Read The 37th Hour Online

Authors: Jodi Compton

Tags: #Mystery, #Detective, #Mystery & Detective - Women Sleuths, #Minneapolis (Minn.), #Police, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction - Mystery, #Mystery & Detective - General, #General, #Suspense, #Women Sleuths, #Thrillers, #Missing persons, #Fiction

The 37th Hour (10 page)

“If I’d known it was going to take this long for them to disinter, I’d have stopped for coffee,” Vang said.

“When they make you go out to the sticks at seven-thirty in the morning on a situation like this,” I agreed, “coffee may be the highlight of the trip.”

In truth, it wasn’t coffee I wished I’d taken time for but a shower. There’s something a shower provides that has very little to do with actual cleanliness. It’s punctuation: without one, traces of yesterday and last night and bed cling to you, no matter how alert you feel, how you’re dressed, or what you’re doing.

The breeze picked up, coming from the direction of the lake. We couldn’t quite see the water from where we were; it was obscured by bare, skinny trees that made up in number what they lacked in individual heft.

“Does my voice really sound like your husband’s?” Vang asked, and I remembered how I’d answered the phone.

“Not really, the more I—”

“Hey, look at that,” Vang interrupted.

I broke off and looked at the crime-scene officers. They were carefully lifting something wrapped in a green garbage bag out of the ground.

“It’s definitely not a casserole dish,” I admitted.

“But it looks kind of small to be a person,” Vang said. We were already walking over. “Unless it’s a kid.”

“Or it’s not a whole person,” I said, and Vang winced.

The first officer, Penhall, took his camera and photographed the bagged form where it lay just next to the hole it had been lifted from.

Officer Malik took a penknife and, pulling the bag away from the object inside, slit the bag lengthwise without disturbing the knot at the top.

The first thing I saw as the blade slid through green plastic was tawny blond hair. But what was inside was blond all over: a golden retriever. Some dried blood matted the fur.

“Aw, shit,” Malik said. It was hard to tell if he spoke as a dog lover or a technician who’d just wasted a lot of time.

“Well,” Penhall said, “hold on. This guy killed a neighbor’s dog, that’s pretty serious.” He looked at Vang and me for validation.

“Could you take the wrap all the way off?” I said.

Malik did. I looked at Vang and raised an eyebrow.

“It just looks like a dog that got hit by a car to me,” Vang observed.

Malik was nodding agreement.

“Then why take the trouble to bury it?” Penhall asked.

“Because it’s probably a family pet, belonging to someone around here. And Bonney’s already very unpopular, because he’s a child molester.” I glanced up the hill to the neighbor’s tall and graceful house. Morning sunlight glinted off the floor-to-ceiling windows of what was likely the living room. She and her family had a great view of the lake, as well as of the property of Mr. Bonney, released sex offender. “He doesn’t want to make his reputation any worse than it already is.”

Malik straightened up. “What are you gonna do now?”

“That’s a good question,” I said. “Dogs are property. I guess there’s a property crime here. It’s not missing persons. I think we’re going to drop by the Wayzata police station and let them sort it out.”

As Vang made a U-turn and pointed the car back toward town, he looked hard at Bonney’s place, a single-story dwelling with a sagging porch roof.

“I wonder what we’d find in that house if we went in,” he said.

“A civil suit,” I said, “waiting to happen.”

 

Vang drove us back to Minneapolis, but not to work. I needed to pick up my own car, and beyond that, I wanted a shower. There was time: our schedules and workdays have to be a little fluid, given the demands of the job. Vang and I had already put in nearly an hour before our day normally started.

“I forgot to mention it yesterday,” Vang said, “but on Sunday night Fielding’s girlfriend got one of those phone calls, like Mann and Juarez’s wives got.”

“Oh yeah?” I knew what he was talking about. Everyone did. Two wives of Hennepin County deputies had received anonymous phone calls lately.

The caller’s voice, in both cases, sounded sincere and regretful. He’d identified himself as ER staff and told Deputy Mann’s wife that her husband had been critically injured in an accident in his squad car.

She’d been distraught, naturally, and wanted more details. The caller had hedged, providing a little more information couched in medical terms. Then he’d been “cut off” before he could say which hospital he was calling from.

