Authors: Blake Pierce
Wayne Turner led them into a tidy, modestly decorated living room. With a wordless gesture, he invited Bill and Riley to sit down.
Turner took a long breath to bring his speech under control. Then he said, very slowly but smoothly, “I’m sorry about the stutter. It happens when I’m nervous. I’ve had a lot of therapy for it. Usually I can control it.”
Bill said, “Can you tell us where you were last Wednesday night, between dusk and midnight?”
Turner looked uneasy, but managed to control his speech. “I was driving. Between here and Dudley. I was visiting my parents there.”
“Can anybody confirm your whereabouts during that time?” Bill asked.
“N-not between the hours you’re t-talking about,” Turner said, his anxiety mounting. “I-I left my parents’ house about eight. I d-didn’t get home until almost midnight. It-it’s a long drive.”
Bill’s expression showed increasing suspicion.
He asked, “What about Sunday night? Between eight and ten?”
Turner’s eyes darted back and forth.
“Sunday? I-I was at h-h-home,” he said.
“Alone?” Bill asked.
Riley could see that Turner was starting to panic. But that didn’t necessarily mean that he was the man they were looking for. Riley had seen perfectly innocent people get spooked by questions like these. She knew that this interview would go better if she and Bill didn’t put him on the defensive. She decided she’d better ask the questions herself.
“We heard that you got a new job,” Riley said, not unpleasantly. “Congratulations. Could you tell us about it?”
Turner looked confused, but also a bit flattered. He was able to speak more calmly now.
“I just started working for Decatur Brothers Hardware. A wholesaler. I’m a sales representative. I’ll be traveling a lot. I like that. I like to get around.”
“And before you got this job?” Riley asked.
Turner lowered his head. She could see she’d touched on a topic that bothered him.
“I-I had trouble getting work for a while,” he said. “It’s n-not easy when you’ve g-got a problem talking. It can h-happen at the wrong time.”
“I hope this new job works out for you,” Riley said.
Bill put in, “We hear that you got arrested a few months back. Could you tell us about that?”
From Turner’s reaction, Riley saw that Bill had touched on an even more difficult subject than employment difficulties. She hoped it wouldn’t scuttle the interview altogether.
“Oh, th-that,” Turner said, looking quite ashamed. “A woman c-cut in f-front of me in a m-movie line. I c-complained. She m-made fun of me for my st-stutter.”
He shook his head.
“I d-don’t know what g-got into me,” he said. “I h-hit her. I’ve never d-done anything else like that.”
Riley studied his expression. He might be telling the truth, or he might not be. She couldn’t be sure.
She said, “Mr. Turner, I hope you don’t mind my asking about this. You were adopted, weren’t you?”
“You said you that you visit your parents in Dudley,” Riley said.
Turner took careful control over his voice. “I go there every week,” he said.
“So you’re on good terms with your parents?” Riley asked.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “They’ve always been good to me.”
Riley paused, then said, “You were in an orphanage before you were adopted, weren’t you?”
Turner nodded again.
In the gentlest voice possible, Riley asked, “Were you ever mistreated there?”
Turner looked directly into her eyes and spoke with remarkable calm.
“I didn’t like it there,” he said. “I’d rather not discuss it.”
Riley was slightly startled by his sudden composure.
Then Turner asked, “Am I a suspect in some sort of a crime?”
“We’re investigating two murders and an abduction,” Bill said.
Riley stifled a sigh. Bill’s answer wasn’t the least bit graceful. Even so, Turner seemed remarkably unperturbed.
“I haven’t killed or hurt or abducted anyone,” Turner said. “Now if you don’t mind, I’m through answering questions. If you need to ask anything else, I’ll want my lawyer present.”
Bill was about to say something more. Riley silenced him with a gesture.
Turner got up from his chair and walked to his desk. He searched through some cards, then picked one and handed it to Riley.
“Here’s my lawyer’s card,” he said. “Please contact him if you’ve got any more questions.”
Riley smiled politely and said, “We understand, Mr. Turner. Thank you for your time.”
Bill and Riley left the house and got into the car.
As Bill started to drive, he said, “Did you hear how his speech changed? He hardly stuttered at all toward the end. What do you make of that?”
