Sins of the Father: Chapter 10

silhouette3When Madison and Hal returned to the Sheriff’s Office, Hal headed back to the security camera monitors to continue looking for Mandy’s attacker. With any luck, they would get a clear picture of the perp and be able to get the information to the community. She wanted to catch him before he committed another murder. Again, she wondered why he was hanging around. And why kill Mandy? It didn’t make any sense.

She went to the conference room and began adding notes to the white board. She added Mandy’s information to the board along with a timeline. The killer had killed Andie between 4:45 and 5:30. He had killed Mandy after ten. Two killings within five hours of each other. They had to be connected. She just had to find the key. She kept returning again and again to the boy. He was the key. She was sure of it. If only they could get him to talk.

Her cell rang. Drake was calling. She hoped nothing was wrong as she answered it.

“Is everything okay?” she asked.

“Hello to you, too,” Drake said. He sounded surprisingly upbeat after everything that had happened. “Yes. Everything is fine. I found out his name.”

“What?” Madison was stunned. Drake had only been with the boy for a few hours.

“His name is Elijah,” Drake said.

Madison wrote down Elijah’s name on the whiteboard. “What’s his last name?”

She started to get excited. Now, they would be able to find out who this kid was and how he was connected to everything.

“Hold on,” Drake said. “One step at a time. I got him to say his name, but that’s all he’ll say. I don’t think we should pressure him. We need to let him get comfortable with us.”

“He’s the only lead I’ve got to solve two murders, Drake. I can’t afford to wait until he feels comfortable. He’s got to talk to us now.”

“Two murders?” Drake went silent.

“We found another body this morning.” She paused. She didn’t want to tell him where the body was found. He already worried enough about her safety when she was on the job, even though they had moved to a small town to get away from the high crime-rate in Denver. The fact that the body was found across the street and that Mandy had been killed minutes after she had left the scene would not sit well with them.

“Madison? What body?”

“The person from Child Protective Services who was assigned the boy’s…Elijah’s case. She was killed last night after we left the station.”

She heard a door slam in the phone. Drake must have moved somewhere in the house and closed the door. His voice was shaking.

“Was it the same person who killed Andie?”

“We don’t know for sure. We think so.”

“He’s after you.”

“We don’t know that for sure. We think the two murders are connected. We just don’t know how.”

“Elijah. It’s Elijah.”

“That’s what we think.”

She could hear Drake take a deep breath on the other end.

“We’re going to have to be careful.”

“Yes. You see why we need to talk to him.”

“Yeah, okay, but I’m not bringing him into the station. He’s not ready for that.”

“I’ll come home.”

Hal was sitting in front of the computer screen reviewing the footage from the security camera.

“Hal, I’m going home. I think the boy is ready to talk.”

Hal turned. “Do you want me to go with you?”

Madison shook her head. “You keep scanning the security footage. Drake only got the boy to say his name. It’s Elijah. I’m going to go home and talk to him and see if I can get anywhere. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Hal turned back to the screen and Madison headed home.

Elijah and Drake were sitting on the couch in the living room. She could hear the sounds of race cars. Elijah looked a lot better. He was wearing new jeans and a new read hoodie. She thought that Drake must have trimmed his hair.

Elijah was smiling as his thumbs manipulated the controls of the small video game he held in his hands. Drake was also staring intently at another small video game.

“Hey! You cut me off!” Drake yelled.

Elijah giggled. He seemed like a different boy. His face was alight and he had lost that hunted look in his eyes. She hated to end their peaceful time together, but she needed answers.

“It looks like you two are having fun,” she said as she sat on the easy chair across from the couch.

Elijah’s smile died as he powered off his game, put it aside, and shoved his fists into his pocket. Drake powered off his game as well.

He smiled at Madison. “Are you home for lunch? Elijah and I haven’t eaten yet.”

“No,” Madison said, “I need to talk to Elijah.”

Drake’s smile also died as he looked from Madison to Elijah.

“I thought we talked about that.”

“We did, Drake, but I need to know some things that only Elijah can tell me.”

Madison looked at Elijah, but Elijah wouldn’t look at her. She took out her notebook.

“It’s really good that you told Drake your first name, but I need to know your last name, too. We need to see if we can find your parents or your family.”

Elijah’s head snapped up. His eyes had that fearful hunted look, and he shook his head violently.

“You don’t want us to find your family?”

He shook his head again.

“Will you tell me your last name?”

Elijah again shook his head.

“Elijah, I need to know some things. You need to help me. Look at me.”

Elijah looked at her, but in addition to the fear was anger. He leaped off the couch and ran into his room, slamming the door behind him. Drake was also angry at her.

She looked at him. “What am I supposed to do, Drake? I can’t sit back and wait for answers I have to find them now.”

“Maybe, you should haul him back to the station. You could beat him with a rubber hose until he talks.”

“That’s not fair, Drake. I’m trying to solve a case here. We have to find out what Elijah knows before there are any more murders.”

“You don’t even know if he really knows anything. I told you, you need to wait until he feels more comfortable. My God! Did you even see him? He was laughing and smiling. You couldn’t let him be for one day?”

“Drake, my case..”

Drake cut her off. “Yeah, it’s always about the case. You couldn’t call because of the case. You were late because of the case. You can’t talk to me because of the case. You can’t always put life on hold for your cases.”

Drake stomped into his room and slammed the door. Madison sighed, shoved her notebook back into her pocket, and left the house. She might as well head back to work. Maybe, she and Hal could begin canvassing the businesses on Main Street. If she were going to solve this case, she would need to do it with the information she could find herself.

As she drove back to the office, a call came through on her cell. Switching it to the Bluetooth in the SUV, she picked up.

“Sheriff Rhodes speaking.”

“I found the attack on the video surveillance.”

“Hal? Can you see the perpetrator?”

“Yeah. He’s wearing a hoodie, so you can’t see his face, but he fits the description Guthrie gave me.”

“Okay, that’s a start.”

“Also, about an hour after he pulled the vic off the street, he came back into the view of the camera and got into a silver car. I’m assuming that’s the car that belongs to the vic.”

Now, they knew who they were looking for and what he was driving. “Put a bolo out and attach a picture of the subject.”

“Already done, boss. Where do we go from here?”

“I’m just a few minutes away from town. Meet me on Main Street and lets canvas the businesses to see if anyone saw anything.”

“Will do, Steward out.”

Hal always ended his calls like he was on a radio. Probably, a leftover from his military days. She ended the call and headed toward Main Street. She found a spot across from Guthrie’s cafe and pulled in. Hal pulled in a few spots down and met her on the sidewalk. He had some papers in his hand.

Showing her the papers, he said, “I brought a still from the video. I thought it might help.”

Madison smiled at Hal. “Thanks, Hal. I can always count on you.”

“You know it, Sheriff. Should we work on this together or should we split up?”

“Let’s split up and meet at the end of the street. We can head back to the office and compare notes.”

Handing her a copy of the picture, Hal headed into the department store. Since Hal had already talked to Guthrie, Madison began with the next business next to his, Jackson’s Hardware Store. No Ace Hardware or Home Depot on Main Street. All the businesses along Main Street were locally owned. People who wanted to go to the big name stores had to head into Grand Junction.

Frank Andrews, the owner of the store, was behind the counter. He was just finishing checking out a customer, Mrs. Jenkins. She was buying fertilizer for her prize-winning roses. She lived about a half-mile down from Madison’s house.

“Hello, Sheriff Rhodes,” Mrs. Jenkins said. Her eyes were red-rimmed. She had known Andie and her parents as well.

“Hello, Mrs. Jenkins. How are you?”

“As well as can be expected. I’m better than some.”

