The Killing Retreat: Book #1
The Killing Retreat: Book #1
The room was cold, dark, and damp. Her knees pulled up to her chest as he came back into the room. She couldn’t remember his name, no matter how hard she tried. What she did remember, was that he was charming … good looking, and a little narcissistic. Unfortunately that was her type.
“Hello, Anna. How are you feeling?” His voice was soft, almost comforting, in a supremely creepy way. His hazel eyes bore into hers, as an almost sinister grin twisted its way onto his mouth.
In the blink of an eye, he went from creepy to evil. It was only then that Anna realized that he was holding a knife at his side.
“F-fine.” Anna stammered out, her eyes locked on the silver blade in his left hand.
“Oh, don’t worry about this. Not right now. So long as you’re a good girl, Anna, I won’t have any reason to use this.”
Anna recoiled slightly, as he lifted a dirt-caked hand to her face. She had tried to fight against the urge to pull away, but the thought of this disgusting man lying one finger on her, made her feel like throwing up.
“That’s not being a good girl, Anna. That is being a hateful bitch. Trust me, Anna. You do not want to know what happened to the last girl that refused my advances.”
He leaned forward, his alcohol and smoke laced breath smacked her hard in the face, as he lifted his unwashed hand to her face once more.
Anna bit her tongue so hard that the coppery taste of blood filled her mouth. She balled up both of her hands to keep herself rooted in place, as he trailed his fingers down her cheek.
“Yes, you’ll do just fine.” He winked at her, before standing back up.
Sabrina sat at her desk, her eyes burning and her head aching from staring at the computer screen for far too long. That was the product of being a loner detective to such a small town. Nothing happened, except on rare occasions of robbery or drug possession. Black River hadn’t even had an actual suspicious death in over a decade.
Though she did remember the case well, even if she didn’t actually live in town at the time. Black River was the sort of small town where everyone knew everyone else. So any death in the community was felt throughout the entire town. Especially when that death is ruled a murder … and the murderer had never been caught.
“Stuck in your thoughts again?” The voice caused Sabrina’s head to jerk up, before she grinned up at her best friend.
Jared Hart was one of the only people that she could actually stand to be around. Sabrina was most definitely not a people person, and most people only seemed to push her buttons until she said something off-putting.
“You know me, Jared. Always stuck somewhere else but here.” Sabrina offered, as Jared smiled softly at her.
“I was just getting ready to head out for lunch. Thought you’d like to join me, unless there is something more important on that computer screen?” He asked matter-of-factly.
Sabrina shrugged her shoulders softly, “Is there ever anything important on the computer screens?”
Jared chuckled lightly, “So, you coming then?”
Sabrina shook her head, “I’d love to, Jared, but my new partner is supposed to show up soon. You know the chief would have my ass if I left knowing that he was going to be here.”
Jared frowned, but nodded. Ryan Cruz had recently been promoted to chief of the Black River sheriff station, after Grayson Moore had been critically injured in an automobile accident. Ryan didn’t exactly care for Sabrina in the first place, without throwing their history into the mix. It all added up to the fact that Ryan had nearly suspended Sabrina almost five times in the past four months.
“I think the power’s gone to his poofy-haired head.”
The line caused Sabrina to chuckle. Her eyes automatically went to Ryan’s office door. The window perched directly to the right of his door was directly in her line of sight. Ryan was a good looking man. Tall at six-foot, three inches, with broad shoulders and an almost caramel colored skin. His dark brown eyes were generally considered brooding. His hair, always perfectly molded, combed back and over in a business-man type way. None of that had really stood out to Sabrina when she first met Ryan nearly seven years earlier.
Both had been fresh from the academy, both had asked to be placed in Black River. Sabrina had always known why she had asked for the placement, despite the fact that she was from Black River. She had never learned why Ryan had asked for the placement. They had been partnered up, and Sabrina had been immediately disappointed. Her faith in humanity as a whole was rather low, and the fact that she had the people skills of a hungry wolf, didn’t help. But, Ryan had a kind, gentle smile, that made her feel like maybe humanity wasn’t completely lost. A year later, they started dating … keeping that fact hidden had been hard, but neither of them wanted to lose the other as their partner. Just as Sabrina started trusting others, and feeling her faith in the human race start to return, she found out that Ryan was seeing another girl on the side. It was all hearsay of course, and she had no proof, but that didn’t stop her from storming in their shared home and accusing him of being a cheater. Words were said, accusations where thrown around. That was the night that Sabrina lost the last little bit of faith she had in humanity.
Ever since that night, Ryan hadn’t said anything more to her then was absolutely necessary. Did that mean that she didn’t still have feelings for him? Of course not. Ryan was the first man she had ever allowed herself to love. She did hope that he would forgive her eventually so that they could at the very least be friendly at work.
The entrance door, to her left, slamming shut forced her to return to the present. Her eyes roamed over toward the door, and she took in the man that walked in. Sabrina knew that he had to be her new partner, Luke Cobb, but she hadn’t expected him to be her age.
His sandy blonde hair was neatly crafted, buzzed at the sides and back, with precise spikes at the front. Definitely not a hair style that you would expect from a detective. He wasn’t necessarily skinny, but his frame was definitely thinner than most of the cops and detectives that she knew. Even Jared, the pretty boy of the squad, had a thick frame. Though, Sabrina knew that was mostly from his time spent playing football in both, high school and college. It was his face that threw her for a loop. She had expected an older, harsher man, especially since Ryan had handled Luke’s transfer. His face was anything but harsh though. Luke had a kind face, with an easy smile.
When the phone on her desk rang, Sabrina nearly leapt out of her chair. Jared chuckled from his desk to her right. She glared at him, before answering the phone.
“Detective Sabrina Conklin.”
“Sabrina, please join me in my office,” Ryan’s voice sounded kind enough, but Sabrina could hear the hard edge that laced each word. Ryan wasn’t exactly the forgiving type, and unless Sabrina transferred out of Black River, then she would just have to take Ryan’s frosty attitude toward her.
“Be there in a minute, Chief.” Sabrina answered, making sure that he could hear the cold edge to her voice as well. If he was going to treat her worse than he treated any other detective in the office, then she would treat him the same. It was only fair after all.
Sabrina stood from her desk, and stretched, kinks had formed in her lower back from sitting in her uncomfortable desk chair for more hours than she cared to think about. After a moment of trying to relieve the ache in her back, she moved toward Ryan’s office. She gave Jared a passing glance and he gave her a ‘go-get’em’ smile.
She rapped on the door a couple of times, before she heard Ryan beckon her inside. Opening the door, she saw the back of Luke’s head, and noted that he was much taller than she had originally thought he was. She sat in the empty chair beside Luke’s, but stared straight ahead … directly to the right of Ryan’s head.
“Detective Conklin, this is your new partner, Detective Cobb. Luke here transferred in from New York City. He’s seen a lot in his short time with the NYPD, isn’t that right Luke?”
Luke cleared his throat, before glancing at Sabrina, before answering. “Yes, sir. That’s why I wanted to transfer somewhere a little more quiet. There are only so many homicide scenes that you can take before you feel like you’re gonna crack.”
Sabrina chuckled, she already liked Luke, even though the poor man had no idea what he was in for. “Well, you definitely picked the right place if quiet’s what you’re looking for . The last crime scene I visited was a robbery case about a week and a half ago. Otherwise it’s really just traffic stops and nosy neighbors.”
Ryan shook his head, before addressing Luke again. “You’re desk is directly to the left of Detective Conklin, and while I would normally give you a chance to settle in, it appears as if you have a case detective.”
Sabrina nodded, “Another robbery … or did Ms. Lamar see someone in her backyard again.”
“Neither,” Ryan said softly, before looking at Sabrina. His eyes softened slightly as he spoke, “There was a body found just about fifteen minutes ago. Identification isn’t certain at this point, but the ME is almost certain that the female victim was murdered.”
“Murdered? We haven’t had a murder since ….”
“I know, are you okay to take this case?”
Sabrina nodded, “Text me the location.”
Sabrina made a face, as she turned the car onto a mostly dirt road. “I really don’t enjoy coming out here.”
Luke eyed her for a moment before speaking, “Bad memories?”
Sabrina nodded her head, “Well, more like a nightmare, only it wasn’t a dream.”
Luke sighed, and crossed his arms when he realized that Sabrina wasn’t going to elaborate on what she had said. It left him wondering what exactly had happened out here that was so bad that she avoided it. As he looked around, the area that had been mostly open fields, turned suddenly into nothing but thick forestry. Now he could understand how something bad could happen out here. There were no nearby houses, the wooded areas were so dense that the houses on either side wouldn’t be able to hear you if you had screamed.
“So, do we have any information on the victim?” Luke asked softly, trying his best to change the subject.
Sabrina sighed, “All I know for sure is that the victim is female. No way to know more until we get to the scene.”
Luke nodded, “Where is the scene exactly?” The words left his lips just as the vehicle climbed up a small dirt-covered hill. Off to the left hand side stood a few uniformed officers, and what Luke could only guess was the medical examiner. On the right hand side is where the cars were parked, Luke guessed this was to preserve the crime scene.
Sabrina smiled sadly, “Here.” She opened her door and pulled herself from the small car.
Luke followed suit, but found he had trouble removing his long legs from the small, cramped car. Before making a move toward the crime scene though, he dug in the back of Sabrina’s car and pulled out two pairs of booties. He pulled on one pair over his shoes, before chasing after Sabrina.
“Detective Conklin!” Luke shouted, forcing her to stop mid-stride, and turn toward him.
