Tuesday, March 12, 8:22 p.m.
Jerry came too quickly, but before he could mumble an apology, he heard a thump downstairs in the factory. He pushed himself off his scowling mistress, leaped from the couch, and grabbed his pants.
“What’s your hurry?” Candy complained. “Jesus, Jerry. I don’t know why I bother with you.”
“I heard a noise. Someone’s in the building.” He yanked up his pants, not bothering with his boxers, which he couldn’t locate. Jerry regretted getting naked from the waist down. They usually just went at it on the desk, him with his pants around his ankles and her with her skirt pushed up.
Shuffling sounds, like someone moving quickly and quietly, raised the hair on the back of his neck. They weren’t the heavy footsteps of the plant foreman coming back to check the day’s production. Someone sneaky was in the building. “Get your clothes on and get out of here,” he snapped at Candy, who’d sat up on the couch and now looked concerned.
“You think it’s Ricardo?” She was married to the foreman and had reason to worry.
“I don’t know. Just go.”
Jerry dropped to the couch and pulled on his shoes. His socks never came off, unless he was in the shower. Listening hard, he tried to determine where the intruder was. In the break room? Maybe hoping to steal iPods or drugs from the employee lockers? It didn’t sound like that corner of the building, but what else made sense? The factory filled plastic bottles with local spring water, using standard production equipment. Why would someone come in here?
A protester, Jerry realized. That was why the owner had recently asked him to work an overnight watch shift. Mr. Rockman was worried about the environmentalists, even though they hadn’t been out front recently. Something must have happened to make the owner nervous.
Jerry crossed the small upstairs office and peered through the glass at the factory floor below. With the overhead halide lights off, the production area was illuminated only by small wall lights that cast weird shadows on the machinery. He scanned the floor but didn’t see anything.
When he turned back, Candy had her skirt and heels on and was reaching for her pink leather jacket. “How do I get past Ricardo if he’s coming up here?”
Jerry had to think. “Stay under the stairs until it’s clear.” Would she be safe? Would their affair get him fired? “I don’t think it’s Ricardo. Stay under there until you hear from me.”
Jerry grabbed his giant flashlight—heavy enough to kill someone if he knocked ’em upside the head—and led Candy out of the office and down the stairs. As a watchman, Jerry wished he could carry a gun, but the owner wouldn’t allow it. Rockman had added a weekend drive-by security detail after protesters picketed the place last year, but all had been quiet. Then recently something had spooked the owner, and he’d added a night and weekend on-premises watch. Jerry hadn’t had any trouble in the two weeks he’d been in the new night position. Not wanting to go back to working the line, he was almost grateful for an opportunity to prove he was needed on the watch shift.
At the bottom of the stairs, Candy turned and slipped into the built-in closet underneath. Jerry moved down the short hallway to the door leading to the factory. Should he call the police now or wait to see what he was dealing with? He didn’t want to risk getting both himself and Candy into hot water with their spouses over a supervisor coming back in for something he’d forgotten.
Jerry stepped into the factory and flipped on a row of overhead lights. “Who’s here?”
The cavernous room was quiet except for the hum of the halides. Jerry moved toward the break room. If it was an intruder, how did he get in? Had Candy left the door open when she came through?
Jerry strode past the bottling line and toward the short hall leading to the break room and employee lockers. A squatting figure jumped up and bolted out of the dark. The man in the ski mask shoved past him, brushing his shoulder. Jerry swung his flashlight and missed. The intruder ran for the side door. Jerry reached in his pants pocket for his cell phone and dialed 911.
“What is your emergency?” The dispatcher’s voice was calm, almost bored.
“This is Jerry Bromwell, night watchman at the Rock Spring bottling plant. We have an intruder.”
“Are you in danger?”
He had her attention now. “No, just get some cops out here to catch him. He’s wearing a ski mask and dark clothes.” Jerry stepped into the hall where the man had been kneeling, but realized he’d passed the light switch, which was just outside the opening to the hallway.
“What’s your location?”
“Rock Spring Drive, just off Laurel Hill.” He flipped on his flashlight and squatted.
