Iced Malice, page 22
Rachel Geror left the hospital two days later accompanied by her parents and her sister. She had refused inpatient treatment and was scheduled to meet with a therapist three times a week. Her sister planned on staying with Rachel and her roommate for a few weeks while Rachel got her life back on track.
The same morning, Kendall and Ross arrived at the hospital to interview Dalton, whose doctor had finally approved the session. Dalton was out of ICU and in a private room with an officer standing watch. Facing the window, he was lying on his side with one hand cuffed to the bed. They walked over and stood in front of him.
“Mr. Dalton,” Kendall began, and proceeded to read him his rights.
When she finished, she said, “We have some questions for you about Daniel Holmes.”
Dalton mumbled into his pillow, something that sounded a lot like, “That little prick.”
“How well did you know Daniel Holmes?” Ross pressed.
“Enough to know he’s a murdering son of a bitch.”
“Don’t even think about putting all these murders off on Holmes,” Kendall said, even though she’d expected him to pass the blame.
“All what murders?” Dalton asked.
“We know what you did to Rachel Geror, and what you were planning for her. Our techs found old traces of blood in your outbuilding, blood that did not belong to either Geror or to Karla Foley, the girl we found in your garbage receptacle.”
He wheezed a muffled laugh. “Animal blood, detective. Back in the day, my folks raised sheep.”
“Nice try,” Ross snarled. “None of that blood is frickin’ sheep blood. We already have you on rape and kidnapping. It’s just a matter of time before all the evidence is processed and we pile on the charges. The pond on your property is thawed out now, and divers go in tomorrow. We’ll see what they find in there.”
Kendall noticed Dalton’s body go rigid when Ross mentioned the pond. Did the pond hold the secret to the disappearances of three teenage couples?
“Back to Holmes,” Kendall said. “Was he your accomplice in all the murders? We know about the wedding place, we know that at least one of the missing couples from the Fiancé Murders came to look it over and considered having their wedding there. What happened, you couldn’t stand seeing people happy?”
“Holmes,” Dalton sneered. “None of this would have happened if that piece of crap had stayed away.”
Kendall wondered what that meant. “We know he murdered Karla Foley. Were you his accomplice for that one? Pretty sneaky, planting her body in your own driveway.”
“That was all Holmes. Ask my wife. I didn’t go out that night.”
“Wives have been known to stick up for their husbands, even lie for them,” Kendall said. “And you could have done your little trick with the motorcycle that night, too.”
“I didn’t have the cycle then; it was in the shop,” he growled. “I can show you records.”
Kendall had a feeling about Dalton; he wanted to brag about what he’d done. They just had to give him time. Minutes passed. She could feel Ross getting antsy.
“Holmes,” Dalton said, breaking the silence. “He was a kid. Liked to watch things happen.”
A kid? How had these two connected when Holmes was a kid? They’d missed something in the backgrounds of these two scumbags.
Dalton snorted. “Guess he got tired of just watching.”
“Watching what? Watching you kill those innocent young couples?”
Dalton’s body jerked in place as if he’d just had a spasm of pain. Or a revelation. “I want a lawyer.”
The little remaining snow clung to shadowy corners under trees and in shaded ditches, gray and crusted with black. The temperature had risen to a seasonal fifty-five degrees. The day was overcast, fitting for the scene unfolding in front of nearly half the Eau Claire Police Department and a large number of men and women from the Sheriff’s Department who were officially in charge of the scene.
Media vans lined up along the drive. The immediate area was roped off and a line of officers restrained determined reporters. Receiving vehicles waited in the background, prepared to accept any remains, while Teed, the ME, stood at the sidelines alongside a forensic anthropologist he had brought in from Madison
A large wrecker, backed up to the pond behind the wedding place, creaked with exertion as it raised its first treasure from the depths of the water.
Hooked at the end of the wrecker’s massive chain, an old Chevrolet four-door slowly made its way into the light of day, oozing pond water, mud, and dead, brown bottom-growth. Kendall felt a heavy weight of sorrow. The car fit the description of a vehicle owned by one of the missing couples. If this car had belonged to a pair who’d come here in excited anticipation looking for a place to be married, the only bright side would be closure for the families. But with that closure came the loss of any remaining hope that their child could still be alive.
The car held the skeletal remains of a body waiting to be released from its watery coffin. Still clothed in remnants of jeans, shirt and jacket, the body was easily identified as male. The bones would require the anthropologist’s exam in order to be certain it was one of the missing young men.
By nightfall, the pond had given up two cars and the bodies of two young men. The vehicles matched descriptions of the ones belonging to first two missing couples.
The sanctuary, cavernous and cold, was devoid of sound. Brynn had passed a woman carrying cleaning supplies when she entered the Episcopalian Church in downtown Eau Claire, and now its vast emptiness made her feel small and isolated.
A call from a troubled Joel had come in to Billie, Brynn’s alter ego, late that afternoon.
“I’m sorry, Billie,” he said. “I hate to bother you, but could we talk, please?”
