Melissa Thompson’s house was as neat as a pin, except for the kitchen. A chair was knocked over, and Melissa was face down on the bloody tiles. The forensics team from the next county over were there, on account of Lakefield being too small to need one. This was the first murder in over sixty years, and the only murder that Josie Wright had ever investigated.
Her partner, Tom Hanover, motioned for her to come over to where he was talking to one of the forensic analysts. Josie gave the body a wide berth in an effort not to throw up. She had always thought that she would have a stronger stomach in a situation like this, but it had been lurching the entire time she’d been here.
“This is my partner, Officer Wright,” Tom said, and Josie reached out to shake the analysts’ hand. “Can you go over what you’ve learned?”
The analyst nodded. “From the angle of the knife blow, and the force needed to make it, we know that it was not a self-inflicted wound. The killer would have to be around the same height as Melissa as well, and she’s been dead for approximately four hours. There are no signs of struggle in the house except for the knocked over chair, or signs of a break-in. Whoever killed her was invited into the home.”
Josie and Tom exchanged a glance. It wasn’t uncommon for residents of Lakefield to leave their doors unlocked. Everyone knew their neighbors, and it was one of the safest towns a person could live in. Someone could have opened the door quietly and surprised Melissa.
“Thanks for your help,” Josie told the analyst, and Tom motioned for her to leave the house first.
The moment she stepped outside, she wished that she had a scarf to cover her face with. The wind was cold and biting, and the snow crunched under Josie’s feet as she walked around to the passenger side of the car. It had been snowing steadily all day, and any prints that might have been left by the killer had long been covered up.
Tom started talking the moment he got into the driver’s seat. “The mailman found her when she didn’t answer the door to get her package. He’s waiting at the station to talk to us, and I think that we should pick up Sam Thompson on our way there.”
Josie nodded. “Melissa’s husband inherited a lot of money from his parents, and I’m sure that Sam is a beneficiary on his father’s life insurance. Everyone in town knows about Sam’s gambling addiction, but Melissa would never hear a word about it.”
They headed over to the auto parts factory where Sam worked. He had no trouble showing up to work and doing his job, but when he had a new paycheck in his wallet, he couldn’t help himself from driving up to the city to gamble. No one in Lakefield would enable his addiction anymore.
Sam’s shift was just ending when they arrived at the factory. Men and women streamed out of the front doors towards their cars, casting Josie and Tom curious looks as they passed the squad car. Sam was one of the last people out the door.
Tom got out of the car, and Josie followed him towards Sam.
“Sam Thompson? You’re not under arrest, but we’re going to need you to come into the station to answer a few questions,” Tom said. Sam froze, his eyes darting back and forth between Josie and her partner.
“What’s this about? Are Emma and Rebecca okay?” He asked, worry evident in his voice. Emma was his four year old daughter, and Rebecca was his wife. He and Rebecca had been together since high school.
“They’re fine, Sam,” Josie said, not wanting to give him any more information here. It would be best to wait until they got him to the station.
“Then what is this about? Tell me,” he demanded, straightening his back. Josie was starting to think that it was less and less likely that Sam was the killer, but he could be a good actor. He might want them to tell him that his mother had been killed so that he could make a big scene.
Tom studied him for a few moments, and then nodded towards the car. “We’ll tell you when you get in the car.”
Sam looked like he wanted to protest, but a hard look from Tom made him reconsider. He got into the back of the car, and they pulled out of the parking lot and headed towards the station. A lot of people from the factory had held off on getting out of the lot to see what had happened, and they didn’t look surprised that Sam had been picked up by the police.
“Now tell me,” Sam said.
Tom nodded at Josie, and she took a deep breath.
“Sam, I’m sorry to tell you that your mother was found dead late this morning.”
A sharp breath could be heard from the backseat. Josie looked up to watch him in the rearview mirror. He was shaking his head back and forth in denial, and his eyes were wet with tears.
“She can’t be! She’s in perfect health, what do you mean she’s dead?” He demanded, and his pain was obvious.
“Your mother was murdered, Sam. We’re investigating now, and we will find her killer,” Tom said. Sam stilled.
