Chapter 21

February 29, 2012 at 1:22 pm (The Truth)

Pike was halfway across the Patullo Bridge, heading back to Vancouver when Mack’s cell phone rang. His caller ID said it was the inspector, so Mack put him on speaker. “Yes, sir?”

“Where are you now?” Inspector Hilbert demanded.

“We’re about forty minutes out of town, on our way back from an interview with Bill Tatum,” Mack replied.

“We’ve got news crews crawling all over the damn place. They’ve caught wind of the connection between the two victims of our copycat killer and the original Surrey Slayer case. I need you both down here to do a sound bite for the public, pronto.”

Hilbert hung up as Pike flipped on the lights and sirens. They made the forty minute trip in a little under thirty. Pike pulled right into the underground parking, to avoid the cluster of news vans and reporters hovering at the front entrance. In the squad room, Hilbert was barking orders at Fishman and Gatts. Danny Fishman was getting into the inspector’s face about tying the VPDs case to an RCMP one.

“Sergeant,” Hilbert snapped, “your case is twenty years old and that’s your problem. We’ve got women dying now and that’s our problem. The media isn’t stupid and they won’t believe it if I send Mack and Pike out there to blow smoke up their asses. You got a problem with us making this link known, take it up with your boss and then send him my way.”

Hilbert turned away from the RCMP officer and motioned his detectives into his office. He slammed the door behind him and gave good thought to kicking it before reigning in his temper. A couple of quick strides brought him behind his desk and he motioned for his men to take their seats.

“I don’t know who put it together, but the media has definitely connected the deaths of Grace Novak and Amy Cronin to the deaths of twenty years ago. We knew it wouldn’t take them long to get there. What with that rehash story done in the Sun last week and with Cronin’s fiancé talking to Adriana Sutton yesterday, it was only a matter of time.”

When the inspector didn’t go on, Mack nodded. “If we go out there now and try to downplay this, we’ll look like fools at best and incompetent idiots at worst. Do we know yet if anyone else has been taken?”

“We’re trying to track one woman now,” Eric said. “The older sister of the fourth victim is a prostitute working Seymour and she didn’t come back to her flop last night.”

“Name?” Hilbert demanded.

“Nikki George.”

“Get her name and picture out there. Mack, you’ll do the interview because you’re nicer than Pike. Use the media to assist you in finding Nikki George.”

***

Mack’s interview, which he likened to being thrown to the wolves, went as well as could be expected. The biggest she-wolf in the crowd, Adriana Sutton, had taken particular pride in gnawing on a hunk of his hide by stating that the police had made an unforgiveable error putting the son of one of the victims in charge of the investigation. She had all but accused Mack of laying down on the job because of his apparent disrespect for his mother’s life choices.

Mack had taken her down a peg when he’d cautioned her about making any libelous claims she couldn’t back up. He had refused to justify his team’s actions on the case, had emphasized that there was a team of investigators working to track down the killer and then he ignored the questions fired his way to announce the disappearance of Nikki George.

“Her family has already been contacted, but it appears that Ms. George has been out of touch with them for some time now. Ms. George did not return to her apartment last night, or rather, earlier yesterday morning. Neighbours saw her get into a car outside her building, but they couldn’t say what the driver looked like. He wore a hat, nondescript clothing and he didn’t stay long. We’re asking anyone who was in the area of Cordova and Gore streets before lunch yesterday morning to come forward if they saw Ms. George.”

Eric Fishman had already distributed photos of Nikki George for the media to publish. Adriana ignored Mack’s comments about Nikki George and tried to refocus everyone’s attention on Mack.

“Detective Novak, why don’t you tell us about these visions you’ve been having.” Adriana waited until she had everyone’s attention, noticed how Mack’s eyes had sharpened and everyone else had stiffened their spines, before continuing. “I have it on very good authority that you admitted to seeing a vision of the killer placing your mother’s body in the trunk of a car. Is this true?”

