A Distant Drumming
Early the following morning, hours before Salem Dade would begin his begrudging ministry on the street, Homicide Chief Randall Walker called Jake Cosgrove directly at his home in Anaheim and ordered he and his squad to begin interviewing members of Adam Leeds church. It was the second special assignment to interrupt squad one’s busy schedule. Sid Barnes, who knew the churchmen personally, had also risen early to check in with his newfound friend. Several members of Our Lord and Savior’s Independent Christian Church, including himself, Sid explained to Randall, had considered the Reverend Leeds to be a heretic and, as a result of his new age preaching, left the church. Sid, who had first hand experience with the maverick minister, and his born-again cohort Randall Walker, had made this a personal crusade. Both men, through prayer, consultation, and personal scrutiny, would not give up, no matter what CSI or the fire department investigators concluded about the case. Unable to reach Captain Walt Franklin at home this hour, Walker had used this excuse to expedite the investigation, himself. The Adam Leeds case would, he told Jake Cosgrove, have top priority for squad one this week. If need be, the chief boasted to Sid, he’d investigate it himself.
To justify utilizing squad one to Captain Franklin and Lieutenant Howard, the chief used the flimsiest of arguments. Although material evidence didn’t exist, Randall, in the official memo faxed to Franklin and Howard’s offices, agreed with Deputy Fire Chief Sid Barnes that Reverend Adam Leeds and his wife’s disappearance deserved an official investigation. Arson, they concurred, couldn’t be completely ruled out. The homicide captain’s eyebrows had risen at the urgency implied for such a routine case. Lieutenant Howard was greatly irked that he would be short handed today. But neither leader would offer resistance. There were, they understood, several prominent citizens on Randall’s list, and the missing minister was, after all, Walker reminded them, a man of the cloth.
Both Barnes and Walker, in secret alliance, in what was half-seriously called the Brotherhood of the Fish, had made this investigation into a greater cause. The groundwork for a secret organization that would grow exponentially among public and corporate leaders had already been laid. After the inspection made at the scene by Harry Waters, Sid was waiting for test results of ash samples from the crime lab. For his part, Randall waited for CSI to find human traces in the ashes left by the fire. It occurred to them, though there was no proof of arson or murder, that an agent, as yet undetectable by modern science, had destroyed all evidence in the strange fire. Secretly, because of their belief in the End Times, both Barnes and Walker suspected who that agent might be.
Homicide’s list of persons to be questioned included all members of Adam Leed’s church, as well as the Leeds’ neighbors and friends. Persons hostile to Reverend Leeds’ wife, especially those who reportedly stormed out of the church, would be at the top of the list. Although Jake Cosgrove, whose team had been assigned the case, normally reported to Lieutenant Howard, he had been ordered now by Randall, himself, to keep the homicide chief in the information loop. Randall would, in turn, give Sid Barnes a progress report at the end of each day. In this way, in “spiritual ignorance,” Jake Cosgrove, his partner Sam, and the detectives of homicide squad one now worked for the Brotherhood of the Fish.
During the hour, Jake began calling his detectives to find out what they had heard from members of Reverend Leeds’ church. With Sam behind the wheel, he held the receiver up to his mouth, making his first call in a deadpan, uninspired voice. Normally, their state-of-the art radio system worked well enough, unless there was electrical interference or they were out of range. There should, in fact, be no interference in this sector of town, and they were only a few miles from the scene of the crime, and yet the vehicle’s radio crackled and sputtered as if there was a loose wire or sudden, inexplicable static. Jake tried adjusting the dials and even fiddled with the frequency for a moment, which just seemed to make the reception worse.
“This is a new radio,” he grumbled under his breath. “What could be wrong?”
“Try a different number.” Sam suggested. “Maybe it’s the two-way.
“Nah,” snorted Jake, bending down and cupping his ear. “That’s coming from our unit.”
Unwilling to give up yet, the sergeant tried clearing up the problem again. He moved dials back and forth, turned the unit on and off, and then gave the speaker a gentle thump. The static returning, however, grew unbearable, grating on Jake and his partner Sam Ruiz’s nerves.
“Sarge…Colin Wood…here,” a crackling voice sounded eerily from the radio.
“It sounds like its coming from deep space,” observed Sam wryly.
“Colin,” Jake drawled irritably, “what did Eugene and Millicent Waterford have to say?”