“Any other description of the intruder?”
Jerry couldn’t process what she was saying. The thing on the floor had his full attention. His heart skipped a beat as he realized what he was seeing. “I think it’s a pipe bomb.”
“Get out of the building and get clear,” the dispatcher commanded. “I’ll send the bomb squad.”
Jerry was already speed-walking toward the side exit. The overhead doors were closer, but they took too long to unlock and open. He wanted to run but was afraid. Afraid of what? That his pounding footsteps would set it off?
He wasn’t ready to die. He had a lot of hunting, and screwing, and Duck football left in his life. Oh shit! Candy was still in the closet. Jerry stopped. Was it safe to go back for her? How much time had the bomber given himself? Just enough or maybe a good five minutes?
Fuck! Jerry spun and ran past the hallway and down the bottling line.
“Candy! Come out. We gotta get out of here!” He yelled at the top of his voice, needing her to respond to his panic.
As he approached the stairs, the closet door opened and she stepped out. “What’s going on?”
“There’s a bomb!”
“No shit?” She trotted toward him.
Jerry grabbed her arm and ran toward the exit, pulling her along. He hated passing the hallway, but it was the fastest way out. Like most factories, this one had no windows.
Jerry’s adrenaline pumped so hard he could have made it to the red Exit sign in five seconds flat. But Candy wore heels and a skirt and didn’t know how to run. She slowed him down, and he wanted to let go of her.
But he couldn’t. Her whimpering brought out his protective side.
Something snapped and Candy went down, making him stumble and let go of her. She let out a cry as she landed on her knees on the concrete floor.
“My heel broke.” She sobbed and pushed to her feet.
Gritting his teeth, Jerry grabbed her hand and started to run again. With a broken heel, Candy shuffled even slower. Jerry fought the urge to curse at her.
Finally, they reached the door and he grabbed the wide metal handle. He pushed it open with one hand and pulled Candy through with the other.
Behind them the pipe bomb exploded inside the factory.
“Holy shit!” Jerry instinctively covered his head.
The noise of the blast made Candy trip and fall again. She landed on her hands and knees on the asphalt this time.
Jerry helped her up and saw blood dripping down her shins. “Are you all right?”
“Yes. But shit! How will I explain this?” She gestured at her scraped knees.
“You fell. It happens. Now get out of here before the cops come.”
She gave him a look.
“Get in your car and go. If anyone learns you were here, it could ruin both our marriages.”
Jerry pulled her toward her car. Once she was inside, he noticed the dirt smudge on her face and reached to wipe it off. She slapped at his hand. “I can’t go home like this.”
“Go get cleaned up. Buy a pair of pants before you go home. Just go. We can’t get caught.” Jerry couldn’t bear the thought of his wife leaving him and taking his little girl.
Once his mistress was on the road, he breathed a sigh of relief. Now he just had to get his story straight. He’d saved Candy’s life by going back for her, but he couldn’t ever tell anyone she had been there. So much for being a hero. Disappointed, he glanced back at the factory. Still standing. Damn. He wouldn’t even get some time off out of this.
Tuesday, March 12, 8:35 p.m.
Jackson pulled up behind the blue patrol car and cut his engine. He braced himself, then climbed out into the damp night air. A group of young people stood on the sidewalk watching the house. Anger flared. He wanted to yell at them to go home, that there was nothing to see. Jackson trudged up the sidewalk toward the old, two-story building. Students likely lived here and attended the University of Oregon, only three blocks away. The party had dispersed, and the neighborhood was relatively quiet, but every light in the home was on and a few stragglers sat on the wide porch.
A man in uniform greeted him halfway. “Officer Will Meadow. We met once on the Walker case.” Jackson remembered him, but even more vividly, he recalled the bodies in the house. At least no one here was dead, he reminded himself. Meadow had called twenty minutes ago, interrupting a rare, private moment Jackson had been enjoying with his girlfriend.
“Hey, Daddy. Did you come to rescue me?” His daughter’s voice came from the roof over the porch. The slurred words and taunting tone made him cringe. Katie was drunk. Again. He had to get her some help.
