By J Thomas Fussell
Chapter 24: A Woman Scorned
Two forensic teams arrived at the Blanchart house by midafternoon. One team started the investigation into the death of Officer Wagner outside of the backdoor, while the other gathered their gear at the edge of the woods in the backyard. A medical team had already gone before them to try and save the life of the killer. Numbered flags led from the back door to the forest’s edge like little yellow flowers marching up a walk. These marked bloody footprints faded to nothing by the time the flags reached the trees.
Del Fuller looked up at his tall partner and sighed in frustration. They were all caught up now and knew what the other had discovered – or not discovered. Unfortunately, the information did not add up to a whole. Nina agreed with Del on the massacre. It seemed highly unlikely that one man could have committed such an act in so short a time. Add to that the high probability that whoever committed that act likely committed – or was at least present for – the assault on Beverly Hernandez and it began to look more and more like Tom had not committed either act. In fact, if he had been there at all, he had certainly not been alone and was likely incapable of either crime in the way the crimes were committed. Nina’s discovery that the two of them had not canvased the neighborhood to warn the families of Tom Eastman’s keys to everyone’s house and the danger he represented would only add to any state attorney’s defense. Their word and the observations up to date would all be questionable now. How had they both been so confused as to believe they had spoken with everyone in Silent Glade? The mystery only grew. Neither Del or Nina had ever felt so completely lost in a case. They were back to square one, and they knew it. Tom Eastman had killed the Stanton’s, two police officers, and assaulted his wife Amy, his daughter Larissa, and Julie Hunter, but he did not commit the massacre on the hill or cut the eyes out of Beverly Hernandez. So, who did, and where did that leave them? At least they had finally stopped Tom Eastman. Del hoped the man still lived, though. Tom had a lot to answer for.
Nina felt sick to her stomach at all this senseless death. The Franklin police officer she had been partnered with, Ronald Wagner, was dead, and she had been able to do nothing to stop it. He had a wife and kids, but he was a husband and father who would never come home again. Earlier that same day, Officer Ollie Brown had been killed for investigating the smell of the death coming from the Stanton house. A day or two before, the Stanton men had been killed because Tom had a key to their house and nobody warned them. And now Mike Blanchart was missing and likely wounded. What a mess; a mess for which she could not help but feel responsible.
“God, Del, how’re we going to live with ourselves when this is over?” Nina asked.
“One day at a time, my friend,” Del answered. The exhaustion in his voice made his reply sound depressed. He tried to add some cheer to his voice and added, “The same way we’ve always done. We’ll get through it.” He was not sure they would though, not for a long while to come.
“It’s just, I feel we… I mean I’m responsible. These men would not be dead if we….” she trailed off.
Del reached out and squeezed her hand. “’We’ is right. We are in this together, partner, and if there’s any blame to go around, we shoulder it together. Don’t go trying to take all that on yourself. It’s selfish.”
“Well don’t get all chivalrous on me. I’m a big girl. I’ll blame me if I want.” She gave his hand a gentle squeeze to show she was okay and done with pining for the moment. Nina yawned; her mind was tired. Nothing made sense and that was not a place she found herself often. “I think I need a cup of coffee. Should we —”
The radio blared to life, “We have a problem up here on the hill. Can anyone who can identify Tom Eastman please come to these coordinates?” GPS coordinates followed.
Del thumbed his radio, “This is Detective Del Fuller. Nina Houle and I are on our way.”
Kathy Blanchart crouched inside her wrecked kitchen and listened to the two detectives talking. The big woman was right. This nonsense was all her fault. Her Mike was missing, maybe dead. Heads will roll for this, she thought. Mark my words, detective. I’ll make sure of it.
Kathy waited for the detectives to disappear in the woods then followed, keeping out of sight but within hearing range.
Near the top of the ridge on a flat area before the next steep rise, Del and Nina found the SWAT team milling about near two large boulders, two medics kneeling over the downed suspect who was lying against a tree, and a forensics team who was just setting up. The whole area had been roped off with yellow hazard tape. They hurried over to the medics and peered at the suspect.
The suspect wore a bathrobe, a white tee-shirt stained red from the blood dripping down his face, and jogging pants which covered a cast on one leg. His feet were bare. An ancient long gun lay next to him. Its muzzle was caked with dirt and covered in dents and scratches. This gun would never fire again; in fact, it looked as if the man had been using it as a crutch.
“Damn,” Nina said flatly. “That’s not Tom Eastman. If I had to make a guess, your SWAT team has just taken out Mike Blanchart.”
“Oh, he’s not dead, not yet,” said one of the medics. “I think his neck is broken though. We’ve sent for a stretcher. It should be here any minute.”
Del put on a glove and picked up the long gun to examine it. After a few minutes, he said, “What you got here is a Hawkin Rifle, or Hawkin Long Gun as some called it, circa 1850s maybe. He’s buggered up the end here hiking with it, but this gun would sell for a mint if it were cleaned up. Do you think he found it in the woods?”
Nobody answered Del; nobody knew. Before he or Nina could ask any more questions, raised voices could be heard in an angry exchange near the edge of the roped off zone.
