Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Book Two--Chapter 3

3
“I got Fink,” I said to Amerson over the phone.
He asked and I briefly explained how I happened across Fink.
“See,” he said. “That’s exactly what we need for Danielle Dillon.”
“Don’t hold your breath.” I sure wasn’t. “Does Dillon have a vehicle registered with the DMV?”
I was sitting in the truck outside the detention center, Dillon’s file open on my lap, leaning against the steering wheel. I’d read through it, including the notes of those who had already tried locating her. All of her information was useless; it was like starting from scratch. With less than three days to do it.
“I don’t think so. There should be a note in her file.” I heard the tapping of a keyboard over the line.
“I don’t see one.”
“Okay, I’ll find out and call you back.”
I thanked him and disconnected.
There were four addresses known to be associated with Dillon, all local. There was also her grandmother’s house, which was about to become Sands and Meeker’s new house if I couldn’t find Dillon in time. No other friends or family were listed. In the spirit of being thorough, I started the truck and motored off to the first address before I hit campus. I didn’t think I’d find Dillon today, but I’d start turning over the rocks on my way to pick up Dix, who I did think I’d find.
The address was near the country club and on a lake. Technically a reservoir, the lake isn’t big as far as lakes go, but it means the price tags on the houses in this neighborhood are huge. Born and raised in Fort Collins, I’d never been to this neighborhood or the Country Club. I don’t like golf, but I especially don’t like rich people. I used to run with that crowd, wearing thousands of dollars’ worth of clothes, jewelry, makeup, and perfume, eating and drinking in places with black-tie dress codes. I’d gotten more than my fill then, and I never wanted to go back. I was sort of annoyed Dillon had this address in her file and that I had to check it out.
There was a large iron gate at the perimeter of the property, which I could see was spacious, and it was standing open. I drove through and parked in the circular drive in front of the door. I picked up the yellow legal pad I use for taking notes while working cases and wrote down the make, model, and license plate number of both cars parked in the driveway. I would do the same with any cars parked in the immediate vicinity as I left, with the intention of running them later. This is a technique that has worked for me in the past, and I never know what will pop up. I didn’t think it’d blow this case wide open, but it wouldn’t hurt to try.
I half expected someone in a uniform to answer the door when I rang the bell, but instead it was a woman in her fifties with ash-blonde hair. She was wearing heels with her trousers and pearls with her blouse. I managed not to roll my eyes.
“Yes?”
I handed her a card. She didn’t invite me in, but through the open door I could see the elaborate interior of the enormous house. The furniture was big and expensive, overly ornate, and there was art everywhere. Paintings adorned the walls, but it also appeared this woman or someone else living here had a penchant for sculpture.
The three-foot sculpture in the entryway behind her appeared to be made of marble and looked very much like what I remembered seeing in history books about the Ancient Romans. The sculpture was a nude woman with curly hair flowing over her shoulders and a garment of some kind pooled at her feet. Whatever it was, I could guess it was expensive. And just like all the other art in the house, it was taking up space and needing to be dusted. I hate rich people.
“My name is Zoe Grey. I work for Sideline Investigations and Bail Bonds. I’m looking for a woman named Danielle Dillon and have this address listed for her. Do you know anyone by that name?”
“My goodness!” she said, putting a hand across her chest. “No, I don’t. Why would she have used this address? What’s she done?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, I can’t discuss the details.” I reached for Dillon’s picture and handed it to the woman. “Recognize her?”
“No, I most certainly do not. She looks deranged in this photo.  What’s wrong with her? What’s she done?”
“I just have a couple more questions,” I said, taking the picture back. “Could you tell me your name?”
“Virginia Burbank. I’m Henry Burbank’s wife.”
She announced this as if it should mean something to me. It didn’t.
“How long have you and Mr. Burbank lived in this house?”
“Seventeen years.”
“Do you employ any house staff?” This was a wild guess, but I threw it out all the same. Sometimes I get lucky this way.
“Yes. We have a housekeeper and a gardener.”
This was one of those times.
“I’ll need their names and home addresses, please.”
“I’ll have my accountant get that to you.” She looked at the card. “He’ll call this number.”
