DISCLAIMER: Copycat is the property of Jon Amiel and Warner Brothers, no infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Della Street
The last time I walked down this hall . . . .
The last time I walked down this hall, it was dark. Too dark. The switches were on, but the lights weren't.
I knew immediately that something was wrong. I wondered later if I had known it all along, or at least from the moment when flames drove an experienced SWAT team from Peter Foley's house empty handed. I don't actually think so, though. I think I just wanted to see Helen. I was frustrated and upset and depressed and I wanted to see Helen. In a strange way, even though I had known her for less than a week, she was all I had left now.
And so I drove all the way out to Helen's pier-side Taj Mahal at midnight. The apartment was glamorous and, although she would have laughed at the notion, so was its owner at times. When she was on, Dr. Helen Hudson was magnificent. "Did I pass?" she once asked Ruben and me. Yes, ma'am. She passed.
Now as I stepped onto the carpet a sharp forest green, darker than the blue that lay there before I couldn't stop from glancing at the piece of floor where Officer Fred Naughton gave his life protecting someone he probably thought was certifiable. He hadn't exactly gone out in a blaze of glory. That was still to come. In the last careless moment of his life, Fred trusted a man he didn't know, but who wore a police uniform. An instant later, his flashlight lay on the ground beside his hand.
As I approached Helen's door that night, wondering whether Foley was behind me or ahead of me he was always ahead of me I was confronted with the realization that he had probably already killed her. I was sure of it when I stepped into the doorway. I have personally investigated 84 homicides, but never have I seen a single pool of blood so damning. I failed her, I knew. Like I failed Ruben.
The blood wasn't Helen's, as it turned out. It was Officer Mike Johnson's. Mike. Sweet kid, more afraid of me than of Lt. Quinn, which showed excellent judgment, I felt. His funeral and Officer Naughton's were held the same day. Two more cops killed because of Helen Hudson, a few holdovers said, but most saw her as just another victim.
Only Helen and I knew the real truth, of course: that everything was my fault. She hadn't wanted to get involved, but I laid the temptation across her table knowing that she could not resist it. I could see that a mile away, and was a little surprised that Ruben couldn't. Betting him that Helen would call us was like betting on a Warriors game when I already knew the score. From the moment she rolled her eyes at my "wide-eyed little girl routine," I knew Helen Hudson, and she knew me.
When Foley intruded into her fortress, Helen wanted out. I wouldn't let her. In my defense, Ruben wouldn't either, and Helen's closest friend, maybe her only friend, was butchered because of it. How ironic that I lost mine that same night to something as droll as a juvenile delinquent picked up in a Chinatown drug sweep.
There were no signs of violence on this visit, of course. Those had long been erased, probably by a high-priced, industrial-strength cleaning crew that performed its duties with very detailed instruction, if I knew Helen.
I was pleased to see a sophisticated keypad alarm beside the door at about eye level (my eye level, not Helen's). Had Helen actually listened to my drug-assisted ramblings in the ambulance that carried us away from the lecture hall? After consuming a few minutes' worth of whatever expensive stuff was dripping into my vein, suddenly I was full of brilliant ideas. One bullet had broken a rib, and the other had shattered my left clavicle. It wasn't fatal, especially as the EMTs arrived within minutes after I killed Foley, but I would be out of pocket for a while, unable to protect Helen.
What I thought I needed to protect Helen from was clear enough at the time, although it isn't now. Cullum was still in prison (and still is; I check every morning), and the last I had seen of Peter Foley, he had five bullet holes in those fake blues of his and another in what used to be the top of his head. Nonetheless, I was adamant as the ambulance rattled along.
"Don't leave her alone," I told the attendant, who probably wasn't paying the slightest attention to me. "Are you listening to me, Helen?" Like she had much of a choice, squeezed against me in that cramped vehicle. Her hands were free, thanks to a SWAT bolt cutter.
"You get a new lock, Helen." I remember wagging my finger at her to emphasize the importance of my every syllable. "Electronic. Wire up the place. OK?"
