A Killing in China Basin - By Kirk Russell


Whitacre’s salt-faded Buick faced the Golden Gate Bridge from a corner of the Marina Green lot, a blue handicap placard hanging from the rear-view mirror. Whitacre brushed the placard aside as he reached to open the passenger door for Raveneau.

‘That door doesn’t shut easily, pull it hard.’

As Raveneau did, Whitacre said, ‘I’m sorry it’s so hot in here. The chemo drugs mess with my body temperature. I’m always cold now, but I am winning this fight, Ben. Last scan, the tumors had shrunk by fifty percent. I’ve got another this morning and if it’s as good as the last one I think they’re going to tell me I can go back to work next month.’

‘Everybody in the office is waiting to hear that.’

But Raveneau saw that far from gaining weight, Whitacre was losing it. He watched him struggle to unfold a piece of paper and looked out at the bay, dark blue and windswept this morning, the bridge bright orange, whitecaps running toward Alcatraz.

‘He drives a late model white Lexus SUV. These are his plates.’

Whitacre handed him the piece of paper. He could have sent a text, email, or called it in yesterday. He was on medical leave but was still very much a San Francisco homicide inspector, same as Ben Raveneau, and could easily have picked up the phone and had the license plates run. He also had much closer friends among the inspectors than Raveneau, any of which would be glad to help him.

After a liver cancer diagnosis late last spring Whitacre used up his sick time, comp time, and vacation pay, then applied to the Catastrophic Illness Program. The program allowed San Francisco Police Department officers to donate time to each other and Raveneau donated half of this year’s vacation time. Maybe that figured into Whitacre calling him.

Raveneau glanced at Cody Stoltz’s plate numbers. Stoltz was out of prison, had been for several years, and possibly he held a grudge against the homicide inspectors who took him down, Ted Whitacre and Charles Bates, but usually once out of prison they moved on.

‘What’s your old partner think?’

Whitacre tried to smile, didn’t get far with it and said, ‘You know how Charles is.’

Raveneau wasn’t sure he did and waited.

‘Charles thinks the cancer drugs are affecting my mind. My seeing Stoltz is a hallucination or something like that. He doesn’t believe any of this, but I’m telling you, Ben, it was definitely Stoltz who followed me last Saturday.’

Whitacre coughed, cleared his throat, and said, ‘That’s not completely fair. Charles did watch him last week. Stoltz lives in a guest house on his mother’s property in Los Altos. He’s working again. He’s still a Silicon Valley whiz-kid. Charles sat on the house, followed him, and said all Stoltz did was go between work and home.’

Whitacre paused. He turned and stared.

‘Stoltz wrote us all those letters. Do you remember?’

Not really, but he’d pulled the case files after Whitacre’s call yesterday. In the files he found letters to Whitacre but none to his long-time partner, Charles Bates. He looked over at Whitacre and confirmed, ‘Bates told you he sat on Stoltz for two days?’


Bates was retired. He had his pension but was also doing work for the Alameda County DA. If he’d taken time off to put Stoltz under surveillance, he would have checked out Stoltz other ways as well.

‘Other than me, you’re the only one left who knows how to knock on a door, Ben. All the rest are modern guys. They’ll file a report.’

‘Did Bates knock on his door?’

‘Charles thinks it’s got to come from an active inspector to have any weight.’

Raveneau nodded. So that’s what this meeting was about.

‘Here’s what I can do. I’m on-call this week with my new partner but I’ll go see Stoltz Monday or Tuesday. You’re sure he’s living with his mother?’

‘Two-story guest house, painted yellow with a big rose garden behind it, and thank you. I can’t tell you how it affects me to know Stoltz is following me and feel I can’t do much about it.’

‘Walk me through again what happened when you saw him.’

Whitacre seemed agitated by the request but did it anyway. He had spotted Stoltz in a parking lot outside a Belmont hardware store not far from where he lived. Stoltz was watching the front doors and Whitacre came out a side door after buying grape stakes to repair his fence. Stoltz wasn’t watching the side of the building and Whitacre got close enough to confirm it was him and get his