Madison paused as she turned the corner from First Street onto Main. Warm spring air caressed her cheeks and the spicy scent of geraniums tickled her nose. The Garden Club had just finished planting the tubs along Main Street. This year, they had planted geraniums in the half-barrels that lined Main Street. Andie had helped design the arrangements that contained impatiens as well as the geraniums.
Madison looked across the street to Andie’s flower shop. Andie had already pulled her plants in. She usually closed at 5:30, but waited to pull her plants in after closing. Tonight, though, she and Madison were having a girls’ night out. She had turned her front light off, too. Madison frowned. That was unusual. All the businesses along Main Street kept their front lights on at night even though in such a small town there was little crime. Andie loved the brass fixtures that highlighted her red and white striped awnings. She never turned them off.
Looking both ways, Madison crossed Main Street. The only cars on the block were pulled in front of the parking spots in front of the café. Madison had walked over from the Sheriff’s department, because, normally, on a Friday night, all the diagonal spots close to the café were taken. Madison shook her head as she passed the cars. She still couldn’t get used to pulling her car into a parting spot on a major thoroughfare. She was from Denver. If you wanted to park downtown, you had to parallel park or find a lot.
Guthrie stepped out of the café. He owned the café and did most of the cooking.
“Are you and Andie coming down to eat, Sheriff?” he called.
“We’ll be down in a minute,” Madison called back.
“I’ll save you a table by the window. Andie closed up early tonight. I noticed she had help with that big metal tub she keeps out in front.”
“Who was that, Guthrie?”
“I don’t know. A big guy. I’ve never seen him before. Probably a tourist or something.”
“Yeah, probably.” She waved at Guthrie. “We’ll be down in a minute.”
“Okey doke, Sheriff.”
Madison smiled at Guthrie’s favorite expression and stepped into the shop. The top of the door hit the brass bell Andie had hung above the door. The metal tub was sitting on the porcelain tile of Andie’s front counter. That was odd. The metal tub was really heavy. Andie could slide it into the shop, but she usually kept it just inside the front door. She wouldn’t want it on the counter, because the metal could scratch the fine porcelain tiles. The light was off in the front part of the store, but the light in the back room was on.
Madison heard a scuffle in the back. The hair on the back of her neck stood up and her stomach clenched. Something was wrong. Quietly, she slid her gun out of her shoulder holster and switched the safety off. Holding the weapon in two hands pointed at the floor, she moved along the shelves lining the wall and edged around the counter. As she sidled up to the door, she could see a green tarp on the floor and Andie’s foot sticking out from under the tarp. She heard the rustle again. The sound wasn’t coming from Andie. Her foot was completely still. Andie was sure it would never move again.
Pulling a deep breath into her lungs, she stepped into the room with her gun up. A little boy was crouched next to Andie. His hands were jammed into the pockets of his black hoodie.
Madison leveled her gun at the boy.
Before she could call for back-up, she needed to make sure the boy was unarmed and immobilized. He was small, maybe twelve or thirteen, but she didn’t want to take any chances. She was off-duty, so she didn’t have any handcuffs with her. She’d search the boy and get him on his stomach, so she could call her deputies.
“Take your hands out of your pockets.”
The boy frowned and looked at the ground. If anything, he pushed his hands deeper into his pockets.
“I don’t want to hurt you, but I will unless you show me your hands.”
The coldness in her voice made him look at her again. She gave him what Hal called her “dead eye.” The one she used when she was ready to shoot someone. The boy studied her for a moment and then pulled his hands out of his pockets. They were both balled into fists.
“Open your hands.”
His thumbs splayed out from his fists, but his fingers stayed curled shut.
She was losing her patience. Her friend was laying there cold and this fucking kid was messing around. She quickly chambered a round. The boy’s eyes widened. He began wiggling his thumbs and fists. He didn’t speak, but he had begun to sweat.
The boy stopped moving his hands. Slowly, she moved closer to him. As she got closer, she realized that something was wrong with his hands. The knuckles and fingers seemed to be deformed.
“Can you open your hands?”
