Silent Killer by Sean E Thomas by Sean E Thomas - Read Online

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Silent Killer - Sean E Thomas

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endeavor.

Prologue

Darkness surrounded the man in the engine compartment. His flashlight cast a thin beam of light, barely illuminating his meticulous work. No light escaped the engine’s hatch cover. In spite of the pain in his back and muscles straining in his legs as he hunched over, he whistled. He adjusted the carburetion on the boat’s generator system. He cut into the steel exhaust pipe, grinding the metal paper-thin. Along its length he made several jagged holes and smoothed them out with very fine emery cloth.

Occasionally, he stopped and listened to the waves gently lapping against the hull to see if anyone was walking the docks. Cautiously, he opened the bottle of hydrochloric acid and dipped the cotton-tipped swabs into the solution, trying not to spill a drop. He ran it across the edges and around the holes he had made. He wiped the acid away with a wet rag. The acid burned and pitted the steel, giving it an almost authentic corroded appearance. He added the final touch. Opening another bottle, ferric oxide, he dipped a brush into the reddish-brown powder. He dusted the holes. In a couple days, no one would know he had been here. He listened again, then started a hand-held vacuum. Once he was satisfied the job was finished, he took a deep breath of the dank oil- and diesel-scented air and smiled. He checked around the area to ensure he’d left no trace. He was almost as silent and invisible as the carbon monoxide he employed to kill his enemies. He worked hard not to leave any trace, but felt compelled to sign his artwork. He imagined himself as Leonardo da Vinci signing his masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, though he prayed no one would ever see his mark. He moved to the back of the pipe and with a fine carbon steel stylus, drew a small smiley face, and placed the number two thousand next to it. It had taken him several years to get his revenge. Memories of high school flooded his mind—the constant name calling—queer, fag and worse, taunting, and bullying. He reported the incidents to the teachers and to the principal. That only led to more animosity and hate sent his way. He fought each day for his survival, but the bullies would never fight fair. When he stumbled and fell, they kicked him unmercifully. He’d suffered broken ribs, arms, and fingers. In the cafeteria, two of the bullies removed his pants in front of the rest of the students.

Bomb threats had been called in on his locker. Drugs and weapons had been planted on him. The reason it wasn’t part of his permanent record was the principal believed him. Almost every night, the bullies made threatening calls to his house. His family got caller ID and found the caller’s number blocked. Only after calling the police in to set up a phone tap, did the harassment stop. The bullies made his life a living hell.

He was the outcast, a label he later adopted as his alter ego. He’d been born with a cleft palate, which had brought difficulty in grade school, but at age sixteen, he had been further disfigured in an auto accident. His best friend’s parents and two of his best friends had died in that accident. The police and the paramedics misidentified him when they took him to the hospital. Wanting to disassociate himself from his past, he assumed the identity of one of his dead friends from the crash. Not even his parents knew he was alive. Lawsuits from the auto accident had made him wealthy, very wealthy. They had buried his friend in his stead. Before he went to college, Outcast used the money to pay for several plastic surgeries. This ensured that his former classmates wouldn’t recognize him. While at college, with the stress of bullying gone, he excelled. He took IQ tests that showed his intelligence quotient off the charts and he joined Mensa. He worked hard, going to two colleges at once, and in three years, graduated with honors in chemistry, physics, mathematics, and accounting with a minor in criminology. While playing the stock market, Outcast turned his wealth into multimillions. Yet, the money meant nothing because it didn’t ease the pain. The scars of abuse had burned deep into his psyche. Psychiatrists and counselors couldn’t help. Revenge, he thought, would even the score and bring him peace. He crafted his plan. First he destroyed several of his classmates financially. The taste of victory had been bittersweet and hollow.

The year he graduated he found the solution on page six of the Anchorage Tribune, "Unexplained Deaths on Lake Mead." Early on, he had suspected the boating deaths were from carbon monoxide poisoning. Long before the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health convened a task force to examine the deaths, Outcast planned his revenge. Over the course of several years, he’d killed twenty-three members of his graduating class and their families. Now, the evil spawn’s offspring would never inflict pain on anyone else. He took great satisfaction that all the murders had been ruled accidental. He pulled out his notebook, putting a check mark by another name on the list and chuckled to himself. When they died, Outcast would cross the name off the list. Another down and many more to go.

If the sabotage to this didn’t work, he’d target their home’s furnace. If that didn’t work, Outcast would visit his target’s house and drill a small hole in the bedroom wall at floor level. Then he’d slip in a tube in the hole as he’d done many times before. A mechanical device switched on a tank of carbon monoxide when the owners turned on the furnace. Outcast had messed up only once, early in his crusade. He had taken out one of the tormentors with solid carbon dioxide. Once the ice turned to gas, it left no trace. Unfortunately, the pink flush to the dead student’s face and levels of the gas in the victim’s blood led the police to investigate the death as a homicide. Luckily, Outcast had planned ahead and bought the solid carbon dioxide in another state using a false identification.