For a few seconds, all they heard were a series of crackles and squawks. After banging the front of the unit with his fist, as if that might help, he was able pick up portions of Colin’s reply: “I…squawk…Waterford…squawk… wife…squawk…jack!”
“This isn’t working,” Sam muttered irritably, “there’s something wrong with the radio. Something’s loose or disconnected in it. Maybe they just installed it wrong.”
Adjusting the volume control again then tapping on various sectors of the set, Jake refused to give up. Though the reception was poor, he was able to interpret, based upon a favorite expression from Colin, the last portion of his message as “They don’t know jack!”
“Colin, can you be a little more specific,” he sighed, with the volume turned up full blast.
“Use your regular cell phone,” Sam said from the corner of his mouth.
“This is ridiculous!” Jake grabbed his forehead. “Our radio’s brand new. It was working fine this morning!” Giving it one more solid thump in order to improve the reception, he was able to hear Colin say “She said…Squa-a-a-wk!…battleaxe…Squa-a-awk…”
Jake was certain Colin had called Waterford’ wife an old battleaxe. Those two key words, ‘jack’ and ‘battleaxe’ meant that Colin didn’t have much luck. Any more information than this would require using his cell phone, as Sam suggested. Suddenly, as traffic began to slow, they could hear only static on the set: a continuous onslaught of crackling, sputtering, whistling, clicking, and nerve shattering squawks. Exhaling in resignation, Jake snapped off the set, pulled out his cell phone, and dialed Colin Woodward’s number. A scowl was etched on his rugged face, as he listened to Colin’s report.
Though Sam couldn’t hear him this time, it was obvious the detective had little luck with the Waterfords.
“Yeah… Oh yeah, no shit, Colin.” He rolled his eyes around in disbelief. “Well, I think Waterford knows more than what he’s telling you. According to Higgins, he and the misses left in quite a stir. That misses of his sounds like she hated the reverend’s wife.”
The one-sided sound of Jake’s gravelly voice was a welcome relief to Sam. As Colin Woodward complained in Jack’s ear of the Waterford’s intransigence, his partner Rusty Greer held up a hastily written note: Tell Jake about the wind!
“Oh yeah, thanks Rusty,” Colin sighed into the phone, “those folks got blown around inside the church by some kind of poltergeist. The misses told us that when we were leaving.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Jake looked at Sam. “Now there’s a poltergeist in the plot. Higgins left that detail out and so did Philip Lindley. I don’t blame them.” “Stay on this Colin,” he said to Woodward before disconnecting. “Go to the next one on your list. Keep Rusty on a short lease. I don’t want anymore complaints.”
Rusty, Jake recalled Sarah Mendoza telling him, had quarreled with Felicity Brown, the Leeds’ next store neighbor, over her theory about the fire. Felicity, who believed that the End Times were approaching, thought that the fire a sign from God. As proof, she argued with Rusty, was the behavior of the flames, a characterization that brought on the rookie’s immediate scorn. It seemed unconscionable to him that she saw this tragedy as divine wrath. Jake would have been surprised to know that his superior, Randall Walker, believed the very same thing.
“This case is a joke,” snarled Sam, watching Jake write something on his pad.
That kid better learn to control his temper, the sergeant made a note for himself. Last night was the third time Sarah complained about Rusty Greer.
As Jake called Sarah and Benny, the second team in the field, Sam searched impatiently for the turnoff ahead. Sergeant Cosgrove had saved James Royce, the potentially most difficult of the elders (according to Dwight Higgins) for themselves. It was not easy questioning those elders who had, in fits of rage, stormed out of Reverend Leeds’ church. Virtually all of them knew that they were suspects in this case.
Sarah Mendoza, Jake’s most seasoned detective, and her partner Benny Rawls, however, had done much better than Colin Woodward and Rusty Greer. Although William Breckenridge and his wife claimed to have no animosity toward Salem, himself, both of them gave a scathing critique to team two of Cora Leeds.
“Oh, that woman is a class-A bitch,” Sarah chatted into her phone. “She needs exorcism. According to misses Breckenridge, she’s a first rate drunk.”
“Tell’em about the barf,” Benny, who was behind the wheel, tapped her knee.
“Oh yeah,” Sarah made a face, “the last time she was in the reverend’s church, she upchucked into the pews. A real mess. The rev’ said it was ‘cause she had the flu, but the Breckenridge’s claim she smelled like booze.”
