Was it the alarm clock ringing or was it the phone?
San Diego Police Homicide Sergeant Jack Leslie rolled over in bed to look, trying to get the sleep out of his head. He saw it was his Blackberry cell phone making the noise.
Again, he reminded himself to change that ring tone.
Ah, he saw as he picked it up that it was fifty five year old Lieutenant Pat Dean, co-commander of the Homicide Detail calling.
“Yes Lieutenant?” he managed.
“Jack! I know I’m waking you early and it’s only 3:15 in the morning, but guess what? We’ve got ourselves another one of those .22 caliber homicides. Except, this time it’s a shot to the chest and not one of those cases where the face is shot all to hell.”
“Really sir? Where is it this time?” Leslie asked.
“It’s up there in Banker’s Hill. It’s in those Juniper Street apartments where that sailor choked his wife to death last month. You know the place. Your pal Bob Jackson is over there in the penthouse and he can scoop you on everything. He just called me. Would you go over there please and see what’s what? Personally, I’m going back to sleep.”
“Yes, of course,” Leslie answered – but the other end had already been hung up. Well, Irishmen need their sleep, he grinned to himself.
Flamboyant Irishman or not, fifty five year old Dean was very bright and sure knew the homicide business. His co-commander, Lieutenant Dan Cohan, was testifying on a civil case in Arizona at the time. The two Lieutenants headed up the San Diego Police Department’s Homicide Detail of five Teams, each with a Sergeant Leader and five Detectives.
Sergeant Jack Leslie was the leader of Team Three.
That had been such a tragedy, Leslie remembered about the case the Lieutenant mentioned. The Navy man had gone on a six or seven month aircraft carrier tour of the Western Pacific, making his wife a so-called “West Pac Widow”.
But days before steaming back into San Diego bay, the Navy man got a letter – with racy photos – of his wife wildly cheating on him. So the night the carrier made port, the homecoming sailor got drunk and not believing her tale of innocence, strangled her to death. Only later did he find out that both the tale and the pictures were totally false – made up by an insanely jealous former girlfriend. And he had murdered his faithful, loving wife.
Leslie had discovered the incriminating link between the sailor’s long-ago girlfriend and the letter so she was convicted as an accessory to that murder and also went to prison.
Even now, sixteen years after graduating from San Diego State University, Jack Leslie marveled that a psychology professor insisted he was a “Black Irish”, resembling movie actor Tyrone Power. And Leslie even had the violet eyes of the Black Irish actress Elizabeth Taylor.
Others had said the same but Leslie saw but slight resemblance.
His mother’s parents were Mexican and his orphaned father’s folks, nobody knew; but his dad had thought his kin were Scots because of the name Leslie.
Sergeant Jack Leslie dressed in a dark blue business suit and put on his “bullet-proof” Kevlar vest and the .45 caliber pistol he packed in a shoulder holster under his left arm.
He carried handcuffs and a small police radio/recorder on his belt but preferred talking over the phone for business since the radio was anything but private. News media and even civilians all over listened with their scanners to police radio communications.
He pondered what sort of nutty burglar would go about his sneaky business toting a .22 caliber gun? Investigating burglaries was chasing ghosts and it was rare for a burglar to commit murder. They avoided residences with occupants. Of course, that was only a guess so far; that it was that sort of criminal since items were missing. But there were no actual suspects.
Leslie was sure the killings were tied to drugs although the scenes of the murders did look like burglaries with valuable things missing.
This would be the fourth murder in the summer of 2008 with such a small weapon, if it proved to be so. And here it was September 7th already.
Of the five Teams of one sergeant and five detectives each, under two Lieutenants, the San Diego Police Homicide Detail seemed to keep busy.
Only Lieutenant Pat Dean was active then as the other leader was tied up on a renowned civil case in Arizona.
Sergeant Jack Leslie’s Team Three of detectives was charged with finding the .22 caliber killer. This “burglar” – if that’s what he proved to be – actually shot out the eyes and teeth of his victims, leaving their faces a God-awful bloody mess.
The “Great Recession” was in full swing, thanks to big money speculators and the housing boom gone bust. He thought his three-bedroom condominium might have lost another few grand in value overnight. But unlike so many of his neighbors being foreclosed on, his was fully paid for, thanks to his two parent’s life insurance.
