The Reluctant Bride | By: Dallas Releford | | Category: Short Story - Mystery Bookmark and Share

The Reluctant Bride

THE RELUCTANT BRIDE By: Dallas G. Releford A Mystery The bride was beautiful and as stunning as the roses that grew along the pathway in the garden that was adorned with a hundred varieties of flowers and plants on that warm spring day. Walking gracefully between rows of elm, maple and oak trees, she followed the red brick path that led her toward her destiny. A soft, gentle wind tossed her silky blond hair across her face causing her to brush it aside revealing sapphire blue eyes that sparkled in the beams of sunlight that wavered dreamily through the branches of the trees. As charismatic as an angel, she continued her divine parade through a garden unaware of birds singing, the wind playing daringly with her veil and dozens of eyes watching her. Ignoring the playful wind, the birds that somehow seemed to be cheering her on, she sought comfort in her own thoughts. Her smooth creamy white skin was nothing less than flawless and her white satin wedding attire was the most flamboyant that money could buy. An early morning sun shone down through massive leaves on nearby trees, their beaming rays eloquently casting her in a aura of holiness, portraying her angelic qualities as she walked slowly, step-by-step, down the long walkway that led between rows of folding chairs that had been set up in the garden just for this one occasion. As music played, bodies twisted and steel chairs squeaked and heads turned attempting to get a glimpse of the bride as she made her way toward the front of the onlookers and to where her beloved awaited her. Her full, soft lips were as dry as her throat. Quickly licking her lips to moisten them, she ignored the throbbing pain in her head. Swallowing hard, nervous, her legs feeling weak, she approached the minister and her future husband. This is the time, she thought, and there isn’t any turning back. At precisely ten o’clock on a warm, sunny Saturday morning in May, Stacy Kennedy would begin a new life as the wife of one of the most prominent, successful businessmen in South Charleston. As she neared the end of her journey, she was aware that the photographer was recording her every move. People were watching her and the thought made her even more nervous, anxious and apprehensive than she had been previously. Daring to glance to her left, she saw her mother, her aunt and her two sisters, Janice and Marian sitting in the front row watching every move that she made. Her left eye twitched and her lips quivered as she realized that every face in the garden was focused on her. Off to her right, she noticed the photographer making a video of the wedding as his assistant took still pictures with a smaller camera. Lyle Bennett had been the family photographer for as long as she could remember. He’d photographed her older sister’s wedding and done a damn good job, too, she admitted. Their family album was stuffed with pictures of the family he’d taken over the years. The fact that he was devoting so much time to photographing her in particular made her nervous, a little jittery until she realized with a sudden jolt that he was just doing his job. Perhaps he just wanted to take the best pictures of her that he could so she’d always have articulate images to remind her of the most important day in her life. The fact that he was here made her feel a little better, a little more at ease, if nothing else. If only her headache would take a vacation and her heart would slow down just a little, then maybe she could acquire some enjoyment from her experience, she thought. Walter Kennedy, her father, walked next to her and she held onto his arm as if he were her life support system. Once he’d given her away, her fate would be passed from one man to another. Did she really have a choice in the matter? Her father had impressed on her the importance of her marriage to Andrew Morgan, a wealthy pharmaceutical research company owner. His family was rumored to be worth millions and the marriage would culminate in a financial advantage for both families since her father owned a couple of medical research labs that could use more business. Her mother, frail with more maladies than her doctor could analyze, was totally against the marriage because she didn’t feel that Stacy was marrying for love. She believed, and she’d said as much, that Stacy was marrying Andrew Morgan to satisfy her father. Her father had been adamant about her accusations and had denied that he had any influence on Stacy’s decision, one way or the other. When Andrew had finally asked her to marry him, Stacy, caught in the middle, had accepted his proposal. Andrew Morgan, dark hair, deep brown eyes, tall, muscular and a smile that would charm any woman was a dream that any woman would be happy to have. In reality, Stacy worried that their deep, dark secret would somehow drive a wedge between them. Stacy was with child, pregnant on her wedding day. Her father didn’t know. Her mother didn’t know that she was pregnant. At least, she hoped, prayed that she didn’t know. Someone else knows, too, Stacy. Don’t you remember, HIM? She knew, and her doctor knew. Who else could know her secret? Now, Andrew knew, too. She’d only told him a couple of weeks ago and he’d thrown a temper tantrum that would have put the Hulk to shame. Escalating from the quiet, gentle person that he had been to a yelling, cursing, sadistic brute that he had become, he suggested, then demanded, that she get an abortion. When that ruse failed, he resorted to intimidation telling her how it would look if she had a baby a few months after they were married. Ignoring his hostility, she’d told him that they’d better hurry up and get married because the longer he waited, the worse it would look. Angered beyond description, he’d stormed out of her home. She hadn’t received a telephone call from him for two days. When he finally had called, he’d apologized and told her that he really did love her. Apprehensive, she’d hoped that everything would work out. She decided to marry him despite her deep feelings about her pregnancy. Resolving herself to believe that she had to do it for her baby, she decided that she would not bring a child into the world without a father to welcome it into her home. You have to do it for someone else, too, Stacy. Do you forget so easily, so quickly? As Stacy walked down the sidewalk toward the preacher, the massive collection of flowers and Andrew Morgan, she thought about the first time she’d met Andrew. Her family lived on the west side of South Charleston, West Virginia. Their home had been built just after World War II and was still in great shape because her father had had just about everything rehabbed including the garage. Several additions had been constructed. Those additions consisted of two bedrooms and a larger kitchen. Stacy loved the old home and felt comfortable there, but Andrew seemed out of place in it when he came home with her father one evening. His expensive suit, his forest green Corvette and his exquisite manner seemed to present an image of royalty from a fairytale rather than a real person. Her father had introduced them and eventually, he’d asked her out to dinner. After several such engagements, he’d offered her a job as a research assistant at one of his labs near St. Albans. She could have just as easily retained a position at her father’s lab except that she didn’t feel comfortable working for her own family. Working at Andrew’s lab would give her a chance to see him more often. Much to her surprise, he rarely came to the lab where she worked, and when he did visit, he was always in a meeting. As it turned out, the only time she really saw him long enough to talk to him was when he took her out to dinner, or to a movie. “We’re almost there, Stacy,” her father whispered patting her hand gently and smiling. “You’ll soon be the happiest woman in the world.” “I know, Dad. I guess I have you to thank for that.” “Things will work out, Stacy. Just give him a chance. He’s really a good man.” Yeah, and he’s rich, she thought, and he’ll make you rich, too. Was money the only thing her old man ever thought about? What about her? What about her child? Didn’t they matter? Suddenly feeling a little guilty when she realized that her father didn’t even know about the baby, she looked at him and forced a smile. “I’m sure things will work out,” she promised. “I’ll try hard.” “That’s all any of us can do,” he replied as they walked up to where Andrew Morgan stood smiling at her. Taking her place beside him, she stared at the minister while her mind raced back to a place in time when she was a little girl, where she was safe from the adult world. They had lived on a farm in a quiet little community in Central Kentucky. Her father had been a teacher at the University of Kentucky in Lexington and she was only eleven years old. Everything was different then. On hot summer days during vacation from school, she’d walk up behind the house near the river and sit under a giant elm tree thinking about what she was going to do when she grew up. She imagined herself standing in front of a preacher beside her future husband dressed in the most beautiful dress, saying her vows and then finally kissing her husband. As he held her, the onlookers, the crowd, including her family, watched as she fainted in his arms. That was then, she thought, suddenly realizing that she wasn’t eleven years old any more, Now, she was twenty-eight and this was real, it was happening except that she didn’t’ want it to happen. Not any more. Snapping her back to reality, the preacher asked her if she was all right and if she was ready to begin. Nodding her head as her lips quivered, she attempted to answer him and couldn’t. Something was stuck in her throat, her stomach was a mass of jelly and her legs were so weak that she could hardly stand. Unable to swallow, to clear an imaginary obstruction from her throat, she stood dumbfounded. Dizzy suddenly, she thought she was going to faint for a moment when twinkling, elusive, bright lights appeared in front of her face. Those tiny, dancing points of bright light were now displayed against a dark blanket of blackness unlike anything she’d ever seen before. As the darkness closed around her, the lights slowly faded away. Aware that people were screaming, saying something and somebody was calling her name, she was unable to respond, to answer them because they too were vanishing leaving her in a dark world without sight or sound. The last thing she heard was her sister, Marian, screaming her name. “She’s fainted. Please stand back, give her air,” Andrew pleaded. Kneeling near where she had slumped to the ground, he picked her up, held her limp body in his strong arms, while desperately rubbing her face and arms, calling her name and searching for a pulse; he could detect none. “Get a doctor,” he shouted above the terrified voices of the crowd. “Is there a doctor here?” Silently cursing the people gathered around her, he placed the palm of his hand over her luscious lips hoping to feel her breathing. Stacy was lying over his knee on her back with her face turned up toward the cloudless blue sky, her eyes sunken, blank and her arms hung limp, her hands touched the sidewalk. Fearful that he was going to injure her spine, he eased her to the dark, red brick walkway and asked someone to fetch a blanket and a pillow. Myrtle Kidd, a housekeeper, hurried away forcing the crowd to let her through. Despondent, he asked someone to bring some water and a washcloth. One of the men that he didn’t know rushed toward the mansion to find what he needed. As he patiently waited for the water, an older man with graying hair, greenish eyes and a full beard and moustache forced his way through the crowd. “I’m a doctor,” he proclaimed as he knelt beside the woman. Andrew noticed that his hair and beard had turned a snow-white color. “I’m Doctor Fairchild,” he told Andrew, “and I’m her family doctor. What seems to be the problem?” “Damn,” Andrew said. “I don’t know. I’m not a doctor. She just fainted and I can’t find a pulse.” “Shock, probably,” Doctor Fairchild replied sullenly, thoughtfully as he looked down at the young woman lying motionless on the ground. “I’ll have to check her. Can you see if you can get some of these people out of the way? Call an ambulance. No, dial 911 and get the emergency people right away. I want to take her to the hospital.” Pulling his cell phone from his jacket pocket, Andrew frantically dialed 911 and waited as a recorded message led him through a menu of options. After a couple of minutes, he finally