Authors: Stacy Dittrich
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Psychological, #Women Sleuths, #Police Procedural
“An Amish family located her in their field, up in the northern part of the county. The crime lab and the coroner are already on their way, so we’d better get going.”
“Do her parents or the media know yet?” I asked Coop.
“Not yet. Captain Norris and the department chaplain are on the way to tell the Parkers. As for the media, it’s just a matter of time.”
“And they’re sure it’s her?” Captain Kincaid asked, one of her more brilliant questions.
“I can’t think of any other blonde five-year-olds wearing a pink
T-shirt that would turn up dead in an Amish cornfield, can you?”
“Just asking,” she said, a little embarrassed.
Well deserved, if you asked me. She was one of the few people who could be counted on to come up with the most dim-witted questions.
“Let’s get going,” the chief said, already heading toward the door.
“Damn it all to hell,” the sheriff mumbled, expressing everyone’s sentiments quite accurately.
I gathered my bag and notebooks before following the others. I wanted nothing more than to get into my car and drive straight home. I can’t bear seeing a dead child, especially one that’s been murdered. People weren’t meant to see things like that—it wasn’t in the grand plan. It doesn’t matter who you are, a civilian or a cop, looking down on the body of a dead child ruins you mentally for years, if not for life. One can understand and accept the often fragile psychological stability of a police officer who has seen many such cases. Like I have. It’s worse when the victims, like Hanna Parker, are female and close to the age of my two daughters. My youngest, Isabelle, is four years old. Selina, my oldest, is ten. Times like this, I need to flip the off switch in my head in order to do my job.
When I pulled into the driveway of the Amish farmhouse, the family was standing on the front porch. I would start with them, but first I needed to get a long-distance view of the body and crime scene. The rear of the house looked out over the cornfield. About two football fields away stood a group of people and several white vans. I guess it was a good thing the field had been recently harvested, or it could’ve been a while before she was found. Of course, there was also the awful thought of the combine cropping through the field and over Hanna Parker.
Notebook in hand, I went back to the Amish family to get a more detailed statement.
I introduced myself to Eli Zimmerman and asked him to tell me what happened. He began speaking in a thick German accent, one I could relate to since my husband is from Germany. Eric spent only his first year there, and you’d never know it by talking to him. His parents, on the other hand, sound like they’re straight from the old country. Even after all these years, I have a hard time understanding their English. My mother’s parents were from Germany, so I learned a few words growing up. Mainly obscenities from my grandfather.
Eli said they had been at another farm helping to build a barn since early that morning and had gotten home only about an hour and a half ago. It was while walking out to his barn that he saw something in the field and he went to investigate. When he discovered the body, he ran back to his house and had his son bicycle to the nearest Mennonite farm to call the police.
“I tell him,
Geh jepzt! Mach schnell!
Even with my very limited German vocabulary I knew that meant
Go now! Hurry!
Eli said he could see it was a body from ten feet away and didn’t want to get any closer. It was dark when they had left in the morning, so he didn’t know if the body was out there at that point or not. He answered “no” to the customary questions about any suspicious cars, people, and the like.
After my conversation with the Zimmermans, I was walking back to my car to confirm their account at the Mennonite farm when Coop yelled from the side of the house.
“CeeCee, get over here and look at this.”
“It’s really not necessary, Coop. You don’t need me out there,” I said, opening my car door. Coop promptly shut it before I had the chance to jump in.
“Yes, we do. I can’t explain it, it’s…” He paused. “It’s grotesque. I’ve never seen anything like it, and you might be able to give a little insight. I know you don’t like dead kids. None of us do, but whoever did this is sick, very sick, and he needs to be caught. Please, CeeCee?”
Coop always knew how to lay a guilt trip on me with nothing but a successful outcome. I took a deep breath and prepared myself.
“Fine, let’s go,” I groaned.
As we walked through the field, an impending sense of dread filled me the closer we got to the body. Oh, how I hated this. Nearing the small, pink and white lump that lay on the ground, I felt my stomach give a quick flip. I instinctively shut my eyes. Taking another deep breath, I opened my eyes, and looked down at the small child on the ground.
