UCLA coed Lisa Norris isn’t her brother’s keeper…
She’s his next victim.
Lisa Norris was the perfect kid—the same couldn’t be said of her brother. Drug addicted and crazed with greed, Kevin Norris shot their mother, father and younger brother in their opulent suburban L.A. home, leaving them for dead.
Apprehended in Las Vegas, Kevin proves smarter than the system by behaving psychotic to get a mental evaluation in the jail ward of the Los Angeles county hospital. Escaping custody, he eludes authorities during a five-state manhunt with one goal in mind: Eliminate Lisa so he will inherit the entire family fortune.
Afraid for her life, Lisa turns to Deanne Acuña, a private eye renowned for her sixth sense as well as her common sense. In an extraordinary show of courage and intuitive skills, the P.I. offers a safe haven for Lisa then sets out to track down Kevin Norris—a journey that will test her abilities and Lisa’s will to survive as she is stripped not only of family and friends but of her very identity.
In order to protect the identities of the innocent and deny notoriety for the guilty, changes have been made in names, locales and dates in the INTUITIVE INVESTIGATOR series.
★★★★★ “Fabulous!!! Ms. Acuna describes what I have suspected for a very long time.
Any good detective…researcher…diagnostician…has to rely on that inner knowing as well as logic and the obvious sometimes.
She weaves an intriguing story while showing the reader that all our senses are valuable assets. Loved it!!” – Faithe Robbins, Amazon Customer
Long Beach, California
Tuesday, May 23, 1989
“My brother murdered my parents. And I’m next.”
The flat, controlled voice on the phone belonged to a young woman who identified herself as Lisa Norris, daughter of Alan and Lynette Norris. The homicides in the elite equestrian community of Palos Verdes were front page headlines in the Los Angeles news media yesterday morning. The newspaper reported three murders, not two—Lisa’s parents and their son. No mention of a suspect, either.
My gut told me Lisa was being completely honest. My intuitive skills are second nature. I don’t question them, nor do I always know how to explain them. As a child, I was mentored by my paternal grandmother, a telepath and clairvoyant. As an adult, I have studied the Eastern philosophies about the integration of the mind, body and spirit.
The physical feeling I had about Lisa was centered in my solar plexus, an energy center known in ancient Sanskrit as the third chakra or “power” chakra. No surprise that I sensed Lisa’s powerlessness. I took a steadying breath. “I’m very sorry for your loss. What can I do to help?”
“The police can’t assign an officer to stay with me because I’m not an actual witness. Detective Oates said you know how to help someone like me.”
The name made me smile. I was glad to hear Nick Oates was in charge of the investigation. He is married to my friend from college and is more open-minded about my gift than most people. His wife Christine has extrasensory perception as well. He’s also aware of my higher-than-average success in tracking down individuals to serve subpoenas or find a witness to a car accident or a crime.
The more I know about finding someone, the more I know how to help someone get lost in the system. Nick knew I had helped victims of domestic violence who were running scared for their lives. Mistakes can be made. Loopholes in the system can leave them vulnerable. I guide them through the process. “If Detective Oates sent you, that’s all I need to know.”
Before I could say another word, she began to sob, making her words indistinguishable. I had a hard time understanding her. “Lisa, where are you?”
“I’m at a payphone in the Torrance mall.”
“Do you want me to come and pick you up?”
“No, I’ll come to your office.”
Her voice still shook but she was managing to regain control.
“I spent the night with a friend but I’m afraid my brother might figure out where I am. I need to get out of here.”
I gave her the address on Broadway in Long Beach of my private investigation business and walked across the street to Riley’s Deli to grab a bite to eat while I waited. I took a booth at the window with a view of the white two-story Spanish-style building owned by the legal firm of Ford, Blake & Fisher.
One of the partners, Bob Ford, and I have known each other since we were in junior high when the entire seventh grade found out about my psychic abilities and kids started calling me a witch. Years later, Bob heard I was struggling to make ends meet as a single mother and hired me to work part-time to serve subpoenas and track down information for his cases. My intuitive skills turned out to be tremendously helpful. After sixteen years, I acquired the skills and logged enough apprenticeship hours with the attorney to qualify for my own investigator’s license. My clients include quite a few lawyers, including Bob, as well as referrals such as Lisa Norris.
My veggie sandwich finished, I was on my second lemonade when a white Porsche 911 Carrera pulled into an empty space at the curb. I had no reason to suspect the tall brunette sliding out of the driver’s side was Lisa, but I knew. She was about five-eight, not more than a hundred-twenty pounds. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She wore large dark sunglasses. Too large, actually. My stomach clenched at the realization she probably wore them to cover a black eye. An accessory I’d seen too many times before.
The pale blue track suit and athletic shoes seemed out of place for the warm afternoon. Considering the flashy car, she appeared more like the type to wear a breezy sundress and strappy sandals. But she couldn’t run from an assailant in a dress and heels.
As she locked the car, she looked side to side, taking in her surroundings. Not like a tourist. Like a woman who knows she is being stalked. She saw me watching through the café window and froze.
I nodded as I motioned for her to wait and noticed her shoulders visibly relax. The tab was already paid, so I called out my goodbye to the owner and his wife as I headed outside.
I crossed the busy street in the middle of the block and introduced myself. Lisa had a firm handshake and a politeness that masked the shock of her dire circumstances. When we touched, I couldn’t say I got a visual flash of insight. That’s not how it works with me. However, I could “hear” her thoughts, though nothing specific. Grief and fear were tamped down by sheer determination.
The UCLA logo on her jacket provided an opportunity to put her more at ease. “I’m a Bruin, too. I majored in Spanish with a minor in education, but I’d planned on a degree in Child Psychology. How about you?”
“Pre-law. One more year, but I’ve already taken some senior courses.”
As we talked, I steered her toward the front door. “Any chance you had a class from my Psych professor, Dr. Phillips?”
“Yes, he’s one of my favorites!”
The light in her eyes made her seem as if she was back in class instead of facing an unknown future. I smiled, instantly recognizing why I had been compelled to bring up his name. Before we’d met as student and teacher, he’d known about me as a study subject in the parapsychology laboratory at UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute. His fascination with my abilities led to long conversations after class and we became good friends. We still touch base every now and then. He was also aware of my work with victims of domestic violence. If Nick hadn’t sent Lisa to me, there was no doubt in my mind that Dr. Phillips would have given her my number.
