Iced malice, p.6

Iced Malice, page 6

 

Iced Malice


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  Following her, he said, “We need to find out if there have been any others like them. Maybe things got too hot for him here and he took his show on the road.”

  “We have too many other things to do right now, Ross. Like finding out who killed Kolterjohn and finding Foley. If it is connected to the others, we’ll find that out when we get our perp. Otherwise, we can pursue it when we reach a dead end with everything else.”

  “You could have your friend do the research. That fortuneteller who used to be a hacker?”

  Kendall sighed. Too many people knew how much Brynn had helped when she and Nash were trying to find the Glausson baby.

  At the end of the day, discouraged, Kendall and Ross returned to the station. None of the other officers had come across anything that could help find the Foley girl. The two teens were good students, worked part-time jobs, and had regular dating partners, both of whom had gone south for spring break. The partners had been contacted, and their alibis were solid.

  One of the nearest neighbors to the supper club where they found Kolterjohn had seen a vehicle pulling out of the lot in the early morning hours. He’d been ice fishing with his buddies on Lake Wissota and was just returning home. Kendall spoke with him and read between the lines that he’d had more to drink than he should have, considering he’d been driving. Not that he would be faulted for it, but it made his statement less reliable. He described the vehicle as a black or dark-blue pickup truck, so his insobriety aside, it wasn’t all that helpful. Northwestern Wisconsin was overrun with dark-colored trucks.

  Kendall had just finished filing the day’s report when she noticed a couple standing next to Alverson’s desk, looking around expectantly. Ross had just left, claiming to have a date that night with a woman who far surpassed the hottie who had just dumped him. Probably an exaggeration, but at least he was in better humor lately.

  The couples’ age was hard to determine. They looked like they were in their late forties, and they were both extremely obese. She could see the others trying not to stare. Kendall left her desk.

  “I’m sorry, but if you’re looking for Detective Alverson, he’s gone for the day.”

  The woman, nicely made up and wearing an attractive royal blue coat, said, “I’m Christine Jorstad and this is my husband Stan. We found this in our daughter’s room.” She handed Kendall one of Alverson’s cards. Kendall had heard tales that involved her partner being sought by cuckolded husbands and jealous boyfriends, but never parents.

  “Is there anything I can help you with?” Kendall asked.

  “Our daughter Courtney hasn’t come home for nearly two days. We called the police this morning, and they told us that since Courtney is eighteen, she wouldn’t be a missing person for seventy-two hours. We found this in her room and thought Detective Alverson might know something about where Courtney went.” She handed Kendall a photo of her daughter, a pretty, dark-haired girl, who looked like she had inherited the obesity gene—if there even was one—from her parents. Back in her overweight days, Kendall liked to believe it existed.

  Courtney had to be the girl who told Alverson about her book club and her interest in the engaged couples’ disappearances. Kendall seated the parents in the conference room and offered them coffee. After serving them beverages, she left the room and called Ross.

  “Ross, it’s Kendall. That girl you told me about. Was her name Courtney Jorstad?”

  “Yeah, why?”

  “Did you know her parents reported her missing two days ago?”

  “You’re shittin’ me.”

  “I shit you not. They came in here looking for you. Courtney had one of your cards on her desk.”

  “Her parents are there—now?”

  “In the flesh.” She almost added that there was a lot of flesh waiting in the conference room, then chastised herself for thinking like Ross. “You better get your butt back in here.”

  15

  Between bouts of searching for information on Charles Wetzel and the kids who had been with him when he crashed his parents’ car, Brynn kept brooding about Ryan. She told herself she wasn’t jealous, she just missed him.

  She left the apartment, but walking had lost its appeal. This had to be the worst winter ever. Brynn hated all the layers of clothes she had to put on, the Trekkers on her boots to keep from falling, and the endless below-zero weather that made her nose run. Following the backstreets until she reached Clairemont Avenue, Brynn gave up and turned back, wondering if spring would ever come this year.

