It took Sid about twenty minutes to reach the spot on I-15 the dispatcher had given him. He pulled up behind one of the three squad cars already parked alongside the road and got out. Using their flashing lights to navigate, he made his way over the dark patch of desert trying not to trip over the Mojave sage and Creosote bush.
Too many feet on the ground, he thought. They’d never get footprints. Then he spotted his detective, Kim Ralston, standing over the body. How’d she get here so fast?
“What do we have?” he asked as he reached her.
“Female Caucasian, sir.” Her tone was as dry as the sand they stood on.
He eyed her makeup-less features, the dirty blond hair she kept pulled back in a ponytail, her plain shirt and slacks, and wondered for the hundredth time how anyone so young and innocent looking had made it on the force.
“Just about to attempt that, sir.”
He looked down at the amorphous lump on the ground. It was wrapped in a large sheet of plastic. The kind used during building projects. Not much of a clue. There was always construction going on in this town.
He slipped on a pair of gloves while he waited for the CSIs to finish snapping photos of the body the way they’d found it. Ralston already had her gloves on, of course.
“Ready, sir,” one of the uniforms told him.
O’Toole bent down, carefully turned over the body and began peeling away the plastic near the legs. Ralston took the head.
A CSI took more shots as the body was revealed. At first look, O’Toole didn’t see any defense wounds.
“No blood,” Ralston commented.
She was right. That was kind of odd. O’Toole stared out at the highway beyond.
The lights of the Last Chance casino, the final one on the way out of town, flashed in the far distance. The place where Ginger used to work. Not much traffic on this road this time of night. But to dump a body here, the killer either had to be butt dumb or wanted it to be found pretty fast.
The plastic gave way, and the vic’s bare, shapely legs appeared, sticking out from under a terrycloth robe. He lifted the hem. Not much under the robe. The head was wrapped in a towel, turban-like. Looked like she’d been getting ready for bed.
He tugged at the turban, trying to identify hair color and the head turned enough to reveal the side of the face.
He dropped the cloth again. “Aw, hell.”
“What is it, sir?” Ralston asked.
O’Toole couldn’t answer. His mind was reeling. Hadn’t he seen that gorgeous face, that form, those shapely legs just a half hour ago? But that was a TV spot, probably recorded weeks ago.
He stared down at the unmistakable features. “This is Ambrosia Dawn.”
“The singer?” A uniform bent down to get a better view of the face.
Ralston peered at it. “Are you sure?”
“Course, I’m sure. She’s got a unique look.” Or had one.
“It’s Ambrosia Dawn, all right,” the uniform agreed.
“Aw, hell,” O’Toole repeated as his mind went in a different direction.
Once the news ferrets got wind of this, he’d have the whole department breathing down his neck every step of the way on this investigation. The last thing he needed.
Suddenly he remembered an email he’d received about a week ago.
His old mentor Wade Parker was looking for consulting work. Unsolved cases, cold cases, wherever extra manpower might be needed. What was the matter? O’Toole had thought at the time. Not enough rich clients in Atlanta?
But now, he liked the sound of that email.
There was enough money in the budget to spring for the fee. Which wasn’t cheap. For a high profile case like this, he could get the expense approved. But first, there was the matter of notifying the deceased’s family. He sure didn’t want to deal with the distraught relatives of a star tonight.
He turned back to his detective. “Ralston, you’ll pay the visit to the family.”
“Me, sir?” She was still near him, kneeling over the body.
“You have a problem with that?”
“No, sir. It’s just that—wait. What’s this? The murder weapon?”
She pulled something shiny out from under the dead singer’s shoulder. It was about six inches long and had a rounded end caked with a grimy substance.
“What the hell is that?”
“I think it’s a—a miniature ice cream scoop? On, no. It’s a melon baller.” Ralston let out a startled gasp. “Wait.” She gave the body another push. “Oh, my gosh.”
It rolled over, revealing the entire face.
“Oh, Lord,” one of the uniforms said.
O’Toole took in those unmistakable features. The high cheekbones, the full mouth. There was no doubt the dead woman was Ambrosia Dawn.
But one of her eyes was missing.
O’Toole wanted to gag. “Did the birds get to her? I didn’t see a hole in the plastic.”
“I think someone used this on her. Let’s hope after she was dead. I think it’s still got tissue on it. See?” His detective held the melon baller near his face.
“Aw, jeez, Ralston. Don’t show me that.”
“It’s evidence, sir.”
“Jiminy Cricket on a turd pile.” O’Toole brushed off his pants and paced over the sand, away from the body and the disgusting melon baller.
Why would somebody scoop out Ambrosia Dawn’s eye with a kitchen tool? For a souvenir? Was it a crazed fan who’d been stalking her? Someone keeping the eye for a ransom? How sick was that? Wait. A serial killer? Serial killer. He didn’t want any part of that.
Again he thought of the email from Wade Parker. For years the investigator had been known as the best of the best in the southeast. The reputation of his Agency had only grown more sterling during that time. He was probably looking to enhance it even more. Adventure, the email had said. Something out of the norm.
If this case didn’t fit the bill, he didn’t know what did. He’d get the budget request pushed through as fast as he could and call Parker in the morning.
In the meantime, he turned to his rookie. “Ralston, are you going to let the family know tonight or are you going to wait a week or two?”
The young woman got to her feet, suppressing a glare. “Right away, sir.”