Luckily, the fake name she’d given the attendees of the grief support group had been an easy one for her to remember; it was the name of her childhood friend, a friend who’d passed away at the tender age of twelve. When Brynn had asked Joel what he wanted, he’d been rather cryptic, saying he had questions about the reading she did for him after the meeting. That was all he would tell her, although his voice, thin and reedy, betrayed his nervousness.
Still late afternoon, with daylight pouring in through tall, stained glass windows, the church didn’t seem threatening. Not at first. As the minutes passed, the massive space, the empty pews, even the windows, gave the place an unfriendly, ungodly atmosphere as the sky outside darkened.
Brynn hadn’t see Joel anywhere in the church, so she’d edged into a pew and said a quick prayer, thinking that it never hurt to keep all lines of communication open. Without warning, Joel slid into the pew next to her. He had his entire face exposed. Brynn hadn’t seen him that way before and was surprised that his scars weren’t as bad as she had imagined. Scarred rivulets of melted flesh ran from his right temple to the neckline of his shirt in a band about three inches wide. The hood of his sweater was down, as if in deference to the temple of God in which they sat.
Without looking at her, he whispered, “You know, don’t you?”
“Know what?” she asked, her pulse racing.
He pulled his gloves off, revealing that the backs of his hands were scarred, too. Brynn winced, trying not to think of the awful things that must have been done to him when he was a small boy.
“You saw it in the cards,” he said. “I could tell. But you just made something up, didn’t you? You didn’t tell Alice what I did.”
In her apartment, Brynn had studied the layout of Joel’s cards and tried to make sense out of what it meant. She thought he seemed like a good person, especially because of all he’d done for Alice, but there was something sinister in the layout of the cards, something she hadn’t been able to identify. Brynn had set out to prove that Alice had something to do with Wetzel’s death, but Alice had shown her she was wrong. Brynn never expected that she would come to suspect Joel.
Joel nodded. “I knew it. I shouldn’t have let you do a reading, but Alice kept insisting, didn’t she?”
“Yes, she did.”
Brynn watched as Joel knelt and said a silent prayer. When he finished, he sat again and turned to her. “Billie, I’m going to tell you everything.”
Brynn’s heart leapt and she felt real fear for the first time since entering the church. “You don’t have to do that.”
He reached for her hand and took it in his. “I need to.”
Brynn couldn’t move or draw her hand away from his. Taking her silence as agreement, he said, “I was living a secluded life, and I avoided women because I believed they were repulsed by me. But then I met Alice. She’s older than me, so being friends with her didn’t seem threatening. For the first time, I was so concerned with her and with her problems that mine didn’t seem so bad. My past became just that—the past—while Alice still wasn’t able to come to grips with hers. She was obsessed with the deaths of her daughter and son.
“After I got to know her better, we started doing things together, and she seemed to be getting better. We started to feel like a couple, and after a while, we were more than friends.”
Brynn wasn’t sure where he was going with his story but relaxed a bit when she heard voices in the hall and footsteps entering a room across from the side door to the church.
“I’m not sure why,” Joel continued, “but the closer Alice and I became, the more I began to resent Charles Wetzel and what he’d done to her and her family. Alice stopped talking about him after a while and I . . . I started following him.” He glanced over at Brynn who was becoming uncomfortable with Joel’s revelation.
“And then—and then, that night happened. I didn’t plan it; you have to believe me. I knew Chuck Wetzel had been in an expensive rehabilitation place, and I found out that within three weeks of coming home, he was drinking again.”
Joel paused to wipe his eyes. “I followed him to the bar that night and I watched him start drinking. Again. After he started talking to me, part of me felt sorry for the guy because he had no control over his life, and the other part of me hated him for how he’d hurt Alice. I offered to take him home when he told me the bar’s policy about drinking and driving.
“I swear to God, right here in his house, I took Wetzel to the house he pointed out. I even waited to be sure he got up to the door okay. The lights were on, so I thought someone must be there waiting for him, even though they didn’t let him in right away.” He started to choke up. “The snow was drifting across the road, and I was afraid I’d get stuck, so I drove away. I left him there in the cold without being sure.”
Joel bent over and sobbed. When Brynn put her arm around his shoulders, he turned into her and she held him until he was quiet.
The bodies found in the cars from the pond on Dalton’s property were tentatively identified as two of the young men missing in the Fiancé Murders. There was no longer any doubt that the couples were murdered, not missing. After two days of divers searching the pond’s murky bottom, the pond did not give up the bodies of their girlfriends.
Ross picked Kendall up for work and handed her a cup of coffee.
“Should I be asking if this is an apology of some kind?”
“Can’t I just bring you coffee for once?”
He could, but his sheepish expression told Kendall there was more to it. “What’s going on, Ross?”
“Okay, you got me.” He kept his eyes fixated on the road. “I talked to Shari last night when I stopped in to see Nash.”
“Is he all right?” Kendall asked, hoping he wasn’t preparing to tell her that Nash had taken a turn for the worse.
