Iced Malice, page 1
Copyright © 2015 by Marla Madison
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission of the author.
This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely accidental.
Published by Marla Madison.
Copyright 2015 Marla Madison
All rights reserved.
Cover art by Brandi Doane McCann.
This novel in no way attempts to duplicate the police procedures or actual police departments in the cities of Eau Claire, Milwaukee, or Chicago. Any discrepancies in procedure, locations, or fact, may be attributed to the author's creativity.
I would like to thank my fellow authors for taking this journey with me and encouraging me to keep writing even when I believed an outcome would be impossible; their support and instruction have been invaluable. Donna Glaser, Helen Block, Katie Mettner, Debra Patrow, Marjorie Doering, David Tindell, Rob Bignell, E A Lake, and Darren Kirby. You’ve each helped me in your own special way.
A special thank you to Katie Mettner who walked me through the formatting process and put up with my whinging!
Thanks to Terry Lee, my significant other, and my dear pets, Skygge and Poncho, for staying away when I was in the middle of an important chapter and encouraging me when I wasn’t.
Sunday, 2:30 a.m.
Amazing that the below-zero temperature coupled with high winds and icy snowflakes hadn’t kept the drinkers home tonight. Cabin Fever Night at the bar had exceeded Nick’s expectations, and even the cost of the taco buffet and that of bringing in a DJ from Menomonie, Wisconsin, wouldn’t take much of the profit. Almost twenty minutes from closing and the crowd hadn’t even dwindled. Nick would have to give them a last call soon.
Crap. He had a drunk to drive home. Ever since opening night, he vowed to make anyone who overindulged give up their keys. If they didn’t have a ride, Nick drove them home after closing. So far, it was working. Chuck Wetzel, a regular and a known alkie, had tossed Nick his keys tonight after ordering his third drink. Unfortunately for Nick, Chuck lived with his parents in a subdivision south of town—about as far from Nick’s place near Lake Hallie as possible.
Nick couldn’t wait to get home, crawl into his warm bed with Sara and give her the good news; tonight’s take was the best since opening night. Nick and Sara had owned the bar on the northern edge of Eau Claire for seven months, and the finances were just starting to edge into the black. This freaking cold winter hadn’t helped.
He saw that Chuck had managed to get off his bar stool and take a trip to the john. At least he was walking; Nick was weary of dragging Chuck’s sorry ass out of the bar and driving him to his front door. When Chuck came out, he walked back to his barstool and pulled on his coat.
“Hey, Chuck,” Nick called, “ease up a minute. I can’t leave yet.”
“No prob, Nick,” he called back. “Keep the keys for me. I’ve got a ride.”
Relieved, Nick flipped on the Last Call sign and announced, “That’s it, folks!”
A few people ordered their one for the road, as most of the crowd wandered out into the night, the open door letting in a blast of frigid air. The icy draft hit Nick’s nostrils when he inhaled, and for about the hundredth time during the long stretch of below-zero days, he thought about adding an entryway to keep the cold air at bay.
Shortly after midnight the snow made its first appearance, and the wind picked up, spreading mournful howls into the frigid night.
Patti Olson edged over to the window. Snow had drifted across the front of the house, accumulating nearly to the windows. The weatherman on the TV said this was the worst winter in twenty-five years.
Patti had begged to be able to stay alone all night. After all, she was eighteen now, an adult. And Mommy kept saying she wanted Patti to be able to do things that “normal” girls did. Patti knew she wasn’t normal. One time she heard someone call her a “downs,” whatever that was. She never got to do half the things other kids did.
Normal girls could stay home alone when they were over sixteen. Patti knew that, because her cousin Emma, who was fifteen, told her that at her last birthday party.
Patti hated that scary noise the wind was making, and the rattling windows set her teeth on edge. She ground them, nervously. Mommy always told her not to do that, but who would know? Mommy wasn’t here. Patti’s palms were sweating and she couldn’t sit still; she even wished Mommy hadn’t given in and let her stay home alone. Her little brother Keithy—he hated when Patti called him that—went to bed a long time ago and nothing ever woke him up.
She thought about calling Mommy. The telephone number of Mommy’s friend was on a little pink note stuck to the desk by the phone. But Patti had called her three times already, and Mommy said not to call again unless it was an emergency. She said that after the third call, when Patti called to ask her if she should wash the dishes she used to make popcorn for her and Keithy. The list Mommy left for her said what she could and couldn’t do tonight, and the list hadn’t included washing the dishes. So Patti had to call and ask her.
Taking care of her little brother was a big responsibility. Patti thought she shouldn’t go to bed when everything was so scary, so she stayed in the living room and watched TV. After turning up the volume to drown out the noisy wind, Patti leaned back on the sofa and covered herself with the afghan grandma had made for her. It was crocheted in her favorite colors, red and blue. Keithy said it was ugly. But he was only eight, and he was a boy. Everyone knew that boys didn’t know about what was pretty or not, and Patti loved the afghan—took it to bed with her at night, too.
