The Savage Professor

chapter 1

Landau moved to Berkeley from San Francisco in the early eighties. The choice was simple: more sun on the east side of the bay. A house he could afford (a bungalow on Cherry Street). But he really moved because of horror and fear, the fear attendant on running one of the first cohort studies of “the gay plague,” which they didn’t know yet was caused by a virus. Wise heads suspected that, and since the loathsome wasting was quite obviously passed from one gay fellow to another, why not to the eager docs and epidemiologists who worked at SF General? So each time he went to the ward where they housed the poor buggers, he thought of his chapel-going English mum with her bad teeth, how she would feel if he died young. How disappointed she would be.

Berkeley in the first Reagan kingship. All the left-wing realtors and professors with distinguished chairs were stunned, were turning their faces from the affronting vision of the bad right-wing movie actor taking over. Landau, half-Brit, didn’t care about American politics so much. They were like a language learned from tapes, not to be depended on at points of stress. But he caught the mood of dire affront, heard the beneath-all-mention tone. All right, then let the country go to hell. Berkeley itself was doing very well, thank you. House prices were starting their spectacular rise. If you had enough to buy that first bungalow, in a few years you might trade up to something that would make you a millionaire. In ’85 he sold Cherry Street and moved to a house off Cragmont in the hills. An “Italianate villa,” as the realtorese had it, faced in cracking vanilla stucco and built in the twenties by an eccentric developer who put up only ten dwellings before going under. By luck it bordered one of the footpaths that enfilade the Berkeley Hills, connecting the curvy, contour-ploughed streets with steep walkways full of askew steps.

Berkeley had a world name. Landau discovered this odd fact on trips across the suffering globe, chasing the immunodeficiency virus and drug-resistant TB and other causes of statistically representable misery. In a windblown, godforsaken wetlands outpost in Botswana, where HIV had established itself to the tune of twenty-five percent, mention of Berkeley elicited a strong response. “Oh, ho,” a village headman, a Sekgoma of the Bamangwato, said to him. “Oh, yes, Berkeley, Berkeley, indeed.”

“What, you’ve heard of it, sir?”

“Yes. Yes.”

“And what have you heard, sir?”

But the old man would only smile, shaking his head ruefully.

It was a name recognized as instantly as “New York,” strangely enough. Colleagues in states of the former Soviet Union all knew it—they had been there as students, or a cousin had, or they’d hoped to go there as postdocs. Now they lived in decayed housing blocks and drank and worked in labs without Internet or refrigeration, but at the mere mention of Berkeley they grew animated. Once there had been a moment there, under those careless California skies. A shining outbreak of something.

The old hillside villa. Here he repaired after his days at UCSF running teams of homeless-monitoring, young-injector-studying public-health types. Here he limped after vexing sessions with his endlessly manipulative departmental antagonists, traversing the gray bay of San Francisco early and late in a series of vehicles for which he became locally noted, the white Lincoln, the turquoise Jag, the Porsche that needed a muffler, the Volvo longboat. When he cast his mind back over his semi-glorious, too-soon-terminated scientific career, the eras correlated in terms of autos driven and girlfriends struggled with, his different multiyear projects often conceived as he fell in love and celebrated with the purchase of another car, and concluded as his dire faults as a man became the subject of complaint.

The villa had been an anchor through it all. The house was almost too obviously an expression of his flawed personality—so said Deena, still a good friend and the denominating girlfriend from the convertible Lincoln period. There were cracks in the stucco, though he had paid over seventy grand for a structural retrofit, and the house was as solid now on its creeping California hillside as modern engineering could make it. Inside, a scouth of books, as the Scotsman said. Some that had been with him since the beginning, since before he went to St. Paul’s, where he had been a subsidy boy, a scholar on the foundation. Books bought as a lonely Bohemian maths grind at LSE, where he had gone instead of Cambridge, for “political” reasons. Plain paperbound books in French, bought at outdoor stands along the Seine, as they ought to have been. A solid selection of the approved high-lit product of the last forty years, books spoken of in the pages of the Guardian, the Times Literary Supplement, Les Temps Modernes. Mystery novels by the hundreds, by the thousands. Oodles of sci-fi, and pornography, an eclectic sampling, still consulted sometimes in the dead of night, with the left hand. Math texts read for brain tuning. The full epidemiological monty, of course, everything in any way relevant to his own lines of study plus all others, everything ever attempted by his busy generation, in special nine-foot-tall shelves of stained cherrywood.

