Friday, June 24, 2005

Chapter 6, Part 2

Charlie Putnam leaned in the office door waiting for Dr. Griggs to look up from the work that engrossed him, hesitant to interrupt an important train of thought but anxious to be allowed to clock out. He knew he'd incurred the great man's wrath by working with Scott Spevik, but he didn't know why, and was too tired to listen to the hour-long lecture he was afraid Griggs would use to tell him.

"I've finished with the DNA identifications," Putnam said as soon as Griggs laid down the calipers and dry-erase marker he'd been using, "May I go home?"

Griggs looked up at his trainee with a vitriolic stare, twisting his frog-like face into a cartoon of rage; but the stare faltered as he watched the young man shifting nervously from foot to foot.

Though he could nurse and nourish a grudge for years, Marriott Griggs was incapable of staying angry for very long. And he liked young Putnam, with his meek manners and blandly uninteresting face set off and overwhelmed by his trendy designer haircut, jazzy designer eyeglasses, and sharp designer clothes; a trust-fund baby who'd turned his unexpectedly brilliant mind to the pursuit of usable truth, he gave Griggs great pleasure watching that mind blossom and mature as it focused on real-world scientific applications. Still, as a trainee, the boy needed to understand that he couldn't undermine his boss and get away with it... he had to be punished, if only mildly.

"What's your rush? Hot date with Detective Spevik?" Griggs insinuated nastily.

"No, I promised to attend my sister's birthday party, it started hours ago," Putnam answered honestly, confused by the question.

"One would have thought you'd at least get dinner and a hand-job in exchange for stabbing me in the back."

"That wasn't my intent!" the young man almost wailed in distress, "I would never stab you in the back, Marriott! I just didn't see anything wrong with sharing information with the investigating officer."

"Information is disseminated to interested parties through me, boy. You don't give information to anybody but me as long as you're my trainee."

"I'm sorry," the young man wrung his hands, "I didn't know I wasn't supposed to talk to him. I certainly won't do it again."

"You can talk to him all you want... if you like talking to musclebound gorillas," Griggs relented, "But you report only to me. See, Spevik was doing an end-run around his senior partner, and slipped a knife into my ribs while he was at it; you helped him make me look like a doddering ass in front of that cunt Fitzgerald."

"I can't tell you how sorry I am," he sat down heavily in the hard chair by Griggs's desk, aghast that Scott had used him to bring disrepute to his mentor; Putnam did indeed enjoy talking to musclebound gorillas, thick and brutish men were his greatest weakness, and he'd been flattered and flustered when the burly young detective paid so much attention to him, hanging on his every word, "I thought I was helping."

"And never, ever, ever let material evidence out of this building again," Griggs pounded on the desk to punctuate his statement, "That was just plain stupid, no matter whom you gave it to."

"I didn't think it was evidence, per se," Putnam pushed his dramatic Gucci glasses further up his inconsequential nose, "The contents of Vandervere's jacket didn't have anything to do with the case. Once we got the reference prints, it was all just property, wasn't it? I assumed Scott was going to release it back to Vandervere."

"He did release it back, but first he hacked into the PDA and read Vandervere's calendar and contacts... drawing some rather damaging and prejudicial conclusions from it, which he then shared with his captain and the DA."

"Oh, dear," the young man sat back and stared, mortified by the implications, "Oh, dear, that's bad."

"Never trust a man whose neck is thicker than his head, Charlie," Griggs advised, satisfied that his trainee had suffered enough and was sufficiently contrite, "Even if he weren't as straight as a plain pine plank, Scott Spevik is nothing but a scheming goon. You can do better, my boy."

"Yes, sir," Putnam assented vaguely, intending to keeping Spevik at arm's length but dismissing the romantic advice... it was the very fact that Spevik was straight that made him so attractive. All his life he'd been worshipping at the shrine of the unattainable, and it was the thick-necked gods of brutal contact sports, wrestling and football in particular, that drew him like a moth to the flame.

"Before you go," Griggs continued, shuffling the papers on his desk, "Tell me what you think of these... tell me if you see something wrong."

