September 21, 1896
The darkness is where ghosts feel most at home. At least that was what he had always been told. But then, what did they know? Had they ever seen a ghost? Had they ever watched the spirit of a living being slowly slip away while the shell of what once was started to rot?
He preferred the light.
2613 Melrose was his home. The Victorian architecture never failed to raise his moods and the wraparound porch hugged him as if his mother—his long-deceased mother—had returned and blessed him once again with her love. The widow’s walk, though more popular with Italianate homes, fit the behemoth structure as he stood and watched a tall ship leaving port.
It was almost time for his guest to enjoy his company. The sun had yet to make its entrance to the new day. And with it, a new ghost would enter the world of the unknown and Castle Grey would capture the light while taking a life.
With construction completed in 1893, Frances Martin Grey was finally able to move his wife and three children into the huge, twenty-six room mansion that stood overlooking the Monterey Bay. The large monument, inspired by the architect Richard Morris Hunt, was close enough to the water that a short buggy ride could take him and his family to the shore, yet far enough away that neither he, nor his beloved family, would ever have to deal with the scum that Grey hired to do the work at the docks that made him a wealthy man.
Castle Grey, as it became known, was a monument to the wealth he had acquired while stepping on the backs of and destroying the lives of everyone he came into contact with. As its new, proud owner, he was a man of a different cut. Grey had wealth. He was smart. Now in his fifties, he would make the world stand up and take notice.
With street lamps first installed and developed a few years earlier, the lighting of the second—and most private—basement consisted of single-strand wiring considered to be the latest, greatest invention of the day. That room didn’t require heat or any of the other modern-day amenities. All it needed was enough illumination to insure that the women Grey “entertained” could be seen and not heard while he made preparations for their final moments.
Bodies—hidden bodies—rested in shallow graves in many different states across the country as a tribute to the gentleman. The concept of his work was to teach himself the art of death while moving from place to place. Each time he learned something new. And in each place he killed in a different way. There was no link between his previous works to what he now planned. This would be new.
He smiled as the light came on. She would be the first to initiate Castle Grey.
Mickey James was once again on the wrong side of a bad situation. Bullets were bouncing off the painted brick walls and coming from three different locations. He was alone but he figured—or hoped—he could hold his own until the Calvary arrived—about ten minutes, he suspected. The bad news was that he had nowhere to hide but the foul-smelling dumpster he hid behind; the dead end street left him nowhere to run. The worse news was that one of Salvatore’s bad guys had managed to get past James and was closing in on his exposed side. Ten minutes, he mused, could end up being about nine minutes too long.
He had been in worse situations, James thought, but at the moment, he couldn’t remember when that might have been.
A bullet struck close enough that he felt the air compress as it passed his head. Intellectually, he knew that ducking would be too little, too late, but his reflexes were honed so he did it anyway. Time slowed down and the Sacramento detective saw, at that moment, a glint of light coming from his left side. It wasn’t much, but enough for him to move a few inches to the right; just enough for another round to hit where his head used to be. It was also enough time for him to see where the shot came from and for him to return the favor. His target forgot to move and, just like that, James managed to eliminate the threat from behind.
Had it not been for the inexperienced criminal jumping the gun, so to speak, there would not have been much of a story to tell his grandchildren, James thought. The way he lived his life, the grizzled detective believed he’d be lucky just to have kids.
In situations like this, with bullets flying, it always seemed like the right time for James to think about what might have been. Of course, it was in such situations that he needed to be thinking about the bullets and not about the family and kids he thought he might have had.
Jamie Robertson was the one. They used to laugh when talking about marriage and her name changing to Jamie James. And right after he proposed, Jamie adored and readily accepted the new nickname he gave her—J.J. To Jamie, it was like they were already married. To Mickey James, she was the breath that gave him life.
Another bullet slammed into the dumpster and shook James back to the present. He couldn’t remember how long the shooting had been going on, but he knew that he was running low on ammunition and didn’t think he would be able to last long enough for his friends to arrive.
Sacramento, the capital of California, is one of the best policed cities in the country. The need for a top-notched police force was made crucial during the elections of 1992, when hostages were taken and used as a ploy to change that year’s election results. Since then, the city officials and the governor made sure that no city in the United States would ever be more prepared. They hired the best cops in the country.
Mickey James was one of those cops. If you asked his co-workers, they would say he was the best. Unfortunately, the river docks area on a Saturday night just happened to be the least patrolled and instead of a three-minute response time like most of the city enjoyed, the timing that evening would be considerably longer.
