Charli Cross Series: Book Five
When the beloved minister of a small inner-city church is killed in a drive-by shooting while delivering sandwiches to the homeless, Savannah Homicide Detective Charli Cross is on the case. Who would want to kill a man who does so much good? And why?
More importantly...was the pastor targeted or chosen at random?
While Charli and her partner, Detective Matthew Church, attempt to answer those questions, another shooting occurs...and then another. Soon, the town is terrified, and rightfully so. With each death, nothing will calm its citizens except catching the so-called "Savannah sniper" before he strikes again.
But how? With no links to connect the victims and no leads except for some grainy video footage and vague witness reports, they have no idea who his next victim will be, or when.
As the body count rises, Charli knows one thing for certain. There’s nothing more dangerous than a killer with nothing to lose.
Suspenseful and unpredictable, Dark Silence is the fifth book in the Charli Cross Series from bestselling author Mary Stone and Donna Berdel. Think words are powerful? You might want to think again.
read an excerpt
Victor Layne watched the night sky begin to lighten as the wheels of his bicycle spun against the pavement. Sunrise was only a few minutes away, and if he didn’t hurry, he would miss it peeking over the Wilmington River.
Breathing in the cool air, Victor smiled. Now that it was officially autumn, the ambient air outside was getting a bit cooler, and it took longer for the sun to push away the chill from the previous night. Not that a low of sixty was cool—this was Savannah, Georgia after all—but it sure was a contrast to the mid-eighties they still experienced during the day.
Nothing could hinder Victor from his morning routine, though, and even when fall turned into winter, he bundled up and stuck to his route. There were people who depended on him.
In his younger years, he never missed a morning jog, not even on the coldest days. Back then, Victor had relished the feeling of the chilly air searing his lungs with every breath. There was nothing quite like communing with the great outdoors at the start of every day.
Now in his mid-sixties, Victor had a hard time walking long distances with his bad knees, let alone running. When his joints had begun to wear out, he traded his daily jogs for bike rides. Since the doctor recommended—even insisted—that he continue to exercise every day, just at an easier pace, these daily jaunts kept his heart healthy.
Victor hadn’t just obliged his physician’s advice, he was glad for it. Riding his bike let him cover even more ground, allowing him to deliver his wife’s daily basket of sandwiches to the homeless and needy while still getting his exercise. He would start in his neighborhood and venture out to some rougher areas, ending his route at the river to watch the sun rise and pray before pedaling back home.
Stopping at a familiar alley, Victor climbed off his bike and grabbed the last bag from the basket. This one was marked with a D, and he’d been saving it for this last—and favorite—visit.
“Henry?” Victor peered into the darkness of the alley and got a little ruff in return. Cans and other debris rattled before a skinny man with long silver-streaked hair lumbered into the light, a dog at his side.
“Mornin’, Pastor Layne.” Henry still wore the tattered camouflage jacket he’d been given before being sent to Afghanistan twenty years ago. Beside him, the lab mix wagged his tail furiously.
Though his knees popped and groaned, Victor knelt to pet the animal and got a sloppy lick up his cheek in return. “Hungry, Freedom?”
He loved the dog’s name. Victor just wished the mind of the canine’s owner would be free from the trauma that had haunted him for so long. During one of Victor’s visits with Henry, the vet told him he only felt safe behind a dumpster “that no bullet could go through.”
It was so very, very sad.
To make things worse, Animal Control had attempted to take Freedom away from Henry several times, stating that the emotionally disturbed vet couldn’t possibly care for the dog while on the streets. To them, euthanasia was a better option. They didn’t stop hounding Henry until Victor stepped in, promising to deliver the pair a daily meal.
It was just one of the reasons Victor refused to miss a single day.
Pulling a plastic bag filled with two cups of kibble and a large can of wet dog food from the paper bag, Victor smiled as the dog’s tongue lolled out, a huge grin spreading across his furry face.
