Confessions, by Ethan Stone, (a Reno PD Book 1)
A Reno PD Case File
A serial killer known as the Confessor is kidnapping and torturing gay men, and Reno Police Department Evidence Technician Leif Carson is determined to catch him.
His personal life isn’t any less stressful. Despite being a virgin and having zero experience with men, he can’t stop thinking about his best friend’s ex, Rafe Castillo. Rafe is suffering from PTSD, but that doesn’t stop Leif from wanting to be with him.
Complete opposites, they’re an amazing fit once they do get together—until Rafe’s PTSD gets in the way and he walks away from the relationship before it has a chance to truly blossom. Even though he has intense feelings for the man, Leif has no choice but to let him go.
When the Confessor kidnaps Rafe, Leif does everything possible to locate him before he’s murdered. Rafe’s near-death experience changes him profoundly, but the danger isn’t over yet. Leif and Rafe will have to face pure evil together if they’re going to last.
The following excerpt takes place after Rafe has gone missing and Leif is determined to figure out where he is. The disappearance isn’t yet linked to the Confessor case so Leif is trying to work the evidence from Rafe’s car on the down low.
I HAD just started examining Rafe’s car when a loud voice ordered me to halt. I peered up and into the glaring eyes of Reno Police Chief Luther. She was a short, squat black woman, and she did not look amused.
“Mr. Carson, what the hell are you doing?”
Playing innocent, I kept my voice low. “I was just about to start searching the vehicle for evidence.”
“There are several problems with that,” she stated. “The first is that you are not an evidence collector. You examine the evidence after it is found. Secondly, this vehicle is not part of an ongoing case. And even if it was, it’s not on the list of priorities. Your priority, as if you didn’t realize, is the confessions case.”
“I don’t always just examine the evidence, ma’am. Lately I’ve helped Doc Hettrick with the victims in the confessions case. So I have indeed collected evidence.”
She shot me an icy glare. “Don’t mess with me, Carson. I am not a happy woman. I’ve got the mayor and the damn press all over my ass. They hardly cared until Fitzpatrick was involved. Now it’s top priority. Drop everything else and locate this guy. As if we already haven’t been working our asses off.”
Semantics and clarifications weren’t going to win an argument with the chief, so I tried a different tactic. I’d spent time with her outside of work because she and Cristian were still close, and I knew her to be a caring woman with a heart of gold.
“Chief…. Lex, this is important to me. I accept that doesn’t matter to you.”
She held up a hand, and I stopped speaking.
“I’m not saying it doesn’t matter, but right now every work hour is being accounted for. If I have you working on a case of lower importance, I’m going to hear about it. Hell, there isn’t even an open case, though I am aware of Rafe’s disappearance.”
“I’m not even on the clock.”
“But you’re using police resources to do the job.”
I sighed and dropped my head to my chest, sure I had just lost.
“I’m not heartless, but we have to play the game right now, Leif.”
She winked, and hope surged in my chest again.
“What can I do?”
“First, get on the clock and file a missing persons report on Rafe. Include the evidence you have so far, what you and Jeremy did on your own. Just don’t mention you brought in a suspect for a case that didn’t exist at the time. Once the report is processed and in the system, connect the car to the case.”
“Then I can check out the vehicle?”
“I need a full day’s work on the confessions case, but if you choose to stay past your eight hours to work on Rafe’s disappearance, I’ll okay it. Not overtime, mind you, but I will allow you to use our resources. Provided it isn’t a huge expense.”
“I can’t imagine it will be. Maybe some DNA if I’m lucky.”
“Do we have a deal?” She extended her hand, but I ignored it and hugged her instead.
“Thank you for being so amazing.”
She playfully shoved me away. “Don’t be telling anyone you like me. I have to keep up this tough-ass persona or I’ll get walked all over.”
“I’ll be sure to trash-talk you a little.”
She grinned. “Perfect.”
I was in the process of sealing the car to ensure no one else got in when I noticed a small flower in the backseat. I quickly bagged it, then finished the task at hand and headed to my office. I set the flower aside and turned my attention to the case I’d been ordered to spend my time on.
Since there wasn’t anything new, I reexamined the evidence I did have. I searched for more information on the buttons, eventually finding one store in Reno that had bought the company’s remaining stock when it was discontinued. Fen Fashions had been a small handmade clothing store open from 1983 to 1996. It had been owned by Loretta Fenmore, but she had died a year after her business shut down. There was no remaining family as far as I could tell. The building had been torn down and replaced with a grocery store.
Turning my attention back to the confession footage, I tried to see if I had missed anything. I enhanced the words on the back wall and figured out the first one said Welcome. However, the remaining words were either out of focus or blocked, and I couldn’t get a solid clue on what they could be. I played around with the letters I could see, but nothing made sense. It was possible “poe” was part of it, but that didn’t help in the slightest.
