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Collecting Cooper
  • Текст добавлен: 4 октября 2016, 23:15

Текст книги "Collecting Cooper"

Автор книги: Paul Cleave





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Текущая страница: 18 (всего у книги 26 страниц)

He turns back toward me. “I told you she doesn’t like strangers. You’ve got what you came for and, like the lady said, it’s time you leave.” He looks back down at her. “I know, honey, I know.”

He leads me to the door and I’m happy to be led. “Sorry about that,” he says, in a conspiratorial whisper.

“It’s hard to find the perfect woman,” I say. “You know, with a thousand bucks you could buy her a few nice dresses.”

“I guess I could.”

“But there are a few things you need to tell me.”

“Like what?”

“Tell me about the Scream Room.”

“Who told you about that?”

“Another patient. You ever have to spend time down there?”

“What, me? No, never. But I never . . . never, you know, hurt anybody. That room was for the bad people and I’m not a bad people. Money?”

“Not yet. What about the Twins?”

He looks down. “Why do you have to talk about them,” he whispers. “I’m a better person now. I don’t want nothing to do with them.” He sniffs loudly and starts to cry.

“I’m sorry, I really am,” I say, and it’s true. “Listen, are any of your friends from Grover Hills in the habit of killing cats and digging them back up?”

“I have to go,” he says, and starts to close the door. “You can keep the money.”

I push my hand against it. “Ritchie . . .”

“But Melina . . .”

“Melina can wait. Give me a name, Ritchie.”

“I can’t. He’s my friend. My best friend.”



“He killed my cat,” I say. “And he killed Nurse Deans.”

“She was a hard woman,” he says.

“What’s his name?”

“I can’t,” he says.

I hold the money back up. “You can spend this on Melina,” I say. “You going to choose friendship over love? Is that it? You’re going to choose to protect a killer instead of buying your girl something she deserves?”

He looks down and starts opening and closing his lips like a goldfish, no sound coming out.

“Ritchie . . .”

“His name is Adrian Loaner, but he doesn’t live here anymore. He used to, but then I taught him to drive and he left. He was young when he went to the Grove, real young, and he was there for twenty years maybe.”

“When did he leave here?”

“A week ago. That’s all I know,” he says, and when he looks back up there are tears running down his face.

“You’ve done the right thing,” I tell him.

“Melina . . . she isn’t, she isn’t . . . you know . . . and I know she isn’t, but . . . but it’s better than being alone.”

“It’s hard being alone,” I say.

“I’m sorry about your cat,” he says.

“So am I.”

“Please, please don’t kill him.”

I show him the sketch from the newspaper. “Is this Adrian?”

He looks at it, then tilts his head to change the angle first one way, then the other. “Kind of,” he says. “I mean, maybe.”

“Which bedroom was his?”

“Right opposite,” he says, pointing across the hall. “But it’s empty. He’s my best friend but I don’t know where he’s gone.”

I hand over the cash and enter the bedroom across the hall. The curtains are open and the sun falls across floorboards thick with dust. There’s a bed with the sheets and blankets and pillow missing. The bedroom drawers are all open and each of them empty. There isn’t anything laying around the room light enough to be lifted in one hand. Adrian Loaner isn’t coming back. I do a customary check, looking under the bed, I search for loose floorboards, I check underneath and behind the drawers but nothing has been left behind.

Adrian moved out a week ago and started a new life out at Grover Hills. Only something spooked him into leaving today.

I head back into the hall. I can hear Ritchie talking to his girlfriend but the conversation is muffled. When I get downstairs the Preacher is waiting for me by the door.

“One more thing,” he says. There’s a fresh cigarette in his hand and also beer. “How was prison, Detective?” he asks, and the smile he gives me has no warmth.

Back at the car, all four tires have been slashed. I call the rental agency and keep my hand on my gun as I wait for a tow truck to arrive.

chapter thirty-seven

Adrian stalls the car twice as he backs down the driveway from their new, temporary home. He’s excited with the new accommodations and frustrated that he had to leave the Grove, making him happy one moment and sad the next, and that makes driving a whole lot harder to focus on. At least the day is starting to cool down somewhat, and he’s finding he’s having more energy because of it. His head snaps forward the third time he stalls the car so he comes to a stop, gets out, and leans against it for a minute while rubbing his neck. He needs to concentrate.

