Two sheriff’s vehicles and the van of the forensics unit pulled up in front of the three-story brownstone in downtown Belleview at eight in the morning. Toni wanted to catch this creep before he started his day. That way she would have plenty of daylight to nail down her case. There were very few people she knew who were truly morning people, and she hoped Heiligenthal wouldn’t break the pattern. Toni and two other deputies quietly mounted the stairs, Toni clutching the blue search warrant in her hand, knowing that this was merely an excuse to get in the door. Anders, the new guy on the force, was aware that she had more planned than a simple search of the premises. Dubois, the other deputy, would not have approved, she knew.
Toni pounded on the door marked “F”.
“Sheriff’s department, open up!” she yelled. A moment later the door clicked open to reveal a tousled Heiligenthal.
“Good morning,” he said, but was immediately shoved aside by Anders as the three officers shouldered their way into the apartment.
“We have a warrant to search the premises,” Toni announced, turning to her quarry. He was obviously not fully ready for the day, his hair uncombed, barefoot, and dressed in a pair of comfy pants and a t-shirt.
“May I see it?” Heiligenthal instantly asked, obviously trying to buy time. Toni waved the paper in his direction while Dubois started looking around.
“What is this about, deputy?” Heiligenthal pressed, trying to reach for the warrant, which Toni quickly snatched back.
“I think you know,” she snarled in return. He cocked his head to the side thoughtfully, then shrugged.
“Go ahead, deputy,” he replied. “I have nothing to hide.”
“We want to especially see your photos,” Toni informed him. “All of them.”
“That’s fine, deputy,” Heiligenthal said, turning towards his computer that sat in a nook across the room. “Let me log in to my machine.” He then pointed to some sliding doors next to the computer. “All of my prints are filed in the closet, and I have a film that’s still developing in the darkroom. I need to take it out, if you don’t mind, otherwise it will be ruined.”
“We have someone who can do that,” Toni snapped, knowing full well that they didn’t. “Anders!” The tall, young deputy turned towards her.
“Have him get some shoes on,” she jerked her thumb towards Heiligenthal, “and have him wait in the back of my truck.” Heiligenthal’s eyebrows rose at that, and he was about to say something, then shrugged. Toni watched him like a hawk while he went and typed a password into his computer for Deputy Dubois and then went to get his shoes. When he returned, Anders had obviously allowed him to change completely and use a comb, much to Toni’s annoyance. She simply snapped a thumb towards the door and Heiligenthal was led downstairs as the forensics guy who knew about computers came in.
“Where’s the patient?” he asked. Toni pointed at the computer, and he got to work. Another young woman was tasked with finding out how to get film out of development fluid while Toni and Dubois pulled album after album and box after box of photographs from the closet. There were thousands of pictures to look through. At the bottom of the closet was a big metal case with glass doors in which blue and green lights blinked and from which several wires snaked out. Toni had enough understanding of computers to know that this was some kind of a server.
“Hey, Kelso,” she called to the forensics guy.
“Yeah?” he asked.
“Make sure you check out what’s on this server, too,” she ordered.
“Okay,” he replied, and they all got to work.
• • •
Three hours later Toni disengaged herself from the photos she’d been looking through. Nothing, nothing, and nothing. Oh, yeah, tons of pictures of weddings, birthdays, recitals, portraits, nature, technology. All they did was showcase Heiligenthal’s incredible eye. The film that had been developing was cleaned and washed and looked over, but it simply contained a series of nature shots in black-and-white. Kelso hadn’t found anything on the computer other than a huge archive of digital photos.
“This guy is good,” he told Toni. “They’re all raw images and they are bee-yoo-tee-ful!”
“Yeah, but what about his internet habits?” Kelso shook his head.
“He’s cleaner than my grandma,” he replied. “He’s got an advertisement blocker on every one of his browsers and I don’t think he’s cleaned his cache since he bought the machine. And there is nothing there that we could find. Sure, he’s visited some picture sites that host some pictures that a few people might find offensive, but no porn, not even a nude shot.”
“Figures,” Toni snarled. “He probably does it with his phone.” At least that was on the warrant, too. “Did you look at his calendar?”
“Yeah, got it right here,” he handed her a USB drive. “Nothing sticks out.”