I’d about put in my eight hours when my office phone rang.
“Mr. Carson, this is Debbie Crane.”
I felt like I should recognize the name, but I couldn’t place it. “Who?”
“Dr. Deborah Crane, the botanist you contacted to identify a plant you found.”
“Oh yes, I remember now.” There had been a plant found on the first two bodies I couldn’t label.
“The plant is Sphaeralcea munroana. Also called a Flame Checker. It’s native to the western states, and around here it grows in the tailings of old mines. It’s not common in residential areas at all.”
I paused for a second and opened up the pictures I had of the plants. I hadn’t checked them out lately because I was waiting for her call. I grabbed the bag with the flower I’d found in Rafe’s car. It was the same size and shape but a different color. “Is the flower always the same red as the ones I sent you?”
“Oh no. Their colorings vary greatly, from bright red to orange or dark yellow. Often it’s a mix of the three and it looks like a flame, hence the nickname.”
The one I was staring at did indeed resemble a flame. “If I take a picture of a flower, can I send it to you to see if it’s the same kind?”
“I can give you a guess, but I couldn’t be sure until I examined it.”
I snapped an image of the flower and e-mailed it to her while we stayed on the phone.
“It just arrived,” she said. “Hold on one second.”
“From the picture, I’d say it’s most likely a Flame Checker.”
“Thank you, Doctor. I’ll be in touch if I need anything else.” I hung up without waiting for her to say good-bye.
The same flower found on the bodies of Ray Ray Guthrie and Gavin Chapman was also in Rafe’s vehicle. It could be a coincidence, but my gut told me I was right. I wanted to be incorrect; I truly did. Because if what I suspected was true, then Rafe was in the hands of a madman—a serial killer going after gay men.
I dashed to the garage and did a quick examination of Rafe’s car. The backseat had been laid down, most likely so Rafe and whoever he was with could go at it. I searched down the sides, and my fingers brushed something small. I had to stretch to get at it but managed to squeeze two fingers around it and pull it out.
“Jesus Christ.” It was a button. Dark wood with an ivory inset, just like the ones I’d found near the sites of the last two victims. It could be another happenstance, but that many coincidences really worried me. It was too much to ignore. Way too much.
I called both Cristian and Jeremy and asked them to come to the garage immediately. Jeremy arrived first, but I made him wait until Cristian got there. I told them everything, putting emphasis on the plant and the buttons. When I finished, I stared at them both. “Well, what do you think? Am I reading too much into this?” I wanted one of them to tell me I was being insane and overreaching with my conclusions. Neither one of them spoke, and I nearly went out of my mind waiting for one of them to say something.
“I need to phone Lex,” Flesh said and grabbed his phone. “Hey, you need to get down here right now, Chief.”
Lex was there a couple of minutes later, and I had to go over what I found once more. Then she made me repeat it.
“Is he saying what I think he’s saying?” she asked Cristian.
“Yes, he is. Rafe Castillo’s disappearance is connected to the Confessor.”
She pointed at me. “Write up your report ASAP so we can officially combine the cases.” She turned to leave, then faced me again. “Good job, Leif.”
When she was gone I grabbed Cristian’s hand and held it. “Do you comprehend what this means? Rafe’s been held by this psycho for days. He was the backup victim while the killer tortured Fitzpatrick. That would mean Rafe is next up to be brutalized. It’s probably happening right now. This very instant.”
Cristian pulled me close and wrapped his arms around me in a rare instance of sensitivity.
“We’ll find him. I promise.”
I wanted to stay strong, but I couldn’t, no matter how much I tried. I buried my face in Cristian’s shoulder and cried.
Cristian let me weep for several minutes. Then he stepped back and held me at arm’s length. “I know this is tough, Leif, and I know you want to lose yourself in your fear and grief, but now is not the time for that. Now is the time to pull yourself together. We all need to be one hundred percent so we can save Rafe. We are going to save him. He’s not going to be the next dead body we discover.”
He was right. As much as I wanted to collapse and let the emotions overtake me, I couldn’t. Rafe was depending on me. He needed me. And I wasn’t going to let him down.
Romance on the Edge
Ethan Stone doesn’t write your typical boy meets boy stories. With a combination of love and suspense he makes his characters work hard for their HEAs. If they can survive what he puts them through, then they can survive anything. He enjoys Romance with an Edge.
Ethan has been reading mysteries and thrillers since he was young. He’s had a thing for guys in uniform for just as long. That may have influenced the stories he writes.
He’s a native Oregonian with two kids. One of whom has made him a grandfather three times over; even though he is way too young.
Readers can find Ethan online.
His books: http://www.ethanjstone.com/my-books