Curse of the Sabeth, Part IV
"Here it is, Pete."
Gloria ripped a sheet of paper from the Teletype machine and handed it to him.
"Short and sweet, isn't it?" Pete commented as he read the few lines of facts and figures.
"Well, that's the military for you. What's that phrase…'need to know basis?' Guess they think the police don't need to know much more than name, rank and serial number. I'm sorry, Pete," Gloria said.
"It's not your fault," Pete said, giving her an encouraging smile. "This is something, at least."
"Remember, it's only the results of a preliminary inquiry. I'm sure I can get the additional data you wanted. Place of residence, next of kin, probably some personal information as well. And I'll cross-reference with Missing Persons on that girl. It's only a matter of time and talking to the right people." She flipped through several cards on the counter, setting two of them aside.
"I have the utmost faith in you, Gloria. If anyone can do it, you can."
"There's the charming flattery I was waiting for."
"You know it's sincere."
"That I do, Pete Malloy. That I do," Gloria said, gracing him with a knock-out smile. "I'll let you know."
"Hey, Pete." Jim's voice came from behind him.
"Hey, yourself," Pete said, turning to see the tall form standing in the doorway and, at the same time, checking to see if his partner was in one piece. He glanced back at Gloria. "I'll stop by later to see if you've had any luck."
"No luck involved, mister," Gloria winked. "Only skill."
Pete laughed, shaking his head as he approached Jim. It was hard to miss the fatigue wearing on the younger man's face. So much for Mac's prescription of a good night's sleep.
"Jim, you okay?" Gloria asked, giving him a curious look.
"Sure, Gloria. How are you?"
"Fine, thanks. But I'll be better after I work a few miracles for your partner there."
"Yeah, he does expect a lot from us, doesn't he?"
"Nothing more than I expect from myself," Pete answered, his eyebrows shifting up with feigned innocence.
Jim snorted. "I took care of the report. Wondered if you wanted to try for Duke's one more time?"
"I'm game if you are," Pete nodded at Gloria as they left the Records office. "Probably a good idea if we go in one car, though. That way it'll be easier to keep track of you."
"Sorry, Pete. It's been one crazy morning."
"Come on. It's a little late for breakfast but food of any kind sounds good," Pete said, thumping his partner on the back. "We can catch each other up on everything."
"Sounds good. Oh, Pete?"
"It's still your treat, right?" A smirk slipped through the weariness.
"Technically that offer was valid for breakfast. But it now includes lunch only because you have such a terrific partner."
"I was counting on that."
"Having a terrific partner?"
"Yeah, that, too."
Jim tapped the sheet of paper on the table for the tenth time. He pushed an empty plate to the side.
"This has got to be Michelle's brother, Pete. I know it."
"I agree with you."
"It all fits," Jim said. "This is a break, Pete, don't you think?"
"Could be, Jim. But what we have so far doesn't prove anything. Only that Michelle may have a brother named Joey in the Air Force. And that Joey's present status is MIA."
Jim nodded. "You sure Gloria's going to be able to get some more information on him?"
"I'm sure," Pete said, watching their waitress stroll toward them carrying a massive slice of pie. Her over-teased, blonde hair shot up and out like a small explosion had taken place beneath it.
"Here ya go, honey." The curvaceous woman set the smaller plate in front of Jim and poured more coffee in both of their cups. The other hand stuck to her left hip like glue. Eyes caked with shimmering blue eye shadow blinked like a beacon and locked on Jim.
"Thank you," Jim said, immediately focusing on the over-sized pastry.
"You sure you don't want anything else?" she asked, leaning in slightly.
"No, ma'am," Jim said, resting his left hand carelessly on the tabletop. "That's it for me."
Catching the glint of his wedding ring, she swiveled on a dime and poured a syrupy gaze over Pete. "How about you, sweetie?"
"Uh, no, thanks." Pete smiled thinly and quickly took a sip of the steaming coffee.
The expectant smile on her face dropped like a bag of rocks. Frowning, she dug into her apron pocket, pulled out a crinkled paper ticket and let it fall. Unconcerned whether or not it landed on the table, she turned her back on them and left.
"Close one, Pete."
"For both of us. Just her hair scared me," Pete chuckled, swiping the ticket as he watched his partner deal with the lemon meringue pie. "And it's a good thing I didn't want anything else anyway."
"Because after your order they probably don't have anything left in the kitchen."
"I guess I was hungrier than I thought."
"When's the last time you actually ate something?" Pete said, seeing his partner set down his fork.
"I don't know," Jim shrugged. "Yesterday…sometime."
"Jean would not be happy if you fell over from starvation, you know."
"That's not a problem now," Jim leaned back and rested a hand on his stomach. His gaze moved from Pete to the door behind his partner. "Hey, look who's here."
Pete turned to see their sociable waitress zero in on Cooper Lee, effectively blocking his path as she greeted his arrival. Coop shook his head and backed up a step. Deer caught in headlights probably had more of an advantage.
"I don't think she was that friendly when we came in," Jim said.
"She wasn't. Do you want me to complain to Duke?"
"No," Jim chuckled. "I feel sorry for Coop, though."
"He's tough. He'll get here…eventually." Pete smiled, turning his back on the spectacle and relaxing.
Jim continued to watch the scene in between tart bites of lemon. "Okay. I think he caught a break. Yeah, he's headed this way."
Pete looked up as the young detective approached and stood next to their table.
"You know, a little backup over there would've been appreciated," Coop said, keeping his voice subdued.
"Why? You were doing so well," Pete stated, looking at Jim for confirmation.
"Yeah, we didn't want to ruin a budding relationship," Jim added.
Coop gave them both a sour look. "Got room for one more?"
"Have a seat," Pete said, scooting across the vinyl cushion. "You want to order something?"
"No, no, I already went one round with her," Coop risked a glance toward the front counter. "Please don't make me go another."
"Hey, how'd you find us? We're not on shift yet," Jim asked.
"That's why I'm the detective," Coop answered, laughing. "It helps when I don't have to track you down separately, though."
"Coop got a call earlier from the Coroner's office on Angela Barry," Pete explained to Jim.
"News?" Jim asked, allowing his half-eaten dessert to join the stack of empty plates.
"First, tell me how the old man is," Coop said.
"Still alive. He gave us a name…we're checking it out."
"Not sure. The docs said it looked like he had a mild heart attack. They have to run some tests to be sure. They were optimistic when I left."
"Nice old guy. Hope he makes it," Coop said. "So is this a suspicious incident? And are we looking at a connection to Sabeth here?"
"I don't know. We can't rule out a failed robbery attempt. That alone could've been enough of a shock to make him keel over. Or maybe it was a different kind of a shock. We might've had a chance at finding out more except…"
"Except what?" Coop looked at Jim first, then Pete, then back to Jim. "What?"
"Jim ran into the teenager we told you about. She was waiting and watching everything from outside," Pete explained.
"The one under Sabeth's spell?"
"Yeah, I guess you could say that," Jim answered. "But I have a feeling she might be changing her mind. Or at least she was until she talked to me."
