Read Cold Lake Online

Authors: Jeff Carson

Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense, #Serial Killer, #Crime, #Police Procedural

Cold Lake (3 page)

BOOK: Cold Lake
10.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Chapter 3

“What are you guys going to do for jobs?” The search and rescue rookie talking to Rachette was grating on Deputy Heather Patterson’s nerves.

“Do you have to re-apply?” Tall, muscular physique, and a nice set of eyes, the guy was cute and meant well, but he was poking the bear. Either he was a quasi-moron or he knew what he was doing and trying to rile them up, and that made him an asshole.

, Patterson thought. The guy was a dumbass rookie who didn’t know when to shut up. The apologetic glance from his superior told her as much.

“Yep. Gonna have to re-apply,” Rachette answered, unfazed by the guy’s upfront question. “Bullshit. But necessary bullshit, I guess. They say there should be minimal cuts. I’m confident we’ll have our jobs in the end.”

“Good luck,” the rookie continued, “my sister works for the town of Rocky Points and she says that MacLean’s a real dick, but he’s gonna win. I guess he’s been coming into town, walking around like he already runs it. Made my sister get him a cup of coffee across the street, like she was some sort of—”

“Can we talk about something else?” Patterson glared.

The rookie blinked. “Yeah. Sure.”

Patterson turned and looked at Sheriff Wolf sitting out in one of the ASIS rigid inflatable boats. He was staring at the western coastline in deep thought, up at one of the houses on the cliffs. She followed his eyes to the house on the hill, and then she ran her eyes alongshore left to the next property, which must have been a good half-mile away to the south. Then she looked past it to a bend, where the tip of a dock protruded from the shoreline pines, aluminum edges gleaming in the sun.

Patterson took a deep breath and closed her eyes. The fishy lake air smelled exhilarating. She always liked spending time near or on freshwater, whether kayaking the Roaring Fork near Aspen growing up, or the time she’d spent right here at Cold Lake, waterskiing behind her uncle’s boat. The sound of lapping waves against boat hulls triggered memories of fishing with her father, uncle, and brothers. The rushing air against her face when the boat had come out to this spot had triggered vivid memories of sitting next to her late grandfather, who used to sit on top of the chair back and let his wispy comb-over flap in the breeze. She remembered doing the same, peeking over the glass, the wind rushing up her nose and over her hair.

“Hey, uh, deputy?” Oliver Chevalier cleared his throat. “I really have to use the bathroom. Like. Now. Number two.”

Patterson opened her eyes and exhaled.

“Hey sheriff?” Rachette said into his radio. “We gotta take Mr. Chevalier in.”

Wolf looked over and held up a thumb. “Okay, let’s get someone to take him into the marina in his boat. Whoever does, they can stay on shore and wait.”

“10-4.” Rachette looked at Patterson with raised eyebrows.

She nodded at the rookie. “You take him in, we’ll stay here.” Her tone left no room for arguing.

The Sheriff’s Department fleet boat pulled alongside Oliver’s boat, and as Patterson and Rachette climbed onto the solid 1987 model equipped with two powerful outboards, Patterson felt like her legs were shaking. She realized it was her racing thoughts. It was what Rachette and the rookie had been talking about—their uncertain future.

Because it was clear as day. In the end, Sheriff David Wolf was not going to win the upcoming election for Sheriff of the merged counties. Her aunt Margaret had told her as much in confidence. But it was no secret, not to anyone. Wolf was dead in the water. 

She looked back at Wolf. He was staring again at the lake’s edge, immersed in the case, on another dimensional plane. She’d seen him look like that before, and it was a sight to see. A formidable sight at times. She’d never seen such sheer determination in any one man like David Wolf. But in the two years she’d been on the force, she’d also seen that he was a ruthless realist when he needed to be. That is, he was quick to see when determination became delusion, and he would act accordingly with sometimes dizzying speed to cut losses.

So what was he thinking about with this election? What was his plan? At the moment it seemed he was ignoring the inevitable outcome. He’d been appointed to the job of Sheriff of Sluice County last time. Elections were something he was clearly not comfortable with. Or good at.

And now Rachette and Patterson were being put in a tough situation. They were loyal to Wolf, that was never a doubt, but were they supposed to ignore MacLean? Were they supposed to be standoffish? How do they look good for present and future employers when those men are fighting one another to the death?

“Patterson.” Rachette slapped her shoulder.

She turned, annoyed. “What?”

