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Authors: Elizabeth Gunn

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BOOK: Eleven Little Piggies
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Clint said, ‘Maynard says the third brother's quite the ladies' man. Anybody else hear anything about that?'

‘No,' I said. ‘I'll ask Ethan about him if I get a word in edgewise, but let's not get too scattershot with our questions now – we don't want to lose focus—'

‘Oh, shit,' Rosie said, looking at the ceiling light.

‘What?'

‘What you just said about scattershot – I just thought of something.' She pushed her curls around and they got wilder than ever. ‘But I suppose since I didn't think of it earlier it's too late now, isn't it?'

‘For what?' I said.

The phone on the conference table rang. LeeAnn answered it and said, ‘I'll be right out.' She hung up and turned to me. ‘Ethan's waiting at the front desk.'

I stood up and began gathering my few notes together, asking Rosie, ‘What is it too late for?'

She said, ‘That walk-in cooler? I noticed some odd marks in the meat that was hanging there.'

‘What?' I put all my papers in a fresh manila folder and clipped a ballpoint to the front. ‘It's a typical home-butchering operation, isn't it? They kill an animal and hang up the sides on hooks?'

‘Uh . . . that's how it looked to me,' Clint said.

‘So why wouldn't we expect some of the cutting to be less than professional?'

‘Well . . . sure . . . although it looks like they have a couple of hands that are pretty good meat-cutters. But I'm talking about little dimply marks in some of the carcasses. Did you see that, Clint?'

‘Some small holes – looked like maybe the animal ran up against a barbed wire fence, or . . .'

‘Or if you think about it,' Rosie said, ‘couldn't they have been scattershot? Overspray made by little pellets like the ones we watched Pokey picking out of the snow?'

I was already turning to go out the door. I had asked LeeAnn to put Ethan in an interview room and I knew he would not take kindly to a long wait. But when I turned back, those two faces, Rosie's and Clint's, were looking at me with identical expressions. Clint was back on Rosie's team, his eyes alight. Hers were too; they looked like a pair of barn owls that have just heard a mouse rustle.

‘You're right, by God, now that you say it . . .' Clint said, ‘and we might still be able to dig out one or two . . . and if they match . . .'

‘Jesus, you two.' I walked back to the table. ‘You don't make things easy, you know that?'

Rosie said, ‘If I hadn't been so tired Saturday night . . .'

‘All right,' I said. ‘Shut up and listen, because we're all out of time. Rosie, call Judge Cartwright, get her to reopen the search warrant. Clint, while she's doing that, get a lab crew together, tell them what you suspect and that you need them to come along with you right away – bring the Luminol or whatever they're using to raise blood spatter now . . .'

‘Jake,' Clint said, ‘there's going to be blood traces everywhere in that cooler.'

‘Let me finish. Take somebody along who's qualified to lift a DNA sample . . . dig down in that drain where you thought the remains of Owen might have been flushed – isn't that what you thought? Because I need you to bring back some good stuff, or we're all going to get certified as lunatics. The three of us,' I said, turning to the rest of my crew, who were watching us walleyed, ‘Andy and Winnie and I, we'll handle these interviews. Right?'

‘Of course,' Winnie said, pleased with this part of the play.

Clint grinned at me. ‘Hope you're wearing your big-boy pants today,' he said. ‘Ethan's a tough nut.'

‘Say one more word,' I said, ‘and I'll go to the farm myself and leave you here to do this interview.'

He knew I was bluffing. I'd been making do with hearsay evidence long enough. Today nobody was going to cheat me out of a first-hand look at the Kester family.

FIVE

E
ven allowing for the absence of deathly pallor, I didn't see much resemblance between the brothers when I met Ethan in the interview room. He looked a lot younger than Owen, for one thing. He was sleeker and showed less wear, and had smooth hands. It was only after he took off his hat and coat that I discovered his hairline, forehead and nose were almost identical to his brother's. With his hat off he looked older, too – nearer Owen's age.

