Chapter 2

November 6, 2011 at 12:03 am (The Truth)

Twenty years later

Detective Mack Novak leaned back in his chair and sipped his coffee. Running a hand through his light brown hair, he felt the length and knew it was time for a haircut. If he left it much longer, it would start to curl and his partner would feel obliged to harass him about looking like a girl. The squad was half full of late-shifters working on paperwork. There was never quite enough time in the day to get it done before the end of shift.

He’d caught a case yesterday that was gnawing away at him. He’d been sitting at his desk waiting for his partner, Richard G. Pike, to get back from his latest attempt to convince a girl in records to go out with him. His inspector had handed him the name and address of the decedent and told him to make haste.

Once Pike had returned from yet another unsuccessful attempt to persuade the girl of his dreams to have dinner with him, they’d headed straight across town. The decedent and his wife lived in Point Grey, one of Vancouver’s more affluent areas, in a house with a water view. Given the sheer size of the house, Mack estimated that the wife could get ten million in today’s market. He didn’t think that the death on the premises would hurt the value any. People were morbidly curious about homicides.

They had learned everything they’d needed to know before they’d even made it to the front door. Several cops had been milling about in the front yard, waiting for the gold shields to arrive. Mack knew that he and his partner made an imposing pair, but it had been funny to watch other cops feel the need to stand straighter as they got closer. Mack stood 6’2” tall, but Pike had another four inches on him. With his shaved head and the five inch scar at the base of his skull, Pike gave most people pause.

Still, the cops had filled them in on the details, almost making their job superfluous. The wife had killed the husband. Her prints were on the knife that was sticking out of his back. Mack had asked how they’d fingerprinted a knife while it was still in the deceased, but no one had bothered to answer that question. The wife stood to lose everything in the divorce. Pike had asked them how they’d heard about the divorce already, assuming the servants had spilled the beans. The cops said they didn’t hear about it, but it was a natural assumption, given the fact that the money belonged to the husband.

Mack had bit back a sharp retort about making assumptions. The first responders looked to be ten years older than Mack and if they hadn’t gotten off the beat yet, they weren’t going to. Not everyone was cut out to be a detective, he knew. Still, after a few years on the job, any cop should know that making assumptions could screw up a case, at best, or get you killed, at worst.

Pike had led the way into the house, doing his best to ignore the secondhand data they’d already collected. Neither detective wanted to enter the scene with a hypothesis already in place. They wanted the facts and, so far, those facts were few.

Fact: The husband, Carlton Ebersole, had been stabbed in the back. He’d been standing at the time, so his attacker had to have come up from behind. Ebersole appeared to be as tall as Mack, so an attack from the front would be damn difficult, given the angle of the blade.

Fact: The blade had been thrust through the ribcage and into Ebersole’s heart. It had been a very well placed blow. Initial exam from the coroner had suggested that the knife went straight in. He would have to confirm at autopsy, but the M.E. didn’t think the blade had so much as nicked the ribcage.

Fact: No one had witnessed the crime. Mr. Ebersole had been found lying on the floor of his study that morning, by one of the household staff. Mrs. Ebersole had to be roused from a sound sleep so that the staff could inform her that her husband was dead and the police were on their way.

Fact: The housekeeper had done the police a great service by keeping everyone else out of the room, including a very distraught Mrs. Ebersole. Unless the housekeeper herself was guilty and had just given herself a valid excuse for her DNA showing up in the room, Mack knew that their crime scene would be clean. The housekeeper said she had cleaned the room just the day before. Mr. Ebersole kept the room locked when he was out of the house. He had a prized collection of knives and daggers in a locked cabinet in the room.

Fact: Upon closer examination, the knife used to kill Mr. Ebersole appeared to be from his own locked collection. After consulting with Mrs. Ebersole, Mack learned that the only key to the cabinet was kept on her husband’s key ring at all times.

Those had been the facts they had collected from the scene. There was nothing, short of outright speculation, to indicate who the killer was. Mack had offered to take the body while Pike dealt with the wife, but Pike hadn’t been interested in consoling a weeping woman or a murderess. Besides, Pike agreed that Mack was better equipped to handle that sort of thing.

Mrs. Ebersole swore she didn’t do it, but that wasn’t unusual. Except that Mack believed her. She had explained to him that she had taken her migraine medicine the night before her husband was killed and it had knocked her out by eight in the evening. The staff had confirmed that Mrs. Ebersole did go up to bed at eight o’ clock that night. They couldn’t say, one way or the other, if she had taken her medication. She said she loved her husband and would never do anything to harm him. They had a happy marriage.

