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Authors: Stacy Dittrich

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

The Devil's Closet (9 page)

BOOK: The Devil's Closet
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Having lost our appetites, we went back to the department and alerted Kincaid, Coop, and the other agents about the phone call. I desperately wanted to omit the part where the suspect referred to Michael and me at the hotel, but that would be withholding evidence. Of course, when I got to that part, the other agents looked at each other and snickered. Coop glared. Kincaid was oblivious to it.

“What did he mean by that stuff at the hotel?” she asked, figuring something must be up but not knowing exactly what.

A large smile appeared on Coop’s face, letting me know he was going to be very amused to see how I would get out of answering the question honestly.

“Just a guess from a lunatic pervert. I dropped Michael off at the hotel last night, and the guy just assumed something, or else he was just trying to push our buttons. I never even got out of the car.” If I wasn’t thirty-four years old, I would’ve stuck my tongue out at Coop and said, ‘Smartass, what do you think about that!’”

“All right, then. Can you remember the poem?” Kincaid, mercifully, moved on. Michael stayed silent.

“I already wrote it down.” I handed her the scrap of paper I grabbed off my desk.

“Okay. Michael, you take it from here,” she said, handing him the note.

He had been leaning against my desk with his arms folded, observing Kincaid’s briefing, worldless as usual. He looked at the poem again before passing it to the other agents.

“You guys pick this apart, see if there’s any underlying message. Mostly, he’s laughing at us because we haven’t found Ashley or, should I say, Ashley’s body yet. I think it’s safe to assume she’s probably dead.” Reluctant nods of agreement followed. “One more thing, CeeCee. He’s picked you out, so I don’t think it’s a good idea that you’re by yourself at all right now. Are your kids still in Cleveland?” I nodded. “Good, keep them there. Let’s get rolling.”

Kincaid and Coop had to leave since they were already running late in picking up the detectives at the airport. I suggested to Michael we make an attempt to eat again and plan our next step. He agreed. We were leaving when I got a call from Captain Norris.

“CeeCee, Ashley Sanders’s mom just got one of those little shoes in the mail, like the Parkers did.”

“Let me take a guess, it was pink and matched the one found on her book bag.”

“Yup. Crime lab is here now. I’ll call you if anything comes up.”

I told Michael, who promptly called the other agents. I guess finding the other pink shoe was no longer an option. What I didn’t understand was why the killer called me with the poem the same morning Mrs. Sanders got the shoe in the mail. Wouldn’t it have been better to make us sweat it out for a couple of days?

We went back to the same diner for the second time in one day, this time even more tired and hungry. And for the second time, when we pulled into the parking lot, my phone rang.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” barked Michael as he looked at the phone. “Is the guy on the fucking roof of the diner watching us or what? How does he do it? No one appears to be following us.” Just to prove his point, he craned his neck all around, looking for suspicious cars and upward to see if anyone was on a roof.

I couldn’t believe it either, and now I was so nervous that I wasn’t sure I would be able to talk to the killer again. My caller ID showed it was Eric. Maybe it would have been easier if it had been the killer. I asked Michael to wait inside the diner, reluctantly telling him why I needed to take the call. To say the least, he did not look pleased as he got out of the car and headed for the diner.

“Hello.” My voice was shaking.

“It’s me. Can you talk?”

“Yes, but I don’t know what there is to talk about. You haven’t wanted to speak to me in days.”

“Do you want to tell me where you were last night?”

Eric was good, I’ll give him that. He threw the question out right in the beginning, throwing me off guard; his intention, I’m sure. I was flooded with guilt and on the verge of tears, but I’d be damned if I’d tell him the truth. And damned I just might be.

A 911 page beeped in my ear, cutting into our call. It meant a major emergency, most likely with the Ashley Sanders case. I assumed that her body was found.

“Eric, I have to go. Now. I just got a 911. Can we talk later?” With no response, he simply hung up.

My stomach knotted, but I couldn’t worry about Eric right now. While I was starting to call the office, I was motioning for Michael, who was sitting by a window in the diner, to quickly come outside. I was on hold and still waiting when Michael came out.

“What’s the matter?” he asked breathlessly.

“I just got a 911 page. I bet they found Ashley’s body, and I’m still on hold.”

It seemed like eons before someone picked up the line. After explaining that I had just been paged, it was a matter of seconds before I was told why. And I didn’t need a mirror to know my face went pale. I hung up the phone and looked at Michael, feeling like I was going to vomit.

