Read Vicious Online

Authors: Debra Webb

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #General, #Southern Crime, #Police Procedural, #Faces of Evil Series, #Sibling Murderers, #Starting Over, #Reunited Lovers, #Southern Thriller, #Obsessed Serial Killer

Vicious (20 page)

BOOK: Vicious
13.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“Send our surveillance detail. He’s headed to the gallery. We’ll catch up with them there. I have a stop to make first.”

“Chief Burnett won’t be happy about that.”

Ellis’s Jaguar was already rolling down the driveway and here they were debating an order on the street. “Do it. Now, Lieutenant.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Jess settled into the passenger seat of Hayes’s Audi. Her frustration mounted as she watched Ellis’s Jag fading out of sight. Finally the BPD cruiser rolled out after him. “Jesus.” She took a couple of deep breaths.

Hayes settled into the driver’s seat. “Where to now?”

“The morgue.” Maybe Lori would have that warrant for the gallery and Ellis’s home soon.

No doubt word had traveled to the Vance sisters by now. They were wanted women.

Ellis’s cage had been rattled. Time to find out what else the victims had to say.


Jefferson County Coroner’s Office, 10:50 a.m.

“It took some time,” Sylvia Baron announced, “but I found the culprit your killer used to disable the victims.”

“Not one of the usual date rape drugs?” Jess glanced at the lieutenant who seemed perfectly fine standing next to Mr. Thomas’s body on a cold steel slab.

“Nope.” Sylvia pointed to a spot on the victim’s upper thigh, near the groin. “This is the injection site. I found one on the shoulders of the other two victims.”

“They disabled him with the stun gun and then injected him with…?” Jess prompted.

“Curare. A skeletal muscle relaxant. One of those organic compounds you have to be looking for to find.” Sylvia waved her hand and made a face. “It wouldn’t show up in a routine tox screen. I looked for the most common paralyzing agents until I found the one used. Just the right amount of Curare paralyzes. A little too much and the respiratory system shuts down.”

Jess couldn’t wait until the county saw the bill for that one. Police business was like most others these days, trying to find ways to cut costs. “So we were right about Templeton and Burgess not being able to fight back.”

were right,” Sylvia corrected. “You pointed out the fact that neither victim fought their restraints. Good catch, Harris. I gave you full credit on the orders for testing. Now I won’t have to listen to my boss complain about my decisions.”

Jess flashed her a fake smile. “That was thoughtful of you.” What a friend! “You have the cause of death on Thomas yet?” She’d said earlier that the triple stun gun hit hadn’t been the culprit.

“Drug induced asphyxiation. They gave him too much of the Curare.”

Hayes checked his cell. “I’ll take this in the corridor,” he said to Jess as he backed out the door.

Her thoughts were on the Curare. The ways the Vance sisters may have gotten their hands on the drug ticked off in Jess’s mind. Making it was risky business, but it could be done.

“So you’re staying at Dan’s now?”

Jess frowned at the ME. “What? Yes. Just until we get this Spears thing under control.” She wasn’t about to feed the rumor mill.

Sylvia peeled off her gloves and headed for the sink. “Gina and I have a bet on how long it’ll be before the two of you are married. I think I might win.”

“Is that a fact?” Jess checked her cell, wished she would get a call, too. Where the heck was Hayes?

“Are you going to be one of those over forty women who start having babies right away?” Sylvia tossed a paper towel into the trash. “You don’t want to let all those eggs shrivel up and die and, of course, we wouldn’t want vaginal atrophy to set in. Women like us are behind the curve, Harris.”

Now she was just fishing. If Jess weren’t standing here already pregnant, she would have been offended. Maybe she was anyway. Dammit. But she gave Sylvia grace. After all, her husband had left her for a younger woman who immediately gave him a child. What they needed was a subject change.

“Officer Cook seems to be quite smitten with you.”

The abrupt change of subject startled the ME, but she quickly regained her mental footing. “I’m aware.”

“He’s young and naïve.”

Sylvia smiled. “He is young. I don’t know how naïve he is.” She inclined her head. “Get to your point, Harris. Do you have an issue with older women dating younger men?”

