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Authors: Danielle Girard

Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Literary

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BOOK: Chasing Darkness
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He
raised an eyebrow back at her. He had an angular jaw and large brown eyes with
flecks of green and gold. His mother was black and his father was white, and
Nick had the warmest color skin Sam had ever seen. It contrasted with his broad
shoulders and lean frame to keep him from looking too hard.

She
knew cops weren’t supposed to believe in coincidences, but Sloan was dead. She
looked at the twig again. Six leaves, just like the others.

Sam
shook her head. “It’s got to be a coincidence. Sloan’s dead. This is something
else. Maybe the eucalyptus symbolizes something else.”

Nick
nodded. “There’s the c-word again. It worries me.”

Fighting
off the chill, Sam turned and peered over at the other twig. “Damn. You’re
saying Sloan wasn’t our killer? The wrong guy was executed?”

Nick
shrugged. “Maybe he had a partner.”

Sam
surveyed the area. It wasn’t possible. Sloan had been alone. They’d worked
eighteen months to nail him and almost six years to get him convicted and
sentenced to death row. He’d never confessed, but he’d done it. The evidence
had proved it. She could not accept that the system had killed the wrong man.
“What else have you got?”

“Signs
of sexual intercourse,” Nick added.

Sam
frowned. “Semen?”

“Oh,
yeah. First guess is postmortem.”

“Charlie
Sloan never had sex with his victims.”

Nick
met her gaze. “Okay, not identical.”

Sam
found herself coming back to someone Sandi knew. “What about other relatives in
the area? A new boyfriend?”

“The
girl was staying with her grandmother. Dad and Grandma are it.”

Sam
noticed an odd pattern in the dirt by Sandi’s foot. It was the faintest
rectangular shape, and Sam wondered what had caused it. On her knees, she
searched for evidence. She found it on the instep of Sandi’s left foot. “You
see this?”

Nick
knelt beside her. Using his pen, he pushed on the woman’s toes, shining his
light on the bottom of her foot.

A
gum wrapper was stuck to the arch of Sandi’s foot. It was silver and Sam
recognized it as Extra. She put her nose to it. Spearmint. Her favorite.

Sam
studied the wrapper. “Someone left you a clue.” She stood up and brushed off
her jeans. “Looks like you’ve got a new killer on your hands—one with some
inside info on our old cases.”

Nick
shook his head. “Not me, Sam.
We
. You’re working this one, too.”

Chapter
Two

Pulling
down the street where Sandi’s mother lived, Nick Thomas cringed. He wanted to
be at home already. Turn up the Miles Davis, pull out his bass, and maybe
tinker for a while. Probably be too late when he got home after the baseball
game. The upstairs neighbor threw a fit when he played after ten, threatened to
call the cops on him. Even though she knew he
was
the cops. Hell, his
bass skills weren’t great but they weren’t bad either. Or maybe they were.

His
sister, Gina, had invited him to dinner at her house. But he’d probably have to
miss that, too. What with two sisters and a married brother all within a
ten-mile radius, Nick ate at home only one night a week as it was. And that one
night was takeout. He had even less talent for cooking than for playing bass.

He
looked up at the Walters house. The houses on the block were cookie-cutter
styles built in the fifties: aluminum siding with chipping paint in white,
yellow, and gray. Each had two windows in its ranch front. A set of shutters on
the outside would have broken the monotony had someone taken the time. Even he,
with no decorating sense, could have suggested that. The dandelion-pocked grass
formed perfect rectangles in front, only the shades of brown differed. Each
house seemed to come with three cars. Garage doors open, cars set up on blocks
in each driveway. The town of Danville had very affluent pockets, but this
wasn’t one of them. His beat-up Honda would certainly go unnoticed.

He
would’ve preferred company for his visit to the family, but Sam was spending
her day pulling records from the Charlie Sloan murders and following up on
every person who had been involved, even peripherally, in the case. It was a
task he didn’t envy. Paperwork had never been his forte. In comparison,
interviewing Sandi’s mother ought to be quick, at least.

