Chapter Thirteen (Part Three)
“Mowgli, bring the key here,” Trip orders, rising to her feet. She brushes the dust of her jeans as she waits for her partner in crime. Mowgli ambles over, key in hand. When he sees the suitcase, he begins to laugh.
“Bigger than a breadbox,” he snorts, slapping his thigh. “How the hell did it take us so long to find this thing?” He slips the key into the lock and it turns. He throws back the lid, and photos start tumbling out of it. The thing is stuffed with bundles of pictures of all different sizes. Trip picks up a bundle and glances through it. What she sees there causes her to take a closer look.
“What the hell?” Trip asks, bringing the pictures closer to her eyes. Mowgli is looking at a few pictures as well, his mouth set in a harsh line.
“Let’s grab this and get out of here,” Mowgli says abruptly, throwing his pictures back into the suitcase with revulsion. “We’ve been here long enough.” Trip agrees and tosses in her pictures as well. They close the suitcase and lock it before Trip stuffs the key in her bra. Mowgli grabs the strap attached to the handle and starts wheeling the suitcase behind him.
“Hey, what’s your hurry?” Stanley asks them as they rush by. His brother, Thomas, has joined him while Trip and Mowgli had been excavating. Thomas is a carbon copy of his brother except with darker hair and three inches more height. The difference is, he doesn’t talk unless he is forced to. He nods amicably at Trip and Mowgli then returns to whatever it is he’s doing. “Don’t have time to chew the fat with an old friend?”
“No,” Trip says, brushing him off. Mowgli doesn’t elaborate as he’s hot on Trip’s heels, all thoughts of giving Stanley Trip’s number vanished. They hop in Trip’s car and zoom back to the hotel, careful not to go more than five miles over the speed limit. It wouldn’t do to get pulled over by the cops with the suitcase full of pictures. Neither of them say a word as Trip drives, too sickened by their discovery.
“Dump it all out,” Trip orders as soon as they return to the hotel. She has locked the door to ensure that no one will be walking in unexpectedly on them. “Every single last filthy picture. The shitheads!” Mowgli does as he’s told, spreading the pictures across both his and Trip’s beds. Then, even though neither wants to do it, they look at the pictures.
Little girls—lots of them. Mexican girls who can’t be more than fourteen years old, tops. Naked, mouths parted in silent screams, squirming under the weight of full-grown men. Girls doing things they shouldn’t even know existed, and being tortured to boot. Girls’ bodies, limp and lifeless. Dead or unconscious is unclear, but disturbing either way. Different places, different settings, same stories. Trip and Mowgli flip through picture after picture, not saying a word. There is nothing to say that won’t diminish the monstrosity of what has been done, that doesn’t pale besides the reality of evil incarnate. There are tears running down Mowgli’s face as he looks, but look he does. These girls deserve to have someone pay attention to their shortened lives—even if it’s only to mourn their passing.
Fortunately, the men were arrogant enough to allow their faces to be photographed except for in the snuff pictures. Arrogant enough, or sick enough because they wanted trophies of their conquests. There are Peters and O’Reilly and, oh, shit, the chief of police. There is the editor-in-chief of the Chron as he holds a girl’s head to his cock. He is grinning, mugging for the camera as if he’s going for a walk in the park instead of raping a little girl. DiCalvo or Andretti or whatever his name is, is not pictured, so he must be the clean-up man. He might also be the photographer. The pictures are in color, which makes the degradation even more vivid. There is one series of stills of O’Reilly doing unspeakable things to a girl who can’t be older than ten. Mowgli bolts to the bathroom from where retching sounds can be heard.
After he returns, the two of them wade through more pictures. There are several Mexican men in a good portion of the bundles as well, though only the back of their heads. There are pictures of the clothing destroyed, the bodies discarded like debris, the Mexican police station. Trip takes a closer look. The Mexican police station? It is clear from the pictures that many of the activities occurred in the Mexican police station which means that the Mexican police are involved. Most likely, it’s the Mexican police who dispatched of the bodies. Even though it’s grim work and even though there are over two hundred pictures, Trip and Mowgli look at every one. It’s like a horrible wreck on the side of the road; you can’t turn your eyes away. There are pictures of older women being raped as well, some being forced to watch the girls being tortured. There are pictures of the girls being kidnapped and the terror in their eyes as they struggle or the duct tape is slapped on their mouths. There are pictures of chloroformed girls lolling in the arms of the smiling Andretti as he places them in a van, presumably to transport them to the station. There is no clear evidence that the finest men of San Francisco had anything to do with the deaths of the girls and women, but it’s excruciatingly obvious that they kidnapped, raped, and tortured the poor girls. To Mowgli and Trip, however, the San Francisco assholes are morally responsible for the girls’ deaths if not physically so.
