Read Heinous Online

Authors: Debra Webb

Tags: #Police Procedural, #Karen Robards, #body farm, #Faces of Evil Series, #missing, #Reunited Lovers, #Lisa Gardner, #southern mystery, #Thriller, #Obsessed Serial Killer, #family secret, #hidden identity, #Tess Gerritsen, #serial killer followers

Heinous

 

HEINOUS

FACES OF EVIL

 

Debra Webb

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

 

Copyright © 2014 Debra Webb, Pink House Press

 

Edited by Marijane Diodati

 

Cover Design by Kendel Flaum

 

All rights reserved. In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher is unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

 

PINK HOUSE PRESS

WebbWorks

Huntsville, Alabama

 

First Edition July 2014

Table of Contents

 

“...nothing can satisfy it but the blood...how heinous, how sinful must the evil be...”

William Throsby Bridges

 

1

Chapel Road

Birmingham, Alabama,

Sunday, September 5, 9:30 a.m.

Deputy Chief Jess Harris was well aware the car had stopped moving. She was also reasonably sure the detective behind the wheel had said something, but his words didn’t register. The events of the last week kept cycling through her thoughts as if she’d missed something and should have recognized it by now.

Whatever
it
was, it lingered just outside her mental grasp. She should get out of the car and do her job. After all, this was a crime scene and inside that century old chapel was a homicide victim who deserved her full attention.

Still, she hesitated.

The truth was, considering all that had happened in the past six days, a wiser woman might have done what everyone had been urging her to do for weeks now—to go into hiding by accepting the offer of protective custody the Bureau had made at least twice already.

Right
. If only the solution were that simple.

The Joint Task Force comprised of the FBI, Interpol, and the Birmingham Police Department were frantically attempting to find and stop the sociopathic serial killer known as the Player to no avail. Unfortunately, they were no closer than they had been last month or the month before that.

Eric Spears
. The Player.

The name echoed inside her.

For more than five years, the FBI had been tracking him without success. Supervisory Special Agent Ralph Gant, Jess’s superior at Quantico during most of her former career with the Bureau, was lead on the Joint Task Force.

Giving the Task Force grace, this wasn’t the first time the Bureau or Jess had faced this level of evil, or had such difficulty catching a killer. Spears never left a trail to follow, not so much as a trace that would lead to him. As elusive as he proved, his motives and methods were well documented. He liked to play games with his victims and each game was always the same.

Until now.

Now his true goal appeared to be...
her
.

Recruiting followers to do his bidding, he had targeted people closest to Jess as well as significant places in her life, and then his twisted game had suddenly taken a new turn.

Anger tightened her chest.

He had delved deep into her past and touched the few cherished memories she possessed of her early childhood. He’d taken those happy snippets of the too short time with her parents and turned them into something malevolent, goading Jess with the idea that nothing about who she was or where she came from was as it seemed.

Psychopath and Spears follower, Amanda Brownfield, and her rural home in Scottsboro were the latest pieces of this new puzzle. Jess had expected to spend this sweltering Sunday before Labor Day at the place local deputies had dubbed the body farm. Images of all those unmarked open graves along with the metal box that held photos of victims filtered through her mind, mocking Jess with life-shattering allegations about her father.

She simply couldn’t wrap her head around the theory that her father had lived a secret life with a multi-generational family of killers. As disturbing as that possibility was, part of her sensed there was a kernel of truth buried within all the lies and victims at the Brownfield body farm.

Whatever that truth turned out to be, the game was escalating... rushing toward a conclusion precisely orchestrated by Eric Spears.

How many others would lose their lives before it was over?

At this very moment, there were three young women whose lives hung in the balance. Two had been identified, the third they’d only learned about twenty-four hours ago. The photo of the latest victim was running on all media outlets. No one had come forward to identify her as of yet. She wasn’t in any databases. No criminal history. Just another young woman with the look—tall and beautiful with long dark hair—that made her the target of a serial killer at the very top level of the evil scale.

Whatever Spears had in store for these women, he appeared to be collecting rather than murdering them. This additional abrupt change in his MO provided Jess with a glimmer of hope that these victims—unlike all his others—might be found alive.

