[If you have not already done so, you must
read the Introduction
Prologue 001-002 Chap 1 003-005 Chap 2 006 Chap 3 007-008
Chap 4 009-010 Chap 5 011-013 Chap 6 014-017 Chap 7 018-019
Chap 8 020-023 Chap 9 024-027 Chap 10 028-031 Chap 11 032-041
Chap 12 042-048 Chap 13 049-055 Chap 14 056-063 Chap 15 064-074
Chap 16 075-084
Revenge Should Have No Bounds (85-95)
Chapter 17: Interviews
It is Thursday morning, three days since the body of the Vietnamese woman, Trinh Cao, was discovered in a snowy ditch. Phoebe is driving. Samuel’s car has had to stay the weekend in the shop, so he is getting a ride with his wife from Woulfton. The Interstate has already been cleared, although the countryside flashing by on either side is powdered a brilliant white from the weekend’s precipitation. The traffic is heavy, and slick patches promote a more leisurely pace than is normal for the suburban hordes headed to offices in the city.
Samuel is engrossed in the Wall Street Journal. An occasional ‘hmm’ or ‘outrageous’ punctuate his methodical perusal of the day’s reportorial program. As he turns a page, he glances over at his wife. She seems deep in thought.
“This Vietnamese woman?”
“Yes,” she says, and sighs.
Samuel puts a hand on his wife’s arm. Almost thirty-five years they have been married, a period of such lengthy duration that off-hand he can’t think of a single friend, acquaintance, or colleague who is still hitched to the original spouse. Indeed, by this age a number of them are on replacement number three or have given up entirely. It must say something about Phoebe and himself, he thinks, but is not sure exactly what.
“It’s Melinda, isn’t it?” he asks quietly, squeezing her forearm.
Phoebe nods her head, bites her lip, and says nothing.
Samuel senses that this case is almost too personal for her.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
She appreciates that he is prompting her with his usual gentleness.
“I don’t know,” she says. “Sometimes it just seems so … so unfair. I know, that’s childish. But I think of the poor parents of that woman. One day the daughter is there, alive, vital, vibrant, and then, suddenly, just gone. In such a horrible way.” She looks at her husband and clasps his hand on her arm.
“You never forget,” he concurs softly, and sighs.
“Ulla picked up the parents Tuesday morning and took them to the morgue for a formal identification. You never know how the next of kin are going to react. Ulla said the viewing was by television. She wanted to spare them the sight of their daughter’s head. The back was crushed, and it was hard to hide in a frontal viewing. Using the right angle, they can have the camera just focus on the face itself. The mother collapsed on the floor. The father just stood there. Ulla said he was crying. Soundlessly. Then he picked up his wife and they walked out to the waiting room and just buckled on a sofa. I think it upset Ulla a lot, and she’s not the type.”
“I see,” Samuel said, feeling rather helpless. He had never forgotten his last look at his own daughter, before they used television cameras, lying so small and pallid in the morgue drawer. No parent should ever have to endure such an ordeal, he thought.
Phoebe continued. “Melinda would have been just a year older than Ulla is now. Trinh, the Vietnamese girl, was twenty-four.”
Husband and wife share a flash of old sorrow.
“Are you going to be all right?” he asks.
Phoebe moves her head up and down. “I’ll be all right, honey,” she says.
She concentrates on the road and the traffic, and Samuel gazes idly out the window, the day’s edition of the Wall Street Journal lying scrunched in his lap.
“Do you suspect the parents?”
“No. I really don’t. Anything is possible, but I just don’t see it. Still, I’ve learned never to jump to conclusions. Murder is often a mystery to me. I mean, why people do it.”
“Any leads? Or am I being too inquisitive?”
“No problem. Yes, some. We’re interviewing the primary this afternoon. A boyfriend. It turns out he’s a cop. Ulla brought the parents in again yesterday, and they picked him out of shots in the personnel files. He looks good, but I don’t know. My gut tells me no. But, again …” she trails off uncertainly.
“Well, always listen to yourself, dear. You always do talk a good game.”
And drops her husband half a block from his office, kissing him on the mouth. Then she heads for police headquarters and hangs a right off Crest into the parking garage. It’s a few minutes before nine.
The office was in full swing, and the members of her crew were all present. Phoebe caught Tanya’s eye.
“This is your lucky day, Phoebe,” she said.
“Dr. Wendell got to the autopsy of the Cao woman sooner than he thought he would. Yesterday. The report’s on you desk.”
“Yesss!” Phoebe said. “Listen,Tanya, I want you to set up a meeting for eleven this morning. We need to go over a few things and get caught up on that autopsy before we interview Officer Darling.”
“Right,” Tanya said. “Here are your messages.” She handed Phoebe half a dozen pink sheetlets.
“You’re a popular lady!”
Phoebe quickly riffled through the notes and hung them from a large metal binder clip looped over a nail sticking out from the bookshelf on her desk.
She was pleased to see the large manila envelope with return address from the Pathology Department at the university. The autopsy. She split the envelope open and read the cover report:
Department of Pathology
From the office of Dr. Steven Wendell, MD, FACP
DATE: 14 January 2004
DECEDENT: Trinh Cao
ADDRESS: 366 Hyacinth Land
IDENTIFIED BY: Mr. and Mrs. Gia-Phuoc Cao
RELATION TO DECEASED: Parents
ATTENDING PATHOLOGIST: Dr. Wayne Szreny, M.D.
PRIMARY CAUSE(S) OF DEATH: Blunt force trauma to the parietal region of the head (see FINDINGS below).
CONTRIBUTORY CAUSE(S): Indeterminate
SIGNATURE OF PATHOLOGIST: Steven Wendell, MD, FCAP
The body is that of an otherwise healthy female Asian, aged 24, five feet six inches, 109 pounds. Old cicatrix appendicis is visible, as well as gross trauma consequent on blunt force blow to left parietal region of head.
Victim frozen when received in Pathology; thawed. Lividity pattern suggests victim lay supine for several hours after death and before freezing. Given information from next of kin, police and conclusions of this autopsy, death is placed at some time between approximately 15:00 Friday 9 January and before 4:00 Monday 12 January 2004.
Immediate cause of death was massive intracranial exsanguination as result of epidural hematoma and subarachnoid hemorrhage.
Anatomical and histological examinations of oral and perineal cavities suggest no consensual or forced sexual activity prior to death. No semen found.
Stomach contents indicate the victim had ingested rice and raw fish a few hours before death.
Hair samples recovered from the victim’s clothing have been labeled and forwarded to the forensics laboratory. [See enclosed attachment]
A tox screen was performed after body thawed. No positives for proscribed catabolites were found; trace amounts of ethanol were present.
Phoebe roots around in the envelope and extracts the report enclosed from the forensics lab.
City Police Headquarters
DATE: Wednesday 14 January 2004
DECEDENT: Trinh Cao
CASE #: 2004-01-09f
LAB TECH: Joey Sung
The pathologist’s office forwarded hairs found on the external clothing of the body. These are all human. They are from individuals of Caucasian and Asian ethnicity. Comparisons were made between these unidentified hairs and samples collected from the victim and from Fabian Darling. Although it is impossible to tell how many different individuals left hair on the clothing of the corpse, some of these hairs are consistent with samples gathered from Fabian Darling. Others cannot be identified. Detailed comments will be found on the following pages.
Phoebe makes some notes on a yellow block and in her head maps out an agenda for the meeting she has called. They’ll go over the autopsy report and the lab’s conclusions, and discuss the upcoming interview with Fabian Darling. The D.A., Jeff Kerzy, has been pestering her for something concrete for several days now, and it looks as though by the end of the day the police may be able to recommend an arrest to him.
Phoebe has asked Tanya to see to it that the coffee is freshly brewed and some donuts and bear claws be sent up from the bakery around the corner on Edgewater. Phoebe pays for this out of pocket. Shortly before eleven the crew begins to gather in the War Room. In addition to Phoebe and her coördinator, Bev, there are the on-site techs from last Monday – Barb Purcell, Henry Freund, and Pete Anders. The two detectives, Rickie Aronson and Willard Garrett, are just coming in the door. Ulla Sundelius enters last, humming a bar from, perhaps not inaptly, Phoebe notes, ‘Anything Goes’.
