The phones had not stopped ringing since the newspaper ran the picture of the killer. As he studied the telephone messages piled on his desk, Sam couldn't believe that for a small resort town, there would be this many calls of sightings of the suspect. But then, some had been from at least a hundred-mile radius surrounding Braxton.
"So whatta ya got, Sam? I've answered at least thirty of these since I came on tonight, and it's been zilch. Not one good lead out of the bunch," Charlie said, sorting through the stack and making notations on them.
"It's amazing how anyone could possibly recognize him from those pictures. Not counting the fact that they were taken more than seven years ago. Too bad the newspaper didn't mention that in the article. Another thing, I don't see how the Captain expects us to follow up on these in the middle of the night. It's after midnight now, and no one wants to be awakened with a call from the Police Department. That last lady I talked to, I thought would have a heart attack! She thought I was calling to tell her that her teenage son had met with an accident since he hadn't come home yet," Sam said, rubbing the back of his neck.
"How about if we check out these taverns on the outskirts of town? They're open for another two hours. I would give them better odds of actually seeing him. Maybe he had stopped by for a beer or two before coming into Quainte. It's been cold and windy these last two weeks and he may have decided to sit it out in a warm spot," Charlie said.
"Good idea, let's get out for a while, my ear's sore from holding the phone to it for the past four hours," Sam said, standing up and stretching.
"At least we made it through another weekend without a murder . . . well, the Jack's kind anyhow," Charlie said. "We've been busy with the usual domestic kind and robbery assaults."
"Good thing Halloween is in the middle of the week. There won't be as many tourists in town, and the only big parties scheduled are at the hotels," Sam commented.
"The Chief better get back soon and hire some help around here, or everyone is going to collapse from overwork!" Charlie said with a yawn.
"The Captain said he's been in touch with him, but I don't think he's giving him the full scoop on our situation. He doesn't want the Chief to know he can't handle the place while he's gone," Sam said, shaking his head in disgust.
"Well, I'd bet anything that the Chief's brothers, the judge and mayor, along with his sister, Millie, are keeping him informed! I wouldn't doubt they've been sending him copies of the newspapers," Charlie laughed.
"Yeah, maybe we'll see him back sooner than the Captain is expecting him," Sam replied.
"Personally, I would think with an election coming up, he's probably glad to be away. Think of what his opponents would say about him if he were here and this hadn't been solved yet," Charlie said wryly.
"You're right. No doubt he's thinking a lot about his political future. But who can blame him? An unsolved case like this would ruin anyone's political chances," Sam agreed.
Charlie and Sam had a brief discussion of separating and each taking a different route. Charlie went north toward Braxton and Sam went south toward Trentworth, planning to stop at all roadside restaurants and taverns along the route including those that telephoned, insisting they had seen the suspect.
A mile out of town, along the deserted country road, Sam noticed several fire trucks parked with caution lights flashing. Smoke was billowing from a building. As he came closer, he could see it was the old Haskell barn that had been used for utility storage by the county. Sam pulled over, and before he got out of the car he saw the Channel 12 van parked next to one of the trucks. Quickly scanning the area, he spotted Kelly Daye. She was standing to the side of the road a few yards up from the secured area, and using the smoldering ruins as a backdrop for her report. This was the first time he had seen her in slacks, but then it was cold out tonight. She had on a cranberry blazer, with a multicolored silk blouse, that diluted the dismal background of the burned-out building.
One Highway Patrol car was there, and since this was out of his district, Sam decided he'd better continue on with his investigation following up on the leads. He had just restarted the car when he saw Kelly walking back to the van. Linsley met her halfway, putting his hand on her arm. Kelly turned to look up at him, and Linsley, with his other hand, pushed her hair behind her ear in an absent-minded way as he talked to her. Kelly moved her head away from his hand and started to walk away from him. Linsley, still holding her arm, seemed to be demanding an answer to his question. Kelly shook her head, jerked her arm away, and continued walking, with Linsley following.
