One to the Wolves: On the Trail of a Killer, p.3Lois Duncan
Precariously balanced on an emotional seesaw that could plunge me into depression with the slightest bit of overload, I flipped over the edge on the day I made a last minute dash to a department store to pick up a present that Kerry had placed on layaway. As I stood waiting for the over-worked salesgirl to bring out the package, I heard a girl’s voice call, “Mother!”
“Yes?” I responded automatically, and turned to see a pretty blond teenager pull a blouse from a rack and hold it up in front of her.
“This is the one you ought to buy!” she announced emphatically to the middle-aged woman standing next to her. “It’s in your colors!”
“Those are your colors!” the woman responded, laughing. “You only want me to buy that so you can borrow it!”
Her daughter joined in the laughter. “Can’t blame me for trying! Oh, Mother, look— isn’t that the coolest jacket!”
She grabbed the woman’s hand and dragged her across the aisle to another rack of clothing, and a scene from the past came rushing back me.
It was the Mother’s Day that Kait was twelve, and she announced to me at breakfast that she had a very special gift for me.
“I’ve neglected you lately,” she said solemnly. “I’ve been so busy that I haven’t scheduled enough time for you. To make up for that, I’m going to spend the whole day with you.” She smiled at my look of bewilderment. “That’s your present, Mother! I’m going to spend every minute of this entire day with you. What shall we do first?”
“That sounds wonderful, honey,” I responded in amusement, “but I’m afraid I have work to do.” I was running behind on an article assignment and had expected to devote the day to getting it finished.
“That’s all right,” Kait said agreeably. “I’ll entertain you while you write. Then we can go out to lunch and to a movie and then we can go someplace expensive to shop for a blouse or something. You’re much too old to buy all your clothes at Wal-Mart.”
The idea of trying to write with a chattering parakeet perched next to me was inconceivable, so I reluctantly put my assignment on hold and went out to “do the town” with Kait. We had lunch at the Chic-Fil-A (Kait’s favorite eatery); saw a movie with Nicholas Cage (Kait’s favorite actor); and ended up buying me a blouse (in Kait’s favorite colors). Since Kait had forgotten to bring money, I picked up the tab.
“Did you like your present?” she chirped as we walked hand-in-hand to the parking lot. “Wasn’t it special to get to spend so much time with me?”
“It certainly was,” I told her, trying not to dwell upon the fact that I would have to work half the night to finish the article.
Oh, dear God, if only I could have that day back again! The sense of loss that struck me was so intense that I thought for a moment I might die of it. Where was that orange and yellow blouse today? Hanging at the back of my closet at the town house? On a rack at the Goodwill Thrift Store? Or was it nothing but a sun-bleached rag on a shelf in a corner of the laundry room of the home we had vacated? Why hadn’t I cherished it, slept with it under my pillow or, at the very least, worn it to the funeral?
Did you like your present?
“It was a wonderful present,” I whispered now. “It was the most wonderful present in the world — the chance to spend a whole day with you.”
On New Year’s Day the inevitable finally happened and my body followed the path of my careening emotions. I was standing in Kerry’s kitchen, leaning over to take a pan of chicken out of the oven, when I discovered that my left hand wouldn’t close around the door handle. Then my left arm went limp. I tried to call out to the family, who were already gathered at the dinner table, but the words came out in a garble.
What I was trying to say was, “I think I’ve had a stroke!”
On the way to the hospital I got my speech back and dictated a living will.
Later that night I became able to move my arm and hand. As I lay in the hospital bed, clenching and re-clenching my left fist in a frenzied effort to reassure myself that I could still do so, a nurse kept popping in to ask if I could swallow. I quickly realized that swallowing was some kind of test so, of course, my mouth dried up every time the nurse appeared. In between her visits I manufactured saliva, which I surreptitiously stockpiled in the crevices of my mouth so that when she next materialized I could demonstrate my swallowing skills.
“Do you understand that you’ve had a stroke?” she asked me.
I assured her that I did.
“So what is your emotional state?” she continued, consulting her checklist. “You have four choices — denial, fear, anger, and acceptance.”
“Acceptance,” I said.
She raised her eyes from the list and regarded me suspiciously.
“You haven’t had time enough for acceptance.”
“Anger?” I suggested, although I didn’t feel angry. There was nothing and no one to be angry with except Fate, and I knew for a fact that Fate dealt harsher blows than this one.
The nurse looked relieved and checked the square beside “anger.”
The shock of seeing me babbling and drooling in her kitchen had driven Kerry into labor and, while I was getting my brain scanned, she gave birth two floors below me. I emerged from the MRI tube to find Don waiting with a wheelchair to take me down to meet our first grandson, Ryan Duncan.
I remained in the hospital four days and had a myriad of tests which revealed no overt cause for a stroke. I was in seemingly good health.
“There’s no good reason for a non-smoking, middle-aged woman to suffer a stroke,” one doctor said accusingly. “You are going to have to learn to cope better with stress and to stop letting life’s little problems become major issues for you.”
