What Penny Saw (Part I)
A four-part mystery.
by P. May Wilson
March 13, 2003
A mystery in four parts.
Detective Harold Bridge yawned hugely and pinched the inside corners of his eyes, which felt like they would much rather be closed in sleep than examining a crime scene. It was almost 7:30 on a Monday morning which wasn’t that early unless you had been up till three like he had. He glanced at his partner as they walked up the ramp in the parking garage. Ellen Rayburn looked downright perky, every ginger curl in it’s place, makeup tastefully applied. We make quite a pair, thought Bridge when picturing his stocky build and thinning brown hair that wouldn’t stay combed and his coat that looked like it had been wadded up and ran over. A couple times. When they got to the first level they encountered the yellow tape that inevitably encloses a crime scene. There were half a dozen uniformed police, a police photographer and a gray-haired man in green coveralls talking to Sergeant Beddows. No doubt the lot attendant, thought Bridge.
The body lay almost directly under a light, where the number “1” was posted on a pillar to let people who parked their cars there know what level they were on. It was Santos all right, his eyes staring straight up and his stiffened arms clutching something to his body. He lay in a coagulating pool of blood. Oddly enough, there was a flashlight lying in the blood a couple feet from the body. Bridge and Rayburn ducked under the yellow tape. The photographer was snapping pictures of some bloody footprints that headed away from the body towards the ramp. Bridge noted that the first three were unreadable and streaked. There were two good ones, hiking boots of a medium size had made those, then two more that were faint. Not a very long stride separated the prints.
Sergeant Beddows approached the detectives. “CSI done here?” asked Bridge. The Sergeant nodded. “It’s all yours, sir.”
Bridge yawned again and crouched down beside Santos’s body, avoiding the blood that surrounded it.. He tugged at the thing held tight by the corpse’s arms. With an effort he pulled it free and stood up, holding it out in front of him. It was a hooded sweatshirt, quite a large one. Almost entirely red from the blood it had soaked up, he could see that it had been gray.
“What do you suppose that’s about?” asked Rayburn.
“Someone was trying to stop the bleeding. Rudimentary first aid. Whoever it was put Santos’s arms on top to hold it down in an attempt to apply direct pressure.”
Bridge looked down at the wound in the middle of Santos’s torso. “The bullet penetrated the aorta. All that was accomplished was to put off death for maybe a minute. Santos didn’t have a chance.”
“Have we found the bullet?” Bridge asked the sergeant.
Beddows nodded and said, “It was in the pillar so it wasn’t in very good shape for ballistics. CSI thought it was a .44”
Bridge nodded and glanced at the footprints leading away from the body. “Hiking boots and a sweatshirt. Could be a man or a woman.”
Bridge handed the sweatshirt to one of the uniforms, who put it into an evidence bag. “Get the flashlight too. Wait..”
The uniform held up the flashlight for Bridge to see. A faint glimmer was discernable from the bulb. Someone had been in too big a hurry to turn it off. Bridge stooped over the body again and went through Santos’s pockets. Not finding what he was looking for he ran his hands down the corpse’s legs until he felt a bulge near the right ankle. Satisfied, he straightened up and walked over to where the garage attendant was standing, looking like he would much rather be elsewhere.
“You discovered the body?” Bridge asked him abruptly.
The man nodded. “Yes sir. The lot opens at seven but I always come in early to look things over.”
“When does it close?” asked Rayburn.
“Ten on weekdays, six on weekends.”
Bridge dismissed the attendant and stood staring off into space. Rayburn knew that look.
“What are you thinking?” she asked.
“Why would somebody go to all the trouble of giving first aid and then not call for help? There’s a pay phone just up the block.” Bridge paused, considering his own words.
“Let’s give the emergency dispatch a call when we get back to the station, see if there were any anonymous calls or hang-ups.”
Bridge’s eyes wandered over the rest of the parking level and something small lying in the shadows on the concrete across the aisle from the body caught his attention. Slipping under the tape he walked over and picked the thing up, Rayburn trailing him. It was a wallet.. Black nylon, Velcro close. Bridge opened it up. A woman’s face gazed up at him from a driver’s license. Medium length black hair with strands of gray, glasses, a half-smile. Penny MacLean, 5’5”, 250 pounds, DOB 12/3/62, eyes blue, hair black. Bridge noted the organ donor circle in the bottom right corner. In addition to the driver’s license there were two credit cards, a library card, a Medicare card. A dentist’s appointment card for a date two weeks previous. The card of a social services worker and one of a home care agency. No cash.