was able to speak with a live person. Holy crap, he thought. Has the damned entire world gone nuts? He was told the life squad and rescue units would be there as soon as possible. Satisfied that he’d made his point and that help was indeed on the way, he proceeded to move the crowd of frantic people back out of the way so the emergency crews could get to Stacy. “How is she?” Approaching the doctor, he knelt beside him and didn’t like the expression on his face. “Is she going to be all right?” Without answering, Doctor Fairchild opened Stacy’s mouth and assured himself that her tongue wasn’t obstructing her ability to breathe. Next, he began administrating CPR. “No pulse,” he said between attempts to force air from his lungs into hers. Before Andrew could say anything, he put his mouth over hers and breathed. Stacy didn’t respond. Andrew pushed Doctor Fairchild back and put his own mouth over hers forcing his breath into her lungs. She was quiet, cold and he could feel her arms stiffening. She was lifeless. A cold dread enshrouded him and he felt as if the entire world had come crushing down on him. His mind raced as fast as a rabbit running from a cat, his heart pounded against his chest and he thought that he would surely faint. As his blood turned cold, he shivered and turning to the doctor, he admitted, solemnly, “She’s dead. There isn’t anything we can do for her.” “Not much,” the doctor agreed. “What about the baby?” They both talked in low voices so that the bystanders couldn’t hear what they were saying. The last thing Andrew wanted was for everyone to know that Stacy was carrying a child. Stacy’s parents and the rest of her family stood not more than a few yards away with worried, concerned and devastated expressions on their dour faces. The last thing he wanted was to have to deal with them. Their questions and concerns could be addressed at the hospital where the staff was better trained to deal with such things as grieving parents, friends and acquaintances. “Baby? Oh, heck. I almost forgot,” Doctor Fairchild said, inattentively. “She hardly shows even though she’s three months into her pregnancy. The baby is probably dead, too since it doesn’t have a supply of oxygen. If not, it will be before help can arrive.” “Can’t you remove it, uh, forcefully?” “Not likely under the circumstances. I don’t have the equipment, or the time to operate and—” “Jesus,” Andrew said, interrupting the doctor. “I lost both of them. They’re both dead.” “Yes,” Doctor Fairchild agreed. “Could the pregnancy have been the cause of death?” “Possible, but not likely,” the doctor replied. “That would have taken more time. She died suddenly.” “They’re dead,” Andrew said realizing how absurd the entire thing sounded when he said it. Just a few minutes ago, she was alive and well. Now, she was lying on the ground, dead. Whispering so the others couldn’t hear him, the doctor replied, “I thought that a little while ago, but I kept hoping I could revive her. We must not let the others know because they’ll panic. Let the EMTs make the call and they can take her to the hospital. The coroner’s office will want to have a look at her.” “An autopsy? Why?” Andrew couldn’t believe his ears. The thought of her lovely skin being cut by a surgeon’s scalpel didn’t appeal to him at all. “Customary,” the doctor informed him. “We don’t know what killed her. They’ll need to confirm that she’s pregnant and that the baby is dead, too.” “A stroke?” “Not likely,” the doctor said, casually. “She didn’t seem to be in distress until the last moment. Whatever it was came on suddenly and she died before she realized that anything was wrong. Stacy has been in excellent health. Why, I just saw her last week for her annual physical. She was fine and I thought—“ “Will you inform her family, Doctor Fairchild? I don’t think I can do that. They’ve been waiting patiently over there and I don’t see any sense in putting it off any longer.” “Of course,” he replied. “I’ll take care of that matter right now. You just make sure the emergency people get in here. Don’t let anyone else come near her. We should call the police, too so an official report will be on file.” “When I dialed 911, the police were notified and they’ll probably be here before the emergency crews,” Andrew said. “I’ll keep watch and you inform the family.” As the doctor walked away toward the Kennedy family, Andrew heard the first indication of help arriving. Lonesome, wavering sirens were wailing in the distance. Those sirens were the most dreaded sound he’d ever heard because he knew they were coming to take his lovely Stacy away where he’d never see her again. The thought of her death tantalized, horrified and terrified him more than anything else ever had. * * * “Leon, pick up the phone. I know you’re home because your neighbor said your car was in the driveway.” Leon Grayson had heard the phone when it rang. With only a couple of hours sleep, he’d decided to let the answering machine take care of the person on the other end of the line. Outside it was daylight, in fact, it was bright daylight, perhaps as late as noon. Turning over facing away from the telephone, he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and tried to remember exactly where he was. Where he was presently wasn’t as important as where he had been. He had been up most of the night searching every bar, hotel and motel in South Charleston looking for a hooker that might have a story to tell about a man named Sam Riley who was wanted for several murders in the area. Sam Riley was a dangerous character. He liked to kill pregnant women. He favored making them suffer as much as possible before they expired. He was a sadist of the worst kind. “Well, Leon, I guess if you aren’t going to pick up the damn phone, then you just don’t want to get in on the most bizarre case that has hit our fair city in recent—” Just before he finished the sentence, Leon turned over and grabbed the phone, held it to his ear and said, “What do you want, Piper?” Piper Jacobs was his partner and had been for eight years. He’d lasted two years, four months and a few days longer than most of his other partners had. Leon had a bad, rough reputation of losing partners. Even his wife, the most beautiful partner he’d ever had, had left him because he was always getting into trouble that he found hard to get out of. “About time you awakened,” Piper replied. “Got a good one they want us to check out. The body is at the morgue. I thought that’d be a good place to start after we have a late breakfast.” “Breakfast? It’s almost noon.” “Too early for dinner and I never eat lunch,” Piper said. “Damn rough way to live,” Leon replied. “We’re going to have to do something about your lifestyle.” “Running around with you does things to a man,” he teased. “I don’t have a lifestyle.” “Look at all the fringe benefits,” Leon urged. “What benefits? All we saw last night were whores, prostitutes and evil women with guns. What kind of fringe benefits is that?” “Some people wouldn’t complain,” Leon spat back. “You’re too selective. Perhaps that’s why you’re still a bachelor.” “So are you,” Piper said. They called him Piper because he’d worked in the oil industry before finally giving up the hard work and joining the South Charleston police force. He sometimes wished he’d stayed in the oil industry. “I don’t see you getting married.” Leon ignored him now that the conversation had brought him to a full awareness of his mental abilities. “What were you saying about the morgue?” “Oh, a bride, a beautiful one, died just as she was getting married. The captain wants us to go over to the morgue and see what we can find out. The girls father thinks there might be a good reason why she dropped dead so suddenly.” Piper sounded like he needed a few hours sleep himself. His voice sunk before he could finish the sentence. ‘No struggle or illness prior to her death?” “None whatsoever. She just dropped dead without even an indication of a problem or sign that anything was wrong.” “Gross,” Leon agreed. “Very gross.” “Yeah, and strange, too. Her family doctor happened to be there and examined her. He doesn’t have the foggiest idea why she died or what caused her death.” Holding the phone in his left hand, Leon sat up on the bed staring out the window at the beautiful spring day. Nowhere in his mind could he conjure up one little idea that he was going to work on such a beautiful day. He’d planned on sleeping until noon, taking a bath and then driving out into the country with a six-pack of beer, a fishing rod some nice fat worms and spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing. Now, he knew that just as surely as Captain Dennis Martin signed his paycheck, that he would have to work no matter if it rained, hailed, stormed or snowed. “Ok, Piper. Look, Man, I’ll catch you at the Silver Fork Restaurant on Fourth Avenue in about an hour. We’ll take my car and visit our friends over at the city morgue. How’s that sound to you?” “Great,” Piper said and Leon thought that his voice sounded a little more relaxed. He also thought that Piper had been afraid that he’d have to go to the morgue alone and that wouldn’t have pleased him at all. “One more thing,” Leon said before he could hang up the phone. “How did you know my neighbor saw my car in my driveway?” “We’re acquainted,” Piper answered. “She’s a beautiful woman.” “And, married, too,” Leon warned. “Her husband is a big man ... and very jealous of his wife.” “We have to take chances, sometimes,” Piper told him. “Her husband is out of town for weeks.” “Yes, and he comes back unexpectedly, too,” Leon warned. “I believe he came home last night.” “How do you know that?” “Because I ran out the backdoor with my pants in my hand just as he inserted his key into the lock of the front door.” “You don’t mean—” Leon smiled and hung up the phone after he heard the dial tone. Perhaps he’d saved Piper from getting a bullet in his head, even if he had to lie to do it. Mrs. Peterson’s husband was nobody to fool around with. Throwing his blanket back on the bed, he got up, stretched and got ready to face another cheerful day. * * * Leon and Piper arrived at the city morgue just as Dr. Casey Bryant, the pathologist was opening the body. Leon glanced at a clock on the wall above the stainless steel shelves that contained dozens of bottles of chemicals and lab equipment. It was two o’clock in the afternoon on the first day of Stacy Kennedy’s death. She’d already been dead for almost four hours. Dr. Bryant was a small man with thinning brown hair, bushy eyebrows, a well-trimmed moustache and he wore thick, dark-rimmed glasses. “Just in time,” he said as they walked through the metal, double doors into the examination room that smelled of disinfectant and a few other odors that Leon didn’t want to think about. “Seeing as how you enjoy this part of your job so much, I decided that I could wait just a little longer, until you and your sidekick got here.” “Now, we really appreciate that, Doc. Don’t we, Piper?” “Sure, he can’t do anything without us around.” Ignoring them, Doctor Bryant began the procedure. Two lab assistants stood nearby handing him surgical instruments, taking specimen examples and aiding him when he needed it. Leon had observed over a hundred autopsies in the course of his career. No matter how many times he had the experience, he could never quite get used to it. The thought of a human body being opened, explored and analyzed somehow made him feel queasy. He’d seen enough blood, torn flesh, broken bones and dead bodies during his career to harden any person. As he watched the doctor work, he decided that this was one part of his job that he’d never get used to. While the doctor removed various organs and examined them, ran tests and exercised his best analytical skills, Leon thought about the beautiful woman on the operating table that didn’t look anything like she had only a few hours ago. Someone had taken her life and he had to find out who did it, how they did it, and why they did it. Once he’d answered those simple questions, he felt that he might just feel a whole lot better. “We’ll have to conduct more tests to be sure,” Dr. Bryant replied as he placed the liver, lungs and heart on stainless steel trays on a nearby table. “Look at the stomach and I’ll show you what I mean.” Piper and Leon edged closer to the table. Leon didn’t really want a better look. Reluctantly, he stood over the woman staring down into an empty cavity that had once held the organs that sustained her life. Dr. Bryant had opened her stomach and was in the process of removing two small plastic bags that were about the size of a half-dollar. “It appears that these