Authors: Michael A Kahn
Sunday. Early afternoon.
Angela and I were seated across the table in the interview room at Chillicothe. I'd driven out that morning to bring her up to date on my investigation and to probe her memory of people and events that had been ignored or quickly skimmed over during the original homicide investigation but which now seemed criticalâor at least potentially critical.
I started by briefing Angela on the motions in the Son of Sam case, which were scheduled for hearing tomorrow morning. Although she nodded as I spoke, I could tell that her thoughts were elsewhere. She hadn't been all that engrossed in the case at the outset, and now seemed even less so. Not that I blamed her. The only thing at stake in the case was money. From the moment we'd discovered that her mysterious John was actually a former porn star named Billy Woodward who'd killed himself in front of Samantha Cummings's home, the lawsuit took on the air of a sideshow. Although I was sure that the high-powered lawyers for the other defendants would mount a splendid production tomorrow, I was almost as sure that the judge would deny the motions. I'd joined in their court papers more as a show of solidarity than anything else. The best strategy in the case, of course, was to exonerate Angela. Clear Angela of the murder conviction and the Son of Sam case would instantly implode, ending not with a bang but a whimper. But that was still a long shot, which meant that I had to focus on preparing a more traditional defense to the lawsuit.
I paused to refill our coffee mugs. For a treat today, I'd brought along a thermos filled with Shaw Coffee's Sumatra blend and a gooey butter cake from Lake Forest Bakery.
I shifted the conversation to Angela's meeting with “John” on the night of the murder. According to the investigation file, they met for a drink at Culpeppers, a popular restaurant and bar in the Central West End area not far from the hospital where Angela volunteered and Billy Woodward's mother was allegedly a patient.
“So the two of you had a table?”
“Did you ever leave the table? For instance, did you get up to go to the rest room?”
“I've been thinking about that night, the whole sequence of events. Yes, I definitely went to the rest room.”
“Were you feeling okay when you left the table?”
“Not dizzy or drowsy or sluggish?”
“I was fine. I remember reapplying my lipstick in the mirror before coming back to the table where Johnâuh, where that man was.”
“Tell me what happened after you got back to the table. First of all, what were you drinking?”
“Gin and tonic.”
“Was your drink full when you left to go to the bathroom?”
“It was empty when I left. I remember that I finished the drink and told John that I was going to the ladies' room.”
“And when you got back?”
“There was a fresh gin and tonic.”
“Which you drank?”
“Not all at once. I sipped it as we talked.”
“What else do you remember?”
“It was crowded. Noisy. We talked.” She frowned. “Then it all gets fuzzy.” She shook her head. “I've gone over this sequence carefully. I don't actually remember leaving Culpeppers. I don't remember anything else that night.”
“So he put it in your drink while you were in the rest room.”
She sighed. “I suppose.”
“What do you remember before things got fuzzy? About him, I mean. What was he like that night? Calm;tense?”
“More so than usual?”
“Oh, yes. He seemed jumpy. He drank more, too. Usually, we'd both have two drinksâgin and tonics for me, beers for him. But that night he was drinking Scotch on the rocks. Doubles, in fact. He had at least three.” She took a bit of the cake and chewed slowly, remembering. “I told him I'd never seen him drink Scotch before. He told me he was feeling lousy because his mother had a bad day of chemotherapy.” She stopped and shook her head, horrified. “My God, I still can't believe this. Do you really think he's the killer?”
“If someone wanted Michael Green dead and wanted to have you set up to take the fall for murder, this Woodward was a good choice to carry it out.”
“Why do you say that?”
“He was a good enough actor to get close to you. That was critical, since the best way to set you up was to make sure there were plenty of clues pointing toward you and then to make sure to eliminate all possible alibis. Drugging you was the perfect way to eliminate alibis, since he could leave you at the scene of the crime and you wouldn't remember anything that could help you out. Once he got close enough to drug you, the rest wouldn't be that hard for someone like Billy. He had a history of breaking and entering, so he'd know how to get into Michael's place while you were drugged in the car. If he was as good a burglar as he claimed he was to Samantha, then he'd be able to get in there quietly, which would make it a lot easier to kill Michael. Once he killed him, he could bring you in, make sure he got your fingerprints on plenty of incriminating surfaces, and then leave you there to sleep off the drug.”
Angela listened to my explanation with growing distress. “Good Lord.”
I took a sip of coffee and frowned. “But even assuming I'm right, even assuming he did all that, we're still missing the key link.”
“Who wanted Michael Green dead? Was it Billy, or was it someone else? If Billy, why? Jealousy at the prospect of his old girlfriend getting married? Would that be enough of a reason? Possibly. But what if someone else wanted Michael dead? Who? And why? And how in the world did they pick Billy to carry it out? And why all that elaborate effort to frame you? That makes the least sense.”
“Why do you say that?”
“If the killer was clever enough to kill Michael and to frame you for the crime, then the killer should have been clever enough to kill him without leaving any incriminating evidence. Why not break in, shoot him, and walk away? That's a whole lot easierâand a whole lot saferâthan putting together an elaborate ruse to frame you. Why take that risk?”
She shook her head weakly. “I don't know.”
“Me, neither.” I gave her a smile. “But I'm working on it. Let me ask you this. When you and this John guy talked, did you ever discuss Michael?”
“Sometimes. He knew I'd gone through a difficult divorce.”
“What about Samantha? Did you talk about her?”
Angela nodded. “I did. Some days I was so upset about the whole thing I'm sure I just rambled on about them both.”
“Did he show any particular interest in Samantha?”
Angela thought that one over. “Not really.”
I poured us some more coffee.
“Stanley Brod sends his regards,” I told her.
She smiled. “Dear Stanley. I absolutely adore that little man.”
“The feeling is mutual.”
