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Steve Gannon Kane


    He had been right to change the game. Of that he was certain. Still, he was increasingly troubled by the danger inherent in his recent actions, danger he’d precipitated by breaking rules that had long kept him safe. Nevertheless, this new game simply felt… right.
    He stood motionless, slowing his breathing as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. Gradually he began to discern dim shapes across the room: refrigerator, stove, dishes piled by the sink. In an adjacent alcove, a desk sat littered with papers, pencils, pens. Riding invisible currents, smells came to him as well. The aroma of stale pizza. A hint of fabric softener. A waft of perfume.
    Her scent.
    Outside, a breeze stirred in the night. Swaying with the wind, skeletal limbs of a nearby sycamore scratched at the roof. Upstairs, a sudden creak.
    He froze, his senses straining.
    Someone getting up, like last time?
    Another creak.
    He waited, palms slippery inside the latex gloves.
    He relaxed his grip on the pistol. Quietly, he pulled a dishtowel from a drying rack by the sink, stepped to the alcove, and lifted a telephone from the desktop. After punching in several random digits, he wrapped the towel around the receiver and set it back on the desk. Next he made his way to an electrical breaker panel behind the laundry room door.
    Do it quickly, but don’t let them snap.
    Covering the power panel with a wad of clothes from the laundry counter, he sequentially flipped off the toggles. Upon finishing, he heard a tinny voice sounding from the kitchen: “Your call cannot be completed as dialed. Please check the number and try again.” Then came a series of beeps, muffled by the towel but still alarmingly audible.
    Careful not to make a sound, he quickly returned to the kitchen and found more dishtowels, further encasing the phone.
    He stood in the dark, listening.
    Satisfied no one had heard, he crept to a freestanding chopping block in the center of the room. After setting his knapsack on the maple surface, he reached for a rack of knives hanging by the stove. On his first visit he had noticed the black-handled utensils marked with the Zwilling J.A. Henckles imprint. Pulse quickening, he selected a razor-sharp utility knife with a four-inch blade. Next, with growing excitement, he reshouldered his knapsack and eased through the living room to the front of the house. There, a staircase led to the second floor.
    Not yet. Give it a few more minutes.
    Better safe than sorry.
    He forced himself to wait on the bottom tread, an exquisite pressure building within. He pictured the woman as he had last seen her, long limbed and glistening with sweat, exercise tights clinging to her torso like a layer of paint.
    Time to move.
    In the rooms above, the family slept, unaware they were about to embark on a short but singular journey, one he was certain would prove the most intense of their otherwise insipid existence.
    A moment later he started up the stairs.


    Years ago my ex-partner, Arnie Mercer, was going through a particularly tough time in his personal life. Eventually he started seeing a therapist. Rather than talking with someone provided by the LAPD, Arnie chose instead to visit a private counselor in West Los Angeles-understandably not wanting his psychiatric treatment to show up in his police personnel jacket.
    Like most cops who’ve run up against an “expert witness” shrink testifying in court to save some dirtbag defendant, I have little faith in the psychiatric profession. That said, the guy Arnie hooked up with struck me as even more of a quack than usual. I don’t know whether the counselor in question actually believed the stuff he was feeding Arnie, or whether it was simply an approach designed to help my partner sort out his problems.
    Either way, Arnie and I talked about it. In a nutshell, here’s what Arnie’s therapist had to say: We’re all the center of our own little universe, and there’s no reality other than the one we each create for ourselves. Now, I could argue that one all day, and I did. If somebody hits you with a pipe, it raises a lump that’s real. You’re not making it up. On the other hand, Dr. X also contended-somewhat to the contrary, in my opinion-that being in control of your own little universe is merely an illusion. According to him, no one really controls anything in life that truly matters-and the sooner you accepted that, the better. I guess the lesson was to just sit back, don’t worry, and let things happen.
    Naturally, I considered this a load of horseshit. I also realized that, following an exceptionally nasty divorce, Arnie was simply trying to get his life back on track as best he could. Being the sensitive person I am, I voiced my opinion to Arnie as gently as I could. “Arnie, that’s a load of horseshit,” I told him.
    It’s been years since, but recently I’ve begun to have my doubts-at least about the “being in control” part. Not regarding little things, of course. As for the big things-sure, we all think we can control significant parts of our lives, the parts that matter. The important things.
    Then, without warning, something ugly crawls out of nowhere and proves just how wrong we are.
    Several years ago and a lot of tears in the past, my oldest son Tom died in a rock climbing accident. The cliche that advises parents not to outlive their children is true. Anyone who has lost a child knows it leaves a heart-wrenching emptiness inside you that can never be filled, a bottomless ache that may dull with time but will never be gone. Tommy’s death devastated me. I simply… broke. I crawled into a bottle and stayed drunk for days. Blinded by grief, I did and said things of which I’m ashamed-terrible, hurtful things I wish I could take back.
    But of course I can’t.
    Anyway, that morning as the sun crested a ridge to the east, I was sitting on a grassy slope in Forest Lawn Cemetery looking out over the city of Burbank and trying not to think about how things might have turned out if I had been a better father, a better man, when I noticed my wife Catheryn’s Volvo angling into a slot beside my beach-rusted Suburban in the parking lot below.
    I had come out to visit Tom’s grave early that day, leaving Santa Monica before sunrise to avoid freeway traffic. Catheryn and I had decided on a temporary separation several weeks back, and I had been bunking in Arnie’s spare bedroom in Santa Monica ever since.
    Curious, I watched as my three remaining children piled out of the Volvo-Travis, who had been driving, Allison, and Nate-followed by a relatively new four-legged addition to the Kane household, a two-year-old yellow Labrador retriever named Callie. No sign of Catheryn.
    Not waiting for his siblings, Nate started up the slope, picking his way through rows of brass memorial plaques that curved across the hillside like contour lines on a map. Eager to explore, Callie bounded past Nate, enthusiastically sniffing her new surroundings.
    “Nate, dogs aren’t allowed,” Allison called.
    Ignoring her, Nate continued up the rise, his head lowered against the early-morning sun.
    With a smile, I watched as my children approached. They hadn’t spotted me yet, and I felt a familiar surge of pride as I followed their progress up the slope. At nineteen, Travis was now in his second year of college at USC, and more and more I sensed he had matured in some indefinable manner. Tall and lanky, with long limbs and an artistic economy of movement not inherited from me, Travis had developed a hard layer of muscle over the past year. The construction job he’d held for the third consecutive summer had worked wonders, although I realized Trav would never have the strength and agility at sports that had come so naturally to Tommy.
    Allison had matured lately as well. At seventeen, she’d finally emerged from a gawky phase of adolescence that she had considered her own private hell since turning fourteen. Her figure had softened with the emerging curves of womanhood, but strangely, the more she’d developed, the more she’d taken to hiding behind a constellation of baggy sweaters, broad-brimmed hats, and an endless collection of jackets, work shirts, and loose fitting jeans-like the odd mismatch she wore today. As she broke from shadow into sunlight, I noticed that her long reddish hair, a trait all the Kane kids had inherited from me, seemed to have recently darkened, deepening to a rich auburn more like her mother’s. Like Catheryn, Allison was going to be a beauty. Everyone saw it but her.
    “Nate, wait,” Allison called again.
    Nate glanced back and stubbornly picked up his pace, ensuring he’d be first to arrive. As the youngest at eleven, Nate had always fought to surpass his older siblings, cherishing any victory, however small. Furiously competitive, quick to both laughter and anger, his moods as transparent as glass, Nate-God help him-was the most like me.
    “Aw, let him go,” said Travis. “We’ll see him at the top.”
    “Whatever you say, genius-boy,” said Allison. “Figure out what you’re gonna tell Dad yet?”
    A steady breeze was moving up the canyon, carrying the smell of cut grass and sounds from lower down. I’ve always had excellent hearing, and I could easily make out their conversation.
    “About that,” said Travis. “Run it by me one more time. How did I get elected to be our spokesperson?”
    “Simple. Now that Tommy’s gone, you’re Dad’s favorite, and-”
    “There are no favorites in the Kane clan,” Travis interrupted. “Dad berates us all equally.”
    “Nevertheless, you’re the favorite now, the new anointed one,” Allison persisted. “And besides, this was your idea.”
    “Yeah, well, about that. I’ve been thinking-”
    “Thinking? Trav, I thought you’d learned your lesson on that.”
    “Sorry,” Travis laughed. “I’ll try to control myself in the future. But seriously, Ali. Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.”
    “Look, I know you’re nervous,” Allison said firmly. “I am too. But we decided to do this, and we’re going to.”
    By now Callie had raced ahead and was nearing the top of the rise. Spotting me, she stopped warily, glancing back to see how Nate and the others felt about the stranger she had discovered. Not sensing a warning from them, she proceeded cautiously. Finally catching my scent, she raced the final distance, mouth split in a joyful canine grin. When she arrived I knelt and scratched her ears. “Damn, girl, you act like you haven’t seen me in months,” I said softly. “Well, I’ve missed you, too.”
    Out of breath, Nate finally gained the top of the hill. Allison and Travis were still some distance behind.
    “Hey, squirt,” I said with a smile. “I’m happy to see you, but what are you guys doing here? Without me around to roust you rookies, I figured you’d be sacking out till eleven, then catching the last Mass.”
    “Eleven?” Nate scoffed. “You and Mom never let us sleep past eight on weekends, especially on Sundays.”
    “Damn right,” I agreed, giving Callie’s head one final rub before rising to my feet. “Nothing of consequence happens in bed, at least nothing we’ll be discussing till you’ve heard your Mom’s dissertation on the birds and the bees. And get your mitt out of your mouth, kid. If you don’t quit soon, you’ll be nibbling your fingers till you’re ninety.”
    Recently Nate had begun biting his nails. When he ran out of nail, he would proceed to his cuticles. It was a bad habit, a tough one to break, but I knew he wanted to stop. He pulled his hand from his mouth in surprise, apparently unaware of what he’d been doing.
    “Back to my question,” I said. “Why are you guys here?”
    “Don’t buckle under Dad’s third degree,” counseled Allison as she and Travis finally arrived. “He has to read you your rights before beating a confession out of you, and you get to have a lawyer present anytime you want, if only to witness the carnage.”
    “’Morning, Ali,” I said.
    “And I’ll tell you something else, Nate,” Allison continued sagely. “You don’t need to sit through Mom’s explanation of the birds and the bees. I can sum it up in three little words: Bees are scum.”
    “Thanks for that tiny bit of wisdom, Ali,” I said, sensing she was anxious and, as usual, trying to disguise her feelings with a blizzard of words. “Where’d you get it? TV?”
    “Where else?” she answered, forcing a smile. I noticed that she had carried a small bouquet of daisies with her from the car. Not meeting my gaze, she started plucking petals from one of the blooms.
    “Hi, Dad,” said Travis.
    “Morning, Trav. It’s great to see you three, especially this early on a weekend. So what’s up?”
    “Not much.”
    Allison glanced at her older brother, obviously expecting him to continue. When he didn’t, she sighed impatiently and walked to a rectangular brass plaque set in the hillside several yards away. The marker still lay in shadow, but the inscription was clearly visible.
    Thomas Daniel Kane
    Beloved Son
    Kneeling, Allison brushed a handful of lawn trimmings from Tommy’s plaque. Immersed in my own solitary thoughts, I watched as she placed her bouquet on the grave. Then, deciding to approach the mystery of my children’s presence from another angle, I asked, “Your mom know you’re here?”
    “She thinks we’re at church,” Travis replied.
    “You lied to her?”
    “Well, she… she has her final rehearsal this afternoon before the Philharmonic goes on tour,” Travis stammered. “She’s going to be busy packing after that, and we-”
    “What are you getting at?”
    Travis shifted uncomfortably. “We wanted to see you alone.”
    “Alone? How’d you know I’d be here?”
    “It didn’t take a whole lot of deduction, Pop,” Allison interjected. “You come out here every weekend.”
    “You’ll get your turn, Allison,” I said. “Right now I’m talking to your brother.”
    “Interrogating him, you mean.”
    I hesitated, realizing she had a point. “Okay,” I said more moderately. “You kids clearly have something on your minds, or you wouldn’t be here. Who’s gonna tell me what it is?”
    “We came out here to talk with you, Dad,” Travis answered. “In private.”
    “To tell you to stop being so mean to Mom and come home,” said Nate, anger darkening his face.
    Allison and Travis stared in shock at their younger brother. In their eyes I could see the realization that Nate’s outburst had pushed them to a juncture from which there would be no turning back. “Is that what this is about?” I asked. “You don’t approve of the way I’m treating your poor defenseless mother?”
    “Approve isn’t exactly the right verb,” Allison said hastily.
    “And there’s more to it than that,” added Travis. He hesitated, then squared his shoulders. “Dad, we all think Mom deserves this trip. When she started performing full-time with the Philharmonic, you were against that, but things worked out. This will, too. And it’s not as though she has a choice. She’s the associate principal cellist. She has to go. Besides, it’s only a few weeks.”
    “It’s six weeks.”
    “Okay, six weeks. We’ll all pitch in while she’s gone.”
    “You’re missing the point.”
    “No, sir, I’m not. The point is that Mom’s going whether you approve or not. Why make things hard on her? Don’t you want her to be happy?”
    With a surge of regret, I thought back to the argument I’d had with Catheryn the previous evening. I had stopped by the house in Malibu to pick up some clothes. Before I’d left, bitter words had been exchanged between us. Typical of arguments rooted in a soil of deeper disagreement, topics had germinated and developed and grown, one familiar hurt following another. “It’s as though you’ve become a stranger,” Catheryn had said as our words spiraled past the point of no return, wounding us both like flying shards of glass. “I don’t even know what you’re thinking anymore. I don’t even know how you feel about me.” And to my shame, I had been unable to respond. Now, confronted by my children, I once more found myself at a loss for words.
    At last I spoke. “Let me tell you kids something,” I began uncertainly. “Things aren’t always as simple as they seem, but I’m going to try to answer your question-after which this subject is closed. Of course I want your mom to be happy. I’m proud of what she’s doing, and of course I support her going on tour. That’s not the problem. The truth is, I can’t explain what’s going on. Maybe you’ll understand when you’re older. Maybe not. I still don’t, but I do know one thing: Even though two people love each other, sometimes things go wrong between them, things no one can fix.”
    “So when are you coming home?” asked Nate.
    “I’ll be back the day after tomorrow to take care of you and Ali while your mom’s in Europe.”
    “That’s not what I mean.”
    “I know, Nate,” I said. “I don’t know the answer to that.”
    “Mom said something about the possibility of your joining her for a few days in Europe,” Travis interjected hopefully.
    “Maybe,” I said. “That was before last night. I’m going to see your mom again this evening and try to straighten things out. I want it to be a surprise, so don’t say anything, okay? As for joining her in Europe, that’s doubtful. If I do go, though, Grandma said she’d be available to stay with you. Christy said she would be around, too,” I added, referring to Tommy’s steady girlfriend before the accident. Christy lived nearby, and after Tom’s death she had remained a close family friend.
    “When you see Mom next, try being nice for a change,” said Allison. “It’ll be easy. Just make believe you’re somebody else.”
    “Thanks for the advice, Ali,” I said, trying not to smile and further encourage her insubordination. Then, changing gears, “Now, as Travis pointed out, Kate’s leaving soon. Trav, you may be living at USC during the week, but while she’s away I want you home every weekend to help. It’s a short drive across town.”
    “No problem,” said Travis.
    Turning to Allison and Nate, I continued, “During the week, it’ll mostly be just the three of us, so-”
    “Don’t forget Callie,” Nate interrupted.
    “Okay, the four of us. During that time I want your homework done and all chores completed without fail. I’ll expect full cooperation, devotion to duties, and no back talk. Allison, that last part goes double for you.”
    Allison brought her hand to her forehead in a sloppy salute. “Aye, aye, Pop.”
    “And don’t be such a wiseass. You’ll get along a lot better in life.”
    “Like you, Dad?”
    “Yeah, like me,” I said. “Now, if there’s nothing else, it’s time for you three to shove off. You’ll just have time to make the last Mass, after which there are probably plenty of things you could do to help your mom get ready.”
    “We’re leaving,” said Allison. “But I’m glad we had this little talk. Communication is so liberating, don’t you think, Dad?”
    “Beat it, Ali.”
    “Right, Pop.”
    Side by side, Allison and Travis headed down the hill. Callie, who during the past minutes had been prowling the bushes-undoubtedly in search of something to fetch-bounded out to join them. Nate lagged behind, hands sunk deep in his pockets. Struck by something in his manner, I called after him. “Nate, come back for a sec. Allison and Trav, keep going. Your brother will join you shortly.”
    Callie noticed Nate turning back. She hesitated, then started again for the car, apparently deciding the prospect of breakfast outweighed loyalty, at least until after she had eaten. Dejectedly, Nate returned, eyes averted.
    I knelt and absently began pulling blades of crabgrass from the lawn. “What’s up, kid?”
    “Oh, sure. You’re a barrel of laughs this morning. Come on, talk to me.”
    Nate’s gaze drifted to Tommy’s plaque. Seconds passed. “You miss him a lot?”
    “Yeah, I do,” I answered.
    “Me, too.”
    “I know you do. We all do.”
    “Do you think Tommy’s in heaven?”
    “I don’t know, Nate,” I said, running my fingers through my hair. “I would like to believe all the stuff they teach you in church about souls and heaven and all, I truly would. Only… well, if there is a heaven, I’m sure Tommy’s up there,” I finished lamely.
    “Do you think he can see us? Maybe hear what we’re saying?”
    “Maybe. Why?
    “I… I never got to tell him good-bye.”
    I nodded. “There’s a lot I never got to tell him, either. But I think he knew how we all felt.”
    Nate glanced away. “Dad, sometimes unless I think real hard, I can’t remember his face. I have to look at a picture of him to remind myself.”
    “That’s natural, son. Life goes on.”
    “Will you ever forget?”
    “I don’t know. Come on, Nate. Is this what’s eating you?”
    “Sort of. Last night when you and Mom-”
    “Nate, that discussion is over,” I interrupted. “With the exception of those calls we keep getting about your fighting at school, last night’s disagreement had nothing to do with you.”
    At the mention of school, Nate’s face closed like a fist.
    Abruptly, I realized what was wrong. “You think the argument between your mom and me was because of you?”
    Nate didn’t answer.
    Unconsciously, Nate started working on his nails again. This time I let it go, struck by the web of hurt and misunderstanding that had ensnared our entire family since Tommy’s death. “That argument wasn’t your fault, Nate,” I said gently. “And anyway, a little scrapping at school is normal for a boy your age, as long as you don’t overdo it. Too much of a good thing can get you sidelined.”
    “Nate, the spat last night between your mom and me may have started as a discussion of your so-called brawling in the classroom, but things definitely progressed from there.”
    “Mom was really sad after you left.”
    I stared at my hands. “I know.”
    “Do you still love Mom?”
    “Of course I do.”
    “Then why don’t you come home?”
    “Like I said, it’s complicated.”
    “Are you and Mom going to get divorced?”
    “Jeez, Nate. What are you saying?”
    “Are you?”
    “I don’t believe this. I thought I taught you kids better than that. What’s the most important thing about being in our family?”
    Nate’s response was automatic. “Kanes stand together, no matter what.”
    “That’s right. No matter what. Now, your mom and I may have problems, but she’s not getting rid of me that easy. We’ll work things out. I promise. Okay?”
    Instead of answering, Nate threw his arms around my neck. Taken off guard, I clumsily returned his hug. He clung to me fiercely, then squirmed from my arms and raced down the hill.
    Just then my cell phone rang. I checked the number. The call was from the West Los Angeles police-dispatch operator. With a sigh, I realized it would probably be a workday for me after all. I didn’t answer, deciding to return the call from my car.
    Still pondering Nate’s unexpected embrace, I watched as his small figure receded down the knoll. Puzzled, I touched my face where his cheek had pressed. Withdrawing my hand, I saw that my fingers were damp with his tears.
    With a feeling of profound sadness, I wondered how things in our family had gone so wrong. I glanced one final time at Tommy’s marker. Allison’s daisies had already started to wilt, the yellow blooms sagging sadly atop the cold brass plate. At last I rose and started down the hill, wishing more than anything that all of life’s heartbreak and uncertainty could be healed with an unction as simple as Kanes stand together… no matter what.


    Pushing the speed limit when traffic allowed, I navigated the freeways from Burbank to Santa Monica in under thirty minutes. As I drove, the sun rose higher into a clear blue sky, promising another day of sunshine and smog for the inland communities of Los Angeles. A few miles from the ocean, however, the air temperature abruptly plummeted, with a marine layer shrouding the coast in a blanket of gloom more typical of June than November. Mood matching the weather, I took Pacific Coast Highway north under progressively darkening skies. At Sunset Boulevard I headed inland, turned left on Palisades Drive at the mouth of Santa Ynez Canyon, and climbed into the coastal mountains.
    The Palisades Highlands subdivision, displaying a typical Southern California complement of palms, red tiled roofs, and Mexican paver patios, had been built at the base of the canyon some years back. I continued up Palisades Drive, passing through the cheery suburban neighborhood to an enclave of custom homes higher up. It took several minutes to locate Michael Lane, the multiple-homicide location that police dispatch had given me when I’d finally called back. Upon arriving, I found an LAPD black-and-white parked inside an open entry gate that guarded a handful of homes beyond. Several hundred feet down the road, I could see more squad cars parked at odd angles. I flashed my badge at an officer stationed at the gate and drove through, pulling to the curb beside of knot of police vehicles in front of a gray, colonial-style home.
    After grabbing a small camera and flashlight from the glove box, I stepped from the Suburban and hung my shield on my belt. The scene still appeared untouched, at least from the outside. A young LAPD patrol officer stood within a perimeter of a yellow crime-scene ribbon strung from adjacent properties. Across from the house, four other officers were conversing with a crowd of onlookers.
    I ducked under the POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS tape. “Daniel Kane, homicide,” I said to the young patrol officer as I approached, deciding from the appearance of his neatly pressed uniform, spit-shined shoes, and lack of rank stripes that he was a P-I-still in his probationary “boot” year on the force. “You the first unit to arrive?”
    “Yes, sir,” the boot answered, straightening a bit. “Me and my training officer.”
    I glanced across the street. “One of those guys over there?”
    “Yes, sir.” The youngster pointed to an older Hispanic man.
    I eyed the nameplate on the boot’s chest: Morrison. After withdrawing a pen and notebook from my pocket, I made an entry. Then, ignoring Officer Morrison’s obvious nervousness, I turned my attention to the two story wood-and-brick house behind the tape, noting the mature trees and landscaping, a border of immaculately kept flower beds that spoke of weekly visits from a professional gardener, and a two car garage jutting from the main structure. A stand of eucalyptus and sycamore nearly concealed a single story neighboring home on the left; the house on the right had a “For Sale” sign posted at the sidewalk, with a small plaque hung below that read “Graysha Hunt.”
    I glanced at my watch, looked at the sky, and made several another notations. Though I have a good memory, concise record keeping is part of the job, and sometimes these initial notes find their way into court.
    “Okay, Morrison, ready to run it down for me?”
    “Yes, sir.”
    “And relax. I’m not going to bite,” I said. “Not yet, anyhow,” I added, trying to loosen the kid up. “You haven’t screwed up my crime scene, have you?”
    “No, sir.”
    “Good. So let’s have it.”
    Referring to his own notebook, Officer Morrison gave a brief summation of events leading to the discovery of the murders. An hour into their shift, he and his partner had been dispatched on a one-eighty-seven homicide call to the home of Charles and Susan Larson. Upon arriving, the officers had interviewed a neighbor waiting out front. She stated that she had planned to carpool with the Larsons and their son to a soccer match earlier that morning. When she got there, she found the front door ajar. She called into the house and looked inside, noticing what appeared to be blood on the entry tiles and the stairway to the second floor. Alarmed, she called inside again, then used her cell phone to contact the police. At that point Morrison and his partner entered the house, established that a multiple homicide had occurred, and exited, retracing their steps.
    I asked Morrison to describe his route through the house, also asking whether anything had been disturbed. Satisfied, I pulled my camera from my coat and took a shot of the house. The official crime scene photos wouldn’t be available until later, and I preferred to have reference pictures available for my own use as soon as possible. Repocketing my camera, I turned back to Morrison. “Are you the one keeping the crime scene log?” I asked, referring to an official record of everyone entering the crime scene.
    “Yes, sir.”
    “Okay, kid. If anyone ducks under that tape, I want his name, serial number, and time of arrival and departure. And I mean everybody, okay?”
    “Yes, sir.”
    I turned toward the entrance gate at the head of the street. “Was that gate closed when you arrived?”
    Morrison nodded. “We tweaked our siren. A resident let us in.”
    “Using the numerical keypad there?” I asked, remembering seeing one on my way in.
    “Yes, sir.”
    “Any other way in or out of this development?”
    “There’s an exit gate. Opens automatically when you leave.”
    I looked down the road, spotting a wrought iron barrier at the far end. I added that to my notes, then signaled to the group of officers across the street. One by one they ambled over, forming a loose semicircle around me. “You entered the house?” I asked the burly individual whom Morrison had pointed out as his partner.
    The man, whose plate read “Rodriguez,” nodded.
    Without referring to my notebook, I recounted verbatim Officer Morrison’s description of events following their arrival. “Anything to add?” I asked upon finishing.
    Rodriguez shrugged. “Not much, except that the wife was really good looking. At least before…”
    I glanced across the street. “Anybody over there see or hear anything?”
    Rodriguez shook his head.
    “So let’s turn up somebody who did,” I suggested. “The killer either lives in this complex, knows the gate code, or jumped the fence. If the latter’s the case, he probably parked on a side street nearby. I want the entire neighborhood canvassed. Start here and work your way out, searching for anyplace the guy might have parked if he came in from outside. One of you check for strangers in that bunch of rubberneckers over there, too. The rest split up and get moving. Somebody saw something. Find them.”
    Once the other officers had departed, I rejoined Morrison behind the tape. “Call SID,” I ordered, referring to the Special Investigative Division’s crime-scene unit. “When you have an ETA from them, buzz the coroner’s office. Say I requested Art Walters, if he’s available.”
    “Yes, sir.”
    I glanced again at the sky. The overcast had thickened since I’d arrived, and it appeared the sun wouldn’t be breaking through anytime soon. “Have them send a sexual-assault team, too,” I added, remembering Rodriguez’s comment about the wife.
    Without awaiting an answer, I crossed the lawn to a wooden gate on the left side of the house. The gate was unlocked. I opened it and followed a narrow walkway along the side, noticing the cloying smell of jasmine as I arrived in a small back yard. Passing a littering of patio furniture, a leaf-choked birdbath, and an assortment of balls, bats, and other children’s toys, I circumnavigated the exterior, examining doors and windows for any sign of forced entry. I found none.
    After returning to the street, I made my way up a flagstone walkway to the front door. A bronze eagle, its wings spread majestically in flight, hung above the entry. I gazed at the silent raptor for a moment, preparing myself for what was to come. Then I withdrew a pair of latex gloves from my pocket, pulled them on, and pushed through the door, closing it behind me. Once inside I paused in the entry, letting my eyes adjust to the dimness.
    Quiet. Too quiet.
    To the left lay the living room, shades drawn. To the right, a hallway led deeper into the house. Directly in front, a carpeted staircase curved up to the second floor. Dark stains, some displaying a wavy pattern, marked the entry tiles and several stair treads.
    Have SID check it out. Get a shoe size, maybe a make.
    Using my pen, I flipped a light switch at the base of the stairs. Nothing. I tried another switch. Same result.
    Power out?
    On a wall nearby I noticed a security panel, its LCD screen dark.
    No battery backup?
    I proceeded down the hall, flashlight in hand. At the end of the hallway I entered a laundry room with a door leading to the garage. Beneath a counter piled with clothes I noticed a large wire cage, its door open, the interior empty. A rectangular sign wired to the front read “Buster.”
    Retracing my steps, I glanced into a powder room, then made my way to the kitchen, sweeping my flashlight beam along the walls as I entered. Dishes lay piled by the sink, an empty pizza carton beside them. Flanking an oval table in the breakfast nook was a bulletin board covered with crayon depictions of fish, insects, and an American flag-obviously the work of a child but some surprisingly good. Magnetic fruit tacked other drawings to the refrigerator. In a small alcove beside the pantry, someone had taken the phone off the hook and wrapped the receiver in dishtowels.
    Crossing the room, I noted that the hands on an analog clock beside the stove had stopped on 12:37. Using my camera’s built-in flash, I took a picture of the clock, then unplugged it. As I continued my inspection, I saw that like the lights in the entry, the digital panels on the microwave and oven were out.
    The remainder of the ground floor proved unremarkable: a wood-paneled den, a formal living room, and a dining room with a cut-glass chandelier above an ornate dinner table. Upon completing my circuit of the downstairs, I stopped again in the entry, considering my next move. Apparently, electricity to the house had been turned off-presumably by the killer. Not ready to start pulling drapes and opening blinds, I decided to see whether I could find the breaker panel and get the power back on. After returning to the laundry room, I opened a heavy door on the back wall and stepped into the garage.
    Lacking windows, the garage proved even darker than the rest of the house. It took me a moment to find the door-opener control. I pushed the button with the tip of my pen. As expected, the door remained closed.
    Playing my flashlight across the concrete floor, I approached the single car present, a Jeep Cherokee. On the bumper, between an anti-nuke slogan and a pro-choice emblem, a third sticker read “Thanks for visiting L.A. Please come back-we weren’t shooting at you.” I smiled briefly. Then, without touching the car’s surface, I leaned across and pulled a rope handle dangling from above, disengaging the door-opener motor from its track. Next I stepped to the garage door and rolled it up, squinting against a sudden flood of light from outside.
    A quick search of the garage for the power panel proved fruitless, but I found something else. Fresh oil drips marked the concrete in the Larsons’ vacant parking space. Bending, I checked beneath the Jeep. I saw no sign of leaking under the engine or drive train. Stepping outside, I signaled to Morrison, who had resumed his post on the front walk.
    “SID on the way?” I asked when he arrived.
    Morrison nodded. “Should be here in about fifteen minutes. I also got in touch with the coroner’s office like you said. They’ll have an investigator en route within the hour.”
    “Fine, kid. Now, get on the radio and check with DMV for vehicles registered to the Larsons. Have somebody ask the neighbors, too.”
    Morrison glanced into the open garage. “One’s missing?”
    “Maybe,” I said, noticing a white van with a roof mounted antenna pulling up to the entry gate down the street. Even at that distance I could make out the Channel Two eyeball on the side. Cursing under my breath, I headed back into the house, realizing a bad day was about to get worse.
    Minutes later I found the house’s electrical panel below a coat rack in the laundry. Someone had tripped every breaker. Again using my pen, I flipped them back on. With each click I could hear some distant part of the house coming alive: the refrigerator in the kitchen, a heating fan in the garage, the startup chirps of a computer in the den.
    Suddenly I froze. An eerie thumping was coming from deeper in the house.
    Someone was still inside.


    Slipping out my Beretta automatic, I eased down the hallway, staying close to the wall. I listened.
    The living room.
    The odd thumping abruptly stopped. I considered requesting backup. Deciding against it, at least for the moment, I edged into the living room, my flashlight and weapon held in a double-handed grip.
    The sound resumed. I crabbed deeper into the dim room, trying to pinpoint the noise.
    The couch?
    Bending, I peered under a large, L-shaped couch. The thumping increased. Still gripping the Beretta, I swept the flashlight beam along the floor. Caught in the light, two red eyes glowed from the darkness. Startled, I jumped back, almost knocking over a lamp. A moment later a fat, tan-and-white rabbit with long floppy ears hopped out, sat, and thumped the floor several times with a hind leg.
    I let out a disgusted sigh, glad I hadn’t called for backup. Some things you never live down, and this would have been one of them. “What are you doing here, little fella?” I asked softly. “Nearly scared the crap out of me.”
    As if in apology, the bunny took several inquisitive hops closer, then drooped its ears and regarded me solemnly. Apparently deciding I presented no threat, the rabbit then indulged in a quick preening, licking its fur with the self-absorbed fastidiousness of a cat. I watched in amazement.
    After completing its cleaning, the rabbit sat up on its hind legs, sniffed once, and stared at me again. Tentatively, I reached out and stroked the soft fur of the rabbit’s head. At my touch, the animal lowered its entire body, splaying its ears like tent poles.
    “I’ll be damned,” I said, slipping my hands under the animal’s body. “Come on, Buster. Can’t have you hoppin’ all over the crime scene now, can we?”
    By way of response, the animal remained perfectly still, allowing me to carry it back to the laundry room. Once in its cage, it hopped to a food cup inside and began eating. “I’ll be damned,” I repeated, closing the cage door.
    Leaving the rabbit to its meal, I returned to the base of the stairs and headed up, skirting the stains on the treads. Upon reaching the landing, I saw three closed doors down a hallway to the right. A set of double doors stood open to the left, leading to the master bedroom. I moved left, deciding to see the worst of it first.
    I hesitated at the bedroom doorway, hair rising on the back of my neck. Murky light from the street filtered in through closed drapes, illuminating the large room in shades of gray. A man and a woman lay side by side on a king-sized bed, their eyes staring up with the unmistakable finality of death. Wraps of elastic bandages covered their mouths. Blood-soaked blankets hid their bodies from their necks down. More crimson smears marked the headboard; a dark pool of blood had congealed on the carpet.
    I’ve worked homicides for a major part of my years on the Force. With few exceptions, most murders I’ve encountered have been simple, garden variety killings: drive-bys, domestic fights that escalated to a fatality, drug-related deaths, and so forth. Stupid, ugly, cruel and occasionally brutal crimes-but at least on some level understandable. “That fat bastard left the toilet seat up one time too many.” Like that. I knew this was different. Whoever had done this had taken his time. And he’d liked it.
    Anyone who confronts gruesome realities on a regular basis eventually develops a method of coping. Mine is to shut off emotions I can’t afford to feel and concentrate on the forensic details of the crime. And that’s what I did now. Taking a deep breath, I entered the bedroom.
    With the exception of the bodies, the room appeared undisturbed, with no sign of a struggle. The extinguished stumps of several candles were visible throughout-one on the dresser, another on a chest of drawers, a third on the nightstand beside a small black knife. Blood covered the knife blade. The adjacent candle, in its dying throes, had partially immersed the handle in wax.
    As I moved into the room, I noticed a wet spot on the carpet, an oval stain the size of a watermelon. Though a spattering of blood surrounded it, another liquid appeared to have caused the main area of dampness.
    Urine? Have SID get a sample, along with the blood.
    Drag marks on the rug led from the stain to the bed. I knelt to examine them, surmising that one or possibly both of the Larsons had been moved, either before or after they’d been killed.
    Was the killer compulsively neat? Or was he trying to hide something?
    I moved farther into the room. As I approached the bed, I noted that someone had stepped in the blood-puddle near the woman, explaining the tracks on the carpet and stairs. Again I withdrew my camera and took shots of the bloody footprints, then moved closer. Not touching the bed, I leaned over. The man, a muscular individual in his early thirties, stared back, his eyes red rimmed and unseeing. A lattice of petechial lesions-burst blood vessels indicative of strangulation-mottled his cheeks and the conjunctivae of his eyes. I raised the comforter. A loop of rope encircled the man’s neck. A two-foot length of galvanized pipe had been inserted through the rope coil as a tightening device. Again, I inspected the man’s face.
    Something wrong with his eyes…
    Thick, hemorrhagic crusts rimmed the man’s orbits. I leaned closer. Abruptly, I realized what was wrong.
    Charles Larson had no eyelids.
    I glanced at the knife on the nightstand. Too big. Must’ve used something smaller. A pocket knife? Scissors? All at once I saw something I’d missed earlier. In the wax beside the knife, curling like pork rinds, were the man’s missing pieces of flesh.
    With a chill, I resumed my inspection. Gently folding back the covers, I saw that the man’s arms had been bound behind his back. A ligature mark from a rope or something similar traversed his chest. Visible beneath the outer edge of one shoulder, a port-wine staining of the skin-caused by blood settling under the effect of gravity-had fixed in a pattern known as postmortem lividity. The staining was immutable once set. Puzzled, I again glanced at the drag marks on the carpet.
    I took several more photos, then walked to the other side of the bed, avoiding the pool of blood.
    As Officer Rodriguez had indicated, Susan Larson had once been beautiful. Now, shallow knife wounds marked her face and neck in a jagged pattern of slashes. As I’d done with the husband, I folded back the covers, feeling a slight resistance from the crusted blood. I inhaled sharply as the woman’s body came into view.
    Angry double arcs, the livid pattern of individual tooth marks easily visible, tattooed her upper torso. Some had suck marks at the center; some did not. Tissue was missing from several areas where the bites went clean through. Deeper wounds, apparently made by a sharp-edged instrument, punctured her chest and abdomen.
    Like her husband’s, the woman’s hands had been bound. They now rested at her sides, tags of rope still cutting into her wrists. I checked under the bed. Lengths of matching rope were tied to each of the roller posts, the ends now coiled on the floor like snakes. Longer lengths lay on the bed between the bodies.
    I took one of the woman’s wrists in a gloved hand and raised it slightly, noting that rigor had begun. As I replaced the hand, I noticed a series of crescent-shaped cuts on her palm. I recognized them as self-inflicted fingernail wounds, indicating she had been alive-at least for at least part of it.
    I took several more shots with my camera, shielding myself from the horror by mentally ticking off future elements of the investigation: Take saliva swabs and impressions of the bites. Semen swabs, too. If nothing else, they’ll help rule out the possibility of more than one killer. There’s a lot of blood. Maybe he cleaned up afterward. Go through the bathrooms for blood and hair.
    Carefully retracing my steps, I backed from the room, passing an antique oak dresser on the way. On top, beside the stump of a candle, sat the couple’s wedding picture. The groom in the photo appeared nervous and uncomfortable in his tux, but the lens had caught his bride in a moment of unconcealed joy. In her white satin gown, the woman in the silver frame bore little resemblance to the bloodied corpse on the bed. Next to the picture I noticed a tightly rolled ten-dollar bill. Using my flashlight, I illuminated the surface of the dresser, noting a fine dusting of powder. A careless swirl of finger marks ran through it.
    The killer’s? Or were the Larsons into cocaine? Have SID check for prints and get an analysis on the powder. Maybe there’s a drug connection. Doubtful, but maybe.
    After an unproductive search of the master bath, I proceeded down the hall. Along the way I inspected a small guest room, then a second bathroom displaying red smears on the toilet handle and tank. Upon reaching the end of the hall, I stood outside the final room. A sticker on the door proclaimed “Skateboarding Is Not a Crime.”
    I opened the door and stepped inside. Toys and board games crammed the shelves of a bookcase to the right. A clutter of clothes lay nearby. Across from the door was a bunk bed. On the lower mattress, hands folded peacefully across his chest, lay a young boy wearing blue fleece pajamas. He appeared to be sleeping. I looked closer. A small black hole, as symmetrical as a ball bearing, marked the center of the child’s left temple.
    I crossed the hardwood floor, stepping over a bunched-up rug. Leaning down, I examined the boy’s head wound. Stippling, powder burns, and a circular tissue-tear bordered the hole, indicating that the muzzle of the gun had been near or touching the boy’s skin when fired. No exit wound.
    Small caliber. A twenty-two, maybe a twenty-five.
    Examining further, I found dark fibers imbedded in the skin surrounding the entry lesion.
    Steel wool from a homemade silencer?
    Full rigor had stiffened the boy’s body. Lifting the child’s arms by his pajama sleeves, I pulled back the covers. Aside from the gunshot wound, the body seemed unmolested. But as I replaced the covers, I noticed a smear of red marking the comforter where the boy’s hands had rested. Again lifting the child’s stiffened arms, I inspected his palms. Jagged slashes covered the pale tissue, many continuing to the fingertips.
    Not defense cuts. Something else…
    I looked beneath the bed. A smear of red trailed across the dusty floor. The underside of the bed frame revealed more stains on the wire mesh supporting the mattress.
    Unsuccessfully struggling to pinch off my feelings, I stared at the grim testimonial to the boy’s battle to survive. Without willing it, I pictured what must have happened. Terrified by the sounds coming from his parent’s bedroom, the boy had hidden under the bunk. Later, in the final moments of his life, he had cut his hands on the wire bed frame as he’d fought to keep from being pulled out. I wondered how long the boy had hidden there in the darkness, waiting for the killer to come.
    After taking photos of the child’s body, I again attempted to disassociate myself from the brutality of the crime by concentrating on the investigation. Prints: Have SID check for latents on the electrical panel, wall switches, door knobs, knife, tourniquet pipe, candles, and the phone in the kitchen. They might be able to lift a latent from the severed eyelids, too. The killer did a neat job of it. If he wore gloves, he might have removed them to perform the excisions. Talk to the coroner about that. Hair and fibers: Take the bed sheets, sink traps and drains, and get comparison hairs and blood from the victims, the neighbor who entered, and anybody else who might have had a reason to come up here. Blood and fluids: Sample all areas. Maybe some came from the killer. And don’t forget the wet spot by the door.
    Later we would do a complete search of the house, the yard, and the adjacent street area. It was a laborious procedure that often entailed getting down on one’s hands and knees and using magnifying devices, cameras, even a vacuum. Although the results rarely helped, it had to be done. As I finished my inventory, I realized something was bothering me. Everyone in Los Angeles locks the front door at night.
    Why had the Larsons left theirs open? Or had they?
    I checked my watch. Thirty minutes had elapsed since I had first arrived at the scene. Glancing out a bedroom window, I noticed the SID crime wagon pulling to the curb. Down the street I could still see the Channel Two news van I had noticed earlier. With renewed exasperation, I also noticed that Lauren Van Owen, a reporter who’d made her mark by following the Los Angeles crime beat, had positioned herself outside the crime-scene tape. Although granting that the attractive reporter was a competent journalist, possibly one of the best, I objected to Ms. Van Owen’s penchant for taking liberal, and in my opinion, unwarranted journalistic swipes at the LAPD whenever she got the chance. She and I had locked horns more than once, with me usually winding up on the short end of the exchange-at least in the edited portion of her interviews that appeared on the five o’clock news.
    After reentering the hall, I descended the stairs and stepped out the front door. The coastal fog had lowered even more, and a bone chilling mist now hung in the air. As I reached the walkway, Van Owen, microphone in hand and cameraman in tow, made a beeline in my direction.
    “Detective Kane!”
    Ignoring her, I strode down the flagstones toward a group of men gathered beside the SID crime wagon. As I drew nearer, I spotted the blocky outline of Frank Tremmel, the criminalist who would be responsible for the collection and preservation of all trace evidence taken from the scene. Nearby stood a slightly stooped Asian whom I recognized as a technician from latent prints, and a third officer from the photo section.
    “Detective Kane!” shouted the newswoman again. “Give us a minute?”
    “Not right now, Van Owen,” I said.
    “How many people were murdered?” she called, shadowing me the length of the crime ribbon, cameraman trailing behind.
    “No comment. We haven’t even notified the next of kin.”
    “Is it true that the circumstances of the murders are identical to those of a family killed last month in Orange County?”
    “No comment.”
    “Is this the work of the Candlelight Killer?”
    Annoyed by her persistence, I turned. Van Owen stood her ground, her blue eyes assaying me calmly, an amused smile playing across her lips. Even in the mist she looked good-long legs, trim calves, strong, square shoulders-her trademark natural blond hair worn shoulder length despite the current convention that newswomen coif their hair short. “What’re you doing out here with us peons, Van Owen?” I asked with exaggerated politeness. “I thought you were a hotshot news anchor now.”
    Over the past year Lauren had increasingly substituted as co-anchor on the five o’clock news, and last September she’d permanently moved up to that position. “I still take the juicy ones,” she replied. “Come on, Kane. How many victims were-”
    “Damn, Van Owen, can’t you take a hint? We’re going to be making a statement as soon as we’ve got the facts and notified relatives. In the meantime, why don’t you-”
    “Everybody else will be here by then,” Lauren broke in. “C’mon, give me something. It’s the work of the candlelight guy, isn’t it?”
    It has always irritated me that reporters routinely glorify killers by tagging them with pet names like the “Hillside Strangler,” or the “Midnight Stalker,” or apparently one last month in Orange County, the “Candlelight Killer.” As far as I’m concerned, they’re all scum. “I don’t know yet,” I said, recalling the candles in the Larson’s bedroom and hoping there was no connection. “Now, how about backing off and letting me do my job?”
    “Of course, Detective,” said Lauren with a disarming smile. Then, turning toward the house but watching me from the corner of her eye, she lowered her microphone and unbuttoned her camel-colored jacket. “Think you’ll catch him?” she asked, taking a deep breath that caused her breasts to lift against the fabric of her blouse.
    “Yeah. Sooner or later, we’ll get this maggot,” I answered. I turned on my heel and started walking. “I only wish we could close cases as fast as certain reporters find out about them.”
    Lauren matched my steps. “Maggot,” she mused. “I like it.”
    “Glad you approve,” I muttered under my breath, realizing with renewed irritation that the cameraman was still shooting.
    Noticing my glance at the camera, Lauren signaled her associate to shut down. Then, “Hey, Kane? When you’re done here, how about giving me a couple minutes over a cup of coffee? There’re some things I want to run by you concerning the Orange County murders.”
    “Sorry, Van Owen, I’m booked. Maybe I can squeeze you in later. Say, sometime in the next century.”
    “Thanks,” Lauren laughed. “I look forward to it.”
    Officer Morrison had just finished recording the SID team’s names and serial numbers when I walked up. Tremmel was the first to notice my arrival. “Hey, Dan,” he said. “You’re lookin’ uglier than ever. How’s Kate?”
    “Fine, Frank. How ’bout Millie? Still hoping to wake up someday and find herself married to a skinny cop?”
    “Yeah,” the stocky criminalist answered. “She’s got me on a new diet, one of those programs where they send you all your food. It’s only been a few months since I started, and I’ve already lost two hundred and ninety-one dollars.”
    “Good work, Frank,” I said. “Keep it up.”
    “Right,” he said. Then, indicating the technicians with him, “This is Ed Noda and Vern Harrison.”
    After shaking hands with the other two members of the forensic unit, I gave them my initial assessment of the scene, indicating specific areas I wanted covered. Then, as the three-member team started toward the house, I called to Morrison. “Hey, kid. You get that info I wanted from DMV?”
    “Yes, sir.” The young officer made his way over, referring to his notebook. “DMV has two vehicles registered to Charles Larson. A Jeep and an Infiniti.” He read the license numbers, noting that one of the neighbors had described the missing Infiniti as a persimmon-colored, four-door sedan.
    “Persimmon? Is that red?”
    “More like rust.”
    “Rust, huh? Same as mine.”
    Morrison eyed my battered Suburban. “Yes, sir,” he agreed.
    “Any results on the neighborhood canvass?”
    “Nobody’s back yet, but I’ll check.”
    “Let me know right away if anything turns up. Meantime, I want an APB on the missing car. Do it now.”
    “Yes, sir. By the way, when I saw the news van show up, I had somebody at the station start checking for next of kin. They located Mrs. Larson’s brother. He’s contacting the rest of the family. We advised him to tell everyone not to come down here yet.”
    “Good work, kid,” I said, liking that he had shown initiative and deciding to make sure his sergeant heard about it.
    On my way back to the house, I noticed a neighborhood dog inside the garage, licking the concrete floor beside the Jeep. “Hey!” I yelled at the Australian shepherd mix.
    The dog glanced up, took another guilty lap with his tongue, and trotted out the open door. Curious, I reentered the garage and inspected the spot the dog had been licking. A faint green stain marked the concrete near the oil drips I had noted earlier. Radiator coolant, I thought, recognizing the fluorescent color and remembering that the yellowish-green fluid tasted sweet, resulting in numerous dog poisonings each year. Deciding to close the garage to prevent further intrusion, I again used my pen to push the garage-door button. After waiting for the motor to cycle and reconnect the manual release I’d disengaged, I tripped the button anew. The garage went dark as the door thumped shut. Stepping into the house through the laundry room door, I noted absently that the service light on the door-opener was out.
    I found Tremmel in the laundry room kneeling beside the bunny cage. “Rabbit people, eh?” the criminalist said, glancing up as I entered.
    “Rabbit people. My sister-in-law’s one. There’s a whole community of them. Pedigree bunnies, breeders, rabbit shows. My sister lets her lop roam around the house. Damn thing uses a litter box, just like a cat.”
    “I found this one thumpin’ around the living room,” I said. “Nearly had to change my skivvies after that little encounter.”
    Tremmel smiled. “Killer bunny attacks cop?”
    “Something like that,” I admitted sheepishly. “Anytime you’re ready, Frank.”
    Tremmel rose to his feet. “Okay,” he sighed. “Let’s do it.”
    I spent the next several hours supervising the crime team-making decisions concerning which parts of the house to examine, what material to gather, and what avenues of investigation might prove fruitful. During this time I also gathered a number of the victims’ personal items: phone records from the kitchen alcove, a small vial of white powder and a packet of letters from the master bedroom dresser, and an address book, letters, and bills from a desk in the den. These would be booked into evidence as soon as I obtained a computer generated “DR” number, then later returned-with the exception of the vial, if it turned out to be cocaine-to the estate once the case was closed.
    Given the situation, I realized that my first line of inquiry would be based on the premise that the killer knew his victims, at least to some extent. I also realized that no matter how thorough my search, all forensic evidence now being gathered would probably prove useless until we had a suspect. Aside from a close scrutiny of friends and family, the most likely way to obtain said suspect was through an informant or via a confession that could be corroborated with physical evidence. My instinct told me neither would be forthcoming.
    Art Walters, the coroner’s investigator, arrived at a little after noon. A man and woman from the sexual-assault unit accompanied him. After a brief consultation, I led the new group to the master bedroom. By then the SID team had finished, and the room displayed a patina of ferric oxide on any object the killer might have touched, along with numbered stickers designating the locations of fluid and fiber samples taken throughout the area.
    Normally an ample repository of gallows humor, even Walters fell silent as he inspected the bodies. Both assault-unit officers stood to one side, awaiting their turn. Five minutes into it I noticed the male member of the assault team turning green. “Why don’t you and your partner go grab some air?” I suggested. “We’ll call when we’re ready. No sense making you guys wait around.”
    “Thanks.” The man smiled weakly and headed for the stairs. The woman stayed, shooting me a look that said if I could take it, so could she.
    For the next hour I remained at Walter’s side as the bodies were uncovered, examined, and turned. The man’s hands and feet were found bound with plastic ties. Additional teeth marks became visible on the woman’s shoulders and buttocks. Saliva swabs were taken, blood and fibers gathered and labeled, wounds counted and recorded. Throughout each exam, the photo technician took shots from various angles.
    At one point Walters noted the fingernail cuts on Susan Larson’s palms. “Son of a bitch probably did most of this while she was still alive.”
    “That’s how I figured it,” I said.
    “Think it’s the same psycho who killed that family in Mission Viejo?”
    “That’s the second time someone’s asked me that.”
    “I didn’t hear much about it.”
    “Damn, Kane, don’t you read the papers?”
    “Just the sports page.”
    “Hmmm. Had you figured for the funnies.” Walters glanced around the room. “Same m.o.-bites, knife wounds, candles. They didn’t mention the eyelids on the news, though.”
    “If it’s the same guy, Orange County probably held back that detail.”
    Falling silent once more, Walters pulled a PERK-physical evidence recovery kit-from his briefcase and proceeded to take scrapings and fingernail clippings from Susan Larson’s left hand. After marking the evidence, he slipped a paper sack over her hand and taped the bag shut. Following the same procedure, he did the other hand, then those of the husband and child. Next he moved on to the hair-sample section of the kit, using tweezers to pluck comparison hairs from different areas of each victim’s head, arms, legs, and pubis.
    When Walters was finished with the woman, the assault team moved in, procuring pubic combings and oral, vaginal, and anal swabs. At my direction they gathered similar materials from the husband and son.
    Two hours after arriving, Walters removed his gloves and signaled he was finished. Attendants from the morgue had arrived and were waiting on the street. I thought carefully, ensuring I hadn’t forgotten anything. I made a mental note to have the SID unit take the bed sheets once the bodies had been removed. I also reminded Walters that I wanted comparison fingerprints rolled on each victim, as well as impressions taken of the bite lesions. He assured me it would be done.
    Afterward I stood at a window in the upper hallway, gazing out at the foggy street below. Three more TV newswagons had arrived, along with the usual assortment of newspaper reporters. I watched as the remains of Charles, Susan, and Spencer Larson-wrapped in clean white sheets and strapped to gurneys-were wheeled across the asphalt. After a long moment, I headed downstairs.
    Time to talk to the media.


    Later that evening I pulled into an underground parking garage beneath the Los Angeles Music Center. I handed the attendant a twenty, receiving a parking stub and a disappointing handful of change in return. Flipping the stub onto the dashboard, I turned down a maze of ramps, tires squealing on the slick concrete. Four levels down I pulled into an empty slot and shut off the engine.
    After leaving the Pacific Palisades crime scene, I had made a quick stop at Arnie’s to shower and change, then driven to the West Los Angeles police station. Working through the remainder of the afternoon, I had filled out death reports on the Larson family, completed preliminary entries in the crime report, and updated my notes. As much as I like my job, I hate doing paperwork, but it’s a necessary aspect of any police investigation, and over the years I’ve found that putting it off just makes things worse.
    Now, as I climbed from the Suburban, I made a determined effort to push earlier events of the day from my mind. Nevertheless, the sobering thought kept recurring that, in all my years on the force, the savagery of the Larson family’s murder was something I had never before encountered. I’ve seen a lot of terrible things people can do to one other, but what happened to the Larsons was cruel beyond measure. At this point, except for the obvious, I didn’t have a feel for what had happened in that house. Despite my attempts at compartmentalization, I also realized from past experience that I would keep gnawing on pieces of the puzzle until I did. Two things I already knew: I wanted to find the monster who’d done it. And whoever he was, he didn’t deserve to be breathing the same air as the rest of us.
    Minutes later, an escalator deposited me on a broad terrace above the street. There are many ugly places in Los Angeles, but there are plenty of beautiful places too, and this was one of them. Taking long strides, I headed toward the south end of the concourse, stopping briefly to admire a large fountain fronting the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The sun had set, and interior lights now illuminated the fountain’s cross-shaped geysers. The jets sprang directly from the stone surface of the plaza, rose to varying heights, and crashed down with a sibilant hiss reminiscent of applause-falling through hidden cracks in the pavers and disappearing like water into a sponge. In the center of the fountain stood a gigantic bronze statue entitled “Peace on Earth.” To me, the sculpture resembled an oddly shaped egg (the world?), supported from below by a twisted mass of humanity, from above in loops and furls of ribbon held aloft by a dove in flight. An impressive centerpiece, but in my opinion the fountain stole the show: now twelve feet high, now three, now eight, now dying away to nothing-startling the observer with hissing claps and abrupt, unexpected silences.
    I watched the water’s undulating dance for several seconds, then headed down a stone stairway to the street below, making my way to a door marked “Artists’ Entrance.” A guard at a desk inside looked up as I entered. I badged my way past, pausing briefly to sign the register. Having been there before, I proceeded without asking directions, passing through a wide pair of doors into the performers’ lounge beyond. From the floor above came the sound of the orchestra, stopping and starting in short, teasing bursts.
    Although the LA Philharmonic had been a resident company at the Walt Disney Concert Hall since the new venue’s addition to the Music Center in 2003, because of a heavy performance schedule at the Disney Hall, the Philharmonic players were conducting several of their final tour rehearsals at their former home in the adjacent Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Heading toward the music, I ascended a metal stairway, exiting behind the Dorothy Chandler stage. An acoustic shell, its hardwood walls rising to meet the proscenium arch in front, enclosed the entire performing area. I peered through a small window set in the stage-right door, spotting Catheryn over the ranks of the first violins. On her left, at the head of the cello section, sat Arthur West.
    A handsome, distinguished-looking man with a magnificent mane of prematurely graying hair, Arthur West had held the title of principal cellist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic for the past ten years. Catheryn knew him through her longstanding association with the USC School of Music, and his encouragement had been pivotal in her joining the Philharmonic-resuming a musical career that she’d put on hold to have Tommy, our first child. Later, following the births of Travis, Allison, and Nate, the postponement of her career-with the exception of playing in a string quartet on Wednesdays and supplementing our family income by tutoring private students-had turned out to be permanent. Three summers ago things had changed.
    After a competitive audition, Catheryn had been selected to substitute for a young cellist taking a thirteen-week maternity leave. Thrilled, Catheryn had accepted the temporary assignment, and the following January when the associate principal cellist had retired, Catheryn auditioned for the position. To her amazement, but to the surprise of no one who had heard her play, she was offered the appointment.
    It was a big step, and she brought me in on the decision. We discussed it rationally. With the exception of Nate, the children were nearly grown. Travis would be leaving soon for college, and Allison could occasionally take care of her younger brother. Catheryn would still be able to keep most of her private students, teaching on mornings she didn’t have rehearsals. We could use the extra income. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And so on. I subjugated any objections I had to Catheryn’s taking on full-time employment, wanting her to have this chance. Even if I had known the problems that would eventually ensue, I still wouldn’t have said no.
    As I watched Catheryn now through the glass, I noticed Arthur smiling at her as she turned the sheets on their music stand. Catheryn smiled back, her coppery-green eyes shining with pleasure. With an irrational surge of irritation, I turned and stepped through a small door in the stage wing, exited the backstage area, and headed into the deserted auditorium beyond.
    Moving quietly, I entered the Dorothy Chandler’s lavish, wood-paneled hall. The stage spots, cleverly concealed in the ceiling and sweeping curves of the balcony levels, were dark, as were the wall-mounted crystal chandeliers and the rest of the house lights. The only illumination came from a bank of utility overheads above the stage. Ignoring the Philharmonic’s rule forbidding the presence of family and friends during rehearsals, I slumped into a seat in the orchestra section, just within the glow of the stage. A number of players noted my entrance, including Catheryn. She shot me a quick, uncertain smile, then returned her concentration to the music. Noticing her glance, Arthur stared into the darkened auditorium, giving me a perfunctory nod. With renewed irritation, I watched Arthur’s bow moving in unison with Catheryn’s. As much as I was proud of Catheryn’s musical accomplishments, I was unable to ignore the extent to which I had progressively become excluded from a significant part of her life.
    For the next fifteen minutes I let my mind drift with the ebb and flow of the music. Toward the end, as the orchestra honed passages from a work I recognized from listening to Catheryn’s practice at home as the Dvorak Cello Concerto, Arthur embarked on a short virtuosic excursion. Catheryn, her brow furrowed in concentration, led the rest of the cello section in response. I watched as she played, instrument held loosely between her knees, her skirt falling in graceful folds over her long legs-revealing a glimpse of calf and ankle, a slender foot bound in a white leather sandal. As her left hand ascended the neck of her cello, she raised her chin, exposing a delicate curve of throat and the clean line of her jaw, a jaw I had seen set in stubborn determination more times than I liked to recall. Her body was lean and athletic, her limbs lightly tanned from time spent outdoors, despite her efforts to stay out of the sun. But as I watched her play, I realized, as always, that it was her hands that drew me.
    I remembered the day we first met. She had been a sophomore attending the USC School of Music; I was a senior. I had been playing out the last year of a football scholarship, cruising the smoothest academic back roads I could find and wondering what to do after graduation. I first saw her in the library. Later that evening, taken by her appearance and the unapologetic way she returned my gaze across the library tables, I waited outside to talk with her. Our initial encounter proved disastrous. And with good reason, friends pointed out. Catheryn sipped wine, I guzzled beer; Catheryn loved classical music, I listened to country tunes at a volume that could cause hearing impairment. Catheryn planned a concert career followed in some indeterminate future by a romantic, white lace wedding. I wanted a wife who would cook, clean, and bear me a houseful of kids. But despite her steadfast refusals to go out with me, I shamelessly persisted-showing up unexpectedly to walk her to class, attending every student recital in which she performed.
    In a rarely visited portion of my mind that governed my personal life, I realized that although Catheryn’s beauty had initially attracted me, it was her hands that had snared me, refusing to let me go. Fascinated, I watched now as they brought forth the voice of her cello, a sound achingly deep, a sound I had come to associate with my wife’s world of music-a world for me at times as mysterious and unfathomable as she. Nimble, long-fingered, and strong, her hands embodied their owner’s intelligence and talent, seeming almost magical in their agility. Yet they also displayed a grace and expressivity that was as enigmatic to me as the music they produced, but a quality I had found mesmerizing from the first moment I watched her play. It’s often said that the eyes are the window to one’s soul. With Catheryn, for me, it was her hands as well.
    Minutes later, after repeating several of the more difficult sections, the orchestra abandoned the Dvorak to practice portions of another of the tour selections. Then at last, as the personnel manager stepped onstage to remind the conductor of the time, the rehearsal ended.
    After the conductor left the stage, the musicians, individually and in groups of twos and threes, started drifting out. I walked to the edge of the raised platform. Noting my arrival, Catheryn broke off a conversation with Arthur. “Hi, Dan,” she said. “What brings you down here? I thought you were working today.”
    “Finished early,” I answered. Unless pressed, I rarely discussed details of my job with Catheryn, and by tacit agreement, she rarely asked. Sensing her initial reaction of welcome being replaced by an air of guarded reserve, I placed a hand on the edge of the stage and vaulted up, once again ignoring orchestra rules.
    Arthur gave me a look of condescension. “Detective. Left the city safe and sound, I trust?”
    I shrugged, suddenly feeling dirty, tired, and out of place. “For the time being.”
    “I would expect no less.” Arthur glanced at his watch. “Sorry, but Catheryn and I still have several tour matters to discuss. If you don’t mind?” Without awaiting a response, he took Catheryn’s arm and, with an easy familiarity not lost on me, began leading her away.
    Deftly, Catheryn disengaged herself from Arthur’s grasp. “It can wait, Arthur. Dan, is there something…?”
    “Please, Catheryn,” insisted Arthur. “This is the last time we’ll have together before leaving, and-”
    “Arthur, it can wait,” Catheryn repeated firmly.
    Just then Adele Washington, the young cellist whose maternity leave had provided Catheryn’s original inroad to the Philharmonic, ambled across the stage. The vivacious and talented young black woman and Catheryn had been friends for years, but since they’d started working together, their friendship had deepened. Quickly assessing the atmosphere of tension, Adele addressed me. “Dan, I thought I recognized that good-looking mug of yours. World treating you okay?”
    “No complaints,” I answered, pleased to see Catheryn’s associate. “How’s that fat little baby of yours?”
    “Still fat. Not so little anymore. She’s walking, pulling things off tables, and becoming a general pain in the butt, thank you.”
    “It gets worse, honey. And once they start talking, it gets a lot worse. Speaking of family, what’s new with Pat?”
    “Not much. He’s still working the swing shift at the hospital and playing Mr. Mom during the day. He keeps saying we should get down to the beach sometime and visit you and Kate.”
    “Do that. Bring the kid.”
    “We will.” Then turning to Catheryn, Adele asked, “Still need a lift?”
    “I’ll give Kate a ride home,” I said. “Assuming she can break free from the clutches of the maestro here.”
    “I think she’ll manage,” laughed Adele, filling the silence following my comment. “Come on, Arthur,” she added, slipping an arm through his. “Rehearsal’s over. Walk me out.”
    “Really, Adele, Catheryn and I have to-”
    “Goodnight, Arthur,” said Catheryn, cutting him off. “I’ll call tomorrow. ’Bye, Adele. See you at the airport.”
    “Sure thing, hon. Goodnight, Dan.”
    “’Night, doll.”
    Catheryn and I watched as Adele, arm firmly linked through Arthur’s, left the stage. Then Catheryn turned to me. “I’m sorry about that,” she said. “On occasion Arthur can be…”
    “A raging hemorrhoid?”
    “I was about to say overly insistent. Virtuoso performers of his stature are often demanding. He can also be very sweet.”
    “It’s so typical of you to make snap judgments,” said Catheryn with a touch of irritation. “You’ve never even given him a chance.”
    “It’s not exactly a snap judgment, sugar. I’ve seen plenty of Arthur. I don’t have to inspect a whole bucket of road apples to know where they came from.”
    Catheryn sighed. “You didn’t answer my question,” she said, apparently deciding not to pursue it. “What’s up?”
    “Nothing. Just thought I’d drop by and see how you’re doing, maybe grab a bite to eat. Speaking of which, I made reservations for us at Patina,” I added, referring to an upscale restaurant in the Walt Disney Concert Hall that catered to a theater clientele. Getting short-notice seating at the exclusive establishment on a performance night was difficult, and I had pulled some strings to do it.
    “I’m not dressed for dinner, Dan.”
    “Hell, even in combat boots and battle fatigues you’d be the best looking woman in the place. C’mon, let’s get over there before the pretheater crowd shows up.”
    Catheryn hesitated.
    “Look, you have to eat,” I pushed on, realizing her reluctance stemmed more from our recent argument than her casual attire. “Plus, it’ll give us a chance to talk.”
    “What about the kids?”
    I shrugged. “They can talk, too.”
    “You know what I mean,” said Catheryn with a fleeting smile.
    “Don’t worry, Christy’s staying at the house till you get back. I ordered pizza, rented a movie, and made Allison promise not to kill Nate.”
    “I planned on packing tonight for the trip. I have only one more day left before I leave.”
    “One more day before you leave?” I said, raising a questioning eyebrow. “Kate, I’m not that dumb.”
    “I beg your pardon?”
    “Yesterday you said it was two days until you leave; the day before that it was three. What kind of scam are you trying to pull?”
    Catheryn chuckled. “I should’ve known I couldn’t sneak one by on you.”
    “Right. And don’t forget it.” Then, more seriously, “Please, Kate?”
    At last she relented. “All right, Dan. Dinner at Patina. I swear, you never cease to amaze me.”
    “Unpredictability’s part of my charm,” I said with a grin. “Drives women wild, inspiring female desire wherever I go.”
    Catheryn smiled back. “Dan, over the years I’ve seen you inspire a whole spectrum of female reactions. Funny, I don’t recall desire being one of them.”
    “That, my dear,” I said, assaying a passable Rhett Butler imitation, “is because you haven’t been looking.”


    Following rehearsal, all of the Philharmonic’s larger instruments were being crated for shipment to Rome in time for the first engagement of the tour. While I waited in the performers’ lounge, Catheryn packed her cello in a specially designed trunk backstage, then freshened up in the dressing room downstairs. When she finally rejoined me, her long auburn hair down, mascara lightly reapplied, a trace of gloss on her lips, I let out a low whistle. “Damn, Kate. You sure clean up good.”
    “Careful,” laughed Catheryn. “That kind of sweet-talking is liable to go to my head.”
    “Plenty more where that came from, sugar.”
    “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
    Bidding goodnight to the guard at the registration desk, we exited onto Grand Avenue. Across the street, lights still burned in both the Administration Building and the Los Angeles County Courthouse, the latter a venue where, over the course of my years on the Force, I’d spent more frustrating hours than I cared to remember. To the north, over the roofs of the Ahmanson Theater and its smaller cousin, the Mark Taper Forum, I noticed the spotlights of Dodger Stadium were on, bathing the ridge above Chavez Ravine in a ghostly glow. RV show, maybe a rock concert, I thought as we walked a half-block south to the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
    “Breathtaking, isn’t it?” Catheryn remarked as she noticed me gazing up at the landmark structure’s stainless steel curves and soaring walls of gleaming metal that, to my eye, looked like sails unfurling above a hull-shaped foundation.
    “Yeah, it is,” I agreed, thinking that the new entertainment center was a fitting addition to its three sister performing-arts venues to the north.
    Moments later we arrived at Patina, which occupied a street-level corner section of the huge, 3.6 acre Disney Hall complex. As we entered the restaurant, I noticed that an evening-gowned and dinner-jacketed crowd had already begun filling Patina’s interior. I escorted Catheryn past an inviting bar to a nearby reception desk. After checking the reservation book, the maitre d’ showed us to an intimate table near the back. As we crossed the room, Catheryn nodded to a young woman playing a harp beside the entrance to an outdoor patio. Apparently recognizing Catheryn, the woman smiled warmly in return.
    I stood to one side as the maitre d’ seated Catheryn. Around us, in an atmosphere of muted pastels understated elegance, a number of walls displayed works curated by the LA Museum of Contemporary Art across the street. After conferring briefly with the sommelier regarding a choice of wine, I sat across from Catheryn. Within moments an avuncular-looking waiter with silver hair and a comfortable paunch approached our table. In one hand he carried a small wine stand, in the other a silver ice bucket containing a split of Louis Roederer “Cristal” champagne. “Mrs. Kane, Detective,” the waiter said pleasantly, peering over half-moon glasses as he set down the wine.
    “How’s it going, Jose?” I asked. “Put on a few el-bees since we last saw you, eh?”
    Jose nodded, patting his stomach. “It’s difficult not to with all the wonderful desserts we offer here,” he said, placing menus before us. Then, his face creasing in a conspiratorial smile, “Possibly we can tempt you with something for after dinner? There are still two unclaimed pieces of warm pistachio cake. If you want, I can hold them. Or maybe the chocolate terrine-”
    “Thanks, but tempt us later,” I interrupted with a smile. “Right now, let’s start with some wine. For my wife only, though.”
    Jose gave me a curious look but said nothing as he poured a single glass for Catheryn. Then, promising to return in a few minutes to take our order, he departed.
    “Places like this used to make me uncomfortable, worrying about doing something embarrassing,” I joked. “At least since going on the wagon, I don’t have to remind myself not to drink directly from the bottle.” After Tommy’s accident and the dark time for me that followed, I had quit drinking. Occasionally I missed it. Mostly, I didn’t. Raising my water glass, I found Catheryn’s eyes with mine.
    “Here’s to you, Kate.”
    Catheryn lifted her champagne flute. “Here’s to us,” she replied.
    “I’ll drink to that,” I said. Still holding her gaze, I touched the rim of her glass with mine.
    With a surge of regret, I realized both of us were nervous. Over the years we had occasionally eaten at Patina, usually celebrating some special event. Happier times. Now a current of tension ran between us, an atmosphere of distrust remaining from the night before. We had things to discuss before Catheryn’s departure for Europe, but at the moment neither of us wanted to reopen recent wounds. Instead, for the next several minutes we perused our menus in silence. Catheryn decided to start with an appetizer of Ahi tuna; I chose the lobster bisque. For her main selection Catheryn ordered roasted halibut with sweet-potato puree and wild mushrooms. I fell back on my usual-loin of venison with porcini-foie gras polenta and quince chutney. After giving our dinner selections to Jose, we talked for several minutes with a waiter who was crisscrossing the room with a cart laden with a tantalizing variety of expensive cheeses.
    When our appetizers arrived, Catheryn started on her Ahi. “You drove to the cemetery this morning?” she noted after several bites, regarding me across the table. “The kids said they saw you there.”
    “Right,” I nodded, diving into my bisque. “I thought they were trying to duck out of going to church.”
    “They went later.”
    “Good. A little religion never hurt anybody.”
    “That go for you, too?”
    I hadn’t been to Mass since Tom’s funeral. “Maybe,” I said, concentrating on my soup. Then, pointedly changing the subject, “Sounded as though rehearsal went well. Ready for your trip?”
    “About as ready as one can ever be for a tour of this length.”
    “Six weeks is a long time.”
    “Five and a half, not counting travel days,” Catheryn corrected, glancing over to judge my mood. Among other things, her projected absence had come up in our recent argument. Throughout she’d maintained that the trip wasn’t her idea, pointing out that she, like most members of the orchestra, had objected to the tour’s length-well past the usual twenty-eight-day limit allowed for traveling engagements. Nonetheless, the Philharmonic Committee had remained adamant, and after negotiating generous bonuses and weeklong residence stays in Vienna and London, a majority of musicians had eventually voted in favor of the extended tour. “Anyway, there’s a chance you’ll be joining me in Venice, right?” she went on when I didn’t reply. “Have you renewed your passport?”
    I nodded, then looked away.
    “What’s wrong?”
    “I’m not sure I’ll be making the trip. Something’s come up.”
    “The case I caught today has all the earmarks of becoming a high profile investigation. I don’t think I’ll be seeing any vacation time till it’s over.”
    “But can’t you-”
    “You know I can’t. We’ve been through this before.”
    Catheryn sighed, unable to hide her disappointment. Setting down her fork, she said, “Dan, there’s more to life than being a police officer.”
    “Or a musician. With your new job, you’re gone as much or more than I am. And now you’re leaving for six weeks. In case you’ve forgotten, I’ll be the one staying home with the kids.”
    “That’s not what I mean, and you know it.”
    “What, then?”
    “Come on, Dan. You spend more time chasing criminals than you do with your own children,” said Catheryn, her voice tightening. “Even when you are home, you’re thinking about your job.”
    “I’m a cop. That’s what I do,” I said, realizing we were tumbling headlong into a reprise of last night’s argument. “You knew that from the start.”
    “I knew. I just didn’t know all the things it would do to you. And for what? Do you actually think you’re doing any good? Arrest one criminal and two more spring up to take his place.”
    “I just take them one at a time. As for the job affecting me, I can’t argue that. Unfortunately, it’s what happens when you’re on the street.”
    “Exactly my point. You’re developing a slanted view of life, and it’s driving a wedge between us. Every time you go to work, you shut down part of yourself to get the job done. And it’s getting worse. Granted, someone has to do police work-”
    “And that someone is me. Sure, it affects me some, maybe a lot, but you have absolutely no idea what goes on in the real world, Kate. There are people out there who think differently than you and I.”
    “And some of them are cops. Read the papers.”
    “Don’t trash the whole department because of a few mutts in the pack.”
    “I’m not. Look, I know that most LAPD officers are honest, hardworking guys,” Catheryn continued stubbornly. “I didn’t mean to get off the subject. I’m simply saying that-”
    “This isn’t getting us anywhere. Let’s drop it, Kate.”
    “And talk about it tomorrow?” Catheryn said curtly, referring to what she considered an irritating habit of mine of putting off important discussions until later. “Fine,” she continued, backing from the precipice. “I talked with my mother today. If you come to Venice, she’ll be available to stay at the beach while you’re gone.”
    “I may have her come either way. I’m going to be busy.”
    “Make time for the kids while I’m gone, Dan.”
    “What do you want me to do? Quit my job and stay home with them while you’re out gallivanting?”
    Catheryn brightened. “Yes, that would be great,” she said with a smile. “Thanks.”
    “Seriously, Kate, the kids will be fine.”
    Catheryn’s smile faded. “Are you that oblivious to what’s going on? They’re not fine now; how are they suddenly going to better in my absence?”
    “I know we’ve all been going through a rough patch lately, but things will even out. Travis is doing well in school-”
    “Trav is not doing well in school. I’ve already had two meetings with his advisor. And Nate is still having nightmares. His grades have dropped, and he’s been fighting again. And Allison hasn’t been the same since the break-in. She hardly sees her friends anymore. At first I thought it was a just phase, but now I’m not so sure.”
    My thoughts traveled back to an evening two summers previous when Catheryn had been attending a performance at the Music Center. Tom and Travis had gone out together on a double date, and I had unexpectedly been called back to the station on a case-leaving Allison and Nate at home alone for several hours. During that time two men had broken into our house. They’d demanded money, and in the course of the robbery Allison had been severely beaten. It could have been worse had it not been for the presence of my off-duty service revolver in the hall closet. The intruders hadn’t counted on a weapon being in the house, or the danger that it posed, even in the hands of a child. One of the men had fled. The other had bled to death with a. 38-caliber-sized hole in his femoral artery.
    “Look, Kate,” I said patiently. “First off, concerning the break-in, we both know that Allison is still bothered by what happened. That’s natural, but the bottom line is she had every right to plug that dirtbag, and she has nothing to feel sorry about. She’ll get over it. She’s a tough kid.”
    “Dan, it’s not that simple,” said Catheryn. “I-”
    “Second,” I went on, cutting her off, “when it comes to Trav, you’re always telling me that it’s impossible to live people’s lives for them. Does ‘Let Travis be himself’ sound familiar? Take some of your own advice. Travis is nearly a man. He’ll find his own way.”
    “Third,” I continued, “ all kids have nightmares. Nate’s tough, too. He’ll grow out of them. As for his fighting in school, at least he’s sticking up for himself. Now, I know you would be a lot happier if he’d kiss any mean ol’ bullies who-”
    “What about his grades?”
    “Grades aren’t everything. Hell, look at me. If I hadn’t been able to snag a football, I’d have never made it through high school, let alone USC.”
    “Don’t give me your ‘Aw, shucks, country-boy routine,’” said Catheryn impatiently. “Some of those you deal with at work may buy it-at least the ones who haven’t met you-but we both know you have a mind like a steel trap. Let me put this another way. I know how you feel about our children. You love them more than anything.”
    I nodded. “We have the finest kids any parent could wish for, and that’s the God’s truth.”
    “And you’ve always wanted what’s best for them.”
    I nodded again. “Absolutely.”
    “When was the last time you looked at your children?”
    “I saw them this morning.”
    “I mean really looked. When was the last time you looked into their eyes and asked what they were thinking, what they were feeling?”
    I didn’t respond.
    “They think you’re some kind of hero, Dan. It’s almost painful to see how much they want to please you. They need something from you that I can’t give them. I’m not sure what, but whatever it is, you’re not giving it. They need you, and you haven’t been there for them. Not for a long time. Not since Tommy died.”
    At the mention of Tom, my heart fell. “I have to work,” I said. “I can’t always be there holding their hands.”
    “That’s not what I mean. You may be a cop, but you’re also a father, with responsibilities that far outweigh any commitments you’ve made to the LAPD. This wall you’ve built around yourself is hurting everyone. Especially your children.”
    “People usually deal with tragedy in one of two ways,” Catheryn pressed on. “Religion or humor. You’ve shied away from both. Maybe somebody could help.”
    “Let’s drop this, Kate.”
    “And talk about it tomorrow?” she said bitterly. “Dan, it wouldn’t hurt to see a counselor.”
    “A shrink? That subject is closed.”
    “Think about it. Please,” Catheryn said softly. “We could go together. Tom’s gone, but Travis, Allison, and Nate are still here. They need you. So do I.”
    When our entrees arrived, Catheryn and I ate in silence. Catheryn finished her champagne; I stuck with water. We both had decaf following the meal, deciding to skip dessert.
    Regretting the turn of our earlier conversation, I sat back in my chair, for the first time noticing a delicate piece of jewelry pinned to Catheryn’s blouse. I had given her the emerald pin after Tom’s birth. With the subsequent arrivals of Travis, Allison, and finally Nate, I had presented her with other emerald pieces. All were modest, but over the years the green stones had grown to become not only reminders of the joy we had shared at the birth of each of our children, but also as an affirmation of our family’s strength and love. “I see you have on Tom’s brooch,” I said cautiously. “Haven’t noticed you wearing that for a while.”
    Catheryn raised a hand to touch the pin. “You gave me this at the hospital,” she said. “Remember what you said?”
    “I told you I loved you,” I answered without hesitation. “That I would always love you.”
    Catheryn smiled. “What else?”
    I thought a moment. “I thanked you for giving me a son and making us a family.”
    Catheryn took my hand. “Dan, we need to talk about Tommy. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. Things haven’t been right between us, not between any of us, since his death. I know we’re all to blame for that, me included, but you…” She took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders. “It’s time to let go, Dan.”
    “What are you talking about?”
    “Mourning is natural. It’s part of the healing process. But you’ve never moved on. It’s destroying you, Dan. And it’s tearing apart our family.”
    Still holding my hand, Catheryn searched my eyes. Though I could tell she was disheartened by what she saw, she continued nevertheless. “Dan, if you don’t let go of life’s sadnesses, you’re letting them do something worse to you than they’ve already done.”
    “ You may be able to forget Tom by throwing yourself into your music, but it’s not that easy for me,” I shot back, regretting my words the instant they were out of my mouth.
    Tears sprang to Catheryn’s eyes, but she held my gaze. “Tommy was my firstborn child,” she said quietly, fighting to control her voice. “He was a part of me, a part of us. I’ll never forget him.”
    Hearing the heartbreak in her voice, I looked down, too ashamed for words.
    “Dan, I think we should get counseling.”
    “I told you, that subject is closed.”
    “Please think about it,” Catheryn pleaded. “All I’m asking is that you consider it.”
    Following dinner, Catheryn accompanied me out to the street in silence. Still not speaking when we reached the Dorothy Chandler parking garage, she slid in beside me on the front seat of the Suburban. As she did, she noticed two overnight bags in the back. “You going somewhere?” she asked icily.
    I glanced at the luggage. “Not me, us. And not anymore,” I said regretfully, jamming the station wagon into gear and squealing the tires all the way up the ramps to the street above. “I had something planned for later,” I added as we wheeled onto Grand. “That idea’s obviously shot to hell.”
    “What was it?”
    “A romantic interlude.”
    I nodded glumly. “Bad timing, huh?” I paused a moment, then continued. “Listen, Kate. I came here tonight to try to patch things up before you left. I’ve missed you so much these past weeks. Things aren’t the same without you.”
    Catheryn regarded me for a long moment. “What sort of romantic interlude? X-rated motel, vibrating bed, Jacuzzi tub?”
    “A lot better than that, I promise,” I said with a hopeful smile. “I packed us each a change of clothes, and Christy’s staying over to get Nate off to school in the morning. C’mon, Kate. What do you say to putting aside our differences, just for tonight? I’m truly sorry about how things went at dinner.”
    Catheryn looked at me suspiciously. “What hotel?”
    “It’s a surprise. Trust me, you’ll like it.”
    “I don’t think so.”
    “Kate, I can’t stand our being like this. Let’s give tonight another chance. Please?”
    Understandably put off by the evening’s earlier turn, Catheryn shook her head. “You can’t be serious.”
    “I am. Please, Kate.”
    Catheryn hesitated. “After what’s been going on between us, I certainly don’t feel like-”
    Catheryn hesitated a moment more, then finally relented. “Well, I am leaving for almost six weeks, and I do hate to waste a perfectly good babysitter. But I’m definitely not making any promises about what happens when we get there.”
    I smiled, encouraged to see that Catheryn was making an effort, too. “One step at a time.”
    Avoiding the freeway, I jogged over to Beverly Boulevard and turned west, my eyes sweeping side streets and alleys along the way-a habit from patrol days I had never been able to shake. Twenty minutes later, after cutting across Santa Monica Boulevard, I took Palm to Sunset, then backtracked at the first light and headed toward the beach.
    Catheryn, who on our cross-town trek had repeatedly asked where we were going, suddenly sat erect. “We’re staying here?” she asked in amazement as I pulled into the palm-lined entrance of the Beverly Hills Hotel. “We haven’t been here since…”
    “… that second honeymoon we took a few years back,” I finished. “I got the same bungalow we had then. That was one hell of a weekend, Kate.”
    Catheryn’s cheeks colored. “Yes, it was. But Dan, what about the expense?”
    “We’ll just have to get along without the new Ferrari,” I joked.
    As we proceeded up the curving drive, I studied the four-story Crescent Wing that had been added to the hotel during the early fifties, its walls now partially concealed behind a thicket of tropical trees and flowering plants. As we passed, the thought struck me that for some reason the uniquely opulent building, with its pink stucco exterior, red tiled roof, and arched perimeter walls somehow seemed to exude an aura of hospitality that contrasted its near-garish appearance.
    “I can’t believe we’re here,” said Catheryn.
    “Believe it. This is where I bring all my women.”
    Again making an effort to forget our previous argument, at least for the moment, Catheryn shot me a playful look of admonishment. “There had better be only one woman in your life, mister.”
    “Don’t worry, Kate. I’m saving my godlike body just for you.”
    “You’d better.”
    As I jammed the Suburban into park, a valet in a pink polo shirt stepped to Catheryn’s door to help her out. A tall doorman wearing a forest-green jacket with contrasting white and gray cuffs appeared at my window on the other side. “Good evening, Detective,” he said, his eyes twinkling with the unmistakable humor of someone who has at one time or another seen almost everything, and who by nature chooses to view the lighter side of life. “It’s been a while. Will you be staying with us tonight?”
    During the early eighties, prior to moving up to homicide, I had served on an FBI/LAPD task force investigating organized crime figures-some of whom had briefly resided at the Beverly Hills Hotel. While there on a three-week stakeout I had grown to know many of the employees, including the doorman, and over the years I’d stayed in touch. “That’s the plan, Chris,” I answered with a grin. “Glad to see they haven’t fired you yet. Still got ’em fooled, eh?”
    Chris grinned back. “Same as you, Detective. Same as you.”
    Waving off an approaching bellman, I reached into the Suburban and retrieved our overnight bags, then escorted Catheryn up the red-carpeted walkway to the entrance. I glanced back as we reached the door, noting that Chris had directed a valet to park my Suburban in an area up front reserved for the hotel’s most prestigious patrons-close enough to the entrance that vehicles left there could be retrieved before departing owners arrived at the curb. Smiling, I watched as my station wagon shuddered to a stop between a sky-blue Porsche and a gleaming silver Rolls. Though a small token of respect, Chris’s gesture was not lost on me.
    As I registered at the desk, I noticed that a number of changes had been made to the lobby since we’d last visited, but the original Art Deco theme had been maintained throughout, the reserved tone somehow now even more exquisite. After I finished registering, I led Catheryn past the Polo Lounge to a series of enclosed gardens beyond. A number of security men in suits and ties had been unobtrusively present in the lobby. Once outside, I noticed two more stationed near a bungalow on the left.
    “Ex-LAPD guys working hotel security. Some big shot’s probably spending the night,” I explained to Catheryn, noting her glancing at the men as well. As we approached the pair of heavyset men, I barked, “Look alive, girls. No sleeping on the job.”
    Both men momentarily straightened, then relaxed. “Kane. What are you doing here?” one asked.
    “Slumming,” I answered.
    Catheryn and I continued down a flower-lined walkway to the right, moving through puddles of light spilling from horn-shaped copper lamps, their downturned bells illuminating the path. “Am I imagining things,” asked Catheryn, “or do you know everybody in this town?”
    “Everybody worth knowing,” I answered as we rounded a stand of palms. “Here we are. Four-A. Remember?”
    Catheryn regarded the bungalow where we had spent a long weekend celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary. Nearly hidden behind a wall of giant bird of paradise, the small cottage brought back happy memories. “I certainly do,” she said. “Plants are bigger, though.”
    I led her to the door. “It’s been a few years, sugar. Check out the inside.”
    Like the lobby, the interior of the bungalow had been tastefully refurbished since our last visit, but it was a vase of yellow trumpet daffodils on a bedroom nightstand that caught Catheryn’s attention. “Oh, Dan,” she said softly, bending to admire the bouquet of flowers. “They’re lovely. How did you find them at this time of year?”
    I had begun giving Catheryn daffodils when we first started dating. “Had the concierge order them special,” I answered. “Needed a week’s notice. Can you believe they had to come all the way from Holland?”
    “I know,” said Catheryn. “Thank you.”
    I smiled, pleased by her reaction. Then, my smile fading, “Kate, I really am sorry about how I’ve been acting. I realize things have been hard on you, too. And I haven’t been making them any easier.
    “No. You haven’t.”
    “Sometimes I wonder why you’re even with me. There are times like tonight when I saw you up there onstage with the orchestra that I can’t help feeling you could do a whole lot better than me.”
    “Dan, if you don’t know by now why I’m with you, I’m not about to tell. Your head’s already big enough.”
    “I’m serious, Kate. Do you ever get the feeling that if things had been different, maybe you could’ve been happier with somebody more, I don’t know, more-”
    “Normal?” Catheryn joked. Then, seeing my expression, she touched my cheek. “You are serious, aren’t you?”
    “I guess I am.”
    “I’m with you because I love you,” she said simply. “And I’ve missed you, too. More than I can say.”
    And then she kissed me. Her mouth, at first soft, slowly grew insistent. Her tongue lightly touched mine, then became more demanding. I felt her breasts brushing against me, and sliding my hand down the strong curve of her back, I drew her to me, her body electric against mine. With a soft moan of desire, she returned my embrace.
    I lifted her easily and carried her to the bed.
    Our clothes came off in a rush between kisses, winding up in a scattering across the floor. Our earlier argument forgotten, at least for the moment, we began to make love quickly and hungrily, lost in a passion as unstoppable as a flood. Catheryn arched beneath me, her fingers digging into my back, her breath hot on my cheek.
    I kissed her lips, running my hands over the smoothness of her breasts, smelling the fragrance of soap and the sweet scent of passion as her nipples grew hard beneath my palms. Moving against me in a rhythm as ancient as time, Catheryn entwined her legs around me and held me tightly, whispering endearments that hearkened back to the first time we’d been together.
    She cried out softly when I entered her. Then closing her eyes, she joined me in a timeless celebration of our union, both of us swept away in a rapture as flowing and seamless as a waterfall.
    Later we made love once more, this time slowing to bestow intimacies each of us knew pleased the other, sharing lingering strokes, leisurely touches, loving caresses. Able to wait no longer, Catheryn climaxed once again, but I delayed the ultimate moment as long as I could. At last, burying my face in the fresh-smelling tangle of her hair, I spent myself a final time, murmuring the words Catheryn had spoken earlier to me, wishing the night would never end.
    Afterward, as Catheryn slept, I lay awake in the darkness, my mind roaming the landscape between consciousness and oblivion. Lulled by the sound of Catheryn’s breathing, I stared at the ceiling, my thoughts awash in a dreamy swirl of images: A brass marker set in a grassy hillside. The inquisitive stare of a long-eared rabbit. The smell of jasmine in a suburban back yard. Nate’s tears wet on my cheek. The ragged cuts on a young boy’s hands. And running through it all, like the clash of a dissonant chord, the anguish I had seen in Catheryn’s eyes as she’d spoken of our lost son.