The presidential campaign was underway with McCain and Palin vying with Obama and Biden. Everybody seemed to think it a miracle that an extraordinarily gifted Black man was on the ballot, let alone that he might be elected.
Wall Street was going crazy; the Dow had dropped another three hundred twenty two points in just the past week. The Feds were about to take over the giant mortgage companies called Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.
He took the elevator from the fifteenth floor in his downtown San Diego condo to the parking garage. He loved his four year old Ford 2005 Freestyle “crossover utility vehicle” but he seldom drove it and never on the job. It could carry seven people but he had yet to use the two rear-most seats.
He had bought it when it first went on sale, in October of 2004, especially to haul lumber for his dad. His father and he together had then “woodied” it inside and out with special kits they bought. Nobody would ever guess it was finished in real wood like the old time station wagons of course, but still, his “woodified wagon” caused people to stare in wonder at it.
He often heard people comment when looking at it, saying, “I didn’t know Ford was back to making woodies!” His dad and Leslie had got plenty of chuckles out of that one.
Instead of the Ford, Leslie climbed into the six year-old 2002 silver, beat-up Chrysler PT Cruiser that the San Diego Police Department furnished him. He got a different used car fairly often. Supposedly, crooks wouldn’t catch on to detectives in frequently changed cars.
Leslie turned out of the garage and hurried north up rough and bumpy First Avenue.
San Diego called itself “America’s Finest City” but that same town had “America’s Worst Streets”! There wasn’t the excuse northern cities had of frost breaking up the pavement since there never was freezing in San Diego where the weather was rarely uncomfortable, let alone really cold. The town’s folks like to brag that there’s lots of climate but very little weather in their fair city.
There was almost no traffic at that Sunday morning hour, neither on the streets nor above. The building on Juniper Street he recalled was nearly in the noisy flight path of planes landing and sometimes taking off from the Lindbergh International Airport but there were rarely any flights in or out at that hour.
A “marine layer” of clouds had drifted from the Pacific Ocean over the city so there was neither moon nor stars to light the town.
He turned right off First Avenue onto Juniper Street.
There were three police cruisers in front of the building, with one of them saying “Supervisor” on the side. He knew that cop car would belong to his longtime pal, Patrol Sergeant Robert Jackson.
The sixth floor penthouse of the building had lots of lights on.
He checked his watch; ah, fifteen minutes to four, so he’d made it pretty quick; only twenty-eight minutes.
“Sergeant Leslie,” a young patrolman at the building entrance said, “Sergeant Jackson is up there waiting for you. It’s the sixth floor. You’re taking this on alone sir?”
“Thanks and yes, I sometimes act by myself,” Leslie said and looked around as he entered the building, not seeing anything from the front lights different from what he’d seen there a month before.
The colorful beds of always-blooming flowers and the pretty palm trees gave the fairly new building a look of class.
He took the elevator up to where the building’s only penthouse was. Another patrolman was there and he opened apartment door 601 for Leslie.
“Hi Jack”, Robert Jackson said as Leslie entered.
Leslie and Jackson had graduated from San Diego’s Police Academy on the same day, sixteen years before. Both of them then were twenty five year olds, not long out of college.
Jackson was a big man, heavy set and unusually strong; most found him intimidating.
Leslie was as tall at six feet two inches but slender, always attempting to give the impression of being mild-mannered. But with the armored vest underneath, all police officers appeared “chesty”.
Leslie saw a body on the floor. “What happened here, Bob?”
“Department got a call a little before three, Jack. Oh, that’s just an hour ago, so you got here pretty quick. Anyway, this lady here calls, says a guy’s been shot.
“He’s a friend of hers; came home with her from the hotel bar where she works and she says she forgot to bring home the wine she’d paid for and put aside.
“She drove back to the hotel down there in the Gaslamp Quarter to fetch it and when she got back this guy here was lying like he is now and real dead.”
The “Gaslamp Quarter” was the section of downtown San Diego that was remarkably prosperous with bars, nightclubs and restaurants in restored picturesque old buildings. It was but a short walk from Leslie’s condo and had long before been the city’s naughty red light district called “The Stingaree”.
