Authors: James L. Thane
Beverly was sleeping fitfully when the siren came screaming down the street in the middle of the night.
McClain snapped awake about ten seconds after she did. As Beverly sat up, he bolted off the bed and stood in the middle of the darkened room, listening as the siren moaned and died, sounding as if it were only a few yards away from the bedroom. McClain turned back, grabbed Beverly by the throat, and threw her down on the mattress. Squeezing the breath out of her, he whispered, “Do not make a single sound. If you do, I will kill you in a heartbeat.”
With that, he raced from the room, leaving the bedroom door open in his wake. Thirty seconds later, McClain stormed back into the room with a pistol in his hand.
From somewhere to their left, Beverly could hear the sounds of footsteps bounding onto the front porch, and then the raised voices of at least two people talking to each other. Then someone pounded on the door and shouted, “Police! Open up!”
Behind her, Beverly felt her captor tense. He laid the barrel of the pistol against the right side of her head…
For Victoria, finally.
Dinner was almost ready when Beverly Thompson was snatched from her garage on a beautiful Wednesday evening early in February.
At forty-three, Beverly was still an extremely attractive woman with thick auburn hair that spilled down to her shoulders, framing an oval face highlighted by deep green eyes and a pair of medium-full lips. She watched her diet carefully and worked out as regularly as she could, and thus remained fit and trim at five feet five inches tall and a hundred and twenty-one pounds.
On that Wednesday evening, Beverly was twenty-seven months into her second marriage. Her first—to a fellow law student—had gradually run out of gas and finally sputtered to an end seven years earlier. Thankfully, it had produced no children.
Through the first four years that followed the divorce, Beverly had dated gingerly, dedicating the bulk of her time and energy to her career as a medical-malpractice attorney in a large firm in downtown Phoenix. But then she met David, a cardiologist who’d testified as an expert witness in a case that she won largely on the strength of his testimony. Following the trial, they had dated for four months and then lived together for another five before formally tying the knot.
At six thirty that evening, Beverly called David and told him that she was finally leaving the office after finishing a particularly grueling deposition. He promised
to chill some Bombay Sapphire gin and two martini glasses while he started dinner.
Forty-five minutes later, eagerly anticipating the first sip of the promised martini, Beverly punched the button on the remote to open her garage door. She waited for a moment as the door rolled up, then pulled her Lexus SUV into the garage. She parked, as she always did, to the left of her husband’s Mercedes and then pressed the button on the remote to close the garage door behind her.
She was just stepping out of the car when she saw the man, dressed all in black, slip under the garage door as it rolled back down. Instinctively, she jumped back into the Lexus. With her left hand, she hit the button to lock all the doors; with her right, she laid on the horn.
In a heartbeat the intruder was at the door of the SUV, pounding on Beverly’s window with the butt of a pistol and yelling, “Lay off the goddamn horn!” Then he stepped back, pointed the gun at Thompson’s head and shouted, “Get out of the car, lady.
Beverly threw her hands up and the garage went suddenly quiet. Her right hand still in the air, she reluctantly opened the car door with her left. As she did, the kitchen door opened and her husband stepped out into the garage. But before David could even begin to comprehend what was happening, let alone react to the situation, the man spun and fired, hitting David twice in the chest.
David slumped to the floor and Beverly let out a piercing scream. The commotion attracted the attention of Chester, the German shepherd that she and David had rescued from a shelter, who now came bounding out from the kitchen. Again the gunman fired twice, and the dog dropped to the floor, whimpering softly.
As Beverly continued to scream, the gunman jerked her out of the car, slapped her hard across the face, and shouted, “Shut the hell up!”
The man spun her around so that she was facing away from him and wrapped his left arm around her chest, pinning her arms to her sides and effectively immobilizing her. With his right hand he set the pistol on the roof of the car. Then he pulled a rag from his back pocket and clamped it over her mouth and nose.
Beverly struggled, the panic coursing through her body as she tried desperately to stomp on her assailant’s foot with her right heel. Unfazed, he simply squeezed tighter and lifted her up off the ground, her legs flailing ineffectively as she tried to kick back at him.
