Chapter Two Four weeks ago, when the Kara Lane story first broke, I had expected another of Gillian's "try to find out" calls. Over the years following Julia's disappearance, I had heard from Gillian whenever certain events were reported in the Express. If a Jane Doe was found, Gillian calmly asked me to try to find out if the unidentified body might be her mother's, never failing to recite the details of her mother's height and coloring and clothing and jewelry. Was the victim a blue-eyed brunette? Was the victim wearing a gold ring with three rubies?
If a man was arrested for killing a woman, she wanted me to interview him, to try to find out if he had killed her mother, too. If a suspected serial killer was arrested in another state, she wanted me to try to find out if he had ever been in Las Piernas.
I quit the paper once, and went to work for a public relations firm. She tracked me down and called me there -- O'Connor, my old mentor at the Express, was a soft touch for a missing persons case, and told her where to find me. When I told her that she should ask O'Connor to follow up on these stories, she quoted him as saying it would be good for me to remember what it was like to have a real job.
I could have refused her, of course, but even at an observer's distance, I had allowed myself to become too close to the Sayres' misery over those years.
I seldom saw Giles, and never away from his office; he apparently worked long hours to distract himself from his grief. His mother moved in with the family to help care for the children. Two months after Julia disappeared, Giles told me that he didn't know whether or not to hold a memorial service for her. "I don't even know what's involved in having her declared dead," he said. "My mother says I should wait, that people will think I was happy to be rid of her. Do you think anyone will think that?"
I told him that he should do what he needed to do for his family, and to hell with everybody else. It was advice he seemed unlikely to take -- the opinions of others seemed to matter a great deal to him.
Jason got into trouble at home and in school on a regular basis. His grandmother confided to me that his grades had dropped, he had quit playing sports, and had become a loner, having little to do with his old friends.
Only Gillian seemed to continue on with her life. She gave her grandmother as much grief as she had given Julia. She dropped out of high school, moved out and got a small apartment on her own, supported herself by working at a boutique on Allen Street -- Artsy-Fartsy Street, my friend Stuart Angert calls it. And spent four years quietly and persistently reminding the police and the press that someone ought to be looking for her missing mother, her determined stoicism shaming us into doing what little we could.
On the day the Kara Lane case first made headlines, Gillian waited for me outside the Wrigley Building, home of the Express. She seemed to me then as she had seemed from the first day I met her: no matter how likely it was that she would meet with disappointment, Gillian simply refused to acknowledge defeat. This affected me more than tears or hysterics. Nothing in her manner changed; she was often brusque, but she was never weak. Her clothing, hair, and makeup styles might be a little extreme, but her feelings -- whatever they were -- were not on display.
So I made calls, I followed up. There was never any progress. Until Kara Lane disappeared.
By then, I wasn't allowed to cover crime stories -- a result of my marriage to Frank Harriman, a homicide detective. But my marriage is more than worth the hassles it causes me at the Express and Frank at the LPPD.
As it happened, Frank was part of the team that investigated the Lane case. I learned details about it that I couldn't tell the paper's crime reporter, let alone Gillian. But before long, almost all of those details became public knowledge.
Kara Lane was forty-three, dark-haired, blue-eyed, a divorced mother of two teenage daughters. She had gone to the grocery store at eight o'clock one evening, and when she had not returned by eleven, her daughters became concerned. Too young to drive, they called a neighbor. By midnight, after a search of local store parking lots, the neighbor called Kara's ex-husband. After another search of the stores, the ex-husband called the police. The search for Kara Lane began in earnest early the next morning.
Several factors caused the police to search for her more quickly than they had Julia Sayre: Kara was a diabetic who needed daily insulin injections -- and she had not taken her medication with her; she had never before left her daughters alone at night; and during the morning briefing, Detective Frank Harriman noticed that in height, age, build, and hair color Kara Lane resembled Julia Sayre -- a woman whose daughter pestered his reporter wife every now and then. He suggested to his partner, Pete Baird, that they take a look at the Las Piernas Airport parking lot.
Kara Lane's aging VW van was parked in exactly the same space where Julia Sayre's Mercedes had been left four years earlier. Not long after they called in their discovery, the van was carefully searched. Kara's left ring finger was found in the glove compartment.
At this point, the department called Dr. David Niles, a forensic anthropologist who owned two dogs trained for both search and rescue and cadaver work, and asked him to bring them to the airport. The results were remarkable -- so remarkable that when Frank and Pete told me about it that evening, I was fairly sure they were exaggerating.
"One of his dogs -- Bingle -- is so smart," Pete said. "He can find anything. I mean, he makes these mutts of yours look retarded, Irene."
"Wait just a minute -- " I said, looking over at Deke, mostly black Lab, and Dunk, mostly shepherd, who were sleeping nearby.
