Iced malice, p.7

Iced Malice, page 7

 

Iced Malice
 


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  She pulled on a pair of gray sweats, ran her fingers through her fine, white hair and opened the door. Ryan stood on the doorstep, his grin as wide as if he didn’t know she was mad at him.

  “Hi. I brought you breakfast.” He held out a bag from Panera’s. Brynn loved their cinnamon bagels, but she didn’t want him to think she could be that easily swayed to forgive him for the night before.

  She moved aside and let him into the apartment, unsure whether it was his smile or the smell of cinnamon that got to her. “I’ll make some tea,” she offered.

  “What are you working on?” He took a seat at the table.

  “What makes you think I’m working on something?”

  “You weren’t dressed and it’s almost ten o’clock.”

  She shrugged. “I’m doing something for Kendall.”

  “You are? What?”

  Ryan had spent time with Brynn when she was trying to help Kendall find out what happened to the Glausson baby, and he had even been helpful at times. She suspected that his interest in her computer work now was his way of getting back on her good side. Maybe he finally figured out that even though he had never really been her boyfriend, she still wouldn’t like the cheerleader girlfriend shoved in her face.

  Brynn told him how her talk with Maggie had made her curious about Charles Wetzel’s death.

  “But if Maggie’s not filing a lawsuit and Kendall wants to close the case, what’s the point in spending time on it?”

  “Think about it; leaving a person in the cold like that would be an easy way to get rid of them.”

  His forehead wrinkled. “Yeah, sweet. Who would ever know? But the cops must have thought of that.”

  She told him the rest of the story, about the accident that killed two kids and injured two others. She followed up with everything she’d learned about Simington, including that shortly after the accident he’d told the crime blogger he wanted to kill Wetzel.

  “If Kendall checked it out already, and doesn’t know about this other father, why don’t you just tell her?”

  “I did tell her. I thought I could save her time, find out what he was doing the night Wetzel froze, and see if he has an alibi. She didn’t tell me not to.” Ryan stood up and left the kitchen. Brynn followed him into the room she used as an office. He took the chair in front of the iMac.

  “This thing is turned on, right?” When she nodded, he opened Safari. “What’s this dude’s name?”

  Brynn told him and watched as he logged onto Facebook. Brynn’s computer interest didn’t extend to social networking. She had her computer nerd sites and boards, and she rarely used the others. Not that she couldn’t have gotten into Facebook easily enough, but Ryan liked to think he was helping.

  “Okay, Simington has two accounts, one for the dog boarding and one for his other business—he breeds Staffordshire Terriers.”

  Brynn looked at the photos on the breeding site. Simington looked about fifty and in all the photos that included him, he had one or more of his dogs at his side.

  He slid his chair to one side. “Here you go. Read this.”

  Ryan had managed to go back to the date of Wetzel’s death. Another set of photos revealed the inside of each doggie “suite” and announced an open house event the same night Wetzel died. Anyone interested in a tour was welcome to bring his dog and visit the kennel to see how it operated and have his dog get acquainted in advance. Refreshments would be on hand and a door prize given away for a $100 boarding-stay certificate.

  Below the announcement was a string of comments from people who had attended the event. Simington was mentioned in all of them.

  “That’s not an alibi,” Brynn said. “That would have been over pretty early and he would have had plenty of time to get here and be at that bar.”

  “Read the last one.”

  The last comment was from a couple who lived in Wausau. Their car hadn’t started when they were ready to leave the kennel. Simington tried to get it going using battery cables, and when that didn’t work, he drove them back to Wausau. They thanked him profusely.

  “Guess he’s covered,” Brynn said.

  “You think? The drive to Wausau would have taken hours in that storm. Now will you forget about it?”

  “I think I should at least talk to him. He might know something.”

  “Did you forget what happened the last time you tried to play detective?”

  “No,” she said quietly. “I didn’t forget. You saved my life.”

  “You could have died. The Glausson baby, too. I’m responsible for you now because I saved your life. You have to promise me you won’t do anything with this except computer stuff.”

  Brynn would never forget what it was like to be left tied up and gagged in a burning trailer. She promised. It was an easy promise to make, even though what he said about being responsible for her life she was pretty sure came from an old Chinese proverb. But she got all warm and fuzzy inside knowing he felt responsible for her.

  18

  After talking to Cora Toft and the Daltons, Kendall and Ross headed for the medical examiner’s office. Gregory and Beverly Dalton could think of no reason that the body left in their dumpster was a message to them, as they had no enemies. They hadn’t noticed anything unusual after Mr. Dalton had rolled the trash bin out at ten in the evening. As a matter of routine, Alverson called in to have a background run on the couple.

  The neighborhood search had come up empty so far, but a lot of people would have to be contacted after they arrived home from work.

  “What do you think?” Kendall asked. “It seems like there has to be a reason the killer would risk being seen stuffing her into that garbage container. That’s not an isolated neighborhood and it was right there next to the street. We’re going to have to see if there’s something connecting the Daltons to Karla Foley.”

  “A college girl and an older couple? What could it be?”

