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All the little pieces, p.16
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       All the Little Pieces, p.16

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  And then there was the more immediate risk that a tactical decision to wait on a warrant presented: if Poole figured out he was a suspect before Bryan got a warrant, he could destroy whatever evidence might have existed in that house. So while Bryan sat outside with his dinner and binoculars watching Criminal Minds on Derrick Poole’s flat screen, the smart, calculating killer could be in his bathroom flushing incriminating pictures of his victims down the fucking toilet. And the worst part of that nightmare scenario was, Bryan would never know. He reached for the binoculars again as he pounded his chest to get that last bit of burger to go down. Just the thought that the case could already be compromised was giving him a serious case of agita.

  So he’d given himself a week. One week to find out all he possibly could about Derrick Alan Freeley Poole without him knowing anyone was asking. Or watching. He and Maldonado had re-interviewed witnesses on all four cases to see if there was any link between the victims and Poole. There was none. They’d shown Poole’s picture around at the Animal, but that hadn’t jarred any memories. No one could say for sure they recognized him, although the two bouncers who were working the night Angelina disappeared did say that they had seen a person matching Poole’s description with a ponytail hanging around the parking lot. Bryan had pulled cell records and looked at texts. Nothing stood out. The next step was contacting Poole’s mom in Arizona and visiting his grandma in the nursing home, but Bryan wasn’t expecting much from either of those interviews, either.

  It had been five days so far and he was beginning to think either he had it all wrong or Poole was playing him, because the guy did nothing. Maybe everyone and their brother had told him he looked like the person in the sketch and he couldn’t help but agree himself when he saw it, so he figured someone must have jabbered to the cops and he was gonna lay low. Or maybe the girl who had called in the tip – Gemma Jones – had told him she’d tipped off the police. Bryan and Maldonado had visited her at her apartment yesterday, only to hear her now claim ‘bad lighting’ in the office had made her think Derrick looked like that sketch, because he didn’t and she now knew that ‘he could never hurt a fly anyway’. Then she worried if he would ever find out she’d called in a tip. It wasn’t hard to read between the lines – Gemma Jones and Derrick Poole were dating. Or hooking up. Or whatever it was you call it when young people fool around.

  The investigation was at a standstill: surveillance wasn’t yielding anything of interest, possibly because it was already compromised, and the clock was ticking down on getting that warrant. Bryan popped open another Red Bull and settled in for one final long night of doing nothing. A week was too long; he had to move soon.

  It was frustrating. He knew Poole was his guy. He just knew it in his substantial gut.

  The frightening reality might be, though, that he would never be able to prove it.

  35

  Fucking Gemma.

  Derrick watched in his rearview as the car pulled out behind him. He knew they were following him. He’d first noticed them yesterday: black Taurus, dark windows, hanging two cars back, trying not to look obvious.

  He knew Gemma had yapped to the cops the day that sketch had come out in the paper: sitting there in her car smiling like the cat that ate the canary with the newspaper face-up on her lap, the picture of his face staring up at her. Then she’d seen him standing there, and that smug smile had crashed and burned. He’d asked her about it when he was fucking her in the bathroom at work two nights later, after everyone else had gone home.

  ‘Hey,’ he’d said. ‘You think that sketch they’re running in the news looks like me?’ He couldn’t see her face ’cause he was going at her from behind, but he’d felt even her tits tense up.

  ‘What sketch?’ she’d tried.

  ‘The one in the paper that’s sitting in your top desk drawer.’

  ‘I didn’t even know I’d left a paper in there. I must have stuck it there by accident. I never look in that drawer. I don’t even read the paper usually. What sketch?’

  Blah, blah, blah. The lying diarrhea poured out in stumbling sentences. It was a good thing he couldn’t see her face, because he wanted to stick his fist in her mouth so he didn’t have to listen any more. ‘Cops are looking for a murderer,’ he’d replied softly.

  ‘Oh,’ was all she managed.

