The next morning, Lilly and I didn’t go to the precinct, instead, we drove to Fredericksburg Credit Union and asked to speak to Laura Dunnell. A grey-haired lady with black horn rimmed glasses escorted into the back of the lobby.
Laura Dunnell looked up from her computer and gave the woman a smile. Our escort announced us.
“Detectives Thompson and Konan would have a word with you ma’am.”
“Thank you, Sandra. That will be all.”
Laura motioned for us to sit, and we took the seats in front of her desk. It was vintage and crafted from mahogany. It had three drawers on the left side and a center drawer. The face of it was wide and roomy. She noticed me admiring it and gave me a smile.
“That’s a nice desk,” I said.
“Yes, I’ve had it for years now. I found it at a yard sale, if you can believe that.”
“I know why you’re here detectives. My brother has passed away, yes?”
“Yes,” Lilly responded. “We’re sorry for your loss.”
Laura nodded and forced another smile. Her eyes shimmered with tears, but she blinked them away. Lilly handed her a handkerchief, and Laura thanked her.
“We’re investigating the murder of Ana Marie Hendricks, and your brother was mentioned as a possible suspect. Do you know what he was doing once he got released?”
“I’m so sorry for the loss of that precious little girl. From what I saw of her, she radiated kindness and warmth. As for my brother, I have limited interaction with my immediate family. My work takes precedent, and some of my colleagues…”
“Would pounce on you, if they smelled anything that seemed like weakness,” I interjected. She nodded. “Yes, banking can sometimes become cutthroat.”
“Did your brother have any friends?”
“Um, my mom mentioned someone named Jasper. I’m sorry, I didn’t delve into my brother’s associations.”
“What about groups or meetings, anything different about him when he got out?”
“Um, mom mentioned he went to therapy. Aversion therapy, I believe it’s called. He went to a program at the um, nuthouse-mental institution. Mom would know better than I would.”
Lilly looked at me and nodded. I took a breath and gave Laura a weak smile and handed her one of my cards. She took it and gave it a glance before putting it in the center drawer.
“If you think of anything that might help us, please let us know. Thank you for speaking with us today.”
“I will, detective. Have a nice day.”
I pulled the door shut behind me. Laura had both hands on her face, her cheeks wet with tears, and the grief she had searched for broke loose in her tightly controlled world.
“Aversion therapy, mental hospitals, all to curb his dark desires. Where do we go from here, Konan?”
I shoved the front door open and walked out into the sunshine. Lilly stopped next to me, this case was maddening. My inner demons wanted loose. For the first time in many months, I wanted to turn them loose and let them cause havoc and chaos.
“Are you okay, Konan?”
“We aren’t getting anywhere with this case, Lilly. The Feds won’t let us track down any leads outside of what is generated for Ana Marie’s case. There’s no obvious ties to either of the dead pedophiles. I’m at a loss.”
“Let’s go back to the precinct and check in. Maybe Tomas and Wiggins have turned up something.”
“Yeah, I guess. It’s all we have.”
Sometimes it wasn’t worth getting out of bed, and today seemed one of those days. I climbed into the passenger seat and let Lilly drive. She stared at me and I tossed her the keys. As much as riding as passenger wasn’t high on my list of things to do, I hoped the near death experience would jar something loose in my mind.
We made it to the precinct in one piece. Together, Lilly and I walked across the skywalk and entered the lift. We made sure to stay apart, our gazes averted from each other, and our professionalism protected from gossips. Lilly stepped from the lift when the doors opened, and I walked out behind her. Through the glass I saw Manson and Rankin laughing.
Tomas and Wiggins motioned for us to join them. Wiggins had a file with him, and he handed it to Lilly. “You found something,” Lilly said, as she cracked open the file.
“Ana Marie Hendricks, Jasper Watkins, and Tricky Rich Dunnell all had one thing in common.”
“Not what, who.”
“Okay, who then?”
“Reverend Jonathon E. Caster, former non-denominational minister of an unspecified religion.”