The boy closed his eyes and shook his head. He stayed still as she moved closer. When she grabbed his wrist, his eyes flew open, but he didn’t try to resist her. She tugged his wrist forward until he was laying on his stomach. Since he couldn’t lace his fingers behind his head, she had him stretch his arms way above his head. Placing her foot against the small of his back, she finally felt safe enough to use her phone. As she hit her speed dial for Hal, she kept her eyes focused on the boy. She knew that she would have to look at Andie, eventually but she couldn’t bring herself to face her friend just yet.
Hal’s phone seemed to ring forever. Madison wanted to scream, but her hands remained steady as she pointed her gun at the boy’s back. Instead of screaming, she removed herself to that dark, quiet place. In that place, she was safe and the horrors of the world couldn’t touch her. Her nerves steadied. She had a job to do. She couldn’t let her feelings get in the way of finding Andie’s killer.
“Deputy Steward.” Hal’s voice grounded her. He was the first person she had worked with since leaving the homicide unit in Denver. While he wasn’t her partner, she was his boss, after all, he was steady and logical. She could bounce ideas off him and he would tell her what he really thought.
“Hal. I’m at Andie’s. I need back-up.”
“What? What happened?”
“She’s…” she stumbled over the words. She couldn’t say it; she couldn’t believe it. Taking a deep breath, she snapped, “She’s dead. Bring the forensics gear and call the deputies in. We need to secure the scene.”
She heard Hal exhale and then his voice, calm and steady, “Roger, Sheriff. Steward out.”
It seemed like she stood over the boy forever, her gun aimed at the back of his head. She wanted to kill him for hurting Andie, but she kept herself still. Finally, she heard sirens. They stopped outside Andie’s shop. She heard the murmur of voices. She hoped her deputies were gearing up to come into the scene. When she’d first taken the job, they had been pretty lax about securing crime scenes—coming into the scene without booties and touching things without wearing gloves. She’d been drilling them the past couple of months. She hoped they remembered their training.
The bell tinkled above the door. Someone had just entered the shop. She hoped it was Hal or another deputy. Hal peeked around the corner of the door much like she had. When he saw her standing over the boy, he pulled his gun. Under her foot, the boy trembled as Hal chambered a round into his Glock.
Hal growled, “I’ve got him covered.”
“I need cuffs.”
Keeping his gun trained on the boy, Hal moved closer and handed Madison the cuffs. He leaned down.
“The Sheriff’s going to cuff you now. Don’t move or I will shoot you. You understand?”
The boy nodded his head. Madison holstered her weapon, reached down and grabbed his wrist. As she pulled his arm behind his back, she noticed her thin his wrist was. Up close, she could see his deformed hand. While the thumb could move, the fingers were curled into his palm. The skin was mottled and looked inflamed. She pulled his other arm behind his back and cuffed his wrists together.
“We’re going to get you on your feet. When I say, you’re going to get you on your knees and then to your feet.”
She gripped his forearm.
“Get on your knees.”
She helped the boy maneuver onto his side so he could pull his knees up and then lifted him up. He was surprisingly light. Hal holstered his weapon, and helped Madison pull the boy to his feet.
“I’ll take him outside. I need gloves and booties.”
Madison was happy to see that Hal had put on gloves and booties. She had already contaminated the crime scene, but there was no help for that. Keeping a firm hold of the boy’s arm, she walked him out the front of the shop. Lights blinking, Hal’s SUV was pulled up to the curb. Two other deputies were securing the front of the store with crime scene tape.
Randy, one of the veterans at the Sheriff’s office, marched up to her. Scowling at the boy, he said, “Is he the suspect?”
“He was sitting next to the body when I came in the back. I need you to search him and take him to the station. Call Child Services. He will need an adult with him until we can question him.”
Randy took the boy’s arm and led him away. Opening the back of Hal’s SUV, she grabbed gloves and booties and slipped them on. She grabbed the Forensics kit and motioned to the other deputy who had just finished securing crime scene tape to the corner of Andie’s shop. He stepped under the tape and hurried over.
“Kurt, I need you to handle the camera tonight.”
