Roses from My Killer
No, she told herself sternly. No, Officer Cindy Smith. You are not going to hurl. That is not part of your job description.
Cindy pulled herself upright, found a handkerchief in her pocket, and put it over her nose and mouth. She breathed into it until her head cleared.
Then she found the source of the music. An mp3 player was connected to the pair of dancing fountain speakers that was casting the colorful lights on the wall. The song was on a loop, making it play over and over—the noise the neighbor had complained about.
She found the off button and used the end of her jacket to press it.
The whole place went still.
Her ears were ringing, whether with relief or shock, she couldn’t tell. Then a thought struck her.
Was the killer still here?
She had to secure the building, but procedure said she should get backup, and she knew she’d better follow it.
She reached for her radio and spoke softly into it. “Requesting assistance.”
She rattled off the address. Then she took out her service weapon and headed across the floor and into the hall.
She checked all the rooms on the upper floor, on the main, and in the lower level. What she found there made her want to gag again, but she managed to make her way back upstairs before calling her boss.
“Officer Smith?” His voice sounded raspy and she knew he was annoyed.
“And why in blue ball blazes are you calling me on a Saturday night? I was just about to go out.”
Sergeant James Ballard was a short skinny guy with a thin neck and a protruding Adam’s apple. He wore his dirty blond hair combed straight back and held in place with a lot of gel. He was two years younger than her and only had a certificate in criminal justice, but they’d put him in charge after Sergeant Harrison retired. Everyone knew it had been the mayor, Ballard’s uncle, who’d got him the job, but that was little comfort. After he reviewed her file, Cindy swore Ballard had made it his life’s mission to make her quit the force.
She stepped out onto the deck for fresh air. It was almost dark and the wind was getting chilly. “Sorry to disturb you, sir, but I didn’t know what else to do.”
“Follow procedure, officer. Didn’t you learn that in your training at the Parker Agency?”
“I followed procedure, sir. Back up hasn’t arrived yet. Besides this is different. This is an oh-one. A homicide.”
“Smith, can’t you—did you say homicide, Officer?”
“Yessir, I did.”
“And what makes you so sure of that, Smith?”
Glancing back through the sliding door, she described what she’d found in the living room.
“Wait. Wait just a diggity-dog minute. Now say all that again. Slowly this time.”
He hadn’t been listening. Cindy summoned up the remainder of her patience and repeated what she’d just told him in as calm a voice as she could.
There was a long pause. “Are you trying to pull one over on me, Smith?”
“No, sir. I—”
“Are you trying to one up me? Because if you are, so help me—”
“I wish I were, Sergeant.” Now he was making her mad. “Maybe you’d like to come over here and take a look yourself? Or if you prefer, I can send you a photo.”
A muffled grumble came through the phone. “Okay. Stay calm. We can handle this.”
She frowned into the phone. Was he talking to her or himself?
“Oh, good grief, Smith. What in the frigging Pho are we going to do about this?”
She inhaled and straightened her shoulders. “I think we should process the scene as best we can.”
“I’m not talking about that. What are we going to do with the press? We can’t have a murder. Dare County doesn’t have murders, let alone—did you say a serial killer?”
“Yes, I think this looks like the work of one.”
“Dare County doesn’t have serial killers.” He sounded as if he blamed her for letting it happen.
“Yessir. Nonetheless, I think we should call the coroner.”
“Yes, you’re right. Wait. Wait just a doggone minute. You used to work for the Parker Agency, didn’t you?”
Didn’t he mention that a minute ago? He razzed her about it all the time because she hadn’t finished training. “Yes, I did.”
“Aren’t they doing consulting work now? And didn’t they catch a serial killer just a few months ago.”
“Yes, they are and they did.” Cindy had heard it on the news, though she’d tried not to pay attention. Miranda Steele was making a real name for herself.
“Then they can help us.”
Cindy felt her stomach quiver. “Help us?”
“They can handle this investigation. Plus they can take the heat from the press. Give them a call.”
Now he was going too far. “Excuse me?”
“Call them. You’ve got the number, don’t you?”
Actually, she still had Detective Judd’s personal number in her phone. He could probably get her in touch with Mr. Parker. “I’ve got something, but—”
“Good. And when you’re done with that, you can notify next of kin.”
She blinked in shock. “I don’t even know who she is yet, sir.”
“I’ll get a detective out there to take fingerprints and so forth. In the meantime, you make that call.” He hung up.
Cindy scowled down at her phone, her eyes tearing up with anger.
The last thing in the world she wanted was to call the Parker Agency. And if she could actually get them to come here? What was she going to do then? She couldn’t face Wade Parker after quitting his specialized training. And the thought of seeing Steele again made her feel sick. For a brief moment she thought about walking out of the house, packing her things, and leaving this place for good.
But she couldn’t leave that poor woman lying in that living room like this. She couldn’t let her killer go free. Ballard was right. Parker and Steele could find whoever did this better than anyone in the county.
She took a moment to settle her feelings, then she found Judd’s number and made the call.
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