Brody followed Ripton out of the kitchen into a living room. A rectangular patch one shade lighter than the wall-to-wall indicated where an area rug once lay. A dark red stain marred the middle of the lighter area. Ripton pointed to the wall and ceiling. Lines of rusty red streaked the white paint. Brody envisioned the bat hitting her face, blood splattering the room on the killer’s backswing. “He didn’t even bother to clean up.”
Brody’s gut twisted. This guy had been living in a dead woman’s house, presumably since Saturday night, surrounded by blood spatter. “Who is he?”
“We don’t know. No sign of a boyfriend in the house.” Ripton’s lips compressed. “Her father showed up a half hour ago. He saw the house on the news. The mother died a few years ago.”
Brody closed his eyes for a second, not allowing himself to imagine the father’s reaction. “Where’s the father?”
“At the station. The chief said he’d do their interview personally.” Ripton’s face remained impassive, but irritation flashed briefly in his eyes. “Before he was escorted to the station, the father said he’d been on a business trip for the past week. Just got home yesterday. He hadn’t talked to Joleen, which wasn’t unusual. They were both busy. He was supposed to see her on Monday for their standing weekly dinner. From their last dinner, he didn’t think there was a current boyfriend. She was focused on building her business. I got the impression the father was helping her financially.”
Framed snapshots lined a shelving unit in the living room. Brody stooped to look at a framed photo of two bikini-clad young women, a blond and a Joleen, standing on a beach. He focused on the brunette. Long hair. Early twenties. Slight frame. The tiny heart tattoo on her hip matched the one on Jane Doe’s body. Brody’s gaze flickered to her face. Her wide, happy smile sent a rift of anger through his chest. Her killer had obliterated her identity. The violence of her murder was staggering. He pointed to the tattoo. “That confirms it. Jane Doe is Joleen Walken.”
Ripton nodded. “She worked in a bank two years ago. We’ll contact her former employer and get her fingerprints sent over to the medical examiner for official corroboration.” He led Brody down a short hallway. A closet door stood open. Inside, a baseball bat leaned in the corner, right below a floor mop. “We believe this is the bat he used to beat her face in.” A valid conclusion, since he hadn’t bothered to wipe off the wood. A yellow evidence marker stood on the floor of the closet next to the bat.
“Are you going to call Chet?” Ripton asked.
“I am.” Brody stepped outside and dialed Chet’s number. His friend picked up on the first ring. “It’s not her. The body isn’t Teresa.”
“I know,” Chet slurred. He was drinking. Damn it.
“How did you know?” Brody asked.
“I found an old e-mail. One of my contacts said she was seen in Vegas last month with a known pimp.”
“I’m sorry, Chet.” Brody could feel his friend’s pain through the connection.
“Don’t be sorry. At least she’s still alive.” Glass clinked in the background. Chet wasn’t hopping back on the wagon tonight.
“Are you all right?” Brody asked. “I can come there when I’m done at the scene.”
“I promise I’m not going anywhere.” Chet hiccupped. “I hid my keys from myself.”
“She’s alive, Chet.”
“She’s being trafficked, Brody.”
Shit! Brody curled his fingers and punched his thigh. “I’ll come over when I’ve finished here.”
“I know you’re worried, but if you go anywhere tonight, go see Hannah. You need her. She needs you. Don’t fuck that up.” His voice slurred. The sound of liquid pouring into a glass came over the line. “I’ll be out cold as soon as I finish this last drink.”
Damn it. He should have known Chet had a stash of booze. Brody wanted to go to Chet’s house and, once again, pour every ounce of liquor down the drain. As sad as it was, passing out for the night was likely Chet’s safest option. Besides, Brody wasn’t likely to have any time until morning. Maybe not even then. “Tomorrow we’re calling your sponsor. Together.”
Chet answered with a long sigh filled with resignation. “Fine.”
“Detective McNamara?” Ripton prompted.
Brody nodded and held up one finger. “I have to go, Chet.”
He ended the call. Officer Ripton pointed toward the back door to the trailer. “I want to show you something in the shed.”