“Yes, Luke?” She asked, her voice was laced with impatience.
“You forgot to put these on,” he answered seriously.
Sabrina’s eyebrows shot up at him, “And why would I put those on?”
Luke ran a hand over his face, “I forgot, you haven’t worked a murder scene before. You have to put these on to preserve the crime scene. It will be hard to tell which shoe prints are ours and which are our killer’s if we don’t wear these.”
Sabrina’s cheeks flushed, “I didn’t realize, but it makes sense. I’m sorry.”
Luke shrugged his shoulders. “Believe me, I made my fair share of bonehead mistakes when I first started at the NYPD. I almost lost my job over a few of them.”
Sabrina cocked her hip, finding herself interested in what Luke had to say. It took her a bit off guard since she found herself generally not interested in what most people had to say. “How’d you end up keeping your job?”
Luke grinned, and Sabrina couldn’t help but notice that his smile was a little crooked, but in a sexy kind of way. “I wasn’t great with police procedure at first, but I was smart as a whip. Sometimes I figured out who we were looking for, before the detectives did. My chief was pretty impressed with my deduction abilities, but told me that I wouldn’t be of any use to any police department if I didn’t learn proper police procedure. Now it’s just sort of ingrained in my DNA, ya know?”
Sabrina chuckled lightly, and shook her head. She accepted the booties that Luke was handing her, and smiled as he helped hold her up while she slipped them on. The smile quickly dropped from her lips, as they both turned around and headed toward the crime scene tape.
As Sabrina ducked under the thin yellow tape, her frown deepened. The body was in clear sight, as if whoever killed her wanted her body to be found quickly. As she drew nearer though, Sabrina noticed other familiar things about this murder, that were similar to the decade old murder. The location of the body was number one. The last murder victim’s body had also been dumped in Black River Falls. The closer she came to the body, the more she could feel the bile rising into her throat.
One quick glance over the body, and Sabrina felt her stomach lurch. Turning away, she put her hands on her knees, as she took deep breaths through her mouth.
Luke placed a comforting hand on her back, “Detective Conklin, are you alright?”
Once Sabrina felt like she wasn’t about to contaminate the crime scene, she stood up and nodded at him. “Sorry, this is my first time with a murder. I don’t think I was quite ready for it.” It wasn’t the full truth, but close enough.
Sabrina was almost certain that they were looking for the same person that had struck ten years earlier. Shuddering, and making sure to breathe only through her mouth, Sabrina made her way back to the body. Looking more closely, she noted that the stab wounds were almost exactly the same. Deep lacerations that looked as if the killer had been very distraught when they committed the murder.
The victim was indeed female, blonde hair. From what Sabrina could tell, she looked fairly young. At least a year or two younger than her own age. Though her clothes were tattered and torn, they looked fairly expensive, which made Sabrina think that maybe the victim wasn’t from Black River. She had never seen anyone from the small town wear anything more expensive than t-shirts and jeans from the local general store.
“Look here,” Luke mumbled, as he pulled a pen from his shirt pocket. He lifted up a lock of blonde hair, and nodded toward the ground.
It was subtle, Sabrina knew she would have missed it if she had been out here alone, but it was the tip of a shoe print. No, not a a shoe print, Sabrina was almost certain it was a boot print. She had seen similar prints in her own backyard after a big rainstorm flooded that year. Almost everyone in town owned at least one pair of work boots for such occasions, and without a full print, Sabrina knew the chances of using the print to locate the killer would be nearly impossible.
“Nice eye,” Sabrina nodded at Luke, “Unfortunately almost everyone in town owns boots. This won’t be very useful.”
Luke chuckled, “This really is your first murder rodeo, isn’t it?” When Sabrina merely nodded, confused by what he found humorous in the situation. “From what I’ve experienced in New York, if the killer made one mistake, like leaving a partial boot print, then they probably made other mistakes. We need more manpower out here. We have to comb through this wooded area. Anything, no matter how small, should be gathered. We can always throw out anything that won’t be helpful later. Trust me when I say that you never know what will be helpful in a murder investigation.”
Sabrina swallowed thickly, before standing. “Ramos!” Sabrina shouted, as one of the patrol officers came running up to the crime scene tape. “I need you to send in a call to Chief Cruz, tell him that we need more men out here. Tell him to send out Detective Hart, and to call in reinforcements from the sheriff stations in Brookston and Johnsonville.”
Officer Ramos nodded softly before retreating.
Luke grazed Sabrina’s shoulder, “Until the troops arrive, we should take some pictures to document the scene before the coroner takes the body. We also should send a picture of the victim to someone at the station and see if we can get an ID on her.”
Sabrina nodded, “We might not be able to ID her that quickly or easily.” She mumbled as she pulled her small cell phone from her pocket and started to take pictures of the boot print and the victim’s body from different angles.
“What makes you say that?” Luke asked softly, as he followed Sabrina’s suit.
Sabrina sighed, before looking back at Luke. “She’s not from Black River. Aside from the fact that I know almost everyone in town, her clothes are far too fancy and expensive to be from Black River. You’re lucky if you see a woman in a dress, let alone a fancy blouse and skirt. This is a strictly t-shirt and jeans type of town.”
Luke stared at Sabrina for a moment, “Which is why you’re wearing a blouse and khakis?”
Sabrina blushed, she didn’t normally dress up for work. Normally she was in jeans and a nice t-shirt, if it was chilly out, she’d bust out her favorite leather jacket. This was a rarity for her, but Jared’s wife, Alisha, had talked her into an out of town shopping trip and convinced her to wear her nice clothes into work. It was mainly a drive your ex-boyfriend crazy type of idea. Sabrina had hated it, but her ability to tell Alisha no, was nearly nonexistent.
“You caught me on a weird day … let’s just leave it at that. Trust me, I am usually a causal type of girl. T-shirt and jeans, just like everyone else.”
Luke smiled as he looked her up and down. “I can see it.” He said, as his smile grew.
The leaves under Luke’s feet crunched as he occasionally stole a glance at his new partner. When he had first arrived in Black River, and asked around about Detective Sabrina Conklin, most had nice things to say. Mostly pertaining to her job. Things like how she had caught the kid that had robbed the mini mart, or how she had helped a elderly woman locate her lost cat. As far as who she was as a person, it wasn’t quite as kind. Not that they said she was a horrendous person, but it was how little they had to say that spoke volumes.
One particular conversation he had continued to stick out in his mind.
Sabrina? Yeah, she’s a good cop. One of the best detectives we have actually. Not much of a people person. She doesn’t do the whole ‘trust’ thing.
Sure, Luke knew plenty of cops in New York that were fairly untrusting, but that was expected. Nine times out of ten, in the bigger cities, if someone looks you in the eye and speaks … then they’re lying. Luke had seen it more times than he could count. He didn’t understand why a cop from such a small town … a detective who’s biggest case was catching the mini mart robber, was so callous and untrusting.
It unnerved Luke to think that something so bad to cause her to be untrusting could happen in such a quiet, small town.
He shuffled his feet, before shaking his head. Of course something bad could happen in a small town. They were currently searching for clues in a murder case.
“Finding anything?” Sabrina’s voice broke through his thoughts, causing his head to jerk up.
“Nothing...” he started, but stopped stiff. He almost missed it, but then again almost anyone would have. It was hidden under the leaves and other foliage in the wooded area.
“Detective Conklin!” Luke yelled, before he knelt down. He ensured that his gloves were securely on his hands, before picking through the leaves and gunk on the ground.
“What is it?”
Luke sighed as he retrieved the object from under the foliage. Sabrina gasped. “I almost didn’t see it, but the tip of the blade glinted off of the barely there sun.”
The knife, eight inches long and curved at the tip, was covered in blood. Sabrina knew that once the blood was tested that it would be a match for their victim. Sabrina could only hope that their killer’s fingerprints would be left on the black handle of the knife.
“I think they were banking on us not finding it. At least not until that rainstorm comes through tomorrow night.”
“Well, I don’t think they were banking on someone with experience with murderers being on the case either. My guess is that if there are prints on the weapon, that they won’t be in the system.” Luke shrugged at her cocked eyebrows. “Just a feeling I have. But this is better than not having the murder weapon. How many places in town sell hunting knives like these?”
Sabrina shrugged, she had never been the hunting type. “There are a couple of hunting supply stores on main street, but I don’t know if any of the other stores sell hunting knives. Plus, they might not have even bought that knife in town.”
Luke nodded, “It’s possible, yeah, but most hunting supply stores have a list of other stores nearby that carry in demand items. If this is one of those items, we could get a list of people who bought knives like this from all the stores. At least we can build a profile. In the meantime, we need to get our victim identified.”
Sabrina nodded, “We’ll have to correspond with the chief on that one.”
“Sounds good.” Luke smiled softly as he dropped the knife into an evidence bag, before removing his gloves. “Let’s head back to town and get started.” He didn’t want to say anything but Luke knew after the first couple of days of investigating a murder, that it would slowly become less likely that it would be solved. In fact, when he had left New York, he and his partner still had a handful of murder cases that hadn’t been solved yet, and their likelihood of solving them this late in the game was unlikely.
The inside of the hunting supply store smelt of gun powder and sweat. It was an almost sickening smell, but Sabrina shook it off. They had police work to get finished. She was almost certain that this was going to be a dead end, but she knew Ryan would have her ass if she didn’t listen to Luke when he had so much experience in their current case.
“Excuse me,” Luke called out, clearing his throat.
