Sunday, June 26, 2005

Chapter Six (Complete)

"Come, now, Clarice," Rodney Casterman lounged across the wonderfully beat-up old leather couch in DA Fitzgerald's office, skimming over the medical examiner's initial report, "You can't honestly believe that idiot child could kill a man in cold blood, a single coolly efficient thrust through the heart, and then go off and make friends with a couple of strangers in an elevator, leaving behind twenty-seven pounds of incontrovertible evidence of his presence."

"Even idiots manage acts of genius occasionally," Fitzgerald responded with an eloquent shrug, "and vice versa."

"Yes, but these divergences of genius and idiocy don't add up to a convincing behavior. His story fits the evidence as much as yours does, but anyone clever enough to come up with such an elaborate story — a story that would unfold by reluctant degrees and perfectly match video evidence that he didn't know existed — while at the same time carrying on an Oscar-worthy performance of weeping real salt tears for over an hour... such a person would have also been clever enough to wipe an oily fingerprint off a knife before using it to commit murder."

"People do incredible and inconsistent things all the time, Roddy," the DA toyed with her leather-handled brass letter-opener while watching the defense attorney out of the corner of her eye.

She always enjoyed opposing him, he threw such challenging obstructions in her way but showed great respect for justice and the law; they had become friends over a number of cases when she was still an Assistant District Attorney, and though he'd never traded on the relationship when she was elected DA, her door was always open to him. She particularly admired the way he frivoled and posed like a useless fop in order to gull people into believing him a harmless eccentric... it was a ploy she wished she could find some way to adapt to her own use.

"I myself will frequently do something incredibly stupid," Fitzgerald went on, "like leave my housekeys in my front door or drive right through a red light, while plotting out a particularly clever strategy. I'm sure you've done it, too."

"I see your point," Casterman considered, tucking his hands behind his head, "I once was so distracted with a brief I was writing that I agreed to let my mother-in-law move in with us. Now I understand what you're getting at: you posit that my idiot Danny Boy was so disconcerted or distracted thinking about his crime that he simply neglected to clean up the mountain of damning evidence he left behind; but after a night spent dangerously in the same building as the murder, and then being arrested in a particularly ostentatious manner, he suddenly regained his criminal-mastermind cool and started calculating his way out of it?"

"It's possible, maybe even probable," the DA swiveled around to look out her window, "If killers didn't do stupid things, we'd never catch them, would we? And your 'idiot child' isn't as dumb as he is pretty, he graduated summa cum laude from Stanford and joined MENSA with a 150 IQ."

"Do tell! My, what busy little bees you've been," Casterman was impressed by so much detail in an investigation that had been open for only a few hours.

"He's also the best suspect we have, he rings the bell on each of the Big Three: Access, he was in that apartment; Opportunity, he left fingerprints and DNA on the knife, so he certainly held it, and definitely had sufficient strength to use it; and Motive, he was in an utter rage of hurt feelings and affronted dignity."

"But he's such a lamb! You can read people as well as I, and I know the child is innocent. Though I'm being paid very well to assume he's innocent, I have more than the required logical premise: I simply know he didn't and couldn't kill anyone. I knew it the minute I looked at him."

"What I know," Fitzgerald put down the letter-opener and swiveled her chair around to face Casterman, "is that he looks innocent. Too innocent by half, if you ask me: those big doe-eyes, that fresh-as-milk complexion, those cherubic curls, the lost-puppy look, the Little Lord Fauntleroy manners... they absolutely scream innocence. I don't trust anything that screams, and I certainly wouldn't let off a suspect for looking like an absolute angel any more than I would charge a suspect for looking like a murderous demon; looks are too deceiving, Roddy."

"While I find that things usually are exactly as they appear, people too, so long as you know what to look at. So, I suppose we shall have to agree to disagree, Clarice," Casterman swung around and planted his well-shod feet on the floor, "as per usual. So that leaves us with the basics: first, which of your minions will I be wrasslin' on this case; and second, can we set bail this afternoon?"

