Another Saturday night, and I was home alone. In my line of work, I knew better than to make any plans. If I did someone was murdered. If I didn't someone was murdered. It was easier not to make plans. I tried to overlook that it was a hell of a lot lonelier, too.
Sometimes it made me wonder what had possessed me to become a cop.
But that's what I was. Homicide inspector. San Francisco PD. And for all the glory it brought me, if you could call it glory, I still thought about what would have happened if I'd chosen a different career. Some nine-to-five thing, where I wasn't waiting for the call that told me to put my life on hold because someone had lost theirs. I glanced at the TV news, watched the smiling face of Senator Harver, who was announcing his intention to run for Governor, and wondered if he'd ever regretted his career choice.
I switched the channels, pausing on the latest incarnation of Star Trek. What I really wanted was a beer, but I was on call, and right about the time I was actually concerned about Star Trek's plot, the phone rang.
I stared at it, not sure if I wanted to answer it, and knowing full well that my pager and cell phone would both start up if it was work. Then again, maybe it was a normal call. At eleven P.M.? Right.
I answered on the fourth ring, just as my pager went off. "Hello?"
"Kate?" My partner, Rocky Markowski.
"Rocky," I said, forcing a lightness to my voice. "Any chance you were lonely and just needing company?"
"Yeah. Me and the two dead people sitting in a car in the SoMa area," he said.
Great. I took down the location and told him to give me a half hour. I dressed in jeans, a turtleneck, and a hooded sweatshirt, then brushed my shoulder-length brown hair into a ponytail. Ten minutes later, holstered gun and badge tucked safely on my belt, I was heading down my stairs and knocking on my landlord's kitchen door, because his car was blocking mine in the driveway.
It was chilly out, maybe in the low fifties, typical Bay Area conditions for early summer nights and as I drove down the street, I cranked up the stereo. Much to my chagrin I heard Cat Stevens belting out, "Another Saturday night and I ain't got nobody..." I wasn't sure what bothered me more. That he seemed to be singing my life on the radio, or that I was old enough to know who he was. I quickly found another channel, a little more modern pop. Traffic on University Avenue wasn't too bad, and 880 even lighter. I zipped across the Bay Bridge in the Fast Trak lane and made it to the city in twenty minutes flat. Driving like that left no time to contemplate what one couldn't have—like a life that didn't involve leaving home in the middle of the night to go look at dead people.
I took the first exit, which took me into the SoMa area, which was what the locals called everything located south of Market Street. It was home to some killer deals on clothes during the day—the original designer outlets before outlet malls became all the rage.
The street dead-ended beneath the on ramp to the Bay Bridge, and at night, with the columns and expanses of freeway overhead, gave true meaning to the term concrete jungle. This one happened to be lit with flashing red, blue, and amber three-sixties from the radio cars at the perimeter. A uniformed officer waved me through after seeing my gold star which I held to the window. I parked just a short way past him, popped my trunk, and got out a pair of latex gloves, my notebook, pen, and Stinger flashlight. I wrote down my time of arrival, 11:28 P.M.
Rocky stood about fifteen yards ahead, speaking to a number of uniformed officers. Beyond them was a small two-door sedan, looked like a white Mercedes, lit up by two radio car spotlights. A crime scene investigator in dark blue coveralls was snapping photos of the exterior of the car, another was taking photos of the surroundings, their flashes going off one after the other like giant fireflies bobbing beneath the freeway. Rocky saw me and walked over. He was a short man, stocky, with a flattop haircut and a round face. Tonight he wore a rumpled khaki raincoat, apparently going for the stereotypical detective look.
"Yo, Gillespie," he said.
"Yo back. What are we looking at?"
"Two as-of-yet unidentified bodies in a brand spanking new Mercedes. Driver male, passenger female. Both thirty-something. Vehicle's registered to a Genevieve E. Harrington. Got a radio car watching her house for us."
As he spoke, I gave my name and badge number to the uniformed officer who kept the crime scene log. Rocky did the same, then lifted the yellow tape that was strung several feet around the car as an inner perimeter to keep the curious from getting too close. This late at night not too many ventured out, but there was always a chance.
"Who's the RP?" I asked.
"Couple teens looking for a place to neck. Isn't that what everybody does on Saturday nights?"
"I wouldn't know," I said, wondering what was up with this Saturday night thing. I was feeling older by the minute. "What'd they report?"
"Driving down the street, figuring the couple in the car were doing what they were thinking about doing, until they realized they're dead. Kid called on his cell phone. Got 'em back at the Hall," he said, referring to our all-inclusive building that housed everything City Hall could need, including San Francisco's finest. "Got 'em in separate interview rooms. Called their parents. They're both sixteen."
Too young to be seeing this sort of thing—not that there was a right age. "Any chance someone in the car is this Harrington?"
"Don't know yet. Ran a 10-27 on both, but so far no match on driver's licenses."
"Speculation?" I asked as we stepped up to the driver's door.
"Looks like a murder-suicide."
"Let's keep our fingers crossed that we find a note." Not to be macabre, but one could only hope. A murder-suicide was a closed case. It meant there wasn't a killer on the loose. Time was not of the essence.
