|Chapter 19: Setting the Stage
On a large kitchen table loaded with six kinds of vegetables, four kinds of bread and three kinds of meat, Barbara Campbell checked the place shed cleared for another variety of meat. Thank God Momma taught me how to cook, she thought happily, opening the door of the oven and extracting a steaming, picture-perfect pot roast.
She hadnt thought of her mother as "Momma" since she was 8 years old. She hadnt enjoyed the "womans work" involved in entertaining her fathers friends since she made up her mind to divorce herself from the Negro race. And yes, she was enjoying the company and the work.
Banks was everything a modern American soldier was suppose to be, including black. He had a great job at the Pentagon and the ear of the President. So what if Sam Jinks and Corey Becket were alternately the voice of the President and probably his brains, the President was still the President, the closet thing Americans had to royalty. Douglas Yu was a man she could lust for if she didnt watch herself and Vince Costello had been her fathers best friend. Right now, that counted for a lot. She could even abide Cousins as long as she didnt have to get near him.
From the easy, rolling laughter of her husband and the other four men in the dining room with her young son Sam, she surmised that they were enjoying themselves, too. So far, the boys presence hadnt inhibited the men to the point of lowering their level of discourse to that of a child. Her father had never talked down to the boy. Neither had Sams father.
It pleased her that the retired top sergeant, the discharged private, the decommissioned lieutenant and the active lieutneant general all treated him with the same respect, including him when they could and not being unduly concerned when they couldnt. Watching the interplay between them when she could and listening when she couldnt gave her as much pleasure as she had ever gotten out of girl-talk with her own friends.
Douglas Yu poked his handsome head inside the door. He sniffed. He grinned. He eyed the choice food on the table and on the stove and in the tray in Barbaras hands. "Can I help?"
To Barbara, her fathers old first sergeant appeared to be little older than herself. Knowing that his true age was at least five years older than her father made no difference. He still looked young. And sexy. So did her fathers other friends, especially the black one with the silver stars. She chuckled at the naughty thought.
Yu looked askance. "Did I say something funny?"
Barbara shook her head, setting the roast pan down on top of a heat-resistant pad. "I was thinking about something else. Actually, youre right on time. Why dont you get the punch. Ill start loading up the serving trays."
Yu opened his mouth to speak when Vince Costello called out, "Yu, Barbara! Get in here quick!" He said it as if the kitchen roof were about to collapse. Yu and Barbara acted accordingly.
They saw Sam marching stiffly through the recently vacated dining room with his eyes on the floor and his lower lip stuck out. Without looking up, he volunteered the answer to a question no one had asked. "As soon as Mr. Yu left, the T-window came on." He turned to his mother. "Dad told me to go to my room." He tossed his head in the direction of the entertainment room. "Grown-up stuff," he said. "You guys always do that when the T-window opens by itself. How come?"
"Later," said Barbara, in too much of a hurry to slow down.
As Sam stomped toward the arch to the hallway, Yu outpaced Barbara in getting to the E room. They leaned anxiously against the open doorway while Banks, the bald, black general now in civilian clothes, Costello and Cousins, the two white men, and her husband stood anxiously inside. The men in the room were all staring into the telewindow like visitors from a primitive society watching an impossibly distant event through the magic portal for the first time. Only it wasnt the technology that held their attention in such a tight grip.
The feeling permeated Barbaras being before her brain could interpret the messages coming into her eyes and ears by way of the telewindow in the wall.
General Banks said, "Roll it back to the beginning."
Ken touched a button on his wristband computer. The numbers ringing his time display lit up in counter clockwise rotation and stopped at 7 when he released the button. He pressed another button.
As the images in the window fused into a multi-colored, horizontal streak, Cousins grumbled that they were missing the live broadcast. In the time it took for Vince to remind him that "live" meant a ten second delay to begin with, they were back to the beginning of a Tanaka network special report, courtesy of CBIs "Spotlight News." Time index, 6:42 PM.
The recording disk started with Tanakas Samurai-on-horseback logo and the mature, male, Midwestern voice-over acknowledgment of the news source. It went forward from there to a typical crime scene in an atypical community. The scene included police cars, red and blue flashing lights, uniformed lawmen searching the grounds, and yards of yellow tape. But this was not some borderline disposal zone left over from a bygone era when there were enough places of honest employment that paid a living wage within commuting range of its inhabitants.
The people in this neighborhood had the money that paid the wages that other neighborhoods lived and died by. The people in this neighborhood had the kind of money that could build large industries or overthrow small countries.
An ornate wrought-iron gate stood high, wide and opened a crack astride a bleached asphalt drive. Barbara knew that she had seen the gate before, but she couldnt remember where until she heard the voice of the man she named her son after. God forgive me, she thought, how could that assholes phony accent have ever sounded so sophisticated to me? How could I not have known by the accent alone that he was an asshole?