“Ma’am, please. You don’t belong here. This is a police investigation. Please return home and do it now,” an officer on the perimeter said.
Del, Nina, and the medics all looked up as if synchronized and saw Kathy Blanchart pushing her way out of the hands of an officer who was trying to detain her.
“Get your hands off me, or so help me god, I’ll…” Kathy started, but she trailed off as she caught sight of Mike lying at the feet of the medics. “I know that bathrobe,” she cried. “Is that my Mike?” She could see that it was even from twenty feet away. Her voice began to quaver, “Oh God, please no.”
Kathy tried to push past the officer trying to contain her, but he stood firm and said, “Ma’am please. Calm down or I’ll have to retain you.” He wanted to say more but he was not given the chance. Kathy was far beyond simple containment. She relaxed and looked up at him with such hate that for a moment he was taken aback. He released her in the same reflex one might toss away a wormy apple picked up on accident. It was all she needed. She put her hands on his chest and pushed with as much power as she could muster. She did not notice the pain at the time, but that push threw out her back for a week. The officer was not prepared. He flew off his feet and landed in a heap. The man cried out once in pain, grabbing at his side. A loud choking gasp escaped him, then he relaxed into unconsciousness.
One of the medics rushed to the officer’s side. He examined the man briefly. There was a strange lump about the size of a broom-handle pushing up the middle of his shirt like some obscene phallus. A dark maroon pool spread rapidly across his shirt and dripped into the earth beneath him. The officer had landed on the stump of a small tree that had punctured him like a bungee stick. The medic thought the odds of that happening had to be astronomical.
“Holy shit! This man’s been impaled. I need help right now or he’ll die. You and you.” The medic pointed to two officers who raced over to help.
Nina stepped away from Mike and thumbed her radio. “Officer down. We have a medical emergency on the hill, please send an additional stretcher. Tom Eastman has not been captured. I repeat. Tom Eastman is still at large. All precautions are still in effect. Continue the neighborhood search and send medical help immediately.”
Kathy ignored it all and ran to Mike who remained at an awkward angle next to a tree. Del squatted on one side and the remaining medic on the other.
“Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god,” she said as she neared. “What have they done to you? Oh Mike. Oh, my dear sweet Mike.” She reached for him.
The medic grabbed her hand and said, “No, don’t touch him. His neck is broken. We mustn’t move or jostle him until the supplies and the stretcher arrive.”
Kathy’s face was a mask of emotions vying for her attention. For the briefest of moments, she looked stunned like one who had been pushed so far beyond their comfort zone that their mind had shut down. Then a sweeping tide of emotions rolled across her face as if she had lost all control. Love began the tide as she looked at the man whom she had lived with for 25 years with heart-breaking longing. Then, a look of abject persecution creased her forehead as the realization of the amount of work and sacrifice in her future bubbled to the surface of her mind. She would do it, because she loved her man and she was nothing if not a hard worker. Confusion began to play across her features as she wondered just how this could have happened. And then finally, it dawned on her; she knew who was at fault. Oh yes, she would do her part. She would sacrifice, but not before making those who caused this pay. Anger, unavoidable, unstoppable in its relentless push to the surface covered all else in a seething darkness of hate and blame. She was a powder keg, and before Del could say word one, she exploded.
At first, Del thought Kathy would break down in the traditional fashion. She stood up and took two steps back, shaking her head the whole while as if the situation could simply be negated. Del stood up to try and comfort her. What a shock she must be dealing with. Her husband would likely be an invalid the rest of his life. He reached for her, and she slapped him hard enough to knock the spit out of his mouth.
“Get your hands off me! You… you… incompetent piece of… of… garbage! Piece of shit!” Kathy blurted the last through her tears and snot as if making herself say such hateful words. Her mother called this ‘ugly crying,’ and if Del had known that, he would have agreed wholeheartedly. “You and that stupid… tall… black bitch! You let us down! You let us all down! I hate you, you and that stupid nig–”
Del patted the air in front of him, cutting her off and trying to calm her down. “You’re going to want to watch what you say there. You don’t want to hurt her feelings. That one makes a better friend than enemy. You can trust me on that. I’m sorry, but this is not the place or time for hysterics.” He knew it was the wrong word the moment it came out of his mouth.
“Hysterics! HYSTERICS! YOU HAVEN’T SEEN HYSTERICS YET, MISTER!” Kathy screamed. She took a step forward and tried to slap Del again. He easily blocked her swing, but she didn’t stop. “I’LL HAVE YOUR BADGE AND YOUR STUPID PARTNER’S TOO! YOU FAILED US! YOU DIDN’T LISTEN To me. You didn’t even talk to me.” She seemed to run out of steam at the end when her eyes fell on her husband again.
One of the other officers snickered at the display. Unfortunately for him Kathy heard, and she was most definitely not out of steam. One eyebrow went up and she stalked toward the officer who laughed. “You think this is funny? My husband is dying because those two incompetent assholes didn’t warn anyone that there was a killer among us.” She began to slap at him with each word, “You think that’s funny! You cowardly piece of shit. You half- baked nitwit. Do us all a favor and shut… the hell… up!”