They walked across the yard. The rain had stopped, but the cold air blowing across the field was frosty. Brody buttoned his overcoat. It seemed unbelievable that a couple of hours ago, he’d been in a warm bed with a woman. They walked into a sagging shed. Two portable lamps brightened the space. A cheap oriental-style rug lay on the barn floor. The center was stained dark red. Hair and other matter clumped on the pile.
Brody shoved his hands into his coat pockets. “The missing rug.”
Ripton’s mouth went flat. “We found teeth, Brody. Six teeth.”
The sound of a trunk popping echoed in the open space.
“Ripton, over here,” another cop called.
Brody and Ripton walked to the rear of another car, a battered old Corolla. The trunk stood open. Inside, the nude body of a young woman lay on its side. Brody gasped, and his pulse stuttered a beat. For a second he’d thought it was Hannah. But a second glance told him that other than the short blond hair, there was little resemblance. This girl was younger. Her eyes were brown instead of blue. She was a head shorter and curvier. Plus, he’d just left Hannah alive and well.
The hair must be a coincidence, but the similarity left him with an uneasy feeling in the pit of his belly. He would not breathe easily until they caught Joleen’s killer.
Brody spent the early morning hours on Thursday walking through the rest of the scene with the lead crime scene tech. The shooting of a police officer and the sheer brutality of Joleen’s killing eliminated the normal gallows humor of a death scene.
The second woman had been identified as Chrissi Tyler. A few phone calls determined that she’d had a fight with her boyfriend Tuesday night at The Scarlet Lounge. The security tapes showed a man following her out the door, a man who knew how to keep his face away from the surveillance cameras. Both Chrissi and the man had disappeared from the range of the parking lot cameras. Chrissi’s hair had been long in the tape, and a few snipped strands had been found in the mobile home bedroom. The killer had given her a haircut that looked just like Hannah’s. How the hell could that be a coincidence?
Brody drove toward the station but somehow ended up sitting in front of the Barrett farmhouse. Through the windshield, dawn brightened the tops of the trees. For a minute, he leaned on the headrest and closed his eyes. The things human beings did to one another never ceased to appall him. That was probably a good thing. The day he could shrug off a man beating a woman to death with a baseball bat was the day he should hand in his badge.
He checked the time on his phone. Six thirty. Would Hannah be awake? Probably. She had an early morning meeting with the prosecutor. His morning, maybe his whole day, would be consumed with Joleen’s murder case and assisting the task force formed to find her killer. Good luck to him in trying to make sense of a total cluster of a night. What he needed was twelve hours of solid sleep. But how would he get the image of that girl out of his head? Sure, there were plenty of women with short blond hair, and the other victim had been a brunette, but Brody was still uncomfortable.
He dialed Hannah’s number.
“Brody.” The sound of her voice smoothed his rough edges. It also highlighted the horrors he’d witnessed in the last few hours. “I assume you had an awful night.”
“Good assumption. I didn’t wake you, did I?”
“No. Where are you?” she asked.
She paused. “Well, come in.”
The front door opened as he climbed the steps. She was in full lawyer mode. Tailored gray slacks and a charcoal blouse draped her slim body. A single strand of pearls encircled her neck. Her hair was polished rather than tousled. When was the last time he’d seen her wearing makeup? She was stunning, but seemed less touchable, less approachable, in her corporate attorney persona. He suppressed the urge to ruffle her hair.
“Do you want some coffee?” She led the way back to the kitchen. A mug of coffee cooled on the counter. Next to it, a plate held a slice of toast.
Brody followed her. “Sure.”
“Are you hungry?” She pushed the plate of toast toward him then poured a mug from the thermal carafe.
“Not really.” He wandered to the window and watched the treetops sway in the morning breeze. A squirrel raced across the grass and ran up the trunk of the big oak in the backyard.
Hannah’s arms slid around his waist, and her body pressed against his. “Are you all right?”
She rested her head on the back of his shoulder. In her heels she was only a couple of inches shorter than him.
“He’d been living in her house, sitting on her sofa, watching her TV, without even cleaning her bloodstains off the walls.” Brody turned around. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have told you all that. You don’t need those images in your head.”