Read The Devil's Closet Online

Authors: Stacy Dittrich

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Psychological, #Women Sleuths, #Police Procedural

The Devil's Closet (4 page)

BOOK: The Devil's Closet
8.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Not being able to get my active mind off the Michael situation, I called it a day and went home. Eric’s shift didn’t end until ten o’clock at night, a time when I was usually in bed since my day started early. His parents kept the girls while he was on the afternoon shift until I got home. When he returned to his normal shift on midnights, we’d go back to our regular routine of me standing at the door waiting to leave when he got home at six in the morning. Sometimes it’s hard to have a marriage where you only see your spouse for less than an hour a week. You have to really put forth an effort—no doubt about it. Eric and I seem to have pulled it off. Or had we? My worry about Michael began to put some very serious doubts back in my mind.

After I put the girls to bed, I grabbed a glass of wine and sat in my living room. The wine didn’t help. I was too nervous.

Hearing the garage door open an hour later, I jumped up and went into the kitchen just as Eric was walking through the door.

“Hey, baby.” I walked over to kiss him on the cheek. “Bad night? You look tired.”

“We were busy, and I
tired. Would you mind grabbing me a beer? I’ll be down in a minute.”

While Eric was upstairs getting undressed, I went into the living room and began chain-smoking. I usually don’t smoke in the house. Eric hates it, but tonight was an exception. When he eventually came downstairs, I handed him his beer and, as expected, he sat next to me on the couch complaining about the smoke. The small talk continued while I figured out if there was a painless way to drop the bomb. As a counterpoint, I made sure to bring up Jordan first.

“I met your cub today. Certainly not what I expected.” I was smiling as I said it so he wouldn’t go on the defensive immediately.

“I wondered when you would bring that up. So
why you’re so edgy and smoking in the house.” He grinned and gave me an affectionate hug. “Not to worry, my dear, there is no woman that will tear me away from my beautiful wife.”

I loved him more than I realized. Or accepted. Supposedly, it’s impossible to love more than one person deeply at the same time, or so I thought. But then I’d met Michael, and that’s when it got screwed up. I knew Eric had a hard time getting over what happened between us, and he tried not to show his feelings. I respected him for that, and didn’t want to hurt him any more. I could not let Michael come between Eric and me again, no matter how frightened I was of the possibility.

Now was as good of a time as any to bring up Michael’s return, so I braced myself and hoped for the best.

“Eric, there’s something I need to tell you.” I put my wine down on the table, turned toward him, and took his hand. “Kincaid called the FBI in today over the Hanna Parker case. Sheriff’s orders…”

“I figured she would,” he said, setting his beer on the table and suddenly looking at me with suspicions. Eric was smart, he knew me, and knew something else was coming.

“That’s not all.” I paused. He was staring at me now, waiting. “One of the agents coming is Michael.”

He yanked his hand from mine. He stood up and walked into the middle of the room, evidently trying to get as far from me as possible.

“I goddamn knew it!” He shook his head. “I
that’s what you were going to say!”

There were five very long minutes of silence as he stood in the middle of the room, just staring at the wall. I didn’t know what to say, so I kept quiet. This wasn’t exactly the reaction I expected, and I finally blurted it out.

“Eric, please, say something. When Coop told me today, I was just as dumbfounded as you are!”

He turned toward me, “I’ll just bet!”

I was shocked at his response.

“Eric, it wasn’t like I had a choice in the matter!”

He sat back down next to me and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. He would not look directly at me and just stared at the ground.

“I don’t know what to say. Of course I’m angry. Who wouldn’t be? I know it’s not your fault, but
I am
angry. I just don’t think I can go through this shit again with the two of you! I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Not tonight. I’m tired and I’m going to bed.” His voice softened, but he still wore the same pained expression.

I watched him leave the room. It felt like there was a block of cement on my chest. That was it? I wanted to go after him, but knowing Eric, he needed time alone. After that, I was awake for hours—upset about Eric, anxious about seeing Michael again, and thinking briefly about the Hanna Parker case—before falling asleep on the couch.