“What, me? What’s going on with you? They’re back up.”

Patterson turned back to Wolf’s boat and saw that the divers had surfaced.

Rachette leaned a hand on the side of the boat. “Holy crap.”

There were four divers, and they all seemed to be carrying at least one black plastic bag. Two of them carried two bags, one in each hand.

Wolf pulled one dripping bag over the side of his boat, and Patterson could see it was similar shape and size to the head at the marina, but these bags had another something inside; a rectangular sag that streamed water as they were lifted. It looked like brick inside of each one.

The late spring sun suddenly felt hotter and she rolled up her sleeves.

“Six.” Rachette said. “Six more.” He stood up and looked at the inky water. “Dang, there could be a lot more than that down there.”

A whining engine came around the corner of the island and cut down to an idle, then continued crawling into the cluster of boats. It was the Sluice County Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Lorber. At six foot six-inches tall, his pole-thin frame was easy enough to spot, swaying with the wake like a pine in the wind, sticking up head and shoulders above the others in the boat next to him. His ever-present assistant, Dr. Joe Blank, was with him looking cold as he rubbed his hands.

There was a sharp whistle and the boat turned toward Wolf and the emerged divers. A deputy waved the red and white dive flag as if the driver needed reminding.

Lorber’s boat slid by, the Mercury outboard engine gurgling as the water frothed behind it, and Patterson held up a hand at him. Lorber pointed a long finger and nodded.

“Nice ‘stache.” Rachette murmured.

Lorber had shaven his usual five-day beard into a bushy caterpillar mustache, but that’s where the grooming stopped. His uncombed hippy-hair was as long as ever, flapping against the center of his back in the breeze.

“Is that jealousy?”

“Psh. I could grow a ‘stache like that in a week.”

“You’d be happy if you grew a map of the Galapagos Islands on your face after a week.”

Rachette glared at her, but had no comeback.


Chapter 4

Wolf got up from the bench seat of the ASIS inflatable as it slid alongside the SCSD fleet boat. He steadied himself as the pilot gave a quick burst in reverse and held out a hand to Patterson. Climbing aboard, the boat rocked under his weight. 

“What’s the news?” Rachette asked.

“The news is, we’ve got at least eight bodies down there. They just pulled up six heads. Add that to Chevelier’s catch this morning and we’ve got seven. Then there’s an extra bag down there. No head accounted for with that one. It could be a full body inside.”

“What do the bodies look like?” Rachette asked.

“They say they’re all wrapped in plastic. Same as the heads, they’re weighted with bricks inside.” He pointed down and made a circle with his arm. “Apparently they’re spread out, covering a hundred feet from one end to the other.”

“So there could be a lot more down there?” Patterson asked. “Visibility can’t be that good down there.”

Wolf shook his head. “They had a pretty good system going with the sonar. There might be another one or two, but they’ve done a pretty thorough grid search with the Down Imager. They’ll obviously do another sweep, and then they’ll use the winches to get them up. It’s going to take a while.”

“Good Lord,” Rachette shook his head and looked over at the shoreline to the west. “There’s some sick bastard living over there.”

“Not necessarily,” Patterson said. “Said sick bastard could have come from anywhere. All we know is this is his preferred spot for body dumping.”

“Then someone over there must have seen something,” Rachette said.

A sharp whistle pierced the air. “Hey!” Lorber was waving a long arm above his head.

Wolf looked at him and tipped his chin.

“You’ve gotta see this!”

Wolf turned the key and started the engine, then flipped the button for up-anchor. The winch at the front of the boat whined and the thin, wet cable spooled in.

Lorber stood and stared at them with his hands on his hips, and Wolf stared back with a blank expression, keeping motionless in the driver’s seat.

With an impatient gesture Lorber said something to the pilot of his boat, and their engine bubbled to life and they sped over.

“Look at this,” Lorber said as they eased next to their boat.

Wolf snuck in next to Patterson and Rachette and peeked overboard.

Lorber was holding open a bag, revealing the face of one of the heads.

Wolf narrowed his eyes and stared into the past, and then with recognition he exhaled. “Nick Pollard.”

Lorber nodded. “Yep. I’d bet my hair on it.”

Rachette looked between them. “Who’s Nick Pollard?”

“An old missing persons case.” Wolf’s gaze was locked on the waxy face.