“People,” she begins brightly after they have helped themselves to coffee and eats, “let’s get started. I’m happy to report we’ve made a lot of progress, thanks to everybody really hustling on this one. The autopsy and lab reports,” she continues, waving the thick documents in the air, “are in, and we now have something definite to go on. In addition, we have a formal identification of the body from Mr. and Mrs. Cao. It is, unhappily, their daughter, Trinh. Ulla,” she turned to the young detective, “want to take it from there?”
“Sure,” Ulla said, holding a hand under the last bite of a crumbling donut she was leveraging into her mouth. She washed it down with coffee. “I brought the Caos in yesterday to look at personnel files. When Phoebe and I interviewed them Monday evening, they indicated Trinh had been seeing a policeman, and the mother, Mrs. Cao, in fact seemed to think this guy may have had something to do with what happened to their daughter.”
“They obviously weren’t thrilled that her daughter was seeing him,” Phoebe interjected. “I don’t know if that was a racial or cultural thing or, more likely, a function of the fact that he was married.”
“The Caos both identified the man without any hesitation from his personnel photo. Somebody named Fabian Darling. Anybody know anything about him?”
Phoebe, swallowing a chunk of bear claw and wiping her mouth with a paper napkin, wagged a hand.
Before she could speak up, Barb perked up. “Yes, that name is familiar to me. Wasn’t he involved in something a few years back?”
“Yes, he was,” Phoebe confirmed.
Henry and Pete were whispering hurriedly to each other and shaking their heads.
“He used to be part of the homicide squad,” Phoebe announced. “He was part of my squad.”
The others all looked at each other.
“So what happened?” Henry asked.
“To be honest, I’m not really sure,” Phoebe said slowly. “It was all kind of hush-hush, and they pretty much handled it all up on the tenth floor,” she raised her head and eyes to the ceiling. “One day he was a homicide detective, and the next he was walking a beat near the university. This was about three years ago or so. I never did get the skinny on that one, and Fabian wasn’t willing to talk to me when I approached him. ‘Part of the arrangement,’ is all he’d say.”
“Did he go the union about a demotion like that?” Barb asked. “I would have!”
“That’s the odd thing,” Phoebe answered. “He never did. In fact, I suggested it to him. He wasn’t a bad guy, and a pretty good detective. I thought he’d be a waste of good talent on patrol. But, no, he just shook his head and said he ‘wouldn’t go there.’
“And that’s about all I know. And from his personnel file,” she said, leafing through some papers in the blue folder in front of her, “it seems he’s still walking a beat.”
There was a buzz of puzzled comments around the table. Some of them got up to refill their cups.
“This means he’s our primary suspect at this time?” Ulla asked.
“It does. In fact, he’s the only one at this point. I think we have to take a very close look at him.”
“How does that note with the name … what was it? … ‘Mazarine’ come into play here?”
“We don’t know that at all. It’s something I plan to take up with Fabian. For sure.”
“By the way, did the lab ever get any prints off that paper?”
“Unfortunately, no. And they couldn’t get the number either, if that’s what the blurred writing was.” Phoebe turned her mouth down.
“What about the parents?” Rickie asked.
“Well, that would be the obvious place to start,” Phoebe admitted. “And I’m not saying they’re absolutely off the hook. You could make an argument this was one of those ‘honor killings’ you read about these days – paternal rage at a disobedient daughter, a daughter dating the wrong kind of man, or just dating, period. But I associate that more with Middle Eastern cultures than Far Eastern ones. But if it is, would it involve a bashed-in head and dumping in the countryside?”
“More likely a strangling, or a so-called suicide, right at home,” Willard suggested.
“That’s my thinking, too,” Phoebe said. “As I say, I don’t rule them out, especially the father, but for now Fabian Darling seems a more productive line of inquiry. If that doesn’t take us anywhere, then we can always come back to the parents and put them under the microscope. But,” she wound up, “my gut instinct, for what it’s worth, says they’re not involved in their daughter’s murder.”
“We’re interviewing this Fabian?”
“That we are,” Phoebe said emphatically and arranged the folders and papers on the table in front of herself. “The interview will take place at two this afternoon, and I want Sundelius and Garrett to sit in. Pete, I’d like you to handle the video. We’ll do it in interview room number three, where we can tape audio and video. Pete, I’d like you to handle the camera. Anybody who’s interested is free to sit in behind the glass.” She was referring to the ‘hidden’ room behind the two-way mirror on the long side of number three. “But let’s remember, Fabian is only a suspect at this point. He’s not under arrest, and he’s agreed to do the interview as a courtesy.”
They all nodded knowingly.
“What do we actually have on this Fabian besides the suspicions of the parents?” Willard asked.
“I was just getting to that,” Phoebe said, picking up the ledger-like document that contained the autopsy and lab reports. “It’s not a great deal, but I’ve seen arrests – and convictions — made from smaller beginnings.” She glanced through her own notes she’d taken a few hours earlier on the yellow legal pad. “Let’s see here. The first thing that comes to mind is the cause of death, what actually killed her.” The detectives and Bev were scribbling furiously in their little notebooks. “Here’s how the pathologist puts it, technically: ‘… gross trauma consequent on blunt force blow to left parietal region of head …’ and ‘…massive intracranial exsanguination as result of epidural hematoma and subarachnoid hemorrhage.’ Everybody get that?”
“In other words,” Rickie translated, “somebody bashed her brains in and she bled to death.”
“In the unadorned vernacular, yes,” Phoebe said dryly.
“Which,” Barb noted, “suggests a very powerful blow with some kind of weapon to cause that much damage. Which in turn makes you think of somebody big and strong.”
“Probably,” Phoebe admitted.
“Do we know when she died?” Ulla asked.
“Only approximately. Some time between three Friday afternoon and around four Monday morning.”
“The weekend, in short.”
“Do we know if Officer Darling was on duty last weekend?”
“According to the shift reports, he was off Friday through Tuesday.”
“Any signs of sexual assault?” Rickie asked.
“None. Nada, nothing. And a negative tox screen. Except for a drink or two before she died. And what sounds like maybe a sushi dinner. But,” Phoebe said with heavy emphasis, “they recovered several hair samples from the exterior clothing of the body, and they were not the victim’s. Some, however, were in fact consistent with hair samples Fabian Darling voluntarily provided.”
They all looked at each other. “What does that mean?” Rickie asked.
“Everything and nothing,” Phoebe suggested. “It does place him in contact with her, but if he was seeing the woman, you’d expect that, wouldn’t you? There were also other hairs that the lab thinks didn’t come from Fabian or the victim.”
“Hair is tricky,” Phoebe admonished them. “We’ve got to be cautious here. A competent defense lawyer can play havoc with hair. Let’s not forget that, and let’s not get too excited, yet. Let’s see what Fabian has to say first.”
Phoebe scans the table. “I think that’s it for now. We’ll break for lunch, but I want Ulla and Willard to meet me in number three about a quarter of two. We’ll set up a routine for the interview. Anything else?”
Nobody had anything more.
“Thank you, all,” Phoebe said and rose from table. Bev helped her gather all the folders and papers together, and everybody trooped out.
Interview room number three was a small, typically claustrophobic affair. Phoebe liked its booth-like, beat-up look, the tacky furniture, lack of windows, and dark institutional green. Thousands had endured verbal beatings here; hundreds had confessed. The mirror on the wall fooled nobody and helped to grow the guilt in the guilty. At one short end of the table the video camera with its intense cyclopean light captured the interviewee’s performance for posterity.
At two o’clock Phoebe, Ulla, and Willard were ready. Phoebe sat on the side of the table nearest the door, and Ulla and Willard on the other side. Pete Anders was standing by the video camera fiddling with buttons and levers. Internal scheduling had put number three down for two for an interview with Officer Darling. This fact had aroused a certain amount of interest on the tenth floor, and a couple of the commissioner’s factotums were crowded into the viewing room behind the two-way mirror.
