Indiscretions – A Carpenter / Harding novel
After surviving an attack by a stranger, rookie officer Ellie Harding decides to put herself first and make bold moves in both her career and her private life, refusing to let the traumatic incident get her off track.
Detective Jordan Carpenter faces the decision whether to remain in a disastrous, but long-term relationship or give in to the attraction she feels for her younger colleague. Her partner Bethany isn’t willing to let go, of Jordan or the case, a sadistic killer who murders women for behavior he considers immoral.
Can they find him before he strikes again?
After waking in a cold sweat for the second time, Ellie decided she had enough and got out of bed at 4:37 a.m. Bright and early enough for you, Detective? She hadn’t meant to, but she had already changed habits. For the longest time, she’d wear heels in the morning on her way to work and change back into them after her shift. Lately, the sound of heels on the pavement made her uncomfortable. She knew it would abate with time. Why not hurry the process along? They might not be able to catch the bastard who had jumped her, but if she could assist catching the killer Jordan and her team were after, it would go a long way towards making her feel safer again.
Determined, she slipped into a pair of pumps. Sometime this week, she might even go out with her friends again. If Jordan told her no another time, to hell with her. Ellie would have no problem finding someone else in her pursuit for pleasure.
Jordan wore jeans and a white buttoned down shirt this morning. Ellie had little time to admire her, because they dove into the disturbing reality of the case on the table right away.
“The common theme here seems to be some relationship trouble. This is one thing we know about all the victims so far, a recent breakup. Two of the women straight, one lesbian. The question is where does he find them? Lori Gleason told me she found dates in a chat room. She signed up after her divorce.”
Ellie had done her best to get herself up to date with the facts. Gleason was currently recovering in the hospital. Isabel Hayes’ body had been found behind a dumpster five weeks ago, and the first victim, Eleanor Campbell, had been discovered by trespassing teenagers. The trespassing became rapidly irrelevant, and the high school kids had been taught the lesson of a lifetime in what could happen if you walked into a creepy abandoned building.
“How can we be so sure it’s the same killer?” Jensen asked. “I imagine Hayes would not hang out in the same chat room, for obvious reasons.”
Ellie could see the hint of indulgence on the detectives’ faces. Jordan, however, addressed the question. She pointed to Hayes’ crime scene photo.
“You better hope there aren’t more like him out there. The victims’ injuries are consistent. The rope fibers match. You are right insofar as their life circumstances were different. Gleason preferred the chat room. Isabel Hayes preferred bars. Eleanor Campbell, as far as we know, was the only one in a committed relationship, but the husband’s alibi checks out.”
“He hates women. Sexually active women. Maybe he got rejected.” Ellie didn’t realize she’d said this out loud until all eyes were on her. She shrugged. Ellie had done a lot of reading on why some men hated on women, from her undergraduate days on. A lot of those theories had come back to her lately.
“That’s a possibility.” Jordan’s reaction was rather reserved. “It’s all theory at this point. What we need is to find the link between all those women. They lived in different neighborhoods, but in a relatively small distance. He’s probably local, can’t or won’t travel. I want you to concentrate on the dates from the chat room so far. We have the data from Lori’s computer, every date, every conversation. Look closely for anything suspicious.”
“What about Gleason’s ex?” Jensen inquired.
“He’s coming back from a business trip in Europe. I expect him this afternoon. Meanwhile, let’s hope Lori will remember more.”
Ellie got up, but waited until everyone was beginning their own work. Two of the other detectives left. Jordan, sensing her hesitation, came over to her.
“Lori Gleason…was she raped?” Ellie asked. She hated how all of a sudden, her voice sounded small.
“The rape kit came back negative.” Jordan’s tone was calm and detached, but there was concern in her gaze. They both knew that left a lot of other possibilities. “Will you be okay?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Okay then. Go find the perfect match online.”
Ellie couldn’t help it, even the probably innocent suggestion brought heat to her face, and lower regions. What kind of person did that make her? They had a job to do, because some women had suffered far worse abuse than she had, and besides, Jordan had a girlfriend. Reason was not helpful.
“More like a date with the devil,” she said lightly. “Thank you. I really appreciate this.”
“No problem. You still owe me a beer.”
For the next fifteen minutes or so, Ellie kept wondering if she’d really heard her say it. However, her fantasies were certainly not priority. She read pages after pages of emails Lori Gleason had exchanged with potential dates, the tone always ranging from flirty to definitely not safe for work. She felt a bit sick, knowing this was the kind of behavior a man would hardly ever be criticized for. Someone had taken offense, kidnapped, beaten and cut her, would have killed her if the neighbors hadn’t called the police. Because she flirted with men on the internet? Because she enjoyed dating and possibly, sex? The world was fucked up.
She winced at the suggestion of a threesome, and Lori’s response, aware of how easy it was to let one’s own sensibilities and boundaries seep into judgment. As long as they kept it safe, who was she—or anyone—to blame them?