I opened and held the door for her, watching her face tighten. I sensed her fear as reality kicked back in.
“I need to contact him and my other teachers,” she said, her steps slowing, her shoulders hunched. “But I can’t go back to campus or my brother might . . .”
As the door swung shut, I put my arm around her shoulders and guided her through the lobby toward the elevator. She was right, of course. If her brother was really trying to kill her, she couldn’t risk going anywhere he’d know to look.
“I know you’re terrified. And I know you feel abandoned and alone. But not anymore. Now that you’re here, I will do everything I can to help you and keep you safe.”
“Thank you.” Her voice was barely a whisper.
I pressed the UP button, catching a glimpse of our reflection in the polished aluminum doors. My wavy dark red hair curled around my ears and could use a trim. At five-seven, I’m taller than most women but, standing next to Lisa, I was a few inches shorter than her and more than a few pounds heavier. Who wouldn’t be? She had the slender figure of a teen model. I had the body of a forty-year-old athlete. Well, at the very least, a very fit forty-year-old mom.
We stepped inside and rode the elevator to the second floor where my ten-by-twelve office was located halfway down the hall, adjacent to Bob’s suite.
Lisa took a seat in a gently worn brown upholstered chair in front of my desk as I filled two paper cups of water from the five-gallon cooler in the corner. She reached out for the cup, her hand trembling so much that she brought up her other hand to steady the cup.
As much as I wanted to wrap this poor girl in my arms for a big hug of reassurance, I sensed that she would not open herself to me in that way. Not yet. I didn’t need to be telepathic to know she was trying to remain composed and not fall apart. There would be time for that later. I took a couple minutes to settle in at my desk, hoping to give her a moment to quiet her nerves before I had to tackle the tough questions.
With the big sunglasses still masking her face, she looked around the office, drew in a deep breath and reached up to take them off. Her hazel eyes were bloodshot filled with so much pain that my heart clenched. This feeling in the chest is an exchange of energy—raw, emotional energy. The fourth chakra, also known as the heart chakra, translates emotional pain as a physical sensation in our own bodies.
Most people dismiss the body-mind connection. As an intuitive investigator, I have learned how to tune into it like a radio receiver.
After pulling out a pen and pad of paper from my desk drawer I asked, “Can you tell me more about what happened?”
Lisa took another breath as her eyes welled with tears. “I’m sorry,” she stammered, her chin quivering. “I’ve already been through this with the police. I thought I could go over it again without falling to pieces.”
For someone who had just lost both her parents, she was being awfully hard on herself. This told me a lot about the girl. She expected herself to be tough as nails, no matter what the circumstances.
“Actually, you’re handling it a lot better than I would expect.” I grabbed several tissues from a box on top of the locked filing cabinet next to the water cooler. “Take all the time you need. I’m not going anywhere.”
Thanking me for the tissues, she blotted under her eyes, then took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. “I was in my apartment on Sunday, working on a school project that was due the next day. I was supposed to be at my parents’ for a family dinner, but my cat knocked a glass of water all over the papers. I called Mom around four o’clock to cancel because of the mess Sophie had made.”
Lisa paused, absently rubbing her sunglasses against the leg of her sweat pants. One corner of her mouth turned up in a crooked, sad smile. “It’s so weird,” she went on. “Sophie’s never done anything like that before. All of sudden, she woke from a nap on the chair, walked straight to my desk, jumped up and smacked my glass with her paw. You probably think I’m crazy, but I swear she did it on purpose.”
In my mind’s eye, I saw a large, fluffy, black and white cat deliberately swat at a glass. Lisa was unknowingly sending me her visual memory, as well as a feeling of awe and gratitude toward the animal that had kept her from leaving her apartment that afternoon. Kept her from going home. Kept her alive.
The telepathic imagery was no surprise to me, considering the strength and depth of her emotions tied to the realization of what Sophie had done. “I don’t think you’re crazy,” I said in all sincerity. “I believe you. Sophie saved your life.”
She looked me in the eyes. The shadow of slight embarrassment dissipated, replaced by a small, grateful smile. “I owe her so much.”
“That evening was supposed to be like old times. Our traditional Sunday dinner—my mom and dad, my brothers and me.”
The news reports indicated the victims were Mr. and Mrs. Norris and a son. “Brothers? Are there more?”
“No. Only Kevin and Tommy.” She folded her hands on top of the table, her knuckles whitening. “Tommy was shot just like my parents. He’s in the ICU at Torrance Memorial under police protection for now. They let the news reporters think he’s dead until they track down Kevin.” Her last words were a soft whisper.
I jotted a few notes, then I asked, “Can you tell me a little more about Kevin?”
“He’s two years older than me and was going to USC for three years. About a month ago, the school called our parents because Kevin hadn’t been attending classes. Apparently, he’d gotten mixed up with drugs. We shouldn’t have been surprised. In the last several months, he stopped dressing nicely. His clothes were a mess, his hair was greasy and he needed a shower. That wasn’t like him at all. He was always such a great dresser. Always cared about what he looked like. When Mom and Dad confronted him about the phone call from the counselor, he admitted to smoking a little pot but denied having anything stronger. My parents threatened to cut off all financial support if he didn’t take a drug test. That’s when he really got mad.”
She fell silent. I stopped writing and looked up. Her head was bowed. I watched her intense scrutiny of her folded hands. Her fingers tightened as if she were fighting for control. My own fingers ached and my throat constricted from the empathic energy.
She took another deep breath and exhaled before she continued. “They didn’t hear from him again until he called last Thursday. He agreed to go into a rehab facility in Malibu this week, then he asked to come over for one last Sunday dinner with the whole family. Mom said he sounded like his old self. When I told her I couldn’t be there, she was really disappointed. I heard it in her voice.”
Her eyes filled with fresh tears. “That was the last conversation I had with my mother and I let her down.”
“Don’t do this to yourself, Lisa.”
“I know. I know.” She waved a dismissive hand, sniffled and dabbed the tissue at her nose. “None of that matters now.”
Next, she told me about Nick and a female officer named Sanchez coming to her apartment to relay the tragic news.
