A Cold Day in Hell – Lissa Marie Redmond

“Y 1 ou got a man here to see you, Lauren.” Detective Lauren Riley put her coffee cup down on top of a mound of paperwork that was inching its way toward the ceiling. It swayed there perilously for a second as she juggled the receiver, then settled. “Did he ask for me? By name, specifically?” Linda, the round little secretary who manned the front desk, handled the walk-ins, but she never called upstairs unless she absolutely had to. “Yes, you. By name.” “Who is it?” She could hear Linda covering the mouth piece with her hand, and then, “He says if I tell you who he is, you won’t see him.” Lauren frowned into the phone. “That’s odd. Hold on. I’m coming down.” She grabbed her stained World’s Greatest Grandpa coffee mug off its perch before it fell and got up from her desk. She had stolen it from her partner, Reese, who had taken it from Eddie Finestein when he retired. Lauren always made sure to leave a ring of lipstick on it so Reese wouldn’t steal it back. She knew he was too lazy to wash it.

She walked past the old Homicide files that lined the room, some in boxes pushed against the wall, others in crumbling manila folders written on in fading ink. Stuffed into three rooms on the second floor of Buffalo, New York, police headquarters was thirty years’ worth of unsolved murders in disintegrating files. Ridiculous, she thought as she maneuvered through the clutter. These should all be digitized. Other, more modern, departments had been scanning them into computers for years. They had cross-referencing databases, geographic computer software programs, and unlimited travel expenses. In her office, they had duct tape holding the chairs together, mounds of decomposing paper, and computers that were new when Lauren Riley first came on the job sixteen years ago. “What’s up?” Shane Reese asked from across the room where he was running a suspect’s record. He had a red Buffalo Bison’s baseball cap turned backwards over his short dark hair. Very unprofessional, but he claimed the hat helped him to think.

Lauren knew he was just a baseball fanatic and that the thinking part was questionable. “I don’t know. Some guy downstairs won’t give his name and wants to talk to me.” “You specifically?” They’d become so in tune as partners that they even asked the same questions. “That’s what Linda said.” She absently tucked a strand of blond hair that had come loose from her ponytail behind her ear. Walking by him, she looked at the dry erase board where they recorded appointments. High tech it was not, but it allowed everyone in the office to know who was coming or going and when. There was nothing scribbled on the calendar. Monday, June 26th: a total blank.

“You could come down and investigate this with me, you know?” He smirked as he turned back to his computer. “Good luck with that. I’d love to help you, but I’m overwhelmed right now.” “You’re waiting for a pizza,” she pointed out. “A man has got to eat. You should try it sometime, slim.” “And get that nice middle-age belly you already have?” She poked him in the gut as she walked by. “No thanks. Are you going to help me solve this mystery or not?” He shrugged. “I need my pizza.

You’re a big girl. Do your own homework. I’ll save you a slice.” “Thanks a bunch, partner,” she called as she walked past the hand-lettered COLD CASE sign adorning the door to their overstuffed office. “Anytime,” he assured her, typing away. She mulled over who would come to headquarters but wouldn’t want to give his name. An old witness who crapped out? A snitch? Someone ready to confess to an old homicide? That would make her day. It was rare, but it happened. The part that really mystified her was why it was her, in particular. There were only four detectives in the Cold Case Homicide office.

Reggie Major and Stanley Polanski worked opposite of Riley and Reese, so there were always two detectives on duty. They all had their own cases that they were working on, their own witnesses and snitches. There were more than enough old homicides to go around. There was no good reason for anyone not to identify themselves. As soon as she passed through the door to the main lobby, everything became abundantly clear. The door hadn’t even closed behind her and she was already reaching for the handle to go back upstairs. Frank Violanti was standing there, briefcase in hand, like the evil little troll Lauren regarded him as. “Wait! Lauren, five minutes,” he called. “All I need is five minutes of your time.” She paused, door still open.

