by Pamela Swyers
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2016 by Pamela Swyers
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Published by Swyers Publishing
It tickled, the drip of the rain going down the back of my neck. The storm had caught me unaware out here on this street in the middle of God-forsaken nowhere.
The day had started early with a double latte from the corner coffee house. I’d been out for three days straight, me and about fifty others, walking through fields, slogging through creeks and mud and muck, and then the rain. God, this rain.
It had all started when I got the call four days ago. A man had gone missing. Twenty years old, worked for his dad at the family-owned auto repair in town. The town was Macy, Iowa. I didn’t know the precise population, surely under five hundred, but it was the very definition of small town America. Main Street consisted of several falling down buildings that had once been something and were now nothing, and two antique and gift shops, a barber, a small park, a grocery store, and most recently the coffee house I’d visited earlier. Grind Me Up it was called. Someone’s idea of cute. I was just glad they had an espresso machine and seemed to know how to use it.
The missing man was one Tobias Collier. I was called in from Des Moines. With a population of just over a couple thousand, the town wasn’t exactly a huge metropolis but it looked like NYC compared to Macy.
As a murder cop in Iowa, I’d been able to have a successful enough career. Successful in that out of the two murders I had investigated, I’d solved both. Most of my day-to-day had more to do with paperwork than murder. Macy doesn’t have its own police force, thus I got the nudge when Tobias had turned up missing. Missing isn’t necessarily dead, but given the circumstances, I agreed to come and head up the search for the missing man. The circumstances were that Tobias had a quiet habitual life. Girlfriend was Leila, the daughter of the owner of the local grocery store. She took some online classes and painted pretty pictures in her garage/studio. Tobias and Leila had moved in together, into a rental house owned by another local and by all accounts, the two were inseparable. Tobias was known to be level-headed, reasonably smart, good-looking and reliable as they come. He’d never been a teenaged rebel, never missed or even been late to work, helped old ladies cross the street, you get the picture.
The people in this town had painted a nice picture of the perfect couple in the perfect relationship in the perfect town. His disappearance caused quite an uproar. Everyone insisted he wouldn’t pick up and leave town without telling anyone. More curious was that his car was left at his house, keys in a little tray in the foyer of his home, as usual. Leila woke up five days ago and couldn’t find him anywhere. It was a Saturday morning and she’d last seen him the night before. She went to bed early, so she says, and Toby, as she called him, stayed up to finish watching an episode of Bones on Netflix.
Sunday I got the call and now here I was, in the third such hunt for clues that had taken place since my arrival. The town was fully organized; posters of Toby on every lamp post, neighbors, friends and family members had handed out flyers all over town. I had to admit his disappearance was strange.
My name is Callie Worth, and I hate rain, always have. I know the need for it, but have no love for being out in it. Divorced at thirty wasn’t exactly what I’d planned for my life, but I’d always known I’d be in some kind of law enforcement. Grew up outside of Los Angeles and moved to Des Moines with my ex. I grew to love the place so I decided to stay. Max, the ex-hubby, and I had come to an understanding a long time ago. He’d stay on his side of town and my business, and I’d stay on mine. It had worked so far.
A whistle blew. It came from the direction of town, and we all began to slug back up the road towards the coffee house where today’s hunt had originated. Sun was about to set and the whistle was our signal to quit for the night.
We’d managed to cover most of a twenty mile radius around town over the last few days. No clues, nothing had been discovered. Some conspiracy theorists had begun to claim alien abduction, and I had to admit, the thought had crossed my own mind, however briefly.
I knew that whomever or whatever had happened to Tobias likely had nothing to do with ETs. The bad guys I’d encountered in my life were all too human, though they acted otherwise.
Taking my cap off and pulling my wheat-colored pony tail out of its binding, I shook not unlike a dog once I was inside the cafe. I felt like a dog, a very wet dog.
“Ms. um Detective Worth?” a voice asked. I looked up and saw Toby’s mom and dad headed my way. Mr. and Mrs. Collier showed their grief and exhaustion on their faces. Mrs. Collier covered her mouth with a tissue and seemed to be perpetually on the verge of tears.
I reached out and shook Mr. Collier’s hand. I answered the questioning look on his face. “Nothing. Not a clue,” I said. He sat hard on a nearby chair, his wife following his lead and sitting next to him.
“What’s next? What do we do?” Mrs. Collier said.
“I’m going to look over my previous interviews, conduct a few more, continue the search until we find something. We are not giving up,” I told her.
Back at my motel which was situated about fifteen miles outside of town, I showered, threw on a pair of sweats and pulled a stale peanut-butter cracker out of my jacket pocket. I made a face then set about eating the cracker. Awesome supper. I’d spotted a Waffle House not too far away and made myself a promise to hit it at breakfast for a decent meal.
