By Friday, although border checkpoints from Tijuana to Nogales had been placed on alert, Mexican authorities still hadn’t located Alonzo Domingos. Also disappointing, lab comparisons of the two crime scenes finally came back, proving nearly useless. The candles and rope from both sites appeared identical, but none of the unknown fingerprints matched. Surveillance of the scenes had been fruitless, the video of the Larsons’ funeral revealed no suspicious strangers, and despite initial optimism, the forensic odontologist had been unable to fabricate meaningful casts of the killer’s teeth. Interviews with the realtors and clients on Graysha’s list were unproductive as well. On a positive note, a followup microscopic examination demonstrated a correlating angle of shear on both pairs of severed eyelids, indicating that the cuts had been made by a similar, or possibly the same, instrument.
Not much, but something.
During this period I made little headway myself, spending most of my time resifting through records and grudgingly accepting my share of burgeoning but useless hotline leads. By week’s end the routine had worn thin. To make matters worse, I had drawn Saturday duty-along with half of the task force members. The rest were slated to work Sunday.
I had just finished typing another followup supplemental to keep Snead happy when Barrello stopped by, perching his considerable bulk on the corner of my desk. “Making any progress?” he asked.
“A little,” I answered. “I’ve improved my skills at filling out worthless forms and running down bullshit leads.”
“At least you’re still here,” he chuckled. “It might interest you to know that some of the guys started a pool on how long you’d last. More than a few are surprised you’ve made it this far. I had you down for checking out yesterday.”
“Sorry to disappoint you.”
“I’m not disappointed. The way things are shaping up, a little entertainment around here is welcome.”
“I’m not quitting, if that’s what you think.”
“That’s not the way I see it happening, either. Lemme ask you something, Kane. How do you figure to keep butting heads with Snead and get away with it?”
“I can handle Snead.”
“Sure you can.”
“So what are you doing your day off?” I asked, changing the subject.
Barrello shrugged. “My brother-in-law skippers a scuba dive boat out of San Pedro. Nancy and I are going out for the day.”
“You a scuba diver?”
“Yeah. That’s how I met Nan. She’s had to give it up since her health problems, but she still tags along when I go.”
“Her brother owns the boat?”
“He and another guy. They’re building a second one, too. They want me to skipper it after I finish my twenty with the department. I’m considering it.”
“Sounds good, Lou. Hope it works out.”
Barrello nodded. “How ’bout you? What’ve you got planned for your one day off?”
“I’ll probably spend it at home, work around the house, maybe do a little body-surfing-take advantage of some waves that have been hitting the beach for the past couple of days.”
“I heard you own a place on the beach in Malibu. What’d you do, win the lottery?”
I smiled. “Not everybody in Malibu is a tycoon, pal. To say my house isn’t up to Better Homes and Gardens standards is putting it mildly. It wasn’t much more than a cottage when my mother-in-law grew up there, and I don’t think anybody ever expected it to last as long as it has.”
The phone on my desk rang. I lifted the receiver, spoke a few words, listened for a minute, and hung up.
“Anything?” Barrello asked.
“Antonio Morales. I had him doing some checking for me.”
“Antonio Morales, as in drug lord Anthony Morales? Hangs out with a bunch of guys whose last names all end in vowels?”
“That’s the one. Narcotics ran into a brick wall, so I went to the source and asked him to run down that cocaine we found in the Larsons’ safe.”
“You asked him? And he did it?”
“It took a little persuading. Turns out two months ago the Larsons bought an eight-ball from some local named Billy Randall. Morales said he leaned on Randall and everybody else involved regarding the murders. No connection. Just another example of recreational drug use by upstanding members of society. The coke angle’s a bust.”
“Not surprising.” A pause, then, “You have some unusual friends.”
“Morales isn’t a friend.”
“So how’d you get him to cooperate?”
I didn’t answer.
“C’mon, Kane. I can keep my mouth shut. Spill it.”
After a slight hesitation, I shrugged. “I once did Julius Sorvino a favor.”
Barrello whistled softly. “You did a favor for the West Coast Mafia boss? What?”
“Years back I worked on an organized-crime task force. We spent three months at the Beverly Hills Hotel watching Sorvino and his pack of cronies. When the bust went down, I convinced our guys to leave Sorvino’s wife and kid out of it. Guess Sorvino figured he owed me.”