“Absolutely not.” Jess held up her hands. “It’s just that he’s on my team and I don’t want any work issues cropping up.”

“You have my word there will be no issues.”

“Good. Cook is a nice guy. Don’t break his heart.”

Sylvia smiled. “It’s not his heart I’m interested in.”

Hayes poked his head in. “We have to roll, Chief.”

Dread pooled in her belly. “We have another murder?”

Hayes shook his head. “The lab found traces of linseed oil, vermilion and cinnabar in the bleached blond hair from the Homewood house.” At Jess’s look of confusion he added, “Elements commonly found in the oil paint artists use.”

That was the best news Jess had heard all morning. Maybe it was coincidence that Selma Vance had paint in her hair. Maybe Ellis had never laid eyes on her or her sister before today. But now Jess had an excuse to push him a little harder.


109 Broadway, 12:30 p.m.

The tail she’d put on Ellis had lost him. Of course, rather than coming to the gallery as he’d said, he disappeared. Ellis was not here or at his home. He was not answering his phone. He was gone. Dammit.

Now what she needed was evidence. She couldn’t put a BOLO out on him without some way to connect him to the crimes or some aspect of this investigation that suggested he was in danger.

She had zip on the guy, except for two uniforms and a detective wasting time out here on the sidewalk waiting for a search warrant to be inked. Jess was ready to explode.

Dammit all to hell!

Hayes’s phone rang. Jess held her breath while he took the call.

“Thank you,” he said to the caller, then he put his phone away. “Warrant’s signed. We can go in.”

The door was open in under a minute.

“There’s a second floor,” Jess said as they entered the gallery. “We don’t want to miss anything.”

The two uniforms rushed ahead to get to the stairs. “Lieutenant, I’ll look around down here. See if there’s a hidden storeroom or a basement around here.”

Hayes gave her a two-fingered salute and headed toward the rear of the gallery.

Jess checked behind the paintings hanging on the wall. She lifted them away just enough to ensure there were no hiding places. Then she moved on to the sitting areas. A few minutes were required to check for any thing hidden under the sofa and chair cushions. She did discover a small office, but the desk and a lone file cabinet were locked.

Looked like they were going to need a locksmith.


She followed the sound of Hayes’s voice. “Yes, Lieutenant?”

“Found a storeroom.”

Jess followed him to the back of the gallery where Ellis had been speaking to the visitors from Montgomery. A massive painting of Birmingham, three or four feet wide and six or seven feet in height, hung at one end of the room. Hayes pulled the painting away from the wall. To her surprise, it was hinged like a door.

Jess moved closer to the room he revealed. The light inside was already turned on. The space was set up like a small gallery. The walls, ceiling and floor were black. On those black walls were a dozen or so paintings. Savage death scenes from someone’s gruesome imagination were captured on the canvas. At least she hoped it was only their imaginations.

Her breath caught when she spotted one of Logan Thomas. The image was just as she had found his body in the bedroom of Dan’s old apartment. In the painting, the view of downtown Birmingham was framed in the bedroom window. She moved back through the paintings she’d just viewed, looking for landmarks, until she found one that showed what appeared to be the Eiffel Tower in the distance outside a window.

“We need photos of these paintings sent to the detective in Paris.” Some of these could very well depict victims from the murders he had told Lori about.


Hayes was at the far end of the room staring at a painting she hadn’t reached yet. He glanced at her, and something in his expression told her he’d discovered something significant. Before she realized she’d taken a step, she was moving toward him.

The painting was of her… asleep in Dan’s bed. The tufted headboard, the paisley comforter, the crystal lamp on her side of the bed…

Dan was there, too. Blood was everywhere, all over the covers. She forced her mind to wrap around the rest of what she saw. Dan’s chest had been pried open and inside there was nothing but a dark empty void where his heart should be.

An image of the headstone Dan had told her about jumbled into the mix of horrible scenes in this room.

She leaned closer to get a better look at the bottom right hand corner of the painting. Her heart thumped harder as she read the artist’s signature.
. Jess straightened, took a deep steadying breath. “Lieutenant, let Detective Wells know we have sufficient evidence for the search warrant of the Vance home. She and Sergeant Harper are to conduct that search immediately.”

