Monday, January 17, 2011

Untitled 1: Part 14

The next morning, Eileen woke to the sound of Mike’s soft snoring. She was cuddled against his back, enjoying the skin to skin contact when her cell phone rang. Fumbling for her purse, she caught it on the third ring, but Mike was already stirring.

He tried to stifle his loud yawn so Eileen could hear whoever it was on the other end.

“Eileen, it’s Ryan. Listen, I know it’s early, but I wanted to let you know that we got that fax from the security company.”

“And?” she asked impatiently, pulling the sheet up under her arms to conceal her nakedness, as if Ryan could see her through the phone. “What did it say?”

“There was some activity that morning.”

“What exactly do you mean by ‘activity’? Like something triggered the silent alarm and they didn’t call me to check it out? Our activity like just something a little funky and out of the ordinary?”

“It would be the latter. Hang on a sec.” She could hear him ordering coffee somewhere, apparently at a drive-through, given the static she could hear in the other person’s voice.

“Hello? Ryan? Priorities please. You can’t drop a bomb like that and then stop so you can order coffee. What kind of activity are we talking about?”

Mike was watching her intently as she waited for Ryan’s response. She playfully slapped at him when he tugged the sheet down and let his hands roam over her sleep-warm skin.

“The alarm was never triggered, but someone did turn off the alarm and then turn it back on, all within less than sixty seconds. It happened at five-eleven yesterday morning.”

Eileen swallowed hard, trying to ignore Mike’s warm hands and teasing caresses. “So whoever did it knows the security code. How did he get that information? I have the code, you and Mike have the code, and the security company has the code. Mike didn’t even have the code until yesterday after everything went down. Hell, I didn’t even give the code to Scotty because when he’s home, we’re always together. I suppose he may know it from watching me punch it in, but he’s all the way up in Lake Zurich. So who the hell was it?”

“I don’t know, babe. Trevor said they dusted the keypad, but they didn’t come up with anything. And the partial print didn’t match anything in the database. But we’ll get it figured out. I know we will.”

“Okay. Thanks for the info. I’ll see you later.”

“Do you want me to swing by and pick you up on my way in?”

“No, I think I’ll be fine driving myself today. I’m feeling better. And if I’m not sure later, I can have Mike drive me.”

“I’m glad he stayed with you. He’s a good guy.”

She looked over at his sleepy face and ran her fingertips over his stubbled jaw. “Yeah, he is. I’ll see you later.”

They both hung up and she tossed the cell phone back into her purse.

“Sorry that woke you up. I tried to grab it right away.”

“No problem,” he answered, reaching to pull her back under the covers. “Do you have to get up yet?”

“Pretty soon,” she said, glancing at the clock. “I can be lazy for a little bit longer. Maybe ten minutes.”

“Good. Now come lay by me.”

“You don’t have to tell me twice.” Snuggling against him, her cheek on his shoulder, she was silently chiding herself for trying to get rid of him the previous evening. His hands continued to roam over her body and little shivers went up and down her spine.

“You cold?” he asked, continuing to trace her back.

“No. Just…mmmm…feels good.”

“How good?” Hungry eyes were taking her in and she felt herself melting under his touch.

“Very good. Very, very good.” Little sighs were coming from her as he moved on top of her, kissing her neck and collarbone, sweeping his chest over hers. Her arms had already made their way around his neck and she guided his lips further down, shivering with delight as he kissed each of her breasts in turn, sucking on the puckered pink nipples until they stood out like pencil erasers. When she thought she couldn’t take it for even another second, he nudged her thighs apart with his knee. She opened herself to him and he sank deep into her, both of them emitting small moans of pleasure.

Afterward, he continued to hold her, and though she knew she needed to get up for work, she let herself linger in his secure embrace for a little longer. The thought of having to get up was not pleasant, made even less so by the information that Ryan had given her earlier. Finally, knowing she had to get up or be late, she disentangled herself from Mike, giving him a quick kiss as she did so.

“Any big plans for today, Mr. O’Brien?”