The section of American novels unusually robust—these had been his way of trying to get to know his father, who had died young. Parts of his father’s Yankee character had seemed to wink at him from the stories of Jack London, of Stephen Crane, of Hawthorne, Melville, Farrell, Hemingway, James Jones—the whole Y-chromosome-addled bunch. A renegade union organizer, driven out of the States in a prewar purge of Reds, dear old Dad had retreated to London, where an older relation, a man also named Landau, a Lithuanian Jew, had owned three cinemas. In the year of Landau’s birth, ’42 his dad had been dying of congestive heart failure while outwardly prospering for the first time in an errant life. All that remained now were six framed Kodak shots: in these Landau Sr. showed a face of great good cheer, a charming, not-unhandsome face that said to his never-to-be-met son, “We could have had great fun, you and I—I miss you and, you know, in a useless sort of way, I love you.”

 

*           *           *

 

One cool night in late October 2006, a Wednesday, Landau took the N-Judah Muni Metro to Civic Center, took BART across the bay, and drove from the BART parking lot home to north Berkeley in his powerful black 525i, yet another flash car bought used and on the downside of its expected lifespan. Semi-retired now. Romantically unattached. Soon to be sixty-four, good God. Will you still feed me, will you IV me, etc. He was going home to be alone, not an unwelcome prospect, to eat a piece of wild salmon bought the day before and cooling in his refrigerator, on the second shelf down, with a fruity New Zealand sauvignon blanc also cooling in there somewhere. Useless now, professionally eunuched. Still going to his office two days a week to ride herd on his junior colleagues, who, doing what comes naturally, were tearing off great chunks of his research empire, figuring that he’d be gone in another year or two, why not.

He was in a mildly valedictory mood as he gunned up Cedar from the flats, comfortable in the worn black leather of his cushy Beemer seat, the two degenerative discs in his lower back giving him not much trouble—maybe it was all the lap-swimming he’d been undertaking recently, at the suggestion of his chiropractor friend, Georges Vienna. Once a sleek dolphin of a man, Landau was now more manatee—Deena said he looked like a Jewish Helmut Kohl. When he got in the pool at the Berkeley Y a sizable displacement of fluid ensued, yet he did not wallow, no, he struck out powerfully, and he did not soon tire. Others spoke of swimming as a chore, as the epitome of hamster-on-a-wheel-type exercise, but Landau looked forward to his sessions—alone with his thoughts, he often sang to himself, as the gray whales are said to do.

His housemaid, Elfridia Mattos, had been in to clean this day, and the house looked thirty percent more orderly. The terra-cotta floors had been mopped, the glass doors onto the west-facing deck had been washed, and there was a pleasant scent of citrus-zested cleanser. Elfridia, from Chiapas, four foot seven, late twenties, sometimes came to work with two cousins. All of them were pretty, short-necked women with tar-colored hair and hazel eyes. When negotiating over pay Elfridia seemed embarrassed to ask for anything, but Landau had heard her cracking rapid-fire jokes in her native idiom, and he had come to realize that she was a gifted raconteur, someone with a wicked tongue.

“Elfridia, as of next week, I will leave an extra sixty dollars in the envelope,” he had told her recently.

“Hokay, if you wan’ to, doc-tor.”

“That way, when you bring the cousins, maybe it divides out a little better.”

“Hokay.”