Putnam stood up and came around to Griggs's side of the desk, peering down at the sheets of plastic transparencies that overlaid a large floor-plan of Marshall's apartment. One transparency, which Griggs laid over the floor-plan first, showed a chaotic mess of black ink foot-prints, which had been compiled from photographs of the scene; the next overlay showed a pattern of colorful dry-erase ink connecting the dots of the foot-prints beneath, the continuous line changing color every time the foot-prints changed direction.

"I traced these routes out using Vandervere's stride-length as a reference. I think this pretty well outlines the path he took after he got out of the playpen and before he put on his boots. From the playroom to the bathroom to the bedroom, through the study into the living room, then the dining room, pantry and kitchen. Then he turns and comes back the way he came and stops at the hall closet. Then back to the playroom. You see how I measured it?"

"Yes," Putnam was fascinated, "You assumed a shorter step when he went around a corner, or stopped and faced something, like the sink or the desk, graduating to the full stride in between."

"Exactly. Now, according to the video, when Vandervere came back in, he put on his pants, then his boots, then his jacket. He stomped around a good deal more," Griggs slid the first two transparencies off and then placed the third transparency over the floor-plan, this one showing a much sparser collection of boot-prints, some of which were black, but most of which were dotted gray, or just empty outlines, "But the boots didn't have nearly as much oil on them as his bare feet, which had soaked in the oil and were replenished from above while he was nude; so mostly the boots only show when he stepped on an oily foot-print he'd left behind on his first trip."

"It's hard to see a pattern in these," Putnam tried crossing his eyes to see if any shapes emerged from the blur.

"I've wasted three transparency sheets trying. The black prints here indicate full prints, the grays are faint prints, and the whites are partials. You see the prints get fainter farther from the playroom, where most of the standing oil was located. Then there are a lot of full boot-prints in the cocaine on the living-room floor, which do show a route... going from the coffee-table to the étagère to the liquor cabinet to the sofa, then straight out of the apartment and petering out in the hallway. Do you see the problem?"

"No boot-prints in the kitchen!" the young man exulted, "He put his boots on before Marshall was killed, before he would have gone for the knife!"


"Then, Vandervere didn't do it?"

"I only wish it were that conclusive," Griggs sighed and pulled off his reading-glasses, "We only have the boy's story that he didn't kill Marhall before sprinkling the cocaine all over the rug and marking his route so clearly. Scenario: he could have lost the oil off his boots on the rug while returning to the kitchen, which is the room farthest away from the standing oil, then was careful not to step in any previous prints... which you remember were fairly well visible, even in lamplight; then he made his way back to the playroom, stabbed Marshall, and then powdered the floor with nose-candy, carelessly leaving plenty of prints there."

"That doesn't seem very consistent behavior."

"From what I've seen of this kid, he's not very consistent. Another scenario: he might have brought the knife with him on the first trip and then calmed somewhat and changed his mind, left it behind in the hall, then got even angrier and changed his mind again, and simply retrieved it. Neither scenario seems expecially likely; but these, and other possibilities, nevertheless exist."

"Huh," Putnam felt stymied, unsure what to think, "So I guess it's not a slam-dunk after all?"

"Much as it pains me to say," the little ME grimaced bitterly, "Varajian might be right, there might be another suspect in that building. You and I have to go back over the scene early tomorrow, maybe stay until after dark to get the right light-quality, and look at the whole thing again from a different perspective. We'll check out the stairwells and elevators to investigate the possibility of a second unknown person somehow taking advantage of Vandervere's presence and slipping through all this evidence undetected. And we will have to open our minds a little wider as we go, use a little more imagination, reach a little more deeply for our theories."

"That sounds exciting!" Putnam happily sacrificed the Saturday he'd set aside for laundry and errands to do a surface-crawl in the victim's apartment; the obvious if labor-intensive slam-dunk of the morning was shaping into a far more interesting type of case.

"But I'm beginning to hope Vandervere didn't do it," Griggs pulled a fresh transparency sheet from a flat drawer behind him and carefully placed it over the boot-print transparency, "If for no other reason than to wipe the smug grin off that bitch Fitzgerald's pasty little face."


