Authors: Lee Goldberg
Steve and Amanda both looked at Mark. It wasn't like him to be so harsh and he knew it.
"Sorry," he said. "I haven't had much sleep and I'm running on caffeine."
"That's me every day," Amanda said.
"You're a single parent working two jobs," Mark said. You have an excuse."
"So do you," Amanda said. "You're also a single parent with two jobs."
"Excuse me," Steve said. "I'm an adult."
"Who still lives at home," Amanda said, then turned to Mark. "When was the last time he cleaned his room?"
"1978," Mark said, grateful to Amanda for lightening up the conversation, though he doubted Steve shared his appreciation. "So, does anybody want to tell me about this gentleman?"
"Meet Mt Deke Swicord, thirty-two, of Spokane, Washington," Steve said. "He's got a history of priors for petty theft, public drunkenness, and possession of controlled substances."
"Which he didn't possess more than mere seconds before injecting, snorting, or swallowing them," Amanda said. "His cadaver could be used as a teaching aid in medical school to illustrate the damaging effects of chronic drug abuse on the human body."
"In other words, the guy was a junkie," Steve said. "But that's not what killed him, not directly anyway."
"What was the cause of death?" Mark asked Amanda.
"Having his head slammed against the floor of Rebecca Jordan's apartment a half dozen times," she said.
"That's where things get murky," Steve said.
Mark sighed. "Things have been murky for me since I left the house this morning."
"Deke came down to Spokane with his wife Darla, another drug addict," Steve said. "They're running from a loan shark named Maurice Balcore."
"Who, I presume, is responsible for this." Amanda lifted the sheet to show them Deke's two broken fingers, no longer taped and splinted with Popsicle sticks. The fingers were swollen and dark purple. "Someone smashed his fingers with a mallet. I'd say it was about a week ago."
"Which nearly coincides with the publication of this picture in the Spokesman-Review." Steve handed Mark the newspaper clipping he found in Deke's wallet.
"I saw this wire story in Rebecca Jordan's office," Mark said.
"Her name isn't Rebecca," Steve said. "She's Deke's sister, Rachel Swicord. When he saw her picture in the paper, he hitched his way down here as fast as he could to hit her up for money."
"If he showed up at my door," Amanda said, "I might jump out a window, too."
"Rachel's roommate Lissy Dearborn saw him hanging around the neighborhood," Steve said. "She also said somebody tried to break in the other day, but she scared him off with a meat cleaver."
"A meat cleaver?" Amanda said. "Who keeps a meat cleaver under their bed?"
"When this case is closed, I think I'm going to ask her out."
"Because she keeps a meat cleaver under the bed?" Amanda said incredulously. "That would send a very different message to most men. Then again, it's been a while since you had a date."
"Have you confirmed yet that Rebecca Jordan really is Rachel Swicord?" Mark asked before Steve could reply to Amanda's dig.
"I just took her prints," Steve said. "I'll run them through APIS when I get back to the station."
"I'll save you the trouble," Mark said. "Stay here. I think I know how we can find out her whole story right now."
Mark rode the elevator up to the ICU and took a seat in the waiting room beside the Marlboro Man, who was engrossed in an issue of
. The man seemed very interested in an exhaustive report on the twelve awesome lip shades every bride needs to know.
"Excuse me," Mark said. "I was wondering if you could tell me how to make every day a great hair day?"
"Wear a sturdy hat," the man said, picking up the Stetson on the chair beside him. "That's my secret."
"How about letting me in on the ten great shortcuts to a new you?" Mark said.
"I don't know about that one, Dr. Sloan," the man said. "That's probably a question we should ask Rachel Swicord when she wakes up. I bet she probably has a couple good answers for that one."
Mark smiled. "The LA County medical examiner's office maintains a satellite morgue in this hospital. If I promise to have someone from security stay here and watch Rachel's room for you, would you mind coming down to the morgue with me?"
"That'd be fine," the man said.
* * *
Amanda and Steve were sitting at her desk, having a cup of coffee, when Mark returned with the big man wearing the Stetson. Steve immediately rose from his seat.