When Fabian was escorted into the room by a watch officer, he was placed at the short end opposite the camera. Phoebe greeted him neutrally. She was somewhat taken aback by his looks. She remembered him as a man who wasn’t bad looking, but the years had not been kind. He was heavier than when she had known him five years or so ago, but he also looked as though he had been working hard to lose some weight. The sallow skin of his face kind of hung a little on him. Phoebe checked his file: born in 1955. That would make him forty-eight. Now, she charged herself, keep this neutral.
“Good afternoon, Officer Darling,” she said, smiling.
“How are you,” he replied. He’d put his forage cap on the table and was scratching his buzz cut. He seemed pretty relaxed.
“We are going to be recording this interview on both audio and video. Do you have any objections to that?”
“Fine with me.”
Phoebe started the audio.
“Rolling,” Pete answered, and when the intense light came on everybody flinched momentarily.
Phoebe spoke at the Panasonic. “This is an interviews with Officer Fabian Darling in the matter of the murder of Trinh Cao, case number H-2004-01-12-01. Officer Darling is not at this time a suspect. Present are video technician Pete Anders, detectives Ulla Sundelius and Willard Garrett, and myself, chief of detectives, Phoebe Light. It is Thursday the fifteenth of January 2004, and the time is 2:04 in the afternoon.” She turned to Fabian.
“Do I understand correctly, Officer Darling, that you have agreed voluntarily to this interview?”
“Do you want a representative of the patrolmen’s union to be present?”
“That’s not necessary.”
“Do you wish to have legal counsel present?”
“That won’t be necessary, either.”
“On behalf of my colleagues and myself, we thank you for helping us in this investigation.”
Darling stirred on his seat. “I want whoever did this as much as you do. I’m here to help in any way I can.”
“Thank you,” Phoebe acknowledged. “We appreciate your readiness to help, and we thank you for giving us hair samples yesterday.”
“Like I said, I’m happy to help.” He rubs the short nub of hairs on his head.
“Thank you again.
“Detective Sundelius will initiate the interview.” Everybody looked at Ulla, who was examining some papers spread out before her on the scarred table.
“As a formality, Officer Darling, you acknowledge that you were romantically involved with the victim, Trinh Cao?”
“Yes, I was.”
“And …” Ulla shuffled some more paper, “… you are not married?”
“I was. Divorced now.”
“Fine, we’ll come back to that point later. Apparently Ms. Cao’s parents were under the impression you were married.”
“I know. I can see why.”
“And why was that, do you think?”
“Because I was in fact married when I first met Trinh.”
“And that was when?”
“That was in early 2000.”
Ulla made a notation.
“And your divorce?”
“And there was a connection between these two events?”
“No.” He sighed. “Not really. My marriage had been on the rocks for a long time. Maybe Trinh … maybe meeting her accelerated something that would have happened eventually anyway.”
“I see.” She shot Phoebe a glance, who nodded back to her.
“Just for the record, can we go through some of your background?”
“No problem. There’s nothing to hide.”
Phoebe was watching Darling closely. He was of course a police officer, and he had been a homicide detective. He knew all about interrogations and interviews, and he certainly knew that even if he wasn’t, as she had said at the start, “at this time a suspect,” he would be equally aware that he was not excluded as a possible suspect “at a later time.” Yet he still seemed relaxed and in no way trying to avoid forthright answers to the questions being put to him. A sociopath could pull that off without difficulty, but Fabian Darling, whatever else he might have been, was not a sociopath. Interesting, she thought.
“You graduated from the university here in the city, is that correct?”
“Right. In 1978. A degree in sociology.”
“And then you went into the army.”
“And ended up in the military police in Korea.”
“That’s right. I served for eight years. Re-upped several times.”
“And I see you have an honorable discharge. And you received several citations for meritorious service.”
Darling made a dismissive wave with his right hand. “It was nothing.”
Phoebe did not think this was false modesty.
“Nevertheless,” Ulla said. She turned her face to Willard, who was sitting next to her. “Detective Garrett with continue the interview.”
“Officer,” Willard began, “your record indicates that you started your career with the city police as a detective.”
“Yes. In 1988. The experience as a military policeman in Korea helped there.”
“I see. Of course. And apparently you were quite a good detective. Both as indicated by the record I have in front of me, and according to you former supervisor, Detective Light.” He nodded in Phoebe’s direction.
Darling said nothing.
“And yet,” Willard went on in his quiet but intense way, “after twelve years you’re suddenly walking a beat. Can you explain that?”
“Yes and no.” Now a certain unease crept into his demeanor. There was something like a faint scent of blood in the small room.
“Yes and no? That’s kind of confusing.”
“Yes. What I mean is, yes, I could explain it, but, no, I’ve been told to keep my mouth shut.”
“No, you really don’t,” Darling corrected, not angrily or with a raised voice, but calmly and factually. “And that is all I’m going to say about it. If you want to know more, you should check with the tenth floor. But I’m not saying anything else on the subject.”
His disquiet had disappeared. But he did not touch the glass of water that stood in front of him.
“All right, let’s move on then.” He extracted a sheet of paper from a pile. “You said that you were married, and that you are now divorced.”
“Yes. That’s what I said.”
“And that your marriage was not in the best of shape.”
“That’s for sure.”
“And you’d been married since,” Willard gave the sheet in his hand a quick glance, “1992. Is that correct?”
“So, for eight years.”
Fabian nodded but said nothing.
“If I could ask you please to respond verbally. We’d like that tape recorder to pick it up.”
“Right. Yes, that’s about it. Eight long years.”
“It wasn’t a good marriage?”
“It was fine, I guess, for several years. Then around 1998 it started to take a dive.”
“Any special reason?”
“Who knows? Familiarity, boredom, indifference, tedium, somebody else? Take your pick. What difference does it make? Is this really relevant? I mean, I want to help, but I’m not sure I see where this is going. This is all ancient history. Bad water over an old dam.”
Willard plowed on. “Your wife was Japanese, wasn’t she?”
“Did you meet her while you were stationed in Korea?”
“Yes. We often took leave in Japan. Funny thing is, though, she was American. Japanese-American. Studying in Japan when I met her. In nineteen eighty-eight.”
“Given the dates involved – you left the service in eighty-eight and got married in ninety-two – I assume you … you picked things up stateside. Is that a fair assumption?”
“Right on the money, detective.”
“Can you elaborate?”
“Well, there’s not much to elaborate. She got back to the states — L.A., that’s where she’s from – a couple of months after I got back here, and we kept up with each other. Letters, phone, that kind of thing. We visited each other. She got her degree from U.C.L.A. Two of them: Japanese and statistics. After a while we decided to tie the knot, and so we did. End of story.”
“Are you still in touch with your ex-wife?”
“Yes. She lives in the city.”
“Your last name? Darling?”
“Yeah. Yukiko Darling.”
Fabian has picked his forage cap up off the table and was running a finger along the shiny black of the visor.
“Yukiko Darling.” Willard jots something down on his pad. “I see.”
He gives Phoebe a heads-up to pass it on to her.
Fabian puts the cap back down in front of him and stretches on the chair.
“Officer Darling,” Phoebe goes to work, “I wonder if we can get back to the murder victim, Trinh Cao. She was your … your girlfriend?”
“That’s right.” His voice is low.
Phoebe, along with the others, observes discreetly a slight watering of Darling’s eyes. Crying, she knows, is a sign. A sign that can signify many different things. In short, people cry for a lot of reasons. It is not always out of grief. It may even come from laughter. Or, sometimes, from guilty regret. Fabian, she speculates idly, certainly has the size and the heft to bash anybody’s brains in. Of course, sometimes tears are a sign of what they are usually a sign of, of deep grief.
Fabian shakes his head and makes a quick swipe of his sleeve across his face. He inhales noisily through a nose that has started to run. He pulls out a large handkerchief and blows gently into it.
“Do you think you could tell us a little about how you met Trinh Cao?”
“It’s not a short story,” he says. His manner is subdued.