Danny grew accustomed to the closeness of the tiny cell rather quickly — so quickly that he became acutely embarrassed by the memory of the claustrophobic fit he'd thrown — and thereafter spent a completely relaxing evening with magazines and television... though he spent more time than usual focused on the television, as all of the network-affiliate stations would flash a picture of him during every commercial break, and was soon surfing through the channels just to catch more glimpses of himself.

Each station that had a news program showed him being arrested, each shot from a different location with a different quality of camera, each with cryptic voice-overs using similar phrases about "a dramatic arrest at a famed San Francisco landmark"; and he had to admit that he did look hot from every angle as he was hustled through the front doors and into the police cruiser, his muscles flexing dramatically with his arms behind his back, the gold-embroidered black towel draped beautifully around his exquisite hips.

The six-o'clock news programs all led off with other stories, baiting the viewer to stay tuned; it wasn't until midway through the hour, after airing every other story they had but before going on to sports and weather, that they launched into the story of "The Dramatic Arrest."

The anchors and reporters used a lot of words to express how little they knew: only that there had been a stabbing death in a landmark luxury apartment building, but the name of the victim had not yet been released, pending notification of the family. The name of the suspect so spectacularly arrested had not been officially released, either; but the reporters all knew who Danny was, and with his family name embossed in half the restrooms in the country as well as his own gorgeous mug so conspicuous in the Society pages, they saw no reason to withhold that information from their viewers. The names of Valerien de Seguemont and Marquesa Willard-Wilkes, conversely, were not mentioned, nor even hinted at, by anyone.

Dinner was served at seven o'clock, and Danny ravenously dug into the tray that was brought to his cell by another inmate accompanied by a deputy who stood on guard at the door. The meal consisted of a generous helping of quite tasty meatloaf accompanied by mashed potatoes and niblets, with a cardboard pint carton of milk to drink and a large dry fudge brownie for dessert. It was good, solid comfort-food, and due either to his extreme hunger (he hadn't really eaten all day, only a bit of toast and fruit at Valerien's and the empty-calorie snacks from the commissary) or his uncomfortably unfamiliar surroundings, he found the flavors indescribably delicious.

Unfortunately, Danny turned off the television while he ate, and therefore missed the "breaking news" bulletins that preempted the game-shows and sitcoms shortly after seven, when the name of the victim was finally released and live press-conferences with both District Attorney Clarice Fitzgerald and defense attorney Rodney Casterman were aired; by the time Danny's dinner-tray had been retrieved by yet another deputy/inmate duo (who instructed him to place his tray on the floor, with all of the plastic flatware showing, and return to his stool before they would open the door), he'd missed all the excitement.

His bowels moved shortly after dinner, almost two hours late; he had difficulty getting any action, though, sitting on the small, cold, seatless metal toilet, essentially in full view of passersby. And though Danny did his best to wash himself afterward, there was only so much he could do with the little sink and a few bits of toilet-paper that practically dissolved the minute it got wet. He felt sticky and dirty, and was reluctant to pull his undershorts back up for fear of staining them.

"How're ya doin', kiddo?" Deputy Lasciewicz was a welcome sight, filling up the doorway with his comfortable bulk while Danny tried to make himself decent without letting his clothes come into contact with his crotch, "You still want that shower?"

"You are a life-saver!" Danny enthused, grabbing his towel, washcloth, and festive little bucket of toiletries, "I need a shower in the absolute worst way."

"Did you see your lawyer on the news?" the deputy asked as he led Danny down the corridor to a large, clean, brightly-lit communal bathroom, which had a dozen shower stalls without doors all along one wall, "Looks like he's got a pretty good case for you."

"No, I missed it," Danny stripped down unselfconsciously and stepped into the stall while the deputy watched him with only faint interest, "I turned the TV off when dinner came. Early training dies hard, I guess; my nanny would've sooner killed us than let us watch television while we ate. It felt really strange, too, not changing my clothes before dinner."

"You had a nanny?" Lasciewicz asked, amused by this glimpse into an alien lifestyle.

"Until I was twelve, when I was expected to join the adults at dinner," Danny smiled fondly, remembering Mademoiselle Marnie, the brittle and strangely ethereal Frenchwoman who took care of him and his older brother for so long. She was obsessed with the occult and given to making enigmatic predictions of far-off doom when her charges misbehaved; she now operated a Tarot-and-palm-reading service out of the bungalow she'd earned as a loyal former member of the Vandervere household, "My people aren't very good with children, I don't think anyone in our family was ever raised by his own parents."

