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Chapter Fifteen

 

Sign of the Fish

 

 

 

During the hours that Adam Leeds remained secluded with Satan, the Los Angeles Fire Department’s investigator, Harry Waters, combed unsuccessfully through the ashes and debris as the homicide department waited for confirmation to appear.  Sid had grown impatient with Walker’s indecision and Water’s lack of enthusiasm and called Noah Brinkman, the fire department chief, to make his case.  The hearsay and circumstantial evidence didn’t impress Noah either nor, for that matter, had the inexplicable smell of brimstone reported by the religious minded deputy chief.  Unlike Everett, Noah was well aware of Sid’s apocalyptic views.  It also appeared that Sid was resentful that Randal Walker, the new deputy chief of homicide, didn’t immediately send detectives to the scene. 

After listening to an hour of unsubstantiated accusations and hearing absolutely nothing about material evidence, Noah still wondered if the Leeds fire might have wider implications.  Thanks to Officer Bruce Gandy, the police report had already set the stage for a potential investigation, and there were prominent citizens still attending Adam’s church that would want answers about the reverend’s disappearance.  Nevertheless, on the word of his deputy, fire chief wouldn’t cross interdepartmental boundaries with the new homicide chief for a residential fire and refused to go over Walker’s head.  Once again the jurisdictional divide between police and firefighters had seemed to cloud the issue.

 

******

After glancing at his watch, Sid Barnes realized he had been combing the burnt out ruins for over five hours.  It was now half passed noon.  With the afternoon sun beating down upon him and only an Egg McMuffin and firehouse coffee for sustenance, he was hungry, grimy and tired.  His wife had called him several times worried about his blood pressure, and he admitted to her, during their last conversation, that he was ready to go home.  He had, he confessed in the bitterest of tones, gone as far as he could go, with nothing to show for his efforts but an upset stomach, sore feet, and a sun burnt bald head. 

Just when he was ready at last to follow Harry Waters the fire investigator’s example and call it quits, however, Randall Walker, himself, showed up unbidden at the scene.  Sid had felt very stupid in front of his subordinates, especially after the fire investigator declared the area “evidence clean,” yet he had refused to give up.  Sid would tell Vicki that night that it had been a miracle from God, for he had prayed very hard that hour for Walker to change his mind and here he was, in person, inspecting the scene.  After a few polite words to the speechless Barnes, Randall reached down and fingered the ash lying around a burnt beam of wood.

“Bruce Gandy’s report was text book precision,” he said, looking Barnes squarely in the eyes. “Whatever caused this to burn so hot erased the evidence; that seems plain.”

“I-I don’t understand Randall,” Sid walked over to shake his hand. “What changed your mind?”

“Well, I know Bruce Gandy,” the deputy homicide chief searched for words.

“…. We served together in Iraq.  He was a good marine.  He appears to be a good cop.  When I transferred to Rampart, I was surprised to find him in the department.  When I saw his name on the police report I actually took the time to read it.  A bit lengthy but not bad, not bad at all.  Though it’s all hearsay, the Leeds’ neighbors made a pretty compelling case.  One even claimed it was God’s judgment on the reverend’s wife.”

“Really?” Sid’s eyebrows shot up. “How very strange!”

“Fact is,” Randall stoked his moustache, “after what I’ve read about the fire, I’m inclined toward a supernatural explanation myself.”

That was Sid’s cue.  Looking around as if someone might overhear, he drew out his notepad and drew the ancient Christian symbol of the fish, which had been used as a calling card during the time of persecution in imperial Rome.  Bruce Gandy and his partner had exited the scene soon after Battalion Chief Everett Sloan and Captain Roscoe Hunter left with Company Fifty-Eight, but Harry Waters and his team cast jaundiced looks at them as they pulled away from the curb.  “This isn’t a police investigation,” Harry grumbled to his men. “There’s no body or physical evidence.  What in the hell do the deputy homicide chief and deputy fire chief have in mind?”

