Murder in the Morning

April, 1959, San Francisco

It was going to be a beautiful spring day in San Francisco, although it would be an hour or so before the sun burned off the chill and the thin morning fog. Alexandra Silverstone, who preferred the name Alex, had arisen hours earlier than normal in order to finish the mural she was painting on the outside of the Far Eastern Treasures curio shop in Chinatown. This early in the morning there was no traffic as she sped silently through the streets on her World War II-era electric motorcycle.

The mural had been commissioned by Liling Kam, the proprietor of Far Eastern Treasures, who was quickly becoming a good friend, although Alex was still confused by the parable her friend had selected as the basis for the mural. I’ve heard that silly story a half-dozen times, and I still haven’t figured out the moral! she thought, laughing to herself. Still, several images from the parable make striking visuals — the Jade Emperor in his disguise as an ancient wise man, freeing the trapped Chinese Desert Cat kitten from a tangle of thorns in the desert, Monkey confronting the majestic Dragon Kings assembled outside their cavern stronghold, the mortal lovers hard at work on the ransom gift, and the Jade Emperor in his glorious palace being reunited with his favorite pet. Moral be darned, I am very proud of this work.

As she parked her bike in front of Far Eastern Treasures, a big man wearing a brown trench coat and flat cap came out of the Herbal Garden Shop three doors down, glanced quickly at Alex, then hurried off down the street in the other direction, vanishing into the fog less than two blocks away. Alex found this to be alarming and felt compelled to investigate. In the week she had been working here, she had never seen anyone enter or leave the Herbal Garden before noon. Only a few minutes later, she was telling her story to the police.

“I checked the front door, and it was unlocked, so I opened it and looked inside,” Alex said, repeating her story for at least the third time to San Francisco Homicide Squad Detective Graham Hunter, a tall, heavyset man with thick dark hair, bushy eyebrows, and an intense look on his face. “The place was a shambles, as you can see.”

The walls of the front room of the Herbal Garden were lined with shelves that were normally filled with bottles, jars, tins, small cloth bags tied shut with colorful threads, flasks, beakers, and whatever other kinds of small containers you could think of. Now these shelves were virtually empty, and the containers were dashed to the floor, where they had been shattered, crushed, torn, smashed, or otherwise destroyed. The mingled herbs, spices, potions, liquors, powders, dried leaves, and whatever else gave the room a pungent, indescribably awful odor. It had irritated Alex’s eyes and almost made her sick when she had first entered, though it had thinned considerably as soon as the door was opened.

“And then,” She faltered, her voice catching at the memory of what she’d discovered. “then I looked behind the counter and saw Mr. Zheng just lying there with his face all purple and that terrible wire wrapped around his neck.” No longer able to speak, she buried her head in her hands and sobbed.

“Thank you, Miss Silverstone. I’m truly sorry you had such an awful experience,” said Hunter, trying to comfort her. “Do you remember anything else about the man you saw that might help us identify him?”

Alex shook her head. She really didn’t remember anything more, as she hadn’t been paying attention, and the man had only glanced her way for an instant.

“Whoever trashed this place must have made plenty of noise,” the detective continued after a pause. “Did you hear anything?”

“No, sir. I was just getting off my bike when that man came out the door,” she replied around her sobs.

“Well, thanks for the information,” Detective Hunter said. “Why don’t you go home and try to rest and calm down — and if you think of anything else you can tell us, come on down to the station later and ask for me. Are you sure you don’t want a ride home?” When she shook her head emphatically, he gave her his card. “Don’t worry, we’ll get whoever did this!”

Liling Kam, the curio shop proprietor, assured Alex she could finish the mural when she felt better. Putting on her helmet and a heavy leather riding jacket, she hopped on her bike and considered where to go. Her apartment was in the Bayview area not too far from the newly named Candlestick Park, but she decided not to head back there. She wanted to hang out and enjoy the sun, and that neighborhood wasn’t really a good place to just hang out. She thought instead she’d cruise the Golden Gate area and see if there were any new For Sale signs. Her folks had left her a nice inheritance, and she wanted to buy a house in that area.

Alex was cruising slowly westward on Geary Boulevard when she heard the roar of an engine and the squealing of tires to her right — and a car came shooting out of a cross street directly at her. She twisted the throttle hard, and the bike almost leaped ahead with incredible acceleration, tearing her out of the path of the out-of-control car. The instant acceleration of her electric bike had saved the day.

Or was the car really out of control? The tires screamed again as the speeding vehicle swerved slightly to the right, barely clipped the last inch of Alex’s rear tire, and fishtailed into a rubber-burning left turn before roaring off eastward down Geary Boulevard. The rear of the bike wrenched up and around, and Alex was thrown off violently. She tumbled helplessly through the air and smashed lengthwise into and halfway through the tall hedge on the center median strip.

