By the time Sergeant Jake Cosgrove and his partner Sam Ruiz arrived on the scene, an exhausted Salem Dade had retired with his mistress, Marie Roget, into the condemned hotel. Braving the rickety staircase and creaky floors, Salem’s new disciples had also found themselves rooms to rest in, with the exception of Wyatt Brewster, the student priest, who had slipped out of the building and was just exiting the hotel entrance when the two detectives arrived.
“Good afternoon, I’m Sergeant Cosgrove and this is Detective Ruiz,” Jake announced, flashing his badge.
“Wyatt Brewster,” the young man replied, halting in his tracks.
“I take it, his holiness is upstairs,” the sergeant’s chiseled jaw drew imperceptibly into a smile.
Wyatt noted the sarcasm and smiled. With his adolescent face and fragile features, he looked no more than sixteen years old. There was, the detectives noticed, a haunted look in his eyes, reminiscent of the many runaway boys and girls they encountered on the street. It seemed obvious to them that he had been going somewhere, perhaps permanently, when he slipped out of the hotel. Now that his escape had been interrupted, perhaps the temptation to seek sanctuary among the protective arms of the law played on his mind.
“Are you one of his followers?” Sam asked, with an appraising glance.
“I’m a member of the twelve,” he answered, looking back at the hotel. “I must answer your questions quickly. I’m certain I’m being watched.”
“All right,” said Sam, folding his arms, “did you see the incinerations in the alley?”
“Yes,” answered Wyatt, “all of the twelve and those at the entrance of the alley saw it happen.”
“Those folks weren’t much help.” Sam shook his head resolutely. “All we heard was that nonsense about divine wrath and God’s judgment. We need eyewitnesses, not advocates, who saw what caused that incident in the alley. What exactly did you see?”
“It wasn’t God’s judgment,” Wyatt answered quickly. “It was Satan’s magic. I’m certain of this. As they tormented Dade, we felt the earth shake and saw a flash, like lightning, strike the pair. Charlie and Rhoda burst into flames then crumbled into ashes. All that remained, after a gust of wind, were two smudges on the wall where they had stood.”
“We’re having the smudges tested,” Jake explained in a deadpan voice. “There’s no official investigation yet. We’re just nosing around here. It sounds like spontaneous combustion or pyrotechnics to me.”
Although his expression was inscrutable, Jake had listened keenly to Wyatt’s report. Sam’s dark, rugged face now seemed fixed into a frown. Both detectives had sensed a greater meaning in the Leeds case. Satanic magic, however, was quite another matter for the detectives.
“Was there anything else?” he asked, searching Wyatt’s face. “Did you see or hear anything out of the ordinary before the incident other than the earthquake and flash of light?”
“No,” Wyatt thought a moment, “just the attack on Salem. It was awful. We all acted like a bunch of cowards.”
“There was nothing else in that alley?” Jake looked at him quizzically. “A suspicious voice or face. Somebody tossing something from the crowd?”
“No,” Wyatt sighed heavily. “After the attack all I remember is the burning. That was quite enough!”
“What about after the incident,” pressed Jake, “did you see someone running the other way down the alley or disappearing into the crowd?”
“No,” Wyatt shuddered. “I was too shell-shocked. No one, even Charlie, should die like that.” His eyebrows knitted as a memory surfaced in his mind. “There was something, sergeant: a strange odor. When the stench faded, there was an after-smell in the air—”
“What?” Jake lurched forward suddenly. “Explain it to me!”
“It lasted only a moment,” Wyatt searched his memory. “It didn’t impress me very much. The aroma from the fire was much worse, but it reminded me of a place my parents took me when I was a child—”
“Sulfur!” Jake exclaimed excitedly. “You smelled sulfur in the air!”
“Yes,” Wyatt nodded patiently, “the first time I was in Lassen National Park. It was a nasty, nauseating odor like rotten eggs. This time it was faint—the merest trace.”
A hopeful look registered on his face as the detectives retreated several paces to mull over the facts. Jake reminded his partner about the odor they smelled on the freeway before detouring onto skid row. How could an ordinary freeway accident produce such a smell? What could Wyatt’s account mean? Wasn’t brimstone associated with volcanoes, foundries, or hell? The detectives pondered upon this coincidence a moment, as Wyatt glanced back nervously at the hotel. Jake also reminded Sam of Officer Bruce Gandy’s report, taken at the Leeds residence, which quoted several witnesses who smelled brimstone in the air. At that very moment, the old detective turned abruptly and caught the young man’s gaze. Stern steel blue locked onto soft doe brown eyes.
“This is more than a coincidence,” he mumbled to Sam. “Once, twice maybe, who knows what’s in our air—but not three occurrences of the same smell!”
“One occurrence is strange enough,” replied Sam.
“Concede mihi, benignissime Iesu, gratiam tuam, ut mecum sit et mecum laboret mecumque in finem usque perseveret,” Wyatt now whispered the Latin prayer for grace.
The two detectives had shown up at an auspicious time. After being a drug addict and failed student priest, he was back, at least in spirit, revitalized by his faith. Jake listened to what sounded like gibberish from the young man, a shadowy premonition forming in his mind. There were faint sounds and glints of light in his head, as a badly tuned in program on an old fashioned set. What he felt defied all his experience on the force. Years of seeing and hearing so much depravity as a homicide detective had wiped away his Protestant upbringing and interest in religion, leaving great voids in his understanding of the Bible and onetime Presbyterian faith. Sam, who had been raised a Roman Catholic, had likewise grown cynical after joining the force, so that neither detective was much help to the other in comprehending what was so evident to the student priest.
In addition to learning the rites, ritual, and regimen of the Roman Catholic Church, Wyatt had studied the Book of Revelations extensively as a seminary student. Jake and Sam had been reminded of the Apocalypse, themselves, by the call of street evangelists but also by the harangue of Protestant televangelists, whose sudden increase in rhetoric seemed devoted disproportionately to the End Times. Not until now, in front of the old Fairmont Hotel, did Jake’s lack of biblical knowledge matter so much. Now, after listening to his partner’s voice and seeing the expression on this face, he wondered if he might be affected too. It seemed important that Sam share this experience with him. What Wyatt comprehended so easily as doomsday prophecies, were like ghostly phantoms in Jake’s mind. It was for the time being, paraphrased by Moses Rawlins, “like seeing through glass darkly.” Those many years of spiritual sleep had handicapped his efforts to grasp of the truth.
