About the Author
Date of Birth:October 27, 1944
Place of Birth:Watertown, South Dakota
Education:B. A., University of Arizona, 1966; M. Ed. in Library Science, University of Arizona, 1970
Read an Excerpt
There are people who like change. There are even a few who thrive on it. That's not me. If it were, I wouldn't have reupholstered my ten-year-old recliner, and I wouldn't resole my shoes until they're half-a-size smaller than they were to begin with. When I move into a house or, as in the present case, into a high-rise condo, I'd better like the way I arrange the furniture the first time because that's the way it's going to stay until it's time to move someplace else. In fact, my aversion to change probably also accounts for my Porsche 928. George Washington's axe, with two new handles and a new head, probably doesn't have much to do with our first president. And my replacement Porsche doesn't have a lot of connection to Anne Corley, the lady who gave me the original. Still it's easier to hang on to the one I have now out of sentimental reasons than it is to admit that I just don't care to make the switch to a different car.
In other words, I'm a great believer in the status quo. It also explains why, on the Monday morning after Beverly Piedmont and I drove home from Lake Chelan, I came back to work expecting things at Seattle PD to be just the way they had been. And to begin with, there was no outward sign of change. Sue Danielson and I walked into our cubicle to discover a yellow Post-it note attached to the monitor of the desktop computer we share when we're in the office as opposed to the laptops we're supposed to use in the field.
"See me," the note said. "My office. Nine sharp."
There was no signature. On the fifth floor of the Public SafetyBuilding, no signature was necessary. Captain Lawrence Powell has never made any bones about hating electronics in general and computers in particular. His idea of surfing the net is to go around the Homicide Squad slapping Post-it notes on every computer in sight.
Sue sighed. "What have we done now?" she asked, glancing at her watch. At 8:02, there was no reason to hurry to Larry Powell's fishbowl of an office. If we were going to be chewed out for something, I'm of the opinion later is always better than earlier.
"Who knows?" I said. "But remember, whatever it was, I was out of town most of last week, so it can't be my fault."
"You'd be surprised," Sue returned.
Sitting down at the desk I removed the note and turned on the computer. In typical bureaucratic fashion, when the department finally decided to create a local-area network and go on-line, they bought computers from the lowest possible bidder. As a consequence, they take for damned ever to boot up. I tapped my fingers impatiently and stared at the cyberspace egg timer sitting interminably in the middle of an otherwise blank blue screen.
"Probably has something to do with that well-done smoker who set herself on fire last Tuesday," I suggested.
"Oh," Sue said. "That's right. I forgot. You missed it."
I didn't like the sound of that "Oh." My antenna went up. "Missed what?" I asked.
"Marian Rockwell's preliminary report."
Marian Rockwell is one of the Seattle Fire Department's crack arson investigators. "Agnes Ferman's death is no longer being considered accidental," Sue continued. "Marian found residue of an accelerant on Agnes Ferman's bedding."
Smokers die in their beds all the timein their beds or on their sofas. As far as I was concerned, arson seemed like a real stretch.
"What did she do, dump her lighter fluid while she was refilling her Zippo? Right. The next thing you're going to tell me is that Agnes Ferman is Elvis Presley's long-lost sister."
Sue scowled at me. "Don't pick a fight with me about it, Beau," she said. "I'm just telling you what Marian told me. You can believe it or not. It's no skin off my teeth either way. It's all there in the report I wrote up Friday morning."
Squabbling with my partner in the face of an imminent and possibly undeserved chewing out from the captain more or less took the blush off the morning. Up till then, it had seemed like a fairly decent Monday.
"So what else did you do while I was gone?" I asked.
"On Ferman? Not much. I counted and inventoried all the money and ..."
"Money? What money?"
"The three hundred some-odd thousand in cash we found hidden in a refrigerator in Agnes Ferman's garage. I had planned on starting the neighborhood canvass and talking to her next of kin, but counting that much cash takes time. Agnes has a sister who lives up around Marysville and a brother and sister-in-law in Everett. That's about all I know so far. I haven't had a chance to track any of them down. The same goes for neighbors. Marian interviewed some of themthe one who reported the firebut so far nobody's really canvassed the neighborhood."
