Iced Malice, page 18
“Explain,” Kendall ordered.
“Can we go inside and talk? I’m freezing out here.”
Kendall wasn’t uncomfortable, but with Brynn’s thin skin, she probably felt the chill a lot faster. They went inside and sat on a sofa in the lobby.
“When I did that work for you at the station, Delia came and talked to me. She asked me if I’d run a background on this guy she’s dating.”
“Brynn, you should have told me. We might have avoided this.”
“She told me not to. She said she could handle it because they weren’t serious, they just went out a few times. But she wanted to check him out because she met him in a bar.”
“You didn’t run him on our computers, did you?”
“No, I did it when I got home. Then yesterday she came to the bar, and I told her what I found out about him. You know I’ve been thinking about doing that for people so I can earn some extra money.”
Kendall did remember Brynn saying that, but it was a long time ago. “Now you see why I advised you not to.”
Brynn shrugged. “I was going to tell you about it today.”
“Are you here to see her?”
“Yeah. She called me a little while ago.”
“She said she wished she’d listened to me. I told her to tell one of you guys about it before she talked to him.”
“When she tried to break up with him, did she tell him she’d found out about his background?”
“Are you sure about that?”
“She said she told him she really liked him, but that she was going to go back with her boyfriend that she just broke up with before she met him. She told me that usually works for her.”
“I don’t know, Brynn. If he’s this irrational about her, he could have been following her around and seen her with you.” Kendall pulled out her phone and called Ross. “Have we located Vernon Cruz?”
“Bad news. They think he’s in the wind. He doesn’t have his own place, and the guys he’s been crashing with said he left this morning and took all his stuff with him.”
“That’s just dandy. Do we have a plate on him?”
“That’s the other bad news. Seems when he dated Delia, he drove his brother’s car. They talked to the brother. The car is in his possession, and he supports what the guys said about Cruz; he’s left town.”
“Any of them know how he was going to do that without a car?”
“He told them some chick was driving him to California.”
“California. I hope that’s true. Their loss and our gain. I think we should have a uniform on Delia’s room until we find Cruz. Also, you might want to check for a vehicle stolen at about the time he took off.”
She put her phone away and turned to Brynn. “Keep an eye out and call me if you notice anything unusual. And keep the dog with you.”
On foot, Kendall took a detour and headed for Menomonie Street where Parks and Recreation was housed. Warmer weather had finally arrived, bringing with it an overcast sky and a day made ugly by huge mounds of stale, charcoal-tinted snow. Still, it felt good to walk. Kendall had been sitting at her desk or in cars way too much lately.
She stopped at a fast food place for coffee, and pulled out her phone, thinking it would be wise to call ahead and be sure the person who would know about weddings in city parks would be available. Kendall found out her name was Carolyn Larson; she was gone for the day and wouldn’t be back until Monday.
Kendall left the restaurant, intending to go back to the station, when she had a better idea and headed for Barstow Street. Elsa McIntyre, a parole officer, had been Brynn’s advocate until only a few months ago when Kendall had convinced her Brynn was ready to be off parole. McIntyre, an older woman who’d been in the law enforcement system since her twenties, had a client in her office. Kendall waited until a man walked out, then entered the office.
“Detective Halsrud, I’m so glad to see you. I’ve been thinking about calling you.” She gestured to a chair in front of her desk, the same one Kendall had sat in when she came to talk to her about Brynn the first time. The same spider plant hung precariously above the chair, its tendrils slightly in motion.
“Hi,” Kendall said, as she sat and brushed one of the plant’s tresses from her shoulder. “Don’t you ever trim this thing?”
McIntyre laughed. “Not very often. I find it puts my clients at ease, or else annoys them, depending on where they are at the moment. It makes for interesting conversation.”
“I figured as much.”
“Are you here about Brynn?” McIntyre asked.
“I was hoping you had talked to her.”
“I haven’t heard from Brynn very often since her parole ended. Just once or twice and we didn’t talk very long. Oh, and she did send me a very nice Christmas card. Is something wrong?”
“She’s been taking chances that I don’t think are wise, that’s all. On the one hand, it’s a good thing. She’s testing her independence, doing more things on her own, but she doesn’t recognize when it’s independence and when it’s risky.” Kendall told her about Brynn’s investigation of Wetzel and now her taking on Delia as a client. “I got her some work at the station this week, and I was hoping that would be enough for her.”
The probation officer twirled a pen in her hand. “You’re right, mostly those are good things. And she and her mother are getting along, which is also something I was hoping for. What about her college plans? Is that still in the works?”
“I haven’t asked her lately. I’m afraid she isn’t nearly as hot about going to a school for computer forensics as she was, and I think it’s because of Ryan Nashlund.”
“This is the boy who rescued her, right?”
“Yes. And the two of them were pretty fast friends for a while.”
“I’m not sure. I know that Brynn was accepted into more than one of the schools she applied to. Ryan applied, too. My suspicion is that he didn’t get in. Then recently, he started dating a girl from school and brought her around to meet Brynn.”
