“Hello?” Brody called out.
The dogs that had been outside rushed in, leaving the heavy rubber dog doors flapping. Barking echoed in the space. Inside the runs, piles of feces dotted the concrete. He walked to the closest chain-link gate. A black lab whined and wagged on the other side. Two stainless steel bowls sat empty.
“Remind me never to board my dog here.” Stella stuck her fingers through the chain links of a kennel gate. A wiggling spaniel on the other side licked her fingers.
“I don’t like it. Something is wrong here.” He scanned the runs. “No one has cleaned these kennels for at least a couple of days. Water bowls are low or empty.”
The din in the kennel dimmed as some of the dogs settled.
“Let’s see if anyone is in the office.” Brody led the way out of the main kennel area. The door closed behind them, muffling the noise. Following the “Office” sign, they turned down the corridor. Brody glanced in open doorways as they walked. Storage rooms held dog food and grooming supplies. One room contained a washtub and a stainless steel grooming stand. The office door was open. He knocked on the jamb and poked his head inside. No one sat behind the metal desk.
They went outside. The same being watched feeling that had bugged Brody outside Hannah’s this morning whispered across his nape. “I don’t like it.”
Stella shrugged. “Maybe no one’s home.”
“I think somebody’s here.” Brody could feel eyes on him. “Call for backup. Maybe they’ll open the door for a uniform.”
Dispatch reported back that a unit was en route.
“Probably Lance.” Stella leaned on the car. “We’ll need to get the SPCA officers out here to see to those dogs.”
“As soon as we know the property is clear, we can make sure they all have water.”
When Lance arrived, he got out of his patrol car, and Brody filled him in on the situation.
They went up to the door. Stella rang the bell, and Lance hung back, his gaze scanning the windows. No one answered. Brody thumped on the door with his fist.
“Police,” he called.
A creak sounded from inside the house.
“We need to ask you a few questions,” Brody yelled.
Craning his neck to peer into the front window, Lance moved sideways.
A gunshot cracked. Glass broke. Lance’s body jerked and folded to the ground.
Stella shouted into the radio on her collar, “Officer down.”
Hannah closed her eyes and retold the story. Her hand stroked the dog sitting at her side. Though she tried to stick to the facts, panic crawled around inside her as she detailed the last minute of the attack, Jewel being dragged out of the rental car. Sweat broke out on her back. Chet got up and went downstairs. Floorboards squeaked and water rushed. He came back a minute later with a glass of ice water in his hand.
He handed it to Hannah. “Sounds like you did everything you could.”
Unsure if she could swallow in her tight throat, she took a very small sip. The icy liquid soothed. “It doesn’t feel that way.” Her mind rewound to last spring. She pictured Carson being chased and the fire at Lee’s house. It hadn’t felt like she’d done enough then either.
“Never does, after the fact.” Chet squinted at her. Guilt puckered his brow. “I’m sorry I acted like an asshole last night. You got pulled into another dangerous situation because of me.”
“Brody sent me outside. It was my choice to go back into the bar.”
“I heard you took out two dudes with a cue stick.”
She sighed. “I didn’t see many options.”
“Brody said it was because of you that he didn’t have to shoot anyone. So thank you.”
Heat flushed her neck. The three drunken bikers had been intimidating, but not frightening in the same bowel-cramping way as the threat to Jewel or Carson. It was one thing to risk her own life, but she felt an entirely different level of fear when young innocents were in danger.
“I would have felt responsible if Brody had killed somebody off-duty because I was a drunken jerk.” Chet snorted. “Cops have enough threats to deal with when they’re on shift.”
Hannah drank more water. “Is his job normally dangerous?”
Chet folded his arms over his chest. “Scarlet Falls used to be a really quiet place. But as folks migrate out of the cities into the country, gangs and drugs and crime follow them. Also, some people just suck, and there isn’t a damned thing anyone can do about that. Your brother’s murder is a perfect example. I was on my bender when it happened, but I heard about it. I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you.” Hannah stared at the ice bobbing in her glass. “Lee used to call me every weekend. Sometimes when my phone rings on a Sunday, I still expect it to be him.”
