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Above Reproach

Maybe she wasn’t right. The thought brought her out of a deep sleep in her lonely bed in her empty room. Toni looked over at the glowing hands of her ancient alarm clock, a gift from her grandmother. It was just past three in the morning. She felt clammy and cold, though the room was stuffy and stagnant in the summer heat. These were doubts she knew, though they had never assailed her this strongly before. She flopped on her back and looked up at the dark ceiling. No, she would not be deterred.

She closed her eyes and tried to find the calm she’d had when she’d laid down, but it would not come. She tossed and turned a bit before heaving herself out of bed and retiring to the bathroom. After a leisurely shower, she made herself a cup of drip coffee, filled a bowl with cereal, and flipped open her laptop computer. She pulled up her note-taking program and looked at the list of things she wanted to follow up on Sam Heiligenthal. The internet search would be easiest, and she could do it from here. Some of the other things would need a few visits around and interviews, but she should be able to get to those once life started for the rest of the people in town.

She pulled up her favorite search engine and typed in “Samuel Heiligenthal photographer”. The first item that came up was Heiligenthal’s business website. She clicked the link and gasped as one of the most amazing nature shots she’d ever seen materialized on the screen. The site was filled with photos advertising the skill of the photographer. Nature, buildings, animals, people: every image was carefully crafted, a work of art. There was a phone number at the bottom and a contact form, as well as a calendar to request an appointment. Toni made a note of the calendar: she’d need to add that to her search warrant.

There were only two pictures of the photographer himself. One was a more classic head shot, where Heiligenthal looked as she’d met him: a brown-haired man with a longish face and rounded, horn-rimmed glasses. He had a slight smile, as if he found the whole picture-taking thing amusing. Toni grimaced; she did not like that picture.

The second picture of Heiligenthal was quite different. It was a candid shot of him, looking out at a subject he was taking, his camera raised to his chest, his glasses perched on his forehead. There was an oddly luminescent quality to his eyes that caused Toni to actually look more carefully at the image. Was that real? Was it photoshopped or was it a trick of the lighting? She couldn’t decide and filed that away as well.

She returned to the search page and followed up on more links. Heiligenthal was well known and respected as a photographer outside Belleview. He had received numerous prestigious awards and had several features in the National Geographic magazine. He also had two issues of Life magazine containing only his pictures. A quick look at eBay and Amazon showed that those two issues sold for very high prices. Toni wrinkled her brow. Heiligenthal was certainly prolific in his photography. Would he even have time to pursue serial crime? She didn’t like the idea but wrote the question down in her note program.

More of his pictures turned up, one hanging in the White House, one in the Smithsonian, one in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Toni was getting tired of photography and was about to change her search parameters when she came across a link to Lifespring Church. She clicked it and her jaw dropped: the page contained a list of the leadership of the church, along with photos of each. And there was the same head shot of Sam Heiligenthal as on his website. He was listed as being an “Elder”. Toni searched her meagre knowledge of Christianity, remembering that “Elders” were something like lay leaders in certain denominations. Her lips curled wryly. White, male, talented, and a Christian. What a recipe for a serial killer! Now if only he was single….

She accessed the intranet of the sheriff’s department and pulled up a search engine that linked to vital statistics. There was no record of Samuel Heiligenthal ever having married, which brought an even bigger grin to Toni’s face. She was definitely going to win this bet.

• • •

Two interviews later, one by phone and one in person, Toni was packaging the paperwork for the search warrant for her suspect. She’d called Lifespring Church because she was not keen on actually visiting such an establishment. Pastor Tom Klein confirmed Heiligenthal’s engagement in the church with alacrity, but refused to make any other comments, except one.

“Sam is a good man, deputy. I’ve known him for over ten years, and he is one of the kindest and most godly people I know. He’s the kind of man you can trust to do the right thing and to never harm another human.” Toni didn’t like that, but Pastor Klein would not be coerced into any other statement. So, she decided to track down Heiligenthal’s parents. She found his mother at home.

Mrs. Heiligenthal was warm and friendly, invited Toni to come sit in the shade on the back porch and offered her some fresh coffee. While her hostess was off getting it, Toni noticed an open book on the wrought-iron table. She edged closer, observing the two-column text layout and the word “Psalms” in the upper left-hand corner. A Bible! Well, it would figure that a Christian would have Christian parents. Maybe they were just as duplicitous?

That opinion, however, was not confirmed as Toni talked with Sam’s mother. Mrs. Heiligenthal was very open, seemingly not hiding anything, as she told a multitude of stories from her only child’s life. There was only one thing that Toni heard that suggested some sort of childhood trauma that might be grounds for thinking Heiligenthal was a serial killer.

“Sam sees too much,” his mother said. “He struggles with that and so at times has to withdraw.”

“What do you mean by, he ‘sees too much’?” Toni pressed. The other woman frowned at the question.