He drives into the city, the traffic around him thick with people coming home from work. He doesn’t like driving at this time and tries to avoid it, but sometimes he can’t. People drive differently at this time of the day. They’re more aggressive. They honk their horns more and the cars are closer together, the front of them almost touching the back of the car in front. He hates it. Sometimes he’s thankful he’s not part of the crowd. Families and funerals, taxes and TV shows, planning holidays and painting houses—the thought of that scares him.

He has the phone book in the front seat, the phone book he took from the halfway house, it’s covered in pen marks and the covers are torn and the Preacher would be disappointed in him for taking it. He hated living there. If it wasn’t for Ritchie he’d have tried to move out three years ago, though he doesn’t know where he would have gone without the ability to drive. The problem with Ritchie was once he met Melina, he started to change. He wasn’t the same guy that taught him how to drive. He didn’t have much time for Adrian anymore. It’s sad, because if Ritchie were here then all of this would be going easier. It would also be a lot more fun.

He looks up Cooper’s mother in the phone book. He doesn’t have any intention of adding her to his collection, and he isn’t sure why he lied to Cooper about it. More so Cooper wouldn’t be able to predict what he would do next. Adding the mother would be another mouth to feed, another unhappy person to have around, just more negativity, and like his mother used to say, “A sad man is a bad man,” and that would go the same for a woman too, he guesses. The idea of collecting the mum certainly does excite him, though, there is no denying that, but the reality is just too complicated. Still, he wants to see her house, just to satisfy his curiosity. He looked her address up before, only he forgot to write it down. He knows the direction, and he rechecks the address against the map and confirms he’s going the right way.

When he drives past her house he slows enough to look at the cars parked outside. He doesn’t think any of them belong to the police because they’re too nice. Most likely she has friends over to comfort her because she can’t find Cooper. In the future those cars won’t be there.

Now his stomach is rumbling. He hasn’t eaten since breakfast. He hates missing meals. He could drive back out to the new home and fix something to eat, but he doesn’t know where things are in the kitchen or how to use them and he needs time if he’s going to do that.

He pulls away from the curb. He’ll go to a drive-through and get some fast food. He’s never used a drive-through before and the thought makes him anxious, but then again, a few years ago he’d never used an ATM card and now he knows how. Experiences like this are good for him. They are character building. He can pull over somewhere and eat the food while it’s still warm. Then he’ll drive out to the Grove and watch to see if any police come looking around.

It will feel nice watching the Grove.

In a way it will be like being back home but not really being there.

chapter thirty-eight

It takes an hour for the tow truck to arrive. It’s a nervous wait in case the guys with the dog come back, forcing me to shoot them and their dog and then spending twenty years in jail before getting back onto the case. It’s also a frustrating hour because I want to push forward. The tow-truck driver arrives and steps out of the truck and walks around the rental. He has his arms out of his overalls so the top half of his outfit is hanging down past his legs. His white T-shirt is drenched with sweat and has become see-through. His hands are stained with oil and grease.

“You must have really pissed somebody off,” he says, looking down at the wheels.

“Sometimes I’m misunderstood,” I tell him.

He connects a hook and chain under the car then stands next to the back of the truck as he holds a button, a pulley winding the car forward and up onto the deck. He makes sure it’s secure and we climb up into the cab. The cab is full of so many hamburger wrappers that my cholesterol level spikes when I inhale. We make the kind of small talk that small talk was invented for—the weather, traffic, sports news. He drives me to the tire shop the rental agency told me to take the car to. The people there have been advised about the problem but tell me it’s going to take another hour before they even take a look at it because they’re busy. I sit on a bench outside in the fading heat, spending five minutes staring at a tree, five at the side of the wall, bunches of other five-minute intervals staring at whatever else is around. The air smells of rubber. I call Donovan Green and update him on the case. I tell him I have a few names that I’m following up tonight and that he should keep his cell phone nearby in case I need more money. He tells me money isn’t an issue. He asks me if I’m still carrying the photograph of Emma he gave me, and I tell him that it’s in my wallet. He asks me to take it out and take a look at it, and I do. He tells me that her life is in my hands, that she’s alive somewhere, that money isn’t an issue, and reminds me that I’m doing this for Emma and for him, not for the police. He reminds me that when I find Cooper Riley that I’m to go to him first, that I’m to give him a few hours alone with Cooper Riley.