“That’s fine,” Phoebe says. “I think we’ll take ten-minute break here and then pick up again. The time is now,” she checks the large industrial clock above the door, “two minutes of three. We will be taking a ten-minute break.”
She turns off the Panasonic and signals to Pete to stop filming. The bright light above the camera goes off and throws the room into relative dimness.
“Can I get you a Coke or something cold to drink, Officer Darling?” she asks solicitously.
“Thank you. That would taste pretty good right now.” He has stood up, stretched, and walked haltingly back and forth at this end of the room. Phoebe noticed he had a conspicuous limp.
“I’ll get us some cold drinks,” Ulla volunteers and disappears from the room.
A short while later they are again seated around the table, cans of soda in front of them, and a few unopened ones in the center.
Phoebe turns on the recorder and leans forward to address its recessed microphone. “It is now three-fifteen and we are recommencing the interview with Officer Fabian Darling in the matter of Trinh Cao, case number H-2004-01-12-01. The same people as before are present.” She sits back.
“Please, Officer Darling, if you would tell us how you met Trinh Cao.”
Fabian puts his elbows on the table and starts talking, in a level monotone.
“Well, when I went on foot patrol I was assigned hotel row and the nearby area around the university. Up around Vale of Lilies and over by Crick Drive. You know the area.” Everybody nods in acknowledgement and scratch pens across their pads. “So, I walk these streets, get to know the shop people, the hotels, some of the kids and professors at the university. There’s a nice coffee shop on Newton that I like, and from time to time I stop in there to get a bite to eat or something to drink.”
Darling becomes agitated as he starts into his story, but soon settles down.
“I was sitting in this place one afternoon next to campus. It was the time between the lunch rush and the dinner hour, so the place was fairly empty. I was busy with the student newspaper and not paying a lot of attention to my surroundings. At some point a young woman sat down about three seats away from me but on the opposite side of one of the counters that run the length of the shop.
“I noticed she was Oriental. I didn’t pay much more mind and went back to my crazy crossword puzzle. After a while I heard a sniffle from the woman’s direction. When I looked up I could see she was crying, kind of soft, holding a napkin up against her eyes. Her shoulders were going up and down. I admit I was moved. But I wasn’t sure if, or how, I could intervene without seeming rude. Who wants to intrude on a private grief?”
“Then she resolves my dilemma for me.
“She looks at me, and gives me this brave little smile through the tears, apologizes for the spectacle she’s making. ‘I’m sorry,’ she says. ‘Please forgive me. I am so embarrassed at all of this.’ And then more tears. ‘Is it really that bad?’ I ask. I pick up my coffee and paper and move down a few chairs so that I’m sitting opposite her.
“Even through the tears I can tell this young woman is truly beautiful. I admit I’m partial to Asian women. No crime in that.
“Anyway, her hair was very black and it was bobbed short. Sleek and glossy. And of course she had the typical high cheekbones and Oriental eyes. And a gorgeous mouth. I tell you, she took my breath away. It was hard to judge her height from her sitting position, but I guessed around five-two, which turned out to be more than a couple inches short; but she had a slight build, that willowy kind of elegance. Dusky eyebrows in a pale face, dark brown eyes, a stylish felt hat that was deep red and topped with an encircling brim.
“She just shakes her head at my question and can’t answer. She’s, like, overcome by another fit of weeping. I get up and fetch a glass of water from the counter. When I put it in front of her, she gulps it down and thanks me. After she gets herself together, she just says, ‘My boyfriend.’
“I look at her, and she can tell I haven’t put it all together from what she said. She tries a smile, and says, ‘I am sorry. I am bothering you.’ ‘Not at all,’ I say. ‘I just couldn’t help seeing you crying … ‘I know,’ she sighs. ‘I know.’ ‘Is there anything I can do?’ I ask.
“Pretty lame, huh?” he says to the detectives.
He goes on. “She shakes her head real slow, ‘No,’ she says, ‘no. There is nothing anyone can do now. It is finally over.’
“I took her to mean she and her boyfriend had decided to call it quits. I was right. I don’t know what passed between us, but for some reason she opened up to me right then and there and told me the story of her boyfriend, and of a large part of her life. By the time she finished, the place had started to fill up with dinner people.
“She and her boyfriend had had their last fight, which ended with a physical fight. She admitted she had slapped him first, and then he had slapped her. She breaks into tears again. It seems they’d been living together for about a half year, and since the start it had been nothing but problems: accusations of infidelity on both sides, jealousies, recriminations, reconciliations. After only a couple of months their arguments had started to turn physical, but it had never gotten beyond slaps in the face – most of them, she confessed, delivered by her to him. ‘Sometimes I’m such a bitch,’ she said.”
Phoebe interrupted. “This boyfriend, what do you know about him?” Everybody is eager to hear Fabian’s answer.
“Ah, that’s nothing. She told me later he went back to China, at the end of the semester, which is where he was from.”
“Did she ever tell you his name?”
“No. It was almost two years after they broke up that we got into it with each other in a serious … in a romantic way. By that time I didn’t care about guys in her past.”
Phoebe nods for him to continue.
“O.K., so by this time she’s calmed down and we’re just talking. She says she has to leave, and is going to stay with her parents for the next few days until things get sorted out. ‘You’ve been very kind to me,’ she says. And then she hesitates a minute and asks if she can call me and talk some more. I agree, of course, and give her my phone number, which she jots down on the inside cover of a book she had with her.
“I wasn’t sure if she ever would call me, but I sort of suspected she would.
“‘I’ll call you,’ she said. We shook hands, and I think we hung on just a beat too long. ‘By the way, I’m Trinh.’ ‘And I’m Fab, Trinh!’ She gave me the sweetest smile, enough to melt ice cubes.”
He pauses and surveys the room. “You really want me to tell you all this?”
“Yes, please. We want to know everything we can about this woman. You’re doing just fine.”
He shot his eyebrows and started in again.
“I admit I was fascinated by Trinh. In fact, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. But it wasn’t sexual, you know, at least not at first. Her story was kind of messy. Is this something I wanted to get involved in? I mean, I already had a boiling mess on my hands with Yukiko at that point. I needed another one? But that all did change, with time.
“Anyway, she did call me a few days after our first meeting, and we get to know each other pretty well. I know there was a strong mutual attraction between us that wasn’t entirely mental, or purely amicable either. She intrigued me, and she was an unusually interesting person. But she was … and these are her own words, ‘ … severely damaged goods.’ But we kept seeing each other, and she told me a lot about herself.
“Trinh was from Viet Nam, and had come to this country as a child of five in eight-four. She still spoke some Vietnamese, but felt American English was her native language – which she spoke without accent. She’d been found wandering the streets of Hué, an orphan, scrounging for food from trash cans, and a Catholic charity took her in, along with a lot of other kids.” He displayed an expression of disgust. “Fuckin’ war! Fuckin’ Kennedy! Johnson, Nixon, all of ‘em! Excuse me. The nuns took care of her for a couple of years, and eventually a Catholic adoption agency placed her with a well-off childless couple in America. Trinh always spoke kindly and lovingly of her adoptive parents, and it wasn’t just an ethnic thing, either. ‘God knows where I’d be if it hadn’t been for them,’ she told me on more than one occasion. Well, I think they loved her as much as they would have any kids of their own.
“She had a long history of not being able to form stable relationships. High school had been stormy, and she went through unhappy boys at an astonishing rate. The one she was with when I met her had been the longest so far, six months – and at that point, in early 2000, she was twenty years old.
“You’ve seen yourself, she was beautiful. But she was also some kind of genius. In junior high school it started to show she was something like a math prodigy, and this year, when she was only 25, she was finishing up her Ph.D. in mathematics. To hear her talk about mathematics and the abstractions and how it all affected her was to listen to genius examining itself with … with clarity and beauty. I’ve got a college degree, sure, but I don’t know much about math. Still she could get me wrapped up in her talk. But she was pretty much an idiot when it came to men and relationships and interacting with other people.”
Willard stopped writing in his notebook.
“Did you and Trinh ever slap each other around?”