“I can’t explain it, Deputy Radcliffe,” she said after a long moment. “Sam can’t really explain it, either. He always said that he sees people as they are, not as they appear. It’s a difficult gift, deputy, but my boy is shouldering it well.” Did that mean her quarry had seen something he shouldn’t which had warped his perspective? Toni filed it away for further analysis, thanked Mrs. Heiligenthal for her hospitality and made her way through the house back to the front door.

As she passed through the living room, a framed print on the mantle caught her attention and she stepped over. The picture was obviously a selfie of a rather younger Sam Heiligenthal sans glasses with a striking, dark-haired woman, both smiling broadly. Heiligenthal’s eyes had that odd luminescence again. To Toni, the young woman looked like she was in love, most likely with the man in the photo.

“Did you say your son was an only child?” Toni asked Mrs. Heiligenthal.

“Yes, that is his friend, Jasmine Malik,” the other woman said.

Girl-friend?” Toni pressed, turning to look at her hostess. Mrs. Heiligenthal was quiet for a moment. She pursed her lips slightly and let her mouth shift to one side.

“Yes and no,” she replied after a long moment. “They like each other, but Sam… Sam is convinced he’s called to be single.”

“Really?” Toni looked back at the picture. “Does she live here?”

“No,” the other woman said. “She’s with some big organization in Florida that works to save children who are being exploited. I think she’s a child psychologist.”


“Not as far as I know.” A glance at Mrs. Heiligenthal made Toni realize she’d overstepped her bounds.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized, trying a disarming smile. “I love to hear other people’s stories, even if they don’t have anything to do with my cases.” She paused. “It’s my weakness.”

“Oh,” Mrs. Heiligenthal said, and Toni wondered if she believed what Toni had said. She excused herself quickly and as soon as she’d got into her squad vehicle noted down the name Jasmine Malik. She’d have to follow up on that one.

As a matter of fact, Jasmine Malik kept intruding as Toni worked on the search warrant. Was Heiligenthal’s problem that he really thought he should be single, or was he too much of a coward to make it work with this potential lover? Could that have driven him to the more criminal expediency of going after children instead? Thinking of her own past, she’d known some men were unable to handle rejection. There were those who thought themselves too much of a gentleman to lash out at the woman who had turned them down and so sought solace in other things instead. She thought of a colleague in Chicago who had turned to mixed martial arts when his girlfriend dumped him and a high-school friend who had ended up an alcoholic when his love-interest had married his best friend instead. Toni nodded to herself. That could explain a lot, she decided.

She posted the paperwork to the judge for approval. They would not be able to serve it until the following day, she knew, and thought about looking into another case for a bit, but then decided to track down Jasmine Malik instead. A quick look at the town phone directory brought up a land line for a Daoud Malik. No one answered when she called, not even an answering service, so she decided to try again right before heading home. When she did, a stern male voice answered the phone, making Toni bristle instantly.

“My name is Toni Radcliffe,” she found herself saying coolly. “I’m with the sheriff’s department and I need to get ahold of a Ms. Jasmine Malik. Who am I speaking to?”

“This is her father,” the person on the other end said. “Is she in trouble?” There was an edge to the voice on the other end that Toni immediately disliked, however she needed to be conciliatory.

“No, sir,” she found herself replying and hated herself for immediately using that honorific. “Ms. Malik’s name has come up as a possible witness in an open case and I need to speak to her about it.”

“Has it now?” Malik was not bending at all.

“Yes, would you have a phone number where I could reach her?” Toni pressed. There was a long silence before the other party responded.

“I think it would be better if you gave me your number, Ms. Radcliffe,” Malik replied. “I’ll pass it on to my daughter and have her call you at her earliest convenience.” Toni made a face. That was not what she wanted and she was not going to let this authoritarian prig dissuade her.

“I’d prefer to make the call.” There was an edge to her voice now. “After all, she shouldn’t have to pay for calling me.”

“She won’t mind,” the voice on the other end shot back. “If you want to talk to her, that’s how it needs to be. We don’t give out phone numbers to just anyone who calls.”

“But I’m…” Toni bit down on her response as she felt it was going to be whiny and not at all authoritative. Grace under pressure. Bees were caught better with honey. “All right, but I need to talk to her right away.”

“I’ll let her know and she’ll likely get in touch with you tomorrow or the next day at the latest.” It was all Toni could do to not grind her teeth. Having to deal with such a … grrr! Instead, she dictated her number and extension and hung up, her lip curled in a snarl. She looked over to see Wolfsong’s amused smile.

“What?” she snapped.

“I haven’t seen you that ticked in all the time I’ve known you,” he said. She raised her lip and shook her head mockingly.

“I’ve at least got some leads.” She paused and then it just slipped out, “How about you?” Wolfsong smiled cryptically.

“Just have that bottle ready, Toni,” was all he replied.

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