Grotesque didn’t describe it properly. Bizarre? Maybe. Horrific—definitely. Hanna Parker lay on her back with her arms crossed in front, as if she were laid out for viewing at a wake. Her body was by no means disfigured or in bad shape. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t see any signs of injury. The first thing I noticed was the red ribbon tied in a bow around her neck. Fighting back tears, I bent down and crossed myself: a subconscious act from my Catholic upbringing. I looked at the grotesqueness that Coop was referring to.
Hanna Parker was made up to look like a doll. Her face had been painted white, with red circles on her cheeks and a heavy amount of pink eye shadow over her closed eyes. Black eyelashes had been drawn to give them a more dramatic effect, and her lips were colored bright red. It looked like her hair had even been curled. A red bow, mirroring the one around her neck, sat prominently atop her head. The killer had even brushed off and smoothed out her clothes.
“Oh, dear God in heaven,” I murmured, putting my hands over my mouth.
Hanna’s fingernails had also been painted bright red, but that wasn’t what drew my attention. It was the object under her hand.
“What’s she holding?” I asked Coop.
“I don’t know. Let me grab a lab tech to lift her hand.”
I watched silently as the crime lab technician held out a small, white plastic doll shoe that had been under Hanna’s right hand. Coop looked confused. “Is that a baby shoe?”
“No, it’s a doll shoe,” I said, noticing that by now the sheriff, Kincaid, and others had joined us.
“It’s a little big for a doll’s shoe, don’t you think?” Kincaid asked.
“I believe it comes from one of those My Size dolls. My girls have them. They’re anywhere from two to three feet tall—I had one as a kid,” I said, leaning in for a closer look.
The lab tech turned the shoe over, and sure enough,
was stamped on the bottom.
“Does anyone know if she had one of those or was playing with it when she disappeared?” Coop asked.
“I don’t think so. Her mother probably would’ve said something, but we should double-check anyway. I strongly believe it’s all connected, and the shoe has something to do with the way she’s made up. If it doesn’t belong to Hanna Parker, it is, under any circumstance, a key piece of evidence.”
We watched as the lab technician carefully placed the shoe in an evidence bag before taking it to the crime lab van. Processing the scene was almost finished, so there was no reason to stick around. Kincaid had already confirmed the Zimmermans’ story with the Mennonite family.
“CeeCee,” the sheriff began as he stood by my car, “I just got off the phone with the chief. No surprise, but the media’s gotten ahold of the story. Frankly, I figured it would be sooner than this the way those vultures are. I’d as soon kick a couple of them in the teeth the way they act, like this is a new, up-and-coming true-crime novel rather than a dead little girl.” He paused. “You want to do it?”
“No, sir, that’s why you get the big bucks.” I got into my car to leave.
I was never good at dealing with the media, so I decided to take the back way into the station. I watched out my office window while the sheriff, who arrived just after I did, gave his statement to the mob of reporters and cameras.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began loudly, “as most of you are aware, approximately four hours ago, this agency received a report of a body found in a cornfield north of the city. The body appears to be that of a small child. At this time, I am unable to confirm that the body is Hanna Parker’s. Once the body has been positively identified and the family contacted, I will give you another statement. Until then, I would appreciate it if you would wind down a little. We need to be able to perform our duties efficiently and effectively. Thank you.”
The sheriff promptly turned around and walked away, ignoring the media’s pleas for more information. Since I’d heard enough, I closed my window to muffle the loud sounds of commotion.
After the media began to thin out, I called Captain Norris to see how the Parkers were doing. Understandably, not good. An ambulance team had to be called to their home to sedate Corrine Parker. Captain Norris was still at the scene, so I asked him how Dr. Parker was.
“He’s angry, CeeCee—pissed off, bitter, slinging insults, the whole lot. Right now, he’s saying it’s our fault because we didn’t handle it right and find her fast enough.”
I wasn’t feeling too peachy myself. I always wonder if there’s something I missed, something else I could’ve done. It’s never hard to feel guilty.