“That would be great. Thank you, Mrs. Burbank. You’ve been very helpful.”
I’d barely gotten the last part out before she retreated into the house and shut the door.
“Thank you so much for your hospitality, Mrs. Burbank,” I said cheerfully to the door. I gave a small wave then turned and went back to my truck.
She had agreed to cooperate, so I resisted the urge to do a couple of hand gestures. It seemed unsporting.
I drove out to Highway 1 and found the address I was looking for in another expensive neighborhood. The houses here were very big, possibly bigger than those in the Country Club area, but the lots were definitely bigger, the properties more spread out, and they had a much more rustic, woodsy feel. All of the properties had abundant foliage and dozens of huge, old trees. The roads were gravel, and even though we were only a few miles from town, it was impossible not to feel completely removed, almost isolated.
The address I had for Dillon stuck out from the others like a sore thumb. The place was run-down, abandoned, and forgotten-looking. A RE/MAX for sale sign was stuck in the grass near the edge of the lawn, leaning slightly. After noting all the plate numbers, I climbed out of the truck and walked to the front door, keeping my eyes open. The windows were closed and the lawn was brown, dead, and overgrown. It was still covered with leaves from last fall. Weeds had overtaken the flowerbeds in front of the house on both sides of the door. It was June, the days long and sunny and increasingly hotter. Everyone else’s yard was green and their flowers in full bloom. No one had been here to water the lawn since last summer, I guessed.
I stepped onto the porch and rang the bell. I could hear it chime from the other side of the door. I watched the windows closely for any sign of movement, any indication of someone peering out to see who was on the porch. I saw none. After a moment, I pulled the screen door open and knocked, then I tried the knob. It was locked.
I walked around to the back of the house and went to the back door. The sliding glass door opened onto a patio. I guessed it was off the kitchen, but vertical blinds tightly covered the glass, so I couldn’t see inside. There was also a door to the garage. Both were locked.
Returning to the front, I stood on the sidewalk and looked around the neighborhood. Across the street and down two houses (the equivalent of about two blocks), a middle-aged woman wearing a visor and gardening gloves was holding a hose in one of the flowerboxes on her porch and pretending not to stare at me. I thought she would be exactly who I needed to talk to. I went across the street, and when I reached her, the woman was busy watering one of a dozen pots that trailed off the porch and down her front walk.
“Hello,” I called to her as I started up the sidewalk.
She glanced at me, as if noticing me for the first time. “Oh, hello. Can I help you?”
“I think you probably can. I’m looking for a woman named Danielle Dillon.” I watched her face for signs of recognition as I said the name. I didn’t see any. “Do you know her?”
She shook her head and moved the hose to another pot. “No, I don’t think so.”
I pulled out the photo and held it out to her. “What about her? Seen her before?”
“No. Why? What did she do? That’s a police picture.”
It was Dillon’s latest mug shot and the only photo I had of her. As Mrs. Burbank had pointed out, it wasn’t a great one.
“I work for her bondsman. I just have a couple questions for her. She gave that address over there as hers.” I pointed to the house I’d just been to. “Do you know who lives there?”
“No one,” she said, as if surprised I didn’t know. “Not since last fall.”
“Why not? What happened?”
“There was a young couple living there. They had a son, eighteen months old. One night in August, someone broke in and did horrible things to them. They were both cut up pretty bad, and the wife was raped while the husband had to watch, or so I heard. They were both killed. The next-door neighbor at the time heard the boy screaming early that morning. We’d been out of town visiting friends in New Mexico. She found them in the kitchen when she went to check. She moved a couple weeks later. The boy is in foster care somewhere now. No one’s been in there since. Someone came and put up the for sale sign, but I’ve never seen anyone look at it.”
“Do you know if someone inherited the house?”
She shrugged. “Beats me. I’ve only seen one man over there since, and that was shortly after the murders. He hasn’t been back. Even if he did inherit it, how could he ever live there? How could anyone ever live there?”
I didn’t plan to ask the guy to move in. I just wanted to talk to him. Maybe he could tell me something about Danielle Dillon, like how she was connected to his house.
“You remember the name of this couple?”