When the first knock sounded at the front door, Patti thought it had to be coming from the program she was watching. It wasn’t, though, because she was watching her favorite show, Friends, and right now the friends were all sitting on the couch in the coffee shop and no one had to knock to come in there.
The second knock was louder. Patti’s heart pounded. She thought she heard a voice, a man’s voice, but that was impossible. No one ever came to visit in the middle of the night.
She looked at the clock and saw that it was after three in the morning. Maybe she should call Mommy. Was this an emergency? No, she didn’t think so. Emergencies were when someone was hurt, or got shot, like they did on the TV programs Keithy watched. If the house was on fire, that would be an emergency, but the house wasn’t on fire.
The voice again, louder this time, but Patti couldn’t hear what the man was saying, not over the wind’s dreadful screaming and the loud commercials. She covered her ears. Mommy said to never, ever, open the door to a stranger, no matter what. She counted to ten to keep from crying like a little baby. Then to twenty-five.
Patti knew how to count all the way to a hundred, so she kept going. After reaching thirty, her fear caused her to stumble on some of the numbers, taking her nearly five minutes to get to a hundred. When she did, she uncovered her ears and turned off the TV. She listened.
The only thing she heard was the sound of the wind. Patti listened for another five minutes. No more noises.
Good. She wouldn’t have to call Mommy again.
After sunrise, bitterly cold air embraced the Chippewa Valley with icy arms. The snow had drifted as high as six feet in some spots, and then stopped after spreading a thick laye
The house, a modest two-story like many others on the block, had a police car out front and an ambulance in the driveway, and behind it an old black Town Car belonging to the medical examiner, Franklyn Teed. The frigid weather had discouraged onlookers, and the only people stirring about the neighborhood peered out at the scene through hoods, scarves, and multiple layers of protective clothing as they struggled with snow throwers.
Detective Kendall Halsrud, and her partner, Detective Ross Alverson, pulled up in front and put the dark sedan into park, hesitant to leave the warm air from the car’s heater and step into the cold.
“I still don’t see why they called us in on this,” her partner griped. “The guy was drunk. He froze in front of the wrong house, end of story.”
“Have a little respect for the dead,” Kendall said. “The poor guy has a mother and maybe a wife and kids. You know it’s routine for us to be in on any death that’s by anything but natural causes. And someone will have to talk to the man’s family, tell them what happened to their son.”
“Yeah, you do that,” he said as he stepped out of the car.
Kendall hated breaking tragic news, too, but better the parents hear it from her, a person at least sympathetic to their loss. Alverson must have had a bad night. Though never someone you would call a warm and fuzzy kind of guy, he usually wasn’t this callous. The two had been partners for only a few weeks, a pairing appointed by their boss when Kendall’s previous partner retired after having a heart attack. Despite a raunchy attitude toward women, Alverson happened to be a good detective—a fact Kendall discovered a couple of months ago when they worked a case together.
Kendall donned a scarf and gloves before she left the car and joined Teed on the small, cement porch. Teed knelt over the body, grunting a hello through a Marquette University scarf that was wrapped around his neck and pulled up in front to protect his face from frostbite.
“What do you think?” Kendall asked. “Can we get him out of here?”
“Yes, right away. I was waiting for you before giving him the send-off. There’s nothing here to indicate anything other than what it looks like—an accident. I can’t check his blood alcohol yet, but there are no signs of a struggle or any kind of violence. His fingers and hands have some scrapes, probably from pounding on the door. It looks like an alcohol-related death right now, but I’ll know more after I do the autopsy. He’ll have to thaw out, so don’t expect quick results.”
Kendall trusted Teed’s opinion; they’d always had a good working relationship. “Then go ahead and take him away. We need to talk to the first responder.”
“He’s inside with the family.”
After Kendall rang the doorbell, a short, burly cop opened the door.
“Hey, Kenny, Ross, good to see you,” he said. “This is really a mess.”
“Why? I thought it was pretty cut and dried.”
“Or fast-frozen,” Alverson quipped, walking in behind her. Kendall shot him a look.
“A divorced mom, a Merilee Olson, lives here with her two kids. The daughter is eighteen, but she’s a Downs—oh, sorry, I mean she has Down Syndrome—I can never keep all this PC stuff straight. The son is eight.
“Mom left the daughter here alone last night babysitting the boy. They’re out in the kitchen now. The daughter—her name is Patti—was afraid to open the door when she heard the guy knocking. Thought that was what she was supposed to do in order to keep the kid brother safe. The mom blames herself for the guy dying. She says she knew she shouldn’t have left the kids alone, but Patti begged her for a chance to take care of her brother all night. This is the first time she didn’t have someone stay with the kids when she was gone overnight.”
“Wow, that’s tragic, all right,” Kendall said. “We’ll talk to them. You can leave if you want, we’ll take over from here. Teed’s removing the body now. We need the name and address of the deceased, then we’ll notify his family.”