“Not really. I’m not sure what to do with myself. I’m so used to being on the go, working, working, working, that I don’t know what to do with this down time. I suppose there’s no way I could convince you to stay home? Take some vacation time with me?”

“Nope. It’s this sense of obligation. I have to see this thing through. Anything less than that, and I wouldn’t be able to respect myself.” She grabbed a simple pair of khaki slacks and an olive green blouse from her closet, tossing them over the footboard of the bed. “Why don’t you go back to sleep? I’ve got to take a shower, then I’m going to grab some coffee and head out of here.”

“Are you kidding? I can’t go back to sleep. Do you want breakfast? I can make something for you.”

“That’s sweet, but no. I’m running really late. If you could start coffee, though, that would be great.”

Mike watched her hurry to the bathroom and heard the water start a minute later. He got up and went into the kitchen, wanting to make sure the coffee would be ready by the time she had to leave. He measured out the coffee grounds, adding some extra to make it good and strong the way Eileen liked it. In no time, the kitchen was filled with the scent of the aromatic brew. As an afterthought, he put a whole-grain English muffin into the toaster, figuring she could eat it on her way into work. He knew she needed to keep up her strength. The shower was turned off a minute later, and he could hear Eileen puttering around in her room, getting dressed. She emerged less than five minutes later, looking relaxed and refreshed.

The blouse brought out the green in her eyes, and she had worn her dark hair in loose waves around her face. She looked more like she was getting ready to pose for a magazine shoot than to go to work. She would have been even prettier if she’d been smiling a little more.

“What’s wrong kiddo? You look like you just found a dead fly in your coffee,” he said as he handed her a steaming mug. “Which, by the way, there isn’t. I cleared out all dead bugs before I poured it.”

She smiled at him, taking a generous swallow before setting the mug on the kitchen table. “No bugs. I just can’t find my shoes.”

“Which shoes are you looking for?”

“The brown loafers. I wore them a few days ago. Last Friday, I think. I was sure I had left them in the bedroom, but they’re not there.”

“Are you sure?” he asked. “They could be hiding behind the socks I’ve been leaving under your bed.”

“No, I checked there. And there aren’t that many socks,” she said, smiling at him. “And even if there were, I wouldn’t complain. I wouldn’t pick them up and wash them for you, but I wouldn’t complain about them, either. It doesn’t really matter, I guess. I have a pair of beige Skechers that I can wear. They’ll probably be more comfortable anyway.” The shoes were by the back door and she slipped her feet into them as she grabbed her purse and coffee. “I’ve got to run, but I’ll see you tonight. Thanks for the coffee.”

“Wait,” Mike called out as she headed out the door. He grabbed the English muffin and wrapped it in a paper towel before handing it to her with an apple. They were standing on the back patio. “I didn’t want you to go to work with an empty stomach.”

She was touched by his thoughtfulness and gave him another kiss. “That’s so sweet. Thank you. Now I’ll have a full belly and I’ll be able to concentrate. And it’s all because you’re so great.”

“I am pretty great.” He pinched her cheeks and kissed the tip of her nose. “Have a good day at work. I’ll be here. I might run out later to do some errands, but other than that, I’ll be here.”

She waved to him from the garage, and he stood watching her, feeling grateful and lucky that they’d found each other when they had. He knew it had to be hard on her to rely on him for anything, but he liked being needed, and even if Eileen didn’t want to admit it, she needed protecting right now. And Mike wanted to be the one to protect her. And to take care of her. Forever. Or at least as long as she would let him.

He turned and went back into the house, thinking about what he could do to keep busy. Figuring he was going to have a lot of time to kill, he decided to get things ready for dinner. He’d purchased a large turkey breast at the grocery store the previous afternoon, and settled on putting it in Eileen’s crock pot and making it with pecan cherry stuffing and Brussels sprouts. It was his plan to wine and dine her, then take her out somewhere for dessert. Maybe they could splurge and go to Ghirardelli’s for ice-cream. The weather was supposed to be decent and it shouldn’t be too crowded downtown on a weeknight. It would be nice to get her away, even if it was only for a couple of hours. As he busied himself in the kitchen with the preparation of the meal, he had no idea just how badly Eileen would need to get away.

