Zero day, p.7

Zero Day, page 7

 part  #1 of  John Puller Series


Zero Day

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  He said, “Maybe, or lucky.” He looked at the girl. “But not lucky twice. They weren’t killed here, at least the colonel and his wife.”

  Cole stepped back away from the couch, looked at the carpet. “Right, blood spatters. None up here. Basement is a different story.”

  “I noted that when I was down there.”

  “Speaking of, I need to go see Larry.”

  Puller thought he heard her voice catch even though she had tried to say this in a casual tone.

  “Do me a favor first?”

  “What’s that?”

  “Make the call to the station and put the seal on the colonel’s briefcase and laptop.”

  She did as he asked. As soon as she closed the phone he said, “Follow me.”

  She trudged after Puller down the stairs. He led her over to the spot where the cop was hanging. The dead man had dropped still lower, his black leathers almost touching the concrete.

  Puller studied her while she was studying the dead guy. No tears this time. Brief shake of the head. Woman was internalizing it. Probably embarrassed to have already teared up in front of him. And then the voice catch. She shouldn’t have been embarrassed. He’d seen friends die, lots of them. It never got any easier. It only got harder. You thought you became desensitized to it, but that was just an illusion. The hole in your mind just got deeper so more shit would fit inside it.

  She stepped back. “I’m going to get whoever did this.”

  “I know you are.”

  “Can we get him down? I don’t want to leave him up there like a damn slaughtered hog.”

  Puller checked the back of the man’s neck. “We can cut the noose loose opposite the knot in the line to preserve it. But give me a sec.”

  He hustled out to his car and grabbed his rucksack.

  Back downstairs, he took out some plastic sheeting and a portable stepladder. “I’m going to wrap this around the body to safeguard any trace, then hold him up while you climb on the stepladder and cut him down. Remember, cut on the opposite side of the knot. You can use my knife.”

  They accomplished this without a hitch and the plastic-wrapped dead man leaned into Puller’s strong arms. He laid him down on the floor on his back while Cole climbed down.

  Puller said, “Turn on that light over there.” He motioned to a wall switch.

  The light came on and Puller examined Wellman’s neck. “Carotid and jugular compressed. Hyoid bone’s probably fractured. Post will confirm that.” He pointed to several spots around the dead man’s neck. “Blood vessels ruptured, means he was alive when they strung him up.”

  Puller carefully edged the cop up on one side so they could see his bound hands. “Check for defensive wounds or trace under the nails. If we’re real lucky we got some DNA leave-behind.”

  Cole used Puller’s Maglite to do this. “Nothing that I can see. Don’t understand that. Larry should’ve fought back. Or maybe the killer scrubbed it afterwards.”

  “I think this probably explains it.” Puller pointed to matted blood in the man’s hair. “They knocked him out before hanging him.”

  He pulled a skin thermometer from his rucksack, ran it over Wellman’s forehead, and checked the reading.

  “Little under five degrees down from normal.” He swiftly did the required calculation in his head. “Dead about three hours. So about half past two.”

  They heard cars pulling to a stop outside.

  “Cavalry’s here,” said Puller.

  Cole looked down at her colleague. “You seem to know what you’re doing,” she said softly, staring down at the dead man.

  “I’m here to help, if you want it. Your call.”

  “I do.” She turned and walked toward the steps.

  Puller said, “I know you’ve already processed the scene, but I’d like to do it again.” He added, “I’m not looking to step on anyone’s professional toes, but I’ve got people I have to report to. And they expect our investigations to be processed in a particular way.”

  “I don’t care so long as we get the son of a bitch who did this.”

  Cole headed up the stairs.

  Puller looked down at the dead cop and then over at the far walls where the collection of blood and flesh against the studs revealed where the adult Reynoldses had been executed.

  Executed was really the only way to look at it.

  Head shot for him, torso for her. He wondered why the different treatment. And then the kids not shot at all. Usually with mass killing the same method of murder was employed. Changing weapons took time, precious time. And killing and then moving the bodies took still more time. But maybe this killer had all the time in the world.

