Julia scanned the photos. Her eyes moving back and forth. She pointed to the third picture. “I think this is him.”
“Think?” the cop asked.
Julia’s face scrunched. “The closest he got to me was about thirty feet, and it was only for a few seconds before he ran away. I wasn’t even close enough to see the tattoos Carson was talking about. And I was pretty scared.”
Ellie wrapped an arm around her daughter’s shoulders. She was simultaneously proud and terrified that Julia had defended the children at her own risk.
McNamara called Grant and Carson back into the room. Carson was perched in Grant’s arms. His little blond head tilted to rest against his uncle’s broad shoulder.
“Can the kids go?” Grant asked.
“Yes.” McNamara nodded. “Thanks, both of you.”
Julia took Carson from Grant. Ellie’s stomach clenched. No doubt both kids would have nightmares tonight. At least she and Julia were sharing a room. Ellie would be there if Julia needed her.
“Well?” Grant eased into a chair.
“The kids both identified Donnie Ehrlich. Julia was hesitant, but Carson seemed sure. Donnie is a local. Twenty-one years old. He did eighteen months for ID theft and has an earlier assault charge he weaseled out of with community service. He’s been out for three months.”
“ID theft and assault? That’s a big stretch to murder and kidnapping,” Ellie said. “Does he have a juvenile record?”
“That would be sealed.” But McNamara’s pointed expression made her suspect Donnie had been in trouble in his younger years.
“The man in the picture doesn’t have the tattoos,” Ellie pointed out.
McNamara gathered the pictures and lined them up with a tap on the tabletop. He slid the neat pile back into the envelope. “The teardrop and the shamrock are tats he picked up during his incarceration. These mug shots are from his original arrest. We’re going to pick up Donnie and ask him some questions. I’ll call you in the morning to let you know if we have him.”
“Thanks.” Grant showed the cop out. After he left, Grant steered Ellie back to the office and closed the door. He perched on the edge of the desk. “Did the guy in the picture look familiar at all? Could it be the man who abducted you?”
Standing in front of him, she lifted a palm to the ceiling. “I can’t say. I didn’t see his face, but the body structure is about right.”
“What about his voice?” He scraped a hand across his unshaven jaw. “Would you recognize it if you heard him speak?”
She thought about the encounter in her car. “He whispered the whole time, so I doubt it.”
“What about an accent?”
“I didn’t hear an accent.” She put a hand on her head, where a mental clip of her abduction played in an endless loop. “What now?”
“We try to get some sleep.” Grant let out a short laugh. Exhaustion lined his face as he rubbed his temple. “As if that’s a possibility with Faith around.”
“There are four adults in this house tonight perfectly capable of walking that baby. I vote that you go to bed. You look like you haven’t slept since you came home.” Ellie put a hand on his forearm.
He didn’t deny her assumption. His head tilted. “She’s rough. Are you sure you want to take her on?”
Ellie lifted a shoulder. “She’s just a baby.”
“Was Julia a tough infant?”
“Not really, but I was only eighteen. I had no idea what I was doing. I had Nan, thank God, but she had to get up for work. She was still teaching then.”
“What happened to Julia’s father? You mentioned him earlier, so now I’m curious.”
She regretted her previous slip. “I got pregnant senior year in high school. My boyfriend wasn’t ready to be a father.”
“What about your parents?”
And now for the topic even more uncomfortable than teenage pregnancy. But what the hell? She was tired of pretending her disastrous high school years didn’t exist. Maybe Nan was right. It was time to make peace with her past. “They wanted me to give her up for adoption. When I refused, they kicked me out. I’m so glad I had Nan.”
Ellie didn’t like to think about what would have happened if she’d been younger and didn’t have a grandmother willing to tell off her own son. Ellie’s and Julia’s lives could have turned out much worse.
“What about Julia’s father? Is he alive?”
“I have no idea. I haven’t heard from him since she was a baby.”