“Why don’t you just pull my gun out of my holster and shoot me in the face? It would be quicker and less painful.” “Lauren, I know we’ve had our moments across from each other on the stand, but that’s really pretty dramatic. Even for you.” She turned to face him, but they weren’t really face to face, since she had a good two inches on him. “You called me a liar with a badge in your last summation.” “I was trying to save my client’s life.” She let the door fall shut. “You called me a sloppy cop and said you wouldn’t trust me to make you breakfast, let alone handle a homicide.” He was backing away from her now, hands up. “Courtroom banter.

It’s not personal.” She thrust a finger out and poked him in the chest. “You said I tried to seduce your client to get him to confess.” “That was his perspective on the meeting … ” “You got a lot of balls to come here, to my office, and ask for five minutes of my time, Mr. Violanti.” “Just hear me out, Lauren.” “That’s Detective Riley. And I don’t have time for you.” She swiped her ID card and the door clicked open. “And by the way, I don’t care how much hair gel you use to spike it up, you’re still not five foot six.

” Frank Violanti found himself standing in the lobby of police headquarters with the secretary frowning at him from behind her glass-encased counter. Riley had shot him down, but he hadn’t come this far as a defense attorney by taking no for an answer. A 2 t the age of thirty-eight, Lauren Riley was a twice-divorced mother of two collegeaged daughters, working cold case homicides. Raising the girls alone had been hard, but somehow she had managed. Pregnant at eighteen, again at nineteen, and divorced by twenty, her daughters never knew their dad. Ron Riley told her he was going to Florida to work construction when she was six months pregnant with Erin. Said he’d send his first paycheck to cover her travel expenses. Lauren never heard from him again, except to sign the divorce papers. Two years later she got a call from his sister saying he died in a motorcycle accident. No great loss in the long run, but at the time she had struggled.

Struggled hard. The look on her mom’s face when she moved back home steeled her resolve that she would never again depend on a man for anything. That resolve had been eroded and tested over the years. She made more mistakes. But she had also learned from them, right? Now she was single, both her girls were out of state in college, and she was getting restless. She missed having to rush home and help Erin with her science project or take Lindsey to soccer practice. Her life consisted of the job. She suspected finding a good man was highly unlikely. She loved losers. Every single man she’d ever dated was damaged.

Not that Lauren didn’t look good. She wasn’t beautiful, not in the classic sense. She had natural blond hair that had not darkened with age, the pale skin that came with northeast winters, and only a few lines around her sharp blue eyes. Except for the tiny scar on her forehead where she had been hit with a fishing pole on a call when she first came out on patrol, she had remained pretty much unscathed on the job. Her attractiveness came more from the way she carried herself. A quiet confidence that stemmed from shyness as a child and evolved into a cool aloofness that intrigued men as an adult. She’d been blessed with a slim build, verging on skinny at times. She just never ate much. Her mother was the same way, existing on tea and toast down in Florida. The pool of eligible men was shallow at her age; everyone came with baggage.

In her mind, she repelled good men. Her track record proved that. She figured she was better off waiting for her daughters, now eighteen and nineteen, to meet their own Mr. Rights and do the whole grandma thing. Maybe adopt that golden retriever puppy she never had time for. Retire, dog walk, baby-sit. A nice reward after all the difficult years. And never run into slimy Violanti again, she mentally added as she walked back to her office. T h a t w a s h e r pla n. But in Lauren Riley ’s life , e v e ry o n e els e h a d pla n s t o o.

“G 3 et off my car, Violanti.” He was leaning up against her Taurus, his expensive suit making him look like a little boy who’d raided his dad’s closet. Short, impossibly young-looking, Frank Violanti was a forty-one-year-old cocky Italian who’d made it big as a defense attorney despite the handicap of his height and youthful looks. Since he had already tried and failed with eye-to-eye, he was obviously giving a shot at toe-to-toe. He peeled himself off her car and stood in front of her. “I was just admiring the lovely, economical blue Ford you drive. I would’ve pegged you for a nice, chic foreign job.” She tried to maneuver around him. “Wrong again, Counselor. My dad was an autoworker.

Now go away.” When he continued to block her door, she considered throwing a shoulder into him and forcibly pushing him off to the side. He must have seen the storm brewing in her face and stepped back. “Come on. Just listen,” he pleaded with her. “Do you really think I wanted to come here and be abused by you? Do you think I would be here if I didn’t have to be?” Lauren clicked the unlock button on her key fob and threw her duffle bag into the backseat, then slammed the door for effect. “Okay. I’ll bite. Why are you bothering me?” “I want to hire you as a private investigator.” “You cannot be serious.