Madison nodded. Mrs. Jenkins was good friends with the Turners. She seemed a little angry with Madison. Probably, half the town had heard about her mistake with the Turners. She couldn’t worry about that right now. The best thing she could do was to catch the killer and put him away.

“You have a good day, Mrs. Jenkins,” Madison nodded her head at her neighbor and stepped around her.

“Hello, Mr. Andrews. Can I speak with you for a moment?”

After speaking with Mr. Andrews for a few minutes, Madison quickly surmised that he hadn’t seen anything last night. His store closed at five, and he didn’t have any outside displays on the sidewalk yesterday. When Andie was killed, he was back in his office finalizing the day’s receipts.

“You didn’t hear anything?”

Mr. Andrews shook his head. “No, I’m sorry I didn’t. I can’t believe I was back here when that was happening right next door. I wish I had heard something. You can believe me. I would have gone running over there.”

Madison nodded. Frank Andrews was not a large man. She doubted he could have taken on Andie’s assailant, but maybe he could have scared him off. She showed him the picture of from the video, but he didn’t remember seeing anyone like that around.

“I’m sorry, Sheriff. I just didn’t notice anything out of order last night.”

“That’s okay. Call me if you think of anything.”

“I will, Sheriff. You can be sure that I’ll keep my eye out now.”

Madison left the hardware store. The crime scene tape was still blocking off the sidewalk in front of Andie’s store. Madison walked around the tape and went into the store next to Andie’s. Alice’s Bookstore. When she walked in a small bell tinkled, Alice emerged from one of the book shelves towards the back of the store.

Alice was one of Drake’s clients. He had helped her set up a digital inventory for her store and secure her computers.

“Hi, Madison. That’s just horrible about Andie, and then you found another victim this morning?”

Madison nodded.

“I always thought Fruita was such a safe place. I’m really jumpy today I can tell you. And to think I was in here last night.”

“That’s why I cam in here. I wanted to see if you saw or heard anything yesterday between 4:30 and 5:30.”

Alice nodded. “I didn’t hear anything, but I saw a couple of strangers on the sidewalk at about a quarter to five.”

Madison pulled out her notebook and began taking notes.

“What did you see, Alice?”

“I was rearranging my window display. I looked out the window and saw a huge man with a boy walking next to him.”
“Did you know them?”
“No, I’ve never seen them before. I felt kind of sorry for the little boy. He looked at me as he walked by. I smiled at him but he seemed almost afraid. I could tell he hadn’t had a good meal in a long time. He looked so skinny and his face had that pinched look that kids get when they haven’t been fed.”
Madison nodded and continued to write quickly.

“Can you describe the man?”

“He was tall. About as big as Hal and he was muscley, kind of like Hal.”

“Did you see his face?”

“No. I wish I had, but he had one of those hooded sweatshirts on and the hood was pulled over his head. I couldn’t see his face. The boy had his hood on, too. The only reason I saw the boy’s face was that he looked right at me.”

Madison pulled the picture out of her pocket and showed it to Alice. “Is this the man you saw?”

Alice frowned as she looked at the picture. “It’s hard to be sure, but he reminds me of the man I saw and the hoodie looks similar.”

It wouldn’t hold up in court, but, for Madison, it confirmed that the same man had killed both Andie and Mandy. Now, they just had to find enough evidence to prove it.

“You said there was a boy with him, and that you saw his face.”

“Yes, like I said, he looked right at me.”

“Can you describe him?”

“He looked to be about 11 or 12, but he was real scrawny like he hadn’t been eating too good. He had dark eyes. I remember that.”

“What about his hair?”

Alice shook her head. “His hood was up so I couldn’t see his hair. I don’t really remember anything else about him. His hoodie was kind of dark and I think he was wearing jeans.”

If Alice was right about what she saw, then Elijah had been travelling with the murderer. She thought he was just a witness, but it appeared that he was something more. He definitely knew the killer, but was he travelling with him voluntarily? Why had the killer left him at the scene? Was he involved in Andie’s murder somehow?

She had a little more information, but with each bit of information, she came up with more questions. She left the bookstore and continued down the street. No one else on her side of the street reported seeing the man and the boy. She hoped that Hal had had more luck.

When she left the last store, she crossed the street and met Hal coming out of the pub, the last business on that side of the block.

“Any luck?” he asked her.

She told him what Alice had seen. Two men who had been out smoking a cigarette in front of the pub had also seen the man and the boy, but they had gone back inside the pub and hadn’t seen the man with Andie.

“Do you still think that boy is innocent?” Hal asked her quietly. His blue eyes piercing her.

“I don’t know, Hal. You heard the coroner. Someone with large hands killed Andie.”

“But we know that the boy was travelling with the perp.”

“I know, Hal. The boy knows who the killer is.”

“He still won’t talk?”

Madison sighed. “No. He feels comfortable with Drake, but as soon as I come into the picture, he shuts down. I can’t get anything out of him.”

They began walking up the street, back to their vehicles. Hal walked Madison to her SUV and then began crossing the street.

“Where are you going?” she called to Hal.

“I’m going to talk to Guthrie again. I want a list of the people who were in his cafe last night. I’ll meet you back at the station.”

Madison waved and climbed back into her SUV. Her stomach rumbled and she realized she hadn’t eaten much since last night. She should have told Hal to pick up some food while he was over there.

Back at the station, she added the information she had collected to the whiteboard. She also taped the picture Hal had given her to the whiteboard. As she finished organizing the information, her mouth began to water as she caught the aroma of a succulent cheeseburger. Hal walked into the conference room carrying a large take-out bag from Guthrie’s.

“I forgot to eat today. How about you?”

She sat down next to him as he began to unpack the food. He handed her a large drink and a cheeseburger. She moaned a little as she bit down into the juicy hamburger. She often forgot to eat during a case and then, suddenly, she would be ravenous. After eating a few mouthfuls, she said, “Thanks, Hal. I was wishing that I had asked you to bring back something from Guthrie.”

Hal smiled. “It’s that psychic connection we have.”

“I guess so,” Madison said and took a sip of her coke.

They ate in silence for a few minutes. They had both sat down with their backs to the board. Sometimes, it was easier to focus on your own needs when you weren’t staring at the case constantly. Hal took a drink from his soda and wiped his mouth.

“I was thinking,” he said, “What if you took that boy…”

“Elijah,” she interrupted.

“Okay, Elijah. What if you took him to see a doctor?”

“A doctor?”

“Yeah, like a shrink or something. Maybe, someone who was trained to deal with troubled children could get him to talk.”

“I hadn’t thought about that, Hal. That might work.”

She hadn’t thought about Elijah except as he fit into the case. She hadn’t really thought about what he might need to help him talk. He probably needed to see a medical doctor as well. Mandy had said something about that right before Madison had left the station last night. After she and Hal finished eating, they updated the board with the rest of the information. None of the deputies had reported in with any sightings.

“I don’t think there is anything else we can do here, Hal,” Madison said when they were finished. It was after 6:30 and it was beginning to get dark.

“Why don’t you go home and get some rest, Sheriff?”

“I could ask you the same thing, Hal.”

“I will, but I don’t have a family like you do. I’m going to hang out for a while longer and then I’ll head home.”

“All right, Hal. You need to get some rest, too.”

Sins of the Father: Chapter 9

silhouette3Elijah looked at the red rectangular game Drake had handed to him. He wasn’t sure he could do this, but he had to try. Along with clothes and underwear and other personal stuff, Drake had bought him a video game. Drake had bought one for himself, too, plus several games for each system.

“Have you ever played a video game, Buddy?”

Frowning, Elijah shook his head. He wanted Drake to quit calling him Buddy. He had a name. Buddy was the name you’d give a dog or, maybe, a horse. He wanted to tell Drake his real name, but his father had trained him to stay silent in front of strangers. He’d gotten so good at staying quiet that he even quit talking to his father. His father talked and he listened. It was just easier that way. He never knew if a mistimed question or remark would set his father off, so he learned to stay quiet. It was a hard habit to break.

