The Hellish Homicides by William Barrons

 

Hellish Front 1000

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Excerpt from The Hellish Homicides by Bill Barrons

Book 8 of The San Diego Police Homicide Detail featuring Sergio Valdez

ONE

Both of our Homicide Detail Lieutenants and the new Captain Matt Morgan hailed me after returning to San Diego from Michigan with the prisoner.  That was murder suspect Agnes Schroeder.  It had been something of a hassle, arresting that woman way over there in the dead of winter and getting her extradited to California for the homicides of Barron Quigley and his guard.

It was Friday, February 3rd, 2012, and I was one very sad man.

“Hey Sergeant Valdez,” they all said to me, “you did a wonderful job there in Michigan.  Sergio, we are very proud of you.”

Well, that was all just fine but they didn’t know that I no longer had a family.  So I had to level with them and I simply had to do it right away.

It was unusual that both of the Co-Commanders of our Detail would be in on a Friday, but Lieutenant Brian Alan came in to join the new Lieutenant Rubin “Alps” Westberg.  That was because of the return of our homicide suspect, Agnes Schroeder.

Shutting their office door as I came in, I told the two Lieutenants what happened.

 

“Gentlemen,” I began, “I must confess to you that I no longer have a wife and kids.  My wife took our three-year-old and one-year-old little girls and ran off with a distant cousin of mine.  They’ve gone to some far away resort in Mexico.   But my wife–my former wife I should say–was careful in her note not to tell me to which one of a hundred resort places they went to.”

“Hey Sergio, that is truly awful news,” Lieutenant Alan said.

“Well sir, it might not be the worst thing that ever happened to me,” I came back with.  “You see; my wife has been the manager of a nice restaurant in Chula Vista for about five years; that was about a year before we got married.  A distant cousin of mine, Armando Valdez, has been the chef there.  And it is now obvious, they have been sometime lovers all this time.  She left with her note to me, two DNA certificates proving the two little girls were Armando’s daughters and not mine.  How about that?  I had no idea anything like that could possibly happen. They took the opportunity to bug out from me while I was over there on duty in Michigan.

“I’m telling you all this gentlemen, in the hope you will keep me busy in my work here.  I hate the idea of sitting around moping over what happened.  I’ve gotta start my life again fresh or I’ll go nuts.  So I’m asking you to please allow me to solve the next homicide that happens.  I’d far rather busy myself with work than to think about my wife running away and taking those kids and wouldn’t you know, a lot of our furniture.

“She and Armando loaded up a moving truck a couple of days ago.  The neighbors told me the truck had Mexican plates on it.  They loaded up about half of our furniture and a lot of the kitchen stuff.  They took no appliances though and I had my laptop computer with me or she’d have got that, too.  So,” I grinned at them, “I’ll be sleeping on my sofa for a while.”

“Sergio, both Alps and I know you are a good man,” Lieutenant Alan said with sincerity.  “If I personally can be of any help to you at all, please say so.”

“Okay Lieutenant, you can start by giving me your Jeep,” I said with a big grin.

“Funny man,” the Lieutenant said, smiling back at me.  “Damn, it seems to me you’re taking this calamity better than I would expect.”

“A calamity sir?” I came back with.  “This is, I’m beginning to think, a blessing in disguise.  I’m no damned sissy.  I’ve handled some tough bastards in my years as a Cop and I have to believe I’m tough enough to handle the little matter of my family running away.  But I must have work.  I hope you Lieutenants will understand that I’d like to have lots of things to do.”

“Okay Sergio,” Lieutenant Westberg said, “you can count on it; we’ll load you up with the next new homicide case that occurs.”

“Thank you gentlemen,” I said and walked back to my area of the Homicide Detail where I was the Sergeant over five Detectives as the Leader of the Homicide Detail’s Team Three.

As I walked into my little cubicle where my desk, computer and files were, Lieutenant Alan followed me in.

“Sergio, I want very much to be your friend during this time that could be rather trying for you.  Please, I’d like you to come to my house for dinner tonight.  Will you do that for me?” he asked, surprising the hell out of me.

“Lieutenant Alan, you are so kind.  Okay.  Do you want me to follow you home in your bright white Jeep Rubicon Wrangler?” I asked.

I remembered his was one of the few Jeeps in sunny San Diego that weren’t black.  He had told me and others that the reason for that was that he liked to tear up the desert sometimes with his Jeep and logically, white reflected heat while black absorbed it.

“Yes, please do.  As you know, my humble abode is but half a mile from Headquarters.  Okay then, let’s do that and I’ll phone Gracie to inform her we’ll have an honored guest with us for dinner tonight,” the Lieutenant said and went back to the Co-Commander’s office.

It had been my Team Three that was in charge of investigating the rawhide homicide case and everyone seemed to agree that we did well with it.  It sure did have some mysterious turns.  Everyone on the Team, I thought, had a sense of relief now that we had a “suspect” confess to shooting Barron Quigley’s guard in front of his house and then conking the rich fellow with a fireplace poker.  That knocked him out and the big and strong woman grabbed a yard-long strip of half inch wide, untreated cow hide to strangle the man to death with.

All of us just absolutely knew there was some sinister reason for using that length of rawhide.  We just knew it.  But it turned out, as the woman confessed to murdering the man, she used that damn rawhide “just because it was there.”

Pretty much using up those ten hours of duty in the office that Friday, about all I got done was to polish the details of the rawhide homicide case in the file.  Because the woman had confessed in a Headquarters interrogation with the two Lieutenants, to committing those murders, I probably would have not a thing to do with the case any further.  I would probably not even have to testify in court about the case.

That was good, for that damn mystery had bugged a lot of us for too long a time.

The very tall Rubin “Alps” Westberg, had just been promoted to Lieutenant from being the Sergeant of Team Five.  That six-foot-six-inch guy replaced the six-foot-five-inch-tall Matthew Morgan.  Morgan was a most exceptional man, going from Detective to Sergeant to Lieutenant and then Captain in about seven or so months.  He was not just very tall; he was extremely strong and remarkably sharp in many respects.

I personally thought Morgan’s quick rise was partly due to his poise before reporters and his seemingly easy eloquence as he spoke with perfect clarity.

Westberg was chosen out of five Sergeants and twenty-five Detectives in the Detail for the Lieutenancy.  He’d been on the job for quite a few years and of course, he was a sharp guy. A Detective from that Team, named Stanley Small, was elevated to Sergeant and became the Leader of Team Five.

Personally, I didn’t think of myself as being a wimp compared to those two.  At the age of twenty-nine, I was just half an inch under six feet tall and weighed a solid one hundred ninety pounds.  I was a karate Black Belt, but really didn’t have much use for martial arts.  I had tried to become a Seal in my four Navy years and didn’t quite make it.  When the Seals had trials at the time I was there, they had to “wash out” half of the guys trying for it and I got booted out too.  At first I was chagrined to have missed the cut but afterward, I reasoned it was one of the best things that happened to me.  I’ve since pretty much kept up with maintaining a good build on my body.

Following Lieutenant Alan’s Jeep the half mile to his old Golden Hill house reminded me of the several times he had my Team to his house for lunch.  Unlike Westberg and others, Alan had never been a Sergeant.  He went directly from Detective to Lieutenant, a rather rare thing.  He has proved since to be a very capable Co-Commander of the Homicide Detail.

As I watched, Alan’s Jeep went directly into his two car garage, next to a white Chrysler Town and Country minivan.  I parked in the driveway and then joined my boss in his house.

Remembering Alan’s tale of his 1923 Craftsman Home being completely rebuilt by his father-in-law, it sure looked up to date to me.  Behind that house was another, much smaller “mother-in-law-house” built for Alan when he graduated from high school.  It had been his residence alone for some years.

Between Alan’s two houses was a lovely patio and swimming pool.

“Ah, it’s very good to see you again, Sergeant Valdez,” the pretty blonde Mrs. Gracie Alan said.

“Thank you, ma’am.  It’s really nice of you and Brian to have me here for dinner,” I said with a smile on my face.

