Chapter 20

February 29, 2012 at 1:06 pm (The Truth)

Mack and Pike were in Bill Tatum’s office by 9am. Pike had already confirmed that Tatum had a son who required a kidney. He’d learned from the hospital staff that Tatum was running everyone ragged trying to get Nelle’s tests done quickly and, if she was a match, to get her surgery set up as soon as possible. When he’d talked to them earlier, the results hadn’t come in. By the time they arrived for their impromptu meeting with the man, they could tell that the results had arrived.

Bill Tatum was hovering over his secretary’s desk, demanding that she call Nelle straight away and get her booked for the surgery. His secretary was nodding and picking up the telephone when Mack and Pike walked in. They flashed their badges and requested a private meeting with Tatum.

Tatum shook his head, saying he was too busy to give them any time right now. He was still motioning to his secretary to get the call going. He suggested the police call and make an appointment for later in the week.

“Actually, Mr. Tatum, we don’t have time to wait and your tight schedule isn’t a concern of ours,” Pike said. He watched the small smile flit across the secretary’s face.

Mack gestured toward his office and waited for Tatum to walk back inside. Tatum settled in behind his desk and formed a steeple with his hands, to rest his chin on. He tried to stare through the two detectives, but they weren’t looking at him. Pike rummaged in his bag, which Mack kept calling a purse, for some paper and a pen. While he was in there, he casually turned on his tape recorder. It was, technically, illegal to record someone without their knowledge, but Pike didn’t intend to let the DA have the tape.

Mack couldn’t look directly at Nelle’s father. He reminded Mack too much of Nelle and it was quite disconcerting. He didn’t know why he’d assumed that Nelle took after her mother. She’d gotten her eye colour from her father and he’d bet that Tatum’s hair had been chestnut before it had gotten so streaked with grey. Tatum’s skin was a little darker than Nelle’s olive complexion, but she’d inherited his nose and the shape of his mouth. It broke Mack’s concentration to stare at the man and see his girlfriend.

And he needed all of his concentration. Tatum was as placid as a lake. His emotions were so tightly controlled that Mack wasn’t certain the man had any. It reminded him of Payton Ebersole. Pike ran through a series of routine questions to gauge Tatum’s reactions and Mack’s radar didn’t register a single blip. It was as though there was a steel wall blocking him from penetrating.

“Mr. Tatum, why did you contact your daughter recently?” Pike asked.

The emotions lanced through Mack’s brain like a knife through butter. He had to bear down to keep from wincing. It felt as though someone had flipped a switch and suddenly he had a thousand volts of energy rushing around inside his head. It was too erratic for him to pick out anything specific. He caught annoyance and fear, but he couldn’t tell for whom those emotions were expressed. He caught an intense rage that startled him in its violence.

Mack forced himself to center his mind, filtering out all extraneous information so that he could grab onto one emotion and follow its path. He imagined a calm lake without a single ripple to mar its surface. He had tried this technique several times in the past with varying degrees of success. Most people had numerous emotions running through them at any one time. There would be one or two stronger emotions taking up the bulk of the space, but a bunch of lesser thoughts and feelings would still be there, crowding the brain. A person who jumped from one thought to another quickly was very hard to read. Tatum’s placidity helped Mack. When he had the lake settled in his mind, he allowed Tatum’s feelings of rage to ripple in. Like a rock dropping into its depths, the strong emotion caused circles of tiny waves to radiate outward. Mack followed those circles until he could clearly see where the rage was coming from.

Tatum was angry that his son was sick. It wasn’t the sort of anger that a man feels when he knows there is nothing he can do to help. Mack determined that the anger was directed at some unknown thing, or perhaps something that couldn’t really be defined, such as fate. Fate, in the form of the Surrey Slayer, had taken his first son away. Now fate, with diabolical cunning, was coming for his new son. If fate were a being, Tatum would easily cut its heart out.

