By J Thomas Fussell
Chapter 16: The Devil’s in the Details
One day before Tom Eastman killed Fred and Leroy Stanton, Del and Nina split up to tackle two different lines of inquiry. Although he was still their main suspect, there were too many unanswered questions to convict Tom Eastman for the assault of Beverly Hernandez should he be caught. He would go down regardless for his attack on Julia Hunter and his own daughter, and of course there was the outside chance they might get him to confess, but right now they had nothing concrete to tie him to the Hernandez assault.
Del really wanted it to be Tom, because if not Tom, who plucked the eyes from that young woman’s head?
The building which housed Tom’s Import Emporium had not been rented since the foreclosure six weeks earlier. Del Fuller peered through a window into the darkened building. Much of the big equipment had been sold by the bank according to the realtor representing the property, but the offices still contained desks, chairs, and a few filing cabinets. Del wasn’t sure what he would find, if anything, but he wanted to have a look nonetheless. Unfortunately, the man who was to meet him here and let him in was late.
He walked over to the front door and discovered he would not need to wait after all. The door to the office was ajar. Technically he knew he should call it in, but his hackles were not up, so he didn’t. Logically, he knew that meant nothing, but… he had been a detective for too many years to count, and if he had not learned to trust his instincts he would have been dead long ago. Whoever had broken this door was long gone. A homeless person most likely, but maybe a crackhead, or a meth or heroin addict – rare in Franklin, but not unheard of. Still, he pulled his gun from his shoulder holster and checked it before he stepped inside.
He pushed open the door and spoke in a loud clear voice. He said, “TBI! Is there anyone here? Speak up.”
No one answered. He listened intently for two minutes. There was no scrambling or sounds of fumbling about common to folks on the edge when a cop sounds off. None of them wanted to get shot and would make their presence known after hiding their stash. Most were just trying to get by as best they could. Del would have let them go had any made themselves known – as long as they made themselves known in a none threatening way that is. None did.
Del moved slowly from room to room, gun pointed at the floor. Once satisfied he was alone, he holstered his weapon and began to examine his surroundings more closely. Most of the big equipment remained in the garage. Tags covered everything with the names of the buyers and ship dates. He tried a light switch – no power.
He turned on the flashlight on his phone and looked around the room. A thin layer of dust covered everything. No one except his door breaker had been here in a several weeks. He could find no lasers, industrial or otherwise, that Tom might have used to burn the picture, nor were there any tools that looked capable of removing a woman’s eyes. He did not expect to find the actual weapon used in the crime but hoped for something that could have done the trick.
He moved into the office area. Tom Eastman’s office stood right behind a reception area and waiting room. A label over the door read, “Tom Eastman, Owner, Manager.” The room had been torn apart. Toppled furniture covered the floor, pictures had been ripped off of walls, the windows to the office had been shattered, and the contents of the desk and file cabinet had been emptied all over the floor. He looked at the reception area again. Nothing had been disturbed. Tom Eastman had been here; he was sure of it.
The door to the outside opened, and a man, who appeared to be in his early thirties wearing a sports jacket and a name tag too far away for Del to read, leaned in and said, “Hello. Is anybody…” He stopped speaking and his eyes grew wide when he saw Del. “Are you Detective Fuller?”
Del flipped out his badge to reassure the man and said, “That’s me. You must be the realtor’s representative. A mister…” He opened his notebook and looked down his nose at the page but was answered before he could find the name.
“John Owens, sir.” John said as his eyebrows drew down in concern when he saw the wreck in the office behind Del.
Del noticed and said, “Don’t worry. Everything’s alright, but I’ve got a couple of questions. Have you been working this property from the beginning? If so, when were you here last?”
“Excuse me, Detective. Did you break the door to get in?”
“Do I look like someone who breaks into buildings? Of course it wasn’t me. Someone did break in though.” Del gestured to the room behind him and said, “I entered to secure the premises. Now, can you answer my questions?”
“Yes. Yes, sorry sir. I’ve been here from the beginning. And um… three or four weeks, I think, when the last buyer came to examine the lift.”
“Was this room trashed then?”