Pike slid a sideways glance at Eric, trying to gauge his reaction. It didn’t take an expert to see how surprised the man was. Pike moved up next to him and gave him a nudge. “You have anything to do with that?”

Eric shook his head. “The inspector suggested we keep this in house and I agreed.”

“When did Hilbert make that suggestion?”

“Just today.” Eric glanced at Pike and heaved out a sigh. “Ok, I went to the inspector because I thought this vision stuff was bullshit, but he’s willing to keep an open mind about it. I don’t have to like the decision, but I wouldn’t do this, either,” he said, gesturing to the media. Mack was getting peppered with questions he didn’t want to answer.

“Someone in house decided to leak this,” Pike said, more to himself.

Eric listened to Mack for a minute before it occurred to him. “Inspector Hilbert’s door was open when I talked to him this morning. I didn’t think to close it when I went in.”

“And whose temporary desk isn’t far from Hilbert’s office?” Pike asked.

Pike and Eric both turned to stare at Danny Fishman. The smirk on his face told them everything they need to know.

“How are you even related to that guy?” Pike muttered under his breath.

“I keep hoping that I’m adopted,” Eric replied.

Pike snorted. “Well, you may get your wish after all. If the media puts too much pressure on the department, the inspector will have no choice but to pull Mack off.”

“That’s not how I wanted this,” Eric admitted.

“Yeah, I get that, but it could happen anyway.”

Mack stepped away from the cameras, refusing to answer any more questions. Everyone reconvened in the conference room. Inspector Hilbert was waiting for them.

“Well, that couldn’t have gotten any more fucked up,” he said. “The cat’s out of the bag, so we’ll just have to roll with it.”

“Danny Fishman gave the media that information,” Pike said. “I wonder if we can’t get his privileges revoked.”

“If I had proof that he did it, I could kick his ass out the door. But I’m sure Ms. Sutton will claim her source was anonymous.”

“Better to keep him close by and know what he’s up to,” Mack said. “Still, if anything comes from this list of cars, I’d rather he not be made aware of it.”

“We’ve impounded a car,” Ben spoke up. “The one that was off in Nanaimo came back early. Curcio and I examined it earlier this morning and found trace evidence in the trunk. Hair and tissue as well as a blood stain.”

Eric looked startled, but Pike wasn’t surprised. “Nice work, guys.”

“I’ve requested a quick turnaround on the test results, but I’m sure it will still be a few days before we have anything conclusive. Curcio is following up on the renter’s information.”

Curcio stepped forward to address the team. “Robert D. Karpinski is the name on the rental agreement and, so far, he doesn’t exist. The credit card number has never been issued by the bank it’s drawn on. There are no security videos from the time Karpinski returned the car. I’m still searching to see if the name or the card was used anywhere else.”

“I’ll take a walk down to the lab and make sure they know those test results are priority one,” Hilbert said. “In the meantime, finish out that list. If it turns out this blood sample is from a cut on someone’s hand, our car could still be out there.”

Mack updated the team on their interview with Bill Tatum. Tatum had been upgraded to a person of interest and would be investigated accordingly.

“I want to keep his name quiet for now. If he is our killer and he knows we’re onto him, he may escalate his agenda.”

Eric gave everyone a list of the female relatives that their copycat killer could potentially target. The list was disturbingly long. The families of victims five and three had moved from the area, taking away several potential victims for their killer. Eric listed as many women as he could from those families and had alerted local police forces in their neighbourhoods to be on the lookout. Both families had moved back east, where they’d originally come from. “I don’t think it’s likely the killer will try for anyone out of the province, but I didn’t want to underestimate his cunning. For all we know, he could have unlimited funds and would be willing to pay for someone’s trip to BC.”

