Cold case--a jeff resnick mystery

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COLD CASEby L.L. Bartlett

Copyright © 2010 by L. L. Bartlett

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All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in anyform by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying,recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permissionin writing from the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,places, and incidents are either the product of the author’simagination, or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance toactual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

The Jeff Resnick Mysteries

Murder on the Mind

Dead In Red

Cheated By Death

Bound By Suggestion

A Leap of Faith

"A compelling mystery that will grip youtightly and not let go--even after you've finished reading."

~ Leann Sweeney, nationally best-sellingauthor of the Yellow Rose and Cats In Trouble mysteries

L.L. Bartlett’s “Cold Case” tells theemotionally packed story of Jeff Resnick, a psychic, who is hiredto solve the disappearance of a four-year-old boy. The conclusionto this story is bound to have you questioning those aroundyou.

~ The Romance Readers Connection

COLD CASEby L.L. Bartlett

“You’re not the first psychic to comethrough Paula’s apartment, Mr. Resnick.”

Hands on hips, Dr. Krista Marsh stood beforeme. Her heels gave her an inch or more on me. Blonde and lithe, andclad in a turquoise dress with jet beads resting on her amplebreasts, she was the best looking thing in that lower middle-classapartment.

“I don’t use that term. Con-artists,liars and frauds take advantage of people with problems. I’m justsomeone who sometimes knows more than I’m comfortableknowing.”

Truth was, I hadn’t wanted to be there atall, giving my impressions on the fate of four-year-old EricDevlin. He’d gone missing on an early-autumn evening some eightmonths before. One minute he’d been there—riding his Big Wheel infront of the apartment building—the next he was gone. Like everyother good citizen, I’d read all the stories in the newspapers andseen the kid’s picture on posters and on TV. The only place Ihadn’t seen it was on the back of a milk carton.

I was there as a favor to mybrother—actually, my older half brother—Dr. Richard Alpert, who’djoined me on that cold gray evening in early May. Richard was PaulaDevlin’s internist at the university’s low-income clinic. He likedPaula and hated how not knowing her son’s fate was tearing herapart. He hoped I could shed some light on the kid’sdisappearance.

I’m not sure why Dr. Marsh was there. Maybeas Paula’s therapist she thought she could protect her patient fromsomeone like me.

So, there I stood, in the middle of Paula’smodestly furnished living room, trying to soak up vibes that mighttell me the little boy’s fate.

Paula waited in the doorway, looking fearfulas I examined the heart of her home, which she’d transformed into acottage industry, distributing posters, pins and flyers in thesearch for the boy—all to no avail. Vacuum cleaner tracks on thecarpet showed her hasty clean-up prior to our arrival. Too thin,and looking older than her thirty-two years, Paula’s spirit and herdetermination to find her missing son had sustained her over thelong months she’d been alone. The paper had never mentioned a Mr.Devlin.

“I don’t know if I can help you,” Itold Paula.

She flashed an anxious look at Richard, thenback to me.

“Where would you like to start, Mr.Resnick?”

“Call me Jeff. How about Eric’sroom?”

A sixty-watt bulb illuminated the gloom asthe four of us trudged down a narrow hallway. Paula opened the doorto a small bedroom, flipped a light switch, and ushered us in.“It’s just the way he left it.”

I doubted that, since the bed was made andall the toys and games were neatly stacked on shelves under theroom’s only window—not a speck of dust. A race car bedspread andmatching drapes gave a clue to the boy’s chief interest—so did thescores of dented, paint-scraped cars and trucks. I picked up apurple-and-black dune buggy, sensing a trace of the boy’s aura.He’d been a rambunctious kid, with the beginnings of a smartmouth.

“He was a very livelychild.”

“He’s all boy, that’s for sure,” hismother said proudly.

She hadn’t noticed I’d used the past tense.Either that or she was in deep denial. I’d known little Eric wasdead the moment I entered the apartment.

I gave her a half-hearted smile, replaced thetoy on the shelf. There wasn’t much else to see. I shouldered myway past the others and wandered back to the living room. Theytried not to bump into each other as they followed.

A four-foot poster of Eric’s smiling facedominated the west wall. He’d been small for his age, cute, withsandy hair and a sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of hisnose.

An image flashed through my mind: a child’shand reaching for a glass.

I hitched in a breath, grateful my back wasto Dr. Marsh. A mix of powerful emotions erupted—as though mypresence had ignited an emotional powder keg. Like repellingmagnets, guilt and relief waged a war, practically raining from thewalls and ceiling.

