Curse of the Sabeth, Part II
Is it really only 11:00 in the morning? Sitting tiredly at the report desk, Pete could have sworn it was much closer to the end of the day. Wishful thinking. That first call had kick-started the morning into high gear. But it ended up being a false alarm. A major false alarm. The bank manager had been taking several new employees through training and when he tried to explain the silent alarm, one of the novice tellers pressed the button to see if it worked! Another new employee panicked and hit the nearby fire alarm. Then the customers all started screaming and by the time the police arrived, it looked like a herd of cattle had just been let out of the building and were stampeding into the street. A pumper truck and rescue squad pulled up immediately after the two police units. It had taken well over an hour to get everything straightened out, including the resulting traffic jam on Pico. Filling out the reports had been a protracted and tedious task.
Now the thought of lunchtime made his stomach grumble. Eating at Duke's sounded tempting but something out of the vending machines would do. If he was this hungry, Pete could only imagine how ravenous Jim must be feeling. He looked over at his partner who just then raised both arms straight up and stretched his entire body. "Nothing like paperwork, huh?"
Jim blew out a puff of air as he leaned back in his chair. "No kidding. Especially when it could've been avoided in the first place."
"That's the breaks, partner."
"Yeah. Hey, I know it's early but…" Jim got up and left the chair to perch on the edge of the counter.
"Let me guess. Hunger pangs?"
"Actually, I was thinking the same thing."
"And you call me a bottomless pit?"
"Because you are a bottomless pit. I, on the other hand, eat sensibly and maintain a healthy diet." Pete stood up, reaching over to grab the numerous forms from Jim's grasp.
"Whatever you say, Pete. By the way, whatever happened to those homemade brownies Jean made for you last week?"
Pete smiled indulgently and turned to walk away. "I'll hand these in to Mac and join you in the break room in a few minutes."
"You didn't mind being a guinea pig for those!"
Pete simply waved the papers in the air as he continued down the hallway.
Jim chuckled and placed his pen back in his shirt pocket. As he moved from the desk counter, he spotted Ed Wells approaching the back exit.
"Ed! Wait up."
Ed turned around, hands flying impatiently to hitch at his waist. "What?"
"I want to talk to you. Got a minute?"
"You know how precious my time is, Reed. Okay, you can have one minute." He settled both arms across his chest as he waited to hear what Jim had to say.
Jim reached into his pocket, retrieving the small scrap and holding it up in front of Ed. "You want to tell me what this is?"
"It's a piece of paper, Reed. A very small piece of paper. Now can I go?"
"I thought we were all done with the pranks, Ed. First, I have to put up with the whole ferret business. And now this hex stuff is getting out of hand. Give it a rest, will ya?"
"What are you talking about?" Ed filched the slip of paper from Jim's fingers and opened it, reading it out loud. "Heed the unseen, the unknown, for that which you are about to atone."
"Well?" Jim asked.
"Well, what? Oh, wait a minute. You think I wrote this?"
"Are you saying you didn't write it?
"Come on. This melodramatic, amateurish piece of garbage? Frankly, I'm insulted. Surely even you have to acknowledge that I have my own, unique creative style. And, let me tell ya, this ain't it."
Jim paused as he mulled over Ed's remarks. If Ed didn't write it…
A low, ominous groan of metal suddenly resonated through the ceiling tiles above the two men. Both sets of eyes rolled upwards, uncertain of the origin of the peculiar sound.
"What the hell…" Ed cocked his head slightly as he listened with growing curiosity.
Another stressed complaint whined directly above them, louder and harsher than the first one.
The muffled noise suddenly mutated into sharp, tearing screams of protest.
Jim grabbed Ed's arm and shouted, "Move!"
The two men dove away from the imminent disaster as chunks of the building ripped through the ceiling. A hideous screech of metal accompanied the collapse of a heavy pipe. The entire passageway grew dim as the lights fizzled, then shorted out.
Pete had his hand on the doorknob in Mac's office when he heard a thunderous crash rumble through the hallway. The glass panels in the door and surrounding windows vibrated with the intensity of the noise. He yanked the door open, nearly tearing the knob off in the process. Mac was right behind him as he charged down the corridor.
A swirling cloud of smoke or dust drifted through the air, obscuring the scene at first. Pete's heart pounded, knowing that his partner could've headed in this very direction.
"Yeah," Jim coughed, his voice coming from around the corner. "We're okay."
A rush of relief solidified for Pete as the other two officers came into view. Pete and Mac stepped cautiously around the debris that covered a large section of the floor. A combination of shredded ceiling tiles, fragments of cement and jagged shards of shattered fluorescent lights was scattered for at least six to eight feet. Even more dangerous were the two broken metal pipes jutting out from the overhead. Several strips of flashing dangled at various levels, their sharp edges swinging precariously back and forth in the air.
"My God, what happened?" Mac asked, incredulously. He craned his neck, trying to get a better look at the murky interior of the building. "You sure you guys are okay?"
"I'll tell you what happened, Sarge," Ed Wells wheezed as he batted the haze that was floating around them. "Reed here's got some curse on him and he's trying to take me with him!"
Disregarding Ed's declaration, Jim gestured to the damaged conduits with his flashlight. "The joint section looks like it gave way. Maybe it was installed incorrectly. Or it was already defective. All I know for sure is that one second there's this peculiar sound and the next we're taking cover."
"It's a good thing you did." Mac continued to survey the surrounding area, lines of concern scoring his features. "I don't smell any gas but we better make damn sure there aren't any leaks somewhere in there. I'll call the Fire Department. Wells, tape this area off. I don't want to take a chance on anyone getting hurt."
"Yes, sir," Ed replied.
Mac left the men standing together at the scene as various officers gathered to check out the emergency.
As Ed passed Pete and Jim, he stopped to brush bits of rubble from his shirt. "You know, Pete. This is all your fault."
"Excuse me?" Pete glanced at Jim who looked as confused as Pete felt.
"It's your fault that I nearly bit the dust back there. So to speak."
"And why is that, Ed?"
"Hey, he's your partner, not mine." Ed nodded in Jim's direction. "If some crazy wizard casts a spell of doom on you guys, then you should stick together. Don't let the fallout land on some innocent bystander. Namely me!"
Pete watched as Ed Wells fumed his way toward the Central Supply office. He turned back to check on his partner, only to find him squatting down to examine something.
"You find something?" Pete inquired, scanning the heap of rubble.
"More like retrieving something suspicious," Jim replied, using his pen to retrieve a small, mangled piece of paper sticking out from the mess. "This."
"You asked Ed about it, didn't you?" Pete confirmed, instantly recognizing the scrap of dirty parchment.
"He didn't write it, did he?"
Pete and Jim got to their feet quietly, both taking another long look at the gaping hole where part of the ceiling used to be a few minutes earlier. Pete's facial muscles tensed as he pushed back gruesome images in his head. He glanced over at his younger partner and gestured over his shoulder.
"Come on. Let's go talk to Mac."
Pete and Jim stood and waited patiently as Mac finished speaking with L.A. dispatch. The flurry of activity outside the office continued. Hanging up the phone, Mac looked at Jim with renewed concern. "I took you and Wells at your word, Reed. You're absolutely sure neither one of you got hit by anything?"
"We're both okay, Mac."
"You're both damn lucky is what you are," Mac stated, emphatically.
"Yeah, Mac. I know," Jim nodded. "I, uh, well, Pete and I found something that you should know about."
"In the debris?"
"Not exactly," Jim answered, carefully placing the grimy slip of paper on his sergeant's desk. "This was left in the squad this morning. There's not much to it…and I'm sure my prints, Pete's and Ed's are all over it by now. That is, if anything's left on it."
Mac leaned over to read the words without touching the note. Straightening up slowly, he looked at his two officers. "This sounds like a threat, fellas. You found it this morning and you're telling me about it now?"
Pete cleared his throat uncomfortably as he met his sergeant's questioning gaze. "That's my fault, Mac. I assumed it was Ed and one of his little jokes."
"It's not your fault, Pete. I thought the exact same thing, Mac," Jim said, with a quick shrug. "But Ed said he didn't write it and I believe him."
"So that's what Wells was talking about out there. That blarney about getting him killed because of a curse?" Understanding moved swiftly across Mac's face as he heard himself speak the last word. "You think this has something to do with Sabeth?"
"The note, yeah," Jim replied, "But don't ask me to believe that Sabeth has supernatural powers and commanded the roof to collapse."
"Well, I'm with you there, Jim. However, I'll let you both know as soon as I get the investigator's report. In any case, I want to be sure that no human hands tampered with the guts of this station."
Sighing, Jim turned around in time to see two men dressed in L.A.F.D. turnouts hustle past. "I'm just glad no one was hurt."
"So are we, Jim," Pete replied, exchanging a quiet look with his commanding officer.
"I'll take care of the paperwork on this and…" Mac stopped short as he visually inspected the junior officer, who appeared to be wearing a thin coating of dust. "Is it my imagination or are you spending an inordinate amount of time changing uniforms lately?"
"No, Mac," Pete answered, chuckling as he watched Jim sweep a hand through his hair. "It's not your imagination."
"That's what I thought," Mac nodded slowly, holding back a smile. "You guys get back to work and I'll be talking to Detective Brown about this latest development." He indicated the disquieting note resting near his pen set.
"Mac, we were about to take seven," Jim added as Pete opened the door.
"By all means, take seven," Mac said, using an exaggerated stern tone. " It's bad enough I've got the building coming down around the ears of my men. I don't want them starving as well."
"Thanks, Mac." Jim grinned as Pete gave him a friendly push.
"Sure," Mac said, shaking his head. "Go on, get out of here."
The Temple of the Soul held a small group of people gathered in the main room. Sitting in a nearby corner, Michelle heard soft murmurs bubbling around her. But her mind was anything but silent as she pondered questions that had been ignored for too long.
"What troubles you?" Regina asked, interrupting her thoughts.
"Nothing," Michelle answered, startled by the woman's sudden intrusion into her thoughts. She fought back the new and uncomfortable sensation that Regina could somehow read her mind. "I guess I was daydreaming."
