Iced malice, p.15

Iced Malice, page 15


Iced Malice

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  Kendall, planning on leaving for Kenosha the next morning, left late that afternoon instead. Ross had convinced her that the rest of them could handle the search for Rachel Geror without her for one night. Unsettled because she hadn’t heard from Shari since getting the news that Nash was regaining consciousness, she hadn’t been hard to convince. When she’d canceled dinner at her father’s, he insisted she take someone with her and offered to go along. She’d lied and told him she had already asked Brynn; Kendall needed to make this trip by herself.

  When Kendall walked into the waiting room of Kenosha Hospital shortly after eight in the evening, she found Shari sitting in a corner, leafing through a magazine.

  Shari rushed over to her. “Kendall, I’m so glad you came.”

  “Has something changed?” Kendall asked.

  “Nash regained consciousness.”

  Kendall could tell by the other woman’s tone and rapid eye shifts that something was wrong. “Have you talked to him?”

  Shari’s words were clipped. “I have.”

  “Can I go in to see him?”

  Shari paused. “Dr. Stephens wants to talk to us first.”

  “Dr. Stephens. Who’s that?”

  “He’s a psychiatrist who works with Dr. Moore, the neurologist we talked to.”

  There was something going on, something Shari was having a hard time telling her. “Why does Nash need a psychiatrist?”

  “I think Dr. Stephens should explain that to you. I’ll let the nurse know you’re here.” Shari rushed to find the nurse.

  Only minutes later, Kendall followed Shari to an office on another floor where she introduced Kendall to Dr. Stephens and explained that Kendall was the woman with whom Nash had recently begun a relationship. Dr. Stephens, a small man with neatly combed gray hair and a friendly, round face, wore a navy-blue suit with a light blue shirt and a bright yellow tie. He ushered them to the barrel chairs that faced his desk, a huge, oak piece that took up half the room. One corner of it was designated to a collection of expensive, executives’ toys.

  “You’ve come a long way,” Stephens said to Kendall. “Can I have someone bring you coffee, or maybe tea?”

  “No thanks, I’m good,” she answered, thinking that if he wanted her settled in and comfortable, this wasn’t going to be a short meeting. Fear for Nash rose inside her like bad case of heartburn.

  “All right then, I’ll tell you what we know about Mr. Nashlund’s condition and how I believe we should move forward in his treatment. In the simplest terms, Mr. Nashlund had a severe concussion that put a lot of pressure on his brain. Fortunately, he won’t need surgery, but he’s suffering now from post-traumatic amnesia which sometimes follows a traumatic brain injury.”

  “Amnesia? Doesn’t he remember who he is?”

  “Yes, he’s fully cognitive of who he is, but he is unable to remember what caused his injuries.”

  Kendall wanted to keep jumping in with questions, but realized she would be better off to wait until he finished.

  “Now, in most cases, patients like Mr. Nashlund do get their full memory back. We’ve given him the initial Galveston, or GOAT test, to determine the extent of his amnesia. The result is rather unusual. His memory loss includes not only what happened to him, but also the events of the past six months or so, which includes his time spent with you.”

  “He doesn’t remember me?”

  “He may remember you from the past; Mrs. Nashlund told me that you worked in the same police department.”

  “But nothing about us, what we mean to each other?” Kendall quickly regretted her choice of words in front of Shari.

  Shari said, “Dr. Stephens suggested he talk to you alone, but I thought we should both be here. I can leave if you’d be more comfortable alone.”

  Her heart aching, Kendall took a moment to get a grip on what she’d just heard. Stephens waited patiently as befitted his profession, hands on his desk, contemplating the women in front of him. “No,” Kendall said to Shari. “You should stay.”

  Stephens said, “Mrs. Nashlund feels that taking Adam back to Eau Claire would be the best thing for him, and I’m inclined to agree, but only when he’s able to make the trip without risking his progress.

  “For now, it is best not to tell Mr. Nashlund anything about his past that he cannot recall. I believe it is important that he remember things in his own time frame.”

