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Authors: Keith M Donaldson

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BOOK: Death of an Intern
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W
e were asleep in the V bunk on
Scalawag
when a phone rang. I poked my hand out from under the covers, seeking it. Unsuccessful, I raised my head as Jerry muttered, “It's yours.” He then rolled over the other way, and I sat up, groping for my phone.

“Hello,” I said groggily.

“I know you're half asleep, so just listen,” Avery Lassiter burst into my ear. “A white female, naked and mutilated was discovered behind RFK near the river about a half hour ago. Wilder is suffering from a horrendous hangover, and I can't find Switzer.”

“We're going sailing.”

“I need you, Wolfe.” Lassiter's intensity was growing.

“Only because I'm the dumb one. Where's the weekend crew?”

“You're it.”

“Yeah well, wait a minute. I've got a condition.”

“What, the measles?”

I was getting my bearings. “If that'll get me off, I mean, a deal.”

“You know I don't make deals,” Lassiter said sternly.

“If I am covering for Wilder, he can take back the 7th Street boys you dropped on me.”

“I don't bargain.” Lassiter was now getting defiant.

I stayed firm. “I won't do it.”

“I hear your buddy Walsh is on his way there.”

Lassiter had now switched tactics. I deliberately lowered my voice, hoping it would sound faint. “The line must be going bad. You're breaking up.”

“I said…bring Wilder's damn folder in after you check out the crime scene. Use the back road off the freeway under Pennsylvania Avenue into RFK. I don't know if you read Wilder's piece yesterday on the Thalma Williams killing, but we could have the beginnings of serial killings.”

“Yes ma'am.” I clicked off.

“What's with that woman?” Jerry asked.

“She took it back,” I said gleefully.

“What?”

“The 7th Street story. See? I'm cutting down,” I said, poking him.

“Except you're working today,” he groaned.

I rolled over and tickled him.

“Lassiter has no conscience,” he said, rolling me off him.

Little triumphs were important. “I made a deal and she took it. She's worried we may have a serial killer on our hands.”

He rolled over. “You don't get Pulitzers for serial killings.”

“You don't know that.”

“That's for what's written after they catch the guy.”

“Oh. Well, a deal is a deal. Sorry, sweetheart.” I slapped his butt. “I promise to take it easy.” I leaned over him, kissed him, and got up.

“You better tell Lassiter about your condition.”

“I'm hitting the head and then going on my way. I'll be back before lunch.” I tried to use some bravado to hide that I was pissed at having my loving weekend interrupted. However, the consolation of getting rid of that pain-in-the-ass story was probably worth it. I got dressed, had half a bagel and a glass of orange juice, and went on my way.

The marina parking lot was filling with the early arrivals who were about to enjoy a nice leisurely day, and that rankled me. On top of that, some jerk in a Suburban was blocking the exit while his wife and kiddies unloaded.

By the time I got onto Maine Avenue, my adrenaline was pumping. By the time I reached the freeway, at least three traffic episodes had me biting bullets. I fumed at anything and everything. Why had I answered my phone? Ignoring it would have avoided this crap. Who was I kidding? I never ignored a phone call. Unfortunately, Jerry was now cuddling a pillow instead of me.

I finally made it to the freeway and headed for RFK. I became aware that my hands hurt. When I looked at them, I saw very white knuckles, and relaxed my rigorous grip on the steering wheel. Yuk. I shook it off. I left the freeway as instructed and drove into the wooded area on a single lane road. Thank goodness I had Jerry's SUV and not my sports car. The surrealistic sight of flashing lights through drooping tree limbs tempered my fury.

The former home of the Washington Redskins and hopefully the home to a new baseball team, RFK Memorial Stadium was currently used for soccer and an occasional concert. Jerry moaned often about the loss to the city when the Skins moved to a new stadium in Maryland. RFK was home-field advantage. Now the Skins played all their games away. Maybe Joe Gibbs' return would change that.

Police, paramedics, reporters, videographers, photographers, bystanders, fire department, the medical examiner wagon, and other assorted vehicles surrounded where I presumed the body lay.

I parked and pinned on my ID. MPD officers and grunts were in a tight circle inside the larger one. My media colleagues were staged in a group off to one side fifty or so feet away. I took out my camera, snapped a couple of shots, and headed to where I thought Max would be, hoping this would not take long.

