By the third or fourth garage, Winifred had her spiel down pretty good.
She parked on the street, leaving herself an escape, and sauntered into the garage, looking casual while her eyes raked the mechanics' faces and her nostrils assessed the air for the remembered combination of odors.
As soon as a mechanic turned to her, wiping his hands on a greasy rag, she said, "Hi, you do smog inspections?"
Then, if he said, "no," she asked if he could direct her to a shop that did. If he said "yes," she asked how much they charged and promised to return.
At the same time, she scanned as many of the employees as she could without drawing attention to herself.
Winifred began in the east Valley, reasoning that it was the other side of Mulholland Drive where they had tossed her--to them she was nothing but a plastic blow-up doll with painted cheeks and fixed grin that wouldn't protest no matter what they did to her.
She got through seven garages before she had to stop for a breather. The stench of rubber tires, engines, oil and grease was hideous. It brought back the original trauma, made her feel sick to her stomach and she felt her strength seeping away.
She sat in the car and wept behind her phony glasses. What are you going to do when you see one of those slime suckers, faint?
She was afraid she'd float away her contacts.
She removed the glasses, blew her nose and gingerly dabbed at her eyes, careful not to erase Ingram's makeup.
It was the thought of him that did it. Against his better judgment, he even trusted her with that thing weighing down her bag. She squared her shoulders and checked off another name on the list.
She went into a market, bought a container of yogurt and an apple, drove to a tree-shaded residential street, parked and ate her lunch. On the other side of her windshield, everything was normal. Women pushed strollers down the street and shushed crying toddlers. Delivery vans double-parked while the drivers toted five-gallon containers of mountain spring water to suburban back doors. Gardeners carried machinery over their shoulders that appeared to be incredibly heavy, made a horrific racket, and succeeded in sucking up a few leaves.
Winifred bought gas at the next garage, used the john, and continued for three more hours.
Then, afraid that she was losing her edge, she quit for the day.
She started again the next afternoon.
And the next.
On the fourth day, Winifred spotted the Latino who had sodomized her.
She couldn't believe it.
Her blood ran cold. She broke out in a sweat. She could feel the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.
There was no doubt in her mind. Even while her emotions exploded in a frenzy of remembered terror, she felt a deadly calm take over--half of her was detached, watching herself experience the moment while the other half panicked because she relived everything he had done to her.
Time was distorted.
Winifred felt she had been there for hours when it was obviously only a matter of seconds.
Even as the grimy mechanic was explaining that they didn't do smog checks--they didn't have the machine for it--she heard another man call the Latino "Julio."
Winifred's lips smiled stiffly while she flashed back to her glimpse of Julio zipping up his pants. His short black hair, his mustache and piercing stare. His eyes, under heavy brows, cold as they bored into hers.
She heard, as if from a distance, the mechanic directing her to a certified smog inspection station. She bobbed her head, managed to thank him, and commanded her flimsy legs to carry her to the car.
Winifred drove a few blocks and stopped. She retrieved her list and drew a circle around the address. Now what?
She went home and told Ingram.
He was astonished. "My God. What a long shot."
"You're sure? Winifred, you're sure?"
He had been pruning his roses. He sat down hard in one of the canvas director chairs. "You have to notify Robinson."
"And then go through the bullshit trial where they do everything they can to punish the accuser and find the accused innocent?"
"That's the system."
Winifred studied the deep furrows of his forehead, the downward droop of his mouth. He seemed to be suddenly older. "Then the system stinks."
"Yeah. It does. But I'm asking as a favor. Please? For me?"
She gave it a lot of thought but then she gave in. "All right. For you."
Ingram gave her a hug. He went inside with her, held her close for a moment, then released her and waited while she used the phone in the den.
The officer who answered said that Detective Robinson had been transferred.
"Is there another number? I'd like to get in touch with him."
"What's it about?"
"All Detective Robinson's cases are handled by Detective Jimenez."
"Jimenez?" Her spirits sank. How impartial would someone named Jimenez be when she accused another Latino? Would he instantly think racist? Before she came to California, it never occurred to her that Mexicans were considered to be a different race. She thought they were just from another country. "Could I speak to Detective Jimenez please?"
"Do you have your case number?"
"The case number?" She looked blankly at Ingram. He opened the desk drawer, took out a folder and handed it to her. She covered the phone with her hand. "Robinson's off the case."
Ingram pointed to the phone.
Winifred read off the number and was transferred to Detective Jimenez.
She repeated the number again and waited while Jimenez went to look up the file.
"Okay, Miss," he said. "Sorry, we haven't apprehended..."
"But I did. I mean, not apprehended--I found one of them. I can identify him."
"From mug shots?"
"In a line-up?"
"No, I found him myself!" She listened to dead air. Could he have hung up? "Mr.--uh Detective Jimenez?"
"False accusation is a very serious offense."
A sigh. "Miss, the alleged rape took place four and a half months ago--"
"Alleged?! Don't you have a copy of the medical report? If you do, you'll see they almost killed me with an alleged concussion, knife wounds, a broken nose, cracked ribs--"
"It says here you wear corrective lenses."