Nicolas Salvatore was an angry man. The muscular Latino was angry because his drug deal had been intercepted by the cops, costing him and his employers—La eMe, the Mexican Mafia—millions of dollars. He was angry because in the battle with the police, his brother and his cousin had been killed. However, neither of those crimes against his family came close to the betrayal he felt when he discovered that his friend, his longtime brother, had betrayed him like no other. Jimmy Martinez—aka Mickey James, undercover cop—had set him up. Not only did James have to die, but he had to die a slow and painful death.
James fell back into the memory of the day Jamie died.
It wasn’t a strange day. On the contrary, it was a beautiful day, a day of high expectations and hopes. She had just finished telling him that she was pregnant and the only pressure they felt was deciding if they should move up the wedding day. They decided it didn’t matter. They would love each other forever and would love their baby forever and protect it with all their might. They laughed. They even cried a little, with smiles on their faces. That was the kind of day it was. To the two lovers, a beautiful day didn’t necessarily require blue skies or a warming sun. A beautiful day required only one thing—the love they shared.
They kissed goodbye and went off to work.
Less than two hours later, his first call of the day was to investigate the rape and murder of a Jane Doe. The body was in an alley, just like the alley he was currently hunkering behind a dumpster in. She was lying nude, her body contorted in ways that left little doubt of the violence she must have suffered. Her body was prone, but her head was twisted in such a way that her broken neck was obvious.
All of these things James had seen before. There was little he hadn’t seen and nothing had ever bothered him. But as he approached the body, something seemed wrong. The first thing he noticed was the birthmark on the bottom of the woman’s left foot that resembled a butterfly. He recognized it and shivered with the feelings of déjà vu. He couldn’t believe how close it resembled the very birthmark his beautiful Jamie had.
The next thing he noticed was the mole on her back just at that point where her butt turned into the small of her back. He didn’t know the medical term for the spot, but he had fantasized in the past about contacting the AMA and offering an identifying name for it.
Funny thing about coincidence, he mused. Here he was staring at the backside of this beautiful, naked creature who had been so shamefully destroyed and all he could think about was the love he felt for his future wife.
When he moved closer, the coincidences ended and terror struck. Her left shoulder had the distinct markings of the woman he knew only too well, markings as clear as the day they were tattooed. James knew at that moment that his future had changed forever. His scream of agony shook every man standing nearby who carried a badge. And with the scream, they also knew the instant Detective Mickey James saw the engraving—J.J.
James never did figure out who was responsible for Jamie’s death. That was something he would search for the rest of his life or until he brought the monster to justice—the kind of justice that torture and a bullet would accomplish. All he knew for certain was that when he found the man, there would never be a trail.
That’s if he somehow managed to live another five minutes or so.
The night air along the Sacramento River carried sound a great distance and Nicolas Salvatore could hear the faint wail of the sirens approaching. If his plan to kill the man he once knew as Jimmy Martinez was going to succeed, his time was running out. He decided that his only hope was to send his last man into the alley as a diversion and shoot the Judas, James, when he exposed himself.
The two men coordinated their efforts. Salvatore’s man started running up the alley, yelling and shooting as he went. The idea was for him to stay against the same wall as the dumpster so that in order for James to get his shot off to stop him, he would have to expose himself to take the shot. That would be the time when Salvatore would drop his nemesis. What he couldn’t see in the darkened alley was the small gap between the dumpster and the wall. The soldier didn’t get halfway to the target before the last bullet in James’ Glock dropped him.
“It’s just you and me, now,” James yelled. “Why don’t you surrender so we can both live through the night?”
“You betrayed me, you son of a bitch. You have killed my brother and my cousin. You must die. There is no other way to bring honor back to my family.”
“Yeah…well…sorry about that. Like you, I was just doing my job.” James didn’t want to kill the man. He actually liked Salvatore. Working side by side with a person, even a mob boss, created a bond. The problem was that he couldn’t kill him if he wanted to. Big guns don’t matter if you don’t have any bullets. He hoped his poker skills hadn’t eroded.
He could hear sirens, maybe less than two minutes away, and the best James could hope for was to convince the man to give up—not likely—or to leave before the rest of the police showed. He didn’t want any of them to get killed and Salvatore was good enough to take down just about any one of them, possibly several.
“This isn’t going to end well, my friend,” Salvatore yelled. “Let me kill you now so I won’t need to torture you later. That’s my offer. Stand up and die a hero. Otherwise, I will hunt you down and peel the flesh from your worthless ass.”
