For complete disclaimers see part 1.
NOTE: Disturbing images in this one with a gross factor.
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Grace pulled on a pair of latex gloves as she entered through the front door. The house was small, but well-kept and cute, with it’s own charm. The furniture looked to be all hand-me-downs, though it had been taken care off, the ugly, avocado-green color of the material covered in red bed sheets.
“Tell me about the victim,” Grace said absently to the detective in charge.
“Name: Cameron Sanchez, aged 20. She’s a junior at the college,” Detective Dick Robb read from a file in his hands. “Five feet, two inches, brown hair, hazel eyes. She lived alone, been in the house for a year. No known boyfriend, no known enemies, no priors.” Snapping the file closed, the twenty-six year veteran looked around the house, rubbing the back of his neck with a large hand.
CSI had been on the scene the night before, tell-tale signs of their investigation throughout the small house. Grace wanted a second look-see. Cameron’s was the first where there actually was a crime scene, which made her wonder if this case was linked to the others, as the MO was just too different.
“This look anything like your gal?” Robb asked.
Grace shook her head. “We’ve never had a home invasion with any of our girls.” She glanced at the robust detective, thinking he couldn’t be anymore stereotypical if he tried: short-cropped graying hair, hard lines on his face, and long trench over his poorly-fitted brown suit. “What was found?”
“Not a goddamn thing,” the older man said, blowing out a long breath. He had heard of the other cases that Woodland and the other counties were dealing with. Burrow Key was a small town, and this apparent abduction had left its people shaken. “No fingerprints, nothing.” He sighed out his frustration.
Grace nodded acknowledgement to the detective’s words, then decided to take a little tour, unescorted. She found herself in the girl’s bedroom, noting the scattered clothing, as though Cameron had stripped before getting into bed, leaving the day’s clothing to be picked up the next morning, only the next morning never came. At least, not in her bedroom. The bed had been left in disarray, the blanket nearly on the floor, the sheet and under sheet rumpled. All evidence of that was gone now, CSI having bagged the bedding and taken it for lab work to see if any DNA evidence could be found.
It was thought that perhaps the offender knew Sanchez, as there was no evidence of break-in: no windows broken, all locked from the inside. The front and back doors were in tact, though as Grace studied the back, she knelt down, groaning as her knees popped- old volleyball injury. She looked at her gnarled reflection in the silver knob of the door. Bringing up a latex-covered finger, she touches the cool knob, wishing so badly she could see who touched it, who reached out and turned it in the middle of the night. It was assumed the offender used the back door, as he would have been seen on the very visible front porch.
As Grace peered at the knob, her brows drew. She blindly reached to the inside pocket of her jacket, feeling her reading glasses. Sliding them on, she looked closely at the knob. Just barely she could see a sort of… residue… powder? She ran her fingertip over it, catching a few granules on the tip of her finger. Bringing it close, she could tell it was itsy bitsy metal shavings. Reaching inside the pocket again, she brought out a flip-magnifying glass, removing the glasses as she placed the glass over the keyhole. Just barely visible at the mouth of the keyhole were tiny markings, almost like scrape marks.
“Son of a bitch picked the lock,” she murmured, sitting back on her heels. Pushing up with another groan, Grace looked around the rest of the yard, tucking her magnifying glass away. Detective Robb joined her. She pointed back toward the door. “Picked it. She didn’t let him in, nor did he have a key.”
They made their way around to the front yard. Grace could see what tire casts had been made in the driveway, and was satisfied that CSI had done a good job. Standing on the sidewalk in front of the house, she looked everything over, making sure she’d missed nothing, retracing every room in her mind, every single tiny little detail that had clung to the particles in her brain but hadn’t seemed important at the time.
Nothing. She felt satisfied that everything had been covered. About to turn toward her car, she glanced down, noticing something at the very edge of the grass on Cameron Sanchez’s property. Squatting, Grace used a single finger to bring it further into view- cigarette butt.
“That’s old, Grace. Prob’ly been there for a week or more.”