Seething at the scene he was witnessing, Sam shut off the ignition, got out of his car and started toward her.
"Where in the hell was her cameraman? Why isn't he protecting her?" Sam muttered angrily, as he closed the distance between them.
Seeing Detective Knight coming toward her, Kelly breathed a sigh of relief. Never was she so glad to see him. She was beginning to wonder if she would ever get rid of this conceited jerk following her. She interviewed him once and now he thought she owed him a date . . . or whatever he calls it . . . it sounded more like he wanted her to sleep with him. Hadn't any woman ever refused him? From his attitude it didn't seem like it. With an arsonist setting fires to empty buildings the past few weeks, she had run into him at every incident, and at each one he had made a pass at her. Now he was beginning to get downright crude with his remarks, as if insinuations and insults would get him a date, she thought. She ignored him while quickening her pace to reach the detective.
Sam glanced at her, then glared past her at Linsley.
"A little out of your territory, aren't you Detective?" Linsley sneered.
"Maybe. Don't you have a fire to worry about? Or do you always let the others do the work for you?" Sam shot back.
"I can handle my job or anything else," Linsley said coldly.
"Excuse me, I believe that fireman is trying to get your attention," Kelly said to Linsley, pointing at the fire truck where two firemen were putting away equipment. One of them gave him a hostile look before turning back to loading the truck.
"Yes, I see . . . well, I'll catch you later," Linsley said, chagrined, as he realized he wasn't helping in the cleanup.
Sam watched him walk away and wondered what he meant by, 'catch you later' . . . did he have a date with Kelly?
"Good timing, Detective! I'm so glad to see you. That guy doesn't know how to take no for an answer," Kelly said, looking after Linsley.
"So that remark about catch you later wasn't a reference to a date?" Sam asked, then wanted to bite his tongue for even making such a stupid remark. It wasn't his concern what she did or whom she dated.
"Of course not!" Kelly said, surprised at the question, "At least not as far as I'm concerned," she shrugged. "He wanted to meet me for coffee when he finished here, then asked to take me to the Halloween party tomorrow night. I said no to both offers. I don't understand how someone could be so dense when it is obvious his attention isn't wanted," Kelly said, shaking her head.
Sam was relieved to hear that she was not interested in Linsley, then reminded himself it wasn't any of his business. He had to remember she was a reporter, and there was not a chance in hell that he could get involved with her.
"Well, I'll be on my way. I guess I did my good deed for the day . . . interfering in Linsley's affairs. He is never happy when I show up," Sam said wryly. "See you around, Ms. Daye," he said over his shoulder as he walked back to his car.
"Wait! Are you out this way on an investigation?" she asked, not wanting him to go just yet. Why couldn't he have asked her to go for coffee, Kelly wondered, knowing that she would have jumped at the chance to spend some time with him.
"Yes . . . and if you're asking . . . it's the same murder investigation, checking for leads on the suspect," Sam said, smiling back at her. "Our office has been swamped with calls from that hotline number, and there's not enough hours in the day to cover a tenth of them."
"You will let me know if you do have a breakthrough, won't you?" she called as he opened his car door.
Sam smiled and gave her a thumbs-up sign before getting in and quickly driving off.
Kelly watched him drive away before turning back toward the van. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Linsley's truck pull away. Spotting Jay coming from around the corner of the burned-out building lugging his camera, she waved at him.
"So . . . I see our good detective was here. Was he coming to your aid or just harassing Linsley?" he said, walking up to her, heading for the van.
"Harassing? Why would you say that?" Kelly asked curiously.
"Well, that goes back a ways. Linsley had something going with the detective's wife . . . or so it was thought at one time."
"Oh. I didn't know he was married," Kelly said, feeling suddenly disappointed. She should have known a good-looking man like that would be married.