  “You’re saying that I can’t see him again until her gets his memories back?” Kendall asked, unaware her voice had risen to a shrill pitch. “How long will it be?”

  “To be honest with you, detective, based on the severity of his injuries, it could be months or even a year before he has total recall.”

  “Will he have any lasting memory issues?”

  “Best-case scenario, he’ll have full recovery from the amnesia. But there are some patients who never fully return to their pre-injury state, although that is quite rare.”

  Kendall wanted to scream and throw the shiny little gadgets on Stephens’ desk around the room.

  “I’ve consulted with his other doctors, and he should be able to go home in a few days. But until he remembers you, Detective Halsrud, I’d strongly advise you to let him rehabilitate at his own rate.”

  She’d heard him the first time. Resentful that he’d felt it necessary to repeat the warning, Kendall barely heard the rest of the conversation. Stephens talked about Nash having further testing, and what his physical recovery would be like. All that would be up to Shari; Kendall would have no say in his care.

  When they returned to the waiting room, Shari said, “I’m so sorry, Kendall. I promise, I’ll call you every day and let you know how he’s doing.”

  None of this was Shari’s fault, but Kendall wanted to slap her out of sheer frustration. She couldn’t help recalling what Ross had told her about Shari wanting to get her marriage back.

  “Yeah, thanks.” The man Kendall loved was going home to another woman, a woman who probably still loved him, and shared years of memories and a son with him. Kendall only had her own suspicions that Shari was conniving to reclaim her husband’s affection, but even if Shari’s motives weren’t suspect now, by the time he regained his memory, the two of them could be back together. It was too damn painful to dwell on.


  Unable to sleep more than a few hours when she got back from Kenosha, Kendall got into the station early the next morning determined to immerse herself in her job, her most dependable antidote for stress.

  By the time Ross joined her, she’d redone the whiteboards, reorganized everything they had on the two cases, and made notes of what they would do next.

  “I’ve asked Paula for everything they have on the Daltons; they seem to be the only real connection we have to Karla’s murder. I’d like to get a search warrant for their place, but we’ll never get one without more to go on than desperation.”

  Ross studied the board. “I thought we decided they were a dead end.”

  “We did, but they still bother me. There has to be a reason Holmes disposed of Karla’s body in that particular garbage bin, don’t you think?”

  Ignoring her question, he asked, “Are you going to tell me what happened in Kenosha last night?”

  “I’ll tell you the whole ugly story, but not right now. For now, Nash is doing better, he’s conscious, and Shari will be having him transported back here in a few days.”

  She raised her hand to stop Ross’s next question. “Later.”

  He turned back to the boards. “Do you have something new on Dalton?”

  “No. He seems pretty straight and narrow. Works as a VIP in a savings and loan here in town. He’s been married to Beverly Dalton, a teacher, for about nine years. She’s older than him by about ten years and had some family money when they met. He’s an avid golfer, and the two of them travel a lot. No kids, except hers by a previous marriage, a son, who lives with his family in Minneapolis. I’m hoping that the others who talked to
them might have some impressions that we missed.”

  “Sure, we keep digging,” Ross said. “But I’d hold up on the warrant for now. We don’t have nearly enough for that yet.”

  “How about Rachel Geror, anything new on her?”

  Ross wiped his face with his hands. “Nothing. I think we should go out to that roadhouse tonight, talk to some of the regulars. She was walking away from it the night she was taken, maybe our perp was in there when they were and followed her out.”

  “But we don’t have a description of the guy.”

  “We know he’s big, probably well-built, older than most of the clientele. He would have stood out, don’t you think?”

  She agreed, much as she hated the thought of spending the evening in a noisy roadhouse.

  Kendall sat at her desk late that afternoon, waiting for a call from an ADA she knew, hoping she could persuade her to draft a warrant that a judge might be inclined to grant. Kendall and Alverson left the building at noon and ate lunch at a local deli where she filled him in on what was happening with Nash, keeping her tale brief and unemotional. Ross had been Nash and Shari’s friend first and Kendall knew he would have mixed feelings about this latest development. He had sympathized, though, and told her it really sucked.