  Puller glanced back down at Wellman’s body.

  Every murder was the same in that someone was dead from a violent cause. Yet other than that factor, everything was always different.

  And solving it was like treating cancer. What worked in one case almost never worked in another. They all required their own unique solution.

  He walked off to join Cole upstairs.



  THE THREE DRAKE COUNTY COPS stood in a row looking down at their fallen colleague. As they did this Puller studied them. All about six feet tall, two lean, one chubby. They were young, the oldest in his early thirties. Puller spotted an anchor tattoo on the hand of one.

  “Navy?” he asked.

  The man nodded, drawing his gaze briefly from Wellman’s body.

  The tattoo, Puller knew, had been done after the man had left the service. No tattoos that were visible with your uniform on were allowed in the military.

  “You’re Army?” said Anchor Man.

  “I’m with the 701st CID out of Quantico.”

  “Marines train down there, right?” said the chubby cop.

  “That’s right,” said Puller.

  “My cousin’s a Marine,” said Chubby. “He said they’re always first in the fight.”

  “Marines covered my butt many times in the Middle East.”

  Cole came down the stairs. “A miner on his way to work found Larry’s cruiser about two miles from here, down in a ravine, and called it in. Sending our tech over to scrub it down.”

  Puller nodded. “And then he can come here? I need to talk to him.”

  “I’ll let him know.” She turned to her men. “Considering what happened to Larry, we’ll need two officers to post here at all times.”

  “Sarge, that really cuts into our patrol. Pulled thin as it is,” said Anchor Man.

  She pointed down at Wellman. “Maybe Larry thought that too, and look what happened to him.”

  “Yes, Sarge.”

  “And, Dwayne, I want you to head over and secure Larry’s cruiser,” she told him.

  “Yes, Sarge,” said Dwayne.

  Puller observed the other cops for any visible reaction in dealing with a female superior. If West Virginia was anything like the Army it was still tough going for the girls even in the twenty-first century. From the looks of them it was still tough going for the ladies in the Mountain State.

  “Special Agent Puller here will be assisting us in this investigation,” said Cole.

  The three cops looked at him with stiffened expressions. This didn’t surprise Puller at all. In their shoes he would’ve felt resentment too.

  He didn’t say anything as patently clichéd as that they were all looking for the same thing, justice. In fact he didn’t say anything at all. While he was being polite and professional, the truth was he had no authority over these folks. It was left to Cole to keep her men in line.

  “Where’s the crime scene log?” he asked, glancing at Cole. She’d zippered up her windbreaker—perhaps, Puller thought, to cover the sheerness of the T-shirt underneath in the presence of her deputies.

  “In my pickup.”

  She got the log and Puller added his name to it, recording the date and time of entry. He studied the names of the other people on the list. Cops and the one tech. And a
medical professional who had no doubt officially proclaimed the four corpses to be lawfully dead.

  He waited for Cole to give Dwayne the location of Wellman’s ride and send him off.

  “Any media on this yet?” he asked Cole. They were on the front porch. Dawn had broken and it was light enough for him to see the dark circles under her eyes. She pulled a cigarette from her pack. He held up his hand and lowered his voice so the cops who were still inside the house couldn’t hear. “Let’s put together a break area in the side yard over there. This scene is going to take a while to process. You can smoke, and we can eat and pile our trash up there. And we’ll need a portable john.”

  “There’re two bathrooms in the house.”

  “We don’t change the crime scene in any way. Don’t touch the thermostat, use the john, smoke, eat, drink, or chew tobacco. Our stuff gets mingled with what’s here it makes things more complicated.”

  She put the smoke away and folded her arms over her chest. “Okay,” she said grudgingly.

  “Media?” he said again.

  “We only have one weekly newspaper. The nearest TV and radio stations are a ways away. So no, not much in the way of media, and I won’t be holding a press conference, just in case you’re wondering. We’re hard to get to. You have to really want to get to Drake. And right now, no one in the media seems to want to.”

  “Good.” He paused, looked at her.

  “What?” she finally said under his scrutiny.