Other
than the endless paperwork, interviewing a victim’s family was the worst part
of any investigation. A grieving family—and he had to give them the third
degree. But he knew it was a necessary step. Eighty percent of the time,
families knew the killer, even if they didn’t realize it. The family was a
solid place to start an investigation. Still, he hated the response he always
got. Guilty or not, the family inevitably stared at him like he was a
cockroach.

Shaking
off the thought, Nick tucked his car keys under the mat, as he always did.
Otherwise he had a tendency to lose them. With a deep breath, he pulled himself
out of the car and straightened his tie. He felt the comforting weight of the
gun resting beneath his left arm as he approached the house. At least he wasn’t
there to break the news of Sandi’s death. Her family had already been informed.
Pulling back the screen door, he knocked firmly on the door’s surface.

“Who
is it?” called a haggard voice from inside.

“Detective
Thomas from the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department,” he called back.

Murmured
words were exchanged, and Nick heard the sliding of locks before the door
creaked open. The little girl who opened the door had to be Molly. Nick knew
Sandi and her husband had only one child. But beyond deduction, Nick could see
the resemblance. Molly had her mother’s tiny, straight nose and thin lips.
Molly’s hair was brown, probably her mother’s natural color.

“I’m
Detective Thomas. Is your grandma or dad home?”

Big,
sad eyes stared at him without a response. Then someone called from the
background, “Let them in, Molly.”

Molly
stepped back quickly and let the door swing open.

“In
here,” the voice called, and Nick walked inside to see the woman he assumed was
Molly’s grandmother sitting in a worn olive-green La-Z-Boy. The room was a
blue-gray haze of cigarette smoke. He took a last deep breath of clean air and
approached her. She had the look of a basset hound, a droopy face with heavy
jowls. Large, wary brown eyes studied him.

“I’m
afraid I can’t get up,” the woman apologized.

“No
need.” Nick stepped forward and shook her hand. “I’m Detective Nick Thomas of
the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department. I’m very sorry for your loss, but
I need to ask you a few questions.”

The
woman pointed to Molly. “Get to your room, child. And shut the door.”

Molly
stared at him and then back at her grandmother.

“Now,”
the woman bellowed.

Molly
jumped slightly and ran, her bare feet slapping against the stairs.

The
grandmother shifted her considerable weight in the chair and pointed to the
couch. “Feel free to sit.”

“Thank
you.” The couch looked deep and worn, and Nick picked a stiff chair instead.
The ability to move from a spot quickly had saved him on more than one
occasion. A deep couch made that nearly impossible. He pulled out his pad,
watching with his peripheral vision for someone else to appear. With his pen
poised, he said, “I’d like to ask some questions about your daughter if I may,
Ms.—”

“Wendy.
Wendy Mayes. Ask away,” she said, as though he were taking a poll on her choice
of gasoline.

“Can
you tell me about when you last saw your daughter?”

The
woman cast a look over her shoulder. Nick followed her gaze but saw nothing.
Only a nail in the center of a wall papered in dingy blue stripes. The paper
was yellowed around an area of about a square foot where a picture must have
been hung. He wondered briefly when the picture had been removed and what it
was.

“I
was looking after Molly,” Wendy Mayes told him. “Sandi was off, and I told her
I’d stay with the child.”

He
studied her face, the thick wrinkles in her skin coming as much from extra
weight as from age. “Did your daughter tell you where she was going?”

“Never.
And I didn’t ask,” she said without raising an eyebrow. “Sometimes it’s work,
sometimes it ain’t.”

He
glanced at her hands crossed on her lap, remembering Sandi’s resting pose. The
two women had the same hands—long fingers with thick blue veins and large,
square nails. “Where did Mrs. Walters work?”

“Weren’t
never married, those two.”

“Excuse
me?”

“Sandi
and Mick weren’t never married.”

Nick
glanced at his notes. “Sandi’s last name on her driver’s license was Walters.”

The
woman harrumphed. “They weren’t married. Changed her name at the drop of a hat,
she did—like there was something wrong with Mayes.” She shook her head.

Nick
made a note to check for priors under other names. “Where did your daughter
work, Ms. Mayes?”

“Denny’s
in Antioch.” She shot the response out like a bullet.

He
nodded. “How long had she been working there?”

The
woman shrugged. “Five, six months, maybe.”

