Stargazer

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Chapter 9 : Equations and more bodies

The first Monday of November arrived to the city of Columbus Ohio with a dull overcast day forecasting light rain later in the evening. Lewis hated this time of year. Days were getting shorter and nights colder. And the anniversary of his infant daughter was in two days time. It was ten years ago this coming Wednesday that what should have been the happiest day of his life turned into the worst. She was still born at full term. His then wife, Rosemary or Rosie for short, hadn’t appreciated any change in baby movements in the preceding days. So when they arrived at the obstetrics ward that morning for induction, the concerned looks on the booking midwife when she put on the heart rate monitor didn’t really register with either of them initially. It quickly became obvious though that something was radically wrong when more and more midwives and doctors came and went in quick succession with worried looks on their faces.

There was a ceremony of course, even though they hadn’t even agreed on a name. There were so many unanswered questions that never could be answered in the months that followed. In the end, their marriage unravelled over the next couple of years, having never really recovered. Rosie became depressed and he couldn’t seem to help her. The job, his drinking and his hours did not help, he realized that now. They eventually divorced on amicable terms three years later. He still kept in contact and would meet her later this afternoon at the cemetery but the glue that had held them together for their 8 year marriage had well and truly dissolved.

So when he parked in the departments basement car park on this particular Monday in November, it was hard to muster any positivity about the days work ahead. Professor Adams was waiting in reception as he entered the main building. He seemed to be engaged in animated discussion with the duty officer in charge of dealing with the public. Lewis approached and realized Adams was anxious to meet with him but was being stonewalled by Reception.

Lewis intervened and soothed things over.

“I’ve got a definite answer for you on this equation thing Detective” Adams said excitedly.

“Let’s take it upstairs and discuss it with the team”

At least someone was enthusiastic this Monday morning.

Johnson and Ware were already present with Marcella and looking intently at the map of Ohio State when they entered the room. There was no sign of McEvoy. Lewis made some brief introductions and they all sat around the table.

“So I passed this around to a few of my colleagues when I realized this wasn’t a math formula in the strictest sense” Adams opened with. “It was my contact in the Physics department who came back to me. The equation is known as The Drake Equation. It is formulated as a means to determine the probability of the numbers of extraterrestrial life forms in existence in the Universe”.

Lewis nearly spat out his coffee. “Wait, so you’re telling me this is about aliens? Little green men. Area 51 and all that stuff?”.

Ware raised his hand slightly as if to tell Lewis to leave the professor continue.

“I know this might sound a little odd Detective, but there has been significant academic interest in this topic for some time now. When Frank Drake first wrote this in ’61, it was really just to stimulate discussion around the probability of extraterrestrial life forms. It spawned an entire cottage industry around the search for them subsequently known as Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence or SETI for short. I should add at this point that this involves some of the most preeminent minds in Astrophysics around the world. This isn’t some bunch of mad scientists or quacks trying to phone ET.”

Lewis couldn’t resist. “Until now Prof”.

Ware raised his hand again as if to ask a question. “So Prof, is this something only discussed in the scientific community or is it known in the public domain more widely. Is our man likely a scientist or equivalent?”.

The professor shrugged his shoulders. “The search for extraterrestrial life has been obviously part of entertainment culture for decades now. Just look at the popularity of the X-Files. I can’t be sure but you’d have to guess something like this has been used in popular culture as well as being an established science now as well for decades”.

Johnson and Ware looked at one another. Ware looked a little exasperated. Their killer could be a NASA scientist as easily as he could be a regular joe with a penchant for alien movies.

“Look, it’s not my area of interest so I wrote down some people that might help you more than I can on the subject. I’d try those names at Berkeley University first, I’m pretty sure they are involved in a big project on SETI there”. Adams took out an envelope and pushed it across the table.

“Well Prof, thanks for your time on this, really appreciate it.” Ware replied.

The professor got up to leave and was at the door when Ware spoke again.

“Just one more thing Professor. Did you mention the reason you were looking for information on this with your colleagues?”.

Adams looked a little confused. “Well yes. It’s not like I would be reaching out to other colleagues for help with an equation normally as a Math Professor”.

