Authors: Blake Pierce
“Give me just a minute,” Paul said. He got back to work.
Riley took Bill by the elbow and led him a short distance away from Lucy.
“I’m so disappointed in her, Bill,” Riley said quietly so that Lucy couldn’t hear. “I thought she was better than this.”
“Come on, Riley,” Bill said. “Don’t try to tell me you didn’t make your own share of screw-ups when you were a rookie. I sure as hell did. And even if she dropped the ball at first, she didn’t forget completely. She came through in the end.”
Riley knew that Bill was right. He almost always was, and sometimes that pissed her off. She turned and saw that Lucy was looking miserable.
Riley walked over to the young agent and said, “It’s okay.”
“No, it’s not,” Lucy said.
Just then Paul called out.
“Here it is. Come here and let me show you.”
They all gathered behind Paul and looked over his shoulder. The security photo was still on the screen, next to some DMV documents.
“The registration is way out of date,” he said. “It’s been expired for years. The date sticker in the photo looks current, but I suspect it’s a phony. The name and address on the registration also turns up in driver’s licenses. He’s still at the same location. His name is Walter Sattler, and he still lives in Hoxeyville, Pennsylvania. That’s just over the state line, only a couple of hours from here.”
The driver’s license photo showed a thin, boyish face. The man was five feet seven inches tall. He was thirty-three.
“That’s got to be him,” Bill said. “Let’s get a warrant and go.”
“We might still have time to save Carla.”
Riley thought that maybe this long day would end in success after all. Starting with the trip to Sing Sing, the bits and pieces that had come together pointed to this address in Hoxeyville, Pennsylvania. She and Bill approached the house cautiously.
It had taken longer than they’d expected to get a search warrant and the drive had been a couple of hours, so it was now very late and very dark. The modest working-class neighborhood seemed pleasant and peaceful. Although no lights were on inside or outside the house, the street was well lighted. Riley could see that the house had basement windows—just the place where someone might be held captive. Although no vehicle was parked near the house there was a closed-up garage. The van was probably in there.
“Weapons?” Riley asked quietly, getting ready to pull her Glock. They had decided that the captive might stand a better chance of survival if they didn’t storm the place with a SWAT team.
“Not yet,” Bill said. “With luck we won’t need them. He’s not a shooter and not very strong.”
As they stepped up onto the front porch, Riley hoped he was right. Still, she hadn’t dealt with many cold-blooded murderers who hadn’t put up some resistance. And most of them were armed.
Bill pushed the doorbell and also knocked sharply on the front door. No reply came for a few moments. Bill knocked again.
“FBI,” Bill called out. “Is this the residence of Walter Sattler? We’ve got a warrant.”
Again there was no reply, but Riley thought that she heard movement behind the door. Instinctively, she drew her pistol in spite of Bill’s reluctance to use guns.
Suddenly the door swung open. A smallish man wearing pajamas stood inside, pointing a shotgun at them. Riley leveled her Glock at his face.
“Put the weapon down,” Bill barked, drawing his own pistol.
“Easy,” the man said, swinging the gun barrel back and forth between Riley and Bill. “Take it easy. I don’t want any trouble. I just want to see badges.”
With their free hands, Bill and Riley displayed their badges. The man lowered his weapon.
“Put the gun down,” Bill said again.
“Okay. Jesus.” The man stooped down and put the weapon on the floor. Riley picked it up.
“Hands on your head,” Bill said.
The man complied. “I’m cooperating,” he said. “What’s this all about?”
Riley’s heart sank.
He can talk just fine,
she thought. The man sounded as nervous as anyone might be in this situation, but there was no trace of a stutter.
Still, she recognized the man whose picture they’d seen on the driver’s license. This was definitely Walter Sattler. There had to be a reason the evidence had led to him.
Could they be dealing with two perpetrators working as a team?
But no, that didn’t fit.
Riley was getting ready to holster her weapon when a woman’s voice snapped her back to attention.
“Walter, what’s going on? Should I call 911?”
The woman was standing at the top of the stairs in her nightgown. She had curlers in her hair.
