Authors: Diane Fanning
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Police Procedurals, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Serial Killers, #Crime Fiction
Punish the Deed
A Lucinda Pierce Mystery
Copyright © 2008 Diane Fanning
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Punish the deed
1. Women detectives –
2. Volunteer workers in child welfare – Crimes against – Fiction
3. Murder – Investigation – Fiction
4. Detective and mystery stories
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-6707-0 (cased)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
To Liz and Alex—
The shrill of the alarm clock pierced Conrad Fleming’s sleep. He slapped the snooze button and rolled over. He reached for his wife, longing for the touch of her skin, the warmth of an embrace. But there was no one there.
He sat upright, confused. He listened but heard not a sound. Worse, he didn’t smell coffee brewing. If
were here, the aroma would fill the house.
Where was she?
She often worked late – very late. But she always came home. Maybe Monica was right. Maybe
was having an affair with the school district superintendent. He’d laughed at Monica yesterday when she told him that rumor. He wasn’t laughing now.
He called the direct line into
’s office. It rang four times and clicked to voice mail. He hung up without leaving a message. He clicked the speed-dial button for her cell. It, too, went unanswered.
He paced the bedroom then slipped into the master bathroom seeking signs that she’d been there and had left already – arriving and leaving while he slept. The shower was dry, as were the sink and all the towels.
Where was she?
He walked into the kitchen, poured water into the coffee maker and flipped the switch. He watched his feet move back and forth on the kitchen tiles as he waited. He pulled out the carafe, interrupting the flow of the brew. He started to pour but stopped mid-tilt. Dingy hot water. Nothing more. He hadn’t put in any ground coffee.
He turned off the pot and went down the hall to the home office, grabbing the school district directory as he walked through the door. He punched in the numbers for the home phone of Superintendent Robert Irving.
A woman answered. “Mrs. Irving?” he asked.
“Yes,” she rasped.
“Is your husband there?”
“Do you know what time it is?”
“Is your husband there?” he repeated.
“It’s not even five thirty yet.”
“I know. It’s important. Is your husband there?”
“Yes. Who is this?”
“Are you sure he’s there?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” she snapped. “He’s right here next to me. Who is this?”
Conrad blinked, speechless. He was so sure
wouldn’t be at home either.
A male voice came on the line. “Who is this and what do you want?”
Conrad hung up, burning with shame.
More than twenty-five years of marriage and now my first thought is to distrust
He scratched infidelity off his list of reasons for his wife’s absence.
His thoughts turned dark and fear churned the acid in his empty stomach, creating a burn in his throat. He called both hospitals to check on overnight admissions. No
. No Jane Does. Again he hit speed dial for her cell phone. Still no answer. The sound of her voice on the recorded greeting plunged into his heart like a dagger of ice, evoking images of
in a dark alley, bloodied with a knife protruding from her chest. He shook his head hard to chase the vision away.
He went back into the kitchen and properly prepared the coffee. He dressed while the coffee brewed. When it was ready, he bolted down a cup so fast he scalded his mouth.
Maybe she had an overnight business trip and he’d forgotten.
, he rebuked himself,
I just wasn’t listening when she told me
If she was away on work-related travel, the superintendent might know.
He picked up the phone and called his number again. Robert Irving answered, “What?”
“I was wondering . . .” Conrad began.
“Who is this?”
Conrad hung up, grabbed his keys and headed out to his car to drive downtown to the police station.
Sammy Nyguen entered through the basement door in the back of the school district building. He punched his time card at 5:56 a.m. A small and wiry man, his wrinkled, weathered face barely peered over the top of the big trash receptacle as he wheeled it down the hall and into the elevator on his way to the second floor.
There were few offices on the upper level. Meeting rooms of various sizes consumed most of the space. Since the school board had not met the night before, his job there was quick and easy. He emptied waste baskets, gathered up three used coffee cups in one hand and went down to tend to the dozens of offices on the first floor.
He parked the trashcan in the hallway outside the kitchen. In the doorway, he spotted a woman’s brown shoe lying on its side. Puzzled, he bent down to pick it up. As he stuck it under the arm holding the dirty mugs, he saw spots on the floor. He squatted down and swiped at one of them. Dry. He licked his index finger and wiped at the stains again. Bright red blazed on his fingertip.
He stood up and stepped through the kitchen doorway. When he saw the bare foot, the cups fell from his hands to the floor. Two of them shattered on impact, sending cold droplets of creamy brown and black coffee up in the air, across the floor, on to his shoes and up his legs. The third mug bounced twice, spewing liquid on the path of its trajectory before landing and rolling to rest in the arch of the naked foot.
