Vengeance is Mine - A Benjamin Tucker Mystery, page 1
Vengeance is Mine
Harry James Krebs
Peak City Publishing
Vengeance is Mine
Copyright © 2013 Harry James Krebs
Edited by Kerry Holjes
Peak City Publishing, 2013
All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in any retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without express written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages as part of a review.
Disclaimer: All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
Print ISBN-13: 978-1-935711-36-0
It was the disappearance and murder of my then girlfriend, Christina Morgan, that changed everything for me. She disappeared seventeen years ago on my eighteenth birthday. We had made plans to meet at the Dairy Queen at six o’clock, but my high school baseball practice went later than expected because I’d invested extra time in the batting cage. Collegiate scouts were expected at that Friday evening’s game, and winning a sports scholarship was the most important thing in the world to me.
By the time I borrowed my father’s station wagon and drove to the DQ, it was six thirty, and it had begun raining like hell. Christine, who had arrived on time, was no longer there. No one had seen her leave. I called her house, but her mother said she’d gone to meet me. Her father called me twice that evening looking for her. Finally, at midnight, her parents called the police.
The initial police responders showed up at my house shortly after one in the morning. They interviewed me for twenty minutes, but I’d been unable to offer any insight as to where Christine could be.
Three days later, I missed the big Friday night game. It was the day Christine’s raped and savagely mutilated body was found by hikers in a remote wooded area. It shattered my world, and I plummeted into severe depression and despair because I blamed myself for her death. If only I had cared more about Christine than that damn scholarship. If only I hadn’t been late. If only. If only. My god.
The chief investigator on the case, Detective Peter Eldridge with the Chicago PD, had me figured as the killer. Even though my team members vouched for my whereabouts, Eldridge hounded me constantly. It didn’t help that my polygraph examination showed signs of deception. To protect her reputation, I denied ever having sexual relations with Christine, although the two of us had been sexually active for two months.
Christine’s parents—especially her father—also believed I’d killed their daughter. And their belief that I’d sexually violated Christine made the interaction with them even worse.
Until that point, I’d been an honor roll student, but my studies soon deteriorated after I began to abuse alcohol and exhibit extreme self-destructive behavior. On one instance, I tried jumping from the second-story roof of one of the high school buildings to the roof of the next one. The buildings were ten feet apart, and I didn’t quite make it. I dangled from the edge briefly until my science teacher ran to my assistance and pulled me to safety.
Later I found a remote section of road that ended at a cross street. Directly across was a large oak tree. I would take my father’s station wagon and stop at the far end of the street. Then I would race toward the other end with the car aimed at the oak tree. Every time I tried, I’d reach a slightly higher speed than the time before and still stop before hitting the tree.
It was like a game. If I could stop without hitting the tree, then god was telling me it wasn’t my fault Christine was dead. And I needed desperately to hear that.
Finally, I tried to reach sixty miles per hour and still stop. But the street was wet, and that time it ended badly.
If there’s one thing I took away from the previous night’s screaming match with my wife, Maggie, it was: don’t ever do anything that brings publicity to the family without consulting her first, “especially when it involves the police!”
I spent the night in the guesthouse after she’d locked me out of our bedroom. Our relationship was extremely volatile. We’d fight like cats and dogs one night and then relive the passion of our honeymoon the next. We’d only been married for five months, and adjustment was painful. She was high-society money, but I was a mutt. I came from a much lower class background, and I had little use for money. But I believe it was my disdain for wealth that attracted her to me. When we married, she knew beyond all doubt it was because I loved her and not her money.
It had been my recent offer to the police to help search for a serial killer that had Maggie livid. She found it “morbid and disgusting,” and we argued about it for hours before calling a truce and going our separate ways for the rest of the night. She didn’t understand that I had no choice. Even after seventeen years, Christine’s murder still affected my life. Her killer had never been identified, and the feeling of utter helplessness that instilled in me had left me with an irrational drive to seek justice for victims of extreme violence. It was always right there under the surface, ready to take control, and with the recent murders, it had resurfaced once more.
Almost three days had passed since authorities had announced the discovery of a second headless corpse. Similar to the first, the remains belonged to a Caucasian female in her mid-thirties with a medium build and long black hair. But it didn’t really matter what they looked like—it was Christine I saw in the photos shown on TV.
The grisly discoveries had shaken the residents of the sleepy southwest Raleigh suburbs, who had come to take their slow country lifestyle for granted. A monster now walked the streets of their neighborhoods, and it could be anyone—a friend, a relative, or even the guy next door.
The police were giving these crimes top priority and had organized a multi-jurisdictional and multi-disciplined task force charged with the apprehension of the person or persons committing these horrific attacks. The task force included the town of Cary, where my ex-wife and daughter lived. A thriving suburb of Raleigh, Cary was located within the triangle formed by the cities of Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham. I lived in Holly Springs, a small town a few minutes south of Cary.