were, or are, the cause of her death.” Holding one of the small bags up so they could see it clearly, he continued. As he spoke, he pulled a microphone that hung from the ceiling down so he could record his observations. “Two small plastic bags, approximately 1.83 centimeters in size were found in the subjects stomach. These bags contained a bluish unknown liquid that seems to have leaked out of the bags through a small hole in each of the bags and into the subjects’ stomach. Enough of the liquid is still present in these bags for us to analyze. This liquid has been found in the bloodstream, liver, kidneys and other organs in the victim’s body.” Leon felt his stomach issue it’s fourth warning since he’d walked into the room. A smell unlike anything he’d ever experienced before emanated from the body below him even though he wore a surgical mask. Glancing to his left, he noticed the baby that had been removed from the woman’s body. Not one person had been murdered here, he thought to himself, but two people. That baby was a person, too even though the lump of bloody human flesh had little resemblance to a human being. Dizzy, almost delirious, he stepped away from the operating table and pulled his mask down from his mouth. Walking out into the hallway where the odors weren’t quite so bad, he stood thinking for a moment trying to clear the horrible smell from his tortured lungs. Taking a deep breath, drawing fresh air into his lungs, he glanced at Dr. Bryant. Piper was talking to Dr. Bryant as he worked. Knowing that the smell would never go away, he returned to the room where the doctor was assisting a technician with preparations to move the baby to a storage freezer. “You’re saying that she was poisoned,” Piper said just as Leon walked into the room. “Is that what’s in those plastic bags?” “Probably,” Bryant said watching the technician as he carted the baby away toward a waiting freezer. “We won’t know for sure for several hours. We have to analyze it to identify what type of poison it is, or if it is something else.” “Why would someone, anyone, put the liquid, the poison, in plastic bags, Dr. Bryant?” Covering his nose and mouth with the surgical mask, Leon walked up near them as they both turned around. “Glad to have you back,” Bryant said. “Are you all right?” “Fine,” Leon lied. “Just a temporary setback. What about my question?” “I can only guess,” Bryant admitted. “I’m not a cop. My guess is that the killer didn’t want her to die right away so he put the liquid into bags and punched a small hole in them so the poison would trickle out into her stomach and eventually, into her system. He’d have to know how powerful the poison was and how long it’d take to kill her. Don’t ask me why he’d want to kill her in that manner because I don’t know. I could easily guess that he wanted to time her death so she’d expire at her wedding in front of many witnesses. Maybe he thought it would look natural—her death, I mean—and that people wouldn’t be suspicious that anything unnatural had occurred.” “How’d he get it into her stomach without her knowing about it? I’m sure that she just didn’t swallow it on her own unless she purposefully committed suicide.” Piper shuddered thinking about the possibility of a mother killing herself and her own baby. Desperate women had done desperate things before, he admitted to himself. “Perhaps the killer put her to sleep,” Dr. Bryant suggested. “It still wouldn’t explain how he got her to swallow it, though. The only way would be to force her to swallow it. I doubt very much if she’d swallow poison and then walk casually to her own wedding knowing she was going to die at any moment.” “Me, too,” Leon admitted. “So, what other options would the killer have? Hypnosis? Suggestion? What?” “He could have given her drugs and then told her that swallowing the bags that contained other drugs would put her on the trip of her life. Perhaps he gave her drugs to lessen her thinking abilities and then put the bags in her food. That’s the only way I can think that he could have gotten it into her body. She had to swallow those bags, either voluntarily or otherwise.” Dr. Bryant looked nervously at Piper and then at Leon. “Such things are possible, I suppose.” “I suppose,” Leon said thoughtfully turning the ideas around in his mind, probing for an answer as to how such a thing could happen. “She’d have to be unaware that he was doing it and why he was doing it,” he finally admitted. “Exactly,” Piper agreed. “Any one of several methods would work. Hypnosis, power of suggestion aided and induced by the right drugs might have been used. Heck, I had to swallow one of those cameras once. They put me to sleep just before it went down my throat.” “Okay, I suppose that any of those methods might work,” Leon admitted while trying to think of other ways she might have been convinced to swallow the bags. “So, what we have is a friend or someone that she knew and trusted, who gave her drugs and enticed her to eat a meal that included one, or two small plastic bags that contained a chemical that slowly killed her. Is that what you think?” “Perhaps, Leon,” Fairchild answered. “Injecting it into other body cavities wouldn’t work. If he’d injected them into her colon, they would have remained there for a while, so that’s out of the question. From a professional standpoint, I’d say that he had to entice her to swallow the bags while she was partially sedated or under the influence of drugs. That’s the only plausible answer.” Piper stood awed of the prospect that a killer, perhaps a close friend, or a business acquaintance had somehow managed to get two plastic bags containing slow-acting poison into Stacy Kennedy’s body. Such a thing seemed impossible, yet something similar to that had happened because they’d found the bags. “Hypnosis? I don’t buy that one,” Piper said. “I would believe that he put her to sleep or something so that she didn’t know what was happening. If she didn’t do it herself, commit suicide, then someone else had to have complete control over her. I’d say that she was very familiar with the killer.” “I agree,” Leon said and then addressed the doctor. “Dr. Bryant, how long will it take to find out exactly what kind of poison we’re dealing with?” “We might know by six this afternoon. Most of the technicians are off today so I’m operating with a minimum staff. I’ll call you as soon as I know something. By the way, how do you know it was a man? It could have been a woman.” “Great observation,” Piper said. “It could have been just about anyone that had reason to kill her.” “Doctor, we better get a move on and see if we can get some of those questions answered today. Call me on my cell phone as soon as you find out what kind of poison was used on the girl? I’d also like to know how long that poison would take to kill someone like Stacy Kennedy.” “Sure,” Bryant replied, smiling. “I should have the tests back late this very afternoon.” “Great,” Leon told him shaking his hand. “We’ll look forward to it.” * * * As they drove back to the restaurant where Piper had left his car parked on the street, they both were silent thinking about what had happened. Finally, Piper spoke as they neared the restaurant. “We have a lot of people to talk to, you know that, don’t you?” “We always have a lot of people to talk to,” he replied parking behind Piper’s 1998 silver Chevrolet Corsica. “We just have to decide who we want to talk to the most. Do we have a file on this case yet?” “It’s on your desk,” Piper said. “I’ll meet you back at the station and we can go over what we already have. The other investigators and the uniforms talked to most of the people who were at the wedding when the bride collapsed. I saw some documentation where they’d talked to some of the family, things like that.” “Great,” Leon said. “I hope they did their job well and that they came up with some interesting facts for us so we don’t have to put our noses too close to the pavement.” “Not much,” Piper said. “I took a look at the folder before I left.” “Darn,” Leon said. “Don’t we ever get a break?” “I guess not,” Piper said as he climbed out of the passenger seat. “I’ll see you in ten.” * * * As Piper had warned, the file that contained all the reports of the investigating officers who’d arrived at the murder scene didn’t help much. One sheet that interested Leon listed all the relatives and people that had attended the wedding, all two hundred and fifty seven of them. Leon spent over an hour studying the names and writing down the ones that they would need to talk to. Her parents were first on his list because Leon thought that just maybe they might be able to tell them something about her friends and associates. He also hoped they could tell him if she’d changed in any way in the last few days, if her habits, her attitude or her lifestyle had taken a sudden course that wasn’t normal. He hoped to determine the time that she’d been drugged, poisoned, if at all possible. Upon arrival at the Kennedy home in St. Albans, a graying woman in a flowery dress greeted them. After identifying herself as the housekeeper, she directed them into an oak-paneled study where Stacy’s parents awaited them. Mr. Walter Kennedy, a graying man with dark eyes, high-cheek bones and a business look about him stood up and shook hands with them when they entered the room. Mrs. Kennedy smiled, and greeted them with a handshake. Leon introduced himself and his partner. The Kennedy’s did likewise. “I’m glad you gentlemen came,” Walter Kennedy said. “Maybe you can tell us why our daughter was murdered.” “Why do you say she was murdered? Did someone tell you that?” “Please have a seat and make yourselves comfortable. Would you like something to drink?” Kennedy ignored Leon’s question. “Not for me,” Leon said. “No drinking on the job, you know.” “Water?” Mr. Kennedy asked. “Ice cold.” “Sure,” Leon replied. “Bring one for my partner, too.” Piper looked at him as if he’d intended ordering a scotch on the rocks. Leon knew that he would have done that without thinking about it. That’s why he’d ordered the water for him before he had a chance to order something stronger. Piper had always had a problem with refusing a free drink, even when he was on duty. He was the same way about free food. “I’ll have water, too,” he said, sheepishly, forcing a grin. Turning his attention to Walter Kennedy, Leon asked, “How do you know that she was murdered?” Sarah Kennedy looked at her husband with glassy eyes as if pleading with him not to say something foolish, something that he couldn’t prove. Kennedy squirmed in his easy chair and shook his head. “I have a suspicion, an idea that her old boyfriend, Myron Fuller had something to do with it.” “Why do you believe that, Mr. Kennedy?” Piper sipped at the water as if it were a delicate, fine wine. “Why would he want to kill her?” “He was crazy, mad about her. He used to follow her around and constantly harass her after they’d broken up, after she’d told him that it was over. In his mind, it was never over. He once made the statement that if he couldn’t have her that nobody else could have her either. In my way of thinking, that’s a threat. He was crazy, insane and everyone that knows him has said the same thing. He quit his job after they broke up and he spent most of his time calling her and following her to work, things like that.” “A stalker,” Leon admitted. “Did you file charges against him?” “Yes, but the police couldn’t do nothing much. I think they went over and talked to him about it. He kept things low-key for a couple of weeks. He was very discreet for a little while. After that, he just kept trying to call her. We finally ended up having the telephone number changed.” “Do you know where he is now, Mr. Kennedy?” “Sure, Leon. He lives down on the west side of town. I’ll give you his address.” “Thanks. We’ll talk to him. Why did they end their relationship?” “Just as I said,” Kennedy remarked sullenly, “He was too possessive toward her. Jealous of every man that came into contact with her, he went into a raging stupor when he even thought that she might be talking to another man.” Letting his face drop, his eyes rested on the floor as if saddened by something that he couldn’t bring himself to mention. “I suppose that Stacy really loved him. I guess she did until the day she died. We talked her into getting away from him, while she still could. He was a very dangerous man and we were concerned that he might hurt her. His jealously was the element that broke them up. He just couldn’t stand the thought that Stacy might go out with someone else. She went out to dinner with her uncle who was much younger than she was. He was in town and