Lewis knew now this was not good. The media would be all over this by the end of the week

Forensics at Tar Hollow had to go back at the instruction of Johnson and sweep the area around the hole in the fence extensively from there in a proposed line to the scene. The plan was to return to the scene again to revisit Johnson’s observations around the ground there in the afternoon with McEvoy if he ever showed.

Ware had scheduled a meeting with Spietz to discuss their next move with regard to Kearney. Marcella was anxious to chase down the lead sweet old Ms Oatnam in Trenton had given them about Darnell, one of the adult victims from ’92. The person of interest was a son of an ex neighbor Phyllis Neerand, and Cincinnati PD had given her an address of last known abode.

The long list of other victim family contacts needed to be interviewed also. Top of that list were known associates of the drug addict that disappeared most recently in July of this year, a possible owner of the odd arm that disappeared around the time the Tar Hollow kids disappeared. Lewis decided he’d do this first with Marcella and head to the cemetery for the afternoon then.

They headed for Franklinton where the missing man was last seen. Mid morning traffic was light as Lewis pulled out of the basement car park.

“I feel like we are running on a treadmill here on this Marcie. Like, we seem to be getting new information and we seem to be doing something, but nothing is bringing us any closer to our guy is it?” he remarked as they sat at lights.

Marcella looked at him with surprise. “Patience young Padawan, we shall prevail” she replied. It wasn’t like Lewis to be so negative. Then it struck her. Shit. This was around his daughters anniversary time. “You taking the afternoon off?” she asked. She had a good idea what the answer was.

“Yeah, you guessed right. I mean, here we are investigating chopped up kids and I’m feeling sorry for myself, right?”

Lewis’s reply belied one simple truth in this game thought Marcella. This job brought them in constant contact with a mixture of equal parts human evil and human tragedy. But as detectives, they were only able to endure by compartmentalizing it separate to their own experiences and lives. To not be affected required a degree of sociopathy. But when it started to either make you not care about your own personal life or you brought it all home to affect your personal life, then there was a big problem. She left Lewis to his own thoughts until they parked at the elementary school at Franklinton. It was two blocks from a known crack house their missing John had last been seen living out of. Interestingly enough, this wasn’t far from where one of the boys from Tar Hollow had been last seen as well.

He was forty seven and well known to Columbus PD for minor drug offenses. They figured parking right outside the house might scare everybody off. Approaching on foot was marginally less conspicuous. Crack houses were easy to spot to even an untrained eye in urban America. Look for random pieces of uncollected trash on the front lawn, gang graffiti spattered over the boarded up windows, and the likely chance of finding some junkies nearby or in the house was pretty high.

Lewis approached a bunch of teens hanging around at the local corner, hands raised with badge in hand in an attempt to give the impression of not being here to arrest anyone. Two left in a hurry leaving the remaining three.

One seemed particularly familiar with their man. “Yeah man, I remember that fool. Always bugg’n out ’n shit. He tore up on that vacant on Dumas Street. He’s gone a while though now.”

Lewis thought it might be worth cutting to the chase. “Can you remember whether he had a tattoo on his hand, like some sort of leaf or a weed plant maybe?”

“I mean like he wasn’t into blazin’ you know. The needle was his thing, always scrapin’ beans for the needle. But yeah, he had one on his right hand”.

Lewis hit the jackpot. He hadn’t mentioned to the teen what hand. And it was a spare right arm and hand they had. Of course it could all be coincidence, but it was one hell of a coincidence. They walked a couple of blocks to Dumas street and found that in fact there were a row of vacants. It was then the name of the street triggered Marcella’s memory. “Wasn’t this the street that runs parallel to that alley they found one of those kids bikes?”

She was right. He just knew. The owner of the arm must have interfered with the abduction. This guy was leaving no witnesses.

.......

Lewis was vaguely initially aware something was happening as he opened his eyes to the gloom of his bedroom. The green luminescent glow of the display on his alarm clock gave the room an ethereal faint light, almost as if the Northern Lights had visited him overnight. He groaned. 4:40am. His bedside phone was ringing. The phone ringing at this time was never good news. He picked up; Ware was on the other end.

“We have another body. Strouds Run Park. Go to Amesville and take Route 550 to the park. You’ll see the police cordon to the entrance he used”. The phone went dead.
By 5:20 am he was on the road. No point in rushing he reckoned, whoever it was would still be dead in 3 hours. Looking at the map from his glove compartment, he reckoned the journey would take about an hour and a half.