” His demeanor immediately flipped to grave, as if he knew this was his one and only chance to convince her. “As a heart attack.” Her eyes narrowed. “Why me?” “Do you really need me to say it?” All around them cars were backing out of spots and pulling out of the lot, engulfing them in exhaust fumes. The oppressive summer heat made it worse. Buffalo was in the midst of an unprecedented heat wave. Apparently, hell had done the opposite of freezing over. She crossed her arms against her chest. “Yes, because for the life of me, I would think you’d rather stick pins in your eyes than have to deal with me on a professional level.” “Nicely put, but the fact is we’ve had three hard-fought trials together.

” “And you lost every one,” she pointed out with some satisfaction. “Exactly. Because you’re good at what you do, and more importantly, juries trust you. When you get on that stand and say why you think someone is guilty, they believe you, no matter how many holes I punch in the case.” “They believed me because your clients were guilty.” “Maybe,” he conceded for her benefit. “But I just got retained to represent a young man and I’m convinced he’s not guilty. And I think you will be too. I just want you to meet with the kid. That’s all.

I think once you meet him, you’ll want to take his case.” “What’s he charged with?” “Murder second.” “I can’t investigate a case for the defense in a murder. I work in the Homicide squad, stupid.” “She was murdered in Garden Valley, not Buffalo. Not your jurisdiction. I know you have your private investigator’s license. I would hire you under that.” His face tightened up. “Come on, Lauren, there’s a lot of pressure for the county attorneys to nail this kid.

You don’t think I know I’m sticking my neck out by even asking you for this? I’m not asking as a friend. I’m asking in the interest of justice, because I think this kid is being railroaded and the real killer is still out there.” She was disturbed by the genuine display of emotion he was putting on. It threatened the delicate balance of hate and disgust they had for each other. “Way to play to my soft spot.” “I have to use what I can.” Knowing he was making progress, even a little, he grinned his little-boy smile at her. Lauren drank him in with the eye of a seasoned bullshit detector. She wasn’t buying it. He had to have an angle.

Violanti always did. “Who’s the victim?” “Katherine Vine.” “Whoa, now I get it. Her murder was all over the radio this morning when I was driving in. She was found strangled behind a toy store.” She held up her hands as if to ward off the bad mojo. “You fell into a media shit storm and want me to join you. No way. I wouldn’t touch that case with a ten-foot pole, even if you weren’t the kid’s defense attorney.” She opened the driver’s side door to her car and started to get in when Violanti grabbed onto the handle.

“Please. Lauren, I’m begging you. Just talk to David. If you think he did it, walk right to the prosecution. Go right to the Garden Valley detective, Joe Wheeler, with everything he says.” She paused. “It’s Joe Wheeler’s case?” Violanti’s swagger seemed to fail him a little. “He made the arrest this morning.” She mulled that over in her head for a second. “Joe Wheeler is an even bigger scumbag than you are.

And you can get disbarred for saying things like that to me.” “That’s how strongly I believe in David. I’m willing to risk it. He’s just a kid, Lauren. Eighteen years old. Just talk to him.” She studied the look on his face for a moment. Sincerity. That was something new. “Why do you care so much about this kid?” “Because he’s my godson.

” T 4 he county holding center was conveniently located across the street from Buffalo Police Headquarters and kitty corner from the county court building. The two made their way from the parking lot to the corner, where they dutifully waited for the light to change. Violanti had to take two steps for every one of Lauren’s long strides. The pair turned a couple heads of county court workers. Their rivalry was well-known around the local law enforcement community. One court officer stopped and watched them curiously as they crossed the street together. Lauren looked straight ahead, ignoring the gawkers, as she climbed the stairs to the holding center. Maybe they think he finally pushed me too far, Lauren thought as they entered the double doors, and I’m locking him up. More curious glances followed them into the jail. Violanti signed them in while Lauren stowed her gun in the lockers that were kept for visiting law enforcement.

