Dobey granted his approval for a visit to Aspen Hollow and the Chadwick School the next day. A visit to the Miller house was first on the agenda to talk to Jake about the threatening letter, and also to ask a few follow-up questions of him and his grandmother regarding their knowledge of Jessica's friends and activities.
When they arrived, Gina escorted them down the hall past the living room to a room with rich, dark woodwork and bookshelves lining the walls. There was a piano in the middle of the room, and a grouping of burgundy leather furniture near full-length arched windows that overlooked the back of the property. Jake was asleep on one of the couches, dressed in an old suit of sweats and socks, his face pallid under his dark hair.
"I'm sorry. I thought he was awake," Gina said quietly.
"He is," Jake said, blinking a time or two. "I couldn't sleep last night. I guess I must've just passed out. I knew you guys were coming out here, so I wasn't planning on pulling my Sleeping Beauty act. Gina, could you please get me some milk?"
"Of course, Mr. Jake. Would you like anything?" Gina asked Starsky and Hutch.
"We're fine," Hutch said.
"Actually, you got any chocolate milk?" Starsky asked, and Jake snorted a laugh.
"We better," he said. "Gina, make that two. Then give us about ten minutes and go get Grandma, okay?" He paused while Gina nodded and left the room. "Have a seat, guys."
"This is a beautiful room," Hutch commented.
"Thanks. I could never decide if it should be a library or a music room, so I just stuck the piano in it along with all the books. I've always loved this view of the grounds."
"Looks like a pretty extensive garden," Starsky commented, looking out the window.
"Grandma's passion. She had a little garden when we were growing up, but she never had much room. She's been building that masterpiece since we moved in here three years ago."
Gina returned with the milks and, after serving them, left the room.
"How is Mrs. Miller handling all this?" Starsky asked.
"She had a bad night last night. Didn't sleep at all. We finally sat up all night and went through old photo albums. Old pictures with my dad in them, and Jessie and me, and Grandma. Remembering good times seemed to help. She went to bed a little after dawn. She's an old lady, and I worry about what this'll do to her, if she'll get through it okay. But she's tough. Sometimes I think she's tougher than I am."
"We would like to search Jessica's room while we're here. Maybe do a walk-through of the house. We're mainly concerned at this point with any parts of the house Jessica might have used or where she would store things," Hutch said.
"That's fine. You want me to sign anything?"
"Your consent is enough," Hutch replied.
"What do you want to know about Jessie?" Jake took a few gulps of the milk, and while Starsky did the same, he did so with a lot less obvious discomfort.
"If you're not feeling well, we could come back," Starsky said. Hutch looked a bit surprised but said nothing.
"You'd have a long wait, then. Don't worry about it. My stupid ulcer is just giving me trouble. If I can do a two-hour show and a backstage party while it's acting up, I should be able to handle being questioned by the cops for a while."
"Where are the rest of the band?" Hutch asked. "I see their cars are still out front."
"I sent them out to play in the studio," Jake said, a wry smile on his face. "I have a recording studio out back. I appreciate the way they're sticking around, but I needed some time on my own."
"Is there any question in your mind that Jessica could have been playing around with the whole devil worship thing, maybe because of a friend or a boyfriend?" Starsky asked.
"No. Jessie did a few wild things that made me think she was a little too much for Grandma to handle alone while I was on the road, but it wasn't anything related to that. She thought our shows were fun, that the whole thing was, to use her words, 'like a B-movie set to music.' She was always a smart ass," he added, the assessment completely fond. "A couple of her friends would raid their parents' liquor cabinet, and they'd have house parties wherever they could get away with it. One of Jessie's friends was picked up for a DUI while Jessie was in the car. She had been drinking, too, but they let her off with a warning. I sent Grandma in alone to talk to the cops. If they'd seen me, they'd have probably put her in Alcatraz."
"Why do you say that?" Hutch asked.
"Oh, come on. If you picked up a car full of giggling, semi-drunk teenage girls, and I showed up as one of their guardians, wouldn't you assume the worst of her and her home life?"
"Maybe," Hutch said. "Unfortunately, appearances matter when they shouldn't."
"Anyhow, it was shortly after that we found out about the Chadwick School."
"How did you find out about it?" Starsky asked.
"Grandma made friends with the lady on the estate next door, and her daughters both graduated from there. One went to Harvard Law School, and the other went to some other fancy college and is a doctor now. Plus, she said it was a really nice place and the girls actually liked it, even though it was pretty strict. So we went up there and looked at it. Jessie didn't want to go, but even she didn't hate it, so we enrolled her. She'd only been there about two months. I was going to go up and see her when I got home from the tour. Shit." He took in a shaky breath, and then drank a bit more milk before brushing his hand past his eyes.
"What about Jessica's friends here in town? Who should we talk to?" Hutch asked.
"She has an address book. She was almost compulsive about entering stuff in there, making notes, keeping track of her friends and their birthdays and when she last talked to them...she used it almost like a diary." He got up and walked to the window, his back to Starsky and Hutch. "She had a boyfriend last year. I didn't like him."
"I have a younger sister. I didn't approve of her choices, either. None of them were good enough," Hutch added, and Jake was silent a moment.
"I knew why he was taking her out. He was always after tickets and backstage passes. He was a senior, and turned eighteen while they were going out--she was fifteen at the time. I walked in on them once, right in front of that fireplace," he said, turning and pointing behind him to the elegant brick and carved wood fireplace. "After I beat the shit out of him, I threw him out the front door into the bushes with his pants around his knees, the son-of-a-bitch."
