Victims, p.20

Victims, page 20

 

Victims
 


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  Milo fished out a scrap of paper and handed it over. Van Nuys address, 818 landline.

  “Meanwhile, we can have Shimoff do a better drawing with Banforth and push to get it on the media along with the new info. I’ve got Sean and Moe checking out newsstands and bookstores, see if anyone remembers an asshole buying puzzle books.”

  Petra said, “Raul’s been talking to street people but so far no one had a special beef with Eccles, basically everyone thought he was a general pain.” Smiling. “I’ll tell him to look for a cephalopod in a suit.”

  I said, “Eccles’s last arrest, the one his son bailed him out for, was for shoving a tourist. Have you looked at the arrest report?”

  “I read the summary. Your basic citizen versus nutcase.”

  “Citizen have a name?”

  “I didn’t make note of it. Why?”

  “Maybe it’s worthwhile. On the off chance that it was Shearling.”

  “Nutcase versus nutcase?” said Milo.

  “Flagrant psychotic versus someone able to maintain outward control,” I said. “What was the exact nature of the charge?”

  Petra said, “Eccles tried to get money from a tourist, the tourist resisted, Eccles did some screaming and pushing and shoving.”

  “Did the tourist phone in the complaint?”

  “No, someone on the street did and a car was a block away.”

  I said, “Think what the officers would’ve found: a he said–he said between a quiet young man and an angry alcoholic with a record for aggressive panhandling whom they knew as a neighborhood nuisance.”

  Milo said, “Shearling’s able to fake normal.”

  “Five murders without a trace of physical evidence says he’s organized, meticulous, able to slip in and out without setting off alarms. He impressed Hedy the waitress as eccentric but didn’t scare her. John Banforth thought his behavior was odd but it didn’t trouble him too much until he learned of Vita’s murder. So we’re talking someone who’s not overwhelmingly threatening. When contrasted with Eccles’s ravings, there’s no doubt who the cops would’ve seen as the offender.”

  “Monster trumps maniac,” she said. “Okay, I’ll check the complete report. And as long as we’re dotting i’s, I’m going to call Oxnard PD and see if I can dig up something about this Rosetta woman.” Winking. “The bumper sticker and all that.”

  The three of us headed for the exit.

  “Crazy,” said Milo. “The only time I like it is when Patsy Cline’s singing about it.”

  CHAPTER

  29

  Caught in a traffic jam on Wilshire and Westwood, I phoned my service.

  Three calls, none of them from Emil Cahane.

  I tried the Valley number Milo had given me. No answer.

  When I got home, I began working the computer, searching for staff lists at V-State and finally coming upon an old one that listed Cahane as deputy director with one person above him, Dr. Saul Landesberg.

  A search using Landesberg’s name pulled up a four-year-old obituary.

  Him, Gertrude, I wasn’t even sure if Cahane was coherent.

  Ancient history. But not to a man in a fleece-lined coat.

  Robin was working out back. I dropped in, kissed her, petted Blanche, engaged in a brief discussion of dinner. Yes, Japanese sounded fine, maybe we’d splurge on Matsuhisa.

  When I returned to my office, the phone was ringing.

  Milo said, “Guess what, we actually learned some stuff. A clerk at a stand on San Vicente in Brentwood told Reed he sold an armload of puzzle books to someone about a week ago. Unfortunately, he remembers the books, not the purchaser. Who cleaned him out. And paid with small bills and coins.”

  I said, “Go west from that location, hook north to Sunset and keep going, you’ll reach Quigg’s apartment. Couple of miles farther, you’re at Temescal Canyon.”

  “Stocking up on reading material for a thorough surveillance? Interesting ... The second thing is Petra found out from Oxnard that there really was a Rosetta who died in the parking lot at V-State, last name Macomber. She lived in a public housing project, had coke and booze issues. So Eccles had at least some reality testing, but there was no evidence it was murder, more likely a heart attack.”

  “Not a scratch on her,” I said. “That’s why Eccles thought she’d been poisoned. Was she visiting him?”

