Book Three of the Seasons Mystery Series
Sunday, March 4
Felicity wiped the sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand, then picked up her soccer ball. It wasn't so hot this early on a Sunday morning in March, but the workout brought out the heat in her body. She'd run laps, then practiced dribbling with her friend Maria for almost an hour. Now Maria was dashing off the field and called out, "See you tomorrow?"
"After school. I'll be here. I want more practice before the tournament."
"Me, too." Maria waved and hopped on her bike to ride home.
The two girls were the stars of their club soccer team, and they were proud of it. But not too proud. Felicity's mother told her what The Church had to say about pride, so she tried to contain her thrill over what she could do with her powerful legs on the soccer field. Today she'd managed to get past Maria eight times out of ten, and Maria played the best defense on the team.
Felicity checked her watch. Almost eight. She'd better hurry if she was going to make it home in time to clean up for ten o'clock Mass. She trotted over to the picnic bench where she'd left her backpack. At home earlier, she'd dumped her school books so there would be room for her soccer ball and a bottle of water. As far as she was concerned, those were more important than math or social studies. She had dreams. Big dreams of being a soccer star. She'd watched the Olympics when the American team had won gold, and that is what she wanted to do. Play for the United States and win. After that, maybe she'd become a coach. Help some other young girl find a dream that was worth hours of sweat and a multitude of sore muscles.
Hoisting her backpack, she hurried to where she'd locked her bike. A cool breeze blew across her face; it dried the beads of sweat and actually made her shiver. She didn't like being in the little park alone. She wished Maria had stayed so they could have shoved off together. Sometimes an older boy would hassle them, wanting them to buy some dope. "It's cheap," he'd say. "Just two bucks. And you can share."
She often saw him giving stuff to other kids who were there practicing soccer or playing on the swings and slides. They were little kids, even younger than she was, and some of them would take the little plastic bags of white powder. Felicity couldn't deny that sometimes she was tempted to join in whatever fun they were having after sniffing the drug. She could go along to get along. But then she thought of her Olympic dream. No way would she achieve that if she did drugs. The park was starting to fill up with other kids, and she knew she'd better hurry if she wanted to get out of there before the boy showed up.
After putting on her helmet, Felicity quickly unlocked her bike, pocketed the lock, and swung her leg across the seat. She hoped her parents wouldn't be angry if she was late. Especially her father. He got angry so quickly of late. She did not know what worried him, but something had changed him from the teddy-bear of a father he used to be to a mean old black bear that growled a lot.
Just as she brought the pedals around to shove off, Felicity heard a whisper of a sound behind her. Before she could turn to check it out, she heard a loud click.
Sunday, March 4
Sarah Kingsly eased back to a comfortable lope a quarter of a mile from home, then slowed to a walk for the final block to cool down. When she'd headed out for her run at seven that morning, it had been cool. Now it was already hot. When was she ever going to learn? It wasn't as if she was new to Texas and didn't know how hot it could get in early spring. The big joke around the department was that there were only two seasons in Texas, hot and cold, but most of the time it wasn't that much of a joke. There was none of that slow slide into spring that she remembered from her childhood in Tennessee. In Texas, you could be freezing your ass off one day and boiling the next.
Of course, if she'd come straight home instead of stopping for coffee at the convenience store, she would’ve missed the worst of the mid-morning heat. But then she would’ve missed the neighborhood gossip from Hussein, who owned the gas station. He spoke excellent English for an Iranian immigrant, and he liked it when Sarah hung around, even when she wasn't on duty. He'd once told her she just looked like a bad-ass cop even in her jogging clothes, and that was enough to keep the bad guys away. Of course, he politely called her Miss bad-ass cop, the mix of formality and slang always making her smile.
Pulling the neck of her t-shirt up, Sarah wiped sweat from her face, then dug the key to her apartment out of the pocket in her shorts. She reached out to insert the key in the lock and the door moved slowly away from her. She immediately went on high alert, easing through the opening and glancing in. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust from the bright sunlight to the dim interior of the entryway, and in that moment, she mentally scrambled for a reason the door would be open that didn't involve some maniac waiting for her. Since she had nothing for protection except her bare hands and a few keys on a key ring, she tried to convince herself that nothing was wrong. Perhaps she had inadvertently left the door open.