"That's so sad," the big deputy felt immediately sorry for the soapy, naked prisoner, seeing a lost little boy instead of a full-grown and well-built young man, wanting to hug and comfort him again; he thought of his own six-year-old son, of whom Danny reminded him with his big gleaming eyes and easy innocent smile... what a joy it was to play with him and eat with him and even occasionally have to discipline him. What kind of people would leave such a sweet boy to be raised by a stranger?

"I never thought so," Danny rinsed himself thoroughly and turned off the taps; he'd always considered Marnie a great blessing... she and Mrs. Padilla, the housekeeper, were the only people in the house who seemed to really love him, "My nanny raised me much better than my mother could have. Do I have to get back into the jumpsuit, Deputy? I feel so fresh, I can't bear to put these sticky old clothes on."

"No, I don't suppose you do," Lasciewicz laughed, giving in to his urges and playfully tousling the boy's wet hair, "You seem to be pretty used to running around in nothing but a towel."

Danny walked breezily into his cell without even so much as pausing at the door, and sprawled out on the bed to see if he could find out more about his case on the television; but it was only more teasers, which had become a little strident in tone, and now featured a small unflattering portrait labeled "Drayton Marshall III" inset into the footage of Danny's arrest, with the screaming banner beneath: Marshall Murdered, Vandervere Arrested.

Once he was dry, Danny used up every drop of moisturizer he'd been given to replace the oils stripped out of his skin by the strong soap, and spent a long time picking his curls apart to dry neatly without the benefit of conditioner or styling-products. He eventually put his t-shirt back on and got under the covers, disturbed by the people who lingered and openly stared at him, grooming himself on top of the bed in his damp towel, as they passed his windows; and after tiring of seeing himself on teaser after teaser, he eventually gave up on the television and retreated into his magazines until the early night-time news was scheduled.

"The Society Murder" was the first order of business on the ten-o'clock news, and the rest of the politics, robberies, and wars of the world would just have to wait. Danny was appalled by the wealth of details the reporters had dug up about him... and about Marshall, who turned out to be rather more important a personage than he had suspected.

According to the severe black-haired young woman behind the slick white desk, Drayton Holyfield Marshall III, a probate attorney loosely affiliated with a prestigious local law firm, was the only son of a former City Councilman of the same name, who was in turn the only son of a former Mayor of San Francisco, who was in his turn the only son of the railroad magnate who started off the whole Drayton Holyfield habit... though the first Marshall of note was another two generations back, a gold prospector who'd struck it rich in '49 on the rivers upstate.

Even more to Danny's surprise, Marshall was survived by a wife and a grown son, both residents of San Francisco, though Mrs. Marshall lived apart from her husband in the family's ancestral Pacific Heights mansion, and Drayton IV was currently making an extended stay in central Mexico to relax and restore his energies after graduating from Yale and before entering medical school at Johns Hopkins. The entire "human interest" report was illustrated with archival photographs and live location footage.

After revealing all this stultifyingly proper information, the young woman turned the report over to her male counterpart, a pretty freckled blond man with a sort of river-washed smoothness about him, who gravely described the crime itself: the nude victim stabbed to death with a single knife-wound to the heart, found by his cleaning-lady the next morning in what was inaccurately called an "S&M dungeon" built into his luxurious hillside apartment. It was not clear if the murder had been sexually motivated, but sexual activity had taken place shortly beforehand.

Having delivered this gruesome information without the slightest tremor of unseemly relish, the smooth blond turned things over to the Man on the Street, a broadly-mustachioed Hispanic man battling a noisy breeze on the floodlit front steps of the Hall of Justice. He described the excitement that started when Marcus Daniel Vandervere IV had been arrested that morning in the apartment of another (pointedly unnamed) resident of the same building in which Marshall had died; the District Attorney's Office had stalled talking to the press until the victim's widow could be notified, which had been delayed by the widow being out of town and difficult to reach.

