Chapter 18

January 12, 2012 at 9:33 pm (The Truth)

Mack woke from a sound sleep. He sat up in bed, trying not to jostle Nelle. The image had flashed across his brain so fast that he couldn’t make it out. Was it their killer? Did he have another victim? Mack didn’t want to think that he was hurting another woman. He slipped from the bed and pulled on his jeans. Closing the bedroom door around, he padded barefoot into the kitchen and set the kettle on the stove. When the water had boiled, he doused the tea bag in his cup and allowed it a few minutes to steep.

Taking the steaming cup of tea upstairs, Mack sat at Nelle’s light table. Switching on the light, he flipped through the panels that she’d completed until he was at the beginning. Reading the story through, Mack came to the last panel and frowned. It wasn’t the end of the story, because she hadn’t gotten that far yet.

“How does it end?” he whispered to himself.

He could be asking himself that question, he realized. What image woke him from his sleep and how did the victim’s story end this time? Would he be able to determine who she was and where she was and get there in time to save her? His confidence was waning. He felt as though he were spinning his wheels. They didn’t have any solid leads to follow, aside from the license plate. He felt himself getting frustrated, which meant he was too close to the case. He needed to sit back and take a look at the entire case from a distance.

Mack took his tea back downstairs and lay down on the couch. He wasn’t a big proponent of most free association exercises, but once in a while he liked to clear his mind of everything that was swirling around inside it and then analyze individual pieces of data on their own.

His father had taught him the method when they’d gone camping a few hours outside of the city. Mack wasn’t much of a camper, but he’d enjoyed the quiet and the time alone with his dad. He’d been ten and his family had seemed healthy and happy. His mother hadn’t been drinking as much then and she hadn’t gotten into the drugs yet. Hannah was only two years old and so cute. She hadn’t hit that annoying kid stage. Harris and Blake were around, but they were in that annoying kid stage. They took all of Mack’s stuff without asking and that just aggravated him. He thought that Harris had been doing it on purpose, even then.

He’d sat in a lawn chair next to the lake with his dad beside him and he’d imagined that lake inside his head. He’d filtered out all thoughts of his family. His brothers hadn’t annoyed him; his sister wasn’t crawling all over him trying to gain his attention. The math test that he’d been worried about wasn’t anywhere on his mind. He’d seen the calmness of the lake and it wasn’t disturbed by a single thought.

His father’s quiet voice had suggested that he add something to the scene, to see how it affected the lake. Everything had its own, distinctive ripple effect. Every emotion left a different disturbance on the water. Mack had placed his math test on the surface of the water and watched how the concentric circles expanded out, their edges not smooth. He’d described the image to his father and learned that fluted edges meant fear or worry. The more jagged the edges, the more anger there was in the emotion.

Mack had put his sister on the lake and he’d laughed when the circles broke up and resembled polka dots. He’d always found polka dots to be cheery and fun and that pretty much described his sister when she was two. He and his father had spent the entire weekend at the lake. Mack had taken the lessons to heart, practicing them as often as he could.

Those lessons had come in handy when he’d started dating. He could tell if a girl he talked to was interested or just passing the time. Mack had never been much of a one-night-stand type of guy. He preferred to have a connection with a woman that lasted longer than a few hours in bed. Not that he’d never had short associations with women. It just wasn’t his standard operating procedure.

Once his mind was cleared, Mack opened it to allow a piece of information to creep in. He didn’t choose the piece, he allowed his subconscious to do it for him. Expecting to see ripples on the water, he was surprised when a vision played out in reflection across the lake. He saw Carlton Ebersole alive and well, standing before his knife case. The desk was behind him and to the left with the windows beyond it. Carlton opened the case and removed one of the knives.

Mack could see it perfectly and knew it to be the murder weapon. Carlton had a file on his desk. He placed the knife next to the file and ran a finger down a list of items on the top page. Each item was checked against the actual knife. Before long, a frown marred Carlton’s brow and Mack saw ripples of unease upset the surface of the lake. Mack didn’t understand at first what was making him uneasy. Then he realized that his lake was showing the emotion from the vision. Carlton was uneasy about something.