“Of course, he wouldn’t put his habits on it,” she replied. “I’ll go deal with him directly now. You guys keep looking here. There’s bound to be something.” She turned away, ignoring Kelso’s question, “What if there’s not?” She knew it was Heiligenthal, knew it! And she would prove it, one way or another.
• • •
“Hey, Toni, you missed an important call,” one of the other deputies called to her as she and Anders walked Heiligenthal into the sheriff’s office at just a few minutes past 11:30.
“Really?” Who would be calling her? She looked over at Anders.
“Put him in the interrogation room,” she ordered and went to her desk to find a pink slip with the name Jasmine Malik and a phone number on it. Ah, now she had a way to track down the not-girlfriend. She logged into her workstation and pulled up the closed-circuit feed for the interrogation room. As only the sheriff himself and one other communal terminal could actually listen in, there was no audio this way, but at least she could see what her quarry was up to. Anders gestured toward the table. Heiligenthal was obviously asking him something: she could see his lips moving. The other camera angle made it clear that Anders was not replying. Heiligenthal sat in the chair and leaned back slightly before taking off his glasses and folding his hands in front of him. Toni sighed. How was she going to get through to him?
She picked up her phone, pulled up an outside line and dialed the number on the pink slip. It rang three times before being answered.
“Hello?” The voice was female, but slightly husky and a bit hushed.
“Hello, this is Deputy Toni Radcliffe calling for Jasmine Malik,” Toni said.
“This is she,” the other party replied briskly. “My father said your call was urgent. How can I help you?” Toni was just slightly irked at how easily Ms. Malik had taken control of the situation.
“I’m calling in regard to an acquaintance of yours who is under suspicion for having kidnapped and exploited children in the county here.”
“An acquaintance of mine?” There was a pause. “Are you referring to Anton Valkis?”
“No, a Samuel Heiligenthal.” Toni couldn’t keep the edge out of her voice. Who the hell was Anton Valkis?
“Sam?” Ms. Malik gasped. “Sam? You have got to be kidding me, deputy!”
“Why?” Toni responded immediately.
“Because Sam would never ever do something like that,” the woman on the other end snapped back.
“How do you know?” Toni responded. “Most jerks who do stuff like that don’t tell their girlfriends about it.” There was a very unladylike snort on the other end.
“First, deputy, Sam is a good and honorable man. He is the kind of man who would put himself between a child and harm and never, ever let anything happen to that child even to the spilling of his blood. He is one of the reasons I do what I do.”
“Oh, because he went after a kid you knew?” Toni needled her. “Or because he dumped you?”
“Sam did not dump me, nor did I dump him,” Ms. Malik shot back. “I do not see how our relationship plays into these insinuations, deputy, but you are playing a very dirty game here. Let me tell you this: Sam and I dated for about six months nearly ten years ago. We came to a mutual agreement that we were not meant for each other and have remained good friends ever since. Sam is a good man. He encouraged me to go into child psychology, because he saw something in me that others didn’t. I have never been happier or more thankful to him for his nudge. He is the last person in the world to do anything nasty to anyone. You’re looking at the wrong person, deputy, and I strongly suggest you look somewhere else. Sam has some powerful friends who will protect him.” Toni’s dander went up at that last statement.
“Are you threatening me, Ms. Malik?” she snarled.
“No, deputy, I’m warning you. I don’t want you to do anything that will jeopardize your credibility. Sam is not your perpetrator.” She gave a sigh. “Look, deputy, I’ll admit that I still care a lot for Sam. I will stand by him because I know who he is. I know him and I tell you there is nothing there.” Toni could not believe her ears at how vehemently this woman stood by her perfect perpetrator. For a moment, her certainty wavered. No, Ms. Malik loved him; that colored things.
“Well, thanks anyway, Ms. Malik,” she said coldly. “Your testimony will be considered as we continue our investigation. Have a nice day.” She hung up without waiting for a response. Powerful friends, Ms. Malik had said. What if Sheriff Sprague was one of them?
“I hate to subject Sam to this,” he’d said. Did he know that Sam was innocent? Was he just fobbing off Toni so someone else could clear the case? Toni felt cold as she looked back at the screen. She curled her lip and looked at the desk across from her where her partner usually sat.
“Where’s Wolfsong?” she asked out loud.
“He’s off ‘catching a skunk’,” one of the other deputies replied. Toni glared.
“His words,” her co-worker said with a shrug.