“I know, Elise, but this is for your good. You want to become the next corpse on this guy’s list? It’s possible that could happen, you know. You need to calm down.”
I held the phone away from my ear so I could retain my hearing. She ranted at full steam about her freedoms and how unfair it was that someone was after her when I was the bastard. I had no defense that would work with her, so I just waited her out.
“I can’t come up there right now – I have to work this case. You’ll be fine. The officer with you will see that you have all you need.”
She switched to whining which was almost worse than the screaming. However, I knew her well enough to know she was about out of energy. “I know. I agree it stinks. Just try and be patient a few days, okay?”
I closed the phone and wished for coffee, too drained to go find some. The desk phone rang and I hit the speaker button without opening my eyes. “Holmes.”
“Mick, I just spoke to the Bergen County coroner. The Myers woman was killed in exactly the same way as the Oberhauser woman. That prompted me to do some trajectory studies. You want to come take a look?”
I declined and Bill forged on. “Killer is left-handed for sure. Thrust measurements indicate the probable weight is between one forty and one fifty pounds. The entry wound is almost straight in. I’d have to say killer is about the height of these women. Around five foot seven or eight, maybe.”
I listened and jotted some notes. “I’m back to thinking we may have a female killer here, Bill. This info’s good, but I need more. I’m going to call Bergen County. Keep me posted, buddy.”
The speaker went quiet and I got up to pace. I think better when I’m pacing for some reason. My email gong clanged. I wandered over to stare at the screen. An on-line message flashed. From Joseph Oberhauser.
I typed back. “Good afternoon, Joseph. What can I do for you?” A moment’s pause.
“I have a question for you, Detective. Do you have a moment?”
“Sure. Go ahead.” I crossed the office to close the door.
“I was going through the desk drawer tonight to find the checkbook to pay the funeral home for Daphne’s buriel.”
“I’m sorry, Joseph,” I keyed.
“I know Detective. And I, for you.”
My cop radar went nuts. “How so?”
“Do you know an Elise Holmes?”
“Why do you ask?” I hedged, trying to swallow around the lump in my throat. What the hell had she done now? Now it was my turn to wait before putting my fingers back on the keyboard.
“Do you?” he typed.
“Not any more. We’ve been divorced for almost a year. How do you know Elise?”
“Oh, I don’t know her, Detective. But apparently my wife did.”
“What makes you say that?” I swiped my palms on the knees of my slacks.
His reply flashed across my screen. “Daphne handled the finances. In the drawer is a birthday card, obviously made out to her lover. There is a carbon duplicate of a check made payable to Elise Holmes. For two-hundred-fifty thousand dollars.”
I sank back my chair. Lovers? A quarter million dollars? What the hell was going on?
“Detective? Are you there?” I reached for the keyboard, but my hands were disembodied. This was like something from the Twilight Zone. None of this could be true.
“I’m here, Joseph,” I replied. “Confused as hell, though.”
Someone knocked on my closed door but I ignored them. I waited to see if Joseph had anything else for me.
“Will you need these for your case, Detective?”
I blew out a long sigh and wished the answer was no, but of course it couldn’t be. “Yes, I will. Please put them in a plastic bag, and I’ll have them picked up from you. Thank you, Joseph.”
“I’m sorry, Detective. We will speak again, I’m sure. Goodbye.”
The dialog box went blank and he was gone. I looked up to find Megan Cyrus stationed in front of my desk, Glock on her hip, coat slung over her shoulder.
“Where do we start?” she asked in her smoker-husky voice. I shook my head.
I’m assigned to the Toms River State Police barracks. The good thing about that is that it’s in Ocean County where the Sheriff’s department has one of the best crime labs in the country. The downside is Toms River is a long way from Bergen County.
I left my partner to research the Oberhauser’s and get as much background on Elise Kenney Holmes as possible. I apparently didn’t know the woman at all.
It took me two hours to reach the county courthouse and find the coroner on Marge’s case. He pulled out the file and photos and pushed them in my direction. “Since you had the first murder, you’re a primary on this investigation. The County boys said to cooperate.”
I looked at the photos. Poor Marge. A bright, energetic woman in her early thirties who thought everyone deserved to have a friend, even Elise. It’s always tougher to look at crime scene photos when you know the victim personally. I swallowed the knot in my throat.
“Do you think a woman could have done this?” I asked Amos Schultz without preamble.
The coroner brushed his dark brown mustache with his index finger. “Sure. A pretty pissed off woman, but the height and weight of your perp could be that of a woman. Of course, it could just as easily be a slight man.”
