Authors: L. J. Sellers
Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Murder, #Thriller, #Eugene, #Detective Wade jackson, #Sex Club
In a short while, she found a second client who matched the profile. Rachel Greiner, also a student at Kincaid, had made an unscheduled visit to the clinic on July 7 and asked for emergency contraception. Andrea, who was a nurse as well as the clinic manager, had discussed several birth control options with Rachel, but the girl had declined everything but some condoms to take with her. Andrea’s notes indicated that Rachel believed birth control pills were an abortifacient.
Kera shook her head. The notion that hormonal contraception could keep a newly formed oocyte from adhering to the uterine wall had no scientific basis. The pharmaceutical company that had first marketed “the pill” in the fifties had made the claim—without any scientific data—because they thought it would help sell the product. Now a growing number of anti-abortion activists, including some doctors, believed it to be factual. Marketing was the glue that held myths together.
Kera jotted Rachel’s information on her notepad and hoped the girl would come back in for condoms. So far, she had not.
The next hit came quickly: Katie Jackson had listed her age as fifteen, but the client also noted her school as Kincaid. Unless the girl had flunked a few grades, she was probably fourteen or under. Her last visit had been more than six months ago in late February, when she’d left with condoms and a three-month supply of pills. Katie had not been back.
“Can I get in there?” Julie was suddenly at her side.
“Of course.” Kera stepped back and let her co-worker pull a chart.
“Doing your own file moving?” Julie asked. The dark circles under her eyes seemed more prominent today.
“That’s how slow it is. Do you think it’ll be like this all week?”
“We could never get that lucky.” Julie closed the drawer. “That’s it for me. Don’t work too late.”
“See you tomorrow.”
Julie moved off and Kera continued her search. Because she wasn’t sure yet what she would do with her findings, she didn’t feel ready to share her investigation with her co-workers.
The clinic was nearly silent, the only sounds the hum of computers and an occasional clunk of a drawer being closed. Most of the staff had gone home, and for the next hour, Kera didn’t hear anyone announce themselves in the foyer. She could feel the daylight fading and her hunger growing, but she pushed on, eager to get through the files.
Eventually she found two partial matches in the M section. Savannah Montgomery, fourteen, had left the school line blank. And Greg Miller had listed his age as thirteen but his school as Spencer High School, which did not match up—unless he attended the middle school next door. Greg had been treated for genital warts six weeks ago.
Kera checked her watch. It was 6:15 and her shift was over, but the clinic would be open until 8 p.m. She decided to take a quick dinner break, then come back and finish searching the files.
Wednesday, October 20, 4:57 p.m.
Evans and McCray were already in the room, writing lists of suspects on the board when Jackson arrived.
“Nice penmanship, Evans. On the other hand, McCray, you write like a cranked-up second grader.”
McCray had the good humor to laugh, despite the fact that he’d been on the job for nearly thirty-six hours with only a few winks of sleep. They all had. Jackson was looking forward to dinner with his daughter and maybe a short nap too. Having a suspect in custody made him feel like he could afford to take a short break. The team needed to hear about Grady, but not until he’d heard their reports first. He didn’t want anyone censoring their findings. Everyone connected to the case was still a suspect.
“Are these the tenant lists?
McCray nodded. “I’ve contacted everyone at the Regency Apartments at least once, most of them twice. Only one reacted to Jessie’s photo. Bettina Rajnek in unit twelve. She saw Jessie crossing the basketball court once recently.”
“A week or so ago. But she’s not certain.”
“Jessie must know someone in the apartments.” Jackson brightened a little. “Anybody you haven’t shown the photo to?”
“These two.” McCray underlined two names, then let go of the marker and slipped into a chair. The relief was obvious on the older man’s face. Jackson felt guilty about calling him out on this case. It could go on like this for days, maybe a week.
“Hey, what did I miss?” Schakowski hustled in carrying a thermos and wearing a red stain on his shirt.
“Your face?” Evans laughed at her own joke.
Schak looked down and cursed.
Jackson brought the focus back to Jessie. “One of the tenants thinks she might have seen Jessie outside the apartments a couple weeks ago.”
“So what’s the theory?”
“We’re not there yet.” Jackson turned to Evans, who was in a chair now, with her long legs stretched out. “What about your renters?”
“No one admitted recognizing the photo. But I swear the guy in unit three reacted like he did, then denied it. That’s Louis Frank, by the way, with the theft and drug record.”
“What’s your take on him?”
“I think he’s seen the girl around but doesn’t want to draw any attention to himself. Maybe for good reason.”
“Let’s bring him in.”
Jackson had lost all patience with cagey ex-cons.
“I’d like a chance to talk to his girlfriend first, without him around.” Evans sat up and looked at her notes.
“Okay. What else?”
“I’ve interviewed almost everyone at the complex twice now. But there are still two units where no one has been home either time I’ve been there.” She pointed at the names on the board underlined in yellow: Joseph Orte and Mariska Harrison.
“Have you asked the manager about them?”
“He wasn’t home either.”
“What’s his name?”
“Ray Bondioli. He’s in unit two. I’ll go back in an hour or so and try again.”
“I’ll go,” Jackson offered, jotting the name down. “I want you to interview Mrs. Davenport instead. I’m hoping you’ll get more out of her than I did.”
“What’s she like?” Evans flipped her notepad to a fresh page.
“Religious. Defensive about her parenting. Maybe bitter and lonely too. Her husband left about six months ago. By the way, let’s find out where he is. And if Jessie had any contact with him.” Jackson wrote down the Davenport address and handed it to Evans.
“Schak, what have you got to report?”
