They parked outside the Aurelia Police Department and entered the ugly limestone building, which smelled strongly of cigarette smoke, ink and body odor, thanks, in no small part, to the collection of offenders waiting to be booked behind the secure entry behind the front desk and to piles of paperwork stacked on every flat surface they could see. Zeb thought it odd, the station seeming so busy and chaotic, since Aurelia wasn’t that large or dangerous a city.
Zeb went up to the front desk, which was being manned by a thin little old lady in a white blouse and grey trousers, while Zoe took a seat in one of the hard plastic chairs along the wall under postings of the FBI’s most wanted and PSA’s about the dangers of meth use. “Can I help you?” the little old lady asked.
Zeb cleared his throat. “Um, yeah, my name is Zeb Martin and I- well, we,” he gestured to his sister, “need to speak to someone about the Nico Milian murder,” he said just loud enough for her to hear. He wasn’t sure why, but he didn’t feel safe talking about it, even here.
“The one in the paper?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’m the one who took the photograph.”
She looked him over. “Wait here just a moment,” she said, leaving the desk and walking past the few other desks in the immediate vicinity to disappear from his view away into a different room.
She returned a moment later with who could only be a detective in tow. She appeared to be in her forties, with dark hair and a squarish, girl-next-door pretty face. She wore a satiny navy blouse, charcoal grey suit pants and minimal jewelry, making her seem very official and approachable at the same time. Instead of coming to the desk, the detective went and opened the door that separated the lobby from the actual precinct. “You can come on back, Mr. Martin,” she said.
He motioned to Zoe and the two of them followed her into the precinct, past the group of offenders in handcuffs sitting in a row of chairs along the wall to their left and the desks sitting behind the front desk area. She led them through the doorway just off the main room and down a hall to a room whose door identified it as Interview Room 2. She opened the door and stepped aside, gesturing inside with one hand. “Please, take a seat.”
Zeb went in first, Zoe just behind and the detective trailed in last and closed the door. She sat herself down at the melamine table in the middle of the room on the opposite side from the siblings. “I’m Detective Gail Addison. If you don’t mind, I’m going to record our conversation for the record, okay?”
Zeb and Zoe exchanged a look. Zoe shrugged. “Okay,” Zeb answered.
Addison flipped on a tape recorder, announced the date and time and identified herself, adding, “I am joined by…”
She raised an eyebrow at Zeb. “Oh, uh, Zeb Martin. Professor Zeb Martin with Belleter University.”
She then gave Zoe a look. “Zoe Martin. I’m his sister and a nurse at Aurelia General.”
“Excellent, thank you. Now, please forgive me for asking this, but we’ve had quite a few people calling in about the Nico Milian story, so I’m gonna need you to tell me exactly what it is you think you know about all this.”
“I don’t think I know anything about it, Detective,” he said. “I was the witness in Madrid. The picture that ran in the papers is a picture I took from the roof of my great-aunt and -uncle’s home in a little neighborhood just south of Atocha. The two men in the picture are a man named Seve and the other one is a man named Andres, who is a soccer referee.”
“Seve is the one who killed Milian, not Andres,” Zoe said. “Andres was there and Seve made him help him stage the car accident to cover up the murder, but he didn’t hurt anyone.”
Addison raised her eyebrows at them. “And how exactly did you come by that information, Ms. Martin?
Zoe shifted uncomfortably. “Andres sort of held me captive for a couple hours,” she said. “But only because he was being coerced. I want to make it clear that he is as much a victim as the two of us are,” she added firmly with a sidelong look at Zeb, which only elicited a sigh from him.
“You don’t look so sure about that, Mr. Martin,” Addison noted.
“What? No, um, it’s just- never mind. I didn’t actually meet him, so I didn’t get to hear his story like Zoe did. But I have had a couple of run-ins with this Seve guy and I can tell you he is no victim. This man is a killer.”
“Do either of you know Andres’ or Seve’s full names?”
Zeb looked to Zoe, who shook her head. “No, that’s all Andres would say,” she answered.
“And Seve never identified himself or his partner to me,” Zeb said.
Addison looked at each of them with an expression he couldn’t quite decipher. “I think you should start at the beginning and tell me everything.”
Zeb took a deep breath. “It started in Madrid. I was there on vacation and I stopped by to visit some relatives-”
“Your great-aunt and -uncle,” she said.
“Yes. I was on their roof taking pictures of the fountain in the little plaza between the houses when I heard like a door slamming and somebody talking.”
“What were they saying?”
“I don’t know, I could just hear his voice and he sounded upset, agitated. I looked over toward this building and saw, I didn’t know it at the time but it was Andres. He looked like he was arguing with someone, but I couldn’t see who just then.”
“He got into a silver sports car in the parking lot and brought it up close to the building. He went inside the building and a couple seconds later came out with another man – I know now it was Seve. They were carrying a body between them. And I started taking pictures,” he shook his head. “I don’t know why, except that on some level I had decided to try to do something about what they had done. Anyway, I tried to call for help on my phone and take pictures of them as they were putting the body in the trunk of the car at the same time, but I dropped my phone. It shattered on the ground and I must have shouted or something because the next thing I knew, these guys were coming after me.”
“They chased you?”
“But you obviously got away.”
“Yeah, barely. I tried to go to the police station, but they went that direction first, looking for me, so I just went back to my hotel room-”
“Hotel de Bertram, room 412. I called the police from there, reported what I had seen to an Inspector Espinal, uh, Hector Espinal.”
“Tell her about the patch,” Zoe prompted.
“Right. One of the guys, Andres, had a patch on the shoulder of the jacket or shirt or whatever he was wearing. I thought it might mean he had ties to the police or something like that, so I didn’t tell Espinal about the pictures.”
