Victims, page 25
Petra said, “Who was your second choice?”
“You have his personal line?”
“I’ve got a line he sometimes answers.” A 411 got him the pension board’s main office in Sacramento. Closed until working hours tomorrow morning.
He cursed, shoveled food.
Biro returned to the table. “Got an interesting hit in Camarillo, woman named Joanne Morton, eighteen months ago. Went hiking in the foothills, not that far from where V-State used to be and hasn’t been seen since. It was initially worked as a low-priority MP then they started considering suicide because Morton had a history of depression and her third divorce had really knocked her low. It was the ex who reported her missing but he didn’t stay a suspect for long. Lives in Reno and could account for his whereabouts.”
“Why’d he call?” said Petra.
“Concerned about her. They broke up but it was friendly. He told them Joanne had ‘issues,’ he was worried she might hurt herself. And yes, she was a surgical nurse, freelanced around town.”
Reed said, “If I helped Wainright mutilate kids I might have issues.”
Milo said, “Was she hiking with a dog?”
“If she was,” said Biro, “it’s not in the report.”
Petra said, “A pet’s not a prereq for getting carved up, it’s just a perk for the bad guys. Eighteen months ago. They are going down a list.”
“Eighteen months ago,” said Reed, “leaves plenty of time for someone between Wainright and Morton, or after her and before Berlin.”
I said, “Or they started off gradually, picked up the pace. Because it’s no longer just about revenge.”
“What’s it about?” said Milo.
No one spoke for several seconds.
Milo said, “Moe, you and Sean and whoever else you can get who’s competent, do a total and comprehensive recanvass of all the murder neighborhoods using the drawing of Huggler and Harrie’s DMV photo. Petra, how about you and Raul try to find the clinic where the tipster claimed Huggler got his thyroid meds. That doesn’t work out, go back to North Hollywood Day and lean on Mick Ostrovine to produce medical records for Grant Huggler. We know he was there and I’m not buying Ostrovine’s hear-no-evil. I’ll contact the pension board first thing tomorrow, find out if checks are being mailed to one or both of our creep-os. If I get an address, we reconvene and map out an assault, probably with SWAT. I’ll also talk to Jernigan, see if those eyeballs can be DNA’d and if they can, I’ll approach Wainright’s family.”
He snatched up his phone, called in a DMV on Wainright’s nurse, Joanne Morton. “Brown eyes, so they’re not hers. Any questions?”
Without waiting for an answer, he stood, brushed off his trousers, threw money on the table.
When the others reached into their wallets, he said, “Not a chance.”
Reed said, “You’re always footing the bill, El Tee.”
“Pay me back with good deeds.”
Petra and Raul Biro divided the assignments. He’d look for free clinics where Grant Huggler might’ve gotten his prescription, she’d have a go at Mick Ostrovine. Figuring a soft touch might work better with the administrator than another dose of male cop.
Ostrovine sighed a lot, said, “Here we go again,” paid lip service to patient confidentiality. But sooner than Petra expected he said, “Oh, all right, come around and look for yourself.”
She crossed to his side of the desk as he opened up some files.
“See?” said Ostrovine, nudging closer and favoring her with a burnt-whiskey whiff of some terrible cologne.
Alphabetized patient records; no Huggler.
“How about James Harrie, with an i-e, maybe middle initial P.”
Long, theatrical sigh. Ostrovine pecked.
“See? Nothing. It’s like I told those first officers, we’re not connected to any of this.”
Petra said, “I’m sure you’re right, Mick. But Mr. Huggler was definitely here for a thyroid scan.”
“I explained the first time: He never received the scan so there’d be no record.”
Petra flashed him her best wholesome smile. “Just to be sure, Mick, I’d like to show Mr. Harrie’s photograph and this drawing of Mr. Huggler to your staff.”
“Oh, no. We’re swamped.”
The horde she’d seen in the waiting room said the mope wasn’t lying. “I know you are, Mick, but I’d really appreciate it.”
She showed Ostrovine the images first. The drawing elicited nothing but he blinked at the photo.
Giving him a chance to fill in the blank, she sat back down.
“What?” he said, irritated. Maybe her feminine touch had lost its mojo.
“Never seen him?”
“Not in this world or any other.”
No one on staff recognized either man.
Even Margaret Wheeling, about to prep a sleepy-looking homeless type for a no-doubt-pricey MRI, had seemed confused when shown Alex Shimoff’s second drawing.
Petra said, “When you spoke to Lieutenant Sturgis, you were sure you’d met him.”
“Well ... my drawing was different.”
Like she was the artist. Petra said, “This one doesn’t resemble the man who confronted Dr. Usfel?”
Wheeling squinted. “I’d need to put on my glasses.”
You don’t need to see accurately when you’re magnetizing someone?
“Go right ahead, Ms. Wheeling.”