"Were there any repercussions from that?" Starsky asked, barely restraining a smile at the mental image of the offender landing bare-assed in the substantial shrubs near the front door.
"He was screwing a fifteen-year-old girl. He knew enough to keep his mouth shut. Besides, I told him I'd cut his dick off and feed it to Spike if I ever saw him again within a mile of my sister. It didn't hurt that I was dressed a little more threateningly than I am now, and I had Spike with me."
"Yeah. He's around here somewhere. He's a great dog. Still thinks he's a puppy instead of a small horse."
"Did Jessica write you any letters while she was at the Chadwick School? Mention any friends by name?"
"She sent me a birthday card and a couple of postcards she bought at one of the card shops in town, but she was never a big letter-writer. Grandma always had to pound both of us over the head to get us to write a thank-you note once in a while. She was real general in her notes. She said she felt like she was doing okay in terms of her grades, she missed her friends back home, missed her room, but she liked some of the girls there. I probably have the notes in my suitcase. You can see them if you want."
"Maybe we should, just in case we pick up on something," Starsky said.
"Just keep track of them and give them back when you're done. They're the last things I have that she wrote."
"We won't enter any of them into evidence unless there's something worthwhile in them," Hutch said, and Jake nodded.
"I'd like to get that old boyfriend's name. You never know how long people can hold a grudge," Starsky said, pen poised on his notepad.
"Mike Ingalls. No relation to the 'Little House on the Prairie' gang." Just as Jake finished speaking, there was the patter of four feet on the hardwood floor, barely giving Starsky warning before the large black Great Dane enthusiastically approached him where he sat in a leather chair, its giant paws on his shoulders, its large head just inches from his own. A moment later, Spike licked his cheek and neck enthusiastically. "Spike, come on, get off him." Jake grasped the back of the dog's collar and tugged gently. Spike obeyed, barking a couple times and jumping up on Jake instead, who seemed prepared for the assault and patted the dog affectionately. "He must've liked your aftershave. He goes after perfume or aftershave until he figures out it doesn't taste as good as it smells."
"He's huge," Starsky said, still frozen in place. Small, cuddly dogs were cute. Big black dogs who were taller than he was standing on their hind legs were animals he had no interest in getting to know better.
"He was a huge puppy. That's why I picked him out. When he was little, he was all feet." The dog finally tired of its up-stretched position, and got down on all four paws again. Jake stroked his head. "When I brought him home, he started running in the upstairs hall, and he slipped and slid on all four paws almost down to the door of Jessie's room. It was a toss-up who was more scared--her or him."
"He makes quite a prop in all those photos," Hutch said, stroking the dog's large sleek head when it approached him. "My partner here isn't too fond of big dogs," Hutch added, earning him an irritated look from Starsky.
"Oh, you've seen the latest round of magazine covers." Jake made devil horns with both hands and crossed his arms over his chest, glaring at them the way he had been glaring on the cover photos. He snorted a laugh, though it failed to resound with any real happiness. He relaxed his pose and sat down again. "Nothing like making an ass of yourself and having it captured on film."
"The kids like that stuff," Starsky said.
"Yeah, well, who cares? I'd give all this shit back and move back into that crummy little house of Grandma's if I could have Jessie back, alive."
"When we were here before, one of the guys mentioned a letter from a fan that was disturbing and threatening. Do you still have that?" Hutch asked.
"Oh, yeah. Nick said you wanted that," Jake said, rising and going to a roll-top desk situated against the nearby wall, not far from the windows. He raised the roll top to reveal a rat's nest of papers, unopened mail, and other assorted items. "I'm not good about opening my mail," he said, rummaging through it until he found what he was looking for, handing the envelope with its tattered upper seam to Hutch. "There're lots of prints on it now. We all handled it at the time, plus I have a secretary who does my fan mail unless it's something really unusual. You don't seriously think this nutcase has anything to do with Jessica's death?"
"Probably not, but we can't leave anything to chance," Starsky responded, reading the letter over Hutch's shoulder. "He's one seriously ill young man, isn't he?"
"The letter gave me the creeps. He even found the home address, which isn't easy to do." Jake returned to his seat on the couch.
"That's a point," Hutch said, checking the envelope. "How would he get it? Who else has it?"
"My family, but that's pretty much Jessie, Grandma, and a couple of cousins in Seattle. I haven't heard from my mother in years. I don't know if she has it or not. The guys in the band have it, my manager, my secretary, my household staff, obviously, and the administration at the Chadwick School, but that's about it. Otherwise, I get my bills at a PO box, and my manager receives anything else that demands a street address. I'm a very private person. I don't want fans camped out on my front lawn or climbing the fence, and I don't want Grandma harassed or frightened by any of that when I'm not here."
"We got it through the DMV," Starsky said. "Wonder if this kid has access to records like that? Jake Miller is the only name you operate under, right?"
"If I were going to have a stage name, I think I could have come up with something more exciting," he said, smiling. "Nope, Jake Miller is it. My parents named me 'Jake,' so it's not a nickname for 'John.' I never saw a reason to turn into somebody else when I finally did make it."
"Are you ready for me?" Ida Miller's voice came from the doorway of the room. "Gina said you wanted to speak with me." The elderly woman was dressed in a rich paisley velvet hostess robe and matching slippers, her white hair neatly styled, a hint of lipstick dispelling a bit of the pallor of her coloring.