“I’ll take a look, Bob,” Leslie said.
“By the by, behind those louvered doors are a washer and dryer and beyond is the door to the lady’s bedroom on the right”, Jackson said. “Her daughter’s is on the left and there’s a connecting bath between that and the next bedroom.
“This hall goes into the dining room with the kitchen to the left and then the living room beyond and the unused third bedroom behind that.
“It’s got six rooms like yours but only two baths to your condo’s three and a half. Nobody’s touched the body that I know of. Lieutenant Dean’s got CSI coming over; Medical Examiners too, of course. That hole in his necktie and his shirt and his chest, looks to me awful tiny. Gotta be .22 caliber again,” Patrol Sergeant Jackson said.
Leslie bent over the body sprawled flat on his back on the oak flooring of the entry hall.
The dead man’s eyes were staring at the ceiling with his mouth wide open, seemingly astonished at being dead as new corpses usually did.
His head was toward the entry door and his arms were flung out over his head.
Only a surprisingly small area of the man’s white shirt was reddened; no more than six or seven inches across the circle of blood. The man was perhaps in his thirties.
“Bob, that hole could’ve been made with an ice pick; it’s so small,” Leslie said.
“But you can see the powder burns on his tie, so it had to be a gun. Forensics will find plenty of GSR (Gun Shot Residue) on him. His tie must’ve been askew so maybe there was something of a struggle going on as he was shot.
“Wow! The man was really built, huh?” Leslie observed.
“A real muscle-man, he was, Jack,” Sergeant Jackson agreed. “The lady’s in the kitchen. She’s understandably rather upset by all this. Mind if I sit in while you talk to her?”
“Be my guest,” Leslie said and the two of them stepped down the hall that entered a slender dining room.
To the right there was a laptop computer, a printer, books, a backpack and papers on the elegant table indicating that, like most fancy dining tables, it was rarely used for dining. Beyond was a lovely buffet and china cabinet.
They turned left through a large archway into the kitchen to see the lady sitting at the kitchen’s island, surely the place used for nearly all meals with stools on three sides.
Leslie peeked into the nicely furnished living room beyond to see on the left, nearly wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling bookcases full of books and a huge television set built into the center of it.
The apartment was not only larger than the apartment 303 in the same building he had seen the month before but it was very much nicer.
The woman’s fiery red curls cascaded down her back.
She was facing away from the hall with her face in her hands but then looked up as the two men came in.
She was wearing a rather modest bright-yellow dress and filled it nicely, Leslie noticed.
Leslie’s mother had always worn her curly black hair long, like that red head’s was.
“Miss McCarty,” Jackson said, “this is Detective Sergeant Jack Leslie, the sharpest cop in San Diego. He’ll be investigating this homicide.
“Jack, she’s Veronica McCarty and she works the bar at the Cecilia Hotel in the Gaslamp.”
“Miss McCarty,” Leslie asked as they sat on stools, “do just you and your daughter live here?”
“Yes, just us two,” she answered, talking softly. “She’s asleep in her bedroom right there,” she pointed to the room behind the kitchen. “I checked to make sure she was alright, first thing I came in when I saw him on the floor. Then I called 9-1-1. She can sleep through just about anything.”
“Then you don’t know if she saw or heard anything?”
“No but I wouldn’t think so; she’s only twelve. I’m sure not. As I said, she really sleeps soundly. She was sleeping when I came home, just like always. And she was still asleep when I came back and found him on the floor.”
The lady looked fully alert, her large brown eyes not seeming at all tired as one might expect at four in the morning.
Leslie couldn’t tell if she had been crying. He remembered seeing her through the doorway behind the bar next to the Cecilia restaurant. He had eaten at the restaurant a few times but he rarely sat at bars. She was unusually good looking, tall, well-formed and what was so striking about her, was her great mass of curly red hair that tumbled over her shoulders and down her back.
She reminded him of the old-time movie actress, the beautiful Maureen O’Hara except O’Hara didn’t have such pretty freckles or nearly so much hair, he thought.
