Authors: Linda Castillo
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural
“I believe it’s an orthopedic implant. A plate, to be more precise. Probably titanium. Judging from the size, possibly for the forearm—the radius or ulna. As you can see, some of the screws are still intact. We also found some additional screws scattered about.”
“So at some point this individual broke his arm?” Tomasetti says.
“That would be my guess.”
I think about that a moment. “Do those kinds of implants have any sort of identifying number?”
“I believe they do. Of course, I need to get it into a lab environment for a more thorough look. But I’m relatively certain that’s the case, and I thought it might be helpful to you in terms of identification.”
“Let’s hope so,” I tell him.
“In the coming days and weeks I’ll be consulting with Doctor Coblentz. We, as a team, may or may not be able to determine cause and/or manner or death. I can’t make any promises. We don’t have a whole lot to work with here, but we’ll certainly do our best.”
I offer my hand and we shake. “Thank you.”
“I must admit I enjoyed every minute.” He shakes hands with Tomasetti as well. “This promises to be a challenging and interesting case,” he tells us. “I’ll be in touch.”
Ten minutes later, I’m watching the taillights of the Prius disappear into the night, when Tomasetti approaches. He’s left the Tahoe running with the headlights on for illumination while the deputy breaks down the work lights.
“Wanna help me load the generator?” I ask.
“I thought you’d never ask.” He flexes his arm. “I never pass up an opportunity to show off my muscles to a woman I’m wildly attracted to.”
Rolling my eyes, I bend to the generator, wrap both hands around the handle, and wheel it toward the Explorer. It’s not easy; the generator weighs about 250 pounds, and I’m lugging it over clumpy grass, loose gravel, and areas of soft dirt. But I’m glad for the distraction. I’m still thinking about the scene with Paula Kester earlier. Her accusation still stings. I don’t want to talk about it, but I’m pretty sure Tomasetti’s going to bring it up.
I’ve dragged the generator only a few feet, when he usurps the handle and takes over. “You’re quiet,” he says.
“Just thinking,” I tell him.
“About Paula Kester?”
“Mostly about the remains.”
“Uh-huh.” He nods, guiding the generator around a muddy area. “You know Ohio has a Good Samaritan law, right?”
“I’m aware.” A statute in the Ohio Revised Code protects anyone who administers first aid to an injured party from liability. “But we both know there’s always some lawyer willing to argue the point.”
“She’s not going to get anywhere with a lawsuit.”
I want to tell him the possibility of a lawsuit isn’t what’s bothering me, but I let it go. “I didn’t want her arrested.”
“You don’t slug a cop in the face and walk away. Yes, there are extenuating circumstances and she may have been overcome with emotion, but she can tell it to the judge.”
“Tomasetti, you’re such a hard-ass.” But I soften the words with a smile.
We reach the Explorer. I fish my keys from my pocket and open the rear door. “She told me the baby had a neck injury,” I tell him. “If I hadn’t moved her, she might still be here.”
“If you hadn’t moved her and the gas had ignited, all of us would be at the morgue tonight. You used your best judgment, and I think you made the right call.”
“What if it wasn’t? I mean, we’re talking about a baby’s life. Tomasetti, that’s huge.”
“That baby was in a trailer that had been flipped over and half crushed by a tornado. You know as well as I do that aside from a vehicle, a mobile home is one of the most dangerous places to be during a storm like that. There was a gas leak. You risked your life to get her out.”
“I know all of that,” I say testily.
“Look, you know as well as I do that when people get caught up in that kind of grief, they say and do stupid things. Paula Kester was dealt a tough hand. She needed someone to blame. So she picks a fight with you and slugs you in the face? What kind of person does that?”
“Someone who’s just lost everything, including a child.”
He lets my statement stand. “So is she married?”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe you ought to check, because if she’s still with that baby’s father and he’s as pissed off as she is, it might be smart to keep an eye on him. Make sure he doesn’t do something foolish.”
Bending, I grasp the handle of the generator. “Ready?”
He does the same, frowning at me over the top of the motor. “Yup.”