“His wife Sarah passed last year.”
I thought back to the framed photograph on his desk and felt a pang of sorrow. “He still wears his wedding ring.”
“I so wanted to be at her funeral, to be of some comfort to Stanley. I felt so helpless locked up in here, Rachel. I wrote him a long letter about how much I loved Sarah, about all the nice things that beautiful woman had done for me over the years. He wrote me back the sweetest letter. I've saved it.”
“He believes you're innocent, Angela. That's why he's been so helpful. He arranged for me to look at several boxes of records in a storage warehouse yesterday. I found some interesting things.”
She perked up. “Tell me.”
I started with the Millennium checks, explaining the unusual system for payment of commissions. “I found all twenty-three canceled checks in the gallery's bank records. All twenty-three were endorsed by Michael Green on behalf of Millennium and deposited in a bank in the Canary Islands.”
“He had an account there?”
“Probably not in his name. The checks were payable to that Millennium outfit, which I assume was his alias. If you recall, Millennium was also receiving management fees for all those minors' trust accounts at Gateway. At the very least, it smells like tax fraud. Stanley confirmed that Michael had never reported any income from Millennium.” I frowned. “But there has to be more.”
“What do you mean âmore'?”
“If the Millennium account was Michael's account, then why was he collecting an agent's fee on the sale of Sebastian Curry's paintings? Sebastian didn't know him, and Michael apparently didn't know Sebastian. Something else was going on. Which tells me that either Michael Green wasn't the only person on that Canary Islands account or that he was using that money for other purposes.”
“What other purposes could there be?”
“I'm trying to find that out. I gave the canceled checks back to Stanley. Normally, there'd be no way to access the records of a bank in the Canary Islands. That's why people put their money there. But Michael's probate estate is still open. Since that bank account could contain assets of the estate, that might give the court enough authority to order disclosure of the bank records on the account. Stanley and the lawyer handling the estate will start that ball rolling first thing Monday.”
“I found some other interesting things in those files.”
I explained Michael Green's client connection to each of the twenty-three men who'd purchased Sebastian Curry paintings from Samantha. “I checked all twenty-three client files. He didn't seem to do much for his legal fees beyond forming a simple corporation and helping it enter into what appears to be a standard real estate contract for the purchase of a two- or three-flat apartment building in the city of St. Louis.”
“Michael handled a lot of real estate deals for his clients.”
“I understand that. What surprises me is the fee. Most lawyers will charge less than a thousand dollars to form a simple corporation. The articles of incorporation, the bylaws, the state filingsâthey're all fill-in-the-blank forms. Same with the real estate contracts. Completely standard. A thousand dollars in fees for the real estate contract like that would be high.”
“Okay,” Angela said. “And the problem was?”
“Each of those men paid your ex-husband twenty-five thousand dollars in fees for less than two thousand dollars' worth of legal services. Right around the same time, each of those men paid fifteen thousand dollars for a painting worth less than a thousand dollars. Something shady was going on.”
I paused to look through the notes I'd taken during my review of Michael Green's documents in the warehouse. “Does the Blitz Agency ring a bell?”
“Blitz?” She frowned. “What is it?”
“A detective agency. Private eye. Doesn't sound familiar?”
“No. Why should it?”
“Michael paid them four thousand dollars about three months before he was killed, which was also a few weeks before the divorce became final. I thought maybe he hired the agency in connection with the divorce.”
Angela mulled that over. “I don't know why he'd need a private eye. There was never any issue about my personal life. What did the bill say?”
“âFor services rendered.' Period. No description and no reference to any particular matter.”
“I think Michael used investigators in some of his personal injury cases.”
“I did a random check through his case files for that period. The only private investigator I found was an outfit called Metro Unlimited. I double-checked by calling Stanley from the warehouse. He ran the Blitz Agency through the accounts payable database for Michael's firm. The payment I found was the only one to Blitz.”
The beefy female guard rapped on the door. “Time's up,” she announced.
“I'll call you after court tomorrow,” I told her.
We hugged at the door. She held me tight.
“Thank you, Rachel,” she whispered in my ear.
I touched her cheek as we separated.
I watched the guard escort her down the hall and out of sight. Back to her cell, back to her life in prison. I stood there a moment and then returned to the interview room. I gathered my papers, put the coffee mugs, empty thermos, and the leftover cake back in the wicker picnic basket.
I leaned back in the chair. “My head is spinning.”
My mother nodded. “So is mine.”
Benny and I were having Sunday night dinner at my mother's house. We were on the dessert courseâa homemade gooey butter cake even richer than the one I'd bought for Angela. I'd probably drift off to sleep tonight to the gentle hum of my arteries hardening.
I'd spent the last hour filling them in on what I'd found in the storage warehouse yesterday and learned from Angela Green earlier today. I'd skipped the part about the beige Taurus yesterday. And the brown Chrysler minivan today. Turned out I wasn't the only person making the long, multi-highway drive from St. Louis to Chillicothe this morning. Someone driving a brown Chrysler minivan with tinted windows and Missouri plates (090 HHS) made the drive as wellâall the way to the Chillicothe exit. It drove past me as I pulled into the prison parking lot, turned at the next corner and disappeared. For good. I didn't see it on the drive back.
Benny was slicing himself another huge piece of cakeâhis thirdâwhile my mother looked on approvingly. He said, “You got twenty-three savvy white boys overpaying for crappy paintings from the same crappy artist and then overpaying Green to set up simple corporations to buy slum properties. What the hell is that all about?”
“I'm having Jacki check the real estate records tomorrow.”
“How about the private dick?” Benny asked.
My mother gave him a strange look. “The private what?”
“The detective agency, Mom. Blitz. I thought they might have had something to do with the divorce, but Angela didn't recognize the name.”