* * *
Eileen was just pulling into the parking lot, still humming to herself, happy and feeling good, when she saw Ryan sitting on the steps outside waiting for her. Not liking the look on his face, she gathered her things and approached him.

“Ryan? What’s up?”

“Lee-Lee, we have a problem.”

“What kind of problem?”

“Another body. It matches. Our guy is getting more brazen. And more violent. This is murder number five. There was more time between them before, but we recovered the body of the woman with the missing leg yesterday morning, and we’ve already got another one. He left a note saying we should get ready for another one Thursday night. Bastard’s giving us a time limit. He’s planning on showing us up, playing this damn cat and mouse game.” He was chewing on his thumbnail and remained silent for several minutes before he realized that Eileen was glaring at him.

“Why are you looking at me like that?”

“You didn’t tell me that you’d found the other body.”

“Sorry. I didn’t want to say anything yesterday.”

She was angry and not afraid to show it. “Bullshit. I’m still your partner and like it or not, we’re working together. You don’t get to pick and choose what information you’re going to share with me about our cases. Especially when it directly involves me. You know I hate being kept in the dark.”

He threw up his hands in defeat. “I know, I know. I should have told you. I just thought it might be too much to handle with everything that had already happened. And if you’re pissed now, you’re going to be even more pissed off in another two minutes.”

Eileen looked at him expectantly, chewing the inside of her left cheek. Ryan could see that her nostrils were flaring and was regretting not telling her sooner. “Well?” she demanded. “What else haven’t you told me?”

“The girl we found yesterday? Well, you already know that one of her legs was missing. What I didn’t tell you is that on her other leg, she was wearing a shoe.”

“What the hell difference does it make that she was wearing a shoe? Just because the leg left on my couch was barefoot?”

“No.” Ryan looked down at his own shoes. “She was wearing one of your shoes.”

“Excuse me? What do you mean she was wearing one of my shoes? How do you know it was mine? And where…” Her voice trailed off as Ryan looked up at her and met her gaze. She sat down heavily next to him on the concrete steps. “It was a brown loafer, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah. The ones you wear all the time. It still had the heel cup inside and the small line of black ink on the side of it.”

Eileen remembered the stain. She had been reaching down to scratch her ankle one day, but she was holding an uncapped Sharpie and had gotten a small stain on the side of the shoe. And she needed the heel cups because the inside of the shoes were wearing out and getting uncomfortable.

She looked at Ryan for a minute, unsure of what to say. What could she say? “Did you find the other shoe?”

“No,” he said shaking his head. “There was only the one. I don’t know where the other one is at. Presumably, our guy still has it. We haven’t released that little nugget of information to the press, just like we haven’t released the info about the carvings on the girls’ feet. We don’t want to set off a string of copycats, or worse, make our guy resort to something else.”

“I doubt that he would. He seems to be enjoying this game too much.” She was pinching the skin between her eyebrows, trying to fend off the headache that was building there. “So what am I supposed to do? You realize this puts a different spin on things. Whoever this creep is, he got into my house, left a leg as a present, and managed to get into my bedroom and steal my shoes.”

“Wait, what do you mean he got into your bedroom?”

“Those shoes. The last place I saw them was in front of my dresser last Friday. That’s when I wore them last. That means he got into my bedroom without me waking up. How could he do that? How could I sleep through that?”

“Honey, I don’t know. Maybe he didn’t go in while you were there.” He was grasping at straws and he knew it. This guy was playing a dangerous game. “We’re going to catch him, okay? I swear we will.”

“Are we?” she asked. “Because I’m starting to have my doubts.” She got up and brushed off the back of her slacks. “I feel like a prisoner. Worse, really. I feel like a mouse stuck in one of those little glue traps. Am I going to have to chew off my foot to get myself out of this situation?”

“No,” Ryan said. “And that was not a funny joke. Don’t talk about severed body parts, okay?”

