Despite his alcohol fuelled late night encounter in Barnaby’s Bar, Luke still managed to wake early the next morning in preparation to once again revisit his troublesome caseload.
He anticipated another day of sitting at his desk staring at the files, reading and re-reading all the evidence in the hope that a vital clue would pop up.
It wasn’t until he was brushing his teeth that Luke’s hazy memory recalled the friendly old man from the bar last night. A smile filled his face as he rinsed his toothbrush. He admired the old guy for what he did. He was clearly trying to put the brakes on Luke’s downward spiral into an out of control bender, and he did that.
For that, Luke was appreciative. He realized the old guy was a former cop with many years of Homicide experience looking out for what he probably perceived was an inexperienced young cop with some difficult cases.
Luke scoffed to himself when he recalled the old man’s incredible, even implausible theories and suggestions as to who he unrealistically believed were Luke’s murderers.
His smile of admiration shifted to one of cynicism. Shaking his heavy head, Luke was a little annoyed at how the old guy thought he could just sit there in a bar late at night, with a young cop he had never met, and simply listen to a summary of some murder cases, and without examining any evidence whatsoever, make these bold predictions about how to find the offenders, with complete confidence and certainty.
Once he arrived at work, his Wednesday morning in the office was an almost seamless continuation from how Luke finished the night before, and the night before that. He felt he was living his own real life version of the Hollywood movie Groundhog Day.
The contents from his case files were spread across his desk without any apparent semblance of a system to the untrained eye. His head rested on his hands while he commenced to re-read his files and case notes.
Luke removed his note book to consult some notes he had taken during one of his cases. He began flicking through the pages when he paused on a page with what appeared to be notes written in almost indecipherable hand writing.
He froze on the page open in front of him. Luke lifted his eyes in contemplation about what was written on the page. Did I write that?
The cobwebs in his hung-over brain were starting to clear. His eyes dropped back to his notes. They were the notes he had scribbled down last night while in the bar with the old man.
Shit I must’ve been drunk...I can hardly read that.
Luke read to himself the note he scrawled out. “Revisit Emily’s house & check if basement had been repainted or renovated. Smart ass old man says Emily is in the wall?????.”
Luke’s eyes lifted from his notes. He glanced around the bull pen at his industrious colleagues, each of whom was attending to their own respective caseloads. He considered the merits in following through with his undertaking to the old man.
His eyes dropped back to his cluttered desk. stuff it, he conceded. At least a drive to Boerum Hill will get me out of the office for a while.
Luke continued flicking further through his notes. He read an instruction to himself to ring the parents of Claire O’Connor before they discard her purse. Luke’s eyes lifted to the ceiling while he processed what he read and why it was written. It was slowly coming back to him. The old man thought there was probably a camera, or a recorder in the purse.
Luke began sifting through the files on his desk to locate the case file relating to the murder of newspaper journalist, Claire O’Connor to locate a contact number for her parents in New Jersey.
Following a series of rings a female voice answered the telephone.
‘Hello…’ The voice was not that of a young woman. Claire’s parents were in their late sixties so he assumed it was her mother.
‘Hello, my name is Detective Luke Fox from the 84th Precinct in Brooklyn. I was looking for Mrs. O’Connor please.’
‘Hello Detective. I remember you. This is Mrs. O’Connor. What can I do for you…? Do you have some good news for us?’ she asked. ‘Have you found our daughter’s killer?’
'Not at this stage, Mrs O'Connor, but our inquiries are still ongoing at this time,' Luke reluctently said, ' I have however received some new information,' Luke said, which in reality was a little white lie, but it sounded reassuring to the family. 'As a result of this new information I am interested in re-examining some of Claire’s possessions. Do you still have the box of Claire's possession you collected from us recently?'
'We do. We sealed the box with duct tape. Everything is in Claire’s old bedroom.'
'Fantastic,' Luke said. 'When would be a convenient time for me to drive out there to Jersey and collect them from you?'
'My husband and I are travelling to Brooklyn later this week to visit some friends. I would be more than happy to drop the box off at the 84th if that is more suitable,' She said.
Luke accepted the kind offer before ending the call.
After hanging up the phone Luke took a second to compose himself. He scanned his desk to remember where he was up to. ‘Ah yes…Boerum Hill, that’s right …’ he recalled.
He knew if he was quick enough he would catch Emily Dupree’s mom, Megan before she left for work. But more importantly, Megan’s husband should have left for his work by this time.
The drive to Boerum Hill from the 84th was quicker than Luke had anticipated. While the peak hour traffic was building it still moved steadily.