“Apparently, several neighbors heard the gunshots and called the police. Tommy was barely conscious when they found him, but he could still tell them that Kevin did it. When I learned the doctors were working to save Tommy, I had to see him immediately.”
She wiped away more tears and blew her nose. “Officer Sanchez asked if I had someone who could take me to Torrance Memorial, but I don’t have any relatives nearby. My roommate, Pam, was going to be out late. And my other girlfriends . . . .”
I filled in her thoughts with my own speculation. “They aren’t the type to deal with your situation without falling apart, and you didn’t want to put them through that.”
Her mouth gaped then snapped shut as she slowly nodded. “I didn’t want to drag anyone else into the middle of all this. All I wanted was to be there for my little brother. So Detective Oates and Officer Sanchez offered to drive me to the hospital.”
She paused for a drink of water, emptying the cup. I stood and refilled her cup and mine. She thanked me and went on to describe meeting the surgeons after Tommy was moved to the recovery room. The internal damage to his abdomen and the shattered bones in his right leg would require several more surgeries and extensive rehabilitation before he could walk again.
“I wanted to be with him when he woke up so the officers left me at the hospital for the night. Detective Oates came by the next morning and offered to take me back to my apartment,” she said, “but I asked if I could go to the family house. He didn’t think it would be a very good idea but I insisted.”
I knew Nick and I knew police procedure. He must have pulled some strings to allow Lisa a visit to the crime scene.
“That must have been hard.”
“It was. Crazy as it sounds, there was a part of me that couldn’t believe what had happened. I had to see for myself in order for . . . well, you know.”
Yes, I knew. She couldn’t bring herself to say out loud that she had to see for herself in order for her parents’ deaths to be real.
“I half-expected to walk in my old house and see Mom and Dad. Instead, I saw the outlines on the floor . . .” She broke down again.
I stood and quickly moved around the desk. I knelt in front of her and wrapped my arms around her back, wishing I could erase the last forty-eight hours from her memory.
A few minutes later, she lifted her head and sat back in the chair, sniffling and wiping her nose.
Still crouched next to her chair, I asked, “How did you find out that Kevin was coming for you?”
Her lower lip trembled before she spoke. “He called about an hour after Detective Oates dropped me off at my apartment yesterday. He was really pissed off that I didn’t show up for dinner and that I ruined his plan. I was supposed to be dead along with Mom and Dad and Tommy. He said he’s going to kill me.”
Relating the threatening phone call from her brother, Lisa rubbed her hands up and down her arms. I was reluctant to return to my desk while she was so fragile.
“I was so scared that I hung up on him,” she said. “I grabbed my purse and ran to my car. I realize now that I took a big risk doing that. He could’ve been at a nearby payphone, but I didn’t think he’d do anything in broad daylight, especially when my apartment building is just a block from the campus. Tons of students hang around all the time, like a dorm. Safety in numbers and all that. Logical, right?”
“Drug addicts aren’t known for their logic.” I didn’t want to sound as if I was chastising her, but she couldn’t assume her brother would behave reasonably. I gently squeezed her hand, then rose to my feet and moved to my side of the desk to continue taking notes.
She sniffed. Her voice trembled. “I stopped at a payphone in Santa Monica and called Detective Oates. I wanted to check into a hotel, but he didn’t like the idea of me being alone. He asked if I had a friend that Kevin wouldn’t know. Luckily, an old girlfriend had moved to Redondo Beach a few months ago, so I was sure Kevin didn’t have her address.”
“That’s where you were last night?”
“Yes. I feel terrible about leaving Sophie behind, but I know Pam will take good care of her for now.”
“And you warned Pam about Kevin?”
She nodded. “I called our apartment after her last class in the afternoon. Her boyfriend and another friend of his will stay so there’s always someone around.”
“Good idea.” I patted her knee and stood. “Do you know anyone out-of-state where you could go until Kevin is caught?”
She practically jumped out of the chair. Her eyes wide, she leaned forward. “I can’t leave yet! Not without Tommy. I need to find a place to hide until he’s released from the hospital. Detective Oates said you would know what to do.”
I held up my hand to calm her panic. “Then you’ll stay with me.”
“Oh, I can’t expect you to—”
“It’s the safest choice. Being alone in a hotel room isn’t an option. No one would know if you suddenly disappeared. I have friends who are Long Beach police officers. I’ll let them know what’s going on. My neighbors, too. I won’t give them any details, but they can keep an eye out for unfamiliar faces and notify me.”
“Please call me Deanne.”
“All right . . . Deanne, you are incredibly generous with your offer but I can’t inconvenience you in this way.”
“Lisa, I am a mother. If my kids were in your situation, I hope someone would take them in and keep them safe.”
“Well, when you put it that way, I’ll take you up on your offer. In addition to your fee for obtaining new identities for Tommy and me, I will pay for my room and board.”
I shook my head. “The fee for my service is fine. But you will be my guest in my house, not a tenant. Understand?”
“Yes.” Her answer was barely a whisper as her eyes filled with tears. Her lower lip trembled. She clasped her hands in her lap and looked down. “I don’t know what to say.”
“There is no need to say anything. The more you get to know me, the more you will realize I will do anything for a friend. You are more than a client now, Lisa. You are my friend.”
“Thank you,” she whispered.
“Okay. I’m happy we agree on your living arrangements. Let’s talk about changing your appearance and getting rid of your Porsche.”
Lisa’s jaw dropped. She grabbed the armrests and shook her head. “But Mom and Dad gave that to me for my birthday two months ago.”
I pointed in the direction of the street. “Kevin could recognize that car in a second. If you can’t part with it, then we’ll store it here in the underground garage.”
“How will I get around? I need to get back to the apartment for more clothes and to pick up Sophie. Pam will want to find another roommate to share the rent, so I must move the rest of my things as soon as possible. I also have appointments with my parents’ attorney and their accountant. I have to talk to my counselor about school.”
“Before you go anywhere . . .” I held up my hand again, “I’m taking you to a wig store to change your look. Then, we’ll find another car for you to drive.”
Her shoulders slumped.
I wasn’t sure how much more the poor girl could take. She had lost so much already. Her car was her last connection to her parents. I understood her desperate need to hang onto it.