“You heard me, Konan. Minister of an unspecified religion, and get this, he operated his ministry inside of prisons-dealing only with pedophiles and sexual deviants. He claimed he could rehabilitate them without the cost of therapy.”
“Holy crap,” Lilly whispered. “Where is this guy now?”
“In about ten minutes, his outreach program at Parchman kicks off.”
“You know what that means, Konan. Warden Eden, again.”
“Hold up, Lilly. The Feds don’t want us to follow those leads, but they are all for us following up on Ana Marie. Leave Eden and the pedo’s to them.”
Lilly turned to me and whispered, “it’s all connected.” I gave her a nod and whispered back, “I know. If we screw up a federal investigation, we’re screwed.”
“Fine, then let’s find Reverend Caster and bust his nuts.”
“Now you’re talking.”
Wiggins had turned up an address for the self-proclaimed minister, and we left for it. Several years ago, the town of Fredericksburg had tried to annex the small community of Lindersmithe. The motion to annex it failed. Reverend J.E. Caster moved into the community shortly after the failed attempt.
I had never heard of the community, and as I punched his address into the GPS I thought of Ana Marie. What kind of world did we live in when a three-year-old girl was raped and murdered? Or when pedophiles, career criminals, and every other type of scumbag, had more rights than law-abiding citizens?
What the hell had happened while I was at war?
Was no one in charge while I, and many others like myself, carried the fight to enemies who wanted to destroy us? This train of thought always led me to a foul mood, a poisoned spirit, and a sense of apathy. I rubbed my bald head and tried to free myself from the tentacles of anxiety.
Lilly opened the door, a bag of chips in hand-Flaming Hot Cheetos-and a bottle of Fiji water. She gave me a grin and slammed the door.
“Onward, Buttercup. Let’s go see where this ‘minister’ lives.” She used her cheese encrusted fingers to make the air quotes around ‘minister.’ God, I loved this woman. I laughed and headed out in the direction of the unheard community of Lindersmithe.
Lindersmithe, a community of 497 souls, had six gas stations, a Dollar General, and one church. The Assembly of Unhindered Communication pastored by Rev. J.E. Caster, was the last building nigh the outskirts of the township.
The church was a two-story building, featuring beautiful stained glass, a large porch, and steeple. I walked to the door and tried it. It was locked. In the distance, a dog barked and a lawnmower started. The noise of the lawnmower grew louder.
A young man, no older than fifteen, sat on the riding lawnmower and stopped when he saw us.
“Who are you?”
“Um, I’m Detective Konan, this is my partner Detective Lilly Thompson. Is there anyone available to speak to us here?”
“No,” the boy said, as he looked away from us.
“Hi.” Lilly said kindly, “when does Rev. Caster normally get back from his ministry at Parchman?”
“I don’t know. He doesn’t like people hanging around the church. Said people bring bad spirits in the community when they’re not from here. People like you don’t understand.”
“Well, shucks. What don’t I understand?”
“You need to leave.”
The lad started the lawnmower, dropped the deck and began cutting the church grounds. Lilly and I watched as he zoomed around the yard, grass shot out from under the deck, and we sat on the porch steps. The kid finished the yard, and the minister still had not shown up.
“Come on, Lilly. Let’s go to a convenience store. Maybe, he’ll show up if we’re gone.”
“Okay, I could use something to drink.”
Both of us got into our vehicle and drove to the nearest convenience store. Behind the counter, a young black man sat watching college football highlights. Lilly went in the back to the coolers and took out a Coca-Cola (in the glass bottle) and grabbed me a Barq’s Root Beer.
The man looked up at us, nodded, and rang up our total.
“You wouldn’t know where the pastor of the church is, do you?”
“No, I have nothing to do with them.”
“Okay,” Lilly stammered. “Um, we need to talk to him.”
“Un-huh. I don’t know anything. Have a nice day.”
There was something rotten in Lindersmithe, and no one wanted to talk about it. Their avoidance only made me more determined to get the answers I wanted, nay, needed.