“Melissa and Mitchell Conrad. Their son’s name was Rusty, I believe. That should all be in the papers; it was in the paper for weeks. Don’t you remember?”
“I’ll have to refresh my memory,” I said, pulling a card from my pocket and handing it to her. “Will you call me if you see Danielle? Or if you think of anything that might be helpful?”
“Well, sure, I guess, but that girl isn’t going to come around here, least of all to that house.”
“You’re probably right. I appreciate your help, Mrs. . . .”
“Bonnie. Bonnie Matheson.”
“Bonnie, thank you.”
I gave the house another long, hard look as I walked back to my truck, more than a little surprised to learn of its gruesome history. I thought it was a good analogy for life, though. You never know what really goes on behind closed doors, and nothing is what it seems.
__________

Cory Dix lived off Laurel a block north of campus in a neighborhood very similar to the one Hobbs’s office was located in. These houses, all built about a hundred years ago, are occupied by college students. There are signs and posters and other items hanging in windows, on doors, and from roofs. Porches are crammed with bikes and other gear, and most yards look either neglected or abused. The streets and driveways are lined with cars, and every sidewalk has heavy pedestrian traffic.
It was about two o’clock in the afternoon, and many yards and porches held half-dressed college kids lounging in lawn chairs, drinks in their hands. It used to be that the college kids pretty well cleared out of town for summer and winter breaks (something locals have always looked forward to), but that isn’t really the case anymore. Now it seems like they never leave.
I snagged a spot at the curb, in front of a fire hydrant, and got out, hoping no one set anything on fire in the next ten minutes. My arm was beginning to feel stiff and achy from the strain I’d put it under during therapy and from being immobilized in the sling since. I slipped the sling off and left it in the truck, working my arm around in a few small circles. I made sure the cuffs and capture paperwork were in my back pockets and felt my phone in my right front pocket. I didn’t foresee a repeat of this morning, but I didn’t want to be caught without it again.
I cut across the street and down several houses to the one listed as Dix’s. I compared the faces of the kids on the lawn to the one I’d seen in Dix’s mug shot and decided none of them matched. One of the boys, a blonde in white-framed sunglasses and Hawaiian-print swimming trunks, whistled at me as I turned up the walk.
“Did you come to party with us?” he asked, getting out of his lawn chair and walking over to me.
He held a mixed drink in a plastic cup. A stereo on the porch was turned to some contemporary station, currently playing Lady Gaga’s latest hit. All I smelled was rum and sweat, and all I heard was noise.
“Actually, I need to see Cory. Is he home?” I played it sweet with the kid for the moment, hoping he’d be inclined to help me.
“Cory?” he spat. “What the hell does a hottie like you want with Cory? Especially when I’m right here.”
He held is arms out to the sides, showing me more clearly what he was offering.
Mostly he was irritating me. And I didn’t know how long he’d been in the sun, but I was pretty sure he’d forgotten to put deodorant on that morning. Or maybe shower altogether.
I grinned at the kid as I looked him up and down. “Well, Cory already paid me, but maybe I could just say he wasn’t home.”
The kid dropped his arms to his sides, and his smile fell slightly as he was, no doubt, trying to calculate the odds of propositioning a real whore.
I shrugged, smiling. “Sure,” I said. “Why not? You’re pretty cute. But Cory didn’t include tip, so you’ll have to pay that. Oh, and you have to wear a condom. My test results haven’t come back yet.”
I took a step toward him.
Smile gone now, he immediately stepped back.
I stopped and looked at him. “That’s what I thought. Now, where’s Cory?”
The kid moved off the sidewalk and pointed an almost accusatory finger at the house. “Inside.”
I climbed the stairs onto the porch that spanned the entire front of the house and went in the open door. The house was what you’d expect for one built in 1910. The rooms were small and square, the floors hardwood, the walls tight and angular. I made my way through the rooms on the first floor, finding them empty. As I was coming back to the stairs, I heard footsteps. I looked up and saw Dix coming downstairs.
He slowed when he saw me, grinning in what I’m sure he thought was a charming fashion. I forced myself to smile back. What the hell was wrong with these college boys?
