Authors: Carrie Stuart Parks
“If you don't think about why we're here, it's actually a pretty spot,” Gwen said, still looking around. “I painted it once, put it into an exhibit with a couple of other old homesteads.”
“I remember the show. You sold every piece.”
“Don't be too impressed. There were only five paintings.” She shrugged. “Anyway, back to here. The house was well chosen. This guy knows the area. This is a difficult location to find, especially the road leading in here. It's overgrown and has a weird turn as you drive up.”
“Yeah. Some of the deputies were late getting here. They couldn't find the entrance.”
“Okay. So, the killer could have a connection with a government agency like Fish, Wildlife, and Parksâor Forest Service. Possibly even law enforcement. Someone who might patrol the roads and would blend in. That's probably a key, someone not out of place where locals inspect the drivers of every truck or car. That would also include hunters.”
Dave looked up quickly.
“Animal hunter. Elk, deer, bear,” Gwen amended. “A hunter might stumble onto this location.”
“Possible, but I think he knows the locale pretty well. An
outside hunter would need maps, and this place isn't on any hunting maps. It's private land and it's posted.”
Gwen took a swift intake of breath.
“What?” he asked.
“Something . . . a thought.” She waved her hand in front of her face as if swatting a fly. “Gone before I could nail it down.”
Dave stared at the overgrown road. “
knew about this place. Maybe we should look at the landowner. This could be a convenientâ”
“I know where you're going, but, if you pardon the expression, that's a dead end. When I painted this place, I got permission from the owner. Ida Mae McCandless.”
“Wasn't she the secretary at the Congregational church?”
“Yeah. Retired now, in her seventies, a widow, and hardly a serial killer.”
“Okay, then . . .” He looked up at the distant sound of an airplane. The jet was a tiny speck in the sky.
“It's an ideal spot for his work . . .” Gwen's gaze drifted toward the structure. “Ideal.” She moved closer to the house.
“What?” Dave asked.
“Think about it, Dave. He abducted Mattie yesterday morning, kept her restrained and alive for almost twenty-four hours, then left. Why? He returned, but again the question is why.”
“Maybe he thought she was dead and was going to bury her. He could have needed something, like a shovel.”
“But he brought a blanket. He was prepared. No, no.” She chewed her lip. “This place is totally hidden. No one would disturb him, yet he stopped short of killing her and left.” She looked up, then squinted. “We might just have an x factor.”
“Like the television show? Aliens?”
. An x factor is an unplanned . . .
that screws up the killer's fantasy.” She stared at the farmhouse. “Not a weapon . . . His car worked just fine . . . The girl did something . . . No, I showed up after he left, so no witnesses interrupted him . . . no one. That could be it! It wasn't a person that made him stop, it was time. Daylight.”
“What if . . . what if he took a break, or noticed suddenly that the sun was coming up.”
“ âThe light disturbs the wicked and stops the arm that is raised in violence.' ”
“Isaiah?” Gwen asked.
“Job. Just musing.”
“I'm going to make a guess.” She bent over and pulled a blade of grass, then absently wrapped it around her finger. “He's playing out his ritual . . . the lipstick . . . spraying her with perfume . . . whatever else.” Gwen snapped the grass in two and tossed it on the ground. “He suddenly noticed he could see her without his flashlight or lantern. He got up and walked to the door. Looked at his watch. Thought,
Criminy, look at the time!
“You get my drift. Anyway, the girl was almost dead. She's certainly not going anywhere. Then he noticed the exposed bones. They'd be hard to miss in daylight. But he can't kill and bury the girl and rebury the bones right away because he has a job, someplace he has to be. Maybe he even starts to dig, but realizes he needs to show up at work. He doesn't want to arouse suspicion.”
Dave nodded. “He checks in, or punches inâ”
“Or even has to leave to call in. Remember, there's no cell reception.”
“Sunrise would be around six thirty.”
“But this is a north-south valley, so the sunrise would be somewhat later,” Gwen said. “Assuming he'd have to go home and shower, he might have to check in or be at work before eight.” “Well.” Dave shifted his weight. “That's a lot of speculation and not a lot of elimination of suspects.”