she hadn’t seen him for years so they decided to have dinner and a little chat. When Myron found out about it, he threw a fit and slapped her. That was when I decided that she was going to call it off. After that, well—“ “I see,” Leon interrupted. “I got a good idea about what he was like. Was he violent all the time or just when she did something that upset him?” “He was a good man, in general,” Kennedy admitted. “When they first started dating, he had good job and a good future. We thought he was a good match until his darker features surfaced. Becoming obsessed with Stacy, he just seemed to think about nothing else. After they broke up, of course, he lost his job and sunk even lower. Desperate, he clung to anything that reminded him of her.” “Did you know about the baby?” “Baby?” Kennedy’s face turned pallid, almost as white as a sheet on a fresh blanket of snow. Wrinkles appeared on his forehead as small beads of sweat similar to dew drops on a blade of grass popped out on his face. “What baby? What are you talking about?” Sarah looked at the cops and then at her husband. “Stacy was three months pregnant, Walter.” “God. How did you know? Why wasn’t I told?” “She went to our family doctor several weeks ago,” Sarah began. “One of the nurses that works for Doctor Fairchild overheard their conversation concerning the pregnancy and asked Marian about it. Marian was as shocked as you are now. I suspected something was wrong with Stacy. I just wasn’t sure. I was waiting until she told me for sure before I told you. I kept nothing from you—” “The hell you didn’t, Sarah,” Walter Kennedy stormed. “You should have told me that you knew something was wrong. Maybe we could have done something. Now, it’s too late. How many other people know about this?” Sarah looked at her husband in disbelief. She had known that he’d be angry when he found out about Stacy being pregnant. Attempting to avoid, or maybe just delay a family scandal, she’d decided to wait and tell him when she knew something for sure. Walter Kennedy was a proud, self-made man who had struggled for years to attain the wealth they now enjoyed. The very thought that his daughter could do such a thing was beyond anything that he was capable of understanding. Walter had been born in a time when girls didn’t get pregnant before they got married. Those that did such things suffered the scorn rained down upon them by their family, peers, and the community. Most of them ended up in homes for unwed mothers, or some place equivalent. Now, times had changed. Sarah knew that her husband had not changed with them. “I’m very sorry, Walter, about everything. I don’t know how many people know. I do know that Stacy told Andrew about it because I heard them arguing on the telephone one day when she didn’t know I was in the house. The doctor knows, the nurse, and of course, our daughter, Marian. The only reason Marian knows is that she knows that nurse down—” Walter Kennedy paced back and forth across the floor like a rooster expecting a fox to visit the chicken coop. “Yes, yes, I know about that, Sarah. I know that Marian knows. I’m just worried that too many people will find out. Oh, well, that’s history now, I reckon. Officer Grayson, why weren’t we told about this, about the baby, when we were at the hospital?” Leon frantically searched his mind for an answer and found none that made any sense. Before he could answer with his best guess, Piper offered an explanation. “Dr. Fairchild was supposed to have told you since he was your family doctor,” Piper said. “I guess that in the excitement of trying to save the baby, or at least, determine if it was still alive or not, that he forgot to tell you. The hospital doctor on duty declared them both deceased, the mother and the baby, shortly after the ambulance brought them in. I was there checking out some information on another case when they were brought in. I know Dr. Fairchild and most of the other medical staff at the hospital. Dr. Fairchild visits the hospital quite often and is well known there. I suppose that he’ll show up here as soon as he remembers that he was supposed to inform you. He seems to get side-tracked, uh, a little forgetful sometimes.” “I never even saw him at the hospital when we arrived,” Kennedy claimed. “The hospital doctor, Dr. Kaminski was the only doctor that spoke to us and he never mentioned the baby. I’m going to get to the bottom of this. They should have told us that she was pregnant and that neither survived. By the way, Detective Grayson, have you found out what killed my daughter?” Grayson decided that he wasn’t going to tell Kennedy any more than he had to. The less he knew, the less trouble he could cause. Kennedy was sure that his daughter had been murdered even though the hospital hadn’t given a cause of death. They were waiting until the tests came back and until the coroner had had sufficient time to look into the matter. “Well, not exactly, sir,” Grayson replied. “We’re still investigating. We’re waiting for the coroner’s report before we declare it a homicide. Until then, I suggest that we all just keep calm and not make any unnecessary accusations that we can’t prove. Now is the time for collecting all the information that we can. That leads me to another question that I’ve been wanting to ask you since my arrival.” “And, what might that be, Grayson?” Kennedy seemed nervous, agitated and downbeat. Leon thought that most of his demeanor might be attributed to the death of his daughter. However, years of experience in his profession had taught him that a person’s behavior could be guided by many other influences, such as murder or the commission of a crime. “What do you really know about Andrew Morgan? How long had Stacy been acquainted with him before they decided to get married?” “Why, I guess they’d known each other for almost a year. Isn’t that right, Sarah?” Sarah nodded her head in agreement and said nothing. Sometimes, she thought that it was best to just agree with him and let him do the talking. “Had they talked much about marriage before they announced it?” Kennedy sat down in his chair and seemed to relax. “Not much, I don’t think,” he answered. “As I recall, it was sort of sudden. I first learned of it … rumors, more or less … about four weeks before they actually discussed it with Sarah and me.” “Good,” Grayson replied. “Do you suppose that Morgan is the father of the baby and that’s the reason they kept things quiet until the last minute?” Kennedy didn’t speak for several minutes as if he were thinking about how to answer the question. “I personally don’t believe so. I guess a blood test would settle that, though. You already know who I think the baby belongs to.” “Myron Fuller?” “I believe so,” Kennedy replied. “And, the reason I believe that is because she hadn’t known Morgan long enough. She’d known him less than a year and I don’t think the timing is right. She’d known Fuller long enough for such a thing to happen. He might have drugged her or something. He is a crazy character. You can bet on that. Having Stacy pregnant would have given him another advantage, another connection with her that couldn’t be easily broken. Do you see what I’m getting at, Leon?” “Yes, of course,” Leon agreed. “I hate to have to ask this, but I have to do so. Can you think of any reason Morgan would want Stacy dead?” Astounded, Kennedy just shook his head disbelieving that Grayson had asked him such a thing. “Of course not,” he finally answered. “Morgan is a fine man. He is already rich, so what could he gain? We aren’t rich by any means, comfortable, of course, but not rich. Morgan wouldn’t have gained anything by marrying Stacy except for a wonderful, beautiful wife. Inheritance wouldn’t have meant anything to him. He’d gain nothing by her death.” “We just had to know,” Piper said. “Leon even suspects me of a crime sometimes.” Nobody responded to Piper’s attempt at humor. Grayson figured that it was about time to finish the session with a question that he really dreaded asking. “Mrs. Kennedy, you haven’t said much. Since you probably were closer to your daughter than anyone, I thought that you might be able to answer this one. Did you notice any changes in Stacy in the last several months? Perhaps her nerves were on edge, she ate more than usual, she suffered from sleep loss; things like that.” Mrs. Kennedy glanced at her husband and then straightening up in her easy chair, she focused her attention on Leon Grayson. Attempting to hold back the tears, keep her lips from trembling and keep her composure, she said, “Mr. Grayson, I’ll do my best. My daughter worked most of the time and the rest of the time she was with Andrew Morgan. Yes, I suppose you could say that she changed. I thought it was because she was in love, but later on, I figured that it was something else that was bothering her. I suppose the baby had a lot to do with it. However, pregnancy couldn’t explain the sleepless nights, the depression she seemed to suffer sometimes and at other times, she was as happy as could be. Being as happy as a little lark, as alive as a newborn baby, she intrigued me with her boundless energy, her willingness to take on the world despite the fact that she was only one person. Then all of a sudden, she’d change into an entirely new personality as if a blanket of darkness had swept down from a cold dark sky and completely enshrouded her. Stacy had these mood changes very frequently and that worried me immensely. It worried me more than I can tell you. She seemed to go from periods of depression into an almost ecstatic state of being where she didn’t seem to let anything bother her. I couldn’t explain it, and I still can’t.” “Could she have been on drugs?” Grayson sat back and crossed his legs hoping that his relaxed manner might instill the same attitude in Mrs. Kennedy. “Maybe,” she answered and her reply astounded Leon. Walter Kennedy sat up with his mouth wide open and spittle dripping down his chin. “What? Sarah, you don’t know any such thing. Stacy would never use drugs. What makes you think of such things?” Ignoring Walter entirely, she continued. “I asked Dr. Fairchild about that and he said that he had her on a mild anti-depressant. He would never tell me why he had prescribed the medication for her.” “We’ll ask him for you,” Leon promised, and smiled. “Well, I guess that’s about all we wanted to know. We appreciate your cooperation and just as soon as we know something, we’ll let you know.” Grayson stood up and the Kennedy family followed him to the door. As Leon and Piper shook hands with them again, Leon noticed that Marian Kennedy had tears in her eyes. How much did she know about her sister? He’d have to remember to talk to her when he got the time. For now, he thought that they’d imposed on the family enough for one day. * * * Less than two hours later, they were getting out of their vehicle on Fourth Avenue about a block southwest of where Myron Fuller lived in a rundown apartment building that looked like it was in bad need of maintenance. At eight o’clock on a Saturday night, the streets were nearly deserted adding to the dismal appearance of the area. Dressed in street clothes, their weapons hidden in shoulder holsters concealed by light jackets, they walked casually toward Myron Fuller’s apartment. “Shouldn’t we call for backup?” Piper asked. “I think we can handle him,” Leon assured him. “I don’t think he’ll mess with us once he knows who we are. Apparently, he just loved the woman and didn’t want to let go. I don’t think he’ll get violent with us.” “I hope not,” Piper said. “I mean, do you really think that he’d kill the girl just to keep her from marrying someone else?” “In a lover’s triangle, anything is possible,” Leon reminded him. “We just have to keep our cool and an open mind.” Pulling one of the double doors with glass panes wide open, they stepped into a foyer where a bank of mailboxes adorned one wall of the small lobby. The brick wall on the outside looked old, cracked in places and faded. The wallboard inside was in bad need of paint. Someone had written graffiti all over the wall. Leon looked for an intercom system, but didn’t see any. The mailboxes had names on most of them and Myron Fuller’s name was on one of the boxes. He was in 4E. Piper stood beside the closed door with his hand on his weapon. Leon occupied space on the other side of the door. Signaling that he was ready, Leon knocked on the door and announced who they were. “Police,” he yelled loud enough for anyone inside the room to hear him. “It’s the police, Mr. Fuller. We just want to talk to you.” Nobody stirred. Nobody answered. No one came to answer the door. “Crap,” Piper complained. “Does