Randall who just continued to observe the two other men without saying a word. He knew his silence was driving Dennison crazy, and Randall was enjoying his irritation. However, he hoped Anthony would not have to bear the brunt of Dennison’s ire, but he wasn’t about to step in now. Moments to torment his fellow supervisor came all too rarely, and Randall did so enjoy those moments.

“You have a suspect?” Anthony tried not to look eager but was thinking that they might tie that person to the recent multiple murders.

“Well, no, not yet but we’re close.” With this, Dennison started to walk away leaving Anthony not sure what to do next. Glancing over at his boss, he caught expectation on Randall’s face letting him know that his task wasn’t over yet. “Dennison,” he called out as the other man reached the door, “I still need to see it.”

“It’s in the evidence locker. Tell Randall he’s making a mistake doing this. I won’t forget it!” He aimed the parting words at Anthony; however, Randall caught their meaning and knew that once again he and Dennison were about to butt heads. A wide smile crossed his face in anticipation. Today was turning out better than last night had been.

After reaching the room containing the lockers, Anthony quickly pulled out the large box holding the home invasion murder evidence and carried it to the nearby examination table. Randall, meanwhile, had returned to the break room to check on the two children he had left watched over by the few remaining staff still relaxing there. However, the room was empty except for a couple empty coffee mugs left behind on a dirty table. He’d have to speak to his crew again about bussing their tables when done. His first concern now was to find the missing children and then check if Steele had found their family yet.

The sound of childish laughter gave him a clue where the two little imps were…in his office probably having fun playing with his valuable specimens. Moving quickly, he headed off to save these precious items from their careless hands.

Chapter 51

Instead, he found them seated on the floor, one of his large anatomy and physiology books open between them. Joshua in a well-modulated but still childish voice was reading the text to his sister as she slowly sounded out the Latin names underneath the pictures of the various body parts. Randall quietly corrected her pronunciation on one particularly long name as he walked in to be greeted by the two children jumping up and running to him. He was almost knocked over for the second time in 24 hours by their enthusiastic welcome but managed to stay on his feet, just barely.

“Mr. Randall,” said his young female admirer looking up at him with chocolate cake frosting from her recent snack still on her face. “Mr. Steele called and left a message that he was on his way over here. Is he that funny man from the school?” Randall had never considered Steele to be especially funny, but others might. He did tend to say things that often had Angela laughing, confusing Randall and making him wonder what the joke was.

“Thanks, Honey. Did he say why?” At Sue Beth’s negative shake of her head, Randall decided to stay put in his office with the children and just wait for Bob to show up. Maybe he’d tracked down their family; Randall would be sorry to see them go but realized that this was not the right environment for two impressionable children, not with all the gory pictures and bloody evidence in the nearby rooms.

They reluctantly left his side and returned to the floor and his big body book as Joshua called it while Randall settled down to handle some long overdue paperwork. Half an hour passed before he caught sight of the police captain walking down the corridor towards his office. By then the children had returned the expensive book back to its slot on one of the bookshelves and were standing on tiptoes examining the jar of colorful rocks that Randall had collected at various outdoor crime scenes.

As Steele came into the office, he said with a quick look at the children who were out of earshot, “Jeff, we have a problem!”

Chapter 52

Slowly Anthony took out of the box item after item, collected, bagged, and tagged from the crime scene. The bloody clothing of the murdered woman he put aside to double-check against the written findings of the original investigators. On reading this report to familiarize himself with the general facts of the case, he saw the murder weapon had not been identified. He further read that it was assumed to be made of heavy glass since they found a shard of blue glass in the woman’s head wound. Further stabs on her body, made by a kitchen knife, matched a set found in the home, but the head wound was the fatal one.

“Blue glass. Where had he heard that before?” Anthony searched his memory then remembered Michael had commented about finding blue glass in the wound of the school’s headmistress, Mrs. Leonard. He had meant to check with Mary about this, but it had slipped his mind.

Before he forgot again, Anthony went looking for Mary. He found she had just finished reviewing the evidence on the three adults and was packing it up in a box for storage in another locker. “Mary,” he asked as he walked into the room, “did you find anything made of blue glass in that room?”

The woman, currently a bit testy from dieting, flipped through her notes until she found a particular entry. “Yeah, there was a broken cobalt blue candlestick on the floor next to the desk where the woman’s body was. I thought this was strange since expensive ones like that usually come in pairs, and I couldn’t find the other one anywhere.” She started digging through the box until she pulled out the bagged item.

“Dusted for fingerprints?” At hearing this question, Mary gave him a slightly annoyed look. Anthony quickly realized that, of course, she would have done this already. What had he been thinking?

“I didn’t find any, Anthony, but did find some blood that I sent to trace. They called and said it was that of Mrs. Leonard. Why are you asking about blue glass anyway?” She stood there holding the candlestick, listening attentively as Anthony explained about the unsolved murder case and the blue glass shard found in that murdered woman’s body.

When he had finished, Anthony closely followed by a now-fascinated Mary headed towards trace. They found Simon already there, volunteered by Randall to help out the tech lab rat, a tired-appearing young woman backed up with all the evidence given her from the case.

“Simon, can you see if the blue glass Mary sent down earlier matched that from Dennison’s case of the murder last week?” Anthony, who forced himself to stand quietly as Simon found the old evidence and started the matching process, meanwhile filled in the interested young man on this possible important connection. Mary, the most excitable of them all, paced around the small lab as if her movements would speed up Simon’s work.

Finally, after what seemed like hours to his two waiting colleagues, Simon pulled the report out of the machine, the report that could be the big break they all needed in two critical cases.

In an impatient voice, Mary asked, “Well?”

Chapter 53

“What problem, Bob?” quietly asked Randall, not wanting to frighten the children. He motioned the captain out into the corridor where they could try to talk without the children overhearing them. If he knew one thing about children, it was that they were like the ears of walls in that they heard everything.

“The kids’ mother is dead, and the father has been out of the picture for years now, location presently unknown. You know that murdered lady in Noe Valley?” At Randall’s nod, Steele continued, “Well, she was their mother, and they’ve been staying with their grandmother since then until yesterday. Both have been going to the school where you found them for the last year or so, very bright kids. Paramedics took the grandmother to the hospital yesterday morning after a major stroke. A neighbor drove them down here and dropped them off at the school.”

“How’s the grandmother doing? Is she well enough to take them back yet?” At his friend’s grim shake of his head, Randall understood the elderly woman had passed on leaving Sue Beth and Joshua alone in the world.

Both men looked back into the office at the two newly orphaned children. “What will happen to them now?” asked Randall, wishing he were able to care for them himself. However, he knew his busy schedule and single status ruled him out as an adoptive parent.

Steele shrugged his shoulders with the comment they probably would end going into foster homes, maybe together but most likely not. Randall knew what lay ahead for the two children he had grown to care about. “Isn’t there anything we can do?”

“Like what? I’m open to suggestions as I rather like those kids, too.” Steele looked helplessly back at Randall wishing he knew how to erase that sad look from his face. The children interrupted them when they came out into the corridor to find them. Sue Beth looked at Randall trying to mimic an adult’s stern look but failing miserably. It delighted Steele to see the other man’s face brighten when catching sight of the children. He knew he would have to find a way to keep these two kids together, if only to make his friend smile like that more often.

“Okay, Sue Beth,” asked a laughing Randall, “What’s wrong now?”

“You forgot all about us, and that man could have come after us again and got us.” Those words spoken in her childish voice sent a chill down the spines of the two men. “What man, Sue Beth?” Steele asked her but looked towards Joshua for an answer. He’d noticed how cautiously the older boy had looked around when coming out of Randall’s office.

Chapter 54

“Well?” repeated Mary, when Simon didn’t answer her quickly enough.

“They’re the same!” With a look of glee on his face, Simon handed Anthony the report. “The glass from the Noe Valley case is an exact match to yours from last night. Randall can officially work on Dennison’s case if he wants, and I bet he will. Who wants to be the bearer of these glad tidings?”

Knowing this was a rhetorical question, Anthony pushed Mary and a now laughing Simon ahead of him out of the lab and towards Randall’s office. On the way, the trio passed a slowly walking man but didn’t give him a second thought as they anticipated Randall’s pleasure at hearing of this break in his case. Seeing him ahead in the corridor outside his office with Steele and the children, Anthony noticed he was kneeling down in front of Joshua who was crying.

When they reached the small group, they heard the little boy whisper to Randall, “I can’t tell you. The man will try to kill you, too, if I did.”

“What man, son?” asked Steele, getting the question out before Randall could. “Who’s trying to kill you?”

“The same one who killed my wife!” A strange voice interrupted them, and Mary turned around to see the man they had passed earlier coming towards them. “Mr. Leonard?” She recognized him from a photograph she had back in the evidence locker found on the desk of the slain school’s headmistress.

“Yes!” the man replied before looking at the men. “Are one of you Captain Steele?” When Steele stepped forward and introduced himself, Mr. Leonard shook hands with him then continued, “I have some information you need to help find my wife’s murderer. Is there some place we can talk?” He looked around at the crowd of adults and two children. “Privately away from the kids, please?”

“Use my office, Bob. I’ll park them in the break room with a couple of my body books and be right back.” Putting action to words, Randall grabbed two books from his office then walked away with the children quietly at his side. Everyone else piled into his office to sit or stand wherever they could find room. Within five minutes, Randall returned and eased down into the vacant chair behind his desk.

Chapter 55

“Jeff,” said Steele filling him in on what he’d missed, “Mr. Leonard was just telling us about a conversation the kids’ mother had with his wife about a week ago, just before that woman’s death. It seems the wife had a boyfriend we didn’t know about.”

Randall looked at the man now nodding his head, as Steele spoke. “Do you know his name?”

“Ken Milton,” answered Mr. Leonard before Steele could. “The captain seems to recognize that name. Do you?”

“Yeah, a local bad boy with a record as long as your arm. How did Dennison miss this?”

Steele shrugged at Randall’s question. “To give Dennison his due, Jeff, I didn’t know about this connection either. Mr. Leonard, I think we should get the kids back in here. Maybe they can describe the man they’re talking about who wants to kill them and, just as important, why.”

Randall started getting out of his chair to fetch the children from the break room, but Mary stopped him midway. “I’ll get them. Stay where you are, Randall.” She then left the room to the men but quickly returned within two minutes out of breath from running. “You did tell them to stay put there, didn’t you?” she managed to get out.

“No, I didn’t. I just figured they’d know to do it.” Randall winced at his oversight and asked, “Aren’t they there now?” Mary shook her head, which got all the men up and moving towards the break room, now empty. The books lay deserted on one of the tables, but there was no sign of the two children anywhere.

“Could Milton have come in unnoticed and taken them away?” As Simon asked the obvious question, Randall shook his head.

“No, they would have stopped him for identification at the front desk.”

“I wasn’t. I just came straight through; there wasn’t anyone at the desk then.” Mr. Leonard said these words quietly, but he got everyone’s attention as if he had shouted them.

“Spread out and search the building. They still might be here. Meet you all back here 10 minutes.” Saying this, Randall turned towards the front entryway and quickly disappeared from view. The rest of the men plus Mary took off in different directions, hoping against hope to find the children safe and not in the hands of a killer.

Chapter 56

Slowly when 10 minutes had gone by, the defeated group returned one at a time to the break room without any sightings of the two missing children. Only Randall hadn’t returned yet, and his friends were dreading telling him of their failure. Steele got on the phone to put out an APB for Ken Milton, and then everyone just stood around waiting for Randall’s return.

Ten more minutes passed without his return; then, another five, when suddenly Anthony let out a shout of relief as he glimpsed Randall returning shooing the two giggling children in front of him. He definitely was not happy, though. Steele, the only father in the room, knew that his bachelor friend was experiencing his first dose of exasperation with these children and was curious what happened to put that frown on his face.

“They were playing hide-and-seek with me but forgot to tell me to seek!” Randall turned to the children who finally realized that their large friend was annoyed with them and stopped their laughing. Sue Beth’s eyes welled up with tears that rolled unchecked down her little face while Joshua bravely looked up, way up, at Randall standing over them with his frown slowly disappearing at the sight of the girl’s tears.

“We’re sorry, Mr. Randall,” said the little boy, his bottom lip starting to quiver. “Please don’t be mad at us. We didn’t mean to scare you.” At that point, he also started to cry, and Randall now was faced with two weeping children and unsure what to do next. He looked helplessly over to his friends and Mr. Leonard but saw no solution there. Instead they all seemed as if they expected him to do something, and he didn’t know what that something was.

To his absolute positively undying relief, Angela arrived just then. She finally had finished logging in the evidence she’d collected from the front room of the school and had come searching for the rest of her shift’s crew before leaving for the day. On seeing Randall standing there clearly out of his element at dealing with crying children, she expertly took over.

“Randall, pick up Sue Beth and give her a hug,” she ordered, “then do the same thing with Joshua.” He looked at the blonde in amazement. “Well, what are you waiting for, a demonstration on how to hug someone?”

At this last exasperated command, he reached down and picked the little girl up in his arms to give her a tentative squeeze. That was all she needed as once again she put her arms around his neck in a now familiar stranglehold. Laughter broke out in the room as dozens of rapid little kisses soon covered his handsome face. He knelt down still holding the child and soon had his arm around Joshua, too. “How am I doing, Angela?” he asked, grinning while looking up at his smiling friend.

“Not bad, not bad at all!” The others brought Angela up to date on all that had been going on while she was busily working as Randall sat down at a table with the children. Steele motioned Mr. Leonard over, and the two men joined Randall at his table. Everyone else sat around the next table but close enough to be able to join in on the conversation now and then.

“Joshua,” Steele started off, “can you tell us why you think a man is trying to kill you?” It upset the hardened policeman to see the look of fright on the boy’s face, but his questions were necessary for their safety. Randall who was still holding Sue Beth on his lap reached out and quietly put his hand on the boy’s shoulder giving him unspoken encouragement.

Chapter 57

“We saw him kill Mama,” Joshua finally got out. “He didn’t see us in the other room, but they had a big fight, and he went and picked up the candlestick Nana had given her last Christmas.” Looking at his now silently sitting sister, he went on, “Sue Beth had broken the other one last month, and now he used this one when he hit Mama’s head.”

“You’re doing fine, Joshua. Then what happened?” Steele reached into his pocket for his pad and pencil and started taking notes.

“The man got a knife from his pocket and kept sticking Mama with it, but she wasn’t making any noises now.” At these innocently spoken words, Randall looked down in shock at the child on his lap who had spoken them. “Joshua told me to run, and I did, but I think the man heard us ‘cause he came after us, and I was so scared.” Sue Beth then hid her face in Randall’s shirt, and only he could hear her softly whisper, “I miss my Mama.”

Steele looked at the visibly shaken Randall but knew he must press on for more information if the children were ever to be safe again. “What happened after that, Joshua?”

“We ran outside and to the house next door where Mr. Baxter called the police.” He looked over at Randall who had his head bowed down so no one could see his face. Continuing to face him but talking to Steele, Joshua finally said what was on the minds of all of them. “Mrs. Baxter took us away down to the school before the police came, but her husband talked to them instead. I don’t think he told them we saw Mama die.”

“He didn’t,” Steele quietly said. “We didn’t even know you two had been in the house or where you were until last night.” He hated to, but there was one last question he had to ask. “Do you know who this man was, Joshua?”

