|Chapter 2 of Criminal Intent. ©2002 Sheldon M. Siegel, Inc.|
My husband's later work has not received the critical acclaim that it deserved. He will be recognized as one of the great directors of his generation. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to work with him on The Return of the Master.
Angelina Chavez. KGO Radio.
It takes me fifteen minutes to drive through the empty streets from Leslie's condo to the Hall of Justice, a monolithic, six-story structure at Seventh and Bryant that takes up two city blocks and houses the county jail, the criminal courts, the DA's office, the chief medical examiner and the Southern Police Station. A blanket of thick fog envelops the mausoleum-like gray building as I push my way through the assembling media horde on the front steps. The guard at San Francisco's temple of criminal justice isn't happy to see me as I walk through the metal detector. The darkened building has an eerie calm at this hour. My dad was a cop who worked nights out of Southern Station. He used to say you could see ghosts in the hallways.
I present my State Bar card and driver's license to the desk sergeant who is sitting in front of a panel of television monitors at the intake center in the new jail wing, known to the cops as the "Glamour Slammer." The antiseptic, modern-looking facility was opened in the early nineties and is squeezed between the old Hall and the elevated 101 freeway. The warehouse-like structure is covered in frosted plexiglass and is the first thing tourists see as they approach downtown. It's our way of saying, "Welcome to San Francisco!"
The sergeant buzzes me into a holding area that smells of industrial-strength disinfectant. A wiry man with a military bearing, a shaved head and utilitarian street clothes is waiting for me. Inspector Jack O'Brien is a former undercover cop. Now in his early fifties, he was rewarded with a promotion to homicide twenty years ago after he single handedly brought down a drug ring in the Tenderloin. He gives me a perfunctory handshake and says, "Ms. Chavez is in the interrogation room."
It strikes me as curious that he's here instead of at the MacArthur house. I try for a non-confrontational tone. "Jack," I say, "what's going on?"
His hawk nose sits above a neatly-trimmed mustache on his leathery face. The deep scar that runs the length of his right cheek is a reminder of his undercover days. "MacArthur's body was found on Baker Beach at three-thirty. That's all we know."
He knows more. Most homicide inspectors work in teams. Not Jack. The cantankerous, tight-lipped workaholic refused to be paired when his last partner retired over a decade ago. I ask, "Do you know how he died?"
"Too soon to tell."
"Care to venture a guess?"
It's the answer I expect. I suggest to him that it may have been an accident.
"Maybe." He says he doesn't know the time of death. "A neighbor found the body."
Seems like an early hour to be out on a cold, foggy beach. "He was out for a stroll in the middle of the night?"
"He was walking his dog." He tells me the neighbor's name is Robert Neils. He runs a small investment firm downtown. He could put together a billion dollar venture capital fund if he and his neighbors pooled their resources.
I ask him if Neils is a suspect.
"I haven't talked to him yet."
"Why is Ms. Chavez here?"
"We had to take her somewhere."
Not good enough. "Why didn't you take her home?"
"We wanted to talk to her."
"You could have talked to her at home."
He hesitates for a beat and says, "We decided to do it here."
He's holding something back. "Why?"
"We're checking out her story," he says. "I can't tell you anything more."
You mean you won't tell me anything more. "Is she a suspect?"
He repeats, "We're checking out her story."
Not a very enlightening answer. "Why is she in the jail wing?"
"It's the best we could do. There was nobody available over in homicide. "
Bullshit. Even in the middle of the night, there are always uniforms around. I try again. "Are you thinking of charging her?"
This time he responds with a shrug.
Stalemate. I want to keep him talking, "I understand she was picked up at the bridge."
"We got a call from the security patrol at three-forty-five. They found her passed out in the driver's seat of a Jaguar registered to her husband."
"What was she doing in his car?"
"We have no idea. It was parked near the concession stand in the view lot at the south tower. The lights were on and the engine was running. We sent a black and white right away." He says he doesn't know how long she'd been there.
Seems decidedly odd. "Did she know about her husband?"
O'Brien gives me a circumspect look and replies, "She said she didn't. The uniform told her. She was very upset."
I'll bet. "I still don't understand why he didn't drive her home."
"Her husband's body was there. The officer thought it would have been traumatic."
"And bringing her down here seemed less so?"
He scowls and says, "The officer discovered she was driving on an expired license."
"It doesn't mean anything. She spends a lot of time away from home. In the circumstances, couldn't you have just given her a ticket?"