He looked around the living room. It was quiet and peaceful with pale yellow walls and furniture. Blue and yellow throw pillows dotted the couch and the arm chair by the fireplace. He felt safe here. He cleared his throat. Drake was opening one of the video games, but paused when he heard Elijah clear his throat. He looked at Elijah expectantly.

Elijah cleared his throat again. He hadn’t spoken in so long he couldn’t find his voice. He decided to whisper.

“My name…”

Drake leaned closer.

“I’m listening, Buddy.”

Elijah took a deep breath.

“My name is…is…Elijah.”

Drake smiled. “Elijah? Your name is Elijah?”

Elijah nodded.

“Good job, Bu…Elijah. I’m sorry I was calling you Buddy. I could have called you Honey or Sweetie, instead, but I thought Buddy would be a good nickname.”

Elijah looked at Drake’s smiling face and realized that Drake was teasing him. For the first time in a long time, Elijah smiled.

He drove the lady’s Honda into the hills outside of Fruita. The county was rocky and desolate, but he needed to get away from the town and think. He needed a place to hide, preferably a place with food and water, so he could hunker down and come up with a plan. The woman had finally told him what he had needed to know before she died. He admired her. She had held out a long time before she gave in to the fear and pain. Most women would have cracked long before she did, but she was a woman after all. She had finally submitted to him.

If he could trust her, the man found out that the boy was staying with the Sheriff. He was relieved to hear that. He didn’t want his boy locked up behind bars, but he wasn’t too pleased to have him live with the Sheriff, either. Why hadn’t they sent him to some foster home or a group home? He could get the boy away from people like that. Most foster parents didn’t give a damn about the children they took in. They just wanted the money. They would leave the boy alone eventually or let him outside unsupervised and he could’ve taken him. Not the Sheriff, though. She was going to keep her eye on the boy. She wasn’t trying to help him. She just wanted him to tell her what he knew. He knew his boy, though. His boy would never talk to the likes of her. He had trained him too well. He would remember his lessons and stay silent.

He came to a gravel road. It looked like someone maintained it. Maybe, there was a cabin he could break into. He turned down the road. The road was lined with evergreen trees and grassy fields stretched to either side of the rode. He could see the outcroppings of red rock behind the property. The road ended in the front yard of a small cabin. A pick-up truck was parked in front of the cabin and the front door was open. Someone was home, but he could deal with that. This was his lucky day. A shelter with running water and food. He would be all right now. After parking the silver car to the side of the cabin, he grabbed a tire iron out of the trunk. Silently, he stepped into the front door of his new cabin.

Sins of the Father: Chapter 8

silhouette3After speaking with Mandy’s husband, Madison and Hal stopped at the Coroner’s office. Dr. Schultes had called and left a message that she was starting the autopsy on Andie’s body. The coroner’s office was a large brick building at 12th and Walnut in Grand Junction. Surrounded by trees just beginning to show their spring leaves, the red brick of the building shining in the sun might have been inviting if you didn’t know what lay behind the doors. As a former Marine, Hal had seen death. As a homicide detective in Denver, Madison had attended many autopsies. But she had never seen the autopsy for someone she knew.

Neither she nor Hal spoke as they headed down a long hallway with glossy white floors. They entered the autopsy room. The room was a pale gray with metal sinks along one wall and a wall of metal coolers along the other. The floor was white tile. Andie’s body was on a metal table. Dr. Schultes was examining the marks on Andie’s neck. She turned when Hal and Madison came into the room.

“I didn’t know if you would make it, Sheriff.” Dr. Schultes said, nodding to Hal.

“We were already in Grand Junction when you called. Have you found anything yet?”

“Yes. I have. Your victim scratched her attacker. I found blood and skin cells under her finger nails. I’ll send the samples for DNA analysis.”

Madison couldn’t believe it. If the perp were in the Codis database, they could identify him and get him off the streets. She wondered if Mandy had also been able to scratch him.

Andie began talking into a recorder. Hal and Madison remained silent as she worked. She began with a Y-incision on Andie’s chest and abdomen. After examining her internal organs and weighing them, she moved to Andie’s neck.

“The hyoid bone is fractured. This indicates strangulation. The preliminary cause of death is homicide.”

Dr. Schultes stopped the recorder and turned to Madison and Hal.

“I will be a while longer, but this is looking like a homicide.”

Madison asked, “Can you tell anything about the perpetrator?”

“Judging by the marks on her throat, I would say he used his hands, like so.”

Dr. Schultes held her hand up with her thumbs toward her and her fingers away.

“His thumbs would have been pressing against her larynx and her hyoid bone. His fingers were wrapped around her throat. There is bruising at her throat and at the base of her skull. Whoever did this was very strong and his hands were large enough to wrap completely around her neck.”

Madison nodded. That confirmed what Guthrie had seen and fit with the evidence they had so far.

“How long will it take you to finish up?” Madison asked.

Dr. Schultes, “I’ll have my formal report finished by tomorrow. The lab reports will take several weeks.”

“What about the other body?”

As Dr. Schultes turned and picked up a saw, she replied, “I’ll start work on that right after I finish this one.”

Madison and Hal left the room as the saw began to buzz. Dr. Schultes was beginning to  remove Andie’s brain, but Madison and Hal had what they needed.

“We need to get everyone looking for that silver Honda,” Hal said. Madison nodded as she climbed into the SUV.

“We also need to go through the security footage. We must have the second attack on the camera,” Madison replied.

They were silent as they drove back to Fruita. Hal was driving so Madison let her mind wander as she watched the scenery. She couldn’t figure out why Mandy had been killed. What was the motive? Were the two murders connected. She pulled her little notebook out of her pocket and looked at the pages. As she looked at her scribbled notes, she realized there were two connections between the two murders. The boy and her. She was on her way to meet Andie when Andie was killed, and she had spoken to Mandy right before she was attacked. The other connection was the boy. She had found him at the first murder scene, and Mandy had interacted with him right before her attack. They would have to explore both connections.

Was Madison really the target? She had put away a lot of people when she worked in the Major Crimes unit in Denver. Could one of them be after her? It seemed far-fetched, but it was the only theory she could think of. The other connection was the boy, but she didn’t know what that connection could be. She was sure he hadn’t committed the first murder, and he was with her and Drake when Mandy was murdered. But he knew who had killed Andie, even though he refused to talk about it. Was someone after the boy, because he had seen him kill Andie? Maybe, the boy was looking for a place to stay during the night and walked down the alley. He may have seen the killer moving the body into the back room, or maybe he saw him coming out the back door. But what was the boy doing here? It was a small town and the boy was a stranger. Could a boy that young hike to Fruita from another town? He might be a runaway. She jotted that down in the notebook. They could check the database for missing children and see if he fit any of the descriptions. If they could find his parents, maybe he would be willing to finally talk to them.

Right now, she had more questions than answers. As she and Hal drove into the outskirts of town, she let Hal in on her thoughts.

Hal shook his head at her first theory.

“I don’t know, Madison. That seems pretty far-fetched. If one of your old perps turned up here, how would they know where you were going last night? And I don’t think they’re going to hand out in front of the Sheriff’s Department waiting to kill someone you talked to. They would just kill you.”

“Probably, Hal. Then there’s the boy.”

Hal nodded. “I think the most likely connection is the boy. Like you said, he witnessed a crime when he was in the alley or walking in front of the store, but I still don’t get why the person would kill Mandy. Just because she talked to the boy in front of the department? It still doesn’t make sense. If I’d committed a murder, I’d get out of town, especially a town as small as this one. People are going to be on the look-out for strangers and they’re going to notice him eventually.”