  “You related to somebody named Randy Cole?”

  “My younger brother. Why?”

  “Ran into him earlier.”

  “Ran into him where?” she asked sharply.

  “Place I’m staying.”

  She assumed an uninterested air that Puller saw right through. “And how was he?”

  “What do you mean?”

  “I mean drunk or drunker?”

  “He was sober.”

  “What a shock.”

  “But he said he gets headaches.”

  “Yeah, I know,” she said in a more worried tone. “For the last year or so.”

  “Told him to get that checked out.”

  “I told him the same thing. Doesn’t mean he’s going to do it. In fact, it means he probably won’t.”

  “I’m going to grab my gear and get to it.”

  “You need any help?”

  “You’re in charge. That’s lackey work, isn’t it?”

  “Not much around here is lackey work. We all pitch in. And even if it were, Larry getting killed changes things. At least for me. Never lost a man on my watch. Now I have. Changes things,” she said again.

  “I can see that. I’ll let you know if I need a hand.”

  “You lose many of your guys over in the Middle East?”

  “Even one was too many,” replied Puller.



  PULLER HAD SKETCHED preliminary drawings of the main floor and the basement. He had put together his loose-leaf notebook with his name, rank, and the date, weather, and lighting conditions on each page, as well as compass north designated. Measurements had been done to all relevant landmarks and other objects in the rooms.

  Cole, who was watching him finish the drawing, asked, “Army taught you that?”

  “Army taught me a lot of things.”

  “Why do you think they came back, Puller?”

  “To get something. Or leave something. I just don’t know which one.”

  Cole let out a long breath filled with frustration. “Never thought that could happen. Coming back and killing the cop guarding the crime scene.”

  He put the sketchpad aside and drew from his rucksack a 35-millimeter camera, tripod, flash, and flash extension cord. He also stuck a device that looked like a flashlight into a holder on his belt.

  “My guy already took pictures,” Cole said.

  “I like to take my own. Procedures we have to follow, like I said.”

  “Okay. But he’s good and you’re welcome to what we have.”

  “I appreciate that. Where is he, by the way? Shouldn’t have taken him that long to scrub the car.”

  Cole went to the window. “Speak of the devil,” she said.

  “Landry Monroe,” said Puller.

  “How’d you know?”

  “Saw his name on the log.”

  “We call him Lan.”

  “Tell me about him.”

  “Twenty-four years old. WVU grad. Criminal Justice. Certified in CS processing. Been with the department for two years.”

  “Where’d he get his certification?”

  “State runs a program.”


  “It’s a damn good program, Puller.”

  “Didn’t say it wasn’t.”

  “I could tell by the look on your face.”

  “What’s your goal here?”


  “Your goal.”

  “To catch whoever did this,” she said grimly.

  “Mine too. And if we work together and follow each of our protocols the odds are a lot better that we’ll find the people responsible.”

  They stared at each other for an uncomfortably long few moments.

  Cole turned, went to the door, and called out to the man, who had his head buried in his car’s trunk. “Lan, get your stuff and get in here. Got somebody who’s really looking forward to working with you.”

  She turned back to Puller and pointed a finger at him. “Let’s get one thing straight. He’s a kid. You can rough him up some, show him stuff that’ll make him better, but you are not to crush his confidence. You’ll be leaving West Virginia after this, but not me. I have to work with him and he’s all I’ve got. Understood?”

  Puller nodded. “Understood.”

  Lan Monroe came in about thirty seconds later juggling bags and knapsacks. He was black and wearing green scrubs. He stopped at the front door and dropped his gear to put on booties and latex gloves. He signed the on-site log held by one of the officers on perimeter security and stepped inside.

  Monroe was not much taller than Cole, with narrow shoulders and the bulk of his weight carried in his gut, hips, and butt. His legs were thick and short. His head was shaven and he wore wire-rimmed glasses that had slid halfway down his nose.

  Cole said, “Lan, meet CID special agent John Puller.”

  Monroe smiled and looked up at Puller, who was nearly a foot taller than he was. He put out his hand. They shook.

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