Authors: Lynette Eason
Tags: #FIC042060, #FIC042040, #FIC027110
TUESDAY, 9:45 A.M.
Howard Bell agreed to talk to them at ten o'clock. Serena had slept fitfully the night before, waking often, hearing the echo of her gunshot in her dreams. Only the Glock in her nightstand and Yoda's comforting presence at the foot of her bed kept her from pacing the floor all night.
She looked with satisfaction at the reports she'd finished, the result of the last two hours. Mr. Gary Hanson had definitely died of heart failure. The tox screen came back clean of any suspicious drugs. His heart had simply stopped and no amount of drugs or procedures had been able to get it started again.
The family wouldn't want to accept that. They were a noisy lot and Serena wasn't looking forward to sharing her findings with them. Maybe she'd pass them off to her boss. She smiled at the thought. He would tell her she was a wimp and she'd agree.
Camille had called in the midst of the report writing and grudgingly admitted, “It's not so bad here.”
Serena prayed the girl would stay put. The home would allow her to continue her education during the school year, attend parenting classes and even an optional Bible study. Serena fully believed God needed to be in these kids' lives, but she wouldn't shove him down their throats.
Serena set the folder on the edge of her desk. She'd drop it by Daniel's office when she left.
A glance at the clock said she needed to get a move on. Dominic had asked if she wanted to go with him to meet the retired FBI agent, Mr. Bell, and Serena did.
Gathering her things and the folder, she headed to Daniel's office. She left the folder where he could find it easily and made her way up the stairs and out the door into the parking lot.
Dominic was waiting for her. She slipped into the passenger seat. “Good morning.”
“Morning.” He offered a smile and a cup of coffee. “Sweet with cream, right?”
She took a sip and sighed. “Perfect. Thanks.”
Dominic pulled from the lot and made a left. “Howard can be a crusty dude, but underneath the gruff, I think he's a decent guy. He's not happy to have a copycat of the Doll Maker Killer walking the streets and is willing to answer questions and share information.”
“Good.” Serena sipped her coffee and thought about the case. “Thanks for letting me come along.”
They continued the small talk until they pulled up to the front of Mr. Bell's house and climbed out of the car.
Serena took in the details. Middle-class neighborhood with a quiet street. The two-story white house with green shutters looked well taken care of, but Serena was surprised by the yard. It didn't look like anyone ever did anything with it. Overgrown and neglected, it was obviously the eyesore of the neighborhood.
Mature trees lined the streets, some grouped in clusters for maximum shade and privacy, others were spread out.
She drew in a deep breath, the peaceful ambiance striking a chord within her. Dealing with what she did every day, she'd gladly take a measure of peace wherever she could find it.
Dominic knocked on the front door.
It swung inward and a man in his late sixties with bushy gray brows and sharp blue eyes greeted them. “See you found it okay.”
“Yes. Thanks for seeing us.” Dominic shook hands with him, then Serena had her turn.
With a look up the street, then back down, keeping the door between him and the outside world, he waved them in. “This is a first.”
Seated on the love seat next to Dominic, Serena shifted and tried not to be distracted by his nearness. Pretty soon the clutter in the room took her attention away from Dominic's cologne.
The word “hoarder” came to mind. But just on every available surface. At least she could see the blue shag carpet under her feet. And the place smelled musty and probably dusty, but nothing that indicated anything was dead underneath the piles of .Â .Â . stuff.
Dominic handed Howard the file he'd compiled on the current killing. “Leslie Stanton. Can you tell us what you think about this?”
The killer hunkered down on the roof of the empty house. Not exactly the prime spot for a clear shot, but it would do. Fury burned at the realization that everyone was already inside. Too late. “Well, make the best of it and get this over with.”
The killer looked through the scope of the McMillan Long Range G-30 hunting rifle. The 7mm bullet would do the trick as soon as the target stepped into view.
Howard took his time looking through the folder. As he read, his face paled and Serena saw him swallow at least three times. When he finished, he broke the silence. “It's not Lindell.”
“We know that, sir,” Dominic said. “Lindell's still in prison.”
Howard still seemed to be engrossed in the file in his lap. He
didn't respond to Dominic's statement. Instead, he muttered unintelligibly under his breath and Dominic shot Serena a questioning look. She shrugged her own confusion.
Then Howard said in a louder voice, “It's got to be a copycat.”
“Yes sir.” Dominic nodded. “We realize that. Any idea who would want to do that?”
Howard shook his head and visibly gathered his thoughts. “No. But you know there are the crazies out there. People who are fascinated with serial killers. Women fall in love with them and marry them even though the killers will never get out of prison. Men want the fame of being the copycat. Of garnering national attention. They study the transcripts of trial cases, get all the details just right, and then they strike.” Howard grunted. “But you know all that. So what do you need from me?”
