Production No. CVT515
edited by: JAC, Claire and Kaye Stewart
MEET THE CAST
Harborview Apartments, Thursday afternoon
The drizzly rain that had been falling all day had finally tapered off, and a weak sun could even be glimpsed behind murky gray clouds. But the wintry wind was cold, and as Detectives Blair Sandburg and Jim Ellison paused at the police barrier, Blair buttoned his coat up around his neck. "Right now, I wish I was just an observer again and you'd make me stay in the truck," he muttered, looking with dread at the scene ahead of them.
Jim looked at him seriously. "Are you going to be okay with this?"
"Yeah, yeah, I was just kidding." Blair gave his partner a wry little smile. "Well, mostly. But I can handle it. It's part of the job. I still don't have to like it, though. Bad things happen to a body when it falls from a high-rise and lands on the pavement. Bad things I don't really want to see. And this is definitely not going to help me get over my fear of heights. The next time I get in a helicopter or up on some damn cliff I'll think of this poor guy and how he looked after he landed, and I'll think how I could look like that too if I fell."
"Try not to think about it. When we look at the body, focus on the routine."
Blair fiddled with the buttons on his coat. "I can do it. I wonder what would be going through your mind on the way down, though. You know, some people think that if you fall from a great height, you'll literally be frightened to death before you ever hit the ground. I really, really hope so. But then, maybe, if you're committing suicide, you're not afraid anyway."
"You're babbling, Chief."
"I know. I can't seem to stop."
"Just take a deep breath. You'll be fine."
Blair closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath. He let it out and opened his eyes. "Okay, I'm ready."
Together, they ducked under the yellow police tape and walked over to the small knot of people gathered around a battered body. The balding middle-aged man was lying sprawled on his back, and the wet pavement around him was stained with watery blood. Blair made himself look, paled, and quickly made a production of searching his pocket for a notebook.
"Hello, Dan," Jim greeted the medical examiner, who was crouched by the body. "What have we got here? Think he's a jumper?"
Dan Wolf looked up from his examination and nodded a greeting at them. "Hard to say yet whether he jumped, fell or was pushed. Death appears to have been caused by multiple blunt traumatic injuries, the usual consequence of falling fifteen stories and landing on concrete, but we'll need to wait for the autopsy to say for sure. There's always the possibility that he was dead before he hit, due to anything from a bullet to a heart attack, but I don't see any evidence of that at this point."
"Has he been identified yet?"
"Milo Spalding, resident of the Harborview Apartments, fifteenth floor, straight above us. The apartment manager was able to identify him. He's over there waiting to give you his statement." Dan gestured at a man talking to a patrolman nearby. "He said he can give you the phone number of the next of kin, Spalding's estranged wife. We'll need her to identify the body too."
"Witnesses?" Blair asked, rather faintly.
"Yes, there were two people walking by when he landed on the sidewalk in front of them." He gestured in the other direction, at a stunned-looking elderly couple standing with another patrolman.
Dan was examining the victim's hands. Jim crouched down next to him and zoomed his vision to the micro level. "Clean fingernails. Doesn't look like he was trying to cling to anything to keep from falling. Well-manicured. No calluses. Someone who didn't work with his hands much."
"Hardly," Dan said. "Don't you recognize the name? This was Milo Spalding, Junior, son of the late Milo Spalding, Senior, the founder of the Spalding Baking Company here in Cascade.
"Spalding Spuds, they're crispy-licious!" Blair exclaimed.
"Yep. Milo Spalding was the only son and heir of the potato chip king," Dan said.
They left the medical examiner and his assistants to finish collecting evidence, and introduced themselves to the apartment manager. He told them that the victim had moved in about two months ago, after separating from his wife. He didn't know the victim well, he said. The man always seemed unhappy and preoccupied and didn't speak much to anyone. He would be glad to provide them with the wife's phone number, and he didn't want to be pushy, but could they please ask her to remove his effects by the end of the month?
The two detectives took his statement, and that of the witnesses. Blair made copious notes in his little spiral notebook. Finally, the body was loaded into an ambulance, the crowd of gawkers dispersed, and they headed for Milo Spalding's apartment. It had been secured as soon as the identity of the victim had been established, and people from the crime scene unit were up there searching for evidence.
The open door led into a spacious entry hall decorated with a number of large oil paintings in ornate gilt frames. Several of the pictures were of a stern-looking man, painted at different times of his life, each one looking progressively older and sterner.
"The potato chip king?" Blair wondered aloud.
The technicians had finished searching the apartment and gathering evidence, and were almost ready to leave. The head of the unit gave them an update on what had been found so far, which wasn't much. They hadn't found anything, which made them think it was murder. No weapons, no bloodstains, no evidence of a struggle. The front door had been locked, apparently from the inside. No suicide note had been found.