The only obvious after-effects of the “TIA,” as the doctors were now calling it, was that my smile was lopsided and my left hand didn’t type as fast as my right one. However it had triggered neurological problems. I would get weak and nauseous, see flashing psychedelic lights, and experience the sensation of plunging down an elevator shaft.
The idea of going on the road in such a condition was terrifying, and for the first time I found myself questioning whether it was worth it. I’d written a freaky book, a book with no ending, an outpouring of grief and frustration and accusations of forms of crime that police officers didn’t think existed. Why would anyone read such a book, much less take it seriously? Why would they take me seriously when I appeared on their TV screens, even if I kept my chin down and crossed my legs at the ankles? What if I blacked out on camera or my speech became garbled? Viewers would think I was drunk.
A torrent of hopelessness swept over me and, like a child groping for a security blanket, I reached out to our hometown psychic, Betty Muench.
Kait’s sister, Robin, had first visited Betty, without our knowledge, after reading in the paper that Dung had stabbed himself. Robin wanted to know what had spurred that action — grief or guilt?
Ignoring our skeptical reaction when she told us what she had done, she had handed Don and me four single spaced typewritten pages that described Dung’s relationship with Kait and some of the circumstances that led to the shooting.
That reading, which Betty had done without charge, contained information that was new to us but much of which would later prove to be accurate. About Dung, it said, “It is not as if he will have been the one to do this, but he will seem to know who did it.” Betty had since done several other readings for us, and Don and I had come to accept the validity of her gift, even if we didn’t understand it.
Now I phoned her and said, “I have a question for you. I’ve written a book about Kait’s murder and I need to know what the prospects are for its success.”
Betty asked me the name of the book, and I told her the title that the publisher had selected. Then I sat and listened to the rattle of her typewriter as she appeared to be taking dictation from some source that only she could hear.
After she completed the reading, she read it aloud:
ANSWER: There is this energy that shows that this work is to fulfill its purpose. This will not have been only to find the murderer, but this will have also been a tribute by this one mother to this one child, and this will go beyond this lifetime.
There will be in this a potential which will reach out to many people in many different ways. There will be people who will find affinity in the loss of a child, and others who will find affinity in the inappropriate behaviors of police and crime solvers. There will come much attention to this aspect of the book all over the country, and much will come out of that for the betterment of policemen all over.
There is much that Kait can say about all this energy that has been expended on her behalf, and she will know that all is being done that can be done at this time.
There is an assurance in Kait that there will come this which will seem to put the collar on the wolf who will have been after her. There will be this image of a kind of wild wolf with something on its neck as it howls with its neck up in the air. There is a sense of message which will show that there is knowing in her that this will be done and that the wolf will come into forms of justice which Lois and all her family and friends will bear witness to. There will be fear, and a mistake will be made, and there will be in the minds of all sensible beings the knowing that the efforts of Lois in this will have been the target for this justice.
There is a sense of relief and relaxation in Kait — much warmth and softness in her now.
Mom, I love you. Look out for the walker, the innocent walker, who does more than walk.
“I gather from this that Kait is still very much a part of the action,” Betty told me. “She hasn’t moved on to other realms yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was standing at your shoulder, watching you write your book.”
“I can believe that,” I said quietly.
For Betty didn’t know — nor did anyone else on this earth plane other than Don and my editor — that the original title for my book had been One to the Wolves.
The book hit the city of Albuquerque like a nuclear explosion. One bookstore that had placed an order for one hundred copies sold them all within hours and frantically wired the warehouse for another shipment. TV newscasts showed customers scrambling for the last copies on the shelves, and newspaper headlines screamed “Sloppy Police Work Frustrated Duncan” and “Mother Relentlessly Searches for the Awful Truth.”
“This book is sure to offend some readers,” said an article in the Albuquerque Tribune. “Albuquerque police are portrayed as a bunch of bureaucratic bunglers, the District Attorney’s Office as uncaring prosecutors … Each time Arquette’s family uncovered additional information that suggested her death was no accident, it would be turned over to the police. But, Duncan wrote, the information never went anywhere because police insisted the shooting was random.”
Initially the police declined to comment, saying they could not discuss the investigation because it was on-going. A day or so later they changed their minds. The deputy chief of investigations told reporters, “The case is still open, but there’s no active investigation.” Asked whether he had read the book, he responded, “No, I don’t read fiction.” He said the police department stood by their investigation as thorough and professional and “we checked out every lead there was.”
There was also reaction to the book from the Vietnamese. When we took up residence in the camper, we had subscribed to an answering service, and our voice mail contained threats from people with Vietnamese accents. One was a woman whose observations about our family were of such a personal nature that it was obvious that she had been coached by somebody who knew us.
The promotion tour was launched in New York, and I made my TV debut on Good Morning, America. When I arrived at the studio I made the unsettling discovery that I would be sharing the segment with members of New Mexico law enforcement who had been taped in advance by the CBS affiliate in Albuquerque.
