Detective Ellie MacIntosh caught the Northwoods serial killer...or did she? When a judge's niece goes missing, Ellie must revisit the case to find the young woman...and save her reputation.
This thrilling short story bridges the events in Kate Watterson's first suspense novel, Frozen, with the next book in the series, Charred.
BONUS: This short story includes an excerpt from Kate Watterson's next book in the Detective Ellie MacIntosh series, Charred.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
About the Author
Kate Watterson grew up on a steady diet of mystery/suspense novels. If it involves murder and intrigue, she is bound to be hooked. Kate also writes award-winning historical novels as Emma Wildes. She lives in rural Indiana with her husband, three children, and a temperamental cat named Poot.
Kate Watterson grew up on a steady diet of mystery/suspense novels. If it involves murder and intrigue, she is bound to be hooked. Kate also writes award-winning historical novels as Emma Wildes. She lives in rural Indiana with her husband, three children, and a temperamental cat named Poot. She is the author of Frozen, Charred and Buried.
Read an Excerpt
By Kate Watterson
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2013 Katherine Smith
All rights reserved.
It wasn't exactly nice outside but it was warming up a little. Typical Wisconsin spring day, steel-gray skies, every branch dripping as the snow reluctantly let go its icy grip. While it was a hint of the changing seasons, it wasn't close enough to toss the winter coats into the closet just yet.
Not that it mattered. She had a ton of paperwork and sunbathing was not on her agenda.
Ellie Macintosh glanced up at the hovering secretary. "What?"
"There's a federal judge here to see you."
Of anything she expected to hear, that was not it. "A federal judge? Why?"
"She won't say. And guess what?' Jessica dropped a piece of paper on her desk. "She gets to do that. Anyone else, no. But a judge, yes. Usually we are asking her for favors, so we don't get picky when she requests a few minutes with a specific detective."
Ellie picked up the card and stared at it. "I'm not working any big cases right now."
"Feel free to ask her. I'm not about to. Sheriff Pearson said to give her whatever she wants, and that is apparently you."
"Must be my lucky day," Ellie muttered. "By all means, bring her on back here."
She stood. It was just ingrained after testifying in court more than a few times, and when Judge Louise Nelson came around the corner, she was fairly glad she had. Maybe late forties or so, her visitor was tall, moved with a purposeful stride, and wore a plain, but obviously expensive navy blue dress with white piping, flats, and had the demeanor of someone with an agenda. Her looks had more character than beauty—dark hair, a narrow face, and a slightly Roman nose—but she was someone who would be noticed.
"You're Eleanor MacIntosh?"
Ellie found it difficult to conceal her wince. She really did not like her first name. It had also been her beloved grandmother's name, so she couldn't exactly object. Still, it sounded more than a little old-fashioned. She extended her hand. "Ellie, please ... how can I help you, Your Honor?"
The judge's shake was firm but very brief. "I think there is a chance you didn't get him."
That made her blink. The room was hardly spacious; there were desks near hers, and people coming and going, so she wasn't positive she'd heard correctly. Unsure how to respond, she chose, "Can you clarify just who we might be talking about?"
"The Northwoods Killer. Detective, is there a conference room you and I can use so we can speak in private?"
With a sense of confusion she led the way to a small interrogation area that wasn't often used. Most crimes in northern Wisconsin tended to be of the less-than-lethal kind and she supposed that the sheriff wouldn't mind her using it for a few minutes considering the status of her visitor. She gestured to a chair at a small, plain table and went to shut the door. "I'm sorry, but I am not sure I understand what you just said. Last fall the case was resolved in a manner that satisfied not just this county and the state of Wisconsin, but also the FBI."
Judge Nelson didn't seem to mind the colorless room. They each took a chair on opposite sides of the scratched table and she placed her hands, palms down, on the surface. "Can you tell me, without any doubt whatsoever, that the man you shot and killed was the one abducting those women and hiding their bodies?"
That had been more than five months ago. The memory of that eighteen-month investigation sent a chill through Ellie even now that the snow was melting and there was a hint of spring around the corner, but she was able to say with conviction, "I am sure. He had a potential victim tied up in an attic and there was a witness to his admission besides myself ... Judge, can you tell me why you question what happened?"
The woman had seemed cool and detached since she arrived, and for a moment that faltered. Just a shimmer of loss of control, but it made her more human, gave a hint of vulnerability that in Ellie's experience a judge rarely showed, and then it was gone, vanished like a puff of smoke on a breezy day. Judge Nelson said succinctly, "Because my niece has disappeared and it looks very much like the same perpetrator. I've read the case file."
Just about everyone in the country had heard about the case when the killer had gotten out of control and the abductions escalated. It had been splattered all over the news on a local and national level.
It couldn't be him. Ellie had been there when they caught him. She'd shot him.
No regrets, not ever, but ... she was a detective and another disappearance was interesting, and, after all, this was a federal judge.