“No, you don’t have to do that, Peg,” Walter Sattler said. “It’s the FBI. I don’t know what they want. Just check and make sure the kids aren’t scared. Go back to bed. I’ll handle this.”
The woman went back upstairs. Sattler was still holding his hands where they could be clearly seen.
Bill quickly patted him down for other possible weapons. Finding nothing, he holstered his pistol, but Riley kept hers drawn.
“We’ve got a warrant to search the place,” Bill said, producing the document.
“What if I don’t want you to?” Sattler said.
Riley said, “You can take that up with your lawyer later on.” Turning to Bill, she said, “The basement seems the most likely.”
Bill walked back through the house and disappeared.
“What’s all this about?” Sattler asked Riley. “What are you looking for, anyhow?”
“Do you own a white Ford delivery van?”
Sattler looked completely taken aback.
“What? No! We’ve got a Nissan station wagon. It’s back in the garage. Why, I haven’t had a Ford since …”
His voice trailed off. He seemed to be remembering something. Bill came back into the room.
“Nothing suspicious in the basement,” Bill said. “Should I check the attic?”
“No,” Riley said. “Hold off a few minutes.”
With a wife and kid upstairs, she knew that it wasn’t likely that the missing woman was a prisoner here. It seemed pretty obvious by now that Sattler wasn’t keeping anyone captive, at least not in this house.
Sattler’s demeanor was much more docile than before.
“Look, there’s been a misunderstanding,” he said. “Sit down. I think maybe we can sort this out.”
Riley and Bill sat down with him in the living room.
“Tell me more about this Ford van you’re talking about,” Sattler said.
“I’ll show it to you,” Riley said.
On her cell phone, she brought up the photo that Lucy had taken, alongside the security photo. She showed it to Sattler.
“Damn it,” Sattler growled. “I thought I’d seen the last of that van.”
“Please explain this to us, Mr. Sattler,” Riley said.
Sattler took a long, slow breath.
“Look, the guy you’re looking for isn’t me,” he said. “You’re looking for my cousin, Eugene Fisk. I haven’t seen him for years. What has he done?”
“He’s a suspect in two murders and an abduction,” Bill said.
Sattler’s mouth dropped open with shock.
Riley asked, “How did he wind up with your van?”
“I gave it to him nine years ago,” Sattler said. “I wanted him gone so badly, I didn’t bother to transfer the ownership. I just handed him the keys and said, ‘Drive away from here and don’t let me ever see or hear from you again.’ That’s what he did.”
Sattler hung his head guiltily.
“I know it wasn’t the right thing to do,” he said. “I’ve had second thoughts about it ever since. But if you knew Eugene … Well, I just wanted him out of my life for good.”
Sattler stared across the room with an expression of shame and regret.
“What can you tell us about him?” Riley asked.
“Eugene was my mother’s sister’s kid,” Sattler said. “Her name was Sherry Fisk. I never really knew her. The whole family—my parents included—thought she was just trailer trash. Folks also said she was crazy.”
Sattler paused for a moment.
“Nobody knew who Eugene’s father was,” he said. “And I never really got to know Eugene—at least not as a kid. His mother was murdered when I a teenager. Eugene was ten, I think. I never heard the details, how it happened. It was one of those family secrets nobody wanted to talk about. They never caught the killer.”
Riley was taking notes.
“What happened to Eugene after his mother was killed?” she asked.
“I think he was in a foster home,” Sattler said. “He got into some kind of trouble, and he wound up institutionalized for mental problems.”
Sattler paused again.
“They let him out when he was eighteen. I was in my twenties, married, getting a pretty good start in life. Like I said, I never really knew him when we were kids. But now suddenly he acted like we’d always been close. And he was …”
Sattler shook his head.
“Well, he was weird, that’s all. He could barely talk at all. It was so bad he’d sometimes write notes to you instead of saying anything. And he was needy. He was always hitting me up for money, hanging around for meals. It wasn’t just awkward. It was scary. It was almost like stalking. I just had this feeling when he was around …”
His voice trailed off again.