this mean that we have to invite ourselves in?” “I guess,” Leon said, turning the doorknob. Surprisingly, the knob turned and when he pushed on the door it opened. “Looks like the door was standing wide-open,” he added. “What a surprise. What luck.” “Sure,” Piper agreed. “I guess that means we can go in and investigate.” Ignoring his partner, Leon Grayson pulled his weapon and walked into the room. Piper followed covering him as best as he could. Nobody was in the living room, kitchen or bathroom. Myron Fuller was sprawled on the bedroom floor in a pool of dark red blood, his throat slashed. “Scratch one suspect,” Piper said. “Say, we never did talk about suspects. How many do you think we have anyway?” His voice slid down to nothing more than a whisper as he stood staring at the corpse, the blood, and the pallid, lifeless face. “A few,” Grayson replied considering Piper’s sudden comment that implied that they’d been going about the investigation all wrong. In their haste to investigate all the people involved, to get all the details, they’d forgotten one small item. They hadn’t had time to fully compose a list of the most likely suspects, those that might have a reason to murder Stacy Kennedy. They didn’t have a concrete list of suspects. Leon had jotted a few names on a piece of paper, but he was sure he’d missed some names that belonged on his list. Ever since he’d taken off his uniform and donned street clothes, he’d always composed a list of suspects. That was his arcane, methodical way of saying that he was organized. Working his way through the list, he’d usually found the criminals he was looking for. Walking over to the body, Leon stooped and touched Fuller’s arm. His arm was as stiff as a crowbar in a freezer. His blood was dark and clotting around the edges. Flies buzzed around the room, disturbed by the two detectives, they were now searching for a way to get back to their lunch without getting in harms way. Leon walked out of the bedroom and sat on the couch in the front room. Piper followed and sat near him. “Why was he murdered?” Leon looked at his partner and then answered sullenly as if he were in a daze that he wouldn’t be coming out of for a very long time. What was the reason that someone had killed Myron Fuller? He could think of none unless the killer had done it because Fuller knew something that he didn’t want known. “Let’s search the rest of the house and then, we’ll call it in. Maybe the specialists can find something that we’ll miss. We may turn up something that will help us close this case fast.” “I was hoping you’d say that,” Piper said as he followed Leon into the kitchen. Leon knew quite well that what they were doing was against department procedures. They should have reported the crime immediately and let the special investigations team go over the crime scene, document and photograph everything, but Leon was sure that they’d find clues that would lead them to the murderer before he could kill again. They’d searched the living room, bedroom and kitchen without finding anything that might implicate that Myron Fuller had even known Stacy Kennedy. Exhausted, disgusted and confused by the lack of usable evidence, they both looked around the living room until their eyes focused on the hallway. Seeing a door they hadn’t investigated, they headed for it at about the same time with the same purpose in mind. The door led to a large walk-in closet. The closet was enormous for a small apartment and Leon wondered if it hadn’t been part of an adjoining room in the past. The old brick apartment building had obviously been a private home many years ago. Someone had converted it into an apartment building. They’d found one other closet in the bedroom, but it only contained a few personal items such as clothes, magazines, books and ancient phonograph records. The closet in the hallway was approximately twelve feet long and six feet wide providing more than enough room as a storage area. A few clothes hung on hangers from a cheap imitation brass, hollow rod. Leon pushed them back into a corner out of the way and began looking for a hidden door or a switch that would release an inner wall exposing another room. He wasn’t sure one was there, however, something was suspicious about a closet that had so much space that simply was not being used. He’d noticed that Fuller had boxes of books, cookware and other items stored in the bedroom and in other places. He wondered why he didn’t store them in the closet. The more he thought about it, the more puzzled he became. Running the palms of his hands along the seams of the plasterboard, he looked for any seams that might be part of an opening, a door. He found nothing. Only two seams were visible where the plasterboard joined neatly. Disappointed, Leon reached up and pulled a string that turned on an overhead light in the ceiling above. As the light from the bulb drove back the darkness in the closet, he saw what he was looking for. Almost invisible in the darkness, a horizontal seam formed a rectangle about six feet tall and three feet wide in the corner where he’d shoved the clothes. The question on his mind was, how to get it open. The edges around the piece of plasterboard were rough as if it had been moved before. His first urge was to push on the rectangular area. Moving the clothes to the other side of the closet, he pressed on the wall and much to his surprise, it opened. The door opened into a larger room that had obviously been a bedroom in the past. Flipping a light switch on the wall by the door, they entered the hidden room as the light bathed the room in brilliant illumination. What they saw astounded them. Pictures of every size were attached to all the walls with thumbtacks. Stacy Kennedy adorned the walls and in some close shots, her beautiful face looked at them as if they were invading her private domain, her last sanctuary on earth. Some had been taken in color while others were brilliantly composed in black and white. In a corner of the room, they noticed a sink and a table. On the table was an enlarger, a very expensive one. Fuller had a darkroom and a very nice collection of cameras. Realizing that most people used digital cameras, Leon was surprised to see that most of the cameras Fuller had used were .35 mm cameras with a variety of telescopic lenses. Some of the lenses were 500 mm and very expensive. Judging from the looks of the photographs he’d taken, he’d put those lenses to good use. Fuller had managed to capture Stacy Kennedy in her most private moments, her time she spent at work and even when she was dining with Andrew Morgan. He’d been a busy little bee, Leon thought as he stood beside Piper studying the images hoping to find a clue as to who the murderer was. Fuller had pictures of Stacy and Morgan at the beach, making love in a hotel room—at least it looked like a hotel room—riding horses and walking in a park or some other secluded area. In several pictures shot in black and white, he’d managed to get a picture of her sitting at her desk at work. Astounded when he realized that Fuller must have been within a few feet of Stacy Kennedy when he took the picture, he wondered what else Fuller had seen and done. How many times had he been around or in her home? Was he at her wedding taking his own pictures? Maybe he’d even gone there to watch her die? He couldn’t think of anything that Fuller might not have done or wouldn’t do, if he’d lived. Leon knew that something was bothering him, but couldn’t quite acquire the thought that was sticking stubbornly in the dark recesses of his mind. What had Kennedy said about Fuller quitting his job? He quit his job after they broke up and he spent most of his time calling her and following her to work, things like that. Kennedy had said that Fuller was unemployed and that he spent his time mooning over Stacy. If that were true, where had he gotten the money to buy photographic paper, chemicals, film and expensive cameras and equipment? How did he purchase food, fuel and other necessities of life? Was someone financing him? Had he bribed someone and they killed him? Mulling over the preposterous questions that haunted him, Leon scanned the dozens of photographic albums that had nothing but pictures of Stacy Kennedy neatly positioned on their pages. The man had been totally obsessed with the woman. Fuller had placed fourteen photographic albums in a small shelf that was located near a window that looked down on the street below. Leon wondered how many times had Fuller sat up here looking at those photographs while he planned his next move. In some ways, it made sense, and in other ways, it was all too neat. Leon suddenly noticed one book that stood out from all the rest. That book wasn’t a photographic album. Wondering how he could have missed it, he pulled it from the shelf and opened it. The book was a record book that some people used to record their daily activities or one that accountants used for various reasons. Neatly written on the first page was a record of Fuller’s activities. They’d struck the jackpot. Flipping through the book, he saw that it was nearly full of entries that had begun nearly three years before Stacy met Andrew Morgan. Leon sat down in a folding chair and read the first page while Piper stood behind him reading over his shoulder. What they read astounded, horrified and appalled them. Fuller had kept a daily record of his affairs with Stacy Kennedy and his constant obsession with the woman. After they’d broken up, he’d watched her night and day. He’d recorded her activities with a man that he didn’t know and eventually her association with Andrew Morgan. When they’d finished reading, they were more confused than they had been before. “She worked for Morgan at his research lab,” Piper said. “She saw something there and Morgan warned her not to say anything about it. Fuller managed to get into the research lab to investigate and to take pictures of Stacy. I guess he intended to send her copies of the pictures to intimidate her. Maybe he thought that she’d eventually get tired of running from him and accept him. Who knows? Anyway, we have to find out what Morgan didn’t want the world to know. Fuller thinks that Morgan was going to kill her if she said anything. He even implicates that he might kill her anyway. Fuller was trying to think of some way to protect her or get her away from Morgan. Morgan wasn’t too happy about the baby either. According to Fuller, they argued about it and Morgan wanted her to get an abortion. It would seem that she might have forced Morgan into marrying her although I don’t believe that. Morgan probably never intended to marry her in the first place, especially after she found out something about him that he didn’t want anyone to know about. I’m prompted to believe that Morgan forced her to marry him after she told him she was pregnant. He was afraid to let her go until he could figure out what to do. Stacy Kennedy simply knew too much about his operations. So, obviously, Fuller considered her to be in serious danger.” “Yeah, enter suspect number one, Andrew Morgan,” Leon admitted slapping the closed book with his hand. “Imagine that, Andrew Morgan threatened by the woman he was going to marry.” “Yes, and Fuller knew that Morgan was a vicious, devious business tycoon who’d stop at nothing to protect his interests. Now, suspect number two. What was it Fuller said about the doctor?” Piper scratched his head and tried to remember. They’d been reading the journal for more than an hour and his mind was struggling to recall all the details. The closed apartment was hot. He could smell the blood and the body fluids coming from the corpse in the bedroom. The thought that they’d covered so much material in such a short time muddled his thinking. “Oh, he said that our favorite physician, Dr. Benton Fairchild had been selling drugs to Stacy Kennedy. When he realized that Stacy was hooked on morphine and other drugs he’d given her, he cut her off. Stacy had threatened to expose him as a drug dealer. Fairchild had warned her that her life would be in danger if she did such a thing. Apparently, Stacy got drugs from someone else. Since exposure could ruin Dr. Fairchild, I recommend that we elect him to the Suspects Hall of Fame as suspect number two. What do you think so far, Sherlock?” “Right on track, Watson,” Leon said unimpressed with Piper’s choice of words. “We have two more suspects according to our Mr. Fuller. One is known; the other is unknown and is likely to stay unknown unless the impossible becomes the possible. That means that we have to do a lot of legwork to find out who the unknown suspect is.” “Correct,” Piper