“Hello, What can I get you?” The man was short but stout. It wasn’t an uncommon look in Black River.
Luke pulled out his badge, before speaking. “I’m Detective Luke Cobb, and this is my partner, Detective Sabrina Conklin. We’re investigating a crime and we were wondering if you knew any near-by weapon shops that would sell a knife like this?”
Luke pulled out his cell, and showed the store owner the knife in question. “Definitely can help you with that, Detective. You don’t even have to leave Black River,” His smile was almost smarmy, his teeth stained yellow from what Sabrina knew could only be caused by continuous ingestion of cigarette smoke.
“Well, that is definitely good news. So...” Luke started, before the store owner interrupted him.
“I mean, I’ll have to get my ledger out to find the guys that I sold that particular knife to, but I can have that to you by the end of the day?”
Luke nodded, “So you sell these knives?”
The store owner shrugged, “Sold them, yeah. I’m sold out right now. Hunting season is nearly over, so I won’t be getting anymore in.”
“Okay, we will be expecting those names by the end of the day, Mr. ...”
The store owner smiled softly, though it didn’t put Sabrina at ease, which is what she assumed the man was going for. “Saul Rogers.”
“Thank you, Mr. Rogers,” Sabrina finally spoke up. “We’ll leave you to your work.” Sabrina realized after she spoke that the three of them were the only ones in the store.
Together, Luke and Sabrina walked out of Mr. Rogers store. Sabrina sighed loudly, before she felt her partner’s hand on her shoulder.
“Hey. Are you okay?” He had noticed that she hadn’t been the same since they had gotten to the crime scene. It was more than the mutilated body that had her upset, that much he knew. Though, he did know that the small community wasn’t used to violence of this nature.
Sabrina shrugged, “Not really. It’s just … bad memories I guess,” She fibbed, hoping he would buy it. “I’ll feel better once we catch the sick son of a bitch and lock him up.”
Luke nodded, “That definitely will put everyone at ease. Especially me.”
He didn’t let it show often, but these types of crimes tended to bother him more than anything. A gang slaying, he could take that in stride, as sad as it was whenever he had to look at any dead body. Road rage accidents, though typically not his job to take on, he tended to take on a couple every couple of months. No one knew why, and he never offered an explanation. It wasn’t anyone else’s business.
Sabrina offered a wry smile, “So, do you think the killer really bought his weapon of choice here?” Jerking her thumb behind her, toward the hunting store.
Luke sighed, shoving his hands into his pants pockets. “It’s hard to tell, really. There are two ways of looking at it. It would definitely be easier to buy the weapon here in town, eliminating the need to venture out of Black River. However, if he truly is an intelligent killer, then he would know that it would be much easier for us to locate him if he bought the weapon in town. He would know that this place would be our first visit. Honestly, I really hope he was stupid enough to buy the weapon in town, because that would be easiest on us, and we would get this sicko behind bars where he belongs. Once Saul sends us those ledger pages, we can start a list of potential suspects. Then it’s really just writing down alibis and trying to disprove them. I’ve noticed that the suspect with the most difficult to prove alibi is generally the person you’re looking for.”
Sabrina nodded, “Well, let’s head back to the station then.”
Sabrina yawned as her eyes cracked open. The day before flooding back before she even had a chance to really wake up. The murder victim’s body … mutilated. The suspects that they had drummed up. All but one being a complete dead end.
“Sleepy head, let’s get a move on.” The voice was familiar, if only slightly. Deep, but with a soft undertone.
Sitting up fully, Sabrina looked around, and caught Luke standing in her bedroom door. He was fully dressed, this time he had left the suit attire behind. He had on a more relaxed wardrobe of jeans and a t-shirt.
“Remind me again, how you got into my house?” Sabrina asked, as she pulled back the comforter so that she could get out of bed.
“If I remember correctly, we were both completely wore out after spending nearly six hours hunting down suspects and checking their alibis. I also believe that it was your idea for me to join you back at your place for a drink.”
Sabrina stretched as she felt the kinks slowly start to loosen. The pounding in her head alerted to how much she had actually drank the night before.
“Yes, Luke, but why are you still here?”
Luke chuckled, a smile forming at the edge of his lips. “You’re idea also, partner. See, by about drink four or five, I can’t really be sure, you said that I should sleep on your couch. That it was unsafe to drink and drive. I also think you were attempting to flirt with me, but then you passed out … so I never really got a chance to ask you.”
Sabrina’s nose wrinkled. She vaguely remembered what he was saying. It was like one of those old movies that was missing frames. Though one of the frames not missing was her sloppy attempt at flirting with her very handsome … but very off-limits partner.
“So, where’d you get the clothes?” She asked, nodding toward his attire.
Luke shrugged, “Ran home to change. Sleeping in dress pants and a dress shirt? Not the worlds most comfortable sleeping attire.”
“Okay.” Sabrina shrugged back, “Give me fifteen minutes and we can head in.”
Luke grinned again. “I already called Ryan, and told him that we were going to work from home today. Figured that you and the sun probably wouldn’t get along very well right now.”
Sabrina glared at him, “Speaking of, how is it that you don’t seem to have a hangover? You drank just as much as I did.”
Luke’s grin grew, “I don’t get hangover’s. I’ve never had one, and believe me I drank plenty in college.”
“Asshole.” Sabrina spoke under her breath. “I’ll be out in fifteen minutes. Go make some coffee. Trust me.”
An hour later saw Sabrina and Luke were digging into the case file that he had managed to pilfer from the station. The one unaccounted for suspect’s picture stared up at her from the kitchen table. Something about the man’s face made her uneasy, but that alone wasn’t enough to arrest him. Even if he did manage to own the exact type of knife that was considered the murder weapon … and the slight fact that he had no one to vouch for his alibi.
“So, our suspect, Markus Jenkins, has a small rap sheet. Nothing as heinous as murder. Small stuff. Grand thief, robbery, and assault. Though, that could be considered escalation, and the next step in that would be murder. It doesn’t mean that we are looking at the right guy. You could be exactly right about the perp not purchasing the weapon in town. Maybe we should visit Mr. Rodgers again. At the very least, he could point us at near-by weapon shops that would sale the same type of knife?”
Sabrina shrugged her shoulders, not necessarily ready to venture out into the unforgiving sunlight, and from the light coat of frost on her front window, the chilly temperature.
“Of course, if Queen Hangover, would rather stay home, while I go talk to Mr. Rodgers...”
That got Sabrina’s attention, as Luke grinned. He had only known his partner for a day, and he already knew how to get to her. He saw the bit of a competitive streak in her. Things she said, and the way she held herself when she was conversing with others, especially potential suspects.
“Oh, no. We’re partners. We go together. Just, maybe let’s give the aspirin more time to work?”
As she spoke, she felt a cold, wet nose rub against her hand. She yelped, before realizing that her dog, Jake, he finally woken up.
“Geez, Jake.” Sabrina gasped, before petting the yellow dog on top of his large head. “Wanna go out?” She asked the large Lab.
Jake barked once, loudly.
Without a word to Luke, Sabrina merely stood up and walked to the sliding glass door and opened it wide. The bitter wind seeped into the house, through her thin robe and straight into her bones. She was definitely going to hate leaving her warm house.
“I just hope your vehicle has heat or we are going to have a rather large problem.” Sabrina said, as she rubbed her chilled arms before goosebumps were able to rise up on her flesh.
The drive into town was short enough that Luke and Sabrina didn’t see the need to make meaningless conversation. Luke pulled his car up against the sidewalk, before putting it in park.
“Do you think there is any chance that the killer could be the shop owner?” Luke suddenly blurted out.
To Sabrina, the question would be random, but Luke had been thinking about Mr. Rodgers the entire time he had been driving. There was just something off about the man. It wasn’t that he didn’t cooperate, it was just this look in the man’s eyes that gave Luke the creeps.
“Anything is possible I guess? I just … don’t think so.”
Luke nodded, he had expected as much. He knew that this case had to be hard on Sabrina. The thought that someone she probably knew was capable of such brutality.
“If you want, you can stay in the car...”
Sabrina waved her hand. “It’s almost winter, Luke. I don’t know how you dealt with the cold temperatures in New York, but here in Black River, we tend to not loiter outside for longer than need be.”
Luke couldn’t help himself, he chuckled lightly at Sabrina’s words. It was one of only a few jokes she had told since he showed up the day before, and he knew he had to take advantage of these times when they arrived. He had sensed almost immediately that Sabrina was sort of a cold, calculating, cut-off person. Someone that didn’t joke around … or really hang out after work.
“Oh, the glorious Luke Cobb has a sense of humor!”
Luke gave her an odd look, before pulling off his seat-belt. “Funny, Sabrina. I’m the only one in this car that has a sense of humor.” He grinned, before opening the door and climbing out of his car.
“Wait a damn second!” Sabrina shouted, the noise caused her to squint in pain, “You’re trying to tell me that I have no sense of humor?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Luke shrugged, as he made a move to open the door.
Sabrina batted away his hand, before firmly planting her hands on her hips. “What makes you think that I don’t have a sense of humor?”
Luke stared at her, he couldn’t believe that she didn’t know that she had no sense of humor. “I could tell almost straight off. The way you sat at your desk. Straight, no slouching. The way you walk, no nonsense woman on a mission. Mainly though? It’s the way you talk, or well the way that you like to interrupt others that are talking.”
