Authors: Kathy Reichs
Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #General
“Over eight hundred species,” I said.
“Eight hundred and ninety-four.”
“Charlie would feel right at home.” I was referring to the pet cockatiel we shared.
“Charlie’s peeps come from down under. Hungry?”
As I settled into the other chair, Ryan retrieved a bowl and spoon from the counter behind us. His face was sallow and baggy-eyed. His sweat smelled of booze. I wondered if he’d finished the entire bottle of Scotch.
I poured myself cereal. Added milk, tamping the urge to check the expiration date.
“There are half a million animal species in this country.” Ryan spoke without looking at me.
“Three hundred thousand of those are insects.”
“Bugs gotta live.”
“What’s your plan?”
“Find every one.”
“How’s that going?”
“Place has something else in its favor.”
I floated a brow. Focused on his O’s, Ryan missed it.
“Thousands of miles between here and Quebec.”
“That’s it? Distance and fauna?”
“Booze is cheap.” Ryan pointed his spoon at me. “And Cheerios can be had by the savvy consumer.”
“This isn’t you, Ryan.”
He feigned looking over his shoulder. “Who is it?”
“I can’t imagine losing a child, and I don’t presume to understand your pain. But wallowing in self-pity, numbing yourself with alcohol, turning your back on life? That’s not you.”
“I thought about keeping a journal.” Spoken with a full mouth. “Like Darwin in the Galápagos.”
“I mean what happened to you.”
Ryan’s spoon rattled as it hit the empty bowl. He snagged a pack of cigarettes from the table, tapped one out, drew matches from the cellophane, and lit up. One drag, then his eyes finally met mine. “You found me. Let’s hoist you on our shoulders and march you around the room.”
“Grow a pair, Ryan. Come with me. Do what you do. What
done together for almost two decades. We catch the bad guys. We take freaks like Pomerleau off the streets.”
“Go back and tell your buddies I’m not the guy you need.”
I accessed the flight itinerary and slid my iPhone to him. Ryan studied the screen. “Who paid for this?”
“No way the CMPD’s footing the bill to fly me stateside.”
“Do you have your passport?”
Ryan drew smoke deep into his lungs, exhaled through his nose.
“They want you there,” I said.
“Hope for your sake the fare is refundable.”
“I got a call last night. Skinny Slidell.”
Ryan knew Slidell from a case we’d all worked together years earlier in Charlotte. He said nothing.
“The lab lifted DNA from Lizzie Nance’s clothing.”
Ryan questioned me with bloodshot eyes.
Ryan stubbed out his cigarette with one sharp jab. Slumped back and folded his arms.
“Also, Slidell thinks he may have caught a break in the Leal case.”
As I explained the erased files, the shadows and contours of Ryan’s face seemed to deepen.
“If Pomerleau has taken Leal, she’s stepped up her game,” I said. “She’s now stalking her prey online. One other thing—why Charlotte? I think I know. She’s learned I’m there and she’s taunting me. Sending a message that I can’t beat her.”
I settled back. Waited.
Ryan gave me the long stare.
“Suit yourself.” I snatched up my mobile and dropped it into my purse.
I was outside when his voice came through the screening. “What time is the flight?”
“We need to leave Samara by ten.” Masking my surprise. “I can wait while you shower and pack.”
“I have to see someone before I go.”
“No problem.” Now masking pain. Irrational. The “someone” could be his landlord. His Cheerios source. And Ryan and I had agreed we didn’t work as a couple. Still, the thought stung. Another woman in Ryan’s life? We’d meant so much to each other for so long.
“Where are you staying?”
“I’ll meet you there at nine-thirty.”
I hesitated. Did I trust him?
What choice did I have?
My watch said 9:40. I hadn’t given up, but I was close.
Of course he wouldn’t show. The bastard was probably halfway to San Jose.
I knew Ryan was wounded, but I’d underestimated the extent of the damage. I wondered if he could ever be whole again. Nevertheless, I was hurt more than I’d expected by the fact that he’d leave me to face Pomerleau by myself.
Once, Ryan would have worried about my safety. About the impact of a case on me as well as on the victims. His paternalism had both annoyed and warmed me. Seeing him made me realize how much I missed that.
A horn honked on the street beyond the wall.
Five past ten.
