(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)

I opened the envelope and popped the videotape into my VHS player. The screen was divided into quarters, each displaying footage from one camera—down the aisles, in the meat section, across the cash registers. Images from each of the four cameras flashed on and off in such fast motion I couldn’t track anything. Luckily, there was a function on the remote to play the tape frame-by-frame. When I did I discovered that each camera captured one frame every few seconds, and the camera views in each quadrant of the screen changed frequently to show the whole store over time. I could see various angles of people in different parts of the store, their jerky movements jumping across the screen before disappearing.

The images were grainy black-and-white video. You’d be hard-pressed to identify anyone from it. I knew that Jeanette was wearing a white sweater and jeans; the contrasts would make it easy to identify her. I had intended to fast forward through the tape to about the 4:30 or 5:00 hour, but then I noticed the date stamp on each camera was 2/11/99—three days after the attack. The tape I needed had either been recorded over or I had the wrong tape. I scrolled through it to make sure there was nothing from 2/8/99, then I popped it back into the envelope and returned to the store.

I was feeling more confident. I told myself I hadn’t actually impersonated a police officer since I never told anyone I was on the police force and certainly not a detective. If they believed I was, they were mistaken. And if anyone had asked me, I would have told them the truth and promptly sent Cagney over in my place.

I confronted the store manager again. I told him I’d scanned the tape and it had yesterday’s date on it. I needed Monday’s tape. I asked him if I could look at all the tapes from the entire week, hoping they’d been mislabeled. He went back upstairs, returned with two more tapes and handed them over. I thanked him and left, feeling like a total fraud but an arrogant, victorious fraud.

The feeling was short-lived. None of the tapes had recorded anything from February 8th.

My neighbor Gary called from the condo building next door. He said he’d found a chair with a boot print on it next to the garbage bin out back. I met him in the alley behind the house and inspected a dust-covered, discarded chair with a whole, fresh print. I had no idea if it would mean anything, but I thanked him and took the chair.

I realized that the best place to keep it was in the guesthouse with the other “evidence.” Jeanette’s place was still a crime scene—meaning no one had cleaned it up. I couldn’t imagine going in there alone but Amy had gone to work, and Rob had taken Jeanette’s siblings, Karen and David, to the hospital. I was on my own.

I got Jeanette’s keys and fumbled, shaking, while I unlocked the door. There was dried blood on the door handle and even more on the cement landing, now with footprints and wheel marks where the stretcher had passed through. I quickly pushed the door open and averted my eyes. I set the chair just inside without looking into the room; I couldn’t bear it. And I rushed back into my house, locking the doors behind me.

Just as I was about to leave for the hospital, Cagney called. She knew that Jeanette was about to have surgery and wanted us to know she was sending her love.

“You’re unbelievable,” I told her.

“What do you mean?” she said innocently.

“You know, you work all night. This is your time off. You probably just woke up.”

“It’s not like this doesn’t affect me,” she said. “Violence against women is bad enough. But random violence, well, that’s just—” she let out a heavy breath, “different.”

I told her about the surveillance tapes and the chair. I told her that Gary would let us into the condo next door to talk to the neighbors. She said that she’d spent the night questioning perps in the holding cells at the station. She told everyone in the Pacific Division of the LAPD that no matter who was picked up for petty crime or otherwise, they couldn’t be released until they spoke with her. She explained that it was a classic good cop/bad cop ploy. The bad cop arrested someone but didn’t have enough to hold them. The cops knew that but the criminals didn’t. As far as the criminals knew, they were going “downtown.”

But then the beautiful Cagney would waltz in. “I’ll make you a deal,” she’d say. “I’ll let you go, you can walk right outta here but you’ve got to answer my questions.”

They were going to walk right outta there anyway. But they didn’t know that. “You’d be surprised what you can get out of people when they think they’re going to prison unless they talk,” she told me. She’d gotten nothing so far but we’d only just started.

“Did you talk to your psychic friend again yet?” she asked.

I laughed. “I love that you’re so open to that.” I reached for the notes and read them to her. She responded to three of them:

  • He’s a burly, stocky male with dark hair. He wears a distinguishable ring on his right hand.
  • He may go after prostitutes. Question the prostitutes in the area for leads.
  • There is DNA evidence in the room. Hair follicles, fingerprints.

According to Cagney, we had something that could potentially differentiate him (the ring), we had a good new angle (the prostitutes) but so far we had no DNA. The cops didn’t lift any fingerprints when they dusted. She asked me to call John again and have him tell me exactly where the prints might be. And she was going to meet me at the house at 7 pm so we could begin to talk to neighbors and prostitutes.

…to be continued, but first, read a word from Jeanette…or go to Part 9