“Something for you.” Victor handed the remaining contents to Henry. “And something for you.” Digging into his pocket, Victor pulled a dog biscuit out. “And a little treat too.”
Freedom practically vibrated at the sight, but he was much too well mannered to jump for the bone. He was a good dog, cared for by a good man the world had turned its back on.
Henry lifted a plastic bowl Victor had bought for the dog about a year ago. “Thank ya kindly, Pastor Layne. Tell the preacher ‘thank you’, Free.”
As though he was in front of a king, Freedom lowered his head in a regal bow. It always made Victor smile and lower his torso in return. “You are very welcome, Master Freedom.”
Victor emptied the contents into the bowl Henry held, placing the treat on top like a cherry on a bowl of ice cream. With another heartfelt “thank you,” the pair retreated back into the shadows to enjoy their meal.
Still smiling, Victor climbed on his bike and pedaled away. The smile faded, though, as he was forced to navigate around a few bags of trash. The area was getting worse. Just like Victor’s own neighborhood.
As much as he tried to help, his community was in steady decline. When he’d bought his home decades ago, it had been a wonderful area for families. Over the years, Victor had witnessed many of the children on his street grow up, walking to and from school each day and playing outside every evening until their mothers called them to come inside and eat dinner. Those children had long since transitioned into adults and now had families of their own, most of whom had moved away.
Tiny hairs stood on the back of Victor’s neck as the words whispered through his brain. Where they had come from wasn’t a question that sprang to Victor’s mind…he knew they were from God and trusted the caution.
But caution from what?
He glanced around, seeing nothing.
Although Victor’s own neighborhood was going downhill and his bike route was in an even rougher part of Savannah, he wasn’t afraid. Not usually. Everyone in the area knew him, and he believed everyone was a child of God, regardless of their circumstance.
Truth be told, though, Victor also knew he was no longer a spry young man. His age was a blanket of vulnerability that he had to wrap himself in at all times, but one thing was certain. He would continue to stay as healthy as possible for as long as he could.
His daily bike route was part of what kept Victor strong, both physically and mentally. Just being outdoors provided inspiration as he brainstormed for his weekly sermons. He had been a minister for nearly forty years. After getting his Master of Divinity at the Candler School of Theology, he took a position at a small congregation in Savannah.
From that very first day at Cornerstone Presbyterian, Victor had known he wanted to spend his life working at this church. And oh, what a first day it was. Moving to the sidewalk on the left side of the street, he pedaled a bit harder, ensuring he didn’t slack off on his pace as his mind wandered. The memories of that first Sunday with his new congregation were so vivid in his mind, it could have been yesterday.
Over the years, he’d met other ministers who were so driven by their egos that they craved the power the ministry provided them. They were always looking to work in more prestigious churches, to minister to more people.
But that was never what Victor wanted. His only desire was to help a local community, as he believed with certainty that one minister was doing far more important work when he could connect with every member of his church. And he had done exactly that.
Pastor Layne—as many of his congregation called him—knew every face, was aware of every challenge they endured. From addiction to marital issues to the loss of a loved one, Victor walked through life side by side with each member.
Although he loved the members of his church—the younger ones like they were his own children—Victor had never had kids of his own. Truth be told, he had once entertained the idea that he might meet a good Christian woman and raise a family. But Victor followed God’s calling for him in every step of his life, and God never called him to have children, even after meeting his beautiful wife. At times, he longed to be surrounded by blonde-haired, blue-eyed children—he was certain his offspring would favor his wife—but for the most part, he was content to serve where God had called him.
“My congregation is the only child I need.”
As his mind wandered back to the people who would be watching him from their wooden benches, Victor slowed his pedaling and went over his Sunday sermon in his head. His knees may have given out over the years, but his mind never did. Still sharp as a whip, he was able to memorize an entire sermon without ever needing to write it down.
Perhaps that came from many years of working as a minister. When someone did something week by week, they were bound to become skilled at it. And Victor was certainly skilled at crafting his sermons without taking notes.