“A big lady,” Rayburn observed, exchanging glances with her partner.
“And she lives about three blocks away.” Bridge responded with the hint of a smile.
“I think it would be nice of us to return her wallet to her, don’t you?” Rayburn smiled and the two detectives went down the ramp to their car.
It was a little after eight by the time they found a parking spot near Penny MacLean’s building. It was one of two old department stores that had been renovated and made into low-income apartments. Nicer on the inside than the outside, the apartment buildings were on what had once been an avenue of chic little stores and trendy coffee shops. In recent years malls on the edge of town had lured consumers away from the area and the neighborhood had become seedy but not yet infested with the kind of scum that inhabited the parts of town officially designated as “bad neighborhoods.”
Bridge and Rayburn stepped into the foyer of MacLean’s building, which had a marble-look floor and walls. The sort of thing that looked nice when new but probably wouldn’t age well. Rayburn pressed the button next to the name “MacLean” on the wall. There was no immediate response so she pressed again, longer. Still no response. The third time did the trick. A woman’s voice came over the speaker. “Who is it?”
“It’s the police, Miss MacLean,” said Rayburn. “We found your wallet and would like to return it to you.”
The pause that followed this response was long enough that Rayburn was about to repeat herself when Penny said in a flat, thick voice, “I’ll come down and get it.”
“We’d like to bring it up,” said Bridge. “We’d like to ask you a couple questions.”
Another long pause. Then the buzzer rang and they went through the security door and headed for the elevators
Penny lived on the third floor. The halls were carpeted and the walls freshly painted. The place really does look nice, thought Bridge. Not what you’d expect in low-income housing. Bridge and Rayburn stopped at Penny MacLean’s apartment. Detective Bridge rapped on the door. There was a long pause and then they heard movement in the apartment and the door opening. The face from the driver’s license peered out at them blankly. The two detectives had their badges out but Penny didn’t seem to notice them. She didn’t say anything so Bridge said, ”Miss MacLean? I’m Detective Harold Bridge and this is my partner Detective Ellen Rayburn. May we come in?” Something sparked in the dimness of Penny MacLean’s eyes. “You found my wallet. I didn’t even know it was missing. Can I have it please?”
Rayburn put some pressure on the door with the palm of her hand. “In a minute, Miss MacLean. We’d like to come in and ask you a couple questions.”
As she spoke, Rayburn continued to push on the door, forcing Penny, hand still on the knob, to step back. The two detectives slipped inside.
Penny MacLean’s faded jeans were streaked with blood. It looked like she had wiped bloody hands on her thighs and there were dark stains on her hiking boots.
“Miss MacLean, what happened? Are you hurt?” Ellen Rayburn was grasping Penny by the shoulders.
Penny looked at her with confusion in her eyes. “What? Hurt? I don’t think so…can I have my wallet back? I didn’t even know it was missing.”
Bridge and Rayburn exchanged glances. Bridge spoke gently. “Why don’t you go to your bedroom with Detective Rayburn and take off your clothes so she can see if you’re injured.”
The apartment, though small, had two levels with the bedroom on the upper level. Rayburn took Penny by the arm and led her up the stairs. Bridge looked around the apartment. He was standing in a galley kitchen which was about five feet from the door. There was a dirty plate and coffee mug in the sink. A few more steps brought him into the living room. There was a long black sofa with rips covered with electrical tape, and a coffee table in front of it. They were facing a TV set on a small table. A boombox sat on a small stool near the TV, a tower of CD’s next to it and loose CD’s and empty cases in front of it. There was a cassette case as well with loose tapes and cases set on top of cassettes in neat rows. A black leatherette coat was hanging from a hook on the wall next to the kitchen. The coffee table was littered with stuff; a couple of books, a magazine open to a half-done crossword puzzle, a couple pens, a dirty plate, a diet Coke can, and a half-full black ashtray with an unopened pack of Winstons and a disposable lighter next to it.
