Iced Malice, page 11
Kendall called Shari from her car as soon as she left the theater and shared with her the little she’d heard from Detective Conlin about Nash. “We can’t give up hope,” she concluded.
“No, of course not.” Shari said. “Kendall, I’m glad you called. I was too upset last night to consider how you were feeling. They should have called you about Nash, not me.”
Nat had been right. Shari had never been anything but nice to Kendall, and her words relieved some of Kendall’s frustration. “Thanks for saying that, but it doesn’t really matter, does it? The important thing is that he’s alive somewhere and will come back to us. I’ll let you know if I hear anything else.”
“Good, I’d like that. And if you ever need to talk, I’m here.”
Kendall almost started crying again after she and Shari ended the call. But it felt better knowing she had someone to talk with, someone who loved him. She knew she should call her father to tell him what had happened, but couldn’t face telling him yet.
Kendall did what she always did, put her mind on her work. She went back to the station where she and Ross talked to Teed again on a conference call. What he told them wasn’t pretty; Karla had been killed slowly, tortured with deeper and deeper knife wounds until the one that ended her life, the one across her throat. They picked up some fibers from car-interior carpeting, but had yet to narrow it down to a specific kind of car. Karla’s nails had been cleaned before they found her, but Teed managed to isolate a microscopic bit of DNA from under her ring finger and was hopeful that it would be her killer’s because it hadn’t been a match for Kolterjohn. They had that much at least.
The meeting with the others on the team had only told them what they didn’t have. There were no witnesses, no hidden motives among the friends of the two victims, and not a reason in the world anyone would have wanted to kill the two teenagers.
Kendall, stalling before going home, worked on the whiteboards and then finished her paperwork. Before she left the building, though, Paula Burnham called her over. “Sorry I had to miss the meeting. I got stuck on second shift because Joe’s on vacation. Anyway, when we were questioning kids from Karla’s classes yesterday, one of them asked me about Courtney Jorstad, that girl who’s missing. This may be old news, but she told us she knows Courtney and saw her talking to a guy named Trent Gullickson in the school library right before she went missing. They seemed to be arguing about something and shut up real quick when they saw her. It isn’t much, but I thought you should know.”
“Yeah, thanks. We talked to Gullickson; he’s supposedly her best friend. Sounds like he deserves another visit.”
On her way home, Kendall stopped at a fast-food place for a burger, and as she ate, the conversation with Paula came back to her. She called Gullickson. When his mother answered, Kendall identified herself and told her she needed to talk to her son Trent.
“He isn’t here right now. He has a house sitting job for the winter while the people are in Florida. He’s there now. He does all kinds of things for them, takes in the mail and forwards the important things to them because they don’t trust the post office to do it. Apparently they tried doing it that way last year and it was a disaster.”
Before she could tell Kendall even more of her son’s duties, Kendall interrupted and asked for the address.
Brynn attended two support groups in the Eau Claire area, but ducked out of them as soon as she was certain that Alice Dixon wasn’t among the attendees and before anyone could introduce her as a new member. Tonight’s meeting was a group that met once a week in a Catholic church south of downtown Eau Claire. Alice Dixon, formerly Simington, and mother of Charles Wetzel’s girlfriend Mackenzie and her younger brother, was sitting at the far end of a long conference table when Brynn arrived.
After attending the first two meetings, Brynn felt prepared to stick this one out. She had practiced her spiel for the other two and had it well rehearsed.
Feeling comfortable in her disguise, the brown contacts and the honey blonde wig, she’d added pale beige makeup to complete the look and introduced herself as Billie. Lying was easier if you told a partial truth, so even though it seemed hypocritical, she planned on using her father’s death as her reason for being at the meeting.
After she heard all the others talk—as the new person they said she could go last or join in whenever she wanted—she realized that her story paled compared to the tragic deaths the others had shared. What she had rehearsed would have to be ad-libbed to something more sensational. They all looked her way to see if she would talk or pass.
“My name is Billie,” she began and waited a moment while the others greeted her. “Two years ago, my mother killed my father. I watched her do it.” She swallowed heavily. “She’d gone off her medications, and I was afraid of her, so I hid in the closet.”
Brynn kept her story short and resisted further embellishing. She wrapped it up quickly, relieved no one asked her for details. The others did a fair amount of cross-talk after that, and then the person acting as the leader of the group, a priest from the parish, closed the meeting with a brief prayer.
Alice hadn’t spoken much during the meeting, but Brynn noticed she seemed to be close to the man sitting next to her. He had introduced himself as Joel and told a story that nearly brought tears to her eyes. When he was a small boy, he was badly abused, and though he didn’t go into detail, it became clear to Brynn that the ugly burn scars covering half his face were the result of what happened to him as a child.
His sister, also mistreated by their parents, had been killed by an abusive boyfriend two years ago. Because of what they had gone through together, the two of them had been exceptionally close, and without her, Joel fell into a deep depression. He had joined the support group on the advice of his therapist.