Sure enough as he approached the park on the 550, he could see the flashing lights of the local PD and Forensics people already there, the sun still not risen as 7am approached. There was a side road off the 550 not on the map which stopped abruptly at an opening to a forested area, and the cordon had been set back 50 yards from here. Ware was sitting on the bonnet of their rental talking to Johnson and Marcella, peering over a map with a torch.

“Morning, hope I’m not late to the party” Lewis opened with.

“Just being going over the map sites here. It looks like our killer likes to use obscure entrances. Same pattern in Tar Hollow” Ware announced.

“I wouldn’t roll up the main camp entrance either if I was planning on burying a body” replied Marcella. “How do we know this is about our guy”.

“Couple were camping nearby. Reported seeing what looked like a partially buried skull to the camp reception yesterday. It didn’t get passed onto to the local PD until late last night.” replied Johnson. “That’s when they discovered the rest of the bones. All neatly piled up like Tar Hollow. The local boys here were fairly careful, cottoned on pretty quick to call us. The site’s pretty uncontaminated. Just one pile currently”.

“Where’s McEvoy?” asked Lewis.

“Not picking up at home. Let’s move” replied Ware.

The group began their walk to the site in single file. Lewis could see another small cordoned area about 700 yards beyond the tree line on the park side with Forensics busy at work under artificial portable lighting. The actual site was in an open large grassy clear area of at least 2 acres, with the body apparently having been buried in an island of bushes and a small tree in the clear area. The early morning light began to seep into the day, revealing a grey overcast sky to match their grim discovery.

Lewis regretted not bringing boots as the long grass was soaking wet with early morning dew. The artificial lights of the Forensics squad bleached the color out of the mostly skeletal remains, insects giving the earth around the appearance of a brown puddle simmering. The body had been partially buried and in the ground some time.

Ware distracted the Forensic tech. “Any thing obvious even at this stage ?” he asked. The tech shrugged his shoulders. “All I can say is it’s probably not an adult, or if it is, a very small one. And head trauma. Really nasty head trauma. Skull is cracked open.”

Lewis looked up and around the clearing. A small hill bounded the clearing to the east. And then he saw them. Two other identical areas of bushes and a small tree, each within the clearing.

“Hey Marcie, look” he shouted over to Marcella. They all looked up as he pointed out the other two bushy areas. “What are the chances if we draw a line between those and here, we get another equilateral triangle”.

Marcella smiled as she looked around and back to Lewis. “Looks like we’ve found our missing boys from ’94”.

..........



McEvoy sat on the edge of the bed with his .38 in his hand. No part of him felt real anymore. He felt as if he was observing his life like a camera looking at a perp from the uppermost corner of the interview room. He could observe himself fingering the trigger, trying to get hard, thinking of them. A week night like any other, lone figures leaving the University, leaving their friends houses, going about last minute late night errands. He hadn’t slept well in a week, hadn’t shaved in a week, hadn’t come in a week. His phone was off the hook, the constant dial tone humming softly but incessantly in the background. Tonight he’d go cruising. He’d meet up. He’d please and be pleased.

He saw himself putting on his tank top, his leather jeans. He saw himself drinking the bourbon from the bottle, he saw himself picking up his keys and jumping into the Explorer. It was after midnight. Someone would want him, someone would need him. He needed the rush, adored the rush, that stomach churning whoosh of a rollercoaster. The Explorer disappeared into the black of the night.

......


Spietz was now calling in on daily basis by the end of the first week of the investigation. The media coverage had been minimal within 24 hours of the first press conference but one week on, the news cycle returned to Columbus PD looking for results. And that brought Spietz knocking. And of course the leaks began to appear. No amount of “operationally sensitive” stamps across files could stop gossip, and cops loved to gossip.

The first leak was arguably the worst because Spietz had only just himself heard directly from the task force that now they had nine murders and not just three on their hands by the end of the first week, when the local cable stations got hold of it. And the media loved to obsess on scale, tv announcers adding emphasis to the word nine on their bulletins as if somehow the number was perversely special, a grisly rubicon that had been crossed. Lewis knew that he had made a promise to himself to return to Lima to personally inform Jacob Liddell’s mother of any new information, but he had been usurped by the media. Now he felt like a complete douche.

