Iced Malice, page 20
“His neighbors should be able to clear that up for us.”
“Looks like you’re on your own for a while.” He raised his arm a few inches. “At least until I get this off. I’m going back to the doctor tomorrow.”
“Don’t rush it. If you hurt it again before it heals, you’ll be on desk duty for a long time.”
Kendall spent the rest of the day following up remote leads, hoping to catch a break. Rachel had been held captive for three days now, and Kendall knew each hour that passed lowered the girl’s chances of being found alive. She went back to the station to catch up on her paperwork before driving to the dental clinic to talk to MacIntyre’s daughter about her wedding site. As she was about to leave she looked up and saw she had a visitor. Courtney Jorstad stood next to Kendall’s desk, and she looked around the room. “Is Ross here?”
She called him Ross, not Detective Alverson anymore, Kendall noticed and wondered just what was going on with the two of them. “No, Courtney, he already left for the day.”
“Is he in a lot of pain?”
“No, I think he’s just frustrated that he has to be on inactive duty. Can I help you with something?”
“Actually, I came here to talk to you. Do you have a minute?”
“I really don’t, Courtney. I was just leaving to interview a witness.”
“Can I ride along?”
Technically, Kendall would be off the clock soon, but she would still be on the investigation, even if she would only be gathering information.
What the hell. “Let’s go.”
When they were in the car, Courtney said, “I wanted to talk to you. About Ross.”
Kendall had no desire to dish out relationship advice. Especially about Ross, of all people. “Don’t forget, he is my partner.”
“I know. But you know him better than anybody, right?”
“Not really. We’ve only been partners for a few weeks.”
“Well, maybe it’s more about me than him really. There’s a pretty big age difference between us . . .”
Kendall didn’t comment. She knew where this was going and regretted bringing Courtney with her.
“I just wondered what you thought. You know, about us seeing each other.”
“Are you?” She didn’t think it wise to keep talking in the hypothetical.
“We’re not really dating.”
“So what are you doing?”
“We see each other sometimes, talk, have coffee. Like that.”
So they weren’t dating yet. There was nothing to do but tell the girl what she thought. “Are you hoping I’ll say he’s a perfect guy for you and don’t worry about the age difference? Not going to happen.”
“Age isn’t everything,” Courtney said.
“I probably know less about relationship issues than anyone else on this planet, but you and Ross? I think you’re asking for trouble. Ross isn’t big on long-term relationships, and that’s all I’m going to say about him.
“And your age difference? Age shouldn’t matter, but often it does, depends on the people. And—nothing to do with Ross—you need to have some fun, see what’s out there before deciding you want to get involved with a man so much older than you.” Kendall hadn’t planned on giving the girl a lecture, but in her current state of mind she felt advising caution was the right thing to do.
Courtney was quiet the rest of the way to the dental clinic; hopefully, she was considering Kendall’s words.
The clinic appeared to be wrapping up for the day, just as Kendall had hoped. No one sat waiting, and the only patient in sight appeared to be setting another appointment. The receptionist told Kendall that Megan would be right out.
Megan Berkseth had a smooth walk, a tall slim body, and long, sandy-blond hair tied in a knot at her neck. “Detective Halsrud? My mom said you’d be coming in to talk to me.”
Kendall shook her hand. “Is this a good time?”
“It’s perfect. I’m just getting ready to leave.” She motioned Kendall to follow her. Kendall noticed Courtney following and gave her the halt sign.
Kendall sat across from Megan at a small, oak table in a comfortable breakroom. But even the welcoming odors of microwave popcorn and homemade sandwiches couldn’t mask that nasty, dentist’s-office smell.
“My mom said you wanted to know about where I got married.”
“Yes. It’s for a case I’m working on.”
“I bet you can’t tell me anything about it, right?”
“You’d win that bet,” Kendall said.
“I’m not sure if the place had a name. A couple rented out their grounds for weddings. They had a beautiful home on a hill and owned a lot of acreage around it. The landscaping was gorgeous; they had the most beautiful stone patio with a pond and waterfall. It was lovely. We didn’t get married there, although they did plan wedding ceremonies, too. We went there after our wedding mass and had pictures taken.”
“Do you still have the address?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t. I’m not sure I could even find it again. We’ve talked about it, but have never gone back. I know they aren’t in business anymore because one of my bridesmaids wanted to use it for her wedding a few years later. When she called, she found out they didn’t do weddings any more. They were pretty old; maybe one of them died or something. I think their name was Thompson.”
“Can you describe where it was?”
“How about pictures? I have them in my phone.” Megan came over and sat next to Kendall and showed her the wedding shots. She handed Kendall the phone. “I’ll call Britt, the bridesmaid I told you about and see if I can get an address for you.”
The photos were beautiful; the Thompsons’ house, although not huge, fit perfectly in its setting. The ranch-style house embraced the hill, its single story spread out in lannon stone and darkly stained wood, and graced with a variety of shrubs and spring blossoms. The patio was lush with flowers, waterfall, a fishpond, and a breathtaking view behind the landscaped area.
