I AM THE WOLF MAN
JUNE 8, 2009
Downtown Leesburg, Va.
Blue-black clouds, heavy as anvils, hung over the Virginia pines, releasing their pent-up heaviness in great pounding bullets of rain. “The Anger of the Gods,” he’d heard someone say behind him as he waited to order his morning coffee. Such an outburst on a Monday morning could send many a man into a dark mood, but Thomas Kaze was not one of them. He liked the way the headlights of the cars reflected in the street puddles and he liked the idea of people safe and dry in their bright, well-lighted rooms. It transported him back to memories of bustling elementary-school mornings, with the hope that the rain would continue and he would not have sandlot football practice that afternoon, and he could stay inside and read instead.
Kaze squeezed his 2001 Ford Fiesta into a side-alley parking spot and dashed for the front door of the two-story brick at One North King Street in the heart of downtown Leesburg, a brown paper sack clenched in his teeth, steaming latte in his right hand. He stepped inside and shook the rainwater from his coat with his left hand while he balanced the coffee in his right. He draped his coat over his forearm and when he took the sack from his teeth, some of the milk from his latte spilled out the drink-hole of the plastic lid. He lapped up the spillage with his tongue. He rented the second floor and took the steps two at a time. When he arrived in the reception room at the top of the stairs he was slightly out of breath. He set the sack on his receptionist’s desk and hung his coat and decided he would count the climb as his workout for the day.
“Country store biscuits again, Mr. Kaze?” his receptionist said.
Here we go again, he thought.
She said, “Those things are going to kill you.”
“Mavis, please. Any calls?”
“Just one. Your old pals from the Red Cross. You’re scheduled to give blood again tomorrow.”
He sighed. “Where this time?”
“That’s it? That’s all the messages I have?”
“What do you expect, Mr. Kaze? You turn down practically every case we get. Word gets around.”
“Mavis, you know I only defend the innocent.”
“Keep telling yourself that, and we’ll all be out of work.”
He snatched his sack off her desk and retreated to his office, the floorplanks creaking beneath him. Kaze rented his space from J. Hart Boyce, a horse-country magnate from Middleburg. He would never be able to afford it on his own. But J. Hart’s bon vivant of a son, Webb Boyce, was one of Kaze’s childhood friends, and he cut him a deal. The place had no central air-conditioning and the six-over-six double-hung windows in his office went at sixty-degree angle to the ceiling. Kaze figured the old building must have settled over time. But what it lacked in creature comfort it more than made up for in location, in the center of town, across from the historic Loudoun County Court House.
Kaze fell into his office chair—oxblood vinyl that had cracked over time—and propped his feet on the desk. The desk could take such disrespect; it was old and chipped and scarred and weighed about as much as a Grand Piano. To this day he wondered how the movers got the Godforsaken thing up the steep flight of steps. Warm steam rose as he unwrapped the foil from the biscuit. He took a bite and closed his eyes, savoring the salty flavor of the Smithfield country ham. He washed it down with the rest of the latte when a rap on his open door jolted him.
He looked up to see Webb Boyce leaning against the doorjamb. Because of his father’s wealth, Webb didn’t have to work. But he volunteered to help Kaze three days a week to keep from getting bored.
“Tommy, I don’t know how you eat nasty ham,” Boyce said, nodding at the biscuit and making a face.
“You ever try it?”
Boyce scrunched his nose. “No, but I can smell the salt from here.”
“Come on, Webb. Remember ‘Green Eggs and Ham’? Sam I Am? Try it. You might like it.”
Boyce ran his fingers over his hair, gelled in the Sean Connery style from the James Bond films. He wore a slim-cut gray glen-plaid suit with pegged trousers and a sharp linen pocket square, white shirt, black tie and black laced-up shoes. He fancied himself quite the Leesburg playboy, and in fact he probably was. He stood in contrast to Kaze’s standard rumpled look, weathered navy blazer over a wrinkled Oxford-cloth shirt and scuffed penny loafers.
Boyce said, “Me? I would not like it in a car. I would not like it in a bar. I would not like it from afar. By the way, you know that Dr. Seuss wasn’t really a doctor, right?”
“Seuss didn’t have a PhD?” Crumbs of biscuit sprayed from Kaze’s mouth when he said it.
Boyce shook his head. “Never finished his doctorate. Just slapped ‘Dr.’ in front of his mother’s maiden name, and viola! Instant credibility.”
“But his work had such deep, philosophical messages.”