The little boy nodded his head and moved closer to the chair holding his sister and Randall, unconsciously feeling the need to protect and be protected. “It was her boyfriend Ken. We’d been staying with Nana for a few days, but saw him last night as he drove into the school’s parking lot. I took Sue Beth to the lab where the kids were and came back to warn Mrs. Leonard, but he’s already hit her with that candlestick he brought with him.” A sharp anguished sound came from beside him where Mr. Leonard was sitting. “After he hit her again, he pulled out his gun and shot that nice couple.” Joshua looked back at Steele. “He didn’t need to do that. They weren’t bothering him.” He shook his head in childish confusion at the action of adults.

“Joshua, did he follow you back to the lab?” Randall lifted his head finally as he asked this. “What happened back there? We need to know. I’m sorry, so sorry.” At the other table, Mary, Simon, Anthony, and Angela were sitting silently in various stages of shock at hearing the childish voices recite such a story of horror.

“I got back there first and hid with Sue Beth behind the doors where you found us.” Joshua moved even closer to his sister. “Ken came back a few minutes later and started yelling for us to come out. He’d finally found us at Nana’s and followed us here after she got sick and taken to the hospital.” Steele kept still about the death of their grandmother, knowing later would be soon enough to let them know.

“There was so much noise then, screaming and gunshots, and Sue Beth started crying so I was scared he’d find us.” Joshua now was standing shoulder to shoulder with his sister as Randall reached out and gathered the shaking boy to him. “The noise finally stopped, but I could hear the kids for a bit more then nothing for hours.” He looked over at Anthony at the other table. “I heard your voice and Mr. Randall’s then but didn’t know who you were so kept Sue Beth quiet. When the other two men came in, we just stayed in the cabinet in case you were friends of Ken.”

“That’s enough, Steele!” said Randall suddenly. “You’ve heard all you need to hear to find and arrest Ken Milton for those multiple murders. These two have been through enough today, and I’m taking them home with me now.”

He stood up and started walking towards the door. “Tomorrow we can start looking for a good home for them where they can stay together. However, today and until that bastard is safely behind bars, they are safer staying with me. Anyone want to argue with me on this?”

When the people in the room stayed silent, he took the hand of each waiting child and left them with one more unanswered question.

“Who was going to tell Dennison that Randall’s crew had once again shown him up by solving one of his cases for him?”

Dead Man Walking?

Chapter 58

George Dennison was missing. For over two weeks, the day-shift supervisor had not shown up for work at the SFPD crime lab. At first everyone assumed he was taking an unscheduled two-week vacation and simply failed to tell anyone. The 56-year-old widower had become reclusive and downright rude to everyone since the death of his wife a few months earlier. Jeff Randall, the night shift supervisor, repeatedly tried to phone him, but Dennison never answered either his home or cell phone.

When two weeks turned into three with no word, a worried Randall asked Captain Bob Steele to check on him. He found the door to the missing man’s home wide open, but no one was inside. There also was no evidence that anyone had been there recently. Mail and newspapers had piled up outside, and on checking, Steele saw they went back about two weeks.

Removing his gun from its holster, and motioning for the police officer following behind him to do the same, he entered slowly. Holding their guns in readiness, Steele and the officer went from room to room looking for signs of violence. When the officer found a few blood splatters on the kitchen wall and cooking pots strewn all over the floor, Steele opened his cell and dialed Randall's home phone number. He hoped the night shift supervisor might know where his day shift counterpart was.

Chapter 59

Randall and Angela Starkey were relaxing over breakfast after a hectic night's work when his phone rang. Since he didn't get up to answer the phone, but groaned at the thought of possibly having to check out another dead body, Angela said sarcastically to no one in particular, "Why don't I get the phone?" Since the phone was close behind her on the counter, this was what her friend had been hoping she'd do all along.

Picking up the phone, she said in a low yet sensual voice, "Lover boy can't come to the phone right now. I don't want to wake him yet as he's been, ah, very, um, active tonight and needs to get his energy back."

At this, Randall choked as he was sipping his coffee. Taken aback by her playfulness at his expense, he didn't know whether to laugh or grab the phone away from her before she went any further. Grabbing the phone won out. "Randall," he managed to get out, threatening a stranglehold on the now grinning woman.

"Jeff, you never fail to surprise me," he heard a familiar gruff voice say. "Who is that lovely lady, what have you been doing with her, and why haven't you introduced me yet?" Randall rolled his eyes in exasperation. He realized today was his day for heckling by his friends.

"That was no lady, that was Angela and, no, we are just having breakfast and not what you're thinking!" Angela started to say something to him, hearing him say she was not a lady, but thought perhaps Steele calling this time of the morning might be important. Could it be something about Dennison?

Getting serious, Steele continued, "Since Angela is there with you, would you both come over to Dennison's home? I found some blood and need you to check out his place. You can tell me if there has been foul play or not."

"On our way!" Dennison wasn't a favorite person of his, but it wasn't in his nature to wish ill of anyone. Randall passed on the information to Angela who quickly agreed to accompany him. As the two of them left the house and walked to his SUV, inside his phone started ringing again, but no one was there to hear it.

Chapter 60

"What the hell happened here?" Angela looked around Dennison's kitchen in dismay while the realization that he might be more than missing sank in. She looked over at the two men; Randall was down on one knee closely examining the various cooking utensils scattered on the floor while Steele stood nearby waiting for his analysis. Her supervisor picked up one pot after another checking for more blood, slowly turning them round and round but shaking his head when he had finally finished.

"No blood here," he commented as he got to his feet. "All I see are lots of dents, probably from someone throwing them." As he passed Angela on the way to the living room, he noticed the streaks of blood on the kitchen wall. "Be sure to take a swab of that and send it back to the lab. It might not even be his." Knowing how violent the world was and how many people disliked Dennison because of his recent rudeness, Randall wasn't hopeful. However, he did not want to rule anything out yet.

"We'd better check out the rest of his place," said Steele said to the waiting officer from the stairs leading upstairs to the bedrooms. "This floor seems a dead end, so to speak." Because Steele had battled many times with Dennison, he was not feeling as kindly towards him as the other two were or even upset about his possible death.

Five hours later, the whole house examined with no new evidence found, the four of them finally acknowledged defeat and left for the lab, unopened mail, blood swab, and dented pots in tow. Of course, no one knew about the nearby storage unit Dennison rented. No one came to look. No storage attendant noticed it remained deserted since many people rarely visited their units once rented. Those walking nearby also overlooked the faintly malodorous smell coming from one of those units.

Chapter 61

"Who would have guessed Dennison was a National Geographic member and enjoyed the Playboy Channel? Man of many interests!" These tidbits of information were from Anthony. He was seated in the evidence lab going through the mail brought back from Dennison's house. Among the usual utility bills were some clues about the man's personality, a man none of the people looking into his disappearance knew much about. An envelope that had become unglued in the hot San Francisco weather was of particular interest. He noticed a handwritten return address scribbled in the corner. The address simply read “The Scum Bagman” at Dennison's address.

"Must be from an admirer!" said Anthony with a straight face, handing the envelope to Jake for fingerprint checking. Taking the single sheet of paper out of the envelope, Jake read aloud the block letter printing on it. "Your day is coming. I saw what you did." Without another word or even a look at either Anthony or Randall who also was in the room, Jake left to deliver both the envelope and cryptic note to the appropriate lab for fingerprints.

Randall took out his cell phone and called Steele. "Bob, I think you'd better get over here. Dennison might be in more danger than we first thought." After hanging up, he silently sat there deep in thought. What had Dennison gotten into? Why was someone mad enough at him to send a threatening anonymous letter? Whose blood was all over his kitchen? Was he even still alive?

Without more evidence, all these questions lay heavily on his mind, unanswered.

Chapter 62

More than an hour passed before Jake returned with the news that they found a fingerprint match. "His next-door neighbor sent the letter, if you can believe that," Jake chuckled as he continued, "He must have done something to royally piss off this person. Dangerous to do since this woman has two assault with a deadly weapon charges against her."

"Okay, gentlemen, which of you two care to meet and question this lady?" Randall looked innocently at Jake and Anthony. "No, on thinking it over, I think Jake had better do it." When Jake started sputtering, Randall smiled over his shoulder as he left the room followed closely by a grinning Anthony, "You deal so well with the fairer sex, Jake…or so Anthony tells me!"

Giving both men an "I'll get you two for this" look, Jake walked out towards the front door, his steps became even slower than Anthony ever managed. Filled with misgiving, he left probably to meet his doom at the hands of an angry woman. Even his considerable southern charms might not work this time.

Chapter 63

As Randall returned to his office with a still smiling Anthony, he heard his phone ringing. With no Angela around to answer it for him this time, Randall picked up the receiver with a resigned sigh but put the call on the speaker when he heard Steele’s voice on the other end.

“Jeff, we may have a problem,” quietly stated his friend. “I just got a call from a storage company not far from where Dennison lived, or rather lives!”

“Yes? And?”

Steele continued before Randall could ask any more questions, “The owner reported a smell like something is dead coming from a walk-in unit that apparently a George Dennison rented a month ago. He wants us to investigate it. I’ll meet you there and bring your kit, just in case.” With that, after giving Randall the address, Steele rang off leaving two worried men in his wake.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this, Anthony. You better come with me!” He quickly led the way out to the black SUV with Anthony having to hurry to keep up with the older man. After placing both of their cases in the back of the vehicle, Anthony aimed for the driver’s side of the car not trusting the driving to his usually unshakable supervisor, now with a distracted look on his face. As they drove out of the parking lot, Randall’s cell phone started vibrating in his slack’s pocket sending a secondary vibration of dread through his body.

Chapter 64

Meanwhile, Jake slowly drove up to the address of Dennison’s angry neighbor. After parking the SUV in the driveway, engine facing towards the street in case he needed to make a hasty retreat, he got out and walked up the long pathway. Just as he reached the bottom step to the house, the front door opened to reveal a large disheveled woman. Her bleached red hair was up in big hot-pink plastic curlers. Her floor-length orange bathrobe and huge fluffy slime-green slippers had all seen better not to mention cleaner days. A lit cigarette hanging from the side of her fleshy mouth drifted smoke up into her eyes, causing them to squint in a most unattractive way. All in all, here was a challenge for Jake, but the young man was up for it. Straightening his muscular shoulders in determination, he smiled up, way up, at the tall woman who towered over him at the doorway.

With southern charm oozing from his every word, he asked, “Are you Mrs. Fallon who sent a letter to George Dennison a week or so ago?”

“Yeah, that’s me! Who wants to know?” She took a deep drag on her cigarette after she spoke these words in a low husky voice. Jake took a step backward to avoid the second-hand smoke, still smiling just not so charmingly.

“I’m Jake Parker from the San Francisco P.D. Crime Lab. We are investigating the apparent disappearance of Mr. Dennison and following up all leads. May I come in to discuss your letter?” As he said this, the image of what her house might be like caused him instantly to regret this last question. However, it was too late to take it back when the woman moved out of the doorway and motioned him inside. As he walked past her into a cluttered living room, he stopped short in shock at what he saw.

Chapter 65

After Randall put the cell phone to his ear and quietly said, “Randall,” he heard the voice of Simon, his newest recruit, who again was helping in the DNA lab while the regular lab technician was away on maternity leave.

With excitement filling his voice, Simon almost tripped over his own words to get out the important message. “I’ve analyzed that blood you found in Dennison’s kitchen. Think Bambi!”

“Bambi?” a confused Randall asked. “As in that hooker Steele had arrested last week for soliciting him inside the main police department? That Bambi?”

“No!” laughed Simon. “This one never wore six inch heels and a purple micromini dress.” At that, he rang off leaving two stunned men in his wake.

“Bambi the deer? A real deer? It was deer blood?” As he drove, Anthony shot these questions to Randall in rapid machine-gun order. “What the hell was Dennison doing with a deer in his kitchen?”

Shaking his head, Randall couldn’t think of how to answer him but sat in the SUV holding the cell phone first in bewilderment then with laughter crinkling his eyes. “Dennison the mighty hunter? Who’d a thought he had it in him?” As a sudden realization hit him, he no longer felt like laughing as he looked over at Anthony to ask, “Where would he have killed a deer? It’s not deer season anywhere in the state for months.”

Both men drove silently for a few minutes as possible scenarios went through their minds of what Dennison might have done or had done to him. Meanwhile back at Randall’s empty home, his phone again started ringing. For the second time since Randall and Angela had left, the answering machine recorded a frantic message. Someone needed help desperately, but there was no one there who could respond.

Chapter 66

Back at trace, Mary stood in shock as the technician reported what he had found on the Dennison’s dented pots given to him by Jake earlier in the day. It was the last thing she would have expected from the straitlaced shift supervisor. However, after remembering the reading material brought back from his home, she realized that this should not surprise her. This man had a side to him he had kept so well hidden from all of them.

“Well?’ asked the lab tech. “Do you call Mr. Randall first? You should report it to Captain Steele, too.”

“Let me think for a minute!” The usually unshakable woman hastily reviewed in her mind all the ramifications of what they found and how best to proceed with this news and to whom. After wryly thanking the tech for the information, taking the piece of incriminating trace report from him, and quickly leaving the lab, Mary shook her head as if to clear up her thoughts then made a quick decision. Randall it was, and Steele would have to learn it from him.

At that, she left the lab and drove her car to where Randall had told them he would be. No matter what they found at the storage unit, this information took priority. All hell was about to break loose, and she wanted to be there for the action.

Chapter 67

As Jake stopped short upon entering the living room, Mrs. Fallon who had been walking close behind him plowed into his back almost knocking him off his feet. Catching his balance by grabbing hold of the arm of the nearby sofa, he silently looked around the large room trying to take in what was in front of him. Never in his admittedly short but varied life had he come across such a collection. On all four walls and in dozens of display cases, he saw weapon of every type stored in no particular order.

An ornate sword of unknown age nestled next to a bazooka probably brought home from some distant war. Twenty or so guns of different calibers hung from a pegboard with boxes of ammunition stored underneath on a large rickety wooden table. Daggers and knives of all shapes and sizes lay around the room just waiting for a hand to pick them up and put them to their intended use. In the far corner next to an open door leading into the kitchen there was a rusty cannon looking to be of Civil War vintage, small but still lethal in appearance.

Jake swallowed nervously. This was not a woman he should fool with or underestimate. He sincerely doubted if his boyish charm would do the trick of finding out what she had against Dennison. When he turned to face the woman, his mind was whirling trying to find a possible solution to how he should handle this delicate situation. As usual at times when he had a major decision to make, one thought always came to mind.

“What would Randall do?”

Chapter 68

Standing outside a large storage building was the stocky figure of Captain Steele. When the SUV containing Anthony and Randall pulled up next to him, he greeted the two men with a grim expression on his face and motioned them to follow a younger man in the uniform of the storage company. Stitched on the front of the man’s khaki shirt was the name “Connor” in red embroidery.

The four men walked quickly to a door halfway down the building’s main corridor. Standing outside the locked corrugated door, they could easily smell a foul odor seeping out from underneath it, and three of them quickly stepped back. Connor search for a master key on a key ring hanging from his shirt pocket and, holding his breath, unlocked the door. The door swung slowly open, and he bent over gagging from the increased smell.

Inside were the usual items that people store: A well-used set of golf clubs, boxes labeled and holding books and sports trophies, and various power tools. At the back almost hidden by the boxes stood a midsize freezer. With this were two old amateurish oil paintings, stacked against a tall aluminum ladder off to one side of the storage area. There was hardly any room to walk within the unit as the three men started looking for the source of the smell. Connor decided wisely to stay outside where the bad smell wasn’t so overpowering.