said. “We now know who the third suspect is. We haven’t met him yet, but I don’t think that her lawyer, Mr. Philip Baldwin will be hard to find. According to Fuller, she approached him about her problems and he threatened to expose Andrew Morgan for what he was. According to Fuller, who seems to know more about this case than we do, Baldwin and Morgan went to college together. Baldwin and Morgan have been great buddies in crime ever since. Fuller said that Baldwin called Morgan and told him about Stacy visiting him before Stacy was out of the building. I suppose that Fuller must have been in the next room, or had the office bugged. Baldwin didn’t intend to do anything against his buddy. He just told Stacy that to alleviate her concerns. They both were concerned that Stacy would expose them. Morgan would lose his company and Baldwin would lose his investments. I give you suspect number three and I sure as hell wish I could give you suspect number four. However, we’re going to have to really work on that one.” “Well, I guess we better call this in and let the criminal investigations unit handle it. Maybe they can come up with something that we missed. While they’re working their little fingers to the bone, we’ll pay Dr. Fairchild a visit. Maybe he can enlighten us as to what role he plays in all this mess.” While Piper reported the location of the crime and informed them about other specific details, Leon called Dr. Bryant, the pathologist at the morgue and inquired about the status of the tests. They had been careful about disturbing the crime scene. Tampering with evidence and disturbing the scene of a crime were serious violations that could result in charges being brought against them. They’d worn surgical gloves that they carried in the trunk of their vehicle for just such purposes. With a little luck, nobody would ever know that they’d been nosey. Leon caught Dr. Bryant just as his shift was ending. He’d been anxious to get home to his family. His voice sounded rushed as he answered Leon’s questions. He only had to work every other Saturday night and only then because the morgue was understaffed. He normally worked the day shift and pulling a weekend tour of duty wasn’t something he enjoyed, in fact, it agitated him. The news Dr. Bryant gave him wasn’t good. They’d isolated the poison that had been introduced into the body of Stacy Kennedy. The poison was cyanide in crystalline form. Dr. Bryant thought that the poison had been mixed with Jell-O and put in the plastic bags. It probably had been ingested with food. That meant that someone had had constant contact with Stacy Kennedy for long periods, long enough to give her drugs and feed her the poison. Dr. Bryant thought that someone knew exactly how long it would take to kill her. “What are the symptoms of cyanide poisoning, Dr. Bryant?” “It varies and some symptoms might be worse than others. Rapid breathing, restlessness, dizziness, weakness, headaches and nausea would probably be noticed although I can’t say that a person poisoned with cyanide would have all those symptoms at one time. Of course, prolonged exposure to the poison would lead to low-blood pressure, slow heart rate, loss of consciousness and eventually death by respiratory failure. A person might even have a stroke or other organ failures.” “According to her mother, she had some or all of those symptoms,” Grayson informed him. “Yes, and something else, Leon, we found traces of morphine and other drugs in her organs and blood. The baby had it, too. The combination of drugs and cyanide could have killed her quite rapidly. She was probably given the cyanide the night before the wedding or early that morning. She could have been on drugs even longer that that. The combination of drugs and cyanide killed her quite rapidly.” “And so it did,” Grayson murmured into his cell phone. “So it did.” After the first police unit arrived, Leon and Piper drove back to the office to do their paperwork. Every part of the investigation had to be documented and the information entered into the departments computer system. By the time they arrived at the office, it was after midnight. “It’s too late to do much more,” Piper observed pulling his hands up to his face in a vain attempt to stifle his yawns. “What do you say that we call it a night?” “Great,” Leon said. “The rest of the gang here can do the preliminaries, collecting background information and things like that. We’ll collect all the information we can tomorrow, go over what we have and come up with a list of people that might be able to help us. We can’t do much tomorrow because it’ll be hard to contact people. On a normal Sunday, they’ll be in church or just enjoying their day off.” “Sorry I can’t say the same thing about us,” Piper complained. “Yeah, we have a long day ahead of us tomorrow. We’ll talk to the most likely suspects Monday and see what we can come up with. Did you contact our analyst about getting us a profile?” “Stephanie said that she’d have a profile for us tomorrow after twelve noon. She’s off for the weekend, but she’s coming in as soon as she gets home from church.” “Great,” Leon said. “Let’s have a beer or two and then go home. I’m bushed.” As they walked out of the office, Piper couldn’t have agreed more. It had already been a long day and tomorrow didn’t promise much better. * * * On Monday morning, at nine o’clock sharp, they drove to Dr. Fairchild’s office. The pretty, petite red-haired receptionist told them that he hadn’t shown up for work and wasn’t answering his telephone at his home in St. Albans. Disgruntled patients with angry expressions on their faces stared at them as if they thought they might be trying to get in to see the doctor before they did. Paying them little attention, they thanked the receptionist and left. St. Albans was a twenty-minute drive from South Charleston. The traffic was slow and it took them over half-an-hour to reach the doctor’s home. According to the file they’d read on Dr. Fairchild, he was divorced and lived alone. His home was located near a river and they had to cross a steel bridge to get to his modern brick home. Knocking at the door, they waited for several minutes before going to the rear of the home. Perhaps he was grilling out in the backyard, Piper had suggested. Nobody was around. They knocked at the front door several times and rang the doorbell. They tried turning the doorknob when nobody answered. It was locked. Checking under the doormat, the mailbox on the wall near the door and the top of the doorframe didn’t produce a key so they checked all the windows. They were secured. Deciding to check the garage to see if his car was there, they walked over to where the garage was and tested the overhead door. It wasn’t locked. Forcing the door up with brute strength, they were appalled by the smell of something that wasn’t alive and hadn’t been for a very long time. The temperature inside the garage, according to a thermometer on the wall, was eighty-nine degrees. Dr. Benton Fairchild was lying on the concrete floor in a pool of blood. His throat had been cut. Another major suspect had been eliminated. The killer had developed a routine, a method of operation and a dangerous, deadly tactic that would eliminate anyone that might be a threat to him, or her. Who was the killer and why were they so desperate to kill anyone that might know their secret? Leon didn’t know, but he intended to find out. He would find the killer, and soon because he knew he had to find out. They were running out of suspects. * * * They’d expected to find Andrew Morgan dead, too. Piper had argued that Morgan was a number one candidate for being the killer because he had the most to lose. If the world found out he was conducting experiments on animals, humans or turning monkeys into humans, then he’d be ruined. Leon wasn’t sure what Stacy Kennedy had seen in the labs that would disturb her and threaten her life, but he sure intended asking Morgan about it. Morgan wasn’t at his office in South Charleston. The friendly, pretty receptionist said he’d called in and said that he’d be in later. Apparently, he’d had something that he needed to take care of at home. After identifying themselves, the receptionist reluctantly gave them his home address. Morgan lived near St. Albans. Arriving at his exclusive brick home in Highlawn, near the Kanawha River, they rang the doorbell and waited. While waiting for someone to come to the door, Leon turned to Piper and asked, “Is this where the wedding and the crime happened?” Piper was taken by surprise because he’d assumed that Leon had read the full police report. Obviously, he’d missed some of the details. “Morgan owns several houses, one in Florida, a summer place in Maine and two houses here. Besides this one, he has a humongous house in South Charleston. That was where the wedding was held because it has an enormous garden. Do you really believe that Morgan is the one that killed Stacy Kennedy?” “I don’t know,” Leon surmised. “We don’t have any evidence to back up that accusation. Did the other investigators talk to everyone that was at the wedding?” “I talked to Dan Miller, the criminal investigations unit team leader and he said that they’d interviewed everyone there. Why? Do you think that the killer was at the wedding? Was it Morgan or someone else?” Leon didn’t know how to answer that question because he didn’t have a clue as to who had killed Stacy or who had killed the other people. All he did know was that someone was killing suspects faster than he could find them. Morgan finally answered the door and invited them in after they’d introduced themselves and stated their reason for wanting to talk to him. Morgan seemed a little nervous and Leon surmised right away that he had good reason to be nervous. Maybe Baldwin had already called him and told him about the other murders. Those murders hadn’t had time to hit the news yet. They’d only been reported to the police dispatcher shortly after they’d discovered them. Even nosey reporters didn’t move that fast. He was sure that Phillip Baldwin had connections at city hall and with people in the police department. Maybe Morgan was nervous because he’d ordered someone to kill Stacy Kennedy’s secret lover. After serving them coffee, he poured a brandy and they sat in the living room facing each other. The room was large with a décor that yelled money. Large picture windows allowed a great view of the valley and the river in the distance. Several expensive paintings adorned the walls. Leon felt as if he were in an art gallery. He didn’t know much about paintings, but these looked as if they might be worth a great deal of money. “So, how may I help you gentlemen?” Morgan sipped his brandy while he waited for Leon to shatter his world. Leon had prepared himself for just this moment. A thousand questions raced through his mind. Some of those questions made sense and some didn’t. At least, he felt a little uncomfortable thinking about them. Some, however, did make sense. Why did you want to marry Stacy Kennedy? Was it for love? What did she see in your lab that caused her such great alarm? Why did you kill her, you bastard? Leon ended up asking him few of the questions that he’d been prepared to ask him. According to Morgan, he’d met Stacy Kennedy when her father had invited him to dinner. They were business partners. Her father owned an interest in some of his labs and was interested in securing financing from Morgan in order to expand his own operations. Morgan had offered to purchase Kennedy’s operation. Walter Kennedy had kindly declined the offer and Morgan had forgotten about it. Morgan had dated Stacy and after he found out that she was pregnant, he’d been angry. He’d been so angry that he became hysterical, depressed for days and wanted to call the marriage off. Stacy wouldn’t let him out of his commitment. Presuming that the baby belonged to Morgan, Leon decided to form his question around that supposition. “Why did the fact that she was pregnant bother you?” Leon knew that such things happened and that it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence in modern times. “The baby wasn’t mine,” Morgan said, confidently. “It belonged to someone else and I figured that I wasn’t obligated to marry her.” “How do you know that it wasn’t yours?” Piper had sat quietly listening to the conversation, but now, he wanted to probe Andrew Morgan’s mind and see how he reacted. “Blood tests,” Morgan replied. “I threatened to have a blood test done on the baby after it was born. She finally broke down and told me that the baby didn’t belong to me. She never told me who the real father was. I didn’t want to argue with her