By J Thomas Fussell
Chapter 22: Suspect Down
Kathy Blanchart hid behind a tree at the edge of her property, eyeing the cops at the end of the street with great suspicion. They were not going to tell her everything; she just knew it, and she was not about to let that pass. She would learn the rest if she had to spy on them until it was too dark to see. When she wanted to know something, it was best to just tell her when she asked; barring that, it was best to stay out of her way while she looked.
Nina stepped through the trees into the Blanchart’s yard from Oscar Jackson’s yard with Officer Ronald Wagner at her side. Nina elbowed Ronald to get his attention and nodded in Kathy’s direction.
“What do you think’s going on there?” Nina asked him.
He rolled his eyes and shook his head. “At this point, I don’t even want to know. I think that’s the same crazy-ass woman who was yelling at Officer Craig earlier. She didn’t want to go home, apparently.”
“I see she still doesn’t,” Nina said. “She’s not even aware we walked out of the woods. If we’d been the killer, she’d be dead.”
Nina watched Kathy for a minute or so more. Kathy peeked around the side of the tree, bent over like a kid playing hide and seek who thought the seeker was getting too close. The hidden woman’s ample behind swayed gently side to side as if she were not comfortable standing for long periods of time.
No, Nina thought, that’s not it. She’s swaying like a little girl eating a snack so tasty she can’t help but dance a little. She’s in her element and giddy.
Nina looked back at Ronald and said, “Wait here or go up to the porch, whichever suits you. I’ll go get her before she does something foolish. If I remember correctly, this woman‘s married. Her husband should be in the house.”
With that, Nina strolled casually down the drive and then across the yard to where Kathy stood behind a tree. Nina cleared her throat when she was within fifteen feet of Kathy.
Kathy jumped a good six inches straight up, then turned around ready to let whoever had disturbed her have it. She rolled her eyes and said, “Oh, it’s you. It’s about time you showed up. I know I gave you a statement when Beverly was hurt, but I don’t know why you didn’t think I would be of use until now. I doubt any of this would have happened if you had just consulted me earlier.”
“Don’t ‘ma’am’ me. I’ve had quite enough of that for one day. You’re going to listen, and you’re going to listen good. Did you know that Tom Eastman used to beat his wife? Did you know that? I guess you probably do by now, but I could have told you on day one. Did you ask me? No you didn’t and here we are. I think you better hear me now.”
“I don’t think this is—“
“Of course it isn’t. Do I look stupid to you? There’s a killer on the loose, and I for one would just as soon be gone now rather than later. Is that an option, though? No, I don’t think it is; you idiots have blocked the road. Look, I’ve had it up–”
Nina held up her hand and said, “Stop. You may finish once we reach the safety of your house, but you’re not safe out here. You will be better off inside with the doors locked. Do you understand?”
“Yes, but I—”
“Is your husband home?” Nina looked away towards the house, hoping to distract Kathy with the question.
Nina towered over this lady by a good foot and half but what intimidated most men did not even faze this woman. Kathy no more noticed Nina’s height than she did the words out of most people’s mouth. She did notice the dismissal though and put that in her old mental pocketbook for later. She would not be silenced, not when she had so many important things to say.
“Detective? You are a detective, right? One wouldn’t be able to tell by your —”
“Good lord almighty! Would you please be quiet?” Nina hissed. All of a sudden Kathy did not matter. She could not see Ronald Wagner anywhere.
Kathy jumped again, but she kept her mouth shut. These cops were on edge alright, and she did not want to distract them from protecting her. Kathy could shut up, especially when her own skin was at stake.
Nina pulled her radio out of her pocket and said, “Officer Wagner, what’s your twenty?”
Nothing, radio silence.
“Officer Wagner, report. I repeat, what’s your twenty?” Nina said again with more urgency.
“No Officer Wagner here. Guess again,” said a voice from the radio, a voice that was distinctly not Ronald Wagner.
Mike Blanchart stared at what should have been his kitchen. The color of the walls was almost right, but the tint appeared off, like whoever painted this used a little extra red paint in the mix than he and Kathy chose. And the mess… Kathy would die before she allowed such a thing to happen to her kitchen. Liquid of some sort dripped down the wall near the door. Broken glass and bits of crushed small kitchen appliances covered the floor. Food had been left all over the counter. His Kathy would say, “Food left out for more than ten minutes is spoiled. Better safe than sorry. Throw it out.” That woman threw away more food….