  Her thoughts were interrupted when she got a call from the front desk telling her that she had a visitor. She decided to go downstairs rather than ask who it was or have the person come to her. Running on almost no sleep, she had to keep moving.

  When she reached the waiting area in front of the main desk, a tall man with a short haircut and military posture stood to greet her. His wide grin was welcoming and she felt a moment’s relief that whoever he was, he wasn’t going to be the bearer of more bad tidings.

  “Hello, Detective Halsrud, my name is Russell Nielson.”

  Nielson’s handshake, firm, but not bone crushing, matched his smile, which was highlighted by a dimple in the middle of his chin.

  “What can I do for you, Mr. Nielson?”

  “Russell, please. Mr. Nielson sounds like my father.”

  Kendall felt a twinge of gratitude to Ross, who’d told her she didn’t have to look as bad as she felt, prompting her to go to the locker room to fix her hair and apply some makeup. She would have felt a lot worse meeting this attractive stranger with stringy hair and dark circles under her eyes.

  “Listen, I came here to thank you for what you did for my grandmother, Leona Lindblad. She was uneasy before I came home, and your social worker friend really helped her work through it. And your friend the fortuneteller—her skills go beyond fortunes, right?”

  Kendall laughed. “Right. When she does a reading, she practices a little common-sense therapy and her own version of social work.”

  “Well, I wanted to thank you in person. I know how busy you must be with those murders a few weeks ago and now a missing woman.”

  He didn’t know the half of it, Kendall thought. She hadn’t had a decent meal or good night’s sleep since it all started. “I appreciate that; my job is often a thankless one.”

  He started to turn away, then hesitated. “I don’t suppose you’d have time to go to dinner with me one night, would you?”

  “As part of your police-appreciation gratitude?” Did she just flirt with this guy? She did like that he was tall enough for her to actually look up to, but just minutes ago her heart had been ready for CPR because of Nash. She never would have imagined a little male attention could be so cathartic. “Sorry, I’m just too busy right now, but thank you. It would have been nice.”

  He pulled a card from his pocket and quickly scribbled something on the back of it. “This card is outdated, but my number is on the back. Call me when things slow down; the offer will still be good.” He handed it to her, flashed a parting smile, and strode out of the station. She turned the card over. It read “Captain Russell Nielson.”

  The waste bin in the corner seemed to beckon to her, demanding she feed the card into its hungry mouth. Kendall stuffed it into her back pocket and went back to her desk, grateful for the small break.


  The envelope from Delia Wells contained a sheet with everything she knew about Vernon Cruz. It wasn’t much, Brynn thought after reading through it. The address of his apartment building without even his apartment number, the name of the bar in which she’d met him, the name of his employer, and that he had a brother named John. The information would be enough to start with, though.

  Delia seemed like a smart lady, probably in her late twenties, with a good job and a pretty face. She must be awfully eager to have a boyfriend if she’d spend time alone with someone she knew nothing about. Of course, the photo she’d given Brynn revealed a very attractive dark-haired man with brown eyes and an intense gaze. He looked hot. But it wasn’t for her to judge; a hundred dollars was a hundred dollars.

  It didn’t take long for Brynn to get the information for Delia Wells. She had her answers in less than an hour.

  Mr. Good-looking had a record and not a pretty one. Vernon Cruz had spent time in juvie—no need to get into those records—then graduated to a variety of misdemeanors and felonies, among them car theft, drug possession, assault and battery, and petty theft. He had a two-year-old son with an ex-wife who kept trying to sue him for missing child support payments. Brynn couldn’t find any record of him working for the employer he’d told Delia about. He was either out of a job or earning money under the table, since Brynn couldn’t turn up any recent employment history on the guy.

  Now she found herself in an unpleasant situation. If she was doing this for an online business, she could just email the person a report. Delia Wells was waiting for Brynn to call, and she was going to have to give her this disappointing news on the phone. But even worse, when Brynn called her, Delia said, “Oh, I can’t talk to you while I’m here at work. Can we just meet somewhere?”