Composing myself, I turned, a disquietingdepression settling over me.

“Ms. Devlin—”

She stepped forward. “Call me Paula.”

“Paula. Did Dr. Alpert tell you howthis works?”

“He said you absorb emotions, interpretthem, and that sometimes you get knowledge.”

“That’s right.” More or less. “There’sa lot of background emotion here. May I hold your hand for amoment? I need to see if it’s coming from you, or if it’s residentin the building.”

Without hesitation, she held out her hand,her expression full of hope. And that’s what I got from her: Hope,desperation, and deep despair. She loved that little boy, heart andsoul. And there was suspicion, too, but not of me.

I released her hand, let out the breath Ihadn’t realized I’d been holding.

“Paula, ever heard the expression abouta person taking up all the air in the room?” Her brows puckered inconfusion. “You’re broadcasting so many emotions I can’t sort themout. I know you want to stay, but I can’t do what I have to ifyou’re here.”

“But he’s my son,” sheprotested.

Dr. Marsh stepped closer, placed a comfortinghand on Paula’s shoulder. “You want him to give you a truereading.”

I turned on the psychiatrist. “I’m not afortune teller, Dr. Marsh.”

“I didn’t mean to offend,” she saidwithout sincerity.

“I’ll go if you say so, Krista.” Paulagrabbed her windbreaker from the closet and headed for the door.Once she was gone, my anxiety eased, and I no longer needed to playdiplomat.

“What’re you getting?” Richardasked.

“The kid’s dead—been dead since dayone. He wasn’t frightened either, not until the very lastminute.”

“You’re talking murder,” Richard said.“Not Paula.”

“No. I’m sure of that.”

Dr. Marsh eyed me critically, brows arched,voice coolly professional. “Are you well acquainted with sensingdeath, Mr. Resnick?”

“More than I’d like.” I glanced atRichard. “What’s this about a pervert in theneighborhood?”

His eyes narrowed. “It hasn’t been reportedin the media, but Paula told me about the cops’ prime suspect. Aconvicted pedophile lived three units down at the time the boydisappeared. They’ve had him in for questioning five or six timesbut haven’t been able to wring a confession out of him. How’d youknow?”

“From Paula—just now. She’s afraid hetook her kid.”

Dr. Marsh frowned. She probably figured I wasjust some shyster running a con. Can’t say I was sorry todisappoint her.

“You got something else,” Richard said.He knew me well.

“I saw something, but it doesn’t makesense.” I told them about the vision.

“Close your eyes. Focus on it,” hedirected.

I shot a look at Dr. Marsh, saw the contemptin her gaze. Skepticism came with the territory.

My eyes slid shut and I allowed myself torelax, trying to relive that fleeting moment.

“What do you see?” Richardsaid.

“A kid’s hand reached for aglass.”

“Is it Eric?”

“I don’t know.”

“Describe the glass.”

I squeezed my eyes tighter, trying to replaythe image. “A clear tumbler.”

“What’s inside?”

“Liquid. Brown. Chocolatemilk?”

“Look up the child’s arm,” Richarddirected. “Can you see his clothes?”

The cuff of a sleeve came into focus.“Yeah.”

“The color?”

I exhaled a breath. Like a camera pullingback, the vision expanded to include the child’s chest. “Blue...adecal of—” The image winked out. “Damn!”

“Give it a couple of minutes and tryagain,” Richard advised.

Uncomfortable under Dr. Marsh’s stare, Iwandered into the kitchen again. I couldn’t shake the feelingof...dread? Whatever it was surrounded me, squeezing my chest so Icouldn’t take a decent breath.

Hands clenched at his side, Richard studiedme in silence. We’d been through this before, and his eyes mirroredthe concern he wouldn’t express for fear of embarrassing me. Heknew just what these little empathic forays cost me.

Turning away from his scrutiny, I went backinto the boy’s gloomy bedroom. Though banished from the apartment,Paula’s anguish was still palpable. How many times had she stood inthat doorway and cried for her child?

I ran my hands along all the surfaces a kidEric’s age could’ve touched. After eight months there was so littleleft of him. His clothes in the dresser drawers, neatly folded andstacked, bore no trace of his aura. I pulled back the bedspread,picked up the pillow, closed my eyes and pressed it against myface. Tendrils of fear curled through me.

Airless.

Darkness.

Nothingness.

Death.