    Monday morning, at precisely 3:29 AM, Victor Carns awoke from a deep and dreamless sleep. He lay motionless for several heartbeats, taking slow, measured breaths as his mind spiraled to consciousness. Moments later he extended an arm and groped the nightstand, shutting off his alarm clock an instant before it sounded.
    He lay still a few seconds more, then flipped off the covers and rose from the bed. Without turning on the light, he crossed to the window and opened the blackout curtains. Standing nude and unseen, he surveyed the predawn California landscape.
    At the mouth of the canyon far below, guarded on the north by the twin peaks of Saddleback Mountain, the inky outline of Portola reservoir shimmered in the moonlight. To the west, over an encirclement of hedges and wrought-iron fences bordering his estate, Carns could see a single pair of headlights winding down Coto de Caza Drive. In their serpentine progression south, the beams occasionally swung wide, spilling over an expanse of golf fairways traversing the center of the valley. Above the road, in stands of sycamore and live oak, isolated glimmerings marked a smattering of residences climbing the opposite ridge. Most of the homes there were ensconced in high-end developments with names like “The Arbours,” “Upper Rancho Colinas,” and “The Woods,” titles Carns considered pretentious, typical of the Southern Californian gentry that had recently descended like locusts upon the area.
    Although the sun wouldn’t rise for hours, a glow from the lights of Rancho Santa Margarita lit low-hanging clouds to the west. Urban sprawl had reached the base of the Santa Ana Mountains, with similar developments like Irvine and Mission Viejo gobbling up mammoth tracts that had once been Spanish missions and Mexican potreros.
    Years before, after careful consideration, Carns had chosen the gated community of Coto de Caza as an appropriate site for his estate. Originally known as Gobernadora Canyon, Coto lay nestled in the brush-covered foothills of the Cleveland National Forest, twenty miles from the Pacific. In keeping with its ranching heritage, the canyon had been subdivided as an equestrian community, with homesites and horse riding easements throughout. Though not a horseman, Carns had selected Coto because of its access to urban centers, quality of lifestyle, and privacy. Over the years his choice had proved exceptionally satisfactory, at least on the first two counts. Arterial thoroughfares to the population centers of Orange and Los Angeles Counties lay within easy reach, and Coto’s 44,000-square-foot clubhouse, Robert Trent Jones, Jr., golf course, Olympic-class aquatic center, multiple tennis courts, and huge equestrian facility provided one of the finest residential environs in Southern California. Privacy, however, had increasingly become a problem.
    Leaving the window, Carns crossed to his dresser and pulled on underwear, sweat pants, a cotton T-shirt, socks, and tennis shoes. After descending a broad staircase to the main floor of his mansion, he proceeded through a gigantic living room, treading a collection of tribal rugs and flat-woven kilims from Persia, the Caucasus, and Turkey-many of whose value far exceeded an average family’s yearly income. Without stopping, he continued down a long hallway to a well equipped gymnasium. There for the next hour he exercised without pause, spending fifteen minutes on an inclined treadmill, thirty with free weights, and a final quarter hour on Nautilus and Gravitron machines.
    Afterward he made his way to an adjacent bathroom. Dripping sweat, he stripped, reached into the bathroom’s black granite shower, turned the water on cold, and stepped beneath the icy spray. Gasping at the cold, he forced himself to remain under the frigid stream for several minutes, the ice-cold needles stinging his skin, a near-painful sensation of numbness creeping through his limbs. When he could endure no more, he stepped out. Grabbing a towel from a nearby hook, he inspected himself in a full-length mirror on the opposite wall.
    A fraction under six feet tall, the image in the glass looked hard and lean, the powerful upper body bearing the mark of years of weight training. Dense black hair coursed from chest to groin, matching a wiry thicket on his forearms and shoulders. The face in the mirror appeared bland: thin lips, a broad triangular nose, close-cropped hair, and small, well-formed ears tucked flat against the skull.
    As he began drying himself, Carns stepped closer, peering at his reflection. The eyes staring back were dark brown, almost black, as hard and symmetrical as marbles. Carns grinned at his image, then crossed to a clothes closet and
    selected a fresh pair of sweats. After pulling them on, he checked the clock on the weight room wall: 4:45 AM.
    Whistling contentedly, Carns returned to the living room and took a corridor to the right, passing an unused banquet room with seating for thirty, a granite-countered kitchen with a huge central island, and a darkened stairway leading to the subterranean level of his estate. Continuing, he reached the most lived-in portion of his house, and the area, with the exception of a small room in the basement, in which he derived his most pleasure.
    He paused in the doorway, enjoying the anticipation that always gripped him before entering. The glow from a bank of computer screens bathed the room’s interior in greens and reds and blues, creating an illusion of festivity. Carns hesitated a moment more, then touched a switch near the door. Banks of hidden fluorescents flooded the chamber with light.
    Like spokes of a wheel, a configuration of desks, counters, and shoulder-high partitions divided the space into three areas. Most prominent, a central, U-shaped desk dominated the assembly, its surface ringed by twenty-seven-inch computer monitors, along with a multiple-line phone terminal that he used to access the options trading floors of Chicago and New York. Two lesser workstations jutted from the main desk. The left branch, Carns’s “weather station,” harbored a computer terminal capable of serving up global weather forecasts, pest and crop reports, an AP wire feed, and an assortment of agricultural newsletters. The right wing, which served as a research center, contained a combination copier, scanner, and fax machine, a bookcase, and two additional computer screens-both displaying programs that Carns used for technical analysis.
    Long ago, when he’d first begun futures trading, Carns had realized that up-to-the-minute information provided an immeasurable edge over the field. As a result he spent over a hundred thousand dollars yearly on fundamental data, information that included regular reports from certain feed-yard employees in Kansas, Texas, and southern Nebraska-some of it illegal. Recently his expenditure in this latter category had more than proved its worth.
    Before starting his workday, Carns stepped into an auxiliary kitchen off the main office and poured a mug of black coffee from a pot preset to brew at 4:40 AM. Next he toasted an English muffin and ate it with a glass of tomato juice, precisely as he did every weekday morning. Coffee in hand, he moved to the Data Transmission Network weather screen and pulled up precipitation forecasts for various regions of crop production, checking the current six-to-ten-day forecast for each locale. That done, he crossed to the research station for a review of overnight currency moves, also spending time studying commodity reports he had requested on Friday.
    Forty-five minutes later, following a regimented schedule, Carns shifted to a review of crop charts, concentrating on recent moves in soybeans. But as he studied the graphs, his mind drifted to the cattle market, the area in which he presently held his biggest position. Unable to concentrate on other matters, he allowed his thoughts to turn to the disastrous slide cattle futures had suffered over previous weeks. Although the market still showed signs of heading even lower, he had begun closing out his “short” contracts last Thursday. The remainder would take days to unload, but if nothing went awry, he stood to make money. A lot of money.
    At 5:19 AM, Carns moved to his trading desk. Sixty seconds later he began his day, concentrating on the markets as they opened in turn: bonds, currency, and metals during the first hour, stock-index futures at six-thirty, cattle and hogs a half hour later, then finally grains. Working straight through the morning, he spent considerable time on the telephone conversing with industry sources and representatives on the trading floors, his demeanor curt and concise, revealing nothing of the man behind the voice.
    During this time Carns also placed occasional orders, meticulously stamping a trade ticket for each. For the most part, however, his attention remained riveted on five computer monitors perched like oracles atop his desk, serving up a tick-by-tick spreadsheet of his positions, as well as market overviews, position quotes, and real-time pricing information on selected commodities, stock indexes, and foreign exchange futures. On one of the screens he occasionally watched CNN and CNBC to keep himself apprised of breaking financial news, and partway through the morning something on one of the news stations caught his eye. As he turned to the screen, a map of Southern California flashed up behind the news anchor’s desk. The display abruptly zoomed in on Los Angeles, with Pacific Palisades delineated in blood-red letters. Carns turned up the sound.
    “… similar to the murder of a family last month in the Orange County community of Mission Viejo. Although members of the Los Angeles police have not yet officially linked the two crimes, Channel Two Action News has learned that authorities fear a serial killer may be at large in the Southern California area. Here with more from Pacific Palisades is Lauren Van Owen.”
    The scene switched to a police-choked residential street. Carns listened as a self-assured female reporter embarked on a somber description of Saturday night’s murders. Partway through her report, she stopped. The camera lurched, then followed as she hurried after a large man who had exited the house. Despite Van Owen’s prodding, the man, later identified as Detective Daniel Kane, refused to comment. Initially Carns dismissed the rough-looking investigator as another muscle bound Irish cop. But something about him-a flinty gleam of intelligence in his pale-blue eyes, the unforgiving lines around his mouth-prompted Carns to take a closer look.
    The clip ended with the detective promising, “Sooner or later, we’ll get this maggot.”
    Carns flipped to CNBC, then ran through the other channels, searching without success for further coverage on the killings. As he was about to switch back to CNN, a call came in on his trading line.
    “Carns,” he said, lifting the receiver.
    “Good morning, Victor,” a male voice replied.
    Carns recognized the clipped diction of John Hall, the CEO of United Western Packers, an Omaha meat packing conglomerate that routinely purchased over thirty-five percent of all cattle sold in the United States. As Carns started to respond, he heard a telltale beep on the line. He checked the recorder switch on his phone terminal.
    Without a word, he hung up.
    The phone rang thirty seconds later. Hall again. “Victor?”
    Carns waited before replying, making sure that this time Hall had called on an unrecorded line. At last he spoke. “Don’t ever do that again,” he said softly.
    “Of course not.” Though Hall replied pleasantly, Carns detected something in his tone that sounded as hard as steel. An alarm went off in Carns’s mind. In his day-to-day transactions, Hall had no reason to be using a recorded trading line. So why had he called on one?
    An accident?
    In the event of any suspected impropriety, the National Futures Association and the USDA routinely scrutinized recorded transactions. Carns knew that if brought to light, his association with Hall and their ingenious but extremely illegal market manipulation involving cattle futures would, at minimum, garner them both speedy trials, gigantic fines, and adjoining cells in the nearest federal prison. Hall knew it, too.
    “Victor? Are you still there?”
    “Yes. Why are you calling?”
    “Two things,” Hall answered, his voice brusque and businesslike. “First, United Western Packers has been out of the market for five weeks now, and our captive supply is running short. In order to keep our plants running efficiently, UWP will need to start buying soon.”
    “I anticipated that,” snapped Carns. An understatement. In truth, he had thought of almost nothing else over the past weeks. In futures trading, especially with a position as heavily leveraged as Carns’s, the specter of financial collapse always loomed on the horizon. Of course, if that happened Hall would lose his share of the profits as well, but it was Carns’s money at risk. And more than anything, Carns hated being in someone else’s power.
    “How much time do you need?” Hall demanded.
    Carns glanced at the cattle chart. All red for the past five weeks and still falling. “Two or three days,” he answered, deciding not to reveal that he’d already begun closing out his contracts. The more time he had to scale out, the less probability of causing a price jump.
    “I can hold off for two additional days. No more.”
    “Fine. You indicated that you had another reason for calling?”
    “I did a little investigating, Victor. I was astounded to learn that you took a larger position than we originally discussed. A much larger portion.”
    “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
    “Of course you do. Does five thousand contracts ring a bell?”
    Carns said nothing, realizing that Hall’s sources at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and contacts with various brokers on the floor must be far more extensive than he had thought.
    “You’ve substantially increased our risk,” Hall continued, his tone hardening. “As a result, my cut just got bigger. More risk; more reward. I want half. And that’s on all five thousand contracts.”
    “I don’t believe I heard you correctly.”
    “I think you did.”
    Carns paused, remembering the recorded line on which Hall had first called.
    A warning? Had Hall recorded other conversations as well?
    “Half, Victor. That’s nonnegotiable.”
    “Or else what?”
    “You don’t want to know the answer to that. Be here in two weeks with my share.” Without another word, Hall broke the connection.
    Furious, Carns replaced the receiver and pressed his thumbs to his temples, attempting to relieve the crippling throb that had begun pounding behind his left eye. Groaning, he rose and crossed to the kitchen. He took a small vial from the cupboard, shook out two tablets, and swallowed them. From experience he knew that the prescription drug wouldn’t eliminate the pain, but he hoped it would take off the edge until he could get to something that might.
    Carns returned to his desk. Referring to the cattle-futures chart on his center screen, he checked the market one last time. Satisfied, he activated his trade-line recorder, lifted the phone, and contacted his representative in the cattle pit. Speaking quietly, he placed buy orders to cover his “short” position, spreading them out over the next two days.
    After time-stamping his trade tickets, Carns again let his thoughts drift. Over the past several weeks, with every downward tick in the market, he’d done the math. Nonetheless, he did it again, manipulating the numbers in his head. Even with the inevitable upward jog that closing out his contracts would precipitate, he would average at least an eleven-and-a-half-point move on five thousand contracts, times four hundred dollars per point per contract.
    Twenty-three million dollars.
    Less commissions, of course.
    And Hall’s cut.
    Abruptly, Carns rose from his desk and left the office. Near the end of the corridor he took a stairway down to a large basement, stopping at the foot of the stairs. To his right lay a pistol firing range; to his left, the blank metal surfaces of two fireproof doors. The room behind one housed a state-of-the-art darkroom, little used now with the advent of digital cameras. With the exception of Carns, no one had ever viewed the interior of the other room. Carns hesitated, then turned on his heel and walked to the firing range.
    Years before, during early months of construction, Carns had hatched the idea of installing a private shooting facility beneath his house. Subsequently he’d had the foundation contractor lay seventy-five yards of large concrete drainage pipe, burying it under the hillside between the mansion’s basement and the northern property line of the estate. Complete with lights and an overhead pulley system with orange track markers, the four-foot-diameter underground shaft allowed Carns to run targets out to preset distances, all the way to a pile of sand in a vault at the far end. It was simple, effective, and soundproof.
    Carns entered his shooting room and moved to a gun cabinet against the back wall. After sliding out a middle drawer, he selected two handguns-a. 22-caliber High Standard ISU Olympic target pistol, and a. 45-caliber Colt Combat Elite MK IV automatic-grabbing boxes of ammunition for each. Next he stepped to the maw of the waist-high tunnel. Smelling a must of earth and mildew wafting from the interior, he placed his pistols on a sighting bench, donned ear protection, and cranked a human-shaped Alco paper target out to the twenty-five-foot marker.
    For the next twenty minutes Carns shot steadily from a two-handed combat stance, firing two rounds to the body, one to the head-alternating pistols and distances, replacing targets as necessary. He got “good paper” on most, at twenty-five feet clustering all his rapid-fire shots within the black inner-target partitions, most shots at fifty feet, and over sixty percent at seventy-five. After finishing, he returned his pistols to the cabinet. Although his high-tech ear protection had all but blocked the sound of his firing, his headache was worse. He realized that he needed something else to help him relax, and it wasn’t shooting.
    Carns exited the gun range and walked to the opposite end of the hall. There he ducked into the darkroom and opened a cabinet beneath one of the stainless-steel sinks. Groping the inside surface of the cabinet face, his fingers closed on a key. Key in hand, he returned to the hallway and inserted the key into the deadbolt lock on the second door. The metal-clad portal swung inward.
    With mounting anticipation, Carns stepped inside, the soothing darkness of his secret room enveloping him like a blanket. He fumbled with a switch on the wall. A single lamp came on across the chamber.
    Carns glanced around the windowless space, his heart now beginning to race with excitement. Black soundproofing panels covered nearly every visible inch of wall and ceiling, lending the twelve-by-twenty-foot enclosure a surreal, cavelike appearance. On the right, facing a gigantic TV screen flanked by twin bookcases, sat a leather chair. Beside it was a wooden table with sound and viewing remote-control units, along with a carousel slide projector. Above, a rolled up projection screen lay within a ceiling recess, bracketed by a number of surround-sound speakers. Straight ahead, at the far end of the room, the doors of a mirrored closet shimmered like quicksilver.
    Carns moved to the nearest bookcase. Its middle shelves held a stereo, tape deck, VCR, and DVD player. The upper and lower levels contained hundreds of video and audio tapes from the past-relics he’d hadn’t yet transferred to digital-each labeled in Carns’s crabbed cursive. He started to select an ancient videocassette, one of his favorites, then changed his mind. After moving to the other bookshelf, he perused racks of chronologically arranged slide carousels and DVD discs. Still not finding what he wanted, he trailed his index finger over a library of audiocassettes, finally selecting one from the top shelf.
    Smiling, Carns flipped on the stereo, slipped the tape into the playback slot, and pushed the rewind button. As a soft whirring emanated from the unit, he glanced toward the closet.
    Costume party?
    No. Today, only sound, he decided.
    The simplest pleasures are often the most satisfying.
    Carns dimmed the lights and delivered himself to the cool embrace of his armchair. As he waited for the tape to rewind, he mentally revisited Hall’s call earlier that afternoon, realizing his association with the CEO of United Western Packers had become tiresome. Today, for the first time in their relationship, Carns had sensed more than avarice in Hall’s voice. Something furtive had been there as well, something dangerous.
    More to the point, half of twenty-three million was a lot of money.
    A soft snick sounded as the rewind motor clicked to a stop. Carns lifted the remote control, feeling the throb in his temple finally beginning to abate. Gratefully, he closed his eyes, savoring what was to come. Able to wait no longer, he touched the play button.
    A moment later the screaming began.


    I kept telling Banowski that the bet wasn’t how wide…” Detective Paul Deluca paused for dramatic emphasis. “… it was how long!”
    Having heard the story before, I smiled as I crossed the West Los Angeles Division squad room, approaching a knot of men gathered around Deluca’s desk. Deluca’s tale involved a contest years back between then considerably younger Detectives Deluca and Banowski. In the competition, which had followed a boisterous retirement party at the Police Academy, each contestant was challenged to urinate a continuous and relatively unbroken line as he walked-more like stumbled-forward, with the longest trail winning. By the time of the assigned piss-off, however, Banowski-having during the preceding hours prepared for the match by judiciously consuming as much beer as possible-had long since passed the stumbling stage and required the assistance of friends simply to make it to the field of battle.
    Detective John Banowski, a thick-necked man with thinning, military-style hair, glowered at Deluca from an adjacent desk. “If you’d moved up the start time like I asked, I wouldn’t of hadda go so bad.”
    Deluca grinned and passed his hand over the dark stubble covering his chin, rubbing a five o’clock shadow that typically made its appearance before noon. “Tough,” he laughed. “Anyway, we get to the starting line up there on the obstacle course, and-”
    “Hey, Dan,” a heavyset man interrupted, noting my approach. Levering his blocky frame from the edge of Deluca’s desk, my ex-partner and retired homicide detective Arnie Mercer assumed a look of mock insult, his salt-and-pepper eyebrows bristling with bogus indignation. “I finally accepted your invitation to drop by this morning and witness firsthand you guys wastin’ taxpayers’ money, and you didn’t even have the decency to show up.”
    After dropping Catheryn at home in Malibu, I had spent the remainder of the morning at the coroner’s office attending the autopsies of Charles, Susan, and Spencer Larson. “Sorry, Arnie,” I said as I sank into a chair behind my desk. Arnie had been my Training Officer, mentor, partner, and best friend for most of my police career. When he’d retired several years back, I had reluctantly assumed his position as the D-III supervising detective for the West LA homicide unit. Since taking on the additional duties of overseeing personnel, delegating responsibility, and monitoring ongoing investigations, I’d belatedly come to appreciate the scope of my older friend’s abilities. “I would’ve been here sooner,” I added, “but I heard Deluca was reprising his piss story for about the ten billionth time, and I decided to make myself scarce.”
    “I’ve made revisions,” objected Deluca. “You’ll like this version.”
    Banowski glared at Deluca. “You were never one to agonize over the facts.” Then, to me, “See the news last night?”
    “No. Why?”
    “’Cause your smilin’ face was all over it, that’s why. That good-looking broad from Channel Two, Lauren what’s-her-name, got a nice shot of you callin’ one of our local psychos a maggot.”
    “The other stations picked it up, too,” added Arnie. “Probably get the department sued for slander.”
    “Damn,” I grumbled.
    “When are you gonna learn not to converse with our brothers and sisters in the media?” chided Arnie. “ Especially the lovely Ms. Van Owen. I swear, every time you open your mouth around her, you wind up sticking-”
    “We’re all in agreement that diplomacy isn’t my strong suit,” I interrupted. “So what?”
    “So the el-tee wants to have a little conference with you, that’s what,” Deluca answered, referring to Lieutenant Nelson Long, the West LA detectives commanding officer. “He’s been on the phone all morning with the mayor, the chief, and every news agency from here to New York.”
    “Sorry, Arnie,” I groaned, rising from my desk. “Can we get together later tonight?”
    “Maybe,” Arnie said doubtfully. He had a new girlfriend and recently had been spending most of his time at her place. In the weeks I’d been bunking at Arnie’s, I hadn’t seen much of him. “Kate leaving for Europe tomorrow?” he asked.
    I nodded.
    “So let’s hit some of the old watering holes later this week,” he suggested. “You can hoist a couple Shirley Temples while I destroy what few brain cells I’ve got left.”
    “Sure. Say hi to Stacy for me. By the way, how’s that going? She hasn’t dumped your fat ass yet?”
    “Not yet, partner. But thanks for asking.”
    After passing a low counter guarding the entrance to the squad room, I rapped on a door near the personnel board. A Formica nameplate screwed to the wooden surface of the door read “Lt. Nelson Long.”
    “Come,” a gravelly voice echoed from the other side, sounding like a truck grinding in low gear.
    I entered Long’s cramped, windowless cubicle. The lieutenant looked up from a thick binder on his desk, his dark-brown eyes displaying an intelligence that seemed almost startling in his otherwise ordinary, broad-featured face. As a black graduate fresh from the academy, Long had ascended the ranks of the LAPD on ability alone and, in my opinion, was one of the few members of the brass who merited my respect and trust.
    “Listen, Lieutenant,” I began. “If this is about my comments to the TV people yester-”
    “Relax,” said Long, returning his attention to the three-ringed binder on the desk. “By now I’m used to your press releases. Your on-camera screw-ups are getting to be a matter of course.”
    I sat in a wooden chair beside Long’s desk. “This one wasn’t so bad,” I observed. “I’ve done worse.”
    Long closed the file, which I noticed was marked “Larson.”
    “No argument there,” he agreed with a patient smile. Then, more seriously, “We have a problem brewing, Dan. These Palisades murders are going to turn into a real shitstorm. The mayor’s already jumping all over it. Did you see the papers this morning?”
    “It’s not good,” Long sighed. “Nobody’s safe in their own homes, the cops aren’t doing dick about rising crime in middle class neighborhoods, that kinda crap. Plus, the Times and some of the local TV news stations are hinting at a connection with the killings last month in Orange County.”
    “I know. I went online and looked up the previous news reports,” I said. “I’m sure the O.C. guys held back some details, and this could still turn out to be a copycat killing, but everything I’ve learned so far fits. I hate to say it, Lieutenant, but I have a bad feeling that the Orange County murders and those in Pacific Palisades were done by the same guy.”
    Both of us fell silent, considering the unsettling possibility that a serial killer might be responsible for both sets of murders. I knew that years back Long had participated in the “Hillside Strangler” investigation, and early in my career I had been peripherally involved in tracking a series of killings-callously labeled the “Bum in a Drum” murders by certain LAPD wags-in which the bodies of transients started turning up in downtown Dumpsters. In each instance, apprehensive public figures and citizens alike had called for immediate albeit unrealistic results, and as the cases dragged on, investigating agents had increasingly been served up as scapegoats. It was common knowledge on the Force that a serial killing investigation was a no-win situation for everyone involved.
    Finally Long leaned forward. “Okay, give me the rundown.”
    “Have you read my crime report?”
    Long nodded. “Now I want to hear it from you.”
    I reached into my jacket, withdrew a packet of digital photos I’d printed, and placed them on Long’s desk. “The SID shots aren’t back yet, but these will give you an idea of what we’re dealing with.”
    Long picked up my photos and began inspecting them without comment. Although his face remained impassive as he worked his way through, I could tell he was shaken by what he saw.
    “Here’s how I have it figured,” I said as he set down the final picture. “Shortly after midnight, our guy somehow got in through the front door. Everything else on the first floor was buttoned up tight, so the Larsons either left the door open or he had a key. Deluca’s checking the key angle, running down anybody who had one. Turns out the neighbor who found the bodies knew about a spare key under a flower pot. Maybe somebody else did, too.”
    “You’re putting Deluca on as your secondary?”
    I nodded. “I know he has his faults. The guy would have sex with a cactus, but when he keeps his mind off the ladies, he’s a good man.”
    “Just asking. Go ahead.”
    “Okay,” I continued, “once our man got in, he disabled the phones and turned off the power at the breaker box, then went upstairs and surprised the Larsons in bed. He tied them up-wife to the bed, husband on the floor. Not much sign of a struggle, except that the man suffered trauma to the back of his skull. Walter Chang did the posts this morning and says it was done with a blunt instrument. We’re examining blood and hair on a piece of pipe that was twisted in a rope around the guy’s neck. Urine was found on the carpet by the closet door, probably from when the husband’s bladder released at the end. Could have been the killer, though. The lab’s also checking that.”
    “Any alarm system?”
    “Yeah-out of order. I have a man from the security company going out this afternoon to check it.”
    “What’s the time frame on the murders?”
    “Between midnight and four AM. The liver temps and gastric contents indicate that the husband and wife died hours after the kid. It appears that once he’d tied up the Mr. and Mrs., the killer went to the boy’s room and put a bullet through his head, then took his time with the parents. Chang recovered slug fragments from the kid’s skull that appear to be from a. 25-caliber projectile. They’re pretty chewed up, but we might be able to match them to a gun. Assuming we get lucky and find one.”
    “Shell casing?”
    “Nope. If our man used an automatic, he picked up the brass.”
    “Why didn’t the kid bolt? He was right down the hall from his parents’ room. There must have been a lot of noise when the killer busted in. Shouting, screaming… something.”
    “Maybe the kid was too scared to do anything but hide,” I offered.
    Long picked up my photos and flipped through them again, stopping on one of Susan Larson. “Go on,” he said.
    “Chang listed the husband’s cause of death as ligature asphyxiation. The hyoid bone was still intact, with the larynx and trachea bruised but not crushed, suggesting a soft type of strangulation-probably to prolong the torture. Chang thinks the husband was repeatedly choked into unconsciousness and then allowed to recover, which explains how the killer managed to cut off Mr. Larson’s eyelids while he was still alive.”
    Long shuffled to a close shot of Charles Larson’s face. “Jesus. The guy was alive when…”
    “Yeah. The cuts were made with a low blade-angle instrument like a scissors. No damage to the orbits. The guy was careful. The tissue distention and degree of bruising indicate that most of the wife’s wounds were antemortem, too. By the way, in our press release we didn’t mention the eyelids or that the murder knife came from the victims’ kitchen. We also held back the plastic handcuff ties.”
    Long nodded his approval. In well publicized crimes, investigators are often inundated with phony confessions, and the descriptors I had withheld could prove invaluable as a means of elimination. “What did Chang get on the woman?” Long asked.
    “Extensive blunt trauma to the face and head, but the cause of death was exsanguination,” I answered, still working from memory. “Most of the cuts on her face and chest were window dressing-the guy just having a little fun before the main event. A number of deep abdominal thrusts ended her life. One nicked her aorta, at which point she probably bled out in minutes. The incision angles indicate a right-handed assailant. Several missing tissue parts-a portion of her left earlobe and skin from her neck-were never recovered. I’m assuming he either ate them or took them with him.”
    “Nope. The woman’s anus and vagina were torn, though. He could’ve used something like a dildo, or maybe he wore a rubber. We’re checking for the presence of a prophylactic lubricant.”
    “How about the bites? Anything on them?”
    “The lab results aren’t in yet, but if the guy’s a secretor we’ll get a blood type. Bob Wolcott over at the UCLA Dental School is studying the bites,” I added, referring to a forensic odontologist who often worked with the LAPD. “He says he should be able to tell whether we have more than one killer, and because the bite wounds go all the way through in some places, he may be able to fabricate plaster casts.”
    “We’re still comparing the latents we lifted against those of the victims, the maid, the woman who found the bodies, and anybody else who might’ve been in the house. A couple of prints not matching anyone’s have turned up. No hits yet on any of the database systems yet. I have a hunch the guy wore gloves. Everything that we know he touched-doorknobs, power panel, knife, and so forth-turned up negative.”
    Long took a final look at my photos, then slid them back. “So what’s the good news? Or is there any?”
    “Not much,” I answered. “The neighborhood canvass was unproductive. Nobody heard or saw anything. We got hairs from the bathroom, beside the bed, and from pubic combings on the wife. All blood traces are being typed and compared with the victims’ to see whether any came from the killer. We’re trying to get a shoe size and make from the bloody footprints, too. I’m not optimistic, but who knows? Maybe we’ll get lucky.”
    “Maybe. In the meantime, how are you proceeding?”
    I paused to marshal my thoughts, then continued. “First, we’re running a toxicology analysis on the husband and wife to see whether they were using drugs. I found a small amount of cocaine in the upstairs dresser and a quarter ounce in an office safe downstairs.”
    Long raised a questioning eyebrow.
    “The wife’s brother opened the safe,” I explained. “Seemed surprised at finding the coke there,” I added. “It’s slim, but if there’s a chance the killings are drug related, we need to check it out. Second, because we didn’t find matching candles, rope, pipes, or Ace bandages in the Larsons’ house, I’m assuming the killer brought those items with him. We’ll run that down with local markets and hardware stores. We’ll also compare the candles and any other similar materials to those found at the Orange County murder scene. Third, one of the Larsons’ cars is missing. A 2010 Infiniti. I have an APB out in the hopes the guy took it after he killed the family. Last, I plan to go through the victims’ records, searching for some personal tie-in. We’ll also round up all known sex offenders in the area, interview friends and coworkers for the possibility of an ex-boyfriend or jealous lover, and see what the word is on the street. The funeral’s set for later this week, so we’re going to post an undercover van there and video everyone who shows up. Plus, family members will be watching for strangers. Speaking of which, sometimes these fruitcakes like to come back for another look. How about getting surveillance on the Larsons’ house?”
    “Good idea. I’ll set it up with Metro.”
    “In addition to talking with the Orange County investigators, I’ll be contacting NCIC to check for similar crimes in other states,” I went on, referring to the National Crime Index Computer, a system created in the mideighties to facilitate communication among disparate law-enforcement agencies across the country. “It’s another long shot, but in the absence of informants or witnesses, it’s worth a try.”
    Again, Long nodded.
    “I don’t know, Lieutenant,” I said, winding it up. “I get the feeling I’m missing something. I’m not sure what, but there’s something. Anyway, I let the brother clean out the fridge and take the bunny home, but I’m keeping the scene sealed for the time being.
    “Fine. What other ongoing cases do you have?”
    During my earlier recitation I had proceeded without reference to either notes or the crime report. Again I answered from memory, giving updates on a half dozen cases-some mine, some being handled under my supervision by other members of the squad-rattling off dates, personnel allocation, and court appearance schedules for the entire unit.
    Long stared at me, then shook his head. “I’m constantly amazed by that memory of yours. You remember everything?”
    I shrugged. “Mostly.”
    Long stared a moment more, then moved on. “As I said earlier, we have a problem brewing. Mayor Fitzpatrick, Chief Ingram, and our very own Captain Lincoln have been tying up my phone all morning. They want this investigation closed, and closed fast. With the exception of court appearances on pending cases, you and Deluca are on this full-time.”
    “And if it turns out you’re right and there is a connection with the killings last month in Orange County, and I mean even a hint of a connection, I need to know immediately.”
    “Agreed,” I said. “About that-I got in touch with the investigator handling things down there. Some guy named Barrello. I’m meeting him this afternoon.”
    “Did he say anything?”
    “Not much. The switchboard had to patch me through to his car, and he didn’t want to talk over the radio,” I replied. “Well, if there’s nothing else, I’d better get on the road-try to beat the traffic.”
    “There is something else. Something I don’t want going outside this room.”
    Long considered his next words carefully. “I’ll tell you something, Dan,” he said, lowering his voice. “I command a lot of good men in this department. You may have more than your share of faults-your screw-ups with the press, your disdain for anybody wearing gold braid, your abrasive-”
    “You going somewhere with this?” I broke in with a grin.
    “What I’m getting at is this,” Long replied soberly. “I could count on one hand the detectives I’ve worked with over the years who are capable of actually detecting anything, and I’d have fingers left over. Despite your faults, you’re one of those guys. If anybody can find this scumbag, it’s you.”
    I remained silent. I appreciated Long’s confidence, but I had my doubts on this one.
    “Between you and me, I have a feeling that before this is over, things will get a lot uglier than anyone can imagine,” Long continued, his eyes narrowing. “So here’s what I want. I want you to catch this son of a bitch, and I want you to take whatever steps are necessary to do it. You understand what I’m saying here?”
    “I understand.”
    “Good. One more thing.”
    “Yes, sir?”
    “If this is the same guy who killed that family in Orange County, find him before he does it again.”


    After leaving Lt. Long’s office, I took a moment to phone my house in Malibu, hoping to catch Catheryn before she went out. No one was home. Next I tried her cell. She wasn’t answering, so I left a message saying that I planned to stop by later that evening to take her and the kids out for a final bon-voyage meal-someplace close and casual.
    I had spent most of my spare moments that morning thinking about Catheryn. Missing her, actually. Although I knew the previous evening had been a step in the right direction, I had no illusions about the fragile nature of our truce, and before she left I wanted a chance to solidify whatever progress I’d made.
    Deciding to let taxpayers pay for the trip to Orange County, I made my way to the parking lot behind the station house and checked out one of three “city cars” assigned to the West LA Division. The unmarked vehicle I got, a late-model Chevy, was a piece of junk. Worse, apparently it hadn’t been serviced in a while, and halfway to Orange County I noticed the temperature gauge climbing into the red. Realizing I didn’t have time to stop if I wanted to make my meeting, I rolled down my windows and turned on the Chevy’s heater. Although making a sweltering day even hotter, my tactic bled off enough engine heat to keep the car running… barely. Cursing the LAPD motor pool, I drove the slow lanes of the 405 Freeway to the Interstate 5 Interchange, turned south, and crawled the remaining distance to Mission Viejo.
    After exiting on Alicia, I nursed the Chevy east through the crowded Orange County streets, passing a procession of unfamiliar shopping malls and housing developments that had mushroomed since I’d last visited. Irritated and sweating, I finally arrived at my destination. Wheeling past a brace of flower beds and a carved wooden sign reading “Villa del Sol,” I pulled into a “Visitors Only” lane and eased to a stop before a flagstone-faced guardhouse. Beyond the gate I could see rows of model homes marching to the end of a pennant-lined street, with the blue of Lake Mission Viejo sparkling through trees farther in.
    “Can I help you?”
    Flipping out my shield, I addressed a young man who had stepped from the guardhouse. “I’m meeting somebody inside.”
    The guard, a sallow youth with lank blond hair, gaped at my badge. “This about the murders?”
    “That’s right. Open up.”
    The youth swallowed nervously, reached into the guardhouse, and grabbed a clipboard. After jotting down the Chevrolet’s license number, he thrust a visitor pass through my window. “Here you go, sir,” he said.
    The gate lifted. But instead of proceeding, I inspected the rectangular white card I’d been given. “You do this for every visitor coming through?” I asked, watching a gray Ford enter through a keyed gate marked “Residents Only.” “You write down every license?”
    “Uh… yes, sir.”
    “And you collect these cards on the way out?”
    “No, but-”
    “So I could give this pass to somebody else and you’d wave them by.”
    “I… I guess,” the guard stammered. “But it’s no good after the expiration date.”
    I tossed the card onto my dashboard. “How many gates are there into this place?”
    “Three, but this is the only one staffed past nine PM. After that you have to have a keycard to get past the others.”
    I watched as a young couple strolled into one of the model homes across the street. “Seems like you have a fair amount of construction going on. I’ll bet it gets busy around seven in the morning, with all the trade guys coming through.”
    “It sure does,” the youngster conceded. “Sometimes they’re backed up around the block.
    “So with everybody trying to make it to work on time, traffic jamming up and all, maybe not every license gets written down.”
    “Sometimes,” the guard admitted.
    By now a line of cars had formed behind me. “Thanks,” I said, heading through the gate. “You’ve been helpful.”
    After rechecking my directions, I arrived minutes later at a two-story Mediterranean-style home with arched windows and a three-car garage. A gray Taurus sat in the driveway. Lounging against the fender, a heavyset man with a pronounced potbelly and the flattened nose of a prizefighter watched as I rolled to a stop.
    “Barrello? Lou Barrello?” I called as I climbed out, sizing up the balding man across the driveway as a typical twenty-year cop-streetwise, jaded, and fast approaching burnout.
    “Glad you could make it, Kane.”
    I reached back into the car and grabbed my file on the Larsons. “Sorry I’m late,” I said, starting up the driveway. “Traffic.”
    “Don’t give it a second thought,” Barrello said. “Orange County cops like me have nothing better to do than wait around for a hotshot big-city detective like yourself.”
    I had extended my hand as I approached. Hearing this, I let it drop to my side. “You got a problem, Barrello?”
    “Not at all. I love havin’ some expert drop by with helpful hints on how to run my investigation.”
    “That’s not exactly what I had in mind,” I said slowly. “I’m sure you boys down here can screw things up just fine without any help from me.”
    “Think so, huh? Well, as we’re on the subject, let’s get somethin’ straight. No way LAPD’s taking over my case. Orange County is cooperating on a strictly voluntary basis.”
    “Let me ask you something, Barrello. Ever consider switching to decaf?”
    Barrello smiled thinly. “All the time,” he said, eyeing the folder in my hand. “You turn up anything?”
    “See for yourself.” I started to pass him the file, then pulled it back. “You have something for me?”
    “Yeah.” Barrello reached into his car and grabbed a thick binder marked “Pratt.”
    I squinted at the sky. “What do you say we go inside, get out of the sun?”
    “The lawyer ain’t shown up yet with the keys,” said Barrello. “Maybe it’s cooler over there,” he added, tipping his head toward a portico shading the front door.
    I followed him to the front entrance of the house. Barrello sat on the landing and dived into my report. I leaned against a wall and started on his. For the next fifteen minutes we studied our respective folders in silence.
    First, I turned to the description of the Pratt crime scene. According to the Orange County investigators, there had been no sign of a break-in. As with the Palisades killings, whoever murdered Andy, Carol, and Natalie Pratt had apparently gained access through their unlocked front door. Either that, or used a key. After entering sometime between one and two AM, the intruder disabled the phones and turned off the power at a breaker panel in the garage. Blood spatters and a trail of blood from the kitchen to the Pratts’ second-floor bedroom suggested that the husband, possibly hearing a sound, went downstairs to investigate, encountered the intruder, and suffered a cracked skull and. 25-caliber gunshots to the right elbow and left knee. Once he had dragged the husband upstairs, the killer bound him and his wife, gagging them with Ace bandages. Carol Pratt, hands and feet fastened to the bedposts, died of multiple stab wounds. Blood and urine on the carpet near the closet indicated that the killer-using rope and a piece of galvanized pipe-strangled Andy Pratt there, then placed his body on the bed alongside his wife. Investigators discovered extra rope under the covers. The murder knife, found beside one of three burned-out candles in the room, had been taken from a set in the kitchen.
    The Pratts’ four-year-old daughter had died in her bedroom down the hall, suffocated with a plastic trash bag matching others found in the house. A later canvass of the area turned up little. None of the neighbors saw or heard anything out of the ordinary.
    I flipped to the eight-by-ten crime scene photos, pausing on a closeup of the husband. Rope encircled his throat, almost hidden in the mottled flesh. The pipe used to tighten the coils had been wedged behind his shoulder to maintain pressure. A second ligature mark ran across his chest and beneath his armpits. I looked closer, noticing that one eyelid had been cut crudely up the center. The other was completely missing. After shuffling past photos of the child, I inspected several shots of the woman. Like Susan Larson, she had once been beautiful. Now her face appeared somehow out of focus, her lips drawn back in a grimace, dried blood on her cheeks giving the appearance of some grotesque makeup that had run under her tears. Shallow knife wounds traversed her upper torso, accompanied by a hideous pattern of bites. Like gaping mouths, deep incisions below her ribcage, probably the killing strokes, split the skin of her abdomen.
    Moving on, I scanned the OC autopsy protocols, learning that the woman had died of penetrating wounds to the heart and aorta, her husband of soft ligature strangulation. The bruising, degree of swelling, and increased histamine levels in the husband’s eyelid cuts and the woman’s bites and incisions indicated that most of the wounds had been inflicted before the time of death. Both victims showed signs of skin and eye irritation from a chemical currently available in pepper spray. Vaginal and anal tears, along with traces of a gel-type spermicide, were present on the woman.
    Other lab tests proved disappointing. Semen, saliva swabs, and fingernail-cutting examinations all came up negative. No unexplained blood was found at the scene. Unmatched latent prints were lifted with no computer hits, and six unidentified hairs were recovered from the bed sheets and pubic combings.
    Closing the folder, I looked over at Barrello. The OC detective had already finished the smaller LAPD file. He now sat smoking an unfiltered Camel, seeming lost in thought. Noticing my glance, he took one last drag and ground the butt into a flower pot. “Same guy,” he said.
    I nodded. “There are a few differences. The plastic bag on the kid, for instance. And the pepper spray. But yeah. It’s him.”
    “When will your lab and autopsy reports be available?”
    “It’ll be a couple days on the lab. The coroner’s report probably won’t be available for a while longer, but the results will show the same things you guys found down here. Eyelids, bites, knife wounds, ligature strangulation.”
    “Damn.” Barrello pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and shook out another.
    “How many confessions do you have so far?” I asked. Most cases like this usually generated a rash of idiots who want to confess, I suppose in the hopes of getting their fifteen minutes of fame.
    “So things should be cleared up in no time.”
    “Right.” Barrello lit his cigarette and took a drag, then handed back my file.
    I took it, returning Barrello’s at the same time. “Now, don’t take this wrong,” I said. “I’m not saying we’re doing any better, but you guys don’t have squat, do you?”
    Scowling, Barrello shook his head. “No witnesses, no informants, nothing. The woman’s ex-husband came up clean, and so did every other suspect we interviewed-family, friends, anybody with a key. For a while we thought it might be someone living in the complex. When that didn’t pan out, we interviewed everybody on the visitor list for the past six weeks. Zip. We’re workin’ our way further back now. You wouldn’t believe how many people go through those gates.”
    “Anything in the family’s letters, bills, private correspondence?”
    “Nothing. But there’s gotta be a connection. The guy knew how to get in and where to turn off the power. Plus, he managed to find his way around the house in the dark. He had been here before. I’m sure of it.”
    “I get that feeling, too.”
    Just then a silver-gray Mercedes pulled to the curb, parking behind my car. “Lawyers,” noted with disgust Barrello as a razor-thin man in an expensive-looking suit stepped out. “Always late, ’less they’re sendin’ a bill.”
    “There you are,” the man called. “Sorry I’m tardy. Traffic was horrendous on the way in.”
    Barrello rose to his feet. “So I’ve heard. You bring the key?”
    “Of course,” the man answered, pulling a small manila envelope from his pocket. “Unfortunately, I can’t stay,” he added. “The envelope is self-addressed. Please use it to return the key to my office when you’re done. By the way, I had the electricity and water turned back on for the painters and carpet people. They’re scheduled to come in next week, after which the house will be placed on the market. I hope you’re finished with whatever you have to do by then.”
    Barrello took the envelope. “If we’re not, we’ll let you know.”
    “Fine.” The lawyer climbed back into his Mercedes without saying good-bye.
    “Shyster scumbag,” Barrello grumbled as the attorney drove off.
    “You have a problem with this particular guy, or the entire legal profession in general?” I asked.
    “Lawyers in general,” Barrello answered curtly. After withdrawing the key, he crumpled the manila envelope and tossed it into the flower bed. “My wife’s doctors screwed up some tests a couple years back. Let things go on too long. She wound up with a lot of surgery, and sorting it out’s been a mess. Everybody’s suing everybody. By the time it’s over, the attorneys will be happy as clams. We’ll be lucky if we wind up with enough for a cup of coffee.”
    “I’m sorry to hear that.”
    Barrello twisted the key in the lock and opened the door. I followed him in, noting a tiled entry, a step-down living room, and a staircase leading to the second floor.
    “What exactly are you looking for?” asked Barrello.
    “I’m not sure. This place have a security alarm?”
    “No. Most of the other houses around here do, but one of the neighbors said Mr. Pratt claimed a dead bolt was better than the best burglar alarm.”
    “Dead bolt, huh? So why didn’t he use it?”
    Barrello shrugged. “You tell me.”
    After a circuit of the first floor, Barrello and I proceeded upstairs. From the look of things, the Orange County investigators had done a thorough job-beds stripped, sink traps and bathtub drains removed, dustings of ferric oxide applied. In the master bedroom I noticed a stained patch of carpet near the closet. I knelt to examine it. “This where the husband died?”
    “Uh-huh. At least that’s the way we’ve got it figured. Our lab matched the stain to residual fluid in his bladder.”
    As I rose, I noticed that the knob on the bathroom door was askew. I glanced toward the bed, then back at the doorknob. Leaning closer, I noted fibers stuck in the crack between the shaft and the flange. “Makes sense,” I said, remembering the ligature mark on Mr. Pratt’s chest.
    “Fibers caught in the door handle.”
    “I see them. Shit, we missed that.”
    “We did, too,” I admitted, making a mental note to have SID reexamine the Palisades scene.
    “What do you mean, it makes sense?”
    “Later. Was anything missing from the house?”
    “Not that we could tell,” Barrello answered, clearly irritated at being put off. “Kinda difficult to determine with everybody… gone,” he added. “We found cash in the dresser. The guy’s wallet and the woman’s purse appeared untouched. Both cars were still in the garage.
    I spent the next quarter hour inspecting the master bedroom and the remainder of the second floor, then headed back downstairs. Barrello followed me through a cluttered utility room into the garage. The Pratts’ cars, a brand-new Audi and an older Plymouth Voyager showing considerably more wear, sat like dusty sentinels in their spaces. In the remaining area, beside a neat arrangement of bicycles, I found a workbench with tools hanging in pegboard outlines, plastic hardware containers in pigeonholes, and power tools neatly arranged on racks and shelves. I shook my head in admiration, recalling my own messy workshop at home. After locating a button beside the light switch, I opened the garage door and made my way to an electrical panel on the far wall. “This where he shut off the power?” I asked.
    Barrello nodded. “As you can see, it ain’t that easy to find.”
    “No,” I agreed. “Can’t see the guy turning on lights to look for it, either.”
    I stepped around the cars to the workbench, noticing the partly assembled hull of a model sailing ship-it’s masts, gaffs, and bowsprit already in place. A set of plans and parts from a model kit lay beside it, along with an oak rudder and a handful of miniature teak planks that apparently Mr. Pratt had been shaping using the kit pieces as templates. I opened a number of drawers, finding their contents perfectly arranged, immaculate.
    “You seen enough?” asked Barrello impatiently. “I’ve got things to do.”
    “Yeah. I’m finished.”
    After returning to the utility room door, I hit the garage-opener button and started to follow Barrello inside. Something caught my attention. I reentered the garage and hit the button again.
    “Kane. You comin’?”
    “Give me a second.”
    Barrello returned, watching curiously as I pulled on a pair of latex gloves, grabbed a stepladder from the corner, and removed the light cover on the door-opener motor.
    “What’re you doin’?”
    “The light on the opener’s out. The one in the Palisades was out, too. Probably doesn’t mean anything, but as anal as this guy Pratt seemed to be… Hmmm, what have we here?”
    One of the two bulb receptacles on the front of the opener was empty. As Barrello moved closer, I pried something from the empty fixture with the tip of my pen.
    “What’d you find?”
    “Potato,” I answered, tossing Barrello a brown, shriveled chunk of vegetable. “Good for getting out broken bulbs. Appears that Mr. Pratt tried to change a dead bulb and wound up twisting it off in the socket.” I attempted to screw out the other bulb, holding it close to the stem. It wouldn’t budge.
    I crossed to the workbench, returning with a pair of insulated pliers. After inserting the tool’s beaks into the vacant socket, I twisted, unsuccessfully trying to unscrew the broken bulb remnant. “You might want to have your guys dust the cover and remaining bulb,” I suggested as I stepped down from the ladder.
    “Think the killer messed with them?”
    “Maybe. We have a car missing from the Palisades house,” I answered. “It’s possible that the guy originally planned on stealing one of the Pratts’ cars, too. Maybe he intended to stash the bodies in the trunk and then hide the car, and he didn’t want the lights coming on when he opened the door.”
    “So why didn’t he?”
    “Hide the bodies? Who knows? Maybe he changed his mind. Hell, the guy’s a psycho-maybe he came down here to run around naked in the moonlight and didn’t want anybody watching. Bottom line, if he did mess with the lights, he went to a lot of trouble to make sure they couldn’t be fixed before he came back.”
    “Pretty far-fetched. If he didn’t want the lights coming on, why didn’t he simply unscrew them? Or better yet, open the door manually?”
    “I don’t know. I admit it’s a long shot, but something’s going on. Let me make a call and see what we come up with at the Palisades scene.”
    “Go ahead,” said Barrello doubtfully.
    I retrieved my cellular phone from the front seat of the Chevy. Returning to the shade of the portico, I punched in Paul Deluca’s number.
    Deluca, who for the past hour had been at the Palisades crime scene awaiting the arrival of a technician from the security company, sounded testy when he answered. “I phoned that hump twice to remind him,” he complained. “Son of a bitch still forgot. I hate putting up with that kinda crap.”
    “That’s why we’re getting the big bucks, Paul. Listen, go out to the garage and examine the door-opener lights. They’re dead, and I want to know if they’ve been tampered with. And don’t screw up any possible prints.”
    “Don’t worry,” said Deluca. “I have done this kinda thing before. By the way, the missing car turned up. It’s in a Santa Monica body shop.”
    “One mystery down. I still want the opener examined. Do it now, okay? I’ll wait for you to call back, so don’t take all day.”
    After closing the garage and relocking the house, Barrello exited the front door in time to hear the last of my conversation. “So are we gonna cooperate on this?” he asked.
    “Think you can handle working with a hotshot big-city detective such as myself?”
    “I’ll do my best,” he said dryly. “What’s first?”
    I thought a moment. “For one, we can have our labs cross-compare all physical evidence. We’re currently examining the Larsons’ personal records, and we’ll be interviewing every friend and family member we can turn up. I’m sure you guys have already done the same, so let’s cross-check those areas, too. It would be helpful to establish a link, even if it’s only marginal.”
    “So we’re goin’ on the assumption that the killer knew both families?”
    “Oh, he knew them,” I said, my eyes searching a ridge west of the house. “Maybe only peripherally, but he knew them. The women are the key. You don’t turn up two women that beautiful at random. He selected them, stalked them, and when the time was right, he killed them.”
    Noting my stalking reference, Barrello glanced up at the ridge, where the framed skeletons of three homes under construction were silhouetted against the skyline. “Think he lives in the complex here?”
    “Not necessarily, but close enough to know the area. By the way, I talked to a kid at the gate. Anybody can get through, especially in the morning when work crews arrive.” My cellular phone rang. I flipped it open. “Deluca?”
    “The one and only, paisano, ” Deluca answered. “That prick from the security company finally called. He’s on his way.”
    “What about the utility light on the door opener?”
    “It was out, like you said. I pulled the cover and found what appeared to be two dead bulbs. I tried one in a house lamp, where it worked fine. But get this. As I was unscrewing the other bulb, I discovered that a wire had been cut on the light unit and tucked back into the housing.”
    “Good work, Paul. Get SID out there again. Have them dust the bulbs and light cover, and anything else on the opener the guy might’ve touched. As a matter of fact, have them take the whole thing back to the lab. I want all doorknobs in the house examined for fibers, too.”
    “Anything else?”
    I thought a moment. “Sample any oil and radiator coolant drips in the garage.”
    “I’m on it.”
    I broke the connection, then looked over at Barrello. “The light on the Palisades opener was disabled. On purpose.”
    Barrello nodded. “I’ll have our guys go over the Pratts’ opener. Doorknobs, too. Could be we’re on to something.”
    “Maybe.” I glanced at my watch, realizing there was no way I would avoid freeway traffic on the return trip to West LA-especially if I stopped to have the Chevy checked. “Time to hit the road. I’ll be in touch.”
    Barrello shoved his hands into his pockets. “Hey, Kane?” he said, gazing back at the house. “What’d you mean when you said it made sense? You know, when you found the fibers on the bathroom doorknob?”
    “Simple. I’m betting those fibers will match the clothesline rope our guy used.”
    “Gee, I’ll alert the media.”
    “Remember the missing eyelids?” I continued, ignoring Barrello’s sarcasm.
    “So here’s what I think. Before our guy went to work on the wife, he trussed up Mr. Pratt, choked him out, and snipped off his eyelids.”
    “But why?”
    “Can’t close your eyes without eyelids.”
    “Son of a bitch,” said Barrello, beginning to understand.
    “Then, when the killer was ready to start on Mrs. Pratt,” I finished grimly, “he pulled the husband to his knees, tied him to the door, and made him watch.”


    The drive back from Orange County proved as much of a pain as the trip there. By the time I had conferred with Lt. Long in West LA and then made the trek to Malibu to pick up Catheryn and the kids, it was after six. Glad to be finished for the day, I pulled off on the shoulder of Pacific Coast Highway across from our house. As I waited for a break in the traffic to make a U-turn, I studied the beach-weathered structure that had been my home from the time Catheryn and I were first married.
    It’s a common misconception that everyone in Malibu is either rich, a movie star, or a rich movie star. Actually, although Malibu has more than its share of high rollers and celebrities, there are also plenty of ordinary, hardworking residents who’ve lived there for years-struggling to hold on to their homes as real estate values skyrocketed around them. Located near the mouth of Las Flores Canyon, our house sat on a sandy cove near the northernmost crescent of the Santa Monica Bay. A wedding gift from Catheryn’s mother, who had spent her childhood there years back, the dilapidated wood-framed structure, undoubtedly a detraction from the considerable value of the beachfront lot upon which it sat, appeared to rise in some organic fashion from a thicket of beach cane, aloe, and ice plant. Emperor palms framed it on either side, rising high above the second level, with tendrils of flowering bougainvillea climbing the ancient walls in a thicket of lavender that hid much of the cracked siding and sagging roof. It was a family joke that if the plants died and the termites moved out, the building would probably collapse. Nonetheless, it was our home, and every member of our family loved it.
    Inside, apparently having finished her homework and chores for the evening, I found Allison camped in the living room watching the evening news. Nate, who had been playing video games in his former bedroom loft above the entry, came down to join us. Travis was present as well, having driven from USC for Catheryn’s final evening home.
    “Kate, I’m here,” I called into the bedroom.
    “Be out in a sec, Dan,” she called back.
    “How’s it going, rookies?” I asked, dropping down on the couch beside Allison and reaching for the remote control.
    Before any of them could answer, a familiar face flashed up on the screen.
    “Hey, Mom!” yelled Nate. “Dad’s on TV again!”
    “Darn,” Catheryn answered from the bedroom. “Has the screen cracked yet?”
    “Not yet,” Nate laughed. “But you’d better hurry.”
    “Yeah,” added Travis. “Smoke’s coming out the back of the set.”
    Recognizing the Larsons’ Pacific Palisades house in the background behind my image, I raised the remote control and flipped through the stations, pausing on the Channel Two news.
    “C’mon, Dad,” Nate complained. “Turn back to seven. We want to see you.”
    “Tough. Nobody ever said this family was a democracy.”
    “Perish the thought of anyone but Dad getting his hands on the remote control,” Allison complained. “This family needs two TVs. One for Pop, another for the Earth people.”
    “Maybe your new dad will buy you one,” I said. “Now hush. I’m trying to listen to this.”
    “Since when have you taken an interest in foreign affairs?” asked Catheryn, glancing at the television as she entered the room.
    “The sports roundup will be on in a sec, honeybunch.”
    Catheryn smiled, folding a blouse she’d carried in. “As if anyone here cares about football but you and Nate. I swear, Dan-oh, look. You’re on this station, too.”
    “Turn it up,” cried Nate.
    “Turning it off’s more like it,” I said. “You kids don’t need to see this kind of stuff.” As I raised the remote, however, a map of southern California flashed up on the screen. The cities of Pacific Palisades and Mission Viejo were both circled in red. I hesitated, realizing the implications.
    “Come on, Dan,” said Catheryn. “I want to see this.”
    Steve Gannon
    Reluctantly, I lowered the control, watching as the scene shifted to a foggy street outside the Larsons’ house. Police, neighbors, and reporters clogged the narrow road. The coroner’s wagon had already departed, but additional squad cars and news vans had arrived by the time of the news conference. Feeling an unsettling sense of deja vu, I listened to my televised image fielding questions, the most difficult being posed by Lauren Van Owen. The coverage ended with an out-of-sequence shot of me saying, “Sooner or later, we’ll get this maggot.”
    Once again the Channel Two news anchor came back on. The shot widened to include the co-anchor, Lauren Van Owen. “KCBS has recently learned from LAPD sources that the Pacific Palisades murders have now been linked to last month’s deaths in Orange County,” she said solemnly. “Authorities are searching for a serial killer they believe to be operating in the Southern California area.” Then, as she turned to a new camera angle, “In other news today…”
    “Damn,” I groaned, thumbing the off button. “How’d that bimbo find out so fast?”
    Catheryn frowned. “Dan. Watch your language.”
    “Excuse me, Kate. Didn’t mean to offend the innocent ears of our offspring here.”
    “Which bimbo is Dad referring to?” asked Nate.
    “Nate!” scolded Catheryn, shooting me another look of irritation.
    “That cute little number on Channel Two who’s always picking on Dad, that’s who,” Allison piped up. All the children knew of my general disregard for reporters. They were also well aware that over the years I’d had more than one confrontation with the crime correspondent in question.
    “You mean Lauren Van Owen,” said Travis, joining in.
    “The one Dad says is such a tightass?” asked Nate, ignoring Catheryn’s renewed look of irritation.
    “Right,” said Allison. “Whatever that means.”
    “She’s quite a dish,” Travis persisted. “Don’t you agree, Dad?”
    Sensing myself outnumbered, I rose from the couch. “If you like sharks,” I answered tersely. “Speaking of which, let’s go grab some grub. The Sea Lion will be packed before long,” I added, referring to a nearby Malibu restaurant that offered an excellent selection of reasonably priced seafood.
    “Do I have time to finish packing?” asked Catheryn. “I’m almost done.”
    “Do it when we get back, sugar. I’m starving.”
    Just then my cell phone rang. I glanced at caller ID. Lieutenant Long.
    “Damn,” I said aloud as I flipped open my phone, realizing this wasn’t going to be good news. “Evening, Lieutenant.”
    “Kane,” Long’s gravelly voice came back.
    “Hold on a sec.” Covering the mouthpiece, I turned to Catheryn. “I’m going to take this outside. Get the kids ready. I’ll be done in a minute.” Without awaiting an answer, I made my way to the kitchen and stepped through a beachfront window, exiting onto a second-floor deck I’d added to the house some years back. Access to the deck was still via the window only; I had originally intended to install a door but had never managed to find the time. Like so many of the additions, bootlegged rooms, and quick fixes made to the house over the years, time had lent the window-doorway arrangement the air of permanence.
    “Kane. You still there?”
    “Yes, sir.”
    “Have you seen the news?”
    “More than I wanted.”
    “Ditto that. I spent an hour with the captain after you got back from Orange County. Mayor Fitzpatrick wants us to take an aggressive stance on the situation before it gets out of hand. I get the feeling he’ll be squeezing as much political juice out of it as possible, too. And I just now got a followup call from the captain. He informed me that Fitzpatrick came unglued when he saw tonight’s newscasts. Says if we can’t put a lid on our own people, he’ll do it for us.”
    “That’s all we need,” I said, gazing over an expanse of seaweed-strewn sand to the ocean beyond. The sun had set, and several couples were making their way along the water’s edge, enjoying the final light of day. “Any idea who leaked to the press?”
    “No. Although if I had to guess, I’d say it was somebody in the mayor’s office. Naturally, they’re pointing their fingers at us.”
    “Back up a sec, Lieutenant. What does Fitzpatrick mean by ‘taking an aggressive stance’?”
    “That’s why I called. First thing tomorrow, Fitzpatrick’s announcing the formation of an interagency task force. LAPD’s gonna be working with the OC Sheriff’s Department. Under the auspices of Mayor Fitzpatrick, of course.”
    “You can’t be serious,” I exploded. “Politicizing the investigation will foul up everything. I’ve already got the ball rolling with the detective handling the case in Orange County. Why can’t we just-”
    “As usual, you’re not listening,” interrupted Long. “It’s out of my hands. Be downtown at the new Police Administration Building tomorrow morning at ten. Ask at the desk. We should have a room assigned by then.”
    “No argument. Be there. And Dan?”
    “Yes, sir?”
    “Once this thing gets rolling, watch your back.”
    “What’s that supposed to mean?”
    “You’ll see tomorrow.”
    After hanging up, I stepped through the window back into the kitchen. Catheryn stood waiting with the children by the front door. “What’s wrong?” she asked, apparently noticing something in my expression.
    “Nothing. Let’s go.”
    “I know you better than that. What is it?”
    “They’re forming a task force. I have to be downtown at headquarters first thing tomorrow morning.”
    “A task force. That’s bad?”
    “Yeah,” I said. “For one thing, it means that from now on I’ll have a bunch of useless humps looking over my shoulder.”
    “Why don’t you consider it as an opportunity to improve your social skills?” suggested Allison. “You know, learn to play with the other kids.”
    “Thanks, Allison. I’ll do that.”
    “Will you still be able to drive me to the airport?” asked Catheryn. “If you want, I could catch a ride with Arthur.”
    I frowned. “I’ll take you.”
    “No more talking,” clamored Nate. “Let’s go eat!”
    “I agree, squirt,” I said, happy to change the subject. “What are you having tonight? Your usual fish sticks and fries?”
    “What about the rest of the troops? Allison?”
    “I’ll be partaking of the grilled snapper,” said Allison. “Predictably, Mom and Travis will undoubtedly choose their customary-and, I might add, boring-shrimp and scallop salad. How about you, Pop?”
    I thought a moment, still irritated by Long’s news. “Me? Tonight, I have a hankering for something different.”
    “Tonight, I’m having shark.”


    I left Arnie’s house early the following morning, allowing plenty of time to drive Catheryn to LAX and still make it downtown to the LAPD meeting on time. Nonetheless, by the time I’d picked her up in Malibu, reversed direction, and cleared the McClure Tunnel in Santa Monica, the flow of early-morning commuters had already begun to slow. Deciding to take surface streets to the airport instead, I exited on Lincoln. Thirty-five minutes of stop-and-go driving brought us to the far end of the Los Angeles Airport Departure Concourse, where I pulled to a stop in front of the Tom Bradley International Terminal.
    Conversation on the way in had been minimal-me stretching the yellow lights and jumping the reds, Catheryn reviewing her checklist, certain she had overlooked something. “Don’t forget that Nate’s bus arrives at seven-twenty sharp,” she reminded me for the third time as I stepped from the car and began unloading her bags. “Allison said she would-”
    “I’ll make sure everything goes as smooth as glass,” I interrupted. “Sugar, you’re acting like a nervous hen. Nate will catch the school bus every morning, Allison will get to class on time, and Travis will be coming home on weekends to help. If I have to work late, Christy said she would stay over. Don’t worry, when you return you’ll find all the Kanes well fed, relatively clean, and definitely happy to see you. Jeez, Kate. Don’t you trust me?”
    Catheryn smiled. “Absolutely not.” Then, again referring to her list, “I left my tour schedule on the bedroom dresser. Dates, locations, and hotels are all listed, although some might change. I included hotel phone numbers, too. My cell should work most places over there, but if you can’t get through, try me at my hotel. I’ll try to call as often as possible, but the time difference will make it difficult.”
    “We can talk on weekends. Keep the phone bill down.” I slid from behind the wheel and crossed to Catheryn’s side of the car.
    “Okay,” she said as I helped her out. She hesitated a moment. “One more thing, Dan.”
    I noticed a tall, distinguished-looking man climbing from a cab three cars back. Arthur West. “What?” I asked.
    “While I’m gone, will you think about what we discussed Sunday night?”
    “We talked about a lot of things.”
    “You know what I mean. I’m serious about our getting counseling. Think about it. Please.”
    “Catheryn!” called Arthur, spotting us by the curb. “There you are.” As a porter began loading his suitcases onto a handcart, Arthur hurried over. Ignoring me, he kissed Catheryn on the cheek.
    “That’s right,” I said. “Here we are.”
    Arthur nodded curtly. “Good morning, Detective.” Then, turning back to Catheryn, “It’s getting late. We should get our bags checked in.”
    “You go ahead.” Catheryn gave Arthur a gentle push toward the terminal. “I’ll meet you at the departure desk.”
    “Please hurry. I’ll have the agent arrange for us to sit together.” After signaling the porter to add Catheryn’s bags to his, Arthur started for the entrance.
    I watched Arthur ascend a ramp to the terminal. “I guess this is it,” I said as the cellist entered through the glass doors.
    Catheryn put her arms around my neck and kissed me lightly on the lips. “Good-bye, Dan. I’ll call when I arrive. And I’ll be back before the Christmas Mercado,” she added, referring to a Music Center fundraiser that had been scheduled to coincide with the conclusion of the Philharmonic’s tour. “It won’t be that long. In the meantime, will you think about our discussion?”
    I shrugged. “All right. I’ll think about it.”
    Catheryn smiled and kissed me again. “Thank you.”