As soon as that thought formed, Sarah dismissed it. There was no way she’d left the door unlocked. Inadvertently or otherwise. She had never in her whole life forgotten to lock a door. Her mother had instilled the importance of security in Sarah the child by pointing out the man on the next street who liked to go into people's houses and take things. It was rumored that he took more than things, but her mother had never elaborated on that.
Then there was the number one safety thing they were taught in the police academy—locked doors do deter most thieves. Although in practice, Sarah had found that thieves who were determined did not let something as minor as a lock stand in their way.
Thankful that her apartment was small, Sarah did a quick visual sweep of the living room and kitchen. It was hard to tell if anything had been disturbed. She wasn't the neatest of housekeepers, so the living room always had a "tossed" look to it. A second look around and she noted that her TV was missing, and something else registered. She didn't hear Cat. He usually came running out of the bedroom when she returned from her morning run. He knew it was time to eat, and not much stood between the cat and his food.
The silence grated on her nerves. She couldn't decide if it was good that she couldn't hear anything. That meant that whoever had been in her apartment was gone. But it also meant that Cat was gone …or … She didn't want to think about "or." She didn't care about the TV, but if someone hurt her cat, they'd pay for it.
Sarah slipped quietly into the kitchen and grabbed the big butcher knife from the wooden block on the counter. She'd rather have her gun, but that was in the drawer in her nightstand in the bedroom. No way was she going in there armed with just her keys. When the ring tone sounded on her cell phone, Sarah almost dropped the knife. Damn. She scrounged the phone out of the pocket in her shorts and answered in a whisper.
"Kingsly?" the voice of her boss responded. "What the hell are you doing?"
She resisted the impulse to ask him what the hell he was doing calling her on the first Sunday she'd had off in weeks. "I'm checking out my apartment."
"Someone took my television."
"Did you call 911?"
"Why? I'm already here."
She heard Lieutenant McGregor release a long breath. She worried that she might be the death of him yet. "Have you cleared the premises?"
"One room to go. On my way." She disconnected, then dropped the phone back into her pocket before pushing through the bedroom door, making it slam into the wall and anyone who might be lurking behind it. A quick scan of the room showed her nothing had been disturbed. Odd that someone would break in and just steal a television. Wasn't even a high-end set. She quickly retrieved her gun and cautiously opened the closet door. Nobody hiding there, and nobody in the bathroom.
But still no sign of Cat.
She'd never considered having a cat, or any other living thing depending on her for that matter. No pets. No houseplants. Nothing. But she had become quite attached to the little orange tabby who had arrived cold and starving on her doorstep right after John's death. Had it really been already over a year? Yeah. Closer to two years.
Now she imagined the cat outside somewhere, frightened. Or had the someone who'd broken in taken Cat? What on earth for? Heaviness settled in her stomach, and she sat down on the bed, trying to hold back tears that warmed her eyes. She swiped at the wetness. Get a grip, woman. It's just a cat for heaven's sake. But crying had come all too easy since John. He’d been her first and only partner after she’d gotten her shield fifteen years ago. Losing him and then having to kill the kid who’d shot him had been the lowest point of her life. Sometimes she felt like she was still down there in that deep black pit.
Shrugging off those dark thoughts, she reached out to put her gun back in the drawer and something nudged her foot. "Holy crap!" She jumped up, heart racing, and lifted the edge of the sheet that had slid partway off the bed. There was Cat, huddled in a shadowed orange ball. Sarah got down on her knees and held out her hand. "Hey there. You want to come out?"
His eyes were huge, the orange of his iris almost obscured by the black pupil. A sure sign he was terrified. Sarah waited, not wanting to reach in to pull him out and risk getting scratched in the process. Then her phone rang again, and the noise startled the cat. He let out a yowl and scurried deeper under the bed. Sarah leaned back on her heels and answered the phone.
"Is everything okay, Kingsly?" McGregor asked after she said hello. "I've got units on their way to—"
"Not necessary. Nobody’s here. And nothing is missing, except my television. I found my cat."