Cash or no cash, homicides come with a built-in timetable. A murder that isn't solved within forty-eight hours tends to not be solved at all. As with any rule, there are exceptions, but the chances are, the longer a case remains unsolved after that deadline, the worse the odds are that it will ever be cleared. Next-of-kin and neighbor interviews are where investigations usually start. The fact that no interviews had taken place so far wasn't good. Furthermore, since my whole purpose in life is to see that killers don't get away with murder, I wasn't the least bit pleased by the seemingly unnecessary delay.
"Great," I fumed. "That's just great. Our case goes stale while all those concerned stand around twiddling their thumbs."
Sue shot me an icy glare. "I don't suppose you watched the news when you were east of the mountains."
Watching televisionparticularly television newsisn't my idea of a good time. I seldom watch TV on either side of the mountains. "As a matter of fact, I didn't. Should I have?" I asked irritably.
"For your information, all hell broke loose the minute you left town, including two drive-bys on Wednesday, a fatality vehicular accident under the convention center in the middle of Thursday-afternoon rush hour, and a homicide/suicide over in West Seattle on Friday morning. Add in a couple of assault cases and some role-playing ghouls in Seward Park and you can understand how poor old Agnes might have taken a backseat."
"Role-playing ghouls?" I asked. "What's that all about?"
"Funny you should ask," Sue told me. "That case happens to be ours, as well."
"The ghouls. About three o'clock Wednesday morning someone called to report a body in Seward Park. Supposedly the park is closed overnight, but it was hopping that night. When uniforms showed up, they found the place full of Generation X'ers dressed up like vampires and zombies and acting out some kind of role-playing game. Your basic Halloween in April. One of the guests freaked out when they stumbled on some non-make-believe human remains. He went home and called the cops. So since the Haz-Mat guys had the Ferman neighborhood shut down most of Wednesday, I got sent out to crawl around Seward Park looking for more bones instead of starting on the Ferman interviews."
By then I had finished calling up the file and was starting to scan it. The only words that penetrated my consciousness were vampire and Haz-Mat.
"Wait a minute," I said, turning away from the screen. "What does Halloween revisited have to do with the Hazardous Materials Unit?"
Sue nailed me with an exasperated glare. "Either listen or read," she told me. "Obviously you're incapable of doing both at once."
Sue Danielson is not short-tempered. Anything but. Between the two of us, I'm the one who's the grouser. But her tone of voice combined with a chilly stare warned me that I had blundered into risky territory.
"You talk; I'll listen," I said. "Let's start with Haz-Mat."
"I was about to head out to Bitter Lake on Wednesday morning to start interviewing neighbors when Marian Rockwell called and told me not to bother because she was in the process of evacuating the whole neighborhood. It seems she had just taken a peek inside Ferman's detached garage. According to her, it's a miracle the whole place didn't go up in a ball of flame during the fire on Tuesday morning. If it had, it might have taken half the neighborhood with it."
"What was in it, dynamite?"
"Not quite, but close enough. Old oxygen and acetylene tanks and welding equipment along with an old Plymouth van. One whole wall was stacked floor-to-ceiling with deteriorating cans of paint and paint thinner, all of which would have burned like crazy if the garage had happened to catch fire. It was such a mess that it took the Haz-Mat guys almost the whole day to clear the place out. There was an old refrigerator in there, too. Sitting in the back with its face to the wall. That's where they found the money.
"Like I said before, it turns out to be a little over three hundred thou," Sue told me. "Most of it in hundred-dollar bills. I had been sent to work the Seward Park case, but once they located the money, Marian wanted me to come take charge of it. Which is how we get to have both casesSeward Park and Agnes Ferman. One old and one new."
"So where do you suppose all this money came from? How much was it again?"
"Three hundred eleven thousand to be exact, plus change. Agnes must not have liked banks very much. As I said, it took most of Thursday to inventory it all and record the serial numbers. It's in hundreds mostly. Some of them have been circulated, but the majority haven't. The better part of a quarter of a million came straight from the U.S. Mint sometime after 1973 and before 1990. Since about 1993, incoming cash slowed to a trickle."
"You think that big chunk has been in the refrigerator the whole time?"
"Maybe not in the refrigerator, but the bills have definitely been out of circulation. A lot of them are still banded with consecutive serial numbers."
"And the earliest serial numbers date from the mid-seventies?"
Sue nodded. "Right. They're old bills, but they look brand new. Meanwhile, knowing there was that much money at stake, Marian Rockwell decided maybe it was premature to declare the fire accidental. And what do you know! As soon as she went looking for an accelerant, she found it."
