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On the path, Detective Becca Hilliard paused for a second, taking in her surroundings at the Garden of the Gods Park. As she approached a crime scene, she liked to get her bearings, especially when it was outside.
The metallic stench of blood laced the cool morning air. A pale-blue sky with a few streaks of white stretched out above her. The soaring red rock formations in the park and Pikes Peak jutting upward in the background vied for her attention. The day was beautiful. Too beautiful for a murder, but since being transferred to homicide, she had learned a murder could happen anywhere, anytime.
A few uniforms stationed around the perimeter of the crime scene and, off to the side, a young couple with her partner, Sam Vance, were the only people in this more isolated area of the park. The man had his arm around the woman, trying to comfort her. Sam spoke to the blond lady whose pale, tear-streaked face brought forth all the churning emotions Becca experienced when viewing a violent crime. She wasn't sure she would ever be able to anesthetize herself completely when seeing a dead body, as some of her fellow police officers had managed to do.
Sam gave her a nod and headed toward her. "We gotta stop meeting like this."
"It's Dahlia Sainsbury, the curator at the Colorado Springs Impressionist Museum. With all that has happened lately, I can't say that I'm surprised by this murder."
"Especially since she's suspected of a connection to the drugs that were being distributed from the tunnels under the museum. Alessandro was sure she knew what was going on. He believes that she tried to poison Colleen. It would have only been a matter of time before we had enough evidence to formally charge her."
"Yeah, she was playing with the big boys, and they don't play fair."
"Do you think Escalante killed her because of what happened in the tunnels with Alessandro? If so, why?" Becca gestured toward the face-down body of Dahlia, a bullet hole in her back, red fanning out from it. Becca's gaze riveted to the dead woman's left arm, which was stretched out above her head. "It certainly wasn't robbery. That diamond bracelet on her arm has to be worth a small fortune. And her purse is next to her."
"With everything in it, as far as we can tell. It clearly wasn't robbery. She was shot at very close range."
"Which means she either was surprised or knew the person who shot her and was running away. How long has she been dead?"
"With lividity and rigor mortis, the medical examiner says between six and ten hours. He'll know more after he examines the body at the morgue."
"So what was Dahlia Sainsbury doing in the park after hours?"
"Meeting someone? We found a set of footprints near the body. A man's, from the size."
Becca stepped closer to the body and examined it, making sure not to disturb any evidence since the crime-scene unit hadn't arrived yet. "It doesn't look like there was much of a struggle. Who found her? That couple?"
"Yeah, I've got some uniforms canvassing the area to see if anyone else heard something, but I doubt it with this place's isolation."
"Let's separate our couple. You take the man. I'll take the woman." Becca made her way toward the pair.
The blonde raised her head, her teary gaze taking in Becca's approach.
"Hello, I'm Detective Becca Hilliard. May I have a word with you?" She placed her hand on the woman's arm and directed her to the side, away from the young man. Reaching into her jacket pocket of her navy blue pantsuit, she retrieved her pad and pen then continued,
"I'm so sorry you had to find this. It's never easy, Ms....?"
"Carrie Young," the woman said with a sniffle, brushing her hand across her cheek.
"Is that your boyfriend? Husband?"
Carrie glanced at the man talking to Sam. "Just a good friend. We like to hike together. This was our favorite trail until —" She hugged her arms to herself, her eyelids sliding closed for a few seconds while she sucked gulps of air into her lungs.
"Tell me what happened." Even after eight years on the force, Becca had a hard time dealing with the effects that a death caused on the people left behind. Interviewing the person who found a body or a loved one of the victim drained her emotionally.
"There isn't much to tell. We were walking along the trail. She isn't hard to see. She's — she's —" Carrie swallowed several times " — right there two feet from the path." She waved her hand in the direction of the body but didn't look at it, her mouth compressed into a frown.
"Did you touch her or anything?"
Carrie's eyes grew round. "Me? No! I couldn't. Bud did, though. He checked for a pulse to see if she was alive."
"On her neck. He said she was cold." Carrie shuddered, clasping her arms even tighter to her. "I had my cell phone. I called the police. We waited for them at the trail head. I couldn't wait here." Another tremor shook the woman.
"Can you think of anything else?"
"She wasn't dressed for hiking or the outdoors. She looks like she was dressed for a date."
Becca remembered the spiked blue heels and matching silk dress that Dahlia wore and had to agree with Carrie. Who had she been dating? Becca jotted a note to herself to check into that. Maybe this wasn't connected to the drug gang, Escalante and everything else that had happened in the past few months, starting with the attempted murder of the mayor. First rule of police work: don't assume anything.