“I’m sorry to hear that. Grief will bring out the worst of emotions. Since he probably won’t want to hear any pertinent questions from you, would you try to find a family member who spends a lot of time there and ask them a question for me?”
“I’m all ears.”
“Ask if Hanna had a My Size doll. It’s like a life-size doll for kids, and they’ve been around for years. They’re about three feet tall. If she had one, try to find out if she was playing with it when she was abducted.”
“Will do.” He sighed in the phone. “It was pretty bad up there, huh?”
“You can’t even imagine, Captain. Let me know ASAP when you find out about the doll, please.”
Just a brief image of Hanna’s body in my head made my heart skip. I still felt an overwhelming urge to rush home, hug my kids, and never let them out of my sight.
“I need about ten shots of whiskey.”
I smiled. There were many days when Coop and I ran to the nearest watering hole after work.
“Any word?” Not that I expected a yes, but I like to hope.
“Nope. What a sick freak! Man, if I catch this guy, I hope I don’t end up snapping his neck.”
“So now what?”
“I don’t know. I need some time to think.”
At that moment, I knew he was about to change topics by the wide smile that emerged on his face.
“Hey, off the subject, have you seen Eric’s new cub?”
Coop was referring to the rookie Eric was training. I knew the officer was a female, but I hadn’t given it much thought. At least until now, when I saw the smirk on Coop’s expressive face. Bill Sinclair, another detective, was on his way into my office when he heard Coop’s question.
“Whoooee! I sure have! Man, oh man, they didn’t have rookies like that when I was in uniform. She is smokin’ hot!”
“Is that right?” I felt my face turn red, and I started to shuffle papers on my desk.
Coop chimed in. “I don’t know about her face, but she’s got a hell of a rack on her and an ass that would stop a space shuttle. What’s her name anyway?”
“Jordan Miller,” Bill answered. “I think she’s around twenty-five—just a pup.”
“She may have a nice rack now,” I said, unable to maintain my silence, “but I’m sure when she’s my age, they’ll be hanging to her knees.” I said this, as if being in my early thirties put me in my golden years.
“What’s this?” Coop’s brow arched. “The famous CeeCee Gallagher getting jealous over a little rookie? That’s not like you.” He tried to keep a straight face.
“I’m hardly jealous,” I lied. I’d be damned if I let them see me getting in an uproar over someone I don’t even know. Pride is one of my strong suits. “Anyway, let’s get back to business. You got anything for me, Bill?”
Bill, like everyone else so far, had nothing. Kincaid joined us for a while since she did have some positive news, so we were able to plan our next course of action. A stolen brown van had been located in the southern part of the county. It appeared to be our suspect’s van, according to the uniforms that found it.
“The uniforms contacted the van’s owner and talked to him briefly, but they said he didn’t raise any red flags. He seemed legitimate,” Naomi related.
“I’ll still have to talk to him, which is fine. I need something to do right now anyway,” I said.
“Dr. Parker is still raising hell over the murder, placing the blame on our incompetence. He’s already called the FBI, and now they’ve called me
to offer their valuable assistance.” She sighed.
“This isn’t their jurisdiction,” I snapped. “This is local. I hope you didn’t ask them to come down here.”
“Relax, CeeCee,” Kincaid answered. “I haven’t decided yet, but if Dr. Parker keeps this up, the sheriff may be forced to bring them in. Remember, this is about finding a child’s killer. Not feeding our egos.”
“Thanks for the ethics lesson.”
Kincaid started shaking her head and walked out, followed by Bill. She could still incense me like no one else—a talent I’m sure she was proud of since she knew how I felt about her.
“Nothing will ever change between you two,” Coop said, putting his hands behind his head and stretching in his chair.
“It will if she wakes up one morning no longer a twit, which is highly unlikely.”
Naomi Kincaid was a beautiful woman by most standards, but had the brain and common sense of an empty beer can. After Coop left, Captain Norris called. An aunt who frequently babysat Hanna Parker said she didn’t have a My Size doll. She knew that specifically because every time Hanna watched a commercial for the dolls on television, she always commented on how she thought they were “scary looking.” I took all the information on the aunt from Captain Norris, before leaning back in my chair. I didn’t understand the relationship between the doll shoe and Hanna Parker, and it bothered me. I knew the shoe was the key.
