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
“All right. Now that we have that behind us, why don’t we go over this once more?”
Stacey Jernigan had cried throughout the interview this morning just after midnight. She had talked on and on about how she cared so much for her dear friend and coworker, Lisa Templeton. Then, around six this very same morning, she posted a photo of the crime scene and the victims on a private Facebook page. It was a tribute, she’d announced, to her friend and the true heart of art.
How ironic since the victims’ hearts were missing.
Too bad dear old Stacey hadn’t stopped to consider that the BPD would be checking all social media sites belonging to the two victims, including emails and such discovered on the laptop in Lisa Templeton’s home.
“You said,” Jess began, Stacey jumped as if a weapon had been discharged in the room, “you and Lisa shared a love for art. This private page on Facebook you and your friends created is for sharing things that inspire you the way folks do on Pinterest, is that right?”
“Lots of people do it,” Stacey said quickly, her voice quavering just a touch. “Writers, readers, dog lovers, lots of people. It’s not unusual.”
Jess might not have a Facebook page but she was quite familiar with the purpose of the social media outlet. She also knew the rules. “You and I both know photos like the one you shared this morning are not allowed on Facebook.”
“I…” She shifted in her chair. “I didn’t go in the room or touch anything. I just went to the door and took a pic with my cell phone. I wasn’t thinking.”
. “The members of this private page are friends you met in one of the classes you took at a local art school, is that correct?” Jess intended to get all she could while the young woman was feeling guilty and worried about staying out of trouble.
Stacey nodded. “The Art Academy. It’s an exclusive private school. The owner spent most of his life in Europe. He was schooled in the ways of the Old Masters. We’re very lucky to have him in Birmingham.”
“Really?” Jess might have been gone from Birmingham for two decades, but if this school was so exclusive she would’ve heard about it from some of Dan’s Mountain Brook friends. The
in his neighborhood would all have their offspring enrolled before birth. “I need his name, phone number and address, if you have it.”
Jess readied to take down the info, her pencil was dull from the lists of folks who could vouch for Miss Jernigan’s character. Her alibi for last night had checked out. Despite this morning’s allegedly thoughtless act, she hadn’t killed her friends.
Stacey chewed at her lip a second. “His number and address are private.”
Laying her pencil aside, Jess removed her glasses and rubbed at her eyes. She was far too tired this morning to beat around the bush. With a deep breath, she replaced her glasses and tapped her pencil on the desk. “Let me be clear, Stacey. You have thirty seconds to give me his name and address or I’ll arrest you for obstruction of justice. Oops,” she checked the big clock on the wall, “make that twenty-five seconds.”
The woman blinked but couldn’t conceal the fear in her eyes. At least she had the good sense to be afraid. “His name is Richard. Richard Ellis. We call him Rick. He prefers to stay out of the limelight. He funds the school and teaches there because he loves art not because he’s looking for accolades.”
Stacey spouted his phone number and address from memory. Jess added both to her notes. “This Mr. Ellis taught you that scenes like the one at your friend’s home represent art?”
About ten seconds of squirming had the woman’s chair squeaking. “He teaches us that real life is true art. I guess I was in shock or something when I found my friends murdered.” She closed her eyes and shuddered. “I was so upset. Maybe I went a little crazy. I haven’t slept all night. I don’t know what I’m doing even now.”
. The shock may very well have caused her to behave erratically but snapping a pic of her murdered friends didn’t quite qualify, in Jess’s opinion. Particularly since she’d waited more than four hours to post the photo. “So, Alisha Burgess was your friend, too?”
This morning Stacey had insisted she hardly knew Alisha.
“I… mean…” Stacey shrugged, glanced nervously around the room for several more seconds. “I suppose she was. She was Lisa’s roommate so…”
Now she was just outright lying. Stacey Jernigan had been in this room for better than an hour. There was absolutely nothing noteworthy in any of the department’s interview rooms. Certainly nothing warranting more than an initial look around. Yet, Stacey surveyed the space as if seeing it for the first time. Sterile white walls, plain metal table and stiff plastic chairs. Not one thing interesting or inspiring. The big clock with its second-hand ticking off every trauma-filled moment was intended to twist the tension a little tighter. As a general rule, it worked. Like now.
