“Inspector Saint Claire?”
“I never knew your first name was Deuteronomy. I don’t think anyone knew that.”
Suppressing irritation, Saint Claire returned the identification badge to his jacket pocket.
“Not my name.”
The young detective presented a zippered plastic bag with a wrinkled envelope inside.
“Well, someone obviously thinks it is. It’s got a postmark on it, so we couldn’t open it. It’s addressed to Inspector Deuteronomy Saint Claire. That’s you, isn’t it? We found it wedged in a corner under her bathroom sink. Cap’n says you should open it and turn it over as evidence.”
The inspector took the plastic bag, folded it and tucked it into his pocket.
“When did this place become a crime scene?”
“Two hours ago. Medical Examiner reclassified the cause of death to murder. She was poisoned. Cyanide.”
Saint Claire scanned the periphery, eyes narrowing. If it was a crime scene, it hadn’t been contained. There were uniformed officers and at least one desk person he recognized.
“Who’s in charge here?”
“You are, now that you’re here.”
“Good. Get these people out of here. They’re in the way. When I’m done, they can come back, but I want them all out now.”
Gladys Rosenthal died in the apartment three days earlier. Because she was eighty-three years old, everyone including her son, Superior Court Judge Harold Rosenthal, attributed her passing to natural causes.
But one of the emergency room physicians became curious about her skin, which appeared “cherry-red,” and referred the case to the county medical examiner. The medical examiner, noting her lungs were healthy though inflamed, performed initial toxicology tests and two days later indicated death by anoxia resulting from cyanide poisoning. Further tests confirmed the finding.
Judge Rosenthal, on the advice of the San Francisco police chief, agreed to keep the matter low key until a full investigation was underway. The chief and the judge met earlier in the day, and while the judge was anxious to see an inquiry begin, he was confused about why anyone would want to murder his sickly eighty-three-year-old mother.
For the last twenty-five years of her life, Gladys Rosenthal lived in the magnificent Brocklebank Apartments, at the intersection of Mason and Sacramento Streets. After the death of financier husband Henry, Gladys sold off her residential rental properties and moved into the famous apartment building across from the Fairmount Hotel.
Fifteen years after she moved in, she suffered a mild heart attack. Although doctors assured her the attack was not life threatening, Gladys never recovered emotionally.
Whereas before she was known as a feisty and ultra-liberal socialite who saw fit to correct neighbor and Chronicle columnist Herb Caen when he didn’t have his facts right, she became withdrawn after the attack. She dropped off the social registers and was rarely seen outside the building.
Saint Claire took his time, eyes scanning and stopping, as he moved from the kitchen to the Spartan living room. Austere though it was, the apartment possessed an understated elegance, much like the woman who had over-ripened and wilted in it for the last quarter century. The three furniture pieces—an upholstered couch, a chair and a gold table displaying an ornate, cobalt Bakelite Box with horses and two bejeweled picture frames—reflected the 1940s art deco style of Gladys in bloom.
The glass-encased pictures along the hallway had faded and yellowed over the years. The photographs reflected scenes and characters from a distant and surreal, sepia-tinted age. Saint Claire stopped for a moment, his hands reaching toward a tarnished frame at mid-wall, though his fingers stopped just short of touching it. He recognized the face: it was Gladys on her wedding day. Her eyes intense, she smiled at the detective with such intent and cheeky aplomb that he bowed his head, just short of blushing.
The bathroom door was half-closed, but he heard the sound of someone yanking a drawer open and the noise of careless rummaging. The detective pushed the door and stepped into the bathroom. The large, muscular man hunched over the sink had his wide back turned, but Saint Claire could see the top of his head and a quarter-profile in the mirror.
“This is a crime scene, Mister. Would you mind telling me what you’re doing?”
The dark haired man ignored the detective, slamming the first drawer and opening another. The detective continued.
“I’m in charge here. If you can’t answer me, you can leave with the rest of them.”
Saint Claire took a breath to settle his annoyance.
“For the last time, what the hell are you looking for?”
The man stopped, raised his head and turned toward the detective. He backed, holding his open palms at shoulders’ height, and smiled.
“I’m looking for you. That is, if you’re Inspector Deuteronomy Saint Claire.”
“I heard it was Deuteronomy. You don’t like it? What do you go by? Ron, or maybe Dude for short?”
Saint Claire sighed and glanced askance, his trained eyes scouring the room and the contents of the open drawer. Deliberate, he took a step forward and closed it. Then he leaned forward, examining the shiny golden sink, faucet and handles for irregularities.
“Chief send you?”
“No. What makes you say that?”
The detective did not answer. He was examining the medicine cabinet mirror and its borders. Growing uncomfortable in the silence, the younger man took another step back to get a better perspective of the department legend. He cleared his throat and began.
“The name’s Brady. Inspector Tom Brady. You know, like the quarterback?”
“What? You don’t watch football? I just moved out here from—”
“Boston. You’re Brady from Boston. I read your file.”
Brady shrugged, uneasy.
“And having read your file, I know you’re not here to assist me. You’re a veteran detective in your own right.”
Brady began a half-hearted protest, but Saint Claire continued.
“So the chief sent you over here to watch me. Told you to stick close and share anything I turn up. Right?”
Brady hesitated and sighed.
“Yeah, something like that.”
Saint Claire turned toward the younger detective, making eye contact for the first time.
“Of course you realize your admission makes our relationship an antagonistic one from this moment on?”
Brady nodded as Saint Claire began taking prescription medicine containers from the shelves of the cabinet. He tried to get Saint Claire to look up as he began.
“You know, they all respect the hell outa ya up there, over at the department, I mean as a detective. But I hafta tell you, some of them think you’re dirty.”
Saint Claire opened the first container and emptied its contents into his latex covered hand. Brady leaned forward as the detective studied the yellowish tablets before pouring them back into the bottle.
“The chief said she likes you. She just doesn’t trust you. ‘You’re a man who keeps secrets,’ she says. Doesn’t think that’s good in a detective.”
Saint Claire was inspecting the prescription on a third bottle by the time he responded.
“I’m a private person, and I have a right to a private life.”