A few minutes later she was speaking with Detective Hunter again while sitting on the back bumper of an ambulance. Although she’d been protected from major injuries by the hedge and her jacket and helmet, she had numerous abrasions and puncture wounds that an emergency medical technician was still patching up.

“You’re the only witness to the murder of Yi Zheng, and whoever did it is out to get you,” Hunter insisted. “Are you sure you didn’t see who was driving? Or can you tell me anything about the car?”

“I’m pretty sure it was a late model Ford Falcon, robin’s egg blue, but that’s all I had time to see,” she replied thoughtfully.

“Stolen,” the detective said. “We just got a radio report. Somebody stole that car not twenty minutes ago and abandoned it a few blocks down Geary.” Looking at her sharply, he added, “You need police protection until we catch the murderer.” He was a little frustrated, as she’d declined the offer twice before. And she did it once again.

“I’ll take your offer of a ride home, especially if you bring my bike,” she said, “but I’ll be OK on my own when I get there.”

He’d already pointed out that her current condition and that of her bike argued that she wouldn’t continue to be OK on her own, but she’d insisted that now that she knew she was in danger, it would be different. He couldn’t force her to accept police protection, so he changed the subject. “The bike doesn’t look too bad, considering,” he said, commiserating with her.

“Needs a new tire and tube on the rear wheel,” Alex said. “Handlebars are going to have to be replaced. The seat was ripped right off. Started right up, though. No gas to spill, no transmission to wreck.” She agreed with his sentiment with a wan smile. “I can get parts at Cully’s and have the worst of it fixed before dinner, long as there’s nothing wrong that we can’t see. At least it’ll keep me in the garage most of the day, which ought to make you happy.”

A small panel van with San Francisco Police Department markings showed up. The driver, Officer Donna Sparks, and Detective Hunter helped Alex load her bike in the back. Officer Sparks was pleasant and helpful, even stopping at Cully’s while Alex bought the parts she was going to need.

***

After a couple of hours of work, Alex Silverstone took the bike around the block. It wasn’t smooth — the wheels needed to be rebalanced — but she could ride it. She plugged in the charger and retired to the living room of her apartment, where she sat on her sofa and simply stared at the wall for an hour, totally exhausted. Finally, she recovered enough to begin replaying in her mind the scene this morning when the murderer hurried from the Herbal Garden.

Closing her eyes, she mentally relived the morning from the time she had awakened. She was astounded at the clarity of the image that was forming on the back of her eyelids. It was almost like watching a Technicolor movie, only more real. Once again, she watched the brown-dressed man step out onto the street. She concentrated on him intently as he began turning toward her.

A clattering sound in the kitchen startled her, causing her eyes to snap open, and she was astounded to see the same scene much larger on the wall in front of her, as clear as if she were looking through a wall of glass. She could hardly believe her eyes — and in that instant of disbelief, the illusion on the wall vanished.

The noise in the kitchen was temporarily more important. It could be that guy coming after me again, she thought with worry. Carefully opening a drawer in the end table, she pulled out a small pistol and crept into the kitchen, only to discover that her cat Bandit had caused the clatter by knocking a spoon off the counter.

Damn, I’m jumpy! she thought emphatically. Maybe I should’a listened when Hunter said I needed protection. I wonder if I could ask for Officer Sparks — that wouldn’t be so bad. Leaving the pistol out on the end table, she sat back down to ponder the mystery of the vision on the wall.

Maybe it was a hallucination caused by that awful vapor this morning, Alex wondered to herself. Can I do it again? Taking several long, slow breaths to calm herself, she closed her eyes and once again mentally relived her morning. And once again, the scene grew clear in her mind, more quickly this time. Cautiously, she opened her eyes, and there it was — the vision in her mind somehow projected on the wall, a “movie” of everything she’d seen this morning. Once again, Alex concentrated intensely as the suspected murderer turned toward her, wishing she could stop the action at the critical instant so she could study the man’s face — and indeed, at the critical instant, the vision stopped changing.

Alex peered intently at the face of the man who might have tried to kill her, wishing she could get a close-up of his face, and was stunned when his face expanded, as if her mental camera were zooming in. The face became larger than life, perfect in every detail, and she studied it until she was sure she could draw it from memory. Then she wished it away. Whew! I’m glad I can turn this thing off, whatever it is, she thought with relief.

Then she went to her desk and got out her drawing materials. As she started concentrating on remembering that face, the illusion appeared again, this time on the page of her sketch pad. This certainly made it easy to draw a realistic sketch, and she’d learned more about her newly discovered power.

