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Authors: Edna Buchanan

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BOOK: The Ice Maiden
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Two people aboard a boat. Blue sky above, liquid sky below. A K. C. Riley I had never seen before, sunshine in her hair, wearing cut-off shorts and a bathing-suit top. Laughing as she held up a puny grouper. The grinning man beside her, right hand on her shoulder, wore a Florida Marlins cap, one I had insisted he buy at a game one hot and sultry afternoon. I remembered the searing sun, the lush green field, and McDonald and me, intoxicated by the cheers of fans, the music, and each other. For a moment I forgot to breathe.

K. C. Riley's sharp eyes had followed mine. “The department's annual fishing tournament,” she said. “I guess you can see—we didn't win a trophy.”

“You look like you've been shot at and missed,” Stone said.

“Or shit at and hit,” Burch said.

“You sure know how to make a girl feel special.” I attempted a jaunty smile. “I'm fine. Your lieutenant was all giggles and grins, promised a hundred percent cooperation.”

“Good.” Burch rubbed his hands together briskly. “Glad you two hit it off. Listen, those names you gave me paid off. Nothing so far on Cubby Wells, but Stone found an old field interrogation card on a Ronald Stokes, street name Mad Dog. Age and description fit. He and Coney got busted together twice, accomplices in old burglary cases.”

“Bingo. He still around?”

“In a matter of speaking.” The detectives exchanged glances. “He's a guest at the Graybar motel, serving ten to twenty upstate. Guess what for?”

“Sex offense?”

“Rape and robbery.”

“Jeez, Craig, you are gonna solve this one!”

“We've got a helluva long road,” he cautioned, “but I have a good feeling. When I saw that body in the morgue, I knew in my gut this was it.”

“Are you going up to talk to him?”

He shrugged. “Not yet. Hell, he ain't going anywhere. We know where to find him. With the lieutenant breathing down our necks, it's tough to take half a day to drive up there right now.”

I called Lottie, who said she'd join us, as Burch checked to confirm that Riley had left for the day. Then he dragged a bulky storage box from beneath his desk. “I've got three more like this one,” he said, lifting the lid. “More than a thousand typewritten pages, index cards on every one of the two hundred and fifty suspects we talked to in the Chance case.”

“Today, this would all be computerized from the get-go,” Stone said, scowling. “Let's ask Karen over in Intelligence to program the cards into a database that's easy to cross-check.”

“Yeah, she's the best analyst we've got. Send 'em to her along with the names in the Meadows case,” Burch said, “that elderly widow, murdered in 1981. Clue her that they're separate cases, but log 'em under the same number so Riley doesn't pick up on it.”

The detectives exchanged conspiratorial glances.
Joe Corso had joined us, just returned from London where he'd been chasing down a suspect in an old bombing case, I'd been told.

Burch pawed through the box, then thrust a file folder at me. A photograph was stapled to the cover. Ricky and Sunny, smiling shyly in front of a brightly lit Christmas tree, moments before embarking upon their first and last date.

“I kept that one out, to remind me,” Burch said, his intensity so electric that it charged the air around us.

The slender sweet-faced girl smiling from the photo in no way resembled the icy young woman I'd met, bundled up against the cold of her freezer.

The Hartleys and Ricky appeared in other photos aboard the
Sunshine Princess.
The teens, her parents, and little brother, Tyler, all wore holiday colors and smiles of anticipation. Sunny's father, the distinguished physician, wore a jaunty red Santa hat with a white pom-pom. Their faces, illuminated by bursts of flashbulb brilliance, were painful to see, knowing that before the next sunrise young Ricky would lie dying in a field and life, for the others, would never be the same. Official crime-scene photos displayed from all angles the lanky boy-man body of Ricky Chance, battered and blood-soaked in the dirt.

Nazario's dark eyes glistened as he studied them.

“Que linda,”
he murmured at Sunny's picture.

“A stand-up kid,” Burch said. “Got more
cojones
than half the people we got wearing badges. Shoulda seen the way she worked with us—no tantrums, no tears, polite—even when she was hurting, after all
she'd been through. Well brought up, everything anybody could want in a daughter. Those people are damn lucky they didn't lose her that night.”

“Her folks,” Stone said thoughtfully, “might persuade her to cooperate. Maybe you or Britt should talk to them.”

“Worth a try,” I said. “I'd like to meet the boy's family, too.”