Brady stretched his arms toward the ceiling, his shoulders cracking. Standing a little over six feet tall, he had a well-defined musculature, evident through the opening of his jacket. His hair was curly and jet-black, his large face angled, his jaw square.
“Couldn’t agree with you more. But as far as this investigation goes, you will share anything you discover with me, right?”
He didn’t really expect an answer. Brady never really wanted to come to San Francisco. Initially, he stood his ground, but he relented after his wife made plans to move to the west coast without him, and to take the girls with her. As chief financial officer for an investment firm in Boston, she made four times his salary, plus bonuses. So when a larger San Francisco conglomerate purchased the company she worked for and required her to move across the country, his protests were acknowledged and then dismissed.
Brady left his Boston regrets and approached the sink.
“What is it?”
In his open palm, Saint Claire held twelve seemingly identical white tablets.
“I see. So what is it?”
Saint Claire withdrew a handkerchief from his pocket, placed it on the sink and transferred the tablets onto it.
“Beta-blocker. Doctors prescribe it for angina—heart pain, and for high blood pressure. I understand the judge’s mother was a heart patient.”
Saint Claire leaned close to the counter top, reordering the tablets with his index finger.
“There, and there. See that?”
Brady leaned toward the tablets, still uncertain about what he was observing. He glanced up, non-responsive, as Saint Claire continued.
“Two over here, coloration is off. It seems they’re a very pale gray or a faint blue. Hard to tell in this light, but they’re different.”
Brady leaned even closer.
“Isn’t blue the color of cyanide?”
“I see they sent over a real genius. Cyanide salts are white, but maybe it’s something else.”
Saint Claire returned the tablets to the container and placed the container into a plastic crime scene collection bag.
“I’ll send it to the lab. If this is the source of the cyanide poisoning, we’ll know in a few hours.”
He began removing the rest of her medicine from the cabinet, placing vials and containers on the sink cupboard.
“I’ll test the rest anyway. I’m sure no one forced Mrs. Rosenthal to take whatever it was that killed her. She took it, thinking it was her medicine.”
Saint Claire left the bathroom. Near the foot of her bed, he called back toward Brady.
“I hope I’ve been forthcoming enough for the chief. I’m leaving, but you’re welcome to poke around in there to see if you can turn up whatever I missed.”
When Brady realized the detective was headed out, he hurried after him.
“What about the letter?”
“The one that was left in there for you. The one with your name on it?”
Saint Claire was already at the front door by the time the younger detective caught up. He answered without looking back.
“Haven’t read it and won’t read it, for now. I want to arrive at conclusions on my own. If it’s from the killer, its purpose is to influence this investigation.”
He stopped just outside the door, turning back to Brady.
“I don’t play games with killers, so the letter is a distraction as far as I’m concerned. Tell the chief she’ll see it when I open it.”
Brady forced his way out the door and took a place in front of Saint Claire.
“Wait! Now let me get this straight. You’re telling me the killer broke in there and put some kind of matching poison pills in the bottles with her prescriptions?”
“Either the killer did or she did, and I’m betting this was no suicide.”
“Yeah, but why would anyone go through all that trouble to murder an eighty-three-year-old woman? She had one foot in the grave and the other on a hockey puck!”
Saint Claire placed his right hand on Brady’s shoulder and gripping, pushed the detective aside.
“Rhetorical question? It’s an introduction. The killer did it to get us here, or more specifically, to get me here. She died three days ago, on my birthday.”
Left hand in his pocket, Saint Claire fingered the plastic bag containing the letter. Brushing past Brady, he strode down the hallway.
After briefing the guard, Brady had to run to reach the elevator on time. Annoyed, Saint Claire pushed the “close” button two times, trying to shut the lift before Brady caught up, but the young detective just managed to get his arm in. The doors hesitated and opened.
“Thanks! Whew, I think I can say I’m officially out of shape.”
He stopped panting, drew a deep breath and sighed.
“Well, Happy Birthday anyway.”
Saint Claire was monitoring the elevator’s progress displayed above the door.
“Can I buy you a birthday drink?”
Uncomfortable, Brady also looked up at the green light moving behind the stencil numbers.
“Getting close to dinner time. Want to go get something to eat?”
Saint Claire reached forward and pulled down the manual lever next to the panel box, bringing the elevator to a sudden stop.
“Listen Brady, maybe you didn’t get it when I said it back at the apartment. Your function here is to report on me to the chief, and that makes our relationship adversarial. I’ll put up with you to go along with the program, but don’t mistake communication for friendship. We will never be friends.”
The remainder of the elevator ride was silent. When the door opened, Brady watched the detective as he exited, studying the lobby. Eyes scanning the mixed crowd of reporters, police personnel and curious neighbors, Saint Claire spotted his mark near the exit. Brady followed, keeping a distance.
“How long have you worked here?”
“Me, Sir? I been here mosta thirty-two years, since ah was bout twenty-five.”
Saint Claire nodded, withdrew a notepad and pen from the inside pocket of his jacket and smiled.
“Career man? I like that. And would you say you know most of the people who live in the building?”
“I would say ah know em all, and mosta everone who come up in here ta visit.”
Saint Claire eyed the doorman’s badge.
“What is your first name, Mr. Cross?”
“It’s Lesta, Lesta Cross.”
“Well Lester, consider yourself on break for the next fifteen minutes or so. I need to ask you a few questions.”
“So when was the last time you saw her?”
“It was last, I believe it was last Monday morning. She come down here bout eleven, waiting for that limousine that takes her to her hair appointment. Got her hair done every Monday, and then she would go to lunch with the judge. Sometime it be the only time she get out for the week.”
Saint Claire could feel Lester’s eyes return again to his left ear. In reflex, he adjusted the black felt Fedora downward and continued.
“Was it the only time she got out last week?”
“Yep. Far as I can remember, and I was here all week.”
“Okay. And while she was gone, do you remember if anyone out of the ordinary came in. Someone you hadn’t seen before?”
“I don’t know bout not ordinary, but I think Maria came in that day. Mattera fack, I know she did.”
Saint Claire turned his head, giving Lester a right profile.
“And Maria is?”
“The maid. She was Gladys’s maid. She came on Mondays, when Gladys was gone, and on Thursdays.”
Saint Claire stood, his eyes spotting his next interview target at the concierge desk.