  “Could be lots of things,” Kendall said. “But we have to talk to her friends and family again. Maybe her body will have some evidence for us, or a neighbor will recall seeing something.”

  “Maybe we should split up. I can take my car and talk to Karla’s family. We’ll cover more that way.”

  Kendall suspected he wanted time on his own so he could start asking around about Courtney. Ross’s moods had been all over the place lately. Added to that, he’d been pissed when Kendall told him earlier that looking into the missing Jorstad girl would have to wait. Everything seemed to add up to Courtney Jorstad leaving of her own accord. They had to prioritize their work, and a girl who had left home with her laptop and a backpack filled with her things didn’t get put on top of the list. Not when they had a double homicide demanding their attention.

  She wasn’t Ross’s boss. Schoenfuss had made her the primary on this one, but Ross was her partner; Kendall didn’t like to pull rank on him unless she had to. As long as he covered what he needed to on their case, it didn’t matter to her what he did on his own time. He’d backed off of his insistence on the Fiancé case connection and now he was claiming a link between Courtney’s disappearance and Karla’s death. Although Kendall thought a connection between the cases unlikely, any lead, no matter how remote, was worth pursuing.

  After dropping him off at the station, Kendall arrived at the medical examiner’s office where she found Teed already working on the body presumed to be Karla Foley. Karla’s parents had been notified but had yet to come in to ID the body.

  Kendall put on a paper gown and mask and entered the autopsy suite.

  Karla’s body, pale as marble under the unforgiving examination lights over the steel table, had so many stab wounds that from a distance her skin looked like an abstract print. Kendall had never seen a body stabbed this savagely. She walked over to the body and stood across from Teed.

  “Did you count them?” she asked.

  “There are forty-seven stab wounds. They’re all fairly consistent except on the parts of her body that didn’t a
llow the same depth. The wounds appear to be from the same knife, and based on their width and depth it seems like a standard hunting knife was used. The kind every deer hunter has in his arsenal.”

  “Would the killer have to be someone strong to do all this?”

  “Not necessarily. Look at this.” Teed lifted one of the girl’s hands. Her wrist had signs of bondage.

  “Handcuffs?”

  “I don’t think so. The marks are too wide. Probably a metal restraint meant for just this kind of thing.”

  “So the sick bastard had her chained up somewhere.”

  “I’m afraid so.”

  “Any signs of sexual abuse?”

  “There are no indications of forced intercourse. A few semen traces were present in the vaginal vault, so someone had sex with her. We’re testing for lubricant from a condom. The small amount of semen present looked like what you’d find if a condom weren’t taken off properly. The semen should be enough for a DNA test. Kolterjohn’s body still had a condom on it when we brought him in, so my guess would be it’s his. If her abductor raped her, he didn’t cause any bruising.”

  “Anything under her nails?”

  “We swabbed for trace, but it looks like her hands had been scrubbed clean. I’ll be examining them more closely, but don’t get your hopes up on that one.”

  “Then he probably had her restrained in a place where he was able to wash her off when he finished with her.” The site of the body dump in front of the Daltons still bothered Kendall. How could it be random, in a place that could so easily be observed by a passing car or a neighbor with insomnia?

  “There wasn’t much trace on her, either,” Teed said. “Just a few fibers on her body that looked like they were from vehicle carpeting. I’m sending everything to the state lab for an ID, along with the semen for DNA. Other than that, there were a few things obviously picked up in the dumpster, but we’ve been able to identify most of them.”

  “She must not have been frozen then, right? So she wouldn’t have been in the garbage bin too long.”

  “No. We were lucky there. If she’d been in there more than a few hours we would have had to wait quite a while before I could get her on the table. I’d estimate her time of death at between one and two a.m. And as I said earlier, she’d probably only been in the dumpster for four or five hours at the most. I’ve done as much as I can right now. I can’t open her up until her body’s been formally identified. I’ll call you when I have more.”

  So her body was stuffed in the garbage bin in the early hours before dawn. “Have you ever seen anything like this?”

  “Not really. I can’t say this is the worst I’ve ever seen, but it’s certainly in the top ten.”

  Karla Foley’s boyfriend, Jared Dannunzio, sunburned and red eyed, came into the station late that afternoon. Kendall gave him a cup of coffee and took him to an interview room.

  “I got here as soon as I could,” he said. Kendall didn’t tell him it hadn’t been necessary for him to fly back when, clearly, he felt he needed to be here. She had talked to all of Karla’s friends she could find, but no one had anything helpful to tell her. A girl who had been at the same party said Karla was angry because Jared had gone on a spring break trip without her. Karla told her that she was looking for someone to have revenge sex with, not a detail Kendall would be sharing with Dannunzio.

  “This is all my fault,” he said as soon as Kendall sat across from him. “I never should have gone without her. It was stupid. If I’d stayed here she wouldn’t have been with that guy and she would still be alive.”

  “Jared, the only person at fault here is the man who killed her.”

  “I still feel like crap.”

  Of course he would. Everyone around a victim beats up on themselves for what they could have done to prevent a tragedy; it was human nature.

  “Jared, do you know anyone who would want to hurt Karla?” Kendall asked.