“That’s what I’m counting on, Hal.”

Sins of the Father: Chapter 7

silhouette3Madison 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.”

Hal nodded.

“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.”

Ralph nodded.

“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.

She nodded.

“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.

“What?”

“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.”

“Her car?”

“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.

“Her car.”

“What, Hal?”

“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.”

Hal nodded.

“I’ll come with you.”

She knew that Hal was needed here, but she let him come with her.

Sins of the Father: Chapter 6

silhouette3Elijah couldn’t believe all the food the Sheriff and her husband had served for dinner. They sat at a round, shiny wooden table in the kitchen and used napkins and everything. He didn’t want to take his hands out of his pockets but the food was too tempting. As he ate, he found himself forgetting about his hands. They ate in silence except for Drake, who kept offering him cheese or sour cream. He noticed that Madison and Drake both picked at their chili. He guessed that they were upset over what his father had done. He wished he could help the sheriff, but he didn’t see what he could do. He didn’t want to be with his father anymore, but that didn’t mean he was going to help the sheriff catch him. His father said he would die before he let any police near him and that he would take any police with him if they tried to capture him. He didn’t want anything to happen to the sheriff even though he felt bad about what his father had done.

As they were finishing dinner, Drake said, “Madison, why don’t you go take a shower? Buddy and I will clean up.”

Elijah didn’t know how he felt about being called Buddy. It sounded like a name you would give a puppy. He wished he could tell them his real name, but he hadn’t spoken in so long he thought he had probably forgotten. He helped Drake carry the dishes to the sink. He was careful to hold the dishes carefully between his fists so he didn’t drop them. Drake seemed nice, but you never knew what might set him off. One time, he had pissed his father off and his father had put him to sleep. When he woke up…he glanced down at his fists. He never knew what he had done wrong, but he was always careful to do what his father said after that.

His father didn’t like it if he talked or asked too many questions, so he learned to stay silent. It was easier that way. You couldn’t gave anything away if you didn’t talk. No one knew what you thought or how you felt. You could stay safe in your own head. That was how Elijah liked it. Even his father couldn’t always tell what he was thinking even though he could always find him when he took off.

This time he had outsmarted his father. His father would never, in a million years, imagine where he was now. His father had taught him to avoid police at all costs and here he was, staying with one.

Drake finished putting the dishes in the dishwasher and finished cleaning the table and the counters.

“You want to see the rest of the house?”

Elijah nodded. He’d never been in a real house before. He used to live in an apartment a long time ago but that time had grown fuzzy in his mind. He remembered his mother living there, too, but his mind always skittered to a stop when he tried to remember to much about that time. It was like his father said, “Some things were better left in the past. Just forget it.”

He followed Drake into the living room. A giant TV was mounted to the wall. Drake turned on a black box on top of a brown chest under the TV. A jumping figure appeared on the screen.

“Do you like video games?”

Elijah shrugged. He’d never played a video game. He had seen one in a store once with his father, but they were always on the move. They could barely afford food. His father never would have bought him a video game. Drake made the figure jump around. Elijah had to admit it looked kind of fun.

Drake showed him his office. It was behind some doors with glass in them. Drake had a large desk with several screens on his desk. He had seen computers in the store too, but he didn’t know people owned more than one.

“This is where I work. I’m a cybersecurity consultant. I help companies make sure that no one can get into their computer systems.”

Elijah nodded. Drake showed him the diningroom and then they walked down the hall.

“This is your room.”

Drake turned on the light switch. A large double bed was covered with a bright quilt. A blue chair stood in the corner with a yellow blanket draped over it. It was a nice room.

“You can decorate it if you want.”

Drake went to another door.

“You have your own bathroom, too.”

Elijah could see a blue and white bathroom. His own bathroom?

“I’m going to go get you some soap and shampoo and find you something to wear to bed.”

Drake left the room. Elijah looked around. The dresser was shiny wood just like the kitchen table. There was a bouquet of dried blue flowers in a yellow basket on the dresser. He liked this room. It was cheerful and he suddenly felt safe.

Drake returned with soap and shampoo and some clothes.

“We’ll take you shopping tomorrow and get you your own things. This will do for now. Do you need any help?”

Elijah shook his head.

“I’ll come back to tuck you in when you’re out of the shower.”

And he was alone. He was getting tired. He wasn’t used to interacting with people he didn’t know. It was a little tiring. He got undressed and left his dirty clothes on the floor. He didn’t want to get anything in this fancy room dirty. He made the shower nice and warm and stepped in. He didn’t get to shower very often. He didn’t like being dirty, but it was hard to stay clean on the road. He and his father washed up when they could, but it had been a while since they had been able to find a place to wash up. When he got out of the shower and dried off, he slipped into the t-shirt and gym shorts Drake had left. Luckily, the gym shorts had drawstrings or they would never stay up. He tied the drawstring as tight as he could and then sat on the edge of the bed.

Someone knocked, but he couldn’t answer. They waited a minute and then said, “We’re coming in.”

Madison was with Drake.

“Ready for bed?” Madison asked. He nodded.

“Drake,” Madison called.

Drake came into the room.

“He needs a comb for his hair.”

Elijah shook his head a little. His hair had gotten matted in the shower.

Drake gave Madison a comb and she combed his hair. As she bent near him, he inhaled her scent. She smelled clean with a hint of flowers. Unbidden, a memory of his mother flashed in his mind. As Madison gently pulled the comb through his tangled hair, he closed his eyes. His mom used to comb his hair like this, only she would hum a little song. Sometimes, she would trim his hair so it wouldn’t get too shaggy. She hated it when his hair got too long like it was now. A lump formed in his throat, but he didn’t give in to his tears. That would be weak, and he wasn’t weak. His father had taught him to be strong, to push traitorous emotions away. Suddenly, he sat up and snatched the comb away from Madison. She wasn’t his mother. She had no right to comb his hair. He dragged the comb through his hair regardless of the snarls that pulled his scalp. He threw the comb down and buried himself under the covers of the bed. He knew what she was doing. She was trying to get him to like her so he would help her find his father, but it wasn’t going to work. He turned his back on Drake and Madison and pulled the blanket above his head.

The light went out and he heard Drake whisper, “Good night, Buddy.”

Sins of the Father: Chapter 5

silhouette3The silence in the car was smothering but Madison didn’t know what to say. How do you make small talk with a boy who had been sitting by a corpse just a few hours earlier? Besides, he probably wouldn’t answer her anyway. He was good at staying quiet.  She stole a look at him out of the corner of her eye. His head was nodding as he struggled to keep his eyes open. His hands were still shoved in the pockets of his hoodie. She wondered about his hands. How had that happened? Was he born that way? When she cuffed him, she could see that he had all his fingers, but they seemed to be permanently curled into fists.

Mandy had said that Madison and Drake would need to take him to the doctor as soon as possible. That would be interesting. She didn’t know anything about him. She didn’t know his name or how old he was. What was she supposed to tell the doctor? She hoped that as he got to know her and Drake, he would trust them enough to at least tell them his name. What was she supposed to call him? Boy? That seemed heartless, but she calling him a pet name, like honey or sweetheart didn’t feel right either.

She cleared her throat. As she adjusted the heat, she asked, “Are you warm enough?”

The boy started a little and then nodded.

“I can turn the heat up if you want.”

The boy shook his head no.

“We’re almost there. We only live a few minutes out of town.”

The boy nodded, but still didn’t speak. He continued to stare out of the window, and, soon, his eyelids began to drop again. She wondered when the last time was that he had gotten a good sleep, or meal for that matter. He had wolfed down the sandwich and chips Mandy had brought him like he hadn’t eaten in a long time. She wondered what to do when she got him home. Should she offer him more food? He desperately needed a bath. She could smell him from the driver’s seat and the heat wasn’t helping matters, but she was used to strong odors. As a former homicide detective, she had dealt with a many gruesome death scenes and their accompanying odors. At least, body odor meant someone was alive.

