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Her voice, a low purr ripe with memories of long ago crushes, vibrated along the night's spine. It pulled you close and whispered in your ear. You're not alone. We'll get through this. I won't abandon you.
I'd listened to it on the radio during nighttime stakeouts. Nine til midnight. Five nights a week. 1350 Heart of San Diego on your AM dial.
Naomi at Night.
No last name. None needed. Her voice was all that mattered. And your imagination.
Counter programing. A palate cleanse to the syndicated political braying, sports shouting, and conspiracist ranting that bloated talk radio. A throwback to an earlier decade. When talk radio meant just that — talk. And listen. A disembodied voice in the night meant to soothe, not agitate.
People eager for something else, someone else, someone who seemed to care, started listening. So much so, that listeners began calling in from as far away as San Francisco. The station's long-held, but underutilized blowtorch 50,000-watt signal was finally paying dividends. Syndication had to be the next step. An entire nation waiting to hear the "Voice." To be soothed. To be heard. To be validated.
That is, if Naomi could stay alive that long.
* * *
I pulled into the 1350 radio station's parking lot at nine p.m. The station sat a couple streets west of Interstate 15, just north of where the Traitors — I mean, Chargers — used to play before they took their lone championship from the old AFL in fifty-seven years of existence up to Los Angeles to play second fiddle to the Rams while LA yawned. Not that I carried a grudge.
The parking lot had no gate, no guard, no lights, no security camera that I could see. Anyone could drive in. There were six other cars in the lot besides mine. No one inside any of them.
I turned off the car just as the moody bumper music for Naomi at Night came on. No need to let my imagination wander when I was about to meet Naomi. In the flesh. 1350 The Heart of San Diego was panted in red and blue lettering on the glass doors leading into the lobby. The "o" in San Diego was heart-shaped.
The doors were locked. A relief, but that still didn't solve the problem of the unguarded parking lot. Any five-night-a-week lonely listener who was convinced that he and Naomi were destined to spend eternity together had only to wait outside until his afterlife wife finished her show and walked out to her car. Even if somebody escorted Naomi through the parking lot, they'd be no match for a crazy with a gun in his hand and twisted love in his heart.
I pushed the button on the intercom next to the door.
"Yes?" Male voice.
"Rick Cahill to see Chip Evigan."
"I'll let you in."
Evigan was the Program Director who contacted me about threats to Naomi. He'd sounded as if he was in his late forties or early fifties. A little old to still go by "Chip." One man's opinion. Then the name came back to me. He'd had a show on the radio years ago that I'd listen to on my morning drive to Muldoon's Steak House when I ran the joint. Morning Joe with the Chipster. It was pretty awful, but his frenetic energy was a good wakeup call for opening the restaurant at 7:30 a.m. after closing it the night before at 1:00 a.m.
Either time or his new position had sapped the frenetic from him. The man who opened the door to the radio station was slumped shouldered with a mouth to match. Purple circles were engraved under his drooping brown eyes. He stuck out a hand and tried to lift the corners of his mouth in a smile. Failed.
"Chip Evigan, Mr. Cahill. Thanks for coming."
I shook his hand, then followed him through a door down a narrow hallway.
Naomi's sultry voice wafted out of the speakers in the hallway. "Welcome, fellow wanderers of the night. What secrets shall we whisper tonight? What lies can we tell that reveal the truth? Find shelter here from the dark night, the cold world. Bring your lives with you. You're safe here."
Her standard opening. A siren call to every socially awkward shut-in from San Diego to San Francisco. My only surprise about the threats to Naomi was that they hadn't come earlier. Like her first week on air two years ago.
I stayed abreast of Evigan and walked by an open area dotted with a few desks. A woman sat at one looking at a computer monitor.
"That's the news nest. Rachel is scanning the wires for stories for the bottom of the hour news break." He nodded at the woman. She looked up and smiled. Red hair, freckles across her nose like a teenager, even though she was in her forties. Rachel Riley. She'd worked at the station for years. I'd heard her read the news at various times of the day for over a decade. Even had her own show for a while. Seemed like everybody who worked at the station did at one time or another and then either got promoted or demoted. The common factor being they couldn't hold onto their own shows' audiences.
A business that lived and died by ratings made for shaky employment. Naomi was the station's brightest star. A lot of resentment could grow in the shade deflected from all that sunlight.
On the right just past the news nest was the studio. A big picture frame window looked in at the talent. A sign next to the window said "On Air" in lighted red letters.
"Naomi," Evigan said and walked past.
I slowed a tick. Involuntarily. I'd worked security at a radio-sponsored country music festival a while back during a lean month. The lone country radio station in town had a booth featuring their on-air personalities at the event. That day, I'd learned the true meaning of the saying, "A face for radio."
Naomi had a face for billboards. Dark eyes, hair to match that peaked to a point on her forehead and outlined a heart around her face. Cheekbones that could cut and blossomed lips that couldn't help but make every word she spoke seem sensual.