The ring on Becca's cell phone blared "Old MacDonald Had a Farm." She unhooked it from her waist and flipped it open. "Hilliard here."
"A man's threatening to jump off the new building going up at Carson and Quincy."
"I can be there in fifteen." She clipped the phone back on her belt and said to Carrie, "I have to leave. My partner will take the rest of your statement." She quickly moved to Sam. "Can you finish? That was Sarge. I've got a jumper."
"Sure," Sam said as she started down the trail at a jog. Two minutes later, as the crime-scene unit pulled into the parking lot, Becca peeled out, siren on, and raced toward the construction site, hoping she could make it before the person carried through with his threat. As a member of the negotiation team for the police department, she responded to hostage, suicide or barricade situations when the need arose. Her heart raced, with adrenaline pumping into her system as fast as her car sped toward her destination.
Becca drove to the cordoned-off area where the team leader had set up his command post. Beyond the barricade a crowd of people gathered with their attention glued to the top of the unfinished building. Leaping from her car, she went to her trunk and removed her body armor. The man threatening suicide stood on the top ledge ten stories up. Most likely he didn't have a gun, but she never knew, so she always wore protection. "What do we have, Sarge?" Becca asked the team leader, Carl Johnson, as she slipped on her body armor.
"I just got here myself a few minutes ago. Quinn Montgomery called 911 and is talking to the man right now. He's the man's boss, owns the company putting up this building. The first person on the scene was a uniform. He's up there now with Montgomery."
"Who's the jumper?"
"David James. Don't know much yet. Here, put this transmitter on." Sarge handed her a beeperlike device to clip at her waist. "And use this earpiece. I'll feed you information on the jumper as I get it."
She rode the elevator to the top floor and hurried toward the stairs that led to the roof, nodding toward the uniformed officer standing guard at the door. Wind played with stray strands of her ponytail. The sun beat down, heating the concrete. She'd prefer to wear her sunglasses, but it was important for David James to see her eyes and connect with her. Instead, she squinted against the glare and headed toward a large man standing a few feet from the jumper, who was poised on the ledge. One step the wrong way and David would go down ten stories.
"David, I'll help you any way I can. Just come down from there."
Montgomery's deep, baritone voice held a calm, soothing tone. Becca was impressed that even his stance didn't convey any irritation or anger. She placed her hand on Montgomery's arm to indicate she was present since his full attention was on his employee. He gave her a slight nod but kept his gaze trained on the jumper.
David glanced her way. His eyes widened. He took a small step to the side away from her and Montgomery, but didn't say anything.
"Hello, David. I'm Becca Hilliard. I'm a negotiator with the police. I'd like to help you."
"Help me? No one can!"
Becca moved next to Montgomery, aware that his gaze was now on her. The air sizzled with tension. "You don't think anyone can help you?"
David's attention darted to Montgomery then back to her. "My wife left me and took the kids. Can you bring her back and make everything like it was before —" He worked his mouth but no more words came out. Peering away, he clenched his hands at his sides.
Montgomery started to take a step toward David. Becca stopped him and shook her head. She mouthed the words, "Too dangerous."
David looked at her again. "I want things back the way they were."
"You sound frustrated."
"I am. There was no warning. I came home yesterday and she was gone."Anger lining his face, the jumper snapped his fingers, the gesture making him wobble.
Becca held her breath, knowing if he lost his balance neither she nor Montgomery would be able to reach the man in time. David steadied himself, his eyes growing round as he glimpsed the ground ten stories below. That was a good sign. Perhaps David hadn't thought this suicide attempt completely through. In her earpiece Sarge told her he would see what he could discover about David's wife. "Do you plan to commit suicide, David?" she asked, having learned it was important to establish that up front.
He blinked. Montgomery stiffened beside her. "I — I — don't —" David cleared his throat. "Yes. I don't have anything to live for. My family's gone. I have bills I can't pay."
Becca started to push Montgomery back toward the stairs, where it was safer, when he interjected, "I'll help you with that, David."
The jumper's gaze swung to the man next to her. Surprised by the offer, she, too, wanted to look at Montgomery, but she didn't dare take her eyes off David James. Again she acknowledged the calm power behind Montgomery's words, as though he knew instinctively what to do in a situation like this.
"You see, there are ways to help you, David. If you come down from there, we can talk about it." Becca concentrated on keeping her voice even, nonthreatening.
For a long moment David didn't say anything, then he shook his head as though trying to rid his mind of some image. "Help? I've tried talking to her. She won't listen."
"When you tried to talk to your wife, she wouldn't listen?"