“What is Maria’s last name?”
“Oh, it’s one of them Messican names. Fuentes, I think? Somethin like that. Short, thick woman.”
Again he noticed Lester’s staring.
“You like looking at my ear, Lester?”
The old man was embarrassed. He shuffled his feet.
“Oh, naw. I was just checkin out your hat, that’s all.”
Over the course of questioning, Lester Cross told the detective how Gladys changed after the heart attack. He said she was out to lunch with her friends three times a week and out at dinner and parties almost every weekend before her illness. But then after the attack, she just dried up. She was afraid of everything. She stopped trusting people.
Still, he said she was a very generous person. Gladys somehow pulled strings to help Lester’s daughter get into UCLA, and then Gladys helped the girl out with tuition and books until she graduated.
Maria discovered Gladys’s body in the apartment on the afternoon of the previous Thursday. When she came running down the stairs, screaming something in Spanish, Lester had to restrain her at the door. After she had calmed a little, she told him, mi señora está muerta.
Lester hurried with Maria up to Gladys’s apartment and found the old woman on her bed, curled up on the comforter, fetal, her teeth and fists clinched, her face contorted by pain. Lester had seen death before. The Brocklebank building was full of seniors. It was sad, though expected. After a moment of stoic reflection, he called the hospital to pick up the body.
He recalled seeing a few strange faces in the building after Gladys’s death, but he figured they were relatives or friends of the family. There was one man in particular who stood out in Lester’s mind because he seemed a little odd. He had short light brown hair and he wore small, circular glasses with dark lenses. In Lester’s words, the man seemed like more of an East coast person or a European.
Lester said the rumor in the building was that the person who murdered Gladys did so to get back at her son, the judge. He said the judge was not a nice man. The judge had never given Lester “his proper” as a man and looked down on poor people.
The judge wasn’t kind to his mother either, according to Lester. He was always impatient and huffy with her.
“It was like he was just doin his duty until she was dead. He was her only child, and he was set up to get alla her money and property after she died.”
Saint Claire, by habit, clarified innuendo.
“Are you saying, Lester, you believe the judge might be connected in all this? You think the judge killed his mother?”
“I’m not sayin that at all. All I’m sayin is he probably didn’t cry too long when he fount out she was dead. He prob’ly popped a bottle of champagne or somethin.”
Reflecting on the first time he met Gladys, twenty-one years earlier, and on how his daughter wept when she heard the news of Gladys’s death, Lester got a little teary-eyed and choked up.
“I can’t understand why anyone would wanna murder that woman!”
The young brunette at the concierge desk had been with the Brocklebank apartments for less than a year, but she remembered Gladys waiting in the lobby for her limousine on Monday afternoons. She said sometimes, when Mrs. Rosenthal was in a good mood, she’d tell interesting stories about San Francisco’s past.
“Chloe, is it? Would you say you know most of the people in the building?”
Hands folded on her lap, the concierge shrugged her shoulders and nodded.
“I think so. I haven’t been here as long as Lester, but everyone in this place has to come by me at some time. And as you can tell, I like to talk a lot.”
“Naw! I had you pegged as the shy type.”
“More like a flibbertigibbet—that’s what my father called me. I stop only to breathe.”
“Okay. Can you take a breath for me? Do you recall seeing any strange, any suspicious people come through the lobby at any time before or after the murder?”
Chloe’s eyes darted up left and returned.
“Ya know, there was a strange person! But that was at least a month ago. He was a kinda mysterious man who asked some questions about the building. I didn’t think he wanted to live here. He didn’t seem like the Brocklebank type. And I wasn’t sure, but I think he was wearing make-up.”
“You think he was wearing make-up? Do you remember what he looked like, under the make-up?”
“Oh, he had kinda short brown hair. I don’t remember if he was tall, but he wore a designer watch and had on expensive sunglasses.”
Saint Claire looked up from his notes.
“Oh come on! How could you tell they were expensive? Did he show them to you, with a price tag?”
“Mister, when you shop as much as I do, ya get this kinda sixth sense. I think the glasses were Dolce Gabbanas and the watch was a Cartier. It was silver, I think. Probably at least a few thousand dollars.”
Saint Claire closed the notepad.
“And he was here just that once?”
She was reconstructing the memory.
“No. Come to think of it, he was here on at least… two occasions.”
Oro En Paz, Fierro en Guerra. Gold in Peace, Iron in War. The inscription was etched on the silver face of a wooden plaque that hung on a wall behind the desk of Sonia Sanchez, Captain of Central Station, Metro Division, in downtown San Francisco. Central Station, located on Vallejo Street, between Powell and Stockton, was the busiest division in the police department. The district comprised the Financial Quarter, Chinatown, North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf, and three famous hills: Telegraph, Nob and Russian. Seven of ten major tourist attractions in San Francisco were located in the Central District.
Sonia was from Oakland, across the bay, but she moved to San Francisco as a college student. After graduating at UCSF from the school of Criminal Justice, she tried to get into three prestigious northern California law schools, but she had to settle for an unaccredited school in Sacramento. Upon graduation, she took and failed the bar exam twice before joining the San Francisco Police Department as an entry level officer with a bi-lingual background.
Over her twenty-five year career, she dealt with discrimination for being a Latina, sexual harassment and condescending attitudes from her peers and the public. Some assholes in the department never took her seriously, even after she was promoted to captain. The detectives were the worst, with one standing out in particular.
Minutes earlier, her secretary buzzed, telling her Inspector Tom Brady was waiting to meet with her. She had never met Brady, but she had read his profile. Off the record, she heard from some of her officers that Brady was a “hunk with a roaming eye.” She had spoken with the chief earlier in the day, so she knew why he had come.
Sonia stood for a better view as he came through the door, her eyes falling down the full length of his body. She extended her right hand.
“Inspector Brady, very nice to meet you. I take it you’ve been over at Mrs. Rosenthal’s apartment?”
He nodded, his eyes lingering a little too long on her breasts.
“Captain Sanchez. Yes, I have. I was there when Inspector Saint Claire was going over the contents of her medicine cabinet.”
Sanchez eased into her black leather chair, assuming a relaxed posture. Brady sighed aloud as he took a seat across the desk.