  “The cop Petra talked to didn’t know, only reason he remembered was he’d patrolled near the hospital, was called to the scene by their on-site security. Thought it was ironic for someone to walk out of a hospital and keel over. Even though it wasn’t that kind of hospital. The last bit of news is Shimoff’s second drawing is much more detailed than the one he did with Wheeling, I’m working on getting it to the media. So thanks for directing us to Mr. Banforth. Anything from Cahane?”

  “Not yet.”

  “He gets back to you, fine. He doesn’t, we’ll figure out what to do. Sayonara.”

  I returned to the list of V-State senior staffers, tried the next name, the head social worker, a Helen Barofsky. Her personal data had managed to elude me for nearly an hour by the time my service rang in.

  “A Dr. Cahane called,” said the operator. “He said it wasn’t an emergency.”

  Depends on your definition.

  The number she gave me matched the one I’d received from Milo.

  I waited seven rings before a soft voice said, “Yes?”

  “Dr. Cahane? This is Alex Delaware returning—”

  “Dr. Delaware.” Soft, wispy voice, tremulous at the tail end of each word, like an amp set on slow vibrato. “I’m afraid your name isn’t familiar.”

  “No reason it should be,” I said. “I floated through V-State years ago as an intern. Gertrude Vanderveul was my supervisor. Years later, when the hospital closed down, I did some consulting on getting the patients in E Ward some decent aftercare.”

  “Aftercare,” he said. “Promises were made, weren’t they?” Sigh. “I was gone by then. Gertrude ... have you been in contact with her?”

  “Unfortunately, she passed away.”

  “Oh. How terrible, she was young.” A beat. “Relatively ... my nephew’s secretary said something about a Mr. Quib passing but I can’t say I know who that is, either.”

  “Marlon Quigg.” I spelled it.

  “No, sorry, doesn’t ring a bell.”

  Yet he’d returned my call.

  As if reading my mind, he said, “I responded to your message because at my age any bit of novelty is welcome. In any event, sorry I couldn’t be more helpful.”

  “Marlon Quigg worked as a teacher at V-State during your tenure.”

  “We employed many teachers,” said Cahane. “At the height of our glory, we were quite the enlightened institution.”

  “This teacher was murdered and the police have reason to believe his death relates to his work at the hospital.”

  Silence.

  “Dr. Cahane?”

  “This is a bit to digest, Dr. Delaware. The police have reason to believe, yet they’re not calling me, you are.”

  “I work with them.”

  “In what capacity?”

  “A consultant.”

  “Meaning?”

  “Sometimes they think psychology has something to offer. Could you spare a few minutes to meet?”

  “Hmm,” he said. “And if I phoned the police, Alex, they’d confirm that you’re a consultant?”

  I rattled off Milo’s name, rank, and private number. “He’d be more than happy to speak to you, Doctor. He’s the one who asked me to get in contact with you.”

  “Why is that?”

  “You were the deputy director at V-State when Marlon Quigg worked there, had access to information.”

  “Patient information?”

  “Specifically dangerous patients.”

  “That, as I’m sure you know, raises all kinds of issues.”

  “The situation,” I said, “is way beyond Tarasoff. We’re not talking imminent
danger, we’re talking empirical brutality with a significant risk of more.”

  “That sounds rather dramatic.”

  “I saw the body, Dr. Cahane.”

  Silence.

  He said, “What exactly are you looking for?”

  “The identity of a child Quigg was teaching whose behavior frightened him, perhaps to the point of suggesting a transfer to Specialized Care.”

  “And this person killed him?” said Cahane. “All these years later?”

  “It’s possible.”

  “You’re supposing, you really don’t know.”

  “If I knew I wouldn’t need to speak to you, Dr. Cahane.”

  “Specialized Care,” he said. “Did you ever rotate through there?”

  “Gertrude felt I shouldn’t.”

  “Why was that?”

  “She said it was because she liked me.”

  “I see ... well, there are always judgments to make and for the most part Gertrude made sound ones. But Special-C wasn’t a hellhole, far from it. Whatever steps were taken to control patients were taken judiciously.”

