Salem was certain, as he was crammed into the van with the other suspects, he had been brought by Marie Roget to the depths of humiliation. He was about to be tested for drugs by the Los Angeles police. What if they concluded that he was, in fact, the missing Mister Leeds? He could not coherently respond to the train of thoughts flashing into his head to bolster his spirit: Salem, where is your faith? I will protect you. They will find out nothing. Adam is dead. You are, to them, a blank sheet...
At the station, after a malodorous ride with the other vagrants, they were all taken down a long hall to special rooms in which the women in one cubicle and the men in the other were asked to urinate into small plastic cups. Afterwards, blood was drawn from each of them. Because of the number of the suspects and Deputy Chief Walker’s interest in this investigation, the results were expedited by the lab. Salem was reminded as he took his turn to enter the restroom, fill is cup, and hand it to the technician, of the time he took his father for his annual physical. That time, however, a polite, chipper nurse directed his father as he read magazines in the waiting room. His father and mother were dead now. They would have been shocked to find out that their son was also having his urine sample taken and blood drawn to see if he had taken illegal drugs. This time, the only reading materials were wanted posters and various signs directing the suspect to his or her destination.
As he sat with the others in a large holding room that smelled of urine and foul air, he looked across the floor to where Marie sat with the women, wondering why the Princess of Darkness would allow herself to be treated like a common tramp. Judging by the smile on her adolescent face, she almost looked as if she was enjoying the experience.
The final step after the department’s efforts to see if he had taken drugs was a simple discussion given by a uniformed policeman, who counseled him as he would all vagrants they were turning back onto the street. Salem barely heard his advice on finding employment and returning to society. He realized that this young man had memorized his speech and would give it to all the others before he was done. What amazed him, at that point, and made him feel light-headed and giddy was the fact that they hadn’t made any connection between himself and Adam Leeds. They were also not holding him as a suspect as Sergeant Cosgrove had hoped. Suddenly, as he felt his mentor’s soft hand on his, and they were rising to leave the crowded room, he felt euphoric again, as he had when he realized on the street that nothing could harm him with her nearby.
When Salem, Marie, and the twelve disciples had been brought in, the expectation that members of this group might be under the influence of drugs had ran high in the precinct. The couple and their motley followers had given the officers and detectives quite a show. Though their leaders behaved themselves when they were being processed ostensibly for trespassing and suspicion of using illegal substances, several of the homeless people boasted that Salem and Marie would give the atheist cops “what-for” and anyone messing with Salem Dade would feel the full wrath of the Universal Lord. Kaz, playing the court jester again, even did a little jig. Now, as they were gathered up, handed a packet of information that included a flyer from the mission, the police and detectives in the precinct watched this spectacle with mixed emotions. Many shook their heads or laughed amongst themselves. As Jake and Sam remained on duty at the end of their shift, the realization fell heavily over the sergeant, that Salem and his disciples, including Marie Roget, had been found drug-free and would be set loose to carry on whatever ominous enterprise Salem planned for the community and the world. Sam, who shared Jake’s embarrassment this hour, tried to console the sergeant as they stood there watching the fourteen homeless people file out of the precinct onto the street.
“You should be ashamed of yo’ selves,” Ursula Printer wrung her finger at them, “for accusing God’s anointed.”
“He’s gonna punish you,” sneered Liz Moydin. “You’ll burn in hell!”
They still don’t understand, Marie’s thoughts filled Salem’s head. We have much work to do to make them understand the Universal Lord.
“I need a drink,” Salem stared dully into the night.
As they departed behind their leader, Sam stifled the urge to trip one of them. “I don’t care what the lab found,” he set his jaw. “Those people are on something!”
“I can’t believe it,” Jake kept muttering to himself. “They’re clean. Not one of them tested positive for drugs. The bastards are clean!”
