Monday through Saturday. Trent must’ve gotten a special permit to blast at night and on a Sunday.”
“So the blasting schedule is public knowledge,” said Puller. “Doesn’t help narrow down the list of possible suspects. But tell me about Trent Exploration.”
“Trent is by far the biggest employer in the county.”
“Well-liked outfit?” asked Puller.
Cole pursed her lips. “Nobody loves coal companies, Puller. And the way Trent does it has resulted in entire valleys being filled up with debris. It causes flooding and a host of other environmental issues, not to mention that blowing the tops off mountains leaves the countryside pretty damn ugly. But it’s a hell of a lot cheaper for the company to do it that way. They’re enormously profitable.”
“But it still provides jobs,” added Monroe. “My cousin works at Trent as a geological engineer. Makes a decent living.”
Cole continued. “Roger Trent is sole owner of the company. He’s had his share of code violations and accidents where people have died. And it doesn’t help that he lives in a big mansion behind big gates and gets his water piped in nice and clean because his operations have screwed up the water tables.”
“And folks around here just let that happen?”
“He has junkyard-dog lawyers on retainer, and even though the state’s trying to clean up the judicial sector, he’s still bought up half the judges in the state. But he keeps people employed, pays fair, and gives to charities, and so he’s tolerated. But a few more mining accidents and a few more cancer diagnoses because of all the pollution, and he might get ridden out of here on a rail.”
Puller looked over at the bodies. “How long had the Reynoldses been staying here?”
Cole said, “About five weeks according to folks we talked to.”
“And the colonel was coming and going from D.C.,” added Puller. He looked out the window. “You’ve canvassed the neighbors?”
Cole said, “Seven other homes and we’ve talked to everyone. Got zip.”
“That’s a little hard to believe,” said Puller. “Killers right next door and nobody sees or hears anything? And then a cop gets killed and someone drives off in his cruiser and again, nothing?”
“All I can tell you is what they said.”
“Then I think it might be time to check with everyone again.”
PULLER WALKED DOWN the front steps and kept going until he was in the middle of the yard of fried grass. Cole had followed him outside. Lan Monroe had stayed inside to finish bagging evidence.
Puller looked right, left, and then forward again. The day had passed rapidly. The sun had long ago begun its descent, but it was still uncomfortably hot. There was no wind. The humidity pressed in from all sides like solid walls of water.
“Puller, you want to split up the houses?” she asked.
He didn’t answer.
What he was seeing had to be deciphered and put into its proper perspective. There were eight homes on the street, four on each side, including the one where the murders had occurred. At six of the houses there were people out front. A few men, several women, and some little kids. They were all ostensibly doing everyday activities—washing a car, cutting the grass, getting the mail, playing ball, or just chatting. What they were really doing was satisfying their morbid curiosity by surreptitiously staring at the house where violent death had occurred.
Puller’s immediate task was to separate the obvious and normal from its antithesis. He focused on the house directly across the street. Two cars and a big Harley highway bike were in the driveway. But no one was outside. No gawkers at all.
He pointed. “Did you talk to the people in that house?”
Cole looked at where he was indicating. She called over her shoulder to one of the uniforms standing guard at the crime scene. “Lou, you talked to those folks, right?”
Lou came forward. He was the chubby cop. His leather belt squeaked as he walked.
Puller knew that to be a rookie mistake. Oil the belt. Squeaks got you killed.
Lou pulled out his notebook and leafed through it. “Spoke to a man who identified himself as Eric Treadwell. He lives in that house with a lady named Molly Bitner. He said she’d gone to work early that morning and didn’t mention hearing or seeing anything suspicious. But he said he’d check with her when she got home. And Treadwell said he hadn’t seen or heard anything either.”
“But he might’ve seen something last night when Larry got killed,” said Cole. “I want every one of these folks questioned again. Someone drove off in Larry’s cruiser. Somebody in one of those houses might’ve seen or heard something.”
Puller said, “Did this Treadwell guy show you any ID?”
Lou, who had been about to walk off to execute Cole’s order, turned to him.
“Yeah, to prove he actually lived there.”
“No, he didn’t show any ID.”
“Did you ask for it?”
“No, I didn’t.” The tone was now defensive.
“How did it go down? Did you approach him?” asked Puller.
“He was standing at the front door when I came up,” said Lou. “That’s probably why I didn’t ask for ID. Because he was in his house.”
That was bullshit, Puller knew. The guy was backpedaling, building in a justification for his lack of professionalism and even common sense.
“But you didn’t know Eric Treadwell by sight?” he asked.
Cole looked over at her deputy, who was scowling at Puller. “Answer the question, Lou.”
“No,” Lou admitted.
“Any of the other deputies know him?”
“Not that they mentioned to me.”
“What time was it?”
Lou checked his notes once more. “Little after three in the afternoon. We’d really just gotten here after the call came in.”
“Any other neighbors around then?”
“No, that time in the afternoon wouldn’t expect it. People in Drake work. Both husbands and wives.”
“But apparently not this guy.”
“What are you getting at, Puller?” asked Cole. “Are you trying to say this guy was the killer? Pretty stupid for him to hang around and talk to the cops, then.”
In answer he pointed at the house. “It’s after five in the afternoon. There are two cars in the driveway. They were there when I got here at about 4 a.m. And they’ve been here all day. So even though you said everybody works around here, it doesn’t seem to apply to that house. And at every other house you’ve got people outside watching us. That’s normal. There’s no one in that house even peeking out the windows. Under the circumstances, that’s not normal.” He turned to Lou. “When you were talking to the guy on Monday were those two cars and the Harley parked in the driveway?”
Lou tipped his hat back and thought about this. “Yeah, I think they were. Why?”
“Well, you said the guy told you his wife was still at work. How many vehicles do they have?”
“Shit,” muttered a ticked-off-looking Cole as she glared at Lou. “Come on.”
She strode across the street with Puller and Lou trailing. She knocked on the door, got no answer, and knocked again.
She said, “Problem is we don’t have a search warrant. And we’ve got no probable to bust in. I can try to get something—” She broke off. “What are you doing?”
Puller had leaned over the front banister and looked in the front window.
“Getting us probable cause.”
“What?” asked Cole sharply.
Puller drew his M11.
“What are you doing?” exclaimed Cole.
Puller slammed his size thirteen shoe against the wood of the door and it buckled inward. His shoulder finished what his foot had started. He stepped inside, keeping low and doing visual sweeps, his gun running parallel to his gaze. He turned the corner and dis
appeared from view.
“Get in here,” said Puller. “But keep alert. Place isn’t cleared yet.”
Cole and Lou pulled their weapons and followed him inside. She peered around the corner to find Puller staring at it.
“Son of a bitch,” exclaimed Cole.