“As God’s love for us persists, so shall the love we feel for our neighbors.” The words flowed from his lips as he pedaled toward the river. The water was in sight now. “And who are our neighbors? Everyone we come in contact with. Not just those in our social circles, but the downtrodden, those who have not been fortunate to experience the blessings we have in our lives.” Victor nodded to himself, pleased with what he would preach this coming Sunday.
The sermon was just as much for Victor as it was for his congregation. Although he encountered homeless people daily, he reminded himself often that they were equally as important to God as anyone else. After all, God didn’t pass judgment on these people, and neither should he.
For the second time that morning, tiny hairs stood to attention. This time, though he glanced around and didn’t spot an immediate threat, he had the unmistakable feeling that he was being watched. Forcing himself to be discreet, he glanced more fully over his right shoulder.
It was only a car.
Sweet relief swept through him, and he expelled the breath growing stale inside his lungs. Why had he gotten so nervous? He delivered food to the homeless every day, and he’d never been afraid to bike through the area.
With a hearty chuckle, Victor mentally chided himself for being so on edge. Hadn’t he just been reviewing his sermon about loving his neighbors? Speaking of which…
He scolded himself for not being more attentive to the newcomers in his own neighborhood in recent years. As soon as he got home, he would ask his wife to bake a pie for a couple across the street who had just moved into the house a few weeks prior. They would invite the young family over for coffee and dessert.
Maybe that was why he was feeling so on edge. He was being cautioned by God to not forget the neighbors close to him while he cared for those farther away.
Yes. That must be it.
A smile played across Victor’s lips as he drew nearer to the river. He began to slow his pace as the soft glow of twilight surrounded him. Once he reached the water, he’d get off his bike and sit on a bench to watch the sun rise and pray.
Should I ask Lydia to make an apple pie or a blueberry one? Or maybe blackberry cobbler and homemade vanilla ice cream?
A cough brought Victor back to reality, and he glanced over his shoulder again. The car was closer now, but not close enough for him to make out the driver.
Why was it going so slow?
Was the driver following him?
He shook his head and continued to pedal down the empty sidewalk, forcing himself to think logically. I’m being ridiculous. They’re probably just enjoying a quiet morning drive in the area as they head to work. Victor began to recite his sermon out loud again, forcing himself to dispel any fear attempting to creep into his mind.
It worked for a moment. When his attention waned, Victor reminded himself of his congregation and his devotion to the Lord’s work, tapping into his sense of inner peace.
The car’s engine grew louder, and the hair on Victor’s neck rose again. A quick glance over his shoulder told him what he already knew. The car was closer now. His body may be slowing down these days, but his hearing was still dead on.
Don’t panic. It’s just a fellow human being, one who needs the love of God just like everyone else.
He chanced another glance at the silvery gray car, but couldn’t see past the glare of the streetlights reflecting off the front window.
Determined to calm his racing heart, Victor willed himself to take slow, steady breaths and started to recite one of his favorite chapters from the Bible as he pedaled harder. “The Lord is my shepherd…”
He let out a shaky breath, the scripture that was usually like a soothing balm failing to calm his trembling nerves. “I shall not want.”
In that moment, Victor swore he could hear the voice of God Himself in his ear, except God wasn’t leading him beside still waters. Instead, the voice seemed to say, “Pedal faster, Victor! Pedal as fast as you can, and don’t look back!”
As if he’d been jolted by a prod, Victor didn’t have to be told twice to listen to the booming voice of God. Arthritis or not, he was getting out of dodge. His black sweats slid up his legs as he pedaled as hard and as fast as he could. Victor took in deep, heaving breaths as his bad knees protested. It had been a long time since he’d forced himself to pedal this hard, and his calves burned in protest.
The car was beside him now.
He didn’t dare glance over and make eye contact with the driver, though not making eye contact was hardly going to be enough to keep him safe. If the man had wanted anything mundane, like to ask for directions, he would have asked already. There was something menacing about this person’s intentions, and God was telling Victor as much.