“Well, I’ll have to check on that.”
“You don’t believe me?”
“It’s not that I don’t believe you. I’m just saying that you might have received some bad information.”
Boyce straightened his tie. “You’ll see.”
“Well, Seuss wrote good books. I don’t think an actual doctor could have done any better.” Kaze swallowed the last of the biscuit and stuck his index finger into the rear of his mouth, trying to extract a sliver of ham wedged between his left rear molars, contorting his face like a kind of crazed Popeye as he dug around. “Say, Webb, you got any dental floss?”
“Sure. It’s part of my mental checklist when I leave the house: Keys. Wallet. Phone. Dental floss.”
“Flask of Jack Black.”
“That, I keep in the drawer of my desk.” Boyce’s facial expression slackened. “Listen, Tommy, the reason I peeked in…”
The phone rang. Kaze removed his feet from the desk, raised his index finger, and nodded toward Boyce. He picked up the phone, said hello. Listened to the voice on the other line.
“Fine, Sergeant Gova. And you?” Kaze met Boyce’s eyes and he nodded.
He listened for a moment and said, “Of course we can talk as friends. No, Ronnie, I’ve taken off my lawyer’s hat. What’s up?”
Kaze listened and his expression turned dark.
Boyce mouthed, “What?”
Kaze looked away and shook his head. “Good Lord.” He listened some more, bid the caller goodbye, and hung up the phone.
“What?” Boyce said as he massaged his knuckles. “What?”
Kaze grimaced. “That was our good friend, the Loudoun County police sergeant. You know that murder in South Riding about a month ago he told us about? The grisly one with the dismembered girl?”
“Of course. Awful.”
“There was another one. Last night.”
KAZE LINGERED AMONG the cubicles of the Loudoun County Criminal Investigators Division while Sergeant Ron Gova met in the conference room with his detectives. Kaze assumed they were inside discussing last night’s murder. Outside the conference room, two vice investigators sipped coffee in the aisle of the office. The aisle was tight as a submarine bunkroom, with barely enough room for two people to pass through, but they didn’t seem to care that Kaze was there. He had come by so often to visit his friend Sergeant Gova that by now, he figured, they regarded him like one of the overstuffed file cabinets that filled the room. Maybe they even considered him some kind of police wanna-be, this lawyer who was always hounding Sergeant Gova about something.
It was okay for them to think that.
As they sipped their coffee one of the investigators asked the other if he had seen the ballgame last night on ESPN. Standing where he was, Kaze couldn’t help but overhear them. In these tight quarters, he wondered if the detectives had any privacy at all. The other one said, “Nats lose again?”
“Not the Nats. It was the Phillies against Dodgers. Aren’t you from Philly?”
“Yeah. Must have missed it. Who won?”
“Phillies. Pitcher who got the win? His name was Bastardo. Antonio Bastardo. He beat Randy Wolf.”
“I shit you not.”
“I would change that if I were him.”
Kaze smiled. He’d probably have changed it, too. But Bastardo was the man’s given name, and by now he had surely learned to live with it. The conference door swung open and Gova wheeled out holding a Styrofoam cup of coffee and a legal pad.
“White Styrofoam cup? Really?” Kaze said, grinning.
“What?” Gova said. He had squinty eyes and short bristly hair and his white shirt sleeves were rolled up just below his elbows.
“I gave you a coffee mug for your birthday just so you would not look like such a walking, talking movie cliché. A cop holding a white Styrofoam cup? Come on.”
“I’m fat, divorced, underpaid and chronically pissed off,” Gova shot back. “I AM a walking, talking movie cliché.”
“But it was a nice porcelain mug.”
“I use it,” Gova said.
Kaze just stared at him.
“I do use it! It’s … brown and says ‘Procrastinate Now.’”
“It was blue and said, "Man who fart in church sit in own pew."
“Give me a break, Tomcat. I buy my coffee from this little old lady on East Colonial. The C-Store. She serves it in these here white cups. What do you want me to do?”
“The C-Store, in Hamilton? Old Nadine?” Kaze had been there this morning, just as he had been every Monday morning for the past three years, to order his ham biscuit. She always gave him an earful for just ordering one. “Bring some to those hard-working assistants of yours,” she said. He didn’t have the heart to tell her that Mavis and Boyce abhorred the things. “I never had the courage to try her coffee,” Kaze said. “It looks like two-year old motor oil to me. Me, I go to Starbucks.”