By the time, she pulled into their driveway his head had fallen against the window and he was asleep. She drove down the tree-lined drive until she reached the two-car garage. The garage door was open and she could see Drake silhouetted against the light from the kitchen as he stood in the door leading from the garage into the house. She pulled slowly into the garage next to Drake’s Jeep. The garage light came on as she pressed the button on the garage door opener. Gently, she shook the boy’s shoulder.

He jumped up with a cry. His voice was hoarse as if he didn’t use it very often. At least, she knew he had a voice.

“It’s okay. We’re home.”

The boy shook his eyes and looked out the window. Drake was approaching the passenger side door and the boy frowned at him.

“That’s Drake. He’s my husband.”

Drake opened the door.

“Hey, buddy. My name is Drake.”

Drake had a way with people, including kids. With his large blue eyes and curly brown hair, he oozed charm. There weren’t many people he couldn’t make like him. Even Hal, who was even more anti-social than she was, liked to hang out with Drake. He had taken Drake hiking and mountain-biking several times. While she had been stymied over what to call the boy, Drake had naturally come up with a name that didn’t sound forced or insincere. She supposed “Buddy” was as good a name as any until they figured out what the boy’s real name was.

The boy slid a hand out of his pocket and clicked the seat belt off. He seemed to get along with his damaged hands. He had no trouble picking up the food he had been given at the office. Ignoring Drake’s hand, he slid out of the tall SUV and backed away from Drake. She saw him look back toward the closed garage door. Was he thinking of making a run for it? Already? She got out of the SUV and used the starter remote to lock the car and set the alarm.

She came around the SUV to stand beside Drake. She wanted to slide against Drake’s broad chest and let him hold her, but she felt awkward in front of the kid. The boy looked at her and Drake with solemn dark eyes. Drake slid his arm around her waist and she had to settle for a little side hug.

“I just made some chili. Are you two hungry?”

Even though she hadn’t eaten all day, Madison wasn’t hungry. When she worked homicides in Denver, she often forgot to eat. The boy’s pinched face and hollow eyes told her that he was probably still hungry.

“I’m starved. How about you…buddy?” She stumbled over the nickname but it wasn’t too bad.

The boy nodded.

Drake stepped away from Madison to show the boy the door.

“Let’s eat. The kitchen is through that door. We’ll eat after you two wash up.”

The boy climbed the steps leading up to the kitchen from the garage. He paused when he reached the doorway and stopped to look around the room. He seemed to be looking for danger as if he expected someone to jump out at him. Drake and Madison held back letting him take his time. Finally, he took a deep breath and stepped into the golden light of their kitchen. Madison and Drake followed him into the house.

Madison showed the boy the guest bathroom just around the corner from the kitchen.

Turning the light on for him, she said, “You can wash up in here.”

He turned and looked at her.

“We’ll be in the kitchen.”

The boy went into the bathroom and closed the door.

Madison returned to the kitchen and washed her own hands in the kitchen sink. She was looking forward to  a warm shower. When she was working a case, she often felt as if she couldn’t get clean, as if the dirt from the crime scene clung to her. Drake came up behind her as she wiped her hands on the red-checked kitchen towel. She turned and leaned into him. Exhaling his spicy scent, she rested against him for a moment.

“I’m sorry, Madison,” Drake murmured against her hair. She nodded and took a shuddering breath. She wanted to cry into his shirt, but the boy would be back any second. She contented herself with the brief hug and then stepped away from Drake. His blue eyes looked blood-shot and his skin was stained with tears.

“We’ll talk after we take care of…”

“You don’t know his name?” Drake asked.

“No, he won’t talk. I think Buddy might work until we can get him to open up.”

Drake nodded.

They heard the bathroom door open, and then the boy stepped back into the kitchen.

“Hey, buddy? Are you hungry?”

The boy looked at Drake.

“Is it all right if I call you, buddy? I don’t know your name.”

The boy nodded his head.

Drake tried again. “Can you tell us your name?”

The boy shook his head and began to scowl.

“That’s fine,” said Madison, “We’ll just call you Buddy until you’re ready to tell us your name.”

The boy relaxed and stared at the table. The table looked warm and inviting with three red bowls heaped with chili. Large bowls of sour cream and tortilla chips were set in the middle of the table and Drake had completed the setting with large glasses of milk. Madison looked at the milk and then toward the fridge. She really wanted a beer, but she supposed it would look bad if she started drinking five minutes after she brought the boy home.

They sat down together and began to eat. The boy had no trouble scooping the cheese out of the bowl with a spoon. He looked at the chips with longing as he began to shovel chili into his mouth. Drake noticed and sprinkled some crushed chips on top of the boy’s chili.

“Do you want some sour cream?”

The boy made a face and continued to eat. Drake smiled.

“I didn’t like sour cream either when I was your age, but it’s the best on chili,” Drake said as he spooned sour cream onto his own chili.

Madison picked at her chili and ate as much as she could. She kept picturing Andie and smelling the odors of the crime scene. She swallowed a few bites of chili and washed it down with the cold milk. She saw the boy eyeing the milk with a frown. Drake noticed, too.

“Now, I’ll have to draw the line at the milk. Milk is good for you. Give it a try.”

The boy picked up the glass with both of his fists and took a sip. He smacked his lips a little and then downed half the glass.

Drake smiled at him. “I knew you would like it.”

Sins of the Father: Chapter 4

silhouette3Madison watched the boy eat his sandwich through the window of the interrogation room. Even though he couldn’t use his fingers, he seemed to manage with his thumbs. He had attacked the sandwich as soon as Mandy had given it to him. Madison wondered when was the last time he had had a full meal. As much as she wanted to hate him, she couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. His black hair was shaggy and he needed a shower badly. She wondered where he had come from and who took care of him. Why was he sitting by Andie’s body? She remembered the bruises around Andie’s neck. Andie was 5’8” and this boy was barely five feet. She didn’t think that he would have been able to strangle anyone so much taller than he was, nor could he have lifted the tub onto the counter. And his hands. He could only move his thumbs, and, while he seemed pretty dexterous with his thumbs, she didn’t think that he could wrap them around anyone’s neck.

She knew that he was the key to this, though. Or otherwise, why would he stay by the body? He had wanted to be found. She was sure of that. She stepped out into the hall. Mandy was using her office to find a placement for the boy. When she entered her office, Mandy was just ending her call.

“Any luck?” Madison asked.

Mandy shook her head.

“We don’t have very many foster homes in this area. They are all full right now. I’ll have to place him in a home nearer to Grand Junction.”

Madison didn’t want him that far away. She needed him close if she was going to gain his trust and get him to talk to her.

“Can you hold on a minute, Mandy? I have an idea.”

Mandy nodded as Madison left the office and headed to the interrogation room. She opened the door. The boy had finished his sandwich and was working on a small bag of chips. He had dumped them out onto the plate so he could grip them between his thumb and the side of his index finger. He stopped eating and looked at her. His eyes looked so old in his young face, as if he had witnessed countless tragedies.

She pulled a chair next to him and sat down.

“I need to know something, just between you and me.”

He raised his eyebrows.

“Are you the one who hurt my friend?”

He shook his head no.

“But you know who did.”

He nodded slightly.

“Did you see it?”

He shook his head no again.

“Why did you…?”

But the boy put his head down and shoved his fists into his frayed pockets. He was done communicating. His clothes were tattered and torn. She could see his big toe through a hole in his sneakers.

“I’ll be back in a minute. You won’t be here much longer.”

