We had a fabulous birthday party for Ida in a restaurant overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Bob put on his “master of ceremonies” façade and became the life of the party. Ida delighted in his performance and fawned over him, letting his spotlight cascade down on her. At a given moment in the party a boat slowly passed by the window trailing a huge banner saying “Happy 80th Birthday Ida,” and I think her entire eighty years were packaged in that moment, with that banner being the peak of her life. Such a high is destined to bring about an equivalent low.
On Memorial Day we received a phone call at five in the morning. Dan answered. I listened with unnerving anticipation. The Lord told me through many different visions about the future of the family. We’d had two tragic deaths of Dan’s cousin and his son killed in a private plane crash. Sitting in the chapel for their funerals, I asked the Lord who would die next. He said, “Bob and then Ida.” I corrected Him, “Don’t you mean Ida and then Bob?” He didn’t answer, so I knew His response to me was right. Behind me my niece asked that question out loud: who was going to be next. I almost turned around and told her, but fortunately pulled myself into check. I couldn’t say that about her father!
Through various conservations with the Lord I learned that Bob would die on a Monday and that Monday would be a holiday. I had to look at a calendar several years in advance to find Christmas on a Monday, which meant that New Year’s would also be on a Monday that year, but not before. Easter is never on a Monday. Thanksgiving is never on a Monday. Possibly Fourth of July? But not this year. That remained a mystery to me until this phone call when the information I had been given suddenly made sense. I sat straight up in bed. Memorial Day is always on a Monday.
The Lord had also shown me in a vision that Bob’s body would be wheeled out of the kitchen in our commissary where our restaurants cooked all the food. So when my husband hung up the phone, I already knew the answers to my questions. “Who was that?”
“Sandy. She said the police called her at four. Frenchy, the pastry chef, had called them because when he got to work, he found the bodies of Bob and the substitute cook laying on the floor of the commissary in their own blood, having been shot to death. She hurried down to identify Bob’s body for the police. The cook’s parents are on their way to identify his body. Now she’s home and wants me to get to the commissary as fast as I can.”
Full of purpose he hurried into the bathroom and started the shower. I could hear him, and it sounded like he was singing. I went to the door to listen more closely and realized he was crying while he prayed: “Please God, don’t make my brother go to hell. Please let him have asked you into his heart before he died. I know he never. . . .”
I hurriedly dressed and called my friend, Barbara, to ask if she could keep Noelle for the day and keep her out of sight. From what I knew, I figured the killer was actually after Dan, so I explained everything to her, and she instantly agreed. Her twin daughters were Noelle’s best friends. I then called J.J. at the University of California in Santa Barbara to tell him what he would soon hear on the news, but that he was not to come home. It was the end of the school year, and he was studying hard for his final exams. Besides, I thought he might be safer where he was.
Dan left immediately for the city. It took me another hour to wake Noelle, tell her the news, calm her down, and get her to her friends’ house. Then I, too, drove into San Francisco. Along the way I reflected on what else Sandy, Bob’s wife, had told Dan and on what else I knew.
Before the weekend, our regular night shift cook asked to take a few days’ vacation over the Memorial Day weekend, a three-day holiday for most people, which left Dan to do the cooking himself from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. A certain young man who had cooked for Dan in the past dropped by the office on the Friday before the weekend, knowing the regular cook was on vacation, and offered to take the shift on Sunday night as he needed extra cash.
Relieved of duty and free to play, Dan and I went to the movies on that Sunday night. Noelle, now 15, spent six continuous hours that Sunday evening talking to one friend on the phone. When we came home, I asked if anyone had tried to get through to us on call waiting, and Noelle said no. We went to bed about 1:00 a.m. From what Sandy said, someone called their house about midnight from the commissary to say the boiler had blown up. This being a common occurrence she went back to sleep and didn’t notice that her husband never came home.
I drove to the commissary full of fear and trepidation. The sense that gunmen stalked behind ever tree haunted me. When I arrived at the commissary, I found the police had kept Dan waiting on the sidewalk until they cleared the murder scene. Dan watched as they wheeled the covered bodies out and loaded them in an ambulance. Then the police brought Dan in for questioning. A fifty-pound sack of white flour and a fifty-pound sack of white sugar had been slit open and strewn about the kitchen. Dan wanted to know why the police had done that, but they said they found the kitchen in that disarray.
According to the officer in charge, someone had been waiting with the cook when Bob arrived after midnight, and in fact, the phone call had been staged as the boiler was working perfectly. Apparently, the confrontation had been quite lengthy as the cook’s girlfriend came by the gate about 2:00 a.m., and he wouldn’t open it for her to come in. He told her to get out of there, as things were about to get rough. She could hear shouting in the background.
