Read The Devil's Closet Online
Authors: Stacy Dittrich
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Psychological, #Women Sleuths, #Police Procedural
I was so exhausted by now that I couldn’t believe I was still functioning. Michael reached over and gently wiped the tears that yet again had begun to flow down my cheeks.
“Michael, he is my husband. We’re married. I saw Eric last night briefly, and we talked, but if you’re wondering if we slept together, no. As for what happened between us just now, that was some type of juvenile jab at you on Eric’s part. You didn’t stick around for the hostility afterward.” I gazed down the trail toward the crime scene.
“Yes, I did. I heard
bit of what you said. I wasn’t that far down the trail yet. I’m not stupid. I knew what Eric was doing. He was already here when I arrived and was determined to make me notice him. But, when I saw him kiss you and play with your hair, I couldn’t help it. I freaked.”
“That was no reason to stand there and belittle me in front of thirty agents.”
“I know, I know. One of the agents actually called me an asshole, though not quite with the flair that you had. CeeCee, I’m sorry. Enough.”
Michael leaned over and lightly kissed my forehead, past caring that twenty of the thirty FBI agents were watching. I knew we had been the golden rumor of the FBI, but I didn’t realize so many agents knew. It was time for me to leave.
It was still too early to go over and talk to the van owner, but that was fine since I wanted to do it in uniform and so needed time to change. I headed back home. Not that I expected wearing a uniform would do all that much, but I always want to appear intimidating even if the person I’m talking to is innocent. I certainly don’t intimidate anyone when in plain clothes, so my uniform is the only option. It makes people less likely to lie, or at least makes it harder for them.
After changing, I realized my gun belt was in my locker at work. In my exhaustion, I also forgot I’d need a marked police car, so I resigned myself to going back to the department. Coop came into my office while I was putting on my gun belt.
He let out a low whistle. “Wow! It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you in uniform—you’re kinda turning me on,” he wisecracked. “What the hell are you doing?”
“I’d like to hear that, too,” Michael said, standing in my doorway.
He was the last person I expected to show up here. I assumed the crime scene would keep him until at least late morning. I didn’t know what to tell him. I wasn’t supposed to be investigating now that the FBI had taken over. Obviously, I had to improvise a way out. He was looking me up and down, smiling. It never occurred to me that he hadn’t seen me in full uniform before. I didn’t quite understand what the big deal was.
“I have an interview to do, but it won’t take long.” I was putting the final belt attachment on.
“Who?” Coop and Michael asked in unison.
“You know, Coop.” I gave him a look, begging him to play along, which he didn’t, considering the clueless look on his face. “That rape suspect I never got to from three weeks ago. I’m not doing anything this morning, so I thought I’d take care of it first thing.”
“What’s his name? And why, exactly, are you going in uniform?” Michael asked, suspicious, while leaning against the doorframe.
“Keith Edward Parsons, and he’s a rapist. When I talk to him, he needs to look at me as a police officer, not a woman. Hence, the uniform.”
I grabbed keys to the marked police car I needed and headed for the door, trying to avoid further conversation. Michael blocked me. All I could see was the smirk on his face.
“I think I’ll go with you. You shouldn’t face a rapist alone.” He knew damn well I wasn’t doing what I said; he just wanted me to admit it.
“No, you’re not going. You have a case to work, and I’ve done this job for twelve years without an escort. I’ll be fine, thank you.”
“CeeCee, let’s not go any further. Just tell me what you’re up to.”
I pushed him to the side to get through the doorway. “Nothing, Michael! I have to get going. I’ll call you.”
I looked back to see if he was following me down the hall. He wasn’t, but he
watching. He knew I was doing something that involved the kidnappings; he just didn’t know what.
I found the spare police car I needed and checked the lights, sirens, bells and whistles before pulling out of the parking lot like a bat out of hell. I didn’t look to see if Michael was following me, but if he was, he’d never keep up.
