Victims, p.15

Victims, page 15

 

Victims
 


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  “Obviously, Dr. Usfel never informed security of the need for one because she viewed it as insignificant.” Ostrovine laid his hands flat on the desk. Milo had pulled his chair close. The wig was in reach of his long arm. “And frankly, so do I.”

  “Who referred this guy to you?”

  “How can I tell you that when I don’t even know his name?”

  “Check the patient list for that day.”

  “He wouldn’t be on there because incompletes aren’t recorded.”

  “Not even their referrals?”

  “Not anything,” said Ostrovine. “Why would we pile up extraneous data? As is, we’ve got storage issues.”

  “What if the patient was referred for another procedure that was completed?”

  “You’re asking me to examine my entire patient database.”

  “Just white males seen two months ago, give or take two weeks either way.”

  “That’s huge,” said Ostrovine. “And what will I be looking for? Inappropriate clothing? We don’t list attire in our charts.”

  “Just tease out white males in a particular age range and we’ll take it from there.”

  “No can do, Lieutenant. Even if we had the manpower for that kind of scavenger hunt, we’re legally forbidden.”

  “In terms of manpower, I can send you a couple of detectives.”

  “That’s generous of you,” said Ostrovine, “but it doesn’t solve the main problem: Rooting around in patient records without clear justification is illegal.”

  Milo waited.

  Ostrovine fiddled with his pen, placed his hand on his toupee, as if anticipating attack. “Look, guys, Glenda was one of ours, her death is a tragedy and if I could help you, I’d jump at the opportunity. But I can’t. You have to understand.”

  “Then we’ll have to go the subpoena route, sir. Which would cause all those delays we discussed before.”

  Ostrovine clicked his tongue. “We didn’t discuss anything, Lieutenant Sturgis. You threatened me. I understand that you’ve got an important job to do. But further intimidation is not going to work. I’ve talked to our attorneys and they say it’ll never get that far.”

  Milo stood. “Guess we’ll just have to see.”

  “We won’t see anything, Lieutenant. The rules are clear. I’m sorry, I really am. But what took place in the scan room was just one of those things.”

  “Business as usual.”

  “People as usual,” said Ostrovine. “Put enough of them together and heads will bump. That’s a far cry from murder.”

  “Human nature,” said Milo. “You learn about it from all those insurance scams you do?”

  Ostrovine’s smile sped toward sincere, screeched to a halt just short of the goal. “I learned about it from reality.”

  On the way back to the station, Dr. Bern Shacker returned my call.

  Ten to the hour; catching up between patients.

  I thanked him. He said, “The police have caught someone?”

  “They may have a lead.” I described the man in the shearling.

  Silence.

  “Doctor—”

  “But no one’s been caught. So you’re telling me this because ...”

  “We’re wondering if Vita crossed paths with him. Perhaps during an evaluation. I don’t want to put you in a bind but it could be a Tarasoff situation.”

  “Imminent danger?” he said. “To whom?”

  “He’s killed two other people.”

  “That’s horrible but obviously they’re no longer in danger.”

  “It’s a tough situation, Bern.”

  “I know, I know. Dreadful. Well, fortunately he isn’t a patient of mine. No one in my practice dresses like that.”

  “Okay, thanks.”

  “Self-swaddling,” he said. “That smells a bit like schizophrenia, no?”

  “Or a medical problem.”

  “Such as?”

  “Hypothyroidism.”

  “Hmm ... interesting. Yes, I suppose so. But I’d still lean toward the psychological. In view of what he’s done. And it sounds as if he’s reacting to threat. At the core, psychotics are helpless, no? Fear biters, not attack dogs.”

  “True.”

  “What a mess,” said Shacker. “Poor Vita. All the others, as well.”

  Just before we turned onto Butler, Alex Shimoff called back.

  “You need another masterpiece, Lieutenant?”

  “You’re the man, Detective.”

  “Last time was easy,” said Shimoff. “Dr. Delaware’s girlfriend had a good eye for detail, she gave me a lot to work with.”