“Okay,” I tell him.

“Promise me,” he tells me. “Promise me Riley will pay for what he’s done.”

“I promise.”

I hang up and call Schroder. “Any hits on the fingerprints from my house?” I ask him.

“Nothing. There were some good ones too. So it wasn’t Melissa and it wasn’t somebody with a record . . .” he says, then trails off. “Hang on a second,” he says, and he takes the phone away. I can hear muffled voices but not what they’re saying. He comes back a moment later. “Listen, I have to go.”

“Wait a second. Maybe this guy we’re looking for was young and didn’t get a criminal record, but got a medical one instead.”

“What are you getting at, Tate?”

“I got something for you,” I tell him. “This is important. I know who took Cooper Riley.”

“Yeah? Who?”

“An ex-patient from Grover Hills. His name is Adrian Loaner. If he was just a kid when he went there, there’d be no criminal record.”

“Uh huh. Good job, Tate. We’ll look into it.”

“Hang on,” I say, his lack of enthusiasm telling me what I need to know. “You already knew?”

“Of course we knew. What, you think we can’t function without you?”

“How long have you known?”

“Listen, Tate, I have to go.”

“Can you meet me?”


“With some corpse dogs.”

“Oh man, are you shitting me?”

“Grover Hills.”

“Look, Tate, we know what we’re doing.”

“Grover Hills . . .”

“We’re already out there.”

“You find anything?”

“We sure as hell found a lot more than you did.”

“You found Cooper Riley?”

“Not yet.”

“But you found somebody.”

“A couple of bodies.”

I break out in a cold sweat. “Emma Green?”

“No,” he says, and I breathe a sigh of relief. “Listen, Tate, don’t even think of coming out here.”

“I’ll be there soon,” I tell him, and I hang up.

It’s closing in on seven o’clock by the time my car is hoisted up on a hydraulic lift. It’s an anxious wait, and I end up pacing the footpath outside, looking at the other cars parked around the shop wondering how hard it’d be to steal one. Each of the wheels are taken off. It takes ten minutes per tire to replace, then the car is lowered and I’m back on the road.

I still get somewhat lost on the drive back to Grover Hills even though I was there earlier today. The sun is in my eyes for most of it, creeping under the angle of the sun visor, so when I do turn corners and head in different directions I have bright lights dancing in my vision. I pull in behind one of the patrol cars at Grover Hills. One side of the building is lit up with the sun reflecting in all the windows, the other sides are dim in the shade. I have to shield my eyes as I look for Schroder. The building hasn’t been cordoned off because there’s nobody out here to protect it from. There are around thirty people working the scene and about half of them watch me get out of the car, but nobody comes over. They seem to know who I am, and Schroder must have told them to let me though. He’s standing next to a man with a beard and a comb-over. He breaks off the conversation and comes over. His shirtsleeves are rolled up and dust and dirt has settled into the folds.

“Jesus, Tate,” he says, shaking his head.

“Why don’t you just give up on the indignation, Carl, and accept I’m part of this. Let me help you. That’s what you wanted from me when you picked me up from jail, remember? My help? Stop bullshitting me by pretending you want me out of here when you need all the help you can get.”

He seems about to argue, and he already has his hands ready to form the angry gestures that go along with it, but then they drop to his sides and he smiles. “You’ve got a point,” he says, “and cutting out the bullshit you put me through would save me a lot of time, and is probably good for my heart too.”