“And I gather that didn’t go well.”
“Even though he and Brynn were only friends, I think it was pretty normal of her to be a bit jealous of another girl who took up so much of his time, don’t you?”
McIntyre nodded. “Brynn has never had a boyfriend, or even dated. I’m not at all surprised she’d feel hurt. But it happens. Brynn has to learn how to deal with such things.”
“Well, apparently they’ve mended fences, but I have no idea if the girlfriend is still in the picture. It doesn’t matter, though. There’ll just be another one sooner or later. Maybe the next one won’t unsettle her as much.”
“I’ll give her a call, detective, and suggest she stop in to see me. If I can get her talking, I’ll warn her to be more cautious before she jumps into things. I’m glad to hear that she’s using her computer skills in an honest way these days.”
Brynn, at sixteen, had been arrested when she hacked into her mother’s bank and thrown off her mother’s bank balance just to antagonize her. When her mother caught on and reported the hacking, Brynn ended up with only probation because she was a minor and it had been her first offense.
“But how about you?” McIntyre asked. “Are things going well in the department?”
Kendall should have expected the experienced officer to see her stress.
“Things are pretty crazy right now. Both in my personal life—which I won’t bore you with—and a challenging case we’re working. Actually, I was walking back to work from the hospital where we were questioning a victim. I decided to stop in to see you when I couldn’t connect with the woman who schedules park events.”
“Yes. I’m looking into wedding venues for a case. Outdoor ones, in particular. I have a list of popular settings we got from a wedding planner, and a few of them are in city and county parks.”
Kendall was quick to take out her notebook. “What’s the name of this place?”
“I don’t recall. It’s been a long time, about fifteen years ago.”
“I’ll ask your daughter about it. Do you have a number where I can reach her?”
“She’s at work now. She’s a hygienist at that dental clinic out by all those car dealers. I’ll give you her number, but I know she has her phone turned off when she’s at work.”
Kendall got the number and left the office, walking outside to discover that the torturous winter hadn’t let go of its hold on the city. Heavy, wet snowflakes were falling and already the sidewalks were coated with the slippery stuff. She was about to call Ross and ask him to pick her up when her phone rang.
“Kendall?” It was Brynn.
“Yes. I thought you were at the hospital.”
“I just left. Kendall, I think someone is following me.”
Kendall was nearly three quarters of a mile from the hospital. “Are you in the hospital parking lot? There should be security around.”
“No, I have Shirley in the car so I parked on a side street.”
“Is your car locked?”
“Yes, but the Prius opens automatically when I get close to it.”
“Good, then you won’t have to fumble for your key. Do you think you can get to the car and jump in, or is he too close?”
“I can’t tell. I don’t want to turn around.”
Her pulse racing, Brynn called 911 and told the operator where she was and that she was being followed. She turned the corner and walked to the Prius, which was parked in the middle of the block. Shirley’s nose poked out from a window Brynn had left cracked open for her. As Brynn walked, she could still hear footsteps, but they didn’t sound too close.
Just as she got near enough to the Prius to hear its automatic locking system recognize her and unlock the doors, a hand grabbed her arm. Brynn reached for the door handle and pulled it open with her other hand as she tried to yank her arm from her assailant’s grasp. Her foot slipped on the snow-covered grass and she went down. When she looked up, a dark-haired man wearing a faded leather jacket stood over her with his fists clenched. It was Vernon Cruz.
Shirley shot out of the car, barking with all her strength. Brynn’s attacker slapped Brynn in the face. “Call off the fucking dog!”
Brynn got to her feet and called to Shirley to get back in the car but had no idea if the dog knew what she meant. The hair on Shirley’s back stood straight up as she backed away, snarling at Brynn’s attacker. He punched Brynn in the stomach. “That’ll teach you to keep your nose out of my business, you freak.” The next blow landed on her face and knocked Brynn onto the slushy ground. He drew a foot back to kick her, and Shirley leapt forward, her jaws clamping onto Cruz’s ankle like a living vise.
Cruz screamed in pain and reached for the dog. His hands circled Shirley’s throat and began to wring it. The dog didn’t give up her grip on his leg, but Brynn heard her whining with pain as the hold on her neck tightened.
A car screeched to a halt next to the scene. Ross flew out of the driver’s seat and went for Cruz, slamming a fist into his face. Shirley let loose of the leg when Cruz fell heavily to the ground. She ran to Brynn, who had sat up and was leaning against the car, blood streaming from her nose.
Cruz managed to get a grip on Alverson’s leg, pulling him to the sloppy ground where the two men formed a deadly embrace. Cruz hung onto the tall detective, slamming him with punches at every opportunity, preventing him from drawing his service weapon until the sound of a siren drew closer and two uniformed officers jumped from their squad. They recognized Alverson and went for Cruz, who had immediately pulled away from Alverson and took off, running. He didn’t get very far before the officers had him down and cuffed.
Alverson knelt next to Brynn. “Are you all right?” He gave her a handkerchief he pulled from his pocket.