Though she knew the detective’s words were most likely true, Grace felt something clench in her gut, and wanted to run the butt in, anyway. “You have anything? Baggie or envelope?” she asked, gingerly taking the butt between thumb and index finger. Dick Robb nodded, unhappy that the woman wasn’t listening to him. He walked over to his car, grabbing a plastic evidence baggie from the console. He watched as the dark woman placed the butt inside, sealing the baggie and pulling a Sharpie out of the inside pocket of her jacket.
Heavy brows drew. “How much you got in that pocket, anyways?”
Grace grinned. “I don’t carry a purse for a reason, Detective.” Grace stood, slipping the marker back into her pocket after she’d marked the baggie with date, time and victim’s name. “If it doesn’t fit in a pocket, I don’t need it.”
Dick Robb chuckled. “Good to live by, I s’pose.”
“Well, I think I’m all done here.” Grace looked to the older man, asking with her eyes if he needed her for anything else. He shook his head, rubbing his neck.
“I’ll keep in touch,” he said, heading for his car.
Julie lay on the bed, both wrists cuffed to the bed. It was daytime, though the curtains and blinds had been pulled on the windows before he’d left for, what she assumed, was work. Though dim, it wasn’t dark like it was downstairs. That was a nice change. It was also a nice change to be lying down, though she’d been there for hours. He’d made her sit on the toilet for about thirty minutes while he got dressed, then brought her into the bedroom and bound her. She had had nothing to drink since their omelet feast the night before, which sucked, but at the same time, she was grateful because she didn’t have to pee. She felt like a child, though, as he’d stuck an opened diaper under her “just in case”.
“Bastard,” she muttered.
Since she had nothing better to do, Julie decided to look around the largish bedroom. The bed was probably a queen- she didn’t seem to be far enough away from him during sleep for it to be a king. On the wall directly in front of the bed was a tall eight-drawer dresser, one of which she’d watched him get in quite often, and it didn’t seem it was always for clothing. His back was always to her, so she was never able to see what he was messing with. Always the top drawer, which for her small stature was fairly high.
Atop the cherry wood dresser were a few scattered knickknacks, a couple scattered bottles of cologne, and a picture. The strange thing was, in the five by seven frame, only half a picture was present, the other torn away. The half that was showing was of her captor, smiling in front of, what looked to be, a wooded backdrop.
Eyes scanning on, she noticed there were no pictures or decorations on the wall, whatsoever. The walls were painted plain white, very clean. She had noticed much about the bathroom, as well- no decorations, everything had its place. Everything neat and very clean. The closet door was closed, so she could see nothing inside there. From her vantage point on the bed, she could just barely make out half of what looked to be an upside down cross hanging on the wall. Though not religious by stretch of the imagination, the young, conditioned girl who went to Sunday school every week at the Lutheran church downtown, it sent chills down her spine. Who was this guy?
Anytime Julie had been brought up from the pit, she’d been knocked out, only regaining consciousness once she was already positioned on the bed, so she had no idea what the rest of the house looked like. She turned her attention back to the windows, damning the man for pulling the blinds- she’d do anything to see some sunlight. She had no idea why she’d been left upstairs, something that had never happened before during her other couple jaunts upstairs.
Julie thought back to that morning before he’d left for work. He’d gotten up and taken a shower, then padded back into the bedroom naked as a jay bird. She had groaned inwardly when she saw his excitement. He had un-cuffed one of her hands, then brought it to him, warning her that if she did anything he didn’t like, he’d kill her. It had taken an agonizingly long time for the guy to finally finish, Julie trying her best to not grimace at the stickiness on her hand. She was grateful for the wet towel he used to clean her up. She was also grateful that he left her alone, giving her body a chance to bounce back. She was still sore from the marathon the day before.
With a sigh, she decided to try and sleep.
Patrick Rossum was a good kid, even though he had decided to skip classes today in his eighth grade year. He’d only ever done it twice before, and that was when he and his dad went fishing. He walked along the trail he knew so well in the woods he’d grown up in, just outside Woodland. He used the walking stick his grandfather had whittled from a fallen log, and had used for years in his hiking and fishing expeditions. The 11 year old boy had been overjoyed when it was passed down to him after the death of his granddad.