    Minutes before the scheduled ten AM meeting, I arrived at Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, better know as the new Police Administration Building, sometimes shortened to PAB. Ten levels above street grade of stone and glass, the huge, 500,000 square-foot structure had replaced the aging Parker Center LAPD headquarters in 2009, and it’s modern architectural elements and extensive gardens, terraces, and green space occupied an entire city block on West First Street. Located near the new city hall building, it served as the command center for a law enforcement organization that encompassed twenty-one far-flung patrol divisions, and its closeness to the city’s political seat of power was more than just physical. It was common knowledge that the administration of the LAPD via the mayor, city council, and police commission had increasingly become a political wild card-and one that no politician, especially Mayor Fitzpatrick, could afford to ignore.
    As I drove past the entrance, I noticed a fleet of newswagons jamming the street outside. From each van tangles of thick black cable ran toward the building, trailing past a decorative waterfall and a lattice of planters that served as an effective vehicle barricade. Wondering about the media’s presence, I circled the block to a nearby parking structure, leaving my car in a slot clearly reserved for the bomb squad. The Larson murder files tucked under my arm, I made my way back to the main building.
    Upon arriving at the ground-floor lobby, I hung my ID from my coat pocket, glancing around the crowded room. It appeared that representatives from every conceivable news organization were present, with more clustered around the entrance to the 400-seat civic auditorium.
    I threaded through the crowd to the reception desk. “May I help you, sir?” asked the duty officer there, an Asian woman in her early twenties.
    “Hell of a mess,” I observed.
    The officer eyed my ID. “Yes, sir.”
    “I’m attending a ten AM meeting with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Any idea where that might be?”
    The woman referred to a handwritten list. “Seventh floor,” she said, finding my name.
    “Thanks.” After signing in and receiving a temporary pass, I started for the elevators.
    “Detective Kane!” a woman’s familiar voice called across the lobby. “Detective Kane!”
    I turned, cursing inwardly as I spotted Lauren Van Owen threading toward me through the crowd. She flashed a smile when she arrived. “You don’t seem happy to see me.”
    “For once you’ve got something right.”
    “No need to be hostile. You know, Kane, if you ever gave me a chance, you might find I’m not half as bad as you think.”
    “And it might rain dollars tomorrow, too. Look, I’m late for a meeting, so if you’ll excuse me-”
    “How about getting together afterward for lunch? On me. We could go over the case.”
    “You never give up, do you?”
    “No. So how about it?”
    “Frankly, I’d rather be locked in a closet with a chainsaw juggler.”
    “I’m not that bad,” Lauren laughed. “I’m just saying that perhaps we can help each other.”
    I shook my head and turned again for the elevators. “Not in this lifetime, Van Owen.”
    Upstairs, in a large office overlooking the southern skyline, I found a number of police personnel already assembled. Present from the LAPD were Lieutenant Long and Captain Theodore Lincoln (the West LA Division’s commanding officer), Paul Deluca, and two other detectives I recognized from the Hollywood Division. The OC Sheriff’s Department was represented by Lou Barrello and a younger man I took to be his partner, and a second detective pair that had been detailed to the squad. Most of the men had assumed places at various desks and chairs, but some still stood at the windows gazing out at the high rises and industrial buildings beyond.
    “Nice of you to make it,” noted Lt. Long as I took a seat beside him.
    “Bad traffic,” I said.
    Long started to say something more, stopping as Mayor Fitzpatrick marched briskly in, with Police Chief Ingram, Sheriff George Baskin, and several ancillary officials from Orange County close behind. Bringing up the rear was Lieutenant William Snead, a tall, hatchet-faced man with whom I had a less than pleasant history. In each hand, Snead carried a cup of coffee. He passed one to Chief Ingram; the other he set on a chair beside the mayor. Then he stepped back, his eyes sweeping the room. I noticed them turning as hard as ice when they arrived at me.
    “What’s that hump doing here?” I asked. “He still in Internal Affairs?”
    “Snead recently moved up to lieutenant-two,” Long answered. “He’s Pacific Division’s detective commanding officer now.”
    Mayor Fitzpatrick cleared his throat and addressed the group. “Good morning, gentlemen,” he said. As the room quieted, Chief Ingram and Sheriff Baskin moved to stand beside Fitzpatrick. He glanced at them briefly, then made eye contact with several others in the room, including Captain Lincoln. Absently, I noticed that the mayor’s face seemed even more flushed than usual, with a new crop of ruptured capillaries adorning his whiskey-bloomed nose and sagging jowls.
    “You all know why you’re here,” Fitzpatrick continued. “Over the years many cities-Seattle, San Diego, New York, and Chicago, to name a few-have faced situations similar to the one challenging us today. They chose to ignore the political dangers involved, and when their problems didn’t go away, everyone wound up with egg on his face, politicians and law enforcement personnel alike. That is not going to happen here. In a few minutes I’m going downstairs to announce the formation of an LAPD/Orange County Sheriff’s Department interagency task force. I do this with the utmost confidence that our two organizations, proceeding under the direction of my office, will work cooperatively to apprehend the killer now threatening our citizens. With increasing pressure to cut law enforcement budgets and a political climate swinging progressively to the left, it’s essential that we end this thing quickly and decisively. Anything less, and the media will walk all over us. You men are an elite group. You’ve been chosen for your outstanding investigative records, staunch discipline, and unquestionable ability. You’re the best of the best. I know you won’t let me down.”
    “I think I’m gettin’ a hard-on,” whispered Deluca.
    A number of nearby detectives chuckled, including me. Fitzpatrick glared in our direction, then continued with what was obviously a dry run for his speech to the media downstairs in the civic auditorium. “You will be operating under the joint command of Lieutenant Kenneth Huff from the OC Sheriff’s Department and Lieutenant William Snead of the LAPD. Both are capable officers in whom I have the highest confidence.”
    At Snead’s name, I groaned inwardly, suddenly realizing what Lieutenant Long had meant by last night’s warning.
    “The ‘Candlelight Killer Task Force,’ or some similar appellation, as I’m sure our friends in the media will soon be calling you,” Fitzpatrick continued, “will have its own facilities, phones, and computer terminals. Members of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office will be working with you hand in hand. They have assured me that they’ll offer every possible consideration. The task force will have the funds, resources, and personnel to get the job done, and done quickly. And that’s what I expect. Questions?”
    Although the room stirred uneasily, no one spoke. I knew that every investigator there was thinking the same thing: Throwing money and personnel at a case didn’t necessarily bring results.
    “Good,” said Fitzpatrick. “Then I leave you to your work. But one thing I want to make crystal clear: This killer must be caught.” With that, Fitzpatrick turned and strode out the door.
    The rest of his retinue followed, with the exception of Lieutenants Huff and Snead. Captain Lincoln, who had stood at the rear of the room during the mayor’s speech, joined those departing. Seeing this, Lieutenant Long rose and exited, too.
    Moving into the vacuum of the mayor’s departure, Lieutenant Snead stepped forward. “Some of you I know; some I don’t,” he said curtly. “For those I haven’t met, I’m Lieutenant William Snead. This is Lieutenant Huff,” he added, nodding at a short, wiry man to his left. Huff, who wore his thinning blond hair short and sported a full mustache, sat without comment, seeming content to let Snead handle the preliminaries.
    “Our operational parameters will be as follows,” Snead went on officiously. “OC personnel will answer directly to Lieutenant Huff; all LAPD detectives will fall under my supervision. In conjunction with his other duties, Lieutenant Huff will serve as case-review coordinator, acting as a clearing house for all crime reports and supplementals. He’ll also oversee scheduling and coordination of followup investigations, and be responsible for reviewing, analyzing, and charting all reports and status updates.
    “Besides heading up the LAPD investigative efforts, I will act as liaison to the coroner’s offices and crime labs in Orange County and Los Angeles, and handle evidence control. I will also serve as our link with the media. There will be no leaks on this case. All communication with the press will go through me, and me alone.”
    I smiled, realizing that although Snead had positioned himself to garner whatever glory might result from the investigation, he had obviously forgotten that if something went wrong, he would be the one taking the heat.
    “You find something amusing, Detective Kane?” Snead demanded.
    I shrugged. “I was just thinking that with you and Lieutenant Huff doing all the work, there won’t be much left for the rest of us poor slobs.”
    Barrello, who was sitting behind me, laughed out loud.
    Snead scowled, his gaze traveling between Barrello and me. As he started to respond, Lieutenant Huff broke in. “Before this is over, I think we will all have plenty to keep us busy.”
    “Amen to that,” said Deluca. Several other detectives nodded in agreement.
    Still glowering, Snead pushed ahead. “As Mayor Fitzpatrick indicated, we’ll have our own phones, computers, unlimited overtime approval, and a twenty-four-hour hotline. Beginning tomorrow, every member of the task force will be here promptly at seven-thirty. Briefings will be held on a daily basis; more often if needed. Attendance is mandatory. As of now, we’re all on this full-time-twenty-four hours a day if necessary. All other investigations and commitments, with the exception of court appearances, are to be reassigned. You will be given copies of the OC and LAPD crime reports. Review them and be up to speed for tomorrow’s briefing.
    “Now, before I turn over the meeting to Lieutenant Huff, I want to stress the importance of teamwork. This will be a joint effort. We’ll use every available source, of which, I might add, the hotline will undoubtedly prove indispensable. Someone out there knows the killer. Through attention to detail, we’ll find him, but we’ll have to pull together to do it.” Staring directly at me, he added, “There will be no room for prima donnas.”
    I held Snead’s gaze but said nothing.
    “Last but not least,” Snead went on, “keeping all paperwork current is essential. Daily supplementals are a must. Anyone not turning them in will answer to me. The chief will demand regular updates, and if I look bad because one of you isn’t cooperating, I’ll pass the grief down the line. Understood?”
    When no one responded, Snead picked up a pile of blue forms and handed them to me. “Get these back to me tomorrow.”
    I looked down at the VICAP analysis sheets Snead had handed me, flipping through a sheaf of pale-blue FBI forms that contained hundreds of laborious, case-specific questions. VICAP, an acronym for Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, had been established years back to collect and analyze data on violent crime. Although the nationwide computer center had seemed a good idea at first, over time it had enjoyed only marginal success as a tool for apprehending criminals. I, like most homicide investigators, considered it a waste of time.
    “You have a problem with this, Detective?” asked Snead.
    “Nope. I love filling out worthless forms.”
    Snead’s face darkened. “Good,” he said. “In that case, you can assemble the FBI profiling materials as well. In addition to the LAPD psychiatric workup, we’re giving the FBI behaviorists a shot. Have the profile packet on my desk tomorrow morning, along with the VICAP forms.”
    I sighed. I had procured FBI profiles before. The process entailed a tedious assembly of victimology reports, submission materials, and case files complete with supplementals, lab results, autopsy protocols, and photos. In theory, psychological workups made sense, but in my experience, most FBI profiles, like the VICAP program, ultimately proved worthless.
    “You have something more to say, Kane?”
    “The lab findings won’t be ready till later today. And the coroner’s report won’t be typed for weeks.”
    “Complete what you can. I’ll get a rush placed on the rest.”
    I shook my head. “Excuse me, Lieutenant, but will we be bringing in a psychic, too?”
    “You think this is funny?”
    “Funny? Not really. More like-”
    “We’ve all got a lot to do before tomorrow,” Lieutenant Huff interrupted. “I suggest we move on.”
    “Yes, sir,” I agreed.
    “I’m done,” Snead said angrily.
    “Okay, then let’s wind this up,” said Huff. “The LA Coroner’s office is reviewing the OC autopsy reports. The LA coroner will also handle new occurrences in either jurisdiction. Same for the lab work.”
    “Have you thought about maintaining continuity with the investigating teams?” I asked.
    “What do you mean?”
    “If there’s another family murdered, either here or in Orange County, we might consider using the same forensic team that worked the Palisades killings,” I suggested. “You know, the same criminalist, coroner’s investigator, pathologist, and crime-scene unit.”
    “Good idea,” said Huff. “Anybody else have suggestions?”
    When no one spoke, I continued. “Getting a few patrol officers detailed over here to man the phones would help. No offense to anyone who thinks the hotlines are going to be useful, but we’ll have plenty to do without handling crank calls, which most of them are bound to be.”
    Huff glanced at Snead. “I’ll see what I can do. Anything else? No? Okay, you can all pick up copies of the crime reports on your way out. Use the rest of today to study the reports and tie up loose ends on any ongoing cases. See you here tomorrow.”
    “That Snead is sure a piece of work,” said Barrello as he and I rode the elevator down.
    “He’s a piece of something,” I noted.
    “What’s between you and him? You two have a problem?”
    “You could say that. I busted his jaw back in the days we were both working patrol. Small-minded prick’s held it against me ever since.”
    “Imagine that. Did he file charges?”
    “Nope. He was using his baton on some rummy who was so drunk he didn’t know which way was up. When I stepped in, Snead made the mistake of throwing a punch at me.”
    “That’s not gonna make him easy to work with.”
    “I’ll manage. Speaking of which, you didn’t exactly hit it off with him today, either.”
    “Thanks to you,” Barrello noted dryly. “Look, whatever your beef is with Snead, I want no part of it. I’m taking an early-out next spring. I can’t afford a screw-up before then. You understand what I’m saying?”
    I raised an eyebrow. “Why the early retirement? A fine physical specimen like yourself, seems like you’d want to put in a full twenty-five and go for the big bucks.”
    Barrello smiled ruefully. “Yeah.” He paused. Then, “My wife’s doctors aren’t sure how much longer she has. Whatever time there is, we plan to make the most of it.”
    “Sorry,” I said. “I didn’t know. I hope everything works out.”
    “Thanks.” With a jar, the elevator bumped to a stop. “So what do you think of the unit?” asked Barrello, changing the subject.
    “I agree with the basic idea,” I conceded. “It’ll be a clearing house for information, and it should go a long way toward preventing duplication of effort. Unfortunately, it’ll also add a whole new level of bureaucracy. Snead will be a mouthpiece for the brass, and if I don’t miss my guess, we’ll be getting a rash of orders coming down from the top like ‘Do this, Detective Kane.’ ‘Go there, Detective Barrello.’ ‘Don’t ask why, just do it.’ Bottom line, we’ll be spending a lot of time running down useless leads instead of hitting the street and following our instincts.”
    “You’ve got that right. By the way, it appears you might have been correct about the stalking angle.”
    “You turn up something?” he asked as we exited the building and headed toward the parking structure.
    “Possibly. After you left yesterday, I checked any vantage points the killer might have used to watch the Pratts. Some construction guys on that ridge overlooking the house recalled a white truck marked ‘Imperial Valley Plumbing’ parked there days before the killings. There’s no such company, at least not in Orange County.”
    “You might consider checking companies that make magnetic signs. You know, the kind you stick on. Maybe hit commercial paint shops in the area, too.”
    “Good idea.”
    “Did the security gate have a record of the truck?”
    “One. Ten days prior to the murders. No plate number, though.”
    “Your lab turn up anything on the door opener?”
    “They’re still working on it. They did match the fibers on the doorknob to the rope found in the bed, like you said. We also recovered fibers from the kid’s doorknob. More on another across the hall.”
    “Same thing at the Palisades scene,” I said. “At least we know now why the kids didn’t bolt. Our guy tied their doors shut.”
    “Had it all figured out, didn’t he?”
    “Seems that way. There’s one thing I’m not buying, though.”
    “What’s that?”
    “Both families leaving their front doors unlocked. But if they didn’t, how’d the guy get in?”
    By then we had reached the parking structure. Barrello hesitated, looking for his car on the bottom level. After a moment he spotted his Taurus several rows back. “That’s been bothering me, too. Lemme know if you come up with anything,” he added, heading for his car. “See you tomorrow.”
    I nodded, still unable to shake the feeling I was missing something.
    I hadn’t come up with an answer by the time I arrived at my Suburban, two levels up. Instead, I found a problem of a different nature leaning against my fender: Lauren Van Owen. “Damn, Van Owen,” I said, plucking a handwritten note from my windshield. “What do you want now?”
    “Two minutes of your time.”
    Instead of replying, I read the note, which turned out to be an irate message from somebody on the bomb squad. “We’ll have to stop meeting like this,” I said, crumbling the note and shoving it into my pocket. “People will think we have something going on.”
    “Let them,” Lauren replied. Although she had removed a blazer she’d been wearing in the lobby, she still appeared composed and businesslike-gray silk blouse, wool skirt, midheight heels. Her blond hair, neatly clasped for the news conference earlier, now fell loose on her shoulders.
    I fished my keys from my pocket. As I reached past Lauren to unlock my car door, I smelled a faint hint of her perfume. Crisp, elegant. “How’d you find me?”
    “It wasn’t hard,” Lauren answered with a slight lift of her shoulders. I’ve seen you driving this rust-bucket before. I just checked the parking structures, found your junkmobile, and waited.”
    “I hate to disappoint you, this being TV news-sweeps month and all, but I have nothing to say to you.”
    “I promise I won’t bother you after this,” begged Lauren. “Just hear me out. I think we can help each other.”
    “Oh, sure. You say you want to help, but you’re wearing that look you news types get just before asking some unwary schmuck how he likes clubbing defenseless baby seals.”
    “You don’t like me much, do you?”
    “What’s to like?”
    Something flickered in Lauren’s eyes, something I couldn’t decipher. She glanced away before I could nail it down. When she turned back, it was gone.
    “Let me tell you something,” she went on, her voice hardening. “I’ve been scrambling all my life. I got where I am because I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get a story, even if it means stepping on a few toes. Maybe even a whole roomful of toes. And if I wind up offending a couple chauvinist pricks like you in the process-tough.”
    “Nice speech, Van Owen. Did you practice it in the mirror?”
    Lauren’s cheeks flushed. “You can be a real bastard, Kane.”
    “There’re plenty who would agree with you on that.”
    “You realize we’re not all that different, you and I.”
    “Excuse me?” I said. “To the untrained ear, it sounded like you just said we have something in common.”
    “We do. You think what you’re doing is important. Well, I feel the same about my job. Like you, I work a twenty-five-hour-a-day job that’s never done, busting my hump doing more than any other three people combined-all the while taking orders from higher-ups with half my ability.” Lauren gazed at me angrily, then shifted gears. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I love what I do, but it’s cost me. I’m a single mother with no social life and a few more wrinkles than I had last year, a three-bedroom condo with a leaky roof and a big mortgage, and a nine-year-old daughter I don’t have time for. Sometimes I get up in the morning and wonder what I’m doing with my life. Sound familiar?”
    When I didn’t respond, Lauren continued. “I’ll level with you. This story is my ticket to network. I want it so bad I can taste it.”
    “Yeah? What’s it taste like?”
    Lauren smiled. “Chicken.” Then, more seriously, “Look, when this is over, I could be in Washington, maybe New York. But I need an angle. Network is sending their top guys down here to cover the story. Unless I come up with a lock on this thing-something they don’t have or can’t get-I’ll get lost in the shuffle.”
    “Van Owen, I don’t understand why you’re telling me this. Just because you have problems, you expect me to be your source?”
    “No. At least not the way you think.”
    “What, then? You know that all task force releases have to go through channels. Some pencil pusher named Snead is the unit’s sole news liaison. Even if I wanted to, which I don’t, I couldn’t help.”
    “What’s Snead like?” asked Lauren, playing for time. “Off the record.”
    “Off the record? Grab a dictionary and look up dickhead.”
    Lauren smiled again, then said, “Listen, I don’t have it all worked out yet, but if these murders continue, there’ll be a news blitz like you won’t believe.”
    Again I didn’t respond. Unfortunately, I knew she was right.
    “And if the killings aren’t stopped, heads will roll.”
    “What are you getting at, Van Owen?”
    “I’m saying that if things get nasty, it might be helpful for you to have a friend in the media. And vice versa.”
    “You scratch my back, I scratch yours?”
    “Something like that. What do you say?”
    Without answering, I opened my car door and slid behind the wheel. I started the engine, but before pulling away, I rolled down my window. “I’ll think about it,” I said for the second time that morning. “It won’t make any difference, but I’ll think about it.”


    She was magnificent. Jewels of sweat sparkled on her chest and shoulders, staining her leotard in revealing patches from breasts to abdomen. She had a dancer’s body: long, shapely legs, small breasts, and lean, muscular arms. Weeks earlier she’d cut her hair in a medium-length pageboy, and as she moved, her honey-colored locks rose and fell like golden wings. Her stunningly beautiful face was set in concentration as she exercised with others in the aerobics class, her expression betraying nothing of her thoughts. But occasionally, if he watched closely, he could see her lips lifting in a fleeting smile as she found her image in the mirror.
    Proud of her body, he thought, watching from the second-floor observation balcony. And with good reason.
    Newport Beach Family Fitness, once a racquetball club, had been converted to a gym and aerobics center after the original establishment failed. Two center courts had been combined to form an exercise studio, but the sixteen-foot-high glass walls and an observation deck at the back still remained, providing a perfect vantage from which he had studied her for weeks. And over those weeks, while standing unnoticed, he had learned much about her.
    He knew she finger-combed her hair from her forehead when pensive, pursed her lips in a pout when irritated, glanced at her ostentatiously large wedding ring when bored. Despite her pride in her figure, he knew from observing her with others that she didn’t like to be touched. He knew her schedule, her clothes, her car-everything but where she lived. And before long he would know that, too.
    He had followed her on a number of occasions, even before she’d been chosen. Each time, as she had turned at last for home, he had been stopped short of his goal.
    Does everyone in this city live behind one of those ridiculous security gates?
    Turning from the glass, he pressed his thumbs to his temples, recalling the frustration of seeing her pass the guard station into her Spyglass Hill development. Although getting past the gate presented little difficulty, doing so while following her was another story.
    No matter, he thought. There are other ways.
    Her class would be over in minutes. On Tuesdays she showered at the gym before driving to the school on San Joaquin Hills Road to pick up her children. He checked his watch, deciding he could take a steam bath and still be outside in time. He stared through the glass several seconds more, then decided that today was too important to leave anything to chance. Today he would talk with her. Maybe even touch her.
    Whistling happily, Victor Carns headed downstairs.

    Julie Welsh stopped on the health-club steps, rummaging through her purse for her keys. Irritated, she pawed through a jumble of tissues, makeup, and a handful of change. Giving up, she pushed a damp lock from her forehead, trying to remember where she had last seen them. Her locker? No, after showering she’d checked, making sure the locker was empty. The car? Oh, please God, not the car. The last time she’d locked her keys in the BMW, it had taken hours to get a locksmith, not to mention the expense. Worse, later that evening she’d had to suffer another infuriating lecture from her husband on the value of organization.
    “Ah, there you are,” she said aloud, pulling a bulky key ring from her jacket pocket. She smiled, relieved she wouldn’t be butting heads with Wes again over what he termed her habitual lapses of memory.
    Keys in hand, Julie hurried down the steps. Barring unforeseen delays, she would just be able to pick up Heather and Brian and make it to their orthodontic appointment on time. Barely. Upon arriving at the parking lot, however, she found a dark-haired man leaning against her car.
    “Excuse me, is this your BMW?” the man asked politely. “I’m afraid I’ve damaged it.”
    The man smiled apologetically, using an expensive-looking gym bag to indicate a scrape behind the BMW’s left rear wheel. “I was backing out and clipped the fender,” he said. “Is this your car?”
    Julie nodded, bending to examine the damage.
    “I’m terribly sorry. Naturally, my insurance will cover the cost of repair.”
    “It doesn’t seem too bad,” Julie said doubtfully.
    “It may not look like much, but you know how expensive body work is these days,” the man insisted.
    “Listen, I want to make things right. By the way, my name’s Jeff Millford.” Without removing his leather driving gloves, the man pulled a ballpoint pen and a pad of paper from his pocket. “At first I was simply going to leave a note, but I decided the right thing to do would be to wait.”
    “That was nice of you, Mr. Millford. A lot of people would have just taken off.”
    “Call me Jeff. Are you a member here? I feel as if I’ve seen you before.”
    “I belong to the club. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed you, though.”
    “I usually do my workouts in the evening. Listen, this is sort of embarrassing, but I rushed out today without my wallet. I don’t have my license or insurance papers with me, but I can supply all the information you’ll need. That’s my car,” the man added, pointing to a blue Toyota in the adjacent space. “If you’ll give me your insurance details, I’ll report the accident to my carrier. They’ll get in touch with your company, or with you directly. Whichever you want.”
    “My insurance company will be fine,” Julie sighed, realizing she would be late picking up the kids. She leaned into her car and spent several moments finding the insurance papers. “Here,” she said, handing the man a rectangular white card. “I’m in kind of a hurry.”
    “Won’t take a minute.” The man glanced at the card and made a quick entry on his pad, then ripped off the sheet and passed the pen and notebook to Julie. “I’m with Continental Casualty, but I don’t know the policy number,” he said, removing his gloves. “By the way, I noticed on your insurance certificate that you live on Montecito Drive. I have friends up there on Spyglass Hill. Do you have a view of the bay?”
    “A slice,” Julie answered, jotting the names “Jeff Millford” and “Continental Casualty” on the pad, then adding an address and phone number he gave her moments later. She walked to the front of the blue Toyota and copied down its license number, too. “Well, thanks for waiting, Mr. Millford. I mean Jeff. Perhaps I’ll see you around,” she said as she tore off the sheet and dropped it into her purse.
    The man’s fingers brushed Julie’s as he retrieved his pad and pen. “Perhaps,” he said, his eyes crinkling with amusement. “You know how life is. We’ll probably meet again when you least expect it.”


    After leaving headquarters, I made two quick calls on my way back across town. Although I realized it would take most of the afternoon to transfer my active cases to other members of the West LA homicide unit, I also realized that this might be my last chance for independent action on the Larson murders, and I wanted to make the most of it. My first call was to Philip Nostrant, a detective friend in Administrative Narcotics. He wasn’t in, so I left a message. The second call was to Graysha Hunt, the realtor whose name I had seen on the property listed for sale next to the Larsons’ house. Graysha was in, and although puzzled by my call, she agreed to meet me for lunch.
    Forty minutes later, after parking on Twenty-Sixth Street in Santa Monica, I entered an open-air shopping mall with picnic tables and green umbrellas reading “Country Mart” on their canopies. I’d been there before and knew the food was great. Deciding to grab something to eat before finding the realtor, I crossed to a booth advertising deli sandwiches and barbecue. I squinted at a sign above the booth, briefly considering ordering a sandwich.
    A leather-faced attendant wearing a “Grateful Dead” T-shirt scowled across the counter. “Made up your mind yet, bud? Sometime this century would be nice.”
    “Chicken basket,” I said, deciding on my usual.
    “You get fries or slaw with that.”
    “Fries. And make ’em crispy.”
    “You got it.”
    Behind a glass shield, sizzling spits of whole chickens turned on a vertical roaster, one above the other, the juice from each spit dripping onto the next. The counterman removed the lowest spit and slid a well done bird from the metal rod onto a cutting board. After replacing the spit, he cut the bird lengthwise and sectioned one of the half-portions with shears, placing the pieces into a paper-lined basket brimming with French fries.
    I paid for the chicken and picked up a quart of whole milk two stalls over. Food in hand, I started looking for Graysha. I finally spotted an attractive brunette in her late twenties sitting alone at a table near the back. As I approached, she looked up from her lunch. “Graysha Hunt?” I asked.
    The woman nodded and extended a hand. “Detective Kane. I appreciate your meeting me here. I sometimes have to squeeze in lunch when I can.”
    “No problem. I like this place, and I hadn’t eaten yet myself,” I said, briefly taking her hand in mine. Sliding onto a redwood bench across from Graysha, I glanced at her food, a tiny spinach salad with a parsimonious sprinkling of goat cheese. “That all you’re having?”
    “It’s all I can afford.”
    “Real estate market’s that bad?”
    “You know what I mean,” Graysha laughed. Her voice sounded musical, like a tinkling of bells. “A girl has to watch her figure. What did you want to talk about, Detective?”
    Direct. I liked that. “How long has that house you have listed on Michael Lane been on the market?” I asked.
    Graysha withdrew a notebook from her purse and flipped through. “Over two months,” she answered, finding her place. “We haven’t had many showings, though.”
    “Do you keep a record of prospective buyers who go through?”
    “Every one of my clients. Other agents have shown it, too. They keep their own records.”
    “But you could put together a list?”
    “Your house looks similar to the Larson residence. They’re mirror images, right?”
    Graysha nodded. “They were built by the same developer. Same floor plan, but reversed. Is that important?”
    I took a bite of chicken, wiped my fingers on a napkin, and took a swig of milk from the carton. “Maybe, maybe not,” I answered. “I’d like your cooperation, so I’m going to tell you something we held back from the media, something I want you to keep to yourself. We think whoever killed the Larsons knew his way around their house a lot better than he should have. He was either in there before, or…”
    “… in a house like it.”
    “Right. What I want from you is a list of every real estate agent who’s shown your property.”
    Graysha’s eyes widened. “You think an agent might be the killer?”
    “Not really, but it’s a place to start. Mostly I want to find out whether anyone has seen anything suspicious-a client who acted strangely, a car they noticed cruising the area, a window mysteriously left open.”
    “A window left open?”
    I shrugged. “Maybe the guy came back after a showing and used the house as an observation post.”
    “All right,” said Graysha reluctantly. “I don’t see how any of the agents could object to my giving their names.”
    “Good. I would like a list of every client who’s been through there as well.”
    Graysha shook her head. “That could be a problem. Giving out client names is against policy, at least without a warrant.”
    In my experience, most people are willing to assist in a police investigation, especially a murder investigation. Sometimes they just need a little prodding. “I don’t think that’s the way you want to go,” I advised.
    “What do you mean?”
    Just then my cell phone beeped. “Excuse me,” I said. “I’ll be right back.”
    I retreated to the privacy of a small alcove bordering the patio, flipping open my phone on the way. The call was from Phil Nostrant, my friend in Administrative Narcotics.
    “Phil. Thanks for returning my call.”
    “No sweat,” Nostrant’s voice came back. “What’s up?”
    “I’m handling the Palisades multiple homicide that’s been in the news lately. We found coke in the house. It’s a long shot, but there’s an off-chance the murders were drug related. I need information on who was supplying the murdered family. I also want to know if the Larsons were dealing and, if so, whether anyone had a grudge against them.”
    “Like somebody who got burned on a deal?”
    “That’ll be tough. Coke in the Palisades mostly falls in your so-called ‘recreational use’ category, filtering down a friend-to-friend network. Difficult to trace.”
    “Who’s at the top?”
    “That’s easy. Antonio Morales. We’ve never been able to make anything stick, but everything on the Westside goes through him.”
    “So Morales could find out.”
    “Probably, but he’s not gonna-”
    “Is he connected?”
    “I want to talk to him. Tonight. Set it up, will you?”
    “It won’t do any good. This guy’s-”
    “Do it, okay?”
    “I’ll give it a shot,” Nostrant sighed. “Call me later.”
    After hanging up, I returned to the table. Graysha was still picking at her salad.
    “I believe we were discussing your getting me a list of prospective buyers?” I said.
    “ You were talking about it,” Graysha replied.
    Look, Ms. Hunt, there are two ways to go about this,” I said patiently. “I’ll be more than happy to do it the easy way. I know you’re nervous about giving out your client list, thinking some heavy-handed cop is going to hassle your buyers and screw up sales. I promise we’ll be discreet, and nobody has to know where we got the names.”
    “And the other way?”
    “I get a warrant and drag in everybody who ever went near your listing. Unfortunately, the press has a way of finding out about things like a real estate agency refusing to cooperate with authorities in a murder investigation. In fact, I can almost guarantee it.”
    Graysha thought a moment. “I’ll speak with my broker, but I’m certain a warrant won’t be necessary. You’ll get your list.”
    “Thank you, Graysha.” I passed her my card. “Here’s my number. If I’m not there, they’ll know where to find me.”
    Later that night, after returning to the beach house, I sat at the kitchen table gazing out over the deserted beach. To the east, at the foot of the bay, the moon had risen like a skull over the lights of Santa Monica. The tide was out, and clumps of kelp and piles of driftwood and swirls of crab hulls and dead starfish littered the sand to the water’s edge. Far offshore, the outline of a small raft bobbed on the waves.
    I took a bite of leftover pizza that Allison and Nate had saved for me. I washed it down with the last of my Coke, setting the empty can on a stack of partially completed VICAP forms. More of the blue sheets lay strewn across the table. Eyeing the FBI profiling questionnaire still to come, I realized I would be up half the night.
    Glumly, I picked up my pen and worked uninterrupted on the VICAP forms for the next thirty minutes, pausing when I reached the narcotics section. Idly, I traced a question mark in the blank space, recalling my visit earlier that evening to the home of Antonio Morales, the man purportedly controlling cocaine distribution for the entire Westside. It had gone better than I’d hoped-not that it was likely to help.
    That afternoon, after clearing my desk at the West LA station, I had met with Detective Philip Nostrant. As requested, the Ad-Narc detective had somehow managed to arrange a meeting with Antonio Morales. Although doubtful of the outcome, he had also agreed to accompany me to Morales’s Pacific Palisades mansion.
    Leaving together from the station house, Phil and I made a twenty-minute drive down Sunset Boulevard to Morales’s estate. Darkness had fallen by the time we turned into Evans Canyon, a dead-end ravine near Will Rogers State Park. “Don’t recall seeing this road before,” I noted as we proceeded up the unlit street.
    Nostrant braked as we passed an owners’ register and a “Private Road-No Trespassing” sign. “It’s secluded, all right,” he agreed. Noticing my glance at the register, he added, “Don’t be fooled by the other names on the residents list. Morales bought out all his neighbors a long time back. Owns the whole canyon now.”
    A short drive along a narrow streambed brought us to the entrance of Morales’s sprawling estate. Surrounded by live oaks and ornamental fencing, the main house lay past a bridge spanning the creek. Partially hidden in a thicket of hyacinth, a guardhouse sat inside a ten-foot-high gate.
    Nostrant pulled up to the barrier and flashed his badge at a TV camera mounted above a speaker. “LAPD to see Mr. Morales.”
    A moment later the gate swung open. A guard in a black uniform waved us down the cobbled driveway. Morales, a short, dark man in his early thirties, stood waiting for us on the steps of his three-story mansion. Two powerful-looking men in matching sport coats accompanied him. Another was posted on the landing, a hand inside his jacket.
    “What’s this about?” Morales asked bluntly when we arrived, watching with hooded eyes as we climbed from our car.
    “Just a friendly visit,” Nostrant answered. “We’re investigating a homicide in the area. Detective Kane here thinks you could help him run down the source of some cocaine found at the scene.”
    Morales stared. “I’m a businessman,” he said. “I have nothing to do with illicit drugs. And even if I did,” he added with a wintry smile, “I certainly wouldn’t discuss it with the police.”
    I stepped forward. “Maybe it’s time you did.”
    The men with Morales stiffened.
    “I don’t think so,” said Morales. “Now, if you’ll excuse me-”
    “How’s about you and me having a private little conference, Mr. Morales?” I suggested. “Off the record. It’ll take only a couple minutes, and you might learn something interesting. In fact, I guarantee it. What do you say?”
    Morales glanced at his bodyguards.
    “Come on,” I coaxed, starting down the cobbled driveway. “Leave your boys here. Unless you think you need them.”
    Morales hesitated. Then, with a shrug, he turned and followed.
    For the next several minutes Morales and I had a heated conversation. When we returned to the front steps, Morales’s dark complexion appeared to have lightened by several shades. I smiled at Nostrant. “Good news, Phil. Mr. Morales says he’ll be glad to do some checking for us. Let’s not take up any more of his valuable time.”
    On the way out, Nostrant stopped at Sunset, waiting for a break in traffic. “What did you say to Morales?” he asked. “Make him an offer he couldn’t refuse?”
    “Something like that.”
    “C’mon, Kane. Give.”
    “Maybe I’ll tell you about it sometime, Phil. Till then, let’s just say I called in a marker and let it go at that.”
    Now, as I considered the drug portion of the VICAP form, I reflected on the likelihood of the killings being drug related. Unfortunately, the facts just didn’t fit.
    “Goodnight, Dad.”
    I turned, finding Nate standing in the doorway. “’Night, kid,” I said, quickly closing the crime files and flipping over several eight-by-ten photos. “Don’t hog all the bedbugs. Save a few for your sister.”
    “Sure, Dad. Did you call Mom yet?”
    “I tried, squirt. Her cell phone’s off, and her hotel in pastaville said she hasn’t arrived yet. I left a message for her to phone soon as she gets in.”
    Allison appeared in the doorway. “When you talk to her, tell her we already miss her,” she said somberly. “A lot.”
    “Knock off the long face, Allison. Things aren’t going to be that bad with your mom gone. I’ll be pretty busy the next couple weeks, but rest assured I’ll find time to make certain things run smoothly on the home front. A lot of people are single parents. It can’t be that tough.”
    Allison smiled. “Right. You can do it, Pop. We’re all pulling for you,” she added, rolling her eyes.
    “Thanks, Ali. Kate will be glad to see you’ve recovered your sense of humor when she gets back. See you in the morning.”
    “Goodnight, Dad.”
    For the next hour, as I labored over Snead’s VICAP forms, my mind kept returning to the question of why the victims’ front doors had been left unlocked. Unable to crack the problem with a frontal assault, I proceeded to work the edges, an investigative technique akin to not looking directly at something in the dark.
    All at once I had it.
    I picked up the telephone and dialed the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, asking the switchboard to contact Lou Barrello and have him call me back. After hanging up, I drummed my fingers impatiently on the table. Finally the phone rang.
    “Damn, Kane,” a sleepy voice replied. “What’s so important you’ve gotta talk to me in the middle of the night?”
    “It’s only eleven. Besides, some of us will be up till God knows when filling out useless questionnaires.”
    “Your problem, not mine. Maybe you ought to consider puckering up for some judicious butt-smoochin’ down at headquarters. Things might go a little smoother.”
    “I’ll be sure to put that right on top of my list.”
    “Do that,” said Barrello, beginning to wake up. “As you have me on the line, you’ll be interested to know we got back the lab results on the Pratts’ garage-door opener.”
    “The only prints on it were the husband’s. But get this: The bulbs were glued partway into their sockets. Somebody used super glue to cement them in.”
    “ Partway in, huh? No electrical contact, and they couldn’t be removed. Permanently disabled, just like at the Larsons’ house.”
    “You’ve got it.”
    “Listen, had either of the Pratts’ cars been in for repair lately? Body work, tune-up, something like that?”
    “I can check. I think I remember seeing an invoice from a body shop in their papers somewhere. Why?”
    “A hunch. The Larsons’ missing car just turned up in a Santa Monica repair shop.”
    “So the Pratts and the Larsons both had garage-door openers.”
    “I still don’t see… Damn! The door-opener remote controls. If they were left in the vehicles, anyone at the repair shops could have used them to break in-either by taking the control units or by cloning the codes onto a replacement unit, or whatever. And on the first reconnoitering visit, our guy could’ve messed with the lights so they wouldn’t come on when he returned late at night, sometime in the future.”
    “Lessening his chance of attracting attention, maybe being seen by a neighbor,” I finished. “Our killer may be leaving through the front door, but I don’t think he’s getting in that way. I think he’s getting in through the garage.”


    At 7:25 AM the next morning, with five minutes to spare before the start of the task force meeting, I stepped from the elevator onto the seventh floor of the Police Administration Building and made my way down the hall to task force headquarters. From the appearance of the crowded room, everyone else was already present.
    I nodded to Barrello and Deluca as I entered, noting that several new faces had been added since yesterday’s meeting. Joining the detectives from the day before, a whip-thin Hispanic woman and two patrol officers were occupying desks near the windows, manning the hotline. Another tall individual with a gray-streaked ponytail leaned against the back wall, holding himself apart from the rest of the group. I stared at him momentarily, then shifted my gaze, noticing that since Tuesday’s briefing additional desks, phones, and computer monitors had been crammed into the room. Someone had also tacked an overlapping poster-board chart to the wall. Columns listing known attributes of the killer, victims, and crime scenes were entered on the chart, with correlating details below each connected by a matrix of colored lines.
    Good idea, I thought. Makes it easier to grasp relationships, and referring to a graph’s a lot faster than plowing through a stack of supplementals. Whose idea-Snead’s or Huff’s? I decided it must have been Huff’s.
    “You have something for me, Kane?”
    Turning, I found Lieutenant Snead standing behind me. “Are you referring to these VICAP forms I’ve been up most of the night filling out, Lieutenant?” I asked, trying to keep my tone neutral.
    “That, and the profiling material I requested.”
    I handed him a thick packet of documents I’d carried in. “Everything’s there.”
    “Good. Take a seat. Let’s get started.”
    At Snead’s signal, men in the rear moved to the front. I chose a slot on the left, dropping into an empty chair beside Deluca. “Who’s the new guy?” I asked, inclining my head toward the tall stranger in the back.
    Deluca shrugged. “Came in with Huff. Some kind of crime expert.”
    “Just what we need,” I said.
    Lieutenant Huff raised his hand for silence. “Okay, everybody quiet down. First off, we have several additional people here today. Peggy Silvano there in the back is our new secretary, and Officers Cook and Rutkowski have been detailed over from Metro to assist with hotline calls. We’ll be manning the phones on a twenty-four-hour basis, so everybody will have to assist, especially if calls keep coming in as they have so far. Lieutenant Snead will make up a duty roster.”
    Ignoring groans of protest, Huff continued. “By now you’ve all read the crime reports, so I’d like the primary investigators on each case to bring us up to speed on recent developments. Lou, you want to start things off?”
    Barrello opened his file and gave a quick rundown of the Orange County efforts to date, noting that all evidence discovered at the Pratt house was being compared with that found at the Palisades scene. “We also have some new developments,” he added, glancing at me.
    “Are you going to make us guess?” asked Snead.
    “No, sir. After talking with Kane on Monday, I recanvassed the area around the Pratt house, concentrating on areas where the killer might have hidden to observe the family.”
    “Construction workers at a site overlooking the residence say a white van marked ‘Imperial Valley Plumbing’ was parked there a few days prior to the murders. There’s no such company. The security gate has an entry record on the van, but no license number. An authorization call was made to let the guy in. Guess who made it.”
    “The Pratts,” I said.
    “What’s that?” asked Huff.
    “I’m betting the Pratts made that call, at least according to the gate record,” I answered.
    Barrello looked at me curiously. “How’d you know?”
    I shrugged. “I’m getting a feeling about this guy. Assuming he did his homework, he could’ve told the gate he was anybody living in the complex. He impersonated the Pratts because he knew we would eventually turn up the call.”
    “You’re saying the guy’s screwin’ with us?” asked Deluca.
    “That’s what I’m saying.”
    “That’s based on the assumption our killer was driving the plumbing truck,” Snead interjected. “A fairly large assumption.”
    “Maybe, but it’s the best lead we have,” Barrello pointed out. “Unfortunately, neither the gate guards nor the construction workers could give a description of the driver, except that he was white. We’ve started checking paint shops and magnetic sign companies.”
    “Good idea,” said Snead. “That’s the sort of thinking we need around here.”
    “Kane suggested it.”
    Snead’s sunny look clouded over. “Anything else?”
    “Two things,” said Barrello. “When Kane was in the Pratt house, he found fibers on a bathroom doorknob, close to where we think the husband was strangled. We found fibers on the kid’s door, too. They all matched the clothesline used in the killings. We also discovered that somebody had disabled the lights on the Pratts’ garage-door opener. Glued in the bulbs.”
    “I called SID back to the Larsons’ house,” I added. “They found fibers on the doorknobs there, too. In our case, a feed wire to the opener light had been cut.”
    Snead glared. “Hold on, Kane. Why wasn’t this in yesterday’s supplemental?”
    “The lab findings came in late. I didn’t have time to-”
    “In the future, make time,” warned Snead. “I thought I made myself absolutely clear concerning the importance of keeping paperwork current. As long as I’m running this investigation, sloppy work will not be tolerated. Is that understood?”
    I smiled at Snead’s revealing slip. “Yes, sir. Perfectly.”
    “This might be a good time to reiterate that this task force is a joint effort,” said Huff. “LAPD isn’t running the show.”
    Snead scowled. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to imply we were.”
    “Fine,” said Huff. “Lou, you have anything else?”
    Barrello nodded. “Kane’s come up with some interesting theories. Maybe I should let him go over those.”
    Huff turned to me. “Detective?”
    “They’re hunches, mostly,” I said. “But before we get into that, maybe I should hit the Larson lab results.”
    “Go ahead.”
    Without referring to notes, I gave a quick summary of the Palisades lab findings, which had come in late the previous afternoon. Of the different categories I covered-blood, hair, swabs, fingerprints, footprints, fingernail scrapings, bite marks, and toxicology-nothing useful had turned up, with the exception of confirmation from the forensic odontologist that the bites on the victims at both crime scenes had come from the same person. That, and the discovery of several head hairs found at the Larson scene not matching those of the victims. Three hairs were similar in scale count, core size, and color-black. Another was similar to these except in color, having been dyed to match. All were dormant, third-growth-state tologen hairs. As for loose pubic hair, combings yielded two from Mrs. Larson not matching hers or her husband’s. Like the found head hairs, no sheath cells were present, so there was no chance of blood grouping or DNA comparison.
    When I’d finished, Sal Fuentes, Barrello’s partner, spoke up. “What about hair and print comparisons? If we come up with matching unknowns at both scenes, it could narrow things down.”
    “No results on that yet.”
    One of the detectives who had been detailed to the task force from the Hollywood Division jumped in. “Your original report mentioned you found coke on the premises. Any drug connection?”
    “I’m working on that.”
    “How about ballistics?” asked Huff.
    “Not much there. We recovered fragments of a. 25-caliber slug. There may be enough for a comparison if we find the gun.”
    “Anything on the hair dye?” asked another detective from the Orange County contingent.
    “Black. The lab says there’s no way to match it to a specific brand.”
    “So bottom line, aside from a few unidentified hairs and fingerprints and some construction guys who can’t remember much about a guy in a white van, we don’t have shit,” said Deluca, summing things up.
    The room fell silent. Like me, every investigator there knew that forensic evidence solved TV shows; in real life it usually took a witness or informant, something we didn’t have. At last someone asked, “The doorknob fibers that Barrello mentioned-how’s that fit?”
    “Extra lengths of clothesline were found at both scenes,” I explained. “Matching fibers on the hallway knobs suggest that at some point the killer tied the children’s doors shut.”
    “And the fibers on the bedroom doors?”
    “I think that’s where the killer left the husbands while he was busy with the women. After trussing up the men, I think he choked them to the point of unconsciousness, cut off their eyelids, and made them watch.”
    “Jesus,” whispered Huff.
    “The guy tampering with the garage-opener lights may also be significant,” I continued.
    “This I gotta hear,” said another detective from the Hollywood Division.
    “At first that didn’t make much sense to me, either,” I admitted. “Then I started wondering how the killer managed to find his way around the houses so well. He slips in, shuts off the power, disables the phones, makes his way upstairs, locks in the kids, and proceeds to the parents’ room without a hitch… and he does all this in the dark. It took me a while just to locate the Larsons’ power panel, and that was during the day.”
    “I think the killer knew the layout. I think he had been there before.”
    “I’m not following,” interrupted Snead. “You’re saying the killer broke in twice? There’s no report of an earlier break-in at either location.”
    “Maybe that’s because he planned on coming back and was careful not to leave any sign he’d been there,” I suggested.
    “The Larsons’ burglar alarm wasn’t working the night of the murders,” Deluca added. “A repairman said the main panel looked fried, like somebody had dumped water on it. Could’ve been the killer during a reconnaissance visit.”
    Snead shook his head. “And he disabled the lights the first time around, too? Why?”
    “Originally I thought the guy planned on doing something out there,” I answered. “Taking the bodies out that way, for instance, and he didn’t want to attract attention from the neighbors. But that didn’t explain why he disabled the lights permanently, or why he did it on the first visit, or why on the night of the murders he didn’t simply open the door manually. Then it occurred to me. What if the guy got in through the garage-say, during the day when nobody was home-and planned on coming back again that same way late at night?”
    “Could’ve happened,” mused Deluca. “Nobody sets the house alarm during the day, especially if they’re only going to the market or picking up the kids. And hardly anyone locks the door from the garage into the house. It’d be easy.”
    “Plus, at both scenes the garages were far enough away from the bedrooms that the families might not have heard the garage door opening the second time the guy broke in,” someone else offered.
    “The second time he broke in?” Snead said dismissively. “Let’s not get carried away here. There’s no proof the killer entered through the garage. The Larson kid could have dumped a soda on the security panel, and a couple dead bulbs don’t mean anything. The front doors were unlocked. Why make things complicated?”
    “All we know for certain is that the killer left the doors open when he exited,” I said. “A little too obvious, don’t you think?”
    “Another thing,” added Barrello. “The Pratts’ next-door neighbor said he couldn’t believe Mr. Pratt would leave his house unlocked. Said he was meticulous about everything, and that if the killer got in that way, he must’ve used a key.”
    “I’m not ruling out our guy using a key,” I went on, “but I think we should broaden our thinking. For instance, there are different kinds of keys. Right now one of the Larsons’ cars is in a Santa Monica body shop. I’ll bet their garage-door remote control was left in the car when they dropped it off. Anybody at the repair shop could’ve used that remote to break in. An even simpler possibility is that the Larsons left their house key on the ring. That wouldn’t explain the garage lights being disabled, but it’d be easy enough to check.”
    “The Pratts had one of their cars worked on recently, too,” noted Barrello. “Dented fender. I looked up the repair invoice this morning.”
    “I’m still not buying this garage entry theory,” Snead said grudgingly, “but the possibility of a house key being at a repair shop is worth pursuing. Nonetheless, I’d like to point out that we’ll have plenty to do without charging off on every wild goose chase that comes up. A dozen good leads have already come in on the hotline.”
    Ignoring Snead, Lieutenant Huff walked to the poster-board chart and wrote “Disabled Garage Lights,” “Prior Entry,” and “Car Repair” in the crime-scene columns. Once he’d finished, he picked up a yellow notepad. “Okay, before we go on, who’s investigating sign companies for the plumbing van logo?”
    “I’m on that,” one of the Orange County guys replied.
    Huff made a notation, then continued. “The car repair-shop angle and the source of any items the killer brought with him have to be looked into as well. Working on the supposition that the killer knew both families, we should also search for a common friend, coworker, or anything else that might link the victims.”
    “How about getting some clerical staff up here to computer-categorize the address books and phone records?” suggested Deluca. “If the guy does it again, it’d make correlation a lot easier. We could do the same with the hotline tips.”
    “I’ll look into that,” said Snead. “Any other ideas?”
    “I think we need to recanvass the neighborhoods,” I offered. “See whether anybody saw a white van in the area, possibly with trade markings. As for the car-repair angle, we might think about searching for someone who’s worked at both repair shops.”
    “Good idea,” said Huff. “Anything else?”
    “How about putting out the word to the divisions to be on the lookout for unexplained break-ins?” I continued. “Same with the Sheriff’s Department. Assuming our guy enters the victims’ homes at least once before he kills them, maybe we can-”
    “That’s your assumption,” objected Snead. “Do you have any idea how many break-ins occur in this city every day?”
    “A lot,” I conceded. “But we could narrow the field.”
    “By only investigating instances where nothing’s been taken and there’s a young, attractive woman living there. We could use the garage entry angle, too.”
    “It’s worth a shot,” said Huff, again overriding Snead. “Anything else? No? Okay, before we draw up a duty roster, there’s one more thing to cover. I’ve asked Dr. Sidney Berns from the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the California College of Medicine to give us his thoughts on the guy we’re looking for. Dr. Berns is a forensic psychiatrist, and on several occasions he’s served as an expert witness for the Orange County District Attorney’s office. What he has to say could be helpful. Sid, you want to come on up?”
    As the stranger I had noted earlier made his way forward, a grumbling born of longstanding distrust between the police department and the psychiatric community filtered through the room. Upon reaching an empty desk at the head of the assembly, Dr. Berns arranged a stack of handwritten notes on the gray metal surface, then withdrew a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles from his coat. He seemed tired, his pale eyes growing owlish as he donned his glasses. After shuffling through his papers, he tapped a cigarette from a new pack of Marlboros. Ignoring the rule against smoking in Los Angeles public buildings, he lit the cigarette and inhaled deeply.
    Snead started to object, then apparently changed his mind. A number of detectives shifted impatiently. “This’ll be about as productive as watching birds screw,” I noted.
    Exhaling a cloud of smoke, Berns glanced in my direction. “You have something to say, Detective?”
    I shrugged. “No offense, Doc, but-”
    “You’re out of line, Kane,” warned Snead.
    “No, I want to hear his opinion,” said Berns. “Speak freely, Detective.”
    “Freely?” I replied. “Okay. Like I said, no offense, but I’ve been up half the night filling out worthless VICAP forms and assembling material for an FBI profile that won’t do one bit of good, so I find it hard to get too enthusiastic about listening to some guy tell me that the murderer lives in a brick house, or that he has problems with his self-image, or that he hated his mom and butchered two families because God told him to. What’s the point of excusing this guy’s actions with a load of psychological bull? I don’t give a damn about his personal problems, and I already know why he’s doing it. He’s doing it because he likes it. And he’ll keep doing it till we find him. Period.”
    From the expressions of most present, it appeared a majority of detectives there agreed with me. Berns took another drag on his cigarette and stubbed it out in a paper coffee cup. “You’re not the only one who didn’t get much sleep last night, Detective,” he said. “I was up till three going over the crime-scene reports, and despite your opinion, I think I have something to add. You are right about one thing, though. Most of what I’m about to say is conjecture. It’s based on well established principles and experience with other psychopathic personality inventories, but it’s conjecture nevertheless.” Berns looked directly at me. “Let me ask you something, Detective. Have you ever investigated a serial killing?”
    I shook my head. “Just peripherally.”
    “Has anyone here?”
    “Unfortunately, I’ve been intimately involved in two such cases,” said Berns. “One years back in Seattle, and another more recently in San Diego. I say unfortunately because on both occasions the killer was never caught.”
    “Not much of a track record,” Barrello remarked.
    “No. But I learned some things. One is that it can take years to apprehend a repeat killer, if he’s captured at all. And then-no offense, Detective Kane-when he is caught, it’s often pure dumb luck. You’re up against a murderer who’s smart, organized, and killing strangers with no motive other than sexual gratification. Do you think you’ll find him with what you’ve got so far?”
    “No,” I admitted. “We’ll probably need to see him do it again. Maybe more than once.”
    “You’ll get your chance, of that I’m certain,” promised Berns. “So if anything I have to say-even one small thing-can help in your investigation, isn’t it worth a listen?”
    “You’ve made your point,” I conceded. “Go ahead.”
    “Good. I’ll try to make it quick,” said Berns dryly. “And not mention any brick houses.”
    I smiled. “Fair enough.”
    Berns lit another Marlboro. “First, I want to cover some background on the type of man for whom you’re searching, then move on to particulars. To begin, what you’re up against isn’t new. There have been more than 150 documented cases of serial killers since the eighteen hundreds, and the FBI currently estimates there are thirty to fifty serial killers now active in the United States. The number may actually be even higher than that. Of the twenty thousand homicides reported yearly, over five thousand go unsolved-more than enough for a host of serial killers to slip through the cracks.
    “With few exceptions, FBI statistics show that most serial killers are white males in their late twenties to early forties. Typically they act alone and rarely cross racial boundaries in their choice of victims. Despite what you see in the movies, sexual gratification is almost always their motive, and because they usually prey on low-profile, forgotten segments of the population like runaway kids, drug addicts, and prostitutes, few are ever caught. These men typically come from abusive family backgrounds. Usually there’s one dominant and one passive parent, with incidents of cruel discipline, either substantive or perceived, along with physical and sexual abuse, rejection, and isolation.”
    Noting my look of impatience, Berns added, “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to excuse your killer’s actions. Many in my field would disagree, but in my opinion these types of monsters are born, not made-with environmental factors simply bringing out traits already present.”
    Berns stopped to knock ash from his cigarette, then pushed ahead. “Childhood excitement caused by blood and violence is common, as is playing with fire, bedwetting, and the preadolescent torture of animals-the so-called homicidal triad. Early on, sadistic and sexual pleasure are fused in the killer’s psyche, with his first human killing usually taking place in his late adolescence or early twenties. For him, this initial murder is like a great meal, a wonderful piece of music, a first love. Subsequent killings are often an attempt to recapture that moment-to relive the smell, the taste, the thrill of that first experience. Ritual is typically important, as are rigorous rules and disciplines for his killings.”
    “Why’s that?” asked Deluca.
    “Good question. A lot’s been written on the subject. Suffice it to say that your killer’s ritual probably centers on some twisted and possibly unconscious embodiment of his own psychotic universe, thereby enhancing the pleasure of his acts.”
    “He gets off on it,” Huff said.
    “Correct, but perhaps in ways you or I couldn’t comprehend.” Berns glanced briefly at his notes and continued. “Operating on the premise that behavior reflects personality, FBI forensic analysts have divided serial killers into two broad categories: organized and disorganized. Our man clearly falls in the organized classification, exhibiting methodical preparation in his pre- and postkilling activities. Any psychological profile-or psychological autopsy, as most in the field are now calling them-of the killer for whom you’re searching will undoubtedly mention the following: He’s a true psychopath, acting without compassion or remorse. He’s a loner and probably incapable of normal sexual relationships, but he could be married and even have kids. In this case I don’t think so,” Berns added. “I’ll explain why later. Another thing. Although he dislikes people, your killer can mix well when necessary. He’s able to compartmentalize his actions, leading a normal life in one area but being a heartless monster in another. He feels justified in his killings and has elaborate rationales to excuse his crimes.”
    “Like he thinks he’s doing the world a favor?” interjected Barrello.
    “Right. Along those lines, he’s undoubtedly also a pathological liar, changing versions of any event to suit his purpose. Usually quite credibly, too. If you catch him, neighbors will shake their heads and say they simply can’t believe it. He seemed like such a nice fellow.”
    Berns stubbed out his cigarette and continued. “Last of all, despite his psychological abnormalities, your killer has a strong sense of self-preservation and is fully cognizant of the crimes he’s committing. For this reason, within the boundaries of a comfort zone, he probably operates at a distance from his home, cruising for victims. Often there’s a ‘stressor’ or ‘trigger’ event that pushes him over the edge-losing his job, a fight with a girlfriend or someone he knows, something like that. In addition, most repeat killers feel superior to the police and others, and hold an arrogant conviction of their own giftedness and farsightedness.”
    “Maybe we can use that,” I mused.
    “Possibly,” said Berns. “Anyway, to sum up your man’s attributes: He’s a loner who’s probably incapable of normal sexual relationships, a man for whom the suffering of his victims creates a feeling of intense sexual arousal, and who likes to control whatever situation he finds himself in, especially when killing. He plans and savors his murders, and creates meticulous rules to govern them. He wears a mask, seeming calm and well adjusted outwardly, but inside he’s raging.”
    “You said you didn’t think he was married,” I noted. “Why?”
    “The late hour of the murders and the lack of a discernible daily pattern-your man killed one family on a weekday and the other on a weekend. Both suggest that he lives alone and doesn’t have to account to anyone for his presence.”
    I nodded. “You went over the crime reports. Any thoughts on those you want to share?”
    “A few,” said Berns. “I suppose this is as good a time as any to delve into particulars, again with the caveat that what I’m about to say is educated speculation. First, because serial killers rarely cross races, our man’s choice of victims indicates he’s white. He knows the area, so he’s probably living in Southern California, most probably working at a job that doesn’t bring him in close contact with the public. His ritual is advanced and highly developed, suggesting he’s killed before and is well along in his killing cycle. Age is one of the hardest things to nail down, but I’d say he’s in his mid- to late thirties, although he could be older. The complexity of his murder protocol, his suspected reconnoitering prior to killing, and the variations exhibited between the scenes-using a gun instead of a plastic bag to kill the Larson child, for instance, or disabling the garage lights in different manners, or varying the eyelid cuts-reveal our man to be highly intelligent. I suspect, however, that this particular killing cycle is new to him. He’s still improvising-perfecting his ritual, fantasy, whatever you want to call it.”
    “I thought you said he had killed before,” objected Barrello.
    “Not like this. In the past he’s probably hidden his murders. I suspect he’s entering a new phase, which in itself is extremely unusual. Most repeat killers pick a routine and stick with it.”
    “So why’s he changing?”
    “The guy’s going public,” I answered.
    “Exactly,” said Berns. “His choice of high-profile targets, his symbolic act of leaving the victims’ front doors open, and his failure to conceal the bodies indicate a desire for recognition. It’s something killers of his ilk often crave. Along those lines, it’s common for them to save newspaper clippings and the like. Some even try to assist in the investigation.”
    “Offering their invaluable services as a witness,” said Barrello.
    “Those of you manning the hotlines be on the lookout for anyone seeming overly helpful,” said Snead.
    “Especially after the next murders,” added Berns.
    “So we can expect him to kill again?” asked Snead.
    “Without doubt. The time interval between the first and second killings was twenty-five days. Typically, we look for a decrease in the cooling-off period.”
    “It’s been four days since the Palisades murders,” noted Huff. “By your reckoning, if we don’t nail this guy in the next three weeks, he’s going to strike again.”
    Berns nodded. “Probably sooner than that. In all likelihood, the brutality of the attacks will also escalate. Another thing to look for-repeat killers routinely save trophies and souvenirs. Your man is probably taking something from each of his victims. A ring, an article of clothing, possibly even the missing body parts from the women.”
    “I thought you said he was smart,” someone in the back noted. “Keeping incriminating evidence doesn’t make sense.”
    “True,” agreed Berns. “It isn’t logical, but in this case our man can’t help it. More than any other type of killer, serial murderers are driven by a desire to recapture the pleasure of their acts, often returning to the scene to gloat, savor the murders, even toy with the police.”
    “Maybe that’s something we can use, too,” I said. Then, to Snead, “How about putting some surveillance on the scenes?” I suggested, deciding not to mention that I had already requested a stakeout on the Larson residence.
    “I’ll run it by Metro,” Snead said reluctantly.
    “I’ll do the same on our end,” said Huff. Then, turning back to Berns. “Any religious significance to the candles found at the scenes?”
    Berns shrugged. “Possibly.”
    “Or he could’ve brought them ’cause he knew he would be turning off the lights,” reasoned Barrello.
    “What’s with the cut eyelids?” asked someone else.
    Berns considered carefully. “I don’t know. If Kane’s supposition is accurate, the killer’s forcing the husbands to watch might indicate he needs a witness to whom he can prove himself. He’s undoubtedly not only a sadist, but also a necrosadist-he has to see his victims die in order to achieve sexual satisfaction. As his rage seems directed not only at women but toward entire families, mutilating the husbands and having them watch could play a part.”
    I spoke up. “What about what he did to the women?”
    “When it comes to the wives, the mutilations and torture are the killer’s signature, the ‘why’ of his act,” answered Berns. “For him, savaging the women is analogous to sexual intercourse, with the knife representing the penis. The shallow cuts around the face and neck are made first, symbolizing foreplay. The final deep thrusts represent orgasm, with the killer probably masturbating at that point, or possibly even having a spontaneous orgasm.”
    “Sick bastard,” growled Barrello.
    “The spermicidal gel and tissue tears in the vagina and anus attest to some type of penetration,” Berns went on, referring to one of the forensic findings covered earlier. “Possibly penile. But if so, it was most likely postmortem, with repeated episodes possible. The absence of sperm can be explained by the use of a prophylactic. Given the planning evident in other aspects of the crimes, I feel that if your man used a rubber, it was motivated by a desire to avoid leaving evidence and isn’t indicative of any squeamishness on his part. Once again, it’s a sign of the premeditation typical in the work of an organized killer, differing from the spontaneous markers usually left by a spree-type murderer. Placing the husbands’ bodies back in their beds and then covering his victims with a blanket might ordinarily suggest some sort of regret on the killer’s part. In our case, I think it’s simply another part of his ritual.”
    “Any significance to his murdering the children first?” asked Huff.
    “I’m not certain,” Berns answered. “We’ll know more when we’ve seen him kill again. For now, we have a predatory, sexually motivated killer who’s presumably choosing his victims based on common physical or psychological characteristics. Both women were attractive brunettes, married, and had children. He finds them, stalks them, personalizes them, and plans the act. Then, at a time of his choosing, he kills them.”
    Again, the room fell silent.
    “As Detective Kane observed earlier,” Berns concluded somberly, “the man for whom you’re searching enjoys watching people die. He enjoys it a lot, and he will definitely do it again.”


    Mom! Brian’s looking at me!”
    Julie Welsh found her daughter’s eyes in the rearview mirror. “Heather,” she sighed, “if all he’s doing is looking at you…”
    “He’s staring, Mom.”
    “Am not,” said Brian in a taunting singsong seemingly indigenous to all younger siblings. “Besides, it’s a free country.”
    Julie slowed to enter the Spyglass Hill community of Las Palmas, speeding up again as a security guard spotted her windshield sticker and raised the gate barrier. “Brian, do me a favor and quit staring at your sister.”
    “But Mom…”
    “Please, Brian. And Heather, don’t be so sensitive. I have a lot on my mind right now without listening to you two squabbling in the backseat.”
    “It’s not me, Mom. It’s Brian. He’s-”
    “Heather, stop right now. You, too, Brian. Your father will be home in less than an hour, and you know how he’s been lately. If you don’t have your chores and homework done by then…”
    “If you don’t have dinner ready by then…” mimicked Brian.
    “One more word out of you, young man, and you’re grounded,” said Julie harshly, fighting a surge of irritation she had felt building all afternoon. There just didn’t seem to be enough time in a day to get things done, and she didn’t even have a steady job, as Wes so regularly pointed out.
    Well, I’d like to see him get two kids off to school, clean the house, shuttle Heather to the doctor for allergy shots, take Brian and his sister to the orthodontist, and do all the other so-called little things it takes to keep a family going, Julie thought angrily. All he does is go to work. With a flash of guilt, she abruptly remembered that she still hadn’t taken the BMW in for a bodywork estimate. It would undoubtedly be the first thing Wes asked when he got home.
    After turning on Cambria and hanging a right on Montecito, Julie pulled into her driveway, stopping to push the garage-door remote. As the garage door lumbered open, she checked the clock on the dashboard, deciding that if she hurried, she could get dinner going and still have time for a cocktail before Wes arrived. And tonight, she thought, I need one. Maybe a couple.
    Fifty yards down the street, a white van marked “McMurphy Electric” idled at the curb. Inside, Victor Carns lowered a curiously shaped antenna resembling a fish backbone, with short aluminum tubes fastened like ribs to a central connecting spine. A cable ran from the antenna to a piece of electronic equipment sitting beside him.
    After setting the antenna on the floor, Carns turned his attention to the electronic instrument. He made several adjustments to the controls. His brow furrowed as a train of flat-topped pulses marched across the screen. Another adjustment, and the blocky pattern slid right, stabilized… and held.
    Carns covered the apparatus with a beach towel. Smiling, he dropped the van into gear and drove slowly down the street, glancing at the Welsh residence as he passed. With an effort of will he forced his eyes back to the road, remembering the softness of the woman’s skin as he had taken the pen from her fingers.
    Next week, he promised himself. At the latest, the week after.


    Tell me something, Kane. Your wife ever talk dirty in bed?”
    I eased into the right lane of the Santa Monica Freeway, then glanced at Deluca. “You don’t actually expect me to answer that, do you?”
    Deluca grinned. “Why not?”
    “Because it’s none of your damn business.”
    “Don’t get your feathers ruffled. I just heard that some guys get turned on by women talking dirty when they’re having sex. Personally, I don’t see it. My ex-wife did it a lot. Definitely turned me off.”
    I exited on Lincoln Boulevard, ran a yellow light at the first intersection, and took the freeway overpass south. “What kind of things did she say?”
    “Mostly stuff like ‘Get off me, you turd!’”
    I chuckled. “There’s just no pleasing some women.”
    “Ain’t that the truth.” Deluca scanned the sprawl of car lots and taco stands slipping past his window. “What was the name of the repair shop? Sam’s Auto Body?”
    “Pete’s. There it is.” I swerved into the right lane. Ignoring a digital salute from a driver behind us, I parked in front of a one-story cinderblock building with a perimeter of razor wire topping the roof and enclosing fences. Despite the defensive coils, almost every surface of the building-like most of the walls, billboards, and freeway signs in the area-displayed an indecipherable spray-can chaos of gang names and ghetto scrawl.
    As I stepped from the car, I checked the lot adjoining the repair shop. Several German imports, a Volvo, and a number of American vehicles sat behind the fence-some still dented, some repaired. A moment later I spotted a rust-colored Infiniti. “That look like persimmon to you?” I asked, pointing out the vehicle to Deluca.
    Deluca rubbed his chin. “I’d say closer to magenta. Maybe a fuchsia.
    “Thanks, Paul,” I said, starting for the entrance. “When you retire, I predict a great future for you as an interior decorator.”
    Inside, after passing several repair bays and a paint station enclosed in plastic drapes, Deluca and I arrived at a dingy office in the rear. As we entered, a balding man glanced up from a well thumbed Penthouse magazine. “Is this about the Larson murder?” he asked as I flipped out my shield.
    I nodded, noting the name sewn on the man’s coveralls. “You the owner here, Al?”
    “Where’s Pete?” asked Deluca.
    “Sold out a long time back. Moved someplace in Idaho.”
    I glanced around the fly-bespeckled office. “Can’t say as I blame him. Is that the Larsons’ Infiniti out by the fence?”
    “The red one? Yeah. It’s been finished since last week. We didn’t release it because of some insurance mixup. Mrs. Larson was supposed to come down Monday and straighten things out.”
    “Straighten out, as in pay?”
    Al shrugged. “We don’t release cars till the bill’s settled.”
    “What about the insurance money?”
    “The other driver’s company refused to pay.”
    Again, Al shrugged.
    I sighed impatiently. “Okay. Let’s take a look at the car.”
    Al rummaged through an assortment of keys hanging on a pegboard, finding a small ring with a tag displaying a license number and the name “Larson.” I plucked the ring from his fingers. Two keys. Both bore the Infiniti logo. No house key.
    Deluca and I followed the owner out to the lot, exiting behind one of the repair bays. When we arrived at the Larsons’ car, I noted a layer of grime covering its surface. I drew my finger through the dust, then bent to inspect the asphalt beneath the engine. No drips. “How long has it been sitting here?” I asked.
    “Like I said, since last week,” Al answered. “What are you guys lookin’ for, anyway?”
    I ignored the question. “Who worked on it?”
    “I think Alonzo did the body work. Smitty… Charlie Smith did the paint.”
    I unlocked the driver’s-side door and tossed the keys to Deluca. “Check the trunk.”
    Leaning into the vehicle, I noticed a door-opener remote affixed to the visor. The fastening clip lined up perfectly with grooves that time had pressed in the simulated-leather surface. If someone had removed the remote, they’d taken pains to replace it exactly. Using my pen, I teased the device from the visor and dropped it into a plastic evidence bag.
    “Not much in the trunk,” Deluca called from the back. “Just the spare and a jack.”
    I flipped open the glove compartment, noting maps, a pack of matches, napkins, and a flashlight. A quick search revealed nothing under the seats or in the ashtrays. “Nothing much here, either,” I said, backing from the car. “Let’s go talk to Alonzo and Smitty.”
    “Smitty’s workin’ today, but you’ll have to wait to see Alonzo,” said the owner. “He drove down to Mexico to visit family. Left yesterday and won’t be back till next week. Hey, you don’t think one of my guys had something to do with the murders?”
    “When next week?”
    “Friday, I think. I could check the schedule.”
    “Do that,” I said. “While you’re at it, I would appreciate a list of every employee you’ve had working here for the past two years.”
    Al’s expression turned surly. “That’s gonna be tough. I don’t see why I gotta-”
    Another citizen eager to help. “This isn’t a request, Al,” I said. “In case you missed it the first time around, we’re investigating a multiple homicide. If you force us to get a warrant, I guarantee you’ll regret it. For instance, I have friends down at Immigration, and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they dropped by here and found that half the guys you have working are missing their green cards. You follow me?”
    Al’s face darkened. “I follow.”
    “Good. Now, there’re two things I want you to bear in mind when you’re making out that list for us. First, we need the names of all your workers, not just the ones you’re carrying on the books.”
    “You won’t bring in INS?”
    “Not as long as you cooperate.”
    “What’s the other thing?”
    “Don’t talk to Alonzo before he gets back. For that matter, don’t mention our visit to anybody.”
    When Deluca and I returned to task force headquarters, I noticed a pink message slip lying on my desk. A name was scrawled across the top: Graysha Hunt.
    “You want me to run with this?” asked Deluca, riffling through the employee list we had received from the repair-shop owner.
    I sat at my desk and picked up the phone. “Yeah. Check the local database first, then run everybody through the DOJ computer. Be sure to add Al’s name, too. And make a copy for Barrello.”
    I dialed the number on the slip. As the phone started ringing on the other end, I rocked back in my chair, gazing at Lieutenant Huff’s wall chart. The list had grown considerably since morning, apparently swollen by names supplied by solicitous citizens via the hotline. I sighed gloomily.
    “Palisades Properties. Graysha speaking.”
    “Hello, Graysha. Dan Kane returning your call. You have something for me?”
    “Oh, hi,” said Graysha, suddenly sounding out of breath. “I… I put together the list you wanted. Agents who’ve shown the property on Michael Lane. Their client registries, too.”
    “Any of them give you a hard time?”
    “No, but I didn’t mention what was involved. Will you be calling them?”
    “Maybe not me, but someone here will.”
    “When they do, I’d appreciate it if they didn’t, uh-”
    “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure your name stays out of it. You want to fax me the list?”
    “Okay,” said Graysha, her tone anything but certain.
    I rattled off the task force fax number. “You’re doing the right thing,” I added.
    “I hope so. And I hope you catch this guy. If there’s anything else…”
    “If there is, you’ll hear from me. And thanks.”
    After hanging up, I thought a minute, then looked around the room, spotting a Hollywood detective named Terry Liman at a desk near the windows. Head down and making notes on a yellow legal pad, Liman was laboriously going through a mountain of the Larsons’ bills and records.
    I walked over. “Terry, you seem so busy I hate to interrupt,” I said.
    Liman grinned, clearly welcoming the diversion. “Not a problem.”
    “How’s it going?”
    “Slow. Fuentes is examining the Pratt records and we’re looking for correlations between the two families as we go, but nothing’s turned up so far. Hard to believe a family can generate so much paperwork.”
    “Have you gone through the Larson’s financial stuff yet?”
    “Not yet. I started on their address book. Right now I’m up to the T’s. Phone records are next.”
    “Let me borrow the bank receipts for a while, okay?”
    “Sure.” Liman rummaged through a cardboard box, pulling out a leather-bound checkbook and a wad of bank statements and canceled checks. “Here you go.”
    “Thanks. I’ll have them back as soon as I’m done.”
    I returned to my desk and began a review of the Larsons’ expenditures for the past year, beginning with October and then working my way back. Twenty minutes later I found a check written to the USAA Insurance Company, a policy number neatly penned across the top. After consulting the telephone directory, I dialed USAA’s district office in Van Nuys.
    Following a long wait on hold, I wound up speaking to an irritable claims adjuster named Bertina Johnson. She stated that USAA, acting on behalf of their insured, Susan Larson, had indeed submitted a claim to Twentieth Century Insurance requesting payment for a recent accident. Following another delay while she further searched her records, Ms. Johnson went on to say that Twentieth had denied the claim, maintaining that their insured was not at fault. When I asked why, she informed me that additional information would have to come directly from Twentieth.
    Upon telephoning Twentieth Century, I ran into another dead end. Yolanda Blum, the adjuster on the case, had called in sick that morning. Although Twentieth had a record of the Larson claim, Ms. Blum had filed it under the name of their insured, not Larson, and she had failed to cross-reference it. I ultimately had to settle for a promise that Ms. Blum would call back when she returned.
    As I hung up, I noticed Deluca angling across the room, a satisfied grin on his face. “What’re you so pleased about?” I asked when he arrived.
    Instead of answering, Deluca dropped the repair-shop employee list on my desk. Notations in a near-illegible scrawl bordered a surprising number of names.
    I picked up the sheets. “You find something?”
    “Maybe too much. Half the guys working for Al have records ranging from petty larceny to grand theft auto.”
    I ran my finger down the list, stopping at Charles Smith, the man who’d done the paint. Nothing. Alonzo Domingos proved to be a different story. “I see the bodywork guy has a full plate,” I noted, struggling to decipher Deluca’s writing. “Burglary, aggravated assault… Jeez, where’d you learn to write? What’s the last thing you scribbled?”
    “Rape. Arrest, no conviction.”
    “Hmmm. I sent the opener remote from the Larson’s car over to Latents. It’ll be interesting to see whether Alonzo’s prints are on it.”
    “I’ll pull up his sheet for print comparison.”
    “Is Barrello cross-checking this list against employees at the OC garage?” I asked.
    “He’s not back yet, but I left a copy on his desk,” answered Deluca. “Think Domingos is our guy?”
    I shrugged.
    “C’mon, Kane. You’re wearing that look you get. What’s up?”
    “I’m not sure,” I said slowly. “But I feel as if…”
    “I don’t know. Maybe it’s nothing, but I still can’t shake the feeling we’re overlooking something. Something important.”


    Miss me yet?” Catheryn’s voice sounded surprisingly clear, especially considering that her call was probably bouncing off a communications satellite somewhere between California and Italy. Some things in the world were definitely getting better.
    I took a final bite of cold spaghetti, pushed aside my plate, and rocked back in my chair at the kitchen table. “Kate, I’ve been so busy I’ve barely had a chance to eat, let alone spend time mooning over one of my girlfriends.”
    “Girlfriends?” said Catheryn, trying to sound insulted. “You and I need to have a meeting of the minds when I get back.”
    “When you get back, I have something else planned, sugar. And it doesn’t involve your mind.”
    “I’ll be sure to shower.”
    “Don’t do anything out of the ordinary on my account. I like my women natural.”
    “Does that mean I can stop shaving my legs?”
    That’s what I thought,” laughed Catheryn. “So how are the kids?”
    “Kids? What kids?”
    “Travis, Allison, Nate-do any of those names ring a bell?”
    “Oh, those kids. They’re fine. Allison’s been doing the cooking, Christy’s helped out occasionally, and everybody’s been getting off to school like clockwork.”
    “Has Nate had a bath recently?”
    “I don’t know. If he hasn’t, I’ll drag him out on the deck tomorrow and hose him off.”
    “What about Trav?”
    “I’ll hose him off, too.”
    “That’s not what I mean.”
    “I know. Listen, I haven’t had time to talk with Travis since you left. He’s coming home this weekend. I’m working Saturday, but I promise to give the entire crew my undivided attention on Sunday. If there’s trouble in the ranks, I’ll straighten it out then.”
    “Wonderful. And to think I was worried you’d ignore the children while I was away.”
    “Now, don’t start in. I realize you think your babies aren’t safe with the ol’ dad here, but they’re a tough bunch. They can take care of themselves.”
    “Speaking of Travis, when I got home tonight there was a message from Petrinski,” I interrupted, referring to Travis’s music advisor at USC. “He wants me to call. What’s that about?”
    “I told you Trav’s having problems. Maybe Petrinski wants to discuss them with you, although I can’t imagine why. Call him and find out.”
    “I’ll do that, as soon as I have time.”
    “Make time,” said Catheryn firmly. Then, softening slightly, “They’re keeping you busy, huh? Your case is big news over here. The TV had a story on the task force, too. How’s that going?”
    “With a handful of quarterbacks calling the plays, about as well as can be expected.”
    “Dan, I know you’re involved with your investigation, but I’m still hoping you can find time to join me. It’s so beautiful over here. You would love Rome. We’re playing a different hall every other night and our schedule is absolutely hectic, but our stopover in Venice is just two weeks away. Any chance you’ll be able to wrap things up by then?”
    “Believe me, sugar, if that happens you’ll be the first to know.”
    “All right,” sighed Catheryn. “Rehearsal’s in four hours, and I have to get some sleep before then. How about putting the kids on?”
    “Sure. They’re sawing logs, but I’ll wake them.” I covered the mouthpiece. “Allison! Nate! Your mom’s on the phone.”
    “Be right there,” Allison’s sleepy voice filtered back.
    “Coming, Dad.”
    I took my hand from the mouthpiece. “When will I hear from you next?”
    “We’re swamped for the next few days. I’ll try to call Sunday. I miss you, Dan.”
    “Me, too,” I said as Nate and Allison stumbled into the kitchen. “I’ll put the kids on now. Take care of yourself.”
    I handed the phone to Allison. “Make it quick, sunshine. It may be the middle of the night, but this call’s still costing plenty.”
    “Don’t worry, Pop,” yawned Allison. “I have a couple bucks saved. If things get tight, I’ll bust open my piggy bank.”
    “Me, too,” said Nate, rubbing his eyes.
    I smiled. “I don’t think it will come to that, but thanks for the offer.”