Speaking of Kathy, where was that wife of his? If she were not in here cleaning up a mess like this, then she was not here in this house. Was this his house? If this were his house, he would have never heard the end of it even if he had not made the mess. Mike wished it were their house, so he could call out to her. She would take care of him. He tried anyway, thinking maybe she was close, but for some reason his mouth would not work.
He reached up and touched his mouth. It felt slack; his mouth was open. He tried to will it closed, but the muscles would not work. He pushed it closed with a hand, but it only fell open again when he let go. At least there was no pain. For the first since waking up, he wondered what had happened to him.
Mike could not remember anything before lunch today. He scratched his drooping chin and shook his head which made his chin wobble back and forth and slung spit to drip down the wall along with the mystery liquid. Shaking his head was a mistake though; pain flared from his neck like lightning. He grabbed the wall to steady himself and took a few deep breaths. The world slipped away from him again, but only for a moment and in that moment, he lost everything again.
Where was he? He could not make sense of his surroundings. He appeared to be in a kitchen, but not his kitchen, not with a mess like this. How had he gotten here? His head hurt. He reached up to touch it and discovered a giant gash in his scalp. He jerked his hand away quickly. The movement caused his head to bounce again, and he lost his place once more.
Where was he? Where was Kathy? The back door stood open. He must have opened it to go out. Was he in the wrong house? He stepped into the backyard and began to walk. It was a nice day. He would get home eventually. For now, he would just walk until he recognized something. Within ten steps he was under the canopy of the forest and hidden from view. In ten more steps, Mike was more lost than he had ever been in his life.
The view from the front window did not offer Tom Eastman a very good view of what was going on down by the road. The Blanchart house at 008 was separated from its neighbor’s houses by thin strips of forest that reached almost to the road. A huge oak sat on the left corner of the lot from his perspective. That tree would destroy the sidewalk running next to it in less than five years. Tom wondered which of the architectural geniuses that built Silent Glade decided to leave that tree. Not one of the brighter ones he guessed. Because of that oak and the thin row of trees that grew up to the forest behind the house, he could not see anything that was currently going on down the street. The angles were all wrong. And even though it was still early spring, the leaves had already sprouted and grown in such profusion that he could not see a thing past the tree line. Maybe if he were standing at the end of the porch he could make something out through the trees. He had certainly seen that bitch Kathy standing in her yard, or on her porch, with a pair of binoculars enough times to give that thought credence even without testing it.
“Speak of the devil,” Tom muttered, “there’s that bitch now.”
Kathy Blanchart stepped through the trees between her house and the Brennon house next door. She did not start up the front yard to the house though. Instead she sidled around the large oak and crouched, peeking around the corner at the goings on near the Stanford’s house.
“Mike, your wife is a nosey bitch. Did anyone ever tell you that?” Tom snickered at himself and glanced over his shoulder to where Mike lay.
Tom froze. Mike no longer lay on the floor by the stairs. That was not good; no sir, that was not good at all. He glanced out the window one more time and saw a group of police officers moving up the road across the street. One of them said something to Kathy and gestured up to the house. Kathy straightened up and waved him away, but did not leave her spot. The officer simply shook his head and continued up the driveway to the Hernandez house on the opposite side of the street. Panic began to grow like a small seed in his heart. If the cops were going door to door, his goose was cooked. He had to find Mike, finish the job, and get out of here pronto.
He reluctantly left the front window and moved to where Mike had fallen. When Mike had gotten up, he must have stepped in his own pool of blood because he left a trail that a child could follow. The footprints led Tom to the kitchen and the mess he had made of it. God, he had made a mess of this room. He did not know what had gotten into him of late but smashing things somehow made him feel better. It was like killing a room. The simple act of destroying something orderly calmed him and allowed him to think. He could never remember the actual act of destruction though, only the emotion that flooded through him as he rolled through a room like a wrecking ball. It felt good. Oh yes, it felt fucking great.
Mike was not in the kitchen either. His trail ended at the backdoor which had been left wide open. Anyone could have walked in and caught Tom cold in a house with a pool of congealing blood in the front hall. The thought chilled him and the panic he had begun to feel earlier blossomed into a living thing in his mind. He had to get out of here. That was when he heard voices outside in the yard. He could not make out what was being said, the speakers were too far away. In fact he would not have heard them at all if he had not been frozen in place trying to decide what to do. The cops were here already.