  ‘And a rapist,’ he’d whispered in her ear as he came.

  That sketch was everywhere now. It was weird seeing his face on the news, like some cartoon comic book villain. He’d wondered and worried how many people besides Fucking Gemma might have recognized him and called the cops. There couldn’t be many. Most people didn’t notice when he walked into a room, and they didn’t remember when he left it. He kept to himself, never talked to the neighbors. He went to different grocery stores each week and never frequented the same restaurant or club twice. Debt Destroyers only had thirty employees and he was the entire accounting department. It wasn’t like it was for the guys on the floor, or in HR or Sales who had to schmooze with clients and employees alike. Paychecks were direct deposited; no one knew anyone in accounting.

  He was eating breakfast when he first saw the sketch in the morning paper. It made him throw up. For two seconds he’d thought about leaving town – chucking what he could into a suitcase, hopping on I95 and getting the hell out of Dodge. But that would make him look guilty. It was only a drawing; it wasn’t a photo. If they had his name, they’d be at his door, he reasoned, not asking for help from the audience. He’d decided to carry on as if everything was normal.

  By the time he got to work that morning without being taken down by a SWAT team, anxiety had turned to anger. He’d warned that mommy not to say anything. There were no other witnesses; it could only be her: Blondie. He could have cut her and her little kid into a thousand pieces and scattered them into the cane fields like Profe had wanted to do, but he hadn’t. He’d stupidly cut her a break. He’d been a nice guy.

  That was the last time that would ever happen.

  Fucking Gemma. She wouldn’t say shit about him to anyone ever again. But the damage had already been done – that’s why that Taurus was behind him.

  It was like they read his mind and knew the gig was up. Blue lights exploded in his rearview, followed by the whoop of a siren. He pulled over into a CVS parking lot, threw the Accord into park and reached for his wallet. His hands were shaking and that pissed him off.

  There was a tap on the glass. ‘Hands where I can see them please, sir.’

  He put his hands back on the steering wheel.

  ‘Lower the window, please.’

  ‘You said not to move my hands,’ he replied.

  ‘Step out of the car, please.’

  Derrick lowered the window and tried to explain. He held one hand up. ‘You said to show my hands, that’s all I was saying. What’s this about, officer? What did I do?’

  She was pretty, but plain. Spanish, he figured, like every other person in South Florida. Long dark hair pulled into a ponytail. She wore slacks and a fitted jacket. A gold badge hung from a chain around her neck.

  ‘You didn’t signal, sir, when you turned onto Jog,’ she answered, matter of factly.

  ‘Oh, OK. I guess I forgot. Look, I’m sorry. I just got out of work right down the block. Can I promise not to do it again?’ he tried with a smile. He pushed his glasses up on his nose.

  ‘I’m afraid not. License and registration.’

  He handed them over.

  ‘Please step out of the car, Mr Poole,’ she said without even looking at the license.

  ‘Sure.’ His legs began to shake, too. He opened the car door and stepped out. ‘What’s this about? Is this really about my blinker?’

  ‘Why are your legs shaking, Mr Poole? Are you nervous?’ she asked, almost tauntingly.

  He dropped the smile and stared at her. He could feel his blood pressure rising. I’ll make you shake, bitch was what he wanted to say. He could feel his tongue trembling and he clenched his teeth together. H
e heard the crunch of footsteps approaching.

  ‘Hi, Derrick,’ said a heavyset man in dress slacks and a jacket as he walked up. A gold badge hung from his fat neck, too. ‘I’m Detective Bryan Nill with the Sheriff’s Office. You’ve already met Detective Maldonado here.’

  ‘What’s all this about?’ Derrick finally demanded, his eyes still locked on the female detective whose neck he now wanted to snap.

  ‘Well, sir, you did commit a moving violation; that’s why we pulled you over,’ Nill replied. ‘And you are driving on a suspended license, which is an arrestable offense, so you’ve got some problems, son.’

  ‘My license is not suspended.’

  ‘I assure you it is.’

