Authors: Stacy Dittrich
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Psychological, #Women Sleuths, #Police Procedural
We fell onto the bed in a mad frenzy. Then he suddenly stopped. For a split second I thought he was going to back out again until I recognized he was just enjoying the moment and trying to believe it was truly happening. We hadn’t even made love yet, and feeling his body on top of mine was too much; I didn’t want to stop. I didn’t think I could. It was clearly important to Michael, though. He gently brushed away the long, blonde hair that had fallen on my face and lightly touched my cheek. He was shaking a little, just as I remember he did that night in West Virginia.
“I have to say something,” he whispered. “I know you’re confused about how you feel right now, but I need you to know that I love you. I’ve never stopped loving you since the day we met, CeeCee.”
“I do love you, Michael, don’t ever doubt that.”
And then we made love, over and over, falling asleep in each other’s arms a little less than two hours before we had to be back at the department. In the middle of my slumber, I awoke to see Michael propped up on his elbow gazing down at me. I felt myself begin to smile. “Go back to sleep. We’ve only got a bit more time till we have to be back at work.”
“I can’t, CeeCee. I don’t know if this will ever happen again, and I can’t believe it’s happening now. I want to enjoy every minute I have you to myself.” I kept smiling until I fell back asleep.
I heard Michael whistling in the shower when our wake-up call came. I was exhausted and thoroughly hungover. Thankfully, I had a spare set of clothes in my car that I routinely kept in case I got caught at work. I can’t even imagine explaining to Eric where I’d been all night. I have never slept with another man while I was married. The magnitude of what I had done quickly set in. But I pushed those demons away for the moment and climbed out of bed.
By the time I had gotten my clothes out of the car, Michael was out of the shower. We didn’t have much time, so I took a quick shower, threw on some clothes and a dash of makeup, and, ready to go, grabbed my bag and car keys. Michael was already waiting at the door. We hadn’t spoken much that morning, which Michael did not fail to point out on the way to the department.
“CeeCee, you really OK? You haven’t said much since you got up.”
“I’m fine.” Michael probably saw through my fake smile instantly. “I’m just tired.”
Michael remained quiet the rest of the ride to work. Now that our situation was out in the open, he knew I was in extreme turmoil, and it scared him. It scared me, too. All I could think about was my girls and how Eric was their father, and I may have just thrown it all away. The bad part was, I did love Michael, and that just made things more complicated and agonizing.
Coop and Kincaid were waiting. Coop looked at me as if the imaginary letter imprinted on my chest was bright pink neon instead of regulation scarlet. I remember back in college I had the standard couple of indiscretions. My roommate and I would always laugh that the walk back to our apartment the morning after was the walk of shame. That was exactly how I felt now, and Coop’s accusing stare didn’t help. He knew exactly what had happened.
My habit was to play my office voice mail on the speakerphone so I could do something else while I listened. The first message blaring out of the phone came in at two in the morning. It was Eric, trying to find out where I was. I hit the off button immediately. Too loud and too late. Michael, sensing the tension, excused himself to go get a coffee. Kincaid followed. Then Coop started in.
“Interesting message. Funny, Eric called my cell at three this morning looking for you. I didn’t know what to say since the last time I saw you was four o’clock yesterday afternoon when you were leaving with Michael.”
I glared at him, one of my best and closest friends. However, he needed to be careful about where his loyalties lay, or decide whether he should remain neutral. He was good friends with Eric and worked with me, was my friend as well. His best bet would be to stay out of it.
“Hmm. Jordan must’ve had something to do. I’m amazed he actually found time to call his wife,” I barked, grabbing files and stuffing them in my bag.
“Stop it. CeeCee, do you know for a fact that something is going on with Eric and Jordan? Or are you just assuming?”
“I don’t know, but I think you do! Why don’t you tell me the truth since I can’t seem to get it from Eric! Is he sleeping with her?” I was upset already and my day had barely started.
Coop sighed. “CeeCee, you know I’m in a bad spot, working and being friends with both of you,” he said, quietly looking at the door to make sure no one was listening. “Eric’s been asking the same thing. I told him I don’t know anything. As for him and Jordan, I don’t know for sure if they’re sleeping together. Do I think
is going on? Yes, I do. I just don’t know what. As for you, I didn’t know what to tell Eric when he called. He put me in a very bad position.”
“I stayed at my dad’s, Coop. Eric and I haven’t been getting along, so I went there and crashed a couple of hours,” I lied. And I think he knew it.
As if I were being forever punished, my dad, who has probably seen the inside of my office twice, walked in. He was the lieutenant of the night shift and worked until six in the morning. Seeing my car already, he decided to take this rare opportunity to come up for a visit. How nice.
“Who crashed where?” he bellowed, making me and Coop jump in our seats.
“Hi, Pop. I was just telling Coop I crashed on your couch last night for a couple of hours.”
“You did? Was Carly up?” He was referring to my stepmother.
“Nope. I snuck in, took a power nap, and snuck out,” I continued to lie, making me feel even worse. Coop’s look made me feel even more terrible, if that was possible.
We chatted for a few more minutes before Michael and Kincaid returned. My dad left, and the rest of us started in on business as if nothing had happened. I was glad there was something to take my mind off my disastrous personal life.
Kincaid gave us a quick briefing. All the detectives from the other agencies would be arriving in Cleveland within a couple of hours, and she and Coop were going up there to pick everyone up and take them to the hotel where the FBI was staying. After they got settled in, our first meeting would convene in the late afternoon.