    He sits very still, listening.
    He hesitates, then moves to the trapdoor. He starts to open it, stopping as a voice sounds beneath him in the entry.
    Another voice answers. Agitated, breathless. “What?”
    He raises the hatch a little and peeks through the opening. A man with skinny, hairless arms stands below. “I got a bad feeling about this,” the man calls into the house.
    Seconds pass. The other man answers. “Ain’t nobody home ’cept sweet-cheeks here. Keep checkin’. There’s bound to be cash.” Then a sharp slapping noise, and the muffled sound of someone crying. The man below heads deeper into the house.
    He hears his parents’ bedroom door bang open. With trembling hands, he closes and bolts his hatch. Stay here till they leave? he wonders. They haven’t found me yet. Maybe they won’t. He recalls the sobbing sound. He tries to drive it from his mind. Can’t.
    Shivering, he pulls back the bolt. More crashing in his parents’ room, and an odd grunting from somewhere. The living room. He opens the hatch. Heart pounding, he climbs down the ladder from his bedroom loft.
    Get to a phone. Call nine-one-one. Wait till the police come.
    He hesitates in the entry. There are two telephones in the house: one in his parents’ bedroom, the other in the kitchen. The first is out. That leaves the kitchen. Hugging the wall, he creeps down the hall, pausing when he reaches the living room. The grunting has grown louder. He eases his head around the corner. He can see the kitchen on the far side, the phone out of reach. More of the living room comes into view… TV, coffee table… He freezes when he gets to the man on the couch.
    Allison cowers beneath him, tears streaming down her face. A strip of duct tape seals her mouth. Another binds her hands. Blood runs from her nose.
    A noise sounds behind him. The other one’s coming! With a rush of panic, he slides behind the door. An instant later the man he’d seen earlier bursts in. “I found some jewelry in the bedroom,” the man says. “That’s all there is. Let’s go, Cal.”
    “There’s gotta be cash, Joey,” Cal snarls. “Find it.”
    “There ain’t none. I checked.”
    “Where’s the money?” Cal demands, grabbing Allison’s hair and jerking her head from the couch.
    “She might be able to talk better if you took off the gag,” Joey points out.
    Cal rips the tape from Allison’s mouth. “Where’s the money?”
    “There isn’t any,” Allison sobs. “My dad doesn’t keep cash in the house.”
    Cal doubles his fist. Coldly and deliberately, he hits her. Grinning, he hits her again. “Where is it?”
    He sneaks from his hiding place, backing down the hall.
    “She don’t know. Jesus, Cal, you’re gonna kill her!”
    “Bullshit! She knows and she’s gonna tell.”
    He can hear them arguing as he retreats. The phone in Dad’s room? No time. Run to the neighbors for help? Stop a car on the highway?
    All at once he remembers the gun.
    It’s a. 38-caliber Smith amp; Wesson, his father’s service revolver before he switched to the Beretta automatic. It’s on the top shelf of the coat closet, supposedly safe from prying hands. He knows from experience that he can reach it from the ladder to his loft.
    He retreats to the entry and ascends the ladder, stopping partway up. Resisting an urge to climb the final rungs to the loft and lock the hatch behind him, he holds on with one hand, pawing through articles far back on the closet’s shelf.
    It has to be here. Please be… There!
    His fingers close on the gun. Then the box of. 38 hollow points.
    Hurry… hurry…
    Fighting to control his shaking hands, he opens the cylinder and begins jamming in shells as he’s seen his father do at the academy qualifying range. One, two, three…
    A cartridge slips from his fingers. It clatters to the floor.
    “What’s that?” Cal’s voice echoes from down the hall.
    “I didn’t hear nothin’,” Joey answers.
    He holds his breath, waiting…
    “Guess you’re right,” Cal says finally.
    He closes the cylinder and eases back down the ladder. Quickly, down the hall before they hear me. He hesitates at the living room door. Cocks the revolver. Terrified, he steps into the room.
    “Nate! Wake up!”
    I knelt beside Nate’s bed in the darkness. “Wake up, Nate. You’re having a nightmare.” I flipped on the bedside lamp and sat on the edge of his bunk. “Damn, you’re all sweaty. You’ve been crying, too. What’s wrong?”
    “Nothing,” Nate choked, his voice thick with panic.
    Gently, I pulled him to a sitting position. “Kid, I can’t help if you won’t talk to me. This isn’t the first one of these you’ve had. What’s going on?”
    Nate looked away.
    “Please tell me what’s bothering you, son.”
    “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, Daddy,” Nate sobbed, abruptly bursting into tears. “I want to be good, but-”
    “You’re not making sense,” I said, gripping his shoulders. “What’s being good have to do with anything?”
    “I thought bright lights were customary during an interrogation,” came a voice from the doorway. Allison stepped into the room. She regarded Nate somberly. For a puzzling instant I had the impression that something passed between them. “Leave him alone, Dad,” she ordered in a voice as cold as ice.
    I hesitated, taken aback by her tone. Puzzled, I returned my attention to Nate. “Kid, I just want to help.”
    “I know,” said Nate, his words barely audible.
    “Leave him alone,” Allison repeated angrily.
    Ignoring her, I asked Nate, “Can we start over? Please tell me what’s going on in that head of yours. Maybe we can work it out together.”
    Again, Nate glanced at Allison, then began crying anew. He was trembling, too. “Aw, kid, come here,” I said. I drew him to me and held him against my chest until he finally stopped shaking. More confused than ever, I tried again. “Nate, talk to me. Please.”
    “Nothing’s wrong, Daddy,’ he said. “I didn’t mean to wake you. I won’t do it again.”
    “Please, Dad. Nothing’s wrong.”
    I hesitated, shaking my head in bewilderment. “Okay,” I said. “But if you ever need to talk things over, you know, man to man…”
    “That go for me, too?” Allison interjected bitterly. “Or is a ‘man to man’ with your daughter completely out of the question?”
    “What are you so pissed off about, Allison? I swear, sometimes I don’t understand you.” I rose from the bed. “The sun will be up in a couple hours,” I said, completely at a loss. I ran my fingers through my hair and sighed. “Let’s… let’s try to get some shuteye.”
    “I wish Mom would come home,” said Nate, wiping his nose on his pajama sleeve.
    “A big amen to that,” Allison added fiercely. “I wish she were home right now.”
    I turned in the doorway. “Me, too,” I said.
    Confused and upset, I couldn’t get back to sleep. After pulling on a jacket, I grabbed my cell phone, descended to the beach, and sat on a large, lounge-style swing I had hung from the upper deck some years back. I’d been gazing out at the ocean and puzzling over my confrontation with Allison and Nate for several minutes when I heard a shuffling behind me. I turned. A pair of eyes shined at me from the darkness.
    “Callie,” I said. “Couldn’t sleep either, huh?”
    The Labrador moved closer and cocked her head, regarding me as if to say she wasn’t about to stay in bed with someone rustling around outside in the dark.
    I patted the cushion beside me. “C’mon up, girl.”
    Callie bounded onto the swing, balancing on unsteady legs as it swayed beneath her. Eventually the movement slowed and she lay down, stretching out on the cushions, head in my lap. I scratched her ears and ran my hand over her rust-yellow fur. “Life’s simple for you, huh, pup?” I said softly. “If you can’t eat it, hump it, or fetch it-piss on it.”
    Callie responded with a perfunctory tail-thump. Then, with a sigh, she closed her eyes. Within minutes her lids started to flutter, her feet to twitch, and a small whine escaped her mouth as she pursued some phantom in her dreams.
    Callie and I stayed there long into the night. Although Callie slept, I did not. Troubled by Allison’s bitterness and Nate’s unreasoning fears, I revisited my discussion with Catheryn at the Music Center, reluctantly wondering whether she had been right. Clearly something was terribly wrong with both Allison and Nate. Why had it taken me so long to see it? Rather than meeting my responsibilities as a father, was it easier for me to lose myself in the demands of work instead of facing a truth I didn’t want to consider, a truth I couldn’t accept? Part of me felt certain Catheryn was wrong. Yet no matter how many times I replayed our conversation-rationalizing, justifying, devising powerful new arguments and strategies and rebuttals-another part of me remained unable to dismiss her accusation. Disturbingly, the more I pondered the question, the more I was forced to face the heartbreaking realization that I had failed my family in some deep and fundamental way, inflicting a wound that might be too deep to heal.
    Hours later I pulled my cell phone from my jacket pocket and punched in the international code for Rome. But as I started to enter the digits for Catheryn’s hotel, I hesitated. Unwilling to continue but not knowing why, I lowered the phone. Finally, as the sun began its slow ascent over the Santa Monica skyline, feeling more despondent than I had since Tommy died, I headed back into the house.


    Lieutenant Snead tapped a pencil on the edge of his desk for attention. “Okay, everybody settle down. You guys in the back move up and take seats closer in.”
    Deluca, Liman, and I drifted forward, finding places where we could.
    “I’m happy to report that Detective Barrello has some good news,” Snead continued, getting the briefing under way. “But before we get to that, I want to quickly review our progress in a couple of other areas. To get things rolling, Lieutenant Huff will update us on developments in Orange County. Ken?”
    I looked over at Barrello. He lifted his shoulders in a noncommittal shrug.
    Lieutenant Huff moved to the chart on the front wall. Another sheet had been added since the previous afternoon. “First,” said Huff, referring to the chart, “a recanvass of the Pratt neighborhood elicited nothing new. No luck finding the white van. Tracing the candles, pipe, and Ace bandages didn’t pan out, either. Too common. What else? Oh, the sign on the truck. Shanelec, that was yours.”
    “Right,” answered Collins’ partner. “Negative with paint shops and magnetic sign companies in Los Angeles and Orange County. I’m working my way farther out, as well as hitting the internet.”
    “That leaves our attempt to establish a link between the families,” Hall continued. “Fuentes and…?”
    “Me,” said Liman, raising his hand.
    “Nope,” Liman answered regretfully. “We’re almost done with the phone books and financial records. Next we’ll try friends, neighbors, coworkers-anybody who could’ve known them both.”
    “How about the car repair angle?” I asked. “Any record of the Pratts’ filing an insurance claim?”
    “No insurance claim,” Fuentes answered, referring to his notes. “But there was a check made out to Mission Viejo Bodyworks. Dated October eighth.”
    “A week before they were murdered,” I mused. “If the Pratts-”
    “We’re all well aware of the repair shop connection,” interrupted Snead dismissively. “Let’s move on. To sum things up on the LAPD’s end: All aspects of the Larson investigation mirror Orange County results, with one exception. Yesterday Kane and Deluca visited the Santa Monica body shop where we located the Larsons’ missing car. You want to go over that, Kane?”
    “There’s not much to tell,” I said. “There was no house key on the Larsons’ key ring, but it’s possible the guy could have taken it and not put it back. The only prints on the door opener were Mrs. Larson’s. The Infiniti doesn’t leak oil or radiator coolant, but there were drips of both fluids in the Larsons’ garage, and they had to come from somewhere. We might consider interviewing anyone who could have parked in there, see if we can find a match. By the way, the SID analysis came back on the drips. The oil was a mix of thirty-weight Pennzoil and ten-forty Quaker State. The coolant turned out to be Zerex. If we want a more detailed breakdown, we can send samples over to the Standard Oil refining lab in El Segundo.”
    “What’s this about oil drips?” demanded Snead. “There wasn’t anything about that in your report.”
    “At the time I wasn’t sure they were significant,” I said. “The Jeep in the garage didn’t leak, but until I examined the Larsons’ Infiniti, I couldn’t tell whether-”
    “Damn it, Kane. In the future you will include everything in your reports,” Snead snapped. “ I’ll decide what’s significant. This is the last time I want to have to mention your shoddy paperwork. Is that clear?”
    “Yes, sir,” I said. “In that case, I would like to add that the Larsons’ lawn needed mowing, the birdbath was empty except for dead leaves, and I detected what I assumed to be bunny crap under the living room couch.”
    “Move on to the employee list,” ordered Snead, scowling at a spate of chuckles from the back.
    “Right, Lieutenant,” I continued. “The owner of the Santa Monica body shop supplied us with a list of everybody who’s worked there over the past two years. Deluca ran the names through DOJ. A lot of them came back dirty. For instance, Alonzo Domingos, the guy who did the bodywork on the Infiniti, was busted four years ago for rape. The charges were dismissed.”
    “Which brings us to Detective Barrello’s discovery,” said Snead. “Lou?”
    Obviously uncomfortable under the scrutiny of everyone present, Barrello cleared his throat. “I stayed late last night cross-comparing Kane’s list with an employee roster from Mission Viejo Bodyworks-the garage where the Pratts had their repair done,” he said. “No correlations turned up at first, but among others, the Pratts’ body shop has a sister location in Laguna Niguel. I checked that one and came up with a hit. Alonzo Domingos worked there three years ago. I’m not sure how important this is,” he added. “According to the owner, most door-and-fender guys change jobs all the time.”
    “It’s the best lead we’ve got,” said Collins. “And the only one that might tie the two families together. I say we bring this Domingos guy in.”
    “You might want to hold off on that,” I cautioned.
    “For starters, Domingos is in Mexico visiting relatives.”
    “So?” said Snead. “We arrest him down there.”
    “He’ll be back next week. If we sit tight and have the Mexican locals keep an eye on him, we can pick him up when he crosses the border,” I reasoned. “That way we avoid a pain-in-the-ass extradition if he decides to fight us. And although I hate to cloud things with the facts, Lieutenant, we don’t have anything solid on Domingos. Even when he does get back, it’d make a lot more sense to keep him under surveillance and see what develops.”
    Snead glanced at Huff, then shook his head. “That call will come from higher up. In the meantime-”
    “I really think we ought to hold off on popping the champagne,” I persisted. “For one thing-”
    “Sorry, Detective, did it sound like I was finished?” said Snead.
    “For one thing, Domingos doesn’t even come close to matching Berns’s profile,” I continued stubbornly.
    “Now you want to go by that? You were the one who complained the loudest about bringing in a shrink. And linking the murders to the car repairs was your idea.”
    “I’m not doing a one-eighty here, but I think we should move slowly. The door opener was still in the Larsons’ Infiniti, and-”
    “So Domingos took it, used it, and replaced it. Or maybe he just went down to the hardware store, bought a replacement, and cloned the code. Or maybe he stole the house keys from the key ring. No prints? He wore gloves.”
    I shook my head. “If we nail Domingos and it turns out he’s the wrong guy, the media will bury us.”
    “Your objection is noted,” Snead said icily. “From now on, if I want your opinion I’ll ask for it. I’ll tell you one more time, Kane. We’re running a joint effort here. You are not personally calling the shots. If you can’t remember that, there’s no room for you on this unit.” Snead’s gaze swept the room. “And that goes for everyone here as well. Now, if there are no further objections, let’s get on with the briefing.”


    On a residential street high above the Newport peninsula, a white van sat at the end of a tree-lined cul-de-sac. A sign on the side read “Bill’s Pest Control.” Hunched over the steering wheel, Victor Carns squinted through a pair of binoculars, studying a two-story house partway up the street.
    The woman’s husband had left at seven-thirty that morning, right on schedule. Carns had delayed entering the development until he’d seen Wes Welsh’s green Mercedes heading down San Joaquin Hills road. As usual, the woman had departed fifty minutes later, shuttling her children to school. After dropping them at Lincoln Elementary, she would drive to the health club for her nine o’clock aerobics class, shower at the gym, and possibly spend the remainder of the morning shopping at Fashion Island, where she occasionally met a girlfriend for lunch. Even if she didn’t decide to shop, he had at least an hour.
    Carns inspected the house through his binoculars one last time. Satisfied, he reached into the glove compartment and withdrew one of his untraceable cellular phones. He punched in the woman’s number. Three rings, four… Finally an answering machine picked up.
    “Hi. You’ve reached the Welsh residence,” a young girl’s voice announced. “We can’t come to the phone right now, but please leave a message for Wes, Julie, Heather, or Brian, and we’ll return your call. Wait for the beep.”
    Carns closed the phone and started the van. He proceeded down the street, slowing as he approached the Welsh residence to activate the opener remote he had purchased and programmed the previous day. With a lurch, the Welshes’ garage door levered open, revealing two empty parking spaces. Carns drove in. He depressed the remote button again. The door creaked shut behind him.
    He was in.
    Smiling, he stepped from the van and moved to a door leading into the house. After pulling on a pair of latex gloves, he turned the knob. The door was unlocked, as expected-not that the cheap lock present would have slowed him appreciably. He stepped inside and glanced around.
    No security system. Good.
    Quickly, he surveyed the ground floor, committing the layout to memory. He found the electrical panel in a service alcove beside a downstairs bedroom. After examining the panel, he ducked into the adjacent bedroom, noting model planes, cars, a skateboard.
    The boy’s room. Too close to the breaker panel. The outside meter, then.
    Carns returned to the family room, where a pair of French doors led to a bricked patio on the side of the house. A brass key protruded from a deadbolt in one of the doors. He turned the key and stepped outside. Vine-covered fencing shielded the patio on two sides. The rear of the lot dropped off to the next street thirty feet below. Making his way along the side of the house, he located the electrical meter and master cutoff switch-easily accessible from the driveway past a six-foot-high wooden gate.
    Carns returned to the family room, relocked the door, and pocketed the key.
    Better and better.
    Upstairs, on either side of a bathroom and a small linen closet, were three more bedrooms. One had been converted to an office, another was the girl’s room. He glanced into each, then entered the last. Her room.
    The bed there was an antique four-poster, solidly built, with plenty of room. Carns pictured how it would be-the woman in the center of the mattress, her husband by the closet, well away from the window but in full view of the bed. The candles here, and here. Camera and tape recorder on the bedside stand. Implements on top of the dresser. And the knife…
    Reluctantly, Carns forced his thoughts back to the business at hand. He still had one thing left to do. After crossing the room, he entered a walk-in closet. Ignoring the husband’s wardrobe, he moved to a clothes rack in the back and began flipping through a number of the woman’s coats, skirts, dresses. He found what he was looking for in a wicker hamper. Often over the past months, he had seen her wearing the brightly hued garment. Now it was his.
    He returned to the bedroom, running the woman’s leotard through his fingers as though it were the pelt of some exotic animal. Feeling himself growing erect, he moved to a dresser mirror and pressed the silky fabric to his chest, draping the straps over his shoulders and smoothing the elastic apparel against his abdomen, turning to view himself from various angles.
    Try it on? She’s tall. The fabric will stretch…
    Not now. Later.
    Slowly, Carns lowered his treasure. Though his body ached for release, he knew he couldn’t risk it. There would be time enough for that later. As he glanced again at his image in the mirror, his thoughts traveled back, revisiting the days he had first begun exploring his secret passion. In retrospect, he could see now that it had all been inevitable. All of it, from the very beginning.
    Two weeks following his third birthday, after stints with various foster families and brief stays at the Auburn Children’s Center as a ward of the State of New York, he had been adopted by a family living on a dairy farm north of Albany. It was there he’d spent his next twelve years. His earliest memories of his adoptive mother, a raw-boned immigrant who had taken the name Adelia upon entering the country, were of onions, cigarette smoke, and whiskey. Her tongue was lacerating, her temper vile, her discipline severe. Her husband, Nicholas, a diminutive man in both stature and spirit, accepted her iron-fisted domination, suffering her humiliations in silence.
    He had never met his true birth mother. According to records he later uncovered, she had been an unmarried, alcoholic teenager who’d died in a state mental institution. After learning that unsettling fact, he hadn’t touched alcohol for years, fearing the possibility of a genetic link. Adelia harbored no such compunctions, however, and Nicholas, rather than crossing his strong-willed wife, routinely joined her in an evening ritual of argument, Southern Comfort, and sex. Over the years, as he lay awake listening to their grunts in the next room, knowing that the following morning he would have to do their chores as well as his own, he had grown to despise them both.
    Five years earlier, Adelia’s and Nicholas’s union had produced a daughter, Paula. Following a difficult delivery, Adelia had undergone a complete hysterectomy, a loss she blamed on her husband. Often, in the presence of anyone who would listen, she complained bitterly that if it hadn’t been for the operation, she wouldn’t have had to bring an outsider into their house. Granted, adopting was cheaper than paying a handyman, but if she’d been able to have another real child of her own…
    Like her mother, Paula never accepted the three-year-old boy who had been thrust so unexpectedly into her life. For one thing, he seemed… odd. For instance, he had those peculiar white patches of hair. “And his hands are so icky!” he had heard her snicker to a classmate one day. She’d been sitting a half dozen seats behind him on the school bus, but he had heard her clearly. Staring at the drab farmland rolling past, he had made a solemn promise to himself. Someday Paula would pay.
    And in the end, she had.
    Later he learned that the thickening of his palms and soles, his ridged nails, and the white patches in his otherwise coal-black hair were the result of a developmental abnormality falling under the catchall diagnosis of ectodermal dysplasia. He was lucky, the examining physician had told him. A wide spectrum of manifestations were possible, ranging from neurological and cardiac malformations to the partial or even complete absence of hair, teeth, nails, even sweat glands. For years he had used black shoe polish to conceal his hoary patches of hair. It proved less than satisfactory, but better than nothing. Unfortunately, he could do little to conceal his disfigured nails or the thick, fissured tissue of his palms.
    Paula had bestowed that name upon him following his tenth birthday, likening his patchy hair to that of a weasel’s going into molt, still showing its winter white through the emerging brown fur of summer. Somehow, her nickname pleased him. He remembered seeing the aftermath of a weasel attack on a neighbor’s henhouse. Several birds had been partially eaten, the rest senselessly slaughtered. Gazing at the carnage, he had been excited in a way he’d never felt before. Later, after everyone had left, he’d returned and sat inside the bloody enclosure, trying to imagine what must have taken place.
    The sleeping chickens. The weasel appearing out of the darkness, slipping under the gate…
    He wished he could have been inside when it happened.
    Shortly after the henhouse attack, he began his game with the mice. Many farms in the area, including his, used a gully on the far side of the highway as a trash dump. It was there that he first started to hunt. Each day after school he amused himself by trapping small rodents in the rusty oil cans they made their homes. Smashing down his boot, he trapped them inside, then impaled them with a blunted stick as they tried to escape. He enjoyed their panic, and the slippery popping squeaks they made when he shoved in the stick, and the way they quivered at the end-their eyes bulging uncomprehendingly in death.
    His diversion with the rodents reminded him of the fascination he felt while watching Paula through a crack in her bedroom wall. At fourteen, Paula’s body had begun to change, her breasts budding, a dark triangle adorning the secret place between her legs. One night she caught him watching, and again months later upon entering her bedroom she found him trying on some of her clothes. On each occasion she reported the incident to her mother. Both times Adelia’s punishment was swift and harsh, from which he learned a painful lesson, although not the one his mother intended.
    He swore he would never be caught again.
    On his thirteenth birthday, his foster father gave him a single-shot, bolt action. 22-caliber rifle. The timing of the gift proved perfect, as his excursions to the dump were becoming boring. He needed to play with something bigger.
    Rifle in hand, he spent every free hour that summer in the woods. He learned to avoid killing with his initial shot, finding it more enjoyable to prolong the moment of death. Although birds died with disappointing rapidity, squirrels lasted longer, many surviving a remarkable time under the explorations of his pocket knife. Rabbits, his favorite target, didn’t cling to life as tenaciously as the squirrels but compensated for their lack of hardiness with a particularly piercing squeal under the blade. Learning from his mistakes, he took to wearing heavy gloves to avoid bites and scratches during his experiments, discovering that even smaller prey could prove dangerous when facing death.
    Soon he graduated to larger game. With mystifying regularity, neighborhood dogs and cats started disappearing from bordering farms and woodlands. Always, he buried his victims deep in the woods.
    In bed he often fantasized about his kills, savoring his secrets like treasures. One night, after a particularly satisfying encounter with a mongrel dog that had eluded him for weeks, he discovered there were things he could do with the roll of flesh between his legs besides urinate. In the months that followed he spent many quiet hours masturbating in the darkness, reliving his adventures and wondering what it would feel like to kill something larger.
    It didn’t take long to find out.
    During the summer of his fifteenth year, he had an experience by which he came to define himself. It began innocently enough, but it opened his eyes to a world of possibilities he had barely suspected. While stalking a stray cat one drizzly, overcast afternoon, he saw his sister returning from a weekend visit with a girlfriend in Utica. Paula had exited the bus at the crossroads and was making her way home, taking a shortcut through the woods. Adelia and Nicholas had driven the family truck to town that morning to do the weekly shopping, and it was over a mile to the nearest farmhouse. No one could hear. Rifle resting in the crook of his arm, he watched his sister from hiding, staying well back in the trees.
    At first he had only intended to scare her. His initial shot didn’t come close, thumping harmlessly into the trunk of a nearby tree. Enticed by her terror, however, he continued to bracket her with shots, staying hidden but moving to cut her off from the safety of the highway. Then it happened. One of the bullets accidentally ricocheted through the fleshy part of her upper arm. A red stain spreading to her shoulder, Paula ran for her life. Brambles tore at her skirt, exposing her legs. He followed, heart racing with excitement. He knew what he was going to do. He couldn’t stop.
    Nor did he want to.
    Minutes later Paula stumbled and fell. As she lay gasping, he shot her in the other arm. Screaming, she scrabbled through the underbrush. Each time she stopped, he shot her again, taking her left knee, then her right.
    Her legs useless, she sprawled facedown in the dirt. Slowly, he stepped into the clearing and turned her over with his foot. She had wet herself. She looked up, eyes brimming with confusion and terror. She reminded him of a dog he’d once taken. He put his foot on her throat and pressed gently. Gagging, she clawed at his boot, promising she wouldn’t tell.
    He placed the rifle muzzle to her forehead, watching as the shock of realization seeped into her eyes. Tears mingled with the blood and dirt on her face, cutting twin tracks down her cheeks.
    Why? she sobbed.
    He said nothing. Instead, he waited, savoring her fear.
    He smiled when he pulled the trigger.
    Afterward he did other things to her, things he would carry with him for the rest of his days. Finally he covered her with branches and hurried back to the barn for a shovel. As a rainstorm that had been threatening since morning began in earnest, he dragged her deeper into the woods. Far from prying eyes, he buried her, concealing her grave with sticks and leaves. After digging a separate pit some distance away, he buried the rifle as well. He regretted relinquishing the gun and blamed his sister for the loss. After all, if she hadn’t been walking in the woods, it never would have happened.
    He cleaned himself in the river before returning home.
    The storm raged through the night. The next morning, when Paula still hadn’t returned home, authorities organized a search party to comb the woods near where she had been seen getting off the bus. Using tracking dogs and neighborhood volunteers, they looked without success, continuing until darkness forced them to quit. Fearing the worst, they began anew the following day, widening their search to the nearby mountains.
    The afternoon of the second day, as he came in from doing his chores, he found his mother in his room. She was going through his things. Beneath the bottom drawer of his dresser she had discovered his cache of hunting mementos. Fortunately, he’d hidden a watch he had taken from Paula elsewhere. Nevertheless, unsettled by her discovery, Adelia began questioning him regarding his sister’s disappearance. Though he steadfastly maintained that he knew nothing of Paula’s whereabouts, Adelia kept hammering at him, refusing to let it drop. Finally she stomped into the kitchen and lifted the phone.
    Horrified, he watched as she called the police. The search party, including the sheriff and both deputies, was combing the mountains and temporarily out of radio range, but the dispatch operator promised to keep trying. By then he knew what he had to do.
    Predictably, as they waited for the police to call back, Adelia and Nicholas broke out a bottle. After their second drink he slipped outside. Behind the kitchen, at a point where the utility services joined the house, he cut the telephone wires and concealed the severed ends. Next he disabled the family truck by removing the distributor rotor. Finally he went back inside and played the innocent son, insisting on mixing his parents fresh drinks. On their fourth round he secretly added something from Adelia’s medicine cabinet. Something to help them sleep.
    Later, upon discovering the phone lines were down, Adelia informed him that if phone service wasn’t restored by morning, they would be making a trip to town to confer with the police. And they would get to the bottom of things.
    Hours later he slipped into his adoptive parents’ bedroom. By then the drug-and-alcohol mix had taken full effect. Both Adelia and Nicholas lay in a stupor, as still as death. With trembling fingers, he pulled back the covers from Adelia’s body. Her nipples looked black in the moonlight, her fleshy thighs alabaster white. Feeling himself growing hard, he despised himself for his weakness. Himself, and his adoptive father as well.
    Afterward, after replacing the covers, he checked the windows. Closed and locked. Next he picked up his mother’s cigarette lighter from her nightstand and crept from the room. Moving quietly, he descended the cellar stairs. Against a wall by the gas furnace he dumped a pile of cleaning rags, soaked them with lubricating oil, and used his mother’s Zippo to light the pile.
    He stood beside the barn as fire engulfed the ancient farmhouse, watching as flames twisted like demons in the night. Staring into the blaze, he thought he saw figures stumbling through the inferno, but he couldn’t be sure. Later, his face set in a convincing mix of terror and shock, he ran to a neighboring farm.
    The following day he was sent to live with his adoptive grandparents in Rochester. Unusually heavy rains uncovered Paula’s decomposed body the following spring. No suspects were ever brought to light.
    Three years later, much to the relief of his grandparents, he turned eighteen and joined the US Navy. On his aptitude exams he demonstrated an unusual ability in mathematics, mentally manipulating large integers and odd fractions almost instantaneously. Subsequently he was sent to the Navy’s electronic technician school in Great Lakes, Illinois. After graduating, he completed a four-year enlistment in the fleet, with numerous stays in foreign ports that provided ample opportunities for him to explore his secret diversion. He considered this an experimental period, a learning phase during which he honed his skills. Through careful planning and meticulous attention to detail, he made few mistakes.
    Upon leaving the service, he gained employment in San Francisco, a city rife with possibility. Working as a clerk for a large brokerage firm on the floor of the Pacific Stock Exchange, he realized he had found his medium as his facility with numbers proved advantageous. Within a year he moved up to the position of floor broker, placing trades for institutional customers. Later he established a private account and began accumulating a nest egg. In time, he leased a seat on the Pacific Exchange and started trading for himself.
    He spent the next seven years on the floor as an options trader-watching, learning, awaiting his chance. Each day he entered the Mills Building carrying his lunch in a paper sack, a badge displaying his name and trading number pinned to his clearing-firm jacket, his pockets crammed with pens, trading tickets, and option sheets for the day. Monday through Friday he prowled the pits shouting himself hoarse, immersed in a milieu that was exhilarating, brutish, and eminently profitable. But weekends were his own.
    Having learned from his sojourn in the Navy, he avoided taking his pleasures within the city. Instead, he cruised the freeways north of town, searching malls, truck stops, and various teen hangouts. His hunting vehicle was a late model panel-van with a bed atop a sizable storage lockbox in the rear. The box contained a variety of chumming drugs-pot, coke, Valium, Quaaludes-along with fake police credentials, rope, handcuffs, shovels, tarps, and plastic trash bags. The box also held an assortment of knives and other toys with which to experiment, not to mention being handy for transporting victims to safe disposal sites.
    As time went on he traveled farther afield, extending his range to Portland and Seattle. Although he enjoyed driving, the transit time shortened the hours remaining for his weekend pleasures, and he finally hit upon the idea of leaving his van in a self-service storage garage near the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. A short flight from San Francisco, a day or two of hunting, and back to work on Monday. Simple.
    He preyed on hitchhikers, runaways, and prostitutes, choosing his victims from the nearly invisible underbelly of society. He always concealed the bodies-wrapped in plastic bags and deposited in Dumpsters, weighted with rocks and submerged in lakes or rivers, or covered with brush and left in illegal trash sites throughout the countryside. Some corpses were found eventually, but usually not until the elements had reduced them to little more than skeletons, forcing investigators to expend considerable effort simply trying to identify the remains. During this period he amassed a staggering number of kills: One hundred and forty-seven in the Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver areas alone; fifty-three in San Diego when he later moved and changed his hunting grounds. And it had been easy. Occasionally he used fake police ID, but usually all it took to get his victims into the van was a smile and the promise of a ride to the next town.
    In addition to tape recordings and photos, he routinely took something from each of his unwilling partners. Something unique, something to remind him. He also kept a scrapbook of newspaper and magazine clippings, but it was a disappointingly incomplete record. Though concealment of his activities had always seemed prudent, it increasingly bothered him to live in obscurity. Of course, his survival depended upon it. Nevertheless, he occasionally wished those around him could know the full scope of his accomplishments.
    A nationally televised “Manhunt Telethon” hosted by an actor-Patrick something-had initially whetted his appetite. Following that broadcast he’d struggled to suppress his longing for publicity, realizing the danger. Yet despite his efforts, the need for notoriety had slowly become overwhelming. And at last, in a blinding flash of realization, he understood his destiny.
    It was time to share.
    Carns glanced at his watch, surprised to see he had been in the house far longer than planned. Reluctantly, he shoved the pilfered leotard into his pocket. After one last look around the bedroom, he hurried down the stairs, appeasing himself with the thought that before long he would be back.


    By Friday, although border checkpoints from Tijuana to Nogales had been placed on alert, Mexican authorities still hadn’t located Alonzo Domingos. Also disappointing, lab comparisons of the two crime scenes finally came back, proving nearly useless. The candles and rope from both sites appeared identical, but none of the unknown fingerprints matched. Surveillance of the scenes had been fruitless, the video of the Larsons’ funeral revealed no suspicious strangers, and despite initial optimism, the forensic odontologist had been unable to fabricate meaningful casts of the killer’s teeth. Interviews with the realtors and clients on Graysha’s list were unproductive as well. On a positive note, a followup microscopic examination demonstrated a correlating angle of shear on both pairs of severed eyelids, indicating that the cuts had been made by a similar, or possibly the same, instrument.
    Not much, but something.
    During this period I made little headway myself, spending most of my time resifting through records and grudgingly accepting my share of burgeoning but useless hotline leads. By week’s end the routine had worn thin. To make matters worse, I had drawn Saturday duty-along with half of the task force members. The rest were slated to work Sunday.
    I had just finished typing another followup supplemental to keep Snead happy when Barrello stopped by, perching his considerable bulk on the corner of my desk. “Making any progress?” he asked.
    “A little,” I answered. “I’ve improved my skills at filling out worthless forms and running down bullshit leads.”
    “At least you’re still here,” he chuckled. “It might interest you to know that some of the guys started a pool on how long you’d last. More than a few are surprised you’ve made it this far. I had you down for checking out yesterday.”
    “Sorry to disappoint you.”
    “I’m not disappointed. The way things are shaping up, a little entertainment around here is welcome.”
    “I’m not quitting, if that’s what you think.”
    “That’s not the way I see it happening, either. Lemme ask you something, Kane. How do you figure to keep butting heads with Snead and get away with it?”
    “I can handle Snead.”
    “Sure you can.”
    “So what are you doing your day off?” I asked, changing the subject.
    Barrello shrugged. “My brother-in-law skippers a scuba dive boat out of San Pedro. Nancy and I are going out for the day.”
    “You a scuba diver?”
    “Yeah. That’s how I met Nan. She’s had to give it up since her health problems, but she still tags along when I go.”
    “Her brother owns the boat?”
    “He and another guy. They’re building a second one, too. They want me to skipper it after I finish my twenty with the department. I’m considering it.”
    “Sounds good, Lou. Hope it works out.”
    Barrello nodded. “How ’bout you? What’ve you got planned for your one day off?”
    “I’ll probably spend it at home, work around the house, maybe do a little body-surfing-take advantage of some waves that have been hitting the beach for the past couple of days.”
    “I heard you own a place on the beach in Malibu. What’d you do, win the lottery?”
    I smiled. “Not everybody in Malibu is a tycoon, pal. To say my house isn’t up to Better Homes and Gardens standards is putting it mildly. It wasn’t much more than a cottage when my mother-in-law grew up there, and I don’t think anybody ever expected it to last as long as it has.”
    The phone on my desk rang. I lifted the receiver, spoke a few words, listened for a minute, and hung up.
    “Anything?” Barrello asked.
    “Antonio Morales. I had him doing some checking for me.”
    “Antonio Morales, as in drug lord Anthony Morales? Hangs out with a bunch of guys whose last names all end in vowels?”
    “That’s the one. Narcotics ran into a brick wall, so I went to the source and asked him to run down that cocaine we found in the Larsons’ safe.”
    “You asked him? And he did it?”
    “It took a little persuading. Turns out two months ago the Larsons bought an eight-ball from some local named Billy Randall. Morales said he leaned on Randall and everybody else involved regarding the murders. No connection. Just another example of recreational drug use by upstanding members of society. The coke angle’s a bust.”
    “Not surprising.” A pause, then, “You have some unusual friends.”
    “Morales isn’t a friend.”
    “So how’d you get him to cooperate?”
    I didn’t answer.
    “C’mon, Kane. I can keep my mouth shut. Spill it.”
    After a slight hesitation, I shrugged. “I once did Julius Sorvino a favor.”
    Barrello whistled softly. “You did a favor for the West Coast Mafia boss? What?”
    “Years back I worked on an organized-crime task force. We spent three months at the Beverly Hills Hotel watching Sorvino and his pack of cronies. When the bust went down, I convinced our guys to leave Sorvino’s wife and kid out of it. Guess Sorvino figured he owed me.”
    “You saved Sorvino’s family the embarrassment of being hauled downtown?” Barrello said pensively. “You’re a strange guy, Kane.”
    Deciding to look into something I had been chewing over in my mind for the past several days, I made an unscheduled stop on the way home that evening, exiting the freeway in West Los Angeles. From there I drove three blocks north and pulled to a stop in front of a one-story building. A large window in front displayed a selection of stereos, televisions, and ham radio equipment. Above the door, a neon sign read “Hank’s Radio and TV.”
    I entered and made my way to the rear. As I stepped into a well lit service area in the back, a balding man with wire-rimmed spectacles looked up from a cluttered workbench. “Dan!” the man said with a smile, his face creasing like a worn glove. “It’s been a while. Good to see you.”
    “You, too, Hank. How’s your boy?”
    When I first moved up to homicide, I had worked a drive-by shooting in which several youths had been fatally injured. Hank Dexter’s teenaged son, who had been among a crowd sprayed with indiscriminate gunfire, had wound up riding a wheelchair. During the course of the investigation, the owner of the electronic shop and I had become friends, and we had kept in touch.
    “Mitchell is fine,” Hank answered proudly, reaching across the counter to shake my hand. “He’s getting married next month.”
    “Great. Give him my best.”
    “I will. You’ll come to the wedding?”
    “Thanks for the invite, Hank, but right now I’ve no idea what my schedule will be.”
    “I saw you on the news. The candlelight killings. Terrible.” The older man looked at me curiously. “I take it this isn’t a social call.”
    “No. I have a couple things I want to run by you.”
    “Concerning the murders you’re working on?”
    “I can’t tell you that. And I want you to keep this under your hat.”
    “Of course. Shoot.”
    I collected my thoughts, trying to crystallize something I had been mulling over since earlier that week. “We’re talking hypothetical here, okay?” I began, broaching an idea that had occurred to me following a comment of Snead’s. “Say you want to break into a house. It has an automatic opener on the garage door. You’ve stolen a look at the remote, so you go down to the local hardware store, buy a similar control, and set the combination on those little switches inside-what do you call them?”
    “DIP switches. No one has used them in years, Dan,” Hank said with a patient smile. “It’s all solid-state now.”
    “Whatever. You see where I’m going here? Is there some way you can program a similar remote control to get in?”
    “If you couldn’t get your hands on the original opener, I suppose you could try breaking the code,” Hank offered. “I’m not really up on it, but I do know that openers aren’t as simple as they once were. When they first came out, stray signals from CB radios and whatnot used to open garage doors all the time.”
    “So they started making openers more complicated?”
    “Right. By adding integrated circuitry to the transmitter unit, a binary signal could be superimposed on the carrier frequency. The receiver on the other end has to match for the door to open.”
    “Like a lock and key. How about just trying all the combinations?”
    “Interesting question,” Hank mused. “Assuming you know the transmission frequency, I suppose you could use a computer to generate a sequential string of codes, beginning with the simplest-say, eight-digit combinations-and work your way up. Using a fast laptop, you could probably hit every possible variation in a reasonable amount of time. Of course, if you didn’t know the transmission frequency, you would have to repeat the process for every channel currently in use. And that’s assuming there aren’t safety protocols in the circuit to prevent such an attack. Let’s see, besides a laptop and some basic programming skills, you’d need a signal generator, an RF amplifier, and maybe a Yagi directional antenna.”
    “So someone with knowledge of electronics and computer programming could do it.”
    “Theoretically. People have been cracking codes on everything since the beginning of time. A door opener couldn’t be that tough. Tell you what. Let me do a little checking and get back to you.”
    “Thanks. I appreciate it.” I pulled out a card and scribbled my phone number at LAPD headquarters on the back. “I’m working downtown now. Phone me there.”
    “Sure. I hope you get this guy.”
    “Don’t worry. Sooner or later, we’ll get him.”
    But on the final leg of my journey home, I admitted to myself that I was far less certain of success than I’d sounded. To date, all the task force had accomplished was to gather up various pieces of the murders-warehousing a meticulously labeled library of blood and fluid samples, hairs, prints, and other found material. And for reasons I couldn’t bring into focus, I knew that Alonzo Domingos wouldn’t pan out as a suspect. Discounting some fortuitous break, the task force’s best chance for success now lay in an area I didn’t want to consider.
    Unless something changed, we would have to wait for the killer to strike again.


    Early the next morning, as the sun began lighting the eastern sky, I hung motionless below the surface of the Pacific, suspended a dozen feet down in its clear blue water. Overhead, like a silvery ceiling, the roiling ocean moved with the rhythms of a southern swell that had begun battering the beach several days earlier. Lifted by an incoming surge, I watched as a forest of sea kelp and eel grass undulated shoreward on the rocks below, then reversed with the outflow. Several rockfish and a school of opal eye hovered in the swaying fronds, keeping careful watch on the human intruder above.
    Upon waking, I’d found that Saturday evening’s five-foot sets had unexpectedly grown to a steady procession of ten- to twelve-footers. Barely able to contain my excitement, I made my way downstairs and walked barefoot to the shoreline, feeling the shock of the crashing gray-green slabs of water drumming the sand beneath my feet. Enveloped in roar and mist, I stared out at the angry Pacific, awed by its power. Briefly I considered forgoing my customary weekend swim. Getting past the break line through five-foot sets was one thing-getting out through twelve-footers was something else. Then I noticed the birds.
    They were circling offshore a quarter mile up the beach, an avian anarchy of pelicans, gulls, and terns wheeling above the water, their flashing gray and white bodies catching the first glints of the morning sun. I watched for several minutes as singly and in twos and threes they dived, their wings folding like fans as they struck the water, tearing at what I knew to be a panicked school of anchovies. Over the past years baitfish had been making a steady comeback in the Santa Monica Bay, along with the larger fish that always followed.
    After donning my surfing wet suit, I grabbed my swim fins and goggles and fought through the surf, deciding to get a closeup view. Riding a riptide out, I dived under each approaching wall of water, progressively sucked seaward by the out-rushing flow. Once through the breakers I swam to a small raft I had anchored offshore several summers back. As usual, I found its ten-by-ten redwood surface spattered with a collage of bird droppings. Before climbing aboard, I splashed water onto the deck to clear a place, then made a forty-foot dive to check the raft’s anchor, following the mooring line to the bottom. Satisfied with my inspection, I resurfaced and climbed aboard the pitching deck. There, tossed by the swell and shivering in the first rays of the sun, I waited. Fifteen minutes later, when the dark shadow of the approaching anchovies finally became visible in the water, I dived in and positioned myself directly in its path.
    Now, as the first of the besieged school of fish began to reach me, I dived again and remained motionless, holding my breath. Above, below, and on all sides their shimmering bodies enveloped me, nearly obliterating the early morning shafts of sunlight angling down from above. Round eyed and staring, their mouths agape in the current, the river of six-inch fish parted like a curtain as they passed, closing behind me with seamless symmetry. I extended a hand. Like a flock of pigeons they darted as one, their flashing bodies staying just out of reach.
    Able to hold my breath no longer, I rose to the surface with a quick flick of my fins. After taking several gasps of air, I again descended the clear blue depths. Once more the fish surrounded me. Unmoving, I hung in their silvery mass. And then came the birds.
    With unremitting violence, the winged predators flung themselves upon the school. I observed from below as the horde of hungry avians dived into the churning throng of fish. With each attack the anchovies scattered in panic, then quickly reformed their ranks, programmed by nature to seek safety in numbers. The latter proved a tactic that did little to save them from the feathered death raining from above, and soon ragged wounds and dangling chunks of flesh in the escapees bore testament to the effectiveness of the birds’ voracious onslaught. I knew the injured wouldn’t last long. I could already see larger fish, mostly bass and sheepshead, moving in on the periphery.
    Occasionally rising to the surface to breathe, I drifted with the long-shore current for thirty minutes or so, studying the interplay between the birds and their prey, fascinated and at times stunned by the brutality in which I found myself immersed. At one point, sparked by something I saw in the water, my thoughts inadvertently turned to similar brutalities I had seen in the Larson’s bedroom. Resolutely, I pushed those thoughts aside.
    When the anchovies finally passed, I turned my attention toward the beach, surprised to see how far the current had taken me. Estimating that I’d drifted more than a quarter mile with the beleaguered fish, I set out again for home, electing to swim rather than walk. Arms cutting the surface, breathing on my right to avoid a chopping spray from windward, I began working my way upcurrent.
    Despite my wet suit, by then the frigid November water had taken its toll. Ten minutes of steady swimming lessened my shivering, but feeling had not yet returned to my hands and feet when I stopped to check my position. Treading water, I felt a swell lift me high in the air. At the peak of my rise, I peered over the rounded hump of a wave that had just passed. Briefly I glimpsed a green thicket of cane and bougainvillea that marked my house farther up the beach.
    The next wave lifted me even higher. To my surprise, this time I spotted Travis, Nate, and Callie sitting on a sandy berm near the water’s edge. Left to their own design, none of my children ever got up early on weekends, at least not without reason. Puzzled, I set out again, fighting the current.
    Earlier, I had twice drifted too close to shore. On each occasion incoming swells had forced me to head for deeper water. Now, as I glanced over my shoulder, I saw one of the largest waves of the day approaching, bearing down on me with the fury of an avalanche. Well over fifteen feet high, the huge wall of green threatened to catch me inside the break line, something I had to avoid. Heart pounding, I turned seaward and pulled for all I was worth, hoping to meet the wave and dive under it before it broke. Suddenly I saw Allison.
    Forty yards farther out, she was treading water directly in the path of the oncoming giant, glancing over her shoulder to gauge its approach. Thrust skyward by the sloping ocean bottom, the monstrous wall continued to build. But instead of turning and diving under it, as the foot of the swell began to lift her, Allison sprinted for shore.
    With a feeling of horror, I watched my daughter’s slim form rising on the swell, higher, higher… her hands flashing in a quick clean series of strokes. One final kick… and she was in. Left arm extended, she skimmed down the nearly vertical face, a glitter of spray flying in her wake. Arching her back, driving her body into the turn, she cut left before bottoming out. Hair streaming like a pennant, she rose again on the translucent wall, then slowed and dropped again, accelerating…
    As the looming monster started to curl, I took one final breath and scratched for the bottom. I caught a glimpse of Allison as she sped by. And then she was gone.
    Even at depth, I could feel the power of the passing swell sucking me back. Somehow I managed to claw my way through. After what seemed forever, I resurfaced. Fighting panic, I turned toward shore and scanned the boiling water. I spotted Allison an instant later. With a surge of relief, I realized she had managed to cut out of the wave an instant before it broke. Raising an arm in triumph, Allison waved to me. Then, with a lazy overhand crawl, she started toward me.
    Having grown up on the beach, all my kids were accomplished swimmers. As I had done earlier, Allison used an out-flowing riptide to carry her through the next swell. After diving under a smaller barrage of eight-footers, she joined me in deeper water. “Hi, Pop,” she said, smiling proudly when she arrived. “See me catch that last one?”
    “I saw you, all right. What were you thinking, coming out here alone?”
    “I’m not alone. You’re here.”
    “I am now. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I distinctly recall telling you not to surf big waves by yourself.”
    Allison’s smile faded. “I can’t help it if Trav was too chicken to come out. Besides, if I had gone over the falls on that last one, I’d have been toast. Someone else being out here wouldn’t have made any difference.”
    “I disagree. And anyway, that’s not the point.”
    “No buts. When I give an order, I expect it to be obeyed.”
    “Yes, sir. No big surf alone. Got it.”
    “Good.” Treading water, I studied the waves. “I swear, kid, I thought you were the smart one of the pack. You nearly gave me a heart attack taking off on that wave.”
    “Biggest one of the morning,” said Allison, brightening.
    My teeth had begun to chatter. “I’m glad you survived. Saves me the trouble of killing you if you’d drowned. Let’s head in.”
    “C’mon, Dad. Now that we’re out here, let’s catch a couple more. You’re not cold, are you?”
    “I’m getting there,” I admitted. “Girls have more fat than men, Allison. Keeps ’em warmer.”
    “Thanks, Pop. I knew there must be some advantages to being female. Our fat keeps us warm. Kinda like a seal, huh? Or maybe a big ol’ walrus?”
    “Jeez, you’re getting as touchy as your mother. I’m not saying you’re fat; only that you’re better insulated, okay? Hell, if you were any skinnier, you wouldn’t cast a shadow. Now, let’s head for shore. I need to have a little conference with Travis.”
    Minutes later, after waiting to ride in on a smaller set of waves, Allison and I reached shallow water. Callie, her fur crusted with sand, bounded into the backwash to meet us, then returned, shook, and dropped down beside Nate. Without speaking, Allison took a place on the berm between her brothers, her manner clearly signaling them that something was up.
    “Travis, what were you thinking, letting your sister go out there alone?” I demanded when I arrived, raising my voice to be heard over the roar of the ocean.
    “She was already in the water when I got here,” answered Travis.
    “That’s no excuse.”
    “I was going to go out, but Travis stopped me,” said Nate.
    “It’s a good thing he did. Those waves would’ve eaten you alive,” I said, ignoring Nate’s crestfallen look. “Travis, if something had gone wrong, do you think you could’ve done anything for Allison sitting here on the sand?”
    “I don’t know.”
    “Not good enough. Could you have helped your sister or not?”
    “No, sir.”
    “It was my fault,” interrupted Allison. “I-”
    “Don’t interrupt when I’m yelling at your brother, Allison. I’ll get to you in a minute. Speaking of which, I still can’t believe you went out there alone. If anything had happened to you…”
    I hesitated. Things weren’t going the direction I’d intended. Granted, Allison had taken an unacceptable risk by surfing those waves alone, but I was also concerned that the other two hadn’t done anything to stop her. Unsure how to proceed, I decided to fall back on an old standby. I looked at all three and asked, “What’s the one rule about being a Kane that sets you apart from your thumb-sucking friends, the single thing I’ve insisted on from the time you were all in diapers?”
    “Kane’s stand together, no matter what,” they answered as one, their response as reflexive as breathing.
    I nodded. “No matter what. Not ‘unless something better is going on,’ or ‘unless you don’t feel like it,’ or ‘unless the waves are too big.’ No matter what. Allison, you screwed up by going out there alone. And Travis, you screwed up by not dragging her back in-whether she wanted to come or not. You may think I’m making a big deal out of this, but this is important. It’s a tough world out there, and things go a lot better with family backing you up. Now, I know some people, your mother included, think I’m overly hard on you three. If I am, it’s because you’re the smartest, strongest, and most athletically gifted kids on the face of the planet. As such, I expect a lot from you. And if I have to boot your butts to get you operating at full potential, then that’s what I intend to do. Is that understood?”
    All three nodded.
    “Another thing,” I went on. “Seeing as how I have your attention, this seems as good a time as any to go over some other breaches I’ve been noticing.”
    “Oh, joy,” said Allison, rolling her eyes.
    “Don’t worry, princess. I’ll make this quick. And as you seem so eager to run your mouth, let’s begin with you. Maybe you’d like to explain all the moping you’ve been doing around here lately. Teen angst is one thing, but your behavior is in a class by itself.”
    “You’ve been talking to Mom,” said Allison.
    “Your mom and I never talk; we just pass notes back and forth,” I said, noticing that Nate had begun working on his nails. “Of course we talk. Now, answer my question.”
    “Sorry my cheerfulness hasn’t measured up to your expectations, Pop. Now that you’ve enlightened me on the wonder of my existence, I’m sure it’ll improve.”
    “See that it does. There’s more to life than hanging out in your room. And while you’re at it, how about losing the attitude? Don’t be such a wiseass. It’s not an attractive trait in a girl.”
    “Yes, sir. No more sarcasm for me. That’s charming only in the men of the family.”
    “Right,” I said, deciding she had a point and to let that one go. Instead I turned to my youngest. “Nate, why have you been punching out all your little classmates at school?”
    “They aren’t all little,” said Allison. “He’s been working his way through the older kids, too.”
    “They asked for it,” Nate replied sullenly.
    “Kid, like I told you, sticking up for yourself is fine, but too much of a good thing can land you in trouble. You have to learn to get along with others.”
    “Like you, Pop?” interjected Allison.
    “Nate, I also hear your grades haven’t been that hot,” I continued, deciding for the moment to ignore Allison. “Like all your siblings, you’ve been blessed with plenty of intelligence, so I expect you to excel in all of your academic endeavors. From now on I want to see straight A’s. Allison, you’ll help. Make sure his homework is completed on time and go over anything he doesn’t understand.”
    “Aw, Pop, ” Allison protested.
    I turned to Travis. “Speaking of school, what’re these calls I keep getting from the music department? Have you been screwing up?”
    “I… I don’t think so,” Travis stammered. “Who called?”
    “Petrinski. He left another message on the machine last night. Says he wants to talk to me. Any idea what about?”
    “No, sir.”
    “I haven’t got time to be holding your hand, Trav. Going into music was your choice, so if you’re going to do it, you need to give it your level best.”
    “I’ll speak with Petrinski and-”
    “I’ll take care of that myself, as soon as I get a chance,” I said, cutting him off. “Meantime, keep your end of the bargain. Now, one last thing. Before your mom left, she expressed concern that during her absence you three weren’t going to flourish under my care. I’m expecting a call from her around dinnertime, and I intend to calm her fears. Okay?”
    “We’re not eating out tonight, are we?” asked Travis in a transparent attempt to change the subject.
    Steve Gannon
    “Don’t worry, we won’t miss her call. We’ll be eating at home.”
    “Are you cooking?” asked Allison, also clearly trying to steer the conversation in another direction.
    Yep,” I said, deciding to end my harangue and hoping I’d reached them. “I’ll be whipping up something we haven’t had in a long time.”
    “Sushi,” guessed Nate.
    “Naw. We had that last month.”
    “That southwestern dish you make,” Allison chimed in. “Wild mushroom enchiladas with red pepper sauce?”
    “Wrong again.”
    “I know-linguini with clam sauce,” said Travis. “I saw clams in the fridge.”
    I’d stopped by the market on the previous evening to pick up several items I would need for the dinner I planned. “You’re getting warmer. If you had looked closer, you would’ve also noticed chicken, shrimp, and chorizo.”
    “Paella! We’re having paella!” Nate shouted triumphantly.
    “All right!” said Allison. “Is it okay if I invite Christy?”
    “Sure,” I agreed. “Maybe I’ll give Arnie a call, too.”
    “Good idea,” said Travis. “We haven’t heard much from him since he retired from the Force.”
    I smiled. “It’s having a new girlfriend that’s made my ex-partner scarce, not quitting the Force. I barely see him at his house, either.”
    “Can I help cook?” asked Nate.
    “We’ll see. Right now it’s time you rookies got to church. That’ll be your mom’s first question when she calls.”
    “Are you coming with us?” asked Allison.
    “Not today. I have some other things to take care of.”
    “Like driving out to visit Tommy’s grave?”
    Instead of answering, I started for the house. “C’mon, let’s head on up,” I said.
    All three children rose and followed, Callie in the lead. Running to match my strides, Nate caught up with me halfway to the sea wall and took my hand. Allison and Travis joined us a moment later. I slowed my pace to allow them to keep up.
    “Hey, Dad?” said Allison when we reached the deck.
    I turned to her, once again struck by how much she had come to resemble Catheryn. “What, Ali?”
    Allison hesitated, seeming uncharacteristically at a loss for words. Finally she spoke. “We miss him, too,” she said softly.
    Later that evening I stood at the kitchen sink, washing the last of the dinner dishes. Arnie had dropped by around seven with his girlfriend, Stacy. Christy had joined us for dinner as well. I’d prepared a lot of food, including a rum-cake dessert, so there was plenty to go around, and the gathering turned into an enjoyable family meal with a lot of give-and-take table talk-reminding me of better times. Even Allison seemed to enjoy herself for a change. Catheryn called around nine, just after Arnie and Stacy had left. My conversation with Catheryn was brief-most of her phone time being spent talking with the kids. During the minute or two I did get with her she sounded tired and distant, but she said that the tour was going well and that she was enjoying her stay.
    As it was a school night, Nate went to bed a little after that. Allison followed shortly afterward, but twenty minutes later a sliver of light still leaked from beneath her door down the hall, and I could hear the staccato clicks of a computer keyboard coming from her room. Travis and Christy were talking on the lower deck, sitting on the swing. After putting away the final pots and pans, I knocked on the door to Trav and Nate’s room.
    “Nate? You still awake?”
    “Yeah, Dad.”
    “Can I come in?”
    When Travis had left for college, Nate had moved from a small bedroom loft above the entry into Trav’s room, and he was sleeping in Tommy’s empty bed. I entered without turning on the light. “How’s it goin’, squirt?” I asked, sitting on the edge of Trav’s mattress
    “Fine,” Nate answered sleepily from the adjacent bunk.
    It hadn’t been that long since Nate had moved in with Trav, and I was struck by how small Nate looked in Tommy’s former bed. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you about the other night,” I said.
    “You mean about my nightmare? What about it?”
    “I don’t know, kid. You tell me. Your mom thinks there’s more to these dreams of yours than you’re letting on. She’s concerned about you. So am I.”
    “I’ll try not to do it anymore.”
    “You can’t decide not to have nightmares,” I said. “Do you remember what your dreams are about?”
    “No,” said Nate.
    For better or worse, one of the things I’ve learned from my years on the Force is how to tell when someone is lying-or at least holding something back. I’m not sure how I do it, but I’m never wrong. With a feeling of sadness, I realized that Nate wasn’t being truthful. I didn’t know why, and I didn’t know what to do about it. “Is there anything you want to tell me?” I asked.
    “Your mom thinks maybe you should talk to somebody.”
    “A shrink? I’m not crazy.”
    “I know, kid. Having you go to a psychiatrist wouldn’t be my first choice, either. But if something’s bothering you, it might help to get it out.”
    “Nothing’s bothering me.”
    “Okay. But if there is, I want you to feel that you can come to me with it. I want to help. Sometimes things that seem like a big deal to somebody your age turn out to be not so bad when viewed in the light of day. You know what I’m saying?”
    Nate remained silent for several seconds. “I understand what you’re saying,” he answered at last. “I just don’t think you’re right.”
    “Aw, hell, Nate. You’re eleven years old. Whatever problems you have right now are going to seem like nothing in a couple of years.”
    Nate didn’t respond.
    “That came out wrong,” I backtracked. “I don’t mean that life is going to get worse as you get older. Things do tend to get more complicated as you grow up, but there are plenty of good parts, too. Falling in love, for instance. And having a family, and making your way in the world, and going to college-things like that.”
    “I’ll be fine, Dad.”
    “Okay, Nate,” I sighed, again wishing Catheryn were home. “Get some sleep.”


    During the following week, driven by the inertia of men and money delegated to the task force, the investigation plodded forward. In my opinion, however, it moved no closer to finding the murderer, so upon arriving downtown at LAPD headquarters the following Friday it was with a sense of amazement that I noticed a long line of news vans again crowding the street, the lobby once more jammed with reporters. Forcing my way through the throng outside, I joined Deluca near the first-floor civic auditorium. “What’s going on?” I asked.
    “Immigration picked up Domingos crossing the border last night,” Deluca informed me tersely. “Snead called a news conference to make the announcement.”
    “So much for putting our one-and-only suspect under surveillance.”
    “Yeah. C’mon, let’s go in and find out what kinda heroes we are.”
    As I entered the auditorium, I noticed that temporary banks of auxiliary spotlights had been added to each side of a raised platform at the front. In addition, since I’d last visited some months back, a thicket of microphones had sprouted like weeds from a podium in the center of the stage.
    “Kane! Deluca!”
    I turned, spotting Barrello and several other task force members sitting in the back. Following Deluca, I joined them, slumping into a seat beside Barrello. “When’s this thing supposed to get under way?” I asked.
    “Any time now.”
    As if on cue, Mayor Fitzpatrick swept down the aisle, Chief Ingram, Sheriff Baskin, and Lieutenants Huff and Snead close behind. The group mounted the stage single-file. Once there, the mayor moved to the podium and proceeded with a preamble of predictably self-serving remarks. Chief Ingram and Sheriff Baskin followed suit, each praising the spirit of cooperation the other had shown during the interagency effort. Finally Snead stepped to the microphones.
    I shifted in my seat, thinking that if this kept up much longer, everyone present was going to need hip boots.
    Smiling with satisfaction, Snead glanced around the room. “Good morning,” he said. “I’m pleased to announce that at two-twenty AM this morning, members of the LAPD/Orange County Sheriff’s Department interagency task force, acting in concert with INS officials at the Mexicali border, took into custody a man we consider to be our prime suspect in the Candlelight Killer murders. At this point we’re withholding information on the individual now in custody, except to say that at present he has refused to make a statement. Nonetheless, we hope to conclude our investigation in the near future. Questions?”
    As Snead started fielding queries from the floor, Barrello leaned toward me. “We have Domingos in the lockup downstairs,” he whispered. “Collins and Shanelec are doin’ the interrogation, but some public defender hump assigned to the case won’t let Domingos say a word. The douche-bag lawyer probably plans on making a name for himself-high-profile trial and all that. Personally, I don’t think it’ll get that far.”
    “Me, neither,” said Deluca. “I talked to Collins. He didn’t come right out and say it, but I get the impression that the chances of Domingos being our guy are about as likely as my ex-wife mailing back my alimony payments.”
    “Did we run his prints against the crime-scene unknowns?” I asked.
    Barrello nodded. “No matches.”
    I shook my head. “Without prints, we have nothing. I doubt any judge will grant a warrant to search Domingos’s house, let alone procure hair samples and bite impressions. Even if Domingos is our killer, he’s going to walk.”
    “Looks that way,” Barrello agreed glumly.
    “At least there’s one bright spot,” I noted.
    “The way Snead has screwed things up, be thankful we’ve probably got the wrong guy.”
    Upon exiting the auditorium, I found Lauren Van Owen waiting for me outside. “Good morning, Detective,” she said.
    “Van Owen,” I replied curtly. “I’m getting a real bad case of deja vu here. If you’ll excuse me-”
    “You don’t seem too enthusiastic about the arrest.”
    “Nothing gets by you, does it?”
    “Nope. So what’s up?”
    “Not a thing. My face always gets like this when I find myself in a roomful of reporters,” I answered, attempting to push past.
    Lauren moved to block me. “C’mon, Kane. Give me thirty seconds. I smelled something fishy in there. No name, no confession, vague statements concerning physical evidence-”
    “I can’t talk to you, Van Owen. You got your story at the press conference, just like everybody else.”
    “I’m not buying it. And I know you well enough to tell you’re not buying it, either. What’s going on? The mayor demanded action, so the unit hauled in the first suspect they found?”
    “No comment.”
    Lauren frowned. “Domingos isn’t the guy, is he?” she said, studying my reaction.
    “No comment,” I repeated, again starting for the security checkpoint at the rear of the lobby.
    “Give me something off the record,” Lauren begged, tagging along behind. “Domingos didn’t do it, did he?”
    “Off the record?” I said, still irritated by Snead’s ill advised press conference. “Let’s just say I consider the arrest premature.”
    “That’s what I thought. Thanks, Kane.”
    I scowled, wishing I had kept my mouth shut. “Van Owen? In the future, I’d appreciate seeing a lot less of you.”
    Lauren smiled. “Anything you say, Detective. I’ll go on a diet.”


    T hirty-five miles south, Victor Carns stared at the television screen in his office, watching the thin-faced LAPD lieutenant behind the podium. “That’s correct,” the man said, responding to a question from a reporter in the second row. “Certain forensic evidence, the nature of which is currently being withheld, led to the arrest of the man we now have in custody. At present, however, the task force still considers the case to be ongoing,” he cautioned, his tone saying otherwise.
    The coverage ended minutes later. Carns turned off the set. But instead of returning to work, he sat staring at the blank screen, his lips compressed in a thin bloodless line, his eyes gleaming like gunsights.


    My phone rang late that night. Rolling over in bed, I fumbled in the darkness, finally finding the receiver. “Kane,” I said.
    “Sorry, Dan,” said Catheryn. “Did I wake you?”
    Immediately alert, I glanced at the clock beside the bed: 1:45 AM. “Not really. What’s up?”
    “I didn’t mean to call so late, but I just saw the news on TV. You caught the killer. Congratulations.”
    “Yeah, well…”
    “I mean it. I’m happy for you. The other reason I’m calling… Dan, we arrived in Venice yesterday. We’re staying at the Hotel Luna. It’s right on the water. I know most of Venice is on the water, but this is special,” Catheryn went on, her voice colored with excitement. “You can hop into a gondola off the front steps. The floors and walls of the hotel are all marble, and the lobbies and dining rooms are filled with the most gorgeous antiques you’ve ever seen. And the Piazza San Marco is right around the corner. Arthur and I took a long walk when we arrived. You wouldn’t believe it here. There are outdoor cafes, art shops with absolutely amazing crystal sculptures and glassware, and marvelous twisted little streets where you can get lost and find yourself in the most wonderful places. Oh, Dan, I wish you were here.”
    “I do, too.”
    “Do you?”
    “Of course I do. But I can’t leave at the moment.”
    “Why not, now that your investigation is over? I spoke with my mother. She said she would still love to stay with the kids while you’re gone. Please?”
    “The case isn’t closed.”
    “But the news report said-”
    “The news report was mistaken. Listen, Kate, the mayor’s been pressuring the department, and the brass evidently felt the need to show some progress. It isn’t going to pan out.”
    “I take it that’s your own personal assessment.”
    “So maybe you’d rather not have your investigation be over.”
    “That’s bull, Kate, and you know it.”
    “I don’t know anything of the kind. What I do know is that, as usual, you seem to prefer work to spending time with me.”
    “I thought we had put that subject to bed, so to speak, before you left.”
    “That’s so typical of you. One evening together and you think everything’s fine. Things aren’t fine, Dan. One night can’t straighten out problems we’ve had brewing for years. You promised to take some time off, remember? This trip was supposed to be a new beginning for us.”
    “Sugar, I know you’re disappointed, but I can’t leave right now.”
    “Can’t? Or won’t?”
    “Damn it, Kate-”
    “Let me ask you something. Is it conceivable that the task force could get along without you for just a little while?”
    “It’s not that simple.”
    “For me it is. I’ll be here for a week. You have the number of the hotel. Call if you change your mind.”
    “You’re being unreasonable.”
    “I don’t care. It’s how I feel.”
    “Fine,” I said. “You know, maybe these long distance calls aren’t such a hot idea.”
    “Maybe not. Good-bye, Dan.”


    Wes. Wake up.”
    Julie Welsh sat up in bed and quietly shook her husband. “Wake up,” she whispered again, her voice trembling.
    With a sleepy sigh, Wes rolled over. “What the…?”
    “Someone’s downstairs.”
    “Go back to sleep.”
    A soaking November drizzle had started early Sunday morning, increasing to a steady downpour by evening. The staccato of rain beating against the windows carried into the room. Outside, a gust whistled in the trees, followed by a ragged scorch of lightning. Loose on its hinges, a neighbor’s gate slapped in the wind. A creak sounded downstairs, then a muffled bump.
    “Did you hear that?”
    “It’s one of the kids. Go back to sleep.”
    Julie twisted the switch on her bedside lamp. Nothing. Leaning across, she tried Wes’s light. Same result. With a sinking feeling, she noticed that the numerals on the alarm clock were out, too. “The power’s off.”
    Wes pulled the covers over his head. “It’s the storm. They’ll get it back on.”
    Julie heard another soft thump downstairs, like a cat dropping from a dresser. The family didn’t own a pet. “Wes… I’m scared.”
    Irritated, Wes finally sat up. “Brian? Heather? I don’t know which one of you is up, but tomorrow’s a school day. Get back to bed right now!”
    “Did you hear me?”
    A scuffling sound echoed from the first floor.
    “I’m calling the police.” Julie lifted the bedside telephone. “The phone’s out, too,” she said, trying to remember where she had left her cell phone.
    Wes swung his feet from the bed. “This has gone on long enough,” he said firmly. “I swear, those kids are getting too big for their britches. There’s no excuse for not answering when-”
    All at once they heard footsteps rushing up the stairs. Heavy. Not one of the kids.
    Julie gripped Wes’s arm.
    An instant later their bedroom door burst open. A blinding beam of light stabbed in. “Police! Freeze!”
    Wes raised a hand to shield his eyes. “Wha…?”
    “Keep your hands where I can see them, Mr. Welsh,” a harsh voice commanded. “You, too, Mrs. Welsh.”
    “What’s this all about? We haven’t done-”
    “Do as I say and no one will be hurt. Hands up! Now!”
    As if in a dream, Wes and Julie raised their arms. The beam played across their faces, traveling from one to the other. In the dimness, Julie could make out the snout of a pistol below the flashlight.
    “Get out of bed, Mr. Welsh,” the voice ordered. “Slowly. Take two steps forward and turn around.”
    “This is ridiculous. What are we supposed to have done?”
    Reluctantly, Wes stood. Hands above his head, he shuffled forward. Turned. Briefly, Julie saw his face. For the first time since she had known him, Wes looked afraid.
    The man stood behind Wes. Abruptly, the flashlight beam arced to the ceiling and descended with dazzling swiftness. Julie heard a hollow clunk, as though someone had thumped a melon.
    “Uhh…” Wes groaned, sinking to his knees. Again the brutal arc of the light. Wes crumbled to the carpet, twitching like a clubbed steer.
    Instantly the beam flicked to the bed. “Don’t make a sound, Mrs. Welsh. If you resist, I’ll hurt your husband.”
    “You’re not the police.”
    “Shut up.” The man moved to the door and retrieved a small bag from the hallway. He knelt beside Wes. Julie heard the sound of a zipper. This can’t be happening, she thought. In desperation, she considered making a run for it. If she could get to the front door…
    Too far. And what about the children?
    After placing a knee in the center of Wes’s back, the man reached into his bag and withdrew something. He fumbled at Wes’s hands and feet, then wrapped a strip of cloth around Wes’s head, taking numerous turns. Next he moved to the bed.
    “There’s cash in my purse downstairs,” Julie said, hearing the fear in her voice. “My husband has more in his wallet, and there’s jewelry on the dresser. Take whatever you want and go.”
    “I intend to.” The man moved closer. Slowly, he played his light over Julie’s body, the beam traveling the revealing fabric of her nightgown from shoulders to waist and back again, lingering on her breasts.
    Julie pulled up the sheets.
    “Keep your hands raised,” the man said huskily.
    Julie lifted her arms. “Please don’t hurt us.”
    “I said if you cooperated, no one would get hurt, didn’t I?”
    “Yes, but-”
    “Didn’t I?”
    “I lied.”
    “No, please,” Julie begged. “You don’t have to-”
    The first blow struck her temple, driving her against the headboard. The second broke the bridge of her nose, sending a warm salty gush onto her face.
    At first she didn’t feel the pain. Instead, dazed and disoriented, she experienced a kaleidoscopic burst of light and a confusion of images. She shook her head, trying to clear her vision. For the next few seconds she hung suspended in a limbo of shock and disbelief, feeling her wrists and ankles being fastened to the corners of the bed and a terrible choking gag being wrapped around her face. Moaning, she clung to the belief that this couldn’t be happening to her. To someone else, maybe. Not to her.
    When he finished, the man leaned over her. “There’re two little details I have to take care of first,” he whispered, his voice as gentle as a lover’s. “Don’t go anywhere.”
    Taking his bag with him, the man disappeared into the darkness. Julie lay stunned, gulping against the seep of blood running down the back of her throat. Sucking air through her gag between swallows, she struggled to clear her mind.
    Panicking won’t help. There has to be a way out. Think!
    Lifting her head, she could make out Wes’s body beside the bed. He wasn’t moving. Straining, she tried to reach the knots at her wrists. Couldn’t. She fought against her bonds. They held her fast. At last, sobbing with exhaustion, she lay still.
    Minutes later the man returned. By then Wes had begun to stir. The intruder stopped to inspect Wes’s restraints, then crossed to the bed. Humming, he set his bag on the comforter.
    Numbly, Julie watched as he withdrew a number of cylindrical objects. One he placed on the nightstand, two others he distributed about the room. She heard the strike of a match, smelled the acrid tang of sulfur. A grotesque dance of light and shadow flickered across the ceiling.
    At that instant, Julie Welsh realized she was going to die.
    The man stood beside the bed. “Do you know who I am?”
    Julie stared up, her eyes wide with terror. And suddenly she knew, recognizing the soft tones of the man who had dented her fender. She also realized that wasn’t what he was asking.
    “Do you know who I am?”
    Through tears of helplessness, Julie nodded.
    Almost reverently, the man withdrew the remaining contents of his bag. He held up each in turn, rotating it in his gloved hands before Julie’s eyes. They were ordinary objects, household objects: a small scissors, clothesline rope, a length of pipe, a tape recorder, camera, and a short-bladed kitchen knife. Yet as the bag surrendered its items, Julie came to know the horror that was to be hers. Sensing that her terror gave the man pleasure, she tried not to show it… and failed.
    After he had emptied his bag, the man picked up the rope, then the pipe and scissors. Humming softly, he turned toward Wes. Helpless, Julie watched as the man dragged her husband to the bathroom door. There he forced Wes to a kneeling position, passed a loop of rope under his arms, and fastened him to the knob. A second rope went around Wes’s throat, the pipe through the coils. Terrible minutes passed. Sobbing, Julie witnessed her husband’s hideous mutilation, able to do nothing.
    Satisfied with the results of his surgery, the man returned to the bed and removed his clothes. Never taking his eyes from Julie, he turned on the tape recorder and set it beside the candle on the night table. Next he climbed onto the bed. Leaning down, he whispered in her ear, his breath hot and fetid as he told her what he had done in the children’s rooms.
    And then he began.
    It started slowly. At first gentle, almost tender, the bites gradually grew in force and urgency, burning across her torso with stinging insistence, no place inviolate. Unable to scream, Julie whimpered and writhed as their ferocity increased, dumfounded by the excruciating sensation of being chewed and bitten and savaged, of feeling human teeth tearing into her flesh. And then came the knife.
    For what seemed forever, Julie Welsh drifted through a nightmare of degradation and torture, a netherworld in which the concept of time lost all significance. Instead, she existed from moment to moment, experiencing an eternity of anguish in the passing of a heartbeat. Often she believed she could endure no more, only to experience some renewed misery at the hands and teeth and blade of the man who had come in the night. Occasionally she lost consciousness, suspended in a haze of oblivion where her suffering seemed blissfully distant. Cruelly he brought her back, again and again, returning her to the unfathomable horror of her torment. And as always, when she returned, she saw his malignant, bottle cap eyes floating above her, watching…
    Rain beat against the bedroom window, continuing long into the night. The droplets drummed against the glass, streaking like tears across the panes, trickling down in twisted rivulets. From time to time, when the man paused to prepare some new diversion, Julie gazed into the darkness beyond. In a distant part of her mind she wondered when it would be over. She prayed it would end soon.
    It did not.
    Hours later death came to Julie Welsh, arriving on wings of agony and despair. As her ordeal drew to a close at last, her final thoughts were of her children.


    A girlfriend of Julie’s discovered the bodies the following morning. Upon arriving at the Welsh house, Newport Beach detectives quickly recognized the murder pattern as consistent with the ongoing Candlelight Killer investigation. Accordingly, they sealed the premises and contacted the task force. Upon receiving their call, Lieutenant Huff dispatched two investigative teams to the scene-Barrello and Fuentes from Orange County, Deluca and me from LA-reasoning that each team had worked a prior occurrence and thereby stood a chance of noticing something others might miss. To my surprise, Snead didn’t object.
    Later, the task force met for the second time that day. The two Newport Beach homicide investigators who had first arrived at the Welsh house, having subsequently been detailed to our unit, stood at the back of the crowded room. With their addition, the task force now numbered fifteen.
    Lieutenant Huff arrived late. He entered accompanied by Dr. Sidney Berns, the forensic psychiatrist who had attended our first meeting. The room quieted, the mood bleak. Lieutenant Snead stepped to the front. “Who wants to lead off? Barrello?”
    Yes, sir,” said Barrello, shuffling through his notes. “Preliminary results indicate that the victims died last night between the hours of twelve midnight and four AM. The children were smothered with plastic bags. Liver temps indicate they were murdered about two hours before the parents. The husband was strangled with clothesline rope and a length of pipe. The woman died of multiple stab wounds.”
    “Same guy,” said Huff.
    “Yes, sir. No doubt about it-candles, plastic ties, cut eyelids, the murder knife taken from the kitchen.”
    “We’re still holding back several of those descriptors,” interjected Snead. “There’s no chance of a copycat?”
    “No sir. No chance.”
    “What about the woman? Bites? Multiple knife wounds?”
    “The official eight-by-tens aren’t available yet, but Kane took some shots. It’s worse this time.”
    “Kane? You have those pictures?”
    I handed a deck of photos to the man on my left, who passed them down the line one by one. As the photographs circled the room, even the most hardened detectives fell silent.
    Finally someone spoke. “What kind of animal would do this?”
    No one ventured an answer.
    “Let’s keep moving,” suggested Huff. “Kane, anything to add?”
    “It’s definitely the same guy,” I said. “There are differences, though. This time he came over a side gate and turned off the electrical power at the meter outside. We found shoe scuffs on the gate and got footprint casts in the dirt by the patio. Mud on the carpet indicates that he entered the house through a patio door off the family room. No sign of a break-in.”
    “What, no tampering with the garage lights?” Snead said sarcastically.
    “No, sir,” I admitted, adding, “One of the family cars did have a recent scrape.”
    “In that case, is there any indication that the Welshes visited a repair shop? An estimate, insurance papers, anything?”
    “Nothing yet.”
    “So the Welshes’ vehicle has a scraped fender, like a million others in the city,” Snead pointed out with exaggerated patience. “Look, Kane. The killer jumped a side gate and entered the Welshes’ home through an unlocked door, not the garage. He turned off the power at the meter, requiring no prior reconnaissance. And there’s no indication he visited the scene on any other occasion. It’s time we forget your garage reconnaissance theory and concentrate on the facts.”
    I bristled. Earlier that day, following the discovery of the Newport Beach murders, Alonzo Domingos had been released from custody. As a result, I knew that Snead had spent a good portion of the afternoon getting chewed out in the chief’s tenth-floor office. “I know what’s crawling up your skirt here, Lieutenant,” I shot back. “It wasn’t my idea to pop Domingos. I was the one who wanted to put him under surveillance, remember?”
    “If it hadn’t been for your initiating that line of investigation in the first place, we would never have-”
    “Finger pointing won’t accomplish anything,” Huff interrupted. “We all look bad on this, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Barrello, finish your report.”
    Barrello referred again to his notes, then shook his head. “That’s mostly it,” he admitted regretfully. “None of the neighbors saw or heard anything. The coroner’s doing the posts tomorrow. As for the lab work, we took swabs and smears from each victim, pubic combings and found hairs from the bed sheets and bathrooms, and prints from the doors, bedrooms, and the electrical meter. The murder weapons were clean, again suggesting that the killer wore gloves.”
    “Kane? Anything to add?”
    “No, sir, except that we should cross-check everything against trace evidence from the other scenes. Maybe something will show up.”
    Huff sighed, glancing at the wall chart. Since first initiated, the poster graph had grown to a web of interconnected items that now extended halfway around the room. “Who’s got something new? Liman? You and Fuentes come up with anything linking the first two families?”
    “Nothing,” said Liman. “We went through their records, ran down everybody who had keys, and talked with neighbors, coworkers, and family members. Came up cold on all fronts.”
    Huff referred to his notes. “Shanelec? You took the plumbing logo.”
    “Yes, sir,” said Shanelec. “I’ve phoned every paint shop and magnetic sign manufacturer from here to San Diego. If the guy had a phony sign made, it wasn’t done around here.”
    “Widen your search.”
    “Yes, sir.”
    Huff turned to Snead. “Any progress with the federal inquiries?”
    Snead scowled. “None,” he said, still fuming over his run-in with me. “No hits on the prints, and our NCIC inquiry turned up negative. I heard from the feds at Quantico this morning, too. Negative on the VICAP search.”
    Huff made a notation in his folder. “Okay, let’s proceed to new business. Two Newport Beach detectives are joining the unit: Dick Feimer and Greg Sugita.”
    Several members of the task force, including me, nodded at the newcomers.
    “Four other detective pairs will also be joining our ranks,” Huff continued. “Two teams from LAPD, two from Orange County.” He picked up a stack of papers from his desk, took one, and handed the remainder to Liman to distribute. “These are copies of the FBI profile we requested. Over the past weeks I’ve had a number of conversations with the Bureau, including a conference call yesterday between me, Dr. Berns, Special Agent Clay Hatcher, who’s the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office profile coordinator, and Douglas Mark of their Investigative Support Unit in Virginia. I’ve asked Dr. Berns to give us his overview on what the FBI behaviorists came up with. By the way, this report is strictly confidential. Heads will roll if any of it turns up in the papers. Sid, you want to take it from here?”
    Dr. Berns made his way to the front of the assembly. As he did, I began flipping through the pages I’d been given, noting that the FBI team had organized their work into a number of sections including victimology, crime-scene analysis, a dissection of the crimes themselves, an evaluation of the police reports and autopsy protocols, psychological conclusions concerning the killer, and a final page offering suggestions that might lead to the killer’s apprehension. This last page interested me most.
    Berns reached the front of the room, adjusted his glasses, and began. “I’ll make this quick,” he said. “The killer’s timetable has shortened. The interval between the first two murders was twenty-five days; the murders last night followed in fifteen. In addition, the killings have become more violent. We can expect these trends to continue.”
    “How can they get more violent?” someone asked.
    Ignoring the comment, Berns opened his copy of the report. “You’ll find that the FBI autopsy mostly agrees with my initial assessment-with a few noteworthy exceptions. I’ll summarize their conclusions, skimming over sections that add nothing new and discussing in more detail areas where I disagree, but I strongly suggest you read the report in its entirety.
    “First of all, the FBI’s analysis of the first two families reveals the victims to be low-risk, high-profile individuals. The third family falls in the same category. For this reason and other similarities in the crimes, including the killings having taken place in highly populated, middle class neighborhoods, the family members are not categorized as victims of opportunity and were probably selected well before their murders.”
    “They were stalked,” said Collins.
    “Correct,” said Berns. “The killer knew his victims, at least marginally. Furthermore, with the exception of replacing the husbands’ bodies in bed and covering his victims with a blanket-something that the behaviorists agree is probably ritualistic and not representative of any form of remorse-the killer is making no effort at concealment. This indicates a desire for recognition. His violence is close-range and confrontational, with varying degrees of savagery inflicted on various family members, although his rage is primarily directed toward women. Nonetheless, the familial aspect of the crimes should not be overlooked.
    “Second: In brief, analysis of the crime scenes demonstrates the killer’s willingness to modify them to suit his needs. He feels comfortable in the homes, taking hours to complete his crimes. He employs disparate methods to kill each member, for the most part using materials brought with him. These factors, along with the lack of evidence found at the scenes, suggest a high degree of organization and planning, both before and after committing the crimes.
    “The third section is fairly long, but what it boils down to is this: The autopsies show that although the husbands were not sexually molested, the killer performed postmortem acts on the women, revealing a necrosadistic sexual motivation.”
    “Meaning the guy has to kill to achieve orgasm?” asked Deluca.
    “Right,” Berns replied. “Leaving the bodies in positions of repose, the killer’s use of candles, his cutting of the husbands’ eyelids, and the different techniques employed to kill other family members all demonstrate a high level of ritualism. This, taken with the degree of organization and planning shown throughout other phases of the crimes, suggests a killer who has reached an advanced state of development. In addition to torture, the other common element in his murders is a preselection of victims, probably focusing on the wife, although again the familial aspect should not be considered coincidental.
    “The next section contains the FBI’s physical and psychological assessment of the killer. It’s open to interpretation, but some parts may prove useful. Most of it parallels the analysis I already gave you, but there are a few new things. The profilers think the killer may have a record of criminal and psychological disturbances. If a criminal background is present, instances of assault and rape would be expected. If he’s been institutionalized in a mental hospital, the diagnosis would probably have been manic depressive psychosis or paranoid schizophrenia. They also think he’s of slightly above-average intelligence, and that jewelry, clothing, other personal items taken from his victims may have been given to others.”
    I glanced around the room. Every detective present was concentrating on the sheets before them. “The last section may prove the most useful,” Berns went on, flipping to the final page. “As noted earlier, the killer’s selection of high profile victims, his leaving the front doors open, and his failure to conceal the bodies suggest a desire for recognition. Typically, he may try to inject himself into the investigation.”
    “Lend us poor dumb cops a hand,” I said.
    “Right. The Bureau guys think this may present an increased chance of locating him. Organizing community meetings to discuss the killings, for instance, then getting the names and license plate numbers of anyone who attends. Another proactive approach would be examining males who repeatedly phone in on the hotline. In that regard, news releases could be designed to encourage the killer to call. And, of course, unauthorized men visiting the crime scenes or gravesites should be considered suspect.
    “I like the idea of organizing community meetings,” said Huff.
    “The media angle might work, too,” I added. “It sure didn’t take our guy long to react the last time around. News release on Friday; murders on Sunday.”
    “There’s no proof that the Welsh killings resulted from Domingos’s arrest,” Snead said defensively.
    “Maybe not, but it’s possible.”
    Berns nodded. “The killer is undoubtedly following the case in the news. He had probably already planned the Welsh murders, but the false arrest may have angered him enough to make him accelerate his timetable.”
    “You said there were areas where you disagreed with the FBI report,” noted Huff. “Could you go over those?”
    “Of course,” answered Berns. “For one, I don’t accept the behaviorists’ assessment of the killer being of only slightly above-average intelligence. Everything I’ve seen suggests he’s smarter than that.”
    “Anything else?”
    “Along the same line, I would be surprised if he gave away items taken from his victims. Too dangerous.”
    “Does that go for his calling in on the hotline, hanging around the crime scenes, and all the other mistakes we’re hoping he makes?” I asked.
    “In my estimation, yes. If he’s as intelligent as I suspect, he’s probably well versed in police investigative techniques.”
    “Could he be a cop?” asked Snead.
    “It’s possible.”
    Snead turned to Huff. “How about interviewing police officers who might have come in contact with the victims during the past year?”
    “Now we’re chasing our own tails,” I said.
    “What’s that, Kane?”
    “With all due respect, Lieutenant, we have our hands full without investigating cops. And if it gets out that we’re combing our own ranks for the killer, the media will go nuts. We won’t score any points with the rest of our brothers in blue, either.”
    “Tough. Lieutenant Huff?”
    Huff sighed, making another notation in his folder. “I don’t like it, but I guess we have no choice.” He glanced at Berns. “That it, Sid?”
    Berns nodded. “For now, anyway.”
    “Any other questions?”
    No one spoke, but we all thinking the same thing. The killer had taken another family, and we were no closer to finding him.