“Murdered? In Lakefield? There’s no crime worse than petty theft and vandalism here. You have to be wrong,” he said, shaking his head. He sniffed hard, as his nose was running.
“There’s no way her wound could have been self-inflicted, Sam. Someone else killed her,” Josie said slowly, her voice as calm as it would be if she were talking to an upset child.
“We have not confirmed a motive at this time, Sam. We will be looking into people who may have had reason, though,” Josie said, and Sam locked eyes with her in the mirror. His eyes were red from crying.
“I bet it was David Norris. You know, the farmer?” He asked, not bothering to wait for an answer. “He was furious when Dad had the dam built for the new power plant. He had to sign over his land, and I remember him coming to the house one night. I never knew someone’s face could get that red,” he said, shaking his head at the memory. “I thought he was going to have an aneurysm or something.”
The idea had merit, but Josie couldn’t be sure that Sam wasn’t just trying to pin the blame on someone else. He seemed genuinely shocked and upset by his mother’s death, but he could very well be putting on an act.
Tom pulled into the station’s parking lot, and Sam’s jaw tensed.
“Why am I here, if all you had to do was inform me? Do I need to see her body or something? I don’t think I can do that.”
“No, that’s not why you’re here, Sam. We just want to ask you some questions,” Josie said, putting her hand on the door handle.
“What kind of questions?” He asked suspiciously.
“Your whereabouts at the time of the murder and so forth,” Tom said easily.
“No. You think I’m a suspect? That I murdered my own mother?” Sam asked, his voice disgusted. “But wait, of course you think that it was me. I have a gambling problem, everyone talks about it. And inheriting money would be worth killing my mother over,” he said, sneering at them.
“I was with my wife and daughter this morning, and I’ve been at work all day.” He threw his door open and began walking away from the station. Tom followed him.
“Hey! We’re not done talking to you,” he shouted.
Sam turned his head to spit. “Yeah, you are. Come talk to me when you actually have something useful to say.”
“That went well,” Josie muttered. Tom scowled at her sarcasm, but didn’t say anything. They had only be partners for three months. His old one had retired, and hers had moved into the city so they could be a detective someday. If Josie’s mother wasn’t sick, then she might have been an FBI agent by now instead of choosing to come back to Lakefield after college.
Tom had had the same dream, but he got injured playing football in college and would never be able to pass the physical examination required to be a field agent. Josie knew that he resented the fact that she had given up on her goal when she could’ve done it. That resentment hadn’t made their partnership an easy one so far. But he was a good officer, and she was glad to be working with him.
“We’ll go talk to the mailman and work our way on from there,” Tom said, walking into the station as he spoke. Josie followed.
An hour later they had talked to the mailman who had discovered Melissa’s body, and come up with two other possible suspects. Another officer said that three weeks ago, Ron and Hannah Lowry’s nine month old daughter had broken her arm at Melissa’s house. She babysat five kids from the neighborhood sometimes, and the officer and Child Services had determined that one of the older boys had accidentally dropped the baby. Still, any parent would be furious that something so serious had happened under Melissa’s watch.
The two partners drove over to the Lowry’s house, and decided that they would take Sam’s advice and pay a visit to David Norris after that.
Hannah and Ron were upset to hear about Melissa, and said that they had both been at work all day. Their alibis checked out, and their sadness over Melissa’s death seemed to be completely genuine.
“Thank you for answering our questions.” Josie stood up to leave.
“Of course, and please contact us if you need anything else. This is all just so terrible,” Hannah remarked, rubbing her cheek on her daughter’s little head for comfort. The baby was still wearing her cast, but didn’t seem to be in any pain. And any bad feelings Hannah and Ron may have felt towards Melissa were not present in their behavior.
Josie and Tom found their way to David Norris’s house after that. He was shocked and upset as well, and sat down hard in a chair upon hearing the news.
“I’ve always regretted what I said to Mayor Thompson all those years ago.” He shook his head as he spoke. “Sure, it hurt to hand over that land. It still does. But whenever I go into town and see what good that dam has done, I understand why it had to be built. And I was generously financially compensated for the land, so I haven’t struggled any,” he said, staring down at the floor.
Suddenly he looked up to meet my eyes.