"Our dogs are smart," Frank said, trying to head off an argument, "but Bingle is -- well, you'd have to see him to believe it. And he's highly trained -- "
"And don't forget Bool," Pete said. "His bloodhound. He works with two dogs. If one acts like he's found something, he gets the other to confirm it."
"Bingle has even located bodies underwater," Frank said.
"How is that possible?" I asked. "You put him in a little scuba outfit?"
"Very funny," Pete said.
"The dog can do it," Frank said. "It's not as miraculous as it sounds. The bacteria in a decomposing body cause it to give off gases. The scent rises through the water, and the dogs smell it when it reaches the surface. They can take Bingle out in a boat and cross the surface of a lake, and he'll indicate when he smells a body below."
"All right," I said, "that makes sense. But -- "
"Let us tell you what happened," Pete said.
The gist of the tale was that Bingle led a group of men at a fast clip over a weaving trail out of the parking structure and across the grounds of the airport. Then he headed toward an airplane hangar.
"He went bananas," Pete said, moving his hands in rapid dog-paddle fashion.
"He was pawing furiously at one of the back walls," Frank explained.
It took the police some time to get a warrant, and to locate the owner of the building, but they gained access. At first, nothing seemed amiss. The hangar was leased by Nicholas Parrish, a quiet man, the owner said; a man who paid his rent on time, never caused any problems. An airplane mechanic. The police ran Parrish's name through their computers -- he had no outstanding warrants. In fact, he had no criminal record at all.
David Niles brought out Bool and let the bloodhound sniff an article of Kara Lane's clothing. Bool, who needed this "pre-scenting" in order to track, traced a path almost identical to the one Bingle had followed.
Frank suggested getting a crime scene unit to check the hangar with luminol, a chemical capable of detecting minute traces of blood, but the skeptics in the group were starting to grumble, especially Reed Collins and Vince Adams, the detectives in charge of the Lane case.
"Collins is starting to make remarks about wasting precious time and his partner is making noise about wild goose chases," Pete said, "when all of a sudden, Bingle lifts his head and sings." Pete crooned a single high note that brought both of our dogs to their feet, heads cocked. "David gives another command and the dog takes off again."
This time the dog headed across the Tarmac, to a field beyond the nearest runway. When he stopped, he pranced and bounced around, pawing furiously at the earth, crooning again -- actions which Pete, getting into his story, performed for us. Quite a workout.
David moved ahead, to the place where Bingle had alerted, and called back, "I think he's found her."
The others soon caught up. They saw the shallow grave, the freshly turned earth, and a woman's shoe protruding from something shiny and green -- plastic sheeting. Frank got on the radio, telling the officers in the hangar that they should secure the area, call out a crime scene unit, and put out an APB for Nicholas Parrish.
"The whole time he's on the radio, I'm moving a little closer," Pete said, "and I see what the dog was digging at, what he uncovered. It's her hand -- you know, the left one, the one that's missing the finger."
I looked at Frank. "Gillian Sayre will -- "
"You can't tell her yet," he said firmly. "Nobody. Not any of this. Not yet."
But by the next morning the Kara Lane case had made the front page, and Gillian was standing outside the newspaper, looking a little more anxious than usual. When I was within a few feet of her, she held up a creased copy of the Express and pointed to Parrish's photo. "He's the one who took my mother."
"It looks as if the cases have a lot in common," I agreed.
"No. I mean, I know he's the one. He used to live on our street -- a long time ago."
"What? How long ago?"
"Before my mom disappeared."
"Have you told the police?"
She shook her head. I wasn't surprised. Whatever faith she might have once had in the police had been damaged when the LPPD delayed searching for her mother, and was utterly destroyed when they had failed to find her. Gillian and I shared a dislike of Bob Thompson, the Las Piernas Police Department homicide detective who handled her mother's case. Once or twice she had talked to other homicide detectives when a Jane Doe was found, but usually she relied on me to make contact with the police on her behalf.
"I thought maybe you could tell your husband," she said now.
"Yes, sure," I said, still reeling. "Parrish lived there alone?"
"No. I think his sister owned the house."
"You ever see anything strange going on there?"
"No, not really. They were quiet. She moved away -- don't remember exactly when. I don't know where she lives now. She wasn't friendly."
She shrugged. "He kind of kept to himself. I guess he was nice to everybody -- you know, smiled and waved. But he used to stare at my mom."
Now, as I held fast to the armrests of my seat while the plane jolted in the choppy air above the southern Sierra Nevadas, I watched the killer awaken not far from me. It was not difficult for me to imagine Nicholas Parrish stalking his prey, staring at Julia Sayre as she left the house to run errands, or as she worked in her garden, or came home from the store. Staring at her, while she imagined herself safe from harm.
Staring at her, much in the same way he was staring at me now.
Copyright © 1999 by Jan Burke