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Desolate Angels

Desolate Angels

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Desolate Angels

326 pagine
5 ore
Nov 23, 2014


The pretty teenage daughter of a Bay Area millionaire is lured away from home by an Internet predator. Private investigator and former Green Beret medic David Mace is hired by her distraught father to find her and bring her home. But what starts out as a simple missing persons case quickly morphs into something far more sinister and on a much bigger scale: young girls from all over are being seduced into a vast network of human trafficking for buyers with extreme and deadly tastes, and Mace takes on the job of bringing down the whole organization as he tries to save a young runaway's best friend.

Nov 23, 2014

Informazioni sull'autore

I attended the 1981 Clarion Writers' Workshop and have published short stories, poems and essays since then. Most of my life has been spent in the wine industry--both in the wholesale and retail ends. I owned a wine and beer wholesale distributorship from 1995 to 2004.

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Anteprima del libro

Desolate Angels - Richard W. Johnson


Chapter One

I was debating with my inner child how high I could turn up the CD player before the accountants in the next office complained. He wanted it cranked to 11, but I prevailed and left it at 4. Paul Rodgers was singing Laying Down the Law and I was sitting back in my swivel chair with my eyes closed listening to one of rock’s greatest voices when a knock on the door interrupted us.

Some days you don’t want to answer the door. The best days for that are right after you’ve deposited a large check from a client in your bank account, a check so large that it makes the pretty female teller look at you in a more speculative way than she ever has before. My last day like that was over two months ago when I’d retrieved a box of stolen medical record discs for a local cardiologist here in the Bay Area, whose affair with his receptionist had ended with her making off with the discs, a fair amount of cash, and left him with a pending divorce case. I wasn’t handling that for him. So I got up and walked over to the door and opened it.

A man and a woman stood there, obviously married, even more obviously to each other. Matching wedding bands from Tiffany’s. The benefits of having a detective’s eye.

The wife was in her early 30s. Elegant-looking, close to beautiful. Extremely fit--she probably had a personal trainer at one of the town’s many gyms that catered to the San Francisco housewife. She wore a tasteful and conservative suit with a pale blue silk blouse. Her hair was a dark brown and cut just above her shoulders. Her purse was made of such supple leather that the cow would have been proud to know what it was going to be in its next life. A heavy gold and diamond tennis bracelet adorned her right wrist.

The husband looked exhausted. Dark circles under red eyes, ruining the effect of his tan. His hair had tinges of gray at the ears, and didn’t appear to have been trimmed recently. He appeared to be in his late 40s, reasonably in shape with only the beginnings of a belly starting to push against his suit coat. His voice had a tremor in it when he addressed me. Are you Mr. Mace?

David Mace, yes sir. Please come in. Would either of you like some coffee?

We have no time for coffee, Mr. Mace, the woman said hurriedly. My husband insisted on seeing you this morning, and he’s a very busy man. Jeremy runs a very profitable online company.

From the look on Jeremy’s face just then he didn’t appear to give a damn if it was profitable, online or anything else. I pointed out chairs as I sat back down behind my desk. Have a seat and tell me what I can do for you.

Jeremy pointed at the CD player. Who was that singing?

Paul Rodgers. He used to be the lead singer for Free, Bad Company, The Firm and Queen. That particular CD was one he made with Kenny Jones, a former drummer of the Who.

I saw Bad Company play once in London when I was a kid. I saw him with Queen a couple times when they came through Manhattan.

I smiled. I liked Jeremy fine.

His wife made an exasperated sigh. What difference does it make who he was listening to, for God’s sake? You better not have dragged me into town to sit here and talk about some washed-up singer.

Mrs. Jeremy could die right now and I’d cheerfully help him dispose of the body.

Her husband ran his hands through his hair and took a deep breath. My name is Jeremy York and this is my wife Deborah. We got your name from our neighbor Brian Vanderway. He said you took care of a matter for his trucking company.

Yes, some shipments were being diverted and some were showing up missing most of the more expensive items. He had some disgruntled employees who were supplementing their income in a socially unapproved manner.