How come I’m not blowing a gasket? This is really weird stuff! Her thoughts raced. It’s like I’ve somehow always known about this, like it’s been hiding inside me all my life. Just an extension of what I’ve always been able to do.

Continuing to experiment with this new ability, she discovered that what she could do was project illusions on surfaces — illusions of anything she’d ever seen in the past, as well as illusions of things she could imagine. It didn’t have to be a flat surface, and the illusions didn’t have to be pictures — she found she could project the illusion of a different color on her hands and arms. The illusions also lasted as long as she wanted them to. At first she had to concentrate intently, but with practice she found that she could maintain an image with only part of her mind. And she thought her illusions must be real, not just in her mind, because she could also see their reflections in a mirror. So other people should be able to see them, too.

Finally, she decided to take a break. She had a lot to think about, and besides, she needed to take her sketch to the police.

At the police station, Alex Silverstone was quickly shown to Detective Graham Hunter’s office. His desk was piled high with folders. She traced the delicious scent of hot pizza to a large flat box sitting on one of the chairs.

“I’m surprised to see you here, Detective — isn’t your shift over?” she wanted to know.

“Homicide doesn’t work in shifts, Miss Silverstone,” he replied. She could hear exhaustion in his voice. It must have been a long day for him too. “What can I do for you?”

“This is the guy who came out of the Herbal Garden this morning,” she said, passing him the sketch.

“Woof!” he exclaimed. “I talked to this guy today. Hold on, I’ll show you.” He started pawing through folders. “Say, did you do that yourself?” he said, gesturing at the sketch as he continued digging, and she nodded her head. “If you’re looking for work, the Department can always use a good sketch artist.” Finding the folder he was looking for, he pulled it out and motioned her over to look at the photo in the folder. “Here it is: Mickey ‘the Muscle’ Blake. What do you think?”

“That’s him, all right. Why’d you talk to him? What did he say?” she wanted to know.

“We think Mickey’s part of a protection racket in Chinatown,” he replied. “He loves his flat caps — got a million of ’em and wouldn’t be seen without them — so that’s why your description sent me to him. But he’s got an alibi. Shacked up with his girlfriend, he says, and she backs him up.” He looked puzzled. “So how’d you make this drawing of somebody whose face you said you hadn’t seen that well before?”

This question made Alex uneasy. She didn’t want to reveal her newfound power, so she changed the subject. “What kind of floozy would spend the night with this kind of bum?”

“The kind he paid for,” Hunter sighed. “So we don’t put a lot of weight on her statement; he could’a bought that as well. Right now, though, it’s your word against the two of them. But you can’t dodge my question like that. How’d you come up with that sketch?”

“I went home and concentrated on remembering him, and realized I’d seen him more clearly than I first thought,” she said in earnest. “This really is the man I saw.”

“Likely it is,” he agreed. “But coming in with a sketch hours later, after you already said you couldn’t I.D. the guy — you might’ve made it of the first guy you saw on the street, or somebody you don’t like.” Seeing a growing anger in her eyes, he changed tracks and said, “That’s not what I think, but it’s what his slick lawyer will say. It’s just not enough to bring him in. We’ll keep a closer eye on him, but that’s all I can do right now.”

At that instant, someone knocked on the office door and asked Hunter for a word. As the detective stepped out into the hall for a private chat with his colleague, Alex picked up Blake’s dossier and paged through it. The police knew a lot about him — where he lived, where he hung out, the people he associated with, how he usually dressed, and even his favorite drink. But they didn’t have enough evidence to convict him of anything; until they did, he was just one of the usual suspects. Since the police couldn’t really do anything about him right now, she decided that for her own safety she was going to have to take matters into her own hands.

“Have you changed your mind about police protection?” Detective Hunter asked when he came back into his office. She shook her head, no. It might be fun palling around with Officer Sparks for a while, but a cop following me around right now would only get in my way. A nasty smile ghosted across her face as a plan formed in her mind. That smile must have alarmed Hunter, for as he shook her hand, he emphasized, “You should try to stay inside until we crack this case. Don’t do anything stupid.” She nodded, acknowledging his words without agreeing to them, and took her leave.

When she got home, Alex Silverstone raided her closet and found an old wig and a costume she’d worn for Halloween last year when she’d dressed as a construction worker. Fashioning a false beard and mustache from the wig, she donned her disguise and sat down in front of a mirror.

“OK, Yi Zheng, it’s time for a comeback,” she thought and projected an illusion of his face superimposed over her face and studied it in the mirror. The hardest part was the bald head; she thought she might have to shave her head to help the illusion. But the immediate visual feedback helped. “OK, got it,” she finally said to herself with smug satisfaction. “Now for the other guy.”