"There wasn't one on the body, either," Jim said.
Blair pulled out his cellphone and called the phone number the apartment manager had given them for Spalding's wife. The sultry voice on the answering machine told him that she would just love to speak to him if he would leave his number. He tried the cellphone number that was also listed, but had to leave a message there as well.
They put on latex gloves before they touched anything, and then went out on the small balcony. On a sunny day the unobstructed view of the harbor would have been dazzling, but today it was just gray and dismal. Jim examined the wooden railing carefully with his Sentinel sight. "I don't see any marks of a struggle, or an attempt to hang on. No blood." He looked over the edge. The point of impact, still marked off with police tape, was directly beneath them on the sidewalk.
Blair inched over to the railing. Grasping it firmly with both hands, he peered at the ground far below. His hair was whipping around in the cold wind, and he shivered. "Oh, man," he moaned. "What a way to go. Free fall, and then...splat."
Jim shook his head. "You have an overactive imagination, Sandburg. You've got to distance yourself from these things. But you did fine down there. You did your job."
"At least I didn't toss my cookies," Blair muttered, feeling like a wuss.
"You'll probably get used to it," Jim added, "and maybe that's worse. You had a normal human reaction to an ugly death. I've just seen too much of it now."
"I'll try to follow your good advice and focus on the routine. So, uh, focusing on this railing here-- it seems too high to fall from accidentally. It's about four feet high, I'd say, and Spalding was five feet eight. He couldn't possibly have tripped and fallen over the edge."
"No, I don't see how he could have fallen either, and he hardly seemed the type to be horsing around on the railing. So I'd say suicide or possibly murder," Jim said.
"So far, I'd say suicide. The door was locked on the inside. No sign of a struggle. He was separated from his wife, and probably depressed. Wish we could find a suicide note, though. They usually leave them."
One of the crime scene techs poked his head outside to tell them they were leaving, so they went back inside to get a final report. It gave them no new information. When the door closed behind the crew, they began their own examination of the apartment, trying to get a picture of the man who had lived here.
The living room was expensively but impersonally decorated with a newly bought matching suite of furniture. The one exception was a scarred old oak rolltop desk, which was crammed with papers. Above it was a painting of a dark-haired woman holding a smiling toddler on her lap. The toddler was holding a package of Spalding Spuds. Piles of books and pamphlets covered the coffee table in front of the sofa, the end tables, and most flat surfaces.
Blair picked up a pile of pamphlets and leafed through them. "Well, this is interesting. The guy was into some strange stuff. 'Protect Yourself From Brain Mutations,' 'The Real Truth about MK-ULTRA and the H.A.A.R.P Project', 'The New World Order and E.L.F. Psychotronic Tyranny.'
Jim picked up a couple of pamphlets from another pile and read the titles. "'Death Ray Coverup', 'Illegal Government Experimentation on Innocent Citizens.'"
"'Here's the ever-popular 'CIA and Mind Control Implants.'"
"So he was a conspiracy theory nut?"
"Now Jim," Blair scolded, "you shouldn't be so quick to judge. We don't know what this means. Maybe he was writing a book and this was research."
"Maybe. Well, why don't you look at the desk, and I'll check out the rest of the apartment. Perhaps there's a suicide note in the desk somewhere."
Half an hour later, Blair hadn't turned up a suicide note, but he had found a will leaving everything to his wife, financial records proving that he was indeed very rich, and two lonely Christmas cards. Jim suddenly appeared beside the desk with a rather queasy look on his face.
Blair looked up at his partner with alarm. "Did you find something awful?"
"No," Jim said, "I didn't find much of anything. More nutty literature. A lifetime supply of Spalding Spuds. Dirty laundry. Not many personal things. No picture of the wife. But I'm starting to feel like I'm coming down with something, kind of dizzy and nauseous."
Blair contemplated him. "You do look a little sickly. But, I have to admit, I'm feeling a bit strange and dizzy myself all of a sudden. I hope we're not both coming down with the flu."
"Well, let's finish up here and get out."
"I got a call back from Mrs. Spalding," Blair said. "She took the news well. Remarkably well, in fact. She's in Palm Springs, but she's flying back late tonight. We have an appointment with her tomorrow morning."
"Well, there's her alibi, then, if he was murdered."
"If she's really there."
"That's a point."
They were interrupted by the doorbell. Jim went to the door and opened it, revealing a young woman in a red plaid poncho and wild reddish hair, which was barely controlled with several glittery barrettes. She looked startled. "Where's Milo? Who are you?"
"I'm Detective Ellison. Are you a friend of Mr. Spalding's?" he asked.