He stopped, snatching the sandwich his mom had prepared for him that morning, expecting him to eat it in the cafeteria of Woodland Middle School. He grinned as he took a mighty bite of the peanut and peach jelly sandwich, cut in half, just as he liked it. His friends made fun of him because his mom still made his lunch, and he didn’t eat the lunch the school provided. He shirked it off. He loved his mom’s PB&J. Even when he made them himself, he could never make them as good.
He hacked at a couple clumps of wild flowers with his stick, the tip hitting something hard. Figuring it to be a rock, he kept going, munching contentedly as he enjoyed the crisp day. The frosting from the other day had melted, but from the looks of the sky and the smell of moisture in the air, Patrick figured they were due for their first good storm. Halloween was a week away, and that was typically when they got hit hard for the first time.
Patrick’s thoughts died to a dull roar in the back of his mind as he caught sight of something just up ahead, partially sticking out from underneath the dirt. Curious, he tapped his way toward it, using the end of the stick to push away some fallen branches.
The freckles on Patrick’s cheeks stood in stark relief to the paleness of his face, his blue eyes widening to the size of saucers. Suddenly he wished he were sitting in Mr. Alfredo’s English class.
A half-eaten peanut butter and peach jelly sandwich landed in a pile of dry leaves.
Roman walked along the sidewalks of downtown, headed from where he’d parked his car, two blocks away from the coffee shop, where he was due to begin working in seven minutes. Hands shoved into his heavy winter jacket, he was startled as a small army of police cars whizzed by, not one of them with a siren on. The police station was just down the street at the corner, so he wasn’t surprised He was, however, surprised by the sheer numbers: one… two… three, four, five… six. Next came a van marked Coroner.
“Oh, that can’t be good,” he muttered, turning into the recessed doorway of the coffee shop, and pushing against the wood and glass door. Instantly strong fragrances met his senses, as well as the well-heated shop. A few patrons sat around, drinking some sort of concoction or eating the scrumptious offerings, all homemade. Roman was pleased to see Remmy sitting near the window, though Matt Wilson sat across from her. He now recognized the guy from the newspaper articles about his sister. Remmy grinned and gave him a small wave upon noticing Roman. He waved back, then ducked into the backroom to get ready to begin his shift.
“This one is of my son, Skylar, and Julie. That’s Bonnie in her lap,” Matt said, pointing to the Yorkie curled up in the snapshot. Remmy took the picture in her fingers, bringing it up to study it. She studied the boy’s face, smiling in response to his huge grin and happy eyes, directed at his aunt.
“They’re close?” she asked absently, feeling the love bounce off the boy in the picture. It didn’t take a psychic to see that.
“Very. Half the time I was surprised Julie brought him back at all, when she’d take him for a weekend or for the week.” Matt smiled, pride in his eyes as he watched Remmy’s reaction to his son.
“Okay. Show me more.”
Matt had been against letting Remmy roam around his sister’s house, especially with what’s happened. For him, it still held Julie’s energy, and he couldn’t bear to have that interrupted with someone else. Understanding and compassionate, Remmy had suggested pictures, showing her in vivid detail what meant the most to Julie Wilson.
“This was Christmas last year.” Matt chuckled “You should’ve seen the look on her face when I threw that snowball,” he tapped the glossy that his son had snapped. Julie stood in shock, the remnants of the snow still clinging to her cheek. Her green eyes were wide with disbelief.
Remmy smiled, able to feel the shocked cold that had traveled through the woman’s body at that moment. As she reached out for the print, she shivered, the photo paper seeming to be about thirty degrees in temperature. Her fingertips actually burned from the intense cold.
Matt watched the woman sitting across from his closely. He wasn’t sure what to make of her. She had the oddest reactions to things, almost literally responding or reacting to what was in the picture presented before her. She seemed to believe so strongly that Julie was alive. Though he wanted with everything in him to believe her, that his sister was alive, and would be found, the realist in him just couldn’t hold on to that kind of hope. He feared in the end, when it came out that Julie had in fact been dead all along, the disappointment would kill him.