“My friend would like to join us,” Lori had written. “When can we meet?” The date had never come to pass, because of Lori’s abduction. Unless…Ellie stared at the printout until the letters started blurring in front of her eyes. Of course two straight people dating and considering a third party was not the same as Isabel enjoying the lesbian nightlife, except to a sexist murderer it might be. Maybe Eleanor’s marriage hadn’t been that happy after all, and she’d had a secret of her own—they could be looking at a hate crime. Jordan was right. This was a theory, and only one of many possible at this point. They had to stick to the facts.
“I know you’ve been hurt before, and the same is true for me. I want to meet someone who’s committed, who won’t let me down. If you can be that person, I promise you won’t regret it,” said one of the answers Lori had gotten. There might be some people going onto these sites who were honestly looking for a relationship, love. It was hard not to get paranoid. Everybody had something to hide. One of them had sent a poem. Another had promised a trip to an exotic location Lori wouldn’t ever forget.
At least Mr. Threesome with whom the most recent correspondence had taken place, had written emails from his work account. This would be an interesting visit, Ellie thought as she looked up the company, a computer firm, and jotted down the address. The location was right in the center of the circle in which the women had been found.
Jordan, much to Ellie’s disappointment, didn’t send her and Jensen to talk to Lori’s date. Instead, and Ellie realized soon that she was getting the much better deal, she took her to see Lori Gleason. The ride to the hospital was a tad awkward, as Ellie sat straight up, trying not to stare, at Jordan, at her hands on the steering wheel, imagining these hands doing something else instead. She forced herself to keep her gaze straight ahead, focus.
The smells and sounds of the hospital hit her hard. She hadn’t been in here since the night she’d been attacked, and the sensory memories put a jarring halt to her inappropriate thoughts.
There was a uniformed officer in front of Lori Gleason’s room, greeting them briefly. He confirmed with Jordan that no unauthorized person had tried to approach Lori, and they went inside.
Ellie stopped in her tracks at her first look at Gleason. The instant panic on the patient’s face that abated only when she realized her visitors were with the police, the bruises…without a doubt, her injuries were graver than Ellie’s had been, but she had a hard time stopping the unwelcome trip down memory lane.
Jordan introduced her to Lori Gleason, and the woman gave a faint smile that slipped from her face so quickly Ellie might have imagined it.
“How are you today, Ms. Gleason?” Jordan asked, keeping her tone soft, non-threatening.
The blank expression, either from medication or self-protection, told Ellie they weren’t likely to get a lot of information out of her. Gleason shrugged and winced, the movement causing her pain.
“We reached your ex-husband. He was on a business trip, and is coming in today.” The news seemed neither helpful nor upsetting for Lori.
“He wouldn’t do anything like that. We had a good marriage.”
“Why did you get divorced?”
“Am I under suspicion for anything?”
Ellie thought to herself that she probably would have reacted the same way.
“No, of course not,” Jordan reassured her. “It’s important for us to figure out why you were targeted.”
“Don’t you think I know that? I’ve been wracking my brain every waking moment. I don’t know anymore than I’ve told you. You probably saw the chats by now. I’ve had a few dates. Those were decent people, or at least I assumed so. There’s nothing else I can tell you.”
“I know it’s hard,” Ellie said, stepping forward. Gleason shot her a suspicious look. She showed emotion, which, Ellie assumed, was better than lethargy. Maybe she knew something that hadn’t come to mind yet.
“What do you know?”
“I was attacked some weeks ago. Would you mind?” She pointed to the visitor’s chair, and Lori shook her head.
“Why are you telling me this? You got away—obviously.”
“So did you. I want you to know that it will take some time, but details will come back to you, and that’s not a bad thing. It means you’ll be able to work through them, now that you’re safe.”
Lori’s expression spoke volumes. At this point, it would be hard for her to believe she’d ever feel safe again. Ellie could sympathize. “I’m sure the last thing you want right now is for us to bother you with questions,” she continued. “I hated everyone who asked me about it, I wanted them all to forget about it, so I’d be able to. First of all, I learned it doesn’t work that way. Second, we want this man in prison, so he can never hurt anyone else. So, if there’s anything you can think of, that comes back to you, please let us know.”
“It was dark. He was wearing a mask. I woke up in that basement, and I never saw his face. I’m trying, damn it.”
“I know.” Ellie suppressed the urge to take the woman’s hand. There were situations when touch meant no comfort, on the contrary, it could make a person want to jump out of their skin. “Please know that we’re doing everything we can. You beat the son of a bitch already. You lived.”
Due to a coincidence, but still. Ellie had the uncomfortable feeling that the woman was able to read her mind. They both had been lucky to benefit from the quick thinking and kindness of strangers. What did it mean? The world wasn’t ever safe, no matter how much you tried to prepare for the worst.
“Did they get him?” Lori asked, startling her. “The guy who attacked you, was he arrested?”
Ellie was tempted to lie to her, but she thought the woman deserved better. “No.” Lori’s face fell. “Which doesn’t mean anything for your case. He left traces, people like that make mistakes. We’ll catch him. I promise.”