Carlton’s attention shifted behind him, but Mack’s view stayed focused on the knife. He couldn’t make out the conversation taking place, but he knew that Carlton was talking to someone. He turned his back on his guest and packed up the file he’d been viewing. Mack watched as a pale hand, encased in a surgical glove, reached for the knife on the desk. The knife was raised and then thrust into Carlton’s back.

With Carlton dead, the emotion from the vision changed to one of panic, or distress. A crime of opportunity, it didn’t take long for the perpetrator to realize what they’d done and begin to regret it. Mack’s vision remained on the knife, which he thought was odd. He sensed more than saw the killer take the papers from the desk and leave the room. The vision faded, leaving nothing but the impression of the knife behind his eyes.

Mack sat up, leaning his elbows on his knees. His tea had gone cold. He could still see the knife when he closed his eyes. Carlton had been uneasy when he’d examined it. What had caused that reaction? The killer had taken the file, but Mack knew that Carlton had all of his knives insured. They were worth a fortune and the insurer would likely have a copy of the file. He’d have to contact the insurance agent and get a copy.

The killer was definitely a woman. The evidence had been leaning that way, given the height and angle of the stab wound. There hadn’t been any distinguishing features on the hand he’d seen in the vision. No rings, scars or other marks to make it stand out. From his perspective, so far, Mack had three main players in this case. Monique Ebersole, the lovely, young widow. Payton Ebersole, Carlton’s sister-in-law. And Adriana Sutton, Klein’s mistress. All were approximately the right height to match the wounds on the body. Monique had the most access to the victim, but Mack sensed that Carlton wouldn’t have turned either of the others away, even that late at night.

His mind settled enough after the vision, Mack returned to the bedroom and slipped in beside Nelle.

***

Mack called Carlton Ebersole’s insurance company first thing the next morning and had a fax of the knife’s particulars before ten. He’d pulled the knife from evidence and examined it through the plastic bag. Flipping through the pages that the insurance company had sent him, Mack saw that Carlton had focused on the section that described the knife. According to the document, the knife had several nicks in the handle, including one that had created a one millimeter crack at the end of the handle.

Mack looked at the handle and couldn’t make out the crack in the end. He popped open the evidence bag and removed the knife. The crack was visible but, to Mack’s untrained eye, it appeared to be a little shorter than the document stated it should be. He removed a ruler from his top drawer and placed it against the knife. The crack was slightly bent around the bottom curve, making his measurement a little inaccurate, but Mack still felt that it wasn’t quite right.

The document listed a local man as the original appraiser of the knife. A quick phone call confirmed that he was at work. Mack replaced the knife in the evidence bag, grabbed the file and headed for the door. Pike had the car; he was out searching for their last couple of cars. Mack jumped into his own car and drove out from the underground. The drive to the appraiser’s office was short. He worked from a two-storey office building on Main Street, near 12th Ave.

Mack pressed the buzzer and entered into a smallish area that held a desk and little else. He introduced himself and declined the man’s offer of a coffee.

Anthony Rigoletto looked as Italian as his name suggested he was. Tall and lean with dark hair and a dark olive complexion, he sipped from a tiny espresso cup. “What can I do for you, Detective?”

Mack placed the knife on the desk and set the file next to it. “Can you examine this knife and tell me if it’s the same knife that the file refers to?”

Rigoletto flipped open the file and read a few details. He picked up the knife and motioned to the plastic bag. Mack removed it for him and handed him a pair of gloves. The knife had already been tested, but he didn’t want to introduce any new prints to it. Rigoletto pulled a jewelers loupe from a desk drawer and settled it against his right eye. He spent several minutes looking from the file to the knife and back again before setting the knife carefully on the plastic bag.

“This is not the knife that Carlton brought to me three years ago. It’s a replica and not a particularly good one.”

“How certain are you?” Mack asked.

