Tall, Dark And Deadly
By Lorie O'Clare
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2009 Lorie O'Clare
All rights reserved.
"Copy that." Lt. Grace Jordan held the two-way radio to her lips while resting her elbow on the roof of her squad car. She lowered her gaze, fighting to concentrate. The longer she stared at the god-awful scene, the more her mind started fucking with her.
"There's nothing on file," Christy Briggs, the RPD dispatcher, repeated.
Grace let her finger off the toggle button of the two-way microphone. The curly cord stretched to its limit where she stood next to the open driver's side door. "I can't believe there's never been a rape before in Rockville, South Dakota."
"There have been. They just don't get reported," the dispatcher offered, speaking a bit too comfortably over a two-way radio for Grace's comfort.
"Ten four," Grace said, lowering the radio. She'd question Christy about what she just said when she got back to the station. God, anyone could listen in on a two-way.
"Rockville is a small town. We might be in the Badlands, but that doesn't mean we have a high crime rate." Lt. Eugene Bosley paused at the front of her car. "All that means is that if there are any rapes, they aren't reported."
"Huh," she muttered, pushing a stubborn strand of hair that wouldn't stay with the others behind her ear. "That's what your dispatcher just said."
"She's your dispatcher now, too." Bosley's grin seemed out of place on the moonless night that made everything seem darker. With a brutalized and very dead body not twenty feet away, smiling about anything didn't fit the setting. He watched her move the strand behind her ear and rubbed his fingers together, like he ached to do it for her. "Everyone knows Margaret Young disappeared, but her mother won't file a missing persons report so we can't investigate. She's convinced Margaret will come home on her own. My bet is she looks like this one here, if not worse, right about now." He thumbed in the direction over his shoulder.
"Lovely image," Grace grumbled, letting her gaze shift to the body on the ground behind Bosley. Already yellow tape surrounded the crime scene and every squad car owned by the Rockville, South Dakota, police department had to be parked around them.
It was a bitch learning this antiquated system Rockville used. Grace bent over into her car, put the two-way back on its clip on the dash, and reached for her flashlight. Officers were all over the crime scene. Grace wouldn't let lack of technology botch up her investigation. She prayed the cops with her new department were better trained than the equipment they used or they'd trample over any possible evidence before she got a chance to bag and document it.
"Time to rely on old-fashioned intuition," she ordered herself.
"On what?" Bosley was right behind her when she straightened. His Clark Kent good looks were as out of place in this morbid scene as his jovial manner. "Stick with me. I'll show you the ropes, sweetheart."
"I've seen rape before." She knew more about the despicable act than anyone in this town would ever know. "Have we gotten ahold of her parents yet?"
"They're on their way now," Bosley told her as he walked by her side over to the body lying behind the Dairy Queen.
Grace looked around the dark parking lot and across the street at the courthouse. Amazing that someone could do something this horrendous in the middle of town and get away with it. Grace wouldn't ever get the stomach for this — no matter how many grotesque things she'd learned humans were capable of over the years. She turned, putting her hand over her mouth, and squatted in front of the young girl lying partially naked on the asphalt.
"Looks like she was pretty," Grace said, adjusting her latex gloves before reaching to move a strand of blonde hair from the victim's face.
"April Monroe. Age eighteen. Graduated from Rockville High but not employed. Marla works over at Stop And Go. She's locking the place up and should be here soon." Bosley stood over April, his matter-of-fact tone flat, sounding bored.
"Is she okay to drive over here?" Grace asked. She stared at the halter top strap that was pulled halfway down the girl's arm and at her shorts, which were twisted around her ankles.
"The Stop And Go is just down the street." Bosley patted Grace's head as he remained standing next to her. "But I think she's got a ride bringing her."
Grace nodded, ignoring the sensation that he petted her like she was some kind of fucking pet. Instead of growling at Bosley to keep his paws to himself, she shifted, moving away from him and focused on April.
With nothing more than distraught parents calling dispatch because their babysitter wasn't there when they arrived home, and then an idle passerby spotting the body while cutting through the parking lot heading home after his shift, Grace didn't have shit to go on. They confirmed April was the babysitter for the Harrises and had sat on previous nights without any problems. The Harrises didn't find anything out of place, but Grace planned to make their home her next stop.
"So April vanishes from her babysitting job and no one saw a thing," she mused. Grace touched April's chin, noting the makeup that April probably had taken care to apply. Now it was smeared around her eyes and black lines smudged down her cheeks. Her lips had bright red lipstick smeared across them like she had fought off being kissed repeatedly. There was bruising around her mouth as well. "And this other girl, Margaret Young, she just vanished, too?"