  “This isn’t about hospital procedure, Dr. Cahane. It’s about a particularly calculating, vicious murderer acting out years of resentment and fantasy.”

  “Why exactly do the police believe Mr. Quigg’s death had something to do with a patient at V-State?”

  Because I told them so.

  I said, “It’s complex. Could we meet face-to-face?”

  “You want a prolonged opportunity to convince me.”

  “I don’t think you’ll need much convincing.”

  “Why’s that?”

  “Something was left on Mr. Quigg’s body,” I said. “A piece of paper upon which the killer had printed a question mark.”

  I could hear Cahane’s breathing, rapid and shallow.

  Finally, he said, “I don’t drive anymore. You’d need to come to me.”

  The address Milo gave me matched an apartment building a few miles east of Cahane’s nephew’s office in Encino, a plain-faced, two-story rhombus stuccoed the color of raspberry yogurt and planted with yuccas, palms, and enough agave to cook up a year’s worth of margaritas.

  The freeway passed within a couple of blocks, its roar the awakening yawn of an especially cranky ogre. The building’s front door was closed but unlocked. The center-spine hallway was freshly painted and immaculately maintained.

  Five units above, five below. Cahane’s flat was ground floor rear. As I approached the door, the ogre’s growl muted to a disgruntled hum. I knocked.

  “Open.”

  Cahane sat ten feet away in a scarred leather easy chair that faced the door. His body tilted to the left. His face was even thinner than in the tribute photo, white hair longer and shaggier, a couple days’ worth of stubble snowing chin and cheeks. He had long legs and arms, not much upper body, was dressed in a clean white shirt and pressed navy slacks under a fuzzy plaid bathrobe. Black suede slippers that had once been expensive fit over white socks that hadn’t been. A mahogany piecrust table held a cup of still-steaming tea and a book. Evelyn Waugh’s hilarious take on travel.

  Extending a quivering hand, he said, “Forgive me for not rising but the joints aren’t cooperating today.”

  His palm was cool and waxy, his grip surprisingly strong but contact was as brief as he could manage without being rude. He shook his head. “Can’t say I remember you.”

  “No reason—”

  “Sometimes images register anyway. Would you care for something to drink?” Pointing to a kitchen behind the front room. “I’ve got soda and juice and the kettle’s still warm. Even bourbon, if you’d like.”

  “I’m fine.”

  “Then please sit.”

  No puzzle about where to settle. The sole option was a blue brocade sofa pushed to the wall opposite Cahane’s chair. Like the slippers, it looked pricey but worn. Same for the piecrust table and the Persian rug that stretched unevenly atop soot-colored wall-to-wall. Disparate bookcases covered every inch of wall space save for doorways into the kitchen and the bedroom. Every case was full and some shelves were double-stacked.

  A quick scan of the titles showed Cahane’s reading taste to be unclassifiable: history, geography, religion, photography, physics, gardening, cooking, a wide range of fiction, political satire. Two shelves directly behind his chair held volumes on psychology and psychiatry. Basic stuff and not much of it, considering.

  Chair, beverage, robe and slippers, reading material. He had enough money to endow a program, had pruned to the basics.

  He kept studying my face, as if trying to retrieve a memory. Or just reverting to what he’d learned in school.

  When in doubt, do nothing.

  I half expected to be presented a Rorschach card.

  I said, “Doctor—”

  “Tell me about Marlon Quigg’s end.”

  I described the murder, giving him the level of detail I figured Milo would approve. Wanting to communicate the horror without divulging too much and making sure not to mention the other victims lest Cahane interpret that as pointing away from V-State.

  He said, “That is beyond brutal.”

  “Does the question mark mean anything to you, Dr. Cahane?”

  His lips folded inward. He rubbed chin stubble. “How about fetching that bourbon? Bring two glasses.”

  The kitchen was as spare as the front room, clean but shabby. The glasses were cut crystal, the bourbon was Knob Creek.

  Cahane said, “A finger and a half for me, calibrate your own dosage.”