His eyes started their journey there, tracking up the woman’s leg to her skirt, hiked up to mid-thigh. Then on to hands crossed on her chest, where stained fingers stuck up at unnatural angles. His gaze lingered on those bloodied digits and then moved on, up to the pool of blood radiating from her head like a demonic halo, to the mangled mess of smashed nose, swollen eyes, blood-crusted lips and matted hair. He did not recognize the woman but he knew the face of death.
He stumbled backward until he could no longer see the length of battered body – just the arch of one delicate foot curled around a coffee-stained mug. He gawked at it as if the power of his stare could animate both to life. Then fear eclipsed his shock. He turned and ran for the side door. He fumbled with the keys clipped to his belt loop, unlocked the door, ran down sixteen broad steps to the sidewalk and pulled out his cell phone.
He kept an eye on the wood and textured glass door, prepared to flee if the door moved at all. He scrolled down to the superintendent’s home phone number in his electronic directory and pushed the call button.
’s voice exploded in Sammy’s ear. “You son of a bitch. I’m calling the police. Leave us alone.”
“Mr. Irving? Mr. Irving?” He said no more. No one was on the other end of the line.
Calling the police? Good
. He folded his cell and slid it into his pocket. He stood sentry, his eyes never straying from the door, his head cocked as he listened for the sound of approaching sirens. After a moment, he questioned what he heard.
How does Mr. Irving know where I am? How does he know who I am? Why did he call me a son of a bitch?
Sammy pulled out his cell and pressed 9-1-1.
Homicide Detective Lucinda Pierce pulled up to the curb in front of the old high school that now served as the administration building for the school district. She flipped down the visor to check the mirror and make sure she hadn’t forgotten anything essential in her rush from home that morning.
Hair was combed – not as perfectly in place as the hairdresser managed, but good enough. Two naturally arched eyebrows soared over two gray-shadowed lids. No clumps of mascara hung in blotches on her long lashes and the eyeliner was straight and thin.
She checked the positioning of her prosthetic eye to make sure it was properly centered. She tilted the mirror down. On one side, a prominent check bone, smooth, silky skin and plump full lips. On the other, the destruction of a shotgun blast, cratered, molten skin led down to a cruel thin slash like a lump of hardened wax lying where bountiful lips once smiled.
She traced a finger across the remnants of her mouth. She had a second round of surgery scheduled in a couple of days to attempt to make it look normal again. She was skeptical that the doctor could accomplish the miracle a return to “normal” required. She hated the down time from work and loathed the idleness demanded for healing.
With a deep sigh, she snapped up the visor, clicked open the door and threw out one long leg and then another. She clipped her gold badge to the waistband of her khaki skirt, brushed the heavy cotton smooth with a downward swipe of her hands. She reached in the back seat, picked up the jacket of her suit and slid it on to cover her shoulder holster from nervous civilian eyes.
She strode the length of the sidewalk and up the broad granite steps to the front entrance of the building. The two uniforms flanking the door said, “Good morning, Lieutenant,” in unison as they pulled open the double doors.
She nodded at them in response and stepped inside. Her heels clicked on the granite floor as she walked up the entryway toward the reception desk where the hall stretched out in both directions, traversing the length of the building.
She heard a familiar voice calling, “Good morning, Lucinda.”
She turned toward Sergeant Ted Branson and smiled. “Are you responsible for my rush out of the house this morning?” In her heels, she could look the 6’3’’ officer in the eye.
“Could have been,” he said with a grin. “But they told me you were next up before I had a chance to ask.”
“If I hadn’t been?”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“Yeah, right,” she said. “What’ve we got?”
“Blunt-force trauma. Female vic. Kitchen/lounge area, down that way,” he said, gesturing to the west side of the building.
“Know the vic’s identity?”
“And?” Lucinda asked.
“There are two cars in the parking lot. One’s registered to the custodian who discovered the body, the other to Conrad and Sharon Fleming. A patrol car is on the way to the Flemings’ address now.”
“Who is Sharon Fleming?”
Branson flipped open his notepad. “Fifty-six. Married. Executive Director of the Communities in Schools program for the district . . .” A shrill ring interrupted his recitation. He clicked his cell open and said, “Branson.”
He listened for a minute and then asked, “Do you know where Conrad Fleming works?” He said “Okay” a few times then clicked the phone shut. He turned to Lucinda. “No one’s responding to the doorbell or knocks at the Fleming house. One of the guys shone a flashlight in the garage window and there aren’t any cars there either.”
“That’s mighty interesting,” Lucinda said as she mentally entertained the possibility of spousal homicide.
