Iced malice, p.14

Iced Malice, page 14


Iced Malice

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  She considered dancing with the loser in order to gain Mickey’s attention but thought better of it. That would be playing Mickey’s game, and Rachel never put up with game-playing men. When the song ended and the two stayed squeezed together for the next dance, Rachel made up her mind. She picked up her coat and elbowed her way to the door.

  When the cold air hit her face, she had a moment’s doubt about her plan to call a cab from her cell phone rather than from the bar, but her anger kept her walking. She was about two city blocks away from the roadhouse when she wondered if she’d done the right thing. It was darker than a well-digger’s ass out here, as her father used to say. There weren’t even any houses around.

  Rachel pulled out her phone to call a cab, intending to have the driver pick her up back at the roadhouse since that was the only landmark here in the middle of nowhere. She opened the phone only to find out she was in an area with no cell phone coverage.

  Now what? She had to go back; the bar would have a phone she could use. Before she turned around, a car pulled up next to her. It was Mickey. Rachel kept walking.

  He opened the window and called to her. “Rachel, get in the car. I can explain everything.”

  Rachel snorted. “What, that was your sister you were rubbing bodies with?” This felt better; at least the jerk had come crawling back, but no way was she getting in the car with him. He stopped the car and after catching up with her, grabbed her arm.

  “You may as well come with me, Rachel, you’re a long way from town.”

  She pulled her arm from his grasp. “Take a hike.”

  He grabbed her again, this time pulling her against him and dragging her toward the car. She hit at him with her purse, but Mickey was too strong. As he started to shove her into the passenger side, a set of headlights appeared behind them.

  A man’s voice called out, “Hey, dude, let her go!”

  “This is none of your fucking business,” Mickey yelled. “This is my girlfriend. We had a fight, that’s all. Hit the road.”

  The man stepped out of his car. “It looks like she doesn’t want to go with you. Let her go.”

  “What, you a cop or something?”

  Rachel saw the silhouette of a tall man outlined in the headlights of his car as he approached them. He sounded older, but it was hard to see what he looked like in the glare. His stance was confident, and he appeared to have no fear of Mickey, who was about five inches shorter and bragged about not having to work out to stay in shape.

  The two men faced off for a few seconds, then Mickey shoved Rachel away. “Go ahead, take her. I was gonna dump her anyway.”

  The man steadied Rachel while Mickey got in his car and peeled away. “I’ll give you a ride home.”

  “No, you’ve done enough to help. I know it’s out of your way, but if you could drop me off back at the bar, I’ll call a cab. That’s what I was going to do, but my phone isn’t connecting out here.”

  “Are you sure you’ll be all right? I don’t mind taking you somewhere else.”

  “No, I’ll be fine.”

  They stepped into the car. “Tell you what. I’m not feeling real good about leaving you in that place in case your friend decides to go back there, so I’ll go in with you and wait with you until your cab gets here.”

  “I couldn’t ask you to do that; it would take up so much of your time.”

  “Let me worry about that,” he answered and turned the car in the direction of the roadhouse.


  Kendall was ready to leave for Kenosha the next morning when she got the call from Alverson.

  “I thought I’d let you know before you left in case you want to change your mind about leaving. We’ve got another missing girl.”

  Crap, not another one, she thought. As badly as she wanted to see Nash, the trip to Kenosha would have to wait. Missing women came first. “You’re right. I can’t leave.”

  “I’ll pick you up in fifteen.”

  Kendall changed into work clothes, glad she’d managed a few hours’ sleep. Brynn had been waiting up for her when she got home and told her about meeting Alice Simington, now Alice Dixon. Kendall didn’t think much of it, being much less certain than Brynn that Wetzel’s death could be a deliberate act. She needed to make a plea to Schoenfuss to put Brynn on the payroll so Brynn could legitimately look for a link to the Fiancé case.

  “Heard from Shari?” Ross asked as soon as she got into the car.

  “She called last night. Nash is showing signs of regaining consciousness. They’re going to work on his broken bones today. She thinks he may be able to be transported back here in a few days.”

  “Are you going back there before then?” Ross asked.

  “I hope so. Tell me about this girl we’re looking for.”

  “Her name is Rachel Geror. We got a call this morning from her boyfriend, a Mickey Stesniak. They had a date last night and he took her out to the Wagon Wheel, you know, that roadhouse out south of town.”

  Kendall knew the roadhouse. It wasn’t the kind of place to take a date.

  “They had a fight and she walked out while he was in the john. When he got back to their table, she was gone, so he went looking for her and found her walking on the side of the road. She refused to let him take her home. When he tried to make her get in the car, a passing motorist stopped and asked what was going on. A man got out of the car and threatened Stesniak, told him to let her go.

  “He took off and left her there, the douche. Claims he tried to call Geror all night. She never answered, so he called her roommate today, just in case she was still pissed and not answering his calls.”

  “Did you talk to her roommate yet?”

  “Yeah, briefly, just before I picked you up. The roomie said she was worried about Rachel because they were supposed to go to a nail appointment together this morning. She figured Geror was with Stesniak and wasn’t concerned until she didn’t show up. The roommate is waiting to talk to us. Stesniak works on Saturdays at his job for a tool and die shop in the Falls. If we hurry, we can catch up with him on his lunch break after we talk to the roomie.”