  She reached the entry to the apartments, sandwiched between the Rat Pak and the beauty salon next door, and was about to go upstairs when she thought of Morrie’s soup. He’d promised the bar customers he would have hot soup available for $2 a bowl until the weather stayed above zero for at least four days. Brynn turned into the bar and ordered a bowl of soup with fries, and then took her meal to her usual back booth. Even though she was underage, Morrie let her hang out when she ordered food because on Friday nights she helped serve the fish fry dinners.

  Brynn had taken only a few spoonfuls of soup when the front door opened and Ryan came into the bar. Her heart fluttered; he’d come looking for her.

  But he wasn’t alone. A dark-eyed girl walked in with him. She had brown hair with blonde highlights that fell in a liquid stream nearly to her waist. Her jeans had holes strategically placed to show off her tanned legs. The girl looked just like Brynn had imagined her, Barbie-doll perfect. Brynn slid farther into the corner of the booth, wishing she’d sat on the side facing away from the door, where they wouldn’t have been able to see her.

  Ryan, holding the girl’s hand, went over to Morrie. They exchanged a few words, and Ryan looked over to where Brynn sat. It was too late to run out. They walked over to Brynn’s booth.

  Ryan slid in next to her, and Miss Perfection plopped herself on display across from Brynn.

  Ryan spoke first. “Hi. I wanted you to meet Hannah. Hannah, this is my friend Brynn.”

  Hannah faked a smile. “Hi, it’s nice to meet you.”

  At least she didn’t try to shake her hand, Brynn thought. “Sure,” she responded, not caring if Ryan thought she wasn’t being friendly. Brynn had lost any appetite she’d had, but for something to do, she picked up a fry and started chewing, cutting off further discussion. Why didn’t he just take his trophy girl and get out of here?

  “Hannah’s in my American History class this year. She’s a cheerleader.”

  Of course she was a cheerleader. Brynn wanted to throw up, but she stuck another fry into her mouth.

  “Hey, you know what? Those look real good.” Ryan looked over at Hannah, who sat smiling like Miss Congeniality.

  “They aren’t good for you,” she said. “All that grease.”

  Ryan laughed and left to put in an order. Brynn wanted to throw the bowl of soup at him.

  By the time Kendall got home, her bones ached from the cold and from frustration that they accomplished nothing that day. She and Ross talked to the Jorstads for nearly an hour before following them to their home where Kendall and Ross searched Courtney’s room for any clue to where she may have gone.

  The strange thing was what they didn’t find. Courtney’s computer was nowhere to be found. There was no diary, no purse, and no black folder like the one Ross said she had carried with her both times he met with her. Wherever Courtney Jorstad had gone, it looked like she’d taken some things with her. That would tend to rule out a possible abduction, but her parents insisted the girl had no reason to leave home without telling them. Kendall and Ross finally left after obtaining a list of Courtney’s friends, including those in her book club.

  When Ross dropped Kendall off in front of the Rat Pak, she was relieved to have some time alone. It was unlike him, but he was obviously concerned about Courtney and insisted that her going missing now looked suspicious because of her interest in the cold cases. Kendall was too tired to argue.

  She and Ross hadn’t taken time to eat, so she stopped in the
bar, hoping the kitchen would still be open. She was surprised to see Ryan standing at the end of the bar.

  “You’re out kind of late. Are you looking for Brynn?”

  He grinned, a grin so much like his father’s it nearly broke her heart. “Yeah. She’s over there.” He nodded at Brynn’s favorite booth. “I brought Hannah here to meet her.”

  “You what?” Kendall looked over to see Brynn stuffing fries in her mouth while a lovely teenage girl sat in the booth across from her, talking a mile a minute.

  Kendall grabbed Ryan’s arm hard enough to make him wince. “What were you thinking? Get her out of here—now.”

  “Why?” he sputtered, trying to pull away. “I just wanted her to meet Brynn.”

  Kendall had always liked the boy, but she couldn’t believe he was this dense. “Go get your girlfriend and leave, or I’ll arrest both of you for being minors in a bar.”

