CHAPTER 11

Thursday, March 3, 2005

11:00 a.m.

Spencer stood at the back of the Newman Religious Center ’s chapel and watched Cassie Finch and Beth Wagner’s friends file out. Located on the UNO campus, the multidenominational chapel, like every other building on site, looked grimly utilitarian.

The chapel had proved too small to accommodate the many who had come to pay their last respects to Cassie and Beth. It had been filled to overflowing.

Spencer shook off crushing fatigue. He had made the mistake of meeting some friends at Shannon ’s the night before. One thing had led to another and he’d closed the place at 2:00 a.m.

He was paying the price today. Big time.

He forced himself to focus on the rows of faces. Stacy Killian, expression stony, accompanied by Billie Bellini. The members of Cassie’s game group, all of whom he had spoken with, Beth’s friends and family as well. Bobby Gautreaux.

He found that interesting. Very interesting.

The kid had acted remorseless a couple of days ago; now he presented the picture of despair.

Despairing over the fate of his own ass, no doubt.

The search of his car and dorm room hadn’t turned up a direct link-yet. The crime-lab guys were working their way through the hundreds of prints and trace lifted from the scene. He wasn’t giving up on Gautreaux. The kid was the best they had so far.

From across the room he caught the eye of Mike Benson, one of his fellow detectives. Spencer nodded slightly at Benson and pushed away from the wall. He followed the students out into the bright, cool day.

Tony had been stationed out front during the service. Police photographers with telephoto lenses had been planted, capturing the faces of all the mourners on film, a record they would cross-reference against any suspects.

Spencer moved his gaze over the group. If not Gautreaux, was the real killer here? Watching? Secretly excited? Reliving Cassie’s death? Or was he amused? Laughing at them, congratulating himself on his cleverness?

He didn’t have a sense either way. No one stood out. No one looked like they didn’t belong.

Frustration licked at him. A feeling of inadequacy. Ineptitude.

Damn it, he didn’t belong in charge of this. He felt like he was drowning.

Stacy separated herself from friends and crossed to him. He nodded at her, slipping into the good ol’ boy role that fit him so well. “’Morning, former-cop Killian.”

“Save the charm for somebody else, Malone. I’m beyond it.”

“That so, Ms. Killian? Down here we call it manners.”

“In Texas we call it bullshit. I know why you’re here, Detective. I know what you’re looking for. Anybody stand out?”

“No. But I didn’t know all her friends. Anyone jump out at you?”

“No.” She made a sound of frustration. “Except for Gautreaux.”

He followed her glance. The young man stood just outside the circle of friends. The man beside him, Spencer knew, was his lawyer. It seemed to Spencer the kid was working damn hard to look devastated.

“That his lawyer with him?” she asked.

“Yup.”

“I thought maybe the little weasel would be in jail.”

“We don’t have enough to charge him. But we’re still looking.”

“You got a search warrant?”

“Yes. We’re still waiting on print and trace reports from the lab.”

Part of her had hoped for better: the weapon or some other incontrovertible evidence. She glanced at the young man, then back at Spencer. She was angry, he saw. “He’s not sorry,” she said. “He’s acting all broken up, but he’s not. That pisses me off.”

He touched her arm lightly. “We’re not going to give up, Stacy. I promise you.”

“You really expect me to be reassured by that?” She looked away, then back. “You know what I told the bereaved friends and family of every victim I ever worked? That I wouldn’t give up. I promised. But it was bullshit. Because there was always another case. Another victim.”

She leaned toward him, voice tight with emotion, eyes bright with unshed tears. “This time I’m not giving up.”

She turned and walked away. He watched her go, reluctant admiration pulling at him. She was a hard-ass, no doubt about it. Determined to a fault. Pushy. Cocky in a way few women were, down here, anyway.

And smart. He’d give her that.

Spencer narrowed his eyes slightly. Maybe too damn smart for her own good.

Tony ambled over. He followed the direction of Spencer’s gaze. “The prickly Ms. Killian give you anything?”

“Besides a headache? No.” He looked at his partner. “How about you? Anybody jump out?”

“Nope. But that doesn’t mean the bastard wasn’t here.”

Spencer nodded, turning his attention back to Stacy. She stood with Cassie’s mother and sister. As he watched, she clasped the older woman’s hand, leaned close. She said something to her, expression almost fierce.

He swung back toward his partner. “I suggest we keep an eye on Stacy Killian.”

“You think she knows something she’s not telling?”

About Cassie’s murder, he didn’t. But he did believe she had the ability and determination to uncover information they needed. And in a way that might attract attention. The wrong kind. “I think she’s too smart for her own good.”

“That’s not necessarily a bad thing. She just might solve this thing for us.”

“Or get herself killed.” He met the older man’s eyes once more. “I want to follow up the White Rabbit angle.”

“What changed your mind?”

Killian. Her brains.

And her balls.

But he wasn’t about to tell Tony that; he’d hear never-ending shit about it.

Instead, he shrugged. “Nowhere else to go. Might as well.”

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