Alan had given lots of us Detectives tours of his remarkable two houses so I was fairly familiar with the place.  But he had never been to my house.  My now far-gone wife didn’t like entertaining visitors; I never did figure exactly why she felt that way except she didn’t like house cleaning, especially after visitors.

Alan had got himself a lovely bride.  The blonde lady gave him twin boys no less than nine months after they married.  Those babies must be about a year and a half old by now.  Gracie’s red-headed sister, Elaine, had married Commander Paddy O’Dean.  I think they have but one child so far.

Gracie pointed to a chair at their dining table and suggested that’s where I was to sit.  Their little twin boys, she had told me, were both sleeping in their room.  Ah, that’s why the Alans talked almost in whispers.

As we three began to eat our salads, Gracie spoke up.

“Brian told me that your wife had run off with your two kids,” she said. “That’s just awful.  You must be awfully shocked by that, Sergio.”

“You are so very correct Gracie,” I told her.  “That did shock me quite a lot at first but now that I’ve had time to digest the news, I feel much more consoled.  It seems to me that we should always look for the silver lining in each turn in our lives.  That’s what I’ve done.

“In the full page note she typed up, signed and left for me taped to the refrigerator, she admitted to cheating on me for a long time and that the two girls I thought were mine, actually were not.  She had DNA checks made proving our three and one-year -old daughters were fathered by the guy she ran off with.  He’s a distant cousin of mine.  They’re somewhere in Mexico now and like Rhett Butler told Scarlett O’Hara in ‘Gone with the Wind: frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

“You seem to be taking this situation rather calmly, Sergio,” Gracie said.

“Well, I sure didn’t at first.  It was a helluva shock, really.  But I’ve pretty much got over it.  A part of it is that I felt so stupid, trusting her as I did.  Honestly, it didn’t occur to me that she would be having an affair with the guy she worked with.  I just had no idea she would do that.  So now that I know, I cannot tell you how much I’m glad she’s gone.  That’s it.  Life has got to go on and there can be no good reason for dwelling on the bad things in life that have happened,” I said.

“Also, my mom called me and said she had tried to talk to Consuela about her grandkids but Connie’s phone was no longer connected.  Well, I had to tell mom what happened and she was totally shocked that she no longer had any grandkids.  My mom and dad live in Arizona now where my dad has a fabulous good job,” I said.  “I’m the only kid they had and so they depend on me to provide them with lots of grandchildren.  Both my dad and mom are only forty-eight.”

“Good for you, my friend,” Brian Alan said to me. “Gracie, I should mention to you that this guy is one of the calmest and most deliberate men in our business.  He doesn’t get shook up very easily.  We often see terribly gory scenes but Sergio is hardly bothered by what gives other guys the shivers.  So I hope what you’ve told us, Sergio, are your true feelings and you can go on being just as successful in your work.  By the way, you own your house, don’t you?  I’ve never seen it.”

“Yes I do.  It’s near the top of the ridge over there on Point Loma and the most striking thing about it is the view.  From the dining room, living room and master bedroom, I can see all of San Diego Bay, North Island, downtown and so forth.  The house was built ranch style in the 1950’s and it’s twenty-eight feet wide and fifty feet long.  The lot is ninety feet wide and about that depth.  But the view is pretty much unsurpassed, I’ve gotta believe,” I said.

Mrs. Alan had fixed a good dinner and by the time we had finished it, I felt like going home.  It didn’t seem to me the visit had accomplished anything since I was pretty much over the shock of my wife Connie leaving me and taking the kids and some furnishings.

Excusing myself because I had things to do at home, I drove around the bay to Rosecrans Street and then up the grade on Talbot Street to near the top of the ridge.  My two car garage faces Talbot Street since it is attached to the left side of my east-facing house near the rear.  I drove in and parked my 2012 sparkling white Ford Taurus Limited.

I had just bought that most perfect car I had ever owned in November.  It didn’t seem strange to park alone in the garage because Connie and her Honda was often gone to work when I came home from work.  From the garage, a door leads directly into the kitchen where I’ve left the note from Connie taped to the fridge.  The first thing I did inside was to read that damn note again, to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.

My house had four bedrooms with one for my dad and mom when they visited; they did that three or four times a year.  The fourth bedroom was used for storage.  They especially visited in the summer when Arizonans were getting fried.  Connie had left that room undisturbed but the kid’s room was totally cleaned out.  Even the kiddie pictures on the walls were gone.  The master bedroom had also been pretty much cleaned out except for my clothing and a few mementoes.  She had dumped my stuff from the dresser drawers onto the floor.  She was not at all a neat freak but even so, she piled my drawer things neatly on the floor.

The queen-size bed, the bedside tables, lamps, huge dresser and two chairs were gone.  We had some nice pictures on the walls there too, but they had been taken as well.  I saw the linen closet was cleaned out.  Even the vacuum cleaner, mop and mop bucket were missing.

I checked and sure enough, even our wedding certificate and the album with our wedding pictures–and a lot of other pictures–had been taken.  It was as though Connie and maybe Armando wanted to erase any memory of them in my mind.  Okay; so be it!

The damnedest thing they took was the very expensive and beautiful dining room table, the ten matching chairs and the buffet-hutch.   The expensive dishes, glasses, napkins, table cloths inside the buffet/hutch and all that had been wedding gifts to us; but those things were gone, too.

Before conking out on the living room sofa, I watched the television news.  At least the sofa and other living room furniture was still there.  The television I had mounted over the fireplace was probably a bit too big for them to handle since it was a sixty-five incher.

I noted that the TV people don’t report wives running off from their husbands with their kids.  That kind of news would be too heart-rending to report, I supposed.  Every sort of murders and other mayhem are duly reported, but not the news of wives disappearing.

Saturday morning came and I was in my office, bright and early.  Opening up my computer, I saw a report of a naked dead African-American woman found in a small parking lot next to El Cajon Boulevard.  Without waiting to be officially assigned to the case, I gathered up my five Detectives and made ready to go.  When Lieutenant Westberg came in, I told him my Team was ready to fly to the scene if he gave us the word to go.

So he nodded his assent.

The parking lot we went to on El Cajon Boulevard was between Georgia and Florida Streets where there are a bunch of stores and a laundry.  Patrol Cops already had the site yellow-taped off, two steps from an ATM machine kiosk.  They had also thrown a yellow plastic tarp over the female’s body.

While Detectives Carso, Mann, Brightwell, Snyder and McMor began searching the grounds for something that might be clues or evidence in the case, I knelt to have a close look.  Lifting the tarp, I could see the African-American woman’s neck was cut just about half way through, from front to back.  The completely naked, dark-brown-skinned corpse was laying on her back with her arms at her sides.  Oddly, there was no blood on her skin around the wound, on her body or even on the parking lot pavement.  The flesh around the neck looked like the meat you would see on display in a super market; it was red but not bloody.

She was a short lady and a tiny bit plump.  She had very short and neat, super curly black hair up top but was shaved clean below.  She had an attractive face.  Her lips were drawn tight so I didn’t notice her teeth.  Lifting the tarp, I couldn’t notice any marks on her body.  Her breasts were of moderate size.  She had some weird tattoos on her upper arms, which seems to be popular these days.

I got a couple of those goddamned tattoos nailed on me when I was in the Navy, to my everlasting regret.  As I had felt certain I would become a rough, tough “Commando”, a Navy Seal, I had the Seal emblem and my Social Security number tattooed on both shoulders.  I did that so that I could be identified if I was killed in some deadly battle.

I’ve not been embarrassed enough yet to have the damn things zapped off of my skin.  Seeing those strange tattoos on the corpse reminded me to get those silly things cleaned off of my shoulders; especially since I had not quite made it to becoming a Seal.

Just as I was kneeling on the pavement there, one of the Medical Examiner staff came by.  Ah, I recognized him as being a Registered Nurse I knew from other homicide cases.

“Hello Bob Reed,” I said.  “This body seems not to have any bloodiness about it.”