I pulled out some photos of my own. “This is Damien Harbinger. We were really close to nailing him last time – would you have any records on him?”
He took the photo and left the room. Five minutes later he was back. “I’ve asked Paula to run it through the data bases. We may learn something.”
We discussed the file and findings for another hour. A tall, dark-haired woman with glasses popped into Amos’ office and dropped a report on his desk. Without a word, she vanished.
He picked up the report and scanned it. “Well, if it was Harbinger last go around, it isn’t him this time.”
“Take a look.” He handed me the report and leaned back in the chair.
Harbinger, arrested, tried and convicted of child molestation in Texas, had been murdered while in the prison exercise yard. Over a year ago. Damn.
“Can I keep this?” I asked as I stood up. He nodded. I put everything in the folder he’d given me when I arrived. We shook hands and parted company at the door.
I was on the Garden State Parkway, aptly named since you are mostly parked in traffic when you are on it, when Cyrus called. I pushed the button for the hands free speaker.
“When you going to be back here, Holmes?”
“At this rate? Some time before my forty-fifth birthday. Why?”
“We have a lot to go over. And you aren’t going to like any of it.”
I sighed. What the hell? I didn’t like any of the rest of this case. Why should I be surprised now?
Putting aside her strong feminist instincts and not biting my head off for suggesting dinner, Cyrus met me at The Grill for something to eat. It had been a long time since breakfast for me. We ordered, and over tall colas, we compared notes. I ticked my findings off first.
“How well did you know your wife before you were married?” She led with a right upper cut.
“Not very, I’m afraid. We met in a jazz club that I frequented. She was lovely, willing and quite smart, so when we weren’t in bed, we could actually have conversations that were challenging.”
She let my sexist comment slide. “What happened?”
“You doing a profile on her or me?”
“You each relate to the other. Need to know both, don’t I?”
Of course she was right. A recent grad of the FBI academy for law enforcement members, Cyrus knew she was on the scent.
“I worked a lot of hours, spent a lot of time alone. Elise needed company as well as money to keep her in a manner she wanted to become accustomed. She took up gambling and sleeping around. I wasn’t happy about either hobby to be honest with you.”
“How long before you caught on?”
I sat back to let the waitress put our orders on the table in front of us. “Almost four years. We split up for a couple of months, tried to put it back together once. Our divorce was final eleven months ago.”
“I read the divorce decree. You were pretty generous.”
“I didn’t want anything. She wanted the house – I still help pay for it. She can manage the rest, even though she says she can’t.”
“Okay. Well, aside from her financial records which she hasn’t consented to let me see, I’ve got about as much as I could find. Did you know she’d been arrested?”
I almost spit my Greek salad in her face. “Arrested? When? For what?”
“Prostitution. About six months before you two were married. Hope you got tested.”
I was speechless. Who’d have thought I should run a background check on my future wife? Now I was wishing that I had. “That the only time?”
“The only one in NJ. Seems she’s been picked up in Vegas, too. Apparently she was running a scam of some sort out there. She was busted with a guy named Otto Josephson. Got six months for that one.”
“You’re a thorough investigator, Cyrus. The bad guys don’t stand a chance.”
“By the look on your face, neither do the good guys.”
I washed down my food with soda. “What do you have on Oberhauser?”
She shrugged, took a bite of her chicken sandwich and chewed a few times before swallowing. “He was tougher, believe it or not. Info trail doesn’t even really start on him until about eleven years ago. Where did you say he got his money?”
“He claimed it was a family business of some kind. Nowadays, he makes his money selling God to people who watch too much television at three in the morning. “
“I couldn’t find anything in industry or any of the business directories on Oberhauser until he became a minister. Found a marriage announcement to a Lisa Needham. No record of death or divorce that I could find. Nor could I validate the marriage.”
“Where were they married? Someone would have records.”
“Aha. Well, the marriage may have been real or not; annulled maybe when everyone sobered up?”
“Maybe. But if he was married to Lisa Needham and never divorced her, then his marriage to Daphne would be null and void. And how would it look for the good minister to be a bigamist?”
“Wouldn’t look very good, that’s for sure. The donations might slow down a bit if that got out, I guess. Good work, Cyrus.”
We finished our meals and paid the check. I sat over coffee to think before I headed for home. “Can you get any proof of that marriage? I’d like to have a big stick in my pocket when I call on Joseph Oberhauser.”
“I don’t right now, but I’ll have it for you by tomorrow if it exists. I promise.”
I was sure she would.
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