Copyright 2014 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, CA
The traffic jam on Bush Street caused a back up for two blocks. In less than 20 minutes, drivers abandoned their cars, and headed to where the cops were setting up yellow crime scene tape. The intent was to block off foot traffic from Powell Street where people got off the cable cars, and people working in the financial district would be walking home to Bush Street and beyond. Officers held back anyone who could not show identification that they lived on Bush Street between Powell and Taylor Streets. And that, included the former Commander James Stetson.
“What the hell do you mean I can’t come through? I live on this street!” one man said.
“My mother is in that building, and she’s alone. She must be terrified! She can’t walk fast!” said a middle age woman.
Reporters came crawling out like cockroaches to the scene from the local coffee shops and stores where they waited for the news that another murder had occurred on Bush Street. They got their wish for another hot story. Shoving and pushing anyone in their way, they scrambled for a front row spot. They fought for that chance to report the story first and make a name for themselves.
“Catch up with me, Jake. This is the sensation we’ve been waiting for,” said Nick Knots to his photographer, Jake Samuels. They both worked for the Chronicle.
Jake, hauling two cameras around his neck as well as a camera bag, caught up with Nick. “It’s tragic, man,” he said. “I don’t think I want to do this job anymore. I don’t like being excited for a great shot just because someone got killed.” He bent over with his hands on his knees and tried to catch his breath.
“After this is over, Jake,” Nick tapped him on the shoulder, “You can quit. I’ll give you the best recommendation to work anywhere, but just stick it out through these serial murders, okay. I’m feeling lucky. I feel it in my bones, Jake. There’s going to be more bodies coming this week, and the next…”
“Shut up, Nick. You are sick! Grueling sick!” yelled Jake.
“Hey look there. They’re about to bring a body bag down,” said Nick. “I can always tell when it’s about that time.”
“How!” said Jake.
“From experience, pal, I’ve done this job long enough to know. Com’on now. Let’s get in for a closer shot.” Nick squeezed through the crowd and made way for his reluctant photographer.
“Captain! Captain Warner!” called out a reporter near the steps just as Eric stepped out the front door. Police held back the crowd of curious, concerned, and thrill seekers. “What’s happened here? Was there a fire? Or, another murder on this street? What happened?”
Eric shook his head, and looked away, indicating he had no comment.
Fire Chief Mullins came up behind him. “We’ve got a tough one here. I’ll get the hook ‘n ladder out of the way. That’ll let some of these trapped drivers out. We’ve cordoned off the other end of the street. That’ll make room for the Coroner’s wagon, Eric. By the time the guys upstairs are done taking pictures and bagging the bodies, the wagons will be here to take them away.”
Eric scanned the crowd. “It’s going to be worse tonight than ever before. Once the reporters see that there’s more than one body, there’s going to be chaos.” He looked for anyone doing something unusual at the scene, and for faces of known pyromaniacs, and wanted criminals. He and the Fire Chief Mullins made it a regular thing with their teams to look through the latest ‘wanted’ flyers that came to their office. “Just in case,” they told their men. “Can you feel the anger out there Chief? Do you see anyone we’ve seen before?”
Chief Mullins scanned the crowd as well, and then, “Damn him! Take a look at 2 o’clock, Eric.”
Eric did a double take, “It’s him alright. It’s Stetson.”
The former commander still in his dress blues had just stepped out of a yellow cab. The girls had tricked him and even backtracking in the cab, he wasn’t able to locate them. They got away for now, but not for long. Stetson stood in front of the corner drug store. Starring at the building where Chief Mullins and Eric stood. “What’s happened here?” he asked a young stranger.
“I don’t know. Everyone on the street gathered here, so I thought I’d stay and watch what’s going on, but nothing’s happened yet.”
Stetson moved further in to get under the crime tape. “Sir! Commander Stetson.” The young cop said, his voice quivered as he read the name on Stetson’s name tag. “I’m sorry you can’t come into this area without special permission.”
Stetson stood about two inches taller than the young cop named William Lord, and he leaned into Lord’s face. “Are you stupid? Do you know who I am and what authority I have?”
“Young Lord replied, “Yes sir! You are Commander James Stetson, former head of the serial murder investigation.”
Stunned by the young man’s quick response and that word of his demotion had already reached this far, Stetson grabbed young Lord by the lapels of his uniform and when about to pound the kid’s face, his arms were pulled together behind him. “What the hell…!” Stetson struggled. Two other officers, bigger and taller than himself, held on to him. They nodded and smiled to each other with satisfaction. For a long time, they hated Stetson’s treatment of the officers assigned to his team. They were all too glad to snap the handcuffs on Stetson.