“Hey, you're the one who asked me for input. I'm not done. The proximity of the kill site to the dump site could mean he's not particularly strong as it's hard to move a body any distance, even a small one. He might also want to be near his former victims.
This reminds me of that serial killer over in Spokane about four or five years ago. He used both physical and psychological torture and liked young, slender victims.” She shook her head. “But I believe the victims were boys, and they caught him. I think.”
“Maybe he's loose again. Bundy got away and killed several more women. I can find out if the Spokane killer was ever caught or is incarcerated.” Dave jotted a note.
“So. Okay. Bundy. Yeah.” Gwen stared off into the distance.
“Hello? Earth to Gwen. What's going on in that brain of yours?”
“Sorry.” She pulled out a scrap of paper and wrote something.
“I assume that if your thought is meaningful, you'll let me know. What else did you notice?”
“He's between five foot ten and six foot, is around wood chipsâ”
“I thought you said you didn't see him.”
“You're doing it again, Dave. Bad interviewing technique. Never interrupt the witness.”
“Don't correct me! You're not on your lecture circuitâ”
“And you're not your dad!”
Dave's gaze locked on Gwen. Heat rose from his chest, to his neck, then his cheeks. The silence stretched between them.
“Excuse me?” Ron approached from the house, his face pale and his hand shook as he held up a paper sack. “Is this yours?” he asked Gwen.
She looked inside. “Yes, that's my jacket. I suppose it's evidence now.” She turned to Dave. “My car keys are in the pocket.”
Dave snatched the bag, yanked out the keys, tossed them to Gwen, then shoved the sack into the startled Ron's hands. “Get Dre to seal it.”
“Sorry.” Gwen looked pale. “I don't know what got into me.”
“You're rusty,” Dave said.
“I deserved that.” Gwen turned to Ron. “First case like this?”
Ron blushed. “First case period. I never . . .” He cleared his throat.
She gently touched his arm. “Is Mattie going to be all right?”
“She's unconscious and, like, really messed up. The EMTs are getting ready to put her in the ambulance right now.”
A white van with a Missoula television logo painted on the side pulled up next to Gwen's car. A cameraman hopped out of the passenger seat and began filming while a determined-looking reporter headed their direction.
Dave groaned. “Great. Ron, have someone follow the ambulance. I want to know the minute she's awake and talking.” He moved toward the reporter, still speaking. “Get some help loading Winston into your cruiser and have someone drive him to the vet.” Dave stopped and turned to Gwen. “Winston will be in good hands.”
“I'll take him.” Gwen started toward the house.
Dave grabbed her arm. “I need you here. We have a crime scene.”
Gwen yanked her arm away. “My dog's hurt. I need to take care of him. And don't forget, I'm no longer on salary.”
“I'll rearrange the budget and squeeze the money out somehow.” Dave folded shut his notebook and started walking toward the reporter. Two burly deputies carried Winston from the house, his limp body like a giant polar-bear rug. They placed him in the rear seat of a patrol car and shut the door. Winston stared out the window, panting.
Dave reached the reporter, then turned and watched Gwen. She slipped in the car beside the dog, hugged him, then stepped out and closed the door.
Four EMTs carrying a stretcher negotiated through the narrow doorway of the house, then slid the gurney into the ambulance and drove away, lights flashing. A deputy followed in his cruiser, then the patrol car with Winston.
Dave turned to the reporter. “How did you hear about this so fast?”
The reporter stuck a microphone into his face. “I can't reveal our sources. We were already in the area doing a story on the wolf attacks. Do you have a comment?”
“Yeah. Stay behind the police line and don't get in our way.”
The reporter jerked her head toward Dave's left. “That's Gwen Marcey.”
“I did a feature on her two years ago. Didn't know she went to crime scenes. Thought she just worked out of her studio.”
Dave gave a frustrated sigh. “You didn't do a very good
interview, then. Gwen's more than a composite artist. She's . . . You know, I'm too busy to talk to you now.”