* * *
We took my Acura to the wig store on Second Street near the marina. The owner knew me from previous visits with other clients. Her expression was curious but she never asked questions.
As Lisa sat in front of the table mirror and tried on several wigs, her stoicism faltered with each change in style or color until tears trickled down her cheeks.
My heart ached from her sadness. I stepped up behind her, laying my hand on her shoulder.
Lisa dropped her face into her hands and sobbed.
The store owner gestured in silence, indicating she would wait behind the counter, and stepped away.
After a few moments, Lisa quieted, slowly drawing in a deep breath as she lifted her head and drew back her shoulders.
I felt a physical shift in her energy, as if she was pulling it up from the bottom of her soul. The next wig she tried was long and blonde with highlights, a complete transformation from brunette but just as beautiful. I sensed she settled on it because she wanted to get out of there.
The store owner returned, nodding. “You look great in all of them, but I particularly like this one on you.”
Lisa reached in her purse and pulled out a credit card.
“Wait.” I held up my hand, shaking my head. “No credit cards. Too easy to track.”
Her mouth tightened. “I don’t have any cash.”
“I’ll pay for it. You can pay me back later when I bill you for my services. Is that fair enough?”
We left the store with Lisa wearing the blonde wig. She paused outside, taking in her reflection in the display window. A muscle in her jaw tightened and she fought back the tears.
“Come on,” I encouraged, linking my arm through hers. “I’m taking you home.”
As we walked back to my car, I explained my daughter and son would be told Lisa was a friend who needed a safe place to hide, and they were not to bring anyone over until the situation was resolved.
“How old are your kids?” she asked, her brows knitted. “I mean, can they be trusted to keep me a secret?”
“Michael is nineteen. Kitty’s seventeen. They know I’ve helped abused women start over with new identities, but they’ve never met them. This is my first time I’ve brought someone home. Still, I won’t give them any details. It’s better to keep them in the dark so there isn’t an accidental slip of the lip. They do need to know your situation is serious.”
Wednesday, May 24, 1989
I woke early, pulled on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and quietly stepped out into the hall. My German Shepherd had planted herself in front of the guest room door, instinctively posting guard. Heidi lifted her head from her paws and lightly thumped her tail. As she got up to greet me, she seemed to smile. I gave her head a quick scratch and expected her to follow me to the kitchen for her breakfast. Instead, she hesitated.
I understood. Dogs have a keen sense of ESP and Heidi had more than most. Her instinct was to protect Lisa, even in our safe environment.
I nodded and headed to the front door to get the morning paper. When Heidi heard the snick of the lock, she trotted out of the hall to join me. Instead of her usual dash down the steps and down the driveway, she stayed close, just enough ahead of my stride to serve as my protector.
“Well, look at you, little Miss Protect-and-Serve.”
Heidi glanced up at me with her doggie smile and tail wagging.
I patted her head. “Good girl.”
Back inside, she retreated to her post despite the kibble I poured in her bowl. She’d have plenty of time to eat after Lisa was up. I poured a cup of coffee that had been set to brew a few minutes before my alarm went off.
Once I was settled into my favorite sunny spot on the patio, I caught the previous day’s events.
My daughter came out in a sleepy haze, carrying a glass of orange juice. She sat in the chair next to me.
Kitty and I share a unique telepathic communication just as I had once shared with my paternal grandmother. She was only a few months old when I was awakened in the middle of the night, not by sensing she was in trouble, but by “hearing” her non-verbal cry. She knew she was in trouble but she didn’t know what was wrong, let alone how to convey it in a mental image at her young age. Immediately checking on her, I could see her sunken chest and distended stomach. I rushed her to the hospital and the ER staff pulled her through what they believed was a close call with “crib death”, now known as SIDS—Sudden Infant Death. The doctor was convinced she would have died if I had not woken in time to get her the medical attention she needed. I didn’t tell him she was the one who had alerted me. He wouldn’t have believed me if I did.
Since that early indication of Kitty’s abilities, we continued to our silent conversations. I hadn’t really thought about it as a detriment to her speech development until our unique style of communication was pointed out by a child psychologist who was a close personal friend. After that, I made a conscious effort to speak aloud to my daughter until she mastered her verbal skills. In recent years, however, we’ve slipped back into our own comfortable telepathy.
That morning on the patio, Kitty took a sip of her orange juice as I “heard” her question, Who’s the girl in the spare bedroom?
A new client. Her name is Lisa.
Kitty narrowed her eyes and cocked her head to one side.
There’s no getting anything past that girl. She knew I was holding back and was dying to know why. She would find out the truth if I didn’t block the information. I do this by switching over to a memory that still holds strong emotions for me. Again, emotion is what fuels telepathy. That’s all I can tell you right now. I’ll explain everything later.
Her forehead wrinkled in a frown.
A gesture I recognized as her hoping to concentrate hard enough to pull something out of me. Don’t press it. I promise to fill you in . . . when the time is right.
Okay. She shrugged, hopped up out of the chair and headed for the house, her thoughts trailing back to me—See you tonight.
After Kitty left, I went inside the house and called the Palos Verdes Police Department and asked to speak with Detective Oates.
A moment later, Nick answered in his usual friendly voice, asking how I was doing and about my kids.
I did the same about his family, even though I still kept up with Christine.
“I take it that this isn’t a social call. Did Lisa Norris contact you?”
“Yes. She won’t leave the state without Tommy. I’ll keep her safe, but the sooner Kevin is caught, the better. If I can be of any help . . . .”
He chuckled. “Your timing is amazing. I’m headed to the Norris house right now. A neighbor was jogging with his dog early this morning and the dog started going nuts, barking and whining. A security company patrols the area, so the man called them when he got back from his jog. It took them a while to roll on it. They aren’t authorized to do much more than check the perimeter, so they called us in.”
“Do you think Kevin went back?”
“That’d be my guess.”
“Would you mind if I meet you there? Unofficially. Lisa has only hired me to help her get lost, not to track down her brother, but I’d like to help if I can.”
“Of course. See you in about thirty minutes?”
“Sounds good.” I hung up the phone on the kitchen wall, grabbed a pen and notepad from the counter and went to the guest bedroom, stopping for fresh towels from the linen closet in the hall.
Heidi raised herself up from the carpet in front of Lisa’s door and moved to one side.
