One to the Wolves: On the Trail of a Killer, p.2Lois Duncan
Several days later she phoned again.
“It looks like this actually may fly,” she said with obvious surprise. “The editors are intrigued by the story, but they’re leery of lawsuits. They don’t want to commit to anything until their legal department gives them a go-ahead.”
The following week I flew to New York to meet with the publisher’s legal department, bringing with me suitcases containing the binders of documentation that had filled an entire bookcase in my home office. Those materials included the APD case file, transcripts of depositions, a transcript of the grand jury hearing at which Miguel Garcia and Juve Escobedo were indicted and a scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings that chronicled the downhill slide of the investigation.
I also brought dozens of audio tapes of phone conversations, since New Mexico was a state in which it was legal for one party to record phone calls without the second party’s knowledge.
The publisher’s attorney seemed particularly concerned about a police artist’s sketches, based upon descriptions of two faces that psychic detective Noreen Renier described in a trance.
“Has anyone been able to identify those faces?” she asked me.
“The first sketch isn’t of an actual person,” I told her. “It’s the hitman on the jacket of the British edition of my novel, Don’t Look Behind You. Noreen believes Kait was trying to channel the message, ‘It wasn’t a random shooting! I was shot by a drug dealer’s hitman, like the one in Mother’s book!’”
“If it’s just symbolic, then, that’s okay,” the attorney said. “But we definitely can’t use the second sketch – the one the psychic says is the politician your daughter saw do drugs. If that happens to resemble a real person, there might be a libel suit.”
Leaving the documentation with the legal department, I went to another office to meet with the senior editor and head publicist.
“If we publish this book we’re going to want you to go on tour with it,” the editor told me. “The subject is a natural for talk shows.”
“I’ve never been on a talk show,” I said nervously.
“Then we’ll get you a media trainer,” the publicist told me.
“A media trainer?” I wasn’t familiar with the term.
“That’s an expert who works with authors who are going on first-time promo tours. You’ll be taught how to take control of an interview and deal with hecklers.” Seeing my expression change from doubtful to terrified, he quickly switched to an alternate line of argument. “You wrote this book to motivate informants, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” I acknowledged.
“A promo tour will make that possible,” the editor pointed out. “That visual exposure may be just what it takes to bring you the answers you’re looking for. I’ll be in touch with your agent to work out details. Oh, and one other thing – the book needs a stronger title.”
“I like One to the Wolves!” I protested. That title held special meaning for me because it reminded me of an eerie picture of a wolf that Kait had created as an etching when she was ten. Was it possible, even back then, she was having nightmares about the “wolf” who would come for her eight years later?
“I’m afraid that’s too subtle,” the editor said. “We need a title that will jump out and grab people.”
By the time I left her office, One to the Wolves had been re-titled Who Killed My Daughter?. I comforted myself with the thought that, if the time ever came that I wrote a sequel, I would use the “wolf” title.
I had also been assigned to a media trainer named Bill.
My training session consisted of an eight-hour marathon in Bill’s New York office.
“I want to know all about what happened to your daughter,” he told me. “Start at the beginning and tell me the story chronologically.”
I braced myself and began.
“Kait stopped by our house at six that evening. I'm sure of the time, because 60 Minutes had just come on. Kait had recently graduated from high school and gotten her own apartment, and she’d let her boyfriend, Dung Nguyen, move in with her.”
“After the murder, her apartment manager told us that a lot had been going on that Kait hadn’t shared with us. He said Kait was afraid of Dung’s friends and had the locks changed to keep them out, but they broke a window and got in that way. Another time, she locked Dung out because he’d threatened her, and he kicked in the door. When she left our home on the night she was shot, Kait told us she was breaking up with Dung and was going to spend the evening with a new girlfriend named Susan Smith*, and if Dung called trying to find her—”
Bill lifted his hand to signal me to stop.
“Let’s take it from the top,” he said. “You need to tighten that up. In your first sentence, identify Kait by name and say where and when she was shot. In your second sentence, state the problem you have with the investigation. Save the details for later.”
I drew a deep breath and started over.
“In July, 1989, our daughter, Kaitlyn Arquette, was murdered in Albuquerque, New Mexico.” I glanced at Bill for confirmation, and he nodded his approval. “The police called the shooting a random drive-by, but our family is convinced Kait was killed because she was getting ready to blow the whistle on interstate crime.”
My detailed rendition of the story took forty-two minutes and left me emotionally exhausted.
“Pretty good,” Bill said. “Now, let’s try it again.”
“Again?” I exclaimed incredulously.
“Most shows won’t allow you anywhere near that much time,” Bill said. “Let’s say you’re on a show that allows you only ten minutes. How are you going to condense this to fit that time frame?”
