Beating the Babushka: A Cape Weathers Mystery #2

Beating the Babushka: A Cape Weathers Mystery #2

When a movie producer hurtles to his death from the top of the Golden Gate Bridge, an apparent suicide, it shocks the film community and puts a two hundred million ...

About The Author

Tim Maleeny

Tim Maleeny is a San Francisco-based writer whose short stories appear in DEATH DO US PART, an anthology from Mystery ...

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Tom Abrahams was flying to his death. That’s what he told himself as he plummeted through the fog with his arms outstretched, the wind roaring in his ears. He was flying, not falling. He could turn and glide safely back to the bridge at any moment. All he had to do was concentrate. No problem. He felt surprisingly calm, his mind clear. The night air was invigorating. A sudden image from his daughter’s video collection flashed across his consciousness: Peter Pan and Wendy soaring above the London Bridge. They’d watched that scene a thousand times—what was the secret Peter told the children? Think of a happy little thought. Two hundred feet was a long way down. Plenty of time to think of something. He thought of skydiving in Florida when he was eighteen, the rush of air so intense the only sound was his heart pounding somewhere inside his head, then silence once he reached terminal velocity and everything stabilized. One hundred twenty miles per hour, the white noise enveloping him like a protective blanket, the world literally at his feet. A happy little thought? Tom worried for an instant over the morbid sound of terminal velocity, wondering who invented the term. Realized too late he should have paid more attention in high school physics. An object falls from the center span of the Golden Gate Bridge, which sits approximately two hundred and twenty feet above San Francisco Bay. Since all objects accelerate at the same rate under gravity, and taking into account air resistance, how long before the object hits the water below? Tom didn’t know the answer, but he hoped it was a long, long time. The fog parted for an instant, revealing the black water below. Whitecaps appeared and then vanished from the surface, a distant Morse code warning him to turn back. Just a happy little thought. Tom spread his arms wider, arching his back to keep from spinning. The crush of air felt like it was going to break him in half. He spread his fingers, willing them to grow feathers and turn into wings. Then he remembered the catch. Peter Pan got it wrong—you needed pixie dust to fly. Until Peter grabbed Tinkerbell and shook pixie dust on the kids, they dropped like stones onto their bed. Without pixie dust they were just another physics experiment, all victims of gravity. Without pixie dust they were fucked. Like Tom was now. His eyes watering, Tom squinted to make out a flash of light piercing the fog. He wondered briefly if it was Tinkerbell, come to shake her little fairy butt in his direction, give him a lift. You can fly, you can fly, you can fly! A gust of wind flipped him upside down as Tom realized the flashing was the lighthouse at Alcatraz. No Tinkerbell, just a rundown jail holding tourists prisoner. Head down, Tom strained to see through the fog, thicker now and backlit by the distant beacon. Then everything turned a blinding white, as if he’d fallen into a ball of cotton. He spun again, no longer sure if the water was below or above him. He just knew it was close. With his eyes shut tight, Tom thought he could hear the sound of waves breaking against the base of the bridge tower. He thought he could smell salt spray through the dampness of the fog. He thought he heard music. Then he thought about his daughter. Tom had no more happy little thoughts after that.  