  Backed into a corner, Brynn said the first thing that came into her mind and told Delia to meet her at the Rat Pak when she got off work.

  Delia Wells looked younger and prettier in the soft lighting of the bar. She followed Brynn back to her booth.

  “I saw that sign on the way in,” Delia said. “They have soup every day, right?” She didn’t wait for an answer and insisted on buying them each a bowl of soup. Brynn sat alone as Delia went for the food, dreading anything that was going to extend what she knew would be an uncomfortable exchange. When Delia returned with a tray sporting two bowls of chicken-taco soup and chunks of hot French bread, it smelled so good that Brynn thought maybe they should eat first before she got into the details about Cruz.

  Delia tasted her soup. “This is really good. I didn’t even know this place was here. It’s nice.”

  “It’s mostly old people who come in here,” Brynn said.

  “But the food is good, and it’s nice and quiet. I’m always looking for places to stop for supper after work. I hate cooking and so does my roommate. We eat out a lot but have to find places that aren’t too expensive.”

  They worked on the soup and the bread for a bit, then Delia said, “Brynn, I hope this isn’t too weird for you. I guess you can tell I’m not all hot for this guy yet, or I would have pounced on you for answers the minute I saw you. Whatever you found out, don’t worry about it. I’ve had some qualms about Vern or I wouldn’t have asked you to vet him for me. I’m attracted to him, yeah, but considering how little I know about the guy, I don’t want to get in too deep without finding out more about him.”

  Relieved at her words, Brynn finished her bread, dipping torn-off shreds of it into the last liquid of the soup. When she finished eating, she said, “I’m glad you told me all that. I was kind of worried about telling you.”

  “Telling me what? That he’s a loser?”

  Brynn explained what she’d uncovered about Vernon Cruz, then handed Delia a printed report. “I’m sorry.”

  “Don’t be. I meant what I said earlier. I tend to be pretty cool about guys when I first start da
ting them. I don’t fall head over heels and plan the wedding after the first date.” She laughed. “No, it won’t be hard to say goodbye to Mr. Cruz. Right now it’s mostly sex, anyway.”

  Brynn asked, “How will you break up with him?”

  “Oh, it shouldn’t be hard. Like I said, we’ve only been seeing each other a couple weeks. If he gives me a hard time? Well, I know a lot of cops, right?”

  Her cavalier manner troubled Brynn. Cruz sounded like bad news, the kind of guy who could make things ugly for someone who rejected him.

  “I think you should tell Kendall about this. You know, just in case he gives you a trouble.”

  “No, I don’t want anyone at work getting their noses into my personal life, especially not after I’ve gotten involved with such a badass.” She handed Brynn a check. “Thanks for the suggestion, though. It’s nice to meet someone who gives a damn.” She set an unnecessary tip on the table and left the bar, leaving Brynn wondering if she should ignore Delia’s wishes and tell Kendall. Breaking Delia’s confidence couldn’t be as bad as finding out Vernon Cruz hurt her.


  When Courtney Jorstad appeared at Kendall’s door that night, Kendall barely recognized her. Courtney looked radiant, her weight loss displayed by a pair of tight, black jeans topped by a long, green sweater.

  “I’m sorry to bother you, but I didn’t want to come down to the station.” Courtney flushed. “I think Detective Alverson is afraid I have some kind of crush on him, so I don’t want him to think I’m stalking him or anything.”

  That was what Alverson thought, at least it was since Kendall had warned him of it. Before she had brought it up, he’d been strangely eager to spend time with the girl.

  “I did some checking on wedding venues,” she said, holding out a file folder. “Like you asked. I brought you a list I made out. The first ones are places that rent out halls for weddings, mostly hotels and churches. The others are places for a location wedding, you know, like in a flower garden, or a park, places like that, outdoors.” She paused. “I called Detective Jasecki and asked him if they had ever checked out places the couples might have booked for their weddings, in particular the ones that were from here, since they were the only couple that was really planning to get married. He said it hadn’t come up. Their parents and friends didn’t say anything about that when he talked to them.”

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