“Really?” Grant sounded incredulous.
She shrugged. “He didn’t want any part of being a father. He voted with my parents for putting the baby up for adoption. When I wouldn’t do it, he said it was my problem. He went to college in Northern California, as far as he could get from me and still be in the continental United States.”
“You could have sued him for child support.”
Ellie gave her head an angry shake. “I didn’t want anything from him. For all I know, he could be dead or in prison or be married with two point five kids by now. It’s been a long time.” Unexpected bitterness welled in Ellie’s throat. She’d thought she was over his callous abandonment. “I wasn’t about to beg him for anything.”
“I can’t imagine knowing I had a child and not caring what happened to her.” Grief flashed in his eyes. Was he thinking of how much his brother would miss raising Carson and Faith? “How did you even end up with a guy like that?”
“I was a teenager and full of rebellion.” She stared at his strong forearm under her palm. “And he was hot.”
Grant laughed. “I thought guys were the only ones who thought like that.”
“If they were, girls wouldn’t get pregnant in high school.”
But it suddenly occurred to Ellie that, while she encouraged Julia to be independent and educated, maybe she’d been too strict in other areas. Sure, Taylor was older, but Ellie hadn’t taken the time to get to know him before forbidding Julia to date him. Her daughter had a good head on her shoulders. This afternoon, she’d exhibited intelligence and courage. Ellie needed to allow her to make some of her own decisions. Within reason.
Ellie dropped into the chair.
Grant’s hand fell away. “Kate was estranged from her parents, too.”
“I know. It was one of the things we had in common.”
Grant heaved his frame off the desktop, pivoted, and paced toward the door. “Hannah called Kate’s parents. They’re coming here this week sometime.”
Ellie lifted her head. “I’m not sure that was a good idea.”
“But their daughter died. Don’t they have a right to know?” He stopped, his face creased with indecision.
“Maybe,” she conceded. “But Kate had no contact with them. Did you know they hadn’t spoken to her since she married Lee?”
Grant stopped, whirling to face her. “What? Why?”
“They have serious money. Kate said her mother was a Daughter of the American Revolution.” Ellie looked away. “They told her Lee was a gold digger.”
“That’s ridiculous.” His jaw clenched. “My father was a colonel in the army. He gave up his life for his country. It doesn’t get any more worthy than that. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we were far from destitute.”
Ellie held a hand up. “I agree with you, and so did Kate. She wanted nothing to do with them.”
“Why are families full of so much conflict?” Grant massaged his forehead as if it ached. “Now I wish I didn’t have to invite anyone to the funeral. It’s going to be stressful enough without all the drama.”
“What are you planning?”
“I’m not sure. We can’t plan anything until the medical examiner gives the OK, but Mac is supposedly handling the preliminaries. I don’t even know how many people will come.”
Ellie did some quick mental math. “Between Lee’s firm and clients and the families from the skating club, you’ll have a hundred at minimum. I’d plan on more. They were both popular in the community.”
“I really wanted to keep it small for Carson’s sake.”
“Will you bring him?”
“The school counselor said I should let him make the decision, but I’m not leaving him at home, not after that guy tried to grab him. If he doesn’t want to go, I’ll stay home. Or maybe we won’t have one.”
“People will expect a service of some kind.”
“I don’t really care what other people expect.” Grant resumed his pacing, his movement fueled by agitation. “Carson is all that matters. If he wants to go, a small, private service would be best for him.”
Ellie frowned. “You’re right, of course.”
Muffled crying sounded through the door.
“No buts. Now, go to bed. I’ll handle Faith for a few hours. If I get tired, I’ll wake someone to relieve me. Earlier you said I didn’t have to handle the situation alone. Neither do you.” She took two steps and reached up to cup his jaw. The impulsive and sudden desire to touch him surprised her, but his willingness to shoulder everyone’s burdens made her want to lighten his load. “I know you aren’t staying in Scarlet Falls, but for now, we’re in this together.”
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