Frank was on the way to murder his wife. His unlicensed, loaded 22-caliber revolver was on the seat beside him, along with a Hallmark card in which he declared his undying love for his wife in poetry so saccharine as to be scarcely believable. Edie’s airline tickets were in the pocket of his cheap plastic raincoat. The hole he had dug (behind some brush just off a dirt road five miles west of Paskenta, during his recent hunting trip) was deep enough.
It was 11:13.023 am. Frank was driving the back road to his house as fast as he dared. He had asked Brother Mason, head elder of the Nord Believer Baptist Church, to shepherd the aging flock of bluehairs through a carefully prepared Sunday School lesson. Frank had assured his congregation that he would be back in time to preach his Easter sermon after he had taken his wife to the Chico Airport.
He called his wife on his cell phone. Edie answered after the first ring. Her bags were packed. Frank was a punctual man, and she knew it was important to him to begin that Easter Sunday worship service promptly at 12:30. His estimated time of arrival at the house was 11:18.
Once inside the house, while wearing the raincoat, Frank would shoot Edie while embracing her—thereby muffling the sound of the shots. He would fire when her back was to the open front door. In the unlikely event the small-caliber bullets penetrated her body, they would be lost in the orchard that bordered the driveway. He would then carry her through the house to the garage, where he would dump her on the plastic leaf bag he had laid down that morning. Then he would stuff her, the raincoat, the leaf bag, the contents of the suitcase and carry-on bag, and her purse (minus wallet and cellphone) into the large heavy-duty plastic bag he had salvaged from the dumpster behind Ginno’s Appliances. He would return the empty suitcases to their places in the storage shed. After backing the car into the garage, he would stuff her into the trunk. After the Easter service, he would slide her into the hole above Paskenta and cover her with dirt and rocks. The Hallmark card would be left on the credenza.
The church con had been easy enough. The former pastor of the little church that Edie attended had died of a heart attack; Frank’s lie about having been a theology student, along with some phony transcripts and his wife’s backing, had secured the job. Frank was raised on the theology of Oral Roberts and Pat Robertson. He preached their brand of hellfire-and-brimstone Evangelical Christianity, and he delivered his sermons with energy, confidence and calculated passion. His reputation grew as a marriage counselor and child psychologist. Church attendance grew from nine to fifty regular members.
Frank had a charismatic personality and the movie-star good looks of a middle-aged Johnny Depp. He had met Edie after a forty-dollar investment in an online dating service. This was after his third wife had disappeared. It was rumored that she left the country in the company of the vice president of a local bank. Heartbroken, Frank Steele (alias Thomas Hurd, alias Bertrand Lane, alias Christopher Reason) left town for the healing solitude of his grandmother’s farm in northern Idaho.
Edie had been a widow for ten years before she married Frank. She was a Doris Day look-alike, four years older than him. She was innocently wide-eyed, and wore makeup only to church and to the occasional shopping spree in San Francisco. She laughed easily and often.
Frank and Edie had been married for two years. That was about as long as he could comfortably keep up the pretense of being a loving husband—and he knew that Edie was beginning to regret not only their marriage, but also that she had made it possible for him to become pastor of her church. The signs were clear. There were questions about their finances, about how he spent his time during the week when he said he was doing research in the library at Chico State, and about his counseling sessions with a female member of the church. Edie had also developed an interest in the church books. (Frank had persuaded his parishioners to build a new church. Almost $100,000 of the money that had been raised was now in a joint, high-interest bank account in the Cayman Islands, along with $50,000 of his wife’s savings. As church treasurer and loving husband, it had been child’s play to get the necessary signatures.)
It had taken Frank over a month to convince Edie that the trip to Niles (a suburb of Chicago) to visit her ailing sister was a duty, as well as a well-earned vacation. That month had practically killed him. He was so attentive, considerate and passionate that his mistress-slash-accomplice had actually become jealous.
Jane was not the brightest bulb on the tree, and when Frank met her in the checkout line at Raley’s—and seduced her without offering anything more than a story about a loveless marriage and the promise of his undying love—she became central to his planning. She was forty-seven, unattached, and new in town. Even though she was a peroxide blonde, she had his wife’s creamy complexion and generous lips. He was convinced that Jane could pass for Edie if she wore sunglasses and a light-brown wig. When he discovered that her lifetime dream was to be a member of Oprah’s studio audience, he was confident that he was planning the perfect crime. (It was a shame that he might have to disappear before he took the congregation for a measly hundred grand, but his fingerprints were all over everything, and it was unrealistic to think he couldn’t somehow be linked to the case of the disappearing banker and his former wife during a missing persons investigation.)
Jane was convinced that Frank had arranged a clandestine romantic week in Chicago that included a shopping spree and a ticket to Oprah’s television show. He would join her there the next day. She only needed to pose as his wife. (He told her that Edie was spending two weeks in a Tahoe drug rehabilitation center, and their deception was necessary to protect his wife’s reputation as well as his own.) Frank had supplied Jane with a recent picture of his wife, along with a faux zebra-skin coat given to her by the ladies’ aid society at the church. When Frank picked her up at her apartment, she was to be wearing the coat, a wig that matched the photograph in color and style, and dark glasses. He would then hand her Edie’s tickets, cell phone and driver’s license. Jane was to carry on her own clothes and sundries. Jane was excited and enthusiastic. Frank was confident.
Upon arrival in Chicago, Jane was to take a taxi to the Hilton where Frank had reserved a room in his wife’s name. She was then to text-message him that she had arrived safely, using his wife’s cellphone.
What Frank did not tell Jane was that the following day, after a detour to Graeagle to buy gas, he was flying to Chicago out of Sacramento (as Christopher Reason) to kill her and dump her body and personal effects into Lake Michigan. (Small pleasure boats with cabins could be rented for the day.) Then he would use his wife’s electronic signature to transfer the money in their joint account to a Panamanian bank that would, for 10% of the transfer amount, discreetly deposit the remaining funds in a real estate corporation account in a branch of Bank of the West in Houston, Texas. In the meantime Frank would fly back to Sacramento, sheepishly buy trout in a supermarket market in Quincy and “return” from the four days of solitary fishing in the lakes and streams west of Graeagle.
Frank had included his fishing trip and Edie’s trip to visit her sister in the “Church and Community News” section of the previous week’s church bulletin.
The Meteor entered the Earth’s atmosphere traveling at 17,000 mph at exactly 11:15.131873 am. When that happened, the place and time of its impact was predetermined. The Meteor wasn’t happy about this physical requirement because it was impossible to perfectly gauge the speed of Bob’s car. However, given his mass, the generous kill zone it provided, and the elapsed time to impact, there was no way he could fail.