"We had to bring her in."
I don't like the sound of his voice. There's something else going on. "Come on, Jack," I say. "You have my word that I'll bring her back here later today to sort this out. Let me take her home so she can begin making arrangements for her husband's funeral."
He runs his finger across his scar. "Look, Mike," he says, "in any other circumstance, I'd have given her a pass."
There's a "but " coming.
"But there's another problem." He chooses his words carefully. "The officer did a routine visual search of the area in plain view of the interior of her car."
Uh-oh. Cops use code words such as "routine visual search" and "in plain view" when they're concerned about the admissibility of evidence. "What did he find?"
"A baggie filled with cocaine. Probably about three ounces."
"Front seat." He repeats, "In plain view." Then he adds, "We could have let the expired license and maybe even the DUI slide, but we couldn't let the coke go. We had to bring her in."
I try not to show any reaction. "Where's the car?" I ask.
"We've impounded it."
"Did you find anything else?"
Now I choose my words carefully. "Are you going to file possession charges?"
"We haven't decided."
It's the correct response. "Has she told you anything?"
"She said she wanted to talk to you." He pauses and corrects himself. "Actually, she wanted to talk to your partner."
"I'd like to see her."
# # #
Angel looks nothing like the actress in the air-brushed magazine photos that are tacked to the walls in Grace's room. She's sitting on a heavy wooden chair in an airless interrogation room. Calvin Klein has given way to an orange jumpsuit. O'Brien provided the change of clothes. Your fashion options are limited in the Hall. Her waif-thin five-foot five-inch frame looks frail. Her long, dark hair has given way to an unkempt tangle. Her saucer-shaped eyes stare straight down at the linoleum floor and her cheeks are covered with dried tears. Her full lips form a tight line across her face. Although she's sometimes difficult to read, the demeanor of the poised, outgoing actress has given way to a look of desperation. She hasn't said a word for ten minutes.
"I can't help you if you won't talk to me, Angel," I say.
She glances up at me for an instant, then her eyes return to the floor.
I wait. Five minutes pass. Then five more. I was a public defender for seven years and a priest for three. In both occupations, you learn patience.
Finally, she breaks the silence. "When is Aunt Rosie going to get here?"
"Soon. She had to take Grace to her mom's house."
"My husband is dead," Angel says, "and you're here to babysit me until Rosie can find somebody to stay with Grace?"
Essentially, that's true. "I'm here to help you." In reality, I'm here to make sure she doesn't say anything to the cops until Rosie arrives. For the time being, I leave out any mention of the expired driver's license or the coke. We'll get to that soon enough. "Why don't you tell me what happened."
Her grimace transforms into a frown. "I have to get out of here, Uncle Mike."
I try again. "We'll get you out a lot quicker if you talk to me."
Silence. I hear a knock. Inspector O'Brien opens the door and lets Rosie in. Angel's red eyes brighten. "I'll be outside," O'Brien tells us. The door slams shut.
Rosie glances toward me and then walks across the room to hug Angel. She whispers to her, "We'll take care of everything, honey." She gets Angel to say that except for a splitting headache, she's feeling okay. Even in a windowless room in the Hall of Justice at five in the morning, Rosie is somehow capable of lending an air of normalcy. She begins to ease her niece into a discussion of last night's events. "Angel," she says, "you know I have to ask you what happened. And you understand it's very important to tell me the truth."
Puppy eyes. "Uh-huh."
"What have you told the police?" First things first.
"Nothing. They said they were looking for me." She swallows hard and adds, "They told me Dick was . . ." She can't finish the sentence.
Rosie keeps her tone measured as she says, "You didn't know?"
She shakes her head.
Rosie's tone is soothing. "That's okay," she says. "Let's start from the beginning."
Angel swallows back tears. "This is hard."
"Take your time, honey." Rosie's eyes dart in my direction. You can often tell more about your client from body language than words. We'll compare our impressions later.
Angel is looking at the floor as she says, "We had dinner and a screening of the movie at the house." Big Dick's B-movies paid for certain amenities like a private theater.
"Who was there?" Rosie asks.
"Dick, of course. And Daniel and his wife."