Pulling onto Carl Malone’s street, I had a clear view of his driveway. His empty driveway. He didn’t have a full-time job, so I expected him to be here this morning. Disappointed, I pulled into the driveway, went up to the front door, and knocked loudly. No answer. I walked around the house to get a good look while it was daylight since I didn’t want to be fumbling around tonight when I returned.
Coop called while I was on my way home to change into street clothes before heading back to the department.
“Hold your breath, CeeCee. The FBI just announced they have a suspect.”
“Did they say who it is?” I was euphoric. Please, let this case be solved.
“Nope, not yet. They’re announcing it at the meeting. Everyone will be there. See you then.”
I was genuinely thrilled the FBI had found a suspect. In a case such as this, it doesn’t matter who does what, as long as a child killer is caught before he takes another life. I found myself actually whistling a little as I went into my office. I called my mother and told her it wouldn’t be much longer for her to keep the girls. I talked to them, like I did twice daily since they’d been gone, and couldn’t wait to have them back home.
The community room was filled wall to wall. Every FBI agent, out-of-town and local detective, plus the sheriff, chief, and Kincaid were there. Standing in front of the room, waiting to begin, were the two agents who had found the suspect. There were seven rows of ten chairs each, and I, of course, chose one in the very back. I could see Michael notice me. He started the meeting and introduced the two agents, telling us that once they were done speaking, we would all try to decide the next course of action. The media didn’t have this current information, nor would they until the suspect was caught.
The agents began explaining how they cross-referenced the area sex offenders with every case, out-of-state and local. One name in particular kept coming up in both. The man had lived as a vagrant in Tampa at the same time the old murder took place there, leaving the area immediately after the child’s body was found. He had also been living in Indianapolis one month prior to the murder there. Six years ago, he’d been arrested in Cincinnati for raping and molesting four teenage boys at a nearby camp for troubled youths where he had been an assistant counselor. After being convicted and sentenced to fifteen years, he did five and was let out on parole. He was classified as a violent sexual predator at his sentencing, the worst of all sex-offender classifications.
“His name is Albert Edward Whitfield. He is forty-nine years old and has been living in Mansfield for eleven months now with his older sister,” they announced.
The audience broke out in applause. I didn’t clap because they were wrong. They had fingered the wrong suspect.
I shot a glance over at Michael, who saw my face and started walking toward me. I grabbed my briefcase, excused myself, and headed for the door quickly. He caught up to me in the hallway.
“CeeCee, wait! What are you doing? We’re going to serve a warrant at this guy’s house in a couple of hours, and you need to be there.”
“Sorry.” I looked down at my watch. “I have some things to do, and then I have to go to Cleveland to pick up the girls. Congratulations, you guys did a great job,” I lied as I began to walk away again.
“You think they’re wrong, don’t you?” He refused to break eye contact. “I know why you think they’re wrong, too. But, CeeCee, think! It has to be him. These aren’t merely coincidences, you know. But I admit there’s no guarantee in the profiles.”
I shook my head and looked innocent. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, and you guys are right on the money. If it’s that important to you, I’ll try to be at the search warrant.”
My phone rang while I was walking to my car in the parking lot. It was the sheriff.
“CeeCee! Why’d you run out of here so quick? Isn’t this great! I wanted—”
“It’s not him, Sheriff. They’ve got the wrong guy.”
“What? Why?” He began whispering.
“I can’t get into it right now. Just play along like you’re thrilled with everything, and I’ll get back to you.”
My personal investigation back on track, I had some things I needed to get before the FBI served the search warrant on Albert Whitfield. I decided it was best for me to show up so Michael wouldn’t be overly concerned with what I was doing later.
Once the warrant was served and everyone was happy, I would wait until dark before I committed the crime of burglary.
The FBI was using our department’s SWAT team, which was one of the best in the state. Eric was on SWAT. In this setup, I had no role other than bystander.
After I pulled into the parking lot, I just stayed in my car and watched everyone run around like the end of the world was coming. I made a conscious effort to abstain from shaking my head at all of them, and from yelling out the window that they were all acting ridiculous.