He had recently taken Skylar to a therapist to try and help the 8 year old understand what had likely happened to his beloved aunt. The boy had taken it hard, and was shattered. It wasn’t lost on him that “both his mommies” had left him. It was an uphill struggle every day, but Matt was determined to help him get through it. If only he could get through it, himself.
Brian Wong chewed casually on a piece of Big Red as he looked down at the discovery at his Wing-tipped feet. He had to admit, it was pretty gruesome. The body had been dismembered, the head found in a thicket of wild flowers, a goodly amount of the skin gone, either from decomposition or some sort of chemical that helped it along. Further along the trail, half-buried, an arm had been found, hand still attacked, fingertips missing. The arm was in the same condition as the head.
“More over here!” one of the officers called out, his voice echoing in the calm forest.
The detective made his way over, latex-covered hands shoved into the roomy pockets of his pants. He stepped across the yellow tape barrier two officers were setting up, declaring it as officially a crime scene. The newest find was the most grisly of all- a woman’s torso, amputated just above the hips. Many of the ribs could be seen, a massive hole in her stomach where the scavengers of the forest feasted.
The officer, a young rookie just out of the academy, stood looking down at the mess, a cloth held to his mouth and nose.
“You get used to it,” Wong muttered, squatting down beside the torso. The Asian man glanced over his shoulder when he heard footsteps in the foliage. Grace Cowan soon emerged around the small crops of trees between this and the arm. He turned his attention back to the torso.
“They found the rest about a half mile to the west,” she said, standing just behind her partner and looking over his shoulder at the find. Brian Wong nodded, standing. Both detectives stepped out of the way as the department photographer stepped in, snapping the body from every direction and angle. “What’s Dave say?” Grace asked, speaking of the ME.
Brian sighed, looking up into the heavy clouds, pregnant with cold and moisture. “Haven’t spoken to him, yet.” He met his partner’s tired eyes. “Looks to me, though like maybe some sort of solvent was used. Dunno, just doesn’t feel like typical decomposition here. I mean, look,” he said, pointing toward the torso. “There’s been critter activity, but it just feels too fresh, somehow.”
Grace nodded. “I agree. Has anything else been found? Personal items?”
“Nope. Nothing. Just… this,” Brian said, indicating the torso at their feet.
Back at her office, Grace scanned through any reports of recent missing persons, other than the known cases. The thought was that perhaps the woman was Cameron Sanchez, but that had been discounted when the family was asked if Cameron had a tattoo on her hip. She did not. Back to square one.
The Jane Doe’s fingertips had been removed, so no fingerprinting could be done, and they had no one to compare dental to. “Shit,” Grace said, running a hand over her hair, smoothed back into a tight bun. The patterns on the remaining skin did not match natural decomposition at all, especially with the cold temperatures, so it was decided something had been used- an acid, lye, something- to speed along the disintegration of the body. That made things harder, because now they would have a much more difficult time figuring out how long the body had been there. Also, with the cold weather, it kept the flies away, which meant the fly larvae couldn’t even be used to gauge the time.
Grace glanced up, looking into the faces of her four missing women, one already taken out of the possible mix. That left Pamela Beecham, Roxie Carmichael and Julie Wilson as possibles. Pulling the files on the three women for the twentieth time, she read up on them, trying to see if anything would jump out at her.
What am I missing? she asked herself over and over again.
“Honey, I’m home!” Sergio called out, amused at his own joke as he entered into the kitchen from the garage door. He glanced around, brows narrowed as he studied everything- nothing out of place, everything exactly as he’d left it. He passed by the fridge, absently straightening one of the plastic, magnetic letters that had become slightly askew. He was about to pass the appliance, but then stopped, opening the door and grabbing a bottled water and a beer for himself.