  The female detective had broken from his stare, so he turned to the fat detective. ‘But that’s not why you pulled me over.’

  ‘I want to talk to you about an investigation that Detective Maldonado and I are conducting. It’s probably a misunderstanding, but we thought you could help us clear it up.’

  ‘Wow. What kind of investigation?’

  ‘A murder investigation.’

  ‘A murder?’ he exclaimed. ‘Whoa! What?’

  ‘You look an awful lot like a person who was last seen with a young lady before she turned up dead,’ Detective Maldonado said.

  He couldn’t look at her again. The way she spoke, in that teasing, know-it-all way, was like listening to nails scratch a chalkboard. The fat detective pulled out the sketch that had made him throw up in his kitchen sink.

  ‘Looking like a bad guy and being a bad guy are two different things altogether, Derrick,’ Detective Nill said easily. ‘And I recognize that. I got a lot of guys who look like this sketch, tell you the truth. I gotta ask them all the same thing. Can you tell us where you were and who you were with on the nights of October seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth?’

  ‘The seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth of October?’ Derrick repeated.

  The female shone a flashlight into the back seat of his car and took a nosy peek in the window, her hand cupped around her eyes. ‘That was a Friday night, a Saturday and a Sunday,’ she piped in. ‘It was only a few weeks ago, so it shouldn’t be that hard, Mr Poole.’

  ‘If we can verify that information, then we can be on our way and you can be on yours,’ said Detective Nill. ‘We’ll be sorry for wasting your time.’

  Derrick tried a smile again. ‘Are you kidding me? I can’t remember what I had for breakfast today.’

  ‘Oh, I bet you could if you tried real hard,’ replied Nill.

  ‘Maybe you can tell me, Detective.’

  The fat one stared back. He looked a little stunned.

  ‘I’ve seen you, you know.’ Derrick knew there was nothing he could say that was going to get them to leave him alone. He also knew they didn’t have shit on him or he’d be in cuffs right now. Maybe they were hunting down every slob who looked like that sketch. Maybe they weren’t. It sure as hell felt like all eyes were on him and only him, and he wasn’t going to give them any nails to put in his coffin. ‘I’d like a lawyer,’ he added before either detective found their voice again.

  Fatty raised an eyebrow. ‘Whoa, Derrick. What do you need a lawyer for? We just want to ask you a few questions. Same thing I gotta ask the other fellas. All you gotta do is tell me where you were and who you were with. Once I clear you, you won’t see me no more.’

  Derrick shook his head. ‘I want a lawyer. Now you can take me in, you can write me a ticket, or you can let me go, but unless you want to talk about the weather or how the Dolphins are doing this season, I’m gonna exercise my right to remain silent, lest anything be misconstrued against me. Sorry.’

  He didn’t think they’d let him leave and he was right, so he wasn’t surprised when they cuffed him and called in the cavalry. Five minutes later a half-dozen cop cars showed up. He stared out the window of the back seat of the cruiser that was going to transport him to jail, knowing that his every breath was being recorded. He watched as the cops towed his car, so they could search it later with the warrant they were sure to get.

  And he thought to himself that when all this was over, after he had bonded out of jail on a bullshit driving with a suspended license charge, after he had had a chance to calm down and think things through, he was gonna have to pay Blondie a little visit.

  Maybe next time she’ll listen to a killer when he tells her to shut the fuck up.

  36

  ‘Anything on the car?’ Bryan asked, popping a piece of Nicorette into his mouth as he headed up the stairs that led to Poole’s master bedroom. After Audrey left him he’d started smoking again and he’d still managed to gain seventy pounds. Then his internist had told him two of his arteries were clogged and his blood pressure could not be controlled without a pill: he had to quit smoking. And eating. He’d gained another thirty since putting down the smokes and he still couldn’t breathe. He pulled the phone away from his mouth so Tatiana couldn’t hear him sucking wind.