She altered the illusion of Yi Zheng’s face into another that was similar but not Asian and clearly not the same person as the murdered shopkeeper. “I think I’ll call you Ray,” she spoke to the new image, as Ray smiled in return. “Nice to meet you!”

Alex practiced until she could switch faces from Yi Zheng to Ray instantly and maintain either face without concentration. Then she practiced projecting Yi Zheng onto her wall as she had seen him this morning, and she mixed in some special effects she’d seen in a recent teleplay called Ghostbusters, starring Fred McMurray. “Funny how much Fred looks like that Sturdiman guy from the comic books,” she noted to herself, smugly satisfied that her new powers were easily up to the demands of her scheme.

Then she dressed in her blue-collar working man’s outfit, appropriately padded to disguise her female figure, and went back to the streets. It was almost midnight by now. The police dossier had disclosed that Mickey “the Muscle” Blake usually closed down a sleazy North Waterfront bar with several of his friends.

Only fifteen minutes at this time of night, she thought. If he follows his regular routine, I’ve got plenty of time. Starting the bike, she instantly swore out loud. “Damn! The headlight isn’t working! No time to fix it — no other way to get there in time. I’ll have to hope the streetlights give enough light.”

This proved much easier than she’d thought, and she gradually realized that she was using another aspect of her new powers — she could see very well in much lower levels of light than she had been able to before. This discovery excited her, and before she reached the North Waterfront, she discovered even more.

When she concentrated on something, just as her memory could zoom in on illusions, her eyes could zoom in like a telephoto zoom lens on a camera. She barely retained control of her bike when she was trying to zoom in on a street sign a couple of blocks away and failed to notice a pothole. After that, she turned her full attention back to riding and soon pulled up to Blake’s favorite watering hole.

Wearing the face of her creation, Ray, she entered the bar. It was a dingy place, poorly lit, which stank of spilled beer and stale smoke. A tired-looking woman wearing too much makeup sat at the bar. Half a dozen men stood around the pool table, and about the same number were playing darts. Two of the larger tables were crowded, and there were ten or so more patrons sprinkled throughout the rest if the room. Somehow the whole atmosphere screamed dejection; even Elvis playing on the jukebox seemed subdued.

Sure enough, Blake was seated at one of the crowded tables. Judging from the number of empty glasses on the table in front of him, he was drinking heavily tonight, much more so than his friends. The police dossier hadn’t mentioned drinking to such an excess.

Is Blake drinking heavily tonight to celebrate or to forget this morning’s murder? She wondered. Then, Doesn’t really matter why, she concluded in relief. Now, at least, I won’t have to buy him a drink. Her plan would work best if Blake was drunk, but she hadn’t been sure how to guarantee that.

Alex turned Ray’s face to the bartender. “Boilermaker,” she ordered in the deepest, gruffest voice she had, and managed not to wince at the slightly grimy shot glass and beer mug. She wasn’t planning to drink the beer, and the rotgut whiskey would surely kill anything lurking in the shot glass that might be dangerous. Ray selected a table in Blake’s direct line of sight, but it was Yi Zheng who pulled out the chair and sat down.

With her zoom-in vision, it was fairly easy for Alex to keep a discreet eye on the thug and gauge where he was looking. When she saw him stiffen in shock at the sight of the man he had just killed, calmly drinking in his own favorite bar, Yi Zhing looked directly at Baker, raised the whiskey in a salute, and threw down the shot. Alex did this partly for theatrical effect and partly for courage — she was just starting to realize she was bearding a drunken killer in his den. The whiskey shot hit her stomach like a firebomb and exploded outward; she could feel the heat spreading through her body.

The theatrical effect was all she could have hoped for. Mickey “the Muscle” Blake started in astonishment, his chair falling over backward when he leaped to his feet, then shoved away from the table, spilling the drinks of several of his drinking companions. By the time he got to his feet, Ray had again replaced Yi Zheng.

“You can’t be here! You’re dead!” Blake yelled. Some of his friends stood there in anger, and a man at the table behind him was climbing to his feet as well, upset about Blake’s chair smashing into his back. Alex sat back to enjoy the fun.

Blake was flabbergasted when he saw Ray sitting where he’d just seen Yi Zheng a moment before. “You’re not–” he stopped himself. The man next to him was trying to force Blake back into his chair, while several of his other friends were trying to calm the patron from the other table. The air in the bar was filling with loud laughter and louder voices as patrons anticipated a fight breaking out, and the bartender was picking up the phone with one hand and reaching for a hidden drawer beneath the bar with the other.

“But I just saw Zheng — right there!” Blake was still blustering loudly.

