Black Pearl

Black Pearl

Donnell Ann Bell

November 2019 $17.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-957-5

A Cold Case Suspense.

Our PriceUS$17.95
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A cold case heats up when a 9-1-1 call puts police at a Denver murder scene, pointing investigators to the abduction of a Colorado teenager fourteen years earlier. A calling card—a single black pearl—is found on the newest victim. Is the murder a copycat? Or has a twisted serial killer, thought dead or in prison, returned to strike again?

Soon, the hunt for a multi-state killer is on and brings together an unexpected team: a Denver Major Crimes police lieutenant; an FBI special agent who investigated the previous murders; a rookie FBI agent with a specialty in psychology; and the only living victim of the Black Pearl Killer, who is now a cop.

For Special Agent Brian DiPietro, the case is an opportunity to find answers. For Officer Allison Shannon, the case will force her to face down the town that blamed her for surviving when another did not. And for both DiPietro and Shannon, it’s a chance for both to find closure to questions that have tormented them for years.

Author Bio: DONNELL ANN BELL is an award-winning author of four romantic suspense novels, all of which have been e-book bestsellers. Black Pearl is the first in a suspense series. Donnell and her husband are recent transplants to New Mexico. Visit her website and connect with her on Facebook.

"Suspense, romance, high-tension, pitch-perfect pacing. Donnell Ann Bell is simply a terrific storyteller." —Allison Brennan, New York Times bestselling author

"Unputdownable."—Cara Chamberlain, Netgalley Reviews on Buried Agendas

"One of the best I have read in a while. I just could not put it down."—Wolf's Reading Den on Deadly Recall

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Chapter One


Denver, Colorado, twenty-one years later

EVERETT T. POPE hated anonymous tips. He really hated them at two in the morning. If somebody gave him something for nothing, he could bet his sweet ass it came equipped with a minefield of booby traps. He’d stepped on more than a few over the course of his career. Whether you saw them or not, they lay in wait, ready to trip you up, then explode in your face.

Or they segued into cops finding a body. He really hated that.

He pulled to the curb of an abandoned property he’d driven past for years without blinking.

St. Benedict’s. On an average day, the abandoned hospital northeast of downtown Denver looked like a sad vision of urban decay. This morning, with blue-and-red light bars illuminating the predawn skies, it looked like what it was—a crime scene.

Maglite tapping against his thigh, he walked the property’s perimeter toward his destination. Evidently, the multi-story eyesore had been undergoing a facelift. Contractors had erected the standard barriers of weld mesh affixed to temporary chain-link fencing.

He stood below one of the area’s rare streetlights, and, glancing up, read: "Future State-of-the-Art Level One Trauma Center, Owner/Operator Northwestern/Rocky Mountain Health Alliance.”

Correction. St. Benedict’s was on its way out.

A cop he didn’t recognize walked toward him. Apparently fresh out of the academy, he bore the typical cautionary approach of someone unsure what to make of Pope. He got that a lot. He liked to think it was because he was so damned good-looking. The realist in him pointed out it was probably his race combined with his overlarge size.

Before the officer asked for credentials, Pope saved him the trouble. He pulled back his windbreaker and revealed the shield on his belt. "Lieutenant Pope. Major Crimes.”

Nodding, the officer relaxed his stance. "Yes, sir.”

"My team should already be on scene or arriving shortly. We’ve got lead on this.” He scanned the cordoned-off property. "So, tell me what you know.”

"My—sergeant’s inside,” the officer stammered. "His instructions were for us to send you his way when you arrived, and he’d do the talking.”

Not helpful. Pope despised grandstanders who wanted to make a murder investigation all about them. "Why don’t we save him his vocal cords and answer my questions, so I don’t have to guess.”

"Right. Might be better if I showed you. This way.”

As Pope followed the uniform, broken beer bottles crunched underfoot. They crossed a dilapidated sidewalk, where, adjacent to the path, flashing cruisers and unmarked units were parked at the curb.

Some twenty yards away, the officer paused. "This is the area we believe the suspect came through.” He pointed to another cop controlling access to the scene. "Officer Heath over there was first responder.”