Riley didn’t reply. The truth was, she wasn’t sure what to make of it. The change in Turner’s demeanor could well be characteristic of a cold-blooded psychopath. On the other hand, a man who went through life with Turner’s speech problem had surely developed more than his share of coping strategies. Perhaps what they’d seen and heard just now showed how strong he was deep down.
As Riley mulled it over, she fingered the card that Turner had given her. Suddenly, something dawned on her.
“Bill, he’s not our man,” Riley said.
“Do you remember the business card Lucy told you about? The one the florist gave her?”
Bill nodded. “Yeah, the one that probably has the killer’s handwriting.”
“It was how he ordered the flowers,” Riley said. “He wrote it out by hand. Wayne Turner wouldn’t have done that. He’d have talked to the florist, even if it was hard to do. It would be a matter of pride for him. The man we’re looking for isn’t like that. He can barely talk at all, according to the florist. Some people might actually think that he’s mute. Or mentally challenged.”
Bill nodded and added, “And he wouldn’t be able to get a job as a salesman.”
At that moment, Riley’s cell phone buzzed. The call was from Lucy.
“Riley, are you making any progress there?”
“No,” Riley said. “This wasn’t the right guy. We’re coming back.”
“Oh good,” Lucy said, sounding excited. “You’d better get back to Albany as soon as you can.”
Riley felt a surge of panic.
“Has something happened with April?” she asked.
“Oh, no, April’s fine,” Lucy said. “I’m at the field office. I asked one of the hotel cleaning ladies to keep an eye on her. Gave her a pretty big tip for it. April will be okay with this lady.”
Riley breathed a sigh of relief. Lucy had probably found a Hispanic woman, someone who would remind April of Gabriela. It was a smart move.
“So what’s going on?” Riley asked.
“Myra Cortese is coming in to the field office,” Lucy said. “She’s the other nurse who had been with the kidnap victim. She says she’s remembering some things.”
Maybe at last we’ll get a break,
Riley thought. Maybe the nurse had remembered something that would give them some direction, some idea of where to begin looking for Carla Liston. Maybe they would find this very strange chain killer before he murdered the woman he was holding.
When she and Bill got back to the field office, Lucy and Myra Cortese were already waiting for them in a meeting room. The slender, dark-haired woman was not in her nurse’s uniform right now. She looked tired. Doubtless she hadn’t gotten much sleep since her friend had disappeared. But she also looked eager to help.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you anything more when you talked to me last time,” Myra said when Bill and Riley sat down at the table. “I was just such a wreck. I was in shock. I couldn’t think clearly about anything. I think I can remember more now. At least, some bits and pieces have started coming back to me.”
“We appreciate your help, Ms. Cortese,” Bill said. “Anything you can remember will be a great help.”
Riley could see that Bill was ready to start asking questions. Riley shook her head at him and gestured subtly toward Lucy. Riley preferred that Lucy bring her sensitivity and skill to this interview. Bill understood the message, nodded, and said nothing.
“I’m not sure where to start,” Myra said. “I’m remembering details, but I don’t know which ones matter. I just thought I should come in and try again.”
“That’s all right,” Lucy said. “We’ll talk you through it. Let’s start back at the mall. You and Carla were shopping after work, and …”
“Actually, that’s not quite right,” Myra explained. “We weren’t really shopping. There’s a little cafe in the mall that we like. We go there most days after we close up the clinic. We just stopped in for some cappuccinos and conversation about anything but work.”
Riley felt heartened. She could tell by Myra’s tone of voice that she was in a much better frame of mind than she had been during the previous interview.
“Very good, Ms. Cortese,” Lucy said. “I hope you don’t mind if we ask some of the same questions we asked you before.”
“Not at all.”
Lucy looked at her with a patient, pleasant expression.
“In the cafe, did you notice anything odd?” Lucy asked. “Any people that stood out? An employee or a customer?”
Myra stopped to think.
“No,” she said. “Jenna was the barista as usual. Otherwise, there weren’t a lot of people in the cafe. There was an elderly couple at a nearby table. And a woman Carla and I both knew was at another table, a good friend. A young couple … a group of girls … I don’t think there was anyone else.”