We worked the story down to ten minutes. Then, to five minutes. And, finally, to three minutes. One hundred and eighty seconds to describe the circumstances of Kait’s murder and explain why we believed the shooting was premeditated.
We broke for a hurried lunch and returned for “the hard part.”
“How many TV appearances have you done?” Bill asked me.
“None, except for a couple of local newscasts.”
“Then we’ll need to start you from scratch. Let’s move into the studio.”
The room that connected to Bill’s office was arranged like a stage set. He placed me in a chair, directed lights at my face, and started a camera rolling. Now, in addition to worrying about the content of the story, I had to be concerned about the direction of my eyes, the intensity of my expression and the angle of my head.
“Keep your chin down,” Bill directed. “Tilting your head like that makes you appear unapproachable. Keep your gestures at chest level so your hands don’t come between your face and the camera. And if you’re going to cross your legs, do it at the ankles.”
Toward the end of the day we got to the phone-in programs. Bill played devil’s advocate and goaded me with the types of questions he said I could expect from a call-in audience.
I had grown so accustomed to his empathetic interview style that this new approach came as a shock.
“Mrs. Arquette — or Ms. Duncan, or whatever you want to call yourself — as a member of the Police Benevolent Society, I’m shocked and offended by your criticism of our boys in blue. Why would they want to cover up for an Asian crime ring?”
“That’s what we’d like to know!” I shot back. “We trusted the police! We believed in those shows on television where they follow up on every bit of evidence, and take statements from all witnesses and suspects, and write honest reports—”
“No!” Bill broke in. “That’s not the way to respond. If you let yourself be provoked into a display of anger you’ll weaken your credibility.”
“Then how do I answer a question like that one?”
“Take the high road,” Bill told me. “State your position with dignity in as few words as possible and try not to sound accusatory. Let’s try it again.” He repeated the question in exactly the same words.
“I don’t want to believe they’re
The barrage of challenging questions continued until it was time for me to leave for the airport.
“You’re going to do just fine,” Bill said reassuringly as he handed me the video of our training session. “Take this home and analyze it. You’ll learn a lot by viewing yourself objectively. If you get up-tight about a particular show, feel free to call me.”
The traffic was lighter than expected, and my cab driver got me to the airport with time to spare. I checked my luggage, went to the gate and took a seat in the crowded waiting area. I had a paperback book in my purse but was too tired to read it. Instead, I replayed the day over and over in my mind, cringing at the memory of the hideous questions Bill had hurled at me in his well-intentioned effort to prepare me for the worst that call-in viewers could dish out.
“How could you let your daughter date somebody of another race?”
“What kind of slut was she to let her boyfriend move in with her?”
“Why can’t you put this unfortunate event behind you and get on with your life? You and your husband still have four living children. That should be enough for anybody.”
His final question had been especially devastating.
“Why would a clean-cut honor student — who had never been in trouble with the law, who didn’t do drugs, who wouldn’t even smoke a cigarette — become involved with an organized crime ring?”
I’d asked myself that question a thousand times and still hadn’t found an answer.
Shortly after the shooting, Kait’s sister, Robin, had said to me, “Aside from losing Kait, the worst thing about this nightmare is knowing that she never had a chance to make her life meaningful. She had so many dreams for the future, and she couldn’t fulfill them. I can’t bear the thought that Kait died an empty death.”
So far, I had managed to deal with my personal agony by pouring our on-going horror story onto paper. But what would I do with my pain now that the book was completed and I no longer had that outlet?
A wave of dizziness struck me and the world became suddenly diffused as if a movie projector had slipped out of focus. My ears were filled with the sound of my accelerated heartbeat and I gripped the arms of my seat to keep from falling out of my chair. The anxiety attack seemed to last for no more than a minute but when I opened my eyes I found that the waiting room was empty. I glanced about me in bewilderment — where had all the people gone? Then I looked at my watch and discovered that over half an hour had passed since I last had been conscious of the world around me.
I got up and went over to the counter.
“Where is everybody?” I asked the attendant. “Has the gate been changed?”
“No, ma’am,” he said with a smirk.
“So, how late is the flight?”
“It was right on time,” he told me. “It took off ten minutes ago just like it was supposed to.”
“But I didn’t hear you call it!”
“That’s your problem, lady. Fifty people walked right over your feet to get on it and you just sat there.”
That was when I realized that my kind media trainer had overestimated my resilience. I was not going to be “just fine.”
When I finally got back to Albuquerque on a much later flight, Don and I were faced with a decision that we had not expected to have to make for years. We knew that, when my book was published, the charming Southwestern city where we had lived for our whole married life would never be home to us again.
“We need to get out of here before the book comes out,” Don said. “There’s bound to be retaliation.”