Everyone got up from the table after the meeting concluded and moved toward the refreshments. Brynn wasn’t sure what to do next. She’d hoped to talk to Alice, but Alice and Joel were deep in conversation with the group’s co-leader, a woman who was a therapist in a local clinic. Brynn stayed on the outskirts of the group, participating in only a minimal amount of conversation, while keeping an observant gaze on Alice.
When Alice and Joel left together, she followed them discreetly out of the building to the parking lot where they walked to a dark sedan. He held the passenger door open for Alice and she stepped into the car.
Brynn couldn’t tell if they were two friends who rode together to the meeting or possibly in a relationship, although Joel seemed to be a lot younger than Alice. Now that she knew where to find Alice, Brynn could observe her again next week and find out more about her, see if she’d give her some clue as to whether she’d killed Wetzel.
When Brynn tried to start the car, nothing happened; the engine was dead. Although the weather had finally risen above zero, that relief was only during the day. She had her cell phone, but who could she call this late? She couldn’t call Kendall or Ryan without admitting what she was doing. The church couldn’t be more than two or three miles from her apartment. She would just walk back and have someone come out to fix the car the next day.
Someone tapped on the window. It was Joel. “Billie, is everything all right? Won’t your car start?”
The home of Trent’s employers, Ralph and Judith Batty, butted up against Lowes Creek Park on the south end of Eau Claire. Situated on about two acres of property, its nearest neighbors were far enough away to give the residents privacy. The house, a two-story plantation-style manor, sat at the end of a winding driveway. It had been updated with an attached garage, and behind it, there was an old, two-car detached that had a stairway on the side leading to a second story. A remote and secluded apartment—just right for hiding a captive?
A dark SUV was parked in back next to the attached garage. The only light was in the main house toward the back, probably the kitchen.
Kendall parked a safe distance from the house and approached on foot. The
She heard a young male voice say he would be back the next day, but she couldn’t make out what the voice from inside the apartment answered. The voice was a woman’s. It had to be Courtney, but what the hell was going on here? Her best friend kidnapped her? Nothing about this made sense.
Kendall stayed hidden behind a set of patio furniture draped with canvas covers and topped with snow. Gullickson hurried past her and after a minute she heard SUV pull out of the driveway. She started to stand, intending to find out if he had Courtney locked in there, but stopped quickly when she noticed a dark figure creep out from behind a tall, snow-encrusted cedar shrub. Without the snow as a backdrop, she might not even have seen him. The figure, in dark clothing and a black ski mask, moved like a man, and Kendall immediately thought of the elusive Daniel Holmes.
He lurked over to the stairway and quietly climbed the stairs. Kendall had to make an instant decision; should she take time to call for backup? Figuring she had a minute while Holmes—if it even was Holmes—attempted to get into the apartment, she pulled out her phone only to discover she had no connection. The area was hilly, which sometimes created havoc with cell phone service. The decision made for her, Kendall worked her way closer to the garage and hid behind a large woodpile. She could hear the sounds of the intruder forcing the lock. She opened her phone once more—still no reception.
Kendall was trained to wait for backup in this kind of situation, but once she heard him force the lock and enter the apartment, leaving to call for backup was a luxury she didn’t have; Courtney could be in immediate danger. She pulled out her gun and ascended the stairs. Once at the top, she tried her phone once more. No luck. She heard a female voice, begging for mercy, pleading to be left alone.
Kendall crept into the apartment, her gun held out in front of her. She entered a living room and kitchen area with only two rooms leading from it. Tiny amber nightlights were the only illumination in the room. One of the doors on the opposite wall led to an open bathroom and the other, partially closed, had to be a bedroom. The intruder was in there with a woman she felt certain was Courtney Jorstad. Kendall heard a muffled scream. She moved to the door, pushed it open with her shoulder and yelled, “Police!”
A muted TV cast the room in macabre shadows. The intruder, all in black, pulled Courtney against him with an arm around her neck, a hunting knife aimed at her throat.
Kendall’s stomach tightened and her blood stopped coursing through her veins. “Let her go, Holmes,” Kendall demanded, gun aimed at his head. Would he deny he was Daniel Holmes?
He didn’t. “Drop the gun. Shoot me and I’ll open her jugular. She’ll bleed out before my body even hits the floor.”
“We know what you did, Holmes. You shot Rob Kolterjohn and tortured Karla Foley. I have backup coming, they’ll be here any minute,” she lied, hoping to buy time.
“I’ll take my chances. Drop the gun.”
Kendall stood frozen in place, her arms trembling from the weight of the gun. Could she get a bullet in his head fast enough to save Courtney?
In an instant everything changed; Courtney bit the hand holding the knife at her throat and slid from her attacker’s grasp. Holmes yelled with pain, then immediately recovered and grabbed Kendall’s shooting arm. A bullet hit the ceiling, and they toppled to the floor while Courtney backed into a corner, screaming.