"Yes, thank you, Mrs. Miller," Starsky spoke up as all three men rose. She sat on the other end of the couch Jake had occupied, and Spike ambled over to her, collecting his pat on the head.
"Jake's been giving us a little more information about Jessica's friends, her school...details like that," Hutch explained. "You were with her every day before she went to the Chadwick School. What can you tell us about her friends, any boyfriends, unwanted admirers...?"
"Jessica was popular. She was very pretty and there were boys calling the house quite often, especially if they knew Jake was on tour. None of them wanted to get him on the phone."
"Any special reason?" Starsky asked.
"Probably because he gave every one the Spanish Inquisition before he'd call Jessica to the phone," she said, casting an affectionate look in Jake's direction. "He was worse than his father would have been." She paused. "Jessica was very selective with her friends, though, because she wanted to weed out the ones who were just interested in getting close to Jake or the band."
"Do you know if any of her friends were into anything strange? Any kind of...Ouija boards, devil worship--even if they were just playing around at it?" Starsky asked.
"I never saw anything like that, and Jessica never mentioned it. She talked to me about most everything, with the exception of kissing and sex, because she seemed to feel I had become a grandmother without learning anything about the subject," she added, smiling. "But I suppose that's natural for young people."
"Don't feel bad, Grandma. She didn't think I knew anything about it, either," Jake said, smiling faintly. "Or much of anything else, for that matter. When I became her guardian, I lost all my credibility," he said facetiously.
"When boys called the house, were there any she ever told you she didn't want to talk to? Anyone who was pursuing her that she seemed afraid of or wanted to avoid?" Hutch asked.
"Occasionally she'd tell me that if so-and-so called, she wasn't home, but the most she ever said by way of explanation was that 'he's a nerd' or 'what a creep'--it was nothing specific, and she never seemed afraid. The only time she seemed really nervous was in the first letter I received from her after she started school at Chadwick."
"You never said anything about that, Grandma," Jake said, looking puzzled.
"She asked me not to. She thought you'd overreact and want to bring her home, and she was making friends there and wanted to stay."
"What was she afraid of?" Starsky probed, sensing an impending family squabble.
"The school is within walking distance from a lovely little business district with a lot of shops and a movie theater and a few restaurants. If the girls have permission from their parents to leave the grounds, they are allowed to go into town unchaperoned during the daytime hours on the weekends."
"I didn't give Jessie that permission, Grandma," Jake said.
"I did," she admitted. "Before you get all upset with me, think about it. Jake, you were putting her in prison."
"Damned expensive prison with nice accommodations."
"When you were sixteen, would you have wanted to be cooped up on a private school campus all weekend? She was too far away to run home every weekend, like some of the local girls did, so she'd have been sitting there with nothing to do."
"So you just gave her permission to wander around a strange town by herself?"
"The girls have to sign out and back in, and they have to go in a group of at least three. It's a sort of forced buddy system. They've allowed it for years without any problems. Jessica didn't disappear from one of those trips."
"Mrs. Miller, what did Jessica say in her letter? And do you still have it?" Hutch prodded.
"She mentioned that while they were in town, someone she described as a 'psycho-looking guy' followed them around, tried to talk to her. She didn't say a whole lot, but the very fact she thought to mention it...she seemed unnerved by it. She said he was dressed in black, with dyed-looking hair. I have the letter upstairs. I'll get it for you."
"Did you talk to her by telephone about him?" Starsky asked.
"I asked her if she'd seen him again, because she'd gone into town a couple of times since she mentioned it in the letter. She said she'd seen him around, but he hadn't approached her or her girlfriends again."
"That could be helpful," Hutch said. "We would also like to see Jessica's address book if you have it."
"She took her address book to school with her. But I'll get you the letter." She rose from her chair and left the room.
"Son-of-a-bitch," Jake muttered, standing up and pacing.
"Being confined to the grounds is a little rough for a kid her age," Starsky said.
"Oh, give me a break. That's like saying being confined to Club Med for a week is a little rough. You haven't seen this place. Beyond that, every other weekend, I sent a driver for her to bring her back here so she could hang out at the mall with her friends, visit grandma, do whatever she wanted. The only thing I asked was that she stay put on the weekends she was there."
"I'm sure your grandmother didn't mean any harm," Hutch said.
"I love my grandmother dearly, and I'm sure she didn't, but sometimes I wish she'd have let me be the fucking guardian here and not keep going around behind me and loosening up the rules. Nobody knows better than I do what's out there for an underage girl to get into--and it's not just boys and sex. It's the drinking and drugs, and Jessie's spoiled little rich pals were into all of the above up to their necks. I didn't want my sister getting into a bad situation before she was ready to handle it. That worked really well, didn't it?" Jake shook his head. "I'm going for a walk. If you need to talk to me again, just give me a call. Come on, Spike." With that, man and dog exited the room through the glass doors that led onto the patio. A few minutes later, he was walking briskly across the grounds, the dog trotting happily beside him.
"We should probably head up to Aspen Hollow," Hutch said, checking his watch. "We're going to be late getting up there to meet with the detective on the case, and visit the Chadwick School." After Mrs. Miller returned with the letter, Starsky and Hutch took time to search Jessica's room thoroughly, but elected to forego lingering longer for a more extensive search of the house at that time, and started driving north toward the posh girls' school.