Following her visit, the murderer, or murderers, forced the two men to kneel, tying their hands behind their backs with leather thongs, and shot them in the back. The bullet entered under the shoulder blade and lodged directly in the heart. They then removed the leather thongs from their wrists, as professional killers do, leaving no trace.
This news terrified me more. Dan was supposed to have been in that kitchen! Maybe the killers were after both Bob and Dan! I walked as if on firecrackers. Dan asked me to act as shield and spokeswoman for the restaurant and sat me in his office attending the phone. As I stared at it, wondering what I would do if it rang, it rang.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Good morning,” the pleasant voice responded mentioning something about a radio station. He said they had heard about the double murders, and he wondered to whom he was speaking.
“I’m Maggie, Bob’s sister-in-law.” I said sheepishly, meandering down the trail to the slaughterhouse.
“Can you tell us what happened?”
“I really don’t know anything beyond what is in the police report.”
“Could you describe the murder scene for us?”
I wondered who the “us” was he referred to. “No, I can’t. I haven’t had the courage to go in there yet. My husband told me to stay by the phone and speak on behalf of the restaurant, but I haven’t seen the blood and all.”
“Do you have any idea who might have committed this atrocity?” He continued with a voice of oil.
“Not really. Being so personal, I mean, this was my brother-in-law, I feel targeted, as if my whole family is being stalked, so of course I’ve had a thousand reflections on numerous people it could have been. But no, I have no idea who the murderer is.”
“Could you tell the listening audience who was the first person that came to your mind?”
“Listening audience?” I asked incredulously.
“Yes, you’re on the air live.”
“You mean people listening to their radio right now are hearing my voice?”
“Yes, they are and the whole city mourns with you.”
“That means the murderer might be. . . .” I hung up the phone and jumped to my feet. Embarrassment, fear, the sense of being trapped by my own stupidity swirled through me like a whirlwind. Just then the bell rang by the iron gate opening into the commissary.
I crossed the storeroom, signaling to Dan I would answer the door, and peeked around the corner to see who rang. A television crew of five waited behind the grill, two men supporting cameras on their shoulders, two hand-held lights, which blazed down the concrete hall, and a woman holding a microphone. I put my hand up to shield my face and advanced to meet my torturers.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I can’t let you in. This is a working day for us, and as you can imagine, the staff is very upset. If I let a TV crew in to film while they are working, I’ll have nothing but distress the rest of the day, and it’s bad enough as it is. I kept my hand in front of my face.
“Can you describe the murder scene for us?”
“I really have nothing more to say than what is in the police report. Do you have a copy of that?”
“Is there any speculation on who the murderer is?”
“Like I said, I have nothing more to say than what is in the police report. I’m sure you have a copy of that.” I heard the telephone ring. “I’m sorry, you’ll have to excuse me. Thank you for dropping by.”
I walked back down the hall breathing a sigh of relief that I had handled myself a little better. The telephone call came from the local newspaper, and I referred them to the famed police report, as I did to the other handful of radio and TV stations that called. Bob’s picture made the evening news as did shorts of the restaurants but my engagement at the iron gate must have hit the cutting room floor.
After the phone stopped ringing, I rushed over to Ida’s apartment where a gaggle of neighbors had gathered, hearing the news from the media. They had stretched her out on the couch with an ice pack on her head as she had broken down at the news, and as time passed, we found she never regained her emotional strength. The attending ladies gathered around me wanting to hear any news that I might have.
“What did the police say?” One of the ladies asked.
“They said they thought it was an act of vengeance.” I replied honestly.
Ida roared from the couch, “Who could want vengeance on such a good boy as Bob!” I wondered at that moment if I would be as blind a mother about J.J. and Noelle as Ida always seemed to have been about Bob and Dan. But I hoped my children would not have so much to hide as hers had.
We took Ida home to stay with us that night, but she wouldn’t stay longer. Our minister came by to pray. We called friends and family, and family and friends called us. Neighbors brought us food and flowers. I broke down at the door when the first neighbors came by with food, but otherwise, the gifts of love shared with us were mechanically received. My emotion followed the stress; it didn’t accompany it.
The employees balked at working in the commissary, especially alone and refused to maintain the twenty-four-hour scheduling necessary to cook all the dishes. They crammed into one eight-hour shift, jostling each other in the kitchen, but comforted they were not in danger. This congestion lasted about a month, and then they resumed the old routine. That’s about how long it took for the bloodstains to disappear with repeated washings and treatments.
Writing has been in my blood, so to speak, but when I surren-dered my life to Jesus Christ and He told me to write, all my trepidations rolled away and I began in earnest! After all, if God Almighty says it was His idea that I be a writer, who am I to stand in His way? My hope is that you not only like what I write, but that your life is moved by it, and that your party to Jesus and with Jesus turns your life into days of Heaven on Earth.