Landau perceived that all was well with his house, everything spic ’n’ span, even the cat-food bowl laid out on a fresh piece of newsprint on the floor, from the green sports section of the San Francisco Chronicle. He put down his leather satchel full of manuscripts and had a prolonged pee in the cramped downstairs bath, unable to wait the extra thirty seconds required to mount to the larger facility on the second floor. Such are the vagaries of the aging prostate in its eternal embrace of the diminishing male bladder. Had a slug of German mineral water while standing in front of his fridge, looking for his salmon fillet, and there it was, on the third shelf down not the second, Elfridia must have moved it. He went back out to the foyer. Here, on a glass-topped entry table that had never looked quite right—Deena said it was “designerish,” “an idea not a table”—was the mail, all Sierra Club membership pitches and credit card offers. When had he last received a personal letter, a love letter, more to the point? In 1998. From Clarissa Plante, a French-Canadian epideme met in exotic Jo-burg, slender, athletic, smart, brunette. Fifty pounds lighter then, Landau had appealed to her as a romantic figure, as he had appealed in those days to a number of interesting women, most of them docs of some kind, world-saving globetrotters, bio types. And where are they now, all my gal-pals? Yes, and why am I so alone now, boo-hoo, boo-hoo?

He opened a mailing from Nancy Pelosi, requesting his help defeating the evil Republicans in the upcoming elections. Nancy looked good in the photo. It showed her standing between Harry Reid and Charles Schumer, dressed in a tight blue skirt that barely reached her knees. Happen to know she’s older than I am, but she’s still a babe, look at her, any male of a certain age would give her a throw. If you were only here tonight, Nancy, I’d ply you with some of the fruity, put some sounds on the stereo (maybe Steamin’, Miles from back when he still felt the need to entertain), and history would be in the making, romantic history.

He heard a distant buzzing. So restful was the silence of his hillside villa, surrounded by trees—camphors, sycamores, redwoods, madrones, eucalypti—so thick the silence that customarily obtained in his remote neighborhood, with well-behaved liberal families on either side, that the distant barking of a dog, or the thin, eerie cry of a Steller’s jay imitating a red-tailed hawk, came as a shock. Visitors who stayed awhile, foreign types especially, Londoners, Muscovites, always marveled at the silence, and sometimes it made them anxious. Tonight Landau could hear every creak and tick of his wood-and-stucco castle, not that there were all that many creaks but far, far away was a dim electric motor sound—maybe a slow-speed drill being used for home repair, or an alarm clock buzzing under some bedclothes.

It switched off. The thought of bedclothes recalled to him the book now resting on his bedside table, the new Andy Blunden bio of Wittgenstein, which he had been burrowing into for a couple of weeks, reading each night before falling asleep—surely it was a serious enough book not to be read that way, with logical passages merging into dreams, but he was angry with Wittgenstein for some reason, did not want to show him too much respect. The respect signaled by clearheaded morning reading.

Why not read him tonight, though, and take down the old Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in support? Have them with dinner, on the metal bookstand, in a fair, openhanded light. Either that or the new Michael Connelly killer-thriller. He headed upstairs toward his bedroom, half thinking of changing out of his wrinkled office-going pants and shapeless tweed jacket, half of what to read tonight, the taste of what he might read almost as palpable as the anticipated salmon in the fridge. The Connelly then, just for fun. A thriller not a thinker. But no, no, the Blunden, and read it while you’re still half-awake. You might learn something.

Landau’s bedroom, a grand crow’s nest, all tall windows and green views and shelves of books leaning this way and that, sat up high in the treetops. Year in and out there was a pleasant scent of leaves and living wood. What are you, a visiting friend from north London had once asked, a bloody chimp, Landau? At home in the forest canopy? Bed all disarranged, though—strange. Elfridia had forgotten to put it in order. Pillows strewn, covers all bunched. Standing on one leg as he pulled off his pants, he imagined a scene of Elfridia and her young cousins loafing the afternoon away, getting into his liquor cabinet, tuning in some norteño music on the stereo. Making fun of the professor’s weird artwork and stressed furniture. Hijole, ven aqui, Juanita! as they found some book of choice porn and went off in squeals of laughter, imagining him having a bit of a stroke, sitting nude in the orthopedic recliner, his thick thighs splayed out.

