Silenced Girls, page 1
Also by Roger Stelljes
About the Author
To my family, for letting me pursue my dreams of becoming a mystery writer.
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Copyright © 2019 Roger Stelljes
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof in any form. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical without the express written permission of the author. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or any other means without permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. This book is a work of the author’s experience and opinion. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.
“THERE IS NO SIGN OF A STRUGGLE…”
Manchester, Minnesota. July 5, 1999. 4:14 a.m.
“Dispatch, I’m 10-8 leaving the Berglund place up on Little Birch,” Sheriff’s Deputy Ed Gregerson reported, noting his availability for service, having addressed the noise complaint from the firepit around the front of the cabin. He chuckled; the two mid-twenty-year-old couples still going strong, the bonfire blazing, the empty beer cans plentiful on the ground, the country rock music and their boisterous voices just a bit too loud for the cabins tucked nearby on Little Birch Lake.
Gregerson turned himself around and made his way back along North Little Birch Lake Road, stifling a late-night yawn as he approached and then turned left onto Highway 4, called the H-4 by locals of Shepard County. The highway was quiet with only one lonely set of headlights passing him in the northbound lane in the two miles before he approached County Road 48. He turned right, planning to work his way southwest to Manchester for a short break. He reached for his now lukewarm coffee and took a drink as he eased around a gentle right bend. Up ahead on the right shoulder he viewed a white car. The car lights were turned off. The hazard lights were not flashing. He slowed and pulled behind the car, a mid-nineties white Grand Am. He couldn’t place his finger on it, but the car looked familiar to him for some reason.
“Dispatch, this is Gregerson. I’m 10-20 on County 48. Checking on a disabled vehicle.”
Gregerson stepped out of his Bronco. With his left hand resting on his gun he approached the car, scanning the interior with the beam of his flashlight. The car’s doors were locked. As he peered inside, he didn’t see any items to identify the car’s owner. He walked around the front of the car to the passenger side and saw the problem. The right front tire was flat as a pancake, the mangled rubber mostly detached from and twisted around the rim like a pretzel. Gregerson slowly walked along, continuing to peer inside moving the beam of the flashlight around and then he stopped. Resting on the backseat he saw a balled-up hooded sweatshirt. He could make out the logo and some letters. It was a Manchester Girls Soccer sweatshirt.
“Huh. I better call this in,” he muttered. He was now pretty sure who the car belonged to.
Gregerson climbed back into his Bronco and accessed the computer, typing in the license plate for confirmation. He was right.
“Dispatch. We need to 10-21 the sheriff. I found his girls’ car abandoned out here on County 48.”
Tori Hunter sat alone on the old green couch, her legs tucked tightly together. Her blue jean shorts were slightly soiled, and her white scoop neck sleeveless tank top lacked its normal crispness, all a result of being in the same clothes for nearly twenty hours. A barely touched glass of water wrapped in a plain white napkin sat in front of her on the worn walnut coffee table. She could hear voices approaching in the hallway. “Nothing from the scent of that sweatshirt?” one voice asked.
“No. The dogs couldn’t track it. There’s a bulletin out for the girl, but…” the second voice replied before drifting out of earshot.
She languidly shifted her eyes to her left, to the aged, dusty green microfiber of the couch and the faded, almost invisible oblong brown stain. Unclasping her hands, she brushed the slender fingers of her left hand lightly over the blemish, a spot she’d been part of creating years ago when fighting over a can of soda. She must have sat, laid, slept or jumped on the sofa a thousand times over the seventeen years of her life.
She emerged out of her trance and sluggishly glanced to her right to see a familiar face. Cal Lund, Chief Deputy Sheriff for Shepard County. A proper and courteous man, he always called her by her given name. “Can you come with me?”
Tori nodded before slowly standing up. She followed him out of the office and then turned left and trailed him down the long hallway toward a door with Investigations stenciled across the frosted glass. This was one part of the building she’d rarely been allowed to explore or experience.
Cal opened the door for her and Tori walked timidly inside, then followed him down a narrow, bland beige-painted hallway and turned right through an open door into an interior squared room devoid of exterior windows. It contained only a sturdy brown metal-legged table with four aged yet durable chairs with green padded seats and a video camera mounted up in the corner. There was a one-way mirror on the left wall.
A black-haired man in a dark tan suit, crisp white dress shirt and brown striped tie sat on the left side. Lund pulled a chair out for Tori on the right side of the table opposite of the mirror. Tori seated herself and Lund slid her chair back toward the table before going around and taking the open seat on the other side.
“Have you heard from the sheriff?” Tori asked softly as Cal sat down. She always referred to her father as the sheriff, even at home.