Madison returned to her office. Mandy was swiping her phone screen. She looked up as Madison entered the room.

“I’ll take him.”

Mandy gasped.

“What?”

“I said I’ll take him home with me. My husband, Drake, can take care of him while I’m at work.”

“I don’t know, Sheriff. The boy is a suspect in a crime. You can’t have 24-hour, unsupervised access to him.”

“I don’t think he’s a suspect. He may be a material witness, but I don’t think he’s physically capable of committing this crime.”

She had to be careful. She didn’t want to talk about crucial evidence with anyone outside of the department.

“So you’re not charging him?”

“No, but I want him somewhere close by, somewhere safe. Is there a problem with me and my husband fostering him?”

Mandy shook her head.

“I don’t think so. You’re the sheriff, after all. And this is an emergency. We can place him with you, but I’ll have to make some visits to make sure everything is up to standard.”

Madison nodded.

“That will be fine. I’ll call my husband.”

Drake’s phone rang for a long time, but he finally picked up.

“Hey, babe, what’s up? Are you having fun with Andie?”

She hadn’t had a chance to call him until now. A lump rose in her throat. If she were going to cry, it would be with Drake, but she couldn’t let herself cry here, at the office.

“Something’s happened, Drake.”

“What? Are you okay? Are you hurt?”

As the husband of a police officer, he sometimes had a hard time dealing with the risk involved in her job. If she didn’t check in with him, at least once during a shift, he tended to assume the worst. She had called him right before she had left the office, but she hadn’t had a chance to call him before now. Truth was she hadn’t even thought to call him. That was one of the problems that had led them to move. When she worked in Denver, in the homicide unit, she would get so involved with a case that she would forget to call him. By the time she did call him, he would be frantic with worry, wondering where she was and if she were safe.

“I’m fine. It’s Andie.”

“What? Did you two get in an accident?”

“No, Drake, Andie is dead.”

She heard him draw a breath and then he fell silent. After a few seconds, he asked, “What happened?”

She gave him the bare details of what had happened. She couldn’t risk divulging key information, but she told him enough to help him understand the situation.

“I don’t know, Madison. This is a pretty big responsibility. How do you know he’s not the one who did this.”

“He’s too small. Besides…” She paused not knowing how to explain the boy’s hands.

“What?”

“His hands are deformed.”

“Deformed?”

“Yeah, he can’t open his fingers and all he can move are his thumbs. The evidence at the scene indicates that the suspect was a large man, not a small boy.”

Drake sighed.

“All right. Bring him home.”

Elijah was stunned when the sheriff told him he was coming home with her. His face stayed, blank, though. He didn’t want her to know what he was feeling.

She asked him, “Is that all right if you come home with me?”

He nodded his head. He didn’t really have a choice, did he? He didn’t know where else he could go. If he didn’t go with her, would they lock him in a cell? Would they send him to one of those children’s homes his father had told him about? He didn’t know. Without his father around, the world had become uncertain. He didn’t know how to act or what to do.

“All right, then. Let’s go”

The sheriff got up and motioned for him to follow her out of the little room. He was glad to be moving at least. He had gotten tired of sitting in the little box of a room. He didn’t like the big mirror on the wall, having to stare at himself for hours. He shoved his fists into his pockets and followed her into the hallway. They met the big guy that had helped her cuff him at the flower shop. He didn’t like him. He had cold gray eyes that seemed to look through him. The deputy’s eyes reminded him of his father’s eyes. When the deputy looked at him, he looked down at the work brown carpet.

“Are you really going to do this, Madison?” he asked her. His voice was low and sounded mad.

“Hal, I have to. We already talked about this. You’ve seen the evidence. You know this boy couldn’t have done that to Andie.”

Elijah was surprised. She really didn’t think it was him? His father had told him over and over to avoid the police. He said they wouldn’t understand him and that they would blame him as well as his father for the things his father had done. He supposed he was as much to blame. He never tried to stop his father. He never tried to get help for any of the women his father had killed. He just hid and waited for his father to come get him when he was over.

“He’s a material witness and he needs to be somewhere I can keep an eye on him.”

“We have plenty of cells that are available.”

“We can’t hold him without charging him. You know that, Hal.”

Hal signed and rubbed his hand over his face. He looked tired like the Sheriff.

“I suppose you’re right. And you’re the boss.”

“Go home. Hal. You need to get some rest.”

“I’ll go home as soon as I get the evidence ready to send out for testing. I want to send it out first thing in the morning.”

The sheriff nodded.

“All right. I’ll see you in the morning.”

After the sheriff picked up a messenger bag from her office, she walked with Elijah out the front of the station. A large black SUV was parked in a spot right by the door. Mandy was waiting on the sidewalk. Elijah wanted to warn her about waiting outside in the dark. It was a dangerous thing for a woman to do. The shadows surrounded her and he knew that the shadows hid danger.

“Are you all set?” Mandy asked Elijah. He nodded and she gave him a quick hug. He stiffened. He wasn’t used to being hugged. She held out a business card. He pulled his hand out of his pocket and grabbed it between his thumb and the side of his hand, and thrust his hand back into his pocket.

“My number is on that card. You call me if you need anything, okay?”

He nodded.

“Okay, then. I’ll see you in a couple of days to make sure you’ve settled in.”

Mandy turned to the sheriff.

“I’ll call you to set up your first home visit.”

The sheriff nodded.

“Drake is always home. You can talk to him if you can’t get a hold of me.”

Elijah wondered who Drake was. The sheriff must be married. He hadn’t thought of having to deal with a man. He was tough, though. He could deal with anyone. His father had taught him that.

Mandy walked him and the sheriff to the SUV. She hovered over Elijah to see if he needed help, but he was used to taking care of himself. When he was buckled in, Mandy nodded at him and shut the door. She spoke to the sheriff for a few minutes more. Elijah looked at the radio mounted to the dash and the laptop stationed between the two large seats. There was a grill separating the front seat from the back seat in the SUV. He had sat in the backseat of the other SUV. He remembered how the other deputy, Hal, had kept turning and staring at him with those cold eyes. Now, he was sitting in the same seat the deputy had sat in. He turned and looked at the empty seat behind the grill. The sheriff finished her conversation with Mandy and came around the SUV to get into the driver’s seat.

She didn’t say anything to Elijah as she started the SUV and backed out of the space. Mandy stood in the beams of the head lights and waived at Elijah. Then, she turned and started to walk toward a silver car parked a few spaced down. Elijah lost sight of her as the sheriff put the vehicle into drive and headed down the street.

He stood in the shadows outside of the sheriff’s department. It had taken him a while to find it in the dark. He had to stay in the shadows and make sure no one saw him. A young woman came out of the building. Her brown hair shown in the street light, but he did not move. He was satisfied for now, and she was safe. She appeared to be waiting for someone. Maybe, she was a secretary or something and waiting for her husband or boyfriend to pick her up. She was pretty, he had to admit. She was petite, but he had found out first hand that women were too much trouble to deal with. They always wanted something from him, something for themselves. They were selfish. That was their nature. He didn’t have the patience to deal with them long-term. When he wanted a woman, he took one and spent no longer than he needed to satisfy his urge.

Was his boy somewhere in there? Probably in a police cell. Stupid police. They couldn’t see what was right in front of them. There was no way his scrawny boy could do what he could do, he had seen to that, but he figured they were in there celebrating how easy it was to solve this case. After all, the killer was waiting right in the shop with the body. His fists tightened. They better not hurt his boy. He would kill them all if they even touched them.