The drive north was picturesque on the sunny autumn day. The farther north they drove, the more they saw of fall color still clinging to the trees on Halloween. Mostly muted shades of gold and brown now, it was set alight by the sunshine. As they approached Aspen Hollow, just a short drive north of San Francisco, it was almost six o'clock. Starsky had utilized the Torino's big engine to make great time on the freeway, despite their late start.
"We'll have to find some quaint little inn to stay over," Starsky said, relishing the thought. He'd spent the entire drive there trying to ignore the sensations prolonged sitting was evoking as the seam of his tight jeans rubbed over his somewhat tender opening.
"Dobey'll only approve money for a cheap motel, and you know it," Hutch stated flatly.
"So what? We'll pay for it. Not every day I get a chance to stay someplace romantic with my partner in the line'a duty," Starsky replied, grinning at his partner. Hutch had to smile.
"Can't argue with that logic, but we'll have to get separate rooms or one with twin beds, being it's on the job, so to speak."
"Twin beds are no problem. When we're doing it, we don't need any more room than a twin bed."
"When you put it that romantically, how could anyone refuse you?"
"Facts are facts, Blondie."
"You missed the turn."
"I was thinking about having sex with you in a twin bed. You're lucky I didn't drive on the sidewalk." Starsky pulled over near the curb in front of a little dress shop, probably one of the places Jessica Miller had visited with her friends not too long ago. Turning the car around, he followed the tree-lined street back to the corner and turned off Main Street onto Aspen Drive, where the police station was located. Pulling around back to the small parking lot, they were not surprised to see that the building was about a hundred years old, and the two cop cars parked out back looked like they were not much newer. There were a few other unmarked cars and a couple of empty spaces. Starsky parked and cut the engine.
"Not exactly a metropolitan PD, are they?" Hutch observed. "Well, we're almost an hour late, so we should probably get going."
"I have a feeling Jake Miller was right about this department. Wonder when the last homicide case was investigated?"
"When those cars were new, probably," Hutch said, jerking his head toward the twenty-year-old cars they were passing on their way to the door.
There was a portly, aging uniformed officer with gray hair and granny glasses at the front desk. He looked up at them, his eyes narrowing.
"Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson, Bay City PD. We're here to meet with Detective Tanner," Starsky said, showing his ID as Hutch did the same.
"Have a seat." The man indicated a few worse-for-wear plastic chairs about ten feet from the desk. "I'll ring his desk."
"Thanks," Hutch said.
They waited while the man called Tanner's desk, and the detective himself came downstairs and greeted them. Tanner was about ten years their senior, with neatly trimmed dark hair, wearing a white shirt and loosened striped tie with dark dress pants and well-polished shoes.
"Starsky and Hutchinson?" he asked, and the two men rose to greet him. After handshakes were exchanged, he motioned to them to follow him upstairs. "The Bay City PD must be a lot more relaxed than Aspen Hollow," he said.
Dressed in jeans, their favorite leather jackets, and casual shirts, Starsky and Hutch definitely didn't fit the image of formally dressed detectives.
"The kind of beat we work, it would be hard to keep our suits tidy," Starsky retorted, and Hutch stifled a grin. "Besides, we do a lot of undercover work."
"In a bright red car with a white stripe? The perps in Bay City must be even dumber than the ones here, and that's going the distance," he said. "Coffee?"
"No, thanks," Hutch replied, tiring of Tanner's snide comments. "We've got some questions about Matthew Proctor," he added.
"I've got some questions, too, about how Jessica Miller and one of our kids ended up in your morgue."
"Jessica Miller was technically one of your kids, too. She was in school here," Starsky said.
"Matthew hooking up with that girl was probably what got him killed. It's no secret what kind of stuff her brother's into."
"Meaning what?" Starsky asked, feeling a little defensive of the musicians they'd gotten to know beyond the flashy, ominous facade they showed the world.
"Spewing blood, glorifying the devil? I'd just like to know what kind of judge would give custody of a child to someone like that."
"Maybe one who took the trouble to look beyond a little flash and fake stage blood," Hutch responded. "We have what we need for now about Jake Miller and his associates. They've been fully cooperative. The missing piece, for us, is Matthew Proctor."
"Matt was seventeen, a senior. He's been in some minor scrapes with the law. Mainly since he started dressing like a delinquent and listening to that heavy metal crap all the time. Beth and Jim have had a real time with him lately," he said.
"And Beth and Jim are?" Starsky asked.
"His parents. I've known the family for years. Went to school with Beth and Jim both. They're a nice family. Matt was a good kid, just misguided."
"What do you know about his relationship to Jessica?" Hutch asked.
"According to his parents, they would see each other on weekends when she'd come into town with her friends. He didn't leave any notes for them or indicate he was going out of town with her, but he did take his mother's car to do it, and he talked to his friends about a Judas Priest concert in Los Angeles he wanted to take her to. They were going to drive down there, go to the concert, do whatever it is teenagers do when they're away from home, and then eventually come back and 'face the music' with his parents and the schools."
"So he did go pick Jessica up with the fake note?" Hutch asked.
"Yes. I showed his photo to the secretary at the Chadwick School, and she said that was the young man who'd picked Jessica up. He presented a note that was a damn good forgery of Jake Miller's handwriting." He opened a thick file and handed them a bagged note. "This is Jake Miller's signature on Jessica's admission records." He slid a copy of the form closer to where they sat near his desk. "See what I mean?"