After decades in the church, Victor knew how to hear His word. And He made it clear that Victor was in imminent danger.
Victor had no money on him. Even all his sandwiches were gone. The bike he rode had been used when he purchased it and couldn’t be worth more than fifty dollars.
It’s not money they want.
A chill ran down his spine at the thought. As Victor struggled to keep a steady pace, his sweet wife rushed through his mind. He had to get home to her. She’d been baking a pound cake in preparation for her sister’s visit and had promised Victor a slice when he returned. Victor had to taste that cake. He had to see the face of his wife once again. But a nauseating turn in his stomach told him a simple truth…he might not.
When he was just yards away from the banks of the river, his mind scurried for a plan. He might be able to force his bike off the sidewalk and down to the river’s edge.
And break your neck in the process?
Maybe he could just hide behind some nearby bushes, and the guy would leave. There were normally quite a few people walking or jogging by the river each morning. The driver would have to exit his vehicle and search to find him and wouldn’t want to be seen. Most petty criminals wouldn’t be bothered to go that far for a robbery, right? Why would someone be following Victor if not to rob him?
When the car crossed the center line and began driving on the left side of the street, Victor gave one last hard pedal as he reached a wall of azaleas. He was ready to hop off his bike and duck into the bushes when a voice stopped him.
“Hey, Pastor Layne! Can we talk?”
And just like that, the tension rolled off his body in waves. This was someone who clearly knew him. And if Victor wasn’t mistaken, the voice was familiar, though the owner’s name momentarily fled his mind.
I’m a moron.
Victor chastised himself for not being open to the possibility that someone he knew might be flagging him down. After all, he had hundreds of members in his congregation. At any time, one could see him riding his bike and stop by to say hello.
But why had the driver taken so long? Maybe he’d been on a phone call and was waiting until it ended?
Victor shook his head, dismissing all the questions bouncing inside his noggin. He was worrying over nothing.
Releasing a long breath, he climbed off his bike and shoved the kickstand down with a foot. “My, oh my. You have no idea how much you scared this old man.” Placing a trembling hand over his pounding heart, Victor willed his brain to produce a name. “So good to see you…son.” He leaned down to see the driver’s face better. “I hope you’re doing well.”
Victor was expecting the man’s expression to light up in response.
From the darkness within the interior of the vehicle, solemn eyes stared back at him from a face as emotionless as death.
Victor wiped at the sweat forming on his brow, flashing a tentative smile. “Is everything okay?”
The black barrel of a gun was his only response.
Taking a step back, Victor had only an instant to realize that this wasn’t a friendly visit before he bumped into his bicycle. In a tangle of metal, he and the bike struck the asphalt hard.
God had been right in His warning to run, but had Victor listened? No.
From the ground, Victor held out both hands, as if the bones and flesh could shield him from a bullet. “Son…” Why couldn’t he think of this man’s name? “What do you want?”
The gun moved past the driver’s side window, and the corner of his assailant’s mouth quirked up on one side. “How’s your faith protecting you now, Pastor Layne?”
And just like that, Victor understood.
He’d failed this man in some significant way. But how?
The question didn’t even matter because Victor saw the truth in his assailant’s dead eyes. There would be no talking his way out of this. Instead of trying, Victor attempted to untangle himself from the bike as he began to finish his earlier prayer.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” Victor had read this same scripture over many a deathbed and funeral. The words poured from his mouth as easily as water from a glass. “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
But Victor was afraid. Very.
As the rest of the words stumbled from his lips, images of his wife flashed through his mind. What would happen to the homeless people who relied on him for food each day? His congregation? To Freedom?
He had so much left to do on this Earth.
The man Victor couldn’t name smiled, even wider this time, as his finger moved to the trigger.
“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for—”
It was the only word Detective Charlotte Cross could use to describe the horde of people standing past a line of police cars near the Wilmington River. Lookie-loos had their phones out, attempting to record the hustle and bustle of the bloody crime scene.
