Adapted from my award-winning screenplay, CLAIMING LIVES, is a crime thriller about Jake Smithson, a San Francisco homicide inspector who suffers nightmares from his youth when his teenage girlfriend was abducted. Now, his nightmares again become a reality in a brutal cat and mouse game when the kidnapper reemerges with a vicious vendetta, tormenting Jake by leaving dead women as clues. When Jake finally saves a victim from a bizarre death, his partner and adolescent daughter become targets of the incensed killer, while he’s drawn into the overpowering orbit of the mysterious woman he saved.
Facts as facts do not always create a spirit of reality, because reality is a spirit.
G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936), British author
With both hands clutching the lapels of Jake’s leather jacket in a death grip, the girl pushed him back hard against the grimy brick wall. Her ink-black hair, pulled taut into a ponytail jutting out high on her crown like the sleek tail of a racehorse, whipped around, grazing his face. She leaned her ragged high-style punked body against his street grunge. Her blood-red lips brushed his.
“I thought you knew somebody, Jake?”
“I know lots of somebodys, Kath.”Kath nodded toward the colorful haze of clubbers gathered in the San Francisco fog by the nightclub entrance at the end of the street. Jake’s mascara eyes followed. Lips and breath met again.
“Then, why’re we out here in the fog makin’ out instead of inside with the music and pot smoke, makin’ out?”
“How was I supposed to know all my somebodys got the same night off.”
“I’m so sure… You talk some shit for fifteen, I’ll tell ya.”
“Look, girl, it’s all just to win your heart.”
Kath pushed away from Jake. Laughed.
“As long as my pussy’s attached, right, lover?”
Jake grinned, flicking his eyebrows. “Natch.”
Kath relaxed into a pose her mother makes, hands on hips. Her eyes dipped seductively.
“Ya know, even in the 90’s, doin’ a thirteen-year-old—”
Their heads turned to sharp tapping on the sidewalk. A man dressed in an antique suit and hat strode by, his cane clacking in sync with his gait. Backlit against a distant streetlamp, his face was obscured. The fog swirled as he went past.
Jake and Kath were transfixed by his movements, steady and precise. Their wicked smiles found each other. Kath pressed back against Jake and twirled her index finger with the custom-made ruby ring in front of his eyes, then tapped his lips. She whispered.
“Let’s do it, lover.”
Even in the dim light, Kath’s heavily-outlined, deep pacific green eyes sparkled as menacingly as the ruby.”
The man turned down an alley. Jake and Kath grinned at one another, binding their contract. They followed the clacking cane in. Catching up, Jake pulled a black and chrome switchblade from his jacket pocket. It sprang open with a sharp click.
“Hey mister, ya feel like making a donation to abandoned youth?”
The man stopped short, the final clack of his cane echoing through the alley. Jake was so close, he was forced to stop and Kath plowed into him. The man turned slowly. Illumination from a single bulb up high cut across his face, revealing only a grim smile. Jake shuddered, but raised his unsure knife into the light. His voice wasn’t as steady as he’d hoped.
“Better dig deep, mister, we got a lot of hungry mouths to feed.”
The man’s voice, clear and precise as the tap of his cane, came as grim as his smile.
“My, but this is a surprise.”
Kath, bravado unshaken, moved alongside Jake.
“It usually is.”
The grim man nodded in acknowledgement.
“First time the tables have been turned, so to speak.”
The man pulled off his hat as he bowed, then replaced it when he came up, his face in constant shadow.
“Happy to make your acquaintance.”
Cold unrelated to the fog stirred Jake. He prodded the air with his knife.
“What the fuck, mister! Hand over your wallet before I nip you.”
Kath was breathless. “Better do it quick, mister, before my lover-boy scars ya.”
The man’s smile evaporated. Time seemed to linger like the fog. Instantly, a silver flash left the cane and slashed across Jake’s forearm. He screamed, lurching back, knocking Kath on her butt. Jake’s knife skittered into the darkness. Like a fencing master, the man skipped ahead two quick steps, lunging out, piercing Jake’s chest with the sword tip. His forward foot came to rest on Kath’s rib cage, pinning her to the ground. She whimpered, reaching out to Jake. The glint of Kath’s ruby ring was all he could see.
The man circled his sword tip in Jake’s face.
“Go on boy, scat. She’s mine, now.”
In agonizing slowness, Kath’s terror-filled eyes came up to meet Jake’s.