“Please tell me you’re looking for me,” he said.
“Actually, I am.”
He was surprised. “What? Really?”
I nodded and came to a stop at the bottom of the stairs. Dix was a couple inches shorter than six feet and very thin. He had dark hair, light brown eyes, angular facial features, and a big nose. He was wearing jeans and a green Sesame Street t-shirt. Whoever introduced the look of adult-sized kids clothes should be shot.
“You’re Cory, right?”
“Yeah . . .”
“Then I’m looking for you.”
Then he was serious. “This doesn’t happen to me. What do you really want?”
“I need to talk to you about your court date.”
It was all I got out. As soon as he heard the word “court,” he spun around and darted up the stairs.
I rolled my eyes and started after him, but my goal was only to keep him in sight, because I was sure he was trapping himself.
Of course he had to run.
After the first three steps, I was panting, sweating, and more than a little angry. My legs were screaming, and I thought it a real possibility they might stop working and I’d fall flat on my face. Until that happened, though, I pushed on.
Dix cleared the top of the stairs before I’d climbed five and was gone around the corner to the left. I heard his hurried footsteps on the hardwood, and as I got to the top, I heard a loud banging, like a door crashing open, and some yelling. Making a left, I sprinted (I use the term loosely) down the hall in the direction of the yelling.
“What the fuck, man! Get out!”
I heard what I thought was a window opening, and as I got to an open doorway in the middle of the hall, I smelled something distinct. I thought I knew which room Dix had barged into and why the current occupant was yelling about the interruption. Sure enough, when I got to the open door, I saw it was a bathroom. Another college-aged kid was fastening his belt, a magazine on the nearby counter. And he hadn’t flushed yet.
This was beyond the normal stink. Based on the smell, the guy must have had an upset stomach, and I wanted to suggest he take something for it. But there wasn’t time for conversation. As I came into the doorway, I saw Dix’s legs disappear through the open window behind the toilet. In a moment of temporary insanity brought on by anger and a lack of oxygen, I raced forward. Just as Dix had done, I stepped onto the toilet seat and reached for the window ledge. Two things caused me to stop.
One, a good look out the window revealed just exactly how Dix had gotten down from the second story: there was a large tree with a branch about four feet from the side of the house. I could only imagine the damage I’d do to my still-recovering shoulder if I went swinging around in that tree like a freaking monkey. Two, I heard a splash, and before I looked, I knew what had happened.
I’d lifted my right foot onto the toilet. The motion of lifting my leg had pushed my cell phone up and out of my pocket. Leaning forward had caused it to slide away from my leg and drop into the toilet, which hadn’t been flushed. I was also right about the upset-belly thing.
I stepped off the toilet and stood beside it, pulling the collar of my t-shirt over my nose and mouth. The kid in the bathroom came to stand beside me. We both looked down into the toilet for a long moment. My phone wasn’t even visible.
“Man, that sucks,” the kid said.
“I don’t suppose I could talk you into reaching in and getting it, could I?”
He slowly shook his head. “Don’t suppose you could.”
“All right, do you have any of those yellow cleaning gloves?”
He thought about it for a moment then snapped his fingers and looked up from the toilet.
“As a matter of fact, I think we do.”
“I’m also going to need a plastic baggie.”
__________

“What’s this?”
The salesman reached for the plastic baggie as if to open it.
I stood across the counter from him in the Sprint store. There were two other employees and half a dozen customers in the store, all of them eyeballing the baggie with suspicion, all of them curious to see if the guy helping me would reach in and grab the phone.
“I wouldn’t open that if I were you.”
“Why not? What happened to it?”
“It fell in the toilet.”
“Oh, okay, so you’re worried about water damage. Did you try drying it out?”
“Water damage is the least of the problems.”
He stared at me for a long moment then pulled his hands away from the baggie.
“Ah,” he said. “I understand. Well, we can get you set up with a new phone.” He turned to the computer and began punching some keys. “What’s your phone number?”
I recited it. “Actually, I have insurance. Can you order a replacement?”