Mrs. Mann had called downtown. It took dispatchers a few minutes to locate him, but before too long Mann had called home to reassure his wife that his watch had been completely without incident and he had no idea who would call her with a story like that.

Four weeks later the same thing happened to the wife of Deputy Juarez, except in her case, the caller regretfully said he’d been killed.

The coincidence was too great. A departmental memo was circulated, detailing the “sick joke” being perpetrated and telling officers to warn their families.

When the memo had gone around, a theory began to circulate right behind it, suggesting that the caller could be somebody with the county; somebody who’d gotten access somehow to a departmental phone list. Many cops had unlisted numbers, which helped to protect them from harassment or worse from people they’d arrested and helped build cases against.

“Is Fielding in the white pages?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Vang said, “but they’re saying it doesn’t matter. Because of the Sunshine in Minneapolis site.”

“Oh,” I said, remembering.

The Sunshine site took its name loosely from “sunshine” laws, or freedom-of-information laws that provided access to information on public processes and officials. The site, started by husband-and-wife community activists, was something like a Drudge Report/Smoking Gun for the city. Among the information posted were phone numbers and sometimes home addresses for police officers and sheriff’s deputies, all gleaned incidentally from various reports and court records that had been made public at one time or another. The theory, according to the site’s creators, was that cops would think twice about harassing innocent citizens if they knew their home phone numbers and addresses were on the Web for anyone to retrieve.

“You’re saying that both Mann and Juarez’s numbers were on the site?” I asked. We were crossing under the railroad tracks in Northeast, approaching my place.

“Juarez is actually in the phone book,” Vang said. “But yeah, all three are on the Web site, too. Nothing’s written in stone, but that’s one way this sicko could have gotten their numbers.”

I shook my head. “That site seemed kind of funny to me at the time,” I told him. “I looked myself up. It said, ‘married to a Minneapolis cop’ next to my name. Shiloh and I laughed about it.”

“Yeah, well, nobody’s laughing about it downtown. Some of the guys are saying this could help get the site shut down, if they can prove it’s helping someone harass women anonymously.”

“Good,” I said as we pulled over to the curb.

“See you in about a half hour,” Vang said.

 

I
enjoyed
the shower more for its being belated. I was starting to have a good feeling about today. There was probably just enough time to stop and pick up a bagel. I’d get one for Vang, too, although I didn’t really know his tastes. Genevieve’s I would have known: she almost always chose a sundried-tomato bagel, spreading it with a parsimoniously thin layer of lite cream cheese. Vang, much younger, rail-thin, and male, probably would rather start his day with a doughnut.

Wet-haired, dressed again, with my bag over my shoulder, I headed toward the back door. The sun was spilling through the east-facing kitchen window, and it was so bright that I almost missed the flashing of the message light on the machine. Almost.

“This message is for Michael Shiloh,” an unfamiliar female voice said. “This is Kim in the training unit at Quantico. If you’ve had problems getting here or otherwise been delayed, we need to know. Your class was sworn in today. My number here is . . .”

I replayed the message right away, as though that would make it make more sense. Kim’s words revealed nothing new the second time and I felt the first rustlings of worry in my chest.

Come on,
I told myself.
You know he’s there. The message is just a bureaucratic mix-up. These are the feds; every ten years they do a census in which they lose several million of us. Just call her; she’ll tell you it was a mistake.

I picked up the phone.

“Good morning,” I said when she answered. “My name is Sarah Pribek. You left a message on my machine, asking about Michael Shiloh, my husband. I guess he was delayed, and I just wanted to make sure he got there.”

“He’s not here,” Kim said flatly.

“Oh,” I said. “Are you sure you would know? I mean—”

“Oh, yes, I’m sure,” she said. “It’s my job to know. Are you saying he’s not in Minneapolis?”

“He’s not here,” I said after a moment. I felt the muscles in my throat work emptily as I swallowed without realizing I was going to do it.

“Sometimes people do back out,” she said. “Usually, they have second thoughts about the gun-carrying part of the job—”

“That wouldn’t be it,” I said. “I have to go.” On that abrupt and artless goodbye, I hung up.

My first thought: he’d been in a serious car accident, maybe on the road from the airport to Quantico. But that wasn’t right. If there’d been an accident, maybe Quantico and Kim wouldn’t necessarily have been notified, but I should have been. Shiloh would have been carrying his Minnesota driver’s license, and his home address was on it. They always notify family. But I’d heard from no one but Kim.