I knocked lightly on the door. “Lisa? Are you awake? Can I come in?”
Her voice sounded more tired than sleepy. I suspected she hadn’t slept well.
Heidi muzzled her way past my legs and over to the bed, wagging her tail in greeting and making sure our guest was alive and well.
The morning sun filtered through leafy branches of an ash tree in the backyard. The window was normally open for fresh air, but Lisa had undoubtedly closed and locked it to feel safer, even though her brother had no way of knowing she was here.
“I brought you some towels and a washcloth,” I said, placing them on the nearby dresser.
“Thank you.” She pushed herself up and dropped her bare legs over the side of the bed so she could pet Heidi.
Wearing an extra large t-shirt borrowed from my son, Lisa looked ten years younger without makeup to cover the dark circles under her eyes. Her dark hair was tousled around her slender face. I held up the paper and pen to show her. “I’m meeting with Detective Oates at your house in a half hour and need you to draw a quick map with directions.”
She glanced at the pad of paper, then back up to me, her eyes filled with apprehension. “I probably should go with you. Palos Verdes is not easy to navigate.”
“Not a good idea,” I said and watched her visibly relax. “Apparently, there was a break-in.”
“Most likely. You can’t be anywhere near that place while he’s still on the streets.”
Her gaze dropped to Heidi as she gave a solemn nod. With a small sigh of resignation, she pushed a lock of hair from her eyes and lifted her head. “Would you do me a favor?”
“If I can, I will.”
“I left behind some clothes at the house when I’d moved into my apartment. I didn’t think to take anything when I was there with Detective Oates, but that was before Kevin called me. Would you grab a few things for me to get by until I go back to my place for my clothes and makeup?”
“Of course. Let me get a duffle bag.” As I stepped over to the guest room closet, I put the towels on a chair. “Help yourself to whatever you want to eat. Kitty is at school and Michael has classes all day. You can take a shower and watch TV. All I ask is that you don’t leave the house.”
“Trust me, I won’t.”
Of course, Kevin couldn’t possibly know she was here, but that didn’t dispel the fear emanating from her. I could feel it deep in the middle of my stomach, the power chakra. “You’re safe here,” I said with a nod. “And Heidi will guard you with her life.”
As if my dog wanted to confirm my claim, Heidi kept herself firmly planted in front of Lisa.
“That’s reassuring, but will she allow me to get out of bed?” she asked, grinning at the shepherd. Heidi stood, licked Lisa’s knee, then turned and followed me out.
* * *
When I arrived at the address Lisa provided on the hand-drawn map, I noticed the property was fronted by an eight-foot wrought-iron fence between evenly spaced stucco pillars. Thick shrubs and trees obscured any view of a house other than a glimpse here and there of a terra cotta tile roof. A large security gate stood open at the entrance of the brick-lined driveway where two police cruisers were parked.
I left my car at the curb and walked down the sloped drive edged in colorful bedding flowers. The house turned out to be a massive Spanish-style two-story with an arched entry portico. Pink camellias blossomed on bushes that flanked the front door.
A uniformed officer came out of the house and down the steps toward me. He had probably seen me through the window and naturally assumed I was just a curious neighbor.
As an investigator, I had discovered people don’t react to a woman with similar suspicion as they do to a man in the same circumstances. Most of the time, nobody looks twice at me, which is a nice little advantage of being a female PI.
Introducing myself to the officer, I told him Detective Oates was expecting me, but he hesitated, eyeing me with a look of skepticism. I gave him my best reassuring smile.
“You’ll have to wait here while I get him.”
“Of course.” I stepped to the side. He couldn’t escort me into an active crime scene investigation without confirmation that I knew one of the detectives.
A few moments later, Nick appeared in the front doorway and waved me forward. “Good to see you, Deanne.” We kept our greeting formal and professional with a shake of the hands.
“Thanks for letting me come over.”
He gave me a pair of cloth booties for my feet.
I held his forearm to steady myself while I put one over each of my shoes.
“Hey, it’s a two-way street. I’m hoping you might help us.”
“Let’s get to it then.”
I followed him past the yellow “Do Not Cross” tape, one end still attached to the door jamb, the other end kicked aside at the threshold. A pungent, metallic odor greeted us as we started through the doorway. The energy felt dreadful as if I had to physically wade through a thick, black ooze that seeped into every pore of my body.
“Watch your step,” Nick warned, blocking me with his arm and pointing to a dark pool of blood that had not yet completely dried.
My nose wrinkled. It was the source of the noxious odor. Chalk on the marble tile outlined the shape of a body. Blood spatter fanned out across an adjacent wall, staining a long, oak entry table and its arrangement of silk flowers.
“Lynette Norris was found here,” Nick said. “We think she might have been trying to run out the front door after seeing her husband and Tommy shot.”
The front entryway was a raised, curved platform, about eight by twelve, overlooking an enormous living room with a twenty-foot ceiling and equally high windows on the far wall. The outdoor view was of a lagoon pool set in one of those new back-to-nature landscape designs.
A curved staircase descended along the left wall and two open doors to our right appeared to lead to a dining room and a kitchen.
Nick led me around the body outline and blood, down the steps and to the left. Around the corner of the entry wall, he stopped in front of another bloody scene sketched in chalk lines indicating multiple appendages. “This is where we found Alan and Tommy Norris. The father’s body was lying on top of his son, as if he tried to protect him. What has Lisa told you?”
“Just the basics, most of which you probably already learned when you were at her apartment. She asked me to pick up a few of her things from her bedroom, if that’s okay.”
Nick shook his head. “Sorry, no. You’ll understand when you see what we found.” He led me up the stairs to the second floor. The first door was yellow-taped but was open to a bedroom with lavender walls. Since the room was too small to be the master suite, it had to be Lisa’s.
The place had been ransacked. Drawers pulled from the dressers. Knickknacks shattered. In the center of the cream-carpeted floor was a pile of clothing. A cheval dressing mirror in the corner displayed a lipstick message:
I WILL FIND YOU.
I sensed Nick’s gaze on me and turned to see him studying my reaction. “This is one terribly messed up kid,” I said, shaking my head.
Nick gave a slow nod. “I understand why he went after the parents for cutting off his financial support, and I can understand the kid brother was collateral damage. But why would he hunt down his sister?”