The importance of this detour now loomed large in Jake’s mind. For several moments, however, he and Sam turned their attention to the welfare of the young man. Unlike Sam, emotion was difficult to detect in Jake’s gravely voice and stony face, and yet a glimmer of pity shone in his eyes.
“How old are you?” He asked, opening his wallet and removing a five-dollar bill.
“Twenty-one this March,” Wyatt answered, reluctantly taking the money from Jake’s weather beaten hand.
“You’re too young to be hanging around that bunch,” observed Sam, stuffing several more dollars into the breast pocket of his coat.
Without even trying, Wyatt now had ‘pan handled’ ten dollars to buy himself a meal. The detectives symbolized normalcy and sanity in his odyssey on the street. Though they were skeptical, he desperately needed someone to trust.
“Please sirs,” he addressed them hesitantly, “… you may not believe it, but I’m on a mission for our Lord.”
“Lord?” Sam’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “You mean Dade?”
“Listen kid,” Jake’s lips barely moved as he spoke, “we understand he looks like Jesus, has twelve disciples, and his girl friend looks like the Virgin Mary, but don’t refer to him as lord. He’s a make-believe Jesus, that’s what he is.”
“I know,” the youth nodded, “and strangely enough I think he knows too. You see, I’m going to betray him.”
“You mean like Judas Iscariot?” Sam murmured with understanding.
“Perhaps, but not quite,” Wyatt seemed to equivocate, “for Judas succeeded in betraying Christ. I may very well fail.”
“I’m well aware of the scriptures,” Sam shook his head dubiously, “but you’re not making sense.”
“He’s making perfect sense,” replied the sergeant. “It’s called role playing—a photo negative of Judas, himself.” “Now you listen to me kid.” He poked a finger into his chest. “This ain’t no movie or game. You don’t wanna mess with that man. You keep your mouth shut while this investigation’s on, until your out of harm’s way. What I need is something that will stick, not this cockamamie story about a counterfeit Christ. I don’t know how, but that man cremated that pair in the alley. I can imagine what he would do to you if he knew you turned informer on him!”
Wyatt flinched under his scrutiny, but managed to smile.
“He’s more than a counterfeit.” He looked into the gruff face. “…. He’s one of the main players for the End Times.”
The detectives chuckled and shook their heads, as if to show their contempt, yet they both appeared to have his welfare at heart.
“Listen, Wyatt,” Sam gently gripped his arm. “You go and wait for us in the car, and we’ll take you somewhere safe, away from this dump.”
“You don’t believe me, do you?” He looked back and forth between the two.
Jake and Sam wouldn’t admit how much of an impact this was having on them, even to each other. Nodding faintly to Wyatt, which could have been understood as “Yes, we don’t believe you” or “Yes, we believe you,” Jake ran a hand through his graying hair. Feeling Wyatt’s resistance, Sam released his arm, a bewildered expression on his face. Wyatt uttered a prayer of thanksgiving for the sergeant’s acknowledgment. Light-headedness followed as tears welled up in his eyes.
“Of course you mustn’t appear as if you believe me,” he seemed to be talking to himself. “I still don’t understand why they would trust a failed priest in the twelve. They probably feel that no one would believe an ex-drug addict like me.” “You want to know something.” He gazed up at a shaft of light breaking through the clouds. “Not counting the telephone pole that exploded as we were walking to the park, I saw that man perform three miracles, but the one that impressed me the most was a feast of lobster, salads, and breads. It’s the best food I’ve had in years.”
“Yeah,” Jake laughed softly, “Reed and Fletcher told me about those stories. I really can’t explain the food and exploding telephone pole, but I have a feeling he used some form of pyrotechnic on that pair.”
“You don’t believe that sergeant.” Wyatt gave him a knowing look. “In the first place, where would a homeless man find pyrotechnics on the street?”
Something deep inside Jake had awakened. His imagination, not his detective’s intuition, had been stirred: dark bodies, mute rumblings, and flashes of eerie light. What did it mean? What was he suppose to do? He wanted to arrest Dade for murder. Until they had enough evidence, they must, at the very least, get Dade and his girlfriend alone, away from their followers, and question them in separate rooms.
“So tell us, Wyatt,” Sam gave Wyatt a nudge, “did Salem pray or use black magic to whip you up some food?”
Wyatt thought about this a moment, as the sergeant stood staring into space, and shook his head. “… Neither one. That feast was Marie’s magic. Salem’s a reluctant messiah. In some ways I feel sorry for him. When Marie told us that he’d whip us up a meal, he waved his hands around testily, mumbled hocus pocus, abracadabra, and ouá la, there it was, I swear to you, the grandest banquet ever to greet my eyes. But she has the power, not him. At one point, when he refused to go along with something she was saying, a telephone pole exploded as if he finally pushed her too far.”
Sam rolled his eyes in disbelief. “That’s ridiculous! You expect us to believe that?”
“It’s true,” Wyatt’s eyes dropped to the ground. “The devil’s a woman. Her name’s Marie Roget.”
Jake, knew against all reason, that Wyatt was telling the truth. Why would he make up such a story? What motive would he have, unless, he was insane or his mind was messed up on drugs? There was, of course, something else, the sergeant couldn’t put into words. As he studied Wyatt’s pupils and skin tone for telltale signs, he felt a pang of guilt.
“You would’ve kept on going, if we hadn’t of shown up,” He observed quietly. “I’m sorry about that, kid—I really am.”
“The truth is,” Wyatt shrugged his frail shoulders, “about the time you arrived, I was getting cold feet. Please don’t laugh, but I believe your appearance was no accident. I’m certain God sent you here.”
Neither detective laughed this time nor cracked a smile. There was nothing humorous about the dilemma Wyatt was in. Jake knew what he had to do. Reaching into his jacket, he turned on his voice activated recorder, and pulled his notepad from his coat. What he said now was meant for the record, in typical interrogation jargon, as he sketched a devil on his pad: “So they’re not holding you against your will. Is that what you’re saying? You’re a candidate for brainwashing, kid. I’ve seen it before. Sometimes these street cults use drugs.”
