Authors: Steve Martini
Tags: #Fiction, #General
“I don’t know. But from what I saw and heard, she was in a box and was having trouble finding her way out. Satz asked her to do him a personal favor. She told him she couldn’t do it.”
“She told you this?”
“Not in so many words. But I’m fairly certain.”
“What kind of favor?” Harry presses.
“I’m not sure. It had something to do with business. I assumed it had to do with IFS. The newspapers were full of it at the time. The news out of Washington was that Congress was going to kill the program unless they could find some fix for privacy issues. They don’t care if a few hundred soldiers get killed hunting. From what I heard, whatever it was that Satz wanted her to do, there were risks—more than she wanted to take—and their relationship, Chapman and Satz’s, had changed. She wasn’t some young staffer at the Pentagon anymore. Madelyn was big business, with a multibillion-dollar stake, and if I had to guess, given the sweat she was in, whatever Satz was asking her to do was threatening to put all that in jeopardy.”
“But you don’t know what it was that he was asking?” I persist.
Ruiz shakes his head.
“The last I heard, she was about to tell him she couldn’t do it. That was the last time I saw her.”
“When was that?”
“About two weeks before she was killed.” He looks at me as he says it, reading the expression on my face, which is one of surprise. This information is not in the file. Nor was it in any of Kendal’s notes that he passed to me. If Ruiz told any of his other lawyers about this, they knew better than to reduce it to writing.
Suddenly there’s a deafening sound, loud enough that it feels as if someone has driven a spike through my eardrums. Ruiz’s lips move but I can’t hear a word. I look at Harry and he has both hands over his ears. The Klaxon, a buzzer in a box high on the wall behind us, has erupted, drowning out everything else in the room.
The guard comes in waving his arms. He makes a motion, one finger across his throat. The interview is over.
Harry cups a hand over his mouth and then to my ear and, loud enough that I can just hear him, says: “Lockdown.”
Something has happened. Another guard comes into the room and we are quickly ushered toward the door. The last thing I see over my shoulder is Ruiz shaking his head, muffling his ears with his hands as the two guards pull them down and cuff them behind his back; he looks at me, wondering, I am sure, if and when he will see us again. Harry and I, my briefcase half open with papers sticking out, are hustled down the hall to the elevator.
uestion is, how did the killer know where to find the gun?”
I’m looking at Harry over the conference table in our office. The contents of two cardboard file boxes, documents and photographs, evidence reports and copies of investigative notes obtained by a notice for discovery served on the cops, are spread out in front of us.
Our office has expanded so that we now occupy an entire wing of low-slung buildings under the jungle canopy of banana trees and palms in the courtyard behind Miguel’s Cantina just off of Orange Grove, across from the Del Coronado.
“It is possible,” says Harry, “the killer just stumbled onto the gun. Could happen.”
“I don’t think so. Look at the photos of the house, the floor plan produced by the cops.” We have several eight-by-tens, interior shots of the victim’s home as well as an overhead aerial shot probably taken from a police helicopter.
“The place is over seven thousand square feet. Nooks and crannies everywhere, drawers galore, to say nothing of all those display cases housing Chapman’s glass menagerie.”
“Your point is?” says Harry.
“My point is nothing else was touched. According to the police report nothing tossed, no open drawers except for the one where the gun was stored, nothing dropped on the floor, no latent prints, nothing. The place was cleaner than your average autoclave. Only the gun and this . . . this one piece of art—what was it called?”
Harry thumbs through his notes.
We have each gone through the materials, Harry taking the time for notes. I have scanned the high points, leaving Harry to fill me in on details.
“Here it is: glass artwork, blue in color, called the
Orb at the Edge
. Got a picture out of a catalog here someplace.”
“It’s all right. I saw it going through the photos. It’s the only item known to be missing from the victim’s house. Is that right?”
“At least according to the cops,” says Harry. “Could be whoever did it just panicked. Think about it: You just get in the place, getting ready to do your burglary. She walks in. You freak out. You pop her. It’s happened before.”
“Hell of a shooter for a panicky burglar.” I am talking about the two shots to the head. “Less than an inch apart.”
“Could just be luck,” says Harry.
According to the state’s ballistics expert, all this fine shooting took place at a distance of at least thirty feet, standing on an interior balcony above the main entrance to the victim’s home.
“So maybe it cooks the theory of a teenage burglary gone awry,” says Harry.
“Unless she’s fifteen and her name is Annie Oakley. And it still doesn’t explain how the killer found the gun.”
Chapman’s house was large, with six bedrooms spread out on two floors, each one with its own adjoining bath.
“Unless you knew your way around, you would need a map,” I tell him.
“Yeah.” Harry is stumped.
“Do they say how the killer got in?”