"With Agnes Ferman dead, who does the money go to?" I asked.
"No idea. So far there's no sign of a will. My guess is we're not going to find one."
"Makes sense," I said. "If Agnes didn't like banks, she probably didn't like lawyers, either."
"Which means we need to talk to both the brother and sister," Sue said.
"ASAP," I agreed. "Now what about Seward Park? Any chance the Generation X'ers did the deed?"
"No," Sue said. "The bones look like they've been out in the elements for a long timelonger than most of those asshole kids have been on earth. All we've found so far are skeletal remains. A femur here and a tibia there. Not enough for even a partial autopsy, and no sign at all of cause of death. Over the weekend some Explorer Scouts were supposed to go over the whole area inch by inch. So far, though, I haven't heard what if anything more they found. It could be some long-dead guy whose bones washed up during last winter's floods, or it could be a previously undiscovered victim of the Green River Killer. Until someone in Doc Baker's office has a chance to tell us otherwise, however, we have orders to treat it as a possible homicide."
"In other words," I added, "it looks like we're back to business as usual with everyone working multiple cases."
"For the time being," Sue said.
For a while I had enjoyed the laid-back, eight-hour-a-day pace of chasing cold cases, but now the novelty had worn off. I was bored. "Good," I said. "It's about time."
While the printer was spitting out a hard copy of Sue's report, I continued to scan the screen. The date of birth listed on Agnes Ferman's driver's license was within one month of my mother's. Had I not spent so much time with my grandmother the previous week, that's a detail that I might have simply glossed over. As it was, however, it struck me as significant somehow. It made me want to know more about the dead woman. And her killer.
Dying of smoking in bed implies a certain amount of self-destruction, a kind of willfulness. It's the sort of death that doesn't evoke a lot of sympathy. Like dying of a drug overdose or booze. People pretty much shrug their shoulders and say "Who cares?"
On the other hand, dying in bed because of an arson-related fire makes the victim doubly victimized. After all, in the Saturday afternoon Westerns I used to watch at the old Baghdad Theater in Ballard, the Indians never attacked until after dawn. Staging a surprise attack in the middle of the night was definitely not okay. Not honorable. Killing a defenseless, sleeping victim wasn't considered fair play in those old movies, and it didn't seem fair in modern-day Seattle, eitherno matter how much money the old girl had hidden in her firetrap of a garage.
Lost in the report, I had gone through Marian Rockwell's Haz-Mat part of the story and was just getting to the inventory of Agnes Ferman's stash of money when Sue sliced through my concentration.
"Time to go," she said. "It's almost nine. You know what'll happen if we're late."
Larry Powell's all-glass office allows the captain to keep his finger on the pulse of his troops at all times. Meticulously clean glass makes for an unobstructed view of the status board behind Sergeant Watkins' desk. By reading that the captain can tell at all times which teams of detectives are assigned to which cases. The check-in board next to the status board lets him know who's in, who's out, and when they're expected back. Coming around Watty's cluttered desk, I was surprised to see the Fishbowl crammed wall-to-wall with peoplefellow members of the detective division who populate the fifth floor of the Public Safety Building.
"If this is going to be an ass chewing," I whispered in an aside to Sue, "it's a world-class, group-grope event. No one on the floor is exempt."
Sue shot me a stifling glance that effectively silenced me while we wormed our way into the crowd. Surprisingly enough, we weren't the last to arrive. As more people squeezed into too-little space we found ourselves mashed into the far corner of the office with our backs right up against the glass partition. About the time I figured no one else could possibly wedge himself into the room, someone else showed upDetective Paul Kramer.
Kramer has never been high on my list of favorite people. In January, he had broken his leg and had been off on medical leave for a while. When he came back from disability still on crutches, the brass took him off homicide and dragged him upstairs to work on some kind of special project for the chief. Until he shoehorned his way into Powell's office that morning, I hadn't seen the man in weeks and that's exactly how I like it. A little bit of Kramer goes a very long way.
"All right, folks," the captain said. "It looks like everybody's here, so let's get started. I'd like to keep this brief so all of you can get back to work as soon as possible. Most of you have met my wife, Marcia. Some of you may be aware that in the past few months she's been dealing with a series of health difficulties. At first we thought it was some kind of leg or back injury. It turns out, however, that it's a good deal more serious than that. Last Wednesday, we finally received confirmation of her preliminary diagnosis. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosisALS. Marcia has Lou Gehrig's disease."