“The Thompson’s were good people,” he said firmly, and then seemed to reconsider. “Well, maybe not the son. He’s caused a lot of trouble over the years, most of it to himself and that wife and daughter of his,” he said, shaking his head.
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Norris,” Tom said as they left the house.
When they were in the car, Josie leaned her head back and closed her eyes. “I think that we need to go back to Melissa’s house. We’re not getting anywhere with these suspects.”
“It’s as good an idea as any,” Tom replied.
The moment we pulled into Melissa’s driveway, a woman and her daughter from across the street came hurrying out towards us. Josie recognized them as Mrs. Danvers and her daughter, Lizzie.
“Excuse me, but Lizzie has something important she needs to tell you,” Mrs. Danvers nodded at her daughter in encouragement.
Lizzie swallowed nervously. “I was home sick from school today, and I saw Rebecca Thompson go into the house around the time Mrs. Thompson was killed.”
“Did you see anyone else enter or leave the house?”
“No, just her. I was watching T.V. in the living room, and our window has a good view of Mrs. Thompson’s house. I would have seen someone else,” Lizzie said, gaining more confidence the more she spoke.
“Thank you for telling us, Lizzie. You’ve been a big help,” Josie told the girl, and then she and Tom hurried back towards the car.
They drove to Sam and Rebecca’s house as fast as they could with the roads covered in snow, and hoped that Rebecca would be at home.
Both Sam’s truck and Rebecca’s cars were in the driveway when they got there, and when they knocked on the door, Rebecca answered. She was quiet for a moment before she shouted to Sam.
“The officers are here to talk to you again, Sam!” She shouted, stepping aside to let Josie and Tom inside the house. The furniture was old and shabby, but everything was meticulously clean.
“Sam will be out here in just a moment. He was trying to take a nap,” she explained, not meeting their eyes. “Can I get you two anything to drink?” Rebecca stepped towards the fridge.
“Actually, Mrs. Thompson, we want to speak to you.”
Rebecca stopped moving, her back to them, and Sam chose that moment to enter the room.
“What do you want to talk to her for? You think she’s going to tell you that I did it?” Sam crossed his arms. “I told you that you should talk to David Norris.”
“We did talk to Mr. Norris, Sam. And we spoke to the Danvers family across the street from your mother. Their daughter was home sick from school today, and she said that she saw your wife enter the home at the time of the murder.”
Sam’s arms fell to his sides and he turned to stare at his wife. “Is that true?”
Rebecca’s shoulders were hunched and her arms were wrapped around herself. “Yes, it’s true.” She spoke quietly, still not turning around to look at anyone.
“Did you kill Melissa?” Josie asked, and Rebecca’s breaths turned shaky.
“I tried to tell her how bad Sam’s problem was, every time I saw her without him. But she wouldn’t listen,” she said, turning around to look at them. Her face was pale, and there was a desperate look in her eyes.
“You killed her?” Sam choked out the words, staring at Rebecca in horror.
Rebecca nodded, tears starting to fall from her eyes. “I did it for Emma. You always waste your paychecks on gambling, and mine are never enough. Emma deserves to be able to wear good clothes, and to always have the water at her house work. If we had that life insurance money, then I would have been able to take care of her properly. Your mother just would never listen to me. She was happy pretending that you’re perfect,” Rebecca bit out. Her hands were shaking.
“Rebecca Thompson, you have the right to remain silent,” Tom started to read Rebecca her rights, and Sam started shouting at her, his face turning red with anger.
Josie looked at Emma, who had come out of her room to see what was going on. Her eyes were wide with fear, darting between her mother and her father. She would have to end up going to live with her aunt, as it was obvious Sam couldn’t take care of her with his gambling addiction.
She followed Tom and Rebecca out of the house, not able to feel any of the happiness she thought would come with solving her first murder case. All she could feel was frustration and sadness.
Across the street, a tall Christmas tree could be seen through the window. It was lit up with lights of every color, and further in the house a family of four could be seen sitting down to dinner. It was then that Josie remembered that next week was Christmas, and looked back into the house.
Sam stood in the doorway, his angry eyes locked on Rebecca, and just behind him was Emma. Her eyes were locked on the window across the street.