by Fannie Feazell (Scribe)
The Hunter Hunted
Assistant District Attorney Tyler Blye sat back in his desk chair and stared at the two detectives sitting across from him. "You went to his home? To Stephen Baxter's HOME?"
Mankowitz shrugged. "You think it would have been better to tell him to come down to the station?"
"I think it would have been better to call him and ask him, POLITELY, if he'd be willing to come in and assist us in an investigation."
Connie Vandel grimaced, and looked at her partner. "Looks like you were right--we have a snowball's chance in hell of getting a warrent to search."
"I didn't say that." The ADA sighed. "I have to deal with these people on a daily basis. It's probably going to turn out that half the judges sitting now played golf with Baxter's father." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Though..." He thought for a moment, and the two detectives waited patiently.
Patience had a limit. Vandel said, "What?"
"Well... Do you remember Robert Yarborough?"
Mankowitz squinted, scratching his chin. "He was DA before this one, wasn't he? Had a long term, as I recall. Yeah, I've met him a time or two. Smart man--tough, but fair."
"He's the first one I ever worked under, and..." Blye smiled, "Well, I wasn't his pet, like some people seem to think, but we got along well. I learned a lot from him, and we were friendly off the job--still are. I've heard him mention Baxter."
"That's it--just mentioned him. That's what makes me think that whatever it was involving Baxter must've happened when he was still a juvenile. If the records were sealed, he wouldn't want to discuss details. I can't for the life of me site anything that he said against the man, but I remember his expression. I'd seen that expression a hundred times before. It was how he looked when there was someone that he was sure and certain had committed a crime, but there wasn't enough evidence to bring them to trial." He reached for the phone. "He retired as the most respected DA in this state's last half-century, with the best conviction rate on record. There are a lot of judges who'd listen carefully to what he had to say about an investigation."
"That would be great," said Vandel. "But if he wouldn't discuss it with you back then, what makes you think he will now?"
"Three women here today, and others that are missing. Hello, Robert? Robert, this is Tyler Blye. Yes, fine thank you." He smiled. "No, I'm afraid it isn't strictly a social call. It HAS been too long. I was wondering if you'd come down to the courthouse? I have a couple of detectives here who are looking for a search warrent. I don't think I could get one on what they have so far, but what they've told me is very disturbing, and it's very likely that there's a woman in danger right now." He listened for a moment. "They want to search the home of Stephen Baxter. He's... Oh. Well, good. We'll be waiting. Bye." He hung up and folded his hands, looking thoughtful. "He'll be right over." He looked at the detectives. "The moment I mentioned Baxter things changed. Do either of you hunt ducks?"
They shook their heads, and Mankowitz said, "Lifelong city boy, though I'll admit to plinking at an occasional rat down on the docks."
"Not quite the same. I DO hunt. There's something about a really good retriever. He can be looking as calm as a still pond, but when he hears the sound of a shotgun being cocked or pumped, he's ELECTRIFIED. He's so alert and ready that he's just about to jump out of his hide. That's the impression I got from Yarborough when I mentioned Baxter's name."
There was a soft tap at the door of ADA Blye's office, and he called, "Yes?"
His secretary opened the door. "Sir, Mister Yarborough is here."
"Send him right in, Terry. First ask him if he wants any coffee or tea."
She turned around and said, "He'll see you now, sir. Can I get you anything?"
A raspy voice said, "Not unless you have a beer sitting around, young lady." There was a smothered giggle. "I'll settle for some coffee--black, and don't worry about making it fresh. After all my time in the court and law enforcement system I've gotten used to some mightly hairy brews."
Mankowitz knew that, estimating from Stephen Baxter's present age, the DA who'd dealt with him in his youth would have to be approaching seventy now. The man who walked through the door might have been old, but he was anything but frail. He was a little stocky, but far from fat. His hair was gray, but there was still a thread of black here and there. His pale blue eyes were sharp, and he moved with no hesitation in his gate. The only real indication of his age aside from his gray hair was deep lines bracketing his mouth, and spreading webs of wrinkles at the corners of his eyes.
The three people already present stood as he entered and he said, "Oh, hell--sit down, I'm not the president, the Pope, or the Queen of England."
As Vandel sat down she said, "I think I'm going to like you."