“You saved Sorvino’s family the embarrassment of being hauled downtown?” Barrello said pensively. “You’re a strange guy, Kane.”
Deciding to look into something I had been chewing over in my mind for the past several days, I made an unscheduled stop on the way home that evening, exiting the freeway in West Los Angeles. From there I drove three blocks north and pulled to a stop in front of a one-story building. A large window in front displayed a selection of stereos, televisions, and ham radio equipment. Above the door, a neon sign read “Hank’s Radio and TV.”
I entered and made my way to the rear. As I stepped into a well lit service area in the back, a balding man with wire-rimmed spectacles looked up from a cluttered workbench. “Dan!” the man said with a smile, his face creasing like a worn glove. “It’s been a while. Good to see you.”
“You, too, Hank. How’s your boy?”
When I first moved up to homicide, I had worked a drive-by shooting in which several youths had been fatally injured. Hank Dexter’s teenaged son, who had been among a crowd sprayed with indiscriminate gunfire, had wound up riding a wheelchair. During the course of the investigation, the owner of the electronic shop and I had become friends, and we had kept in touch.
“Mitchell is fine,” Hank answered proudly, reaching across the counter to shake my hand. “He’s getting married next month.”
“Great. Give him my best.”
“I will. You’ll come to the wedding?”
“Thanks for the invite, Hank, but right now I’ve no idea what my schedule will be.”
“I saw you on the news. The candlelight killings. Terrible.” The older man looked at me curiously. “I take it this isn’t a social call.”
“No. I have a couple things I want to run by you.”
“Concerning the murders you’re working on?”
“I can’t tell you that. And I want you to keep this under your hat.”
“Of course. Shoot.”
I collected my thoughts, trying to crystallize something I had been mulling over since earlier that week. “We’re talking hypothetical here, okay?” I began, broaching an idea that had occurred to me following a comment of Snead’s. “Say you want to break into a house. It has an automatic opener on the garage door. You’ve stolen a look at the remote, so you go down to the local hardware store, buy a similar control, and set the combination on those little switches inside-what do you call them?”
“DIP switches. No one has used them in years, Dan,” Hank said with a patient smile. “It’s all solid-state now.”
“Whatever. You see where I’m going here? Is there some way you can program a similar remote control to get in?”
“If you couldn’t get your hands on the original opener, I suppose you could try breaking the code,” Hank offered. “I’m not really up on it, but I do know that openers aren’t as simple as they once were. When they first came out, stray signals from CB radios and whatnot used to open garage doors all the time.”
“So they started making openers more complicated?”
“Right. By adding integrated circuitry to the transmitter unit, a binary signal could be superimposed on the carrier frequency. The receiver on the other end has to match for the door to open.”
“Like a lock and key. How about just trying all the combinations?”
“Interesting question,” Hank mused. “Assuming you know the transmission frequency, I suppose you could use a computer to generate a sequential string of codes, beginning with the simplest-say, eight-digit combinations-and work your way up. Using a fast laptop, you could probably hit every possible variation in a reasonable amount of time. Of course, if you didn’t know the transmission frequency, you would have to repeat the process for every channel currently in use. And that’s assuming there aren’t safety protocols in the circuit to prevent such an attack. Let’s see, besides a laptop and some basic programming skills, you’d need a signal generator, an RF amplifier, and maybe a Yagi directional antenna.”
“So someone with knowledge of electronics and computer programming could do it.”
“Theoretically. People have been cracking codes on everything since the beginning of time. A door opener couldn’t be that tough. Tell you what. Let me do a little checking and get back to you.”
“Thanks. I appreciate it.” I pulled out a card and scribbled my phone number at LAPD headquarters on the back. “I’m working downtown now. Phone me there.”
“Sure. I hope you get this guy.”
“Don’t worry. Sooner or later, we’ll get him.”
But on the final leg of my journey home, I admitted to myself that I was far less certain of success than I’d sounded. To date, all the task force had accomplished was to gather up various pieces of the murders-warehousing a meticulously labeled library of blood and fluid samples, hairs, prints, and other found material. And for reasons I couldn’t bring into focus, I knew that Alonzo Domingos wouldn’t pan out as a suspect. Discounting some fortuitous break, the task force’s best chance for success now lay in an area I didn’t want to consider.
Unless something changed, we would have to wait for the killer to strike again.