Read an Excerpt
The day Olivia St. Martin’s life turned upside down for the second time began like any other.
She inserted two slides onto the glass plate of the microscope and bent over the lens, adjusting the magnification until the minute carpet threads became clear. She recognized a match immediately, but went through all the points of commonality for her report and indicated them on the lab sheet.
When she was done, she used the microscope’s built-in camera to photograph the matched fibers, removed the evidence with latex-covered hands, and preserved it in a sealed case to prevent contamination.
She signed the report, then reviewed the file to make sure her team had finished processing all evidence in the Camero murder. Everything appeared in order, though DNA hadn’t reported in yet. A foreign pubic hair had been retrieved from the victim and sent to the CODIS unit to be analyzed and run through the database. Contrary to what was implied on popular television, DNA matching was a slow, laborious process largely dependent on staff and resources.
Olivia loved her job and had been well rewarded: last year, she’d been promoted to director of Trace Evidence and Materials Analysis at the FBI’s Virginia-based laboratory. The door opened and Olivia glanced up as Dr. Greg van Buren walked in. Her ex-husband’s grim expression surprised her: Greg was generally either amused or thoughtful, rarely depressed.
She arched her eyebrow as she closed the file folder. “Olivia.” Greg cleared his throat. Beneath his wire-rimmed glasses, his clear blue eyes narrowed with concern. He shifted uneasily and glanced down. Something was wrong.
Her chest tightened. “What is it?”
“Let’s go for a walk.”
Her legs weren’t completely steady when she stood, but she kept her head up as she walked down the hall with Greg. They were on the top floor of the three-story building, but took the stairs rather than the elevator to the main level.
Outside, a wave of hot, humid air washed over Olivia. She scrunched her nose. The cotton lining of her skirt instantly stuck to her legs and she resisted the urge to adjust it. She’d never get used to these sticky East Coast summers. She’d thought once Labor Day had passed, the weather would cool; no such luck. She never thought she’d miss the San Francisco peninsula’s gray mornings, but she’d trade humidity for fog any day.
She studied Greg’s demeanor and posture—something was very wrong. Her stomach flipped. She was impatient for him to tell her, yet it might well be something she didn’t want to know.
They walked past the stone plaque in front of the FBI laboratory, erected when the new facility opened in 2003.
BEHIND EVERY CASE IS A VICTIM—MAN, WOMAN, OR CHILD—AND THE PEOPLE WHO CARE FOR THEM. WE DEDICATE OUR EFFORTS AND THE NEW FBI LABORATORY BUILDING TO THOSE VICTIMS.
Olivia rarely allowed her emotions to surface, in public or private, but the sign never failed to move her, reminding her there was always more than one victim in every crime. That the dead left behind people who loved them. Family, friends, and often whole communities mourned, sometimes so deeply they resembled an empty shell, gutted. All the survivors had left was their hope that the guilty would be punished for their crimes.
“Liv, I don’t know how to tell you this.”
Greg stopped walking and they stood in the shade of the building. Two smokers loitered in the designated smoking area a few dozen feet away. A faint trail of stale cigarette smoke hung in the still air.
“I don’t understand why they don’t move the smoking area farther away,” Olivia said, delaying the conversation.
Greg frowned. “Olivia, this is important.”
His tone set Olivia’s entire body on edge. She turned and stared at his aristocratic profile. His long face, chiseled nose, deep-set eyes. Greg van Buren—a distant relative of the former president—was attractive in a quiet, preppy way. He was familiar, soothing.
“All right, so tell me.” She tried to disguise her tension under an air of disinterest.
Pain clouded in his eyes. And worry. “Hamilton Craig called me today.”
“Why in the world would Hamilton call you?” She had seen the district attorney just three months before, when her sister’s killer was up for parole, which had rightfully been denied.
Craig was growing old and had announced he’d be retiring at the end of his current term. Olivia now asked, “Is something wrong? Is he okay?”
“He’s fine,” Greg said. “It’s about Hall.”