When I looked at the clock, I realized Eric should be somewhere in the department getting ready for his shift, so I called his cell phone. No answer. While I tried to act like the comments about Jordan Miller didn’t bother me, deep down they did. Surrendering to the disturbed mind-set of a jealous wife, I assumed Jordan would be in the female locker room gearing up for her shift with Eric. I had been meaning to take my bulletproof vest out of my locker and figured there was no better time than the present. A quick check in my compact mirror made sure all of my makeup was in place. I was anticipating a showdown and had to look my best. Onward, to face the enemy. I headed to the locker room.
Eric and I went through a pretty rocky time last year after I had been kidnapped and beaten. We were both trying to heal the wounds, so I needed to deal with Jordan to confirm to myself that my marriage was still solid.
The female locker room was in the basement, four floors down. When I stepped off the elevator, I could feel my nerves tighten up, which really angered me. I’m not one to be insecure around another woman, but I suppose Coop and Bill’s comments got to me. I already had a plan as to how I would scope out my competition. When I got to the locker-room door, I took a deep breath, stood straight and confident, and walked in.
There was only one other woman in the locker room, and I immediately knew it had to be Jordan Miller. She was gorgeous. She was standing in front of the mirror in her locker, whipping her long dark hair into a bun. She wasn’t very tall, maybe five feet four, and probably weighed 115 pounds at her heaviest. By the time she finished fussing with her hair, I was nearby with my locker open, fumbling around inside, pretending to look for something.
“Hi there!” I heard from behind me.
I turned halfway, looked her up and down, and gave a small, fake smile. I was always good at being condescending without saying a word, when it was needed. Like it was now. I muttered a quiet “hi” to her sparkling white teeth, violet-colored eyes, and deep dimples in her cheeks before turning back to my locker. I couldn’t believe I was trembling a little. This girl had me worried, but there was no way I would let that show.
“Oh my gosh, are you Detective Gallagher?” She kept talking before I could answer. “I read all about you in the papers last year when you busted up that drug ring and stuff! I know you won’t believe this, but you’re one of the reasons I went to the police academy and became a cop. I admire you a lot.” She held out her hand. “By the way, I’m Jordan Miller. I’m sure you know Eric is my training officer.”
Maybe it was the fact that she said “Eric,” instead of “your husband” that bothered me, but something did. I reached out and shook her hand, quickly.
“Thank you, Jordan. It’s nice to meet you. I knew Eric was training someone right now, but I never asked who. We don’t talk about work much at home.”
“Well, I can only hope to be half the officer you are. I think you’re amazing, and everyone around here talks about you like you’re a celebrity. They say, ‘She’s beautiful, tough, and smart as hell.’ Everyone agrees.”
“I wouldn’t go that far, but thank you again. How’s your training going?” I asked, opening up my locker wider, revealing a large picture of me and Eric with the girls; staking my claim. Just in case she had any thoughts…
Jordan looked at the family picture with particular interest. One point for me.
“My training is great,” she began, still eyeing the photo. “There’s so much to learn sometimes I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to remember it all. It’s overwhelming.” She paused. “But Eric makes it easier. He helps me right along and makes me feel like I can really do this job. I certainly couldn’t ask for a better training officer.”
And a point for her side. I grabbed my vest, slamming my locker door shut.
“It was nice to meet you, Jordan. Good luck.” I headed for the door.
The entire situation hadn’t gone well, at least for me. I knew I wasn’t very nice, but that was precisely the point. The ideal objective was to make her feel small and unimportant, which I did. But this pettiness didn’t make me feel better. Any normal, living man who would have to ride around in a car for eight hours a day with a girl like Jordan Miller would be one happy, and horny, man. I don’t care who they are or how happily married, men are only human. I’m realistic.
I desperately needed to get my head back in the Hanna Parker investigation and off Jordan Miller. I checked with the crime lab to see if they had any preliminary tests back. Luck was with me.