“I don’t know if they’ll brainwash the others,” Wyatt replied thoughtfully, “but I’m here because of my own freewill. If you hadn’t of shown up, I probably would’ve ran.”
“So,” Sam heaved a sigh, “it’s our fault if you get yourself killed.”
“No,” Wyatt shook his head firmly, “the Lord leads me. Jesus Christ guides my steps.”
“You’re in over your head,” said Jake. “Get out of here before its too late!”
“No, I’m in a state of grace,” explained Wyatt, looking back self-consciously at the hotel, “…. I used to be an addict, like some of them upstairs, until good people like Father Bracken at the Mission helped me get clean. Last month I walked out of the hospital with a new purpose in life. I was going to serve my mission for the Lord on the street. I just wasn’t sure what.”
“So you infiltrated the twelve disciples as one of its members,” Sam looked at him with concern. “That’s very dangerous Wyatt and very stupid. Why don’t you go home to your parents and live a normal life? Let the police nail this creep!”
“I have been blessed by God to be a witness against this man,” Wyatt gave them a determined look. “I met some good men downtown and on skid row, including Alden Taylor, who have been completely taken in by that man. At first, before I saw what happened in the alley, I thought Salem was just another victim on the street. I’ve seen so many this year. Because he looked so much like our Lord, I prayed for guidance, hoping that God would help…. Instead the devil intervened. We saw Charlie Blintz and Rhoda Simms cremated before our eyes. After seeing this terrible event, I was certain what the Lord wanted me to do. At the proper time, when the world is watching him, I will denounce him for what he is—”
“Wait a minute,” Jake cut in irritably, “you’re not listening, kid. You can’t go under cover in that group. That takes special training. Let the police do their jobs. You’re gonna get yourself killed!”
Sam summarized their concern. “You’re out of your element Wyatt; you know you’d fail. You said so yourself. This is dangerous and foolish; that’s why you were going to run.”
The detectives belabored the issue a moment more to drive the point home. What if Dade used the same pyrotechnic on him he had on Charlie and the witch? This time there might not be any witnesses, just a pile of ashes behind the hotel. Wyatt nodded politely as he listened to this possibility, looking longingly over at their car. Thanks to the scenario given him by the detectives, his temptation to escape was even greater now. Once again the sergeant studied Wyatt’s face. Torn between his investigation and the responsibility he felt for the young man, he reached out uncharacteristically to pat Wyatt’s matted head. He remembered the old man’s prophecy and Ignacio Rosales rambling about the End Times.
“So you’re going to warn the world, are you?” He cringed and withdrew his hand. “What are you suppose to be, kid, God’s emissary on earth?”
“I’m here on behalf of the church,” Wyatt said with great conviction, “a mere mote in God’s eye. Something very evil is happening on the street. You’ve seen it, yourself. It will grow as a cancer in the body, undetected until I sound the alarm.” “There’s no cure for this malady,” he added huskily, “except for the intervention of Christ.”
“Evil must have a name,” Jake said wryly. “We know they’re evil, but we can’t arrest them for that.”
“How about murder?” Scowled Sam. “Isn’t that why we’re here?”
Jake grinned imperceptibly again, a crafty gleam in his eyes. “How about drugs? What better way to control a group!”
“Well,” Wyatt said carefully, “… some of the disciples are drug addicts. I was one myself, though I never saw any drugs in the hotel.”
“What about the street,” ventured the sergeant, “did you see any quirky behavior there?”
“Yes,” Wyatt nodded obligingly, “… but no drugs. While pretending to be one of the twelve, I focused on Salem and Marie. That’s the main reason why I joined. But there was one time, as we left the park, when Marie took Ursula, Liz, and Kaz aside. They were acting jittery, as if they might need a fix. I didn’t think much of it then. It could be my imagination. My main concern, you understand, is Salem. That man’s incredibly moody. He was acting as if this is all one big ordeal for him.”
This admission was enough for Jake. It was something his detective mind could understand.
“What?” He cocked an eyebrow. “You know something kid? You think they’re being supplied with drugs?”
“I didn’t say that.” Wyatt frowned.
“You know Sam,” Jake said, rubbing his jaw, “this might just give us cause!”
Sam nodded his head. He understood what Jake was doing. Wyatt had concentrated upon the important issue: Salem Dade. It was obvious that Jake was trying to do more than build a case. From the wider implications, Jake was considering the more narrow ramifications that drugs might have on his investigation. This might, Sam told himself, never become a homicide case at all. What better way is there for breaking up that group than finding drugs? In spite of this possibility, Sam felt Wyatt was in immediate danger.
“You should escape, Wyatt,” he said flatly. “Leave this place for good.”
“So the woman is supplying them with drugs.” Jake appeared to be writing something down. “That explains everything. They’re probably all hallucinating on meth, PCP or LSD!”
Sam had never seen the sergeant this excited. Ever since their detour on skid row, Jake had been obsessed with his encounter with Salem Dade. With the realization they shared, that Leeds and Dade were the same man, the old detective was making this unofficial case a personal investigation, which might have proven to be a long shot if Wyatt had not even seen them taking drugs. Looking up at the hotel, Jake felt like a rookie on his first case. He knew very well that this was more serious than drugs. He was a detective, not a visionary. He needed hard facts and just one good reason to arrest Salem and Marie.
On his pad, as the recorder hummed, he had drawn another devil—this one wearing a dress, as he pretended to take notes. He recalled that moment when the old man said to him “You’re not far from the Kingdom my son.” Is that a place, he had wondered then, or a state of mind? It comforted him to remember that moment, though the Kingdom still seemed so very far away.
Wyatt was staring with intensity at him now. He had learned to read people’s expressions on the street. It was more difficult with the older detective, but clearly Jake Cosgrove believed him the most. These were veteran homicide detectives, as hard as the sidewalks of skid row. What he told them about the miracles had been difficult enough for them to believe. Now he had told them that a petite baby-faced little woman was the devil incarnate. Was it possible that such hard-bitten detectives could believe such a tale? Jake and Sam whispered amongst themselves a moment, perplexed and stubborn looks on their respective faces as they glanced back at him. Hearing the sergeant murmur gravely at one point to his partner, “Come on Sam, we’ve got to check this out. There’s something not right about all this,” he found himself breaking down finally under the strain.