Kendall had never been the kind of girl who dreamed of her wedding day, a day with all the finery and trappings that went with a big ceremony. But now, looking at the pictures of Megan’s perfect wedding, her husband gazing at her with adoring eyes, Kendall felt an unexpected wave of sadness.
Megan came back into the room. “Britt didn’t have the address. But she did say the photographer would remember, because she recalled that he mentioned he’d done a few weddings there. Here’s his number. She handed Kendall a small note. “I hope that helps.”
The photographer, who sounded like he had reached retirement age, couldn’t recall the address but gave Kendall a rough description of how to get to the wedding place. Eager to check it out, Kendall hated to take the time to take Courtney home. Since she had a civilian with her even if it was only to check into a location, she called Ross, letting him know where she was going and that she had Courtney with her.
“Better call for back up,” he cautioned.
“No need. I’m just doing a drive by, see how it looks. I’ll call in if anything looks suspicious.”
“Just sayin’—can’t hurt to have your ass covered ahead of time in case something goes wrong.”
“Ross, I’m not even sure I’ll be able to find the place, but it’ll help to have a navigator in the car with me. I don’t even have an address. Tell you what you can do for me—call in for background on a couple named Robert and Eunice Thompson. They ran this place about fifteen years ago.” She gave him a description of where it was located. “I might not be able to find it tonight. It’s starting to snow that slushy crap again.”
They drove out of Eau Claire on Hwy 85, headed for the Cooley Lake region. The roads were passable, although the slush layer was accumulating, sounding like a jackhammer as gobs of the stuff flew up and hit the bottom of the Highlander. With the aid of one of the passenger lights, Courtney reviewed the note with the photographer’s directions.
“It’s snowing harder now,” Courtney said. “May
Kendall wanted to agree and head back for the comforts of home, but couldn’t forget Rachel Geror’s innocent face on the photo her mother had given them. “No, I want to see this place. If we’re lucky, that sign he told me about will still be there.”
“Yeah, the photographer remembered they had a sign right by the driveway, something like Highview Weddings, but he wasn’t sure of the wording.”
They passed Cooley Lake and turned in at a hilly area just beyond it. When Courtney said they were getting close, Kendall slowed to a snail’s pace.
“Turn right,” Courtney said.
They were on a road that bisected a large, flat hill. She stopped the car at the crest of the hill. The area overlooked Cooley Lake and its tiny islands, with the Chippewa River winding in the background. In better weather, the view would be amazing.
“I think we’re close,” Courtney said. “Keep going, past that little cemetery on the left.”
Kendall moved the car forward. Visibility had diminished, and it was hard to see anything beyond the road.
“There!” Courtney exclaimed. “The second driveway on the left has a sign next to it.”
The sign, nearly invisible under a layer of thickening snow, looked like it had been in place for decades. Kendall pulled into the driveway and stopped the car. She got a snowbrush from the back, cleared the sign, and read the faded lettering. Highview Estate. And below, in smaller lettering, Wedding Site of Your Dreams.
She got back in the car. “This is it.”
“We should leave now,” Courtney said.
Kendall understood the girl’s reluctance to stay. Totally dark now, the home was only visible thanks to the luminescence of the snow. The place certainly wasn’t haunted-house quality, but in the gloom the building appeared foreboding. The house, probably built in the late sixties or seventies, nestled into the landscape like it had grown there. The dark, sprawling structure appeared in the distance like a low-lying predator ready to slither toward its victim.
The urge to return the next day beckoned, but Kendall said, “I have to check the place out now that we’ve found it.” Courtney’s face fell. “Don’t forget there’s a girl about your age out there somewhere, praying we’ll find her.”
“You’re right,” Courtney said. “Let’s drive in.”
“I’ll call it in, put the other detectives on notice.” She opened her phone only to find out they were in an area with no service. “Damn. There’s no service out here. Well, I’m going to look around a bit, and if I see anything at all suspicious, we’ll have to drive to a place where I can get service.”
Kendall headed carefully up the long drive and parked in front of the garage. Situated at the right side of the house, it was connected by an open breezeway. Before she left the car, she unlocked the glove compartment and made sure her emergency piece was available.
“Do you know how to use a gun?” she asked Courtney.
“My dad showed me once, but that was a long time ago.”
Kendall showed her how to release the safety. “It’s right here, in case something happens.”
Courtney paled, but Kendall had no time to appease her. She had wanted to come along, and there were no guarantees when you rode with a detective. Kendall picked up a flashlight, pulled on a pair of boots and a rain jacket, and left the car.
She peered into the large garage; the only vehicles it held were an aging John Deere landscape tractor and an ATV. She moved to the house, hoping the curtains weren’t drawn so she could see inside. The building sat on its foundation with no basement, so if Rachel Geror were being held here, she would be somewhere in the house, visible through an open window. Kendall circled the perimeter, shining her flashlight into the rooms as she looked into each window.
