Madison was back at work early the next morning. If she’d been able, she would have dropped the boy off with Drake last night and headed back to work, but she wanted to help the boy settle in. She thought that they had done a good job of making him comfortable, but, when she tried to comb his hair, he had gotten upset. She didn’t know what she had done wrong. She had only wanted to help with his tangled hair.
She had called Mandy first thing this morning to talk about what they should do for the boy, but Mandy’s phone went straight to voice mail. Drake wanted to take the boy to get some clothes. Even after they’d been washed, his own clothes were ragged and falling apart. She wasn’t sure it was a good idea to take the boy out, but he desperately needed clothes and personal hygiene supplies. She had told Drake to be careful and to bring the boy right home when they were done.
As she walked into the office, she saw Hal in the conference room. He had begun organizing the whiteboard with the evidence they had collected so far. When she went into the conference room, he handed her a cup of coffee.
“How does it look?” he asked
Hal had posted a picture of Andie on the board and written a rough schedule of her last afternoon. Hal pointed at the schedule.
“What time were you supposed to meet her?”
“We were going to meet a little before 5:30. I was going to help her pull her plants inside and, then, we were going to eat at Guthrie’s.”
“So when you got there…?”
Madison realized that Hal was interviewing her as a witness without making it seem like he was interviewing her. She tried to remember everything she had seen and heard. She watched him fill in the information on the whiteboard and add what Guthrie had told her to the information about the suspect.
“The last time she used the register was at 4:45. Guthrie said he saw her moving her plants in with a man at about 5:00.”
Madison swallowed, “So she died a little after 5:00.”
“If I had left just a little earlier…”
Hal stopped her. “You can’t think like that. You had no idea what was going on.”
Madison shook her head. She hated that she had been so close. She remembered watching the clock run down to 5:00 as she messed around with some routine paperwork. She could have put the paperwork aside and left early for once. Taking a deep breath, she looked at the board. They didn’t have very much to go on, other than the boy. She was going to have to figure out a way to get him to talk.
As if he were reading her mind, Hal asked, “How’s the boy? Has he said anything?”
“No, not yet. He won’t even tell us his name. Drakes’ been calling him “Buddy.”
“And you don’t think he’s the one who did this?”
“Come on, Hal. He maybe weights 60 pounds and he’s a lot shorter than Andie. And his hands. I don’t think he could strangle anyone. He can use his thumbs pretty well, but not well enough to wrap around someone’s neck.”
Hal hadn’t seen the body. “Is that how she died?”
“I don’t know for sure, Hal. We’ll have to wait for the Medical Examiner, but there were marks around her throat. I think that’s a good indication of how she died.”
They continued to look at the whiteboard and discuss their strategy. She and Hal decided to canvas the stores up and down Main Street to see if anyone had seen anything earlier in the afternoon. Maybe, someone had also seen the man who helped Andie with the plants, like Guthrie had. Maybe, someone had seen the boy as well. They needed to figure out who the boy was and why he was waiting by the body. Was he waiting for the killer to come back? Was he hiding? Why would he hide next to a body? None of it made sense. Madison didn’t think they could make sense of it until the boy started talking.
“Sheriff,” Rita the receptionist and dispatcher called to her from the front desk. Madison and Hal went back up to the front.
Rita was on the phone and scribbling notes on a dispatch sheet.
“All right, Hank, calm down. The sheriff and Deputy Steward are right here. They’re coming right over.”
Rita finished filling out the sheet and handed it to Madison. Madison frowned when she read the dispatch form. Hank, the owner of Judy’s Family Restaurant, had just found a body.
“Let’s go, Hal. We have another one.”
“Rita, call in any available deputies and have them meet us at Judy’s.”
Hal and Madison hurried across the street. Judy’s was a small diner across the street from the Sheriff’s office. Hank and Judy had run the diner for 25 years. All the locals met at Judy’s for breakfast and to chat with their friends. It was a good way to start a hard day’s work. The body was behind the restaurant, so Madison and Hal skirted around the building to come at it from the back. A small crowd was gathered at the corner of the building near the alley.
“Let us through, folks,” Hal said. Even though he was relatively new here, he seemed to fit right in with the small-town residents. He knew how to talk to them and to get them to warm up. Madison had a hard time relaxing enough to be herself. She felt like she was stuck behind her Sheriff façade. She envied Hal for being able to relax and be himself while maintaining his role as a deputy. The people moved aside. Someone asked, “Who is it, Sheriff? What’s going on?”