I checked in with my sidekick. Abby, or Abs as I called her was my contact back in Des Moines and my often-time partner. She was fierce, a few years younger than me and the best investigator I knew. She had been doing some research, making some calls for me as well as holding down the fort in my absence. I had her digging up any insurance policies or wills that may be out there and that might help offer me a motive. She promised to have something for me the next day.
I sat up in bed with files all around me, studying everything I had gathered so far. It wasn’t much. Nobody knew anything, hadn’t seen anything. Zip. Zero. Nada.
Leila’s statement said that they had not had any fights or arguments in the days leading to Toby’s disappearance. She’d noticed nothing out of the ordinary. I closed her file and got lost in thought. Leila was just a little too… what? Perfect? Cried at the right times, said all the right things, but ya ask me, there was something off about that girl. In fact, of everyone I’d met since coming to this town, she seemed the most off… suspicious. Maybe. Maybe I was desperate and grasping at straws. I made a mental note to pull more on that thread after a few hours sleep and a good meal.
Waffle House did not disappoint. I had eaten three waffles, two scrambled eggs and a plate full of potatoes with cheese and onions, washed down with three cups of coffee and I felt like a new woman. Six hours of sleep didn’t hurt, either.
I dressed in my standard jeans, boots and long-sleeved tee, threw on my black leather jacket, grabbed badge, keys and gun, then rounded up all of my paperwork and threw it in my canvas tote bag and headed back out the door, toward Macy and another talk with Leila. I knew she’d likely be found in her studio, so I did not call ahead.
“Knock-Knock!” I said as I pounded on the door of Leila’s garage. The large car-sized door was down but there was a regular door on the side. I heard some rustling about and then Leila opened the door. I was struck, and not for the first time, at the youth and vitality the woman exuded. She could’ve had a career as a model in another life, another town. Her light brown hair cascaded down her back and featured golden highlights that framed her face. Big brown eyes looked surprised and not-too-happy to see me.
“Oh! Detective! Come in. I didn’t know you were coming,” she said.
“I know,” I mumbled as I came through the door. “Are you alone?” I asked as I scanned around the room. Canvases, some complete and some not, leaned against or covered every surface.
Leila looked suspicious. “Yes. Of course. Why?” she asked. I could tell she had put her guard up.
“I wondered if I might ask you some more questions. Things just aren’t quite adding up for me,” I said. I put on my stern serious face. I watched for her reaction.
“Uh, like what exactly?” she said. As she waved me over to a chair near the back of the room, I noticed a slight quiver in her hands. She was nervous.
“I prefer to stand,” I said.
“Sure, whatever you like.” She wiped her hands on an old towel. Many colors were splattered on the towel, on the floor, and on the canvas she was currently working on. Blues, greens, and lots of red. I noticed several large buckets along one side of the room.
“What’s in the buckets?” I asked.
“Paints. I go through a lot and they’re cheaper if you buy in bulk. I get primary blues, reds and greens from an art supply distributor in Des Moines. I get smaller tubes to mix and blend, make other shades with.”
It struck me as odd that she had seemed to be working away on a lovely park scene just days after her lover disappeared. Compartmentalizing? Maybe.
I walked over closer to the tubs. Indeed there were splashes of red on the outside of one, blue on another, and green on another. Drops and drabs where paint had stained the rims of the buckets and lids.
“What’s that you’re working on? A park?” I said, eyeing her current endeavor more closely. There was a huge weeping willow tree and a young lady resting underneath it with a cat-like smile on her lips. She seemed to have a secret. It was pretty, well done. A few feet from the young lady there was a flower garden, a mound of soil that sprouted red carnations, mums, tulips… some flowers I couldn’t name.
“Are you sure there is nothing that you’ve left out of your previous statement? No fights? Nobody that you know of who may have wanted to hurt Tobias? Anyone new in town? Anything at all?”
Leila rang her hands a bit then turned towards her work, covering it with a cloth. “No, there’s nothing. Like I said, we were very close.” I saw tears begin to form in her eyes and could not help but feel as though I was being played like a fiddle.
I walked towards the door. “I’m going over to talk to the guys Toby worked with again. Please call me if you think of anything at all.” I faked a small smile and headed out, closing the door.
This visit had netted me nothing substantial but made me even more sure that Leila was behind Toby’s disappearance. I was sure she had killed him.
Now to prove it.
I pulled up in front of the Davis Auto Body, parked my rental car and approached Toby’s boss, Ed Davis. My notes from talking to him the first time reminded me that Ed hadn’t said much beyond that it was very unusual for Toby to miss work. He’d said he knew nothing about his home life.
