Authors: Jeff Carson
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense, #Serial Killer, #Crime, #Police Procedural
Deputy Heather Patterson and Scott sat across the table from his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Reed, at the Red Ruby Café, a jeans and tee-shirt kind of place with some of the best American Cuisine in Colorado that money could buy. It was a small building with a ski lodge atmosphere right off Main Street in Rocky Points. Scott had chosen the venue, making sure his father got a view of the television screens that were in the bar area when they’d sat down, giving his father an “out” at all times.
Patterson ignored the hand under the table caressing the inside of her knee and answered the question. “I went to the University of Colorado. In Boulder.”
“Oh, you’re kidding! I went to grad school in Boulder.” Scott Reed’s father sat across from Patterson and Scott. “That’s where I got my Masters of Aerospace Engineering. Scott threatened to go to college there back in the day, but as you know he ended up at Metro State.”
Scott’s caress abruptly stopped. “And my father hasn’t let me hear the end of it since.”
His father shrugged and took a sip of his wine. “Nothing is wrong with Metro, son. It’s not CU, but … nothing’s wrong with Metro.” His tone said otherwise. “So, how’s work going with you, Scott? The, uh, snow cat running well?”
Patterson could see Scott’s breathing quicken, and his face was turning red behind the water glass pressed against his lips.
It was Patterson’s turn to reach over and place a hand on his leg.
Scott looked over and his face relaxed.
“You two are so good together,” his mother said.
Patterson smiled and looked at her. “Yeah. We kind of are.”
His mother smiled warmly.
The waiter came over, providing a welcome distraction. “Here we are,” he said, placing three plates of appetizers on the table.
“The wings here are the best in Colorado,” Patterson said, feeling her face go red as she realized she’d already said as much when they had ordered the food. Damn, she was nervous, and Scott’s father wasn’t helping the situation one bit. The man seemed to feed and grow stronger on discomfort, and every word out of his pompous mouth made sure there was plenty of discomfort to feed his cruel spirit. It was amazing Scott was related to this man at all.
Scott’s father’s face was heavy with unmasked disappointment, which was a shame. Scott didn’t waste any energy defending himself against his father, either, which Patterson admired. If it had been her father across the table she’d be standing up and shaking a fist in his face right now, dropping f-bombs and causing a scene. She didn’t take shit from any of the men in her family—not from her father or any of her three brothers. In fact, she’d once thrown a beer in her middle brother’s face at a restaurant.
Smiling to herself at the sudden memory, she picked at her food in silence with her other three companions.
After a few more agonizing seconds she cleared her throat. “You know, Scott has written a novel and he’s working on a second?”
“Oh my goodness.” His mother set her beer down. “Are you serious?”
Scott gave Patterson a rueful glance and nodded. “Yeah. I am … I have.”
“Oh really?” His father said. “What’s it about?”
Scott wiped his fingers with a napkin. “It’s a mystery about a man who is an avid outdoorsman. He comes across a murder victim in the woods and…”
Scott’s father set down his drink and straightened, looking past Scott as if he’d just seen something terrible.
Patterson and Scott followed his gaze and saw he was focused intently on the highlights of the Boston Red Sox on the television.
“They paid way too much for that asshole,” he murmured. “I’m sorry, son. What’s it about?”
Scott shook his head and picked up a chicken wing. “Forget it.”
“No, I want to know. Have you been looking for a publisher?”
Scott ignored him.
“John,” his mother said in a whisper.
Scott threw his napkin on the table and scooted his chair back. “We’re going to take off. It was good seeing you mom.”
Patterson looked up in shock at Scott as he left, then across the table. His mother was slack-jawed and his father was concentrating on a hot wing with indifference.
“Oh no, Scott. John, tell him not to go.”
Scott was already gone, swerving his way around tables in the bar and heading to the door.
Patterson wiped her hands and scooted her chair back. “Ummm, I guess we’re going.”
“It was nice to meet you,” Scott’s father said with a quick smile that didn’t reach his eyes.
His mother’s lower lip was quivering and her eyes welled up. “I’m sorry.”
Patterson scooped up her rain parka and purse off the back of the chair and nodded to them. “It was nice to meet you.” She walked away. “What an asshole,” she muttered to herself.