"Don't be fooled, young lady. I can bullshit with the best of them. I just don't waste it unless I'm dealing with someone I think deserves it. There's an occasional police officer I put in that category, but not many." He sat down. "Blye, introduce me. I like to know the people I'm going to be working with."
"So you WILL be working with us?" said Mankowitz.
"Let's say that my interest has definitely been piqued. Given my history with that individual that my friend Blye mentioned, it won't take much to convince me. Tell me what you have. Then if I think it's significant I'll tell you what I went through."
"Fair enough." Mankowitz and Vandel took turns showing him files, statements, and reports. They finished up telling about the meeting with the women the day before.
Yarborough's expression became progressively grimmer. "And what, other than that, inspired you folks now? I'm not pointing any fingers, mind, but this has been shuffled aside for a long, long time. Usually there's one specific triggering incident." The secretary brought him a cup of coffee, and he said, "Thank you." He took a sip and winced.
The girl said, "Oh, I'm sorry." She started to reach for the cup. "I'll get you..."
"No, no. This is fine. The stronger it is, the more awake I'll be. Thanks again." She left. "Let's hear it."
"Yes, sir," said Mankowitz. "A man called Axel Turner came to us with some vague notion that his former boss had something sinister in mind for one of his co-workers. He'd been recently fired for an incident with that same woman so, well... We weren't inclined to take him too seriously. Then these other women started showing up, and it looks like he contacted them. I have no idea how he ever came up with their names, but somehow he did. Baxter's company claims that the woman--Mina O'Connel--is taking some personal days, and no, they don't know where she is, or how to get in contact with her. It's not proof of anything, but the timing seems pretty suspicious to us. And when we look back through the case files we find that there are a number of suspicious disappearances of women connected with Baxter Enterprises."
Yarborough sighed. "Ah, hell. I knew. Deep down in my heart I KNEW something like this would happen, and I did jack to stop it." He set aside the almost empty coffee cup. "My turn, and you'll understand why I'm so upset. You have to go all the way back to 1976." He smiled sourly. "The bicentenial. Detective Vandel, you're probably too young to remember that, but Mankowitz here might."
"Everything was red, white, and blue," said Mankowitz. "I'm as patriotic as the next person, but it got kind of monotonous."
"That aside. 1976, and I was the youngest DA they'd had in state history. I say with absolutely no vanity or false modesty that I was good. But I made mistakes, and Stephen Baxter's case was one of them. He was thirteen in '76. We got a call about a missing child at the Baxter residence. One of the maids had brought her preschool girl to work with her, and the child just vanished into thin air. We called out officers to go over the grounds, and we were within an hour or two of launching a full scale search with volunteers, helicopters, dogs... Baxter had been watching all this as cool as if he was sitting in front of the television watching Saturday cartoons. Didn't seem at all affected or worried for the little girl. That's not natural. The parents made a big thing about the fact that they weren't friends." He snorted. "You could tell that they meant that Stephen wouldn't be interested in having anything to do with 'the help'. There was one small outbuilding that hadn't been searched, because it had been padlocked. It was noticed that Stephen had disappeared, and the adults said he'd gone out to his 'hobby house'. Even then there wasn't that much suspicion attached to the boy, but they wanted to check the building."
He rubbed his eyes. "I wasn't there, but I talked to the officers who were. When they entered the building it was in darkness. Baxter was in a sleeping bag on the floor, holding the little girl. He ordered the officers to leave." He closed his eyes. "He told them that the girl belonged to him. He'd hunted her, he'd captured her, and he was going to keep her. They got her away from him, but he went berserk and attacked one of the officers. It's a good thing he hadn't made his full growth yet, or there might have been some real trouble. He was arrested, of course, despite his parents' outrage and threats of dire consequences."
"It turned out that the little girl was all right. She was just confused and scared, but... Well, there was no physical evidence that she'd been molested, but we never could get a clear account of what happened. Hell, she was four years old." His voice was suddenly hard, almost vicious. "FOUR! But I'm sure you folks have had many cases where you'd give a year of your life to be able to take them to trial, but it's just not possible within the system. That's how it was back then. I could have tried to bring it to trial, but a judge would probably have thrown it out, and maybe thrown my career out with it." He pointed at Mankowitz. "That wasn't a factor. If I'd thought I had a snowball's chance in hell I'd have said fuck it, gone to trial, and flipped burgers for the rest of my life. But if I lost, NOTHING would have been done, so I took a calculated risk. I told his father and his lawyer that he had two choices--trial and perhaps jail till he was twenty-one--or therapy." Mankowitz rolled his eyes, and Yarborough said sharply, "I KNOW! I know it was woefully inadequate, but I'm telling you that was all that was possible back then. I knew that if I didn't manipulate them somehow that the little bastard would just go on his merry way. This way there was some hope. Therapy might help, at least a little." He sighed. "I guess that was a futile hope, but I did what I could. I just wish to God it had been more."