“It was the right call,” Mack agreed. “We can’t make any assumptions about this guy.” Mack requested financial reports for Tatum, a list of any and all properties held by Tatum and any data that might be of special interest to their killer, such as a large knife collection. Mack was looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

“Sir,” Colleran spoke up, “my partner and I spent several hours at Surrey Memorial interviewing all personnel who were familiar with Amy Cronin. We also received some interesting information on Tatum. A lot of what you’ve said about his attitude towards women has been documented in his file, which we didn’t get to see. It seems that Tatum has been reprimanded on several occasions for his verbal abuse toward female physicians, nurses and other personnel.”

Mack added a note to the board, to request Tatum’s file from the hospital. “We’ll have to go through proper legal channels to get his file, but it will be worth it.”

“Sir,” Colleran spoke up again, “you might wish to speak with Dr. Rachel Pollard. She works in the ER and several of the nurses I spoke with said she’d had a brief affair with Tatum. It ended when Dr. Pollard appeared in the ER with a black eye and a cut on her cheek. She wouldn’t say how it happened, but the nurses figured she’d gotten the marks from Tatum. Dr. Pollard wasn’t working the day we visited the hospital.”

Mack made a note to return to the hospital to speak with Dr. Pollard. He opened the floor to suggestions, comments and critiques. He’d expected comments about the media circus he’d just attended, but no one said a word. Instead, everyone discussed what tasks had been completed so far and what new tasks each team would take care of.

Mack dismissed the team, heading for Hilbert’s office without being asked. Eric stopped him before he left the conference room.

“I’m sorry about my brother, Mack. I had a conversation with the inspector and the door was open.”

Mack shrugged, unconcerned. “I’m surprised we kept it under wraps this long. I’ve been hearing whispers in the halls. You know how the grapevine works in here. Let’s just put it aside and carry on with the job.”

Mack and Pike stepped into inspector Hilbert’s office and shut the door. Once they were seated, Mack waited for Hilbert to speak.

“Is the pressure getting to you, Mack?” Hilbert demanded.

“No, sir.”

“Is that what these visions are?”

“No, sir,” Mack repeated.

“Then what the hell are they?” Hilbert demanded. “Why are you getting them all of a sudden?”

“I don’t know why I’m getting them now, but my sister has had them all her life.”

Hilbert stared at Mack a moment, trying to piece it all together. Mack was one of his best detectives and he’d hate to think that leaving Mack on the case had ripped something in him that couldn’t be sewn back together. “Your sister?”

“Yes, sir. She saw the killings from twenty years ago.”

Pike stiffened beside him. He grasped the meaning behind that long before it occurred to Hilbert.

“How old was your sister then,” Hilbert asked.

“Six.” Mack knew he had to tell it all. If it forced Hilbert’s hand, Mack would just have to deal with it. “She showed me Harris.”

Hilbert stared at Mack. He watched the pain flow into his eyes and saw the tears that Mack refused to shed. “Explain that, Mack.”

“My sister has had nearly thirty years to learn how to control her visions. She showed me what she’d seen when Harris was killed. It was like watching a snuff film.” Mack was silent a moment, swallowing the pain. “Her vision showed every moment that Harris was held captive. It showed everything that was done to him.”

“Jesus,” Pike whispered.

“He hurt him,” Mack said, very precisely.

Hilbert nodded, waiting for Mack to continue.

“And now he’s hurting people again.”

“We don’t have any evidence of that,” Hilbert reminded him. Even from Mack’s visions, they knew their killer was much younger. The eyewitnesses who had seen the man Nikki George left with couldn’t positively ID him, but they all gave enough of a description to indicate a man who would have been too young to be the Surrey Slayer.

“He’s behind it,” Mack insisted. “The killings are being committed by another man, but the Surrey Slayer is orchestrating it. And I’m going to stop him.”

“I’d hate to ask your sister to review those visions again, Mack, but if there’s anything in them that can help us nail the bastard, I’d sure love to know about it.”

Mack didn’t know if his sister would allow that. She’d consciously blocked them out in order to retain her sanity. He wouldn’t ask her to open up to them again if she thought she wouldn’t be able to close them off again. “I can’t promise anything, sir, but I’ll talk to her about it.”

