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Undercover secrets untol.., p.3

Undercover Secrets, Untold Lies, page 3


Undercover Secrets, Untold Lies

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  “I’d better get over to the funeral home. Mac Tranard has the body?”

  “Yep, picked her up at five a.m. sharp.”

  “Thanks, Doc. Call me when you get the toxicology results, please?”

  “Sure will, Detective. You take care now.”

  Gwen raced to her car and hurried to the Tranard Funeral Home.

  As she was pulling into the parking lot, Mac was exiting through the back door. Gwen jumped out and approached the thin, middle-aged man. Mac had inherited the family business about two years ago. With his irritating, high-pitched, squeaky voice, and gruff manner, she was surprised he was still making a go of it.

  “I understand you have the Wright body. I’d like to see it,” Gwen barked as she approached him.

  “Kinda late for that. She’s been in the crematorium for…uh…” Looking at his expensive-looking gold watch, Mac continued with a smug look on his face, “Two hours and twenty-three minutes.”

  “What was the rush, Mac?” she asked urgently.

  “Dunno. It’s what Captain Wright wanted. He wants services ASAP. Gotta please the customers, ya know, Detective Meyers, whether they be dead or alive,” he said sarcastically.

  “Guess it’s time to get some answers from Captain Wright myself,” Gwen muttered as she stomped back to her car.

  Chapter Five

  Arriving at the North Precinct, Gwen didn’t bother stopping to announce herself. She found Captain Wright in his office and she barged in, letting the door close behind her with a loud bang.

  “Detective Meyers! Happy to see you! I hope you’re here with the good news that you’ve arrested my daughter’s killer,” Wright said gruffly.

  He stood behind a battered wooden desk, which was empty save for one thin file folder. Behind him were shelves filled with baseball trophies from the precinct teams he’d coached. On each side of the bookshelf were gold-framed pictures of the captain standing with various dignitaries, most of whom Gwen didn’t recognize, the pictures were so old.

  “Captain Wright, I just found out you had Kathy’s body cremated already. If I didn’t know better, I would think you were trying to hide evidence.”

  “Now Gwen,” he said calmly, sitting down in an expensive black leather chair which looked out of place behind the battered desk. “I remember you coming to the house frequently when you and my daughter were in high school. You were almost like a second daughter to me back then, and now look at you. You’ve made detective, and from what I hear, a damn good one. You don’t mind if I still call you Gwen, do you?”

  He didn’t wait for an answer before continuing, “You and I have both spent more time than we’d like to remember in the morgue. Kathy wasn’t some common slut or whore picked up off the streets. I couldn’t bear the thought of her lying on a cold slab in that place for one more minute. Can’t you understand that? Just think if it had been your own flesh and blood. Your job is to conduct this investigation, and mine is to bury my daughter properly,” he said, his eyes tearing up.

  “You’re not helping me catch her killer,” Gwen said, standing her ground. “If anything, you’re impeding the investigation.”

  “By the way, you know I am aware of the relationship you had with my daughter,” Wright snapped back. “I could have you taken off this case. Can you understand that?”

  “You know that no one would work this case as hard as I will to find her murderer,” Gwen said crisply.

  “I know. That’s why I haven’t said anything. But be assured, Detective Meyers, if you cross the line with me, I will have you off this case, pronto. And, I’ll make sure you’re demoted to patrol.”

  “Yes, I’m sure you would do that,” Gwen said angrily. “Just one question. Did you know she was pregnant?”

  The rapid flush of his face and startled expression told her he’d had no idea. “No. That’s not true,” he said, stunned.

  “Doc Maynard ran the test last night. It’s true,” Gwen divulged. “Do you know who she was dating? Any idea who the father could be?”

  Wright slumped back into his chair with a defeated sigh. “She was in with a bad crowd. I tried everything I could to get her back on track and off the drugs. I’d hoped after she got out of rehab she could change her life around. But she kept sneaking around with those assholes down on Main Street. They’re the ones that got her hooked. I don’t have any names, but I can pull the arrest warrants for anyone we nabbed over the past year. Maybe that would help give you some leads.”