"You're with us now. You are a part of a new dream."
"What exactly does that mean?" Michelle asked, feeling her heart begin to beat faster.
"You wanted to start over, just like me. Reverend Sabeth made that happen and took us under his wing."
"He brought you to me, gave you shelter, clothing, food. You are so very lucky."
"I know that, too."
"Good, Michelle. Very good," Regina whispered as the tall black figure crossed the threshold of the room. "He may protect you with his power but only if you do as he says. There is no question that harm can befall those who do not. I've seen it. And so will you."
Michelle felt a chill creep into her skin as she looked into the young woman's eyes. Regina placed both hands over Michelle's, releasing them as she refocused her attention upon the Reverend. His well-known smile spread out to the small crowd around him. It was the same smile she had seen that first day. But something was different now.
Michelle looked down at her hands and opened them. The small golden beetle was nestled in her palm.
"Over there, Pete."
"I see it," Pete replied, having already noticed the distraught young woman with a toddler crouching on the sidewalk. He edged the black and white next to the curbing, hoping no one was hurt.
The woman knelt awkwardly, one arm circling the little girl's waist as she used her other hand to tug on one of the child's small feet. The little girl was crying and clinging to the mother's neck like a life preserver.
"Ma'am?" Jim said, approaching the woman with care, trying not to surprise either her or the child.
"Oh, thank goodness, Officers. Please, can you help me?" She looked down at the one tiny white, patent leather shoe wedged in a large crack in the cement. Her own eyes threatened to overflow as she struggled to hold onto the distressed child.
"Here, let's see what we've got," Pete and Jim squatted down to check out the jagged crevice.
"Why don't we try and get her foot out of that shoe first," Jim suggested, already unfastening the miniature strap from a gold buckle.
"Why didn't I think to do that…"
The woman choked back tears as she watched Jim gently slip the diminutive foot out of the cramped encasing. He examined it carefully, looking for scrapes or other signs of injury.
"There you go, honey," Jim reassured the child, brushing back a blonde curl from the little girl's moist face. He received a shy smile in return.
Pete easily worked the shoe loose from the sidewalk, and held it out to the mother.
"Dat my soo!"
Laughing, Pete gave the shoe to the child instead. "Yes, it is." He assisted the woman to her feet, making sure she didn't lose her balance.
"Your little girl doesn't appear to have hurt herself, ma'am," Jim advised. "But you might want to check with your own family doctor, just to sure."
"I will, Officers, thank you both so much." She lowered her voice by a fraction, looking at them with embarrassment. "You must think I'm a terrible mother, not being able to rescue my own child."
"No, ma'am. That's why we're here. We're just glad it wasn't something more serious."
"Me, too. Thank you again."
"Tell the nice officers bye-bye, Sarah."
"Bye! Bye!" Her shyness gone, Sarah beamed enthusiastically at her two heroes.
Jim and Pete both smiled and waved to the little girl before returning to the black and white.
Jim replaced the mic as Pete got them back on the street, sighing almost inaudibly. "It'd be nice if we could help everyone that easily."
"Yeah," Jim said as he watched the passing scenery. "At least little Sarah there was happy to see us."
"Hey, every victory counts…even the small ones, right?"
"Especially the small ones," Jim nodded, giving in to a smile.
"Come on, partner. Ten minutes until end of watch. Let's get back to the barn."
Two repairmen, a ladder, toolboxes and various pieces of cable filled the hallway as Pete and Jim entered the station. Both were cautious as they stepped neatly around the focal point of activity. Some progress had obviously been made but the gaping hole in the ceiling remained an uncomfortable reminder. A very large, uncomfortable reminder.
"Let's call it a day, Jim," Pete suggested, leaving the scene behind them. He'd be happy when the place got back to normal. Lately, it had been anything but that.
"I'd like nothing better but it looks like Mac wants to see us." Jim nodded to their commanding officer, who was motioning for them to join him.
Detective Walter Brown was waiting inside when the officers entered Mac's domain. A gray haired man with an abundant belly, he remained seated but stuck out a hand in greeting. "Malloy. Reed. Heard you had some excitement around here today."
Pete grasped the man's hand firmly. "You could say that. But my partner managed to duck and cover well enough."
"Glad you're okay, Reed." Another handshake accompanied the detective's statement.
"Have a seat, you two," Mac invited, moving toward his own chair. "Detective Brown wanted a few minutes to speak to you guys."
After everyone was seated, the detective leaned back, clasped his hands together and rested them on his stomach as he looked at Pete and Jim. "I was going to get back with you anyway. Then when I called Sergeant McDonald he informed me about the note left in your squad, boys. I get the impression that you think Sabeth was behind it."
"The way it's worded…it certainly sounds like him," Jim said.
"And we've already had a couple of run-ins with him. We're not his favorite people. Especially Jim," Pete said, throwing a wry smile toward his partner.
"Mac also tells me that now you're concerned about some kid at his place."
"Yes, sir. A young girl, probably fifteen years old," Jim responded. "She's there with an aunt, or so they say."
"Any reason to question that?"
"No, sir. Just a feeling, I guess."
Pete caught a flicker of something he didn't like as the older man considered Jim's answer for a few seconds.
"Seems like when it comes to Reverend Sabeth, the term unsubstantiated remains a constant," Detective Brown said, heaving a sigh as he rummaged in the pocket of his suit jacket. "Don't get me wrong." He pulled out a pack of Lucky Strikes and smacked the end of it into his palm. A single cigarette slid neatly into his stubby fingers. "I believe the man uses the people in that neighborhood as easily as the rest of us have breakfast in the morning. I thought we had a chance with the whole Dent case but you saw what happened. No corroborating testimony from them and zip, the whole thing is a total waste of manpower. I don't expect things to change anytime soon, either. To be honest, I've got cases more promising than this."
"More promising?" Jim asked, uneasily. "Look, Detective Brown, a baby has already become a victim here. Now a teenage girl could be getting mixed up in it and nobody wants to do anything about this guy."
"Jim," Mac admonished from behind his desk. "That's hardly fair. Bunco has a heavy load just like the rest of the Division. You know that it takes time to build any good case."
"A little more time and it may not be a case for Bunco, Mac."
"And you can't squeeze blood from a turnip," Brown shrugged as he flipped open the red-lacquered top of a lighter. "R & I ran him. He's clean, no priors. In fact, we couldn't find anything on him at all, not even a parking ticket. But we still canvassed the area thoroughly. And we keep getting the same runaround. For some darn reason, they're loyal to him and don't want to help the police. So, no answers, no case."
"Or maybe they're afraid of him," Pete said, candidly. This conversation wasn't what he'd anticipated when Mac called them. And he could tell from looking at Jim and Mac that they were probably thinking the same thing.
"Detective Lee in Homicide thinks there might be something to that," Jim added.
"If Homicide wants to investigate him, they're more than welcome," Brown sniffed noisily. "Come on, the guy's a con artist, not a murderer. He gets a real charge outta being able to manipulate these people. Easy marks like the Dents or that kid you saw. He's slick, knows exactly what buttons to push. Before they realize it, he's got them convinced he's their best friend in the world, maybe even their only friend. But, nine times out of ten, he'll be on the receiving end of their money, their property, whatever assets they got. And then they'll be bringing in new people so the well never runs dry. I've seen it before and so have you." Brown shook his head, a slightly amused smile on his face. He pointed the open lighter at them, stabbing the air for emphasis. "But I bet you two have a different take on this one. You think he's different. Dangerous. Maybe even fanatical. You think he's another Charlie Manson…all set to take your little lady out to Cielo Drive for one more wild party."
Jim flinched slightly before fixing a hard stare at the detective. "You better pray that he's nothing like Manson, Detective."
The small metallic lid instantly snapped shut under Brown's thumb. The smile vanished as he tossed the unlit cigarette into Mac's nearby trashcan. Grunting, he hauled himself up from the chair and moved toward the desk. "Sergeant McDonald, I know how it is when it looks as if someone is threatening your men. Everything and everyone becomes suspect. But Malloy and Reed are jumping the gun when it comes to Sabeth. Based on my years of experience, I think they're dead wrong."
Mac stood up, with Pete and Jim following suit. "That's unfortunate, Detective. Based on my years of experience, I believe that they're on to something. But I appreciate you coming by."
"You'll find it to be pointless, Sergeant," Brown mumbled as he wearily trudged to the door, pausing before he opened it. "Don't say I didn't warn you."
The three standing officers watched quietly as the stout figure trudged out of the office. Mac sighed as sat back down and held out his hands, palm side up, in apology. "Sorry, fellas. I had no idea he was going to cut us down like that."
"It's okay, Mac. There's no way you could've known," Pete said, glancing over at his partner who appeared to be memorizing the floor.
"Mmmm?" Jim started a second later. "Oh, yeah, Pete's right, Mac. Detective Brown obviously has other priorities."
"Maybe so. But I still want you guys to exercise caution. If you get any more of those threatening notes…or threats of any kind, I want to be the first to know," Mac insisted sternly, crossing his arms in front of him.
"How about the third?" Pete said, breaking a smile.
"The third, then," Mac answered, rolling his eyes upward. "And I know you're both worried about that girl. If it makes you feel any better, I've sent her name and description down to Juvenile Hall, just in case. They're going to check to see if there are any flyers that match."
"Thanks, Mac." Jim's relief was difficult to miss.
"Don't thank me yet. It's a long shot. There are an awful lot of runaways, missing kids, kids in trouble…and we don't even know if she's one of them."
"At least it's something," Pete confirmed, although he knew Mac's statement to be true. Tracking down juveniles, especially those without a record, was like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. But he wanted to be optimistic, preferring to think that this long shot would pay off.
"Oh, and another thing," Mac added as they turned to leave. "Since you'll be on PM Watch starting day after tomorrow, that leaves you almost two days."
"Two days for what?" Pete asked, wondering if there was something he'd forgotten.
"Two days to take it easy. Forget about this stuff for a while, will ya?"
"Mac, you don't have to tell us twice," Pete confirmed, "Come on, partner. Let's get out of here before he decides we only have one day."