"You're comparing apples to oranges here." Bosley looked irritated and waved off her confused expression. "Margaret was trash. Even her mother knew it. April on the other hand ..."
"Was? Knew? You're referring to Margaret as if she's already dead.
"It's hard saying with a girl like her."
"If April was such a good girl, then why is she lying here dead?" Grace hated labels and insinuations. They were often inaccurate and they were bad investigation techniques.
"I'm good, darling, but I'm not that good." His smile gave her the chills.
Grace looked away from him, but not before letting him see her disgust. "Is the M.E. on their way?"
"Starkey should be here any minute. I put a call in to his house myself," Bosley said. "The M.E. is just Robert Starkey."
Rockville wasn't a big town, which was part of the appeal in accepting the position here. She would learn her way around soon enough. "Do you know if April ran with kids she went to high school with?" Grace did know that there was only one grade school and one high school in Rockville.
"You think someone she went to school with did this?" Bosley asked incredulously, like he didn't believe it to be the case. He walked around April, focusing on Grace but then shifting his attention to April when Grace looked up at him. The radio beeped in the car and he walked over to answer it.
Grace trained her flashlight over April. It would be hard to speculate anything until after the autopsy. Not knowing anything about the teenage girl, other than she once was very pretty, Grace did know there wasn't anything April could have done to deserve dying like this.
"Bruises on her right and left arm, a very obvious fat lip, possibly a broken nose. Right eye is swollen shut," Grace said to herself, making mental notes for now on April's condition. "Her hands are crossed over her pelvic bone, one over the other," she continued, and then glanced around her, looking for someone with a camera. "Bosley," she yelled. "We need pictures."
Two officers standing over by the yellow tape appeared to be doing nothing more than watching and talking among themselves. Fine with her. They couldn't fuck anything up if they stood back.
Lifting the hand that rested, palm down, over the wrist above April's other hand, Grace looked at the victim's fingernails. They were painted a dark red and several were broken, proof that they were her real nails and not fake. Even though April no longer felt any pain, Grace was gentle when lifting the fingers to her nose. She avoided touching the swollen, bruised parts of April's wrist when she breathed in the scent, trying to figure out what April had last touched.
"Weird," Grace mused, expecting to inhale the metallic smell of blood or dirt but not the strong smell of cologne. The other hand smelled the same, as if April had sprayed her hands with mens' cologne before she died. Either that or whoever she had fought off was drenched with cologne.
Grace placed the hands over the pelvic bone again and noted that April was partially shaved and trimmed and the curly brown hair was matted and flattened, one indication that she'd been raped and the hair smashed as another body pressed against that part of her.
Grace stood, walking toward the victim's feet, and then scanned the parking lot for shoes. "The bottoms of her socks aren't dirty." Grace shot the flashlight beam around the parking lot and then glanced toward the street when someone pulled into the lot. "If that were the case, then she was carried here; otherwise her socks would be black from walking across the asphalt."
Bosley got out of his car and headed toward Grace but then pointed at a dark brown car that pulled up and parked in the street on the other side of the yellow tape. "Starkey is here," Bosley called out, and headed to the car. "I'll get your camera, Grace. Hold on."
Grace glanced back at the young girl, lying faceup, her head tilted like she had tried searching for stars. Her makeup-stained eyes were swollen and closed. "There aren't any stars out tonight, anyway," Grace told the dead body. "You shouldn't have died like this. I'm sorry," she whispered, guessing the amount of pain the girl possibly had endured during her last few minutes of life.
For a moment Grace knew the same amount of pain, and as she clutched her neck, her vision blurred on the dead girl lying on her back while memories of torture and abuse flooded her mind. There were too many monsters on this planet. Today she had the power to take them down, even if it was one at a time; whoever did this to April Monroe would pay. And if something similar happened to Margaret Young, regardless of what anyone thought of her, she deserved the same justice.
Grace stood, blowing out a breath and grabbing her wits when she focused on Bosley and the man next to him as they approached.
"Grace, this is Robert Starkey, our medical examiner. Grace just hired on. She's from D.C." Bosley rocked up on his heels, like he was proud of her or something.
Starkey nodded seriously. "A big-city cop might be a good thing on the force. Would you look at this," he said, done with introductions and all business. "What kind of jerk would do this to a child?"
"A very sick one," Grace commented, returning her attention to April. "Looks like she was beaten pretty badly. I'm not sure what the cause of death might be. I don't see bullet wounds."