Sabrina glared at him, “Maybe you just don’t get my level of humor. Because,” Sabrina paused, jabbing her finger into his chest, and gasped when it bounced back off. She could tell that she had misjudged Luke’s figure when she first met him. He might appear skinny and scrawny, but in fact he might be in better shape than Jared and Ryan. Shaking her head, Sabrina cleared her thoughts, and remembered that she was mad at Luke. “I am quite humorous, Luke.”
Luke threw his hands up, a smile crossing his lips. “You win. You’re a laugh riot.”
Sabrina rolled her eyes at her partner, before opening the front door. The bell above the door, rang their arrival, as Saul Rodgers made his way to the front of the store.
“Ah, detectives, what can I do for you?” Saul asked softly.
Luke sighed, running a hand over his face, while Sabrina took a moment to really look at Saul. He was short and husky. He wasn’t really overweight, but the weight that he did carry seemed to take up residence in his stomach. Saul looked to be in his late forties or early fifties, and he was starting to go bald. The reminder of hair on his head was a dark gray color.
“The list you gave us yesterday,” Luke started, pulling Sabrina from her thoughts, “There was only one person that didn’t have an alibi. Is there another shop nearby that someone from Black River could buy a knife like that?”
Saul shrugged, “It’s definitely possible, but that knife is a special order kind of thing. I generally keep a decent stock of them in because they’re good hunting knives and the guys around town really seem to like them. I can call around to some surrounding stores and find out if they have that make in and model in. See if I can’t get you a list of people that bought one.”
Luke smiled softly, before he shook Saul’s hand. “Thank you, Mr. Rodgers.”
Saul smiled back, “Please, call me Saul.”
On there way back to Sabrina’s house, Luke’s cell rang. Sabrina looked down at the caller ID and moaned.
“It’s Ryan. This isn’t going to be good.” She mumbled as she reached for the phone.
She quickly answered the call and flipped it to speaker phone so both of them could hear the conversation. She definitely did not want to repeat whatever Ryan was about to say.
“Yeah, Chief.” Sabrina answered.
“I know that Detective Cobb called in sick for the both of you, which I can only imagine means that the two of you drank yourselves into oblivion the night before. Which is something that we will discuss after this case is solved. In the meantime, there is a young man here that has reported his fiancee missing, and the description matches our victim. I need the two of you at the station, immediately.”
They both sighed softly, before Sabrina answered, “Be there in a few.”
Luke looked at Sabrina quizzically, as he navigated the side streets of Black River.
“That was the chief, obviously. Apparently a man is at the station. He’s reporting his fiancee missing and Ryan said that his description of his fiancee matches our victim.”
Luke shook his head, as he turned onto the correct street for the police station. “That’s horrible. I mean, part of me hopes that this girl isn’t his fiancee because nothing can feel worse than losing someone you love in such a horrendous way...” Luke cut his sentence short when he heard the tell-tale signs of sniffling from his right. “Sabrina, are you okay?” He asked, pulling his car over.
The station lay in wait just in front of them, but Luke really needed to know if his partner was in a place to talk to the victim’s potential significant other.
“I don’t talk about it. For a few reasons, but the biggest one is the looks. I mean, to be fair, almost everyone in town knows the truth.” Sabrina chuckled mirthlessly, before continuing. “The last murder in Black River?” She asked in a rhetorical way. “It was my sister. I was eighteen. I had just left Black River for college, and my mother waited almost eight months to call me. To tell me that my sister was dead, and that they hadn’t caught her killer.”
Luke’s mouth hung open for a moment. There were a million reasons for the odd way that Sabrina had been acting that crossed his mind. This wasn’t one of those reasons.
“That’s why I don’t talk to my mother anymore. It’s hard to communicate with a woman that would rather see ‘one of her children’ attend college, than to allow that child to know that her sister was dead and allow her to grieve properly.”
It was all starting to make sense. The reason why Sabrina was so closed off, especially to new comers. It definitely made him understand why she hadn’t been quite so welcoming to him.
Sabrina sighed, before she looked at Luke. She was expecting to see the usual look she was given when anyone looked at her. Pity mixed with wariness. Like they are waiting for the other shoe to drop. For Michelle’s killer to strike again … taking with them the only remaining Conklin sister. Instead, all she saw was compassion.
“I’m truly sorry, Sabrina. That had to be awful. I can’t even begin to imagine how I would feel if my family had held back such an enormous secret.”
Sabrina swiped her hands against her barely wet eyes. “Thank you, Luke. You’re the first person, well beside Ryan and Jared, to treat me like a human being, instead of just a victim.”
Luke patted her shoulder softly, “You’re welcome, partner.”
Sabrina chuckled lightly, before opening her car door. “Let’s go. Our job awaits.”
The office held an eerie silence as Luke and Sabrina entered from the front entrance. They spotted the man that they would be interviewing immediately. Sabrina could only see the back of his head, but something about him felt familiar. As they walked closer and Sabrina could make out more of his face, she realized where she knew him from.
She grabbed a tight hold of Luke’s shirt, pulling him to a stop. “I can’t interview him.” She whispered softly.
Luke’s eyebrow shot up, “Why not?”
Sabrina shuffled her feet for a moment, before speaking. “He’s my sister’s ex-boyfriend. Her high school sweetheart. Everyone assumed that he had killed my sister, but there wasn’t enough proof to arrest him for the murder. After that, he left town. I think part of me will always believe he had something to do with Michelle’s murder.”
Luke nodded, “I can definitely understand why you can’t interview Markus, but should I be looking at him as a potential suspect, if his fiancee is the victim in the morgue?”
Sabrina sighed. A part of her wanted to look the other way. To give up on this fixation on her sister’s murder and Markus’ involvement in it, but she couldn’t. “I would, at least be weary, Luke. Markus has always been a bit odd.”
Luke nodded, “Feel free to watch the interview. Let me know if there are any questions you think I should ask, alright?”
Sabrina nodded in response.
Luke walked swiftly toward Markus, while taking slow, deep breaths through his nose. His head was everywhere. Sabrina had just drop a huge bomb on him by telling him about her sister’s murder. What made matters worse was now Luke couldn’t exactly look at Markus objectively. Not when Sabrina still believes that Markus held a hand in her sister’s murder.
He sighed softly, before touching Markus’ shoulder. It was his job to be objective, and the victim in the morgue might not even be Markus’ fiancee. Luke had no proof that Markus had done anything wrong. Just what Sabrina had to say, and Luke knew that her opinion of Markus was tainted and definitely not objective. He had to applaud his partner for taking herself out of a situation that could very well have caused her to lose her badge. What was the most messed up was that Ryan had to have known that Markus was the man that they had to talk to.
“I’m Detective Luke Cobb, I’ll be taking your statement, Mr...” Luke let his sentence trail off while he waited for Markus to fill in the rest of his statement.
“Markus Stevens.” Markus held out his hand, but Luke only watched the younger man’s eyes. He could see the grief and worry written in them. Luke shook his hand firmly. “You must be new, Detective Cobb. I grew up in Black River and I definitely don’t remember a Luke Cobb.”
Luke smiled softly, “I am new indeed. First week here in Black River.” Luke pointed at his desk, “Let’s go have a seat at my desk, and we’ll get started.”
Markus nodded, “How do you like it here so far?”
Luke shrugged, still not sure about the man in front of him. “Definitely different than New York City, which is good, since that’s what I was looking for.”
Markus’ eyes grew wide at the mention of New York, “New York, wow. I haven’t been to a city that big. I don’t think I’d ever know what to do with myself in a place so vast.”
Luke smiled again. “You get used to it, trust me. I’m not originally from NYC, I grew up in a smaller city, but I adjusted to New York’s hustle and bustle lifestyle pretty easily.”
“Were you from somewhere as small as Black River?”
Luke had to admit that Markus had a point. Luke had grown up in Indianapolis, which to someone from a place as small as Black River, would appear as big as New York. To Luke, New York was a completely different mountain than Indianapolis.
“Not even close,” Luke chuckled. “Okay, so you’re fiancee, she’s missing?”
Markus sighed softly, a dark cloud of sadness came over him, and Luke realized in that instant that if Markus didn’t have anything to do with his fiancee going missing, that this would the second woman in his life to be taken from him.
“Yeah, like I said, I grew up here. I haven’t actually lived here since I was a lot younger, but Anna insisted on seeing the town that I grew up in before we got married. Plus, my parents still keep a cabin house here in town. So, we stayed in their cabin and Anna insisted on seeing the town.”
Luke nodded as he jotted down some notes. “So, on these visits into town, did you happen to go with her?”
Markus sighed, he had known this would have to come up. “Well, when I left town, it wasn’t on good terms. I know this will probably paint me as a potential suspect, but when I was twenty-two my girlfriend, Michelle Conklin went missing. She disappeared for an almost two day period. When she was found, it was up at Black River Falls. Michelle was murdered, and I was pinned as the top suspect. There was no evidence, and I swear till this day that I didn’t kill Michelle. Anyone that would do that to another person is a sick individual, and I am not that screwed up, Detective Cobb. I told you that because I am looked at like a pariah in this town. So no, I didn’t go with her into town.”
Though he knew he should have listened to the entire story that Markus had spun to see if it matched up with Sabrina’s, he couldn’t help but get caught up on the location where Michelle’s body had been found. Exactly in the same park that their Jane Doe had been found. Shaking off the deju vu that Markus’ story had given him, Luke nodded.
“Well, then you’re not new to this process. For obvious reasons, we have to look closely at you, Markus, if only because at this point you are the only person with a reason to want to potentially harm you’re fiancee. Now, I’m not saying that you’re the kidnapper or anything. What I am saying is that we will have to do an official interrogation, but for this moment that can wait. What I want to know now is, when did Anna go missing?”