Chapter 1

The midday sun hung at its apex in an azure sky over the emerald green waters of Prince William Sound. Steep, snow-capped mountains, scarred with deep crags and plunging into the depths of Passage Canal fjord, surrounded an industrial-looking little town called Whittier. It was one of the few sunny days State Trooper Sergeant Robert Sable had seen in a couple weeks. With the move of the jet stream north, Alaska had been visited by one low pressure system after another. That meant one rain storm after another during each of the last several summer’s weather had been dismal. Today, however, Whittier was glorious, a far cry from its reputation of being the farthest northern rain forest.

You’ve got to see this boat, Aaron McCabe said, dragging Sable by his arm. McCabe stood at six foot six, towering over Sable by several inches. Though both sergeants had white hair, they looked as though they were in their twenties.

Hold your horses. I thought we were going fishing today. Sable scanned the harbor, marveling at the diverse boats, which ranged from small boats to yachts and fishing vessels carrying nets in their rigging. He followed McCabe down the ramp to a large thirty-seven-foot Tollycraft. Behind the yacht were a Chris Craft and a fifty-four-foot Viking. A large For Sale sign was taped to the port window.

I thought we’d go fishing after we checked out a few boats.

So this is a trap.

You can’t believe the price.

You can’t afford this.

It’s half price.

What’s wrong with it?

The owner and his family died from carbon monoxide poisoning on board. They didn’t find the bodies for several days and so...

Damn. You can’t afford the fuel let alone the boat.

Can’t we look at it? The smell of death should be long gone.

Sable shrugged. Sure. Does Cindy know?

McCabe smiled sheepishly. No.

I thought you guys were saving for a house.

But...

Let’s see. You’ll have a house payment of at least two thousand dollars a month and a boat payment the same. What are you going to live on? Then there’s the utilities, food, and clothing.

I thought I’d split the cost of the boat with one of my friends.

Don’t look at me. I have a boat, Sable said. I doubt if Sue will let me buy another one. She thinks my Silver Streak is enough.

Maybe I can talk DeLuca into becoming a partner.

He’s getting married to Bishop. And you know what she’d say.

McCabe groaned.

As they approached the boat, a young black woman wearing jeans and a white blouse stepped out of the cabin. Her name tag identified her as Amanda Eagle. She pushed her sunglasses up her nose. Officer McCabe I presume.

Sergeant, but call me McCabe.

She nodded. I’m Amanda.

McCabe introduced Sable.

Let me show you the boat, she said. If you have any questions, ask.

When did the family die? Sable asked

Amanda scowled.

Sorry, my partner is always curious, McCabe said.

You’re together? she asked.

Not in that way. We’re partners in the Criminal Investigation Bureau.

Lance and Joan Deniaud died a couple months ago, she said and paused. No, it was early May.

How?

Carbon monoxide poisoning.

Thanks, Sable said.

Tell us about the boat.

She stepped into the living room. This 1992, thirty-seven foot Tollycraft, Angle Fire, is fully equipped and its interior cabin was refurbished.

How’s she powered? Sable asked.

She has two 3208 210hp ‘bullet proof’ Caterpillar engines. She weighs twelve tons. With her cats, she cruises at a comfortable ten knots.

What’s the top end? McCabe asked.

Top speed of twenty knots. She has a three hundred-gallon fuel tank and holds one hundred fifty gallons of fresh water.

McCabe nodded in appreciation.

She has a forty-five-pound Danforth anchor, windlass, thirty feet of chain and two hundred feet of one half inch anchor line. Any questions?"

McCabe shook his head.

She has a kitchen with all the amenities. A large bedroom and queen sized bed. Below, she has two crew quarters. She motioned to the aft of the boat.

Has any work been done to the craft since the owners perished?

Amanda left out an exasperated breath. No. The generator exhaust pipe is corroded and needs to be replaced. My company will have it repaired when the boat is sold.

Could I look at the engines while you cover the boat with my partner? Sable knew McCabe would be way over his head if he bought the boat. Sable was more curious how the Deniauds had died. The boat seemed to be in excellent condition, but he’d seen other boats that looked great, but engine maintenance hadn’t been kept up.

As Amanda droned on about the boat’s extras, Sable raised a finger.

Sure. There’s an engine hatch at the stern or you go through the hall next to the crew quarters.

Thanks. Sable’s father, a top mechanic and proud of his French-Finn heritage, had instilled in him that the engine was the heart of the boat, and that it needed care. A boat means the difference between life and death if you don’t maintain it, his Tlingit mother had chided him.

You’ve got to see this. Amanda motioned to the helm. It has everything: VHF and HF radio, GPS, radar, compass..."