Lund shook his head, “No, I haven’t heard from him, at least not since he brought you in here. He’s still out at the scene.”
She suspiciously peered at the other man who Lund introduced as Special Agent Johnson from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. “They’re assisting on the investigation.”
“What am I doing in here?”
“Your dad wanted us to talk to you.”
“But I told him everything I know.”
“I’m sure you did,” Cal replied matter-of-factly as he opened a spiral notebook in front of him. “But we need to go over it again. Do you understand?”
“Good,” Cal replied as he took the cap off his pen. “Last night, let’s start from the beginning…”
“I hope so,” Tori replied a bit nervously to her fun-loving twin sister Jessica, or just plain Jessie to everyone.
“What do you mean hope?” Jessie replied loudly with a big smile, lightly punching her sister in the arm. “You’re meeting up with Jason, right?”
“Yeah, so?” Tori replied, a small self-conscious smile creasing her lips as she turned her face away.
“My serious and responsible twin sister has her first boyfriend!” Jessie teased happily, a big broad smile across her face. “I just love it, love it when my plans come together.”
“Ha, ha,” Tori mock-grumped in reply.
“Lighten up, sister, I set you up good. He’s really nice and pretty darned cute, too.”
They were identical twin sisters, each five-foot-five, both lithe and athletic, with long auburn hair and soft attractive features. The sisters were accomplished soccer players and students. But for identical twin sisters, their personalities couldn’t have been more opposite.
Jessie Hunter had a bigger than life personality: fun-loving, easygoing, confident and personable. On the soccer field she was the catalyst, scorer, vocal leader, the one exhorting her teammates to work hard and hustle. Jessie was always dressed to the nines, her hair fashionably styled, her makeup perfectly applied. It was that effervescence that made her the most popular girl in their class, the one all the boys swooned over.
Tori was the quieter, reserved and more inwardly intense of the two. On the soccer field she was the tough as nails stoic defender who rarely said a word. She let her play do the talking. While Jess was the style maven, Tori preferred to dress more modestly. Where Jess had flowing hair, Tori pulled her hair back in a ponytail and often hid her eyes behind glasses at school. It was that shy and reserved nature, not to mention her willingness to hide in her sister’s shadow that made her a little less approachable.
Yet as different as they might have been personally, they were inseparable, rarely if ever going anywhere without the other. They looked out for and protected each other. Mess with one, and you got the other. Perhaps the only time they were ever apart socially was when it came to boys, and for once it was Tori who would be the one to break away.
“So, what are your plans tonight?” Tori asked.
“I have no specific plans.”
Tori detected the mischievous tone and she knew her sister always had something up her sleeve, some game she was playing. “No specific plans, huh? Does that mean we’re perhaps trolling tonight?”
“Please, I don’t troll. I don’t chase. They come to me.”
“Okay, so who will be coming to you this time? Tommy Josephs? Jeff Warner? I’ve seen that Greg Brodt hanging around more, Mike Webb, maybe. Or, I know…Steak?”
Jess laughed and then shook her head. “They’re all friends but…I don’t know, this will sound really shallow, but I’m kind of bored with all of them.”
“Bored? You’re bored with them?”
“Yeah, it’s a little of been there done that. I kissed Steak last week, but there was no … sizzle there.”
“No sizzle,” Tori laughed. “That’s funny. What about Eddie?”
Jessie smiled widely. “He is cute and all, but,” she shook her head, “no. Now if his brother Kyle showed up…”
“He’s twenty-three!” Tori protested.
Jessie smiled. “Six more years more mature, twin-sis. I kind of think I like the more mature guys at this point.”
“Easy there, sister. I’m not serious about Kyle. But there was this guy I met the other day over at the college named Rance. He plays on the football team, a wide receiver. I’d like to run into him. And, to ease your worries, he’s only two years older.”
Tori shook her head in wonderment at her twin sister’s assessment and playing of the field. For Tori, there’d never been much of a field to play or assess. Despite the fact she was an identical twin-sister to the prettiest and most popular girl in school, Tori lacked her sister’s extroverted nature and innate social confidence.
It was the Fourth of July and downtown Manchester was filled with revelers. With a population of just under 19,000, the sleepy resort town sat on the southern shores of picturesque Steamboat Lake in the middle of Minnesota lakes country, two hours due north of the Twin Cities. Steamboat Lake was the anchor for a chain of eight connected lakes to the north. The town’s businesses and existence revolved around the chain of lakes and its vacationers and the ever-expanding Manchester State University, which rested up on the bluff a mile east of downtown.