Benny, who took copious notes, handed her his notepad now, and Sarah read verbatim what Benny highlighted with a marker, in a deadpan voice:
“Suspects claimed the Reverend’s wife has not attended church for over six months, and that his sermons suffered for her behavior. Her absence, though welcomed by the congregation, affected his general attitude. The Reverend turned progressively toward new age thinking and Norman Vincent Peale’s philosophy in order, perhaps (according to Mr. Breckenridge) to give meaning his own life.”
“You copy that Sarge?” she asked with a gasp
“You didn’t write that,” Jake seemed amused.
“No,” she replied quickly, “Benny, our resident Injun did.”
“Who’s next on your list?” Jake searched his own notes.
“The Lindley’s,” she yawned. “This case is a real sleeper, Sarge.”
“Okay. We’re doing Royce and Billingsley,” Jake looked up from his notebook. “What did you hear about the freak wind?”
“Oh yeah,” her eyes popped wide. “The misses said the air conditioner was acting strange.”
“That’s an understatement,” frowned Sam. “I think we should check that out.”
Jake made a note of it on his pad. He would not admit it but he felt a peculiar excitement now, he dare not put into words. Instead he drew a little ghost in the margin. After signing off abruptly, he quickly checked in with the evidence technicians Tim Blodgett and Nick Sandoval, who were at the library doing research on local news.
Compared to the others, Tim’s response was snappy: “Detective Blodgett, LAPD!” He chimed.
“Hey, Blodgett,” grunted Jake, “got anything on Leeds?”
“Nothing, Sarge,” replied Tim pertly, “except a back page byline about him replacing Hugh Thomas at his church.”
“That’s it?” Grumbled Jake. “You’ve been there all morning, and that’s all you found?”
“Well, not exactly,” Tim seemed to equivocate. “We started sniffing a different trail.”
“Smells like shit, Sarge!” Nick shouted in the background.
“What’s he talking about Tim?” Jake poised his pen over his pad. Inexplicably he had drawn an impish devil’s head this time on the sheet. Unwittingly, the sergeant had given himself another clue to the case.
“It’s a mixed bag,” Tim’s voice droned. “We found out that members of the congregation have been quitting the church in droves. Many of them disagree with his sermons. Others, however, approved of his new approach. We began checking the backgrounds out of all of the members we could identify…. It seems that one of the elders was accused of child molestation with his daughter but the charge didn’t stick.”
“Who?” Jake, his eyelids drooping, came alive.
“James Breckenridge,” Tim chimed, “one of the elders of the church.”
“Give me the details,” clipped Jake.
His adolescent voice charged with excitement, Blodgett read the police report as if he had just found an important clue:
“After responding to a call by a neighbor, who claimed to have witnessed the event in Breckenridge’s backyard, the family presented a united front and denied the charge—”
“That’s enough Blodgett,” Jake snapped brusquely into the phone, “I can read it the police report too. That’s your big scoop?”
“No, uh-uh, we have lots of stuff,” Tim frowned into the phone.
“Alright, Blodgett, what else you got?” He prodded the young detective.
“We’re checking out all the other suspects too,” Nick’s voice came into the phone this time. “Man, Sarge, you wouldn’t believe how much money ol’ Waterford has: he owns half the condos in town—”
“Okay, Sandoval,” interrupted Jake, “that’s wonderful. You guys just concentrate on the smell.” “Call me back when you found some real shit!” he quipped, ending the call.
There was no connection between the fact that Breckenridge might be a pedophile and what happened at the Leeds household, and yet Jake found the news significant enough to right it down on his pad. It seemed quite clear to him that this was a dysfunctional church. At the bottom of the current page, he wrote What kind of people are we dealing with?
Realizing he had not checked in with Walker this hour, Jake flipped open his cell phone, scanned the electronic phone book, and punched the memory dial. An all too familiar phenomena became starkly familiar to Jake and Sam, now that the Sergeant had checked in with his squad. Traffic was slowing rapidly now. Inexplicably, Jake’s cell phone was filling with static, as he held it to his ear. When he tried Sam’s phone, he received a busy signal from Randall Walker’s phone, indicating that Walker was still on the line.
“Hang up my phone,” advised Sam, “and call again.”