About fifteen minutes went by as they checked through the crowded unit one box at a time. The men found nothing, nothing, and more nothing to explain the smell growing even stronger the further into the room they went. With his eyes watering and struggling to keep down the bile coming up into his mouth, Anthony suddenly turned to the open door with an alert look on his face.

“Do any of you hear that?” A negative shake of both men’s head had him walking out the unit into the corridor to listen for the sound again. Needing a break, the two men followed him and suddenly heard a voice loudly calling out from a distance.

“Where the hell are you guys? Come on, I know you’re here somewhere.” They recognized the disgusted voice of their fellow forensic scientist coming from the front entrance. As they walked towards it, Mary came into view, her long stride reflecting her anger at having to waste time hunting for them. If there was one thing Mary disliked most it was to waste time.

Upon joining with the three men, Mary calmed down enough to give the paper from trace to her supervisor. No one spoke as Randall read the results quickly then again more slowly. His stunned look almost mirrored the one that had been on Mary’s face a short time earlier.

“Did he double-check? Is he sure of this?”

“Triple-checked it on my insistence,” replied Mary, “and he got the same results each time. At one time Dennison’s pots contained pot!”

Chapter 69

Putting his hand to his cheek as if in admiration, Jake gushed at the annoyed woman, “I am very impressed with your weapons collection, Mrs. Fallon. However did you manage to gather so many beautiful items? That cannon is to die for, absolutely!”

With the woman looking at him as if he’d suddenly grown a third eye, Jake continued in this vein for a few more minutes. He laid it on thick, but not so much the woman would catch on to his effeminate act. This was not what Randall would have done, he knew, but Jake had come up dry for any other more dignified way of handling this.

Finally deciding it was time to get down to business, Jake gingerly sat down on the sofa after fussily brushing away nonexistent dirt. When he pulled out the Xeroxed copy of the letter she had sent to Dennison and handed it to her, he did it so casually that it didn’t tip off the woman to his intent.

“Now, a gentile lady like you obviously are,” Jake started out, “would never send Mr. Dennison a letter like this one is.” He continued adding an innocent smile, “Does someone else live here with you who might not have your breeding and taste?”

“No, Mr. Pucker….”


“Mr. Parker, it’s just me here, a widow woman all on her own.” The sofa sagged just a bit as the now simpering redhead sat down next to Jake, a bit too close for his comfort. “I’m afraid I did send that scu...gentleman the letter when I saw what he did. I might have gotten a wee bit carried away, but you wouldn’t believe what he was doing.”

“Why don’t you tell me all about it then? I’m in no hurry.” Jake tried to ease away from the woman without being too obvious about it, but she followed him inch for inch. Finally admitting defeat, he figuratively gritted his teeth and waited for her explanation hoping it would be quick and painless.

She dashed these hopes when she lit another cigarette and settled back on the sofa, getting ready for her long explanation. “Well,” she said blowing out a long stream of smoke from her nose, “It happened this way!”

Chapter 70

After working a double shift in the DNA lab, Simon was ready to leave and relax at home when a sudden thought hit him. No one had bothered to check for fingerprints at Dennison’s home, a vital part of any police investigation. Since he was in complete awe of his supervisor and constantly wanted to impress the man, Simon decided to take the initiative. He would do the fingerprinting himself without waiting for Randall to remember this omission and assign it to someone else.

Inside the evidence box with the stack of mail and original copy of the neighbor’s letter was the key to Dennison’s front door. Simon grabbed it and took off to find what he hoped would be the final piece to breaking the case of the missing Dennison. With any luck, he might even get the highest praise from his reserved boss that he ever gave, “Good job!”

On entering the deserted house, Simon went directly to the kitchen where all the action evidently happened. Ignoring the dried blood on the wall, he immediately took out the fingerprint kit from his black case and went silently to work. An hour later, he gathered all the evidence and returned to headquarters to run the prints through AFIS. He had first been able to eliminate the prints of Dennison since the fingerprints of the scientists were on file.

Sitting there daydreaming about the accolades Randall would heap on him for the excellent job he did with the fingerprinting, Simon was startled to see “Match Found” suddenly show up on the screen. At first stunned then shocked and finally horrified, he could only stare at the screen and the name that was there.

Not even realizing that he had automatically printed the screen out to hard copy, Simon stumbled over his chair in a hurry to get to the storage unit and show Randall what he had found. How this new lead tied into Dennison’s disappearance he had no idea but knew the others would. At least he hoped they would.

For once, Simon knew he would be the one to providing the clue that might solve the case of the missing man.

Chapter 71

Jake was managing to evade the cigarette smoke still circling the woman’s head like a halo, but it was getter harder to do as she moved ever closer to him on the sofa.

“Late one afternoon about ten days ago I saw a pickup truck drive up into his backyard.” Settling herself more firmly in preparation for the story she was about to tell, Mrs. Fallon looked off into space trying to remember exactly what she had seen. This delicious young man deserved to hear everything to the smallest detail. “Mr. Dennison was dressed in rain slicker and big brimmed rain hat, but who else would be at his house on such a rainy day?” she continued.

“Who else indeed?” responded Jake, patiently waiting as she put out her cigarette before lighting another one, her third since he had entered the house.

”Well, he went to the back of the pickup and lifted out something wrapped in blue canvas. As he struggled to carry it into the house, the canvas slipped back, and I could see the head of a deer. From the size of the bundle, it had to have been either a doe or a large fawn. Everyone knows it’s only legal to kill bucks, and it’s not even deer season yet, not for a couple more months.” She said this last in a tone of pious outrage from one who would never consider breaking the law this way. Other laws, maybe, but never this law.

“Then what happened?” Jake was starting to get curious in spite of himself about Dennison’s strange and illegal behavior. Could he just be out of contact hunting for another deer and not in any danger?

Seeing the look of interest on Jake’s face at what she was saying, Mrs. Fallon continued. “I was going to go over and chew out the son of a… I mean confront him about what I had seen but decided to just write the letter. Safer, you see, as I wasn’t sure if he still had the gun with him he used to kill the deer.”

Jake nodded his head agreeing saying, “Wise decision, Ma’am, as he might not take too kindly if you caught him breaking the law. Now I must go report to my boss what you told me. You’ve been a big help, and I’ll be sure to let him know that.” As he stood up to leave, Jake gave the woman one last brilliant smile that thrilled her down to her slime-green slippers.

After checking back at work to find out where Randall was, Jake headed for the storage unit about a mile away. He felt sure he would be the one to break this case wide open.

Chapter 72

With Simon coming pedal to the metal from police headquarters and Jake driving the few shorts blocks from Mrs. Fallon’s house, it seemed things were finally coming to a head in the disappearance of George Dennison.

Since Randall and the others at the storage unit knew nothing about the two people driving towards them, they were back investigating the unit’s many boxes for the source of the vile bad smell. The voice of Connor, the storage attendant, outside in the corridor brought them once again a chance to get some relief from their searching.

“Mr. Randall,” the man said, not getting close to them as the smell had now attached itself to their clothing. “I checked the records for this building and found the storm about a week ago had caused the electricity to go out over the long weekend. The kid who does part-time work for us did check the circuit breakers, but must have forgotten to fix the one for this unit. Is there anything in there that might have needed electricity for the last week?”

Remembering the freezer at the far back of the unit, Mary was the first to turn around and head back towards it pushing the boxes out of her way in her hurry to get there. Randall, Anthony, and Steele, leaving Connor still standing out in the corridor, far away from the fragrant and scrambling people, closely followed her.

Reaching the freezer, she waited until the three men were standing by her then asked. “Who would like to do the honors of opening this? I think our stalwart supervisor should do it. Right, gentlemen?”

Randall stepped forward and unlatched the lid of the freezer. As he lifted it up, the smell that had become bearable almost knocked them off their feet with its increased strength. He heard gagging behind him as he gingerly lifted a dripping package up for a closer look. “I think we found the source of the smell. There are about two dozen newspaper-wrapped packages of some meat in here that are a bit spoiled.”

Randall’s understatement of the meat’s condition caused strained grimaces all around as one after another they leaned over to inspect the contents of the freezer. Following Randall’s instructions, each of them carefully picked up a package to bring back to the lab for further inspection of what type of meat it was. All hoped it wasn’t chopped-up Dennison.

Once outside in the fresh air, Randall contacted Jake to have him meet them back at the lab just as Simon drove up. The young man braked sharply to a stop causing road dirt to fly up into the faces of the four standing nearby. The annoyed look on Randall’s face quickly changed to amusement as he watched him almost fall out of the car in excitement. He hoped Simon would never lose this exuberance for the job as so many did after years of seeing dead mutilated bodies.

Not giving him a chance to explain his excitement, Randall motioned Simon back into his car and told him to follow them. In a caravan of four cars, Randall and Anthony, Mary, Steele, and finally Simon headed away from the storage unit back to headquarters where they would assemble all the facts they and Jake had discovered about the disappearance of Dennison. If only they had stopped at Randall’s home, they might have discovered one more clue, but this didn’t happen.

Chapter 73

With the forensic team and Steele once more assembled in Randall’s office, they awaited the results from trace of the packages of spoiled meat. Fish, fowl, animal, or Dennison? What would it be?

Seeing Simon almost pulling out hair in frustration from trying to get his attention, Randall took pity and asked what was it he had to tell them that had him so excited.

“Have any of you heard of Alfred Dorcet” Not waiting for them to answer, Simon continued hardly pausing for breath. “He’s that maniac last reported up near Reno who nearly killed a couple Rangers after they caught him poaching in the national forest there.”

“Simon, that’s very interesting,” Randall smiled with a patient look on his face, “but what has that to do with Dennison being missing?”

Satisfied he’d gotten his supervisor’s full attention, Simon told him without any further delay, although this went against his preferred way of methodically presenting information in a slow and orderly manner. “Since no one had taken any fingerprints at Dennison’s house, I went over and did it. I found the fingerprints in the kitchen of this Alfred Dorcet.”

Randall’s eyes opened wide as he suddenly realized he’d forgotten to assign someone to do this. Everyone else quickly looked over at him to see how he would react to this failure.

“Simon, I should have thought of that myself, but I’m glad you covered the bases that way. Very good job! Well done!”

Simon sat up straight in his chair at that. Not simply a “good job” from Randall but the rare “very good job!” and the even more prized “well done”.

Chapter 74

While everyone was discussing this new startling piece of information, the lab tech walked in to hand the trace results to his boss then left to return to the lab. Randall quickly read it then gave a big sigh of relief soon shared by his friends.

“It’s venison, not Dennison.”

When everyone finally quieted down, he continued, “Let’s walk this through. Evidently, after this Alfred Dorcet found an empty house, Dennison’s, he broke in then brought the dead animal inside and cut it up. Seeing the keys with address printed on them to Dennison’s storage unit on the kitchen rack where George kept them, Dorcet decided to store the meat there for safekeeping. Once he managed to shake the officials who were after him for the murder of the Rangers, he’d come back and collect it.” At this point, Randall looked over towards Steele with one eyebrow raised as if to ask if Steele understood what he was saying.

The alert police captain took out his cell phone and notified his department to put some detectives on the storage unit to collect Dorcet when he finally returned. At least one crime would be resolved even if Dennison still was missing.

With everyone in the room talking at once about this twist in the case, Randall decided it was time, past time in fact, to check for any phone messages at his home. It had become a daily habit of his from years ago before cell phones became popular to do this when working a double shift even though he rarely got calls on his landline phone now.

As the robotic voice repeated the multiple messages stored on his answering machine, Randall’s loud laughing shout, “That miserable son of a bitch is alive!” almost startled his friends into heart attacks.

When he had finally stopped his relieved laughter, the man who had often disagreed vehemently with Dennison realized that he honestly was glad the other man was still alive.

“Don’t leave us in suspense,” grumbled Anthony. “Where is he and why did he call you?

Still with a big grin on his face, Randall took pity on his waiting friends and told them what had been on his answering machine for almost 24 hours. Afterwards, everyone except Randall trooped out of his office to share a drink or two, putting it on Dennison’s account at the local watering hole. He deserved to pay for all the work and worry he had put them through.

Randall, feeling relieved but tired down to his bones, left them to answer the pleas for help he’d heard from a frantic Dennison. All he wanted to do was go home and curl up to sleep in his comfortable king-size bed, but Dennison’s return to the fold came first.

Chapter 75

The following day when all involved had returned refreshed to work after catching up on their long overdue sleep, Dennison joined them in Randall’s office to fill them in on what had happened. Steele had called earlier to let Randall know the police caught Dorcet at the storage unit around midnight. The criminal was currently in jail waiting extradition to Reno.

With everyone either sitting or standing, coffee mugs filled, and all their attention on Dennison, they waited eagerly for his explanation. Randall leaned back in his chair, enjoying Dennison’s slight embarrassment.

Dennison opened his mouth a couple times but nothing came out. “Come on, George, you’re among friends. Tell them what happened.” Randall couldn’t resist rubbing salt into the man’s wound but then took pity on him as Dennison threw an anguished look his way.

“Okay, I’ll help you out.” Heads swung towards Randall as Dennison sank back into his chair letting the other man do his worst. “It seems Dennison’s nephew dropped by a couple weeks ago and invited him to go fishing with him over in gold country. Those pots we found in the kitchen belonged to the young man, and he planned on using them for cooking dinner. Dennison didn’t even know his nephew used them to transport pot down for sale here."

"In the confusion of leaving for the trip, Dennison accidentally left them behind. He also forgot to lock the back door or even let anyone know where they were going for the weekend.”

As everyone looked back at Dennison, he was nodding his head at what Randall was saying. “Roger is my favorite sister’s son but does have a wild streak in him. He’s also a bit mean, too. Don’t know where he gets that from!”

Hiding their smiles behind their hands with varying degrees of success, all the others again looked to Randall to resume his story, which he did. “It seemed this young man needed Dennison’s car and cell phone to conduct further business with his pot plants. After driving to a deserted river far from any town, he took off leaving Dennison to walk for days before some old farmer picked him up.”

Randall stopped for a minute to see how Dennison was taking this public humiliation. Seeing he was sitting there fully humbled with his head in his hands, Randall decided to end his ordeal as quickly as he could.

“He spent about a week getting his strength back from all that exercise and then used up a couple more days trying to convince the frugal farmer to give him a ride into town. After promising the man all the bills in his wallet, the guy gave in.”

The humor at Dennison’s expense had disappeared from all their faces by now as the seriousness of his predicament finally sunk in. “With the change he had kept in his pocket, he called me repeatedly at home from a pay phone to come and get him.” Randall looked around at every person in his office. “He thought I’d be the only one to rescue him, and the rest of you might be tempted to leave him there permanently.”

The stern look on his face demanded a response from them, and it pleased him to hear their quick replies. Their words of denial and newly found friendship for this often irritating man washed over Dennison, soothing his bruised ego in a way unfamiliar to him.

As everyone finally left the office to get back to long overdue work, he stood up and held out his hand to the man who had once again been there when a co-worker needed him.

Crimes and Punishments

Chapter 76

CSI night shift supervisor Jeff Randall had gone for a long weekend to visit Sue Beth and Joshua Wilson at their new home. After an eventful few days, he came back with Ken Milton arrested and in handcuffs. The mass murderer, who had killed their single mother and eight more innocent people at a school for exceptional children, had tracked the two young orphans cross-country, killing an SFPD officer during that time. On his return, Randall walked into the crime lab building only to find mass confusion.