“You pussy,” Gova said, lifting the white cup. “I’m telling you, Old Nadine’s coffee will put some lead in your pencil. “You know she brews her coffee with a little bit of molasses, right?”
Kaze cocked his eyebrows. “She puts molasses in it?”
“Lead in your pencil,” Gova said.
“What are you saying?”
“I’m not saying anything.”
“First Nadine, then Mavis, now. Every week, always with the same thing: 'When are you and Helen going to start raising a family?' My God. Maybe we don’t want kids. Has anybody ever considered that?”
Gova put his hand on Kaze’s shoulder. “Relax, Tomcat. That’s not what I meant. Come on in.”
They slipped into the sergeant’s office, not fifteen feet from the conference room. Gova closed the door behind them. When he plopped into his chair its wheels rolled with his weight. Kaze sat down, the desk between them.
“The murder,” Kaze said. “Sykes on it?”
Gova nodded. “She’s my best. But you know the drill. Something this big, it’s all hands on deck.”
“Can I help?”
“Don’t you have better things to do? Like, earning a living? You are a lawyer, right?”
Kaze shrugged. “Things are slow right now. I’m just saying.”
“Fine. I’ll tell you what you can do—give me the killer’s phone number. I’ll call him, arrange the arrest. Better yet, do you mind calling him yourself? Set it up for me?”
“But not before my morning constitution. Got-damn it, Nadine’s coffee, it really makes me shit.”
“It must be the molasses.”
Gova grimaced. “You think I’m kidding, but I’m not.”
Kaze pursed his lips. “Still doubting me, even after the Weegan case.”
“Sykes appreciated your tip. Did she ever send you flowers?”
“Ronnie, are you still bitter because I got you squadoosh in the divorce settlement?”
“A little, actually. Have you ever considered a different line of work? Because as a lawyer, you really do kind of suck.”
“What can I say? I’m a defense lawyer.”
“Wouldn’t know it from your workload,” Gova said. He picked up the folder before him, opened it, and glanced at his notes. He frowned as he read. In an instant the mood in the room changed, as if a shade had been drawn. “The girl’s name was Betsy Macaluso. Twenty-five years old. Roman Catholic. Played varsity soccer for North Carolina State. Pretty girl, based on the photographs in her townhouse. Family has decent money, but she was a worker. Software developer. The wall over her headboard was splattered with blood. It must of shot from her carotid artery like a fountain.”
“Here’s the damndest thing: No forced entry, just like the Rains case a few weeks ago.”
“What was that girl’s name? Delilah Rains?”
“Delma. Delma Raines.” Gova tossed the folder on his desktop.
“Same housing development?”
Gova nodded. “Both killings came within a two-mile radius of each other. Your basic big, fat, waving, red-ass flag. Both out in South Riding, out by the quarry. The big one near Dulles. They do blasting, but it’s nice out there. Median household income is well over one-hundred K. Upscale retail. They got one of them Panera’s there. You wouldn’t think it’s the kind of place where something this sick could happen.”
Kaze scratched his chin. “Did the girl’s neighbors hear anything?”
“Only that the stereo was very loud.”
“Evidence of intercourse?”
“Yeah. The guy must have been hung like a Clydesdale. She was all tore up. But get this: They haven’t found a drop of semen.”
Gova shook his head.
Kaze said, “Not a trace? That’s odd.”
“There are a lot of things about this one that are odd.”
“What about hairs? Fibers? Fingernail scrapings?”
“Just the dog hair. Like before.”
“And the bites?”
Gova exhaled. “We both know there’s never been an official statement about any damn dog bites on the Rains girl.”
“Come on, sergeant.”
Gova shook his head.
“Ronnie, you know you can trust me.”
Gova stared at the far wall behind Kaze, lined with photographs and certificates of achievement and photographs: fishing trips, shaking hands with local politicians, but mostly pictures of his young son, Donny. When his eyes landed on a picture of himself and Danny sitting by a pool, something caught in his throat. Kaze lowered his eyes. If his old friend asked him to leave now, he would do it without question.
Gova took a deep breath and exhaled. “Tomcat, please be careful with what I’m about to tell you.”
“I’m always careful with everything you share with me here,” Kaze said. “Surely you know that.”
Gova nodded. He nodded and he kept nodding, working his lips in and out, in the way Kaze had seen elderly men do in nursing homes. Kaze had not seen his friend do that before and he shifted in his seat, uncomfortably.