“Absolutely not.” Fabian was not outraged, but calmly quick to answer. “She tried that a couple of times when we first started seeing each other … that way, but I told her it was unacceptable. I wouldn’t hit her, ever, and I wouldn’t allow her to hit me. Pure and simple. And she went for it. After that, it never came up again. It just wasn’t the kind of relationship I wanted with her. Or anybody. Ask Yukiko: I never laid a hand on her.”
“O.K., that’s fine.” Willard hands it back to Phoebe.
“So you and Trinh had been seeing each other romantically for how long?” she asked.
“I’d say about a couple of years, almost two years.”
“Were you planning to marry?”
“We’d talked about it,” he said, his shoulders slumped in weary dejection. “She didn’t work. Didn’t need to. Her father supported her, and she was publishing papers. Getting a resumé together and planning to look for a position at a university or a company. I would have quit my job here to follow her. But we never got beyond the talking stage as far as our plans together went.”
As he comes to the end of this narrative, there is no mistaking the watery eyes of the big police officer. Again, Phoebe reminds herself that tears are a sign, a sign of grief as much as of guilt. Which is it in this case?
As if to sway here in one direction, Darling says, “It all started out as kind of a lark. I was attracted to her, I told you, and it flattered me. Here was this gorgeous young woman, obviously sharp as a tack, and she’s interested in me. I’m twice her age, overweight, haven’t made the smartest career moves.” There was no self-pity on Darling’s part lurking in this recital, just an effort at explaining himself and his feelings. “As I said before, my marriage to Yukiko was already on the rocks. Trinh and I got to talking, meeting, and one thing led to another. I think it … it just kind of happened.” His face was distraught. “And now … now she’s not here.” He stared glumly at a far place. “Again, I don’t know if it would have gone anywhere for us, but it was a start. It could have. I’ve even been losing some weight – not that she cared, but she made me feel like I wanted to.”
The detectives eyed each other in the whirring silence of the little room. Fabian Darling pulled out his handkerchief once more and blew his nose.
“Would you like to take a break, Officer?” Phoebe asked sympathetically.
He brushed the air in front of him. “No, no, that’s not necessary. Just give me a second to get myself together.”
Every detective in the room is now wondering what these tears signify. Phoebe has begun to formulate her own opinion on the matter but has little inkling of what the others are thinking. Their faces are masks of neutrality.
After a few minutes, she resumes. “Officer, we have to ask you an obvious question.”
Fabian nods. He knows the drill. “Sure.”
“But before we do, let me remind you that you don’t have to answer. You’re not under arrest at this point and are therefore not obligated to supply us any information. At the same time, anything you do say is being recorded and could be used against you if, later, you were arrested and put on trial in this matter.”
Fabian chuckled bleakly. “A kind of hypothetical Miranda, is that it?”
“Something like that, Officer.”
“Well, I’ve got nothing to hide. You go ahead and ask your question.”
“Officer Darling, did you kill Trinh Cao?”
“No, I did not kill her. I loved her. I really loved that woman.” This, of course, as every detective in the room, once more, realized, was a mantra that all too many murderers resorted to whose love had suddenly flipped to murderous hate. That line from Catullus flitted through Phoebe’s head again. Odi et amo and nescio quare and ‘I hate and I love’ and ‘I don’t know why’ and all that. She was going to have to pull out her old OCT text and check out the exact wording of the couplet. Funny the things that pop into your head at the oddest moments.
Well, Phoebe thought, it sounded sincere enough. If he had done it, would he, a policeman, say anything without lawyering up? Or was exactly this his cunning stratagem? Make them think just that! It was a set of infinite mirrors.
“I noticed from the watch sheets,” Phoebe continued, “that you were off this past weekend. Friday morning until Monday morning.”
“Correct. I was on medical leave. Small bunions. Too much walking in shoes that are too small. Simple surgery at University Hospital.”
Phoebe wrote it down.
“What make of car do you have?”
“I don’t. Yukiko got it in the settlement. A nice big SVU. I’m not even sure if she still has it.”
Ulla picked up the questioning. “Officer,” she said, “even though you and your wife were having trouble before you met Trinh, do you think she could be involved in any way? In the murder?” Phoebe wasn’t so sure that was a good question, but she let it slide. Their marriage may have been on the rocks, but unless Darling had ended up affirmatively hating this Yukiko, would he implicate her at all? Could he?
“No. It’s out of the question.” His answer was without vacillation.
“How can you be so sure?”
“We got divorced, but we stayed in touch, sort of.”
“Sort of?” Ulla prompted.
“We’d have dinner together once in a while. Sometimes Yukiko would call me just to talk. She’d just started seeing somebody new last summer, and she was kind of excited about it. Not like her. She wasn’t a very excitable kind of lady. Pretty reserved, laid back. Maybe kind of like some of your typical Asian woman, you know.” Ulla raised her eyebrows but nobody else seemed to offer any reaction to this. “I just don’t see it.”
“Did your ex-wife ever talk to you about Trinh? She did know you were seeing her, didn’t she?” Ulla asked.
“She knew. And, yes, we did talk about it. She asked me how it was going. Wanted to know what Trinh did, where she was from, was she nice to me, that kind of thing. Kind of sweet on Yukiko’s part, now that you come to think of it. In the end the three of us even ended up having dinner together a few times. After the divorce, that is.” He processed what he had just said. “Actually, that wasn’t all that surprising for Yukiko. As I say, she was a sweet kid.”
Yeah, maybe, thought Ulla. I’m the only woman here even close to her age.
“O.K.,” Willard jumped in. “Do you have any thoughts about anybody else who might have had it in for Trinh? Parents, friends at school, problems with anyone she may have mentioned to you?”
Fabian took his time rolling that one around in his head. He seemed reluctant.
“No, not her parents. She loved them, she really did. Everything I could see, they loved her back. It was a tight family. Sure, maybe her father was a little controlling. I mean Trinh wasn’t a teenager any longer. But murder?” He shook his head vehemently. “That would be hard to believe.”
Fabian hesitated. “Well, there was this woman … this woman I used to see.”
“When you were still married?”
“Yeah.” He was openly embarrassed.
“Well, once I started seeing Trinh – this was back at the start of two thousand – I stopped seeing this other woman.”
“And you think she might have been jealous?”
He snorted. “Jealous? No, not jealous. Greedy.”
“I’m not sure I understand.”
“All right, I suppose it’s going to come out anyway. She was a hooker.”
Interest in the room perked up noticeably.
“Why,” Phoebe stepped in, “why would a hooker be upset about your new girlfriend?”
“Well, I’d been seeing this hooker for a couple of years, since about ninety-eight, I think, and now all of a sudden I don’t want to see her any more. I was a good customer.”
“I see,” Phoebe said.
“Trinh didn’t know about this. It was just something I wanted to do. Trinh made me feel … made me feel I shouldn’t be seeing a hooker.”
“Does this hooker have a name?”
Darling seemed to give that some thought. Pages in notebooks were being turned and pens were racing across the blank spaces.
“It wouldn’t do any good, anyway.”
“What do you mean by that?” Willard pressed.
“Well, she’s not exactly a street walker. High class, you know. She with an outfit that’s got protection. Downtown. Upstairs.”
The detectives were taken aback but stuck to procedure and played along, nodding their heads, as though this were old news. Phoebe had heard rumors about this kind of thing but never seen anything remotely like a smoking gun. Maybe this was. Why would Fabian lie about something like that? To deflect attention from himself and any possible connection to the dead woman?
“I see. Why don’t you let us worry about that. We’re just interested in a name.”
Fabian gave an in-for-a-dime-in-for-a-dollar shrug.
“Sure. The outfit’s named Aspasia’s and her name is Mazarine. Mazarine Cape.”
Bingo, Phoebe yelled to herself, and she could see the same ‘click’ on the faces of the other people sitting around the table.
“Mazarine,” she said. “Mazarine? Can you spell that for us?”
“Sure.” Fabian spelled it.
“And you think she might have had something to do with Trinh’s murder?”