Pope eyed the young man taller than the first, then turned his attention to the jagged opening in the temporary fencing. The intruder had used some type of bolt cutter to work his way in. The guy must have also thought he was a smart guy when what he was, was an asshole. He’d chosen an area with a posted "No Trespassing” sign, and when he cut through the link, had sliced the warning in two.

Landmine number one. They were after a joker who was into subtext and liked to send messages.

Pope made his way toward Heath. "Lieutenant Pope, Major Crimes. You were first on-scene?”

"Yes, sir.”

"Let’s hear your account of what happened.”

The ruler-erect cop straightened even further and met Pope’s gaze head-on. "Dispatch said a caller had reported seeing someone on St. Benedict’s grounds. Trespassing has been a problem, particularly before all this fencing went up. I was in the area, so I took the call. I arrived around one a.m.”

"And found this?” Pope waved an arm over the mutilated fence.

Heath nodded.

"And the caller told Dispatch someone entered? Alone?”

"Correct. At least that’s what they said.”

Pope glanced over his shoulder. Blue mesh surrounded the entire construction site. Whoever had made that call couldn’t have seen anything. He couldn’t dispute, however, that a body had been discovered. "You found the victim?”

Heath nodded again. "Yes, sir. My sergeant provided backup. We went in through the hole in the fence, and from there entered the building. Sarge went one way; I went the other.” For the first time Heath’s measured voice faltered. "Someone was in there, all right...”


"Let’s just say whoever did this is pretty warped.” His gaze fixed on his surroundings, avoiding Pope’s stare.

"Is that why your sergeant sent you out here?”

"I’m sorry?”

"You fall apart, and your sergeant sent you outside?”

The young officer’s head shook like an out-of-control metronome. "Not at all, sir. I found the victim, helped perform a search of the building. It’s pitch black inside, and we could have missed someone. My guess is my sergeant wanted those of us who can run a five-minute mile out here if we needed to chase somebody down.”

Good. No confidence problem here. Pope held back a smile. Even so, placing Heath at the gate was not a decision he would have made, especially since Heath had found the body. Pope ordered cop number one to provide double coverage of the scene, then to the first responder said, "OK, walk me through the paces you took when you got here.”

Heath came to life, pointing to the gash in the fence. "We went through there, sir.”

Pope sighed. Of course they had. At six five, and plenty of meat on his bones, it took some maneuvering. Still, he managed to squeeze through the severed chain link without ripping the clothes off his back or spilling blood. Whereas the patrol cop Pope appointed as his tour guide shared no such dilemma and easily slipped through.

They stood on the other side, and Pope asked, "Anyone notify the ME?”

"Sergeant Flynn did. After I found the body, he took over. Even ordered the portable generators.”

Pope mulled over Heath’s comments while they traversed their way toward the hospital’s crumbling steps. Crime scene processing rarely went off without a hitch. At least some thinking individual had opened the contractor’s double gates for emergency vehicles. Taking advantage of the barrage of headlights brightening the area, Pope discovered front-end loaders and bulldozers already on site.

Damn. Demolition was soon.

Someone called behind him, "LT... Pope.”

He pivoted to find three of his team of detectives jogging his way. "About time I got some help around here.”

"Parking’s a bitch,” Mills said, huffing. "What time did you get here?”

"Feels like hours ago. This is Officer Heath. He found the victim.”

Garza, who carried the Nikon, nodded, then said, "Ready when you are, LT.”

"Good. From what I understand it’s a Maglite convention in there, so as soon as you can, photograph everything in sections.”

Pope turned to Mills. "The owner of this project has banners all over the place. Get me the name of the super in charge.” Next, he focused on Ortiz, another detective on his squad. "Take some uniforms and canvass the area. Have patrol drive a three-mile radius looking for stragglers. If they’re on the street at this hour, talk to them. We got somebody playing with us, and I want to know why.”

As the trio departed, Pope returned his attention to Heath. "What’d you do next?”

The young officer tilted his head toward St. Benedict’s. "I went up those steps. I assumed whoever broke through the fence would use the main entrance.”

