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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

#FreeDailyThriller - Lust, Money & Murder - Book 10, "Black Widow" - Part 57


Chapter 66

Seven and a half hours later—hungry, road-weary, and with a set of badly frayed nerves—Luna Faye finally pulled off Route 40 and arrived in Brownsville, Pennsylvania. She drove as fast as she could through the little town towards Thomas Tutter’s house.
The trip took her longer than she had anticipated. One factor she had failed to take into consideration was the weather—she ran into heavy snow about the time she passed through Morgantown, PA, and the white stuff had been coming down relentlessly ever since, big, heavy wet flakes that swirled in front of the car’s headlights and reduced visibility.
When she finally turned down Water Street, she prayed that Tutter was all right.
“Oh, no,” she moaned, slowing the car.
There were two police cruisers and an ambulance in front of Tutter’s house. The ambulance was parked in the driveway, right behind Tutter’s SUV, its rear doors closed. The strobe lights on all vehicles were off, and the vehicles were empty. Even though it was dark outside now, she could see that no cops or paramedics were inside them.
What the hell happened? she thought, trying to suppress her worst fear. Namely, that what was left of Thomas Tutter splattered all over the living room wall by several blasts of a sawed-off shotgun.
Luna’s heart started thumping as she pulled her car over behind the cop car. She quickly got out, glancing at the side of police vehicle, which was already piled with snow—it had to have been parked there a couple hours.
FAYETTE COUNTY SHERIFF, it said.
Now she noticed a few neighbors across the street, huddled together in the cold, looking on, vapor pluming from their mouths. She could see the silhouette of a policeman in a ranger hat standing up on Tutter’s porch, the glow of a cigarette moving in the dim light. She heard the crackle of a police radio that must have been on his belt.
As she headed up the walk, she also noticed that the front yard’s recent snow was littered with fresh tracks, some of which led to the rear of the ambulance. Whatever had gone down here, it was long over.
“What’s the story?” Luna said, almost with a gasp, as she stepped up onto the porch.
“Hey, you can’t come...” the cop began, but Luna already pulled out her ID. The officer was so young he had a few pimples on his face. When he saw the gold shield his eyes widened a little.
“U.S. Secret Service,” Luna said authoritatively.
The kid suddenly straightened his shoulders, glanced down at the cigarette in his hand as if he thought it might look unprofessional, but having nothing he could do with it, lowered his hand again.
“What’s going on?” she repeated anxiously, looking at the half-open front door. She could hear voices inside.
“Old man who lives here killed himself.”
Luna hadn’t expected that. “Who’s in charge here?”
“Jimbo, uh, I mean Detective Skinner. James Skinner.” The young cop cocked his head towards the door. “He’s in the kitchen.”
Luna nodded and entered the foyer. The voices were coming from the kitchen, and Luna headed towards them, stepping over the same set of dumbbells she had less than a week ago.
“Okay, that’s it,” a man said, and just as Luna reached the kitchen door, two paramedics stepped out. They glanced curiously at her and moved aside as she went by.
When she entered the kitchen, she found a man of no more than thirty years of age sitting at Tutter’s dining table, filling out a report. He didn’t look much more experienced than the young cop outside. He was dressed in plainclothes, jeans and a sweater. His black hair was neatly combed to one side, but there was a day or two’s worth of stubble on his face.
 His gloves and wool hat were stacked neatly in one of the empty chairs. On the table in front of him was an open wallet, with a driver’s license, credit cards, and other documents spread out around it. The spare key Luna had found out on the porch was there, too—she recognized it.
Luna also noticed that the cellar door was wide open, the light coming up from the basement. The window across the kitchen was also open, cold air blowing into the room, along with a few snowflakes. The detective had apparently opened it to air it out—Luna thought she faintly smelled the foul but familiar odor of a decomposing body.
She patiently watched him for a moment—he was so involved in his work he didn’t even notice her.
She cleared her throat. “Excuse me, are you Detective Skinner?”
He finally turned and looked at her, then frowned. “Yeah, I’m Skinner. Who the hell are you and how did you get in here?” He turned and glanced irritably towards the front door. “Dammit, Mark, I told you not to—”
Luna flashed her badge and identified herself.
Skinner sat a little straighter in the chair, looking her up and down with a confused expression. “Secret Service?”
“What exactly happened here, Detective?”
He motioned towards the open cellar door. “The man who lived here committed suicide.” He looked at the report he was filling out and read from it. “A Thomas James Tutter, sixty-seven years old.”
“How?”