  “Not everyone liked her, but they wouldn’t want to hurt her.”

  “When you say not everyone liked her, what do you mean, exactly?”

  “She could be kind of bitchy at times, you know? She’s a good student, and she holds down a job with a lot of hours to pay for her tuition. Karla doesn’t have time for people who have everything handed to them. But she’s got friends. I don’t want you to think no one liked her; she just didn’t bother kissing up to people she didn’t like.”

  The friends Kendall talked to had nothing negative to say about Karla. No one else had referred to any “bitchiness,” but people tended to remember dead friends in a positive light.

  She showed him a photo of the Daltons. “Have you ever seen these people with Karla?”

  “No, I’ve never seen them before. Is the guy a suspect?”

  “No. These are the people who own the house where we found her body. We don’t believe they have any connection to her death, but we have to check everything.”

  “Right. I don’t think she knew them.”

  “How about at her job? Did anyone there ever threaten her, or maybe make unwelcome advances?”

  Jared rubbed his eyes with his sleeve. “Not that she ever told me. But Karla didn’t scare easy or get intimidated by anyone, you know? What would have made most girls nervous wouldn’t have bothered her; she’d just handle it on her own and forget about it.”

  Karla didn’t suffer fools and fought her own battles; the girl wouldn’t have been an easy victim. But if she’d been on Kolterjohn’s lap having sex when he was shot, she would have been totally blindsided by the attack.

  Kendall had been on her way to Perkins where the girl worked when Jared came in to the station. After he left, she called ahead to be sure the manager of Karla’s shift would be there to talk to her.

  19

  Alverson located Karla’s immediate family to ask them more questions about their daughter. They had just come from the medical examiner’s office where they had identified their daughter’s body, so they were eager to help, though still grief stricken. No, Karla had no enemies they were aware of, and no, she hadn’t mentioned anyone threatening her. When Ross finished, and had nothing new to report back to Kendall, he decided to talk to Courtney Jorstad’s friends.

  If Courtney had left of her own volition, as everyone including Kendall was prone to think, then someone had to know about her plans. A girl that age—he found out she was nineteen—told her friends, or at least one best friend, everything. Her parents told him her best friend was a boy she knew from high school, a Trent Gullickson. They both attended UWEC.

  Courtney’s parents also gave Ross the names of two girlfriends, students at the college. They shared a small studio apartment a block off Clairemont. One of them was home when he arrived. She said they’d talked between them about Courtney leaving and had no clue where she might have gone. Courtney both loved and resented her parents. She hated her body and was always trying fad diets, she was a good student, and she loved reading, especially mysteries. Nothing that they told him did a thing to explain her disappearance.

  Ross had saved Trent Gullickson for last since he was Courtney’s best friend. They were meeting at the pizza place where Trent worked part-time. The restaurant near the campus had just opened for the day, and only one couple sat in the small dining room that was already heavy with the scent of fresh dough and melting cheese.

  Trent Gullickson had Asian features, with jet-black hair and round, owl-like black eyeglasses. He stood only a few inches above five feet. Alverson felt like a giant until they sat across from each other at a table with a red-and-white checkered tablecloth. A green wine bottle in the middle of the table was covered with a rainbow of dripped candle wax, a fresh candle in its center.

  Ross pulled out his ID and introduced himself. “Trent, I’m here to talk to you about Courtney Jorstad. I’m sure you already know that she’s missing. Her parents are concerned and they’re hoping you can help us find her.”

  “I talked to them already. I called them after
I didn’t hear from Court for a couple days. I told them I don’t know where she is.”

  “When is the last time you saw her?”

  “It must have been about three days ago. No, it was Monday. I remember now because it was the day after they found that Kolterjohn guy dead. We talked about it a lot. Court loved that stuff.”

  “Were you a member of the book club she belonged to?”

  “No. I’m into sci-fi.”

  Something was off in Trent’s demeanor and his brief answers. The kid didn’t seem to be too upset about his friend’s disappearance. If he was really close to her, he should have been more upset, more interested in where she was. Trent might be her best friend, but Ross had doubts about his honesty; he knew something he wasn’t revealing.

  “Did she ever talk to you about the book club?”

  Trent shrugged. “Sometimes she talked about which book they were reading. She didn’t always like what the other ones picked to read.”

  “Did she ever mention someone from the club that made her uncomfortable?”

  “No.”

  Alverson jotted down a few notes. “Did she ever tell you she wanted to leave Eau Claire, just take off by herself?”

  “No. But she didn’t like living with her parents. Courtney hated that she was fat; she complained about it all the time. It bothered her that her parents never even tried to lose weight and always had too much food around the house.”

  “Why didn’t she move out?”

  “She can’t afford to live anywhere else. Court only works a few hours a week doing bookwork for her dad’s business.”

  “Can you give me the names of the people in her book group?”

  “They’re all old people. Like, they’re all in their thirties or forties. One of them works in the library. Her name is Claire. I don’t know her last name.”

  Ross had one last question.” Trent, you’re Courtney’s best friend. Can you think of any reason she would leave and not tell you or her parents?”

 
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