I wheeled my carry-on through the door and up the path. Estella waved from behind the window as I passed reception.
The driver was leaning on the hood of his taxi. He smiled, took my bag, and placed it in the trunk.
I was climbing in, thinking about the long trip back, about what I would say to Slidell and Barrow, when I spotted Ryan weaving through sunscreen-slicked tourists heading for the beach. He’d shaved and changed into a black polo and jeans. An overstuffed backpack hung from one shoulder.
“Thanks,” I said.
“Out of Cheerios,” he replied.
We passed the next two hours in silence. At Daniel Oduber Quirós International, we checked in, made our way through security, handed in our boarding passes, finally took our seats, and buckled in. Not a word.
I had the window this time, watched as Costa Rica disappeared beneath us. When I could take the silence no longer, “Wonder what the weather’s like in Charlotte.”
“Continued dark overnight, widely scattered light by morning.”
Recognizing the George Carlin quote, I smiled to myself. The old Ryan was still in there somewhere.
Then I was out.
I awoke to the captain announcing our landing. And wishing his passengers and crew a happy Thanksgiving.
As we wound down the ramp from the airport parking deck, I offered Ryan the guest room.
“A hotel close to the law enforcement center will be fine.”
I wasn’t surprised. So why the hollow feeling? Relief? Resignation? Sadness that at last I had full confirmation?
Yes. Definitely sadness.
I said nothing.
“It’s better this way.” In response to my silence.
“I’m good with it,” I said.
“I’m not the same person, Tempe. Not the man I was.”
I dropped him at the Holiday Inn on College.
It was after ten when I hit the annex. The place seemed incomplete without Birdie. After downing the takeout burritos I’d grabbed en route home, I phoned Barrow.
He was impressed that I’d bagged my quarry. And pleased. Suggested a meet at eight the next morning. Said he’d call Rodas and Slidell.
After disconnecting, I dialed the Holiday Inn. Asked for Ryan. Shocker—they connected me. He’d actually checked in.
I offered a ride in the morning. Ryan said he’d find his own way to the CCU.
Or back to the airport
, I thought cynically.
That was all I could handle.
Exhausted, I fell into bed.
“Wish I could say you look good.” Slidell was eyeing Ryan with an expression of amusement.
“What the fuck’s with your hair?”
“Been touring with Shaggy.”
The reggae reference was lost on Slidell, whose musical taste ran to C&W and sixties rock and roll.
Barrow cleared his throat. “The sooner we start, the sooner we get home to leftover turkey.”
“Or back on the street,” Slidell said.
“This will be short. There’s nothing new on Pomerleau. Leal is still missing; Detective Slidell says so far, the tech boys have recovered nothing from her Mac. They’re still at it.”
“The computer’s not out there.” This was Slidell’s way of saying, “Don’t discuss it with the press.”
“Right,” Barrow affirmed. “The media’s starting to turn ugly. Mainly, I wanted to get us all face-to-face—”
“Without that fuckwad Tinker.”
Barrow slid a look to Slidell before continuing. “I wanted Detective Ryan to meet Detective Rodas.”
The men nodded at each other, acknowledging earlier introductions.
“Dr. Brennan has briefed Detective Ryan on details of the Vermont and Charlotte cases.” Question, not statement.
“Yes.” I’d done it with zero feedback on the drive from the airport to Ryan’s hotel.
“I’m only here as an observer.” Ryan favored me with a sideways glance. “And to appease Dr. Stalker.”
Hurt and anger reared up in equal proportions. I fought both down.
“Two murders,” Barrow said. “And Shelly Leal is missing one week today.”
“Still, the link is weak.” Ryan often played devil’s advocate.
“DNA connects Gower to Nance and both to Pomerleau. The MO for Leal is identical.”
Ryan rubbed a thumbnail along the edge of the table. Thinking about long-ago girls in a cellar? His dead daughter? A bottle of Scotch he’d left in his room?
“Ryan—” I started.
“I’ll be no good to you.”
“You know Pomerleau,” I said.
“I’m a mess.”
Slidell snorted. “Should take the heat off my ass.”
“I’m sorry.” Ryan wagged his head. “I’m done with cracked skulls and slit throats and cigarette burns. No more dead kids.”
“What about live ones?”