Madison couldn’t answer. She didn’t know what was going on or who was laying in the alley.
When she stepped around the crowd, she saw a woman’s legs sprawled in the gravel of the alley. Hal stayed behind her and made the people leave the scene.
“C’mon. This is a crime scene now. We need you to move around to the front of the building. I don’t want anyone to leave. I want to get statements from you.”
With a murmur, the people dispersed and headed back toward the front of the building.
Madison stared at the body. She knew who the woman was. It was Mandy from Child Protective Services. Her neck was mottled and bruised and her eyes were blood red.
She told Hal, “Call the coroner. Get someone out here ASAP.”
Hal nodded and took out his cell phone. Randy and Kurt were approaching the alley. She sent them to get crime scene tape and the forensics kit. Hank was standing in the doorway off the alley. His eyes were wet and he kept wiping his mouth. She walked over to him.
“You found the body?”
Hank nodded, continuing to stare at the body.
“Look at me, Hank. I need you to focus.”
Hank nodded and moved his eyes to hers.
“Tell me what happened.”
Hank took a deep breath and began to talk.
“I came out here to take a load of trash out to the dumpster. I saw her as soon as I stepped out of the door. I was so surprised I dropped the garbage.”
Madison looked down at the ground by the door. Garbage had spilled out of a large black garbage bag. She hoped the garbage hadn’t contaminated the scene.
“What time was that, Hank?”
Madison pulled out her little notebook and started a clean page. She wrote Mandy’s name on top.
“About fifteen minutes ago, I guess.”
Madison looked at her watch. It was now 7:00.
“So about 6:45?”
Hank nodded still staring at the body. He was so pale he was almost gray.
“Hank, do you need to sit down?”
Hank scrubbed his face with his hands.
“Yeah, I think I do.”
Madison followed Hank into the restaurant. He led her to a small office just inside the back door. Hank sat down in a battered office chair and put his head in his hands. He was trembling.
“I can’t get that poor woman’s face out of my head.”
Madison didn’t know what to say. Even though women were supposed to be the nurturing type, she had never fit that mold.
“How can you stand it, Sheriff? First Andie and now that woman out there? What’s going on?”
“I don’t know, Hank, but I intend to find out.”
She questioned Hank for a few minutes. When she was satisfied she had all his information, she went back outside. Randy and Kurt had strong crime scene tape along both sides of the alley. Hal was manning the camera today. Slowly, she made her way down the alley back toward the Sheriff’s office. She walked close to the wall of Judy’s as she scanned the ground. There were long lines gouged in the gravel. They stretched from the crime scene back along the alley and stopped at the sidewalk. From the alley, she could see the front door of the Sheriff’s office. She could also had a clear view of her SUV in its designated parking spot. She remembered that Mandy had been waiting for her and the boy on the front steps of the Sheriff’s office. She had helped the boy into the SUV and then she had talked to Madison for a few minutes.
Madison took out her notebook. That was at about 10:00 or so. She noted down the time in her notebook. She realized that she was probably the last person to see Mandy alive. Had someone hidden here in the alley and then attacked Mandy after she drove off? Why? What was the motive? Was there a connection to Andie’s murder?
She made her way back down the alley, retracing the scuff marks. When Hal finished taking pictures of the body, she had him take pictures of the scuff marks. By the time Hal was finished taking pictures, the coroner arrived.
“You’re keeping me busy, Sheriff,” said Katie Schultes. “I was just starting on the body from last night when the call came in.”
“Just wanted to make sure you earned your paycheck,” Madison replied dryly.
Madison watched as the coroner got to work. She noticed that Mandy had similar injuries to Andie’s though they seemed much worse. She thought that was probably because Mandy had laid out here all night long while she had found Andie right after she had died. She wondered what Andie looked like now. Both women had been strangled. Madison assumed it was by the same person. The big guy Guthrie had seen? What was the connection? Was he a serial killer? Were there going to be more deaths?
She couldn’t imagine why a killer would grab his victim right outside the sheriff’s department. She realized that they might have a picture of the person. The sheriff’s office was one of the few places in town that had security cameras installed outside. Her heart began to beat faster. This might be the break they needed. With impatience, she watched the coroner prepare the body for transport. It was a painstaking process as the coroner collected evidence from the body and the ground around the body. Hal documented everything she did with a camera to make sure there was a record of the evidence.
