A priest is in the midst of a personal crisis when a killer lures him into a twisted world of moral corruption, cover-ups and revenge.
The Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department has discovered a likely suspect for the serial murders. They have converged on the home, finding graphic evidence to implicate Edward Pearce in the crimes as well as a body in the garage freezer - likely his mother, Gertrude. Jana Burke arrives late and has yet to see the bedroom of the killer. There is concern among her fellow detectives as to how she will react. Covering an entire wall of the room are pornographic pictures of her uncle, a boy who was molested by Monsignor Flaherty and is, it appears, the object of Edward Pearce's dark desires.
The pictures. A cry, primal and untamed, tumbled from Jana's lips. Her limbs resisted movement; but she pushed forward. Reaching for the nearest photo, she pressed her thumbs to the boy's eyes. This was the uncle she'd never met. The boy who took his life because of the Wasicu's depravity.
Jana ached to rip the pornographic pictures from the wall and destroy the proof of her family's shame. But they were evidence, and so she had to bear the humiliation of stranger's passing judgment. Her temples throbbed from the effort to hold back tears. She'd not show further weakness before the men in the room.
Laying her forehead against the wall, Jana whispered, “On my life, this desecration will be avenged, Leksitku.”
Detective Rick Morales stepped back into the shadows to cover his concern; and the Profiler remained rooted to his spot, staring at his shoes. Movement in the room stilled to nothing, leaving the old guy, Detective Epstein, to reset the momentum.
Sensing a lifeline, Jana turned toward the comforting figure at her side. “That cold-hearted bitch from the news station cannot get her hands on these pictures, Skeets.”
Though his expression was stern, Skeets' hazel eyes held warmth. “You've got my promise on that, Jana. An APB is in place. If Edward Pearce is anywhere in the state of Minnesota, we'll be booking him by noon tomorrow. Which means that Danika Marten will be preoccupied with throwing her tits around in order to get up close and personal with the killer.”
Jana rarely expressed disdain for the motives or behaviors of other professional women. After all, her own attitude might be judged aggressive at times. Danika Marten, however, was the exception. Her under-handed actions cast the detectives in a negative light, giving the public the impression they were at the mercy of a serial killer due to an inept Sheriff's Department.
“The woman has an uncanny ability to get her hands on sensitive material, Skeets. You can't guarantee it won't happen again.”
The man she'd avoided since walking into the room addressed her. “I can, and will, guarantee that no member of the press will have access to the contents of this room, Jana.” She looked in Dred's direction, and was shocked by his disheveled appearance. His angular features, in the room's low lighting, seemed all lines and skin sucked clean of vigor.
Skeets' reaction mirrored her own thoughts. “Your implication that you have some sort of super power is offensive to me, Agent Stredwick. Further, our department is capable of clamping a lid on this case.” His hands were on his hips, and he was breathing hard.
“That's not been the situation thus far, has it Detective Epstein? In fact, you have yet to identify the mole in your department.”
Jana grabbed a handful of Skeets' shirt sleeve to stop him from advancing further, then stepped in front of him to face her former mentor. She was surprised by the shadow of sorrow in Dred's eyes. Dammit. Don't you dare feel sorry for me.
“I'll take you up on your offer,” she said. “I'll take anyone's help at this point. My family has suffered enough. It would kill my grandmother to see these pictures splashed all over hell by the media.”
Dred nodded and said, “Good enough. I'm a man of my word.”
Jana lifted her chin. “If you say so,” she uttered. Dred's shoulders slumped, and he dropped his gaze. For a moment, she felt something try to break through her barriers: a molecule of a memory of what it was like to surrender everything with no hope of gain. Jana pressed her thumb and forefinger together – a trick her therapist taught her – and was back in the room. Back in charge.
Gesturing towards the photographs and obscene sculptures laid out on a table beneath them, and keeping her eyes on Dred, she said, “These prove we're dealing with a deviant obsessed with my late uncle. Since you're the guy with the special skills, what else can you tell us that's not obvious?”
Her brisk, back-to-business tone broke the spell in the room. The CSI's fanned out to continue gathering evidence, and Dred moved to a Victorian-style dresser with an elaborate mirror vandalized by a coat of black paint. He opened the top drawer of the dresser, then gestured for the detectives to move closer.
