A favor for her ex-husband leads Jill Smith to a blood-soaked crime scene
Someone is stealing hubcaps from the Berkeley police department. An afternoon spent chasing the petty thief leaves beat cop Jill Smith exhausted, flustered, and in no mood to talk when her ex-husband Nat calls asking for a favor. A colleague of his at the county welfare department, Anne Spaulding, is missing. Jill doesn’t care about her husband’s new crush, but a note of fear in his voice compels her to investigate. She drives to Anne’s house, where she finds the back door open, the living room trashed, and the walls caked in dried blood. Searching the apartment yields few clues. The woman liked make-up, exercise, and credit cards. The only item that points to a possible suspect is a pewter pen, which Jill recognizes as one of Nat’s. She has no love for her ex-husband, but is she ready to arrest him for murder?
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Susan Dunlap including rare images from the author’s personal collection.
About the Author
Susan Dunlap (b. 1943) is a prolific author of mystery novels. Born in the suburbs of New York, Dunlap majored in English at Bucknell College and earned a masters in teaching from the University of North Carolina. She was a social worker before an Agatha Christie novel inspired her to try her hand writing mysteries. Five attempts and five years later, she published Karma (1981), which began a ten book series about brash Berkeley cop Jill Smith. Since then, Dunlap has published more than twenty novels and numerous short stories. Her other ongoing characters include the meter-reading detective Vejay Haskell, medical examiner Kiernan O’Shaugnessy, and Zen student turned detective Darcy Loft. In addition to writing, Dunlap has taught yoga, worked as a paralegal, and helped found the women’s mystery organization Sisters In Crime. She lives in San Francisco.
Read an Excerpt
As a Favor
A Jill Smith Mystery
By Susan Dunlap
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1984 Susan Dunlap
All rights reserved.
I crouched behind a clump of daisies in Berkeley's People's Park, keeping watch on my fellow beat officer's patrol car across the street. I was in plainclothes—threadbare jeans and an embroidered blouse—and in my hip purse was my automatic, though it would be damned hard to get at if I needed it.
The late afternoon fog had begun to roll in off the Pacific, shading the park. Now, this park consisted of haphazard clusters of bushes and wildflowers in a field of tall grass and weeds. People passed by it without a thought. But in 1969 the struggle for its possession had been a cause célèbre.
Then, street people had built slides and jungle gyms, painting them in psychedelic colors. They planted flowers and vegetable gardens, played guitars, sailed frisbees, and smoked pot. They epitomized the anti-establishment sentiments of the times.
When the University of California announced plans to pave the area for parking, they demonstrated. Students, just finished with final exams, joined in. Thirty thousand people marched through the Berkeley streets. Violence came quickly. National Guard troops, the county sheriff, and police from outside the city were called in. They blocked intersections. They enforced curfews. Helicopters flew low over streets and homes. For two weeks the drumming of helicopter blades kept every citizen aware of the crisis. No one was neutral.
But during those angry days, the Berkeley Police calmed animosities on both sides. To residents they were a different breed, better educated, more liberal, as much "Berkeley" as police.
Now, years later, it was still a police force I was pleased to be part of.
I looked past the east end of the field at Seth Howard's patrol car, across the street.
The patrol cars Howard drove had become the targets of a rip-off artist. Half the time Howard left one, he would come back to find something gone—a windshield wiper, a hub-cap, once even his license plate. If a cop in Berkeley had had one car assigned to him, Howard could have let it go, assuming the end would come by attrition. But we didn't operate that way. We took whatever car was available. At this rate Howard would be responsible for the stripping of the entire fleet.
From behind me came a whiff of dust and sweat.
Across the street, hurrying past Howard's car, was a group of students, laughing, all talking at once, seemingly too absorbed in their own conversations to notice the patrol car. I watched. Ripping off a police car was the type of theft that might appeal to kids with free time at the beginning of the semester.
The dust-and-sweat smell was stronger. This park was no longer the domain of carefree "flower children." It was as dangerous as any park in the city.