“Okay, Randall,” said a tired-appearing Angela. “Tell us what happened, and we’ll fill you in on what’s been going on here. You first.” She and the rest of the shift’s forensic agents had been taking a short break while pulling a double shift when Randall walked in.

He sat down after getting a cup of hot coffee. “You wouldn’t believe the place where the kids live now. I’m going to have to take Bob out to dinner as thanks for telling me about Walker and his mansion.” Months earlier, Captain Bob Steele had met with a longtime friend of his, Jack Notting, an employee of an eccentric multibillionaire. Jack’s employer was William Walker. This multibillionaire, years before, had converted a large mansion into a safe haven for forgotten, alone, or abused senior citizens.

“Wasn’t it depressing being around so many old people?” asked Simon, the youngest in the room. To him, though, old meant anyone over 40. He had trouble wrapping his mind around those in their 90s or even 70s being interesting. “I mean, I’ve heard old people just sit around comparing illnesses or showing endless pictures of their grandkids.” He grimaced at this boring mental picture.

Randall grinned at the memories he brought away of the elders at Walker’s home. One evening, a retired fan dancer entertained him and a few others with a delightfully raunchy dance. Sophia might no longer be the youthful woman who tantalized her male admirers; however, she still knew how to excite and tease by waving those large fans exposing bits of skin now and then. “Simon, I wish you could have met Sophia. No, on second thought, you’re way too innocent to appreciate her dancing.”

He went on to describe the large hidden caverns he with Jack and Walker had discovered by accident underneath the mansion. “You were trapped there?” Jake looked at his boss wide-eyed. “In the dark after the flashlight batteries gave out?” Randall nodded, remembering feeling helpless surrounded by the pitch-blackness of the cavern filled with animal bones. He hoped never to be in such a situation ever again.

“Before the lights went out, Jack found something interesting that he’d like us to run for DNA.” Randall opened the bag he’d been carrying and took out a brown cardigan sweater. He slowly peeled it back revealing an ancient bone that resembled a human femur. There was a piece of rotted cloth attached at one end convincing the agents looking at the bone that this must be human and not animal.

Randall returned the bone and sweater to the bag then turned to Angela. “Now it’s your turn. What’s been going on while I’ve been gone?” He had noticed the exhaustion on the faces of the crew he supervised.

“Not yet, boss.” This came from Anthony Greene, the young man Randall was planning on recommending for the day-shift supervisor position. His forensic skills and ability to deal with difficult people impressed Randall who often had run-ins with the more abrasive people in the labs. “How did you get Milton? The last we’d heard the bastard was somewhere in Nevada.”

Randall settled back in his chair, knowing these friends of his wanted to know the complete story. While he was marshaling his thoughts, Mary, the last member of his shift, got up and brought him another cup of coffee. Looking at her and then Angela, his thoughts returned to the mansion and the beautiful redhead, Samantha Ward, he’d met there. The last time he’d seen her, the woman had been lying on Walker’s living room floor, covered in blood from a gunshot head wound.

“First, the kids are doing fine and have settled in with many surrogate grandparents spoiling them.” Randall rubbed his neck, the phantom pain from Sue Beth’s stranglehold hugs lingering even now. “They have their own rooms, and I think everyone is competing to see who can be on the baby-sitting list. Their favorite, though, is Edith.”

He then went on to explain how Walker was given up for adoption at birth and spent years and part of his enormous fortune tracking down his birth mother, Edith Cartwright. He had brought her to his mansion under the guise of adding her to his loving and protective home for elders without letting her know of their relationship. “Shortly before I’d arrived to check on the kids, Edith found out she had her son back after over 50 years of longing for him. She also took his two wards to her heart and treats them as her grandchildren.”

He remembered the sight of her and the children sitting at the table in Walker’s living room. As the orderlies wheeled Samantha out on the gurney for the short trip to the hospital, he saw Edith trying to keep the two children from seeing the younger woman’s head wound. He’d never forget Walker kneeling in anguish beside the redhead minutes before, as he tried to staunch the flowing blood. “Joshua was the one who incapacitated Milton.” His listeners just stared at him when Randall said this blunt statement. It was hard for them to imagine the quiet boy catching a mass murderer.

“Let me explain.” Randall took a deep drink of the cooling coffee then continued. “The three of us and Joshua had discovered the caverns after finding a hidden stairway down to them. Unknown to us, as we explored various tunnels, Joshua returned up the stairs to Walker’s rooms on the fourth floor. On his way out, he closed the big wooden door between the stairway and the caverns. There was no handle on the cavern side, so he accidentally trapped us for what seemed like hours. That’s when the flashlight batteries died on us.”

Mary got up once again to refill his coffee cup without saying a word, as she didn’t want to interrupt him. “Well, suddenly the door slammed open, and Joshua was back screaming that Milton was up in the apartment with the three females, Samantha, Edith, and Sue Beth.” The thought that her mother’s killer was menacing the sweet little girl they’d all met months earlier shocked those listening to complete silence.

“When we finally got up those stairs and back to the apartment, we found Milton on the floor, unconscious after Joshua attacked him with a heavy paperweight. He’d first got a blow in on Milton’s knee, fracturing his kneecap. He ended up striking the man on his chin as he fell.” Randall paused before continuing. He couldn’t get the image of what he’d seen on the floor out of his mind.

“Before Joshua arrived, Milton had been threatening the three females with the .357 Magnum he’d used here to slaughter the people at the school. Edith came after Milton with a vase, but when he shot it out of her hands, Samantha tried to wrestle the gun from him.” He stopped and smiled at those sitting around the break room tables. “You’d all like Samantha. She runs the place for Walker.” He went on to describe the woman he found fascinating in glowing detail, unaware of the jealousy he was causing in the two women seated near him.

“Milton shot Samantha just before Joshua got there, and when we arrived, we found her bleeding on the floor from where the bullet had creased the side of her head.” He then told them of the wild ride to the hospital in the middle of a snowstorm with the ambulance overturning halfway there. He followed this by telling of the ensuing rescue by Jack, who had been following Samantha, Walker, and the two orderlies.

“Well,” asked Jake dryly, “I thought you said you were only going for a quiet weekend with the kids. Is this your idea of a quiet time?” Amidst laughter, Randall finished telling them about the rest of the weekend then turned back to Angela.

“Now, as I said before, your turn.”

Chapter 77

“Well,” said Angela, “it started with finding a poisoned stray dog on Friday.” Heads all around the table started nodding agreement.

“What does that have to do with our department?” Randall looked confused but patiently waited for an explanation.

Jake jumped in at this point. “By Saturday morning, two more dogs had died; all of them were strays from around the Tenderloin area.” He looked over at Angela. “When did they find the first man?”

Angela thought back before answering, “The police got a call about 10 on Saturday morning that a body was behind a dumpster on Eddy.” Eddy Street was one of the main areas in the San Francisco Tenderloin district. Seedy hotels and bars at one time lined most of its length, but the area was undergoing gentrification now. “He turned out to be a homeless man with a record for public intoxication, Peter Benson. Dr. Burke determined he died of poisoning just as the dogs had.”

“At that point,” said Jake, “the case was officially ours.” Randall sat quietly, wondering what happened next to cause all his team’s exhaustion. They could easily handle and solve the death of one person with no problem. “By Saturday afternoon, the police found three more bodies of homeless men, all dead from poisoning.” Jake looked around the table at his fellow agents as he continued with the death count.

“Four? All from the Tenderloin?” Randall asked this of the room in general, but Jake answered him.

“All in or around it, yes, Eddy, O’Farrell. Same as the dogs.” Jake laughed without humor, “The police even found one man in the parking lot of Glide Memorial, if you can believe the audacity of the killer to do that.” Glide was a church that offered help and hot meals to the homeless and people just down on their luck; to kill someone there was like a slap in the face of those trying to help.

“So, there have been four bodies. What have you found out so far?” Randall sipped his now cold coffee, making a face at the taste of it.

“Wait, Randall,” Anthony spoke up for the first time. “That was four by Saturday afternoon. By this morning, the count’s up to 12.” At Randall’s horrified look, Anthony finished, “The police found the last one yesterday, so we’re hoping that’s all of them.”

“Okay, fill me in on what you’ve got so far.” Their supervisor stood up to get another cup of coffee then decided against it. He didn’t know if his sour stomach was from too much coffee or the news of the dozen murders. Leaning against a counter, he waited for someone to give him some good news, if any existed.

Chapter 78

Jake decided to give his data first. “The only common denominators we’ve found so far are they are all men and only recently homeless.”

“Right, the wife of the first one found, Peter Benson, kicked him out a week ago. He lost his job last month when his boss found out about his drug habit.” Anthony didn’t even have to refer to his notes as he’d been the one to speak with Benson’s wife and remembered her bitterness. The man had gone through most of their savings in that last month, most of it going up his nose.

“The story’s much the same for the other eleven,” Jake continued. “Drugs, drinking, or gambling addictions for all of them.” He shrugged. “Other than that, they’re just nondescript homeless men.”

Randall thought for a few minutes then started throwing out questions to his crew. Sometimes a fresh mind sees something tired people didn’t. “Is there any way they know each other, sleep or eat at the same shelter perhaps? Could they have met in their lives before becoming homeless?” Everyone answered in the negative to each question, already having checked these possibilities out.

Slowly, one by one, the tired forensic agents left the break room to return to checking out the evidence from the dozen poisoned men. Randall stayed behind to mull over the case in the quiet room. The pager in his shirt pocket suddenly going off startled him. It was from Jake requesting he come to the evidence room.

As he walked in, he saw Jake and Anthony, both wearing the required latex gloves all agents wore while examining evidence. The men huddled over items laid out on the long evidence table. “What did you guys find?” he asked walking up to join them. In front of them, he saw various dirty items of clothing, a tattered and nearly empty wallet, bits of nondescript paper, and some pieces of jewelry.

“This.” Jake held up a ring with a design of what seemed like a mouse or rat on it. The band of the ring looked to be of silver while the design was inlaid green jade. “Seems an expensive trinket for a homeless guy to keep, wouldn’t you say?”

After putting on his own gloves, Randall took the ring and examined it more closely. “Maybe it’s a gift from his wife, a sentimental keepsake.”

“I don’t think so.” Anthony told him of the wife’s bitterness. “If it were from her, he’d have hocked it first for drug money.”

Mary walked into the room right at that moment. “Hey, guys, I found something strange from the Comeau man’s personal effects.” David Comeau was the second homeless man found; the owner of a restaurant discovered the body slumped behind a dumpster in the alley. In trying to identify him, the police discovered he recently had dropped out of college to take up a life on the streets. His family in Oregon refused to come down and claim his body when contacted by the police. In fact, they sounded relieved when notified of their son’s death. The rap sheet of the young man was long with many arrests for public intoxication. These went back to his late teens when he left home and started college in San Francisco.

Mary took an item out of a small plastic evidence bag and put it on the table in front of the three men. She frowned when she saw the astonished looks they gave the item. “What?” Does this mean something to you?” She looked down at what she had put on the table.

It was a silver ring with a green jade inlaid design of what was a cow, ox, or maybe a buffalo.

Chapter 79

“Could it just be a coincidence?” Jake picked up the second ring, turning it this way and that to check out for any inscription on the inner band. Finding none, he handed it to Randall. As he did, he noticed “that look” on his supervisor’s face. It usually meant something had clicked in the older man’s mind, a memory triggered or a clue important to the intuitive man. “What is it, boss?

Randall didn’t answer but took off almost at a run for the other evidence room where Angela was processing the belongings of one more murdered homeless man. Anthony shrugged at the other two agents then they all quickly followed Randall, wondering what they had missed.

As they entered the room, they heard his low baritone voice asking, “Angie, did you find any jewelry yet?” At her response in the negative, he frowned. “Are you sure? Did you check his pockets?”

“Of course, first thing. What are you looking for?” The blonde looked over at the other two men, but they only shrugged. They all watched as Randall scrutinized the evidence laid out in front of him on the table. The detritus found in the pockets of homeless people often provided more information than outsiders commonly realized. As it had rained on and off over the weekend, the various papers Angela discovered were lying under a heat lamp as she attempted to dry them out. One, though, caught Randall’s attention.

Randall reached out to pick up a small damp piece of paper. It was a pawn ticket from a shop found on Geary near the Alcazar Theatre. He handed the ticket to Angela. “I’d recommend you call them and see what he pawned.” He stopped then continued. “What’s his name, by the way?”

She looked at her notes then said, “Edward Matheson. An investor who made it big in the dot.com days before gambling his fortune away. Single and previously a ladies’ man from what I’ve found out so far.” She looked around the table then found what she wanted, a slender black address book. “I thumbed through this,” picking it up, “and found mostly female names in it.” She handed it over to Randall. “Note the comments written beside the names.”

His right eyebrow went up at the explicit details next to some of the women’s names. Matheson seemed more a sexual predator than a ladies’ man. Even though Randall had an open mind about sex, some of the comments made him glad the man would no longer be bedding innocent women. He put the book back on the table wishing he could wash his hands of the filth inside.

“Check with the pawnshop, Angie.” He started to leave the room. “If you find what I think you will, call me immediately.” He took off towards the evidence storage lockers and the unexamined belongings of the remaining nine men.

“I hate when he does that,” sighed Angela. “Do either of you know what he’s discovered?” At their denials, she went over to the phone and dialed the number listed on the pawn ticket. Jake and Anthony stood by, waiting to hear if what she found out would clue them in on their supervisor’s thought processes.

They listened intently as Angela spoke to the store’s owner and waited while he checked out the stub’s number against his inventory. As she hung up the phone, Jake asked impatiently, “Well, what did he hock?”

“Does a silver ring mean anything to you guys?” She smiled as she realized what she said meant something to the men, knowing the ring was, in fact, important to this case. “A silver ring with a green jade inlay of a rooster.” They then turned around as they heard Randall’s voice from just outside in the corridor. He had returned to the evidence room to ask another question and heard Angela’s conversation.

His words did nothing to clear up this mystery. “A rooster is also known as a cock.”

Chapter 80

“Guys, put it together. A rat, a buffalo, and now a cock. Doesn’t that mean something to you?” Their blank looks told him that it didn’t, but Randall wasn’t ready to let them off the hook. He taught the agents under his supervision by making them figure out clues on their own. In this way, the SFPD forensic agents were some of the best in the country.

“Keep checking out the other men’s belongings. I’m off to that pawnshop to pick up the ring. You have my cell number in case you find anything else of importance.” With that, Randall gave them his angelic smile and walked out, leaving three confused people behind him.

”I really, REALLY hate it when he does that,” muttered Angela again, her personal mantra so often expressed about Randall.

Within half an hour, Randall was at the pawnshop and holding the ring in his latex gloved hand. As he slid it into a paper bindle, he asked the patiently waiting owner if he’d ever tried on the ring.

“No, I just put it in the storage area in case the man came back for it.” The man then asked, suddenly realizing Randall hadn’t paid him, “You said this ring was part of a murder investigation. Where’s my money for you to redeem it?”

Randall handed him a card with the sheriff’s name and phone number on it that he carried for just such occasions. “Call him. He’ll cover it.” He knew doing this irritated the sheriff, but tweaking the nose of the sheriff now and then was a small satisfaction that came with the job. He also knew the man would reimburse the pawnshop owner…eventually; much as he disliked the sheriff at times, he knew the man was a rarity, an honest politician.