“Well, there was the letter, postmarked and mailed to him at her address.”
“I probably knew that before you did. Anything new?”
“Saint Claire—he found something, something he said was peculiar about some of her pills, the Levatol pills. I think he believes the killer made up cyanide pills to look like the Levatol pills. He sent all her medication for testing, though.”
“And the letter? What was that about?”
Glancing at her reflection in the window to her left, she dragged her fingers through her short, black hair. Her preening caught Brady’s notice. He flashed a smile and bowed his head.
“He didn’t open it. Didn’t want it to influence the investigation. Said he’d open it later.”
“He’s a fucking idiot and a liar! I hate that asshole. I told him when I talked to him on the phone he’s going to have to open that letter and turn it over as evidence!”
She paused and took a calming breath.
“Did he say anything about motive?”
“He didn’t say, exactly, but he suggested she was killed to get his attention.”
“His attention? Now that’s just like him!”
Sonia sighed, disgusted, and leaned toward the detective.
“A word of advice about Saint Claire, since the chief has you working with him: don’t trust that bastard. He won’t tell you things. He knows a lot. He’s got a real fucking PhD. He taught over at Berkeley, so he’ll impress you, but he doesn’t share.”
Brady shrugged, his face skeptical.
“He did tell me what he thought about how she was poisoned. Explained what he was thinking about the killer putting the poison in her medication.”
“But he didn’t share the letter! Yeah, he shares what he wants you to know.”
Although he smiled, she realized he was unconvinced.
“You don’t believe me? Ask around. Ask about a Detective Joe Curry outa Park Station, Golden Gate Division. He worked with Saint Claire, and now he’s dead. Saint Claire was implicated.”
His tone was patronizing, and she was in no mood to offer greater proof.
“I swear you detectives really are smug assholes, every last one of you!”
He smiled, flirting.
“You just have to get to know me better. You might be surprised.”
Only after she smiled did he continue.
“I don’t get it. If this guy’s so bad, why do you even have him here?”
“I didn’t say he wasn’t smart. Second year he was here, he sued the department for something he had, some kind of sealed envelope shit. Had the police commission by the balls, and they’ve been reluctant to let anyone bother him since.”
“I heard that, and I also heard that story was some kind of a San Francisco police urban legend. It’s been what, ten or eleven years? There’s a statute of limitations on evidence. Besides that, the commission’s changed over the years.”
Sonia raised her hands.
“Well and good, but he’s still here. We all hate him, but he’ll be here until he’s ready to leave, at his own terms.”
Brady thought a moment and nodded. In his left hand, he held a report folder, which he placed on the desk and slid toward the captain.
“Yeah, he’s obviously got something or someone protecting him.”
“And now he’s got a killer, sending a postmarked letter, calling him into this by name. I think he’s involved somehow.”
“Whoa! Now that’s a leap. And just how do you expect to prove that?”
She didn’t flinch.
“I don’t. Didn’t the chief tell you? As of this moment, proving Saint Claire’s dirty is your job. That’s why she brought you here. Unofficially, of course.”
They were more than mere bookshelves. They were a custom feature of the room, the work of virtuosic carpentry. Polished, dark cherry wood shelves, from floor to high ceiling, careful numeric etching and lettering on the shelf facing. And the shelves were full of books, thousands of them, in different colors, shapes and sizes, many of them dusty and old.
The room smelled of paper, ink, mold and stitch bindings. At its center sat a cherry wood desk with an expansive glossy surface and an intricate woodworked design along the top perimeter. Upon closer inspection, the design was a row of continuous tiny angels, wings extended, palms held together before their chests. The chair at the desk was plain in contrast, a simple hardwood chair with a thin brown seat cushion.
The space was Saint Claire’s sanctuary, his asylum. It was the only place where he felt comfortable enough to remove his hat, which he placed on the coat rack near the door. It was where he went to do his best thinking, his most important analysis.
He sat erect in the chair at the desk in the bright room, his posture formal and the notes organized before him. Alone on the desktop was the envelope, now crumpled, with a vertical crease down the middle. Saint Claire sat for fifteen minutes, contemplating it. It was postmarked, meaning the killer had sent the letter to Gladys’s address, found a way to get the letter out of her mail before she did, and hid it in the bathroom. Why would anyone go to so much trouble?
And the murder itself! The lab called earlier, confirming the discolored tablets in the Levatol bottle were composed of cyanide salts, matched to look similar to the Levatol tablets. Putting them in place of the legitimate medication would have involved breaking into her apartment on the rare occasions she was away, going through her medicine cabinet to find what she was taking, making up cyanide duplicates and breaking into the apartment a second time to put the poison in her medicine bottle.
The killer apparently had no problem breaking into her apartment. If he had wanted to kill her, he could have done so as she slept. And her apartment held a collection of very expensive trinkets and a cache of jewelry, none of which was disturbed.
It was not Saint Claire’s ego. It was logic. The killer hadn’t gone to all the effort required to murder Gladys in such a manner because he wanted her dead, and facts indicated he didn’t do it to take anything from her. Saint Claire concluded he himself was the point of the killer’s fixation, not Gladys, and not the judge.
As an associate professor and member of the core clinical science faculty at UC Berkeley over ten years, Saint Claire taught courses and had written several books on criminal psychology, with an emphasis on serial killers.
He opened the small drawer beneath the desktop and withdrew a keen steel knife with a yellowed ivory hilt, along with a pair of tweezers. Taking the envelope in his left hand, he inserted the knife in the right corner and passed it along the top, opening it. He paused to put on a pair of thin latex gloves.
Holding the envelope at arm’s length, he inserted the knife to pry it open. Inverting it, he tapped on one side to check if the contents were covered with white powder, which could contain anthrax spores or some poison agent. No powder fell.
Next, he inserted the tweezers to withdraw a thick bundle of folded paper for visual examination. He put on his glasses, which sat crooked on his face because of the scarring on his mangled left ear. Unfolding the letter, he read.
Thank you, Inspector, for setting this little drama in motion, and with it my resurrection.
Saint Claire bowed his head, regretting he had opened it. Taking a breath, he sat back and continued to read.
