Victims, p.17

Victims, page 17



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  “She called Quigg a boy?”

  “Hmm,” said Trude Prosser. “It was long ago, but I believe I’m recalling accurately. He wasn’t of course, he must’ve been a man. Being a teacher. But perhaps his vulnerability made her think of him as a child. Anyway, we knew better than to mess with Mother when she was waxing clinically protective, so we went to a movie and by the time we got back, it was just Mother in the house.”

  “Did Quigg ever show up again?”

  “If he did, I’m unaware. You’re wondering if something happened back then that ties in to his murder? Some homicidal patient killed him after all these years?”

  “Right now the investigation’s pretty much dead-ended so we’re looking at everything. Is there anyone else I might talk to who’d remember those days at V-State?”

  “Mother’s boss was a psychiatrist named Emil Cahane. I think he was the assistant director of the hospital, or something along those lines.” She spelled the name. “I met him a couple of times—Christmas parties, that kind of thing. He came for dinner a few times. He was older than Mother, would be well into his eighties by now.”

  “Did you know any of her other students?”

  “She never brought students home. Or talked about them. Until she pointed out that article in the paper, I’d never heard of you.”

  “So no staff person ever visited other than Marlon Quigg and Dr. Cahane?”

  “Dr. Cahane coming for dinner was more social,” she said. “Besides that, nothing.”

  “She told you Quigg was having a rough patch.”

  “That could mean anything, I suppose. But now that I think about it, for Mother to bend her rules it must’ve been serious. So perhaps you’re onto something. But someone bearing a grudge that long? Goodness, that’s grisly.”

  I said, “Your brother and sister also called me back. Think they might have something to add?”

  “Mag’s a bit older so perhaps his perspective would be different, but by then he really wasn’t around very much. Ava’s the youngest, I doubt she’d know anything I don’t but give her a try.”

  “I appreciate your taking the time.”

  “I appreciate your getting me to talk about Mother.”

  Dr. Ava McClatchey said, “Trude just called me. At first I didn’t even remember the guy’s visit. Once Trude reminded me of Mag’s stupid fish puns, I got a vague memory but nothing Trude didn’t already tell you. Got a C-section to do. Good luck.”

  Dr. Magnus Vanderveul said, “Nope, we went to the movies before the fellow came over and he was gone when we came back. I did start to torment Mother with more fish puns—was he gone because she was into catch and release.” He chuckled. “The look on her face told me to cool it.”


  “Bothered,” he said. “Now that I think about it, that was odd. Mother was Superwoman, it took a lot to bother her.”



  I’d never met Dr. Emil Cahane. No reason for the hospital’s deputy director to have contact with a floating intern.

  If I got lucky, that would change soon.

  Cahane wasn’t listed in any public directories nor was he a member of the American Psychiatric Association, any psychoanalytic institutes, or scientific interest groups. No active medical license in California; same for the neighboring states. I checked East Coast locales with high concentrations of psychiatrists. Nothing in New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New Jersey. Florida, where Gertrude had ended up.


  Well into his eighties. The worst-case scenario loomed.

  Then a search using Cahane’s name pulled up a career achievement award he’d received from the L.A. Mental Health Commission eighteen months ago.

  An accompanying photo revealed a thin, hawkish white-haired man with a crooked smile and a listing physique that suggested a stroke or other injury.

  Cahane’s listed accomplishments included his years at V-State, two decades of volunteer work with abused children, foster families, and the offspring of military veterans. He’d researched post-traumatic stress disorder, closed head injuries, and integrated methods of pain control, had endowed a study of the emotional effects of prolonged parental separation at the med school cross-town where he held a clinical professorship.

  The same med school had graced me with an identical title.

  Twenty years of volunteer work said he’d left V-State a few years after Marlon Quigg.

  I phoned the med school, got a receptionist who knew me, and asked for a current address and number for Cahane.

  “Here you go, Doctor.”