  He stood rubbing his arm and then walked over to Hannah. Kendall couldn’t hear what he said, but he took the girl’s hand and led her out of the bar.

  Morrie came over to Kendall, carrying the soup and fries Ryan had ordered, and set it on the bar. “Nice save.”

  Kendall picked up the food. “Looks good. I’ll have to remember to thank him for treating me.” She went to join Brynn.

  Her soup shoved to one side, Brynn was systematically pushing ketchup-laden French fries into her mouth and chewing them as if they were nails.

  “Taking your anger out on your food?” Kendall asked.

  Brynn picked up a napkin and wiped her fingers. “Did you see them?”

  “I did. I told Ryan to get his girlfriend and leave.”

  Brynn pulled her bowl of soup back in front of her and picked up a spoon. “He doesn’t get it.”

  “Men seldom do.”

  They ate in silence until Brynn said, “I found something.”

  “What?”

  “About your case. You know, the guy that froze.”

  Kendall hadn’t thought about the Wetzel case very often since the Kolterjohn murder. The file was still on her desk waiting to be closed out. She could hardly berate Brynn for researching the case if it took her mind off her personal life. “What did you find?”

  “I did searches on the kids that were in the car when he had the accident. The two boys that were in the back didn’t have any permanent injuries. One of them joined the army and the other one got married to a girl from Portland and moved there. The first one’s still in the Army.”

  Brynn wasn’t telling her anything they hadn’t already found out.

  “And the two in the front seat,” Brynn continued, “his girlfriend and her younger brother, were both killed. Their parents were quoted at the time as being pretty understanding and said they didn’t blame Charles for the accident; any of the kids could have been driving.”

  “Then that’s the end of it, right?” Kendall asked. Brynn’s research would have been thorough. Kendall could close the case now, knowing everything possible had been done.

  “Maybe not. Charles’ girlfriend was from her mother’s first marriage. I found an interview from back then with her biological father on a crime blog. He said he wanted to kill Wetzel.”

  16

  Cora Toft walked gingerly between patches of ice on the sidewalks along Graham Avenue, a few blocks from downtown Eau Claire. The area was one of stately, well-kept older homes just south of Cora’s apartment above a resale shop.

  Cora had her Golden Retriever, Bingo, on the end of a retractable leash and stopped while he spent a few minutes sniffing at a small shrub apparently popular with the neighborhood canine population. She noticed he’d gone into position for his morning constitutional. Bingo always managed to do this when they were the farthest from home, and she’d have to carry the bagged poop all the way back with her to the dumpster behind her apartment.

  Pulling out a plastic bag, she expertly scooped it up and tied the bag tightly enough to prevent any nasty odors from seeping out. Unfortunately, the first hot fumes always wafted up as she bent over. After she left the area she took a few deep breaths to clear the smell from her nose

  Luckily, it was garbage day for the area residents. She stopped in a driveway that had a large, blue refuse bin sitting near the street, planning to drop her bundle inside. When she neared the front of the receptacle, Bingo pulled back on the leash, growling.

  “What’s the matter, baby? Don’t like garbage today?” Ignoring the dog’s discomfort, Cora stepped closer and raised the lid of the container.

  The naked body of a woman was crammed inside the bin on top of last week’s garbage. In the split second that Cora’s eyes took in the sight—a vision that would be forever embedded in her mind—she saw the pale body, twisted like a ragdoll to fit inside the receptacle and covered with bloody slashes.

  Cora snatched her hand back as if burned, letting the lid slam shut. The handle of Bingo’s leash and the bag of dog poop hit the ground.

  The air echoed with Cora’s screams.

  The call came into the Eau Claire station shortly before 9 a.m., when Kendall and Ross had just concluded a conference with the rest of the staff working the Kolterjohn-Foley case. They still hadn’t found Karla, the girl who had been in the SUV with Kolterjohn. The detectives hurried from the station as soon as they got the message that the body of an unidentified woman had been found south of town in a garbage receptacle.