“What time did you leave?” Lucy asked.
“Oh, close to nine, I guess,” Myra said. “We walked straight through the mall on the way to the parking lot. It wasn’t very far.”
Lucy patted the woman’s hand.
“On the way through the mall, do you remember anyone who sticks out in your mind?” Lucy asked.
Myra closed her eyes.
“There was a man,” she said. “He was tall, heavy, red-haired, had a beard. He made eye contact with me. I think maybe he was leering. I didn’t like it.”
Riley found all this detail very encouraging. The man she mentioned didn’t fit their profile, of course. But if she
gotten a good look at the killer, she might remember him and be able to describe him.
“Very good,” Lucy said. “And when you went outside?”
“There were just—people, most of them headed toward their cars, like us. There was a bunch of teenagers. Nobody stood out.”
The woman’s eyes were still closed. Lucy didn’t press her with any more questions for a few seconds. Riley understood why. It was best to allow the woman to let her memories float to the surface.
“What about vehicles?” Lucy finally asked. “Just name any that you can remember.”
“Well, we were parked next to some kind of low-slung sports car.” She paused again, then said, “There was a pickup truck in front of Carla’s car. It had a small camper on it. I think there was a big SUV on the other side of us.”
Riley started to jot down notes. It wasn’t impossible that the killer drove either an SUV or a camper.
Then Myra said, “Oh, and I remember a white van. It backed out just when we did. It was a delivery van, the kind without windows on the sides.”
Lucy drew her hand back. She looked shocked.
“Oh my God,” Lucy cried.
Riley was startled at Lucy’s sudden loss of composure. Myra opened her eyes, surprised as well.
“Is that important?” she asked. “You know, I think that I actually saw a white van again when Carla stopped to let me off. I don’t know if it was the same one.”
Lucy was searching her cell phone. Then she showed an image to Myra.
“Did it look like this?” she asked.
“Why yes it did,” Myra said. “I’m pretty sure the one at the mall looked exactly like that.”
Lucy went pale and she trembled a little.
“Myra, you’re being a great help,” she said, her voice shaky. “Could you wait here a minute while I talk to my colleagues alone?”
“Of course,” Myra said.
Lucy got up from her chair. Riley and Bill followed her out of the room.
“Oh my God,” Lucy said. “I’m afraid I really screwed up.”
“What is it?” Riley said.
Lucy paced back and forth.
“Back in Reedsport, after Rosemary Pickens’s funeral, I was walking along and a white van pulled up close to me. Too close, I thought right then.”
She showed Bill and Riley the picture on her cell phone.
“Then it sped up and drove away, and I snapped this picture. It was kind of automatic, but you can see I didn’t get the license number. I didn’t give it another thought—until just now. It must have been him. I missed him. I let him get away.”
Riley felt a surge of disappointment. It was the first really foolish thing she’d known Lucy to do. But Bill didn’t seem to feel that way.
“Take it easy,” he said to Lucy. “We’re still not sure the van you saw is the one Myra remembered. There are lots of white vans out there. It could be just a coincidence.”
Riley doubted that very much. Judging from her anguished expression, so did Lucy.
“I’ve got to fix this,” Lucy said. “I’ve got to make this right. I have to go talk to Paul, the technician. He can contact the mall, check their security photos.”
A little while after they had thanked Myra Cortese for being helpful and let her go home, Riley, Bill, and Lucy were in the lab, waiting to see what Paul Nooney could turn up. Right away he had told them that the van in Lucy’s photograph was a Ford, about ten years old. It had no letters on the side or any other identification, although the paint was definitely scratched.
Now the computer tech was searching mall security camera images for a match.
“Got it,” Paul said. “Have a look.”
Riley huddled with Bill and Lucy behind Paul. Sure enough, the camera had caught the back of a white Ford delivery van pulling out of the mall parking lot.
“How can we be sure it’s the same vehicle?” Bill asked.
Lucy held the picture on her cell phone next to the image on the computer.
“Right there—you can see where the paint is scratched in the same place. It’s the same van, all right. I really did screw up. But at least we’ve got a clear shot of the plate. It’s a Pennsylvania plate. Paul, how fast do you think you can track down the owner?”