Rayburn came down the stairs with a bundle of clothes in her hands.
“Not a scratch on her,” She said, putting down the clothes and opening the cabinet under the sink. “It’s not her blood.”
Finding what she wanted Rayburn pulled a kitchen garbage bag from a roll and stuffed the clothes Penny had been wearing into it. “She’s putting on fresh clothes. Do you think she’s stoned?”
Bridge shook his head. “There’s no drug paraphernalia at all. Anyway, it looks more like shock to me.”
He glanced up as Penny came down the stairs in a fresh pair of jeans and a tunic-style teal sweater. Her feet were bare. “Can I have my wallet now? I didn’t even know it was missing.”
“We’d like you to come down to the police station, Penny,” said Bridge. “We want to find out where all that blood came from on your clothes.”
Penny looked down at her clothes and then what Bridge had said sunk in. She backed away from the detectives. “I don’t want to go to the police station. You can talk to me here, okay?” Her eyes were pleading as she looked from one face to the other.
Bridge was firm. “No, Penny, we have to go down to the station. Do you have another pair of shoes to wear? I saw your other coat in the living room.”
Rayburn started up the stairs. “I saw some shoes in the closet. I’ll get them. And socks.”
Penny walked past Bridge and sat down on the couch. She hugged herself and leaned forward. “I’m not going,” she said, “I can’t go down there.”
Rayburn came back down the stairs carrying a pair of white Reeboks and a pair of gray socks. She brought them over to Penny and held them out. “Put these on.”
Suddenly Penny lashed out with her left hand, knocking the shoes and socks to the floor. “I’m not going!”
Bridge came over and crouched down in front of Penny. “You don’t have a choice, Penny.” His voice was stern. “You can go with your shoes on or not. You can go in handcuffs or not. But you are going with us.”
Penny’s eyes filled with tears. Slowly she picked up a sock and put it on, then the other, then the shoes. She got up and took her coat off the hook and put it on. She picked up the pack of cigarettes and lighter off the coffee table and put them in her pocket. All the while tears were running down her cheeks. Rayburn gently took her arm and led her out of the apartment, Bridge following with the bag of clothes.
“How is she?” Bridge asked Scott Stanley, a rookie who was standing in front of the closed door of the conference room on the second floor of the police station. It was around 10:30. “She’s had a donut and a cigarette in the breakroom and she’s on her second cup of coffee. She hasn’t said a word but she did stop crying anyway.”
As Scott was speaking Ellen Rayburn approached the two men. She looked at Bridge. “DNA’s back. The blood on her clothes is definitely Santos’s.”
Bridge nodded. “Anything else?” He asked.
Rayburn nodded back. “There was a partial print on the flashlight that’s hers.”
Bridge nodded again. “Sounds like time for a chat with Miss MacLean.”
Penny was sitting in a chair facing away from the door at the large oval table. The walls of the conference room were plastered with charts and photographs from ongoing cases. Occasionally the room was also used to question witnesses rather than the stark, forbidding interrogation rooms reserved for suspects.
Rayburn sat down across the table from Penny while Bridge positioned himself against the wall near the now open door. Penny looked at the table in front of Rayburn. “Can I please have my wallet now? I want to go home.”
“Penny, do you know where we found your wallet? Can you guess?” Rayburn spoke softly.
Penny frowned. “I told you, I didn’t know it was missing. I keep it in my pocket and I thought it was still there until you guys woke me up and said you had it. Why won’t you give it to me?”
Bridge approached the table, reaching into the breast pocket of his jacket. He tossed the wallet on the table. Penny looked at it for a while, then picked it up. She opened it and looked through it.
“Everything there?” asked Rayburn. “Did you have any cash?”
Penny shook her head. “I keep it in this pocket.” She said, patting her right pocket. She picked up the wallet and put it in her left pocket. Scooting her chair away from the table and preparing to stand up Penny said, ”Now I can go, right?”
Rayburn ignored this and leaned forward. “Penny, we found your wallet in the parking garage near your apartment. Were you there yesterday?”
