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He had stopped by the university and gotten a list of Jessica Porter’s classes. He had talked to some of her professors and classmates. They had all said basically the same thing as Cynthia Dawson. Jessica Porter was miss congeniality among all of her peers. Everyone had said that she was the sweetest girl, always offering a smile to whomever passed her by. She didn’t know a stranger, was friendly to all.
Nathan hadn’t been able to get anywhere thus far, other than realizing that the woman fighting for her life was loved and adored by everyone whose life she touched. That admission made him want to fight harder to bring the person responsible to justice.
He strolled into Lowden’s Bookstore and found a woman with bright orange hair and quite a few piercings in her face at the front counter. She looked young and rebellious as she tilted her chin and stared at him.
Nathan pulled his badge out of his pocket. “I need to speak to Cameron Demauro.”
She lifted one long black fingernail to the back of the store, never once saying a word.
Nathan smiled although the gesture was wasted on her and turned towards the direction she had pointed.
At the back of the store was a tall, lanky man with blonde hair stocking books on the shelf. He glanced in Nathan’s direction, piercing gray eyes boring a hole straight through him. “Cameron Demauro?” Nathan asked.
“Yeah,” was the young man’s reply.
“I’m Sheriff Nathan Benson.”
“Look… I don’t know what Lionel told you. But I didn’t do it,” Cameron was quick to say.
“Actually, this isn’t about what you did or didn’t do. I’m here about Jessica Porter.”
“Jessie? What did she do?”
“Last night, Jessica and her roommates were attacked at their house.”
“Oh my God. Are they okay?”
“Her roommates are dead.”
“She’s in critical condition.”
Cameron fell back against the boxes he was unloading, sitting down on top of one and covering his face with his hands. “f---,” he whispered. “I just saw her yesterday. We went out for coffee on her lunch break.”
“Did she seem tense yesterday for any reason?”
“Hell, Jess is always tense lately. She’s got a few more months until school is finally over. With her term paper coming up and her vying to get that job at Hilliard, she’s been one big ball of nerves.”
“What job at Hilliard?”
“It’s some kind of professor job in English Lit… that’s her major.”
“I assume she’s not the only one applying for that job.”
“Nah. There’s a long distinguished list she says. But, I know my Jess. She’s got what it takes to get it.”
Nathan offered Cameron a smile. Yep, he thought to himself, the man had it bad for Jessica Porter. “Has she mentioned to you anything out of the ordinary, any one hanging around the house, or… anything?”
“No. There’s always some weirdo hanging around that house. I told them girls they needed to watch who they brought home. But they never listen to me.”
“Them girls? You mean, Sherry, Karen, and Maria?”
“Yeah. They’re sweet girls. But… monogamy isn’t a word they know too well.”
“What about Jessica? Has she been seeing anyone lately?”
“No,” he said quickly. “I’d know if she had.”
“Why is that?”
Cameron looked away for a minute as if collecting his thoughts before he turned back to the towering man. “I’m not going to lie. I keep tabs on Jess. Partly because I worry about her and partly because…”
“You’re in love with her?” Nathan finished for him.
“Who told you that,” Cameron insisted, his eyes narrowing.
“It doesn’t matter. Is it true?”
“Hell, to know that girl is to love her.”
“That’s what I’ve been hearing.”
“But, Jess isn’t like her roommates. She has her head on straight. She knows what she has to do.” Cameron shoved his hand through his hair. “Damnit, I told her there’d be nothing but trouble the first day she moved in with those three.”
“Why is that?”
“Because, she is nothing like them.”
“What do you mean?”
Cameron stood up and leaned closer to the man standing in front of him. “They’re sluts. I’m sorry, I hate to talk about them like that, them being dead and all. But it’s true. And Jess… well, she’s not.”
“How do you know?”
“I know Jessica,” he bit out angrily. “I’ve known her practically my entire life. I’ve been there through all of the boyfriends. And there haven’t been that many. She’s a good girl.”
“Then, what is she doing living with those three?”
“They all went to high school together. Jessica went off to college while they all stayed here. When her grandmother got sick, Jess couldn’t pay the bills on her own. So, she invited Sherry, Maria, and Karen to live with her and help her out.”
“So the house is Jessica’s?”
“Her grandmother’s. Jess wanted to hold onto it until she finished college. Like I said, she’s trying to get a job at the university and then, she wants to get her grandmother out of that nursing home and take care of her.”
“Do you know what nursing home her grandmother is at?”