With a deep bolstering breath, she let go of those troubling thoughts and focused on the here and now. Sergeant Chet Harper had called with the address of a homicide the Special Problems Unit, BPD’s hybrid major crimes division, had caught from dispatch. The sooner she was finished here, the sooner she could get back to the case haunting her.

“Ready, Chief?” Lieutenant Clint Hayes, her ride this morning, asked.

Jess slipped her eyeglasses into place and reached for the door handle. “As ready as I’ll ever be, Lieutenant.”

Emerging from Hayes’s Audi, Jess surveyed the wooded setting. Department cruisers blocked off access at both ends of the street. Yellow crime scene tape surrounded the quaint old chapel that had long ago been a thriving congregation, but now served as a wedding venue for those who preferred a vintage setting. A few parking slots away the BPD Crime Scene van waited.

She and Hayes had passed a pair of uniforms canvassing the neighbors, most of whom were probably too far away to have witnessed anything, but that was the extent of visible official activity.

Jess rounded the hood, meeting Hayes on the sidewalk. “Harper and Wells are inside?”

“They are.” He paused for her to start up the walk ahead of him. “ME’s en route.”

Jess surveyed the towering stained glass windows as she climbed the steps at the chapel’s front entrance. If the trouble had begun outside the chapel, there were no visible indications. Hayes opened the towering doors and Jess walked inside. The coppery scent of blood hung in the air. Sergeant Chet Harper and Detective Lori Wells waited in the small vestibule.

“What do we have so far, Sergeant?” Jess retrieved gloves and shoe covers from her bag.

“We asked the evidence techs to wait until you arrived.”

Lori picked up where Harper left off. “We felt you should see this before anything was disturbed.”

Unease nudged Jess. She dismissed it. “In that case, let’s not keep the victim waiting any longer.”

The detectives stepped apart, allowing a view into the sanctuary. Rows of pews lined each side of the center aisle that led to the altar. In front of the altar, a man knelt in prayer.
The victim
.

A trail of coagulated blood stained the worn pine planks of the chapel floor. As Jess moved toward the man whose blood had made that path, the two large urns standing on the altar before him captured her attention. Both urns were filled with peace lilies.

Jess’s instincts sharpened. She’d hated those damned things since she was ten years old and sat on the front pew with her sister at their parents’ funeral. A new tension trickled through her, but she set it aside. No reason to jump to conclusions since the lilies might very well be part of the wedding arrangements.

Only one way to find out. “Tell me about the flowers.”

“The floral delivery for the wedding isn’t scheduled until two this afternoon,” Lori said, confirming the deduction Jess had hoped wouldn’t pan out.

“We believe the killer brought them,” Harper added, “to set the scene.”

If the lilies were from the killer, her detectives understood what that meant.
Spears
. In all his infernal digging around in Jess’s past, he had discovered her aversion to peace lilies. This wasn’t the first time he’d used them to send her a message. He wanted to shake her, to throw her off balance in preparation for his final move.

Despite his detailed planning, Spears’s one mistake was vastly underestimating her determination to see him in hell.

Jess circled then crouched in front of the victim to have a closer look. Whatever else Spears had planned, understanding how each new twist connected to his end game was the only way to potentially block his next move.

The victim’s face was ashen with death. Eyes were open. Lips were sutured closed. Palms were pressed together, glued most likely, as if in prayer. Something like piano wire fastened around his neck kept his arms in the proper position. The wire had cut into his flesh, leaving a ring of blood around his collar. A steel rod shoved down the back of his shirt and trousers, exiting at the crotch and piercing the wood floor kept his torso upright. Nails secured his feet to the floor.

The primary source of blood appeared to have drained from the groin area, probably a femoral artery judging by the amount.

“Considering the state of rigor,” Harper said as he crouched next to Jess, “he’s been dead several hours. Lividity suggests he’s been in this position the whole time.”

“He was still alive when the suturing was done.” Jess indicated the streams of blood painting his chin and throat. “You have an ID yet?”

“Gordon Henshaw, seventy-five, retired pastor,” Lori listed. “He does the occasional wedding and funeral now. He was scheduled to perform the ceremony here this evening. The two wedding coordinators found him when they arrived around eight this morning to start decorating. Cook is taking their statements now.”