over the matter. Denying that she’d been unfaithful to me, she said she’d only had one affair and that had been just before we became engaged. I guess that could have happened. We knew each other less than a year and she could have still be interested in someone else although, I never suspected such a thing. She said that she was trying to get away from this guy and that he was persistent. From what she told me, I presume that she’d had sex with him while she was intoxicated. All I knew was that I loved her and was willing to forgive her. I decided to let the marriage take place. I think that was my worst mistake.” “Do you believe that what she told you was true?” Piper asked. “No. I think she’d been seeing someone for a very long time.” Leon looked at the tired expression on his face. Unable to read any feelings of remorse there, he asked, “Why do you think that?” “Because someone killed her, didn’t they?” “Yes,” Leon admitted. “They gave her poison. Her death wasn’t natural. It was murder and I’m going to find out who did it and make sure they pay for it.” Piper glanced at Leon and then directed his next question to Morgan. “Did you notice any sudden changes in her personality in the last few days before her death? Did her personality change? Was she sick?” Emotional now, Morgan told them how Stacy had seemed distant, disturbed and disoriented in the last few days before their marriage. He’d thought that she was just feeling nervous because of the baby, the preparations and the marriage ceremony. On the day of the marriage, she’d told him that she loved him despite the fact that she carried someone else’s baby in her womb. Morgan had felt insecure, betrayed and bewildered about her activities. He told Piper and Leon bluntly that he had not killed Stacy and that he didn’t know anyone that might have had reason to kill her. Leon used the opportunity presented by his emotional instability to ask Morgan about Baldwin, the attorney. Morgan said that Baldwin owned a small interest in his company—an investment he’d made in stocks when Morgan opened his first lab—but, other than that, he avoided Baldwin as much as possible. Unrelenting, Leon kept up the heat. “We were told that you threatened Stacy after she discovered something in your lab. What were you doing that upset her so much? What did she see that you didn’t want her to see?” Morgan drank the last of his brandy. Sighing, he rose from the couch and walked over to a cabinet where he poured himself more brandy. Holding the glass in his hand, he stood by the cabinet with a thoughtful expression on his face. “Animals,” he replied. “We were conducting some important tests on animals. You see, we usually use white mice for all our experiments, but we’d decided to use rabbits because this particular drug worked better on larger animals. We thought that the risk of killing a few white rabbits was worth the effort if we could save millions of lives. Stacy didn’t see it that way and threatened to report us to animal activists groups and the media. I never saw her so upset since I met her. I guess I lost my temper with her and threatened her. We later made up. Stacy never forgave me—I don’t think—and she never forgot seeing those animals dissected.” Piper was appalled. “You mean that she actually observed the animals being cut up, uh, dissected.” “Unfortunately, yes,” Morgan informed them. “When I agreed to give her a job working at the lab, she was supposed to work in the office. However, she went into one of the labs one day searching for one of the technicians to deliver a message and walked into a gross situation. The technicians were dissecting several animals—mostly white rabbits—so that we could run tests to see how the drug had affected them. Stacy became frantic, excited and eventually depressed about the entire matter. All I can tell you is that I wouldn’t have done anything to hurt her. Of course, when I heard about the incident, I went to see her right away. I was angry and said a few words that should not have been said. I’ve regretted those words ever since.” Realizing that their case against Andrew Morgan was dissolving right before their eyes, Leon glanced quickly at Piper. Neither of them believed that Morgan had killed Stacy Kennedy. He would have to be crazy or stupid to kill her after he’d threatened her life, Leon surmised. Maybe someone wanted them to believe that he’d done it? In the modern world, anything was possible, almost nothing was impossible, or beyond the reach of those with enough money and determination. Real life in a modern society was anything but representative of what it had been in the past. Morals, traditional values and honesty had gone down the drain with all the other dark matter and waste. “So, Mr. Morgan, I presume that you’d be willing to submit to a lie-detector test and allow investigators to comb through your business to determine if what you’re telling us is true.” “Of course,” Morgan agreed, immediately, “I have nothing to hide and I’ll put my reputation on the line to prove that I’m telling the truth. I’ve worked hard to build my business and I don’t want to do anything that might jeopardize that business.” As Leon and Piper got into Piper’s old silver Corsica, Leon suddenly felt as if they had been manipulated, controlled and kicked out the door on their butts. “Do you think he’s bluffing?” Piper rested both hands on the steering wheel staring at Leon with an expression of doubt on his face. Thunder roared in the distance as dark clouds gathered on the far horizon. A brisk wind blew from the southwest whisking the leaves on the trees in every direction. A spring storm was brewing and Piper wanted to get back to the office before it arrived. Driving in severe weather didn’t exactly appeal to him, however, the question caught his attention, held him spellbound as he considered the possibility that something was awry with the explanations Morgan had given them. “I’m perplexed,” Piper said adamantly. “His explanations seemed rational, however, somebody had to kill Stacy Kennedy. Morgan is our primary suspect. Should we take him in for questioning?” Leon thought about what would happen if they did arrest Morgan. They’d look like fools because they didn’t have any concrete evidence that he’d done anything. According to Morgan, he’d intended marrying Stacy even after he’d discovered that she’d been unfaithful to him. Why would he kill her to protect his business? He could just as easily have told her to take a walk and removed any evidence of wrongdoing from his labs before the police or animal rights activists arrived. He wouldn’t have any reason to kill her. With his money, he could cover-up just about anything, hide it under a log in a great forest where nobody would ever find it and nobody could have proven anything. No, it just didn’t make sense, Leon thought. “Nah, let’s just report what we’ve learned and have Criminal Investigations take a look at his business operations. Have them look at his financial dealings and everything else. We can do that if we suspect that it somehow ties in with the murders. If necessary, get a court order.” “I’ll call it in,” Piper said flipping his cell phone and punching in a number as the wind rocked the vehicle. “Getting nasty, we better get back to the office, pronto.” When Piper had finished his call to the office, they drove off toward downtown as the first onslaught of the storm pounded South Charleston. * * * As the first severe weather of the new season pounded the city, sent entire sections of the town into total darkness from downed power lines and failed transformers, Leon and Piper sat at their desks across from each other reviewing the case and occasionally asking each other questions, making comments and exchanging humorous observations about the case. “We’re missing something here,” Piper said. “None of our suspects turned out to be the right one. Fuller mentioned an acquaintance, lover or friend that Stacy was involved with before and during her association with Morgan. Could that man have been the one that got her pregnant? Could he be the one we’re looking for?” “Possible,” Leon said, sullenly shuffling through a stack of papers. Not finding what he was looking for in the stack of papers, he grabbed the mouse and scrolled through a list of names on his computer screen. “What are you looking for?” Piper got up from his desk and walked around to look over his shoulder. “Anything in particular?” “This is a list of names of all the people at the wedding and all those people that knew Stacy Kennedy. I’m looking for one name that keeps popping up in my mind.” “Why are you looking for a particular name? Is there something significant about it?” “Chemicals,” Leon said. “I’ve been turning things over in my mind. Stacy was murdered with chemicals, cyanide in particular, and I think that we need to be looking for a person or persons who have knowledge of chemicals.” “A doctor? Maybe it was a lab technician or medical assistant. Chemist? Who? Doctor Fairchild was selling her drugs and that was a good reason for him to kill her. He’s dead, though. That eliminates him as a suspect, or at least, a live suspect.” “It’s simpler than that,” Leon said, “because this person has been right under our noses all the time. It’s somebody that Stacy knew for a very long time, somebody that she trusted and admired. Perhaps, she trusted this person because they were giving her drugs. Maybe they were friends, or acquaintances and things got a little too personal. This person, this friend of hers, might have had sex with her, she became pregnant, and he killed her because she became a threat to him. That means that he is married, has a family, has a reputable business and was afraid that he’d lose everything if she told who the baby belonged to.” “Sounds like a standard profile in a case like this. In fact, it compares to the profile of our killer that Stephanie Kidd, our psychiatrist, gave us. Mrs. Kidd believes that our killer is a professional person who has some medical background, understands human anatomy and is very dangerous.” “I thought all killers were dangerous,” Leon commented forcing a slight smile as he continued to scroll though the list of names. “Ah, here’s one,” he added highlighting a name that had caught his attention. “Lyle Bennett,” Piper said. “Say, wasn’t that the photographer that took the wedding pictures?” “Exactly.” “A photographer has knowledge of chemicals. Would he have enough knowledge to understand how long it would take that cyanide to kill her? Would he know how to administer drugs or something like that, so he could put the cyanide in Stacy Kennedy’s food? Maybe she was enjoying using drugs with him? That would explain how he got her to take the drugs. Maybe they’d been using drugs together for a very long time.” Piper sat down in a straight-back chair beside Leon’s desk and waited for an answer. “I don’t know, but we better find out everything about him that we can. He’s our only lead now. We need to know everything.” Leon advised, sullenly. Typing on the keyboard, he submitted a request for information from several government agencies including the FBI office in Washington and ran background credit checks on Lyle Bennett. Somewhere, someone had the information that he needed to determine if Bennett was the killer. “Why didn’t the investigators do a background check on him?” Leon looked at Piper wondering about the same thing. “Apparently, he slipped through the system. Maybe he disappeared before the investigators got there. I’ll have to talk to the captain about it, though. Those videos and wedding pictures should have been retained as evidence.” “I’m sure they were,” Piper assured him. “I’ll go down and check. Maybe we can get his address and other information.” “You do that and I’ll see what I can come up with. I’ll check him out on the computer and make a few calls.” “You got it,” Piper said rising from his seat. In a flash, he’d headed out of the office and down the hallway. Leon picked up the telephone and started making calls while the computer printed out information about Lyle Bennett on a nearby printer. The rain outside came down in torrents whipped about by the wind. Lightning boomed, thunder roared and Leon felt very uncomfortable about being on the telephone. An hour later, Piper returned with a box of documents under his arm. He’d been right. The investigators had confiscated the cameras, film, pictures and videos. A full report had been filed on Bennett. Piper had an address on Second Avenue in South Charleston. Bennett lived there with his wife and three children. Dropping the reports, one at time, on Leon’s desk, Piper stood