Angel of the Dark by Sidney Sheldon

“Frances Lyle Mancini was always a beautiful-looking kid,” Petridis explained. “Even as a child, he had the same dark hair, blue eyes, olive skin and athletic physique you see in this courtroom now; the same face and body that would make him so fatally attractive as an adult. But Frankie’s good looks were his curse.”

“How so?”

The doctor paused before answering. He explained how the first eight years of Frankie’s life had been happy. Then one day, a few weeks before his ninth birthday, Frankie’s father, a selfish, womanizing naval officer—whose good looks and appetite for risk Frankie clearly inherited—abandoned Frankie’s mother, Lucia, and their three children, sailing off to and setting up home in the Philippines with a much younger woman. Frankie’s adored mother was destroyed by this betrayal and never recovered her sense of self-esteem, never even laughed again. Frankie described what it was like to be forced to witness this disintegration in his sessions with Dr. Petridis.

“Lucia Mancini wound up remarrying a much older man,” Petridis went on. “His name was Tony Renalto. According to Frankie, she hoped that Renalto would provide her young family with financial security and stability.”

“And did he?”

“Yes, he did, but at a terrible cost,” Dr. Petridis said grimly, and told the court how, as well as bullying and belittling Frankie’s mother, the boy’s elderly stepfather routinely physically and sexually abused Frankie himself. When Frankie complained to his mother, she did not believe him. The sexual abuse only stopped when, at the age of fourteen, Frankie bludgeoned his stepfather to death with a table lamp.

“He told me during our sessions how he fled the scene of the crime, never to be seen by his family again, and lived on the streets for a year until he was picked up by the police and sent to the Beeches. That was where he met Sophie.”

Ellen Watts asked, “Did you report this crime, the killing of his stepfather, to the authorities.”

“I did, of course.”

“And what happened?”

“Nothing. The police did a token interview. Frankie denied it. The case had been closed two years earlier, with the records showing that Renalto had been the victim of a bungled burglary.”

Like Andrew Jakes, thought Danny.

“No one wanted the trouble of opening the thing up again. By all accounts, no one much missed Renalto, and other than Frankie’s retracted testimony, there was no evidence.”

At the defendants’ table, Frankie Mancini sat back and smiled, like a man who’d just learned that his investments had doubled during a bear market.

“Presumably Frankie stopped confiding in you as his psychologist at this point?” asked Ellen Watts. “Once he knew you’d ratted on him to the police.”

“No, actually. He continued our weekly sessions. He just made sure nothing was ever taped.”

A titter of amusement swept the court. It was remarkably easy to be impressed or amused by Mancini, to fall for his looks and charm. Somehow, smiling and posing at the defendants’ table, he seemed dissociated from the gruesome crimes that had brought both him and Sofia Basta here.

“Frankie liked to talk,” Dr. Petridis went on. “It was one of the things that connected him to Sophie and to me. We were a captive audience. Of course, by this point, he was seventeen and severely disturbed. He was homosexual, but had little or no sex drive.”

The doctor dropped this bombshell as casually as if he’d been describing Frankie’s taste in shirts or his favorite baseball team. The jury foreman’s mouth literally fell open, like a dumbstruck character in a comic book. Ellen Watts, however, was prepared for the psychiatrist’s answer.

“This is very important, Dr. Petridis,” she said seriously. “As you know, there is clear forensic evidence showing sexual activity at all four of these crime scenes. Violent sexual activity. The chances of the semen recovered from those homicides not belonging to Frankie Mancini are well over two million to one.”

Petridis nodded. “That’s consistent with what I saw. In the course of ordinary life, Frankie’s libido was depressed. What turns him on isn’t men or women. It’s control, of either sex—because he grew up with none. Frankie has a deep-rooted hatred of men who abandon their wives and families, like his biological father did…and of old, rich men, like his stepfather, whom he sees as abusers. I imagine that those were the motivating factors behind both the violence and the sex in these homicides.”

“Thank you.” Ellen Watts smiled across at Alvin Dubray. “I have no further questions.”