A foot hit the soft ground three inches from my leg.
"Watch where you're going!" I glared up at the man.
He was well over six feet tall, and layers of clothing, all filthy, hung off him. His glazed eyes moved erratically as if keeping watch for spectres that never materialized. He was one of the drug casualties who wandered around Telegraph Avenue or slept away afternoons in the park. He could easily have walked into me.
But he didn't. He veered right and kept moving.
In the last dozen years this area—the four blocks of Telegraph that ran north from Dwight Way to the University campus—hadn't changed much. There were more boutique-y shops, more fake wood and ferns, and the street vendors who had once been local craftsmen were now predominately professionals. Students sauntered along the wide sidewalks glancing at jewelry and T-shirts, and street people still hung around, passing time, staring vacantly, and asking for spare change.
I watched the man amble west across the field toward Telegraph, his hair matted, his jeans discolored and incompletely patched; he was in no hurry; in his life there was nothing that wouldn't wait.
I turned back to Howard's car—just in time. A curly-headed figure yanked Howard's antenna off and ran.
I dashed after him toward the street. A truck passed, blocking my view. When I spotted the figure again, he was half a block away, racing across Durant, headed to Telegraph Avenue where he could run inside a shop or melt into a crowd.
"Stop!" I yelled. "Police!"
He paused momentarily, then kept going. Shoppers leaped out of his way. I chased after, the gun-heavy hip purse banging against my pelvic bone. I crossed the street just in time to see him turn onto Telegraph.
When I reached the corner he was gone. The only movements came from sidewalk vendors closing up their stands, a few dawdlers eyeing the wares for the last time, and groups of sallow street people clustered by bare stucco shop walls. The suspect could be anywhere. In the fading light I hadn't been able to make out his face. I'd only seen him run. I wouldn't recognize his walk. His clothes were baggy. I couldn't even be sure he was a man.
Slowly I started down the street, looking intently at each individual, hoping to make one nervous.
I was within fifteen yards of him when he made his break, running frantically to the corner, across the intersection, and into a fleabag hotel fifty yards off Telegraph.
Pushing aside pedestrians, I ran for the corner and started across the street.
A motorcycle shot through the intersection. I jumped back with only a second to spare. "Watch it!" I yelled, but my words were lost under the roar of the motor.
Panting, I ran through the traffic, past a five-story brick apartment building, and up the rickety steps of the stucco hotel that was just a bit smaller and a hundred times more rundown. It had always been a hotel and it had always been squalid. I pulled the door open and looked into the small lobby on the right. It was empty. Directly ahead was a staircase and a hallway bare but for the doors to the three first-floor studios. There hadn't been time for the suspect to make it up the stairs, but the back door banged against the porch rail. Running to it, I looked out.
The yard was tiny—hard clay ground surrounded by a wooden fence that had fallen years ago. The suspect could have doubled back through the apartment house next door, gone straight along the alley behind the Telegraph shops, or cut left into the giant parking structure to the south of the hotel. In the heavy shadows of dusk there was no sign of him.
Catching my breath, I walked back to the lobby. The high wooden counter with the mail slots behind it was the only indication that the room was a lobby. There was no one behind the desk, no mail in the slots, no bell that would bring a desk clerk running. There might once have been chairs, but if so they had been ripped off years ago. Only a table remained.
I stood a moment, assessing the hall. The clatter of two people running down it had drawn no interest from the tenants. None of the doors had opened.
I knocked on the first of the two doors on the south side of the hall. No answer. Likewise the one behind it. But from the room behind the lobby a man with stringy gray hair to his shoulders answered. He wore a cheap and none-too-clean shirt and pants that hung loose from his body. His room reeked of wine.
He squinted at me, the folds of his face pulling together to create a surprisingly sharp show of suspicion.
I pulled out my shield. I'm Officer Smith, Berkeley Po—"
"What do you want, pounding on my door? Can't a man have peace in his own room without city cops and welfare cops banging and snooping? Harassing. It's harassing." His face throbbed red.