Jake’s eyes popped open. He stared at the gray cinder block wall for a full thirty seconds before he remembered where he was. The dream faded quickly, but he knew it was the same one he always had, though after those first thirty seconds, for a game show’s worth of prize money, he couldn’t tell exactly what it was. Sure, he knew who the dreams were about, but the details, the moments, were lost in the fog of his mind, dissipating in the darkness like the shivery fog of that night.
The distant pad of boots against the cement floor echoed off the walls. They came closer. Jake rubbed his forearm, but stayed curled, facing the wall. The boots clumped up and stopped behind him, followed by the shout of a gruff male voice.
“Open up cell twelve.”
Jake winced at the grate of the cell door sliding open. With a resigned sigh, Jake rolled upright and rubbed his stubbled face. He felt numb. Fifteen years later and he still felt numb after those dreams he couldn’t remember. His desolate voice betrayed the fact.
“Is it that time?”
The guard huffed. “That’s right, now get your ass on up out of there.”
Jake lumbered up to his full six-foot three. His plain white tee shirt, like his jeans, fit so snugly against his athletic body, wrinkles didn’t have a chance to set. He grabbed his brown leather bomber jacket off the empty bunk and trudged out of the cell. The guard, who’s girth doubled Jake’s, snorted as Jake shuffled slowly ahead of him. He cleared his throat and softened his voice.
“I want to thank you for those Warriors tickets last night.”
“Least I could do since you forewent the cavity search.”
“Hey, we don’t do that shit in here!”
Jake chuckled to himself. “How’d your son like the game?”
“Yeah, he liked it a lot. He says thanks too.”
As the guard station loomed closer, Jake shook his head. The guard gave him a push to the window, then turned off and entered the booth. They faced each other through a glass bank-style window. The guard stared Jake down, but couldn’t help from grinning.
“Do you think you can stay out of here for a few weeks, at least?”
Jake smiled. “Not making any promises.”
Shaking his head, the guard slid a manila envelope through the slot below the window. Jake pulled it through, dumping out the contents onto the steel counter: wallet, keys, SFPD badge, and Glock 22.
The guard set a stern voice again. “Inspector, you take care of yourself, okay?”
“Not as good as you take care of me, Franklin.”
Franklin laughed. “Go on and get your punk ass out of here. People’ll get the wrong idea.”
Jake gave Franklin a heart-felt grin and turned right into the steely gaze of his partner. Bradley Pierce stood tall and firm, arms crossed. He was a living GQ ad, impeccably dressed in Armani, hair coiffed short, clean-shaven, and even through the scowl, a gleam in his eye.
He spoke with the authority of a university professor. “How many years have I been telling you that you have to be more Zen, to take the softer approach?”
“Exactly, and you haven’t taken the hint.”
Jake threw an arm over Bradley’s shoulders. Their personal images clashed. Jake laughed.
“Likewise. You’d think you would’ve stopped about four-and-a-half-years ago.”
“Look, all I’m saying is you can’t question a judge’s heredity in his own courtroom, for Christ’s sake. How many times do you think you can get away with this?”
Jake chuckled. “They love me down here.”
Jake laced his 1968 Mustang GT Fastback through the moderate traffic on Market Street as if they were traffic cones on an obstacle course. The chatter on the police radio couldn’t compete with the hard rock blasting from the mega headphones over his ears. Jake had grown to love rock music from the sixties and seventies because none of it was connected to anything from his personal life. He could be in the moment, a peaceful, calm moment without memories, which existed for the length of each song.
Bradley slouched in the passenger seat, eyes closed. He peeled one eye open and watched Jake using the steering wheel as a snare drum. He yelled.
“Let’s get some chow.”
“What?” Jake lifted one headphone off his ear.
“I said, I’m hungry. Let’s get some breakfast.”
Jake didn’t miss a drum beat. “Yeah, okay. I know a great burger joint near here.”
“It’s 7 AM, Jake.”
Jake turned a sober face to Bradley. “Yeah, you’re right. How about Mexican? We can cut over to that place in the Mission where the girls dress like torch song singers—”
“Hold it!” Bradley jerked up and raised the volume on the police radio.
“Multiple shots fired, 6th and Folsom. Any car respond.”
Bradley yelled at Jake as he grabbed the mic.
“Hey, hang a left!—This is Inspector Pierce. We’re a minute away, over.”
“Acknowledged inspector, proceed with extreme caution.”
Static clicks, then different voices cut in, singing.
“Bad Boys, Bad Boys, what’cha gonna do when they come for you… Hey, make sure ya don’t kill ’em all before the rest of us get there.”
Jake yanked the mic away from Bradley as the Mustang made a four-wheel skid across Market onto 6th Street.
“That’s a big ten-no-can-do, because lord knows you piss ants can’t shoot any better than you can sing.”