“Good Lord, CeeCee! What’s wrong?” Michael was impatient.

“Michael, it’s not about Ashley. There’s another Amber Alert, a five-year-old Amish girl walking home from school.”

“He told us.”

“He told us what?” I hated riddles.

“The poem—‘another one gone.’ We assumed it was Ashley Sanders. The pink shoe was found first, then ‘
another one gone
.’ He went in reverse. He told us he was going to take another child
today
, and we missed it!”

After it sunk in what Michael was saying, I still thought that as far as prevention goes, he was wrong.

“Even if we
had
known and figured out the poem earlier, it wouldn’t have made a difference. He never referred to a place or any timetable. We can’t have officers surrounding every child in the county, for crying out loud!”

“I realize that, CeeCee,” he snapped. “I’m just angry at how this is playing out. The killer still has the fucking upper hand.”

Recriminations and further analysis were useless. We needed to get to the kidnapping scene as quickly as possible, so I got in the car without replying. He drove while I made calls, the first being to Kincaid, who was already aware of the alert. It was about a twenty-minute drive, fifteen if Michael drove faster. Planktown Road, where the child was taken from, was one of the northernmost roads in the county. Admonishing myself for not driving since I knew the area better, I was yelling out directions to Michael.

The officers gave a suspect vehicle description; a newer, red passenger car. No suspect description. The child, five-year-old Emma Yoder, was wearing a light blue floor-length dress with long sleeves, a white bonnet, and black shoes. A helicopter flew over us as we neared the scene.

“The perfect victim,” I mumbled, looking out the window.

“What did you say? Do I turn here?”

“No, turn left at the next road. I said she’s the perfect victim. With all the media attention right now, the suspect needs to be careful. A brilliant stroke to choose an Amish child. No one pays attention to the Amish, they don’t read or watch news, they’re not overly cooperative with law enforcement, and they’re isolated. The perfect victim. He has long thought this out ahead of time.”

“I do believe you’re right, Detective,” Michael muttered, pulling onto Planktown Road.

The sheriff was already on scene and saw us coming down the road. He waved us over.

“How’s the family doing?” I asked the sheriff, nodding in the direction of the farm.

“You know them, CeeCee. When the officers first got here, the father insisted on discussing the matter with the Amish elders first, before talking with us. I guess it was the wife who spoke up, surprisingly, and started prodding her son to tell the officers what he saw.” He took his eyeglasses off and peered through the lens before putting them back on.

“I don’t know what to do.” He sighed. “We’ve got to figure something out. I know it’s the FBI’s party right now, but this is still my county and these children live in it. I feel responsible for them. CeeCee, please.” He lowered his voice as if there were a million people around; there wasn’t one, “I don’t care what you have to do to find this asshole, but do it. And I don’t care how. I’m a parent, too. Do you hear what I’m telling you? I’ll take the fall.”

I heard him loud and clear. The Sheriff of Richland County had just ordered me to forgo all laws, ethics, and morals, if necessary, to catch a child murderer. And when it was all said and done, let the chips fall where they may, he would take responsibility. If the life of one child was saved, it would be worth taking the risk.

Frankly, what the sheriff just asked me to do was nothing compared to what I’ve done in the past. I’m by no means some rogue, dirty, or corrupt cop, but I’ve had my share of sins. The worst were trotted out last year in West Virginia when I almost died. I’d shot an unarmed man in the head on Murder Mountain and would do it again in a heartbeat, no questions asked. Eric, Michael, and Coop watched me do it, but none of them have ever brought it up, not once. And it will remain unspoken.

I told the sheriff I understood very clearly what he meant. He patted me on the back as we walked toward the farm. I went to see what Michael was doing. He was still standing by the car and had just hung up from call. He looked upset.

“That was my boss—the bigwig from Quantico himself. He’s sending forty-five agents down here in the next twenty-four hours to scour every inch of this county. This is a nightmare, and he’s keeping me in charge of it. He said I’m doing a good job. Can you believe it? Three kidnappings, one attempted, and one body found—oh, yeah—I’m doing a hell of a job!” he said with an amount of sarcasm unusual for him.

I gently touched his arm. “Michael, you’re the best they’ve got. You
are
doing a hell of a job.”