“According to the cops, he popped a downstairs screen and came in through a window. One of the bedrooms on the bottom floor on the ocean side.”
“Makes sense. Nobody could see him. Was there a security system?”
“Oh, yeah. Top end. All the bells and whistles, window sensors, doors, motion detectors, glass-break sensors, twenty-four–seven monitoring, eye in the sky, cameras front and back, everything wired up the ass. Chapman paid sixty grand for the system. Only problem was she never turned it on. According to Chapman’s secretary, the hired help was always setting it off, the gardeners, the maid, the FedEx man, the hummingbird that ate out of the feeder on her front porch. Apparently during the first two weeks after they installed it, Chapman got called away from work four times, three of ‘em to bail her gardener out of the back of a squad car where they had him cuffed and once to vouch for the hummingbird, which they were unable to catch. Finally she said screw it and turned the system off.”
“You said there were cameras?”
“Front one scanned the entry door and picked up nothing. One in the back somebody took the tape out of it. Could have been the killer. Could have been Chapman or somebody else. Nobody seems to know. All they know is that there was no tape in the recorder on the day of the murder.”
“Great. A sixty-thousand-dollar security system whose only efficient application is to condition the owner not to turn it on.”
“About the size of it,” says Harry.
“Were there security stickers on the windows?” I ask.
Harry looks at me with a blank expression.
“You know, the little decals that say ‘This property is protected by Wile E. Coyote,’ whatever.”
“I don’t know.”
“Better find out. They don’t usually put a system in unless they sticker the strategic openings. If that’s the case it’s bad for us.”
What I am thinking is that the state’s going to say anybody who wasn’t familiar with the house wouldn’t take the chance that popping a screen and opening a downstairs window would set off the alarm and send a signal to some monitoring station somewhere.
Harry makes a note. Who besides Chapman’s own bodyguard would know that the security system was seldom, if ever, on?
“And of course the best candidate for the kind of shooting we’re talking about here is our own client,” says Harry.
“You mean his military background?”
“I wish that’s all it was. It turns out that among his other gifts, like jumping backwards out of handcuffs, is the fact that he qualified three years running for the U.S. Army Pistol Team,” says Harry.
“Yeah, the cops went to great pains to provide us with all the details. Seems Ruiz and his teammates won two of the national shoots back at Fort Benning. Of course, this was a few years ago now, so he might be a little rusty.”
“Great, we can put him on the stand and have him perform a shooting exhibition with the murder weapon for the jury. Keep our fingers crossed he misses. That should be persuasive. Next you’re going to tell me that the pistol of choice he fired during competition was the same one used to kill Chapman.”
“Fortunately, no. It was, however, a forty-five auto, same caliber,” says Harry, “but it wasn’t an HK. It was the old Colt 1911 model.”
“So if we draw a jury composed of gun nuts and armorers, we can make the point. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the military go to the nine millimeter for sidearms some years ago?”
Harry nods. “Yeah, Beretta 92F is the piece they use now. But for some reason Ruiz and his team shot with the old Colt.”
“And yet the gun used to kill Chapman, a forty-five auto, was issued to Ruiz and belonged to the military. See if you can find out why.”
Harry makes a note.
“How about the state’s theory of a love interest: murder by jealousy. Anything in their notes on that?”
Harry shakes his head. “You have to figure they aren’t gonna put that in their notes. Theory of their case. If they have witnesses, you can be sure they’ll be well concealed on their list.”
What Harry means is lost in a forest of other names.
What is in the file is the lurid videotape showing Ruiz and Chapman on the couch in her office at Isotenics. While the production values, color, and lighting leave a little to be desired, the action—punctuated as it is by heavy breathing and some audible moans—leaves nothing to the imagination.
“How would you read it?” Harry is talking about the tape. “You think she was the aggressor?”
“If I had to call it on points, I’d say it was a draw.”
Harry nods. “We’re gonna need a good wind at our back if we’re going to sell the jury on the notion that she seduced him.”
“Anything else?” I ask.
“That’s about it. Some details here and there. We have the original pathology report, but the medical examiner is still working on some details they haven’t released yet.”
“What kind of details?”
“They aren’t saying. They say they’re just about done. They’ll ship it over as soon as they’re finished. As soon as it comes I’ll get it to you.”
Harry starts to package up some of the papers on the table. “One thing is clear,” he says. “The cops and the DA are putting all their eggs in Ruiz’s basket. From everything I’ve seen and read, he’s been their only theory of the case from the get-go. Never even looked at the possibility of a burglary. Ruiz is right about one thing.”
“He is very convenient,” says Harry. “The man touches every base. Who would have known where the gun was except him? Who else knew the security system was off? He was familiar with the house and the layout. Only thing they might be a little weak on is motive.”