“From the Vietnamese?”
“That’s possible, of course, but we also could be in danger from the Hispanic suspects. When the DA dropped charges against Miguel Garcia, he and his friends thought they were off the hook. Now your book will come out, speculating that they possibly were hired hit men. They won’t be happy about that.”
“The police are the ones I’m worried about,” I said.
Several of my former journalism students at the University of New Mexico were now reporters for local newspapers and had told me disturbing stories about their experiences with police harassment when they wrote articles that portrayed the department unfavorably. Accusations of police brutality were becoming increasingly common in Albuquerque, and the number of killings by police was reportedly far above the norm for a city that size.
One highly publicized police shooting was engraved on my memory because it occurred the same year Kait was shot. Peter Klunck, a small time drug dealer, had been chased down and shot to death by police officers on the morning of the day Peter was scheduled for a court appearance. Matt Griffin, the cop who fired the death shot, claimed self-defense, although several witnesses, including a fellow officer, reported Peter was unarmed, and Peter’s parents were convinced the killing was premeditated. The police department rallied in defense of Griffin, who was kept on the force until July of that same year when he killed a man who caught him hot-wiring a car. One week before Kait’s murder, Matt Griffin was revealed to be the “Ninja Bandit,” a notorious bank robber. Despite that revelation, police remained firm in their contention that Peter’s parents were slanderous troublemakers who had no right to question Griffin’s motive for shooting their son.
The longer Don and I discussed the possible ramifications of the book’s publication, the more uneasy we became. After hashing it over, we decided not to take chances, so Don applied for early retirement, and we bought a secondhand fifth-wheel trailer. When the book was released, we planned to evacuate the town house and move into the trailer at a campground outside the city limits.
But the book was not scheduled for publication until spring, which meant that, although Don continued to put in his usual long hours at the office, my own life was on hold. I was still under contract to write the last of three suspense novels, only two of which had been completed at the time of Kait’s death, but I found it impossible to create a fictional murder mystery when my mind would not focus on anything other than our real one.
So, with nothing to do but kill time, I dutifully devoted my days to analyzing talk shows. I had never before watched daytime television, and I found myself mesmerized by the subject matter and the wildly contrasting participants. The guests on the Joan Rivers Show were a classy lot and obviously most had had media training. The Maury Povitch Show was not for the faint of heart, what with all the satanic cultists and serial killers, but Maury had a nice smile. Oprah Winfrey and Phil Donahue ran opposite each, so I took turns switching back and forth. The Donahue Show tended to intimidate me, as Phil’s guests were often so bizarre, and the studio audience went straight for the jugular. The Oprah audience was kinder, perhaps as a reflection of Oprah herself, who seemed like the sort of person who would be fun at a party. I also developed warm feelings for Sally Jessy Raphael, who appeared sincerely sympathetic to the parade of agonized bigamists, transvestites, and adult-children-of-dysfunctional-parents, who trooped on and off the set to the cheers and applause of a surprisingly youthful audience.
At the end of each “workday” of TV viewing, I would replay Bill’s training video and compare my pathetic performance to those I had just witnessed. Every time, I found new things to worry about. My voice was either too flat or too shrilly emotional; I paused too long between sentences or jabbered so nervously that I ran out of breath; I gestured too much or, conversely, clenched my hands together in my lap in a knot of rigidity that made me appear catatonic. And, whenever I described the hours at Kait’s bedside, holding her hand and waiting for her to die, I started to gasp as if I had asthma.
Since Don’s last day of work was the tenth of December, we decided to take the t
Kerry tried to make our visit a festive one, but the going was rough for her. Both our little granddaughters had ear infections, our son-in-law had just learned that his job was being terminated, and Kerry herself was in her ninth month of pregnancy. Despite our best efforts, we never quite got the holidays up and rolling. As the baby of the family, Kait had been the pivot of Christmas, and memories of happier times overwhelmed us.
“Remember when she wrapped up all her old toys and put them under the tree so she would have more packages to open than Donnie?”
“Remember when she baked pies and forgot to put in sugar?”
“Remember when we took her to see The Nutcracker, and she brought the hamsters in her purse so they could see the Mouse King?”
I remember, I responded silently. Oh, yes, I remember.
I remembered the chubby three-year-old, still damp from her bath, who snuggled on Don’s lap as he read her The Night Before Christmas. I remembered the gregarious ten-year-old who sang Christmas carols off key as she lined the driveway with luminarias. I remembered the starry-eyed teenager on the last Christmas Eve of her life, filling a stocking for her boyfriend — “Dung says they don’t have Christmas stockings in Vietnam. I’m going to sneak over and hang this on his door knob.”
One to the Wolves: On the Trail of a Killer by Lois Duncan / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes