Morning in the City
Lucy woke up and blinked. Mornings in a city were always bad. She felt tired, not rested. San Francisco had its own mood, its own rhythms, and she wasn’t used to them. She’d been having some kind of stuck-in-traffic dream; she hated those. But before that one, she knew, she’d been having the dream she shared with Rose, and she hated that one even more.
She got up, yawned, and stretched, shaking the fog out of her head. The deep beige carpet brushed the bottoms of her feet as she walked over to the window. The curtains were thick and heavy, a layer of velvet and a layer of muslin. She threw them open and looked out.
The hotel had a great view of Fisherman’s Wharf, but Lucy’s astonished eyes went straight past it. The fog was moving in through the Golden Gate Bridge, like a huge white train made of clouds, rolling in a silent, stately procession across the bay. It was brilliantly lit by the newly risen sun, and it was breathtakingly beautiful. Lucy stood for several minutes and stared, at first stunned by the sudden vision, and then just enjoying it. There had been no hint of this kind of breathtaking beauty in the buzz and mutter of the city; the people who lived here didn’t see it anymore. It was like a secret, something that the ancient sea was showing to Lucy alone.
Strange, she thought, how something can go on in front of everybody and how nobody ever sees it. Then she shook her head. Like her daughter, she thought. Like the whole world her daughter lived in.
There were boats already coming and going at the Wharf, but the foot traffic that had had the place buzzing the previous night hadn’t started up again. Seagulls were squawking and sea lions barking down there, and delivery trucks were going in and out to all the businesses, but the place hadn’t really come to life yet.
Turning reluctantly away from the vision at the window, Lucy pulled on a pair of panties and shrugged into a bra, then sat down in an elegant, velvet-covered chair and switched on the morning news. That was a mistake.
“… Flanagan, the lead investigator in the bizarre murder of Laura Houang, has apparently disappeared,” the announcer was saying. The picture that flashed on the monitor over the announcer’s shoulder was a skinned girl, an impossible, nightmare vision that sent chills down Lucy’s spine. And with horror, she realized that Flanagan was the name of the detective Rose had been talking to. Lucy sat silent and still as the story with its grisly video played out on the television. Another story came on later, and another, and another, and some commercials, but they didn’t matter. Her breathing had become shallow and rapid. Her eyes were unfocused. Later, some small part of herself knew, she would be sick. She didn’t want to know this, she didn’t want to have seen it, she didn’t want to think about what it meant…
Outside, the beautiful train of fog continued to roll in through the Golden Gate. But now Lucy didn’t see it anymore. Now the ancient sea was sharing the secret of its beauty with someone else.
At the door of Lucy’s hotel room, a strong hand knocked. On the pinky finger of that hand, there was an iron ring. And under a cheap glass stone on the ring, there was an old picture of Lucy, taken many years ago.
“Room Service,” said a familiar voice.
Mitch swung off the bus on the corner of California and Castro and looked around for a pay phone. Quickly, he cast his eyes around him to see if he could spot anybody watching him. Nerves, he thought.
He walked over to the telephone booth and picked up the receiver. A dial tone reassured him that it was working, so he stuck a quarter into the slot and dialed Mike’s number.
Mike answered on the third ring. “What,” he said.
“Mike,” Mitch said. “How are you doing this morning?”
“I’m okay,” said Mike. “Why did you call?”
“Mike, get the hell out of there,” Mitch said. “Everything’s gone to hell and the killer knows where you live.”
“Uh huh,” said Mike. “Think about this, Mitch. Where the hell am I going to go?”
“I don’t know,” said Mitch. “I just know you’re not safe there.”
“Maybe it’s time to take a little trip,” said Mike. “Maybe it’s time to do something different.”
“Yeah, if you can, that would be the right thing,” said Mitch. “Don’t delay – he may have your phone tapped.”
Mike didn’t say goodbye. He just hung up. Mitch stood listening to the phone line for another few seconds, but he didn’t hear another click.
He’d done what he could for Mike, he thought, hanging up the phone. Who else should he call? He should call the bookstore where Rose worked. But before he did, he should have a way that Morey could call him back.
He stepped away from the phone, crossing the street to one of those little cell phone places that had sprung up in the last couple of years. Sure enough, they had phones available with a prepaid plan. Mitch pulled out his wallet and bought four of them for cash. That was just about all the cash he had.
Stepping back to the telephone booth, he picked up the phone and flipped open his address book to find the number of Morey’s Bookstore.