Charli would never understand the fascination people had with trauma. If she wasn’t working and happened to drive by an obvious crime scene, she wouldn’t just stop and stare. She would stop to see if she could be of assistance, but that was a far cry from gawking for her own entertainment.
Sadly, that was the way many people reacted in an emergency situation, when the likelihood of at least one out of four or more people stopping to help rather than stare was only thirty-one percent. These people were vultures, no doubt trying to see how many likes they could get for their videos on social media.
But Charli did her best to ignore the onlookers around the perimeter as she and Detective Matthew Church, her partner in the Savannah Police Department, walked up to an officer standing over a sheet-covered body.
Matthew visibly shuddered as they turned to the officer in charge of the scene and signed their information into the logbook. Knowing how badly her partner detested being around murder victims, Charli took the lead. “May we see?”
The officer lifted the sheet just enough for the detectives to get a glimpse of the body. Although Charli couldn’t tell how many shots had been fired, there were bullet wounds in the victim’s head and chest.
“Thanks.” Charli nodded for him to re-cover the poor soul. “What can you tell us?”
Officer Brian Anderson glanced at a couple of other beat cops who were several yards away, each standing next to a bystander. “Meet Victor Layne. Appears he was shot by a driver in a gray or silver Honda. We’ve got two witnesses, and before you ask…” the officer held up a hand as Charli opened her mouth, “yes, we kept them separated. They’re both pretty shaken up, but they’re ready to answer questions.”
Nodding her approval, Charli scanned the area before turning back around to face the officer. “How do we know it was the driver and not a passenger?”
“According to the witness testimony,” Anderson glanced down at the notes he’d taken, “there was only one person in the car.”
Charli reached for the papers Anderson extended before Matthew could snatch them up. Her partner was dependable, but she liked to make sure she got all the details firsthand. “No model on that gray slash silver Honda?”
Anderson removed his hat and ran a finger through his blond hair as he sighed, though it was cut too short for his fingers to cause any movement of the follicles. “Unfortunately, it appears neither of our witnesses got a great view of the model since it was just getting daylight when the shooting happened. They both admit to only seeing the word ‘Honda.’ They can’t identify it any more than that.”
Matthew swiped the back of his hand across the beads of sweat that had formed on his forehead. “Maybe if we show them different models, they’ll be able to identify it that way.”
The twenty-something officer grinned at Matthew, and Charli could have sworn the beat cop puffed out his chest a little. “I tried to show them different models, but according to them, the car was a beater. And once I started showing them Hondas from the nineties, neither one was able to tell one from the other. One of the witnesses said the cars all looked the same to them. I don’t think you’re going to have much luck with that.”
Well, that was disappointing. Knowing the model would have been immensely helpful in finding registered owners. Honda was an extremely common car make, especially if the car was potentially over a decade old. Although the list of gray or silver Hondas in Savannah would be endless, at least this was a start.
Charli finished jotting down a note to check out nearby cameras and handed the young officer’s papers back to him. “Thank you, Officer.”
One of the witnesses was sitting on one of the many stone benches overlooking a playground near the river. Poor girl couldn’t have been older than fifteen. Her gray Groves High School sweatshirt wrinkled at the bottom where it touched her tattered jeans. Whether these rips were made from wear or were designed to look old, Charli couldn’t tell. But the girl was picking at a hole where loose fabric strings hung down on the denim, her face the very definition of nervous.
Charli did her best to plaster her most sympathetic look on her face as they approached. “Hello, I’m Detective Cross, and this is my partner, Detective Church. We want to talk to you about what you saw here today.” Charli glanced over at Matthew. He had on his fatherly smile, which was sure to help put the young woman at ease.
The teenager gazed down at her feet. “I’m Selena Hine. I…I didn’t really see much. I’m sorry.” There was a stutter in her voice, and she appeared to be perilously close to tears.