Jeremy nodded, as if I’d just passed an important test. Maybe what I told him and what Vanderway told him had to match to make him feel that coming to see me was a worthwhile idea.

My daughter’s missing, Mr. Mace.

I leaned forward and focused on him. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Deborah looking around at the office furnishings and beginning to jiggle her foot in an impatient manner. She undoubtedly found her surroundings wanting.

How long has she been missing?

Six days now.

Have you reported this to the police?

Yes, but I want someone who’s dedicated to this particular case alone. I know they’re busy with other missing kids and I understand that, but I want my daughter found and I don’t think she’s a priority for them.

Can you tell me who you spoke with? Do you know the name of the officer assigned to your case?

I just called them a couple days ago. I thought Katarine might come home on her own. I know I talked to an Officer Margolis or something like that in Missing Persons in Mill Valley.

I don’t know any of the cops up there, but I’ll check in with the police if you decide to hire me. Can you show me what your daughter looks like?

Jeremy took out a Polaroid picture from his inside coat pocket and handed it over to me. Her name is Katarine. She’s 16 now. That picture is about a year old.

His daughter was a stunner. Long wavy blond hair that fell over her shoulders, brilliant green eyes that even in the flatness of the Polaroid stood out and gleamed at you. And she was wearing an honest to God cheerleader’s outfit-short maroon skirt; maroon and white top with the letters CHS across her chest.

Where does she go to school, Mr. York?

Cathedral High School in Berkeley. It’s a coed Catholic school.

She’s a very pretty young woman. Did she leave a note or anything when she left? Have you heard from any of her friends?

No, nothing. All we could find missing were some clothes, her laptop, some money she kept in her room and some emergency money I kept in the house.

Stealing from her parents, Deborah said under her breath.

Jeremy turned to stare at her. Katarine had her reasons for taking it. It wasn’t that much.

Wasn’t much? she retorted. Almost a grand, Jer. She knew exactly where it was since you were so insistent on showing it to her in case she ever needed to get to it to pay for anything that came to the house COD. And now your precious little baby girl has ripped off her daddy and taken to the hills.

Jeremy turned his full gaze on her, and from the gleam in his eye I could guess this was an old argument between them. Listen to me, Deborah. Whatever she did, whatever the reasons, I don’t give a damn about them right now. All I want is to get her back safe. I think this man can do that. Do you understand?

Deborah stood and slapped her purse against her side as she left her chair. Stay here and talk to this guy all you want. Play hero for that little bitch daughter of yours, I don’t give a shit. I’ll be downstairs in the car. She stomped out and slammed my door behind her. I listened to her heels clicking down the hallway while Jeremy took deep breaths and gathered himself together.

I’m sorry you had to see that, he said.

Don’t worry about it. This is a tense time for both of you, and making the decision to visit a private detective isn’t something folks do every day. I rarely see people as their normal selves in a first interview.

She hates my daughter. Thinks I spend too much time and money on her, that I spoil her. I believe Deborah wants the time and money and spoiling to be all hers.

Stepmother isn’t an easy job. The storybooks are full of the ones who got it wrong.

Can you help me? Will you be able to find Katarine and bring her back?

Probably. Unless you know what you’re doing, it’s very hard to hide these days, and I doubt a 16-year old girl has the skill to elude a concentrated search for her. I’ll need to come visit your home and look over her room, talk to her friends if you can give me their names, people at her school, that sort of thing. Then I can begin searching for her.

Jeremy was nodding. He was a businessman with a problem, and someone was telling him how the problem could be solved. He could relate to that and take comfort from it.

Then I’d like to hire you, Mr. Mace. He reached into an inner jacket pocket and took out a leather card case. He gave me two cards. This is my personal card with the home phone and address, and this one is for my company. You’re welcome at either location anytime. Do you want some kind of retainer?

Five thousand.

He nodded again and brought out a checkbook that was soon one check lighter. Thank you, Mr. York. I’ll probably come by your place later this afternoon, if that would be okay. Will anyone be home?

Yes, either Deborah or our maid should be there. I’ll make sure you’ll be treated courteously when you arrive.