The inside of the house was fully furnished but uninhabited, the upholstered furniture in the living room covered with sheets of fabric. Kendall worked her way through the wet snow to the bedroom windows. She could see inside all of them and they contained nothing suspicious. Unless Rachel was being kept in some kind of interior room that had no windows, or in a locked bathroom, this was not where the girl was being held captive. She returned to the car.
“Rachel isn’t in there.”
“Is someone living here?”
“It doesn’t look that way.”
“But the driveway has been plowed.”
“Most counties require that even if the residents have gone south for the winter, as these folks probably have. It’s a safety thing in case there would be a fire and the trucks had to get in. There’s a pretty big fine for not keeping them cleared.”
“I saw a side road over there when we drove in,” Courtney said, pointing to the right of the garage. “It’s cleared, too. Is there another house on the grounds?”
“I doubt it. There was only one mailbox.”
Kendall put the SUV in gear and followed the drive behind the house. The small road continued to the back of the property, through a small copse of pine trees, then beyond it to an open area that looked like it held a large, snow-covered pond. She drove past the pond; the entire road had been kept cleared. She stopped the car and opened the door.
“Where are you going?” Courtney’s voice, an octave higher than normal betrayed her fear. “There’s nothing here.”
“I’m going to check this road for tracks. It seems strange that anything other than the drive to the house would be plowed out if no one’s around.”
She stepped into inches of slush. With the Highlander’s headlights trained on the road she took a few steps forward. There was no way to tell if a vehicle had been back there recently. Kendall got back into the car.
“I can’t see anything in this crap. If someone’s been here, it hasn’t been in the last few hours.”
“We should turn around now.”
“Let’s just see where this road goes.” She didn’t want to alarm Courtney, but this setting was a perfect place to hold a victim without anyone seeing or hearing a thing. The road continued into a small valley where they could just make out the shape of a storage building against the opposite side.
“You aren’t going in there, are you?” Courtney asked.
“Not if it’s locked. I’m going to check it out, see if there are any windows.”
“Maybe we should leave and make a call first so you can get backup.”
“If it were you in there tied up, maybe badly injured and freezing, would you want us to leave?”
“No,” she replied quietly as Kendall stopped in front of the building.
“I’ll leave the car running. If anything goes wrong, drive to where you can get reception and call 911. Get in the driver’s seat when I get out.”
Kendall left the car and moved out across the wet drive. She could tell by the old snow mounds on the edges of the cement apron in front of the building that it, too, had been kept plowed. Why?
Her senses went into red alert. Had she found Rachel Geror?
When Ryan picked Brynn up that night to go to the hospital, his face was set, his usual smile, absent. He hadn’t mentioned the girlfriend again, and Brynn hadn’t wanted to ask if he was still seeing her. She hated to talk about it, but if that was bothering him, she wanted to help. “Is something wrong?”
“Just thinking this might not be such a good idea.”
“I don’t know how much Kendall has told you about my dad.”
“She told me everything.”
“Did she tell you that my dad doesn’t remember her?”
“Yeah.” She felt terrible for Kendall. Nash and Kendall had been so much fun as a couple. “But he will and then everything will be the way it was.”
Ryan didn’t say anything.
“What?” she asked.
“I think my mom’s hoping that when he does remember everything, he’ll stay with her.”
That would be bad for Kendal
“I don’t know. I just want everyone to be happy.” He fingers were tight on the steering wheel. “The doctors told my mom and Kendall that he needs to remember on his own and that Kendall should just stay away. Did you know that?”
“It doesn’t seem right, you know? My dad should be deciding things for himself. I thought . . .I thought if he saw you, then he might remember. No one said you couldn’t see him, did they?”
“No, but you’re going to have to tell him how you know me. What are you going to say?”
He sighed. “I guess I’ll just say you’re a friend.”
Brynn wanted to do anything she could to help Kendall, but she understood Ryan’s concern for both Kendall and his mom. “Why don’t you just go to see him by yourself? I’ll come in a little later and pretend I’m looking for someone else. I’ll say that I have the wrong room. He’ll see me, but then you won’t have to say anything.”
He reached for her hand, grinning. “Good thinking. Let’s do it.”
When they got to the hospital, Brynn stayed in the waiting area. She picked up an old People magazine and paged through it, perplexed by the trivia about the celebrities and mystified at the magazine’s popularity. Tossing it aside, her thoughts returned to Ryan and his dad. She hoped that seeing her would make Nash remember Kendall. It wouldn’t be fair to Kendall for Shari to stay with Nash and never give him a chance to remember her.
She walked toward Nash’s room, her palms sweaty with anxiety, hoping this would work the way they hoped it would. Before she got there, she ducked into a ladies’ room. Her reflection in the mirror told her she looked nice; the long-haired, white wig was in place, her makeup subtle, and her outfit one Nash had seen her in before. She entered the room where Ryan was visiting his father.
There were two beds in the room. The one nearest the door was empty and made up for the next patient. Nash’s bed was by the window and Ryan sat next to the bed talking to his dad. Brynn walked in and looked around, trying to get as close to them as possible without being obvious.
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