Chet nodded. “And when it isn’t him, it’s like being kicked in the nuts all over again. Metaphorically speaking.”
Hannah laughed. “Yes, I suppose that’s a pretty good analogy.”
“Well, thanks for watching Brody’s back.”
She thought back to Brody’s convenience-store shooting. “I’m glad I was there. I wish someone had been there for him in Boston.”
“He told you about the shooting?” Chet’s eyebrow lifted. “That’s not something he ever talks about, not with anyone.”
“He didn’t dwell on it,” Hannah said. Neither her brother nor her father ever wanted to talk about their experiences in combat.
Chet clasped his hands, leaned forward, and rested his forearms on his thighs. “I bet he didn’t mention the commendation he received?”
“No.” But that didn’t surprise her.
“Well, he did. He saved three people.”
“But at a huge cost to himself.”
“Yeah.” Chet stared at his joined hands for a few seconds. “So thanks for helping him out. I’m really glad he didn’t have to shoot anyone because I was an idiot.” His change in tone suggested he knew how Brody felt, and that he was done talking about it. “Besides, you can’t imagine how much paperwork a shooting requires.”
“So how do we start looking for the girl in Vegas?” she asked.
Chet turned back to his desk. “Normally, when looking for a missing teen, the go-to source is the friends. We can’t do that. We also don’t have cell phone, ATM, or credit card records to check. The Vegas PD is trying to match the prints. They’ll start local and expand their search as they go along. But I learned a couple of things from my own experience. Within forty-eight hours, someone is going to try to lure a runaway into prostitution. Once a pimp gets ahold of a kid, it’s very hard for the kid to get away—dangerous even.”
Had he tracked his daughter that far?
“I know you’re wondering about Teresa. Yes, I believed she was being trafficked. She was likely also using drugs. While she didn’t like the side effects of her prescribed medicine, she did try to escape her symptoms with recreational drugs and alcohol.” His fingers curled into fists. “I guess I provided the perfect example.”
“So where does that leave us?” Hannah put him back on track. There was no use beating himself up for a past he couldn’t change.
“If your teen is being trafficked, she might not be from Nevada. She could be from any state. Did she have an accent? Is there a possibility that she’s from another country? Traffickers bring girls from Mexico or other foreign countries. Sometimes the girl’s parents pay these guys, thinking their daughters will get a better life in America. Then when the girls are brought over, the traffickers tell them they have a debt to work off. Families are threatened. Girls who are here illegally won’t go to the police. They’re forced into prostitution to pay off a never-ending debt. Girls are also shipped around from state to state. It’s harder for families to track a girl if she’s frequently moved.”
Hannah searched her memory. “I didn’t hear a foreign accent or any indication that English wasn’t her primary language.”
“OK, then we’ll focus on states in the continental US.”
“This sounds like a very organized activity.”
“Sometimes yes, sometimes no.” Chet scrolled to a website and paused on a phone number. “Girls get trafficked by their boyfriends, by kidnappers. Or they’re already turning tricks to put a roof over their head or buy a meal, and a pimp gets his hooks into them. And some girls are sole proprietors. Maybe she’s hungry or has kids to feed and no marketable skills. If she only has one thing to sell, and she’s desperate enough . . .”
Hannah supposed hungry children were motivation to do just about anything to feed them.
“Now. We’re going to play a game. I’m going to ask you a lot of questions. The cop in Vegas probably asked you most of them. Just do your best to answer.” He put two sheets of paper in front of her. On the top of one he wrote Sure. The other paper he headed with the title Maybe. “If you’re one hundred percent positive of your answer, write it here. Be quick. Let’s see if your subconscious is holding any information hostage. If it’s more of an impression, write it here. When we’re done, I’ll put it all together and start making calls.”
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