Continued from Part I
It was an odd experience, taking statements from my own neighbours. Had they seen anything out of the ordinary? Any unusual vehicles in the street or people walking through; anyone looking furtive, like they had something to hide? anyone carrying a package? When I finally got towards the end of my list, I was expecting that everybody would have the same nothing-useful to tell.
But then I asked Bobby.
He had wanted to play the doorbell ringing game one more time, had snuck out of his house and hid in the bushes, sitting very still in preparation for his daring run to my doorbell and back. But before he had the chance, a man got out of a car which had been sitting across the street. White male, thin and drawn looking. The man wore a dark coat and carried a box; he took the box to my doorstep, peeked into my window, and, just before he rang the bell, he had turned and looked right at Bobby. The man had put a finger to his lips and made an almost silent 'shhhh' sound; as soon as he rang the doorbell, he walked quickly towards his car; Bobby had already made it halfway home before he heard the car jet past him down the street.
Stan Washington showed up to personally oversee the forensic sweep of the area. His presence was mollifying; we spoke of the case. "So this gallbladder," I asked, "can you live long without one of those?"
"God, I hope so!!" he patted a hand to his side. "Had to have mine out years ago."
The following Wednesday, the package was not a cardboard box, and in fact it did not come to me at all; it was a cooler, packed with ice, surrounding a kidney. It was delivered by a courier who regularly made such deliveries, to the appropriate desk at the Madera General Hospital -- about forty minutes away -- at 9:18 PM. There was a neatly typed note:
PLEASE FIND A GOOD HOME FOR THIS ORGAN. IT WILL BE A LIFESAVER FOR SOMEBODY.
The hospital staff had no reason to know that this seemingly routine package was connected with any kind of ongoing investigation, so they took the routine steps of checking the documentation accompanying the organ, finding a patient with matching characteristics who was urgently awaiting a transplant, and conducting the necessary surgery.
Indeed, no one thought it was unusual at all until they were throwing away the ice, and some studious nurse noticed a half dozen human teeth scattered in with it. That's when they contacted the police to inform them of the delivery. No one put things together. They called back the next day when they figured out that the documentation was forged -- both in Madera and in the files of the hospital from which it had supposedly come, a few hundred miles away. The organ had not come from the facility listed in the paperwork at all, and somehow someone finally thought of me. I felt sorry for the recipient of that organ, who had to get their newly implanted organ biopsied so that a DNA test could confirm that it was part of the victim whose teeth came with it, and whose finger, toe, and left ear had been surgically mutilated about a month before.
The FBI came in. They had declined to participate directly in the investigation even when we'd notified them after the package at my house, but the kidney caught their interest, organ trafficking being a federal offense and all that. And before long, they had more news.
"You know a Detective Guillermo Arguento, in San Marino?"
Well sure I remembered Gil. "He used to work here, moved up there after he got married, must be.... fifteen years?"
"Were you partners with Detective Arguento?"
"No, we never partnered -- he was with, let's see, Rick Dovrowski just at the very beginning, before Dov retired, but Gervin Watts mostly. Watts died a few years back. But we all worked angles on some of the bigger cases back then. Those Chinatown prostitute murders. That little girl who was kidnapped at the kiddie beauty pageant. Made the news. Sordid business, that was. That and a few others." Obviously this line of questioning was going beyond friendly banter. "What's Gil got to do with this?"
Turned out that Gil had been receiving packages as well, starting just after my second one came in. He'd gotten another part of that left ear, a lower rib, a few fingers and teeth. All from the same person as mine, all neatly, surgically cut off. The coroner's offices battled for a bit over which ones would send remains to the other to be brought together. The FBI decided it would be Stan's shop. It was more convenient to their building.
Monday morning came around again. And Gil and I received packages on the same day. Mine had a left testicle, a sickeningly neat patch of scalp, and the bottom bulb of a femur. Gil's had the left half of a tongue and four feet of small intestine.
After a few hours staring at the case file, I had a thought which sent me back to the ME's office. "The kidney," I asked Stan, "what happened to it?"
"It was transplanted."
"I know, but who'd it end up in?"