"Calm down. I just want to know if someone ran through here a couple minutes ago."
I repeated the statement.
"What're you chasing them for?" His face was returning to its normal color; only the broken blood vessels in his nose and cheeks remained red. I'd seen him on the Avenue—drinking coffee at the Mediterraneum Caffe, or talking with groups of people, arms waving, face reddened. He was a regular on Telegraph, one who would make it his business to recognize cops and one who, despite the years of evidence to the contrary in Berkeley, would assume every cop was out to get him.
But there was no point in recounting the department's record. Instead, I geared myself to his reasoning. I said. "You've seen me here on beat, haven't you?"
He thought, then nodded.
"You haven't heard anything about me going after people for no reason, have you?"
"No, but ..."
"If I had, you would have heard. It would have been all over the Avenue."
"Yeah. Okay. Yeah, someone did run through here. And out. I heard the footsteps going down the stairs."
"Sure as I can be with the racket going on in here. I didn't go out and look, if that's what you're asking. In this building running down the hall is no big thing."
Taking down his name—Quentin Delehanty—I asked him to call if he learned anything about the suspect.
From the perfunctory nod as he shut the door, I knew he wouldn't.
"Damn," I muttered as I stomped down the stairs. There was nothing to do now but bottle up my frustrations and walk on up Telegraph to the University and wait for Howard.
According to our plan, while I'd watched his car, Howard was to have been making himself visible several blocks away. After an hour—about now—he'd pick up the car and then drive over to get me at the intersection of Telegraph and Bancroft, by Sproul Plaza.
The air had grown chilly; the sweat on my back and face turned cold. Students hurried from campus onto the Avenue. Traffic whished down Bancroft. It was October, and at five o'clock the bay fog had rolled in. As each pedestrian rounded the corner I checked him, but I knew it was hopeless.
When the patrol car stopped, I got in and slammed the door. The radio sounded muffled—because, of course, the antenna was gone.
"You look like you're ready for the Olympic Sweating Team," Howard said as he pulled into traffic.
I could imagine. Any make-up I'd started out with would be gone. My eyes, which varied from green to gray, would be definitely gray by now, and my skin would look like the oatmeal left to harden in the bottom of the bowl. "All in all, it seems fitting."
"So it's thief Six, cops Zero, huh, Jill?"
"I chased him into a fleabag hotel and lost him. He's probably there laughing his insides out."
"How can he keep slipping away? Damn! I've spent more time on this dumb, laughable—"
"I got distracted, Howard. This spaced-out guy in the park almost walked into me. I took my eyes off the car. When I looked back, there he was—the thief. It couldn't have been more than a minute, the only minute in nearly an hour when I wasn't staring right at the car." I sighed, slumping back against the seat. "How does he do it?"
"Listen, Jill, I know you did all you could. You couldn't let yourself be trampled."
I looked over in time to see his grin before it faded back into the tense lines of his face. His red hair curled out below his hat and his long legs were spread apart to avoid the dashboard, even though the seat was all the way back. There was something very appealing about those long muscular legs, something I always brushed quickly from my mind. Howard was a friend, a close friend; I wanted him to remain just that.
"You can force a smile," I said, "but Lieutenant Davis won't be laughing. Soon he'll have to account for all those aerials and hubcaps. And you know what he'll do."
"Right. He'll decide the easiest thing is to put me on foot patrol where all they can steal is my night stick." The tires screeched as he turned the car left. "Goddamn it. Before this I had a good record. Now my very presence causes crime."
Howard had every right to be frustrated and to be worried. At any other time he might have waited out the thief, with the assurance that any appearance of floundering on this case would have been more than offset by his competent handling of major crimes. But now every officer needed to look his best. The department was reorganizing. A patrol officer would no longer handle all cases on his beat, whether they were drug dealing or jaywalking, shoplifting or homicide. Now murders would go to Homicide, pandering to Sex Crimes. And beat officers would be left with whatever assignments the detectives in those departments gave them. And with traffic.