“Haven't heard from the parents in years.” Burch looked wistful. “Was a time we talked every day.”

“Musta figured they hadda get on with their lives,” Corso said.

The elevator doors opened, spilling out Lottie and the same public information officer who had escorted me. He no longer wore his stern no-nonsense expression. They were laughing like old friends. Leave it to Lottie, I thought. Even the detectives perked up in her presence. Her red hair wild and frizzy from the ever-present humidity, she wore her usual faded blue jeans, hand-tooled leather cowboy boots, and western-style shirt, expensive cameras dangling like accessories from leather straps around her neck.

“Hey!” she greeted Corso, her freckled nose wrinkled, teeth flashing in a wide grin. “You sure look a damn sight better. First time I made your picture you were horizontal, being loaded into the air-rescue chopper, headed for the trauma center. Bet that's a Kodak moment you'd like to forget.”

We had both covered the bank robbery in which Corso was wounded.

“Damn straight.” He grinned. “All I was thinking about was staying alive.”

“What don't kill you makes you stronger,” she said. “Heard you went to jolly ol'.”

“Couldn't wait to get back here,” he said. “No decent Italian food in that whole damn country, no pasta, no pizza, no
pasta e fagioli
. And those people drive on the wrong side of the road. I almost got wiped out half a dozen times in London traffic. Kept looking the wrong way when I stepped off the curb.”

“Did you book the Jack the Ripper tour?” I asked. “Takes you to the crime scenes, shows you where he left the bodies.”

“Why'd I want to see that? We ain't got enough crime scenes here? That bastard only killed about eight; we got guys on the loose here that put him to shame.”

“Jack the Ripper.” Stone leaned back in his chair. “Now that's a cold case.”

“Bite your tongue,” said Burch, still digging through his box of old files. “Lieutenant hears about it, she'll give us that one too. Bad enough she wants us to solve Meadows, more than twenty years old.”

“Some people believe Jack the Ripper was a member of the royal family,” Stone said.

“Speaking a them,” Corso said, sipping from a coffee mug bearing the advice
DON'T LET THE BASTARDS GET YOU DOWN
, “I seen the Queen Mother herself. I'm standing on a street corner, and she passes right by on some local holiday, gives me the royal wave.”

“Hah.” Lottie wrinkled her nose. “Don't tell me you buy into that.”

“Inta what?”

“That whole Queen Mum scam. Hell-all-Friday, I made pictures of that woman two–three times when I
was based over there. What is she now, a hundred? Out there in high heels, spry as a mountain goat, posing for photographers. That ain't her, can't be. No way. That woman was old during World War Two. The original musta bought the ranchero years ago. Like Lassie.”

“What on earth are you talking about?” I said.

“How many Lassies have there been?” she drawled, cutting her eyes at me. “Some-a those collies weren't even females. Or Morris the cat. There've been a couple dozen Morris the cats.”

“No way,” I protested. “It makes worldwide headlines when a royal dies.”

“Think about it.” She plopped into a desk chair on wheels, rolled back several feet, and continued. “Today's royal family is a joke. Too damn much inbreeding screwed 'em all up. Cost the country a fortune. An embarrassment in the scandal sheets, a drain on the economy. The Queen Mum is the most popular one-a the bunch. They got to keep her for public-relations purposes. There'll always be a Queen Mum. Count on it. She's all that's keeping the monarchy alive. Without her, the Brits would've abolished it a long time ago.”

She pouted at our hoots of derision. “Okay, be naive. Think it can't be done? What about Fidel?”

Nazario and I reacted, as all Cubans do, to the mere mention of the name.

Lottie smiled archly, now the undisputed center of attention. “You think he really survived all them assassination attempts, outsmarted ten presidents, the CIA,
and
the Eyetalian mob? God knows how many Fidels've been used up.”

We stared at her in amazement as she casually picked up a stack of eight-by-ten black-and-white pictures from Nazario's desk.

“Where'd you git these?” she said, squinting at them. “Didn't know you still used black-and-white.”

“We don't,” Stone said. “We use video, living color, digital cameras, and three-D. We even have virtual reality that re-creates crime scenes for juries. Those, unfortunately, are circa 1981, the Meadows case.”

I peered over her shoulder as Lottie turned a picture sideways, frowning at an elderly woman, dead in her bed. She appeared to be sleeping, pink plastic curlers in her thinning hair, the sheet and a flowered bedspread tucked up neatly beneath her chin.

