Chapter 13

December 4, 2011 at 9:01 pm (The Truth)

Mack was late arriving at the scene. He’d been forced to take a cab back to his place so he could change and get his car. He’d hated waking Nelle, but he didn’t want to leave her a note on the pillow. She had bundled into her robe and walked him down to the lobby. He’d kissed her while he’d waited for his taxi to arrive. And he’d promised to call her when he had a free moment.

The body had been dumped in a partially concealed laneway leading to several upscale homes near City Hall. One of the residents had driven her car down the lane and nearly crashed it when she’d spotted the body lying off to the side, under a tree. She had locked the doors in her car and called 9-1-1 immediately. She had refused to get out of her car until the police arrived. She stood off to the side, out of view of the body, and offered what little information she had.

Pike had the scene under control and even handed Mack a coffee before leading him over to the body. Kovel had already done her preliminary examinations, had bagged the hands and had checked for notes from their killer. There was no note this time.

The woman was Amy Cronin and she was the sister of the sixth victim, Matthew Cronin. The Roman numeral nine had been carved into Amy’s back. Kovel ran through the basics, pointing out that it appeared Amy had been sodomized, which was new.

“It also looks as though she managed to grab hold of someone’s hair.” Kovel had placed several strands of hair into an evidence bag. She had taken them from Amy’s left hand.

Mack hoped that Amy had fought back and that the hairs were from her killer’s head. The physical evidence would help make the case for the DA. He had to find the DA a suspect first. He and Pike headed back to the precinct. They crowded around Mack’s desk, trying to lay everything out and formulate their next steps. When he almost spilled his coffee on the file, Mack gave up and booked a conference room.

Amy Cronin had been a nurse at Surrey Memorial Hospital. She hadn’t shown up for work on Monday and one of the other nurses had called her fiancé. He told the staff that Amy had left long ago and should be there. He called in the missing persons report and went out searching for her car. It was parked in the staff parking lot at the hospital, but Amy was nowhere to be found. She was scheduled to work the 3pm-midnight shift in the ER. A multi-vehicle accident had tied everyone up until almost four o’clock. It was then that another nurse realized they were down one nurse.

Surrey RCMP had impounded the car once the report on Amy had been filed by her fiancé. There was no indication of foul play near the vehicle. No blood was detected in or on the car. Amy’s belongings, her purse and the lunch she had packed, were missing. Mack made a note of the lunch her fiancé said Amy had packed and emailed the details to Kovel.

Kovel had said that stomach contents for his mother had been nonexistent, but given her penchant for drugs, Mack knew that food wasn’t high on her list. Kovel confirmed that there were definite signs of recent heroin use before she’d died. If Amy had been allowed to eat her lunch, then perhaps the killer had intended to keep her longer. Their estimations put his mother’s capture at almost four days before her body was dumped. Amy had been missing only two days before she was killed. Either her killer was escalating or he had been rushed to complete the job.

Mack hoped it was the latter. A rush job would leave evidence behind. And, depending on the reason for the rush, perhaps less care would have been taken during the removal of the body from wherever their killer held them captive. Someone out there knew where their killer was holding his victims. Mack and Pike just had to figure out which questions to ask and who to pose them to.

“We’ll need to talk to the fiancé to see if he’d noticed anyone watching the house lately. And we should retrace Amy’s steps the past few days.” Mack began making a list of the various tasks they needed to accomplish. After ten minutes, he’d filled two pages of his book with his to do list.

“We’re going to need some help on this,” Mack said. “This list will take us a week to complete.”

“You’ll get that help,” Inspector Hilbert said. He’d stood in the doorway of the conference room watching his detectives as they had lined up the pieces of the investigation. The longer he’d stood there, the more he’d realized just how swamped they were. In addition to running this investigation, they still had all of their other cases to solve. The Ebersole case was still pending and the DA wanted to see Mack and Pike to discuss the widow’s pending arrest.

“I’ve contacted the Superintendent about setting up a task force for this case. We need more bodies on the street on this one. Someone saw something and we need to find that someone. You’ll get two other detectives and three 2-man officer teams. Pick who you want and give me their names. They’ll be officially assigned to you until this case is solved. And I’ve booked this conference room until further notice. You can leave your case files in here and they won’t be disturbed.”

Twenty minutes later, Mack handed his list to the inspector. The detectives he’d chosen caused Hilbert to raise an eyebrow, but he didn’t comment. He picked up the phone and called everyone into his office. The place was crowded once all eight members had arrived. Hilbert stood behind his desk with Mack and Pike to his left.

“As of this moment, you are all assigned to this Task Force. Mack is lead, with Pike as your backup. Conference room G is your HQ.” Hilbert gestured to the officers. “Your superiors have been informed that you are no longer on rotation. Any pending files you have will be turned over to the rest of the team.”

His speech was short and sweet. Mack requested everyone meet in the conference room in fifteen minutes where they would be debriefed on the situation and the tasks that needed to be completed. Fishman and his partner, Adam Gatts, filed out after the officers.

“You sure about Fishman?” Hilbert asked.

“He’s a damn good detective, sir. I know he wants to lead this, but he won’t jeopardize the case to see me put down.” At least, Mack hoped that was how Fishman felt. He knew he was taking a chance having Fishman on the task force, but he needed the best sets of eyes he could get.

Fifteen minutes later, Mack outlined the case as succinctly as he could. They’d drawn up a board, put the pictures of the two victims at the top and listed out everything they knew about the victim’s last days.

“We have a lot of blanks under Cronin’s name. I need two officers to work those details and give us a solid picture of what she was doing, where she went, and who she saw in the four days leading up to her abduction.”

