A Double Tragedy: Steven and Carl Wood

by | Feb 20, 2021 | Crime Writing | 0 comments

January 1989, Los Angles California. Walking into Taylors Steak House on a chilly afternoon reminded me of the Oxford winters when Jim and I lived in England. A big treat would be lunch at our local pub. I’d open the heavy oak door of the Clifden Arms Pub, walk into a restaurant bathed in soft candlelight, catch with the seductive whiff of whisky mixed with cigarette smoke then catch the sound of ribald laughter. I almost wanted to live there.

Taylors felt like the California version of The Clifden Arms—the perfect place to unwind.   

This afternoon, John St. John and I had spent three hours reviewing and editing five chapters for our book proposal and were headed to Taylors. We’d been engaged in the usual warfare–he wanted more blood and guts, I wanted more nuance, dialogue and introspection. Neither of us ever got what we wanted. It was time to bury the hatchet and talk about anything but murder. Our drinks tasted silky smooth. Murder talk didn’t happen. Then, John’s beeper went off.

“Shit,” he grumbled. “It’s either the office, my partners got a question or a dead body call. Sit tight, I’ll be right back.” With that, he disappeared into the nearby phone booth.

Within a few minutes, he emerged, a pained expression covered his face. “Grab your purse,” he blurted. “I’ll tell you what’s going on in the car. We’re outta here.” Lunch at Taylors was over. I slurped down my drink, grabbed my purse, slid off the barstool and followed the detective.

When John entered the freeway at a speed faster than the limit, I asked, “Mind telling me what this departure is all about?” He looked in dead silence at the cars ahead. What did I say wrong?

“I just had a call from Barbara Bien,” he said in a flat, emotionless voice. “She’s hysterical. Carl committed suicide last night. Shot himself in the garage. His friend found his corpse on the floor over a pump-action shotgun and a large hole inside the roof of his mouth.”

I froze to the seat of the Crown Vic. Unable to talk. Unable to move. Almost unable to breathe. He continued to look straight ahead focused on the traffic and whatever was in his mind.    

“Where are we going?”

“Back to the Parker Center. You’re going home.”

Why? Why did Steven’s brother blow his brains out? Why did Barbara call St. John? What can he possibly do for her? How can this poor woman handle any more tragedy? Why now?

He turned to me. “Barbara is hysterical. She’s screaming, crying, coming apart. She asked if I’d go to the morgue to identify Carl’s body. She said she’s already identified one dead son. She can’t identify another. I told her I’d ID Carl. Then I’d come over and we’d talk.”

I remembered my interview with Barbara. Those soft brown curls framing a chubby face. Her crochet-filled living room. The horror she felt when Steven hadn’t come home from school. The reluctance I felt when she asked me to see his room then hold his death certificate.

St. John paused, then said, “Barbara told me Carl was the one who introduced Steven to Bonin. When Bonin offered him a ride to school, Steven took it. He was late for class.”

I leaned toward him and said, “You’re telling me Steven knew his killer? He was late for class, took a ride with a man he trusted and wound-up dead in an alley atop a pile of rubble?” Holy hell.

Guilt. A pump-action shotgun. Skull pieces, brain tissue, red blood everywhere. Barbara! No!