"Yeah, where's Milo? Why is there a detective in his place?" she asked, confusedly trying to look past him into the apartment.
"Come in. I'm afraid we have some bad news for you."
The woman gasped. "Did they get him, then?
"The watchers," she whispered, stepping inside and following Jim into the living room.
"This is my partner, Detective Sandburg," Jim said, as Blair rose from the desk. "Have a seat, Miss "
"Sears. Coral Sears," she said, apprehensively sitting on the edge of the sofa. Jim and Blair sat down opposite her.
Jim said gently, "I'm sorry to tell you that Mr. Spalding was killed by a fall from his balcony this afternoon. It hasn't been determined yet whether it was an accident, suicide or murder."
She gasped. "Oh, it was murder, cruel murder." Her doe-like brown eyes filled with tears. "I knew I should have given him the takyon harmonic field deflector earlier, but I only just found the amplifier. I think they're bugging my phone, so I came by to remind him to come to the meeting tonight so I could give him the deflector set, and now it's too late!"
Jim and Blair exchanged glances. Tachyon harmonic field deflector?
"Poor Milo," she said sadly. "The watchers wouldn't leave him alone, and now they've killed him."
"Who exactly are the watchers?" Blair asked.
"They're the government agents who are experimenting with mind control devices on American citizens without their consent," she confided in a low voice, looking around the room furtively. "It's a secret program, but I think it might be the CIA. They choose certain people and they monitor them, and they perform vicious experiments on them, and they control their minds."
Blair tried not to look disbelieving. "And Milo had been chosen?"
"Oh, yes, they just tormented him all the time. They kept telling him what a worthless person he was, and that he should kill himself. That's why I wanted him to wear the tachyon harmonic field deflector, to shield him from the voices."
"Did you say he was expected at a meeting tonight?" Jim asked.
"Yes, there's a group of us that are being experimented on who have found out the truth. We're working on a plan of action. I, myself, was abducted as a child and given an implant in my brain, and they're monitoring me all the time," Coral said solemnly. "In fact, they're telling me right now that it won't do any good to talk to the police about it. They're too powerful. You won't be able to stop it."
"Well, we would like to talk to the people in your group, at least," Blair said. "It might help us find out what happened to Mr. Spalding, if we could talk to some friends about his state of mind. We'd like to come to your meeting."
Coral appraised them gravely. "All right. You can come. It's at my place at 2450 Denny Street, Apartment 2A. Seven o'clock."
After she left, Jim said, "I'm really not feeling well. I may not make it tonight. Let's go home."
"How about picking up a Wonderburger on the way?" Blair teased him. "Add a little grease to that queasy feeling."
Jim groaned. "For once, I have no desire for a Wonderburger."
Coral Sears' apartment, that evening
Jim and Blair, both feeling surprisingly better, perched on rickety folding chairs in Coral Sears' cramped living room as Jim told the group about Milo Spalding's death. "We'd appreciate your cooperation," he finished, "in providing any information you have that might help us establish the cause of death, such as his state of mind, personal problems, or whether he had any enemies."
As they waited for the hubbub to die down, Blair studied the faces opposite him, looking for unusual reactions. There were various expressions of shock, sadness and even anger, but as far as he could tell they all looked as if they were hearing the news for the first time. He tried not to stare at the woman continuously talking to herself under her breath, or the man wearing what appeared to be a tinfoil helmet on his head.
A skinny man with a pencil-thin mustache and slicked back hair was the first to speak. "It was murder, of course," he declared, his prominent Adam's apple bobbing. "When Milo first joined our little group a couple of months ago, he was complaining of voices that were berating him every waking moment and telling him to kill himself. Nobody believed him, of course, until he found us. We knew he was telling the truth. We could recognize another victim of the government's secret reign of terror. We've tried and tried to report the outrageous atrocities against the American people that are happening all the time, under the very noses of the police. It's too bad Milo had to die before you'd listen to us!"
There were nods and murmurs of assent from the other people in the room.
"So, you allege that agents of the government drove him to suicide?" Jim asked stiffly, his metal chair making little squeaking noises as he tried to get comfortable.
"Well, of course," the man in the mustache said dismissively. "But it was the same as murder."
"Have you ever personally seen any of these alleged agents, or are they just voices in your head?"
"Well, they're not really in my head. They're transmitted to me remotely by the agents, so it's like they're talking to me."
"But I have an implant, so the voices do feel like they're inside my head," Coral said.
Another man spoke up. "I hear them in my bedsprings."
An old woman with perfectly matched blue dress and blue hair raised her hand. "I mostly hear songs, usually in my teeth, you know. But only this morning I was in the grocery store and they started singing "The Old Rugged Cross" to me through my navel, quite loudly. I'm sure everyone in the store heard it. It was very embarrassing."