She stepped quickly through the tables toward the exterior door, now swinging shut, Scott waiting with his back turned to the windows.
Making the final push to the door, she stopped dead in her tracks. It was a reflexive move, because she’d just seen Sarah Muller—just looked right at her and then kept walking. Wolf’s ex-wife (and current lover if she’d been reading the situation correctly) was one of those women that always demanded a second look. She was stunning. Electric blue eyes, thick true blonde hair, and a figure that made men stop and stare every time.
But it wasn’t just that Sarah was a stunner that stopped Patterson dead in her tracks, it had been the large man next to her, and the way that man was grabbing her leg, which was clearly visible to Patterson since it was a tall bar table and she was short.
Wasn’t she dating Wolf again
? She thought.
Sarah met Patterson’s gaze and she visibly flinched. Her leg whipped to the side, and the man’s hand was now grabbing air under the table. The man followed Sarah’s eyes and saw Patterson. Sarah looked like a frightened animal, but the man was cool and confident.
Patterson’s blood was already boiling with the botched dinner and the father from hell, and before she could even think about it she was right next to them thrusting out her hand.
“Hi Sarah,” she said.
Sarah reached out and grabbed her hand with a timid claw.
Patterson shot her glare at the other man. “And you are?”
He smiled and his hand swallowed hers. He squeezed with increasing pressure and Patterson met every foot-pound of force. “I am Carter.”
“Carter who? Don’t think I’ve seen you before.”
The big man’s smile vanished and he let go of his grip. “Carter Willis.”
He was a good-looking man, but if he got up from his chair, Patterson was sure there would have been slime on it. He was dressed impeccably, polished platinum jewelry on his wrists peeking out beneath a crisp expensive shirt and blazer. A politician or important businessman, if Patterson had to guess. Perhaps too muscular for something as simple as that, though. The man was dangerous looking, she decided.
“Ah.” Patterson looked back at Sarah, who was stirring her drink with a plastic straw. “Okay, see you later.” She turned without waiting for a response from Sarah and marched out the door.
“Who was that guy with Sarah?” Scott said in greeting.
It was cold outside, a steady pin- pricking drizzle blowing from the north, so she burrowed against Scott and wrapped an arm around him. “I don’t know. Some asshole.” They turned their backs to the blast of weather and walked to her car.
She looked up at Scott and it was heartbreaking. His eyes were vacant, his face expressionless and sagging, his walk slow.
“I want to go back to my place.” She said.
She burrowed deeper against him as they walked, shaking the image of Carter Willis’s disgusting face out of her mind, and then a sympathy for Sheriff Wolf pushed its way in.
Bass notes pumped out of the brightly lit Tackle Box Marina Bar.
Wolf walked across the parking lot and a couple of young men stared at him from a darkened nook near the trees, clearly hiding something in their hands behind their backs.
Wolf sniffed the air. “Marijuana is legal now. As long as you’re not driving, I don’t care.” He continued past them and down a wooden plank entryway, which hovered a few feet above the shimmering water.
Boats bumped and creaked on small waves generated by the wind that replaced the rain and clouds. The air was crisp and cold next to the water.
The door wrenched open before Wolf could reach for it, and loud music and a couple dressed in weathered denim poured out. Walking arm in arm with unlit cigarettes dangling from their mouths, the couple stopped short. The man stepped to the side and held the door for Wolf.
“Sheriff,” the man said.
“Thank you.” Wolf stepped into the humid room. It smelled of fried bar food and beer, stale cigarette smoke and marijuana. The jukebox in the corner played a hair metal song from the late eighties and two women who were probably roadies back then danced in front of it while their boyfriends played pool.
Hair, leather, and chains were the overriding theme of the twenty-plus patrons inside the bar.
Wolf walked to the bar and a younger man with a tight ponytail and hemp necklace greeted him with a raised chin. “Sheriff?”
“Hello. I’m looking for someone named Maureen McKenzie. Worked here twenty-two years ago.”
The man nodded. “Yeah. She owns the place. She’s in back.” He thumbed towards a doorway behind him with raised eyebrows.