It wasn’t long before Luke rolled his vehicle along Ocean Street towards number 404.
Parking space availability in the one-way street was particularly limited. One of the characteristics of Brooklyn’s Terraced house living is the lack of off-road parking. All residents have no option but to park their vehicle in the street outside their homes, or as close as possible.
Luke had to drive a couple of laps of the block before he came across a vehicle exiting a car park about 100 yards east of the Dupree’s home.
He quickly parked his vehicle in the now vacant parking spot, secured his car and made his way to number 404.
Megan Dupree was surprised to see Luke when she opened her front door in response to his knock. She was dressed ready for work, but still had time to meet with him. She invited him in for a coffee, an offer he readily accepted.
Luke suspected that when Megan saw him at her front door she would have assumed, if not hoped that he was the bearer of good news in relation to her missing daughter. Unfortunately her expectations couldn’t be further off the mark. He was actually there as a promise to an old retired Homicide cop that he would conduct some inquiries to verify whether Emily’s step-father was responsible for her disappearance.
Megan handed Luke his coffee before lowering herself into the chair opposite him at her kitchen table. It was a little distressing to Luke when Megan explained how upset she and Kirk had been since Emily disappeared. She explained how she didn’t think she would’ve made it this far if it wasn’t for the love and support she received from Kirk. ‘He is my rock,’ she proudly said.
Right then, at the moment, Luke hoped like hell the old man was wrong. This would tear her apart if in fact her “rock”, a person she relied on and clearly loved, actually took away the most important thing in her life – her eight year old little girl.
The problem Luke faced was, he was at a stalemate with this investigation. He had looked at every possible lead. He had even considered Emily’s biological father as a suspect, in revenge to Megan leaving him. Fortunately for the father, he had a water tight alibi – he was overseas at the time.
Luke realized that every day that passed where Emily was not found was another day these people were without their child, or unable to receive closure as to what actually happened to Emily. It’s another day that slowly erodes away any hope they have, or the likelihood of finding their little girl alive.
Luke replaced his cup on the table. ‘I was going over the evidence recently and I was trying to get an understanding of your home…so I could work out how somebody was able to access your house when your front door was locked,’ Luke began. Megan nodded as she took a sip from her coffee. ‘Then I remembered that I didn’t check the basement very thoroughly. I can’t remember if there were any entry points that could have been used.’
Megan nodded as if she understood where Luke was going. ‘Well, there are only the windows along the street side, but they were checked—weren’t they?’
Luke nodded. ‘Yes they were…I checked those first. But I was just wondering if there was any other way. You know…could there have been access through one of the adjoining row house properties that share a common wall, for example?’
Megan’s eyes dropped to the table in front of her as she processed Luke’s comments. ‘I never thought of that. I don’t think that was checked at all,’ she said.
Mindful Megan would be leaving for work shortly Luke checked his watch. He suggested that he should probably head down to the basement and take a quick look around, so he can better understand the layout, and to remove the possibility of a shared wall being an entry point.
Both Megan and Luke made their way down the creaking timber stairs into the “L” shaped basement. The room was about 3.5 to 4 yards wide and ran the width of the property. To the left, four street level windows about two feet by one foot situated high up the wall, just below the basement ceiling, filled the cluttered room with natural light. To the right was a dark blue colored painted wall situated under the main house.
At the end farthest from the stairs, the room turned at right angles to the right forming a small alcove about 2.5 yards deep by 2.5 yards wide. Kirk had established this area as his workshop. A tool shadow board complete with a cache of tools that would be the envy of any tradesman was fixed to the wall.
Below it stood a solid timber workbench that, along with a tool storage cupboard, occupied most of the floor space in this alcove.
In the area of the basement immediately outside the workshop alcove was a three seat sofa in front of a flat screen television. Off to the side was a full sized refrigerator.
Luke assumed by the way the room was set up it was definitely a male domain-- a man cave. Megan verified this observation when she said that she rarely came down here.
The words of the old man were resonating in Luke’s mind. “Look for any indication of recent renovations.”
The only dry wall sheet in the basement was the wall running the length of house, to the alcove. The wall on the street side of the room, below the high placed windows was below ground level and was solid concrete, which presumably formed part of the foundations.
Luke rubbed his hand over the dark blue painted wall. It was definitely freshly painted. Intentionally moving away from the wall to stand in the middle of the room, Luke pirouetted around as he scanned the room. ‘Have you done some renovations down here recently?’ Luke asked.