“No, it’s nothing like that. He’s doing good. So good they’re letting him go home.”
Kendall’s breakfast soured in her stomach. Home. They were letting him go home. But not, obviously, to her home—he was going home with Shari.
Ross pulled over and parked. “Hey, I’m sorry. I wanted to tell you he’s going home with her today before you heard it somewhere else. Or from Shari.”
“It’s not fair. They should be able to tell him now, shouldn’t they?”
“Yeah, I asked her about that. I guess she did tell him they were separated before he took the undercover job.”
“But didn’t he ask her why? She would have had to tell him about me.”
“No, she didn’t tell him that part. He remembers enough about what they were going through, though. That he took the security job to keep her happy, but he hated it, missed police work. That’s what he thinks the separation was all about. Which it was, in a way, right?”
Kendall’s emotions were all over the place. Anger, sadness, and frustration were all competing for her attention. “This just isn’t right, Ross. It’s been weeks. They should be able to tell him everything about his life by now.”
“I don’t know, Kenny.” He sighed. “He’s getting flashbacks about what happened to him, how some guys beat him up. Remembers there were three of them, all Middle Eastern.”
She fought a lump in her throat that was threatening to cause tears. The last thing she wanted was to cry in front of Ross.
At the station, Schoenfuss was waiting for them. “Good job you two,” he said. “I have to admit—I was never convinced there was anything to that Fiancé case. Thought they were just a series of coincidences.”
“It’s looking like there were only two couples involved,” Ross said, “so it wasn’t as significant as the media wanted us to believe at the time.”
“He could have done something different with the third couple,” Kendall added.
Schoenfuss gave them a time-out sign. “You’ll have to get that from Dalton. Right now, I want to see you in my office.”
When they moved to follow him, he said, “Ross, you stay. Halsrud, follow me.”
She knew what was coming. No matter how good the results, she’d broken the rules when she took Courtney with her to the wedding place.
Ross pounced on her when she returned to her desk. “How bad?”
She snorted. “Interesting twist for Schoenfuss. He’s giving me a week without pay for involving a civilian, just like last time.”
“What’s interesting about that? Kind of same ol’, same ol’, isn’t it?”
“Nope. He’s not applying it right away. It isn’t effective for two weeks.”
Ross sat up and grinned. “He’s letting us wrap up this case first. That’s original. Let’s go to the hospital and check on our guy.”
Dalton was sitting up when they arrived, his attorney standing at his bedside. James Collier, Eau Claire’s best criminal defense lawyer, was dressed as if he were on his way to a court appearance. His suit, navy with subtle pinstripes, was custom fitted to his short, emaciated frame and he wore a trademark red bow tie at his neck.
“I don’t have a lot of time for this,” Collier snapped. “My client already talked to you, unfortunately. He has nothing more to say.”
“He could do the right thing, here,” Kendall said. “Tell us where the girls are buried and if he killed the third couple, the ones from Bloomer.”
Dalton said, “What’s in it for me?” Collier grabbed his client’s arm and gave him a stern look.
“We’ll try to get your sentencing to one length of time, take concurrent off the table. That way, you might see light of day when you’re ready for a nursing home.”
“Is that the best you can do?” Collier asked.
“You know damn well that’s huge,” Ross said. They had discussed it on the way over. With multiple murders, there was never a lot of wiggle room for negotiating. Collier would know there was no way they could guarantee Dalton’s sentencing, but his sentencing was all they had to work with.
The little man peered at them through narrowed lids. “They’re right. It is hug
Kendall and Ross remained standing at the bed.
“You heard him. I have nothing to say.” Dalton turned away from them.
Kendall moved to face him, leaning over the bed. “I know you want to talk, Dalton. Tell me, are the girls buried on the grounds at the wedding place?”
Dalton closed his eyes.
“You may as well tell us. There are cadaver dogs out there now going over every inch of the grounds. We’re going to find them, with or without your help.”
Kendall’s threat was a slight exaggeration, since the dog search was still in the planning stage. Dalton remained mute.
“All right. If you won’t talk, we’re going to bring your wife in again, lean on her to get her to come clean with us. If she’s helped you in any way, even just kept quiet about her suspicions, we’ll book her as an accessory.”
“No! Leave Bev out of this. She has no idea—” Dalton broke off, apparently realizing he’d exposed his weakness. He rolled onto his good side and cranked up the bed. “Please. Let her be. Bev is the best thing that ever happened to me. I moved out of the house in Cooley because of her. I’ve lied to her for years about the place—even told her I sold it.”
“Sure,” Ross said. “Hard to sell a house with a slaughter shed on the property and auto graves in the pond.” Kendall jabbed him in the ribs. Dalton was talking now and annoying him might shut him down.
“The house is still in my stepfather’s name, that’s why I’ve been able to hide it from her. He’s in a nursing home. The worst one I could find. The son of a bitch treated me like chattel after my mother married him. I still have the scars to show for it; my back looks like a road map.”
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