As new departments were created and old ones expanded, some patrol officers would be promoted to detective—patrol officers with good records, who'd shown they could handle themselves on the street. Howard and I had both dealt with murders. That looked good. Penny-ante theft—unsolved—did not.
The car screeched to a halt at a red light. "Goddamn it," Howard said, "one Telegraph Avenue psycho is not going to ruin my career. I'm going to get him. I have to explain this fiasco to the lieutenant. But I've got a plan, one with no loopholes. You with me, Jill?"
The University sits in the center of Berkeley where the eastern hills meet the flatlands. The city was created around it. University Avenue runs west to the freeway and the Bay.
From the Berkeley hills west, wealth decreases with the elevation. Houses that start at more than six figures hang precariously off the hillside. Every few years the winter rains pound, the land slips, foundations give way, eucalyptus trees topple onto roofs. In autumn after six rainless months, dry grass catches fire, and homeowners spray their roofs hourly—and hope. The spectre of the Big Quake is always there.
The half mile between College Avenue and Telegraph is flat, and filled with large older homes, some, like Howard's, shared uneasily by four to six acquaintances, some converted to student apartments.
Half a mile further west, Howard turned off University south on Grove and made a quick right into the station lot. By now he wasn't talking. I didn't need to ask why. Explaining the loss of a suspect to Lt. Davis was a daunting prospect.
We walked silently up the side steps to the second floor. Howard knocked on the glass door of the cubicle to the left—Lt. Davis'—and I kept walking past the meeting room into the squad room.
Now, just after six, it was virtually deserted. Twenty wooden desks in three rows filled the room. At the beginning of our shift—Day Watch, 3:00 to 11:00—beat officers headed for their desks and frequently found them still held by their Morning Watch occupants. Everyone was anxious to pass on tips, discuss suspicious behavior on their beats, to ask for follow-up assist. The squad room had the atmosphere of a bus station. But now it was almost empty. I walked halfway down the aisle to my chair, glancing briefly at the front desk to my right. Nothing going on there.
I slumped into the chair. The room matched my spirits. At the sunniest of times the small high windows on the east side were too far away to allow much light to reach my desk. Now the fluorescent lights made the windows darker.
Checking my IN box, I skimmed and discarded a memo reminding us not to park personal cars in the station yard, filed two lab reports, and fingered a message from Nat. Nat, my ex-husband.
"What does he want now?" I muttered aloud.
I looked toward the lieutenant's office, hoping to see Howard emerge, ready to discuss the case. But there was no movement through the doorway.
I glanced back at the note, feeling the familiar pulls of anger and guilt.
At the reception desk, twenty feet away, a woman placed a bundle of clothing in front of Sabec, the desk man. A boy about ten looked scared.
"Tell the officer how you found the clothes," the woman said.
The boy hesitated, undoubtedly wavering between fear of the uniform and elation at his own importance. Finally he said, "Me and Joey, my friend, we were down by the Bay and Ralph, my dog, he—"
"They're good quality," the woman interrupted. "The dress is linen; it's monogrammed, see—AMS—so it was ordered, if not handmade. I—"
"Is it blood?"
"Ssh." She pulled the boy's hand away from the dress. "It's been torn, Officer."
"Yes, ma'am, I see. Now, son, you and your friend found these clothes ..."
"Joey, that's my friend, well, he—"
"Ready?" It was Howard, looking not unlike the pile of garments on Sabec's desk—definitely limp, and figuratively bloodstained. I opened my mouth, but before I could form the question, Howard said, "Let's go. I'll tell you about it at dinner."
"So what did the lieutenant say?"
We were seated in our regular booth in the back of Priester's on Telegraph Avenue.
Howard forked his lettuce, then paused. "The lieutenant commented in detail, in minute detail, about our losing the suspect."
Excerpted from As a Favor by Susan Dunlap. Copyright © 1984 Susan Dunlap. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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