Authors: Cathy Vasas-Brown
To my wonderful husband, Al —
you’re simply the best
During the writing of this book, I was bombarded with kindness. My deepest gratitude to those who helped me to realize my dream — thanks a million for being in my corner:
Lieutenant Judie Pursell, SFPD homicide, for patiently and graciously answering my many questions;
Eric Wright, mentor extraordinaire;
Nicki Bryant and David Landry, for sharing your medical expertise;
Magda Gold, Tim Simmons, Diane Kowalyshyn and Judy Malcolm, my comrades in ink;
John Pearce and Kendall Anderson, for your support, enthusiasm and encouragement;
Margaret Hart and Joe Kertes from the Humber School for Writers, for more of the same …
… and from my soul, thank you Martin Smith, for always believing that this little engine could.
A belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness
he goodnight died on her lips. Too quickly, the door closed with a cheap, hollow sound and she stood alone in the hallway, her Ferragamo shoes clashing with the beer-stained carpet. She inhaled musty air. Disgusted, she gave the finger to the creep on the other side of the door and hurried down the steps to the street.
A dense fog rolled along the sidewalk, curling around each lamppost and caressing her with the gentleness the schmuck upstairs hadn’t bothered with. Her back ached. Her legs ached. Her crotch ached. She gulped in fresh air and looked at her watch. Shit. The last bus had already left.
The street was deserted. She turned abruptly and looked up. His light was already out.
Sleep tight, you bastard. Call me a cab? Please don’t trouble yourself
. She reached into her shoulder bag for a Lucky Strike, lit it, and began to walk.
After two blocks, she weighed her choices. Walk around the park and be home at four. Go through the park and be in bed by three. Her head spun, the chemically induced fog as thick as the one rolling in from the bay.
The park it was.
Three cigarettes later, she gave the finger salute again, this time to a carload of teenage boys cruising
along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. A vagrant begged for change, and she swore at him, too.
She pitched her last cigarette butt into the dahlia bed and glanced ahead to where a wooden staircase cut its path through a cavern of dense trees and shrubbery. Not so bad, she thought, having jogged steeper than this in a daily ritual to keep her thighs and glutes bikini-perfect. She could do it.
Ignoring the tympani hammer of her heart, she began the ascent, privately cursing her high heels, her blind ambition, and her overindulgence. The autumn air had done little to clear her head. Her eyes were playing serious tricks on her, the steps weaving and pitching like some sadistic carnival ride. She stopped climbing, steadied herself against the rough bark of a tree and fought the wave of nausea rising from her stomach. Seconds or minutes later, the steps became still again, her stomach settled, and she resumed the climb.
There was a rustling, off to her left. She stopped. The rustling stopped, too. Four more cautious steps, and she heard the snapping of a twig. Any minute now there would be heavy breathing and high-pitched violins to complete the horror-movie cliché.
It’s September, for chrissake. Twigs snap. Leaves rustle. It’s their job description. Get a grip
She tried to focus on the stairs ahead. Only a third of the way up. Go back? Carry on? Which? Her legs wobbled beneath her like a newborn giraffe’s. Not much farther to go, she told herself,
and was relieved to hear a group of late-night party animals carousing on Fulton Street. She’d be at the Arguello exit soon.
Then she tripped. Her knee hit the step, hard, and she swore aloud as she fell. Stunned, she knelt there, fingers clutching the step in front of her. She looked up. The trees overhead did a strange hula in the mist.
She blinked, ground her fists into her eyes, and the trees stopped dancing.
She felt like Dorothy in the haunted forest, as though at any moment some growly voice would bellow from one of the tree’s black knotholes. But there was no voice, no pelting of apples, and judging from the quiet, the Fulton Street revelers had deserted her, too.
Her knee was tender and swollen and, for one miserable moment, she was tempted to just stay put, hunker down among the trees all night, and feel desperately sorry for herself.
Her decision was reversed by the uncanny feeling that she wasn’t alone. The rustling was there again, like feet kicking dried leaves. And it was closer.
She forced herself to her feet and winced with pain. Where was the goddamn yellow brick road when you needed it?
Her mind chose the next best place to Oz. She imagined herself in Paris. On a runway.
Stand up. Shoulders back. Head high. Attitude. You’re wearing Versace. You’re tall. Gorgeous. Invincible. Now move, goddammit
Her heart jackhammered now, and she clutched her chest. She was having a heart attack — a cocaine heart attack, and she’d be found in the morning, stringy-haired, mascara-smudged, orifices full of semen, a grimace of agony frozen on her face. The final photo shoot.
She anticipated a sword of pain piercing her breast, but though she felt short of breath, there was no tightening across her chest, and as long as she could feel her heart pounding, she knew she was alive.
Cautiously, she took one step forward and planted her foot firmly on solid ground. Another step sent a shock of pain from her injured knee to her hip. Physical pain, she knew, was secondary now. She had to get out of here.
The park echoed with sound. Crackling, scraping, horrible noises, noises of shoes treading through the underbrush.