Publicly Spietz was announcing only the possibility of connected murders to Tar Hollow but the dog on the street knew they were connected. So it was surprising when Spietz called into them all gathered over the photos of the victims and maps to announce he had some news instead for them this November friday morning. The look on his face said whatever had happened was big if not necessarily bad.

“I better let you people know before it breaks but Deputy Commissioner Kearney shot himself last night. He was found by his wife at 8:15 am this morning in his office, used his own service revolver. No note. Given recent developments here with him, I’m requesting two of you down at the scene now.”

“There’s a connection Captain, but he’s not our man. He’s not a good fit” Ware said slightly puzzled.

“We have a witness confirming Kearney knew at least 2 of the victims now historically, we know he’s a pedophile and you keep telling me this guy is forensically aware. That’s enough fit for me to at least go down there” Spietz replied before turning heel and walking out.

Clearly Spietz needed a suspect of some description and if he’s dead, all the better.


McEvoy had resurfaced from what he declared was a bad case of food poisoning. He certainly looked shaken from something but claimed he’d had his best nights sleep in a long time last night. He offered to head down to Kearney’s residence with Marcella.

Lewis was picking Johnson’s mind over the spread out photos of the deceased boys and maps of the scene as she tried to connect them beyond being black, male and young.. Both Miller and DeShawn were known BobCat baseball fans. Both Miller and Pinces were involved in the pool parties. Both Liddell and Roberts were athletic and heavily involved in highschool sports, but different sports, and not baseball. None of them were astrophysicists or astronauts. The scenes from ’94 and ’98 bore some significant similarities also. Three bodies arranged the same way was the obvious connection, but there were others. The killer had gone to the trouble of doing some minor gardening in both sites by planting Poison ivy, Horsenettle and Jimsonweed along. The was a theory he’d done this in an attempt to stop wildlife digging at the bodies. Veterinarian advice had told them it wouldn’t really have stopped a hungry cougar who came across a burial site that was fresh unless he was planting whole fresh plants. The other similarity was the topography. Both sites lay in open spaces near a tree-line, and an access road to a major highway or main road was the preferred approach as opposed to using official Park Trails.


McEvoy was gathering his A4 pad and pens as he peered at the victim pictures. The pictures were those taken most recent to when the boys were alive. There was the Miller boy with his Volkswagen badge on a chain, Deshawn with his Bobcats baseball cap on, little Jayden proudly perched on his new bike, big muscular Aaron with a swim medal and hat clutched in his hand.

“C’mon Jim, let’s get there before the cable station news vans flood the place” Marcella urged.

“One minute” McEvoy mumbled as he arranged the pictures. Lewis and Johnson looked on with curiosity. “Do you see it” he asked the room quietly.

“See what?” Johnson replied.

“Can you not see it?” he repeated again quietly. “They are growing. Progressing. He chooses them for their size. Both groups of boys. One is small, next is average, one is physically the biggest. He has watched them, known this, chosen them specifically. It’s not random, it’s not opportunistic.”.

They all looked as McEvoy arranged the pictures in order of size. He was right.

Just then WXYS local cable news had a breaking news announcement on the tiny 14 inch tv Ware had requested be placed in the top left inside corner of the room. Ware felt they were moving to a point where the media coverage might incite the killer if his ego was big enough. Or it might scare him to be more careful. Either way they needed to be abreast of what was in the public domain about their killer and if possible, harness it in some way.

“In a sensational development to the Tar Hollow murders and up to 6 other murders, Deputy Commissioner Kearney was found shot dead in his own study this morning having apparently committed suicide. Well known business man turned pedophile and friend of Deputy Commissioner Kearney, Frederick Timmonds, was interviewed by agents investigating Tar Hollow over the weekend. The killer who is apparently obsessed with aliens and nicknamed The X-Files Killer by the investigating task force still eludes capture although sources close to the agents believe Kearney may be involved. Back to you in studio Chrissy” The reporter signed off.

Ware exploded, throwing his almost empty coffee cup flying at the tv. “God fucking Damn, why not just get a fucking camera in this room and shoot the news from here altogether.” He stormed past Lewis to the door and slammed it on the way out. Lewis had a good idea where he was headed . Only Spietz had that level of detail about the notes and Timmonds outside the task force. The leak was either Spietz or one of them and he was pretty sure it wasn’t one of them.