“I live here up the block, you idiots!” Stetson said. “Let go of me this instance!”
Detective Fontino appeared in front of the young cop, and heads turned around to see what started the ruckus behind them.
“That’s right. We didn’t forget that fact. And that’s why we will be escorting you directly to your apartment building. It’s a nice afternoon for a walk together now, isn’t it? And, oh, don’t bother telling us the details of your status here at this crime scene. We all know you aren’t in charge here anymore,” said Detective Fontino will a sly smile.
Stetson held back from saying anything. His face turned a deeper red and the vein in his thick neck stood out more than before. His anger filled his mind and flowed down his arms, his fist clenched. “Get these damn things off of me,” he said through gritted teeth at Fontino.
“If you would assure me, and my men, that we have your calm cooperation, I will do that,” said Fontino looking at the officers in a huddle around him.
“I’ll cooperate for now,” said Stetson. “Now, do it!”
Detective Fontino took his time and glanced at his men. “Well seeing that you are outnumbered here, I’ll take a chance on you.” He indicated with a nod to his men to take off the cuffs.
Stetson shook his arms and straightened up. A posture he knew to take when addressed by his superiors. He started to walk cross the street.
“No, not that side. Stay on this side of the street. It’ll be easier to get to your apartment. My men will make way for you. See you around, Officer,” Fontino said and he left his men to carry out their orders.
Just as the officers walked on either side of him toward Mason Street, the moans of dread flowed from the front of the crowd and spread. Everyone looked in the direction of the marbled steps where police officers made a path toward a Coroner’s vehicle. “Look! Here comes a body!” People in the crowd gasped. “There’s another body coming!” said the same voice. This time the crowd moaned with fright in their voices, and the crowd like a flow of ants, shifted back and forth.
A woman screamed, “Let me through. Let me through! That could be my mother!”
Other women cried, and men yelled out in anger. “When are you guys going to catch this S.O.B.? This wasn’t supposed to happen anymore. You guys are on duty but you’re not doing a good enough job!” His arm thrust out from the crowd accusingly. Other men followed his actions with anger in their voices.
Fontino ran up the steps and hustled Eric back into the lobby. He put his hand up to halt the men holding the stretchers that carried the two girls. The Coroner and his staff stopped on the stairs.
“Stop now. We can’t let the crowd see them come out,” he ordered. “They can’t handle it. They’re going to riot against us and we’ll never get our work done right,” said Fontino.
“The bodies need…” the Coroner, Gregory Simpson, started to say.
“The bodies need to be placed in that room there,” said Fontino as he pointed to the landlord’s apartment.
Lester, the landlord, opened but shut his mouth quickly. He didn’t want any more problems. He held the door to his studio apartment wide for the bodies to be set down in his living room. At night, this room also served as his bedroom. With a touch of his fingers, a wide wall panel would turn around, and when he pulled down the Murphy bed, he transformed his environment. He looked at the body bags. Spooky thoughts climbed into his mind but he quickly pushed them away. “What else can I do to be helpful, Detective?”
“I’ll let you know, Lester. Thank you.” Fontino huddled with his top officers on hand and gave orders. “Get the wagon off to the Coroner’s office now! Send the crowd home. Tell them there’s nothing more to see. Then we’ll get the other two bodies downtown.”
“Do we still let residents with ID to get to their apartments on this street?” Salvadore asked.
“What do you think,” said Fontino.
“Right. We’ll question them first and take notes on where they live and what time it is,” said Salvadore, a bit embarrassed. “Standard procedure.”
“Okay, men. Let’s go do what we gotta do!”
As half the cops in the lobby left through the front door, Fontino joined Eric and Chief Mullins. “Hey, did you see what we did with Stetson before we sent him home?”
Chief Mullins said, “Yeah, and he’s going come back meaner than ever. We’d better be ready for some flash back.”
“Hey guys,” said Eric. “Can you two do without me for about 30 minutes? I haven’t heard from my aunt yet. I’m worried about the girls.”
Chief Mullins looked at Fontino. Fontino nodded and said, “Sure, kid. The Chief here filled me in a moment ago about the girls. Go make your phone call. We’ll take care of things. Have your men stay for a while longer. I’ll give you the okay to leave when you get back.”
Eric turned to leave, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him. Chief Mullins said, “Listen, son. I know you’re smart, but there’s a lot of hate and anger out there from more than one source. Be very careful. You’re important to us. Remember that.”
Fontino stepped closer. He said, “Ditto that from me, too, Pal.”
Copyright 2014 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, CA