“Were Lisa and Alisha lovers?” Jess had a feeling that was where the conflict existed between these three young women. Jealousy could turn violent very quickly.
“No!” Stacey shook her head adamantly. “None of my friends are… like that. We like guys… men.”
“I didn’t ask if either preferred women over men,” Jess clarified. “I asked if they were sexually intimate.”
“I don’t think so.” Stacey shrugged. “I can’t say for sure.”
Stacey Jernigan was an attractive young woman with long black hair, gold eyes and perfect skin. She dressed well, if a little provocatively. Her academic resume was admirable despite her current occupation at a sex toy shop. Jess would also lay odds that she was well informed in the ways of the world. She might not have been out with her murdered friends last night but she had been before. There were things Stacey believed based on her experience with the two victims. Things she obviously didn’t want to share.
Jess’s continued silence did the trick.
“Lisa liked trying out the toys,” Stacey murmured.
The words were spoken so softly Jess barely heard them. “The sex toys? From the store where you work?” Like the neon pink object shoved down her throat.
Not a pretty way to die
A nod this time. “There are bonuses for pushing certain items. Lisa didn’t believe in promoting anything she hadn’t tried.”
Like any good businesswoman. “So she and her housemate may have tried out the toys together on more than one occasion.”
“I need you to think long and hard, Stacey, about anything you may have forgotten to tell me.” Jess slid a notepad and a pen across the table. “Then I want you to write it all down.”
Stacey stared at the notepad. “I already told you everything.”
Time to shake things up. Jess opened the plain manila folder on the table in front of her. “Do you understand how posting that photo of your dead friends makes you a person of interest in a double homicide?” She pushed the folder and the stack of crime scene photos it held across the table, and then fanned out the close-up images of the victims like a poker hand. “I’d hate to see you become an accessory to these murders.”
“Oh, Jesus!” Stacey twisted in her chair and vomited on the floor.
Now Jess had her attention.
“I’ll have someone bring you a bottle of water.” Jess plucked the travel size box of tissues from her bag and dropped it unceremoniously on the table. “Make that list, Miss Jernigan. Someone will be in to follow up shortly.”
When Jess had tucked the photos and folders into her bag, she exited the interview room.
Detective Lori Wells joined Jess in the corridor. Lori had watched the interview from the observation room. “I called for a janitor. Cook’s on his way with a bottle of water to finish up with Jernigan.”
“Thanks.” Jess appreciated her quick work. Her detectives were particularly good at anticipating her needs. “Let’s track down this benevolent benefactor Richard Ellis.”
“Already on it.” Lori checked the notes she’d made on her smart phone.
Jess decided she must be one of the last people on the planet who still used a spiral pad and plain old pencil for note taking. As much as she loved her cell phone, she’d barely mastered texting much less anything else.
“Ellis has a gallery on Broadway.” Lori tapped a few more keys. “He’s scheduled to speak to a group from Montgomery this morning so he should be there right now.”
Why in the world was Jess worried about handling whatever the future held? She had the best team in the department supporting her.
Dan waited for Lieutenant Clint Hayes to make himself comfortable. He chose not to consider that what he was about to do could be problematic in the future on a number of levels, legal and otherwise. If the detective now seated before him wanted to create complications this would certainly give him the ammunition. But it was a chance Dan was willing to take.
“Thank you for making time to see me this morning, Lieutenant.”
Hayes grunted a laugh that carried far more disdain than amusement. “You’re the chief of police. Not making time wasn’t an option. My superior insisted I stop what I was doing and come here immediately. How could I say no?”
So this was how it was going to be. “I’m well aware of your issues with authority, Lieutenant, but let’s set that aside for the moment.”
Hayes turned his palms up. “It’s your nickel, Chief. We’ll talk about whatever you want to talk about.”