The cop handed her a sheet of paper torn from his notebook and left.
As Kendall and Alverson entered the kitchen, the mother, a short, brown-haired woman with a curvy figure poured into a pair of black leggings and a long turquoise sweater, stood at the stove stirring a pan of scrambled eggs. When she looked up at their entrance, her face blotchy and tear-stained, Kendall introduced herself and Ross.
“I’m Merilee Olson.” She dumped the eggs onto a plate that held two pieces of buttered toast, and brought the food to a table where a heavy-set girl with typical Down Syndrome features sat staring at the empty place setting in front of her. “This is my daughter Patti. My son Keith is in his room.” She set the plate in front of Patti and led them to the living room.
“I knew better than to leave Patti alone all night, but she kept pleading for a chance to prove to me she could do it.” Merilee pulled a tissue from her pocket and wiped her eyes.
Kendall didn’t blame her for feeling responsible. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. What happened isn’t your fault.”
“I don’t know why that man was here. Why would he come to our door at that time of night?”
“We don’t know yet,” Kendall replied, “but he might have been intoxicated. It’s possible someone dropped him off at the wrong house, or if he was under the influence, he could have directed his driver to the wrong place. Many of the homes in this neighborhood are similar, and at night, with so much snow blowing around, it would be hard to tell them apart.”
Kendall glanced at Alverson, relieved he was letting her do the talking. The woman didn’t need any sarcastic commentary. But Ross appeared lost in his own thoughts; he wasn’t even eyeballing Olson’s attractive body.
“Patti thought she was doing the right thing,” Olson continued. “I’ve told her not to open the door to a stranger under any circumstances. I knew she was nervous about being alone last night; she kept calling me at my boyfriend’s house. I would have come home, but the weather was so awful and neither of us have a vehicle that could handle the drifting.
“After the first three calls, I told Patti not to call me again unless it was an emergency.” Her admission brought on another round of tears.
“What time did you come home?” Kendall asked.
“I came home this morning as soon as the roads were cleared. It was about nine o’clock. A service had plowed the driveway—I do the sidewalks myself—so I pulled in and parked in the garage. I came in through the back door like I usually do.
“Patti hadn’t slept all night. When she saw me, she nearly became hysterical trying to tell me what happened. I opened the front door and saw him—well, only part of his shoe, really—and I knew she hadn’t imagined the knocking. The snowdrift on the porch made it impossible to see him except for that one foot. Anyone passing by wouldn’t have noticed him. I called the police right away.”
Kendall left Alverson at the station. She didn’t need him for what she had to do, and in his current frame of mind he’d be no help to her. When he suggested she drop him off, she’d been happy to oblige.
She headed to the home of Julia and Norbert Wetzel, parents of Charles Wetzel, the man who had frozen to death. Their house, an attractive bi-level, sat on a hill about a half-mile west of Hwy 53 in the southern section of Eau Claire. Mrs. Wetzel answered the door quickly, her expression hopeful until she realized who stood on her porch. Her face sagged. Kendall introduced herself and showed her ID. She led Kendall to a brightly furnished great room.
Kendall took a seat on an overstuffed chair upholstered with splashy red poppies on a white background and waited for Mrs. Wetzel to bring her husband in. When they were seated across from her on a couch matching the color of the poppies, she broke the news about their son as gently as possible, and waited while Mr. Wetzel—“Norbie”—consoled his wife, who had begun sobbing at the news.
He turned to Kendall. “Chuck, he had the disease—the alcoholism—nothin
“So he was drinking now?” Kendall asked.
“We suspected he was,” Wetzel admitted. He glanced at his wife. “When he was seventeen, Chuck had the car, and was driving his friends home after the fireworks on the Fourth of July. He got into an accident and the car went off the road. All of them had been drinking except his girlfriend’s younger brother, who was about twelve at the time. No one ever admitted where they got the alcohol. His girlfriend and her brother were killed, and the other two were badly injured. Chuck was the only one who wasn’t badly hurt.
“He never got over it. He wasn’t charged with vehicular homicide because he was a minor, and it was his first offense. He was on probation for a year and had to do outpatient rehab for three months, even though, at that time, I don’t believe he really had a drinking problem. He was just a stupid kid. His driver’s license was revoked for three years. That year he was on probation was the last time he stayed sober.”
Norbert Wetzel’s story, tragic as it was, happened to be one Kendall had heard more than once as a police officer. Dealing with alcoholism, an unfortunate but necessary part of law enforcement, cost the state more money and families more heartbreak than the public ever realized.
Kendall told them she was sorry for their loss and referred them to social services for grief counseling before asking them a few more questions about their son’s habits. They knew he frequented the R-Bar when he was drinking, and they praised the bar’s policy of driving people home when they had too much to drink. The owner of the bar had brought Chuck home more than once, so his parents had no idea how this could have happened; the owner knew where Chuck lived, so how did their son end up at the wrong house?
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