Penny frowned in trying to recall. Then her face brightened. ”Yes, I was. Mom and Dad were in town and Dad parked there because the street hadn’t been plowed in front of my building. It must have fallen out when I was getting in the car or something. I was wearing nice pants with shallow pockets.”
“Did you go back there last night to look for it? With a flashlight?” asked Rayburn. Bridge took a step closer to the table, looking intently at Penny.
Penny’s eyes flashed. “I told you. I didn’t know it was gone. Besides, I can’t remember what happened last night. Last thing I remember, I decided to go to the bar for a couple beers. I guess I must have gotten really drunk because when you buzzed me I was lying on the couch with all my clothes on, even my shoes. I must have just come home and passed out.”
Rayburn looked at Bridge. He nodded slightly and she continued the questioning. “Do you get drunk very often?”
Penny straightened up in her chair and sighed. “Not for years. I’m on medication so I only have a couple beers once in a while, less than once a week.”
“What medication are you on?” asked Bridge, quietly sitting down in a chair to Penny’s right and Rayburn’s left..
Penny looked down at her hands and mumbled. Bridge leaned forward. “What was that?”
Penny glanced in his direction, keeping her eyes trained on the table top in front of him. “Zoloft, zyprexa and lithium,” she mumbled just a little louder than the first time.
Bridge took in this information. “Are you bipolar?” he asked. Penny shrugged and looked away from both detectives.
“Yes,” she said flatly. The two detectives exchanged “aha” glances. Bridge moved his chair a little closer to Penny. She moved hers a little farther away from him. Bridge let it go.
“Do you have a favorite bar that you go to?”
Penny nodded. “The Happy Hour. It’s on the next block, on Clairmont.” Bridge glanced at Rayburn, who was writing in her notebook, and then back at Penny.
“Penny, we found your wallet, as Detective Rayburn said, in the parking garage. About twenty feet from where a police officer had been shot down. The blood on your clothes is his. Now, do you want to tell us what happened last night?”
Penny looked at Bridge, her eyes narrow with suspicion. “What blood? There’s no blood on my clothes.”
Bridge sighed. “Not those clothes. The ones you were wearing when we came to your apartment. The ones you had on last night.”
Penny’s eyes blazed. “These are the clothes I was wearing last night. I put them on to go out.”
Bridge had a sinking feeling in his gut. “Penny, you changed your clothes, remember? Detective Rayburn went up to your room with you and you took off the bloody clothes and put these clothes on.”
Penny was shaking her head. “No. no. Why are you saying this? Are you trying to frame me? Because my wallet was there? I don’t have to listen to this.”
Abruptly Penny pushed her chair away from the table and got up. So did Rayburn and Bridge. Penny hesitated and then resolved herself. “I’m out of here.”
As she walked to the door Bridge positioned himself in front of it. “Miss MacLean.” He said softly. Penny tried to brush past him. When he grabbed her right arm she tried to shake him off so he took hold of both arms just above the elbows. The anger in Penny’s eyes turned to fear as Bridge said, “Miss MacLean, you are not free to go. Sit back down.” Penny struggled vainly in Bridge’s grasp as he backed her into a chair, forcing her to sit down.
“Am I under arrest?” whispered Penny.
“Not yet,” said Rayburn, who had moved over by Bridge’s side. “But we could arrest you for obstructing an officer if you don’t tell us what happened last night.”
“I got drunk. I passed out. All I did was lose my wallet and now you’re telling lies about me and trying to make it look like I shot that guy. I don’t own a gun, I’ve never even held a gun. Why would I shoot anybody? Why are you doing this to me?” Penny’s voice increased in decibels with each statement.. She hid her face in her arms on the desk and started crying. The two detectives stepped out of the door and closed it.. They looked at Penny through the glass. She was still crying.
“This is too weird for me,” said Rayburn. “Do you think she’s for real?”
Bridge glanced at his partner. “You mean do I think she’s faking some kind of breakdown?”
He didn’t take his eyes off the figure hunched over the table. “This is over our heads. Better get someone in that knows what he is doing.”