Although Sid’s actions struck Randall as theatrical, Sid finished the symbol by entering the ancient Greek letter IXOYE (Ichthus) in the center of the fish.  The letters, Randall understood from his own Bible studies, stood for Jesus Christ’s name.

 

 

“I heard from the departmental grapevine that you’re one of us,” Randall smiled at Sid. “I swear I’ll deny it in a court of law, but I find the report of brimstone in the air and the description of the fire, itself, enough to warrant an investigation, at least my own.  This sort of thing has become very important to me, Sid.  For the record, of course, it’s the absence of Mister and Misses Leeds after the required twenty four period that will bring detectives to the scene.”

“Great!  That should be sometime this evening,” Sid quickly calculated it in his head.

“…. I don’t know what to say,” he looked up at Randall afterwards.  “This is a complete about face.  I thought you were dead set against the investigation.”

“For the record I am,” Randall said cryptically, looking back at the team of investigators driving away. “But since my wife Sylvia’s recovery from cancer, I’ve put my trust in the Lord.”

“Amen!” Sid’s heart leaped in his chest. “Yes-yes, where living in incredible times Randall.  Recently, I watched ‘Signs and Portents’ on the History Channel.  Folks all over the world have been seeing all sorts of strange things.”

“With all the chaos in this world, I expect to hear that kind of hysteria, Sid…. But there’s something about this sign that’s different than all the others.  This time Satan left us a calling card: fire and brimstone.  I don’t think the department will take this seriously, especially when there’s no proof of a crime, but I think we sure as hell should.”

Hell is the operative word,” Sid laughed wryly.

The two chiefs, who would remain close friends the rest of their lives, laughed at Sid’s play on words, and then began discussing the prospect of sending a squad to the crime scene tonight when the twenty-four hour period for missing persons had lapsed.

 

******

According to the their neighbors, Adam was the last to leave the Leeds household in the period between three and four pm.  Neither Wallace Schoolcraft nor Felicity Brown, the Leeds’ voyeuristic neighbors, were sure of the time.  No one actually saw Cora Leeds leave, though they both witnessed a dark colored sedan back out of the driveway shortly after 11 pm Monday night.  Because the assistant chief of police wanted the homicide investigate to proceed expeditiously, he naturally chose the earlier time interval as the beginning of the twenty-four hour period instead of the midnight ‘flight into the night’ reported by Wallace Schoolcraft, who had been standing in his driveway across the street.  This liberal interpretation of the twenty-four rule met the minimum requirements of police investigation.  With reservations, the police and fire chiefs allowed their subordinates latitude because arson was suspected and the Reverend’s wife had apparently vanished from the scene. 

          Randall Walker now called Captain Walt Franklin and ordered him to free up a squad.  Based upon the patrolman’s report and the completion of the twenty-four hour waiting period in which Cora Vale had been missing and her husband had not returned, foul play was now suspected by the LAPD—or at least this is what Walker told Franklin over the phone.  Four p.m., it had been decided by Walker and Barnes, was the cutoff point, an awkward time since it was when the First Squad’s shift ended and Second Squad’s shift began.   Nevertheless, Franklin, after discussing the roster with Lieutenant Bill Howard, knew what team to send: Sergeant Jake Cosgrove’s First Squad.  To prevent a mutiny by Cosgrove’s overworked squad, quipped Franklin, he would wait and make his call when the First Squad was safely in the station doing their reports. 

When Franklin called back with his choice, he assured the deputy homicide chief that Jake had experience with these cases—he was their man!  The truth was, of course, since Howard’s squads had been spread so thin this week, there was no one else to send.  Deputy Fire Chief Barnes, who had worked with Jake several times, during investigations, thanked his new friend profusely and could not wait to share the good news (and perhaps gloat a little) with Captain Hunter and Battalion Chief Sloan.  Randall promised to attend Sid and Vicki’s Wednesday night church discussion of End Time events.  Sid likewise promised the deputy homicide chief that he would attend the prayer-a-thon next Sunday at Randall and Sylvia’s church.