Ryan’s thumb continued its slow back-and-forth. I wanted to slap him, to shake him to his senses. Instead I kept my voice even and neutral. “Pomerleau’s thrill didn’t come from killing. You know that. She fed her victims just enough to keep them alive so she could torture and rape them. She and her twisted sidekick.”
“Neal Wesley Catts,” Rodas tossed in. “Aka Stephen Menard.”
“Leal could be alive,” I continued. “But if Nance and Gower are indicative, it’s not like the old days. Pomerleau’s pattern has changed. Leal won’t last long.”
Still Ryan said nothing.
Rodas placed a palm on the cardboard box holding his case notes. “I have to head north in the morning. Would you at least skim the file?”
Ryan closed his eyes.
I looked at Slidell. He shrugged.
A very long moment passed.
Ryan ran a hand over his jaw. Sighed. Then his eyes rose to mine. “One day.”
He looked at his wrist. Which bore no watch.
RYAN AND I
got coffee before plunging into the Nance file. We wouldn’t drink it. The stuff tasted like liquefied dung. It was a ritual, like sharpening a pencil or straightening a blotter. Meaningless action as prelude to the real show.
We started with a section titled
Summary of the Crime.
On April 17, 2009, at 1620 hours, Elizabeth Ellen “Lizzie” Nance, eleven, left the Isabelle Dumas School of Dance, located in the Park Road Shopping Center, heading for the Charlotte Woods apartment complex on East Woodlawn. A motorist reported seeing a child matching Lizzie’s description at the intersection of Park and Woodlawn roads at approximately 1630 hours.
Lizzie lived with her mother, Cynthia Pridmore, thirty-three, and sister, Rebecca Pridmore, nine. Cynthia Pridmore reported her daughter missing, by phone, at 1930 hours. She reported having contacted the school, several of Lizzie’s classmates, and her former husband, Lionel Nance, thirty-nine. Pridmore said she and Nance repeatedly drove the route between the school and the home. Said her daughter could not be a runaway. An MP file was opened, with Detective Marjorie Washington as lead investigator.
On April 30, 2009, a groundskeeper, Cody Steuben, twenty-four, found a child’s decomposed body at the Latta Plantation nature preserve, northwest of Charlotte. Medical examiner Timothy Larabee identified the remains as those of Lizzie Nance. The case was transferred to the homicide unit, with Detective Erskine Slidell as lead investigator.
Lizzie Nance was a sixth-grade student with no history of drug, alcohol, or mental issues. A low-risk victim. Cynthia Pridmore was a legal secretary, twice divorced. The second former husband, John Pridmore, thirty-nine, sold real estate. Lionel Nance was an electrician, unemployed at the time of his daughter’s disappearance.
Neither of the Pridmores had an arrest record. Lionel Nance had a 2001 arrest for public drunkenness.
Witnesses who knew the victim all stated that the person responsible had to be someone she knew or someone she trusted. Witnesses all doubted Nance or either of the Pridmores was involved.
We skimmed a few newspaper articles. It was the usual bloodlust frenzy. The disappearance. The search. The angelic little face with the long brown hair. The headline screaming that the child was dead.
I was still reading when Ryan leaned back in his chair. I laid down the page. “You okay?”
“Move on to crime scene?”
I exchanged the folder we had for the crime scene search report.
CSS arrived at 0931 hours, 4/30/09. The site was an open field surrounded by woods, an unsecured area, but one not normally visited by the public. The body had been left fifteen feet north of a small access road.
The victim lay faceup, clothed, with feet together, arms straight at the sides. There was little damage attributable to animal activity. Some debris had accumulated on the remains (leaves, twigs, et cetera, collected by CSS), but no attempt had been made at concealment or burial.
Fingerprinting was impossible due to decomposition, but both hands were bagged. Photographs were taken of the victim and the surroundings.
The detailed report of each crime scene tech followed. Leaving those to Ryan, I moved on to the section labeled
Each article had been entered into a grid. The five columns were headed:
Control #. Item. Location. Type of Collection. Results.
The rows contained pitifully few entries. Photographs, forty-five. A soda can. Leaves. Bark chips. A rusty battery. Hair. A weathered sneaker, woman’s size ten. The hair was Lizzie’s. The can, battery, and shoe were negative for DNA or latent prints.