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“Scars?”

“None. She wasn’t wearing any jewelry. Nothing in her pockets except the cigarette receipt we discussed at the scene. We found fibers in the wounds on her face and numerous hairs on her body and clothing,” Frank continued. “Facial trauma was inflicted both pre- and post-mortem, with fists and a blunt instrument, possibly a baseball bat. No tissue under her fingernails. She was raped, but we didn’t find any semen. So he likely used a condom. Cause of death was asphyxia by manual strangulation.”

Frank moved to the table and positioned both of his hands over the base of the victim’s bruise-ringed throat, just below her ruined face. Hovering two inches above the body, his thumbs lined up with two dark purple circles at the base of her neck. “The hyoid bone was fractured. The bruising pattern suggests she was strangled from the front.”

Frank stepped back. He moved to a nearby sink and turned on the water with a foot pedal. “This was a very violent death, but the greatest injuries to her face were inflicted post-mortem.”

“He beat her up, raped her, strangled her, then beat her again?”

“Yes.” Frank lowered the clipboard.

Rage. Pure rage, thought Brody. “Can you tell me anything about the killer?”

“The deepest bruise on her neck is from his right thumb. He was likely right-handed. The span of his hands indicates an average to large adult male.”

Not much help. Ninety percent of humans were right-handed.

“I’ll let you know as soon as the rest of the lab tests come back.”

“Thanks.” On his way out of the suite, Brody glanced back at the corpse. A visual played in his head: a man sitting on top of this woman, punching her, wrapping his hands around her throat until she stopped breathing, then getting up and pounding her face with a bat. His gaze strayed to the photos fixed to a board next to the body, close-ups of her injuries, X-rays of her throat. Manual strangulation was a very intimate means of murder.

Did he know you?

Most murders were committed by someone who knew the victim. In this case, Brody hoped that was true. An intimate killing might be a one-time thing. If not, Scarlet Falls had a very violent and unpredictable killer on the loose.

Brody left the medical examiner and walked across the parking lot of the municipal complex to the neighboring building that housed the crime scene investigator’s offices. He paused to sniff the crisp air and clear his nose, mostly, of the foul stench that had accumulated in his nostrils in the autopsy suite. But the scent of death clung with stubborn determination. Two minutes in the morgue, and Brody swore his hair and clothes stank of decay.

The CSI unit occupied a suite of rooms on the first floor. Brody found Darcy Stevens, latent fingerprint examiner, at her desk.

He knocked on the door frame.

Darcy looked up. Though he knew her to be almost fifty, Darcy’s coffee-colored complexion was wrinkle free. She wore her hair pulled back in a painfully tight bun. Her suit and blouse were solid black to defy the dark powders intrinsic to her job. Sipping from an extra-large paper cup of coffee at her elbow, she waved him in.

“Hi, Brody.” Her voice was deep, the 900-number richness of it countered by her severe dress and hairstyle, no doubt as she intended.

Brody smiled at the picture of a wrinkled newborn tucked into the corner of her blotter. “Morning, Darcy. How’s the new grandbaby?”

Handing the photo over, she beamed. “He is eight pounds and four ounces of adorable perfection.”

“Wow, that’s a lot of hair.” Brody gave it back. “How does it feel to be a grandma?”

“Wonderful. I get to cuddle with him all I want, then go home and get a full night’s sleep.”

“Sounds perfect.”

“It is.” She slipped the picture into place. “I bet you’re here about the Jane Doe that came in yesterday?”

“I am. Have you had any luck?”

“Not yet. I scanned her prints into our regional fingerprint database, but none of the matches the computer generated were true.”

“You mean the computer isn’t going to spit her ID out as fast as on an episode of Law & Order?”

“I wish we could solve all our cases in forty-three minutes. Heck, I wish we could solve all our cases in forty-three days.” Darcy rolled her eyes. “When the regional AFIS was a bust, I moved on to the state of New York.” She stood and rounded her desk. “Let me see if the query came back with any hits.”

“You’ve been busy this morning.”