When I woke up after a very fitful night, I saw that I was about to be late for work and had to scramble. Eric would get the girls up and ready for school. By the time I got to my office, I was breathless. Kincaid was a stickler for punctuality.

I began grabbing files and putting them in order before I left to interview the van owner. It was almost time to go when I heard a light knock. Looking up, I saw the face I had been dreading, and yearning for, in my doorway.

“Good morning, CeeCee.”

Agent Michael Hagerman had returned.

He had prayed from the beginning that Agent Hagerman would be called in to assist the case, but he’d thought it was truly a long shot. Now, as the high-profile agent entered the Richland Metropolitan Police Department, he closed his eyes and mouthed a silent “thank you.” Of course, there was always the chance that Hagerman was only stopping in to see his secret love, CeeCee Gallagher. But he didn’t think so, not with her husband so close. He had done enough research on them that he knew better. Agent Hagerman’s arrival was a sign, a sign from whatever god chose to bless him today, telling him things were going perfectly, telling him to continue because it was the only thing that could be done. There would be no stopping now. It would all be so breathtaking.
He looked the same. Though his hair was a little shorter, he was still so handsome he took my breath away. There was an awkward few seconds of us staring at each other before I walked over with the intent of shaking his hand. Instead, he pulled me into a tight embrace.
“It’s good to see you, CeeCee. You’re still as beautiful as ever.”

Holding him and smelling his cologne opened a floodgate of memories, memories I didn’t want to relive. My deepest fears were realized.

“And you’re still quite the charmer. It’s good to see you too, Michael,” I said quietly, pulling away as quickly as I could.

Standing there in my doorway, he was dressed casually in khaki pants and a light blue collared shirt. With those piercing green eyes, tan skin, and dazzling smile, his looks mirrored an Olympian ideal. It was very easy to remember how I found myself attracted to him in the first place. It wasn’t just his tall-dark-and-handsome classic looks, but that smile always on his face, as if the world continually amused him. Forcing myself to focus on last night and Eric, I repeated the mantra:
Michael is here for business.
Summoning my hostess skills, I motioned for him to sit down.

We spent a little over an hour catching up on the previous year. He had not remarried after his divorce, another result of our relationship, and had only casually dated here and there. His prestigious career kept him from having any social life, which seemed to be fine. The free time he did have he spent with his son, Sean, who was now five.

“How are you and Eric doing?” He managed to summon a smile.

“We’re doing well. A little rocky after last year, but we worked it out.”

I saw a flash of disappointment come over his face, but it was gone before I could comment. I had, naively, assumed after this length of time and with no communication that Michael had long since given up on me. But now I wasn’t so sure. He looked at me the same as he had a year ago. And that unnerved me greatly.

“Let me get this over with and ask. Were you upset when they made you come and help with the Parker case?”

Truthfully, I wasn’t sure which answer I wanted. And I wasn’t sure if he would tell me the whole truth.

His smile now seemed genuine. “CeeCee, I wasn’t
to do anything. I volunteered to come here. You know I’m a sexual homicide expert and profiler, and this is about a dead child,” he said, his smile fading. “Yes, they told me immediately you were the lead on the case. It wasn’t difficult for the news about us to spread around the FBI too, but I know that on a professional level, you and I are a good team. Since you asked, how about you? How did you feel when you found out I was coming?”

I was quiet for a moment, mulling the best—and safest—answer to give him.

“Honestly, Michael, it caught me off guard. I really didn’t think we would ever see each other again,” I said. “Last night I had to tell Eric, and as you can imagine, it didn’t go over too well. We’ve had a tough time the past year in many ways.” I stopped and looked down at my desk, twirling a pencil between my fingers before continuing. “I don’t know how I’m feeling right now about you being here, but you’re right about one thing: we’re a good team professionally, and we’ll be fine.” I tried to muster a genuine smile, but I knew Michael would see right through it.

