Stories by category: An Assault in Venice

(This story is the beginning of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice.)

I thought that my only encounter with police detectives would be on television. I was a huge fan of Cagney and Lacey in high school. Before that was The Rockford Files, Barnaby Jones and Mannix, which I saw in late night reruns. And so meeting Detective Melissa Mora was highly unexpected, both in its delightfulness and its awfulness.

She showed up one night at my house and identified herself as a detective with the LAPD. She looked very much like television’s version of a police detective—blond, beautiful, vibrant and even tender. I had spoken with a crotchety, matter-of-fact detective that morning who’d informed me that because we had no evidence, our case was basically closed. The case was certainly not closed for me but I was still too traumatized to have yet developed any kind of formidable strategy.

As I led Detective Mora to the guesthouse in my backyard, otherwise known as the crime scene, she explained that she was just following through with things the day detectives hadn’t finished. I unlocked the door and let her go in first. The place creeped me out. There was blood everywhere: pools that had dried on the carpeting where I’d knelt over Jeanette trying to comfort her until the paramedics arrived, and what must have been a gallon more splashed across the tile kitchen floor. Bloody hand and footprints, both hers and mine, had stained the walls, the phone, the door, the steps.

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

Even though all those late night cop shows I’d watched had given me the basics, I was about to be schooled in the art of becoming a police detective. I suddenly wished I’d been far more interested in piecing the clues together and solving the crime instead of being so caught up in the character development and unfolding relationships. Plot has never been my strong suit.

When Cagney returned to the crime scene the second night to tell me that she’d taken the case herself, she also revealed that the officer who’d been over to dust for prints had found none. So far, any attempt to recover evidence had been unsuccessful. But she brought with her a pair of space-age-looking night vision goggles, which she positioned over her eyes explaining that they were for the purpose of detecting sperm residue. Even though it was determined that Jeanette had not been raped, apparently some men get off on beating women, she told me as she scanned the room. Although I didn’t want this beast to have enjoyed the violence of his actions, I sure as hell wanted some DNA. I was already beginning to think like a cop. And miraculously, Cagney was already accepting me as her partner. When she removed the goggles and shook her head, she asked if I could think of anything at all that might help, no matter how bizarre or remote. That’s when I reached for the piece of paper that had been burning a hole in my back pocket.

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

Jeanette had moved from Washington, DC, by way of Ohio University where she earned a master’s degree in film studies. She arrived in Los Angeles ready to launch her career as a film director after more than a decade stage managing regional theater. My neighbors, Rob and Amy, held a barbecue in her honor knowing full well that what Jeanette cherished above all else was a sense of community.

Rob and Amy lived in the duplex next to mine. We shared a wall, a yard and a palpable affection layered with dimensions—length, depth, breadth. We grew herbs and vegetables, we composted our waste, we ate like epicureans, and we enjoyed fine wine by candlelight, firelight or starlight. We believed in the idea that only the right things happen. We asked deep questions and attempted to answer them, and when we couldn’t, we’d divine meaning from both sensible and absurd sources, measuring each with equal weight. In a place where people came carrying big, artistic dreams, ours was an enclave of the idyllic, framed by a mosaic tile garden that was literally a work of art. Raised flowerbeds ringed the perimeter, a maze of concrete benches rose up from a tapestry of colored cement, and a towering fig tree in a vase of stone proclaimed its status as centerpiece.

From the moment Jeanette entered our beachside haven, she immediately knew that she’d arrived. I had been the one to tell her that our landlord was moving his graphic design business out of the converted garage and preparing it as a rental unit. I urged her to wait while he completed the renovation, not knowing that it would fall far behind schedule. Still, Jeanette was convinced that this was her new home. She spent months sleeping on various couches, including mine, while her tiny oasis was being prepared for her. When she finally moved in, she lived there for fifteen days.

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

I tried to muscle my way into the ambulance because I didn’t want to leave Jeanette alone but the paramedics held me off, suggesting I follow behind in my car so I would have a means of getting home. It sounded perfectly logical at the time but as soon as they’d shut the doors and jetted off toward the emergency room I realized that my ability to operate a motorized vehicle was nothing short of impossible. I was on the verge of vomiting, jumpy and shaking and sweating like a crack addict in detox. And someone was calling my name.

My neighbor Amy had arrived home from work but the cops wouldn’t let her into the backyard. One of them propped me up and moved me toward her so I could explain to her why a cavalry of black-and-whites were blocking off our street, lights flashing and bouncing across the front of the houses, flashlights darting into the garbage bins and alleys. I have no idea what I told her. It was all so nonsensical anyway.