“Give them a few more days and I’m sure they’ll shore that up.”
“You heard him at the jail. He could just be good at covering his emotions, but it sure didn’t sound like he was infatuated with her to me. I suppose the DA can try to make out a case of twisted lust, given the tape,” he says.
“If they show it more than once, the judge is going to have to call a break so the jury can take a cold shower,” I tell him.
“That does not a murder make,” says Harry.
“Let’s hope not.” For the moment I am worried about the tight group to the head, one of the most damaging pieces of evidence, particularly since it came from Ruiz’s gun and given his background in the military as a shooter. “What about the gun?”
“What about it?”
“According to the police report, the firearm was taken from a drawer in a dresser upstairs, off the main floor, a guest room previously used by Ruiz when he was providing security. With all that glass behind glass, with expensive electronics in open view in the living room, why stop to run upstairs and rifle through the drawers of a dresser if your purpose is burglary? Unless of course you already know that what you’re looking for is in that particular drawer.”
“You’re saying that the killer knew where the gun was?”
“I’m saying that the purpose wasn’t burglary or robbery or any other crime involving property. The purpose was murder. And, based on the evidence, that’s what the prosecution is going to say: that gun was the first thing the killer went for.”
“And of course who knew where the gun was kept.”
Harry and I harmonize on this one: “Ruiz.”
“We need to find out who else knew about the firearm. That’s the key. The wider the knowledge, the better off for us. If Ruiz showed it to anyone. If he told anyone where it was. If anyone else in the house knew about it. Put that at the top of your list: things to check out,” I tell him.
He makes a note starting with Ruiz as soon as we can get to him at the jail. They are now in their second day of lock-down. From what we are reading in the paper and hearing at the courthouse, all of this is the result of a stabbing. They are now scouring cells looking for shivs, turning the bedding upside down and tapping the walls, looking for hollowed-out places carved in the concrete, pasted over with watered oatmeal, and colored with acrylic paints used by inmates in art classes: a favored hiding place because it is neutral, not tied to an inmate’s bunk or belongings. Life and death in the lockup.
“Ruiz did tell us he made sure another employee was assigned whenever he slept over at Chapman’s house,” says Harry.
If this is true, it cuts against the theory that he was trying to make time chasing after the victim. It augurs well for the defense that he was trying to keep his distance.
“If we can prove it,” I tell him.
“And maybe,” says Harry, “that other employee knew about the gun, where it was kept.”
“Check it out. Put it on the list.”
“I’m gonna need help if I’m gonna run all this down.” Harry has cases, some dogs barking back in his office. He will have to clear the decks.
“We’ll bring somebody in.”
“Let me work on it,” I tell him.
“One other thing,” he adds. “We need to find out why Ruiz left the gun at her house when the security assignment ended. That’s a pretty expensive firearm to just leave behind when you change jobs.”
“The cops asked him that.”
“I didn’t see it,” says Harry.
“Said he just forgot it was there. According to Ruiz, he never carried it concealed. It was too big. He carried a small, compact Glock, a nine millimeter, when he needed to be armed.”
“So why was it at the house?” Harry wonders aloud.
I shake my head. “Let’s find out.”
Harry makes a note to talk to Ruiz about it just as soon as we can corner him at the jail.
“Anything else?” I ask.
He looks down his list. “Just this
thing. I don’t know about you, but I get the sense it was worth a bundle.”
“She had an extensive collection of art glass, according to the reports. I doubt, given her position, her income, that she bought junk.”
“It’s more than that. The cops are playing hide-the-receipt. They won’t say what she paid for it. By now they’ve gotta know. They talked to the owner of the shop where Chapman bought it. They would have seized any bill of sale. Probably found the corresponding copy in her purse or in her car after they found her body.”
Harry is right. It was purchased the afternoon she was murdered.
“So why hide it?” says Harry.
Harry nods. “That’s what I’m thinking. If somebody saw her buy it, knew what she paid for it . . .”
“Let’s find out. Subpoena her bank and credit card statements. All of them. If we have to, get an order for discovery. Force them to cough up the bill of sale. While you’re at it, see if we can get some background on this thing. What was it called?”
Orb at the Edge
,” says Harry.
If she wanted it as part of her collection, it probably has a history. Find out who owned it, where it came from, who might have wanted to own it, when it was made, everything you can regarding its pedigree.”
The building is well past its prime. If I had to guess I would say something from the late forties, put up during the postwar building boom when materials were at a premium. It is a universe away from the opulent government palaces built by dollar-a-day WPA artisans during the Depression: post office buildings with soaring Doric columns of granite and Tennessee marble lining the walls and floors. Today the best of these have all been squatted on by the federal courts and refurbished to within an inch of their original splendor.