Pope strode in that direction but paused to flash his light over the entire edifice. Not a ramp in sight—this was a structure built before architects had ever heard of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Every window of the eight-story brick hospital had been covered with plywood.

At the top of the stairs, he stopped. The plywood over the once double glass doors had been ripped from its hinges. St. Benedict’s cavernous doors yawned open. Sections of the brittle wood lay scattered about.

Son of a bitch. Who cut through fencing and tossed plywood about like a superhuman paperboy?

A crime scene tech emerged from the building and nearly collided with them. "Lieutenant, good timing. I was coming to find you. Diesel generators are hooked up. All we’re waiting for now is one more source of ventilation. Anything else you want me to do in the meantime?”

Pope looked from the tech to the massive doorframe. Sharp pieces of wood were trapped in the grooves. The perpetrator had probably used a crowbar to pry it loose. He’d also likely worn gloves—either that, or they were looking for a strong guy with a handful of splinters.

Even so, as someone who held the Guinness world record for unfinished DIY projects, Pope often removed his gloves to get a firmer grip. A remote possibility, but it had to be done. He waved a hand around the landing. "Yeah. Dust the edges of this torn-off plywood for prints.”

"Got it.”

"What next?” Pope glanced at Heath.

"The sergeant and I went inside, then we separated to search the building.”

"Okay. Show me.”

With Heath beside him, Pope entered the hospital’s former lobby—a madhouse in progress. The building smelled of motor oil, rotting wood, and dust and gave off the odor of a structure that had been boarded up for decades. He slowed his pace so as not to run into personnel trying to work in the dark. He toed the grime-covered white-and-black tiles and waved the beam in every direction. Wires hung from missing ceiling tiles, brick had been torn out, and concrete slabs had been gutted for mitigation.

How much longer for the generators? Pope ground his back teeth together. Did it make sense to have these people fumbling about? Should he station a skeleton crew and shut down the place until they could see?

One thing he wasn’t about to do was leave without seeing the reason for the call out. He motioned for Heath to proceed. Eventually they made their way to an ancient elevator the size of a coffin, and beside it a wide set of stairs. Another cop stood next to the banister, arms folded, protecting the body.

Steadying the Mag, Pope finally grasped the "warped” comment. He also understood why everyone had been so careful to reference the victim as the body,not a he or a she. He cautiously stepped forward, pinpricks raising the hairs on his neck. Cocooned in heavy-duty plastic, a blank face stared back at him, gender impossible to tell.

He’d been about to bellow at the top of his lungs to get him some fucking light when the generators clicked on. Obviously, he wasn’t alone in his frustration. The entire building erupted in whoops, hollers, and applause.

He took a deep breath. Still, a new hurdle awaited him; with the body in plastic, law enforcement couldn’t grasp what they had. Neither could the ME investigator. Once he arrived, he’d take the body downtown. Pope handed a business card to the uniform standing guard. "Tell the ME to call me when he has something.”

Relinquishing Heath of his tour-guide duties, Pope made a mental note to talk to the kid’s sergeant in case he faced a butt-kicking for leaving his post. Afterward, he crossed the lobby and ran into Garza.

"Got a text from Ortiz, LT. He’s at 38th and Lipan. Patrol combed the streets like you wanted and came up with a witness. Get this, he’s the one who made the 9-1-1 call.”

Pope started walking. "Good. They may have handed us our suspect. Have Ortiz bring him here and meet us at the outside gate.”

Falling in beside Pope, the detective shrugged. "Will do, but Ortiz asked that we come to him.”

"Why’s that?”

Garza’s expression turned sheepish. "Witness lives out of a shopping cart, LT. Doesn’t want to leave his house.”

THE HOMELESS man claimed his name was Homer, and if he’d ever had a last name, he couldn’t remember one. He didn’t care for coffee, so Pope bought him a hot chocolate from the 7-Eleven across the street. Near five a.m., the September morning wasn’t frigid, and dressed in all those layers, Pope couldn’t imagine the old-timer was cold. Nevertheless, Homer wrapped his dirty fingers around the brew as if the world was engulfed in a blizzard.