Mack determined that Mr. Ebersole would have to be an idiot to consider giving up Mrs. Ebersole. The deceased looked to be around fifty years old and he’d aged well. Mrs. Ebersole couldn’t be more than thirty. She had blonde hair and blue-eyes with a well-toned body and generous curves. He couldn’t determine if the boobs were real. He had initially thought trophy wife, but had changed his mind after talking to her for a few minutes. She was an intelligent woman who had loved her husband. Either that or she was a tremendous actress.

Now it was Mack and Pike’s turn to determine who their killer was. Neither detective believed they had identified all of the players in this game yet. They were waiting on the details of the will from the lawyer as well as the results from the autopsy. Fingerprint analysis would take another day to determine if Mrs. Ebersole had handled the knife. It would be several days before enough of the evidence from the scene could be processed for them to make a determination on what happened that night.

He knew the guys were going to razz him about his empathetic view of the wife. It had nothing to do with her beauty and everything to do with the way Mack was wired. Most of the guys would know that; they’d been around him long enough to know how his mind worked. Some of the new ones might think he was interested in ‘consoling the widow’. She wasn’t his type, but more importantly, he had never jeopardized a case by getting involved with a suspect. He wasn’t going to start now.

The clock on the wall ticked over to 9pm. He’d put in a thirteen hour day and knew that once he got home he’d add a few more to the tally. A group of the guys had gone down to a nearby pub for some beers, but Mack wasn’t feeling into it. He had a lot on his mind lately.

He’d been grateful for the busy day he’d put in. It didn’t allow him too much time to think. Today would have been Harris’ thirtieth birthday, if he’d lived. No one in the office knew, for which he was thankful. Even Pike didn’t know when Harris’ birthday was, but then Pike couldn’t remember Mack’s birthday. Everyone knew about his brother and that he’d been killed by the Surrey Slayer. They didn’t know anything beyond the basic facts, though. Mack knew he couldn’t have handled the sympathetic looks and offers of condolence.

And he couldn’t go out for a beer with the guys. Not today. Not when he felt as though he could drink a tank full of the stuff and not regret it. Like his mom had, once they’d gotten the news that Harris was dead. She’d been managing her addiction up until then. Mack knew about it and he thought that maybe his brother Blake was aware of her problem. Once the cops left and the days turned into weeks and months, no one in his family could hide from the truth.

His dad did the best he could, but his mom was out of control. Her work had been sporadic to begin with. That fell away completely when she’d started parking her butt on a barstool for twelve hours at a stretch. His dad had filed for divorce when Mack was seventeen, after he’d caught his wife trying to steal the money he’d given to his kids for their lunches.

Over the years, Mack had seen his mom several times, in an official capacity. He’d walked the beat around Main and Hastings, where a lot of the drug addicted adults and youth hung out. He’d had to arrest her twice for possession and once for soliciting. He hadn’t seen her for several years while he was in University and in training. Once he’d hit the beat, he’d hardly recognized her. The drug use had ravaged her, taking away whatever beauty the booze hadn’t been able to erase. She’d spotted him straight off, because he looked so much like his dad. She’d thought he was her husband at first. It had embarrassed him, then, to have to remind his mom that he was her son and to have to take her questing hands off him.

Mack wasn’t an alcoholic and he didn’t worry that he would become one just because his mom was, but on a day like today, it was better not to take the chance. He was a social drinker and he wasn’t feeling very social. Gathering his coat from the rack in the corner, he headed for the door.

The drive home was quick at this time of night. Though he lived next to the new police building the city had built on the border between Vancouver and Burnaby, he worked from the Cambie location. Driving straight down Terminal to 1st Ave, he cut over at Rupert and wound his way through the side streets until he came to his.

His house was small, by today’s standards. He’d bought it because the price was good, since the house needed work. The inspection had shown that the foundation was solid, there was no rot or mold in the wood and the roof had another ten to fifteen years left on it. He liked to work with his hands and he was proud of the efforts he’d put into the place. So far, he’d upgraded the kitchen, the two bathrooms and the living room. The original fireplace had been a mess of bird’s nests and crumbling brick so he’d torn the whole thing down and put in a gas fireplace instead.

He’d opened the entire lower level as much as the structure would allow. Some smart architect had designed the layout with a staircase on the right side of the house rather than in the middle of the room. Columned arches separated the kitchen from the rest of the room and prettied up two of the main floor’s support beams. Mack had changed the back wall of the house to include larger windows that let in a tremendous amount of light. His dad had helped with a lot of the work.