"I'm Steve Sloan," Steve said, extending his hand to the stranger. "My badge says LAPD. What does yours say?"
"United States Marshal," the man said, shaking Steve's hand with a strong grip. "The name's Tom Wade."
"How did you know he was a cop?" Amanda asked Steve.
"I looked at him," Steve said.
"Ma'am." Wade opened his jacket to show the badge and the gun clipped to his belt. "I'll be happy to show you my identification if you like."
"It's okay," Amanda said.
"I assume you're from Spokane," Steve said to the marshal.
Wade nodded and motioned to the corpse. "You need me to tell you about Deke?"
"We'd like you to tell us about Rachel Swicord," Mark replied. "You can start by explaining why you're sitting outside her room."
"I'm guarding my prisoner, Doctor," Wade said. "Rachel Swicord is a wanted fugitive."
"What did she do?" Mark asked.
"She killed a cop," Wade said.
Mark looked shocked. Wade studied Mark's face.
"Did you know her for some time, Dr. Sloan?"
"I didn't know her at all," Mark said.
"Then why do you seem so shaken?" Wade said.
Mark shrugged. "It's hard to believe a woman who could do that would also come up with a product like the Cuddle Bear."
"I've met men who'd slaughter children without blinking but would risk their lives to save a puppy from being hurt," W said. "There's no accounting for the criminal mind."
"How did the cop get killed?" Amanda asked.
"When Rachel was eighteen, that'd be eight years ago, she and her boyfriend stole a car and went out on a joyride. Her boyfriend, Pike Wheeler, stopped at a convenience store and robbed the place while she remained in the vehicle and watched," Wade said. "About an hour later, they were pulled over by a sheriff's deputy. When the deputy exited his patrol car, Pike ran him over, killing the officer. Other deputies were alerted and a pursuit ensued. Her boyfriend lost control of his vehicle and plunged into the Spokane River. She swam to shore and was apprehended; her boyfriend was swept away, his body never recovered."
"Don't tell me she got off," Steve said.
Wade shook his head. "Rachel pled guilty and served five years in prison. She was paroled on good behavior as part of a court-mandated initiative to reduce overcrowding in our prisons. They figured society would prefer to put a cop killer back on the streets than have three inmates share a cell and a toilet."
"So why are you chasing her now?" Amanda said. "She didn't break out of prison, she was released."
"She was paroled, ma'am, not pardoned," Wade said. "Two days after she go out she disappeared. That was three years ago. I didn't have a single lead on her until I saw that wire photo in the local paper."
"You chase all parole violators this hard?" Steve said.
"Yes, I do." Wade nodded. "But I am relentless when the crime involves the death of a law enforcement officer. Deputy Barker left a wife and three kids."
"Any theories on why she tried to kill herself?" Mark asked.
"Guess she didn't want to share a cell and a toilet again," Wade replied. "As soon as she's up to it, I'm taking her back to Washington State to serve the remainder of her sentence."
"What about him?" Steve tilted his head towards Deke.
"I packed light," Wade said, "but I don't think I can fit a casket in my car."
"Aren't you interested in who killed him?" Steve said.
"I have plenty of other interests," Wade said.
"Ask him about the eighty-seven ways to make your wedding reception unique," Mark said. "Or ten things you didn't know about sequins."
"What do you know about Maurice Balcore?" Steve asked.
"He's a sadistic bastard," Wade said. "The Spokane police have been trying to nail him for ten years."
"You think he could have done this?" Steve gestured to Deke.
"I think he'd kill his own mother if he loaned her a dollar and she didn't pay him back six-fifty a week later," Wade said. "I'll be upstairs if I can be of any more help."
He tipped the brim of his hat to Amanda and walked out. Steve and Mark watched him go, then looked at one another.
"There's more to this story than he's telling," Mark said.
"I'm sure there is," Steve said. "But now you've found out what you wanted to know. There's no reason for you to be involved any longer. If you still want to help her, maybe you can find her a good lawyer."
"Do you really think she jumped out her window to avoid going back to jail?" Mark asked.
"Makes sense to me," Amanda said. "I didn't even like sharing a bathroom when I was married."
