Home > Little Lies(8)

Little Lies(8)
Heather Gudenkauf

“And I’m sure that the landlord will work with you, give you all the time you need to get Marissa’s things together,” I reassure her.

“No.” She shakes her head tearfully. “It’s best to get it over with. Mason and I will stay at a hotel and I’ll clean it out tomorrow. We’ll head back to Sioux City as soon as we can.”

* * *

Together, Joe and I walk to our cars. I’m on my way to testify in the court case and Joe is heading back to the police station. “Are you thinking that whoever called Marissa told her to meet them in the park?”

“That makes sense, but why would she leave without her shoes and coat?” Joe adds. I had forgotten about that detail.

“And why would she give Mason medicine to make him sleepy and then take him out into the bitter cold? She must have not wanted Mason to be able to know where they were going and who they were meeting.”

“Listen,” Joe says once we reach my van. “Can you meet later so we can talk more about this? I can’t help coming back to the possibility that Nell Sharpe’s and Marissa’s murders are connected in some way.”

“Sure. Do you want to come over for dinner tonight? See Adam and the kids?”

“You know I love seeing your family, but Marissa’s autopsy was scheduled for this morning and I’m going to meet with the medical examiner about her findings. I don’t think that would be good dinner conversation for Leah and Lucas.”

“I’ll check with Adam, but it should be fine. Where do you want to meet?” I ask. Before Joe heads to his appointment with the medical examiner and I make my way to the courthouse for the parental rights hearing, we agree to meet at the Blue Moon Café on Dodge Street at six.

* * *

As always, the termination of a parental rights hearing is brutal, but all too familiar. My only hope is that the two siblings will be placed in the same foster home and eventually adopted into the same family. I swing by the elementary school to pick up Leah and Lucas, who alternately chatter happily and grump noisily about their day on the way to get Avery from the babysitter’s. Once home, I put some baby carrots in a plastic bowl and pour glasses of milk for Lucas and Leah, and while I settle on the couch to feed Avery, I call Adam, hoping to catch him before basketball practice starts. He picks up on the first ring.

“Hi,” I say. “What time is practice done today?”

“Practice? El, we have a game. I’m on the bus on my way to Waterloo. We won’t be back until midnight.”

“Right,” I say apologetically. “I forgot. I just have some work stuff that came up. I’ll call my mom and see if she can come over.”

We hang up and before I can analyze why I didn’t tell Adam that the work stuff that had come up included Joe, I call my mother who is happy to come over and babysit. My father recently passed away and my mother has been struggling a bit. A pang of guilt comes over me. Sometimes it gets so busy we don’t see or talk to each other for days, so it will be good to set eyes on her.

* * *

While waiting for my mother to arrive, Leah and Lucas work on their homework at the kitchen table and I sit at the computer holding Avery and do some internet searches. The first thing I search for on Google is Leto, the goddess in whose image the sculpture from the park is made. I learn that Leto is the goddess of motherhood and the protector of the young. She was bride of Zeus, and the mother of the twin gods Apollo and Artemis. She was also known as a goddess of modesty. Thirteen years ago, as a new social worker, I missed these details, not making the connection between Leto, mothers and Nell Sharpe. I read further and learn that Leto was pursued by many: the jealous wife of Zeus, giants and other monsters. Leto’s two children, Apollo and Artemis, were skilled hunters and often came to their mother’s rescue. Interesting, I think, as I rub Avery’s back in small circles. Beneath the goddess of motherhood two mothers are found dead. Murdered. How could that be a coincidence? A serial killer fixated on mothers? My body gives an involuntary shudder and the sudden movement causes Avery to squawk in dismay. “Shh,” I say. “It’s okay.” Is it really considered a serial killing if the cases are thirteen years apart? Maybe there weren’t only two cases. With one hand I awkwardly plink at the keyboard: Cedar City, Singer Park, murders. Instantly, hundreds of results pop up. I start to scroll through them, but quickly give up. There are too many. I can’t believe that our Cedar City had that many murders, but quickly find my mistake. There is certainly more than one Cedar City in the United States and more than likely more than one Singer Park. I amend my search to Cedar City, Iowa, Medwyn Singer Park, murder and for good measure I add Leto.

Only two links appear. A story recounting the murder of Nell Sharpe and this morning’s newspaper article about Marissa Newkirk.

The doorbell rings and both Leah and Lucas scramble to get to the door first. “Grandma!” they shout and Avery’s arms flail in fright at the sudden sound.

“Poor Avery,” I whisper into my daughter’s ear. “How are you going to survive these wild animals?”

“Mom, thanks for coming,” I say, leaning in for a hug made awkward from the bags hanging from her wrists and the casserole dish in her hands. I give a silent prayer of gratitude that my mother brought food. All we have in the house is a frozen pizza, leftover fish sticks and a few boxes of macaroni and cheese.

After giving Leah and Lucas long hugs she turns to me. “Here, let’s trade,” she says, and somehow I safely hand Avery to her and end up with the tater-tot casserole, fresh fruit and chocolate cake in my arms.

I show my mother where I keep Avery’s bottles and diapers and she shoos me away. “Go have fun,” she tells me.

“It’s not fun, Mom,” I remind her. “It’s work.”

“I know, I know, then go and let me have fun,” she orders.

I thank her again and as I pull on my coat I pause in front of the computer. With one finger, I delete one word from my earlier search. One additional news story pops up. I lean in close and click on the link. Got it, I think as I scan the article and scrawl a few key details down on a scrap of paper. A third woman.

Joe is already at the Blue Moon when I arrive. He waves me over from the table in the far back corner and stands to help me off with my coat. He is freshly showered, his hair still damp, and is dressed casually in jeans and a sweater. He still looks exhausted and I’m certain he hasn’t slept more than a few hours in the last forty-eight.

The waitress comes to take our drink order. Joe orders a beer and though I vowed to have only a soda, when the waitress arrives with Joe’s beer and a frosty mug I ask for one, too. After we order our food, and Joe asks after the kids and Adam, and I ask about his black lab, Hawkeye, Joe pulls out two thin files.

“Do you want to talk about this before or after we eat?” he asks. I know exactly what he is referring to. Marissa Newkirk’s autopsy.

“Let’s do it,” I say gamely though my stomach flips over.

“This is Nell Sharpe’s autopsy from thirteen years ago,” Joe says, handing me the first file. I open it and on top is the medical examiner’s report.

The body is that of a normally developed Caucasian female measuring 67 inches and weighing 118 pounds, and appearing generally consistent with estimated age of twenty years. The body is cold and unembalmed. Lividity is fixed in the distal portions of the limbs. The eyes are open. Time of Death: Body temperature, rigor and livor mortis, and stomach contents approximate the time of death between 10:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m.

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