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Beating the BabushkaA Cape Weathers Mystery
By Tim Maleeny
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2011 Tim Maleeny
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTom Abrahams was flying to his death.
That's what he told himself as he plummeted through the fog with his arms outstretched, the wind roaring in his ears. He was flying, not falling. He could turn and glide safely back to the bridge at any moment. All he had to do was concentrate.
He felt surprisingly calm, his mind clear. The night air was invigorating. A sudden image from his daughter's video collection flashed across his consciousness: Peter Pan and Wendy soaring above the London Bridge. They'd watched that scene a thousand times—what was the secret Peter told the children?
Think of a happy little thought.
Two hundred feet was a long way down. Plenty of time to think of something.
He thought of skydiving in Florida when he was eighteen, the rush of air so intense the only sound was his heart pounding somewhere inside his head, then silence once he reached terminal velocity and everything stabilized. One hundred twenty miles per hour, the white noise enveloping him like a protective blanket, the world literally at his feet.
A happy little thought?
Tom worried for an instant over the morbid sound of terminal velocity, wondering who invented the term. Realized too late he should have paid more attention in high school physics.
An object falls from the center span of the Golden Gate Bridge, which sits approximately two hundred and twenty feet above San Francisco Bay. Since all objects accelerate at the same rate under gravity, and taking into account air resistance, how long before the object hits the water below?
Tom didn't know the answer, but he hoped it was a long, long time.
The fog parted for an instant, revealing the black water below. Whitecaps appeared and then vanished from the surface, a distant Morse code warning him to turn back.
Just a happy little thought.
Tom spread his arms wider, arching his back to keep from spinning. The crush of air felt like it was going to break him in half. He spread his fingers, willing them to grow feathers and turn into wings.
Then he remembered the catch. Peter Pan got it wrong—you needed pixie dust to fly. Until Peter grabbed Tinkerbell and shook pixie dust on the kids, they dropped like stones onto their bed. Without pixie dust they were just another physics experiment, all victims of gravity. Without pixie dust they were fucked.
Like Tom was now.
His eyes watering, Tom squinted to make out a flash of light piercing the fog. He wondered briefly if it was Tinkerbell, come to shake her little fairy butt in his direction, give him a lift.
You can fly, you can fly, you can fly!
A gust of wind flipped him upside down as Tom realized the flashing was the lighthouse at Alcatraz. No Tinkerbell, just a rundown jail holding tourists prisoner.
Head down, Tom strained to see through the fog, thicker now and backlit by the distant beacon. Then everything turned a blinding white, as if he'd fallen into a ball of cotton. He spun again, no longer sure if the water was below or above him. He just knew it was close.
With his eyes shut tight, Tom thought he could hear the sound of waves breaking against the base of the bridge tower. He thought he could smell salt spray through the dampness of the fog. He thought he heard music. Then he thought about his daughter.
Tom had no more happy little thoughts after that.
Chapter TwoCape Weathers looked up from the newspaper before there was any knock on his door. These days it wasn't too hard to tell when he had a visitor.
His office sat on the third floor of a building along the Embarcadero, the gently curving road that separated downtown San Francisco from Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39, two of the more dubious landmarks in a city known for its good looks. One short trip across the asphalt and you went from urban paradise to tourist hell. Cape liked to think of his office as purgatory.
A couple of years ago, the other offices in the building were bustling with tech start-ups, the hallways buzzing with entrepreneurial fervor and breathless whispers of pending IPOs. Now they were all but deserted, the dot-com acolytes back at their old jobs, making Cape one of the few remaining tenants who paid the rent on time. Most months, anyway.
The door was open, so there was no mistaking the footsteps echoing down the hallway. Sounded like a woman wearing heels, average weight, confident stride. Not a fast walker, but zero hesitation at the end of the hall. She knew where she was going.
Cape reflected that it could also be an underweight man who cross-dressed. This was San Francisco, after all. He'd just have to wait and see.
It was worth the wait. The woman standing in the doorway was wearing heels and was probably average weight, but there was nothing else average about her. She filled the room with her presence before she'd even cleared the threshold.
The word that came to Cape's mind was intense.
She had long black hair with matching eyes, her hair pulled back into a no-nonsense ponytail. She wore jeans and a blouse that looked casual but elegant, the kind of thing Cape figured cost roughly what he paid in rent, even before she added up the dry cleaning bills. She stood in the doorway with a posture that suggested she didn't really want to be there but had nowhere else to go. When she smiled at Cape, her face radiated warmth everywhere—except her eyes, which looked like they belonged to a woman who hadn't slept in a week.
Cape returned the smile. "Welcome to purgatory."
"Never mind," he said as her smile vanished. "Have a seat."
She remained standing.
