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Authors: Danielle Girard

Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Literary

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BOOK: Chasing Darkness
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What
do you boys like to eat? she’d asked them.

“Chocolate,”
Derek had answered.

“And
peanut butter,” Rob had added.

Then
they’d exchanged a glance and simultaneously said, “Together.”

Sam
had baked her first cake that night after she’d put the boys down. Chocolate
cake with chocolate frosting mixed with peanut butter. As a special treat,
she’d let the boys each have a piece for breakfast that first Sunday morning.
Those had been the first smiles she’d seen from them. Now, eight years later,
she still repeated the ritual every June 26.

With
the candles lit, she turned back to the hall. “Okay.”

The
boys who had been half her size that first time now towered over her as they
huddled around the cake and blew out the candles. Sam cut them each a piece of
cake and then watched them eat and laugh.

“I
think maybe you two are getting too big for this tradition,” Sam said, sitting
down with a sliver of cake for herself.

“No!”
Rob said.

“Really,
Sam. It’s fun,” Derek agreed.

She
winked and took a bite herself. “Just kidding.” Sam smiled at the memory of
bringing the boys home that first day. Her tiny house had almost no furniture.
It was the way she’d lived since her divorce. They had been stiff-lipped and
sullen as she put their stuff down on her worn beige carpet.

The
boys seemed to finish their cake in three bites. Sam tried to eat hers slowly,
knowing her body wouldn’t burn it off like a sixteen-year-old’s would.

“One
more piece?” Rob begged.

Sam
shook her head. “No way.”

“Come
on,” Derek added. “It’s summer.”

She
looked at them and shook her head in defeat. “One more—but small.”

She
cut two more slices, and the boys managed to wolf those down as well, Derek
only slightly slower than his larger counterpart.

Three
minutes later, the cake was half gone and the boys had fled the kitchen to go
back to bed. Sam cleared the dishes and thought about the morning, savoring the
few minutes of fun more than the cake.

 

Sam
cupped her steaming coffee and hurried to the entrance of the Department of
Justice building in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf. People on the streets were
dressed in white shorts and floral shirts, looking ready for Disneyland rather
than downtown San Francisco, with its brisk Pacific breeze and professional
dress. Cameras around their necks, maps held open in two hands, they searched
for the right street for the next activity. Cable car one block to your left,
water two blocks to your right, Sam thought, Fisherman’s Wharf half a block
straight ahead. But no matter how easy it seemed to her, there were always
tourists with maps open pointing in all different directions.

The
front door of the D.O.J. building was well camouflaged by a liquor store on one
side and a camera store on the other.

She
was due to meet one of the assistant D.A.’s to talk prosecution on a third-time
offender. She was already late. She tucked the coupon section from the paper
under her arm to clip later and stuffed the rest of the paper in the closest
trash can before entering her building.

In
the elevator, she pushed the button for three and stood impatiently while the
machine moved upward at a snail’s pace. When the doors opened, she rushed out,
using her key card to enter the bulletproof doors at the reception area.

“They’re
waiting in the conference room,” the receptionist called after her.

“They?”
Sam had expected the assistant D.A. to come alone.

“Two
of them.”

“I’m
on my way.”

As
she passed his desk, her assistant, Aaron, wheeled toward her.

She
looked down at the wheelchair. The wide, bright yellow tubing made it look like
it was constructed to take on mountain terrain. “Cool new chair.”

Aaron
grinned and spun around in a full circle. “You like?”

She
nodded and touched the yellow bars. “Looks like you’re going off-roading.”

“This
baby’s the Hammer—made with aerospace tubing.” He patted the heavy metal
underside. “It’s for the race.”

She
remembered his wheelchair marathon was coming up. “July eleventh.”

“You’re
coming, right?”

“Wouldn’t
miss it.”

“Awesome.”
Aaron spun back to his desk and snatched a spiral notebook off the surface
before turning back.

Sam
had to smile at the antics. She wished Rob had a little of Aaron’s disposition.
She shook her head.

“Williams
called four times this morning,” Aaron said, rolling his eyes. “And he’s been
by twice. He says he needs your notes on the case you worked together before
you present to Corona. I could pull the file for you.”