A rustling noise at the open doorway brokethe spell. Dr. Marsh studied me as she must’ve once looked at ratsin a lab. Her appraising gaze was sharp, her irritation almostpalpable. Even so, she looked like she just walked off the set ofsome TV drama instead of the University’s Medical Center campus.I’d bet her brown eyes flashed when she smiled. Not that shehad.

“I understand you’ve done this before,”she said.

“Define ‘this,’“ I said.

“Helping the police in murderinvestigations.”

“Once or twice.”

“Are you always successful?”

“So far,” I answered honestly andreplaced the pillow, smoothing the spread back intoplace.

“And what do you get out ofit?”

Her scornful tone annoyed me.

“Usually a miserable headache. What isthis, an interrogation?”

“I’m merely curious,” she said. “My, weare defensive, aren’t we?”

“I can’t answer for ‘we,’ but I’mcertainly not here to fence with you, doctor. If you’ll excuseme.”

Brushing past her, I headed back to thekitchen. The smooth walls and ceiling were practically vibrating.Eric’s childish laughter had once echoed in this room, thoughnothing of him remained there. I frowned; I still didn’t have thewhole picture, and Dr. Marsh had rattled me.

I opened all the cupboards. The remnants ofEric’s babyhood—plastic formula bottles and Barney sippy cups—hadbeen stowed on the higher shelves.

No Nestle’s Quik.

“Any conclusions?” Richardasked.

“Whatever I’m getting seems strongestin the kitchen.” I leaned against the counter, stared at therefrigerator covered with torn-out coloring book pages attachedwith yellowing Scotch tape. Something about it bothered me. Iopened the door.

Paula wasn’t taking care of herself. A quartof outdated skim milk, half a loaf of sliced white bread, a saggingpizza box and three two-liter bottles of diet cola looked lonely inthe full-sized fridge. No chocolate milk. An opened box of TaterTots, a sprinkling of damp crumbs, and a couple of ice trays werethe only things in the freezer. Everything looked completelyinnocent, yet something was terribly wrong.

“Think all the apartments are set upthe same?” I asked Richard.

He shrugged.

Pushing away from the counter, I walkedthrough the rooms one last time—just to make certain—then paused inthe kitchen before heading into the building’s entryway. No traceof Eric, but something else lurked there.

Hands thrust into her jacket pockets, Paulawaited by the security door, looking pale and frightened. Icouldn’t even muster a comforting smile for her.

“Chocolate milk,” I said.

She blinked.

“Did Eric drink it?” Ipressed.

“He loved it, but was allergic tochocolate. I never had it in the house.”

I glanced up the shadowy staircase. A woundedanimal will always climb. Eric hadn’t been wounded, but somethinghad lured him up those stairs. I took three steps and staggeredagainst the banister when a knife-thrust of pain pierced the backof my head—fierce, but unlike the skull-pounding headaches theseintuitive flashes usually brought.

“You okay?” Richard asked, concerned.Was he feeling guilty for roping me into this?

I leaned against the wall, closed my eyes andtried to catch my breath. “Who lives upstairs?” I asked Paulathrough gritted teeth.

“Mark and Cheryl Spencer in apartmentD. A retired widow, Mrs. Anna Jarowski, lives on the otherside.”

“They see Eric the day hedisappeared?”

Paula shook her head. “No.”

I took another step. The heaviness clampedtighter around my chest. I’d felt something when I first enteredthe building, but I’d assumed it belonged to Paula.

I’d been wrong.

“I want to talk to them.”

“They’ve been cleared,” Paulainsisted.

I didn’t budge.

She bristled with impatience. “You came hereto find answers about my son, not waste time questioning myneighbors. They’ve been cleared by the police, and badgered by thepress.”

“Paula,” Richard said gently. “It can’thurt.”

Finally she tore her gaze from mine, stormedback for her apartment, letting the door bang shut.

Richard took the lead, leaving Dr. Marsh andme to follow. He went to knock on the first apartment door, but Ishook my head. He gave me a quizzical look and I nodded toward theopposite door.

Richard crossed the ten or so feet to theadjacent door and knocked. We waited. Were Richard and Dr. Marshstruck by the unnatural quiet in that building?

The door opened on a chain. Steel gray,no-nonsense eyes peered at us. “Yes?”

“Mrs. Jarowski, I’m Doctor Alpert andthis is Dr. Marsh,” Richard said with authority. “We’re from theUniversity. May we speak with you?”

Mrs. Jarowski blinked in surprise. “Did Dr.Adams send you?”

Dr. Marsh gave Richard an inquisitive look,but he said nothing.