Wolf nodded and then reached down to pat his pocket when his phone began vibrating. It was going nuts.
He pulled it out and looked at it, seeing that he’d been granted a tiny sliver of cell reception, and now two voice messages and a text message were coming in.
Wolf looked at the text message. It was from Rachette.
Call me immediately. Found Parker Grey!
Wolf’s pulse jumped. My God, after all these years, he turns up? And right now as they start investigating him again?
Looking at the voicemails and seeing they were both from Rachette, he skipped listening to them and called instead.
As the phone purred in his ear, he turned and studied the inside of the Tackle Box Bar and Grill. A few people averted their eyes. The mood had definitely shifted at the sight of his badge and gun to a somber impatience. People wanted to get back to using the F-word loudly, drinking their fourth or fifth or tenth beer before they got back in their cars and drove on the dirt roads to their houses.
“Hello, I’m Maureen.” A husky voice came from behind him.
“Hey!” Rachette’s voice exploded in his ear. “I’ve been trying to get hold of you!”
Wolf turned around and held up a finger to the heavy-set red headed woman. She frowned, shook her head, and walked away.
“What’s going on?” Wolf asked. “Parker Grey turned up?”
“Yeah. I’m on my way to you right now. Where are you? I thought there wasn’t any cell reception at her house.”
“I’m across the lake at the Marina. The Tackle Box Bar and Grill.”
People nearby turned resentful eyes towards him, clearly wary of more cops showing up and ruining their Saturday night. Wolf walked away from the bar and retreated to a quiet corner.
“I just left County now,” Rachette said, his voice still excited. “I’m about twenty minutes away.”
Wolf frowned and switched phone hands. “Why are you still at County? I thought you went back to the station.”
“I did. Then I came back.”
“Because there’ve been some developments.”
“I started with the Colorado missing person’s database, and got a pretty immediate identification of one of them. A kid named James Trujillo. Seventeen years old. Most likely a runaway. Last seen hitchhiking north out of Alamosa.”
“Okay, and … what’s with Parker Grey? Where’s he at?”
“Wait a minute. It gets better. Or worse. Turns out James Trujillo went missing six years ago.”
Wolf froze. “Six years ago?”
“Six years ago.”
“So the killer … so Parker Grey kept killing? He stayed close.”
“What do you mean?”
“Parker Grey is here.”
Wolf frowned. “Sounds pretty close to me. Where? What do you mean, here?”
“Here, as in at County, sitting on a gurney in Lorber’s exam room with a bullet hole in his head.”
Wolf hit the end call button and walked slowly to the bar, his thoughts wading through the revelation.
Maureen McKenzie, the woman Wolf had come to see stood with both hands on the bar, an expectant look in her bloodshot eyes. Extending his hand, he gripped and shook hers, thinking of a dead trout as he did so.
“So? What can I do for you?” She coughed, and it was like a blast of radio static.
“I need to talk to you about this man.” Wolf produced the photo of Parker Grey from Wolf’s father’s file and held it out.
Wolf’s thoughts wandered again to the alarm at Kimber Grey’s house, and to the strange encounter at Olin Heeter’s house, from which the adrenaline had yet to wear off. It hadn’t been some sort of encounter, Wolf reminded himself. It had been a
. He was sure of it. A person who had been hiding inside Olin Heeter’s place. He thought of the movement he saw in the window. Now that person was in the woods outside Kimber Grey’s. Who? The Killer?
Definitely not Parker Grey.
“…that? Sheriff, hello! What the hell is going on?”
Another coughing fit snapped Wolf out of his thoughts and he saw that Maureen now wore red framed glasses and she was holding up Parker Grey’s picture. She took off her glasses and dropped the photo on the bar. “What do you need?”
“Sorry … I need to talk to you about this man.”
She shrugged. “Sure. Like I said, go ahead.”
“Do you remember the night of the Fourth of July, twenty-two years ago, when this man was here with his family watching the fireworks, and he got a phone call here?”
She nodded. “Hell yes, I do. That was the last time I saw or spoke to Parker Grey.” She grabbed a glass and put it under a tap, filling it halfway with beer and taking a sip. “Used to be a regular here. Would come across the lake in his boat every Friday and Saturday night.”