“What have you got?”

“So far we’ve got two bodies.”

“So far?”

“Yeah. We’re looking for more. One of the two we have is fresh.”

“How fresh?”

“First body we’re talking about years. Second body the medical examiner says around twenty-four hours. We think her name is Karen Ford. We’re still waiting to confirm an ID, but everything matches. She was a street worker reported missing this morning. She’s twenty years old,” he says. “Twenty years old. Jesus.”

“Got a murder weapon?” I ask.

“Not yet. And there’s more. You see the cell downstairs when you were out here? We got blood down there.”

“I saw it,” I tell him. “The residents here called it the Scream Room.”


I tell him about Jesse Cartman. Schroder stays dispassionate for the first ten seconds before rolling his hands into fists and slowly shaking his head. When I tell him about the Twins, he’s gritting his teeth so hard I’m worried one of them is going to snap away and bite me in the face.

“Jesse Cartman isn’t exactly a reliable source of information,” Schroder says, but I can tell he partly believes it the same way I believe it, especially now that bodies are showing up.

“You’re going to have to make some calls,” I tell him. “The staff knew what was going on. If it’s even remotely true, you’ve got multiple cases of assault and murder and God knows what else stemming from this room.”

“Jesus,” he says. “It’s going to be a nightmare.”

“What about Emma Green? Any signs she was out here?”

He shakes his head. “We found some fresh prints in the downstairs room on the inside of the iron door. They match prints we took from Cooper Riley’s office. We’ve been searching the other rooms and have found no sign of Emma Green, only signs of Karen Ford. Looks like she was tied up in one of the beds. Also we got some Taser ID disks on the floor in the basement. There were a couple on the couch and a couple under it, about twenty short of what there should have been so Adrian tried cleaning up.”

“You’ve run the serial numbers?”

“Yeah. It’s a dead end. It was part of a batch that was stolen five years ago in the US. Two hundred Tasers in total went missing and made their way around the world, along with about a thousand cartridges.”

“How the hell would Adrian get something like that?” I ask.

“Maybe it belongs to Cooper.”

“He was shot by his own Taser?”

Schroder shrugs. “Maybe.”

“So Adrian was keeping Riley locked up in the basement,” I say. “As a prisoner. Which means if he’s not in the ground here, he’s probably still alive. Maybe Cooper did something to him years ago in the Scream Room when Adrian was a patient here. What about the blood?”

“Too early to have made a match. Looks fresh though. Probably belonged to Karen Ford. We got some other stuff too. Clothes, some personal belongings, some utensils, even some plates. Found them in cardboard boxes stuffed in the taller grass near the tree line,” he says. “Looks like Adrian left in a hurry and didn’t have room for everything. How did you figure out Adrian Loaner?” he asks.

I tell him about the halfway house. “You?” I ask.

“It was simple. We spoke to some of the staff that used to work here. We showed them the composite sketch and we told them about your cat. They gave us a name of somebody who used to dig them up who looked like that sketch. I sent somebody to the same halfway house and learned pretty much what you learned. We heard you’d already been there. What took you so long to get here?”

“Car problems.”

“We brought out a couple of the corpse dogs to take a look around before upgrading to the ground-penetrating radar. The ME thinks the other body has been in the ground at least ten years. We’ve started to expand the search.”

Somebody shouts out from behind the building and a few of the detectives start making their way over. I follow Schroder in the same direction. I ask him what he knows about Adrian Loaner, and he doesn’t know much. A group of detectives are forming a half circle. I can see piles of dirt through the gaps between them. We cross the shadow line formed by the building and step into the shade to the south, the air much cooler. There are already two open graves on this side, each with dirt piled waist high next to them, the soil on the bottom dry and thin, the stuff on the top thick with dark clods. The detectives have gathered in front of a third pile of dirt. We step into the group. Everybody is looking down at the half-excavated grave, a skull and part of an arm exposed, no flesh attached. Suddenly Jesse Cartman’s story doesn’t seem as crazy.

“Jesus,” Schroder says. “What the hell are we digging up here?”