“Dat ain’t him!” the man restraining him shouted in his ear. “Zheng’s dead, you maroon. Ya said so yerself! Siddown and shut up ‘fore Willie calls the coppers.” Another man hurriedly restored Blake’s chair, then helped the shouting man roughly force Blake to sit down.

“Willie! Next round’s on Musclehead Blake!” shouted the friend restraining the patron whom Blake had angered. “Less youse don’ siddown, and den you’ll be mighty sorry,” he muttered in the other man’s ear as he flashed a gun. “Yer choice, bud.” The other man silently sat down.

“&@^% it! I ain’t buying no drinks for no #@&6ing buddy!” Blake complained.

“Shut the @#&^ up, you @#&^ing jackass!” the standing man snarled. The rest of the table muttered agreement. Blake sullenly shut up, and everyone else cautiously sat down. The bar’s other patrons quieted, disappointed that they had been cheated out of that night’s free entertainment.

Ray slapped a half dollar on the table and stood up. “This place ain’t fer me,” he muttered audibly and walked toward the exit. After Ray opened the door, Yi Zheng turned back to sneer at Blake, then disappeared into the night.

Alex was glad she’d had that shot; she’d never done anything that scary before. Hopping on her bike, she watched the door closely. She didn’t have to wait very long. In only a couple of minutes, Blake came storming out of the bar, swearing at the top of his lungs.

“Who da @%&^ does dat $*&&^%ed Willie tink he @%&^ ing is, cuttin’ me off?” the murderer cursed. “$*&@^%ed mother@%&^ er! He’ll @%&6 ing pay!”

Alex wasn’t impressed with his swearing; it showed no imagination. She didn’t use profanity herself, but she could appreciate art in any form, and the repeated use of the same two curse words over and over again wasn’t art — it was boring drivel.

Blake stumbled to a car, swearing and muttering threats under his breath. He saw something white and glowing reflected in the outside mirror and spun around, screamed in terror, then fell to the ground blubbering when there was nothing there.

The bar’s bouncer stuck his head out and screamed, “Damn it, Blake! Go home and sleep it off!”

The drive home wasn’t easy or pleasant for Mickey “the Muscle” Blake. Something white and glowing was following him, but he could only catch glances of it in his outside mirror. Whenever he craned his head around to look for it or slammed on the brakes and leaped out of the car, it was gone. Other times he would see it on a side street somewhere in front of him, and the image was clearer — a floating human figure, glowing a pale white. He couldn’t make out the face, but he didn’t need to.

“$*&@^%@%&^ing ghost. I know yer dead, I killed ya myself. Never gonna drink $*&@%&^ing&^% tequila agin. Gotta be seein’ tings,” he ranted as he drove. Finally reaching his destination, he banged into another car as he parked, then stumbled into an apartment building, apparently ignoring the glowing apparition that appeared on the wall of his building.

Alex drove around the building until she saw a light come on in one of the windows. She climbed up the fire escape and peeked through the window to that apartment. It seemed to be a two-room efficiency apartment.

Suddenly, the tiny round screen of the TV was glowing, showing the tortured purple face of Yi Zheng. Blake screamed and viciously kicked the screen, which imploded loudly, spraying the room with shards of glass. The ghostly image floated up the wall, and the now-bleeding Blake pulled out a pistol and fired twice into the wall. This was more than Alex had expected, and the apparition vanished. Blake sank to the floor, sobbing. Alex could hear police sirens wailing, and the lights in the nearby rooms were going on. She hastily climbed down the ladder, and silently vanished into the night.

***

The next day, Alex Silverstone went back to the police station. She was quickly shown to Detective Hunter’s office, and he was all smiles as he shook her hand.

“We picked up Mickey Blake last night after he caused a disturbance in his apartment building,” the detective said. “He actually surrendered to the police and claimed he was being haunted by the ghost of Li Zheng. Couldn’t wait to confess to the murder — and your accident, too, by the way. He’s going to go away for a long time.”

“That’s great news,” Alex cheered.

“Still more to come, too. Now that news of his death has spread through Chinatown, the store owners there are going to the police with stories about the protection ring. With their information and the information Blake gave us last night, we’re gonna bust everyone in that racket.” He grinned at her. “We could still use another artist on staff…”

She grinned back. “I have some talented friends – I’ll let them know the SFPD is looking. Thanks for the job offer and the good news – have a fantastic day!”

Alex left the station with a big smile on her face. The sun was shining brightly in a cloudless sky, there was a gentle breeze, and the temperature was perfect. She thought she’d head over to the Golden Gate area. It looked like a great day to buy a house.

Murder in the Evening

August 1959, San Francisco

"You know, there's going to be a murder tonight in the theatre district," San Francisco Police Officer Donna Sparks mentioned casually to her friend Alex Silverstone over lunch. They'd met not long ago when Alex had been a witness to a murder, and they really enjoyed each other’s company.