"Girl in Madera, I think. She was already in the hospital -- been waiting for a match for a while, and this one was spot on. Why? Do you think--" Stan tilted his head, curiously. "If this was about that kidney -- why all the other parts?"
"What if it wasn't about the kidney, but the kidney's a happy coincidence? You've got a psycho, crazy enough to be dicing some guy up by inches, but he's got a soft spot for this girl. So he discovers that the victim is a match for this kidney donation the girl needs. And instead of dicing up the kidney...."
Stan finished my thought. "He packs it neatly in a cooler and delivers it to the hospital where he knows it's needed."
"So maybe there's a connection," I continued, "Between this girl and our perp."
"And the victim," Stan added. "The cutter had to have some reason to think that this kidney would be a match for the girl. Or else why go to the risk? The most likely reason he would suspect that is if he knew them to be related. Or he actually bothered to test them for compatibility."
"Madera." I grabbed my hat and turned briskly toward the door.
"Hello Molly," I took my hat off and hoped my smile came across as warm. The hospital was generally a sterile place, but this room was packed full of flowers and teddy bears and well-wishing cards. Molly, a pale and whispy girl with straight straw-blond-hair, lay in the slightly reclined bed, recovering. "Tell me, how old are you?" Kids like to be asked their age, I had always thought, the difference of a few months this way or that so closely instructing their sense of identity.
"I have a daughter about your age. Her name is Alison."
Molly's doctor had told me how surprised he was to receive a kidney that matched Molly's rare blood type, with certain markers so unusual that he thought only a member of her immediate family would have been able to donate a matching kidney. But Molly'd been adopted long ago, and her file indicated that her biological mother, Brenda Harding, was no match, and her biological father, Jeffrey Parker, was long dead. They'd been teenage parents, both sixteen when Molly was born. Jeffrey was killed in an accident a year later. Got drunk and fell off his roof. But....
"Now, Molly, I have a very important question for you. Did you ever meet anybody who told you they were related to your father -- your biological father."
She nodded. "There was this man. He came to the house once. He found, I think he told them-- my parents-- he found a locker that was my dad's. My biological dad's. And the was some stuff in it he thought he'd have wanted me to have."
"Do you remember his name?"
She thought for a moment.
"Charlie. I think."
"What was the stuff he gave you?"
"There was a doll. And a book. The Wind In The Willows." She glanced up, earnestly. "It's my favorite book."
Jeffrey Parker, it turned out, had a half-brother, Charles Williston, who had a condo apartment on the bay. Williston's apartment was done up elegantly, obviously at some expense. But it was clear that it had not been lived in for some time, weeks at least, probably months. The air was stale. A patina of dust lay on every surface. Still, we moved cautiously from room to room, quietly, guns drawn. A slight whirring noise came from a back room. It was the vent in the master bathroom. I signaled the young officer moving in tandem with me to open the door. As he did, a tearing sound revealed that the door had been sealed shut all around with plastic. A stench pervaded the room, rolled out, assaulted our senses. Nose and mouth covered with a handkerchief, I groped for the light switch. I wished I hadn't bothered when I saw the oversized plastic cooler sitting in the tub, the big, blue plastic kind you'd load up with ice and beers for a party on the beach.
What was left of the body in the cooler was horrific. But even more disturbing was the fact that, despite the removal of limbs and face, and some other parts in no particular order, he at least retained all of his upper teeth. Meaning, this was not the victim we were seeking, whose teeth had been dribbled to us in envelopes and packages and such. No, this one was an earlier attempt, perhaps a victim who had died unexpectedly, depriving the killer of desired further removals. Perhaps simply practice, to build the nerve toward taking the victim truly desired.
"The fridge," I muttered. The young officer, understandably reduced to an almost robotic state of numbness by this find, nodded silently and moved toward the kitchen. Other officers had already searched there, were already making their way over to tell me of the gruesome collection of parts found therein, parts adding up to at least two more victims in addition to the one in the cooler in the bathroom. But neither one was the source of our piecemeal malings. He was still alive, I knew in my gut, and still out there. Somewhere.
To be continued....