My next call was to Vang. “I’m not going to be in for an hour or so,” I said. “There’s something I need to run down. Sorry.”

“Something on a case?” he asked.

“Something personal,” I said, feeling evasive. “This probably won’t take all that long,” I said apologetically before hanging up.

Shiloh was not at Quantico. What did that mean?

If he’d changed his plans, if he’d decided to withdraw from the Academy, he’d have told me. And he’d have told
them.
But that didn’t matter, I thought, because he wouldn’t have changed his plans. Shiloh had wanted this. If he wasn’t there, something had gone wrong.

Had he even gotten as far as Virginia?

Whether he was in Minnesota or Virginia seemed to be the first distinction I was going to have to make. If I couldn’t narrow that down, I would waste crucial time, because I couldn’t effectively deal with both places at once.

I reached for the phone book and looked up the number for Northwest Airlines.

“I’m going to need a passenger manifest for your two thirty-five flight to Reagan on Sunday,” I told the ticket agent.

“What?” she said. “We don’t—”

“Give that information out, I know. I’m a Hennepin County sheriff’s detective. I know the drill.” I shifted the phone to my other ear, already digging in my desk. “Tell your ticketing supervisor that my name is Detective Sarah Pribek and that I’m going to be down there in about twenty-five minutes with a signed request on stationery with our letterhead.”

 

chapter 6

The traffic wasn’t too bad at midmorning.
The brightest part of the morning was over and clouds were scudding in from the west. As I turned east on the 494, the familiar red-and-gray bodies of Northwest planes were launching themselves toward the sky ahead of me.

The ticketing supervisor at Northwest’s offices—Marilyn, as her name tag identified her—led me to a small office not far from the main ticket counter.

I laid the request letter on her desk and she scanned it quickly, looking from the body of the text up to the letterhead.

“Can I see your identification?” she asked.

I took out the leather holder, flipped it open, and let her peer at it.

“Tell me again what you need?” she asked, sitting down behind her desk.

“I’m tracking down a passenger who was supposed to be on your two thirty-five
P.M.
flight to Reagan on Sunday. I’m not sure he was on it.”

“Sunday?” she said. She rotated her office chair a little and sat forward to open a filing cabinet next to her desk.

“Name?” she asked, putting the printout on her desk.

“Michael Shiloh,” I said. “Shiloh with an
h.

I’d identified myself to her as Sarah Pribek, and now I opted not to mention that Shiloh was my husband. It seemed best to present myself as an impersonal agent of the law.

“Yup.” Marilyn interrupted my thoughts. “Got him. Listed on the two thirty-five on Sunday, like you thought.” She paused. “He did not check in for that flight.”

“He wasn’t on it?”

“No.”

“What’s the next flight after that?”

“Into Reagan or into Dulles? The absolute next flight was a two fifty-five into Dulles.”

“Can you check that one?”

“There’re a couple more flights into both airports; I can check all of them for you.” She reached back into the filing cabinet; she’d left the drawer open, and now she walked her fingers over the edges of the documents. Licking her thumb, she culled several of them.

I leaned against the wall to wait, watching as she read. She shook her head slightly each time she finished with an individual manifest. When she was done she turned her desk chair slightly and faced me again. “He’s not listed on any of them.”

I nodded.

“Sometimes people fly into Baltimore,” she said thoughtfully. I shook my head.

“No,” I said. “I don’t think so. But you’ve been really helpful.”

I thanked her and took my leave, heading toward the escalator.

Shiloh could have flown into Baltimore, he could have chosen a different airline, but there was no reason for that. He’d
had
a ticket. More to the point, if he’d missed Northwest’s 2:35 flight—and that in itself was very unlike him—and caught a later one, he’d have been at Quantico by now. Kim would have heard from him. No matter what had gone wrong with his travel plans, I couldn’t imagine how he could be so late.

Had I completely ruled out the possibility Shiloh had gotten to Virginia? Not necessarily. It was possible that I was dealing with a situation where two things had gone wrong at once: Shiloh had missed his flight and taken a later one on a different carrier, and then something had happened to him in Virginia. If that was true, and I focused the search for him in Minnesota, that would be a disaster. It was essential that I narrow down from where Shiloh had disappeared.

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