Mrs. Jarowski looked at us with suspicion.“Can I see some identification?”

“Of course,” Richard said, and reachedinto his coat pocket.

“I left mine in my purse,” Dr. Marshsaid.

Mrs. Jarowski scrutinized Richard’s hospitalsecurity badge. “Please come in,” she said at last.

I didn’t want to. I wanted to go home. Iwanted to be anywhere but this place that smelled of mothballs andsour cabbage.

She ushered us inside, stepping into herkitchen. Anna Jarowski was a compact woman in her mid-sixties. Hershort silver hair was caught back from her forehead with abarrette, like something out of the 1950s. Dressed in a fadedhousecoat, no make-up brightened her wan features, leaving herlooking colorless and ill.

She glanced at me. “I’m sorry, but I didn’tcatch your name.”

“Jeffrey Resnick,” I said, forcing asmile, and shoved my hand at her.

The woman eyed my outstretched hand,hesitated, then took it.

Our eyes locked. Her hand convulsed aroundmine. Peering past the layers of her personality, I looked straightinto her soul.

A tremor ran through me. I pulled back myhand, my legs suddenly rubbery. Sweat soaked into my shirt collarand I took a shaky breath, hoping to quell the queasiness in mygut.

“Mind if I sit?”

She gestured toward the couch in the livingroom, but I lurched into the kitchen and fell into a maple chair atthe worn Formica table. The others followed, leaning against thecounters, looking like wallflowers at a dance. Mrs. Jarowski movedto stand in front of the refrigerator, arms at her side, bodytense. The open floor plan allowed me to look into the apartment.Like the kitchen set, the rest of the furniture was shabby butimmaculate. Mrs. Jarowski’s faded house dress was freshly ironed.She probably spent her days scrubbing the life out of things.

I looked around the sterile kitchen, an exactreplica of the room directly below us—the floor, the counters, thecupboards—everything, right down to the white plastic switchplates. Three embroidered dishtowels lined the oven door pull, Mrs.Jarowski’s only concession to decor. The tug of conflictingemotions was even stronger than downstairs. We looked at oneanother for a few moments in awkward silence.

Mrs. Jarowski cleared her throat. “Are you adoctor, too?” she asked me.

“You might say I’m an expert onheadaches. Tell me about yours, Mrs. Jarowski. Migraines, aren’tthey?”

The old lady’s sharp eyes softened. “I’ve hada lot of tests, even a couple of CAT scans, but they’ve all beeninconclusive. I’ve been told they’re due to stress. One doctor saidthey’re psychosomatic.”

“I doubt that,” I said, winning agrateful nod. “They get pretty bad sometimes, don’tthey?”

She nodded again, looking hopeful.

“I can sure identify with that. I gotmugged last year. A teenager with a baseball bat cracked my skull.Since then I get some really bad ones. I’m working up to a doozieright now.”

“What does that have to do with me?”she asked, an odd catch to her voice.

“Nothing. Tell me about EricDevlin.”

Her back went rigid. “I’ve already told thepolice, I don’t know anything about his disappearance.”

“His mother said he was ‘all boy,’ butI get the feeling he was a little hellion. A noisy kid. Kind of abrat, really.”

Dr. Marsh glared at me as if I’d blasphemedGod almighty. The whole city had developed a reverence for themissing child.

Mrs. Jarowski didn’t share that feeling.

“He used to ride up and down thesidewalk on one of those big plastic tricycles for hours at a time.Up and down and up and down. They make one hell of a racket, don’tthey?”

Her lips tightened. The tension in thatkitchen nearly crackled.

My nausea cranked up a notch and I loosenedmy tie. On the verge of passing out, I rested my elbows on thetable to steady myself.

“When I have one of these sickheadaches, I have to lie down in a dark room with absolute quiet.Otherwise I think I’d go insane. That ever happen toyou?”

Mrs. Jarowski’s gaze pinned me.

The vision streaked before my mind’s eye:Eric, eyes round with anticipation, his small hand clutching thetumbler of chocolate milk, something his mother would never let himhave. Paula calling to him from somewhere outside. The half emptyglass falling to the spotless floor, shattering. Chocolate milksplashing the walls and cabinet doors.

“It’s peaceful and quiet these days,” Isaid. “Like a morgue.” My gaze drifted to the full-sizedrefrigerator—back to her. I swallowed down bile. “You want to showme?”

Her cheeks flushed. She wouldn’t look atme.

Dr. Marsh and Richard looked at me inconfusion. Mrs. Jarowski seemed to weigh the question, her solemngaze focused on the floor.

