June 6, 10:30 am
The Salt Lake City Public Safety Building, which opened its doors in 2013, was an engineering marvel.
It was designed with state-of-the-art technology to serve as a communications center and administrative hub for both the police and fire operations of the city. And more, since the city often suffered from serious pollution problems during the winter, it was designed to be a green building which would be a model for other such public facilities in the future.
But the real marvel of the building, Carla Grayson believed, was the fact that they built it like Fort Knox.
For years Salt Lake City had been expecting “the big one”—the earthquake along the Wasatch Fault that would shake the city into a ruin. Most modern construction in the city was geared toward surviving a major earthquake, but the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building took earthquake preparedness to a whole new level. They designed it to not only survive, but to continue operations in the event of even the worst disaster. The power grid in the building was modular and hardened, with multiple redundancies and power generation capabilities. The design ensured that nothing that mother nature could throw at the city would take down their command center.
And that was fine. But to Carla’s eyes, the cubicles and offices in the new building were no more appealing than the ones in the old behemoth they had vacated. Her own office was tiny, a half floor below ground, and in the center of the building. She was always relieved when she could venture out and up and get some actual sunlight.
Her Sergeant’s name was Brian Mears, and his thirty years on the force had rated him a slightly bigger office on the perimeter, including a street-level view out over the courtyard. Rather than have him meet her in one of the bleak conference rooms, she had called to say that she was on her way up.
She strode into his office, and without a word, dropped the sheaf of papers she was carrying onto his desk.
Mears was sitting with his back to the door, his feet up on the cabinet under the window. His gray military-style crew cut looked like it bad been freshly shorn that morning, and he ran his hand through it before turning slowly in his big leather chair. As he did, Carla noticed he was careful not to glance at the papers she’d just dumped on his desk so unceremoniously. Instead, he just leaned back and looked up at her, gnawing on his pen.
“Jesus Carla, you look like shit. Did you go home at all?”
“Nope, thanks to you and this bullshit assignment.” She thumped the papers on his desk. “I’ve spent most the night dealing with pissed off people. Nobody enjoys getting a call in the middle of the night, especially when it’s bad news, and especially when it’s a cop with bad news.”
“Sorry to dump this on you, Carla,” Mears said, finally looking over the tops of his glasses at the files. “But you’ve got a way about you that works for this stuff. People tell you things they won’t tell the guys.”
“Yeah, well, not today. And besides, that’s sexist crap. Don’t play that card with me. It’s just a way to keep me behind a desk, when I could be out there doing investigations.”
Mears scowled, finally leaning forward, dragging the stack of papers across the blotter.
“So. You got nothing?”
“Practically nothing.” She waited as the Sergeant picked up and quickly skimmed the pages of her notes. She was very thorough about these sorts of things, and her work was well organized. Each page was an interview record with someone who might shed some light on Bradley Seward, the now famous “Slasher Airman,” as he had been dubbed on social media. The #SlasherAirman hashtag was already trending, at least in Salt Lake City.
Carla had arrived at Valley Fair the night before to find that the local police had already evacuated the mall and cordoned off the theater and the nearby parking lot. Bodies were already being bagged and tagged. The wounded were being loaded into ambulances, or for the lucky ones, treated there in the parking lot. And the on-site officers were looking more shell-shocked than she had ever seen them.
It was no wonder. In the theater she saw a scene of incredible fury. Carla was no stranger to violence, with her twenty years on the force. But this was beyond anything she’d ever seen.
How could one man do this much damage with a single hunting knife? she wondered.
Fortunately, she hadn’t stayed long on site. She was among a dozen other detectives that SLC had sent to the scene, but Valley Fair Mall was officially in West Valley City, a suburb of Salt Lake. That made it out of their jurisdiction, and relegated them all to a support role which meant crowd control, and helping to lock down the crime scene. She’d spent a tedious two hours putting up crime scene tape and keeping reporters at bay. To her disgust, she learned about the suspect from the reporters, not the West Valley officials.
Bradley Seward. An Air Force Pilot, working out of Dugway Proving Grounds. That one hadn’t been hard to track down, since he was still wearing his uniform with his name tag when they found him. And also because he had come to the theater with his wife and two little girls. By the time Carla arrived, the West Valley Detectives were already interviewing the Sewards, who she could see sitting on the back bumper of a fire truck, surrounded by both uniformed officers and detectives. The mother looked like she might be in shock and was wrapped in a blanket. The two girls just held each other and cried. Carla didn’t linger, but she did stay long enough to get a sense of the chaos.
The press kept shouting questions at her. “What can you tell us about Bradley Seward?” was the most frequent one. So far, little more than his name was out in the public sphere. But she knew the digging into his past had just begun.
Around midnight, WVPD held a briefing for all the detectives who had remained on site: Four from West Valley City, and two from SLPD. After the briefing, she was told to head back to headquarters, and that her Sargeant would have an assignment for her by the time she got there.
She was right to dread it. Mears had told her that her task for the rest of the night would be pretty simple: Wake up the base commander in Dugway, tell him what happened and who the suspect was. And then call anybody she could find who could give them insight into Bradley Seward.