After leaving the meeting today, I checked in to Albert Whitfield. He stood only five feet eight inches tall and weighed 155 pounds. This did not match the
suspect Austin described. Albert Whitfield also had no history of violence. The rape charges he was convicted of stemmed from the fact his teenage victims were sixteen years old or less, and were under his temporary control, meaning they were directly under his thumb, their legal guardian, while at camp. In the court testimony, which I had Cincinnati Common Pleas court fax me, none of the boys ever claimed he was forced. One even said he loved Albert.
Plus, most sex offenders are consistent in staying with a preferred age or sex. Albert liked teenage boys, not little girls, and, again, Albert’s relationships with these boys, outside the scope of the law, were consensual. He didn’t rape, brutally murder, and toss them in the woods.
It was impossible to believe the FBI didn’t see any of this. I knew they did. And I certainly knew Michael did. He knew I would key in on those facts, which was why he’d reminded me no profiles were a guarantee. Most of all, I was disappointed in Michael. I knew he was smart, but I guess he had bosses to answer to like all of us, and had to do what he’s told if he wanted to keep his job.
The bottom line, from what I’ve learned about Albert Whitfield, which hasn’t been a lot since I didn’t have much time, is this entire beat-the-door-down-and-flash-bang-him-right-out-of-there tactic was pointless. Most likely, if I went to his front door and showed him my badge, he would’ve probably urinated in his pants before sticking his arms out to be handcuffed. It was my assumption that he was a timid little weasel of a man who would never try to fight or resist.
This was nothing but a show for the media, as several agents would be videotaping the raid and the arrest. I was startled away from my disgust by Eric tapping on my car window.
“I tried to call you.” He put his hand on my shoulder, and I promptly brushed it off.
“CeeCee, what’s the matter?”
“Nothing. I notice you seem to feel affectionate right now—even though Michael’s not watching,” I said bitterly.
“Don’t be like that. I know I should tell you I’m sorry about this morning, but I’m not. You are my wife.
wife! I shouldn’t have to feel sorry or guilty for kissing you.” He was getting angry again. I spotted Michael, who hadn’t seen us yet, but it didn’t matter. Eric stood by my window, looking around the parking lot. I was still ripping angry about that morning and really didn’t have much to say at the moment.
“CeeCee.” Eric sighed. “It’s time we sat down and really laid out what’s been going on. It’s been long enough. We should both be able to think clearly by now.”
I agreed. “How about tonight?” My detective work for the sheriff could wait until later; it didn’t matter the exact time, as long as it was dark.
“I can’t. I’m working.”
“Take the night off.” I laid down the challenge.
“I can’t do that. You know I’m training someone right now. Let me get hold of you first thing in the morning when I get off work.” To my surprise, Eric suddenly appeared uncomfortable.
I just nodded, waved him off, and didn’t say anything. After he left, I tried to convince myself that Coop was wrong, that nothing was going on between Eric and Jordan. Eric told me there wasn’t, and he had never lied to me before. Why was I now having a hard time believing that? I usually trust my instincts, but this time the results could be very destructive.
Did it really matter? Had I not been having an affair with Michael for over a year? Granted, we hadn’t slept together until a couple of days ago, but we’d been emotionally attached since the first day we met.
It’s the same thing, isn’t it?
Then I saw Michael standing at my window. He’d been there a while.
“Where were you just now?”
“Nowhere, just thinking.”
“Do you want to tell me about what? What did Eric want?” He’d obviously seen Eric by my car, and he looked a little concerned.
“He needed to know when we could sit down and talk about us, and said he’d talk to me in the morning after work,” I said bluntly.
I stared straight ahead and was acting pissed off, which I was. The conversation with Eric and this entire botched investigation was mainly to blame for my feelings. I didn’t want to take it out on Michael, but I also didn’t feel like going into a ten-minute dissertation on what I was feeling and why. I knew he was a little hurt, but at the moment I didn’t care.
“I just came over to tell you we’re going to be heading to the house in a few minutes. SWAT will clear it first, and then the agents will go in for the search. I’d like you to go in with us to see if you pick up on anything.”