We lift the generator in tandem and set it in the Explorer. I step back and Tomasetti closes the door, then turns to me. “You coming home after you drop off the generator?”
“Yeah.” I muster a smile. “I’ll see you later.”
He leans close and sets his mouth against mine. “You sure you’re okay?”
“I am.” Before I can stop myself, I step into his embrace and give him a hard kiss.
When he pulls away, he’s looking at me a little too closely, wondering where that came from. “Don’t stay too late.”
Nodding, I walk around to the driver’s side door, get in, and drive away.
* * *
I didn’t have time for lunch earlier, so I swing by the McDonald’s in Millersburg for a burger-to-go before heading to the station. I enter the reception area to find my second-shift dispatcher, Jodie Metzger, at her station, headset on, staring at her computer. From the radio on her desk, Foster the People belts out “Pumped Up Kicks.”
“Hey, Chief.” Rising, she shoves a stack of message slips at me. “I think the entire population of Painters Mill called for you today.”
I stop next to her station and take the messages. “Did Lois brief you on those remains found on Gellerman Road?”
She nods. “How awful for those Boy Scouts, finding human bones.” She gives an exaggerated shiver. “Lois sent you an e-mail and copied me on it before she left. Oh, and she left this file.” She scoops up a lavender-colored folder that’s already as thick as my thumb. “She printed several files from NamUs. NCIC’s in there, too. And she ran everything through LEADS.”
NamUs is the acronym for the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. It’s the largest database of missing persons and unidentified remains in the world and allows civilians to search for missing loved ones and possibly match the missing with remains.
She jabs a thumb at her screen. “I’m working on the National Center for Missing Adults now. Hope to have a list for you within the hour.”
I tell her about Stevitch’s discovery of the surgical plate. “The deceased may have had a broken arm—the radius or ulna—and had the plate surgically implanted. If you run across anything about a broken bone in any of the profiles, kick it over to me.”
“Will do. I’ll let Lois and Mona know to do the same.” She tilts her head. “Do you have any idea who it is?”
“Not yet.” I think about that a moment. “Get in touch with the local Crime Stoppers. Tell them we’re offering five hundred dollars to anyone with information that leads to the identification of the remains. All callers will remain anonymous.” I pause. “And I’m going to need the name of the owner of the Gellerman Road property.”
She jots furiously on a yellow legal pad. “Got it, Chief.”
“Skid on duty tonight?”
“Get on the radio and tell him I need help unloading the generator.”
I start toward my office, then remember one more thing and turn back to the dispatch station. “Jodie, can you run Paula Kester through LEADS and see if she’s got any outstanding warrants?” I spell the last name for her. “If she’s married, run her husband, too. I don’t have a name, but you should be able to find it.”
After unlocking my office, I let myself inside and make a beeline for my desk. While my computer boots, I quickly unpack my dinner. Experience has taught me that in the course of any death investigation, the first order is always to identify the victim. Without that information, there’s no way to build any sort of victimology. At this point, I don’t know if I’m dealing with a homicide, an accident, or death by natural causes. But my gut is telling me there was foul play involved, and anyone who’s ever worked in law enforcement knows the majority of homicides are committed by someone the victim knew. If I can’t name the victim, finding his killer will be next to impossible.
I wolf down my burger as I skim e-mail, responding to the ones that won’t wait until morning. But I’m anxious to get to the file. I open it as I pop the lid off my coffee. Not for the first time, I’m impressed by Lois’s ability to dig through reams of useless data and get to the pertinent information.
The NamUs reports are on top. The site went live with a fully searchable system in 2009 and contains over eleven thousand unidentified decedent cases and nearly twenty thousand missing person cases. It’s a mountain of data, especially when the only information I have right now to narrow my search is location, sex, and the broad age range of eighteen to thirty-five.
My job would be infinitely more difficult if this were a large metropolitan area, where there are many more missing. But since Painters Mill is a small town and the whole of Holmes County is sparsely populated, the numbers are much smaller. Depending on how old the bones are, there may be someone living in Painters Mill who remembers something and comes forward.