"I have to sound my ADAs to see who will be best to handle the trial, who wants the notoriety, who has the time. As for bail, the soonest we could manage is tomorrow morning," Fitzgerald consulted a memo on her desk, "at eleven-thirty. Messrs. de Seguemont and Willard-Wilkes have been on the horn all day, flexing their Social muscle to good effect: three judges have 'volunteered' to work this evening and Saturday to flush out the backlog. But your docket has to wait its turn, the detainees arrested before the popular Mr. Vandervere have rights, too. If we weren't having a particularly light weekend, your little lambkin might have been in limbo until Tuesday."

"It's not just my principals who want this expedited," Casterman got up and moved over to the sideboard where he'd left his briefcase, "You have your ambitions as well. Mustn't let the press get cold... you need to have a trial underway before people forget about the very eye-catching bit of beefcake that's going to hit news-stands tomorrow morning, and the airwaves this evening."

"The press does put an annoying amount of pressure on the case," the DA allowed, "and an annoying kind of pressure, too. I've had to make an emergency salon appointment this afternoon before the press-conference. Hair, nails, facial, and a professional makeup artist. You men are so lucky."

"Don't be fooled, my dear, I have to leave for an appointment myself. Haircut, manicure, and facial, maybe even a tan; and a professional color consultant is sending over some ties and shirts that 'scream innocence,' as you so beautifully put it," the defense attorney shuffled his papers and closed up his briefcase, "May I suggest a hot-oil treatment? It gives such a nice shine that looks lovely on television. And not a white blouse, Clarice, it looks so sterile. Something in a tomato bisque color will bring out the warm red glints in your hair."

"Duly noted, good buddy," Clarice got up and came around her desk to give her opponent a friendly hug, followed by a more professional handshake, "though the hot-oil treatment was already scheduled; and I didn't fall off the turnip truck yesterday, I know better than to wear white on television. When can we expect a motion to supress the video?"

"You read my mind, as always. I'll have it ready long before Discovery; all I have to do is construct a better argument than some prudish distaste for showing porn to a jury," Casterman paused in the door and struck his signature heroic pose, "This is going to be a grand fight, Clarice: there will be media attention, good publicity all around, and accolades will rain down on you and yours, even when you lose. And you will lose."

"I wouldn't waste too much time writing a victory speech yet, Roddy," the DA walked through the outer office with her friend, "We have a very good case, here. Especially with the video."

"I only wish poor little Danny didn't have to suffer through it," the defense attorney sighed, feeling slightly guilty for treating the issue with such levity when there was a sweet and silly boy's life at stake.

"Your 'poor little Danny' is hardly little, he's six-foot-two if he's an inch; and the experience will build some much-needed character," Fitzgerald held the office door for the departing attorney, "Besides, the Protective Custody Pod was just completely remodeled, very modern, fully in keeping with today's bleeding-heart philosophy of criminal detention. It's like a college dorm, but cleaner. We'll take good care of your pretty lambkin."

***

Danny learned two valuable lessons that afternoon: first, that pretending to not be afraid frequently results in actually not being afraid; and second, that even the most harrowing experiences can be turned into exciting adventures if only one assumes an attitude that the harrowing experience is an exciting adventure. Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals frequently feature songs extolling this clever expedient.

Whistling the happy tune of "I Whistle a Happy Tune" from The King and I, Danny breezed through the booking process with a convincing imitation of good humor, being cheerfully charming to everyone who handled him; consequently, the booking deputies (who, Danny was interested to learn, were county sherriffs rather than city police officers) were extraordinarily pleasant and kind to him in return, guiding him gently through the maze of rooms and hallways like a visiting dignitary.

In the bare and brightly-lit holding cell, which he had all to himself, he whiled away the time leafing through the battered telephone directory hanging under the free phone while trying to think of whom to call: he already had a lawyer, and couldn't arrange a bail-bond until bail had been set. He ended up calling the Burnett Gardens Spa to apologize for missing his mud-bath, seaweed-wrap, manicure, and pedicure appointments that afternoon, and learned that everyone at the spa knew all about it and had been gossiping about him all day... his arrest was already in constant rotation on the news-show teasers.

"You looked hot, though," the receptionist enthused, which pleased Danny more than he would have thought possible under the circumstances, "With your arms behind your back like that, your delts and abs just popped. And that black towel was way sexy."