Finally, Schultes was ready to bag the body. Hal helped her put the body in the bag and onto the gurney. After Schultes had taken samples from the dirt under the body and Hal finished taking pictures, she and Hal headed back to the Sheriff’s office.
“We need to check the security cameras, Hal.”
As they entered the office, Hal headed straight to the security monitors. Madison was going to follow him when Rita stopped her.
“You have visitors, Sheriff. They’re waiting in your office.”
“Rita, I don’t have time to talk to anyone right now.”
Rita put her hand on Madison’s arm.
“It’s Andie’s family, Sheriff.”
Shit. She had forgotten about Andie’s parents. She should have gone over to see them first thing this morning, but she had forgotten in all the chaos.
Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she stepped into her office.
Andie’s mother, Ivy, was crying into a tissue while Andie’s father, Ralph, patted her on the back. When she came on, he didn’t stand.
“Mr. and Mrs. Turner, I’m so sorry for your lost.”
“We came to see what was being done about our Andie.”
Madison nodded and sat down behind her desk. She took out her notebook.
“I can’t share many details with you at this time, but we do have a lead.”
“And another body, I heard.”
Ralph’s eyes were cold as he glared at her. She knew she had screwed this up, but she was going to make it up to them.
“Yes. I can tell you that we have a description of a person of interest.”
“You took someone into custody last night. That seems like more than a person of interest.”
Madison cursed to herself. One of the deputies must have told them about the boy.
“We did bring someone in, but the evidence doesn’t point to him as the killer. He’s more of a material witness.”
“A material witness just happened to be sitting by the body of my daughter.”
“Yes. That’s where I found him, but we don’t know his connection to the case yet.”
“Connection? He had to have done it. Did you arrest him? Where is he now?”
Ralph was getting angrier by the second.
“That’s not pertinent right now.”
Ralph stood and slammed his hands on the desk.
“Pertinent? I’ll tell you what’s pertinent. You had the person who killed my office in custody and you let him go! That’s what’s pertinent. And now there’s another body! Maybe, there wouldn’t be another body if you’d locked him up when you had him.”
Ralph turned tword his wife. “Come on, Ivy. Let’s go.”
Ralph put his arm around his wife and helped her up.
Ralph turned around as he left her office.
“Andie always spoke highly of you. Said how impressed she was with the way you did things. I have to say, Sheriff, I am not impressed. Jim Kelly is a friend of mine and he’ll be hearing from me.”
As the Turners left, Madison slumped into her chair. She had fucked this up good. Jim Kelly was head of the City Council and one of the most vocal opponents to her getting the job as Sheriff. He had been outvoted by the rest of the council members when she received her appointment to the position.
Hal slipped into her office.
“You forgot to go talk to the Turners?” His voice was low with disbelief and disappointment.
“Just another one of my fuck-ups.”
“Madison, don’t talk like that.”
“It’s true, Hal. First, I miss Andie’s killer by minutes and then the Turners. Did you know I was probably the last person to see Mandy last night?”
Hal sat down in the chair that Mrs. Turner had just vacated.
“She was waiting for me and the boy in front of the Sheriff’s office last night. We talked and then I drove off. I didn’t even wait to see if she got to her car safely.”
“All I had to do was wait a few moments to make sure…”
“Sheriff,” Hal’s voice cut through his tirade.
She stopped and looked at her partner.
“What happened to her car?”
Madison blinked. She hadn’t thought about her car.
“Is it parked out front?”
Hal shook his head. “The visitor’s spots are empty. There are only Sheriff department vehicles out there now. Did you see her car?”
“No, I wasn’t paying attention. I know there was a car parked out front, but I didn’t even look at it.”
Madison turned to her computer and searched for Mandy’s DMV records.
“She drove a silver Honda Accord. License plate 223-XVN”
Hal wrote down the plate and make of the car in his notebook and headed out to Rita’s desk.
Madison took down Mandy’s home address. She would need to notify Mandy’s family about her death. She wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.
Hal came back into her office as she stood up and grabbed her keys.
“All available deputies are looking for her car. Where are you going?”
“I’m going to talk to Mandy’s family. She lives—lived—in Grand Junction.”
“I’ll come with you.”
She knew that Hal was needed here, but she let him come with her.