"Right. See ya, Mac."
As he shut the door behind them, Pete glanced at the clock on the wall and realized just how long their little chat with Detective Brown had lasted. It had been unproductive as well as extremely frustrating. Not exactly the best way to wrap up an already unusual day.
"Pete?" Jim paused a few feet down the hall.
"I've tried not to think about any similarities between Sabeth and Manson, you know?"
"But when I do," Jim spoke softly. "It scares the hell out of me."
"It should," Pete said.
Pete arrived at the station less than 48 hours later only to find Ed Wells alone in the locker room. "Hey, Ed. Didn't realize you guys changed shifts this week."
"Oh, yeah, remember that mix-up in the schedule from a few weeks ago? We went on last night." Ed crooked his neck, trying to adjust his necktie. "Only don't look for Brinkman. He's not here and Mac's puttin' me in a L-car."
Pete yanked open his locker and looked at Ed. "What's up with Brink?"
"Out with an injury," Ed held up his left hand and brandished it in front of Pete. "Cut his hand pretty badly last night."
"Serious?" Pete asked as his fingers suspended on one shirt button.
"He'll be off for a day followed by desk duty, I'm sure. Don't worry, though, it's his left hand and the doc said there wasn't any permanent damage."
"That's good to hear. What happened?"
"Took a call off Fernwood, near the studios. Anonymous PR said there was an abandoned baby in dumpster. We get there and the closest streetlight is busted making the place pitch black. And sure enough, we hear this crying sound." Ed reacted with an exaggerated shudder. "Brrr! Pete, the thought of a tiny baby being dumped all alone in a place like that. Man! It blows my mind what some people can do."
"Yeah, I know. So you found the baby and Bob cut his hand somehow?"
"Oh, no, there wasn't any baby."
"No baby? But I thought you said…"
"I said we heard crying. Or what we thought was crying. Turned out to be a little kitten all curled up on a burlap bag inside a garbage dumpster. Not more than a week or so old, meowing its head off."
"Oh. So how did…"
"Officer Brinkman, my lame-brain partner, goes all mushy on me. Reaches in to get the little fur ball. He was in a hurry to rescue something."
"Bad move, I gather."
"Oh yeah. Especially since there were several large pieces of broken glass right next to the burlap. I had a flashlight but didn't see any of it in time because he wouldn't wait for me."
"But, ya know, I can't figure out how the thing got into the bottom of that big dumpster. The cat, I mean. Somebody had to put it in there," Ed said, shaking his head. "But then why call the police and say it's a baby?"
"Maybe the PR heard it and assumed the same thing you guys did. Or maybe it was a prank call. You sure Bob's going to be okay?"
"I tell ya, Pete, with his hand bleeding like it was, I couldn't get to Central Receiving fast enough," Ed paused to cough into his own hand. "Of course, now he's milking it for all it's worth."
"Well, I'm glad it wasn't any worse."
A few seconds passed. Ed peered around his locker door slowly, his eyes resting on Pete. "You know, now that I think about it, something else was weird about that call."
"We were in your district. 1-Adam-12 was tied up with a deuce. We were nearby so we rolled on it."
"Remember that schedule mix-up?"
"By all rights, you guys should have been on PM watch last night. This should have been your call. You and Reed."
Pete stood, dumbstruck as he stared at Ed.
"What I'm saying is, Fletcher has a brand new rookie he's breaking in and that's why they were delayed. If it had been you guys, then you woulda been done with the 502 and gone straight to the abandoned baby call."
"Ed, you beat everything, you know that?" Pete said, annoyed and amazed at the same time. "You know better than to try and assign blame for something like that."
"No blame, Pete," Ed mused as he hung one hand on the small metal door. "I'm simply considering the incredible odds at work in the universe. Imagine if only one thing had been different. Especially since we all know how Reed can be around babies and animals. He would have been in that dumpster even faster than Brinkman. Which would be about par for the course for him lately, wouldn't you say?"
"I can't believe that even you would dream up such a cockamamie theory. Your mind operates on a whole different level."
"It wasn't a compliment."
"No buts. Can it, Ed. And I don't want to hear you trying out your theory on anyone else, especially Jim. He's got enough on his mind. Got it?"
Pete's stone-faced rebuke silenced the other officer instantly. Both men looked up as Jim breezed through the door.
"Hey guys," Jim said, observing the last trace of his partner's expression. "What's going on?"
With a fleeting look at Pete, Ed replied, "Oh, I was giving Pete here the lowdown on Brinkman's latest escapade."
"Something wrong?" Jim asked, pausing as he unzipped his jacket.
"I'll let Pete give you the details," Ed answered as he shut his locker door and hesitated briefly. "Be safe out there tonight."
Jim watched Ed leave, and then turned to Pete. "Did Ed Wells just tell us to have a safe night?"
"Don't ask me to explain Ed."
"So what's the story on Brinkman?" Slipping on his uniform shirt, Jim buttoned it automatically as he looked expectantly at Pete.
"They thought they had an abandoned baby in a dumpster. It was a baby kitten. Bob picked it up and cut his hand on some glass."
"Bad enough, I guess. Ed's in an L-car for tonight."
"Left. So you don't have to worry. Boom-Boom hasn't lost the use of his trigger finger."
"Well," Jim laughed, stuffing his shirttail into the waist of his pants. "I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing."
"You'd think after this many years of changing shifts, I'd be used to it," Jim yawned, stretching his jaw from side to side. They were over two-thirds of the way through the watch, most of which had consisted of routine calls. Routine calls that had only added to his level of restlessness.
"You sure that's all it is?"
"Yeah," Jim answered, then added, "Well, that and I haven't exactly been sleeping that well."
"Any particular reason?"
"I don't know. Could be an old-fashioned case of insomnia."
"It's not because of Sabeth and his magic spells." Jim tapped his fingers against the top of the passenger door panel.
"Did I say anything?" Pete asked. He'd seen the fidgety behavior appear only when they were finished with a call and back in the car.
"We planned some serious family time yesterday, Pete, You know, tried to do what Mac recommended," Jim said. "A picnic at the park all afternoon. In fact, I called to see if you wanted to join us but I guess you were out."
"Thanks. I'm sorry I missed it."
"Don't be. Jimmy was in a cranky mood and never really had any fun. Not sick or anything, just in a mood. Jean was upset because some of the things she packed spilled and made a mess in the picnic basket. We had plenty of food but it still bothered her."
Knowing that Jean always tried to be the consummate hostess, Pete smiled in sympathy.
"We had planned on dropping the baby off with our neighbor Joanie so we could have a leisurely drive up the coast. It was getting pretty warm but the breezes would have been nice. It didn't feel right, though, leaving Jimmy with her when he was acting up so we decided to come home."
"Then what happened?"
"Flat tire. Picked up a nail, can you believe it? And I had to pull over where there was barely any shoulder. Near a construction site. I'm lucky I didn't pick up another nail while we were sitting there." Jim's disgust with the situation was more than apparent. "Have you ever tried to change a tire in the hot sun with a crying baby and a disappointed wife watching you?"
"So would you call all that the result of Sabeth's hocus-pocus?"
"Nope," Pete chuckled. "I'd call that life, partner."
Jim laughed as he rubbed a hand over one eye. "It is, isn't it?"
"1-Adam-12, a 245 reported by femalePR. Intersection of 12th and Hope Street. Code 2."
Grabbing the mic, Jim responded with an alacrity that revealed none of his recent ennui. "1-Adam-12, roger."
In less than two minutes, the black and white pulled up to an unlikely sight. A pickup truck full of fishing gear was parked on the curb between a phone booth and streetlight. A man and woman took turns yelling at one another, standing on opposite sides of the truck. The woman clutched a large object in her hands, raising it in the air. Pete sighed audibly, not even bothering to look at his partner.
"1-Adam-12, code 6 at…" Jim paused, looking for the nearest numbered building. "Six hundred Hope Street."
"One-Adam 12, roger."
"So. Do you want to disarm the woman or should I do it?"
"Are you kidding? That's at least a twelve-pound yellowtail. You're the senior officer and resident fishing expert. I definitely think this one's for you."
"I knew you'd say that."
It didn't take long to get the situation under control. Pete persuaded the woman into peacefully returning the fish back to the truck bed by emphasizing that such a great catch really needed to stay on ice. He let them off with a warning after the couple agreed to hash out their differences more calmly when they got home. Pete hoped that, by that time, the various tasks associated with the end of a fishing trip would keep them busy and too tired to argue. He wasn't sure that the fish incident would have been categorized as an ADW but, then again, it might all depend on the point of view.
As the two officers walked back to the car, Jim shook his head in admiration. "You really are the expert."
"I keep telling you that."
"The way things have been going for me lately, I would have ended up with that fish right in my face," Jim grinned as he took off his hat and opened the car door.
"1-Adam-12, what's your status?" The dispatcher's voice squawked from the dark interior.
Jim bent down and grabbed the mic. "1-Adam-12, clear."
"1-Adam-12, meet the supervisor on Tac2."
"1-Adam-12, roger," Jim sat down and switched frequencies as he looked over at his partner, now behind the wheel. "1-Adam-12, go ahead."
Mac's gravelly voice surprised both of them. "Dispatch issued a call for One-L-22. The PR reported a prowler on the premises. Jim… it's your address. And the PR is Jean."
Jim locked eyes with his partner, feeling a sudden fear catch in his gut. Without a word, Pete started the engine and pulled away from the curb.
"Mac, are Jean and the baby okay?" Jim's voice threatened to break as his grasp on the mic tightened.
"Take it easy, Jim. They're fine. Wells is there now and did a thorough search. But I knew you'd want to check things out for yourself."
"Thanks, Mac," Jim had trouble swallowing as he said his own silent prayer of gratitude.
"We'll be there in a minute. Hang on."
Hearing his partner's voice helped but Jim knew he wouldn't be satisfied until he saw Jean's face. Until he actually saw for himself that his family was all right.
