By J Thomas Fussell
Chapter 9: Tom Eastman has an Obsession
An hour after Nina left, Del Fuller still wondered around the Eastman house as he waited for the forensics team to show up. “Lord have mercy; what a mess,” he mumbled as he navigated his way through the broken glass and furniture. The forensic folks are going to love this. Other than the picture, he had found nothing to tie Tom Eastman to the Hernandez event. Could it be a strange coincidence? He’s seen weirder coincidences in the past. A bank foreclosure notice in the kitchen trash captured his attention for a moment. Tom had apparently lost his business to the bank just over a month ago. Del fished out the notice and bagged it. Other than that, and the locked door upstairs, he could find nothing else of obvious interest. He needed air. The stink of the place was getting to him. It was pretty clear; Mr. Eastman had been pushed over some personal edge, but to what degree? Obviously a violent and unpredictable man with a history of abuse, and the picture on the wall, but where was the connection with Beverly Hernandez?
Outside, not even the screened-in porch was far enough from the stink. Del decided to take a stroll around the outside of the house. The screen door led to the north side of the house and he faced the small cottage hidden through the trees. The house was so quaint, so different. Had it been here before the neighborhood? He would see it up close soon enough. They would have to talk with the neighbors. He tore his attention away and began a perimeter search around the Eastman house. It only took him the length of the house to find something. The cut on Tom’s foot must have been extreme indeed. He had still been bleeding when he returned from his foray towards the roundabout. Or, had the roundabout been his destination? Del turned his attention once more to the small cottage through the trees.
The sound of a car pulling into the driveway drew him from his contemplation. The forensics team had arrived with the full warrant and the real work could begin.
Tom Eastman watched the fat man walk around his garage through binoculars from a vantage point high on the hill behind his house. He found this spot years ago and used it to spy on Amy when he needed to make sure she wasn’t fucking the mailman or something. Convinced Amy had come back to the house, he had wisely chosen to come to this spot to observe the house before going back himself. Julie might have convinced Amy to call the cops, but he had not expected to find someone at his house already. He only had to wonder for a moment if the man was 5-0, when several more cars pulled up and a whole team of cops poured into his house. What the hell? Had he killed that Hunter bitch? He only knocked her around a bit. Of course, that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t or couldn’t, but he had certainly not planned on it, or even been trying to hurt her much. He lowered the binoculars and rubbed his chin. He had to get the fuck out of dodge. No if, and, or buts.
Movement at the side of his house drew his attention and he pulled out his binoculars again. The fat man was looking down at a spot on the driveway.
“Shit,” Tom said to himself. “That fat fuck found my bloody footprint.”
The man looked at the cottage through the trees, Mary Sue’s house. Suddenly, another cop appeared behind the fat man and said something to him. Both went back inside.
Tom turned his attention to Mary Sue’s house. There she was, oh yes. There she was in the back window of her house, totally naked and… Wait a minute. She was not alone. Mary Sue turned her attention on Tom, looking up in his direction through her window. He didn’t know how she could see him, but he knew she could. She blew him a kiss and then laughed. She turned her gaze to the left. A dark-skinned man reached out and grabbed her around the waist and slid in behind her. There was only one man in Silent Glade that could be, Oscar Jackson. Tom couldn’t believe that bitch was cheating on him. On him, Tom Eastman. Who the fuck does that? Nobody, that’s who. He would deal with her later. First, he would deal with Oscar; that asshole has had it coming for a long time. Oh yes, Mr. Jackson would get his. Tom had seen him eyeing Amy before and let it slide, but now this. Oh yes, it was time for Oscar Jackson to pay for his transgressions. But not right now; right now, he had to get the hell out of dodge.
Nina had gotten Amy Eastman to her daughter and Julia Hunter’s room in Southern Hills Hospital. She gave them some time alone while she made sure that hospital security was aware of the Eastman’s situation, and called in a uniformed Franklin Police officer to watch over the Eastman’s and Miss Hunter.