    Two days later, having a court appearance on a previous case, I took off early for lunch-allowing time to eat and still make it to the West Los Angeles courthouse by two PM. On impulse, however, I exited on Hoover Street after passing the Santa Monica Freeway interchange, drove a half mile south, and pulled into a USC visitors’ parking lot across from the Shrine Auditorium.
    Not an active alumnus, I had visited my alma mater only rarely since graduating. As I made my way toward the USC School of Music, I noticed that much of the campus I remembered was now hidden behind newer buildings. At times I missed familiar landmarks, either concealed or torn down, and was forced to ask directions from passing students. Eventually I found myself standing before an unfamiliar, multistoried structure with a brass plate identifying it as the Albert S. Raubenheimer Music Facility Memorial Building.
    Searching for the entrance, I took a walkway to the left, glancing through the open door of an annex building nearby. Behind a worn counter, racks of musical instruments gleamed in the dim light. Curious, I stepped inside. A young man looked up from behind a cluttered desk. “May I help you?” he asked pleasantly.
    I gazed around the interior of the room, surprised by the number of instruments jammed into cases and hung on the walls. Some appeared familiar, but many, like a collection of fat-bellied mandolins and pear-shaped lutes, did not. “What is this, some kind of musical pawn shop?” I asked.
    The youth smiled. “Sort of. Students can borrow instruments here and experiment with them without actually having to buy one. Are you looking for something in particular?”
    “Some one. Alexander Petrinski.”
    “Wednesday mornings, Professor Petrinski holds student conferences in his office. Ramo Hall. Second floor.”
    “Where’s that?”
    “Straight out the doors, past the coke spoon, first building you come to. You can’t miss it.”
    “Coke spoon?”
    “One of the sculptures. You’ll see.”
    After thanking the youth, I continued down the curved pathway, pausing before a huge stone carving that in my opinion looked more like a double-ended washbasin. Proceeding beneath a canopy of sycamore and jacaranda, I found the Virginia Ramo Hall of Music around the next bend. Upon entering the building, I checked the directory, locating the name for which I was searching: Alexander Petrinski, Keyboard Studies Chair, Rm. 212. Instead of taking the elevator, I ascended a single flight of stairs and exited on the second floor. Petrinski’s office lay at the end of a short hallway. I stopped at the entrance and knocked.
    “Come in.”
    I opened the door. Two grand pianos, a desk, a filing cabinet, and a leather couch all but filled the small studio beyond. A young woman sat at one of the keyboards. A heavyset man with thick gray hair stood behind her, his robust bearing belying his advancing years. The man turned, his eyes registering surprise. “Dan. I’d about given up on you.”
    “Sorry, Alex. I’ve been busy.”
    Petrinski turned to his student. “That’s enough for today, Carla. Keep working on it. I’ll see you after the holidays.”
    “Yes, sir,” said the young woman. She rose and started for the door. “Have a nice Thanksgiving, Professor.”
    After she left, Petrinski and I regarded each other uncomfortably. Although we had known one another since Travis first began studying piano, our relationship had often been less than cordial. “I suppose I should have phoned before stopping by,” I offered. “I had a couple minutes, and-”
    “I’m glad you came,” said Petrinski. “We haven’t talked since the funeral.”
    “Tom’s death was a great loss. I’m truly sorry.”
    “Thanks. But that’s not why you called.”
    “No. I want to discuss Travis.”
    I sat on one of the piano benches, my back to the keyboard. Hunching my shoulders, I leaned forward. “What about Travis?”
    Petrinski hesitated, seeming uncertain how to proceed. “Can I be frank?” he asked.
    “Aside from myself, probably better than anyone else I know,” I answered.
    Petrinski smiled. “I’ve been told that,” he agreed. “All right, but you won’t like what I have to say. No offense, Dan, but I’ve always believed that the best thing for Travis’s musical development would be for him to get out from under your influence. Now I’m not so sure. I don’t know what’s wrong, but your son seems to need some form of guidance I can’t give.”
    “The kid’s screwing up in school, and you want me to boot his tail back on the straight and narrow?” I said. “You could have told me that over the phone. I’ll talk to him, all right. Where is he?”
    “Classes are over for the holidays, but Trav mentioned staying till Thursday. He’s probably in one of the annex practice rooms. And actually, your son is doing well in most of his university courses. Especially those given by the Music Department.”
    “So what’s the problem?”
    Instead of responding, Petrinski gazed at me for a long moment. Finally he asked, “What do you know of Travis’s world of music?”
    I shrugged, aware of Petrinski’s irritating habit of broaching subjects obliquely. “Not much,” I answered, wishing he would get to the point. “I’m not totally ignorant on the subject, but country music’s more my style.”
    “You may understand more than you think. I define good music as any that can repay our attention by enriching our lives and giving us pleasure, revelation, and maybe even enlightenment. Music, all music, if it fulfills its potential, can play a vitally worthwhile role in our lives.”
    “I never said that I thought what Travis is doing isn’t worthwhile,” I objected, anticipating the direction the conversation seemed headed.
    “Maybe not in so many words, but that’s what he thinks.”
    “Even if that’s true, I still don’t see-”
    Petrinski cut me off. “I think Travis is at a critical juncture. There’s no doubt he has the ability to become a world-class musician. After his success at the Van Cliburn International, many think he’s already achieved that status. I believe he has more to offer.”
    “Like what?”
    “In a senior-level course Travis is auditing, he’s shown a wonderful talent for composition. It’s something I suspected he possessed, but I had no idea of its depth. That he’s waited until now to show it is puzzling, to say the least.”
    Petrinski paused, scowling at me like a headmaster dressing down a student. “I believe Travis has something of value to communicate through his music, not only by interpreting the writings of others, but also with his own compositions. Despite your son’s finally beginning to do work commensurate with his abilities, something’s holding him back. I believe it has something to do with you.”
    “I’ve never had a thing to do with Travis’s music.”
    “Do you think that could be part of the-”
    “No. His mom encourages him enough for the both of us,” I interrupted, checking my watch. “Alex, I have a one o’clock appointment. Can we cut to the chase?”
    Petrinski sighed. “All right. Does intuition sometimes play a role in your job?”
    “Sure. Cops go with gut feelings all the time.”
    “Well, I have a gut feeling, too. It’s telling me that something’s wrong with Travis.”
    “And you think I’m the cause.”
    “I don’t know. You and I have had our differences over the years, but I know you love your son. Unfortunately, sometimes that’s not enough.”
    “I’m not following. What do you want me to do?”
    Petrinski slumped, suddenly seeming old. “I’m not sure,” he said. “But I believe Travis needs help. And although I don’t know why, I think you’re the only one who can give it.”
    Puzzling over Petrinski’s words, I returned to my car. Deciding to forego lunch, I jammed more quarters into the parking meter, asked directions from an attendant at a kiosk, and walked two blocks north.
    Another addition to the university since I’d attended, the Colburn School of Performing Arts, or the Performing Arts Annex as it is better known, sprawled the better part of a block between Thirty-Second and Figueroa. I entered through a door on the west end. Glancing up at the forty-foot-high ceiling, I surmised that the rambling structure had once served another purpose-probably, if the now abandoned catwalks and grids traversing the ceiling were any indication, as a sound stage during Hollywood’s heydays of years past. Now, like cells in a hive, row upon row of rooms partitioned the cavernous space. I followed a narrow passage, checking a warren of deserted practice rooms as I went. Many of the small chambers contained only a chair and music stand; others had upright pianos crammed in, some even two.
    After several wrong turns I arrived at a central receiving area. At a desk in the middle, a young woman with tortoiseshell glasses and a bored expression glanced up as I approached.
    “I’m looking for Travis Kane,” I said.
    The young woman flipped through a register. “D-eighteen,” she said, indicating a walkway behind me with a slight inclination of her head. “Straight ahead, left at the first bend.”
    “Thanks,” I said, starting for the corridor.
    Making my way down the hall, I began to hear the faint tones of a piano coming from somewhere up ahead. The sound grew louder as I rounded a corner. I listened as I walked, recognizing a piece I had occasionally heard Travis play at home. Now, however, the work contained subtle, foreboding alterations I couldn’t quite pin down. I paused as I reached a glass door marked “D-18.” Travis sat at an upright piano on the other side, concentrating on his playing. Abruptly, the music stopped. As I raised my hand to knock on the glass, Travis resumed, now playing an unfamiliar work. Letting my hand drop, I stood outside and listened.
    The new piece got off to a rocky start, stumbling in the opening. Travis began again, faltered, then set out once more-changing chords and phrases in the right hand, trying different combinations and colors and shadings. Realizing that I was hearing a work in progress, I leaned against the opposite wall and watched my son through the glass.
    Finally his new piece got off the ground, and for the next several minutes, as I waited outside the practice room, I found myself captivated by Travis’s playing. In those few minutes, almost against my will, I experienced a flow of unexpected emotion, indefinable yearnings, surprising and sometimes overwhelming moments of both arrival and despair. And for the first time, with a mix of both pride and amazement, I realized the true extent of my son’s ability and talent.
    The playing stopped. Looking up, I saw Travis staring at me through the glass. Clearly surprised by my presence, he closed the keyboard and walked to the door. “Hi, Dad,” he said uncertainly, joining me in the hall. “How long have you been here?”
    “A while.”
    “Is there something…?”
    “Petrinski’s been leaving messages that he wanted to talk to me. I finally made it over.”
    “What did he want?”
    I decided to take a direct approach. “He thinks you have a knack for writing music,” I answered. “Talks as if you could be the next Beethoven. He also thinks you’re going to blow it. He says you’re not really trying, like something’s holding you back. Is that true?”
    “No. At least I-”
    “Tell me the truth, Trav. If something’s wrong, I want to help.”
    “Nothing’s wrong, Dad.”
    I decided to try another tack. “I didn’t recognize that piece you were playing. What was it?”
    “Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy.”
    “I mean after that. That was yours, wasn’t it?”
    He lowered his eyes, clearly embarrassed. “Uh, yes, sir.”
    “Hell, Trav, why are you acting so secretive? Has anyone else heard it?”
    “Why not?”
    “It’s not done yet. Besides, I didn’t write it for anybody to hear. It’s sort of private.”
    “Travis, I’ll level with you, and I want you to level with me, too. You know I want the very best for you, right?”
    “I know.”
    “Then talk to me. Petrinski told me that classes are over till after Thanksgiving. If nothing’s wrong, instead of coming home, why are you here working on a piece you say nobody will ever hear? We have a piano at home too, in case you forgot.”
    “I was planning on making it home tomorrow for Thanksgiving dinner,” said Travis. “I stayed here to catch up on some of my studies.”
    “There’s more to it than that,” I said. “Petrinski thinks that whatever’s eating you has something to do with me. If that’s the case, I need to hear about it.”
    Travis remained silent. “It’s not you,” he said at last.
    “Then what?”
    Travis shifted uneasily.
    “Come on, Trav. Spill it.”
    Travis looked away. “Dad, for as long as I can remember, everyone’s expected me to do big things. Mom, Petrinski, lately even you. Since starting here at SC, it’s become even worse. I feel like an impostor. Like I’m going to let everyone down.”
    “What do you want, a guarantee?”
    “No, but-”
    “Petrinski says you have talent. I’m no expert, but from what I just heard, I’m inclined to agree. It’s natural to have doubts, especially as most of the big boys began writing music early on, but you wouldn’t be the first composer to start late. Hell, Schumann didn’t get going till he was in his early twenties.
    Travis, well acquainted with my magpie memory for useless facts, shook his head. “I’m not Schumann.”
    “How do you know if you don’t try? If you do something, kid, go all the way. You don’t score touchdowns sitting on the sideline.”
    Also well acquainted with my tendency to view the world in terms of football metaphors, Travis smiled. “Thanks for the advice.”
    “There’s more, isn’t there?”
    Travis’s smile faltered.
    “C’mon, kid. I’m trying to help.”
    Travis hesitated. “Have you ever been unsure of yourself, Dad?”
    “Plenty of times.”
    “Like when?”
    I knew that Travis’s question had not been asked casually. “Two years after graduating from the academy,” I answered.
    “What happened?”
    “I was working patrol with a guy named Jerry Tannenbaum. Jerry had a drinking problem. One night we answered a call on a convenience store robbery. Jerry was way past his booze limit that evening, and he wound up involved in a bad shooting. Nothing intentional, and the guy lived, but it was a bad shooting nonetheless. I was still wet behind the ears. Tannenbaum had twelve years on the force. He wanted me to lie for him-told me disclosing the facts wouldn’t heal the hole in the guy’s shoulder and so forth. I knew Jerry’s wife and kids. Kate and I had been to their house for dinner. They were having financial difficulties at the time, and I knew what a suspension would mean for them. It was a tough decision.”
    “What did you do?”
    “I did the right thing.”
    “What happened to your partner?” Travis probed.
    “Jerry left the force. His wife walked out on him before he finally got help from AA. Now he owns the biggest Chrysler/Plymouth dealership in El Monte. Got remarried a few years back, too.”
    “Were you invited to the wedding?”
    “Nope. Let’s get back to you. I take it from your question that there’s something you’re unsure about.”
    Travis looked away.
    By now I had mental alarms going off right and left. I stepped closer, deciding to voice a suspicion that had been plaguing me since Nate’s nightmare. “If you won’t talk about yourself, maybe you can tell me what’s going on with Nate. Allison, too. They have some secret, and you know what it is, don’t you?”
    “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
    I immediately recognized the lie. “Yeah, you do. Are you going to tell me?”
    Travis’s shoulders slumped. “No, sir.”
    “Why not?”
    “I can’t.”
    “I’ll find out sooner or later, so it may as well be now. Talk to me, Trav.”
    Travis shook his head. “Have you ever made a promise you’ve regretted?” he asked miserably.
    “So that’s it. You promised to keep quiet. Now you’re thinking you made a mistake and there’s nothing you can do about it.” I considered a moment. “Okay,” I continued. “Right or wrong, you made a promise, and I’ll respect it. But here’s something I want you to think about: The world isn’t black and white. There are shades of gray, and as you get older you’ll run into times when it’s tough to know what to do.”
    “Yes, sir.”
    “The things you’ve learned at home and at church will help, but despite what you may have been told, there’s no all-purpose rule to live by,” I went on. “So what it boils down to is this: More important than anything else, you need to have your own inner sense of right and wrong. When all else fails, you fall back on that.”
    Travis said nothing.
    “I have to be in court before long, so let’s wind this up. Whatever’s between you and Allison and Nate has to come out. I know you promised, but there are responsibilities that go way past other considerations. Even a promise.”
    “Like being part of a family. Mom thinks that, too.”
    “Right. So with that in mind, do you have anything else to say?”
    Travis shook his head.
    I stared at him a moment more. “Okay, Trav,” I sighed. “Think about what I said. I know you’ll do the right thing. See you for Thanksgiving dinner?”
    “I’ll be home around noon.”
    “Good. Don’t be late.” Reluctantly, I turned and started down the hall.
    “Ask Ali and Nate what actually happened the night of the break-in.”
    I turned. “There’s something they haven’t told about that night?”
    “Ask them, Dad.”
    “They held back something about the break-in from Catheryn and me, but they told you?” I said incredulously.
    “No. I… I found out on my own, kind of by accident. By then weeks had gone by, and I didn’t know what to-”
    “Found out what?”
    “Ask them, Dad,” Travis repeated. “They should tell you themselves.”
    “Damn it, Travis-”
    “Please, Dad.”
    “All right,” I said. “I’ll ask them.”
    “I should have said something sooner. I could see things were getting worse, but I didn’t know what to do.”
    “At least you’re doing the right thing now.”
    “Are you disappointed in me?”
    I saw the self-accusation in Travis’s eyes, and the response I had been about to utter died on my lips. “We all screw up, kid,” I said instead.
    Travis lowered his gaze. “Not like this.”
    I returned and placed my hands on his shoulders. “Look at me, Trav,” I said.
    Slowly, Travis raised his eyes to mine. “Listen, kid,” I said gently. “When it comes to making decisions, I told you life doesn’t come with a universal yardstick, but there are some universal truths. One is that every father wants to see his son become a better man than he is. That’s true of every father, and I’m no exception. You’re asking whether I’m disappointed in you?”
    “Yes, Dad, I am. Are you?”
    I shook my head. “Not for a minute, Trav,” I said. “No way.”


    Following my court appearance in West Los Angles, I returned to headquarters, still mulling over my discussion with Travis. More than anything, I missed Catheryn and for about the hundredth time since she’d left, I wished she were home.
    Upon arriving at my desk, I found a message slip. Someone named Yolanda Blum had called. Thinking back, I recalled that she was the claims adjuster I had attempted to contact regarding the Larsons’ damaged Infiniti. For the moment postponing thoughts on how to deal with my children, I removed my jacket, hung it on the back of my chair, and dialed the number on the slip. A woman with a pronounced southern drawl answered. “Twentieth Century. Claims.”
    “Yolanda Blum?”
    “Yes. May I help you?”
    “This is Daniel Kane, LAPD. I called some time back concerning a claim made by Susan Larson.”
    “Oh, yes, through USAA. The Tenaka case. Give me a sec to pull it up.”
    “Our insured. Ah, here it is. By the way, I’m sorry it’s taken so long to get back to you. This flu that’s going around is awful.”
    “As I understand it, your company refused payment on the Larsons’ claim,” I said, ignoring her excuse. “Why?”
    “Under the circumstances, we felt completely justified,” Ms. Blum replied defensively. “It’s terrible what happened to them, though. I heard about it on the news.”
    “Yes, ma’am. What circumstances?”
    “For one thing, Mrs. Larson said in her claim that a man named Ron Phillips damaged her car.”
    “You said your insured’s name is Tenaka.”
    “Right. According to Mrs. Larson’s claim, Mr. Phillips, who was driving a white van, told her he was covered by Twentieth Century Insurance.”
    “A white van?” I said, my pulse quickening. “Did you get a make on it?”
    “How about a license number?”
    “Yes, that was included on the claim. When I found we had no one named Ron Phillips as an insured, I ran a DMV trace.”
    “The owner of the plates proved to be a Mr. James Tenaka of El Monte, who is, coincidentally, covered by Twentieth. But his vehicle is a red ’99 Ford sedan, not a white van. Furthermore, Mr. Tenaka denied any involvement in an accident with Susan Larson. He said he had never heard of Ron Phillips, and that he hadn’t been in West Los Angeles during the past year. In her claim, Mrs. Larson clearly stated that the other party was driving a white van, and in the absence of a police accident report…”
    “… you denied payment,” I finished. “Did you call Mrs. Larson?”
    “Right after talking with Mr. Tenaka. She was upset. Said she was absolutely certain she had copied down the license number correctly. She couldn’t believe that the other driver had lied to her. Do you think this might have something to do with the murders?”
    “I don’t know, ma’am. At this point we’re checking everything. Did Mrs. Larson say anything else?”
    “Hold on. Let me get my notes.” A rustling of paper, then, “She said her car was dented while parked outside her health club. The other driver was waiting for her when she came out.”
    “What club?”
    “Hinds Health Center. Olympic and Bundy.”
    “I know the place,” I said, realizing I had been less than a block away when visiting Hank Dexter’s electronic shop. “Did she give a description of the man?”
    “No. Mr. Phillips, or whatever his name is, told Mrs. Larson that he had forgotten his wallet. He didn’t have his driver’s license or proof of insurance with him, but he wanted to pay for the damage. They exchanged information. You know the rest.”
    “Not all, but we’re getting there. I’ll need Mr. Tenaka’s phone number and a copy of the accident claim.”
    “Of course.” Ms. Blum gave me Mr. Tenaka’s phone number, also promising to fax a copy of the insurance file.
    Next I telephoned James Tenaka in El Monte. An elderly-sounding man answered. “Whatever it is, I’m not buying,” he grumbled.
    “I’m not selling,” I said. “This is Detective Daniel Kane, LAPD. I’m calling about an accident involving your car.”
    “What’s that? You’re gonna have to speak up.”
    Raising my voice, I repeated myself without success, noticing Deluca grinning at me from an adjacent desk. Almost shouting, I tried again. The third go-around proved the charm.
    “Why didn’t you say so in the first place?” asked Mr. Tenaka. “You’re talking about that lady in West LA? Damnation, I hardly drive anyplace anymore, let alone all the way over there.”
    “So how do you explain your license number being on the claim report?”
    “Funny thing about that,” Mr. Tenaka answered. “At first I figured somebody made a mistake. Transposed a couple digits or whatever. Then I went out and checked my plates.”
    “On your car?”
    “No, the one’s I chew with. Of course the ones on my car. What kind of cop are you, anyway?”
    “A detective,” I answered. Looking up, I saw that besides Deluca, now a number of other task force members were following my conversation with amusement. “Can we get back to the plates?”
    “Of course. And you don’t have to shout. I’m not deaf.”
    “The plates?”
    “Like I said, I went out and checked. They turned out to be the wrong ones. Didn’t match the numbers on my registration. Weren’t even close.”
    “Somebody switched plates with you?”
    “You’re the detective.”
    “Did you report the substitution?”
    “Hell, no. Have you been down to DMV lately? I figured I’d get around to it someday-like when I have four or five hours to kill standing in line.”
    “Do me a favor, Mr. Tenaka. I need the number of the plates presently on your vehicle. Could you look for me?”
    “Is this important?”
    “Hold on a minute.”
    As I waited for Mr. Tenaka to return, I picked up a scratch pad. In small block letters I penciled “Killer hits victims’ cars” and “Why?” After a moment I made another notation, underlining it twice. “Can’t follow them home. Security gates.”
    “You ready?” Mr. Tenaka asked, coming back on the line.
    “Go ahead.”
    Using alpha-bravo designations for each letter and pausing between digits, Mr. Tenaka carefully read the number of the plates now on his car.
    “Do you have any idea where or when the switch took place?” I asked.
    “What do you think?”
    “I think that because you didn’t even know your plates were gone, you have absolutely no idea.”
    “Thanks, Mr. Tenaka. You’ve been helpful.”
    After hanging up, I ran a DMV trace to determine the owner of the plates presently on Mr. Tenaka’s Ford. The computer spit back the name of a Mrs. Eleanor Baumgarten in Huntington Beach. Upon calling her, I learned that Mrs. Baumgarten’s plates had been stolen two months earlier while she was shopping at a local mall. In the interim she’d reported the theft and received new ones.
    I next talked with one of the Newport Beach detectives detailed to the task force. Although he didn’t have the information I requested, he referred me to his partner, Greg Sugita, who had been assigned the job of going through the Welshes’ bills and correspondence.
    Upon questioning, Sugita gazed at me curiously. “Now that you mention it, I did find something in the wife’s address book that might relate to the scrape on their car,” he said, his Asian features furrowing thoughtfully. He fumbled through a stack of papers. “Got it somewhere. Here we go.” He handed me a scrap of paper.
    I inspected it. In fine Palmer penmanship someone had written the name “Jeff Millford,” followed by the words “Continental Insurance,” “blue Toyota,” and a license plate number, address, and telephone number.
    “Is this Mrs. Welsh’s handwriting?” I asked.
    Sugita nodded. “I’m no expert, but it looks like the other entries in her phone book to me. Think it’s important?” As had others in the room, he’d heard most of my half-shouted conversation with Mr. Tenaka.
    “Maybe. Did Mrs. Welsh belong to a health club?”
    Sugita referred to his notes. “Family Fitness,” he replied after a quick search. “Over in the Fashion Island area.”
    Two quick phone calls confirmed my suspicions. Neither the address nor the phone number on the slip of paper belonged to anyone named Jeff Millford, and the automobile license number turned out to be registered to a schoolteacher in Tarzana, who owned a Volkswagen, not a Toyota. Another call established that the teacher was unaware someone had taken her plates, for whoever had done so had gone to the trouble of replacing them with another set. I smiled grimly as the woman returned from her garage and read me the number.
    Mr. Tenaka’s stolen plates had finally resurfaced.
    “You have something, don’t you?” asked Deluca, who had stood beside my desk to listen to my last few telephone conversations.
    “Yeah. Let’s go talk to Snead.”
    “He’s in a meeting with the chief up on the tenth floor.”
    I grinned. “What a shame. Guess we’ll have to talk to Huff.”
    We found Lieutenant Huff at his desk reviewing the Welsh lab report, which had come in earlier that day. He glanced up. “Kane, Deluca,” he said.
    “Anything of interest?” asked Deluca.
    “Not much,” sighed Huff, flipping through the pages. “No sperm, the saliva swabs tested negative for blood typing, and none of the print unknowns matches those from the other scenes. Tissue from the fingernail clippings are all from the victims. Same with blood and urine. On the positive side, a found hair was a ninety-percent match with one taken from the Pratt house-including the black dye. The rope and candles are identical too, as are the bites.
    “That’s it?”
    Huff nodded. “The coroner’s report isn’t back yet, but I don’t expect it to add much.”
    “Kane thinks he may have a lead.”
    Huff looked at me hopefully. “You come up with something, Detective?”
    “Yes, sir.” Succinctly, I related what I had learned in my phone conversation with Yolanda Blum, also describing the trail of switched license plates that began with Eleanor Baumgarten and ended with the schoolteacher in Tarzana.
    “So the common thread isn’t the auto repair shops,” mused Huff. “It’s that the victims’ cars are damaged in the first place.”
    “Right. Looks like our guy sees an attractive woman at a health club or wherever, then bumps her car to find out were she lives. He uses stolen plates to keep from getting traced, changing to a fresh set for each victim.”
    “Why bother hitting the cars?” asked Deluca. “Why not just follow them home?”
    “I wondered that, too,” I said. “Then I recalled that all three murdered families lived in security complexes. Maybe on the first attempt the guy got stopped at a gate, so he went to plan B. Or maybe he just enjoys a little contact before the main event.”
    “You say Mr. Tenaka’s plates turned up in Tarzana?” asked Huff.
    “Right. It appears the killer is leaving the last stolen set whenever he takes new ones, probably to give himself time before the switch is noticed.”
    “Cute,” said Deluca. “But if he’s as smart as we think, he must’ve known his game of musical plates would eventually be discovered.”
    “He knows,” I said.
    “Still think he’s screwing with us?”
    “Then let’s use it,” suggested Huff. “Put out an APB on the last set we know he stole, the teacher’s from Tarzana.”
    “It’s a shot,” I said. “Unfortunately, if we’re lucky enough to find her plates, by then they’ll probably be on somebody else’s car.”
    “Then we search for the most recent set. It’s better that nothing.”
    “How about notifying insurance companies to be on the lookout for accident claims in which an incorrect license number is reported?” offered Deluca.
    “Good idea,” said Huff.
    “Along those lines, the guy’s been seen driving a white van and a blue Toyota,” I added. “He might have rented them. We could canvass auto rental agencies and cross-check accident dates reported by the victims. We should check to see whether we can get a paint scraping from the Welshes’ damaged fender, too. Could come in handy if we find the Toyota. We might be able to get a year and model from the paint analysis, too.”
    “Worth a try. What about checking vehicle ownerships with DMV?”
    “At this point, with what little we have on the Toyota, and without a year or even a make on the van-no way.”
    “Right. Anything else?”
    I thought a moment. “Mrs. Larson and Mrs. Welsh both belonged to health clubs. I’ll bet we’ll find that the first woman did, too.”
    “So we search for a member or employee who’s connected to all three clubs,” said Deluca, picking up the thread.
    “Plus, we check for anyone who might have witnessed the accidents. Maybe we can get a description of the guy,” I said. “Putting female vice officers in the involved clubs might be worthwhile, too.”
    Huff made several entries in his notebook. “I’ll run it by Snead when he gets back.”
    “One more thing,” I said. “We’re still looking into unexplained break-ins, correct?”
    Huff nodded. “To date, Collins and Shanelec have investigated twenty-seven occurrences. Without result, I might add.”
    “To the other search parameters, we can now add the health club angle.”
    “That could narrow it down. I’ll get on it first thing tomorrow.”
    “You’re working on Thanksgiving?”
    “Yeah. How about you?”
    “Nope.” It had been decided that one member of each detective pair would work on Thanksgiving. Deluca had lost the toss. “My pesto-sweating partner will be here, though. I’ll save some leftovers for him.”
    “Save some for me, too,” said Huff.
    “I’ll do that. Happy Thanksgiving, Lieutenant.”
    “Same to you. And Kane?”
    “Yes, sir?”
    “Good work.”


    Thanksgiving morning, following a brief workout on the deck and quick swim to the raft, I showered at an outside nozzle, toweled off, and remounted the stairs to the kitchen. Still shivering from my ocean swim, I made a pot of coffee, savoring the dark, earthy smell as it brewed on the counter.
    Steaming mug in hand, I returned to my bedroom and changed into dry clothes. Next I searched the top drawer of Catheryn’s dresser, finally finding her list of hotels. Although she and I had attempted to call each other several times over the previous week, neither of us had succeeded-each of us leaving hollow promises to call back later. Running my finger down the paper, I found the number of the Hotel Luna in Venice. According to Catheryn’s written schedule, she would be leaving for Geneva the next day.
    Cell phone and Catheryn’s hotel list in hand, I descended to the lower deck. I intended to have a long-overdue talk with Allison and Nate that morning, but first I wanted to bring Catheryn into the loop and confer with her about how to proceed. Sitting on the swing, I called Catheryn’s cell. When she didn’t answer, I tried her hotel. After a long wait, I finally reached the desk at the Hotel Luna, learning that Catheryn had already departed for the morning. I then asked to be connected with the symphony manager, who informed me that Catheryn was having lunch with Arthur West and would be proceeding directly to rehearsal after that.
    Disappointed, I returned to the kitchen and poured a second cup of coffee, trying to decide whether to talk with Allison and Nate without first conferring with Catheryn. I called her cell once more. Still no answer. I didn’t leave a message.
    Wondering why Catheryn hadn’t turned on her phone, I absently checked the refrigerator to make certain I had everything I’d need to prepare Thanksgiving dinner later that day. For a change I’d decided to cook a prime rib roast, which was easy. The main work lay in preparing the traditional side dishes. Over the years everyone had settled on a favorite, and it had become customary for me to fix them all. Satisfied I had all the necessities, save for a few items I could pick up in Malibu later on, I came to a decision. With a determined frown I marched down the hall to Allison’s room. “Reveille! Up and at ’em, sunshine,” I called, banging on her door.
    “Huh?” Allison’s sleepy voice filtered out.
    “I want to hear feet hitting the deck,” I ordered. “You have ten minutes to get dressed and meet me out by the car.”
    “C’mon, Pop. It’s not even light out.”
    “Tough.” Resolutely, I proceeded down the hall. “You too, sport,” I added, throwing open Nate’s door and flipping on the light. “Ten minutes. Out front.”
    “Dad, it’s Thanksgiving,” Nate moaned.
    Nate sat up and rubbed his eyes. “Where are we going?”
    “You’ll see when we get there.”
    “Can Callie come, too?”
    “No. Leave her here.”
    “Because I said so. We’re going someplace private and have a nice long talk.”
    Allison and Nate sat mutely in the back of the Suburban as an unbroken line of houses bordering the beach slipped past, the darkened homes eventually surrendering to ice plant and palms as Pacific Coast Highway curved through the McClure Tunnel-reemerging on the far side as the Santa Monica Freeway. Traffic picked up when we turned north on I-405, increasing steadily as we wound through the Ventura Freeway interchange and headed east. By then I was certain the children knew where we were headed.
    After exiting on Forest Lawn Drive, I drove west. A mile farther on I entered a pair of wrought-iron gates, slowing as I passed a small guard house, then accelerating again as we headed up a narrow road traversing cemetery grounds. Shortly afterward I pulled to the curb and cut the engine.
    Far below, like monoliths rising from a blanket of smog and mist, the blocky structures of Burbank’s studios, industrial parks, and business towers pierced the morning air. To the north, ascending on a trail of pale-blue smoke, an early commuter flight from the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena airport climbed toward the mountains. The soft rush of the freeway, its lanes hidden by trees guarding the cemetery’s lower reaches, drifted up from below.
    “Why are we here, Dad?” asked Allison.
    I stepped from the car and started up the hill. “Come with me,” I said instead of answering.
    Allison and Nate followed reluctantly, picking their way through the lines of bronze memorial plaques set in the hillside. Upon topping the rise, they joined me by Tommy’s marker.
    “I know you’re wondering why I dragged you out here this morning,” I said when they arrived. Actually, regarding my choice of location, I wasn’t completely certain myself. Part of it was simply a basic interrogation technique-I wanted to uproot Allison and Nate from their normal surroundings, putting them off balance for questions I had planned. But in the back of my mind I knew there was more to our being there than that-something I hadn’t quite brought into focus, even for myself.
    “Uh… yes, sir,” ventured Allison. “It not being Sunday and all
    I thought for a moment. At last I spoke. “This is the last time I’ll be coming out here for a while. Sunday, or any other day,” I said, voicing a decision that had been growing inside me for some time. “I brought you kids along today because there’s something I need to say to Tommy, and I want you both to hear it.”
    Sensing the gravity of my mood, Allison and Nate stood without speaking.
    I turned toward Tom’s marker. Silently, I read the inscription on his plaque, thinking those few lines a pitiful summation of a life that had meant so much to me, so much to us all.
    “Tommy,” I began, unsure how to proceed. I hadn’t really thought things out; I just knew this was something I had to do. After his death I had written Tom a letter. I’d shown it to no one except Catheryn. Although I had buried that letter with Tom, I could still recall the words it contained, as clearly as if they were branded in my mind. In my letter I’d told Tom things I wished I had said to him while he was still alive. Without thinking I started to recite my letter aloud, speaking words I had written what seemed an eternity ago.
    “Tommy,” I said softly, “never in the short span of your life did I imagine I would be speaking to you like this. At first I couldn’t accept that you were gone. When I finally did, when it became real for me that I would never see you or hear you or talk with you again, it was almost more than I could bear. Even though you are no longer here and there’s nothing I can do to change that, there are things I want to say to you, things I need to say to you. So here goes…”
    I paused, realizing much had changed since I’d written that letter. After the accident I had discovered that Tom hadn’t intended to go to college as planned, on football scholarship or otherwise-at least not right away. Unknown to any of us, Tom’s girlfriend Christy had been pregnant with his child at the time, a child she’d unfortunately miscarried a month after the funeral. It was a second tragedy that had saddened us all, wounding us anew. Tom had secretly intended to marry Christy, have the baby, and follow in my footsteps by joining the ranks of the LAPD. Tom’s being on that rock climb against my direct orders was simply the last in a long line of rebellions brought about, in large part, by my unyielding conviction that I knew what was best for him. Looking back, I realize how different things might have been if only I had been more understanding, if only I’d made the effort to learn how Tommy really felt. In my letter I had apologized to Tom for not being a father in whom he could have confided, a father to whom he could have reached out for help… no matter what.
    I suppose like any parent who’s suffered the loss of a child, I had also expressed my wishes and what-ifs and why-didn’t-I’s and regrets, as well as my abiding guilt and abject disappointment in myself for not being there when he needed me. And finally, I had told him how proud I was of him, and that I missed him, and that I loved him.
    Now, with the passage of time, most of that ancient letter seemed inadequate, a dissonant echo from the past. Although I still meant every word, for me only one part still held lasting meaning… and that was how much I loved and missed him.
    “Go on, Dad,” said Allison. “Please.”
    I knelt beside Tom’s marker. Reaching down, I touched its cold bronze surface, tracing the words there with my fingers. “Tom, I won’t be coming out to visit quite so often,” I said quietly, abandoning my letter. I hesitated, fighting to steady my voice. “It’s not that I want to forget you. Just the opposite. When you died, part of me died, too. Afterward I let my grief fester and grow until it poisoned me and everyone around me, especially our family. I know that now. And I know that has to change. I want to hold you close and for the rest of my days carry you with me, cherishing the good parts of you, the good memories of you, not just the bitter remembrance of how you died, and I’m going to work on that. So if I don’t come out here for a while, it’s not that I’ve forgotten you. I’ll never forget you. Never. I love you, son. And I always will.”
    “I love you too, Tommy,” said Allison.
    “Me, too,” whispered Nate.
    I took a deep breath, then slowly let it out. I rose to my feet, knowing my resolution was going to be easier said than done, but resolved to make it happen. After a moment I turned to my children, deciding the time had come to broach the other reason we were there.
    I regarded each of them carefully, holding their gaze. “Okay, if you haven’t figured it out by now, we’re here this morning to try to get things straightened out in our family,” I said. “So along those lines, there’s something else we need to cover, and I want absolute honesty from both of you. Recently, I realized a couple of things. For one, I know you two haven’t been telling the whole truth about what happened on the night of the break-in.”
    Nate froze.
    Allison looked away.
    “I know you’re hiding something,” I pushed on. “This secret of yours, whatever it is, is tearing apart our family. I intend to get to the bottom of it.”
    Allison shook her head. “I don’t know what you’re-”
    I silenced her with a raise of my hand. “This isn’t the time for lies, Ali. Not now, and not here.”
    “I don’t-”
    “Absolute honesty. Am I making my self clear?”
    Allison looked away. “Yes, sir. You’re making yourself clear.”
    Swallowing, Nate nodded.
    “Good. Well?”
    When neither child responded, I let the silence grow until it assumed an almost corporal presence between us. “I could act as if I already know everything, but I’m not going to do that,” I said at last, carefully observing my children’s reactions. “I’m giving you a chance to speak up on your own. What happened that night, Allison?”
    “God damn Travis,” she said softly, apparently realizing the source of my suspicions.
    “Your brother Travis has nothing to do with this,” I said. “Talk.”
    “No.” Allison turned and started down the slope.
    In three quick strides, I caught up. I took her arm and spun her around. “What happened that night, Allison?”
    Allison glared back defiantly. “You already know.”
    I tightened my grip on her arm. “You’re going to come clean about this. What are you holding back?”
    “Why’d you shoot him?” I asked, taking a stab in the dark.
    “She didn’t,” said a small voice behind me. “I did.”
    I turned, staring incredulously. “What?”
    “ I shot him,” Nate repeated, his voice trembling.
    “Shut up,” hissed Allison.
    I released my daughter and turned to Nate. “But why? I thought-”
    “I shot him because he wouldn’t stop hurting Allison.”
    Shut up, you little cretin!” Allison screamed.
    Dumbfounded, I knelt before Nate. “From the beginning, kid,” I said. “Tell me what happened.”
    Nate glanced miserably at his sister. “I can’t, Daddy.”
    “Sure you can,” I said, gently taking his hands in mine. “That night when I left, you were up in your bedroom loft reading. You heard a noise downstairs.”
    “Yes, sir.”
    “You opened the trapdoor to the loft and looked down into the entry. Then what?”
    I could see Nate thinking back, remembering that hateful night.
    He sits very still, listening.
    A man with skinny, hairless arms stands below. The intruder checks the street, then heads into another part of the house.
    “Then what, kid? Please talk to me. You heard something and went down to investigate?”
    “Yes, sir.”
    Hugging the wall, he creeps down the hallway. He pauses when he reaches the living room. “You like it, don’t you, bitch?” someone laughs. “Oh, yeah. You love it.”
    He risks a glance into the room. His eyes widen when he gets to the man on the couch.
    The man’s jeans are down around his knees. Allison lies trapped beneath him, her skirt above her waist, torn underwear bunched around one ankle. A strip of duct tape seals her mouth; another binds her hands. Tears stream down her face. Blood runs from her nose.
    “Move, damn you!” the man on top commands. He delivers a backhanded blow, sending a gush of blood from Allison’s nose. “I said move!”
    “What did you see?”
    “Allison and a man in the living room. He was… hurting her. Then the other one came and I hid.”
    He slides behind the door. An instant later the other man bursts in.
    “Joey, get outta here till I’m done,” the first man orders. “There’s gotta be cash. Find it.”
    “There ain’t none, Cal. I looked.”
    “Where’s the money, bitch?” Cal demands. He grabs Allison’s hair, jerking her head from the couch.
    “She might be able to talk better if you took off the gag,” Joey points out.
    The man rips the tape from Allison’s mouth. “Where’s the money?”
    “There isn’t any,” Allison sobs.
    The man doubles his fist. Coldly and deliberately, he hits her. Grinning, hits her again.
    “So you hid. Then what?”
    Nate glanced at Allison, then lowered his head and continued. “I sneaked back to the hall closet and got your gun.”
    “Then what?”
    “I went back…” Nate’s voice faltered.
    He hesitates outside the living room. He cocks the revolver and steps into the room.
    “Oooohhh, baby, get ready,” the man on top of Allison pants. “I can’t wait no more!”
    “Get off my sister.”
    “Huh?” The man opens his eyes. “Where’d you come from?”
    “Get off my sister,” he repeats, his voice quavering.
    “Christ, Joey,” Cal laughs, rising from the couch. “Lookit this. They’re givin’ the diaper patrol guns now.” Using Allison’s torn underwear, he wipes his swollen member and pulls up his jeans.
    Staring at the pistol, the second man backs away. “Let’s go, Cal. There ain’t nothin’ here anyway.”
    Cal smiles coldly. “I don’t think so.”
    He motions with the gun toward the door. “Get out,” he pleads, hating himself for his smallness, so scared he’s begun to cry.
    “You’ve got guts, kid,” Cal chuckles, moving forward. “I’ll grant you that. Now gimme the gun.”
    He wishes he could run, knowing he can’t. He glances at Allison. Eyes wide with terror, she’s curled her legs beneath her to cover her nakedness.
    “Fork it over,” Cal orders, moving closer still. “Now!”
    The revolver bucks in his hands.
    Oh, God, I missed…
    Cal rushes in. “You little bastard!” he bellows, rage darkening his face.
    And again the deafening roar of the pistol and the smell of smoke and the sound of screaming…
    “… and I shot him. I… I’m sorry, Dad.”
    Shocked, I remained silent for a long moment. Finally I spoke. “Nate, aside from lying about what happened, you have nothing to be sorry for,” I said. “Not one thing. If I had been there, I would have done the same as you. You did what was necessary to protect your sister, and I’m proud of you for it.”
    When Nate didn’t respond, I continued. “Listen, it’s natural to feel bad about something like this, but this is way too much for a kid your age to be carrying around on his own. You should have spoken up.”
    “I couldn’t.”
    I gave Allison a look of irritation. “Because your sister made you promise?”
    “That’s not the only reason.”
    “What, then?”
    Again, Nate didn’t answer.
    “Why didn’t you say anything?”
    “C’mon, Nate. Spill it.”
    “Because I was ashamed,” Nate choked.
    “I told you, you have nothing to be ashamed of.”
    “You don’t understand.”
    “So tell me.”
    Nate was crying openly now.
    “Talk to me, Nate.”
    “I didn’t feel bad about shooting him,” Nate sobbed. “When I saw him hurting Ali, I wanted to.”
    My brow furrowed. “So what’s the problem?”
    “Are you going to arrest me?”
    “Arrest you?” I stared at Nate, beginning to understand. “You think because you wanted to shoot that dirtbag that you’re a killer? Is that what this is about?”
    Nate nodded, tears streaming down his cheeks.
    “You’re not a criminal, Nate,” I sighed. “You’re an eleven-year-old boy.”
    Still sobbing, Nate wiped his nose on his sleeve. “But you said it was natural to feel bad about killing someone, and I-”
    “Back up a minute,” I said, still holding his hands in mine. “I know what I said. I was wrong. Taking a life is a terrible thing, and there’s no natural way to feel about it. But there’s a big difference between killing and murder. What you did was not murder. You killed a piece of trash who threatened your life. Yours, and Allison’s. Now you’re choking on guilt because you don’t feel bad about it. That’s just your conscience working overtime. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
    “I… I think so,” Nate sniffed.
    “Good. Another thing. Ever since it happened, I’ve been searching for the other guy who was there that night. I finally ran him down. He’s serving a twenty-year sentence in Folsom Prison on another charge. I’m watching his case closely. If he ever gets out, I’ll make him wish he were back in. Neither of you kids has anything to worry about from him. Okay?”
    Nate nodded dully.
    “Now, I know you’re confused about what happened, but things will seem clearer as time goes on. You’re a fine kid, Nate. A good person. Remember that.”
    I turned to Allison, finding her regarding Nate with an expression of guilt and shame. “I’m sorry, Nate,” she said softly. “I didn’t know.”
    “Allison, how could you not know that hiding something like this would hurt your brother?” I asked. “Why’d you lie and say it was you who did the shooting?”
    “I was trying to protect him.”
    “Bull! There’s more to it than that.”
    “You’re the detective, Pop. You tell me.”
    I moved forward. “You’re walking a thin line here, princess. I want some answers.”
    “You already know,” yelled Allison, resentment and anger suddenly boiling to the surface. “Don’t pretend you don’t. You know what happened. You knew it then and you know it now. You just don’t want to face it. Or maybe you just don’t care.”
    “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, shocked by her fury.
    “Sure you do, Pop,” she spat. “You’ve known all along.”
    “Allison, if you don’t-”
    “You were there,” she screamed, a storm of tears gathering in her eyes. “You saw. What did you think they were doing to me?”
    “What are you talking about?”
    “Money wasn’t the only thing they wanted, Dad.”
    The pieces suddenly fell into place. “Oh, Lord,” I whispered, feeling as if I’d been punched.
    “You had to know. You had to.”
    “Ali, I swear I didn’t,” I said, my mind reeling as it traveled back to the night I had returned home to find a trail of blood in the entry, the smell of gunpowder in the house. Bruised and beaten, Allison had been kneeling in the living room, working with a bucket and sponge to clean the blood-soaked carpet. One of the intruders had fled. I discovered the other one dead on the beach. I recalled a suspicion I’d had at the time that Allison and Nate were hiding something. Granted, there hadn’t been time to pursue it before the sheriffs from the Malibu station arrived, but why hadn’t I followed up later? Could it be that I hadn’t wanted to face the truth?
    “Why didn’t you say something?” I asked at last. “Why’d you keep it a secret?”
    “What good would telling have done?” Allison shot back. “The guy who attacked me was dead. There was nothing more anybody could’ve done to him. Not even you,” she added bitterly. “I just wanted it all to go away.”
    I knew the statistics. For whatever reason, crimes involving rape and sexual assault are the most under-prosecuted in the country, with nearly sixty percent of all victims never reporting their attack. But my own daughter…
    “You must have known something like this couldn’t stay buried forever,” I said.
    “At the time I was so shaken up, I wasn’t thinking too clearly,” Allison answered with a sad lift of her shoulders. “Like I said, the guy who attacked me had already paid for what he did. And after I lied to the sheriffs about what happened, things just snowballed.”
    “And later?” I asked. “Why didn’t you come forward then?”
    “What for? How would that have made things any better? I got myself checked out at a clinic in Santa Monica. No STD’s, no pregnancy. As far as I was concerned, it was over.”
    “Look, for my entire life I’ve been trying to live up to your expectations,” Allison interrupted, her voice trembling. “Yours, and Mom’s. Kane kids are the best, the smartest, the toughest. Kane kids excel at sports, get the best grades, never lie, never cheat, never steal. Kane kids kick butt while other kids are still sucking their thumbs. Bottom line, it’s been hard enough being the only girl in our family without becoming ‘the little sister who got raped.’ I couldn’t have lived with everyone’s pity.”
    “You should have told us, honey,” I said.
    “I don’t think so.”
    “Well, I do.” I paused, sensing she was still holding something back. “There’s more, isn’t there?”
    Allison didn’t respond.
    “Please, Ali. Tell me everything. I want to hear it all.”
    After a slight hesitation, Allison shrugged. “Why not? You know something, Dad? The old saying, ‘What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,’ is wrong. Some things make you weaker.”
    “What do you mean?”
    Allison took a long, shuddering breath. “I learned something about myself that night,” she said, wiping her eyes with the back of her fist. “Along with feeling weak, I also learned that I’m a coward. I tried to fight him, but he was too strong. He kept hurting me and hurting me and… and in the end I just gave in. I was so afraid, I just quit fighting and did what he said. I’m not tough, Dad. I’m not tough at all.”
    “Ali, I’m so sorry.”
    “Guess I’m not a real Kane, huh?”
    “You’re a Kane, all right,” said I numbly, thinking that of all my children, in many ways Allison was the strongest. I recalled the day she had come into the world, wishing I could somehow turn back the clock. With a flash of shame, I also remembered that after having two sons in quick succession, I had initially been disappointed to learn that my third child would be a daughter. Boys, in my mind, were a known quantity-sturdy, strong, malleable. Girls, on the other hand, constituted a mystery. Nonetheless, months later when I stood in the delivery room and held the tiny bundle we’d named Allison, my reservations had evaporated. And as the years had passed, my daughter had surprised and pleased and puzzled and enriched me in ways I could never have predicted. Unexpected, for example, was Allison’s unswerving resolve to best her senior brothers in every contest, substituting determination and strategy for any lack of physical strength. Unexpected too was the barrier she erected around herself, especially over these past years, using words as lances and reason as armor, cloaking herself in a mantle of humor and intellect and wit.
    As Allison grew older, although remaining as prickly as a roll of barbed wire, she had increasingly come to resemble her mother. I saw it not only in her appearance, but also in her gestures, the tilt of her head, her flashes of impatience followed by equally abrupt reversals, her quick intelligence, and a hundred other things. And as she’d grown older, although part of me had taken pride in her stubborn core of self-reliance, another part had hoped she would someday soften. It had never happened. Until now.
    I felt my heart swelling with sadness as I gazed into Allison’s eyes, eyes brimming with confusion and doubt, her spirit sullied by a tragedy I was powerless to erase. “For better or worse, you’re a Kane,” I repeated. “And a lot tougher than you think.”
    Allison looked away. “So now are you going to tell me everything is going to be all right, like in the movies?”
    Actually, that’s exactly what I wanted to do. More than anything I wanted to wipe away her tears and hold her close and tell her everything would be all right. Unfortunately, I knew that wouldn’t work, because it wasn’t true. Some things will never be all right. “No, I’m not going to tell you that,” I said. “I only know that there’s no shame in what happened to you. You’re no coward. Everyone has a breaking point, and you’re no less of a person for what that scum did to you. If anyone should be ashamed, it’s me for not seeing what you were going through. I’m sorry, Ali. You, too, Nate. I’m truly sorry.”
    “Do you have to tell Mom?” asked Allison.
    “Of course I have to tell her,” I answered.
    I hesitated, realizing what Ali was getting at. “Well, I suppose there’s no point in ruining her trip with this, but when she gets back-”
    “Please, Dad,” begged Allison. “Does she have to know? I mean… how will I ever explain keeping this from her?”
    “You’ll find a way. This won’t get fixed in a day. But telling me was a start, and bringing in your mom is absolutely the next step. And whatever she wants us to do-be it sending you to a counselor, talking to a priest, whatever-that’s what we’ll do. That goes for you as well, Nate. But first she has to know. Agreed?”
    “Will you let us tell her?”
    “Ali, this is-”
    “Please, Dad?”
    “Provided you do it as soon as she gets back,” I conceded reluctantly.
    “Allison, don’t you think your promises have already caused enough hurt?”
    “Please, Dad.”
    After another hesitation, I nodded. “All right. You have my word. But do it the minute she returns.”
    “Thanks, Dad.”
    I ran my fingers through my hair, knowing there was more to say but not certain how to proceed. Struggling for words, I recalled my discussion with Travis in the music annex. Although again feeling inadequate, I pushed on nevertheless. “Despite the mistake you two made by not being truthful about what happened and coming to your family for help, I think you’re the finest children a father could ever want,” I said. “Maybe I don’t act like it sometimes, but I’m more proud of you than I can say. It kills me to see you doubting yourselves like this.”
    When neither of them responded, I continued. “Unfortunately, at some point or another, along with all the good things in life, bad things are going to happen, too. Terrible things are going to happen to me, and to you, and to everyone on the face of the planet before we all eventually get planted in the ground. That’s the way life is.”
    “Gee, I feel better already,” sniffed Allison.
    “I don’t want to sound overly pessimistic,” I said, trying to soften things. “I suppose there’s a chance that someone could lead a charmed life and then die peacefully in their sleep like your mom’s granddad… and not like the five screaming people with him in the car he was driving.”
    Allison and Nate both smiled fleetingly at my attempt to lighten the mood.
    “But here’s what I’m getting at,” I went on more seriously. Years back my dad told me something that’s seen me through more than a few tough times. He said that to make it through the rough spots in life-along with relying on family and those who love you-you have to know who you are. When things go bad, really bad, just remember who you are… and hold to it.”
    “You mean like looking at a picture of yourself?” asked Nate.
    “Sort of. Only it’s one you keep inside-an image of yourself that nothing and no one can take from you. Do you understand?”
    “I… I think so.”
    “I know what you’re saying,” Allison answered somberly. “I just don’t happen to like my picture any more. Can we go now? I’m getting cold.”
    “In a minute,” I said, realizing that I hadn’t reached them-at least not Allison. “There’s one more thing I want to discuss before we head home. It’s about your mom and me.”
    Both children regarded me in surprise.
    “I’m sure you know that Kate and I have been having difficulties. Even though we love each other, when two people have been together as long as your mom and I, sometimes problems arise.”
    “Could the problem that’s been arising possibly have your name on it?” asked Allison.
    “More than possibly.”
    “Are you and Mom getting divorced?” asked Nate.
    “You asked me that a couple weeks ago, kid.”
    “Are you?”
    “I don’t know what’s going to happen,” I sighed, for the first time admitting to myself that things between Catheryn and me might have gone too far. “I’m hoping we can straighten things out, but-”
    “If you try, you can always straighten things out,” said Nate. “Right, Ali?”
    “Absolutely,” affirmed Allison.
    “I’ve always believed that, too,” I said, feeling a tightening in my throat. “And I still do. But whatever happens between Kate and me, I’m still your father. I know I’ve made mistakes, a lot of them, and I know that recently I’ve been a disappointment to the whole family. And for that I’m sorry. I’m truly sorry. But if it’s not too late, and if you’ll let me, I want to start over. I’m asking you to give me another chance. Will you?”
    The children, who had rarely heard me apologize for anything, especially to them, nodded somberly.
    “Good,” I said. “Then I’ll make you a promise. In the future I’ll do my level best to never let you down again. Whatever happens, if you need me, I’ll be there.”
    Silently, Nate slipped into my arms. An instant later Allison joined him. I held them tightly, shamed by the realization that somehow, while I’d been consumed by my own grief, the fabric of my family had nearly come unraveled… and would take more than words to mend.


    Prunes, huh?’ the guy says to his elderly friend. ‘ That’s your cure for constipation?’” Deluca paused, as usual enjoying his own joke to a degree unwarranted by the material.
    Concentrating on threading through Tuesday-morning freeway traffic, I edged into the right lane and took the Van Nuys Boulevard off-ramp, emerging on the surface street from beneath a concrete overpass.
    “So the old guy nods,” Deluca continued. “‘Works for me,’ he says. ‘Since I started eating them, I’ve been regular as clockwork. Every morning at five.’ ‘Five AM?’ says his buddy. ‘Jeez, what time do you get up?’ The old guy shrugs and says, ‘Seven.’”
    “Not bad,” I laughed. “Better than most of the stuff you usually pass off as humor.”
    “All my jokes are gems,” objected Deluca. “Which reminds me. Have you heard the one about the-”
    “Later,” I interrupted, turning south on Beverly Glen Boulevard. “What’s the street we’re looking for?”
    Deluca squinted at a map of the San Fernando Valley he had folded in his lap. “Lacota Place. Hang a right on Valley Vista.”
    “Got it.” I twisted the wheel, cruising a maze of residential streets I had first come to know while working patrol at the Van Nuys Division. Three blocks down I stopped before a two-storey stucco house. Sliding from behind the wheel, I surveyed the surroundings, taking in the well trimmed palms and a number of “For Sale” signs dotting the neighborhood. “What’s their name-Baker?” I asked, starting up the driveway toward the front door.
    “John and Maureen,” answered Deluca, several steps behind. “Fairfield talked to their maid last night at the hospital. She couldn’t remember shit.”
    “She never saw her assailant?”
    At that point, the task force had investigated over sixty selected breaking-and-entering occurrences. Neither of the Bakers’ cars had been recently damaged, but because a physical injury had taken place and the other task force search criterion fit, Lt. Huff had decided to follow up. Deluca and I had drawn the assignment. Given the number of break-ins already investigated without success, it was without much hope that I climbed a final flight of steps and rapped on the Bakers’ front door. Seconds later I changed my mind.
    “Mrs. Baker? Maureen Baker?” I asked the stunningly beautiful brunette who had answered the door.
    The woman, who was extremely tall and possessed a flawless figure, nodded. “You’re the cop… the detective who called?”
    I flipped out my shield. “I’m Detective Kane. This is Detective Deluca.”
    “Under different circumstances, a pleasure,” said Deluca.
    Mrs. Baker looked at Deluca, then back at me. “I told the other policemen everything I know, which isn’t much. I’m not certain why you want to talk to me. I wasn’t even here when it happened.”
    “Yes, ma’am. We understand, but there are still some things we want to go over. May we come in?”
    “Why not? Everybody else has.”
    I pushed past her into the house. Deluca followed.
    “Would… would either of you like something?” Mrs. Baker stammered as she closed the door, seeming uncomfortable with me towering over her in her entry. “Coffee, a Coke?”
    “Not me,” answered Deluca.
    “I’ve had my caffeine for the day,” I said, glancing into the living room. “How about if we talk in there?”
    “All right.”
    Deluca and I followed the woman into a large, elegantly furnished room with a leather couch and loveseat facing a rock fireplace. Withdrawing a pen and notebook from his jacket, Deluca took a seat on the couch. Mrs. Baker settled nervously on the love seat, her hands flitting like captive birds in her lap. I remained standing. “Take it from the beginning,” I suggested. “And don’t leave anything out.”
    Mrs. Baker nodded. “As I said, there’s not much to tell. I got a call at work yesterday. Our maid had been attacked. I rushed home in time to see Rosa being driven off in an ambulance. That’s it.”
    “Was anything taken?”
    “No. At least, I don’t think so. I searched through everything, but I couldn’t find anything missing.”
    “How’d he get in?”
    “I don’t know. John and I always lock the doors when we leave. Rosa comes on Mondays and Thursdays, but she has her own key. Maybe she forgot to lock up after she arrived.”
    “The report said one of the garage doors was open.”
    “I noticed that when I got home,” Mrs. Baker said, appearing puzzled. “I suppose I could have forgotten to shut it on my way out.”
    “You’re not sure?”
    “Do you lock the door from the garage into the house?”
    “Not usually. You think the burglar may already have been inside, and Rosa surprised him when she got here?”
    “Maybe. Do you have kids?”
    “One. Kyle is seven. He was at school when it happened.”
    I crossed to the window and stared out at the street, noting a home for sale several houses down. “Let me ask you something, Mrs. Baker. Do you belong to a health club?”
    “I beg your pardon?”
    “A health club, some sort of fitness center? It’s important.”
    “Actually, yes. At least I used to. The Sports Club in West LA.”
    “On Sepulveda?” asked Deluca. “The one that takes up a whole city block?”
    “That’s it.”
    “You used to belong?” I asked, turning from the window.
    “I canceled my membership a few weeks back.”
    “It was too far to go. I thought the trip wouldn’t be that bad, but the freeway’s always jammed and driving over Beverly Glen three times a week turned out to be too much. It made more sense to join a club here in the valley.”
    “Have you?”
    “Not yet.”
    “You could probably go a couple more months without a problem,” Deluca noted appreciatively.
    Ignoring Deluca’s comment, I asked, “Did anything unusual happen to you at the Sports Club?”
    “Like what?”
    “Like an accident in the parking lot, or maybe some guy showing a little too much interest in you?”
    “There was somebody,” said Mrs. Baker, her eyes widening.
    “What did he do?”
    “He introduced himself at the desk. I only gave my first name, but I caught him trying to get a look at my membership card. I didn’t think much of it at the time. Hours later I saw him again outside the post office, and then again at the market. He was driving a white van. It was too much of a coincidence. I started checking my rearview mirror after that. Sure enough, the guy was following me.”
    “When was this?”
    “Sunday. Two weeks ago.”
    “Remember his name?”
    “No. Sorry.”
    “How about a license number?”
    “I didn’t think to get it.”
    “Type of Van? Ford? Chevy?”
    Mrs. Baker shrugged.
    “Damn,” I said. “Okay, go ahead. What happened next?”
    “Nothing. I drove around Beverly Hills and lost him in traffic. After that, I came home. I haven’t been back to the club since. Do you think the man who broke in was the same guy?”
    “Possibly. What did he look like?”
    “I don’t remember much about him. He was kind of, uh, plain.”
    “How tall? Five-ten? Six feet? Six-two?”
    “Sorry, I can’t say.”
    “You’d be surprised what you can bring back.” I crossed to the love seat and took her hand. “Stand up.”
    Hesitantly, Mrs. Baker rose to her feet.
    “The guy introduced himself to you at the desk,” I said, releasing her hand and moving closer. “How near was he? Closer than this?”
    Mrs. Baker shifted uncomfortably. “I… about like that.”
    “Close enough to smell. Did he have on cologne? Maybe he had bad breath, body odor?”
    “Uh, he was wearing cologne, I think. Old Spice. My husband uses it.”
    “I’m a bit over six-three and weigh around two-fifteen. Was the guy bigger or smaller than me?”
    “Smaller. I had to look up at him, but not much. And I wasn’t wearing heels.”
    “That would make him around five-eleven, maybe six feet,” I said, gauging Mrs. Baker’s height. “How about his build? Fat, skinny, muscular?”
    “Not as muscular as you. But strong. You know, wiry.”
    “So let’s put him in the one seventy-five to one ninety range. You said he introduced himself. Did he shake your hand?”
    “Yes. He did.”
    “Like this?” I took her hand again, swallowing it in mine. “Think back. Anything you can recall might help. How did his hand feel? Hard? Soft?”
    “He… he had on workout gloves. I remember thinking it was rude of him not to take them off.”
    “Keep going.”
    “His hand was smaller than yours. He had a limp, creepy grip, as if he were afraid of hurting me if he squeezed too hard. Not like you,” she added pointedly.
    “What about his voice? Loud, soft? Any accent?”
    “He talked softly, which I thought was unusual for someone his size. No accent.”
    “Scars, marks, distinguishing features?”
    “I didn’t see any.”
    “About like you. Maybe a few years younger.”
    Releasing her hand, I stepped even closer. “Look at me and pretend I’m the guy. Did you see his eyes?”
    “Briefly,” said Mrs. Baker, thinking back. “They were dark. Like his hair.”
    “Could his hair have been dyed?”
    “Now that you mention it, I did notice something about it that didn’t seem quite right.”
    “Anything else?”
    “Just that there was an intensity about him that made me feel uncomfortable. Like now.”
    “Sorry.” I took a step back and shoved my hands into my pockets. “Sometimes it helps to remember if you go through it again. You did well.”
    “Thanks. I think.”
    “I’d like you to come downtown and work with a police artist, see whether we can come up with a sketch of the man who followed you. Would you do that for us?”
    “Right now.”
    Distractedly, Mrs. Baker ran her fingers through her hair. “Someone’s supposed to come out this afternoon to change the locks. I guess I could call and reschedule. I’ll have to make arrangements for somebody to be here when Kyle gets home, too.”
    “Make your calls,” I said. “We’ll wait outside. You can ride in with us. I’ll have someone drive you back when you’re done.”
    “Okay. I’ll be out in a minute.” Mrs. Baker hesitated, clearly disturbed by the interview. “Detective Kane?”
    “If this is the same man who followed me, do you think he’ll come back?”
    “I don’t want to alarm you,” I said. “But if it is the same guy, I think he might. In fact, I’m counting on it.”

    “I don’t believe this!” Lieutenant Snead fumed at Wednesday’s briefing. He had listened to my description of the interview with Maureen Baker, and it hadn’t set well. “Last time around, the killer never went near the Welshes’ garage,” he sputtered. “Plus, your Mrs. Baker said she could’ve left her garage open herself. Another thing-and I’m surprised I have to keep pointing this out-we have absolutely no proof the killer is reconnoitering scenes before the murders, so the whole B-and-E angle is probably a waste of time. What we do know about our guy is that he bumps victims’ cars to find out where they live. The man who followed Mrs. Baker didn’t do that.”
    “It’s possible he only goes the accident route if following them home doesn’t pan out,” I countered. “Remember, all three murdered families so far lived behind security gates.”
    “That may be, but you said Mrs. Baker ditched her persistent admirer in Beverly Hills,” Snead argued. “If he didn’t scrape her car and he didn’t follow her home, how’d he find her?”
    “Deluca has something that bears on that.”
    Snead turned to Deluca. “Is that so? Go ahead, Detective.”
    “I checked with DMV,” said Deluca. “Two weeks back somebody ran a license plate trace on Mrs. Baker’s car.”
    “A cop?”
    “No. The request came from an attorney’s office in Santa Ana.” Deluca referred to his notes. “Donovan, Simon, and Kerr. Big firm, does personal injury stuff. They have a second office in LA and a third in San Diego. They say they don’t know anything about the trace.”
    A detective in the back spoke up. “I thought private citizens couldn’t run DMV traces.”
    “Ordinary citizens still can, but they’ve gotta show reason and fill out a rash of paperwork,” explained Deluca. “It takes weeks and the registered owner of the car gets notified first. But lawyers, private investigators, and a handful of other groups-account holders, they call them-have immediate access.”
    “And the law firm says nobody in their offices authorized the request?”
    “They admit somebody used their code and account number, but they say it wasn’t them. The attorney who supposedly made the request is on vacation in Hawaii. All three of their office locations are computer-linked over the phone lines. A technician I talked with over there thinks somebody hacked into their network. Right now they’re changing their passwords and access codes.”
    “So failing plans A and B to locate victims, our killer is now employing plan C?” snorted Snead.
    “ Somebody made that request,” I pointed out.
    “Any chance of finding out who?” asked Lieutenant Huff.
    “The computer nerd said anybody with computer skills could have broken into the system, especially if they already knew some of the codes,” Deluca answered.
    “Like someone who worked there? Or maybe a client?”
    “I suppose there’s no chance of getting a list of everybody associated with the law firm,” I said.
    Snead shook his head. “No way. We don’t have enough for a warrant. Besides, there’s no evidence whatsoever tying the Baker break-in with the murders. We’re out in left field here.”
    “I have a feeling about this, Lieutenant,” I said.
    “We’re not running this investigation based on your feelings, Kane,” said Sneed. “Among other things, a pile of hotline leads has accumulated since the Welsh murders. We also have three community meetings scheduled, and we’ll need all our manpower to run down the results of those. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This case will be closed through methodical investigative procedure, not leaps of faith.”
    “Nonetheless, it wouldn’t hurt to put a surveillance team on the Baker residence,” offered Huff.
    “I think so, too,” I agreed. “There’s a vacant house for sale right down the street. We could probably get permission to put a unit in there, and maybe post a mobile team down the block, another out back.”
    Snead frowned. “We already have surveillance units covering previous crime scenes, and now you want me to request another? Why don’t we just stakeout everybody in the whole goddamned city?”
    “Because everybody in the city hasn’t had their house broken into and their maid attacked,” I reasoned.
    “Give ’em time,” quipped Deluca.
    “How about two weeks?” suggested Huff, glancing at Snead. “We can’t ignore this, Bill. If Kane’s hunch turns out to be right and we didn’t act on it… Listen, along with putting a team on the Baker house, we’ll work the attorney angle. Two weeks from now we’ll be past the killer’s next projected murder date, at least according to Dr. Berns’s timetable. If nothing else, we’ll have covered ourselves.”
    Sensing himself outnumbered, Snead relented. “Fine,” he said tersely. “I think we’re blowing our resources, but I’ll talk to Metro. They’ll want us to put some of our own men on it too, which will cripple our efforts in other areas, but I’ll do it. Two weeks. No more.”


    Never has sweat been so chic,” read the brochure I picked up as I entered The Sports Club/LA on Sepulveda. Similar hyperbole followed, touting the facility as “… the largest and most exclusive health facility on the West Coast, combining the glitz, power, and fantasy of Los Angeles under one roof.”
    Gazing around the lobby of the expansive structure, I had to admit it was impressive. Valet parking, a semicircular reception desk with granite counters and computer workstations worthy of a four-star hotel, and a gigantic lounge greeted first time visitors, along with a grill, juice bar, cafe, and a restaurant set among a forest of ferns and philodendra on the first floor. Although no workout facilities were visible from the lobby, the brochure boasted an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a 10,000-square-foot coed weight room, spas, racquetball and paddle tennis courts, aerobic studios, conference rooms and banquet facilities, a hair salon, dry-cleaning and shoeshine shops-even a car detailing service.
    I smiled to myself as I crossed the lobby, trying to picture a detail crew working on my beach-rusted Suburban while I pumped chrome-plated iron with LA’s elite. I decided doing pushups on my deck at home was more my style. When I arrived at the reception desk, a young man behind the counter looked up. “Yes, sir?” he said, brightening as he noticed the brochure in my hand. “Interested in joining?”
    “Actually, I was just thinking about that,” I answered, flipping out my shield. “Is the manager around?”
    “She is.” The self-assured youngster chin-pointed across the room. “Her office is over there.”
    “Thanks,” I said, spotting a door marked “Operations” behind the fronds of a potted palm. Ignoring the receptionist’s questioning look, I crossed the lobby and knocked on the manager’s door. Receiving no answer, I opened it and looked inside. A stern-looking woman with tightly coifed hair sat behind a desk talking on the telephone. With a perfunctory nod, she directed me to a chair across from her desk and resumed her conversation.
    Instead of sitting, I inspected a collection of photographs festooning her walls. Most shots depicted movie stars, sports celebrities, and political figures standing beside a man I assumed to be one of the health club owners. Not surprisingly, both the mayor and the chief were among the personalities grinning at me from identical eight-by-ten frames.
    The woman finally hung up. “May I help you?” she asked with a quizzical stare.
    “I hope so, Ms.-”
    The woman raised an eyebrow. “Lemon. And you are…?”
    “Detective Daniel Kane, LAPD.” I again flipped out my ID.
    Initially flustered, the woman quickly recovered. “Yes, Detective. What can I do for you?”
    “A lot, I hope,” I said. I withdrew a folded sheet of paper and opened it on her desk, displaying the sketch of a dark-haired man in his midthirties.
    The woman studied the composite drawing, then read the description printed across the bottom. “Am I supposed to know this person?”
    “That’s what I’m hoping to find out. We think this man may be a member of your club. He was here a couple of weeks back.”
    “We have over seventy-five hundred members. Without a name…”
    “Under the circumstances, this drawing is the best we can do. These seventy-five-hundred members-you take pictures of them when they join?”
    “Yes. The photos are laminated onto their membership cards. We don’t keep a copy, so if a client loses a card, he or she has to purchase a new one.”
    “Do you allow guests?”
    “Of course. We offer trial memberships, too.”
    “So somebody could work out here a few times to check out the facilities?”
    “We have a few restrictions, but that’s correct. If you don’t mind my asking, what’s this about?”
    “We’re investigating an assault that took place at the home of one of your patrons.”
    “Was it serious?”
    “It was, but not as serious as it could’ve been. Listen, Ms. Lemon, rather than place an officer in your lobby to watch for this guy, which frankly we don’t have the manpower to do, I want to leave this drawing with you to show to all your employees. I’ll swing by in a day or so, but let me know right away if someone’s seen this guy. Can you do that for me?”
    “I’ll have to ask the owners,” said Ms. Lemon, adding, “But I’ll make sure there won’t be a problem.” She considered a moment. “Actually, we have a membership database, with a digital image of every member attached to his or her account. I could go through the database and see whether I can find your guy.”
    “Thanks, Ms. Lemon,” I said, realizing that with what we had so far, getting a warrant to do so would have been impossible. “I appreciate your cooperation. Contact me immediately if you find a match.” I wrote my number at task force headquarters on the bottom of the sketch. “One more thing. Don’t post this drawing on a bulletin board or whatever. If the guy shows up, we don’t want to spook him.”
    After leaving the manager’s office, I returned to the reception desk. Pulling another drawing from my pocket, I asked the kid behind the counter, “Have you seen this guy? I know this picture isn’t much to go on, but concentrate. He was here around two weeks ago. He’s white and about your height, maybe one hundred and eighty pounds, mid- to late thirties, dark hair, wiry build.”
    The youth inspected the sheet. “I can’t say for sure. A lot of people come through.”
    “I’ll leave this with you,” I said. “If you see him, or even think you see him, call the manager. And keep this drawing out of sight, okay?”
    “Sure.” As the young man slipped the drawing into a drawer, a familiar voice floated across the lobby. “Detective Kane. What a surprise!”
    I turned. To my amazement, I saw Lauren Van Owen crossing the lobby, her blond hair clasped in a ponytail. She had on an abbreviated, tight-fitting gym outfit that made her long legs seem even longer. A workout towel hung loose around her neck, a sheen of perspiration glistening on her face and shoulders. She smiled archly when she arrived. “Almost didn’t recognize you without your foot in your mouth, Kane. Making any progress on the candlelight killings?”
    “You never quit, do you?”
    “Nope,” Lauren laughed, obviously amused by my discomfort at our chance meeting. “Same as you. Always on the job. Which brings up my next question. What are you doing here?”
    “Running down some routine leads.” I shot a glance toward the exit.
    “What was that paper you just handed the receptionist?”
    “None of your business.”
    “I think it is,” said Lauren. Then, to the young man behind the desk, “What did he give you?”
    “Don’t answer that, kid,” I ordered. “Anything I said to you was part of a confidential police investigation.”
    “That’s crap and you know it,” said Lauren. “Last time I checked, this was still a free country.” Again turning to the receptionist, “I’m Lauren Van Owen from Channel Two News.”
    The boy’s eyes widened in recognition.
    “You want to be on TV?”
    “Keep your mouth shut, kid,” I warned.
    The youngster’s gaze swiveled indecisively between Lauren and me. “It was a drawing of some guy he’s looking for,” he said.
    Lauren smiled triumphantly. “I knew it! Let’s take a look.”
    Before the youth could produce the sheet, I took Lauren’s arm and began marching her toward the far side of the lobby.
    “What do you think you’re doing?” Lauren snapped, her cheeks flushing with anger.
    “You and I are going to have a private little conference,” I said, not slowing my pace.
    Apparently deciding that resistance was futile, Lauren accompanied me as gracefully as possible to a secluded table at the club grill. “A private conference, huh? Thought you’d never ask,” she said as I deposited her in a rattan chair. “Don’t ever change, Kane. You’re perfect the way you are.”
    I took a place across from her at the table. “For once we agree.”
    “I was using a new form of speech. It’s called sarcasm. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?”
    “Yeah. I’ve always found it especially unattractive in a woman, by the way.”
    About to respond in kind, Lauren stopped as a waitress approached. “Would either of you care for something from the grill?” the woman asked. “The specials today are-”
    “Nothing,” I interrupted. “We’re fine.”
    “I’ll have a peach-banana smoothie, the smoked salmon and avocado salad, and a dry English muffin,” said Lauren, glaring at me defiantly.
    “Fine,” I said. “Bring me some coffee. Make sure it’s hot.”
    After the waitress departed, Lauren folded her arms. “You said you wanted to talk,” she said crossly. “So talk. Or do I go back to the kid at the desk and have him Xerox me a copy of your drawing?”
    “You’re not going to let this drop, are you?”
    Lauren shook her head. “I told you three weeks ago that the candlelight killings were my ticket to network. I’m not letting it go, but since we last talked it’s become even harder for me to stay in the game. The only reason I’m-”
    “Cue the violins,” I said.
    “The only reason I’m getting any air time at all on the case,” Lauren continued stubbornly, “is that I keep coming up with things the network guys don’t have or can’t get.”
    “Like the plastic ties at the crime scenes?” I asked, referring to an on-air disclosure she had made recently regarding one of the crime-scene descriptors we had withheld from the media. “How’d you get that, anyway?”
    “You’d be surprised.” Refusing to elaborate, Lauren paused, then seemed to come to a decision. “Let me ask you something, Kane. Do you ever run into politics on the job?”
    “You know the answer to that.”
    “Well, that’s exactly my situation at Channel Two. Network wants me to turn over my sources and let their anchors report my material. Until now my news director has run interference for me, but serious pressure is coming down from the top. If I cooperate, I’m cutting my own throat. The big boys say they’ll remember who helped them, but you know how that goes. On the other hand, if I don’t play their game, I’m making enemies in the very ranks I want to join.”
    “That’s tough, but I don’t see where you’re going with this. How about getting to the point?”
    “The point is, I need something. A bargaining chip, something to work with. If I don’t get it soon, I’m off the story. And in words even you can understand, I’d rather give birth to a burning porcupine.”
    “Intriguing image,” I said, chuckling in spite of myself.
    “Which brings us back to the drawing you left at the desk.”
    “I don’t suppose you would believe it has nothing to do with the task force.”
    “As it appears I don’t have a choice, I’m going to trust you, Van Owen.” I sighed, deciding damage control was my best course. “On two conditions. One is that you keep quiet concerning the drawing. At least for now.”
    “And the other?”
    “I want total anonymity. Agreed?”
    “Deal,” said Lauren. “I’m listening.”
    I took a deep breath. “We may have a line on the guy,” I said reluctantly. “It’s shaky, but it’s the best we have. We think he’s stalking his victims, finding women in markets, shopping malls, maybe even health clubs like this one,” I continued, skewing things a bit. “We have a possible witness. She worked with a police artist and came up with a composite sketch.”
    “The drawing?”
    “I’d think you’d want that plastered on every newspaper and TV in town.”
    “Not yet. If it is the guy, we don’t want to tip our hand before we’ve had a chance to locate him.”
    “I’ll hold off on the picture till Monday.”
    “Agreed,” I said. I knew the task force would have completed its canvass by then, and if something hadn’t shaken loose at that point, inundating the city with the composite was the next step anyway. In any case, unless I wanted to retrieve the considerable number of drawings currently being distributed to other clubs, I had no other option. “Well, I have things to do, so-”
    “I’ll need more than that, Kane.”
    “Don’t push it, Van Owen.”
    “Hear me out. I have a couple of ideas that might help catch your murderer.”
    “And further your career in the process?”
    “What’s wrong with that?”
    Before I could respond, our waitress returned. Lauren and I lapsed into silence as the woman slid our orders before us. With a rumbling of hunger, I glanced at Lauren’s lunch, belatedly wishing that I’d requested more than coffee.
    Lauren dug in, noticing me eyeing her food. “Mmm,” she murmured around a mouthful of salad. “Want a bite?”
    “Suit yourself.” She took a pull on her smoothie and continued. “Here’s what I think. You need to get the public involved to catch this guy, right? Next week I’m starting an ongoing story on crime fighters in the LAPD. How about getting me into one of the task force briefings? If it works out, we’ll do a followup. The station could offer a reward for information, and we-”
    “You can’t be serious,” I snorted.
    “What’s wrong?”
    “For one, every other station would scream bloody murder.”
    Lauren shrugged. “So we make dubs for the other stations. It would be a pain in the ass, but…”
    “… you would control the coverage. And be right in the center of things to boot.”
    “You’ll suggest it?”
    “Sure. Right after I have my sex-change operation.”
    “Okay, how about this? We set up one of your task force investigators as some sort of supercop who always gets his man. We’ll do a profile on him. You know, laying down an unspoken challenge to the killer. Maybe he’ll call in and make a mistake.”
    “Now that actually might work,” I mused, surprised we hadn’t thought of it ourselves. “Snead would love it. With him as the supercop, of course.”
    “You’ll bring it up to him?”
    “I’ll think about it.”
    “Got a pen?” asked Lauren, setting down her fork.
    I pulled a ballpoint from my pocket and passed it over, watching as Lauren scribbled a string of numbers on a napkin. “This is my cell number, along with my phone number and extension in the newsroom,” she said, passing me the pen and napkin. “If I’m not answering my cell, they’ll know how to contact me.”
    “I don’t mind telling you, Van Owen, it’ll take a while getting used to the idea of hopping into bed with the media.”
    Lauren grinned. “You’ll live. Who knows? You might even like it.”
    “I doubt that.”
    “We’ll see. By the way, your bedroom metaphor reminds me of something you said earlier.”
    “Intriguing image.”
    At a table thirty feet away, Victor Carns sipped a steaming caffe latte. Occasionally he stole a glance across the restaurant, watching the couple in the back. It had taken a moment to recognize the large, rough-looking man as the detective he had seen weeks back on TV. Although Carns had noted something disturbingly familiar about the man when he had first entered the lobby, he hadn’t put it together until he’d noticed the cop showing a sheet of paper to the boy at the reception desk.
    Something unrelated? he wondered.
    No. Too coincidental. What was his name-Kane-had somehow discovered the health club connection.
    Carns took another sip of coffee, wishing he could get a look at the sheet the detective had left at the desk.
    Too risky.
    Briefly he considered moving to a closer table and attempting to overhear their conversation.
    Also too risky.
    Carns chanced another furtive glance, finally placing the woman. Lauren Van Owen, Action News at Five. Puzzled, he watched a little longer to be sure, detecting something intimate in the way she looked at Kane when she thought she wasn’t being observed.
    Why would a cop be having a private tete-a-tete with a reporter? An affair… or something more?
    Not coming up with an answer, Carns shifted in his chair, wondering where he had made his mistake. He realized he was becoming more and more preoccupied with the game. Had he grown careless?
    Although certain the police couldn’t have much, Carns forced himself to review his actions over the past months, reassuring himself that he had been meticulous in every detail. Nevertheless, the detective’s presence proved he’d missed something.
    Minutes later Carns watched as Kane left some money on the table and exited the club, leaving the reporter to finish her meal alone. Carns pushed away from his table. Grimly, he grabbed his gym bag and headed for the locker room, deciding that in the interest of safety, the time would soon come for him to change the game once more.
    Soon… but not quite yet.


