The Summer Children (The Collector #3)(7)

Ronnie had an awful lot of blood on him; the room has to be a god-awful mess.

I probably should have guessed it from the ME’s van outside, but it somehow comes as a surprise that the Wilkinses are still in bed. The covers are in disarray, and there is blood pretty damn near everywhere. I can track a few spots that are clearly arterial spray—it’s a very distinctive pattern—and several that seem more likely to be cast off, probably from a knife. After that, it gets more chaotic where different blood patterns cross and drip. There are dual negative spaces on the carpet on either side of the bed. One on each side is most likely where the killer—Ronnie’s angel—stood, but the others . . .

When he said she made him watch, I didn’t imagine he meant this closely.

Two sets of bloody footprints track around the bed and to the door, but they stop there. There was zero blood in the hall. The killer could have carried Ronnie—probably carried Ronnie, as an extra measure of control—but she had to have had something to cover her feet. Booties? Bags? Another pair of shoes? The larger pair of bloody prints shows shoe treads, at any rate.

“Kid’s really okay?” asks the suited detective. Mignone appears to be in his fifties, his skin weathered by sun, with close-cropped hair and a bristling salt-and-pepper moustache.

“Traumatized, but physically unhurt,” I tell him. “Unless you count old wounds.”

“Don’t know if Holmes mentioned it: patrol knows this house pretty well. Their neighbors usually make a point of being uncurious, but there are still a couple calls a month for domestic disturbance. We’ll get a copy of the full file on your desks tomorrow.” He nods at both of us, then gestures to the bodies on the bed. “Hell of a thing.”

That’s one way to put it.

Daniel Wilkins is on the left side of the bed, a broad-shouldered man with a layer of beer fat over muscle. What he looked like before the attack is impossible to gauge: his face isn’t just bloody, it’s been slashed and stabbed, along with his torso.

“Twenty-nine separate knife wounds on him,” says the medical examiner, looking up from the other side of the bed. “Plus two gunshot wounds to the chest. Those weren’t immediately fatal, but he wasn’t moving around with them, either.”

“Any shots on her?”

The ME shakes her head. “Probably intended as a subduing measure. Near as we can tell before autopsy, the shots on him came first. Then she was attacked, and the killer went back to him. Spent a bit more time on him. She’s only got seventeen knife wounds, all on the torso.”

Seventeen and twenty-nine . . . that’s a lot of rage.

“Physically fit killer,” Eddison says, carefully stepping between two arcs of blood on the carpet so he can get closer. “Frenzies like this are tiring, but they also carried Ronnie down the stairs and to a vehicle, then up to Ramirez’s porch.”

“And you really have no idea why?” asks Mignone.

I am going to get very tired of repeating no. Fortunately, Eddison does it for me this time.

I come around to Sandra Wilkins’s side of the bed, standing next to one of the ME’s assistants. “Probably hard to tell, given the mess, but does she show signs of abuse?”

“Besides the black eye and swollen cheek? She’s got some bruising, and it wouldn’t be any surprise to find a few broken bones on the X-rays. We’ll know better once we get her cleaned up.”

“And some of her hospital records are in the file,” adds Mignone. “Entrance into the house looks pretty straightforward. Porch light was unscrewed just enough to not connect, not far enough to fall and shatter.”

“That’s it?”

“Didn’t need to be any more sophisticated than that; it did the trick. Didn’t have to pick the lock because it’s been broken for a while. Mrs. Wilkins locked her husband out of the house during a fight so he broke the lock, never replaced it.”

“Was that in a police report?”

“Yes, few months ago. No blood in or around the kid’s room. Looks like the killer woke him up, brought him here, started to work.”

“Matches what Ronnie said.”

“I’m guessing she never pressed charges?” Eddison says.

“Gee, it’s almost like you’ve seen this before.” Mignone straightens his tie, an incongruously cheerful thing with giant sunflowers all over it. “In the morning, we’ll get on the horn with CPS, get copies of their files. I’ll make sure one gets to you. Ronnie’s got a couple inches, at least.”

“Police file, hospital records, Child Protective Services file . . . that’s a lot of eyes and hands on this kind of information,” I say. “That’s not even counting family members, neighbors, friends, teachers, church members, or any other groups they might be part of. If the murders are connected to the abuse, that is way too many people to sift through.”

The second assistant clears his throat, blushing as we all turn to look at him. “Sorry, this is only my second, ah . . . murder? But am I allowed to ask a question?”

The ME rolls her eyes but looks provisionally impressed rather than irritated. “It is how we learn. Try to make it a good one.”

“If this is about the abuse, Mrs. Wilkins was probably abused too: Why would the killer attack her as well?”

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