"It's a good fake, that's for sure," Starsky said.
"If it's a fake. We're having a handwriting expert verify that."
"You think Jake wrote that note?" Hutch asked, frowning.
"Given what his band is into and how the kids died, maybe he's got more to do with this than you think. He gets the girl out of school, gets her and her boyfriend into the middle of something kinky... Matt was bragging he had backstage passes to the Judas Priest concert. Maybe Miller got those for him."
"You got an awful lot of maybes going on there, Tanner," Starsky said. "Jake Miller was on tour when his sister died." Starsky flipped back through the notes he'd taken during a conversation with 666's tour manager. "His whereabouts can be documented from the time she disappeared until she was found. He was in an arena in Phoenix in front of 20,000 people at the estimated time of her death." Starsky looked up. "I think your theory is a bit shaky. I hope it wasn't the foundation for your investigation."
"It was one possibility. I haven't gotten such direct access to her brother and his management as you apparently have."
"Did you ask him? I understand he called here?" Hutch probed.
"Oh, he called. Interrogating me like he was interviewing me for my own damn job, arrogant asshole."
"He's the first family member of a murder victim who ever had an emotional reaction with the cops here?" Starsky asked. "Or is this the first murder case the Department's had in a while?"
"Are all you big-city people this rude? Miller was convinced we didn't know how to find our own asses with both hands and a roadmap. I believe he said something to that effect."
"You didn't answer the question," Hutch said evenly.
"This is the second murder case I've investigated. I'm sure you've dealt with dozens more and have all the answers on how we should handle this."
"If we had all the answers, we wouldn't be here," Starsky said. "You've got half the puzzle, and we've got the other half. Now we can waste a lot of time pissing each other off, or we can pool our resources and figure out what happened to these kids."
"I'm all for that," Tanner said.
"Have you investigated Matthew Proctor's family?"
"Beth and Jim? Are you serious? He was their son."
"But you were pretty convinced Jake Miller could have ritualistically raped and murdered his own sister," Hutch said.
"I didn't say I was convinced he did it himself, but he could have been the connection that got them into the bad situation. That's all I said. The Proctors aren't into anything like that. Matt was an honor student, and he has two sisters who graduated with honors before him. Even after he started getting into scrapes here and there, he was a good student. His problem was mostly attitude."
"Before she disappeared, Jessica wrote a letter to her grandmother about a weird guy who followed her around when she was in town with her friends. Did the school contact the Department about that?"
"No. This is the first time I've heard about that."
"Any thoughts on who that weirdo might be? I'm hoping Jessica's friends have a description for us, because the letter isn't very specific. She said he was dressed in all black, with dark hair that looked like it was dyed, and that he had 'creepy eyes'," Starsky recalled from the letter in Jessica's fat, ornate teenage penmanship.
"Did you happen to find an address book among Jessicaís things in her room here at the school?" Hutch asked.
"Yes, I did. More like a diary, but it didnít say anything about any weird guy. She had all sorts of entries and observations about her friends, but they were all pretty superficial--typical teenage girl stuff." He opened a desk drawer and pulled out the address book, tossing it on the desk. "You can read it if you want, or take it back with you to go in your case file."
"Thanks," Starsky said, taking the book and flipping through the pages. "Anyone around here fit her description of the creepy guy?"
"There are a few kids at the high school that could fit that description. We can take a trip over there tomorrow, when school's in session. That is, if you're staying over."
"Can you recommend a good place?" Starsky asked.
"There's a bed and breakfast not far from the Chadwick School. They do a big business whenever there's an event there the parents come to town for. Should be pretty quiet on Halloween."
"Thanks, we'll check it out," Hutch said. "You coming with us to Chadwick?"
"I can. I've got things wrapped up here for the day."
"Let's go," Starsky suggested. "Sorry we kept you waiting. We stopped off to talk to the Millers again and we got a late start."
They headed out to the old blue sedan Tanner drove, and all piled in, Tanner driving, Hutch in the passenger seat, and Starsky in the back seat.
"You feel pretty good about Miller? That he's not involved?" Tanner asked.
"If he's involved, I'm hanging up my instincts as a cop," Hutch said. "He's about as destroyed as any family member of a victim I've seen."
"We're a pretty conservative community. These are mostly decent, church-going people. The kind of music he's involved with, the violence and the Satanism...families around here worry about the effect of that on their kids."
"Yeah, well, kids like to make their parents worry about rock and roll; that's nothing new," Starsky said.
"This isn't the same thing as Elvis or The Beatles," Tanner said.
"No, but each generation's got to go further to shock the one before it," Hutch observed. "Parents who grew up with Elvis and The Beatles aren't going to be shocked by long hair and a little gyration. Parents who grew up with Alice Cooper aren't going to be shocked by a little gore on stage."
"You have any kids, Tanner?" Starsky asked.
"Two boys and a girl. My oldest is fifteen. I never thought I'd be happy that he wanted to wear eyeliner and lipstick and tease his hair, but I guess if he wants to be like Duran Duran, or the Flock of Turkeys or whoever they are, it's better than getting into this stuff."
"I think you mean Flock of Seagulls," Hutch corrected, snickering.
"Whatever," Tanner responded, smiling in spite of himself. "My daughter is twelve and my younger boy is nine. How about you two?"