    A high-level decision was made not to inform the Bakers that their intruder might be involved in the candlelight killings. Instead, they were simply told that a good chance existed he would return. As hoped, John and Maureen Baker agreed to cooperate, and during the two weeks that followed, with the exception of sending their son to stay with his grandparents in Palos Verdes, they kept up a normal routine-John off to work by seven-thirty; Maureen to her part-time accounting job on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday; friends over occasionally for dinner on weekends.
    Meanwhile a Metro surveillance team, with one member of the task force present during each shift, maintained a twenty-four-hour watch from the vacant residence I had noticed on my first visit. Two other plainclothes surveillance teams were posted in unmarked vehicles on Valley Vista Boulevard, with a third vehicle stationed one street up to watch the back-able to monitor anyone approaching the house. Efficient, total coverage. By the book. And fruitless.
    Two Tuesdays later, on the morning that surveillance was scheduled to end, I made several telephone calls. The first was to Lieutenant Long at the West LA Division. At my request, Long subsequently contacted his friend Wally Coiner, Metro Division’s commanding officer, requesting that the Baker surveillance be extended another week-even though members of the task force would no longer be participating. Although puzzled, Coiner agreed to do so as a favor to Long, on condition that the size of the surveillance unit be reduced and coverage continued on a nighttime basis only.
    My second call was to Dr. Sidney Berns.
    Later that afternoon, after fighting cross-town traffic, I pulled up in front of the UCI Neuropsychiatric Center in Orange County. Leaving my car in a twenty-minute parking zone, I entered the white, three-story building. After receiving directions from an elderly receptionist, I proceeded down a hallway to the right, arriving at an outpatient waiting room. There I tapped on a glass partition window, flashing my badge at a nurse on the other side. “Dan Kane to see Dr. Berns,” I said.
    The woman slid the window open and checked her schedule. After finding my name partway down, she told me to take a seat and that Dr. Berns would see me when his patient schedule permitted.
    Obstinately, I remained standing. Resisting the impulse to pace, I turned my attention to a TV bracketed high on one wall, idly watching a daytime talk show host schmooze her afternoon guests. Fifteen minutes later Dr. Berns stuck his head into the waiting room. “Detective Kane,” he said. “Come in.”
    I shook the psychiatrist’s hand, noting his grasp was surprisingly strong. “I know you’re busy,” I said. “Thanks for seeing me on short notice.”
    “Glad to help,” replied Berns. “We can talk in my office.”
    I followed the psychiatrist through a residents’ lounge, arriving at an eight-by-twelve cubicle with a window opening onto a cement patio. Berns settled behind a desk cluttered with files, a photograph of an attractive woman in her late thirties, and an ashtray overflowing with stubbed-out cigarettes. With a wave of his hand, he directed me to a chair opposite the desk. “Quite unexpected hearing from you,” he noted dryly.
    “I suppose,” I said, taking a seat. “Look, I was out of line at the first task force meeting. When it comes to certain subjects, I have a tendency to shoot off my mouth before I have all the facts.”
    “Apology accepted.” Berns opened a drawer, withdrawing a half-empty pack of Marlboros. He shook one out and lit it. “I assume from your presence that you want my assistance on something.”
    “I do have a couple things I want to run by you,” I admitted. “Confidentially, of course.”
    “Of course. You understand I’m no longer being retained on your investigation? My involvement was a one-shot deal requested by Ken Huff. I did the FBI followup pro bono.”
    “No. I didn’t realize that.”
    Berns shrugged. “Money’s tight down here in Orange County. As long as you realize I no longer hold an official position on the case, I’ll be glad to help in any way I can. What do you want to know?”
    “Two things,” I said, ratcheting up my assessment of Berns several notches. “First, I think that in addition to stalking his victims, our man is reconnoitering their houses prior to his killings. It’s a belief not shared by some of my colleagues.”
    “Lieutenant Snead?”
    “For one. Nonetheless, Huff is backing me up, and working on the prior entry premise, we’ve been investigating selected cases of breaking-and-entering. Recently we discovered an instance that looks to me like the work of the killer. A maid surprised a man while he was in the house. She wound up in the hospital. We got a composite drawing from a family member of the guy who probably did it, a picture you probably saw later on the news. The drawing generated a rash of calls, but unfortunately nothing ever panned out. We also put surveillance teams on the family’s residence, hoping the intruder would return. So far he hasn’t. What I want to know is this: If this guy’s our man, is he coming back?”
    Berns thought a moment. “Several factors are at work,” he said. “On one hand, I believe your killer is fixating on a victim. Once he’s selected her, he feels progressive pressure to complete his fantasy and make it real. In the instance you’re describing, he might also view his interrupted reconnaissance as a failure, something to be rectified.”
    “On the other hand,” I interjected, anticipating Berns’s train of thought, “the more time goes by, the more likely he’ll be to select a new target. So what’s the bottom line? Is he coming back?”
    Berns crushed out his cigarette. “Bottom line, I don’t know. It could go either way. I do know that the guy you’re looking for is smart, and as I said previously, I believe he’s done this before-maybe in different places and operating under different rules, but he’s done it before. Given that, I suspect that as he feels more pressure from the police, he’ll eventually disappear and resurface someplace else, possibly with a new method of finding and killing victims.”
    “Putting us back to square one.”
    “Correct. Let’s see, it’s been, what-three weeks since the Welsh murders?”
    “Twenty-two days.”
    “The interim between the first and second murders was twenty-five days; the period between the second and third lessened to fifteen. Assuming the killer’s calendar is decreasing, he’s overdue.”
    I nodded. “Which brings me to my second question. At the first task force meeting you mentioned there might be triggers that set him off. Could you expand on that?”
    “For one, other cases of violence can act as stressors to push these types of individuals over the edge. A particularly brutal murder reported in the media often spawns a series of repeats across the country.”
    “Like worms surfacing after a rain,” I noted. “What else? Anything specific that applies to our guy?”
    “The murder of the Welsh family followed almost immediately after the arrest of that auto repairman,” Berns said thoughtfully. “As I said, it’s possible someone else being credited with the killer’s crimes enraged him, causing him to accelerate his schedule.”
    I leaned forward. “What else would piss him off?”
    “Anything that conflicts with the elaborate self-image he’s erected for himself,” answered Berns. “Typically someone like him cannot tolerate ridicule, especially if it’s directed at his psychological weak points.”
    “Which are?”
    Berns regarded me curiously. “Aside from feeling rage toward families in general and women in particular, your killer probably has an unconscious desire to prove his masculinity,” he answered. “Based on his treatment of the husbands, I suspect he’s confused concerning his sexual identity and may have repressed homosexual tendencies. In addition, he prides himself on commitment, views himself as infallible, and has an overwhelming compulsion to be in control. He would find anything contradicting these things extremely threatening.”
    “Thanks, Doc,” I said, rising from my chair. “I appreciate your help. I won’t take up any more of your time.”
    “You’re going to attempt to goad him into action, aren’t you?”
    “I beg your pardon?”
    “You’re going to try to force him to move up his timetable. You hope he’ll get sloppy and make a mistake.”
    I didn’t respond.
    “Be careful, Kane. Be very careful.”
    I walked to the door, then turned. “No matter what I do, he’ll kill again anyway, right?”
    Berns nodded. “You said it earlier. He’ll keep killing until he’s caught.”

    I did some last minute Christmas shopping that evening, including a visit to the Jewelry Mart downtown. Afterward I stopped at the Scotch ’n’ Sirloin, one of my West Los Angeles drinking haunts from years past. A throwback to earlier days of deep-red carpets, navigational charts laminated onto tabletops, and photos of sailing schooners with colorful jibs decorating the walls, the restaurant had prospered over the years by offering clientele reasonably priced steaks, chops, and seafood, as well as providing an honest drink and a friendly ambiance for any thirsty patron happening to wander in.
    Taking a spot in the back, I peered around the dimly lit bar. With the exception of restaurant staff, I failed to see anyone I knew. Minutes later a young waitress wearing a short white apron and even shorter plaid skirt approached. I ordered a Coke and nursed it for the next quarter hour, wondering whether there had been some miscommunication. By the time I’d finished my drink, chewed the ice, and nearly decided to leave, I saw Lauren Van Owen standing by the hostess station.
    I waited until her eyes swept my way, then raised a hand. Lauren hurried over. “Sorry I’m late,” she apologized, slipping into a chair across from mine. “I’m surprised you called. Are you sure you want to be seen with me in public?”
    “This place is safe. Nobody from the Force ever comes in anymore,” I replied, once again thinking that the newscaster looked even better in person than she did on television. Evidently the same thought had occurred to several other male patrons, a number of whom were now openly eye-humping her from across the room.
    “So why’d you call?”
    “I’ve seen you on the tube lately,” I said evasively. “National coverage. Congratulations.”
    “Thanks. Getting an exclusive on that composite drawing helped. On the downside, I had another meeting with Sid Gilmore, our CBS bureau chief. He again requested that I hand over any future scoops to the network.”
    “You said that would be cutting your own throat. What’d you tell him?”
    “That network could have my material as long as I got to give the report. You know, Lauren Van Owen reporting for CBS News.”
    Lauren shrugged. “He’s talking about bringing me onboard full-time, but I’m not where I want to be yet,” she said, glancing around the room. “I’ve never been here before. Seems nice.”
    “The food’s great if you like steak and seafood.”
    “I love meat. I’m a regular carnivore.”
    “They have a terrific jazz band on weekends, too,” I added.
    “Sounds good. Maybe I’ll check it out sometime. Listen, I have a neighbor watching my daughter, and I know you didn’t ask me here to give restaurant tips. What’s up?”
    “Drink?” I asked, avoiding her question a second time.
    “What’re you having?”
    “In that case, no. C’mon, Kane. Give.”
    “Maybe I do have something for you.”
    Lauren eyed me inquiringly. “Is this official?”
    “Hell, no. I want total anonymity, like before.”
    “Okay. ‘Sources inside the LAPD’ it is,” Lauren agreed. “Why are you doing this?”
    I spread my hands. “You delayed breaking the composite drawing story till we finished our canvass, as agreed. I’m just trying to show my appreciation.”
    “That’s a crock if I’ve ever heard one. What’s the real reason?”
    “Christmas is a week away. Consider it a present.”
    “Why do I feel the need for a shovel?”
    “You want to hear this or not?”
    Lauren reached into her purse and withdrew a pad and pen. “I want to hear it. Go ahead.”
    I leaned forward and for the next five minutes spoke in a low monotone. When I finished, I sat back, gauging Lauren’s reaction.
    Lauren, who had been writing steadily since I began, set down her pen and gazed at me levelly. “You have another suspect.”
    “Why do you say that?” I asked, trying to cover my surprise.
    “It’s the only thing that makes sense. If I’m not mistaken, the material you just gave me is part of a psychological workup on the killer. Not too complimentary, either. I’d say if you wanted to make the guy angry, you couldn’t come up with anything better if you tried. You’re attempting to force his hand. And the only reason you would do that is if you were watching him.”
    “I never said that.”
    “How about getting me in on the surveillance?” Lauren suggested, her face lighting with excitement. “I could-”
    “Give it a rest, Van Owen.”
    “Just thought I’d ask.” Lauren dropped her pen and notepad into her purse. “You realize you’re taking a big chance.”
    “If we were watching someone, which I’m not admitting, and we were trying to get him to make a mistake, where’s the risk? The guy’s going to do it again anyhow.”
    “I’m not referring to that. There’s no we about this, is there? It’s you, Kane. You’re acting on your own, aren’t you?”
    I didn’t answer.
    “You’re going way out on a limb here.”
    “I’ll be fine. But thanks for your concern.”
    “Why, Kane?”
    I rose from the table. “Let’s just say I’ve never been much of a team player. Good luck, Van Owen.”
    “You too, Kane. You’ll need it.”
    Later that night, once Allison and Nate had gone to bed, I pulled a large cardboard box from the back of the bedroom closet. After retiring to the kitchen, I sat at the table and began reviewing a jumble of family photos, meticulously going through a Kodak chronicle of the Kane family history. Despite best intentions, there were hundreds of pictures that had never found their way into an album, most of them shots taken before we’d gone digital. Working steadily, I occasionally selected a print, found a corresponding negative, and placed them in one of three stacks before me. I had progressed to Nate’s fifth birthday when the phone rang.
    “Kane,” I said, lifting the receiver.
    “Hi, Dan,” said Catheryn. Although she and I had continued playing phone-tag, we had spoken only once since our last argument, and then our conversation had quickly degenerated to strained truce involving only the polite transference of news and updates on the children. In keeping with my promise to Allison, as well as being reluctant to broach the subject while Catheryn was still in Europe, I had sidestepped discussing the revelations made to me at the cemetery by our children-simply informing Catheryn that Allison and Nate had something important to tell her when she returned. Sensing my evasion, Catheryn had withdrawn even more, and our chilly exchange had once more ended on a bad note.
    “Hello, Kate,” I said, setting down a picture I’d been studying. I picked up another, a shot taken on a beach in Cancun the year of Allison’s birth. It depicted a considerably younger me sporting a tastelessly loud Hawaiian shirt, baggy shorts, and a Dodgers cap with the brim turned to the rear. Catheryn, her arm around me, had on a skimpy black bikini and looked great, even though it had barely been months since the delivery. Both of us wore carefree smiles that hearkened back to happier times.
    “How are you?”
    “Busy. You still in Paris?”
    “London. We arrived Monday. We have one more performance here. After that we’re on to Brussels, then Amsterdam, and finally back to London for one more booking and then our flight home next Sunday.” Catheryn spoke rapidly, as if fearing any silences in our conversation.
    Recognizing her nervousness, I felt a surge of sadness. “How’s the tour going?” I asked, struggling to keep up my end of the conversation.
    “All right. I’m tired, though. Ready to be home.”
    “Any change in the time I’m picking you up at the airport?”
    “That’s why I’m calling. There’s been a snag in the reservations. Half the group will be taking a later connecting flight out of Dallas/Fort Worth than originally scheduled. I’m not sure which flight I’ll be on.”
    “Call when you know.”
    “It may be a last minute thing. I suppose I could telephone when I arrive in Dallas. Or maybe I’ll just catch a ride home with one of the other members.”
    “Arthur, for instance?”
    “I haven’t asked him, but-”
    “I’ll pick you up,” I said brusquely.
    “Fine. I’ll see you then. Goodnight, Dan.”
    “Goodnight, Kate.”


    Congestion at John Wayne International Airport had been unusually bad that evening, even for a Wednesday. Worse, an accident had snarled southbound freeway traffic, increasing Victor Carns’s return trip home from the Orange County airport by over an hour. Nonetheless, the delay had barely dampened his spirits.
    And why should it? he thought as he wheeled through the wrought-iron gates of his Coto de Caza estate. Everything went perfectly. It would take more than a traffic jam to ruin things tonight.
    After rolling into the garage and pulling to a stop, Carns revved the engine, enjoying the throaty roar of his most recent acquisition, a V-12 Lamborghini Murcielago. Moments later he twisted off the ignition, raised the distinctive jack-knife “Lambo” car door, and climbed from behind the wheel. Ducking back into the cockpit, he flipped the luggage compartment release. Whistling cheerfully, he walked to the front of the half-million-dollar red exotic and withdrew his flight bag from the wedge-shaped trunk. With a quick tug, he pulled off the OMA/SNA airline tag and tossed it into a trash can on his way into the house. Once inside he turned off the security system, a precaution he used reluctantly, and then only rarely. The possibility of an intruder pawing through his secrets was unthinkable, but Carns also knew that having the police show up at his home when he wasn’t there could prove fatal.
    Deciding that unpacking could wait, Carns left his bag at the bottom of the stairs and strode to his office. Ignoring a stack of faxed reports and newsletters that had accumulated in his absence, he crossed to his trading desk and flipped on the TV. Smiling, he settled into his chair and shoved a disc into a playback console hooked to the set.
    Carns had recorded the newscast earlier that afternoon, prior to leaving for the Omaha airport and his flight home. At that point neither CNBC nor CNN had picked up the murder, but KETV, an Omaha ABC affiliate, had. Impatiently, Carns shuttled through several commercials before finding the newscast. John Hall’s death was the lead story.
    Carns turned up the sound.
    “… the death in his home early this morning of United Western Packers executive John Hall, long an icon in the Nebraskan cattle community. Authorities have thus far declined to comment on the circumstances of Hall’s death, but sources close to the investigation have indicated that it may not be ruled accidental…”
    Recalling Hall’s final moments, Carns rocked back in his chair. He had been wrong about Hall’s having made other recordings of their telephone conversations. He knew that now, as surely as he knew that never again would Hall pose a threat. With a surge of satisfaction, Carns pictured the CEO in his bathtub as he had last seen him, Hall’s bulging eyes staring up from beneath the surface of the water.
    During most of it, Hall, a manipulator to the end, had refused to believe what was happening-bartering, whining, negotiating for his life between occasional sputtering breaths when Carns let him bring his lips to the surface. But at the finish, when Hall finally accepted that he was about die, something had changed in his eyes. Carns had seen it and cherished that exquisite moment, storing it, like many that had gone before, in a secret place inside his mind.
    It was time for the network news. Curious to see if other stations were finally running the story, Carns flipped through the channels. He stopped on CBS, hearing a name that for the past days had nagged him with the persistence of a rotten tooth. As he watched, the scene shifted from the network news desk to a terrace outside downtown LAPD headquarters. Carns leaned forward, his eyes narrowing as Lauren Van Owen, microphone in hand, began her news piece.
    “This reporter has recently learned that the Candlelight Killer Task Force, working in conjunction with the FBI’s Investigative Support Unit, has developed a psychological profile of the man for whom they’re searching,” she said, briefly glancing toward the stone and glass building behind her. “According to LAPD sources, police are hunting for a white male they believe to be in his midthirties and of below-average intelligence. He’s described as a loner who’s had little or no association with mainstream society and probably works in a menial, low paying occupation.
    “Police sources also say that certain aspects of the killer’s crimes indicate that he is impotent and unable to perform normally with women, and that he has marked homosexual tendencies. The FBI behaviorists reportedly base their latter conclusion on heretofore unreleased facts concerning the sexual molestation of all three husbands during their strangulation murders. The killer is also thought to be extremely disorganized and powerless to control his actions, traits authorities feel will soon lead to his apprehension. Officials are asking anyone with information to call the task force’s twenty-four-hour hotline. This is Lauren Van Owen reporting for CBS News, Los Angeles.”
    Carns stabbed the screen to darkness, burning with an emotion he hadn’t felt since childhood.
    A homosexual? A queer? And the other hideous things she said…
    This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. Flushed with rage, Carns shut his eyes and pressed his fingers to his temples, trying to ease the excruciating throb that gripped his brain like an unremitting claw.
    After what seemed an eternity, the torment eased. Carns opened his eyes.
    Wrong! How could they be so wrong?
    Thinking back, he recalled the conversation he had witnessed at the Sports Club. At the time he’d been certain that the task force detective’s meeting with the blond reporter had to be more than coincidence. Subsequently, Van Owen’s exclusive revelation of the composite drawing had proved him right. With a smile as cold as gunmetal, Carns suddenly realized the source of her latest information as well.


    Think the guy’s gonna show?”
    Sergeant Edward Kinoshita lowered his binoculars and glanced over at Steve Matthews. As he had for most of the past week, Matthews was sitting beside the bed on a folding metal chair and cheating his way through a game of solitaire-laying out cards in symmetrical piles on the bedspread and peeking at hole cards whenever it suited him. He was still losing.
    “Beats me,” Kinoshita replied, again raising the binoculars to sweep the darkened street outside. A block down he could just make out Bottrell and Patterson’s Plymouth tucked back in a neighbor’s driveway. Otherwise, nothing. “You got an opinion?”
    “Yeah. No way.”
    “Why not?”
    Matthews turned over a king and transferred a queen stack, uncovering an ace he’d glimpsed two cards back. “Been too long.”
    “You’ve worked this from the beginning. How long’s it been?”
    “We’re into the third week now.” Matthews yawned, turned up another ace, and pried a two from the discard pile. “We were supposed to pull the plug on Tuesday. Then it got extended, but with fewer guys on the unit. Now we’re just covering the front of the house, nighttime only. I don’t know-maybe somebody knows something we don’t.”
    “Personally, I think we’re going to a lot of trouble for a B-and-E.”
    “Assault, too. The guy clobbered the maid. Scuttlebutt downtown is that those Candlelight hotshots think this might be connected to their case.”
    “So where are they now?”
    Matthews shrugged. “Maybe they changed their minds. If you ask me, this has been a bogus stakeout from day one.”
    The radio crackled. “Car.” The call was from Whiteman and Madison, a third pair of plainclothes surveillance officers stationed in an unmarked vehicle at Valley Vista and Beverly Glen. “Green Chevy van.”
    Matthews turned off the light and joined Kinoshita at the window. A moment later they spotted a van passing the Baker house, traveling west.
    The radio crackled again. “Guy lives on the next street up,” said Bottrell from the Plymouth, sounding bored. Unlike Matthews, who had previously worked the day shift, Bottrell had been on night surveillance from the start. “Works at a bar over in Westwood. Gets home about now every evening. He’ll turn left at the stop sign.”
    The van slowed at the intersection, swung left, and drove up the hill.
    Matthews turned the lamp back on and returned to his cards. “Damn. I think I might have a chance of winning for a change,” he said, uncovering a third ace.
    Kinoshita watched the van’s headlights disappear. “I’ll notify the press,” he said, grabbing a metal thermos and twisting off the top. He was pouring the last of the coffee when Whiteman spoke a second time.
    “Car. Blue Toyota.”
    Grumbling, Matthews once more flipped off the light. Kinoshita picked up the radio. “Got it,” he said, pulling aside the curtains. “He’s slowing in front of the house. Now he’s moving on. You seen this one before, Jeff?”
    “Nope,” Bottrell’s voice came over the radio. “Can’t make out who’s behind the wheel, either. Driving slow.”
    Steve Gannon
    “New to me, too,” said Matthews.
    “You guys back there get the license?”
    “We got it, Sarge,” answered Whiteman. “Should we run it?”
    “Yeah. Go ahead.”
    Carns glanced at the house.
    No lights. Good.
    Driving cautiously, he proceeded four blocks west, then turned up a side street he had chosen on his first visit. Two hundred feet farther on, the street dead ended in a circle not visible from the main road. After cutting his lights, Carns coasted to a stop under a large jacaranda tree.
    Carns picked up a pair of leather driving gloves and pulled them on. But instead of exiting, he rolled down his window and for the next five minutes, as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he remained completely motionless. Cool air seeped into the car, laden with a scent of sage. A dog barked somewhere, answered by a series of distant yaps. Traffic noise drifted up from Ventura Boulevard, adding to the drone of the freeway a half mile north. A small plane crossed overhead, heading toward Santa Monica. Otherwise, nothing.
    Satisfied, Carns ran through his mental checklist one last time: knapsack, gloves, gun and silencer, extra ammo clip, flashlight, ties, scissors, rope, rubbers, tape, Ace bandages, camera, galvanized pipe, recorder, opener. The knife and plastic trash bag he would obtain at the house. Everything was ready. With a shiver of excitement, he stepped from the car.
    “Sarge, I think we may have something here.” Whiteman sounded excited, running his words together as though he couldn’t get the syllables out fast enough.
    “Slow down,” said Kinoshita. “What’d you turn up?”
    “The Toyota’s plates are registered to a Mrs. Muriel Levinson in Arcadia. But according to DMV, those plates belong on a Buick.”
    “The guy turned left two blocks past me,” interjected Bottrell. “I’ll head up and see what… Hold on. Somebody’s coming down the street on foot. Never seen him before. Sonofabitch, this could be it. White male wearing a backpack, black pants and jacket, baseball cap, tennis shoes.”
    “Got him,” said Kinoshita, his pulse quickening. “Don’t spook him. When he gets to the house, we’ll pinch him between us.”
    “Patterson, once he’s past your position I want you on the ground,” Kinoshita continued. “But don’t get too close. Bottrell, stay in the car and be ready to move. Don’t anybody screw this up. I want to take him on the street nice and clean.”
    “Right,” said Bottrell, his voice filled with tension. “The guy’s really moving. He’s up to something.” A pause. “Patterson’s behind him now, staying back in the bushes. Damn, the guy will be there in no time. Get ready.”
    Matthews had his service weapon out. “I’m going down,” he said, heading for the stairs.
    Kinoshita spoke softly into the radio. “Whiteman, you and Madison move on my command.”
    “Yes, sir.”
    “The guy’s slowing up, looking at the house,” said Bottrell. “Now he’s crossing the street. He’s coming fast. Let’s do him now.”
    “Ten seconds. Wait till he gets to us. Everybody ready?” Suddenly Kinoshita noticed a shaft of light spilling from beneath the Bakers’ garage door. As he watched, the rectangular yellow tongue of light grew larger, licking its way down the pavement. “What the-?”
    “Somebody’s coming out the garage,” Kinoshita shouted into the radio. “Everybody move in. Take him now!”
    Carns walked briskly, his perceptions honed with the anticipation that always came before entry. He could feel a trickle of sweat gathering in his armpits, the comforting weight of the throwaway. 25-caliber automatic digging into his waist. His right hand swung easily at his side; his left was tucked in his jacket pocket, thumb on the opener button.
    Almost time.
    He had increased the small transmitter’s power, extending its range to over a hundred yards. Waiting for the right moment, he resisted the impulse to activate it. Timing was everything.
    A little closer…
    He glanced neither right nor left, concentrating on his objective, yet at the same time he remained finely attuned to the sounds of the sleeping neighborhood. A quarter mile east, a late night traveler downshifted into a turn on Beverly Glen. Another plane passed overhead. A car engine coughed to life several blocks down.
    Tonight will be my finest, he thought, a delicious awakening spreading through his body. The first two had been interesting, the third satisfying, but all had been somehow lacking. He had rushed, losing control when things got wet. Tonight he would take his time and make it last… at least till morning. This one would put him in the record books.
    Close enough? Two more steps.
    Depressing the button on the door-opener remote, Carns transmitted a modulated 370 megahertz signal that lasted exactly nine-tenths of a second, repeating its superimposed digital code once during that interval. As if by magic the garage door began rolling up on its tracks. A crack of light spilled onto the driveway, brightening as the opening grew larger. Carns smiled. Although disabling the opener light was a detail that circumstance had forced him to forego, a little welcoming illumination was nice. Hi, honey-I’m home!
    Another car engine started somewhere behind him.
    Time slowed to a crawl. With heart-stopping clarity, everything became keenly outlined in Carns’s mind, every detail delineated with an adrenaline plunge of terror. Headlights flicking on down the street. A car moving toward him, engine roaring, coming in fast. Another one’s tires churning in the gravel behind. Movement in the bushes. A door opening in a house nearby.
    At that moment, Victor Carns knew. With a knowledge as certain as death, he knew.
    He’d been tricked.
    Keith Patterson had been on the Force six years. During that time he had drawn his service revolver only once in the line of duty, and even then he hadn’t fired. But he had his weapon out now. Tonight could be a first. He was ready.
    The guy was fast. Keeping up with him and staying out of sight was proving tougher than expected. Patterson was still four houses back when Whiteman’s lights came on down at the intersection. Seconds later, Patterson heard Bottrell hitting the street.
    Show time. Wait for the cars?
    No. Do it.
    “Freeze, asshole,” Patterson yelled, stepping around the hedge, his weapon in both hands. The man stopped in the middle of the street. Patterson started moving in, sights centered on the middle of the suspect’s back.
    Gotta get closer. What the hell… the garage opening?
    Quick as a weasel, the man bolted. Patterson tried to hold him in his sight plane, arms swinging in a smooth arc, leading him a hair, finger tightening on the trigger…
    Cursing, Patterson lowered his pistol and started running.
    The man crossed the sidewalk at a full sprint, streaking for the garage. A motion detector tripped somewhere and a pair of house spotlights came on, flooding the driveway. Patterson saw Matthews racing across the lawn next door, not close enough to stop him. They were forty feet away when the man rolled under the garage door, which inexplicably had ceased its rise and was now descending. An instant later it thudded shut, leaving a thread of light seeping under the base.
    Madison and Whiteman’s Ford squealed to a stop. Bottrell arrived a split second later, angling up the driveway just as Kinoshita joined the stunned group.
    “Where is he?” shouted Bottrell.
    “Inside,” yelled Patterson, starting around the side of the house. “Shit, I had him.”
    “Where’d he go?” Bottrell demanded again.
    “The bastard’s in the house,” answered Kinoshita. “Damn, he’s fast. He got in through the garage.”
    “What do we do now, Sarge?”
    Kinoshita considered long and hard. Everything had gone wrong. They were supposed to have taken the guy on the street. The guy getting past them and into the locked house was something they hadn’t considered. It was never even on the table. Now what?
    Kinoshita knew he couldn’t afford to make another mistake. “Too risky to go in after him,” he said finally. “Bottrell, help Patterson cover the back. Whiteman and Matthews, take positions along either side of the house. Madison, get on the radio and call for backup. And tell them to send a hostage negotiator,” he added, withdrawing a cellular phone from his jacket pocket.
    Seconds earlier, Carns had sprinted for the garage, seemingly the one place not crawling with cops. Still gripping the remote opener as he charged up the drive, he had then pushed the button to stop the door. He almost snagged his knapsack as he rolled under. Heart pounding, he hit the button again to cycle the garage door closed.
    Once inside he took a deep, shuddering breath, fighting a wave of panic.
    Can’t stay here.
    Crabbing past the nearest car, Carns hurried to a door at the far end. It was unlocked. He paused at the adjacent electrical panel to flip off the breakers, tripping the dual banks with a double sweep of his hand. After pulling the pistol from his belt, he opened the door and slipped inside.
    No. He would be trapped there.
    No good. They would eventually get him, hostages or not.
    Out the back.
    Carns rushed through the family room to the kitchen, where he recalled that a sliding glass door led to a patio behind the house.
    Reaching the glass door, he peeked outside.
    He released the catch and opened the door. Quickly, he eased through and shut the slider behind him, stopping short of closing it completely so it wouldn’t thump.
    Maybe there’s still a chance.
    Carns raced across the yard, skirting a kidney-shaped swimming pool and a barbecue pit. In one quick motion he vaulted a six-foot-high wooden fence at the back of the lot. He landed awkwardly in a neighboring yard, coming down hard on a redwood lawn chair. A sickening pop sounded as his ankle twisted beneath him.
    Grimacing, Carns rose in a low crouch, his breath coming in ragged gasps.
    Ignoring searing bolts of pain shooting up his ankle, he dashed down a bricked walkway and past a gate to the next street up. Expecting with every step to feel the stab of a police bullet, Victor Carns ran as he’d never run before.
    He was still a block from his car when he heard the sound of gunfire.
    Maureen Baker rolled over in bed, wondering who could be calling at that hour of night. She flipped the switch on her bedside lamp. The light didn’t come on. Groaning, she fumbled on the nightstand for the phone.
    Normally a heavy sleeper, John was awake now, too. “This had better be news we just won the lottery,” he warned, propping himself up on an elbow. He heard Maureen say “Hello,” then nothing. “Who was it?” he asked as she replaced the receiver.
    “The police,” she whispered. “Someone broke into our garage.”
    After inching his way down the side of the residence, Patterson hesitated at the northeast corner. Easing his head around the stucco wall, he looked into the back yard.
    Someone moving?
    Quietly, he worked his way farther around, staying clear of the windows.
    There. Again.
    As he watched, a dim shape emerged stealthily from the shadows. “Police. Don’t move,” Patterson ordered, gun locked on the figure. “Don’t even breathe.”
    “It’s me,” Bottrell hissed.
    “Damn.” Patterson lowered his weapon and crept over to Bottrell. Along the way he noticed that a patio sliding glass door was open a crack. The house was supposed to be locked.
    “Sarge is calling for backup,” Bottrell informed Patterson when he arrived. “We’re supposed to watch the rear.”
    “And what? Sit around till the guy decides to come out? There’re people in there.”
    “So the patio door’s open. It only takes one of us to watch the back. I’m goin’ in.”
    “Sarge said to wait.”
    “I didn’t hear him.”
    “I’m telling you, Sarge said to wait.”
    “And I’m telling you I had that guy. Now he’s inside. I’m goin’ in.”
    John Baker liked guns. He had grown up hunting with his father in Iowa, and during a four year stint in the Marines John had shot at the top of his unit. In addition to a variety of rifles and shotguns, he owned a 9 mm Glock auto pistol with a seventeen-shot magazine. After purchasing the weapon three years back, he had taken it to the desert and run four boxes of shells through it, punching holes in assorted beer cans, cardboard targets, and unwary cacti. Though he hadn’t fired it since, he’d kept it handy, wrapped in a chamois on the top shelf of his closet.
    John went to the closet now and got the gun. Unwrapping it, he moved to the dresser and groped in the top drawer for a clip of Winchester Super-X Silvertip cartridges he kept rolled in a pair of socks. Like most boys, their seven-year-old son Kyle was curious about guns, and John Baker adhered to the rule of keeping guns and ammunition separated at all times. Except times like now.
    After jamming in the clip, he pulled back the slide and racked a shell into the chamber.
    Maureen watched from the bed, her eyes wide with terror. “John…”
    “Stay here,” John ordered, not trusting himself to say more. The gun felt heavy in his hands. Heart thudding, he moved to the bedroom door and squeezed out into the hall. Staying low, he crept to the stairs and peered to the darkened floor below. He could make out most of the entry, some of the living room, a little of the den.
    The sound of an approaching siren wailed in the distance. Should be here in a minute, John thought. Outside, he heard someone on a bullhorn shouting that the house was surrounded and advising whoever was in the garage to come out with his hands up.
    Without a sound, John eased forward to take in more of the entry.
    Someone moving near the laundry room?
    John stared into the darkness. Gripping the automatic, he trained it on the area where he thought he’d seen movement.
    Had he been mistaken?
    No. Someone was there.
    Taking shallow breaths, John waited. Twenty seconds later the siren reached the house. As the police cruiser screeched to a stop outside, a flash of light flickered through the living room drapes, washing the downstairs in streaks of red and blue.
    John saw him. He had his back to the entry and was standing beside the door to the garage. He had a gun.
    Patterson paused in the hallway, attempting to quiet his breathing.
    He’s not in any of the rooms down here, he thought. He must still be in the garage. If he had gone upstairs, there’d be screams, a struggle. Something.
    Patterson considered carefully, trying to decide whether to search the garage or wait for the man to come through. But if he were coming in, he’d have already done it.
    Maybe the door to the garage is locked.
    Try it?
    Patterson hesitated, reasoning that if the door to the garage were locked, the guy wouldn’t be going anywhere.
    Without warning, the concussion of a large-caliber weapon rocked the room. Patterson felt the slug smash into the wall beside him.
    He’s upstairs!
    Rolling left, Patterson swung his revolver toward the second floor landing. A heartbeat later he fired. Somehow it didn’t feel like he thought it would. Mostly he was just scared.
    The Glock jumped in his hands. For an instant John Baker saw the man pinned like a deer in the muzzle flash, and he knew he’d missed. The intruder dropped to his left. Gun coming up…
    Shit, shit-he’s gonna shoot. Take him now!
    The sharp bark of a pistol sounded from below. A bullet sizzled past. Blinded by the flash from the intruder’s shot, John Baker pulled the trigger as fast as he could, getting off five more rounds in rapid succession, his ears ringing with the explosions, the exultation of the hunt singing in his veins.
    His first three shots missed, passing through a two-by-four interior wall, a storage closet, and eight inches of exterior wall. The fourth shot caught the surprised young officer in his left shoulder, shattering his clavicle and scapula. The fifth entered his left orbit. Traveling at 1,122 feet per second, the 115-grain projectile transected both optic nerves, passed through the cerebellum, and exited the right occipital area, taking a chunk of skull on its outward passage.
    Patterson never got off a second shot.
    Carns reached his car thirty seconds after the shooting began. He couldn’t believe he’d escaped. Thankful he had left the Toyota unlocked, he slipped behind the wheel and fumbled for his keys. Frantically pumping the gas, he twisted the ignition. The engine wouldn’t catch. For a heart-stopping moment he thought he’d flooded it. Finally, with a shudder, the engine coughed to life. Still gasping with terror, he slammed the car into gear and drove a back road to Valley Vista with his lights off. He turned left at the intersection and headed west.
    Puzzling over the shooting he’d heard, he drove the speed limit, frequently checking his mirror. Eventually he flipped on his headlights. He turned right off Valley Vista, then west again when he hit Ventura Boulevard. At the signal at Van Nuys, two squad cars roared past going the other direction, lights flashing, sirens wailing. He pulled over to let them by.
    Less than a minute later, as John Baker opened his front door to the swarm of police officers in his front yard, Carns climbed the Ventura Freeway access ramp and accelerated onto the eastbound lanes.
    “I got him,” Mr. Baker said shakily, squinting into a bristling array of lights and guns.
    “Drop your weapon!” a disembodied voice yelled over a bullhorn.
    Mr. Baker dropped the Glock. It clattered on the entry tiles.
    “Raise your hands and step out onto the landing.”
    “Hey, I’m not the guy. He’s inside. I-”
    “Raise your hands and step outside,” the voice repeated.
    Bewildered, Mr. Baker lifted his hands and moved toward the lights. “He’s inside,” he repeated. “I got him.”


    Aspecial task force briefing was called later that morning. Minutes after starting, the meeting degenerated into a divisive confrontation brimming with recrimination and finger pointing. Captain Coiner and Sergeant Kinoshita, there to represent the Metro stakeout team, maintained that they should have been advised of the garage entry possibility, a detail that might have saved the life of Officer Patterson. That the intruder might actually be able to enter the locked house was a possibility no one had even considered. They were supposed to have stopped him on the street.
    They also argued that because the task force had originally requested the operation, a task force member should have been present-an absence that had left the surveillance unit shorthanded. Lieutenants Snead and Huff closed ranks in defense of the Candlelight Killer Unit. Although under the circumstances averse to pointing out that the surveillance was supposed to have ended days earlier, Snead demanded to know why Metro hadn’t determined that Mr. Baker had a gun in the house. And why had it taken so long to get out an APB on the blue Toyota? They’d had the guy, and they’d let him escape. Taking a more temperate approach, Huff reminded Metro that the loss of one of their men was the direct result of Patterson’s entering the house contrary to orders. If he had remained outside as directed, he would still be alive. And maybe they would have caught the killer as well.
    Even Chief Ingram made an appearance, the second in as many days. His previous visit had followed Lauren Van Owen’s most recent newscast, one in which she had disclosed confidential portions-albeit containing inaccuracies and exaggerations-of the killer’s psychological profile. Ingram had promised to find the source of the leak, promising dire consequences for the leaker. Now, after listening to several rounds of the group’s bilateral squabbling, he interrupted to offer his caustic assessment that both the task force and the Metro surveillance team had succeeded in at least one thing: making everybody look like shit. Establishing the definitive low point of the meeting, he added, “You guys have more excuses than a convent of pregnant nuns.”
    Later, after everyone else had left, an atmosphere of resignation settled over the task force members. One thing Snead had said earlier summed up the mood. They’d had the guy. And they’d let him escape.
    “Okay, who’s got something?” asked Huff glumly. “Kane?”
    “We didn’t come up with much at the scene,” I answered. “Nobody got a good look at the killer’s face. He was wearing gloves, so no prints. We got tennis shoe impressions from a flower bed. The lab is comparing them to those taken from the Welsh and Larson scenes.”
    “What else?”
    “We found fresh oil drips at the end of the street where we think he parked the Toyota. Radiator coolant, too. SID’s sending samples over to Standard Oil for comparison with the drips taken from the Larsons’ garage. I also phoned the woman whose plates were on the Toyota. She didn’t even know they were missing. She has somebody else’s on her car.”
    “By any chance, do they belong to our schoolteacher in Tarzana?” asked Barrello.
    “None other.”
    Nobody said anything for a moment. “Let’s move on,” suggested Huff. “The guy had a remote door-opener for the Bakers’ garage. How did he get it?”
    “We know he broke in earlier,” said Barrello. “He could have stolen it then.”
    “Who keeps garage-door openers lying around the house?” scoffed Collins. “You keep them in your car. The Bakers’ vehicles were gone the first time he broke in.”
    “And if he were going to steal something, why not take a key?” added Snead.
    “Maybe he tried and couldn’t find one,” I offered.
    “So where’d he get the opener?”
    “A while back you suggested a way yourself, Lieutenant,” I said, recalling my visit to Hank Dexter’s electronic shop. “He just went out and bought one.”
    “I beg your pardon?”
    “If he knows the settings or whatever, all he has to do is buy a replacement control and he’s in.”
    “And he could’ve obtained the code from the base unit in the garage the first time he was in there,” said Deluca, catching on.
    I nodded. “It’s probably not that simple, and we still don’t know how he originally got in, but let’s check the Bakers’ opener for prints. Maybe he got careless this time.”
    “What about the attorney’s office in Santa Ana?” asked Barrello. “After this, we might have enough for a warrant to examine their files.”
    “I already made a call on that,” answered Huff. “The DA says we can subpoena anything related to the DMV trace. We can also get a list of the firm’s employees, but not the clients. That’s still considered privileged.”
    “So we put everybody working at the firm under the microscope and see what shakes loose?”
    “Right. Other ideas?”
    “We could check garage-opener distributors in the area,” I suggested. “Go through credit card purchases and work up a list of anybody who’s bought replacement remotes for the types of openers in the victims’ homes-say, for the past six months.”
    “There could be thousands,” objected Fairfield. “And the guy could’ve bought them out of the area, or online, or paid cash-whatever.”
    “Anybody have a better idea?” asked Huff.
    No one answered.
    “Okay, then let’s get to it. Barrello, you and Fuentes have dead ended on the rental car angle. Why don’t you-”
    “A quick announcement before we parcel out assignments,” interrupted Snead. “We’ll all be working straight through the weekend. No exceptions. And Kane, I want to see you after the meeting.”
    Following the briefing, I met Snead outside in the hall. “What’s this about?” I asked.
    “You know damn well what it’s about,” Snead snarled. “I checked to see who extended the surveillance on the Baker residence. Guess what, hotshot? The request came from Nelson Long, y our lieutenant over in West LA. Odd, don’t you think?”
    “What I think is odd is that the stakeout was about to get canceled in the first place. It was our best shot at catching that dirtbag.”
    Snead’s face mottled with rage. “You’re missing the point. You had no right to sidestep the chain of command. Aside from making everybody appear incompetent, your interference resulted in the death of a police officer.”
    “If Metro hadn’t been there, the Bakers would be in body bags right now.”
    “That’s not what we’re discussing.”
    “It should be, Snead. You’re more concerned with appearances than-”
    “That’s Lieutenant Snead.”
    “Fine, Lieutenant. What I’m saying-”
    “I don’t think you realize your role in this conversation, Kane. It’s to shut up and listen. The media haven’t connected the task force with the Sherman Oaks fiasco yet. But if they do, they’ll crucify us. And if that happens, I guarantee that you’ll take your full share of the blame. Which brings us to your friend, Ms. Van Owen, and her mysterious sources inside the department. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”
    “Why ask me?”
    “Because over the past month, you’ve repeatedly been seen talking with her. Do you and Van Owen have something going, Detective? A little nookie on the side, maybe?”
    “Are you accusing me of being the media leak?”
    “Not yet,” Snead replied. “You’ll know when I do.”
    “With all due respect, Lieutenant, go pound sand.”
    Snead’s eyes narrowed. “Keep messing with me, Kane, and I’ll make your life a godforsaken misery.”
    “Thanks, Bill, but I’m a married man. Glad to see you finally busted out of the closet, though.”
    “You’ve always got something smart to say, don’t you?”
    “It’s a gift.”
    Snead glared. “I’ve got a gift too, hotshot. I can predict the future, and I predict that one of these days your luck is going to run out. And when it does, I’m going to be there, sitting in the front row.”


    Fortunately, traffic had been light. Staying within the speed limit, Carns made it back to Orange County without incident, arriving at his Mission Viejo storage garage in under ninety minutes.
    He still couldn’t believe he had escaped. Obviously, the house had been under surveillance. They’d suckered him, played him for a chump with that phony broadcast.
    Kane? he wondered once more.
    He remembered the first time he had seen Kane on the news. “We’ll get this maggot,” he’d said. Insulting right from the beginning. But there had been something besides anger in his eyes, something calculating. It had been Lauren Van Owen who had interviewed him then, too.
    Could Kane have been using the media for his own purposes as far back as then?
    As he stepped from his car, Carns again recalled the surreptitious meeting he had witnessed at the health club. The blond reporter may have mouthed the lies that inspired his monumental blunder, but Carns knew her source.
    Working quickly, he opened the door of the rental garage, drove the Toyota inside beside the van, and shut the door. Wearing gloves as always, he switched plates on the blue import, replacing the ones he’d stolen in Arcadia with the originals that had come with the car. The pilfered plates went into a plastic trash bag, along with the magnetic signs he’d purchased years before in Colorado. His knapsack and its contents went into a second bag; his jacket, baseball cap, and tennis shoes into a third. As a precaution, he wiped everything including the bags themselves, making sure there was no chance of a stray print.
    He kept the camera and tape recorder, deciding they couldn’t be traced. Otherwise, everything went. In a few months, when things settled down, he would get rid of the cars as well.
    Carns stopped on his way home, making deposits in several local Dumpsters. Two hours from the time he’d escaped the trap in Sherman Oaks, everything that could place him at any of the recent murder sites ceased to exist. Almost. There was still the garment he had taken from Julie Welsh’s hamper. And what about the rest, his precious mementos? Would everything have to go?
    In the end he resisted the temptation to dispose of it all-slides, tapes, clothes, clippings, videos, digital recordings-reasoning that if the police knew his identity, they would already have come. There would be time enough to get rid of his souvenirs later, but only if necessary. And with attention to detail, that day would never come. His carelessness had been a fluke, a onetime mistake. He had grown overconfident and allowed himself to be tricked.
    It wouldn’t happen again.
    Still, the incident disturbed Carns more than he wanted to admit. In all the years he had been playing the game, no one had ever come this close. No one.
    After returning home, Carns showered and taped his swollen ankle. Favoring his injured leg, he limped downstairs. In the living room he poured himself three fingers of Scotch, downing the drink in one shuddering gulp. After refilling his glass, he retired to his office. There he sat at his research station and booted up his Lexis-Nexis software. Once the familiar blue screen appeared, he entered his seven-digit PIN and hit transmit, tapping his fingers impatiently as the computer logged on.
    Accessing thousands of databases, the Nexis international information service was a vital information source that was essential to Carns’s work. The inquiry he currently planned, however, did not involve business. A moment later the research display popped up. Carns selected the Nexis news library, major papers file, and typed in his search request: “Kane, Daniel.” Seconds later a response came back: 1,964 hits.
    Carns focused his inquiry by adding the letters “LAPD.” This time the total proved considerably smaller: nineteen. Still, a healthy number for a homicide detective. Kane had been a busy boy.
    Carns downloaded the files, then spent several minutes perusing Kane’s career as chronicled in the Los Angeles Times, The Orange County Register, the Long Beach Press-Telegram, and various other news services. The results were disturbing. In every article Kane came across as a dangerous adversary: five shootings (three fatal), heated but unresolved scrapes with LAPD Internal Affairs, and an unparalleled reputation for closing cases. A maverick, and an unpredictable one as well. Studying the articles, Carns recognized something in Kane’s persona that struck a familiar chord. Although Carns hadn’t been able to pinpoint it earlier, he had sensed it from the beginning. Now he realized what it was: Kane was willing to play outside the rules.
    Carns hit the print button. As copies of the documents began dropping into the tray, he switched to the Lexis public records library. Selecting the CAPROP assets file, he again typed “Kane, Daniel,” searching for California real estate owned by anyone with that name. Nine hits this time. A manageable number. Carns scrolled through.
    Four of the California real estate parcels belonging to individuals named Daniel Kane were located in the San Francisco area, two in San Diego, another in San Bernadino. These Carns rejected, leaving a twelve-unit apartment building in Pasadena (unlikely on a policeman’s salary) and an owner occupied, single-family residence in Malibu.
    Seconds later Carns had Daniel Thomas Kane’s street address, the annual property tax, lot size, number of rooms, assessed value, parcel number, square footage, and current mortgage. He also discovered a second individual listed as an owner: Catheryn Ellen Kane.
    Kane’s married?
    On a whim, after downloading the CAPROP information, Carns scrolled back to the Nexis library and hunted for articles on “Catheryn Kane,” “Catheryn E. Kane,” or “Catheryn Ellen Kane.” By progressively limiting his search, he pared the number of hits to two: mention of a cellist in a string quartet that had performed at Pepperdine University three years ago, and an article on a longtime Malibu resident who had recently become the associate principal cellist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The latter, a short bio that had appeared in the Los Angeles Times, mentioned a photograph not available through Nexis.
    After logging off Lexis-Nexis, Carns connected to Times Link, an archival program provided by the Times. Following a short search, a black-and-white image materialized on Carns’s screen. The picture showed an extremely attractive woman sitting on a stool, a cello between her knees, an out-of-focus curtain behind her. The woman on the screen had confident eyes, a delicate neck, and a generous mouth that hinted at passions below the surface.
    Carns leaned closer. Although the woman had her hair pinned back, he could tell it was long. Dark blond or auburn. Either would be satisfactory, he thought, picturing how it would look down, imagining it running through his fingers.
    Sensing a familiar stirring, Carns studied the screen. The longer he looked, the more he liked what he saw. No doubt about it, the woman was stunningly beautiful, although not quite as movie-star gorgeous as some he’d had. The last two, for example, had been exquisite. Vapid, but flawless.
    Still, all in all, there was definitely something about Catheryn Ellen Kane that Carns found… interesting.
    Steve Gannon


    C atheryn Kane, please.” I had my feet propped up on the kitchen table at home, phone in one hand, files from work in the other. Thanks to Snead I had unexpectedly drawn weekend task force duty, and I’d be unable to pick up Catheryn at the airport on Sunday-at least if she arrived as originally scheduled. Although I needed to let her know, I resolved to keep our conversation short, hoping to avoid another hurtful, long distance exchange.
    The switchboard connection was bad. Earlier I’d tried Catheryn’s cell phone without success. I assumed she probably had it turned off. Next I had called her hotel in Amsterdam. Laden with static, a woman’s voice finally came back, her accent a blend of Dutch and German. “Yes, sir,” she said. “Please hold. I’ll transfer your call to her room.”
    Exhausted and depressed, I glanced at my watch: 11:15 PM. Eight hours time difference to Amsterdam would make it, what-a quarter after seven in the morning there? Or was the time difference only seven hours? I shrugged. Either way, Catheryn was an early riser and sure to be up.
    As I waited for my call to be transferred, my thoughts traveled back to the disaster at the Bakers’ house. It had proved a profound embarrassment to every member of the task force, and things hadn’t improved since then. Although the killer’s recent attack had elicited several new wrinkles-confirmation of the attorney-DMV connection and the door-opener angle, for example-I held little hope of apprehending a suspect anytime soon. Our best chance had been to grab the guy in Sherman Oaks, and we’d blown it. Making things worse, an officer had been killed, a tragedy that should have been avoided.
    The problem now was that the investigation had begun to show signs of complete stagnation, with task force members increasingly revisiting stale ground already covered. Most avenues of inquiry-analyzing paint scrapes from Julie Welsh’s damaged fender, locating the source of the magnetic signs, finding common connections between various victims, forensic examination of latent prints, found hairs, and so forth-had turned into complete dead ends. The high point of the day had been the chromatography analysis from Standard Oil confirming that the radiator coolant and oil drips found near the Bakers’ house matched those discovered in the Larsons’ garage. Great
    … if we located the Toyota. Otherwise, useless. Given the situation, I had begun to suspect that Berns was right. If we ever did find the killer, luck would undoubtedly play a part.
    At last Catheryn’s phone began ringing. A sleepy male voice answered. “Hello?”
    “Sorry,” I said. “Must have the wrong room.”
    “Speak up. I can’t hear you. Whom are you calling?”
    The connection had grown worse. I raised my voice. “Catheryn Kane.”
    “You have the correct room. She can’t talk right now. Please call back.”
    “What’s wrong? Is she okay?”
    “Of course she’s all right,” the man answered, his muffled response barely audible. “She’s in the shower. Do you want to leave a-”
    “Who is this?”
    “A friend, if it’s any of your business,” the man responded testily. Despite the hissing on the line, his voice sounded familiar.
    Arthur West?
    “Listen, friend, ” I said, “I want to speak to Catheryn. Put her on.”
    “No need to be boorish. As I told you, she can’t talk right now. She just got up and is in the shower.”
    Definitely Arthur West. What was he doing in Catheryn’s room that early in the morning?
    “Is there a message?” the man asked curtly.
    I slammed down the receiver, a nauseous feeling of betrayal churning in my stomach. I couldn’t believe it. Sure, things with Kate had been strained. But an affair? With Arthur West?
    It wasn’t possible.
    On the other hand, I knew what I’d heard. Slowly, a tarantula of suspicion began poisoning my thoughts with images of Catheryn and Arthur in each other’s arms.
    How could things have come to this?
    Minutes later I redialed the Amsterdam hotel and left a message at the desk for Catheryn, informing her that I’d be working on Sunday and wouldn’t be able to meet her at the airport.
    After hanging up, I pulled on a jacket and descended to the beach. A biting wind had picked up. I lowered my head against a peppering of stinging sand and made my way to the water’s edge. Numbly, I shoved my hands into my pockets and started toward the lights of Santa Monica, wintry gusts plucking at my clothes, heart-wrenching thoughts of Catheryn coiling in my mind.


    Barefoot and dripping, Catheryn stepped from the bathroom, a robe cinched at her waist, hair wrapped in a towel. “What are you doing here, Arthur?”
    From his perch on the edge of Catheryn’s bed, Arthur West smiled apologetically. “Sorry if I surprised you.” He glanced at his watch. “The airport bus leaves in twenty minutes. When you didn’t meet me for coffee as planned, I rang your room. You didn’t answer, so I came up. You’re always so punctual. I thought something might have happened.”
    “How’d you get in?”
    Arthur feigned hurt. “The maid was in the hall. I had her open the door. When I heard you in the shower, I decided to wait. I hope you don’t mind.”
    “I’m just surprised. Now, shoo. I have to get dressed.”
    Again, Arthur glanced at his watch. “Do hurry. I’ll see if I can hold the bus, if necessary.”
    “I’ll be there in five minutes.”
    “Fine,” said Arthur, brightening. “I’ll be waiting.”
    “Out, Arthur. Oh, who was that on the phone?”
    Arthur headed toward the door. “I don’t know. I could barely hear him. He hung up before I got his name.”
    “Someone from the orchestra?”
    “I certainly hope not. He was extremely rude, to put it mildly. See you downstairs.”
    After Arthur left, Catheryn puzzled over his departing statement.
    Catheryn finished drying her hair, then dialed her home number in Malibu. The phone there rang a number of times. Finally the answering machine kicked in.
    She hung up without leaving a message.


    Outside the Scotch ’n’ Sirloin, a steady rain that had begun Saturday morning continued to fall, flooding drainage culverts and triggering mud slides on Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Monica to Malibu. Not even January, and already it was shaping up to be a wet and miserable winter.
    Unable to return to the beach after work on Sunday because of closures on the coast highway, I had been forced to weather the storm that evening at Arnie’s. Earlier I’d phoned home and made arrangements for Allison and Nate, along with Callie, to spend the night at Christy’s condo in Malibu-assuring them that the highway would probably be open the next morning and I’d see them on Monday following my shift. After work I drove to Westwood for dinner with Arnie, who for a change wasn’t spending the entire weekend with Stacy. During dessert, to Arnie’s obvious surprise, I suggested that we head over to the Scotch ‘n’ Sirloin for a nightcap.
    By ten that evening the bar at the Scotch had begun filling up-restaurant patrons sipping after-dinner drinks, a nightclub crowd materializing as soon as the weekend jazz combo started its first set. At that point Arnie and I were comfortably encamped at a table in the back. My choice for the evening was Jack Daniel’s, straight up. And I wasn’t sipping.
    Arnie took a pull on his Coors, drinking from the bottle. “Maybe you oughtta slow down a bit, amigo,” he advised. “You’re not in drinkin’ shape anymore.”
    “Go screw yourself.”
    “Just makin’ a suggestion.”
    “If I want a nursemaid, I’ll hire one.”
    “Right, partner. You want to tell me what’s bugging you or not?”
    “Fine. Look, I’m heading over to Stacy’s before long. She has a big opening tonight at her studio. Watercolor exhibit, something like that. Why don’t you join me?”
    “No way, pal. I break out in hives whenever I get around too much culture.”
    “It should be over about twelve. Afterward, we’re going out for ice cream. C’mon, Dan. Let’s get out of here.”
    “I like it here,” I said gloomily. “Besides, I’ll be getting my full dose of sophistication soon enough. Kate’s arriving home tomorrow, and I promised to accompany her to some Music Center fundraiser tomorrow night.” Earlier that evening Catheryn had left a brief message that her flight was being delayed in Dallas, and she wouldn’t be arriving home until late Monday morning.
    Arnie grinned. “Black tie, limos, champagne?”
    “Yeah,” I said, adding, “I’ve always been glad to accompany Kate to these things because they’re important to her, but I can definitely think of better ways to spend an evening.”
    “I can just picture you rubbing elbows with LA’s movers and shakers,” Arnie snorted. “But don’t they usually hold those shindigs in the summer?”
    “They didn’t have them at all for a while, which was okay with me,” I answered. “They’re throwing this one to celebrate the Philharmonic’s return from Europe.”
    “Kate’s been gone, what-almost six weeks now? You must be looking forward to seeing her.”
    I didn’t answer.
    Arnie regarded me closely. “Everything okay between you two?”
    “None of your business.”
    I finished my bourbon and signaled the waitress for a refill. “Arnie, lemme ask you something,” I said. “You were married to Lilith for what, twenty years? Either of you ever have an affair?”
    “Not me,” said Arnie. “Not that with my good looks and charm, I didn’t have plenty of opportunity.”
    “Yeah, sure. How ’bout Lilith?”
    “She was too busy working to make time for me, let alone anybody else. At least as far as I knew. Toward the end when she took up with that real estate asswipe, it was pretty much over between us.” Arnie’s brow furrowed as he backtracked on my train of thought. “Is that what this is about? You stupid Mick, are you steppin’ out on Kate?”
    “Not me.”
    “You think Kate’s got something going on the side?”
    I scowled at my empty glass. “Damn, what’s it take to get a drink around here?”
    Arnie stared across the table. “Listen, Dan. I know Kate. Whatever’s going on, she’s not being unfaithful.”
    “Hey, Arleen. How ’bout gettin’ us another round?” I called to a passing waitress.
    Arnie shook his head. “Not for me.”
    “One more, partner,” I insisted. “For old times’ sake.”
    “Can’t. Dan, about Kate-you’re screwing up, amigo.”
    Again I remained silent.
    Arnie shook his head. “Listen, I’ve gotta go. You comin’?”
    “Suit yourself,” Arnie sighed. “I’ll be staying at Stacy’s tonight, so make yourself at home. See you tomorrow?”
    I nodded glumly.
    “One more thing. If you’re gonna keep drinking, fork over your keys. I’ll give ’em back tomorrow morning.”
    I glared, then slid the keys to my Suburban across the table. “Don’t trust me, huh? I’m not stupid, pard. I already decided that if you left me for greener pastures, as it appears you’re doing, I’d be taking a cab.”
    Arnie pocketed my keys. “Fine. At least you’ve got one neuron up there still firing.”
    “I don’t drive when I drink, pal.”
    “Now we don’t have to worry about it, do we?”
    “Thanks, Mom.” Impatiently, I glowered across the room, checking the status of my next drink. “Aw, hell. Look who just came in.”
    Arnie turned, groaning when he spotted Lauren Van Owen standing by the bar. Dressed as though she’d just come from the theater, Lauren had on a short woolen skirt and matching jacket, and for the evening she had twisted her long blond hair in a French braid. A petite, exotic-looking woman accompanying her wrinkled her nose, inspecting the noisy room with obvious distaste. Lauren looked our way, then leaned closer to her friend to say something. The woman shook her head.
    “That’s the broad from Channel Two,” said Arnie. “The one who carries a pair of pinking shears in her purse. Lauren something?”
    “Van Owen. Damn, she spotted us.” I watched Lauren bid good-bye to her friend, who’d evidently decided to leave. A moment later Lauren started across the room.
    With a crooked grin, Arnie rose from the table. “I would love to stick around, amigo, but I prefer my gonads right where they are. See you, pal.”
    Lauren nodded to Arnie as he passed, then continued on. “Hello, Detective,” she said upon arriving at my table. “Again, a pleasant surprise.”
    “For you, maybe.”
    “Hope I didn’t chase off your friend.”
    “He had to leave anyway. You following me, Van Owen?”
    “Definitely not.” Lauren paused, listening for a moment to the jazz trio. “You were right. The music here is terrific.” She glanced at the empties lined up on the tabletop before me. “What’s the occasion? Celebrating something?”
    “None of your business.”
    The waitress to whom I’d spoken earlier delivered my latest refill. “Something for you?” she asked Lauren.
    Lauren’s eyes made a circuit of the crowded bar, then returned to me. “Mind if I join you?”
    I shrugged. “It’s a free country.”
    “Thanks.” Lauren slipped into a chair across from mine. Then, to the waitress, “I’ll have a white wine.”
    “Yes, ma’am.” The waitress turned to go.
    “While you’re at it, bring another one of these and keep ‘em coming,” I added.
    “So,” Lauren said, struggling to fill the ensuing silence. “What’s new on the task force? Anything come of my releasing that psychological profile?”
    “Nope,” I lied.
    Lauren leaned forward. “Then there’s nothing to the rumor about that shooting in Sherman Oaks-”
    “You want to talk shop, take a hike,” I said.
    “I’m serious. Talk about somethin’ else. Anything else.”
    “Okay. You married, Kane?”
    “Anything but that.”
    Lauren nodded knowingly. “Difficulties in the relationship department? Not surprising. Most cops I know have trouble at home.”
    “What about you?” I countered. “Have a little spat with your girlfriend?”
    “Melanie’s a friend from work. I’m not gay, if that’s what you’re insinuating. It would solve a lot of problems, though.”
    “Glad you think so,” I said. “By the way,” I added grudgingly, “I know you’ve been under a lot of pressure to reveal your source on the profile stuff. Thanks for keeping your mouth shut.”
    “I honor my word,” said Lauren. “How about you? Did you follow through on the ideas we discussed?”
    “The supercop thing?”
    “And getting me into one of the task force briefings.”
    I tossed down half of my bourbon. “I brought up your supersleuth idea. It got kicked around, then finally dropped.”
    “What about the other?”
    I finished my drink in one more swallow. “Nope,” I answered, absently noting that the evening had progressed to the point where I had to speak deliberately to avoid slurring. “Didn’t even bother. No way in hell they were gonna buy it.”
    “It’s not even an option. End of discussion.”
    “Then let’s talk about something else. What’s your wife do?”
    “You can be real irritating, you know that?”
    “It’s a gift.”
    Despite my ill humor, I cracked a smile, recalling that recently I had said something similar.
    “C’mon, what’s she do?” Lauren persisted, encouraged by the break in my mood. “I’m interested in knowing what type of woman would put up with you.”
    “She’s a musician. Plays cello for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.”
    Lauren raised an eyebrow. “Impressive. You’re full of surprises. Any children?”
    “Three. They all adore me.”
    “I’ll bet,” Lauren laughed. “I have a daughter myself.”
    “Nine years old.”
    “How’d you know that?”
    “You told me that day you were spoutin’ off in the parking garage. You said you were a single mother with no social life and a few more wrinkles than you had last year, a three-bedroom condo with a leaky roof and a big mortgage, and a nine-year-old daughter you don’t have time for.”
    Lauren’s mouth dropped open. “That sounds verbatim.”
    “It is.”
    I shrugged. “I have a good memory.”
    “You remember conversations word-for-word?” Lauren asked dubiously.
    “And a lotta other things I’d rather forget.”
    “Really? What else did I say?”
    “You said that sometimes you wake up in the morning and wonder what you’re doing with your life,” I answered without thinking. “You asked if it sounded familiar.”
    “And what did you say?”
    “I didn’t.”
    Lauren stared. “You’re a strange man, Kane.”
    “So I’ve been told.”
    The waitress returned with our drinks. After she departed, Lauren picked up where she’d left off. “How’d you and your wife get together? I mean, there’s quite a difference between you. She plays with the Philharmonic, while you’re out there on the streets…”
    “… wallowing in the gutter?”
    “I was about to say making the city safe for the rest of us.”
    “Sure you were,” I said. “And as a matter of fact, Kate would like nothing better than for me to quit the Force. I’m thinkin’ about it, too. Maybe I’ll take an early-out.”
    “What would you do then?”
    I shook my head. “I don’t know. If I quit, I’d probably just sit around somewhere in a rocker drooling on myself.”
    “With your pecker hanging out because you can’t remember to zip your fly,” Lauren noted somberly. “A pathetic image.”
    “That’s some mouth you’ve got on you, Van Owen. Ever consider working for Hallmark?”
    “I grew up with two older brothers,” Lauren replied with a smile. Then, “So how did you get into law enforcement?”
    “My dad was a cop.”
    “Was? Is he retired now?”
    “He died in the line of duty.”
    Lauren’s smile faded. “Sorry. I didn’t-”
    “It’s okay. It happened a long time ago.”
    “Your mom still alive?”
    “Yep. She remarried. Still lives in Austin.”
    “A Texas boy. I should have known.” Lauren gazed at me pensively. “Tell me something, Kane. And tell me the truth. You love being a police detective, don’t you?”
    I thought a moment. “The truth? Except for putting up with the bullshit that probably goes with any job, yeah. I do.”
    “So keep doing what you’re doing.”
    “Odd advice, coming from you.”
    “Not really,” said Lauren. “To people like you and me, careers are more important than family relationships or a good love life. You’re a cop because you’re good at it and that’s what you want to do. And no matter what you say, you’ll keep doing it as long as you can. Hell, I don’t blame you. Although you may not think so, I have a lot of respect for you guys in blue.”
    “About as much as I have for the media.”
    “That’s not fair,” Lauren retorted. “Whether you approve or not, the public has a right to know. Besides, television news isn’t all ‘murder and mayhem at eleven.’ Granted, we often deserve criticism, but there are a lot of good things happening in broadcast journalism, too.”
    “Name one.”
    Lauren bristled. “Despite your uninformed opinion, it’s obvious to any thinking person that broadcast journalism has a pervasive influence on society. We have the power to inform, enlighten, and empower. And I believe we’re working toward doing all those things, and improving as time goes on.”
    Ignoring my cynicism, Lauren continued. “The world’s shrinking, Kane, and we in the news media are playing a part. As we become a global community-”
    “So how are things better now that we can get live shots of bombs dropping in the Mideast and tanks rolling into undefended cities?”
    “You’re missing the point. The only way to change things is to-”
    “Get off the soapbox, honey. I’m not in the mood. Besides, we’re never gonna agree.”
    “Probably not,” Lauren said tersely. “I don’t know what I was thinking, trying to change your mind about something.”
    “Tell you what,” I said, my mood again plummeting. “Why don’t you drink your wine while I slug down a couple more bourbons, and we just listen to the music?”
    After the combo finished its third set, I rose unsteadily, deciding the time had come to call a cab. Lauren, who enjoyed jazz and had remained at my table despite my less than hospitable company, offered me a lift. Figuring what the hell, I accepted, at that point not thinking too clearly.
    By then the storm had let up slightly, and the rain-slicked streets outside were practically deserted. Except for giving directions, I said nothing to Lauren on the drive west to San Vicente Boulevard. After traveling for several minutes down the tree-lined avenue, I directed Lauren north on a side street, arriving minutes later at Arnie’s modest, ranch-style residence. The windows were dark.
    “Looks like nobody’s home,” Lauren noted, peering through the windshield.
    “Arnie’s staying at his girlfriend’s tonight, as usual,” I said, searching my pockets for Arnie’s key. “Haven’t seen much of him in weeks. I hope I didn’t… ah, here it is.”
    “In that case, how about inviting me in for a nightcap?”
    “I don’t think so.”
    “C’mon, Kane. It’s Friday night, and I don’t feel like going home yet. I won’t bite, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
    “Okay, come on in,” I reluctantly agreed, one portion of my alcohol-besotted brain suspecting I was making a mistake, another part beginning not to care. “Arnie’s got some Scotch around somewhere.”
    “Works for me.” Lauren cut the engine, slid from behind the wheel, and started for the house.
    I rubbed my eyes in an attempt to clear my vision and stumbled after her. Following her up the walkway, I thought again of Catheryn, realizing she was probably spending time with Arthur West at that very moment. Without willing it, I mentally replayed my conversation with the man who had answered the phone in her room, deciding it must have been Arthur. I pictured Catheryn and her handsome, urbane associate sitting somewhere having a drink, laughing, sharing intimate memories of their trip. Stinging with jealousy, I thrust away the image.
    “You have the key?” asked Lauren when she reached the door.
    I joined her on the landing and fumbled with the deadbolt, acutely aware of the woman beside me. She was taller than I remembered. In heels, she had to be over six feet. I glanced at her as I unlocked the door, surprised to find her clear blue eyes nearly level with my own. I could smell her perfume, the same scent she’d been wearing on the day she had waylaid me in the parking garage.
    “Are we going in?” asked Lauren with a smile. “I suppose we could stand out here all night, but people might talk.”
    I swung open the door and stepped inside. “There’s a light switch here somewhere.”
    Lauren followed me in, brushing against me in the darkened entry. But instead of stepping away, she moved closer. I felt her body touching mine, her breasts lightly pressing against my chest. “Lauren
    “Shhh,” she murmured. “As you said earlier, no talking.”
    Her mouth tasted of wine and was surprisingly soft as she touched her lips to mine. She opened her mouth slightly, her breath warm and sweet. I stood without moving, caught off guard yet making no effort to resist, bitter thoughts of Catheryn’s betrayal once more rising in my mind. Slowly, I felt myself responding to Lauren’s embrace. Adrift in a sea of disillusionment, I put my arms around her and with a passion that surprised us both, I kissed her back, crushing her slim body to mine.
    A moan escaped Lauren’s lips. She pressed even closer. And as our kisses grew in fervor, she began touching me, her mouth on mine, her hands traveling beneath my coat. Shuddering with excitement, she began moving against me, gently at first, then with increasing intimacy as she felt my need growing to match hers.
    A rush of blood pounded in my ears. Desire sizzling through me like a hot current, I abandoned myself to the shameful sweetness of Lauren’s embrace. Her hair smelled of sunshine and she felt sleek and supple in my arms, her blouse silken under my fingers, her nipples hard and erect and straining at my touch. Without thinking, I slipped her jacket from her shoulders. Then, raising her skirt, I cupped the twin globes of her hips and gathered her to me, the gossamer-sheer fabric of her underwear smooth against my palms. Closing my eyes, I gasped with pleasure as she rocked her pelvis against my hardness, teasing me, urging me on. I felt the heat burning in her core and kissed her again, realizing I wanted more.
    Instead, I pushed her away.
    “What’s wrong?” Lauren whispered, her voice husky with passion.
    “We can’t do this,” I said.
    “Why not?”
    “You know the reason,” I said softly. “Besides, I was wrong about you. You’re not half as bad as I thought. You deserve better than this. We both do.”
    Lauren moved closer, wrapping her arms around my neck. “I’m not complaining,” she said, her lips once more finding mine.
    “Nothing good can come of this,” I said, my desire mounting anew as Lauren’s hands crept beneath my shirt. With maddening lightness, she raked her nails across my back. Then, slowly and seductively, she slipped off her blouse and bra. Pressing against my chest with the warm fullness of her breasts, she kissed me again.
    My head swam with a swirl of images: Catheryn and Arthur. Lauren and me. “Nothing good can come of this,” I repeated, still meaning the words, but in my jealousy and hurt, suddenly not caring.
    Lauren pressed closer, her hands now brazenly exploring, her thighs moving insistently against mine. She reached out and closed the door. With a twist of her wrist, she sent home the bolt.
    “I’m a big girl,” she said. “I’ll take my chances.”
    Steve Gannon


    U pon awaking the next morning, I found that Lauren had slipped away sometime during the night. Choked with shame and regret, I rolled out of bed and pulled on my rumpled clothes. Arnie still hadn’t returned from Stacy’s, but I decided not to wait. Fighting a raging hangover, I took a cab to the Scotch ’n’ Sirloin and retrieved a spare set of keys from a magnetic receptacle in the bumper of my Suburban. Realizing I would be late for work in any case, I decided to drive to the beach. I needed a shower and a change of clothes, and I wanted to check on the kids as well. Apparently Caltrans repair crews had worked through the night on a slide at Temescal Canyon, and the highway was finally clear… at least until the next rain.
    Allison and Nate hadn’t returned home yet from Christy’s when I arrived, and the house was deserted. I decided not to call, remembering it was Christmas vacation and the kids were probably taking advantage of the situation to sleep late. Once I had coffee brewing, I wrote a short note to Catheryn explaining the children’s absence should she arrive before they returned. Leaving my message on the bed, I stumbled to the bathroom, downed four Advils, and hurriedly showered, shaved, and pulled on a fresh set of clothes. Minutes later, a mug of black coffee in hand, I stepped out the front door.
    As I reached the street, Adele Washington’s car pulled up. Catheryn climbed out. “Hi, Dan,” she said with a guarded smile. Despite our strained relationship, she seemed happy to see me.
    “Welcome home, Kate.” I gave her a perfunctory kiss on the cheek. “I thought you weren’t getting back till later.”
    “Some of us managed to catch an earlier flight.” Catheryn drew away, chilled by my reception. “Is something wrong? You’re acting, I don’t know… different. And you smell like a brewery.”
    “The road was closed last night, so I spent the night at Arnie’s. We went to the Scotch and had a couple drinks.”
    “Oh, Dan…”
    “It’s no big deal,” I said. “By the way, the kids are at Christy’s.”
    “How’re you doing, handsome?” Adele called from the rear of her Audi, where she was pulling Catheryn’s luggage from the trunk.
    “Getting by, Adele. Thanks for giving Kate a ride. Sorry, but I’m late for work and don’t have time to chat. See you later. ’Bye, Kate.”
    “You haven’t forgotten the Christmas Mercado at the Music Center tonight?” asked Catheryn, clearly bewildered by my frosty attitude.
    “I’ll be there. I’ll pick up a tux and change in town. See you at the fundraiser.”
    “All right,” said Catheryn uncertainly. “I… I’ll look for you there.”