The eyes were just like the other they’d seen—vacant ragged holes, clearly stabbed with a knife. Probably an inch wide blade. Narrow. A fishing knife, Wolf guessed. But the facial hair pattern sparked recognition in Wolf’s mind, because the sideburns were full and all the way to the chin. The mustache was pencil thin above the deformed mouth, and there was a line of facial hair on the collapsed chin as well that clung to bluish skin like wet pasta. It was a unique facial hair pattern with impressive growth for a seventeen-year old kid, and it was a visage that the residents of Rocky Points at one time knew well.

“How old of a case?” Rachette asked.

“Twenty-two years.” Wolf answered after a quick calculation.

“He looks … it looks like a lot more recent than that, doesn’t it?” Rachette frowned and looked back down. “Are you sure?”

Lorber looked at Patterson and raised an eyebrow. It was a challenge.

She cleared her throat. “The cold water at that depth would have slowed autolysis, or when the body’s enzymes within the cells go into post-death meltdown.”

Lorber tilted his head side to side, as if to say, at least

Patterson continued. “The almost perfect preservation of the face is due to the formation of adipocere, otherwise known as saponification, which is the formation of a waxy substance that ends up coating the skin. It’s formed by the anaerobic bacterial hydrolysis of fat in tissue. Cold, wet environments are perfect for production.”

Rachette looked at her appraisingly. “I love Science Fridays.”

“Spot on.” Lorber nodded and then looked to Wolf. “I’ll check dental records. Probably went to Dr. Unruh in town back then. Shouldn’t take more than tomorrow morning, probably this afternoon.”

Wolf nodded. “Make it as quick as possible. There were reporters at the marina. But I’m not going to jump the gun and tell the Pollards just yet. The facial hair is right, but the features have decomposed pretty badly. I wouldn’t bet my hair on it. I’ll wait for you.”

Lorber nodded.

“So, who was this vic?” Rachette asked.

Wolf took a deep breath, thinking back to his high school days. “This was my father’s case.”


Chapter 5

Wolf was the most exhilarated he’d been in years as he sat across the table from Sarah. Candlelight danced on her face and made it look like she had a spark in each eye, or maybe it was that she shared the same feeling.

“Excuse the interruption,” the waiter said in a low voice as he placed a basket of bread in front of them.

Wolf leaned back, making way for the waiter. He felt like he’d come up for air after being submerged in water, like the divers today after sitting at thirty feet for decompression, only he’d been submerged in something much better with Sarah. He realized that from the moment he’d picked her up from her house and smelled her perfume as she climbed in his truck, he’d been buried in the present. Time was passing one elevated heartbeat at a time.

He looked over his shoulder and saw the floor-to-ceiling window view Antler Creek Lodge offered, sitting atop the Rocky Points Ski Resort. The sky to the west was painted pink, the sun completely gone behind the mountains. The late spring snow on the peaks outside was like a blanket of orange sorbet in the fading light of the sunset.

The fragrance of fresh bread pulled his gaze from the windows to the table.

“Thank you.” Wolf nodded to the waiter as he left.

Sarah tore a slice of bread in half and bit into it. “So, are you ready to talk about today yet?”

Wolf chewed the soft, warmed bread. “I’d rather not ruin our first date in years.”

She sipped the wine, keeping her eyes on his. “Just tell me. After that exit this morning? And I can see that it’s on your mind. What the heck happened today?”

Wolf sighed and took a sip of water. “We found a … some dead bodies today.”

“Oh my God. At the lake?”

“In the lake.”

She leaned forward. “Really?”

Wolf sipped his wine.

“Bodies? Plural?” Sarah reached across the table and gripped his hand.

Wolf leaned forward and checked the neighboring table to his right. The couple was smiling at one another, distracted in conversation. “A lot of bodies. And I’m not sure we’re done pulling them up. They were”—he studied a piece of bread—“mutilated.”

“Jesus.” She whispered. “Like, a serial killer?”

Wolf nodded.

She put her other hand over Wolf’s and looked around the room. “That’s insane.”

Wolf nodded again. He took another sip of wine.

Sarah shook her head and stared off in thought. “So who were they? I can’t think of any missing people. Are they Rocky Points citizens? Have you identified anyone?”

Wolf gave a squeeze of Sarah’s hand and looked over to the neighboring couple again. They were both silent, reaching for their drinks. Both startled with Sarah’s last words.”

She turned her face away from them and shielded her mouth. “Sorry,” she whispered.

Wolf waited for the couple to resume with their own business.

“We identified one of them,” Wolf said in a voice barely above a whisper. “Do you remember Nick Pollard?”