“You want one?” She held up her now empty glass.
“No. Thanks. Can you tell me a little about that phone call he got?”
She nodded, the red skin under her chin wobbling. “Yeah. Why don’t we step outside?”
Wolf followed her out to a wooden deck over the water that squealed under her footsteps.
She pulled out a crinkling pack of cigarettes and lit one, and then held the pack to him.
He shook his head.
Maureen took a greedy pull and exhaled. “It was during the fireworks. I remember I was right here, watchin’ em over the lake, right there.” She tilted her head and pointed to the moon. “And then my bartender came out and said there was someone on the phone lookin’ for Parker Grey. I remember being like, ‘We ain’t running a secretary service,’ and then Gabe—that was my bartender—said she was saying it was an emergency. So I stormed in and got on the phone, and this girl demanded to talk to Parker Grey. And I said, ‘Listen, honey. He’s not here in my bar, so you’re out of luck.’ And she started getting hysterical, like crying and stuff, and then I was kinda creeped out. I didn’t want to be the one not telling him about an emergency. So I told her to hold on, and I went out over to the lawn over there by the parking lot where everyone was set up and started looking for him.”
She sucked another drag and ignored the ash as it broke off and tumbled up her arm.
“And can you describe the voice?” Wolf asked. “Was it an older woman? A younger woman?”
“Younger,” she said without hesitation. “Early twenties or something.”
Wolf nodded. “Okay, and so you—”
“Or could have been a boy, I guess.”
Wolf blinked. “If you had to bet, which one would you say it was?”
She took another drag, this one slow. The cherry brightened, and her eye winked shut against the smoke. “I don’t gamble. But if I had to, I’d say it was a woman. I guess she sounded too mature to be a little boy.”
Wolf nodded. “You got the call, and then you went and found Parker?”
“Yeah. I went and found Parker, and told him he had a phone call and it sounded like an emergency. So he got up from his blanket and came in with me and talked. I didn’t hear what was said. But—”
“Sorry to interrupt, but when you came out to tell him, was he with his wife and daughter, Kimber?”
She nodded. “Yeah. They were sitting on the same blanket. I remember whispering in Parker’s ear, cause I didn’t want to freak out his wife and kid about the whole thing.”
“Okay, thanks. Continue please.”
“Yeah. So, he came in, and I watched him on the phone for the conversation. He was talking all intense into it, ducking down and covering his mouth when he talked and stuff. And then he just hung up all a sudden and stormed out.”
She nodded while taking a drag and exhaling. “Yep. Looked real upset.”
“And then did you see him leave?”
“Yeah. I went back out here to the rear deck, and everybody watched him get in his boat and tear outta here. A couple of the guys were calling after him, asking if everything was okay. When he didn’t answer, they was givin’ him shit.”
“So he left, without his wife and daughter?”
She nodded. “Yep.”
“And did you see him come back later?”
“Yep. I was out here again. Saw him drive up in his boat. I remember we were all yelling at him again. I remember he was ignoring everyone, just like when he left. Then he came in and got his wife and daughter and they left.”
Wolf looked at her. “He came in here?”
“Yeah. They were in here talking to people, looking to get a ride back home. But then he showed up.”
“Do you remember when that was?”
“Shoot. I have no idea. Midnight?”
Wolf put his hands on the wobbly wooden railing and looked across the water. He counted seven lit cabins on the western shore, a constellation on the dark mountain on the other side of the lake. The clouds were moving out, and the moon was full, its stripe reflection slicing the lake in two. “Thanks for your time.”
Wolf walked back into the bar and then out the door, hearing raucous laughter as the door shut behind him.
Standing in the parking lot, he watched as a vehicle approached. It was a shiny black Mercedes Benz SUV with Idaho plates. Not Rachette.
Checking his cell phone, he saw no missed calls. With a shake of his head he pushed Sarah’s number and listened to it go to voicemail after two rings. He looked at the digital clock on the screen and then across the lake again. He couldn’t shake the feeling that things were happening over there. Right now. And it was all because they’d pulled up those bodies.
“Shit,” he said under his breath and got in his SUV. Firing it up, he backed out and began the journey back to Kimber Grey’s cabin.