I believed my previous experience as an investigative reporter could benefit the task force, especially in the form of research. However, I was still surprised that my offer to assist on a pro bono basis had been accepted by Lieutenant John Netter of the Cary Police Department.
My sights were set on stopping the sick bastard terrorizing the area. But I had a second, more selfish, motive—material for my next book. I had a commitment to my agent, and also to my publisher, to write a mystery novel. The manuscript was scheduled to be finished in August, only four months away, but I was having a serious case of writer’s block. Every night I found myself playing game after game of computer solitaire, so I could clear my mind and generate some ideas worth writing about. Thus far, the pages had remained blank.
My first book, Deception, had come easily to me. I’d spent ten months researching and interviewing those involved. Then it had been merely a matter of compiling the facts and writing the story with the addition of human behavior and psychological factors. It really hadn’t been that much different from when I’d worked as the lead investigative reporter for the Raleigh Herald.
But a fictional mystery novel was very different. Unlike true crime, I had to develop the story line, create all of the characters, and present it in a suspenseful and thrilling manner. I was failing miserably, and as the days passed, I was feeling immense pressure that only amplified my
The alarm clock buzzer gave me a jolt, and I tried to drag myself out of bed. Oscar, my little brown Dachshund, was lying across my neck. He, too, had been banished from the bedroom. I pushed him aside, but he didn’t get up. He just stretched and curled up by my pillow.
I’d had a fitful night’s sleep and was running late. It was Monday morning and the first task force meeting was scheduled to begin at nine o’clock, in ninety minutes.
After a quick cup of coffee, I showered, laid out my clothes, and finished dressing. I opted for casual—charcoal-gray pants and a navy sweater. Some of the investigators had voiced strong opposition to my participation, so I wanted to be inconspicuous.
My cell phone mailbox indicated that I had a new message. It was from Howard Price, my agent, probably checking my progress on the novel. Crap. I didn’t want to deal with an interrogation, so I closed the mailbox and put the phone in my pocket.
Oscar was now sitting on the floor at my feet, wagging his tail.
“What are you looking at, hairface?” When I opened the guesthouse door, he scurried out, and I followed him halfway across the courtyard where he disappeared between the hydrangeas for his morning ritual. I waited for him to return to make sure he steered clear of the pool. He was born with his two left legs slightly shorter than his right legs, and he ran in a haphazard zigzag pattern. You never really knew for sure which direction he would head, and it was a relief when he would make it to the back door of the main house unscathed. On several occasions he had to be fished out of the pool, sputtering and flinging water as he violently shook himself off. A pole with a net was strategically located near the guesthouse cabana strictly for Oscar rescue purposes.
We entered the back of the main house into the kitchen, and Oscar immediately waddled over to his bowl and began eating the breakfast waiting for him. There was no sign of Maggie, and I wondered what I was in for as I took my seat at the head of the breakfast table.
I was the lowly newcomer to a wealthy household of women, which, by the way, was run by a housekeeper who rivaled Attila the Hun. Roberta, born and raised in Mexico, had joined the family twenty-five years earlier, when Maggie was just a child. Roberta was a short, heavy set, barrel-shaped hell on wheels. And she was opinionated—I mean opinionated! Maggie may have run the family business, but it was Roberta who ruled the roost. She was convinced I had married into the family for money, and she had no trouble telling me so.
The rest of the family included Julie, my fourteen-year-old stepdaughter, and Maggie’s mother, Nora. I got along great with both of them, better than Maggie did. And Julie was great friends with my daughter, Amanda Jane, who was one year younger. I always scored points with Maggie because of my close relationships with Nora and Julie.
Julie had already inhaled half of her pancakes. She was wearing skinny jeans and a black long-sleeved T-shirt with some sort of graphic on the front. Her silky brown hair was pulled back into a sleek ponytail held with a bright yellow scrunchie. She wore a hint of blush and some light pink lip gloss on her fresh young face, which was all Maggie would allow until she was at least forty-five years old. A bright yellow backpack was leaning against her chair.
“Hi, Ben,” she said cheerfully, with her mouth full.
Roberta, our terrorist housekeeper, looked at me disapprovingly. “You’re late,” she said. She wore a similar cotton dress in a different color every day. Today’s was mint green. Her hair was tied back with a matching scarf and she had on stylish orthopedic shoes. Orps, she called them.
“Sorry,” I said.
“Your breakfast is probably cold now,” she scolded in her Latina accent. “Ya know, this breakfast don’t cook itself. The least you can do is be on time.”
“Sorry,” I repeated. This went on every day, and I knew my lines.
“Breakfast is at seven fifteen. Every morning! Not seven thirty!”
“I apologize,” I said again. “It was very uncaring of me.” She continued scowling at me and then gave me three of her fabulous, homemade country sausages.