“Anyway,” he said, “that was when I gave him the van. And told him never to come back.”
Riley took a moment to mull over what she’d just learned. Maybe there was someone in Hoxeyville who might be able to tell them more about Eugene Fisk.
“Are your parents alive?” she asked Sattler.
“No, I’m the last of the family. Except for Eugene.”
“Where was Eugene institutionalized?”
“It was at the Hoxeyville Psychiatric Center, right here in town.”
Riley figured that would be their next stop. Surely they’d be able to learn more there. But maybe she could get one other thing from Sattler.
“Do you have any pictures of your cousin?” she asked.
“None that would show how he looks now,” Sattler said. “But I think I’ve got an old one …”
He got up from his chair and opened a drawer. He rummaged around inside until he found a snapshot. He handed it to Riley.
“This one was taken when we were just kids,” he said. “I kept it because it was pretty unusual for us to get together.”
While Bill asked a few final questions, Riley stared at the photo. It showed two young boys. The taller one was recognizably Sattler. The shorter one was an odd-looking child, his features somewhat exaggerated.
Even so, Riley couldn’t help thinking …
What a sweet smile he has!
She couldn’t imagine what had turned that smiling little boy into a serial killer.
Carla had no idea how long she’d been chained on the cot in this basement. The windows high up on the cinderblock walls were covered with cardboard, sealing out every trace of outdoor light. Whenever the overhead light was off, which it was right now, she was in complete darkness.
She did know that she was hungry, soiled, and in terrible pain. She’d had nothing to eat during the whole time she’d been here. Sometimes the monstrous little man would loosen the chain gag from her mouth and give her a sip of water, and that was all.
She’d long since stopped being bothered by her own stench. Her dignity no longer mattered to her. Her survival did.
But so far, escape had eluded her.
He’d cudgeled her with a chain when he first took her back in Albany. Now that the delirium from her concussion had passed, she was dazed and bewildered from pain and hunger. She’d sleep or pass out from time to time, then wake up with no idea where she was or what had happened.
But she always managed to bring herself back to her horrible present reality. Clear-headedness was essential. There was a way out, she was sure of it. She thrashed a little in the darkness, rolling her body back and forth. She’d been doing that all along, whenever he wasn’t here. He’d wrapped the chains around her and the cot, but they apparently weren’t really fastened. Little by little, she had felt them loosening.
Right now she guessed that they hung loosely enough for her to try to slip out of them. The straitjacket was yet another problem, but she’d deal with that afterward.
Starting with her shoulders, she wiggled and squirmed so that the chains began to slip.
But then she heard his footsteps. He was probably on his way down here. Now was no time to struggle with the chains. She let her exhausted body go limp.
She heard the door open at the top of the flight of stairs that led from the house down into the basement. Then she was blinded by the overhead light. She shut her eyes, pretending to be asleep. She listened to the sound of his footsteps coming down the stairs.
In a moment, she could hear his breathing as he leaned over her. She could feel that he was fingering the chains. As he often did, he started whispering to them—whispering so quietly that she couldn’t make out his words. It was as if she weren’t here at all, and the chains were the only living things in the basement.
As a nurse, she’d dealt in the past with psychotic patients. This man was seriously mentally ill, and she knew it. He’d often go over to his worktable and stretch out other chains that he kept there. He’d carry on long conversations with them, sometimes pleading with them, sometimes swearing his loyalty to them, sometimes assuring them that everything was going as they wished.
When he tried to say anything to her, he was always wracked by a hopeless stammer. But he could always talk perfectly to the chains.
She breathed slowly and regularly, as if asleep. After a while, she heard his footsteps going back up the stairs and through the house. She heard the front door open and close. She opened her eyes. It was pitch dark again.
She listened closely. She couldn’t hear any more footsteps above her. That must mean that he had left. Sometimes he went away completely for hours at a time, and that’s what she was hoping for now.
Her whole body screamed with pain as she began to wriggle and writhe again. Like a moth struggling to emerge from a cocoon, she managed to make the coil of chains slip down along her abdomen. Soon she was free of them all the way down to her waist.