"We're married," Starsky responded, smiling to himself at Hutch's flustered glance at him in the rearview mirror. "To the job," he added. "We've had some mistresses on the side, though."
"Probably more job to be married to in the city," Tanner said, turning off the main road to pass between two brick pillars with an arched sign overhead that read "Chadwick School for Girls."
In the faint light of dusk, the happy faces of carved jack-o-lanterns greeted them at the school's main entrance. The buildings were obviously at least a century old. The main administration building was a red brick structure with white pillars in front. Three other buildings comprised the school's campus, all of similar style. One was a dormitory, another housed classrooms, and a third was alight and abuzz with the sound and activity surrounding what appeared to be a Halloween party. After parking the car in the small lot in front of the administration building, they got out and climbed the cement steps to the doors. Two teenage girls dressed as witches came hurrying out the door, excusing themselves for nearly bowling over the visitors, giggling again as soon as they were down the steps and headed for the party.
"Her classmates seem real torn up about her death, don't they?" Starsky said.
"Maybe the administration thought they should stick to their plans for the party, keep things normal for the rest of the girls," Hutch said.
"When one of my classmates died in a car accident, we closed the high school for everyone to go to the funeral, and we postponed homecoming," Tanner said, sighing. "Guess these spoiled little ladies can't be troubled to postpone their party."
There was very little activity in the building that housed the administrative offices and the library, but a light burned in the office in the front corner of the building, and the door to the reception area was left open for them. Tanner tapped on the door frame.
"Mrs. Walling?" Tanner called from the door. A moment later, a tall, statuesque woman with upswept graying hair walked out to greet them. Dressed in a blue business suit, she looked every bit the part of a girls' school headmistress.
"Gentlemen," she greeted. "I was expecting you some time ago."
"That was our fault, ma'am," Starsky said. "We were held up questioning other witnesses back in Bay City, and it took us longer to get up here than we expected." Tanner introduced Starsky and Hutch, and after the amenities were complete, Mrs. Walling's demeanor seemed to relax a bit.
"Don't worry about the time. You've only saved me from standing amidst two hundred squealing girls and a lot of loud music--I was able to delegate that pleasure to a few of my staff. We're having our annual Halloween party tonight. Please, come in, sit down," she said, directing them back to her private office. Decorated in shades of blue and white, with French provincial furnishings, the office was stylish proof that the administration put those tuition dollars to good use for their own comfort as well as for their students' education.
"We'll get right to the point, Mrs. Walling," Hutch said. "What can you tell us about Jessica Miller and her departure from the school?"
"I've arranged for some of Jessica's classmates to meet with us when our private interview is over. They are the girls who routinely went into town with her. I hope you won't mind that some of them are in costume for the party."
"No, we wouldn't want to interfere with that," Starsky said. "It doesn't appear that Jessica Miller's death cast much of a pall over the festivities."
"The Halloween party is an annual tradition. The girls prepare for it for weeks. We felt it best to allow them to continue. They're planning a moment of silence for Jessica at midnight." Mrs. Walling opened a file folder on her tidy desk. "Jessica was an all-A student, or she would have been. She was only here long enough to earn midterm grades. She was a bit on the wild side, but given her family background, that didn't come as a surprise."
"Meaning?" Hutch asked.
"I thought you'd met her brother?" she asked, confused.
"Yes, we've met him. He seemed pretty strict where Jessica was concerned," Hutch replied.
"Well, in any event, she was not opposed to sneaking off the grounds at night to meet her boyfriend from the local high school. She was caught twice, but heaven knows how many other times she got away with it."
"How free are the girls to go and come?" Starsky asked.
"This isn't a maximum security prison with searchlights and guard towers, Detective Starsky. We have rules, and the girls are disciplined for breaking them, but a certain amount of their conduct is reliant on their honor. Jessica had very little when it came to doing what she wanted. She was a spoiled girl with little regard for the rules. So if her brother appeared strict to you, it was only in connection with screening her boyfriends. She was frankly very overindulged and expected a level of luxury that even this school didn't quite live up to."
"She came from a very privileged home life, that's obvious," Starsky said. "But I assume most of your students do."
"Yes, they do. Jessica was highly intelligent and creative. She enjoyed art, and showed promise with her painting. Her teacher was quite impressed. She was a fine singer and joined the choir as soon as she arrived. I don't mean to speak ill of the dead. She was a sweet girl in a lot of ways, and a very promising young woman. I think with a little more self-discipline and a bit of structure, she would have gone far in her future endeavors. Unfortunately, we had very little time to work with her."
"You didn't see her leave?" Tanner asked.
"No, you know I didn't, Detective. My secretary accepted the note and approved her absence. Elaine overstepped her authority, and she has been reprimanded for that. I have already been informed by Mr. Miller's attorney that the family will be suing the school."
"Jessica mentioned in a letter being bothered by a strange man while she was in town. It's not really clear if he was a high-school-age kid, or a grown man, but she said he was dressed in black and had dyed hair, and she described him as a 'psycho' type. Have any of the other girls made similar complaints?"
"No. We would have investigated it or called in the police. The girls wouldn't have been allowed to go into town if we'd known such a problem existed."
"Doesn't that policy of letting the girls move around on their own cause problems periodically?" Starsky asked.
"In our entire fifty-year history, it has led to two unfortunate incidents. This one, and a pregnancy situation fifteen years ago. Letting the girls have some freedom that is approved and within the rules makes them less likely to sneak out at night when it isn't nearly as safe."