Sarah frowned. “No.”

“He was younger than us growing up, a sophomore. Disappeared the summer after our senior year. I remember my dad was really bent out of shape about it.”

“Oh, geez. That long ago?” Sarah straightened and nodded. “Wait, yeah! I remember.”

Wolf squeezed her hand again.

She bent forward and lowered her voice. “Sorry. Yeah. The fourth of July. I remember he went missing on the fourth. They were all saying he went up to the lake and never came back. He went up to see ... ah, I forgot her name. But some weird girl, used to be homeschooled? Remember? Lived up on the lake? Everyone was saying that her dad killed him.”

Wolf pulled his eyebrows together. “How do you remember and I didn’t remember any of this?”

Sarah smiled. “I don’t know, Sheriff Wolf. How don’t you? Probably because you were doing two-a-days in Fort Collins, trying to impress the CSU cheerleaders with your tight spirals.”

Wolf shook his head. “I had already impressed the right cheerleader by then.”

Sarah smiled sheepishly and looked down.

The past, damn it
. Wolf had learned recently that talking about the past with Sarah was a sure-fire way to ruin the moment, and he’d just done it again.

She looked up quickly with a mischievous smile. “Seriously, though.” She let go of his hands and leaned forward on her elbows, creating a gap between her breasts that Wolf wanted to dive into. “I thought that third toss of yours today was going to rope that calf. The way it barely hit him in the ass and then hit the dirt?”

Wolf gave her a dagger stare and blinked. “I will murder you.”

She smiled and laughed, and then took a sip of her white wine.

He smiled wider than he ever liked to display in public, and then brought his own glass up to his lips and tasted the exquisite Argentinian white. It was sweet, and as he swallowed it warmed his entire body. It had been a long, mentally taxing day, and he could not think of a better way to wash the dirt off his thoughts than with a swig of wine and the most beautiful companion Wolf had ever known.

They locked eyes and stared at one another, and Wolf knew his ex-wife shared the same sentiments. They both knew something special was happening between them. For the first time since their divorce, years before that actually, they felt the spark between them again. And for the first time they were moving on from the past without looking back. It was more than a spark, Wolf thought, it was a warming fire that was ignited by the friction of their souls. Or something. Wolf checked himself and took another sip of wine.

“How’s the new place?” Wolf asked.

She nodded. “Good. Great. Jack seems to like it. I think he likes being away from my parents for the first time in years. And of course, I’m not there all day.” Sarah took a distracted sip of wine.

Wolf squeezed her hand. “He’s doing all right.”

She closed her eyes and nodded. “It’s just, he’s getting so … angry sometimes. And do you know what he told me when I said you and I was going out tonight?
?” She frowned and shook her head. “
? What kind of response is that to us finally going out on a date? Something he’s been hounding me about for years straight?”

Wolf shrugged. “Teenagers.”

She exhaled. “Do you think he’s doing pot?”

Wolf shook his head. “No.” He squeezed her hand and she looked up at him. “Hey, let’s just enjoy this dinner. Jack’s doing fine. I’ll see what’s bothering him this weekend. He probably just doesn’t …” Wolf let his sentence die. He was going to say,
He probably just doesn’t want to get his hopes up too much
, but that mirrored Wolf’s own thoughts too closely to voice out loud.

“What?” She asked.

“Nothing,” Wolf said with a smile. “Dinner. I could eat that horse I was riding on today.”

Sarah lifted her bare foot and rubbed the inside of Wolf’s knee. The touch sent a tingling wave through Wolf’s body and he smiled again.

“Salmon for the lady,” a voice said as the waiter materialized from thin air. He pushed the steaming plate in front of her.

She leaned back with a reddening face, as if she’d been caught in the act by the waiter, and clasped her hands. “Thank you.”

“And the filet.”

Wolf watched a three-inch high cylinder of meat slide in front of him, and the steamy aroma of steak, garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus made his mouth flood.

“Thank you,” he said.

He paused when he looked up and saw a flicker of horror in Sarah’s eyes as she looked past Wolf.

Turning to look over his shoulder and follow her gaze, he saw an elegantly dressed man waving at her from the bar at the front of the restaurant.

Wolf looked back at Sarah and saw she had recovered. She was looking relaxed, waving now with a semi-annoyed looking gesture.

She looked at Wolf and then her water glass, reached for it, and then decided to grab her knife and fork.

“Who’s that?” Wolf asked.