"We think Mr. Marinoni might've offered to help Michelle. But she bolted on Jim at the last minute," Pete said.
"I think I pressed too hard. And Sabeth always seems to be in the picture. I don't know…it was really strange."
"Don't forget. We're talkin' about the sultan of strange here," Coop shifted, setting one arm across the back of the crinkled cushion. "I bring you yet more surprises from Manny, the coroner's assistant."
Jim leaned forward, casting a glance toward his partner.
Pete cocked his head in a mock warning. "Don't keep us hanging, Detective."
Coop rewarded them with another grin. "Manny does a lot of the lab work so he got a head-start on the contents of that syringe found under the body. There was more than enough to work with. And enough for him to discover small amounts of a toxin."
"Toxin? As in poison?" Jim asked, eyes widening.
"You got it. Either one of you guys know anything about fish?"
"Fish?" Jim said.
Pete's eyebrows shot up in surprise.
"Coop, meet my partner, Angler Extraordinaire," Jim smiled as waved a thumb in Pete's direction.
"Really? Well, I bet this is news even to you, Pete. Manny thinks this toxin is from some kind of exotic fish. And I doubt it's like anything you've brought home to grill. Like I said, there were traces mixed in with some other fluids. Manny believes, from what he's found so far, that this toxin is definitely from a marine species."
"Fish," Jim repeated himself.
"Yeah," Coop said. "Think shellfish poisoning but worse. A whole lot worse. Manny's gonna do some more research but he's sure it's something called tetrodotoxin. Pretty nasty stuff if you ingest it. I bet it's one helluva bad trip if you inject it."
"Are you telling us that Angela Barry died from a poisonous substance that comes from a fish?" Pete finally said, incredulous.
"Nope," Coop said, with a sly smile. "I'm saying that's what was found in the syringe. Cause of death looks to be blunt trauma to the head and spine. He could already see that on the X-rays. There was a severe fracture right at the base of the skull. Something hit her…hard. Death was probably instant. That's why you didn't see a lot of blood."
"But an official report hasn't been filed yet, right?" Pete asked.
"No, this is privileged information between the two of you, me and Manny. But he knows his stuff. He'll be Coroner one day, you can bet on it. But the fish poison is what got me. I expected heroin or maybe a special mix but this is a first."
"Would the poison have killed her if she hadn't been struck from behind?" Jim asked.
"From what Manny said, enough of it can be a bad way of dyin'. And the amount in that syringe was more than enough. It may take a few hours and can end up with some kind of…respiratory muscle paralysis. He's even heard horror stories about it."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Jim said.
"That it can make a person look dead when they're not. Enough Edgar Allen Poe for you?"
"Let's stick to the facts and forget about the long tales for now," Pete said, seeing the shocked look on his partner's face. It was a sensation he felt as well. What if there had never been a fatal blow to the head? Would we have known if she was dead or alive? Would the truth have been known before it was too late?
"Maybe…her attacker planned on using it but she put up too much of a struggle?" Jim suggested, going with Pete's suggestion.
"We know she was heard screaming. And it certainly appears that she fought whoever it was," Pete said as he remembered Angie's small shoeless foot, the pocketbook, the rough marks on her wrists.
"What do you think? One or more persons?" Coop asked.
"Two makes more sense. One to hold or distract her, the other to try and inject her…or kill her one way or the other." Pete considered the scene again and tried to visualize the events that had unfolded the night before. "But how was she lured into the warehouse? She was already afraid and playing it safe. What could've made her disregard that and go in there?"
"Someone she knew or trusted," Jim said, quietly.
"Yeah," Coop nodded. "Guess I need to be looking for someone other than Sabeth, huh?"
"Or in addition to," Pete said, thinking of the brute force that ended the young woman's life.
"Well, I've got someone doing a background check on Tinneman as well. That's taking longer than I expected."
"We know she left the Temple but do we know the real reason why?" Jim asked, looking at Coop.
"No. But considering how deep she was in before, it must've been something big to make her completely change her mind," Coop sighed heavily and folded his arms in front of his chest. "I haven't been able to locate any next of kin but I think I'll swing by that shelter again. Maybe if I keep buggin' them, they'll eventually talk, if only to get me to leave."
"Sounds like a sure thing," Jim said, with a dry smile.
"I agree with your assessment, partner," Pete said.
"You know, MacDonald never told me that he had a comedy team working for him," Coop snickered, straightening up in narrow seat.
"We better get back to the station, Jim," Pete said. "We might get accused of loitering if we stay here any longer."
Jim nodded, pushing his way out of the booth as the other two men did the same. Pete left a decent tip on the table and approached the register as Jim and Coop waited by the door.
"So what about this fish thing?" Jim asked.
"Manny said he'd get back to me as soon as he dug up more information. And, of course, as soon as the autopsy is completed. I'm crossing my fingers that San Diego will call me with something, too," Coop shook his head slowly as he rubbed a hand over his face. "I wish our lab guys had been able to find more at the scene. Like decent fingerprints. Or the real murder weapon. Or a picture of the murderer. You know, those neat little things that could wrap up this case."
"Yeah, that'd be nice."
"Look, man," Coop said, unexpectedly serious. "I'll do whatever I can to get Sabeth off the streets and away from your family. I told you that earlier and I meant it."
"I know that. And I'm grateful."
Pete rejoined them seconds later and ushered them out the door and into the pleasantly warm sunlight.
"You guys go on shift soon, right?" Coop asked.
"Yeah," Pete glanced at his watch. "In a while. We'll have time to see if Tinneman's changed his tune."
"Good. If I get anything substantial, I'll get word to you. And since Sabeth is in your neck of the woods…if you run across him again, let me know."
"We will. See you later," Pete said, watching the young man move unhurriedly toward a late model sedan a few yards away.
"See ya," Jim said.
"One of these days they'll let detectives drive sportier models," Coop laughed as he opened the car door.
"Gloria!" Jim called out, snapping his fingers.
Coop stopped, one hand on the door and the other on the roof of the car. He looked at Jim and squinted against the sun.
"You talked to Gloria in Records. That's how you knew we were here at Duke's."
Coop showed him more white teeth for an answer. He slipped into the driver's seat, still laughing as he shut the door.
Jim looked at Pete. "That's gotta be it, Pete. She heard us talking. Coop came by and she told him."
Pete gave his partner a blank stare. "So?"
"So I figured it out."
"Yes, you did."
"Don't tell me you already knew."
"Okay, I won't."
Another quick check with Gloria yielded the same unchanged news. Even Russ Tinneman remained impervious to any further questioning by detectives. His earlier lack of control had settled into an odd sort of calm assurance. Mac warned them not to be surprised if the District Attorney's office decided to charge him with attempting to flee the scene of a felony as well as resisting but nothing else. Someone had passed the word down that it could happen before too long. While Pete fully sensed the growing impatience of his younger partner, he felt confident that something would break for them soon. Now if he could only convince Jim of that, in spite of the not so encouraging present situation.
"Everything takes time, Jim," Pete said as they both changed into their blues.
"I know. It feels like we're on some kind of deadline, though. Like we need to get a lead, a real lead, before it's too late."
