Silent Ridge – Gregg Olsen

Boning knives spread across the top of the bathroom vanity, glint in the flat light. Blood on the razor-sharp blades contrasts starkly with the light-colored pattern in the tiled surface. A woman’s body hangs from the steel shower head over the spacious garden tub. One master bath wall is a mural of a giant, brilliant-yellow sunflower. The theme carries over to the shower curtains, but the yellow vinyl is spattered with red blotches. Propped against the mirror, behind the knives, is a laminated South Kitsap High School photo of a teenaged girl. The flayed skin of the woman slumps in the bathtub like a flesh suit. It had taken time. The intention was to cause as much fear as possible and to avoid killing the woman until every drop of humanity was bled from her. Meddling bitch. I wish you could see the look I’m going to slice off of your daughter’s face. I wish you could hear her screams. The fun part is over. The butcher’s apron is peeled off, rolled up and stuffed into a trash bag. The bag will be burned later.

The knives have to be cleaned of all the filth this pleading victim has left on them and are washed under the tap until the water turns from red to pink to clear. My friend used to say: you take care of your tools and they will take care of you. In the cabinet is a toothbrush, a bottle of peroxide and another of bleach. The blade is scrubbed until it gleams. The knives are wiped dry with a hand towel. The towel is put in the trash bag. The knives are slid into a cloth case, blades down. The case is rolled tight and secured with a string. The bleach and peroxide swirl down the sink. The containers and the toothbrush are dropped into the bag.

The knife case is carried into the bedroom, where clothes are set out. Some bloody smears are on the bathroom tiles but that’s no worry. It just adds to the story. Dressed now. One more look in the bathroom. The skinless body, like a snake shed of its skin. The eyes are still begging, even in death. It’s more than she deserves. One final step. The laminated photo of the girl, the one Monique knew as Rylee, is brought to the bedroom and left on the bed.

Next to it is a recent snapshot. Rylee supposedly died years ago, but, like everything else about the girl, it was a lie. Monique helped her disappear. Rylee is alive. She is now Megan Carpenter. No matter who she pretends to be, she will be dead soon. Back to the rental boat where the waiting begins. Two days pass. Maybe a mistake had been made? Maybe no one will find the body? Monique has no friends. Not here, at least.

It may be weeks before someone finds the body. But a few hours later, an elderly woman walking a yapping dog down the street. The old woman keeps looking at the house. She walks the dog halfway up the yard and stops, sniffing the air like a dog sniffing another dog. Then she goes to the door, which was deliberately left unlocked. The old woman goes inside. She quickly comes back outside. Her face is white. Her hands shake. She dials three digits on her cell phone.

TWO “Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. Reserve Deputy Ronnie Marsh,” the young, red-haired woman says into the phone. She listens and jots some things down in a leather-bound notebook. She hangs up and blows a strand of hair out of her eyes and comes over to my desk. I’m Sheriff’s Detective Megan Carpenter. Ronnie is a younger version of me, but my hair is shorter and blond where hers is red and down on her shoulders. Makeup covers a smattering of freckles high on her cheekbones. I only put on a touch of eye makeup. Mascara when I need to look especially alert. When I first met Ronnie a month ago, she had graduated from the law enforcement academy and was doing her rotation through the various sheriffs’ office units.

Over my objections, she was assigned to me by Sheriff Tony Gray, my boss, my friend and mentor. I didn’t think she’d last two days working here. She was injured during the last case we worked together and offered medical leave until her broken wrist healed. Instead, she had Sheriff Gray release her to desk duty. I talked him into extending Ronnie’s rotation time here in the office, claiming my files were in bad need of some type of order and we needed someone to answer the phone and make coffee and food runs. Even when she was wearing the cast on her arm, she proved herself capable. The cast is a thing of the past and, best of all, she’s dating Marley Yang, who is the supervisor at the crime lab. I finally had an in. I wasn’t above using people. And I was doing her a favor at the same time.

Ronnie comes to my desk holding her notebook so I can see what she’s written. “Detective Carpenter, this just came in.” Her handwriting, like everything else about her, is stylish. I read the words she’s written. My jaw drops and I feel a lump growing in my throat. I don’t recognize the address but I sure know the name. For a moment I make myself hope she’s written the name wrong, or it’s someone else. But my gut tells me otherwise. Monique Delmont is dead. She’s been murdered.

Sheriff Gray got the call an hour ago and is just now notifying me. Not that he would know to notify me. He has no way of knowing about my relationship with Monique. But he knows I work murder cases and get good results. He should have called me. Plus, I’m curious why Sheriff Gray is working this one himself. He doesn’t usually act as lead investigator. Ronnie stares at me like I’m a hair sample under a microscope. I haven’t hidden my shock very well. I used to be good at it; back then I didn’t have any attachment to anyone or any place and lied about who I was.