“Is this the list you got from the base commander?” the Sergeant asked, looking at the cover sheet to the stack of papers.
“Yeah. Well, not the base commander. He didn’t know Bradley personally, so he put me in touch with a Command Sergeant Major named Sutton Deary, who runs base security. He seemed to know absolutely everybody on the base. Deary knew Seward well, and he was really helpful. He and his assistant spent the evening compiling the best list they could come up with of the man’s friends and colleagues on the base. They got me that list around 3:00 am.”
“Have you been home at all, Carla? Did you get any sleep? You look exhausted.”
“I’m not exhausted, Sarge. I’m frustrated. And yes, I grabbed a couple hours at my desk, waiting for this list.” She sighed and plopped herself heavily into the chair across from his desk. “Sarge, this is grunt work. I know we’re just acting as support for West Valley in this. But look at that list! I called over two dozen of these people. Every call was the same. ‘Yes, I knew Bradley Seward. No, it makes no sense, what you say he’s done. No, I don’t believe it. He was a good family man. He loved his wife and children. He was dedicated to the Air Force. He attended church regularly at the ward house outside of Dugway.’ Every single interview was the same. He was forty years-old and had married a divorcee with two kids five years ago. And he seems to have loved his wife and kids like crazy, as far as anybody can tell. There was no sign or mental illness or stress or anything in this guy. He was a total boy-scout.
“And dammit, when he was in Salt Lake City, he even attended church with his mother-in-law, at her ward. I verified that too.”
The Sergeant dropped the papers on the desk and spread out his hands in what looked like a gesture of surrender. “So what do we have? What do I tell West Valley City?”
“Well, tell them that so far, after over twenty calls and interviews, I haven’t been able to find a single flaw in the character of this guy, or a single person who has provided a clue worthy of checking out.”
The Sergeant thumbed through the papers again, looking at the “follow-up interview recommend” check boxes. “Not a single one of these is worth sending someone to interview?”
“Not a one.”
“Well, that sucks. But you should know that what you found jives with what West Valley City is finding, too. They seem just as flummoxed as you. They’re even checking toxicology to see if maybe he was under the influence of something. My buddy over there says that he’s never seen anything like this. It just came out of the blue.”
Carla rubbed her eyes. “Well, we all know sometimes that happens. Sometimes, there just isn’t an answer.” She paused for a second, while Mears continued to flip through her pages. “Speaking of cases that don’t have an answer, you know I have one of my own.”
He rolled his eyes. “Richard Pratt.”
“Yes, Richard Pratt. Sarge, I’d like to go home and get some rest, and come back this afternoon. When I do, I’d appreciate if you’d pull me off this case. This is West Valley’s mess, and they can have it. I’m not doing any good on this. And I haven’t wrapped up the Pratt case.”
“Carla, that case is done. It’s open and shut. Howard Gunderson shot him. You need to hand it over to the prosecutors. Our job isn’t to figure out why somebody did something. Hell, for all we know, Gunderson was stoned or high on something.”
“Toxicology say no…”
“Or it was some freaking gang initiation.”
Carla smirked, remembering the guard at the prison. “I don’t believe that. I’ve talked to this kid, and he’s just not the type.”
“I know you’ve talked to the kid,” Mears said, his eyes narrowing. “For the past three days, you’ve done little but talk to the kid. The point is this.” He leaned forward in his chair and enunciated each word carefully “I. don’t. care. Carla, we don’t care. I shouldn’t have to remind you of this, but it’s not our job to care. Our job is to investigate and catch the bad guys, and when we catch them, we turn them over to the prosecutors, and then we move on. I’ve told you before, you get way too attached to your cases, and West Valley is going to need us on this Valley Fair thing. This is going to be a nightmare, and not just for West Valley. You know how this thing works. We scratch their back on this, provide them with some resources, and we call in that favor later.”
Carla was silent. She thought that if she opened her mouth now, she’d probably say something she’d regret.
Slowly, Mears softened and leaned across his desk. “Look,” he said, “Go home. Get some rest. I’ll have Phillips pick up with this list.”
“Oh, he’ll love me for that,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“He’ll do what he’s told. Unlike you.” Mears threw a paper clip at her, which she was too tired to even try to bat away. But the tension between them had been broken, and they could both feel it.
“Go home, Carla. Call me when you wake up. We’ll talk.”
The little smile on the Sergeant’s face was all she needed. He’d put up a good fight, but it had mostly been for show. A way to show her he had the last word on this, and he’d only be pushed so far. She’d get at least a couple more days to work on the Pratt case. A couple more opportunities to talk to Howard Gunderson. Hopefully, that would be all she would need.
The Last Handful of Clover is a supernatural thriller by Wess Mongo Jolley. Thanks for reading! If you are enjoying this story, please consider supporting the author on Patreon.
For more information (including maps of the story’s world and a contact form) visit the author’s website.
To read previous chapters of this book, go to the Table of Contents page.
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Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.