Wyatt wept quietly, holding both hands before his face. The simple concern and begrudging understanding of the detectives had triggered a flood of pent-up emotion he had forgotten he had. The realization that at least one of the detectives actually might believe him caused the flood to break.
“There now,” Sam patted his back, “it’s not so bad. We’ll find you a place to stay.”
“You don’t understand,” Wyatt said tearfully, “I have to stay with the twelve. It’s my mission for the church. I must not fail it again.”
“Church?” Sam mumbled “… What church?”
“The true faith—Christendom,” answered Wyatt with great conviction again. “The Roman Catholic Church.”
“I don’t believe it,” Sam glanced back at Jake, “he’s too young to be a priest.”
“I’m a novitiate,” Wyatt corrected him politely, “but when I became a drug addict, I served the devil. Now since I’ve overcome my affliction, I serve the Lord again, but I haven’t overcome my fear.”
“Give it up, kid,” Jake tried one more time. “Let us take it from here.”
Looking past Wyatt and Sam, he could see Marie Roget, who appeared suddenly at the entrance of the hotel. Unequivocally now, Jake believed everything Wyatt had said. Her timing had been perfect for the conversation in progress. Both men shuddered at this lovely apparition, hoping she had not heard their conversation. Her distance away from them seemed significant, but then she was supposed to have supernatural powers. Because Wyatt’s back was turned to the hotel, the sergeant whispered “Don’t look around kid, but she’s standing and watching us right now.”
For their benefit, in a loud adolescent voice, Wyatt shouted, “No, no, detectives, I told you: you cannot search these premises without a search warrant. We have rights too! Why can’t you just leave us alone!”
“Very good kid, I know what your doing. Just don’t over do it,” Jake whispered from the corner of his mouth.
“She can’t read my mind,” he whispered back, quickly adding in an even louder voice, “For your own sakes leave this place at once!”
“Thank you Wyatt for guarding our leader.” She began walking toward them now. “Salem, our beloved leader, is asleep. He’s had a trying day. In deed all of our children have had a trying day.”
In spite of her effect upon him, Sergeant Cosgrove fought the impulse to take her seriously. In his thinking this “Barbie doll,’ who was probably younger than his daughter, would be more appropriate wearing a cheerleader’s outfit and holding pom-poms in her hands.
“If you’re doing what I think you’re doing,” he wagged a callused finger, “you’re in big trouble missy.”
“Do we even need a search warrant?” Sam raised his cell phone to his ear.
“None needed,” Jake set his jaw. “This building was condemned. You’re all trespassers, and there’s a suspicion of drugs, which means we have cause. Call the narcotics division, Sam.”
“Damn fools!” Wyatt blurted aloud. “Damn meddling fools!”
Sam sensed that this was all a ploy to talk to Salem Dade, though Jake gave no indication that it was. If narcotic investigators arrived soon enough, they might find illegal substances in the hotel. Even if the disciples discovered the stash and destroyed it before the investigators found it first, the chemical evidence could still be detected in the users, themselves. Simple blood and urine tests would prove that. But what if Wyatt had misled them about drugs? He had, after all, not actually seen narcotics on the premises, only implied that there was aberrant behavior. He hadn’t even seen drugs, himself. Already they were treading on the narcotic division’s jurisdiction. What if a squad of investigators found this place clean? Without just cause, it might be difficult to bring this group downtown.
“Don’t forget to enter the code, Sam,” Jake said in a singsong voice.
“Oh yes, the code,” Sam’s face lit up with illumination.
It was a ploy, he thought, swallowing heavily and pecking out a stream of numbers on the phone.
“Unless,” bargained the sergeant, “we can talk to your protégé, Salem Dade. We just have a few questions; it won’t take long.”
“You don’t know who you’re trifling with,” an icy voice came out of her throat.
For the first time in many years, Sergeant Jake Cosgrove felt the grip of terror. Sam, who had actually been dialing the number for time, also froze in place, the cell phone still on his ear. A monotonous voice droned “the time is four fifteen and thirty seconds… the time is four fifteen and thirty-one seconds.” Both men felt their throats constrict with fear and hairs raise up on the back of their necks as the woman’s eyes flashed with red light.
“This is absurd,” Jake shouted hoarsely at the woman, “you’re deranged, probably on drugs, yourself!”
“Shut up sergeant,” cried Wyatt. “In God’s name, shut up!”
Wyatt, who feared for the detectives’ lives, now prayed silently to himself “Lord, now that you are using me for your purpose, please save these men, who are acting foolish now. Don’t let Marie, the devil incarnate, destroy another human being.”
Marie stood there under the marquee, her hourglass shape and child-like face belying a power second only to God’s. For the veteran detectives, who had relied on logic and reason, such a specter defied everything they believed. What saved the day, as they stood there staring mutely at Marie Roget, was the sound of sirens breaking in the distance. Closer and closer those familiar and comforting reminders of law and order approached, as the dreadful, beautiful woman looked on. Sam could barely speak, muttering under his breath “Hail Mary full of grace, blessed be the fruit of thy womb…”
“Okay lady, our backup’s coming,” Jake tried, in a quivering voice, to sound convincing. “In a few moments this place well be surrounded by cops. Try using your pyrotechnics on an LAPD S.W.A.T. team.”
Inexplicably, even sooner than expected, police patrol unit 127 as well as unit 139, which had come to offer assistance, arrived suddenly on the scene. Four officers, with guns drawn, emerged from their vehicles, a far cry from a full-fledged team. In the distance, however, more sirens sounded from the depths of skid row.
“What seems to be the problem here?” Officer Phil Reed called out immediately from the curb.
“How did you know?” asked Sam, slapping his forehead in disbelief. “Dear God, how could you know?”