“What if he thought he could inherit everything if he’s the only one left?”
“If he thinks he can walk away from murder with a boat-load of cash, he’s not just a junkie, he’s insane.”
“You may be right.” I looked around at the trashed room. “Sooner or later, Lisa will need deal with her parents’ personal items and decide what to do with the place and the furnishings. But she shouldn’t be subjected to this, or the blood stains downstairs.”
He shook his head. “We don’t clean up crime scenes, but I can give you the number of a guy who does.”
“Thanks. I’ll make all the arrangements so Lisa won’t need to be here.”
“Let me know as soon as you schedule him. I can drop by to let him into the house and save you a trip out here.”
“I’d really appreciate that.”
Nick took me back downstairs and into the home office. The wall safe was open and empty.
“From what we saw on the day of the murders, nothing has been disturbed, including the safe. Probably he took off as soon as he killed his parents, figuring neighbors would have heard the shots on a quiet Sunday afternoon. It’s possible he didn’t intend to kill them, but brought the weapon to threaten them for money.”
I shook my head. “But he told Lisa she ruined everything by not being here. No, he wanted them all dead so he could collect the entire inheritance. I don’t get it, though. Wouldn’t he realize he’d be a primary suspect?”
Nick shrugged, then motioned to the safe. “He could’ve been high at the time, not thinking about the consequences, then came back for whatever was locked in here.”
“Obviously, he knew the combination.” I stepped over to the wall and looked into the small steel vault. “He was after cash. Jewelry, too.”
“Another one of your psychic hits?” he asked without the slightest hint of skepticism.
I turned and smiled at him. “Partly. But he would’ve have taken the risk if he didn’t already know what was in here, and that it wasn’t just a pile of documents that would be useless to him.”
“Lisa might know. Could you bring her in tomorrow?”
“What if Kevin is watching the station for just that reason?”
He nodded. “Your office, then?”
“Yes, that’s fine. Nine o’clock?”
“That works for me. I’ve got to deal with another case on my desk, but you can stick around until the others leave. See if you get anything.”
After he was gone, I looked around the house, careful to steer clear of the yellow-taped areas in nearly every room of the vast estate. The forensic team was examining the back door, taking photos and lifting more fingerprints, so I let myself out into the backyard through French doors off the breakfast room.
Outside, I could hear a wild peacock screech in the distance, one of hundreds that nest throughout the Palos Verdes Peninsula since being introduced nearly a hundred years ago.
Just as I’d seen from inside, the back of the house looked out onto a large black-bottomed swimming pool lined in smooth river rock to replicate a tranquil pond with a terraced Jacuzzi tucked into a stone grotto on the far side. A pair of waterfalls, now shut off, had left white lime deposits in the rocks above the Jacuzzi and at its lip where water once spilled into the pool. In its deserted state, the still, dark, glassy surface presented an ominous apparition of a black hole.
I followed a flagstone path shaded by cypress trees that took me over the crest of a small hill to a tennis court bathed in the warm afternoon sun. The lines on the asphalt were bright white, indicating they’d recently been painted. I could almost hear the rhythmic thwack of the ball against the rackets. Envisioning the Norrises engaged in a Sunday afternoon game, I felt a sense of exhilaration here, as if the couple had just walked off the court, arm in arm, laughing and teasing each other.
I smiled to myself.
Any other clairvoyant may have said their spirits were lingering, but I didn’t sense they were actually present. Instead, I felt the uplifting energy in my heart as if the location retained the memory of happier times. The feeling was a stark contrast to the rooms in the house where the bodies had been found.
Beyond the tennis courts was a locked stable with cobwebs laced over dusty windows. I found a narrow gravel road that took me back toward the house, past a six-car garage that wasn’t visible from the driveway when I arrived.
Two cars remained inside—a blue Volvo station wagon and a black Range Rover. I made a mental note to talk to Lisa about switching her Porsche with the wagon. Though the vehicle would require a new plate, just in case Kevin knew the license.
For now, I had seen all I needed to see, so I headed back to Long Beach.
* * *
When I returned home, I called the number of the cleaning man Nick provided. Fortunately, I set up an appointment for the following morning, then I phoned Nick to confirm he would be available to open the house.
After taking care of that business, I found Lisa on the back porch, sipping an iced tea and reading a text book. To anyone who didn’t know her, she may have appeared to be an average college kid keeping up with her studies. In truth, she had no way of knowing when or if she could return to classes. I had the feeling she was going through the motions as a way of clinging to a normal life when her whole world was turned upside down. I could see she starred at the same page for quite a while, lost in thought.
She glanced up and smiled as I pulled out a chair from the table and sat across from her. The jasmine was in bloom and the smell was delightful and comforting somehow.
“How did it go?” she asked.
“I couldn’t get anything from the house.” I had decided against telling her about the message from Kevin or the fact he’d ransacked her room. She was scared enough as it was. “The police are sure Kevin was the intruder. The safe was empty. Detective Oates wants to talk to you about that.”
Her eyes looked upward.
I could “hear” her inner thoughts, talking to her mom and dad, asking them what to do, telling them she didn’t know what she could say to help the investigation.
I didn’t see her parents, but I had a sense they were with her.
She reached up with her right hand and rested it on her left shoulder, then looked over at me. “It felt like someone just touched me.” Her bewilderment changed to hopefulness. “Could it be my mom? Or maybe my dad?”
I nodded. “Both, possibly.”
She gave a nervous chuckle. “Thanks for not making me think I’m crazy.”
“Everyone is psychic, some more than others. You are bound to feel your parents’ presence.” I leaned an elbow on the table. “Take comfort in that.”
“I do,” she said softly.
“I told Detective Oates he could talk to you at my office tomorrow morning. Is that okay?”
“Yes, that’s fine. I don’t know if I have any answers. There were no dirty little secrets. Our parents were never abusive to Kevin, Tommy or me. They loved us and were always there for us and really involved in our activities, especially when we were little. We had these incredible family vacations that took us all over the world because my parents wanted us to expand our knowledge beyond the classroom. There was nothing that they wouldn’t do for us.”
She stopped short, memories flooding over her until harsh reality set in and her eyes misted again. Her palm scrubbed a tear from one eye. “I don’t understand what happened to Kevin.” She dropped her hand, tightening it into a fist “I don’t know why he . . . did what he did.”