  “Nothing like a challenge,” said Milo.

  “I’m married with children, I know about challenge. Sure, what’s your schedule?”

  “I’ll get back to you with a time and place.”

  “Tomorrow would be good,” said Shimoff. “Got a day off, my wife wants me to take her shopping, you can help me get out of it.”

  Back at his desk, Milo phoned D.C. Maria Thomas, told her of his intention to release a suspect drawing and the question marks to the media, asked her to facilitate with Public Affairs.

  She said, “Cart before horse, Milo.”

  “Pardon?”

  “Go get your rendering but nothing gets facilitated until the basic decision is reified. That’s a fancy word for it turns real. That means the chief clears it.”

  “His orders?”

  “Do anyone else’s matter?”

  She hung up. Milo cursed and called Margaret Wheeling. She’d had enough time to retreat from the offer to cooperate, claimed she really hadn’t seen the man in the shearling well enough to be useful. He worked with her for a while to get her to agree to the sit-down with Shimoff.

  He was reaching for a panatela when his phone rang. “Homicide, Sturgis.”

  “Better be,” said a raspy, Brooklyn-tinged voice. “This is your fucking extension.”

  “Afternoon, sir.”

  The chief said, “When all else fails go the artistic route?”

  “Whatever works, sir.”

  “You have enough to turn out a decent enough drawing? ’Cause we probably won’t get more than one bite of the apple and I don’t want to waste it on some ambiguous bullshit.”

  “Me neither, sir, but at this point—”

  “Nothing else has worked, you’re stuck, you’re freaking out about more victims popping up. I get it, Sturgis. Which is why I swallowed my pride and put in a call to a guy I know at the Bureau who is a lard-ass pencil-pusher but used to be a behavioral sciences honcho at Quantico. Not that I think their bullshit profiles are more than a carny show, which is why I called him personally, said forget your stupid questionnaire and just give me something off the top of your head about a loony who snaps necks then cuts out guts and plays with them. He gave me big-time Ph.D. wisdom, so now you’re going to hear it: white male, twenty-five to fifty, probably a loner, probably doesn’t have a happy domestic life, probably going to be living in a weird home situation, probably jacks off when he thinks about what he did. That any worse than what Delaware’s given you so far? So what does this suspect whose image you want to foist on a neurotic public look like?”

  “White, thirty to forty.”

  “There you go,” said the chief. “Science.”

  Milo said, “He wears a heavy coat in all sorts of weather.”

  “Big deal, he’s concealing a weapon.”

  “That could be part of it, sir, but Dr. Delaware says it could be a sign of mental illness.”

  “Does he?” The chief laughed. “Big fucking genius. I’d say ripping people’s intestines out covers that base pretty well.”

  I said, “It sure does.”

  Silence.

  “I figured you were there, Doctor. How’s life treating you?”

  “Fine.”

  “That makes one of us. Charlie sends his regards.”

  Charlie was his son and the regards part was a lie. A brilliant, alienated kid, he’d a
sked me to write a college recommendation, emailed me a couple of times a month from the seminary he was using to defer college.

  He hated, loved, feared his father, would never use him for a messenger.

  I said, “Hope he’s doing well.”

  “He’s being Charlie. By the way, the department still owes you some consult money on the last one.”

  “True.”

  “You haven’t bugged my office about it.”

  “Would it have helped?”

  Dead air. “Your loyalty in the face of our bureaucratic ineptitude is laudable, Doc. So you concur that broadcasting this lunatic’s face is a good idea?”

  “I think if we keep the information tight it’s got potential.”

  “What does tight mean?”

  “Limit it to the artist rendering and the question marks and don’t let on that anyone could theoretically be a victim.”

  “Yeah, that would set off some skivvy-soiling panic, wouldn’t it? Speaking of those question marks, what the hell do they mean? The FBI guy said he’d never seen that before. Checked his files and there was nothing. Only similar gutting was Jack the Ripper and there were enough differences between our boy and Jack to make that avenue a dead end.”