As if reading her mind, Ted said, “Doesn’t look like it, Lucinda. The front gate said Fleming didn’t leave the community once from the time he arrived home from work at six last night until about five minutes before we got the 9-1-1 call, and he lives a good twenty minutes from here.”
“Are they sure?”
“Yeah, this is a high-security gated community. Multiple cameras at the gates and a couple at each intersection. They’re downloading the tapes now for patrol to take back to the station.”
“So where is he? At work?”
“Don’t know. The phone at Cenco Labs clicked over to a recorded message saying their offices don’t open until eight thirty. There’s a car heading that way now to check it out.”
“Good. What’s going on here? Techs? Coroner?”
“The tech team checked in, at the station, inspected the crime-scene truck and is in transit as we speak. Because of the location, I figured this murder would be high profile so I asked for Doc Sam. He, too, is supposedly on the way here.”
“Good,” Lucinda said. They stepped around the green trash receptacle and Lucinda peered down inside it. She saw nothing but crumpled paper. “Make sure the techs process this can.” Ted jotted this on his notepad.
They stepped up to the kitchen doorway. Her eye scanned across the scattered pottery shards to the body. “A bit of a struggle here, it seems,” Lucinda said.
“Hard to tell,” Ted said.
Lucinda glanced at him sideways as if he’d taken leave of his senses. Shattered mugs, spattered coffee, splattered blood all intermingled in a mess that stretched across the room . . .
Ted saw the look and laughed. “Well, unless the custodian did her, the coffee-related mess is not part of the crime scene. He was carrying the mugs to the sink and dropped them when he saw the body.”
Lucinda winced. She spotted a shoe off to her left on the end opposite the body. “What about that brown pump?”
“He found it in the hall, picked it up and dropped it in here.”
“It gets worse. He saw spots on the floor beside the shoe and rubbed on them with a saliva-moistened finger.”
Lucinda shook her head. “The spots were blood, right?”
She rolled her eyes. “I don’t want to set foot any deeper in this room until Doc Sam gets here. We’ve got enough problems already. See if the custodian will voluntarily give up a DNA sample. Where is he?”
“In the parking lot. We’re holding all the arriving employees there until you say otherwise.”
“I want to take a look,” she said, leading the way behind the reception desk to a large, curved multi-paned window that overlooked the parking lot a floor below on the same level as the basement. “Where’s the custodian?”
Ted pointed to a cluster of marked cars and the small man standing beside them, looking lost. “There, the Vietnamese guy in the blue coveralls.”
A black Escalade pulled into the lot, sending gravel flying as it came to an abrupt stop in the middle of a lane. The door flew open and a large man stepped out waving his arms and moving his mouth. “I wonder who that is,” Lucinda said.
Ted leaned forward, squinting his eyes. “Looks like the superintendent to me.”
“Lord, help us all. I probably have to talk to him first. What’s his name?”
“Irving. Robert Irving,” Ted said.
At the sound of opening doors at the front entrance, Lucinda and Ted turned around to see a team of five Tyvek-suited techs marching down the hall with matching blue booties over their shoes, surgical gloves over their hands and lugging enough equipment to put the Ghostbusters to shame. The front door opened again and Doc Sam shambled inside. “Lieutenant,” he barked.
“Hey, Doc Sam, follow me.” Turning to Ted, she said, “Brief the team and make sure they collect a sample from the spit and blood spot in the hallway before anyone tramples it.”
Lucinda and Doc Sam slid on booties and pulled on gloves before walking into the kitchen. He knelt down to examine the body while Lucinda stood by his side. After he grunted a few times, Lucinda asked, “What’s it look like?”
“She sure wasn’t beat to death with those coffee mugs,” he grumbled.
“She was beaten to death, though?”
He turned his head and looked at her with disgust. “Come on, Lieutenant, you know I won’t tell you the cause of death until I do the autopsy. What d’ya think I have? A crystal ball?” He turned back to the body, knowing fingers palpated the skull beneath the blood-saturated hair.
Lucinda swallowed a grin.
Good old Doc Sam. Some things never change.
you tell me, Doc?”
“She was beaten, all right. But you don’t need me to tell you that. Feels like the blunt object that struck her had curved edges. Like a pole. But it would have to have been something solid; these fractures are bad. Your people find anything like that lying around?”
“No. But they’ve just started.”
“Well, I’ll get out of your way then,” he said as he stood upright with a deep groan. “Whenever you’re done here, I’ll be waiting down at the morgue. I’d like to get this done before lunch.”
“We’ll finish up as soon as we can, Doc.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’ll do it in your own sweet time like you always do,” he said as he headed down the hall ripping off his gloves. He handed them to an officer at the door and went down the steps with the blue booties still wrapped around his shoes.