He heard that in the ceiling behind the bar where she worked, the owner had installed slender spotlights especially to light up her hair as she walked along, back and forth. They said it made her hair seem ablaze. Someone had told Leslie that and he thought the hotel owner must know a thing or two about showmanship.
He’d also heard unlikely gossip about her odd relationship with the owner; a tiny Greek immigrant who’d taken an English-sounding name when he came over. “Larry Stevens”; what a name for a little Greek that looked as non-English as they come!
The McCarty woman breathed a sigh and said, “Sergeant Leslie, I remember seeing you at the Cecilia restaurant.
“You drank a Miller Lite with your dinner the three times you came in, as I recall.”
“My oh my! You have quite the memory, Miss!” Leslie said in surprise. “I know the beer there comes from the bar but I’d hardly expect anyone to remember it was for me and what kind it was.”
“Well sir, I’ve been tending bar over ten years now and it’s something you learn; you know, people’s names and what they drink.”
“Even so, I…”
“I’m sure I’m not alone among females to notice you, Sergeant Leslie. Of course, I recall very well the double tragedy you went through a couple of years ago. That was so terrible. I sent you a condolence card, to the Police Headquarters. You must’ve received a great many such cards. I’m truly sorry for your double – no, actually it was your quadruple loss.
“Your wife did my hair once a month for four years or so. She spoke of you all the time; always nice things. She said you looked like Tyrone Power and had your picture there to prove it. You certainly do look like that famous actor a lot. It makes me feel as though I know you.”
Leslie immediately saw the woman to be especially sharp, not at all what he’d expect of a mere bar maid.
Many knew of the killing of his mother and father in Guadalajara, Mexico, by robbers and then only three weeks later, of his pregnant wife in her car by a drunk driver. Ironically, his wife-to-be had been drunk speeding through a stop sign when patrolman Jack Leslie arrested her years before ‑ that was how they had met. Later on, she quit alcohol totally.
“Thanks miss. That’s quite thoughtful of you. But right now we’d best get on with this. How well did you know that fellow on the floor? And oh yes; and what’s his name?”
“His name is Jay Williams. Jay the Second, I think. He’s an executive with the company that insures the Cecilia hotel. But I don’t know the name of his company.
“Anyway, Jay used to live in San Diego when he first sold the insurance to Mr. Stevens. The company’s based in Los Angeles someplace and Jay would come down to ‘service the account’, as he called it; whatever that means. He’d come down about once a month I think, from L.A.”
“And he’d come up to your apartment for a visit then?” Leslie asked.
“Oh no, not at all. This was the first time he was ever up here. I saw him at the bar any number of times – oh, for maybe the last two or three years.
“Lately, he got friendlier; you know, full of compliments or maybe just flattery; take your pick. He told me he did woodworking in his garage and was curious to see my knotty pine cabinetry. He said he’d never known of knotty pine used for fine cabinetry and here I’ve got it in the kitchen and the living room, too.
“At Christmas I replaced our twenty seven inch TV with a sixty incher and a clever cabinet-maker altered the arrangement in there so you can’t even tell it’s been changed.”
Leslie saw the kitchen layout as being much like his own; it was thoroughly modern although he had never seen cabinets made of such wood as those. He thought they were easily as beautiful as those of oak in his own kitchen.
An enormous built-in refrigerator anchored the left leg of the U-shape and a double oven cabinet ended the right leg. The cooking burners were in the center with a fancy hood over and pretty tile work all around.
The island held the sink and dishwasher. The counters were of grey granite and the windows covered almost the whole south wall of the apartment. There was a good view of downtown San Diego, the bay and even the Pacific Ocean beyond, from those windows.
“But Jay’s an impressive gentleman; no dirty jokes, no naughty comments,” she continued. “I’m sorry; I guess I should say he was a gentleman.”
“Was he married?”
“I don’t know. He told me he almost got married. He said he was engaged to a girl here in San Diego when he was in his mid-twenties, I think he said, but then she got leukemia. That’s a slow death cancer of the blood, as you know, and she refused to marry him but he hung onto her until she died after having that disease for about eight years; such a sorry thing for him.”
“Can you think of anyone who’d want to kill him?”
