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I called Leroy on the radio. "Where are you?"
"My ETA is about five minutes," he said.
I knew him well enough to know when he said "about," he'd be here in ten or so. "I'm heading in the front door. I want you at the back door as soon as you get here."
"Kate, I said I'd be there in five!"
"Good. Take the back." I wasn't waiting. I drew my gun.
The unlocked front door didn't surprise me. A lot of people didn't lock houses in this small town. As I quietly pushed open the door, I couldn't help but wonder if I'd be safer if the place was locked, forcing me to bang on the outside and yell "police." But then, you didn't know which was the best bet, going in quiet or announced.
Just inside was a foyer with a fireplace that looked as if it hadn't been used for years. I stopped and listened. Silence, except for the hard thumping of my heart. I swallowed. I was scared, but I was more scared about Janie. A small prayer flashed through my mind and I again started forward.
The smell of old brass fixtures mingled with that of pristine upholstery from the stiff parlor chairs. A small stand between the chairs held a lamp, the statue of a woman holding up a light. Beside the lamp was a large, black bible. While standing on an Oriental rug, I watched and listened for any telltale signs of someone lurking in the shadows. A light shone from a hall at the far end of the living room.
I heard each breath I took as I made my way toward the illumination I was fairly sure led to the kitchen. The hardwood floors made stepping silently a challenge. After rounding the corner, I froze. Strands of auburn hair lay limply on the tiled floor next to a broken teacup and saucer. Iforced my next breath and my next step. The rest of the body came into view. Ethel Gregory was sprawled on the floor. One hand leaned against the leg of the kitchen table. Her face was antique white.
I scanned the kitchen to make sure I was alone, then bent and touched Ethel's neck. Cool flesh tingled at my fingertips. Her pulse had long ago faded. This was the first time I'd touched a dead body. As I withdrew my fingers, they still felt an unnatural numbness.
Relief clashed with guilt as I realized the victim was Ethel, not Janie. But was Janie safe? A rustle sounded from behind. With a smooth motion I came upright, tightened my grip on my gun and spun around.