Today they were having coffee in a small café not far from Police HQ, a place frequented by off-duty cops. Alex was in the process of finding a house to buy, and she'd wanted her friend's cop-educated opinions on the safety and desirability of some of San Francisco's neighborhoods.

"Mother Gaia!" Alex exclaimed, startled. "If you know about it, I hope you plan to stop it!"

"Relax!" Donna chortled. "This same murder happens every night. It's a scene in the play "Time of Lips", at the Golden Gate Theatre. The playwright, Neil Wentzel, is local – in fact, he lives in Haight-Asbury." One of the neighborhoods the two had been discussing.

"I guess the joke's on me," Alex replied with a chuckle. "I've read the reviews in the San Francisco Examiner and it's supposed to be very good."

Donna spoke casually, "The lead actress, Tobi Hennon, was one of my best friends in high school." Then, still casually, as if the idea had just occurred to her, "She offered me a standing invitation to come see it anytime – the theatre will let her friends sit in a private balcony, for free. Would you like to see it with me?"

"I don't have any plans for tonight," Alex replied, just as careful to be casual. "That'd be boss!"

"Bitchin'! It’s a date. Meet me at the Golden Gate Theatre at 6:30!" Donna smiled at her friend, and they went back to discussing good places for Alex to look for a house.

***~~~***

Two young, attractive ladies, dressed to the nines, could easily have found dates for the evening, even on such short notice. Alex, tall and slender with short blonde hair, wore a snazzy blue pinstriped casual suit with flared trousers, and silver heels. Donna, a brunette, was just a touch taller than her friend in heels, and much more solidly built, and her tight, low cut gown showed off her figure spectacularly. They turned down several flattering offers of companionship for the evening before they reached the ‘friends and family’ box.

The early scenes in the play told the story of a beautiful young social climber named Mimi Easton, who'd married a wealthy, much older man. Mimi had been seduced by the chauffeur, Sean LeBlanc, a handsome, smarmy young man played by actor Reuben Rebosa. Once Mimi was in too deep, LeBlanc had begun blackmailing her to steal from her husband for him, while continuing their affair. The last scene had closed with a soliloquy by Mimi, in which the audience learned that she was determined to escape the grip of her blackmailer, and just as determined that she would never go back to being penniless. Tonight she would break free!

The curtain opened on the next scene with Mimi confronting LeBlanc in his bedroom. He was sitting up in bed, dressed in pajamas, knuckling sleep from his eyes, while she was wearing a long forest green formal evening gown. Her face and posture radiated incredible anger, and she held a pistol in a very professional two-handed grip, standing with her legs apart, the gun aimed directly at his chest.

"I've had enough from you, you bastard. No more blackmail, no more pain, no more of that torture you call sex!" she screeched.

"You haven't the courage!" LeBlanc mocked. "Besides, you'd never get away with it. You'll get the death penalty!"

"Now, why would anyone connect me with your suicide?" she asked, innocently. "The gun will be in your hand, and all the old men who I've been dancing with at my husband's birthday party will swear I was there the whole time. You can't imagine how disgusting it was to let all those old drunks paw me like that!"

"Give me the damn gun, bitch!" he ordered harshly. The audience gasped at the language. He started to climb out of bed. "I'm going to punish you for this, you little worm!"

"I warned you!" she cried, and two shots rang out. LeBlanc jerked backwards and collapsed on the bed, blood welling from his chest. Mimi stalked forward determinedly, but when she picked up LeBlanc's hand, she screamed!

"Oh my GOD! He's REALLY dead! I killed Ben!" She collapsed to the floor and began sobbing. "Somebody put real bullets in my gun… Oh, God, I'm so sorry. Oh, Ben…" she wailed over and over.

"This can't be part of the play!" Donna yelped excitedly. "She called him by his real name!"

Alex concentrated, and her vision zoomed in on the actor's chest. "Those are REAL bullet holes, and he's not breathing!" she gasped. The watcher in the box opposite the two women jumped to his feet and rushed through the door in the back of his box. The lights came up and Alex could see that confusion was spreading throughout the audience. Donna was already halfway to the stage and shouting orders. When Alex reached the stage, Donna had already taken charge.

"I'm a cop! You," she pointed to the frantic stage manager, "make sure nobody leaves until I let them go!" She then ran to the theatre office to find a phone and call headquarters.

The play's author, Neil Wentzell, had rushed onto the stage from his private box. "How could this happen?" he mused sadly. "I guess my play will have to close. I wonder if it will ever reopen?"