“It’s a possibility. I was running this investigation, I’d have a real good look at her. I’m not saying she did it, you understand. But you asked me what I thought and I’m telling you. I think you should talk to one of the other beat cops, Benny Jameson, too. He told me he saw Mazarine and Trinh Friday evening near the Momiji. I can’t think of anyone else.”
“He can put the two of them together? Friday evening?”
“That’s what he told me.”
“He knows Mazarine?”
“He knows I used to … see her. And he’s met Trinh. They’re both lookers. It’d be hard not to notice them together.”
Phoebe looks up from the pad she has been filling with her jottings.
“Did this Mazarine know your ex-wife?”
Fabian Darling snorts. “Yeah, you could say that. They were real … tight.”
“So Mazarine, Trinh and your ex-wife all knew each other? Is that right?”
“I would assume so. As I’ve said, certainly Mazarine knew Trinh, and Yukiko knew Mazarine. I don’t know for a fact that Trinh and Yukiko knew each other, but that seems a reasonable assumption.”
“I see.” Phoebe looked around the room. “Anybody have any more question?” Nobody did, and they all flipped their notebooks closed and tucked away their pens. Phoebe leaned into the Panasonic. “This interview is not finished. The time is … four nineteen.” She clicked the stop button and ejected the tape, which she carefully labeled. Then she handed it to Pete Anders, who had ejected the video tape and was marking it. “Part of the file record, Pete.”
“Right,” he said, and left the room.
As Darling got up, Phoebe said, “We’re very grateful to you for your help in this. And, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry for your … loss.”
“Thank you,” he mumbled. “I’m available twenty-four seven if you need any more help from me on this. Whatever it is. I’m willing to work on my own time if need be.”
“We’ll keep that in mind. Thank you.”
As they slowly walked out of number three, Phoebe in the lead, she turned to the other detectives and said, “I’ll see that the tape gets to the steno pool right away and the interview gets transcribed. Tanya should have copies for you by eight this evening. Please pick them up and study them. We’re going to meet on this at nine sharp tomorrow. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” they chimed in.
“Willard, see if you get hold of this Benny Jameson sometime between now and tomorrow morning and have a chat and confirm what Darling said about Trinh and the prostitute.”
“I’ll track him down.”
“As for me, I’m going to see if I can get a warrant to compel hair samples from this Mazarine. This could be the break we’ve been looking for, people.” Phoebe was hopeful, and she sounded very upbeat. “And, people, thanks. It went well, and we’re going to look very carefully at this Mazarine. Ulla, I’d like you to run her and see if we’ve got anything on her in the computers. And you check with the University hospital on Fabian’s bunion surgery, will you?”
“I’m on it,” Ulla said.
They fanned out and disappeared on their errands.
Phoebe headed for her office. She flicked on the fluorescents in the ceiling and sank down in the big chair behind her desk. She put her arms behind her head, stretched, and listened to the creaks and cracks of her unwinding body. She had found the interview with Fabian Darling exhausting. Did she think he murdered Trinh? Bottom line, no. And if his bunions story checked out, he was covered, at least personally. Would he hire a hitter? No, she didn’t think so. O.K., if it isn’t the boyfriend and it isn’t the parents – always the first suspects – who? That, Phoebe tells herself as she sits up in her chair, is the brass ring question.
She flips through the pink slips Tanya has hung on her clip, sorts through the piles on her desk, rearranges them and squares them up, and opens the lower drawer. She pulls out a beat-up box of cinnamon-flavored cereal that is crunchier than potato chips and fills half a cup for herself. She munches slowly and organizes her thoughts.
She checks her watch. It is almost a quarter to five and she should be calling Jeff Kerzy before he leaves the office to get that warrant on Mazarine. And while she’s at it, she might as well cover Darling’s ex, too, and get some samples from Yukiko Darling. She’s not all that far from a possible.
Phoebe has dealt with Kerzy before, as she has dealt with many D.A.s in the long course of her career as a homicide detective. She doesn’t fully trust him. As she never unreservedly trusted any of his predecessors. She thinks about it.
The rewards system in that bailiwick of the criminal justice system is just a little bit too incestuous. No DA ever got a salary raise or promoted to higher office – the quest of every DA she had ever known — because he or she was solicitous of justice. No, what counted for them was convictions. Convictions, convictions, and more convictions. A numbers game. Justice … well, if it got served, so much the better, but it wasn’t at the top of their list. During the past decade, in too many places in America – one place is too many – belated evidence had emerged of corrupt DAs, pressured lab techs, police lying on the witness stand, discovery withheld, out and out injustice consciously perpetrated by the justice system. Over the years Phoebe had personally witnessed what she was certain, but could never have proved, was doctored evidence and out-and-out lying by police officers. The first time it had happened, years ago, she had spoken to her watch commander. He had advised her to “let the system do its work – it’ll all come out in the trial wash” – only the problem was, that it hadn’t. Not, Phoebe thought, that prisons are filled with innocent people, but there are certainly some innocent victims of a corrupt system doing hard time in hard places. One is one too many. Most people simply don’t realize the awesome power the state and its various agencies have, the massive advantage for the prosecution except in the case of the most influential and wealthiest of defendants.
Well, it’s the system we have, and she has to get in touch with Kerzy.
First she called the telephone company, asked for a supervisor, and gave her badge number. The supervisor asked for a fax number to which to send the requested information, and ten minutes after Phoebe hung up her fax spits out two sheets of paper containing the names, addresses and telephone numbers of Mazarine Cape and Yukiko Darling.
She gets hold of Kerzy as he is winding up for the day.
When she makes contact he clucks over the dreadful murder of the Vietnamese woman – there is little that goes on in the police department that he does not hear of, and Phoebe knows he employs a fanatically zealous clipping service. The discovery of the body last Monday appeared on the police blotter within twenty-four hours, and the media have already started to sink their teeth into the case. They will surely grab this unhappy fulcrum to lever their profits. The momentum is building, and a few initial reports on the satellite news channels the last couple of days means it’s already started to go international.
Kerzy is of course immediately interested in the new developments Phoebe is recounting for him. She can tell that the man’s publicity-antennae are up and scenting the air. This is the kind of potentially high-profile scandal case he lives for: an ethnic mix, immigrants, police, love triangle. He bores in on the unidentified hair samples found on the corpse and readily agrees with Phoebe that he should secure a warrant to compel hair evidence from the Cape woman and the Japanese ex-wife of the police officer. She gives him the names and addresses, careful to spell everything exactly. He tells her to line up the manpower, and he will speak to a judge who is a soft touch on such warrants. He’ll have no trouble making the case for some kind of probable cause that the two women have invaluable information to contribute to the ongoing investigation.
What he does not tell Phoebe is about the disturbing call he had received on his private cell phone earlier that afternoon from Bob Abernathy, the mayor’s campaign manager, hired by the party to make sure Rany got reelected in November. “The party wants this Mazarine woman kept quiet,” had been the terse ukase. The very party that Kerzy was depending on to help him at last launch his much-deserved rise in local and, hopefully, higher politics. Well, he thought, no defense attorney in his right mind would ever put a defendant like this Mazarine Cape on the stand. So, how could she spill anything about anybody? She’d be quiet.
He promises to have the warrants hand-delivered to Phoebe within the hour and hangs up. Phoebe calls the police lab and talks to the shift supervisor; he promises to make one of his techs immediately available. Next she gets in touch with Rickie Aronson and explains what is happening: he is to have a patrol car with two officers standing by, and they are to escort the tech to take the hair samples from the women. “And then you light a fire and have the lab people get on the comparisons with the hairs found on the corpse. Highest priority, and a report no later than nine o’clock tomorrow morning. At the latest, Rickie!”
She and Rickie are sitting in her office waiting when, forty-five minutes later, a police messenger arrives with the warrants. Phoebe checks them to make sure all names and addresses are in order, and that the judge has signed both of them. She hands them to Aronson. “On your way. Go!”
Friday morning they are all back in the War Room, in full force: Phoebe, Ulla, Rickie, Willard, Barb, Henry and Pete. And of course Bev. There is a certain excitement in the air, as if they are the hounds and the fox is tiring.