"We are satisfied that the most likely suspect has been arrested," Clarice Fitzgerald orated elegantly on the tape made earlier in the day, when the sun was still out, on the same steps the reporter now occupied; with a creamy tomato-bisque silk blouse and a dainty string of heirloom pearls softening her sharp blue suit, she appeared both efficient and caring at once, "The body of evidence is compelling and thorough. We are pleased to have achieved so much movement so soon in a murder investigation, and I commend the efforts of the Homicide detectives and Forensics examiners in charge of this case, who have done so much in so very little time."

The young anchorwoman returned to the screen to illuminate Danny's background: starting with the New York Dutch merchant and factor Carolus van der Vere, who received a vast land-grant in the northeast regions of California when it achieved statehood; his son Charles Randolph Vandervere turned the heavily forested land from simple lumbering to the more involved and profitable production of pulp paper, founding the Royal Vandervere Mills, one of the oldest private industries still operating in the United States; she glossed over the next few generations, coming to rest on brothers Charles Randolph Vandervere V, the current president of Royal Vandervere Mills, and Taylor Whitman Vandervere III, mayor of the city of Vandervere and Danny's father.

Danny himself was finally described as a "lauded Stanford alumnus," "well-known patron of the arts," and, quite bafflingly, "assistant in a local interior design firm." And as with the report on the Marshall dynasty, Danny's life and ancestry was fully illustrated with photographs, from crumbling tintypes of old Carolus van der Vere to slick magazine snaps of Danny engaged in glamorous Social activities, as well as background shots of Vandervere's more scenic vistas of pretty parks and civic edifices.

The anchorwoman, having apparently exhausted her genealogical expertise, then lobbed the report back to the man-on-the-street, who introduced another segment recorded earlier on those same Hall of Justice steps, this time showing Rodney Casterman in a navy suit, white-collared blue cambric shirt, and a warm brick-red necktie of rough waffled silk.

"Mr. Vandervere is the unfortunate victim of extraordinary circumstances," the great attorney confided to the cameras and microphones that bristled around his face, as if chatting over a cup of coffee, "He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time; I am confident that continuing investigations, both by the San Francisco Police Department's excellent Homicide Detail and by my own team of private investigators, will reveal the actual perpetrator of this heinous crime."

The man-on-the-street reporter returned to rush in a few apparently inconsequential details — that Danny had been charged with murder in the second degree and was being held in the county jail pending a bail hearing that was scheduled for the following morning — before batting it back to the in-studio anchors, who promised to recap and add any breaking information to the story at the half-hour. Then they all thanked each other warmly and turned their attention to the governor's recent conference with various union leaders, and Danny turned off the television to ponder what he'd learned.

"Does anybody in this case have an original name?" he laughed out loud, thinking of the platoon of Thirds and Fourths that dominated the reports. He'd always been faintly embarrassed that the boys in his family were always named after someone else, and envied the relatively few girls who were born Vandereres (the gene-pool tended toward an X chromosome) and given more fashionable tags. The Marshall family seemed similarly afflicted with repetitious nomenclature.

Otherwise, Danny was fairly well pleased with the reports... there was nothing humiliating revealed about him, no unpleasant conclusions had been drawn, no sordid constructions placed on his activities. Aside from the brief description of the murder, and the comforting information that his bail hearing was to be held in the morning (he'd been afraid he might have to stay in the little cell all weekend), the whole thing had been a puff piece about old-money dynasties and local high society.

When the lights went off at eleven-thirty, Danny felt a sharp moment of panic in the sudden and profound darkness; but eventually his eyes adjusted and he made out the faint glow of running-lights in the corridors outside his cell, and was comforted by the occasional sight of Deputy Lasciewicz passing through on his rounds.

Feeling safe and private in the dark, Danny masturbated quickly to encourage sleep and to center his tired mind, peeling back layer after layer of the eventful day and gathering up the sexy images; he eventually reached all the way back to Valerien on the couch in the grand salon — had that only been fourteen hours ago? — and came into his wet washcloth. Grunting with pleasure, he turned over on his belly and was deeply asleep in moments, a contented little smile on his face.



Anonymous said...

Nice, Robert, "lyrical". Wonderful flow.

I'm sure the story of Kiki could have been good, but this fits and flows better. No interruption in narrative, even introducing another character in Charlie Putnam.

Oh yeah, more more, pant pant. ;-)


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