Alverson shifted his tall frame in the cramped seat of the movie theater. The date wasn’t going as planned. He was delighted when the tall, red-haired divorcee had agreed to go out with him. But this was their third date and her request—demand?—to go to a movie wasn’t what he had in mind. Ross was having a hard time with the Courtney Jorstad situation. He felt responsible for the girl, probably because he’d been the first one to talk to her. It couldn’t be anything else. Courtney was miles from the kind of woman he tended to be attracted to, but he had been counting on this evening to distract him. It wasn’t working.
He reached for the redhead’s hand, hoping to lay the groundwork for a sensual evening. She allowed it for a few minutes, then pulled away as if repulsed by his touch. Annoyed, he excused himself and headed out to the lobby. He thought about ditching her; they’d driven here in their own cars so it wasn’t as if she wouldn’t have a way home.
He bought a giant cup of soda and paced the hallway. It only made sense to dump his date if there was something else to do tonight. He pulled out his phone and called Kendall. Surprised to get no answer—Kendall always picked up—he called the station to find out if they had a bead on her. Paula Burnham picked up.
“Hey, lady killer, what’s up? No date tonight?”
He wanted to tell her to mind her own fucking business but resisted since he wanted something from her. “I’m trying to get in touch with Kenny. Will you ask around if anyone knows what she’s up to? She’s not answering her phone.”
“Ever occur to you she might have a personal life?”
Ross couldn’t stand Paula and had himself convinced it had nothing to do with the fact that she was a lesbian. The woman had a smart mouth and was just a pain in the ass. “So ask, already, will you?”
“I don’t have to ask. I talked to Kendall when I got in. Had a little tidbit for her about that missing girl.”
Crap. Burnham had something new about Courtney. She’d probably make him kiss her ass before she spilled it. “What about her?”
Surprising him, she repeated what she’d told Kendall about Trent and Courtney’s argument the day before she went missing. “She bugged out of here after that.”
“Thanks, I owe you one,” he said. Without a second thought for the woman waiting for him in row twenty-one, Alverson left the theater.
Kendall had no hope for assistance from Courtney. The sight of her own blood had put the girl into shock. Holmes’ blade had nicked her neck, and the wound, while not life-threatening, was bleeding profusely; she was cowering in a corner, pressing a towel against her neck.
Kendall gripped her gun and fought to keep it out of Holmes’ reach. But he held the treacherous dagger inches from her face, willing her to drop her gun. Evenly matched in size, Kendall and Holmes maintained tight grasps of their weapons as they wrestled for control.
Kendall finally freed her gun hand and took a swing at Holmes’ head with the weapon, but he grabbed for her arm, and as he did, his knife sliced through her pant leg and cut her thigh badly enough to cause her to lose her grip on her gun.
Kendall found an opportunity and kneed Holmes in the groin hard enough to put him in a fetal position. She moved toward her gun but not fast enough to prevent Holmes from rising and butting his head into her stomach. Their efforts had put them near the open doorway. Kendall flew back and landed outside on the small iron platform at the top of the stairs. All she had to protect herself was her fighting skills, since her gun remained in the apartment. It took all her strength, but she held off the arm holding the knife.
Weakened by the groin hit and fighting for control of the knife, Holmes let Kendall draw back and deliver a fist to his face. She felt a stream of blood from his broken nose. Furious, he gripped her with his legs and started to beat her head against the railing’s iron bars.
When he abruptly let go of her, she barely caught herself from falling backward down the steps. He fell on top of her. A stream of hot blood she was pretty sure wasn’t her own flowed against her abdomen. Someone had shot him. She’d been so caught up in staying alive that she hadn’t even heard t
She pushed Holmes off her.
“Shit, Kenny, you could have called me.”
Alverson. He rushed up the stairs and helped her stand.
“How . . . how did you know where I was?”
He pointed to his temple. “Got the smarts.”
She wanted to call him a smart-ass but it was tough to do that when he might have just saved her life. “Have you called this in?”
“Sure thing. Are you hurt?”
“Just a cut on my leg. I don’t think it’s too bad. Most of this blood on me is his.”
Ross nodded toward the body. “Is this who I think it is?”
“Yeah. It’s Holmes. Gullickson was here earlier, but he left before the fun started.”
Alverson bent over and felt Holmes’ neck for a pulse. “He’s gone.”
“Where is she?” He stepped inside the apartment. Kendall followed him to the bedroom. Courtney sat in an overstuffed armchair, the towel pressed to her neck, her other arm hugging her body. She didn’t move when they entered the room.
“I’m afraid she’s in shock,” said Kendall. “Holmes had a knife to her neck and she bit his hand. She has a gash from the knife, but I don’t think it’s serious.”
“I called for a bus. The EMTs will look you both over, see if you need stitches.”
Alverson walked over to Courtney and knelt in front of her. “Courtney? Can you hear me? It’s Detective Alverson.” His words broke her trance-like gaze. She let go of the towel and reached out to him.
When the EMTs and the backup arrived, Alverson and Courtney were in the living room waiting, his arms protectively around her. His kindness to the girl, out of character for Ross, surprised Kendall. Maybe the man had finally evolved.
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