“Hi Sergio,” he said.  “Let me take a look under the tarp before we haul her away.  I got a call just a bit ago and hurried down from Kearney Mesa.”

As I lifted the tarp so he could see the upper part of the corpse, he immediately responded.

“Well I’ll be damned,” Reed said.  “This gal has been drained.  Somebody has probably tied her up by her heels and drained her blood.  Damn.  Don’t see that very much.”

As we both stood, I spoke up.

“Bob, I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in a case where a woman’s blood has been drained out of her.  Why in hell do you imagine anyone would do that?”

“Damned if I know, Sergio.  Obviously, this gal wasn’t killed where we’ve found her.  She had to have been knifed to death someplace else.  Where she’d be strung up…  if that’s what someone did… well, hell it’s up to you Homicide Detail guys to figure all that out.  We’ll take her in and check the body for poisons or other wounds, and all that.  We’ll give you guys the fingerprints and you can identify her.  Okay Sergio?  I’m in a hurry here,” the Medical Examiner’s Assistant said.

The tarp was lifted again as about a dozen photos were taken of the corpse from different angles.  Then the MedEx guys loaded her into their big white van and hauled the corpse away.

While we were still there in the parking lot, I asked all five of my Detectives if they discovered anything whatever that might be a clue to the mystery of how the woman died or how she got there.  No one had a single thing to report.  We all agreed, the short, slightly plump African-American woman had been murdered somewhere else and dumped there before daylight.

I knew the Medical Examiner wouldn’t need a whole body full of blood to check it.  He and his staff would automatically check a tiny portion of blood for such things as illegal drugs, alcohol and poisons.  Also, they would provide us with such details as the woman’s height, weight and importantly, her fingerprints.  The corpse’s fingerprints would be on our Homicide Detail computers quickly so our Crime Laboratory could identify her.

But the Medical Examiner’s staff would be at the minimum for the weekend so we wouldn’t have their full details until the next week.

By the time Team Three returned to duty on Wednesday, February 8th, we’d have a lot of information to help us with the investigation.

All of us on Team Three were back in our cubicles by 9:45 that Saturday morning.  In just no time at all, the vital fingerprints were available and the dead woman was found to be named Brenda Ann Bladen.  She had for a while been employed by the Thirty Second Street Naval Station Commissary and that was the reason her prints and her lovely photo at age twenty-two were on file.  She had no criminal record.  She was thirty-eight years old, stood five feet three inches tall and weighed in at one hundred forty-eight pounds.

Her face had looked to me that she was much younger than thirty-eight years old.

She had lived in a new apartment building on Market Street, downtown.  I sent Detectives Brightwell and Mann to go there to find out what they could about her.

Those two were back in the office by 1 p.m. to report to me.

Brenda Bladen had a roommate to split the high rent of their two-bedroom apartment with.  The other gal was in her twenties and they both were waitresses at the same Gaslamp Quarter restaurants.  Both of them worked in two restaurants because their hours were kept below the thirty hours necessary to get medical and other benefits from their employers.  The Bladen woman had been married and divorced twice, her friend and roommate thought.  She didn’t currently have a boyfriend; she had broken up with him a month or so before.

Her roommate told Mann and Brightwell that Bladen would have got out of work at around 10 p.m. Friday night and would have walked the three blocks home alone.

The ex-boyfriend’s name was James Filliger, the quite a lot younger roommate said, but she was unsure of the spelling of it or of where he lived.  She thought he lived in Clairemont, but was not certain.  She said her friend’s mother lived in National City and she gave Brightwell that address and phone number.  She didn’t know if Brenda had other relatives.

Lieutenant Westberg went with Detective Brightwell to let the lady in National City know of her daughter’s death.  While there, they would try to get more information.

On Sunday, I went shopping.  First I checked my bank account to make an estimate of how much I could safely spend.  There was no sadness to my attitude at all and I figured it would be fun to go all by myself to pick the needed stuff out.  I felt adventurous.

At Jerome’s Furniture, I quickly found a bedroom set that was quite different from the one Connie had decided she needed more than I did.  They called it “French Provincial” and it was finished in crème and gold so it would lighten up the room.  Going further in the store, I found they had a great variety of dining furniture and by luck, I found an entire set I liked at a reasonable price.  It too, was French Provincial and quite unlike that which my now ex and her accomplice stole off with.

All that stuff would be delivered on Monday, at one price.  They deliver a single piece or a whole house full of stuff for the same cost, I was told.

Later, I shopped at my usual Costco Warehouse store for bedding as well as some frozen Angus Cheeseburgers that I loved.  For the present, I thought not to buy dishes until I actually needed more than I had of the “every day” Corning plates and so forth in the kitchen cabinets.

Ah, I suddenly remembered the expensive set of silverware that was in that missing china cabinet.  My parents had gone overboard giving that pricey silverware to us as a wedding present.  They had previously given to me the wonderful gift of my house, free and clear.  There can’t be many couples who get an entire house for a wedding present.

Hey!  Another matter were the tools I had in my garage.  Checking there, it appeared every last screwdriver, nut and bolt was untouched.  Well, that was a relief.

That Sunday night I began to feel lonely rattling around in that empty house.  I couldn’t remember having that feeling for a long time.  And I all at once began to feel even more bitter about the cheating, unfaithful, unclean, wicked, nasty, betraying, very forgettable and suddenly ugly Consuela Valdez.  Damn that woman.

Maybe I should go out and get drunk, I thought.  But remembering the sad cases of womanhood I had picked up in bars in years past… ah, my phone was ringing.

“Yes sir Lieutenant Alan, what can I do for you?” I answered.

“Oh, I’m just calling to find out how things are going for you Sergio,” he said.

“Well sir, as I told you before, I’m not one to sit around crying in my beer over something I can’t change.  So today I went to Jerome’s and bought bedroom and dining room furniture.  That stuff will be delivered in the morning.  Oh yes, and at Costco I bought bedding stuff, like pillows and a really deluxe comforter.  Also sir, you will appreciate this… I checked in the garage and thankfully, none of my tools are missing.”

“Well I of course knew you’re a man who takes care of necessary things, Sergio.  Hey, it’s especially important that none of your tools are missing, eh?” he said with a chuckle.

“A man’s gotta have tools Lieutenant,” I said.

“So my friend, are you about to sign up with a dating service to find yourself another woman now?  That seems to be done a lot these days, I’ve heard,” Alan said.

“Oh God no.  I do think I can find someone okay when I get around to it, sir.  I may hit the Gaslamp Quarter nightspots by and by to see what’s what.  I hope the pretty ones won’t consider me to be over the hill at age twenty-nine now,” I said.

“Ha!  You are a funny one, Sergio,” Alan said.  “You are one helluva good looking young man, my friend, and you have a physique that I’m sure any gorgeous young thing will admire.  Damn, you even have a brand new great looking Ford.  Well, I won’t waste a minute worrying about the very capable Sergio Valdez,” he said, ending our conversation.

That phone call reminded me that I hadn’t called my parents over there in Phoenix since I got back from Michigan.  Even though I was an only child, I didn’t think it necessary to be in touch with my mom and dad every single day like some guys I knew did.

Well, I got up the nerve and called them.  My mom answered and I told her just what had happened.  She was quick to condemn “that damn Connie” for being such an “unfaithful slut.”

“But don’t you think it’s a good thing for me that I found out now instead of years from now, mom?” I said.

“Yes son, but still, I’m shocked,” my dear forty-eight-year-old mother said.  “We thought we had a couple of granddaughters.  Now, you’ve just gotta get busy to find a wife and provide us with a whole bunch of grandkids; okay?”

“Okay mom; you know your son will do just anything in the world to provide his folks with little ones to spoil and to love.  I have to admit, all of this gives me a feeling of being free.  I had obligations before that I no longer have.  Do I feel bitter?  Hell yes I do.  But I don’t see any way to change what has happened mom, so our lives will just go on without those we once loved as being our own; that includes Connie and those kids who I supposed were mine,” I said, hoping she would change the subject.

