The Killing Today

Before Fresno, I’d sooner have tracked Cameron down to give him a medal than his Miranda rights. Normally, I’m not one to pass judgment, but it’s different now, and a job’s a job. In that summer of 1979 I put over three thousand miles on my 1981 BMW chasing him. Our perp dogged us at every turn: at a bowling alley in Alhambra, scrambling last minute through the pin monkeys’ entrance. In a cloud of dust in Barstow, at their kitschy Old West rest stop. Near the airplane museum in Chino. Even at fucking Zzyzx Road, to round out the alphabet. Then finally one day, we had the bastard cornered in Fresno.

There he’d been, in one “Polar Bear Café” downtown. Smart guy, sitting on the outer edge of his booth so we couldn’t box him in. Just when O’Hara and I had slid in opposite him, Cameron’s jacket blew a hole from the inside, and Matthews was on the floor with a .38 slug in his belly. That day in Polar Bear I really would have liked to just ask him some questions, but the argument coming out of a snubnose was a much hotter topic than what’s going on this summer. O’Hara stayed behind and I went after him, but I lost his Chevy Novelle just across the tracks as a train came by. If it’d been a movie, I’d have called bullshit. I just shook my head at O’Hara as they loaded Matthews into the ambulance. He didn’t make it.

Matthews had been Cameron’s second victim. The very first was this Fujiwara character, a man he‘d been assistant to. Fujiwara had an unhealthy interest in a number of things, including his daughter. When Cameron walked in on something in the lab one day, it was just too much for him. A crime of passion, the courts would call it, a lot of sympathy, but murder nonetheless. Had we taken him into the station, it would have been only a reluctant booking followed by handshakes and congratulations from the entire department. But Fresno changed the tone pretty quickly. Meeting the girl, too, added another layer to it all.

The long-suffering daughter—Yuki was her name—had been a mousy little creature, the poor thing. Her English was borderline comical, but given the circumstances there wasn’t much to laugh about. She was really fond of Cameron, saw him as a kind of protector. It must’ve broken her heart twice to find out that now he was wanted as a double-murderer. I’ll never forget that sweltering day, squeezing her hand and hoping to God that the man from the agency could find the right place for her. I’ve always been a sucker for troubled women, and had I anything else to offer someone besides too many books on the Civil War and a run for their money for hang-ups and problems, I would have whisked her away right then and there. At least I could have promised her that no one would ever bother her again, that she wouldn’t have ended up the way she did. That day, all I could do for her was give my word that we wouldn’t treat Cameron too rough once we got him.

 

She would never live to see the promise I made. In 1981, what was left of Yuki was found discarded along some train tracks in San Gabriel. Whoever had done it, knew everything that the Homicide dicks do when they need to identify a body. Even though it took several more months to positively identify the body, I knew it was her. I knew because I had wanted nothing more than for her to be all right. And of course, nothing good can ever happen to me, besides maybe the capture of some Johnny the Killer giving me less paperwork than usual. I cried myself to sleep that night. I still have nightmares about her mutilated body. This was someone whose whole life had been suffering, who never got a break, and as if in a crazed frenzy to prove that “bad things still happen to good people,” fate violated her one last time, and carelessly tossed her into the dirt. To seal it all up, some key evidence got misplaced, and not too long after that, it went cold.

 

 

Meanwhile, Cameron had come shooting up the case list. By late May 1979, Homicide had established that he was killing nearly every week. And I had established that it was May in nineteen seventy-fucking-nine. I was leaning on my car reading the paper: KILLING SPREE ACCELERATES. Date: May 25, 1979. I checked the owner’s manual in the glove box. Congratulations on your purchase of a 1981 BMW. I remember rolling off the lot of the Bimmer dealership in Pasadena that summer of 1981. Alpine white, top speed of 100mph, 0 to 60 in a respectable 9.6 seconds. The guys in Homicide teased me relentlessly for getting such a small faggy European car, but I knew if it really came down to it this little machine would’ve left all their Ford and Chevy and Buick clunkers in the dust. But ever since a certain B. Cameron had shown up on my radar, the teasing had stopped. Nobody even asked about it.

 

It was now July 1979, nearly two months into his spree. By then we’d established his M.O.: lascivious talent agents, traveling salesmen with a penchant for the little ones, johns with “special requests;” a whole rogues’ gallery of perverts. Besides Matthews, not a bad job. But you can’t let a vigilante run free, even if he’s doing a good thing. Makes the public too nervous. O’Hara and I were outside of a library in Bakersfield, staking out what must have been our hundredth baby-blue Novelle that month. The owner came back, some German-looking guy in an outfit straight out of the turn of the century. Not Cameron. I was seeing more and more weird stuff in recent days, and the unconscionably hot weather also seemed to be a common thread running through everything as of late. But no one would believe me if I said there was a pattern. Another headline: SLAIN SCOUTMASTER SUSPECTED PERVERT. He’d struck again.