Mr. York, your wife’s behavior didn’t offend me, and if she acts the same way when I come to your house it won’t bother me then, either. You’re a Paul Rodgers fan-you’re okay by me.

He smiled for the first time since he entered the office. I don’t listen to as much music as I want these days. Most of what I hear comes through Kat’s bedroom door.

I made a mental note that he used the present tense when referring to his daughter. That was good-it showed optimism, and that would be very helpful in dealing with him.

I got up and went over to shake his hand and show him to the door. I’ll call you later tonight, Mr. York. Thank you for coming to see me.

Brian said you were good and that I could trust you with anything.

I’d like to think so.

He had his hand on the doorknob when he turned back to me. When I met my wife, she called herself Debbie. I wish I could remember when she turned into Deborah. He closed the door quietly behind him and left me alone to turn Paul back on again.

Chapter Two

I decided to take my new check out for a walk. The two of us went to my local bank, where I deposited four thousand into my account and kept out one thousand to carry on my person and inflate my self-esteem. There was no pretty female teller this time; just a young man wearing two thumb rings who tried to engage me in conversation and try to learn what plans I had for the thousand dollars he’d just handed me. I was noncommittal in my reply, and he dropped the subject. You give up too easily, I thought. You’ll never make an investigator.

With my financial business taken care of, it was now time for lunch. I walked back past my office on Cole Street and continued along to Golden Gate Avenue. I entered the lobby of the Marriott Hotel and turned left towards the bar. Evangeline was working the bar as usual, and the day thus got better.

Evangeline Walker was a statuesque redhead with a blinding smile, a devastating sense of humor, and ability to listen patiently to any bar conversation, no matter how inane, and still make the customer feel more important than anyone else around. For all these attributes she was highly valued by management and given her pick of shifts.

I took a seat at the middle of the bar and reached for the snacks menu. Evangeline noticed me and grinned and began working on a drink. A few moments later she placed a glass in front of me. What is it this time?

A gimlet, Marlowe.

Last week when I was here you served me a great brandy.

Last week you were Nero Wolfe. This week you’re Philip Marlowe.

What are you going to do when you run out of fictional detectives to call me?

You really ought to be more worried about when I can’t think of anymore male ones. Wait until you see what I’ll serve you when I call you Miss Marple.

I picked up the glass and peered into the pale green liquid. But I’ve never liked gimlets.

She put her elbows on the bar and leaned forward, her breasts straining against her shirt. You’ll like this one, Marlowe. It’s short and sweet, like you like your cases.

You’ve got to be kidding. Was that supposed to be Bogart or Mitchum?

That was Chandler himself, pally.

Chandler never had tits like those.

No one ever has, she said, smiling innocently. So what are you working on now, shamus?

Missing person case. Some Internet mogul’s daughter ran away, so I’ve been retained by the dot-comrade himself to bring her home.

Got a picture of the little angel, Marlowe? Evangeline asked over her shoulder as she filled the dishwasher. I dug out Katarine’s snapshot and showed it to her. Wow. Pretty girl.

Yes, she is.

There are a million sharks in the city trolling for a morsel like that, Marlowe.

How old are your kids again, Evangeline?

She looked up from her dirty glasses and saw the expression on my face. I’m sorry, David. I’d be frantic if either Andrew or Hannah were missing.

I nodded slightly and reached for the nut bowl. There were several cashews on top and I breathed a little easier. What would you like besides the gimlet? Evangeline asked me.

How about a Rolling Rock?

One Arnold Palmer pilsner coming up. She knew I detested frosted glasses and so she served it up to me in a room-temperature glass with about an inch of head on it. Perfection.

So how far have you gotten on this one? she asked.

I’ve deposited the retainer check and headed straight to you, Evangeline.

She dimpled as she smiled. You mean I come before any actual investigation? I’m flattered. Where do you think she went?

I shrugged my shoulders. We live in a very mobile society. It’s far too easy to get anywhere you want to go, if you have the means. The parents said she stole a sizable sum from the house before she took off. She may have credit cards; lots of kids her age do. Of course if she uses them it leaves a trail, and that would help a lot. She took her laptop--which could be significant. She might need to keep in touch with friends that way. Odds are she ran off to be with someone she knows, like a relation or a friend who’s moved away.