“No-o-o,” drawled Jake. “Let’s wait until we got something good to report.”
“We’re not going to find anything good,” replied Sam, “not in this case.”
Settling back in their seats, the detectives fell silent a moment as traffic slowed completely to a halt.
“Son-of-a-bitch!” Sam swore under his breath.
“Find us a side road or alternate,” the sergeant groaned, rubbing his face. “Look for a detour up head—anything. This could take hours!”
“This might not take long,” Sam consoled Jake. “It could be just a fender bender. Fortunately, we’re in the slow lane. If traffic starts creeping up, I’ll pull off at the first exit I see.”
“All right,” Jake said with resignation, re-opening his laptop and returning to the web, “it better be soon!”
With forced calm, Sam turned on the radio, and sat there drumming his fingers on the dashboard as classical music filled the car. Nodding with approval at his selection, Jake looked up from his research at the cars ahead, curious but not moved by what his tired eyes detected in the sky. The great urgency to get off the freeway passed, when he considered how meaningless their interviews with James Royce and Tim Billingsley might be. If worse came to worse, he would place the magnetic beacon on top of the car and they would use the emergency zone to exit this mess. Already, without talking to a single witness, he was convinced that Reverend Leeds had murdered his wife. His sleuthing instincts also told him they would never see the reverend again. This would become a cold case, and yet, despite scoffing at it, himself, there was an urgency about it that transcended the normal routine for an investigation.
His interest had been wetted, not by a sense of duty, but by a restless spirit, searching for meaning in life, not landmarks for his detective career. There were far more complicated cases out there to absorb his work ethic. At this very moment, he was not even thinking about their schedule. He was wondering what it was that made a routine arson investigation so important to two high-ranking officials. What agenda could they have to make them focus on something that lacked both evidence or even a clear-cut motive for the crime? It seemed doubtful to him that Walker and Barnes even knew the reverend and his wife. Jake couldn’t remember a single instance in his career of a high-ranking police and fire department officials collaborating this way before. Yet, though there wasn’t a shred of evidence for even arson now, he was as certain, as Walker and Barnes, that a crime had been committed at the Leed’s home.
Without proof or a clear motive, he now wondered if it could ever be solved. It was nothing more than missing persons file and suspected homicide at this point, but he knew, even at this early stage, it was much, much more.
By now a dark and ominous column of smoke had risen several hundred feet into the air, arcing westward with an offshore wind. A faint gasp escaped Jake’s chest as the visual stimulus set in.
“Sweet Mary,” he cried, as the column took shape, “do you see that?”
“It’s smoke from the wreck,” Sam replied with a yawn.
Jake laughed nervously at his outburst. Yet inexplicably, for those seconds, the smoke fingered out overhead, transforming into what seemed like a monstrous claw like hand. In that brief interval, as it spread over the nearby city, he saw, without comprehension, a forewarning of the Apocalypse beginning in skid row.
“This is going to be a long one,” Sam replied glumly, rolling down the window and sniffing the air.
The smell of burning rubber and oil now filled the car, indicating that it was more than a mere fender bender as Sam had suggested.
“Someone got torched,” Jake shook his head.
“Not necessarily,” Sam said thoughtfully, watching the column curl ominously up into the sky. “They could’ve gotten out. It could’ve exploded later, after the driver escaped.”
“Yeah, right,” Jake scowled, turning back to the laptop on his lap. “I hope this starts moving. Pretty soon, I might have to go pee.”
Curious about the disaster, Sam channel surfed until finding a station broadcasting the news. After hearing the end of a newscast, he caught the beginning of a traffic report that seemed more like a narration from a script. In the helicopter flying overhead, Jetta Carlson, a KPFK news camerawoman, sounding more like a commentator than a reporter, spoke eloquently of the gridlock below.
“Something exploded beneath the clear, cloudless sky,” she began loftily. “A dark plume of smoke rises skyward to mark the spot. Speedometers plunge and break pedals jam. An eruption of horn blasts shatter the air. The stream thickens now, congealing into a solid mass. Each car, losing its identity, is drawn imperceptibly along as more motorists clog the on-ramps, unaware of the horror beyond. Each driver, in silent fraternity, becomes part of the current, until inevitably it stops completely, and a restless hush falls over the stream.”
Sam turned up the volume. “Are you listening to this?” He looked at Jake.