Instead of signing her name in the police book, he had written her name in the attorney’s book. The deputy on duty took it from Violanti and looked up at Lauren, arching an eyebrow. “Defense counsel?” “For now.” She signed the book and got her visitor’s pass. The deputy put the book back on the shelf behind him and typed something into his ancient computer. “I’ll call him down. Room 5.” Violanti led the way through the metal detectors toward the holding area. The fat, old deputy who kept watch at the lockup entrance wanded them both in silence. He had been the keeper of the gate since Lauren was a rookie cop.

The same round man, the same stained uniform, the same facial expression. The heavy metal door behind him was rigged to close slowly. No loud slam like in the prison movies, but a soft, sure snap. It was less dramatic, but the message was just the same: you only get out when he let you out. They passed through that portal, only to wait for another heavy door to pop open and take them into the hallway that led to the lawyers’ visiting rooms. It was a complex labyrinth by design. Lauren always felt so suffocated in the holding center, breathing in the recycled air that smelled like cheap industrial disinfectant. Room 5 was all the way at the end. The small six-by-six room had two doors opposite each other, a table bolted to the floor, and one chair on each side that seemed to grow out of the floor like metal mushrooms. Someone had placed a white plastic lawn chair in the room, probably when the deputies realized that there would be three people instead of two at the interview.

Lauren took the metal mushroom and Violanti sank down in the heavy plastic. It made a strained creak, like there might be a crack somewhere. He tried to shift his weight without splitting the chair in half. Turning toward Lauren, who was trying to ignore his presence entirely, he asked, “Are you surprised I have a godson?” She absently twirled her pen between her fingers. “I’d be more surprised if someone actually spawned with you.” “My wife and I are trying.” He moved to the left a little, felt the chair wobble, and repositioned. “How cute. Your kids will be so small you’ll be able to carry them around in your pocket.” “Be nice.

” “Believe me, I’m trying.” She stared straight ahead at the door leading from the interior of the holding center, from where their prisoner would emerge shortly. “Let’s just get through the next half hour.” “Agreed.” Lauren was surprised when the kid walked in. She somehow expected him to be short and dark like Frank Violanti. David Spencer was anything but. A clean-cut, good-looking kid with a shock of brown hair that fell over his eyes, he looked desperately out of place in the dirty room. David wasn’t handcuffed, but he was dressed in the usual orange jumpsuit that they outfitted all the prisoners in. Even though he was tall and had an athletic build, his jumpsuit made him look sallow and small somehow.

He sat down across from Lauren on his own mushroom and smiled. He had a sweetness and vulnerability about him that Lauren picked up on right away. “How’re you holding up, David?” Violanti asked. “I have to get out of here. Can’t you get me bail or something?” Despite being edged in fear, his voice was surprisingly deep and adult. “You’re being arraigned tomorrow morning; I’ll have to wait to make my motion for bail then.” “I have to spend the night here?” Panic rose in his voice. Lauren noticed how he was furiously picking at the skin around his thumb nail. Enough to draw a bead of blood. “You might have to spend a lot of nights here, kid.

If anyone mistreats you—a guard, a prisoner—call me right away.” “They have me all by myself.” “That’s typical for someone like you.” His eyebrows knit together. “Someone like me?” “A white kid from the suburbs charged with a particularly media-worthy crime. They don’t want you to get molested before the trial.” He put his hand to his forehead and took a deep breath. “Thanks, Uncle Frank.” “Just keeping it real.” Lauren coughed in her best let’s get on with it way.

Violanti focused. “David, this is the detective I told you about. I want you to answer all her questions truthfully, do you understand? Don’t embellish or leave anything out. You have to be completely honest or she can’t help you.” He nodded. “Okay.” Lauren waited a second for that to sink in before she started. He was staring at her intently, his eyes almost pleading with hers for something to make this nightmare go away. “I’m Lauren Riley. I work for the city homicide squad.