"Gloria's doing her best."
"I know she is, Pete. But it's not just that." Jim placed right his foot on the bench and bent over to tie his shoelace.
Pete shut his locker door, making sure it caught completely. "What else?"
"Talked to Jean a few minutes ago." Jim finished with the right shoe and began working on the left one.
"As okay as it can be for two married people living apart from one another," Jim grunted as he positioned both feet on the floor and tucked in his shirt.
"Already wearing thin, huh?"
"It hasn't been that long, I know, but…" Jim sighed, shaking his head in frustration.
"Don't worry. When she does get back home, she'll still be the same sweet Jean."
"Well, right now, she's more persistent than sweet."
"She probably caught that from you," Pete said. "But what exactly are you talking about?"
"She's bound and determined that either they come home tomorrow or I join them over there. Now how do I get her to understand, really understand, what's going on without scaring her to half to death? I want them to be safe but do we all live in fear until Sabeth is out of our lives for good? How do we make that happen? And when?"
Pete studied the troubled expression on Jim's face, keenly aware that he'd been wondering the exact same thing. He wished he could come up with a solution, preferably one that would work overnight. However, reality usually stood in the way of such miraculous cures.
"I don't know when, Jim. But I do know how," Pete said, in a calm and reassuring voice. "We do our jobs. And everyone else does theirs."
Jim nodded. "Can we add something else to that checklist?"
"An extra prayer or two," Jim said, quietly.
"Already taken care of," Pete said, smiling. "But a few more couldn't hurt."
"You'll be going to the Temple soon. It's a special night." Regina stood behind Michelle, brushing the young girl's hair with slow, deliberate movements. One handed guided the worn bristles, the other trailed behind, smoothing the wavy length of dark curls.
"Why?" Michelle shivered as Regina's fingernails scraped the back of her neck. She shifted forward on the edge of the old mattress a fraction of an inch.
"You've never asked why before. Are you questioning the path you have taken?" The sweeping motion of Regina's brush ceased immediately,
"No. I…want to know more," Michelle answered, swallowing with difficulty. What little she had eaten today threatened to come back up.
"I'm so glad, Michelle." Regina's brush returned to its course with a steady, hypnotic cadence. "You've proven yourself well so far."
"You were tempted to leave us today. But Reverend Sabeth knew you wouldn't…and so did I. Many people hurt us in this life. Words of false friendship and deception can blind us to the real truth. But only for a moment. A fleeting breath in the warm night air. A silent glimpse of what may have been…and what is. Each day has brought us all closer to understanding what the Reverend has been trying to show us."
Regina didn't answer her. Michelle twisted around to watch her set the hairbrush on the top of a rickety bureau in the corner of the room. Pulling open the top drawer, Regina rummaged through several items of clothing until she retrieved a short loop of twine and dangled it from her hand. With a small leather pouch attached, it created a primitive looking necklace.
"Give me your amulet."
Michelle dug into her pocket and gladly handed the small golden beetle to the woman. Regina pushed it into the bag and tightened the cord.
"This is for you. Wear it tonight and always. It's a sign…for much will soon change."
Michelle shut her eyes briefly as the woman fastened it around her neck and tucked the miniature bag inside her shirt.
"Your own mojo," Regina smiled serenely. "If you have any doubts about your new life, rid yourself of them now. Reverend Sabeth leads the way for us. With his vision and his journeys throughout this world, it is no mistake that he is here with us. His power cannot be denied but it can be shared by those of his choosing."
"What about those he doesn't choose?"
"Your youth is your privilege as well as your weakness, Michelle. Remember that the force of the wind crushes and removes all in its path."
Regina took Michelle's hands and pulled her to her feet. She placed her lips briefly to Michelle's forehead and followed it with a whisper. "You are now part of the wind."
"You sure you're okay?" Pete asked, watching Jim as he leaned forward, his hands on his knees. Their recently captured purse-snatcher sat glumly in the back seat of the black and white.
Jim's back heaved as he nodded once.
"Second foot pursuit tonight. Wanna try for a triple run?"
The question earned Pete a dirty sideways look from his partner. Pete chuckled as he glanced at the lanky, pimply-faced teenage boy that had led Jim down two full city blocks, an alley, over two garbage cans, and, finally halfway up a fire escape. According to Jim, the two of them almost fell from the rusty structure. An illegally parked car parked had prevented Pete from catching up to the pair quickly. Thank goodness it was only this harmless kid.
"Okay, let's go," Jim said, his breathing evening out.
"You're sure? It's not like you're still in college, ya know."
"Pete, come on! I bet he's sixteen and on the high school track team," Jim said, disgustedly.
"You hope," Pete snickered as he walked to the driver's side. "But what about the four-fifteen on Pico?"
"What about him?"
"So that guy had to be fifty if he was a day. You gotta admit he was one speedy son of a gun." Pete clicked his tongue as he dipped inside behind the steering wheel.
Jim joined him, shutting the door as he glared at his partner. "And he probably runs marathons for a living. Or maybe his hair was prematurely gray. Besides, since he was closer to your age than mine, why didn't you go after him?"
"And ruin our perfectly synchronized arrangement? I drive, you run. Works for me."
"Yeah, I noticed," Jim wheezed.
"Come on already! You're both old!" A high-pitched voice squeaked from behind them. "Can we get outta here?"
Jim and Pete both turned to look back at the boy. Pete sighed as he started the car. "Why don't we get him back to the station?"
"I'm all for that."
"1-Adam-12, meet the supervisor on Tac2."
Trying not to think about the last time he heard that message, Jim picked up the mic to respond. "1-Adam-12, roger, switching to Tac 2."
"Reed, are you and Malloy en route with a juvenile?" Mac's deep voice was at the other end.
"That's right. We'll be there in about three minutes."
"As soon as you're through booking your suspect, meet me in my office. Detective Lee is coming in to meet with me. I want you two present if possible. And I may have something else when you get here. I'll get One-Adam-19 to cover your area for the time being."
"We'll be there," Jim answered, and then asked. "Do you know what it is, Mac?"
"No. Lee's on his way now. So get a move on. The sooner you get here, the sooner we all find out."
"You were hoping for a lead," Pete reminded him. "Maybe Coop's come up with one."
"That's what I was thinking. For him to want to meet with us, it's gotta mean something, right?"
Pete nodded. "Let's go see what that something is."
The four men gathered in the small office with the door closed. Pete again realized how fortunate they were to have crossed paths with Cooper Lee. He wasn't sure the man ever slept or had a personal life but he was certain that his skills could possibly make all the difference when it came to the investigation of T. Leland Sabeth.
"Hate to drag you away from patrol," Coop said, "But there's been a couple of developments. First, I got another call from Manny."
"Coroner's assistant," Pete offered as Mac looked questioningly at him.
"Autopsy report?" Mac asked.
"Confirming what we talked about before," Coop said to Pete as he handed Mac a large manila envelope to the sergeant and pointed to it. "Sergeant McDonald, I think you'll find that rather interesting."
"I imagine I will," Mac answered, looking at Jim and Pete.