Finally, there is one special bundle of O’Reilly’s private stash from his time in what looks to be either Korea or China—most likely the former. In it, the girls look to be prepubescent and tiny against the massive O’Reilly. It appears that this was a solo job and from the looks of it, it happened years ago. The pictures are so disturbing, neither Trip nor Mowgli can stomach looking through all of them. This bundle has been handled thoroughly which indicates that O’Reilly has looked at the pictures many times, the sick fuck. Trip sets aside that bundle, facedown. They stare at each other without saying a word before breaking eye contact. Trip notices an inside pouch in the suitcase and slips her hand in it, half-expecting to find more photos. Instead, there are a few sheets of paper filled with handwriting which matches the handwriting from Blanche’s diaries, except it’s looser on these few sheets. With Mowgli glancing over her shoulder, Trip begins to read. The first sheet begins with the following paragraph:
If your reading this, then most likely I’m dead. I truly hope not , but I fear it is so. They are close behind me, so I didn’t have much time to prepare this. They are watching me as I right this, and I know they will kill me soon. I don’t now why I’m righting this except that I want someone to now what I did.
The letter goes on in this vein for quite some time; the ramblings of a fearful—perhaps drugged—mind. Blanche goes on to describe the trips she and ‘sweetie’ took both around the country and outside the United States in which he would leave her for hours at a time, claiming meetings and other such dull excuses. She protested, but not much after he gave her a chauffeur and a fistful of money. After that, she was content to explore on her own with the aid of the helpful chauffeur. Sometimes, she would sightsee, but usually, she’d shop. When the meetings occurred at night, the chauffeur would escort her to dinner and dancing since she liked to do the real thing when she wasn’t working.
‘Sweetie’ would leave her for hours, coming home drunk and elated. More than once, he’d be stoned or coked out of his mind. When she tried to question him about it, he’d either clam up or yell at her until she backed off. The next day, he would be sweet as pie and in a generous mood. They went on these trips a couple times a month, but only to Mexico the last three months or so. ‘Sweetie’ claimed it was for business purposes but to Blanche’s eyes, he didn’t seem to be doing much work on those trips. Even she was beginning to get suspicious and decided to follow her lover one time when he had a ‘meeting’. What she saw blew her away. The fact that Andretti took videos and pictures of the events so ‘the boys’ could have souvenirs boggled her mind even more. She didn’t say anything to anyone because who was she going to tell? The Mexican police? That was where she had followed ‘Sweetie’ to. The SFPD? Not when the chief of police was involved. Her employer? Another of the men participating. To a girl like Blanche, there seemed to be no option.
So, since she couldn’t bust them for it, she decided that she might as well make money off it. In her febrile mind, at least they would be paying for it in the literal sense. She somehow managed to copy the information about Sam Davies setting up this tennis shoe corporation—many, but not all of the girls came from their own factories—and hid it in the bank deposit box along with the second key. She stole this year’s photos which she put into storage at the Righteous Brothers’ warehouse along with this letter, and she stole the DVDs which were in another location. Oh, the key for that box or room or whatever was also in this suitcase. She doesn’t say how she came across O’Reilly’s private stash, but it doesn’t really matter. She ends by saying she thinks she made a terrible mistake by trying to blackmail her lover whom she now believes is the one trying to kill her.
I dont want to believe its him but I cant trust him no matter what he says. I will give him one more chance but thats it. I hope I’m not rong. I feel so alone with only my Angel watching over me. At least I still have her; I made sure of that.
“Why doesn’t she name him,” Mowgli asks after he and Trip finish reading the letter. “Why doesn’t she name the bastard?”
“She wanted to give him one last chance,” Trip snorts, rolling her eyes. “That’s what got her killed, finally.”