Passing into the living room, Sergio was satisfied that all was well in that room, too. The furniture, covered in plastic, sprayed down with 409 the night before, was perfect. Above the love seat, stacked neatly on shelving, were stacks of building blocks, the type a child would enjoy with colorful letters or numbers on all four sides. They were the wooden kind, not the cheap plastic that were sold now. On the other wall, above the 19” television, was another shelf. On it were neatly stacked rows of TV Guides, dating back more than six years.
Walking down the hall toward the bedrooms, he passed the first two- one on his right the other on his left- a bathroom on the right, then straight back was the third bedroom, his bedroom. Before he even crossed the threshold, he could hear soft, even breathing, which automatically brought a smile to his face. Nothing was changed in the bedroom, alls well. Julie slept peacefully on the bed, just as he’d left her.
Sergio wrinkled his nose at the pungent smell of female blood and urine. It had been wise, indeed to leave her with the diaper. He took in the sprawled body of his prize, Julie, and decided she needed a shower.
Fifteen minutes later, Julie was being led back to the bed by the arm. The thought of lying down again made her feel nauseous. She’d almost rather go back down to the pit.
“Um,” she said softly. She made herself look into his dark eyes. “You mentioned dinner.” She swallowed heavily so very afraid of the man who had a tight grip on her. “Is it possible that maybe, well, maybe I could eat with you? In the kitchen, or… something?” She held her breath, so afraid of what he’d say or do. She tried not to sway on her feet, but the lack of food was catching up to her. Julie did everything in her power to not wince as he raised a hand, brushing her cheek with his fingertips.
“Do you want to sit down, or change of scenery?” he asked.
Julie’s mind raced, trying to figure out what was the right answer. She swallowed reflexively as his fingers trailed down across her throat. A quick image of that same hand on Roxie’s throat came unbidden to her mind. Apparently the look on her face expressed such. She felt a cold sweat break out on her skin as his face hardened.
“I told you it was an accident,” he growled, forcing her back to the bed, falling with her until she was pinned beneath his body. He was in her face, the hand still firmly attached to her throat, though not squeezing. “Judge not lest ye be judged,” he hissed, a bit of spittle landing on her cheek.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, hoarse from fear.
Sergio was breathing hard, his anger and heart rate pounding in his head. He looked down into the green eyes, seeing the fear within them. Moisture began to well up in them, Julie valiantly trying to hold it in. A surge of warmth spread over him, compassion lightening his touch back into a caress. He leaned down, placing a soft kiss to her forehead, trying to soothe her.
“You eat in here today,” he whispered in her ear. “We’ll talk about the kitchen later.”
Julie didn’t struggle as she was bound to the bed again, her tears finally falling as he strode from the room.
Taking a deep breath, Grace entered the interview room. She dreaded this. Placing the file she had tucked under her am onto the small, square table, she smiled at the two men sitting, waiting for her. She took a seat across from the older of the two.
“Hello, I’m Detective Grace Cowan, and I’ve been working the cases dealing with the missing women, including your wife, Roxie.” She studied the two men, who looked remarkably alike- short, brown hair, though the older had gray running through his. Both had deep-set brown eyes, the younger sporting a soul-patch beneath his bottom lip.
“Nice to see you again, Detective. This is my son, Trevor,” he nodded indication toward the young man sitting to his right. Grace nodded an acknowledgment.
Getting down to business, Grace cleared her throat, putting on the most professional, yet compassionate, face she could. “Mr. Carmichael,” she began softly, “three days ago a body was discovered in the woods outside Woodland. There was no way to identify her except by a tattoo, which is only partial.” She studied the man carefully, noting his Adam’s Apple bob as he swallowed. “I saw in an earlier statement from you that Roxie had a tattoo.”
Trevor looked to his father. “Mom has a tattoo?”
Mack nodded. “Yes, she does.”
“Can you tell me what that tattoo was of?” Grace tried to focus on the man sitting before her, doing her damndest to get the image of their Jane Doe’s tattoo out of her head. In some ways it was like God trying to tell them something, trying to point a finger of recognition: on the entire area of the hip and pelvis, that area where the tattoo was, was the only part still with remaining flesh.