Seeing a patrol car sitting in front of his house stirred up mixed emotions for Jim. He was relieved that Jean wasn't alone. But knowing that she had been by herself in the house and needed to call the police disturbed him more than he could put into words. Before the car had come to a full stop, he was out and running for the front door of his house. Vaguely he heard Pete confirm their location with Central Dispatch.
"Jean?" Once inside, he stopped short as he saw Ed Wells stop talking and turn around to face him. The movement allowed him to see his wife standing in the living room.
"Jim, honey…" She moved quickly toward him but he reached her first, wrapping his arms around her. Right now, he needed to feel her next to him, warm and safe. Jean claimed that he was her anchor but Jim was sure it was the other way around.
"Jean, you're sure you're okay? Jimmy?"
"I'm okay. Jimmy's fine. He slept through the whole thing…such as it was." Jean looked up at her husband and saw the worry in his eyes. She gave him a little smile to reassure him. "Honest, Jim. Everything's okay."
Ed cleared his throat loudly. "Uhh…Jean, why don't you tell Jim what you told me?"
"Well, I had already put Jimmy down a while ago. I was going to read that new book I bought and wait up until you came home. And that's what I did. Until I heard something."
"I don't know. Just a noise. So I went to check on the baby and nothing was wrong. But on my way back I stopped to double-check the back door. Then I got a drink of water and realized I hadn't drawn the curtains. Then…" Jean drifted as she paused to stare in the direction of the kitchen.
"Jean…" Jim gently prompted her.
"I saw someone pass by the kitchen window," she said, her voice remaining strong and steady. "I'm sure Ed thinks I'm nuts…"
"Can you describe what you saw, Jean?" Pete asked. He'd heard the conversation so far, remaining quiet until he thought he could assist his best friends.
"That's the problem, Pete. It was so fast. I was so startled that I dropped the glass," Jean suddenly remembered. "Oh, I better clean that up before someone steps on a piece of glass and gets hurt."
"That can wait, Jean," Jim said, taking both her hands. "Now just think. What did you see?"
She turned her head and, once again, focused on the kitchen entryway. "A fleeting impression of facial features…eyes, a mouth. A large, looming shadow that moved like a man but not quite. I'm sorry. I wish I could give you the kind of physical description that I know you need."
"It's okay, Jean," Jim assured her.
"Every bit helps," Pete said. He caught Ed's attention and nodded toward the room in question.
"Watch out for the glass," Jean reminded them as they made their way into the kitchen.
"So. Anything?" Pete asked, picking up the few shards of glass on the floor and depositing them into the wastebasket.
Ed shook his head a bit. "I searched the entire yard and didn't see anyone. No signs of attempted entry on either one of the doors or any of the windows. I may be short a partner but I covered the entire area. Whoever it was probably took off as soon as Jean saw him, just like she said."
"We could always try for prints on the window," Ed suggested. "Maybe he leaned against it or something."
"It's a possibility," Pete agreed. He pushed back the café curtains further back to get a better look. His eyes traced the outline of the window, inspecting each pane of glass. "Let's go outside, Ed."
Pete proceeded to open the back door, cautiously, with the blonde officer right behind him. He surveyed the back yard, instinctively keeping his right hand resting on his revolver.
"Keep a look out. Just in case," Pete asked, turning to the window. Jean's pink rosebushes were located right below it, making it difficult to get too close. Pete directed the beam of his flashlight near the ground first. The topsoil was covered with mulch, pretty much canceling out any possibility of finding footprints. But it was the budding flowers that caught his attention. Several stems were broken off and missing. A few delicate petals dotted the ground surrounding the plants.
"Ed, did you step in here?"
"Since when did I become a rookie?"
"Sorry. Had to be sure."
"I know. And I saw it, too. But I didn't want to say anything inside. Could've already been like that."
"Not the way Jean babies these things. Jim picked them out and planted them for her on their anniversary."
With nothing to block the view, Pete was able to see inside easily. It was unnerving to think of a stranger peering into the Reed home in the same manner. The illumination from the kitchen allowed Pete to see quite a bit of the exterior even without using his flashlight.
"I thought you said you checked all the windows."
"Ed. Take a look."
"What?" Ed leaned closer to the house, pointing his flashlight toward the windowsill. "Hey, that wasn't there before, Pete. I swear it wasn't."
"I believe you, Ed." Pete removed a ballpoint pen from his pocket and painstakingly pried a small, folded piece of paper sticking out from under the window itself.
"That doesn't make any sense, Pete. If it wasn't here when I made the rounds a little while ago, then…"
"Whoever it was came back. Not a good thought, is it?"
"I'll make another round and make sure everything's locked up tight."
"Be careful," Pete warned, although his instincts told him that Ed would turn up nothing on his second trip. He re-entered the house, making sure the door was closed behind him. Soft voices down the hallway let him know that Jim and Jean were peeking in on his godson. He couldn't blame them. He'd feel better seeing that little boy, too. But other things took priority. Pete set the creased note on the counter and unfolded it using his pen and another one he found in a red plastic cup.
The words were different. The scrawl was familiar. Too familiar.
Pete swore under his breath. A faint knock on the kitchen door along with Ed's muffled voice interrupted any other thoughts. Pete let him in and relocked the door. "Anything?"
"Nope. Whoever it was must've disappeared in a puff of smoke or something. So what is that?" Ed pointed to the paper.
"Read it," Pete invited as he reached for the telephone on the wall.
"Wait a minute. This looks like that note Reed tried to pawn off…" Ed's mouth dropped open as he looked at Pete for confirmation. "You mean that fruitcake witchdoctor?"
Pete didn't answer as he dialed Mac's office, knowing he'd still be there waiting to hear from them. And sure enough, their sergeant answered on the first ring.
"Pete, I was about ready to call."
"We've got a problem, Mac. You wanted to know if any more of those notes turned up."
"I'll be right there."
Hanging up the phone, Pete held onto the receiver for a few seconds then released it into its cradle. He turned around to see Jim standing at the end of the hallway.
"Pete?" Jim asked, uneasily.
"We found it under the window, Jim." Pete reluctantly gestured toward the paper. He watched as his partner approached him and read the message, his voice barely audible. "A haven in darkness where true peril seeks a home."
"Hey, why don't I keep an eye out front and wait for the Sarge?" Ed suggested.
Pete gave him the go-ahead and Ed left the room without another word.
"Pete, I thought Sabeth was simply trying to get under my skin. I've been concerned about Michelle, yeah, but not myself," Jim said, risking a worried glance down the hallway. "And not my family."
"We're not going to let anything happen to your family."
"I know," Jim nodded. He stared at the kitchen window as if he thought something might crash through it at any moment.
"Jim?" Jean's soft voice caused both men to turn around suddenly. She stood in the same spot Jim had a few minutes earlier. "There's something going on, isn't there? I mean, this is more than a neighborhood prowler, right?"
Pete waited, knowing Jim would give her an honest answer but still wouldn't want to frighten her. He was right.
"We're not sure, Jean, but it's possible that someone's targeting us."
"Us? You mean you and Pete?"
"Targeting you for what? Is it someone you arrested and now they want to get back at you?"
"Not exactly," Jim said, uneasily. He looked at Pete for assistance.
"Jean, if it's who we think it is, then it's very likely he's trying to warn us off, trying to keep us from doing our job," Pete informed her. "Right now it's basically harassment and it could very well be over by tomorrow."
"But it might not, right?"
"There's always that chance, honey," Jim said. "You know, I'd feel better if you and Jimmy would stay with your parents. At least for a little while."
"Jim, we just came back from there." Jean captured one of his hands with her own and looked up at him stubbornly. "Besides, I'm not going to let some peeping tom chase us out of our own home."
"He's not a peeping tom, Jean. I don't know what this guy might do, especially now that he knows where we live and had the nerve to come around at night when you were alone."
"But I can't swear that I saw him. And how do you know it's the same man?"
"Look, you two," Pete interrupted the intense discussion. "Mac will be here in a minute. Why don't you take it easy for a few minutes, then you can make a decision."
"Yeah, all right," Jim replied, as his wife nodded her agreement.
Relieved that they went along with his suggestion, Pete left the couple in the kitchen and rejoined Wells outside.
"Uhh, they okay in there?" Ed asked. He glanced briefly at the Reed's front door.
"Yeah, Ed, they're okay."
"Good," Ed replied, scanning the street and nearby sidewalk. "Shouldn't take Mac too long."
"I know it meant a lot to Jim that you were here, Ed."
"Hey, I may give ole' Jimbo a hard time now and then…"
"May?" Pete said, lifting one eyebrow and keeping a smile to himself.
"But this is family. That crackpot has another thing comin' if he…well, you know what I mean."
"Yeah, I know," Pete said as he watched Mac's car pull up behind the two other black and whites.
"Besides," Ed said, adjusting the brim of his hat. "Drivin' Reed nuts is my job."
Within a few minutes Mac arrived and assessed the situation with Ed and Pete. Not long after, everyone was back in the kitchen once again, except for Ed, who opted to stay outside.
"We all agree that the notes look the same," Mac stated, watching the expressions in front of him. "But since Jean can't positively identify him and there's nothing else to tie him to this, it still leaves us basically empty-handed."
"Mac, this is too close," Jim pressed, his voice low.
"That's why I want you and Pete to leave right now. You're still on watch. Go check Sabeth's place. We don't have enough to pick him up but you can still ask him some questions and see what kind of answers you get."
"Go on, Jim," Jean urged gently. "We'll be all right for tonight. Go do your job. Maybe we won't have to make any more decisions."
"Ed checked all the doors and windows," Pete added, seeing his partner's hesitation. "Everything's secure."
"I'll have Wells swing by whenever possible. And I'll alert the next shift. Try not to worry, Jim," Mac tried to reassure the younger officer.
"Easier said than done, Mac."
As Pete turned onto South Arden Street, Jim saw the words in the last note take shape around him. Many of the shops and businesses on the street had closed during the past year, victims of a slump in the local economy. Even with a glow from the streetlights, the vacant storefronts were still wrapped in sheets of darkness. The front parts of some were protected with iron bars once the security of sunlight had withdrawn for the day. One small grocery store appeared to be open, the only sign of life in the last half block. Jim watched the area cautiously as Pete executed a U-turn and parked directly in front of the building.