The phone rang four times. Then the answering machine picked up. “Jim Morey’s bookstore, this is the answering machine speaking,” said Mister Morey’s voice. “We open at nine AM, we’re at twenty-third and Valencia, if your special order is in we’d have called you or …” There was a sharp click as Morey picked up. “Hi,” he said. “Morey’s bookstore, this is Jim Morey speaking.”
“Hi, Jim, this is Detective Flanagan,” he said. “Look, there’s some trouble happening and Rose won’t be able to come in for a little while.” A tall man with a briefcase came up behind Mitch, looking at his watch impatiently. Mitch looked him up and down, but he didn’t give any signs of aggression or recognition, so he was probably just random.
There was a pause before Jim responded. “What kind of trouble?” he said. “I mean, there’s already been people in here asking for Rose this morning, but what’s going on? Is Rose okay?”
“Wait,” said Mitch. “Who exactly was in there asking for Rose?”
“Well, there was this Agent Dover from the FBI, who wanted to know if she’d been here in the last couple of days, and he was no sooner gone than Rose’s mother Lucy came in. I mean, I couldn’t tell either of them shit about where Rose has gone. Mitch. Honestly — is Rose okay?”
The guy with the briefcase waved at Mitch, and pointed at his watch. Mitch decided the guy was being rude and that it would be best to ignore him. “So far, so good,” said Mitch. “At least, she was okay this morning. Look, about where she is, the fewer people know the better. But if someone else comes in looking for her, or if one of those two comes in again, call me back, okay? I’ve got a new number….” Mitch fumbled for a moment with the envelope he’d stuffed the sales slips and owner’s manuals and service plans into, then he read off one of the numbers to Jim.
“You know Rose is just an employee here,” said Jim, “but I really do care about her, Mitch. Make sure she stays safe, okay?”
“I’ll try,” said Mitch. Jesus, he thought. What could you say to something like that, in the circumstances? “But, when people come in looking for Rose, you watch yourself, okay? I can’t tell which is who, but one of them might be very dangerous. You understand?”
“You want me to do anything?” Jim asked.
“No. Just call me afterward,” Mitch said. “Look, I gotta go, now.”
“Bye then,” said Jim, after another long pause.
There was another bus coming already. Mitch hung up the phone and jogged over to the bus stop. Behind him, the guy with the briefcase picked up the phone and dialed.
Mitch had a bad feeling about it. He’d just called two numbers the killer could know about, back to back, and if the guy had access to the police department’s resources…. He paid his fare and got on the bus, looking apprehensively back at the pay phone he’d just used.
He never saw the shooter. There was a sound like the bus had maybe backfired, but from where Mitch was there was no telling what direction it had come from.
The briefcase guy just fell over, as though he’d gone to sleep suddenly. Mitch’s eyes couldn’t find a bullet hole, but the bus was bouncing and lurching and pulling away, and the crowd was in the way. His eyes scanned the people in the direction the guy had been facing, but there was no sign of a shooter. Nobody had a gun.
His muscles tied themselves in knots and his teeth ground as he rode the bus; he should do something, he had to do something, there was a guy dead back there…. but he couldn’t do anything, because he was the one the shooter wanted to kill.
Somebody who didn’t even know what he looked like had tried to kill him, he thought. On five minutes notice, tops, somebody had set up an unobserved firing spot for a shot on a phone booth and taken somebody out. They couldn’t have seen him, he thought desperately. If they’d seen him they wouldn’t have shot the other guy.
He sat down, his hands suddenly shaking. Across the aisle from him, a kid with a huge boom-box cranked up some awful, thumping rap music and favored him with a defiant, challenging sneer. Mitch didn’t even look at him. A street sweeper was kneeling to find out why the guy had gone down when the bus heaved over the crest of the hill and Mitch couldn’t see anymore.
Strange, he thought, how something can go on in front of everybody and how nobody ever sees it.
When Mitch got back to Sonia’s apartment, he swept in at the door, closed it, and then just stood there shaking for a minute.
Rose stared at him with big round eyes and said “Oh, no.”
Wolf gestured at Sonia’s lumpy chair, waited until Mitch sat down, and then spread his hands, waiting for Mitch to talk.
“I called Mike. I called the bookstore. Somebody took a shot at me,” Mitch said.
“See the shooter?” Wolf inquired.
“No,” Mitch said. “He nailed the guy who used the phone after me, down on Cali and Castro.”
“Killed the guy?” Wolf said.
Rose and Mitch just nodded. “I wasn’t close enough to know for sure, but I think so,” said Mitch.
“Dammit. Another life wasted on this bastard,” Wolf said.