Fear drove her forward, though the more she ran the more she felt she was on one of those whirling playground contraptions, with the local bully spinning the thing too damn fast. Everything was out of control. She wanted off. Just one more careful step. The ground heaved again, and she felt herself falling. Instinctively, her hands stretched out in front. Her fingertips met cloth.
Smooth, cool cloth.
e knew it was only a matter of time until she fell. She was clearly drunk, probably stoned, too, rumours being what they were, and it amused him to see her customarily confident strut reduced to a wino’s shuffle.
She’d looked up at him, at first confused, then vaguely irritated, like he was some kind of buzzing insect that needed swatting. That look of hers made it easy for him to shake her groping fingers from his pant leg and kick her, just once, good and hard, in the head. She had let out a funny
sound, and had been quiet since.
He’d never had to use force before. But she wasn’t like the others. “I told you to get lost,” she’d said once. “I don’t need you.”
Laughter gurgled up from his throat. As if any of this was about
Everything was set up. He repeated his list of things to do out loud, to make sure. Perfect.
He heard a moan from the next room. She was coming to. Let the games begin.
he wasn’t sure what had awakened her — the ferocious headache about to explode inside her brain or the sound of footsteps overhead.
There was a musty smell, not the odour of beer and marijuana this time, but the foulness of wet earth, mildew, rot. She was indoors, but there were no windows, and she was lying on something hard. A table? Her arms, straight at her sides, were bound at the wrists. Her feet, too, were tied together. Heavy tape sealed her mouth. And where were her clothes?
Christ. As if he hadn’t done enough already, now he was planning something kinky. She’d be lucky if she ever walked again. Where the hell had he brought her? She remembered being in his apartment, but hadn’t she left? She was too strung out to recall.
That’ll teach her for believing what that damn agent said. She’d fallen for the oldest line in the book. Plum role on a new nighttime soap. Sure. The crummy dump he lived in should have told her he had no major connections to anyone in the entertainment industry.
Her mouth wiggled under the tape, and she prodded the gluey adhesive with her tongue. When she got the tape off, she’d scream every loathsome
word she could think of to bring the bastard out of his hiding place.
When she realized the tape wouldn’t budge, she gave up and turned her head sideways and cast her glance toward the murky, windowless walls on either side. She knew then that she wasn’t strung out anymore. This was real.
Beside her was a gallery of horror, the walls adorned with unspeakable images too vivid for any nightmare. She strained against the ropes that held her, not caring if she broke her wrists trying, not caring about anything anymore except escape.
When the shadow appeared in the doorway, she began to pray, searching her memory for words from childhood, words that had no meaning then and eluded her now. She was left with incoherent ramblings that even an omniscient god wouldn’t be able to decipher.
The shadow moved forward, and the face was partially illuminated in the halo of an overhead bulb. It wasn’t the face she expected.
But it was a face she knew. It wore a curious smile. Iceberg eyes stared through her. When he stepped fully into the light, she saw the glint of the bulb illuminating the smooth white edge of the object he held, and suddenly the walls made sense. Dreadful, unbearable sense.
he last time Beth Wells had been inside the Fairmont was for a wedding Ginny Rizzuto had dragged her to. It seemed eerie being in the same hotel ballroom where she’d once got her feet trod on by an inept dancer, to now hear her friend Lieutenant Jim Kearns speak about death. Then, the room had been filled with Ginny’s relatives dancing the tarantella — now, the rows of seats were occupied by people too frightened to venture out at night, people who wondered if they could trust their neighbours, their friends, their family.
Beth glanced at the podium. Kearns stood before a projector screen, on which were emblazoned the words:
Oro en Paz
Fierro en Guerra
Gold in peace. Iron in war. The motto of the San Francisco Police Department. The lieutenant looked as though he might not survive this particular battle. It wasn’t that long ago that Kearns resembled a bouncer in a dive bar — big shoulders, big hands, big feet, and a dangerous, don’t-mess-with-me face. Tonight, his pants hung low and loose. His entire body seemed to have shrunk, and his expression, instead of being darkly threatening, was somehow
resigned, the facial muscles flaccid. Even his orangey-red hair seemed faded. Clearly, the Spiderman investigation was taking its toll. Public pressure to catch the killer was heavy in the air. The battalion of television cameras and microphones didn’t help. From where Beth sat, Kearns appeared impaled by media technology.
The recent discovery of model Natalie Gorman, arrogantly displayed in a fountain in Levi’s Plaza had made the city of San Francisco erupt with such fury that the police were holding a public forum to allay fears. Beth recalled the dozens of times she’d sat in the solarium at Il Fornaio on Battery Street, sipping a latté and gazing out at the fountain now made infamous by Natalie Gorman. The site had become a gruesome magnet, attracting scores of onlookers fascinated by the macabre, some even going so far as to step into the fountain, pants rolled up to their knees while cooperative companions took snapshots. Some of those spooky types were probably sitting nearby, hoping not for information on personal safety but more gory details of the crime.
Kearns wasn’t providing any. He wasn’t stupid, not by a long shot. The information he was giving to the crowd would have reached thousands more had he chosen to appear on “Devereaux Direct,” but instead Kearns and some representatives from his task force were here, proving the police were accessible to the public, that they understood everyone’s concerns and shared their fears.