watching gleefully as Leon picked up the first file. “You’ll like what’s in that one,” he promised, smiling. “Bennett attended medical school before finally dropping out to pursue a career in photography.” “So I see,” Leon told him. “He has quite an interesting history. According to several people that various officers talked to yesterday, Bennett was a close friend of the Kennedy family and their personal photographer as well as their biographer. He prepared a biography of the family that was published a few years ago. The family claimed that he was a close friend of Stacy’s and that’s why they didn’t go any deeper into checking him out. I guess they left that part of it up to us since we’re the primary investigation officers.” “Logical,” Piper replied. “Bennett had all the opportunity and the knowledge to do what the killer did. He’s probably the father of Stacy’s baby and killed her to prevent a family scandal and loss of his business.” “And, there’s something else that I turned up that is very interesting,” Leon inferred. “What?” “I checked his banking accounts, his financial transactions and his credit history. About two weeks ago, he acquired a tremendous amount of money, sixty-five thousand dollars, in fact, was transferred into his account. Prior to that time, he was barely making the payments on his expensive house, boat and two cars.” Piper looked at him with a helpless expression on his face. “Who made the transaction?” “Unknown. The bank won’t release any information without a judge sending them a greeting.” Piper knew that it was hard, if not difficult for customers of a bank to get some information about their accounts so he understood the situation clearly. “Do you think we have enough information to talk to him?” “Talk to him, and arrest him,” Leon declared rising from his seat. “Let’s go see what we can find out that he won’t want to tell us.” As Piper turned the Corsica onto Fourth Avenue and headed northeast toward where Lyle Bennett lived, Leon knew that the case was solved and that they could soon begin wrapping up the minor details. Bennett had been a friend of Stacy’s for a long time and had taken advantage of her. When she got pregnant, he’d panicked and killed her, slowly. He’d checked on the Internet and all the information that Bennett would ever need was available including how much cyanide it would take to kill her and how long it would take. Even if he didn’t have a degree in medicine, he would have been able to figure things out for himself without any trouble at all. Leon worried about loose ends. He wanted everything to go perfectly. Did they have the right person and if so, did they have enough evidence to convict him? Such questions always bothered him because he knew that the slightest mistake on their part could result in the case being thrown out of court. Shrugging his shoulders, assuring himself that everything would be all right, he tried to relax knowing that they’d soon be face to face with the killer. Except: Lyle Bennett wasn’t at home. His wife said that he was at his office. The receptionist told them that he’d come in briefly and had gone out on an assignment immediately. Bennett was shooting some advertisements for a local organization out at Little Creek Park. Disgusted, they headed for Little Creek Park feeling as if they were on a wild goose chase. Their quarry was elusive, cunning and dangerous. Little Creek Park was located southwest of South Charleston. Entering the park, they looked for a white van that the receptionist had told them he was driving. Trying to find him in the mass of people, the cars and the abundant trees was like trying to find a needle in a tornado. When they did find the van parked on an isolated stretch of road deep within the park, they found Lyle Bennett in the front seat. He’d been shot four times, two times in his chest, and twice in the head. Somebody had wanted to make sure that he didn’t reveal any secrets. The bullets had entered his head from the left side, the same side where the killer had stood on the driver’s side of the vehicle. Blood was splattered everywhere. The window had been rolled down as if Bennett had recognized the person approaching him and had lowered the window so he could talk to him. Very little was left of Bennett’s head that anyone could recognize. Ruling out suicide, they carefully inspected the contents of the vehicle before calling the incident in to the South Charleston Police Department. Careful not to disturb the body, leave their fingerprints, or smudge any other fingerprints the killer might have left, they searched Bennett’s body. Inside his jacket, they found an envelope. It was addressed to Walter Kennedy. The letter was not sealed as if Bennett expected to make additions to the letter later or maybe put something into the envelope before sealing it. Leon carefully inspected the document. Unfolding the carefully folded letter, he read silently as a cold wind blew through him chilling his blood and sending cold currents through the morrow of his bones. Bennett had planned to kill himself and he’d written a letter to Walter Kennedy identifying himself as the father of Stacy’s baby and as her killer. Unable to cope with the murders he’d committed, he’d decided to end his life. Andrew Morgan had paid him hush money and had paid him very well to kill everyone that Stacy had told about his experiments and anyone that might be a threat to him. Morgan had forced Stacy Kennedy to tell him who the baby’s father was. Once he’d learned that information, he’d threatened Bennett and had coerced him to kill Stacy or face total destruction. Fuller had learned that Bennett was the baby’s father. In a mess, a confusing series of situations that just got worse, Bennett had paid Fuller to keep his mouth shut. When Morgan found out about it, he’d told Bennett that Fuller had to be eliminated. Fuller knew too much. He knew about the baby, about the experiments and soon figured out that Morgan was behind the entire mess. Bennett was all too happy to comply because Fuller was demanding more and more money. His photography experiments were getting expensive. Bennett had killed until he couldn’t deal with it. Now, he was dead, the victim of a chain of murders initiated by Morgan. Bennett had learned that Morgan was conducting experiments on live humans. Stacy Kennedy had finally told him in exchange for drugs. Subjecting them to deadly viruses, Morgan had told them that they were testing mild influenza vaccines. Using prostitutes, homeless people and wandering souls that would work for practically nothing, he’d had them dumped in a nearby deserted coal mine when they died. The lab technicians were unaware of what happened to the people after they’d been injected and studied for a few days. The subjects got sick after three days and by that time, he had the research results he needed and simply had the infected, helpless subjects transferred to a special lab to die. When deceased, they were dumped where they wouldn’t be found. After Bennett learned about Morgan’s illegal experiments, he figured that Morgan would have him killed, too. Unable to cope with the situation, he had decided to take his own life. The thought that he’d lose his business, family and maybe even his own life, had prompted him to take desperate action to protect his family. After he was dead, he’d hoped that Morgan would leave his family alone. The letter was four-pages long, specific, organized and Bennett even listed names of people that had worked on the projects. With the letter, Leon knew that he had enough evidence to arrest Morgan for murder, especially if he could find the corpses in the shaft. Folding the letter, he put it back into the envelope and stuffed the envelope back where he’d found it. As police units with flashing lights and wailing sirens approached, he winked at Piper and said, “As soon as we file our reports, we’ll have a talk with Morgan. I’m sure we have enough to bring him in.” “Yeah,” Piper replied, “and this time, I don’t think he can deny it. He’s sneaky though. Just imagine, he got someone else to do his killing for him. If we can tie that bank transaction in with him hiring Bennett, then we’ll have a concrete case. His reluctant bride may have just reached out from the grave to convict him.” “How do you figure that?” Leon asked, puzzled. “Well—“ Smiling cunningly, after interrupting him, Leon turned to Piper and said, “I know, Stacy loved Fuller all along. His insane jealously drove them apart, however, she just couldn’t stay away from him. After they broke up, she went back to see him several times, to talk to him and perhaps, to discuss problems that she was having. Maybe she liked his company and was trying to decide if she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. I don’t think they would have had sex at that stage in the game because she’d just broken up with him. She was probably trying to convince Fuller that he was the only one for her. Love is strange, sometimes. I’ve heard of worse situations. Morgan promised that he wouldn’t hurt Fuller if she’d marry him and keep quiet about what she’d seen in the lab. Morgan just wanted her under his control until he could figure out a way to hush her, permanently. Helpless, she agreed hoping to save Fuller’s life. Maybe she reached out from the grave to convince Bennett that he should kill himself. Maybe that was her way of getting revenge on him for killing her and Fuller.” “I don’t understand how Bennett fits into her life. I can understand that she might have loved Fuller despite the fact that he was insanely jealous of her. Why would she have sex with Bennett and have his baby?” Leon looked at him with a sarcastic smile on his face. “Do you mean that you haven’t figured that one out yet?” “Of course not,” Piper admitted and blushed. “I have some ideas, though. I just wanted to see what you had to say.” “As a friend, she probably confided in him, told him her deepest, most troublesome secrets and he probably shared his drugs with her. He probably raped her while she was alone with him and under the influence of drugs. Haven’t you ever heard of, date rape?” “How’d she find out that he was the one that raped her if she was drugged?” “Maybe she became aware long enough to know that he was raping her. Perhaps she couldn’t do anything about it after Bennett had started raping her. They’d probably talked about it, she’d protested and they both finally decided that it was best if neither of their families found out about it. You forget, that she’d known him for a very long time. She trusted him, liked him and considered him her very best friend, her confident and possibly as a father that she didn’t really have. She didn’t trust her own father because he’d interfered with her relationship with Fuller. When she found out that she was pregnant, she knew who the baby belonged to. She hadn’t had sex with Fuller for a long time, not since they broke up.” “Absurd,” Piper proclaimed. “We’re both crazy, do you know that?” “Maybe so,” Leon agreed. “It was an idea, though. Only the reluctant bride knows exactly what she feels, how she feels and if we’re right, they’re both together now. Well, let’s go get our number one suspect.” “Yeah,” Piper said. “I hope he hasn’t committed suicide, too.” “No way,” Leon promised. “Why not?” “If he followed his method of operation, he’d have to get someone else to kill him and then it wouldn’t be a suicide. That would be homicide.” “We’re both crazy,” Piper insisted. “I know that now, but I do like to work with you even if you are as crazy as I am.” “Any more questions, Watson?” “Nah, I’ve had enough questions and answers to last me a lifetime,” Piper admitted. “Besides, we might get in two or three beers before we go to visit Mr. Morgan. I think I need something. Baldwin is involved in this, too … you know that … don’t you, Sherlock?” “Of course, Watson,” Leon laughed, patted Piper on his shoulder, and pushed him toward their vehicle. “We’ll let the attorney’s figure out that mess. I’m sure that Baldwin will end up in a noose along with his buddy, Morgan.” As they walked toward their vehicle, uniforms swarmed all over the area talking to potential witnesses, checking out the body in the van and getting in each others way. As they drove away, they both were satisfied that one way or the other, Andrew Morgan would pay for what he’d done to so many people. If not in this world, then he’d pay in the next world. It was their job to make sure that people like him didn’t get away with murder. Sometimes, when they met people like Andrew Morgan, they sort of enjoyed their work. The End
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