"Let's turn her over," Starkey said, and two younger men, their uniforms indicating they were the ambulance driver and technician, moved in quickly, sliding to their knees and then easing their hands underneath April. Blood covered her backside and filled the air with its putrid, metallic stench. Starkey squatted next to Grace, who matched his position. "Lordy, Lordy," he said, making a tsking sound with his tongue while pulling on latex gloves. "This is bad, really bad," he muttered.
"She bled out internally?" Grace asked, moving when Starkey leaned over the body. It looked like the blood had pooled over April's ass, and as they rolled her over, it now seeped to the ground, the black foul fluid turning Grace's stomach. "Did he stab her down there? I can't even tell."
"Get a gurney," Starkey told the ambulance attendants. Then giving Grace his attention, he took his time straightening while pulling off his gloves. "We usually don't have crimes this violent around here. But I'll do a full autopsy and have all your answers for you then."
Grace nodded, covering her mouth when she inhaled, feeling her stomach turn when she couldn't block out the stench that now hung too heavily in the air. "I noticed the bottoms of her socks are clean. Someone either carried her here or was holding her and she kicked off her shoes."
Bosley was snapping pictures but stopped at Grace's comment. "Find her shoes and we might know what direction she came from."
Starkey and the ambulance attendants moved in around April. Another car tried entering the parking lot but couldn't around the emergency vehicles. The officers loitering along the yellow tape turned when the driver of the car simply put it in park and then jumped out, immediately wailing loudly.
"No. April! No!" the woman screamed, unable to get past the yellow tape when the officers standing there stopped her. Her wails turned to brokenhearted sobs as she covered her mouth with her hands. "It can't be. It can't be," she continued crying.
"Is that April's mother?" Grace asked when Bosley nodded. Grace left the ME, wanting to hear his initial speculation, but knowing she needed to talk to April's mother as well.
"I'm Lieutenant Grace Jordan," she said when she reached the woman.
"I'm Marla Monroe," a woman, possibly in her mid-forties with dyed blonde hair and make-up streaming down her face from tears, said, and then grabbed the yellow tape between them. "I need to get in there."
"Marla, you can't enter the crime scene." Bosley moved around Grace and put his hand on the woman's shoulder, although she didn't seem to notice. Her expression was twisted horrifically. "You let me take you home and we'll get your car driven over there for you. Come on now. This isn't how you want to remember your daughter."
Grace didn't know anyone in Rockville, but when Marla turned and started crying in Bosley's arms, when he stepped over the yellow tape, she guessed they knew each other pretty well. There wasn't anything Bosley could say to ease her pain, though.
Grace turned and stared at the girl on the ground, at her lifeless body. It was like Grace could hear April's final screams, feel the girl's willingness to do anything — absolutely anything — to make her assailant stop.
Grace knew that level of hopelessness, of acceptance of whatever might be done to her. And she knew the despicable taste that came with submitting to a monster and willingly doing whatever he wanted. God help them if there was a monster like that here. Chills rushed down her spine when she turned and faced Bosley and Marla.
"Whoever did this," Grace said, feeling the hairs on the back of her neck stand. "I swear to you I'll catch him."
Marla's eyes were moist and glassy when she turned in Bosley's arms and looked at Grace. "Will that bring back my April?" she demanded, anger and hatred making her voice tight.
"No, ma'am, it won't," Grace conceded. Nothing would bring April back and nothing would ease the pain.
The radio chirped and Grace headed to her squad car, leaving Bosley to ask the standard questions about April. Grace heard the answers — victim was eighteen, supposedly babysitting, not into drugs or with a bad crowd, and trying to get into beauty school. Grace slid behind the steering wheel and the radio drowned out any further conversation between Bosley and Marla.
"Are you ten ninety-eight?" Dispatch asked.
"Negative. We're still here on-site." Grace stared at the many tiny holes as she held the receiver in her hand. A little over a week on the job was about all it took for her to learn the equipment and methods of RPD, and to know she hated how antiquated everything here seemed. Especially with a young woman so brutally murdered. They needed the most modern and advanced equipment to aid in nailing the bastard who did this to the wall.
"I need you en route to Ten Fifteen Ash. Some kids over that way found a body. I'm dispatching an ambulance now," Christy said quickly, her excited voice chirping through the small speaker. "They think she's been dead for a while," she added.
Grace stared out the passenger window when Bosley drove them to Ash Street a bit later. One officer remained on-site where April Monroe was found, instructed to scope the area behind the Dairy Queen and search for her shoes or any other clues that would explain why April Monroe was found, instructed to scope the area behind the Dairy Queen and search for her shoes or any other clues that would explain why April Monroe was found back there. Apparently her babysitting job was on the other side of town. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Tall, Dark And Deadly by Lorie O'Clare. Copyright © 2009 Lorie O'Clare. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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