Normally Max was off on Sundays too. I spotted him and called out. He turned and a big grin spread across his face. As I reached him, he said teasingly, “My, my. The
Star
must be down to the bottom of the barrel.”

“Please, it's Sunday morning. Jerry sends his regards and asks that you please make quick work of this so we can go sailing.”

“No invite for a working slob? This is supposed to be my off day too,” the Captain of Homicide said.

“You have an open invitation to sail and you know it. Is this victim a white woman? Any ID?”

“Yes and no.” Two questions, two answers. I don't know why I asked the first question, I already knew the answer from what Lassiter told me, but Max didn't know…

“Who found her in this desolate place?” I plodded on, ending my rationalization.

Max pointed, “Those bikers talking with a couple of uniforms.”

The two male bikers were done up in the best yuppie bike-wear money could buy.

“It looks too much like the Williams killing for my liking,” Max said. “But that's not for publication. She was sliced up very much the same way. Maybe worse.”

I felt a sour sensation in my gut. “Pregnant?”

“Don't know yet. We didn't know Williams was either, at first.”

Lassiter had nailed it. A possible serial killing.

A male voice came from where the body lay. “Captain Walsh.”

Max turned and signaled at the officer that he was coming. “Your media friends have already had their look, from afar. Stay behind me.” He motioned me to follow him.

“We're through here, Captain,” the officer said. “All right to move her?”

I stopped alongside Max. The body was in a zip-up bag. All that was exposed was the woman's face. My gasp got Max's attention.

“My God, Max, I know…” my whisper was stifled by a catch in my throat.

The officer was about to zip up. Max stopped him. “Hold up a minute.” He turned to me. “You sure? Take a better look.” Max looked at the other media types who were not paying them attention. “Do it quickly.” He moved to allow me in front of him.

I looked at the pale face. Tears welled up, and I turned away. “I know her. We met her Friday night.”

Max turned back to the officer. “Zip up and take her to the ME.”

I had a tissue out. “Oh, Max, this is terrible.”

He moved me away from my colleagues and everyone else. “You knew her?” He punched a number on his cell phone.

“Met her. She worked for the Vice President. He and about four hundred close friends were celebrating his parent's fiftieth wedding anniversary. We were introduced to her—”

Max interrupted. “Hold it, Delia. Do you have a name?” he asked me.

“Oh yeah, ah, Janet. No last names were mentioned.”

“Delia, I want you to get me a list of all the Janets who work for the Vice President…yes, the Vice President of the United States, and it is for me only, got it?” Another pause. “Right.” He clicked off. “What else?” he asked me.

“Nothing. There were a lot of people. She was one of a group of young women who worked in the Vice President's office.”

“Anybody you can call?” Max asked.

“Jerry. His former law school roommate, Ralph Morgan, is the VP's senior attorney. That's how we got the invite. He introduced us to the Vice President and the girls. I'll ask Jerry to call him.”

“This has to be kept very quiet. Ask Jer to impress on Mr. Morgan the—”

“Better, I'll ask him to say he's calling for me. Say Janet and I had talked, she had asked me some things, and I told her I'd get back to her. We left, and I forgot to get her phone number.”

“Tell Jer thanks in advance.”

“I'll do it on my way to the
Star.
You and I communicate on our cells only?”

“Or call Delia and tell her you have to talk to me.”

“Why do you have that poor woman working on Sundays?”

“Because she's off on Friday and Saturday. I actually give her time off to go to church on Sunday if possible. Any more questions?”

“Where's my car? Ah, there it is. I'll leave now.” I slunk away, punching in
Scalawag's
landline. Jerry wouldn't have his cell phone on. He answered on the third ring.

“Tell me you're coming home.”

Caller ID was wonderful. “Afraid not, my dear. I need a quick and clandestine favor.” I filled him in on the details and told him what to say to Ralph. Jerry usually went along with my requests, but he balked.

I pleaded it was for Max. He gave in. I got in the SUV and headed for the
Star.

I
walked into Lassiter's office and put the 7th Street folder on her desk.
She looked up.
“Well, Ms. Wolfe. I didn't expect you this soon.”

“This is huge,” I said excitedly.

Lassiter showed surprise, which for her was unusual. Always the stoic.

“This is not for general consumption yet. Captain Walsh or the chief will make an announcement in a couple of hours. I knew the Jane Doe.”