I looked into the window, seeing two figures shrouded in shadows cast from the police spotlights behind them.
The driver, a white male, was slumped across the center console, his left arm hung down at his side, his fingertips extended toward the floorboard, where I saw a black semi-auto and below that a square of white paper, the note I hoped. The back of the man's head seemed oddly shaped, as though someone had taken a club and caved in his skull. A fifteen thousand candlepower light beam from my Stinger told me I was looking at the exit wound. "Jesus," I said, aiming the flashlight upward. Bits of flesh, hair, and skull were spattered on the headrest and headliner of the car.
It didn't matter how long I worked Homicide, each time I saw a body ravaged by violence, I was always besieged with a helpless feeling, wondering what would have happened if a patrol car had taken a right instead of a left. What if they'd shone their spotlight down a particular street, seen the car parked... what if...
No use going there, I thought, as I turned my attention to the female. From where I stood, I couldn't see her face, and I walked to the other side of the car and peered in, and saw the dark bloodstain on the chest of her lavender sweater, from the looks of it, expensive cashmere.
As I aimed my flashlight, my gaze followed the light beam up to her blood-spattered face to her full lips with a coating of bright pink lipstick, her blond hair, and then her brown eyes, wide open in an unseeing stare. A myriad of emotions swept through me. My pulse seemed to slow in my veins. "Oh my God," I whispered.
"What's wrong?" Rocky asked.
I took a step back as I made the connection between the woman and the name of the registered owner of the car. "I know her."
I nodded, swallowed past a lump in my throat. "I, um, haven't seen her in a couple of years..." Even now her face brought back a lot of memories, and with it hurt, bewilderment... how could I have been so wrong?
"Who is it?"
Little Miss Perfect. The name came unbidden and I felt a stab of guilt at even thinking it at a moment like this. Aloud I said, "Eve Tremayne. She... was a college friend. Genevieve is her grandmother, I believe." I knew her simply as "Gran."
Rocky was quiet a moment, then said, "I'm sorry."
"We weren't close," I lied. To remember otherwise hurt too much, and I forced myself back to the interior of the car, looking for missed clues, anything that would explain this tragedy. It didn't matter what I felt about her, what our relationship was—that we had been best friends. What mattered was that she had been murdered, and for the time being, I was responsible for her. I was a cop. What had happened was in the past and I could deal with it... my gaze caught on a square of white on Eve's lap beneath her right hand. I bent down to get a better view, wondering if it was a suicide note.
"Maybe." On closer inspection I realized it was only a facial tissue with the perfect lip impression in bright pink, her favorite color. The box of tissues it had come from was wedged beneath the driver's body in the center console. And that's when it struck me how odd this was. "If someone's going to blow you away," I said, thinking of Eve and our last parting—my anger and hurt—her nonchalance while she applied her lipstick as she stared at me over her makeup mirror... "I'd think the tensions would be a little too high to worry about appearances."
"Your point being?"
"Would she take the time to apply lipstick if she was about to be killed?"
"Well, I wouldn't," Rocky said, aiming his flashlight at her lips, "but only because that shade doesn't go with my outfit."
I smiled, knowing he was trying to cheer me in the only way he knew how. "Yeah," I said, nodding at the front of his coat. "It's hard to find a color that goes with aged mustard."
"That's chartreuse to you." He looked down, smoothing out his lapel. "What the hell color's chartreuse anyways?"
"About the same color as crawdad guts."
"That'll teach me to use words I can't spell," he said as we worked our way around the car again, trying to see if there was anything we'd overlooked. The light moment didn't last, however, because I couldn't stop the unbidden memory of the last time I'd seen Eve—not something I wanted to replay. And with that thought came my father's constant words: "Why can't you be more like her?"
I hated that he had compared me to Eve. Everyone idolized her. She fed the homeless, helped out at the shelters, gave to her church.
To my father—and everyone else—Eve had been perfect, and what they didn't know wouldn't hurt them. But I knew...
Rocky cocked his head, eyeing me. "Earth to Kate...?"
"What?" I asked, drawing my thoughts back to the present.
"I asked if you think that's a note by the gun or more lipstick prints?"
"Sorry," I said. "Thinking about something else." I looked at the white square on the floorboard near the male victim's fingertips. "Could be a note. Definitely not tissue."
"Any idea who her friend is?"
"Not a clue. Like I said, I haven't seen her in a few years."
"Tremayne. Where have I heard that name?"
"Her father ran for District Supervisor a few years back."
"That's where I heard it. Wasn't he the front-runner, dropped out all of a sudden because of bad health or something?"
"So what was the real scoop?" he asked, as we strolled over to where one of the crime scene techs was doling out coffee from a thermos.
"The real scoop?"
"Yeah. Why'd he really drop out? Someone got something on him, right?" he asked, handing me a Styrofoam cup.
"I wouldn't know," I said, hoping he'd leave it at that. I sipped at the too-strong brew, trying not to grimace over the taste, and was grateful when one of the CSIs called out that it was a suicide note on the floorboard by the gun. Rocky immediately went over to see, and I followed.
