Chapter 30: Cooper Dahlsing — by Christine Husom

“A reputable therapist . . .” Moody Sinclair paused and Cooper wondered why she suddenly looked a little sad and upset. Did it have to do with why she was no longer licensed? “Um, like I said earlier, I need to know more about you besides your medical condition.”

Cooper didn’t want to spend valuable time talking about himself and thought about where in his life to begin.

Sinclair spoke before he did. “You’re a doctor?”

“I have my PhD in genetics.”

“Genetics. Hmm.” She studied him a minute. “So you figured out that Riley was not the biological daughter of the Petersons?”

“It wouldn’t take a geneticist to figure that one out.”

Sinclair surprised him by smiling. “So I’m not so smart after all?”

Cooper shrugged. Of course she was smart. “Riley didn’t know she was adopted, did she?”

“I guess the knowledge, the truth, can no longer hurt her.” Sinclair quietly sighed. “No, she did not.”

“So why would a little girl need psychological help?”

“Dr. Dahlsing, I am not going to say any more. Riley may be gone, but her parents are not.”

Cooper sat up straighter. “Her adoptive parents, you mean. Her biological parents have been looking for her since she was stolen from a Minnesota hospital nursery.”

A brief unguarded look of surprise danced across Sinclair’s face. “Minnesota? How do you know—”

“I’m from Wisconsin. I remember when it happened. When I saw Mrs. Neuhaus on television recently pleading for the return of her daughter, I knew that daughter had to be Riley. It all fit.”

“Did you tell the police about your suspicions?”

“Not yet.”

Sinclair seemed visibly relieved and Cooper wondered why. Did she have a pact with the Petersons? Contact with the biological parents?

She rolled her shoulders forward an inch or so and nodded. “Tell me why you think you may have had anything to do with Riley’s death.”

Cooper told her about his sister, her unsolved murder, and having no memory of seeing her walk away from his car when he dropped her off at school that fateful morning. He briefly summarized his life, his nighttime wanderings, his career and why he left it all behind to move to Rubicon Ranch. When he described waking up in the desert on the night Riley died near where her body was found, Sinclair shifted in her chair. Cooper recognized she was growing increasingly uncomfortable.

Dr. Sinclair stood. “I can’t hypnotize you. Not yet, anyway.”

Cooper was more than frustrated. He’d poured out the sordid details of his life before Rubicon and his fears about possible involvement in both his sister’s and Riley’s deaths—which is what Sinclair asked him to do—for nothing.

“Can you tell me why you won’t hypnotize me?”

“Dr. Dahlsing, you are a very guarded man. I can see that much. You’ve obviously thought this through or you wouldn’t be here. But now I need to think over everything you’ve told me. And what I want you to think about is, do you trust me enough? To guide you through hypnosis—to be successful—I’ll need that.”

She had a point. Cooper sensed Moody Sinclair had secrets of her own. Dark secrets. He had read about therapists being accused of planting false memories in people. He didn’t think that was possible, but it was enough to trigger some doubt. It wouldn’t hurt to do a little research on the psychologist to uncover why she no longer had her license to practice psychology.

Cooper thanked the doctor for her consideration, said he’d be in touch, and left.

*   *   *

Where to now? he wondered as walked away from the Sinclair home. Take a right for home, or a left to head into the town? He was too anxious to go home, he had to keep walking. He should have scheduled another appointment with Dr. Sinclair, but maybe it was for the best that he hadn’t. If his research on her uncovered something illicit, he wouldn’t want to go back. He’d find another psychologist somewhere else.

Cooper reached the business district minutes later. He stopped at the newspaper vending machine that carried the daily paper from Rojo Duro. Stories on Riley and on the unidentified man whose body had also found in the desert ran side by side on the front page. Cooper fished a dollar out of his pocket, inserted it in the machine’s slot, and pushed the button. The latch released. He opened it and withdrew the newspaper.

When Lieutenant Frio told Cooper the second body was an adult male, he had moved that information to the back of his mind, figuring the two deaths weren’t related. But looking at the artist’s sketch of the unidentified man staring at him had him wondering. He knew him from somewhere.

When realization hit, Cooper tried unsuccessfully to convince himself he was imagining things. But he never forgot a face. He had to go back some years in his memory bank and there it was. A photo in the Wisconsin newspaper of Riley’s biological mother and father. Her father had one arm hooked around his wife’s shoulders and the other on her lap. Their newborn daughter had been snatched from the hospital and they wanted her back. They wouldn’t rest until she was safely returned to their large family.

Cooper forced himself to read the article. They did not give the cause of man’s death, but police were investigating the manner of death as a homicide.

What was Mr. Neuhaus doing in Rubicon Ranch? Minnesota was over a thousand miles away. There was only one reason: he was here because he had learned Riley’s location.

Who knew Neuhaus was in Rubicon Ranch? Did he contact the Petersons, threaten to expose them? When they decided they couldn’t face going to prison they killed Riley, then her father? And why would the Petersons leave their bodies in the desert?

Cooper felt a deep connection to Riley: a special connection he had not had shared with anyone since the death of his sister. He wanted to help the authorities get to the bottom of her death. Riley’s biological father’s death was another matter. Cooper figured when the investigators found out who killed Riley, they’d know who killed Neuhaus.

He considered heading to the small café, but felt he had about enough energy left to make it home. He’d been all geared up to go through hypnosis with Dr. Sinclair, but she wouldn’t do it. Sinclair. She wouldn’t reveal anything about Riley to him, but maybe she would to the police. The more he thought about Moody, the more he knew she was hiding something.

Cooper’s legs got heavier with each step home. The burden of two young loved ones’ deaths was weighing him down. He’d moved to Rubicon Ranch for safety and escape, but there was no peace in these hills.

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About Christine Husom

Christine Husom is a former corrections officer, deputy, and mental health practitioner. She combined her love for writing and solving crimes crafting her Winnebago County Mystery Thrillers, featuring Sergeant Corinne Aleckson and Detective Elton Dawes. Murder in Winnebago County, Buried in Wolf Lake, An Altar by the River, The Noding Field Mystery, A Death in Lionel's Woods, and Secret in Whitetail Lake are the first six books in the series.
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