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The lights from the squad cars were still flashing in the night, illuminating the modest apartment building in alternate shades of blue and black. Larry Millsaps pulled his unmarked Chevy to the curb and glanced at his partner. 'So much for having a night off.'
Tony Danks nodded bleakly as he scanned the crowd forming on the sidewalk. Officers were already questioning some of the neighbors, and other uniformed cops came and went through the building's front door. 'This hasn't happened in how long?'
Larry grabbed his windbreaker from the backseat and pulled it on over the 9 mm he had holstered under his arm. 'Almost a year since the last one.'
They got out of the car and pushed through the crowd, not bothering to flash their badges since all of the cops in the small St. Clair Police Department knew the two detectives by sight. They made their way through the crowd into the building. 'One a year is too many for me,' Larry said. He'd been plagued by the trauma on the young girl's face the last time. There was a look that rape victims wore, a waiflike, haunted look that spoke of violation and soul-deep despair. This one probably would be no different, and he started up the stairs reluctantly, past the other tenants who were watching the open door of the apartment with fascination and dread, waiting for bits and pieces of the drama to be revealed.
There were four cops inside the apartment, two with cameras and one with a camcorder, recording the crime scene just as they'd found it. Lamps were broken, tables overturned, glass shattered.
Larry spotted the victim then, sitting alone on a chair in a corner, cocooned in a blanket, her blonde hair wet and stringing in her face and around her shoulders, her pale blue eyes raw and swollen from crying. One of the cops handed him a clipboard with her report on it, then turned his back to her and, in a quiet voice, said, 'She showered before she called.'
'Figures,' Tony whispered.
Larry looked back at the young woman and felt that familiar, unwelcome stirring of frustration and compassion as she glanced hopefully up at him with big, blue, tearful eyes, as if he might offer her some comfort, some hope, some something. Her showering would definitely make it tougher to get the evidence they needed, but Larry couldn't say he blamed her. She had been defiled, desecrated, dehumanized, and he couldn't imagine any victim of such abuse not wanting to wash the filth away.
'Is she hurt?' he asked.
The uniformed cop nodded. 'He had a knife. She has a pretty deep cut on her leg. The ambulance should be here soon.'
Larry stepped over the broken glass, the lamp shades on their sides, and skirted around the overturned table until he stood in front of the woman. 'Hi, I'm Detective Millsaps.' He glanced over his shoulder and saw that Tony was right behind him. 'This is my partner, Detective Danks. Are you all right?'
She swallowed hard and whispered, 'Yes.'
Stooping down to get eye level with her, Larry glanced down at the report the other officer had handed him. 'Your name is Melissa Nelson? May I call you Melissa?'
'Yes,' she said again.
'Good,' he said in a don't-spook-the-victim voice. 'And you can call me Larry. He's Tony.' He scanned the information the first cop to the scene had compiled, and saw that she was twenty-three years old. He looked into her face again. 'Melissa, I know that you've already given your statement, but would you mind telling it one more time? Tony and I will be the ones trying to find the man who did this to you. We really need to hear it firsthand.'
A stark, determined look filled her reddened eyes. 'Yes. I'll tell it over and over until they catch him,' she said through clenched teeth. 'I don't care how many times I have to tell it.'
'Good. First, could you start with a description of him?'
'I can do better than that,' she said, smearing her tears away with a trembling hand. 'I can give you his name.'
'You know him?' Tony asked, sitting down on an ottoman near her chair.
'Yes. I work with him. His name is Edward Soames, and he lives in some apartments on Fresco Street on the north side of town.'
Larry jotted down the street. 'Have you given this information to anyone else?'
'Yes,' she said. 'The first officer I talked to is calling it in.' A sob broke her voice, and she gave in to it, then tried to recover. 'He probably thought I wouldn't tell anybody, that I'd be too ashamed. That I'd just sit here and deal with it.'
Tony took his notepad out of his coat pocket and clicked his pen. 'Was this someone you were dating?'
She shot him a disgusted look. 'Of course not. I was just sitting here watching television, and he knocked on the door. When I opened it, he pushed his way in. He grabbed me, and I started fighting him with everything I had but it didn't stop him'
'I understand he had a weapon?' Larry asked.
'Yes,' she said. 'A knife. A switchblade, I think.' She opened her blanket, revealing the shorts and T-shirt she wore, and lifted the bloody towel she'd been pressing on her leg. 'I thought he was going to kill me.'
Larry winced at the sight of the cut. 'That's deep. You're going to need stitches. The ambulance should be here soon.'
'It just all happened so fast,' she went on. 'And then he was gone and I didn't know what to do. I was so disgusted, so repulsed I didn't think about the evidence. I just wanted to wash it all away but it's not going to go away '
She was trembling, and Larry feared she was going into shock from loss of blood. He made her press the towel back over the wound. Outside, sirens sounded. He hoped it was the ambulance.