Daniel Crown is Angel's co-star in The Return of the Master. The gorgeous hunk began his career in a series of commercials for a once-trendy men's sportswear manufacturer. He parlayed the publicity into a brief stint on a syndicated game show, followed by a couple of guest appearances on a steamy evening soap opera. This led to a small part in one of Big Dick's movies. His career is on the cusp. The window of opportunity for muscle-bound studs is often pretty short. The Return of the Master could propel him into the next generation of leading men or send him reeling back to game show oblivion. Roger Ebert said he has a chance to be a big star if he can stay away from the recreational pharmaceutical products that led to several drug arrests early in his career. Ebert said it was an even bet that Crown's career would go either up like a rocket or up his nose.
Crown's wife, agent, manager and spokeswoman, Cheryl Springer, is a former advertising executive who started her own talent agency. Crown is her first major client and her meal ticket. Supposedly, he doesn't go to the bathroom without her permission, and he's managed to stay clean under her watchful eye. In an effort to avoid the temptations of the Hollywood crowd, they gave up their West Hollywood condo last year and moved to Marin County.
Angel says, "Dick's son was there."
Rosie had the privilege of meeting Richard MacArthur, Jr. at Angel's wedding. She described MacArthur the younger, whom she dubbed "Little Richard," as an antagonistic rodent who supervises his father's B-movie assembly line and aspires to direct his own films. Young MacArthur has a reputation for doing whatever it takes to get his father's movies made on time and under budget. He's willing to run into a brick wall a hundred times if that's what it takes to get a movie in the can. Although he lacks finesse, his skills are a perfect complement to those of his father, whose budgetary shortcomings are legendary.
Unfortunately, Little Richard's directorial debut was costly proof that certain skills cannot be transmitted genetically. His limitations were brought to light a few years ago when he wrote and directed his only feature, an amateurish rip-off of The Blair Witch Project. The Chronicle called it the Ishtar of the new millennium. The few audience members who stayed beyond the first ten minutes of the debacle complained of motion sickness from the hackneyed use of hand-held cameras. His father did little to enhance family harmony when he expressed his embarrassment over his son's failure to a national audience on the Today Show. Holiday gatherings at the MacArthur household must be a riot.
Angel adds, "Marty was there, too."
Martin Kent is a Hollywood insider. An attorney, agent, talent scout and entrepreneur, he's represented some of the biggest names in the motion picture industry for three decades. He's been Big Dick's business manager and personal consigliere for almost thirty years. The silver-haired, smooth-as-fine-Scotch Kent was a young lawyer at a Century City firm when MacArthur hired him to negotiate his production contract with Universal for The Master. He took a liking to the fastidious ex-Marine and became his first client when Kent started his own agency, which he relocated to Northern California a few ago. Business Week described Kent as a man whose unlimited resourcefulness has been tested with alarming regularity. When MacArthur was on the verge of bankruptcy, Marty was able to cut deals with his creditors. When Big Dick was arrested for buying cocaine from an undercover cop, Marty got the charges dropped. He's on a first name basis with every major studio boss and the head of every large drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Southern California.
More recently, Kent has been on the news because he's the point man on a controversial joint venture to build a new headquarters for MacArthur Films in China Basin, just across the Lefty O'Doul Bridge from PacBell Park. The rusted-out rail yards have been barren for decades. When a new UCSF medical center campus began to rise south of the site, the long-neglected parcel became more valuable. It's turned into an economic and political hot potato. The city tried to put together a low-income housing project, but the funding fell through. That's when the redevelopment agency gave tentative approval to turn China Basin into Hollywood North. The locals have been raising hell ever since.
She adds, "Dom was there."
Dominic Petrillo is the bombastic chairman of Millennium Studios, which is providing the funding for The Return of the Master and is the majority investor in the China Basin project, where it plans to house its headquarters along with five hundred computer graphics artists. If you believe a Wall Street Journal story last year, the term egomaniac doesn't adequately capture his essence. An arrogant, hyper-active former development boss at Disney, he is trying to transform Millennium from a sleepy art film house into a major Hollywood player. The early results have been mixed. The Return of the Master is the first big-budget production that Petrillo "green lighted" and he has a lot riding on it. His ruthless methods are publicly scorned and privately admired by his competitors. One major studio executive said negotiating with Petrillo is like dealing with Charles Manson, except Manson has more charm. There are rumors that Millennium's investors will be out for Petrillo's head if The Return of the Master doesn't put up big numbers. I've never had the pleasure.
"Anybody else?" Rosie asks.
Angel rolls her eyes and says, "The guy from Vegas--Carl Ellis."