Each year on the Fourth of July Manchester held a raucous party. The town center from the intersection of Lake Drive and Interlachen Avenue running several blocks north to South Shore Drive and the half-moon shaped local beach on Hiniker Bay was blocked off. The street was filed with partygoers, both local as well as vacationers and cabin owners. For Jess and Tori, it was the chance to gather with their large group of high school friends.
“Our last year together.” As one of the ringleaders, Jessie was almost wistful about it. “It’s going to be tough leaving and not seeing everyone all the time.”
Tori, ever the practical one of the two, was far more sanguine. “By next summer, you’ll be so excited to go off to Iowa State with me that you won’t be sad at all.”
“Ahh, here’s a parking spot,” Jessie said, pulling into a slot on Lake Drive. “Oh, and would you look who we’re next to.”
“Gee, funny how that worked out.”
“What? You think I wasn’t making plans all day while you were gone?” Jessie replied with a wickedly happy grin.
A group of their friends were awaiting their arrival, leaning against the back of Jason’s aged black Ford Explorer. Their joint best friend, Katy Anderson, was hanging with a bunch of girls on the sidewalk in front of the truck. “It took you two long enough,” Katy needled boisterously once Jessie parked.
“Sorry, I was waiting for someone to get home from work,” Jessie rejoined, throwing a thumb at her sister.
Tori made her way over to Jason, the two of them awkwardly saying hello, trying to be so sly about really liking one another, and in the process making it oh so obvious that they did. Jason was her first boyfriend, but she was his first, too. Their friends all thought they were cute together, trying to figure out the logistics of boyfriend-girlfriend.
“Let’s go,” Jessie commanded with an arm wave to her friends.
Ahead was the entire town celebrating the Fourth of July. Lake Drive was filled with foods stands, carnival rides, a mini-midway and multiple beer gardens. An eighties cover band was playing a passable version of A Flock of Seagulls “I Ran” at the small stage a block ahead.
Before everyone walked away, Jake Williams, known as ‘Steak’ since they were all young kids, called everyone over. “All of you go buy a big lemonade, the ones with the yellow covers and long green straws,” he suggested, and then added under his breath, “then bring them back. We have vodka.”
Everyone did as Steak suggested, making their way over to the stand.
“Can I buy you one?” Jason asked hopefully, slyly extending his hand for hers.
“Yes, please,” Tori replied as her fingers interlocked with his.
“You and your friends hung out at the carnival. Do we have all the names?” Cal asked, going through name-by-name the ones that Tori provided. There were over twenty.
“Those are the ones that I remember hanging around with us,” Tori confirmed. “There were thousands of people downtown, but the names I gave you were in our group. It’s the same people we always run around with.”
“And did anyone cause you concern?” Agent Johnson asked with a furrowed brow.
“Of my friends? Gosh, no.”
“I’m asking about anyone else, Ms. Hunter. You mentioned this guy your sister ran into over at the college,
“No, not that I noticed. She never said anything about that and I never saw her with anyone I didn’t know.”
“And you two were together the whole night?” Lund asked for confirmation.
“Yes. I mean, I might have been talking to one group of people and she was talking to someone else. I might have been playing this midway game and she was playing another, but we weren’t far apart. We almost never are.”
“And you didn’t notice anyone unusual hanging around?”
“What do you mean, unusual?”
“Was there anyone who kept appearing that was new, that you didn’t know or recognize? Was there anyone odd following you around? Was there someone that maybe creeped you out?” Agent Johnson asked, his pen hovering over his notebook.
“No,” Tori answered, shaking her head.
“Come on, really?” Johnson pressed. “You saw no one? I just find that hard to believe.”
“Do you think that was because you were with Jason?” Cal asked directly. “That was your focus, wasn’t it?”
Tori nodded as she looked down, a tear running slowly down her cheek.
“Tell me about your car,” Agent Johnson inquired, flipping through some pages of notes. “Was it running okay?”
“There weren’t any problems with its operation?” Johnson persisted. “It wasn’t running rough at all?”
“Any issues with the tires?”
“No. The car was just tuned up like a week ago.”
“Tell me about the vodka.” Agent Johnson asked directly. “Who supplied it?”
Tori hesitated to answer.
“Victoria, the drinking isn’t what matters right now,” Cal counseled. “But we do need to know more about it. Who supplied it? Jason?”
“No, it was Steak.”
“Steak?” Agent Johnson asked, looking up.
“Jake Williams,” Cal answered. “A local boy.”
ROGER STELLJES SERIES:
Other author's books:
- Silenced GirlsBlood SilenceFatally BoundDeadly StillwaterFirst Case (mcryan mystery)
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