Olivia closed her eyes. She couldn’t think about Brian Harrison Hall without conflicting emotions. Pain. Sorrow. Victory. Emptiness. Satisfaction that he was in prison, where he belonged. Rage that he hadn’t been put to death. Her sister was dead because of him; he should have met the same fate. But the California Supreme Court tossed out the death penalty shortly after his conviction, so every three to five years he went up for parole.
She hadn’t missed even one of Hall’s six parole hearings. She would do anything to keep him behind bars.
“What?” Outwardly, she was calm. Composed. Professional. Inside, her nerves vibrated at an uncomfortable pitch.
“His attorney petitioned for a DNA test. The police had preserved evidence including pubic hair samples. So there was something to compare Hall’s DNA with. The court granted the request last month. The California state lab issued their report this morning.” He paused, running a hand through his short-cropped hair. “I don’t know how to say this except flat out. No match.”
Olivia was certain she hadn’t heard Greg accurately. “I don’t understand,” she said slowly. “No match to what?”
“Hall’s DNA does not match the pubic hair found on your sister’s body.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Her voice was reasonable. Her words were not, but she didn’t care. There had to have been a mistake.
Evidence doesn’t lie.
“Hall’s being released tomorrow.”
“No. No,” she said, shaking her head. “It can’t be.
He killed Missy. He killed her. I saw him.”
She spoke matter-of-factly. She had seen him. She remembered the black truck. The blue eagle tattoo. The tattoo still on his arm. His blond hair. The truck was his—the evidence had proved it.
She hadn’t known anything about the investigation when it happened thirty-four years ago. But she’d read the reports multiple times since. Memorized them. Olivia knew every grisly detail of what Brian Harrison Hall had done to her sister. Fibers from the floor mats of his truck were found on Missy’s body. Her blood was found on his front seat.
The murdering bastard.
“Hamilton faxed me the report. I read it carefully. I called the California state crime lab and talked to the technician who ran the comparison. There’s no mistake, Liv.”
Her shout startled both of them. She never shouted. She never raised her voice. Greg reached to touch her arm.
“Olivia, let me help—”
She jerked away. “I want to see the report.”
Before Greg could dissuade her, she stormed off toward the side doors, slapping her ID card on the keypad to regain access to the building. She heard his footfall behind her as she yanked open the door to the stairwell and raced up to the third floor.
There had to be a mistake. Hall’s new attorney had switched the evidence. It was corrupted. Not enough to match. The sample degenerated over time. There was a reason for this lie. There was always a reason. Hall was guilty. He killed Missy. He killed her, dammit!
With every step up, Olivia's fear and rage grew. Rage that justice had not been served. That Hall would be getting out on a technicality instead of rotting in prison. That he was playing the system, his miserable defense lawyer trying to make a name for himself as an advocate for murderers.
Then came fear. Deep, bone numbing fear jolted something deep inside Olivia, fear that Hall was innocent. That Missy’s killer was still at large. That he was still killing girls. Destroying families. Breaking hearts.
And it was all her fault.
She faltered in her brisk stride and reached out for support, her hand shaking as it touched the wall.
Greg caught up with her in the corridor outside the DNA laboratory. “Olivia, stop.”
She couldn’t look at him, fearful that her eyes would expose her raw soul.
“No you’re not.”
“I just need to see the evidence.” She spoke each word carefully, clearly, her jaw clenched.
“Show me the damn report!”
She took a deep breath and bit the inside of her cheek to control her emotions. With every ounce of willpower, she composed herself and turned a blank face to her ex-husband.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “That was uncalled for. I shouldn’t take out my frustration on you.”
She would not break down in front of Greg. Olivia St. Martin would not break down in front of anyone.
He opened his mouth to say something and Olivia steeled herself to defend her position professionally. She was a professional after all, able to look objectively at evidence. To see the truth in the facts, and present those facts clearly, concisely, to her peers or the court.
She could do it now.
He closed his mouth and used his passkey to unlock the lab door.
“The report is on my desk.”