Eileen hadn’t even realized what she’d said. “Oh that was gross, wasn’t it? I didn’t mean it like that. I just mean that I’m feeling so trapped, like there’s no way out. It’s affecting everything, you know?”

“I can’t even imagine what kind of impact it’s having on you. I wish I could make it better.”

“Me too,” she said. “But all we can do is to keep doing what we’ve been doing. And sitting out here isn’t getting anything done, so let’s get to work.”

Ryan, still disturbed by the whole situation, ventured to ask her something that had been weighing on his mind for weeks. “Eileen, can you think of anyone who would want to hurt you? Someone who you may have inadvertently ticked off? Or maybe even a perp from an old case? Someone who you pissed off and vowed to get revenge?”

“Not that I can think of. And trust me, I’ve been racking my brain, trying to come up with something, some reason why this guy has seemed to take a personal interest in me. I don’t get it. I don’t have any enemies. I’m too busy to be going around making enemies. And until the past few weeks, I wasn’t going out and doing anything. All my free time was devoted to Scotty. It’s only been recently that Mike and I have been spending more time together.”

“Eileen, I hate to even ask this, but could it have anything to do with your relationship with Mike?”

“I doubt it. Nothing happened between us until after we found the second body. We found that one with the letter, and then there was that whole incident with the bees. There was nothing going on between us before then. And the letter didn’t seem to indicate…”

A perturbed look crossed over her face and Ryan immediately saw it. “What’s up? I can practically see the wheels turning in your head.”

“I just thought of something. Where is that letter that was found with the second girl?”

“Probably wrapped up with the other evidence. We’ve got pictures of it, though. There’s probably at least one in the file.”

She grabbed Ryan’s hand and pulled him to his feet. “Come with me. Do you think there’s a picture that’s clear enough that we can read what the letter said?”

“Probably,” he replied, holding the heavy glass door open for her. “Why? What are you on to?”
“Maybe nothing. Maybe something. Let’s just take a look at it first.”

Five minutes later, they were at Ryan’s desk, poring over the files. “Here,” he said, handing her a photograph. “It’s a little blurry, but you can make out most of it.”

Eileen took it from him and stared at the words. “I knew it!” she crowed.

Ryan was taken aback by her enthusiastic response. “You knew what? What are you seeing?”

“Look. See here? It says, I will stop you, before you stop me. Just like I stopped these other whores.

“So? What does that have to do with anything?”

“We missed it the first time, Ryan. We found this body second. We found Justine first and Karen second. In the letter, it says whores. It’s plural. Karen had been dead longer, but we found her second. He knew we found Justine first. He had to have gone back to put the letter there. Or,” her eyes widened as a new thought crossed her mind, “maybe he was there while we were investigating. Harvey found the note when he was doing the preliminary exam at the scene. Who had access to the body before him?"

“The landlord!” Ryan shouted.

“Yes, the landlord. He was the one who found her. Isn’t that convenient? He was the only one alone with that body before the police and paramedics arrived.”

“True,” Ryan said. “That’s very true. But isn’t it also possible that the killer was keeping an eye on us and knew we’d found Justine first? Maybe he just went back and left the note.”

Eileen shook her head. “Too risky. There’s no way some stranger would have known that she was planning on going on vacation and that the downstairs apartment was vacant. He had to know that nobody was going to be expecting her at work and that it would be safe to come back. He wouldn’t have wanted to risk being seen. And who could easily be on the property without raising any suspicion at all?”

Ryan nodded. “We’re back to the landlord. I’ll be damned.” He shook his head in disbelief. “But that doesn’t explain where you fit into all of this.”

“Maybe not. He’s obviously a sicko. And I’m the one who gave the statement to the press, so maybe he was just trying to engage me in his twisted little game.” She exhaled forcefully, suddenly feeling lighter than she had since this whole thing started. “It worked, didn’t it? He got me totally wrapped up, playing right into everything.”

“Could be, could be.” Ryan was stroking his chin. “Well, little lady, I guess we’d better get to work. I’ll see about getting a search warrant and we’ll bring him in for questioning.”

Eileen wanted to jump up and sing. The nightmare was almost over.