Once it was photographed at every angle, the CSI lifted it out with gloved hands to let us have a look, and Rocky read it aloud. "'Sorry it had to end this way.' Signed, 'Josh.'" He shrugged. "That makes it nice and tidy. Or it will once the ME confirms it."
"You have doubts?" the CSI asked.
"You know what they say. It ain't over—" Rocky stopped, looked at me, apparently noticed I was a million miles away and put his arm around my shoulder. "What are you thinking about?" he asked me as I stared at the steam rising from my cup.
"Making the notifications." I hadn't seen the Tremaynes in years. They'd be devastated and I wasn't sure if I wanted to be the one to tell them. I didn't want them to ask why I had suddenly dropped from Eve's life—I didn't want anyone to ask—and wondered if I could be taken off the case. But I knew my duty. "We should probably contact her parents first," I said.
Several minutes later Rocky dropped off his car at the Hall and I picked him up there before heading out to the Tremaynes, worried about how Eve's mother would receive me. I'd always felt that she barely tolerated my presence, that I was not the sort she wanted for her daughter's friend. Eve's father was a different story, however, making me feel welcome. He'd always called me his "other daughter"—not that it mattered now. I had cut off all ties to the Tremaynes, and to my relief, Eve's parents weren't home.
"The grandmother's?" Rocky asked.
I looked at my watch. Almost two A.M., which translated to oh-dark-thirty in cop talk—anytime after midnight. "That's about our only alternative," I said.
Our drive took about five minutes, a time any commuter would kill for during daylight hours. A patrol car was blacked out and parked about a half block down the hill, the officers having kept an eye on the place from the initial call and finding the vehicle with the bodies. Rocky turned off his headlights as we pulled up beside the officers' car and identified ourselves.
"Nothing moving since we got here," the driver said. His face was shadowed in the confines of the patrol car so that it appeared I was talking to a silhouette.
"What time was that?" I asked.
"Maybe around twenty-three-thirty hours?" he said, turning to his partner, who nodded.
I wrote down the time for our report. "You mind coming up while we check on the premises?" Not that I expected any trouble from Mrs. Harrington, but I didn't want to be mistaken for a prowler. People tended to panic at night, bring out the heavy artillery if they don't see a uniform.
"Not a problem."
We parked about two buildings down and walked up with the younger officer, P. Worth, according to his name tag, and a rookie according to his face. He looked barely old enough to drive. His partner, an older white-haired man, followed, and I quickly went over the situation with the officers as we approached, at the same time contemplating how to tell Mrs. Harrington that her granddaughter was the victim of a murder-suicide. It was not an easy thing to do with someone you didn't know very well. My past with Eve made it more difficult. Perhaps for selfish reasons I didn't want anything dredged up, questions as to why I had cut myself off from Eve so suddenly all those years ago. If I was lucky, I told myself, Mrs. Harrington wouldn't be home either.
I'd been to her house before, two stories that from the architecture and smooth plastered siding appeared to have been constructed in the 1920s or '30s. A hedge of boxwood surrounded a sundial amid a bed of flowers, giving the place the illusion of having a front yard.
I'd shared Thanksgiving dinner here and recalled how sweet Mrs. Harrington had been, which made me realize that I didn't want to appear at her door with what must surely look like an army of cops. I asked Ramirez, the older officer, to wait outside by the garage with Rocky while Worth accompanied me. We stood on either side of the door, a practice ingrained on us from day one, basic officer safety. I rang the bell just as I had all those years ago, when Eve had invited me on a whim to stop by on my lunch hour because I was on duty that Thanksgiving.
Hearing nothing, I pressed the doorbell again and waited, almost anxiously, wishing that Shipley and Zimmerman had been on call this week instead of me.
"Maybe it's out of order," Worth said.
"Maybe," I said, rapping sharply on the wood panel. The first knock caused the door to push slightly open, bringing with it the sound of the TV droning on in the background.
Definitely not a good sign.
I'd been to enough murder-suicides to know that there was a good chance there might be more victims.
"You think we should go in?" Worth asked.
Rookies. "We need to do a welfare check."
I radioed Dispatch that we were making entry, looked over, and got a thumbs-up from Rocky that he and Ramirez had heard my radio traffic. My flashlight in one hand, my gun in the other, I waited until Worth was ready. When he gave me a nod, I pushed the door open the rest of the way and shouted, "Police!"
We waited a split second, then entered, the beams of our flashlights flicking over couches, tables, empty doorways, and knick-knacks centered on little crocheted doilies. The rooms were large and we cleared each, along with every closet, and came up with nothing. So far, other than the front door being unlocked and the TV being left on, everything appeared undisturbed, and I was somewhat relieved. Now all that was left was the garage, accessed by a set of steps that led down. The door was locked from the inside, a good sign, but no guarantee that all was well.
I nodded to Officer Worth. We aimed our weapons and flashlights, unlocked and opened the door, burst through. And came face to face with Eve's grandmother, Mrs. Harrington, crying in the middle of the garage.
© Robin Burcell
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