“With all due respect, Nicolas, I kinda like my worthless ass just the way it is.”
James heard the sirens getting closer now. Maybe he was going to live through this after all. All he had to do was keep the man where he was and hope his buddies wouldn’t die trying to save his ass.
“Come out, Nicolas. Your time’s up. My friends are right around the corner. Give yourself up and I promise that you will not get hurt.”
There was no answer. The backup was close enough that James could see the flashing lights reflecting off the windows at the far end of the alley. Undercover detectives never carried radios and his cell phone had been lost during the chase. He didn’t know if his comrades knew his position and he wasn’t sure if Salvatore was waiting, obscured just enough to get off a shot should the veteran cop expose himself. So he waited. Seconds seemed like minutes until he finally heard what he needed to hear.
“James? Where the hell are you?”
“There’s a shooter out there somewhere…watch your six!” James yelled. There wasn’t any need for anyone to get hurt by not understanding the risk.
A police cruiser turned, facing the alley, and lit up the entire area. Soon they were joined by close to a dozen cars, a couple ambulances and a fire truck. James wasn’t sure about the need for the fire truck, but kept the thought to himself.
James wasn’t sure where Salvatore had gone. His friends would keep looking for a while, but he doubted they would find him. He was just glad nobody else had gotten hurt. Salvatore would be a fight for another day.
“What the hell kind of shit-storm did you get yourself into this time, James?” barked Lieutenant Robert Taylor, James’ immediate boss. “You were supposed to just observe and report. This is like the second coming of the O.K. Corral.”
“Well, Lou,” James replied, “somebody forgot to inform Salvatore about our little plan. It seems that when we took down his drug deal, somebody got curious about how that might have happened. He did a little checking around and somehow connected the dots. I got lucky that he left me with an out.”
“Oh, yeah? So where are the bodies that were involved with your out?” Taylor asked while using the two finger quotations on the word out.
James felt the rise of heat creep up his neck, realizing that the lieutenant would comprehend the nature of his escape.
“A couple blocks to the east. There’s an old warehouse that’s been closed for some time. I think if you check out the office on the second floor, you might find a few of them lying around.”
“Let’s see,” Taylor held up fingers to start counting. “Three back there, two here and— let me guess, the boss got away. Does that sum up your evening’s activities?”
“Pretty much,” James replied. “But, I’ve got a good reason for Salvatore getting away.”
“What would that be?”
“My weapon ran out of bullets. I tried to talk him into giving up anyway.” James smiled. “Seriously…he just wouldn’t agree to it.”
Taylor wasn’t sure if James was telling the whole truth, so his expression remained stoic. Though he had only been working with James for a short time, reading his jacket was like reading the Who’s Who of crime solving. He decided to leave things as they were.
“Any damage to you?”
James was touched by the lieutenant’s concern.
“As a matter of fact…I ripped the ass out of my pants diving for cover. The department is going to have to reimburse me for that.”
“We don’t reimburse for civvies. You know that.”
“I know that. You don’t understand. You’re gonna have to pay off some people for trauma or at the least psychological counseling.”
“What the hell for?
“I go commando.”
May 3, 2004
Twice the old lady of the Pacific had been scheduled to fall to the wrecking ball. Twice she had somehow managed to weather the storms of progress and survive. The third time looked completely hopeless until a week before demolition, when a private firm had stepped forward and assisted the local historical society in making her a historical landmark.
The problem wasn’t the age or even the historical significance of the building. The problem, like most things after Nine-Eleven, came down to one thing—money. The cost of restoration would be prohibitive and the non-profit simply couldn’t afford what it would take to do the work.
A surprising, out of state benefactor, seemingly from out of nowhere, stepped up and agreed to purchase the property, list it as a landmark as described by the covenants of the society, and pay for all restoration and upkeep. The only provision was that for the next thirty years, the firm had the right to rent the property and use it as it deemed fit, after which the title would be turned over to the historical society forever. The company maintained the right to use it as commercial property, an office, or as a private residence. And because of the significance of the real estate, and a few well-time political contributions, the city and county passed the ordinances necessary to make it happen.
True to their word, CG Enterprises, LLC, immediately started work. Twenty-six months later, Castle Grey was again the beauty she once was.
Writing has always been a dream and now it’s a reality. I hope you enjoyed the beginning and look forward to what you have to say about the rest of Castle Grey – A Katt and Mouse Mystery. To get your copy, click here (Kindle) or here (Paperback). Thanks for sharing your time with me.