  “Don’t know.”

  “Don’t know what?”

  “What the question marks mean.”

  “So much for higher education ... what do you think about releasing details on the coat? Could jog some citizen’s memory.”

  “It might also cause the bad guy to ditch the coat and you’d lose potential evidence.”

  Silence. “Yeah, there could be spatter on the fucking thing, gut juice, whatever. Okay, keep it tight. But you could still be screwed—I’m talking to you, Sturgis. He sees himself on the six o’clock, he rabbits.”

  “There’s always that chance, sir.”

  Another silence, longer.

  The chief said, “Doctor, what’s your take on another victim coming up sooner rather than later?”

  “Hard to say.”

  “That all you do? Sidestep questions?”

  “That’s a poser, Chief.”

  “Shrink humor,” he said. “I wouldn’t count on getting a sitcom anytime in the near future. You still awake, Sturgis?”

  “Wide awake.”

  “Stay that way.”

  “God forbid I should sleep, sir.”

  “More to the point,” said the chief. “I forbid.”

  CHAPTER

  23

  Alex Shimoff delivered his rendering to Milo’s office the following afternoon.

  “Don’t tell anyone who did this,” he said. “This is garbage.”

  The last time he’d sat down to draw for Milo, Shimoff had produced a stunningly accurate re-creation of a girl whose face had been blown off. What he presented this time was an ambiguous pale disk filled with bland, male features.

  Color it yellow you’d have Mr. Happy Face’s noncommittal brother.

  And yet, it twanged a memory synapse deep in my brain.

  Had I seen him before? Mental scouring produced nothing.

  Milo told Shimoff, “Thanks, kid.”

  “Don’t thank me for doing crap, El Tee. That Wheeling lady couldn’t come up with anything useful. I hate the computer Identi-Kit but after she gave me nothing I tried it. She said it confused her more, too many choices. She couldn’t even respond to my questions. Wider, longer, rounder, nothing. She claimed she barely saw the guy.”

  “Did she seem scared?” I said.

  “Maybe,” said Shimoff. “Or she’s just stupid and can’t process visually.”

  Milo studied the likeness. “It’s better than what we had before.”

  Shimoff looked ready to vomit. “It’s any pie-faced white guy.”

  “Hey, kiddo, maybe this is what he actually looks like. Like that cartoon, the kid brings in a stick figure drawing of his family, on parent-teacher day stick figures show up?”

  Shimoff wasn’t amused.

  I tried again to figure out why the crude drawing gnawed at me.

  Blank mental screen.

  Shimoff said, “At art school I could get away sometimes with jokes. Real life? It sucks to turn out garbage. Top of that, I still have to take my wife shopping tonight.”

  Clenching his fists, he left.

  Milo murmured, “Creative types,” and took the photo to the big detective room where he told Moe Reed to scan and email it to Maria Thomas.

  That evening at six the rendering was featured on the news, along with a sketchy tale of a Westside home invader who broke his victims’ necks and left behind a ? calling card. Ambiguity made the story more frightening and the phones began ringing seconds after the ensuing commercial.

  By six fifteen, Milo had commandeered Moe Reed and Sean Binchy to help work the lines. He moved out of his office and took a desk in the big D-room left unoccupied by a daywatch detective on sick leave. Manipulating three separate lines himself, pushing buttons like a concertina player, he kept the conversations brief, took a few notes, the most frequent notation being “B.S.” followed by “schizo,”

  “ESP,” and “prank.” Reed’s dominant notation was “neg.,” Binchy’s, “t.n.g.” When Sean saw me trying to figure that out, he cupped his hand over the receiver, smiled, and said, “Totally no good.”

  I heard Reed say, “Yes, I understand, ma’am, but you live in Bakersfield, there’s no reason to be worried.”

  Binchy: “Absolutely, sir. There’s no indication he has anything against Samoans.”

  Milo: “I know about the Chance cards in Monopoly. No, there wasn’t one.”

  Slipping out of the room, I drove home thinking about victims.