Dropping his keys into the gaping mouth of a frog bowl he had sitting on the table near the door, Mack deactivated the alarm and hung his coat in the closet. He intended to turn one of the three bedrooms upstairs into an office, but he had to remodel them first. In the meantime, he was using a small section of the kitchen nook to keep his files.

Crossing the living room to stand before the fireplace, Mack picked up his favorite photo of Harris from the mantle. His dad had taken it a few weeks before Harris had gone missing. The three boys had been playing a muddy game of touch football after a torrential downpour had cleared out. Their dad had taken a hose to them before he would allow them into the house. He’d snapped the photo as they’d all been sitting on the back porch, trying to get out of their wet jeans. Mack had removed his shirt and was working on the laces of his cleats. Blake had his pants down around his ankles, but couldn’t get them over the cleats he’d forgotten to remove. Harris sat there in his underwear, shivering. They’d all been grinning for the camera.

Switching on the fireplace, Mack stared into the flames. He could still remember the day his brother had disappeared. He’d noticed the stolen bike about an hour after Harris had taken it. It had annoyed him, but didn’t surprise him. Harris had always done stuff like that, purposely to annoy him. He’d planned to give Harris a good thumping for it when he got home. One of his friends had returned the bike the next morning. He’d found it leaning against the ball courts with a busted chain.

The cops had gone over the area around the ball courts with a fine tooth comb, but they’d not found even a scrap of cloth from his jacket. No one who had used the court that day could remember his brother being in the area. Harris had been the last victim of the Surrey Slayer. One man had been questioned, but he’d had an alibi for the time that Harris was believed to have been snatched. The leads had dried up and the task force cops had gradually been reassigned to other cases.

Mack replaced the picture on the mantle and went to the kitchen for a glass of water. He’d grabbed some takeaway earlier, but needed something to nibble on while he perused his files. Dumping a bag full of mixed nuts into a bowl, he set it next to his water on the kitchen table. Opening the top file, Mack stared at the bright, smiling face of Scott Tatum, the first boy who had been killed by the Surrey Slayer.

Several years earlier, Mack had requested that he be assigned the cold case when he’d determined that no one was looking at it. He had no new evidence to offer, but he did have a fresh set of eyes. His inspector had worried that Mack would be too close to it, but Mack assured him he could remain objective. It had taken him six months to work up the nerve to open his brother’s file. He had stared through eyes blurred with tears at the crime scene and autopsy photos. He’d made copious notes, timelines and computer re-enactments. He had nothing new to offer, yet.

Mack hunched over the files until the ringing doorbell pulled him away. It was nearing eleven and Mack figured he still had another hour in him before he could fall into bed in an exhausted stupor. Crossing the room to the front door, he looked out the side window first. Adriana Sutton, writer for the Vancouver Sun, stood facing the door, her blouse unbuttoned far enough to give him a healthy view of her assets. She reminded him of Mrs. Ebersole. She had the same colouring, same body type and the same mystifying boobs. Sighing, he pulled the door open and greeted his visitor.

“I just realized that today was Harris’ birthday and thought you might not want to be alone.”

The offer was not subtle. He’d met her a few months earlier when she’d asked him to do an interview for a story she was working on. Adriana was covering the twentieth anniversary of the end of the Surrey Slayer killings. She felt, as Mack did, that the killer was still out there and could be brought to justice. She intended to contact as many of the surviving family members as she could, to add depth to her story. She didn’t want a rehash and she said she wasn’t trying to glorify the killings. Mack believed her, to a certain extent.

She held up a bottle of wine and waited for Mack to decide. It struck him as odd that she would bring wine, which seemed more of a celebration drink. Still, the gesture was nice. If he’d thought she was offering him comfort without the commitment, he’d take it, but that’s not what she was looking for and that was all he was capable of giving.

“Thanks Adriana, but I’ve had a long day and I think I’m just going to call it a night.”

She looked disappointed, but Mack wouldn’t change his mind. He didn’t need the complications of an affair right now. He wished her a good night and watched her until she got back in her car before shutting the door.

His concentration now shot, Mack turned off the lights, set the alarm and headed up the stairs. He undressed and stepped into the shower. Adjusting the water to near scalding, he stood with his face to the blast. Several minutes passed before he turned around and let the heat soothe his aching shoulders. Drying off, he padded naked to the bed and climbed under the covers. Setting the alarm on his clock, he stared up at the ceiling, waiting for sleep to claim him.

“Happy Birthday, Harris,” he whispered in the darkness. Wherever you are now, he thought.


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