“Oh goodness, no! He was so nice, but then I only saw him to speak to in the bar. I can’t think why anybody would want to harm him. Oh no. Can’t he be covered with a sheet or coat or something? I’d hate for my daughter to wake up and see him there like that. She’s so young, you know.”
“No miss,” Leslie said, “we’ve got some crime scene investigators coming and we mustn’t disturb anything. Do you expect your daughter to wake anytime soon? We’re trying to keep quiet here.”
Just then there was a light knock on the hall door.
Sergeant Jackson jumped up from the stool where he had been listening in on the conversation and they heard the officer outside say something to him.
“Jack, it’s the building owner,” Jackson told Leslie. “Want to talk to him?”
“Sir, that’s my ex-husband,” the lady said. “He lives next to the office, down by the entrance. Maybe he saw something.”
“It’s okay with you if he comes in?” Leslie asked her.
“Oh sure; we don’t hate each other. Not anymore,” she sighed.
Leslie waved to Jackson to bring him in and saw the man was about average height. His black hair was disheveled and he needed a shave. He wore a sleek blue silk bathrobe and slippers.
“Sergeant Leslie, this is Winfred McCarty, my ex-husband,” she said with no emotion.
“What in hell’s going on? I woke up to go to the bathroom and see a bunch of cop cars out front. Who’s that in there on the floor?” McCarty asked.
“Winnie,” the lady said, “that’s a really nice man that I’ve known at work for some time and he came home with me to have some wine with me, my bad habit, like I always have after work. Please be quiet; little Anne’s still asleep. I remembered I had run out of wine here so I bought a bottle at the bar. But darn, I had put the bottle in a sack to bring home and somehow forgot it. I don’t know why I was so obsessed with getting that wine except I’d paid twenty bucks for it and I was sure it wouldn’t still be there when I went back to work Tuesday night. I left him here, checking out the cabinetry when I went to get my wine and when I got back, he was there on the hall floor, dead.
“Mr. Stevens even laughed at me at the hotel to think I’d forgotten something I’d paid for. I couldn’t have been gone but maybe thirty minutes at the very most. I checked to see little Anne was okay and then called the police. That’s all I know. These gentlemen are investigating and maybe you saw something or heard something.”
“I’ll be damned. Is he really fat?” Winfred McCarty asked.
“No, he’s all muscles, seems like,” she told him. “He told me he lifts weights to keep fit.”
“I just woke up, like I said,” McCarty mentioned. “I just went to go pee when I saw those cops out there. I didn’t hear any shots or anything. Goddamnit, I suppose my building’s going to be on TV again for the wrong reasons.”
“Are you a sound sleeper,” Leslie asked him, “like her daughter?”
“You mean like our daughter. Little Anne is mine too, you know. I remember you when you investigated our sailor-tenant for killing his wife. You were in the papers some time ago too, but I don’t remember what for now. Oh yes I do too; your wife and your parents were killed. And yes, I sleep like a goddamn rock; didn’t hear anything at all.”
The lady smiled a little. “Sergeant, I can tell you he sleeps soundly except for a long time he’d always be at his window about two thirty to see if I was bringing any guys home with me. But I guess he finally gave up on that one.”
McCarty gave no reaction to what she said then.
He looked around the kitchen and said, “Damn! It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen this apartment.”
He then turned to Leslie.
“You got any leads yet on who knocked him off?”
“Not yet, Mr. McCarty. Do either of you McCarty’s own any guns?”
“She doesn’t but I do,” McCarty said. “I target practice over there on India Street, at the firing range. I shoot both with my .45 Colt auto and my .22 squirrel gun. I’ve got a thirty-ought-six deer rifle too, but haven’t shot that in a lot of years; not since we moved out here from
Chicago. What’s the guy been killed with? Was it a gun?”
“Looks to be with a .22 caliber, Mr. McCarty.”
“Somebody killed a man with a .22? Really? A .22? That’s damned amazing. Who in hell would use a little caliber .22 for that?” he said, acting amazed.
“You have a license for that .45?” Leslie asked.
“Oh yes, damn well do. Hope I never have to use it to protect myself, but you know I collect rent, some of it in cash, so I figure I should have it on me, just in case somebody gets stupid and tries robbing me. I keep my guns in my apartment and only go outside with one to the bank or the firing range. Wish I could try your police firing range out there at Home and Federal. I’ll bet it’s real nice.”