Jerry had gotten back to me as I drove to the paper. He had what I needed and more from Ralph Morgan. “She was Janet Rausch from Des Moines, Iowa, and she worked for the Vice President of the United States.”

“You knew her?” Lassiter asked, surprised.

“Met her, once. I was able to get both her Iowa and Virginia addresses from a White House source and, for an added bonus, the name of her roommate. They have no house phone, only cells. Therefore, our media friends will have difficulty locating Janet's residence once MPD makes their announcement. Marsha Hines, Janet's
who to call in an emergency
person, is her roommate.

“MPD is waiting on fingerprint corroboration. Once they have that, they'll call the Vice President's chief of staff who will call the Rausch family. Once MPD gets the White House okay, they will go public. That gives me at least an hour-and-a-half head start. This is definitely front page.”

“Go find the roommate. We'll leave your fame and the editorial judgments up to the brass.”

“I'll miss the police briefing. Captain Walsh said this is very much like the Williams killing. Since she was cut open like the Williams woman, Walsh suspects they will find that Rausch, too, was pregnant. I'll see what I can get from the roommate. Maybe learn the father's name.”

My editor looked at me blankly. “If Rausch was pregnant and killed in the same manner as Williams, it's most likely serial, and the father becomes just another mourner.”

“Think about it. Janet lived in Arlington. Thalma Williams lived in D.C. One's white, the other black. If pregnancy is the common thread, how did the killer know? What's the connection?”

“Random bad luck.”

“It's gotta be something more,” I insisted, itching to leave. I felt Janet would have at least said “me too” when she heard Ralph's bluster over Jerry becoming a father.

“Go. Maybe the roommate has what you're looking for. I'll cover the MPD briefing if I can't get somebody else.”

“Good. I always wanted you and Max Walsh to meet.”

A
t 8:45 on a Sunday morning in Washington, D.C., was when tourists were thinking more about breakfast than monuments or museums. Most federal buildings were empty, and church-going folks didn't create a rush hour.

The cherry blossoms were falling, and the ground around the tidal basin looked like it had grown white whiskers. One good wind, though, and they'd all be gone. That's how fast things changed.

Something very hideous was loose in our community. A very surrealistic feeling swept over me. I knew what only Lassiter, Walsh, Jerry, and the killer knew—the victim's name. But did he? Could he have known both victims? Doubtful.

What sickness created this horror? Ted Bundy killed pretty girls; David Berkowitz was the .44-caliber killer, also called The Son of Sam; Jack the Ripper; now some D.C. guy slaughtering pregnant women. What nickname would this guy have? The Eviscerater?

Enough. I had to focus. Follow the leads. I could not remember ever seeing I-395 so empty. I could not ever remember feeling so empty. Stealing a fetus. Ugh. This was becoming personal. Not a good thing for me to feel.

Thalma Williams's killing had made the Metro section and was gone the next day. If she and Janet were serial killings, Thalma would be on page one tomorrow.

I found the townhouse development off Glebe Road and located Janet's house number. An empty parking spot was immediately in front, and I pulled in. That reminded me, we would need a description of Janet's car. Did it have Iowa or Virginia plates? I spoke my thoughts into a hand recorder. Meeting Marsha Hines will change the dynamics. I didn't want to lose the valuable nuggets I had been mulling over.

I took my bag, which included my recorder, camera, notepad, and some personal stuff. Probably a Milky Way or two. My cell phone was clipped to my waistband. This was something new for me, being the bearer of horrible news. I reached the door, took a deep breath, let the air out slowly, and rang the doorbell.

I felt queasy when I should be pumped having such a big jump on every media person in the world. A front-page story. Of course, if the roommate wasn't home, all that would be moot. I needed to build a story to have a chance of keeping this my piece and not have my work become an attribution for Gerty, Gertrude Lane, the old-bag White House correspondent.

“Come on, girl, answer the door,” I thought anxiously. I rang the bell again and followed with a loud knock. “Please be home,” I said silently.

“I'm coming,” a female voice inside called out.

I sighed. I heard the deadbolt slide, and the door began to open as the woman inside was speaking.

“What did you do, lose your key?” Seeing me she stopped. “Oh.”

“Marsha Hines?” I asked as brightly as possible, hoping to close the gap from the young woman's one thought, Janet, to another, a stranger.

“Who are you?”

“Laura Wolfe,” I said as friendly as I could.