"He's not . . . anymore. She died in an accident with some other guy as they pulled out of a motel parking lot. It was big news at the time, since it was rumored about that his wife was a flirt and a drunk. Still, the reporters were surprised when they showed up at the accident and found the detective's wife with someone else. Knight took a leave of absence for a while until things cooled down."
"How long ago did this happen?" Kelly asked.
"A couple of months before you started, I think."
"Well, no wonder he was always in such a sour mood when I first met him!" she exclaimed. Now she felt bad about goading him and getting in his face all the time.
"Yes, you did set him off," he laughed, then glanced over at her slyly. "But I noticed that you two have been hitting it off a lot better recently. Is there something going on I don't know about?"
"Of course not! I think we are being more cautious in our attitude toward each other, since that mess with Blaney getting him in trouble with his superiors," she hedged, not wanting to give him anything that might lead to future gossip.
"Did he tell you about any new developments in the slasher murders?" he asked, changing the subject.
"No, Detective Knight said he was out this way checking on leads from the hotline calls. You know, it's kinda scary. There haven't been any since the end of September, yet I feel the killer is still around . . . waiting. Like the calm before a storm," Kelly mused, as she got into the van.
"You're right, we haven't had any for a while, and speaking of storms . . . it looks like one is rolling in," Jay remarked, looking up at the threatening clouds as the wind picked up. "I'll drop you off and head back to Braxton to get this film edited before the storm hits."
The raindrops were just starting to fall when Jay pulled up at her place. Waving goodbye, Kelly ran up the front walk as she fumbled in her purse for the keys. The wind was blowing at a good clip as the rain became heavier. Kelly had her head down to keep the water out of her eyes as she got the key out and hurried up the porch steps to the door. Just as she reached out with the key to unlock the door, someone stepped out of the shadows into the glow of the porch light, and she cried out in alarm.
"Shh, Babe, don't scream . . . it's me," Linsley said with a chuckle.
"Wha . . . what are you doing here?" she demanded angrily.
"You didn't show up at the coffee shop, so I came by."
"How did you know where I lived?" Kelly asked. She could smell the whisky on his breath and knew he had stopped somewhere for more than coffee. His eyes were glazed, and his words slurred. Realizing she still had the key in her hand, she quickly slipped it into her pocket. She was afraid to open the door, in case he followed her inside. Outside she had a better chance of escaping him.
"Hey, we firemen have the addresses of everyone. It wasn't any problem finding yours, honey," he said, leaning closer with one hand propped on the door frame. The other hand he slowly ran up her arm.
Kelly stepped back, shrugging his hand off of her arm.
"I thought I made it clear I did not want to see you. Please leave!" she said, moving further toward the steps, wishing there was more traffic on her street. With the rain, everyone would be inside with the windows closed. Maybe she could make it as far as the corner, where the restaurant was still open.
Sam leaned forward to peer past his windshield wipers as the rain pounded against the glass. He was just at the edge of Quainte when the downpour started. When he saw the sign for Park Road, impulsively he made a left and headed for Coconut Lane, instead of heading straight for the Police Department. He wondered if Kelly had gotten home safely, or if she was still out in the storm. He knew he had no business checking on her like this, but he was worried after that run in with Linsley. He didn't trust that bastard when it came to a beautiful woman like Kelly. He slowed down and turned right on Coconut Lane. His headlights weren't much help in this weather, but he saw the porch light at Kelly's house, and the two figures dimly outlined through the rain, standing on the porch. When he was nearly abreast of the house, they turned, and he saw it was Linsley with her.
Kelly sprinted off the porch, almost slipping in the water in her low-heeled shoes, as she dashed down the sidewalk, waving her arms. She was never so relieved as when she saw headlights coming down the street.
Seeing her frantic waving, Sam slammed on the brakes and parked at the curb. He stepped out of his car to meet her, as she ran through the rain toward him.