Megan’s mouth inverted and she shook her head. ‘No…No this room could do with a makeover,’ she said as she scanned the room’s floor space. ‘But no, nothing’s been done down here for years.’
Luke nodded. That last comment caused him the most concern. The paint he felt on the main wall under the house was definitely not years old. Fresh paint was easy to discern from paint that was years old. But at this stage he chose to play down his concerns. ‘So this wall color…’ Luke said as he dragged his hand across the wall. ‘This has been on here for years…?’ he said as a question.
Megan nodded as she cast her eyes over the wall. ‘That wall color was there long before Em and I moved into this house,’ she said. ‘That’s how old it is…’
‘I was just thinking a lighter color might brighten the room a bit, don’t you think?’ Luke said. It was clearly an attempt to deflect any concerns Megan may have with Luke’s interest in the wall.
Megan smiled. ‘I said the same thing… but it’s nothing to do with me…This is Kirk’s little escape down here,’ She scanned the mess and clutter on the floor. ‘If he wants it this color…’ she flicked her hand at the wall and shrugged, ‘then it’s up to him. I don’t have a say in it…nor do I really care.’
Luke smiled before he went through the charade of searching the basement to eliminate the possibility their house was somehow accessed from this subterranean room. When in reality, he didn’t give a damn. It was the wall that was the focus of his interest, or more importantly, what may be behind it.
Megan glanced at her watch. ‘I’m really sorry to have to do this Detective…’ she jabbed her thumb back over her shoulder towards the basement stairs. ‘But I have to go if I am going to be at work on time.’
Luke raised his hand to Megan. ‘Of course. I’m sorry to have kept you. I’ve finished my little check here. Everything is as I expected,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to be responsible for you being late.’
When they returned to the first floor Luke continued to move toward the front door. As Megan opened the front door for Luke he thanked her for the coffee and the opportunity to allow him to check out the basement.
During his stroll back to his vehicle Luke started to consider how the old man could be onto something with this case. Maybe the similarities the old man formed to one of his own cases had merit.
Luke remembered he promised the old man that if there was any indication of recent renovations in the basement, he would agree to follow through with the next stage—conduct inquiries with hardware stores in the area.
Before driving from his rare parking space Luke accessed his mobile phone’s internet browser in search of building material outlets in the immediate vicinity. Within minutes he had a short list of three stores in the immediate area that sold drywall sheeting and associated accessories.
The first two building material outlets Luke tried came up empty. Neither store had sold drywall sheeting around the time Megan went to Manhattan. He had one store left to try before he would have to consider widening his search parameters.
Luke parked and secured his unmarked police vehicle in the off-road customer park of Harrisons Hardware and Building Supplies on Sturt Street and made his way into the store.
The outlet was one of the larger stores in the area and supplied the various Boerum Hill trades.
After making himself known to the floor staff he was escorted to a small office located behind the front counter. The large Venetian blind covered window in the front of the office overlooked the entire store.
At the office Luke met the store manager who introduced himself as Stan. He was a slim built man in his late fifties, with short grey hair and gold rimmed glasses worn on his weathered face.
Judging from the Manager's appearance, Luke suspected Stan was probably once an outdoor tradesman, such as a builder who had changed directions and moved from using the tools to selling them.
Both men shook hands.
‘How can I help you Detective?’
’I am interested in finding out if there were any purchases of drywall sheets and accessories on, or around the weekend of the 3rd or 4th of this month,’ Luke said.
Stan invited Luke to take a seat opposite him at his desk while he began tapping on his desktop computer keyboard, with one finger from each hand.
‘If you can bear with me while I access our sales records for this month…I’ll see what I can find out,’ Stan said. He continued to tap keys on his keyboard.
‘Thank you,’ Luke said as he crossed his legs and reclined back in his chair. He glanced around the office and its basic decor while he waited.
Stan peered over the top of his gold rimmed glasses at Luke with a puzzled expression. ‘What day were you interested in again…?’ He asked.
‘Ah, the 3rd or the 4th of this month – they were a Saturday and a Sunday,’ Luke said.
Stan nodded and then returned his focus to his computer screen and continued to tap on the keyboard.
After several minutes of silence, Stan removed his gold rim glasses revealing red marks on either side of the bridge of his nose. He held the glasses in his hand and leant onto an elbow. ‘I have the sales records from the 3rd here. They are broken down by department. What is it you’re looking for again?’ he asked.
Luke uncrossed his legs and leaned his elbows on the desk, straining his neck to try and see the computer screen. ‘I’m looking for any purchases of drywall, and or drywall accessories...you know things such as patching compound, jointing tape—’
‘Drywall nails, hand sander…things like that,’ Stan continued.