“Virginia Meadows,” Burch said. “Age seventy-nine. None of us were even on the department yet when that case went down.”

“But what do you want to bet that we solve this sucker?” Stone replied, pacing the small office. His lean body exuded energy. “I feel it in my bones. The son-of-a-bitch is out there somewhere. Thinks he got away with it. Thinks his secret's buried deep in the past. Well, his worst bad dream is about to come true. We're coming for him.”

“Nice to see you thinking positive,” Burch said. “But it ain't gonna be easy. We got a helluva lot better shot at the Chance case.”

Lottie snapped candids of the detectives at their desks, on the phones, and poring through old reports while I studied the Chance files and Burch located addresses for the victims' parents.

“Any physical evidence that could tie Coney to the
rape?” I asked, thumbing through a supplemental report. “DNA?”

“Nada,” he said. “All they focused on at the hospital was trying to save her life. It was clear what happened, but nobody did a rape kit or collected evidence. DNA wasn't in the picture yet. If we had her clothes they could be tested, but no chance of finding them now.”

We dined on pizzas the detectives ordered in as they filled us in on the Meadows case.

“Another sad story,” Nazario warned.

Widowed and childless, lonesome after her husband died, Virginia Meadows, age seventy-nine, befriended strangers who seemed lonely too. She took in runaways, AWOL servicemen, and other lost people. A stranger she met on the bus or in the park would be invited for a home-cooked dinner. Sometimes she lent money to these new friends, who neglected to pay her back. Neighbors said later that she often appeared depressed. Some of them warned her, and for a time she listened. But loneliness took over. She began to take in strangers again.

At about 10
P.M.
on an October night in 1981, a neighbor dropped her off at her house after a trip to the supermarket. She was found dead at about five the following afternoon by a boarder. He was a man she'd met in Bayfront Park. He'd asked her for a dime and she'd invited him home for dinner. He had lived there for about three weeks. He passed a polygraph.

The killer had arranged her body in a sleeping position after strangling her, so as not to arouse suspicion. He took nothing else, only her life.

“The original detectives spent a whole lotta time on the case,” Burch said, reaching for another slice of
pizza. “Kids who had crashed there were traced to Tampa, Panama City, Key Largo. Most didn't know she was dead. Every last one asked the same question.”

“What's that?” I asked, wiping mozzarella off my chin.

“Why would anybody kill her when all she did was help people down on their luck?”

“She'd be a hundred years old if she were still alive,” I said.

“Like the Queen Mum,” Lottie said, eyebrow lifted.

“Would have been nice if she'd had the chance,” Nazario said solemnly.

“Sad,” I said, “what loneliness can do.”

 

Thoughts of loneliness and the faces in the photo in K.C. Riley's office almost overwhelmed me as I drove back to the office.

In the library, Onnie had hit pay dirt. She'd found a
News
file on Ronald Stokes, aka Mad Dog. An enterprising reporter covering courts back then had featured him in a project on juvenile justice, documenting a violent felony record that began at age nine. I checked the dates. Stokes had been released from a youth detention center just two days before Ricky and Sunny's abduction.

Beginning to share Burch's excitement, I faxed a request to the Department of Corrections. This investigation could be the centerpiece in my Sunday magazine project. I'd follow it from the start, a minute-by-minute account, then be there for the arrests. Lottie could shoot the suspects being handcuffed. This story would be bigger and better than I anticipated. I needed to work on it full time.

I asked Fred, the city editor, for comp time. Howie Janowitz could cover my beat. I promised to be available if all hell broke out and I was needed, and to follow developments in the Gomez case, which was related, but otherwise I'd be off the schedule.

“When do you want to start?” Fred asked doubtfully.

“Now,” I said. “Eight o'clock.”

He checked his watch. “It's already nine.”

“I know,” I said.

He gave the nod and I nearly danced out of his office, free from the city desk and daily deadlines. I confirmed a visit with the Department of Corrections by phone, checked a map for the most direct route to the prison, and went home.

 

Next morning I slathered a toasted bagel with cream cheese, dropped it in a sandwich bag, and filled a thermos with Cuban coffee. Provisions for the long drive north on I-95, then west through West Palm Beach to Belle Glade, a farm community of migrant workers on the fringe of the Everglades. The detectives might not be able to take the time now, but I could. And Lieutenant Riley could never accuse Burch of putting me up to it, because he didn't know.

BOOK: The Ice Maiden
13.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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