Markus clasped his hands together, “Almost three days ago. She said that she had met some nice people on her first trip into town and that she had planned on meeting them for lunch. I expected her back by night fall at least, but that day it snowed pretty heavily and the road to my parent’s cabin can be pretty treacherous in that kind of weather. Since Black River is prone to weird snow storms like that, I made sure that Anna kept emergency money on her so that she could get a hotel room at the local inn in town. I assumed that she had just grabbed a room and that she was too tired to call and let me know. But after the second day that she didn’t return to the cabin, I knew that something else was going on.”
Luke nodded, finishing up his notes. “Can you give me the names of the people that Anna had met in town? I’d like to interview them as well.”
Markus sighed, “She didn’t give any names. I didn’t even know about them until she was leaving to head into town.”
Luke sighed, “Alright.” This was the hard part. There was no easy way to ask someone to potentially identify a body, especially when they still held hope that their loved one was still alive. “Markus, this is a tough question I have to ask of you, and I hate doing it, but we found a body this morning. We need you to take a look...”
Markus stared straight ahead, tears forming in his eyes. “You think it’s Anna, don’t you?”
“At this point, Markus, all we know is that the Jane Doe we found this morning matches the description of Anna.”
Markus nodded, “Where did you find this ‘Jane Doe’?”
“I’m not at liberty to release that information at this time.”
Markus just sat there, stone still, staring straight ahead. His body chilled to the bone. He didn’t need to get up to identify the body, because he knew in his heart that it was going to be Anna. “If I must.” Was all he could say.
The walk to the morgue was slow, sluggish, and done in silence. All Luke could think about was how he might have been wrong to snap to a slightly tainted judgment against Markus. The pain in his eyes told Luke that no matter what, Markus wasn’t a killer. It was impossible.
Markus could only think about how he might be saying goodbye to his fiancee forever, because he was a coward. Yeah, this town and the people that live in it think of him as a pariah. Yeah, they would stare, point, and whisper things to each other, but none of that should have mattered to him. He should have been a man. He should have wanted to do nothing more than show his fiancee around town. Perhaps if he had, Anna would still be alive, and he wouldn’t be interrogated and shamed for another murder.
Luke peered carefully at Markus as he held the door to the morgue open. The stench of the morgue punched Markus directly in the gut. It took everything in him to hold back the gag that crept it’s way up his throat. Luke gave him a pity glance, knowing just how horrible a morgue could smell upon first entry. Over his time in New York, Luke had grown accustomed to the horrid smell.
“Are you ready for this, Markus?”
Markus merely shrugged his shoulders, his head hung. He knew that he wasn’t ready. He would never be ready to say goodbye to Anna. As much as he loved and cared for Michelle, Markus was over the moon in love with Anna. She made him a better man … or at least he thought she did. Anna pushed him, made him do things that he thought he couldn’t do or that he was too afraid to do. Now, as soon as the sheet is pulled back from the cold, dead body before him, it would all be over.
Luke took a deep breath. Identification of the body was always the part that Luke hated the most … well at least as much as the actual act of murder itself. The utter devastation that clouded the loved one’s face as their world shattered around them. It broke his heart and tore at him every single time. Trying to push the image of Markus’ pained expression out of his mind, Luke pulled the sheet back to the top of the Jane Doe’s chest. Markus did not need to see anything more than her face.
“Yeah.” It was barely breathed from his mouth, as he turned white.
She was so pale, nearly the same color as the sheet that covered her body. He didn’t know what was hidden under the sheet, though he could imagine how horrible it could be. The lacerations on Anna’s face were bad enough. Slicing into her beautiful face.
“Markus, I need you to actually identify the body.”
This shook Markus from his living nightmare enough to peer at Luke. “Yes. This is my fiancee. This is Anna Mason.”
Luke sighed heavily, before covering the body back up. He watched Markus carefully, who was still staring, wide-eyed, at Anna’s body. Luke couldn’t tell if Markus was going to bolt or throw up, but he knew to expect one of them. Almost as soon as the thought came to Luke, Markus turned on his heel and walked swiftly from the room.
His feet moved as quickly as his legs would allow. He needed to find the exit. He needed to find … something, anything that would bring him an ounce of comfort, but mainly he needed to yell … scream. To let his emotions out.
The voice sounded familiar, way more familiar than Luke’s voice would have sounded. He couldn’t quite place it before he turned around. His knees nearly buckled from the shock. Markus knew that she still resided in Black River, even though her parents had left town right after he had, but he never dreamed that he would actually run into her.
“Sabrina?” His voice was merely a whisper.
“I need to know. Was the ‘Jane Doe’ you’re fiancee?”
She had searched for Luke, but then she saw Markus running down the hall and figured it would be just as easy to ask him. Sabrina just hadn’t counted on the fact that she would feel like killing the man before her.
Markus’ mouth went slack for a moment, before he nodded, “Yeah.”
Sabrina nodded back, her foot sliding back and forth against the carpeted floor. A nervous habit of her’s that she had been trying to work on.
“I never would have dreamt that you would become a cop, Sab.”
It was Markus’ pet name that was the final nail in the coffin. Tears filled her eyes, this time though they were of anger. She had tried to let go of the feelings of anger toward Markus. He had never been arrested for her sister’s murder. There was absolutely no proof that Markus had actually been involved with her sister’s death, but yet she couldn’t push past the feeling that he had killed Michelle.
Sabrina glared at Markus before taking a shaky step forward. “How dare you.” Her voice was low and deceptively calm.
Markus could see the depth of emotions waging an endless war in her eyes. His heart broke as he realized that she was still grieving Michelle’s death. He would, of course, always miss Michelle, and a part of his heart would never heal from the hole that losing Michelle had caused. That didn’t mean that he would never move on. He had to, if he hadn’t Markus knew that Michelle’s death would eat a hole straight through him. At least Anna was able to console him, to remind him that Michelle’s murder wasn’t his fault.
“How can you just stand there, like nothing ever happened. How can you just be so casual. The pet name, Markus? It’s off-limits. It reminds me of times that I’d rather keep buried.”
Markus sighed, “Honestly Sabrina, I didn’t even plan on running into you. I had hoped that you would have moved past me as a suspect, but I guess I was wrong. I’m being honest with you, when I say that I had nothing to do with Michelle’s death. I never would have hurt her, I loved your sister. I was going to marry her. Do you even fathom how devastating it was when the sheriff found her body? I haven’t been whole since she died. I constantly feel like a part of myself is missing because she isn’t with me … with us, anymore.”
Sabrina could tell from the sadness in his eyes that he wasn’t lying, but that didn’t mean her anger would land anywhere else, at least not yet. There wasn’t anywhere else for it to land. There was no one else to blame. “I want to believe you, Markus, I do. I just don’t understand how no one else was even questioned in Michelle’s murder. Now you show up and another woman in your life ends up dead? It doesn’t sound like a coincidence to me, Markus.”
Markus’ hands balled into fists, as angry tears filled his eyes. “I don’t know how many other ways I can say it. I didn’t kill Michelle and I didn’t kill Anna. I wasn’t involved at all. I wouldn’t ever harm someone that I love, you of all people should know that or have you forgotten the night that Michelle went missing? You were so upset. Bawling, not that I blamed you. If I hadn’t felt the need to be strong for you, I would have been crying too. Instead, I held you, hugged you, until your tears dried up. I stayed with you all night, watching over you. Listening to you cry in your sleep. If I had something to do with Michelle’s death, would I have done that? Would I, Sabrina!?”
Sabrina’s head hung. She hadn’t forgotten about Markus’ kindness the night Michelle had disappeared, but she had pushed it so far back into her memory that she had to struggle to retain it. “No, Markus. No.”
The devastation in her voice made Markus take a staggering step backward. “Hey, you’ll find this guy. I have faith in you.”
She peered up at him, not one shred of hope left in her eyes. “That’s good, because I don’t. My partner and I, we believe that whoever killed Anna … killed Michelle. You don’t know how badly I want to solve this case to find out the truth. To finally rid myself of this soul-sucking burden that I’ve carried for the past ten years.
Luke sighed as he settled in at his desk. He eyed Sabrina’s still empty chair and wondered briefly where she was. He had so many questions, but he hated the thought of bombarding her with them. Not when she was in such an emotional state with Markus in town.
He remembered his conversation with Chief Cruz when he was getting ready for his transfer to Black River, and he remembered asking the chief if case files and records were digitized. Ryan’s answer had made Luke laugh.
“This ain’t Mayberry, Luke. We do own computers here in the boondocks.”
Turning toward his computer monitor, Luke signed onto the stations system. He would get his answers, hopefully without further upsetting Sabrina. Glancing around once more, as if he was fearful that Sabrina would just pop up at any moment, Luke typed in Michelle Conklin. A few files popped up. A couple of misdemeanor’s, nothing serious, mainly teenage pranks. Then he saw the case file for her murder. Running his hand against his face, he clicked on the file.
The images taken of the scene were just as gruesome as Anna’s crime scene. Luke noted that while the cuts were different between both victims, they appeared to be just as deep and as jagged. Both Michelle and Anna had been dropped off in the same position, and possibly near the same area. Though to be fair, to know that for sure would be impossible. Sabrina hadn’t known about Michelle’s death until months after the murder had occurred, and he wasn’t supposed to be alerting Chief Cruz that he was looking into Michelle’s murder as a possible connection to Anna’s.