He just shook his head while leaning back against the car, arms folded. The Amber Alert had been put out on the radio five minutes ago, sixty-five minutes after the kidnapping—a world record. We were getting good at this.

“CeeCee, I’ll tell you first before I tell the sheriff. My boss specifically wants local law enforcement involved only in the search. Not the investigation itself.”

Hardly a surprise. The FBI can be a real group of assholes when it comes to local law enforcement. They waltz in, take all the information you’ve worked hard to get, and then leave, barely taking your phone calls afterward.

“Frankly, I’ve never agreed with the concept. Two heads are always better than one.” Slowly, he stood. “I’m going to be busy working with the other agents when they get here. That means I won’t get to see you as much. That makes it even worse and really bothers me.”

He looked it, and I knew he felt it. I tried to make him feel a little better without leading him on too much, hoping he would be accepting enough to focus on the case instead of me.

“Michael, once the others arrive, we can all put our heads together.” I put my hand on his cheek. “As for us, of course I’ll see you and when this is all over—we’ll sit down and really figure out about us.”

“So I hear what sounds like a promise?”

I nodded before driving away. Looking in my rearview mirror at him, I realized we hadn’t really been apart since he got here, and I was starting to feel more than a bit bothered that we were now going to be.

Instinctively, my police training kicked back in and my brain shifted to what the sheriff had told me to do. Within thirty seconds, I knew where I was headed: back to the city to further investigate the one part of this case that made no sense at all. No sense as to why a person would venture into an almost hidden, modest-income, low-crime neighborhood to steal. No sense as to how quickly the car theft had run cold. I needed to go back and look deeper into the stolen brown van.

I hadn’t been in my car for more than ten minutes when I heard from Michael, wanting to fill me in on the particulars of the kidnapping. Emily Yoder and her eight-year-old brother had been walking home from school when they started to argue about whose turn it was to clean the horse stalls when they got home.

“The brother was angry enough that he ran about fifty feet ahead of his sister, to scare her.”

He went over the crest of a hill and was going to hide behind a tree to jump out at her, but she never came. Walking back up to the crest, he saw the back end of a red car and his sister getting into it. He yelled to her, but the car sped away.

“No cars had passed him, so the only logical explanation is the suspect turned around in the road.”

All the brother could see in the driver’s seat was the back of someone’s head, but couldn’t get more detailed than that. It then took him another twenty-five minutes to run home and tell his parents, who took another fifteen minutes getting to the nearest phone to call the police. That gave the suspect forty minutes to get out of the area.

“Forty minutes! He could’ve been almost to Cleveland by then!” I exclaimed.

“I know,” Michael said hurriedly. “You were definitely right about how he picked this victim, and anticipating the lack of urgency and time it would take in calling the police. Listen, I have to get going, but I still don’t think it’s a good idea that you’re alone. I just heard from the boss again and he said the first of the agents should be arriving within the hour. Just let me assign one to you?”

“Not a chance. Trust me, I’ll be just fine.”

Through the phone, I heard the helicopters arriving, signaling that Michael had to go. Yet again, a promise to talk later, though I didn’t plan on speaking with him for the rest of the day and who knows how long after that.

I raced to my office, grabbed every case file pertaining to all the kidnappings and murders, called Kincaid to check in, then shut my door. My office is at the end of the hallway and the standard rule is if the door is closed, chances are the detective is gone. My car was parked deliberately on the other side of the building where I knew no one would see it. With any luck, I’d have some useful time alone.

I lost track of time going over every word on every page, focusing on the report of the stolen van, its owner, and the circumstances surrounding it. Who knows what time it was when I laid my head on my desk and fell asleep; I only knew it was very late.

It couldn’t have been long afterward that someone lightly shook my shoulder. I sat up to find Eric, though hardly surprised he had found me. He was in uniform, and it dawned on me that he had gone back to night shift the day before and was still training Jordan. I was trying to get my eyes to focus when he pulled a chair over and sat down next to me.

“You know everyone’s been looking for you,” he said softly. “How come you didn’t answer your phone?”

“I’m swamped,” I said through a wide yawn, stretching my arms and back. “How’d you know I was here?”

“Your car was on the other side of the building, and as logic would have it, I assumed you would be in here. Are you hiding from me?” He spoke quietly and carefully, the pain showing on his face.

“I’m hiding from everyone, not just you. The FBI took the entire case over. I think there’s something important we missed, and…”

“And you think you’ll find it before they do,” he interrupted, and shook his head. He knew me inside and out.

