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Above Reproach

Toni sat behind her desk, reviewing the files of the children who had been kidnapped and killed, along with a log of vehicles passing the few traffic cameras around the county. She’d looked up Heiligenthal’s license plate number and was trying to match times and places to see if he had anything to do with these disappearances. It was all she could do to keep at bay the memory of telling the Mortons of their precious child’s death. It was a display of emotion that she’d experienced often but it had never affected her, until now. This bastard needed to be found and brought to justice. Anyone who did something like that to little children was less than human! How was that even possible?

The icing on the cake was when none other but Sam Heiligenthal turned up as they were leaving. Toni was already in her squad vehicle, so she couldn’t hear what passed between Wolfsong and Heiligenthal, but it was brief. Toni wondered who had notified him. She didn’t know how to interpret his hurried gait. Was he agitated, bereaved, or guilty? Well, regardless, the important thing was matching him up to her logs. She looked back and forth and suddenly noticed a license plate and then another and another. Yes, this was coming together!

• • •

“Sir, I have a suspect,” Toni announced, stepping into Sheriff Sprague’s office. The sheriff looked over his reading glasses; patronizingly, she thought.

“Come in and tell me about it, Deputy Radcliffe,” he said. Toni walked up to the desk, pressing the folder containing her findings to her side.

“I have evidence that suggests that one Samuel Heiligenthal is responsible for the disappearance of not just Takisha Morton, but the other children as well.” Sprague leaned back in his big leather chair, making it squeak.

“Really?” The question was drawled in a way which immediately made Toni’s heart flutter and stomach squirm. Sprague took off his glasses while Toni nibbled on her lower lip, wondering why she was so nervous. She’d done this many times, both here and in Chicago. Sprague, while not a friend, was at least an honored colleague. Could it be she was wrong?

No, she was not! So, she forged ahead.

“I have cross-referenced the disappearance dates with the license plate logs of vehicles in the vicinity of the times of disappearance. I discovered that Heiligenthal’s vehicle was near three of the disappearances, not counting that of Takisha Morton.”

“Really?” Sprague’s tone was interested this time. He picked up his glasses and set them back on his nose then held out his hand.

“Let me see the file.” Toni handed it to him and stood at attention while he perused the contents. She felt a single bead of sweat slide down her back and wanted to pull up on her belt but refrained from doing so. After what seemed an eternity, Sprague looked up.

“This is an interesting angle, Deputy Radcliffe,” he said. “While I am disinclined to believe it at this point,” Toni opened her mouth to protest, but the sheriff continued, “I am still willing to let you run with it. What is it you want?” Toni’s mouth was still open, but she snapped it shut and swallowed. When she spoke, she was unable to keep to her usually dry tone.

“I want a search warrant for any and all photographic images in Heiligenthal’s possession, as well as for his records of employment over the last two years.” She paused. “And I want to be able to search his computer and media devices to prove access to pornographic sites.”

“Is that all?” Sprague asked. He grimaced, as if trying to make up his mind on something. He took off his glasses and stared hard at Toni with his muddy green eyes. She swallowed, waiting for his response.

“All right,” he said, finally, closing the folder and handing it back. “I’ll give you the search warrants. We’ve had no leads at all in these years. I hate to subject someone like Sam to this, but we have to be seen to be doing something. Especially after this last one is a little black girl. We can’t be seen to be racist.” Toni had trouble keeping from smiling.

“Thank you, sir!” she breathed.

“Don’t thank me yet, Radcliffe,” Sprague snapped, paused as if he wanted to add something, then said instead, “Now get out of here and get to work.”

Toni stepped out of the room, closed the door, and let out a little squeal of delight. She couldn’t believe it! She headed back over to her desk, dropped the file on it and sat down, preparing to fill out the paperwork for the search warrant.

“You look like the cat that caught the canary,” Wolfsong commented.

“I’ve got my suspect,” she replied smugly. The senior deputy raised one eyebrow, slightly wrinkling his smooth brow.

“Sam Heiligenthal?” he asked, taking the wind out of her sails.

“How did you know?” she demanded breathlessly.

“I saw your request to look up his DMV info,” Wolfsong replied. “You’re barking up the wrong tree, there, Toni,” he said softly.

“Why, because he’s your friend?” she snarled back. She was not going to allow herself to be dissuaded on this one.

“What do you think would prove his guilt?” Wolfsong asked instead, cocking his head slightly to one side.

“Answer the question, Lionel,” Toni pressed.

“Sam Heiligenthal is not exactly a friend, Toni,” the senior deputy replied. “He’s more like an acquaintance.” He thought for a moment. “Before you serve any search warrants, I’d strongly suggest you look into him as a person. I think you’ll change your mind.”

“Right!” Toni snorted. “Serial killers are usually white male loners, Lionel. You know that. They keep trophies and this Heiligenthal guy is known to be a photographer. I’ll bet you a bottle of whiskey that he’s got pictures of his victims.”

“Pictures of his victims…?” Wolfsong muttered, as if musing. Then his brown eyes took on an oddly calculating look. “I’ll take that bet, Toni.” He smiled. “Whoever corners the skunk wins.” He held out his hand. Toni looked at it for a moment then shook it with a predatory grin, knowing she was right.


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Copyright © 2003 J.M. Diener. All Rights Reserved.