Date Published: November 2020
Walker and Munoz return to the scene of their first investigation. But this time it’s a cold case, and many of today’s modern investigative tools won’t help them solve it.
As they make some painstakingly slow progress, additional challenges stymie their efforts. And then a new present-day crime, precipitated by the revelations surrounding the cold case, force them to shift their focus entirely.
When the investigation begins to stall again, they get new information and evidence from two unlikely sources. But can they use it … or trust it … and will it be enough.
Detective Dave Munoz had the day off.
And then he didn’t.
He pulled his car over and parked next to the front gate of Monument House, a huge structure that closely resembled the “painted ladies” that populated Newport, Rhode Island, a little more than twenty-five miles to the south.
There were six of these Victorian mansions on the block, all of which had monstrous iron gates at the front entrance – originally constructed with the intent of keeping the riffraff out. The street on which these “painted ladies” wannabes were situated had been aptly named Abbott Boulevard. “Abbott” after the builder’s last name and “Boulevard” – as opposed to the more mundane street, road, or drive – to conjure up a sense of grandeur.
The architect of the project, Augustus Abbott, had even arranged for some mature trees to be planted, anticipating that the overhanging cathedral-like look of the thoroughfare would complete the effect.
And while Abbott had boasted that the six mansions were just the beginning, whatever further grand expansion he had envisioned was curtailed by the stock market crash of 1929. Abbott was fortunate that he had already sold the six behemoths that had been constructed. Building any more would have been foolhardy. With a depression on the horizon, who would buy them? Even the most patient long-term investor could see that Stanfield, Massachusetts would never develop the cachet of Newport, Rhode Island.
Fortunately for Abbott, five of the mansions were paid for upfront; the sixth went into foreclosure less than a year after the crash. Abbott and his family moved into that one, and his descendants still resided there. The Abbott mansion sat next to what was now called Monument House. In truth, Monument House was actually more regal than all the others. Abbott’s plan had been to build an even more spectacular home for himself and his family during the next phase of construction. But that phase never materialized, so he had to settle for the foreclosed-upon house next door.
Dave Munoz knew hardly anything about the block’s history. What he did know was limited to how the mansion in front of him had come to be called Monument House. Less than a year ago, the owner – the original owner’s daughter – had passed away at the age of 90. With no close relatives, or at least none that she cared about, she “bequeathed” – that was the actual word she insisted be written in her will – her homestead to the Monument Foundation.
The Monument Foundation was a charitable organization that primarily gave aid and assistance to special needs adults, especially those who had no family caregivers, and who were unable or unwilling to live independently. The foundation decided that the newly willed mansion would make an ideal group home. It had eight bedrooms, a large dining room, and even a library. While the front foyer and the marble staircase were a bit much, everything else about the mansion seemed more than suitable. It sat on three-quarters of an acre of land and had a wrought iron fence that surrounded the property, as well as a huge front gate. It was private and secure.
The ink on the deed to transfer the property wasn’t even dry before NIMBY – Not in My Backyard – reared its ugly head. Evidently, it’s a lot easier to be socially “woke” when it’s not in your backyard, or more precisely in this case – next door. A couple of the neighbors led by Mrs. Abbott, who literally did live next door, attempted to get restraining orders; they challenged zoning laws; they even tried negating the will, citing the mental incompetence of the “bequeather.”
None of it worked, and six months ago Monument House was born.
Shortly after the first residents moved in, there were a couple of instances of vandalism – mainly graffiti on the Monument House sign on the front gate. Detective Munoz was sent out to investigate. That’s when he met Jenny Squires, the newly hired director of Monument House.
Although Munoz quickly determined that the vandalism was most likely kids, and didn’t pose any real threat, he said he’d check in periodically to make sure everything was all right. True to his word, he did visit at least once a week, and then twice a week, and then more often, sometimes even on his day off. If he hadn’t been a police officer, his frequent visits to Monument House would definitely have qualified as stalking.
Munoz wasn’t what you’d call shy, but he was way out of practice with anything resembling dating. He had been engaged shortly before he transferred to Stanfield from Boston. The transfer was to some degree precipitated by the engagement. More to the point – his fiancée had concerns that her future husband being a cop in Boston might lead to early widowhood.
After a few months in Stanfield both Dave and his bride-to-be realized it probably wasn’t about where he was a cop; maybe it wasn’t even about being a cop. They separated after a little over a year. Dave had changed jobs to please her, but even after it was over, he didn’t really resent her for it. He was able to throw himself into his work and came to like Stanfield even more than Boston.
Stanfield hadn’t been without its challenges, however. During his first four years on the job, he’d been involved in three high profile investigations, even partnering with a retired FBI agent to solve the crimes. The last several years had been much quieter, and he found his professional life very rewarding. His personal life was another matter.
He had dated a few times right after the separation, but quickly realized that he wasn’t ready. He started up again a few years after that, but nothing serious came of it. Stanfield wasn’t exactly Boston, or even Providence for that matter. The Stanfield dating scene was basically nonexistent, especially for a police detective. There weren’t too many pickup lines that came trippingly off the tongue when you were investigating a possible crime – “You believe someone broke into your apartment ma’am? Is there anything missing? Cash, jewelry, your boyfriend?” Or while investigating a fender bender where one of the parties left the scene of the accident – “Would you like to go out sometime? – After your arraignment, of course.”