Not for the first time in his life, Sam had prayed for deliverance, but this time, as a Los Angeles homicide detective, it had special meaning. This time the enemy had been a petite little imp of a woman without a weapon, who stood alone against two veteran cops. After running over to shake Officer Reed’s hand, Sam began feeling foolish when he considered how this might look.
“Someone sent us an SOS code from their radio,” Phil explained. “I guess Officers Granger and Wade, of unit 139, got the signal too.”
“We didn’t call our radio.” Jake looked at him in disbelief. “What sort of SOS could that be?”
“I called on my cell phone this time,” Sam explained light-headedly. “I must’ve signaled you somehow with my phone. Maybe there’s a feature on it I’ve never used.”
“Humph… I don’t think so,” Officer Garth Fletcher murmured, inspecting his own phone.
Sam knew very well he had dialed the number for time. He stood there muttering to himself as he considered what this all meant.
“This is very strange,” Phil said to Jake. “I knew it was a Code Eight for ‘officer needs assistance’ being sent, because there was eight beeps with a pause between each sequence, but they sounded otherworldly, like they came from deep space.”
Jake and Sam exchanged looks of wonder. During the confusion, no one had noticed Marie and Wyatt slipping into the hotel. The detectives looked around the premises and up into the building, concerned over the disappearance of the young man. The concern that the other officers had, however, was why they were even here.
Officer Granger of unit 139 removed his hat and scratched his balding head. “Why’d we pull our guns? It was just a lady and a scrawny looking kid.”
“That was no ordinary lady,” Jake said lamely, mopping his brow with his sleeve. “She looked unhinged. She was probably on drugs.”
“She wasn’t on drugs, sergeant,” Sam whispered, shaking his head. “That woman’s eyes blazed red, like a cat’s.”
“No offense, Sergeant Cosgrove.” Officer Wade gave him an irritated look. “But this wasn’t a code eight. We thought you guys were in trouble.”
By now a third and fourth squad car had pulled up to the curb. Officer Reed ran over and waved them off as they drove up and gave them an embarrassed shrug. A call went out from his partner Garth to abort the code eight, but by now it was too late. A false alarm had apparently gone out from one of the detectives at this location, though it seemed as if a miracle had just saved their lives.
“Jesus, how can I explain this?” Sam muttered to himself. “I didn’t call these guys.”
“Listen fellahs.” Jake looked around at the four officers. “What we really need now are narcotic investigators. We were tipped off by a resident here that Salem Dade and his girl friend, Marie Roget, are supplying these derelicts with drugs.” “I know, I know,” he added noting their incredulity, “that sounded strange to me too. Since there was a reported double homicide down here, Sam and I were checking up on a hunch, when this junkie approached us. I have no idea how a code eight went out from here, but I’m glad you showed up.”
Sam cringed at Jake’s distortion of the facts but was more alarmed when the sergeant told them the truth. Jake told them everything the young man had said to them about Salem Dade and Marie Roget and then, though he believed it himself, promptly laughed to show them how silly he thought it was. As Officer Wade had pointed out, however, this was not a code eight. Because a false alarm had apparently gone out this vicinity, Sam was certain, it would echo in the halls of LAPD’s precincts for many months to come. Up until the last bit of information, Jake had been doing very well. In the simplest way, as was his custom, he had given them an explanation for this disaster. But now he had to complicate the story with information that would sound supernatural and silly to the men and women back at the station.
“Come on you guys,” he laughed dismissively at their predicament. “Wouldn’t you get freaked out if this happened to you? I mean here’s this little vixen wiggling up to you and suddenly her eyes blaze red like a cat’s”
As he listened to his own words, he realized he had only made it worse by mentioning her eyes. Smiles had already replaced the frowns on the patrolmen’s faces. At this point, Officers Granger and Wade of unit 139 retreated in disgust to their car. Officers Reed and Fletcher, however, who had been the original officers on the scene down here, had shared the detectives’ interest in this case in the first place and stood there whispering amongst themselves.
“I say we go!” Garth said through clinched teeth.
“I say we stay!” Phil set his jaw.
In what came as a great relief to the detectives was the return of Wyatt Brewster. He walked straight out of the entrance with a tranquil look on his unshaven face, peering straight ahead, with glassy eyes, as if he might, indeed, be drugged. Jake and Sam hoped he was only play-acting a role, but they couldn’t be sure.
“Salem Dade will see you in the lobby of the hotel,” he said in monotone voice. “Please forgive me for what I said about our leader. I’m sorry for wasting your time.”
It sounded rehearsed and amateurish to the detectives. Immediately afterwards, reminiscent of the bird in a coo-coo clock, Wyatt pivoted one hundred and eighty degrees and disappeared back under the marquee. The patrolmen thought this was funny, but the detectives found nothing amusing about what was going on inside the hotel.
“He’s higher than a kite,” observed Officer Reed, trying not to laugh.
“That settles it,” Sam pulled out his cell phone again, “I’m calling this in.”
“What do you think?” Jake looked for reassurance at Reed and Fletcher.
Jake doubted very much that Wyatt was on drugs. Officer Reed shrugged evasively, but nodded his head. “I see cause here, sergeant. The kid looked drugged to me. Since this is our beat, we’ll stick around for support.”
“I wish those other guys had stuck around,” said Officer Fletcher.
Since his next action appeared to be base upon a charade, Sam was placing all his trust in his partner Jake. Sergeant Cosgrove was now staking both their reputations on a hunch that there might be drugs in the hotel. Police science had nothing to do with this investigation. Jake was being driven, not by detective lore, but by illumination. Now, to buttress his courage as Ruiz made the call, Jake reminded himself of the strange events that had happened to them so far: the smell of brimstone, the mysterious SOS signal, and a young woman, alleged to be the devil incarnate, who appeared to have supernatural powers.
