Sunday, September 03, 2006

Players - 8

Cedar Falls was a sprawling town cut east to west by the Umpqua River and north to south by the cantilevered lanes of the I-5. Summer Ziegler followed the long curve of the freeway exit down to a four-lane boulevard lined with motels and gas stations, drove across a concrete bridge that spanned the sluggish river, and bumped over a single-track railroad that ran along the western edge of the town centre. The train station had been converted to a bank. There were several blocks of shops and restaurants and small businesses; houses straggled up the steep side of the river valley towards a bare crest crowned by radio, TV and microwave antennae.

The Macabee County Sheriff’s office occupied two floors of the town’s Justice Building, a four-storey slab of concrete and tinted glass that shared a block with the Macabee County Juvenile Correctional Facility, the city hall, and an imposing Greek Revival courthouse. The detectives’ bullpen was on the third floor, a long room cluttered with pairs of back-to-back desks and rows of filing cabinets. On one side, offices, interview rooms and holding cells; on the other, tall windows and a nice view across the town towards the river. This was where Summer Ziegler and Randy Farrell met Denise Childers, the detective in charge of the investigation into Edie Collier’s death. Denise Childers introduced them to her partner, Jerry Hill, told Randy Farrell that she was very sorry for his loss, and started to explain that although the Sheriff’s office in Macabee County didn’t have the resources of a big city like Portland, on the whole they managed pretty well.

Jerry Hill said, ‘What Denise is trying to tell you is that we turned this case from an accidental death to a kidnap/homicide and brought in the doer, all inside of twenty-four hours.’

Summer said, ‘Wait a minute. Someone kidnapped Edie Collier?’

Randy Farrell said, ‘You know who this guy is? You arrested him?’

He spoke so loudly that a woman working at a nearby photocopier turned to look at him.

‘Hold on there, Mr Farrell,’ Denise Childers said, shooting an annoyed look at Jerry Hill. ‘Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.’

‘If you arrested some creep for this, I think I have the right to know about it,’ Randy Farrell said.

‘All I can tell you is that we’ve arrested a man, but we haven’t charged him yet,’ Denise Childers said.

She was slightly built and in her early forties, wearing blue jeans and a suede jacket, shoulder-length auburne hair clipped back from her pale face. It was the kind of face, Summer thought, that looked out at you from Depression-era photographs of migrant workers, from earlier photographs of pioneer families posed in the doorways of their sod cabins. Careworn but tough. Determined and forthright.

Jerry Hill said, ‘The guy we like for this is a local boy. I arrested him yesterday over another matter, and this morning we came across some stuff that ties him to Edie Collier.’

A burly man in his forties, with a cap of dry blond hair and the hectic complexion of a dedicated drinker, Jerry Hill was wearing blue jeans too, with a blue short-sleeved shirt, and a burgundy-knit tie spotted with old grease stains. A Sig-Sauer .38 rode on his right hip. Summer felt overdressed in her grey pants suit, and her good black purse slung over her shoulder.

Randy Farrell said, ‘What kind of stuff?’

Denise Childers said, ‘I’m sorry, Mr Farrell, but we can’t go into that at this stage.’

Jerry Hill said, ‘We haven’t questioned him yet, which is why Denise is being so cautious, but believe you me, he’s square in the frame. He’s going down.’

Randy Farrell was bewildered and angry. Blood flushed his sallow cheeks at the hinges of his jaw. He said, ‘You knew that Edie was killed, you found the fucker that did it, and you didn’t tell me?’

‘I’m telling you now, aren’t I? And watch your language, sport,’ Jerry Hill said, smiling at Summer. ‘There are ladies present.’

‘How did you expect him to react?’ Summer said.

She’d taken an instant dislike to Denise Childers’s partner. Jerry Hill appeared to be the perfect example of the kind of macho old-school cop who made a lot of noise about having no time for political correctness or snotty-nosed college kids who believed they were better than police who’d learned their trade on the street, the kind who made sure that suspects banged their heads when they were put in the back of a car, who believed it was a fine joke to ask a female colleague how they were hanging.

Denise Childers said, ‘It was my call, Mr Farrell. I thought it would be better to speak to you about this in person. We’re just as anxious as you are to get at the truth, and I promise you that we are going to do our best by Edie. That’s why we’d appreciate it if we could talk to you about her.’

Jerry Hill said, ‘Just a little Q&A. A man like you, I’m sure you know the drill.’

‘Oh yeah,’ Randy Farrell said bitterly. ‘I know the drill.’

Summer said, ‘Remember that you’re here for Edie, Mr Farrell.’

Randy Farrell turned on her. ‘You knew that all along that she’d been murdered, didn’t you?’
‘I know as much about this as you.’

Summer had offered to help the investigation into Edie Collier’s death when she had talked to Denise Childers on the phone last night, suggested that she could try to track down the girl’s boyfriend, ask him what he thought she might have been doing in Cedar Falls. She’d been hoping that she could turn Ryland Nelsen’s errand into something meaty, something that would prove to the other detectives in the Robbery Unit that she had the right stuff, prove that she could do her job without someone looking over her shoulder, give her career a nice push. But that was blown out of the water now.


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