“More likely, she wanted one more chance to extort money,” Mowgli sighs, rubbing his forehead. “I can’t take this shit, Del, I really can’t. We need to nail that motherfucker which means we need to find the DVDs. I have a feeling there’s something more that we haven’t seen.” They look at each other grimly, not wanting to contemplate what that ‘something more’ might be. Trip opens all the pockets of the suitcase and comes up with another key—this one looks like an apartment key though it doesn’t have a number on it.
“Great, another fucking wild goose chase,” Trip grumbles, tossing the key to Mowgli. “I don’t have time for this shit!” In one accord, they gather up all the photos and stuff them back into the suitcase. “What are we going to do with that?” Neither of them mention Blanche’s words, ‘this year’s photos’ which indicates that there are more of these sickening things floating around, maybe even in O’Reilly’s office where Trip had visited.
“We can’t leave it here,” Mowgli agrees. “What about that cop who’s in charge of the investigation? There’s no evidence that he is dirty.”
“We can’t take that chance—at least not yet,” Trip says immediately. “We need to find those DVDs first, then copy everything, then turn in what we have.” Mowgli picks up the letter again and reads it thoroughly.
“I think I know where the DVDs are,” he says, laying down the letter.
“You sure it’s safe?” I ask for the hundredth time as we zoom towards our destination after having made a pit stop. For this jaunt, I’ve cleaned myself up good. I’m wearing the sexy clothes again and the blond wig I had borrowed without asking from Vandalia before leaving her apartment. I am not taking any chances on discovery. To that end, I have my bag with me to carry away the goodies as well as to hide my gun. Mowgli has his bag for the same reasons.
“As safe as it’s going to be,” Mowgli says grimly, gripping the car handle. Sometimes, I drive a bit faster than Mowgli is comfortable with, and he’s not shy about letting me know it. We had dropped the suitcase off at another friend of Mowgli’s, an antigovernment, antiestablishment, anti-everything computer nerd who didn’t even glance at the suitcase as he trundled it off into his dour-looking apartment. “Tron will follow instructions.” Which is to not open the suitcase or do anything with it unless he hears we are dead. Then he is to select the bundle we had placed in the front pocket and give the rest to the cops in charge. The special bundle—one picture of every man involved as well as a few of the Mexican shots—is to be given to a contact of mine at the Examiner. The other special bundle we placed in another pocket is for him alone, but he is to tell no one about it. Tron, a slim, redheaded boy in his early twenties, hadn’t even batted an eyelash as we gave him instructions.
“Anything for you, Roberto,” Tron had grinned, surprisingly cheerful for someone who supposedly burned with rage. Mowgli explained that Tron is just against people en masse, not people individually.
“What if he sells them to the tabloids or destroys them or…” My voice trails off as I concentrate on making a lane change with a Subaru crawling up my ass.
“That’s why we kept one packet,” Mowgli says, patting the glove compartment’s door. Neither of us are trusting enough souls to give up total control. “Look, it’s not the greatest solution, but the best we can do given the time-constraints.” I silently—albeit grudgingly—concede the point and focus on my driving. “Besides, we also have the papers.”
For the countless time in less than a week, I am heading back to North Beach. I never liked this area; now, I am loathing it with all my heart. Normally, I avoid going to the area at all cost; now, I should pay rent I visit it so often. Makes me wonder if I should declare a change of residency, what with North Beach getting so much of me. As I drive, I think over Mowgli’s hypothesis. From reading the letter and remembering Blanche’s closeness to Angel, he deduced that Blanche hid the DVDs at Angelica’s real apartment which she had let slipped she visited while Angel was alive. His guess was that Blanche made sure her real apartment was still available after her death and hid the tapes somewhere in the real apartment. The key, of course, is to said apartment. Again, our girl Blanche had a real knack for the purloined letter. I’m surprised the boys didn’t think of it, and I’m more surprised that Blanche didn’t spill the beans under torture. She had more guts than I gave her credit for when she was alive.
“You the folks that called?” The landlord asks, scratching his stubbly chin. He is handsome in a haggard sort of way with graying brown hair and hazel eyes. “About the dead girl’s apartment?”