She stepped into Julia Hunter’s room to check on them one more time before she left. Julia slept peacefully. Her bruised face promised misery for the next few days. Fortunately, she had avoided any major injuries and only suffered deep bruising and a hairline fracture in her clavicle. Larissa leaned next to her mother. The trauma of the event evident in the young girl’s eyes, but Nina saw strength there, and she believed Larissa would come out alright in the end.
“How’re you guys holding up?” Nina asked.
“Okay, I guess,” Amy said and glanced at Larissa who shrugged and nodded absently.
“I’ve informed those that need to be informed. A lady from Safe Haven will be contacting you in a couple of hours. She will get you two to a secure location that shelters women and children in your situation. I have a Franklin Police Officer outside. If you must leave, please let him know where you’re going. We can’t protect you if you don’t let us. Do you have any questions for me?”
“How long do we have to live like this?” Amy asked, exhaustion dripping from every word.
Nina had seen this too many times to count, and yet, it broke her heart every time. “At least until we’ve caught your husband and gotten him off the street so he can’t hurt you or anyone else.”
“Daddy’s crazy,” Larissa blurted out. “He was talking to himself. I mean, not like, you know, when you are just mumbling to remind yourself of stuff, but like, he was talking to and listening to someone I couldn’t hear. Arguing too, sometimes.”
“Has he ever exhibited symptoms like that before?” Nina asked Amy.
“No, not that I’m aware. I mean, he didn’t talk to himself, but sometimes it was like he wasn’t really there. Do you know what I mean?” Amy shrugged, “I’m not surprised, though. He’s been wild since he lost his business.”
“How long ago was that?”
“Not long, a couple of weeks, maybe a month. I’m not sure. The days ’ve seemed interminable.” Amy’s eyes looked distant with remembered pain. “Tom’s Import Emporium was the name. Stupid name, if you asked me.”
Nina saw the look and knew she needed to let this poor woman alone for a while. “It’s okay. Why don’t you rest now? I’ll see if we can find a cot or something.” She pressed the nurse call button and asked for two cots when the nurse responded. “I’ve got to get back. I’ll keep in touch. If you need anything, ask the officer outside, or feel free to call.” She handed Amy her card.
On her way to the garage Nina decided to take a moment to call Mr. Hernandez to see if there had been any new developments with his wife.
After the third ring, Mr. Hernandez warily answered the phone, “Who’s this?”
“Mr. Hernandez, this is Detective Nina Houle. I’m calling to check on you and your wife. How is she? Has she spoken yet?”
“No. Well, yes, but she isn’t making any sense. It’s just garbage. God, I’m so tired. Have you guys found anything? Do you have any leads?”
“We are well on our way, sir, but we need all the help we can get. What do you mean she’s speaking garbage? Is it words, or just nonsense sounds?”
“No not nonsense, just nonsensical. It’s like she’s gone crazy and is talking to someone we can’t see, but there’s nobody there with her but me, and sometimes hospital staff.”
A shiver of Deja Vue ran up Nina’s spine. She had just heard that exact sentence paraphrased a few minutes before from Larissa. She said, “So maybe she is talking to you.”
“No, she’s talking to someone she calls Sister but Bev has no siblings. I don’t know what to think. I just don’t know.”
“Where’s your son, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“With a friend in Bellevue. Why do you ask? What does he have to do with this?”
“Nothing really, just…”
Nina heard another voice in the background, a quavering weak voice. It said, “Javier, dear. Is that you? Oh God, it wasn’t a dream. I really can’t see. Javier, where are you?”
A loud thump spiked Nina’s ear. Javier must have dropped the phone. Then she heard the two of them talking in the background.
Javier said, “My God, Bev is that you? Are you awake?”
Beverly, “Yes, my love. I’m afraid…” Then it sounded as if Beverly was coughing. That was followed by some unidentifiable sounds. Beverly spoke again, but with deeper undertones this time, almost as if she had aged forty years in a matter of moments. She said, “Javier, pick up your phone off the floor, love. Tell Detective Houle we’ll talk with her more later.”