“Turn on the news,” Mitch said. “We may hear something about it.”
They tried six different TV sets, but all of them were broken. Finally, they located a portable TV on a high bookshelf that worked when they plugged it in. Sonia didn’t have cable, apparently, but when they waggled its telescoping antenna around, they picked up a local newscast. It was going on about the war in Iraq, so they let it drone in the background.
“Oh,” said Mitch. “There’s more. Jim Morey said there were two people in the store this morning looking for you, Rose.”
Rose interrupted him, in a shocked voice. “My mother is in town?”
Mitch skipped a beat, then nodded. “Yeah,” he said. She’d jumped ahead of him again. He was never going to get used to that. “And an FBI Special Agent Dover,” he added, as an aside to Wolf.
Wolf frowned. “You guys call in the FBI on this case?” he said.
Mitch nodded. “Technically, they’re supposed to deal with interstate investigations, but they have a support unit for investigations of serial killers. There was a profiler who was going to arrive…” He trailed off, then resumed, speaking slowly. “who arrived and talked to David, right before David freaked out. I was supposed to talk to him yesterday or today.”
“Is this Dover the profiler?” Wolf asked.
“Could be,” Mitch replied. “But it’s not the way the FBI support unit works to actually get down in the field and interview witnesses; they do profiles and research for the cops on the case.”
Wolf looked up, slowly. “Think he’s phony?” He asked. The question hung in the air for a few seconds.
“Could be,” Mitch replied, nodding.
“Guys,” Rose said. “Look at this.” She was pointing at the TV.
“…man was shot this morning at the intersection of Castro and California streets,” the announcer was saying, “and has been admitted to the VA hospital. He is now in stable condition…” There was a picture on the screen of the guy who had used the phone after Mitch.
“Thank God,” Mitch breathed. Wolf and Rose nodded soberly, in unconscious unison.
“… police are interviewing witnesses now,” The announcer continued.
“Okay, so where does that leave us?” Rose asked, as the announcer moved on to a story about potholes.
Mitch sat down at the kitchen table, pulled his address book out of his pocket, and picked up the phone. “I think it’s time to call the FBI and ask about Special Agent Dover,” he said.
It took him ten minutes to get to Special Agent MacLaren, whom he’d been corresponding with about the case before David had freaked out.
“Mitch?” came the other’s voice.
“Yeah,” said Mitch. “I need to ask you about Special Agent Dover,” he continued.
“Who?” MacLaren asked.
“Dover? FBI profiler, you sent him out here on this bizarre serial-murder case we got going?”
“I didn’t send anybody,” MacLaren said. “Just a minute…” and Mitch heard his keyboard clacking at his desk. Finally Agent MacLaren cleared his throat and spoke slowly. “There is no FBI profiler named Dover.”
“We got somebody out here claiming to be a Special Agent Dover,” Mitch said. “I thought you were sending us a profiler.”
“I didn’t send a profiler,” MacLaren repeated. “You got the best criminal profiler in the business right there at San Francisco State. Hell, the guy trained most of us. I told you to talk to Doctor Abelard,”
“I never heard of him,” Mitch said.
“Wait, didn’t you get my email?” MacLaren’s voice was concerned.
“I haven’t been able to check email in a couple days,” Mitch said. “I got kind of a situation on the ground here right now.”
“I sent that note almost a week ago,” MacLaren replied.
Mitch was silent for a few seconds. “Are you absolutely sure about that?” he said.
“Just a minute…” He heard MacLaren typing again. “Yeah, here it is in my email log. Sent it last Friday.”
“Okay,” said Mitch, “That doesn’t make any damn sense. I mean, it could be the one in a thousand emails that just flat disappears, but I don’t think I believe this is a coincidence.”
“I got a return receipt for it, Mitch.” Said MacLaren. “It arrived at the SFPD mail server and it was decrypted and I got a receipt back that proves it.”
“Okay, this is bad,” Mitch said. “If that arrived at the station but I never got it, it means somebody was tampering with mail at the station days before this guy arrived. We got a situation on the ground here where I think the local police are compromised somehow, but I thought it had all happened in the last couple of days.”
“Mitch,” Maclaren said slowly, “If you got somebody impersonating an FBI special agent, and you think somebody on the SFPD may have arranged it so he could, then I think the FBI is going to take an interest in this one. You got a number where I can call you?”
Mitch considered for a moment, then gave him one of the cell phone numbers.
This is one chapter of The Hook, a novel which is being published serially on this site. This page links to all chapters so far serialized.
The complete novel is available from Amazon.