Wheeling let out a long exhalation followed by an eye roll. Another dramatic type; this place was like one of those summer camps for histrionic kids obsessed with musical theater.
Glasses in place, the fool continued to just stand there.
“I think it’s him. Maybe. That’s the best I can do. It was a long time ago.”
“What about this man? He’s a friend of Huggler’s.”
Emphatic head shake. “That I can tell you. Never.”
Petra reported to Milo.
He said, “Good work, onward, kid.”
She frowned at the unearned praise.
At Biro’s third clinic, the Hollywood Benevolent Health Center, he got as far as a volunteer receptionist. The place was makeshift, set up with rolling partitions and what looked to be pretty tired medical equipment in the basement of a church on Selma just west of Vine. Big old beautiful Catholic church with intricate plaster details and an oak door that had to weigh a ton. Smaller than but not unlike St. Catherine in Riverside where Biro’s parents had taken him for Mass when he was a kid.
All that grace and style ended in the basement. The space was dank, windowless, patchily lit by bare bulbs suspended from extension cords stapled to the ceiling. The wires drooped, some of the bulbs were dead. Where the walls weren’t chipped white plaster they were rough gray block. Wilting posters about STDs and immunizations and nutrition were taped randomly. Everything in Federal Government Spanish.
The waiting room wasn’t a room at all, just a clearing surrounded on three sides by stacks of long, wooden, folded tables. Half of the lawn chairs provided were occupied, all by Latino women who kept their eyes down and pretended not to notice Biro.
As he approached the desk, his spotless beige suit, white shirt, and olive paisley silk tie drew some admiring glances. Then he flashed his badge and someone’s breath caught and all eyes shot downward.
Had to be one of those sanctuary deals for undocumenteds. Biro felt like shouting he wasn’t La Migra.
One thing in his favor: an Anglo male like Huggler would stand out, maybe this would lead somewhere.
The receptionist was also Hispanic, a well-groomed, dyed blonde in her late twenties, a little extra-curvy in places where that was okay.
No name tag, no welcoming smile.
Raul grinned at her anyway, explained what he needed.
Her face closed up. “All our doctors are v
Raul said, “The doctor who treated Grant Huggler.”
“I don’t know who that is.”
“The doctor or Huggler?”
“Both,” said the receptionist. “Either.”
“Could you please check your files?”
“We don’t have files.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just that. We don’t have files.”
“How can you run a clinic without records?”
“There are records,” she said. “The doctors take them when they leave.”
“The patients are theirs, not ours.”
Biro said, “Aw c’mon.”
“That’s the way we do it,” she said. “That’s the way we’ve always done it. We’re not an official health-care provider.”
“What are you then?”
“The church merely provides access for providers to provide.”
Merely and access and providers gave that the sound of a prepared speech. This place was definitely set up for illegals. Scared people coming in with God-knows-what diseases, afraid to broach the county system even though no one there asked questions. He glanced at the women in the lawn chairs. They continued to pretend he didn’t exist. No one appeared especially sick but you never knew. His mother had just told him about one of her friends visiting relatives in Guadalajara and coming back with tuberculosis.
Telling it, the way she always did, as if Raul had the power to prevent such disasters.
He said, “No charts here at all?”
The receptionist said, “Not a one.”
“That sounds a little disorganized, Miss—”
“Actually it’s super-organized,” she said, not offering a name. “So we can multitask.”
“When the church needs to use the space for something else, we wheel everything out of the way.”
“How often do doctors come in and use the space?”
“Most every day.”
“So you don’t do much wheeling.”
Raul leaned in and half whispered, “You’ve got people waiting but I don’t see any doctors.”
“Dr. Keefer’s due in.”
“Soon. But he can’t help you.”
“He’s new. Yesterday was his first day, so he wouldn’t know your Mr. Whatever.”
Biro looked at her.
She said, “I don’t know him.”
He gave her a look at his business card.
She said, “You already showed me your badge, I believe that you’re po-lice.”
“See what this says?”
Moment’s hesitation. “Okay.”
“Homicide,” said Biro. “That’s all I care about, solving murders.”
“Grant Huggler may have a funny name but he’s suspected of committing several really nasty murders. He needs to be stopped before he does more damage.”
He glanced back at the waiting women, trying to imply that they could turn up as victims.
The receptionist blinked.
He showed her the drawing.
She shook her head. “Don’t know him. We don’t want murderers here. If I knew him, I’d tell you.”
“Are you the only receptionist here—what is your name?”
“Leticia. No, I’m not. A bunch of us volunteer.”
“How many is a bunch?”
“I don’t know.”
He pulled out an enlargement of James Pittson Harrie’s lapsed driver’s license. “How about him?”
To Biro’s surprise, she went pale.
“What’s the matter?”
“He’s a doctor.”