He glanced briefly at Meadow. “Thanks for calling me.”
The patrol officer frowned. “I still have to report it.”
Jackson moved toward the porch. “Would you go inside, please?” he said to the young people smoking on the steps.
“What if I don’t want to?” a young man called back.
Before Jackson could respond, the officer strode over. “Get in the house or I’ll arrest you all for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.”
They scattered like frightened mice, two rushing for the front door, while the mouthy young man ran across the narrow yard and down the street. He apparently didn’t want to be questioned. Jackson wondered if the little shit had given alcohol to his fifteen-year-old daughter. If he hadn’t, someone else would have. After her mother’s death, Katie had spun quickly through the cycles of shock, anger, and depression. Now she was just out of control, and Jackson knew it was about punishing him.
He looked up at his now bone-thin daughter, dressed in black and illuminated only by the neon glow of the nearby restaurant sign. What had happened to the sweet, funny, round-faced little girl he loved more than life itself?
You killed her mother, the voice in his head echoed for the hundredth time. Jackson pushed through his pain. “What are you doing, Katie?” He’d dropped her off at a friend’s house two hours earlier.
“Just having some fun. I like it up here.”
“The neighbors complained that you were screaming. Are you hurt?” He’d learned to approach her gently.
“Physically? No.” She laughed, a high-pitched sound that made his skin shrivel. “But thanks for your concern.” Her drunken slur crushed what was left of his heart.
“Please come down before you get hurt.” He wondered how she’d gotten up there.
“But I want to party!” Katie stood and raised her hands to the dark sky.
“The party is over. They’ve all gone home.” Jackson looked around for a way to climb up. He would talk her down if it took all night. He couldn’t physically drag her off the roof. He couldn’t physically do anything to her. She was fifteen, and the law was not on his side anymore.
“Then I’ll find a new party.” Without warning, Katie jumped straight at him.
Jackson opened his arms to catch her, but it happened too fast. She knocked his six-foot, two-hundred-pound frame to the ground, then rolled away, unscathed, in typical drunk fashion. Jackson’s ribs felt cracked, and he was glad he’d left his weapon in the car. He pushed to his feet and winced in pain as his daughter laughed and ran for the sidewalk.
“Katie!” He chased after her and grabbed her arm. “Let’s go somewhere together. We’ll see a movie or something.”
“Hell no.” She jerked free and stumbled down the sidewalk. He noticed she was barefoot.
Jackson made a decision. He turned to Officer Meadow. “Arrest her and take her to the juvenile justice center. I need to get her into treatment.”
As Katie cursed at him, Jackson got back in his car to block out her voice. He knew that forcing her into the system was the right thing to do, but it made him queasy with guilt and anxiety. She would hate him even more than she already did. But Katie needed to know what her life would be like if she didn’t stop drinking and using drugs. If she didn’t finish high school. She needed to stand in a courtroom and be held accountable. It was the right thing, he told himself again. He knew it was bullshit to hand the responsibility to someone else, but Jackson couldn’t make himself be the one to put her in lockup.
A warm sensation on his lip made him look in the rearview mirror. His nose was bleeding where Katie’s elbow had slammed him. He found a tissue and glanced at the mirror again, feeling old. He’d discovered his first gray hair that morning, conspicuous in a sea of dark brown, and he was reaching for his reading glasses more and more. Not to mention his retroperitoneal fibrosis, which he didn’t want to think about.
Jackson’s phone rang and he cringed. Instinctively, he knew it was his boss. But maybe a new case was just what he needed. His date with Kera was already shot, and if he went back over there, he’d just burden his girlfriend with his daughter’s troubles. He grabbed his phone and looked at the caller ID: Sergeant Lammers.
“Sorry to ruin your night, but we’ve had a homicide.”
Jackson was torn. He wanted a new case to occupy his mind, but a homicide would suck up his time nearly around the clock for the next three days. Katie needed him to appear in court and petition for treatment rather than incarceration. “Can someone else take the case?” He’d never said that before and it felt wrong…and weak.
Lammers hesitated. “I don’t have anyone else. I just sent Quince and Schak out to Rock Spring on a firebombing, and even if I assign this one to Evans, she still needs some help.”
