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Claire Jenson was out back in her favorite part of the garden, the section where she'd tossed seeds this past spring, nothing structured, nothing formal, just scattered here and there the way her grandmother had taught her, when the call came from Chicago telling her that her youngest daughter had been murdered.
She clutched her portable phone, her hands dry and cold in spite of the fact that it was early August and Illinois had been in the middle of a heat wave for over two weeks, thinking how out of place a call like that was on a day like this. This was no place for talk of death. This garden was alive.
Birds squabbled and chattered down at the end of the yard, where Barry had planted five flowering plums two years ago in honor of their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. A rabbit scampered into a patch of sunflowers, where her nest and several babies waited. A hummingbird hovered over the tallest of the blood-red hollyhocks, the Atchison's new baby wailed next door, and it was almost time to go inside and start supper.
However, the steaks thawing on the counter would have to wait now. Tomorrow, as soon as she straightened out this horrible mistake, she'd get to them. But not now. Right now the thought of dinner made her nauseous, because somehow she'd to have to tell Lannie her sister was dead, and she had no idea how to go about it.
Only a year ago she'd had to sit both of her daughters down in a hospital corridor and tell them their father was gone, dead with a sudden heart attack. There'd been only the three of them after that, and now…somehow the thought couldn't fully form…she could onlythink…Two…
She stared at her hands and wiped them on her slacks, only half-noticing they were her clean white linen ones, and stood for a couple of minutes trying to focus, trying to understand, but where understanding had been, now there was only pain. She forced herself to walk into the house, into the kitchen where she tried to find her voice to call Lannie, but her glance moved toward a small framed handprint on the wall by the refrigerator that True had made fifteen years ago, when she was only four. The tiny handprint swam in front of her eyes as Claire found herself sinking to the floor and heard her own voice, a primal, anguished sound that only she could hear, coming from somewhere deep inside.
Not True. Oh, dear God, please, not my baby now. Please, not True…
* * * *
In Chicago's Twenty First District, Area One Police Headquarters at 29th and South Prairie, it was business as usual. Sergeant Detective Martin Slade of the Violent Crimes Division limped through the front door on his way back to his office. He was trying to ease the shooting pain in his knee, a reminder of his last perp chase through a junkyard years ago when he was still a street cop and also a reminder he wasn't getting any younger.
Three uniformed policemen occupied the main entrance, a long, narrow, but well-lit space with its entire left side taken up by the massive front desk. They were wrapping up their late afternoon shift paperwork. In spite of the age of computers, they still did their paperwork mainly by hand, to be hopefully translated into readable English and entered into the computer by the night shift records clerk.
The night shift cops, most of them younger men, straggled in one by one through the back door, wearing their own particular brand of uniform–jeans, tee shirts with slogans, scruffy tennis shoes for jumping fences and chasing drug dealers and armed robbers and wife abusers and child molesters.
Area One was fairly quiet this late Friday afternoon. The phones weren't ringing off the hook just yet, although this precinct, which covered the Hyde Park area and all along the south side lake front, would begin rockin' and rollin' as soon as the sun went down. That was a given. Weekends were always hell in Area One.
He headed toward the stairs and glanced into one of the small rooms to the right that doubled as a consultation-holding room. One lone young man, whose handcuffs had been attached to a ring in the wall, had been left for a few minutes to stare at his shoes and contemplate the error of his ways, while his arresting officers grabbed a cup of coffee in the small anteroom around the corner.
In the basement, Marty knew several of the night shift officers would already be sprawled, half-napping, over their schoolroom-type desks, awaiting their assignments. Life in the precinct was always interesting, even fun once in a while, but when he reached his office on the second floor he slumped into his chair with his head bowed, wondering for the hundredth time this month why he hadn't gone into architecture, as his father had wanted him to.
"Did they show up yet?"
Martin tore his gaze away from the photos of the young woman whose body had been found in her Hyde Park apartment the day before. He was still upset by them, although he'd been a Chicago cop for almost thirty of his fifty-one years and should have been used to photographs of corpses by now.
"Not yet," he said, eyeing Detective John Minelli, a tall man with thinning blonde hair, narrow lips and jaw line and opaque blue-gray eyes that most of the time were deliberately expressionless because they'd seen too much misery and death. "I called the victim's mother late yesterday afternoon, downstate in Lansberry. She's on her way now, I told her to come straight here. It's gotta be rough on her, she told me her husband died a year or so ago, and now there's only her and her oldest daughter.
John nodded. "You going to wait here till they arrive?"
Marty didn't want to. The last thing he wanted to do today was face another grieving mother. Mothers were always the worst, crying and demanding to know who the killer was this minute. In this case it was going to take a while, because other than the fact they were pretty sure at least one man had done it because of evidence of sexual activity and the method, there wasn't a clue to be found in the victim's apartment. No motive, either. According to the people they'd questioned so far, True Jenson was a nice, quiet young woman who went to work every day, did her job well, didn't socialize much, and hadn't, as far as her co-workers knew, dated anyone since she'd moved to Chicago to start her job six months ago.
"Yeah," he said, "I'll stick around. They should be here any time." His gaze moved back to the photos. "Look at this," he said, "she was only a baby. Nineteen years old, no sign of drugs, clean, sweet looking. What kind of a monster could do this to a kid like that?"
Copyright © 2003 by Beth Amerski