Dr. Virgil Costello was a tall man in his late fifties with a spreading waistline and male-pattern baldness in his graying blond hair. He had retired early from practice as a clinical psychologist six years before when his wife, who had survived breast cancer ten years before was diagnosed with liver cancer. He had decided not to go back to his practice and did nothing for a year after her death. He took the next two years to write a book and then became a consultant for the police department, doing psychiatric evaluations and testifying as an expert witness. Since this was all he did professionally, he was usually available at short notice and so he found himself sitting in a recliner facing Penny MacLean, also in a recliner in a room that was reserved for his use.
Bridge and Rayburn had briefed him so he had some idea what to expect although he always tried not to assume anything but rather to objectively observe and analyze. Despite this clinical approach Dr. Costello was a warm and gentle man whose clients had liked very much.
Penny MacLean sat hunched over in the chair, staring at her hands folded in her lap. Neither of them had said a word after being introduced and taking their seats five minutes earlier. At last Dr. Costello spoke.
“Have you ever talked to a psychologist before, Penny?”
“Yeah. Lots of times.” Her voice was flat.
“Really. Why lots of times?”
“I used to be in the hospital a lot and I was in counseling a lot too. But not the last couple years. I’ve been doing good the last couple years.”
“Tell me what you did yesterday, Penny,”
Penny raised her eyes but only as far as his chest. They were red and puffy but she had quit crying. She cleared her throat. “I got up and watched TV and had breakfast. My Mom and Dad came around 11:30 and we went out to lunch and shopping. They went home around 4. I checked my email and watched some more TV and did crosswords. Then I had supper. Later on I decided to go to the bar for a couple beers.” Her eyes moved up to his face but still avoiding eye contact..
“Will this take long?”
Costello shook his head. “Why? Do you have somewhere you need to be?”
Penny lowered her head. The psychologist could just make out her “No.”
“So, did you go to the bar?”
“I guess so. I must have got really drunk because I crashed on the couch with all my clothes on, even my shoes.”
“Do you feel hung-over?”
Penny frowned, her eyes looking everywhere but at him. She leaned back in the chair, eyes fixed on the ceiling. “Not exactly. I mean, I don’t have a headache but I feel really far away. Even my own voice sounds far away. And you look far away even though I know this isn’t a very big room.”
“Have you felt this way before?”
Penny resettled herself in the chair. “Yes.”
“When was that?”
She was obviously reluctant to answer. After a long pause she said, ”Sometimes when I was really depressed. Or…hearing voices.” Her voice dropped again.
“Are you depressed now?”
“Then why were you crying?”
“Because I don’t want to be here. Are we almost through? I want to go home.”
“We’re almost through. When was the last time you had symptoms?”
“I got depressed a year ago but not suicidal. I haven’t been hospitalized in over two years. I’ve been doing well since then. I don’t even see a counselor anymore. Will this take long?”
“Have you ever attempted suicide, Penny?”
“More than once?”
“How many times?”
Penny stirred in the chair. Her eyes met his but only for an instant. He couldn’t read her expression. She looked at the floor. “I don’t know. The last time was over seven years ago. What does this have to do with my wallet? Why do I even have to talk to you at all? Are we finished?”
I’ll tell you when we’re finished, Penny. Why did you try to kill yourself?”
Penny put her face in her hands for a moment and sighed. Leaning forward, she looked at the floor. “I was so depressed I just couldn’t take it. I felt trapped. Can I go now? I want to go home.”
“Not much longer, Penny. Let’s talk about your wallet. When did you lose it?”
“I guess yesterday when I was out with my folks. The detectives said they found it in the parking garage.”
“Don’t you believe them?”
“They’re making up other stuff about me. Maybe they’re making that up too.”
“What did they make up?”
“They said I had blood on my clothes, which I obviously don’t.”
“Why do you suppose they made that up?”
This time Penny looked right into his eyes, anger making them flash. “You should know. You’re in on it. You’re trying to make it look like I’m crazy and killed that cop. So you can cover up for whoever really did it.”
Costello didn’t say anything. Penny looked at him for another moment, then leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes. Costello let the silence lengthen.
“Are you tired, Penny?”
“Yes.” Her voice was flat once again.
“Okay. That’s enough for now. I’d like to talk to you again. Is that okay?”