Constable Sarah Colleran said she had a sister who worked at Surrey Memorial Hospital, in the ER. She could contact her and see if she’d known the victim. Mack assigned Cronin’s last days to Colleran and her partner.

“We need to determine where the victims are being held. Kovel and the crime lab have found no evidence to assist us on this so far, though they’re still running through a backlog of samples to test. I need two officers to search through their results and determine if there’s a pattern in it. It’s a long shot, at best, but it needs to be done.”

Mack assigned that task to Constables Ingledue and Curcio. Both had majored in crime scene analysis at university and regularly assisted the Homicide techs in processing crime scenes. Ben Ingledue also had three years of his four-year forensic medicine degree completed. He could talk to Kovel at her level and get the information they needed from her staff.

Mack assigned tasks to the remaining team of officers and told them to get started. Once the officers had left the room, Mack turned to Fishman and Gatts. He passed them a list of names. The list started with Scott Tatum and ended with Harris Novak.

“Our killer is targeting the female family members of these victims. I need you to figure out who his next target will be.”

Fishman looked at the list and considered the possibilities. “If we don’t assume that he’s going in order, there could be a lot of potential targets to watch out for.”

Mack nodded. He hadn’t kept up on the families during his past research into the killings. He’d focused his attention on the boys who had been killed and the areas their bodies had been found. He knew that some of the boys had female siblings. Given the first victim, they had to assume that mothers were also acceptable to the killer as a target.

“Just because he has gone in order so far, doesn’t mean he will continue to do so. So you’re right, we could have a hell of a long list of people to keep track of. But we have no other choice. If we’re aware of these people and we can contact them to warn them, then maybe our killer won’t get another victim.”

“And maybe he already has her,” Gatts said.

“That’s another thing we have to consider,” Mack agreed. “The killer held my mother for almost four days before he killed her. He halved that time with Amy Cronin. It is quite possible that if he hasn’t actually collected his next target, he knows who she is and how best to get her.”

“If we can determine that he has a victim now, we can get all of the cops working her photo and maybe we’ll cut a break,” Pike said.

“What about going backwards?” Gatts asked. “Can we assume that because he has already targeted your family and the Cronin family that he’ll leave them alone?”

“We assume nothing,” Mack insisted. As much as he hated having to put his sister’s name on that list, he’d be devastated if he’d ignored the idea and then she was taken. He wrote her name next to his brother’s name on Erik’s list. He also added Nelle’s name and her mother’s name next to Scott’s.

“If we’ve got something, you want us to call it in?” Gatts asked.

“You get something, you run with it,” Mack said. “Call it in when you can, but don’t waste time trying to track me or Pike down. But do not take this guy for granted. If he suspects he’s being tailed, he will strike. Watch your backs.”

Fishman and Gatts left the conference room. Mack knew a lot of their work would be on the phone, but it was imperative that they know who the possible targets were. Even with a case as heinous as this one was, the city couldn’t afford to put a cop on each of the potential targets. Personal safety also came down to making good choices. If the police could make these women aware of the danger, then they had to hope the women would make those good choices.

***

Mack still sat at the table in the conference room several hours later when Pike strolled in looking annoyed. He’d gone off to chase up a few details on the Ebersole case and, Mack assumed, to hit on the girl in Records. Pike tossed his notebook and pen on the table and dropped into his chair.

“She turned you down again?” Mack said.

“Yeah, but I think I’m wearing her down,” Pike admitted.

“You always say that.”

“It’s always true. One of these days I’ll wear her down far enough to get a firm maybe out of her.” Pike flipped through a few pages of his notebook. “I finally got the details on Carlton Ebersole’s knife collection. The pieces that Mrs. Ebersole took were the least expensive of the lot. I assume she knew that.”

Mack nodded in agreement. Though she claimed that the money wasn’t the reason for being with Carlton, Mack found it hard to buy that claim. It might be true on some small level, but there was a reason why cops knew to follow the money in an investigation. It led them to the truth more often than it led them astray.

“His collection, all of which is on display in that case inside his study, ranges in price from several thousand dollars apiece to just shy of a million. He had twenty-seven knives insured and the total book value on them, according to his insurance agent, is $19.4 million.”

“Certainly a decent amount of money to kill for,” Mack said.

“It would be, if you knew that your husband was planning to divorce you and you’d signed a pre-nup forcing you to live on a pittance.” Pike flipped another page in his notebook. “I contacted the lawyer and put a little pressure on him. He gave me the details of the pre-nup. She’d get a lump sum of $1 million and then $10,000 a month for alimony. Not exactly a pittance, is it?”

Mack shook his head. For most, it would be more money than they could ever spend. For some, it would seem like a significant drop in their lifestyle. Mack didn’t know where Monique Ebersole’s needs fit in there. “What does the will say?”

“If he died of natural causes or not by her hand, she gets everything.”

“Nothing for his brother?”

Pike shook his head. “If she died before Carlton or could be proven to have had a hand in his death, then everything goes to Klein. Everything being an estate valued at a little shy of $85 million.”

“Strong motive for someone pointing the finger at her,” Mack said, reaching for his coffee cup. The liquid was as thick as tar and ice cold. Gagging, he set the cup on the table and picked up his water bottle. After a few sips, he flipped through his own notes on the case, stopping when he saw the list of partygoers from the night of the murder.

He and Pike had worked their way through half the list without much luck. Some of the attendees had left before either of the Ebersole’s had. Some admitted to being so inebriated that they couldn’t be certain how they’d gotten home. Mack had collected addresses on each of the remaining guests. With the activity surrounding his mother’s death and the discovery of a second victim, their investigation into Ebersole’s murder had fallen a little behind.

Mack picked a name at random and suggested that he and Pike take a drive to have a chat with the lady.

 

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