Grant’s glance told her he wasn’t finished with the conversation, but he’d let her off for now. “Disgustingly early.”
“Need any help getting the kids packed?”
“No. We’re about done. Carson is so excited, I doubt he’ll sleep at all, and Faith is up half the night anyway.” Grant steered the truck through a bend. “If you need anything, Brody will be around. He might stop in.”
Her brother lifted a big shoulder in a faux shrug. He wasn’t fooling her.
“I don’t need a babysitter.”
“Didn’t say you did.”
“Are you trying to fix me up with the cop?”
“Of course not.” He gave her a quizzical look. “Where did that idea come from?”
Where did that idea come from?
“Because you can keep your bromance with Brody to yourself.” Hannah lowered the window an inch and welcomed a stream of country air into the cab. “How did you end up so tight with him?”
“We’re not tight.” Grant laughed. “But he’s ex-military, too. Takes one to know one, I guess.”
“Brody was in the military?” She wouldn’t have guessed. While Grant was all barely contained aggression, Brody always seemed to be completely in control. Usually, his Mr. Cool act annoyed her. During Lee’s murder investigation, Hannah had barely held on to her emotions, but the cop’s never faltered.
“He did four years in the navy to pay for college, then worked with the Boston PD before moving here.”
“Why would anyone come to Scarlet Falls?”
“That’s a question you’ll have to ask him.”
No, thank you. She had no intention of getting to know Brody that well. Though the fact that Grant obviously knew Brody’s background but wasn’t talking piqued her curiosity. No piquing. She needed to stay focused. “I’m only here for a week. I doubt the topic will come up.”
But she was sure she’d be seeing Brody soon. She’d sent him the e-mail, not that there was much he could do.
As soon as they arrived back at the house, Hannah booted her computer and checked her inbox. Scanning her messages, she froze at a subject line: Jewel.
When a body was dumped in the great outdoors, insects were the first responders. The faint drone of insect wings buzzed in the background as Brody got out of his unmarked police car. He skirted the rusted skeleton of a child’s bike. The old rail yard was a grave site for more than unused freight cars. The enclosed area was a dumping ground for everything from abandoned vehicles to rotting mattresses. It was an excellent place to acquire tetanus—or dispose of a body.
He walked past an SFPD cruiser. Two teenagers, a boy and a girl, stood next to the vehicle’s bumper. The boy shoved his hands in the kangaroo pocket of his hoodie. The girl, dressed in leggings and boots, wrapped a knee-length sweater tightly around her body as if she was freezing. Brody bypassed the kids. He’d interview them after he saw the body.
Twenty feet of wet weeds separated the dirt road from a patch of waist-high scrubby plants. Treading carefully, Brody skirted a used condom and ducked under a strip of crime scene tape. Near the center of the space, a body sprawled next to a tractor tire. The wind shifted, and a fresh meat scent hit his nostrils.
The sole female in the small SFPD, Officer Stella Dane stood on the periphery writing on a clipboard. She turned serious blue eyes on him. “The medical examiner should be here any minute.”
Brody’s gaze shifted to the body. The victim lay on her back, her arms flung out. His gaze fell on her face. Disgust segued into anger. The victim’s features were pulp, and her skull partially smashed. She was dressed in a gray “I Love NY” sweatshirt and a light jacket. The bottom half of her body was naked, but dead pine needles, leaves, and loose dirt partially covered her. She didn’t seem to be positioned in any particular way. Her body looked truly dumped.
He allowed himself one brief Who could do this to another human being? before settling back to work. He couldn’t bring her back to life, but he could catch the guilty bastard and make sure he never hurt another woman.
“Those kids found her?” Brody asked.
“Yes,” Stella said.
“Did they say why they were here?”
“They were taking a drive,” Stella deadpanned. Kids came to the rail yard to engage in one or more of the teenage triple threat: booze, drugs, and sex. “The boy said he walked out here to relieve himself and nearly stepped on the remains. I didn’t press them or search their vehicle. They could have hightailed it out of here, but they chose to do the right thing and report the find. Besides, they’ve been traumatized enough today.”