--------

Marcella hopped into McEvoy’s Explorer and immediately noticed the smell. “How many air freshener’s you let loose in this vehicle Detective?” she remarked. “What ever smell you were trying to hide must have been god awful that you had to resort to this.”

McEvoy laughed a little. “My cat crawled up in the hood a few days ago, went 5 miles before I noticed. Left a hell of a mess.” He grinned at her.

“Errr, sorry to hear about your cat there Jim” Marcella replied.

“He wasn’t really mine anyway”. McEvoy was staring at her in an expressionless way.

He turned the keys in the ignition and they pulled out. Marcella felt a shiver go down her spine. He’s such a fucking oddball she thought. He was always strange but lately he had been taking it to a new level.

“You here about Wilkins and Diez last night?” she offered as a way to break the awkward silence as they skated through morning traffic.

“Nope” McEvoy replied.

“Yeah, they caught another face shooting on Elwood Avenue. The first one died two days ago in hospital, shot about a week ago. Never woke up.”

She paused, not even sure if McEvoy was listening.

“I mean, they don’t know for sure, but they reckon it’s the same shooter. Ballistics will tell I guess for sure. But they got two upstanding unrelated citizens for vics, not gang bangers. Not the usual tale.”

Marcella waited for a response from McEvoy. Something, anything by way of response would be ok. A grunt, a “O.K.”, a “sorry didn’t catch that last bit” but he just stared at the red light they were at. The lights changed and he accelerated quickly.

It was a full ten more minutes of silence endured before they got to Kearney’s town house. The media were at a distance of about 10 meters behind the police cordon around the front door porch and entrance. No less than two Forensics vans were parked outside as well as three cruisers and the coroners truck. The usual milleu of rubber neckers and uniformed officers going to and from the front door was notable for the presence of Chief Commissioner Simowitz who seemed to be busy comforting Kearney’s wife. Wonder how long the pleasant condolences last before it all comes out in the wash she thought.

The Forensics people were already carrying out desktop computers and boxes containing files. They headed into the main hall. Kearney’s study was the second room to the left after the main living room which had access via a large wooden sliding divider into his study. The body was about to be bagged. Kearney had taken his own life with his own service Glock 19, putting it into his mouth by the looks of things, and slumped to the floor. The spray of brains and skull lay spattered across the pale cream blinds behind his chair.

The usual framed documents telling the story of Kearney’s rise through the force lay on the walls, with a large picture of a photo of Clinton looking down on them with that big shit eating grin of his. A small spatter of blood covered Clinton’s left hand. The theme of the office was definitely “wooden library” with tall dark wooden shelving from floor to ceiling making the room feel smaller and darker than it actually was. Marcella noticed the usual police tomes on evidence handling, community policing and so forth as well as a 6 volume set of bibles. And in the far corner, a mid sized telescope and a section of books on astronomy.

“Take any boots and shoes away too please” Marcella asked of one of the Forensics Team. “And also, take a look in the garden shed”. They might as well go through the motions she sighed.

……….

Lewis felt he should go in to the office but he was reluctant because he wasn’t quite sure what he’d do or say in there. He could understand why Spietz was anxious for a break or at least a suspect, and he could understand why Ware was furious about media leaks, or least he thought he understood why. But he was wary of taking sides in a row that didn’t really have a possibility of being settled amicably. Spietz would deny it and bemoan the lack of progress. Ware would say he knew it was Spietz using deductive reasoning, both would get mad and then, energy and frustration on both sides exhausted, it would end with an uneasy peace.

One thing that was certain in all this was that Spietz would still be his boss by Spring or whenever this thing was finally over. Sure enough, Ware reappeared twenty minutes later looking somewhat flustered. They were here a week now and Spietz had a point. They were making progress in identifying a profile but that wasn’t translating into a list of actual suspects. Sure they had a list of possible links to the victims to interview yet, sure they had some outstanding forensics from Strouds Run Park to wait on, but at the end of that, what was left to do? A search for a well built African American man or KKK activist who was interested in space and may or may not be an upstanding citizen that probably lived in his own house? This all looked a bit half baked.

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