There was an audible gasp from some of the people in the room, but Captain Powell plunged on without acknowledgment. "From what we've been able to learn so far, this is a neurological disease in which, over time, various limbs and organs lose their ability to function and become paralyzed. From diagnosis on there's a life expectancy of approximately three to seven years. Although there may be some treatments that can slow the progression of the disease, at this time there is no cure.
"Right now, Marcia's symptoms are little more than an inconvenience, but there's no telling how long that will last or how fast the disease will progress. Bearing that in mind and knowing that our time to do things together is severely limited, I'm pulling the pin. As of Friday, I have submitted my letter of resignation to Chief Rankin. This morning, he has accepted it, with regret, as of May fifteenth. With accumulated sick leave and vacation time, today is my last day on the job. That's probably just as well since I'm not very good at long goodbyes or short ones either, for that matter.
"I want you all to know that I'm very proud of you. You're a hell of a team, and I'm going to miss you each and every one." He paused long enough to glance around the room. There was no mistaking the moisture in his eyesor in anybody else's, either.
"So, that's how it is. You've given me your unqualified support, and I expect you to do the same for my successor, whoever that may be. Naturally, with so little advance warning, you can understand that there have been no firm decisions yet as to who will be occupying this desk."
I happened to glance at Paul Kramer just as Larry said that. The look on his face was an open book. I've seen the same unqualified yearning on little kids pressing their noses against the glass shields protecting containers of ice cream at Baskin Robbins.
Kramer? I thought. Captain Paul Kramer? Are you kidding? No frigging way!
"So, that's all then," Larry was saying. "The people in benefits have assured us that between my insurance and Marcia's we shouldn't have too many worries on that score. For now we're going to be busy doing some of the things we always expected to do in retirementstarting with a Caribbean cruise. We leave for Miami this Thursday afternoon. During the summer we expect to get in our motor home and do some traveling around the States. We're going to go as far and as fast as we can. When we can't go anymore, then we'll stop. So, wish us well." He paused again and then managed a shadow of a grin. "And don't let the door hit your butts on the way out."
People breathed again. Tension in the roomwhich had been almost palpablelet up a little. A few of the old-timers managed a chuckle at hearing the familiar phrase. Larry Powell never was a believer in long, drawn-out meetings. When it was over, it was over. That was the way he often ended his briefingsby pointing to the door and sending us on our way. This time, though, people didn't leave right away. We dribbled out one at a time, like mourners leaving a church after a funeral, with each man or woman pausing long enough to mumble a few words of comfort and encouragement and to shake Larry's hand.
Because of the way we had been crowded into the far corner of the room, Sue and I were among the last to leave.
"Sorry," she said. "I'm so sorry."
Larry nodded. "Thanks," he said. "I know."
With that, Sue left. Then it was just Captain Powell and I standing facing one another across the smooth surface of his desk. "I don't know what to say," I began.
The captain sighed. "You don't need to say anything, Beau," he said. "Of all the people in this room, you probably know more about what's coming down the road than anyone here, me included. You've lost two wives instead of one. How do you get through it? How did you?"
Anne Corley was a long time ago, but it was only a few months since my ex-wife, Karen, had died of cancer. I had a pretty good idea of how much Larry was hurting right at that moment, but I also knew what he was feeling now was nothing compared to what he'd feel before long. It would get worse, much, much worse, before it got better.
I reached out and shook his hand. "You do it one day at a time," I told him. "And you make the most of every minute you have."
"Thanks," he said. "We intend to."
On my way back to our cubicle, I noticed there was none of the usual banter drifting from the doors I passed. It was as if Larry Powell's unexpected farewell address had hit all of us where we lived. Knowing about Marcia Powell's illness reminded us, all too disturbingly, of our own mortality.
Being partners is a whole lot like being marriedwith none of the side benefits. When I stepped into the cubicle, Sue glanced at me over her shoulder and gave me "the look"one that was unmistakable to any man who's ever been married. Are you okay? it said. Do you want to talk about it?
Naturally the answer I should have given to both questions was No, I'm not okay and Yes, I need to talk about it. But I didn't. Instead, I walked over to the computer and switched it off. "Come on, Sue," I said. "Let's get the hell out of here."
"Where are we going?" Sue asked.
"We're going to do our jobs and try to figure out who the hell turned poor old Agnes Ferman into a shish kebab."