Luke smiled. ‘Exactly.’
‘Well…’ Stan began, ‘It looks like we sold a number of items on Saturday the 3rd that could be used to hang drywall,’ he said. ‘Oh wait…’ Stan moved his mouse and tapped a couple of keys before studying his screen further. 'It appears that we had a delivery of one 10 feet x 4 feet sheet of drywall on Saturday morning. The delivery was from a sale at…’ Stan moved his head closer to the monitor. ‘9.15am,’ he said.
‘Was that all that was purchased…one 10 x 4 drywall sheet?’ Luke asked.
Stan returned his focus to his computer screen. ‘Ah, yes that was—oh wait…’ Stan cut himself off. ‘Actually no…that was part of a larger purchase,’ Stan said as his continued to read the computer screen. ‘I think this may be what you are looking for, Detective. I have a $220 purchase at 9.15am on the 3rd and the 10 x 4 drywall sheet was part of that purchase.’ Stan rose from his chair.
‘What else was purchased?’ Luke asked. He watched Stan move to the corner of his office.
Stan pointed at the printer. ‘I’m just printing it for you now,’ he said hovering over the printer while it finished its run.
Stan lifted the printed sheet and read it out to Luke. ‘Ok…’ Stan began as he moved back to his seat. ‘The drywall was part of ten items that were purchased. By the looks of it I would say the purchaser was doing a bit of DIY coz he’s bought everything he’d require to hang a sheet of drywall.’
‘What’s on the list?’
’The 10 x 4 drywall sheet we mentioned… drywall nails, jointing tape, hand sander and 150 grit sand paper…a four inch broad knife, rapid patch compound, a hand saw and trimming knife. Oh, and there was also a tin of interior paint, a paint roller and tray and heavy duty industrial plastic sheeting. Total purchase was $220,’ Stan said.
‘Does it say there what color the tin of paint was?’ Luke asked.
’Ah…yep, it was tinted in the color Stream, which from memory, is a shade of dark blue,’ Stan said.
Luke sat back in his chair, a little stunned by the revelations. Kirk’s basement wall was a dark blue color. ‘How did the customer pay for the goods?’
Stan placed the printout onto his desk then consulted his computer screen. After tapping two or three times on his keyboard he answered. ‘It looks like it was paid by a Chase Bank Debit card…the payment was from a savings account,’ Stan said.
Luke nodded. ‘OK…so you will have the account number in your merchant banking details…?’ Luke said as a question.
‘Correct,’ Stan nodded. His eyes returned to his computer where performed a series of clicks on his mouse. ‘OK…I’m just printing that for you now.’ Stan pushed himself from his desk and moved to stand by the printer.
‘Do you have the address where the drywall sheet was delivered to?’
Stan placed the second printout onto his desk and returned to his keyboard and tapped it a couple of times. ‘Ah…yep, there it is…We delivered it to, 404 Ocean Street,’ Stan said. ‘It’s only just around the corner actually.’ Stan pointed somewhere off to his right.
Luke nodded. ‘Thanks, I’m familiar with the address.’ Luke pointed to the computer screen. ‘Does it record there who the sales attendant was?’
Stan’s focus returned to his monitor. ‘Ah…yes it does. It was employee…3314.’ Stan slid a white spring back folder from a shelf and began flicking through the pages. He ran his finger down a page and stopped about two thirds of the way down. ‘Ah… OK. Employee 3314 is Grant Packer.’ Stan looked out through the front office window to the main floor area. ‘Grant is currently on register two at the moment…Do you want to speak with him?’
‘If I could please...’
Stan pushed himself away from his desk. ‘Give me a minute,’ he said then he quickly exited the office.
A short time later Stan returned to the office with a young nervous looking, clean faced male in his early twenties.
‘This is Detective Fox…’ Stan said to Grant. ‘He just wants to have a quick word with you about something.’
Luke stood from his seat and shook the young man’s hand. ‘How are you...Grant is it?’ Luke said.
The young man nodded. ‘Yes.’
‘You haven’t done anything wrong. You can relax…Take a seat,’ Luke indicated the chair beside him. Grant’s shoulders relaxed a little. His grin was one of relief as he lowered himself into the chair. His questioning eyes moved towards Stan then back to Luke.
‘I want to ask you some questions about a sale you rang through the register on Saturday the 3rd of this month,’ Luke said.
Grant looked at this watch. ‘The 3rd…?’ he repeated as a question.