He was better groomed and dressed than his brother but less attractive, with the sallow skin and liverish look of a man who never got much exercise. I could imagine him hunched over his desk, scowling at a computer screen in a dim room. The reality of his brother's death had begun to eat at him, too – almost literally: he looked leaner than his picture on his firm's Facebook page. His mouth was clamped tight and turned down at the corners – plainly, Ethan Kester was not a happy man.

I'd asked LeeAnn to set him up in an interview room because I wanted everything we said on tape. We had not been friends in school: he was a couple of years older and I was far below him in the social scale, a grubby kid working my way through. I was only vaguely aware of him then and I was pretty sure he wouldn't remember me at all. If, as Ray said, he was focused on blaming the police force for his troubles, I wanted his attempts at intimidation documented.

He started talking as soon as I came in, not waiting for any questions. ‘I told your Detective Bailey in no uncertain terms,' he said, ‘and I want to repeat to you first thing: I'm not satisfied with your department's handling of this investigation.'

‘Yes, you've made that very plain. Now I want to be equally frank with you,' I said. ‘You can keep on getting whatever satisfaction you're getting out of blaming us for your misfortune, or you can cooperate with the investigation. Then with any luck, we might have some of the answers you need quite soon. It's up to you.'

He blinked, stared in disbelief for a few seconds and began to swell up like an alarmed puffer fish. Nobody, his face said, talked like that to Attorney Kester. ‘Now see here,' he said.

‘No.' I shook my head. ‘You're the one who needs to see. Nobody on the Rutherford police force caused your brother's death. It's a terrible calamity and we all feel sympathy for your sorrow, but blaming us is just a waste of time. You can calm down and answer some questions, and get the help you need, or you can keep on making threats and get yourself nudged a little higher on the list of suspects.'

It was a gamble, and I almost lost. He stood up and put his hat back on, muttering, ‘We will see about this,' and reached for his coat. But halfway through shrugging into it, he turned back and said, ‘What do you mean, higher on the list of suspects? You're not suggesting I killed my own brother, are you?'

‘We always look at family first.' I said it as blandly as if I was discussing the weather, but I knew it was a shocker. It had the added weight of being perfectly true. Go look at the stats some time. We're all in more danger from our nearest and dearest than from anybody else.

‘My God,' he said. ‘I feel like I've wandered into a nest of lunatics. First you invade my farm in the middle of the night and now you accuse me of being a killer.'

He had a number on speed dial, and he called it now, standing over me with his hat on crooked, one arm in his overcoat and one out. It was answered quietly, halfway through the first ring.

‘Uncle Jonas?' His voice trembled a little, which I suppose made him angrier. ‘This is Ethan. I'm at the police station, talking to a detective named, um,' he looked at my name tag, ‘Jake Hines. Yes. Yes, you got the name right. But listen, he doesn't seem to realize . . . He looks as if he probably didn't grow up around here, so I don't think he understands what we . . . who I am. Will you speak to him?'

I used to get this reaction a lot when I was a rookie cop. I'd be writing up a ticket and the voice of the speedster would say, ‘You're not from around here, are you?' My face looks like it was assembled by a committee at the United Nations, and in those days, Minnesota's population was about ninety-eight per cent white, mostly descended from northern Europeans. Most of the people I dealt with thought a guy who looked like me should be trimming their lawn.

I still don't know whose child I am, but I do know I'm a true native son. I was raised by the State of Minnesota since my first day on earth, when I was found in a dumpster at the back of a motel in Red Wing. Minnesota is a somewhat impersonal parent, but it's been fair to me and I try to return the favor.

The voice that came over the phone had the sandpapery quality of seasoned old age. ‘Jake Hines, hello,' he said. ‘This is Jonas Robbins. I haven't had the pleasure of speaking with you in some time.'

‘Jonas?' I said. ‘I didn't know . . . I'm afraid I didn't make the connection with your name and . . . Was Owen Kester your nephew?'

‘My grand-nephew, actually,' he said. ‘Anna Carrie's boy.' As if I should know who Anna Carrie was. Even distaff relatives of the Kesters seemed to think everybody knew who they were. But I was never aware of this family connection so I hadn't associated his law firm with the angry brother who confronted me now.