One day I was a college student, the next with a newspaper, and so on. I’ve been with the Sheriff’s Office here a long time. At least, it seems like a long time when my life used to consist of living in one random place after another for short stints. “Do you know her?” Ronnie asks. Of course she would ask. I don’t say anything and keep looking at the notebook page. Mrs. Delmont doesn’t live in Jefferson County. She lives just south of Tacoma. I don’t understand.

“You’re sure about this?” I ask. “That was Sheriff Gray on the phone. He said you should come.” I get up and close my laptop. “Can I come along?” she asks. I knew she would. “Not this time. You’re on light duty. If something happens and you get injured, it will be the sheriff’s ass on the line.” And mine for bringing you, I don’t say.

Her disappointment is as clear as the shock of the news was on my face. “I need you here,” I say. “Maybe later if the sheriff agrees.” She’s not satisfied but I don’t expect her to be. She has good instincts most of the time. But it still didn’t stop her from opening her door to a stranger and getting kidnapped. THREE There are two marked Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office vehicles parked in the yard, two white panel vans, and an unmarked Jeep when I arrive. One marked vehicle is Sheriff Gray’s; the other belongs to Deputy Copsey, who is standing at the front door of a twostory pre-Victorian home. The Chevy panel vans and the Jeep Cherokee are parked closer to the house. One van has a flower shop logo and belongs to my friend and forensic consultant, Mindy Newsom.

The other van is Jerry Larsen’s; Jerry is our coroner. The back doors of the coroner’s van are swung wide open. The Jeep belongs to the crime scene unit. I don’t remember coming to this particular part of town before. But this is in Port Townsend, my town, not two miles from my place. The house is nice, in a nice area, with a good view of the bay and the forest behind, but it’s a step down from the last place I saw Monique. I’m unsure if we were friends or what. What I know is that we were bound together by murder. Her daughter, Leanne Delmont, was sixteen when, along with my mother, she became one of my biological dad’s victims. My bio-dad is, or was, Alex Rader, policeman by trade, serial killer by choice.

Leanne died helping my mom escape from that psychotic bastard. When I first met Monique, I pretended to be a reporter writing an article about how murder affects families. I lied to Monique about who I was and what I was doing, but she finally figured it out. When I really needed help, she was there for me. She helped me get into Portland State University even though I hadn’t graduated high school. She helped me with money and paid for a place to stay. I trusted her. But in truth I put her in danger by doing so. Now the danger has come back with a vengeance. She should be at home in Tacoma.

Why did she come here? My stomach sinks. This is my fault. I can feel it. Sheriff Gray sees me pull over and comes down the steps and across the yard. The look on his face is grave. This is going to be very bad. “Megan,” he says, putting his hand on my arm. I don’t like to be touched, but I allow it from him. He’s probably my best friend. He knows things about my past that no one else does.

Not everything, but most. “Did Ronnie give you the victim’s name?” He can’t know I have a connection with the victim. If it is her. But he knows something because he’s watching me closely for a reaction. I nod and wait for him to say more. “You don’t have to work this one,” he says. “I can assign it to another detective. In fact, I probably should. But I think you should see something in either case.” Sheriff Gray takes out his phone and pulls up a picture.

I brace myself, thinking there will be pictures of the body and it will be her. Stabbed or shot. Hanged or having died some other horrible death. But what he shows me is only a digital picture of a photograph. The image is not very good, so I know Tony has taken it. He still hasn’t embraced tech. But it’s good enough that I can see it’s a snapshot of me coming out of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and walking toward my car. The picture looks like it was taken recently. That’s a guess because I don’t have a wide variety of clothes. But I do recognize the look.

It isn’t anger. It’s pain. I was shot twice in the chest while wearing body armor. I’m still bruised and have some trouble breathing or moving at times. Right now is one of those movements. My breath catches in my throat. “What’s this about?” he asks. Good question. And I don’t have a clue. “How long has the victim been?…” “Larsen thinks maybe two days.

” “That would make it Saturday.” Tony puts the phone back in his pocket. “Hard to say for sure. The heat was cranked all the way up. It’s like a furnace in there.” I see the sweat stains under his arms and around his collar. He looks like he needs to sit with an ice pack. He’s waiting for an answer but I have the right to remain silent and I use it. “Megan?” The look he gives me brooks no argument. I don’t mean to, but I do the one thing that shows I’m about to lie.

I look away before I speak. “I really don’t have a clue, Tony.” His mouth sets in that way it does when he is struggling with something. “Sorry, Sheriff. I don’t know what’s going on.” This sounds sincere. And this is partially true. I recover enough to think before I speak, but before I can tell another lie, he takes a small plastic evidence baggie from his back pocket. He holds it out but I don’t take it. Inside is a laminated photo that I instantly recognize as my South Kitsap High School yearbook picture.