“I’m okay. I don’t think it’s broken,” she said, pressing the cloth against her bloody nose. “I’m worried about Shirley.”
Shirley sat hunched against Brynn. “My dog. He tried to strangle her.”
He reached over and ran a hand over Shirley’s head. “She seems okay. But I know a vet who’d look at her for you. Someone can give you a ride over there if you like, after all this gets taken care of.” He gestured toward the officers who had just slapped the cuffs on Cruz.
“No, that’s okay. I’ll call my mother.” The words surprised Brynn even as she said them.
A half hour later, Eileen Zelman, driving her new Infinity, picked up Brynn and Shirley and headed for the vet’s office. Cruz was in custody, and Kendall, arriving at the scene on foot, drove Alverson to the emergency room where an x-ray showed he had a broken collarbone.
Kendall put down her phone after talking to Brynn. She and her mother had just left the vet’s office with Shirley, who had no permanent damage but had a badly bruised neck. The vet sent her home with an Rx for rest and pampering after giving her a painkiller that would put her to sleep for the remainder of the day.
Shirley was proving to be worth her weight in gold. She’d tipped off Kendall about Dalton and saved Brynn from a serious beating. There was no question remaining about Shirley’s future—the dog would have a forever home with Kendall and Brynn.
Kendall, eager to question Cruz, headed to the interview room where he was being held. Before she got there, Paula Burnham stopped her. “You going in there without your partner?” Ross had taken the afternoon off at Schoenfuss’s request.
“Sure. It’s not like we’re trying to get a confession. Delia won’t be shy about pointing a finger at him and Ross can’t wait to nail his ass, so putting him away will be a slam dunk.”
“Word is, you might be looking at him for the murders.”
Kendall didn’t know how that rumor had gotten started. With Dalton being the top contender for a tie-in to Holmes, Cruz looked like nothing more than a hotheaded lowlife. He had a knife in his pocket when they brought him in, but it was a cheap pocketknife, nothing like the one used to kill Karla Foley. Plus, the mope didn’t even own a car. The man who’d abducted Rachel had a vehicle of some kind, which unfortunately, Stesniak hadn’t been able to identify. She would have to talk with Cruz’s brother, find out if he’d lent him his car the night Rachel was taken.
“I have no idea where that rumor came from,” Kendall said and then explained to Paula why she didn’t think Cruz was their killer. “I only want to get him to cop to what he’s done to Delia, save the city some money.”
“Want some company?”
She didn’t but said, “Sure, why not.”
Cruz, his dark hair loose on his forehead, sneered as the two detectives entered the room. “Well, lookie here, it’s the cunt patrol.”
Paula went for him before Kendall could stop her. She pulled Cruz out of the chair and slammed him against the wall.
“Police brutality!” he yelled.
“Oh yeah?” Paula mocked, pressing him against the wall. “Want your buddies to know that the ‘cunt patrol’ beat up on your sorry ass?”
“I want a lawyer,” Cruz said. “Now. Before you get me all bruised up.”
“Honey, I know how to make you wish you were dead without leaving a fucking mark on you.” Paula shoved him back into the chair.
“You want a lawyer?” Kendall asked. “Once you call a lawyer, any chance of getting a deal is off the table.”
“Deal? Busting my ass is a deal?”
“Right now we have you for assaulting Delia Wells and injuring a police officer while resisting arrest. You’ll be do
Cruz ran his eyes over her. Kendall had a hard time believing Delia had fallen for this sleaze, but he probably knew exactly how to act when he wanted something. And he did have a certain sexy quality about him when he wasn’t sneering.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“Do you know any of these people?” Kendall laid out photos of Holmes, Dalton, Karla Foley and Rachel Geror.
“Yeah. The one on the left. He got shot last week by a cop. And that chick?” He pointed to Karla. “She’s dead.” Then he picked up the photo of Rachel Geror. “This one’s missing. I heard about them on TV.”
Kendall had seen no tells on Cruz that he was lying when he denied knowing either of the men. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to have someone dig a little further into his background. Kendall picked up the photos. “Go ahead, call your lawyer. You’ll need a good one.”
After talking to Cruz’s brother, who had been out of town and driven his car to a basketball game the night Geror was taken, Kendall decided to call it a day. She thought about going to the dental office to talk to MacIntyre’s daughter about the wedding place, but headed for home instead after realizing the office would be closed this time of day. Remembering she hadn’t eaten, she stopped in the bar for a fish fry, Friday’s specialty of the house. She didn’t see Brynn there, but placed an order for both of them, planning to take the food upstairs. While she waited for her order, she heard someone call her name.
Leona Lindblad and her attractive grandson were sitting in a booth across from the bar. Leona waved a hand in her direction.
“Detective Halsrud, how nice to see you,” she said when Kendall approached their booth. “Russell tells me you two have already met.”
“Yes. At the station.”
“I made him bring me here for supper. It smelled so wonderful the night I visited your friend. Well, tried to visit her.” Russell smiled at Kendall, tolerating his grandmother’s prattle.
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