Jeanette has been assaulted. No, I don’t know why. I don’t know who did it. I don’t know if she’s going to be okay. I don’t know anything anymore. People don’t just get attacked like this for no reason. At least that’s what all these cops keep saying. They’re saying it was a boyfriend. A coworker. An enemy. They’re saying she knew this person. I’m telling them she didn’t. She lived here for fifteen days. She doesn’t know anyone.

Amy called her husband Rob who was supposed to be working late but promptly came home to escort us to UCLA Medical Center. We stopped by In-n-Out Burger on the way, and the smell of takeout only added to my sense of nausea. Rob phoned their friend Mary who lived in the valley and had gone to college with Jeanette. Mary would know how to contact Jeanette’s family.

When we arrived at the hospital, we were told that the police thought it was possible Jeanette had been a victim of gang violence. As a precautionary measure, she’d been admitted under an alias: Kandy (with a K) Diaz.

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

In some ways, I felt like I’d been communicating with Jeanette all night but I only had fragments of images, and they came at me too quickly to understand. It was as if a movie of the event was being projected onto darkened subway walls, and I was on a train that didn’t make stops. I was eager to call my friend John Edward, psychic medium extraordinaire. I knew he could help me make sense of the images and fill in the blanks.

I waited until it was light enough for me to feel comfortable being in my home alone. It would never again be the safe haven that had always embraced me so comfortably. At 5 AM I tiptoed down the stairs trying not to wake anyone. Rob and Amy were already up; they hadn’t slept much either. I wanted to shower and get a change of clothes. Rob offered to go home with me and wait until I was finished but I told him I was going to make some calls so instead he walked me across the lawn and escorted me inside. We walked slowly from room to room, opening closet doors and confirming what we both already knew: no one was there. It was a routine that would continue for months every time I entered the place.

After Rob left, I fished around in my junk drawer for the pocketknife I’d gotten with some magazine subscription and had never used. Now, and for the next six months, I would never be without it. I opened the blade and made my way back upstairs to my bedroom. The window looked down into the backyard and onto the guesthouse. I stood there for a moment in utter disbelief. It had been less than twelve hours since I’d found Jeanette, and our lives, both hers and mine, had been indelibly marked.

I sat down at my desk and called John. He’d been awakened by images, too, but he was far more equipped than I to interpret them. He gave me a barrage of information I tried my best to write down. The fragments were beginning to create a puzzle that I hoped might somehow lead to answers.

I hung up the phone. It was a start. At that point, no one from the police department had called to say they were investigating, and I wouldn’t meet Detective Mora, aka Cagney, until later that night. Honestly, I felt like I was on my own.

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

Although Cagney worked the night shift, she stopped by the following afternoon. She was going to visit Jeanette at the hospital and came to see if I wanted to go with her. It was two days after the attack, and Cagney was on the case. The night before I had given her a copy of the notes I’d taken from my conversation with John Edward, and she said she had an idea of who the perp might be. She’d spent all night looking through the computer to no avail: the guy she had in mind was already in prison. I followed her to the unmarked vehicle in front of the house.

“Should I sit in the—” I pointed to the back seat.

“You’re riding shotgun, partner,” she said, smiling.

I opened the door. There was an antiquated computer console between the seats, and a rifle jutting up from alongside it. A bouquet of flowers lay on the passengers’ side. I picked them up and got in. “You got her flowers?”

She nodded. “It’s the least I could do.”

I shook my head. “I don’t think you’re a cop,” I said. “I think you’re an angel.”

Detective Melissa Mora had been on the Los Angeles police force for just over 20 years. She lived alone. She rescued pitbulls. “You should think about getting one,” she said. She had three rescues at her house for which she was trying to find homes. “They’re actually the sweetest, most loyal dogs you can imagine. They’re incredibly gentle dogs. People don’t realize that.” She proceeded to tell me about the three she was taking care of, clearly trying to entice me.

“I have a commitment problem,” I told her.

I’m taking a brief respite today. The story of Jeanette will continue, and soon, but first…

I’m new to the blogging world, and I’d like to confess that I was never going to participate in it. I was afraid that this was just a self-indulgent landscape for bad writing and poor grammar. Perhaps this post is evidence of at least the self-indulgent part, since I am now writing about me in the present tense as if someone was interested.

I needed a creative outlet so I hung out my blog shingle (blingle?). Then I sent emails to friends hoping to pique their interest but really I expected to be writing to the sound of my keyboard strokes echoing through the cavernous internet unheard.