“Ulla?” Phoebe begins.
“Well, our Mazarine has nothing in the computers. Not even a parking ticket. Clean, clean, clean. I also checked on Darling’s bunion surgery, and it’s just as he said.” She waved some faxes in the air. “The hospital faxed us the information, and there’s no question Darling had the surgery. Early Friday afternoon. He stayed in the hospital till late Sunday. I talked to one of the nurses listed here, and she told me there was no way in the world he could have gone tramping around snowy woods in the dark on Monday morning. No way.”
“I guess that lets our Officer Darling off the hook of suspicion, doesn’t it?” Willard offered.
“Unless he hired someone to do it,” Rickie suggested. “It would be a great alibi.”
“”Possible,” said Phoebe. “But, really, did any of you get the feeling he did it?”
They shook their heads. “Well, I didn’t either. I think for now at least we can forget about Darling as the killer.”
She turned to Willard.
“I got hold of Benny Jameson, and he confirms what Darling said. They both work the same beat, and he was on Friday. He did in fact see the Mazarine woman with Trinh entering the lobby of the Momiji around six or so. He couldn’t be more precise. But he was sure it was Mazarine and Trinh.”
“Add that to the hair, and it looks like we have something like a finger pointing in Mazarine’s direction,” Phoebe said thoughtfully.
“The hair?” Everybody was looking at her.
“Yes. The hair. I talked to Kerzy yesterday, and he got us warrants for both Mazarine and Yukiko. Rickie took care of business, and the lab report that came back this morning makes it definite. The hair taken from Mazarine’s head is, here, let me see,” she leafs through the papers in her folder, “yes, ‘consistent with’ the hairs found on the body. Yukiko’s hair is not a match.”
They all look at each other.
“That’s it, then, isn’t it?” Willard asks.
“Well, it looks good, I’ll admit. But let me remind you again that hair is tricky business. I don’t know what the prosecution can do with it, and I’m not a lawyer, but it doesn’t look good for Mazarine Cape. Darling’s ex seems to be in the clear, though. I thought it was a good idea to make sure.”
“So,” Ulla recapitulated, “what we have, then, is Mazarine as the last person we know was together with Trinh, and hair found on Trinh’s body that is Mazarine’s. That gives us opportunity and means, I’d say. Two out of three isn’t bad.”
“But motive is important. Why would she have done it?” Phoebe asks.
“Yes, why would a hooker want to off Trinh?” Barb concurs.
“Remember, Fabian was, by his own account, a pretty good customer. Then when he met Trinh, he stopped seeing Mazarine.”
“That’s pretty flimsy. She must have had scores of customers. What’s one or more less?” Rickie is not convinced.
“Pride? She thought Trinh was muscling in on her?” Pete throws his two cents in.
“Even flimsier. These ladies aren’t into pride. It’s all about money with them, and as Rickie says, there are a lot of fish in the sea,” Willard says.
“I guess that’s something the prosecutor is going to have to figure out,” Phoebe chimes in. “Anyway, when I talked to him earlier, he’s definitely thinking Mazarine. He likes the hair. But he wants to sit on it over the weekend. I have the feeling he’s going to have her arrested on Monday. But he wants us to bring the Japanese woman in and interview her. She’s not under arrest, she’s just going to be a good citizen helping out her local police. I’m going to try to get hold of her this morning and ask her in for a talk this afternoon.
“I think I’d like to handle this one alone with her, but feel free to sit in behind the mirrors. Let’s try for around three, shall we?”
After the meeting finished Phoebe spoke to Tanya and asked her to try to track down Yukiko Darling and ask her if she would be willing to come in and talk to the police. Tanya, being Tanya, got on it immediately, and by noon she had a note on Phoebe’s desk confirming that Ms. Yukiko Darling would indeed be at the police station at three-thirty. Phoebe plans to tell Tanya to send around a memo to the rest of the crew as well as Kerzy’s office. Then changes her mind. She comes to the decision to talk to Yukiko in her office rather than do an interview in number three.
When, later that afternoon, Tanya buzzes Phoebe and tells her that her appointment is waiting at the front desk, the detective goes out to greet Yukiko. A woman who is lounging by the desk and chatting idly with Tanya turns and approaches Phoebe with a great smile and hand outstretched.
“Yukiko is fine,” she says, the smile growing even more dazzling. “How do you do?”
“We … I appreciate it very much that you could come in on such short notice. I’m Phoebe Light, chief of homicide.”
“My pleasure, Detective,” she counters graciously.
“And for the hair sample yesterday,” Phoebe adds.
“Well, there I didn’t have much choice, did I?” Phoebe could not tell if the woman was being snide. Probably not. “Did I pass?”
“Yes, did my hair make me a … suspect in anything?”
Phoebe smiled tightly and shook her head.
“Please, let’s go into my office.”
“What?” Yukiko feigns astonishment. “No third degree? no rubber hoses?” She laughs delicately.
Tanya, who has been observing this little dance, chuckles appreciatively.
“Oh, no, Yukiko. That’s only in old movies. We don’t need to do things that way these days. This is just an informal chat.”
And she leads the way into her office.
“Please, sit down,” Phoebe indicates one of two comfortable chairs to the side of her desk. She has planned not to sit behind her desk, as this establishes too confrontational a dynamic. Better to appear simply to be having a chat.
Yukiko is giving the room studied scrutiny and sits down.
“Can I get you anything to drink?”
“No, thank you, Detective. I’m just fine.”
She settles back and relaxes in the chair, her shoulder purse dropping softly onto the floor.
“Good. As I said in the lobby, it’s very good of you to be willing to help us out.”
“My ex-husband, Fabian Darling, called me and said you might be asking me to come in. I’ve been reading about that poor woman’s murder. A horrible, terrible thing.” She shuddered. “And now it seems to be all over the television, too.” Her full mouth turns down in distaste.
“Officer Darling – your ex-husband – thought you might have known the murdered woman, Trinh Cao. Is that the case?”
“Yes, it is.” She shook her head in disbelief. “Such a lovely young woman. And so bright.”
“Yes, that’s what we’ve been led to believe. In that connection, do you think you could tell me how you knew Trinh?”
“Well,” Yukiko said, sitting forward now on her chair, “she was my husband’s lover … my then husband’s lover. That’s how I knew her.”
“You mean your husband told you about his … girlfriend?”
“Not directly. It came out in our divorce. She wasn’t the first woman he saw during our marriage.”
“If you don’t mind my saying so, Yukiko, you seem remarkably calm about all of this. You didn’t have any hard feelings towards Trinh for … for her involvement with your husband.”
“That’s all ancient history, Detective. This all took place almost four years ago. And Trinh was not the reason we got divorced. That had been coming for a long time by then. At least since 1998, when the marriage started to crack.” She sighed. “I’m not a vindictive type of person. Sure, I got angry at the time, but no, it wasn’t Trinh’s fault. I realized that even when I was angry at her. Frankly, Detective, I was no saint myself.”
“I see,” Phoebe said. So both of them were fooling around. It wouldn’t be the first couple and not the last.
“It’s odd, isn’t it,” Yukiko continued, “but Trinh and I sort of became friends afterwards. Especially the last year.”
“How did that come about?”
“Well, Fab … that’s Fabian … had introduced us about a year after the divorce. This would have been in late 2001. We had dinner together one night. Trinh and I got to talking, and it turns out she’s a mathematician. Was a mathematician. I have a degree in statistics, and we just got to talking. She started inviting me to attend a math colloquium her department ran at the University, and from time to time I’d show up, if it was a topic I knew something about. We got in the habit of going out afterwards for coffee, and even had dinner together a few times.”
“Did Fabian know about this?”
“Oh, certainly,” she said, “I even had the feeling he encouraged her to get to know me.”
“I suppose that kind of thing does happen,” Phoebe acknowledged.
“Oh, yes,” Yukiko confirmed.
Phoebe shifted her position in the chair. “I don’t mean to imply anything by this question, and I hope you won’t take it in the wrong way, but do you think your ex-husband could have had anything to do with Trinh’s death?”