Javier replied, “Yes, my love. Pick up my phone.”
A fumbling of the phone, and Javier, louder this time, said, “Detective Houle, we’ll talk more later.”
The phone was disconnected with a click. Nina looked at the phone in utter disbelief. That had not just gone down that way. Her skin crawled as she thought of the change in Beverly’s voice. Had Javier even mentioned to whom he was talking? She was sure he hadn’t repeated her name or title. Maybe his phone had been on speaker? It hadn’t sounded that way from her end, but maybe. That would explain how Beverly knew who called.
Nina shivered again. She needed some water; her mouth was dry as desert sand. She looked around for the hospital cafeteria sign and saw the gift shop instead. They would have bottled water. After a few steps, she stopped again and shook her head. Beverly has no eyes. How had she known where her husband dropped his phone? Or for that matter, how did she know Nina was still on the phone at all?
Del studied the house through the woods from the edge of the Eastman’s driveway. The more he studied the few tracks he could see, the more he felt certain the footprints led from the cottage and not the roundabout. That did not mean anything. Mr. Eastman could have walked around the house, but…
“Yes,” Del turned to the young man who had walked up behind him. One of the forensic team’s newest members, an intern named Todd Hart, stood inside the open garage door.
“We have the door open. You’re going to want to see this.”
Upstairs, the lock expert sat next to the door, putting away her tools. She looked up as Del walked up. The look on her face told Del she had not liked what she found behind the door.
“Dude’s a fucking creep,” she said.
“Nobody’s touched anything?” Del asked.
Del pulled plastic gloves from his pocket, put the gloves on, and pushed the door open. He flipped the light switch on. The windows of the room were covered in black paint. On one wall, a treadmill sat next to a calisthenic stand. Directly across from that on the other wall sat a large two-sided white board. In front of that, hanging from the ceiling, was a chin up bar with an attached collar. Dear God, what had that man done to the poor woman? Hanging next to the whiteboard was a hat rack from which hung a couple of belts, and a paddle. Under this sat a small step-stool. None of these things mattered as much as what was on the whiteboard itself. On the side facing Del, one of the Eastman’s, Del’s money was on Amy, had written in a tiny script, “I can achieve the perfection I see.” in columns, hundreds of times.
When Del flipped the whiteboard over, he gasped. Lines of tape split the board into a two-column table. On the left side, in bold three-inch letters, the word “Disgusting” had been printed at the top. On the right side, the word “Perfect”.
Under “Disgusting”, several pictures of women cut from magazines and dozens of digital photos had been taped to the board in chaotic piles of overlapping images. There appeared to be no theme other than the gender of the subject. Some of clippings were popular movie stars known for their beauty, others appeared to be women on the street or in various locations around the city, none of them were disgusting in any way. They were just people.
On the side labeled “Perfect” there was only one subject, Beverly Hernandez. Her photographs had been neatly arranged in rows and only overlapped due to the vast number displayed. She had been photographed running, walking, bending over, through windows, at home, at the mall, at the grocery, fully dressed in various outfits, in her underwear, and fully nude at least twice, although these two were partially occluded by curtains or angles. Tom Eastman had an obsession. And just like that, Mr. Eastman went from a person of interest to the prime suspect.
A small closet sat next to the doorway from the hall. Del tried to open the door, but found it locked. He had seen enough for now though. He stepped back into the hall. Todd Hart was cataloging the family photo with the burned-out eyes, and had a forensic camera to take a picture of where it had been found.
Del said, “Tell the team I’m done for now. There’s a locked closet in that room. I want to know what’s in it as soon as it’s opened.”
“Yes, sir,” Todd said.
With that, Del stepped outside. He needed air again. “Creep” didn’t cover how he felt about Tom Eastman. They would have to interview Amy Eastman again, too. She had not been entirely honest. He sighed. Why do abused women always cover up for their men? He knew why, but God he hated it, almost as much as he hated the men who caused it.