“Agreed,” Brody said.
His gaze swept over the ground, still spongy from a rainstorm the previous day. Two empty water bottles and a Styrofoam fast food container had blown up against the knobby tire. Dirt and scratches covered all three items, as if they’d been here a while. Except the random litter, nothing appeared out of the ordinary—other than the presence of a corpse. He spied a cigarette butt. “Is the county CSI team on the way?”
“Yes.” Stella checked her watch. “They should be here any time.”
With limited resources and a small police force, Scarlet Falls relied on Randolph County and the state police for assistance.
The afternoon had been warm and sunny, and blowflies had found the body. Ignoring a swarm of insects, Brody leaned in for a closer look at the victim. He looked past her ruined face. He saw no obvious or visible knife or bullet wounds on the body, as if the trauma to the head wasn’t enough. Under splatters of mud, a rusty stain discolored the front of her shirt. Blood. Pine needles and a dead oak leaf matted her long dark hair. She was slender and small to average in size. Bruises mottled her legs. A small heart tattoo adorned her right hip. Though her face was battered beyond recognition, her body seemed young.
Young, slender, long dark hair. No. It couldn’t be. Brody couldn’t stop the sharp intake of foul air. He straightened. “Do you know where Chet is today?”
“No, sir.” Stella’s pencil paused. She lifted her gaze to meet Brody’s. Her mouth went grim. “You don’t think this could be Teresa, do you?”
“I doubt it. Last time Chet got close to her, she was in New York City, but that was last winter. She hasn’t been seen around here for years.” Brody stared at the famous New York City heart logo on the victim’s sweatshirt. A mental image of a troubled teen with long dark hair appeared in his mind. His gaze moved back to the ruined face, and his stomach soured. He couldn’t match the brutalized body in front of him to his memories of Chet’s daughter. “It’s probably not her.” His instincts were telling him this wasn’t Teresa, or maybe Brody simply didn’t want to think this savagely beaten young woman was his friend’s daughter. “But the general physical description fits. So let’s keep Chet away from the scene.”
“Good luck with that.”
Brody sighed. Once Chet found out they’d found a body that roughly matched his missing daughter’s description, keeping him away from the case would require a tranquilizer dart dosed for a black bear.
A door slammed, and Brody looked toward the road. A car parked on the shoulder. The medical examiner got out and opened his trunk to don coveralls and boots. As animated as one of his subjects, Dr. Frank Jenkins was not known for small talk. He approached the clearing and pulled the zipper of his tan coveralls from his stomach to the base of his neck.
“Afternoon, Frank,” Brody said.
Frank acknowledged him with a nod as he set his kit on the ground and gloved up. He scanned the body and surrounding scene. His face tightened as he leaned over the corpse, and he murmured under his breath, “Someone beat the shit out of her.”
After an initial external examination, he lifted the victim’s sweatshirt and examined the torso. Brody could see the darkened skin along the victim’s left side. Upon death, blood pooled in the lowest part of the body. Lividity became fixed within six to eight hours. The victim was now positioned on her back, indicating she was killed elsewhere and dumped.
The sounds of car doors and voices drifted over the clearing. A three-member team of the Randolph County Crime Scene Investigator unit approached, their hands full of cameras and plastic containers that resembled tackle boxes. They waited in silence for the ME to finish his initial assessment. No one wanted to irritate Frank. After he waved them into the scene, they began by circling the corpse, measuring distances, and snapping pictures. They started at the outside of the clearing and spiraled inward. Frank issued orders while they worked.
“What can you tell me, Frank?” Brody asked.
“You know I hate to guess, Brody.”
“And you know how important these first few hours are to my investigation, Frank. I won’t hold you to anything. Just give me somewhere to start.” Brody lowered his voice. “For Chet.”
Frank frowned at the body. “Do you have any specific reason to believe it’s his daughter?”
Brody glanced around. He didn’t want any false statements getting back to Chet or to the media. “Nothing beyond basic description. I’d like to ease his mind if possible.”