All Jackson heard was firebombing. “Was anyone hurt?”
“I don’t know yet. The night watchman called it in, so probably not.” Lammers cleared her throat. “I know you’ve been through a tough time, Jackson, but at this point, you’re either in or out. If you can’t take cases, then put in for retirement and let me bring someone else into the unit.”
The ultimatum hit him like a fist to his kidney. What the hell was he supposed to do? His gut tightened in a painful squeeze. The fibrosis was growing again, and his doctor had increased his prednisone dose. The medication made him more emotional, and he fought it. In his head he formed the words, I’m done, then. I have too much at stake with my daughter. But what came out of his mouth was, “What’s the location?”
“Safe and Secure Storage. It’s just off Highway 99 on Jessen Drive. A man is dead, possibly stabbed.”
Safe and secure? Jackson let out a bitter noise. There was no such thing. “What else do we know?”
“Nothing yet. But Evans is already on her way, and the ME should be there soon.”
“I’ll head out.” He couldn’t give up his job. It was too much a part of his identity. Maybe he would get lucky and find the perp hiding in the bushes with the bloody knife. It happened sometimes.
“Thanks, Jackson. I wish I could expand the unit, but you know our budget constraints.”
“I’d better get going.” He clicked off, wishing he could have cut his boss more slack. None of this was her fault. The crime rate in Eugene kept escalating, yet they were the least-staffed law enforcement agency in Oregon, which, in turn, had one of the lowest rates of officers per population in the country. Oregonians were mostly progressive, except when it came to taxes to pay for services.
Jackson didn’t bother to go home first or stop at the department. He was still in his slacks and jacket and driving his city-issued car because he’d gone straight from work to Kera’s. Once he was out of the downtown area, he called Kera and told her about Katie’s incident. She was her usual supportive self.
“You did the right thing. This is Katie’s third drunk episode in the last five weeks…that you know about. She’s becoming a danger to herself.”
“I know. But this will only make her more angry with me.”
“You have to worry about her future, not how she feels about you. She’ll come through it. She loves you.”
Jackson wasn’t sure he believed that anymore. “I’m on my way to a homicide, so I don’t know when I’ll see you next.”
“Damn. Who is it this time?”
“A man stabbed near a storage unit. Could be a burglary gone bad.”
“I wish you’d taken more time off.”
“The Violent Crimes Unit is understaffed, and I’m hoping this will be an easy one.”
Kera was silent. He’d taken three weeks of leave after his officer-involved shooting, and it had seemed like forever. In the month he’d been back, Lammers hadn’t given him any challenging cases. He knew it was time. “I’ll be in touch.”
“Take care of yourself.”
Jackson drove out Highway 99, an ugly strip of road in West Eugene made bearable by the cover of night. The route had been improved recently with trees and sidewalks, but the road ran parallel to the railroad tracks—never good for property values—and the outdated mishmash of buildings hadn’t changed. Except for the new apartments built by the Sponsors program. The units were freshly painted in rich fall colors and seemed a little too nice for the ex-cons and recovering drug addicts who occupied them.
In the distance Jackson spotted the busy glow of high-powered flashlights. He hated working crime scenes in the dark, but a late-night scene with a still-warm body was better than bright daylight and a rotting corpse. The sooner they acted on the evidence, the more likely they were to make an arrest.
He turned on Jessen, then into a small cul-de-sac, and parked on the street. The storage business didn’t have or need a parking lot, and two patrol cars took up the space in front of the office. It seemed like an odd place for a homicide, and Jackson wondered if the altercation had started at the nearby Lucky Numbers tavern. The tavern owner, Seth Valder, was in jail for filming pornography with a minor, and Jackson hoped the tavern manager was stealing Valder blind while he did his time.
Jackson climbed from the car and it started to rain. Oh fuck me, he thought, pulling his waterproof gear from the backseat, along with his leather carryall bag and a heavy-duty flashlight. As soon as he had the gear on, the rain stopped. He unbuttoned the jacket but didn’t take it off. He knew Eugene weather in March.