Suddenly, seeing Eric there, I became conscious of how much I missed him and loved him. My anger about what happened over the last several days had flooded every other emotion I had. Now all the indescribable fragments of my feelings came tumbling back.

“So where’s Jordan?” I asked defensively.

“Downstairs submitting evidence. CeeCee, we need to talk.”

This time I interrupted. “I’ve tried that numerous times, but you chose to shut me out.”

“I wasn’t trying to ignore you. I just…I needed some time to sort things out. I didn’t want to say anything I’d regret.”

It was the ideal time for a cigarette, which I lit. Then I began to twirl the tip around in the ceramic pig ashtray on my desk. Selina had made it in art class; it was supposed to be a bowl, but turned out a little too small. Our daughter together. Our life together. I could not understand how Eric and I ever got to this point in our marriage.

“What exactly
are
you regretting now, Eric? Is there something I need to know?” The tears were starting to surface.

“CeeCee, do you love me?”

“Of course I do, Eric You don’t need to ever worry about that.”

He looked down at the floor and asked quietly, “Are you also in love with Michael?”

I hesitated before I answered, my tears now flowing freely. “I don’t know” was my very simple, but telling, reply.

Eric’s face openly showed the depth of his misery, and tears were brimming in his eyes as well.

“That’s what I thought.” He paused. “CeeCee, I love you. I’m not ready for this to be over.”

I grabbed him and held on tight, crying into his shoulder like a small child. It was all my fault. I had betrayed him, our marriage, and myself. And through it all, with my love for Eric overwhelming me, my feelings for Michael had not faded away like I’d hoped. When I finally felt composed enough to let go of Eric to grab a huge wad of tissues, I was a mess. He kissed my forehead, the only dry area of my face, before wiping his eyes and standing up.

“I think you should go home and get a good night’s sleep. You’re exhausted. The rest of this we can talk about later.”

I started sobbing again after he left, and this time I couldn’t stop. I cried so much I was sick to my stomach and had a headache that seemed to take over my entire body. Eventually, though much later, I stopped crying and did exactly what Eric said. I haltingly grabbed my things and went home.

On the way, I turned my cell phone back on and checked voice mail. There were eleven messages. I guess Eric was right when he said everyone was looking for me. Two were from Kincaid, one from Coop, two from Eric, and exactly six from Michael, who sounded downright frantic by the fifth one. I knew I should probably call him. I knew he was awake in his room right now worrying about me, but I just couldn’t deal with any more tonight. It felt good to be going to my own home to sleep in my own bed.

Once there, I quickly peeled my clothes off and slept for precisely two hours and fifteen minutes before I got out of bed to get ready to start another day.

I checked my voice mail again on the way to the department and, just as I suspected, there was a message from Michael, left at three A.M. Eric wasn’t even finished with his shift yet when I pulled into the parking lot. As I was deleting Michael’s message, the phone rang again. I looked at the number and saw it was Kincaid. I had no choice but to answer.

“CeeCee! Where the hell have you been? Everyone’s been very worried about you!” She breathed hard into the phone. “A jogger just found Ashley Sanders’s body by one of the trails along the Clear-fork Reservoir. I know it’s the FBI’s show, but I’d like you to be there in case they have questions since you know the case the best. They should be down there by now. I told them you’re coming.”

I didn’t know how much more of this I could take, but I told Naomi I’d leave immediately. The Clearfork Reservoir is a large lake used often for boating and fishing. Jogging trails run around the entire perimeter. The lake is just outside Lexington, a small suburb of Mansfield in the southern part of the county, far from where Emily Yoder was taken, but not that far from where Ashley lived.

There are several pull-offs around the lake, and the crime scene was by one on the north side. Our department had uniformed officers blocking off the scene and guarding it so the FBI could go in and work its magic. It was still mostly dark, and my first thought was how could anyone get up and go jogging at this hour of the morning. There was probably twenty minutes before daybreak, so I grabbed a flashlight.

The opening in the woods leading to the trail looked pitch black. Eric and Jordan were standing nearby. When Eric noticed me approaching, he headed right for me. He immediately pulled me into an embrace and kissed my cheek. Jordan, on the other hand, walked in the opposite direction.

“Did you get any sleep?” he asked.

“Not much. I just can’t believe this is all happening.”