“One more thing Sergio,” she said, “by California law, since you two were legally married, she had and maybe still has, a right by law to half of your assets.  It’s a common law thing.  The house dad and I gave you has got to be worth nearly a million bucks maybe by now because of that view and you could be stuck with owing her half of that.  So since they’ve run off to Mexico, let’s hope Connie may be too stupid to know about that.  But someone might clue her in to her rights.  You’d probably be smart to get some legal advice on that and hope to hell you never, ever hear from that she-devil again.”

“Wow!  Mom, that thought never for a minute occurred to me.  Damn, I sure will get some advice on that score.  Oh boy, it sure is good to have an intelligent mother!”

My dad was out in the desert checking on the strength of winds in the power company’s wind farms, as they called it.  My dad’s innovations in making electricity from the wind and the sun was what got him a job paying well over two hundred thousand bucks a year.  Although there was just the two of them, they had bought a far larger house in Scottsdale than the hillside house they gave to me.

Ah, it occurred to me to take pictures of the areas where they had stripped of furniture.  At least, they hadn’t taken my camera and computer, I suppose only because I had it with me back east.  I had in the past pictured every square inch of the house showing furnishings and such, for insurance purposes.  Now I shot a lot of photos of the pile of clothes in the bedroom that had been in my dresser.  Also, stuff from the bedside tables were strewn on the floor, including a telephone and an alarm clock.  The lamps were also gone.  I showed the closet missing her clothes and the empty kid’s bedroom and the dining room.  In the morning, two of those rooms would be fully filled again.

On Monday morning the furniture was delivered and set in place.  That done, I headed downtown to visit with the attorney I had employed before.  Ah, he said, after reading the note Connie had left for me on the refrigerator, he thought I had an out.  Since she had confessed in writing to her husband of her infidelities and had fled with her lover to a foreign country, she could not expect California law to provide for her and her lover’s children.

My attorney said the precedents in law were a little iffy on that issue, but he felt rather certain I owned what property was left behind, free and clear.  He recommended an immediate filing for divorce from the unfaithful wife and he started the procedure then and there.  He also made photo copies of the papers I brought.

He said the note she had left and the two DNA certificates proving the children were not mine, were worth far more than their weight in gold and I should keep them in a fire proof safe!  I assured him I would.  He also charged me a flat fee that was plenty high, but he insisted he would thoroughly investigate the activities and work record of Connie and Armando.  He’d dig up all the dirt on them that he could for after all, almost half a million dollars’ worth of her half of my home or more might very well be at stake in some future trial.

That evening dad called and I told him all that had happened including in the attorney’s office that day.  He heartily approved after saying neither parent had had a moment’s distrust of their daughter in law.  He too, asked me if any tools were missing.  Some of my tools had been gifts from him.

Since I spent over twelve hours Monday and Tuesday polishing my new furniture and cleaning house, I sure was glad to get back to work on Wednesday, February 8th.  In addition, I made appointments for the following Monday, to have the fertility of my sperm checked and to get those damn tattoos taken off–or maybe, just the Seal emblems removed from my upper arms.

My official computer practically bristled with information about the corpse found on a parking lot the Saturday before.  The Bladen woman’s height was five feet four inches and she weighed, with about a gallon of her blood drained away, merely one hundred three pounds.

Reading further in the Medical Examiner’s report on the corpse, it was noted there were no open wounds other than the neck being cut in half, from front to back.  However, the woman had taken a beating and that was not obvious to me due to the darkness of her skin.  A rib was broken and her jaw was fractured under the skin that was swollen on her face.  X-rays had revealed the breaks in her bones.

So of course, I had to wonder who in the world would want to do that to a gal?

Further, why would someone go to all the trouble of somehow draining the blood from his victim?  And what in the devil for?  That had to be rather a messy thing to do.  Slicing a woman’s throat so terribly was bloody enough, but then to drain all the blood from her body… Well, that sure as hell was a nutty thing to do.

Detective’s Jack McMor and Ron Carso came in after reading all the details newly revealed and the fact she had no criminal record.

“Friends, I’d like you two to go out there to that little bunch of shops where Taylor’s body was found and nose around.  Why in the devil would her body be dumped there in that particular parking lot?  There must be thousands of places in the city where in the dark of night a body might be unceremoniously discarded.  So why in hell in that place?  You two sharp Detectives might find a surprising answer or two or three,” I told them as they left on their new assignment with photos of the dead pretty African-American woman in hand.

Detective Ray Snyder, I thought, was among the more intuitive members of my staff.  So I called him in to discuss the case with me.

“Ray, let’s you and me go crazy and brainstorm this nutty case of a Black lady not only getting her throat cut, but having her dead body’s blood drained out as well.  What in the world can we make of that?” I asked as he took a seat next to my desk.

“Well Sergeant, you might remember as I do, a case brilliantly handled by Detective Paddy O’Dean a couple of years back.  I’m sure that partly due to his success with one particular case, helped him to shoot up quickly to become Commander of Neighborhood Policing and Assistant Chief,” Snyder said.

“That was the mysterious one of prostitutes going missing around the city.  It turned out that an old guy who owned a tree-trimming service was a holier-than-thou nut case and he murdered pretty young prostitutes.  He’d kill them, hang them up with a gaff in the back of their head and slit the bottoms of their feet to drain all the blood from them into his shower drain,” Snyder said; but I cut him short.

“Yes Ray, I remember now,” I said, “and he’d then turn those lovely young women’s bodies into the tiniest of fragments by running them through his tree-eating machine.  Damn, what a dastardly thing that guy did to those prostitutes.  The weirdo actually had little funerals for them and buried their purses in a tiny cemetery.

“But come on, the good looker Brenda Braden was supposedly not prostituting herself, according to her roommate who was also apparently, her very close friend and co-worker.  Bladen had parted ways with a boyfriend a month or so before she was killed, so maybe there’s room for a motive there; I mean, with the ex-boyfriend.”

“Well yes.  We both know an ex-lover can get more than a little upset at being told to go to hell since his attentions are not wanted anymore.  If you want, I’ll follow through on that angle.  That one will probably not be easy since we’re unsure how his name was spelled and even where he lived,” the go-getter Detective said.

“Good idea Ray,” I agreed.  “You’re a persistent cuss and if you get in touch again with Brenda’s roommate, maybe she can give you more scoop on that guy.”

Detective Snyder came back that very afternoon with the news that the former boyfriend, who was employed as a house painter, had fallen off a high scaffolding at his job and was injured badly enough he had been hospitalized from a few days before Brenda Bladen was murdered.  Snyder interviewed him in Mercy Hospital where the guy lay suffering from broken ribs and a broken arm.

The guy was greatly shocked and saddened by his ex-girlfriend’s death, Snyder reported.  Of course, that news eliminated him as a possible suspect in Brenda’s murder.   He hadn’t contacted Brenda’s roommate.  He thought she must have been at work when he called.

Other Detectives checked with the two restaurants where Bladen had worked and found out she had been an excellent waitress and made good tips.  It turned out she had a savings account at her bank of a bit over four grand.  Eventually, that would be turned over to her National City mother who could certainly use it.

Try as Team Three might, we could find no “persons of interest” in the Brenda Bladen homicide case.

Checking the record, I found out the name of Brenda’s roommate.  She was called “Etta”, a nick name.  Her last name was Shaw.  I saw where she worked on Wednesdays, from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.  Instead of going home to have my dinner after work, I went to Etta’s workplace.

I parked my Ford Taurus and expected to have to wait in line.  But no, I was shown to a table right away and given a menu, after I asked to be seated in Etta’s station.  I assumed Wednesdays were slow in that restaurant.

The waitress who soon appeared at my table with pad and pencil at hand was a very pleasant surprise.  She was a gorgeous woman, of medium height, slender and had pure white teeth.  Her hair was brownish-red; I think it’s called auburn.  Her hair was combed straight down to near her shoulders so she probably used a straightener on it as was common these days.

She asked me what I wanted to drink or was I ready to order.

“I see by your name tag that you’re Etta,” I said.  “Can I take a guess and suggest your name is Henrietta and your dad’s name is Henry?”