Jake, who had been reading an internet article on archaeology, looked up with an enigmatic expression on his face but said nothing.
“… From the suburbs of the city to the heartland of the metropolis,” expounded Jetta, “a traffic jam’s in progress—the kind of nightmare feared by motorists but expected by the highway patrol. Sirens will be sounding in the distance and red lights will be flashing in the emergency lane of traffic. Already, the fire department and paramedics are rushing to the scene. Up ahead, as we approach the scene, it is apparent that a terrible accident occurred. I can see below, that the original crash has created hundreds of lesser wrecks down the line. Bumpers have embraced and doors have collided. Countless whiplashes will be reported today. For the vast majority of commuters, however, the danger is over and the terrible waiting has begun…”
Jake and Sam now smelled sulfur in the breeze, so faint at first it was difficult to distinguish from the normal sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide in the air. After a few moments of listening to what sounded like a treatise on traffic, the smell grew stronger, until Jake and Sam recognized what it was.
“I’ll be damned,” murmured Jake, “it’s that odor again—the one I smelled on my vacation.”
“Yeah,” nodded Sam. “What was on that truck? It’s like the smell at a foundry: burning slag.”
“It’s brimstone!” Declared Jake, recalling the devil’s head drawn on his pad.
Along with Jake and Sam and everyone else on I-5 this afternoon, On-the-Spot News Van Seven was stranded in the traffic jam. For the rookie reporter Valentine “Tino” Getz, who happened to be tuned into KPFK, the sound of Jetta Carlson’s crinkly voice was both an inspiration and a challenge. For his partner Milo Flores, however, it appeared as if Valentine was going off the deep end again.
“Please-please,” the reporter begged the cameraman, “just stand up through the sun roof and shoot some of it for me. I know Gus will like it. He liked my commentary on that fire, didn’t he? Come on Milo, I’ve been following the rules.”
“You’ve followed the rules for exactly two days,” Milo corrected him. “That’s hardly a record.” “So help me, Tino,” he wrung his finger, “when I say cut, you’ll stop this bullshit at once!”
“Yes-yes,” the reporter leaped up, with his remote mike in hand.
Often, if Tino stepped out of line, Milo would use the old fashioned plug-in microphone to keep him literally in tow. This time, as he stood up with his camera on his shoulder, side-by-side with the reporter, there was nowhere else for Getz to go. When he released his finger from the camera trigger, it would be over and that would be it, even if he had to drag the young man back into the van.
“… An asphalt truck appears to have been sideswiped by an SUV,” they heard Jetta say. “There’s no injuries, just a terrible mess covering two of the lanes.”
Now that her introduction was over and she had turned back to her traffic report, Valentine began his own narrative he hoped might overshadow her effort when it was aired tonight:
“From the city limits to Downtown Metro, it unfolds now:” he paused for effect, “… a super jam, in classic form. For hours they will be stranded: one hundred thousand of them, waiting miserably for it to end. Fists will clinch, and teeth will grind. An ocean of protest will shatter the air…”
At this point, the reporter was stopped cold by something he detected in the breeze. A familiar odor wafted into his nostrils, caressing his olfactory nerves. The cameraman took this as his cue to stop the camera and climb back into the van. Apparently satisfied with what he had said but remaining silent those moments, the reporter followed suit, shutting the sun roof behind himself and settling back quietly into his seat.
Milo studied the slack-jawed expression on the young man’s face. Lately, he had been displaying quirky behavior but nothing quite like this. “What was that all about?” the cameraman asked, sitting his equipment back into its rack and scooting behind the wheel. “… You know very well,” he said after a pause, “we can’t give that to the editor. I bet Jetta Carlson gets in trouble for that the little stunt.”
The reporter shrugged his shoulders and searched for words to describe the feeling gripping him now. Without the need of sound or the knowledge of an oncoming war, a distant drumming had begun resonating in Valentine Getz’s mind.
“Well, we’ve got some good footage of the smoke,” Milo continued, chuckling to himself. “We just can’t use the soundtrack. That’s not news, Tino; it’s a commentary like Jetta just gave.”
“It’s not the smoke… It’s the smell,” Valentine craned his neck and sniffed the air blowing into the van. “… Don’t you recognize that Milo? It’s the same smell we detected at the Leeds household fire… brimstone. What on earth would that odor be doing on the afternoon breeze?”