Rosie gives me a knowing look. Ellis is another reason the residents of China Basin are furious. He's been a lightning rod for controversy since his company was selected as the general contractor. He underbid the local construction firms by almost ten million dollars. One San Francisco contractor said Ellis will never be able to deliver the finished project at that price. We'll see. Some have suggested Ellis had access to his competitors' bids and there have been accusations of graft and payoffs. The Chronicle described Ellis as a greedy bastard who would sell out his mother to turn a fast buck. The Examiner went so far as to say he has ties to organized crime, a charge Ellis and his attorneys have vehemently denied. Then again, my friends in Vegas tell me nobody will respect you down there if you don't have some real or imagined contacts with the mob.
"What was he doing at the screening?" I ask.
Angel says, "He wanted to see the movie."
Ellis doesn't strike me as a film buff. On the other hand, he has a reputation as a shrewd businessman. Millennium is borrowing millions to provide the bulk of the financing for the China Basin project. MacArthur Films is supposed to get a ten million dollar loan from Wells Fargo Bank to finance its minority interest in the project. If The Return of the Master bombs, Millennium and MacArthur Films may not be able to fulfill their commitments. Perhaps Ellis was trying to gauge the creditworthiness of his new business partners. The project is undoubtedly in jeopardy now.
"How was the party?" I ask.
Angel is starting to settle down. "It was fine," she says. "I don't know if the movie was any good or not-I hate watching myself-but we had champagne and they started discussing the China Basin project. They were smoking cigars when I excused myself and went upstairs-I was tired and I hate smoke."
Rosie asks, "What time was that?"
"A few minutes after one." Her face takes on a pained expression. She turns toward the wall and says, "That's the last time I saw Dick."
Rosie puts her arm around her niece's shoulder and says, "It's going to be all right, honey."
"Sure," she replies in a barely-audible tone.
Rosie lowers her voice and asks, "Was everybody still there when you went upstairs?"
"Yes. I had a glass of champagne and I took a shower, and I went to bed around one-thirty. The next thing I remember is somebody knocking on the window of my car at the bridge."
There is something in the sound of her tone that troubles me. Angel developed a pretty good poker face when her mother was drinking. I ask, "What time did you drive there?"
"I don't remember."
What? I glance at Rosie, who picks up the cue. She struggles to keep her tone non-judgmental. "What do you mean, honey?" she asks.
Angel holds up her hands and says, "I don't remember going to the bridge."
Come again? This elicits a puzzled look from Rosie, who asks, "Do you recall anything from the time you went to bed until the time the patrol officer knocked on your window?"
"No. I must have blacked out."
Rosie's lips twitch. "Angel," she says, "has this ever happened before?"
Her response is a barely audible, "Yes."
"How many times?"
"More than twice?"
"Three times. All in the last couple of months."
Rosie takes this in without any visible reaction. Then she leans toward her niece and asks, "Do you know what caused them?"
Angel shakes her head rapidly and says, "I'm not sure."
I get a quick glance from Rosie. She turns to Angel and asks, "How much champagne did you drink last night?"
"A couple of glasses."
"Enough that you probably shouldn't have gotten behind the wheel of a car?"
"I don't know."
"Inspector O'Brien told me you took a breath test."
"I didn't think I had a choice."
You can refuse, but your license will be suspended. "You did the right thing," Rosie tells her, "but you didn't pass."
"And I understand your license had expired."
"I was supposed to send in the renewal. I got busy and I never got around to it."
"That's okay, honey," Rosie says. An expired license is the least of our problems. She takes a deep breath and asks, "Did you take anything else last night?"
Angel closes her eyes and whispers, "I did some coke."
Rosie's voice remains perfectly level when she asks, "A lot?"
Christ. I remind myself that Rosie's niece isn't a baby anymore.
Rosie asks, "Where did you get it?"
"It isn't hard to find."
Rosie searches for the right words. "Are you doing coke . . . regularly?"
Angel closes her eyes and whispers, "No."
"Did coke cause your blackouts?"
Rosie shoots me a knowing glance and says, "Inspector O'Brien told me they found a bag of coke on the front seat of your car."
Angel says in a barely-audible tone, "They told me."
"I have to ask."
She stops Rosie with a raised hand. "I didn't put it there."
"Any idea who did?"
"I don't know."
Rosie isn't letting go. "It looks suspicious."
"I know how it looks."
Rosie tries again. "It will be difficult to explain if they find your fingerprints."
Angel holds her hands up and says, "I understand."
Rosie is giving her every opportunity to come clean. "They may charge you with possession," she says.