The rag was damp with something that tasted slightly sweet, and she shook her head in a frantic effort to avoid breathing the chemical into her system. But it was futile. Within a matter of seconds she felt herself slipping away. And as she faded into an unconscious state, the last thing she heard was the gunman whispering softly into her right ear, “Hello, Beverly. It’s very nice to see you again.”
I was headed from my office to the nursing home a little after eight
, when my cell phone began vibrating on the passenger’s seat next to me. I flipped open the phone and took a quick look at the caller ID, which indicated that the person so rudely intruding into the rest of my evening was my sergeant. Sighing heavily, I slowed from eighty to sixty-five and connected to the call.
The sergeant was a veteran named Hanneman who’d been with the Phoenix PD since the days of Wyatt Earp. Dispensing with any opening pleasantries,
he said, “Richardson? We’ve got a guy and his dog who’ve been shot to death in a garage. It belongs to you and McClinton. I’m on the horn to her next.”
He gave me the address, which was in an upscale neighborhood on the city’s east side, and then disconnected.
Cursing both my luck and the Valley’s evening traffic, I took the Shea Boulevard exit off the Piestewa Freeway and headed east. Ten minutes after getting the call, I turned south onto Forty-fourth Street and then east again onto Mountain View.
The flashing lights of three squad cars and an ambulance marked the spot, an expensive home that backed up against the Phoenix Mountains. One city patrolman stood sentinel in front of the home’s large three-car garage while two others looped yellow crime-scene tape around a wide perimeter of the scene. In the driveway the ambulance attendants leaned against their vehicle wearing lightweight uniform jackets and the bored expressions of two men who knew that they wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while.
Earlier in the afternoon the temperature had climbed into the middle seventies, but now, five hours later, it had fallen into the low fifties. Someone in the neighborhood had built a fire either in a fireplace or in a backyard fire pit, and the scent of wood smoke hovered lightly in the evening air.
Inevitably, all the activity had attracted the attention of the neighbors, about thirty of whom had abandoned their television “reality” shows or whatever the hell else they might have been doing at eight twenty on a Wednesday night. They huddled together behind the crime-scene tape, talking quietly among themselves and gesturing in the direction of the tan stucco house where the action was taking place.
I pulled into a spot behind one of the squads and killed the engine. The front door on the passenger’s
side of the squad was standing open, and a man sat half in and half out of the car, holding onto a leash. A black Lab was attached to the business end of the leash, and both the man and the dog turned to watch my arrival. One of the patrolmen guarding the perimeter nodded and raised the crime-scene tape so I could duck under it.
“Who caught the call?” I asked.
“Me and Martinez,” the patrolman responded, tipping his head in the direction of the uniform who was standing nearest the garage. Pointing to the man who was sitting in the squad, he said, “The citizen is Michael Litwack. He was out walking his dog and heard a commotion inside the garage. Then a Lexus SUV backed out of the garage and went tearing down the street.
“Litwack ran over and saw the body lying there. Then he raced to the neighbors’ house and told them to call nine-one-one. Martinez and I responded to the call. We found Litwack standing in the driveway waiting for us. We took a quick look, called for backup, and then checked to make sure there was no one else in the house. The paramedics got here about ten minutes behind us and pronounced the vic. The second and third squads got here a few minutes after that and we began sealing the area.”
“Okay,” I said. “The crime-scene techs are on their way, along with some additional detectives and uniforms. While we’re waiting for them, you and the other patrolmen start circulating through the crowd collecting names and addresses before we start to lose our audience. If anyone has information that would be of immediate interest, let me know.”
“Will do,” he replied.
I pulled on a pair of latex gloves and walked into the garage. A small sports car sat in the far right stall, covered with a tarp, and a black Mercedes sedan was
parked in the middle stall. Toward the front of the garage, in the empty stall on the left, a large German shepherd lay on its side in a pool of blood. Five feet away from the dog, a man who was equally dead lay on his back, having bled out from wounds to his chest.
The victim was wearing jeans and a soft blue shirt with a button-down collar. He appeared to have been in his late forties and in good physical shape. The clothes, though casual, looked expensive, as did his haircut and wristwatch. His fair complexion and soft, well-tended hands suggested that he was a professional man who spent most of his working days indoors, beyond the reach of the Valley’s blazing sun. The look frozen on his face suggested a mixture of surprise and abject terror.