“Hey, you’re pretty sharp.  Yep, you are so right sir and you might also guess he was hoping I’d be a boy but he had to wait a couple of years for my little brother to arrive,” she said, flashing her pearly whites.  “Did you want something to drink besides water?”

“No thanks.  I’m about coffee’d out for the day.  I should tell you I’m the one in charge of the Brenda Bladen homicide case.  I’m Sergeant Sergio Valdez,” I told her while I turned my suit coat open so she could see my Sergeant badge.

“Oh, I see.  You must know I’ve already been interviewed about poor Brenda’s case.  If I can add anything at all though, at any time, I’ll be glad to help if I can, Sergeant,” she said with her smile vanishing.

“Thanks Etta.  I’ll be taking you up on that offer, but not during your work hours.  Right now I’m hungry for… oh, this roasted half chicken looks good to me.  And may I have ranch dressing with the salad, please?”

“Yes sir, Sergeant Valdez,” she said and hurried away after noting it on her pad.

In a minute the salad was in front of me and as she laid it down, she whispered.

“This is my last day working here.  Thank heaven, I start Monday in a new job that I’m really excited about.  I’ll be working in an insurance office for more pay–a lot more pay–and I’ll actually be getting employee benefits for a change,” she said.

“Good for you, Etta.  So does that mean you won’t have to get a new roommate?”

“I don’t know for sure what I’m going to do about that.  I hate the idea that almost all of my income goes to pay rent.  The landlord has my and Brenda’s deposit of twenty-four hundred bucks and unless I give them thirty days’ notice, they’ll keep it when I move out.  We didn’t get a lease.  What with Brenda paying half… well, I just don’t know yet,” she said.

During the meal I was able to make an appointment with her at her apartment in the afternoon.  She didn’t want me there in the morning.  The mornings were when she had typing drill on her word processing computer to sharpen the skills she had learned in high school and in the San Diego City College business courses.

On Thursday morning, I looked up the interviews in our file and found Etta had said she had never married and that she had no current boyfriend.  She was seeming interesting to me.

 

TWO

At 1:30 on Thursday afternoon, I was ringing Henrietta Shaw’s bell.  She buzzed me into the building and I was soon at her seventh floor apartment.

As she invited me to sit on a fairly nice sofa, I began talking.

“Miss Shaw, I’ll probably be asking some of the questions you’ve been asked before by my Detectives.  That’s alright.  I feel I must get everything down clearly for we never know but what in the future, some little remark will prove important in a case.”

“No problem, Sergeant.  You may know, Brenda and me, well, we only knew each other from work.  All I know about her family is that her mom lives in National City.  Her mom was here once, to visit.  Brenda told me she married and divorced twice and I just know you’re going to ask about her ex-husbands.  But I have to tell you all I know of is the last one.

“His name was George; that’s all I know about him.  I saw him one time when he came to see Brenda.  He’s not at all good looking.  Why a gorgeous gal like Brenda would hook up with him, I’ll never guess.  She did tell me he had a record; but that’s all she told me about him.  Oh yes, though, she did say he beat her up a couple of times and that’s why she got rid of him.”

“Do you know his last name?” I asked.

“Yes, of course.  It’s Bladen; same as hers,” she answered.

Hey, that wasn’t in the file!  That meant the others were a little lax in not asking such a question.  It could be important to know about Brenda’s ex-husbands.  And the one named George had a violent streak; he beat up women.

“Etta, I didn’t notice if my Detectives asked you about Brenda’s car.  Did she have one?”

“Oh sure.  It’s an older Toyota Camry and it’s in the stall next to my Volvo in the garage here.  We walked to work, both of us did, and I haven’t driven mine for maybe a week.  I also walk to the grocery store.  Oh, I suppose Brenda’s car should go to her mom, also.  And of course, her bedroom furniture should go to her.  But this table and chair set is mine.”

“I don’t mean to get too personal Etta, but, well… what about you?  Do you have any ex-anything’s I should know about?” I asked.

“If you mean ex-husbands, I’ve not had any such animals.  I have had a boyfriend or two but at the moment, I’m feeling like an old maid.  The last boyfriend I had, ah, well… he wanted to move in with me here and I wasn’t all that crazy for him so I told him goodbye.  Really, I’ve been trying to find a good job and I sure have been interviewed a lot for that.  Now that I’m about to start my dream job, maybe I’ll be looking around a little,” she said with a grin.

I actually felt like saying, “You don’t have to look any further than what’s right in front of you!”  But I had the good sense not to scare her half to death with such brashness.

“I had to go way over to Michigan for a matter of days to arrest a woman and bring her back here for trial.  When I got home, lo and behold!–there’s a note from my wife on our refrigerator that she had taken her two daughters and run off with the guy who fathered them.  They ran away to some far off resort in Mexico.  You could have knocked me over with a whisper, it was such a shock.  But now, I’m relieved to know the truth about her and… well, I don’t know why I’m bothering you with this.  But people do sometimes have dramatic things happen in their lives, don’t they Etta?” I asked her.

“You mean to say she admitted cheating on you and had two kids by another guy?”

“Hard to believe, but that’s it exactly.  Luckily, according to my lawyer, since she ran off to a foreign country with her lover, she’s probably not entitled to half the value of my house and whatever else I own.  He’s almost certain of that.”

“Oh yes, I heard of that law wherein the wife gets half the estate upon divorce.  Even being a woman who never got close to marriage, I know that.  Apparently your wife is not just an unfaithful wench, she’s not terribly bright, eh?” she asked.

“Well, I didn’t think about that either until my lawyer mentioned that little detail.  Etta, I never suspected her in all the almost four years we were married.  Here I am at the ripe old age of twenty-nine and now I’ve gotta find me someone to love.  How ‘bout that!” I said.

“In other words, you’re maybe lucky she ran off with him to Mexico instead of say, to Texas or some other state,” she said.

“Right you are, Etta.  Say, does anyone ever call you Henrietta?” I asked with a grin.

“Just my dad.  He always calls me that.  He’s as fond of that name as he is of me, I guess.  He’s got a pretty good job with San Diego Gas & Electric,” she said.

“No fooling?  My dad worked for them too until just before I married… well he worked for them too until he got a lot better job in Phoenix; for the power company over there.  I just told him and my mom about the little problem of them not having any grandkids anymore,” I said.

“Oh, yes; I see.  Well my mom and dad have four of them now; two from my older sister and two from my brother and his wife.  Heck, my brother is only twenty-two and has a couple of kids already.  I really must say Sergeant Valdez, you’re an interesting fellow.  I mean,” she said as she blushed, “you find out who murdered who and in doing your duty, your wife takes advantage of your absence and runs off with another guy.  Interesting that she’d do that.”

“Well, maybe it pegs me as being a numbskull,” I said.  “I’ve always thought to be loyal to her and I figured she’d be the same toward me.  But boy oh boy, I sure had her wrong.  I knew she was a liar about some things but I didn’t equate that with lying about being faithful.  But Etta, I’ve gotta tell you, I’m now so very, very glad she did.  I’m so glad she’s gone and that she’s taken the other man’s kids with her,” I said.

“Well Sergeant, if I can think of anything further to tell you about Brenda, you may be sure I’ll call you, if I may,” she said.

“Oh, to be sure it’s more than okay if you call me.  Here’s my business card and here; I’ll write my cell phone number so no matter where I am, I can get your call.  Would you please tell me what stalls your car and Brenda’s are parked in so I can check her car?” I asked as I got up to leave the lovely gal.

“Oh by the way Etta,” I said as I was going out the door, “I do hope you enjoy your new job with the insurance company.  Oh yes, also,” I barely got out, “since your evenings will be free for a few days, maybe you’d be nice enough to let me take you to dinner someplace.  Okay?”

“Really?  To dinner?  That would be great.  Okay, would six o’clock tonight work for you?  And shouldn’t I call you Sergio, as you’re named on your card?” she asked.

“Etta, six o’clock would be perfect.  I’ll park out front like I am now and I’ll be looking forward to seeing you then,” I told her.  “And yes, please do call me Sergio.”