“Police say it is unlikely there will ever be another arrest,” said the narrator, shown standing at the intersection where Kait was shot. “Police say they know who killed Kaitlyn, but without reliable witnesses it’s a case that will not hold up in court.”
The next face to fill the screen was that of a captain from APD.
“I think our people did an excellent job,” he said proudly. “The Vietnamese angle was extensively looked into. We were aware of that soon after the homicide occurred. We could find no tie to the homicide with any Vietnamese gang.”
Then, onto the screen popped the face of District Attorney Bob Schwartz.
“Did the police blow the investigation?” the reporter asked him.
“No,” Schwartz said. “This case was victimized by the witnesses in the case.” His voice took on a note of sadness. “I have seen other parents who have suffered the worst pain imaginable … they need to blame someone and they typically will blame the system.”
“What do you want to say in response to what you just heard?” the hostess, Joan Lundon, asked me as my face replaced Schwartz’s on the monitor.
In deference to Bill’s instructions to “take the high road,” I tried to respond diplomatically.
“When people in authority are backed to the wall it’s common for them to be defensive about it,” I said. “Bob Schwartz, as far as I know, is an ethical man, but being in the position he is as district attorney, all he had to go on was what was in the police reports. I think there are things that Bob Schwartz wasn’t aware of.”
“Good luck to you, Lois Duncan.”
Mercifully it was over, and I knew in my heart that it had been a disaster. The last thing I had expected was that on my very first interview I would be forced to respond to statements from Albuquerque law enforcement. The police captain had made me seem like a paranoid liar, alleging that there was Asian gang activity when none existed, and the district attorney had issued the coup de grace by portraying me as a woman so deranged by grief that she was attacking the very people who were trying to help her.
I returned to the hotel, so embarrassed and discouraged that all I wanted to do was cry.
The phone in my room was ringing when I entered my room.
It was the assistant publicist who had arranged the tour.
“We’re already getting calls about the program,” she told me. “Producers from several major talk shows are interested in interviewing you, and we’ve had a firm invitation from Larry King Live. You’re going to be on that show a week from Tuesday.”
“But it was a fiasco!” I exclaimed. “That captain said the Vietnamese angle was thoroughly investigated, and the district attorney—”
“That’s what hooked their interest!” the publicist broke in. “A grief stricken mother isn’t interesting unless there’s conflict. Larry King is going to let you spar with the district attorney via satellite.”
“He’s what?” I gasped in horror. The talking heads on Good Morning, America had been intimidating enough, but at least I had been able to respond without interacting. A debate with the district attorney was out of the question. Not only was Schwartz a slick and experienced prosecutor, he had a second persona as a stand-up comedian, known for his barbed wit and his ability to verbally decapitate opponents.
“I can’t do it,” I said. “There’s no way I can ‘spar’ with Bob Schwartz.”
“You can’t turn this down,” the publicist told me. “Larry King is one of the most popular shows on television. Your book will get tremendous national exposure.”
The week that followed passed in a blur of newspaper, radio and television interviews. Every evening I would get on a plane and fly to a different city, check into a hotel, sleep for a few hours, and get up to face a new round of appearances. New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Ohio and Michigan slid past without making a dent in my memory. I was so focused upon the frightening prospect of appearing on Larry King Live with Bob
The publicist was delighted. What a treat for the viewers! They would get to watch the razor tongued district attorney humiliate me in person!
That night, in desperation, I sat down with a pencil and hotel stationary and started mapping out a battle plan. I was painfully aware that I lacked the DA’s gift for showmanship, but I did have one thing going for me — I knew more about the case than he did. I could raise issues concerning the investigation that Schwartz very likely knew nothing about.
I vowed to myself that I was not going to continue to be cast as a grief-crazed housewife creating monsters out of dust balls. I would come to the show armed with facts so inarguable and incriminating that APD’s handling of the case would be indefensible.
I arrived in Washington D.C. at 5 p.m. on June 9, after a full day of radio and television interviews in Detroit. I checked into my hotel, pressed some clothes to wear on the show, and had just begun to review my sheaf of notes when the phone rang.
It was Don calling from Albuquerque.
“Betty just sent us another reading,” he told me. “I think you’d do well to go easy on APD tonight.”
“You can’t mean that!” I exclaimed. “This is our one big chance to get all our information out there!”
“You can’t afford to blast the police,” Don said. “This reading says Kait’s killers eventually will turn on each other and Dung will spill his guts. We’re going to need the police to make the arrests. If you embarrass them, you may alienate them so badly that they’ll bury all the tips this show may generate.”
“They probably don’t watch Larry King Live,” I said. “Doesn’t it come on opposite one of those cop shows?”
“Everybody in Albuquerque will be watching it tonight,” Don said. “All the TV stations have interviewed Schwartz, and there’s a piece in tonight’s Tribune that says you and he are ‘bringing new life to what police describe as a dead murder investigation.’”
One to the Wolves: On the Trail of a Killer by Lois Duncan / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes