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C A U S E T O F E A R
(AN AVERY BLACK MYSTERY—BOOK 4)
B L A K E P I E R C E
Blake Pierce is author of the bestselling RILEY PAGE mystery series, which includes seven books (and counting). Blake Pierce is also the author of the MACKENZIE WHITE mystery series, comprising five books (and counting); of the AVERY BLACK mystery series, comprising four books; and of the new KERI LOCKE mystery series.
An avid reader and lifelong fan of the mystery and thriller genres, Blake loves to hear from you, so please feel free to visit www.blakepierceauthor.com to learn more and stay in touch.
BOOKS BY BLAKE PIERCE
RILEY PAIGE MYSTERY SERIES
ONCE GONE (Book #1)
ONCE TAKEN (Book #2)
ONCE CRAVED (Book #3)
ONCE LURED (Book #4)
ONCE HUNTED (Book #5)
ONCE PINED (Book #6)
ONCE FORSAKEN (Book #7)
MACKENZIE WHITE MYSTERY SERIES
BEFORE HE KILLS (Book #1)
BEFORE HE SEES (Book #2)
BEFORE HE COVETS (Book #3)
BEFORE HE TAKES (Book #4)
BEFORE HE NEEDS (Book #5)
AVERY BLACK MYSTERY SERIES
CAUSE TO KILL (Book #1)
CAUSE TO RUN (Book #2)
CAUSE TO HIDE (Book #3)
CAUSE TO FEAR (Book #4)
KERI LOCKE MYSTERY SERIES
A TRACE OF DEATH (Book #1)
A TRACE OF MURDER (Book #2)
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN
CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT
CHAPTER TWENTY NINE
CHAPTER THIRTY ONE
CHAPTER THIRTY TWO
CHAPTER THIRTY THREE
At thirty-nine years of age, Denice Napier could not remember a winter quite as cold as this one. While she had never really minded the cold, it was the bitter bite to the wind that unsettled her. She felt a gust sweep across the banks of the Charles River as she sat in a canvas chair, watching her kids skate, and she sucked in her breath. It was mid-January, and the temperature had barely broken double digits for the past week and a half.
Her kids, more clever than she cared to admit, had known that such drastic temperatures meant that most sections of the Charles River would be frozen over completely. That was why she had gone into the garage and dug out the ice skates for the first time this winter. She laced them up, sharpened the blades, and packed three thermoses of hot cocoa—one for her and one for each of her kids.
She watched them now, skating from bank to bank with the sort of reckless but beautiful speed only kids are capable of. The section they had come to, a straight but narrow section just through a strip of forest a mile and a half away from their home, was a complete sheet of ice. There was about twenty feet from bank to bank and then a wider expanse of about thirty feet or so that reached further out into the frigid river. Denice had clumsily gone onto the ice and set down little orange cones—the ones her kids sometimes used for soccer drills—to show them their borders.
She watched them now—Sam, nine years old, and Stacy, twelve—laughing together and actually enjoying each other’s company. This was not something that happened very often so Denice was willing to put up with the bitter cold.
There were a few other kids out, too. Denice knew a few of them but not well enough to strike up a conversation with their parents, who were also sitting on the bank. Most of the other kids on the ice were older, probably in eighth or ninth grade from what Denice could tell. There were three boys playing a very disorganized game of hockey and another little girl practicing a spin move.
Denice checked her watch. She’d give her kids ten more minutes and then go home. Maybe they’d sit in front of the fireplace and watch something on Netflix. Maybe even one of those superhero movies that Sam was starting to like.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a piercing scream. She looked out onto the ice and saw that Stacy had fallen down. She was screaming, her face looking down toward the ice.
Every mother-based instinct raced through Denice in that moment. Broken leg, twisted ankle, concussion…
She’d gone through just about every possible scenario by the time she raced down to the ice. She skidded and slipped as she made her way to Stacy. Sam had also skated over to her and was looking down at the ice, too. Only, Sam wasn’t screaming. He looked frozen, actually.
“Stacy?” Denice asked, barely able to hear herself over Stacy’s screams. “Stacy, honey, what is it?”
“Mom?” Sam said. “What…what is it?”
Confused, Denice finally reached Stacy and dropped to her knees beside her. She looked to be unharmed. She stopped screaming once her mother was there with her but she was trembling now. She was also pointing to the ice and trying to open her mouth to say something.
“Stacy, what’s the matter?”
Then Denice saw the shape under the ice.
It was a woman. Her face was a pale shade of blue and her eyes were opened wide. She stared up through the ice in a frozen state of terror. Blonde hair snaked this way and that from her skull, frozen in a position of disarray.
The face that stared back up at her, all wide eyes and pale skin, would revisit her in her nightmares for months to come.
But for now, all Denice could do was scream.
Avery could not remember the last time she’d shopped so recklessly. She wasn’t sure how much money she had spent because she’d stopped paying attention after the second stop. Actually, she’d barely even looked at the receipts. Rose was with her and that, in and of itself, was priceless. She may feel differently about it when the bill came, but for now it was worth it.
With the evidence of her extravagance in little trendy shopping bags by her feet, Avery looked across the table to Rose. They were sitting in some trendy place in the Leather District of Boston, a place Rose had picked out called Caffe Nero. The coffee was outrageously priced but was the best Avery had tasted in quite a while.
Rose was on her phone, texting someone. Usually, this would anger Avery, but she was learning to let things go. If she and Rose were ever going to get their relationship right, there had to be some give and take. She had to remind herself that there were twenty-two years between them and that Rose was becoming a woman in a very different world than the one she had grown up in.
When Rose was done with her text, she set the phone down on the table and gave Avery an apologetic look.
“Sorry,” she said.
“No need to be,” Avery replied. “Can I ask who it is?”
Rose seemed to think about this for a moment. Avery was aware that Rose was also working on the give and take aspect of their relationship. She still had not decided how much of her personal life she wanted to let her mother into.
“Marcus,” Rose said softly.
“Oh. I wasn’t aware he was still a thing.”
“He’s not. Not really. Well…I don’t know. Maybe he is.”
Avery smiled at this, remembering what it was like when men were both confusing and intriguing all at once. “Well, are you dating?”
“I guess you could call it that,” Rose said. She wasn’t offering much in the way of words but Avery could see the red hues creeping into her daughter’s cheeks.
“Does he treat you well?” Avery asked.
“Most of the time. We just want different things. He’s not a very goal-oriented guy. Sort of directionless.”
“Well, you know I don’t mind hearing about things like this,” Avery said. “I’m always willing to listen. Or talk. Or help you trash guys that are hurting you. With my work…you’re just about the only friend I have.” She cringed internally at how cheesy it sounded but it was too late to take it back now.
“I know that, Mom,” Rose said. Then, with a smirk, she added: “And I can’t tell you how sad that sounds.”
They shared a laugh at this but secretly, Avery was awed by how much Rose was like her in that moment. The instant any conversation became too emotional or personal, Rose tended to shut it down with either silence or humor. In other words, the apple hadn’t fallen too far from the tree.
In the midst of their laughter, a dainty little waitress came over, the same one who had taken their orders and delivered their coffee. “Refills?” she asked.
“None for me,” Avery said.
“Same here,” Rose said. She then stood up as the waitress took her leave. “I actually need to get going,” she said. “I’ve got that meeting with the academic advisor in an hour.”
This was yet another thing Avery was afraid to make a big deal of. She was excited that Rose had finally decided to go to college. At nineteen, she’d made the moves and had set up appointments with advisors at a Boston-based community college. As far as Avery was concerned, that meant that she was ready to start making something of her life but was also not quite ready to leave familiar things—potentially including a strained yet fixable relationship with her mother.
“Call me later to know how it goes,” Avery said.
“I will. Thanks again, Mom. This was surprisingly fun. We’ll have to do it again sometime soon.”
Avery gave a nod as she watched her daughter leave. She took the last gulp of her coffee and stood, gathering up the four shopping bags by her chair. After bundling them up around her shoulder, she left the coffee shop and headed for her car.
When her phone rang, it was quite an ordeal to answer it while carrying the shopping bags. She felt silly with the bags, actually. She had never been one of those women who liked to shop. But it had been a great mending exercise with Rose, and that was what was important.
After shifting all the bags around on her shoulder, she was finally able to reach the cell phone in her inner coat pocket.
“Avery Black,” she said.
“Black,” said the always-gruff and rapid voice of A1 Homicide Supervisor Dylan Connelly. “Where are you right now?”
“The Leather District,” she said. “What’s up?”
“I need you over at the Charles River, just outside of town over near Watertown, as fast as you can.”
She heard the tone in his voice, the urgency, and her heart skipped a beat.
“What is it?” she said, almost afraid to ask.
There came a long pause, followed by a heavy sigh.
“We found a body under the ice,” he said. “And you’re going to have to see this one to believe it.”
Avery arrived at the scene exactly twenty-seven minutes later. Watertown, Massachusetts, roughly twenty miles outside of Boston’s city limits, was just one of the numerous towns that shared the Charles River with Boston. The Watertown Dam sat upstream of the Watertown Bridge. The area round the dam was mostly rural, as was the crime scene she was currently parking in front of. She estimated that the dam was still a good fifteen miles away, as the city of Watertown was another four miles up the road.
When she walked down to the river, Avery ducked under a long strip of crime scene tape. The crime scene was quite large, the yellow tape making a huge rectangle from two trees along the bank to two steel poles that the police had jammed into the solid ice on the river. Connelly was standing on the bank speaking with two other officers. Out on the ice, a team of three people were hunkered down on the ice, looking in.
She passed Connelly and gave him a wave. He glanced at his watch, gave an impressed look, and waved her on.
“Forensics can fill you in,” he said.
That was fine with her. While she was growing to like Connelly more and more with each case, he was still best taken in small quantities. Avery made her way out onto the ice, wondering if those few times on a rink during her pre-teen years might serve her well. Apparently, though, those skills were long gone. She walked slowly, careful not to slip. She hated to feel vulnerable and not fully in control but the damned ice was just so slippery.
“It’s okay,” one of the Forensics members said, noticing her coming toward them. “Hatch fell on his ass three times getting out here.”
“Shut up,” said another member of the team, presumably Hatch.
Avery finally made it across to where the Forensics guys were huddled. They were hunched down, looking into a cleanly broken portion of ice. Beneath it, she saw the body of a nude woman. She looked to be in her early twenties. Pale and partially frozen skin aside, she looked quite striking. Gorgeous, actually.
Forensics had managed to hook the body beneath the arms with plastic poles. The end of each pole had a simple U-shaped bend to it, coated with what looked like some sort of cotton. To the right of the broken ice, a simple insulated blanket waited for the body.
“And she was found like this?” Avery asked.
“Yeah,” said the man she assumed was named Hatch. “By kids, no less. The mom called the local PD and an hour and fifteen minutes later, here we are.”
“You’re Avery Black, right?” the third member asked.
“You need to check things over before we take her out?”
“Yes, if you don’t mind.”
The three of them stepped back a bit. Hatch and the member who had called him out for busting his ass held on to the plastic poles. Avery inched closer; the toes of her shoes were less than six inches from the broken ice and open water.
The broken ice allowed her to see the woman from her brow all the way down to her knees. She looked almost like a wax figure. Avery knew the extreme temperatures might have something to do with that, but there was something else to her flawlessness. She was incredibly thin—maybe just a scrap over one hundred pounds. Her flushed face was turning a shade of blue but other than that, there were no blemishes—no scrapes, no cuts, no bruises or even pimples.
Avery also noticed that other than her soaked and partially frozen blonde hair, there was not a single hair on her body. Her legs were perfectly shaved, as was her pubic region. She looked like a life-sized doll.
With a final glance at the body, Avery stepped back. “I’m good,” she told the Forensics team.
They came forward and with a count to three, pulled the body slowly from the water. When they pulled her out, they angled her so that she came out mostly on the insulated blanket. Avery noted that there was also a stretcher beneath the blanket.
With the body fully out of the water, she noticed two other things that struck her as odd. First, the woman was not wearing a single piece of jewelry. She knelt down and saw that her ears were pierced but there were no earrings. She then turned her attention to the second oddity: the woman’s fingernails and toenails were neatly clipped—to the point of looking recently manicured.
It was odd, but this was what raised the most alarm bells in her mind. With the frigid flesh turning blue beneath those nails, there was something eerie about it. It’s almost like she’s been polished, she thought.
“We good here?” Hatch asked her.
As the three of them covered the body and then carefully trudged back toward the bank with the stretcher board, Avery remained by the section of broken ice. She peered down into the water, thinking. She reached into her pocket, looking for a small piece of trash, but all she could find was a hair tie that had snapped on her earlier in the day.
“Black?” Connelly called from the bank. “What are you doing?”
She peered back and saw him standing close to the ice but being very purposeful to not step on it.
“Working,” she hollered back. “Why don’t you skate on out here and help?”
He rolled his eyes at her and she turned back to the ice. She dropped the snapped hair tie into the water and watched it bob up and down for a moment. Then it slowly caught the sluggish current of the water beneath the ice. It was pushed away and under the ice to her left, further out toward Watertown.
So she was dropped in somewhere else, Avery thought, looking down the river in the direction of Boston. On the bank, Connelly and the officer he had been speaking to were heading up behind the Forensics team.
Avery remained on the ice, standing straight up now. She was getting very cold as she watched her breath vaporize on the air. But something about the cold temperature seemed to center her. It allowed her to think, to use the light creaking noises of the ice as a metronome of sorts as she put her thoughts together.
Nude and not a blemish or bruise on her. So assault is ruled out. No jewelry, so it could have been a robbery. But most cases of a body after being robbed would show some signs of struggle…and this woman was spotless. And what about those nails and the absolute lack of hair anywhere other than her head?
She slowly walked to the bank, looking down the frozen river to where it rounded a bend and kept on in the direction of Boston. It was weird to think of how beautiful the frozen Charles River looked from Boston University while less than twenty minutes away a body had been pulled from it.
She pulled up her coat collar around her neck as she walked back to the bank. She was just in time to see the back doors of the Forensics van close. Connelly was approaching her but he was looking beyond her and out to the frozen water.
“You get a good look at her?” Avery asked.
“Yeah. She looked like a damn toy or something. All pale and cold and…”
“And perfect,” Avery said. “Did you notice there was no hair on her? No bruises or bumps, either.”
“Or jewelry,” Connelly added. With a heavy sigh, he asked: “Dare I ask for your initial thoughts?”
She was much more willing to be unfiltered with Connelly now. She had been ever since he and O’Malley had offered her a promotion to sergeant two months ago. In return, they seemed more willing to accept her theories from the get-go rather than questioning the hell out of everything that came out of her mouth.
“Her fingernails were perfectly trimmed,” she said. “It’s like she had just come out of a salon before she was dumped in the river. Then there’s the lack of hair anywhere. One of those things is odd enough but together, it screams intentionality to me.”
“You think someone cleaned her up before they killed her?”
“Seems like it. It’s almost like the funeral parlor making the dead look as presentable as possible for the open casket. Whoever did this cleaned her. Shaved her and did her nails.”
“Any idea why?”
Avery shrugged. “I can only speculate right now. But I can tell you one thing that you probably aren’t going to like very much.”
“Ah hell,” he said, knowing what was coming.
“This guy took his time…not even in the killing, but in how the body would look when it was found. He was intentional. Patient. Based on similar cases, I can almost guarantee you she won’t be the only one.”
With another of his patented sighs, Connelly dug his phone out of his pocket. “I’ll call a meeting at the A1,” he said. “I’ll let them know we have a potential serial killer.”
Avery supposed that if she was going to take the position of sergeant, she needed to get over her hatred of the A1 conference room. She had nothing against the room per se. But she knew that a meeting held within it so soon after the discovery of a body meant that there would be cross-talking and arguing, most of which would be used to shoot down her theories.
Maybe as sergeant, that will come to an end, she thought as she walked into the room.
Connelly was at the head of the table, shoving papers around. She figured O’Malley would be in soon. He’d seemed a lot more present at any meeting she was a part of ever since they had offered her the sergeant position.
Connelly looked up at her through the growing crowd of other officers. “Things are moving quickly on this one,” he said. “The body pulled from the river was ID’ed exactly five minutes ago. Patty Dearborne, twenty-two years of age. A Boston University student and Boston native. Right now, that’s all we know. The parents will need to be informed once this meeting is over.”
He slid over a folder that contained only two sheets of paper. One showed a picture taken from Patty Dearborne’s Facebook profile. The other sheet showed three photos, all taken from the Charles River earlier in the day. Patty Dearborne’s face was present in all of them, her purple-tinted eyelids closed.
In a morbid train of thought, Avery tried to see the young woman’s face in the same way a killer might see it. Patty was gorgeous, even in death. She had a body that Avery herself would have seen as far too skinny but bar-wandering men would salivate over. She used this mentality, trying to gauge why a killer would choose such a victim if there were no sexual implications.
Maybe he’s after beautiful things. The question, of course, is if he is seeking these beautiful things in order to fawn over them or to destroy them. Does he appreciate beauty or does he want to obliterate it?
She wasn’t sure how long she had been thinking about this. All she knew was that she jumped a bit when Connelly called the meeting to order. There were a total of nine people in the conference room. She saw that Ramirez had snuck in. He was in a seat near Connelly, looking through the same type of folder Connelly had given her moments ago. He apparently felt her looking at him; he glanced up and smiled at her.
She returned the smile as Connelly started. She dropped her gaze right away, not wanting to be too obvious. While just about everyone in the precinct knew that she and Ramirez were an item now, they still liked to try to keep it under wraps.
“Everyone should have been briefed by now,” Connelly said. “For those of you that have not, the woman has been identified as Patty Dearborne, a BU senior. She was found in the Charles River just outside of Watertown but she is a Boston native. As Detective Black pointed out in the briefing you all received, the current of the river suggests that the body was dumped elsewhere. Forensics is guessing that her body was in the water for as long as twenty-four hours. Those two things add up to a probable dumping spot somewhere within Boston.”
“Sir,” Officer Finley spoke up. “Forgive me for asking, but why are we not even thinking about suicide? The briefing states there were no bruises and no signs of a struggle.”
“I ruled that out almost right away when I saw that the victim was nude,” Avery said. “While suicide would usually be something to consider, it’s highly unlikely that Patty Dearborne stripped naked before jumping into the Charles River.”
She almost hated to shoot Finley’s ideas down. She was watching him become a damn good officer week by week. He’d matured over the last year or so, morphing out of the frat-boy persona most people knew him by and into a hard-working officer.
“But no bruises,” another officer said. “That seems to be a smoking gun.”
“Or evidence that it was not suicide,” Avery argued. “If she jumped from any sort of height more than eight to ten feet, there would have been visible bruising on her body from the sheer impact.”
“Forensics agrees with this,” Connelly said. “They’re going to be sending a more finalized report soon, but they feel pretty certain about this.” He then looked to Avery and gestured to the table with a sweeping of his hand. “What else do you have, Detective Black?”
She took a moment to discuss the things she had pointed out to Connelly—details that were in the briefing. She mentioned the trimmed and polished nails, the lack of hair, and the absence of jewelry. “Another thing to point out,” she added, “is that a killer that would go to these lengths to make his victims presentable suggests either a skewed admiration for the victim or some sort of regret.”
“Regret?” Ramirez asked.
“Yes. He dolled her up and made her as beautiful as possible because maybe he didn’t mean to kill her.”
“Right down to shaving her…nether regions?” Finley asked.
“And tell them why you think we’re dealing with a serial here, Black,” Connelly said.
“Because even it if was a mistake, the fact that the killer did her nails and shaved her denotes patience. And when you add that to the fact that this woman was quite pretty and free of blemishes, it makes me think he’s drawn to beauty.”
“He has a funny way of showing it,” someone else spoke up.
“Which leads me back to the line of thought that maybe he didn’t mean to kill her.”