  Ventura Boulevard address in Encino. That had to be office space.

  No active license but working? At what?

  A woman answered crisply: “Cahane and Geraldo, how may I help you?”

  “This is Dr. Delaware calling Dr. Cahane?”

  “This is the office of Mister Michael Cahane.”

  “He’s a lawyer?”

  “Business manager.”

  “I got this number from the medical school.”

  “The medical school—oh,” she said. “Mr. Cahane’s uncle uses us as a mail-drop.”

  “Dr. Emil Cahane.”

  “What is it exactly that you want?”

  “I trained under Dr. Cahane at Ventura State Hospital and was looking to get in touch.”

  “I couldn’t give out his personal information.”

  “Could I speak with Mr. Cahane?”

  “In a meeting.”

  “When will he be free?”

  “How about I give him your number.” Statement, no question.

  “Thanks. Please let Dr. Cahane know that another staffer from the hospital passed away and I thought he might want to know. Marlon Quigg.”

  “How sad,” she said, without emotion. “You get to an age and your friends start dropping off.”

  The phone rang nine minutes later. I picked it up, ready with my sales pitch for Dr. Cahane.

  Milo said, “Petra and I are having a skull session, feel free.”

  “When and where?”

  “In an hour, the usual place.”

  Café Moghul was empty but for two slumping detectives.

  Milo’s Everest of tandoori lamb was untouched. Ditto, Petra Connor’s seafood salad.

  His greeting was a choppy wave that could be misinterpreted as apathy. Petra managed a half smile. I sat down.

  Petra’s a young, bright homicide D working Hollywood Division, a former commercial artist with an especially keen eye and a quiet, thoughtful manner that some mistake for iciness.

  She’s got the kind of slender, angular good looks that, rightly or wrongly, imply confidence and imperturbability. Thick, straight black hair cut in a functional wedge is never mussed. Her makeup’s minimal but artful, her eyes clear and dark. She dresses in tailored black or navy pantsuits and moves with economy. Listens more than she talks. All in all, she comes across as the girl everyone looked up to in high school. Over the years, she’d let out enough personal details to tell me it hadn’t been that easy.

  Today her lips were pallid and parched, her eyes red-rimmed. Every hair remained in place but her hands clasped each other with enough force to blanch fine-boned knuckles. One cuticle was raw.

  She looked as if she’d been on a long, harrowing journey.

  Seeing it.

  She loosened her hands, placed them flat on the table. Milo rubbed the side of his nose. A bespectacled woman came over in a swoosh of red sari silk and asked what she could get me. I ordered iced tea. Petra ate a lettuce leaf and checked a cell phone that didn’t need checking.

  Milo dared to fork some lamb into his mouth, grimaced as if he’d just swallowed vomit. He shoved the platter away, ran a finger under his belt, pushed his chair back a few inches, distancing himself from the notion of eating.

  He looked at Petra.

  She said, “Go ahead.”

  He said, “Number Five is a poor soul named Lemuel Eccles
, male Cauc, sixty-seven. Homeless street person, crashed in various alleys, one of which served as his final resting place. East Hollywood, specifically: just north of the Boulevard, just shy of Western, behind an auto parts store.”

  I said, “Who found him?”

  “Private garbage service. Eccles was left next to a Dumpster.”

  “Same technique?”

  Petra flinched and muttered “Dear God” before looking away. “Patrol knew Eccles, he’s got an extensive record. Aggressive panhandling, shoplifting, drunk and disorderly, creating a disturbance for shoving a tourist, he was in and out of County.”

  “Your basic revolving-door juicehead nuisance,” said Milo.

  She said, “Obviously, someone thought he was more than a nuisance. To do that to him.”

  “Not necessarily,” I said.

  Both of them stared at me.

  “Things we’d consider petty could loom huge in our boy’s mind. Righting wrongs, real or imaginary, gives him justification to act out his body-exploration fantasies.”