Where do you go from here?

I’ll be heading to their house in Mill Valley after lunch, and then if I have time I’ll drop by his office before it closes. I’d like the regular Caesar salad, please.

Evangeline got my order rushed and I lingered over it for more of her conversation. While I was eating she was chatting with two visiting businessmen who wanted her to show them the seedy underbelly of San Francisco nightlife after she got off work.

So tell me, one of them said. How did such a beautiful woman like you get a name like Evangeline?

My father’s name was Evan. He was determined to name whatever came out of momma’s womb after him. I popped out; he took one look at what I was missing, called some relatives for a consultation and came up with Evangeline. And you guys can go explore the strip bars by yourselves tonight.

She moved away to go talk to the dining room manager, who had just her head around a corner to get Evangeline’s attention. The businessmen stood up and got ready to leave, mumbling about her as they put their suit coats back on. I distinctly heard the word dyke. I glared at them.

One of them stared blearily back. You got a problem?

Not now that you’re leaving.

What the fuck does that mean?

It means the lady is a good friend of mine and that was a filthy word to use about her. If you were staying I would take exception to it and demonstrate my displeasure.

You think you could take us both, asshole?

Jesus, Dennis, let’s just get out of here. Look at the size of his fucking arms, his buddy piped up.

I looked at Dennis and sighed. Your backup is brighter than you are. Get back to your hotel and ask the concierge to get you lots of one dollar bills for your exciting night on the town.

Dennis’ friend hustled him out of the bar. Evangeline walked back over. Did I miss something?

Nothing much. I doubt it will make the nightly news.

She pocketed their meager tips and my handsome one and put her hand over mine as I was getting ready to leave. Stop by soon, okay? she said. Number One bartender looks forward to serving honorable Mr. Chan on next visit. All I could do was shake my head as I walked out, listening to her ringing laughter.

Chapter Three

On the TV show MASH, B.J. Hunnicutt claimed Mill Valley as his home. He was a doctor and a surgeon. Back in the 1950s he could probably afford to live there. Now he might have to run a premium Internet website that catered to other doctors to be able to make the nut.

They say there is a housing shortage in the Bay Area. They lie. There are tens of thousands of houses in the Bay Area; it’s just that getting into one, unless you’re one of the nouveau riche dot-comrades, can require intercession by the Almighty.

If the Yorks lived there, God must have subscribed to Jeremy’s IPO.

I drove over the Golden Gate Bridge in my Jeep Grand Cherokee and headed northwest to Mill Valley. It was overcast, cool May afternoon. I was listening to the Giants road game against New York, and the Mets were on their way to handing us our seventh straight defeat. As much as I enjoyed watching balls fly over the fence and splash into McCovey Cove at the new ballpark, I’d settle for a bit more generic, old-fashioned run support. Traffic was moderately heavy, and by the time I got to Mill Valley I knew I wouldn’t have time to visit York’s office that day.

I decided to swing by Cathedral High School since it was on the way to the York residence. It was a small campus. The school itself was a single story, built of new brick. The parking lot was full of expensive cars that appealed to the young. Several students sauntered by, the boys dressed in flannels with their pants pulled down to reveal what brands of boxer shorts they preferred, the girls all showing their midriffs and wearing high, clunky shoes. I was glanced at, appraised and dismissed. I parked the Jeep and went inside to find someone who could start filling in all my blank spots about Katarine York.

The school office was located halfway down the hallway as you entered the main door. I passed glass-covered trophy cases that displayed all of Cathedral’s sports accomplishments, and one picture grabbed my attention--it showed the freshmen cheerleading squad from the previous year, and Katarine York had helped them win second place at the state finals.

I entered the office and stood in front of the counter for a couple minutes before the secretary looked up from her keyboard and noticed me. Can I help you? she said.

My name is David Mace. I’m a private investigator looking into the disappearance of Katarine York. Is there anyone in I might speak to about her?