  “I’d appreciate that, Captain,” Gwen replied tersely.

  She turned and walked briskly out of his office.

  “He is and always was a Class A jerk,” Gwen muttered to herself as she strode to her car. “He gives real meaning to the term ‘bad cop/good cop.’ ” She could easily imagine him in the role of badgering a suspect into giving a false confession just to get him out of their face. Kathy had never had anything good to say about her father, and Gwen could now see why. She swallowed the lump in her throat remembering all the conversations she’d had with Kathy. They’d told each other everything about their childhoods, and Kathy’s had not been pleasant with her overbearing and verbally abusive father.

  Gwen had time to make one more stop before she made it back to her precinct to meet with her staff and get their updates. The sun was shining brightly and the streets were wet, absorbing the runoff of melting snow. Gwen guessed it must be close to forty degrees, and she decided to slip into the ladies’ room to shed her long underwear before going back to her car.

  * * *

  She’d known Eric Kaplan since she was a kid. His parents were hard-working farmers, and Eric had missed a lot of school when his help was needed on the family farm. She would miss him when he wasn’t on the school bus taking them to Scarletsville Elementary. He was bigger than the other boys his age and most of the kids a year or two older, and no one teased her about her tomboy appearance when he was around. His mother had passed away the previous spring, but Eric still worked hard and took excellent care of his father and the farm. His older siblings had all moved on to bigger cities and jobs that were more glamorous. His father had to be in his early sixties by now. He was the “ol’ man Kaplan” the officer had mentioned, who had called 911 after he’d heard Kathy’s car crash into his pastureland.

  The Kaplan farm was well kept on a sprawling fifty-acre plot. Eric, like his father, kept the land primarily for dairy farming, but he also fattened a good number of cattle for slaughter. The Kaplans were well known for their fresh eggs sold for “a buck a dozen” and the chicken coop was always filled with several dozen golden brown and white hens. Gwen supposed Eric also used a large portion of his land for growing ginseng. More than one farmer in this area had quickly become a millionaire after the plant became a popular medicinal herb and vitamin supplement.

  Gwen found Eric in his barn under a tractor, repairing the blade apparatus.

  “Just in time,” Eric called out when he saw her. “Can you hold this wrench while I tighten the bolt?”

  Gwen chuckled. “Sure thing. I’d be glad to help.”

  When Eric finished, he wiped his hands on a dirty rag hanging out of his baggy overalls and thanked her with a crooked grin on his face. “I don’t imagine you came all the way out here to help me,” he said.

  Gwen noticed that the twenty-six-year-old man had gained several pounds since she last saw him. With jet-black hair starting to prematurely gray at the temples and long disheveled locks touching below his collar, he was still as handsome as ever.

  “I just wanted to find out if you had heard anything else last night around the time of the crash. I heard your father was the one who called nine-one-one.”

  “You know, I heard a motor sputtering just after my dad called it in. I thought it was weird that someone was out that late on a snowmobile. But there’s a lot of them in this area at all times of the day and night, so I didn’t think anything more about it. She lost control is what I heard one of the cops say.”

  “She was murdered, Eric. The body was already dead when it landed in your pasture.”

  “My God, I didn’t even think of that. Well then, I guess it could have been a snowmobile I heard shortly after the crash after all.” Eric rubbed his eyes with the cleanest corner of his oily rag, clearly horrified at the thought of the dead body lying on his property. “I swear, I’d have run out to the field immediately had I thought anyone had been hurt. God, I feel awful about this.”

  “Did you see anyone or hear anything else?” Gwen prodded.

  “The crash is what woke me up. I yelled to Dad to call in the emergency. I grabbed a jacket and ran to the edge of the fence. I was just standing there when the snowmobile came to life, but the path is on the other side of the road, way out of my view,” Eric told her. “The car crash was what we were concentrating on. It was a tremendous noise, creaking and bending metal—it had to be loud for Dad to hear it. He’s gotten considerably hard of hearing over the years.” He grinned. “Sometimes I think it’s just him being obstinate, preferring not to listen to half of what I say.”