Somehow, that didn’t seem “all too sudden” as it might have with another woman.  We seemed really to have something more in common than that our dads both had worked for the local power company.

Checking the cars belonging to the two women in the building’s garage was somewhat revealing.  Brenda’s Toyota needed to be washed and there were messy papers inside, much like my wife’s car usually was.  Etta’s Volvo on the other hand looked to be well taken care of.  The inside was not at all cluttered.  It was tidy.  That told me much about her.

It was getting near to quitting time and I thought I should check the restaurant in Chula Vista where my wife had worked beginning more than a year before our marriage.  I had only been there three or four times in those years for I never wanted to seem “nosy” about her work.

Wow!  As I came in the owner immediately showed his hate for Connie!

“That woman, she ripped me off real good, she did,” the guy told me.  “I brought in an auditor, finally I did, and he figures she tapped the till damn plenty!  I’ll never know now, but she musta run off with thousands of bucks!  Also, that damn Armando, why, I just found out he’s been takin’ meat and eggs and such home and sellin’ the damn things so he’s been screwin’ me too for all this time.”

“I had no idea that could be happening,” I told him honestly.

“Hear tell them two, they’d get real smoochy in the office too, sometimes,” he said.

“Sir, she left me a note for when I returned from Michigan, that her two babies were Armando’s, not mine, and that they were on their way far down into Mexico.  I must be awfully thick but I never suspected any such thing from her.  So it would seem, Connie was a dishonest woman all around.  I’m sorry you lost a lot of money because of them but I can tell you right now, that I’m not sorry to be rid of her,” I said.

Damn that woman, I said to myself.

I was back in the office before quitting time and I ran a check on George Bladen.  Well, he could not possibly have done anything to Brenda Bladen, his ex-wife, as he had been in prison for car theft beginning a month and a half before.

Oh, I saw on the file when I looked again, that Detective Mann had looked him up also, but had failed to mention it to me.  Well, there was the supposed ex-boyfriend of Brenda’s, named James Hilfiger, the painter who was injured and in the hospital when someone did Brenda an awfully bad turn.

So we had run out of “persons of interest” in that case for the time being.

Hurrying, I drove around San Diego Bay and up the hill to my house.  After showering and dressing in a nice suit again, I drove back downtown.  I got to Etta’s apartment building right at six to see her waiting by the painted white curb passenger pickup zone.

Jumping out to come around and open the door for her, I saw that she was checking out my Ford as though mystified as to what brand of car it could be.

“Etta, you look perfectly lovely tonight,” I said.

“Thank you, kind sir,” she replied and got in.  “What kinda car is this, anyway?”

“It’s a Ford Taurus.  Just got it in November.  You won’t see many of these around because it’s made by union labor in Chicago.  So Ford prefers selling cars made in Mexico because down there, the labor’s mighty cheap,” I informed her.

“Oh, I’ll be darned.  By the way, where are we eating tonight?”

“Do you like Tom Ham’s on Harbor Island?”

“Yes but I haven’t been there for a long time.  The view from there looking across the bay at downtown sure is spectacular,” she said.

“Good.  That’s a favorite place for me, too,” I said.  “By the way, I found out Brenda’s ex-husband has been in prison for a while, so we can rule him out as a possible suspect.”

“That mean’s someone’s on the loose and crazy as can be to take her life,” she said.  “So you don’t know who to look for anymore?”

“Oh we don’t give up, you know.  We do not ever, ever give up.  We’ll solve that case; you can bet on that.  How do you like my car?” I asked her.

“Your car?  Oh, it sure is roomy.  Let’s see; it’s really quiet and rides nice.  These seats are leather, aren’t they… hey Sergio, I really like your car,” she admitted.  “It seems to me to be a really solid car… like it’s owner.”

“Well now, aren’t you nice,” I had to put in.

“I have not in my entire life ever gone out with a guy right after just meeting him, as I have with you.  But because you’re a Police Officer, I trust you to… well, you know what I mean,” she said.

“I do appreciate the vote of confidence, Etta.  I liked you immediately.  You’ve come across to me as being a quite special gal.  I do hope you and I get along okay,” I said.

We were soon near Tom Ham’s and I mentioned to her that I could see the place from where I lived and especially, I could see the light in the lighthouse atop the place at night.

“Oh, you must mean you live someplace in Point Loma?” she asked.

“Yep.  Actually, I was born there.  I was born in the house I still live in.  Other than my three years in the Navy, it’s the only place I’ve lived.”

“Well now, that’s interesting about you too,” she said. “Ah, here we are and I’m famished!”

“Do you mean to say you still live with your folks?  But no, you said your father has a job in Arizona,” she said.

“Well, they moved over there but I did not,” I said and asked at the little front desk for a view seat by the window for us so she could enjoy the view.

As we ordered and began to eat, I happened to remember taking Connie on our first date to see the house I had just been given by my folks.  She had been wildly enthusiastic about the house and I now thought, maybe she had been more in love with marrying into a paid-for nice house more than she was in love with the owner of that house.  Damn that woman.

“Well Sergio, I’ve given notice to the building today, that I’m moving out on the end of next month.  My folks told me sure, I could move back with them until I’ve saved up enough for another place and especially, to see how my new job works out,” she said between bites.

“Where do your folks live, Etta?”

“They’ve got a nice house in Pacific Beach.  There’s a bus that goes from about a block from their house right to the building where my new job is, so taking a bus will save some money, too.  I really like my Volvo but it’s expensive to repair when it’s needed although it’s easy on gas.  How about your Taurus?  Do you get good mileage with it?”

“Not really but on the other hand, I do mostly street driving; you know, stop and go.”

We made small talk during the meal and had ice cream for dessert.  She didn’t ask for wine and I didn’t want any, so that was that.  I expected her to ask to see my house but she didn’t do that; she seemed to me to be very unlike Connie.  I hoped she would remain that way.  But I had to get up early to go to work on Friday, so I mentioned that.

“Ah, early to bed and early to rise, eh?” she said.  “Well, I should get up early too and get right to my typing drills that I’ve planned.  I got the job, I think, partly because I can type so fast without errors… and you know of course, word processors have ‘Spell Check’ and I can be grateful for that since I’m not such a hot shot speller.  My new boss seemed pleased as could be to see me take dictation and type up a couple of letters with legalese in them.  Anyway Sergio, I sure am looking forward to starting that job on Monday.”

On the drive toward downtown to take her home, I told her I would very much like to see her again.  Since I had to work on Saturday, but not Sunday, I asked if she would like to go out again Saturday night.

“Well now sir, I sure was hoping you would ask me that,” she said.  “Absolutely.  Any ideas on where to go?”

“Oh now, there’s a million place to eat, Etta.  Maybe we could take in a movie or dance or something after dinner.  Why don’t you think of someplace or places you’d like to go and that’s what we’ll do?  This time, you’re the boss.  Okay?” I said.

When I pulled up in front of her building I ran around to open her door.  Then she surprised me with squeezing my hand as she got out and she gave me a quick peck on the lips.  Not the least, she gave me a dazzling smile as she walked into her building.  Wow!

She was a really interesting girl.

On Friday morning, February 10th, all of us in Team Three conferred again about the Brenda Bladen case and nobody had any worthwhile ideas to consider.  We were already at a dead end, so to speak, on that newest of homicide cases.  Mostly it seemed, we frittered the day away with no progress made on any of our cases.

When I got to my office on Saturday morning I was told by Lieutenant Westberg that we had another homicide like the one of the previous Saturday morning and my Team should investigate it.

This time the body was found next to a flower shop down El Cajon Boulevard from where Brenda Bladen had been found.  Patrol Officers had already taped off the body and covered it with a yellow plastic tarp when my Team and I got there.

The young White woman under the tarp had a lion’s mane of curly brown hair.  She was probably about average height and nicely formed.  As was Bladen, her arms were rigidly laid beside her body.  Her eyes and mouth were closed tight.  Her neck was nearly cut in two, beginning neatly from the front.  And as the Bladen woman before, she looked to have been drained of her blood since her skin was remarkably stark white.  I could see no marks of a beating on her.