With this compliment ringing in his ears, he continued smiling and whistling as he was led through the various cubicles in the big noisy department for identification, fingerprinting, DNA sampling, medical examination, and mugshot photography. His mugshot even showed him smiling with genuine laughter, and the deputy operating the camera joked about launching a career as a glamor-portraitist on the strength of it.

The deputy who relieved him of his street-clothes folded the sweater and pants very neatly and slid them carefully into their envelope, and placed his shoes sole-out to keep everything clean. The deputy in charge of doling out orange jumpsuits and canvas sneakers let Danny try on several things for the best fit, and even brought out his own personal sewing kit to whip-stitch some tucks into the waistline so the roomy extra-large would hang better.

Though Danny was dismayed to have to give up his lovely linen and cashmere for another tacky, bleach-smelly coverall, he found it was much less irksome with his own high-quality underclothes between it and his sensitive skin. The navy canvas deck-shoes were unexpectedly quite comfortable, though they clashed with the orange and looked terribly silly with his tan socks.

The deputy in charge of linens searched the piles for the softest bedding and towels, which were still appallingly rough and smelled dreadfully of age and bleach. The last stop yielded a rather festive little plastic bucket containing a bar of strong-smelling white soap, a small red can of shaving cream and a disposable razor, a "fresh-scent" deodorant stick, a bottle of conditioning dandruff shampoo, a flat-head toothbrush and miniature toothpaste, and the tiniest bottle of all-purpose moisturizer Danny had ever seen; Danny cooed delightedly over the strange items (he didn't even know how to shave) as if they were a VIP gift-basket, and the deputy in charge of toiletries slipped him two extra bottles of lotion on the sly.

Clutching these bundles in his arms, he bade a cheery farewell to the Intake department, allowed himself to be re-cuffed, and was led back through another maze of corridors and short elevator trips in the company of a certain Deputy Laskiewicz. The deputy was a bit taller than Danny and a good deal wider, big-boned and slope-shouldered, with dancing gray eyes and a happy demeanor, comfortingly gentle and yet extremely impressive in his black uniform bristling with badges and weapons... he made Danny think of the California brown bears that lived in his family's forests back home, lumbering and cuddly yet potentially ferocious.

Though Danny had no idea what the Protective Custody area was like before the renovation, he approved of the soothing blue-and-beige colors and soft-white lighting of the rooms and corridors through which he was led. Having envisioned something out of an old prison film, filthy and noisy with iron bars and cinderblock, open urinals and bare lightbulbs in little wire cages, he was pleasantly surprised by the more hospitable atmosphere of creamy plaster and gleaming linoleum, the traditional sliding cage walls replaced with wooden guide-rails and enameled doors and windows inset with reinforced glass.

Danny's composure cracked, however, when he was invited to step into the narrow cell; it was hardly bigger than his hall closet at home, less than six feet wide and about eight feet deep, with just enough room for the berth-like bed on the left, a small table with an attached stool to the right, and a strange stainless-steel fixture at the foot of the bed that combined the offices of toilet and sink. A television housed in a box of thick lucite was nestled near the ceiling above this fixture, facing the bed, and a square window above the table overlooked an outer hallway walled in frosted glass. Danny's breath rushed out of him as instantaneous panic took hold, and he stepped backward involuntarily, crashing into the deputy.

"Hey, hold on," Deputy Laskiewicz cautioned, grabbing onto Danny's arms to steady him.

"I can't," Danny gasped in terror, turning his head to look pleadingly at the deputy, "I can't!"

"Claustrophobic, huh?" Laskiewicz diagnosed the problem, "It's okay, all you have to do is get used to it. Sit down on the bed, take some deep breaths, and you'll be just fine."

"I can't!" Danny whimpered piteously as the tears started in his eyes.

The big deputy pushed Danny gently but firmly into the tiny room, holding him close from behind as he struggled instinctively to get away; with an admirable combination of force and patience, he pulled Danny down into a seated position on the narrow bed and held him as he dissolved into tears, stroking his hair and making the kinds of soothing noises one makes to an hysterical child.