She appeared self-conscious. “Oh, I thought that—”

“I was Janet?”

“Yeah. Who did you…?”

“Laura Wolfe, a friend of Janet's,” I fibbed. Well, I feel like I am.

“Oh.” Marsha looked out at the cars. “That SUV is in her spot.”

“It's mine. So, she's not here.” No reply. “May I come in?” Indicating by gestures that I had to “go.” “I had too much coffee this morning.”

The half-asleep woman was becoming more alert. “Well, I—”

“You're right, you don't know me. I'm sorry. I was coming out to Virginia; I called her cell phone, got no answer.” I was playing on Marsha's midwestern upbringing with some hardcore reverse psychology.

“Well sure, why not. We don't have a house phone; you couldn't have called that.”

“That's why I couldn't find it,” I fibbed again. “I wondered.”

“Come in. The powder room is right there,” Marsha said.

“What?” I had momentarily forgotten my subterfuge. “Oh right, thank you. This is a nice place,” I started for the powder room. “Just you and Janet?”

“It's a two bedroom.”

I went into the small half bath, and called back to her. “Janet have a boyfriend?”

“You mean…no…oh no. She's at a female friend's. She stayed over last night.”

“Oh, she called?” Please don't make this hard, I thought.

“Last night, around 6:00.”

That a girl. I gave it another ten seconds, then flushed and washed my hands. Then came out. “Thank you for the use of the hall,” I said. “You talked to her around 6:00, did you say?”

“She had an appointment in town, and then was going to her friend's.” She yawned. “Excuse me. Where do you know Jan from?”

“The Vice President's party for his parents, Friday night.”

“Oh, you work at the White House.”

“No. I was a guest.” I hoped that would create a positive reaction in this status-ladened town. “I, ah, may I have a glass of water?” I wanted to keep Marsha busy.

“Oh sure. I've got some filtered. I had just started some coffee.”

“Water's fine.”

Marsha went the few feet to the kitchen. I took a quick look around. Sparse furnishings, not anything to say who lived here. “How long have you and Janet lived here?” I called out just as Marsha reentered the living room with water for me and some coffee for her. We sat on the sofa.

“I was already here, going to Georgetown Law, camping out with two classmates, when Jan called to say she was coming to Washington to work for the Vice President.”

“You knew her from back in Iowa?”

“High school.” She took a drink.

I took a swig of water. This was not going to be easy. “You grew up together?”

“Practically. I couldn't believe she was coming here.”

“When exactly was that?”

“A year ago January when the President was inaugurated.”

“Oh, of course.”

“This is a sublet. People from the previous administration. It's like that around here,” Marsha said offhandedly.

“It's lovely and convenient.” I was stalling, hating the inevitable.

“More so for Jan. I try to ride in with her; otherwise, it's a bus to the Pentagon and then take the Metro.”

Marsha would be taking lots of buses from now on. I took a drink and girded myself to drop the bomb, but my cell phone rang.

“May I? It may be my other friend.” I answered “Yes?” into the phone.

Max Walsh's voice came on. “We've corroborated her identity from her fingerprints. You in your office?”

“No, but I'll be there shortly.” I tried to make it sound like I was talking to my fictitious friend.

“You back on the boat?” Max asked.

“I'm in Virginia now.”

“What are you up to?”

“I stopped by Janet Rausch's. I'm with her roommate, Marsha Hines.” I knew Max would pick up on that and record Marsha's name. The woman was looking at me questioningly.

“You haven't told her?” Max asked.

I felt a burst of anxiety. “No.”

“That's not my jurisdiction. You had better walk softly.”

“Light like a butterfly. I'll call you when I leave.” I clicked off. “I'm sorry.”

“Oh no, I was just surprised that you mentioned my name.”

I took my press credential from my bag. “I met Janet two nights ago. We talked. I admired her grandmother's pin.”

“Isn't it beautiful?”

I showed her my ID. “I work for the
Washington Daily Star.
I'm a reporter.”

“You interviewing Jan or something?” Her voice was tinted with excitement.

“I wish.” I paused, steadying my nerves. “No. I came to see you.”

“Me? How did you know about me?”

“I was given your name this morning by someone who works for the Vice President.”

“Why? Oh. Something's wrong isn't it? Something happened to Jan?” Her voice pitched up.

“Marsha. Janet was killed last night.”