The same question plagued Jake and Sam. Almost an hour had passed since the gridlock had set in. Traffic now began to move imperceptibly, beginning with the slow lane. As Sam prepared to detour at the nearest exit, he noticed that Jake had lapsed into silence again. He had been searching the web for countless bits of information, but now sat staring out the windshield with almost unblinking eyes.
“I can’t explain it,” Jake groped for words. “… After getting a whiff of that sulfur again, I feel like something important, no, big, is going to happen… and we’re going to be the first ones to know.”
“Well,” Sam nodded his head. “Walker and Barnes know something we don’t know, that’s for certain!”
“Yeah,” Jake looked back at his laptop screen, “I found a website called ‘Positive Thinking in the New Age Church.’ After reading this, I can see why the elders thought Leeds was a heretic. Those middle age conservative men and women saw his watered down version of Christianity as a corrupting influence in their church… Question is, Sam, why did Walker and Barnes take a personal interest in this case?… Is there a connection somewhere we can’t see?”
“I dunno,” Sam reached down to turn the radio down. “There really isn’t much substance to this case. All we have are tantalizing clues, but no evidence of arson or murder.”
“When you get right down to it,” remarked Jake with a sigh, “there isn’t much substance or pattern in life!”
As the haunting second movement of Sebelius’ Swan of Tuonella filled the car, Sam searched ahead for the Fifth Street detour, which would take them directly into skid row. It was a detour that would forever change the course of their lives.
Jake was now in what Sam recognized as a philosophical mood. His wife Anna was suffering from cancer and his daughter Janelle was moving with her husband to Arizona where his son-in-law had found a new job—facts that only a select few people, including himself, knew. There was nothing Sam could say to Jake that would not sound like maudlin sentimentality, but he understood Jake’s mind and, as always, would act as a sounding board for his partner’s mood.
This case had seemed dull and unsubstantial compared to ones done in the past, and yet, because of the urgency given to it by Walker and Barnes, Jake had begun drawing devils and ghosts in the margins of his notes. Sam had noticed this development and had noted Jake’s recent interest in archeology too. For just a moment, as a change of pace, Jake paused in his research in archeology, to write on a Microsoft Word page in his laptop: (1) House burns down. (2) Couple is missing. (3) The only suspects are members of Leed’s church. In a second column, in respective order, he followed with: (1) No evidence of arson. (2) No evidence of a murder, and (3) Other then seeing her as nuisance, what motive could there be for murdering the reverend’s wife?
Because of the gridlock, Sam could safely glance over at the laptop. “My thoughts exactly,” he said, pointing to the screen.
“That’s the sum total of this investigation,” Jake confessed to Sam, “a house fire and two missing persons.”
“We’ve had much less to go on in the past,” replied Sam. “Our squad may not agree, but there is something peculiar about this case. You won’t admit it, but your artwork speaks loudly, Jake. It’s all that reading you’ve done. You’re fascinated with the causalities in this case. You have a chance to put all that extracurricular reading to use. That was an unnatural fire; no on can argue with that. But it’s all academic, Jake. It hasn’t even been forty-eight hours yet since the fire. As you’ve said yourself: there’s no evidence of arson and no proof that there was even a crime. This is, and everyone knows it, a highly irregular investigation, that will make the department look stupid if the Leeds show up suddenly on the scene.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Jake shot back in disbelief. “The pastor left for his meeting. She entertained a stranger. The stranger left without Mr. Leeds. And Cora Leeds was still in the freaking house!”
“No, it’s not clear at all,” Sam shook his head stubbornly. “It was too dark for Wallace Schoolcraft to have clearly made out who was in that car. This could still be an insurance scam. They could still be out there waiting for just the right moment to return.”
Jake threw his head back and laughed. All of his detective training and gut instincts told him he was right. He couldn’t, however, argue with Sam on the basis of instinct or use the logic gleaned from articles on the web in order to prove his point. Already, after his actions in the past few weeks, his partner was worried about his state of mind. What would Sam think if he told him about his feelings now? This time his gut feelings were overpowering…. Yes, the reverend murdered his wife, but there was a greater meaning to this case. He had already tried awkwardly to explain this to Sam. “I feel like something important, no, big, is going to happen!” he exclaimed to him. Unfortunately, he had been in philosophical moods too many times to be taken seriously by Sam.