“Yeah. But, I wouldn’t go telling her what’s happened?”
“Because she just suffered a massive stroke a few months ago. Something like this would kill her.”
“I won’t talk to her grandmother unless I absolutely have to.”
“You better not. Jess is protective over that old woman,” he laughed sadly.
“Okay. Her name is Eugenia Wolfe. She’s at Stoneybrook Manor over in Hartsville.”
Cameron watched him with intense eyes, not knowing if he wanted the answer to the question he was about to ask. “How is Jess?”
“I can’t really discuss that. But rest assured, the doctors are doing everything they can for her.”
“I won’t rest assured until I see her walking around, giving me a hard time.”
Nathan laughed. “That’s funny. Everyone keeps telling me what a sweet girl she is.”
“She is a sweet girl. But, she can be a pain in the ass. She’s stubborn as hell. Not a bad quality in my book, but an annoying quality nonetheless.”
Nathan cocked his head sideways. “If I hear anything on her condition, I’ll let you know. Can I call you here?”
“Call here anytime.” Cameron knew the man wouldn’t call him and give him shit. Nathan Benson was just telling him what he thought Cam wanted to hear.
“Thanks.” Nathan drew a card out of his pocket and handed it to the young man. “If you think of anything that could help, give me a call.”
“You bet,” Cameron offered.
Nathan turned to leave, nodding to the girl at the register. Her reply was a curt nod of her own and that same stubborn tilt of her chin, which caused Nathan to laugh. Her obvious aversion to him didn’t affect Nathan one way or the other. He had lived in Manhattan, had met more defiant individuals than her.
The sunlight hit him in the eyes the moment he walked out the door. Quickly, he put his sunglasses on and headed toward his SUV. Checking both sides of the road, he jogged across the two-lane street, jangling his keys in his hand as he crossed.
As he put his hand on the door, his phone rang causing him to halt. Pulling it out of his pocket, he placed it against his ear. “Benson.”
“This is Mike. I just got some preliminaries back from forensics. All three victims were raped. But no DNA was left. The perp must have worn a condom. And get this, no skin under the nails, no blood, nothing. The fingerprints came back on the house. We’re sending them to the FBI to have them analyzed and ran through their data bank. As soon as we get word back, I’ll let you know.”
Nathan was amazed. His men were doing an incredible job thus far, considering they had never had to deal with a crime of this magnitude. “Any word from the hospital?”
“Oh yeah. She was moved up to ICU a few hours ago. We have two armed police officers posted at the door. No one is allowed in there alone, even the medical staff.”
“And get this… Miss Porter was not sexually assaulted. They did tests and found no evidence of rape. Don’t you find that odd? Why would this man rape the other three women and not Miss Porter?”
“Well, from what I’m gathering from her acquaintances, she was the little saint. The other three were a bit promiscuous. Maybe that has something to do with it. I don’t know yet. Or maybe Miss Porter walked in on the whole thing and our man had to kill her to keep her from talking.”
“I don’t think that’s it.”
“The pattern of stab wounds on Miss Porter is the same as the ones on the other three. We’re having someone photograph her wounds as well.”
“Put a copy of the photos on my desk As soon as I get a chance, I’ll take a look at them.”
“Did you get a chance to talk to the neighbors?” he asked as he slid in behind the steering wheel and revved up the engine.
“Yeah. No one really knows anything. They said there was always someone coming and going in that house… usually houseguests of the three roommates. A lot of people said that Miss Porter was only there at night to sleep and that she was gone most of the time.”
“Well, keep asking questions.”
“I will. Did you get anything at the University?”
“Not really. Just the same bullshit. I’m going to dart over to The Gazette real fast before I go back by the station. See if anyone can tell me something different.”
“Okay. I’m going to go ahead and drive back over to the house, comb through it and see if I can find anything that might have been missed.”
“Sounds good. Call me if you hear anything else.”
Nathan clicked off and pulled out onto the main road. Absently, he glanced at the clock on his console. It was just noon. Why did it feel like six o’clock in the evening? Probably because he hadn’t had a whole lot of sleep and he had been going strong since three o’clock this morning.
The cell phone rang again, causing him to groan. Placing it to his ear, he growled, “Benson.”
“Hi, baby. It’s Trisha.”
“I just wanted to let you know that I’m heading out for San Diego tomorrow morning. I was wondering if you wanted to get together tonight.”
“I’d love to. But I can’t. I’ve got a lot going on here.”
“I heard. You had a triple homicide.”
“News travels fast.”