"And you know those notes that have been popping up?"
"You've discovered another one?" Mac asked.
"Well, I can't say for sure. But I did find out that Angie received a note of some kind right before we were supposed to meet. One of the cooks down at that shelter remembered seeing it. A guy by the name of Ned Pierce. Doesn't work any regular hours, simply shows up when he has spare time. He saw Angie that night."
"And the note?" Pete said.
"He didn't see what the note said, only that she was distraught after reading it."
"How well did he know her?" Jim asked.
"He thought she was a tough little gal for working at the shelter all hours of the day and night. But didn't really know much about her." Coop shrugged as he pulled a small notebook from the back pocket of his jeans and consulted it. "He didn't want to butt into her business but asked her if there was anything he could do. Said she laughed in a weird sort of way, wadded up the piece of paper and told him," Coop glanced at the pad in his hand, "'Our sins always catch up to us, Ned. I guess it's time I took care of mine.'" Coop's gaze returned to the three men listening to him. "Prophetic, huh?"
"Anything else?" Pete said, glancing at Jim only to catch him staring at the floor.
"Nope. I checked with Manny, thinking that maybe the note might've been in her clothes but he said they were clean."
"There wasn't any note in her purse either," Pete said.
"This guy…he didn't actually read it?" Mac asked.
"No. But it might explain her side trip and why she ventured into that warehouse by herself."
"So we can't be sure that note's connected," Mac said, "But the timing and her reaction certainly point to it. Detective Lee, did this Ned Pierce see what she did with the note, something that might help us find it?"
Coop shook his head. "He didn't see her throw it away but I've got a couple of guys down there now combing through the shelter, both alleyways and the warehouse again. Eyewitnesses can account for her presence at the shelter up until she left. She didn't have time to go home or anywhere else. I'm not too optimistic about tracing her exact path from the shelter to the warehouse but we're going to try. Real 'needle in the haystack' scene, ya know?"
"It keeps getting more complicated, doesn't it?" Pete said.
"I can't help but feel there's a lot more to the story," Coop said as he leaned forward and stuffed the notepad back into his pocket. "San Diego called me back. I gotta admit, I felt some definite déjà vu going on. Talked to a Detective Sanborn. He confirmed that they'd only been able to pick Sabeth up for questioning, along with a couple of other people but never had enough for an arrest. Just like here in L.A. a year ago. Sanborn always had a feeling that the name he used was a real phony. But without fingerprints…"
"And nothing from DMV, either," Jim said.
"Unfortunately, his personal suspicions were all he could give me. But I also made contact with someone else. Remember the restaurant on Figueroa?"
"The one Angie wanted to meet you at, right?" Pete said.
"Yeah, that's the one. Located the owners who also manage the place. They were in Santa Barbara for the day. They were definitely stunned to hear about Angie…said she started coming in a few months ago, one or two times a week. Knew she had a checkered past but they'd started getting chummy. The wife said Angie told her that she'd been in a bad relationship a while back but that had changed when she met some new man. But it didn't turn out like she expected. Sound familiar?"
"Sabeth?" Jim asked, looking around at the faces of the other men.
"Could be. Maybe she thought she was in love with him but when it didn't work out, she left the Temple. And we still don't know enough about the boyfriend's death and if that figures in."
"I'm betting it does," Jim said.
"These people at the restaurant," Pete said, "Do they remember Angie mentioning any names?"
"No," Coop shook his head. "But the wife said Angie had been distracted lately. And get this. On the day of her murder, she told this woman she could never really get on with her life until she dealt with her past. Sounds like the note, doesn't it? The woman thought she meant romantically. She felt pretty guilty that she hadn't tried to find out more."
"She couldn't have known," Pete said.
"That's what I told her. The couple said that they'd try and remember if Angie said anything else. But they also said that Angie admitted that she had a hard time trusting people because they were never what she thought they were. They didn't want to push her on it. More small pieces of the puzzle but still no direct proof of wrongdoing by Sabeth."
The phone on the desk buzzed as one button flashed. Mac's hand landed on the receiver and grabbed it.
"MacDonald." The sergeant paused as he listened intently for only a few seconds. "Good. Bring it up now. Thanks."
He placed the phone down and settled his arms in front of him on top of the desk. Looking at Pete and Jim, he directed his comment to the two of them. "That was R & I. Gloria tried to stay past her shift but I sent her home. Don't worry. She put everyone on priority alert…once any information came in, it was to be hand-delivered to me or else."
"Sounds like Gloria should get a promotion, Mac," Pete said, half-smiling.
"I'm working on it," Mac replied, as his phone rang again. A shadow of a scowl crossed his face as he listened to the caller. A subdued thank-you finished the one-sided conversation and he hung up the phone with a frustrated sigh. "The charges against Tinneman were filed. Nothing more serious than resisting arrest, that's it. The D.A. wanted something more concrete than what we had. He's already out, thanks to his friendly bail bondsman."
"Then I guess we'll just keep an eye out for him," Pete said, sharing in the exasperation he saw on Jim and Coop's faces.
A young man wearing large-rimmed glasses ran toward the office with a file in hand. Mac opened the door briefly to take the file and immediately closed it again. He moved toward his desk and started reading the contents of the folder as he eased himself back into his chair. Pete waited patiently as Jim shifted anxiously in his chair and even Coop leaned forward.
Mac peered up from the papers for a second and then proceeded to read from them. "Corporal Joseph Camden, age nineteen. Parents, John and Alice Camden, presently living in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Also one sister, Michelle Camden, age fifteen. Presently, Corporal Camden's status is MIA. The aircraft he was flying was reported shot down near Laos approximately three months ago. The wreckage was found and verified. However, no bodies or personal effects were recovered from the site."
A thick silence flooded the small room as Mac turned the page over and scanned a separate sheet. "I had asked Gloria to cross-reference with Missing Persons. Having a last name helped immensely. Michelle Camden, last seen at her parents' home…looks like a month ago. And here's her picture."
Mac held up a grainy black and white image, probably from a high school yearbook. While not suitable for framing, the copy served its purpose. Jim stood up and Mac handed the paper to him.
"That's her, that's Michelle," Jim said, showing it to Pete.
"No doubt about it." Pete nodded as he got up from his chair.
"Then you better pick up the young lady. I'll get the ball rolling on contacting her parents. It'll be a nice change to call someone with good news."
"I'd like to bring in the woman as well, Mac," Pete said. "The one that claimed to be her aunt. Obviously she's been lying to us."
"Go ahead and pick her up for providing false information and possible endangerment to a minor."
"And Sabeth?" Jim asked.
"Is there any evidence that he had knowledge of her identity?"
Jim shook his head slowly and replied, "No, not that we know of."
"Then unless she tells us otherwise, there's nothing we can do. We don't know how she came to be at that Temple. Both of them may have lied to him. Then again, once you pick her up, you might find out differently. But for now, your job is to retrieve a runaway."
"I think we can manage that," Pete replied, taking a step towards the door.
"Of course," Mac said, noticeably clearing his throat. "If Sabeth tries to prevent you from doing your job, I'm sure you can manage that as well. But if you think you need backup, then ask for it. Got it?"