Eric started brushing my hair back from my face, his arm still around me when I happened to look directly at the opening in the woods. Michael was standing there, looking at Eric and me with unreserved, complete devastation. Eric turned to see what I was looking at and let go of me the minute he saw Michael.

And as if this quaint scenario couldn’t get any better, Eric shocked me into next week by what he did next. Seeing Michael watching, Eric smiled at him, turned around, grabbed me again, and gave me a tongue-exchanging lip-lock that could go in the record books. It was impossible for me to break away. I was simply too stunned. Before I was aware of why he was doing it, he stopped, and Michael was gone. Now I was seething.

“Why did you do that?”

“You’re my wife. I was just giving you a kiss. Is there something wrong with that?” He smiled innocently.

“That was pretty childish, don’t you think?” I was getting angrier and angrier.

He stopped smiling. “Kissing my wife is childish?” He was yelling now, and other uniforms started looking at us.

“You don’t have to make a scene.” I looked around me. “You not only proved your point, but drove it home with a vengeance.”

I stomped away. I was furious, and he was getting there, but we didn’t need a domestic dispute in the middle of a murder scene. I knew Eric hated Michael, but I obviously underestimated how far he would go. Eric had most likely planned this. He clearly saw Michael arrive at the scene and assumed I was coming. That’s why when he saw me, he wanted to get to me before Michael did. The entire incident was so ridiculous it didn’t deserve much thought, but lately the emotional stakes were very high. Every contact meant something. How much longer was this going to continue?

The crime scene was approximately fifty feet from the opening of the trail. The FBI was using our crime lab, which had already erected several lights to use until daybreak. I gave my name to the agent blocking the trail and keeping the crime-scene log. He had to write down the name of everyone who went in and out of the scene, and the time they did both. Kincaid was right: they were expecting me. He pointed to Michael, who was standing about twenty feet away along the edge of the woods, and said I needed to contact Agent Hagerman.

Walking through the all-too-familiar scene of white vans, flashbulbs, and men wearing white gloves, I came up behind Michael, who was with two other agents. They were taking photographs of the small body that lay along the edge of the woods.

“Agent Hagerman?” I said quietly.

“Yes?” He turned around, saw me, gave me a look of contempt, and began writing on his clipboard.

“I was directed to you. You’re expecting me?”

“That’s right, Detective,” he said, not looking up from the clipboard. “If you would like to take a look at the body, we can start there.”

My heart sank. If not for the task at hand, I feared right then and there he would have nothing to do with me ever again. I would have to deal with this later, but for now I had to help catch a murderer.

I stepped to the edge and saw Ashley Sanders’s body laid out perfectly on her back, makeup on, and a ribbon in her hair. She, like Hanna, had her fingernails painted. The difference was Ashley wasn’t holding a shoe; the killer had already mailed the other one to her mother. I was bent over, closely looking for all similarities and any differences.

“Do you see anything, Detective?”

If he referred to me as
detective
again, I thought I would scream. Or hit him. Or both.

“Actually,
Agent
Hagerman,” I began, emphasizing his title, “I do see a discrepancy from the last murder. Hanna Parker was brushed off, clean per se, as if a lot of care was taken to lay her out.” I pointed at Ashley’s dress. “That’s not the case here. Her dress is wrinkled and dirty, and her hair is a mess, the ribbon just thrown on top. He’s getting sloppy and trying to get caught, or he’s frustrated.”

“Right, Detective, we already figured that out. Do you have anything new to add?” He sounded so condescending I wanted to slap him.

“I don’t remember figuring that out,” I heard one of the agents whisper to another.

By now everyone at the crime scene was watching us. I reacted by laughing, even though I was far from amused.

“No, Agent, I do not. Furthermore, it is very clear you have everything here quite under control and are no longer in need of my services. On that note, I’m leaving.” I turned and began quickly walking down the trail, feeling the tears once again well up in my eyes. I would not cry in front of these people.

“CeeCee, wait!” It was Michael.

“That’s
detective
, asshole!” I kept walking, but he grabbed my arm, pulling me up short.

“Please, I’m sorry. Give me one minute,” he begged, out of breath. “You have to forgive me, I should’ve never treated you like that.” He wiped the sweat off his forehead with his arm. “I was up all night, thinking something might have happened to you. You never called back. And then I got to watch that charming production with Eric. You were with him last night, weren’t you?”

BOOK: The Devil's Closet
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