  Robin said, “No blanket? Doesn’t take much to set this maniac off.”

  We sat near the pond, tossing pellets at the fish, Blanche wedged between us, snoring lightly. I’d finished a couple ounces of Chivas, was nursing the ice. Robin hadn’t made much headway with a glass of Riesling. The night smelled of ozone and jasmine. The sky was charcoal felt stretched tight. A few stars peeked through like ice-pick wounds.

  She said, “She kicks him out of the clinic and he comes back to get her months later?”

  I said, “Maybe he took his time because planning was part of the fun. For all I know, he set up the confrontation.”

  “To give himself an excuse?”

  “Even psychopaths need to self-justify and I don’t think his real motive is avenging insult. It’s got to be rooted in fantasies he’s had since childhood but he frames his victims as bad people so he can feel righteous. Glenda Usfel maintained control by being the alpha female only this time it backfired. The same probably went for Berlin. Spreading bad cheer was her hobby but she tried it with the wrong guy. What doesn’t fit is brutalizing Marlon Quigg, who’s described by everyone as the mildest man on the planet.”

  “Maybe he wasn’t always that way.”

  “Reformed crank?”

  “People can change.” She smiled. “Someone once told me that. What did Quigg do for a living?”

  “Accountant.”

  “Not an IRS auditor by any chance?”

  “Not even close, just a cog in a big firm, sat at his desk and number-crunched for a big grocery chain.”

  “Someone didn’t like the tomatoes, they wouldn’t take it out on him. Did he have any outside interests?”

  “No one’s mentioned any. Family man, walked his dog, led a quiet life. Before that he taught disabled kids. We’re talking a softie, Rob. Totally different from the other two victims.”

  “Interesting switch,” she said.

  “What is?”

  “Trading a job where you’re constantly dealing with people for one where you stare at ledgers all day.”

  “His wife said the money wasn’t there so he took the CPA exam.”

  “I’m sure that’s it.”

  “You have your doubts?”

  “It just seems like a radical shift, Alex, but money is important
.”

  I thought about that. “Something happened when Quigg was teaching that pushed him in a totally different direction?”

  “You just said the killer’s motive goes back to childhood. ‘Disabled kids’ covers a lot of territory.”

  “A student with serious psychiatric issues,” I said. “Revenge on the teacher? Oh, man.”

  She said, “What if Quigg left teaching because he encountered a student who scared him out of the profession? I know it’s far-fetched but you just said this guy loves the thrill of the hunt. What if now that he’s an adult, he’s decided to revisit old enemies?”

  The sky seemed to darken and drop, stars receding. Robin tried to flex her fingers and I realized I was squeezing her hand and let go.

  “I’m just tossing stuff out,” she said, raising the wineglass to her lips. Good vintage but tonight it evoked a frown and she put it aside. “Let’s change the subject.”

  I said, “Mind if I make a call?”

  Belle Quigg said, “Who is this?”

  I repeated my name. “I was at your home the other day, and also with Lieutenant Sturgis.”

  “Oh. You’re the other one. Has something happened about Marlon?”

  “I have a few more questions, Mrs. Quigg. How long ago did Marlon teach school?”

  “A long time. Why?”

  “We’re being thorough.”

  “I don’t understand.”

  I said, “The more we know about Marlon, the better our chances of catching whoever did that to him.”

  “Did that,” she said. “You can say killed. I say it. I think it. I think it all the time.”

  I didn’t answer.

  She said, “I don’t see what his teaching has to do with it. That was years ago. This is a madman who killed Marlon and Louie, and it had nothing to do with anything Marlon did or said.”

  “I’m sure you’re right, ma’am, but if you could—”

  “Marlon didn’t teach at a school, he taught at a hospital. Ventura State.”

  Once the largest psychiatric facility in the state, long-shuttered. “How long ago?”

  “This was before we got married, I’d just met him and he told me he used to be a teacher, so ... at least twenty-four years ago.”

  “What kind of disabled children did he teach?”

 
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