  Kendall and Ross pulled up on Graham Avenue at the same time as the squad assigned to the downtown area. Kendall quickly gave orders to cordon off the perimeter. A couple dressed for the weather stood at the sidewalk supporting a small woman in an ankle-length, down coat. She had a leash in her hand, and a well-fed Golden Retriever next to her, leaning against her leg.

  The man had his arm around the woman with the dog, supporting her. Kendall quickly introduced herself and Alverson.

  “I’m Gregory Dalton and this is my wife Beverly,” he said. The woman, who appeared to be a decade older than her husband, stood on the other side of the small woman with the dog and smiled nervously when her name was mentioned.

  Dalton looked down at the woman with the dog. “This is Cora Toft. She’s the one who found the body. Beverly and I live here. That’s our refuse bin there in the driveway. Cora’s really upset. Can we bring her inside?”

  Despite the heavy coat, the woman was visibly trembling. Kendall knew Alverson was about to protest. “Go ahead,” she said. “We have a few things to do out here and then we’ll be in to talk with all of you.”

  “What did you do that for?” Ross grumbled as soon as they were out of earshot.

  “The woman found a body, she isn’t the one that put it there. It’ll be easier to talk to her when she’s calmed down. And warm. We should probably have the EMTs look at her before they leave.” The EMT vehicle had just pulled up behind their car.

  Kendall donned a pair of rubber gloves and raised the lid of the receptacle. Her pulse stopped at the sight, and all her years on the job did nothing to shield her from the ugliness inside the large blue container. A woman had been bent like a pretzel to fit into the bin. Unless there was another missing woman, the body had to be belong to Karla Foley; she was too slender to be Courtney. Her face, bent toward the bottom of the receptacle, wasn’t visible, but long strands of dark-brown hair clung to myriad, bloody stab wounds on every visible inch of her body.

  “Holy crap,” Alverson exclaimed.

  The cold had not abated, and the poor thing’s body could be frozen solid depending on how long it had been in the dumpster. They would have to wait to identify the woman after the medical examiner moved the body. The crime scene team had just arrived and was casting impatient looks in their direction.

  “Let’s go in and talk to our witnesses,” Kendall said.

  She turned to Ross as they walked to the house. “Why would the killer leave her here? This is a busy street with a lot of houses on it. He would be taking a big chance of being seen.”

  “Mayb
e he was sending a message to the people who live here.”

  “Let’s go in and find out.”

  17

  Brynn sat at the iMac, feeling like she had accomplished quite a feat when she found an address for Mackenzie Dixon’s biological father. Mackenzie was Wetzel’s girlfriend at the time of the car crash, who along with her younger brother, was killed in it. Her biological father’s name was Daniel Simington and he lived in Cadott, a small town northeast of Eau Claire. He owned property just outside of town and ran a fancy boarding kennel for dogs. The ad for the service pictured contented dogs resting on beds designed to look like those of their human counterparts.

  The other thing, the information Kendall wanted, was going to require a bit more work. The only real way to get information on crimes similar to the Fiancé case would be to hack into VICAP, the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program. That was going to take time to figure out if it was even possible, in addition to being dangerous for her personally because of her background. Brynn would only attempt it if she was sure she could accomplish it undetected.

  She wondered whether to call Kendall with this new information on the Wetzel case when she heard a knock on her door. Brynn froze. It sounded like Ryan’s knock. She hadn’t slept much the night before. After leaving the bar, she had ventured out into the cold for another walk, berating herself with every step that she’d let his absence from her life, and now the girlfriend, hurt her so much. She didn’t think she wanted to see him.

  “Brynn, I know you’re in there. I want to talk to you,” Ryan called.

  Brynn was wearing an old, nubby flannel bathrobe and made no effort to get dressed when she got up since she’d had no intention of going out. What did it matter anyway? Ryan always complimented her when she wore the long, platinum-blonde wig and used makeup to cover her white complexion, but she’d let his praise mean too much to her.

 
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