Rigoletto flipped the file around so that Mack could read it. He pointed to the most obvious error. “The long crack curving around the bottom of the handle is in the wrong spot.” Rigoletto flipped to a photocopy of the original photo of the knife. When placed on its side with the sharp edge of the knife to the left, the crack in the photo started an inch from the bottom edge and curved around to the left. On the knife it curved around to the right.

“Someone made a copy of this that was good enough to pass a casual inspection, but not good enough for a direct comparison with the photos. Carlton would have seen it right away. He knew those knives inside and out.”

Mack wondered how many more knives in the case were fakes. He had several in the lockup at the station, thanks to Mrs. Ebersole’s ridiculous plan to hock them. “If I get copies of the files for all of his knives, will you examine them to see which are real and which have been replaced with fakes?”

Rigoletto agreed to come down to the station once Mack confirmed that he had the files. Mack left the appraiser’s office and drove to the insurer. Ten minutes spent photocopying provided Mack with every file Carlton had created for every knife in his possession. When Rigoletto arrived, Mack removed the knives Monique had stolen from the case and handed them over for examination.

Rigoletto spent close to an hour examining the five other knives and pronounced one more as a fake. It was the most expensive of the five, worth $38,000. According to the paperwork, the murder weapon had been insured for $645,000. Mack asked Rigoletto to accompany him to the Ebersole house to complete a full examination of the remaining knives.

“I don’t have any more time today, but I can set aside time in the morning, tomorrow,” Rigoletto said.

Mack agreed on a time to meet Rigoletto at the house before heading back to the conference room. Pike updated him on their list of cars. He’d called a friend with the Victoria RCMP who had called a friend with the Nanaimo detachment and they’d sent an officer to check on the car. It didn’t match the one from Mack’s drawing. Pike had eliminated the other car on his own. Their list was a bust.

“I’ve heard from Colleran and none of their cars checked out either. We still have over thirty cars unaccounted for though.” Pike had added an extra copy of the lists to their white board. He’d updated it to reflect the cars they had checked, as well as the ones that Colleran’s team and Ingledue’s team had checked. “Eric hasn’t updated the list yet.”

“I’m sure he’s waiting to drop a bomb somewhere,” Mack muttered, then sighed at the snarky tone he’d used. He knew that Eric was a good cop and he knew that Eric wanted this task force, but he didn’t honestly think that Eric would use any dirty tricks to get it. If Mack was removed, it would be from a failure to act responsibly. If he did that, then he deserved to be removed.

The phone on the table rang and Mack picked it up. Inspector Hilbert informed them that the DA expected to see them in her office in thirty minutes. Mack sighed again. He knew she was going to tell them to arrest Monique Ebersole for the murder of her husband. He and Pike had a few lines left to tug, but juggling their time between the two major cases was slowing things down.

They ended up spending an hour at the DAs office discussing the Ebersole case. The DA thought the evidence was quite strong against the widow. Pike had been right; the DA didn’t believe in Mack’s voodoo. Mack was having a hard time trusting it himself at this point.

“It’s not our job to prove her innocent, Detective,” DA Lawther said. “Let her lawyer do that.” Alexandra Lawther was a formidable looking woman in her severe black pantsuit and her sensible shoes. With her graying brown hair pulled back into a tight bun and the black framed glasses perched halfway down her nose, she reminded Mack of the typical spinster schoolmarm. He would never make the mistake of telling her so. She could slice him in half with a single glare.

He knew it wasn’t his job to prove Mrs. Ebersole innocent, but it was his job to help the DA arrest the right person. He didn’t believe Monique Ebersole was that person, but the DA disagreed. When ordered to make the arrest, with the warrant signed by the judge, Mack didn’t have any choice. He and Pike headed straight for the Ebersole house and executed their arrest warrant. Mrs. Ebersole was shocked, but she handled it well. Pike read her the revised Miranda, stressing her right to remain silent and her right to a lawyer. She wisely chose to exercise both.

Mack dropped her off at processing and headed straight for his inspector’s office, with Pike on his heels. The inspector was having a late lunch which probably bordered on early dinner. It made Mack’s stomach clench. He had gone far too long without a meal. Mack and Pike took their seats across from the inspector’s desk and waited for him to finish chewing his sandwich.