When I was seventeen, I’d worked in a nursing home. I’d dropped my phone in the toilet there once. That toilet had been flushed, but that didn’t make any difference to the phone, only to me when I had to reach in and fish it out. After that incident, I stopped carrying my phone in my front scrub pocket and started carrying the expensive kind of insurance on my cell phones, the kind that specifically covers damage by toilets.
He searched the computer screen for a moment then looked up. “Yes, we can do that. But it’ll probably be a week. Unfortunately, we don’t have any loaner phones to give you.”
“Of course not,” I said with a sigh.
Ten minutes later, I left the Sprint store and got back in the truck. I drove east on Harmony to the library on Council Tree, where I went in and found a computer. It wasn’t very busy, and I didn’t have to wait.
The internet has revolutionized the power of information and ease of obtaining it. Some of this has been good, but there are always two sides to every coin. Certain kinds of crime are increasing at alarming rates because of the incredibly personal information bad guys are now so easily able to find out about people. But, that is a two-way street. People like me are able to find out just as much information about the bad guys.
My first stop was Facebook. Bad guys usually don’t make time for jobs or court dates or other responsibilities, but somehow they can always make time for Facebook. I don’t have a Facebook account, mostly for the reasons I just gave, so I logged in as my friend Jill who uses her dog’s name for all her passwords, no matter how many times I’ve warned her against it. I did a quick search of the name Danielle Dillon. Nothing came up.
Playing a long shot, I looked up Cory Dix. It was my very good luck Dix had a page, and he didn’t have it set to private. A couple minutes of searching netted me his current place of employment, the Starbucks on College and Walnut. I also learned he had a girlfriend, a sophomore named Megan Rice. A little smarter than Dix, Megan had her page set to private, and I didn’t get much from it that I couldn’t already guess. Still, neither a job nor a girlfriend had been listed in the file I’d been given on Dix, so I had at least made progress.
I logged out of Facebook and brought up dexknows.com. I did a reverse search of the Conrad address. In addition to the Conrads, one other name came up: Ian Dawson. A quick property search in county records told me Dawson was the owner of the property and that he’d inherited it. I went back to Dex and searched his name, coming up with a post office box and no phone number. I made a note and searched Megan Rice. There was no Megan, but I found a Peter and Sonja, which I thought might have been her parents. I scribbled their names down then went to the Fort Collins Coloradoan website, searching back issues for information about the Conrad murders. Despite what Bonnie Matheson had said about the paper having done extensive coverage, I could find little more than what she’d already told me.
Feeling a little like the library stop had been a bust, I walked over to Dazbog Coffee (my favorite) and got a perfectly blended chocolate-flavored coffee. I chatted briefly with the girl behind the counter and one of the owners who’d been in doing paperwork, then left. Two sips in, I didn’t feel the trip had been a waste of time at all.
Back in the truck, I motored over to the next address listed for Dillon. The house, another huge place, was in a neighborhood near Fossil Creek High School, off of Ziegler. The houses here are probably comparable to the houses in the country club area I’d just been to, but the major difference was that the sidewalks here were full of activity: bikers, skaters, parents, kids, dogs.
I took a moment to add the license plate and car information to my list, then I got out and walked to the house I needed. The front yard was a bit small, but it was well kept and the expansive flowerbeds were immaculate, blooming with a multitude of colors and sizes.
I climbed the steps to the front porch and rang the bell. A moment later, a brunette woman in her thirties peered out at me cautiously. She was well dressed and groomed, though without the pomp Mrs. Burbank had. I could see two paintings on the wall of the living room behind her that I guessed were expensive. I smiled and introduced myself.
“Do you know Danielle Dillon?”
She opened the screen door and stepped out onto the porch with me, pulling the door closed behind her. I got the impression she wasn’t in the habit of inviting strangers into her house. I didn’t get the feeling she was hiding Dillon inside.
“No, I don’t know anyone by that name.”
I showed her the picture. “Recognize this woman?”
She thought for a moment. “I think she looks familiar, but I really can’t think where I would have seen her.”
“Can I ask your name?”
“Linda McKinnon.”
“Do you live here alone?”
“No, my husband Dave lives here, too.”
“Do you have any house staff?”
“Do you have some sort of identification?”