“And why is that?” Addison asked.
“I thought if one cop or whatever was in on it, others might be, too. I didn’t know if I could trust this Inspector or if I would be putting myself in more danger, so…”
“Okay. And what did this Espinal do?”
Zeb shrugged. “He said he went to the building I told him about and checked it over. He found no sign of foul play, and told me not to waste any more police time or he’d have me arrested. His advice was to go home.”
Addison drew her eyebrows together but otherwise made no reaction. “Did you?”
“Not right away. I stayed in my hotel room that night since it was already late. I don’t remember exactly when, but the concierge called after I talked to the Inspector and told me some guy had showed up to return my cell phone. I figured it was one of the two killers, so I told him there was some mistake.” He gave her a sheepish grin. “I barricaded myself in and slept locked in the bathroom.”
“And the next morning?”
“I wanted to try going to the US Embassy first and report everything to them. But Seve was standing watch outside my hotel – he had intimidated my great-aunt into telling him where I was staying. He chased me, I had a -” he stopped and looked up at her, gesturing to one of his ears. “I have this inner ear condition called Ménière’s Disease. I had an attack of it that made me lose all balance and coordination. I fell, Seve grabbed me and dragged me off into some empty building and threatened to shoot me if I didn’t give him the pictures.”
“But you didn’t,” Addison said, leaning back in her chair.
“No, I gave him my camera with a different memory card. Anyway, he was going to kill me anyway, but some police officer saw me and Seve ran. I passed out and woke up in the hospital later that morning. Espinal came to see me, which I thought was odd, so I told him nothing more than what I already had and then took a cab to the airport.” He swallowed, his voice getting tired. “That’s when I saw the news report about Milian’s accident. I recognized him right away.”
“But you didn’t call the police?”
He shook his head. “I thought maybe Espinal or someone like him had helped them cover up the murder, so I just got on the plane and came home.”
“But they followed him here,” Zoe said, touching the table with one finger. “Seve kidnapped me and forced Andres to take me to some cabin near Mesa Forest. He – Seve, I mean – used me to force Zeb to give him the real memory card.”
“But I gave it to my friend, Rob Zesterson. He works for the newspaper. I asked him to get the story to his boss – this was before I knew they had Zoe – and then to try to get Interpol or somebody involved.”
“But then Seve ran Rob off the road and stole all the evidence,” Zoe said.
Addison frowned. “So how did the picture get into the paper?”
“Rob had emailed his boss – Harriett Lourdes – everything first. When I found out they had Zoe, I asked Rob not to give his boss anything because Seve said he’d kill Zoe if the story got out. But it was too late, he’d already sent them. He was worried they would come after him, so he packed up and left. I went to meet Seve on campus to make the exchange of the memory card for Zoe-”
“But Seve told Andres to keep me at the cabin until he had the card. Then he was supposed to let me go near this truck stop on Forest Top. He did, but before I could get help, Seve found me and tried to kill me,” Zoe continued, showing Addison her bandaged arm. “I got away, barely, and hid in the forest all night.”
Zeb nodded. “The next morning, I was at the hospital with Rob, who survived his accident, when he told me he had never gotten the chance to tell his boss to pull the story. I knew Zoe’s life was in danger-”
“Revenge. Seve had already told me he wasn’t done with us. He wanted to hunt us down, kill us when we least expected it, he said. I figured he would go after Zoe first when he saw the story in the paper, that he’d kill her to destroy me before killing me, too.”
“Which he tried to do,” Zoe agreed.
Addison sat there regarding them a moment, not saying a word. Then, she said, “That’s certainly the most complete story anyone had told us so far. Doesn’t make it any more true than any of the others, though.”
Zeb and Zoe exchanged a look. “What are you talking about?” Zoe asked.
“Lots of people have contacted us claiming to have taken that photo. Claiming they know who the two mystery men are. Most of them are crackpots looking for some attention. But some are more like you: seemingly normal, rational people. How am I supposed to believe your story over theirs?”
Zeb closed his eyes and gritted his teeth before saying to her, “We risked our lives coming to you. We were just going to get out of town and lay low until we knew Seve and Andres were in custody.”
“Zeb-” Zoe started, but he gestured for to be quiet.
“I’m trying to be calm here, because I really need you to listen to me. And I don’t want to trigger another Ménière’s attack. The memory card is gone, Rob’s laptop is gone, the hardcopies of the pictures are gone. But Harriett Lourdes will have Rob’s email. You can talk to Rob himself in the hospital. He’ll confirm that I contacted him and gave him the pictures. Call Harriett, she’ll confirm Rob sent her the photos.” He gestured broadly. “Check my passport and financial records. You’ll see the plane tickets and the new cell phone I bought. Check with the hotel, check with the Madrid Police Department. Check with my great-aunt and -uncle.”
“Check with the truck stop,” Zoe added.
Zeb shook his head incredulously. “We’ve given you everything you need. We. Are. Telling. The. Truth.” He tapped the table with the blade of his hand with each word.
Addison considered them a moment. “Sit tight,” was all she said. Then she got up and left them there.
Exhausted, physically, mentally and emotionally, the two of them just sat in silence. After about five minutes, they both settled into the chairs more and cradled their heads on the table to rest. Another five minutes passed and Zeb could hear Zoe’s breathing become slower, indicating she had fallen asleep, when the door to the Interview room opened.
Zeb and Zoe jerked their heads up at the unexpected sound. “No,” Zeb said quietly, not believing what he was seeing.
Addison hadn’t returned alone. Espinal was with her.
“I believe you know this man,” Addison said.