“Mind if Sergeant Jackson goes down with you to your apartment right now and checks your weapons and license?” Leslie asked. “He’ll have to bring your .22 to me. It must be checked; okay?”
“Hell yes; that’s okay. I used both the .45 and the .22 for target practice just yesterday at the India Street range. Go there ‘most every Saturday. You fellas are welcome to look ‘em over since of course I’ve got nothing to hide.”
Jackson and McCarty walked out and Leslie turned to the lady again.
“Your ex says you don’t have any guns; that true?”
“No I haven’t; there can be no reason for me to have any and I don’t like guns anyway. He’s the shooting nut; not me.”
“You can probably guess we’ll have to search the place,” Leslie told her. “Just standard procedure of course.”
“You don’t have to wake my daughter, do you?”
“What time does she usually get up?” he asked.
“Seven. Even on weekends when she doesn’t go to school, she’s almost always awake at seven. That’s when I get up too, and we have breakfast together and talk. You know, before she goes to school. She’s an exceptionally good daughter.”
“You only get a few hours of sleep each night?” he asked.
“Oh no, I get seven or eight. I go back to bed when she’s gone off to school. I get to sleep easily,” she said.
“Okay, I can wait to talk with her,” the Sergeant said. “By the way, did you happen to see a shell casing near your friend? You know, on the floor inside or maybe outside your house?”
“Shell casing? Oh, you mean from a rifle? No, I didn’t notice anything like that. This is all so awful.”
“Oh, how about Mr. Williams’ folks?” Leslie asked.
“Jay said they’re retired and living outside of Phoenix. He must have many friends up there in L.A. and of course this will be a really big shock to his company. He’s a Vice President of the company, he told me. They’ll be shocked of course and his family….well, I don’t know if he has brothers and sisters. He didn’t mention any. Oh dear, he was such a nice man. My boss will surely be shocked, too. He knew Jay a long time.”
For the first time, Leslie noticed her eyes were misting, as though the reality of a friend’s death was finally hitting her. But there were no real tears. He noticed too that she had a million freckles. That was common with redheads, he remembered; but her freckles were unusually pretty, he thought.
“By the way Miss, did you lock your door when you went back to the bar for the wine?”
“Lock my door? No, I….why, do you suppose I should’ve locked him in so he wouldn’t get away? That’s kind of fun….well no, I guess it’s not funny at that. I was in a hurry and….no; I had no reason to lock it with him here.”
“But you usually lock it when you go out?”
“Yes, always. But I don’t think I did then. I’m sure not. Why? Oh, I see, someone had to have come in to shoot him! Oh! Of course! If I’d have locked the door he’d probably still be alive! For God’s sake, I never thought of that! But who? Who on earth would want to harm him? Oh, do you suspect Winfred could’ve done it?” she asked with squinted eyes. “Well, drunk or sober, he wouldn’t need to have the door unlocked to come in. He naturally has keys to all the apartments; there’s exactly fifty of them plus this one.”
“Miss, it’s my job to find out who did what,” the Sergeant said.
“But no,” she said, “Winnie wouldn’t do such a thing, even if he was terribly drunk.”
Leslie turned to the hall to see Sergeant Jackson returning and two women and a man coming in with him. The newcomers were the Crime Scene Investigators.
“Bob, that sure didn’t take long down there,” Leslie said.
“He’s licensed for the .45 Jack and here’s his .22, cleaned and oiled. Miss, I apologize for the invasion here, but it’s necessary,” Sergeant Jackson said.
“Thanks Bob, for handling it like that. Hand it over to the investigators,” Leslie said, commenting on the cautious way Jackson held it only by the trigger guard with his ballpoint pen.
Leslie saw it was nothing special, just a common semi-automatic Mossberg .22 caliber rifle. When fired, it would send the spent casing flying out the right side of the weapon. The little brass cup might travel six or seven feet, depending on how high the rifle was when fired; and the angle it was at the time.
They had just recently reviewed that little detail with a .22 when investigating the other .22 caliber killings.