May I see some identification, please?

Certainly. I dug out my wallet and showed her my California license. She took longer to examine it than normal.

Have you brought a loaded handgun onto our campus, Mr. Mace? she asked.

No, I didn’t. I have one in the car, however. I was hoping to conduct my business here and avoid shooting any of America’s youth.

She shot me a nervous glance and then tried unsuccessfully to laugh it off. There might be a few of them I’d like to see get winged at least, she replied.

Make up a list for me before I go and I’ll see what I can do, I said. I gave her my most disarming smile.

Our dean of women, Mrs. Chappel, might be able to talk to you. Let me see if she’s free. She walked back to a short corridor with rows of doors on either side. She knocked on one, stuck her head in and spoke for a few moments. She came back to me and said, Please come right around here, Mr. Mace. Mrs. Chappel will be happy to speak with you.

Mrs. Chappel turned out to be a stout woman with oversized tortoise shell glasses and her thick black hair tied back in a loose bun. Several strands had escaped and hung beside her cheeks. She rose from behind her desk and greeted me with a friendly handshake. Good afternoon, Mr. Mace. I understand you’re looking into the Katarine York case. How can I help you? She motioned for me to have a seat.

I’ve been retained by Katarine’s father, Mrs. Chappel. I’ve just started the investigation, and I thought here at Cathedral would be a good place to begin. What can you tell me about Katarine?

Popular girl. Fair student during her freshman year, but her grades have been slipping this semester. I’ve had two conferences with her father about it. She was pretty active in cheerleading and was showing an interest in joining the drama club.

What about her friends, Mrs. Chappel? Good crowd, bad crowd, jocks, non-jocks, what?

We are a small school, Mr. Mace. Five hundred and fifty students. But that’s still a lot to monitor, and I’m afraid I don’t keep tabs on the social life of all our kids.

I appreciate that, Mrs. Chappel, but perhaps something more about Katarine’s circle of friends comes back to you when you remember that she’s disappeared. Anything at all would be a great help.

I assure you I’m not trying to be evasive, Mr. Mace.

I’m not accusing you of anything like that. But this is an important issue for me.

Ah yes, your fee.

I shook my head wearily. Mrs. Chappel, you say fee as if it had four letters. Yes, I’m being paid to look for Katarine. Her father can afford it and he’s worried about his daughter. But this is also what I do for a living, and I’m good at it. The fact that I accept money for my services doesn’t denigrate them or cheapen their worth to someone else. You take money from the school district to watch over a couple hundred young women--I assume you take pride in the job you do. The same principle applies to me. I get great satisfaction out of fulfilling an assignment, and I’ll take a greater one out of this one, since it involves reuniting a father with his child. I don’t know where we got off on the wrong foot before, but why don’t we try to focus on what’s really important here, namely trying to help me locate Katarine York.

She looked at me quietly for several moments, taking long breaths, before she shook her head and smiled ruefully. I apologize. You see all those shows on TV about private detectives and never expect to meet one in real life, and then when one shows up in your office and asks questions about a child under your supervision you go a little crazy. Of course what you do is important, Mr. Mace. And I’m sure Mr. York is very concerned indeed. He’s always struck me as a very conscientious parent. Have you met his wife, by the way?

Yes, ma’am, I sure have. I met the hell out of her when they came to my office so he could hire me.

What did you think of her as a prospective stepmother?

She makes the one in ‘Cinderella’ look like Harriet Nelson.

That got a rich, cleansing, hearty laugh out of her. Yes, she does seem to have her sights focused strictly on him. Katarine often talked about her when we had counseling sessions. Her home life had been strained ever since the marriage.

What about before that? How did Deborah treat her when she was dating Jeremy?

Mrs. Chappel looked out her window for a bit, gathering her thoughts. Katarine told me she was a completely different woman when she was first seeing Mr. York. Deborah was always happy to spend time with Katarine, help her with her clothes and makeup and things, even some of her schoolwork. She always wanted Katarine included in any activity, since she knew that would make Mr. York happy.

I sense a pattern of behavior there, Mrs. Chappel.

She nodded.

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