I must emphasize the word “resurrection,” Inspector, because I am dead. I died over twelve days ago. I am rotting in a grave as you read this letter. In fact, I contrived my own murder, and because I am the most brilliant serial murder artist of all time, I have also contrived my resurrection. Before this drama is concluded, you are going to raise me from the dead, you are going to proclaim to the world that I am (or was) the best and brightest of my class.
Bundy was prolific, but he wasn’t bright. Gary Ridgway was a cheap, inbred moron. The BTK Strangler was a barbarian, and the Night Stalker was a pervert. Dahmer and all the others were idiotic, petty, little amateurs who didn’t understand what they were, and they are only known to the world because they got caught. They are famous, but they are not the great murder artists. Zodiac came close, but he lacked sophistication and style. I am in my own class because I kill for the sheer intellectual thrill of playing God. This eternal blazon must not be to ears of flesh and blood.
Saint Claire opened the drawer and grabbed a magnifying glass. Placing the page on the table, he examined the script: 12-point Times New Roman, italic, printed in black ink by a laser printer.
When I was alive, I killed at will, right under your noses, and no one came close to finding me, except you. Mine is a problem encountered only by the most exceptional of minds. I have murdered so efficiently that I’ve left no discernable traces, no trail for any of you to follow. I’ve laughed at the best of you as you’ve run around in circles, like fools in a dark room, too insipid to realize the lights were off.
To call myself a mere murder artist would be an understatement. I am a genius at killing, a maestro at murder, and like you, a Renaissance man besides. To murder without art is an abomination, a criminal act. My work by contrast, is divine.
Saint Claire reread the penultimate paragraph, trying to understand the killer’s connection to him. Was this someone he had met or arrested?
And to the point of this letter, Inspector: the fact that I am dead notwithstanding, I am going to commit seven murders over the next thirty days. In other words, I am going to create seven murder crime scenes from right here, where I rot in my grave, and there’s nothing any of you can do to stop me. That alone should confirm that I am the greatest serial murder artist of all time, but being the egocentric and psychotic god that I am, I want my work to be appreciated… and admired.
There, Inspector, is where you fit in. That is, if you’re up to the challenge. You are, without exception, the most brilliant mind I have encountered in all my killing. You, like me, are both smart and lucky. If your luck holds, you have a remote chance of stopping me and saving innocent lives, and I realize that’s a motivator for you. You do want to save lives, don’t you?
Like interdependently placed dominoes, each murder I commit will set off the next murder, from seven to one. If you can stop one murder at any point in the progression, you save that life and prevent the murders that would have followed in turn, and therefore you win. However, if you fail to stop the murders, you will be forced to tell the world and history about me.
Ah, there’s the rub. There’s the artistic device that is present in all my work. In irony, the world greatest murder artists, ipso facto, have always rotted within their pathetic graves unknown. And yet from my grave, I am going to murder people at will, and then I’m going to force legendary detective Deuteronomy Saint Claire to describe for all time just who I was and how very brilliant I am.
If you don’t stop me, Inspector, it is your own lack of luck and intellect that will make me the greatest serial murder artist of all time. And so, absent thee from felicity awhile, Professor, and in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain, to tell my story.
Nullum magnum ingenium sine mixtura dementia fuit.
Happy Birthday, Inspector
It was true. Forty-nine years and three days earlier, he was born in the backwater town of Thibodaux in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana. His father was a cook in New Orleans during the week and a deacon at the church on weekends, and his light-skinned mother was a maid for a prominent white family in town.
He was the third of five children: two older brothers, Pierre and Samuel; a younger sister, Sara; and a younger brother, Henri. When at twelve, he asked his mother why she named him Deuteronomy, she said it was because he was her “special” son, and since the time she was a girl, she had always thought Deuteronomy would be a fine name for a boy.
Until the day she died, his mother, Bernadette, called him her favorite. She and Deuteronomy remained Catholic, though his father, Jacque, and the other children were Baptist.
Deuteronomy resembled his mother’s side of the family more than the other children did. His skin was lighter, almost a pecan brown with patches of darker freckles on his face. He was taller, a little over five-foot-ten-inches, and lean. As a young man in college, he competed as a cyclist, and his physique still held traces of athleticism.
From early on, oddities intrigued him. In Thibodaux, he was the only child in the town who dared to visit Miss Annabelle Lee, the reclusive widow who lived on the property going up toward the old sugar plantation. Miss Annabelle was a widow because she killed her husband. She shot him in the throat with his own shotgun. Gossips in town said she murdered his two children as well, but her stepchildren’s bodies were never found and the law ruled the homicide was self-defense.
As a nervous and excited seven-year-old, he rode his bike over, slipped through the rust encrusted gate and knocked on her door one morning. The old woman was suspicious, since no one from the town had visited her in over fifteen years. Asked why he had come, he was honest. He said he had come to find out if the stories he heard about her were true.
Over time, an odd though cautious friendship developed. Deuteronomy came in the morning to chop wood and perform other outdoor chores in exchange for afternoons spent with Miss Annabelle, listening as she told her stories of her past. When members of the community learned about his weekly visits, they went to his parents. The reverend of his father’s congregation warned that something very perverse was happening over at Miss Annabelle’s.
Forbidden to visit her, Deuteronomy only became more secretive. He and Miss Annabelle planned regular visits throughout the summer of his eleventh year and well into year twelve, but then tragedy struck.
There was little notice of the hurricane that, moving westward from the Florida Keys, threatened extensive flooding in Louisiana. Deuteronomy’s parents drove the family up to Baton Rouge on that September afternoon, but there was little help for Miss Annabelle, who was out of the communication loop. When Deuteronomy’s family returned home three days later, he rushed toward her house on his bike, but his way was blocked by floodwaters.
Over the next two days, the bodies started showing up, some of them bloated and floating and others stranded on sandbars or along hillside slopes above the falling waterline. Searching over the rotting bodies, twelve-year-old Deuteronomy found Miss Annabelle’s corpse not twenty feet from her front porch.
Two years later, Deuteronomy was an outstanding student at Thibodaux Central Catholic High School, excelling in math and science, preoccupied with finishing first in his class. Monsignor Baudelaire however, advised his favorite student that class rank and grades were not nearly as essential as a well-rounded education.