Someone tapped him on the back. He spun around. Gwen.
“I'll get my kit,” she said. “We can start at the grave.”
Dave nodded and jerked his head. They moved away from the probing microphone. “There's something else you need to know,” he said quietly. “This guy's twistedâ”
Dave held up his hand. “I think
called in the 911 report. He said a vicious dog attacked the girl. If I hadn't recognized Winston, we would've shot him.”
Gwen's face drained of color. Without a word, she headed for her car.
Dre approached and set down his duffel bag. “Is that the Gwen Marcey you're always talking about?”
“Is she well enough to work the scene? I heardâ”
“You heard wrong. She's fine.” Dave nodded after the retreating Gwen. “More than fine. This guy tortured a young girl and hit Gwen's dog. He's got no idea who he's just tangled with.”
I COULDN'T SHAKE THE HEART-POUNDING MOMENT
when I thought I was looking at Aynslee's dead body. The drive from my place to here was just five minutes. Five minutes from my daughter. Maybe I should go home, pick her up, and bring her here. I could keep an eye on her, make sure she was safe.
. Bringing her to a crime scene would be a big mistake. The press usually showed up and she could inadvertently be photographed. To keep her out of sight, she'd have to sit in the car, doors locked, windows up. That would last about two minutes before she'd ignore everything I would tell her and start roaming all over. She was safer at home.
I shook my head to clear it, then joined Dre. He was pulling on white protective coveralls over his lanky frame. “Hi. I'm Gwen.” I put out my hand.
“Hey, Gwen. Andre Arceneaux, but call me Dre.” He took my hand and gave it a quick shake. “How are you feeling?”
“Great.” Dave must have told him I was in remission from cancer.
How are you feeling?
was the first question everybody asked me. Maybe I should make a cardboard sign and wear it around my neck, tied with a shoelace
. I feel fine today. Thanks for your concern
“Do you need to borrow some coveralls to keep clean?” he asked.
“Nope, I'm set. I couldn't get much messier. Besides, they make my butt look big.”
He raised his eyebrows, then leaned back to study my rear end. “Looks right as rain to me.”
“Never mind. The building first?”
“I'll start there. You can measure and sketch the gravesite, then work your way over toward the house.” His soft, Southern drawl deepened. “Scene's contaminated from tryin' to save the girl, but if she pulls through, we've got a witness. We'll catch 'em.” He grinned. “Dave said departments haven't been sending you work, but this here's the case to put ya back on top. I heard Wes Bailor's been doing all the work over in Missoula and with the state crime lab.”
“Wes Bailor?” I clamped my jaw tight. No wonder I wasn't getting calls. Wes moved to Copper Creek two years earlier and immediately caused all the single women to have heart palpitations with his flawless olive skin, black wavy hair, and Paul Gauguin mustache.
“But I've seen your sketches,” Dre said. “Compared to you, I didn't think he was good enough to draw his own conclusions.”
I smiled. “Thanks for the attaboy. Wes is a decent artist.”
“If you like that kind of art.”
“The Thomas Kinkadeâlike oils are popular.” I smiled over
clenched teeth. Wes had asked me a lot of questions about forensic art, then offered his services to the local agencies.
Dre gave me a wide, boyish grin. “You're in Ravalli County, Dave's jurisdiction, so no Wes to horn in here. If the girl survives, you could develop a composite. You can reconstruct that skull your dog found. Dave said you have a motto.”
“I have a pencil, and I'm not afraid to use it.” I touched Dre on the arm. “We have to find this guy.”
“Yeah. He's definitely a snake in the grass. But Dave says you're the best. You're needed here.”
Needed. I nodded, placed my kit down, and crouched next to it. Needed, wanted, desired. Turn the clock back and make the past two years go away. Before cancer and divorce. Before someone almost killed me. A burning in my throat made speech impossible. Some days it was just plain irritating to be a woman with all these hormonal emotions, not to mention my early menopausal problems thanks to the anticancer drugs.
Enough of the pity party.
I tugged out a clipboard loaded with a sketchpad and pencil, then rummaged for a sharpener.