It was Walker and Barnes’ interest in this case that first intrigued Jake. The investigation, itself, seemed unspectacular, yet the smell of brimstone had felt like a religious experience to him. There was, he sensed acutely, a greater mystery afoot. The shadowy motives of the powers-that-be—Walker, Barnes,… God, he shuddered at the thought, now caused him to retreat back into the web. For a few moments, he resumed reading an article about an archeological dig in Arizona, a state in which he hoped to retire with his wife so that they could be near their grandchildren and daughter Janelle. On a separate window opened on his screen, where he jotted down his thoughts, Jake also took the opportunity to continue transcribing his handwritten notes from his notebook onto a file in Microsoft Word, entitled simply Walker and Barnes:
…. Though hearing sounds inside the house, the Leads’ neighbors, with the exception of Wallace Schoolcraft and Felicity Brown, have never seen Cora Leeds outside her home. She had been, according to Schoolcraft, a recluse since the Leeds moved in, until yesterday when she quarreled with her husband and exposed herself to a motorist on the street. According to Dwight Higgins, many of the elders had far more complaints about Salem than his wife. She was, in many of their opinions, a drunk and had the few times they saw her acted deranged. He, on the other hand, had become a heretic, poisoning the minds of young people and driving many members away. The church was, perhaps, dysfunctional and its members a peculiar lot, but they were hardly the rogues gallery we’ve encountered in the past. Where is there a motive for the members of the church for this hypothetical crime, unless the reverend, himself, murdered his wife? Until a body turns up or arson can be proven, it remains a missing persons case… yet it is much, much more.
Returning to his internet article, Jake thought about the artifacts that had been covered for centuries, accidentally discovered by Arizona construction workers working on a new tract of homes. He couldn’t help comparing archeologists’ efforts to detective work, as they pieced together evidence of the past. A professor from the University of Northern Arizona, receiving a tip-off, gathered together a team, drove from Williams to Holbrook, Arizona, reaching his destination just in time to cordon off the site. The ruins of a Pueblo kiva, of unknown origins, uncovered by the team, brought new housing construction in Holbrook to an abrupt halt. Arizona archeological sites are considered sacred treasures. Much of what detectives uncover is also found by sheer chance, though human beings, it seemed to Jake, were more often discarded as trash. City garbage collectors, he read recently, found body parts in a downtown dumpster, and, just last month, joggers found a dead body for homicide to investigate along a foothill trail
…. But this time there would be no discovery, Jake wrote in his journal. No one would ever see those two again.
He and Sam, he reflected, as he finished up his article, had seen the gamut of human depravity and malice: from crimes of passion to serial murder. In connection with homicides, their files were stuffed with all manner kinky behavior and violent acts. Nothing could surprise them very much. The number of unsolved cases and missing person, probably murdered, far outweighed the successes they had in solving crimes. It seemed as if much of their effort lead them in circles or frustrating dead-ends… until last night. Even Sam sensed that there was something special about this particular case.
As they followed a long line of vehicles, which were taking the same detour as them to escape the traffic jam, they had a chance, to see the steam rising in the distance as fire fighters doused the flames, though they were over a city block away from the collision of the asphalt truck and SUV.
Jake, Sam had noted with satisfaction, was now interested in archeology, a vast improvement over the dark topics they had discussed before. Recently, Sam had heard a disturbing range of subjects from his partner Jake, from comments on basic criminality to the atrocities of World War II. All were part of the killer ape syndrome that Jake espoused. In the beginning, he once explained to Sam, man’s ancestor had been an innocent brute. From the moment he first used a tool, however, he held it as a weapon in his hand. He found he could kill his neighbor as well as his foe. In many cases, Jake claimed, his neighbor was his foe. That point, he theorized, was when murder and anarchy began, the line that separated homicide from self-defense. Murder was not a psychological or theological phenomenon today, Jake believed. It was a throwback to primal man, when the killer ape was let loose.
After snooping in various magazines and books, and most recently on the web, the old detective had gathered other tidbits—just enough knowledge on various subjects to become opinionated and, in many cases, misinformed. His killer ape theory was just one example. But Jake had many theories on life and in the last fifteen minutes had just claimed that there was no pattern to life, which seemed to Sam to be a contradiction to the Killer Ape Theory he espoused.
Now, as he detoured through skid row, with the plan to hook up the freeway further down the road, he heard the epitome of cynicism from his partner’s lips.
