The woman led them into the kitchen, where Mr. Partridge chopped vegetables with a large butcher knife. His hair was salt-and-pepper, and he had a thick chevron mustache to match. With glasses and a pencil stuck behind his ear, he looked like a professor in an apron.
“Dear, these are detectives, came to ask us some questions.”
“Oh?” Mr. Partridge stopped mid-chop and looked David and Cassie over. “Has something happened?”
“I’m afraid so. Your brother-in-law, Robert Shapiro, has died.”
“Oh.” Mrs. Partridge leaned against the counter. Her face was neutral, but her eyes were sharp. “If it were as simple as that, I don’t think the Savannah PD would send out a couple of detectives, would they?”
“One detective,” Cassie corrected. “One, uh, associate.”
“No, ma’am. Not as easy as that.” David shifted his weight to his other foot. “No easy way to say this.”
Mr. Partridge resumed chopping. As Cassie took a few steps closer, the pungent smell of onions caused her eyes to weep. She looked to David to
see if he noticed, but he said nothing.
“Best to just get it out,” Mrs. Partridge said. She went over to a pot on the stove and started stirring. “I’m a rip-the-Band-Aid-off kind of person.”
“Well, okay then. We have evidence to believe your late brother-in-law was a serial killer.”
It felt as though someone hit the pause button on the entire room. Cassie could only hear the bubbling of the liquid on the stove, the searing of steak in the cast iron pan, and smell a sour scent emanating from somewhere in the kitchen. It turned her stomach, and she wondered if it’d be rude to excuse herself from the room.
Mr. Partridge was the first to break the silence. “Robert? Are you sure?”
“Quite sure.” David looked to Mrs. Partridge. “After your sister’s death, it seems he found an outlet for his anger.”
“He wasn’t the same after Susanna died.” Mrs. Partridge grabbed a towel and wrung it between her hands. “I tried to help for a while. Did the best I could, but he pushed me away. Told me I shouldn’t come around anymore.”
“He threw you out of the house.” Mr. Shapiro chopped his vegetables more roughly. “Dirty bastard.”
“So, there’s no love lost between you three?”
Mrs. Partridge looked away. “I wouldn’t say that.”
“I would.” Mr. Partridge put down the knife. He took off his glasses, cleaned them, and returned them to his face with a huff. “Robert was always good to Susanna. But I never liked him. I always thought—”
“You never thought anything.” Mrs. Partridge threw the towel down on the counter, and Cassie got the distinct impression this was a fight they’d had more than once. “You loved Robert like a brother. For ten years.”
Mr. Partridge glanced at David and Cassie and decided not to press the subject. “He was strange after her death. He’d always been quiet, but not like that. He was practically a recluse. Tamara used to take casseroles over to his house twice a week for a year. He never ate them, but she did it anyway. She was mourning her sister, too. Thought they might console each other. He was only interested in being angry. In blaming someone.”
“Your sister was killed in a car accident, isn’t that right?” David asked.
“Yes. The man behind the wheel was very sick,” Mrs. Partridge said.
“He was a heroin addict.” Mr. Partridge didn’t mince words. “He died instantly. Robert always hated that. He wanted him to die a slow death. Wanted to be the one to put him out of his misery.”
“We think that’s why he started killing other addicts. He was trying to find closure, in his own way.”
“That’s horrific.” Mrs. Partridge clutched her stomach, and for a second, Cassie wondered if she smelled the sourness of the onions, too. “I never would’ve known. Never would’ve guessed he was capable of that.”
Mr. Partridge kept his mouth shut but it seemed like he didn’t agree with her.
“We have reason to believe he murdered at least twelve victims—”
Mrs. Partridge sucked in air through her teeth. “Twelve!”
“—but we can’t locate the last five. We were hoping you might know of some property Robert might’ve owned? We haven’t been able to locate anything ourselves.”