  ‘We found fibers,’ Tatiana replied. She was at the PBSO crime lab with Poole’s Honda Accord. ‘In the trunk. Also on the passenger-side floorboard and into the seat cushion.’

  ‘How many?’

  ‘Nine in the trunk, and another dozen in and around the front seat. Red and black. Maybe they’ll match Santri’s jacket. That would place her in his car.’

  ‘Santri’s jacket wasn’t ripped. But we never found her panties or her jeans.’

  ‘Her bra?’ she tried.

  ‘It was leopard print. T-shirt was white.’

  ‘What about that piece of fabric Crime Scene found out in the lot in Pahokee?’ she asked.

  Now that was interesting. Crime Scene had done a sweep of the area where Faith Saunders had claimed she saw Santri and Poole, including the wooded lot across the street. Because almost three weeks had passed since the encounter, there was no way of knowing what was evidence and what was a beer can that had been sitting there for years. So they’d seized everything – including a torn, not-so weathered piece of plaid fabric that was found in the wooded lot near a felled tree.

  ‘That’s a thought, Maldonado. Let’s see if we can match those fibers you found to that fabric. If it looks good, we’ll send it out to FDLE to see if they can pull DNA. It was out there in the elements for a while, not sure what we’ll get.’

  ‘Tell me you found a torn plaid shirt in Poole’s closet,’ said Tatiana. ‘That would be a trifecta: fibers in trunk to fabric in woods to shirt in suspect’s closet.’

  ‘The trifecta would actually be fibers under victim’s fingernails to fabric in woods to ripped shirt splashed with victim’s blood hanging in Poole’s closet. But that’s not happening on either end. There’s nothing here, Maldonado,’ Bryan said with a sigh, looking around Poole’s neat, minimalist-styled bedroom. Framed movie posters decorated white walls, like they did downstairs – the guy was obviously a movie buff. TV show and movie memorabilia from The Walking Dead, The Office, The Godfather, Criminal Minds filled free-standing shelves. Everything was in its original packaging and arranged as if on a store shelf. The closet, too, looked like it was staged: ironed clothes – all arranged by color – spit-shined shoes. The top shelf was a little more cluttered. There was an assortment of sports equipment and memorabilia: tennis rackets, golf cleats, baseball gloves, a football, pads, hats, lacrosse stick, soccer ball. Even ice skates and roller blades. Looking at him, you wouldn’t take the guy for an athlete. No way. Not only because he was an accountant. He was tall and lanky, almost scrawny on the upper chest area, and with those glasses and boring, practical car, you wouldn’t think there was enough testosterone running through those veins to fuel an interest in playing every sport imaginable. Plus, Bryan had watched him do nothing but play video games for the last five days. He fingered the equipment. Most of it looked like it had never been used. There was a separate section in the closet for signed jerseys – hockey, football and basketball – that were preserved in plastic. Boy, the shrinks wou
ld have a field day with this guy.

  ‘Are you done over there?’ she asked.

  ‘Not yet; they’re packing up downstairs. If he ever had anything here, Maldonado, he got rid of it as soon as he knew we were on him.’

  ‘Did he bond out yet?’

  The DWLS charge was only a misdemeanor. It let them cart Poole off to jail, but it definitely wouldn’t keep him there for long. ‘I’m sure by now. Nobody was here when we got here with the warrant. I had the place secured by uniforms before we even took him down at CVS, in case he called someone to move shit while he was locked up. No one’s shown up. Probably waiting on us to finish up here, ’cause he knows we ain’t gonna find anything anyway, Maldonado.’

  ‘Stop beating yourself up. Surveillance was the smart decision,’ she said.

  ‘Thanks. The fibers are something, at least. I’ll take anything at this point to put her in that damn car. That would be nice.’

  ‘What about three strands of her hair?’ Tatiana offered.

  ‘You’re shitting me.’

  ‘In the trunk. And no, I would never do that.’

  ‘You have Santri’s hair in Poole’s trunk?’ He caught himself smiling for the first time today.

 
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