The grim, male, upper-crust, New England voce-over by Sam Jinks added an air of importance to the message that would have been lacking with an unknown announcer. He said, "Dr. Estelle Gidarb, founder of STOPIT, ground-breaking surgeon and bestselling author of Doing Without, has been brutally murdered."
Barbara gasped. A strange sense of foreboding seeped out of her core and attached itself to the brain-bending news of her former mentors death. Like most other people watching the broadcast, her first articulate thoughts were of Euel Gidarb. Where was he?
The news continued. "Dr. Gidarbs mutilated body was found less than twenty minutes ago on the driveway of her temporary residence in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Although the body sustained multiple stabbing and slashing wounds suggesting a crime of passion, police have not ruled out the possibility that she was killed by a trained assassin. Experts across the country on the CSRA netthat is, the Crime Scene Remote Access networkthe experts agree that a professional killer could have inflicted excessive wounds deliberately to throw investigators off track. Preliminary reports indicate that the killer used a sharp, double-edged knife. A search for the weapon is still on. Preliminary reports also indicate that one of Dr. Gidarbs body parts is missing. We have no details on that."
"Uh-oh," said Cousins. "I missed that part."
"I didnt," said Banks, his personal animosity toward Sam Jinks hidden in the fabric of the dramatic moment like a given speck of lint on a burning blanket.
"Me neither," said Vince.
The Sam Jinks voice-over said, "The local police have ordered an immediate time scan of the crime scene. We will get it to you as soon asWe take you now to the state capital where Michigans charismatic attorney general, Jack Fleetwood has just been informed of the brutal crime at his familys Southeast Michigan estate."
Fleetwood! thought Barbara, recalling with mixed feelings of anger and shame where and when shed seen the gate.
"Where the fuck is Euel?" Cousins put his hand over his mouth and looked around. "Sorry," he said to Barbara."
She shrugged it off. The man was a bum. Thats the way bums talked.
The telewindow camera framed the handsome, somber attorney general in an indigo Softglow suit and indigo tie with a wide, scarlet, horizontal stripe. Ken and Barbara looked at each other. Banks covertly observed a message passing between thema personal message. He took a quick mental note and redirected his attention to the window.
Jack Fleetwood appeared hurt and angry. His press secretary, a thin, middle-aged woman with mousy brown hair, stood next to him on his left, wiping away tears. A veteran state trooper in a sky blue uniform stood shoulder-to-shoulder with him on his right wearing an expression that managed to be tough, alert and wounded at the same time. As the telewindow camera dollied back, other top aids came into view beside the press secretary and the trooper. Then the camera swung around to show a spacious office nearly packed with reporters and more trying to wriggle their way in.
"I am shocked" said Fleetwood, looking earnestly shocked, "and saddened," he said, looking incredibly sad, "by the tragic loss of a dear personal friend at the hands of a cowardly, despicable murderer!" He looked and sounded like a man righteously enraged.
Ken and Vince looked at him as the liar they knew him to be. Cousins looked at him as if he were the important person he appeared to be. Banks gave away nothing in his attentive visage. Barbaras face said everything.
That son-of-a-bitch, she thought, struggling to keep down her hatred for the man she had once practically worshipped as a god. Like all good politicians, Jack Fleetwood was a good actor. Hell, he was a great actor! That did not make him a great man. The bastard tried to kill his wife. And I know he had something to do with killing Daddy. Who the hell is he to talk about shock and loss?
"I pledge here and now," said Fleetwood, "to hunt down this animal and personally see to it that he rides the gurney...."
Before the attorney general could say another word, his press secretary broke down completely. He turned to comfort her, wrapping the woman in his arms as the tears flowed non-stop. This moment, from any angle, held a touching picture destined to win somebody an award for photo journalism.
The press corps lost its cohesion, with individual members pushing and shoving to get a better look at the classic pose and everyone talking at once. The session was then muted. The Sam Jinks voice-over said, "As you know, Attorney General Fleetwood and Dr. Gidarb worked closely with the Society To Outlaw Pornography In Total. Though speculation abounds as to the motive for the slaying, police are not saying what they think. HoweverWait a minute, we may have something here."
The scene shifted to a dry, well-lit, snow-cleared parking lot behind a one level building. A white on red sign painted large enough to be read three blocks away said, "WQST, THE WORLDS FIRST TELEWINDOW STATION. TRUTH IS OUR ETERNAL QUEST."
WQST meant Hector Clay to nearly everyone in the civilized world. Barbara and Yu sucked in their breaths and stared while the expressions of the others stayed the same. This must be where we came in, thought Barbara.