"Rebecca Lowry said I could trust you," she said pointedly, watching him.
"That's nice of her." So much for small talk. Let the interview begin.
"She said you could find anyone."
Cape shrugged. "Most people don't know the good hiding places."
"She also said you almost got killed trying to help her."
"Rebecca was somewhat prone to exaggeration," replied Cape. "I got a little airsick traveling back and forth to Mexico. But I'm not really in the habit of talking about past clients."
"She also said you were modest."
Cape gestured toward the client chair again. "She mention that I was charming?"
Cape nodded. "Rebecca was also prone to understatement."
The corners of her mouth turned up slightly. "How do I know I can trust you?"
Cape shrugged again. "Do you trust Rebecca?"
"Rebecca and I were roommates at school." She said it as if they'd scaled Everest together or survived a tour in Vietnam. Cape figured he must have gone to a different school.
The woman nodded as if he'd said something, or maybe she'd made a decision and said something to herself. She stepped around the chair and extended her hand. Her grip was firm, her hand surprisingly large. Up close, she smelled faintly of strawberries.
"I'm Grace Gold," she said. "And just so we're clear from the start, I can't stand men who lie to me."
"I'm lactose intolerant," said Cape. "Anything else you want to get on the table?"
That got a full smile, if only for an instant. "When I told Rebecca about my situation, she told me it was your kind of problem."
"Okay, Grace," replied Cape, raising an eyebrow. "Since assertiveness isn't one of your problems, it must be something else."
"I'm having trouble with the police."
"The San Francisco police—they won't listen to me."
"I find that hard to believe," said Cape. "You strike me as, well, persistent."
"I've talked to six different people in two different departments, and no one's listening."
"I have the same problem with cops but always thought it was me. Have you tried a bullhorn?"
"Are you going to help me or not?"
"With what?" Cape spread his hands. "Don't take this the wrong way, Grace, but are you typically this obtuse? Why were you talking to the police in the first place?"
Grace sighed, dropped her hands to her lap. Took another deep breath before looking up. Now her face matched her eyes, and she looked ten years older than a moment before, as if what she was about to say would stop her heart.
"A friend of mine was murdered."
"When?" Cape glanced at the discarded newspaper on his desk. He didn't recall reading anything about a murder.
Grace followed his gaze and turned the paper toward her, scanning the front page. She flipped it around and pointed to the headline in the lower right corner.
Movie Producer Takes a Dive.
Cape frowned. The local paper had become more like the New York Post every year. He'd just read the story and seriously doubted the man's family took any solace from him taking a dive off the Golden Gate Bridge. He quickly scanned the article for the name.
"Tom Abrahams?" he asked. "The producer—that's your friend?"
"Yes," she said. "We work—worked—together."
"It says he jumped," said Cape. "They found his abandoned car. I know this is upsetting, but—"
"It's bullshit!" Grace almost came out of her chair, slamming her right hand on the desk. "You don't jump off a fucking bridge in the middle of a movie!"
"Suicides don't always choose the most opportune times..."
"Bullshit," repeated Grace, her nostrils flaring. "Tom called me the night he—" She stopped, staring at the newspaper. "The night this happened."
"What did he say?" asked Cape.
"I was out." Her mouth was a straight line of frustration. "He left a message asking me to call him back."
Grace shook her head. "It was late—I figured I'd just catch up with him in the morning."
Cape nodded, understanding her absolute conviction that he didn't jump, or at least her need for it.
"So you might have been the last person he tried to speak to," he said deliberately, watching her across the desk. "Before he died."
"Yes," said Grace bitterly. "Only I wasn't there for him."
"That doesn't mean you could have saved him," said Cape. "If he was really depressed about something—"
Grace cut him off. "I know Tom—I've worked with him on three other pictures. He was always mooning over his daughter, couldn't wait to see her again after a shoot. And he loved the business—he lived for it. He was not a jumper, plain and simple."
"Was there a note?"
Grace nodded reluctantly. "Typed into his computer."
"What did it say?"
"That's it?" Cape couldn't help himself. "That's not much of a note."
"That's because he didn't jump."
Cape held up his hands. "You knew him, I didn't. Fair enough. What do the cops say?"
Grace relaxed only slightly, her arms back in her lap. "The police don't know what they're talking about."
"That wasn't my question."
Grace blew out her cheeks. "There was no sign of foul play. There's every indication Tom drove onto the bridge by himself, abandoned his car, and jumped."
"Yeah," she replied disdainfully. "The police said they'd notified the family, so it was their concern, not mine. And unless there was a basis for an investigation, they had to put their energies into solving real murders with real suspects."
Cape wasn't surprised. Cops wanted evidence, not theories or hunches. It was one of the reasons he wasn't a cop.
"So what do you want me to do?" he asked.