I’d come to the department thirteen years ago, twenty-three and fresh out of college. A patrolman for four years, detective for nine, seven years a member of the Homicide Unit. And even after all that time, I’d never gotten used to scenes like this.
I knew that some cops did. Somehow they were able to distance themselves emotionally from the human tragedy that constituted the warp and woof of the job. To them, the crimes were reduced to intellectual problems, the victims simply pieces of the puzzle.
Not for me.
Doubtless my outlook was colored to some extent by the emotional wreckage of my own life at the moment. But rather than becoming inured to and hardened by the violence that human beings so casually inflicted on each other, I found myself growing increasingly distressed by the cataclysm of the lives so cruelly and abruptly interrupted. My first homicide victim was a nineteen-year-old woman who’d been raped and then brutally murdered. I remembered her as vividly as I knew I’d always remember this man—and all of the others in between.
Rising to my feet, I stripped off the gloves and stuck them in my pocket. Then I ducked back under the crime-scene tape and walked over to the squad where the citizen who’d reported the crime was sitting. He was somewhere in his middle fifties with thinning gray hair and eyes so impossibly blue that I wondered if he might be wearing tinted contact lenses. He was perhaps four inches shorter than my six one, and about ten pounds heavier than my one seventy. He wore a Phoenix Suns T-shirt over cargo shorts and a pair of New Balance running shoes. He was obviously badly shaken and looked as though he might yet lose his dinner.
“Detective Sean Richardson, Phoenix Homicide,” I said, extending my hand.
“Mike Litwack,” he responded, rising to greet me. He shook my hand with a firmer grip than I’d expected under the circumstances and said, “Forgive me, but I’m still in a state of shock here.”
“Perfectly understandable,” I replied. I reached down and petted the dog, who continued to sit silently and perfectly still, watching the exchange between his master and me. “Can you tell me what happened here this evening, Mr. Litwack?”
He gestured toward Martinez. “Well, as I told the other officers, I live five houses down from David and Beverly. My wife and I finished our dinner a little after seven, and I brought Barney out for his evening constitutional. We were walking by here a few minutes later when I heard somebody honking a horn in the garage. The honking stopped and I heard two shots. A woman screamed and then there were two more shots. Then the noises stopped.”
Litwack looked away for a moment, then turned back to me, seemingly embarrassed. “I’m afraid I panicked. I had no weapon and I didn’t know what I could do, so Barney and I ran up the street a bit, and then I stopped and turned to watch. The garage door came
up and Beverly’s SUV came flying out. Then it sped off back toward Forty-fourth Street.”
“Could you tell who was driving the car?” I asked.
“No,” he replied apologetically. “It was too dark, and I was too far away. Plus it all happened so fast…”
“I understand, Mr. Litwack. Could you at least see if the driver was a man or a woman?”
He shook his head. “No, I’m sorry, I couldn’t. The windows of Beverly’s car are tinted. Plus, of course, it was already dark. I couldn’t see anything inside the car, so I just focused on getting the license number so that I could call the police.”
“I gather you know the people who live here?”
“Yes—David and Beverly Thompson. He’s a cardiologist, and she’s an attorney. The dog’s name is Chester.”
“And that’s Dr. Thompson in the garage there?”
“Yes, it is,” Litwack replied, his voice breaking.
I looked up to see the Crime Scene Response team’s van driving slowly up the street, followed by my partner’s beat-up Mazda. Coming to a stop behind them were two more squads and the first of the television news crews.
“Okay,” I said. “Thank you, Mr. Litwack. I’m sorry you’ve had such an unsettling experience here tonight, and I hate to impose on you further, but another team of detectives will be joining us shortly. We’ll want you to go downtown with one of them and make a formal statement.”
“Certainly,” he replied. “Again, I only wish I had something more useful to tell you.”
I nodded and walked over to join my partner. She unfolded herself out of the Mazda and I said, “So where’s your official ride?”