Two blue and white Pursuer squad cars and an all white Pursuer marked "Detroit Police" stood empty near the entrances of the lot with one uniformed officer apiece standing beside them. Five other vehicles, including a bright yellow Chrysler Buccaneer parked near the door, formed a gapped line with one or more spaces between each car.
On the drivers side of the car, but a foot or so in back of it, a man in a fedora-like, black and red, snake-skin hat and a black leather overcoat crouched with one knee barely off the ground. A hatless man in a gray overcoat bent low at the waist, nearly butting heads with the man in the hat who was pointing at the pavement. The camera zoomed in on the leather-gloved finger of the man in the hat and the small red spot it pointed at.
If anyone was wondering at this point if Dr. Gidarbs killer had made an attempt on Dr. Clays life as well, Sam Jinks dispelled any such notion in short order.
"For undisclosed reasons, the Farmington Hills authorities have asked the Detroit Police Department for help in their investigation. Spotlight News has learned that a Negro named Hector Clay, a local telewindow personality and a former Army Ranger in the Guido Calvera War, was absent from the station during the murder of Dr. Gidarb. His whereabouts at the time are unknown. Though the police have not named Mr. Clay as a suspect, serious questions about his possible involvement have been raised."
Vince Costello batted Ken in the chest a little harder than he intended. "Its another setup!" he said.
Ken managed to concur without having to speak.
Banks cocked his bald head in their direction with his eyes still trained on the window. "Whadaya mean?" he asked.
Vince and Ken proceeded to tell him. They told him about The Genie in the VRS with Aaron and Ken and the Fleetwoods and Dr. Gieldgood. "It was a setup," said Ken. "So is this. And Jack Fleetwood is in the middle of both of em...."
Sixty-four miles west of Detroit, where the "Spotlight News" special report was playing to a much larger audience, feelings ran more toward bewilderment than accusation or condemnation of anyone. Except for the people at one table whose hearts and minds were divided between the lesbian couples arrest they had just seen and the murder investigation they were now seeing, the arrest was already old news. The patrons leaned toward the window, eager to learn more, their minds open to a good, rational explanation for the presence of uniformed and plain-clothed police in the WQST parking lot.
Their mumbling revealed that they, too, wanted to know where Mr. Gidarb was. Was he also a victim, a witness, a suspect? Had he been informed of his wifes death?
Regardless of their feelings about Hector Clay and his public quarrel with the late doctor, few of them could so much as conceive of any public figures involvement in her death. A messy slaying like this had to be the work of a hot-head that the victim knew well, a crazy man she may not have known at all, or a professional hit man. There didnt seem to be a category of suspects into which the host of God could be placed.
The telewindow camera changed angles, swinging behind the detectives in back of the yellow car and zoomed in on the license plate: "RANGER 82," it said.
Those who knew of Hector Clays military record realized at once whose car it was and what the inspection of the car and the ground around it implied. The Sam Jinks voice-over informed those who didnt know forthwith.
"Hector Clay was an Army Ranger in the 82nd Division, an elite, search-and-destroy combat squad whose deadly knife-fighting skills during the Guido Calvera War are legendary. Whether or not this is Mr. Clays car has not been confirmed...."
The Keyhole Bar seemed to vibrate from floorboards to rafters with the low-toned "ooohs" of patrons in whose eyes things looked bad for Hector Clay, celebrity or not.
Paula Quin and Maxine Lattamer blinked, their minds unable to process the information in any way that was useful for logical consideration. Glen grumbled. Vera fumed. There had to be more evidence than met the eye to link Hector Clay in any way to the murder of Estelle Gidarb. Even if hed wanted to do it more than anything in the word, he was too intelligent to think that he could get away with it. Nobody got away with killing anybody in places like Farmington Hillsunless the authorities wanted them to.
As if cued by their thoughts, the telewindow camera zipped back to Jack Fleetwoods office in Lansing where his press secretary had regained her composure. A smaller T-window with a high-ranking, uniformed police officer inside had been added to the lower left corner of the Keyholes T-window. A caption on the bottom of his window identified the gray-haired man with the dimpled chin as Farmington Hills Police Chief Bert Andrews. To see the chief, reporters in the Lansing office looked to a hastily imported T-window on their right.
A young, female reporter in a tailored Softglow suit asked, "Chief Andrews, what can you tell us about Mr. Gidarb."
Chief Andrews cleared his throat. "Mr. Gidarb was found unconscious at the scene of the crime by the housekeeper, Ms. Maria Parez."
Several reporters yelled out questions simultaneously, the loudest, clearest voice being that of a man who demanded to know, "Why havent we been told about this?"