He finally noticed Tobi's wails and dropped to the floor to put his arms around her. "Don't worry, Tobi, it'll be fine. It's not your fault. You couldn't have known. Don't worry, dear, I'll take care of you!"

"Oh, Neil, I can't believe it," she wailed again, as she buried her head on his shoulder. "Ben can't be dead! I can't be a killer!"

***~~~***

It wasn't long before Donna’s boss, Homicide Detective Robert Hunter, a tall, heavyset man with thick dark hair, bushy eyebrows and an intense look on his face arrived to take charge of the crime scene and the investigation. Hunter was Donna's boss, and Alex had met him in the past, when she'd been the only witness to a murder in Chinatown.

Hunter quickly verified that Tobi’s pistol had been fired recently. It was a model that automatically ejected spent shells, and a few minutes search turned up two casings. Unfortunately, they had been trampled in the rush to the stage, and it was extremely unlikely that any prints remained on the brass.

The Homicide doctor looked up from examining the body. "The young woman is certainly an excellent shot. Both bullets went through the heart and he died instantly.”

"No, no, I didn't know I was shooting real bullets!" Tobi protested. "I would NEVER have killed Ben. We were in love! He proposed to me last night!"

"I'm sorry young lady," Hunter said gently, "but I'm going to have to arrest you for manslaughter. Whether it was innocent or not, there's a dead man here, and you fired the bullets that killed him."

Donna pulled Tobi's arms gently behind her back; Tobi was too stunned to resist. "I'm really sorry about this, Tobi!" she whispered in her friend's ear. "I believe you, and I'm sure you're innocent. I'll be there to help you as soon as I'm done here."

“Officer Sparks, you take everyone's statements, and make sure you know how to find them. Then turn `em loose." Hunter gently pushed Tobi toward the door. "I have to take you to the station for booking."

***~~~***

Meanwhile, Alex had `wandered' backstage, and slipped into Reuben Rebosa's dressing room. She saw a hand-written letter lying on his makeup table, but as she picked it up, something smashed into the back of her head. With an explosion of pain and a flash of bright light behind her eyelids, she collapsed to the floor unconscious. She woke up to see Donna bending over her, gently slapping her face. She explained what had happened, and the two women quickly searched the room. The letter was gone; in its place was a pile of paper ashes in an ash tray.

"There's more going on here than a simple shooting," Donna deduced. “Someone didn't want you to read that letter. There must have been some kind of clue in the letter, but now we'll never be able to find out what it was."

"Maybe we can," Alex replies. "I have a trick you haven't seen yet."

She moved a chair to face an empty space and sat down. She stared at the wall, and Donna was stunned when a picture appeared. Somehow, projected on the wall was a moving picture of this very room. The point of view swept around the room, stopped when the letter on the makeup table came into view, and then approached the table. A slim, well-manicured hand reached into the scene and picked up the letter, and then the picture turned to black.

"Outta SIGHT!" the amazed cop exclaimed. "We were just lookin' through your eyes, weren't we?" Alex nodded, but the picture on the wall didn't jiggle. "Well, it proves there was a letter, anyway," Donna continued with a sigh. "To bad you didn't see it long enough to read it."

"Phew!" Alex sighed in relief. "I was afraid you'd think I was some kind of freak or something."

"Silly girl. We got heroes that fly, some with wings, and one with blue skin. I should be worried about somebody who can make motion pictures from her eyes, ‘specially one who looks like you?"

"Thanks!" Alex blushed. "But I'm not done yet. Watch this!"

The hand holding the letter appeared again on the wall, and this time it wasn't moving. Then the letter started to expand, and stopped when it was approximately twice life–sized. The picture was crystal clear; the two women had no trouble reading it.

"Well, that sheds a lot of light on this case. Why don't we go catch the REAL killer?" Donna proposed. "I've got his address."

***~~~***

Alex had parked her motorcycle, a big, heavy, World War II era electric. As Donna climbed on behind her, Alex quipped: "Watch those wandering hands, girl!"

"You WISH!" Donna laughed back. And they zoomed off.

Alex knew exactly where they were going; she'd been looking for houses in the Haight-Asbury area earlier today. With her superior night vision, even the darkest streets looked like broad daylight, and she raced through the streets like a maniac. And not just the streets; she slashed through alleys and once even bounced through a vacant lot. Donna whooped and hollered like she was riding a roller coaster until they reached the street where their target lived.

The house was halfway up one of San Francisco's famous hills. Alex turned off the bike's lights, and they silently ghosted up the hill. The advantage of an electric bike, Alex thought smugly. Instant acceleration, no gear-shift, and totally silent!' She pointed to the house with the matching street number as they passed; it was a multi-level set into the hillside, with the garage at street level. The garage door was open and the garage was empty, and there were no lights on in the house.