In the last forty years, for the three-county area, a total of fourteen males between the ages of sixteen and thirty-five went missing and are still unaccounted for. Any one of those missing men could be my unidentified decedent, so I narrow it down to Holmes County.
Pulling a yellow highlighter from my pencil drawer, I mark the six names. Twenty-two-year-old Mark Elliott vanished after a fight with his girlfriend five years ago. Thirty-five-year-old Raymond Stetmeyer disappeared on a fishing trip twelve years ago. In 1997, thirty-one-year-old Ricky Maitland told his wife he was going out for a drink at a local bar and never came home. In 1985, twenty-year-old Leroy Nolt left for work one morning and his parents never saw him again. Seventeen-year-old Benjamin Mullet, an Amish boy, disappeared during his
in 1978. And Thomas Blaine, twenty-five-year-old father of two from Clark, went missing after a DUI arrest back in 1977. There’s no mention of any old injuries or broken bones in any of the cases.
Two of the names, Nolt and Stetmeyer, are familiar. Not because I remember either case, but because Painters Mill is a small town and I happen to know that the families still live in the area. I’m especially interested to find out if any of these missing were treated for a broken arm at some point before they disappeared. Of course, it’s too late to contact anyone tonight, so I opt to make the calls first thing in the morning.
The police station is hushed at this hour. The phones have quieted. Jodie has turned down her radio. There’s no traffic on Main Street outside my window. It’s so quiet, I can hear the whisper of wind against the eaves. The whir of my computer’s hard drive. I find myself wishing for the pandemonium I’m usually so quick to complain about. Tonight it’s almost
quiet. The kind of quiet that sets my mind to work on things I’ve been trying to avoid all day.
On an intellectual level, I know the death of Paula Kester’s baby was not my fault. I did what any cop would do: I removed the child from a dangerous, life-threatening situation. Yes, I violated the golden rule about moving an injured patient. But I had seconds to make a decision, and I used my best judgment. If faced with the same situation again, I’d do exactly the same thing. Still, I can’t help but wonder if that baby would have lived had I not gone into that mobile home.…
I think about Tomasetti, waiting for me at the farm, and for the first time I question why I’m still here. Why I haven’t gone home to him. I’m avoiding him, I realize. Hiding from him. From a possibility I don’t want to face.
I missed my period last month. It should have happened about three weeks ago. I waited, unconcerned, certain my body would not betray me. I made excuses, blaming it on job-related stress, missed meals, too little sleep, even that head cold I had a few weeks ago. As soon as things settled down, I rationalized, it would come and everything would get back to normal. For three weeks now, I haven’t let myself think about it. The shrinks would probably call it denial—not an easy feat for a realist like me. But there are some things that are simply too frightening to confront, and, for me, this is one of them.
I’ve been diligent about birth control. I started taking the pill a few weeks before I moved in with Tomasetti. But as desperately as I want to believe I couldn’t possibly be pregnant, there were two or three times in the last few months when I was lax. Once, I got busy and let my prescription run out for two days. The other time I worked around the clock on a crazy case, didn’t make it home, and ended up skipping three days.
Tomasetti and I haven’t discussed children. We haven’t even discussed marriage. Neither of us is ready for that kind of commitment. We’re certainly not ready for a family. Honestly, I haven’t given it much thought. Yes, there are times when I’m aware of my biological clock ticking—I’ll be thirty-four years old this year. Still, the thought of bringing a baby into the world at this point in my life terrifies me.
Sighing, I put my face in my hands and close my eyes. “What the hell have you done?” I mutter between my fingers.
I startle and look up to see my second-shift officer, “Skid,” standing in my office doorway. I clear my throat. “Hey.”
He grins. “Long day?”
“I guess you could put it that way.” I smile, trying not to be embarrassed. “Help me with the generator?”
Coolheaded and experienced, Skid is a solid police officer. But he’s not without flaws—nor is he without career problems. Originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, he was fired from the police department there for an alcohol-related offense. I hired him shortly after becoming chief here in Painters Mill, and so far it’s been smooth sailing. He brings a high level of experience to the job, a laid-back demeanor to the occasional dicey situation, and a wicked sense of humor I probably appreciate more than I should.