By his junior year, it was obvious Deuteronomy heeded the advice. At graduation, he was the school’s top student in Latin and in English literature and he played accordion in the school’s jazz band. He finished second in his class and received a full scholarship to Louisiana State.
“I came to see my wife.”
“Saint Claire. Katrina Saint Claire.”
The older woman at the counter left for three minutes and returned wearing a somber expression.
“Today isn’t a good day for her. Maybe you could try back tomorrow.”
Saint Claire forced a smile and backed a step.
“I see. Okay. Thank you.”
In high school, Katrina Scott was a beautiful light-skinned girl with thick, wavy, jet-black hair halfway down her back. Her dark eyes, flecked with hazel, were intense. Some of the religious members of the community thought she was “possessed” and did not let their children associate with the girl.
Katrina was intense about everything she did. She refused to wear anything less than Sears & Roebuck. Her socks and shoes were always spotless and in fashion, her hair pulled back into one neat ponytail, and her fingernails trimmed and painted.
She was fiercely competitive. As a track and field athlete, she never lost a race, even if it meant practicing at the track until ten p.m. on school nights. She worked hard to achieve the highest scores in her classes, if it meant drinking five cups of coffee in a night to stay up. And sometimes she would take her mother’s tiny white pills to stay focused.
No one could deny her intelligence. Her father was a professor of physics at Nicholls State University and her mother taught science and chemistry at a local high school. Katrina gave the commencement speech as school valedictorian and went on to Tulane University in New Orleans on a scholarship. She was the only person who finished ahead of Saint Claire academically. Throughout high school, Kate was always quicker to the point, always a half step ahead.
Outside the brick and mortar building, Saint Claire adjusted his hat and made his way to his car, a dark blue Buick Roadmaster. It was early afternoon, so he still had three hours before he was expected at the station. He was disappointed he missed the opportunity to talk with Katrina, since he needed her advice.
There were two people on the list he still wanted to interview. The first was Maria, the maid. If anyone could provide information about curiosities within Gladys’s apartment around the time of the murder, it would be the maid. The killer may have befriended Maria or used her access to get in and out of the apartment as easily as he had.
However, Maria hadn’t returned Saint Claire’s calls. In each of his three calls to her, Saint Claire spoke to a man who had a heavy Spanish accent. In broken English, the man said Maria worked five different jobs as a maid and was “beezee all the time.”
The other name on the list belonged to Gladys’s son. Saint Claire had never met the judge, but he knew him by reputation. Judge Rosenthal wasn’t a favorite of law enforcement. He was a San Francisco liberal who believed the police department exercised too much discretionary power.
Beyond that, the underpinnings of his legal rulings suggested he believed the police force was abusive, activist and corrupt. He was involved in the city’s social scene, attending swank private parties, political fundraisers and rubbing elbows with California’s elite. During the winter holidays just passed, the judge toured Europe with the governor. He respected people with money, celebrity or social status and was impatient and condescending with the common public.
Saint Claire scheduled his interview with the judge at one p.m. in the judge’s private office at the San Francisco Superior Court on McAllister.
Harold Rosenthal wasn’t a tall man, but he seemed much more genuine and congenial than Saint Claire imagined he would be. His hair was dark brown, its line receding in the front, with gray at the temples. He appeared to be in his mid-to-late fifties and in good shape, though his shoulders were slumped. He wore a red tie on a white shirt with a dark cardigan. His smile was big and his eyes were warm as he extended his hand, fingers splayed.
“Inspector Saint Claire! It’s great to finally meet you! You’re the PhD detective, right? Taught over at Berkeley?”
Saint Claire shook the judge’s hand, nodding.
“They let me think I was doing something over there.”
“I went to Berkeley, in the sixties. Protests, anti-war demonstrations, civil rights—people had that fire in the gut passion back then, especially your people, and mine. It’s all lost with these young people now, all of em. Goddamn shame!”
At a credenza turned bar, he refilled his highball glass.
The detective glanced over the judge’s shoulder. “You’re telling me you got cognac back there?”
The judge laughed.
“Of course I have cognac. What? You think I got no black friends?”
Saint Claire raised a hand.
“Oh, come on now. A Rabbi poured me my first cognac, on Purim!”
After twenty minutes, Saint Claire moved to the purpose of the interview.
“Judge Rosenthal, I’ve been investigating the murder of your mother since yesterday afternoon, and I’m trying to be as thorough as possible. So I’d just like you to share anything you think it might be important for me to know. Did your mother mention a stranger or new person in her life? Any person helping her around the apartment? Any conversations?”
Harold Rosenthal sat on a black leather sofa across from Saint Claire, who sat in a high back split leather office chair. He sipped the scotch and shrugged.
“You got a mother?”
“Of course. I had a mother. She died a long time ago.”
“Sorry to hear that, but my mother—God bless her soul—she did an awful lot of talking without really saying anything. So to answer your question, she may have, or she may not have. I don’t remember. Sometimes she’d be talking, and I’d be, I’d be someplace else. Know what I mean?”
The judge craned his neck to see what the detective was writing on the notepad. Saint Claire flipped to the next page, looking up.
“How would you describe the relationship between you and your mother? Would you say you were close?”
The judge reared back.
“Look, Inspector, I’m not sure if I like where I think you’re going with that question. My mother was eighty-three years old and paranoid. We didn’t have a lot in common. She had dementia. She wasn’t close to anybody.”
Saint Claire shut the notepad and returned it to his pocket.
“The dementia, was she diagnosed?”
The judge swigged his scotch.
“No, it wasn’t diagnosed, but all her friends were old, the one’s that hadn’t already died. Many of them were diagnosed, and she was no different than they were. Acted just like them.”
Saint Claire nodded.
“I see. Well, Judge, can you think of any reason why someone would want to murder your mother?”
“In a word, no.”
Saint Claire raised the snifter to his lips for the first time, sipping the cognac. His mouth tightened as he swallowed.
“Well, in your career as a defense attorney and a judge, is it possible you made an enemy over the years who would have murdered your mother to get back at you?”
The judge thought a moment and smiled.
“I started out as a lawyer almost thirty years ago. In the time since then, yes, I’m sure I’ve made some people mad. Most of them just told me to fuck off, and one time I had this deputy DA asshole who busted out one of my car’s headlights. So no, I’ve pissed people off enough to have them call me names and attack my car, but never enough to wait around years for revenge, let alone murdering my innocent, eighty-three year-old mother to get back at me.”
