Chapter One ~
Jude sighed and walked out to his car. This was a particularly gruesome crime scene, and he was weary of dealing with them. He rubbed his hand through his short, sandy blond hair as he slid into the driver's seat. He could feel the tension under his fingers. He choked back a sob. Why is this happening, God?
His phone broke the silence in the car with its ringtone playing 'Amazing Grace.' He pulled it out of his pocket and said, "Jude Johnson here, what can I do for you?" It took great effort not let any of the emotion he was feeling seep into his voice. He couldn't let anyone know, or he would be off the case...
"Jude, are you gone yet?" Lauren Estepp asked.
"I'm out front, why?” He hoped it wasn't anything serious because he needed a break. The scene inside that house was still fresh in his memory and he swallowed another sob.
"The victim's daughter is on her way. She asked to talk to the man in charge. That would be you." Was that sadness he detected in her voice?
"Couldn't you cover for me just this once?"
"I don't deal well with distraught females, you know that."
"Lauren, you know it wasn't your fault what happened to Ella Emerson. You need to let it go, it's been years. You couldn't have known she would take her own life. She assured you she was fine. Stop making yourself sick over something you couldn't control." He made his decision then and there. He would stay and deal with the distraught daughter of the murdered couple inside the home he now sat in front of; his old next door neighbors.
"Will you do this for me Jude?”
"Yes, I’ll do it, but you'll owe me one, and I fully intend to collect. It'll be steak, well done with baked potato and a salad on the side."
There was laughter in her voice when she said, "You got it Jude." She ended the call and Jude put his phone away, glad one of them would be spared this difficult situation.
He sat motionless in the car for a few more minutes, trying to decide what to say to the daughter of the murdered couple. It's never easy to tell the survivors of a serious crime that their relatives suffered tremendously before they died. Jude didn't feel comfortable lying to them, either. In this case he couldn't lie, even if he wanted to. It would be obvious by the closed caskets. The bodies had already been removed, and the crime scene techies were just finishing their work. The cleaners sat across the street like vultures, waiting to make their money off someone else's loss.
Jude didn't know how his phone got into his hand, but he was dialing a now familiar number. A voice on the other end answered, "Jude, is that you?"
"Yeah, it's me Jackson."
"What's wrong, did something happen?" Jackson asked worriedly. He and Amy had just returned from their honeymoon, and he was chomping at the bit to get back to work. Maybe Jude needed help...
"I think I need you on this one." Jude said, his voice breaking on the last word.
"Tell me what it is."
"I'm at a crime scene."
"Okay...I'm gonna need a little more info."
"The people who were murdered...they're my old next door neighbors." His voice broke and he exerted every bit of strength he had not to break down and cry.
"I take it you were close to them?" Jackson asked gently.
"I was close to the parents because they used to babysit me, but I was awful to their daughter. She used to have this huge crush on me, and I made her the butt of all my jokes at school. She was chubby, had braces, and this awful chestnut-colored hair that was more red than brown when she was in the sun."
"You were a kid, mate. She probably doesn't even remember you."
"Oh, I can guarantee she still remembers me. I humiliated her in front of the whole school."
"What makes you think she would remember it almost twenty years later?"
"I won homecoming King at the prom my senior year. Jenny Hill won queen. We made a good couple. Justy Sue, the daughter, drank from the spiked punch and got up enough courage to get up on stage and pick up the microphone. She looked down at me before she spoke, and I shook my head no, but she didn't get it. She turned the mic on and asked me to dance with her. Instead of being polite, I laughed. I laughed so hard I almost peed on myself. Most of the guys at my school followed my lead in whatever I did, and this incident was no exception. Five minutes later almost everyone in the whole gymnasium was laughing at her. She was so humiliated she tried to run off the stage. Her heel caught on a cord and she tripped and toppled off the stage with her dress up around her head. The picture made the school newspaper, until the photographer got suspended, that is."
"Surely she isn't holding a grudge after all this time?"
"It was a bad scene, man. She was a pariah of society after that. Even her other chubby friends wouldn't have anything to do with her. I was an awful kid."
"What's the address? I'll come and help you through the interview."
Jude gave him the address and hung up. He slumped behind the wheel, waiting for Justy Sue Sanders to show up. His face heated with humiliation at the embarrassment she must’ve felt.
He shrugged his shoulders and straightened them ramrod straight when he saw a familiar head of hair moving up the walk. He couldn't make out her features because twilight had set in, but the hair was unmistakable. His heart gave a lurch as he grabbed the handle of the car door and stepped out.
The part he hadn't admitted to Jackson was he'd actually had a big crush on her, but he hadn't wanted to ruin his image at school so he'd spurned and humiliated her in front of them all. After that event, there was no way he would lose his resolve to ignore his attraction to her and ask her out.
Jude moved up behind that glorious head of hair and stopped just behind her. She was wearing a huge neon pink ski jacket to ward off the early December chill, and he couldn't make out her shape. When she turned around his heart hit his feet and slammed up into his throat so hard he had to gulp to catch a breath. She was absolutely beautiful, even with tears pouring down her cheeks. "Oh Jude, I'm so glad you're here! I can't believe what happened. Why are you here?"
