A series of bizarre co-ed murders have occurred on college campuses across the United States. Even though one occurred at Sonoma State University, Cassandra Brenner knows nothing about it. However, her life and that of Zandra Hillis, a New York stock analyst, will soon be altered by the presence of the murderer in California.
When Cassandra Brenner's husband ran away with his 19-year-old secretary, she was 27 years old. A full-time accountant, Cassie quit her job when she gave birth to Jamie, a daughter. A year later Cassie and Harvey adopted a four-year-old boy named Daniel. A year after that Harvey absconded, leaving Cassie to support the two children. She went back to work (again full-time) for a Napa Valley winery, but found herself increasingly under strain in balancing her long working hours with the needs of her two children. She and Harvey had purchased a large, run-down house in Santa Rosa with money Cassie inherited from her mother, and they had been in the process of renovating it. Now she had neither the time nor the money to finish the job.
During this period of time Zandra Hillis was living the good life in New York city. A stock analyst for a major Wall Street brokerage house, Zandra made nearly $100,000 a year, lived in a gorgeous Manhattan high-rise and was able to enjoy life to the fullest. Never wanting to settle down or marry, Zandra was in her element in the New York career high-life. When her employer `cleaned house' and fired half its' employees, the cleaning hit Zandra with the force of a hurricane. At 27, a woman with no one to support but herself, Zandra was considered one of the more expendable employees of the firm. Every other firm in New York apparently felt the same way; glutted with a huge pool of workers, even when they began to hire people back again it was only a select few, and Zandra wasn't one of them. She had enough money saved to live comfortably for several years, and decided to return to her home state of California and see what she could find in San Francisco.
Cassie and Zand had been close friends in college, and were glad to renew their friendship. But the more they explored their options, the more they realized they were both looking for something it seemed impossible to find. Cassie needed a job with some flexibility but good pay -- something very difficult to find in the financially retarded job market of the North Bay. Zand realized, after interviewing with a few financial firms in San Francisco, that the way they worked and did business was light-years away from the way she had been taught in New York, and she didn't much like it. She didn't care for the people, either -- they were stuffy and conservative, and nothing like her friends in New York. The only people she felt comfortable with were further north, in the Wine Country.
So Cassie and Zand conceived the idea for Supergirls, realizing they had a wide scope of talents that could be converted into a money-making proposition. Between them they could do practically anything, and intended to hire themselves and others out as first-rate temps for any and all odd jobs. Zandra moved into Cassie's house with the intention of helping her care for the children and continue the renovation process. Within a short period of time Supergirls was doing well enough that Cassie was able to quit her job (though she took a drop in income, the rent Zand paid her made up for it) and they devoted their time to making the agency a going concern. They teamed up with a friend of Cassie's, who had her own house-cleaning business but was wallowing in ill-health, taxes and overhead -- she became the agency secretary/housecleaner. Though Estelle was a little unusual (Zand would have said strange), she was a wonderful housekeeper. In the similar position of having to work and having two children (somewhat older than Cassie's), Estelle was in worse shape financially because she and her husband Mitchell were wiped out in one of California's freak floods and then cheated by an unscrupulous insurance company.
Zand had a number of talents she considered hobbies, but she now realized that gourmet cooking, clothing design and interior decoration are hobbies that people will gladly pay to have in their lives. Cassie concentrated mostly on the business end -- small office accounting and home office setup at the beginning, but was soon drawn, as Zand was, into more unusual requests. They met both the men who would figure importantly in their lives at a cocktail party they threw to advertise SuperGirls -- first Rob Barnes, publisher of the internationally known alternative literary journal, Conspiracy; and then Pal Karpati, professor of Middle-Eastern Politics and History at Sonoma State University.
When Rob broke his leg, Zandra went to assist him with the magazine and his household problems. This proved to be a more complicated job than she had first anticipated, and one look at his house, decorated in what Zand considered the worst of `70's bad taste, sent her on a crusade of redecoration that infuriated Rob's sometime girlfriend, Colleen. When Supergirls got a call from Pal Karpati to house-sit his condo and pets while he was away on a business trip, Cassie went to this new assignment. Cassie and Pal met only briefly before his departure.
While Zand was working with Rob, a friendship developed, and Rob's girlfriend and editor at Conspiracy, Colleen, made herself obnoxious over Zand's presence. Rob ended his relationship with Colleen, and a tentative one began with Zand (though it was difficult to date or do much else while he had the broken leg).
When Rob could walk on his cast, Zand cut her visits down to every other day. One of the days Zandra was still at Rob's, Cassie took the children with her to Pal's condo -- she smelled something strange in the garage, and went to investigate. She discovered the frozen food had all been thrown out of a large chest freezer, and opened the freezer to investigate. It was then that she discovered the body of a girl, who appeared to have been approximately 20 years old at the time of death. She had no idea how long the body had been there -- it could have been put in before Pal left on his trip, or, if someone knew he was going, after his departure.