Vandel sat forward and said almost fiercely, "Then do more now! If Baxter has abducted Mina O'Connel she might already be dead--but she might NOT. If that's the case, though, I can't help but feel that her time is running out. Help us get a warrent to search Baxter's house. If we can't find her we might find something else that relates to one of the other cases, and that'll give us more leeway."
Yarborough drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. After a moment he said slowly, "My gut tells me we're right about this, but a judge might not be willing to issue a warrent on that. I'd like to be able to take them more. I wonder... I sent several defendants to the same therapist."
"But isn't it illegal for a therapist to divulge anything that a patient told them in confidence?" said Vandel.
"It is, but I know this woman. I'll present her with what you've told me. If she thinks he's truly dangerous, and that there's a chance there's a woman who could be saved by action, she'll help us. She might not give us details, but she'll tell us if we're right to be concerned. She has a fine reputation. If she says 'from what I learned of him as a boy he had the potential to be very dangerous', what we have should be enough for at least a limited search warrent. She's not working much any more, but she still does occasional consulting for the probation office and such. Tyler, is it okay if I borrow your phone?"
"You're getting polite in your old age," said Blye. "Since when do you ask?"
"Since I can't fire someone for being a smart ass." He pulled a small notebook from his pocket and flipped through it. "I have her home number, though I've never used it. We don't socialize, and I'm not going to abuse the trust she extended in giving it to me." He took the phone and dialed quickly, then waited a moment. "Hello, Miss Babcock? This is Robert Yarborough." He smiled. "All right, Anita. Anita, I have a very touchy favor to ask you." He laughed. "Yes, why should this be any different? It's about a case I sent you a long time ago. I'm hoping that you can help us without violating your professional standards." He paused. "It concerns Stephen Baxter. I sent him to you in '76--he was only thirteen, and..." His voice trailed off, and he listened. He quickly said, "Wait! Before you go any further you have to know that this could make you lose your license." He smiled almost reluctantly. "Yeah, I suppose that if you're retired it's kind of a moot point. But it could mean legal action, or a civil suit." He listened. "There aren't many like you, Anita. Tell me what you think." He listened, his expression growing progressively grimmer. Finally he said, "Son of a bitch. I KNEW I should have pressed for charges, or at least probation till he was eighteen. Well, it's kind of you to say that, Anita, but maybe it WOULD have made a difference. It might not have changed him, but maybe he'd have resisted the urge if he knew he was being watched. Look, if a judge calls you, tell him exactly what you've told me, all right? Thanks. Yes." He closed his eyes for a second. "I certainly hope so. Thanks again, and take care." He hung up. "I'm all for doctor-patient priviledge, except if it's going to save someone's life. Thank God she feels the same way." He smiled. "Good old Anita. She looks like an elegant lady who'd faint if you said boo, but inside she's a tough as nails broad. She isn't helping us just for the women--she says that it's for Stephen, too, because anyone who presents the symptoms he has is likely to end up on the wrong side of a gun some day."
"If we're lucky," said Mankowitz. Both the ADA and the ex-DA frowned, and before they could say anything he said, "Yeah, I know. Went to far. Don't worry. If it comes down to an arrest I'll be scrupulous. I've never fired my gun in the course of duty, and that's how I'd like to retire. I want another talk with that Turner guy," said Mankowitz. "I'm afraid I gave him the short end of the stick when he came in but... Man, you had to have seen the guys. I've pulled bums and junkies off Skid Row that I'd listen to before him." He grimaced. "And after the reception we gave him, it's unlikely that he'll waltz back in. Can't say I blame him."
Vandel said, "We may have to put a warrent out on him."
She smiled. "How about what Baxter and his stooges are accusing him of? Stalking."