"May we speak to Jessica's friends now?" Hutch asked. "They might be able to shed some light on this situation with the man who was following them around."
"Of course. We'll meet in the conference room across the hall," she said, rising and leading the way, unlocking a well-appointed room that looked like an executive board room. "Please wait here, and I'll be back with the girls shortly."
"Wonder how much a year in this place sets you back?" Tanner mused as he ran his hand along the top of one of the fine leather chairs that surrounded the long oval table.
"Jake Miller considered it expensive, so I'd say plenty, given his obvious willingness to spend money," Starsky said, thinking of the elaborate house, three expensive sports cars registered in his name, and the opulence of the house's interior appointments.
"We're going to have to tread carefully with these girls if we want them to talk. They're all going to be afraid of getting in trouble with their parents if they know something about Jessica's late-night excursions or the weird guy they met in town," Hutch said.
"Maybe we should ask Mrs. Walling to wait outside," Tanner suggested.
"Good thinking," Hutch concurred, and Starsky nodded.
A few minutes later, eight teenage girls arrived dressed in various Halloween costumes, and took seats at the conference table, Mrs. Walling standing just inside the door.
"Good evening, ladies. I'm Detective Tanner of the Aspen Hollow Police Department, and these are Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson from the Bay City Police Department. I'm sure Mrs. Walling has talked to you about Jessica Miller's death and informed you why we've called you together. Mrs. Walling, we'd like to ask you to step outside while we talk to the girls."
"Excuse me?" she asked, looking aghast.
"We're going to be asking Jessica's peers to not only discuss her behavior, but to possibly reveal things about their own activities that might help us with our investigation," Hutch explained. "We feel the girls might be more comfortable speaking openly without fear of penalties from the school."
"I will not leave these girls to be questioned by the police without my being present. Girls, if you reveal something that is against the rules in order to help the investigation, it will not be held against you, and you will not be punished for it. However, I must underscore that this in no way should be taken as a relaxation of the rules as they apply to any future activities. Do I make myself clear?"
A chorus of "Yes, Mrs. Walling" and accompanying nodding heads followed.
"You may proceed, gentlemen," Mrs. Walling said, standing with her fingers twined loosely in front of her.
"Thank you, Mrs. Walling," Tanner said. "I'll give you two the floor for now," he said, sitting in an empty chair.
"We're hoping you can fill in some blanks for us," Hutch began, smiling. "Jessica mentioned in a letter to her grandmother a 'psycho-looking guy' that she ran into in town when she was there with some of you. Who else was present for that outing?"
Four hands went up.
"Your name?" he asked the first girl.
"Stephanie Anne Taylor," she said. A pretty girl with blonde hair and blue eyes, she was dressed as a princess, tiara and all.
"I'm Mary Klein," the second girl volunteered. Another blonde, she was a bit taller than the first girl and wore a costume imitating one of Madonna's video outfits.
"Jennifer Halston," the third girl said, smiling. "My dad's the lawyer, not the designer," she added. "He always says that." A redhead with freckles and green eyes, Jennifer had a mischievous grin, and the fact she was dressed as a Leprechaun didn't do much to dispel that image.
"Renee Chambers," the fourth girl said, her expression quite serious. With auburn hair and large brown eyes, she looked striking in the all-black witch costume she wore. "Jessica was a terrific person. I really, really miss her."
"We all do," Stephanie said, nodding somberly. Renee shot her a look that was not lost on the detectives.
"If we all did, we wouldn't be having this stupid party."
"Your classmates planned for this all year, Renee. I'm sure Jessica would have wanted us to continue," Mrs. Walling said.
"Yes, I'm sure she'd have wanted us to have a party and dress up in insipid costumes like a bunch of ten-year-olds while she's lying on a slab somewhere."
"Please forgive Renee's attitude. She took the news very badly," Mrs. Walling said.
"You don't have to apologize for me. And of course I took the news badly. What happened to Jessica was horrible. We should all take that badly."
"If we could go back to discussing the man who was bothering you when you were in town...?" Starsky probed.
"He wasn't a man exactly. He was a high school guy, I'd say," Mary stated. "We'd seen him in town before, but it wasn't until Jessica was with us that he decided to start following us around and trying to strike up a conversation."
"Jessica thought he probably knew about her brother's band, and that's why he targeted her," Jennifer said. "I told her I figured he just thought she was cute."
"Did he threaten her, proposition her, just talk about the weather? What kind of approach was it?" Hutch asked.
"A totally gross come-on. He said he had some great concert tickets and backstage passes to meet Motley Crue. Jessica told him to get lost, and that she'd already met Motley Crue twice last year," Renee said, smiling. "He was, like, speechless."
"Was that the only time they talked?" Starsky asked.
"That was the first time, but after that, we saw him every time we went into town. Jessica complained that she thought he was following her a couple of nights when she snuck out to meet Matt," Jennifer said. "I didn't take that seriously. I thought she was just having a case of the jitters from walking back to the school in the dark by herself."
"Do you girls do that often? Walk back and forth to town in the dark?" Tanner asked. The girls all exchanged looks, even those who hadn't spoken yet.
"It's been done a few times by some girls," Stephanie said, apparently feeling she had artfully avoided self-incrimination in front of the headmistress. "It's really pretty safe. I've never heard of anyone getting hurt."
