A perfect marriage.
Michael had returned to Mount Junction to interview Amy Smith’s parents and then the families of the other “accident” victims in the state. His gut told him he’d made a vital discovery when he connected the Mount Junction victims to the Corvallis murders. And the Mount Junction police agreed. They’d reopened all the questionable investigations after taking a hard look at the similarities Michael had brought to their attention during his last trip. Michael believed there had to be something out here that would point him toward a killer.
“Our lives have been uprooted and torn apart since you decided Amy was murdered.” The strained look on the father’s face blamed Michael. “Pushy reporters crawling out of the cracks, news crews, and more damned police interviews than CSI.”
“Gary, it’s not his fault the police reopened the cases. Don’t you want to know what really happened? I’ve always felt something wasn’t right. We never knew where Amy was headed to when she drove into that river. She was supposed to be shopping miles away.”
Janet Smith was the voice of level-headed reason. The small woman looked to be in her early sixties and had a relatively unlined face. Michael could still see the traces of beauty that must have driven Gary Smith wild. The husband was big, linebacker big, and couldn’t sit still. His perfectly white hair contrasted with his black brows and mustache. Somehow, this tiny woman had tamed the energetic man. Just being in the same room with him made Michael itchy.
They sat in an immaculate formal living room in the Smiths’ silent house. The house had an aura of acute emptiness—a home simply waiting for time to go by.
Janet turned sympathetic eyes on Michael and, for a brief moment, he wished his mother was like her. His career-driven mother was more like Gary.
Hate shone from Gary’s eyes. “We don’t need to talk to you and answer all your nosy questions. I don’t know what Janet was thinking by letting you into the house. If you want to know what we’ve said, get it from the police.”
“Gary, I let him come because he instigated the new investigation. I’m glad he did. I know you aren’t happy, but he’s done nothing but help.” She laid a hand on her husband’s arm.
Gary started to speak and abruptly closed his mouth.
Michael focused on Janet. “Now, I know you’ve been asked this but what can you tell me about the guys Amy was seeing around that time?” He didn’t look at Gary.
“She was dating Matt. They’d been together for at least two years. She didn’t see anyone else. They’d talked of getting married after they both finished school. We’d pretty much accepted him as a future son-in-law.”
Michael consulted his notes. “Matt Petretti?”
“Yes. He did get married about seven years ago. We get Christmas cards from him and his wife. They’ve got two little boys and a girl.”
Michael heard the painful note of wistfulness in Janet’s voice. No grandchildren for this couple. Amy had been an only child.
“So you keep in contact.”
“He was a great comfort after Amy was found. He’ll always be a sort of son to us.” This time she looked to Gary and he nodded, still silent.
“I know her apartment was broken into a few weeks before she died. The police report lists a stereo and CDs as stolen. Did you ever remember anything else?”
“Back then we never considered the two could be linked.” Gary spoke thoughtfully. “We’ve had to rehash everything we could remember about that time, but it’s been so long ago, we don’t remember much. I know they never did find her stuff.”
“She had some pictures stolen too. She didn’t list them on the police report because they didn’t have any monetary value.” Janet spoke quietly.
“Pictures. Like to hang on a wall?” Michael imagined the cheap posters that college kids frame to fill up empty wall space.
“No. Photographs. She was missing a whole album of photos.”
“New photos? Old? Were they family pictures?”
“They were new. I remember that, because she was upset, she didn’t get a chance to show them to me before they were stolen. I assumed they were pictures of friends and gymnastics, or her and Matt. She hadn’t shot any pictures at home in years.”
Photos. Why would you steal photos of people you didn’t know?
Or maybe the thief did know them.
“Did Amy ever complain about getting too much attention on campus? You know, with the whole gymnastics thing?” Michael switched topics, wanting to think privately on the whole stolen photo angle. Could be something, could be nothing.
Gary and Janet exchanged an uncomfortable look.
“Amy had a hard time getting used to being recognized everywhere she went. They do those billboards, you know.”
“Billboards? They’d put the team on billboards?”
“No, it was usually one of the girls in some dramatic gymnastic pose. Advertising for the competition season. People around town would complain if the poses were too risqué. Arched backs, bare limbs, that sort of thing. If you’re not used to watching gymnastics competitions regularly, the leotards and bare legs are a little too much in a conservative town.” Janet stood up. “Amy had a beautiful board one year, but it did draw quite a few complaints. I’ve got a poster-sized copy I can show you.”
Michael nodded as Janet hustled out of the room, leaving it cold and tense. He and Gary were left in silence, sizing each other up.