In Denver, she would call in one of the many professional photographers who worked with the Crime Unit. She would also have access to a mobile crime unit and specialized forensics technicians. Here, in Fruita, she and the other officers were responsible for securing the scene, collecting and cataloguing evidence, photographing the scene, and investigating the case. She should recuse herself from the case. Andie was her best friend. For that matter, all the deputies were compromised. They’d all known Andie. Some had even dated her. Most of them had known her since they went to school together.
As she slammed the hatch, her knees began to shake. She had to sit down on the bumper. Her eyes blurred with tears. She wanted to run away from the scene. She took several deep breaths until her emotions were under control. She had to stay strong for her deputies and for Andie. If she gave into her grief, there would be no one to lead the investigation, to make sure that everything was done by the book. Slowly, she stood. Once her knees were steady, she made her way back into Andie’s shop.
He watched from the shadows. When he was finished at the flower shop, he had headed to the convenience store they had passed on their way into town. Brightly lit, the store was big for a small town like this, but it seemed to be a popular stop for truckers. He had stayed out of the lights, approaching the store from the vacant lot behind it. His boy wouldn’t be standing out in plain sight. He’d be hiding in the shadows. They always stayed in the shadows.
But he couldn’t find the boy. The boy wasn’t in the shadows behind the store or to the side. He scoured the dark edges of the parking light, but no boy. No boy crouched in the grass or behind the dumpster. He wouldn’t be in the light. He had trained him to stay out of the light, but he couldn’t always trust the boy. The past couple of times he had found him in different places. Places where he shouldn’t be. But he always found him. He was always in the next store down the road. Or in the park just a little further than he should have gone. He didn’t think the boy would really leave him. He was just rebelling. He would always find him. The boy knew that—he knew that he would never leave without him.
Crouching in the dark grass, he looked toward the light shining out of the store. He would have to go in. People would notice him. That’s why they always kept moving. People always noticed him. He was big. His muscles stood out even though he never worked out. When he walked down the sidewalk, people were afraid to look him in the eye. They looked away or crossed the street when they saw him coming.
Taking a deep breath, he stood and stepped out of the shadows. He kept his hood up as he stepped into the store. It was busy. Truckers were buying snacks and paying for their gas. People crowded the snack bar. He took a quick walk around the store. No boy. He stepped out of the light and back into the comfort of the shadows.
He had to think this through. If he were the boy, where would he go? What was the boy thinking? Was the boy trying to get away from him? Why would he do that?
He had to consider every possibility. If the boy really meant to leave him, there was only one place he would go.
The police lights sent blue and red streaks across his face as he stood in the darkened doorway of the bank across from the flower shop. He should leave. He could hunker down behind the convenience store. The boy would show up eventually. He tried to turn away, but his feet wouldn’t move.
The door of the shop opened. The boy stepped out of the shop. His hands were cuffed in front of him. A wave hit him and he almost vomited. Taking deep breaths, he clenched his fists. His boy was being brought out in handcuffs. Didn’t they see his hands? He stepped out of the shadow. A tall bitch of a woman held the boy by the elbow. Who was she to touch his boy?
The bitch motioned to a deputy standing next to the crime scene tape. She said something to the man and the man took the boy and put him in the police cruiser parked on the other side of the tape. At that moment, he couldn’t take it anymore. For the second time that night, he stepped into the light. They couldn’t take the boy. They could take him instead. The police cruiser pulled out and headed down the street. He couldn’t even see the boy in the back of the car. Couldn’t let him know that he was right here—that he would always be here.
The bitch went to the back of the SUV and pulled some sort of case out of the back. She closed the hatch and then sat on the bumper. He slipped back into the shadows and watched. She didn’t move. She was all alone. He could take her right now. No one was there to stop him. He would offer a trade—the bitch for his boy. He didn’t know who she was, but the deputy had treated her like she was important. She gave the orders and he obeyed. As his nausea welled up, he spit to the side. What kind of man would take orders from a woman?
He stood a moment longer. He had to make sure that he could get away with her, but he waited too long. She suddenly stood and went back into the shop. He faded into the shadows. He would wait. He had no place to go now.