“Nick is not expecting you to solve the crime, but it will help him if you would answer a few questions. After the meeting at my office, I’ll take you to the hospital to see Tommy, but only if it’s considered safe.”
“I’d like that. I’ve been so worried about him, but I was afraid to go back to the hospital after Kevin called me.”
Thursday, May 25, 1989
When Lisa and I arrived at my office for the meeting with Nick, I spotted his patrol car already parked at the curb. I honked and waved, motioning to him to go up while I pulled into the underground parking garage.
As we rounded the corner from the stairs, I saw him standing at the door to my office, holding a cardboard tray with three paper coffee cups.
“I brought your tea,” he said, lifting the tray to show me.
“You’re a saint.” I gave him a wink of appreciation, unlocking the door.
“Good morning, Lisa. I didn’t know if you drink coffee, so I have some tea for you, too.”
“That’s very nice of you, sir.”
Nick smiled and I grinned in spite of myself. Being addressed as “Sir” by a pretty young woman would have made him feel ancient a few years ago. Now, the word didn’t faze him.
I flipped on the lights and opened the louvered blinds to let in the morning sun. With a wave, I offered my chair to Lisa and grabbed a folding chair from behind the door.
Nick insisted on taking it though.
After we were settled in and sipping our respective drinks, Nick took out a pen and small notebook from his breast pocket. “Did Deanne tell you Kevin broke into your family’s home?”
“Yes and the safe was empty, but that’s all I know.”
“Do you know if he had the combination to the safe?”
“Yes, so do I. Our parents trusted us. If we needed extra money while they were out of town on business, we could take what we needed, as long as we left a note.”
“Do you know how much cash might have been in there?”
“About a hundred thousand, I think.”
Nick blinked and shot a glance my way.
A hundred thousand? I blinked twice.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“Kevin told me about a year ago that he’d counted it.”
“Do you have any idea why there was so much?”
“After the Whittier earthquake two years ago, my mother read a newspaper article about emergency preparedness. You know—First Aid kits in the house and in all the cars. Extra clothes, too. And shoes. Enough food and water for the family and pets to last at least a week. My dad said if ‘The Big One’ hits and knocks out the power grid indefinitely, banks would be closed and credit cards wouldn’t work at gas stations.”
“That’s still a lot of cash to have on hand.”
A thin shoulder lifted in a shrug. “He said if things were really bad, we would leave town. I suppose there was enough to pay for travel, hotels and food for the five of us.”
“Enough to last Kevin a very long time,” I speculated.
Nick had jotted something in his notebook, then asked, “Do you know if jewelry was kept in the safe?”
Lisa nodded. “I remember three blue velvet jewelry boxes with several necklaces, bracelets and rings. Diamonds, mostly. Emeralds. I think Mr. Miller would have an inventory.”
“Who is Mr. Miller?” Nick asked, an eyebrow raised.
“My parents’ attorney. My father was meticulous about keeping accurate records for insurance coverage.”
“I’ll need Miller’s contact information.”
“Of course. I have his number in my Day Planner.” She reached into her purse and took out a small leather-bound book. Inside was a thin decorative pen and notepad that she used to jot the name and number and then handed the slip to Nick.
After a quick glance, he pocketed the paper and continued, “We also found empty jewelry boxes in your parents’ bedroom.”
She nodded solemnly. “If anything was of value, I’m sure Mr. Miller would have it on the list.”
“What about your room? Did you have any jewelry?”
“Was my jewelry box empty, too?” She sat forward, frowning.
I could tell he weighed the same decision I made yesterday.
“Yes, the box was empty. So was the closet and all the drawers. Everything was in a pile in the middle of the floor.”
“Kevin trashed my room?” Her voice rose, her hands clenched on the desktop. “Are you kidding me? Why? What could he have been looking for?”
Nick and I both knew Kevin hadn’t been looking for anything.
“Right now, all that really matters is Kevin left a message he was going to find you.”
“He did?” Eyes wide, she looked at me.
I felt a twinge of regret about withholding the information, to protect her as if she were my own daughter.
Nick tapped his pen on his notepad. “We’ve had tips he’s been seen near your apartment, but nothing we can corroborate because there’s no sign of him by the time LAPD arrives. You need to be very careful until he’s caught. Kevin’s truck was found at a Vons grocery store parking lot in Compton. The license plates were removed, but we checked the VIN number with the DMV and confirmed it’s his truck. We don’t know what he is driving now.”
“Did you check the garage? He could have my dad’s Range Rover or my mom’s Volvo. There was an off-road motorcycle we took on camping trips. And three bicycles.”
Nick shook his head. “Both cars are still there. I’ll check on the bikes.”
“No need,” I said. “I was in there yesterday, too. One is definitely missing.”
“Kevin’s was a black three-speed.”
I hesitated only a moment before saying, “It’s not there now.”
* * *
After Nick left my office, Lisa and I drove to the hospital on Lomita Boulevard in Torrance. Nick had already called ahead to the ICU and told the guard we were on our way and to allow Lisa to see her brother. When we arrived, I paused next to the police officer at the door, expecting to wait outside while Lisa visited privately.
She stopped short and looked at me with the frightened and vulnerable face she had been hiding so valiantly since we’d met. I put my arm around her shoulder for support and walked through the doorway with her.
In the middle of the bed flanked by noisy machines, Tommy lay motionless, a white thermal blanket tucked around him. Slender IV tubes trailed from under the covers. A larger ventilation tube snaked from his throat.
Lisa stepped quietly to the railing and touched the nubby fabric of the blanket. “Oh, Tommy.” Her voice was barely above a whisper. “I’m so sorry I couldn’t get back until now.”
The ventilator hummed each breath into him.
She hung her head, the long blonde hair of the wig masking her face.
I knew she was crying.
His eyes opened slowly.
She didn’t react until he shifted his arm beneath the covers. Her head came up. “Tommy?”
He couldn’t talk with the tube in this mouth but his eyes lit up. His gaze circled her face as one eyebrow lifted in question.
“He’s noticing your wig,” I said.
“Oh, I completely forgot.” She laughed nervously, touching the blonde bangs. “I, uh, thought it would be fun to do something different.”
I watched him watching her, skepticism narrowing his eyes.