"You can ask Rachel about her reasons when she wakes up," Steve said to Mark. "I'm more interested in who killed her brother and you should be, too."
"Why me?" Mark asked.
"Because you got me into this," Steve said. "So you had better help me get out of it."
"Is there really a mystery?" Amanda asked. "The Spokane loan shark probably killed this guy."
"Deke would have had to owe an awful lot to Maurice Balcore to make it worthwhile to send muscle all the way down here to collect," Steve said. "And it didn't look to me like Deke and Dana were living large."
"Didn't you just hear what the marshal said?" Amanda replied.
"There's another fact that doesn't fit," Mark said. "Why would Balcore's bone-breaker confront Deke while he's breaking into his sister's house?"
"It was better than killing him in broad daylight right in the street," Steve suggested.
"Why kill him at all?" Mark said. "It doesn't get them their money back."
"It sends a message to people who don't pay their debts," Steve said. "You can run but you can't hide."
"Who's going to hear about it?" Mark said. "I doubt the murder of a junkie is going to make the news here, much less in another state."
"Balcore will spread the news," Steve said.
"Wait a minute," Amanda said. "Didn't you just get done saying you didn't believe a loan shark would send some body all the way down here after Deke and Dana?"
"I'm talking myself into it," Steve said.
"You just want to get this case off your back and toss it to the cops in Spokane," Amanda said.
"The thought occurred to me," Steve said. "Maybe one of their homicide guys would like a trip to Southern California to work on his tan."
Mark frowned. "Something isn't right about this."
"Look at the bright side," Steve said. "Whatever the answer is, it's got to be easier to figure out than who killed Winston Brant and how they managed to do it."
"Nice segue," Amanda said, sliding Deke's body back into the freezer drawer and closing the door. "Shall I pull out the next corpse under discussion?"
"That won't be necessary," Mark said, then told Steve and Amanda about his conversations with Brant's wife, Dr. Sara Everden, and his secretary, Grace Wozniak.
Mark explained that each woman had a different take on Brant's mood and intentions the day before his death, but they both agreed that the new investors were destroying the company to satisfy their greed. He urged Steve to bring in a forensic accountant to look at possible financial irregularities at Brant Publications. If Brant did discover that Hemphill, Perrow, and Nyby were stealing money in some way, it would give each of them a strong motive for murder.
Steve reiterated his theory that perhaps all three men committed the murder together, which prompted Mark to share his notion that perhaps Justin Darbo, the skydiving instructor, deserved a hard look.
Mark shared a couple of his theories about how Darbo might have switched the skydiving videos or, perhaps, had been an unwilling pawn of the actual killer.
When Mark was finished, Steve and Amanda just stared at him.
"You really are tired," Steve said. "Those are the kinds of contrived explanations I usually come up with."
"Oh no, Steve, these are worse," Amanda said, shaking her head. "These sound like ideas Jesse would have come up with."
"I'm not sure how I should take this," Mark said.
"Take it as a hint," Steve said. "Go home and get some rest while I do some digging."
A nap sounded like an awfully good idea to Mark right now.
"I can do that," Mark said.
Lenore had a smoke while she idled in the line of cars waiting to pick up students at Hanford Hall, an expensive private school on Coldwater Canyon, a few blocks north of Ventura Boulevard.
Jesse parked across the street and around the corner, knowing Susan's Toyota would stand out amidst the Range Rovers, Mercedes, Hummers, and Escalades. Even Lenore's Lexus was noticeably downscale amidst a parent population who gladly paid seventeen thousand dollars a year for kindergarten. He wondered how many houses Lenore had to sell to pay for her kids to attend fifth and sixth grades.
"Did you ever stop to ask yourself why you're doing this?" Susan asked. She sat in the passenger seat, finishing up the last of her McDonald's French fries.
"I'm helping Mark," Jesse said. "Like I always do."
"This is different," she said. "He hasn't asked you to check on a patient for him or run an investigative errand. He doesn't even know you're here."
"He doesn't need to."
"Like what you did for him with Noah Dent," she said, referring to the ex-Community General administrator who left for reasons only Jesse and Susan knew.
"I also did it for you and for the hospital," Jesse said.