“Oh God, oh no…NOOOO!” The young woman wailed, and began to rock back and forth. Her coffee spilled. She flailed her hands as though attempting to rid herself of a pesky bee.

This would not be something Marsha could brush away.

“No, no, no,” the stricken woman lowed.

I made an attempt to comfort her, but she fought me off.

“You came to tell me, didn't you? Why?” She rocked in her seat.

“I was called by my editor to go to where a body had been found. The woman had no ID. I recognized her.”

Marsha moaned in agony.

“Can I do anything for you, get you something?”

Marsha shook her head violently, jumped up, moved jerkily, confused, and then ran up the stairs.

I watched as the despondent woman fled, tears filling my eyes. Screw trying to be objective. I hurt for this woman, for Janet. Janet's family. They might be getting the grizzly news about now too. A lovely daughter, stolen from them.

Marsha's lamenting, loud crying like muted screams, most likely into a pillow, cascaded down the stairs. Her torrent of grief would not be quelled with any soft talk. Marsha had to work through this by herself.

I decided to look around and started with downstairs. I came back up and looked over the kitchen and living room. A fairly standard, small townhouse. The only photograph was a framed eight-by-ten of Janet and Marsha on the National Mall.

I walked up the stairs. There was a front and back bedroom. I looked in the front room. Marsha was face down, hugging two pillows, sobbing.

I went to Janet's bedroom, where I found many photos filling a small glass étagère, a nightstand, and a long dresser. Like in Marsha's room, the bed was a twin, this one neatly made up. A small table acted as a desk. Books, folders, a laptop, and calculator on it.

The photos appeared to be of family and friends. Janet with two teenage girls, maybe younger sisters. I saw a photo album on the dresser. Before touching it, I took out a tissue, holding it in a way so as not to leave fingerprints. I didn't have the popular surgical gloves worn by crime teams. Not knowing how far the investigation might go, like dusting for prints, I didn't want mine popping up.

The album revealed trophy pictures. Autographed photos to Janet from the President, Vice President, Secretary of State, and other cabinet members. Others included the Vice President with his arm around Janet, and Frances Grayson with several young women I'd met Friday night.

Janet did a very neat job categorizing each photo. If it was not otherwise identified, a typed out strip was pasted below the picture, naming everyone and the date it was taken. That might come in handy. I took out my camera and shot a full coverage of pictures. Max may never get into this house. It might help. They had nothing right now. I also took close-ups of photos in the album.

Three posters of music groups I had never heard of were taped to the walls. God, I was getting old. I heard Marsha moving around and put away my camera. I heard the toilet flush and went to Marsha's bedroom door, not invading her space. When Marsha came into view, she saw me.

“Is there anything I can do for you?”

Marsha had a bewildered expression. “What? Oh, I don't…who can do anything? This is horrible. Who will call her parents?”

“As I understand it, the Washington Metropolitan Police have informed the White House. They'll call the Rausches.”

“Where was she?”

“In a wooded area near RFK Stadium. Captain Walsh of MPD will make a public announcement right after he hears back from the White House. Do you remember a black woman being found under Key Bridge this past Thursday?”

“I remember hearing about it, why?” Her voice was very small.

“She was found nude with no ident—”

“Janet was found nude?” Marsha's voice spiked.

“Killed with a knife.”

Marsha gasped. “Some female law school students were talking…oh God…cut…her baby…oh no…”

Baby? I went to her. “Marsha, listen please, this is important. You just said ‘her baby.' How far along was she?”

The distraught woman shook with what I could only imagine were horrible visions of Janet's killing. I didn't want to be rough, but I needed Marsha to focus. I put my hands on her arms, bent down to be eye to eye with the sitting, quaking figure.

“Marsha, please. We need your help.”

She was dazed and looked like a drenched rag doll.

“About two months, I think,” she barely got out.

“Did Janet's pregnancy have anything to do with why she went into D.C. yesterday?”

No answer.

“Marsha. Did Janet go into Washington yesterday?”

She gave a weak nod. “To work?”

She shook her head. “No,” she said in a whisper, “to see Tishana.”

Tishana? “Tishana who?”

Marsha shook her head.

“How did she know this Tishana?”

“From the EOB someplace. I need a tissue.”

I found a tissue box. She blew her nose and wiped away her tears.

“Have you met Tishana, Marsha?”

She faintly shook her head, no.

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