I didn't know exactly what I expected, just not the woman I saw. I wondered if her harasser had ever seen her. If so, more fuel for the demented fire. She wore a 60's hippie-brimmed hat that hid her eyes and most of her face in the picture on the station's website. Shadows and mystery. Her show. Her persona.
She caught me looking at her and stared back. Piercing, unblinking eyes. No smile. Heat flushed my cheeks. I felt like a schoolkid caught ogling the substitute teacher. I sped up to catch Evigan as he opened a door into a small office.
He sat down behind a utilitarian desk. I took a seat opposite him in a wooden chair that was probably older than me. A whiteboard with the station's program lineup hung on the wall behind him. The lineup was written in erasable black ink for easy replacement in the volatile world of talk radio.
Signed photos of Evigan with local celebrities back in his radio hosting days covered one of the other walls in the small office. Or at least, his younger days. The man sitting across from me looked to be twenty years older than the one in the photos, most of which were probably less than ten years old. I guess time flies faster behind a desk than a microphone in a radio station.
"Everything I show you and that we discuss has to be kept in the strictest confidence, Mr. Cahill." The purple circles under Evigan's eyes seemed to have embedded deeper in the sixty seconds since he let me into the radio station. "Do you understand?"
"All my clients' cases are confidential, Chip. That's why they hire me." I needed the work, but if I was going to be scolded like a child, I'd prefer it came from the woman behind the microphone and not a man named Chip.
"Well, alright, as long as I have your word."
"You not only have my word, Chip, you have it in writing on the contract I sent you and that you signed." This was going to be a fun case. Evigan would want daily written reports. I could feel it. "Why don't we move onto the reason you hired me?"
Evigan frowned, deeper than his default expression. He took out a letter envelope from his desk drawer and set it down in front of me. "This arrived ten days ago."
I looked at the envelope without picking it up. It was addressed to Naomi at Night with the station's call letters and address. The return address was also the station's. The post mark was from San Diego. That narrowed things down a bit. The writer probably stuck the letter in a post office drop box somewhere in the city. Untraceable. The handwriting on the envelope was in block print. Each letter leaving a deep indentation into the envelope. Anger bordering on fury or someone who didn't know their own strength? Neither option was on my best-case-scenario list.
"And you contacted the police, but they declined to investigate?" Reiterating what he'd told me on the phone.
"I read them the letter and they didn't think it sounded threatening enough to investigate."
I pulled out a pair of nitrile gloves from my jacket pocket and put them on. I opened the envelope and pulled out the letter, careful to hold it by the edges of the paper, in case there came a time when there'd be a reason to fingerprint it. There were six pages of hand-printed stationery in the same block lettering as the envelope. Same deep indentation, too.
"How many people have handled this?" I asked Evigan.
"The daytime receptionist, Naomi's producer, and me. I think that's it." Evigan's face slipped back into a deep frown. "Why?"
"Wait a second," I put the letter down. "Naomi hasn't read this?"
"She gets so much mail that she doesn't have time to read it all, so we have her producer, Carl, read some of it and pass along any letters to her that need a reply. Naomi likes to personally answer letters from her fans. After Carl read the letter, he brought it straight to me."
"And you didn't tell Naomi about it?"
"And you told Carl not to tell her about it, too?"
"Don't you think you should alert her to this situation if you think it's dangerous?"
"I'm not sure it is dangerous." His eyebrows rose.
"You called the police and then me when they wouldn't help you. I think you're sure."
"Just read the letter and tell me what you think."
I started reading the letter, again holding each page on the edges. The first five pages were fairly innocuous. The writer praised Naomi and recounted some of the things he claimed she said during her shows, putting quotation marks around them.
"Don't fight the lonely night. Let it in to comfort you until your Other presents herself." "Don't pollute the freedom of your mind with the restrictions of your body." "Peer into the darkness. Only then can you find your true light."
There were another twenty or so quotes. It sounded like New Age mysticism. Naomi had ventured into that area when I'd listened to her, but not too often. Mostly, she just listened and found the perfect question to ask at the perfect time to unlock the caller's true angst. She was remarkable. She should have been a psychiatrist. Or a homicide cop.
The author turned one of Naomi's quotes back at her on the last page of the letter. "I was lost in the darkness until I peered into it and found my true light, you. Cora, you have given me a purpose in this darkness underneath."
The letter ended: "Until that night, that sweet night when our prophesy is fulfilled, I ask that you just acknowledge that you've listened to my words on paper as you have on the air. Just say my name once during the show by the end of next week and I'll know our hearts are twinned forevermore. Don't disappoint me and awaken my rage."
Until, sweet Cora,
Evigan was pacing behind his desk by the time I finished the letter. He stopped when I set it down. "Well?"