"It wasn't him, but she disappeared from where? If you want details about the Northwoods Killer, I can tell you. I lived that case for eighteen months, but you have my assurance he's dead."
The judge sat back, unzipped a briefcase, and took out a file that she set between them. "It happened yesterday afternoon. No sign of a struggle. Nothing at the scene, and she's just gone. Car left behind and they have nothing. She isn't a runaway. Introduce me to the seventeen-year-old who would walk away from that car. I bought it for her."
That seemed a somewhat flimsy presumption, but then again the judge dealt with juveniles often, and if she'd bought her a very nice car, obviously knew her niece well and was close enough to give such an expensive gift.
Nelson went on. "None of her friends know where she is. No one at her high school. She hasn't called anyone and her book bag and purse are in the car. She has simply vanished. Does that sound familiar? She has her phone, or at least it hasn't been found, but no calls."
"Your Honor, with all due respect—"
"I want you on this case." The judge's smile was thin-lipped and uncompromising. "If you are sure it isn't him, prove it to me by tracking down who it is, and where she is. I very much need you to find Rose, Detective MacIntosh, do you understand? This is not another case to me. This is my brother's child and the closest to a daughter I will ever have. I think of her that way. Where did she go? Or worse, who took her?"
Ellie glanced at the paperwork tossed on the table. Altamont, Wisconsin. She'd never heard of it and it was a good ninety miles away by the name of the county, not to mention the sudden demand was more than a little unexpected. "This isn't my jurisdiction."
"Everything is in place. The department there is cooperative and expecting you. When she was still missing this morning I made the arrangements." Judge Nelson stood. "If it wasn't him, it is someone just like him, and you are the most likely person I know to figure out how to find him. Go to Altamont, find Rose, and call me the minute that son of a bitch is in custody. I'll return the favor in spades, and don't doubt it."
"I have some open cases. Is Sheriff Pearson—"
"He's agreed," Judge Nelson interrupted. "That I can promise you. It'll take you about an hour and half to get there." She turned toward the door but then stopped and swung back around. "Just in case you are sitting there thinking I'm strong-arming you by using my influence, I don't care if I am. Just in case you are also thinking you aren't a miracle worker, well, let me put it this way, a miracle is exactly what I expect."
Ellie had also gotten to her feet and she stood there for a moment after the other woman left, trying to decide if she was intimidated by the expectation or anxious to be on the hunt.
The challenge of the hunt won out.
"Tell me about practice yesterday."
Susan Reichert suppressed the surge of nausea and briefly closed her eyes. A missing student was a nightmare and it had happened on her watch.
There was no question that she should never have left practice before the last student was out of the parking lot, but the day had been raw and windy, and she didn't have the advantage of running laps or jumping bars to generate some much-needed body heat. Instead she had to bundle up to her neck, her cheeks stinging, as she walked around and gave what she hoped was encouragement to the students on her team.
Being a high school track coach wasn't exactly a dream job, but it supplemented her teacher's income and she needed the money. She actually liked it better than teaching chemistry, and it was an added bonus when she had a star athlete like Rose Beech. She was undefeated the past two years in the regular season in the two-hundred meter, and had even gone to semi-state.
Bright student also; she had her in class. Pretty girl, five foot seven or so, long legs, blond hair, and a genuine, infectious smile.
The disappearance had rocked the small community and Susan was fairly sure that sooner or later she would be vilified for not making sure Rose was in her car and out of the parking lot before she left.
And this seemed to be sooner.
The detective was different from the county deputies she'd dealt with so far. Female, fairly young, with smooth fair hair and a way of looking at you and maybe seeing entirely too much. She wore a gray sweater that emphasized her slenderness, a white top, and black slacks. This particular police officer was not a happy addition to her day, and the morning had been pretty bad already.
Not what she needed.
"It was routine. When I last saw Rose she was walking to her car," Susan said, taking a folder out of the drawer in her desk, her spine stiffening. "There were no cars left in the parking lot except the maintenance vehicles."
"And hers." Confirmation that was hardly necessary since she'd already told the local police. In fact, the car had still been there when she pulled in this morning. "Look, Detective ..."
"MacIntosh," the woman said helpfully, her hazel eyes direct. "Ellie MacIntosh."
"I was supposed to wait and watch her leave safely. Do you think I feel guilty now? Don't doubt it." Susan meant it, every single word. They were in the classroom, the smell of antiseptic and chalk so familiar she rarely noticed it except after the summer break. "But everyone else was gone and there was no one else here and I had a dentist appointment. I thought it was perfectly safe. Now I regret driving away, believe me."
"I do." The police officer sat down in one of the desks in the front row but didn't take out a notebook. "Tell me everything about yesterday. I don't care how insignificant it might seem; if you remember it, I want to know about it."
The bell rang. A flare of panic rose. In a minute the students would start pouring in and she was going to have to pretend she wasn't having what could be defined as the worst day of her life. "I have a class."