Jake tossed the mic back to Bradley and rocketed across Folsom, then slowed. Both men’s eyeballs roamed the street and buildings. Jake grit his teeth as he glanced down a passing alley. Bradley leaned out the window.
“Don’t hear anything. Swing back and go down the alley.”
Sweat beaded on Jake’s forehead as he u-turned into the alley. Muttering profanities under his breath, he stared straight ahead while unconsciously rubbing his forearm.
Bradley stuck his head out the window again. “See anything?”
Jake snapped out of his reverie. “No, ah, must’ve been a—”
A huge man bolted from a doorway and stopped directly in front of them. Jake jammed the brakes to the floor just as the man whipped around with a gun aimed directly at him. The Mustang skidded, shrieking, the front bumper tapping the man’s leg. The shot misdirected, shattering a window somewhere. The man staggered back, aimed again, and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. All three men looked at each other in utter surprise.
Without a word, Jake and Bradley sprang from the car as the man leapt onto a fire escape ladder.
Jake jumped up to the ladder and yelled back at Bradley.
“Take the inside route in case he comes down.”
As Bradley disappeared through the basement door, Jake yelled, “Hey Bradley, this guy uses your tailor!”
Everything Bradley passed was a blur of light and shadow as he raced through the basement, up six flights of stairs, onto the roof and into the brilliant sunlight.
Bradley’s heart thumped passionately, not from exertion, but excitement. He slipped his gun out and moved cautiously around the stairway enclosure. He stopped, straightened, and rolled his eyes in exasperation.
Jake, on tippy-toes, was being held aloft by the big man behind him. The man’s meaty hand firmly grasped Jake’s forehead, pulling his head back, exposing his throat to the business edge of a wicked-looking commando knife.
Bradley shook his head and laughed. “Ya know, I’ve been wanting to do that for weeks now, but you know how fantasies go.”
The huge man stepped back, clasping Jake to his chest.
“You stop right there or this guy’s gonna be a few pints short real quick.”
Bradley made an open gesture with one hand while holstering his gun with the other.
“That’s what I’m talking about.” He moved slowly forward. “And this is what you get, Jake, for comparing this oaf’s fashion sense with mine.”
The man took another step back. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
Jake came into the conversation, croaking as best he could.
“Yeah, what the fuck, man. Just go for a walk or something while me and him finish our dance.”
Bradley chuckled. “See what I mean? He’s just a prissy little bitch.”
Bradley stepped closer. The big man looked back; he was at the edge of the building.
“I’m warning you…”
Bradley stopped. “Do you have to be such a chatterbox? Go ahead and stick him already. I can’t do it because I’m his partner.”
The man reflexively brought the knife away from Jake’s throat to point at Bradley.
“Back up, motherfu—”
Bradley spun into a back roundhouse kick, his heel sailing over Jake’s shoulder to crack against the big man’s head. The man wobbled, dropping Jake. Reversing his spin, Bradley’s foot hit the man on the opposite side of his head, flipping him onto his back, out cold.
Jake jumped away clutching his neck, but saw no blood.
“What the fuck was that?! He coulda decapitated me!”
“What a fucking whiner. The knife was a good two inches from a major artery.”
With a groan, the prone man came to.
Jake pointed at him. “Would you mind putting some handcuffs on mister fashionista over there?”
Bradley made a face at Jake and turned away…to face the groggy man waving a gun in their general direction.
“Suck this, faggot!”
Bradley screamed Jake’s name and leapt toward him…the gun fired…Bradley dove behind Jake…two bullets smashed into Jake’s chest, tumbling him backwards, pinning Bradley under him. Jake wheezed as the groggy man tottered over and shakily pointed the gun at his head.
The man’s bravado kicked in now that he had the upper hand. “Never bring chop socky to a gun fight, fucker.”
Like a third arm, a hand with a gun slid up from Jake’s armpit.
Bradley’s muffled voice answered. “Good advice.”
Three shots left Bradley’s gun. The surprise on the man’s face as he fell overrode the shock of his immediate death.
Still muffled, but now pained, Bradley called out. “You can get off me now.”
Coughing for breath, Jake rolled sideways. He took great gulps of air while trying to talk.
“You’re supposed to jump in front of me to block the bullet, dipshit.”
Bradley lay out beside Jake, also sucking air. “You’re the one wearing the vest.”
Jake swatted at Bradley, but missed. “It’s always technicalities with you.”
“I probably wouldn’t have shot the fucker if he hadn’t called me a faggot. How’d he know I was a faggot, anyway?”
Jake took a few more breaths.
“Uh, I might have let it slip.”
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