“No sir, I would’ve noticed.” John moved closer. When he saw the extent of the damage, he let out a long low breath and said, “Damn, what a mess.” He bent to pick up a stapler at his feet.
Del grabbed his arm. “Don’t touch anything, if you don’t mind. In fact, if you could wait outside while you call your boss to explain why there will be a forensics team on the premises that would be fantastic. Let me know if I need to get a warrant.”
The look on John’s face said he did not appreciate the abrupt tone in Del’s voice.
Del patted the man’s shoulder and added, “Sorry guy. I believe this is related to an ongoing investigation. I’m not at liberty to go into more details than that.”
“I get it, I get it,” John said, “I might mess up some evidence. At least I have a cool story for the bar tonight, right?”
Del smiled and said, “Thank you for understanding, Mr. Owen.”
He turned back to the task at hand. After a few minutes of sifting through debris, he spotted a mailer that read, “Industrial Laser Expo” from fall of last year. The mailer told of many fantastic demonstrations to be expected.
So… Tom had had access to lasers, but something still did not feel right. For that matter, why was he so obsessed with the burnt picture? Why had it stuck in his mind? Now, with the wreck of the office before him, he knew. The damage done to the picture just didn’t fit Tom’s profile. He smashed his entire house, and his office, then gently and carefully burned out the eyes of his wife and daughter in a photo with a laser? Del didn’t like it. And concerning Mrs. Hernandez, it would be nothing but a prop in the trial if he could not prove Tom burned the eyes from the photo. Still, it did not feel like something Tom would do. And if Tom didn’t do it, who did?
For that matter, why had Mr. Eastman come here? What had he needed? Keys to that old car they found at the border, maybe? But why had he wrecked his office? The forensic folks could determine what, if anything, had been taken. He doubted they would find anything useful, but at least they could confirm Tom Eastman had been here.
Nina wanted to believe Julia Hunter; she really did. The woman had been through so much in the last week. Unfortunately, Julia was lying, and she wasn’t very good at it.
Nina tried again, “So, let me recap to make sure I’ve got a grasp on this. Mrs. Eastman left Southern Hills without escort, dropped off Larissa with you, said she was going out for,” Nina looked down at her pad as if she could not remember what Julia told her, then with a look of practiced incredulity finished her thought, “A bottle of wine from the liquor store and a pack of smokes and never came back?”
“And that was two days ago?”
“You didn’t think it wise to inform the authorities? You know her husband is still on the loose and how dangerous he is, right? Come on. What aren’t you telling me? We’re just trying to help.”
Julia looked at the floor and let out a big sigh. The detective was not buying her story. She should have known better than to try and cover for Amy. Better to come clean now than deal with fallout later. She said, “Look, I only wanted to help my friend. Amy asked me to look after Larissa. She said she would only be gone a few days. She asked me to cover for her because she didn’t want to be bothered.”
“And?” Nina asked, knowing there was more.
“It’s been a few days, and she isn’t answering the phone. I don’t know where she is. I wish I did, but I know where she was supposed to be. I have a cabin by the lake in Livingston, TN. She said she wanted to go let off some steam. The two of us and a few other friends go up there to unwind – get away from it all you know – a couple of times a year. I thought it might be a quiet, familiar place for her to let go for a bit.”
“Thank you for being honest with me, Ms. Hunter. We will send someone to check on her. If she’s alright, we’ll leave her in peace. Okay?”
Julia nodded and wiped back a tear. She felt shitty for betraying her friend, but worry drove her to caution over loyalty. Besides, Amy said she would stay in touch, and she had not. Julia gave Nina the address to her cabin.
Nina called it in to dispatch from the kitchen, then came back and sat down next to Julia on the couch. She said, “I’m sorry. I know how that feels, but sometimes we have to do what’s right for our friend’s well-being even if they themselves don’t know what that is. You know what I mean?”
“Yes, yes. That doesn’t make me feel any less a snitch.” She grabbed a tissue and wiped her eyes.
Nina said, “How’s Larissa holding up?”