“Well, tell the stealthy reporters out there thank you for keeping the general public up to date.”
“Yeah. Thank you isn’t quite what I’d like to say to them.”
“Now, Nate. Be nice. They’re just doing their job,” she chastised in a playful voice.
Nathan merely groaned to himself. He knew she was playing but frankly wasn’t in the mood. He had a lot on his mind and without any sleep; Nathan just didn’t have the temperament to deal with Trisha right now. “When will you be back?”
“Some time next week. I’ll call you when I get back to town.”
“Okay. Have a safe trip.” Quickly, Nathan ended the conversation without giving her a chance to say another word. He threw the phone into the passenger seat and gripped the steering wheel with both hands.
Trisha Landell, the stewardess with the killer legs. He had been having an affair with her for the last three months. The greatest thing about that woman was that she was okay with no strings attached. They had their fun and at the end of the night, they said good-bye. It was the perfect arrangement for him. He wasn’t prepared to fall into a relationship, never had been the type to stay in a long-term commitment. The truth was, in his thirty-four years, he had never found a woman he just couldn’t live without.
His job required a lot of sacrifice. Getting involved with a woman would be unfair. With Trisha, she was always in and out of his life. Her job made her inaccessible. And he wouldn’t want it any other way. He liked things the way they were.
They had gone to Cabo San Lucas together for two long weeks. It had been the best vacation and the worst vacation of his life. Trisha was a little too high strung for him. She was constantly on the go. Nathan’s idea of a vacation was relaxing with a fishing rod and a beer. And that was what he had planned to do on his vacation until Trisha had shown up with the airline tickets and the hotel in Cabo already booked.
He couldn’t complain. The scenery there had been beautiful, as had been the woman that had slept in his arms at night. It just wasn’t his sort of thing. He would have been just as happy on a lake somewhere, camping in the woods at night and hiking through the trails by day. Nathan snorted to himself. He couldn’t imagine Trisha Landell camping out in the wilderness. Along with being high strung, she was also high maintenance, another one of her quirks that irritated him to no end.
Pushing his thoughts of Trisha to the back of his mind, he pulled into the parking lot of The Gazette and hopped out of his SUV. He glanced up at the building, not sure if he was going to be able to get much information on Jessica Porter. It was probably going to be the same thing he had learned from everyone else he had talked to. She was one hell of a gal. The sweetest person you’d ever want to know. A good girl with her head on right. He had heard the same thing over and over. No one was that perfect. There had to be some sort of skeleton hiding deep in her closet. Nathan just needed to find the right person to ask.
* * * *
Mike walked carefully through the house, the blood stains on the hardwood floor the only reminder of the scene he had encountered this morning. Nothing else was amiss, no sign of a struggle or forced entry.
He ran his gloved hand across the books on the shelf by the fireplace, only vaguely glancing at the titles. Then, Mike knelt down and opened the bottom of the cabinet and peered inside. Neatly lined and labeled home videos lay inside of the compartment, all with Jessica Porter’s name and which big event had been video taped. Jessie’s Sweet Sixteen, Jessie’s Senior Prom, Jessie’s high school graduation, Jessie’s college valedictorian speech, and the list went on and on.
Mike reached for the most recent video dated two months ago, labeled as ‘Spring Break’. He was sure that it would have all four women on it. Placing that in a bag, he carried it through the house to the coffee table. Then, he turned around the living room, glancing at the bloodstained walls.
Stepping further through the house, he walked into the first bedroom on the right. The décor was flashy and exotic, with leopard print sheets and comforter on the bed and black tapestries hung over the window. The bed was still neatly made.
He continued his trek through the house, examining the other four rooms. Each one had a different décor which he was sure matched their diverse personalities. One had a flair for anything purple while another had faux fur all over her room. As he already knew, all of the beds were still made.
The last room he entered was the master bedroom. This was Jessica Porter’s room. It wasn’t flashy or flamboyant. Just down to earth and cluttered with books upon books. He took a step deeper into the room and examined the armoire in the corner by the bed. On top of the dresser was a neat row of pictures. Jessica Porter and an elderly looking woman, a man and a woman and a little child with the same blue eyes as Jessica’s, a photo of a black Lab with a Frisbee in its mouth… and one picture that caught his attention. The photo was of Jessica Porter with a cap and gown, a gold cord strung around her neck, a diploma in her hand, and a smile that lit up her entire face.
Mike inhaled sadly. Such a pretty young woman with a bright future ahead of her, and yet, all of that had been taken away in one night.