Yukiko was genuinely surprised at this.
“Good heavens, no,” she said without missing a beat. “Absolutely not. Why, that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.” She was upset. “If you’ll pardon my expression. Fabian? No way!”
“How can you be so sure? Just for the sake of argument …”
“I was married to Fabian for eight years, Detective. I’ve known him for twelve. Yes, we had our problems, especially towards the end, and neither one of us was entirely faithful. And he can bluster and yell, but murder the woman he was crazy about? I just can’t see it. And he really was crazy about her.” Yes, Phoebe thought, that was my take too. “I mean, he never put a mean hand on me, even a couple of times when, in retrospect, I wouldn’t really have blamed him if he had.”
Phoebe nodded. “That’s certainly very generous on your part.”
“It’s realistic,” she said simply.
“O.K. Let’s move on to another topic, if I may.”
“Your ex-husband seemed to feel pretty strongly that a woman named Mazarine Cape might have been immediately involved in this murder. In any event, he thought we should ‘have a real good look at her’ — his exact words, if I recall correctly.”
Yukiko sat up on the chair, pursed her lips, and pushed out a noisy breath of air.
“Let me ask you a question? What did he say about Mazarine and me?”
“He didn’t expand, but implied there was … something between you.”
“That’s true. No point denying it. I’m not ashamed of it.”
“A lot of people would not approve.”
“I assure you I’m not here to pass judgment. Even in the worst possible scenario, that’s up to the courts.” Phoebe smiled thinly.
“Mazarine and I were lovers.”
Phoebe was not surprised. Something like that had surely lain behind Fabian Darling’s snort at yesterday’s interview.
“I imagine Fabian may have said something about that.”
“Not in so many words, but, yes, the idea did suggest itself to me.”
“I’m bisexual. I have been all my life. Ever since … well, I imagine you don’t need me to draw diagrams.”
“Point taken. Thank you for your candor.”
Yukiko shrugged her shoulders.
“Are you up to talking about your … your friend? About Mazarine?”
“From what Officer Darling said, I’m assuming that you and Trinh and Mazarine all knew each other. Is that correct?”
“And you? Do you share your ex’s notion that we should have a real good look at her?”
For a minute Yukiko said nothing. Then she pulled a kleenex from a blouse pocket and held it to her eyes. “This is … is very difficult for me.”
“Can I get you a glass of water?” Phoebe canted her head.
“No. No, that won’t be necessary. I’m O.K.” Yukiko blew her nose.
“Well, Mazarine and I have been drifting apart lately. The last half year or so. She began to frighten me.”
“Frighten you? How?”
“She is a very angry woman. Very angry.”
“Everything. Everybody. Especially Trinh.”
Now Phoebe’s interest in what Yukiko is saying perks up.
“I wonder if I could ask you to be more specific here. This is quite important, as I’m sure you realize.”
Yukiko gathers herself together.
“Mazarine and I have been together since last August. At first it was the great passion of our lives for both of us, but after a couple of months she started to become very critical of everything I did. Nothing was good enough for her. There was always something wrong with my behavior. We would meet at the Momiji, and if I was a minute late she would spend half an hour talking to me about personal responsibility. And once she got on that subject, it was an easy step to Fabian and his visits with her. It was always about Fabian and ‘that Trinh’ he’d fallen for.
“She accused the poor woman of ‘stealing her livelihood’ if you can believe it. You did know, didn’t you, that Mazarine was a whore?”
“Well, that’s a bit harsh, perhaps. But, yes, Fabian did make quite clear that she was an escort.”
“Escort, whore, hooker, call girl – what’s in a name? The reality is the same. Although she had some interesting comments about that, actually.”
“She had a degree in classics. An M.A. Maybe you knew that?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Well, once when we were talking about how she earned all that money she always had around, she gave me a little lecture about the word ‘whore’. As I say, not uninteresting. She said it was historically related to a Latin word ‘cara’ that meant ‘dear’ or ‘beloved’ and that in the normal development of ‘diachronic phonology’ – her jargon – the original if you will of this word came into Germanic as ‘huora’ and Old English as ‘hore’ and eventually got its modern anglicized spelling as ‘whore’. In terms of a radical reverse shift in meaning it was, she claimed, an example of semantic pejoration. Can you believe that? Anyway, she would say to me, half joking and half serious, that she wasn’t anybody’s ‘whore’ but really their ‘beloved.’ I mean, the explanation was kind of neat, I thought, but that ‘beloved’ business got old real fast. She really got to be quite tedious and tiresome on the subject. And on just about everything else too. I tell you, she’s a very angry lady.”
“Did she know,” Phoebe interrupted, “that you had been married to Fabian?”
“Not at first, but I told her a few weeks after we’d met.”
“What was her reaction?”
“She was furious.”
“Did she say why?”
“Yes, she did. She felt that … and these were her exact words – they were hard to forget — … she felt that Fabian ‘had substituted’ me for himself to make up for the fact he’d taken up with Trinh.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. I mean, were you … paying her for these visits?”
“Of course not. Welcome to the world according to Mazarine!”
“Did she ever make any threats about Fabian or Trinh? Or you?”
“Oh, yes. When she got cranked up she’d rant and rave about how she ought to do both of them a favor and put them out of their misery. She got really evil about this, and it was kind of scary. But the truth is I never took her that seriously. I just thought she was venting. But now maybe …”
Yukiko bowed her head and brought the kleenex up to her eyes.
Phoebe respected her privacy and waited. When the woman seemed to have got herself under control again, the detective asked her, “Can you think of anything else that might be helpful here?”
Yukiko shook her head. “No,” she said softly. “I can’t. And I’m hoping Mazarine isn’t mixed up in this. That would be too horrible,” she said, her voice catching.
“Are you two still seeing each other?”
“No, not since before Christmas. It just got too intense for me.”
“And she didn’t keep after you. Like stalk you or anything like that.”
“No. Thank goodness. I haven’t heard from her now in three or four weeks.”
Phoebe got up from her chair. “It was very helpful of you to come in and speak so frankly. It will help us greatly in our ongoing investigation.”
Yukiko nodded demurely and rose. She shook hands with Phoebe. “I suppose I’ll read about any developments in the paper,” she said.
“Probably pretty soon now, I would think.”
Phoebe walked her out into the lobby and the door to the street and watched her disappear among the late afternoon crowd on the sidewalk.
She checked with Tanya about any calls, and as she walked thoughtfully back to her office she kept asking herself why she had such a strong feeling that Yukiko had been less than forthright with her.
Phoebe holds a meeting with her people on Saturday morning. She hates to call them in on the weekend since they are not all on duty, but the confluence of circumstances appears to demand it. She offers an accurate account of her talk with Yukiko as well as her own reservations. Others do not seem to share her qualms, and the mood around the table bespeaks a certain elation that they may be closing in on the murderer of Trinh.
“That woman Mazarine sure sounds good to me,” Rickie puts out on the table. There are murmurs of assent.
“We’ve got Fabian Darling’s suspicions and this Yukiko’s comments. Motive. We have Officer Jameson’s confirmation that he saw Mazarine and Trinh together a week ago yesterday. Opportunity. And, best of all, we have the lab’s identification of Mazarine’s hair. She was there, and that suggests the means.” Ulla has ticked each item off on her fingers.
“And let’s not forget the little piece of paper with ‘Mazarine’ written on it,” Barb adds.
“Put it all together, and it seems pretty conclusive to me.” Willard appears to speak for the rest of the people in the War Room.
Phoebe does not fully share their enthusiasm, but she recognizes that there is enough on the plate now that they can’t simply ignore Mazarine. Her obligation is to give the information to the D.A.’s office and let them make such decisions as they think are consistent with the facts and evidence the police report.
“That’s it, then,” she sums up, stacking the papers in her hands by tapping them on the table. “I’ll get in touch with Jeff Kerzy, and he’ll probably run with it. But, people, I don’t want anybody to think this case is closed as far as we are concerned. We move on to other cases, yes, but this one is still active.”
“And thanks for making it in on a Saturday. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.”
TO BE CONTINUED