One pant leg off, he balanced on the other foot. In olden times, he had swotted up Spanish and gone south like the other California Sandalistas, although in his case, under cover of a study being run out of Stanford on hep C. Got to see all those countries down there to some extent, liked Mexico the best, who would not? Mexicans were carnal, crazed, and vivid, their country violent and mysterious. By contrast the average Costa Rican was a plate of overcooked spinach, the average Nicaraguan a mud puddle. Gross stereotyping but there you were. Funny how that south-of-the-border era had ended, just suddenly over one day, on to other pastures. An epidemiologist of your kind is a tourist of pain, Deena had once said—all you need is a choice disease to study, a bit of funding, and you’re happy as a clam.

He stumbled, threw himself toward his bed. Just barely managed to execute a half-twist that put his bottom on the mattress and not his head. The profound thump of his 240 pounds produced more of that electric buzzing sound, closer at hand now, half-sputtering. After a few seconds it stopped again. Landau looked right then left in the rumpled bedclothes, felt the covers to either side, found a foot, a leg. He made a sound he later described to the police as Unnggrrhh!! and propelled himself off the mattress onto the floor, onto his hands and knees. Wearing his boxers and his sport coat and his black nylon socks. Scrambled over to a bookcase, stood back against it, palms pressed backwards.

Good God—that was a leg, man. A human leg. Landau’s down comforter was humped near the right-center of the king-sized bed. It was a $1,200 SeaCrest goose down comforter bought last winter, the sort of indulgence one tells no one about, for shame that it should have come to this—that one should look forward to going to bed each night because of the warmth of one’s blankie, not because of the nearness of a lover. To sleep under it was to feel bundled within a sun-warmed cloud. He lurched bedward again and pulled the covers half-down. A woman with glossy gray-brown hair down to her white shoulders lay facedown in his sheets, immobile, nude to the tops of her buttocks. Apparently zonked.

“Excuse me. I say, hello there.”

Something about that back. A line of tiny moles, across the smooth swale of lower back, awoke a memory. Like a map of the Aleutians, curving southwest. The hair, though going gray, was vital and thick, a rich fan of it. Who had hair like that? Who that he had known?

“Excuse me. I say—I’m going to touch you now.”

Landau pressed two fingers to the near shoulder. It was warmer than room temperature, but not warm enough. He felt for the carotid pulse. Not there, and therefore: there is a dead woman in my bed. Not one of the Elfridianas, thank God, they were not so large nor so pale. Then Landau knew who it was. Oh God, oh God. Horror, shocked horror, manifested in his thumping heart for a long moment. Oh, why are you here? He turned away as if to shun the unmoving figure. Walked round to the other side of the bed, turned and bent to see the face better. No, obscured by hair. When he had known this person, whose name was Samantha Bernstein Beevors, a scientist of large and intimidating reputation, formerly a colleague, once a lover, she had been vain of her wondrous hair. Not really brown—more classically chestnut, full of glinting red and gold. He knelt upon the bed and swept the hair from her face with a finger, revealing eyes frozen open and a mouth stuffed full of, good God, a pair of boxers. His own striped boxers. He scurried off the bed.

The buzzing began again. The sound was coming from down there, under the airy comforter. Vaguely aware that he should do no such thing, Landau gently pulled the covers down to her calves. Some odd object protruded from her shapely backside, tubular, flat-ended, pink. The buzzing halted again. Landau now recognized a device that for years had been secreted amongst the socks in his chest of drawers, a vibrator, in a word, a pink plastic vibrator. Not his own, technically. His racing mind sought to explain to some imaginary police investigator how he had come to possess it. Yes, but what for, Dr. Landau? If it’s not yours, if you have no use for it, and you kept it where, in your sock drawer? For how many years?

The buzzing began again. The sputter-buzzing of batteries giving out. He recalled a scene from ten years ago, fifteen, involving a companion from the blue Jag period, someone who had introduced this comical version of a sex toy into the mix on an evening of now only half-remembered frivolity. Margo. Margo Hollinger, French historian. Professor at Stanford, writer of weighty books, and how did I ever meet her, can I remember? No. Such are the ungovernable vectorings of the mind under stress that Landau considered for an instant how to get in touch with Margo, persuade her to explain to the imaginary detective who it was who had paid $6.95 at most for the most ironic vibrator on sale at Harmonies, the feminist-flavored sex-aid emporium on San Pablo Avenue…Half a minute later, ashamed of himself for worrying about such a thing, he did the decent thing and twisted the plastic shaft to the “OFF” position, then gently settled the covers back over the naked woman in his bed.