Angel doesn't respond.
Rosie tries once more. She takes her niece's hands and says, "Angel, this is me--Aunt Rosie. Just between us. What you say in this room is completely confidential. Okay?"
Angel's eyes are staring straight down when she says, "Okay."
"Is there something you want to tell me?"
Angel clenches her jaw. She looks like the poised actress again when she says, "Do you think I'd drive around with a bag of cocaine sitting on my front seat?"
Rosie looks at me. Then she turns back to her and says, "No, Angel." She pauses and then asks, "How were things with you and Dick?"
She answers too quickly, "Fine."
"I have to ask," Rosie says. "There were reports on TV about arguments."
"Everything was fine, Aunt Rosie."
"And you were getting along last night?"
"Yes." Angel's eyes turn a gleaming cobalt. She gestures with her index finger. "Look," she says a little too emphatically, "Dick wasn't a perfect husband to his other wives, but he was good to me. Always."
"Angel," Rosie says, "was he seeing anybody else?"
"Are you sure?"
I'm not. Big Dick's track record isn't stellar. He was still quite married when he ran off with Angel.
Rosie looks at Angel and waits. I can hear the buzzing of the fluorescent lights.
Angel exhales. "Look," she says, "I'm not naive. I've heard the rumors. At one point I got so concerned I hired a private investigator to watch him."
Well, that's not a good sign. "Who?" I ask.
She rearranges her face into an ironic grin. "Your brother."
This elicits a discernible sigh from Rosie. My younger brother Pete is a former cop who works as a PI. He lost his badge about ten years ago when he and some of his buddies at Mission Station got a little too enthusiastic breaking up what they thought was a gang fight, only it turned out to be two hormone-charged teenage boys who got into a fight over a girl. One of the boys suffered a concussion when Pete hit him, his father was a lawyer . . . The result was predictable. He's still bitter about it. "Why did you call Pete?" I ask.
"How many PI's do you think I know? I couldn't very well have asked my husband for a recommendation."
True enough. "Did he find anything?"
"Just more rumors."
My eyes dart toward Rosie, but I don't say anything. I'll get the real story from Pete.
The door opens and Inspector O'Brien enters. "I need to talk to your client," he says.
"I'm afraid I can't let you do that," Rosie replies.
"This will take just a minute."
"I haven't decided whether I'm going to let you question her," Rosie says.
"I didn't come to question her."
"What's this about, Jack?"
O'Brien turns to Angel and says, "Angelina Chavez, you are under arrest."
Hell. Angel had been leaning against the wall. She sinks to the floor. Rosie goes over and puts her arms around her.
"Come on, Jack," I say. "You're going to charge her with possession? Don't you think she's been through enough tonight?"
O'Brien turns to me and says, "If it were just possession of a few ounces of cocaine, we would have gone home by now." He turns back to Angel and says, "Angelina Chavez, you are under arrest for the murder of Richard MacArthur. You have the right to remain silent."
Angel starts to fold her body into a ball.
"You have to be kidding," Rosie says.
"I'm not," O'Brien responds. Then he completes the recitation of the Miranda warnings.
Angel dissolves into tears.
"She had nothing to do with this," I insist.
O'Brien is unimpressed. "That's what she's telling you."
"What's the evidence?" I ask.
"You'll find out everything in due course." He looks at Angel and says, "Ms. Chavez, I'm not allowed to question you unless your attorney gives me permission to do so."
"Damn right," Rosie says. She points her index finger at Angel and adds, "I don't want you to say a word."
O'Brien takes this in and says, "It doesn't prevent me from offering you some free advice. I would suggest that you tell us everything you know. At least tell your attorney the truth. It will make things easier on everybody."
He's trying a standard ploy. If you can convince a suspect to say something to their attorney, they are much more likely to repeat it to somebody else--even the cops.
I look at Angel and repeat Rosie's admonition to stay silent. She looks as if she's in a trance.
Rosie helps her to her feet. "I don't want you to talk to anyone," she says. "Not the police. Not the guards. Not anybody. Understand?"
Angel begins to sob uncontrollably. Her voice takes on a child-like tone. Her breath is coming in gasps when she wails, "They're saying I killed my husband, Aunt Rosie."
Rosie takes both of her hands and looks into her eyes. "I don't want you to talk to anybody," she repeats. "Do you understand?"
Angel is shaking. She nods and manages to say, "Yes." She's still sobbing as O'Brien leads her toward the booking area.