As they walked to the parking lot, Sam gave words of encouragement to Jake, although he needed consoling, himself. They had, he explained thoughtfully to the sergeant, acted upon reasonable suspicion. Salem Dade had appeared autistic on the street, exhibiting a behavior associated with prolonged drug use, and yet he was totally coherent, albeit coached, in the hotel. Marie Roget, though her social security card said differently, had looked under-aged, and she displayed bizarre behavior today. Salem and Marie, it was plain to see, had been play-acting, which meant they had something to hide. Not only did Marie appear to control Salem Dade but she also had an inexplicable power over the disciples’ minds. Though the vagrants apparently had no illegal substances in their bloodstreams, many of them, on the previous day, appeared to be high on drugs. Drugs, Sam reminded Jake, was therefore not the issue. A greater issue, he could not put into words, was in play. While Sam consoled his partner, however, his lip twitched slightly and he broke into a worried frown. Clearly, Jake realized, Sam’s words didn’t match his expression. He was humoring him again. He had been doing that a lot lately, as Jake fell into his moods.
Sam had proven his loyalty and trust once again. The old detective was moved greatly, but also felt a surge of guilt. He had placed them both in a difficult situation, the outcome of which hinged upon the new deputy chief’s support. His detour to the Fairmont hotel had been sanctioned only by Walker. What if Randall, discouraged by the results of the investigation, changed his mind?
When he and Sam parted with a handshake in the parking lot, his feeling of guilt deepened. For the first time since his rookie days, Jake was worried about his job. Almost as acutely, as he entered the Santa Ana Freeway and headed home, did he feel concern for Sam’s career. Until he reached his Anaheim home, a bottomless depression gripped him that only Anna, his indulgent wife, could dispel. When the Cosgrove’s phone rang and Anna picked up the receiver, Jake vaulted down the stairs, after having changed into casual wear, and grabbed the receiver out of her hands.
“Calm down Jake,” she murmured as he raised the receiver to his ear.
“Jake, Howard here,” a gruff voice barked into the phone. “I just got the lab results from the alleged drug addicts found in the old Fairmont Hotel. I also talked to some of the officers arriving initially at the scene. Those folks were as clean as boy scouts. What’s all this malarkey about that woman Marie Roget? You fellows made us look stupid, Jake. I need some answers. What happened out there today?”
“Listen Lieutenant,” Jake set his jaw. “I know it sounds crazy, but I was only relating to officers Reed and Garth what I heard. As far as the drug bust, our people overreacted on that. We expected backup, not an anti-terrorist unit. It might seem unnecessary the way they dragged those people in, but we had, after the narcs found all that paraphernalia, just cause.”
“All right, Jake, Rick Vance agrees with you there, but I didn’t authorize you to check Salem Dade and his crowd out. I certainly didn’t want you going back there after they couldn’t find evidence of a crime. Ashes don’t mean shit, if they’re sterile. Is this a private investigation, Jake? What do you care about a bunch of vagrants sleeping in a condemned hotel?”
His voice grew increasingly cutting, until Jake lost his temper and shouted into the phone, “Lieutenant Howard, calm down! How dare you take that tone with me? In the first place, it’s standard policy for police to stop and investigate an ongoing crime. Sam and I suspected foul play in skid row. If we hadn’t of taken a detour off a traffic-jammed freeway, we wouldn’t have known about Salem Dade. I don’t have an agenda, Bill. Why would you suggest such a thing?”
Bill’s voice took on a sharper edge. “Watch your tone, Jake, you’re close to insubordination now. You always are. You know I don’t like hot doggers. You ain’t no rookie. You know the rules.”
“You know what Bill, I’m going to call Walt Franklin and get his input on this. If he wants me to apologize to you, I’ll call you right back. Otherwise, if you don’t hear from me, go straight to hell!”
“Jake, Jake!” Anna rung her hands after he hung up. “Your retirement from the department is only months away. Why would you antagonize Bill like that?”
“Because,” he shot back angrily, “he’s an asshole. This isn’t the first time he’s interfered with my judgment. I think that man works for internal affairs. I still know Salem’s a big problem, Anna. I can’t explain it—hell, I barely understand it myself, but I’m certain he torched a couple of homeless people down there. It’s the same feeling I have about the Reverend Adam Leeds. Haven’t you ever just known something deep down inside of you that you couldn’t explain but you knew was true?”
“Yes,” Anna confessed bluntly. “I know I’m going to die. But I don’t want to see your career in shamble before I go.”
“Don’t talk that way,” he reached out to hug his wife. “The doctors still have hope.”
“No, Jake,” she allowed her frail body to be engulfed in his brawny arms. “You have hope.” “I’ve heard you mumbling in your sleep.” She withdrew and looked at him with clear, but moist dark eyes. “….You sounded like you were praying…. Then I heard you mumble ‘False Prophet, Counterfeit Christ.’…. I’ve read the Bible, Jake. Those are apocalyptic terms—the kind Reverend Le Blanch used to spout at the church we attended in Orange.”