Driving back to the labs, Randall wondered if his agents had figured out the clues in front of them yet. He suddenly decided to make a detour and headed for the Tenderloin district. Sometimes being at the scene of a crime helped him figure out a mystery. After parking, then locking his SUV securely, he headed up Eddy to where police found the body of Peter Benson, the first victim. The mouthwatering fragrances coming from the many restaurants along the way tantalized him, though.

When he stopped at a smaller Vietnamese one for a bowl of their beef noodle soup, Randall looked around at the decorations on the wall as he ate. He smiled and nodded his head in satisfaction as he saw he had been on the right track about the rings. Finishing his delicious meal, he asked and received permission to keep the small laminated menu that showed items similar to those portrayed on the wall. Randall decided not to examine the crime scene after all but returned to the lab, the menu safely tucked into his inside jacket pocket.

Upon entering the break room, he found his entire crew there. Angela looked up from her coffee mug and asked her supervisor what they all had been discussing, “How did you know that these victims all had similar rings?”

“And what do they mean?” Jake asked, still confused. “So what if the men had rings?”

“Jake, the rest of you, connect the rings with the area where they found the men, and what do you get?” Randall still was insisting that they figure this out on their own. When they still looked confused, he threw out one more hint.

“Guys, consider the third ring you found and the man who had it. What does that suggest to you? Also, the design on the first ring and the man who owned it?” Randall was still trying to figure out the meaning of the second one to the college student dropout, but the first and third rings made perfect sense to him.

“Come on, guys, think about it!”

Chapter 81

Returning to the evidence room where they had left all the rings, Randall’s crew showed them to him. Each had an inlaid jade design ranging from a cat to a dragon. When Randall added the ring from the pawnshop, there were a dozen rings laid out on the table. He pulled out the menu from his pocket and placed it on the table next to the rings.

“Do you see anything familiar?” He walked away and watched the others without saying another word. Casually leaning against the doorjamb behind them, Randall waited as the connection between the rings and menu sunk in. Anthony reached down and slowly rearranged the order of the rings, placing the one depicting the rat first in line with the pig design last. He looked over at his boss who silently mouthed the word, “Yes.”

One by one, the others understood. The designs on the rings represented the twelve Vietnamese zodiac symbols as pictured on the restaurant’s menu. “Right, boss,” said Anthony, “but what does it all mean?”

“I’m not sure,” he said walking back to the table. “The first man with a rat ring was a rat to his wife, wasn’t he?” The others offered him tentative agreement to this. “I haven’t figured out the second man and his buffalo ring yet. Any ideas?” The others thought for a couple minutes, but when nothing came to them, Randall continued. “You also have to admit the third guy, Matheson, was thinking not with his brain but with his…” Randall stopped as he suddenly remembered women were present in the room.

Anthony didn’t let his slightly embarrassed boss stop there. “You mean he was a player, a swordsman? In other words, he…”

“Yes, yes, that’s what I meant.” Randall interrupted him then looked over to see both Mary and Angela hiding grins behind their hands. The men didn’t bother to hide theirs. “Now, look into the histories of the other men and see if you can find a connection with the ring designs.” Quickly, before he put his other foot in his mouth, he left the room and headed for his office. As he left, he could hear giggling coming from the two women.

Chapter 82

Hours later, Randall still was sitting at his desk reviewing the notes from his crew on the dozen homeless men. He managed to match the pig ring found on Ezra Martin to the man’s character. His addiction to food had left the morbidly obese man impotent and finally resorting to spousal abuse in his rage and frustration. Martin had dropped out of sight soon after their divorce according to his wife who cried when notified of his death.

The only other match he could make was between Joe Maloney and his snake ring, although the connection was tenuous. The man was a snake in the grass because of his past actions on the job, wheeling and dealing in various investments and skirting along the edges of the law. One too many shady deals had seen him just ahead of the police and out on the street.

As for the remainder of the men, even though Randall read and reread all the evidence before him, he couldn’t make any sense of a tie between the rings and their owners. If it’s not their characters, he thought, what else could it be? Hoping to get an inspiration online, he booted up his computer then Googled on “Vietnamese zodiac signs”. Page after page of web sites popped up, and he began reading through them. One in particular gave him an idea, and he skimmed through his agents’ notes again.

The first one on Peter Benson contained information from his driving license including his birthday, March 23, 1948. A feeling of excitement starting to build within him, Randall cross-checked this date against the birth dates listed for the zodiac sign of the rat. It fit.

Next, he found the license for Ezra Martin and almost yelled out loud when Martin’s birthday of November 18, 1959 confirmed it matched a date listed under the pig symbol. Rapidly finding and confirming that each of the men’s birthdays fell within the dates for each of the twelve zodiac symbols, Randall paged his staff to meet in his office.

After they all arrived, he arranged the copies of the driver’s licenses and the hard copy of the Vietnamese zodiac signs with dates on his desk. “I was wrong in thinking the symbols on the rings coincided with the characters of the homeless men.” Because their boss didn’t hesitate to admit when he was in error on something, this neither surprised nor shocked his people. Randall didn’t expect any of them, including himself, to always be perfect, but he did demand that they all learn from their mistakes.

He went on to explain the correlation between the men’s birthdays and the different zodiac signs then sat back to see if the rest of them agreed with him or could poke holes in his theory. After they all had checked and double-checked the dates, Randall then asked the room at large, “I have some more for you to think about. Where did the murderer find out the birth dates of these particular men? How did this person administer the poison? Lastly, what was his reason for murdering them?” He then sat back and listened to the others hash out possible answers.

“Where do you have to give your birth date nowadays if you’re homeless?” Mary asked the first obvious question. She got responses of a blood bank for selling blood, free clinics for health issues, and some shelters with strict regulations that required registering. Angela and Jake volunteered to track down these places to try to find a central place that all twelve men might have visited.

The second question had Simon, the newest member of the staff, heading for the computer in the DNA lab to research poisons. When he read that some were absorbable through the skin, he forwarded the rings to trace. The logical place for finding the poison was on them, he surmised.

It came as no surprise when the reports returned positive for sodium pentachlorophenate. Trace amounts of this white powder were still inside small compartments underneath the rings’ jade designs. A thin layer of wax initially held it in place. When the men’s body heat melted that wax, the toxic powder leached into their skin, eventually causing their death. Further examination by Dr. Burke of the men’s bodies revealed liver necrosis, a symptom of high doses.

The last question stymied them all. None of the twelve men have known each other in their previous lives and had radically different personalities. Even if one of them had somehow triggered a stranger’s murderous rage, how were the other men involved? None of the forensic agents could come up with an answer.

After Angela and Jake left to start their research, the rest of them cleared out of Randall’s office to finish the loose ends of documenting the evidence of what Simon had once jokingly called “The Dirty Dozen”. Randall frowned when he heard this disrespectful comment, so Simon never used it again, at least within his supervisor’s hearing.

Chapter 83

Later that day, the entire staff once again joined Randall in the break room to discuss their findings. Simon told of the poison on the rings first, and then Jake and Angela took over. None of the places they’d canvased showed that all the men frequented them. However, one name kept popping up at each of the shelters, Xuan Trung.

At each place, the two agents listened to stories about this young volunteer’s behavior around the increasing number of homeless men who came to San Francisco. One shelter after another asked the man to leave as his rudeness became more obvious and out of control. What the two of them found significant was that he always handled the registration procedure that included recording birth date, marital status, and past occupation, if any.

Randall took out his cell phone and put in a call to Captain Steele. He passed on the information to him about Xuan Trung and that he was a strong suspect in the poisoning cases. On further research of the various police sources, no record of this man showed up. However, Mary did find a newspaper article from a local Vietnamese newspaper’s database about his family dating back two years. His father, a prominent restaurateur, died when shot standing in line at a bank’s merchant window. The murderer, a homeless panhandler who often accosted customers as they left the bank, one day became more daring.

After shooting the father of Xuan Trung and wounding two other bank customers, the man demanded money from the horrified tellers and disappeared into the midday crowd outside. The police never identified him, and the case was still on the police books as unsolved. It seemed to Randall and his agents the son of the murdered man decided to take matters into his own hands after two years of frustration with the police.

The next week passed with the belongings of the twelve poisoned men processed and logged, for use in a trial of their murderer some time in the future. More crimes in San Francisco occurred in the next few days for the SFPD forensic agents to analyze, and the case of the Vietnamese zodiac killings was now out of their department. A second week passed without any sign of Xuan Trung. His family closed ranks and gave no help to the police trying to find the young man.

He didn’t appear at any of the homeless shelters looking for work, and his one VISA credit card showed no activity since the weekend of the poisonings. It was as if the man had fallen off the edge of the world. As time passed, he became the only suspect, and the files of the 12 men became the property of the police department that handled cold cases such as this.

Where was Xuan Trung? Would the police ever find and catch him? Was he the murderer? Only time would tell, but for now Randall and his crew moved on to solve other crimes.

The Shake and Bake State

Chapter 84

It was a mild temblor, only 5.6 on the Richter, and occurred at 11:13 in the morning. Californians looked up when they felt the earth move under their feet, and then calmly returned to what they had been doing. A 5.6 might ruffle the nerves of tourists to the Bay Area, and most definitely did to some. Those who made it through the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake unscathed, however, shrugged and moved on.

Randall had been walking into his office when the temblor struck and reached out to a nearby shelf to keep his balance. Containers, some filled with forensic specimens and others with rocks he’d collected from various crime scenes, slowly crab-walked to the edges of the shelves. He caught a glass jar before it fell to the floor then let out a small sigh of relief when the floor stopped moving. Even after all these years of living in San Francisco, Randall still didn’t like the feeling of not being in control that earthquakes brought out in him.

Simon, a newcomer to the Golden State, ran into his office. “Did you feel that? Was that the big one everyone talks about?” This was the first quake the young man ever felt, and his wide-eyed excitement of this new experience made Randall smile.

“When the big one comes, Simon, you won’t have to ask.” He returned the jar to its place on the shelf and continued over to his desk. “How’s that case you’re on going? Anything new to report?” Simon, the newest member of his staff, was working on evidence from a simple robbery that occurred earlier that morning.

A man, either Hispanic or light African-American, walked into a convenient store and robbed it in daylight. He’d been wearing a florescent-orange vest over his plaid shirt and worn and faded jeans. The baseball cap with an Oakland A’s logo on the front, he’d pulled down low in a feeble attempt to hide his face. The man hurt nobody during the robbery, and the store’s clerk sensibly gave him the money from the cash register’s till without any argument.

Simon, delighted about being on his own for the first time, methodically dusted for fingerprints, took the videotapes from the surveillance cameras back to the lab, and spent the next few hours processing the data. One of the tapes showed the man with his left hand on the glass counter as he waved the gun in his right hand at the clerk. Plainly nervous, he left behind all sorts of clues, and Simon had no doubts at all that he’d identify the robber soon.

Sure enough, AFIS kicked out a match on the fingerprints found on the counter within a few minutes. Now, Simon placed the printout about Al Perez with the accompanying picture on Randall’s desk. “He’s got a record for petty theft, breaking and entering, and other nonviolent crimes like that,” he offered as his supervisor skimmed over the information. “His picture also matched what I could see on the videotapes even though he tried to not appear on them.”

“Good job, Simon. Call Captain Steele and have him pick this Al Perez up.” Randall shook his head in disgust. “When will these people learn that video cameras are everywhere now?” He stood up and started towards the door.

Before Simon could reply to Randall’s rhetorical question, the building started to shake again. However, it wasn’t just a gentle temblor as before, over in a few seconds. This time the shaking jerked the two men off their feet. As they fell to the floor, both instinctively covered their exposed heads from the flying and crashing objects around them. They heard outside the office the sound of the many glass walls shattering from the strength of the earthquake that seemed to go on endlessly. Cries of pain and terror mingled with that sound as the shaking continued.

Chapter 85

The jerking motion of the earthquake lasted for a long 45 seconds. In Randall’s office, his crowded bookshelves toppled their contents onto the floor, some books slamming painfully onto the two men. Glass jars shattered around them while the desktop computer teetered for seconds before falling off the side of the desk to the floor. Dust from the supposedly clean room rose then drifted slowly down to land on the debris now scattered all over the room.

Finally, after what seemed a lifetime, the earthquake slowly diminished then ended. Randall, shaken but unhurt, got to his feet then dragged a shocked Simon to his.
”Now THAT was a big one,” he managed to get out before the younger man pulled away and headed for a dented wastebasket to lose his recently eaten breakfast. Leaving him to his misery, Randall headed out into the corridor to check on the rest of his crew.

He found Mary and Anthony trying nonchalantly to pick up dropped evidence from the floor. Their shaking hands, however, gave them away to the observant supervisor. Seeing they were unhurt except for some minor cuts and bruises, Randall went looking for Angela and Jake whom he knew were in the lab’s garage processing a car that recently contained a dead body. He got there just in time to see the two agents crawl out from under the car where they had ducked when the quake started. They also were mostly unhurt, though filthy from the oil now dripping under the car. Randall next tried his cell phone to check on both Dr. Burke and Captain Steele but got only dead air.

As he went from lab to lab, finding the various lab technicians undamaged, he became aware of the smell of smoke. It did not come from any of the rooms but drifted in from outside through the many broken windows of the building. Walking carefully through the shards of glass under one window, Randall looked out. Shocked, he saw the building just down the street from the labs, a small family run restaurant, engulfed in flames. Evidently, a gas line had broken, and the lit stove set off the fire. People already gathered outside trying to put out the flames with handheld fire extinguishers, an impossible task.

In the distance, the sirens of fire engines became louder, but none came this way. As Randall watched, the small building caved in on itself sending the rescuers out on the street scuttling back to safety. He hoped the owners and their customers managed to get outside but knew that probably didn’t happen.

In the coming hours and days, Randall realized he and his crew would be busy. In times like this, the crazies came out of the woodwork and tried to slip in their murders among the naturally caused deaths.

Chapter 86

The first call for their assistance came less than an hour after the earthquake. A warehouse off the Embarcadero near Pier 24 had collapsed trapping three workers inside. When trying to reach them, their coworkers accidentally dislodged some floorboards exposing the currently unused basement. The grisly discovery they made had them calling the police who in turn notified Randall.

It took him half an hour to navigate his SUV through the debris that had landed on the streets between the lab and the warehouse. Simon sat quietly in the passenger seat, still embarrassed by his involuntary reaction to the quake. He hoped his supervisor, a man whom he admired and wanted to emulate, wasn’t too upset about the ruined wastebasket.

“Did they go into detail about what they found?” he asked, breaking the long silence. All Randall had told him when assigning him to work on this case was there were some bodies found in a basement. Before answering, Randall spent a minute or two slowly maneuvering around a delivery truck that had overturned in the middle of the street, its content of freshly caught fish scattered on the ground. Already cats were congregating on this sudden feast with the unhurt driver just standing there helplessly watching them.

“No, they just said they’d found two bodies, nothing else.” A few minutes later, Randall pulled the SUV up beside a police car. A waiting officer, a balding man probably in his late 50s, walked over as the two forensic agents got out of their vehicle. The man had been on the force for many years and no longer was upset at the sight of dead bodies, even those that had a strong stench of death still on them. The same wasn’t true for his partner, a young rookie just out of the academy. Randall and Simon saw him on his knees at the side of the warehouse, retching loudly.