“I know. I just need you to understand the sensitive nature of what I’m about to say. It cannot leave this room. It absolutely cannot leave this room. The people can’t know, not right now.”
Kaze only nodded.
Gova leaned forward. The suddenness of it jolted Kaze. “These are more than just dog bites, Tom,” he said. “There was some kind of weapon involved. Possibly a machete. At the very least, a hunting knife.”
“Something like that, yes. This poor girl’s neck was nearly severed. From what forensics can determine, it came from one blow. Nothing but red pulp connected by a few strands of flesh.”
“Oh my God…”
“But that wasn’t even the creepiest thing about it.”
Kaze tapped his foot, waited for Gova to continue.
“The girl’s buttocks.” Gova shook his head. “They were … gone.”
“What do you mean, gone?”
“I mean, they weren’t there anymore.”
“Are you saying that the killer hacked them off with this machete, and, what, put them in a suitcase and strolled away?”
“No, it had nothing to do with the machete. That was just for the neck.”
“It’s like nothing we’ve seen before, Tom.” Gova looked at him strangely, as if he were asking Kaze himself for an explanation. “It was if her buttocks had been…my God, Tom, I can’t believe I’m saying this. It was if her buttocks had been chewed off.”
Kaze’s back straightened. “Chewed… off?”
“Chewed off. The killer’s dog must have gone stone-cold crazy on her.”
“What kind of dog are we talking about? German Shepherd? Pit Bull?”
“We’re not entirely sure. What it seems to be is a Pit Bull on PCP.”
“Right,” a hoarse laugh escaped Kaze.
“No, I’m serious,” Gova said.
“You’re saying that the killer gave his dog the drug Phencyclidine.”
“To be honest, I don’t know what I’m saying. Like I said, this is all so bizarre.”
“That angel dust is nasty stuff,” Kaze said.
“I don’t know how anybody could ever ingest that shit. No good come ever comes of it.”
“But it does make you feel invulnerable.”
“That, and strong as hell. Remember in Chantilly a couple of years ago, when that big asshole walked into a Seven-Eleven with a hand-drilling hammer?”
“Hand-drilling hammer?” Kaze said.
“You know, they look like mini-sledge hammers. I never told you this story? The guy started smashing the glass cooler doors where they kept the Gatorades.”
“Couldn’t he, like, just open the door if he wanted a Gatorade?”
“I guess he thought they were locked or something. So anyway, the counterman called the Blue. The officers arrived and this freak started swinging this fucking hammer at them. They couldn’t get close enough to give him a wood shampoo so they Tasered his ass. But it didn’t even faze the guy. He was still swinging that got-damn hammer like he was fucking Thor, so the officers gave him the Taser again. It slowed him a little, enough so they could blast him square in the face with pepper spray. But this guy, he just blinked and lumbered along like he was immune to it. Freaked our guys out. So they deployed the canine.”
“The officers had a K-9?”
“Oh shit yeah. Any call involving PCP, you have to bring in the dogs. German Shepherd, this one. Dog chomped down on this maniac’s arm and wouldn’t let go. So what did this asshole do? He literally lifted the dog and swung it around at the officers.”
“I'm telling you, this actually happened. Swung the dog with such force it broke an officer’s jaw and the dog’s ribs. Dog let go and curled up in a ball, whimpering. Eventually our boys got close enough to whack this asshole upside the head with an expandable baton and he finally dropped the hammer.”
Kaze shook his head. “What happened to the dog?”
“The German Shepherd with the broken ribs.”
“Hell, I don’t know.”
Kaze suddenly realized his body had gone stiff, coping with everything that he’d heard. Ronnie Gova had shared many war stories with him the past, but nothing approached this one.
“And you’re saying this Pit Bull in Betsy Macaluso’s apartment acted like it was on this stuff?”
“Jesus, Tomcat, The bites. I hate to tell you how many.”
Kaze stared at the tops of his loafers.
“CSI found something else strange,” Gova said. “On her skin. It appears the killer had rubbed her body with raw meat.”
“You think that’s why the dog went nutso on her?”
“Seems that way.”
“So let me get this straight, Ronnie. We have two young women who have willingly allowed a rapist and a drugged-out Pit Bull into their homes.”
“That’s about the size of it. Beats anything I’ve seen.”
Kaze stood and gazed out Gova’s window. The rain had stopped and the sun began to peek through the clouds. A thought came to him but it passed and he felt as though something important was said to him in a language he did not understand.