"And don't let anyone in, OK?" Because everyone knew it was Party Central at Helen's place. She didn't laugh at me.
I'm sure I could have come up with more bright ideas if I hadn't begun to feel a bit light headed. "Helen . . . ."
"Go to sleep, MJ."
I did, and when I woke up, I was alone in a hospital room. Well, Quinn and Nikko and Patch and couple of the other guys were there, but I was alone in the sense that mattered.
"Where's Helen?" I asked immediately.
"Back at her place," Quinn told me.
Her apartment? "Sir? Did anyone think to clean it up before she was taken there?"
The men all looked at each other as if someone else should have thought of that. We didn't normally clean up for victims, but then Helen Hudson wasn't a typical victim, was she? She had risked her own life to do our job for us and draw Foley out of the shadows.
That damning pool of blood . . . . From my hospital bed, I pictured Helen stumbling for a wine glass and/or a bottle of pills when she saw it. Oh, Helen. I'm sorry. I had seen a transformation of sorts in Helen on that rooftop, but whatever progress Peter Foley had forced upon her might have been wiped out by what she encountered when she returned to her own world. Would seeing me bring back those bad memories?
I had stalled as long as I could. Either do it or don't, Monahan.
I reached up to knock, but then I saw something else new, a black, oval doorbell. Getting fancy, Dr. Hudson? After another brief internal debate, I pressed the button.
When the door opened a few seconds later, it wasn't by a tall brunette woman in a sweater as I expected, but rather by a tall, blonde woman in a blouse unbuttoned down to her waist. OK, the last bit was perhaps a slight exaggeration, but not by much. And my definition of "tall" as a 5'2" woman was perhaps broader than most, but the key point remained: Who the hell was this?
My dismay must have shown plainly on my face. "Yes?" she asked cautiously.
"I'm looking for Dr. Helen Hudson," I said. Had Helen moved?
"She's not seeing anyone today," Blondie replied.
Still here, thank God. "Will you please tell her that MJthat Inspector Monahan would like a few minutes of her time?"
Blondie didn't say no, but it was a reasonable inference from the fact that she wasn't budging. "Dr. Hudson is not seeing anyone," she repeated. Apparently I was too deaf to have heard it the first time or too stupid to have understood it.
I don't know why I did it. Normally I would have turned on the bullshit, but for some reason I couldn't summon it this time. Until this moment, no one could ever have accused me of poor impulse control. Even my decisions to bypass departmental rules were always well reasoned. But I had driven all this way, I had been away a long time, I hadn't seen Helen since that night, and I all right, there is no excuse. Ruben would have been proud.
"Look, either you tell Dr. Hudson that Inspector Monahan is here, or I will," I said in my best "friendly dictator" voice, punctuated with menacingly insincere smile. A flash of the badge bolstered my position. At least it should have.
When she still didn't move, I I hate having to admit this I shoved my way past her and into Helen's apartment. I, of all people, who should have known better.
Before I could let Helen know I was there, Blondie was all over me. "Get out!" she yelled. "I'm calling the police!"
"I am the police," I reminded her calmly. But by then I realized something: This commotion, this invasion
"Tina?" Helen called out from the study. She sounded upset. Scared.
MJ, you stupid bitch.
"Fine," I said quietly to keep Tina from making any more noise. I plucked a card from my jacket pocket. "Will you please give her this? Wait . . . ."
With the pen that I always carry, I printed my cell phone number carefully on the back, and then, below it, my home number. Would it be too pathetic to write, "Please call"? I was thinking rationally by then, and yes, it would. For all I knew, Helen Hudson associated me with the worst moments of her life. I would understand if I never heard from her again.
About five miles from her place, my cell phone rang. "Monahan."
I couldn't help it; I was glad to hear her voice, and something about indignant Helen always made me want to grin, anyway. Maybe because she was so good at it. Nothing like a fight with the good doc to get the blood going.