“Mental health,” she said. “A therapist. He came in to ask questions but he never came back.”
“What kind of questions?”
“Did we do insurance work. He said he had a lot of experience with it, could help if someone needed help with an accident or an injury. I told him we didn’t do that here. He gave me his card but I threw it out. I didn’t even read his name.”
“But you remember him.”
“We don’t usually get doctors walking in to drum up business.”
“What was his attitude?”
“Like a doctor.”
“Businesslike. He didn’t seem like one of those but I guess he was.”
“One of those what?”
“Slip-and-fall scammers. Those we get from time to time. Scouts working for lawyers.”
“Trying to exploit your patients.”
Nod. No attempt to claim they’re not our patients.
“So Mr. Harrie told you he was a psychologist.”
“Or a psychiatrist, I forget. He’s not?”
“How’d he react when you turned him down?”
“Just said thanks and gave me the card.”
“How long ago did this happen?”
“A while back,” said Leticia. “Months.”
“I don’t know—six, five?”
“That long ago but you remember him.”
“Like I told you, it was unusual,” she said. “Also, he was Anglo. We don’t get too many white guys, period, except for homeless who come in from the boulevard.”
Unzipping his file case, Raul showed her a mug shot of Lemuel Eccles. “Like him?”
“Sure, that’s Lem, he comes in once in a while.”
“You’d have to ask his doctor.”
Raul kept the photo in her face. She turned to the side.
He said, “So Lem comes in but this white guy”—switching back to the drawing of Huggler—“you don’t know about?”
“Correct. Do these guys know each other or something?”
“You could say that.”
“The other one, too? The psychologist?”
“What else can you tell me about Lem?”
“Just that he comes in,” she said. “He can be difficult but mostly he’s okay.”
“Nervous, kind of wired. Talks to himself. Like he’s crazy.”
“Like?” said Biro.
“We don’t judge.”
“Do you have a list of the other receptionists?”
“I don’t keep any lists and I don’t know who they are ’cause when I’m here, they’re not.”
“And you all volunteer.”
“Through what agency?”
“No agency, I do it for community service.”
She was too old for a high school student, didn’t look like an ex-con, any kind of troublemaker. “What kind of community service are you doing?”
“It’s for a class. Urban issues, I’m a senior at Cal State L.A.”
“You think maybe upstairs in the church office they’d have a list?”
Biro said, “Okay, I’m going to leave you my card the way Mr. Harrie did, but please don’t throw it out.”
“Take it, Leticia. Good people need to be good even when they’re not volunteering.”
Her mouth dropped open. Raul began climbing the steps to the church’s ground-floor lobby. One of the women in the lawn chairs said something in Spanish. Too soft for Biro to make out the words, but the emotion was obvious.
As he headed for the church office a young man in a white coat and carrying a box crossed his path. M
Ninety-hour work weeks but he had time to volunteer.
Raul said, “Hi, there, Doctor. Ever seen this guy?”
M. Keefer said, “No, sorry,” and bounced down the stairs.
The church office was locked, the magnificent marble sanctuary unoccupied. Raul returned to his car and got a number for an Anna Q. Mendes, M.D., in Boyle Heights.
This receptionist answered in Spanish and maybe it was Biro responding in kind, maybe not, but she said, “Of course,” and a moment later a warm female voice said, “Dr. Mendes, how can I help you?”
She listened to Biro’s explanation, said, “The thyroid case. Sure, I referred him for the scan. He came in for a refill of his Synthroid but his medical history was patchy. He looked a little underdosed to me and he was well overdue for a good look at his neck. He was reluctant but his therapist helped me convince him.”
“Some psychologist came with him, I thought that level of care was pretty impressive. Especially because the psychologist’s office was in Beverly Hills and Huggler clearly wasn’t a paying private patient.”
The ease with which she tossed out facts surprised Biro. Not even an attempt at resistance and he wondered if she’d been the anonymous tipster.
He said, “Did the psychologist give his name?”
“He did but I can’t recall.”
“You know, I think that’s it,” said Anna Mendes. “He readily agreed that in order to optimize the dosage we’d need better data. In the meantime, I upped Mr. Huggler’s dosage a tiny bit and wrote a scrip for three months’ worth.”
“Anything else you can tell me about Huggler?”
“You said you were in Homicide,” said Mendes. “So obviously he killed someone.”
Biro hadn’t mentioned Homicide. And obviously Huggler could’ve been a victim as easily as an offender.
Definitely the tipster.
“Looks like that, Doctor.”
“My brother was murdered six years ago,” she said. “Stupid wrong-address drive-by, the imbeciles shot him with an AK while he slept in his bed.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“They never caught the bastards who did it. That’s why I’m talking to you. Someone kills someone, they should get what they deserve. But no, that’s really all I can tell you about Huggler.”
“What was his attitude?”
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