“What the hell are you sorry about? I’m the one who fucked up. I shouldn’t have put you in that position.” Chet pressed the heels of both hands over his closed eyelids. “I can’t do anything right these days.”
“Chet . . .”
“Don’t make excuses for me.” Bitterness sharpened Chet’s tone. “I should have called my sponsor last night instead of driving down to The Pub. I’d been drinking the other day, too. I knew I was in trouble.”
“What happened with the chief?”
“He called me into his office this morning and strongly suggested I retire. I left my gun and badge in his desk drawer.”
“Stop fucking apologizing.” Chet paced a three-foot square. “This is entirely on me.” He pivoted. “I don’t know how much longer I can keep my shit together, Brody.”
A rattling sigh rolled through Chet’s skinny chest. He shook like a dog shedding water from its fur. “So, who’s the hottie?”
Change of topic. Chet really needed a distraction.
Chet’s brow shot up. “Really?”
“Can I ask why she’s in my kitchen?”
“I thought you might be able to help her.” Brody gave him the rundown on Hannah’s assault and her search for the young girl in Vegas.
“I happen to have some free time.” Chet shook his head. “But that’s like trying to find a needle in a hundred acres of haystacks. No word on the fingerprints the Vegas PD lifted from the rental car?”
“Last I heard, they hadn’t found any matches, but we don’t even know for sure that those fingerprints belonged to either of the suspects or the victim. Could have been the parking valet or one of Hannah’s clients.”
“Do you have a copy of the sketches Kailee made?”
“Hannah brought them with her.”
Chet scratched his head. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“I appreciate it.”
“You really like her, don’t you?”
Brody glanced down the hallway toward the kitchen. “Yeah.”
“Go to work. Thanks to me being a drunken asshole, your caseload just doubled. My files will be on your desk by end of shift. The least I can do is look out for your girl.”
His girl. He wished.
But for now, Hannah was looking out for Chet, and Chet was taking care of Hannah. Brody could get back to work without worrying about either one of them.
Unless together they got into more trouble than either one of them would alone.
“She is.” Hannah and AnnaBelle followed Chet up a narrow staircase.
The second floor of the Cape Cod was a converted attic. Two windows, deeply recessed into dormers, provided scant light, leaving the space dark.
Chet walked into the dim room. A bare bulb hung from a string in the center of the room. “I haven’t been in here for a while.”
Hannah’s boots clunked on raw wood. Dust tickled her nose, and she sneezed.
“Sorry about the dust.” Chet yanked on the pull string. The swinging light arced, sending light careening around the room.
Hannah’s head swam. Swaying, she closed her eyes.
“I’m sorry.” Chet reached for the bulb. He stilled it with one hand and rolled a desk chair behind her. One hand on her elbow guided her into the seat. AnnaBelle stretched out on the floor at her feet.
She sat. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
“No dance clubs for you.”
“That’s not exactly a hardship.” She opened her eyes. Her surroundings settled back into place.
“Not a clubber?” Chet crossed the room to a desk nestled between the dormers. He switched on a desk lamp.
“No.” Hannah remembered the evening at Carnival. The lights and music had been irritating. But she’d never reacted with dizziness. Maybe that neurologist hadn’t been entirely wrong. She sneezed again. Or it was allergies?
He grabbed a metal folding chair and opened it in front of a computer monitor. “That’s something you and Brody have in common. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in a bar.”
Random comment? Or not . . .
Hannah scanned the room, her belly cringing. Magnetic whiteboards held dozens of images of a teenage girl with long dark hair. In some of the photos, she was looking away, her body projecting discomfort, as if she didn’t want her picture taken. In other shots, she clearly didn’t know she was being photographed. Handwritten notes accompanied each shot. There were pictures of other people as well, and Post-it notes or index cards full of scrawled annotations. A date in red ink headed each group of photos.
It was a timeline of Chet’s daughter’s disappearance, and the progress of his investigation.
Hannah brought her gaze back to Chet. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure.” He leaned over and pressed the on button of the computer tower under the desk. The computer hummed to life. Behind them, a printer beeped.
“Why haven’t you been up here?”
Chet dropped into the chair. His gaze followed the timeline. At the very end, he’d scrawled “Happy Birthday” in blue. “Last March was Teresa’s eighteenth birthday.”
“So you stopped looking for her?”
He stared at his timeline, his eyes moving from entry to entry, the scrawled notes becoming neater and more detailed as his investigation wore on. “Teresa hit puberty, and she changed. She was a pretty normal kid until then, maybe a little shy. But from the age of about twelve, she became increasingly unstable and erratic. Her mood swings went far beyond any normal range, even for a teenager. The doctors diagnosed her as bipolar. We managed her condition with medication for a couple of years, but the drugs had side effects, and it was hard to get the dosage just right, the way her hormones were all over the place. She was nauseous and lethargic and didn’t want to take the meds. With the medication, she felt sick. Without them, she was uncontrollable. School was out of the question. My wife attempted to homeschool her, but really, her full-time job was keeping Teresa safe. Eventually, she ran away, from us, from the medications we were forcing her to take.” He paused for a few breaths, his eyes roaming over the photos strung around the room.
“She’s an adult now. She’s no longer a missing child. I can’t make her come home. Even if I got her here, I can’t legally make her take medication. I can’t make her do anything. An adult is free to do as she pleases, even if that means living on the street and eating out of Dumpsters. Unless a person is dangerous to herself or others, and that is damned hard to prove, this is a free country.”
Chet pulled a pair of reading glasses from his chest pocket and cleaned them on the hem of his shirt. “Last March, on Teresa’s birthday, I closed the door on this room and promised myself I’d never open it again. I took two weeks of vacation and spent the time hammered on Johnnie Walker. I went to The Pub, turned into my alter ego, Drunken Asshole Man, and picked a fight with the biggest guy in the bar. Luckily for me, he wasn’t a drunken jerk. The bartender called Brody to come and get me. It wasn’t the first time, but I’d been sober for almost a year. My last bender had been right after my wife died. No one was arrested, but word got round, and the captain found out. He gave me my last warning. No drunks on his force. He warned me that I wouldn’t get another break.” He sighed, the exhalation sounding shaky and painful. His eyes met hers. “You don’t have to look so glum. I was coming up on the mandatory retirement age anyway. This week’s stint of stupidity just moved the date up six months.”
Chet held up a palm. “The chief’s not a bad guy. He’s running a police department, not a rehab center. I either need to act like an adult and deal with my shit in a responsible manner, or I have no fucking business being on the police force.” He grimaced. “Please excuse the language.”
“I’ve heard worse in multiple languages,” Hannah said. “And how can you possibly move on after this week?”
“When the DNA results come back, I’ll have to.” Chet stopped rubbing his glasses. “Closing the door on this room didn’t do anything except let me not deal with my problems. I haven’t even answered the e-mail in the account I set up for the search for Teresa in six months. I didn’t return calls from my contacts. That is denial, pure and simple.”
“Brody doesn’t think it’s her.”
Chet’s shoulders slumped. “Brody is an optimist.”
Hannah wanted to assure him that the dead woman wasn’t his daughter, but who was she to say? Hope was a balancing act. Too little left a person unable to hang on. Too much made bad news unable to bear. She had a clear memory of her father telling her that her mother would be fine. That everything was going to be all right. She could beat the cancer. He believed it in every corner of his soul. In turn, Hannah had believed him, even though the doubt in the oncologist’s eyes told her otherwise. “I wish I could tell you to have faith, but it feels like empty advice. I tend to expect the worst.”
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