Home > Little Lies(9)

Little Lies(9)
Heather Gudenkauf

Immediate Cause of Death: Blunt force trauma. Manner of Death: Homicide.

Beneath the report are several photos, each showing Nell in death in various angles. In some of the photos she just appears to be sleeping, in others the brutality cannot be missed. She was so young.

I rearrange the photos back into the file and reach my hand for the second. Marissa’s. Joe sits quietly sipping his beer while I read. It doesn’t take me long. “They read almost exactly the same,” I say, reaching for my own drink. “All you’d have to do is change the victim’s name and the date and we could be reading the same autopsy.”

“It is kind of bizarre,” Joe agrees.

“I know, but thirteen years apart? What did Marissa Newkirk have in common with Nell Sharpe? She was, what, six or seven years old when the first murder occurred?”

The waitress brings our burgers and fries and Joe quickly sweeps the autopsy files and photos aside. “I did a little digging myself,” I tell him as I squeeze ketchup onto my plate. “Nothing dangerous,” I assure him. “Just an internet search.” I explain the meaning behind the sculpture of Leto. “The statue obviously has some meaning in all of this. Leto is the goddess of motherhood and two women with children are killed and placed at her feet.”

“Could be,” Joe says. “Nell and Marissa have more in common than we thought. I looked more closely into Marissa’s past and it’s not all butterflies and sunshine.”

“What do you mean? Marissa’s mother didn’t mention any problems.”

“Moms are pretty protective,” Joe says. “Plus, she’s really broken up about Marissa’s death. She probably only wants to think about the good side of her daughter. According to the detective I talked to in Sioux City, Marissa was a party girl. Was arrested for underage drinking four times, possession of marijuana two times and shoplifting three times. Got pregnant with Mason when she was sixteen, dropped out of high school, would stay with her mom, they’d clash, she’d run away, then go back home. Finally, about a year and a half ago, when she was nineteen, she got her act together, got her GED and moved here to go to the community college.”

“Has she been arrested in Cedar City for anything?” I ask curiously.

“No, record is clean as a whistle. She’s worked at Philomena’s, the gift shop near the courthouse for fifteen months, has been enrolled at the college for the past year.”

“So both victims, by all accounts, have had a troubled past.” I push away my plate, suddenly no longer hungry. “Nell was a homeless drifter and, according to the autopsy, a heavy drinker and drug user and Marissa was a runaway who dabbled in alcohol and drugs. Both had children whose fathers weren’t in the picture.”

“So maybe the killer has a thing against bad mothers,” Joe suggests.

I reach into my purse and pull out the piece of paper with the results of my internet search scribbled messily across it and hand it to Joe.

“Devin Fallon,” he reads out loud. “Who’s this?”

I lean forward, elbows on the table. “Devin Fallon was found murdered in Singer Park five years ago.”

“Yeah, but what makes you think it’s connected to these other two murders? I checked. No other women were found dead beneath the statue. And no other women were found dead with their toddler sitting next to them.”

“True,” I say. “But what if the killer got interrupted? What if something happened and he couldn’t finish the job properly? Nell and Marissa were killed somewhere else than where they were found, right?” Joe nods. “What if someone surprised the murderer and he had to leave Devin somewhere else? In this case at the south entrance of the park. Maybe he panicked and dumped her there.”

“Okay,” Joe says skeptically, “But there was no kid left at the scene. How do you explain that? I’m just not seeing a tight connection.”

“One, according to this article Devin had a history of drug and alcohol abuse and was homeless.” I hold up one finger. “Two, Devin was killed by a blow to the head. Three, she was found in the park, somewhat near the statue.”

“Yes, but what about the lack of a child? That’s a huge detail.”

“Four,” I say, waggling my fingers at him, “Devin Fallon was seven months pregnant when she was killed.”

We spend the next hour discussing possible suspects. Joe suggests a deranged man who either loved or hated his mother too much. I offer the possibility of someone in the business of caring for children: a doctor or nurse, a social worker even. Someone who would be disgusted with a mother who raises a child amid homelessness, drugs and alcohol. Finally, Joe broaches the subject I know he’s been avoiding all night, but the true reason he wanted to talk: Jonah Sharpe.

“Jonah Sharpe has suddenly disappeared,” Joe says.

“What do you mean, disappeared?” I ask.

“I mean he’s nowhere to be found. We went to his work site and then to his apartment this afternoon. His boss said he hasn’t been to work in two days and his roommates said he just packed up his stuff and up and left early yesterday.”

“Maybe, he’s just gone on a trip. It doesn’t mean he ran away.” Joe doesn’t say anything. “What?” I ask testily. “You think that a kid who lost his mother the way that Jonah did would suddenly start killing women in the same manner? That’s really grasping at straws.”

“We showed the roommates a picture of Marissa. They knew her. Jonah knew her. She’d been to their apartment before.”

My heart starts pounding so hard I can hear it thrumming in my ears. It couldn’t be Jonah. It couldn’t be the sweet, lost little boy who drew me pictures for my office. Not the poor boy that was so hopeful in finding a family that would adopt him only to have his hopes dashed time and time again. “I don’t believe it,” I say with conviction. “Besides, what about Devin Fallon? Jonah would have only been thirteen years old at the time Devin died. Do you think that he killed her, too?”

Joe sighs heavily. “I don’t know, Ellen. I don’t know. I’m just trying to keep my mind open to all the possibilities. I don’t mean to upset you.”

My anger dims rapidly. Joe looks so tired. “I know you’re just doing your job. I just have a soft spot when it comes to Jonah. I watched him grow up.”

Joe insists on paying the bill, but I refuse. It would make this feel too much like a date. We split it down the middle and both leave a generous tip. I tell him that I have a connection at the Sioux City Department of Human Services and that I will give her a call tomorrow. See what else I can find out about Marissa’s past. Joe says he will look into the death of Devin Fallon to see if there are any more connections between the murders. Joe sees me safely to my van and we both agree to talk in the morning.

It’s only nine o’clock, but it feels as if it could be midnight. My mind is spinning with the thought that Jonah could be involved in this mess. The entire case is baffling. I pull into my driveway, turn off my headlights and just sit for a moment. Guiltily, I hope that my mother was able to feed, bathe and put the kids to bed already. All I want to do is tumble into bed myself. A sudden movement and a flash of color catch my eye through the van window. I frantically press at the automatic locks, but I’m not fast enough. The door is open and a hooded figure slides into the passenger-side seat. I scramble to open my door but a cold hand latches on to my wrist and I can’t squirm away. With my free hand I try to reach my phone, but it’s stowed away in my purse on the floor next to the intruder’s feet.

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