"I'm Special Agent in charge, Jude Johnson, of the FBI." He held his hand out to shake hers.
Justy nudged his hand away and threw herself into his arms. She gave him a huge hug and cried on his shoulder while he patted her awkwardly.
"Jude, I want you to find who did this. Promise me you will." She blubbered wetly in his ear.
Jude was having trouble breathing with her so close. "I'll do my best, I promise." He pushed on side of her long chestnut hair behind an ear and pulled away. "I can't be hugging you like this out here, I'll get in trouble." He gently pushed her away.
He heard footsteps come up from behind, turned around, and came face to face with Jackson Masters. "Jackson, I'm glad you could come. Let’s go in and find a female officer to fill Justy in on what we know so far.” He walked purposefully toward the house, hoping they would follow.
They ran into Jessica Messer, the department psychologist, just inside the door, and Jude introduced her to his high school crush. “Could you give Miss Sanders what we know so far?”
“Of course, it’s not a problem.” She smiled and propelled Justy back outside with a gentle hand on the shoulder.
Jude took Jackson on a walkthrough of the house, pointing out some areas he wanted his input on.
"Why didn't you tell me, Jude?"
"What do you mean?"
"You've got a Mount Rushmore-sized crush on that woman." He laughed in amusement.
Jude swatted Jackson on the arm with his fist and said, "What makes you think that?"
"A person would have to be blind and dumb not to see, or feel, the sparks that fly between you."
"Jackson, this is a crime scene." Jude reminded him. He cringed at the memory of the couple lying on the floor. He’d seen a lot in his career, but this had been the worst.
"I know, and I’ll help any way I can. I take it your interview went okay? I say this because you didn't wait on me." He flashed a knowing grin, which show-cased his bronze-colored skin. Jude saw a female officer look at Jackson with unveiled interest. He ignored it, pulling his attention to the case.
He ignored Jackson’s question for a moment and walked into the kitchen, pointing to a scraped window sill. "This is where we think the murderer came in." As they passed into the dining room, he pointed out some shards of broken glass on the floor.
"Mr. Sanders must have heard the noise. He probably came downstairs to investigate, because he was attacked right here." Jude pointed to a big spot of blood on the carpet. "There were droplets of blood leading back toward the living room, so we assume he was still alive and trying to get away. We think he was trying to lead them away from his wife." Jude walked into the hallway and stopped in front of the main door.
"You said them, why do you believe there was more than one person?" Jackson asked.
"In the upstairs hallway there are several different bloody shoe prints." Jude answered absently as he pulled his notebook out and checked something written there.
"Did anyone check the deceased man's feet? Was he wearing shoes, or slippers, or was he barefoot?" Jackson asked.
"That's a great point." Jude went over his notes. "He was wearing slippers. I'll need to check the tread on them to rule his footprints out.”
"Has anyone established any kind of motive yet?" Jackson asked.
"We haven't established a 'solid' motive." He gave quotes in the air with his fingers. "Mr. Sanders was a divorce lawyer."
"Oh, I see..." He trailed off. "Enough said. I don't envy trying to go through all his clients. Do we know if any of them are aggressive?"
"I've got my partner Lauren working on it. She's very good, and if there's someone we should look at first, she'll be the one to find him, or her. I guess I shouldn't rule out women just yet." Jude added quickly.
"Oh, I think we can rule out a woman, and even two women. Bringing the bodies back down to the kitchen and doing what they did would take someone with exceptional strength. I’m guessing there’s at least one man involved." Jack turned the pages on a clipboard one of the local cops had given him at Jude's request.
"Let's make our way up the steps." Jude said. "I want to show you the scope of the perp's rage, and his lack of restraint."
They walked up the steps, trying to sidestep the blood along the way. When they hit the top, Jackson Masters gulped in horror.
"Now you know why I called." Jude said quietly. They stood there, taking in the scene. The metallic smell of blood still hung in the air, leaving a putrid taste in the mouths of the two very masculine men.
"It never ceases to amaze me how inhumane humans can be to each other. What happens in a person's life to make them turn into this kind of monster?" Jude asked, not expecting an answer.
"All people are evil. If it wasn't for the restraining power of God, this world would be a very different place. What scares me is the fact every human being is capable of this kind of vileness." Jackson said.
"I'm finding it especially hard to accept that the people I grew up next door to are dead. They watched me all the time, Jackson." Jude said weakly. "Mrs. Sanders even made me hot chocolate."
Jackson patted him awkwardly on the shoulder. "When did you move away from this neighborhood?"
"It was about ten years ago. I got a place closer to work." He knelt down on the floor, looking at something shimmering in the light.
"What is it?" Jackson knelt down and examined the spot, too.
"I'm not sure. It looks like glitter." He licked his finger and ran it across the floor. His finger came back covered in tiny pieces of red and gold glitter.
"What do you make of that?" Jude asked curiously.
"What I make of it is this isn't the first victims for this killer." Jackson answered. "I saw this same glitter in Arizona."
"Are you saying you think we have a serial killer?" Jude asked, swallowing the bile that had risen to his throat. Could there possibly be a monster out there not only willing to kill once, but many times?
"That's exactly what I'm saying. We have to stop him, or them.”