“Yeah, I can. It was a little blue fairy, little yellow wings.”
Grace nodded. The tattoo on the body was faded from time, as well as the solvent used on the body, and was stretched due to childbirth, and the simple truth of weight gained since the application. “I have a photograph that was taken in the Medical Examiner’s office. Do you think you could take a look at it for me? Tell me if it’s the tattoo your wife had?” Grace asked softly, looking from one to the other of the men. Trevor put an arm around his father’s linebacker-like shoulders. Mack nodded.
“Yeah. I can do that.”
“Okay.” Grace opened the folder and pulled out a picture she’d just received that morning, taken during the autopsy. The image was centralized only on the area of the tattoo- no reason to upset the family anymore than need be.
Mack took the picture, holding it in a trembling hand. It only took a moment for him to break down, still clutching the photo. Trevor gathered his father in a strong, one-armed hug, resting their heads together. Grace watched, trying to fight the burning in her own throat as she struggled to maintain her professionalism.
“I’m sorry, Mack,” she said at length, reaching across the table and resting her hand upon his much larger one.
Remmy held up another pack of smokes, her brows raised just as high in expectation.
“No, that ain’t them, neither. What about the blue and white pack?” the old man said, halfway leaning across the counter to point.
Remmy put the Marlboro’s away and grabbed the pack the old man indicated. Holding it up for his inspection, doing her damndest to not get exasperated with him.
“No, them ain’t it, neither.”
“Sir, we’ve been through ever brand I’ve got here. The pack you had last week just may not be here,” she tried to reason, putting the blue and white pack on its shelf again.
“No, damn it! I know I bought it here!” He slammed his fist into the counter.
“Maybe you were at Smoker Friendly down on Pike Avenue,” she suggested, hoping, oh so hoping, he’d go away. To her astonishment, and irritated amusement, he looked off into space, as though thinking. Remmy’s gaze was pulled away from him as the bells above the door rang, and Grace Cowan walked in. She gave the dark woman a quick nod, then turned back to the old geezer.
“You know,” he said, voice just above a whisper. “I think you’re right!”
Remmy smiled big and encouragingly. “I’m sure they’d be more than willing to help you out over there, sir.”
Without another word or comment, the old man hobbled toward the door, but not before letting out a huge, wet cough. Grace watched him go, disgust clearly written on her dark features, then walked up to the counter.
“Hiya,” Remmy said with a big grin.
“Hi, Remmy. How are you?”
“Just peachy keen.”
“Listen,” Grace said, leaning on the counter, “I’ve got some good news, and I’ve got some bad news.”
“Okay.” Remmy leaned against the opposite counter in the small bullpen, arms crossed over her chest as she studied the other woman.
“If I didn’t believe in you before, I definitely do now. You were right. Someone was killed, her name began with an ‘R’, and she was 41 years old.”
Remmy listened, feeling like she’d just taken a punch to the gut. Swallowing, she nodded, encouraging Grace to continue.
“Her name was Roxie Carmichael, mother of three and a wife. She’d been missing for more than eight months. But,” she held up a finger, “here’s the kicker. She hadn’t been dead all that time. She was left in the woods, and due to insect and animal activity, the ME’s office doesn’t believe she’d been there for anymore than a week, at most.”
“I’m really not sure what to think of this, Grace,” Remmy said softly, her stomach roiling.
“I know. Here’s the good news. We finally have a link. Tire tracks were found near the scene, and were compared to the ones of the Cameron Sanchez, and they match.”
Remmy had heard of the young woman who had been taken from her own bed. She nodded. That was good news. That was very good news. She met the intense gaze of the detective.
“Remmy, do you feel in your heart of hearts, that Julie witnessed the death of Roxie Carmichael?”
Remmy met the gaze dead on, nodding. “Without a doubt.”
“Okay. Then here’s what I need from you. I want you to make a connection, make a mental call, whatever it is that you do, with Julie, and get as much goddamn information as you can. I want to nail this motherfucker, you hear me?”
Remmy nodded with a smile. “Yeah, I hear ya.”
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