“Ed?” I extended my hand.
“Detective Worth,” he responded. “What can I do for you?” He wiped his greasy hands on a red towel hanging from his pocket. Took my hand in his, firm and strong.
“I’m just following up. As you probably know, this investigation has gone nowhere fast. I feel like the people of this town are close-knit, like family. Nobody says anything bad about anyone else. It’s slowing me down.” I looked him in the eye, brushing a hair out of my face. “Can you maybe help me out?”
Ed motioned his head towards the door to his office. Whatever he wanted to say to me, he didn’t want anyone else to hear. We walked into the office area.
“Ed?” I nudged.
“Listen, I’m sure you’re just doing your job and all, but it’s like I told you before. I don’t know anything. Toby was a good kid, the best. That you can believe. He loved… loves that girl, Leila. He bent over backwards to give her anything she wanted. He worked extra hours to make money to buy her new clothes, painting supplies. He loves her. That’s all I know.”
“I caught that… loved… you believe he’s dead, don’t you? Tell me why.”
Ed looked around a bit. “Don’t know any other reason he’d be gone for so long, didn’t take anything with him. Doesn’t make any sense.”
“Tell me honestly, what are your thoughts about Leila?” I just left the question hanging there.
“I’ll tell you now that I don’t have any use for her, never did. She would come in here and flirt with the boys with Toby in the next room. She never seemed to fit in here. Always wanting more, never satisfied. I figured one day she would disappear, run off with someone with more money, to tell ya the truth.” Ed looked as though he felt immediately guilty for talking about Leila. I knew he’d say no more.
“Thanks, Ed. I’ll keep that between me and you.” I left there and got in my sedan and drove toward the coffee house. Halfway there my cell phone rang. It was Abs.
“Bingo!” Abs said.
“What ya got?” I asked.
“Life insurance policy, half a mil. Taken out one month ago.”
“And who benefits?” I asked, nearly panting in anticipation.
“Leila Graham. You got your motive. No will or anything else to be found, but that says something, doesn’t it?” Abs asked.
“Yes. Yes it does,” I said, and hit the end button on the phone.
“I’m closing in on you, little girl,” I said to no-one.
Alone back at my motel room, I sat on the bed, rummaging through all of my notes. No blood had been found anywhere, nothing obvious, anyway. With the help of the local search parties I had looked all over this town, including around the inside and the outside of Toby and Leila’s house.
Did she kill him then clean up the blood? Or maybe she had used a bloodless method. Poison? It was widely thought of as the weapon of choice for women. No blood to bother with. Just slip something into his meal or drink one night, problem solved.
I called Abby and asked if she’d found anything on a deeper level background check on Leila. Nothing had popped.
Frustrated beyond words, I finally fell asleep amongst the papers on the bed. I woke up at six in the morning feeling groggy and hungry enough to eat my arm.
A shower and blow-dry later, I was dressed and headed for the coffee house. Grind Me Up had become the de facto hub of the investigation, its owners very generously offering free coffee and sandwiches to anyone searching or handing out flyers or just hanging out waiting for word on Toby’s fate.
As I walked in, a waitress brought me a latte and a chocolate chip muffin the size of my head. I loved the small town generosity. I thanked her and found a seat near the front window with a view of the park.
Within minutes, several people had wandered over to say hello, shake my hand, ask me how the investigation was progressing. I spotted the Colliers near the back, still looking as though they hadn’t slept. Looking at them motivated me. I’d get Leila, I’d find out what happened, so at least they could have some answers.
I had a thought as I finished up my muffin. I called Abs and asked if she could check into getting some dogs out to aid in the search. There was a unit we’d used in the past, well-trained k-9 officers known for sniffing out the presence of drugs, blood and corpses. At this point I was convinced Tobias was indeed dead. It made sense to take this next step.
“They can be there by tomorrow morning. Zeus and Apollo. We’ve used them before.”
“I remember.” I also remembered their partner, their human partner. Cambridge Fuller. Cam. I remembered him pretty vividly after a wild night celebrating the closing of a murder case a few years back. My cheeks reddened just thinking about it. “Tell Cam I look forward to seeing him. No, wait, don’t. I’ll just see him tomorrow.”
Before leaving the coffee house I informed the Colliers that we would be bringing in the dogs the next day. They cried and hugged and thanked me. These poor people.
I met Cam, Zeus, and Apollo at the home of Leila Graham at eight in the morning. I approached the home alone, showing Leila the paperwork. I couldn’t get a warrant for the inside of the home yet, but the dogs would be searching all around the exterior of the home.