Even if they weren’t in the same area, there were so many similarities that it would surprise Luke if he learned that the same suspect hadn’t killed both girls. As he was about to move past the last image from the case, he stopped. Something had caught his eye. Something was off about the crime scene. After a brief moment of merely staring at the image, Luke decided to zoom into the image and scour it inch by inch until he figured out what was bothering him about the image. It didn’t take long, as he zoomed in near Michelle’s head, he spotted it. Unlike at Anna’s scene, when Sabrina had pointed it out, he saw it. Barely noticeable in the thick mud covered ground, Luke saw the outline of a boot print. If he had to guess, he’d say that the boot print at Michelle’s murder scene would match Anna’s.
Sabrina sat in the hallway that led to the morgue, trying her best to collect her thoughts. Markus had truly turned her world upside down. It wasn’t his fault, considering that deep down Sabrina knew that he hadn’t killed her sister. She had just needed someone to blame. Someone to see as the villain and Markus was the easiest to blame.
“Hey, you alright?”
Sabrina’s head tilted up to look at Luke, as he sat down beside her. She tried to offer him a convincing smile, but she knew she had failed when he frowned softly at her.
“I ran into Markus.”
Luke sighed, he knew that if he tried to take up for the poor man, that his partner could shut down before he was even able to talk to her about anything. “I know that you blame him--”
Sabrina held up a hand, interrupting Luke before he could even start talking. “I know what you’re going to say, and I’ve come to the conclusion. To be fair, you realized that Markus wasn’t a bad guy a lot quicker than I did...”
Luke sighed, swiping a shaky hand against his face. There were a million small reasons, and one big reason why he had decided to transfer to such a small town. He hadn’t lied, he was completely over the continuous murder scenes that he was called to, but it wasn’t the main reason. Coming to Black River was like a breath of fresh air. Small community where everyone knew everyone. No horrendous history of drugs or murder. It was nice. Until he walked into the station and a dead body fell into their lap. Now everything he thought he knew or liked about Black River suddenly wasn’t as true as he thought.
Everything was so screwed up. His partner was in such pain and there wasn’t much he could do for her aside from find the guy randomly killing women … apparently every ten years. Her world was turning upside down. For the past ten years she had been able to put a face to the evil done to her sister. Now, she’s realizing how wrong she was to blame someone that had been hurt just as badly by her sister’s murder as Sabrina had been.
“You had your reasons to believe that Markus would harm your sister. You can’t blame yourself for that.”
Sabrina laughed mirthlessly, as she turned toward her partner. This was the most open she had been with anyone, aside from Ryan, in years. She had never even been this open with Jared. All he knew about Michelle was that she had died ten years ago. Jared didn’t even know that Michelle was one of the only known murders in Black River’s history. She didn’t know why she felt like it was okay to be this open with Luke. It was more than just that fact that Michelle’s murder might pertain to the murder they were currently investigating. She wanted him to know, and that was foreign to her.
“Can’t I?” She asked softly. “Part of me knew, even back then, that Markus hadn’t hurt Michelle. He was like my older brother, he protected me. He was there for me when Michelle went missing. What was worse? She went missing the day before I left for college. I didn’t want to go, not with Michelle still missing, but my mother made me. She said that Michelle wouldn’t want me giving up a perfectly good opportunity for her. It was like my mother already knew that she was gone, that she wasn’t coming back. I begged Markus to talk some sense into her, but he only agreed with her. I think it was his way of trying to protect me. I guess, maybe he felt like it might have been personal, that maybe whoever had taken Michelle would come after me too. I remember his exact words, even now. You know that I love you, Sab. That I would do anything for you, and if I thought that it was best for you to be here, in Black River, I would hide you away at my house. I don’t though. You need to go, experience college, Michelle would want that for you, and you know it. Besides, if anything happened to you … if you both disappeared, Sab, I don’t know what I would do. You’re my best friend … one of my absolute favorite people on the planet. I couldn’t protect Michelle, but I will protect you.”
Luke slid his arm around Sabrina’s shoulders, allowing her head to lie against his shoulder. “You can’t blame yourself. You were hurt. In pain. You needed someone to blame, and it was easy to blame someone that wasn’t there to defend themselves.”
“It doesn’t make it right, Luke.”
“It doesn’t. You have a point, but it was what got you through a tough time.”
Sabrina sighed, “I’m sure that you didn’t come find me to talk about Markus though. You had a determined look on your face when you first showed up. So, what did you want?”
Luke sighed, he hated burdening her when she was in such a bad place to begin with. “Markus said something interesting during his interview. So, I looked into it. You’re sister’s case. Why didn’t you tell me just how similar the cases were?”
“I’m really sorry, Luke. I really am. I should have told you, but all I could think about was how much I despised Markus, that I didn’t think about anything else.”
Luke nodded, “I get that, Sabrina, but this could have been useful information from the start. For one, this guy has killed more than once. We could be looking at a serial killer, Sabrina. That turns this case completely upside down.”
Sabrina leaned over Luke’s shoulder as he typed in information that she slowly spat off. The differences and the similarities between both murders. Luke had explained to her on their short walk to his desk how serial killers generally worked. They usually went after the same types of people. Not necessarily of the same sex, but it could be something else. Some liked going after people in powerful positions. Sometimes it was a person’s hair color or build that sent the killer off, but given the facts of both cases, Luke thought he knew what set of their killer.
“Markus was right before, Sabrina. I don’t think you’re necessarily safe. It appears as if our killer is after specific women.” As he spoke, Luke stared at Sabrina, before glancing back at the pictures of both Michelle and Anna. “It’s the hair color, it has to be. It’s the only thing that both Michelle and Anna share. They didn’t know each other, Anna wasn’t even from Black River.”
As he spoke, a thought crossed her mind. “What if it’s not the hair color, or the fact that they both look slightly similar?” Sabrina asked, as she knelt down beside Luke’s chair. If she was right, then it would make her seriously sick to her stomach.
“What do you mean, Sabrina?” He asked.
“What if the killer wasn’t killing these women because they set him off? What if the killer was killing to get back at someone else?”
Luke’s eyebrows raised up. “I’m intrigued. Continue.”
“What if our killer was killing to get back at Markus?”
“Does he really have that many enemies? I mean, I know you said that most everyone in town wasn’t a fan because they thought he had something to do with Michelle’s death. But who would be willing to kill in order to gain revenge?”
Sabrina sighed, she was hoping that Luke would simply excuse her idea as ridiculous. The fact that he didn’t, made her stomach roll. It meant that what she was thinking could be a possibility. “There was this guy that I was dating when Michelle went missing. He was a little weird. Not in a serial killer type of way, but just in an odd kind of way. He never really fit in. He was really awkward and very self-conscious. For some reason he also thought that I had a thing for Markus, which is just ridiculous, because Markus was like a brother to me. He hated Markus, and he hated the fact that Markus and I would hang out together sometimes. If there was anyone with motive to kill to get revenge against Markus, it would be Jeremy Miller.”
“Well, what can you tell me about Jeremy? Aside from the fact that he was jealous. I mean, of course, I’ve seen people kill for less, I need to know more about him. To at least put together a profile.”
Sabrina sighed. In all honesty, she hadn’t thought about Jeremy Miller in years. She hadn’t given him a second thought after Michelle was killed, and the fact that she might have been that close to her sister’s killer made her sicker than she ever thought possible. “Well, I mean, I have to start from the beginning. See, my sister was the pretty one. I was always jealous of her, because she was never in short supply of guys lusting after her. Jeremy was the first guy to ever ask me out. At the time I didn’t give it a second thought. I was starting to come into my own as a teenaged girl.”
“I find it hard to believe that guys weren’t lusting after you.” Luke mumbled, before realizing what he had said. “Sorry. That was inappropriate.”
Sabrina couldn’t help the chuckle that dribbled out of her mouth. She had meant to punish Luke for what he had said. Make him feel a little bad, before she explained that no matter how inappropriate it might be, she did still appreciate it. Any girl would. Luke was a handsome man, with chiseled, almost model good looks. Even still, the man was not full of himself, and that was definitely a breath of fresh air. “Inappropriate or not, I do appreciate it.” Sabrina shrugged. “I realize now, thinking back on it. Jeremy did seem awfully preoccupied by Michelle. Always trying to talk to her, even while he was holding my hand, or supposed to be on a date with me. Maybe Michelle was his first choice, and he settled with me?”
Luke sighed softly, “Could be, but that still doesn’t explain why he would be wreaking revenge on Markus. Especially if you weren’t his first choice.”
A light bulb went off in Sabrina’s head. “But that’s just it, Luke. Don’t you see? Michelle was his first choice. She turned him down for Markus, that must have been what sent him off. It made him obsessed with me, because if he couldn’t have the sister he wanted, then he would take the sister he could get. Being around Michelle and Markus pushed him toward the edge, but watching my friendship with Markus blossom, sent him over the edge. Maybe he was afraid that he’d lose me to Markus, or maybe he was afraid that Markus would see through him? Perhaps, he was afraid that Michelle had told Markus that Jeremy had asked her out first, and that she feared that he was dating me to attempt to steal her away from Markus?”
Luke had to admit that when she put it out there like that, it definitely made sense. In a creepy, stalking kind of way. That’s exactly what Jeremy had done, even if either girl hadn’t realized he was doing it. That’s how unassuming men could get away with things like rape and murder, because no one suspected them, when in reality they should be the first suspects.