“New guy?” asked Randall, looking at the younger man who was finally standing up, but talking to the seasoned officer. “Is it really that bad inside?”

The officer shrugged. “Stan’s okay, just a bit green.” He headed for the building with the agents following close behind. “We found two bodies, one there for some time, the other just starting to stink.” The three men reached the building and started down a hastily created entrance down into the basement. The previously trapped workers were already long gone, leaving only the two policemen behind.

At the bottom, lying on the damp earthen floor were two bodies. Rather, there was one skeleton with only bits of flesh and pieces of clothing left and a second one of a person more recently deceased. “Someone at least attempted to bury the first body,” said Randall, walking around the dirt disturbed by the recent quake. “The other one, they just dumped, not caring if someone found it. I wonder why.”

“Could he just be a homeless guy who came here to get out of the cold and died naturally?” asked the policeman. He put a handkerchief to his nose but otherwise seemed undisturbed by the two bodies.

“Possibly, but I doubt it.” Randall pointed at the left hand on the body. “See that tattoo by the wrist? Mean anything to you, Simon?” He looked over questioningly at the young man who stood on the other side of this body.

Simon thought for a minute then slowly asked, “Wasn’t there a case some time back where you found a tattoo like this at the chocolate factory?” At Randall’s encouraging nod, he continued, “You never found the rest of the body, if I remember right.”

“Correct, we only found the left hand of a young man.” The ever-observant supervisor then pointed towards the skeleton a few feet away from the second body. “What do you see there, or rather don’t see?”

The other two men looked to where Randall was pointing. “Well, I’ll be damned.” This came from the officer, while Simon started grinning.

“There’s no left hand on that body.”

“Very good. Now, how can we find out if it’s our missing Bobby?” Ever the teacher, Randall asked this question of Simon. He then gave him a look of satisfaction when given a quick answer of matching DNA. The match would be between the bone marrow in the skeleton against that of the hand saved in one of Dr. Burke’s autopsy vaults, if possible.

Turning to the other body and examining it more closely now, he noticed something unique about the body of what was a young man in his early teens.

Chapter 87

While Randall and Simon were out in the field on the double DB run, Anthony heard a phone ringing in his supervisor’s office. It took him a few minutes to track the sound down in all the mess caused by the earthquake, but he finally found the phone miraculously undamaged under the desk. On answering it, he recognized the gruff voice of Captain Steele on the other end of the line and was glad the man had survived the quake.

“Where’s Randall? We need one of you up at Coit Tower.” This building constructed in the shape of a fire hose nozzle stood at the top of a hill and was a popular tourist attraction. During the summer months, a line of cars wound up the curved road to allow the people a spectacular view of the San Francisco Bay. The view was even better after the climb to the top of the monument, and the earthquake caught a dozen or so people inside.

“The tower is holding up okay,” replied the captain to Anthony’s question about its condition, “but we got a report there were three deaths there.”

“Do you know how they died?” Anthony tucked the phone under his chin to leave his hand free to take notes. He found a pad of paper and a pen in Randall’s desk drawer but frowned when he also found a pill bottle half filled with small tablets. Putting them aside for the moment, he wrote down what Steele next told him.

“Tell Randall one DB had a heart attack. We already identified him as a 68-year-old man from Iowa out here on vacation. His wife is in shock, but one of my female officers is with her right now. The second one cracked his skull open when he fell off the ledge at the edge of the parking lot. He’d been standing on it taking pictures of the Bay Bridge when the quake hit and tossed him off to land hard on the concrete. According to the license in his wallet, the man’s a local.” Steele paused for a moment, supposedly referring to his notes.

“What about the third one?” As Anthony asked the question, he was looking again at the pill bottle but wondering about the silence on the other end of the line.

Chapter 88

“Well, Simon?” asked Randall, “What do you notice about this body?”

“He’s big, quite big. Is that it?” Simon was being tactful as the young man was morbidly obese, nearer to 500 than 400 pounds. This was on a frame of around 5 feet 8 inches or thereabouts.

“That’s right.” Randall started for the doorway. “It’ll be up to Dr. Burke to find the cause of death, but I doubt if it was from natural causes.” Once outside, he now found his cell phone worked and called the medical examiner’s phone number for a body pickup. The two forensic agents already had collected, bagged, and tagged any evidence left in the basement that could help identify the two bodies. This might also include clues to their causes of death. They left the two police officers behind to wait for the ME’s vehicle to arrive.

On their way back to the labs, they passed scenes of devastation from the quake, but San Franciscans in general were coping well. Smoke rose into the afternoon sky down in the Marina, also the site of previous fires back in 1989. Driving back on the Embarcadero, Randall looked up at one of his favorite places in the city, Coit Tower. Many mornings after a hectic shift at work, he’d ridden up to the still empty parking lot and sat there recharging his emotional battery. He found it soothing to look out on the two bridges, not yet filled with commuters.

He suddenly pulled the SUV over to the side of the street and sat there staring out the window up towards the tower. “Simon, would you mind a little side trip before we go back to the lab?”

“What do you have in mind?” Upon hearing where Randall wanted to go, Simon sat back, a bit confused but more than willing to put off processing the evidence on the two bodies until later. As the SUV crossed over the streets to the hill leading up to Coit Tower, Randall could feel himself relaxing the closer they got.

He finally drove up the hill and pulled into the almost filled parking lot. It surprised him to see his old friend, Captain Steele, standing near the bottom of the tower. The captain spotted him and walked over as the two men got out. “You sure got here fast,” Steele said. “So Anthony was able to get hold of you.”

Randall looked at him as if he were crazy, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Bob. We just came up here to take a short break. What’re you doing here, and what’s it got to do with us?”

Realizing the others weren’t here because of his request, Steele wordlessly motioned for them to follow him back to the tower. There they saw a man’s body lying on the ground, face up. Simon looked at the captain, puzzled as there was no overt reason for his death. There was no blood, no sign of trauma, just a man stretched out as if peacefully asleep instead of dead. Steele reached down and turned the man over onto his stomach.

Steele smiled mirthlessly and said, “You see it, don’t you, Jeff?” Randall nodded that he did. He knew their short break would not happen now.

Chapter 89

The two bodies, well, one body and one skeleton, arrived back at Dr. Burke’s autopsy lab within the hour. Putting aside the skeleton for further research, the chief medical officer gave the body of the morbidly obese male a quick preliminary look, noting no obvious cause of death at first glance. The cause of death might be something as simple as a stroke or heart attack, although it seemed unlikely in such a young male.

Just as he was doing the initial Y cut of the man’s chest, Anthony walked into the morgue. He glanced at the body Dr. Burke was cutting, but stopped at the second table that contained the skeleton. Memories of that stormy day when he and Randall had found the hand in the vat at the chocolate factory came back to him in a rush. Finding Randall near death after their wild ride during the flash flood had made him aware of how much he would miss the older man. Randall had brought Anthony into the SFPD lab right out of college and helped him to be the excellent forensic scientist that he had become.

“Are these the two bodies Randall and Simon found?” Anthony asked, leaving the skeleton and going to stand next to the table where Dr. Burke was finishing up the incision on the obese man. “Any COD for either of them yet?”

Dr. Burke raised his face shield and stepped back from the body. “Well, he has all the signs of Prader-Willi syndrome. Given the diminished body tone and morbid obesity caused by extreme overeating, it’s a safe preliminary diagnosis.” Dr. Burke started pulling out the various internal organs and weighing them. “I’ve sent blood to the lab to check for drugs and signs of diabetes mellitus. If he also has DM, I might rule in Royer’s syndrome instead.”

Anthony again turned back to the skeleton. I wonder if this is our missing Bobby, he thought. He leaned down further to examine something that had caught his attention. “Dr. Burke,” he said over his shoulder, “would you look at the right femur?” When the doctor joined him, Anthony pointed out a deep gouge in the long leg bone. “Could that have been cause by a knife?”

Dr. Burke closely examined the bone and the location of the cut. “If it is a knife wound, this might possibly be how the person died. The location is where the main artery would be, and he could have simply bled out.”

Satisfied that Dr. Burke would keep him informed about any further discoveries, Anthony left the morgue and headed back to Randall’s office. Seeing pills in Randall’s desk had been bothering him ever since he found them, and he wanted to check out what they were. He also needed to contact his supervisor and pass on the information Dr. Burke had given him about the two bodies now in the morgue.

Unknown to him, Anthony’s curiosity about some unidentified pills was not satisfied for quite some time. Randall had another mystery for his night crew to solve with the third body at Coit Tower.

Chapter 90

Randall stood by the autopsy table, his patience starting to erode with each passing minute. On the other side were two of his forensic agents, who glanced at each other for help. In between them, lying on his back with a Y shaped chest incision, was the body of a naked man. Finally, both Mary and Simon shook their heads and waited for their supervisor to explain what they should be looking at.

“Do you see the tattoo on the man’s left hip?” Randall said, pointing to that portion of the body.

Mary moved to get a closer look. “Yes, it’s a donkey. What’s important about that?”

Randall smiled but said nothing else. He just waited, silent as a Buddha for her or Simon to continue. When neither did and still looked puzzled, he pointed to the man’s right hip.

“So he’s patriotic,” Simon’s comment made Randall’s smile get even wider. “It’s well done and beautiful, but it’s only a tattoo of the American flag.”

“Come on, you two. He was definitely murdered. Cui bono?” At this Latin question from Randall, his agents sighed in exasperation. Too often in the past, Randall had thrown terms in various languages at them, expecting them to know what he meant.

“Okay, forget that for the moment.” Randall started pacing back and forth. “Have you identified him yet, or is he still a John Doe?”

Simon answered quickly, trying to gain back some of Randall’s good opinion of them. “Well, I ran his fingerprints through AFIS, and they came back for a Wilber Hemminch from the SeaCliff area of San Francisco.”

Mary interrupted with, “Oh, he has money! SeaCliff is a pricey place to live.”

As if he hadn’t heard her, Simon went on. “Years ago, he worked in a bank, with his fingerprints taken at that time, for bonding purposes.”

“Can you tell me anything else about the man from his body?” Randall looked over at Dr. Burke, who was standing away from the table after doing the autopsy, the third since the earthquake only hours ago. The doctor watched with amusement but kept silent while his longtime friend taught the younger agents by making them research the evidence. Mary and Simon slowly walked up and down beside the body, examining every inch of the man.

“He’s young,” Mary said, almost to herself, “probably in his early 30s. He’s Caucasian, about six feet tall, 190 pounds.”

Simon added, “I’d take him for a yuppie businessman except for his long blonde hair. Tying it back with a long piece of rawhide doesn’t quite fit that image, though. Guess he no longer works at the bank looking like that.”

“His nails were recently manicured, so he’s probably not a homeless person.” Mary added this bit of information after checking his hands. Both she and Simon looked over at Randall to see if this was enough information to satisfy him. From the look on their supervisor’s face, they gathered there was still more for them to learn from the man’s body.

“Let’s see,” continued Simon, giving Wilber Hemminch a closer look. “Um, he’s uncircumcised so probably not Jewish, and he has blue eyes, probably of Nordic descent with that last name.”

Randall motioned Dr. Burke over to the table. “Help me turn him over, Doc. Maybe that will help these two.” The doctor nodded, and the two men got on one side of the body and turned him over onto his stomach.

Simon frowned at his boss, “You could have shown us that to start with, Randall. Is that how he died?” He asked this last of Dr. Burke.

“Yes, cause of death is instantaneous cardiac arrest, probably because of a laser beam, as evidenced by the signs of cauterization caused by such a beam". The doctor again moved back out of the way to let Randall take over his teaching exercise.

Mary looked more closely at the small wound, remembering an article she had recently read. “Randall, in one of my forensic magazines there was a web site listed selling laser ray guns, or rather plans to build them.” She looked off in the distance, her eyes unfocused, trying to remember the article. “It was hand held and battery operated. The 500 joules of pulse energy produced an intense burst of light capable of burning holes in most materials.” She looked back down at the hole in the man’s back. “This included, it seems, a human body.”

“Is there any way to track down who might have bought one of these laser guns?” asked Simon, once again impressed with Mary’s photographic memory.

“I think so. To buy the plans to build a dangerous class IV laser, the purchaser has to sign a hazardous equipment affidavit.” Before Randall could suggest she look into this, Mary smiled and said, while leaving the room, “I’ll get on that right away.”

Simon looked over at Randall. “Are we done here?” When the other man nodded, Simon gave a sign of relief, premature though it was.

“Now,” Randall said, heading with his young colleague out of the morgue after saying good-bye to Dr. Burke, “we have to check out the other evidence. The main question still is unanswered about this man’s murder. Cui bono?”

Chapter 91

With Mary in one lab researching online to find the list of recent hazardous equipment affidavits, Randall and Simon went to another room to check out the bag containing evidence found on and around Wilber Hemminch’s body hours earlier in the parking lot of Coit Tower.

Another agent, Angela Starkey, came into the room to join the two men. The tall blonde woman was waving a piece of computer printout in her hand. “I found something interesting about our victim after AFIS identified him. On a whim, I checked the public records office regarding wills for people named Hemminch. Since it’s a very uncommon name, I only found one that had recently gone through probate. Guess who it was and who the only beneficiary is?”

“Well,” said Randall, smiling his pleasure at the woman’s initiative. “I’m guessing the beneficiary is our man in the morgue. Whose will is it?”

Angela looked down at the paper to refresh her memory before answering him. “Do you remember months ago the banker who died under suspicious circumstances, Ernest Hemminch.? He was only 67, but Dr. Burke found a lethal amount of botulinal neurotoxin in his body. We never determined how it got there, Jeff, and his sons both had rather shaky alibis. It’s still an open case.”

“I remember that,” said Simon, before Randall could answer. “He had a son and a stepson, Stanley Hodgson, from his wife’s previous marriage. She died two days before her husband, from the same cause, didn’t she?”

Nodding her head, Angela continued. “Yes, and she was the primary beneficiary. However, since she died first, her husband’s natural son, Wilber, got the whole estate, the house, his father’s massive wealth, everything.”

“The stepson?” Randall asked this obvious question. “What did he get?”

“Nothing, nada, el zippo. Ernest Hemminch left Stanley out of the will, probably because he’d disowned his stepson months earlier. No reason given, as far as I could find out.” This from Angela put a frown on Randall’s face. It was not due to her initial flip comment but because she had just given him another clue into the death of Wilber Hemminch.

At that moment, Mary returned, just in time to overhear Angela’s last statement. “Is that Stanley Hodgson you’re talking about?”

“Yes, it is.” Angela, who didn’t know what Mary had been researching, looked at the other woman in surprise. “How did you know his last name?”

Instead of answering her, Mary walked over to Randall and said, “I think I can answer your question, ‘cui bono?’”

Randall’s sudden grin confused everyone except for Mary. “Okay, Mary, who?” he asked.

“The stepson, Stanley. He is on record as buying the plans for the laser gun. He now gets his stepfather’s estate since there are no other living relatives. Once he murdered his stepbrother, Wilber’s inheritance passes to him automatically as the next of kin.”

Simon, who had been searching online during this conversation, turned to the others. “I think I can tell you all why Stanley was disowned. Mr. Hemminch was an ultra conservative Republican, according to an article in the San Francisco Examiner. Wilber must have convinced his father that he, too, was a Republican, never revealing he was, in fact, a Democrat, as evidenced by the donkey tattoo on his hip.”

Randall asked, “What about Stanley? He wasn’t as sneaky as Wilber, just homicidal?”