“What have you got, Detectives?” Hilbert said.

“Sir, we’re here about the Ebersole case.” On their way up the elevator, Pike had expressed his dissatisfaction with the results of the Ebersole investigation. He wasn’t entirely settled on the widow as innocent, but they hadn’t had enough time to explore all of the other avenues. It had been his idea to approach the inspector together.

“Yes, the DA called me earlier today and practically ordered me to present you to her.” Hilbert kept his comments to himself, though he was certain his detectives could guess his feelings on hearing that order.

“Sir, I don’t believe Monique Ebersole killed her husband and Pike is almost on board with that idea,” Mack said.

Pike nodded. “I can’t see who else would have benefited at this point, but there’s something going on there that we haven’t had enough time to adequately track. Now, with the Task Force heating up, we will have even less time.”

“There are several aspects to the Ebersole case that we want to get clarified. There’s an issue with some of the decedent’s knives being faked. We need to track where they went and who got the money for them.” Mack started to count points on his fingers.

Hilbert held up his hand for silence. “You don’t think the wife did it, which means you think someone else did. If that’s true, the killer is still out there. If her lawyer proves that, we’ll look like idiots. Worse, if the killer decides they enjoyed the outcome of the first attack, another person might die.” Hilbert shuffled detectives’ schedules in his head. With four of his best on the task force, it left the rest of the department stretched.

“Can you pass off some busy work to a few uniforms for now?”

Mack nodded. “We have several areas that need follow up.”

“Give it to Nalley and Betz. They’re thorough, but they still need direction, so be clear in what you want from them.”

“Thank you, sir,” Mack said. He and Pike left the inspector’s office and headed down to their task force conference room. Mack organized their notes while Pike went off in search of the two constables. After giving the officers their directives, Mack stared at the board. He worried that they weren’t doing enough and that they would soon have another photo up on the board.

“Take a break,” Pike said.

Mack started to argue, but gave up and nodded instead. He was tired and he hadn’t eaten much that day. His brain was fatigued. “What are you going to do?”

“Grab some food and then probably go over this in my head at home.”

“That’s taking a break?” Mack asked, grinning.

“Yeah, because I don’t have anyone in my bed at the moment,” Pike smirked. “You going to tell me who she is, or do I have to guess?”

“It’s Nelle,” Mack admitted.

“Interesting,” Pike murmured. “I thought for sure it was that perky reporter for The Sun until her name popped up in our Ebersole investigation. You didn’t look particularly upset to hear she’d been stepping out with a married man.”

“You thought I was with Adriana Sutton?” Mack asked. “Hell no, she’s too wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing for me.”

Pike laughed, thinking Mack was probably right. He’d never know if Adriana was interested in what he did, or if she was subtly pumping him for information.

“Are you interested in her?” Mack asked. He knew that Pike had a habit of asking out just about every woman he came into contact with, single or otherwise, but mostly it was just for fun. If Pike was serious about any one woman, Mack was clueless as to her identity.

“No, she isn’t my type either, which is saying something because pretty much all women are my type.” His thoughts on the reporter leaned more towards shark than wolf, but they were both carnivorous animals. He didn’t want her taking a chunk out of his backside.

Mack grabbed his coat from the back of his chair and pulled his cell phone out. He’d check with Nelle to see if she had any plans and then he’d see about talking her into an early dinner. She picked up on the second ring.

“Hi, I can’t talk long,” Nelle said. “They’re going to call me in for my tests soon.”

“What tests?” Mack asked.

“I’m having blood tests done to see if I’m a match for my half-brother.”

Mack remembered their conversation from the other night. “I knew you’d already made up your mind to do it.”

Nelle laughed. “Yes, apparently your voodoo was right on the money.”

This time, Mack thought. He couldn’t help thinking that he was missing something important. It felt as though his senses were blocked by what he referred to as emotional traffic. Too many strong emotions, frustration, annoyance, unresolved anger, caused the receiver in his mind to hear static and little else. He’d have to try filtering out the white noise before the distractions allowed him to miss a crucial piece of the puzzle.

 

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