The sergeant knew nothing of the Brotherhood of the Fish but he and Sam had been encouraged by Deputy Chief Randall Walker’s support after the Leeds fire. Because of the rumors already in circulation about the alleged homicides in skid row, Randall was predisposed toward this investigation, which is why it was so easy for the dispatcher to locate him now. The ‘magic word’ for Walker had been Salem Dade. With the cell phone placed quickly into the sergeant’s hand, Ruiz and the patrolmen heard a friendly exchange between Cosgrove and the deputy chief, in which the sergeant explained the need to send a narcotics investigation team over before Salem and Marie’s disciples could destroy or hide evidence in the hotel. In truth, however, Walker had been alerted to this fact before Cosgrove had even submitted his report. Salem Dade, Jake needlessly informed him, was a suspect in an ongoing murder investigation—a minor detail to Walker, who understood him to be the False Prophet of the End Times. With so little evidence to physically connect him to the crime, Jake had also unnecessarily argued that a drug bust might be the only way to pull him in for questioning and keep him off the street. There was, Jake explained to Randall, a distinct chance that forensics had missed some evidence at the scene and that the pyrotechnics or combustibles used to incinerate the pair might be hidden somewhere in the hotel. Salem, Marie, and their disciples must therefore be detained for the dual reasons of drug testing and preserving the scene of the crime.
‘Crime scene’ struck Deputy Chief Walker as such a petty concept in light of the evil Salem would cause in the world. The fact that the suspects might tamper with evidence was, like the drugs and murder, itself, a mere apocalyptic trifle for someone who had already written off this age and was just waiting for the Rapture to take he and his wife away from this wicked world.
Although Walker promised to send forensic specialists along with the narcotics investigators in this joint effort, he expected the homicide detectives to supervise this phase of the investigation themselves. Randall’s support of the Leeds investigation had given the detectives confidence. It was evident to Jake that Walker had taken a personal interest in this case, too. Not knowing the depth of Walker’s conviction, however, he was not so certain how Captain Franklin and Lieutenant Howard might react or if the deputy chief would support him if the enterprise went awry. Eventually, as Officers Reed and Fletcher turned in their reports, news of this ‘false alarm’ and the detectives bizarre story about Marie Roget would circulate through the precinct. An almost perfect record for both detectives would be sullied by this reckless whim, and yet Jake Cosgrove and Sam Ruiz had more immediate worries on their minds as they entered the Fairmont Hotel to meet Salem Dade. How soon would the investigators arrive? How many of them would show up to do a proper investigation of the hotel? They might need backup after all, so the more investigators the better. Because of the mysterious alarm sent out from this location, it now appeared that they had hollered ‘wolf,’ when, in fact, a small, adolescent-faced woman had greeted the officers responding to the call.
Sergeant Cosgrove and Detective Ruiz walked through the entrance of the building side-by-side, momentarily buoyed by the support of Deputy Chief Randall Walker but sobered by the threat that this posed for their careers. Each detective checked his gun, giving it a love pat and making sure that the holster strap was unsnapped. Right behind them came the two patrolmen. Officer Fletcher seemed to shudder at the thought of going inside, but Officer Reed’s ebony face was set fiercely, nostrils flaring and eyes blazing, as he unfastened the strap over his holster and followed the detectives in.
The lobby was empty of furniture, and the floor was cluttered with plaster, broken bottles, and trash. A crude wooden ankh cross sat on the mantel over a crumbling fireplace. Below the ankh sitting in the hearth in place of an actual fire was a large candle that radiated an orange, otherworldly light. On the left side of the hearth stood Salem Dade and on the right side stood Marie Roget. Wyatt Brewster, the novitiate priest, and the other disciples were nowhere in sight. This meeting, the detectives prayed, would be between Salem Dade, Marie Roget, and themselves. It was hoped that Salem’s Twelve Disciples were not lying somewhere in wait.
When the investigative teams arrived, Jake understood, the real show would begin. Given the nonsense that had poured out of Salem’s mouth, the detectives considered this meeting as merely a diversionary tactic. Neither Salem or Marie nor their followers must tamper with the evidence in this building before the forensic and narcotic teams arrived. When they found the evidence, one more depraved cult would be broken up and its leaders Salem and Marie would go to jail. This was the plan. But Sergeant Cosgrove had no illusions that Salem would answer his questions or spontaneously give him any information that would be worthwhile. He would continue to act like some sort of new age messiah prompted by Marie Roget. What he and his partners must do right now, he was certain, was keep them both talking and prevent them from fleeing or destroying any evidence in the hotel.
Jake immediately flashed his badge and introduced himself and all the officers present in the room. Sam was not so polite. “Where’s Wyatt Brewster?” He asked before Salem could even open his mouth.
“Wyatt’s resting,” Marie explained calmly. “He, like the rest of us, has had a trying day.”
“We want to see the kid,” barked Cosgrove, looking back nervously at the patrolmen behind them in the room. “Don’t get cute Miss Roget. Let me remind you that we’ve got an SOS system for backup when it’s needed. We can muster a dozen squad cars here anytime we want.”
The truth was, of course, Jake and Sam had been ignorant of this apparent system as had all the other officers arriving on the scene. Nevertheless this threat appeared to register with Salem Dade, whose mouth dropped and eyes popped wide as he looked over at Marie Roget.
“Listen folks,” Jake took a more conciliatory tone, “let’s clear this up right now. If you have nothing to hide here, this will all be a mere exercise for our men. You can go about your slimy business as before. You’ve got to admit, you’ve been acting very suspiciously here on skid row: a double murder in the alley, alleged miracles, and now we have reports about drugs in this hotel.”
“That’s absurd,” said Marie, folding her delicate arms. “If your looking for drugs, you’re going to be embarrassed Sergeant Cosgrove. We have a revolutionary way of treating drug addicts that deals strictly with the mind.”
Both detectives and the patrolmen noted, with amusement, the surprised look on Salem Dade’s face, as if he had never heard of this miracle cure. Marie went onto to explain in a surprisingly reasonable fashion how it was their aim of transforming a small group of down-and-out people on skid row into model citizens and spiritually perfect human beings, who would serve the cause of the Universal Church. Marie had, of course, just given both the police and her protégé an explanation for why they had begun with street people instead of ordinary folks. Only Salem understood that he had been a bystander so far and it all been Marie’s idea. Salem again heaved a sigh, visibly upset at this intrusion upon his peace of mind. The detectives ostensibly gave nods of approval for this worthy endeavor, and yet, like Salem, could not help wondering why a religious movement would staff itself with lowlifes when it could have selected more respectable citizens in town.