And then came Google Analytics, this free service you sign up for that provides statistics on how many people are visiting your site, how long they’re staying and what pages they’re reading. Um, cool!

So, like, 50 people have dropped by in the last three days. From THREE countries. Helloooooo. I’m totally blown away by that. And it begs the question… WHO are all of you? Sure, when it tells me that 8 people in Santa Monica have tuned in, I pretty much know who all of you are. But London? And Cooksville, Canada? That just thrills and, frankly, befuddles me to no end.

I’d like you to send me comments. Or, at the very least, email me. (tess [at] tessclark [dot] com)

Writing this continuing story has reminded me that in olden times (100 years ago), some writers gathered quite a readership by writing serials in magazines. Many of Charles Dickens’ novels started that way. Sherlock Holmes first appeared in that format.

When I “googled” the concept, I discovered that the serial dates back to One Thousand and One Nights (aka Arabian Nights) wherein Queen Scheherazade told stories to King Shahrivar every night to keep him from executing her. In order to stay alive, she began each story with a narrative hook and ended it with a cliffhanger to keep the King in suspense and returning night after night.

So there you have it.

…continue on to Part 7 of the story…

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

My new home was the Eartha Kitt room in the finished attic space at Rob and Amy’s, named for the dozens of pillows in wild prints that covered the floor. It acted as a sort of bunker during the long, sleepless nights, and it was also where Rob and Amy and I gathered to pray. We prayed about everything—that Jeanette would have a good night, that Detective Mora would be blessed with fruitful leads, that we would all be able to sleep, that Karen and David would find some measure of peace and comfort. We’d already experienced a series of miracles, like the fact that Jeanette had not sustained any trauma to her brain, and even more surprising was that her right eye would eventually regain normal function—something I was particularly worried about. Perhaps the best news of all was that Karen had been able to convince the hospital administrators to not transfer Jeanette to a county facility. Jeanette didn’t have health insurance, and already the medical bills were staggering.

Every night in the Eartha Kitt room, Rob and Amy and I lit candles, held hands, closed our eyes and prayed. We visualized the details of her upcoming surgery—that the bone fragments in Jeanette’s face would come together seamlessly. We blessed the surgeons and the nurses and the assistants. We filled the room with loving energy. We even prayed for the man who had done this to Jeanette. Oddly, none of us felt particularly vengeful or pitiless. In fact, I often imagined myself sitting across from him, trying to understand who he was and what horrible things in his life had led him to this. Most of the time, the only thing I had for him, besides fear, was compassion. Certainly, he was hurting. Of course, when I imagined him, he was always behind bars. If I was ever to see this man, I wanted to see him behind bars.

I awakened early on the morning of Day 4. I slipped out of the house and walked over to the grocery store across the street. It was only about 6 AM but the store was open 24 hours. Employees were in the aisles opening pallets of items and stocking the shelves. I asked one of them if I could speak with the manager. The daytime manager didn’t arrive until 9, he said. I explained to him what had happened—that there was a violent crime that had been committed in the neighborhood. I told him the police had reason to believe that the perpetrator had followed the victim home from the store, and that they were interested in seeing the surveillance tapes from that day, if they were still available. The guy explained that one tape holds 24 hours of surveillance, and that they tried to keep tapes for a week. But, he added, sometimes they forgot to take the tape out of the machine, in which case, it got recorded over. I asked him if he’d have the day manager pull the tape from Monday, and said that a detective from the LAPD would be by later to pick it up.

(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.

(This relates to a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)

Before I started publicly blogging about Jeanette and including the gruesome details of her assault from my perspective, I sent her an email. It was a—hey, I’m thinking of writing about this and I want to make sure it’s okay with you—email.

She wrote back:

Write, write, write! I will want to read it. I’d love to hear your story.

I was both excited and afraid. I was excited because I’ve wanted to write this story for a long time. From a purely story perspective, this is a knockout. But I was afraid to write it because on a personal level, this story is filled with emotional landmines and psychological trapdoors. What’s clear is that my number one goal through the event was to protect Jeanette as much as I could, and it seems as though that has continued with time.

Certain recent events have transpired that have drawn me toward the telling of this tale. Those events will be revealed over time. And the public forum of blogging was really just a tool to keep me writing, which has been highly effective.

Now that we’re public, and there are readers who keep encouraging me to continue (thank you!), I thought it would be fun to “break the fourth wall” and include a few words from Jeanette. This morning she sent me the following email…