Grimacing, she replied, “In the fuckin’ shop again. I swear to Christ, that car is the most useless piece of shit Detroit ever put on the road. So what do we have here?”
I nodded back in the direction of the garage. “One seriously dead cardiologist and a dog who’s in the same unhappy condition. The wife’s SUV went racing down the street immediately after the shooting, and since she’s nowhere in evidence, I assume that she was in the car. A neighbor walking by heard the shots and called it in. He also heard a woman screaming while the shots were being fired. I’m assuming that the screamer was the wife, whose name is Beverly Thompson.
“Either she shot her husband and the dog and then made her getaway, or an intruder shot the husband and the dog and then took Thompson with him when he left. Beyond that, we don’t know anything yet.”
“Okay,” she sighed, “Let’s get to work.”
Maggie McClinton had joined the Homicide Unit seven months earlier. She’d come to the department after a stint in the army, and at thirty-eight, she was a year and a half older than I, even though I was four years her senior on the force. The daughter of a white mother and a West Indian father, she’d been gifted with perfectly clear skin the color of light toffee, warm brown eyes, and glossy dark hair that she wore cut to a medium length and in a perpetual state of disarray. She had a bright mind, a razor-sharp wit, and a mouth that would put an outlaw biker to shame.
The department had initially teamed her with a fifty-four-year-old veteran detective who perpetually referred to her as “my girl” and who seemed constitutionally incapable of keeping his eyes off her breasts. She’d ultimately requested a reassignment, and we’d been partnered together for the last five months. I valued her strong work ethic, her intelligence, and her obvious street smarts. In my wildest dreams I could never imagine referring to her as “my girl.”
She walked into the garage and stood quietly for a moment, looking over the scene. Then we went over to
join the members of the Crime Scene Response team. The lead tech was Gary Barnett. Ben Franklin-style glasses fronted his boyish face, and in truth, he looked more like a small-town high-school physics professor than a senior member of a major metropolitan crime lab. I brought him up to speed. Then Maggie and I left him and his team to go about their business in the garage while we went to take a look inside the house.
The door from the garage to the house was standing open and led into a short hallway. On the left side of the hallway was a powder room; on the right was the laundry room. The end of the hall opened into a spacious, well-designed kitchen that looked as though somebody actually cooked in it. A double oven was built into the wall, and the convection oven on top was preheated to four hundred and fifty degrees.
On a large island in the center of the room, two salmon fillets, brushed with oil and seasoned with what looked like ground pepper and an assortment of herbs, sat in a roasting pan, apparently ready to go into the oven. Someone had been interrupted in the middle of making a salad, and a bowl of mixed greens, a cucumber, a red onion, and a plastic container holding what looked like homemade vinaigrette were arranged around a cutting board in the center of the island. Someone had also been interrupted in the middle of drinking a martini, and a stemmed glass with the remains of the drink stood next to the salad bowl.
We took a quick look through the rest of the house, but as the patrolman had indicated, no one was there, and save for the bodies in the garage, the place seemed undisturbed. We concluded our tour back in the kitchen, and I picked the phone out of its base on the counter next to a large side-by-side refrigerator and freezer. I pressed the button to display calls received,
and it indicated that the last call, at six thirty-one
, had been from “Beverly Cell.”
“So what do you make of it?” Maggie asked. “They have a fight in the middle of making dinner. She grabs a gun. They wind up in the garage. She pops him and then takes off? Or are you leaning toward the intruder alternative?”
I put the phone back in its base, opened the freezer door, and saw a second martini glass standing on a shelf next to a small carafe of what I assumed was either gin or vodka. I closed the freezer door and said, “I’m betting on the intruder, Maggs. One person has started a martini, and there’s a second in the freezer. Plus, the wife called home forty-five minutes before it all went down.
“It looks to me like he was making dinner and waiting for her to get home from work or wherever. She drives into the garage and the killer surprises her there. She screams and lays on the horn. The husband and the dog come out to investigate and the intruder shoots them, then takes off with the woman. If it’s a straight domestic thing, it probably would have happened here in the house and there wouldn’t have been any reason to shoot the dog.”
“Yeah,” Maggie sighed. “That makes sense. So where in the hell do you suppose they are by now?”