***

Mack headed for his desk to check messages and add several of his notes to the official file. His message system was full and it took him nearly ten minutes to go through them all and clear it out. Danny Fishman wasn’t at his assigned desk and Mack hoped that meant the man had left the precinct for the day. With the press conference earlier, Mack assumed that Fishman would have to report back to his boss or, more likely, to his father, to receive his next set of instructions. Reopening the Surrey Slayer case would bring that black mark back to the surface for them. The RCMPs PR machine would be working overtime to minimize the public backlash over yet another way they had failed to do their jobs. Mack didn’t envy them that task.

After thirty minutes spent typing, Mack was starting to see cross-eyed. He’d taken typing in school and wasn’t too bad at it, but it was still the worst part of his job. Some officers liked the closure it gave them, to be able to enter the data and see how the puzzle unfolded. Mack was more visual than that. When he typed, he couldn’t review the data the way he needed to. He read it from the page, but it didn’t sink in the same way as if he was analyzing it on a board in front of him with arrows and pictures and other little notes linking details together.

Mack had just stretched back in his chair and was contemplating getting up for a coffee when he was approached by two detectives. Mack recognized them as working District One, which policed the downtown core of Vancouver. Mack stood up and shook their hands in greeting.

“Your name came up in relation to a DB we’re working,” Detective Ridgeway said. Ridgeway passed a couple of crime scene photos to Mack, who flipped through them. The DB had been stuffed into a public toilet. Vancouver had installed a number of public toilets around the city; the initiative was funded by corporations and the expectation was that in return for providing advertisement space in areas where they technically weren’t allowed to place ads, the companies would provide and service these toilets. Mack thought that the cost of constantly maintaining the self-cleaning toilets was likely to be greater than the revenues generated from the advertisements.

“Her name was Polly Stone and she had your card tucked into her shoe.”

“Damn,” Mack said. “I was hoping to talk to her about the man she saw my mother with on the night we believe she was taken.”

“Toilet has been down since the beginning of the week, but the maintenance crew hasn’t been able to get to it until now.” Ridgeway said. “Got a bit of a shock when they bypassed the safeties and opened the door.” Ridgeway explained that the toilets had a pressure-sensitive floor that detected a person’s presence inside the toilet. Once that person used the inside handle to unlock the door and the pressure was off the floor, the toilet knew it was empty and proceeded with its self-cleaning mode.

“Did your evidence get washed away with the cleaning?” Mack asked.

“Thankfully, no,” Ridgeway said. “Polly’s body had slumped off the toilet to the floor and either her killer didn’t notice or didn’t care. When the door closed, the toilet knew it was still occupied. The killer closed the door behind him and, thinking it was still occupied, the toilet didn’t allow anyone else to use it. It kept the door locked.”

Mack was inappropriately amused by Ridgeway’s description of the toilet as sentient. He refrained from laughing, and focused on the facts of Polly’s death. Her killer had likely shoved her into the toilet alive and then stabbed her. Photos showed no blood outside and it hadn’t rained in over a week. Polly, who had information that he’d needed, had been killed with a knife. He assumed she hadn’t been able to use the number on his card before her killer got to her. He had just gone through his messages and there hadn’t been any from Polly.

“Who do you have scheduled for her autopsy?” Mack asked.

“The ME hasn’t been scheduled yet.”

“Mind if I request Dr. Kovel?”

“You think this might tie in with your case?” Ridgeway asked.

“I won’t know until Kovel can compare the stab wounds with our two victims. I think it’s a little suspicious that the woman who last saw my mother alive is now dead.” And he had to ask himself, who knew to look for Polly? He hadn’t updated his files until just now. He knew only her first name and had a basic description. Could her killer have spotted her when he’d picked up his mother?