“Mary Sue, this might be a good time for an assist,” he whispered.
There was no sense of being heard or the strange excitement and fear her presence brings. Had she abandoned him so soon?
“Goddamn it. Just like a bitch to leave a man when the chips were down. She’ll get hers, too. Oh yes, Tom Eastman doesn’t forget a debt owed,” he said to himself, not even aware that he was still speaking.
He slid into a small room across the front hall from the living room. The room was probably intended to be a small guest room or perhaps an office, but Kathy Blanchart had turned it into an arts and crafts room. Apparently when she was not busy snooping, Kathy liked to make small kitschy objects like one might see at a flea market or craft fair. Like the rest of the house before Tom arrived, this room was in perfect order with every pencil, stencil, brush or ribbon in its place and labeled. The urge to wreck a place had never been so strong, but Tom knew that would be a mistake and managed to maintain his cool.
He moved over to the window which had shades drawn to limit what one could see from the outside but not what one could see looking out from within. The gigantic black detective bitch that he had seen with the short dumpy detective investigating his house was back. She was with a cop this time instead of her fat sidekick. Both were looking down at Kathy. The giantess gestured to the house and then down at Kathy hiding behind her tree. The cop nodded and moved toward the house. The lady detective walked down the driveway toward Kathy.
“Holy shit!” Tom whispered to himself; he had to get his game face on. “Mary Sue,” he called in a soft parody of a father calling a child in for dinner. “Now would be a good fucking time for an assist.”
There was no response.
“Fuck you then. Who needs you, anyway? I’ll take care of this bastard myself.” Tom reached in his back pocket and pulled out his punch dagger. He would have to be quick. There would be one chance and one chance only.
The cop knocked heavily on the door. Tom didn’t move.
“Mr. Blanchart, are you home?” The officer called out before knocking again.
Tom didn’t move. The cop stepped over to the living room window, perhaps to peer in, but Tom could not see to be sure. The man grunted, then mumbled to himself, “Damn, the dude must be asleep. Maybe he’s not even home. Well Ronald, looks like you pee outside.” Tom saw the cop step off the porch and saunter around the corner of the house.
Tom slid across the room like a shadow, hoping the cop would go all the way to the back of the house. The blade of his punch dagger looked inadequate for the job. He would have to go for the throat. Anything else would result in cries of alarm.
When Tom reached the back of the kitchen, he stayed low and tried to peek out of the back door window. At first he could not find the son-of-a-bitch. But once he moved to the far right and looked toward the left corner of the house, he could just make out the cop’s shadow and one of his legs. He pushed open the back door and slid outside through as small an opening as he could manage. The door only squeaked once. For a moment he thought he would try to sneak up on the urinating man, but after only a few steps he realized it would take far too long to get to the edge of the house, so he decided for a more direct approach.
“Um, excuse me. Are you pissing on my lawn?” Tom asked in a hurt voice.
“Is that you Mr. Blanchart? Um, yes sir. Sorry sir, I knocked but you didn’t come to the door.” Ronald finished up quickly and pulled his pants up. He stepped to the back of the house, expecting to meet Mr. Blanchart, but instead met a grinning bald man in a police officer’s uniform.
Tom’s arm moved in a fast arch and before Officer Wagner could register the trap, his throat was cut. Ronald reached up to try and stifle the flow with one hand and reached for his gun with the other. That was a fatal mistake, because Tom punched him half a dozen times in fifteen seconds. Most of the wounds were in his face and neck, but it was the last blow that killed him. Tom’s arm moved in a powerful roundhouse haymaker and drove the three-inch punch dagger into Ronald’s temple up to his knuckle. Ronald spasmed hard, flinging Tom off his feet, then fell twitching to the ground, the punch dagger still stuck in the side of his head.
The radio crackled and Tom heard Nina ask for Officer Wagner’s twenty. He crawled over to the twitching corpse and picked up the radio. When Nina asked for Ronald a second time, Tom thumbed the speak button and said, “No Officer Wagner here. Guess again.” He picked up the cop’s pistol and raced across the backyard, into the trees.
“Yes sir. Things are going Tom’s way now. Oh yes, and you just wait you bitch. I won’t forget you abandoned me in my time of need. Tom Eastman ain’t afraid of no witchy bitch. I’ll come for you too. You just wait. Oh yes, you bitch, you just wait.”