“Yes, she’s my stepsister,” Mowgli says immediately, assuming an appropriately devastated look. “Like I told you on the phone. I haven’t had a moment to breathe before this. I’m Cesar Sylvian,” he adds, holding out his hand. “This is my girlfriend, Mimi Chang.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Ewan James,” the landlord answers, shaking Mowgli’s hand. “Sorry about your sister.”
“I’m just glad I thought to call you before you rented the room out to someone else,” Mowgli says, subtly turning up the charm. We both sense that this guy will respond better to a man than to a woman, so I keep quiet.
“Not to worry. A friend of your sister’s paid her rent until the end of the year so I’m in no hurry to rent it out again.” Clearly, Ewan hasn’t made the connection between the dead Blanche and the generous friend, and we aren’t going to be the ones to tell him. “Here’s the key.” We don’t bother to tell him we have one as that would complicate matters, so Mowgli simply smiles gratefully and plucks the key that Ewan is holding out. “Sorry again about your sister, man,” Ewan calls after us as we walk down the hall.
“Do you think he’s gay?” Mowgli asks as soon as we are out of earshot. “He’s cute.”
“Here we are,” I say, ignoring his question; Mowgli thinks every third guy he meets is cute. I pull out Blanche’s key and slip it into the lock. At least, I try to—it won’t go. “Shit,” I mutter in exasperation. “It’s not the right key.” I am beginning to tire of Blanche’s antics which are starting to resemble a bad episode of Murder She Wrote.
“Allow me,” Mowgli says, producing the key with a flourish. We are in like Flynn with an extra key to boot. I bet dollars to donuts that there is some kind of safety box in the house to which this key belongs. We set about searching the apartment thoroughly.
As I step into the bedroom, I feel as if I have come full circle. This is the apartment of the first dead woman, the one supposedly sleeping with someone powerful. Since I literally stumbled over her body five days prior, I have had nothing but trouble. I look around her room, noting the Back Street Boys posters as well as the fake Monets. This is a girl of contradiction, one who found room in her heart for a fellow stripper who had the potential to replace her. The walls are an off-white with a maroon trim. Nothing about her room screams stripper or even girl, but it’s not masculine by any means either. There are a few books and many more CDs, with a closet full of fabulous clothes. After noting the basics, I search the room methodically. There is nothing of interest—at least not in the way of DVDs and such. I find her diary, but the entries are crammed with, ‘I went shopping today’ and ‘Blanche came over for dinner’ and ‘I met a hot guy at the club’. The last few mention Blanche being nervous and secretive, but nothing more than that. I exit the room after making sure that there’s nothing there.
Mowgli is in the living room, and I join him there. If whatever it is we’re looking for isn’t in the bedroom, chances are it’s in the living room. Here, as in the bedroom, there isn’t much in the way of artwork to demonstrate personal taste. The room is neat and clean, but there’s little else to be said about it. There’s a fifty-two inch television that dominates the room, but no entertainment center to go with it. The furniture is tasteful and boring as is the rest of the décor. Only a series of framed pictures on the bookshelf is of any interest. Most of them are of Angelica and other girls her age—presumably coworkers—but there are a few of Angelica by herself. There is even one of Angel and Blanche similar to the one I found in Blanche’s possession. I turn away from the pictures and continue to search. Though we are diligent, we find nothing. I move to the kitchen while Mowgli tackles the bathroom.
Remembering my illustrious case of the frozen semen, I check the freezer. I don’t expect there to be anything in it, and there isn’t. I open every cabinet and every drawer only to discover nothing. I look around in frustration, spotting a handsome piece of furniture I hadn’t noticed before. It appears to be a wine cabinet with a sliding glass door, nothing. It’s sitting on a thick, wooden stand which seems much too elaborate to be merely a stand. Dropping to my knees, I examine the stand, but there is no door. Cursing under my breath, I hit it with my palm, and it sings out to me. The thing is hollow with no visible way of getting into it. Looking at it more closely, I realize that it’s backwards and try to turn it around. I can’t do it on my own so I holler out to Mowgli who comes trotting in. I wonder how Blanche managed it, but brush that thought from my mind as Mowgli helps me turn the stand around. There, in the lower right-hand corner is a discreet keyhole into which the key I have slides perfectly.
“Bingo,” I murmur, eyeing the DVDs inside the stand; there are ten of them in all. Scooping them up, I hand half to Mowgli and shove the other half into my bag. We are out of there so fast, our heads spin.