I was sixteen when it was taken. It is the same photo that was in the Port Orchard paper when I was on the run. The headline was about my murdered stepfather, my missing mother, my missing brother and myself. I was wanted by the police as a suspect. There is no name under the picture. No caption of any kind. Not even where the photo is from. I breathe easier, but I’m still on edge. “Look, Megan, I got here first and found this and the other picture in the bedroom. I took a photo of one and I bagged this one before anyone else got here.

No one has seen it but the two of us.” I avoid his eyes and deflect. “How did you get the run here?” He knows I’m stalling but he plays along. He can see that I’m upset. He knows me too well. “A neighbor walking her dog smelled something bad. She called the police and I was close. I got out of the car and I knew that smell.” I knew that smell too. I haven’t seen many rotted bodies but one is enough to lock the acrid odor in your memory.

“The front door was unlocked. I went in and found the body—and the pictures—and called for Crime Scene and Coroner. I called for Mindy Newsom too.” Mindy is a contract forensic scientist, and she’s been my friend since I arrived in Port Townsend. She had just graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in forensic science and was new to the Sheriff’s Department when I was new. Sheriff Gray even converted an old conference room into a lab for her. She was certified by the state as a criminalist and then the job became part time. Jefferson County didn’t seem to need her skills on a regular basis. She left, got married and had a baby. While she was on family leave she opened a flower shop downtown.

“Where were the pictures?” I ask. I hope it sounds like I don’t really care, but my voice is shaky. “Before I tell you anything else, you have to be honest with me.” “I will be. I mean, I am.” I’m lying. “Do you know Monique Delmont?” “How do you know it’s her? Did you find identification? Has someone identified her?” Tony is the sheriff but he was once an excellent detective. I’m sure if he says it’s Monique, it’s her. The pictures speak for themselves. I know they connect me to her.

“Megan? Do you know her or not?” I look him in the eye and tell part of the truth. “I know a woman named Monique Delmont from over in the Seattle-Tacoma area. I met her a few times while I was in college. I was friends with a girl that was friends with her daughter.” My story is complete bullshit because her daughter had been dead for many years before I tried to find out who killed her. That was how and why I met Monique. “I don’t know if this is the same person, but if it is, I have no idea why she would have a picture of me coming from the office.” I don’t say anything about the laminated one. I don’t have to. “I could maybe identify her, but it’s been a while.

” “You won’t be able to identify what’s in there,” he says, and hooks a thumb over his shoulder. “Crime scene has her purse and her driver’s license. The address on the license is in Tacoma. Just like you said. Now tell me. Do you know this woman? Don’t try me, Megan.” I don’t speak. Tony lets out a sigh and hands the evidence bag with my high school photo to me. I take it this time. “The photo I showed you on my phone has been collected by Crime Scene.

” He starts to say something else and then stops. I let out a breath. He doesn’t say it but I know what he’s thinking. He’s going to say if the picture has any bearing on the case, he wants me to do the right thing with it. I plan to do the right thing. I’ll burn the damn picture first chance I get. I look around and there are no other houses close to this one. “You said the woman who found the body is a neighbor?” “She is,” he says. “She said she hasn’t seen anyone strange in the neighborhood. She didn’t see anyone come or go.

She said the woman, Monique Delmont, moved into the neighborhood about two weeks ago. Alone. They had tea together a few times but not at this house. She said she’d never been inside except when it was owned by the Donaldsons. They moved to Florida and rented the house out. I don’t have their information yet.” “I can get it easy enough,” I say. “Do you have the neighbor’s address?” Tony takes out a slip of paper but doesn’t give it to me right away. “This is her name and address. You sure you want it?” “I’ll take it,” I say with my mouth, but my heart wonders what I’ve just done.

“Do you want someone to work this with you?” Tony asks, and hands me the note. I shake my head and then think better of it. I’m a loner. It seems the best way to do things because I don’t trust anyone. But Ronnie has softened me a little. Not that we are best friends or anything. But I can stand her being around. Sometimes. When she’s not yapping her stream-of-consciousness crap and won’t shut up. She’s good with the Internet.

Better than I am. And she can keep a secret. The last case we worked together cost her a broken wrist, stitches in her face, bruised ribs and black eyes. The creep came to her house while we were viewing a security camera recording. He shot me point-blank and kidnapped her. He thought he’d killed me. It was his mistake. I assassinated him for it. I’m pretty sure she saw the whole thing, but if she did, she didn’t tell anyone. She claimed to be unconscious.

The look she gives me sometimes says something different. “Ronnie’s on light duty,” I say, “but I can use her help on the computer if it’s okay?” Of course, he agrees.

.

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