“We won't know for sure until it's tested, but I suspect we have the drugs used to paralyze at least one of your victims,” Dred informed them. He pulled an evidence bag from his pocket, picked up a drug vial and dropped it inside. He handed the bag to Rick Morales and said, “Detective, take this downstairs to your M.E. Be sure he understands that identifying this drug is to be a priority.”
“First, I'm not your errand boy,” Rick said. “Second, a dead body goes to the head of the class. And, in case you've forgotten, that's why Doctor Bloomquist is here in the first place.”
Jana shook her head in frustration. “Rick, will you please do what he asks? Edward Pearce could be in the process of kidnapping someone this very moment, and knowing exactly what kind of drug we're dealing with could save a life!”
Rick blushed. “Sorry. Of course, you're right. Hopefully I can still catch him.” Jana touched his hand as he brushed past her.
“Why the black mirror?” Skeets asked.
“Edward Peace is a man deeply conflicted with himself,” Dred responded. He can't bear to look at his own appearance, which I suspect is because he's disgusted by his sexual urges. This blackened mirror and the fact he took the eyes of the male victim, Fritz Buell, are linked in some way. Bet on it.”
“Why Fritz Buell?” Skeets persisted.
“It's possible that Edward Pearce came into contact with Fritz Buell while attending St. Matilde's Catholic School. Father Brian indicated the Pearce's were parishioners.”
“I hope you're not suggesting that Fritz Buell was involved in the molestation that went on there. Because if you are, be prepared to face the legal wrath of his very rich son,” Jana countered.
“I'm not suggesting any such thing. My hypotheses would be that Edward Pearce believed Fritz Buell saw what was happening between the pervert priest and the boys and chose to keep silent. After all, he was the school janitor. A person in that position would hear and see things under the radar for most people.”
Jana and Skeets locked eyes. “You gotta admit it makes sense, Skeets.”
“That might be true for the janitor, but the school cook... Debra Padget? How does she fit into all this?” Skeets probed.
“She cooked meals for Monsignor Flaherty when his housekeeper was on vacation. Maybe Pearce took that as a sign that she approved of what he was doing. He may also have been projecting some of his unresolved rage towards his own mother.” As Dred was speaking, he was simultaneously busy pulling out drawers and examining their contents. The last drawer wouldn't budge, so Jana bent to give assistance.
“Think you can get your hand in there?” he asked.
“I think so.” She slid her fingers into the small opening between the edge of the drawer and the shelf above it. “Feels like a solid object. Let me see if I can move it out of the way.” She felt a sharp pain in her knuckles where wood splinters poked through the skin. But she kept on maneuvering it from side to side until it gave away.
“Hot damn. What have we got here?” Dred whooped. In his hand was a black book which he displayed like a magician producing a rabbit from a hat. He skimmed the pages and looked up wearing a cat-in-the birdhouse smile.
“Edward Pearce, bless his black heart, kept a diary,"
“And videos,” Jana added as she pulled old VCR tapes from the back of the drawer.
Skeets grabbed the videos. “You don't have to look at those, Jana.”
“I'm a homicide detective and a member of this Task Force. Looking at evidence is my job. I will do whatever...” she reacted to the vibration of her pocket phone. The hospital?
Checking the number, she went cold. The caller was Tribal Policeman, Ty Longacre. Her hand shook as she brought the phone to her ear.
“Jana, you need to get to the reservation ASAP.”
The room started to spin and her insides felt like jelly left out in the sun. “Are you at the house?”
“Yes. Jana, I'm sorry. If only I'd done a more thorough search earlier in the evening.”
“Uncle Tony's dead?”
“No... he's not dead. Kidnapped. And the one who has him says Tony will be released in exchange for the priest.”
Jana gripped the phone to stop the trembling of her hand. “We'd be asking Father Brian to face certain death in exchange for Unci? I don't know if I can do that.”
“I saw a devil dog in warrior paint just before I got to Tony's place, Jana. You and I both know what that means. We have no choice. Just do whatever it takes to get the priest here.”
“I'm at a crime scene, Ty. I can't just ditch my duties here.” She knew how that sounded, and hated herself for even saying it.
“Tony all but raised you, Jana. And you know what he means to our people. What's it gonna be, Cousin? The Wasicu or your own blood?”
~~~ TO BE CONTINUED ~~~