And though Deputy Laskiewicz had a very kind heart, he was also aware that this might all be a clever ploy: he had Danny in a carefully coordinated lateral domination hold, careful not to hurt him but trapping the prisoner's cuffed wrists in his lap and holding his head tight to prevent him from biting.

Eventually Danny relaxed against the big man's chest and stopped struggling, but he couldn't stop weeping; all his fear and anger came surging out of the place where he'd squashed it down with happy songs and cavalier attitudes, rushing through his helpless body like a flash-flood. But even that ran out eventually, and Danny lay still and limp, snuffling and gulping down shallow, ragged breaths.

"I'm sorry," Danny stuttered out finally, "I'm acting like a big baby."

"That's okay, buddy," the deputy carefully let go of Danny while standing up, still holding the cuffed wrists in check until he was on his feet, "You can't help being claustrophobic. But the only way around phobias is to confront them."

"Thank you," Danny accepted the wad of toilet-tissue from the deputy and dabbed at his face with it, pulling his cheerful attitude back into place with his trademark dazzling smile, "You're being so kind to me, I really appreciate it."

"Are you hungry? Dinner isn't for another couple of hours, but I can take you over to the commissary before it closes. They sell chips and stuff like that."

"I don't have any money," Danny admitted while the deputy removed his handcuffs, "Everything I had was taken into evidence when I was arrested. My lawyer brought me the clothes I had on."

"Maybe he left you some money, too. Let's go find out."

As Deputy Laskiewicz led him by the elbow down the corridor and into a large common-room where the commissary window was located, Danny had to resist the urge to take the deputy's big square hand and hold onto him like a child. The experience of being held and comforted through his claustrophobic episode had been thoroughly infantilizing, but pleasantly so, and Danny was giddy with affection for the man.

"I won't be able to leave you out here," Laskiewicz explained as he stood with Danny in line for the commissary, "You're charged with a violent crime, so we have to treat you as potentially violent. You'll be escorted by a deputy wherever you need to go."

"I wasn't planning on going anywhere," Danny smiled, gazing curiously around him at the rather depressed-looking men of various ages who wrote letters, played board-games, and watched television in the clean and well-lighted space, "I guess I have everything I need in my room, except maybe a bathtub. Will I be able to take a shower later?"

"In the morning, usually," Laskiewicz was surprised by the speed at which Danny had bounced back from his hysteria, referring to his cell as a room and treating the whole thing as an adventure again; he was beginning to find the prisoner childishly endearing, and had to resist the urge to ruffle his hair and steal his nose, "But if I'm not too busy after dinner, I can take you tonight if you want."

Danny discovered on arriving at the commissary window that someone had indeed deposited money on account for him, an unnecessarily huge sum that he wouldn't be able to spend if he were there for a month. He bought a can of cola, an immense blueberry muffin wrapped in plastic, and a bag of corn-chips to tide him over; he also purchased some writing materials and extra toiletries and sundries that he didn't need, and offered to treat Deputy Laskiewicz to a candy-bar but was refused on account of regulations. He was also allowed to scoop up an armload of magazines from a table by the door to keep himself occupied.

"I have to lock you in now," Laskiewicz said with a note of sternness in his gentle voice as he watched Danny arranging his purchases and magazines on the little table, "If you really need something, this blue button on the intercom by the door will buzz the guard-station, okay?"

"Okay," Danny swiveled around on the little stool and looked up at the deputy, his eyes wide with fear but his mouth resolute with a small, brave smile, "Thank you again for your kindness, Deputy."

"Take it easy, kiddo," Laskiewicz smiled as he slid the door closed, watching Danny for a few seconds through the glass to make sure he didn't freak out again before turning and going off to resume his duties.

"This isn't so bad," Danny said aloud to himself in a slightly demented sing-song as soon as he was alone, "I'll just pretend I'm on a train. I'm 'on the train to Reno,' just like in The Women. This is my private compartment, so cute and compact, with everything I need en suite. And that's not a blank wall outside the window, it's just fog. And I'm not trapped in here, I simply have no desire to go out."