I gave her my card then pulled the cheap badge out of my pocket. I didn’t blame her when she didn’t appear impressed. I think the badge looks like it came from a costume set at the dollar store, too.
“You’re a bond agent?” she asked.
“That’s right. Feel free to call the police and have them run my name.”
“That’s okay. It’s just people have to be so careful nowadays, what with everyone trying to scam them. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. More people should be so careful.”
“To answer your question, we don’t have any house staff, but I do have a cleaning service that comes once a week.”
“Which service would that be?”
“Clean Sweep. It’s a small, local business. I switched to it last year. I was using House and Home.”
I know of Clean Sweep; it’s Amy’s business.
I thanked McKinnon for her time, asked her to call if she thought of anything, then left.
I drove to the next address and parked in front of the biggest house I’d been to yet, in a neighborhood south of Horsetooth between Taft and Shields. I made note of visible license plates, including the two in the driveway, and went to the door. So far, Danielle Dillon was unlike anyone I’d ever looked for. And everywhere I looked just made her more confusing. Today alone I’d been to four neighborhoods I’d never been to before while looking for FTAs. Not that I was necessarily making a correlation, but I had tracked a lot of skips to trailer parks, and after only a few weeks in the biz, I was already intimately familiar with a lot of the apartment complexes and lower–middle class neighborhoods around town. It seemed to me that if the people who lived in these pricey places were committing crimes, they were either committing serious crimes for which bail wasn’t an option, or, more likely, they had the means of posting their own bail and had no need for companies like Sideline. Why, then, had Danielle Dillon needed Sideline?
I rang the bell and waited. When the door opened, a man smiled out at me. He was about six feet tall, and while he appeared to be only reasonably fit, I sensed something about him; it was almost like he was radiating power. I attributed it to his wealth; rich people bleed money. I’m pretty sure that’s a documented fact somewhere. He had a simple, almost friendly face, blue eyes, and brown hair that was styled neatly. I guessed him to be approaching forty. I wondered how he could afford such a big house when most of his neighbors had to be at least ten—more likely fifteen years—older than him.
“Hi,” he said, smiling. “Can I help you?”
I handed him a card. He pushed the door open a bit wider and stepped out onto the porch, accepting the card and looking at it. Behind him, I could see through the entryway to the living room and noticed a lit display case containing several shiny things. From what I could make out at my distance, they were all of different origins and time periods. I didn’t need to see them closely to know they were expensive.
“I’m Zoe Grey. I’m a bond enforcement agent for Sideline Investigations and Bail Bonds. I’m looking for this woman.” I held up the picture. “Have you seen her?”
He looked at the picture then back at me, shaking his head. His gaze lingered on the photo, I thought.
“Nope, sure haven’t. What’d she do?”
What is it that makes rich people so nosey?
“I’m not at liberty to discuss the details of her case. What about the name Danielle Dillon—that mean anything to you?”
He shrugged. “Nope. Is that her name?” He inclined his head toward the photo I was still holding up.
I was about to answer when something caused me to stop. I think it was the way he asked the question. Regardless, I rethought my answer.
“I’m sorry, I can’t say. How long have you lived here?”
“A couple years. Why? Did that girl you’re looking for live here once?”
“I’m just following up on a lead. Listen, thank you for your help . . . I’m sorry, what’s your name?”
“Eric.”
He didn’t seem inclined to offer his last name, and I chose not to push. There are other ways to learn that sort of information.
“Eric. Thanks for your help. Oh, hey, I was going to ask, is this your car?” I pointed to the 2014 Chevy Camaro parked in the driveway beside a 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser.
He smiled and took several steps across the porch, looking at the car.
“Yes. A classic reborn. Do you like it?”
I’m a huge fan of Chevy cars and trucks, and I think the Camaro remake, inspired by the first generation design, is a very hot car. His was silver. I would have preferred an orange one. I kept this last bit to myself.
“Yes. The first generation Camaros were the best looking.”
He looked at me appreciatively. “You’re into cars?”
“Who doesn’t like muscle cars?” I asked, walking off the porch. “Please call me if you see the woman in the photo or think of anything that might be helpful.”

“I’ll do that.”



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