I reread the last paragraph out loud and looked at Evigan when I finished. "Is Naomi a stage name? Is her real name Cora?"
"No. Her real name is Naomi."
"What about her middle name?"
"Ursula. But I Googled Cora." Evigan looked like he was waiting for a pat on the head.
"And?" No pat.
"It was made famous my James Fenimore Cooper in The Last of the Mohicans. She was the dark-haired heroine in the book."
"The dark hair fits Naomi." I wondered if there was some connection with the novel. I also knew Cora was a shortened version of the Spanish name for heart, Corazon. I had to dig deeper. "What about Pluto?"
"It's a planet. Or used to be. I can't keep track." He sat back down.
"I know that." He still wasn't getting a pat on the head. "Odd choice for a name for a potential stalker."
"Why do you say that?" Evigan's eyebrows and voice rose in unison.
"If I was an insecure creep who fixated on a woman I could never have, I'd pick a bigger planet to enhance the size of my penis, like Jupiter. Not some dot in the sky you could never see that lost its planet cred. Pluto is also a Roman god. Did you try to find a connection between it and Cora?"
"That's okay. I'll do it." I carefully put the letter back into the envelope. Has there been any other communication from him?"
"What do you mean?"
"Naomi received an angry voicemail asking her why she didn't acknowledge a letter she received." Evigan walked around his chair like he was about to sit down, then went back behind it and put his hands on the headrest. "The voicemail date was 12:01am last Saturday morning. Right after the last show of last week."
"Can I hear the message?"
"No. Naomi deleted it."
"Then how do you even know about it?"
"She asked Carl why he hadn't told her about a letter asking her to acknowledge its author over the air and told him about the voicemail." Evigan scratched at the side of his face with four fingers. "As I said, she likes to respond to her listeners."
"But you didn't give her the chance to on this one." I held up the letter, then carefully put it back into the envelope. "Don't you think she deserves to know that some creep listening in the night wants his and her hearts to be twinned forevermore or feel his rage?"
"I don't even know what twinned forevermore even means."
"Neither do I, but the kook who wrote that letter knows exactly what it means. He's got it all laid out in his twisted mind waiting for the right instant to put his plan into action. And now, by not saying his name on the radio she's awakened his rage." I stood up and pointed in the direction of the studio outside his office. "And that woman has no idea. Does someone walk her to her car? Does she have an alarm system at her home? Does she have a dog?"
"Settle down, Mr. Cahill." Evigan furrowed his forehead and patted the air with his hands. "The police didn't see the letter as a threat."
"Was that their finding after they performed a threat assessment?"
"I don't think they performed a threat assessment."
"Have you talked to any psychologists?"
"No. That's why we hired —"
A knock on the office door interrupted Evigan. He looked at the clock on the wall. It read 9:15 p.m. Rachel Riley read the traffic report through the speakers hanging in the office.
"Shit." He pecked his head once and opened the door.
"You're here awfully late, Chip." Naomi stood in the doorway. Curve-hugging jeans, beige tank top that highlighted her bust and athletic shoulders. She was only five-six or so, but her presence seemed to fill up the whole room. The cool roundness of her radio voice had sharpened into an edge. "Are you going to try to micromanage my show again?"
"No." Evigan swallowed and turned red. "You're doing great. This is Mr. Cahill. He's consulting on the station's security. Nothing to worry about."
"Hello, Mr. Cahill." She put some of the purr back in her voice. Melodious and sensual at once. The kind of voice that inspire fantasies in lonely men trying to hold back reality and the night. "Everything secure tonight?"
"So far." I wanted to tell her why I was really there, but she wasn't my client. The radio station was. Still, if Evigan didn't tell her soon why he'd hired me, I would. Five grand check or not.
Naomi looked at Evigan. "I hope you're not getting paranoid again, Chip. You know what happened the last time."
She threw me an over-the-shoulder look that a bent letter writer could twist into an invitation, and left the office.CHAPTER 2
Evigan looked like Naomi had just kicked him in the balls. He sank down into his chair and avoided my eyes.
"What last time was she talking about?" I asked.
"It was nothing." Still no eye contact.
"I don't get you, Chip." I hit the "P" in his name hard and leaned toward him. "You hire me because you think your on-air talent is being threatened, you show me a spooky letter, and Naomi references an earlier incident, and now you're downplaying it all. I already cashed the check for five grand. I'm keeping the money, but tell me now if you don't really want me to investigate."
"No. I want you to investigate." Evigan's shoulders slumped. "This is a delicate situation, Mr. Cahill. Naomi is important to this station. Important to the ownership. But I have to tread lightly."
"What do you mean?"
Evigan wrung his hands in front of himself and avoided my eyes again. I noticed that he wore a wedding band. "I don't want to do anything to upset Naomi. She and management are in the process of negotiating her next contract. She means a lot to this station and she has other offers from all over the country."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Wrong Light"
Copyright © 2018 Matt Coyle.
Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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