That evening, as the sun began to set behind the massive up thrusting limbs of the oak in the Leeds’ backyard, Walt Franklin dialed the cordless phone handed to him by his grandson Michael from the dining room table where his wife was serving Chicken cordon bleu and waited, while sipping his Martini, for Jake Cosgrove to answer the phone only moments before Squad One’s shift had ended for the day.  Two officers had been assigned surveillance duty at the residence with instructions from Walker to question neighbors loitering at the scene.  While Randall returned to the station that evening, Sid, confident the investigation was in good hands, finally returned home. 

 

******

Sergeant Jake Cosgrove of Rampart Division’s Homicide Department had been ready to send his squad home when the call came in on his cell phone from Captain Franklin.  He and Sam Ruiz, his long time partner, had been sitting at the “round table” at the end of their watch after a long day’s investigation on Third Street, as Jake’s chiseled features registered a distinct frown.  The sergeant scribbled out the caller’s name on the back of a report sheet and held it up to his squad.  A collective groan rose immediately in response.  Sam’s dark Hispanic features grew even darker after what he had read.

“Well guys, we almost made it,” he muttered under his breath. 

Several of the detectives at the table cursed or uttered follow-up sighs.  They had seen that look before.  Sam now gave them all an “I told you so” smile and slumped forlornly into his chair.               

“Jake, this is right up your alley,” Walt Franklin blared through the receiver, “a crime scene with all the earmarks of arson and murder, just like the Bronski case, but there’s no body this time and no evidence of chemicals that started the fire.”  

“Sergeant Williams will be arriving this hour,” Jake replied in a deadpan voice. “His squad can handle this as good as mine.  My people are tired sir.  We’ve been on that case up on Third.  You should wait until tomorrow morning before committing my squad?” 

Walt Franklin’s voice registered astonishment, which sounded disingenuous to him. “What, Jake?” he sputtered. “Is this insubordination?  Walker, the deputy homicide chief, gave me a direct order.  Would you like to talk to him yourself?

With the mention of this name, Jake’s eyebrows shot up in both surprise and irritation.  You son-of-a-bitch, he mentally cursed Franklin and the new chief.  Franklin apologized for this inconvenience yet went on to quickly give him details of the fire.

The chief wants us to go, Jake wrote in bold strokes on the sheet, which caused a collective gasp among the group.  Sergeant Williams’ squad, Jake remembered with a sinking feeling, couldn’t go to the scene of the fire.  While Squad One was covering that case on Third Homicide Squad Two had been called in early to assist Hollenbeck’s homicide division across town.  Contritely, but in as low of voice as possible, Jake apologized to Franklin for his rudeness and assured him that they would arrive promptly on the scene.  Jake questioned the timeframe, since it didn’t include the whereabouts of the wife, but Franklin wouldn’t quibble about details.  “Let what’s-his-face, the new chief, take the heat for this bogus investigation,” he told the disbelieving sergeant. “There’s no body, no evidence, Jake, just some cockamamie nonsense about fire and brimstone and a bunch of hysterical neighbors claiming that God delivered his judgment on the Leeds house.”

Sam and the other detectives had sensed the importance in Jake’s expression, as he listened to Franklin, and were already resigned to their fates.  When Jake related the captain’s words to his squad, the downcast expressions on their haggard faces softened with understanding.  Each of them settled his mind for the task ahead.  Through Franklin—may he burn in hell, Walker, the new chief, had spoken.  Williams and his squad, they recalled the desk sergeant saying, were being overworked by the Hollenbeck Division just like them.   

There was another reason for picking the First Squad that Sam, who had been with Jake the longest, was aware of now: the Bronski fire.  This sounded so much like that case it would seem only natural that Jake and he follow this up too.  Bronski, Sam recalled grimly, had murdered his wife and unsuccessfully attempted to cover it up with a fire.  But the assistant chief of homicide and lieutenant knew that Jake’s squad were, even without an official reason, the best team for the job.  Jake, who seemed to have the streets and alleys of Los Angeles branded in his mind, had been with the department for twenty-eight years.  He knew every snitch in LA and had contacts among the city and county governments that could help he and Squad One expedite a case. 