To everyone’s surprise, not least Judge Federico Muñoz’s, William Boyce got to his feet. So far he’d declined to cross-examine any of the defense witnesses, considering his case so watertight as to need no further emphasis. But Petridis’s testimony had been so convincing, he clearly felt a token parry was in order.

“Dr. Petridis, you say that in your sessions Mr. Mancini displayed a ‘deep hatred’ of older men.”

“That’s right.”

“Yet you would not describe him as pathological? It wasn’t a ‘pathological hatred’?”

“In the common parlance, you could call it that. But clinically speaking, no.”

“I see. And you also described Ms. Basta as being like an ‘empty shell,’ a vessel into which Mancini could pour his own consciousness and opinions.”

“That’s right.”

“Yet when Ms. Basta acted out these hatreds, when she assumed them as her own, you say that they were pathological.”

“Yes, but that’s different.”

“How so, Doctor?”

“Well, in her case there was transference. She was acting as someone else, for someone else.”

“But wasn’t he doing the same thing? Wasn’t he, according to your testimony, acting out the fantasies of a disturbed, abused little boy? Wasn’t he transferring his hatred from Tony Renalto and his own father to the victims he butchered?”

“Yeees,” Dr. Petridis agreed uneasily. “He was. But clinically, that wouldn’t be enough to exonerate him on mental health grounds. He knew what he was doing.”

“I quite agree. He knew that the men he killed were not his father or his stepfather.”

“Of course.”

“And so did Sofia Basta.”

“Well, yes. She would have understood that. But—”

“No further questions.”

DAVID ISHAG DIDN’T SLEEP A WINK that night, tossing and turning in his suite at the Beverly Wilshire. Nor did Matt Daley, in the ground-floor spare room at his sister’s house, which Claire had converted into a bedroom in order to make it easy for him to come and go in his wheelchair. Nor did Danny McGuire, in a lonely motel room a few miles east of the courthouse.

Ellen Watts had done a good job so far of painting her client, at least partially, as a victim. Despite the prosecution’s attempts at undermining Dr. Petridis’s sympathetic testimony, she still came across as a disturbed little girl, drawn into a web of hatred, fantasy and violence by the corrupt Mancini. But it was tomorrow’s evidence that would decide the fate of the woman each man still thought of by a different name and who, despite everything, each man wanted to spare from execution. Deep down they all still wanted to rescue her.

Tomorrow, that woman would finally speak for herself. She would answer what had become, for David Ishag, Matt Daley and Danny McGuire, the most important question of all:

Who are you?


THE TELEVISION CREWS WERE LINED UP along Burton Way en route to the courthouse as if they were covering a royal wedding. Today was the day the Angel of Death was going to testify in the Azrael murder trial and the sense of excitement and anticipation in the air was almost palpable. People were in the mood for a carnival, it seemed, smiling and joking with one another, cheering as Judge Muñoz’s bulletproof Cadillac swept by and catcalling as the armored prison vans bearing Basta and Mancini passed the security barrier and descended into the secure underground lot.

“It’s all just a game to them, isn’t it?” Matt Daley gazed out of the LAPD squad car in despair. He and Danny McGuire arrived at the trial together every morning. The squad car came courtesy of an old friend of Danny’s from back in his homicide-division days. “Don’t they realize there are lives at stake? Don’t they care?”

Danny wanted to respond that perhaps they cared more about the four lives that had already been taken than about the fate of two admitted killers. But he bit his tongue. Today was going to be tough for all of them, but it would be toughest on Matt. If Sofia—Lisa—incriminated herself up on that stand, death row was a certainty. No one, not even Matt Daley, would be able to save her then.

Inside courtroom 306 they took their usual places, oblivious to the gawking stares aimed their way from the spectators in the gallery. David Ishag was already in his seat. It was tough for an Indian to look pale, but David had achieved it this morning. Sitting rigid-backed in his chair, immaculately dressed as always, in an Ozwald Boateng suit and silk Gucci tie, the poor man looked as if he was about to face the firing squad himself.

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