When Marie had finished explaining how they would use these rehabilitated and spiritually changed men and woman in the service of the Universal Church, beads of sweat had formed on both detectives’ brows and the two patrolmen stirred uneasily in back of the room. The plan of Marie, the Queen of Hell, after its murky beginnings, was understood clearly now by Salem Dade. At such times, the Faustian impression of Satan entered Salem’s mind but was quickly erased by his recollection of murder and deceit. For the detectives, who were waiting for narcotics and forensic investigators to arrive in the building, the woman’s self-confident air belied any notion that she was a drug-dealing psycho or even the devil incarnate, as Wyatt claimed.
“All right, that’s great miss, you made your case. Now I wanna see the kid,” snorted Jake, pivoting and shuffling passed the patrolmen to the staircase where he called rudely “Wyatt Brewster, this is Sergeant Brewster, please come down to the lobby for a few words.”
“Christ Jake,” Sam swallowed with embarrassment. “This is going to screw us, if that kid’s not drugged.”
“There’s more than drugs here,” Jake muttered aloud. “… Something ain’t right about that pair. I bet if they searched this place and talked to all these lowlifes independently, in an interrogation room, they’d get to the bottom of this.”
“The bottom of what, Jake?” Sam looked at him with uncertainty. “What’s got into you this week? What’re we doing here, if this isn’t a legitimate arrest? Is it true what that old preacher said about that man? What’s going to happen if she’s telling the truth?”
In spite of his concern, Sam’s constricted whisper confirmed Jakes greatest hope. He, too, felt the compulsion. What was it: insanity, mere vanity or the rebirth of a long dead faith? Why did he feel, at times, so terribly foolish and other times, as if nothing could ever threaten him again?
When Wyatt appeared on the landing above the staircase, Jake and Sam’s attention shifted from themselves to their newfound friend. Wyatt moved jerkily and had, what they both thought, was that deadpan look, reminiscent of drug addicts, on his pale face.
“Get down here, boy,” Jake motioned gruffly. “Come on, let’s clear this up right now.”
In spite of his concern for Wyatt, he half hoped that he was on drugs. It would justify being in this hotel, but it would also be devastating for the young man. Soon, after the sergeant had made his demand, the remaining eleven disciples joined Wyatt on the landing, arriving unannounced from various parts of the hotel. As if they had been prompted, the twelve men and woman smiled and called down greetings to the officers, and just stood there with what Jake would call “shit-eating” grins. Afterwards, as if prompted again, they called out the same portentous salutation: “Greetings from the Universal Church!”
Although alarmed by their sudden appearance, the detectives and patrolmen realized they had nothing to fear. This harmless group of street people, they remembered, were a motley collection of ragamuffins: eight men and four women, of almost every age, gender and race— politically, if not socially, correct. Officers Reed and Fletcher placed their guns back in their holsters. The detectives, of course, didn’t know what to think. Where they under the influence of drugs, fear, or some other mind-swaying power?
“Look, Phil,” Officer Fletcher pointed gleefully, “they even have a dwarf!”
“Yeah,” Officer Reed snickered, focusing on Ursula Printer, “and a menagerie of drug addicts, ex-cons, and hookers to boot.”
Sam noticed, with mixed emotions, that Marie was amused by their reactions. There was no more red-eye, only what he fancied as a devilish mirth. The patrolmen were laughing heartily now. Jake, however, was angry with himself for the predicament he had gotten them into. Doubt flooded back into his mind. Salem had wandered off somewhere, leaving the woman and a gallery of harmless derelicts to face the police.
“I wanna talk to each and every one of them lowlifes,” Jake grumbled to Sam. “Maybe one-by one, by themselves, back at the precinct, we can get a straight story.”
“Jake, we tried that before,” whispered Sam in a strained voice. “I dunno about Wyatt, but the rest of them are probably programmed. They don’t believe Salem’s a murderer. They might not even be on drugs. Unless a team finds drug paraphernalia or they’re actually stoned, we can’t arrest them. We can’t even interview them, without counsel. Which means, Jake, we’ve got to at least find recent drug paraphernalia on the premises or we’re screwed!”
“Walker will back us up,” the sergeant tried to sound encouraging. “Hell, someone up there’s watching over us Sam! You should’ve heard the deputy chiefs’ voice. That man’s excited about what we’re doing. “What do you think Officers Reed and Fletcher?” Jake glanced up at the twelve. “They look like a bunch of druggies to you?”
“Oh, definitely,” nodded Phil, “and just think of all the evidence they might find.”
“Might is the operative word,” Sam whispered to Jake. “Let’s just hope they find evidence—any kind of evidence—in this hotel.”
At that point, there was a commotion outside: the sound of vehicles driving up and doors slamming. Jake and Sam froze in place, looking up at the carefree disciples, as Officers Reed and Fletcher trotted out to meet the team.
“Sergeant Cosgrove,” Garth called from the entrance, “the investigators have arrived.”
In spite of the racket they made entering the lobby of the hotel, it was, to Sam’s relief, a small team of narcotics technicians who greeted them, which indicated that it would be a routine, not a major, investigation. The worst that could happen now, would be that they would, after sniffing around awhile, find nothing to indicate drug use on the premises, but that could change if they decided to give all of the strange-acting tenants drug tests downtown. Sam wanted, in spite of his doubts, to trust Jake, so he flashed the sergeant a spirited smile.
After the usual amenities, Jake explained what he had heard from one of the tenants of the hotel and briefly reminded Sergeant Rick Vance of the Narcotics Division about the rumors circulating about drug trafficking in this area.
“I have a feeling that, at least one of these vagrants will be high on crack or heroin,” Rick spoke quietly to Jake. “It’s this story about the woman with the red flashing eyes Granger reported that bothers me, Jake.” “Were you serious about that claim?” His voiced dropped to a whisper. “After that story about what happened down here, this is beginning to sound like a Stephen King movie.”
“Look, I know how it sounds,” Jake grew irritable. “I still don’t know why the lab’s sample turned up sterile. You narcotic guys have got to find something!”