Chapter 2

Cape Weathers looked up from the newspaper before there was any knock on his door. These days it wasn’t too hard to tell when he had a visitor. His office sat on the third floor of a building along the Embarcadero, the gently curving road that separated downtown San Francisco from Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, two of the more dubious landmarks in a city known for its good looks. One short trip across the asphalt and you went from urban paradise to tourist hell. Cape liked to think of his office as purgatory. A couple of years ago, the other offices in the building were bustling with tech start-ups, the hallways buzzing with entrepreneurial fervor and breathless whispers of pending IPOs. Now they were all but deserted, the dot-com acolytes back at their old jobs, making Cape one of the few remaining tenants who paid the rent on time. Most months, anyway. The door was open, so there was no mistaking the footsteps echoing down the hallway. Sounded like a woman wearing heels, average weight, confident stride. Not a fast walker, but zero hesitation at the end of the hall. She knew where she was going. Cape reflected that it could also be an underweight man who cross-dressed. This was San Francisco, after all. He’d just have to wait and see. It was worth the wait. The woman standing in the doorway was wearing heels and was probably average weight, but  there was nothing else average about her. She filled the room with her presence before she’d even cleared the threshold. The word that came to Cape’s mind was intense. She had long black hair with matching eyes, her hair pulled back into a no-nonsense ponytail. She wore jeans and a blouse that looked casual but elegant, the kind of thing Cape figured cost roughly what he paid in rent, even before she added up the dry cleaning bills. She stood in the doorway with a posture that suggested she didn’t really want to be there but had nowhere else to go. When she smiled at Cape, her face radiated warmth everywhere—except her eyes, which looked like they belonged to a woman who hadn’t slept in a week. “Cape Weathers?” Cape returned the smile. “Welcome to purgatory.” “Excuse me?” “Never mind,” he said as her smile vanished. “Have a seat.” She remained standing. “Rebecca Lowry said I could trust you,” she said pointedly, watching him. “That’s nice of her.” So much for small talk. Let the interview begin. “She said you could find anyone.” Cape shrugged. “Most people don’t know the good hiding places.” “She also said you almost got killed trying to help her.” “Rebecca  was  somewhat  prone  to  exaggeration,” replied Cape. “I got a little airsick traveling back and forth to Mexico. But I’m not really in the habit of talking about past clients.” “She also said you were modest.” Cape gestured toward the client chair again. “She mention that I was charming?” “Never.” Cape nodded. “Rebecca was also prone to understatement.” The corners of her mouth turned up slightly. “How do I know I can trust you?” Cape shrugged again. “Do you trust Rebecca?” “Rebecca and I were roommates at school.” She said it as if they’d scaled Everest together or survived a tour in Vietnam. Cape figured he must have gone to a different school. The woman nodded as if he’d said something, or maybe she’d made a decision and said something to herself. She stepped around the chair and extended her hand. Her grip was firm, her hand surprisingly large. Up close, she smelled faintly of strawberries. “I’m Grace Gold,” she said. “And just so we’re clear from the start, I can’t stand men who lie to me.” “I’m lactose intolerant,” said Cape. “Anything else you want to get on the table?” That got a full smile, if only for an instant. “When I told Rebecca about my situation, she told me it was your kind of problem.” “Okay, Grace,” replied Cape, raising an eyebrow. “Since assertiveness isn’t one of your problems, it must be something else.” “I’m having trouble with the police.” “Which police?” “The San Francisco police—they won’t listen to me.” “I find that hard to believe,” said Cape. “You strike me as, well, persistent.” “I’ve talked to six different people in two different departments, and no one’s listening.” “I have the same problem with cops but always thought it was me. Have you tried a bullhorn?” “Are you going to help me or not?” “With what?” Cape spread his hands. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Grace, but are you typically this obtuse? Why were you talking to the police in the first place?” Grace sighed, dropped her hands to her lap. Took another deep breath before looking up. Now her face matched her eyes, and she looked ten years older than a moment before, as if what she was about to say would stop her heart. “A friend of mine was murdered.” “When?” Cape glanced at the discarded newspaper on his desk. He didn’t recall reading anything about a murder. Grace followed his gaze and turned the paper toward her, scanning the front page. She flipped it around and pointed to the headline in the lower right corner. Movie Producer Takes a Dive. Cape frowned. The local paper had become more like the New York Post every year. He’d just read the story and seriously doubted the man’s family took any solace from him taking a dive off the Golden Gate Bridge. He quickly scanned the article for the name. “Tom Abrahams?” he asked. “The producer—that’s your friend?” “Yes,” she said. “We work—worked—together.” “It says he jumped,” said Cape. “They found his abandoned car. I know this is upsetting, but—” “It’s bullshit!” Grace almost came out of her chair, slamming her right hand on the desk. “You don’t jump off a fucking bridge in the middle of a movie!” “Suicides don’t always choose the most opportune times…” “Bullshit,” repeated Grace, her nostrils flaring. “Tom called me the night he—” She stopped, staring at the newspaper. “The night this happened.” “What did he say?” asked Cape. “I was out.” Her mouth was a straight line of frustration. “He left a message asking me to call him back.” “Did you?” Grace shook her head. “It was late—I figured I’d just catch up with him in the morning.” Cape nodded, understanding her absolute conviction that he didn’t jump, or at least her need for it. “So you might have been the last person he tried to speak to,” he said deliberately, watching her across the desk. “Before he died.” “Yes,” said Grace bitterly. “Only I wasn’t there for him.” “That doesn’t mean you could have saved him,” said Cape. “If he was really depressed about something—” Grace cut him off. “I know Tom—I’ve worked with him on three other pictures. He was always mooning over his daughter, couldn’t wait to see her again after a shoot. And he loved the business—he lived for it. He was not a jumper, plain and simple.” “Was there a note?” Grace nodded reluctantly. “Typed into his computer.” “What did it say?” “I’m sorry.” “That’s it?” Cape couldn’t help himself. “That’s not much of a note.” “That’s because he didn’t jump.” Cape held up his hands. “You knew him, I didn’t. Fair enough. What do the cops say?” Grace relaxed only slightly, her arms back in her lap. “The police don’t know what they’re talking about.” “That wasn’t my question.” Grace blew out her cheeks. “There was no sign of foul play. There’s every indication Tom drove onto the bridge by himself, abandoned his car, and jumped.” “Anything else?” “Yeah,” she replied disdainfully. “The police said they’d notified the family, so it was their concern, not mine. And unless there was a basis for an investigation, they had to put their energies into solving real murders with real suspects.” Cape wasn’t surprised. Cops wanted evidence, not theories or hunches. It was one of the reasons he wasn’t a cop. “So what do you want me to do?” he asked. “Find them a suspect,” Grace replied.

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