Robert Reed of the Medical Examiner’s office showed up after a while and we talked about what appeared to be a serial killer murdering young women.

“Bob, the victim last week was shown to be a waitress from a Gaslamp Quarter restaurant.  She usually walked home alone about three blocks to her apartment from work.  She got off from her job about 10 p.m., so that time can’t be said to be late at night.  We suppose she was met by some guy who then took her someplace to kill her.  As your office reported, she had been beaten somewhat but had not had sex with anyone recently.  So she hadn’t been raped.  I hope you will check for that with this victim also and if you do find any sperm anywhere in or on her, save it for a DNA check.”

“Yeah Sergio, will do,” Reed said.  “We’ll also check her body for fingerprints.  But on the last body like this case here, she had been well washed before she was discarded.  I don’t know what to make of that.  The perp must have worn latex gloves, too.  So some damn fool crazy nut cuts her neck damn near in two and then holds her feet up maybe in a bath tub to drain the blood.  Well, you and me Sergio, have gotta think she would then be bloodied a lot.  So mind you, this guy then bathes her.  We found soap in her neck wound, proving that.”

“Dammit Bob, we’ve sure got a weirdo to deal with here.  Okay, if you find soap on this one, please save it and our Crime Lab may determine the brand name of it.  Check carefully for semen in her too.  This time I brought a fingerprint kit with us so we’ll get her prints to check her identity,” I told him.

“She seems to be pretty good with a razor, eh Sergio?  She’s shaped her pubic hairs into a heart shape!  I sure never have seen that done before,” Reed said.

It didn’t seem appropriate to me to remark on this attractive girl’s features just then.  She looked to me to be quite young, maybe in her early twenties.  But I thought her being drained of blood may have altered her looks.

As before, my five Detectives scoured the area around the flower shop, searching for any tiniest of clues.  They found no item they could call a possible clue.  We were sure the totally naked corpse had simply been dumped there during the hours of darkness.  The MedEx people would give us an estimate of the time of death–almost always a critical bit of information.

After a number of photos were made of the victim and the area nearby, the body was taken away.

We of Team Three also left and returned to our Homicide Detail office downtown.

Lieutenant Westberg asked my Team to come to his office and let him know what we had found out about the latest homicide.

“Sir, we gave the victim’s prints just now to the Crime Lab so they can hopefully identify the victim,” I told the Lieutenant.  “However, I saw on my monitor that a Missing Person’s report has come in about such a young woman.  I’d have to say that’s the nude woman we found out there on El Cajon Boulevard today.  Her name is Bettyt Norton, she was nineteen years old, she lived in the South Park neighborhood and she worked as a waitress at a North Park fast food joint.  The report said she did not own a car and walked to work and back home again at night.”

“So all of us have to guess,” Westberg said, “we’ve got a creep out there who thinks Friday nights are his date nights.  He picks up women, kills them, drains them and then dumps them.  Anybody got any ideas on what sort of loony tune guy we could be looking for?”

“Lieutenant Westberg,” I said, “in one of my books on crime, I read of a case in Cincinnati, Ohio, where there were similar homicides in the early eighties.   The way he got stopped after he had done something pretty nearly the same to four victims, in the summer time, was that a Police Patrol at night saw him dump a body in a park.  He parked his pickup truck, lowered the tail gate on the truck and pulled the body out into his arms and tenderly laid the naked corpse down on the grass, in that case.

“A possible difference is that back there, the females were all raped by the perp.  Brenda Bladen was not raped, according to the MedEx.  We’ll have to wait for the report about the Norton girl.  The courts in Cincinnati declared that perp insane and so he never went to prison for his dastardly deeds.”

“Well, thanks for that Sergio,” Lieutenant Westberg said, “but that doesn’t help us very much, now does it?  You Team Three people had better get your thinking caps on with this one.  We’ve got someone out there who is getting away with murder.  There has to be some way to find and stop that crazy man.  Okay?  Thanks for coming in.”

Westberg’s remark to me about being unhelpful was uncalled for, I felt.  And he ended by trying to tell us the perp was a crazy man.  How the hell did he know the perp was male?  With no rape involved, it seemed to me to throw out the basic reason for some creep picking up a girl off the street.  Of course ninety-nine percent or more of such cases would involve some guy who felt psychologically incapable of having a normal girl friend or wife to have sex with.  He’d feel inadequate.  By killing a woman, a psycho guy would have the great power do everything he wished with his victim.   But that draining of the blood thing… what to hell to make of that?

We soon had confirmation that this day’s victim was the missing nineteen-year-old Bettyt Norton.  MedEx said she had not been raped since they could find no semen or other evidence of a sexual nature.  They found shampoo in her hair that had not been thoroughly rinsed out.  And they found “body wash” soap in the neck wound and in her vagina; our Crime Lab would look for matches with those items.

The MedEx did find though, bruises on her neck indicating that she had been strangled.  Possibly, she had been choked to death before her neck was nearly severed in half.  If the perp was leery of blood all over his home or in his vehicle, that could be a reason he or she would first strangle the woman and then undress her and put the naked body in his bathtub before doing any cutting.  If he or she was one who hated bloodiness, the body could be drained, washed, rinsed, dried and then put in a vehicle–a car or truck–and hauled away to the dumping site.

There, that could be the simple reason the body was drained of blood; so as not to get any of the red stuff on anything in his or her house and all over his or her vehicle on the way to getting rid of the body.  The perp may have a powerful desire to keep everything clean.

Calling my five Detectives into my office–never mind the Lieutenant–I told them of my speculation about the reason for draining the victim’s blood.  It could be such a simple thing and not have any mystical reasons behind it at all.

Julie Brightwell spoke up first.

“That’s a logical conclusion Sergeant Valdez,” she said respectfully, “but why would someone wish to commit such murders in the first place?”

“Well Julie, when we find our perp–male or female–we must be sure to ask him or her that very question.  Often, when we have the ‘why?’, we have the ‘who dunnit’,” I answered.

“Sergeant, do you suppose these homicides will continue?” Ron Carso asked.

“We’ve gotta assume they won’t stop until we stop them from happening,” I told him.  “We must not close our minds to any possibilities.  For example, who could imagine a matronly older woman would go around murdering young women out of jealousy?  Yet, that has happened.  Someone out there, male or female, is off their rocker and we’ve gotta get that person stopped doing such awful things.”

“It could be these murders are happening because some nut case thinks they know how to commit murder and get away with it,” Jack McMor piped up with.

“Right you are Jack,” I said, “except I do believe there has to be some sort of twisted mind supposing they have a perfectly good reason for doing this monstrous thing.  Remember that crazy tree trimming guy who supposed prostitutes deserved being killed?  That he went so far as to totally destroy their bodies was something like an after-thought; oh yes, and then carefully burying their purses and cell phones in clear plastic shoe boxes.  He actually came up with a neat little cemetery for those shoe boxes.

“So too, I’d imagine, the idea of going to all the trouble of draining a victim’s blood away and then going even further to bathe them, dry them and even to shampooing their hair, are sort of after-thoughts,” I told my Team.

“All of this is just fine,” Ray Snyder finally said, “but in the meantime, how in hell do we find the man or the woman before more homicides are in our files?”

“That, my friend Ray, is the question of the hour,” I told him.

With that, our meeting broke up and I felt just as frustrated as the others on my Team Three did.  We needed a break in the case.  We needed one badly.

I sure had looked forward to 6 o’clock on that Saturday, February 11th.  This time I stuck with the suit and everything I had worn during the day.  It was already dark out as I pulled up to the curb in front of Etta’s apartment building on Market Street.  And there she was, dutifully waiting for me.

“Etta, you unfailingly look absolutely grand,” I told her as I opened my car door for her.

“Thank you fair knight in a banker’s blue business suit,” she said with a smile.