No reading of Wittgenstein tonight. The first to arrive on Landau’s woodsy block was an ambulance playing its siren, although he’d made it clear on the phone that the situation was postmortem, and they need not hurry. Then, Deena and Harold came. Deena lived now with Harold Blodgett, a Berkeley law professor, the Barbra Streisand Chair of Constitutional Law, nice enough guy. When Landau called her for moral support, he half hoped Harold would be home and would interest himself in the situation, since it couldn’t hurt to have a lawyer present. Twenty minutes after the ambulance arrived, after Deena and Harold arrived, a Berkeley police cruiser slid silently into the now dark street, roof lights strobically flashing. Officer Thomas Ng—about thirty-five, five foot five, placid of demeanor—and Officer Frances Hashimoto—a little older, taller—entered Landau’s house.

“I’m the one who called you. I’m Landau. A woman named Samantha Bernstein Beevors is dead upstairs. I can show her to you if you’d like.”

“All right. Is she your wife, sir?” asked Officer Ng.

“No. I know her, though.”

“Is she your significant other?”

“No, I wouldn’t say that.”

Officer Hashimoto, turning away, spoke some phrases into a walkie-talkie.

Ng: “But you know her, right, sir?”

“Yes. I knew her rather well once. For a period of time.”

The officer waited for more.

“She was my colleague. A person I used to work with. In my professional life.”

“Okay. And how long has she been staying with you now, sir?”

“Not staying here. I haven’t seen her in years. This is a complete surprise, her being here. Having been brought here or having come in while I was gone. A complete surprise.”

Again, the officer waited.

Landau also knew how to wait. He took a breath and tried to let go in his mind of the need to show innocence. No, you are innocent. Think of that.

“Has anyone been with the body, sir? Other than you, since you found it?”

Landau opened his hands, hoisted his shoulders two inches.

“You don’t know?”

“I couldn’t say.”

“I have, Tom,” piped up one of the young EMTs walking past at that moment, one of three who had arrived with the ambulance. “I wanted to be sure she was a forty-four. I went up there.”

Officer Ng turned toward the young black man who spoke.

“And?”

The young man nodded.

“Okay. Thank you. Jamal, right?”

“Right.”

“I know you. You’re from El Cerrito.”

Landau hadn’t wanted to get the young fellow in trouble. But it was okay, apparently.

“Can we sit down somewhere, sir? I have to make a few notes,” said Officer Ng.

“Let’s go in the den.”

Ng cleared the newspapers off the loveseat and sat down. “Could you spell your name for me, sir, slowly?”

“Yes, it’s Landau. L-A-N-D-A-U.”

“This is Cragmont Avenue, correct?”

“No, Hopwood Lane, actually. We’re on the corner of Cragmont. My address is seven Hopwood Lane.”

“The dispatcher said Cragmont.”

“Yes, that’s what you have to tell people so they can find it. But it’s Hopwood Lane.”

“Okay.”

And so on, and so forth. Even I have seen the TV shows, Landau thought. He particularly liked the one where autopsies were shown, where bullets were modeled as they ripped through guts, maggots crawling through wounds. And where is our expert crime scene unit, may I ask? Is this guy even a detective, Officer Ng? Why doesn’t everyone have on rubber gloves at this point, isn’t that standard?

 

*           *           *

 

Fifteen minutes later, as Landau headed upstairs to his bedroom, followed by the two officers, other police personnel were arriving, in other vehicles. In the end maybe there was a CSI unit mucking around, it was hard to tell. He showed Ng and Hashimoto the body of Samantha Beevors. The officers became alert as they entered the room, scanning side to side, looking at the floor, the ceiling. Landau had the idea that his bedroom was being sized up as an infamous torture site, a Ted Bundy’s basement type of place—maybe the plump professor had done in dozens here, grinding their bones, sniffing the dust.