"That brings into question your identification."
"You telling me only people with twenty-twenty vision are entitled to be witnesses?"
"Just a minute--"
Winifred heard pages turning.
Jimenez came back to the phone. "According to this, you had an abortion."
"Yes," wondering how in hell that was relevant. "Yes, I did," she repeated, "as a result of the rape."
"Uh huh. Well, it's not that we don't sympathize."
"I'm not looking for sympathy."
"We get a lotta cases like this--a lotta cases."
"I'm trying to explain," he said. "See very often how it happens, a girl has a fight with her boyfriend after he knocks her up and then she uses this as an excuse."
Winifred was speechless with fury. Her anger reached the point where her lips stiffened and she could barely articulate. She managed, "Don't you want to catch them?"
"Miss--uh Ashworth, we gotta backlog here. But we're doing our best. Now your particular case, I'm happy to say was not a homicide and you're nobody famous. You're still entitled to equal protection--"
"It sure doesn't sound like it."
His voice, on the other hand, continued to be patient, reasonable. "The way we see it, we don't even know if it was rape. If you say it was, looks like you'd have a hell of a time proving it in court."
She hung up. She stared at the unlit computer screen as though it might release some answers if she waited long enough. Yeah, and hell might solidify into a hard surface to skate on. Not for the first time she questioned where was God when you needed Him?
After Ingram had sworn with her, pacing up and down, Winifred tried the precinct again. "I'd like to speak to the Captain, please."
She gave her name.
A moment, then, "Sorry, he's not at his desk. Would you like to talk to anyone else?"
She hung up.
She turned to Ingram. "They won't do a damned thing. I'm not a movie star."
"We're not giving up. I'll keep calling the Captain."
"Please. Let me try." He called back, reached the Captain, and was given an appointment for Winifred to come in to see yet another detective.
Ingram accompanied her to the police station. They went down a corridor, reading names on doors until they found the right one.
The office furniture was at least as old as Detective Briswall. They had been similarly kicked around. The difference was that the chairs squealed when sat on. Obviously, nothing would rile Briswall.
He listened to Winifred's complaint and then asked if she would describe the rape.
"In your own words."
"But it's all in the--the report."
"I really want to help. Tell me what happened." He sat back and waited.
Winifred didn't think it was possible, but she went through it all again.
"Where did the crime take place?"
"In a garage."
He searched through the report for the relevant item. "Okay, here it is. According to the report you were blindfolded when you were taken captive."
"I was." At a look from him, "It smelled like a garage. Or a filling station."
"Can you describe the assailants?"
"Certainly. I did."
"Your glasses had been knocked off."
She gave him a dirty look. "They were close, Detective, very close. When five guys are on top of you, you don't forget their faces."
"Uh huh. It says here you stated that most of the time your eyes were covered with a blindfold."
"Not all the time."
"They had weapons?"
"Did you resist?"
"You fought back?"
"As much as I could. I was tied down."
"Yes, that's what you stated." He ran his eyes down the report once more. He closed the folder. "Miss Ashworth, there are two aspects to any accusation of rape. Force and consent. We know you were forcibly violated--we have the hospital records for that. But it's not enough. Equally important is to prove you didn't give your consent."
"Detective Briswall--" Ingram said.
"I'm talking about the law. It must be satisfied that she consciously or subconsciously did not desire intercourse."
"With five strange guys off the street? Who tied me up and--"
"The criminal defendant is innocent until each of these elements is established beyond a reasonable doubt," Briswall said.
"You're saying the burden is on Winifred to prove she didn't consent?!" Ingram couldn't believe what was going on.
"I'm saying the courts generally accept resistance by the alleged victim as non consent because that's how she communicates it. What the court is going to do is determine the extent of Miss Ashworth's resistance."
Winifred stared at Briswall. "I was unconscious part of the time," she said. "I didn't knock myself out, they did it to me." She wondered if this was how Alice felt when she tumbled down the rabbit hole.
Briswall went back to studying the file. He looked up. "Miss Ashworth, were there any witnesses?"
She was stunned. "You mean did any folks just hang around and watch instead of raping me?"
He was unperturbed. "I meant any other witnesses."
Ingram was appalled. "Detective Briswall--"
"Any idea what kind of vehicle they drove?" Briswall asked.
"I was blindfolded."
"Before you got in the vehicle?"
"I had other things on my mind. Like who were these fuckers and were they going to kill me."
"Detective Briswall, I want those men caught. I want to hurt them as much as they hurt me."
Briswall sighed thoughtfully. He examined his fingernails. They were clean. Finally, he said, "I don't think you have much of a case."
Ingram couldn't believe it. "How can that be?"
"You see, if, as she says, she was knocked out--how can she identify the alleged perpetrators?"
She spelled it out once more. "I wasn't unconscious the whole time."
Briswall indicated the report. "The Defense'll chew you up and spit you out."
"Like the cops?"
"I can understand your feeling, Miss Ashworth, but the situation's getting worse every day. We do the best we can."
"With all the women on the Force," Winifred said, "how come you don't have a Sex Crimes Unit?"
"This is it."