  The girls’ apartment was in a rather new building south of Oakdale Mall. They were on the third floor at the end of a green-carpeted hallway. The girl who opened the door had a dark complexion and wore a gold nose ring. She introduced herself as Lea after they showed her their IDs.

  They sat at a dining room table that was part of a small galley kitchen with white cabinets and stainless steel appliances.

  “Lea,” Kendall began, “when did you first suspect that Rachel was missing?”

  “She didn’t come home last night, but sometimes she stays with Mickey. She lets me know if she’s bringing him here so I figured she was at his place when she didn’t come home. We were going to have our nails done early today, and I thought maybe she’d be here at nine when we were supposed to leave. She didn’t show up and then Mickey called and told me what happened.”

  Alverson told Lea about the couple fighting and Rachel leaving the bar. “Mickey told us she got in a car with a man who offered to take her home, an older man. Would it be like her to strike up an acquaintance real fast, then spend the night with the guy?”

  “No. Rachel was pretty fussy who she went out with and she didn’t date older men. Even if she had liked this guy, she wouldn’t have spent a night with him right away. She isn’t into one-night-stands.”

  That was about all the roommate could tell them. It was nearly noon and they headed to Chippewa Falls to talk to Stesniak. They found him in the breakroom, a closet-sized space with two tables, a soda machine, and a mismatched assortment of chairs.

  He took them to an empty office. “Have you found Rachel?”

  “Sorry, not yet,” Alverson answered.

  Something about the guy hit Kendall wrong. He was about five feet ten inches tall, nice looking, and pouty in a James Dean kind of way. Funny how you could smell a bad attitude before the guy even opened his mouth. She wondered why, i
f Rachel was as fussy as the roommate said, she dated a guy like him, but then a lot of jerks talked a good line.

  “Tell us exactly what happened last night,” Ross said.

  “I told you all that on the phone.”

  “My partner didn’t hear it.”

  “Okay. I hang at the Wheel sometimes with my friends. Rachel’s never been there so I took her there to show her the place. She was kinda nervous about it—” He broke off suddenly.

  “We don’t care if she didn’t have ID,” Ross said. “We know she’s underage.”

  Stesniak recounted the same story for Kendall that he’d told Ross earlier.

  “So you had a fight, and then you left her alone while you went to the men’s room?” Kendall asked.

  An eye shift. “Yeah, that’s what I said.”

  “And she was alone how long?”

  “Few minutes, maybe.”

  “That would hardly be enough time for her to go get her coat and get out the door before you came back.”

  Squirming now. “I might have stopped to talk to some guy I know. I don’t really remember.”

  Ross said, “Mickey, you know, we’ll be asking questions out at your ‘hangout,’ right?”

  He exhaled loudly. “Okay, there was a little more to the story. Like I said, I hang there with my buddies sometimes. I know a lot of the regulars. One of them is this girl, her name is Julie and she dances with all the guys, likes attention, you know? Anyway, she pulled me out on the dance floor when I was coming back from the john.” He looked to Ross for understanding. “She likes to dance kinda close and stuff, you know what I mean?”

  “Yeah, I know the type,” Ross said. “That’s what got your girl all pissed off?”

  Mickey nodded. “I tried to tell her it didn’t mean anything, but she wouldn’t listen.”

  What an ass, Kendall thought. “How did you two meet?”

  “One of her friends was dating my buddy, Matt. She fixed us up and we hit it off.”

  That didn’t answer how a girl like Rachel ended up with a loser like this guy. Kendall figured he must be able to really turn on the charm when he wanted to or have something else going for him that wasn’t visible. “Describe this man that scared you off.”

  “It’s like I told you when I called,” he said, aiming his words at Alverson. “It was dark. I couldn’t see much.”

  “Okay, so how tall was he? You must have noticed that,” Ross said.

  “Big guy,” he answered quietly. “About six inches taller than me. Moved like he had some martial arts training. Scared the crap out of me.”

  “And you left him with the girl you supposedly cared about?” Kendall sniped.

  Ross shot Kendall a warning look. “So was this guy as tall as me?”

  “No. But he was heavier.”

  Ross pulled out photos of Holmes, the man who’d attacked Courtney, and Dalton, who owned the house where Karla’s body had been found. “Ever seen these guys around?”

  Stesniak studied the photos. “No. I don’t think so.”

  “What was he driving? Did you get a license number?”

  “No. I told you that already. It was dark, and the headlights were in my eyes.”

  “Was it a car, truck, SUV?”

  “It was big. Either a truck or an SUV.”

  “That’s it for now,” Ross said. “If you think of anything else, give us a call.”

  Back in the car, Kendall said, “What a creep.”

  Ross shrugged. “Would have been nice if he’d at least seen what the guy was driving.

  “Don’t tell me you’d leave a girl with a stranger like that without a fight?”

  “Without a fight? No way. But I’d never take any chick I was dating to a place like that.”

  No, Kendall thought, even Ross wouldn’t do that. “Now what?”

