Copyright 2014, MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California
Steele and Stetson knew they couldn’t stay behind at their table at Lefty’s without bringing suspicion on themselves.
“Wow! Did you see how fast those men flew out of here? Let’s catch up with them and watch what happens,” said Steele.
“No, let’s not. Things have changed for me. I’m not in charge of the serial killer investigations anymore. I can’t be seen up there for a while, and, I can’t let the cops see me with you,” he said in a low voice.
Steele thought for a moment, then said, “So, where should we meet next?” He looked around for the hostess.
“Meet me down at the Buena Vista Café in a couple of hours. I’ll meet you inside. You know where it is, don’t you?”
“Yeah, sure. It’s at the end of the line. At the end of Hyde Street where the cable car is turned around,” said Steele.
“Right. I’ll see you there. And don’t be late,” Stetson said.
The former head of the serial killer investigations left the restaurant, and turned left. It wasn’t the way to the cable car stop, but he needed a long walk to do some thinking. Seeing the reaction people had when news came in about more bodies, was a warning sign. Steele, though great at what he did for a fee, was now a bigger risk to work with. The project could disappear and he wouldn’t care. Steele’s behavior worried Stetson. He’s going to get nailed by the cops sooner than he thinks. If I don’t get rid of him, I’m bound to be nailed with him. I have to make some changes, and fast.
On orders from Detective Fontino, Captain Eric Warden and Fire Chief Mullins, cooperated by instructing their men to create a distraction as the bodies of the two girls were removed from the landlord’s apartment, and into a waiting ambulance.
Everything went well, until one of the tenants who had just been given permission to enter the building and go back to his apartment, looked out of his third floor apartment window. He saw the EMTs and the police carrying two stretchers from the front steps of his building to the waiting ambulance. Then he started yelling out to the remaining crowd. “Two more bodies! There were two more bodies found!” and he pointed right at the ambulance.
The people lingering in the street below, followed the man’s pointing hand to the ambulance. Fire Chief Mullins signaled his men and the sirens on their trucks blared in a familiar wail as the EMTs drove away.
The tenants who lived in the apartment building opposite, stuck out their heads and asked, “Is there a fire? Was there another fire? Why were the fire engines here in the first place?” These questions continued the confusion and disruption of the neighborhood.
Fire trucks rumbled as firemen got into their seats. As the deep red vehicles moved forward, police officers held back traffic to make room for them to cross over Bush Street. Every few minutes, another crowd of pedestrians coming up from Sutter Street were held back to allow at least a half dozen cars, previously stuck, to pass through.
When the mob of men from Lefty’s arrived at the top of the hill at Bush and Powell – they saw only the back sides of the ambulance and fire truck heading down toward Grant Avenue.
“You’re a mite too late,” said one fellow to the men who just arrived.
“Well we’re not too late to try something to prevent the next murder!” said one of the regulars. His name was John O’Malley.
O’Malley walked across the street to get a full view of the building where four people died. The men, who came up the hill with him, followed his example, jay walking with no regard to the police yelling at them to stop. John O’Malley had easily become their leader for whatever action they might take. He had always been one to be vocal, and make sense of any issue discussed down at Lefty’s’. So once again, they followed him with their emotions and anger.
“Good try,” commented Fire chief Mullins to Detective Fontino and Eric. “If it had been three minutes longer before that dweller stuck his head out the window, the ambulance might have gotten away without notice. One more body being spotted would have been bad enough, but two bodies! It was just more than the crowd could take.”
“Right,” said Detective Fontino. “I knew this crowd was ripe for a riot. I delayed the removal of those two girls for as long as I could. However, I have procedures to follow, and lots of pressure from the Commissioner, and the Mayor. They just have one thing they want right now. As the Commissioner put it, before he slammed the phone on me, ‘Get me results, NOW!’”
Fire Chief Mullins said, “I’ve got to get back to the station. I have paperwork to fill out, and hopefully, if a fire breaks out, it’ll be in some other district and not mine. I’ll probably work until midnight.”
“Hey, you’ve got it easy,” said Detective Fontino. “My men and I still have this four body crime scene to process, and the tenants here have stopped cooperating. They’ve locked their doors and refuse to answer questions.”
“How’s that?” Eric asked.
“One woman said to me, “How do I know you are really the police? I can’t see you!” Then she added, “I’m not about to open this door to look at your badge either. Do you think I’m stupid?”
“Man, I don’t envy your work here,” said Eric. I’ve got paperwork, but I’m more worried about my aunt and the girls. I still haven’t heard from any of them.”
“Why don’t you take a quick trip to where they’re supposed to be and check things out?” suggested Chief Mullins.
“I wish I could, but I can’t. We’ve done so much stuff out of the ordinary, there’s no one else who can fill in the reports,” Eric said.
“I really appreciate how both of you have handled yourselves, and your teams. My officers and I will scour the scenes for clues. I don’t think it’s going to be easy though. Do you recall how the crime scenes from the first three murders were clean except for where the bodies were found?”
“At a time like this, you might think about getting on your knees and beg the Commissioner for new lab equipment to process your findings,” said the Chief.
“Nah, I’m not into begging,” said Fontino. “Hey, you’d better get going now.”
“Yeah, good luck.”
“Yeah, good luck,” said Eric with a nod and a smile.
“Ditto that from me to you. Call me later, and I’ll keep you posted,” said Fontino.
A few straggling reporters, hungry for more sensational headlines hung around across the street. From behind the yellow crime scene tape, they yelled questions at the fire chief and Eric when they came down the steps. “Oh no,” said Eric. “I gave my car and keys to Haley. Will you give me a lift, Chief?”
“Sure. Get in.”
As they pulled away from the curb, Eric said, “The crowd’s diffused by about seventy percent. They’re in the grocery store, and I can see through some living room windows that mothers are busy cooking.”
“Oh what I wouldn’t trade to be sitting at home reading the newspaper right now,” said Chief Mullins. “Look, the pharmacy on the corner is closed. I heard they had a rash of shoplifting when the street got mobbed.”
“I heard about that. The flower stand in front of the SF Art Institute closed early as well.”
“I bet their flowers were crushed by people wanting front row spots to see what was happening,” said Chief Mullins.
“The two sisters, Maddie and Tillie, caught me when I went out to make a phone call,” said Eric. “They said, they might not come back to sell flowers until the serial killer’s been caught.”
“Judging by how fast the killer, or killers are moving,” said Chief Mullins, “It might be a while before we see them again.”
Copyright 2014, MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California