“I’ve forgotten about those days,” Jake said, kissing his wife’s brow. “Don’t worry, I’ll patch things up when I talk to Franklin. This won’t take long.”
Jake called Walt Franklin’s home in her presence and was startled when the captain immediately picked up the phone.
Against a background of loud music, a man’s voice answered, “Franklin residence. This is Walt.”
“This is Jake Cosgrove,” the sergeant said light-headedly, his heart hammering in this chest. “I’m sorry I’m calling you at home, but I need to talk to you about something.”
“Wait a sec,” Walt shouted over the noise. “My oldest son and his band are showing off to me and my wife. I’ll take my cell phone outside.”
After a moment, in which he took the opportunity to go over all the facts in his mind, he heard that good-natured voice again, this time in the silence of Walt Franklin’s large Brentwood yard.
“I know why your calling, Jake,” he sighed faintly. “Howard’s never liked you. I’m sorry about that. He thinks you’re a grandstander, because you never play by the rules. But Rick Vance was pretty spooked by those folks too, and so were members of his team. Fact is, I was going to call you about something else. It’s been bothering me for a couple of days.”
“Something else?” Jake was taken back.
Walt was silent a moment, as he listened to a distant howling of a coyote in the hills. What else did Howard have on him? wondered Jake. Searching his memory for all the side detours and short cuts he taken with his partner Sam, he could think of only one possible issue: the voice recorder. Sam had warned him about using it undercover…. Or was it more basic than this…. Could it be the slack he had been giving members of squad one? What if it was about one of his unorthodox methods of getting information? Walt was right; he had, at times, for a good cause, broken the rules.
“… I know that I called you in for the Leed’s case,” replied Walt after a pause. “But they found no evidence of arson in the ruins and no evidence of a crime. This should have been an open and shut case, Jake. I’m disturbed that it’s still going on.”
“I’m sorry,” Jake sat down, with the greatest relief, and took Anna’s hand. “I was just following orders. You’re the one who called me into it, Walt. I’ve done everything by the book.”
“By who’s book, Jake,” Walt exhaled heavily into the phone. “There’s such a thing as the chain of command. No wonder Howard’s pissed. Frankly, I’m a little upset myself. You’ve got to start following the rules.”
“What do you want me to do, ” Jake grinned at Anna, “apologize to Howard. I was just doing my job when I interviewed those people on the street. Howard accuses me of having an agenda. What kind’ve agenda could I have in that neck of the woods? ”
“I know Jake,” Walt settled in a lawn chair and looked wistfully at the pool, “you always do your job… and so much more. I’d like to know why, however, proper procedures weren’t followed. The street was a one shot thing, but who gave you permission to interview all those people from that church?”
“I was ordered,” Jake sighed. “If you clear it with Chief Randall, I’ll drop it at once. I’ll stay away from Salem Dade too.”
“I don’t care about Dade,” Franklin snapped now. “I’d have pulled over too. But we’re getting calls from some prominent citizens in that other group. They think they’re being harassed for Leeds’ disappearance. For Christ’s sake, Jake, it’s barely been seventy-two hours. There’s no evidence of homicide or even arson to justify an investigation like this.”
“There won’t be,” Jake murmured almost to himself.
“What?” grunted Walt. “You admit it?… What do you mean by that, Jake?”
“I think it will become a cold case, Walt,” replied Jake, a dreamy look breaking on his stony face, “but much, much more. Sometimes we, as cops, get hunches we call gut instinct. Sometimes our facts are just plain luck. This time I’m in the dark, Walt, and yet I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life. You’re going to have to talk to Chief Walker, yourself. You know as much as I.”
“I did,” Walt sighed again. “Randall was very evasive…. It’s as if he’s got something to hide.” “Things have changed since Randall Walker came aboard,” he complained, almost to himself. “Goodnight, Jake,” he signed off on a glum of note. “I hope Anna’s feeling better. I just found this week, I have type two diabetes. That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? Screw this job!”