“I guess we need to know about Lindell's family. Only his daughter sat in on the trial. Apparently she's had nothing to do with him since. Changed her name, her address. So far, we haven't been able to pin down her location.”
A gray brow rose. “Yes. Gwendolyn. His daughter. I remember her well.” Howard rubbed his chin, got up and paced to the window. He pushed the curtain to the side and looked out, keeping his body well away from exposure. Serena realized he was a prisoner in his own home.
Which was probably why the yard looked like it did. Howard looked at the floor, then back up as he returned to his seat. “Do you blame her for wanting to disappear?”
“Not at all.”
Howard settled back against the antique armchair. “As for the sons, they're mostly a greasy lot. Only one of them turned out decent if I remember correctly.”
Dominic nodded. “Nate Lindell. He's a lawyer here in town. We plan to speak to him too.”
“Nate. Right. Kind of a quiet fellow. I think I remember him.
He didn't come around much. Avoided the media and tried to stay hidden.” Tapping the folder against his palm, Howard said, “This guy, Drake, he owned a janitorial business, made good money and lived in a nice neighborhood.” He pursed his lips. “He was crazy. Certifiable. But you'd never know it looking in from the outside. He came from a good home as a kid, was a great dad from all that we could tell. His kids were crazy about him. Had a wife that doted on him.” Shaking his head, he raised a hand to rub his chin. “Nothing about his behavior made sense. Why start killing people all of a sudden? It just didn't add up.” He met their eyes. “His wife killed herself the day they found him guilty.”
Serena felt a chill wrap around her.
Dominic lifted a brow. “That wasn't in the report.”
Howard shrugged. “I read about it in the paper the day after it happened. By then the case was closed and we'd all moved on to other ones. You know how it is. When it came time to testify, I had to study my notes for days to make sure I had all the details straight in my head again.”
Serena watched as Howard stood and paced from one end of the room to the next. He never stopped in front of a window. And he kept his back to the wall. Or he walked between the stacks of .Â .Â . stuff .Â .Â . papers, newspapers, furniture.
She felt sure her initial observations about Howard being trapped in the home were accurate. She'd been hanging around cops too long to think she was imagining things. Her father, a former cop turned lawyer, had trained her well, and she found she enjoyed the company of those in law enforcement over “the normals,” as her dad used to call those not in law enforcement.
She and her cop friends shared the same weird sense of humor.
And Howard was a retired cop. Old habits died hard, she supposed. And yet .Â .Â . it seemed to be more for Howard. “Are you afraid of something, Howard?”
He jerked, sighed, and looked toward the kitchen, then back at them. “There's a lot about this case that justÂ .Â .Â .” He shook his head.
“Just what, Howard,” Dominic pressed.
“Still bothers me.”
Another shake of the gray head. “They said he killed nine.”
“But in that shed, there were unaccounted-for hair fibers, trace evidence that didn't link to any of the known victims.”
“And you think it came from some of his other victims?”
A shrug. “Who else would it come from?” He rubbed a hand down his face and shuddered. “All I can tell you is that if you have a copycat, you'd better find him fast. He'll keep killing until you put him away.”
“That's the goal. Is there anything else you can tell us to help us figure this out?”
Howard Bell stood to the side of the door, his expression thoughtful, troubled, as Dominic led the way back to the car. Something about the man's expression made him want to turn and force him to say what he was thinking. Instead, Dominic opened the door for Serena and she slid into the passenger seat.
Without looking toward the house, he said, “He's thinking hard about something.”
“What do you mean?”
“He talked a lot and told us very little. He left something out. Something that could be important but he was reluctant to share for some reason,” Dominic said as he shut her door.
When he'd climbed in and buckled his seatbelt, she looked at him. “Why didn't you confront him?”
“He's the kind of guy that has to chew on something before he spits it out.”
She nodded. “You think he'll come around and call you with whatever it is?”
Dominic quirked a smile at her. “Exactly.”
Serena tapped her lip. “I think we need to talk to Drake Lindell.”
Dominic started the engine, then looked at her. “I can talk to him. I don't want you anywhere near that psycho.”
Her right brow lifted and she simply stared at him.
Dominic cleared his throat. “Not that I have any right to tell you who you can talk to, butÂ .Â .Â .”
She laid a hand on his arm. “Don't apologize. I know why you said that, but it's really my decision. I can't say I'm crazy about the idea of talking to him face-to-face, but maybe he could give you a name or an idea of who might be behind Leslie's murder.”
“I've already asked for copies of every letter he's ever received and a list of all visitors since he's been incarcerated.”