  Gwen chuckled. “Okay, well, thanks for your help, Eric. It was nice seeing you again.”

  “You too, Gwen. Stop by anytime. I’ve got plenty of work if you decide to change careers,” he said and laughed.

  “I’ll remember that,” Gwen said. She was still chuckling at the thought as she got into her car.

  Chapter Six

  The rest of her team was already assembled when Gwen arrived at the police station. Jenny was writing on a big whiteboard in the messy squad room, listing the known facts of the murder on the top, and adding more to the board as the other team members gave the results of their inquiries during the past twenty-four hours. Scott was briefing them on the results of Kathy’s car as Gwen walked in. There were photos, papers, files and empty food wrappers everywhere. There was a tape player sitting in the middle of a long conference table taking up most of the space in the room, so they could replay recordings of the interviews repeatedly to listen for any additional clues. Next to the tape recorder was the morning newspaper. They’d made the front page, with an old photograph of Kathy as a teenager in a cheerleading outfit staring back at them. Next to her was a recent picture of the captain.

  “We found a match to the prints left in the snow on the driver’s side of the vehicle. Same boot pattern and size. Problem is, so many outlets carry them, we’ll never be able to tie anyone in by the impression,” Scott disclosed. “Except there’s one small fissure made in the snow. So far, I don’t know if it was a leaf or twig on the surface or a crack in the boot. If it’s the boots, they’d be good evidence. That is if we can find them.”

  “I have three contacts who knew Kathy from the streets,” Jenny told the team. “I’ve talked with the first two and I’ll meet with the third tonight. The first said she hadn’t seen Kathy in two or three months. She told me she had heard Kathy had gone into rehab and cleaned up her act. The second, a young man, knew her better and confirmed that Kathy had stopped using. He mentioned she went into rehab and quit cold turkey. That was right after she’d found out that she was pregnant. He didn’t know who the father was.”

  “Put that on the board, Jenny,” Gwen added. “Doc Maynard confirmed she was three months pregnant.”

  “That fits,” Brad remarked. “I checked with Holy Cross Rehabilitation Center. She was admitted for a two-week stay and was released a week ago. That means she’d been clean a little more than three weeks. I have an appointment to review her records with the administrator tomorrow.”

  “Doc was sharp enough to do the blood work last night, so we’ll soon have the confirmation to prove she was pregnant,” Gwen added. She then proceeded to tell the group about Captain Wright delaying the autopsy until he could get a physician from Madison to assist.

  Jenny piped in, “My source put me onto this third individual. I’m sorry, but they’ve all got criminal records, so I promised not to reveal any of their names in this investigation. The young man feels this third person knew Kathy well enough to know who the father was. They shared a flophouse near Main Street when they were using. I’m meeting her at a coffeehouse later, right down the street from their residence.”

  “Sure you don’t need backup?” Scott asked seriously, staring at her with his intense blue eyes and absentmindedly wrapping his fingers around the end of his ponytail.

  Jenny grinned. “No, they’re mixed-up kids, but not violent.” She patted her Glock. “I don’t think I need to worry.”

  “Any other friends?” Gwen asked, looking at Scott.

  “I’ve checked out about half the names so far from the address book we found in Kathy’s apartment. Most haven’t been in touch with her for months, if not years. I left a message for a Jerry Kingley. Someone suggested he may have been dating her, but he hasn’t returned my call yet. I’ll hunt him down later if I don’t hear something soon.”

  “Oh,” Brad interjected. “The hard drive on her laptop was wiped clean, but we think we can still retrieve some of the files. The lab guys are still working on it.” He stroked his mustache and winked knowingly, assuring them he could salvage some possibly valuable information.

  Just then, “The Star-Spangled Banner” started playing and Scott stifled a huge grin as he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket.