“She’s a strong kid, very sad, but strong.” Julia looked thoughtful for a moment and another tear ran down her eye. “What do I know about kids? Not a damn thing. She could be a wreck inside. I imagine she is, but she doesn’t show it, not directly anyway.”
Nina wondered what “not directly” actually meant. She said, “May I speak with her?”
“No. Not right now, but I’ll arrange it if it’s important. I sent her to a friend’s house when you called. I didn’t want… you know, she’s just a kid, and she’s dealt with so much.”
“That’s okay. I completely understand. If you can set aside an hour or so with Larissa within the next day or two that would be great. Call my office when you have a couple of times that will work for you.” Nina pulled out a business card and handed it to Julia. “And if Amy calls you and she has not heard from us, please contact me. We’re concerned for her safety and we need to talk with her. Keep Larissa close. We don’t know her father’s whereabouts.”
“Of course, but when can she go back to school? She keeps asking.”
“Soon,” Nina said and stood up to go. She wondered what Del was up to and another question sprang to mind. She asked, “By the way, I have a rather strange question for you. Are you aware of Mr. Eastman having access to a laser of any kind?”
“A laser?” Julia laughed. “Not that I… wait a minute. Larissa had a school science project last year that involved a laser. She showed me how it worked. It was pretty cool. She could pop a balloon with it. That is a weird question. Can I ask why?”
“Something we found in the house. I know that’s not an answer.” Nina gave her a wry smile and a shrug. “It’s the best I can do for now. We’ll be in touch.”
When Nina left Julia Hunter’s house, she decided to run by the office in East Nashville. Still twenty minutes away, her phone rang. The man on the other end identified himself as dispatch from the Livingston PD.
Damn, Nina thought after the call, this just keeps getting weirder. Why would you do that, Amy? God, that poor kid. She flipped over to contacts and rang Del.
Del Fuller knocked on the door to the office of Dr. Karen Rommel, a forensic psychiatrist who specialized in sexual predators and serial killers. He hoped she would be able to help understand what went on in Mr. Eastman’s discipline room. He contacted her office yesterday and set up the meeting.
The door opened to the smiling face of the dark hair and dark eyed Karen Rommel. She said, “Detective Fuller as I live and breathe. So glad to see you. Come in. I understand you have some questions regarding the case file you sent over earlier.”
Dr. Rommel looked tired, but she always did. She was spry and healthy for a sixty-year-old woman, but the weight of what she dealt with on a daily basis – the stories, the lives ruined or lost – wore on a person. He knew first-hand what diving into the dregs of humanity on a regular basis meant for him, and he rarely dealt with the kind of monsters Dr. Rommel studied. He did not envy her.
“Good to see you too, Karen, thank you for taking the time to look it over,” Del said and sat across from her as if he were a patient there to be analyzed. “How’s the family? I hear you have grandkids now. I bet they have Ted wrapped around their little fingers.”
Karen Rommel liked Del Fuller. They had known each other professionally for at least a dozen years. Del was one of the good ones. He never made crude jokes or asked inappropriate questions about her field of expertise. And even though they only saw each other a few times every couple of years, and rarely under pleasant circumstances, Del always asked about her family and even remembered her husband’s name.
“A grandmother twice over, if you can believe that,” she said. She pointed to a couple of framed pictures on the shelves.
In one photo, a dark haired, dirty-faced, two-year-old boy stood over a little girl sitting upright in a push stroller. She looked adoring up at her older sibling while he made a silly face toward the camera. In the other, the two kids sat with their parents in a more traditional family photo, but even in this one the boy had his tongue out.
“The little pistol there is Eli. His mother claims they invented the word shy just to have something to embody everything Eli is not. And you are absolutely correct. Ted cannot get enough of little Daphne there. I have been replaced. There’s a new queen in my castle.”
Del smiled, “I’m sorry for your loss. Based on that picture alone, I hate to say it looks to be inevitable.”
“Yeah,” Karen agreed, “She’s a cutie. It really is good to see you, Del, but I’m sure you didn’t come here to discuss the virtues of my grand-kids. What can I do for you?”
“To business then,” Del said. “Before I ask any specific questions, if you’ve had a chance to look over the file, what are your impressions?”