The woman continued to wait as she checked her watch from time to time. Whoever was coming must be late. She was easy pickings right there in the light. She couldn’t see him across the street in the shadows. The door to the station opened and the woman he had seen at the crime scene stepped out. The boy was following her. Two defenseless women and a boy. He could rush them and grab his boy, but the woman was a cop. She could be armed. He didn’t want the boy to get hurt. They stopped and talked to the other smaller woman. The woman cop was tall with long dark hair. The woman walked them to the SUV parked in the space marked for the sheriff. The small woman helped the boy get into the SUV and then she and the sheriff, apparently, stood talking for a few more minutes. He could hear their voices but not what they said. Then the sheriff got into her SUV and drove away. The woman began walking toward a silver car. She must know something. Maybe, she worked for the sheriff. Whoever she was, she had information that he needed. Now, he knew what he had to do.

Sins of the Father: Chapter 3

silhouette3The woman who called herself Mandy brought him a hot chocolate and a blanket. The deputy stood by the door and glared at him.      As Mandy wrapped the blanket around him, Elijah grasped the cup between his fists and let the warmth seep into his fingers. When they got cold, his fingers ached. Warmth made them feel better. Slowly, he brought the paper cup to his lips and drank. He could feel the warm liquid flow all the way to his stomach, but he still felt cold.

He tried not to look at the deputy. Brushing his hair out of his eyes, Mandy continued to fuss over him. He wondered if his mother were here, if she would act the same way. He had only hazy memories of his mother except for the last one. He blinked hard. He better not think about that. He had to stay strong. Never show weakness. His father had taught him that.

“Are you okay?” Mandy asked.

Elijah looked at Mandy. She looked tired. Maybe, she had had to work all day and now she was having to look after him. He nodded silently, and she smiled.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

Elijah shook his head. He didn’t talk, ever. He hadn’t talked since that night.

“You don’t want to tell me your name?” Mandy said, a little frown creasing her forehead.

Elijah didn’t want to disappoint her. She was so nice, but he shook his head again.

“Okay, but the sheriff is going to want to know your name. She is going to ask you some questions. It’s important that you answer them.”

Elijah shook his head again.

Mandy placed her hand on his arm. He flinched a little. He wasn’t used to being touched. Sometime his father would grab his hoodie, but he never really touched him.

“Do the best you can, okay? No one is going to hurt you.”

The door to the little room opened. The woman who had pointed her gun at him stepped into the room. Mandy stood and introduced herself.

“Sheriff, I’m Mandy Cosgrove.”

The sheriff shook her hand. “Sheriff Madison Rhodes.”

Elijah looked at the sheriff from under his bangs. He didn’t know that women could be sheriffs.

As the sheriff sat down, she asked, “Has he said anything?”

Mandy shook her head.

“No. He’ll nod or shake his head, but he won’t say anything.”

He saw the sheriff’s mouth tighten into a grim line. He told himself to stay strong. No one could make him do anything, not even his father. He had proven that tonight. He had finally gotten away. The sheriff had no idea who his father was.

Mandy spoke to him again.

“Okay, the sheriff is going to ask you some questions. You need to answer them, okay?”

Elijah wondered for a moment if Mandy knew how many times she said okay. Did she say it all day long?

The sheriff pulled out a small card.

“I’m going to read this to you. I need you to listen.”

The sheriff didn’t end her sentences with a pleading okay. He looked at the sheriff and she began to read to him.

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?”

Mandy and the sheriff looked at him expectantly. Mandy gave him an encouraging nod. He shook his head.

“You don’t wish to speak to me?”

He shook his head again. He wasn’t going to speak to anyone. He felt bad. The sheriff seemed upset. But he couldn’t help her. He couldn’t help anyone, but himself.

The sheriff sighed and stood up.

“Ms. Cosgrove, can I speak to you a moment?”

Mandy followed the sheriff out of the room. They were gone a few minutes, and then they came back in. The sheriff  had a small box in her hands.

Mandy sat down next to Elijah again.

“The sheriff wants to collect some samples from you. It’s not going to hurt, and you don’t have to let her if you don’t want to, but she can use the information to help you.”

Elijah looked at her. He didn’t know what to do, but Mandy nodded.

“It will be all right. I’ll be right here.”

The sheriff used some cotton swabs to scrape the inside of his cheek. She swabbed his thumbs. He tensed when she touched his hands. No one touched his hands, ever, but he made himself keep still.

“I need to get his thumbprints.”

Mandy nodded and stood up. She held her hand out to Elijah. He didn’t take her hand, but he followed Mandy and the sheriff out into the hall. They took her to another small room with a camera and a counter. The sheriff took his right hand again and rolled his thumb in some ink and pushed it down onto a card. She also inked the front of his fist and pushed them down on the paper. She did the same to his left fist. As soon as she let go of his fist, he jammed both of his fists into his pockets.

His hands were throbbing and he didn’t want anyone else touching them. She held a wipe out to him.

“You need to clean the ink off your hands.”

He pushed his hands deeper into his pockets and frowned at her.

“Mandy, take him to the bathroom so he can wash his hands.”

Alone in the bathroom, Elijah pulled his hands out of his pockets. Ink was smeared all over them. Looking at the window high on the wall at the end of the bathroom, he turned the faucet on and thrust his hands under the warm water. The ache subsided under the heat of the water. He pumped a dollop of soap onto his fist and used his thumbs to spread the soap around. Even little things like washing his hands could be a chore, but he had learned how to use his thumbs to grab things. He could get by. When he was done with his hands, he scrubbed his face. His dark brown eyes looked wide and afraid and his freckles stood out against his pale skin. He smoothed his spiky black hair down the best that he could and dried his face and his hands.

Elijah looked one last time at the high window. The glass was black against the white tile, but he wished he could disappear back into the darkness. He had made a huge mistake. He didn’t want to be with his father anymore, but he didn’t want to be here, either. He didn’t know where he belonged. Even if he could leave, how could he get up to the window? There was a large metal trashcan next to the paper towel dispenser. Maybe, he could turn it over and stand on it. But that lady, Mandy, was standing right outside the door. She would hear and come running in. With a sigh, he stepped out of the bathroom back into the hall. He would have to face whatever came next.

Sins of the Father: Chapter 2

silhouette3Madison set the forensics kit on the floor by the door and pulled on blue latex gloves. Andie’s floral Toms were laying on the floor next to the counter. She hadn’t noticed that before. She could also smell the faint odor of feces. Her eyes focused on the metal tub sitting on the counter. It was the only thing out of place besides Andie’s shoes. She didn’t know what had happened to Andie, but the tub bothered her. She wanted to make sure that Kurt took pictures of the tub and of Andie’s shoes. At an early point of an investigation, it was crucial to take note of even the slightest detail. She also wanted to make sure that they tested the tub for fingerprints.

She could see the flash of the camera as Kurt took pictures of the tarp-covered body. She moved around the counter and stood in the doorway. The body was still covered. All she could see was Andie’s foot, her red toenails gleaming under the light. Hal came over to stand by her.

“I called Mesa County. They’re sending someone.”

The Mesa County Coroner was located in Grand Junction. It would probably take someone twenty minutes to get to Fruita. She watched as Kurt continued to take pictures of the tarp and the way it covered Andie’s body. As he finished his last shot, she told him to go take pictures of the tub on the counter and Andie’s shoes.

“Do you think that’s significant?” Hal asked.

“I don’t know Hal, but I know Andie couldn’t lift the tub. And I don’t think she walked around her shop barefoot.”

Something about the tub was bothering her. She thought for a moment. The tub was on the counter. How had it gotten there? What was she missing? She looked at the clock on the far wall. It was after 6:30. She and Andie should be having dinner at Guthrie’s right now. Then it hit her. Guthrie had said something about someone helping Andie with the metal tub. Someone big. She started toward the front of the shop. Someone had to question Guthrie while his memory was still fresh.

Hal followed her.

“What’s going on?”