Now Officer Ng, though not Officer Hashimoto, did put on gloves. He stood at the foot of Landau’s bed looking thoughtful.

“Would you say that she suffered much, sir?”

“I wouldn’t know that. I wasn’t here.”

“Yes, but what’s your opinion? Did it take her long to die? Speaking as a doctor.”

“Well, I’m not a doctor. I’m an epidemiologist. It’s different. I don’t know if she suffered or not. I sincerely hope not, of course.”

“So, you heard nothing? No sounds of struggle or screams or anything?”

“No. It was all over before I arrived as far as I can tell.”

The officer nodded. Took a half step forward.

“Except, the buzzing. You said.”

“Right. There was still some buzzing.”

“Which you could hear all the way downstairs. Despite these blankets. In the kitchen, you said.”

“No, in the foyer, not the kitchen.”

“The foyer. Okay. The front hall.”

“Right.”

When Officer Ng pulled back the down coverlet, Landau felt ashamed. This is not my work, he wanted to declare. I never hated her this much, though, true, I did come to hate her. Harridan, fanatic, evil witch. Yet—not to end up like this. He felt ashamed in front of the other woman, Officer Hashimoto, wanted to turn to her and say, “I know it’s my bed, I know she’s wrapped up in my expensive coverlet, head on my pillow, but I stand foursquare against this sort of thing, normally. Savagery toward women, I mean. You have to believe that. I have always deplored that.”

Hashimoto whispered something into her walkie-talkie.

“One more question, then. How did you identify her, sir?” asked Officer Ng. “I mean, when you first came in and found her like this.”

“Well, I just recognized her. I know her.”

“With her face all pushed down like that?”

“You get a pretty good look from the other side. If you crouch down.”

Ng went to the other side of the bed. He crouched. “Okay. But she’s got something in her mouth, I can’t really see. What is it, a gag of some kind?”

Landau decided not to respond. To argue the fine points of gags, how she had gotten a pair of his underpants in her mouth, could only prove unprofitable.

“Maybe you turned her over, Doctor? And had a better look? That’s what I would’ve done. I mean, you’re a doctor, so it’s all right, right?”

“I didn’t turn her over. I left her the way she is. The way you find her now.”

“Or, looked around for some ID. Is her purse up here, did you find that?”

“No, I didn’t look for a purse. Like I said, I knew her. I knew who she was.”

“Okay. So she left it downstairs, the purse. Is that right?”

“I don’t know.”

It occurred to Landau that Officer Ng had been watching the same TV shows. Maybe that was what police training consisted of these days—an assignment to watch many shows. So you could catch criminals in their pathetic slipups. He, himself, was experiencing this mainly in terms of how it resembled TV episodes, movies seen, the three or four thousand police procedurals he’d read over the years, and the other guy had probably read quite a few, too. It was an over-literary-ified situation. Now just forget all that, he told himself. Pretend you’ve never seen or read anything and stick to your story. Don’t go acting all smarty-pants on him. He won’t like that.

“That’s what I would’ve done, though,” Officer Ng repeated. “Turned her over. You don’t see that every day, do you, a naked dead woman. Dead and helpless.”

Landau took another long breath. Wanted to say, just for fun: “Yes, all right, I turned her over. Had a really excellent look, poked around a bit, too. Okay, you got me there, Officer. She was quite a piece of talent in her day, this crazy mind-bending bitch, and she used that, oh God did she. And, to be completely frank, I had a nice suck at one of her titties, for old times’ sake. Probably would’ve plunged in with the old ram but for some residual necro-aversion, a feeling of taboo. Can’t say I’ve ever been into fucking dead women. Although, never say never.”

Instead Landau said, “I did pull back her hair a little. For a better look.”

Both Officer Ng and Officer Hashimoto became more alert—not that they hadn’t been alert before.

“And how did that go for you, Doctor? When you touched her?”

“I don’t know how it went. I just got up on the bed, on my knees I guess, and pulled back her hair from her face.”

“Would you like to show us how you did that, sir?”

“Don’t you need to dust for fingerprints, Officer?”

“That’s okay. Not too worried about that now. Why don’t you show us how you got up there on the bed with the body.”