Mac had informed them that R & I listed the Temple as the only known address for T. Leland Sabeth. Which meant that he might be using part of it for a residence or he lived somewhere else and had successfully kept it a secret. Something told him that Sabeth would never be too far from this building or his followers.
Jim radioed in their location and joined Pete on the sidewalk.
"This place wasn't much in the daytime. It doesn't improve any at night," Pete commented. Beams from their flashlights passed slowly across the large plate-glass windows on the front side. Heavy drapes hung inside completely blocked any visual access.
"I'll check that side door and then go around back," Jim said, opting for the opposite side.
"Hey," Pete stopped him, remembering that they weren't acquainted with the complete layout of the place. "I know this is getting personal. But be careful."
"Right," Jim replied as he took a step and paused. "Better watch it, Pete. You're starting to quote Wells."
Pete gave him a tight smile and nodded. He waited until Jim had rounded the corner before he moved to the front door. Opening it, he stepped warily into the outer hall. He flicked the light switch next to the door. Nothing.
A large, single candle burned on a metal stand by the wall. Pete hoped they could get him for more than a safety violation. The orange and white flame crackled as he took a cursory look. It hadn't been burning long--the wax had barely pooled around the wick.
The foyer area was otherwise empty. And as quiet as a tomb. Pete trained his flashlight on the opening to the next room and approached slowly. "T. Leland Sabeth! This is Officer Malloy." He kept his right hand near his revolver as he spoke out loud. "I need to ask you a few questions."
Pete wondered how Jim was doing.
There was nothing particularly ominous or even unusual about the rear entrance to the temple, Jim decided. It could've belonged to any of the businesses on this street or a dozen other streets similarly zoned. His flashlight flickered across a low brick wall between the small parking area and the lot behind it. No vehicle in sight. He wasn't surprised. Mac had also told them that DMV ran Sabeth through the system and nothing turned up. Detective Brown was right about no violations but he hadn't mentioned that Sabeth wasn't a licensed California driver either.
Jim halted briefly, taking notice as a dog's harsh barking cut into the musty silence of the night air. It sounded close. Just as suddenly, the barking ceased.
He'd checked the side door on his way and found it to be locked, as he had expected. Now he continued his exploration of the area as he made his way to the only other door he could see. His light briefly traced the frame and moved in to focus on the doorknob. One look told him no one would be using it anytime soon. A shiny, new deadlock had been installed, and from the looks of it, quite recently.
Jim stepped back and observed the surrounding area one more time. Ignored weeds grew through the cracks in the pavement. A few empty bottles, a broken wooden crate, and a flattened cigarette carton were strewn on the ground.
He knew what was bothering him. Why would a place professing to be an open sanctuary to the public need a heavy-duty bolted lock on the premises? Was Sabeth hiding something? Or simply exercising his rights under the law to protect his property?
I've got a real hinky feeling about this.
"Official visits at night now, Officer Malloy?"
Pete whirled around instantly and was startled to see a huge silhouette blocking most of the threshold. He directed his light up toward the face, which confirmed what he already knew. Sabeth.
"Yes. Let's step outside," Pete said, motioning to the door. He really didn't want his back to whoever else might be in the Temple.
Sabeth answered him with an unconcerned smile and proceeded to the sidewalk. Between the glare of the flashlight and the sheen reflected from the candle, the man had presented a disquieting portrait.
"We're checking out a report of a prowler. Can you tell me where you've been for the past hour?"
"Am I suspected of being a…prowler… this time?" A condescending laugh followed the question.
"All right. I've been with several of my followers who will gladly attest to that fact. I'll be happy to give you their names. Regina and Michelle Cain," Sabeth smiled again. "I believe you've met them."
"We'll be sure to talk to them."
"We. Where is your partner? Officer Reed, wasn't it?"
"He's taking a look around."
Brief as it was, Pete caught the uneasy look that crossed Sabeth's face.
"Pete? Everything okay?"
Pete was relieved to hear his partner's voice and see him walk up. He didn't like to admit it but he had experienced a little anxiety himself.
"Yeah. The Reverend says he has witnesses that can verify his whereabouts this evening. The Cains," Pete said, knowing it would be unlikely for those two particular people to say anything against Reverend Sabeth.
"Then maybe you'd like to tell us about the notes you've been leaving for us to find," Jim said.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Sabeth answered, clasping his hands together.
"We have reason to believe that you've been leaving notes. Intimidating messages."
"You have chosen a dangerous profession." The harmonious tone was a contrast to the deadly stare now secured on Jim. "You, and those around you, should always be prepared for the consequences of your actions."
Pete saw Jim's jaw clench. He could feel the muscles in the back of his own neck start to knot up. "Sabeth, are you making a threat?"
"I merely point out the obvious. Am I under arrest?"
"No, not this time," Pete answered, insuring that his words were loud and clear. "But we're onto you, Reverend Sabeth. You make a mistake--we'll be there."
"But will you be there in time?" The Reverend smiled and turned to go back into the temple.
"Sabeth," Jim said, as seriously as Pete had ever seen him. "Stay away from my family,"
Slowly turning to face them again, Sabeth's infuriating smile finally dropped away. His eyes constricting as his face turned into a reptilian mask, he murmured, "Stay away from mine."
"Jim, you okay?"
"Come on. Let's go," Pete advised as he rounded the back bumper of the black and white. "I'm sure Mac will want to know how it went."
Jim pulled his door open, giving Pete a look of annoyance before he got in the car. "That'll take about fifteen seconds."
"Did you find anything when you were checking the back?" Pete asked, his hand paused on the gearshift.
"A very locked door. I don't remember seeing it whenever we were inside the place."
"Makes you wonder, doesn't it?" Pete replied, taking a last look at the building before pulling out into the street.
"I feel like that's all we've been doing since we ran into this guy," Jim said. His attention was suddenly diverted to unexpected movement ahead of them. "Pete, I think we're being flagged by that man at the grocery store."
"Let's see what the man wants, then."
"1-Adam-12, code 6 at…" Jim crooked his neck, trying to make out the name of the establishment more clearly. "Marinoni's Market, 1300 South Arden."
A portly man in his sixties, wearing a white butcher's apron and holding a broom stood on the pavement. A clay flowerpot crowded with white flowers served as a doorstop, keeping the store entrance wide open. The man nodded, gesturing for them to join him.
"Sir, can we assist you?" Jim asked, as he and Pete approached the older gentleman.
"My name is Gino Marinoni. This is my store," Mr. Marinoni answered, a lilting accent sprinkling his sentences. "I watch. I see you many times. You go in," he pointed toward the temple, "you come out. You go in, you come out again."
"I'm Officer Malloy, this is Officer Reed," Pete said. "Do you have a concern about the place?"
The owner shrugged. "I wonder why you only visit. Why you don't do something?"
"We appreciate any information you might be able to give us, Mr. Marinoni." Jim didn't want to get his hopes up but this was the first sign of anything that resembled outside help.
"Come. Come inside, Officers."
They followed the older man into the store, waiting as he set the broom aside in a nearby corner. He paused at the door, taking a quick look outside and walked back to stand behind his cash register.
"That man, Mr. Sabeth. He's diàvolo, the devil, you understand?"
His pulse jumping a few beats, Jim exchanged a brief look with Pete. "Sir, can you be a little more specific?"
"I have my store two, three years. Many others close, go away. The landlord say it is only a slow time, don't worry. I don't worry. Until Mr. Sabeth come." He shook his head, appearing bewildered. "Some of those people, they buy food. That's all right for the business. Sometimes I hear they give to other people who are hungry. I say to myself, that's good, too. But…"
"What, Mr. Marinoni?" Pete prompted.
"It is wrong. I don't speak of a man's religion. This is America, freedom," he boasted proudly, one hand patted his heart. "But I think he is not about freedom, he is about something else."
"Mr. Marinoni, did you talk to the detectives about this?"
"No, no, I see no detectives. I talk to you," Mr. Marinoni shook his head.
"No detectives came by to see you?"
The old man's shoulders rose, along with his eyebrows as he answered, "Maybe when I am out. I have college boy that helps me sometimes. Maybe he talk to your detectives and forget to tell me."
"Would he have told them anything?"
"He go to college but he don't know anything." The old man tapped his head and smiled.
"Mr. Marinoni, have you ever seen a teenage girl from the temple come in here?" Jim asked, figuring they had nothing to lose.
Surprised, Jim nodded. "You do know her?"
The older man sighed heavily, leaving his position behind the counter to stand closer to the two officers. "She come in with them maybe three weeks? I watch her because she is different. But she never talk much. The look on her face…it is…esanime, how you say? No life. I ask you, what young girl should be like that?"
"What about her aunt?" Pete continued.
"The woman with hair like fire?"
"Yes, sir, that's the one."
"I no like her. No soul left in that one," Mr. Marinoni responded flatly. "Maybe Sabeth know where it is, eh? Michelle not one of them. You are the police. Why you don't help that little girl? I think that's what you do when you come back all the time."
"We're trying, Mr. Marinoni, we're trying," Jim replied, pushing down the feelings of helplessness.
"If there's anything you can tell us about Sabeth or if you know of any questionable activity connected to the temple…" Pete wondered how much the storeowner really knew as opposed to simply suspecting. It could end up being more of the same but at least the man was in a prime position to watch the goings-on in the neighborhood.
"Ahhh, you need help from citizens?" Mr. Marinoni said as he walked to the front door and gazed down the street.
"Yes, sir," Jim replied, glancing at Pete.
"I think Michelle, she change her mind…you know? Maybe she don't like it there anymore."
"What makes you say that?" Pete asked, curious about his comment.
"A few days ago, she come here. She gave Gino Marinoni little smile--first time." The white-haired storeowner beamed at the fresh memory. "I saw…sfavillare in her eyes, but then sadness," he said softly. "And she ask me did I live alone here in my store. Then the woman with the hair of fire come and no more talk."
"When was this, Mr. Marinoni?" Pete inquired.