“No need to apologize.” Not wanting to hover over the teenager, Charli took a seat on the bench. Maybe that would help put her at ease. “What was your reason for coming to the river today?”
“Well, I was walking to school, and this is on my way. Sometimes, I sit on one of the benches for a bit and enjoy the quiet if I have a few minutes to spare, but I was running late this morning.”
Charli glanced at her watch. The shooting had happened at approximately five after seven. “Late? Isn’t seven early for classes to begin?”
Selena pulled at another thread on her jeans. “I was supposed to be at school at seven for a study group, so I was practically running to get there. I stopped here to fill up my bottle at the fountain. I was looking down at my water bottle right over there when it happened.” She pointed at a fountain about fifteen feet to the right. “I wasn’t very far away, maybe about thirty or forty feet…and it was so loud.” She swiped a hand under her nose. “I thought someone had set off a firework or something. My water bottle fell when I jumped.”
Matthew sat down on the other side of Selena, taking Charli’s lead. “What happened next?”
“I turned around just for a second, and I saw someone on the ground.” Selena drew in a deep, shuddering breath before tucking her hair behind her ears. “He was on top of a bicycle, so I thought he’d just fallen off it. But…” She swallowed hard. “It was just…all red from the blood on his face and chest. And this gray car was right next to him. It stayed there for a second, but then it drove off real fast after. So fast, there was this loud screeching sound from the tires.”
Selena’s eyes were as big as saucers, but the expression on her face was blank. In Charli’s experience, it wasn’t uncommon for a witness in shock to display minimal emotional expressions.
Matthew shifted on the bench. “What else can you tell us about the car?”
“I saw the word “Honda” on the back.” Selena picked up a dented water bottle and took her time unscrewing the lid. “But like I told the other police officer, I don’t know much about cars. I’m really sorry.”
Charli flashed her a soft smile and continued with a gentle tone. “That’s okay, Selena. But was there anything else you noticed about the car?”
Taking a long, slow drink from the bottle, Selena fumbled with the lid, her hands shaking. “It was scratched all over, but I can’t think of where the scratches were exactly. The car moved away so fast after I heard the shot, and I hadn’t even noticed it before then. I just know it wasn’t in good condition.”
Though the officer had already told them that the witness had only seen one person in the vehicle, Charli wanted to double check. “How many people were in the car?”
Selena pressed her fingertips to her temple. “Just one, I think. But I’m not one hundred percent sure about that. I just know I only saw the shadow of one head.”
“What can you tell us about the driver?” Matthew leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees. It was the kind of relaxed, casual stance that would help the witness not feel too much pressure about her testimony.
“I couldn’t see them at all. The back windows were all dusty. I wish I knew more. I couldn’t even get the license plate. There was something black over it. Or maybe it was blue.” Selena’s lip began to quiver, and she pushed aside her blonde sideswept bangs cascading over her eyes. “I think it was some kind of fabric. Maybe I should have run over to the person after they got shot, but I…” Tears dropped from her chin. “I couldn’t move.”
This poor girl.
“That’s completely normal, Selena.” Though Charli loathed most human contact, she found herself reaching for the girl’s hand. “You have nothing to feel bad about. I’m sure that was quite a shock.”
Watching this fifteen-year-old so devastated as she tried to piece together the events for the police, Charli’s mind wandered to a younger version of herself after the kidnapping of her best friend Madeline. Charli had been a little older than Selena, but her reaction was similar. The guilt of not doing more when Madeline was taken had surged through her. And she certainly didn’t want this young woman to experience the same feeling.
Of course, Charli’s words seemed to fall on deaf ears. Selena was just too shaken to absorb what Charli was telling her.
Charli suppressed a sigh. Maybe later on, Selena would recall bits and pieces of this conversation. “We call this the fight, flight, or freeze reaction. When faced with a traumatic event, many people will either respond by fleeing the scene or being frozen in place. I promise it’s a normal reaction. You did nothing wrong.”