Unconvinced by this fiction and deeply uneasy in the tiny space, but well on his way to conquering the fear that still gripped his chest, Danny made up his bed and lay down to watch television, with an elderly issue of The New Yorker to read during commercials.

***

Detective Varajian sat back and sipped his wine, watching in appalled fascination as Detective Spevik shoveled chicken fettucine into his face with shocking efficiency; he wondered if the young man could actually taste the delicately seasoned pasta and meat as it traveled through his rhythmically chewing mouth, or if eating were merely a mechanical operation for getting the nutrients from the outside to the inside of his body with as little fuss as possible.

Varajian picked at his lasagne and looked at the well-dressed diners in the dimly candlelit and elegantly featureless restaurant, considering how to handle the topics he wished to discuss. The young detective had agreed only reluctantly to have dinner with him — he was more interested in avoiding his girlfriend at home and getting a free meal from an expensive Italian restaurant than in spending any more time with his senior partner — and Varajian didn't want to set off any of Spevik's unhelpful defensive habits.

"About this afternoon..." Varajian led off gently.

"Oh, boy, here we go," Spevik threw down his fork pettishly and rolled his eyes like a chastised teenager, "I knew you were going to lay into me."

"Nothing of the kind!" Varajian refused to get ruffled, and continued calmly, "I wanted to say how impressed I am with the speed and detail that you brought to the investigation today. You have amazing investigative skills."

"Thanks," the young detective acknowledged the praise grudgingly.

"You got more information in one hour than I, or anyone in the Division, could have compiled in a day. And while I think you'll be the first to admit that you need a little more discipline, and your interrogation methods could use some polish, I don't think these should present a problem to someone of your intelligence. I see a great deal of potential in you, the makings of a first-rate detective."

"I think that's what my Ma would call a 'left-handed compliment,'" Spevik smiled pleasantly, his sharp face melting for just a moment into attractiveness.

"I have a proposition to make," Varajian leaned forward onto the table confidentially, "But first, may I please offer you two pieces of advice?"

"Sure," Spevik agreed after a pause, his curiousity piqued enough by the mysterious proposition to outweigh his dislike of taking advice.

"Don't make enemies, Scott. You might get where you're going faster by stepping on people; but once you get there, all those enemies are under you, gnawing away at your foundations. When you fall, and you will fall eventually, they're first in line to kick you while you're down. You made a powerful enemy today with Griggs."

"That old gasbag," Spevik clicked his teeth, "It was great when Fitzgerald put him in his place today."

"Entertaining, yes; but that 'old gasbag' is one of the best forensic scientists in the country," Varajian sipped a little more wine, "He gets away with his peculiar kind of bullshit because he's the best. And just you watch, Fitzgerald's high-handedness this afternoon is going to cost her; any time she wants something from him in the future, she's going to have to wait. He won't attend conferences like the one we had today, he'll submit everything to her in the densest writing he can come up with, and he'll take every opportunity that presents itself to fuck up her pet cases."

"Isn't that unethical?"

"Oh, he won't do anything unethical. But I'll bet you a dollar he's down in his lab right this minute looking for ways to prove Vandervere innocent, just to piss her off. He's a genius, you know; he'll find some way of making her look bad, and she won't be able to do anything about it. DAs come and go, but Griggs has been cock-of-the-walk down in Forensics for fifteen years, and nobody can touch him. That makes him dangerous, bureaucratically speaking; and as such, he's worth placating."

"Okay, I'll watch whose toes I step on," Spevik appeared to accept the criticism with good grace, "I can spend some time next week sucking up to Griggs. A tin of my Ma's oatmeal cookies should do it. What's the second piece of advice?"

"When you're inventing a professional persona by watching television, model your behavior on the doctors, not the detectives," Varajian said in the most neutral tone he could muster.

"What are you talking about?" Spevik narrowed his eyes suspiciously.

"Your behavior in the interview room today, it was the old Good-Cop/Bad-Cop Scene, and you were playing Bad Cop. You were violent and antagonistic, exactly the way a detective on television would have been — and you got so wrapped up in the role that you let your emotions run away with you, effectively destroying the interrogation. You were, in fact, doing the very thing that makes Griggs so universally disliked, ruining your credibility by allowing TV writers to dictate your behavior."