"Got it, Mac," Jim said, reaching for the doorknob.
"Uh, speaking of…" Coop got to his feet, the legs of his chair backing up with a sharp screech. "Mind if I follow?"
"Don't mind if you do," Pete said, waving him toward the door.
Moments later Jim radioed Dispatch as Pete pulled out into the street. He observed Cooper Lee's car slightly behind them.
"Pete?" Jim snapped the mic back on its stand.
"How do you think this is gonna go down?"
"I know we both want Sabeth, Jim. But, for Michelle's sake, I hope it all goes without incident tonight."
"Yeah," Jim said, taking a deep breath. "Me, too."
Pete made the decision to check the house on Rockdale Avenue first. Michelle's location was a toss-up as far as he was concerned, but the residential address was the preferable choice…because he preferred they not deal with Sabeth at all. At the house, there was a better than even chance that things would go smoothly, quietly, and without interference. He couldn't be as sure about the Temple or its possible assortment of guests.
"There's the house, Pete, third one on the right," Jim said, pointing ahead.
Pete pulled close to the curb, looking over the place at the same time. Coop's vehicle crawled alongside with the detective pausing long enough to indicate his intention of parking around the corner. Pete got out of the car and stood with his partner as Jim stared at the rundown two-story house. Vines from nearby trees reached out and clung to the upper level like a tattered shroud.
"You knew exactly which house it was…in the dark. I'd like you to explain that to me later," Pete said as they trekked toward the front door.
Not answering, Jim switched on his flashlight and aimed it at the entrance. Pete rapped on the door with his knuckles, guessing that Coop would be at the back entrance by now.
"Miss Cain! Open up, it's the police."
Hearing no response, Pete tried again. "Miss Cain. Michelle. It's Officers Malloy and Reed. We need to talk to you."
"Maybe no one's home," Jim said, looking to his right at a curtained window.
"We better find out," Pete answered, testing the doorknob. It was unlocked, or rather, it had no functioning lock. Another testament to the precarious environment Michelle had found for herself. He unsnapped his holster and heard Jim do the same. The groaning hinges on the door announced their presence nearly as loudly as their verbal warnings.
"Hello? Miss Cain! Michelle!" Jim hit the light switch on the wall quickly, blanketing the room with a diffused glow from a low-wattage bulb. His right hand rested on the butt of his revolver as his eyes adjusted to the paltry lighting. But it was enough to expose the crippled sofa propped up against one wall and the moth-eaten throw rugs scattered in disarray across the hardwood floors.
"I'm coming through, fellas," Coop's voice echoed from the other end of an adjoining hallway. He emerged from the shadowy corridor a few seconds later.
"Anything?" Pete asked.
"No. The door was wide open. How's that for home safety?" Coop said, inspecting the furnishings. "Well, on second thought, I'd guess calling this a home is stretching it."
"Let's see if there's anyone around," Pete said. "Jim, why don't you and Coop check the upstairs? I'll finish looking around down here."
"Right," Jim said, leading with his flashlight.
Coop gave a slight nod to Pete and followed Jim up the stairs.
Pete continued his search of the first floor and discovered a kitchen, a small utility room, a hall closet and one back room full of empty boxes and assorted household articles. Footsteps resonated periodically through the ceiling, keeping him informed of Jim and Coop's location. He didn't have to be psychic to know that they apparently hadn't found anyone up on the second floor.
Coming full circle, he returned to the bottom of the stairs and heard both men making their way back down.
Coop looked at Pete and shook his head.
"Looks like our next stop is the temple," Pete said.
"Yeah," Jim said, flicking off his flashlight.
"I'll meet you over there," Coop said, stepping outside.
"Come in from the side exit, Coop," Jim said, closing the door behind him. " The back might not be accessible."
Pete started to walk toward the black and white but stopped when he realized that Jim hadn't moved. His partner stared
upwards, his eyes scanning the front side of the old house.
"What is it? Did you see something?" Pete asked, tracking his gaze. A steady breeze sent shivers through the branches of a dying oak tree near one corner of the house.
"No," Jim shook his head slowly. "I guess all this stuff must finally be getting to me or something."
"What makes you think that?"
"I know we covered every foot of that second level. Looked in and under everything. And you did the exactly the same with the first floor. And there wasn't a soul in there, am I right?"
"Then why do I feel like someone's watching us?"
If these people didn't stop watching her, she was going to scream. They weren't even trying to pretend anymore. She saw each and every one of them. It was like they were all in on some horrible secret and wondered what her reaction would be when she found out. Michelle didn't wonder. She didn't want to know anymore about this place, these people, Regina or Reverend Sabeth. Even now the dark-skinned man she trusted only a short time ago looked at her strangely. His words left a mark on her every time he spoke, threatening to take up the space in her mind forever. She didn't want to think about him anymore. Michelle clutched at her head, pulling at her hair until it hurt.
A shuffling movement set off a string of frantic whispers around her. Heads turned as Michelle caught the dangerous look on Reverend Sabeth's face. For a split second, she wondered if she'd voiced her thoughts out loud. Then she felt guilty relief when she realized it was someone else who was causing the commotion. She twisted around slowly, almost dreading to know the source of his wrath.
They came back.
Jim did a quick head count as soon as they stepped inside the Temple's main hall. Fifteen people, perhaps a third of them young men, sat mostly cross-legged on the floor. Not good odds if a majority of them decided to cause any problems. He quickly found Michelle near the front but next to the wall. Slack-jawed, she stared at them in surprise mixed with something he couldn't identify. Relief?
Reverend Sabeth stood behind an ornate, carved pedestal and held out his arms in silent admonition. The low voices died down almost instantly as they waited for further instruction.
"Unless you have a search warrant, I demand that you leave this hallowed hall immediately," Sabeth said, his voice a rumbling of thunder. "I will not allow disruptions to our services or our lives."
"We don't need a search warrant. And you can go right on with whatever you were doing. We're here for Michelle," Pete said, switching his gaze from the tall black man to the small dark-haired girl. Why did she have to be sitting so close to Sabeth?
"We've been through this before. Too many times." Sabeth moved to linger behind Michelle almost possessively. "She has chosen to be here of her own free will and you have no true power over her."
"Michelle Camden?" Jim said, taking a step forward. "You are Michelle Camden, aren't you?"
Pete was startled to hear her speak with such certainty until he saw that she was looking at Jim as though she was drowning and he was throwing her a life preserver.
"Michelle, we're here to make sure you get back home…safely." Jim took another step, aware of those bodies in close proximity to his own. He smiled and offered his hand to Michelle, encouraging her with an honest confidence.
Up until this point, Pete had never been sure if the girl would come with them willingly or not. But the second Jim held out his hand, he did know. Michelle bounded up from the floor as only a teenager could, and clutched his hand with a quickness that convinced him that she'd been regretting her earlier actions.
"Michelle." Sabeth's warning was low but audible, causing the girl to stop in her tracks.