Uncertain what to do (Cassie was afraid if she called the police that Pal would be blamed for the murder of the girl) she called Zandra at Rob's house, and Zandra came to the condo with Rob, hobbling over on his crutches to take a look. He determined that the body had only been in the freezer a few days (this man seemed to have some strange skills, they thought) but it could be as much as a week -- the freezing made it impossible to tell. Rob insisted on calling the police, and Pal arrived home only to be arrested for the murder of his student, Ashley. The murder was a particularly gruesome and distinctive one, and resembled, in execution, the prior co-ed murders, including the one at Sonoma State University the previous fall. Pal was released, due to lack of evidence and his sound alibi, and the SuperGirls, assisted by Rob, decided to solve the murders. When Rob went to discuss the case with his friend at the Santa Rosa Police Department, he learned that the police were completely baffled by the crimes.
The theory they came up with had to do with the subject matter Pal taught -- Middle-Eastern Politics and History. All the murdered girls had been taking classes in these subjects, and were particularly outspoken regarding their contempt for the Islamic way of life. It was Rob's contention that the murders had to have been committed by more than one person -- perhaps a group of students following the Islamic religion and wishing to silence the voices of the women who vociferously opposed them; perhaps to teach all women a lesson.
Cassie went undercover at the University, and posed as a student in one of Pal's classes. She attracted the attention of some Islamic students, but didn't progress very far in the investigation before the semester ended. Zandra's father Stan separated from her mother, who had become an avid follower of a strange Christian sect, called `The Church of Eternal Enlightenment and Chastisement', and of its' leader, The Right Reverend Billy-Bob Savage. Stan came to live in the carriage-house in Cassie's backyard, and help with the SuperGirls jobs. He became involved in their investigation, acting as bodyguard to Cassie and Zandra when they went to the university. The romantic interest between Zandra and Rob was first to come to culmination, though Pal wished it was otherwise, and felt frustrated by his lack of progress with Cassie. He knew she was attracted to him, but she held back her feelings, because of the situation surrounding the murdered girl, and also because she had her children to consider. Zandra, however, had no such considerations or qualifiers, and she became Rob's lover while she was redecorating his house.
Another student was murdered, and Rob started a series of articles about the murders in Conspiracy Magazine. He became so involved in the production of the articles that his romance with Zandra nearly fizzled out soon after it began. On the night of their reconciliation, Rob was attacked by three Moslem men while on his way to pick up Zandra. Though the men were never identified, Rob refused to end his series of articles.
There was a copy-cat murder, which made it more difficult than ever for the police to pursue the chain of mutilation murders. Pal and Cassie consummated their relationship, and he asked her to marry him. Rob presented himself as a substitute professor in one of Pal's classes with Cassie as his assistant and Zandra as a journalist investigating the murders. Two students came forward to give information regarding the murders, and the following week they were killed by a sub-machine gun while driving on the freeway.
Pal made a trip to Los Angeles to gather information about the Moslem community there. He went to some Moslem clubs and talked to men he had known when he was in college. One of them, Hakim, obviously had knowledge and was involved in some way in the murders. At this point in the investigation, two F.B.I. agents were called in to work on the case. When they were unable to convince the four friends to stop investigating, they actually worked with them. At the suggestion of the two F.B.I. agents, Pal and Cassie attempted to secrete her children with a friend. This ploy failed, and two Moslem men tried to kidnap them -- the result being that the friend's husband shot one, fatally, and the other was captured. Pal received a copy of a letter sent to the police that made him out to be a Moslem sympathizer.
Cassie received a letter from The Church of Eternal Enlightenment and Chastisement. Not remembering that this was the church her mother joined, Zandra replied to the letter as a joke. The result of this was that two people showed up on her doorstep, attempting to convert them. One of these people, Martha, was actually converted away from her church by Zandra and Rob and the precepts of Secular Humanism.
Pal and Cassie were married, and Cassie's son Daniel was put into a special children's program having to do with self-sufficiency and interpreting problems. At this point the reader is given another clue to the person behind the murder conspiracy. Daniel's class is broken into by a group of Moslem men and Fundamentalist Christians -- Daniel recognizes the man from The Church as one of the attackers. This man, James, is arrested and taken to jail. He was the protege' of The Right Reverend Billy Bob Savage.
Billy Bob was in league with the Moslems to bring women in line through the threat of the murders, which he termed `sacrifices'. But it was James who mutilated the bodies. James' obsession alienated the Moslems and the hired thugs Billy Bob got to liberate him from jail. F.B.I. Agents Clark and Brownlow deduced that Martha, the Church deserter, would be the next `sacrifice'. With the help of a probation officer who was kidnapped by James during his escape, Rob, Pal, and Cassie set up a trap for the murderers, using Martha as the bait. During the ensuing chaos, Stan's girlfriend Clara kills James by hitting him repeatedly with a cast-iron skillet.
Although they are unable to implicate Billy Bob Savage, they later learn that he has had a heart-attack and died while engaged in a sexual act with Zelda, Zandra's mother.