The officer’s eyes grew wide at her assault. Even though he was fully geared up with a bullet proof vest and felt nothing, the fury of Kathy’s attack made him step back from this crazy woman.
Nina stepped up behind Kathy and grabbed her arm, pulling it back and up. Kathy had not even heard her coming up behind her. Nina leaned in close so that no one else but Kathy could hear and said, “Stop this right now, or so help me god, I’ll have you arrested for assault and put you in cuffs on the spot. Are you listening to me? One more nasty word out of your mouth toward anyone – anyone – and you will walk out of this forest in handcuffs for all of your neighbors to see. As it is, you’ll be charged with assault for injuring Officer Michell, assuming he survives. Is that enough? Shall we add resisting arrest? Battery? Am I clear enough for you? I know you are going through a lot right now, and you have all the reason in the world to be angry, but we don’t have time for this right now. Do I make myself clear?”
Kathy struggled for only a moment before relaxing and starting to cry in earnest. Huge sobbing wails of hurt and loss. Nina released her arm and turned her around. Kathy’s face was not one of sadness though. A look of malice and hate pulled her features into a grimace. Her eyes promised Nina a world of hurt to come. This was not over, not by a long shot. A gut-wrenching certainty that she would somehow pay dearly for daring to stand up to Kathy’s rage coursed through Nina’s body. Nina did not even flinch though. She stared back with just as much intensity, and Kathy looked away first.
Nina said, “Now go take care of your husband. We’ll talk more on this later.”
“Oh, you can count on that,” Kathy said and then shuffled over to her husband.
Time moved on, because even in tragedies the Earth continues to spin on its axis, and the day grew ever closer to evening. Each and every occupied house on Silent Glade had now been thoroughly checked. No one really complained, although Little D Lapin pointed at the cops and scolded them in baby talk when one of them stepped on Dee Lapin’s favorite doll.
Oscar Jackson felt the extreme discomfort of a collector such as himself when people paw through his belongings, although to be fair, he did not see anyone touch anything.
At the Hernandez house, an officer named Sam Oldenfield began vomiting uncontrollably and had to be removed from the area on an ambulance stretcher. He would not say what happened, but when his partner Joel went upstairs to finish the search, he found Beverly Hernandez standing at the end of the hall. He later claimed her gaping eye sockets followed him as he approached as if the woman still had eyes with which to see. On his way to check the final room which lay behind Beverly, he nodded to her out of habit as he did to everyone he passed in a hall and swore she nodded back before shuffling away down the hall with a soft, slow laugh and disappearing in a room that had already been checked. She had not touched a single wall as she moved and had turned to look back at him as she stepped across the threshold.
Three more snakes had been found crawling in various rooms of Cindi Lin and Tara Dixon’s house. No one could figure out how they were getting in, and the two women decided sleeping in a hotel for a few days once they could leave the neighborhood sounded like the prudent thing to do. At least until animal control could figure out what was going on.
The Debrow’s and the Thompson’s had both given permission to search their houses from afar.
Ethel Thompson waited without hope at the senior care facility attached to Vanderbilt Hospital in downtown Nashville. Barry lay unmoving with his mouth open, staring at the ceiling. The dull unknowing look was all that he could muster these days. His last stroke had taken everything remaining, and now all she had left was the long wait until he withered and died or a final stroke took him from her for good.
The Debrow’s waited in another recovery room in a different hospital but with little more hope. The hernia Chase suffered was not supposed to be serious, and it wasn’t. What the doctor’s found while repairing the hernia was and now, they too waited with growing fear to find out just how serious the cancer would be.
Every household had been checked save one, the Brennon House.
“We’ve tried both the Brennon’s cell numbers, but neither is answering the phone. According to the rest of the neighborhood, they’ve been gone for a month,” Wade Craig told Nina. He and the detectives stood directly in front of the Brennon’s house in the middle of the street.
“I think we should just go in. Get a warrant and knock the door down if we must. Where else could he be?” Nina said.
“I think he left,” Wade said. “Got out while the getting was good. He had no reason to stay.”
“He had no reason to come back,” Del said. “If you recall, he left once before. I agree with Nina. I think we need to go in. Besides, I think we’d be doing those folks a favor. I wandered around the house earlier and peered in a few windows. I couldn’t see anything, but I could hear water running somewhere. I’m afraid our missing family is going to come home to quite a mess.”
“Running water is no reason to break into someone’s house,” Wade argued.
“No, but a mad-dog killer is,” Nina said. “Get the warrant before or after, I don’t care, but we’re going in, and I would like some of your boys to come with us.”
“I’ll call it in,” Wade said, realizing he had no say in the matter. At least if anyone gave him any shit over this, he could say he tried. “Let me round up a couple of officers, and I’ll meet you on the front porch.”
Del and Nina waited until Officer Craig moved away to make his calls and then turned toward the last house to check on Silent Glade Drive. This was it. If Tom Eastman had slipped through their fingers again, they would likely be reassigned. They would be done with this case. Not that it really mattered. They just wanted the man caught. There was going to be plenty of heat to go around when all this was over, regardless.
Underneath the Brennon house, cold and shivering, Tom Eastman began to stir.
Continue to Part 19