    Catheryn chatted briefly with Adele for several minutes, trying to hide her hurt at her husband’s puzzling reception. Then, after Adele left, she carried her bags into the house.
    A note lay on her pillow. Catheryn read it with a heavy heart, struck by the impersonal tone of the message. Feeling as if she’d been slapped, she crumpled the note. Things hadn’t been on an even keel when she’d left, but this was more than that.
    With a sigh, she busied herself unpacking, sorting her clothes into two piles: those that needed washing and those that could be rehung. As she worked, she noticed one of her husband’s shirts topping a stack of laundry in a hamper by the closet. After she had divided her wash items into darks and lights, she carried the hamper to the bed, intending to add its contents to her piles. Absently, she picked up her husband’s soiled shirt and raised it to her face.
    It smelled of sweat, deodorant, and something else. A faint floral scent clung to the fabric, a distinctive fragrance as memorable as the odor of newly mown lawn. White Linen. Although Catheryn had a small bottle of the perfume on her dresser, she rarely used it, considering it too elegant for casual wear.
    All at once things made sense.
    Stunned, Catheryn sank to the bed, the soiled shirt still clutched in her hands. She lowered her head in shock and disbelief, wondering how things could have gone so wrong, wondering how her life could have come unraveled with such abysmal, unforeseeable hurt. And as she sat, a profound emptiness welled up inside, drowning her in a flood of loneliness and loss. And for the first time since Tommy’s death, alone on the bed upon which for years she and her husband had shared their love, she cried.

    Lauren glared at the jangling phone, thinking that if interruptions kept popping up, she would never finish her news piece on time. It was already two o’clock, with a three-thirty deadline fast approaching. Damn!
    Sighing, she saved the work on her computer screen and glanced around the hectic newsroom. A recording studio for the CBS National Radio Network before the days of television, the windowless chamber still exhibited holdovers from its previous incarnation, including an elevated glass control booth at one end that had been converted to the news director’s office.
    Maybe I can get some help from one of the Newspath guys, she thought, spotting a friend standing near the assignment desk. Manuel doesn’t seem too busy.
    Still ringing.
    Finally she lifted the receiver. “Van Owen.”
    “Lobby, Ms. Van Owen. Someone’s here for you. She doesn’t have an appointment, but she says you’ll want to see her.”
    “I’m not expecting anyone.”
    “She’s extremely insistent.”
    “Who is it?”
    “Catheryn Kane.”
    Lauren swallowed, finding herself at a loss for words. A premonition of disaster settled like a weight in her stomach. “Shit,” she said, irritated that the hackneyed expletive was the best she could do. “Tell her… tell her I’ll be right there.”
    The reception lobby on the ground floor of Columbia Square, the Hollywood headquarters of KCBS-TV, contained a couch, three chairs, photo blowups of the building’s inauguration in 1938, a security station, and twin television monitors mounted high on the wall-both permanently tuned to Channel Two. In addition to a guard, a pair of card-operated turnstiles prevented unauthorized entry deeper into the building. The tall, hauntingly beautiful woman whom Lauren found waiting on the other side of the barrier was not what she had expected.
    Aren’t musicians supposed to have horn-rimmed glasses and wear their hair up in buns? Lauren thought distractedly. This woman obviously hasn’t received the word. “Mrs. Kane?” she said, endeavoring to appear unruffled.
    “Call me Catheryn,” the woman replied, her tone calm and reserved. “This will be difficult enough without standing on formality. After all, we do have quite a bit in common.”
    “I, uh…”
    “I didn’t come here to make a scene. I just want to talk. Is there someplace we can go?”
    Lauren glanced at her watch, her mind racing. Not the newsroom. Too busy. Same with the broadcast studios. The editing bays are all full, too. The Newspath office? Too dismal. Jesus, what’s she doing here? “There… there’s a patio we can use,” she stammered.
    Lauren motioned to the guard at the desk. The guard touched a switch, and a low gate bypassing the turnstiles clicked open. Swinging it aside, Lauren ushered Catheryn in. Proceeding in silence down a wide corridor, the two women passed the brightly lit newsroom on the left. Farther on they took a curving passage displaying full-color headshots of Channel Two news anchors, past and present. Lauren’s was one of the most recent.
    Shortly afterward they reached a door leading to a deserted patio. The massive, U-shaped body of the CBS building encompassed three sides; a ten-foot-high wrought-iron fence and a hedge of ficus sealed the fourth, separating the space from passing traffic on Sunset Boulevard.
    “I eat lunch here occasionally, but hardly anyone else ever comes out,” Lauren said self-consciously. Christ, get ahold of yourself, she thought. “We can sit over there, if you want,” she added, indicating one of the white-canopied tables scattered around the terrace.
    Catheryn followed her to the table, on the way inspecting the vertical rows of windows staring down on the courtyard. “A little like being in a fishbowl,” she remarked.
    “It is, isn’t it?” agreed Lauren, taking a seat.
    Catheryn sat across from her.
    An uncomfortable silence descended. Finally Lauren spoke. “How did you…?”
    “Find out? It wasn’t hard. All it took was a couple of phone calls-one to Dan’s ex-partner, another to a restaurant parking attendant. When you’re married to a detective, you learn a few things.”
    “I suppose you would.”
    “Dan doesn’t know I’m here.”
    “Has he said anything?”
    “No,” Catheryn answered bitterly. “Although I just arrived home today. Perhaps he’s waiting for the perfect time to tell me. Christmas, maybe.”
    “Excuse me for asking, Mrs. Kane… Catheryn, but why are you here?”
    Catheryn gazed levelly across the table. “I’m not certain. I guess I wanted to see who you were, find out what you were like.”
    “Confront the hussy who stole your man?” said Lauren, meeting Catheryn’s gaze.
    “Something like that.”
    “I’m not going to apologize, if that’s what you expect. If Dan were getting what he needed from you, he wouldn’t have come to me.”
    “No. He wouldn’t.”
    “I’m not criticizing you. I know you’re a successful musician and that your work probably takes up a lot of your time. It’s a hard choice.”
    “For some reason, that sounds like a news flash from the kettle,” noted Catheryn, her expression tightening. “Tell me something, Lauren. Are you married?”
    “I was once. It didn’t work out.”
    “Oh? Why not?”
    “None of your business.”
    “Too personal?” Catheryn shot back, her eyes flashing. “You sleep with my husband and then tell me your marriage is none of my business? I’d find that ludicrous if it weren’t so absurd.”
    Color rose to Lauren’s cheeks. She started to respond in kind, then caught herself. “I suppose you have a point,” she conceded.
    “So what happened? Another woman?”
    Lauren took a deep breath. “No, nothing like that. To be truthful, I wasn’t much of a wife. My husband wasn’t any gem, either. Eric and I had our problems, but given time I think we could’ve worked things out. Bottom line, my career took precedence over my being married. It’s an old story.”
    “Yes,” said Catheryn, thinking of her position with the Philharmonic and the demands it had placed on her marriage. “Do you have kids?”
    “A daughter. Her name’s Candice. She’s made it all worthwhile.”
    “Children are like that. Most of the time, anyway. We have three.”
    Unexpectedly, Lauren found herself liking the woman sitting across from her. It was a feeling she couldn’t afford. “I know what you’re driving at,” she said, hearing the tension returning to her voice and struggling to bring it under control. “Kids and broken homes and all the things that go with them. Well, I’m sorry, but we all make choices, and I’m not the only player in this.”
    “Do you love him?”
    Though taken off guard by the question, Lauren decided Catheryn deserved an honest answer. She thought a moment, exploring a possibility she had avoided considering, at least until now. “I don’t know,” she said at last. “But if he loved me back, I think I could,” she added, surprised by her own admission.
    Catheryn looked away.
    “What about you? Do you still love him?”
    Catheryn shook her head. “I’m not sure about anything anymore. Things haven’t been right between us for quite a while. And now…”
    “You’re a fool if you let him go,” Lauren blurted, surprising herself again.
    “Maybe.” Abruptly, Catheryn rose. “Good-bye, Lauren. Thanks for your time.”
    Lauren pushed to her feet. “Let me walk you out.”
    “I’ll find my own way.”
    Lauren hesitated, for the second time that day at a loss for words. “Catheryn?”
    “I just wish that…” Lauren’s voice trailed off.
    Catheryn nodded somberly. “So do I.”
    Outside in the parking lot, Catheryn sat behind the wheel of her Volvo. Numbly, she revisited her conversation with the newswoman. Nothing had gone as she had anticipated. To her chagrin, toward the end she had even found herself thinking that were it not for what had happened, she and Lauren might have even become friends.
    Angrily, Catheryn started her car and jammed it into gear. After pulling around an array of gigantic satellite dishes, she sped past the guard gate and exited onto El Centro. A half block down she turned right on Sunset, heading west.
    At the signal at Vine, a white van dropped in behind. Unobserved, it followed her all the way to the beach.


    Nice threads, Dad,” said Travis, inspecting me with a nod of approval. “You look pretty good in a monkey suit. In fact, you look good enough to bury.”
    “The ol’ dad can hob with the best of nobs,” I declared crossly, shooting the cuffs of my tuxedo. “Seen your mom?”
    Travis peered across the terrace, searching a sea of women in evening gowns and men in formal attire. “We got separated a half hour ago, but she’s around here somewhere. Nate and Ali are with her.”
    Turning, I scanned the Music Center plaza, squinting against a glare from one of several searchlights ringing the concourse, raking the sky with dazzling shafts of light. In days past the Music Center fundraisers had been large; this year it was immense.
    Transported as if by magic to some earlier time, the plaza dividing the Mark Taper Forum from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion bore little resemblance to the deserted patio of my previous visit. Now a parade of white tents topped with colorful streamers covered the terrace, their billowing canopies reminiscent of a medieval fair. Beneath their canvas roofs, paintings, jewelry, sculpture, and other artwork donated by patrons and artists were displayed for sale, while white-gloved waiters carrying silver trays meandered among the crowd serving champagne, white wine, and hors d’oeuvres. From the north end of the plaza, the sounds of a string quartet floated over the assembly; from the south I could make out the drone of an auctioneer calling for bids on a diverse collection of items listed on the program ranging from Van Goghs to an Arabian stallion.
    “There have to be at least a couple thousand people here,” I noted. “Maybe more. I’ll never find her.”
    “You should’ve been here on time,” chided Travis.
    “Some of us had to work.”
    “If we don’t spot her out here, let’s try the Dorothy Chandler banquet hall,” suggested Travis. “They’re serving food there, and there’s a silent auction going on, too. Mom likes that kinda stuff.”
    “Food, huh?”
    “Nothing you would want. Barons of beef, honey-cured ham, leg of lamb, lobster Newburg, and a dessert table that won’t quit.”
    “I’m not hungry,” I said. “Hold on. Is that your mom over there?”
    I pointed toward the plaza fountain, where a small figure had just broken away from a group on the far side. Nate. Skirting the illuminated jets, he was running around the fountain perimeter, timing his advances and retreats to the rise and fall of the geysers.
    “You’re right,” said Travis.
    “Your eyes are better than mine, kid. Who’s your mom talking to?”
    “Mr. West. Ali’s there, too.”
    “Mr. West, huh? Who else?” I said harshly.
    “The music director and some other musicians,” Travis answered, seeming puzzled by my glacial mood. “They’re probably discussing tomorrow night’s performance,” he went on, referring to a concert that the Philharmonic would be performing on Christmas Eve. I nodded, remembering that the special engagement had been scheduled to celebrate the orchestra’s return, as well as to culminate the final day of the Christmas fundraiser. “Mr. West will be playing the Dvorak Cello Concerto,” Travis added. “I heard it was the highlight of the tour.”
    “Is that so?” Without another word, I began bulling my way across the plaza.
    Catheryn glanced up as I approached, Travis in my wake. As I continued plowing through the crowd, I saw her excuse herself from the group. Linking her arm through Arthur’s, she started toward Nate, keeping the fountain between us.
    I intercepted her and Arthur on the far side.
    “Hello, Dan,” Catheryn said coolly. “Nice of you to make it.”
    I stopped several feet away, scowling as I noticed that Catheryn and Arthur were still arm in arm. “I got jammed up at work.”
    “I’m sure you did,” said Catheryn, making no move toward me in greeting.
    “Good evening, Detective,” said Arthur. Faced with the choice of extending his hand in greeting or leaving his arm entwined in Catheryn’s, he chose the latter.
    “We need to talk, Kate,” I said. “In private.”
    “In private?” laughed Arthur. “In the midst of three thousand people? I think not.”
    “I’m not talking to you, Arthur. Stay out of this.”
    “Hi, Pop,” interjected Allison. “You’re looking sharp tonight,” she added, apparently sensing an approaching storm and trying to lighten the tension.
    “Hi, Dad,” echoed Nate. By then he had rejoined his mother, surprisingly unscathed by his game of chicken with the fountain.
    “You kids take a hike,” I ordered. “I need to talk to your mom. Nate, go up to the banquet hall with Travis and Allison and get some chow. We’ll see you there.”
    “We already ate,” said Nate.
    “And now isn’t the time or place,” added Catheryn.
    “Oh? Would a hotel room suit you better?”
    Catheryn frowned. “What are you talking about?”
    Before I could reply, Arthur spoke. “Listen, Detective. You’re clearly upset about something, but Catheryn and I have obligations to the Philharmonic tonight that-”
    “I told you to stay out of this,” I broke in, my voice ominously flat.
    “Go away, Dan,” said Catheryn, tightening her arm in Arthur’s. “I don’t want to talk to you right now. Later, maybe. Not now.”
    “All right. You want to be with this turkey, go ahead. You seem to have made your choice.”
    “ I’ve made a choice? That sounds strange coming from you.”
    I noticed that Travis, Allison, and Nate were watching our exchange in shock. Like all married couples, Catheryn and I occasionally quarreled, but humor had always leavened our differences and rarely did we fight in the presence of our children-let alone in front of a crowd of strangers. All at once Nate, with the unerring instinct of youth, sensed the heart of the matter. Rushing forward, he squirmed between Catheryn and Arthur. “Leave my mom alone,” he said, trying to disentangle the cellist’s arm from Catheryn’s.
    “This is simply too much,” said Arthur. Using his thumb and forefinger, he pinched Nate’s earlobe and dragged him out to arm’s length. “Mind your manners, boy.”
    “Ow!” yelled Nate, throwing an ineffective swing. “Lemme go!”
    “Arthur, don’t,” said Catheryn. “He’s just-”
    My arm shot out. Without thinking I closed my fist on Arthur’s hand. Nate broke free of Arthur’s grasp an instant later, but I didn’t let go. Angrily gripping the cellist’s hand in mine, I squeezed. Arthur paled, his lips drawing back in a wordless grimace.
    “Dan, no!” Catheryn screamed.
    “Let him go, Dad,” pleaded Travis, tugging at my arm. Allison and Nate stood paralyzed, watching in horror.
    I released Arthur’s hand and grabbed him by the front of his shirt. “You may think you can put your paws anyplace you want on my wife,” I said softly, “but keep them off my kids.”
    Though my warning had been meant only for Arthur, Catheryn heard. I saw her eyes widen in comprehension. Furious, she threw herself between us. “Let him go, Dan.”
    With a snarl I shoved Arthur away, sending him stumbling into a circle of stunned onlookers. Cradling his hand, he glowered at me, his face ashen. “You animal!” he spat.
    I stepped forward. Catheryn moved to block me. “Arthur, get out of here,” she hissed, her eyes locked on mine. “Go find some ice for your hand.”
    “Catheryn, this is inexcusable,” Arthur moaned. “If he thinks he can-”
    “Leave, Arthur. Now!”
    Arthur glanced at me. Swallowing whatever he had been about to say, he hurried off, still clutching his hand to his chest.
    “Travis, take Allison and Nate to the buffet room,” Catheryn commanded, still eye to eye with me. “I’ll see you there in a few minutes.”
    “Mom, I-”
    “Do it, Travis.”
    “Yes, ma’am.”
    After the children left, Catheryn and I stared at each other for a long moment. At last she spoke. “Congratulations, Dan,” she said quietly. “You’ve outdone yourself this time. I didn’t think it was possible, but I guess you never know about somebody. Even your own husband.”
    “Having a husband doesn’t seem like something you take too seriously these days,” I said.
    “You don’t own me,” Catheryn retorted. “I’ll be with whomever I want.”
    “With whomever you want, huh?” I said, reeling with surprise at her tacit admission. I had expected an excuse, a denial… something. Anything but this. “Fine. You want to be with that narcissistic bastard, suit yourself. But tell Arthur if he ever lays a hand on one of my kids again, tonight was just a prelude.”
    Catheryn’s lips set in a hard, thin line. “I don’t want to see you for a while, Dan,” she said.
    “No problem. I’ll be staying at Arnie’s.”
    “You do that.” Eyes brimming with anger and hurt, Catheryn turned and disappeared into the crowd.

    Following a sleepless night of self-recrimination and regret, I telephoned home early the following day. Allison answered. “Hi, Pop,” she said somberly. “Where are you?”
    “Work, where else? Listen, kid, put your mom on.”
    “I mean where did you go last night?”
    “I stayed at Arnie’s. I’m bunking back there again. Is your mom around?”
    “No. What’s going on, Dad? Mom wouldn’t tell me what’s wrong, but she was really upset. Why are you being so nasty?”
    “Where’s your mom? I need to talk to her.”
    “Answer my question first,” Allison said obstinately.
    “You’re treading on thin ice, princess. Get your mom.”
    “What’s that, Pop? You’re breaking up. There must be something wrong with the phone connection.”
    “Damn it, Ali…”
    “Hold on.” Apparently Allison slammed the receiver on the table several times, causing me to pull the phone from my ear.
    “That’s better,” said Allison, coming back on. “Now, where were we? Oh, yeah. The fight between you and Mom.”
    “I swear, when I get my hands on you, Ali…”
    “You’re breaking up again, Pop. If it continues I’ll have to hang up.”
    A long silence.
    “I’m still here.”
    “I can’t believe you’re doing this. Especially your timing. Mom just got home yesterday, and Christmas is tomorrow. At this rate the holidays are going to be just peachy.”
    “Your mom and I are having a disagreement that doesn’t concern you or your brothers.”
    “You’re jealous of Mr. West, aren’t you?”
    “Did Kate tell you that?”
    “I was there last night, Dad. Only someone with a room temperature IQ could’ve missed what was going on-which probably explains why Nate and Travis are still in the dark.”
    “I’m sorry you kids saw that,” I said guiltily. “This may be hard for you to swallow, but my actions occasionally fall short of perfect. And maybe sometimes your mom’s do, too. That’s all I’ll say, except that your mother and I have some things to work out. Okay?”
    “Okay, Pop,” said Allison reluctantly.
    “Now, where’s Kate?”
    “The Music Center.”
    “What’s she doing there this early? The concert’s not till tonight.”
    “She’s in a special rehearsal with the music director.”
    “What for?”
    “Well, Pop, that little handshake you gave Mr. West put a crimp in his playing. The doctor says he’ll be out for a couple of days. In case you don’t know, it’s tough putting on a cello concerto without a cello soloist. The Philharmonic tried to get a virtuoso substitute, but on short notice they didn’t have any success.”
    “So Mom has the Dvorak in her repertoire,” Allison continued excitedly. “She’s never performed the solo part with the orchestra, but Mr. West has heard her play it, and he thinks she’ll do great. Plus, she accompanied every one of his performances in Europe, so it’s not as if she’s going into it cold.”
    “Kate’s going to be the soloist tonight?”
    “Uh-huh. Isn’t that exciting?”
    “It is,” I said sincerely. “I’m happy for her.”
    “Me, too. Mom was so nervous when she left. I’ve never seen her that flustered.”
    “She’ll get over her butterflies once she gets up there and starts playing. I’ll bet she knocks them dead.”
    “I hope so.”
    “Any chance of getting tickets?”
    “No way, Dad. This thing’s been sold out for weeks.”
    Another long pause. “Is Travis around?” I asked, changing the subject.
    “Why? Already tired of conversing with the only one of your offspring who can form a declarative sentence of more than four words?”
    “Yeah, as a matter of fact. And don’t start in again, Ali, or I really will wring your neck the next time I see you.”
    “When will that be?”
    “Christmas, I suppose,” I sighed. “If I don’t get ahold of her, tell your mom I’ll be by tomorrow to cook. Can’t have the whole family starving because we’re…” My voice trailed off. Sadly, I found myself unable to put into words what was going on between Catheryn and me. “Anyway, put Travis on,” I finished lamely.
    “He’s out on the beach taking a walk.”
    “Well, when he gets back, ask him to throw together some clothes for me and drop them by Arnie’s.”
    “Please get things straightened out with Mom soon, okay?”
    “I’ll try, kid. I want to. I really do, but things aren’t that easy.”
    “Yes, they are, Dad. Like you always tell us: Figure out what you want, then do whatever it takes to get it.”


    After talking with Allison, I spent the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon interviewing various males between the ages of twenty and sixty who had made the mistake of attending one of the police-sponsored “killer awareness meetings” in Pacific Palisades, Mission Viejo, and Newport Beach. Though I conceded that the job needed doing, I held little hope of its bearing fruit, concurring with Dr. Berns’s assessment that the killer was far too careful to make that type of mistake. Nonetheless, other developments in the investigation had recently begun to appear more promising-talking with employees of the law firm of Donovan, Simon, and Kerr, for instance-although lately those assignments had all been funneled to other members of the unit besides me.
    I knew that keeping me out of the loop was no coincidence. Following the killer’s escape from the Bakers’ house, Snead had done his best to keep me off the front line. Nonetheless, things could have been worse. Hotline calls had tripled after Lauren Van Owen’s on-air revelation of the FBI profile, and in response to increased demand, a number of task force members had been relegated to permanent phone duty. At least my current assignment got me out of the office.
    Later that day, upon returning to task force headquarters, I found several message slips on my desk. One was from a woman who had refused to leave her name. Curious, I dialed that number first, waiting impatiently as the phone rang. As I was about to hang up, someone answered.
    “Van Owen.”
    “Damn,” I said, glancing around to make sure no one was listening. “Why did you call me here?”
    “This is important. Can you meet me in an hour?”
    “What’s this about?”
    “I can’t talk over the phone. Please, Kane?”
    I hesitated. “After work,” I said tersely.
    “When do you get off?”
    “Drop by when you’re done.” Lauren rattled off an address and hung up before I could object.
    At a little past eight that evening, after stopping at a market for several items I still needed to cook Christmas dinner the following day, I drove to Brentwood, took a right off San Vicente Boulevard onto Westgate, and stopped three blocks down. I sat for a moment, inspecting a string of gray condos across the street. When Lauren had given me the location, I’d thought it sounded like a residential address. Now I was sure.
    I climbed out of the Suburban and crossed the street, wondering what I was doing. I knew I had to see Lauren at least once more, but I would have preferred neutral territory for the meeting. Still, I went.
    The sprawling complex I entered covered several acres of prime Westside real estate, with extensive landscaping between secluded, two-story units. Lauren’s condo lay in the back. I pushed the doorbell. Lauren answered the door on the second ring.
    She was wearing tight fitting jeans and an oversized T-shirt, with just a trace of makeup accenting her eyes and lips. “I’m sorry, officer,” she said, a puzzled expression furrowing her brow. “You seem to have mistaken my house for a doughnut shop. Krispy Kreme is up on Wilshire.”
    “Funny, Van Owen,” I laughed in spite of myself. “Where do you get your material?”
    “TV sitcoms, mostly,” Lauren answered with a grin. She slipped the security chain and opened the door the rest of the way. As I stepped in, she placed an arm affectionately around a tall, coltish youngster standing beside her in the entry.
    “Dan, this is my daughter Candice,” Lauren said proudly. “Candice, Detective Kane.”
    Shyly, the girl extended her hand. “Nice to meet you, sir,” she said.
    I smiled, taking her small palm in mine. “You, too,” I said. “I can see you’re going to be a heartbreaker, just like your mom.”
    The youngster smiled back, her eyes twinkling. “Mom says women aren’t near the heartbreakers that men are.”
    “Sounds like your mother,” I replied. “Don’t you believe it.”
    “Candice, why don’t you go upstairs and do some homework?” suggested Lauren.
    “I don’t have any, Mom,” Candice laughed, rolling her eyes. “Tomorrow’s Christmas, remember?”
    “Right. In that case, how’s about making yourself scarce for a couple minutes? Detective Kane and I have something to discuss.”
    “Sure, Mom. But can we eat soon? I’m starving.”
    “We’ll be done in a few minutes. I promise.”
    “Okay. Catch you later, Detective Kane.”
    “Nice kid,” I observed as the youngster bounded up the stairs.
    “She’s a great kid. I wish I could take credit, but being a single parent isn’t easy, with work and all…”
    “You have to be doing something right.”
    “Thanks,” said Lauren, a catch in her voice betraying her nervousness. “In all fairness, her dad’s great with her, too.”
    “He live around here?”
    “Pasadena. We share her as much as possible. Candice is spending Christmas Eve with me this year; Eric gets her tomorrow. You, uh, want a cup of coffee?”
    “No, thanks. I can’t stay. I’ve gotta get…” I hesitated, realizing I had been about to say “home.” Although adequate, Arnie’s guest room was definitely not home. “… some things taken care of before tomorrow,” I finished lamely.
    “Last minute shopping?”
    “Right,” I lied. In truth, my Christmas shopping was done, and the highlight of my evening would probably be a meal of cold leftovers scavenged from Arnie’s refrigerator. “What did you want to talk about?”
    Lauren glanced up the staircase. “Let’s go into the kitchen.”
    I followed Lauren through the family room, passing a lavishly decorated Christmas tree with a glowing red star on top and a jumble of presents at its base. I smiled, suspecting that most of the gifts there had Candice’s name on them. Past the family room we entered an airy kitchen. Spicy and inviting, the aroma of tomato, garlic, onion, and basil wafted from a pot simmering on a six-burner stove. I noticed an assortment of stainless-steel pots and pans hanging above a maple chopping stand, along with a rack of German cutlery and a small library of cookbooks. “You cook?” I asked.
    “I’m not a gourmet, but I have a few recipes,” Lauren answered. “Why don’t you stay for dinner? We’re having pasta. It’s an old Christmas family tradition I just started tonight. There’s plenty.”
    “Thanks, no.”
    After pouring herself a cup of coffee, Lauren retired to a small breakfast nook and sat. I remained standing.
    Lauren took a sip from her mug, grimaced, and set it down. “I had a meeting with the bureau chief today,” she said. “I know you shot down our news team being in the task force meetings, but let me make a suggestion, okay?”
    I didn’t respond.
    “With your hotline approach and awareness meetings, you guys have been indicating all along that it’ll take public involvement to catch this guy,” she went on, apparently construing my silence as consent. “What I’m about to propose could provide it.” Lauren took another sip of coffee, then rushed ahead, her words obviously rehearsed. “My network’s willing to post a million dollar reward for information leading to the murderer’s capture and conviction. All we want is a presence at your meetings. One cameraman, me, and maybe one other person.”
    “We get our man; you kick butt in the sweeps.”
    “Everybody makes out. What do you think?”
    “I think your station’s already presented the idea to the brass,” I said. “Last week, as a matter of fact. I heard about it Friday. I also heard it got shot down. We can’t play favorites with the media, and the truth is we’re already drowning in tips from concerned citizens. A reward would bring out every dirtbag in the city with a cash flow problem.”
    “It’s still a good idea,” Lauren maintained stubbornly. “I thought maybe you could persuade your superiors to take another look. We could-”
    “Forget it, Van Owen. It’ll never fly.”
    “No. I guess not. Anyway, that’s… that’s not why I asked you here.”
    “I know. I’m sorry, Van Owen. I can’t see you anymore.”
    Lauren turned her head to hide her disappointment. “Why? Need glasses?”
    “My vision’s fine. It’s my judgment that’s off. What happened between us was a mistake. You know that.”
    “I’m not too sure about anything right now.”
    “I’m married.”
    “I don’t care,” she said softly.
    “ I do. And you don’t need that kind of trouble, either. You’re a beautiful, intelligent, talented woman, and-”
    “I could change.”
    I smiled. “Did I mention funny?” Then, more seriously, “Anyway, I wouldn’t want you to change. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I like you just the way you are.”
    “Then why?”
    “Because of Catheryn,” I said simply. “Things haven’t been right between us for a long time, but I’m going do my level best to get them straightened out. I don’t know whether I can, but I’m going to try.”
    “Have you told her about us?”
    I shook my head. “We had a falling out recently. I haven’t had the chance.”
    “But you’re going to?”
    “I have to tell her. Kate and I don’t keep secrets.”
    “Your wife’s a lucky woman.”
    “There’re plenty who’d disagree. And they would probably be right.”
    “I don’t think so.”
    “Maybe you’re the one who needs glasses.”
    Lauren started to respond, then paused thoughtfully. “Catheryn came to visit me today. She knows.”
    I froze, feeling as if I’d been kicked in the chest. “How’d she find out?”
    “I don’t know. She mentioned picking up a few things being married to a cop.”
    I ran my fingers through my hair, momentarily at a loss for words. “I have to go,” I said, realizing that Lauren’s revelation could explain a lot.
    “You’re sure?”
    I nodded.
    “Well, thanks for stopping by. Merry Christmas. And Kane? Whatever it is you want, I hope you get it.”
    “Thanks, Lauren. I hope you do, too.”
    Steve Gannon


    H eart racing, Catheryn stood in the stage-right wing of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, her stomach tied in knots. She had performed for large audiences in the past, especially since joining the Philharmonic, but never as a featured soloist, and never with so little preparation. A capacity crowd was rapidly filling the 2,265-seat auditorium, with late arrivals filtering in as concert hour approached. With mounting misgivings, Catheryn realized that most of those present had come to hear Arthur West’s celebrated performance of the Dvorak Cello Concerto, and they would undoubtedly be disappointed to find a substitution slip in their programs. Another soloist? What happened to Arthur West? And who is this Catheryn Kane, anyway?
    Who, indeed? Catheryn wondered.
    Mother, musician, wife, came the answer, followed by a bitter addendum: And possibly not the latter for much longer. She remembered her husband’s hateful accusation of the night before, again feeling his words settling like spit on her face. She had wanted to lash out, protest her innocence, scream her knowledge of his betrayal. Most of all, she had wanted to hurt him, hurt him as he had hurt her. Resolutely, Catheryn shook her head, resolving to take a page from her husband’s playbook and put off thinking about things until later. With a near-paralyzing case of preconcert jitters, she already had enough on her plate. Tomorrow would be soon enough. Not now.
    Almost time.
    Taking a deep breath, Catheryn focused on the concerto she was about to perform, reviewing it in her mind. At the turn of the nineteenth century, during a protracted visit to the United States, Antonin Dvorak had written his lyric, emotional concerto for cello, and the unchallenged masterpiece spoke of years of homesickness for his family and his native Prague. Grimly, Catheryn realized that the heartbreaking composition constituted a perfect embodiment of her own turbulent mood as well.
    A moment later the concertmaster rose at the head of the first violin section, a signal for the orchestra to settle. At his nod, the principal oboist played an A. The strings joined in, then the brass and woodwinds, with a number of musicians making minor tuning adjustments. Finally the sounds of preparation died away, leaving an air of expectation filling the hall.
    The music director moved to stand beside Catheryn. “Ready?” he asked softly.
    With a plunge of both excitement and dread, Catheryn turned to face him, finding herself unable to reply. The handsome young Venezuelan conductor, who had recently taken the reins of the Los Angeles Philharmonic as music director at the early age of twenty-eight, smiled reassuringly. “It’s time. Are you ready?”
    Catheryn swallowed, trying to hide her nervousness. “I hope so.”
    “Don’t worry, Catheryn. You’ll do fine,” he said. As he took her hand to lead her onstage, he added cryptically, “And tonight, I think you’ll discover something about yourself, something wonderful.”
    At their appearance, a round of tepid applause rose from the audience, the lukewarm welcome understandably laden with an air of reserve at the last minute soloist change. At a wave from the music director, the entire assembly of musicians stood. Carrying her cello and bow in her left hand, Catheryn numbly greeted the concertmaster. Then, glancing neither left nor right, she made her way to a platform beside the conductor’s podium. Feeling the warmth of the spotlights, she sat, desperately trying to compose herself. The music director also stopped briefly to shake hands with the first violinist. Then, after nodding to several other players, he signaled for the orchestra members to take their seats.
    Once he had taken his place on the podium, the young conductor paused, allowing the audience to quiet. Slight rustlings, a few coughs. Then silence. He raised his hands. A hush fell over the hall. Catheryn felt the room crackling with tension.
    And then they began.
    Like all works of its type, Dvorak’s cello concerto had been written, on one level, as a means of providing a virtuosic display by a solo musician, who often carried the burden of melody alone. On another level, however, the soloist’s role was to provide a personal link between composer and listener, enabling an artist like Dvorak to speak the emotions of his innermost heart directly to his audience. For this reason, the arrival of the solo instrument during the first movement of a concerto is always an important and much anticipated event.
    Catheryn sat nervously during these first few minutes, bow held loosely in her right hand, listening as the voice of the orchestra gradually filled the hall-softly at first, only the winds, then the strings, swelling as the horns merged in. Bittersweet and chilling, the opening theme was repeated as various sections picked up the threads and passed them on, promising more. An achingly beautiful solo-horn exposition of the second theme followed, the emotive music rising anew as the winds picked it up and then the entire ensemble joined them, finally dying to a whisper. And then it was time.
    Catheryn lifted her bow.
    High in the Terrace East section of the hall, Victor Carns sat in the audience. On an impulse he had purchased tickets to the Christmas Eve concert weeks earlier, shortly after he’d begun his investigation of Daniel Kane. That Kane’s wife Catheryn had unexpectedly been elevated for tonight’s performance from a supporting role to that of soloist made things even better. Now, as the concert began, Carns leaned forward, waiting for Catheryn Kane’s opening bars, sensing a current of anticipation, like the tendrils of some invisible yet palpable force, coursing through the hall.
    Four minutes into the piece, Catheryn’s cello spoke at last. Sonorous and earthy, it seemed to draw its tones from the very bowels of the stage. Carns felt the audience stir around him. And as Catheryn continued, her playing charged with an emotion Carns couldn’t feel yet acknowledged nonetheless, he noticed a change coming over those around him. He saw it in their faces, and in their attention, and in the way they straightened in their seats. Something extraordinary was happening there that night. Everyone knew it. Even Carns.
    Although he hadn’t intended to, Carns listened as he had never listened before. Driving and relentless, the concerto unfolded in Catheryn’s sure hands, the formidable challenges of the work engendering a music of power and grace, the virtuoso passages leading inevitably from one exhilarating revelation to the next. Within moments of Catheryn’s starting, no doubt existed concerning her mastery of her instrument, yet her performance embodied more than bravura. Despite her technical brilliance, it was the emotion with which she played that transported the audience, and though he felt none of the passion clearly being experienced by others around him, Carns found himself ensnared by the sound of her playing as well. And as the concerto progressed, he began to sense an inexorable need swelling within him, rising with each new passage.
    Catheryn could feel it. They were with her now, all of them, and she with them, from musicians in the front row to players at the last stands in the back. It had happened partway through the opening movement, after the difficult glissando leading to a reprise of the second theme. Normally a moment of tremendous exaltation, this time it had become even more. Until then they’d all struggled a bit-the other musicians not used to the new soloist, she unaccustomed to performing with the full ensemble. And then at that instant something had changed… something magical.
    They had become one.
    Near silence had prevailed at the thunderous end of the first movement. Then, during the adagio, a spiritual, songlike interlude replete with dreamy introspection as tender as a first love, Catheryn found colors and feelings she hadn’t known existed. And the orchestra had followed. Once again the audience had remained as still as death during the abbreviated second break.
    Now, as they approached the conclusion of the final movement, it was with surprise and regret that Catheryn realized they were nearly finished. She felt strong, balanced, powerful. She never wanted it to end. Still, one of the sweetest sections was yet to come. Seconds later Catheryn and the first violin embarked on a brief duet, reprising a theme taken from a previous work of Dvorak’s that his sister-in-law had loved, and that he’d quoted in the extended coda as a memorial following her death. Catheryn glanced at the concertmaster as they proceeded with the sentimental inclusion. The violinist looked back, pleasure shining in his eyes.
    Slowly, after a journey of incredible serenity, the song-theme died to a sigh, a whisper, then nothing. Next came a stormy crescendo, with the entire orchestra joining in for the final triumphant bars. And then it was over.
    The audience sat in stunned silence.
    One second.
    And then they rose to their feet as one, their applause deafening, ringing in her ears.
    As if in a dream, Catheryn stood to accept the accolades. Smiling, the conductor came over to embrace her. “That was wonderful,” he whispered with a look of admiration and respect. Then, taking her hand, he turned with her to the audience.
    High in the room, Victor Carns stared down at the stage. As he had occasionally throughout the performance, he raised a small pair of binoculars to view the orchestra. Like those around him, his attention was riveted on the soloist. But as others applauded, he did not. Nor did he stand. And after the intermission, when Catheryn Kane didn’t reappear for the second portion of the program, he left.
    He thought about her all the way home.


    Christmas morning. A cold and blustery north wind had picked up overnight, whipping the Santa Monica Bay into a cauldron of angry white. To the west, ominous clouds hung on the horizon, heralding another approaching storm.
    As I started up the coast, the back of my Suburban laden with groceries and presents, I scanned local radio stations, futilely attempting to find one that wasn’t playing Christmas music. Finally I gave up and rode in silence. Approaching Malibu, I noticed that the skies over the palisades were thick with gulls, wheeling and soaring in currents of air thrown up by the cliffs. Glumly, I sensed myself, like the birds, caught in the grip of forces I could neither predict nor control. Over the past months it seemed my life had been twisted and buffeted and sent spiraling in directions I’d never expected, and there appeared to be nothing I could do about it.
    Again and again my thoughts returned to Catheryn. My infidelity with Lauren had been a mistake-a terrible, hurtful, inexcusable mistake. But it was finished. What about Catheryn and Arthur? How long had that been going on? Unable to accept that my marriage might be over, I pushed away the image of Catheryn sleeping with another man.
    I realized I was at a crossroads. Unexpectedly, I asked myself a question that I hadn’t considered for a quite some time: With all the possible future courses my life could take, what was really important to me? My job? My marriage? My family? My freedom? What did I truly want?
    The answer that came back was immediate and unconditional. I wanted Catheryn. And I wanted my family to be whole again, healthy and intact. And despite everything that had occurred, I was resolved to make that happen. No matter what.
    When I arrived at the beach house, Catheryn barely acknowledged my presence. During a curt exchange, she quickly made it clear that I was there solely for the children’s sake, and that any discussion between the two of us would take place after Christmas. Afterward she avoided me altogether. But if not a truce, at least a ceasefire prevailed, and although puzzled that she hadn’t mentioned Nate and Ali’s revelation regarding the break-in, I resigned myself to postponing a discussion of my relationship with Catheryn, as well as deciding what to do about Allison and Nate, at least until tomorrow. Since that day in the cemetery I had detected a change for the better in both of my younger children, and in Travis as well-an improvement I attributed to their having finally revealed their secret. I also knew it was merely a first step, and I wasn’t certain what the next one should be. Nevertheless, I felt confident that Catheryn would, and that she had probably already begun.
    As if trapped between warring camps, after my arrival the children gradually staged strategic retreats to various locations in the house-Travis joining his mother in the music room, Allison retiring to her bedroom to work on an essay for school, Nate shadowing me in the kitchen.
    Ninety minutes later, to the sound of Catheryn and Travis’s playing drifting up from the music room, I glanced around my kitchen workspace. Having finished my initial preparations, I began mentally ticking off elements of the holiday meal. As usual I was preparing the entire Christmas feast, and despite enthusiastic but dubious aid being offered by Nate, everything was progressing on schedule. The turkey was trussed, mounted, and turning on the Farberware rotisserie. Although the large bird had been cooking only an hour, the skin was already turning a crisp, golden brown. A pot of potatoes sat on the stove-pared, quartered, and ready for boiling. A saucepan containing gravy giblets simmered on a back burner. The yams were baking in the oven. The pies could wait. Time to get the dressing going.
    Glancing at my youngest, I discovered that he had already begun, with predictable results. “You done helping yet, squirt?” I asked patiently.
    “Sorry, Dad,” said Nate, gathering a scattering of seasoned bread crumbs he’d spilled while ripping open the bag. Brushing his palm across the counter, he swept them into a large metal bowl. “Good as new.”
    “Right, if you like dog hair in your stuffing.”
    “It’s not stuffing, Dad,” Allison pointed out, joining us in the kitchen. “Stuffing goes inside the bird and gets all mushy. You’re making dressing. ”
    “Correct. Nice and gooey too, right?”
    “No!” both children cried.
    Callie, who had been sleeping in the corner, sat up in her basket. She had recently come into season, and her normal run of the house had been restricted to kitchen privileges only. Already confused by her puzzling confinement, she reacted to Allison’s and Nate’s outburst with cocked ears and a quizzical turn of her head.
    “Wet, dry, I don’t see what difference it makes,” I teased. “You two always slop so much gravy on your plates, I may as well make everything soggy to begin with.”
    “Gravy-soggy’s not the same as soggy-soggy,” Allison pronounced with a conviction that would bode no argument. Leaning over, she examined the lineup of ingredients I’d arranged on the counter. “What’s going in this year?”
    “Same as always. Turkey feathers, the Pope’s nose, maybe a couple of Callie’s fur balls.”
    “C’mon, Dad. You’re not putting in oysters this time, are you?”
    “No. That was a mistake,” I said somberly, referring to an experiment the previous Christmas that had met with less than categorical approval. “No more oysters. I’m the worst dad on the face of the planet for ever putting them in. Now, quit your yammering and let me get to work.”
    “Can I do something else?” asked Nate.
    “Besides bugging me, you mean?”
    “Besides that,” Nate giggled.
    “Okay, dice the onions. And keep your fingers curled like I showed you. Make sure it’s only onions you chop.”
    “Jeez, Dad. I know how to do it.”
    “Just checking. You want to help, Ali?”
    As Allison started to answer, a series of hacking coughs interrupted her reply. “Nope,” she finally managed. “Two maestros in the kitchen are enough.”
    “You coming down with something?”
    Allison sat on a counter beside the stove. “I’ll live.”
    “I hope so. You sound terrible,” I said, turning again to my cooking. Using a large chef’s knife, I cut up several sticks of celery, a half pound of mushrooms, and some giblets I had reserved from the simmering-pot. I sauteed these in butter, adding the onion that by then Nate had reduced to a pile of irregular chunks.
    As the smell of butter and onion joined the aroma of roasting turkey, I chopped a red pepper, a handful of parsley, and a large bag of walnuts. These I dumped into the bowl of seasoned bread crumbs, then stirred in the contents of the saute pan. That done, I shook in salt, paprika, nutmeg, thyme, and basil, moistened the contents with chicken broth, and thoroughly mixed everything together. A sprinkling of dry sherry finished it off.
    “Is that it for now?” asked Nate, watching as I ladled the dressing into a baking pan and covered it with aluminum foil. “Can we open presents?”
    I checked the turkey thermometer, then glanced around the kitchen one last time. “That’s it, at least for a while,” I said, speaking more to myself than the children. “The bird’s doing fine. We’ll get the potatoes going an hour before the turkey’s done and shove the dressing in the oven around the same time, along with the pies. I can do the rest later,” I added, referring to various side dishes that, as at Thanksgiving, always accompanied the Kane Christmas meal.
    “So it’s time?”
    I smiled. “It’s time. Let’s open gifts.” Turning for the living room, I slapped my palm against my forehead. “Oh, no.”
    “What’s wrong?” asked Allison.
    “Shoot,” I groaned. “I forgot to get you kids anything.”
    “No, you didn’t,” laughed Nate. “I saw you bringing in presents when you got here!”
    “Maybe I did get you all a lump or two of coal,” I conceded. “Ali, tell your mom and Travis it’s time to rip open the gifts. And take Callie out for a quick walk before we start, okay? Her eyes are turning yellow.”
    “Her eyes are always that color.”
    “Just do it, Allison.”
    “Sure, Pop. C’mon, Callie.”
    “And don’t forget she’s in season. I have a breeding lined up for her next heat with a champion field-trial Lab, but tomorrow she’s going to the vet’s till this heat’s over. In the meantime, I don’t want her hooking up with some scraggly mutt off the beach.”
    “We’re having puppies?” Allison squealed.
    “Next time around,” I answered, lowering my voice. “And hold it down. I haven’t cleared it with your mom yet.”
    “Rest easy, Pop,” said Allison. “Mum’s the word. Don’t open presents till I get back.”
    “No problem. Besides, like I said, I don’t think you have any presents to worry about.”
    “I know you, Dad,” Allison chuckled as she and Callie headed for the stairs. “No gifts on Christmas? That’ll be the day.”
    Although Catheryn’s tutoring and more recently her salary from the Philharmonic had always supplemented our family income, I had occasionally experienced the financial difficulties inherent in raising a large family on policeman’s wages. Nonetheless, although Catheryn and I usually bought modest holiday gifts for each other, we considered Christmas a time for splurging on the children, and this year was no exception. In Catheryn’s absence I had scoured the stores, coming up with a wide assortment of presents for Nate, Travis, and Allison. In addition to these, Catheryn had brought home gifts for everyone from Europe-a blouse from Paris and a string of intricately crafted Venetian beads for Allison, a handmade puzzle and three prints of European castles for Nate, an antique German beer stein and reproductions of several original musical manuscripts for Travis. She had also brought home something for me.
    Nate, who as usual assumed the job of gift distribution, found it toward the end of the present opening, tucked far back under the tree. By then the base of the brightly decorated fir that Catheryn and the children had erected stood littered with crumpled wrapping paper, discarded ribbon, and empty boxes. Dressed in an ill matched wardrobe of slippers, two cardigan sweaters, a bathrobe, and three new ties-gifts from the children I had immediately donned upon receiving-I slowly untied the ribbon on Catheryn’s gift to me. I glanced at her as I pulled off the paper, noting that she was wearing an antique emerald ring I had given her to commemorate Allison’s birth. Catheryn looked away, refusing to meet my eyes.
    The box contained a pair of exquisite, cut-crystal champagne glasses. They were tall and slender, with a narrow gold band circling each rim. “They’re from Venice,” Catheryn said as I lifted one and held it to the light. “When I bought them I thought you’d be joining me,” she went on quietly, despite the children’s presence unable to keep a vestige of disappointment from her voice. “I had visions of our toasting each other in a gondola on the Grand Canal, or watching a sunset from one of the restaurants overlooking the city. Something silly like that.”
    “I know,” I said, turning the delicate flute in my fingers. “I swear I wanted to be there, Kate.”
    “It doesn’t matter now,” said Catheryn.
    “Hey, Mom, here’s one to you from Dad,” said Nate, still rummaging beneath the tree. He handed a small box to Catheryn. Encouraged by his success, he continued to search for other missed items. “All right!” he exclaimed seconds later. “There’s another from Dad for each of us, too!”
    Instead of opening her package, Catheryn placed it in her lap, watching as Nate distributed my final gifts to the children, each flat, identical package tightly encased in layers of my characteristically clumsy wrapping.
    “They’re something I had made up,” I said. “This may not be the best time to open them.”
    “You want us to wait? Are you nuts?” laughed Nate, ripping the paper from his present. “Hey, it’s a picture.”
    “So’s mine,” said Travis, unwrapping an eleven-by-fourteen oak frame.
    “Mine, too,” said Allison, inspecting an image of herself that I had captured several summers back. It showed her stepping from the ocean, a pair of swim fins in one hand, a gigantic wave rising behind her in the background. The shot had been taken during a storm-surf day when even most of the strongest swimmers had remained on the sand. Overcoming her fears, Allison had accompanied Tommy and me into the churning swells. For over an hour she’d taken off on waves few others had dared.
    I’d exited the water minutes earlier and had knelt to take the photo of her from a low angle, lending the shot an air of heroic proportion. My lens had caught her unaware as she waded ashore, glancing up as she stood in the swirling backwash. She had a light in her eyes that I knew she hadn’t seen in the mirror for quite some time. She looked… strong.
    “Hey, I remember this,” said Travis, grinning at his photo. It had been taken during a period years back when my two older sons and I had been spending every free weekend rock climbing in the Sierras, Joshua Tree National Monument, and the San Jacinto Mountains near Idyllwild. The picture depicted a younger Travis perched beneath a granite overhang-climbing rope trailing from his harness, his eyes searching the face above. “Tahquitz. Right, Dad? You, me, and Tommy on ‘The Innominate.’ I didn’t know you brought the camera that day.”
    “’Course I brought the camera. That was your first big lead.”
    Neither Travis nor I had climbed since Tommy’s accident. Even the topic had seemed off limits, and my unexpected gift clearly caught Travis off guard. “Man, was I scared,” he said quietly.
    “That climb definitely had a high sphincter-factor,” I agreed. “But you did it, and made a damn fine job of it, too. Hell, I’d never made it past that overhang.”
    “Are we talking about the same route? You said The Innominate was a piece of cake.”
    “I never said it was my piece of cake. Anyhow, you found a way. That was one heck of a lead, Trav.”
    “Yes, sir. It was.”
    “Maybe we ought to break out the climbing gear next summer, knock off a few routes,” I suggested, carefully watching his reaction.
    Travis didn’t respond. Instead, he continued to gaze at his photo. “I think I’d like that,” he said at last.
    “What’s your picture, honey?” asked Catheryn, pulling Nate up beside her on the couch.
    “It’s me and Callie when she was a puppy,” Nate answered, holding the oak frame in his lap. “Look how small she was.”
    I looked over Catheryn’s shoulder as she examined Nate’s present. In the photo, Nate and Callie were sitting on the downstairs swing. Laughing, eyes squeezed shut in boyish delight, Nate was holding the exuberant three-month-old Labrador in his arms, vainly trying to keep her from licking his face. “Kindred spirits,” Catheryn said.
    “What’s that mean, Mom?” asked Nate.
    “It means you’re alike.”
    “Me and Callie?” Nate studied the picture. “That’s not a bad thing, is it?”
    Catheryn smiled. “No, Nate, it’s not. It’s a good thing. I love you for it.”
    Nate slid closer to his mother, still staring pensively at his photograph. Across the room, Allison and Travis were each also contemplating my gift.
    Finally Allison turned to me. “This is the way you see us, isn’t it?”
    “It’s the way you are,” I answered. “All three of you.”
    Abruptly, Travis realized the intent of my gift. I could see it in his eyes. All at once Nate did, too. Lost in thought, all three children again lapsed into silence, staring mutely at the images I had given them.
    “Why do I get the feeling I’m missing something?” asked Catheryn.
    No one answered.
    Finally I spoke, but not to Catheryn. “Ali, you and Nate haven’t told her yet, have you?”
    Not looking up, Allison shook her head.
    “Why not? We had a deal.”
    Allison glanced at Nate. “We wanted to wait till after Christmas.”
    “Tell me what?” asked Catheryn.
    Again, no one answered.
    More curious than ever, Catheryn turned to me. Before she could speak, the telephone rang in the next room. Shaking her head, she left to answer it, returning a moment later. She handed me the phone. “It’s for you,” she said, her voice flat.
    I raised the receiver. “Hello?”
    “It’s me.”
    I strode from the room. “Damn, Van Owen,” I hissed once I’d reached the kitchen. “Why are you calling?”
    “I’m sorry to bother you at home, but something important has come up. I know it’s Christmas, but I need to talk with you right away. Can you come over?”
    “You’re kidding.”
    “Please,” Lauren begged, her voice sounding close to panic.
    “What’s wrong?”
    “I… I need to talk with you about that publicity idea you came up with. The one your superiors liked so much. You know, having a Channel Two camera team in the task force briefings.”
    “What are you talking about?”
    “I’m referring to your idea of embedding our news team in the task force meetings, that’s what,” said Lauren, an undercurrent of panic rising again in her voice. “I just got approval from our bureau chief. But if we’re going to start coverage tomorrow, there’re still a number of things we need to work out,” she rushed on. “Right now, as a matter of fact. I don’t like it any better than you, but that’s the way it is. Do you understand what I’m saying, Kane?”
    A chill ran up my spine. “I understand. I’ll be right over.”
    I hung up without saying good-bye. Next I dialed the West Los Angeles station and requested that a patrol unit be dispatched to Lauren’s condo, advising that they take extreme caution. I gave Lauren’s address from memory, a detail not lost on Catheryn, who had moved to stand behind me in the kitchen.
    As I hung up Catheryn regarded me coldly, still holding the unopened gift I had given her. “Going somewhere?”
    Hurriedly, I began pulling off my hodgepodge of sweaters and ties. “I have to.”
    “Why not let someone else handle it?”
    “I can’t. A woman’s in trouble and it’s probably because of me.”
    I went to the bedroom and quickly strapped on my shoulder rig, checking the Beretta’s ammunition clip at the same time. Catheryn was still standing in the kitchen when I returned. “If I’m not back for dinner, eat without me,” I said.
    Catheryn followed me out to the street. “Dan, let someone else handle it,” she repeated.
    “I can’t.”
    “Can’t? Or won’t?”
    “What are you talking about?”
    “I know who that call was from.”
    I turned. “I… I was going to tell you.”
    “Do you love her?”
    Impatiently, I shook my head. “Can’t we-”
    “-talk about it tomorrow? That’s always your answer.”
    Catheryn stepped closer. “All right. As you won’t answer my first question, I’ll ask an easier one. Do you still love me?”
    “That sounds odd, coming from you,” I said bitterly. “Love? I’m not sure what that means anymore. When I think of you and Arthur-”
    Again Catheryn cut me off. “There’s one thing we’ve always had between us, Dan. We promised we would always be faithful. You remember that promise, don’t you?”
    “Look at me,” Catheryn commanded.
    I found her eyes with mine.
    “There’s nothing between Arthur and me,” she said.
    “There’s never been anyone but you. God help me, I’ve never loved anyone but you.”
    I heard her words and knew them for the truth. With a lurch of abysmal, unutterable shame, I lowered my head. “Kate, I have to leave. I think Lauren’s in danger. When I get back I-”
    “That’s not good enough this time.” Staring coldly, Catheryn returned my present, thrusting the small package into my hands. “Take your gift. I don’t want anything from you anymore. I never thought I’d say this, but right now I truly despise you.”
    “Kate, please-”
    “One more thing,” Catheryn continued, her voice turning hard as granite. “When it’s over between you and her, don’t come back.”


    Stepping back inside, Catheryn found her children gathered in the entry. They had obviously been listening. “I’m sorry you heard that,” she said numbly.
    All three children remained silent.
    Catheryn gazed at each in turn, Allison the longest. Finally she spoke. “I think it’s time we had a talk.”
    Allison averted her eyes. “About what?”
    “I want to know why your father gave you those pictures. And I want to know whatever it is you three haven’t told me. I want to know what this… this thing is that you’ve been hiding. I want to know everything.”
    “Mom, I-”
    “This isn’t up for discussion,” Catheryn said. “I know that all three of you had a talk with your father while I was in Europe. I want to know whatever it was you told him, and I want to know now. Is that understood?”
    “Yes, ma’am,” said Allison quietly.
    “And afterward, I’m going to ask something of each of you.”
    “I’m going to ask for your word on something. And I want you to give it. Will you do that?”
    All three children nodded solemnly, sensing the gravity of their mother’s mood. “What’s the promise, Mom?” Nate asked timidly.
    “Simply this,” said Catheryn. “I want each of you to promise that there will never be secrets between us. Ever again.”


    Officer James Odegard squinted at the line of condos sliding past his window. “Hang a left and then pull into the next alley,” he instructed. “There’s parking around back.”
    “Right.” Officer Donny Greenbaum accelerated to the corner and turned left. Sure enough, there was the alley. “You been here before?”
    Odegard had worked the streets for thirteen years, and everything about him said he’d been there, seen it, done it. “Yeah,” he said. “Seems like I’ve been to every one of these places, one time or another. Matter of fact, I was called to that one last Christmas,” he added, tipping his head toward a three-story apartment building on the right. “Guy punched out his girlfriend. Said she ruined his Christmas.”
    “What’d she do?”
    “Burned the mashed potatoes.”
    Greenbaum slowed as he approached a parking area. “Can’t say as I blame him. What’s turkey without mashed potatoes?”
    “That’s what he said.” Odegard pointed past a cluster of detached garages to a walkway marked “No Parking.” “There’s a spot over there.”
    “I see it. We’re sure gettin’ a lot of domestic calls this Christmas, huh?”
    “Worst time of the year.”
    Greenbaum pulled onto the walkway, parking beside a blue Toyota. “Why’s that, do you think?”
    “Who knows?” Odegard glanced at the mobile digital terminal mounted below the dashboard, rechecked the call address, grabbed his baton, and piled out of the cruiser. “C’mon, kid. Let’s do it.”
    “Right.” Greenbaum grabbed his own baton and hurried after his partner.
    Smart, willing, and physically fit, Greenbaum had graduated near the top of his academy class. He was going to be a good cop-move up to detective in four or five years, maybe even eventually make lieutenant-but he knew he had a lot to learn. In the time since he’d started riding patrol, his training officers had opened his eyes to a lot they didn’t teach in the classroom. Some Greenbaum agreed with, some he didn’t, but he’d resolved to reserve judgment until he had the full picture. Although he was only six months into his probationary boot year on the force, one thing he had already learned: Things weren’t always as they seemed.
    He caught up with his T.O. inside the complex. “That’s it,” said Odegard, stopping in front of a two-story unit on the left. “One fifty-seven. You do the knocking.” Without awaiting a response, he stepped into the shadows, moving behind a clump of palms.
    The condo was quiet, but lights burned in several windows-one downstairs, another on the second floor. Greenbaum pushed the bell. Listened. Rang it again. Then, thinking the button might be broken, he knocked. Finally the door swung open.
    “Detective Shelby, West LA,” said a dark-haired man standing on the other side. Greenbaum noticed an LAPD shield hanging from the man’s belt.
    “Yes, sir. We got a call-”
    “I know.” The man squinted into the darkness. “You got a partner?”
    “Right here.” Odegard stepped from the bushes. “What’s goin’ on?”
    “Family disturbance,” the detective answered. “Wife got beat up by her ex. She knows a friend of mine-Dan Kane. I live in the area and he asked me to swing by.”
    “I know Kane,” said Odegard. “Works homicide.”
    “That’s him.” The detective glanced into the condo. “I already requested emergency services. Right now I need one of you to take the woman’s statement,” he added, addressing Odegard. “And you-Greenbaum,” he continued, reading the young officer’s plate, “wait out here. The lady said that her ex-husband is drunk and may come back. If he does, grab him.”
    Greenbaum stepped aside to let Odegard pass, watching as the detective closed the door behind them. For the next several minutes he stood on the front steps, wondering whether the ex-husband would be stupid enough to return. Probably not with a cop waiting outside, even if he is drunk, he decided, considering moving into the bushes as his T.O. had earlier. Suddenly a muffled whump sounded inside the condo, like someone dropping a phone book.
    Seconds later the front door cracked open again. “I need you,” the detective said.
    “Yes, sir.” As Greenbaum stepped inside, he smelled the odor of something burning. Newspaper? Matches? “What was that noise?” he asked.
    “I heard it, too,” the detective answered. “That’s what I want to show you. Upstairs.”
    At the detective’s direction, Greenbaum climbed a staircase, the dark-haired man close at his heels. “The room at the end,” the detective instructed when they reached the top landing. “You won’t believe this.”
    The smell had grown stronger. Candles, Greenbaum thought absently as he proceeded down the hallway. Christmas candles.
    The door at the end of the hall was closed.
    “Open it,” the detective ordered, for some reason sounding amused.
    Puzzled, Greenbaum twisted the knob. The door swung open, revealing a large bedroom. Candles lit the interior. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust…
    He froze when he saw the woman on the bed.
    Something hard pressed against the back of Donny Greenbaum’s skull. It was the last thing he ever felt.


    I braked hard as I passed the Brentwood Country Club golf course, my heart heavy with thoughts of Catheryn. I checked for cross traffic and ran the light at Bundy, glancing at my watch as I jammed the Suburban’s accelerator to the floor.
    Even driving on the shoulder past Caltrans cleanup crews and ignoring the speed limit all the way in, it had still taken what seemed forever to get there. I screamed through the next light, skidded onto Westgate, and squealed to a stop in front of Lauren’s condo. Leaving my car at the curb, I bolted up the walkway, a wave of apprehension coursing through me as I recalled the Lauren’s voice on the phone. She had sounded terrified, close to panic. And that bit about it being my idea to bring a news team into the task force briefings…
    Clearly a warning.
    The front door to Lauren’s condo stood open. I hesitated, noticing an unattended black-and-white LAPD cruiser parked in the rear alley. The troops must have arrived. Still I hesitated. Something about the house struck me as wrong. I stood on the landing and listened.
    I withdrew my automatic and slipped inside. Listened again.
    Still nothing.
    Quietly, I made my way into the family room. I passed the Christmas tree. Torn wrapping and a pile of toys lay at its base. I detected the smell of pine, and something else.
    Nobody in the kitchen. The pantry, powder room, and den were empty, too.
    I returned to the entry and eased up the stairs. A bathroom door stood open at the top, tinges of red on the sink and floor. After a quick glance inside, I moved to a door on the right.
    Inside, the bed was empty. The comforter was thrown back, the covers rumpled. A uniformed patrol officer lay sprawled nearby on the carpet. A crimson puddle outlined his head. I touched the officer’s throat. Warm, no pulse.
    I backed from the room, a trickle of sweat gathering under my arms.
    It hasn’t been long. Is he still here?
    Without a sound I retreated down the hall to the other bedroom door. When I arrived, I heard a low moan on the other side.
    Go in fast or slow?
    I slammed into the room. Swinging my automatic in a two-handed arc, I crabbed left, moving out of the lighted doorway.
    Candle on the dresser, another by the window. Someone on the bed. Someone else on the floor. Nobody moving.
    Finger tensed on the trigger, I flipped the light switch. A lamp on the nightstand came on. A second police officer lay at my feet, the back of his skull matted with blood. My eyes narrowed as I turned toward the bed. Lauren.
    I rushed over. Hearing my approach, Lauren began struggling, fighting to free herself from ropes binding her to the bed frame.
    “Oh, my God,” I whispered, lifting Lauren’s head and unwrapping a blood encrusted gag that covered her lower face. She had been severely beaten. Her face was bruised, her nose broken. Both of her eyes were nearly swollen shut.
    At the sound of my voice Lauren stopped struggling. “Kane?” she sobbed, peering up at me. “Kane?”
    “It’s me,” I said softly.
    “I can’t…”
    “Lie quiet. I’ll call an ambulance. Where’s Candice?”
    “At her dad’s. Will you-”
    “I’ll take care of everything. Save your strength. Don’t talk.”
    An opened Christmas present lay on the nightstand beside the bed. With a chill, I noted the box’s contents: a length of pipe, a coil of rope, a small scissors, a strip of unused prophylactics, and a second Ace bandage.
    Several deep, oozing lacerations marked Lauren’s torso, along with a hideous pattern of bites and lesser knife wounds on her breasts and neck. After determining that she had no crucial arterial bleeding, at least none that I could see, I checked the other downed officer on the floor. He was beyond help. I returned to the bed and gently removed the ropes from Lauren’s wrists and ankles, then pulled a sheet over her savaged body. Next I made two quick phone calls-one to the West LA station, the other to task force headquarters. Then I sat beside Lauren and applied pressure to the worst of her wounds, using towels from an adjacent bathroom. “Hang on, Van Owen,” I said. “Help’s on the way.”
    Lauren turned her head toward me. “He said he wouldn’t hurt me if I got you to come,” she said, her words leaden. “I’m sorry. I tried to warn you.”
    “I know.”
    “He said he found my newscasts offensive. But it’s you he really wants.”
    “He blames you. He made me tell him everything.”
    “Save your strength, Lauren. The medics will be here any minute. You’re going to be all right.”
    Lauren’s head lolled to one side. “Kane…?”
    “I’m still here.”
    “Be careful.”
    I stayed with Lauren until police backup arrived. By then, although the worst of her bleeding had slowed, she’d lost a lot of blood and seemed to be going into shock, drifting in and out of consciousness. After a hurried conference with the arriving officers, I returned to her side and remained there until the ambulance squealed to a stop out front.
    The paramedics worked rapidly, ensuring that Lauren had an open airway, applying gauze pressure bandages to the worst bleeders, and starting a saline drip. Within minutes they had her on a gurney and were wheeling her out to the street. I trailed them to the ambulance.
    “Hang on, Van Owen,” I repeated as the white-jacketed team slid her into the back. One medic followed her in; the other slammed the double doors and climbed into the front. Seconds later the van roared off. Choked with guilt, I stood at the curb, watching as the ambulance’s taillights disappeared into the night.


    I was summoned into Lieutenant Long’s office in West LA early the following morning. After entering, I stood in the center of the room and surveyed the officers seated across from me. In addition to Lieutenant Long, two others were present: Captain Theodore Lincoln, the West LA Division commanding officer, and Lieutenant Snead.
    No one was smiling.
    “You’ve got a lot of explaining to do, you insolent bastard,” said Snead. “When I heard what happened, I knew your grubby Irish prints would be all over it. This time you’ve gone too far.”
    I stiffened but said nothing.
    Captain Lincoln cleared his throat. Snead, who had been about to add something, deferred to the senior officer. “Detective Kane, we’re here to discuss the propriety of your relationship with Ms. Van Owen,” said Lincoln, speaking slowly and deliberately. “And make no mistake, if even half of Lieutenant Snead’s accusations are true, you’re in deep trouble. Both the chief and the mayor phoned this morning concerning this matter. They want to know why a member of the task force has been associating with a news reporter. Especially as that very reporter has been receiving confidential information from inside the department.”
    I remained silent.
    “Nothing to say? According to Lieutenant Snead, you also sidestepped the chain of command by extending surveillance on the Baker family.” The captain turned to Long. “I believe you played a part in that, Lieutenant?”
    “Yes, sir, I did. And as things turned out-”
    “How things turned out is unimportant,” Snead broke in.
    “I disagree,” said Long. “The way I see it, it was because of Kane that the task force actually had a chance of arresting the killer, and you blew it. If things had worked out differently, you’d be kissing Kane’s ass right now.”
    “Even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut,” Snead countered. “The point is, Kane ignored a direct order. We’ve got a pattern going here. Your maverick detective seems to think he can pursue any agenda he likes. Well, this time somebody got hurt.”
    “You think Kane is responsible for Van Owen’s attack?”
    “Possibly.” Snead glared at me. “There’s no doubt he’d been feeding her information.”
    “That’s ridiculous,” objected Long. “Captain, there’s clearly a personality thing going on here. Snead has no proof of any of this.”
    “No?” said Snead. “We checked Kane’s phone log. Van Owen left a message for him on Monday morning, the day before her attack. He called her back, then went to her condo at eight-fifteen that night.”
    “You had Kane followed? ” Long said angrily.
    Snead shrugged. “I was told to plug the leak. As Kane seemed the most likely hole, I had friends at Internal Affairs look into things.”
    “I wasn’t aware you had any friends,” said Long.
    “Let’s stick to the issues,” Captain Lincoln broke in, shooting a scowl at Long. Then, to me, “How do you explain visiting Ms. Van Owen at her home, Detective?”
    “Oh, his dealings with her went a lot further than a visit,” Snead snorted. “Last Thursday Detective Kane met Van Owen at a West Los Angeles bar. From there he took her to a little love nest in Brentwood, where the two spent the night. Like I said, we’ve got a pattern going here, Captain. Kane’s been screwing with the media, and in more ways than one.”
    “Has anyone talked with Van Owen?” Lincoln asked.
    “Yes, sir,” answered Snead, clearly enjoying himself. “She wouldn’t say anything about Kane except that she had phoned him for help. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to give much of a description of her attacker. Apparently the guy took her down as soon as she opened her door. She doesn’t remember much after that until waking up tied to her bed. Even with all he subsequently did to her, she never got a good look at him.”
    Captain Lincoln returned his gaze to me. “Do you have anything to say for yourself, Detective?”
    “No, sir,” I said.
    “In that case, pending additional investigation and at the request of Lieutenant Snead, you are hereby dropped from the task force. I could also suspend you from duty, but I’m not going to. Not yet, anyway. You can thank Lieutenant Long for that. In the meantime, you will resume your duties here at the West LA Division.”
    “Yes, sir.”
    “And Kane, until this is over, I’d advise you to keep your nose clean. Dismissed.”
    Later that day, after visiting Lauren at the UCLA Medical Center, I spent several hours catching up on all homicide investigations currently being handled by the West LA unit. Afterward I called Deluca at task force headquarters. Deluca, who was currently on hotline duty, seemed to welcome the diversion. “Damn, Kane,” he said. “Talk about screwin’ the pooch. And you, of all people, a straight-from-the-Old Testament, never-look-at-another-woman married man. Maybe you are human after all. But a reporter? What were you thinking?”
    “I wasn’t,” I said regretfully. “God knows, if I could go back and change things, I would.”
    A long pause. “So why’d you call?”
    “I need a favor.”
    “No problem. What?”
    “Clean out my desk for me and drop all the stuff by the West LA squad room tomorrow morning, okay?”
    “So it’s true? You’re off the case?”
    “Sorry to hear that.”
    “Me, too. Listen, I also need a copy of the task force database we’ve been compiling.”
    Another long pause.
    “You’re joking.”
    “No. Back it up on a computer disc and toss it in with the rest of my stuff.”
    “Anything else you can think of that might get me canned? How’s about if I punch out Snead for you, too?”
    “If it comes up, I’ll say the disc was in my drawer.”
    “You’re asking a lot,” said Deluca, lowering his voice. “What do you want that information for, anyway?”
    “It’s better you don’t know. C’mon, Paul, will you help me or not?”
    “Yeah, I’ll do it,” Deluca sighed. “You’re gonna owe me big on this, paisano.”
    “Thanks,” I said. Then, before Deluca could change his mind, “Anybody down there miss me yet?”
    “If they do, I’ll start insulting the brass and raising hell at the briefings. No one will even realize you’re gone. Which reminds me. Arnie called. He says he can meet you for dinner if you’re free. That cute brunette he’s boffin’ must be busy tonight.”
    “Either that, or his can opener’s busted. Anything else?”
    “Nope. Oh, I did notice a couple of message slips on your desk. Gimme a sec.” A pause, then, “One’s from yesterday. A woman, no name.” Deluca read off a Brentwood phone number.
    I recognized it as Lauren’s, realizing she that must have tried to reach me at task force headquarters before calling the beach house. “What’s the other?”
    “A guy who says he has some information you requested. I took that one myself. Damn, I can barely read my own writing.”
    “You and everybody else. What’s the guy’s name?”
    “Dexter. Hank Dexter.”

    Later that evening I returned to Hank Dexter’s TV shop. The interior of the store had changed considerably since my last visit. Looking as if an army had marched through, it now displayed the ravages of a busy Christmas, including depleted equipment racks, empty merchandise cases, and the few salespeople present clearly suffering postholiday exhaustion.
    As before, I found my friend at the service counter in the rear. Glancing up from the innards of a dismantled television, Hank smiled as I made my way back. “Dan,” he said, setting down a pair of needle nosed pliers. “We missed you at the wedding.”
    I moved around the counter to shake his hand. “Sorry I couldn’t make it. I’ve been swamped.”
    “Tell me about it. With Christmas and the wedding, things have been hectic around here, too. I did finally manage to check on that garage-door opener question of yours, though.”
    “Breaking in if you don’t know the code and don’t have access to the original door opener control?”
    “Right. It turned out to be more complicated than I first thought. Simpler too, oddly enough,” Hank added, his eyes sparkling with enthusiasm.
    “How so?”
    Hank thought a moment. “Okay, imagine you’re standing outside a garage that has an automatic door opener. You want to get in, but you don’t know the transmission frequency of the sending unit, or the coded sequence needed to activate the motor. You’ve actually got two problems: You need to know the code and the frequency.”
    “There can’t be that many frequencies.”
    “Wrong. The FCC has stringent rules concerning the use of unlicensed transmitters like door-opener remotes, but they allow use of the forty point sixty-six through forty point seventy megahertz range, and any frequency above seventy megahertz. As a practical matter, however, most door-opener manufactures stick to carrier frequencies between two-fifty and four hundred.”
    “And they all use different ones?”
    “Damn. What about the coding part?”
    Hank shook his head. “I encountered problems there, too. Generating sequential digit pulses as I originally suggested won’t work. Nowadays all garage openers have built-in microprocessors, making possible an endless assortment of code combinations, compound bit streams, algorithm controlled signal frames, rolling codes, multiple recognition requirements-”
    “Whoa, Hank. You’re giving me more than I need. Cut to the chase.”
    “I just wanted you to understand the complexities,” the older man sniffed, sounding disappointed.
    “I do. You’re saying it can’t be done.”
    “Not taking a straight-on approach. Not in a reasonable period of time, anyway. But then something occurred to me that simplified things. Come back here. I have something to show you.”
    I accompanied my friend to a workbench in the back. After clearing a space, Hank placed a toaster-sized piece of electronic test equipment in the center. An array of buttons and a single knob covered the right side of the instrument’s face; a flat, rectangular screen the left. Hank pushed a button in the lower right-hand corner. A calibrated green grid appeared on the screen.
    “What’s that?” I asked, leaning over Hank’s shoulder. “An oscilloscope?”
    “Sort of. It’s called a spectrum analyzer. It analyzes electronic signals over a wide range of frequencies.” Hank slipped on his glasses, bent over the instrument, and made several adjustments. “There,” he said. “We’re ready.”
    “Ready for what?”
    “You’ll see. I got the idea from an article I was reading on how stolen cellular phones are reprogrammed with new ID codes snagged off the air. The principle here is the same.”
    “I’m not following you.”
    “It’ll be easier if I show you. I have the frequency span on our analyzer set to bracket the most commonly used door-opener transmissions. Watch.” Hank opened a drawer and withdrew a garage remote-control unit. He pushed the button. Instantly, a spike popped up on the right side of the analyzer display. “That’s our door-opener signal,” he said, tapping the green trace on the screen.
    I watched as my friend twisted a knob, moving a small electronic screen marker to the tip of the spike. “Three hundred and thirty megahertz,” said Hank, reading a number off the display. “That’s the first part.”
    I stared at the screen, my interest growing. “What about the code?”
    “Easy. Once we know the frequency, we set the analyzer to it and zero-span the range. Anything coming in will now be displayed as a time-domain product of the envelope detector, in effect demodulating the signal.”
    “You want to dumb that down a bit?”
    “By zero-spanning the instrument, we can examine the components of one particular frequency,” Hank explained. Noticing the blank expression still on my face, he prompted, “The code, Dan.” He made another adjustment to the instrument, then pushed the opener button again. “There. See what I mean?”
    I leaned in. The spike on the monitor had been replaced by a series of blocky pulses. “That’s it? The opener code?”
    “Right. This particular code string is redundant-repeated twice in a one second period-with several bit reversals in the second frame. Tricky.”
    “So anybody with one of these analyzers could sit down the street, wait for some poor sucker to come home, and record his door-opener signal. How close would he have to be?”
    Hank glanced at the remote control. “Close. A hundred feet or so, although you could probably pick up the signal farther out if you used a directional antenna.”
    “As far away as a block or two?”
    “Then what? Push a button and rebroadcast the signal when you want to break in?”
    “This instrument isn’t a transmitter,” said Hank. “But knowing the frequency would simplify getting the correct replacement opener. The rest wouldn’t be that difficult.”
    My mind raced ahead. “So the guy has to get the frequency on the first go-around, then snag the code after that. And he has to be fairly close to do it.” I looked thoughtfully at the spectrum analyzer. “What are we talking for one of these? A couple hundred bucks?”
    Hank smiled. “Not even close. I borrowed this one from a friend. It sold new for around twelve thousand, and compared with some, that’s cheap. Depending on their capabilities, some of these instruments new can top a hundred grand.”
    I whistled softly, eyeing the analyzer with new respect. “So you don’t just pick one up at your local Radio Shack.”
    “No. Not that many companies even make them. Hewlett-Packard, Tektronix, Agilent, a few others.”
    “So if you wanted one, where would you look?”
    “On something like this, you could go directly to the company. There’re a few test equipment rental places around, too. You might be able to lease a unit at one of those. And, of course, there’s eBay.”
    I thought a moment, trying to figure a way to limit the search parameters. “You said these things have different capabilities. Could you make up a list for me of the type or types of unit that someone would need to do what we’re talking about here? You know, like Goldilocks-just enough capability, but not too much.”
    “No problem. Call me tomorrow.”
    “Thanks, Hank,” I said. “I have to take off, but you’ve been a huge help. Give my best to your son and the new missus.”
    “Sure. Don’t be a stranger.”
    I slipped around the counter, then turned. “I’ll stop by again when I get time. I have a wedding gift to drop off.”
    Hank smiled. “I’ll give Mitch the message.” Then, his smile fading, “I take it you’re still on the serial-killings case?”
    I hesitated a moment. “Yeah. I’m still on it.”