Nobody answers him. The person doing the digging has stopped digging for the moment while somebody else takes photos. The digger doesn’t pose against the shovel and smile. He just waits until he can carry on, much slower now. There’s an overwhelming feeling spreading through the group—nobody here thinks we’re going to be stopping at only three bodies.

Laying on a blue tarpaulin about ten meters from one of the fully open graves is a woman wearing a shapeless dress with a large bloodstain on the front. Karen Ford. Right now her friends and family are somewhere looking for her and praying she’s still alive, praying she’s gone away for a few days, but for a woman in Karen’s line of work, they’ll know she’s gone away forever.

“I fucking hate this job,” Schroder says, noticing me looking over.

“It would raise some serious red flags if you didn’t,” another man says, the man Schroder was talking to when I arrived.

“This is Benson Barlow,” Schroder says, introducing us. Barlow’s comb-over is being backlit from the sun, making it look even thinner than it is. His face is shiny from suntan lotion and looks red. He has a deep, smooth voice that could talk a suicide off a ledge. I shake his hand.

“I’ve heard about you,” he tells me.

“And you are?” I ask.

“He’s a consultant,” Schroder tells me.

“A psychiatrist,” Barlow adds.

“We worked together a couple of months ago,” Schroder says. “It made sense that since we’re dealing with patients from here, he may have some insight that could help us.”

“Some of them I dealt with over the years,” Barlow says.

“Adrian Loaner?” I ask.

“Unfortunately, no,” he says.

“Loaner does have a primary psychiatrist who he has to check in with twice a year,” Schroder says. “Doctor Nicholas Stanton.”

“I actually know Stanton,” Barlow says. “He’s a good man.”

“But unavailable,” Schroder says. “He’s on holiday somewhere in a different time zone where it’s cooler. We’re working on a warrant to get his patient files.”

“And how’s that going?” I ask.

“A warrant to get patient files from a psychiatrist? I’d have more luck talking my wife into giving up her credit card,” Schroder says.

“Loaner only had to check in twice a year?” I confirm. “That doesn’t sound like much.”

“It’s not much,” Barlow says, “but it is what it is and, remember, it’s not my fault, it’s not Doctor Stanton’s fault, it’s the number the courts and the government doctors came up with.”

“So tell me,” I say, “where would Adrian have taken Cooper now?”

“Somewhere familiar to him,” he says. “That’s all I can tell you.”

“That’s not much,” I say, “and not something we hadn’t figured out.”

“Listen . . .” he says, but I put my hand up and stop him.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound dismissive,” I say. “It’s just been a long day.”

“It’s okay,” he says, nodding slowly. “It’s something all psychiatrists have to get used to when we’re dealing with cops.” He looks at me to say something else and I have an idea what it is, but I don’t give it to him. He carries on. “First some ground rules,” he says. “This is all speculation. It’s science, I’m nothing like one of those psychic assholes you see on TV. What I’m saying has merit. In my opinion there’s a chance he’ll come back here. First of all this is his home. He won’t want to leave it behind for too long. He’s been forced to leave his home and therefore he’ll be feeling stressed and upset, and stressed people like to return to the things that comfort them. That means anybody involved with the case should keep their pets locked inside tonight. You may consider posting some unmarked cars outside each of your own houses since each of you make targets, though in your case, Mr. Tate, it’s perhaps too late. That aside, I think you’ll also find he’s eager to return here. This has been his home for many years and he’ll be watching closely. In fact, he may even be out there now,” he says, and we all look out to the trees and the road looking for a madman looking in. “I would set up some patrol cars to intercept anybody who comes this way.”

“Have you read Cooper Riley’s book?” I ask.

“Just how did you manage to get a copy of that, Tate?” Schroder asks.

“Yes, Detective Schroder gave me a copy when he updated me on the case,” Barlow says. “It’s very poorly written,” he adds, “and inconsistent. The man believes he knows much more than he does, and he gives that away with his conclusions. I can do a much better job. In fact it’s something I’ve been thinking about for the last few years, and perhaps, well, I hate to sound like an opportunist, but perhaps there may even be some material here for it.”