Dan tamped down his irritation. As much as he’d like to give this cocky SOB a reminder of just who the hell he was addressing, this wasn’t the time for egos. This extra measure he needed to put in place was too important. Dan leaned back in his chair and went for broke. “It’s come to my attention that you’re interested in moving out of Admin and into the field, is that correct?”
Another burst of curt laughter. “I’ve made about a dozen requests over the past three years only to be turned down each and every time. Did my chief finally run out of excuses to deny my requests?” Hayes shook his head, his expression blatantly indifferent. “Wait, I get it. He needs my spot to bring his niece over from Traffic. She’s bitched about the heat all summer.”
A new wave of fury blasted Dan. He gritted his teeth and let it pass. “This isn’t about Chief McCord or any of your previous requests, Lieutenant. This isn’t even about what you want. It’s about what
Hayes actually showed some interest for the first time since walking through the door. “I’m listening.”
“I appreciate that, Lieutenant.” Dan worked at keeping his impatience in check. There was no other choice. He had to make this option work. He’d done his research on the detective. Jess had already mentioned him and Dan was well aware just how badly Hayes wanted out of Admin. “I’m certain you’re familiar with the department’s new Special Problems Unit and Deputy Chief Harris.”
“I am.” The lack of defiance in his voice now confirmed he was paying considerably more attention.
“There’s an opening in SPU.” The detective sat up a little straighter, and the smug expression vanished completely. Maybe they’d get through this without Dan having to kick his ass. “I believe you’d be a good fit with the team already onboard—if you’re interested.”
He was more than interested. The anticipation that flashed in his eyes told Dan what he needed to know. “I’m prepared,” Dan went on, “to make that happen, effective immediately.”
Wariness slipped into the lieutenant’s expression. “I sense a condition or two somewhere in that offer.”
The voice of reason railed at Dan, but he ignored it. There was nothing rational in any of this and absolutely no need to pretend. “You’re aware of the situation with Eric Spears?”
Hayes gave a nod of confirmation.
“I have grave concerns about Chief Harris’s safety. She and her team are close.” Dan shoved aside the guilt that attempted to intrude. “I recognize they have Chief Harris’s back but—”
“You need someone who isn’t emotionally involved,” Hayes guessed, “to keep you apprised of the situation.
Dan wasn’t going to deny the assertion or mince words here. “That’s right. I want someone who will do whatever needs to be done to protect Chief Harris. Someone who isn’t compromised by emotion.”
“Someone like me.”
Dan nodded. “Someone who reports directly to me and only me where her safety is concerned.”
“Just so we’re clear,” Hayes said, “define the parameters you have in mind for protecting Chief Harris.”
Dan hesitated for a moment. He was about to cross a line from which there would be no going back. “There are none.” His voice seemed to reverberate in the room.
Hayes inclined his head and considered the proposition. “If I accept and excessive force is required to protect her, who’s going to protect me from the fallout?”
“You know the law, Lieutenant.” Dan cast aside the last of the reservations still loitering around the fringes of his conscience. “I expect you to do whatever’s necessary, even if you have to skirt it. I’ll take care of the fallout.”
“Is this assignment a temporary one?”
A reasonable question. “How permanent this move is depends upon you, Lieutenant. Chief Harris has set high standards for her team. Meet those and I’m certain you’ll find your place there permanently, if you so choose.”
Hayes studied him for a long moment, setting Dan farther out on that edge he’d dared approach. Finally, the detective said, “I accept.”
As profound as his relief was, Dan couldn’t deny the other feeling—he was betraying Jess’s trust. He could lose her over a move like this, and yet, it had to be done. “You’ll start this afternoon. I’ll handle the logistics.”
Hayes rose from his chair. “I presume Chief Harris won’t be aware of this additional duty.”
“This stays between the two of us.” Dan stood, putting them back on equal ground. “You will be cooperative and respectful to Chief Harris and the other members of the team, but I expect you to remember at all times where your orders come from for now, are we clear on that as well?”
Hayes gave a nonchalant shrug. “No problem. I’m just glad I’m not the one sleeping with her at night.”