This week in Serial Blogging – part five of Jeffery Deaver‘s “Copycat,” which was first published in A New Omnibus of Crime. Read from the beginning of the story by clicking here! XI XII
The detective had found something in Desmond’s wallet and was staring at it—a business card—when he heard the snap of a twig behind him and, alarmed, turned.
A silhouette of a figure was standing in the doorway. He seemed to be holding his hands at chest level.
Blinded by the glare, Altman gasped, "Who’re—?"
A huge flash filled the room.
The detective stumbled backward, groping for his pistol.
"Damn," came a voice he recognized.
Altman squinted against the back lighting. "Wallace! You goddamn son of a bitch! What the hell’re you doing here?"
The reporter scowled and held up the camera in his hand, looking just as unhappy as Altman. "I was trying to get a candid of you on the job. But you turned around. You ruined it."
"I ruined it? I told you not to come. You can’t—
"I’ve got a first amendment right to be here," the man snapped. "Freedom of the press."
"And I’ve got a right to throw your ass in jail. This’s a crime scene."
"Well, that’s why I want the pictures," he said petulantly. Then he frowned. "What’s that smell?" The camera sagged and the reporter started to breathe in shallow gasps. He looked queasy.
"It’s Desmond. Somebody murdered him. He’s in the coal bin."
"Murdered him? So he’s not the killer?"
Altman lifted his radio and barked to Randall, "We’ve got visitors back here."
"We’re in the garage."
The young officer showed up a moment later, trotting fast. A disdainful look at Wallace. "Where the hell did you come from?"
"How’d you let him get past?" Altman snapped.
"Not his fault," the reporter said, shivering at the smell. "I parked up the road. How ’bout we get some fresh air?"
Angry, Altman took perverse pleasure in the reporter’s discomfort. "I oughta throw you in jail."
Wallace held his breath and started for the coal bin, raising the camera.
"Don’t even think about it," Altman growled and pulled the reporter away.
"Who did it?" Randall asked, nodding at the body.
Altman didn’t share that for a moment he’d actually suspected Wallace Gordon himself. Just before the photo op incident he’d found a stunning clue as to who Desmond’s—and the two women’s killer—probably was. He held up a business card. "I found this on the body."
On the card was written, "Detective Sergeant Robert Fletcher, Greenville Police Department."
"Bob?" Randall whispered in shock.
"I don’t want to believe it," Altman muttered slowly, "but back at the office he didn’t let on he even knew about Desmond, let alone that they’d met at some point."
"And," he continued, nodding at the mallet, "Bob does all that metal work—his hobby, remember? That could be one of his."
Randall looked uneasily at the murder weapon.
Altman’s heart pounded furiously at the betrayal. He now speculated about what had happened. Fletcher bobbled the case intentionally—because he was the killer, probably destroying any evidence that led to him. A loner, a history of short, difficult relationships, obsessed with violence and military history and artifacts and hunting….He’d lied to them about not about reading Two Deaths and had used it as a model to kill those women. Then—after the killings—Desmond happened to read the book too, underlined the passages and, being a good citizen, contacted case officer Fletcher, who was none other than the killer himself. The sergeant murdered him, dumped the body here and then destroyed the library’s computer. Of course, he never made any effort to pursue the vandalism investigation.
Alarmed, Quentin Altman had another thought. He turned to the reporter. "Where was Fletcher when you left the office? Did you see him at the station?" The detective’s hand strayed to his pistol as he looked around the tall grass, wondering if the sergeant had followed him here and intended to kill them as well. Fletcher was a crack rifle shot.
But Randall replied, "He was in the conference room with Andy Carter."
No! Altman realized that they weren’t the only ones at risk; the author was a witness too—and therefore a potential victim of Fletcher’s. Altman grabbed his cell phone and called the central dispatcher. He asked for Carter.
"He’s not here, sir," the woman said.
"It was getting late so he decided to get a hotel room for the night."
"Which one’s he staying at?"
"I think it’s the Sutton Inn."
"You have the number?"
"I do, sure. But he’s not there right now."
"Where is he?"
"He went out to dinner. I don’t know where but if you need to get in touch with him you can call Bob Fletcher’s phone. They were going together."
Twenty minutes from town, driving at twice the posted limit.
Altman tried again to call Fletcher but the sergeant wasn’t answering. There wasn’t much Altman could do except try to reason with the sergeant, have him give himself up, plead with him not to kill Carter too. He prayed that the cop hadn’t already done so.
Another try. Still no answer.
He skidded the squad car through the intersection at Route 202, nearly sideswiping one of the dairy tankers that were ubiquitous in these parts.
"Okay, that was exciting," Randall whispered, removing his sweaty palm from the dashboard as the truck’s horn brayed in angry protest behind them.
Altman was about to call Fletcher’s phone again when a voice clattered over the car’s radio, "All units. Reports of shots fired on Route 128 just west of Ralph’s grocery. Repeat, shots fired. All units respond."
"You think that’s them?"
"We’re three minutes away. We’re about to find out." Altman called in their position and then pushed the accelerator to the floor; they broke into three-digit speed.
After a brief, harrowing ride, the squad car crested a hill. Randall called breathlessly, "Look!"
Altman could see Bob Fletcher’s Police Interceptor half on, half off the road. He skidded to a stop nearby and the two officers jumped out, Wallace’s car—which’d been hitching an illegal ride on their light bar and siren, braked to a stop fifty feet behind them. The reporter too jumped out, ignoring the detective’s shout to stay back.
Altman felt Randall grip his arm. The young officer was pointing at the shoulder about fifty feet away. In the dim light they could just make out the form of Andrew Carter lying face down in a patch of bloody dirt.
Oh, goddamnit! They weren’t in time; the sergeant had added the author to the list of his victims.
Crouching beside the car, Altman whispered to Randall, "Head up the road that way. Look out for Fletcher. He’s someplace close."
Scanning the bushes, in a crouch, Altman ran toward the author’s body. As he did he happened to glance to his left and gasped. There was Bob Fletcher on the ground, holding a sheriff ’s department shotgun.
He shouted to Randall, "Look out!" And dropped flat. But as he swung the gun toward Fletcher he noted that the sergeant wasn’t moving. The detective hit the man with his flashlight beam. Fletcher’s eyes were glazed over and there was blood on his chest.
Wallace was crouching over Carter. The reporter called, "He’s alive!"
The detective rose, pulled the scattergun out of Fletcher’s lifeless hands and trotted over to the author. Fletcher had shot him and he was unconscious.
"Andy, stay with us!" Altman called, pressing his hand onto the bloody wound in the author’s belly. Over the crest of the road the detective could see the flashing lights and hear sirens, growing steadily louder. He leaned down and whispered into the man’s ear, "Hang in there! You’ll be all right, you’ll be all right, you’ll be all right. . . ."