"Hmmm, it was Friday. Yes, Friday,"
The day after we were at the temple, Pete mused, wondering about timing and coincidences. He knew Jim was counting back the days as well. "Is there anything else you can think of?"
Mr. Marinoni shook his head as he answered, "No, I'm very sorry, Officers."
"You've been a big help, sir," Jim insisted, handing him one of their cards. "If you see anything or think of something else, you can call that number to get in touch with us."
"Yes, I will, Officers," the old man said with sincerity. "Thank you, thank you."
Pete and Jim returned to the black and white as Mr. Marinoni closed his door, locking it behind him.
"I think that's a good idea, Jim."
"Calling it a day."
"We're no closer to getting Sabeth, Pete."
Pete glanced at Marinoni's Market as the store lights went black. "Maybe we are, Jim."
"Jimmy and I are not leaving you here alone."
His wife's firmly spoken words kicked up Jim's increasing sense of uneasiness. She nestled in the crook of his arm, her head resting on his chest. Feeling her warm body next to him only reminded him of how much he wanted to keep her safe, how much he needed to keep her safe. The thought of anyone harming his wife or his child was too much for his brain to consider and impossible for his heart to comprehend. He blinked back the moisture that filled his eyes.
"I'll be fine. It's you and the baby I'm worried about, Jean."
"We'll be fine. Isn't there a chance that it's not all that serious?" she asked, raising her head to look at him. The glow from the small lamp on their bedside table heightened her fair skin as she pushed a loose strand of hair behind one ear.
"You don't know this guy," he insisted, settling his blue eyes on her. "He's unpredictable and he's got a grudge against Pete and me. He's already been to our house, Jean."
She studied him quietly for a few seconds.
"All right. You win. I'll take Jimmy and we'll both go to my parents' house tomorrow. But only for a few days. Got that?"
"Okay, got it. Good." Jim breathed a sigh of relief even though he was puzzled by her sudden change of mind. But he certainly wasn't going to question it.
"Hey, you don't have to be so happy about it," Jean teased, giving him a playful jostle.
"Trust me, I'm not happy to have you leave. But I'll feel better knowing you're there and not here."
"Just for a few days," she reminded him.
"Look who's talking," Jean smiled at him and laid her head back down on his chest.
Jim embraced his wife, trying to hold on to the comforting feeling. He hated sending them away but it was a small price to pay to distance them from Sabeth. He may have misjudged the potential for danger. But he doubted it.
He gazed at the heavy brocaded curtains decorating their bedroom window and listened to Jean's breathing until he was satisfied that she had fallen asleep. Moving carefully from her embrace, he returned to the living room and repeated the ritual he'd carried out a short time ago. Every room, every door, every window. Check the locks, take another look around. Just to be sure.
Putting in a couple of extra hours at the station the next day was an easy decision for Pete. Normally, like most of his fellow officers, he treasured his personal time. But, right now, he figured his partner could use some help. And if that meant spending a little time checking leads, making a few phone calls or going down to Records, then that's what he was going to do. Pete smiled to himself. At least visiting Records was never a chore with Gloria there.
Before he started anything, he wanted to check in with Mac again. Their sergeant hadn't been surprised last night when they filled him in on their meeting with Sabeth. Pete had known it was more of a formality than anything else but, at the same time, he was sure that they'd all been hoping for something more. It had been difficult getting to sleep. And if it'd been that bad for him, then he knew it was even worse at the Reed home. Jim called him this morning to let him know that he was taking Jean to her parents' place. Pete agreed that it was the smartest plan of action for now. But knowing that they were going ahead with it only confirmed how seriously Jim was taking the situation.
He arrived almost three hours before their shift started, remaining in his soft clothes and heading straight for Mac's office. He was surprised to see Detective Cooper Lee sitting in front of Mac's desk.
"Sorry, I didn't know you were busy. I can come back," Pete said, waiting at the door.
"Actually, your timing couldn't be better, Pete. Come on in," Mac replied, waving him inside.
Extending a hand and a friendly smile, Cooper Lee stood up to greet him. "Nice to meet ya, Pete. I guess you know that Jim and I met the other day."
"He told me about your conversation," Pete nodded as they both sat down. "Interesting stuff."
"Yeah, maybe even more so now."
Mac leaned forward to look at Pete. "Detective Lee stopped by to talk to you and Jim but when I told him that you were on PM Watch, he asked if I'd mind passing along some information. Since you're here, you can go ahead and have that discussion and talk to your partner later."
Pete saw Cooper Lee's gaze shift past them and toward the door. Straight out amusement appeared on the young detective's face.
"Great minds think alike," Coop commented.
"What's going on?"
Twisting around in his chair, Pete stared at his partner, who stood in the doorway. "What are you doing here?"
"What are you doing here?" Jim threw back at him.
"Reed, grab a chair over there and sit down." Mac pointed at a chair in the adjoining office.
As the four men got settled, Coop initiated the conversation by looking at Jim. "Your sergeant filled me in on the notes you've been getting and what happened at your house last night. Man, I'm really sorry that your family's getting pulled into this."
"Thanks. I've moved them to my in-laws for now but I want that to be as temporary as possible," Jim paused. "The sooner the better."
Coop nodded his understanding. "Well, I hope I can give you a little assistance. I spoke with my Lieutenant and told him that I planned on using a couple of vacation days to look into this a little more. He was curious since my own run-in with Sabeth was over a year ago, but he didn't have a problem with it."
"I don't know what to say. Spending yours days off doing legwork on a case that's flimsy at best." Jim replied, gratefully.
"Don't say anything. It's what I love to do." The grin returned to his face as he nodded encouragement. "We'll find something to build on and we'll get this guy. And I've got a place to start."
Jim shifted in his chair, keen for any developments. "What's that?"
"I told you that my original case last year always bugged me. I figured I'd track down the girlfriend. You know, the one that was part of Sabeth's Temple at the time?" Coop leaned forward, hands hanging loosely as his arms rested on his knees. With a glint igniting his gray eyes, he continued. "Her name is Angela Barry, Angie for short. Checked the old address but the people there said she moved and didn't leave a forwarding address. Neighbors didn't know anything. Or at least that's what they said. So I went back to Sabeth's neighborhood and started nosing around there."
"Description?" Pete queried, wondering if they might've seen her and not even realized it.
"Petite, probably 5' 3", slender, blonde and green. Looked like she might've been a real beach babe not too long ago," Coop turned to offer Mac a slightly apologetic look. "Sorry, Sergeant McDonald. Not a totally professional account, I know."
"I do understand the term, Detective," Mac smiled ruefully. "I may have even used it myself once or twice."
Pete and Jim traded a smile as Coop appeared to reconsider their supervisor with a newfound respect.
"She doesn't sound familiar to me. Jim?" Pete glanced at his partner, who shook his head.
"Did you check the businesses on South Arden? Maybe they remember her." Jim urged.
"That was my next thought, too. I took a little stroll down there and found one store owner who was willing to talk to me."
"Mr. Marinoni," Jim guessed, as Pete nodded.
"Yeah," Coop chuckled. "Are you sure you guys aren't already detectives? Sergeant, you better watch out. My lieutenant might decide he needs some new blood."
"Was the store owner able to give you anything?" Mac asked, choosing to ignore the comment.
"Yes, and he was darn happy about it, too. Said he was doing his duty as a citizen. What'd you guys say to him anyway?"
"He's a nice man. He cares," Jim said simply.
"And he remembered Angie. Seems the girl ended up leaving the Temple maybe six months ago. Now she works at some kind of shelter. Mr. Marinoni said she came by once not too long ago. Told him the Temple was a bad scene, and then asked for some canned goods for the shelter. He didn't know what to make of her but gave her some stuff, she split and he hasn't seen her since."
"Does she have a sheet?" Mac inquired.
"She'd been picked up for drug possession once before…we turned that up last year but nothing ever connected. And no convictions. Nothing since either."
"Did Mr. Marinoni remember the name of the shelter?" Jim asked, boosted by the influx of information.
"He had to look it up but at least he keeps good records. Oh, and he said to apologize to you two."
"For what?" Pete wondered out loud.
"He felt bad because he didn't remember to mention her when you stopped by to talk to him earlier."
"He doesn't realize how much help he's been," Jim said, coming to that same conclusion himself.
"I stopped by this place she works at. Looks like a halfway house for anyone apparently trying to clean up their act. Quite a mixed bag but I found her. She was not thrilled to see me. You know, it was always hard to get people to see past the uniform. Here I thought it'd be easier in plainclothes. But somehow it's the same," Coop smiled, shrugging it off.
"Any luck talking to her?" Mac asked.
"I don't know yet. She thought I was there to rouse the clientele." Coop straightened up in his chair. "Oh, and Mr. M. was right."
"What about?" Pete asked.
"Being a cop only irritated her in general. It was when I mentioned Sabeth that she got really uptight on me. Said she'd talk to me only if I met her at a public place later tonight. Which I will be doing."
"I've informed Detective Lee that he can get in touch with me if anything pans out," Mac said as he looked at Jim and Pete.
"I thought you were on days, Mac," Pete remarked.
"I decided to change shifts early," Mac answered casually. "Now. What exactly were the two of you planning on doing until your shift starts?"
Pete resisted the temptation to remark on Mac's altered work schedule and opted to answer the question instead.
"I was planning on checking R & I again, see if I could cross-reference and turn up anything new."
"And you, Jim?"
"I wanted to do another background check on Sabeth," he said, glancing at Coop. "Just to be sure."
"You might turn up something we missed last time," Coop prompted. "Or maybe we didn't know what we were looking for…"
"I'm not sure we do now," Jim said.
"I'd like all of you to keep me posted of any new developments," Mac instructed. "If that'll work for you, Detective?"
"Yes, sir, no problem. I've already informed Lieutenant Dobson of my plans for the next few days."
"I'll be sure and let him know how much we appreciate you putting in the extra time."
"And that goes double for me, Coop," Jim added.
"Let's let the man get out of here, huh?" Pete said, sensing that Cooper Lee was getting a little uncomfortable with the expressions of gratitude. "And we've got work to do, right?"