“The freezer, right?”

Mrs. Jarowski’s anger slipped, replaced by atremendous sense of guilt—but not, I noticed, remorse.

“Dr. Alpert, maybe you should have alook.”

She held her ground.

Richard brushed past me, crossed the room inthree steps. His eyes bored into hers and she backed down, movingaside. The freezer door swung open. A heavy, black plastic garbagebag filled the space. He worked on the twist tie, pulled back theplastic. His breath caught and he slammed the door, suddenlypale.

“Holy Christ.”

The quartz wall clock ticked loudly, but timeseemed to stand still.

At last Richard moved to the phone andpunched 911. “I’m calling to report a body at 456 Weatherby,apartment C.”

Richard swallowed as he listened to the voiceon the other end of the phone. Dr. Marsh blinked in confusedrevulsion.

Stony-faced, Mrs. Jarowski turned, herslippered feet scuffing across the vinyl floor as she headed forthe living room. She sat down on her faded couch, picked up theremote control and turned on the television.

Finally Richard hung up the phone.

“Dr. Marsh, can you watch Mrs. J untilthe police get here?” I asked.

She nodded, still looking shell shocked.

I squinted up at Richard. “Maybe you couldhelp me to the bathroom. I don’t want to barf on Mrs. J’s niceclean floor.”

* * * * *

Breathing shallowly, I sat back against thelumpy couch, a hand covering my eyes to blot out the piercinglight. After more than an hour, two of my pills still hadn’t put adent in the throbbing headache.

The cops had already taken Mrs. Jarowskiaway. The ME arrived, and the crime photographer was still flashingpictures in the kitchen. The place was full of cops, and the murmurof a dozen voices drilled through my skull.

“Can I get you something, Mr. Resnick?”Lieutenant Brewer of the Buffalo Metropolitan Police stood over me.The chunky, balding cop still seemed taken aback that his case hadbeen broken by an outsider.

I squinted up at him. “Yeah. Assure myprivacy—don’t give the press my name. The last thing I want ispublicity.”

“Okay, but answer me this; how’d youknow?”

“I don’t know how it works, it justdoes.”

“The old lady waived her rights. Saidshe heard Ms. Devlin had signed a new two-year lease and decidedshe’d had enough of the noise. She lured the kid up here and madehim quiet—permanently.”

“And the chocolate milk?” Richard askedme.

“The lure of a forbidden treat. Mrs. Jground up sleeping pills, had him drink it,” I said. “When he wasdopey, she planned to smother him.”

I thought about it—remembered what I’d seenwhen I’d touched her. Fury gave her the strength to hold the boy,who’d struggled in those last minutes. She’d sealed his nose andmouth with a wad of freshly pressed linen dish towels, pinning himagainst the floor until his body slackened, his small chest nolonger heaving. Then she’d heard Paula Devlin frantically callingfor her son. Anna Jarowski sat beside the dead boy for a longtime—triumphant in the knowledge she’d finally silenced herintolerably noisy neighbor.

I looked up at Brewer. “I take it you haven’tsearched the place yet.”

“Call me paranoid, but I’m waiting fora warrant. No way do I want this thrown out on atechnicality.”

“You’ll find what’s left of thetricycle in one of the closets. She’s got a hacksaw. Been cuttingit up and sneaking it out in the trash for the past eightmonths.”

Dr. Marsh elbowed her way through the crowdin the kitchen. She’d been gone about an hour—breaking the news tothe boy’s mother, no doubt.

“How’s Paula?” Richardasked.

“I gave her a sedative. Now that hermother’s here, I think she’ll be all right.” She looked at me. “Howare you, Jeff?” Her icy veneer had melted, her best bedside mannernow firmly in place.

“Sick.”

“But you’ve got to feel good about whatyou’ve done.”

I frowned. “I made two women miserable. Whywould that make me feel good?”

She seemed puzzled by my answer, but I didn’thave the energy to explain it to her. “Dr. Marsh, you said anotherpsychic came here—what did she tell Paula?”

“That the boy was well and living in asmall town down South, anxious to be back home with hismother.”

Poor Paula.

“You need me anymore?” I asked thedetective.

He shook his head. “Go home before you keelover.”

I glanced at my brother. “Now would be a goodtime, Rich.”

I moved on shaky legs. Richard and Dr. Marshsteadied me on the stairs. We ducked under the crime scene tape andthey pushed me through the throng of press as we headed forRichard’s Lincoln Town Car.

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