According to Patrol, Homer had shown up a year ago. He kept to himself, didn’t cause trouble, lived off charity or rummaged through back alleys and dumpsters. His realm appeared to be the streets of north Denver, and at first, cops had nicknamed him "Vampire.” Mainly because he came out at night and disappeared during the daytime.

Pope, who had contacts at the soup kitchens, wrote himself a note to check with the shelters and Step 13, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, to see what they knew about the man.

For now, he had a murder to solve, and Ortiz had indicated that Homer was key. Studying the stooped, vacant-eyed individual seated on the curb, his "house” behind him, Pope wasn’t optimistic.

He lowered his bulk to sit beside Homer, worked to ignore the man’s smell and the remnants of alcohol, and instead estimated his age. The man’s stringy gray hair was deceiving. At first glance, he appeared to have wrinkles, but up close Pope could see the deep lines were simply soot and grime snaking their way down his face.

"How’s the chocolate?” Pope asked.

Homer, who’d generally kept his head bent, answered by way of a slurp.

"Mr. Homer,” Pope tried again, "my detectives tell me a man approached you last night. Do you remember that?”

Homer nodded.

"And handed you a phone?”

"Wouldn’t let me keep it.” He sighed and stared into his chocolate.

Pope grew hopeful. These people weren’t always long shots. "Is there somebody you’d like to call? I can help you with that.”

"Nobody to call.” Homer paused a few seconds. "Wanted to sell it.”

Pope eyed the street and the rundown shopping strip across from him. "You make the call for him?”

Another nod.

"Who’d you call?”



"Stranger asked me to.”

"He had a phone. Why didn’t he report it himself?”

Homer shrugged.

"He give you money to make that call?”

Homer slurped more of his drink.

"If we have to take you downtown, Mr. Homer, your house can’t come with you. I doubt it’ll be here when you get back.”

The homeless man’s shoulders fell, and his voice turned tinny. "I was hungry. He gave me a twenty.”

"Nothing wrong with wanting to eat. What’d you tell the 9-1-1 operator?”

"I said I seen somebody go inside that old hospital. Cops should check it out. You can’t arrest me for that.”

He could, but he wouldn’t. Because Homer’s statement aligned with the dispatch operator’s, Pope moved on. "Can you describe this man?”

"Nice shoes.”

Pope’s gaze traveled to the holes in Homer’s worn loafers. So far he’d met Pope’s gaze fleetingly. "Can you describe him at all?”

Homer was slow to respond. Finally, he said, "Looked like you.”

"African American?”

Homer shook his head. "Big.”

Well, Pope already knew a dwarf hadn’t taken down that plywood. "Was he fat, skinny? Any moles that stood out? Did he speak with an accent? Anything?”

"He was...,” the tinny voice returned, ". . . big.”

This was a conversation going nowhere. Sighing, Pope said, "You through with your cocoa?”

He nodded, and Pope took the cup. Then Homer stood and moved to his cart while Pope remained seated. There were times he wanted to throw his weight around. This wasn’t one of them. He glanced over his shoulder. "Mr. Homer, do you still have the twenty the stranger gave to you?”

"Some of it. Got me something to eat at the McDonald’s.”

Of course he had. Pope came to his feet. "You stay at any of the shelters, Mr. Homer?”

"Not if I can help it. Can I go now?”

Pope squinted, undecided. Had the killer contacted Homer by chance? The suspect had to know the police would track down the person who made the emergency call. Even so, Homer had been on the streets for a while without incident. Something told Pope that if the perpetrator of the crime carried around cash, a phone in his pocket, and wore nice shoes, he wasn’t a regular.

"Yeah, you can go. But I may want to talk to you again. Understand?”

Homer nodded and meandered to his cart. He secured his towering load and wheeled slowly away.

Garza and Ortiz rounded the corner. Pope handed Garza the cup; Garza deposited it in a brown evidence sack.

"What now, LT?” Ortiz asked.

Pope glanced at his watch, then explained that Homer may have taken money from the killer. "Head over to the McDonald’s on 38th and talk to the manager. Check out Homer’s story. It’s early enough that twenty might still be in the drawer.” Pope started toward his car. "You want me, I’ll be at the morgue.”

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