She
shook her head. “Williams wants my notes because he can’t read his own damn
handwriting. When are we set to meet with Corona?”

Gary
Williams was one of the sixteen special agents Sam worked with. But for some
reason Williams was the one she’d been paired with the most, and they did not
see eye to eye. Williams had been a special agent for more than twenty years
and therefore considered himself more senior than his other colleagues. But he
wasn’t the strongest agent, and lately Corona had been giving Sam the
higher-profile cases. Then, last week, Williams had made a blunder with the
D.A.’s office that she couldn’t fix and she’d had to get Corona’s help. She
knew she deserved the bigger cases, but Williams became more difficult to deal
with each time something was passed to her over him. And after last week’s
fiasco, he’d been all but belligerent toward her in the staff meeting.

Sam
suspected Corona knew she could handle it without his help. And she could.
Complaining wasn’t her style. But Gary Williams sure as hell wasn’t getting
anything extra from her.

“The
meeting’s Wednesday morning.”

Sam
nodded as she dropped her bag and searched for the file on Curt Hofstadt, who
had been paroled after his conviction on charges of child molestation back in
January and had since been living with a woman who had three small daughters.
The mother reported him when the youngest girl, age four, was found to have
developed vaginal warts, a condition the mother too suffered from after
relations with Hofstadt.

Not
only had Hofstadt violated probation, but this was his third offense and was
likely to be his third conviction. And according to the new three-strikes law,
his last.

“What
do you want to do about Williams?” Aaron repeated.

“Set
up a meeting to discuss it tomorrow morning. Let him know to come prepared with
his findings. I’m not doing any more handholding.” She glanced up at Aaron as
he wrote.

“Don’t
worry. I won’t quote you.”

She
nodded. “You’re a good man. Where the hell is the Hofstadt file?” She dug
through the stacks on her desk.

“First
one on top.”

She
shook her head, flipping through the files. “It’s not here.”

Aaron
double-checked, then glanced around the room. “Did you take it home?”

“I
didn’t need to. I was prepared for this meeting.” Sam looked around in
confusion.

Aaron
sifted through the files. “I’ll be damned. It’s not here.” He looked up at her
as she glanced at her watch.

She
was late already, and this meeting was not a good one to be late for. Josh
Steiner was one of the assistant D.A.’s assigned to the case, and he always
acted like his minutes were measured in gold and Sam’s in plastic.

“I
can easily print another copy of the argument,” Aaron offered. “You won’t have
your notes, but I think we put almost all of it into the computer.”

Sam
nodded, more than slightly disturbed at the file’s disappearance. She had an
excellent memory and never misplaced things, especially something this
important. “Do that, would you, Aaron?”

Aaron
wrote something down and Sam stood perplexed for another second.

“It’ll
be ready in a minute,” Aaron said.

“Thanks.
Also, will you call Quentin and talk to the prison warden? Find out who Charlie
Sloan had been hanging around with in prison before his death—any recent
releases, any outside contact.”

Aaron
made notes. “Will do.” He pointed to the pink slips on her desk. “You’ve got a
stack of messages.”

Sam
flipped through the stack while she waited for the file to print. A police
officer wanted to talk to her about possible suspects for a child slaying in
Concord, one town over from where she lived. Two other police officers had left
messages. Nick had called. Someone from Utah was calling to see if the D.O.J.
had any records on a Dwayne Swift, who was picked up for sex with a minor. The
last message was blank. Dropping it in the trash, she picked up her date book and
left her office.

“All
ready,” Aaron said, handing her a stack of papers. “In triplicate,” he added.

“Thanks.”
Sam rushed down the hall, rounding the corner in time to catch Josh Steiner
emerging from the conference room wearing an evil scowl. His thinning dark hair
was combed over his head, and a piece of it dangled across his forehead like an
exclamation point over one eye.

“About
time,” he mumbled under his breath.

Sam
took a deep breath and brushed past him to enter the room. Turning to him, she
said, “Do you want coffee or anything?”

“Much
longer and we’ll need dinner,” he muttered.

Sam
nodded and sat down. “I apologize for the delay,” she said without details on
the file.