“Evidently Wilber told his father he saw Stanley at a Democrat presidential rally,” said Mary, with a shake of her head at the spitefulness of some people. “The next day, out went Stanley from the will.”

When Randall and Angela left to turn over all the facts and evidence to Captain Steele of the SFPD, Simon pulled Mary aside. “Okay, what’s with that cui bono stuff? Don’t tell me you knew what he was saying.”

“Nope,” said Mary, with a laugh. “I Googled on a Latin-to-English translation site while I was in the other lab. Cui bono is a Latin phrase that simply means, “Who benefits? In this case, the only person to benefit was Stanley.”

Chapter 92

The body on the morgue’s slab was unremarkable. There were no outward signs of violence, no bloody knife wound, and no blossoming hole from the impact of a bullet. He was simply a naked young man, dead about 12 hours.

“Okay, Doc,” asked Randall, confused as to why Dr. Burke had requested his presence at the morgue. “There isn't any evidence of murder, so why do you think it was foul play?” Randall had just put in a triple shift processing multiple deaths from a riot at a heavy metal rock concert held in Golden Gate Park. He was cranky and totally exhausted. All he had wanted was a large cold beer and a warm bed. He had managed to get the drink, but Dr. Burke called him back to work while Randall was just starting to undress for bed, sadly alone.

“Don’t you recognize who this is?” The rotund doctor rarely got the chance to stump his friend and took delight in the few times like this when he did. “Try to think back two years ago, the big gang war between the SF Brothers and that new group trying to take over their turf.”

“Yeah, I remember.” Randall pulled up a tall metal stool and sat down, his legs starting to shake from weariness. “The SF Brothers completely wiped out that new group down to the last member. Was quite a busy night here, wasn’t it?” He smiled tiredly at the memory of his forensic agents having to process the scene where seven young men had died. “We all earned our pay that night.”

“It also was the first time San Francisco heard about the SF Brothers but not the last.” Dr. Burke also remembered what the SFPD called the Chocolate-Covered Hand case. The hand, and only the hand, of a young man turned up about a year ago. It was swirling around in a vat of dark chocolate in a nearby Petaluma candy factory. The ghoulish sight startled a bunch of out-of-state tourists and put many of them off chocolate for life. Just a month ago, an earthquake in the city had uncovered the remainder of the body in a deserted warehouse.

“So?” asked Randall, wanting to get this discussion over and done with so he could return home. “What does all that have to do with this kid?”

“Check this out.” Dr. Burke reached down and turned the body’s left hand over, palm side up. On the inside wrist was a small tattoo. Randall immediately recognized it as the SF Brothers gang sign and was suddenly wide awake.

“Oh, damn. This guy’s about 18, isn’t he?” It was a well known fact to Randall and everyone else in the SFPD that no one lived beyond 18 in that particular gang.

“His driving license was in his jacket pocket when they brought the body in.” The doctor handed Randall a plastic evidence bag containing various small items. “His clothes are in the evidence room, but I thought you’d like to see these first.”

Randall opened the bag and took out a laminated California license. It was for a Russell Simpson, who just turned 18 two days ago. After checking this information, he put it back in the bag. “Okay, how did they kill Simpson? Was it easy or painful?” He knew the standing of the person in the gang determined the type of death he would receive when he reached the age of 18. The higher up in the gang’s hierarchal food chain, the more humane the manner of his death.

“Not sure how painful it was, but he died from hyponatremia or so-called water intoxication.” Dr. Burke handed Randall a sheet of paper. “When we tested his blood, we discovered he had severely depleted electrolytes. Look at the sodium and potassium levels.”

“Are you saying he drank too much water?” Randall looked at the figures on the paper, then over to the body. “That can cause somebody to die?”

“There have been a few college hazing deaths this way over the years, so, yes, a person can die from too much water intake.” Dr. Burke took the paper back from Randall and continued with his explanation. “Body systems start to fail when the electrolyte levels get dangerously out of balance. Eventually, the person is in trouble with swelling of the brain, also known as cerebral edema. If unchecked, this can lead to brain damage, paralysis, and even death.” He looked at the 18-year-old on his table. “Sadly, that’s what happened to Mr. Simpson.”

“How do you know this was murder and that he didn’t do this to himself?” Randall was grasping at straws in the hope of it being an accidental death and not one that would mean even more hours of work.

“The tox screen just came back and showed a large amount of the sedative Ambien in his system. The other gang members must have drugged him first so he wouldn’t resist the water as they poured it down his throat.” Dr. Burke thought for a minute. “Come to think of it, it sounds like a painless way to die. He must have been a high muckity-muck in the gang then.”

Randall stood up and sighed before heading for the morgue’s door. “You realize, doc, we’ll never find out who killed him. We never do with the SF Brothers, no matter how hard we try.” Knowing it would be futile, he also knew he and his staff would have to spend wasted hours following up dead-end leads before adding Russell Simpson’s death to the still-open case list.

Sometimes, Dr. Burke thought, watching his friend leave, shoulders again slumped in weariness, the way people kill each other makes no sense, no sense at all.

Public Be Damned

Chapter 93

The members of the night shift gathered around Randall’s desk, waiting silently for him to hand out that night’s assignment. The last week had been relatively slow, and they were all hoping tonight would remain that way.

“Mary, you’ve got a 419 behind Kezar Stadium in the park.” Randall handed her the paper containing pertinent information already gathered about the dead body. “Take Simon with you and get back to me when you find out more.” Body dumps in Golden Gate Park always brought out the press, and Randall wanted to be prepared before that happened.

When Mary and Simon left the office, Randall turned to the others still there. “Jake, I just got a call from Captain Steele. He’d like you to join him in his office.”

Jake frowned when asking, “Why? Is it about the Gottlieb case? I already gave his officers all the information about the evidence we found at the murder site.” Two nights ago, police found the estranged wife of Hans Gottlieb, a local loan shark, strangled and left for dead in her Nob Hill home. Jake was the forensic agent assigned to the case and spent a double shift searching the spacious apartment looking for evidence.

Randall gave the young man a stern look. “You know there are always more questions, so go. I’ll have your assignment ready for you when you get back.” When Jake slowly and reluctantly left the office, this left only Angela and Anthony. Randall stood and stretched to unkink the knots in his back. He’d spent hours before the shift started catching up on the pile of paperwork that never seemed to end for him.

“What about us, boss?” Impatient to start working, Anthony gently pressured his supervisor to give them assignments. However, just as he spoke, a look of panic came over Randall’s face, and he slowly slumped to the floor.

Before either Anthony or Angela could move, Randall started convulsing in what appeared to be a grand mal seizure.

Chapter 94

Angela raced to kneel at Randall’s side and cupped her hands under his head to keep it from slamming against the floor. “Anthony, find something soft, a cushion or something else to put under his head before he cracks it open.”

Grabbing Randall’s jacket hanging on the back of a chair, Anthony threw it toward Angela before reaching for the phone on the desk. After calling 9-1-1 and giving the address of the lab for the paramedics, Anthony hung up the phone. A sudden memory crossed his mind, and he opened the top drawer of the desk. There once again he found a bottle of pills that he’d noticed after the earthquakes weeks earlier. At the time, he hadn’t read what was on the label, but now he did.

“Angela, have you heard of medication called Keppra?” Anthony walked over to where she was still trying to keep Randall’s head on the folded jacket. The supervisor’s eyes had rolled up until only the whites were showing.

Angela thought for a second or two then replied, “Yeah, it’s been around for years and is for epilepsy. Why?” When Anthony knelt beside her to show her the pill bottle, she asked, almost hesitantly, “Randall has epilepsy? Why haven’t we noticed anything before now?”

“Well,” answered Anthony, opening the bottle. “This looks full, so maybe he got the diagnosis only recently.” He checked the date on the label. “In fact, this isn’t even the same bottle I saw after the earthquake. It’s dated only a week ago.”

Rather than speculate further, the two of them wordlessly sat on the floor beside their supervisor. Randall’s convulsions slowly lessened until, after one final spasm, they stopped. He slowly opened his eyes with a dazed expression in them. Before they could question him, they saw paramedics coming through the open office door pushing a gurney in front of them.

“I’m going to the ER with him,” said Angela, without waiting to see what Anthony would do. “I’ll call you later.” The orderlies lifted a seemingly boneless Randall up onto the gurney and left the office, followed by Angela. Anthony shook the filled pill bottle, a frown of concentration on his face. If Randall is on epilepsy medication, he thought, why did he have a seizure? Something is wrong here.

With that, he also left Randall’s office to consult with Dr. Burke. A feeling of dread came over him as one possibility for Randall’s convulsions came to him. He hoped he was wrong.

Chapter 95

When Anthony entered the autopsy room, he noticed Dr. Burke standing next to one of the three metal tables on which was a man’s body. The doctor looked annoyed but erased the expression when he saw Anthony coming toward him.

“Evening, Anthony. What do you need?” Dr. Burke motioned for his assistant to take the body and return it to the open morgue drawer. While the young woman was doing this, the doctor went to his coffee machine and poured a large mug of steaming coffee for himself and another one for Anthony. At Anthony’s inquiring look, he said in a tired voice, “I need a break. That’s the third body brought in this evening, and I can’t find a damn thing wrong with any of them.” He led Anthony to a small table with a couple comfortable chairs at one end of the room.

Anthony took a sip of coffee, only to make a disgusted face. “What do you have in that machine, Doc, motor oil sludge?”

“Too strong for you?” was the reply, followed by a devilish grin. “Jeff usually comes by this time of evening, and he and I both like it thick enough to hold up a spoon.”

Anthony put the still full mug of coffee on the table and pushed it away from him. “Speaking of Randall, the paramedics just took him to the ER. That’s why I’m here, to ask you about him.”

All humor gone in an instant, Dr. Burke leaned forward. “What happened?”

“He had some type of convulsion, and I found these pills in his desk.” Anthony handed the bottle to the doctor, who opened it to examine the tablets inside. “You’ve been friends of his for years. Do you know anything about these?”

Dr. Burke placed the bottle back on the table before answering. “Sure, he told me he started having tonic-clonic seizures as a young child, but his epilepsy has been under control since he was a teenager.” He frowned. “Why would he have a recurrence now?”

“That’s what I hoped you could tell me.” Anthony reached for the coffee mug, thought better of it, and waited silently for Dr. Burke to continue.

“Well, I know he’s recently had Keppra added to his regimen.” The doctor looked once more at the blue tablets in the bottle. “You might send these to trace to see if they really are that medication.” At the sight of another assistant wheeling a gurney containing a woman’s body into the room, he muttered, “Damn, not another one.”

Leaving the rest of his coffee untouched, Dr. Burke stood and started walking toward the gurney. Before reaching it, he turned to Anthony who had also stood and was heading for the door. “Please let me know what trace finds out and how Jeff is doing, okay?”

“Okay.” With that promise, Anthony left the autopsy room and headed for the trace lab. Maybe he’d find some answers there.

Chapter 96

It took a while, but the trace lab tech called Anthony back from where he had been attempting to put his supervisor’s stack of paperwork in some semblance of order.

“Are you sure?” asked Anthony, frustrated with hearing that the tablets were Keppra after all.

“Yup, 100 percent.” The lab tech handed the bottle back to Anthony. “However, Randall didn’t take any pills from this bottle. The physical count matched the label count. Sorry!”

Anthony shook his head. “Well, you ruled out one thing, but maybe Dr. Burke has another idea. Thanks anyway.” With that, he left the trace lab and once again headed for the autopsy room.

On entering that room, he saw Dr. Burke was just finishing the examination of the woman brought in earlier. If anything, the look of annoyance had deepened when he impatiently motioned his assistant over to remove the body. “That’s four,” he muttered, spotting Anthony standing silently nearby. “Four deaths, and I have no idea what caused them.”

As Dr. Burke walked away from the slab, now empty of the woman’s body, he finally saw the trace report the lab tech had also given Anthony. “They were okay?” When Anthony nodded, he said, “It was a long shot. Did I tell you Jeff had just changed where he got his medication?”

“No, you didn’t. Why did he do that?”

The doctor thought for a moment. “I think the Bristol Pharmacy he always went to was in that big shopping mall off Geary. You know, where that big fire was last month?”

Anthony grimaced. “I remember that fire. We were lucky the fire happened around three in the morning, so no deaths. We still spent a double shift looking for evidence of arson.”

“Most of the stores at the east end were demolished, including the pharmacy.” Dr. Burke continued before Anthony could ask. “I gave Jeff the name of a pharmacy nearer to his home, and that’s probably the name on the bottle.”

Just then, the men heard Anthony’s cell phone ringing. He took it out of his jacket pocket, turned it on, and listened to Angela’s voice before speaking. “Randall’s okay,” he whispered as an aside to Dr. Burke while still listening to Angela.

Dr. Burke’s delighted expression changed when he heard Anthony’s next comment to Angela. “His tox report came back showing what?”

Chapter 97

In Captain Steele’s office, Jake was angrily pacing back and forth. The captain sat silently in his chair behind the big wooden desk waiting for the younger man to calm down. “Now, Jake, you have to admit they have a valid point.”

“Bull,” Jake said, slamming his fist against the desk for emphasis. “Just because my father once had a fling with Gottlieb’s wife doesn’t mean I have a conflict of interest, and you know it.” He sat down heavily in a chair by the desk. “Besides, it happened years before my folks got married.”

“I know.” Captain Steele lowered his voice and spoke slowly, hoping to bring Jake’s temper down to a mild boil. “However, you know how defense lawyers are. Any chance of your dad influencing you on the death of a woman he once slept with, and your testimony about the evidence is prejudicial. Even the evidence itself might come into question.”

Jake scowled but listened as the captain continued. “They requested another CSI go over the collected evidence for signs of tampering by you. Hey,” he said quickly, when Jake seemed ready to start yelling again, “I’m only repeating what’s in their brief.”

“Okay, get with Randall and have someone else assigned to the case. No skin off my nose.” Jake stood when practically snarling these words and left the office, slamming the door behind him. Captain Steele gave a big sigh and picked up his phone to call Randall’s cell phone. He understood Jake’s anger and frustration, but knew the case was too important to risk a mistrial. After listening to the phone ringing with no one answering, he hung it up and decided talking with Randall in person might be a better option.

When he arrived at Randall’s office a few minutes later, he noticed Anthony sitting behind the desk, going through the drawers. “Does Randall know what you’re doing?” he asked with a laugh, knowing there must be a good reason for Anthony to invade Randall’s private area like this.

Startled, Anthony looked up to see the stocky captain standing mere feet from him. He hadn’t heard him enter the office. “I’m looking for an old bottle.”

“Okay, I’ll bite. Any particular reason you want one?” Still unaware of Randall’s recent health crisis, Captain Steele pulled up a chair and waited for the other man to give him his full attention.

“Yes,” said Anthony, returning to searching the desk drawers. “His new bottle was okay, so I’m looking for his old one.” He missed the confused look on the other man’s face.

“Why?” When asking this question, the captain stood up to peer into a wastebasket next to the desk. “Is it a small plastic pill bottle?” He reached down and pulled the described bottle from underneath the pile of crumpled paper and other debris in the wastebasket. “Is this what you’re looking for? Don’t you CSIs usually check out wastebaskets, too?”

“I was getting to it,” Anthony answered, taking the bottle from the captain’s outstretched hand. “That’s what I was looking for. Thanks.” He shook the bottle. “Empty.”