“I don’t know anything about any forensics report,” Rick reached in his coat to pull out a notepad, “but my instincts tell me you’re right on the mark about drugs. This couple, Salem Dade and Marie Roget, have no rap sheets—zilch, nada. Both of their social security numbers check out, and yet there is no record of them anywhere.”
“No rap sheets or records. . . anywhere?” Jake muttered to himself.
Jake was disappointed with this small group of narcotics investigators, which seemed like a token effort at best. It seemed obvious that Walker considered the detectives to be the only representatives of the homicide division on this team. If he had intended for a forensic group to accompany the investigators, it would have arrived with Sergeant Vance’s tiny squad. Since neither the homicide captain nor his lieutenant were privy to this investigation, deputy chief Walker’s interest in this enterprise appeared to be at a higher, perhaps philosophical, level. It had, Jake sensed intuitively, nothing to do with police work or the merits of the case. The excitement he felt intermittently for this investigation, returned as light-headedness as he contemplated the new deputy chief. The realization that Adam Leeds and Salem Dade were one and the same man had begun his path toward the truth. Much had happened to entice him further along the path. Now a gasp escaped his throat, as it dawned on him how he might be jeopardizing their careers.
“You think they’ll find something here?” asked Sam, as they followed the investigators around the garbage-strewn floor.
“They’d better find something,” grumbled Jake.
“This is ridiculous,” Salem called from across the room where he and Marie stood talking in muted whispers. “You automatically suspect that there will drugs because these are homeless folk.”
“That’s why a lot of them are homeless,” Sergeant Vance gave him a cynical smile.
“Look here boss,” a petite blond-haired investigator picked up a syringe with tweezers and a gloved hand, “right off the bat: drug paraphernalia.”
I thought you said this place was clean! Salem’s thoughts shot into Marie’s mind.
It’s past paraphernalia, shrugged his mentor. Calm down. Where’s your faith? Nothing can happen to you with me by your side.
“It looks recent,” said Rick looking over at the pair. “Bad idea lodging in a drug hangout, Dade.”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Sam whispered to the ceiling, glancing back at Jake.
“Bag it Gretchen,” Rick watched with amusement as the exuberant rookie filed the first bit of evidence away. “Now find me the stuff that goes in it,” he looked around at the other techs, “and were in business!”
“Spoon, Sarge,” Gretchen chimed.
“I found another syringe,” piped a second investigator. “There all over the place.”
“Some of these look old and rusted,” observed Sergeant Vance after quickly inspecting them on a portable table set up by the team. “We need fresh paraphernalia to show that these crack-heads just shot up.”
With the battery-powered light streaming down on the syringes, spoons, and various other suspected drug paraphernalia found in the lobby of the hotel, Jake stood there a distance away mopping his brow with a Kleenex, not sure whether these discoveries were good or bad. If this condemned hotel had been used as a drug hangout, as Sergeant Vance implied, it would be difficult to prove that any of that paraphernalia was used by the new tenants unless they were brought down town, fingerprinted and given blood tests that would match the DNA and prints on the syringes and spoons. He was almost certain that, given the quirky behavior of Salem, Marie and the other twelve, they would be forced to undergo such tests. They had certainly given the LAPD cause for suspicion. The strange goings-on on skid row had seemed to be cause enough. But what if members of this group came up clean? And what if it was concluded that Dade and his mistress were just two more eccentrics living on skid row? After what he told Officers Reed and Fletcher, he and Sam would wind up being the laughing stock at the precinct.
The thought occurred to Jake that so close to retirement, he had wanted to glide out of the department with a spotless record. He wanted a peaceful, non-controversial, exit and to be remembered as a hard-boiled sleuth and not a nutcase like Salem Dade. As he and Sam stood by helplessly as the investigators combed the hotel for more evidence of drug activity, he could hear Rick, Gretchen, and the other techs talking to the twelve. After nearly an hour, in which Jake and Sam were forced to walk outside and relieve themselves in back of the hotel, Rick trotted quickly down the staircase by himself, motioning for the detectives to listen up.
“Call in back-up, we need a paddy wagon,” he said in a singsong voice. “That Marie Roget’s on something!”
“Did she flash her eyes at you?” Jake felt his heart leap in his chest.
“Yeah, you were right,” Rick seemed excited now. “Damnedest thing I ever saw.”
“They won’t believe us,” Gretchen chirped, as she scampered down the stairs. “It reminds me of the red-eye you get with camera shots. I think that woman’s possessed.”
“I love you, Gretchen,” Sam giggled hysterically under his breath. “Jake,” he whispered, as the sergeant brought the phone up to his ear. “Tell them to bring a S.W.A.T. team. We might need it if she decides to resist.”
When they saw Marie move gracefully down the staircase, their immediate fears evaporated in her crinkly voice.
“We’ll go gracefully Sergeants Cosgrove and Vance. You don’t need a S.W.A.T. team and all those guns.”
Sam looked at Jake, who aborted his call. “How did she hear that?” He gripped the sergeant’s arm.
“This is getting ridiculous,” Jake raised the phone back up to his ear.
After hastily calling in for backup, Jake and Sam watched as the others, with expectant expressions on their faces, looked over the banister. Salem was again nowhere in sight. The homicide detectives, patrolmen, and narcotics investigators now assembled below the staircase, including the two officers who stayed to guard the exits of the hotel, their hand poised over their guns.
“I don’t know what your game is miss,” Rick said with a snarl, “but you just stay put where you are!”
Marie retreated back up the stairs to stand with the twelve. As the detectives and investigators waited for police backup to arrive, Salem’s mistress appeared calm and collected. This worried Jake and Sam. Perhaps she was convinced that the police lab would find no evidence of drugs in the systems of the twelve…. Or perhaps, thought Jake hopefully, she was on drugs, herself. He also considered the possibility, as Wyatt suggested, that there was a supernatural explanation. When they heard the clamor of a full-fledged S.W.A.T. team arriving on the scene, the old sergeant cringed at the prospect that his instincts had been wrong. He could not have imagined the assembly arriving on the street. All that mattered those moments, as the heavily armored, jacketed force of men and women rushed into the lobby of the hotel, was his wife Anna, his grandchildren, and his looming retirement, which now seemed jeopardized by an impulsive, irrational frame of mind.