I do cold cases, but your godfather here thinks I can help you.” “Aren’t you the police? Shouldn’t you be trying to put me away? The other detective I talked to, Detective Wheeler, arrested me.” Lauren sighed and explained slowly and patiently, “I work for Buffalo’s Homicide squad, but I’m also a licensed private detective. You were arrested outside my jurisdiction. That means Mr. Violanti can hire me to follow up on investigative leads as a private detective, as long as your crime doesn’t cross over into the city. Now, there’s a little bit of conflict because the same district attorney who’s prosecuting you also prosecutes my cases in the city, because he represents the whole county. But he can’t tell me not to work on your case.” “You can help me?” There was hope in that question. Not the usual pissed off mad because I got caught attitude.

Lauren picked up on that right away. She poised her pen over her notepad, ready to write. “I don’t know if I can or if I will, but let’s start at the beginning. Full name?” “David Ryan Spencer.” She wrote that down. Then asked, “How old are you, David?” “I turned eighteen on November fourth.” He’s almost the same age as Erin, she thought, as she jotted in her notebook. Erin was her youngest. He looked like some of the boys she had brought home over the years. The boy she’d gone to the prom with, the boy she helped with his paper on Shakespeare.

He could be that boy. Lauren tried to banish such thoughts from her brain; she had a job to do. She went ahead with the rest of his pedigree information and then got to the point. “Did you know Katherine Vine?” He picked at the edge of his thumb, but kept eye contact. “No. I mean kinda, but not really.” “What’s that mean?” “She used to come into Toy City a lot, where I work. She used to buy these video games all the time and always two of the same one. I never really talked to her until last night when she left her credit card behind.” “Then what happened?” she prompted.

He was going to be a bits-and-pieces interview. He’d tell her what happened, but he’d make her ask for it. “I called her.” Interesting. “How did you know her phone number?” “It’s in the computer,” he said as if this was the most obvious thing in the world. “Anyway, she tells me to bring it out to her, that she’s in her car behind the building. So I did.” “Then what happened?” David paused and looked at Violanti, who leaned toward him in his unstable chair. “Tell her everything.” His eyes darted back to Lauren’s.

“She was sitting in her car in the dark. She took her card back and told me to get in, then she practically attacked me.” “She attacked you?” Lauren asked, raising an eyebrow. “No, she didn’t attack me.” He stumbled, trying to find the right words. “I mean, she was all over me, kissing me, ripping my shirt open, pulling my pants down, biting me … ” “She bit you?” David unzipped his jumpsuit enough to pull the left side down over his arm and expose a perfect bite mark on his shoulder. “Yeah, she clawed my back too. The detective who arrested me this morning took pictures.” “Did you tell her to stop when she was hurting you?” “No. She was so into it.

I’ve never been with someone so into it before. She bit me because she liked it.” A deep blush spread across his cheek. “And I liked it.” “You’re sitting here telling me that this older woman you’ve never really spoken to before dragged you into her car, roughed you up, and had sex with you? Is that how she ended up dead? Did it get too rough and you accidentally strangled her?” “No! She was alive when I got out of her car. I asked her if I could call her sometime and she kinda laughed and said no. I didn’t know what to do. She just sat there, so I walked to my car and drove home.” Lauren made a note on her legal pad. “Was she still in the parking lot when you pulled out?” “Yeah, she was still sitting there with the lights off.

I figured she was waiting for me to leave.” “How long were you in her car?” “An hour, maybe more.” “You were in her car for an hour?” “We were doing things.” His eyes slid from her face, and his voice lowered. “She was doing things to me and I was doing things to her. We both were really into it. I liked her and I thought she liked me.” It was painful to hear him say that last sentence, it revealed to Lauren exactly how young this kid really was. How naïve. It was time to wrap this up.

“Did you have intercourse?” The deep blush spread to his entire face now, including the tips of his ears. “Yes.” “How many times?” He hesitated, looked to Violanti, who nodded. “Twice.” “Did you use a condom?” He seemed to slump a little in his seat, glancing away from her before he answered, “No.” “Of course not.” She tried to control the emotion in her voice as she asked her last question. “Did she say anything to you before, during, or after sex, besides what you’ve told me?” “No.” David looked expectantly at Lauren, as if she was about to spout some great, unspoken truth. And she did.

Lauren closed her notebook. “Kid, you’re in a whole lot of trouble.

.

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