Costello, Bridge and Rayburn watched as Scott escorted Penny into the breakroom for a cigarette. They were at Bridge’s desk. The psychologist didn’t wait to be asked what he thought. “She’s paranoid, delusional, dissociative and in deep denial.” I advise you to have Penny undergo a thorough psychiatric evaluation to determine what exactly is going on with her.”
Detective Rayburn stepped into the dim interior of the Happy Hour on Clairmont. The bartender was drying beer glasses on a white towel. The only other occupants were a down-at-heels elderly couple at one of the tables, apparently having a dispute of some kind. They lowered their voices when Rayburn came in.
“What can I get you? It’s still ten minutes till happy hour at the Happy Hour but I’m willing to be flexible for a honey like you.” The bartender’s smile froze on his face as Rayburn flashed her badge. She pulled out a Polaroid of Penny MacLean that had been snapped at the police station.
“Do you know this woman?” she asked.
The bartender leaned in and had a good look. “Oh sure. That’s Penny. Is she in trouble?”
Rayburn ignored the question and asked her own. “Was she in here last night?”
The bartender didn’t hesitate. “Nope,” he said. “Although she was about due. She hasn’t been in for a couple weeks.”
Rayburn pressed the point. “You’re positive she wasn’t here?” The bartender laughed. “When Penny is here, you know it. She’s the life of the party.”
“So you knew Santos?” The question came from Lila Jackson, who was in charge of the Narcotics Squad. Lila was a large woman with a creamed coffee complexion and closely cropped black hair. The NS was a fairly new division in the city. Drug use had escalated sharply in the past couple years and with it, crime. Jackson had been a division captain, overseeing the poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhood in the city. She had put together a tough, smart team to deal specifically with the drug problem. There had been a lot of arrests in the past two years and the NS had succeeded in shutting down one major drug ring, but it looked like two more had filled the void it had left.
“He was my last rookie when I was still on patrol. A very, very bright kid.”
Jackson waited for Bridge to say something further, but he didn’t.
“He was our first undercover agent. Deep undercover. We wanted him to get at the heart of the operation that is supplying the west side. East of Brinkman Avenue is mostly nickel and dime. We know who has the drugs and it’s a matter of time before we get to the supplier. The west side is trickier. The dealers don’t know where the stuff is coming from. There’s a lot of middlemen and they don’t know who they’re working for. So we sent Santos Munez in to get to the bottom of it. He was making his way into the heart of the operation and thought he was almost there. Our contact with him was infrequent because the perps had to trust him and we couldn’t risk his being exposed.”
“So you think that’s what happened?” asked Rayburn. “They found him out?”
Lila Jackson nodded. “That’s the most obvious answer which in my experience is usually the right one.”
“Do you know what he was doing in that parking garage?” Rayburn again. Bridge hardly even seemed to be listening.
“It was a drop for the dealers to get the stuff. But Santos wasn’t a bag man anymore. He was farther up in the organization. My guess is that something bigger was going down. Santos had indicated that he would be in on a face-to-face with the supplier very soon. It doesn’t make sense that they would meet there though.”
It wasn’t a drop.” Bridge had joined the conversation, albeit diffidently. “Santos was meeting someone he knew, someone he thought he could trust.”
The two women looked at him, waiting for him to continue. “His gun was in his holster strapped to his leg. If it had been a drop or if it had been a meeting with people he didn’t know, he would have had his gun in his coat pocket where he could get to it fast. He was ambushed.”
Bridge sighed and rubbed his eyes. He’d been going for nearly sixteen hours on less than four hours sleep. Even coffee couldn’t help him now. He looked at Rayburn, who still looked fresh as a daisy. Oh to be young again, he thought, even though he was not yet forty.
Rayburn and Bridge went back to their own division and started to put on their coats. Rayburn went to her desk and glanced at the three messages lying there. The first one was her husband asking her to pick up chicken on her way home. The second one was also from her husband, now exasperated, telling her he had given up on the chicken and heated up some soup. That made her feel a little guilty. The third message was from the 911 supervisor. “Hal,” she called, stopping Bridge at the door out of the squad room. “Looks like 911 might have something for us. A hang-up, untraceable, last night at 9:48.”
“We’ll check it out tomorrow.”
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