Officer Chad Cook was the youngest member of the team. He’d been prepping for the detective’s exam recently. Jess looked forward to making that promotion happen for him. With most days spent investigating murder cases, she appreciated those rare opportunities when work included something to celebrate.

Unless this man’s murder put them a step closer to stopping Spears, there would be absolutely nothing to celebrate today.

“You have an address?” The vic wasn’t wearing a wedding band. “Any close family?”

“We have his address. Don’t know about family yet.” Harper looked directly at Jess then. “Henshaw spent forty years as pastor of an Irondale congregation. The small church near the house where you lived with your parents.”

As if the news triggered some switch that opened the gate to long forgotten memories, the smell of cherry pipe tobacco, a deep, gentle voice and a slow, easy smile whispered through Jess’s mind.
Pastor Gordon
.

He’d patched up her skinned knee once and given her a stern talking to another time. He’d promised that God was always watching and keeping his children safe.

Not exactly the way things turned out, Pastor
.

Damn. Jess pushed to her feet. “Let’s track down any relatives or friends who might have been in contact with him in the past twenty-four to forty-eight hours.” She glanced around the sanctuary for another door. “Is there an office? Bridal chamber? Where are Cook and the coordinators?”

“In the office,” Lori explained. “The reception hall, office, and wedding party rooms are in a separate building around back.”

“I’ll get the evidence techs started.” Harper headed for the front entrance.

Hayes reached for his cell. “I’m on the family and friends.”

Jess studied the reverend for a moment longer. The notion that she should call her sister made a fleeting appearance amid her other thoughts. She and Lily hadn’t seen this man in more than thirty years—not since their parents died. He was a homicide victim, her new case. Basically a stranger...
who was dead because of her
.

Between the blood and the cloying scent of the flowers, Jess needed air. “Is there a back door?”

“There is, but it’s locked. No signs of forced entry. The chapel director is at another venue trying to relocate tonight’s wedding and she has the only key.” Lori gestured to the front entrance. “The killer had to come through that door.”

“Let’s find out what Cook has learned in the interviews.” Jess hoped they could make next of kin notification before the media got wind of this murder. Any minute now, the newshounds would arrive. The best reporters always had their sources within any law enforcement agency. It was a miracle they weren’t on the scene already.

She followed Lori through the vestibule and out into the humid air. It shouldn’t be this damned hot in September, especially before noon. A couple of deep breaths helped to clear the stench of death from her lungs. One of the more unpleasant side effects of the first trimester of pregnancy was the inability to ignore the pungent odors associated with investigating a murder scene.

“Please tell me this is not going to keep you and Dan away from Daddy’s barbecue.”

The ME had arrived.

Dr. Sylvia Baron, Jefferson County’s Assistant Corner, paused on the walkway.

With yet another person connected to her or her past murdered, Jess summoned what she hoped was a respectable smile. “Wouldn’t miss it.”

“Good.” Sylvia removed her sunglasses and scrutinized the entrance to the chapel. “I can’t remember the last time I was in church on a Sunday morning. I hope the roof doesn’t fall in.”

Somehow the ME’s self-deprecating wit lessened the tension nagging at Jess. “If it didn’t fall in on me,” she offered, “you’re probably safe.”

“Good point, Harris.”

Jess watched the medical examiner, who was also her friend, stride toward the entrance. As usual, she was dressed impeccably, from the top of her recently colored auburn tresses to her shiny lilac stilettoes that exactly matched the classic sheath she wore. Sylvia could be a little abrasive with a sharp tongue she used on Jess as often as not, but the ME was the best at what she did. Jess had a feeling that beneath that brash attitude was a woman who only wanted to protect the soft heart she adamantly denied possessing.

Maybe they were more alike than Jess preferred to acknowledge on most days.

A warning that she’d received a text message came from deep within her bag. News about a break in the hunt for Spears or a full confession from Amanda Brownfield would be nice. Barely thirty-six hours ago, Amanda had been taken into custody. It was likely too early to expect any additional revelations from her.

Spears’s newest follower claimed to be Jess’s half sister. Worse, Amanda had abandoned her four-year-old daughter on a street in downtown Birmingham for no other reason than being asked to do so by Spears. Her last ditch effort to get to Jess before being apprehended had almost gotten Chief of Police Dan Burnett killed. The memory quaked through Jess even now.

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