Both men exited Mac's office and began the trek to the Records Office. They neared the door leading to the front desk and Jim suddenly stopped in mid-step.
"What's up?" Pete asked.
"I think I'll give Jean a quick call, make sure everything's okay."
"Go ahead. I'll get started."
Jim nodded as he started to rummage his pants pocket for change.
"Here." Pete sighed, holding out a dime in the palm in his hand.
"How'd ya know?" Jim asked, grinning.
"How could I not?" Pete's eyebrows lifted with mock astonishment.
Jim hung up the phone a few minutes later, feeling relatively satisfied that everything was fine with Jean and the baby. Everything except that they weren't home where they belonged. He realized that he still maintained a grasp on the receiver. Dropping it into the cradle, his eyes traveled to the round clock on the wall and noted the time…or lack of it.
"Excuse me. Officer Reed?"
Startled from his thoughts, he turned to see the man standing near the entrance. A few weeks ago Jim would've described Larry Dent as a slender-built, healthy looking man. Now he appeared to have lost some crucial pounds and gained half-moon shadows under his eyes. The expectant father who had sprinted through a neighborhood in desperate search for help now faltered in front of him.
"Mr. Dent? What can I do for you?" Jim approached the man with consideration. His mind raced through the possible reasons that might've spurred Mr. Dent to the station.
"I, uh…" Larry Dent stammered as he glanced at two officers passing through the reception area. He shoved both hands into the back pockets of his jeans and swallowed as he stared at the tops of his shoes for a few seconds.
Jim waited patiently until the other man pulled his gaze back.
"What I mean is…Sue Ellen and me, we're gonna be movin' back home soon. And I…I mean, we wanted you and Officer Malloy to know how much we appreciated you helpin' us out…before. When she…" Mr. Dent cleared his throat, shifting his weight from one leg to the other and back again. "You know."
"Yes, sir, I know. I wish we'd be able to do more." I wish to God we could've saved your child, Mr. Dent.
"I still got my Sue Ellen," Dent said, nodding to himself.
"How is she?"
"She's…" he paused, "gonna be okay. That doc at the hospital, he's real nice. For a city doc anyway. He keeps sayin' things that don't make right sense but..."
"What kind of things?"
"Oh, don't get me wrong. You folks mean well but y'all don't understand how it is."
"How is it, Mr. Dent?" Jim pressed, wondering what it would take to get the man to truly comprehend what had happened.
"See, we musta said the words wrong. Or it was a sign we don't belong here…we never shoulda come. That's why we're fixin' to go back home."
"Mr. Dent, it was the red clay your wife had been eating. Remember what the doctor told you? And Sabeth never should've given it to you."
Larry Dent doggedly shook his head. "Can't go blamin' Mr. Sabeth. He's the one got the power and he knows what to do. So it musta been us that done it wrong."
Frustrated, Jim tried another tactic. "Mr. Dent. Sabeth is a dangerous man. He's not out to help anyone except himself. There are other people that might suffer because of him. Isn't there any way to convince you of that?"
"I told y'all not to mess with Reverend Sabeth," Mr. Dent replied worriedly, his eyes picking up a flicker of vibrancy. His hands left the pockets of his dungarees. "There's no tellin' what he might conjure up."
"Then help us, Mr. Dent," Jim pleaded softly. "Don't let him cause pain for anyone else."
Larry Dent said nothing as he turned and started toward the entrance doors.
"Mr. Dent, please," Jim urged.
Dent stopped directly in front of the glass doors and turned his head to look back at Jim. "Officer Reed. You got family?"
"Yes," Jim answered, caught off guard by the question.
Jim hesitated. "Yes, a son."
Larry Dent allowed a heartbreaking smile to remember. "That's what me and Sue Ellen had. A son. We was gonna name him Caleb, after my grand-daddy."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Dent."
"You take good care of your boy, Officer Reed." Larry Dent hurriedly pulled the door open and walked out of the building.
"I will, Mr. Dent," Jim whispered.
"You're still thinking about Mr. Dent, aren't you?" Pete asked, even though he already knew the answer. Jim had told him about running into Larry Dent as they started scouring for something on Sabeth. Four hours into their shift hadn't lessened the impact of that conversation.
"Yeah," Jim nodded. "Hard to forget the way he looked, Pete."
"It's a terrible thing for anyone to lose a child," Pete replied, softly. He immediately wished he'd kept his mouth shut. Great job, Pete Malloy-- remind your partner and the father of your godchild just how fragile life can be. That's really what he needs to hear.
"You should have seen how excited Jean and I were when we found out Jean was expecting," Jim said, unexpectedly.
"I don't have to use my imagination for that one. You couldn't stop talking about it from the day we met."
"Oh, come on, I wasn't that bad."
"You were. But you were entitled," Pete assured him. "You still are."
"Jean and I wanted to be sure we did everything right." An edge of confusion slipped over the smile on his face. "I guess, in some strange, misguided way, that's what the Dents were trying to do, too."
"I guess so," Pete answered. "The best way we can help them now is to get Sabeth off the streets." And the best way to help you, too, partner.
"Agreed. I wish we could've found more to go on, though."
"At least you found a previous address for Sabeth. That might lead to something." Pete had been a bit amazed at Jim's tenacity when it came to pouring through the endless pieces of record keeping. He thought that his younger partner might end up experiencing some real frustration with the tedious part of process. Instead, he'd watched him as he checked one set of facts against another and sorted out potentially important details. Under different circumstances Pete would have conceded that he'd enjoyed comparing notes with Jim and discussing the possibilities. Serious supposition was a pursuit they usually had to do over a quick cup of coffee at Duke's. Cooper Lee's earlier comment to Mac tapped at his brain. He'd never thought too seriously about detective work for himself. It's probably Jim--he's contagious.
"I hope so. What time did Coop say he was meeting Angela Barry tonight?"
"He didn't," Pete shook his head. "I'm sure he'll let us know."
For a change, dinner at a new café on San Pedro was uninterrupted. Two more hours drifted by with no serious calls. The absence of any significant reports in the area only served to add to the strangeness of the evening. Pete had no doubt that nocturnal activities would eventually start to stir and disrupt the quiet lull.
He didn't think they'd have to wait too long either.
It was difficult for Michelle to get away from Regina's vigilant eye. She felt like she was being kept under watch more and more, whether it was Regina or Reverend Sabeth or someone else from the Temple. Everyone wanted to include her in every activity or discussion. She used to think it was because she'd been accepted into their group. Now she wondered if it was for some other reason. Regina surprised her this evening by encouraging her to run an errand to Mr. Marinoni's store. She wasn't going to wait around for her to change her mind even though it was well past dark.
Mr. Marinoni was sweeping his floor when she walked inside. He stopped when he saw her, a happy smile taking over the bottom half of his round face.
"Ahhh, signorina! Cìao, ciao! Hey, you should not be alone in the dark."
"Hello, Mr. Marinoni." Michelle returned the smile hesitantly and ignored the well-meaning advice. A second later, the smile turned into a full-fledged grin.
"There it is!"
"A most beautiful smile. Much bontà…goodness… in here," he pointed to center of his chest, "It could not hide in that Temple."
"I, uh…" Michelle stammered, strangely ashamed. Not many good things had been in her heart lately. She didn't know how the old man could see something in her that she didn't feel. "I need to buy some bread and milk."
"Michelle, why you stay with those people?" Mr. Marinoni stood the broom in a corner and approached her. "What your
mama and papa say?
"They're dead," Michelle blurted out automatically. The lie burned her throat as she swallowed nervously.
Mr. Marinoni's concerned expression deepened. "But no brothers? No sisters?"
"I…have a brother," Michelle said. I want to tell someone. I want to say his name. "He's in the Air Force. His name is Corporal Joseph Camden."
"Ahh, buono, buono, Michelle! You call him," Mr. Marinoni pointed to the phone on the wall. "He come take you home."
"I can't do that, Mr. Marinoni." Michelle shook her head as she began grabbing several loaves of bread. One fell to the floor and she stooped to pick it up and placed it back on the shelf.
"You call those nice police officers then, eh? Officer Malloy and Officer Reed."
Michelle stopped abruptly, turning around to look at him. "How do I know they really want to help me, Mr. Marinoni? They can't really care about someone they don't know."
"Why you say such a thing? I care. Officer Reed care. Officer Malloy care," Mr. Marinoni said firmly. "Officer Reed, he ask me about you. They send big time detective to ask questions, too."
"What do you mean?"
"That Reverend Sabeth. Periculoso. Bad man, Michelle."
"But Reverend Sabeth did help me," Michelle replied, with none of the certainty she had felt a week ago. She stepped up her pace, snatched a carton of milk and advanced toward the front counter. "And the police…they should be arresting real criminals or something."
"Sì, sì, Michelle. Officer Reed and Officer Malloy have...goodness. You want to know how I know?"
Michelle hesitated and then nodded slowly.
"I see in their eyes, " he said softly," What I see in your eyes."
Her hand dropped several coins on top of the counter and she looked away as he placed the items in a brown grocery bag. When he finished, she picked up the sack and walked slowly to the door.
"You don't go, Michelle. I call the police officers, yes?"
Michelle stopped and stared at the murky street outside. Turning around, she gave Mr. Marinoni a small smile. "I'll be back tomorrow. And I'll call them, okay?"
"Okay!" Mr. Marinoni's head bobbed enthusiastically as he waved a plump finger at her. "Domani!"
Michelle walked away from store, barely aware of the groceries that she carried in her arms.
"1-Adam-12, a 415. Woman screaming. See the owner, Charlie's Western Bar and Grill, corner of Pembroke and 9th Street. Code 2."
"1-Adam-12, roger." Jim responded as he wrote down the address. "Maybe it's just the ten o'clock crowded getting too rowdy."
With their red lights flashing, Pete guided the black and white through a tricky intersection while Jim called out warnings of approaching traffic. Despite the brief slowdown, they arrived at the tavern in record time.