After watching the sergeant write down the address of the fire supplied by Franklin then curtly sign off, his team were already rising slowly from their chairs and filing quietly out of the room.

“Listen,” Jake called to them sympathetically (though they couldn’t see it in his stony expression), “it’s been a long day.  I know you’re tired, but this shouldn’t take long.  Judging by what I’ve heard from Franklin, it’s an open and shut case.  The couple that owned the house will probably show up sometime tonight or tomorrow and then file an insurance claim on the house.  Who knows, maybe they’re the ones that torched it in the first place!

“Is this one of them political things?” Asked Colin Woodward, his ebony face breaking into a sarcastic grin.

“I dunno, it might be,” Jake shrugged, following him out into the hall. “If what Franklin says is true, it’s definitely cosmetic.  We’ll just go out there, snoop around a little, maybe take a few pictures and then—phttt—we’ll on our way.”

“Phtt?  How you spell that?” Colin laughed.

“S-h-i-t,” retorted Sam, handing Jake the squad roster clipboard he had left on the table. “This sounds like the Blackman murder-kidnapping—a non-case.  We’re going to go through the motions to cover someone’s ass.”

“Why can’t Hollenbeck handle its own shit?” Sarah Mendoza protested. “They never help us!

 “It wouldn’t make any difference,” Sam reminded her. “The fact is Squad Two’s assisting Hollenbeck Division, and Franklin wants me to personally handle this case.”

“This ain’t no case,” Sarah made a face, “this is jive! 

Benny Rawls, her silent partner uttered a loud expletive.

Rusty Greer literally spat on the floor. “What a joke! “My fiancÚ and I were going to a Lakers game tonight.  My tickets are now worthless pieces of shit!”

“You pendejo, that was nasty,” Sarah socked Rusty in the arm.

“Yeah, we all got problems kid,” Jake cuffed the youngster playfully too. “Just think how them folks are going to feel when they come home and find their house burned to the ground.”

Except for Sam Ruiz, who had spent many more extended shifts with his partner, Sergeant Cosgrove’s gentle logic seemed to work on his squad.  No one argued further with the sergeant as they departed in twos for their own vehicles, until Sam, who let Jake take the steering wheel this time, stirred next to him in the front seat.

“This doesn’t make sense!” he declared finally, as Jake glanced into his rearview mirror. “There’s no evidence and no body, but we’re going to spend overtime checking the scene of a fire.”

Checking is the operative word,” Jake uttered a bitter laugh. “This is all going to be a big waste of time!”

Sam’s dark eyes rolled in his head.  Amused yet sympathetic, Jake caught his expression in the mirror and gave Sam’s arm a pat. 

“So tell me Jake, what’s so important about this fire?” Sam challenged softly. “Isn’t that what the fire investigation team’s for!

“Oh, this one’s different, Sam,” chortled the sergeant. “This one’s got supernatural overtones.  According to witnesses, the fire rose up as if the devil, himself, struck the roof.   The house belonged to a minister and his wife.”

 

******

 When Squad One converged upon the Leeds residence, Sergeant Jake Cosgrove and Detective Sam Ruiz stood in the midst of the ruins of the Leeds household that evening, allowing their team to fall into their normal routine.  Sarah, Benny, Colin, and Rusty looked around the premises, as if expecting witnesses to arrive on the scene.  They showed little enthusiasm for this case.  The evidence technicians, Tim Blodgett and Nick Sandoval, were snooping around in the ashes and would probably take a few token pictures before the sergeant let them go.  For the aging veteran Jake Cosgrove, who had been to a thousand homicide scenes, it was time to meditate on his upcoming retirement he kept putting off and reflect on the vacation he and his wife had taken with the grand kids last month. 