“A client.” There was no hesitation in her voice. “Geez, that looks good.” She gawked at Wolf’s plate.

Wolf cut a sliver of meat and held it out to her.

Ignoring the piece of filet mignon bobbing in front of her face, she looked into the distance once again. There was a small widening of her eyes. She put her knife and fork down and looked at her lap. Smoothed her napkin.

Wolf took the bite and studied her, knowing the man was now on his way over. He cut and forked another piece, and then put it in his mouth.

“Sarah.” The man stepped next to their table with an upturned palm thrust at her.

She looked up and feigned surprise and then placed her hand into his. His large hand enveloped hers and he began pulling her up.

“Come on, I need a hug. It’s been so long.”

“Oh … okay.” Sarah stood up and reached up to wrap her arms around the man’s shoulders. It was a difficult task for her, being that the man was at least six foot five. At least a couple inches taller than Wolf.

Wolf leaned back and put an elbow on the table, scrutinizing the man and his brash intrusion.

The man had mid-length wavy dark hair that was impeccably combed, and he wore a dark suit and an expensive white shirt over a muscled physique. The top button of his shirt was open, revealing a gold necklace around a thick, tanned neck. His watch was a platinum Rolex with a black face and there were no rings on his fingers. A good-looking guy by no stretch of the imagination, Wolf thought, and clearly the man had a big wallet.

Wolf watched as the man’s giant arms enveloped Sarah’s slender body. The man crouched and closed his eyes, his big arms crossing around her back and his big hands splaying flat on her bare skin that was exposed by the slinky cut dress.

The hug was a second too long, awkward for Sarah, who began pulling away.

As they separated the man brushed the fabric the whole way from her ribs to her upper thigh, past her panty-line, which was
there, and then finally drew back his meat hooks to his side.

Wolf stood and slapped the man’s back, hard enough for a hollow thump to echo through the dining room, silencing the nearby tables.

“Hey, there. I’m Dave.”

The man turned quickly, like he was suddenly in a fight.

Wolf gazed lazily into the man’s blue eyes.

There was movement and gasps of astonishment coming from behind Wolf, and when he looked down he saw that his chair had careened into a woman’s back. “Oh, I’m sorry ma’am.”

The woman looked up at him with exasperation and turned back around to face her husband, who was now glaring up at Wolf.

Wolf looked back at their visitor and narrowed his eyes. “And you are?”

The man mirrored Wolf’s glare and one side of his chiseled mouth rose slightly. “The name’s Carter. Carter Willis.” He broke into a disarming, politician smile and extended a hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Wolf looked at the man’s hand for a second and then at Sarah.

Sarah sank down into her chair and took a sip of her water.

Wolf came in with knuckle-crunching force, but found the man’s grip too hard to dent. The shake was the same awkward amount of time as the hug had been, and then they let go.

“Well, see ya around, Carter.”

Carter looked down at Sarah. He blew air from his lips and glanced at Wolf. “See you around,” he said to Sarah. “Nice to meet you, Sheriff.”

Wolf twisted in his seat as he watched the man stroll away.

The rest of the meal was eaten in complete silence. The couple next to them was even sucked into the abyss of awkwardness, and ended up eating fast, refusing desert and getting out of there as soon as humanly possible.

Wolf had not enjoyed his steak, not with so much adrenaline pumping through his veins. He was bad company, too, because he couldn’t find any words worth saying. So he finished his food, downed his glass of wine, and signaled the waiter for the check.

They refused the desert menu in silence, paid in silence, and then left in silence, into the cold thin air on top of the mountain.

“I don’t know what that was in there,” Wolf said.

“That’s right,” she said with a hard tone. “You don’t.”

Wolf looked at her. She held her gaze in front of her, crunching along the wet rocky earth of the ridgeline toward the waiting snow cat.

Scott Reed, Deputy Patterson’s boyfriend for the last year, saw them coming and smiled wide. His smile vanished as quickly as it had formed when he saw Wolf and Sarah’s dark mood.

The cat ride and gondola ride were spent with a wedge of silence between them. The car ride was the same, and as Wolf turned onto Beacon Light Road and toward Sarah’s new three bedroom three bath overlooking the east side of town, the monotonous silence was shattered by the beep of Wolf’s phone. He picked it up and read the screen. It was a text from Dr. Lorber that read:
Nick Pollard confirmed with dental records

“What’s that?” Sarah asked, as if the last hour had been a cap to the perfect evening.

BOOK: Cold Lake
10.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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