He touched my arm lightly before walking away. I had time to regain composure since it was another ten minutes before the parade was on its way. I waited until everyone pulled out so I could be the last car. After we arrived at the house and SWAT did their thing, Michael waved from the front porch, signaling me to come inside. Albert Whitfield, or his sister, was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t like they were avoiding us; obviously, they didn’t know we were coming.
I tried to talk to Coop in the front yard, but he seemed distracted and didn’t have an answer for anything. Michael pointed through the front door.
“Have a look around, and see if you find anything. But hold your nose.”
I nodded and entered. It was a filthy house, like most in this part of town. The odor of cat urine was so strong it made my eyes water. I hate the smell of cats in a home, whether it’s their litter box or urine, more than any other smell. My girls had wanted a kitten a few years back, but I forbid it. I know thousands of people have cats and don’t let them urinate or defecate all over the floor, but I just happen to be in a profession where the majority of house holds I go into do. There were dirty dishes all over the countertops and garbage strewn all over the floor. Magazines piled three and four feet high were stacked against random walls of the house. I didn’t dare go into the bathroom.
The only room I wanted to see was Albert’s bedroom. It was up a small, carpeted staircase, the only room on the top floor. There were several agents in there already, so I stood outside and just poked my head in the doorway, looking around. It was small, filthy, and covered with cigarette butts and empty beer bottles. One of the agents pointed to the wall on the far side of the room. He apparently thought I was blind.
On the wall were two posters: an old Leif Garrett poster from when he was about fifteen, and a fourteen-or fifteen-year-old actor or singer who I’d never seen before. The agent looked like he’d struck gold. Other agents were pulling plastic sex toys and other items I couldn’t quite identify out of one of the drawers in a bureau. Naturally, one of them could not resist a snide remark.
“Hey, Detective.” He was holding up some type of sexual contraption. “If you want, I’ll let you keep this. You and Agent Hagerman can play with it later.” The others broke out in laughter.
I smiled politely. “Thank you, Agent. After you’re done playing with it and pulling it out of your ass, I’ll certainly take your offer under advisement. Just tell me how it works.”
They quit laughing, and I had to admit I was somewhat proud of my response. It was when I saw them looking past me that I realized they quit laughing only because Michael was standing there. He looked furious.
“Agent Goldsmith, I
talk to you about this later.”
“Oh, come on, Michael, I was just screwing around. She gave it right back to me, didn’t you, CeeCee?”
I smiled again and remained silent. I know how cops are, and obviously, federal agents are no different. If these were the local cops I worked with, I would’ve heard much worse. There was no reason for Michael to come unglued, so I redirected his attention.
“You guys find anything downstairs?”
“Nothing but garbage and cat shit. What a hellhole this place is.”
“Welcome to Mansfield.”
We watched as agents bagged their finds to log as evidence. They were taking the posters off the wall so carefully, I wanted to laugh. An agent held out a picture they’d found in the closet of a naked boy about thirteen to fourteen years old, to show Michael. The agent had real excitement on his face.
I was amused yet disgusted at the same time, and interceded before Michael could get a word out.
“This is a fucking joke!” I grumbled, then walked away and left the house.
The entire scene was unbelievable. These agents wouldn’t know a child killer if he walked up to them and said he did it. Albert Whitfield was nothing more than a slob, certainly not the man who took care in making the bodies of the children neat and clean. The man who went to bed each night dreaming of Leif Garrett was not the man who took little girls and painted them like dolls; I was more positive of that than ever. Outside, the sheriff walked me back to my car so I could fill him in on my thoughts about the FBI’s suspect.
“CeeCee, the FBI isn’t going to give out Whitfield’s name until he’s found and interviewed. They’re telling the media they have a person of interest. I’ve always hated that phrase—such a bullshit cover-your-ass term.”
“Sheriff, there’s absolutely nothing in that house that will tie Albert Whitfield to these murders. Unless they find him and get a signed confession, they don’t have a hope in hell. And if they do, they’ll bask in their glory until the real killer takes another child and utterly humiliates them.”
“What’s the next step, CeeCee?”
“I don’t know.”