I returned the tools to my pocket and slipped the Beretta from its holster. The weight of it felt comforting.
I forced myself to breathe normally and moved cautiously into the kitchen, telling myself to “see everything.” Only there wasn’t much to see. No dishes in the sink, no debris on the table, nothing stacked on the counters, everything just so except for a single cabinet drawer open about three inches. I glanced inside without opening it farther. A junk drawer.
The kitchen reminded me of a remodeler’s store display. So did the dining room. And the living room. And the family room. And the den. The furniture was all new. Jamie had arranged it for conversation with a nod to her two fireplaces. I didn’t see a TV, but I hadn’t looked for one that hard. I did find the Bruders’ answering machine at the bottom of the staircase leading to the second floor. A red light blinked and a digital display said there were two messages. I pressed the playback bar with my elbow. It wasn’t until I heard a male voice say, “David, this is Warren. Something’s gone wrong. Better call me ASAP,” that I realized what a foolish mistake I had made. I just revealed my presence to anyone lurking in the house. You’re a real pro, McKenzie. A woman delivered the second message—“Hey, babe, this is Merci. Have you decided what to do about your visitor? Call me.”—but I was listening too hard for sounds of movement to pay much attention.
I left the machine to rewind itself and started up the stairs.
My Nikes made no sound on the thick carpet. I stopped at the top step, looked around, listened. Nothing. There were six rooms. I started with the one nearest me. A guest room with private bath. Unoccupied. I slipped into the next. It was a nursery. The crib was empty.
“Mother and child are out running an errand,” I told myself. “It’s a pleasant afternoon, maybe Jamie took the child to the park.” There were dozens of reasons why they weren’t home. I couldn’t force myself to believe any of them. I kept moving.
The third room was a catchall and contained a locked glass gun cabinet filled with shotguns, hunting rifles, and two handguns; a sewing machine, empty gift boxes, wrapping paper and ribbons, a desk without a chair. The fourth was a bathroom. The fifth was the master bedroom.
That’s where I found her.
Jamie was on the bed, her wrists tied to a brass and white-enamel headboard, her ankles tied to a matching baseboard—the skin was torn and bloody where she had struggled against the twine. Her mouth was sealed with duct tape. Bruises covered her face and shoulders. Cigarette burns dotted the rest of her nude body. Strips of flesh hung from her breasts where someone had skinned her. There was a steak knife on the mattress next to her and at least eight jagged holes in her stomach—they were hard to count because of the blood. Blood had poured out onto her black shorts and her white blouse, brassiere, and panties, all cut away and lying beneath her. The pubic hair around her vagina was matted with dried fluid. A broom was on the floor next to the bed. The tip of the broom handle was stained red. Jamie’s eyes were open, her fists were clenched.
I screamed at the sight of her.
Most murders are mistakes. The majority are committed spontaneously by completely rational people who in moments of rage do completely irrational things. A groom kills his best man over the last slice of pizza at a bachelor party. A man kills his wife for switching the channel during the World Series. A young woman kills her landlord for raising the rent. A teenager is shot on an MTC bus because he refuses to lower the volume on his radio. A father is gunned down by his son during an argument over whether an angel or star belongs on top of the Christmas tree. Mistakes. The killers didn’t mean to do it. A surprising number of them will confess to that the moment the cops walk through the door. They might as well. Often they’re standing there covered with blood or surrounded by witnesses.
Only the killing of Jamie Carlson was not a mistake. It was methodical, well organized, and terribly ferocious. And the killer had no intention of admitting to his crime. Someone would have to catch him.
That’s what I was thinking as I sat in my Jeep Cherokee waiting for the police to respond to the call I had placed with my cell phone, refusing to look at the house, knowing what was inside. Two squads arrived within two minutes. I knew the driver of the second car from my time in the department’s Central District.
“How you doin’, Mac?”
“I’ve been better.”
“Dispatch said you called it in.”
“Wait for the detectives,” I told him. “The house is clean. There’s no one inside and nothing you can do.”
He didn’t like my telling him that, but before he could lean on me a team of detectives I didn’t know arrived.
“You call it in?” the taller of the two asked after consulting with the uniforms.