He walked over to the window, and we stood together, looking out over the city.

“I’m not going to lie to you, CeeCee. I almost didn’t volunteer because of you. But just the two of us standing here talking right now, it’s as if this year never went by.”

“But a year did go by, Michael.”

“I know. I don’t know how I feel about this right now either.”

For someone who usually looks so self-possessed, my knees were shaking. I can easily deceive people into making them think I’m in control. Everyone says my expression is always serious, as if I’m concentrating fiercely on a secret only I know. Maybe that’s what makes me seem so guarded and what can put people off. It’s certainly not my looks, which, according to others, are above average. I’m tall and thin, with long blonde hair, a dark complexion, green eyes, and, as Coop puts it, a body that can stop a freight train. I take these opinions with a grain of salt. Like most other women, I have a significant amount of insecurities.

Michael walked back over to the chair and sat down. “We probably shouldn’t be talking about this subject right now. It’s too much to take in. I think for the moment we should just deal with the case. Why don’t you tell me about this sicko you’ve got on your hands?”

A reprieve. I was more than happy to talk about the case, which took the better part of an hour and a half. There were two other agents assigned with him, but they were speaking with the sheriff, chief, and Kincaid about a timeline. All the agents were staying in a hotel by the interstate, paying by the week. No one knows how long an investigation like this might last, so they needed to be prepared for short-or long-term stays.

While Michael was studying the crime-scene photographs, homing in on Hanna Parker’s painted face, it was easy to see how sickened he was at what was done to this poor child.

“Dear God, I’ve never seen anything like this. She was strangled and sexually assaulted, but no fluid found.”

He put one hand over his mouth and strained his eyes, going into deep thought over the pictures. He then grabbed the close-up photo of the doll shoe and put the photos side by side on the floor. He looked closely at one, then the other, all the while saying nothing. There was an old
poster on my wall, which seemed to grab his attention while he studied the photos. Was there any connection? That was Michael; intense and mysterious, making people around him wonder what’s going on in his head. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I needed to know what he was thinking.

“What, Michael? What do you

realize the killer put the doll shoe in her hand to tell us she was painted to look like a doll, right? He didn’t think we would have figured it out on our own—which concerns me. It’s ritualistic, and it makes me wonder if he’s done this before. I’m gonna say yes.”

“What makes you think it’s ritualistic?”

“Ritualistic killers remain constant, but are always improving their skills and testing law enforcement. Did you guys send out a national teletype to inquire if any other law-enforcement agency has had a similar homicide?”

“Of course, but it’s only been a couple of days, so we haven’t heard anything of substance yet. Why do you think he’s killed before?”

“Because of the shoe. I think when he did it before, law enforcement didn’t understand the message he was trying to get across. That made him angry, so he’s decided to help us along. Regardless, even if I’m wrong, he’s very smart, calculating, and the obvious—disturbed.”

“The doll that the shoe came from has been around for twenty-plus years, sold in every retail and toy store across the country. This one particular shoe could never be tracked. So what do you suggest?”

“Let me think for a minute. I need to go catch up with the other agents. You said you’re going to re-interview the owner of the stolen van? Let me know what you find out. I’ll talk to you in a bit.”

Michael left. I stared at the doorway and wondered what would happen from here. It was utterly clear that we were trying to fool ourselves and each other. Reality was that we both knew our feelings hadn’t dissipated, but we also knew the unresolved complications they caused. I’d never made love to Michael, but we were dangerously close one night. It was Michael who stopped, mostly due to the consequence it would have for my marriage. Or so he said. I always wondered if he ever regretted his decision. A sizeable part of me did, but the other part—the intellectual part—was grateful. I genuinely believe that not sleeping with Michael was the only thing that kept Eric from leaving me. Had I done the deed, there is no doubt I would be divorced by now.

BOOK: The Devil's Closet
8.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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