“So you think it was like a date gone bad?” Finley asked.
“We can’t be sure yet,” she said. “But my first reaction is no. If he was this deliberate and careful with the way she looked before dumping the body, I think he likely put that same kind of care into selecting her.”
“Selecting her for what, Black?” Connelly asked.
“I think that’s what we need to find out. Hopefully Forensics will have some answers to lead us down the right path.”
“So what do we do until then?” Finley asked.
“We bust our asses,” Avery said. “We dig as deep into Patty Dearborne’s life as we can, hoping to find some clue that will help us find this guy before he does it again.”
When the meeting ended, Avery headed across the conference room to have a word with Ramirez. Someone needed to inform the parents of Patty Dearborne and she felt the need to do it. Speaking to grief-stricken parents, while incredibly difficult and emotionally draining, was usually one of the best places to find a lead right off the bat. She wanted Ramirez with her, wanting to keep working on the balance between their personal and professional lives. It was still tricky, but they were slowly getting the hang of it.
Before she made it to him, though, O’Malley came into the room. He was speaking on the phone, clearly in a hurry. Whatever he was dealing with, it must have been pressing for him to have missed the meeting about the Patty Dearborne case. He stood by the door, waited until everyone except Avery, Ramirez, and Connelly were gone, and then closed the door. He ended his call with a quick and almost rude “Yeah, later,” and then took a deep breath.
“Sorry I missed the meeting,” he said. “Anything big come up?”
“No,” Connelly said. “We’ve got the woman ID’ed and now need to tell her family. We’re working on the assumption that whoever did this will do it again.”
“Black, can you send me a quick report explaining the details?” O’Malley asked.
“Yes sir,” she said. He never asked her for small things like that. She wondered if it was another of his not-so-subtle tests. She’d noticed him being more lenient with her over the last few weeks, more willing to give her more responsibility without interference. She was sure it all had to do with them asking her to take sergeant.
“While both of you are here,” O’Malley said, looking at Avery and Ramirez, “I’d like to have a word. A few words, actually…and I don’t have a lot of time, so I’ll make it quick. First…I’m totally fine with the two of you seeing one another outside of work. I thought long and hard about breaking you up here at the A1 but damn it…you work too well together. So as long as you two can tolerate the in-jokes and speculations, you’re going to remain partners. That good?”
“Yes sir,” Ramirez said. Avery nodded in agreement.
“The next thing…Black. The whole sergeant thing…I’m going to need a decision soon. As in, within forty-eight hours. I’ve tried to be patient, letting you work things out. But it’s been over two months now. I think that’s fair.”
“It is fair,” she said. “I’ll let you know something by tomorrow.”
Ramirez gave her a look of surprise. Truth be told, her response had surprised her, too. Deep down, though, she thought she knew what she wanted.
“Now, on this lady-in-the-river case,” O’Malley said. “It’s officially yours, Black. Take Ramirez with you, but let’s keep it professional.”
Avery was a bit embarrassed that she found herself blushing. Ah God, she thought. First a shopping spree and now blushing over a boy. What the hell has happened to me?
To keep things rolling and not get thrown off of her game, Avery turned things directly back to the case. “I’d like to be the one to notify the family.”
“We can delegate that to someone else,” Connelly suggested.
“I know. But as terrible as it sounds, parents receiving such terrible news are usually the best resources for information. Everything is raw and open.”
“My God, that’s pretty heartless,” Connelly said.
“But effective,” O’Malley said. “Good deal, Black. It’s four fifty right now. With any luck, you’ll catch them getting off of work. I’ll make sure someone texts you the address within the next ten minutes. Now get to it. Dismissed.”
Avery and Ramirez took their leave. Out in the hall, the nine-to-fivers were starting wrap up their day. But for Avery, the day was far from over. In fact, with the task of breaking the news of a young woman’s death to her parents on the horizon, Avery thought it was going to turn out to be one hell of a long night.