Luke nodded. ‘That’s correct…the 3rd. I know it was some weeks ago now, but I think the sale was one that you may possibly remember.’
Grant nodded. ‘OK. I’ll see what I can do.’
Luke pointed to the printout of the product list they had been discussing that was now on Stan’s desk. ‘Can Grant look at that please?’
Stan handed Grant the printout that listed the purchases in the transaction. Grant accepted the printout and commenced to read.
‘There were a number of items that are used to hang drywall which were purchased in that one sale,’ Luke said. Grant didn’t respond. He continued to read the printout. ‘I was wondering if you can remember that sale…or who made the purchase.’
‘Oh…the drywall guy...’ Grant suddenly blurted as he lifted his eyes to Luke.
Luke frowned. ‘The drywall guy…?’ Luke repeated.
‘Ah, yeah that’s just what I called him, coz he bought some drywall, but…yes I remember him,’ Grant said.
Luke smiled. ‘You do…? That’s great. What do you remember?’
Grant lowered his eyes back to the printout. ‘I commented on all the materials he was buying…I think I said… “looks like you’ve got a busy day ahead of you…” or something like that,’ Grant said. ‘He told me that one of the water pipes under his house had burst so he had to remove a sheet of drywall to get under there and fix it, and now he has to replace the drywall. I remember him now. He asked if we could deliver the sheet of drywall to his house.’
‘Can you remember what he looked like…? Can you describe him?’
Grant scratched the side of his head. ‘Um…about my height – 5 9 or 10,’ he began. ‘Um…,’ he lifted his eyes to the ceiling. ‘He was a thin man, a little quiet, um….he had short brown hair, you know, thinning on top…’
‘By “thinning”, do you mean receding...?’
’Yeah, you know…’ Grant said, ‘Going bald…a lot of forehead.’
Luke nodded his understanding as Grant continued.
‘But he was friendly enough though.’ Grant recalled. ‘Oh…’ Grant said. ‘He wore those glasses that don’t have any frames on them...’ he said. ‘You know… the ones that are just glass only, with the arms attached.’
Luke nodded. ‘That’s great Grant…Thank you. Do you think you would remember this customer if you saw him again?’ Luke asked.
‘Oh yeah…definitely. He was a nice man.’
Luke thanked Grant for his time and he was released to return to his work.
After requesting copies of the printouts they had discussed and the delivery docket, Luke left the hardware outlet.
Back at his car Luke sat for a moment while he tried to process what he had learned. The purchase of the building materials by a person matching Kirk Wallace’s description was certainly suspicious, especially when the purchases were made on the weekend that Megan was away; the same weekend when Emily mysteriously disappeared.
The purchases certainly suggested that a drywall was replaced in Emily’s home on, or around the weekend of the 3rd. Kirk told the sales assistant he was repairing a basement wall. The paint Luke checked on the basement wall was definitely fresh, but Megan earlier that day told Luke there had been no recent renovations in the basement.
Maybe Kirk didn’t tell her about the burst pipe. But did all that point to Kirk killing his step daughter and hiding her body in the wall? Luke shook his head. It didn’t look good.
It was evident that Luke needed to check behind that newly fitted drywall sheet, but how? Was there a way that allowed the checking of wall cavities without damaging the wall? What if he was wrong? What if there was water pipe damage under their house? Luke was particularly mindful of how this would impact on Megan if he was wrong. He decided to return to the 84th to make further inquiries with his Crime Scene Investigators to try and pick their brain for ideas.
Back at his desk Luke made a call to Phil Duff, the Crime Scene investigator who attended Emily’s home the morning she was discovered missing. He updated Phil on his findings in relation to the drywall purchases by Kirk Wallace and inquired if he knew of a way to look behind a standard drywall.
‘Sure do…’ Phil replied. ‘We have a wireless inspection camera that we use just for such a purpose.’
‘OK…great. How does that work…? Does it damage the wall at all?’
‘Very little,’ Phil advised. ‘A camera is fitted to the end of a three foot long flexible cable. It has four bright LED lights at the tip with the camera. We do have to drill a small hole about 3/8 of an inch into the drywall then all we do is thread the camera in through the hole to allow a visual inspection of whatever is behind the wall. The images are displayed on the small hand held monitor. If there is nothing there the hole is filled up.’
‘Fantastic…That’s exactly what I need.’
‘Get yourself a warrant…’ Phil suggested. ‘It is my experience that there are not too many people who will consent to having holes drilled into their walls by inquisitive police.’