Pete Yost, one of the policemen guarding the scene gave Jake and his partner a greeting and offered what little he knew about the case.  Bruce Gandy, one of the original officers who secured the area that morning, would have been a better informant, but Jake listened to the young pimply-faced rookie tell him about a pesky neighbor across the street that had been lurking around the scene.

“Where’s this guy now?” Jake looked passed the officer into the shadowy street.

“I dunno sir,” he replied, reaching into his jacket to retrieve his notepad. “He pops in and out like a jack-in-the-box with these wild stories about the fire.  I took down as much information as I could.  My partner talked to that crazy lady too.  But I haven’t seen them for an hour or so.  Maybe they went home for dinner.  I suspect we’ll be seeing them again tonight.”

“Busy bodies!” Grumbled Sam.

“I’ll read it later,” promised Jake, waving off the notepad in Pete’s hand. “Send me a copy after you write the official report.”

At this point, Jake was totally disinterested in the case, yet, in the darkness, with glints of lamplight highlighting his face, he seemed to be smiling about something.  Turning his thoughts away from himself, Sam wondered what had come over his partner lately.  In the past few months, he had noticed a change in the senior detective’s mood.  Jake had begun, in a cynical fashion, to analyze his life and what he believed in.  Tonight, though it was almost pitch black, he sensed that his partner had shifted once again into this mood.  He could hear Jake whistling softly to himself, which meant that he was thinking deeply about something.  With his flashlight sweeping back and forth randomly across the ruins, Jake was, in fact, thinking about a different place and time.

A platform of wooden planks, provided by the fire department, had allowed officers from both the police and fire departments to gaze safely down at the smoking ruins, as would visitors at Lassen National Park’s bubbling sulfur pools.  Though the ashes were now cold, for Jake Cosgrove, who had taken his grandchildren to Lassen National Park this summer, the analogy was an excuse to reflect on those precious weeks and the prospect of retiring soon so he could spend all his time with his grandchildren and ailing wife.  Sam listened to him hum to himself a moment as evidence technicians Tim Blodgett and Nick Sandoval approached, a long cord dangling in Tim’s gloved hand.

“What the hell’s that suppose to be?” Jake asked the young detective as he exhibited it under his flashlight’s beam

“It’s seems obvious sarge,” he replied in disbelief. “I found it in the driveway of all places.  It looks like a cord or sash to the victim’s robe.”

“Victim my ass,” the sergeant laughed mockingly. “You see any blood on that, Tim?  These folks are probably on vacation.  They could very well have hired someone to torch their house.”

“This isn’t exactly a mansion, Jake,” Sam frowned dubiously. “Why would they do that?”

“Who cares?” Jake motioned irritably at the cord in Blodgett’s hand. “There’s no name on it.  It could belong to anyone.  You can toss it in the trash for all I care!”

Sam held his flashlight beam on the cord a moment.  “Bag it Blodgett!” he waved him on.

“Hey, that’s kind’ve catchy,” Sandoval ribbed his partner. “Bag it Blodgett; it’s a cord, no it’s a sash.  Bag it Blodgett or toss it in the trash!”

“Jake, we have to do better than that!” Sam watched the pair disappear into the darkness.

 “Blodgett,” Jake called out, with a change of heart, “look around where you found that cord for blood spots.”  “You know,” he turned to Sam, “we should really do this investigation in the daylight.  What do they think we’re going to find in the dark?” 

“Yeah,” nodded Sam, “if they’re weren’t in such an all fire hurry, they could get a CSI team out here tomorrow morning and do this right!”

“Oh, they’re not going to find any evidence,” replied Jake, looking across the burnt out house at a shadowy figure that had emerged under the street lamp.