  Petra said, “People irk him so he guts them? Insane.”

  Milo patted my shoulder. “Ergo his presence.”

  She closed her eyes, massaged the lids, exhaled long and slow.

  I said, “Glenda Usfel kicked him out of the clinic. Vita Berlin was constitutionally nasty, it’s not hard to imagine her getting in his face. And Mr. Eccles’s tendency to beg with a heavy hand and become rowdy while drunk would fit, too. Most people would walk away. Shearling took another approach. That section of Hollywood’s commercial and industrial. Meaning at night there wouldn’t be a lot of people around. An elderly wino snoozing in the alley would’ve been easy prey. Were there any other wounds besides the abdominal incisions?”

  Petra said, “Black-and-blue mark on his upper lip, right under the nose.”

  “A cold-cock, like Marlon Quigg, but from the front because Eccles was probably inebriated. Or sleeping in the alley.”

  “Could be, but Eccles’s entire body was full of bruises and most of them looked old. Maybe bleeding issues due to alcohol, or he bumped into things.”

  Milo said, “To me the lip bruise looked fresher, I’m betting on a cold-cock while he was out of it.”

  “Or,” said Petra, “Eccles heard the bad guy approaching, stirred, and got sent back to slumberland.”

  “Fine,” said Milo, “once again we’re getting a notion of how but the why’s still far from clear. Not that I don’t buy your theory about overreacting to small slights, Alex. Giving himself an excuse to do what he loves to do. But Marlon Quigg doesn’t fit any of that. Unless you found out he taught Shearling when Shearling was a tyke, rapped his knuckles with a steel ruler or something.”

  “Not there yet, but I’m getting closer.” I told them what I’d learned from the Vanderveul children.

  Milo said, “Quigg pays her a visit for moral support? That could mean anything.”

  “Not in Gertrude’s case,” I said. “She was adamant about separating work from her home life, had never entertained anyone else from the hospital in that manner. So whatever Quigg had on his mind was serious. And she made sure her kids weren’t around to hear it.”

  “Heavy-duty therapy.”

  “Maybe heavy-duty advice,” I said. “Like telling Quigg to quit the hospital. And shortly after, he did. Left teaching completely and took up a whole new profession and lied to his wife about his reason.”

  Petra said, “Something happened at work that freaked him out.”

  “What if he came upon a patient committing acts that alarmed him and warned the staff about it? If he was ignored that could’ve been extremely upsetting. If he wasn’t, it could’ve gotten the patient a transfer to Specialized Care and earned Quigg a serious enemy.”

  I described the layout of the ward behind the fence. Curdled silence broken by the occasional ragged noise.

  “If Quigg succeeded in having a child moved there, it would’ve brought about a profound shift in quality of life, trading an open therapeutic environment for what was essentially a prison. Possibly for years.”

  “The main hospital was that cushy?” said Milo.

  “There were a few locked wards but they were used for the patients’ safety, profoundly delayed individuals who’d hurt themselves if allowed to wander. Specialized Care was designed with everyone else’s safety in mind.”

  “Shackles and rubber rooms?”

  “I never found out what went on there because Gertrude wouldn’t let me near the place. Because she liked me.”

  “They have teachers there?”

  “Same answer. I couldn’t say.”

  Petra said, “Well, something bothered Quigg enough to get him out of that place. How old of a scary kid would we be talking about?”

  “The few descriptions we have of our suspect are a man in his thirties and Quigg left V-State twenty-four years ago, so probably a preteen or an early adolescent. The hospital closed down ten years ago. If he was kept there until the end, we’re talking a disturbed, angry man in his twenties possibly released to the streets. Or it took him this long to act out because he wasn’t released, he was transferred to Atascadero or Starkweather before finally earning his freedom.”

  “Or,” said Milo, “he’s been out for a while and these aren’t his only murders.”

  Petra said, “Other surgeries,” and shook her head. “No one including the Feebies has seen anything like his pattern.”