Jim tried to regain control. "All right, folks. That's all very interesting, but let's get back to the topic."
"But this is all important," the mustached man said.
"Owsley, Eldon Owsley."
"Mr. Owsley. We need to concentrate on facts that can be proven and that might be relevant to Mr. Spalding's death."
"But we are!" Owsley sputtered. "We're trying to tell you! Milo was being bombarded by high-energy remote control devices, as part of the government experiments that all of us here are being subjected to. They have all sorts of experiments, of course, so our experiences are different. What they were using on Milo might have been psychotronic E.L.F. weapons, or electromagnetic waves, or radiation, or microwaves, or something else."
Jim frowned. "This is pretty hard to prove."
The man in the tinfoil helmet stood up, waving to get attention. "My name is Woodrow Fleener. I can prove that Donald A. Pelkington of 14563 Greenwood Avenue is one of the people who are performing these crimes against humanity. I have seen him going by my house many times, or pretending to wait for a bus, with a small black box that looks like a lunchbox, but which I immediately recognized as a self contained power source of the type used by these government agents. He also has a military haircut." He sat down.
"Uh, make a note of that, Detective Sandburg," Jim said, unconsciously touching his own short hair.
Another man, small and nervous, cleared his throat, and said rapidly, "My name is Robert Bee, and I would like to report Dr. Lewis Milton as an agent. He drugged me with LSD at the hospital when I was being treated for a supposed psychosis, which I don't have anyway. They restrained me on the bed and injected me with LSD and told me in my mind, with mind control machines, that I was being put to death for my cousin's murder, which I didn't have anything to do with."
When he took a breath, Jim said brusquely, "Okay folks, if you have any more reports like this, please contact the police department later. Right now, we need to focus on determining the facts about Mr. Spalding's death."
Blair could tell that Jim was getting a little impatient. Keep that note of condescension out of your voice. If I can hear it, they probably can, too.
Eldon Owsley said flatly, "You don't believe us."
"It's not important whether or not I believe you," Jim began, but Blair cut him off.
Forgive me, Jim, but I'm going to have to play good cop, bad cop here, he thought. Aloud, he said, "You'll have to excuse my partner. This is all too new and different for him to absorb right away. He's a good guy, but he's an old-style Joe Friday kind of cop, who just wants the facts, ma'am. Now me, I'm a little more open to the unusual. My mom was a hippie who used to take me on marches against the CIA. She had plenty of theories about their nefarious activities. So I'm willing to listen." He smiled at his audience, and most of them smiled back. "But our first priority, right now, is to establish how Mr. Spalding died, and we need your help. If you could just answer some questions, to begin with, we'd appreciate it."
"I'll do anything I can to help," Coral said. Several others nodded.
"Thanks. Now, you've said that he was hearing voices telling him to kill himself. Did he seem suicidal, then?"
Coral said, "He was pretty depressed the last time I saw him two days ago. Yes, maybe suicidal."
"Anyone see him more recently than that?"
Everyone shook their heads, no.
"Do you know specifically what the voices were telling him?"
Coral thought hard. "That he had never done anything useful in his life. That his father had tried to make a man of him, and failed, and he would have been ashamed of him. That he was weak. That his wife had never loved him and he didn't deserve her. That he was a pathetic loser and the world would be better off without him. The voice kept saying things like that over and over for hours at a time, and just wore him down. He didn't seem to have much confidence anyway, poor Milo."
"How was his health?"
Coral said, "He hadn't been feeling well. He had constant headaches and dizzy spells, and he had stomach problems, too."
"Could have been radiation sickness," Eldon Owsley said darkly. "Could have been lasers. Could have been microwaves, or one of those other waves. They have no regard for human life."
"Do you know if he had any enemies? Or other friends?"
"Milo was kind of shy," Coral said. "I don't know of any friends other than us. His parents are both dead. There's just the wife, who sounded like a bitch, if you ask me. But he was very sweet, and I can't imagine that he had any enemies. Except for the watchers, of course. They're everyone's enemies." She shuddered.
"That's all very helpful information. Does anyone have anything else they'd like to add?"
Woodrow Fleener, his tinfoil hat a little askew, raised his hand. "I think they might have been using microwaves on Milo. I'm pretty sure that's what they're using on me. They usually keep the power low, but sometimes they turn up the intensity to torment me. When they do that, I feel hot spots where they've aimed it. I wish the police would get right on this. It worries me a lot because I've heard it's possible that when they use microwaves on people the increased body temperature could cause spontaneous combustion. Also, can I tell you about the helicopters that are following me?"
Jim and Blair sighed in unison. It was going to be a long evening.