“There are two clean points in our lives,” Jake declared after much thought, “birth and death. The rest—that great void between—is filled with garbage. We can’t escape it, Sam; it gets deeper every day.”
“Never thought of it like that,” Sam found this humorous.
“It’s true Sam, don’t laugh,” he said in an offended voice. “Almost everything you do winds up in the trash, garbage disposal, or recycling bin. It either gets old, rots, rusts, and is either revamped, recycled, or thrown away.” “Take this car here,” he thumped the dash.
“You take it,” Ruiz grinned. “I’m tired of garbage.”
“No seriously, Sam,” he persisted, “in so many years, if it’s not completely overhauled, this car will wind up on the junk pile like everything else. Nothing is constant Sam; remember there’s no substance and no pattern—least of all for us!”
“Oh yeah,” Ruiz offered, “look at Yosemite National Park. It won’t rust or change; it’s made of rock!”
“Hell it won’t!” Cosgrove sneered. “Haven’t you heard of erosion? What do you think carved that valley, Sam? Ice, that’s right, plain old ice.” “Did you know,” he said with inspiration, “that in Italy there’s a microbe that lives off stone? Don’t shake your head Sam, I read that on the internet too—they don’t lie! A philosopher, Bicarde or Descarte—I can’t remember his name—once said ‘the only thing that’s constant is change itself.’ That’s true Sam, and everything and everyone is turned into garbage in the end.”
“Okay, bugs eat stone and ice carves rock—big deal.” Shrugged Sam. “What about the Golden Gate Bridge or the Eiffel Tower. They’re made of steel!”
“Rust,” Cosgrove waved. “If not rust or corrosion, they can be demolished someday for bigger and better bridges and towers. Even if they stand for hundreds or thousands of years, do you think they’ll remain the same?”
“Yes,” Sam nodded stubbornly, “why not?”
After watching Sam roll his eyes in disbelief, Jake drew upon his vast library of trivia, sorting through it for just the right fact.
“Look at the Coliseum,” he snapped his fingers. “I’m not talking about the Los Angeles Coliseum either, Sam. I’m talking about the Roman Coliseum built by Titus in 76 A.D.—the one used for Christian persecutions and gladiator fights.” “Now,” he searched for words, “… it’s nothing but ruins. It’s become a historical landmark and tourist trap.” “But that’s not what scientists care about anymore,” he shook his head. “Did you know that archaeologists in Europe, Mexico, and the U.S. get most of their information by studying garbage? Yes it’s true Sam. Don’t shake your head. I read that on the internet too. They call it kitchen middens if its evidence of seafood or discarded bones and call it potsherds if its old busted pots. Bones, as you know, lay around for millions of years and become fossils. Fossil dinosaur turds are called coprolites.”
“Jeezuz Christ,” Sam groaned finally. “What’s the point in all this? What does this all mean?”
“Mean?... Point?” Jake mused thoughtfully. “That is the point Sam: there’s no meaning and no point. Life runs on waste and want. It’s directed by rot, ruin, and deterioration.” “Life is garbage, Sam,” he said dramatically, “filled with death and destruction—an unending tale of murder, mayhem, and woe!”
“Murder?… Mayhem?…Woe?” murmured Ruiz. “I knew something other than garbage was at the bottom of this. It’s that Killer Ape Theory again!”
“Yep, that’s when it began,” Jake winked approvingly. “How many battered children, muggings, rapes, and murders are reported each day?”
“I dunno,” Sam rolled his eyes in disbelief, “thousands, maybe millions.”
“That’s right Sam,” Jake nodded eagerly, “millions, because I’m talking about the whole world!”“
“The whole world?” His partner mumbled quizzically. “… I’m confused Jake, I really am. What’re you driving at now?”
As the outline of the old Fairmont Hotel loomed up in the distance, they could see a large congregation of people on the sidewalk, spilling onto the street. Although the police reports had mentioned a problem in this sector of town occurring earlier this week, neither detective made the connection with this shabby-looking crowd. Glancing over at his partner, Sam wondered if they should stop and check it out. It was not uncommon for some form a commotion in this neighborhood. Jake sat there quietly, staring out the window, his laptop still open in his lap. Once again that special look had fallen over his chiseled face, as he groped for something that was always just out of reach… the truth.