After Walt had signed off, Jake checked his cell phone screen and saw the small envelope indicating that someone had left him a call. He had checked his voice mail only fifteen minutes ago but then, out of habit, turned off his phone, so it wouldn’t ring during his discussion with Walt. The message he heard now, of course, was from Deputy Chief Walker. A strange, inexplicable feeling of well-being overtook the sergeant, when he read the message on his phone:
“Jake, Walker here. Good work, Sergeant Cosgrove. You and partner Sam are on the right track. Please drop by the house tonight. We want to talk to you about the Dade and Leeds case.”
“I’ll be damned!” he muttered to himself. “The Dade and Leeds case…. I’m on the right track…. Son-of-a-bitch!”
“What did you say,” Anna was suddenly shaking his arm. “You’re talking to yourself, Jake. Are you all right?
“I’m all right, ” he looked at his wife, illumination growing on his face. “I have the deputy chief on my side. He didn’t let me down!”
“You have the Lord on your side,” she said to him as he kissed her check and headed toward the door. “He will never let you down!”
“I love you Anna,” he called back as he exited the house.
Though he would tell Anna everything, Jake had no intention of telling Walt about the meeting at Randall Walker’s house tonight. This, he sensed, had nothing to do with departmental business, and yet it appeared as if he might be working for the deputy chief directly now. An excitement he had not felt since his rookie days filled him as he exited his home and walked toward his car.
As he drove across town to Brentwood, he wished that Sam was with him now. Sam deserved recognition too. He had been acting strangely around his partner for weeks. So impulsively now, he called Sam’s home. After allowing his landline to ring for several moments, he left a message for Sam to call him, and then called him on his cell phone. When Sam’s cell phone voice mail kicked in, Jake was not alarmed. Sam and his wife Linda were probably out on a date tonight—it was about time, smiled Jake. No matter, he thought, as he approached Randall’s neighborhood. I’ll talk to Sam tomorrow.
Unwittingly perhaps, Sam was the one who first tied Dade and Leeds together. This thought had appeared as a meteor in his dark thoughts…. Now, as he searched for Randall’s house, a light continued to grow in his mind—all starting with that casual remark. When he drove up to the Walker estate, he noticed that the street was lined with other automobiles. One of them was a patrol car with an LAPD logo on its sides. It took him several minutes to find a parking space on the curb and walk up the long, winding path to the entrance of the house. When the chief’s wife answered the door and led him into the living room, Sergeant Jake Cosgrove could scarcely believe his eyes. There in Randall’s living room, with the chief walking cordially toward him, was the deputy fire chief, Sid Barnes, several prominent citizens, including Dwight Higgins, whom he had talked to earlier this week, and Officer Fred Gandy standing next to his partner Sam. In a dimly lit corner whispering excitedly to Sid’s wife Vickie, was Jetta Carlson, the only member of the news media present in the room.
“Sam!” Jake cried out happily.
“Welcome, Jake,” Randall Walker proffered his hand, “I’m so glad you came…. You and your partner Sam Ruiz have done a fine job. Now it’s time to let you know what this case is really about.” “Sit down Jake,” he motioned to an easy chair. “Sam told me everything. I went through the same metamorphosis myself after my wife Sylvia was cured…. For you it comes slower because you’re not a believer, like the rest of us—not withstanding Sam Ruiz—in the room. We plan on working on that.”
Sam’s dark face seemed to redden as everyone turned to stare at him. He smiled with embarrassment at Jake and shrugged his shoulders as if to say “beats me!”
“Believers?” Jake looked around the room. “…. I don’t understand. Believers of what?” “Who are you people?” He motioned to the others standing in back of the room. Many of them moved through the sliding door to greet him. At least a dozen more spilled in from the dining room and hall.
“We are Lord Jesus’ witnesses for the End Times,” Dwight Higgins called from their midst.
“We have seen the second beast and are truly blessed.” Sid Barnes came forward arm and arm with his wife, with Jetta Carlson following close behind. In the light of the living room, the glowing faces of the remnant of Our Lord and Savior’s Christian Church who attended Dwight Higgins meeting were discernable, including Amy Sullivan and her friend Jolene Frick.
“There-there, don’t be afraid,” Randall squeezed Jake’s trembling hand. “We share a secret. We have been calling ourselves the Brotherhood of the Fish, but because half of us are women, we need a new name.”
“We are the first to know!” Officer Fred Gandy’s face was radiant in the subdued light.