Since it was my understanding that Michael was in charge, I gave him a raised brow, silently asking why Kincaid still seemed to be running the show. He pointed to the hallway and smiled. I understood. While they were out of my office earlier, Michael filled her in on everything and let her do the briefing so she could feel important. If she had things like briefings to occupy her time, she wouldn’t screw up anything else. Smart man, my Michael.
Kincaid said the other two agents would continue interviewing sex offenders all day and that more agents would be here tomorrow. He and I were to be on standby, ready to go in case anything broke. In the meantime, we had to check, for the millionth time, to see if anyone missed anything. I was sick of going over the case files. We had gone over them with a microscope and couldn’t possibly have missed anything. But, yes, we did.
When going over Hanna Parker’s final lab report, I saw another sheet was stuck to the back of it. It had come fresh off the copier and was put into the file that way; the two sheets had not been separated and the static made it seem like one page. One would think we would’ve discovered it the previous hundred times we’d gone through the file, but, considering the file was now three inches thick, with papers jammed together, something like that was bound to happen. Pulling the pages apart revealed writing on the back of the lab report, a continuation of what was found on Hanna’s dress. Traces of fiberglass.
“What?” He jumped a little, startled by the excitement in my voice.
I handed him the report and explained the error. He looked at it and his face broke out into a smile when he handed the report back.
“Well?” I asked eagerly.
“You know what this means, don’t you?” he said.
“Of course. it means Hanna was on, or around, insulation.”
“Right, which means she was probably in an attic or unfinished room somewhere.” He stood and began pacing. “This obviously doesn’t solve the case, but it’s a hell of a break.”
Three more hours of concentrated work went by before Michael suggested we take a break for breakfast. Hearing the growls coming from my stomach, I leapt at the chance. As we pulled into the parking lot of a small downtown diner, my cell phone rang. Having caller ID, I usually didn’t answer my phone if it didn’t show a number. For whatever reason, this morning I did. Michael was driving. He found a parking spot, pulled in, turned the car off, and waited for me to take the call.
No one answered.
“Helloooo?” I asked again, but still received no response. It sounded as if there was a bad connection, so I started to hang up.
“Detective Gallagher?” A deep, gruff male voice came out of my phone.
“Yes?” I asked uncertainty. Michael suddenly became very attentive, focusing on the perplexed look on my face.
The man started to chuckle quietly before getting louder again. He began laughing loud enough so I could hold the phone away from my ear so Michael could hear him. For a moment, I froze. This was my personal cell phone, and very few people had the number.
“Who the hell is this?” I barked. The laughing stopped.
“I have a poem for you, Detective. Pay attention:
Babies are dead, and CeeCee is blue, another one gone, find the other pink shoe!
“Oh my God!” I gasped, looking at Michael with sheer, blind terror.
“What? Give me the phone!” He reached out. I gently slapped his hand away.
“Oh, Detective? Are you there?”
“I’m still here. Who is this? Where is Ashley Sanders, and is she OK? Just tell me if she’s OK.” I tried to keep my voice even.
“Now, now, now! You know better than that, Cecelia. Tell me, how was the agent in bed last night, Cecelia? Did you leave that exquisite black blouse on when he fucked you?” He began to laugh once more, then quickly hung up the phone.
I was shaking as I put down my phone. Michael was ready to go through the roof waiting for an explanation of what just happened.
“What, CeeCee. What!”
“Michael, we’re in trouble.” I began to panic and worry about the safety of my family. “That was him, our murderer! He’s been following us. He’s knows about last night. He knows
! He recited a sick, deranged version of the ‘Roses Are Red’ poem.” I got out of the car for some some air. Michael did the same.
“What do you mean last night? What about last night?”
“Michael, he asked if I left my black blouse on while you fucked me. He knew what I was wearing yesterday, and he saw us at the hotel. That’s what! He even called me Cecelia,
he has my personal cell phone number!” By now, I was pacing back and forth like an animal alongside the car.
Michael got on his phone and called the main FBI office, giving them my cell number so they could try to trace the last call by signal, if possible.
“That’s a waste. If he’s smart enough to do all this, he sure as hell wouldn’t call me from anything other than a pay phone.”
“At least we can determine that he’s still in the county, CeeCee, which is very important.”
He was right.
The poem was simple enough. It came from a spontaneous thought this morning, and he wrote it down quickly. He was regularly amazed at his own cleverness for spur-of-the-moment games; this one, the poem, stated everything to sheer perfection. Elsa had been so proud of him she had given him a special gift, a gift that made him feel glorious. His assumptions were correct. Gallagher would have the poem figured out within minutes.
Thinking of her again, his smile faded. She was weak, this famous detective. He’d heard it in her voice, seen it as she paced back and forth by the car after he’d spoken with her on the phone. Feeling a little disappointed, he wondered if he’d made the right decision. Everything he’d read and seen until now, even
the incident twenty-six years ago, led him to believe she was impossible to break. Now she was letting him down, and that made him angry. If only she knew. She really didn’t want to make him angry.
He kept driving straight as they turned into the parking lot, looking ahead and chastising them for not paying attention to the fact that he was right behind them. Standard police work, you idiot. Always check your mirror to see if you’re being followed.
He smiled again, knowing he could overlook their errors for today, but the low thud from the trunk of his car forced him to refocus. For today was only beginning…