“Well without interviewing Mr. and Mrs. Eastman directly, everything I say is conjecture. I just want to be clear that this is nothing more than opinion without a personality profile to put with it.”
“Of course,” Del said.
“By the way, who called it a Discipline Room? Was it dubbed so by us, or by one of the Eastman’s?”
“Amy Eastman called it the Discipline Room when I first asked her about it. Tom Eastman is still at large.”
“And what was her reaction when you first mentioned it?”
“Wow, that’s been a week and an illness ago, but if I recall, she flushed a little and started like she had been pinched. So maybe, embarrassment, or I don’t know…” Del thought back to that moment on the porch, trying to reframe it. Could that have been guilt?
“Let me ask more specifically then while we are on that initial scene. When you asked Amy about the locked door, what were her words exactly?”
Del said, “Something close to, ‘You will find out soon enough. That’s ‘Tom’s Discipline Room’.”
“Okay, so here is the rub, and settle yourself because this’ll take a minute.
First things first. The facts: We know that only Tom’s DNA was on the whip tips. The collar is an auto-asphyxiation collar. Amy Eastman described it as ‘Tom’s Discipline Room’.
Now, let’s look closer at the pictures on the board.”
Karen turned her computer screen so that Del could see it.
“The pictures on the right under ‘Disgusting’ are all jumbled up, as if tossed on the board without thought or care as to what the new picture might cover. To me, this means the photos are all of equal value to whoever placed them. The newest pictures simply represent the most current example. Do you follow?”
“The pictures of Beverly Hernandez under ‘Perfect’ are completely different. There is an orderly organization. Each row of pictures presents, or showcases, a specific body part of Mrs. Hernandez. The reason this is not obvious is that the rows are not in biological order from top to bottom. This most likely means they are in a specific order. My guess is the top which shows mostly hips and butt is the most appreciated while her arms and hands, located at the bottom of the list, are the least appreciated – understanding that all are still under perfect. The other order appears from left to right. Based on hair styles, clothing, and background of the subject, it appears this is a timeline from the moment Beverly moved into the neighborhood to present day.
In addition to that, the writing on the board on the other side is definitely feminine and is also very orderly. And therein, my friend, lies the rub.”
Del, amazed at Karen’s astute observation, said, “I knew there was something about that room I didn’t understand. Mrs. Eastman’s not been entirely honest with us, I think.”
“It appears so. But again, without knowing the players all I can do is guess. So, to profile him, I would say he likely falls under several paraphilic disorders. Many of these disorders are, generally speaking, considered deviant but harmless, others rarely so. And because he had someone supporting his behavior, who knows what could happen. He is likely a sexual masochist, and based on his violent outbursts, you can probably add sadist. Depending on who is taking the pictures, or maybe regardless, there is criminal voyeurism as well. Now without speaking with him personally, I cannot diagnose him. That being said, and just between you and me, his behavior could put him in several other potential categories including psychosis, neurosis, and sociopathy, but it’s hard to know without additional details,” Karen finished with a shrug of her shoulders.
Del said, “You’re brilliant, as always. So, if I get what you’re implying, if Amy Eastman were the one being disciplined, she wouldn’t have been able to write sentences so legibly.”
“Oh, that’s only the beginning. I’ll take it several steps beyond that. I’m suggesting that the entire board – both sides of the board – are the work of Amy Eastman, not Tom Eastman.” She could tell by the look on Del’s face that she had just blown his mind. “I’m suggesting that Tom may not have been the only one in that family with a paraphilic disorder.”
Del’s phone rang. He looked down and saw that it was Nina. He looked at Karen and said, “I need to take this. Just a second.” He answered his phone and said, “This is Del.” The look on his face grew hard and he said, “Alright, I’m at the office. I’ll meet you outside in ten. Goodbye.”
“Bad news?” Karen asked.
“Amy Eastman’s dead. Apparent suicide. I’m heading to the scene now. Thanks for your help Karen. You’re as brilliant as you are wise and have given me much to think about. And, take care of those grandbabies. They don’t stay that way long, I hear.”
“You have my word on that Del Fuller. Tell that partner of yours to drop in and say hello.”