The cognac, as always, was smoother on the second sip.
“You’re probably right. You know, it seems there’s more to this murder than your mother, or you for that matter.”
Saint Claire sighed, took one last sip of the cognac and stood, slipping his pen into his jacket pocket. The judge stood in turn.
“Inspector, you’ve been asking me questions, but would you mind if I asked you a question?”
“I heard they found a sealed and postmarked letter in my mother’s bathroom. I heard it was from the killer and it was addressed to you.”
“I have to ask, have you read that letter?”
Saint Claire had already grimaced before he thought to control his face. Raising his eyebrows, he answered.
“That’s a fair question, Judge. Yes, I have read it.”
“Is it from the killer?”
“Based on what I read? I think so. But I believe the writer of the letter is psychotic—someone whose contact with reality is seriously impaired. Unfortunately however, the letter doesn’t tell us anything about why your mother was murdered or who did it.”
The judge called across the room from where he stood, refreshing his drink.
“You should have been a politician, Inspector. I don’t give a damn about what the letter doesn’t tell us. What does the killer say?”
Saint Claire started to make his way to the exit.
“Come on, Judge, this investigation is just getting underway. I’m not at liberty, nor do I have the authority to reveal anything in that letter to you. I’m headed to the station where I have to turn it over as evidence. You know the routine.”
The judge stepped between the detective and the door.
“If the letter has anything to do with my mother or me, I believe I have a right to see it.”
Saint Claire looked down at Harold Rosenthal’s nervous face.
“The letter has nothing to do with your mother, Judge, I assure you. Your mother was an innocent victim, a random murder. The killer had no grudge against her, and this person won’t be coming after you. You have nothing to worry about. Now if you’ll excuse me.”
The judge stepped aside and watched Saint Claire pass.
“I’ve heard for years about how smart you are, Inspector, but I’m a victim here too. Tell me man to man, as a friend. Do you personally have any idea or opinion about why my mother was killed?”
In that moment, Saint Claire watched the judge’s frame dissolve. In his place stood a trembling little boy, who had lost his mother, a child who was just beginning to realize he would be alone, without the constant of his first and most significant human attachment for the rest of his life. A tear stopped on his reddened right cheek.
The detective spoke to console the judge.
“I’m sorry, but I just don’t have anything yet. If I get a break or find the killer, I promise you’ll be the first to know.”
“Haven’t you heard? His wife’s crazy.”
“His wife’s crazy, my wife’s crazy, they’re all crazy. It’s just women! They’re all nuts.”
Sergeant McCarthy looked at Brady and laughed.
“No, you don’t get it. She’s really crazy. Ya know, a fuckin psycho.”
“I know. You haven’t met my wife, Andrea. Craziest psycho bitch you’d ever wanna meet. I could tell you some stories!”
Sergeant Sean McCarthy sipped the cloudy brown beer, glanced over his shoulder and leaned closer.
“You don’t get it. Saint Claire’s wife is certifiable, a whack job. She’s in that mental facility over on Stanyan. What is it? I think it’s Saint Mary’s or something like that. Cap’n’s been over there. Cap’n Sanchez has seen her.”
Brady sat silent for a moment, and then he refilled his glass with the dark brew. The room around him felt familiar, though it was only his third time in the pub. It was like being back at home, in Boston. The lights were dim, the tables were low and there was sawdust on the floor. Even the smells brought on nostalgia. He closed his eyes and took a breath of the yeasty, musty, pine dust filled air, exhaling.
“I like this place.”
“What I tell ya? Best little Irish pub in San Francisco.”
Brady and McCarthy met two weeks earlier on the detective’s first day with the SFPD. Brady shook many hands and tried to remember names and faces, but he didn’t want to be at Central Station or any other division in San Francisco. If he couldn’t be in Boston, a bar was the next best thing. He pegged McCarthy as the nearest thing to a drunk he’d met and got himself invited to the best Irish pub in the city, on Geary Boulevard.
“Saint Claire’s story just don’t add up. There’s somethin he’s not tellin us, somethin he’s not tellin anybody.”
McCarthy told Brady that Saint Claire left his job as a tenured professor at Berkeley, where he was making at least one hundred fifty thousand dollars a year, plus bonuses and other money for books and lectures. He left that position for a San Francisco detective job where he was only making fifty-five thousand at best. McCarthy said he heard the life change had something to do with Saint Claire’s son being murdered in San Francisco.
“The guy’s got a lot of that kinda shit goin on, all that mystery shit. Oh I’m sure we’ll be readin about him in the paper someday, and it’ll be some crazy, weird shit, but ya heard it here first.”
Brady sipped his beer, his eyes studying McCarthy’s face and manner.
“What is it everyone has against Saint Claire? I mean I’ve met the man, and I admit he’s a little uptight, but he’s very intelligent. What, is it the black thing? People afraid they might not be as smart as a black man?”
“Why don’t you ask the resta the spooks on the force? They got a hard-on for him more’n anyone else. They don’t trust him either.”
Brady put his fingertips to his lips to stifle a belch.
“I still don’t get it. Has he ever done anything suspicious?”
“There was the Joe Curry incident, but nine outa ten doctors can’t be wrong. Everybody up there thinks he’s up to somethin. Nobody trusts him. Why do you think that is?”
“Because he is up to something?”
McCarthy finished the last gulp of beer, pushed himself away from the table and stood.
“Exactly. Why do you think they brought you here?”
Saint Claire took no offense. It was a game Sonia Sanchez always played. She would schedule a meeting with him, and when he got there, she wouldn’t be there. So he sat there, reading. This time it was Hamlet, a work he re-read every few years. And yet every time he read it, it was an entirely different play, with a different conclusion.
“Been here long?”
He stood, closing the book.
“Just got here.”
“Then you were late, Inspector. We’ll meet in my office.”
Saint Claire watched her walk away before clutching his leather satchel of notebooks and following her down the hallway.
The office was familiar to him, though Sonia modernized it and applied distinct feminine touches. Derrick Slater, the captain of Central Station before Sonia, was a practical man who preferred function to form. The walls of his office were for tacking up notes, his chairs for sitting forward and the messy surface of his desk a platform for strategy and planning.