“Hanged himself down in the basement.” The detective let out a disgusted-sounding chuckle. “You should see the shit this guy has down there, real sicko! I’ll bet when we run his prints we find out he’s some kind of serial...is he of interest to the Secret Service? Why are you here?”
Luna wanted to avoid this question as long as possible. “Where is the body?”
“Already loaded into the meat wagon. Took them a while to get him down.”
At that moment, Luna could hear the rumble of the ambulance engine starting up.
“Who reported it?”
“Next-door neighbor. She noticed the same lights on for two nights in a row, noticed he hadn’t been out, knocked on the door a few times today, finally called it in. I happen to live pretty close by, so on my way home from work I stopped to investigate. I really didn’t expect...” He pointed to the table. “Found that spare key out on the porch.”
“Any sign of forced entry?”
Skinner frowned. “Forced entry? The guy hanged himself, it’s an open and shut. No sign of anyone else around, or foul play.”
“You didn’t notice anything unusual downstairs?”
The detective shook his head, looking down at his half-written report. “No, nothing. Except...”
“Except what?”
“Well, he hung himself with a trash bag. Which is kind of strange, considering all the ropes and chains and bondage stuff he has down there. What the hell is going on? Can you please—”
“Mind if I take a look?” Luna said, and headed towards the cellar door. The light was already on.
As she descended the stairs, she did so carefully, looking at the steps for any clues, but they were wet from the tromping of the medics and police with their snowy boots.
When she reached the bottom step, her nostrils flared—the foul odor was much stronger.
“What was he hanging from?” she asked.
“That water pipe over there,” Skinner said, using his pen to point to a rafter across the room.
Luna carefully stepped towards it, glancing down at the concrete floor of the dimly lit basement, watching her step to make sure she didn’t contaminate anything that might yield information.
The water pipe ran directly above the worn, leather-upholstered spanking bench.
“Where, exactly?”
“His feet were hanging right about here,” Skinner said, indicating a space about a foot from the end of the bench. “He must have stood up on this...whatever you call it—”
“Spanking bench,” Luna said.
“Yeah.” Skinner gave her a curious look as if he wondered how she knew such terminology. “And then he wrapped the trash bag around his neck, and the pipe, and just stepped off into space.” Skinner made a choking noise in his throat.
“Did you take any photos?”
“Yeah,” he said. “On my phone.”
“Let me see them.”
Skinner regarded Luna for moment as if he really didn’t like taking orders from her, but then again he was only a county sheriff’s office detective and she was a federal agent. He drew the phone from his coat pocket, pulled up the photos, and handed it to her.
There were three pictures, taken with the flash on, from different angles. As Luna scrolled through them, she tried not to wince. Tutter’s lifeless body hung there, stark naked, looking much the same as Patrick Brogan’s had in the photos from the medical examiner’s office, his head lolled to the side, his tongue protruding between his lips. Too much so, she thought.
“Where’s the trash can liner?” Luna said.
“In the evidence bag,” Skinner said, patting the front of his coat.
“You didn’t find anything else?” Before the detective could answer, something caught her eye under the spanking bench. She pulled out her flashlight and squatted, shining the beam on it.
Rolled up against the rear leg of the bench was what looked like an empty toilet paper roller.
Luna pulled out her pen and carefully lifted the cardboard roller up close to her face, shining the flashlight beam on it.
One end was cut off clean, and the other end was slightly ragged, just like the one left behind in Patrick Brogan’s cell. And just using the flashlight, she could see that tiny bits of plastic were stuck to the adhesive.
“Bag this, too.”
Skinner frowned, squinting at the benign-looking cardboard cylinder. “Why?” He shrugged. “The freak probably used a lot of toilet paper down here to wipe up all the blood and other stuff from—”
“It’s not from a roll of toilet paper. Bag it.”
Puzzled, Skinner did as she told him, opening the bag for her while she dropped it in. “If not toilet paper, then what the hell was on it”
Well, Luna thought, it’s time to finally open the can of worms—there was no way around it now. Better to tell some young relatively inexperienced county detective than the Pittsburgh police.
She summarized what she knew about Thomas Tutter. “If I were you, I would designate this as a crime scene before it gets any more contaminated. Call your CSI unit over here right now.”
Skinner nodded, looking back at the spanking bench, trying to take everything in. “There’s one thing that doesn’t make sense.”
“What’s that?”
He held up the evidence bag with the cardboard roller inside. “Why would Hendrix use the same M.O. to kill Tutter that they used to kill the guy in jail? If he didn’t want Tutter to talk, he could have just shot him or something. Doing it this way, he left his signature all over it.”
“Yes, that’s exactly what he wanted.”
“Why?”
“Because it’s a message.”
“To who?”
“To me,” Luna said darkly.

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