I could never tell where I stood with Roberta. She believed I was a freeloading loser after Maggie’s money, but then she would give me extra sausages at breakfast, knowing they were one of my favorites.
Julie took a large drink of milk, set her glass down, and looked at me. “You and Mom had another fight last night, didn’t you?”
“Why do you think that?” I smothered two pancakes with butter.
She pointed to the back yard with her thumb. “You came in the back door. That means you probably slept out in the guesthouse.” She reached down and gave Oscar a piece of her pancake, pretending she didn’t see Roberta’s frown.
I tapped the tip of her nose. “You’re a little too observant, munchkin.”
She smiled. “Plus, I heard Mom screaming at you. She can yell pretty loud, ya know. I can hear it all the way upstairs.” I cringed and looked around again.
“Don’t worry,” Julie said. “She left for work about twenty minutes ago.” She popped a piece of sausage into her mouth.
“I hope we didn’t wake Nora,” I said.
“I doubt Grandma heard anything,” Julie said, grinning. “She had too many cosmos last night, and she has another one of her headaches.” Roberta frowned again.
“Mom’s mad at you for helping the police, isn’t she?” Julie asked.
I raised one eyebrow and nodded.
Roberta pointed a large wooden spoon at me. “Miss Maggie’s right. This is pure evil, and you shouldn’t bring it into this house. Now even the little one is talking about it.” She walked over and kissed Julie on the head.
“I’m not bringing it into the house,” I said. “I’m just doing some research and trying to develop some theories.”
“Well, I think it’s cool,” Julie said, looking at me. “When you catch him, you’ll be a hero. Is it all right if I tell Joanie?”
“Sure. There’s no secret about it, but play down the hero thing. I’m only doing research.”
“Poor Mr. Henry,” Roberta said as she glanced at the portrait of Maggie’s late father hanging over the fireplace. “He sees what’s going on here.” She pointed the wooden spoon toward the heavens. “From up there. He knows what you are and what you’re doing here. He knows.”
I swallowed and wiped my mouth with my napkin.
“I think Mr. Marshak would be happy that Maggie, Julie and I have become a family,” I said.
Roberta huffed. “Family?” She pointed the damn wooden spoon to the floor. “I tell you he turns in his grave. He turns in his grave as we speak.” Julie was smiling at the interaction, and I nudged her under the table with my foot. She nudged me back. Roberta crossed her arms, glaring at me.
“And did you speak with Jesus this morning?” Roberta asked.
“Roberta, please. I haven’t got time for this.”
“You haven’t got time for Jesus?” She slowly shook her head. “Poor Miss Maggie.”
I looked to Julie for an escape. “It’s getting late, munchkin. I’ll give you a ride to school.”
“Thanks, Ben, but Joanie’s mom is picking me up in a few minutes.” She carried her plate to the sink, and then gave Roberta a hug.
“Have a nice day, Miss Julie,” Roberta said.
Julie hugged me and kissed me on the cheek. “Bye, Ben.” Then she whispered in my ear, “But if you don’t talk to Jesus, you’re never getting out of here.”
It was eight forty-five when I arrived at the Cary Police Department and parked my midnight blue Jaguar in the furthest spot from the building.
Lieutenant Netter was standing in the corner of the parking lot puffing on one of his stinking cigars and walked over to greet me. Netter and I had met two years earlier when I was writing a book based on the life of another local serial killer. Netter was then employed by the Holly Springs Police Department and was lead investigator on the case. My depiction of the investigators as experienced and d
During the interview process, Netter and I developed an unusual camaraderie. We were like an odd couple. He was in his late fifties, overweight, gruff, and smoked stinking cigars like a coal-burning locomotive. I was twenty years younger, in pretty good shape, intolerant of tobacco of any kind, and I liked to think, much more refined. On more than one occasion, we met and downed a few more drafts than we should have.
The sun glistened off Netter’s gray hair as he admired my ride and exhaled a large cloud of blue smoke. “Christ, Tucker, nice set of wheels.”
“Yeah, it was a wedding gift from Maggie.”
“You’re shittin’ me. She gave you a Jag for a wedding gift?” Netter shook his head. “When I got married, my old lady gave me a TV. Six months later she left me … and took the fuckin’ TV.”
He looked at his watch. “Well, I guess it’s time to get this show on the road. We have a lot to cover.” He tossed his cigar on the pavement and crushed it with his foot.
“Isn’t that littering?” I asked.
We walked into the building to a large conference room. Six tables were placed to form a large U, with the open end toward a wall with a projector screen. There were twelve chairs around the tables, and a twenty-chair gallery at the back of the room. Three-ring binders were placed at each chair. The positions at the tables had folded name cards, reserving those places for key members of the task force. I was seated in the gallery.
The binders contained photographs of the two victims. They looked almost identical—like sisters. I shuddered at the striking resemblance to my own sister, Alex, and was relieved she lived nine hundred miles away in Illinois.