“I think Guthrie may have seen the killer.”

“What?”

Madison pointed at the tub. Kurt’s flash went off illuminating the tub with the fingerprint powder on it.

“That tub is too big for Andie to lift. She always kept it just inside the door. She could drag it that far from the sidewalk.”

Hal looked perplexed. “So?”

“It’s on the counter. Only someone with a lot of strength could lift that tub onto the counter. Guthrie said he saw someone helping Andie bring in her flowers.”

Finally, Hal understood what Madison was saying.

“I’ll get right over there.”

Hal pushed through the front door. A small crowd had gathered outside the police tape. Hal pushed by them without acknowledging them and headed up the street. Madison went back to the back room. She wondered why anyone would kill Andie. She wasn’t dating anyone right now and all her break-ups had been amiable. She didn’t think Andie had any enemies. Maybe, the motive was robbery. They would have to check the cash register for fingerprints as well as the tub. She turned to look at the register on the counter. It looked secure. She got out her little notebook, and started making notes, of the shoes, the tub, the register. She looked around the store room. She took notes on the tarp, on how the boy had been sitting near the tarp. What did the boy have to do with this? He wasn’t big enough to have lifted the tub, and she didn’t think he could really grip anything with his deformed hands. She wrote down another thought in her book. They would need to fingerprint the boy’s thumbs as well.

She heard the bell above the door tinkle as someone came into the shop. She turned to see one of the deputy coroners entering the shop. Like Madison had, the coroner paused for a moment and looked at the shoes on the floor. Then, she headed for the back room.

“I’m Deputy Coroner Katie Schultes.”

Madison shook her hand. “Sheriff Rhodes.”

Schultes surveyed the body.

“Has anyone been in here yet?”

“Yes. One of my deputies took pictures of the position of the tarp. When I came in, I found a suspect next to the body.”

“A suspect?” Schultes looked surprised.

“A kid. He was crouched by the body against the wall by her…” Madison stopped and swallowed. “…by her head.”

Schultes eyes softened.

“You knew her?”

“Yes. I came by to pick her up for dinner. We were heading up to the café up the street.”

“Are you going to be okay?” Schultes was looking at her with sympathy, but also appraising her.

Madison straightened. She took a deep breath.

“I’m fine.  I’ve worked a lot of homicides in Denver.”

“But no one you knew.”

“No, no one I knew, but I’m the sheriff and I’m going to do my job.” She stared into Schultes blue eyes. Her green eyes glinted with anger.

“All right, Sheriff.” Schultes turned to the body.

“Have you taken pictures already?”

“Yes, we were waiting for you to remove the tarp, so we could take pictures of the body.”

She hadn’t noticed any flashes for a while, so she assumed Kurt was finished in the front of the store. When she turned around, he was standing by the counter loading a fresh roll of film into the camera.

“We’re going to need you in here again, Kurt.”

Kurt nodded. His eyes were a little shiny, but he seemed steady. He, like a lot of the deputies, had gone to school with Andie. He knew her better than Madison did. She didn’t ask him if he was up to handling the case even though he probably knew Andie better than Madison did. They were all going to have to put their emotions aside to find Andie’s killer.

Madison retrieved some larger evidence bags from her kit by the door. The deputy coroner was standing over the body.

“Can you help me lift it?”

Together, the two women lifted the tarp off the body and carefully folded it. Andie opened a large evidence bag while the coroner held the folded tarp. While Andie held the bag, the coroner slid it into the bag. Andie marked it and set it next to the case.

She hadn’t looked at Andie’s body yet. Steeling herself, she looked at Andie’s legs. She noticed her pants were stained and the smell of feces and urine was much stronger now that the tarp was lifted. Her eyes travelled up to Andie’s face. Her neck was beginning to bruise and her eyes were wide open. Her tongue protruded from her mouth. Madison could tell that it had not been an easy death.

As Schultes began to check the body, Madison moved back and stood in the doorway. She hugged her arms tightly to her chest.        Light began flashing as Kurt took pictures of Andie’s body. Schultes would point something out and Kurt would focus on it and take pictures. When the coroner was finished, she brought out a black body bag and laid it on the floor next to Andie. Steeling herself, Madison helped Kurt and Schultes move the body into the bag. After Kurt finished taking pictures of the floor where Madison had been laying, Schultes took samples from the fluids that had collected underneath her body.

When Schultes went out to her van to get her gurney, Madison followed her.

“When will you know cause of death?” she asked Schultes as she pulled the gurney out of the back of the van.

“I can have preliminary results to you by tomorrow night. It will take several weeks to finalize the autopsy and make a report.”

After the coroner left, Madison went back into the shop. She wanted to make sure that the rest of the scene was processed correctly. Hal entered after her. The metal tub was still on the counter and Andie’s shoes were laying on the floor.

Kurt came out of the back room.

“Did you get pictures of the tub and the shoes?” Madison asked.

Kurt nodded.

“Do you need any more pictures?”

“You got pictures of this room, right?”

Kurt nodded.

“Including the tub and the shoes?”

“Yeah. I also took pictures of the scuff marks by the door.”

Madison looked at the scratches on the floor by the door. She knew that Andie had to drag the tub over the threshold and into the shop. She wondered if there were scratches on the concrete outside.

“Kurt, take some pictures of the sidewalk. You know where Andie keeps the metal tub?”

Kurt nodded and stepped outside. Flashes again filled the room from outside.

Madison retrieved the forensics kit from the back room.

Hal was looking at the tub and the shoes on the floor.

“What did Guthrie say?” Madison asked as she removed the fingerprint powder and brush from the kit.

“He was holding the door open for Ida Mae Parker and looked down the street. He said Andie was pulling in her plants and flowers for the night. She was pulling that old tub across the cement when a big guy walked up to her. He lifted the tub and carried it into the shop for Andie. Guthrie didn’t think anything about it. He thought is was a customer.”

“Did he give you a description?”

Madison began to brush the powder gently along the handles and the rim of the tub. She hoped that not too many people had touched the tub. It wasn’t for sale and held geraniums that Andie didn’t sell. No one would have a reason to touch the tub. She dusted the handles and the sides of the tub. Several distinct fingerprings emerged. Hal handed her the tape and she lifted the prints carefully. After labelling the evidence bags, Hal handed her each bag so she could secure the fingerpint tapes.

Hal’s radio crackled.

“Steward, over.”

“Tell the Sheriff I have the boy in an interview room. CPS is on their way.”

“Roger. Steward out.”

Madison had just finished bagging Andie’s shoes and marking the spot where they were on the floor. She handed the bag to Hal. Next, they dusted the register and the countertop next to the register. Andie’s purse was on the top shelf under the counter. It looked like it was untouched. The bag was leather, so they couldn’t take fingerprints here. Madison carefully pulled the bag off the shelf. It was zipped. They would need to lock the shop up. Madison unzipped the purse and found Andie’s keys. Andie’s wallet was still in her purse and also looked like it hadn’t been touched. After extracting Andie’s keys, she and Hal bagged the purse.

After locking Andie’s door, Madison and Hal finished loading everything in the SUV.

“Are we going to question that boy?” Hal asked, as he slammed the hatch closed.

“Yes, as soon as CPS is there. I want to make sure everything is handled appropriately.”

“Do you think the kid did it?” Hal asked.

Madison walked around to the driver’s side. She shook her head.

“I don’t know, Hal. He’s really small and his hands…”

“Yeah. I saw them.”

“But if he didn’t do it, he knows who does. I’m sure of it.”

Madison got into the SUV and waited for Hal to climb into the passenger side. He handed her the keys and she drove them back to the station.

Sins of the Father: Chapter 1

silhouette3Madison 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.

“Don’t move.”

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.

“Hold still.”

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.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

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.