  “Well, Holmes is off the hook since he’s dead, and the guy didn’t recognize Dalton. That leaves us with squat, doesn’t it?”

  They spent what was left of the day talking to Rachel’s friends. None of them had anything useful to add to what they already knew. By the time Alverson dropped Kendall off, she had even more to be dejected about. Two teenagers had been killed, now one was missing under suspicious circumstances, and as Ross had pointed out, they had nothing to go on. All that, and she hadn’t heard back from Shari.


  Brynn couldn’t help worrying about Kendall. She wanted to help her and had even offered to drive to Kenosha and look in on Nash for her, but Kendall had told her not to, said she was very sweet to offer, but it was too far for her to drive. Brynn had her real driver’s license now, but Kendall hadn’t budged when she’d reminded her of it.

  All she could do for Kendall was find out if any other girls’ bodies had been stabbed like Karla’s and shoved in dumpsters. When the phone rang, she was hoping it would be Ryan.

  “Is this Brynn Zelman?”

  Brynn hesitated, not recognizing the voice.

  “This is Lieutenant Schoenfuss from the Eau Claire Police Department. Detective Halsrud said you’d be willing to do some research for us as an independent consultant.”

  Brynn hadn’t expected to get a call from Kendall’s boss, but knew Kendall was going to try to make this happen. “Sure. Uh, yes, I mean I’d be happy to do that.”

  “Can you come in this morning?”

  When she said she could, he added, “Good, I’ll make sure Tyler Curavo is around to get you started. He does most of our computer research, but his skills are limited.”

  Brynn was always trying to find ways to make extra money; she barely managed to pay for her apartment, even with the help she got from her mother. Her fortunetelling didn’t contribute much, even with the added money that she made doing it online. If she could get a regular gig with the police, it would go a long way toward keeping her independent. She was finally able to drive now, and being on her own was the one thing that made her feel normal, not like an “albino.”

  She’d been accepted by a college that had a digital forensics program and she was supposed to start in the fall. But that plan had only been exciting when Ryan had planned on going too. He told her that he was sending out applications when she was but then never mentioned it again. She suspected he might not have gotten into any of the schools they applied to.

  Excited, she began dressing for the day. She fluffed up her short, white hair and added a touch of makeup, hoping Tyler Curavo would be nice.

  When she arrived at the station, she found out Curavo had called in sick. A detective named Paula Burnham showed Brynn to Curavo’s work area and asked her if she’d be all right on her own. Brynn didn’t need direction when it came to computers and happily took the seat in front of the computer screen. The first thing she did was tie in to VICAP, the FBI program that analyzed serial, violent, and sexual crimes. Once connected, she could search for crimes similar to the Fiancé Murders and to the murders of Karla Foley, the girl found in the garbage receptacle, and the boy she was with when she was taken by her killer.

  After a couple of hours Brynn hadn’t found anything remotely similar to the Fiancé murders or to the deaths of Karla Foley and Rob Kolterjohn. Plenty of couples had been reported missing, but most were classified as runaways and the ones that weren’t didn’t have the same circumstances as these cases. She left the area for the breakroom to search for some tea and maybe something to eat if they had machines with food.

  The breakroom was empty. Hot water and packets were available for tea, but nothing in the machines looked very appetizing. Brynn fixed herself tea and sat down at a table in front of a stack of magazines. A moment later, she looked up to see a young woman sitting across from her.

  “Hi, I’m Delia Wells. I’m the office manager here.”

  “Nice to meet you”

  “I’m sorry to bother you, but I want to ask you about something . . . something I’d like you to do for me. Not about work, it’s personal. I’ll pay you, of course.”

What is it?” Brynn asked.

  “See, I met this guy a couple weeks ago. In a bar.” She flushed. “I don’t usually do this, but I gave him my phone number. I went out with him a few times, but I’m nervous about how we met and everything, so I’d like you to do a background on him for me. You know, make sure he really has the job he says he has, that he’s not married or divorced with five kids he’s supporting—that kind of thing.” She looked at Brynn with raised eyebrows, waiting for an answer.

  Brynn knew there were services that specialized in those searches, doing background checks for a price, for employers and for people like Delia who wanted a discreet background on a new beau. “Why don’t you just ask one of the detectives?”

  Delia looked around the room. “I never discuss my personal life at work. And it’s against the rules for them to run one for personal reasons.”

  It didn’t sound like a rule with much chance of being enforced. Brynn figured Delia didn’t know anyone well enough to ask the favor.

  “I can’t do it here.”

  “No, I wouldn’t want you to. When can you do it?”

  “I can work on it tonight, but I charge $100.” She figured her computer time should be worth more than what she charged for a card reading, and had no idea what others’ were charging.

  When Delia agreed, Brynn asked her to write down everything she knew about the guy and give her a picture of him if she had one. She told Brynn she didn’t want to do that in the station, but if Brynn could leave her car open, she would put it on the front seat.

  Brynn left for home at four, after submitting the time she’d put in. Delia’s information was waiting for her on the front seat of the Prius. Brynn drove home, disappointed she’d uncovered nothing useful for Kendall but feeling good about getting a new job from Delia.

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