“Look, we need to find Jeremy, talk to him. Maybe if I talk to him, I can get him to confess. To come in, and turn himself in.”
Luke shook his head, “If you’re right, Sabrina, then your life could be in danger. Especially if he’s figured out that we’re onto him.”
Sabrina’s eyebrow shot up at that. “How would he even know? For all he knows, we’re still looking at Markus. I mean, I don’t even know for sure that he’s even living in Black River. I could be completely wrong here, Luke.”
“Yeah, you could be, but I just … I have this gut feeling that you’re not. I can’t risk you getting hurt or worse, on the off chance that you are wrong about Jeremy.
“Well, I surely hope that you’re not planning on going off on your own, potentially getting yourself killed, on the off chance that I’m right about Jeremy. Besides that, I have been trying to figure out the truth about my sister’s murder for years, Luke. You don’t get to come in here, all cowboy like, and take that away from me. This is important to me. I need the closure, and you know it. Look, we’re both cops, and we both know how to fire our weapons, I think I can handle helping you speak to a 65 year-old woman. I assure you that Caroline Miller isn’t about to kill either of us. The last I knew, she was on oxygen. I think we can take her, partner.”
Luke couldn’t help himself, he laughed lightly. “You make a good point, but we have to keep our eyes peeled. I don’t know how, or why, but I feel like Jeremy Miller might know just as much about this case as we do. If he does, then neither of us are safe.”
Sabrina glanced at Luke from the side of her eye, as they walked together toward the parking garage. She bit her lip to keep from smiling, as he attempted to juggle both of their bullet-proof vests.
“Explain something to me...” Luke said, completely obvious to the fact that Sabrina was staring at him.
“What’s that?” She asked, as they entered the one story parking garage.
“This town is the size of a pea, how exactly did the police station get a parking garage?”
Sabrina shook her head, before realizing that what Luke said made sense. How did the town manage to get the police station a parking garage. “I have no idea actually. Good question. You should ask Ryan.”
“Yeah, maybe I will. After we solve this murder.”
She chuckled lightly, as Luke unlocked his trunk, before pulling the door open. He carefully laid the bullet-proof vests into the trunk, before raising up to close the trunk. As he did so, a hot, white pain shot through the side of his head as he quickly started to lose consciousness. His body fell limp to the concrete floor. His eyes were glassy and the edges of his vision were starting to gray out. He could barely see Sabrina as his vision turned fuzzy. Fear ate at his stomach, as he knew something horrible was about to happen to Sabrina and there wasn’t anything he could do.
Though his hearing was starting to fade out, Luke could hear Sabrina talking to someone else.
“Listen to me. You don’t have to do this, alright?”
“Yeah, right. Because I’ll get what, a slap on the wrists for murdering that Anna chick? Not to mention the fact that I smashed in your partner’s head. But everything will be okay? It’s not okay, Sabrina. It’s never been okay, and it will never be.”
“Jeremy, what are you talking about?”
“I know it’s been eating at you. Blaming Markus, hating him. It made me happy at first, until I lost you too. Then I realized that I had made a mistake, but there was no going back. It only made me hate him more. Made me want to make him suffer! So, yeah. I killed your sister. Weirdly enough, Sab, I enjoyed the hell out of it. Does that make me sick? Does that make me a bad person? I mean, hell if she would have just done what I asked, then I wouldn’t have had to kill her, but Melissa just wouldn’t sit still. She wouldn’t just let me have my way with her. I mean, sure, if you had found out that I practically raped your sister, you would have hated me. It was a decision I had to make though. It was the only way I knew of to make Markus go away. He wouldn’t have wanted her if he knew that I had slept with her. She couldn’t have made it easy though, and too be fair, I didn’t mean to kill her. She just wouldn’t stop with the screaming. She just kept going. So I shut her up. For good.”
Sabrina’s vision started to spin and she felt like she might vomit, as Jeremy made a move toward her. “Don’t you dare touch me. I will shoot you, right between the eyes. I swear to God!”
“I don’t think that you will, sweetheart. I am not some amateur that doesn’t know what he’s doing. I mean, hell, I grabbed that Anna chick out in the middle of the day.”
“How? How did you know that we suspected you. How did you know where we’d be?”
Jeremy chuckled at that. “You think I’m an idiot, don’t you? Just a big, goofy moron. Well, I’m not. I’ve been keeping an eye on that bastard, Markus, for years. So long as he stayed out of Black River, I didn’t have that need, that want to make him pay for the pain he caused me when we were teenagers. Then he comes waltzing back into town, like he was the damned prodigal son, and I just … I had to hurt him. So, I watched him. I kept eyes on him. It wasn’t difficult, he actually is a moron. When I knew that his precious fiancee was going to be in town, alone. I knew what I had to do. If only the bitch would have done what I asked. You think I enjoy killing? I don’t. I never intended on killing Michelle, and I didn’t intend on killing Anna either. But neither of them would listen. Now, the question is, are you going to suffer the same fate, Sabrina. I don’t want to hurt you … I want to hurt him, and now that you don’t hate him ...” Jeremy allowed his sentence trail off, as he made a move toward Sabrina.
Sabrina’s legs buckled, but she tried to remain upright and in control of her body. “Stay back.” She warned, as her right arm swung around to grab for her gun. As she moved to grab a hold of the handle of her pistol, Jeremy lurched forward and jammed a needle into her neck.
“I think it’s about time that someone joined their partner for a little nappie poo.” Jeremy cooed at her, as Sabrina’s legs buckled and she fell to the hard concrete floor. “I don’t want to kill you, Sabrina, but I will if I have to.”
Luke lurched up, his head was pounding and the sudden movement sent his world spinning. He felt bile start climbing up his throat, as he leaned over and retched. He groaned, as he pressed a hand to the tender spot on the back of his head. He sat there for a moment trying to ignore the horrid smell from the vomit sitting in front of him. He couldn’t remember exactly what had happened. They were getting ready to pay a visit to Jeremy’s mother. At the very least they had hoped to find out where he was living. After that things got fuzzy. He squinted before realizing that he was alone in the parking garage. He knew that he hadn’t been alone. His stomach lurched uncomfortably as he suddenly realized what had happened.
Their killer, possibly Sabrina’s ex-boyfriend Jeremy, had knocked Luke unconscious so that he could get his hands on Sabrina. Luke shuddered as he realized that this was their killer’s end game. He would kill Sabrina, then he would disappear or kill himself. Luke couldn’t let that happened.
Despite the dizziness and his unsettled stomach, Luke shoved himself to his feet. He had to tell Ryan. They had to find Sabrina before it was too late. Without a second thought, Luke jogged back toward the station entrance. There was no time to lose. Luke didn’t know how long he had been unconscious. He shoved the door open, causing the people milling around inside to look up. He knew that he looked like hell, and there was probably some blood coated to the side of his neck, but he didn’t care. Not even giving those staring at him a second glance, Luke took the stairs two at a time until he came to the door at the top. He threw it open haphazardly and didn’t care when it smacked hard against the wall.
Pointing at Jared, Luke nodded toward Ryan’s office, before continuing his jog. He didn’t take the time to knock, Luke merely opened the door and sat down.
“Knocking, Detective Cobb, was that not a requirement in New York--”
“There isn’t time.” Luke interrupted breathless. This caused Ryan to look up and take in Luke’s disheveled appearance.
“Our killer, the one that me and Sabrina are after. He took her. He knocked me unconscious, and he took her.”
Ryan stood up abruptly. Luke could tell from the look on the young chief’s face that he still had feelings for Sabrina. More than just friendship … or co-worker’s.
“Do we have any information on the killer. Anything that could help us pinpoint exactly who this guy is?”
Luke nodded, “Sabrina has reason to think that the killer might be her ex-boyfriend, Jeremy Miller. Apparently when they were teenagers, Jeremy was extremely jealous of her friendship with Markus Stevens. Chief, we believe that Anna Mason’s murder and Sabrina’s sister, Michelle’s are connected.”
Ryan stared at Luke for a moment, “You think that this guy killed both women? That this Jeremy Miller would stoop to killing because of jealousy back when he was a teenager?”
“I think it’s definitely possible. Jealously can cause you to do things that you might not normally do. Not to mention the fact that mental illness could play a factor as well.”
Ryan nodded, “Well it’s our best bet. We have to locate this Jeremy Miller. We have to save Detective Conklin.”
Luke nodded, “I will stop at nothing to save my partner, sir.”
Sabrina jerked awake. The stench in the room was overwhelming and it made her stomach churn. Looking around, examining the room carefully, she noted that there were small traces of blood on the floor. Mostly along the edge of the right hand side, obviously a part that Jeremy had forgotten to clean. It was the bed that she was currently sitting on that was the cause of the odor. The mattress, that Sabrina could only imagine at one point to be white, was stained a deep yellow.
“Don’t mind the smell,” Jeremy’s thick southern draw called out. “Anna might have pissed her pants a couple of times. No big deal.”
Sabrina yelped, before rolling off the bed and landing rather hard on the concrete floor. “Where am I?” She figured she might as well try, considering that she knew that Jeremy had absolutely no intention of letting her go.
“Let’s just say that you’re definitely still in Black River, but don’t think you’re partner … or you’re ex-lover will find you.”
Sabrina’s eyebrows shot up, if he was so cocky in thinking that neither men would find her then they must be deep in the Black River Falls forest. In which case, Jeremy might actually be right. There were numerous cabins within the forest, none of which were ones that guests ever stayed in. Most of them were owned by hunters in town, and as far as Sabrina knew, Jeremy didn’t own one.