  I allotted myself a thin amber stripe. We clinked crystal. No one toasted.

  I sat down and watched him drain his glass in two swallows. He rubbed his stubble again. “You’re wondering why I live this way.”

  “It wasn’t the first thing on my mind.”

  “But you are curious.”

  I didn’t argue.

  He said, “Like most people, I spent quite a bit of my adult life accumulating things. After my wife died I began to feel smothered by things so I gave most of them away. I’m not stupid or impulsive, nor am I ruled by neurotic anhedonia. I held on to enough passive income to ensure freedom from worry. It was an experiment, really. To see how it felt to cleanse oneself of the rococo trim we think we crave. Sometimes I miss my big house, my cars, my art. Mostly, I do not.”

  Long monologue. Probably a stall. I had no choice but to listen.

  Cahane said, “You’ve put me in a difficult position. You’ve come to me with nothing more than hypotheses. Granted, hypotheses are often based on logic but the problem is you don’t have facts and now you’re asking me to break confidentiality.”

  “Your position at V-State wouldn’t necessarily obligate you to confidentiality,” I said.

  His eyebrows dipped. “What do you mean?”

  “A case can be made that administrators aren’t bound the way clinicians are. Of course, if you did treat the person in question, that assertion might be challenged.”

  He lifted his empty glass. “Would you mind fetching the bottle?”

  I complied and he poured himself another two fingers, finished half. His eyes had grown restless. He closed them. His hands had begun to shake. Then they stilled and he didn’t move.

  I waited.

  For a moment I thought he’d fallen asleep.

  The eyes opened. He looked at me sadly and I braced myself for refusal.

  “There was a boy,” he said. “A curious boy.”

  CHAPTER

  30

  Emil Cahane poured another half inch of bourbon. Studying the liquid as if it held both promise and threat, he took a tentative sip then swigged like a sot.

  His head tilted up at the ceiling. His eyes closed. His breathing grew rapid.

  “All right,” he said. But he spent another half minute sitting there. Then: “This child, this ... unusual boy was sent to us from another state. No sense specifying, it doesn’t matter. They had no idea how to deal with him and we wer
e considered among the best. He arrived in a pale green sedan ... a Ford ... he was accompanied by two state troopers. Large men, it emphasized how small he was. I tried to interview him but he wouldn’t talk. I placed him in G Building. Perhaps you remember it.”

  I’d spent most of my time there. “An open ward rather than Specialized Care.”

  “There were no youngsters in Specialized Care,” said Cahane. “I felt it would’ve been barbaric to subject someone of that age to the offenders housed there. We’re talking murderers, rapists, necrophiles, cannibals. Psychotics judged too disturbed for the prison system and sheltered from the outside world for their sake and ours.” He massaged his empty glass. “This was a child.”

  “How old was he?”

  He shifted in his chair. “Young.”

  “Pre-adolescent?”

  “Eleven,” he said. “You can see how we were faced with a unique set of circumstances. He had his own room in G with an atmosphere that emphasized treatment, not confinement. You remember the array of services we offered. He made good use of our programs, caused no trouble whatsoever.”

  I said, “His crime justified Specialized Care but his age complicated matters.”

  He shot me a sharp look. “You’re trying to draw out details I’m not sure I’m willing to offer.”

  “I appreciate your talking with me, Dr. Cahane, but without details—”

  “If I’m not performing to your satisfaction, feel free to walk through that door.”

  I sat there.

  “I apologize,” he said. “I’m having a difficult time with this.”

  “I can understand that.”

  “With all due respect, Dr. Delaware, you really can’t understand. You’re assuming I’m waffling because of medico-legal constraints but that’s not it.”

  He poured yet more bourbon, tossed it back. Tamped white hair, succeeded only in mussing the long, brittle strands. His eyes had pinkened. His lips vibrated. He looked like an old, wild man.

  “I’m too old to care about the medico-legal system. My reservations are selfish: covering my geriatric buttocks.”

  “You think you screwed up.”

  “I don’t think. I know, Dr. Delaware.”

 
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