He walked toward the silver Airstream that served as an office for the storage company, and a patrol officer approached. “Welcome to the night shift.”
“I’m familiar with it.” He knew he sounded tense, but that was the job. “What have we got?”
“The body is in the third row.” The officer pointed to the left, where small lights illuminated the ends of ten narrow metal buildings.
The units were visible through a metal fence. “Any witnesses? Who called it in?”
“No witnesses so far. And the guy who called didn’t give his name. Dispatch says the call came from the tavern.” The patrol officer pointed again.
Jackson didn’t have to look. “We need to find him.”
“Detective Evans is over there now.”
That was why he loved working with her. Evans was often a half step ahead of him and willing to do the grunt work. Her instincts were good too, but sometimes she moved too fast after a single suspect. “What unit is the body near?”
A car pulled up on the street and they both turned. Two people climbed out, and despite the dark, Jackson sensed they were an older man and woman.
“That must be the owners,” the patrol officer said. “Ezra and Sally Goldstein. I had dispatch call them. We might need to unlock some units and check the renters.”
“Good work. Find out who rents C-13 and the other units around it. I have to look at the body first.” Jackson jotted down the owners’ names—his first case notes—and headed for the open gate.
Made of metal like the fence around the property, the gate had wheels and rolled to the side. He stopped and flashed his light at the security device mounted on the fence. Operated by a keypad, the code was likely given to everyone who paid money to rent a storage unit. Did the owners keep track of who came and went? Jackson didn’t see a camera.
He studied the fence. About eight feet tall and easy enough to scale for anyone physically fit. But you couldn’t get back over carrying a TV, so it probably prevented most theft.
He turned between the C and D buildings and walked down a long row of overhead doors and thick padlocks. He kept to the side and flicked his light back and forth, looking for footprints or anything the victim or the perpetrator might have dropped. The area, which likely didn’t see much foot traffic, was clean. Or at least it looked clean in the dark.
About halfway down, an officer stood with a flashlight pointed at the ground. Jackson could see the outline of the body, and nearby, the silhouette of a bicycle. Surprised at first that only two officers were on the scene, he remembered the firebombing at the bottled water company. The other late-shift patrol units were likely over there. If a traffic accident or other mishap occurred, they’d have to call in officers for extra shifts. They probably already had, he mentally corrected.
A light blinded his eyes as the officer lifted his flashlight to check him out.
He announced himself and strode forward, ducking under the crime scene tape.
The victim’s head was toward him, and raindrops glistened on his front bald spot. Jackson pulled on latex gloves, squatted, and took in the big picture. Early fifties, pale skin, jeans and a gray zip-up sweatshirt. Five-nine or so and gaunt. Stab wound to the throat with blood that was still sticky. Jackson touched the side of the victim’s neck. Relatively warm. His death had occurred in the last few hours.
He looked up at the patrol officer. “Do we have an ID?”
“Craig Cooper, according to his state ID. Age forty-five.”
He was younger than he looked. What had the victim done to attract or piss off his attacker? Jackson pulled back the sweatshirt and white T-shirt underneath, looking for more lacerations. Usually knife fights resulted in multiple wounds, but he didn’t find any. He shone his light around the black asphalt. If there had been blood from the assailant, the rain had washed it away.
He searched Cooper’s pockets and found only a small folding knife. No cell phone. Jackson flipped open the knife but saw no blood or tissue that would indicate it had been used in a fight. Cooper could have wiped it clean. Then calmly put it back in his pocket while his assailant lunged for him? Not likely.
Jackson lifted one of the dead man’s hands. Thick, calloused, and scarred, like someone who’d worked with wood or gutted fish for a living. Yet the skin had not seen much sun lately. The fine black hair on the back of Cooper’s hand was damp from the intermittent rain. No wounds, no blood.
Jackson lifted the other hand and spotted a crude black tattoo in the shape of a clover. Was it significant? Jackson grabbed his camera and took a close-up shot, hoping the flash would be enough. Normally, he would have taken a dozen photos by now, but in the dark it seemed pointless. The medical examiner would set up bright work lights and get better images.