“Whose cabin are we in?”
Jeremy shrugged, “Apparently my deadbeat father owned a cabin up here. No one really knows about it. I found it by accident to be honest. I realized that this would be the best bet for fulfilling my … work. I pulled up the carpet and wood floor boards in this room and poured some concrete. Easier to clean up then anything else.”
“What happened to you, Jeremy? I mean, you were always a little off, but never serial killer off. You were just a little geeky and really lovable.”
Jeremy took a few steps toward Sabrina, and knelt down in front of her. “You happened to me, Sabrina. I loved you so much … so hard, that you broke me. Something in me snapped when I thought I might lose you to Markus. Something had to be done. I had to do something to keep you in my life. Don’t you get that, Sabrina? Don’t you understand?” As he spoke, he pulled out Sabrina’s handcuffs and latched her to the leg of the bed. “Now, you’re mine. You’re not going anywhere.”
“So what, you’re just going to hold me prisoner until what, I decide that you’re right?”
Jeremy shrugged again, before standing back up. “Something like that. I assume you have two choices. It’s the same two choices that I always give. Either you give yourself to me … you’re whole self, or you die. The choice is yours, Sabrina. If I were you, I’d choose wisely.”
Ryan and Luke walked slowly toward the front porch of Caroline Miller’s home. There was absolutely no indication that Jeremy was at the residence, and because of this Ryan and Luke didn’t feel particularly in danger. Instead of having the three of them, Jared included, storm the house of an older woman, they instead sent Jared to look after Markus. If Sabrina had been correct, and this entire thing was about Jeremy’s jealously toward Markus, then he most likely was in danger.
“I don’t want to terrify Mrs. Miller. As far as we know Jeremy is innocent until proven guilty. All we have right now is the “hear-say” of a fellow detective. Plus, even if Jeremy is the man we’re after, I highly doubt that his 65 year old mother knows anything about it. So, weapons holstered.”
Luke nodded, putting his gun back into it’s holster, as they continued to trek toward the front door. Once they stood in front of the large wooden door, Luke knocked lightly and waited.
The door opened to show a small, short, white-haired woman. Caroline Miller definitely looked all of her 65 years, and maybe even a few more than that. The winkles that curved around both her mouth and eyes, seemed to grow when she smiled at both of Ryan and Luke.
“How can I help you handsome boys?” The elderly woman asked.
“Ma’am, I’m Detective Luke Cobb, this,” Luke paused briefly to point at Ryan, “Is Chief of Police, Ryan Cruz. We were wondering if you’ve been in contact with your son, Jeremy Miller?”
With a slight shake of her head, Caroline spoke. “I’m sorry, but I haven’t spoken to my son in years. After that terrible accident with that young girl that he had a crush on, he was never quite the same.”
Ryan nodded, “Yeah, Sabrina Conklin...”
Caroline Miller looked at Ryan quizzically. “That doesn’t sound right. The last name does, but I’m fairly certain that the young girl’s name was Michelle Conklin.”
Ryan shared a glance with Luke and realized that Sabrina had been onto something, except that Jeremy wasn’t jealous of her friendship with Markus. Jeremy was jealous that Michelle had chosen Markus over him.
“I’m very sorry about that, Mrs. Miller. You don’t by chance know where Jeremy is currently living do you?”
Caroline shrugged, “He moves around a lot, but I do know that he frequents a cabin in the woods that his father used to own. It stood abandoned for years after Jeremy’s father left us, but Jeremy was always infatuated with that cabin.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Miller, you have been quite helpful.” Luke spoke softly, shaking the elderly woman’s hand.
As they turned to leave, Ryan whispered. “It’s the perfect hideout and the perfect place to hide your kidnapped victims. That’s where Jeremy has to be. If that’s where Jeremy is, that’s where Sabrina is.”
Sabrina attempted to bite down on Jeremy’s hand as he removed the gag for a second time. “Watch it, bitch!” Jeremy cursed, pulling back his hand.
“Let me go, you sick bastard.”
Jeremy chuckled, and it unnerved Sabrina. “I told you, Sabrina. Two choices. I’d really hate to have to kill you.”
Sabrina glared at him, “Do it. Just get it over with, because I sure as hell ain’t screwing you.”
Jeremy sighed. “I’m giving you until I come back to change that attitude, otherwise I’ll have no other choice.”
Sabrina sighed, as the only door into her small prison slammed shut. She knew that Luke had everyone looking for her by now. She hoped that he had been conscious enough to hear at least some of her and Jeremy’s conversation. All she had to do was stall for time. Though she could tell that Jeremy was becoming further unhinged as time passed. It didn’t take a genius to realize that she was his endgame. Either she would accept his deal, or her life would end … and he would probably end his own afterward. Sabrina could tell that Jeremy didn’t plan on spending any time in jail.
“Please find me.” She whispered, to no one in particular.
Luke sighed as he watched Ryan disappear around the corner of the cabin. They kept themselves low to the ground to keep from being spotted. They didn’t want Jeremy doing anything rash, and they knew that he would if he saw them.
Counting in his head, he waited twenty seconds just like Ryan had told him too, before knocking lightly on the door.
Luke waited a second before kicking in the door. “Police!” he yelled, his gun drawn and pointed directly in front of him. At first he didn’t see anything, but then he noted some noise coming from a room off to his right. As he made a move to investigate, he watched the door to his right swing open.
“I told you to go away.” Jeremy mumbled, as he pinned Sabrina as closely as he could to his chest. “I didn’t want to have to kill her, but you leave me no choice. Now I’ll have to kill you both.”
“Look, Jeremy, there is still a way out of this for you. Put the gun down, turn yourself in, and you’ll live to make it out of this cabin.”
Jeremy snickered, the sight was creepy. “And if I don’t turn myself in? What then, Mr. Big Shot?”
Luke took a step forward, before Jeremy waved his gun around. Luke put up his hands, “Hey, no need to do that. We’re just talking. Look, Jeremy, I have to be honest. If you don’t give yourself up, then things won’t end well for you.”
“I’m terrified.” Jeremy countered, his voice monotonic.
Luke watched as Jeremy leveled the gun at him and he could see Jeremy’s plan unfolding in front of him. It would be easier if Jeremy took out Luke first, which was exactly what he was planning. Just as Jeremy started to squeeze on the trigger, a noise rattled him. Looking up, Jeremy saw a taller, bulkier man standing behind Luke. A gunshot filled the air, as Sabrina watched with wide eyes as Jeremy’s grip around her loosened just enough for her to get away from him.
In the same moment, she saw out of the corner of her eye, as Luke fell to his knees. “Luke!” Sabrina called out, as she rushed to his side.
Ryan nodded at her, as he went to cuff Jeremy. “I’ll radio it in.”
Sabrina nodded, as she shoved her hands against the wound on Luke’s left side. “Are you okay?” He asked, his breathing ragged.
Sabrina chuckled, “You’re shot, and you ask me if I’m okay?”
A week later Luke sat on his couch, nursing what was left of his beer. He knew that he wasn’t supposed to drink with his pain medication, but at this point he didn’t quite care. The doctor had told him that he couldn’t be cleared for duty for two months. That was like an eternity. He felt bad leaving Sabrina without a partner for two months. A knock sounded, pulling Luke from his thoughts.
“Coming.” He called out, as he sat his beer bottle down. Gritting his teeth tightly, he shoved himself into a standing position. With a gentle hand against his wound, he opened the door. “Sabrina.” He answered, sounding surprised.
“Hey, partner! I wanted to stop by and see how you were holding up.”
Luke turned around and headed for the couch, leaving the door open for Sabrina to come inside. “Sore. Little pissed off that I can’t come back for two months.”
Sabrina shook her head, “You just got shot. None of us were even sure that you would make it to the hospital, Luke. You deserve to take it easy.”
With a sigh, he nodded, “I know. I just hate to leave you partner-less.”
Sabrina patted his shoulder, before sitting down next to him. “I’m not partner-less, Luke. You’re still my partner. No one is going to take your spot, mainly because I don’t think anyone else could put up with me.”
Luke chuckled, and grimaced as the movement pulled at his stitches. He watched as Sabrina leaned forward and confiscated his beer from the table. “Hey! That’s mine.”
Sabrina looked at him sternly. “The doctor specifically said to not mix your pain medication with alcohol.”
Luke shrugged, “I chose to not listen to that bit of information. Look, I’ll take the two months off, but I can’t survive that time period without my beer.”
“No beer. No alcohol, period.”
Luke heaved an exaggerated sigh, trying to hide the smile attempting to play across his lips. “Fine, but you sound kind of like my mom.”
Sabrina smacked his shoulder.
“Hey, injured guy here.”
“Baby.” Sabrina whispered as she took a deep tug on the beer bottle. “This stuff is disgusting. You aren’t missing much.”
“Adding insult to injury. You’re not very good at the nurturing part, are you?”
Sabrina shrugged, “Why do you think I can’t keep a partner. I don’t deal well with whiners or babies, and Ryan just loves setting me up with whiners and babies.”
Luke stared at her for a moment, “Wait. Are you lumping me into that group?”
“If you stop all this complaining. You’re worse than a girl, I swear.”
In that moment Luke felt content. Not exactly happy, how could he when he was being sidelined, but not exactly unhappy. Just … content. They had put an end to a ten year old murder mystery, and he had helped his partner in gaining closure for her sister’s death. That didn’t mean that the death and danger was over. They were cops, and even in a small town like Black River, there was still some amount of crime, but for now, he could sit back and relax.