"Find them a suspect," Grace replied.
Chapter ThreeThe dead man's eyes stared accusingly at the two policemen. Strangulation had caused the eyes to bulge and turn outward, giving the illusion that the corpse was scowling at both men simultaneously, angry at being excluded from their conversation.
"Who did you say he was again?"
Vincent Mango looked almost as annoyed as the corpse, but anyone who knew him would swear that was his normal expression. Even with risers in the heels of his Italian loafers, his wiry frame stood just over five and a half feet tall, so he compensated by acting testy. His short black hair was slick above a high, pale forehead, and he was dressed impeccably, right down to the Glock on his right hip, his detective shield clipped on his left side so he'd look symmetrical.
"Real name was Otto Metzger. Most people called him Otto the Kraut, but never to his face."
The voice that answered nearly rattled the windows. Beauregard Jones stood very still as he spoke, as if worried about crushing his diminutive partner. At six-five and almost 240 pounds, all he had to do was fall over. His face was a mahogany mask that would have been inscrutable if not for the eyes. Twenty years on the force had given him cop eyes that could go from open and friendly to flat and deadly in a heartbeat. He wore high-tops, jeans, and a black T-shirt with a weathered shoulder rig stretched tightly across his chest, holding a Springfield forty-five stainless. A sizable firearm, it looked like a toy against Beau's massive frame.
"Otto was the man in the middle," added Beau, as if that explained everything.
Vincent scratched his right ear. "Middle of what?"
Looking at the smaller man with a hint of amusement in his eyes, Beau leaned forward and pointed at the table in front of them. "Those are drugs, Vinnie—heroin, if you want to get specific."
Vincent glanced at the worktable in front of them, taking note of the scarred Formica, the four steel legs running to the cracked and faded tile floor. Scattered across its surface was everything you needed to make a sandwich, including cold cuts, sausages, string, plastic—and Otto, his feet splayed and hanging off the edge.
He wore a butcher's apron over brown canvas pants, his leather shoes stained from years of animal blood and worn from miles of pacing behind a deli counter. His hands were thick and coarse, the veins prominent even in death. But beyond those simple observations, it was impossible to tell what the man had resembled in life. Beneath the protruding eyes, his nose flared angrily, a last attempt to draw breath into failing lungs. His tongue jutted obscenely between cracked lips, a thin line of blood visible where he'd bitten down in agony. The right temple looked bruised, a purplish welt visible above the eye. Otto had not gone quietly, but to determine the cause of death you only had to look at his throat.
His neck looked raw where a coarse brown string cut across the Adam's apple and disappeared where it broke the skin. The chosen instrument of death appeared to come from a small pile of cord near Otto's leg, the thick strands coiled next to a broken pyramid of sausage links.
Finally Vincent let his eyes follow the line of Beau's enormous arm to a spot on the table just above Otto's swollen face where a sausage lay snapped in half. The sausage itself was a good foot and a half in length and four inches in diameter. It had split laterally, but instead of the normal mottled coloring of pressed meat, the broken sausage revealed a stark white interior, a plastic tube hidden within its length. From the end of the broken tube spilled a brown powder with the consistency of flour.
"I know it's heroin," said Vincent. "Just 'cause you used to work Narcotics doesn't mean—"
A uniformed cop with more pimples than bullets interrupted with a short step forward and a cough. "Detective?"
"The ME here?" asked Beau.
The cop shook his head. "No, sir, but the techs would like to start tagging and bagging, if you don't mind."
Beau looked at Vincent, who took one more glance at Otto before moving over toward the deli counter about ten feet away. "Be my guest."
Beau started to join him when his phone rang, the vibration making him jump. He pulled the phone out of its holster and stepped away as a choreographed swarm of crime-scene technicians buzzed around the worktable, gloved hands and tweezers moving back and forth with practiced ease.
"Who?" said Beau, holding the phone to his right ear. "Send him here. Yes, to the deli." Beau took a deep breath but kept his voice mild. "I know it's a crime scene—it's my crime scene—I'll arrest him myself if he disturbs any evidence. And tell him I'll only be here another thirty minutes." He snapped the phone shut and stood next to Vincent, who was leaning against a refrigerated display cabinet containing as many different meats as there were animals on Noah's Ark. Proudly stenciled in orange and black lettering across the glass was "Otto's Meat."
"So it's heroin," said Vincent. "Which tells us Otto probably didn't pay his taxes."
Beau shook his head. "It doesn't matter what it is, Vinnie. What matters is who it belongs to."
Vincent sighed—there was no stopping Beau when he was in his element. Vincent often wondered why his partner left Narcotics in the first place.
Excerpted from Beating the Babushka by Tim Maleeny Copyright © 2011 by Tim Maleeny. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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