“Do you mind telling me what’s going on?” Captain Steele returned to his chair to wait for Anthony’s explanation. Just then, Angela walked into the office, a smile on her face.

“He’s okay, but they’re keeping him overnight to get his medications to therapeutic levels.” She sat down in a chair next to the captain. “Well, hello. I haven’t seen you in ages. You need some help?”

The sight of the beautiful blonde woman always improved Captain Steele’s mood, but he was still confused about what Anthony was doing behind Randall’s desk. For the moment, therefore, he decided to hold off on the defense lawyer’s request for a new CSI on the Gottlieb murder case.

Chapter 98

While Captain Steele was in Randall’s office waiting for an explanation about the missing supervisor, Mary and Simon finished processing the scene behind Kezar Stadium. They had released the body of a middle-age man found beaten to death, and it was at the morgue ready for Dr. Burke to examine it.

So far, the scene had revealed very little about the dead man or the person who murdered him. There was no identification on the naked body, and the two forensic agents found no clothes anywhere nearby. Mary concluded it had been a body dump with the murder occurring some place else. Simon agreed after noting the lack of blood at the scene. Someone had attempted to cover the body with leaves and brush, but the strong wind that raced around the stadium most nights had blown it away from the body.

A lone hiker, recklessly walking in the park after dark, had stumbled over the body and used a pay phone to call the police. By the time the police arrived, the hiker had disappeared into the night. They in turn notified the forensic lab and immediately taped off the area. This is how Mary and Simon had found it when they got there; yellow police tape, scattered leaves, and one dead male body. There was nothing else to help them piece together the crime.

Mary sighed in frustration, kneeling to take one last photograph of the scene. “We might as well get back to the lab.” She stood and packed her camera back into her black metal kit. “Maybe Dr. Burke can find something on the body to help us.”

“He’d better or at least get a 10 card on the man.” Simon knew that fingerprints or dental records often were the only way to identify some bodies. In the case of this body, dental records wouldn’t help since the man, face beaten beyond recognition, had every tooth smashed.

Half an hour later, the two agents walked into the morgue. They found the man already laid out on one of the tables, but there was no sign of Dr. Burke. His assistant looked up as they entered the room.

“If you’re looking for the doctor, he went over to see your boss about an hour ago.” The woman shrugged at Mary’s questioning look. “I don’t know why, but he got a call to get over there. He didn’t tell me much, only that your buddy Anthony wanted to talk to him about something.” She glanced over at the nude body on the table. “When you see him, would you tell him about this new case?”

“Sure will,” said Mary, as she headed back out of the morgue. “The man’s our body dump, and we’d like to know more about him.”

With Simon following her, Mary quickly walked to Randall’s office, mentally framing questions she wanted to ask her supervisor about why he had pulled the doctor away from the busy morgue. Her observant eyes hadn’t missed the sheet of paper by the door listing all the bodies to arrive so far that day.

She stopped at the open door to Randall’s office, surprised not to see him but Anthony sitting behind the desk. Both Captain Steele and Dr. Burke were sitting in the chairs in front of the desk, quietly listening while Anthony talked on the phone. He hung up the phone just as Mary and Simon came into the office.

Both were startled to hear the normally even-tempered man say angrily, “Damn it! They’ve lost him.”

Chapter 99

Everyone in Randall’s office snapped to attention at hearing Anthony’s words. Angela, coming into the office carrying a tray with coffee from the break room, asked what everyone was thinking. “Who? Lost who?”

Ignoring her questions, Anthony stood up and started pacing back and forth behind the desk. As if he were alone in the office, he muttered to himself, “What the hell was he thinking? Why can’t they keep track of one man?”

Mary silently walked over to where Dr. Burke was sitting. “What’s he talking about?” she whispered. “What’s going on?”

“Shhh!” the doctor whispered back, putting his finger to his mouth for emphasis. “Anthony will tell us when he calms down.” He raised his voice at that point, “Anthony, won’t you?”

“Won’t I what?” Anthony looked at the doctor, then around the room at the others. “Oh, sorry!” He went back behind the desk and sat down, trying to reign in his anger. “It seems the hospital lost Randall.”

“What?” This surprised comment came from Angela, now standing next to Captain Steele and still holding the forgotten tray. “How did they do that? By lost, I hope you don’t mean permanently lost, meaning he’s dead.” Her voice shook at putting this thought into words.

“No, he’s alive, very much so, enough to simply leave his hospital room and disappear.” Anthony shook his head, not sure whether to remain angry at his supervisor or amused at the stubborn man’s determination not to stay in the hospital. He decided to fill in the others on Randall’s escape. “It seems when the nurse went into his room to routinely take his blood pressure, the bed was empty. His clothes were also gone except for his shirt. That they had to throw away because he’d vomited on it during his convulsion.

“And I can tell you it’s damn cold walking around without a shirt in this weather.” At the sound of the baritone voice from the doorway, everyone turned toward it. Standing there was Randall, swaying and holding on to the door frame for balance. Everyone started talking at once, but only Dr. Burke had the presence of mind to get out of his chair. He went to the door and put his arm around Randall’s waist, guiding the much taller man to the just vacated chair. Randall sat down with a sigh of relief and glared at the doctor, who was silently taking his pulse.

“I’m okay, stop fussing!” he said, pulling his arm away from Dr.Burke’s grasp. “What’s everyone doing in my office?” He looked over at his two youngest CSIs. “Don’t you have work to do?” Mary and Simon started backing out of the office, and then stopped when Anthony motioned for them to stay where they were.

“What are you doing here is more to the point, Randall,” Anthony said softly, trying to mask his annoyance with his boss. “You have the hospital staff up in arms with your little disappearing act.”

“Sorry about that,” Randall’s tone of voice didn’t sound at all apologetic. “However, I couldn’t stay cooped up in the hospital when there is a …” At that point, he caught sight of the two pill bottles Anthony had place on the desk. “Ah, I see you’ve found it.”

He stood to pick up the empty bottle, ignoring the full one beside it. Even though he was still shaky from his recent grand mal seizure, and risking pneumonia from being in the chilly office naked from the waist up, Randall started grinning. His friends and co-workers recognized this as a sign of his excitement at having a mystery to solve.

What that mystery was, no one but Randall knew. Soon, however, it would turn from a simple mystery to that of solving not one but multiple murders.

Chapter 100

“Well,” stated Dr. Burke, heading for the corridor outside the office, “I have bodies decomposing more by the moment.” He stopped when Mary caught up with him and grabbed his arm. “Yes? Did you want something?”

Mary nodded and waited for Simon to catch up with them. “There’s another body waiting for you. We found him behind Kezar Stadium and need you to run a 10 card on him.”

Dr. Burke kept walking, but asked, “He didn’t have any identification on him?”

Simon grinned, answering before Mary had a chance to say a word, “He didn’t have anything on him. Butt naked as the day he was born, just a few bugs and leaves.” Their voices trailed off into the distance.

Those remaining in the office turned their attention to the mystery of Randall’s empty pill bottle. Angela remembered the tray she had brought in from the break room and handed one mug to Randall. He gratefully swallowed the tepid coffee, and then shrugged into the lab jacket she next handed him. “That’s much better, Angie. Thanks!”

“Okay, Jeff, what’s this all about?” asked Captain Steele, snagging his own cup of coffee from the tray. Years of working stakeout on long cold nights had taught him that even cold coffee was better than none at all. Anthony picked up the third mug, but only held it, waiting for Randall to answer the Captain’s question. Angela tasted from the last mug, made a disgusted face at the weak flavor of the generic coffee, and quickly put the mug back on the tray.

Before answering the Captain’s question, Randall looked around at all his friends with his slow gaze stopping finally at Anthony. “You figured it out yet?” He again reached for the coffee mug, but discovering he had already drained it dry, Randall remarked to no one in particular, “Remind me to requisition a coffee maker for my office.”

“Come on, Jeff,” a note of impatience coloring Angela’s voice, “answer Bob’s question!”

Randall ignored her to once again quietly speak to Anthony, “Well, you solved it yet?”

The younger CSI grinned at his supervisor, familiar with Randall’s way of teaching his crew. Never one to simply hand over the answers to a mystery, Randall made them experiment or research until the facts of a case became clear. “Partly, boss, but not everything.” He took the empty bottle from Randall’s outstretched hand and placed it back on the desk beside the full bottle.

Everyone jumped in shock from the unexpected sound of Randall’s pager suddenly beeping. When Randall looked at the screen, he nodded once then said, “We’re needed down at the autopsy room.” Not waiting to see if anyone followed him, he slowly and holding on to the walls for balance headed out of his office and down the corridor to where Dr. Burke was waiting.

“The thot plickens!” Captain Steele joked, and he joined the rest of the CSI crew following their supervisor, like children behind the Pied Piper of Hamlin. He found out that the thot had indeed plickened when they all reached the autopsy room.

Chapter 101

Dr. Burke looked up from the body of a naked man on the autopsy table when he heard footsteps outside in the corridor. The door to the morgue slammed open, and the CSIs plus Captain Steele burst in. “Welcome to Bedlam!” he said with a grimace. Standing on one side of the room, trying to stay out of the doctor’s way, were Mary and Simon. Angela and Captain Steele joined them, willing to wait for the doctor’s explanation for why he wanted to see them. Randall was not so patient.

“Okay, why the 911 page?” Randall moved to stand beside Dr. Burke, leaning heavily against the waist-high table. Anthony found a chair, brought it to the table, and pushed Randall down into it. Randall smiled up at him, but quickly returned his attention to the doctor. “Is this the guy Mary and Simon found behind Kezar?”

”Yes, but that’s not why I called you. Well, not entirely.” Leaving the corpse for the moment, Dr. Burke went to his desk and returned with a sheaf of blue papers. All in the room recognized them as identification forms for next of kin to fill out. “Relatives of the people I autopsied today have been coming in to identify the bodies.” He handed the papers to Randall and then continued with his explanation. “Every single one of them states their relative had some type of illness requiring medication.”

“And?” asked Randall, already guessing what was coming next. He shared a glance with Anthony who had also figured it out.

“None of the toxicology reports on them show signs of the medications. None!” Doctor Burke went silent and waited for the reactions of the others in the room. The shocked expressions and silence from them did not surprise him. They all realized Jeff could as easily have been just another body for me to cut open, he thought, except for Anthony being there when he collapsed. He looked at the two men, one sitting and the other standing beside him, and said a silent prayer of thanksgiving.

Just then, a lab technician came into the morgue. She was holding a computer printout and stopped short when she saw almost the entire night shift of CSIs gathered in one place. A delighted look came over the young woman’s face at the sight of Randall, a man she secretly had a crush on. Angela tried not to grin, used to this reaction Randall caused in most of the female lab techs. He, though, was oblivious to the effect he had on impressionable females, a trait that endeared him to Angela even more.

The tech walked toward the table, never taking her eyes off Randall, and handed the report to Dr. Burke. “I got a hit on those fingerprints you gave me. They came back Timothy Alderman. He’s listed as a pharmacist and had his prints taken when he applied for that position.” Having given this information to the room at large, she reluctantly left the morgue to return to her lonely laboratory.

Dr. Burke looked more closely at the report then over to Anthony and Randall. “Do you want to make a guess as to the name of that pharmacy?”

Both men said, almost in unison, “Bristol Pharmacy!”

”Okay, I guess you two don’t need me to tell you how he died, do you?” Dr. Burke waited a couple seconds, but got no response from them.

“Come on, Doc!” pleaded Anthony, knowing Randall would never ask. “What killed him?”

”Letting a couple more seconds pass before taking pity on Anthony, Dr. Burke said, “Have any of you ever heard of methyl parathion? No? It wasn’t all that familiar to me either, so I Googled on it after tox found it in his blood stream.”

For the first time since entering the morgue, Captain Steele spoke up. “Where can you find this…what did you call it?”

“Methyl parathion, Captain.” Dr. Burke motioned him over to the table so he wouldn’t have to raise his voice. “It’s used on farms, but not around those that grow certain food. Highly toxic, and it can be deadly.”

“So, which farms around here can use it?” Captain Steele kept pushing for more information until Dr. Burke handed him a printout of certain Googled web sites. “Thanks.” Turning and heading toward the door, he spoke over his shoulder, “All of you have done your job. Now it’s my turn. Talk with you later,” and he was gone.

Chapter 102

Days passed before Captain Steele returned to the morgue. Cause of death for all four bodies brought in recently with mysterious deaths did, in fact, turn out to be from lack of life-saving medication.

Fully recovered from his own illness, in the early hours of the third day, Randall walked into Dr. Burke’s autopsy room where he found both Captain Steele and the doctor deep in conversation. “What’s up, Doc?” he asked, unable to resist injecting a small bit of humor into an otherwise deadly morning. His CSI night shift crew had worked long tedious hours collecting evidence from multiple gang shootings by the SF Brothers.

Everyone, including Dr. Burke, was exhausted. He managed a weary smile at Randall’s old and very small Bugs Bunny witticism. “What’s up, Jeff, is Captain Steele has just told me the person who killed the pharmacist, Timothy Alderman, was caught and arrested this morning.” He turned to the equally tired Captain to give him the honor of telling the story.

Captain Steele started with, “After checking the places where methyl parathion was commonly used, and cross checking those farms with the names of the people Alderman killed with watered down medications, I came up with one name…Alphonse Winthrop. He owns an almond orchard down in the valley, and his wife Berta died from lack of insulin needed for her type one diabetes.”

Randall seemed confused when he interrupted, “That makes sense, but how did Mr. Winthrop figure out what killed his wife and why it happened?”

“I’m getting to that, Jeff. My God, you sure lack patience.” Captain Steele continued before Randall could say anything else, “He and Berta were married for 40 years, so he was very familiar with his wife’s disease. After seeing her health failing over the past few days, he begged her to see their doctor, but she was a very stubborn woman and refused. When he came in from the orchard late one evening to find her lying comatose on the kitchen floor, he immediately called an ambulance. The paramedics tried to revive her on the way to the hospital, but she died en route.”

“Okay, she died, but how did her husband trace her death to Alderman?” This question from Randall had also bothered Dr. Burke when he first heard Captain Steele tell it.

“Well, our Alphonse is a pretty sharp cookie. He guessed something might be wrong with his wife’s bottle of insulin and had it analyzed at a private lab in nearby Tracy.” The Captain paused for emphasis before finishing his story. “When he discovered the bottle contained only a small percentage of insulin, he put two and two together and figured out what the pharmacist had done, diluting medication to make a profit on them.”

Captain Steele tried to keep his admiration for the elderly man’s resourcefulness and determination out of his voice, but failed “He managed to track down Alderman at his home and forced a confession out of the guy. After that, it was simple to inject the terrified man with a lethal dose of the methyl parathion he used in his almond orchards. When it was dark enough, Winthrop carried the dead body to behind Kezar Stadium, stripped off his clothes, and smashed his face repeatedly with a rock for one last anger-filled bit of revenge.”

Randall yawned and stretched to get the kicks out of his tired body. “Let’s hope there are no more of Alderman’s customers out there living on borrowed time.” Right after he spoke those words, a morgue orderly wheeled in another body and quickly left the room.

Dr. Burke slowly walked over and lifted the sheet from the corpse’s face. He smiled in relief at the two waiting men. “Thank goodness, he’s just an ordinary everyday gunshot victim.”

With that, Randall and Captain Steele left the morgue. They were satisfied to have these murders solved, but knew they would see more dead bodies in the future.
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