Selena nodded wordlessly. Dark, empty eyes stared off into the distance. From her own experience, Charli had no doubt the witness would remember this traumatic event for the rest of her life.
“Is there anything else you can remember about the car or scene? Anything at all we should know?” Charli forced herself to put her concern for Selena aside and gather as much information as possible.
Selena only shook her head, biting her lower lip.
Matthew stood and rubbed his lower back. “Have you called your parents yet?”
“Yes, sir, my mom is coming to get me as soon as she can leave work. She’s waiting for her replacement now. She’s a nurse, so she can’t just leave.”
“That’s no problem at all.” Matthew smiled down at her. “Your mom is doing important work. Once she gets here, we’d like to get her permission to speak with you again later on at the precinct. Meanwhile, our officer is going to sit with you until she arrives, all right?”
Selena nodded, and Charli felt a twinge of guilt for leaving her alone to interview the other witness. But the girl didn’t seem to mind. And Charli could relate to that because she, too, didn’t like to talk while processing trauma.
The other witness was a thirty-five-year-old father. Leon Rodriguez lived just down the block and had been outside on his front porch waiting for his ex-wife to drop off their children so he could take the kids to school. It was their usual schedule since the ex had to be at work much earlier than he did. Right after calling 9-1-1 about the shooting, he told his ex-wife not to bring the kids but to go ahead and take them to school.
But Leon echoed the same experience Selena had. The car was too dirty to get a view through the back windows, and Leon wasn’t close enough to the front of the car to see through the open window. Nevertheless, he was confident the shot came from that car, as nobody else was even close. He was able to identify a dent in the left side of the bumper, a detail that Selena hadn’t remembered.
The detectives collected both Leon and Selena’s contact information and gave their own numbers in case they remembered more details later. By the time they’d finished up, the crime scene techs had arrived and were setting up a screen around the body so the lookie-loos wouldn’t be able to view what was going on.
Charli made her way back to Officer Anderson. “Have we got any next of kin to inform?”
“Someone is already on their way to speak with his wife. I found out the victim was a minister at Cornerstone Presbyterian.” Officer Anderson leaned against his squad car, looking weary to his core.
Charli pulled her small notebook out of her blazer to jot down the information. “A minister, huh? Not the usual type to be a victim of a drive-by.”
Anderson folded his arms. “I know, right? Don’t know what to make of it. The man has no priors. If he was involved in any illegal activity, we don’t know about it.”
Matthew turned toward Charli. “It could be completely random. Some gang initiations require a random shooting to join.”
Charli tucked her notebook and pen back into her pocket. “Possibly. Maybe they thought if they killed a random bystander, they’d be less likely to get caught.”
If that was what happened, the perp would be right about that. Not only were random crimes the ones that most often went unsolved, but those done in a city where the offender didn’t reside added yet another layer of stealth. In many cases, motive led detectives to the perpetrator. If there wasn’t a clear motive, this case would be hard to solve.
But Charli didn’t know nearly enough about this case yet to assume it was gang related. The minister might not be involved in any past criminal activity, but that didn’t mean he had no enemies. Hell, sometimes those who appeared to be the most exemplary citizens were involved in the most heinous crimes, a fact that Charli’s experience as a detective had taught her all too well.
That wasn’t always the case, of course. But Charli had learned that she couldn’t always take people at face value. She had to dive into someone’s life before she made any decisions about a potential perp.
As Matthew chatted with the officer, Charli only half-listened as she explored all avenues for learning about the personal life of this minister. They could speak to his wife, to members of his church…she ran through the possibilities in her head. But as she did, she spotted a gas station across the street. It was at least fifty yards away, but maybe…
“Hey, Officer Anderson. Have we asked yet if they have any CCTV footage?”
A bit of red flushed Anderson’s cheeks. Charli assumed that was a no, and he was embarrassed that he hadn’t approached the store already. “Uh, I don’t think we have, unless one of the other officers forgot to tell me.”
Charli nodded. “I guess we know where we’re going first.”
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