"I don't do that," the young detective sounded hurt.

"Yes, I'm afraid you do," Varajian said sadly but firmly, "And in this one place more than any other, I know what I am talking about. You don't want to be explosive and confrontational with a suspect, it just sets his defenses up. You want, instead, to be suave, methodical, and confiding. In any interview or interrogation, you are extracting information out of people, the same as you extract information out of the computer; it's the same way a surgeon extracts tumors from a brain, or a psychiatrist extracts supressed memories from a molested child. It's about skill, and coaxing, and tact."

"I get you," Spevik chewed on this advice carefully, not entirely sure he liked it but at least not spitting it out, "Smooth operator."

"Exactly," he smiled his warmest, most avuncular smile.

"Okay, so I hear your advice. Now what's the proposition?"

"Do you want dessert? They make an amazing tira mi su here."

"No, thanks," Spevik patted the flat slab of his belly to indicate fulness, "I'm already gonna have to do forty minutes on the treadmill before I go to bed. I don't usually eat starch at night. Was that your proposition?"

"No, but I'm going to admit something I'd rather not, so I'm stalling," Varajian looked down at the table and shifted his flatware around bashfully, "The thing is, you were right about my attraction to Vandervere. Not that I would purposely screw up the investigation so that I could date him... that was really hurtful of you to say, Scott."

"Sorry," Spevik sounded as if he actually was sorry.

"Even if he was free, he's way out of my league. But my judgement was clouded by my attraction to him. So I've been trying to think this investigation through again, doing my best to keep him out of my mind's eye as I think. And it's difficult."

"I bet."

"I also think that your judgement might be clouded by Vandervere, too," Varajian said carefully, "The way you reacted to him leads me to believe that you harbor some resentments against him, or more likely his type."

"Maybe," Spevik allowed, knowing full well that he'd been laboring under a huge resentment against everyone he'd met on this case so far... though he wasn't consciously homophobic, he did casually despise fags as weak and inane, and this case was unusually populated by fags; and then, almost everyone involved in this case was also rich and/or great-looking, Easy Street all the way. Still, he didn't want to admit his prejudices out loud as Varajian had, "But even if I didn't dislike him, I'd still think he was guilty."

"Exactly, just as I can't convince myself of the kid's guilt. I just can't picture him stabbing someone in the heart with a kitchen knife; I don't think he'd have the stomach for it. And that brings me to my proposition," Varajian leaned forward again, his face schooled to display an earnest excitement, "I want you to convince me he did it, and I want you to allow me to convince you that he didn't. If we conduct this investigation as a debate, we might just get somewhere. Did you do Debate Squad in high school?"

"No, I played football," Spevik wasn't even sure his high-school had a Debate Squad; though he was sure that if it had, he would have been too cool for it.

"In the rules of debate, each side has a position, and you try to convince the other side of that position. It's pretty easy, you just keep coming up with counter-arguments until someone runs out and has to admit the other person is right. You and I have different positions on this case, so we just keep counter-arguing each of our points until one or the other of us is convinced... or better yet, until we get at the actual truth."

"So you want us to fight it out?" Spevik looked confused.

"No, not quite... we won't work in opposition to each other, we work together by testing our different theories through dialectic method. It's science, really. Good detective work is based on scientific inquiry."

"Sounds kind of fruity, but I don't see why not," Spevik shrugged, "Except that the case is already going to trial. Captain Morris won't want us wasting time working on a case that she'll consider practically closed, when there are other cases in the hopper sitting wide open."

"Morris, I can handle," Varajian said with a happy smile, "As long as you agree to work with me on this, and I with you, Morris can be made to see the wisdom of continuing the investigation."

"How?" Spevik was unconvinced.

Varajian paused before answering, wondering whether or not Spevik was trying to play him again... he had a clear vision of the sneaky bastard rushing into the office early on Monday morning to get at Morris first. But he had to start Spevik's education somewhere, and he wouldn't get there without first displaying a degree of trust.