“Okay, you may as well know,” she conceded, giving me a sideways glance before turning back to her injured brother. “This is Deanne Acuña. She’s a private investigator, but she also helps people in danger.”
I moved near the side rail of his bed. “It’s nice to meet you, Tommy. I wish it were under better circumstances.”
He briefly closed his eyes and gave an almost imperceptible nod.
Lisa explained, “Kevin doesn’t know you survived and he’s told me that I’m next.”
His eyes widened as he shook his head.
“No-no, it’s okay. Even if he finds out you’re here, there’s a policeman guarding your door day and night. You’re safe, Tommy. I swear.”
His eyes grew bright with tears. He struggled to bring his hand out from under the sheet.
Lisa assisted him then clasped both her hands around his.
“I’ll be okay. Deanne is the best at what she does. And when you’re released from here, she’ll help us get new names and new lives somewhere Kevin can’t find us.”
He whimpered. Tethered to the bed by tubes, he couldn’t do anything but lay flat on his back as the sobs shook his body.
Lisa did her best to reach over the aluminum rail to soothe him.
A knot formed in my throat. I held back my own tears.
Their shared grief over losing their mother and father was like a monstrous tidal wave of despair, crashing over them for the first time since the horrific murder at the hands of their older brother.
I reached down to locate the latch, releasing the railing so Lisa could better comfort Tommy. She gingerly slipped her arms around his fragile body and hugged him until his shaking subsided.
Suddenly, an alarm bell began to ring and the guard rushed into the room, followed close on his heels by a nurse.
Lisa stepped back as the annoyed nurse silenced the loud alarm and checked the monitors.
Fortunately, only a wire had been jostled loose. The problem was quickly resolved, but the nurse clucked and fidgeted with the sheets.
“Please let him rest now,” the woman said, walking briskly to the door and pausing to be sure her orders were heeded. “You can come back later.”
Lisa took her little brother’s hand and held it close to her heart. “We’re going to be okay, Tommy. I promise.”
He nodded, his eyelids drooping.
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you, too,” he answered, though not aloud. The ventilator had kept him from speaking.
His eyes closed.
Friday, May 26, 1989
Greeted by Heidi as I walked into my house after work, I gave her my undivided attention until the phone rang. She followed me into the kitchen where I picked up. “Hello?”
“Kevin was apprehended in Las Vegas.” Nick’s voice did not convey the satisfaction I would have expected. A couple of days had passed since we’d last spoken. I had other client cases requiring my attention. Lisa had been making arrangements for her parents’ funeral.
“Is everything okay?” I dropped my purse on the counter as Heidi sat down at me feet, adoration in her brown eyes. Scratching her behind her ears, I felt guilty about the interruption to our welcome-home routine.
“He’s being transported to Los Angeles as we speak, but LVPD forwarded a preliminary psych evaluation, finding him criminally insane. He will not face trial unless he has the mental capacity to recognize the wrongfulness of his conduct.”
“W-what? Did I hear you right? He’s pleading insanity?” My raised voice brought Heidi to her feet, alert and prepared to protect me.
“Not yet,” he said. “But it looks that way.”
“Unbelievable.” I stroked Heidi’s head and felt her tension ease. Mine, too.
“Don’t sound so surprised. It happens all the time.”
“He won’t get away with it. Not if Lisa and Tommy can attest to his normal behavior until recently.”
“Depends upon the judge.” He sighed heavily. “I’ll call when I hear anything new.”
After hanging up the phone, I looked down at Heidi sitting again at my feet. “Hey-girl, are you hungry?”
Her raised chin tilted higher in response. Her tail thumped the floor.
“Let’s see what I can do about that.”
I picked up her stainless steel dog bowl from the floor next to her water dish and set it on the counter. She followed me to the refrigerator, the pantry and back to the counter as I gathered the ingredients for her supper. All the while, my mind kept running through how I would break the news to Lisa. Most investigators are adept at reading people, though most would say it’s nothing more than finely-tuned observation. If they don’t have it, they don’t stay in the profession very long. I see it as both a learned skill and an intuitive perception of the individual’s energy.
I knew Lisa was already fragile. Not even a week had passed since her parents’ murder and she was holding strong. But to learn her older brother might get life in a mental hospital instead of prison . . . well, I wasn’t sure how she would take the latest development.
At least, she would be relieved to hear he had been captured.
When I walked into the family room, I was surprised to find Michael watching a local program. Being home was unusual for him. If he’s not in classes or at his part-time job, he’s usually with a girlfriend or one of his buddies. I was about to ask him about the reason when Kitty came in from the hall.
“Lisa’s in her room,” she said matter-of-factly. “I’ll get her.”
When the two girls entered the room, I was perched on the edge of the sofa cushion, rolling the glass of water back and forth, lost in thought. “Lisa, I need your permission to tell Michael and Kitty why you are here.”
“I thought you’d probably already told them.”
“No, I haven’t. Would you like to tell them?”
She shook her head, lowering herself to the sofa.
As briefly as possible, I explained the situation, hoping to spare Lisa more pain, but she could not hold back the tears. Kitty already knew our house guest was in grave danger since our telepathy is so strong. My daughter felt my own emotional turmoil that I had been unable to block and the sensations made her afraid.
“I’m sorry that I worried you,” I told her, then turned my attention to Lisa. “Now, I have some good news. Kevin was caught in Las Vegas and is being flown back to Los Angeles. He’ll be taken to the jail ward of County Hospital.”
Lisa sat up straight. “Why? Was he hurt?”
“No. He will be examined by a panel of psychiatrists to see if he is capable of standing trial.”
“Kevin is not crazy!” She jumped to her feet and started pacing the floor, throwing her arms up in the air.” He was majoring in psychology and he knows exactly what he’s doing. Once he told me he couldn’t understand why criminals didn’t pretend to be crazy so they could get away with the crimes they’d committed.”
She turned toward me and stopped. “He’s going to get away with it, isn’t he? He killed Mom and Dad in cold blood and he’ll claim temporary insanity.”
Her voice broke and her shoulders sagged. She covered her face with her hands and sobbed.
I rushed close, putting my arms around her to comfort her.
Kitty came over to us and put her hand on Lisa’s shoulder.
On the other side, Michael did the same.