    Arnie stared across the table. “Excuse me, ol’ buddy, but it sounded like you just said you were stayin’ on the case.”
    “You heard right,” I said, glancing around the crowded interior of Regular John’s Pizza Parlor. From our booth in the back, I could take in most of the room. Clusters of tables with checkered tablecloths jammed the interior, with an order counter at the far end, video games against one wall, and hard-benched booths lining the rest. Every other available inch of wall and ceiling space displayed items of memorabilia ranging from pictures and posters to a dusty collection of snowshoes, surfboards, antique rifles, a racing scull, even a menagerie of stuffed animal heads.
    “Have you lost your mind?”
    I took a swig of my Coke, gazing pensively at a huge moose head mounted above our booth. “I still don’t understand why you insist on coming to this hole,” I complained, sidestepping his question.
    Arnie shrugged. “Great pizza and cheap beer. Let’s get back to the question of your sanity, pal. You realize it’ll mean your badge if you’re caught.”
    “This thing’s personal now.”
    “I was afraid you were gonna say that. Damn, you’re already in deep enough without makin’ things worse. Have you seen the news lately?”
    I nodded. “Grim.”
    “Grim’s an understatement.” Arnie looked at me curiously. “How’d you get hooked up with Van Owen, anyway?”
    With a lurch of regret, my thoughts returned to the horror at Lauren’s condo. “I don’t know,” I said softly. “I wish to God I hadn’t.”
    “How’s she doing?”
    “I visited her yesterday at the hospital. They still had her pretty sedated. The doctors say it’ll take time and a lot of plastic surgery, but she’ll make a full recovery. Fortunately, it appears the guy was waiting for me to show up before he really got down to business.
    “Why do you think he left her alive?” Arnie asked.
    I shrugged. “Who knows? The patrol officers I called in probably caught him off guard. After killing them, maybe he got spooked and bolted, leaving Lauren for dead. She had several chest wounds that barely missed major arteries.”
    “The papers say she has a daughter.”
    “Candice. She’s staying with her dad in Pasadena.”
    Apparently hearing something in my voice, Arnie sighed. “What happened wasn’t your fault, Dan.”
    “I wish I could believe that.”
    “It wasn’t. You were trying to push the killer into making a mistake, and he did. He should have been caught at the Bakers’ house. And no one could have predicted he would lash out at Van Owen like that afterward. Besides, if it hadn’t been for you, right now the entire Baker family would be dead. Welcome to the real world, amigo. It’s one where you don’t control everything that happens. Now, let go of this thing with Van Owen and move on. Maybe I’m stepping out of line here, but you need to hear this. Kate’s the best thing that ever happened to you. Life doesn’t give you a lot of chances at happiness, and you’re blowin’ the best one you ever had.”
    An uncomfortable silence descended. Arnie drained his beer, then refilled his mug from a pitcher on the table. “Have you phoned Kate since last night?”
    I lowered my eyes. “Yeah, I called her. After what happened at Van Owen’s, I insisted that she and the kids go someplace safe. They’re all staying with Catheryn’s mother in Santa Barbara. I’d feel better if they were even farther away, but Kate’s not listening to me much these days.” I started to add something, then stopped.
    “I don’t know, Arnie. On top of everything else, I’m afraid Kate blames me for putting our kids in jeopardy.”
    “She said that?”
    “No, but-”
    “I didn’t think so. That’s bullshit, Dan. I know Kate. She would never lay that kind of guilt on you, because it isn’t true. She knows you were just doing your job.”
    At that moment, a youngster at the counter called out a number over the loudspeaker. Arnie checked our order ticket. “That’s us,” he said, sliding from the booth. “You want a refill on your Coke?”
    I shook my head.
    “Suit yourself.” Arnie rose and crossed the sawdust strewn floor, returning with a steaming, sixteen-inch pizza. Setting the platter on a wire stand, he squeezed back into the booth and for the next ten minutes we ate in silence. After polishing off his fourth slice of pizza and third mug of beer, Arnie leaned back and wiped his fingers with a napkin. “Can I say one more thing?” he asked. “After that I promise to shut up.”
    “Do I have a choice?”
    “As a matter of fact, no. I’m gonna give you a little more advice, whether you like it or not. Drop the task force investigation and get things straightened out with Kate. That’s what’s important.”
    “Don’t you think I know that?” I replied miserably. “I want to make things right with her more than anything. But according to Lauren, this guy’s got me on his radar. And as long as he’s out there, Kate isn’t safe, and neither are my kids. And I can’t forget what he did to Lauren, either. Like I said, it’s personal now. Will you help me?”
    “Somehow I knew that was coming.” Arnie frowned, contemplating his half-empty beer mug. “I’m off tomorrow,” he said at last. “I have some vacation days accumulated at my new job, too. I don’t like it much, but yeah. I’ll give you a hand.”
    “Thanks. If there’s any fallout, I’ll take the heat.”
    “How comforting. Listen, I’m gonna say one more thing.”
    “I thought you were done giving advice.”
    “This is something you already know. Maybe you forgot, but it’s one of the first things you learned when you started doing police work.”
    “What’s that?”
    “When a case gets personal… things go wrong.”


    I had been working in the squad room for over an hour the next morning when Lieutenant Long strode in. Arnie was sitting nearby at Deluca’s empty workstation, talking on the telephone. At Long’s raised eyebrow, Arnie nodded, then continued his phone conversation.
    Long paused at my desk, glancing at his watch. “Morning, Dan. You’re here early.”
    I looked up. “Lieutenant.”
    “Didn’t your ex-partner over there retire several years back?”
    “I believe he did, sir.”
    “So what’s he doing here?”
    “Arnie’s, uh, helping me chase down a few leads. Don’t worry, he’ll be gone before you know it.”
    “Leads on what?” Long asked, then quickly raised a hand. “I don’t want to know, do I?”
    “I thought not. If someone asks, I probably didn’t see Arnie here, either.”
    “No, sir. You didn’t.”
    “Don’t screw up, Kane. If Snead gets wind of-
    “He won’t.”
    “He’d better not.” Long hesitated. “About yesterday. Although I sincerely question some of your recent actions, I did everything I could.”
    “I know. And thanks. I appreciate it.”
    “If you get jammed up on the candlelight case again, I won’t be able to help.”
    “Don’t worry, Lieutenant. If things turn out like I hope, there won’t be a problem.”
    “And if they don’t?”
    I spotted Deluca entering the squad room. “I’ll worry about it later. Right now I have work to do, so if you’ll excuse me…”
    Long gave me another questioning look. “Okay, Dan. But watch your step.” With that he turned and headed for his office, glaring crankily at Deluca as he passed.
    After stopping to talk briefly with Arnie, Deluca ambled over to my desk. “What’s with the el-tee?” he asked, setting down a cardboard box he’d been carrying.
    Ignoring his query about Lt. Long, I opened the box and began pawing through its contents. “You bring the stuff I wanted?”
    “There wasn’t much. A picture of Kate and the kids, some pens and pencils, a coffee mug-”
    “You know what I mean.”
    “Oh, this. Remember, you didn’t get it from me.” Deluca pulled a computer disc from his pocket and set it on the corner of my desk. “I copied each data category as a separate file. Health club members, hotline callers, employees at that lawyer’s office-”
    “Is there one of remote control purchasers?”
    “The garage door stuff? It’s there. Why do you want all this, anyway? Come up with a new angle?”
    “Maybe. It’s nothing Snead would go for, though, even if I were still working for him.”
    “Minor point,” said Deluca. “At least for you. Listen, I’ve gotta hustle to make the task force briefing. You’ll let me know if you come up with anything?”
    “You’ll be the first.”
    Steve Gannon
    Hank Dexter called around eight AM with a fairly short list of spectrum analyzers that possessed the minimum capability to snag a garage door opener code-limiting the number of devices for which I’d have to search. Procuring a roster of recent analyzer purchasers from various distributors and sources like eBay proved tricky without a warrant, but I called in a few favors and for the most part got what I needed.
    Working through the morning and most of the afternoon, Arnie and I compiled three new suspect lists containing the names of local subscribers to various electronic, ham radio, and hacker magazines; employees of Southern California aerospace and engineering firms-especially anyone with access to electronic test equipment-and individuals who, over the past two years, had purchased, leased, or rented a spectrum analyzer. Although the two-year cutoff was an arbitrary limit, our inventories quickly showed signs of becoming unmanageably large, and we had to draw the line somewhere.
    “What now?” asked Arnie at a little after six that evening, eyeing the piles of notes and faxes spread across our desks.
    “It’s too late for any more calling,” I answered. “Let’s start cross-checking this stuff against the task force database.”
    “Now? Hell, Dan, it can wait till tomorrow. It’s time for dinner.”
    “You go ahead. I’m going to keep at it awhile longer.”
    “Suit yourself. See you back at the ranch.”
    After Arnie left I rose from my desk, stretched, stumbled to the coffee station, and poured my seventh cup of the day. After returning to my workstation, I used the disc Deluca had brought me to access the task force database. Next, I began a comparison of our new data with old-name by name, category by category.
    Later that evening I glanced at the time, surprised to see that three hours had already passed. By then, starting with the most promising comparisons-people owning or with access to a spectrum analyzer versus members and employees of the victims’ health clubs-I had barely made a dent. It was going to be a long night.
    I was still working at the computer the next morning when Arnie arrived. Upon entering the nearly deserted squad room, he shook his head in disbelief. “Damn, amigo. You’ve been at it since I left?”
    Wearily, I nodded.
    “I just now came up with another possible. Fifth one so far. This one is a guy who purchased a Hewlett-Packard 8590-series spectrum analyzer last February. He also subscribes to a publication called Hardware Hacker.”
    “Any other correlation?”
    “He lives in Orange County and made a credit card purchase of pair of Genie garage-door remotes last April from a local distributor. No connection with the victims, no repair shop tie-ins.”
    “What about the attorneys’ office?”
    “He’s not on their employee list. I was just about to check DMV records.”
    “Well, don’t let me stop you. I’m gonna grab some coffee. Want a refill?”
    I nodded. “Black.” I handed Arnie my mug and refocused my attention on the computer screen.
    When Arnie returned, I was no longer fatigued. I sat erect, eyes riveted on the monitor. Sensing something was up, Arnie peered at the screen. “What’ve you got?” he asked, checking the name on top of the readout: Victor Carns.
    “DMV shows three vehicles registered to this guy,” I answered. “A Lamborghini, a Ford van, and a Toyota.”
    “We think the killer was driving a white van when he followed Maureen Baker from her health club in West LA. Later he switched to a dark-colored Toyota when he broke into her house. Plus, some guy driving a blue Toyota bumped Julie Welsh’s car, probably to get her home address. Somebody in a van did the same to Susan Larson.”
    “Damn! This could be the guy.”
    “Maybe.” I picked up the phone. After placing a call to DMV headquarters in Sacramento, I turned back to the screen. “Let’s see what CLETS can turn up.” I printed a copy of the DMV file, then booted up a California police database whose acronym stood for California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System. My inquiries on Victor Carns showed no warrants outstanding, no supervised-release file, no criminal history. FBI records, however, did reveal one interesting bit of information: Nineteen years back Carns had served as an electronics technician in the United States Navy.
    Just then the fax machine cranked out a high resolution blowup of Victor Carns’s driver’s license picture. Arnie and I studied the photocopy, staring at the face of a nondescript man in his midthirties.
    “Looks like an accountant,” said Arnie.
    “Yeah,” I agreed. “We had the Baker woman work with a composite artist. This doesn’t much resemble the drawing they came up with, which could explain why nobody at the health clubs picked him out. Height, age, weight, and hair color are close, though,” I added, referring to the DMV printout.
    “A lot of people don’t work well with an artist,” noted Arnie. “The Baker lady might recognize this picture, though. If she tags him, we could revisit the health clubs. We can run his DMV thumbprint against the crime-scene unknowns, too.”
    “We’ll do those things for certain, but right now there may be a quicker way.” After referring to my notes, I again picked up the phone.
    “Who’re you calling?”
    “An attorney’s office in Santa Ana.” I dialed a 714-area code number, then covered the receiver with my palm. “Somebody used their office codes to get a DMV trace on Mrs. Baker.”
    Hearing someone pick up at the other end, I removed my hand from the mouthpiece. “Hello? Yes, I’m calling about the status of my bill. Would you please connect me with someone in accounting?” Turning toward Arnie, I once more covered the phone. “We don’t have enough to get a warrant for their client list, and we haven’t been able to come up with anything on-Hello? Yes, good morning. This is Victor Carns. That’s C-A-R-N-S. I’m leaving on an extended trip and I want to make sure my account is fully paid.” A pause. “It is? Good. Thank you. You have a nice day, too.”
    I set the receiver back in the cradle. Both Arnie and I stared at Carns’s DMV photo for several seconds. Finally Arnie spoke. “Damn,” he said softly. “You nailed him.”
    I nodded. “Unfortunately, we don’t have enough for an arrest, or even a search warrant. But now we know who he is.”
    “What’s next? Turn it over to the task force?”
    “Not quite yet. There’s one more thing I want to check.”


    Later that Saturday afternoon Barrello and I pulled through the Orange County subdivision of Coto de Caza’s north gate, Barrello at the wheel. Winding through a maze of country roads, we passed an equestrian center, a rustic-looking general store, and what seemed an endless parade of white fenced, multiacre estates. A mile farther on we pulled to a stop on Via Pajaro, parking in the shade of a large sycamore. I referred to a brochure we’d picked up earlier at the realtor’s office. According to the enclosed map, we were at the south end of the “Los Ranchos Estates” section of the community, the oldest and most prestigious area in Coto.
    Leaving the engine running, Barrello reached into a paper sack beside him, pulling out a cheeseburger and a carton of fries. “Sucker’s as big as a hotel,” he said, gazing up at an English Tudor-style mansion set high on a hillside across the street.
    Nodding in agreement, I opened the glove compartment and withdrew a pair of binoculars. Sweeping them across the sprawling structure, I inspected Victor Carns’s estate. The main house stood partially concealed behind several large outbuildings and an orchard of fruit trees. Gables and several brick chimneys pierced the structure’s gray slate roof. Two additional wings fanned out on either side, both of these secondary projections easily as large as an average home. No movement on the grounds or inside the house, at least that I could see.
    “You gonna tell me why you think this is our guy?” Barrello inquired around a mouthful of burger.
    I lowered the binoculars and rubbed my eyes, continuing to inspect the huge mansion. “After I’m sure.”
    “You realize Fuentes and I are goin’ out on a limb for you on this, not to mention workin’ on our only day off?”
    “I do, and I appreciate it, Lou. If this pans out, I’ll turn everything over to the task force and step aside. You, Fuentes, and Deluca are going to be heroes.”
    “I’m not risking my pension for that. I want this dirtbag as much as you do.”
    “I know.” I pulled out my cell phone and called Fuentes. “Where is he now?” I asked.
    “Crossing the parking lot,” Fuentes’ voice came back from Plaza Antonio, a shopping mall four miles east. “He’s heading into the market. Just got a basket. Now he’s going through the doors. Want me to follow him in?”
    “No. Stay with his car. Let us know when he comes out.”
    I hung up, then dialed another number. “One last check,” I said as Carns’s home number began ringing. No one answered. Next I tried Carns’s business line, reaching an answering machine. Satisfied, I repocketed my phone. “Okay. Let’s do it.”
    Barrello downed a final fistful of fries and dropped the car into gear. A few blocks south he turned up a side street, stopping at a weed choked lot past Carns’s estate. From our new vantage Carns’s enormous compound appeared even larger, with a putting green, tennis courts, and a kidney-shaped pool now visible behind the fencing and hedges surrounding the grounds.
    “Holy shit,” said Barrello, his voice tinged with awe. “The guy’s definitely got some bucks.”
    “Seems that way.” I reached across the seat and grabbed Barrello’s partially eaten burger. “Dog,” I said in response to Barrello’s puzzled look. “Don’t worry. You’ll get it back if there isn’t one.”
    “How long will you be?”
    I shoved the paper-wrapped burger into my pocket. “Fifteen, twenty minutes tops. Keep in touch with Fuentes and call me if Carns comes out of the market.”
    “Got it,” said Barrello. “You’re just gonna reconnoiter the grounds, look through a few windows, right? For anything more we get a warrant.”
    “Right,” I lied, stepping from the car. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust Barrello, but if what I was about to do were ever discovered, I wanted to protect him and Fuentes from the inevitable repercussions-at least as much as possible.
    I crossed the street and climbed a six-foot gate, then followed a winding, pressed-concrete driveway to the front door. Out of sight of Barrello, I used my knuckle to ring the bell. No one answered. With a handkerchief covering my palm, I tried the knob. The door was locked. I groaned inwardly, noticing a Medeco dead bolt above the latch.
    Shortly after graduating from the Police Academy, I had spent time learning the art of picking locks. Over months of practice at home, working on various lock cylinders while watching television, I’d developed considerable expertise. Nonetheless, I had managed to open a “pick-proof” Medeco only once. It had taken a week.
    Giving up on the Medeco, I made my way around the side of the house, discovering a pair of French doors bordering the pool. The lock there was a Baldwin. With a smile, I pulled a small tension wrench and a pick from my pocket. Working quickly, I inserted the wrench into the Baldwin’s brass keyway and twisted, maintaining pressure with my left hand. Using the pick in my right, I raked the pins. One by one, all five clicked into place. Twenty seconds from starting, I rotated the cylinder. Burger in hand, I cracked the door and whistled into the interior. “Here, boy,” I called. Nothing. Rewrapping Barrello’s lunch and shoving it back into my pocket, I entered the house, wiping the knob with my handkerchief as I stepped inside.
    Beside the door, I noticed a security panel. As I’d expected, Carns’s house had an alarm system. Prepared to leave immediately if necessary, I checked a small screen on the panel face. Also as expected, the system was unarmed. Like most people, Carns didn’t set the alarm when only going out for a short while.
    After relocking the door I glanced around, finding myself in a well equipped gymnasium complete with mirrors, chrome plated dumbbells, and Nautilus machines. Pulling on a pair of latex gloves, I checked a bathroom off the gym, then made my way down a hallway to the main portion of the house. Along the way I passed four guest bedrooms, a den, and a powder room. All were lacking even the barest of furnishings. The living room came next. Past that lay another hallway and a staircase leading up.
    Check the upper floors first. Make sure no one’s home.
    I crept up the stairs. At the top, an oak-paneled library lay to the left. A short corridor ran the other direction. At the end, a pair of eight-foot doors stood open.
    Carns’s bedroom.
    After a cursory look around the library, I searched the bedroom. Dresser: socks, underwear, and T-shirts, all neatly folded. Walk-in closet: shelves stacked with sweaters and shirts, racks containing hundreds of shoes, poles laden with suits, sports coats, and jackets. Bathroom: Jacuzzi tub, marble shower, a jar of hand cream on the sink. Medicine chest: prescription vials-Donnatal, Ampicillin, Imitrex, Midrin-along with a hairbrush, toothpaste, and a bottle of black hair dye. I removed a plastic bag from my pocket and deposited several strands of hair that I teased from the hairbrush. I also took a sample of the dye, tipping the mouth of the bottle against a wad of toilet paper and saving the specimen in a second bag. A search of the trash basket revealed an empty pill vial, sure to have prints. It went into a third.
    Moving quickly, I descended to the first floor.
    Right or left?
    I turned right, entering one of the single-storied wings I had seen from the street. The rooms there, like the guest bedrooms I’d passed earlier, were devoid of any signs of habitation. After passing a darkened stairway leading down, I searched the other wing, finding it similarly barren.
    After returning to the base of the main stairs, I entered a third corridor leading to a gigantic dining room with a large kitchen to the left, past which a door accessed the garage. I stepped through. A garage workbench ran the length of one wall. Another door with a simple button lock opened onto a walkway to the tennis courts. The garage had slots for six cars, all empty. No oil drips on the concrete floor.
    Where’s he storing the cars?
    An inspection of the workbench revealed vises, metalworking tools, and an array of electronic equipment-none of which resembled Hank Dexter’s spectrum analyzer.
    Time was running out. Trying not to rush, I reentered the house. Two areas remained to be searched: a door I had spotted at the end of the third hallway, and the stairway to the basement. I glanced at my watch. Nine minutes had elapsed since I’d entered, and I still had nothing that would tie Carns to the murders, at least nothing the task force could use. Although the dye sample, loose hairs, and any latent prints on the prescription vial might prove out, they were worthless because of the method in which I had obtained them. Worse, should their warrantless procurement ever come to light, they could invalidate similar evidence gathered later-possibly even poisoning the entire case. I knew the analysis of any materials I gathered would definitely have to take place on an unofficial basis.
    Although I realized my illegal entry constituted a serious risk, it was one I felt was justified. In addition to making absolutely certain about Carns, I hoped to find incriminating material that could plausibly surface in some other way-thus giving the task force grounds for an airtight warrant, grounds they didn’t have and might never get. Hair evidence wasn’t definitive enough. Showing Carns’s picture at the murdered women’s health clubs might pan out. Then again, if he had altered his appearance, maybe not. And even if he were recognized at various clubs, so what? I felt even more skeptical about Carns’s DMV thumbprint matching an unknown print from one of the crime scenes. Carns had been far too careful for that. Whatever happened, I was certain of one thing: To nail Carns would take more than the circumstantial evidence already assembled.
    Deciding to save the basement for last, I returned to the middle hallway and pushed through the final door, entering what appeared to be Carns’s office. Three desks spiraled out from the center of the room. Two were neat and tidy. Ignoring these, I moved to the third, which was strewn with computer printouts and reference books from an adjoining bookshelf. As I began my search, a single printed word in the jumble of papers on the desk jumped out at me.
    It was in an article that had been published in the Los Angeles Times describing Catheryn’s appointment as the Philharmonic’s associate principal cello. Stapled beneath was her picture, along with a property report giving our home address. Stunned, I searched further, finding other newspaper articles detailing several of my past homicide cases, as well as another piece about Catheryn. With a chill, I noticed that each mention of her name had been neatly underlined. I stared at the articles, realizing their implication.
    I have to tell Kate, I thought, shaken by what I’d found. Thank God she and the kids are in Santa Barbara.
    With an effort of will, I forced myself back to the business at hand. I quickly searched the rest of the desk, careful to leave everything exactly as I had found it. Next I moved to the file cabinet, discovering Carns’s IRS tax returns for the past eight years. The most recent return gave his present Coto address; five years before that Carns had lived in San Diego. The oldest listed address was in San Francisco.
    Making a mental note of the previous addresses, I replaced the tax returns. As I did, I noted something odd about the reference works lining an adjacent bookshelf. Most were technical publications involving finance and investment strategy, but near the bottom were a number of seemingly misplaced volumes-true crime studies of various modern sociopaths like Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and Randy Craft, along with a book on hypnosis and an array of clinical psychology textbooks. Intrigued, I leaned closer, noting a manila folder jammed between two of the psychology books.
    I pulled out the folder. It contained a psychological evaluation on Carns from a Portland doctor, and another from a psychiatrist in San Francisco. I scanned them quickly. I also found social service documents from upstate New York and a five-year span of outpatient records from a San Francisco medical institution.
    My cellular phone rang. I flipped it open. “What?”
    “Just checking,” said Barrello.
    “Where is he?”
    “Still in the market. How’s it going?”
    “Slow. Don’t call again unless you have to.”
    I replaced the folder and checked the time. Thirteen minutes. After a final glance around the office, I retreated to the hall.
    One last area.
    I descended to the basement, again resolving to call Catheryn and warn her the minute I was out of there. At the bottom of the staircase a pair of doors lay to the left, another to the right. After a moment’s hesitation, I entered the room on the right. A massive gun cabinet squatted against a side wall. Across from it, flanked by a shooting bench and an ammunition stand, the maw of a four-foot-diameter concrete pipe gaped into the room. I moved to the cabinet and opened a number of drawers. The smaller ones each contained six to eight pistols; the larger ones held rifles and shotguns.
    Next I walked to the waist-high tunnel and peered into its interior. In the distance I could make out a faint glimmer of light. Curious, I tripped a switch next to the tunnel opening. A string of bulbs running the length of the shaft came on, revealing a pulley system of range markers and a large mound of sand blocking the tunnel at the far end. Although I couldn’t make out the numbers on the final range marker, I gauged the distance to the sand to be at least several hundred feet. Briefly, I considered crawling down the shaft and recovering comparison slugs from the sand pile at the far end. Again, I checked the time.
    Sixteen minutes.
    I decided that entering the tunnel would take too long. Besides, considering all the guns in Carns’s collection, chances were slim that any projectiles recovered in a hurried search would match those found at the various crime scenes.
    I retreated to the doorway, again making sure I’d left nothing disturbed. But instead of leaving, I stared back into the chamber, certain I was overlooking something.
    The guns? The tunnel? What?
    Unable to put my finger on it, I resolved to return if I had time. There were still two rooms left to search. Moving quickly, I entered the first. It proved to be a professionally equipped darkroom with stainless-steel sinks, plastic developing trays, and an enlarger.
    The second room was locked.
    I eyed the Medeco deadbolt above the knob, certain the room beyond was secured for a reason. Frustrated, I turned away. Then it dawned on me: People might bolt an interior door to keep out a nosy maid, but nobody carried around a key to a room in his own house. Not even Carns.
    I ran my fingers along the trim above the doorframe. Nothing. Same with the molding above the door to the darkroom.
    Where is it? It has to be here. The gun room?
    Too far for convenience.
    The darkroom.
    I returned to the darkroom. There I searched the drawers, storage bins, and shelves for the key. Minutes later I found it hidden on the inside of a cabinet face beneath one of the sinks, hanging on a small hook. Key in hand, I returned to the hall and shoved the key into the Medico deadbolt. The door swung open.
    Stepping inside, I tripped a light switch, surveying the windowless vault beyond. Soundproofing panels covered nearly every surface. A mirrored closet lay at the far end, with built-in bookcases bracketing a gigantic television screen spanning the near wall. Across from the screen sat a solitary leather armchair, a table, lamp, and a slide projector.
    I crossed to the bookcases and inspected their contents. One held a surround-sound stereo, a VCR and DVD player, and various other electronic equipment. Video and audio discs and tapes jammed the shelves above and below, each labeled in a distinctively slanted cursive. Stacks of similarly marked slide carousels filled the second cabinet. I scanned some of the titles: Airport Double, Portland Marina, San Diego Hooking, Seattle Please Please. Hairs prickling on the back of my neck, I removed a slide and held it up to the light. My stomach lurched at the blasphemy it contained.
    Keep it? No. Too risky.
    I dropped the slide back into its slot. As I did, my phone rang again. I flipped it open. “What?”
    “He’s left the market,” Barrello said urgently. “He’s heading out of the lot, turning left on Antonio Parkway. He’s comin’ back. You want Sal to stop him?”
    “No. Can’t chance it.”
    “Where are you?”
    “You don’t want to know.”
    A moment of silence. “Are you inside?”
    I didn’t answer.
    “Get out of there. Now.”
    “Be ready to roll.” I hung up, my mind racing. Thirty seconds to exit the house, another thirty to rejoin Barrello, ninety to make it down the hill and clear the area.
    I still had time.
    I stepped to the closet and threw open its mirrored doors. Inside hung a collection of blouses, leotards, skirts, jackets, and underwear. I stared. Some of the clothes looked stylish and new, others tawdry and worn. Here and there spatters of rust-colored stain bore testament to the wearers’ final moments. Shelves on either side of the clothes pole held shoes, belts, hats, and a number of photo albums. Conscious of the seconds slipping past, I opened an album and flipped through several pages of snapshots. From each grotesque photo the face of a young woman stared back. Some were beautiful, some average, some plain. A few were alive. Most were not.
    Time to go.
    After replacing the album, I closed the closet and hurried to the door. As I’d done with each search area, I scanned the room to ensure everything was exactly as I had found it. After relocking the door, I returned the key to the darkroom.
    Heart thudding, I bolted up the stairs, raced down the hallway to the kitchen, and sprinted through the garage. Did I forget anything? I wondered as I threw open the side door, reset the lock button, and exited behind the house.
    Too late now if I did.
    Minutes later, as Barrello and I drove north on Via Pajaro, Victor Carns’s Lamborghini passed us going the other way. I watched as the red exotic sports car roared by, thinking that Arnie had been right.
    Carns did look like an accountant.


    The following Monday I decided to take a few hours off from work to pay a second visit to Dr. Berns. Although I waited until ten AM to start the drive to the California College of Medicine, traffic was still stop-and-go on the way down. Sitting behind the wheel of my Suburban during a period of complete immobility, I reviewed events following my unauthorized search of Victor Carns’s house. It had been a busy weekend.
    Later that Saturday afternoon, after dropping me off, Deluca had driven to the UCLA Medical Center and shown Carns’s picture to Lauren. As expected from her earlier interviews, she was unable to make a positive identification, reiterating that she’d never had a clear look at her assailant. Nonetheless, Maureen Baker in Sherman Oaks did recognize Carns as the man who had tailed her from the West LA health club. Following that, Barrello and Fuentes, armed with similar blowups of Carns’s DMV photo, revisited the murdered women’s health clubs. An aerobics instructor at Susan Larson’s club recognized Carns as Virgil Kent. At Julie Welsh’s, he’d been known as Jeff Millford. At Carol Pratt’s, Dennis Glen. At each, the handwriting on Carns’s registration materials proved the same. Although his DMV thumbprint didn’t match any of the crime scene unknowns, by nine o’clock that evening all three investigators decided that they had enough evidence to proceed. Barrello made the call.
    An hour later, Barrello, Fuentes, and Deluca met with Lieutenants Huff and Snead. Barrello did most of the talking, revealing Carns’s assumed-name memberships at the murdered women’s health clubs, his DMV records showing ownership of a Ford van and a late model Toyota, and records of his purchase of a spectrum analyzer-an instrument that could be used to break into a residence via the garage. Knowing any mention of me would generate trouble, especially considering my warrantless search earlier that afternoon, all three detectives honored my request not to reveal my involvement-saying that the spectrum analyzer breakthrough had simply been the result of a lucky hunch.
    Although insufficient for an arrest, the material presented to Huff and Snead eventually convinced them Carns was the killer. A heated discussion ensued during which Barrello, privy to the results of my illegal reconnaissance, argued that the task force should immediately procure a search warrant. Still wary following the false arrest of Domingos, Snead disagreed, pointing out that they still had no hard evidence tying Carns to the murders. Everything was circumstantial. He also maintained that a search of Carns’s house, assuming they were able to get a warrant, might turn up nothing-at which point they’d have tipped their hand. With what they presently had on Carns, a good lawyer could have the case thrown out of court before the ink had dried on the complaint. The best course, in his opinion, was to establish an airtight, twenty-four-hour surveillance net around their suspect, catching him in the act the next time he made his move. And this time they would do it right.
    In the end, Huff reluctantly concurred. Unable to reveal the results of my search, Barrello, Fuentes, and Deluca had no choice but to comply. And after all, they told themselves, they’d have Carns under bombproof surveillance, and a little more time wouldn’t make any difference. They had him. What could go wrong?
    Later that night, with surveillance units securely in place around Carns, I phoned Catheryn in Santa Barbara. Our conversation, like an earlier call during which I had revealed Carns’s research on us, was brief and strained.
    “He’s under surveillance?” Catheryn said incredulously after I’d updated her on the situation. “Why don’t you arrest him?”
    “I’m not on the case anymore, or believe me, I would,” I answered. “Unfortunately, it’s not my call.”
    “He can’t get away, can he? He can’t-”
    “No. There’re a dozen guys on him, twenty-four hours a day.”
    “Good,” said Catheryn.
    “Nonetheless, I want you and the kids to stay in Santa Barbara till this thing’s over.”
    “Why? Is there something you’re not telling me?”
    “Just do it, Kate.”
    “Don’t give me orders, Dan.”
    “Please, Kate. Stay away till he’s in custody.”
    “And when will that be?”
    I hesitated.
    “A few days?”
    “I don’t know.”
    “A week? A month?”
    “I don’t know.”
    “So we’re supposed to stay up here forever? I have rehearsals beginning soon, and Arthur’s New Year’s Eve party is coming up. And school for Ali and Nate resumes the first week in January.”
    “Kate, I was in this guy’s house. I went through his desk. He’s been doing research on us. Both of us.”
    A long silence. “The danger is over, right?”
    “Yeah, but I still think it would be better if-”
    “I don’t want to hear what you think. I just want to be absolutely certain the children are safe. Are they?”
    “Are they?”
    “Yes,” I answered reluctantly. “As I said, Carns isn’t going anywhere. Not without a police escort.”
    “Fine. That’s all I need to know.”
    Another uncomfortable silence. Tentatively, I attempted to shift gears. “Kate, about Christmas-”
    “Not now,” said Catheryn, cutting me off.
    “Will there be a better time?”
    “I don’t know. I only know that I have some thinking to do. In the meantime, don’t call me anymore. I’ll let you know when I’ve arrived at a decision.”
    “A decision? A decision on what?”
    But by then Catheryn had hung up.
    Two hours after setting out from West LA, I finally pulled to a stop outside the UCI Neuropsychiatric Center in Orange County. I hadn’t slept more than a few hours since Friday. My back ached, my head throbbed, and my outlook on life had definitely hit a new low.
    Leaving my car in a red zone, I entered the California College of Medicine building. This time I ignored the waiting room receptionist and proceeded directly to Dr. Berns’s office. After rapping on the door, I stuck my head inside. I found Dr. Berns sitting at his desk. “Detective Kane,” he said, closing a chart he’d been reading. “Twice in two weeks.”
    I stepped in and shut the door.
    Berns regarded me closely. “Have you looked in the mirror lately?”
    “Take my advice. Don’t.”
    I passed a hand over the rough stubble on my chin. “I’ve been busy.”
    “I can imagine. I’ve been following your case on the news. I was sorry to hear about that reporter being attacked. It does add an intriguing aspect to the case, though.”
    “Oh? What?”
    “It appears from recent events that the killer is willing to strike at anyone he perceives as a threat to his self-image. Since our last conversation, that thought must have occurred to you.”
    “A little too late,” I said. “Look, Doc, I apologize for bothering you again, but I called because I need to pick your brain one more time.”
    Berns leaned forward. “Concerning the killer, I assume. Has the unit made any progress?”
    “Some,” I answered, deciding not to disclose my dismissal from the task force. “It seems the longer the investigation goes on, the more I’m getting to know how this guy thinks. To him, this is a big contest. Thrust, parry; move, countermove. He’s playing a goddamned game.”
    “Like you are?” asked Berns.
    “What’s that supposed to mean?”
    “That outthinking a criminal is a kind of game for you, too.”
    “I didn’t come here to discuss my views on police work.”
    “So what did you come to discuss?”
    I hesitated, wondering how to phrase my inquiry. Should my visit to Berns ever come to light, any mention of my illegal search of Carns’s house could prove disastrous. Though I had repeatedly pondered the problem on the drive to Orange County, I still hadn’t reached a solution. Now, as I began to question the wisdom of my visit, I noticed that something had changed about the psychiatrist. It took a moment to figure it out: no cigarettes. “You kick the nicotine habit?” I asked, buying some time.
    Berns sighed. “Not yet. My wife wants me to give it up. It’s supposed to be one of my New Year’s resolutions. I’m doing a test run before making any promises I can’t keep.”
    “How’s it going?”
    “Rotten,” Berns responded irritably. “But I’m sure you didn’t come here to talk about my smoking, either. What is it you want?”
    I shifted from foot to foot. “This may seem like a real basic question,” I said finally, “but what does it take these days to pull off an insanity defense?”
    “In California?”
    “Does it make a difference?”
    “Absolutely,” answered Berns. “There are diverse legal criteria for insanity. For example, the Durham Rule asks whether a crime is the product of a mental disease or defect. The American Law Institute Model Penal Code adds volitional language to that definition, things like not being able to conform to the law or being subject to irresistible impulses. And of course there’s the M’Naghten Rule, named after a famous English case tried in the mideighteen hundreds. Different states, different rules. Some states like Idaho don’t even allow an insanity plea.”
    “Let’s make it California.”
    “Ah, California.” Berns said. “California law follows narrow M’Naghten guidelines for defining legal insanity. Which, by the way, differ from those generally accepted by the medical community.”
    “What are these, uh, M’Naghten guidelines?”
    “Basically, M’Naghten says that for something to be a crime, the criminal must realize the nature of the act, and he must know that it’s wrong.”
    “Realize the nature of his act,” I repeated. “So if the guy thinks his gun’s a banana or he’s killing Satan or whatever, he gets off?”
    “Not quite. As I said, there’s also the issue of the criminal knowing his actions are wrong.”
    “So if a criminal tries to conceal his crime, that would indicate he knows it’s wrong-making him sane, even if he is a fruitcake.”
    “It’s a bit more complicated than that, but yes. Bottom line, having a severe sociopathic personality disturbance doesn’t necessarily make someone legally insane.”
    “Pulling off an insanity plea sounds tough.”
    “It is. Especially in capital cases.”
    “But it’s done. What are the courts buying these days? Multiple personality?”
    Berns smiled for the first time since my arrival. “Contrary to what you see in popular fiction, juries are extremely skeptical of a multiple-personality-syndrome defense. Besides, the condition is extremely rare. In fact, many clinicians doubt its existence entirely, not to mention the dilemma it poses the legal system: What do you do with the personalities who weren’t involved in the crime?”
    “Charge them with harboring a fugitive,” I suggested.
    Berns smiled again, then continued. “Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. But to answer your question, there are exculpatory psychological diseases. Manic depressive psychosis, for one. Paranoid schizophrenia, for another.”
    “Schizophrenia, huh?” I thought back, recalling several terms I’d seen while scanning Carns’s medical files. “Satanic delusions, florid psychotic episodes, periods of fugal amnesia covering days and weeks… that kinda stuff?”
    Berns nodded. “How do you happen to know those terms?”
    “I read them somewhere,” I answered evasively. “So if somebody wanted to fake a case of schizophrenia, he could?”
    “Maybe. As yet, there are no conclusive physical tests to support a diagnosis of schizophrenia, but faking it would be difficult. For someone to do it, he’d have to be a consummate actor, as well as being extremely knowledgeable about the disease and a wide spectrum of associated psychological tests.”
    I remembered the psychology books I had seen in Carns’s office. “But it’s possible?”
    “I suppose it’s possible,” Berns conceded. “We psychiatrists like to think we’re above being fooled, but it happens. But even if someone could pull it off, most courts view a criminal’s postarrest development of a mental illness just a little too convenient.”
    “Right. So let me pose a hypothetical situation here. Suppose a criminal wanted to create a psychological backdoor for himself, an escape hatch in case he got caught at some future time. He buys the right books and bones up on a mental illness that can’t be disproved by physical testing. Paranoid schizophrenia, say. He goes to a few clinics and perfects his act, then gets some outpatient treatment-maybe even takes medication for a couple of years.”
    “He wouldn’t even have to take the pills,” mused Berns, anticipating my line of reasoning. “They’d probably put him on something like Haldol. Most outpatient clinics don’t do blood-level monitoring on those types of drugs.”
    “Fine,” I said. “Okay, let’s take it a step further. Our man stops getting treatment, but now he’s on record as being a psycho. Years later he’s arrested for something serious-murder, say-and he goes for an insanity defense. Unlike most scumbags who try to avoid first degree murder charges and a death penalty sentence by going the nut-cake route, our man’s got a medical history. He’s been off his medication for years, and the poor guy just couldn’t help himself. What’re his chances of skating?”
    Berns stroked his chin pensively. “A lot better than without a prior history. Something like that could make a huge difference.”
    “He could pull it off?”
    “Maybe. With a longstanding record of mental illness, a slick lawyer, and the right jury-he might.”


    Tuesday afternoon, having decided to spend New Year’s Eve at home, Victor Carns made an unsettling discovery, one that changed everything. He had just returned from a record store in Mission Viejo, where he’d purchased a Glen Gould disk and two Yo Yo Ma recordings. As he climbed from the cockpit of his Lamborghini, he dropped his keys. Bending to retrieve them, he spotted the antenna wire hidden behind his back left wheel. Less than an inch was exposed, but it was well defined in the backlight from across the garage. With a feeling of horror, Carns got down on his hands and knees. He looked under the frame. It was a transmitter.
    They had found him.
    But how?
    He was sure he had escaped the police trap in Sherman Oaks without being followed.
    What, then? The health clubs? The stolen license plates? The DMV trace? Lauren Van Owen?
    Again, as he had repeatedly since learning that the blond newscaster had survived, he berated himself for not taking the time to dispose of her properly before fleeing her West LA condo. On the other hand, that the authorities hadn’t already come for him was proof she hadn’t managed to get a clear look at him-even when he’d held the phone to her mouth so she could speak with Kane. Nevertheless, leaving her alive was another unaccustomed error, one that disturbed and angered him. And once more, Kane had been involved.
    Shaken, Carns rose to his knees. He left the matchbox-sized tracking device in place, fearing if he touched it, the police might be able to tell. Something like that might force their hand.
    Mind racing, Carns pondered his situation.
    Somehow they’d found him. But again, if they had enough for an arrest, or even grounds to search his estate, they would have already come.
    Maybe they weren’t sure.
    No, Carns decided, fighting a wave of panic. They knew. Maybe they couldn’t prove it, but they knew.
    It didn’t matter how they had discovered him; what mattered now was what would follow. Music discs forgotten on the garage floor, Carns hurried into the house. His ankle still throbbed from that terrible night in Sherman Oaks, and he favored it as he moved from window to window. Staying well back from the glass, he searched the areas surrounding his estate.
    There. The Southern California Edison truck at the bottom of the hill.
    They had a work tent over a manhole at the intersection. Carns had noticed it early Saturday morning but hadn’t given it a second thought. Looking closer, he noted that the orange ventilation hose, a normal precaution for underground vaults where men are working, was conspicuously missing.
    Proceeding through his house, Carns peeked out every window. Though he couldn’t spot them, he knew there had to be others. He considered calling the electric company regarding the street repair, just to be sure. He decided against it. The police were probably listening on his phone.
    He had left nothing incriminating at the murder scenes. And with the exception of Lauren Van Owen, there had been no witnesses. That left whatever was in his house. And the cars.
    There was little he could do now about the van and the Toyota. Maybe later, when things settled down. In the meantime, Carns assured himself, no one would find them or the articles they contained. He had leased the self-service garage under a false name, retrieved the vehicles only at night, and the storage rental fee was paid two years in advance.
    The house, then.
    Carns spent the next several hours disposing of all his mementos: tapes, slides, videos, clothing. Even the scrapbooks. He blanked the video and audio tapes with a bulk erasing magnet, then burned them in the living room fireplace, sending clouds of smoke billowing up the chimney. His digital recordings and slide collection followed. The women’s clothing proved the most difficult, requiring him to scissor the larger garments into pieces before piling them on the gas-fed blaze.
    The prophylactics, he flushed down the toilet.
    Ever since discovering the transmitter hidden on his car, Carns had felt a headache building. Before leaving the bathroom, he opened the medicine chest and took two Imitrex tablets. As he washed them down with a glass of water, he did a mental inventory of anything remaining that might tie him to the murders. He had worn newly purchased clothes for each adventure, disposing of them afterward. The mementos from the basement were gone. A box of latex gloves, the spectrum analyzer, and a few playthings from earlier games were still in the storage garage, along with the cars. Nothing to directly link him to the murders, but in aggregate, a breach in his defense.
    Anything else?
    The books!
    Carns hurried to his office and stripped the hardback covers from his crime and psychology texts. He fed the pages, along with research he had done on numerous victims, through a document shredder. The covers and shredded paper went into the fire. Thirty minutes later nothing remained.
    Satisfied he could do no more, Carns limped to his living room bar and poured a large glass of Scotch. He took a shuddering gulp from the cut-crystal tumbler, angrily contemplating the turn of events that had necessitated the loss of his precious souvenirs.
    How had they found him?
    With an increasing sense of outrage, Carns wrestled with the question. At last, though unable to arrive at a conclusion, his thoughts kept returning to a common dominator, a thread running through the entire fabric of recent events. The maggot appellation. The furtive meeting he had witnessed at the West LA health club. The blond reporter’s inflammatory broadcasts. The police trap in Sherman Oaks. His near-capture at Van Owen’s condo. And now this.
    Carns drained his Scotch and poured another. But instead of drinking it, he set aside the tumbler, his mind revisiting a dangerous stratagem that had occurred to him earlier that afternoon. At first it had seemed precipitous, even foolhardy; the product of anger, not logic. But the more he thought about it, the more the plan began to crystallize into what possessed the earmarks of an intriguing countermove.
    Obviously, the police were hoping he would make a mistake. Now that he knew of their presence, he could suspend the game-indefinitely, if he had to. Well, maybe not indefinitely, but long enough. Unfortunately, he also realized that the watchers wouldn’t give up. They weren’t certain of his guilt. They couldn’t be; they would have taken action by now if they were. But if things went on too long, they’d eventually tire of waiting and come for him.
    When they did, they would find nothing in his house. Nonetheless, a chance remained that with the publicity certain to follow, something unexpected might arise. For instance, someone at the rental garage might remember his face. A search there could prove disastrous. Yet paradoxically, the very police surveillance now in place offered a hope of exoneration. After all, what better proof of his innocence could there be than if another murder were to take place while he was being watched?
    Slowly, a move that Carns had originally deemed unthinkable took shape in his mind. An hour later, after examining it from every angle, he knew it would work… if he had the nerve to pull it off.
    Carns came to a decision. That night, if everything went as planned, he would turn adversity to advantage, eliminate all weaknesses, and settle a debt. Smiling, he retrieved his drink and raised his glass to toast his reprisal. But instead of drinking, he dumped the amber liquor into the sink. If he were to succeed tonight, he would need all his powers. And he would succeed.
    He had no choice.


    The lighted ball in Times Square wouldn’t descend for another hour, but already I felt myself growing progressively depressed. For some reason New Year’s Eve has always been a gloomy time for me, and this year, as I sat alone in an overstuffed armchair in Arnie’s living room, promised to be the worst. Glumly, I flipped on the TV. Minutes later, having tired of watching a crowd of celebrants jostling one another toward the magic midnight hour, I turned it off.
    Earlier, Arnie and Stacy had left for a party at her studio in Venice. Though they had invited me to join them, I’d declined. Now, my mood plummeting, I began to wish I had accepted-deciding that even a room full of self-absorbed artists, sculptors, and art critics would be better than this.
    With a sigh, I lifted the phone and dialed Catheryn’s mother in Santa Barbara. Moments later she answered. After warmly returning my holiday wishes, she informed me that Catheryn had temporarily returned with the children to Malibu, and she was attending a New Year’s Eve party that night at the home of Arthur West. Catheryn’s mother added that following the party, Catheryn planned to spend the night at the beach house, as by then it would be too late to return to Santa Barbara. Following a few more minutes of small talk, I hung up. I sat for a moment, dismayed that Catheryn hadn’t notified me of her plans to return to the beach house, even if it were only for a short time. True, I had assured her that Carns was safely under police surveillance, but still…
    I briefly considered calling Arthur’s house. Deciding against it, I dialed the beach house instead, hoping to get one of the kids. When the machine picked up, I disconnected without leaving a message, remembering that on occasion Catheryn and I, like other parents caught in the holiday babysitter crunch, had brought our children with us to various New Year’s parties-including a past one at Arthur’s. Not an ideal solution but better than none, with older kids watching their younger peers in a room stocked with cookies, soft drinks, and videos.
    As a precaution I contacted the Malibu sheriff’s station, identified myself, and requested that local units keep an eye on the beach house. Afterward boredom set in once more. Idly, I spent the next ten minutes calling friends in the department. Not surprisingly, everyone was out. I finally reached Paul Deluca on his cell. He, along with several members of the OC sheriff’s surveillance unit, was spending the evening in a van across from Carns’s estate.
    “Anything happened recently?” I asked once Deluca had completed a colorful complaint about working on Christmas Eve.
    “Naw,” Deluca answered. “He left for a couple hours. Gave the mobile guys something to do,” he added, referring to the six-car surveillance team stationed at various points around Coto to pick up Carns whenever he left. “Otherwise, things have been quiet. After doing some shopping, he came home, made a fire, and stayed in the rest of the day. Lights are on in all the windows. No movement inside. No calls, either.”
    “You guys get a GPS transmitter on his car?”
    “Did the van or the Toyota show up?”
    I thought a moment. “A fire, huh? It had to be seventy, seventy-five out today.”
    “Closer to eighty down here. Maybe he has air conditioning. We sure as hell don’t.”
    “Tough,” I said. “Listen, I’ll let you get back to whatever it is you’re not doing, but I just found out that Kate and the kids have returned to the beach house. If there’s any change in the situation at Carns’s, I want to know.”
    “Kane, I hate to bring this up, but you’re no longer on the case. Snead made a big deal outta nobody talkin’ to you. If he finds out you’ve been checking up like this, he’s gonna-”
    “I’ll handle Snead.”
    Deluca hesitated, probably realizing that wasn’t an answer. “No problem,” he said anyway. “Say hi to Kate for me when you see her. And Happy New Year.
    “Thanks, Paul. You, too.”

    Allison sat up in bed. Her throat burned; her head throbbed; her entire body ached. She felt terrible. With a pang of self-pity, she realized she hadn’t had the flu this bad in years. But something had roused her from the medicine induced lethargy that had kept her under the covers most of the evening. What?
    No. She’s at the vet’s.
    She glanced at a clock on her night table. The numerals were out. Puzzled, she reached over to turn on a bedside lamp. She froze as she heard a thump downstairs. A prickle shivered up her spine.
    Someone was in the house.

    I had been chewing on it for the past twenty minutes. My mind kept coming back to it, wouldn’t let it go.
    Eighty degrees out, and Carns makes a fire?
    Finally I dialed Deluca’s cell phone again.
    Deluca answered on the second ring. “What’s the matter, Kane? No parties to go to?”
    “Listen, Paul. This may be important. Are you sure about his making a fire?”
    “I’m sure. Smoke was pouring out one of the big brick chimneys for most of the afternoon.”
    “Anything unusual about it? The smoke, I mean.”
    “It was kinda dense part of the time. Like whatever he had in the fireplace wasn’t burning right,” Deluca answered. A long pause. “Different colors, too,” he added quietly. “Gray, white, black. Come to think of it, when the wind changed I caught a whiff. Smelled like burning plastic.” Another long pause. “He made us, didn’t he?”
    “Yeah. I don’t know how, but he did. He got rid of his souvenirs.”
    “Damn. What now?”
    “It’s not up to me. I’m off the investigation.”
    “Wait a minute. What the…?”
    “What happened?”
    “The lights just went off. Every single one. Hold on.”
    Ten seconds later Deluca came back on. “I checked with the guys on the other side. They say the same thing. All the lights went off at once.”
    “Probably on a timer. Call him.”
    “Are you serious?”
    “If he’s there, say you got a wrong number.”
    “What are you talking about- if he’s there? He’s gotta be there.”
    Suddenly I remembered the shooting tunnel in Carns’s basement. At the time I had sensed something odd about it. Now I knew what it was. Even with the tunnel light bulbs off, there had still been a faint glimmer coming from the far end. “He’s out.”
    “No way. We’ve been sitting on the house all day.”
    “He got out a tunnel in the basement,” I explained, trying to recall which direction the shaft ran. “Check the bushes in the vacant lot behind the house. There’ll be a vault of some kind. Search for a metal hatch, a manhole cover, something like that.”
    “Shit. If you’re right-”
    “Call him. If you don’t, I will.”
    “I’ll get back to you.” An instant later the line went dead.
    As I waited for Deluca to ring back, I phoned the beach house again. Still no answer. Next I dialed Catheryn’s cell phone. Same result. Finally I tried Arthur West’s number. Someone finally picked up. Arthur.
    “Hello, Arthur. Is Catheryn there?”
    Party noise blared in the background. “Sorry. You’ll have to speak up,” Arthur yelled.
    “Is Catheryn there?” I repeated, raising my voice. “This is her husband.”
    “Oh.” Arthur’s tone frosted noticeably. “Detective Kane.”
    “Is she there?”
    A hesitation. “She and the children left early. Something about Allison being home sick with the flu.”
    “Allison didn’t come to the party?”
    “No. Travis and Nate did, but not her.”
    “Is something wrong?”
    “I’m not sure. Thanks, Arthur. I owe you one.”
    “Anytime,” said Arthur, his voice tinged with sarcasm.
    “How’s the hand?”
    “Better. No thanks to you.”
    “Listen, Arthur. I was out of line at the Music Center. I’m sorry. If it’ll square things, you’re welcome to take a free poke at me anytime you want.”
    “An interesting proposal,” said Arthur, thawing slightly. “One day I may take you up on it.”

    Victor Carns stood in the darkened living room. Fighting to control his growing excitement, he checked the glowing numerals on his watch: 12:31 PM. He was certain they would be home before long, returning from whatever celebration they’d attended.
    As he waited, he reflected on his escape from the police cordon, surprised at how easy it had been. Out the tunnel, a crawl through the bushes to Via Pajaro, across several backyards, and a jog to the west gate. Once past the gate he’d met a taxi summoned earlier using one of his untraceable cellular phones. Twenty minutes later he had disembarked near the Mission Viejo rental garage. Simple. And returning would be just as easy, provided he got back before dawn.
    He had driven the van to a number of disposal sites, getting rid of everything, even the spectrum analyzer. He saved only the few items he would need for this final encounter. As with the mementos burned at his estate, he regretted losing the playthings stored in his garage. His souvenirs from previous games often came in handy, like the police ID he had used to enter the reporter’s condo. Still, it had to be done.
    And anyway, it was time to move on.
    Afterward he drove to Malibu and stopped across the highway from the house, inspecting the weathered structure. No lights. No cars in front. Again using his stolen phone, he dialed the number he’d copied from the phone book. No one answered. Satisfied, he proceeded several hundred yards north, parked his car, and walked back along the highway.
    He found the electric meter in a service niche near the front door. After turning off the power, he made his way down the side of the house. The flimsy lock on the back door yielded easily. A quick search revealed the residence to be deserted. Nothing to do now but wait.
    As Carns savored thoughts of what was to come, a telephone on the coffee table jangled to life. He let it ring. Finally a machine in another part of the house picked up. “Kane residence. Leave a message and we’ll get back to you,” a woman’s voice said.
    A beep sounded, then nothing.
    Carns reached out with a gloved hand and lifted the receiver. Gently, he placed it on the floor and covered it with a cushion from the couch.
    There would be no more distractions.

    When Deluca phoned back, his voice sounded strained. “You were right,” he said. “There’s a vault hidden in a hedge that runs all the way to the street. The metal cover was off. We contacted local cab companies. Two hours ago A-1 Taxi picked up somebody at the west gate matching Carns’s description.”
    “Two hours ago? And none of our guys at the gate noticed anything?”
    “One of the units saw a taxi picking up a jogger but didn’t give it a second thought. We located the cab driver. He said he dropped his fare in an industrial section near Alicia and Fabricante. He thought it was strange, there bein’ no residences down there and all. One of the Orange County deputies thinks there are some self-service garages in that area. Maybe that’s where Carns stashed his cars.”
    “Maybe,” I said, feeling my throat tighten. I recalled Berns’s statement regarding the killer’s willingness to strike at anyone he considered a threat. I paused, asking myself what I would do if I were Carns.
    A game.
    Thrust, parry. Move, countermove.
    Suddenly I knew.
    “Listen, Dan,” Deluca continued, “I’ve gotta bring Snead in on this. Other people down here know you’ve been calling. I can’t keep you out of it.”
    “Do whatever you have to,” I said. “Thanks for your help.”
    I hung up and redialed Catheryn’s cell phone. No response. Again I called the beach house. This time the phone was busy. Fighting panic, I dialed the operator, identified myself, and requested an emergency interrupt. What seemed an interminable pause followed as she checked the line.
    “I’m sorry, sir,” she said at last. “That number is out of order.”


    Allison heard the intruder moving through the music room downstairs, then the thump of heavy footsteps ascending the stairs-slow and deliberate, definitely those of a man. With a plunge of panic, she slipped from her bed and flipped the comforter over her still-warm covers. She quickly smoothed the bedspread as best she could, hoping whoever it was wouldn’t notice. Without making a sound, she crept into her closet and hid behind a long woolen coat.
    She heard the man stop briefly at the top of the stairs, then move to the kitchen, his weight creaking the old floorboards. As if no time had passed in the interim, the paralyzing helplessness she had felt at the hands of another man years before came flooding back.
    Can’t let him find me. Out the front door? No time. He’ll be on me before I get it unlocked. The phone in the kitchen? Too far.
    Minutes later the beam of a flashlight stabbed into her bedroom. She held her breath as the light swept toward her hiding place… hesitated… and flicked to another part of the room. The intruder moved on. She heard him searching her brothers’ room, then Nate’s former bedroom in the loft above the entry, and finally her parents’ room down the hall. Next he made his way to the living room. She heard a squeak from the couch as he sat, then the clump of feet on the coffee table. Soon another sound drifted through the darkness. At first she couldn’t identify it. Then she had it.
    Humming. He’s humming.
    Huddled in her closet, Allison swallowed hard, desperately trying to stifle the cough that had plagued her since Christmas. Any sound, even the slightest, would surely reveal her presence.
    What time is it? she wondered, forcing her mind from the burning tickle in her throat. Midnight? One o’clock? They’ll be home soon.
    She had to warn them.
    But how? She dared not move. Even raising her bedroom window and escaping to the street was out of the question. There has to be a way, she thought. I have to do something.
    But when she heard Catheryn’s car pull to a stop out front twenty minutes later, she still hadn’t decided on a course of action. Instead, hating herself for her cowardice, she remained hidden, listening with horror as the front door clicked open. She heard muffled voices. Her mother said something about the party. Nate mumbled a sleepy response. Suddenly Travis called out in surprise. A heavy thud. Screaming. Guttural commands. Then the sounds of struggle as one by one her family’s cries were silenced. Next she heard dragging noises, followed by footsteps as the man returned. More humming from the next room. Nate’s room. Slapping sounds, muffled sobs.
    The man spoke, his sepulchral tones filled with mocking cruelty. Her heart gripped in a fist of terror, Allison listened to the words he said to Nate. Softly, as though reading from a script, the man told Nate what he intended to do.
    Trembling, she heard the sounds of another struggle, this time mercifully brief. Moments later it was over.
    As the intruder retreated down the hall toward her parents’ room, Allison jammed her fist to her mouth to silence her sobs.
    Nothing. She had done nothing.
    And now it was too late.
    Oh, God, Nate. I’m sorry, she thought, her eyes squeezed shut against the terrible clinging darkness, tears spilling down her cheeks. I’m so sorry.

    Carns paused in the center of the bedroom, surveying his surroundings. Candles washed the chamber in hues of yellow, sending a montage of light and shadow flickering across the walls. The woman lay trussed on the floor, the older boy hogtied beside her.
    Carns knelt to examine their gags, making certain they hadn’t slipped and blocked their breathing. Satisfied, he rechecked the plastic ties binding their hands and feet. He felt a thrill of anticipation as he noticed the woman’s eyes widening in terror, her body shuddering at his touch. She was exquisite. Although he knew from earlier surveillance that Kane wasn’t living at home, he intensely regretted that the troublesome detective wasn’t present. Unfortunately, the boy would have to do. As Carns rose to his feet, a satisfying thought occurred to him. Kane will know. He won’t know how, but he’ll know. And he won’t be able to do a thing about it.
    Everything was nearly ready.
    Carns dragged the boy to the closet and jerked him to his knees, noting that his face and eyes were still red from the pepper spray. Seizing a fistful of hair, he circled the youngster’s neck with a noose, tied the other end of the rope to the closet doorknob, and inserted the pipe. He gave it a twist, careful not to cinch the noose too tight. As with the gags, he didn’t want to end things prematurely.
    The woman next.
    Carns scooped her up and dumped her onto the bed. Working quickly, he tied one ankle to the corner of the bed frame. His pulse quickened as she renewed her struggles, her skirt riding up over her thighs. Cupping her chin, he passed a noose around her neck as he had with the boy, fastening it to the headboard. Next he looped a second line around her other ankle, running it to the opposite corner of the bed frame. The last step entailed cutting the plastic tie binding her feet. He tensed, readying himself for what was to come.
    She kicked, lashing out with her legs, just as the others had. He grabbed her free ankle and levered it down, pulling the rope taut at the same time.
    Smiling with satisfaction, he climbed onto the bed, straddling her. Her chest heaved as he crawled on top, the weight of his body causing her breasts to strain against the fabric of her blouse. Reaching behind her back, he found her hands. Roughly, he rolled her onto her side and tied a length of rope to each of her wrists, then cut the final plastic tie. She renewed her struggles, but less forcefully than before. Her earlier resistance had tightened the noose around her neck, cutting off her air. Carns knelt on her arms and fastened them to the frame above her head. It was a critical maneuver that always gave him difficulty, but at last it was done.
    He removed the noose from her neck and tossed it to the floor. She lay defenseless, a halo of auburn hair framing her face. Her skirt had bunched under her hips, exposing her long and shapely legs. The struggle had also torn several buttons from her blouse. Reaching to the nightstand, Carns picked up the knife he had taken from the kitchen. After severing the remaining buttons of the blouse, he cut away the rest of the silky material, dropping the shredded garment to the floor beside the rope. Next he slit the shoulder straps of her bra. She shivered as the blade touched her skin. With a yank, he jerked the lacy fabric down to her waist.
    Her breasts were firm, almost perfect. Leaning down, he gently bit her left breast-not too hard, not taking tissue yet-just enough to make her moan. And again, moving to the flawless skin at the base of her neck. And again on her shoulder, harder this time, tasting her fear. She bucked beneath him, helpless.
    Take her now.
    No. First things first.
    Carns climbed from the bed. After retrieving his knapsack from the hallway, he returned to the woman’s side. Slowly, he opened his bag and withdrew several of its contents, laying items out in a neat row upon the sheets. Surgical scissors. Prophylactics. Camera. Gun. Tape recorder.
    And the knife.
    Blood racing with excitement, Carns smiled at the woman. Then he picked up the scissors and moved toward Travis. Abruptly, he froze.
    Someone was banging on the front door.
    Damn! Who could it be at this time of night?
    The police, like last time?
    What about the woman and the boy?
    He couldn’t leave them alive.
    No time…
    Don’t panic. The police can’t know. They can’t. It must be someone else. See who’s there.
    Carns put down the scissors and grabbed his knapsack and gun. Stealthily, he crept to the front door.

    Allison heard the knock. She couldn’t believe her ears.
    Please God, let it be the police.
    More knocking, louder this time. “Malibu sheriff,” a voice called.
    Allison opened her mouth to reply, stopping as she heard footsteps moving down the hall. Seconds later she heard the outside gate bang open, then a rustle of beach cane as the sheriff began making his way down the side of the house. The intruder stopped in the entry, then quietly descended the stairs.
    Get out. Quick, before he comes back.
    Allison forced herself from her hiding place.
    The front door?
    No. He’ll see me.
    The window.
    Her bedroom window hadn’t been opened since a heat wave the previous summer. Allison fumbled at the latch. Somehow she got it open. Panting with terror, she strained to slide the sash up the paint-thickened jamb. It wouldn’t budge.
    Please open…
    A creak.
    Another creak.
    Abruptly, the window jerked up an inch. And another.
    Come on, a little more…
    With a lurch, the window rattled open wide enough for her to squeeze through.
    Allison squirmed one leg into the opening, then an arm, finally her head, expecting at any moment to hear the intruder bolting back up the stairs. With a five-foot drop to the ground and freedom, she paused on the sill.
    What about the others? Maybe it’s not too late…
    No. I can’t do anything. Go.
    But what about them?
    There’s nothing I can do. Hurry, hurry, before he comes back. Go
    Despite her fear, Allison hesitated, suddenly recalling her father’s words to her in the cemetery: “When things go bad, really bad… remember who you are. ” At the time his advice had seemed superficial and facile. Now, with a flash of understanding, Allison realized its meaning.
    She hesitated a moment more. Then, clenching her teeth to still their chattering, she eased back into her room.


    Following another failed attempt to reach Catheryn on her cell phone, I made a second call to the Malibu sheriff’s station, then jumped into my Suburban and sped north. Even though I badged my way past several jam-ups, it took twenty minutes to reach Topanga, where I found a police unit diverting traffic. Again, I flashed my ID and raced past.
    On the other side of the police barricade, I found the four-lane coast highway eerily deserted. Three miles farther on, as I rounded a bend and reached Las Flores Beach, my heart sank. Police cruisers were lined up on the far side of the road. Weapons drawn, a dozen sheriff’s deputies were crouched behind their vehicles, their attention focused on a beach residence across the highway.
    Swerving to avoid a black-and-white angled across PCH, I skidded through a line of highway flares and screeched to a stop across from my house. With a lurch of horror, I saw Catheryn’s Volvo parked out front, Travis’s Bronco close behind.
    Too late? Oh, God, please let me be in time.
    “Kane! Over here.”
    I glanced toward an officer huddled behind the nearest patrol car. It was Brian Safire, a sheriff with whom I had spoken earlier. Waving frantically, Safire motioned me over. Nodding that I understood, I pulled my automatic. Head down, I exited my Suburban from the passenger side and joined my friend behind his cruiser.
    “Fill me in,” I said, staring at my house. Most of the police units had their spots on it, bathing the structure in an unearthly glow.
    Sergeant Brian Safire was only in his early thirties, but years of desk work and a steady diet of junk food and cigarettes had taken their toll. “We have an officer down,” he said, his face shining with sweat. He swallowed, seeming more out of breath with each word. “After you called, I had dispatch send over a unit. There was already a car at Carbon Beach, so it got here fast. One of the guys recognized your wife’s Volvo out front. When nobody answered the door, he climbed down the side of the house to the lower deck. Caught a bullet in the chest out one of the back windows.”
    “He going to be okay?”
    Safire nodded. “Vest stopped it. He’s shook, but he’ll be all right.”
    “Anything since then?”
    “We got a phone line open twenty minutes ago. The asshole inside says he wants a helicopter and safe passage or he’ll start killing hostages. I’m sorry, Dan.”
    “Are they all right?”
    “I don’t know. After making his demands, the guy gave us thirty minutes to respond and then cut us off. We evacuated the adjacent homes and stationed teams on either side as well as out on the beach. Nobody’s seen or heard anything since.”
    “You talked with him twenty minutes ago? That gives us ten minutes.”
    “Give or take. I called SWAT right away. They’ll be here soon. Meanwhile, that dirtbag ain’t going nowhere.”
    I holstered my automatic, opened the door of Safire’s cruiser, and reached inside.
    Ignoring Safire’s puzzled look, I flipped the radio-console toggle to bullhorn position and grabbed the mike. Seconds later my amplified voice boomed into the night. “Victor Carns. This is Detective Daniel Kane.”
    “Carns, I know you’re in there. Put the phone back on the hook. I’ll call you in thirty seconds. I have something to tell you. I guarantee it’s something you want to hear. Thirty seconds.”
    Safire stared at me. “You know this guy?”
    I tossed the mike back into the cruiser. “I know him.” I opened my cell phone and punched in my home number. It was busy. I tried again. The second time someone picked up. “You now have six minutes,” a voice declared harshly.
    “Then that’s about what you have, too,” I replied. “That is, unless you pay close attention to what I’m about to say.”
    “I’m listening.”
    “First off, the helicopter’s on its way,” I lied. “It took off from Santa Monica a few minutes ago.”
    “Not good, Victor. Regardless of what you think, there’s no way you’re getting on that chopper with civilian hostages. It just isn’t going to happen-even if it means everybody winding up in body bags, including you.”
    Again, silence.
    “There is a way,” I continued, easing into my next lie. “The word civilian is the key here, Victor. I’m not a civilian. Take me. Let the civilian hostages go.”
    “An interesting proposal, Detective. I accept.”
    “Let me talk to them first.”
    “Talk when you get here. You now have four minutes.” With that, the line went dead.
    I attempted to call back. I got another busy signal. I thought quickly, trying to decide what to do. Finally I stood, took off my jacket, and laid it on the hood of Safire’s black-and-white. As I began unstrapping my shoulder rig, an LAPD cruiser squealed to a stop beside me.
    Lieutenant Snead rolled out from the passenger-side door. “What are you doing here, Kane?” he demanded angrily, crouching behind Safire’s vehicle.
    “I live here, Snead. What brings you down?”
    “After talking with Deluca, I got a squawk from the SWAT unit,” he replied. “You’re not the only one who can do simple addition.”
    “Congratulations. One of these days you might make a good cop after all.”
    Snead noticed that I was unstrapping my automatic. “What do you think you’re doing?”
    “I’m going in.”
    “The hell you are.”
    “I’m going in, Lieutenant. And nobody’s going to stop me.”
    “Wrong, hotshot. SWAT will be here shortly. If you go in, you’ll just make things worse.”
    “Maybe.” I handed Snead my pistol and holster, turned, and started across the street.
    “Don’t you realize he’ll kill you?” Snead shouted. “I’m ordering you to stand down, Kane. You’re relieved of duty.”
    I turned. “Listen, Bill. We haven’t always seen eye to eye on things, but this goes way beyond that. My family’s in there.”
    “I appreciate that, but-”
    “Look, I know this guy,” I said, my voice hardening. “He has nothing to lose. He’s not going to negotiate. And he’s not going to surrender. And if SWAT sends in an entry team behind tear gas and concussion grenades or whatever, he’ll kill everyone. There’s only one chance of anyone getting out alive, and that one chance is me.”
    Just then the SWAT van rolled up, lumbering to a stop fifty yards down the highway.
    I glanced at the van. “Tell them there’s an officer inside. Have them give me ten minutes before they move.” I turned and started again across the highway, my arms held out from my sides. “If I’m still breathing when this is over,” I added over my shoulder, “we’ll talk about things then.”
    “Count on it,” said Snead. “And Kane?
    “Good luck.”
    The front door was locked. I banged on it with my fist. “Carns. I’m coming in.”
    No answer.
    Using my house key, I unlocked the dead bolt and stepped inside.
    “Close it,” a voice hissed.
    I turned. In the darkness I could make out a dim figure crouched in the kitchen. Arms extended. Gun.
    I closed the door. A flashlight beam stabbed out, pinning me in its glare.
    “Lock it.”
    I inserted my key into the double cylinder and twisted. Suddenly I heard a muffled pop, followed by a sharp stab of pain. My left leg buckled. I crashed to the floor, landing hard on my side. I clutched my knee in agony, blood hot and sticky on my fingers.
    “Face down. Do it, or I’ll take your other knee.”
    With a groan, I rolled onto my stomach. The floor tiles were cold against my face. Grit pressed into my cheek.
    “I assume those are handcuffs on your belt. Take them out. Secure one manacle to your right wrist and place your hands behind your back.”
    “Where’s my family?”
    “Do it.”
    “Maybe you’d rather I took something from your wife. She’s right down the hall.”
    I reached into a leather pouch at the small of my back and withdrew a pair of cuffs. “Any deals are off if they’re not released.”
    “Around your right wrist. Now.”
    I snapped on one of the cuffs, then lay with my hands behind me.
    Footsteps. A knee bore down between my shoulders. Something hard pressed against the back of my skull. The other cuff closed around my free wrist. Then a restraint was looped around my ankles and drawn tight.
    “That’s better,” the voice said. “Now let’s see what you’ve brought with you.”
    A rough search followed-arms, back, legs, groin. Carns found my holdout gun, a. 38-caliber revolver, concealed in an ankle rig beneath my trousers. “Tsk, tsk, Detective. It seems as if I won’t be able to trust you.”
    I heard the. 38 clatter across the entry, banging against a wall near the closet. Unexpectedly, the restraint around my ankles loosened. A moment later I was yanked to a sitting position. I looked at Carns, noting a. 25 automatic in his right hand. What appeared to be a homemade silencer was fastened to the barrel.
    “Let’s go where I can see you better,” said Carns. “On your feet.”
    Slipping in my own blood, I struggled to stand. A shove sent me hopping one-legged down the hallway. I stumbled into the living room, Carns close behind. A glow from the police spotlights shone through the drapes.
    I turned, my knee throbbing.
    Carns stared at me. “Where’s my helicopter?” he asked, his eyes as unreadable as coddled eggs.
    Before I could respond, a bullhorn sounded outside. “Victor Carns. This is Sergeant Bruce Moore of the Los Angeles Police. The house is surrounded. You have no chance of escape.”
    “The civilians leave first, then the helicopter,” I said, hoping the SWAT negotiator didn’t say anything to the contrary.
    The bullhorn again: “Mr. Carns, please pick up the phone.”
    “Let them go,” I said. “After that, you and I can go anywhere you say.”
    “Mr. Carns, unless we talk, we can’t resolve this situation,” the voice outside continued. “Please pick up the phone.”
    Carns moved closer. He shoved his pistol against my forehead. “There is no helicopter, is there?”
    “It’s coming,” I lied. “It will land on the beach once the civilians are released.”
    I shook my head, deciding to change tactics. “Give it up, Carns,” I said quietly. “Even if you do get out of here, where will you go? Off to some deserted island to live on your millions? The world isn’t big enough.”
    A secretive smile flashed across Carns’s face. Then the amusement seeped from his eyes. Without warning he swung his pistol, backhanding me. A clamp on the homemade silencer sent a gush of blood sheeting down my face. Already unsteady on my crippled leg, I went down again.
    “Mr. Carns, pick up the phone.”
    Ignoring the drone of the bullhorn, Carns descended on me, lashing out with his feet, fists, knees, gun. He grunted with each blow, his face twisted with rage.
    Unable to defend myself, I tried to squirm out from beneath his assault. When that failed, I fought to free my hands. Couldn’t. Dazed, I attempted to fend off Carns’s attack with my uninjured leg. No good. Soon the coppery taste of blood filled my mouth and nose and throat. A kick caught me in the eye, snapping back my head. The automatic thunked against my skull. And again. A flash of light, then another kick to the face. And another to the stomach, the back, the groin. Before long I simply concentrated on breathing, trying not to choke on my own blood. Slowly, through a haze of pain that was dulling with each blow, I felt darkness closing over me.
    “Oh, no, you don’t,” Carns snarled, his breathing labored from his one-sided battle. He grabbed my hair, lifting my face from the carpet. “I’m not done with you yet. Not by half.” Suddenly he froze.
    I thought I heard a rustling in the hallway.
    Apparently Carns thought he heard something, too. Leaving me bleeding on the floor, he charged to the front door. Then I heard him banging down the hallway, slamming open the kids’ bedroom doors as he went. Moments later he returned. Seeming puzzled, he hesitated, then turned and made his way to the kitchen. He reappeared carrying a knapsack, from which he withdrew a roll of duct tape. Still panting, he knelt beside me and removed the silencer from his automatic.
    Fumbling with the tape, Carns took several turns around the gun barrel, then held the muzzle to the side of my head. A number of passes secured the pistol to my temple. Not satisfied, Carns took a half dozen additional wraps around the gun, then more around my forehead. Finally he taped his own hand to the grip, finger locked inside the trigger guard.
    His breathing finally beginning to ease, Carns paused to inspect his handiwork. I knew my fate was now inextricably joined with his. If he were to stumble-or a more likely possibility, take a shot from a police sniper-I was dead, too.
    “Get up,” Carns commanded. Awkward with his hand fastened to my head, Carns dragged me to my feet. “You and I are going for a car ride, but first there’s the little matter of your wife and son to decide,” he said, forcing me toward the master bedroom. “You’re in no condition to drive. And as you can see, I have my hands full. It will have to be one of them.”
    “Let them go,” I begged, my mouth filling with blood. “Just take me.”
    “Still playing the hero? I thought you would have tired of that by now.”
    “They won’t let you leave if my family isn’t released.”
    “I doubt that,” said Carns, continuing to push me toward the bedroom. “Especially when they understand their options. And I’ll make absolutely certain that they do. But now there’s something else to attend to. We need only one person to drive. Who gets to live? The beautiful wife? The handsome son? I know. I’ll let you decide.”
    “You’re making a mistake. They won’t-”
    Carns gave me another shove. “That’s a chance we’ll have to take. Made your selection yet? Better hurry if you don’t want me to make it for you.”
    We reached the end of the hallway. Carns kicked open the door.
    The bed was empty. Tags of rope trailed from the corners of the frame.
    “What the-” Carns whirled, his eyes searching the dim room.
    Travis was on his knees across from the bed, tied to the closet door. Allison was kneeling beside him sawing at his bonds, using a knife I recognized from our kitchen.
    “Raise your hands and step back,” Carns ordered.
    Allison kept cutting. An instant later Travis was free.
    Carns snarled in frustration, undoubtedly wishing he had waited till later to bind his pistol so irreversibly to me.
    All at once I sensed movement behind us.
    Carns turned, pulling me with him.
    Catheryn stepped from behind the bedroom door, arms extended in a two-handed shooting stance I’d taught her years back. She held the. 38-caliber revolver that Carns had taken from me earlier. I smiled grimly, realizing Allison must have picked it up while I was being beaten. Carns was making mistakes.
    “Drop it,” Carns ordered, twisting his automatic against my temple.
    “Don’t do it, Kate,” I warned. “Shoot him. Now.”
    Catheryn hesitated.
    Carns was far too dangerous to let this standoff go on any longer. “Shoot him,” I repeated, hoping Catheryn didn’t realize what that would mean for me. “Do it now.”
    “Drop the gun or I’ll kill him,” Carns ordered again. “You’ve got five seconds to-” He hesitated as Nate moved into view from behind his mother, tatters of plastic trash bag and duct tape still circling his neck.
    “Kate, either shoot him or take the kids and get out,” I croaked.
    “Nobody’s leaving,” said Carns, still staring at Nate in shock.
    Travis was moving forward, holding a length of pipe. Allison had begun circling in from the other side. She still held the knife from the kitchen.
    “Stay back,” Carns warned. “If you don’t I’ll kill him right now.”
    Still gripping my holdout gun tightly in both hands, Catheryn took a step closer. “It’ll be the last thing you ever do,” she said.
    “Travis, get your sister and brother out of here,” I said. “That’s an order.”
    Catheryn took another step forward. “Do it, Travis,” she said, a quaver in her voice betraying her fear.
    “I’m not leaving,” said Travis.
    “Me, neither,” said Allison, still sliding to the left, edging behind Carns.
    “Go,” I pleaded. “Trav, Ali, I know what you’re trying to prove. Now’s not the time. There’s nothing you can do. Just go.”
    Nate moved to Catheryn’s side, completing the circle around Carns
    … and me.
    “Nate,” I begged. “Get out of here, son. Please.”
    Nate shook his head.
    “Not without you,” said Catheryn, her gun still trained unwaveringly on Carns.
    “I told you, nobody’s leaving,” said Carns, attempting to regain control. “Not until I say. And when we do leave, we’re all leaving together. One big happy family. Somebody get me the phone.”
    No one moved.
    “They won’t let you out with civilian hostages,” I repeated. “A sharpshooter will drop you before you’ve gone ten feet.”
    “Go to hell, cop. If I go, you’re dead, too.”
    “I know you, Carns. You don’t want to die.”
    “Shut up!”
    “It doesn’t have to be like that,” I rushed on, seeing a way out. “You haven’t killed anyone here tonight, and we don’t have one piece of hard evidence tying you to the candlelight murders. We won’t find any, either. Anything that might have existed went up your chimney this afternoon.”
    “What are you saying?”
    “I’m saying we’ll never get you on your recent murders. We’ve got nothing. Van Owen won’t be able to finger you either, as I’m sure you’ve already figured out,” I continued. “I lifted prints from your house, but none of them matches the crime scenes. We have a couple of hairs, a shoe print, some distorted bite marks. Nothing conclusive. Not enough to convict.”
    “You were in my house?”
    “That’s right. I visited your souvenir room, too,” I answered. “Without a search warrant, which is something you can use in the unlikely event things ever come to that. The point is, all we have on you is what happened here tonight. Breaking and entering, assault, and taking a potshot at that deputy on the beach. With the psychological escape hatch you’ve set up for yourself, a good lawyer will have you out in no time.”
    Carns stared incredulously. “You know about that?”
    “Yeah. And I checked with a shrink. He says that with the right jury, an insanity defense will probably hold up.”
    “What are you talking about?” asked Catheryn.
    Before I could answer, a whump sounded on the beach. And another. Then the thump of something landing on the roof and the crash of breaking glass downstairs.
    Carns tightened his grip on the pistol. “What was that?”
    “Tear gas,” I said. “Looks like the guy on the bullhorn got tired of talking to himself. Time to cut your losses, Carns.”
    A sheen of perspiration glistened on Carns’s face. “Shut up,” he hissed. “I need to think.”
    “He can get away with what he did?” whispered Catheryn, her eyes never leaving Carns. “All those families…”
    “Oh, he’ll get away with it,” I answered. “Years back he gulled a few doctors into believing he’s a paranoid schizophrenic. With a prior medical history and the attorneys he can afford, the worst he’s likely to get for tonight’s foray is a little vacation time in some country club psych ward.”
    I knew that Catheryn realized I was bartering for our lives, twisting facts to suit my purpose. But I could also tell she knew there was an element of truth to everything I’d said.
    Seconds passed. The first whiffs of tear gas started seeping up from below.
    “What’s it going to be, Carns?” I asked.
    “I told you to shut up!” Carns shouted, his eyes wild now, trapped, sweat ringing his armpits. The smell of gas grew stronger, along with a hint of something worse.
    I had seen teargas canisters touch off blazes more than once during my career. I knew we didn’t have much time. “It’s a simple choice, Carns,” I said. “A police bullet, or a nice cushy stay at a psychiatric facility. Play it smart and walk out of here. You have about ten seconds to decide.”
    Carns vacillated a moment longer. By then, mixing with the gas from below, tendrils of oily black smoke had started seeping into the room. Abruptly coming to a decision, Carns began ripping at the tape binding his hand to the gun. “You’re right,” he said, a grin splitting his face like a knife. “They’ll never convict me. Not in a million years.”
    Carns stepped back, leaving the. 25 automatic still dangling from my head. “They have new techniques for treating the mentally ill nowadays,” he added with a smirk. “I could be better before you know it. And when I get out-”
    Carns caught himself, but not in tim