Mack returned the lake to its previously undisturbed state and began again. He chose to follow the fear. Nearly as intense as the rage, the fear crept around the edges of Mack’s mind and slithered into the corners. It grew until it filled every last crevice with its insidious presence. The terror overwhelmed Mack and he felt a moment of nausea that had him mentally backing away from Tatum. Steeling his resolve to the dangerous emotion, Mack once again followed the ripples to their source.

Tatum was deathly afraid of getting caught. Before Mack could follow the thought, the annoyance swept in and flushed out all of the fear. Tatum was annoyed that he was forced to deal with his daughter again. He’d thought when they’d moved away, that he’d seen the last of her. Having to contact her at all, never mind practically begging her to assist him in saving his son’s life, had been galling. Tatum had no respect for women. The one he’d tied himself to had done her duty and then sought her affections elsewhere.

Mack could read his thoughts as easily as he would a book. He tried to focus back on the fear of being caught, but the annoyance blocked out everything. When he was annoyed, he didn’t feel the fear or the rage. His emotional state was unlike anything Mack had ever experienced. Tatum seemed capable of expressing only one emotion at a time. Where some people might feel fear of trying something new, yet anticipation and nervousness as well, Tatum could only seem to focus on one distinct emotion. The initial barrage of emotions when Pike had asked his question had settled down once Tatum focused on providing an answer.

Asking outright what Tatum feared getting caught at was out of the question. Initially, Tatum wouldn’t know what Mack was talking about. Confusion would block out the ripples he was trying to follow. Once Tatum knew where Mack was leading, he could clamp down entirely, shutting Mack out. And then they’d have shown their hand. Mack wasn’t ready for that yet. They still had a lot of investigating to do. Pushing too hard now could cause Tatum to escalate his agenda, if he was, indeed, their killer.

Pike asked a few follow-up questions, but Mack subtly shook his head saying that he was done. They exited Tatum’s office with the man right on their heels, demanding to know what his daughter had said. Mack smiled when the secretary informed her boss that his daughter did not wish to discuss it further with him or anyone who worked for him. They could hear Tatum cursing Nelle as the elevator doors closed around them.

“What happened in there?” Pike demanded.

Mack looked over, surprised at the concern on Pike’s face. “What did you see?”

“I could tell you had something, but I couldn’t get a read on what you needed from me. You looked as though you were in a trance.”

Mack cringed. If Tatum had noticed, he might have wondered what Mack was up to. He hadn’t said and Mack hadn’t sensed any interest coming from him. Tatum had an uncanny ability to dismiss that which didn’t intrigue him. “I had to really bear down and focus on what I was doing.” Mack explained about his lake and clearing away all of the extraneous crap that affected it, so that he could pull out a single detail.

“Tatum didn’t have much in the way of a variety of emotions, but the few he had were bloody intense. He is deathly afraid of being caught, but I couldn’t decipher what brought on that fear.” He explained about the rage toward whatever was trying to take his son. “That emotion was a little clearer. He was angry that he kept losing his sons and would have happily traded his daughters’ lives to keep his son.”

Pike nodded. “He said that. Not in so many words, but enough that I got the gist.”

Mack stepped from the elevator and led the way back to their car. “I don’t see him as the man who killed his son, unless it was an accident and he has somehow twisted that around in his head to become some other, more nebulous, cause of death. I don’t know if someone could essentially forget that they killed someone. On the surface, yes, I can see them believing it. But I’m talking about deep down, where your conscious mind can’t control things.”

“Is it possible that Tatum has control of things, even that deep down?” Pike asked.

“I would guess so,” Mack said. “I doubt that, given how little we know about the human brain, anyone could determine a solid yes or no on the concept. I’ll have to study it a little more.”

Pike unlocked the car and settled in behind the wheel. “You get anything else?”

“Yeah,” Mack said, “he’s annoyed that he has to rely on his daughter to save his son. Once his mind had settled on answering that question, it swept every other thought from his head. I won’t cross him off our Surrey Slayer list just yet, but given his singular hatred of all women, I believe Tatum has just moved to the top of our suspect list for these copycat killings.”

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