Sable headed to the engine compartment. He lifted the hatch and climbed down the ladder. The Caterpillar engines were massive. He scanned the space. He looked at the cleanliness and care to the engines and floor—not a speck of oil anywhere. In the corner, he saw a small diesel generator. He strode over and started examining the exhaust pipe. Rust had heavily pitted it. At the bottom, a jagged hole didn’t appear natural. At its base, the metal had a dark stain. He took his handkerchief and wiped it over the outline. Then he brought it to his nose. He recognized the sharp, caustic smell from his college chemistry lab—hydrochloric acid. He studied the pipe from its base to where it went above decks. At the top and back of the pipe, he found a tiny smiley face and the number 2000. He carefully examined the bulkhead. A hole had been drilled and a brass screen installed. This would have allowed carbon monoxide to flow from the generator sleeping quarters and the rest of the boat. He suspected the Deniauds had been murdered. What did the smiley face and the 2000 mean? He headed to McCabe and Amanda.

As he approached, Amanda was finishing. If you don’t like this boat, I have several others, some at much lower prices.

Have you heard of anyone else dying of carbon monoxide poisoning on their boat? Sable asked.

Well, it’s strange—I heard through the grapevine of three families dying. Two at home from a faulty furnace and one on a boat.

Do you represent those families as well?

Sorry, another agent has those boats, but I’ll find who does if you want.

Yes, please. Can we see the other boat? Sable asked.

Sure it’s the thirty-eight-foot Corsair Chris Craft in the next slip.

Who were the owners? Sable asked.

Mark and Mary Covington, she said. Let’s check out the boat.

Amanda led the way, starting her spiel on the boat’s features. When Sable checked the engine compartment he found the same markings on the exhaust pipe of the generator, the smell of hydrochloric acid, and a hole drilled into the bulkhead. This time there was no attempt to cover up the drilling.

As Sable climbed out of the engine compartment, he closed the hatch. He shook his head, mulling his options. He’d been to many crime scenes, but this was the first where the killer had used carbon monoxide. The gas was called the silent killer because it was odorless and colorless and lethal in small quantities. Now, he feared a killer just as silent was murdering families and leaving virtually no trace of his activities. Even if he’d left evidence, the scene had been contaminated by all the people who had worked on or seen the boats. Pulling out his phone, he called his boss, Captain Carl Owen, and explained the situation.

Have your team get a search warrant and call Colt Stevens. His CSIs should determine in no time whether it was an accident or not.

Wilco. Sable hung up and called Sergeant Ann Stockwell and told her the problem.

I’ll get right on the warrants. And I’ll let Stevens know he’s needed.

See if Foster can find out anything that would link Covington, Deniaud, and the strange marks.

On it. Anything else?

No. Thanks. I’ll see you later. Sable closed his cell phone, put it back into its case, and went to join Amanda and McCabe.

Sable, this one’s a real bargain, McCabe said. It’s older and fifty grand.

Sable smiled and nodded to Amanda. Has anyone else looked at the boat?

Actually no. You’re the first. The estates had to be settled first.

Do you have anyone else looking at them today?

She shook her head.

We’re going to have a late breakfast at the Anchor Inn, Sable said. Is there a way we can contact you this afternoon?

She handed him a card. My husband and I will be fishing at Salmon Run this afternoon. It’s a couple miles from here. If you decide to buy either of the boats let me know.

They shook hands and Sable and McCabe began walking up the dock.

What the hell was that about? McCabe asked.

Sable told him.

Damn, you have to go and spoil everything—I looked at two boats and you tell me they are crime scenes.

Face it. Cindy would’ve never let you buy a boat.

Chapter 2

After their breakfast, Sable and McCabe joined CSI Colt Stevens and his technicians at Angel Fire. Stevens met him on the dock and nodded to Sable. It figures that you’d have to ruin my weekend.

You didn’t have to show up, Sable said. It’s your team now.

You have all the interesting cases compared to the other troopers, Stevens said. Trouble always finds you.

Yup, I know, McCabe said. Unfortunately, I’ve been his partner for a long time. If there’s a crime, the crook will fall right in front of Sable, especially on our day off. And you can take that to the bank.

The stern engine hatch was open and one of the techs, Ashoka Kalidasa, his skin perpetually tanned, looked up at them and waved.

Whatdja find?

I found metal shavings, ferric oxide powder, fiberglass fragments, but no fingerprints, Kalidasa said in a stilted British-Indian clip. Of course, from what senior CSI Stevens told me, you already know this.

Did you look at the top of the pipe?

Oh my, yes, yes. I will take a picture of this.

There is another engraving at the top of the exhaust pipe of the boat in the next slip.

Ah, this modification is definitely deliberate. It was murder.

I understand there are several residences we need to look at as well.

Mark and Mary Covington and Lance and Joan Deniaud. They owned the boats. Sable pulled the cell from its holster and the agent’s card from his pocket. He dialed Amanda’s number. This is Sergeant Sable.

You’re in luck. You caught me before we went fishing, she said. You’re interested in buying one of the boats?

I need the name of the other agent.

Damn, I lost another sale to that bastard.

I need the names of the other owners.

You want to buy the other boats?

That’s not it. I’m sorry. Your boats are crime scenes. We have them cordoned off.

You can’t do that. You don’t have a warrant.

Yes, we do and yes we can. It looks as if the owners may have been murdered.

Oh my god. Can I help?

I need the name of the other agent and I need you to stay away until we clear the scene,