“I came in early. Frank called me last night. You know we’ll do whatever we can to determine if this woman is Chet’s daughter. Besides, whoever killed that woman needs to be locked up before he hurts someone else.”

Darcy would have taken the fingerprints herself, so she’d seen the body. With determined strides, she crossed the gray tiled floor to a row of computers on a long table pushed against the wall. Sliding into the seat, she moved the mouse. The blank screen came alive. She moved the blinking cursor to a row in a table. “We have eleven possible hits so far, and the query is still running.” She glanced up at him. “The visual comparisons will take some time. Depending on how many results that computer cranks out, I might be here all day. Want me to call you when I’m done?”

Unlike television crime dramas, where a mug shot of the suspect or a photo of the victim popped onto the screen in seconds, in real life, the ridge lines of each possible match had to be manually compared by a certified latent fingerprint examiner. The matching software erred on the side of caution and generated as many matches as possible, leaving the examiners to sift through the possibilities.

“I’d appreciate it,” he said.

“If none of these match up, I’ll try the neighboring states and the FBI.”

“Thanks, Darcy.”

“How’s Chet holding up?”

“As good as can be expected.” Brody started toward the door.

“I can’t imagine how he deals with it.”

“Me either.” Because he doesn’t.

Brody exited the building. A gray and cloudy sky hovered over the parking lot, and the wind that whipped around his neck contained the first real bite of damp New York winter. Autumn had been unusually warm, a brief but welcome stay of pleasant temperatures, but now it seemed like Mother Nature was making up for lost time.

His cell rang. Brody answered with the hands-free device on his steering wheel.

“Hi, Brody, Stella here. Have you seen Chet?”

“No, isn’t he at the station?”

“He stopped in, then said he was going to interview a witness for the drug bust you two shared last week.” Stella dropped her voice. “But that was an hour ago, and he’s not answering the radio or his cell. The chief has been looking for him. I just thought you might like to know.”

“Thanks. The interview might be taking a long time.” But these follow-up interviews consisted mostly of quick clarifying questions. None of them should take over an hour, and Chet should have checked in with the station in between stops.

He slid behind the wheel of his sedan and turned toward the station. On the way, he cruised past Chet’s place. The former cop still lived in the same house in which he and his wife had raised their only daughter. Brody pulled into the narrow driveway in front of the small Cape Cod in the center of town. He walked up to the stoop and rang the bell. Chet didn’t answer. Brody listened but the house was silent. He cupped a hand over his eyes and peered through the sidelight. The house was dark. Worried, Brody circled to the back of the house.

Where could he be at ten in the morning? He didn’t have any hobbies. Back in his car, Brody called Chet’s home number and cell phone. No answer on either line. He left a message on Chet’s voice mail saying that he didn’t have any new information and was just checking in.

He drove to the station, his thoughts consumed by the dead woman, Chet’s absence, and Hannah’s predicament.

There was nothing he could do about Chet except work the case. But maybe he might be able to help Hannah. He left a message for the cop in Vegas. He did a new search in ViCAP, the FBI’s violent crimes database, with the information provided by the medical examiner. While he was searching for similar crimes and missing women, he’d check the National Crime Information Center to see if there were any missing persons reports in Nevada for a teenage girl named Jewel.

But Brody couldn’t get the violence of the attack on Jane Doe out of his head. Darcy had put it best: the assailant had to be found before he unleashed his rage on another innocent woman.

Chapter Thirteen

Brody pulled into the driveway of the Barrett house. Pizza box in hand, he exited the vehicle. A Honda Accord parked next to his sedan, and a redheaded woman got out.

“Thanks for doing this, Kailee,” he said. “I owe you.”

“No, you don’t. I’m glad to help.” Her long red ponytail flipped as she pivoted and walked toward the front porch. Brody rang the bell, and a dog exploded into barking.

A few minutes later, the door opened. Hannah stood in the foyer, blinking at the light as if she’d just woken up.

Brody ushered Kailee into the house. “Hannah, this is Kailee. She’s a police sketch artist. She’s not here in an official capacity, but as a favor to me.”

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