Mack put a call in to Kovel’s office and got her answering service. Mack made his request and asked for confirmation once Kovel accepted it. He saw that his phone’s message light was on. Checking the system, it announced that his message box was once again full. The first message was from Adriana Sutton requesting a personal interview with him. She apologized for coming on so strong in the press conference and hoped that he didn’t take it personally. Mack deleted the message without bothering to return her call. The next message was from another reporter and Mack didn’t bother to listen to it before deleting it. Exiting his message system, he ignored what he assumed were more messages from reporters requesting interviews. He could delete them later.

Mack prepared to return to the conference room to review the details of the case as they stood. He wanted to analyze the information that Fishman and Gatts had collected on Nikki George. They knew the pattern, but they weren’t any closer to determining who or why. Mack felt that if he could figure out why these women were being killed, he would be able to figure out who was killing them. He knew that he would have to review the Surrey Slayer killings once again. He should have the case memorized by now, but every time he looked at it, he tried to attack it from a different angle. The killings of these boys’ family members was yet another way of viewing the problem.

He considered bringing in the case file from his house, but wasn’t sure that was wise. Technically, he wasn’t supposed to have access to it. As an RCMP case file, even though it was a cold case, Mack would have to jump through a series of hoops to gain access and he didn’t have time for that. The inspector knew he had the file and of course Pike knew, but the RCMP had no idea. A friend of Mack’s who worked in records at the Surrey detachment had carefully and slowly copied all of the information for him. He had taken a tremendous risk to help Mack out and Mack would not put the man’s ass on the line for it. Mack had asked the inspector to formally request the file from the RCMP once the connection had been made by the press. He knew that it would have appeared suspicious if they hadn’t asked for it.

“Mack, you got a minute?”

Mack nodded as Constable Jan Betz approached. Jan was built like a mountain, even more so than Pike. At two inches shy of seven feet tall with blonde hair that went nearly white in the summer, Betz looked more like a Viking out of costume than a cop. Betz had a small sideline as a movie extra. He’d earned a decent speaking part in a Viking movie that had been shot locally. Mack knew that he wanted his detective’s shield and was taking night classes to further his education.

“Nally and I brought Rigoletto to the Ebersole house so he could have a look at the remaining knives in the collection.” Jan rested his hip on the side of Mack’s desk and pulled several pieces of paper from his file. He flipped through them and then turned one around for Mack to see.

“This one is missing.”

Mack stared at the knife and compared it to the photos Jan had from the original investigation. He could see the knife case and all of the knives were inside, except for the murder weapon.

Jan pointed a finger to a knife that was about halfway down the row, in the case. “That’s it there. When you guys did your initial search, it was still in the case and the only one missing was the one in the decedent’s back.”

Jan pulled out another photo from his folder. “This is the photo you guys took once you realized that a robbery had occurred. The knife isn’t there, but I understand you also didn’t recover it from the widow.”

Mack shook his head. “She took the least expensive of all the knives. What’s this one worth?”

“$5.6 million, according to Rigoletto, but it could go for twice that on the black market.”

“She’d have known that and wouldn’t have touched it,” Mack said. Mrs. Ebersole had only been interested in making some extra money from the knives. She’d not been thinking, but she wouldn’t have mistaken this knife, Mack felt sure of it.

“That’s what I figured,” Jan agreed. “I’d like to talk to the widow, so I can determine when she took the knives and if she noticed that this one was missing then.”

“You’ll have to arrange that with the DA and Mrs. Ebersole’s lawyer. If you need any assistance on that, let me know.”

“Thanks,” Jan said. “One other thing?”

Mack nodded and Jan continued. “We can’t nail down Adriana Sutton for an interview.”

“You can’t get her to comment on her affair?” Mack asked.

“She refuses to return our calls. We’ve approached her at her office and she heads out the back way. We tried to head her off during your press conference, but she saw us coming and scurried away.”

“Then make it official,” Mack said. “If she won’t speak with you, arrest her for obstruction. Let her lawyer up if she wants, but get her in here. And check into her background. It makes no sense that she wouldn’t admit to an affair unless there’s something else going on.”

Mack moved into the conference room and closed the door behind him.

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