I got acquainted with Jonas when I was a new detective and he was getting ready to defend a bad apple named Updike. It was maybe ten years ago, an assault case – his firm must have been a little less focused on corporate clients then. We had the DNA evidence and two neighbors' testimony that Jonas' client routinely beat up his girlfriend and then talked her out of signing a complaint. This time she'd stood firm and the case was going to trial, because even though every word of her complaint was true, Updike was counting on his buddies to come up with enough damaging slurs on the woman's character to get him off. The chief was determined to put him away, saying, ‘He's going to kill her one of these times if we don't stop him.'

Jonas came to us during the discovery phase as he was preparing his defense. ‘Show him everything,' the chief said. ‘Convince him we got the goods on that numbskull, so we can all save the trouble of going to trial.'

Robbins was wary, sure he was going to get snowed. I was guarded, on the lookout for put-downs. Less favorable conditions for beginning a friendship would be hard to find, but he was an intelligent man and a good listener. As he saw the weight of the evidence we had, his questions became more and more incisive. I began to enjoy the conversation, and realized it was because this man was really interested in what I had to say and didn't give a shit about the color of my skin. It made me wonder if maybe
he
was from out of town.

Minnesota was already transitioning out of heartland all-whiteness then, but there were still many citizens around who found my face – about the shade of good spice cake and with an odd collection of features – puzzling as hell. It was tough enough being a uniformed officer, but when I made detective and began working in street clothes, I soon learned I had to have my shield in plain sight when I knocked on a door.

Talking to Jonas today made me realize that my town has been moving at a blistering pace – culturally speaking – in the last twenty years: it's as diverse as the Twin Cities now, school enrollments nearing twenty per cent non-white, scatterings of Hmong and Somali and Vietnamese, and almost enough Muslims around to start our own Sunni/Shia conflict.

And Jonas Robbins is still the smart, good-natured gent he always was. I'd forgotten how much I liked him, back when I was a newbie investigator and he shook my hand and said, ‘His father's an old friend and I wanted to help. But facts are facts, aren't they? You've saved me a lot of time and work. Thank you.'

A couple of days later the chief said, ‘Robbins is dropping the Updike case. Good job.' So I knew the lawyer had put in a good word with the chief too. You remember guys like that.

Today I told him, ‘Ethan's understandably upset about his brother's death. We're hoping to have more information for him soon.'

‘I appreciate your patience,' Jonas said. ‘May I speak to him again, please?'

The old man must have told Ethan to cool his jets, because he folded up his phone after a minute and said, ‘My uncle said that I'm talking to one of the good guys. He wants me to help you as much as I can.' He looked around him, sniffing, as if he might be inspecting the interview room for vermin. Finally he brought himself to say, ‘So please accept my apology.'

‘Accepted.' He had eased out of the coat and crookedly-placed hat and dropped them on the floor.

No use letting the moment go to waste, I decided. ‘You ready for questions now?'

He blinked once, swallowed and said, ‘Sure.'

‘Tell me where you were Saturday morning from four a.m. till noon.'

‘Dear me,' he said. ‘You mean you don't know yet when he died?' Relapsing at once into lawyerly tactics, he put the onus back on the questioner. My hackles went back up.

He was right, though – Pokey hadn't given us an estimated time of death yet. Even when he did it would be just that, an estimate. We knew Owen had been out on the road with the dead horses in the predawn hours, but we hadn't established yet when he was last seen alive. Possibly five or six hours had elapsed between his last live sighting and the electric moment in late morning when his body was found in the snow. And so far, it was anybody's guess how much of that time it had lain out in freezing weather. So no, we were not even close to having a time of death.

When I asked Ethan the question, I was ready to accept rough estimates – most people don't remember times very precisely unless they know they're going to be asked. But if he was going to throw up roadblocks I was going to kick them down. So now, by God, I wanted detailed information about every minute of his morning.

‘Well, at four a.m.,' he said, giving it plenty of irony, ‘I'm pretty confident I was still sleeping soundly.'

BOOK: Eleven Little Piggies
8.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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