Her chest felt so tight it was almost impossible to take a breath.
Keep it together
. “Also, have a BOLO issued for Ellis. Let Agent Manning at the local Bureau office know we have a potential international suspect they’re going to want to talk to. Immediate action is necessary since Ellis is a flight risk.” She stared at the painting. “I think maybe he has considerable experience slipping away from trouble.”

Hayes was already talking to someone. Lori probably. Jess needed to call Dan and Gant. Her entire being felt numb now. They needed a crime scene unit at Dan’s house. Someone had been watching them there.

A new kind of fear planted firmly, deeply inside her.



Dunbrooke Drive, 2:40 p.m.

Crime scene unit folks were exploring every room in Dan’s house. Jess sorely wished she had picked up a bit before she left this morning, but she’d had little sleep and her mind hadn’t been on housekeeping.

Then again it rarely was.

Now everyone would know what a slacker she was around the house. Funny, her office and notes might look chaotic to others but were actually highly organized. Maybe she could convince all those sifting through her things right now that this was in reality a carefully choreographed order.

She imagined most of those prowling through Dan’s house wondered why she was living here. At this point, the rest of the department and the mayor could think what they would.

Spears had made it clear what his intentions for Dan were. Her heart ached, the fear crushing it against her ribs. She could not let that happen. Her stomach clenched, reminding her that there was even more at stake now. She could not allow Spears to catch her off guard.

Besides department personnel, Dan had called in a friend who worked in security systems. Benton Thompson helped out the BPD in situations like this. Between Thompson and their own tech wizard, Ricky Vernon from the lab, they usually found their way around any issue involving electronics and the World Wide Web. Add to the horde, Jerry Griggs the supervisor from the security company who monitored Dan’s house, and it was a regular circus around here.

“Got something here!”

Hugging her bag like a lifeline, Jess followed the voice to the guest room. Dan came in right behind her. Thompson was on a ladder digging something from the ceiling above the bed near the light fixture. Tiny flakes of drywall and finishing compound dust fell onto the covers. Ricky Vernon held an evidence bag ready as Thompson dropped a white object hardly larger than a nickel into it.

Jess’s brow puckered, adding more wrinkles to the ever increasing number already there. “Is that a camera?”

Beside her Dan said nothing, his expression dark with fury.

Thompson climbed down from the ladder. “An eyecam. Smallest one I’ve seen in this kind of setting. Typically they’re black. Someone had this one designed specially to incorporate into white ceilings. Wireless, built in transmitter. I can only guess at the range and other capabilities until I’ve had a chance to test it.” He looked to Dan. “But I can tell you it’s uber high tech. Whoever planted this could potentially be watching you from most anywhere, across the street or across town.”

Jess felt sick. She had slept in this room.

“We have another one in here!”

The voice came from Dan’s bedroom—the one they shared. The bottom dropped out of her stomach though she shouldn’t be surprised. The painting had captured the bedroom in far too much detail to hope the invasion into their privacy hadn’t extended there.

A chorus of shouts followed. The eyecams were in every room. How long had Spears been watching? How many times had they discussed work and him, dammit, in this house?

As if that weren’t bad enough, this and the painting suggested the murders this week were all connected to Ellis and Ellis was connected to Spears.

That reality settled heavily onto her shoulders.

“How did he get into my house without triggering the alarm?” Dan demanded, his frustration now aimed at the men from the security company.

“I think we have that answer for you, Chief.” Griggs led them through the house and out the kitchen door.

Jess’s legs felt too heavy and uncoordinated. The whole scene was far too surreal. They would be checking her apartment next.

Beyond the porte-cochere, Griggs gestured to the end of the house. All Jess saw was the vent that allowed airflow in and out of the attic. She was certain there was a more technical term but it escaped her just now. Another guy, from the security company Jess deduced, was examining the vent.

“The vent’s been removed recently,” the guy on the ladder shouted down to Griggs. “Some of the screws are missing. Whoever did it was in a hurry to get out of here when he finished.”

“We should have one of our forensic techs have a look before you go any further,” Dan said. He shook his head, disgusted.

Within half an hour, the attic had been designated a crime scene.

BOOK: Vicious
13.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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