Home > The Perfect Secret (Jessie Hunt #11)(6)

The Perfect Secret (Jessie Hunt #11)(6)
Author: Blake Pierce

“We have photos,” Purcell volunteered, suddenly much less combative now that he was in the presence of Otis. “The coroner will have a preliminary report later today. CSU checked for prints and DNA. We’re talking to Mr. Otis’s security team about pulling camera footage. Despite the regrettable way this started, I think we’ve got a lot to work with.”

“There you go,” Otis said enthusiastically. “Making the most of a situation I screwed up. I wish I could say it was the first time. Anyway, as you might imagine, I’ve got a full day, so I’m going to leave you in Matilda’s capable hands.”

“Mr. Otis,” Jessie said as he headed toward the mahogany bedroom doors, “we’ll need to interview you.”

“Of course,” he said, not stopping or turning around. “I don’t know much but talk to Nancy and she’ll put you on my schedule. Until then, the best of luck to you.”

He was gone before Jessie could say anything else. She was tempted to chase after him and force him to answer her questions right now. But getting as much detail as possible about the particulars of the crime seemed like a higher priority. She sighed.

“Who’s Nancy?” Karen asked.

“Nancy Salter, she’s the estate manager,” Matilda said. “She runs the day-to-day operations here. She also coordinates Jasper’s schedule, in conjunction with Rune, of course, when he’s working from home.”

“Who’s Rune?” Jessie asked.

“Rune Barbato is Jasper’s executive assistant. He’s in charge of Jasper’s day-to-day when he’s off estate. But on estate days like today, he defers to Nancy.”

“Sounds complicated,” Jessie noted.

“Not once you get used to it,” Matilda insisted. “I’ll make sure to reach out to Nancy to have her pencil you in for some talk time with Jasper.”

Jessie was tempted to ask if “talk time” was a Jasper Otis invention but felt herself slipping down the rabbit hole and changed tacks.

“Who examined the body?” she asked Purcell.

“Len Fustos,” he said. “He was escorting her out to the van. I think they were getting ready to head out to the morgue.”

“Detective Purcell,” Jessie began, hoping to appeal to his professionalism by using his title. “Can you please reach out and ask him to come back? We’d like to talk to him before he leaves.”

Unable to think of a reason not to, he nodded and pulled out his radio. While they waited, Jessie again caught sight of the woman in the CSU jacket.

“What’s your name?” she asked the woman, who looked to be in her late twenties.

“Jan Thomas,” she said.

“Did you pull prints and swab?”

Jan nodded.

“What can you tell us?”

“My supervisor is headed back to the lab to test. But preliminary signs weren’t promising. No obvious fingerprints. DNA might be another story. But it looked like the perpetrator turned on the shower. Her clothes were soaking wet, at least the ones she had on. Hard to know if that was planned but we’re worried the water will make getting DNA tough.”

“The clothes she had on?” Karen repeated.

“She was topless except for a bra.”

“Did it look like she was sexually assaulted?” Karen asked.

“If you don’t mind, Detective,” Thomas said, “I’d rather leave that determination to the M.E.”

Just then, an older man, likely in his sixties, walked in. He was wearing corduroy slacks, a denim shirt, and sneakers. His glasses were thick and he had thinning, brown hair. He didn’t look happy to be there.

“What’s the problem?” he demanded.

“Len,” Purcell said, “you might remember Detective Karen Bray. She’s at Hollywood station now. And this is Jessie Hunt, profiler extraordinaire. They’re taking over primary on the case for HSS and they wanted to get your preliminary thoughts before you go to the morgue.”

Len frowned, clearly irked that he was being asked for updates when he was so close to being out the door. He seemed about to say something to that effect when Jessie gave him her patented “don’t mess with me” stare, the one she’d developed when trying to talk down murderers. An impatient forensic bureaucrat in corduroy pants wasn’t going to intimidate her. Apparently it worked, because he started listing information off.

“This is all preliminary, mind you. I won’t even have the first draft of the report until tomorrow. But her neck was broken. There were some defensive wounds but only bruising. No cuts or scratches, meaning it’ll be harder to get DNA. She had on a bra but was shirtless. Her top was found beside the bed over there in good shape—not ripped, no buttons popped off. She was wet—body and clothing, almost as if she’d been intentionally hosed down. The guy who found her said there was still water on her skin. It hadn’t had time to evaporate. She was really drenched. I’m skeptical that we’ll find anything usable.”

“Any sign of sexual assault?” Karen asked.

“We’ll do more comprehensive testing on that when we get back. But initial inspection suggests no.”

“That makes sense,” Jessie added. “If the perpetrator knew enough to douse her in water to get rid of DNA evidence, and had raped her, he’d likely have removed all her clothes to soak her everywhere. Let’s go back to the neck. How pronounced was the break?”

“I mean, it was enough to kill her,” Fustos replied.

“I get that, but could you determine the force used? That might be able to tell us how strong the killer is.”

“Again, preliminary, but her skull was bobbing like a rag doll. Whoever did this was likely some combination of extremely strong, extremely angry, and/or extremely knowledgeable about how to break a human neck.”

Everyone was quiet for a few seconds after that. In that moment, Jessie thought about Jasper Otis, and wondered whether he was might be capable of such brutality. Considering what she knew people to be capable of, it didn’t seem like a stretch. Len Fustos finally broke the silence.

“If you’ll let me leave,” he said irritably, “I can try to get more definitive answers to some of these questions.”

Jessie nodded her acquiescence. That was all he needed to disappear from sight.

“So I guess we’re at an impasse,” Purcell said, trying to co-opt Fustos’s attitude.

Karen looked at him like she thought he might be kidding.

“Not quite,” she said. “I think we’d like to talk to the guy who found her. Got a name?”

“Sure,” he said. “But I don’t know that he’ll be of much use.”

“Why is that?” Jessie asked.

“When we spoke earlier he was so drunk or high or both that it was hard to get a coherent sentence out of him. He was also flipping out a little because of the whole ‘finding a dead body’ thing.”

“Well, maybe he’s sobered up a little in the interim,” Jessie suggested. “Do you have his address?”

“Yeah, but you won’t need it,” he said.

“Why not?” Jessie asked.

“Because unless something has changed, he’s about five hundred yards from here, passed out in a guest house.”

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