"So how did this thing with the strange guy and Jessica escalate?" Hutch asked.
"He was always following us, always hanging out where other kids hung out, but always by himself. And always dressed in black. He wore black eyeliner and sometimes black lipstick. Even on warm days, he wore a long black raincoat," Renee said. "He'd make these dorky come-ons to her about getting her in to meet a band, or telling her she could drive his father's Porsche--all kinds of crazy stuff to get her to pay attention to him. The last time we saw him, she got really, really mad, and she spun around and said, 'Why don't you crawl back in your box of dirt and close the lid before you get sunburned, you psycho creep?' It was great," Renee concluded. "He never bothered us again."
"Could you describe this guy, work with a police artist on a good sketch?" Starsky asked.
"No need," Stephanie responded. "Jessica drew him. Unless her brother already came for her stuff," she said, looking at Mrs. Walling.
"No, he hasn't, but Detective Tanner has already searched her room. Did you find a sketch?" Mrs. Walling asked.
"Nothing like that. I found a sketch book, but there was nothing like what you're describing. It was mainly landscapes."
"She might've turned it in for art class," Jennifer suggested. "We had to draw a head-and-shoulders portrait, and it was a really good sketch. Jessica was thinking about turning it in, so maybe she did."
"I could check the classroom," Mrs. Walling offered.
"That would be helpful," Starsky said. "Jennifer, would you recognize the sketch?"
"Why don't you go with Mrs. Walling to track down the sketch while we finish up here?" he suggested. Mrs. Walling gave him a long look, then apparently decided the detectives posed no real threat to her students, and agreed to go look for the sketch.
After Jennifer and the headmistress left, Hutch lost little time posing some additional questions about Matthew Proctor. The girls said he'd only been dating Jessica about a month, since just shortly after she arrived there, but that the relationship seemed to heat up quickly. Jessica had confided to Renee that Matt was going to take her to a concert in LA, and that he had faked a permission slip from Jake to get her out of school, and that Jessica was excited about it.
"This is the drawing," Mrs. Walling announced as she and Jennifer rejoined the group.
"Are you all in agreement that this looks like the guy?" Tanner asked. All the girls looked at the sketch as Starsky held it up, and nodded in agreement.
"We've got a first-rate description and sketch to go by, then," Hutch concluded. "You've all been very helpful. We appreciate your cooperation."
"Do you think this guy did it?" Renee asked.
"It's too early for us to have a real theory. We need a lot more information about him. He's certainly someone high on our list to talk to," Starsky explained.
Jake pressed the button on the CD player, the sounds of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto Number Six filling the bedroom. The new musical gadget was grossly overpriced and would probably go the way of the 8-track, but the sound was crystal clear, and it beat rewinding his tapes hunting for the track he wanted. Dressed in his favorite red silk robe, he was doing all he could to relax but was having little luck achieving any semblance of the peace of mind that had been shattered by his sister's violent death.
He sat on the foot of the bed and rested his face in his hands, letting the utter exhaustion wash over him. Sleep was elusive, and the only time he seemed able to catch a few winks was when he was supposed to be awake. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw Jessica's face. And when he slid into sleep, all he could hear were her screams. Screams he'd never really heard, but that haunted him, nonetheless. Images he never wanted to confront were there, making him face what she had suffered and how she had died.
Civilized barbarism, that's what funerals are, he thought, looking at the papers he'd brought home from their trip to the posh funeral home that would handle Jessica's arrangements. Fancy social arrangements for people to come and gawk at a corpse...making a party out of the most vile and ungodly of occasions. He'd dressed up the horror and tried to make it beautiful with overpriced amenities and a casket that would have surprised Jessica herself with the mere opulence of it. But in the end, it was still horror, and trying to make it pretty was like dressing a hag in a prom dress. You could do its hair and pin a corsage on it and dance with it, but in the end, you'd still have a hag.
Rising and pacing again, he wondered if he was losing his mind. Or if he would finally lose it when the combination of no sleep and the horrible paths his imagination took caught up with him. Looking at the photo on his dresser of Jessica, his grandmother, and himself pierced him like a knife in his heart, but the tears wouldn't come anymore. He was either too exhausted or he'd worn out the tear ducts. Men weren't supposed to cry like girls, so maybe they didn't have the same tear supply women did.
He found himself laughing at that, an insane, almost incoherent chortling, not unlike the babbling of madmen as they pace the floors of asylums in their hospital gowns and little blue slippers.
It was a breath more than a spoken word, something he felt in his heart as well as heard. And the voice was unmistakable.
His voice sounded loud and absurd compared to a whisper that, logically, must have been something in the music playing on his battered psyche.
All he could hear now was the music of the concerto and the underlying silence of the house. His grandmother had been in bed for hours, and he would have known her voice. It was not his grandmother.
"Jessie, please... If you can hear me, let me know. I'm so sorry, Jessie."
He watched, paralyzed, as the paperwork he'd brought home from the funeral home and laid on the end of his dresser swirled in the air like a tornado of paper, finally coming to rest on the floor. His back pressed against the wall, he was transfixed by the sight.
Then, a vivid, blood-red diagonal line crossed the pile of disarrayed papers. Then another, and another, and another, and another until a five-pointed star stood out in stark contrast against the white papers.
"Don't go," the ghost voice whispered, just as everything went black.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2...
|SHSVS Home||||||Zebra3 Productions||||||Episode Main Page|