“Ruth Greiner, friend of the Davenports, seems a little squirrelly.” He tapped his note pad with a pen. “First, she wouldn’t let me into her house. We talked outside on the deck. Then she couldn’t get it over fast enough. But whatever her problem is, it doesn’t seem to be connected to Jessie. Greiner seemed genuinely surprised to learn of the girl’s death.”
“Maybe she just didn’t want you to see her dirty house,” Evans said.
“I saw her talking to herself,” Schak said. “Not out loud. She was just moving her lips.”
Jackson thought about Judy Davenport’s reaction to Jessie’s death. “Was Greiner praying?”
Schak touched his forehead. “Of course. I should have realized that. She mentioned that they all went to the same church.”
Nobody said anything for a moment.
Jackson looked at Evans. “I’d like you to talk to Greg Miller and Adam Walsh next. I missed them when I was at the school.” To Schak, he said, “Follow up on the legitimate public call-in leads. Casaway has been screening them for us.”
He addressed the group. “Casaway also gave me a lead from the sex offender database. I picked him up this afternoon. Oscar Grady has a history of statutory rape. The girl was fifteen. I’m holding him until I get a warrant for a DNA swab, but I’ll have to release him after that if we don’t come up with something else.”
He looked at McCray. “Take his life apart. Talk to everyone Grady associates with. Find something on this guy.”
Jackson stood. “Meanwhile, the rest of us keep looking. Church seems to be the common denominator in this social circle. Jessie and her friends met on Tuesdays after school for a Bible study called Teen Talk. And sometimes Jessie left early. If someone saw her at the apartments, then we have to assume the girl started using her free time to do something more exciting than Bible study.”
Wednesday, October 20, 6:33 p.m.
Jackson’s bungalow on the corner of 25th and Harris was dwarfed by giant oak and birch trees that had already begun to shed their leaves. As he hurried up the walk, he wondered how long he could let the yard go before he absolutely had to get out the rake. So far, October had been dry and warm, so the leaves hadn’t started to decay and stink yet.
A memory from when he was ten years old bubbled. He and his older brother Derrick had a yard care service—right here in this neighborhood—that included mowing, weeding, and raking. Once, being stupid kids, they had dumped leaves in the trash can of the crazy old woman next door, and she’d called the police. The sight of a cop standing in his living room wanting to talk to him had made Jackson’s knees tremble. But the officer had been kind and had even complimented him and Derrick for having their own business. Jackson’s fear quickly turned to awe. He was captivated by the crisp uniform, the gun, the authority—and the compassion. At that moment, he had decided to become a cop. And never wavered from that dream.
Jackson stepped in the front door and called out, “Katie. Are you home?”
She yelled from her bedroom, “Give me a minute.”
The tension in his shoulders eased just from being home. He’d lived in this house since Katie was a baby, and it was one of the reasons he’d held on to his marriage for as long as he had. The furnishings were old, but they were quality pieces that were well cared for. And Katie was a neat freak too, so the place actually looked better than it had when Renee had been there. Organization had not been his wife’s strong point.
Jackson took off his jacket and his weapon holster and hung them both over the back of a kitchen chair, the jacket covering the Sig Sauer. Katie hated even the sight of it. He made a pot of coffee and searched the freezer for possible dinner items. A frozen lasagna looked like the best bet. He popped it in the microwave, then stepped back into the hallway.
“Katie, I don’t have much time here.”
After a minute, his daughter appeared. He was happy to see that she was wearing baggy track-style pants and a plain T-shirt that covered her stomach. They’d had a few battles lately about how much belly she could show.
Katie’s eyes were red and her sweet face was puffy from crying.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she demanded.
She was upset about Jessie. Of course. Jackson mentally kicked himself. “Honey, yesterday when I called you, I didn’t know it was Jessie.”
“But you knew this morning. You could have called me before I went to school. But instead, I had to hear it from my friends.”
Jackson tried to read her emotions. Clearly, she was upset because a friend, or ex-friend, had died, but she also seemed to be embarrassed that as a cop’s daughter she was the last to know. This was a new one.
“I’m sorry. I was busy doing my job, tracking down leads, trying to find her killer.”
They stood in the hall, staring at each other, as they had so many times in the past. Katie, hands on short hips, Jackson with his arms out in an open, pleading gesture. After a moment, she stepped forward and Jackson pulled her in for a hug. Katie had been through a lot over the years with Renee’s drinking, then sudden departure. Jessie’s death was yet another blow. He was glad she had not lost her current best friend.
Katie was the first to pull back. She wiped away tears and said, “You will get the guy, won’t you?”
They ate the lasagna, cool in places, tongue-burning hot in others, without complaining. Katie had put celery sticks on the table so they could tell themselves they’d had a vegetable. Neither cared for greens unless they were in a salad smothered in ranch dressing.
Jackson turned on the TV to catch up on the local news, then quickly shut it back off. The lead story was Jessie’s death.
“Did they have grief counselors at your school today?” Jackson asked between bites.
“There were two people from the district office, but I didn’t talk to either of them.”
“Are you doing all right? I feel bad that I can’t be here for you.”
“I’m fine.” Katie gave him a sad, brave smile that broke his heart.
After a few minutes, Jackson said, “I have to take you back over to Aunt Jan’s tonight. You know I have to work straight through for another day or so. It’s the only way to break a homicide case.”
“It’s okay. I want you to find the guy that killed her.”
“I know you haven’t been hanging out with Jessie lately.” Jackson paused. “But is there anything you can tell me about her friends, or boyfriend, anything that might help?” Like who she was having sex with.
“After she joined Teen Talk, she didn’t have time for me.” Katie put down her fork and wouldn’t look at him. “I really can’t help you.”
She jumped up and rushed to the sink to rinse her plate.
“I know she was sexually active.” Jackson turned in his chair so he could see her reaction, but his daughter was still facing the sink.