“Jesus . . .” I say.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he says, “but without people like me studying people like Adrian and Cooper, people like you wouldn’t have a clue where to begin.”

“Okay, point taken,” I say, annoyed that he’s made a good one. I’m just thrilled that at least somebody can make money from all this death and misery. “But there is something I still don’t get.”

“Just the one thing, Tate?” Schroder says.

I ignore the jibe. “Adrian wanted revenge on Pamela Deans and he killed her,” I say. “If he wants revenge on Cooper Riley, why not just kill him too?”

Barlow raises his eyes and his forehead twists into a string of wrinkles. “And that’s the big question, isn’t it? Yes, I’ve been giving it some thought. I don’t believe revenge is the motivation behind Cooper Riley’s abduction.”

“No? Then what?” I ask, genuinely curious.

“I think it’s fascination.”

“Fascination?” Schroder repeats.

“I think when Cooper Riley was coming out here conducting his interviews and his tests, I think Adrian became obsessed with him.”

“You think he’s taken Cooper to own him?” I ask.

“It makes sense.”

And it does make sense. I should have seen it earlier. Should have figured it out from the moment I saw the cell downstairs.

“If he’s that obsessed, why wait three years?” Schroder asks.

“He will have needed to build the courage to act,” Barlow says, “and needed to acquire the tools. If it was about revenge then Cooper would already be dead. I’m certain of it. You say Adrian used a Taser? Why not use a knife, or a gun? No, it’s not about killing. It’s about collecting.”

Ritchie Munroe said he taught Adrian to drive. That had to be part of it. Until recently, Adrian didn’t have the means to bring somebody out here. It’s not like he could have put Cooper into the trunk of a taxi.

“You think Adrian knew Cooper was a killer?” I ask.

“It would suggest a greater degree of intelligence than we first thought,” Barlow says. “It’s more likely a great degree of luck.”

“You think he just happened to be following Cooper and found out he was a serial killer?” Schroder asks.

“The alternative would mean he’s better at doing our job than we are,” I say. “There’s no way he could have figured out Cooper was a serial killer.”

“Our job?” Schroder asks.

“You know what I mean.”

“I agree,” Barlow says. “The question now is just how much longer is Adrian’s luck going to hold out?”

Only it’s not Adrian’s luck I’m thinking about. It’s Emma Green’s. She was lucky Cooper was abducted, but it could mean she’s been without food and water since Monday night. I know on average a person can last around four days, give or take, without water, but these aren’t normal conditions. With the heat wave . . . well, it comes down to how hot it is where she is. The pile of dirt at the latest grave gets bigger as more skeleton is exposed. I look out at the grounds and the graves still yet to be found, praying to a God who abandoned them to not abandon Emma Green and to let me find her alive.

“Loaner is an unstable person, Detectives,” Barlow says, “and under the right stress conditions, he’ll be capable of anything—and right now, he’s stressed. Taking over his home like this, trust me, if Adrian knows what’s going on out here he’s going to enter full panic mode, and that means he’s going to be capable of almost anything.”

“And Melissa X?” I ask, and I look over at Schroder.

“He knows about her,” Schroder says, giving me the okay to keep talking.

“Anything happening there?” I ask.

Schroder shakes his head. “We’re talking to her friends and family and trying to build up a profile,” he says.

“She’s not the same person she was before Riley attacked her, assuming that’s what happened,” Barlow says. “Part of her has taken on the role of her dead sister, and is looking for revenge.”

“And the other part?” I ask.

He shrugs. “I couldn’t tell you. Some would suggest the other part is pure evil, but I don’t think that’s the case. The person she is now, that’s a product of her past. With the right medication and the right help,” he says, but doesn’t finish the sentence, because both me and Schroder are staring at him as if he just doesn’t get it. Not everybody is meant to be cured—some people are meant to be locked away forever. It wasn’t Natalie’s fault she set foot on this path, but she’s killed innocent men while on it, and for that she has to pay.

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