  “Not every murder gets discovered, kid.”

  “For ten years he’s careful and conceals his handiwork, then all of a sudden he goes public?”

  “It happens,” said Milo. “They get confident.”

  “Or,” I said, “they start to get bored and need more stimulation.”

  Milo pulled out his phone. “Let’s find this psychiatrist—Cahane.” He called in a real estate search. Negative.

  Petra said, “He’s in his eighties, could be in some kind of assisted living.”

  Milo said, “Hopefully he’s not too senile to help us.”

  I said, “If he doesn’t pan out, there are others who might know—someone who actually worked in Specialized.”

  Petra said, “We could look for old hospital personnel records.” Producing a tube of MAC lipstick from her purse, she refreshed. Smiled. “Being de-tectives and all.”

  As we left the restaurant, both their phones went off simultaneously. Not coincidence; two minions from the chief’s office were ordering them downtown immediately for a “planning session.”

  As we headed for the West L.A. parking lot, Petra’s cell chirped again. This time the call was from her partner, Raul Biro, back at his desk in Hollywood Division.

  He’d located Lemuel Eccles’s son, an attorney from San Diego. Because of the distance, Biro had done a telephonic notification. But Lem Jr. had business in San Gabriel tomorrow and would stop in L.A. for a face-to-face.

  Petra said, “We can do the interview together, Big Guy, or if you’re tied up, I’ll handle it. Assuming we don’t get ‘planned’ off the case.”

  “Assuming,” said Milo. They walked off wordlessly, a bear and a gazelle.

  Five paces later, Petra stopped and looked back. “Thanks for the ideas, Alex.”

  Without breaking step, Milo bellowed, “I second the motion.”



  I got home prepared to examine Ventura State Hospital’s history, seeking out anyone who could tell me about the patients in Specialized Care.

  One curious boy, in particular.

  If that failed, I’d press Emil Cahane’s nephew to gain access to the psychiatrist. As I settled in my chair, my service called in. “I have a Dr. Angel on the line, she says it’s important.”

  Donna Angel and I go way back, to my first job fresh out of training, working the cancer ward at Western Pediatric. Donna had been an oncology fellow, one of the best, and the department had asked her to stay on as a faculty member. After I went into private practice, she
referred occasional patients, always with insight and wisdom.

  Picking up a new patient right now would be a distraction but sick kids never lost their priority. I said, “Put her through.”

  “Good to talk to you, Alex.” Donna’s Tallulah voice was even huskier than usual. When I’d met her, she smoked, a habit picked up in college. It had taken years for her to quit; I hoped the vocal change meant nothing.

  She coughed. “Darn cold, kids are like petri dishes for viruses.”

  I said, “Heal up. What’s new?”

  “I’ve got someone you should meet.”


  “Not a referral,” she said. “This time I’m helping you.”

  She told me about it.

  I said, “When?”

  “Right now, if you can swing it. There’s some ... eagerness at play.”

  I made the drive to Sunset and Vermont in a little under an hour. Western Pediatric Medical Center was in its usual state of demolition and construction: another gleaming building rising from a rebar-lined maw, new marble on the façade, chronic deficits be damned.

  The campus was a vein of noble intention in the drab bedrock that was East Hollywood. Half a mile to the north, Lemuel Eccles had been savaged and dumped. No time to ponder coincidence or karma or metaphysics.

  I parked in the doctors’ lot, rode to the fifth floor of a glass-fronted structure named after a long-dead benefactor, smiled my way past the hem-onc receptionist, and knocked on Donna’s door.

  She opened before my knuckles left the wood, hugged me and guided me inside.

  Her desk was the usual clutter. A man stood next to one of two visitors’ chairs.

  “Dr. Delaware, this is Mr. Banforth.”

  “John,” said the man, extending a hand.

  “Thanks for seeing me.”

  “Maybe I should be thanking you.”

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