Slater worked with Saint Claire for ten years before retiring. Under Slater’s tutelage and oversight, Saint Claire had distinguished himself as a clever and innovative detective, one who understood killers. His success rate was uncanny, and Slater often joked that SFPD should invest more resources to recruit psychology professors from the colleges.
But Slater was the only person in the department who knew what Saint Claire knew, and he knew the story behind Saint Claire’s mangled left ear. He was Saint Claire’s only friend. Slater’s retirement two years earlier left Saint Claire without a liaison, without a conduit to the undisclosed objectives of the department on the case-by-case basis.
Sonia Sanchez sat in the black leather armchair at her desk, her shoulders held back and her manner that of polite disdain.
“Saint Claire, you know why I called you here. Apparently, someone mailed a letter to the Brocklebank Apartments about a month and a half ago, and strangely, it was addressed to you, in the care of Gladys Rosenthal. Is there anything you want to tell me about why someone would mail a letter to you at her address a month and a half before her murder?”
Saint Claire thought a moment and shrugged.
“No, there’s nothing to tell, or no, you don’t have an idea about the letter?”
Discerning from her face that she meant to discuss the matter in excruciating detail, he took a seat in the chair across from her.
“Look, I realize we’ve had differences in the past about my degree of sharing information, but I’m just as confused by the murder and the letter. I’ve already shared my suspicions about how she was poisoned, and those were confirmed, but whatever game the killer is trying to play, I don’t know it, and I’m not going to play it.”
“This person obviously knows you. Do you have any idea about who the killer might be?”
“Yeah, someone who knows me.”
Sonia sat forward, putting on her glasses.
“What about the letter? You’ve read it, I’m sure. What’s it about?”
“I’ve read it.”
“I want you to give it to me now. Do you have it?”
He opened the satchel and withdrew a six-by-nine inch clasp envelope with a name and date scribbled on the front. Reaching forward, he placed it in front of her.
“The letter tells us nothing. The writer is a psychopath.”
“You would know about that, wouldn’t you?” She snatched the envelope from the desk. “I’ll be the judge of what this letter tells us.”
Taking the smaller #10 envelope out, she first studied the typed recipient’s address, and then she yanked it open and pulled out the letter. As she unfolded it, her hands shook in excitement.
Cutting a glance at Saint Claire, she bowed her head and began to read. After a minute, she tossed the letter onto the desk.
“Is this it?”
“You read it. That’s all there is. Why?”
“There isn’t much to it. He’s just telling us that he’s going to kill seven people in the next thirty days. It’s one paragraph! That’s all there is to it? There’s nothing more?”
Saint Claire picked up the letter and scanned it.
“It’s a letter from the killer. What did you expect? A confession? A clue list?”
Her eyes narrowed.
“What would be the point of sending a letter like this?”
She grabbed the envelope and reopened it, searching for another enclosed page.
“There’s got to be more to it than this! There’s something you’re not sharing.”
He tossed it back to her.
“You asked for the letter. I brought you the letter. I don’t know what else I can do. You want me to add a few extra paragraphs?”
“Try being honest with me. Try letting me in.”
Her eyes searched his face and demeanor for the slightest contradiction, the slightest flinch.
“Look Saint Claire, you yourself just said you thought the killer was a psychopath based on what you read in that letter.”
“Yes, I said that.”
“So tell me, what in that one generic paragraph I just read would lead you to such a conclusion?”
He glanced toward the letter.
“Isn’t it obvious? He said he was going to murder seven people in the next thirty days. I might be wrong, but I think that qualifies as psychotic.”
“Dangerous, yes. But psychotic, not necessarily. Sounds more like a diagnosis. Which leads me to believe there was something else in the letter and you took it out. Or you altered it!”
“Now you’re being paranoid.”
She took a deep, angry breath through her nose, her jaw tightening.
“Saint Claire, we have before us a singular opportunity. Either we can spend the next thirty days working together the way we should have done it from the beginning, or we can spend the time trying to fuck each other. If we work together, maybe we can catch this killer. If we don’t, he wins. It’s as simple as that.”
He paused, contemplating, and leaned forward, removing his reading glasses.
“And what’s it going to take from me in order for me to work with you?”
“You have to share. You have to trust me.”
“And why should I trust you?”
“Because you can. Because I’m on your side.”
He extended a steady hand.
“You’re on my side now? Really? Fair enough for me. Let’s give this trust thing a try.”
He sat back, taking the satchel into his lap.
“And since we’re trying trusting now, Captain, I have a question for you.”
“Go right ahead. Ask me anything.”
“Inspector Tom Brady? It’s his first week with SFPD. What’s he doing in the middle of all this?”
The corners of her smile collapsed even before she began an answer.
“Not my call. The chief assigned him here. He came highly recommended.”
“Yes, from Boston, but he doesn’t have a clue about how things work in San Francisco. So do you have any idea why she assigned him here, working with me?”
She was re-reading the letter, feinting equanimity.
“No, I don’t. I swear if I knew, I’d tell you.”
Saint Claire stood.
“You heard me. I said bullshit. You know why he’s here. We all know why he’s here. So trust goes out the window. In one minute you talk about trusting each other, and the next you’re lying to me.”
She didn’t want to look at him.
“I am telling you the truth. I’m not lying, and I don’t appreciate—”
“You haven’t been honest with me from the time you got here. Trust isn’t just something that comes along with a promotion. It has to be earned!”
He waited for her to look up before continuing.
“You don’t earn it by maligning my name and reputation to the chief and you don’t earn it by spying on my wife and making a mockery of her condition to my colleagues.”
At the coat rack with his jacket draped over a forearm, he adjusted his hat downward over the ear.
“You and the chief brought Brady in here to discredit me.”
“Now who’s being paranoid?”
“He’s already admitted it to me, and that makes you a liar.”
Her eyes reluctant to encounter his, she had no answer.
“So the next time you feel insulted or discriminated against because someone doesn’t trust you enough to share everything, look to yourself.”
He opened the door.
“And until I’m sufficiently confident I can trust my captain to cover my ass, I’m just going to have to find a way to cover it myself.”