"Helen, Helen, Helen. . . . I'll get a guard over here first thing"
"I don't want a fucking guard!"
"All right, all right, hey, hey." Ruben trying to run interference, as always.
One thing about women like Helen and me, though; we don't hold grudges. I was back at her place the next day, and if either of us had possessed a penis, I would have said we were flirting.
"Where the hell have you been?" Helen asked. "Forget that; get back here and tell me in person."
And of course I did. I was back at Pier 1, Fort Mason, ringing the doorbell again in ten minutes. This time Helen answered it herself, which was probably wise. Tina hung back in the study, glaring at me.
Helen's doctorate wasn't of the medical kind but she examined me nonetheless, looking me over from head to toe. I'm not sure how helpful a visual examination through someone's clothing is, but it seemed to make her feel better. We sat there, drinking juice of some sort as I told her about my days in the hospital, and then the mandatory medico-psych leave, which for me meant Arizona at a cousin's house in the desert heat. (Having a cousin who is a psych nurse is handy. It's even handier to have a cousin who is a nurse and who will follow your instructions to be left alone.)
Helen's next words surprised me. "I wanted to come see you, but they wouldn't tell me where you ended up," she said.
Come see me? "Can you . . . ?" I asked, the waving of my hand meant as a diplomatic inquiry about the agoraphobia.
"With a little help," she said. "When you've been chased onto a roof by a serial killer, somehow stepping into the hallway to get the newspaper doesn't seem quite as insurmountable."
She went for a walk every day, with a companion, of course, and each day it was a little farther. As it turned out, it was time for her walk at that moment, or so Tina informed us. Informed Helen, to be more precise. It is fair to say that neither Tina nor I felt a need to include the other in the conversation.
"Thank you, Tina," Helen said, a little formally, I noted with a twinge of jealous pleasure. Oh, yes, I was well aware of what I was experiencing. One thing about me, I almost always knew exactly what I was feeling and how to characterize it. Helen had been dependent on me, and now she had Tina. Not much of a mystery there. "Are you in a hurry?" she asked me. I shook my head, and the good doctor crushed Tina's hope of being rid of me by informing her, "Inspector Monahan will go with me today."
I was almost curious as to what she would say. That I didn't have enough medical training to go for a walk? That Helen wouldn't be as safe with me and my .45 as with a lanky girl just out of college? I never found out, because Helen cut short the protest with a mild, "We'll be fine, Tina. Thanks."
What was Tina's story? That was question number one on our forty-five minute leisurely excursion down the pier and up over the bridge in the nearby park, Helen's hand tucked into the crook of my arm. She'd been referred by the nursing college, evidently, and not coincidentally, I suspected was a big Helen Hudson fan. What I had seen back there was not just professional concern.
Question number two (which should have been number one, but see the jealousy admission above) was, "How are you, Helen?"
Better, she said. Maybe even good. It had only been a few weeks, but she wasn't having nightmares, wasn't freezing up at every sound except, of course, the occasional diminutive visitor forcing her way in unannounced.
"Diminutive?" I feigned offense, ignoring the larger point of my inappropriate behavior. "I suppose it might seem that way to an Amazon."
I was wrestling with a decision, and finally decided to let her make it. "Helen," I began. "I assume you don't want any reminders of . . . that night."
She stopped to study me, as if deciding how painful it would be to ask the question (or to hear the answer, more likely). "What are you referring to?" she asked. What do you have?
We started walking again, mostly for my sake. That would give me an excuse to be cowardly and avoid looking at her while we discussed this. "At the college," I said. "Foley's camera."
"The video?" she replied coldly. So much for our pleasant stroll in the sun.
I nodded. "Yeah."
"I don't want it," she said, then repeated it as if I were arguing with her. "I don't want it."
"That's fine, Helen," I assured her. "I just wanted to check with you before I threw it away. I thought maybe . . . ." You might want to write a book some day. I didn't say it. She would have taken that the wrong way. Maybe.