“It’s
no trouble. Josh just hasn’t had his morning coffee, is all.”

Sam
turned to introduce herself to Josh’s colleague.

“Neil
Wallace,” he said, extending his hand.

The
name wasn’t the least bit familiar, but there was something about his face.
“Have you been with the D.A.’s office long?”

He
shook his head. “Brand-new.”

“Why
don’t we just get started?” Josh interrupted. “You can exchange résumés later.
I’ve got a ten o’clock.”

Sam
knew Josh was lying by the way he refused to look at her, but she didn’t press
him. Handing the men copies of the file that Aaron had just printed, Sam walked
them through each aspect of the case. Josh asked a few questions, which she
answered easily even without her personalized notes.

“You
have a tape of the interview with the girl?” Josh asked.

Sam’s
copy of the tape had been with the file. Where the hell had that gone? There
was always the original, safe in the evidence vault, but she would need to make
another copy. “I can get a copy over to you this afternoon.”

Josh
raised an eyebrow. “You don’t have a copy with you?”

Sam
didn’t blink. “I’ve got the original, but I can’t give you that. I’ll have to
make an extra for you.”

The
corners of Josh’s mouth sank into a frown. “We’re in a bit of a hurry with
this.” He motioned to his companion, who gave a nod of agreement.

The
case didn’t go to court for at least another three weeks. Sam smiled patiently
and leaned forward on the table, keeping her voice and eyes steady despite the
lies. “If you’d like, I can make you a copy while you wait. Or I can just
courier one over later.”

Josh
shook his head. “We can’t wait. Just send it over soon.” He stood and headed
for the door.

Wallace
followed, but paused at the edge of the room. Turning back, he raised an
eyebrow. “I heard you’ve got another murder that looks like Sloan. You have any
leads?”

Sam
knew how rumors spread in a police station. It was like an airborne disease on
an airplane. “We’re working on it,” she answered. “Nice to meet you,” she added
before he could ask any more questions. Then she excused herself and pushed
past them.

It
was almost ten when Sam finally got back to her office. Aaron confirmed that
the Hofstadt file still hadn’t shown up, and the file’s disappearance pawed
uncomfortably at the back of her mind. Where could it have gone? She hadn’t
worked on the case with anyone other than the detective team and her team
members at the D.O.J., who had helped with surveillance. No one in the building
would have any use for it. And she didn’t lose things. She asked Aaron to get a
copy of the tape to Josh and told him not to let the original out of his sight
for a second. Then she sent an urgent E-mail to everyone in her department,
asking whoever might have accidentally taken the file from her desk to please
return it immediately.

Pulling
her file on Karen Jacobs—Charlie Sloan’s first victim—Sam sat down behind her
desk and leaned over to turn on the small heater next to her feet. With the
warm air blowing on her feet, she opened her notebook.

The
first thing she did was get in touch with the warden at San Quentin who had had
responsibility for Sloan. Aaron had spoken to him that morning, and he had
reported that Sloan was as much a loner in prison as he had always been on the
outside. Sam wasn’t sure she believed it. It only made sense that the new
killer was someone linked to Sloan. She dialed the number Aaron had left her
and requested that she be transferred to Warden David Brighton.

“Brighton
here.”

Sam
introduced herself and asked him about any friendships Sloan might have
developed at the prison, any visitors or outside contact of any kind before his
death.

“I
hadn’t noticed any changes in his behavior at all toward the end. He was
usually in solitary because of the way he baited the other prisoners. He had
been beat up a bunch of times, the last time almost to death. For a smart guy,
he wasn’t real bright that way, but he considered himself above the other
prisoners, and you can imagine how they liked that.”

“What
did he do? Any letters? Anything?”

“Mostly
he read. I’ve pulled the latest list of what he took from the library in those
last months. A few more of the classics—mostly ones he had read before—Dickens,
O. Henry, some Faulkner. He also checked out a trigonometry text, a physics
book, and a life sciences text during his last few months. That’s all in line
with what he had been doing since he got here. He did receive a package from
his attorney—it was a text of appeal cases. You know how they’re all looking
for a way out.”

BOOK: Chasing Darkness
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