The Dearbornes lived in a quaint little house in Somerville. Avery read over the information that had been texted and emailed to her while Ramirez drove. Patty Dearborne had been a great student, in her senior year at BU with intentions of becoming a counselor for a behavioral health firm. Her mother, Wendy, was a trauma nurse who rotated through two different area hospitals. Patty’s father, Richard, was a business development manager for a large telecommunications company. They were a well-to-do family with not a single speck of dirt on their record.
And Avery was about to tell them that their daughter was dead. Not only dead, but that she had been dumped into a frigid river completely nude.
“So,” Ramirez said as he wound through the rustic little streets of the Somerville neighborhoods. “Are you going to take the sergeant gig?”
“I don’t know yet,” she said.
She pondered this for a moment and then shook her head. “I don’t want to talk about that right now. It seems small in comparison to what we’re about to do.”
“Hey, you volunteered for this,” he pointed out.
“I know,” she said, still not certain why. Yes, her thoughts about getting a good lead were true, but she felt like there was something else. Patty Dearborne had only been three years older than Rose. It was far too easy to see Rose’s face on that frozen body. For some bizarre reason, it made Avery feel that she needed to break the news to the family. Maybe it was a maternal-based urge, but she felt that she owed it to the parents in some strange way.
“So let me ask you this,” he said. “What makes you so sure this isn’t just a one-time thing? Maybe an ex-boyfriend just lost his shit. Maybe this is a one and done.”
She grinned briefly because she knew he wasn’t arguing with her. Not really. She had noticed that he liked to get glimpses into how her mind worked. His rebuttal of her theories was simply a way to get her primed up.
“Because based on what we know about the body, this guy was careful and meticulous. An enraged ex-boyfriend would not be so careful about not leaving bruises. The finger- and toenails are the clincher for me. Someone took their time with them. I’m hoping the parents will be able to provide more insight into the sort of woman Patty was. If we know more about her, we’ll know exactly how much of the primping was done by whoever dumped the body.”
“Speaking of which,” Ramirez said, pointing ahead. “Here we are. You ready for this?”
She took a deep, shaky breath. She loved her job but this was the one part she absolutely dreaded. “Yeah, let’s go,” she said.
Before Ramirez had time to say another word, Avery opened the door and stepped out.
She braced herself.
Avery knew that no two people responded to grief in the exact same way. That’s why she was not all that surprised when, fifteen minutes later, Wendy Dearborne was nearly in a state of shock while Richard Dearborne was a loud and frantic mess. At one point, she feared he would become violent when he slapped at a vase on the kitchen table and sent it crashing to the floor.
The weight of the news hung heavy in the room. Avery and Ramirez had remained quiet, speaking only when asked a question. In the silence, Avery saw two pictures of Patty in the living room; one was on the mantel above the fireplace and another was a canvas hanging on the far living room wall. Avery’s suspicion had been right. The girl had been absolutely stunning.
Wendy and Richard were both sitting on the couch in the living room now. Wendy had gotten slight control of herself, letting out the occasional gut-wrenching sob as she lay against Richard’s shoulder.
With tears streaming down his face, Richard looked at Avery. “Can we see her? When can we see her?”
“Right now, Forensics is still trying to determine what might have happened to her. As you might imagine, the cold water and frigid temperatures make it harder to find clues or evidence. In the meantime, there are a few questions I’d like to ask you that may help us find answers.”
Both of them wore looks of confusion and absolute horror on their faces but it was clear that Wendy would be no help. She was stunned into silence, taking the occasional look around the living room as if checking to make sure she knew where she was.
“Of course, whatever questions you have,” Richard said. Avery thought the man was tough deep inside—perhaps trying to figure out some answers on his own.
“I know it’s going to seem like a strange question,” Avery said. “But was Patty the sort of girl to get really intricate with grooming and fingernails? Things like that?”
Richard let out a whimper and shook his head. He was still crying but was at least able to form words between his hitches for breath. “Not at all. She was actually sort of a tomboy. On any given day, I bet you’d find dirt under her nails before you found them with nail polish. She did get dolled up from time to time but only on special occasions. She sometimes paid a lot of attention to her hair, but she’s not—she wasn’t—a girl’s girl, you know?”
Correcting himself on wasn’t