When she recognized him, Kelly was overjoyed that he was here, since what she needed was a policeman to get rid of this obnoxious man.
"What happened?" he demanded, looking back at Linsley, slowly coming down the steps and not too steady on his feet.
"I'm so glad you came by! He's drunk. I just got home and he was there," she said reaching for Sam with shaking hands.
Sam pulled her close to calm her. "It's okay. You're safe now," he said, gently holding her, then removed his arms from her when he glanced down the street to see the red and blue flashing lights of a police car heading their way.
"Well, well, detective, I see you know where she lives. Come here often? It seems we still have the same taste in women," Linsley smirked, turning up the collar of his jacket to help deter the rain.
"Shut your damn mouth, Linsley," Sam said sharply.
The police car slowed and pulled up next to them, where they stood in the rain getting soaked. The officer rolled down his window and looked at the trio oblivious of the downpour.
"Detective Knight? Everything under control? Got a call from a neighbor regarding a prowler at this address," Officer Davis said.
Kelly looked over at her neighbor's house. Squinting through the rain, she saw Mr. Greenwood's door was open and he stood watching them. At least this time his spying on her had helped.
"Glad you came, Davis. This man is drunk and bothering the lady. Would you see that he gets home? He doesn't look stable enough to drive himself. Have his car towed away from this area so he doesn't have an excuse to return here," Sam said, with a cold look at Linsley. He was glad the officer had pulled up when he did, saving him the temptation of breaking Linsley's jaw.
Officer Davis looked warily at the tall drunken man and hoped he would be able to keep him under control.
"I see you still throw your weight around . . . hiding behind your badge. One day we're going to meet on equal terms, Detective," Linsley said as he went with the officer.
"I'm looking forward to it, Linsley," Sam called after him as he took Kelly's elbow to guide her back to the house.
Reaching the shelter of her front porch, he looked down at her when he felt a shiver run through her. She was completely soaked with her clothes clinging to her body.
"You'd better get out of those wet things fast before you catch cold," he said huskily.
"Yes," she said, trembling, "I'm glad that's over. When he stepped out of the shadows, he scared me so much, I thought it was that stalker until I recognized him."
"What stalker?" Sam asked surprised.
"I..I'm not sure it's a stalker exactly . . . it's that someone put a rose in my mailbox with a note attached saying he is watching me," Kelly answered as she unlocked the door.
"Did you report it? I never heard anything about it," he said angrily, wondering who this person was that watched her.
"No, I . . . well, I get a lot of letters at the station from well-meaning people, and I just thought it might have been one of them that had found out where I live. I just assumed that he meant he was watching me on television, and not actually following me," she answered, embarrassed that she had brought it up.
Sam looked at her. Even soaking wet, she was beautiful, and he could imagine that she had a lot of admirers watching her on television. Hell, he was one of them. How many others besides himself recorded the news so they could watch it over again just to see her, he wondered. At the same time he guiltily tried to justify his reason for being one of them.
"If this happens again, call me. I mean it. You can never be too cautious, the way things have been going in this town lately," he said sternly.
Nodding, Kelly opened the door and turned to thank him.
"Let me make sure you're in safe and sound. I'll wait here while you check around first," Sam said gently.
Kelly nodded again and slowly walked through the house turning the lights on as she went from room to room. Sam watched her, then let his eyes roam the area within his vision. He was impressed at the simple but cheerful way she had furnished her home.
When she returned, informing him everything was fine, he noticed she crossed her arms with a slight shiver. Hating to go, but having no reason to delay any longer, he turned to leave.
"Get into something warm, and get some sleep . . . but lock this door after me," he said sternly. He softened his tone and added, "Goodnight . . . you have my number . . . be sure and call if you need me."
Kelly nodded with a smile and locked the door after him. Leaning against the door, she thought how good he looked when he made that last remark.
"Yeah, I think I need you, but not for the same reason you had in
mind!" she sighed.
* * * *
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