Landau didn’t want to do that, though. Getting up must signify something—that you were so crazed, such a demented criminal sadist, that you’d even do it in front of the cops. Wallow around on the bed with the corpse, giggling, eyeballs rolling, salivating.

He pantomimed doing it instead, pulling a hank of hair from the side of her face. Using a single finger.

“Did you touch the body in any other way, sir?”

“No. I did not.”

“You’re sure?”

“I was horrified. I was kind of a little out of my normal mind, to be honest.”

“Out of your mind?”

“I was shaken. Appalled. I mean, it seemed disrespectful to touch her. Gruesome.”

“But you’ve handled lots of dead bodies, haven’t you, Doctor? In your line of work?”

“I’m not a real doctor, like I said. But, yes, I’ve handled a few. I’ve been around people dying.”

“And how did that go for you, sir?”

“It went well enough. How do you think it went?”

The interrogation petered out soon after. They went back downstairs, but the evening wasn’t over yet, not nearly—police personnel continued to pour in, crew after crew of them, medical examiners, uniformed officers, officers out of uniform, forensics techs, first responders. He never got to eat the salmon and have the glass or three of wine he needed. Officer Ng disappeared at some point and Landau found himself answering more questions posed by an actual police detective, someone whose badge identified him as such, a chunky white man named Byrum Johnson. They sat in the kitchen drinking decaf. Deena also at table. Deena patted Landau on the back as he became fatigued. Harold was also in the kitchen, standing alone along the wall, saying nothing, not looking especially interested.

Samantha Beevors’ body came down on a litter just past midnight. Landau felt more tired than anything as he watched its slow progress down his flagstoned front steps. Never got to say good-bye to you, Samantha, when everything blew up that time. When you tried to ruin me, when you went so savagely whacko, as you always did on everybody, every man who ever jostled you even slightly in the hierarchy. I’m sure you never thought you’d end up dying in my bed, of all places. Detective Johnson seems to think they killed you elsewhere, then brought you here. He’ll know soon following tests. But why did they bring you to my place? Did you say with your last breath, “Go ahead, kill me if you have to, you bastards, but take my body over to Landau’s, leave me in his leafy love-nest so he can get in some trouble. It’s my last gift to him, my final gesture”?

“Dr. Landau, I’m gonna clear out now,” Detective Johnson said mildly, turning away from the kitchen window. “You’ll stay in town, right? Not planning any international trips soon, are you? All right, now I know this probably rings hollow, but I want to apologize for us tromping through here in such numbers, we don’t get non-drug-related homicides very often in the hill neighborhoods, so the dispatcher probably told everybody to head up here. This is the whole Berkeley criminal investigative apparatus, down to the janitors. We’ll be a little more restrained with the next crime, not that that’s much consolation, but there it is.”

“It’s okay, Detective. Just as long as nobody ruined my new bidjar.”

“Whatever a bidjar is.”

“It’s a kind of rug. So—you consider this a homicide, is that what I’m gathering?”

“Don’t know. I shouldn’t say anything, but it looks a little funny, don’t you think? What’re the chances that she broke in to your house and died of a heart attack in your bed? On her own?”

“I see what you’re saying. The maids were here, too. It had to have happened after they left, at about three.”

“Right. I want to find out what the maids saw.”

Half an hour later, having chewed the evening over with Deena and Harold—Harold, despite his apparent uninterest, having noticed absolutely everything—Landau was once again alone. In his now violated house. Listening to the silence outdoors and in, silence returning like water seeping back into a dry riverbed. Freddy, his neutered tom, appeared out of deep hiding, to peer at his empty feed-bowl on the kitchen floor as if to say, “Well? A lot of excitement, okay, but where the hell’s my dinner, man? Are you feeding me or what?”

“All right, all right, although it’s a bad idea to eat in the middle of the night,” Landau told his cat. “Where am I going to sleep tonight, Freddy? Somebody just died in my lovely bed. A madwoman, a scourge, at one time, a close friend. I’d rather not go upstairs by myself, silly as that sounds. Well, here’s your can of food. Eat it all, and we’ll talk things over in the morning.”