One of the Leeds’ next store neighbors now stood on the sidewalk looking on.  In Felicity Brown’s superstitious mind, the dark figures of detectives moved about as phantoms in the moonless night, their flashlights scanning back and forth across the ruins, locking in as beacons upon various spots.  A second figure, whom Jake assumed was the pesky man mentioned by the young officer, surfaced from his house across the street and joined his neighbor underneath the light.  Soon, a second couple from up the street appeared and exchanged amenities with Felicity and Wallace Schoolcraft, bringing the number of potential witnesses this time to four. 

“Well, we almost ended our watch on time,” Blodgett said gloomily to Sandoval, as the two continued canvassing the driveway with their lights.

“Look at those lookyloos,” Jake pointed with irritation at the men and women across the street. “Don’t they have anything better to do?”

“You want me to question them?” Sam asked perfunctorily, as Jake seemed wrapped up in his thoughts again.

“…. What for?” Jake responded dreamily. “They’ve been questioned enough times.  All we have here are nosy neighbors.  We need a scrap of evidence—something to indicate a crime was committed.”

 

******

Wallace and Felicity had drawn their own conclusions for what happened here last night.   Except for the neighbors gathered on the sidewalk now and those who had shown up earlier, it was one of the few time that any of the Leeds’ neighbors paid much attention to the reclusive minister and his wife.  Wallace and Felicity, who lived so close to their house, were an exception.  They had kept track of the strange comings and goings of the Leed’s residence and had spread the word to their neighbors.  Suddenly their old neighborhood was in the news, and it didn’t surprise any of them that the Leeds household had been the scene of the fire. 

It was Sarah, Benny, Colin, and Rusty who, in a state of boredom, walked over to the neighbors when they appeared and began questioning them about the fire.  According to these eyewitnesses in Bruce Gandy’s report faxed to Sergeant Cosgrove, the house had burned fiercely, as if combustibles continued to feed the flames even though everything had been quickly consumed.  Wallace Schoolcraft, who had been a mine-laying specialist during the Vietnam war, claimed to be an expert on such matters.  His neighbor Felicity, who believed that the End Times were drawing near, saw the unnatural flames as a sign from God, while the couple up the street, inspired by Felicity’s opinions, believed that the devil, himself, had set the fire.  How, after all, did you explain the sheer height and force of the flames?  Schoolcraft’s unproven analysis had been the preliminary opinion of the technical investigators too, until they had carefully inspected the remnants of the house. 

As Sarah, Benny, and Colin continued to question the foursome, Rusty sprinted back to the ruins and gave the sergeant a preliminary report on what the neighbors reported.  After listening to the young detective ramble a moment, Jake turned to listen to what the technical investigators had to say.

“If this was arson, we should be smelling chemicals by now,” Tim commented to Nick as Jake craned his ear. “Where’s that familiar odor, Nick?  All I smell is burned up wood and fabric.”

“I dunno amigo,” Nick replied, focusing his beam upon the burnt out bed in the master bedroom, “I heard Rusty telling Jake that the fire rose hundreds of feet above the house.  That sounds like arson to me!”

“One question is most important children,” Jake clipped, shutting off his light and standing methodically in the dark, “… was anyone inside the house?  The neighbors aren’t sure whether or not misses Leeds ever left.”

“Except tonight,” corrected Sam.

“Yeah, that’s a problem,” Jake looked at Rusty. “What’s the input on that?”

          “A couple of the local busybodies claimed they saw and heard one helluva fight between the misses and the reverend before he left,” Rusty chimed, his freckled face catching Blodgett’s light beam as he continued to search the ruins.

          “She didn’t leave with him?” murmured the sergeant, tracing his own light over blackened springs that lie unfettered to posts that had been completely consumed. “…. Where’d she go?”

          “There was a second car—a visitor after the husband left,” Rusty beamed. “It seems that misses Leeds was quite the party animal when the mister wasn’t around.  My guess is that she left with the stranger in his car.”

          “Was that in the original report?” Jake murmured to himself.

          “That doesn’t add up,” Sam told Jake through the corner of his mouth.