"I have a missing girl. And honestly, I really don't think we have a lot of time, Ms. Reichert. When someone is missing, the first day or two is the best time for them to be found, otherwise ..."
Otherwise ... She didn't need the rest of it. Her imagination was vivid enough.
Susan nodded. "I understand."
She did. It made her sick again. Hoarsely, she said, "Poor Rose ... I really have no idea where she could be. I wish I did."
That was the absolute truth and yet there was a lie lingering in there somewhere, and unfortunately Ellie MacIntosh seemed to sense it.
"Ms. Reichert, I do understand this is not the most pleasant of conversations, but how much better would you feel if you were part of the solution? This is what I really need from you. As far as we know, you were the last person to see her, and it is likely she was taken from the parking lot right out in front of this school." Detective MacIntosh exhaled slowly. "You might know something whether or not you realize it. Talk to me. I want to know about your coworkers, any cars you've seen recently that weren't familiar in the parking lot ... anything. Help me."
Why did this have to happen?
It sucked but it wasn't her problem.
Except it really, really could be.
Clearing her throat, she took a moment. "Everyone has to check in with the office and wear a visitor's badge when they come into the building. Parents included. They keep a log."
The detective still didn't take out her notebook, she just nodded. "The principal gave me a copy of it for the past week. What about substitute teachers? Deliverymen? Anyone new on Monday? Anyone come watch practice?"
Susan picked up a pen, noticed her fingers were trembling, and quickly set it down.
"There was a substitute English teacher yesterday but she was about a seventy-year-old woman. As far as deliverymen go, the two secretaries in the office are going to know a lot more than I do about who is a regular driver and who might have been different. Two of the members of the track team are freshmen who can't drive yet, so their parents came a little early and watched for a while, but it was a windy day, so that didn't last long. Those bleachers get really cold and they went back to their cars to wait for practice to be over. I know them both. You can ask the kids, there was no one else there."
Students were arriving already and throwing curious looks at the woman seated in the front row, though most of them were more subdued than usual. Two boys, both seniors, who walked in together exchanged looks, and one of them said something no doubt inappropriate to the other one and they both laughed. It didn't surprise her. Detective MacIntosh was pretty in a way Susan had always envied: blond and slender. And though they had to both be in their early thirties, Susan had followed the tradition of the women in her family and had what her father had jokingly referred to as the "Reichert ass." She was a little wide in the hips, so what? He hadn't meant to hurt her feelings, she knew that, and she still missed him.
The detective stood and reached into her pocket for a card. "Call me if you think of anything, please."
"I will," she promised, aware of all the staring eyes of the kids as they settled into their seats, of the ripple of guilt, and even more conscious of an unwanted suspicion.
It wasn't much. Just a glimmer on the edge of her mind, like a glint of the rising sun on a rippling lake in the spring, touching the black cold water.
Am I Judas?CHAPTER 2
Rose closed her eyes, but it was the same when she let her eyelids flutter back upward. Blackness.
Where was she?
Shivering, she turned her head. The floor beneath her was rough and cold. There was a musty smell she didn't really recognize and her head ached. Confusion rushed in, but her mind was too jumbled to sort it out ...
When she tried to roll over, it wasn't possible. The horror wasn't immediate, it was insidious. It crept in as she realized her arms were not paralyzed because of the cold or her cramped position. Her wrists were tied together and her arms tingled when she tried to wrest free.
Utter panic. She wanted to scream, but her throat was dry and it came out as an inarticulate croak. Her mind whirled backward, thinking frantically, wondering as tears stung her eyes ... what is this?
Her stomach churned.
Where ... what ... how ... and ... who?
Her hands were tied. There was a who.
Rose took in a long, shuddering breath through her nose but it wasn't easy. She was crying, but wouldn't anyone, she thought as she tried to remember. So desperately to remember.
Hadn't Ms. Reichert asked her to take another try at a better speed in the one-hundred-meter dash, even though it hadn't really ever been her race? They'd stayed, the two of them, and everyone else had left and ...
She didn't remember.
Oh God, she didn't remember anything beyond that.
Her mouth tasted like shit from the gag.
Gag. Hands tied. There was a someone ...
And she couldn't remember.
Ellie wasn't used to such acceptance, not that her department was particularly opposed to women, but this was ... nice. The male-dominated community of law enforcement got old now and then.
The lead detective's name was Johanssen. She was about six foot two with clipped dark hair and a definite accent that said she was from Wisconsin or even maybe Canada. Surprisingly, she was willing to share the investigation.
"I'm glad you're here," she said frankly, sitting back in a chair that seemed too short for her tall body. Her office was plain, no photos, just a utilitarian desk and a PC. The two chairs for visitors had seen better days. "We don't do a lot of homicide."
Excerpted from Thaw by Kate Watterson. Copyright © 2013 Katherine Smith. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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