Her Last Word

Page 10


“I’ve already asked the uniforms to canvas the area dumpsters tonight.”
“Good deal.” He strode back toward the large brick patio bordering the back door. There were several planters filled with fresh dirt and winter pansies.
Two orange flags marked areas where two fresh footprints had been noted by the first responder. The forensic investigator had photographed the impressions and then taken plaster castings of each. The casts had already been transported to the lab, but it would be another seventy-two hours before they fully hardened. Preliminary accounts described it as a man’s tennis shoe, size ten or eleven.
The back door’s lock and the area around it were coated in dark graphite fingerprint powder. The forensic technician had also dusted the glass panes directly to the right and left. Adler studied the doorjamb, the frame, and the threshold. Nothing appeared out of order.
“If her house was going on the market in a few weeks, then the realtor would have a key,” Adler said.
“Good point,” Quinn said. She flipped through her notes. “According to the neighbor, Larry Jenkins was her realtor, and he owns Dogwood Homes. Since we don’t have a forced entry, it would be worth it to pay him a visit today.”
“What about cleaning crews?”
“She did have a crew come in a week ago to deep-clean for the upcoming open house. I don’t have the name.”
“Given the evidence, I believe our intruder had a key and knew the passcode.”
“There’s basement access,” Quinn said. She pointed to a small window at ground level secured on the inside with a lock. It had also been dusted for fingerprints. “The window is located above the washer and dryer. No footprints on either appliance, but maybe they’ve been cleaned. There’s also a security sensor on the window.”
As Adler straightened, he thought about the flowers under Jennifer’s bed. “How long had the killer been in the house hiding before Jennifer arrived home?” he asked, more to himself.
“Hard to say. He’d have needed time to get inside, put on the suit, and climb under the bed,” she said.
“Were there any signs of the victim’s blood anywhere in the house other than the bathroom?”
“No. Not a drop.”
“Not an easy trick considering how she died.”
“Takes planning. He came prepared.”
“Whoever did this has been thinking about it for a while.” The ex-boyfriend came to mind. Murders by strangers were really uncommon. “Let’s talk to Jeremy Keller.” He checked his watch. “Doubtful his office will open for a couple of hours.”
“I have his home address.”
“Let’s pay him a visit.”
Adler offered to drive, and soon the two detectives were on the road. In the predawn hours, the traffic was nonexistent. The drive to the ultramodern home on the river took twenty minutes. The house and its surroundings were dark.
Out of the car, the detectives walked up to front steps made of a sleek gray stone leading to a very expensive teak front door. The roofline rose into a sharp peak, the top section sporting a bank of full-length windows.
Adler stood to the left of the door and Quinn to the right. He rang the bell. He waited fifteen seconds, and when there was no sign of life in the house, he rang the bell again while Quinn banged on it. Nothing.
“He’s not here, or he doesn’t want to talk to us,” Adler said. “Let’s look in the garage window.”
They moved to a garage lined with clean modern windows. He shone his light inside and saw enough to confirm there was no car.
Keller’s absence wasn’t suspicious in and of itself. Not uncommon for a young adult male to spend the night somewhere else.
Adler checked his watch. “It’s after six. Do you have his phone number?”
“I do.” She read it off.
Adler dialed the number. The call went to voicemail. He opted not to leave a message. He wanted to deliver the news face-to-face so he could observe Keller’s reaction.
Adler and Quinn drove to a fast-food restaurant and went through the drive-through. Quinn ordered a bacon-and-egg biscuit and black coffee. He went for the same.
“This stuff is going to kill us,” she said.
“No one gets out of here alive.” But no crappy meal was going to do him in.
“When’s the last time you saw Logan?” she asked.
“A few days ago. He has his new prosthetic, and he’s learning to walk.”
“He and Suzanne were a little rocky. They okay?”
“We didn’t talk about his wife.” He hoped the marriage was solid enough to sustain through Logan’s injury.
They ate the rest of the meal in silence and then made their way to Keller and Mayberry Engineering thirty minutes away. When they arrived it was seven a.m., but the building was lit up.
A large sign embossed with a K&M logo resembling towering mountain peaks hung behind a smooth pine receptionist desk, where a young blond woman in a crisp red dress already sat. She smiled. “May I help you?”
Adler showed his badge, and she immediately rose to her feet.
“I’m looking for Jeremy Keller.”
She looked a little startled. “I’ll get him right away.” She disappeared into a maze of gray cubicles.
Minutes later a tall, lean man with thinning red hair and sporting tortoiseshell glasses shrugged on his suit jacket and adjusted his tie as he quickly walked toward the detectives.
“I’m Jeremy Keller,” the man said while extending his hand.
“I’m Detective Adler, and this is my partner, Detective Quinn. Is there someplace we can talk privately?”
Jeremy reached for his monogrammed cuff and tugged it with a jerk. “Sure. The conference room.” He led them into a corner room dominated by a mahogany table surrounded by twelve leather-bound chairs. He quietly closed the door and invited them to sit. “What’s this about?”
“Does your company always open this early?” Adler asked.
“We have a big deadline. I was here all night.”
“Never left?”
“Correct. It’s not unusual in this line of work.”
“That explains it. We stopped by your house an hour ago,” Adler said.
“As I said, I was here. We have a big presentation in two days. May I ask why you would go by my home?”
“You also didn’t answer your phone,” Adler countered.
Keller’s frown deepened. “I don’t when I’m working. What is this about, Detectives?”
“One of your employees, Jennifer Ralston, was murdered in her home last night.” Adler enunciated the words slowly, watching Jeremy’s face. Some murderers were good at feigning shock. Most, however, did it poorly. Adler couldn’t always articulate why someone’s reaction was off, but he knew it when he saw it.
Jeremy’s face paled, and he flinched as if struck. “Jesus, are you sure? I saw her yesterday. We were in a meeting, and she was excited about heading up a new project.”
“We’re sure. You said you saw her yesterday? When was that exactly?”
He stared absently for a moment and then shook his head. “About five.” He slumped farther into the leather chair. “We were sitting right here. I wanted Jennifer to stay late, but she was adamant she had to leave.”
Adler angled the chair slightly toward Jeremy, knowing his body position suggested they were on the same team.