"It's easy," Varajian reached for the bill as soon as the waiter laid it down on the edge of the table, "Three points: one, Rodney Casterman is representing the kid, and Casterman always puts his own people onto the investigation. He's going to have a PI working our case by Monday afternoon at the latest, digging up exculpatory evidence. And if we didn't find every possible piece of evidence first, we'll look like idiots; if you and I look like idiots, Morris looks like an idiot."

"So you're going to appeal to her ass-covering instincts."

"It's probably her strongest emotional urge," Varajian laughed conspiratorially, risking his relationship with the Captain in a gamble to win more of Spevik's trust, "Point two, de Seguemont is going to be on to Allenwhite and make sure the Bugle is focused on our investigation rather than on the kid... and where the Bugle goes, the Herald and Sun will follow. All those newspapers will ask: if a troop of professional police detectives and that multimillion-dollar crime lab we just built can't dig up better information than some gumshoe, why should the taxpayers support such expensive institutions in the first place?"

"Public relations angle, very smart," Spevik said admiringly.

"And tying the two together, for Three: if our evidence isn't water-tight, iron-clad, and endlessly thorough, Casterman will pick it apart in seconds; he'll do it in a courtroom full of news-cameras, and with humorous little catchphrases that the media will eat up and repeat on a continuous loop. That will make the whole Department look bad. We need to have so much evidence on Vandervere that, no matter what the outcome of the trial, nothing the Defense comes up with will reflect badly on the SFPD. And to do that, we're going to have to continue to conduct a model thorough investigation."

"Wow," Spevik said, entirely impressed with Varajian's reasoning... his mental image of his senior partner as an ineffective old fairy evaporated; he finally saw the intricate workings of the brilliant strategic mind that was able to create so seamless a battle-shield as the image of an ineffective old fairy.

"And if Morris hears any of these rationales before I meet with her at 10 a.m. on Monday," Varajian said pleasantly while signing the credit slip, as casually as if merely remarking on the weather, displaying the claws within the little cat feet, "Or if you ever try to embarrass me in front of a superior like you did today, I will peel your skin off in one-inch squares and roast your ass-meat for dinner."

***

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 brain-weary 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 his calipers and dry-erase markers, "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, Putnam 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 enjoy talking to musclebound gorillas," Griggs relented, "But you report only to me. 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 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, Charlie Putnam had been worshipping at the shrine of the Unattainable, and the thick-necked gods of brutal contact sports, wrestling and football in particular, drew him like a moth to the flame.

"Before you go," Griggs continued, shuffling the sheets of plastic 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 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 I've pretty well mapped 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 find 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 soles 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!"

"Exactly."

"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; 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 down somewhat and changed his mind, leaving the knife behind somewhere, perhaps in the hall; then his second interview with the victim made him even angrier, changed his mind again, and simply retrieved the knife without having to go back to the kitchen. 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-affiliates would flash a picture of him during every commercial break, and he 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 sinuously 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 chocolate 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 (it was not a Royal Vandervere product). Though he was clean enough, he felt sticky and dirty, and was irrationally 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 table," 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 have to," 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 with a pencil and arranging them to dry neatly without the benefit of proper 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 a Vanity Fair Hollywood Issue from three years back, reading until the early night-time news came on.

"The Society Murder," as everyone now called it, was the first order of business on the ten-o'clock news; the rest of the politics, crimes, 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 woman behind the slick white desk, Drayton Holyfield Marshall III, a probate attorney associated 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 hilltop apartment. It was not clear if the murder had been sexually motivated, but sexual activity had taken place shortly beforehand.

Having delivered this 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 firestorm of press curiosity and excitement that was sparked off when Marcus Daniel Vandervere IV was 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 gracefully on the tape made earlier in the day, when the sun was still out, on those same steps the man-on-the-street 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 icily efficient and warmly 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 severe anchorwoman returned to the screen to illuminate Danny's background: starting with the New York Dutch merchant and political supporter Carolus van der Vere, who received from a grateful Government a vast land-grant in the northeast regions of California upon its entry into the Union; his son Charles Randolph Vandervere turned the heavily forested land from simple lumberage 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 twin 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 moving landscapes 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 the screen and crammed in a few further 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 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 were 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.
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9,755 Words ~ 18 Pages