“And
before that?”

The
woman sighed. “Detective, my daughter held a lot of jobs. You really expect me
to keep track of ’em all?”

Nick
looked at the woman, wondering how hard it could have been. “What about friends
that your daughter spent time with?”

“Didn’t
have no female friends. None that I know of, anyway.”

“Male
friends?” Nick asked.

The
woman laughed. “Detective, I couldn’t even keep up with her jobs. I don’t have
a clue who she went around with.”

“What
about men living in the house?”

“Been
a few,” she said.

“Do
you know their names?”

“Mick’s
one. They’ve been off and on since Molly. He moved out about four months ago, I
think. There might have been someone else. I don’t know.”

“Mick’s
last name is Walters?”

“Same
as Molly’s,” she said without answering his question.

Nick
kept his temper under his vest. “Mick is Molly’s father?”

The
woman nodded like he was a moron.

“Is
Mick here now?”

She
shook her head.

“When
was the last time you saw him?”

“Been
a couple days,” she said.

“He
hasn’t been here in a couple of days?” Nick repeated.

The
woman raised an eyebrow. “That’s what I just said.”

“You
know anyone who would want to hurt your daughter?” he asked.

“No.”

“Did
she ever talk about any fights or threats?”

“We
didn’t talk, Detective.”

Nick
pushed himself to his feet. Opening his jacket, he pulled out a business card
and laid it on the table. “You think of anything, you give me a call, would
you?”

The
woman didn’t answer.

Nick
started toward the door and turned back, glancing again at her unstained
fingertips. Patting his jacket, he asked, “You wouldn’t happen to have a
cigarette, would you, Ms. Mayes? I’m fresh out.”

“Not
a one, Detective.”

Taking
a last look at the blue haze of the room, Nick nodded. “Are you a smoker, Ms.
Mayes?”

“I
wouldn’t say either way.”

Nick
let it go for the time being. “Thank you for your time.” As he opened the door,
Nick noticed Molly sitting at the top of the stairs staring down at him.

 

Nick
tossed the ball to the umpire and returned to his post beside first. It was the
bottom of the ninth, two outs, and the score was tied one to one. Rob Austin,
Sam’s nephew, was at bat.

Rob
selected a bat from the pile and swung it lightly in a small semicircle as he
approached the plate. Austin was a natural ballplayer. Nick had known him and
his brother, Derek, since they joined one of the Little League teams coached by
local police officers almost seven years ago.

Unfortunately,
with a pin in his left hip and a growing disparity in the lengths of his legs,
Derek hadn’t lasted long. Despite their identical genes, Nick thought, the two
boys were as different as night and day. Where Rob was open and loud, Derek was
shy and quiet. Rob loved sports, Derek music. Rob was active and had a solid
swing and a strong arm. Derek could name every rock song recorded between 1960
and 2000, and he knew the artist and album on more of them than Nick could
believe.

Even
their appearances were far from identical. Though both were almost six feet
tall, Rob was stocky, with broad shoulders and skin bronzed to match the
scatter of freckles across his cheeks, while Derek was thin and slightly
hunched over, his freckles a sharp contrast with his light skin tone.

Sam
was on the sidelines with Derek, and Nick forced himself to greet her casually
and then walk away. Every time he saw her, he pictured her that night. It was
the first time he’d seen her as more than just a colleague, and maybe a friend.
It had been one flash of what was underneath the hard exterior—one fleeting
glimpse. Keeping it all business while working the case side by side with her
would be hard enough. Even now, after he should be used to it, he was surprised
how much of Sam he saw in the boys. The short blond curls. The bright blue
eyes, slightly rounder than their aunt’s green ones.

The
coach was talking to the other team’s pitcher, and Nick paced along the edge of
the field, wishing the man would hurry up and get off the mound. The smoke in
Wendy Mayes’ home kept sweeping across his mind, making him wonder why she
would have lied to him—if she had lied. Maybe she simply hadn’t wanted to offer
him a cigarette. But her creamy white fingertips and unstained teeth suggested
otherwise. If she wasn’t a smoker, then who had been puffing away in that room?
Not little Molly, he hoped.

BOOK: Chasing Darkness
13.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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