Unruffled, the chief said, "The Farmington Hills Police Department is not responsible for what the media picks up on a police scanner and reports to the public before we can get a squad car out to the scene. We were there in less than one minute. If you check your official police-slash-news media communication line, you will find that our report includes the fact that Mr. Gidarb was also attacked. He sustained a severe blow to his temple and has not regained consciousness. From the head wound, the position of his body near the door and other evidence gathered on the spot, we theorize that his attacker surprised him, incapacitated him, and proceeded to slash and stab Dr. Gidarb to death."
"Can you tell us," asked the woman reporter in the Softglow suit, "where Mr. Gidarb was taken for treatment?"
Fleetwoods press secretary squared her shoulders. "To the..." she sniffled and wiped away a last tear. "...the Fleetwood Memorial Hospital here in Lansing."
The Keyhole Bar didnt exactly erupt with excited commentary on the news of their hospitals involvement in the crime of the century, but the buzzing got loud enough to evoke even louder calls for, "Quiet!"
Over the next tree minutes, the police chief, the attorney general and the man and woman flanking him fended off questions from the assembled members of the press about a breakdown in security and the possibility of a wider conspiracy.
When the questions and answers became redundant and predicable, Sam Jinks cut away to himself and a familiar-looking woman with white button earrings and wavy brown hair raked severely to one side. The aristocratic man and woman stood at right angles to each other behind a semi-circular podium of black walnut that reached the height of her armpits and the vest pocket on his Spotlight News blazer. Both of them looked emotionally drained.
Jinks said, "Our hearts go out to Mr. Gidarb. We pray for his full recovery."
He turned wearily to the woman. "Thank you," he said, "for being with us on such short notice."
The woman nodded. A message on the bottom of the window identified her as Dr. Sandra B. Hollingsworth, Director of the Harvard School of Medicines Department of Abnormal Psychology.
"Dr. Hollingsworth," said Jinks, "Does this look to you like a crime of passion?"
"Yes and no, Sam. Before examining the bruise on Mr. Gidarbs temple, I would have said, yes. But the kind of knowledge, precision and cool-headedness required to deliver such a blow is not compatible with, as you call it, a crime of passion."
"Ah," said Jinks, "so you were one of the experts on the Crime Scene Remote who made a VR examination of the bodythe body of Estelle Gidarb."
"Thats right. Im afraid I cant tell you more about the condition of Dr. Gidarbs body at this time; police orders."
Jinks nodded solemnly. "We understand. From your experience, what can you tell us about the killer?
"This may be out of my line. Your best bet for an expert consultant on this particular case might be a military man, someone with experience in silent killing."
"Perhaps thats why the police have sought out Hector Clay."
"Perhaps," agreed Dr. Hollingsworth, with a dull note of skepticism in her voice.
"Hmmm," said Jinks. "Too early to tell us what you really think, huh?"
Sandra Hollingsworth smiled. "Lets wait for the time scan."
"Fair enough, Sandy."
Jinks faced the camera. "Well be back, after a brief message from our sponsor."
Paula Quins party of four felt two dozen nearby eyes boring into them. At first, Paula took the show of unfriendly interest to be the cause of Maxine Lattamers extreme agitation. But no, it wasnt like her chunky friend to shake like that when things got touchy. Something else was eating at her, something to do with...Hector Clay? Could it be...Yes! Hector Clay! A myriad of tiny clues spread out over years zoomed together into one coherent picture. Maxine Lattamer was in love with a man she had seen only in a telewindow. Paula knew the real thing when she saw it, and this was the real thing.
The unfriendly eyes refused to let up. Maxine, Vera and Glen were of one mind about what to do. Vera made the announcement. "We gotta go," she said.
"So do we," said Paula, knowing that she was speaking for her fellow nurse as well as herself. "Got things to do at the hospital. Where are you guys headed?"
Glen and Vera exchanged thoughts with their eyes, the color of which could not be discerned through the Daylight lenses in the light which came only from the telewindow. Glen squared his shoulders. "Detroit," he said. "We gatta go there anyway for the funeral tomorrow. Maybe we can do something for Andrea and Leah while were there."
Little likelihood existed that anyone would have been able to discern the dark brown color of Veras eyes in the half-light of the bar. Nevertheless, prudence required precautions. Having once endured the humiliation of being denied service on the pseudo-scientific basis that brown-eyed people were more likely than others to spread disease, she never again wished to repeat the experience. To be sure, Vera wanted to help her friends in Detroit because they were in trouble. They were also the ones who had made the arrangements for Blue Mondays funeral and she didnt want the burden of last minute details to fall on her shoulderssince Glen couldnt be trusted to do anything right. But she realized, to her horror, that she wanted something else more than helping her friends or avoiding potential hassles associated with another friends funeral. She wanted to get out of that miserable bar!
Contact the author: Jasper Garrison