"It's okay. No one's going to hurt you," Jim looked at Sabeth pointedly but kept his tone calm and reassuring. He stepped backward carefully, pulling her along with him through the small crowd of people. No one tried to get in the way but several young men stood and repositioned themselves next to their leader. They fidgeted anxiously, looking to the tall black man for cues.
"T. Leland Sabeth, are you aware that you have been harboring a runaway?" Pete asked.
"This Temple offers shelter to those in need. No questions are asked. No answers are required. Your brief victory is hollow. Michelle knows what must be and you will not stand in her way of her future," Sabeth said, drifting slowly toward them.
Michelle faltered, panic embracing the youthful features.
"It is time." Sabeth's voice lowered as he communicated directly to the young girl. "As the elements of the earth and the universe come together, so have you become part of a higher purpose."
"Michelle, you don't have to listen to him. All that matters is getting you out of here," Jim said, gratified to see her refocusing her attention on him.
"Officer Reed," Sabeth said, returning his gaze back to Jim. "I'm sure you can imagine the despair of one so young. Deprived of those you love…alone…crying out for help. I was the only one who heard her cries. You and your partner fail to recognize the indisputable strength that comes from within these walls. But remember this. It is you who has decided when to test that power."
Jim leveled an unwavering gaze upon the Reverend. "Sabeth, if you continue to try and interfere with the performance of our duties, make no mistake. You will be arrested and taken into custody."
"And that goes for the rest of you, too." Coop stepped out from the murky hallway.
All heads but Sabeth's turned to stare at the unexpected third visitor. The Reverend watched serenely as Jim prompted Michelle outside.
"I don't suppose you know where Regina Cain is right now? Does anyone know where we can locate Miss Cain?" Pete asked, not really expecting a response. The redheaded woman had usually been seen in the company of Michelle, Sabeth or both. The fact that she was missing from the present group was not only curious but also troublesome in more ways than one.
Predictably, no one answered his question.
"Then that concludes our business, ladies and gentleman," Pete said as Coop joined him. They moved away cautiously, unwilling to turn their backs on the volatile crowd. Pete breathed a little easier once the door was closed and he could see Jim near the black and white. His partner appeared to be talking to Michelle but it wasn't clear whether or not the conversation was being reciprocated.
"Pete," Coop said, "can I ask you something?"
"Ya know, I heard some things about what went down with you guys and Sabeth. And I knew it turned serious when Jim moved his family out of the house. Not that I wouldn't have done the same thing. But what I saw back there, the way Sabeth looked at your partner…the stuff he was saying.… Pretty creepy."
Pete looked over his shoulder as they walked away from the Temple.
"You're worried, aren't you?" Coop asked.
Pete stopped abruptly. "When we first confronted him, it was here. A handful of followers sat at his feet like a bunch of school children, riveted to his every word. At first he was smooth, in control and, of course, shocked that we would think him guilty of any wrongdoing. But when we threw some cold, hard facts about the Dent case at him, he suddenly didn't like the way things were going. He wanted us to continue our questioning in private. When Jim sidestepped Sabeth and tried to convince those people to look elsewhere for help, that's when the Reverend lost it."
"Jim ignored him…and dared to do it right in front of his supporters. Basically encouraged the people there to do the same. So Sabeth flipped and pulled a curse out of his top hat?"
"Yeah. And it's been escalating ever since. And tonight shows it all too well."
"How do you mean?"
"That man in there wasn't concerned about appearances or winning over anyone anymore. He's already done that. He is what he is…and those people in there are apparently fine with it. And in answer to your question, yes, I'm worried."
Coop watched Jim shut the back door to the car. "Wish getting the girl out of there solved everything. But maybe it'll knock Sabeth off balance and he'll make a mistake. He couldn't have known this was going to happen."
"No," Pete said. "But you're already investigating a murder with a connection to Sabeth. If this does knock him off balance, who is he going to take down with him when he falls?"
"I didn't hear a call for backup. And I see you got the girl. The three of you did a good job, Pete."
Pete looked over at Mac as they both stood in the hallway outside one of the briefing rooms. Michelle sat quietly as a female police officer handed her a cup. "Wish we could take credit for it, Mac."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know. I think it was timing. Something tells me that, by the time we got there, she was all too ready to leave that place."
"I read over the autopsy report. And Detective Lee's notes," Mac said, nodding his head toward the young girl. "If that's any indication, then I think she's the one who's fortunate."
"Yeah," Pete said, quietly.
Mac glanced up and down the hall. "Your partner and Detective Lee somewhere around here, I presume?"
"Jim's finishing the reports. Coop said he had to make some more calls."
"How did it really go at the Temple, Pete?"
"Sabeth was Sabeth," Pete said, a slight frown surfacing. "Oh, and Miss Cain was nowhere to be found. I'd still like to try and pick her up."
"I'll put out a warrant for her arrest. Any chance that she's nowhere to be found because Sabeth wanted it that way?"
"Mac, I'm not even going to make an educated guess on that."
"What about the girl? Did she give you anything to incriminate Sabeth?"
"Not a word so far," Pete replied. "She admitted to being Michelle Camden. But that's it. Jim tried to talk to her once she was in the car. Nothing. And all we got from her on the way here was the silent treatment."
"Do you think they threatened her?"
"I wouldn't doubt it." Pete looked past his sergeant to see his partner coming towards them. "Done?"
"Yeah," Jim glanced into the room before all three men moved discreetly away from the door. "Any change?"
"No. Officer Richards is doing her best to make Michelle comfortable. And she's aware that her parents have been contacted."
"When are they supposed to get here?"
"Colorado Springs Police said that Mr. And Mrs. Camden are taking the first available flight but that's not until late morning. It gets into LAX a little after noon tomorrow. So it looks like she's going to be spending the night down at McLaren Hall. They think they can send someone over in thirty minutes or so."
Jim stuck his hands in his pockets and sighed audibly. "We can't do any better than that, I guess."
"Come on, Jim," Pete said. "It's a lot better than where she's been staying."
"Yeah, you're right. But we could take her down there, couldn't we, Mac?"
"Jim, the two of you are off shift as of five minutes ago. And you're already too involved in this case," Mac said, firmly. "But I tell you what. Why don't you try talking to her one more time before you leave? Maybe she's calmed down enough…it could make a difference. Besides, I'm waiting on a call back from her parents right now. I'll come and get her when it comes through."
"Okay," Jim took a step and then stopped to look at his partner. "Pete, you coming?"
"No. I think if she's going to talk to anyone, it's going to be you," Pete answered. "But don't get your hopes up, okay? She's still a pretty mixed-up kid."
Pete watched as Jim walked toward the briefing room. Good luck, partner.
"Officer Richards," Jim greeted the female officer who responded with a smile before taking a standing position near the wall. He pulled up a chair and sat down in front of the teenager. "Michelle, how are you?"
"Okay." The strength in Michelle's voice surprised him for the second time tonight.
"I'm glad to hear that. You know you have to stay somewhere else tonight…but your parents will be here tomorrow."
"Can't I stay here until then?"
Jim shook his head and smiled. "No, afraid not. We're not exactly set up for visitors…except for the kind that don't want to be here. But I'm glad you changed your mind and decided to come with us."