Donna leaned forward and whispered in Alex's ear, "Looks like we beat him home. If he's coming home…"

They parked the bike behind a neighbor's hedge and settled down to wait. Explaining in advance what she was doing, Alex projected the illusion of shadows on the skin and hair of the two women, making them even harder to spot on the dark street. They didn't have long to wait; in a few minutes, a car rolled around the corner, up the street and pulled into the garage.

The two women had already discussed their tactics. When he got out of the car, Donna called to him. "Hey, Mister!" When he turned to the street, Alex cast the illusion of total darkness on his face, and then they both charged. Unable to see his opponents, the man wasn't able to put up much of a fight. In less than 3 minutes, he was lying on the floor with Donna's knee in his back while Alex found something they could use to tie him up.

"Use his car to take him downtown to the station," Alex suggested after they searched his car. "I'm going back to the theatre to look for a gun."

***~~~***

When she reached the theater, Alex stood facing a wall, and once again, a projection of what she’d seen earlier appeared. Her task was easier because she already had a good idea what to look for. Wentzel had been the man alone in the box opposite; she focused on him and concentrated, and the view zoomed in. He had something in his hand, but ever her powers had limits – she couldn’t quite make it out. But it was the right size to be a pistol. He rushed out the door, and through the door, she could see a window.

Wentzel had reached the stage as quickly as she had – he hadn’t had time to make any elaborate detours. She’d check the areas below that window, and any other windows between him and the stage, and she was sure she’d find that pistol outside one of them.

***~~~***

Back at police headquarters, Tobi was sitting in a chair next to Hunter's desk, her hands now handcuffed to the chair. An intern rushed up to his desk carrying some papers and a plastic bag. "Lab told me to get this to you soonest!" he panted.

The bag held the gun Tobi had used on the stage. After a quick scan of the documents, the detective stood and began unlocking the handcuffs. "The lab's determined that this gun has never fired anything but blanks. You're innocent, and free to go."

Tobi sighed with relief. "That means, I DIDN'T kill Ben! But who did?"

"Neil Wentzell, author of the play," Donna walked into the room, pushing the bound author in front of her. "And, here he is, sir! He knew when Tobi was supposed to shoot, so she used her shots for cover and shot Ben from his private box. He knew we’d eventually figure out that Tobi hadn’t done it, but he planned to be miles away and moving fast by now!”

"How'd you find this out?" Hunter asked.

"Alex found a letter in Ben's dressing room, from Wentzell, warning him that he better stop seeing Tobi, or he'd regret it. Apparently Ben ignored his warning, even asking Tobi to marry him, and Wentzell decided to carry out his threat."

"I never wrote any such letter, and I don't even own a pistol!" Wentzell snarled. "And besides," he continued sarcastically, "how could I have fired two shots so exactly in synchronization with someone else that nobody in the audience heard any extra shots? I was over 60' away and her back was to me."

"Because you used a silencer! Nobody could hear your shots, so it didn't matter if you fired an instant earlier or later than Tobi did." The all turned at that triumphant statement, to see Alex walking through the door. She had a rubber glove on her left hand and was gingerly holding a pistol, with a silencer attached.

"That's not mine, I never saw it before in my life!" Wentzell said.

"I'll bet it's got your fingerprints on it," Alex replied calmly. She knew it did; she'd used her `replay and enlarge' power to closely examine the gun when she'd found it. "I'll also bet the ballistics lab matches it to the bullets from Ben's body."

"Where'd you find that?" Hunter wanted to know.

"In a trash bin under one of the windows behind the theatre," she replied. "Wentzell didn't seem very concerned about the murder, and he rushed out of the theatre as soon as Donna, er, Office Sparks, let him go. After we caught him, I figured he had probably tossed the gun out a window on his way to the stage, so I drove back to the theatre and searched the area around the windows. Just got lucky, I guess…" Her ability to see infrared helped – she hadn’t had to use a flashlight or wait until it got light out.

"I'll take it from here," Hunter told the women. "Officer Sparks, you'll see a nice bonus in your next paycheck, and I'm going to recommend to Commissioner Cahill that you get a commendation, Alex."

"That and a dime will get me a cup of coffee," Alex replied sarcastically. "What about a reward?"

"He wasn't running loose long enough for anyone to offer a reward," Hunter said sympathetically. "I guess this time you're going to have to let the SFPD owe you one. Next time you help us out, make sure to pick somebody whose been on our `Most Wanted list for a while," he joked. “Tell you what, though… Donna, take her out for a cup’a joe.” Then he got serious. "Still got a job for a great sketch artist, if you're interested?"

"In your dreams!" floated back over her shoulder – she and Donna were halfway to the elevator already.