Although Dave drank moderately, the bar scene, however limited, held no interest for him either. And online dating was a nonstarter. He had resigned himself to a probable life of bachelorhood
And then Jenny arrived.
A month or so into their non-courtship, Jenny decided that she needed to take charge of the situation to move things forward, but Dave surprised her. “It’s been a while for me, and obviously I’m not showing up here just to make sure everything is okay.” Jenny half smiled, as Dave continued. “So, I was wondering …” He paused. “You know what I’m going to say, right? … You could make this a little easier you know.”
Jenny’s smile broadened. “Where would be the fun in that?”
Dave smiled back. “Fair point. Anyway, would you like to have dinner sometime?”
Jenny hesitated, and then, “I’d like that.”
“I should quit while I’m ahead, but why did you hesitate?”
“I was considering doing my best Scarlett O’Hara – ‘I do declare’… speech, but it seemed a little forced, despite my Atlanta roots.”
“I didn’t know you were from Atlanta. You don’t have an accent.”
Jenny shrugged her shoulders. “For some reason I never really had much of one, and then after four years at Boston College, I think any remnants pretty much disappeared.”
Dave nodded. “So, how about we continue this discussion tomorrow night over dinner?”
“Sounds good, but it’ll have to be an early one. I have to be back here by eight. Tomorrow night’s one of my nights to sleep here. We take turns, but at least one of the staff has to be here 24/7.”
“That’s okay. How about I pick you up here at 5:30?”
“It’s a date.” She smiled. “Actually, it is, isn’t it?”
That conversation occurred two months ago. They’d seen each other at least twice a week ever since. Today they had planned to go bike riding and then to a pitch and putt course about five miles away. It felt like something a couple of teenagers might do, but for the last few months Dave had felt more like a teenager than a 38-year-old.
He was just about to get out of his car and go to the intercom mounted next to the gate when his phone buzzed. He glanced at the screen, swiped the green icon, and put the phone to his ear. “Hi, Chief. What’s up?”
“Sorry to bother you on your day off, Dave. We’ve got a situation at the Stateline Mall, actually at the parking garage. One of the workers unearthed what he thinks is a human bone. I’ve sent a couple of uniforms over to secure the scene. It might be nothing, but I need you to go take a look. See what’s what. Keep me posted, okay?”
“Right, I’ll head over there now.”
Dave ended the call, paused for a moment, and then tapped in Jenny’s number. She answered on the second ring. “Hey, you. Are you on your way? I was just about to go get the bikes and bring them around front.”
“Actually, that’s where I am. But I just got a call from Chief Atkins. Something’s going on at the mall. He wants me to check it out.”
“What is it? It’s not a shooting, is it?”
In the split second before he spoke, Dave’s brain registered how much he hated this new reality – that when he mentioned a situation at the mall, the idea of a shooting was the first thing that came into Jenny’s mind.
He raised his voice more than he intended. “No, no, nothing like that.” And then more calmly – “It’s just that one of the construction workers found … something.” He paused, not wanting to mention the possibility of it being a human bone and re-triggering her anxiety. “Anyway, I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go take care of this.” Keeping his voice calm, he added, “Pitch and putt is going to have to wait.”
Jenny seemed reassured, as her voice lost its edge. “Tell me this isn’t some grand scheme to weasel out of this? You know that you were going to lose, right?”
“The bike race to the pitch and putt course, or the actual golf game?”
“We’ll see; that is if you don’t chicken out again.” She paused. “Give me a call later, okay?”
On the drive over to the Stateline Mall, Dave’s mind traveled back eight years. He had only been on the job in Stanfield for a little over a year when he caught the first of the three high-profile cases he had investigated. It was ironic, he thought, the Stateline Mall was part of that first investigation too.
He thought of how much his life had changed over the past eight years. And now with Jenny part of it, how much more it was likely to change. And then his mind shifted back to the mall, and the fact that it had undergone a number of transformations, as well. He wasn’t even sure what this latest one was – something to do with refurbishing the parking garage, maybe. He wondered if that was where the bone was found.
He was self-aware enough to know that he was doing it again – Speculating about something, rather than simply waiting the ten minutes to find out the answers for sure. He had always been like that, even before he became a cop. Did it help him in his job? He didn’t know. But it really didn’t matter. That’s who he was; that’s how he was hard-wired. That wasn’t going to change.
He forced his thoughts back to the discovery of the bone. Making an identification, even if there was a full skeleton, was going to be a challenge. But he was pretty sure the mall had only been there about fifteen years, so less of a challenge than if the remains were from before DNA databases were created. That was a plus at least.
As he pulled into the parking area that led to the garage, he had a flash-back to the scene eight years before, which had been in almost the same exact location. The memory faded away, as he saw the two uniformed officers guarding the site.
About the Author
Thomas Hall is a former English teacher and middle school and high school principal. Two of the schools where he was principal received national recognition for academic excellence. Following his retirement, Mr. Hall began two endeavours which he continues with today – playing senior softball and writing.
This is his sixth novel, and the fourth in his mystery/thriller series.
He and his wife Marcia live in central Massachusetts. They have three adult children and six grandchildren.
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