Taken aback by the admission, Jim decided to continue. "I'd like to ask you a few questions, Michelle. About the Temple. Why wasn't Regina there with you tonight?"
"I don't know. She said it was important that I was there tonight and then left. That's never happened before."
"Why was it important?"
"I don't know."
"What about Reverend Sabeth? Did he know that Regina Cain was not your real aunt and that you were a runaway?"
Michelle shrugged as she studied her hands clasped in her lap.
"Has he ever threatened or hurt you, Michelle?"
"No… What about that girl? Do you really think Reverend Sabeth…killed her?"
"I don't know, Michelle. But we intend to find out the truth. And we will, sooner or later. You might be able to help us do it sooner without anyone else getting hurt."
A few seconds passed before Michelle said anything else. "Mr. Marinoni's all right? You're sure about that?"
"I called the hospital a while ago. He's going to be fine. And he's going to be very happy that you're okay, too. You might even be able to see him tomorrow."
Michelle turned her head as her fingers rubbed at her eyes.
"Is that why you've been so afraid, Michelle? Thinking that Mr. Marinoni was hurt because he wanted to help you?"
"Are you going to go back there to arrest the Reverend?" Her question came out sounding like a test.
"Not until we have proof that he committed a crime," Jim said, wondering if his answer failed or passed.
"But what if you arrest him…and something awful does happen?"
"You're protected here. And Mr. Marinoni is safe and sound in the hospital. We won't let Sabeth bother either of you."
The teenager's dark eyes were troubled as she looked at him closely. "You could just leave him alone."
"We can't do that, Michelle. We took an oath to protect and to serve," Jim said, giving her a little wink. "That duty thing, you know."
She mulled over his words as Mac entered the room.
"Sorry to interrupt but I think Miss Camden has a very important phone call," Mac said, giving her an encouraging smile. "Your parents."
"They want to talk to me?" Michelle said, staring at the older man.
"Very much, Michelle," Mac answered.
The young girl's gaze reverted to Jim, an unvoiced request for guidance.
"Go on, Michelle," Jim said, gently. "Haven't you missed them?"
A slight nod and her trembling chin gave him an answer.
"Okay," Michelle said, rising slowly from her chair. She took one step before turning back to him with eyes wet with fresh tears. "Officer Reed?"
"You told me that you'd want someone to help your sister if she were in trouble."
"Yeah, I did."
"Joey'd like you. And he'd be happy that you helped his sister," Michelle said in a soft voice before turning around to leave with Mac and Officer Richardson.
Jim thought his heart was going to break right down the middle. Half of it for Michelle and the other half for the brother lost in battle halfway around the world. He had a strange feeling that he would've liked Joey as well. It would've been nice to have had the chance to find out.
"She'll be all right, Jim." Pete stood next to him in the empty briefing room.
"Yeah, I know," Jim replied, hoping his own eyes weren't giving away his feelings right now.
"Tomorrow her parents will be here and she'll probably be on her way home soon after that."
Jim nodded as they went back to the hallway.
"So what about you?" Pete said, stopping outside the door.
"What about me?"
"When are you going home?"
"I kinda hate to leave her here alone, Pete."
"She's not alone--she's here--in a police station, safe and sound. Isn't that what you told her?" Pete said. "And I bet Jean's waiting on you to get home and call her, isn't she?"
"Yeah," Jim admitted with a smile. "She said she'd wait up, no matter how late it was. But I could always call her from here."
"Yeah, you could. But that lacks a little privacy, doesn't it?" Pete's eyebrows edged up a fraction. "Look, if it'll make you feel any better, I'll wait around until Juvey sends someone to pick her up."
"You'd do that, Pete?"
"What do I look like, an ogre?"
Jim's chuckle turned into a grimace as he tried to work a kink out the back of his neck. "No, I mean, it might be a while. And I know you must be tired, too. It's not been the easiest shift."
"No, but I'm not the one who raced against two Olympic hopefuls tonight." Pete raised both eyebrows as he underscored the pronoun.
"Thanks, Pete," Jim said, "Oh, and just for the record…"
"I won both of those races."
Traffic was sparse and trouble-free on the way home. He barely noticed a spattering of raindrops on the windshield as he pulled into the driveway. Jim was glad that he'd taken Pete's advice. Talking to his wife on the phone at the station would've sufficed but hearing her voice in their house was a much more appealing choice.
Their conversation lasted about fifteen minutes. His outlook had improved since removing Michelle from the Temple, and as he spoke to his wife, he realized that he was more optimistic about the entire situation.
"Maybe tomorrow, Jean," he said.
"Is that a promise?"
"Only if you can find a dictionary with that definition for maybe," Jim laughed softly. "But things are looking up. Getting Michelle out of there might've taken the wind out of Sabeth's sails and finally proved to him that he can't control people as easily as he thought."
"I hope so, Jim. That man's already had too much control over our lives."
"I know. Listen, honey, I'll let you get some sleep."
"I'd rather be there sleeping with you."
"Me, too," Jim said, acutely missing her presence next to him.
"Okay. I love you. Bye."
"I love you, too," Jim said, hanging up the phone but not wanting to let go of it yet.
The overpowering quiet rushed back to reclaim the room. Jim reluctantly pushed himself up from the comfort of the bed and headed for the kitchen, leaving his jacket and revolver behind. In his heart, he believed that Jean and Jimmy would be back at home where they belonged very soon. Maybe tomorrow sounded very good right now. Knowing Michelle was going to be reunited with her parents had done a lot to ease his mind. He might have a shot at getting a decent night's sleep tonight if he could stop thinking about everything for a few minutes.
Jim flipped the light switch as stepped into the kitchen, intent on grabbing a midnight snack before falling into bed. In the seconds it had taken him to go from one end of the hall to the other, it occurred to him that he'd skipped his routine check of the house. He'd been so eager to call Jean that he'd headed straight for the phone in their bedroom. At this point, it was tempting to simply satisfy his hunger pangs and follow through with several hours of uninterrupted sleep. But he knew he couldn't do it, especially now that he remembered it. Once he had something in his head, it was nearly impossible to ignore it.
He'd barely taken another step before he saw something that was very out of place. Tiny slivers of wood were loosely scattered near the bottom of the door. Several deep grooves and scratches marked the side of the doorframe. He and Pete had been on hundreds of burglary calls--it was easy to recognize the telltale signs of forced entry. The question was whether or not someone had succeeded in gaining access to his house.
He reached for his off-duty revolver, and in that instant, grimly remembered that it no longer on him. It was still on the bed where he'd placed it moments ago. Exhaustion, worry and premature relief were a bad mix. The combination could easily prove fatal.
Each fragile movement took him closer to the bedroom, his gun, and regaining some semblance of control. The floor beneath his feet creaked without warning, causing him to freeze in mid-step. Jim listened cautiously as he looked around again. Ahead of him, light from the bedside lamp glowed benignly. He glanced behind him once, and then prepared to check out the bedroom.