“Ha!  I gotta let you know Miss Etta, there ain’t no banker inside this here suit!” I said with a giggle.  “Well, did you think where you’d like to have dinner tonight?”

“Sure did.  I’ll bet you’ve been to the Red Sails Inn a million times and I have never been there.  Is the Red Sails a good place to eat like I’ve heard?” she asked.

“Actually, yes it is and I love that place.  Red Sails, here we come!” I said as I hurried west on Market Street.

From there I took Harbor Drive to Scott Street and then left and left again onto Shelter Island.  She seemed to love looking at the scenes on the Embarcadero and around the harbor and airport as I drove.  All of that scenery was old hat to me since I had driven that way countless times over the years.  I parked across the street from that rightly famous restaurant and we went in.

Asking the host to seat us by the window, I explained my date had not been there before and she would appreciate the scene of scores of beautiful yachts right there next to the patio.  It was too cool for me to eat outside being it was wintertime; but there were others eating out there though and I had to guess they came from Minnesota and thought fifty something degrees was balmy weather.

We ordered wine and I was struck how beautiful she looked across the table from me.  It had been almost four years since I had such an experience with anyone but Connie.

She said she was crazy for shrimp and she ordered that for her dinner.  I had a sirloin steak which turned out to be perfect.

“You know Etta,” I said after we had ordered but the food had not yet arrived, “I live quite close to here.  I don’t know what the value of my house is but it sure has a million-dollar view of just about the whole bay and downtown.  I never get tired of that view.  Of course, the harbor is usually busy with ships and yachts coming and going, so it changes all the time.”

“Is your place rather new?” she asked.

“No it isn’t,” I told her.  “It was built in the 1950’s, I know for sure, but it’s been maintained rather well.  It’s not big by today’s standards.  It only has fourteen hundred square feet.  It’s up the hill from here and if you don’t mind too terribly, I could show it off to you after dinner.  I just bought some furniture to replace the stuff my wife and her boyfriend took with them.  They actually pulled up in the driveway with a moving truck with Mexican license plates and loaded things up, a neighbor told me.  It would be nice to have a feminine view on the furniture I bought.  I probably should have had a woman with me to pick out the stuff.”

“Well, I’ve never bought any furniture except for a few pieces from the Salvation Army Store, so I’m surely no expert.  But okay, you’ve got me curious what sort of furniture a guy would pick out all by his lonesome,” she said, again shining her pearly whites at me.

Then she added, “You know, that is extremely interesting that you now live in the same house you were born in.  Ah, you mentioned your ex-wife could’ve been entitled to half the value of it but she moved to a foreign country.  So that means you must own it.  Right?”

“Yes and that means I was lucky in picking out the right parents to be born to,” I said with a smile.

“I see.  Say, you know, looking out on all those nice yachts out there, reminds me I should ask if you have intentions of buying one someday?” she said.

“Nope.  I know lots of people buy them thinking they’d be sort of romantic to own but in truth, they mostly sit right there where you see them and hardly ever do they leave their moorings.  They’re usually called ‘big holes in the water in which the owner must throw lots of money’.  I’ve heard of people owning their yachts for years and they might never get used to the rocking from wind and tidal movements.  I prefer sleeping in the stability of a bed in a house.”

“Ha!  I never heard that one about the big hole in the water.  That’s cute.  Oh good, here’s our food,” she said.

A whiff of that steak reminded me I was hungry.

Etta seemed to enjoy the really unique Red Sails Inn about as much as I did.  The food was good, moderately priced and the service was okay as well.

As we left the place, she thanked me for taking her there.

It was only a short drive up Talbot Street to my garage.  I parked inside and I showed her my work bench and tools.

“My dad built this bench Etta and he gave me a lot of these tools.  He hopes to get a couple of weeks off this summer so he can help me remodel my kitchen.  Last summer, he and I put down new nearly indestructible bamboo flooring throughout the house.  The summer after this coming one, my dad and I may remodel both bathrooms,” I said on the way into the kitchen.

“Well, I sure don’t see much wrong with this kitchen the way it is,” she said as she looked around.  “What’s wrong with it?”

“Actually Etta, the cabinetry is okay but they’re too dark.  I’d like to lighten up the room by painting the cabinets a light cream, maybe, and replacing the laminate countertops with a light colored granite.  I expect to get rid of the tiles on the wall and replace them with mirrors as Brian Alan did in his little house kitchen.  He went so far as to have no upper cabinets and even glass shelving.  The range and refrigerator are pretty old now and instead of having a countertop microwave, I’ll get one that vents to go over the range,” I said.

“Wow!  You have some big plans; that’s for sure,” she said.

I then led her from the kitchen in the back of the house to the dining room in the front of the house where I had put new furniture and where the view through a ten-foot-wide glass wall with sliding glass door was spectacular, even at night.  Years before, my dad had installed three such “glass walls” in the dining room, living room and master bedroom.

You could step out from either of those three rooms onto a house-long “veranda”, as my dad called it.  There were lawn chairs and small tables on the veranda along the east side of the house where we could sit and enjoy the view or even watch the moon come up over the city.  I never tired of it.

Beyond the veranda was a short lawn down to a rock wall punctuated by steps leading to the sidewalk and the mailbox.  It had been my duty since I was about twelve to keep that lawn cut and sprinkled and to water the flower beds.

“I’ve never seen dining furniture like this before, Sergio,” she said.  “But now I get an idea of what your cabinets will be like if you paint them to match the table and chairs here.  I think that buffet and the hutch over it are really elegant with that cream and gold finish.”

“Thanks for your opinion, Etta.  I feel better now about my purchase of French Provincial style.  Now in the living room, Connie stole nothing so that’s unchanged.  Do you like the idea of a television set being over the fireplace?  By the way, the fireplace is gas fired and it really warms up the room on cold evenings,” I said.

“Yes, I do like that.  My dad put their TV over the fireplace but I think their set is smaller.  So next is your bedroom?”

“Yes and in here you’ll see that again, I wanted cream and gold furniture to make the room light.  It’s awfully fancy French Provincial and frankly, I’m surprised I liked it.  She cleaned out her closet but thankfully, she left my closet alone,” I said.

“I’ve heard about that old style of furniture and like you, I’m surprised that I like it, too.  But it really does lighten up a room, as you said.  But you’ll have to change the living room stuff to match, won’t you?” she asked.

“Yes; I guess you’re right there.  Now here in the master bath you’ll see it’s sort of dated and in a year or so, that will get changed.  The next room is my folk’s room when they visit and the next one was the babies’ room.  We’ve used the fourth bedroom for storage.

“I don’t wish them anything but the best of luck and I hope they live happily and stay in love.  But Etta, I am so very glad my soon ex-wife is gone completely out of my life,” I admitted.

“Sergio, I have to believe she’s the one who’s suffered the loss here; not you.  Can we sit for a spell on your beautiful veranda?” she asked.

“Sure enough but first Etta, let me show you the patio behind the kitchen.  That’s really a nice place to eat out in fine weather,” I said.

She admired my patio and the small backyard.  The patio was only about twelve feet by eight feet and the yard ended abruptly where the hillside was terraced up sharply to the next “pad” where another house began, stair step like.  The terrace was covered in ice plant which was gorgeous when the blooms came out.

The two of us enjoyed a bottle of beer on the veranda and watched a great big full moon rise up over the mountains and the city across the bay.  Etta had never seen such a sight before and I noticed her sucking in her breath at the wonder of my million-dollar view.

Later, as I drove her to her apartment in downtown, I told her that I most sincerely hoped we could become really close friends for I liked her a lot.

“Oh Sergio, you are such a truly beautiful man.  I find it difficult to believe your ex could be so very stupid as to cheat on you and to actually give you up.  She’s gotta be a moron.  So far as I’m concerned, we are right now the very best of friends and I hope we can continue so,” she said, pretty much encouraging me.

“Then shall I pick you up Sunday night at the same time?” I asked.

“I was so hoping you’d ask, Sergio.  Yes; please do!” she said.

Again, I got a nice hand squeeze and a peck on the lips as she came out of the car.

 

About Rick Lakin