"They didn't log it in?"
"It wasn't necessary."
It will not be surprising to learn that IAB's review of the shooting death of an eight-time serial killer who had just murdered two police officers and shot another one was less than exhaustive. Their interview of me had been perfunctory at best, ending with a handshake and a "Good job, Inspector." And with Foley DOA, there was no trial to worry about. From the law enforcement standpoint, the Peter Foley case was on the shelf; time to move on. The personal standpoint, of course, was something quite different.
"No one watched it," I said.
"Well, I don't want it," Helen said again. The hesitation had lasted just an instant too long, though. I would hang on to it, just in case.
I was glad she didn't ask if I had watched it. Technically, I suppose, she might have assumed that "no one" included me, but I meant none of the others. I had watched it. I had to know what Helen went through before I got there. Five minutes into it, I was vomiting into the toilet. Another failure on my part, this one captured in all its glory.
I also had the other tape, the one made at Helen's place, Foley taunting me into following them to the school. I would hang on to that one, too.
"So what's next on the Helen Hudson agenda?" I asked lightly, trying to undo some of the damage to her mood that I had just caused.
"Well, this afternoon I'm chairing a conference at USF on recent studies in criminal psychology."
I stopped in my tracks. "You are?"
The smirk on her face told me that I had, for the second time in an hour, been an idiot. "Not exactly," she said. "The Helen Hudson agenda is to be holed up in her apartment for the next 23 hours."
"It used to be 24," I pointed out.
She rolled her eyes, but I suspected that that one hour was a bigger deal to Helen than she would admit.
"Did you drive off all your computer pals?" I asked.
"No, but . . . ." For the first time today, she seemed uncertain.
She'd had a taste of freedom, no matter how sparing and no matter the circumstances, and now things had changed. For the past thirteen months, her apartment had been a sanctuary; now it was a prison. Helen Hudson's existence was one big irony.
"You feel like doing a little consulting?" I asked impulsively. We were back on the narrow pier.
"You have another one?" she asked, her tone a mix of alarm and disbelief. It was a little too soon for the serial-killer pinup girl.
"No," I replied. "At least not that I recognized in the two-foot stack of files I sifted through this morning. Won't those gray cells of yours work on your every day run-of-the-mill murderer?"
"I don't know," she said, and I could tell that she was shaken, whether from the walk, or the tape, or the questioning, or the thought of getting dragged into another murder, I wasn't sure.
"No problem," I said. "Just thought I'd ask. I managed to solve a few cases on my own before I met you." I'd had Ruben, of course, but I decided there should be at least one awkward memory that I didn't throw in her face today.
"If I see you fumbling around in the paper on something, maybe I'll give you a call," she said.
"Fair enough," I said as I prepared to release her back into the custody of her solicitous house mate. "Of course, people do occasionally get together even in the absence of violent crime. Or so I hear."
Helen seemed fine with the idea. "Friday is Tina's night off," she said. "I make a mean lasagne . . . ."
"I'll bring the alcohol-free wine," I offered. I would have preferred the real stuff, but I had noticed something different about her place the moment I set foot in it.
"Very observant of you, Inspector," she said. "Alcohol-free wine, huh? I've never tried that before."
"Stick with me, Doc, and I'll have you trying all sorts of things you haven't done before." Yes, it was as blatant as it sounds. I have never been one for subtlety. Coy, yes, when the situation calls for it, but not subtle. After weeks of forced recuperation with little to concentrate on but recent events, and one individual in particular, my feelings about Helen Hudson had become quite clear to me.
A raised eyebrow told me that, even out of practice as she was, Helen had recognized my comment for what it was. I'm sure she has received more than her share of come ons in her day. She gave me one of those wry smiles of hers, and then said, "I look forward to that."
I smiled back at her.
"So, Italian and a movie on my big-screen TV Friday," she said. "How does that sound?"
And the fact that I was still there, asleep in Helen's bed, when Tina arrived at work the next day? Even better.
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