On the 10th we got a positive ID on our man, this time holed up in some motel in Orcutt. Word was he was sooner or later going to try to catch a flight back to Australia, and there were flights to SFO from Santa Maria Airport just a few miles south. We had over a dozen men with us, his car completely surrounded in the parking lot, and all that was left to do was knock on his door. House calls are unpleasant enough, but motel calls? We drew straws for them. I announced myself and tapped a few times with the butt of my gun, glancing back at my men. The odds were comfortably in our favor, and if we’d gotten this far Cameron must’ve known it too. To my surprise, he opened the door and just stared dumbly, as if I was here pitching him our latest and greatest vacuum. I frisked him, he was clean, and I covered him in the corner as the rest of my men searched his room. Another scorchingly hot day. We locked eyes.

“Nice car. Alpine white. Doesn’t come out for another two years, does it?”

I glanced around. Somehow, no one else was hearing this.

“Can I have a cigarette?”

I obliged. I didn’t know what to say. We just smoked together in silence.

 

On our way back to the station, Cameron again leaned as close as he could to me from the backseat and said I never answered his question.

“I didn’t know what to say.”

“I’m sorry about your partner Matthews. He was the key to that day.”

“Pardon?”

“Your car,” he repeated, “This model doesn’t come out for another two years. Haven’t you wondered?”

He was right, of course. Something had happened. I did indeed have a car two years too new. I just woke up one day, and the date had changed. Everything but the car had stayed the same. I was relieved that I wasn’t the crazy one. But then again, maybe the faithful-assistant-turned-murderer of Japanese scientists and kiddy fuckers isn’t someone you should necessarily rest your marbles with. Meanwhile, O’Hara was busy stubbing out his cigarette in the ashtray—always so fastidiously—but otherwise apparently unaware that I was talking with our prisoner about what year it was.

Cameron had asked me something else but I missed it. I just grunted.

“…Fujiwara’s contraption. Without the key, the day repeats. If you arrest me it’ll still be July 10 tomorrow.”

I lit my 5-cent cigar in response. I’d been saving it for after we booked him.

“I have to kill,” he continued, “the ‘keys’. They’re all evil, wicked to the core. But it never gets any easier.”

“Oh?”

“Your late partner Matthews? Break out his ‘personal files’ again sometime. And O’Hara here is a key too… he’s the one who got ahold of Yuki.”

My mouth went dry. I’d been so caught up with everything that it finally dawned—Yuki died in 1981, the same year I bought my car. But this was July 1979. Yuki was still alive.

“Jesus fuckin’ Christ,” was all I could manage. I looked over at O’Hara. He winked at me, still mashing out his cigarette butt.

“Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.” A pause. “These sickos are all over the state. Your neighbor, your pastor, your uncle. You’re stuck in this loop too.”

“Well… it was the 9th yesterday for me.”

“You only live in the world where things progress. In the other one, your partner from Polar Bear lives and everyone wakes up to the same day for the rest of eternity.”

“Why am I special?”

“I wish I could tell you. I knew it the moment you pulled up with this Bimmer that day. You’re part of this too, somehow.”

“Christ… Sorry, bad habit.”

 

We pulled into the station. We had Cameron booked and ready to go for questioning in just ten minutes. The chief congratulated us, remarked how regretful this whole situation was, clapped both O’Hara and I on the back; standard pleasantries. O’Hara winked at me again.

Thinking about it, we were never really “friends.” We were courteous, insofar as I knew he had my back and I his. I could never put my finger on it, but there was something about him that bothered the hell out of me. A terrible urge overtook me. I knew it now, I hated this Irish fuck, the way he winked, like it was some trick he’d practice in the mirror but still didn’t have the hang of; how it’d always take him a full minute to stub out a single goddamn cigarette; and how he never had much glowing words for Mrs. O’Hara either, even though I knew without a doubt she was just about the sweetest who’d ever walked this Earth. And now and most importantly poor poor Yuki. I reached for my gun. Cameron had burst out of the interrogation room, two detectives running after him. There was something in his eyes that made me understand what I had to do.

“Yes, he killed her! Save her now!”

I put one in the back of O’Hara’s head. He crumpled to the floor as the chief stepped back. I grabbed Cameron by the collar and got the hell out of there as the station bell rang, to a cacophony courtesy of Smith & Wesson and co.

“Don’t worry about me,” panted Cameron as he jumped into the passenger seat. He was hit in the shoulder. “Or about tomorrow. So long as we get to Sausalito by midnight.”

Three hours north. A bullet struck my window, showering us with splinters. I’d already started the engine. I could hear the sirens. But a few minutes’ head start was all I needed.

Originally “published” April 12, 2020. Last revised August 11.