          “No, it doesn’t,” Tim Blodgett joined the conversation, his beam pausing at an unidentifiable object below. “A fire like that in an ordinary residence with no one home?  Fires are for collecting insurance or to hide evidence of a murder.  This doesn’t add up at all Sarge.  Somewhere here there has to be a device or evidence of a combustible, which there plainly isn’t.”

          Cosgrove motioned his partner to the side, not wanting to air his own ignorance of the case in front of the squad.  Rusty followed until he was close enough to overhear.

          “All right Sam,” he scratched the stubble on his chin, “you heard what those people said on the curb.  What do you think happened here at the Leeds household last night.”

          Sam spoke with a trace of enthusiasm this time. “If someone killed her and took her off the premises, why did they burn the house down.  What’s the point in that?”

          “You don’t have a clue, do you?” Rusty smiled wryly in the darkness. “The problem, I admit, is that no one saw her leave with him, but something does, in fact, add up Sarge.”

“What?” Sam sighed, following the rookie out of the ruins and across the lawn to a large bush beside the house.

“…. Those witnesses, or should I say eavesdroppers, claim the man moved his car up the driveway beyond this bougainvillea, which pretty much hid the pathway between the residences to the back door of their house.” Rusty declared as if he had just solved the case.  “When he left last night,” he summed it up, folding his arms in a jester of finality, “he took her with him, but dead—probably lying down in the back seat of his car.  After all, it was dark last night, and those people couldn’t see everything!

“Why the fire, Rusty?” Sam shook his head. “Remember the Bronski murder?” He snapped his fingers. “Ivan Bronski, that chemist, used a fire so hot it practically atomized his wife, and yet they found traces of her ashes on the garage floor even though the house and garage were burned to the ground.”

“They’re not gonna find this one,” drawled Jake, pulling out his notebook and walking out to the sidewalk to take advantage of the light.

For several moments the sergeant stood there writing down his thoughts, as Sam now took this opportunity to pull out his cell phone and call his wife.  After Jake motioned Rusty on, the young detective rejoined the other three detectives and the neighbors by the curb.  Jake took this opportunity to phone his team of his decision.

“Hello Linda, I’m sorry I’m running late,” he heard Sam talking to his wife. “… Honest, we got called to another crime scene.  I’ll be home as soon as I can.”

“Damn it, Jake!” He turned to the sergeant. “She hung up.  She won’t even talk to me now!”

“She’ll get over it.  My Anna always does.” Jake looked up, tucking his own cell phone into his vest pocket, a placid look on his haggard face. “Come on, this isn’t our watch anymore,” he murmured almost to himself. “We got enough for tonight.  I’ll call it into the Lieutenant—let him explain it to chief.”

“All right,” nodded Sam with relief. “I’ll go tell the squad.”

“I already did.” Jake motioned to the car. “When you were talking to Linda, I sent them home.  Come on, let’s get out of here Sam!”

“I’m sorry,” Jake said apologetically, as they approached the car, “but in spite of how it looks, this one’s not going away.  I know you might not believe it Sam, but my instincts are right on the mark here.  I’m not sorry we came.  This is going to one of those cases that may never be solved, but I know in my gut what happened here tonight.”

“Frankly, I think we wasted a lot of time,” Sam muttered, as they climbed into the car. “We should’ve let the medical examiner’s team nose around tomorrow before arriving on the scene.  It was too damn dark, Jake.  The fire investigator couldn’t find a stick of evidence, and Rusty already has the case solved!”

“Those forensic people aren’t going to find anything this time,” Jake said firmly, waving disparagingly at the scene before sliding into the car. “I’m not certain about the husband, but they won’t find his wife.  She’s history!”

Wallace Schoolcraft and Felicity Brown, the nosiest of neighbors, now watched the detectives’ metallic brown sedan roll slowly down the street.  The chiseled features of Sergeant Jake Cosgrove, who sat on the passenger side this time, broke into a frown as he spotted them below the street lamp in front of Schoolcraft’s house.

           

 

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