As suspected, Hanna Parker had been sexually assaulted. But there was no seminal fluid found anywhere on her body, inside her, or on any of her clothing, which was very strange. They did find traces of drywall on her dress, but before I asked, the lab technician told me there had been drywall in the back of the stolen van, so that was to be expected. An analysis for fibers or other microscopic material hadn’t come back yet, and they would let me know as soon as it did.
After leaving the lab, I went back up to my office and found Coop waiting.
“I forgot to tell you earlier, we checked into the blue jumpsuit thing. There are four factories in the county whose employees wear blue jumpsuits: a total of twenty-six hundred people. We’re going to start cross-referencing every one of them against the four hundred registered sex offenders, but as you can imagine, it’s gonna take a hell of a long time.”
“Fantastic,” I said under my breath.
“CeeCee, can you come up with any type of profile at all on this guy? I know you’re not a profiling expert, but you usually nail it regardless.”
“I can’t come up with anything but the obvious. A white male, anywhere from age forty to late fifties, very organized, and I believe obsessive compulsive. Look how meticulous he was in brushing the dirt off Hanna’s clothes and making them neat. His house is probably spotless. There’s also her hair and the makeup. Maybe the guy has gender issues? I don’t know, Coop. Maybe Kincaid is right and we
ask the FBI for additional support.”
Both Coop and I remained quiet for a few minutes, deep in thought. How I hated hitting a brick wall. Normally, there’s always something to check out, but when it stops, that’s when the case gets difficult. We had to be missing something.
“CeeCee,” Coop said finally, “I was trying to figure out a way to tell you, but I don’t know how other than to just spit it out. Kincaid just spoke with the FBI a few minutes ago. The sheriff had talked to them earlier and set it all up—they’re coming. There is no other option.”
“So? That’s fine. I’m not
upset about it, for crying out loud.”
“I have a feeling you will be after what I have to tell you.” He paused before dropping the bomb. “Michael is one of the agents. He’ll be here tomorrow.”
Direct hit. I stopped breathing. And on top of that, my heart started beating so rapidly I thought I was having a heart attack that very minute. I don’t know why it never crossed my mind that Michael could be one of the agents coming.
Special Agent Michael Hagerman, the man who helped the others save my life a year ago, was also the man who nearly cost me my marriage. And he was coming back. Michael and I had worked on the infamous drug and homicide case together last year, and grew more than close during it. We kissed several times, but it never went any further physically. Unfortunately, our emotions did. Michael was deeply in love with me when he left, and though a part of me was equally in love with him, I chose to stay with Eric and my children. It was difficult when Michael left and I truly never thought I would see him again. But there wasn’t a day I didn’t think about him, even if only for a few seconds. When it was happening, Eric knew everything and handled it quite well. He even teamed up with Michael and the others to save me from my captors. But to tell Eric that Michael was coming and would again be very involved in my life was just asking too much of him. And me. Coop was very well aware of the situation.
“CeeCee? Did you hear what I said?”
“I heard you,” I answered quietly, closing my eyes and sucking in as much air as I could. It felt like I had quit breathing for five minutes.
“I can’t believe this. What am I going to tell Eric?”
“Tell him the truth.”
“Oh, okay, and he’ll have divorce papers filed by tomorrow morning,” I quipped, amusing no one.
“What are your other options? After everything you guys went through last year, I genuinely think Eric will handle it just fine. He knows you love
, not Michael. Frankly, I don’t think you’re giving him enough credit, unless you’re really worried about your own feelings when you see Michael.” He looked at me accusingly. And the nerve he had found hurt. Badly.
“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s been a year, and I’ve been long over that,” I said half-truthfully.
“Listen. Like I said, Eric will be fine with it. Just tell him the blunt truth.”
I prayed Coop was right. I was terrified to go home and talk about Michael, but I had to. Eric and I always had a solid marriage, except for our shaky period last year, and we never kept secrets from each other. Not to mention, it would only be a matter of time before Eric saw Michael in the department. The icing on this entire fouled-up cake was that Coop was right. I was worried about
emotional reaction to Michael. Right this minute I felt I would be okay, but I wasn’t so confident at the thought of standing face-to-face with him.