Claire was sweating as she glanced again at the wide-brimmed hat sitting on the chair at the dining table.
The cubs were giggling as they tried to perform jumping jacks, as demonstrated by Mama Bear. “Jacob- Cub 2- kick your feet apart when your hands go up-” Claire demonstrated. So did Edward, Cub 1.
Jacob kicked both legs so hard he almost fell. His brother laughed. Claire gave him a look. In Mama Bear’s house, love and kindness were highly valued.
Edward immediately softened toward his brother, “Keep trying. You can do it!”
Homeschooling had been an adjustment, but Claire kind of loved it. Everything except P.E.
She was used to home-schooling the boys and tried to make the most of it. When they landed in Bothell, Washington, she’d found a great Charter home school that provided computers, a printer, and a curriculum that was hard to complain about. Great storybooks to choose from and a variety of science experiments. She could turn just about any activity into a lesson.
They finished the last set of jumping-jacks and Claire called, “Ten-minute break!” Thank God. She was panting as she set the egg-timer. “Get a drink, go to the bathroom. Then- Edward, grab your math workbook. You’re practicing factors of 4. Jacob, you have an online lesson for math today. I am starting lunch.”
The boys were wound-up, hopping down the hall, bumping walls, and each other. Edward darted into the bathroom. Jacob continued to Claire’s office that was mostly cluttered with school supplies.
Claire veered towards the kitchen, passing Sheriff Chen’s hat on the way. She harrumphed, 99-percent sure he’d “forgotten” it just so he could come back. Or worse, ask Claire to deliver it to the station. She’d listened to thousands of true crime podcasts and was once married to a lawyer. She knew the tricks and how to respond.
Never let them talk to you on their terms. Potential suspects were often too willing to visit the police station. Cops preferred to get a suspect in their little room, where they controlled everything. If the Sheriff wanted the hat, he could find it on her front porch, in a paper bag. She’d use gloves to handle it; no need to offer touch DNA.
Sheriff Chen was shaking his head, standing inside the victim’s “den of iniquity” as Johnson liked to call the basement. The Forensic team had swept the entire area those first few days. The results they’d gotten so far weren’t conclusive. Half-prints, smeared prints, or palm prints that led nowhere. Lots of questions without answers and DNA without matching suspects.
Yet, Chen reminded himself. They had nothing yet. Building the case would take time.
Chen walked upstairs, being careful not to touch anything. He used his cell phone for light in the dark places and took another set of pictures, for safety and reference. Crime scenes weren’t made to last. The house would be released eventually and whoever the next of kin happened to be would do what they wanted with it.
At the top of the stairs, Chen headed for the front entry, where the victim was discovered. He snapped more pictures of the bloodstains that had since turned black. He got really close to the back of the painted front door, making sure to get video details of the splatter. There wasn’t much. Most had squirted on the wall around the light switch and down the victim’s torso, puddling on the linoleum.
The Sheriff pictured the way Mr. Lester must have been standing: behind the open door, facing outside. Probably relaxed, because there were no defensive wounds. He wasn’t expecting to die. Chen thought Mr. Lester tried to hold the wound. That would be the natural response, and it was backed up by bloody smears on the interior knob. Had he tried to open it, but bled out too quickly?
It was a gruesome scene that, by Chen’s estimation, the Killer didn’t see, since the blood splatter was only inside. Not a drop on the porch or door jamb. It made perfect sense that the killer used the door as a shield and walked away clean. How long does it take to stab a person, once, in the jugular? Two seconds was plenty of time. Then leave with the weapon (there were no short, sharp knives at the crime scene) and avoid being noticed by a single nosy neighbor?
It was cold-blooded. Practiced. But any person with a basic understanding of human anatomy would know where to hit.
“Sheriff,” Johnson appeared in the living room behind him.
Chen didn’t turn, but answered, “Yeah?
“One of the neighbors has a RING doorbell.”
Chen turned to find Johnson smiling. “Who?”
Johnson pointed across the street. “Rhonda and Morgan Greene.”
That’s odd, Chen thought. “They didn’t mention it when we talked.”
Johnson grinned. “I might not have noticed but a UPS guy left a package on Greene’s porch when I was trying out spots with a view of the victim’s doorway. The driver hops out, salutes me, then drops the box on the porch. I got to thinking about my friend, Gloria. Last week a homeless guy stole a package off her porch. She called me, and-” Johnson stopped. She was getting off-track. “Anyways, I thought about that and took a closer look. Greene’s got a partially-obstructed view of three entries on this side of the street and a doorbell with a camera.”
Chen moved to adjust his hat, then remembered he wasn’t wearing it. “Let’s check back with the Greene’s.”
Johnson was proud of herself as she followed Sheriff Chen out the back door, then walked around to the front, and across the cul-de-sac.
Morgan Greene was sitting on his front porch, waiting for the Deputy’s inevitable return. He’d watched Johnson nosing around his property. After she dashed across the street, he went outside, hoping to find what seemed so interesting about his well-kept yard.
It didn’t take long to figure it out. The doorbell with the tiny camera was nearly brand new. It had been a Christmas gift from his grown son, Randy, whose own house had been robbed last year. Morgan wasn’t tech-savvy. The instructions were too intimidating. Randy had come over and finally got it going about a month ago.
Morgan pulled his phone from his pocket and hit the speed-dial. At the same moment, Sheriff Chen and Deputy Johnson appeared in the middle of the street. They were heading straight for Morgan with a dozen questions.
“Hey, Randy. … Oh, I’m fine. … Well, I can’t really talk. I just need to know- you remember that doorbell camera? How do I access the footage?”