There was no way he would've ever been ready for what he saw as he peered around the corner of the doorway. Regina Cain, the strange woman with the wandering mass of red hair, stood with her back to him as she stared at her image in the large mirror above the oak dresser. Jim tried to push down the surge of outrage as he took in the disturbing picture. He also tried not to envision the woman eavesdropping on his conversation with Jean. He reminded himself that he could be dealing with someone who was not in her right mind. The prospect didn't do much for Jim's own peace of mind, especially when his gun was nowhere in sight.
"Stay right where you are, Miss Cain," Jim said, his jaw clenching so hard that he was amazed the words came out in one complete sentence. He brought up one splayed hand to reinforce the warning.
Regina Cain watched his reflection with languid green eyes. She never moved. She never uttered a single word. And then she smiled at him.
And he knew.
He heard the same creak in the floorboards behind him and instinctively twisted his body, raising his arm to deflect the invisible blow he sensed was coming. But there wasn't enough time.
The pain blazed into the back of his head with the force of a lightning strike. Another blow glanced off his right temple as he fell, spinning him around. Jim dimly realized that he was on the floor as his half-closed eyes saw the familiar strands of blue-gray carpet. The coarse fibers caressed his face but he couldn't feel them. He must still be breathing but he wasn't sure. Jim was aware only of the relentless agony tearing through his head as his ability to think or react faded beyond his grasp.
"Hey, why are you still hanging out here? I thought you'd be gone," Coop said as he spied Pete sifting through papers outside the briefing room.
"Promised Jim I'd wait around until Juvey picked up Michelle."
"Oh. You mean she's still here, too?" Coop's tone was oddly hopeful as he looked around.
"Yeah," Pete said, trying to control an overwhelming urge to yawn. He looked at his watch and rubbed a hand across his eyes. "Some problem over at McLaren Hall…they're running late. Mac got her in touch with her parents, and then brought her back here. It's been over an hour. She had her head down on the table last time I checked on her."
"She's probably conked out then, huh?"
"Probably. What about you? What's up?"
Coop held up a large white envelope with two fingers. "I picked up a copy of Russ Tinneman's mug shot from his arrest last year. I also had somebody looking into his background a little more. Place of birth--San Diego. Which also happened to be where he was stationed while he served as a midshipman in the Navy. Ended up being dishonorably discharged two years ago for possession, after serving some time in the brig. I guess we now know where his real career began. His current residence is in West L.A. SDPD didn't recognize his name when I talked to them but they're asking around."
"Coincidence?" Pete asked.
"I'm not too keen on coincidences. But I also made a stop at the Evidence Room and signed out Angie's driver's license. Michelle might not know their names…but maybe she'll recognize one of 'em."
"Can I take a look?" Pete asked.
"Sure," Coop said, handing the packet to him.
Pete pulled out the mug shot first. The standard front and side views were more than adequate for identification purposes. Evidently Russ Tinneman photographed well even under less than desirable circumstances. Pete tilted the envelope and the dead woman's familiar ID slid into his hand. Coop had temporarily placed masking tape over the text, revealing only the photo part of the card. The frozen image of the diminutive blonde stared back at him again. For a second, he wondered if those eyes had ever had a chance to see Michelle. Only Angie knew the answer to that question and she'd never be able to tell them. But maybe Michelle knew more than they thought, maybe even more than Michelle herself realized.
"Whaddya think?" Coop said, peeking in at the young girl. "I was going to show these to her tomorrow. But…"
"You might as well try while she's here," Pete said, handing the photos back to the detective. "Who knows what tomorrow will be like?"
Officer Richardson sat nearby, flipping through a magazine and drinking from a styrofoam cup. She looked up as Pete and Coop came into the room and smiled at both of them. "Hey fellas."
"We were hoping to talk to Michelle again," Pete said.
"Michelle," Officer Richardson got up and gently nudged the teenager. "Officer Malloy and Detective Lee need to talk to you. Can you wake up for a bit?"
"What?" Michelle's head jerked up unexpectedly, her eyes squinting against the light. "Is it time to go?"
"Not yet, Michelle. I know you're tired but we need your help," Pete said, taking a chair on one side of her. "Detective Lee would like you to look at some photos."
"Okay," Michelle said, pressing a hand over her mouth as she yawned. She pulled a borrowed jacket around her more securely. Peering around them, she looked slightly concerned. "Where's Officer Reed?"
Pete smiled as he imagined Jim kicking himself for leaving. "I made him go home and get some sleep so he wouldn't be cranky tomorrow."
"Oh," Michelle said with a sheepish expression that briefly turned mischievous. "You didn't go home. Does that mean you'll be a grouch tomorrow?"
Pete ignored the unrestrained snicker from Coop as the detective casually sat on the other edge of the table.
"I promise not to be a grouch tomorrow, Michelle," Pete answered, pleasantly surprised by her humorous turn. It was a good sign.
"So can you take a look at these, Michelle? Tell us if you recognize either one of them?" Coop asked as he slid both pictures in front of her.
"That's the woman that died, isn't it?" Michelle asked. The smile on her face faded as she concentrated on the small ID.
"You've seen her before?" Coop asked.
"No. I figured that's who it had to be, that's all."
The detective picked up Angie's photo and pointed to the mug shot of Russell Tinneman. "What about this one, Michelle?"
"I don't know his name but I've seen him before."
"Are you positive?"
"Yes," Michelle nodded, staring at Coop and then Pete. A new sense of apprehension came over her as she listened to their questions.
"Where have you seen him, Michelle?" Pete asked.
"Regina's house. A couple of weeks ago."
"The house, not the Temple?"
"Uh-huh. I mean, he might've been at the Temple but I don't remember…I didn't always pay attention to the people there, I guess. Sorry."
"That's all right. What else do you remember about him?" Pete said, keeping his voice calm.
"Not much. He was at the back door talking to Regina when I came downstairs once. He… smiled at me," Michelle said, her eyes fluttering in embarrassment. "It wasn't a very nice smile."
Coop pulled out his notebook and silently urged Pete to continue with his questions.
"Did you hear anything that they said?"
"No, I heard their voices, his mostly because it was louder," Michelle said, pausing. "But now that I think about it…"
"I heard his voice another time. I thought it was Reverend Sabeth because he comes to Regina's house, too. But it wasn't. It was him--this guy in the picture."
"What night was this, Michelle?"
"Last night? I mean, you know…before Mr. Marinoni got sick."
"About what time?"
"I don't have a watch anymore. It was dark. I went to Mr. Marinoni's store first so it had to be before ten, I guess."
"So you think you heard this man's voice," Coop picked up Tinneman's photo and held it up. "In Regina's house sometime that evening. Did you hear anything that was said that time?"
"How long did you hear the voices in the house?" Coop asked, jotting the information quickly.
"Off and on for a little while. Maybe fifteen or twenty minutes, I guess. Why are you asking me this?"
"This man was found at the scene of the murder. Angie's Barrett's murder. And now you're telling us that Regina knows him. Can you see why it's important that you tell us everything you know about the two of them and Reverend Sabeth, Michelle? Do you understand?"
Michelle nodded, dazed by the implications of the detective's words.
"Okay, let's start at the beginning…" Coop said.