If there was an emergency, it apparently wasn't outside. The cross street was calm with very few moving cars in sight. A nearby parking lot, however, was full to capacity and the neon lariat on top of the bar blinked at regular intervals. Pete exited the car, slipped his baton into its ring and joined Jim after he finished calling in their location. Approaching the door, they could hear the muffled pulse of pounding bass notes. As Jim grabbed the door handle and opened it, the music lost its muzzle and the twang of country rhythms spilled out into the street.
The place was packed with customers. Men huddled around tables and couples danced in front of a three-piece band. Curious heads topped with cowboy hats spun around in their direction as the door swung shut. Pete stepped toward the bar, feeling a bit like a marshal strolling into the town's local saloon. He felt Jim's presence right behind him and knew that his partner was keeping a watchful eye on the crowd.
A small, balding man popped up from behind the counter with two empty beer mugs in his hands. He deposited them on the chipped, wooden surface and leaned forward to greet them.
"Hey! You got here real fast!" The bartender shouted, pointing to his wristwatch.
"You reported a disturbance?" Pete spoke loudly.
"You called the police?" Again, Pete raised his voice, trying to be heard over the deafening music.
The shorter man shook his head and waved for them to follow him. He collided with a thin swinging door that led into a greasy kitchen area staffed by one Mexican youth. The noise abated enough for their words to be heard clearly.
"I'm Charlie. I called you guys 'cause my worker here thought he heard something out back. When he was takin' out the garbage."
"What did you hear?" Jim asked, looking at the olive-skinned young man staring at them nervously.
"A lady screaming. Two times," Julio replied, holding up two fingers. His very round eyes kept darting to the back door that had been left wide open.
"That's what he told me, too. I didn't hear nothin' though," Charlie said, shrugging. "Julio jumps out of his skin if he hears a cat purr. But he wouldn't shut up until I called you."
"Did anyone bother to check?" Pete questioned, as he followed his partner through the door to the outside.
"Hey, I called the police. I'm not riskin' my life wanderin' around in some dark alley. That's your job!" Charlie returned to the front as Julio watched from the doorway.
Pete wasted no more time as he stayed on Jim's heels. All those people in there. And possibly one screaming woman out here.
Revolver in hand, he took one side of the dark and narrow passageway as Jim took the other. The buildings on this block housed an odd mix of commercial establishments. Charlie's was one of the few open during the evening hours. He examined the first doorway, shining his flashlight all the way into the recessed corners. Maybe some unfortunate woman needed a place to sleep and they'd find her curled up for the night. It wasn't that unusual. And it was certainly preferable to a lot of the other possibilities.
A large, crumpled cardboard box hung loosely from the closed lid of a metal dumpster. Glancing ahead to confirm Jim's position, he caught his partner's eye and gestured toward the trash container. Jim nodded and continued to walk ahead cautiously. Slipping his revolver back into its holster, Pete pushed up on the discolored covering until it caught on a riveted section on the back. The curdled stench that fled from its confinement nearly overwhelmed him. Breathing through his mouth, Pete flung the cardboard aside and searched the interior for anything that appeared remotely suspicious. Two plastic trash bags lay torn open, their contents leaking and spreading outward. Smashed cartons of milk and dented coffee cans littered the bottom of the canister. Flies congregated on mottled scraps of rotting meat. He tried not to think about similar looking lumps on the counter in Charlie's kitchen.
Satisfied that the only foul thing he found so far was actual garbage, Pete carefully lowered the top portion of the container and carried on with his search. A quick look told him that Jim had moved further ahead of him but obviously hadn't discovered anything either. He knew they'd both be a lot happier if Julio's sensitive nature turned out to be the only culprit.
Jim bent down, holding his flashlight at an awkward angle to better examine a window near the ground level. He saw only dust-covered glass flanked by rusty bars. The grimy surface and the reflection of the beam made it impossible to see anything inside. Standing up, he turned his head to check on Pete's progress. Satisfied that his partner was okay, Jim redirected his own search to the small loading dock on the next building.
Fluorescent tube lighting above the area buzzed and flickered like small beehives. The front half of the dock was illuminated well enough but faded out further on back. Numerous wooden boxes stacked high blocked more of the view. Jim was surprised to see deliveries left unattended, especially at night. The owner might as well left an open invitation to all thieves in the area. The fits of intense brightness produced by the overhead lights played havoc with Jim's eyes. He blinked twice as he attempted to look beyond the crates.
Charlie said that it could've been a cat that scared Julio. Please be a cat.
Opting to keep his gun ready, he pocketed his flashlight and hoisted himself onto the dock. He took a few steps forward and realized that there were dock doors located to one side of the boxes. One set was rolled up almost all the way. This doesn't feel right.
And then he saw it.
A woman's shoe.
Quickly, Jim stepped back from the entrance to call out for his partner. "Pete!"
Something hard and fast slammed into his midsection, knocking him off balance. It was a classic tackle by one of the Green Bay Packers on the forty-yard line. But instead of landing in a heap on the playing field, his body crashed into the pile of crates. The first impact pushed the air out of his lungs before he even realized it. The second one made sure he didn't regain oxygen any time soon. As he struggled to get up, several of the heavy containers toppled over his head, one of them grazing his temple. He dropped his gun with no idea where it had landed. Raw fear drove him as Jim reached out blindly and grappled with the human form still scrambling to flee the scene. Rolling and twisting, the two men scuffled on the cement surface briefly before Jim could shift his weight enough to make a difference. The man grunted as Jim pressed him onto his stomach with one knee and yanked his arms securely behind him.
"Freeze, Mister!" Pete yelled.
The man stopped resisting.
Still trying to catch his breath, Jim leaned forward as he reached around to grab his handcuffs.
"Hey, man, police brutality!" The assailant cried out, trying to turn and look at his captors.
Snapping the cuffs shut, Jim looked at his partner who stood a few feet away with his gun steadied on the suspect.
"You okay?" Pete asked, not taking his eyes off the man Jim was basically sitting on.
Jim nodded, taking a much needed deep breath. "Inside." Another breath. "A woman…maybe."
"Okay, I'll check it out. You got him?"
Pete climbed up on the dock and saw Jim's gun lodged underneath a pallet. He picked it up and returned it to his partner. "I'll be right back."
Pete walked cautiously across the loading dock, noting the numerous boxes strewn across the surface. One of them was partially open, its lid cracked in half. Better it than Jim's head.
He'd been peering into a crawlspace a few buildings back when he'd heard his partner call out. He had taken off running but wished he hadn't wasted so much time with that stupid dumpster. Then he'd heard a splintering crash. Pete wasn't sure if he'd ever run that fast in his life. He'd been relieved and grateful to see that Jim had the situation almost under control, though. At the same time, he felt he should have been there.
Pete approached the opening cautiously and immediately saw the shoe. A simple brown strap sandal, no heel, and the kind women can slip on and off easily. Shining his light from side to side, he ducked down slightly as he entered and his hand searched for a main light control by the door. He felt several switches and flipped all of them. Overhead lights flashed on, washing the storage room with a ghostly whiteness. The area accommodated only a few rows of empty shelves, leaving plenty of open space and no hiding places. But Pete knew that the reason for the call was right in front of him.
A young woman was sprawled on the floor. She wore black slacks, an embroidered blouse and one brown sandal. The other foot was bare.
Pete knelt down beside her, felt for a pulse along the carotid artery and waited. Nothing. No breaths. He checked again, hoping he had made a mistake. She was still warm but pale and lifeless. Her sightless green eyes only added confirmation.
A few minutes earlier and maybe…
Her slender arms revealed discoloration around each wrist. A silver watchband was twisted awkwardly until it bordered the palm of one hand. Something lying underneath it caught his eye. Careful not to disturb the position of the body, he leaned in closer for a better look. Pete sighed as he realized what it was.
A half-empty syringe.
Pete stood up and headed back to the open door. He spotted a small purse wedged in the corner by the entry, almost out of sight. He checked the contents and found three one-dollar bills, some change, a small hairbrush and ladies' compact. A driver's license was tucked inside a zipped pocket. Pete frowned as he examined it. He placed the items back in the purse, took note of its location and rejoined his partner.
Standing in the alley with one hand fastened on the arm of his prisoner, Jim looked up at Pete. "Did you find her?"
"Yeah, 'fraid so."
Pete nodded and glanced at the man in custody. "Did you read him his rights?"
"Yeah. His name is Russell Tinneman."
"You pigs! Always arresting innocent citizens! I heard a noise so I thought I'd take a look. Next thing I know you stinkin' cops are bustin' in."
The clean-shaven male was probably in his late twenties, easily the same weight as Jim, and with dark brown hair that had said hello to a barber recently, Pete thought. "So you were talking a walk down this alley late at night?"
The guy made a face as he sneered. "I hear it's a free country."
"If you didn't do anything wrong, then why'd you try to run?" Jim asked, wondering how many times he'd asked that question.
"Man, I was scared. I mean that's a dead body. A real live dead body! What a drag, man!"
"Yeah, a real drag," Pete said.
"When I saw a cop, I knew you'd think I had somethin' to do with it. So I tried to split…you know, mind my own business."
"Well, now it's our business," Jim said.
"I'll take him to the car, call it in. I'm sure they'll send someone from Homicide to go over the scene. You okay waiting here?"
"Hey, I told you guys! I didn't do nothin'!" The young man twisted and strained against the cuffs.
"I'll stay," Jim replied, ignoring their prisoner's behavior.
For the first time Pete noticed a small swelling above Jim's left eye. He aimed his flashlight closer to get a better look and Jim jerked his head back abruptly.
"Pete, are you trying to blind me?"
"Sorry. Just wanted to see what kind of knock on the head you had there. We better get that looked at before too long."
"It's okay. One of those boxes fell but it barely clipped me. Did you find anything else?
"Couple of things, including a purse. Good thing it's that shiny material or I might've missed it," Pete said. "Why don't you stay here while I take him and call for back-up?"
Jim nodded, handing the other man over to Pete.
"I'm going to have to call Coop while I'm at it," Pete added.
"Driver's license in the purse. Blonde, green…and five foot three inches. We found Angela Barry."