  “Yeah, Jerry, thanks for returning my call,” Scott said. “I’m Sergeant Richards of the Scarletsville PD, and we’re investigating the death of Kathy Wright.” Scott was silent for a few seconds before he spoke again. “Sorry you had to hear about it that way, buddy. How about I buy you a beer over on Twenty-Fourth and Nash, say in an hour? Great. Thanks.”

  When he’d signed off on the call, Scott told the group, “He got a call from Captain Wright ripping him a new you-know-what for getting his daughter pregnant and then blaming Jerry that she was dead.”

  “We’ve got so little to go on as it is, I wish Wright would keep his nose out of it!” Gwen said angrily. “He wasn’t aware his daughter was pregnant. That was clear from my visit with him. But he also said he didn’t know any of her boyfriends. I’ll throw that back in his face when we have our next ‘discussion.’ Brad, if you don’t mind, see if you can put the heat on someone at the North Precinct. Captain Wright seemed to think there might be a connection between his daughter’s death and recent drug arrests. We need names and addresses. Then have one of the uniforms visit these folks and check their alibis. Bring in anyone that doesn’t have one. Anyone have anything else?”

  When no one responded, Gwen told them they’d meet again the next day and she dismissed them. She rushed out of the conference room and nearly collided in the hallway with CC.

  CC laughed at the surprised look on Gwen’s face. “I was hoping I’d find you here. Do you have a few minutes?”

  “Uh, sure. I’ll fill you in on the task force meeting while we eat. Can we get out of here and grab a hamburger or something? I haven’t eaten since breakfast,” Gwen said, rubbing her stomach.

  “You just reminded me, neither have I. That sounds terrific. Let’s go!”

  The Main Street Pub was an old greasy spoon crammed with a dozen tables around the perimeter and one long table in the center for larger groups, but the food was cheap and plentiful and it was located directly across from the station, so it was a favorite cop hangout.

  When they were seated at one of the small tables toward the back of the pub waiting for their hamburger and fries, CC revealed what she had come up with. Gwen could tell she was excited, and had to lean forward so none of the other patrons could hear their whispered conversation. “The streak across the ice definitely came from Kathy’s ring. Therefore, she was dragged at least fifteen feet. Someone probably carried her down the incline and dropped her, then decided to move her farther away, not knowing exactly where the car would end up when it was pushed over the side. I also followed the snowmobile path, and listen to this. It may not be from our perp, but you never know.” CC told her about callin
g for a lab tech to come back to collect a square of blue denim fabric about an inch long. “There were discarded Coke bottles and coffee cups, but they were all too old to have been tossed recently. The lab guy insisted on bagging a few anyway.”

  Gwen beamed. “The fabric is a great find. Now all we have to do is find the jacket or jeans with the missing swatch. It’s like a mosaic, CC. As each piece is filled in, we’ll have a complete picture of our perp. It’s not much so far, but I really believe we can catch this creep,” Gwen said confidently.

  “I believe we will too,” CC said as their food was delivered. “Umm, these burgers look yummy!”

  Their conversation drifted back to their personal lives as they ate. CC told of her life in Milwaukee, being the youngest of seven children—she had four brothers and two sisters. She was loved and doted on by all her siblings and parents. They were a close-knit family and had spent much of every summer camping, fishing and boating in the north woods where they owned a lake cottage. Her dad was a retired high school principal and her mother owned a small jewelry store and repair business, which her sisters were in the process of taking over so her mom could enjoy retirement with her dad.

  Gwen listened with envy, revealing she had only one brother, who was killed in a tragic accident in the army two years ago. A bunch of the guys in his troop had been moving ammo out of a warehouse when it exploded. They thought someone tossed a lit cigarette to scare the others, thinking there would be only a small explosion, but there wasn’t much evidence left to confirm that premise or to convict any of the few survivors. Her brother had been seven years older, so she might as well have been an only child. The two of them never were close and had fought constantly when they were together. Her dad had been an executive for Sea-Cal, the giant petroleum company, but had died of a massive heart attack when she was fifteen. Her mother was now suffering from multiple sclerosis and spending the rest of her days in Pineview, a nursing home on the shore of Lake Powder.

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