“Good to see you, Callie,” Cam said. He looked good. I did love a man in uniform. We chatted a bit then he got the boys, the k-9 boys, to work. In an hour’s time they found nothing, but kept going to the door of the studio and whining to go in. I could not legally let them go in. Leila smirked at us from the window of her kitchen.
“What was in the studio that peaked the dogs’ interest?” Cam asked me on the ride back to the coffee house.
“I wish I knew. I’ve been in there, didn’t see anything unusual.”
As the dogs bounded out of the car, they suddenly took off. Cam yelled at them to come back, but they were on a mission. Cam looked at me and I looked at him. We gave chase.
Zeus was nearing a large tree in the park across the lot from the coffee house. His nose was glued to the ground as he searched and sniffed. Apollo was a few feet away doing much the same thing. We ran up and each of us grabbed a dog by the collar. We petted the dogs and tried to soothe them.
“Maybe they needed a potty break desperately,” I said to Cam.
“I’m going to give them the search command… they’re acting strange.”
“Okay, go for it,” I said, releasing Apollo’s collar.
“Hunt!” Cam shouted, and the dogs went ballistic. In less than a minute, Zeus was digging in a garden and Apollo was reclined on top of a bunch of red flowers.
My brain kicked into high gear. Within an hour I had the medical examiner and a dozen cops from Des Moines on their way and Leila was in cuffs awaiting transport.
“That damned painting!” I said to Cam. We were sitting on a park bench as I tried to explain what had taken place. “She was painting a tree in a park and a mound of red flowers, and I never made the connection to this park.”
“Ah,” Cam said, nodding his head.
Leila squealed again that she wanted a lawyer. “You’ll get one when we get you to Des Moines and get you booked. Shut it.” I turned back to Cam.
“I read her her rights, what more does she want?” I quipped.
Cam smiled at me and asked me out for the following night. His eyes, those damned gorgeous eyes.
“Maybe,” I said.
Soon the medical examiner was on scene and looking at the body under the flowers. Zeus had unearthed a hand and then I’d made the call to get everyone here as quickly as possible. I’d managed to rope off the area and Cam and I, with Ed Davis’ help managed to keep people away from the area while we waited for the crime scene investigators, ME, Abby and half the department from back home.
I’d hugged the Collier’s as they both cried. The ME confirmed the prints, it was indeed Tobias. Soon the body and Leila were on their way back to Des Moines as police searched every square inch of Leila’s home and studio.
Within a week we knew the full story. Leila, having an audience back at the station, went into full on drama queen mode and told us the story. Cause of death turned out to be blunt force trauma, not poison after all. Leila and Toby had been fighting for months, despite what the town grapevine wanted us to believe. Buried with Toby had been a statuette smudged with blood and hair. That night Cam had gone out to confront Leila in her studio. He said he was going to move out and during a fit of temper, Leila grabbed the closest thing at hand and hit Toby with it. She swears she didn’t mean to kill him, that he started it, but the life insurance policy tells a different story. She says she managed to pile him into the back of her truck in the middle of the night and take him to the park. The town had been in the midst of updating the landscaping and new flower beds were going in everywhere. Leila managed to bury Toby in a shallow grave. The rains would’ve unearthed him soon enough if the dogs hadn’t found him. We’ll likely never know the entirety of what happened, except that a young life was cut short, a young man who could never be enough for a twisted drama queen.
Back in my room and about to shower, I got a call that gave me the creeps. Crime Scene found blood, Toby’s blood, mixed in with the red paint in Leila’s studio and also, on the painting of the park and the young girl. She was literally telling us where to find Toby in that painting. I’d never look at paintings of park scenes again in the same way. Or the color red.
Soon enough life in Des Moines got back to normal. Cam and I began to see each other more regularly. The local paper tried to do a front page story with me as hero, but I insisted they do their story on Zeus and Apollo, the real heroes.
Back to my mountain of paperwork I went.
About the Author
Pam lives with her husband Bill in Gwinnett County, Georgia. She is the mother of three grown children and five grandchildren. She has dabbled in creative writing since she could hold a pen. Pam has written poetry, children’s stories and dramatic scripts but her passion and calling is penning fictional novels. Pam currently writes full time and has nine books in print, with more on the way. She can often be found toodling around NE Atlanta, doing book-signings and making appearances when she’s not working hard on her computer.
Pam is a professional member of the Georgia Writers Association.
Discover other titles by Pamela Swyers at Shakespir.com:
Boys with Cars –
Married with Children –
Playing with Fire –
Dylan’s Cause –
Dylan’s Muse –
Dylan’s Choice –
The Dream Dweller –
The Hobby –
Inner Circle –
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