Tom’s bravado did not go very far. In his heart, he knew he would do anything Mary Sue asked if she came back, and he hated himself for it. Not to mention, the fear he felt for Mary Sue was only tempered by his lust. Without that, only fear remained. Tom shuddered; he could not fully remember all that happened when Mary Sue came around, but the state he found himself in after left no doubt who wore the proverbial pants in their relationship. He hated himself for that too. But more than his hate, his fear of her began to consume him.
“You said I would be safer in my home! Mike! Where are you, Mike! You said I’d be safer.” Kathy wailed at Nina. “Mike! Oh god, please…. Where’s my husband?”
Nina stared at the pool of blood and the trail of bloody footprints leading up the hall. She thumbed her radio and said, “We have a situation at 008 Silent Glade. Officer Wagner and Mike Blanchart are missing. There’s a large pool of blood by the stairs, but no body. It doesn’t look good. Send backup immediately.”
She followed the trail to the kitchen and drew a sharp intake of breath. The kitchen had been wrecked in what was becoming a signature move of Mr. Eastman. She pulled her gun and checked the safety, then stepped back into the hall. Tom Eastman could still be in the house. She needed to find Officer Wagner, and she needed to keep Kathy Blanchart safe.
Dear God, she thought, what a mess.
Nina stepped back into the hall and turned around only to find Kathy staring at her kitchen, transfixed by the mess and destruction.
“It was him, wasn’t it?” Kathy asked. “Tom Eastman has Mike, my Mike, and you… you cops let it happen. How could you?” She began to cry in earnest.
“We must get outside. Mr. Eastman may still be in your house.” Nina tried to lead her back to the front door, but Kathy pushed back.
“Then Mike might still be here too.” Kathy’s eyes widened. “He might need our help. Mike! Mike, where are you?”
There was no answer. Kathy rushed into the hall and up the stairs, traipsing blood up the stairs from the huge congealing mass in the hall at the foot of the stairs. She screamed for her husband over and over. Nina tried to keep up, knowing if Tom were in any room Kathy would likely die before Nina could do anything about it.
There was still no answer. Mike Blanchart and Tom Eastman were no longer in the house, or were otherwise incapacitated or hidden and unable to answer. The immaculate cleanliness of the Blanchart house did not leave a lot of places to hide. They checked every room; Nina stoically and methodically, while Kathy exploded screaming into each room in a panicked search for her missing husband.
Before they could finish looking upstairs, the front door opened and Del called out, “TBI! Nina are you in here?”
“Up here, Del. I’ve not cleared the house; be ready for anything. Tom was definitely here.”
Del stood in the open doorway looking at the bloody mess in the hall and knew they had missed him again. Tom Eastman might have been here recently, but he was here no longer. Nevertheless, he took no chances and motioned several officers with guns to the right as he took the other to the left. The teams cleared each room and in less than two minutes had verified they were alone downstairs. A moment later, the call, “Officer down. Officer down,” burst through every police radio in the house. Ronald Wagner had been found.
“Jesus,” Del whispered under his breath, “that son of bitch is going to be the death of us all if we’re not careful.”
Del went to the edge of the stairs and followed the footprints of blood up the stairs with his eyes. Nina appeared at the head of the stairs. Kathy could be heard crying from one of the rooms as she peered hopefully in a closet that Nina had already cleared.
“What did you find in the woods?” Nina asked as she carefully made her way down the stairs, avoiding the blood as best she could.
“An impossible nightmare,” Del said, unsure of how else to describe the massacre they had found on top of that small hillock.
Del leaned in closer to his partner and said, “I feel we’re missing something crucial here, do you know what I mean?”
Nina nodded, “You mean like, why don’t any of these people remember us warning them to change their locks?”
A look of consternation crossed Del’s face, but before he could ask what she meant, another call, a quieter call, issued from the police radios.
“Suspect spotted moving north.”
Everyone froze in anticipation. The radio had been left on and other members of the team could be heard issuing orders. “Sir, put the weapon down and get on the ground. Hands behind your head.” There was a brief pause and then several voices at once yelling, “Put the weapon down!” was followed by the crack of a rifle that was heard first on the radio and then from the hillside to the north behind the Blanchart’s house.
“Suspect is down. I repeat, suspect is down.”
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Are we nearing the end, or just getting started?