“Then we have something in common.” Chet rubbed his eyes, put on his glasses, and turned to face the computer. The monitor had illuminated. Icons lined up in neat rows on an enlarged photo of his daughter at a much younger age, maybe five or six, with a smile that didn’t indicate the devastating mental illness that was to come. “Now let’s see if we can do something to help somebody. I’m starting to feel useless.”
“Where do we start?” she asked.
“Did you bring the composite sketches?”
Hannah pulled the drawings from the manila envelope and handed them to Chet.
“Brody called the cop in Vegas and got him to send the fingerprints they lifted from the rental car.” Chet opened an e-mail. “We have three sets of possible fingerprints, we have a name, which may or may not be the girl’s real name, and a rough idea of what she looks like.”
“That doesn’t seem like much.”
“It isn’t, but what we do have is time. I happen to have scads of that to kill, so there’s no harm in trying.” Chet looked at her over the rims of his glasses. “You have anything better to do?”
“Now we have two things in common.” Chet pulled a stack of index cards from his drawer. “Let’s start with a timeline.” He dated the first card. “Tell me what happened.”
Brody stepped out of the courtroom, pulled out his cell phone, and turned it on. He scrolled through his messages and paused on one from Vinnie Schooler, a forensic investigator with the CSI division. Nodding hello to a passing assistant prosecutor, he walked to the end of the corridor and returned Vinnie’s call.
“Hey, Brody. I got something for you on your Jane Doe case.”
“I think so.”
Brody pivoted and strode for the exit. “I’m just leaving the courthouse. I’ll stop by in three minutes.”
The majority of the county municipal buildings were located in a large complex. Brody drove a quarter mile down the road, passed the ME’s office, and parked in front of the CSI unit. Vinnie was waiting for him. Olive complexioned, with black hair and eyes, he looked Sicilian enough to be confused with a Corleone. Vinnie sported a five o’clock shadow by noon.
“Thanks for calling.” Brody followed him down to the forensics lab. “What do you have for me?”
“Hair. Some of these samples were found on the victim’s clothing. Others came from the body.” Vinnie crossed to the countertop. He opened a cardboard box and removed a slide. He held it between his fingertips. A single strand of long brown hair was coiled on the slide. “That’s the victim’s hair.” Vinnie exchanged the slide for another. “This is a different person’s hair.”
The sample was short and blond. Brody stepped away from the counter. “Be nice if we had a suspect to match that to.”
“That’s your job.” Vinnie removed another slide.
“Can you extract DNA?”
“Possibly. But that’s not all I have for you.”
Brody glanced down at a short black hair between the thin sheets of glass. “More hair?”
Vinnie shook his head. “Dog fur. We found fur from at least six different dogs. We haven’t analyzed them for specific breed yet,” Vinnie grinned. “But either she really loves dogs . . .”
“Or maybe she works with them.” Ideas reeled through Brody’s head. She could work for a dog groomer, vet, animal shelter, or she visited some place where she was exposed to numerous animals.
“That’s all I have for now.” Vinnie stepped away from the microscope. “But I’m still sorting through the trace evidence. I’ll call you if I come up with anything else that’s interesting.”
“Thanks.” Brody left the lab and went back to the police station. He knocked on the chief’s door.
“Come in,” the chief answered.
Brody pushed through.
Chief Horner leaned back and gave Brody his full attention as he succinctly explained what Vinnie had found.
“Let’s get this done quickly,” the chief said. “Pull a patrol officer to help you chase down this lead.”
“Who would you like me to use?” Brody asked.
“Officer Dane came to mind first.”
“Any specific reason?” Brody rested a fist on his hip.
“As the first officer on scene, she’s the most familiar with the case.” The chief nodded. “Do you think she’s detective material?”
A small tinge of sadness eased through Brody. The chief was considering Chet’s replacement. As much as he’d rather work alone, he had to be realistic. He needed help. Chet’s career was over, and the second detective slot needed to be filled. Someone was getting promoted. “I do. Her attention to detail is excellent.”
“She is very thorough.” The chief picked up a packet of papers on his desk. “I have to clear my morning to read her reports.”
Brody nodded. “Yes, but all those details are important when a case goes to trial two years after an arrest.”
The chief sighed. “You’re right. Lance is my other top candidate.”
“Lance is also a solid cop. Thankfully, that’ll be your decision. My job is to identify that body.” Brody kept his distance from department politics.
He exited the chief’s office. Stella had been on night shift this week. Officers rotated shifts on a biweekly basis. She’d probably be asleep. But he had no doubt the prospect of helping with an investigation would wake her up.
He called her on her cell phone and explained the situation. “Are you game?”
“Yes. Definitely.” Her voice shifted from groggy to excited in an instant. “When do you want me to start?”
“How fast can you get here?”
She didn’t hesitate. “Half hour.”
In thirty minutes, she met him in the small conference room. She held a cardboard drink carrier in one hand and a bakery box in the other.
“With my thanks.” She handed him a coffee.
“No need to thank me. But I’ll take the coffee.”
Stella opened the box. “Apple cider donut? They won’t last five minutes once I put them out there.” She jerked her thumb at the doorway.
“Can’t say no to one of those.” Brody took a donut.
“I already had two.” Stella went out into the main room and set the box on the counter.
Brody ate the pastry in two bites.
“What are we doing?” Excitement shone from her eyes.
Brody handed her a sheet of paper. “There are thirty-seven vets, kennels, groomers, and dog trainers in Randolph County. We’re calling them all to see if anyone is missing a young female employee. If we don’t come up with anything, we’ll expand our search to the surrounding counties.”
“How far down the list have you gotten?”
Stella dropped into the chair and tucked an escaped strand of long black hair back into the severe knot at the base of her neck. “Give me the bottom half of the list.”
By lunchtime, they had thirty-six negative responses and one line with no answer. “This is starting to seem pointless.”
Brody stood and stretched. “Let’s take a break. We’ll grab a sandwich and stop at this kennel where no one answered the phone. Then we’ll attack the next county this afternoon.”
Brody unlocked his county sedan. “You want to eat first or run out to the kennel?” he asked over the roof.
“Let’s do the kennel. I’m still full of donuts.” Stella got into the passenger seat.
He started the car. “You ate six.”
“And they were fantastic.” She patted her belly. The soft chatter of the radio underscored their conversation.
Brody drove to the highway and eased into the right lane. Afternoon traffic was light. “How far is it?”
Stella consulted the address. “Two miles.”
A minute later, Brody slowed at the sight of lights flashing ahead of them. An SFPD cruiser had pulled over a minivan.
“That’s Lance,” Stella said as they passed. “The turn is just ahead.”
Brody eased his foot off the gas and turned onto a narrow one-lane country road. An empty field ran along the left side of the road. To the right, trees and underbrush grew close to the pavement.
“There it is.” Stella pointed to a break in the foliage. A sign nailed to a tree read Scarlet Creek Kennels. The metal gate stood open. Brody turned onto the dirt lane. A tan mobile home perched on an incline. Shrubs surrounded the foundation. Behind the house, barking erupted from a brown one-story building resembling a barn. Dogs barked from a dozen long, narrow runs. A few run-down outbuildings dotted the property.
Brody parked in a gravel rectangle next to the kennel and used his radio to report their location. He and Stella crossed the gravel lot and went through the open door to the barnlike building. A large open space housed rows of dog runs. In the open space in front of the kennels, colored nylon leashes hung on wall pegs. Hallways led in both directions. A sign with a gold arrow directed them down a hallway to an office.
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