"Never mind. Call off the cavalry." Even as she said that, she could hear sirens in the distance drawing near. Damn. "Could you at least tell them to kill the sirens?"
Again, she disconnected and went to meet the officers. First, she closed her bedroom door. She'd deal with Cat later.
Just as the first patrol car pulled up in front of the apartment, her phone rang again. She didn't even have to say a word. McGregor was hot. "Don't you hang up on me again or I'll fire your ass."
"I'm not hanging up." Sarah opened the door to admit the patrol officers. "Why’d you call in the first place?”
"You need to meet Angel at a crime scene."
"Why me? It's my day off. And cops are at my door."
"You'll see when you get there."
With that, McGregor hung up.
If she hadn't been standing there looking at two officers who needed to take a report, she would’ve burst out laughing. They might find that reaction to a break-in more than strange for a seasoned detective, but she couldn't help but see the humor in McGregor's behavior—hanging up first so she couldn't hang up on him again. And he hadn't even told her where she was supposed to meet Angel.
After talking to the patrol officers who filled out an official report of the burglary, Sarah changed into her work uniform, which consisted of jeans and a white t-shirt, topped by a dark blue blazer. Then she called McGregor to find out where she was supposed to go. Forcing her to call seemed to make his day. He actually chuckled for a moment before giving her the address of the crime scene.
Then he told her what she was going to see when she arrived.
Damn. A dead kid. Sarah swallowed hard then slipped out of her bedroom, closing the door firmly again.
The patrol officers working her burglary called CSU to dust for prints, but Sarah didn't hold out much hope that they’d get any. Still, it was procedure. After getting assurance that the officers would watch for Cat when they went into her bedroom, she left her apartment in the capable hands of the Dallas PD.
Dread following close on her tracks, Sarah pulled into the small parking area next to the soccer fields. The minute McGregor had told her about the kid who had been shot, she knew she was not going to like this. Not that she liked any murder victim, but kids were the worst. Accident, disease, or murder. Didn't make a difference. Kids just shouldn't die. Period. They should live the full extent of years that took them to gray hair and wrinkles and lots of grandkids.
A few hundred feet from the parking area, Angel stood next to Walt, the medical examiner, who was hunched over a bundle on the ground. Sarah didn't want to go look at what was in that bundle, so she glanced over to where two uniformed officers were talking to a small cluster of people. She moved toward them and noted that one of the officers was Doug Grantham. Good guy who could have made detective years ago, but he liked being a beat cop. And Sarah liked it any time their paths crossed. He was a more seasoned version of Rusty, the rookie she’d met two years ago when dealing with the murders at the shopping malls, and she always appreciated working with someone that good at the job.
"What do we have, Doug?"
"Girl was shot." He made a vague gesture in the direction of Angel and Walt. "This guy here," he nodded to a young Black man wearing shorts, a red t-shirt and running shoes, "found her while he was jogging this morning."
Sarah looked at the witness. "Your name?"
"Jeremy. Jeremy Wilson."
"Did you see anybody? Hear any gunshots?"
"No, Ma'am. There was nobody else around when I found her. And I almost didn't. This isn't my usual route to run, but I decided to cut through the park this morning."
Sarah glanced at the small crowd of gawkers that had gathered, and Doug seemed to anticipate her question. He was good at that. "They came when we pulled up with sirens and lights."
Sarah nodded, then turned back to the young man. "Did you touch the body, Jeremy?"
He swallowed hard, then offered a slight grimace. "I didn't want to. And I knew I shouldn't. But, well, I'm pre-med. Thought maybe I should make sure she was …you know…dead."
As much trouble as he was having, Sarah wondered if Jeremy might reconsider his college major after this morning. But then, finding a little girl dead in a park is much different from treating some old man's gastritis.
"Any ETA on the crime scene team?" Sarah asked Doug.
"Okay." She turned to Jeremy. "You need to stay here until the techs can get your prints."
Suddenly there was an edge of hostility in his stance and his expression changed from friendly to wary. "What for?"
At first Sarah wondered why the abrupt change. What did he have to hide? Then she stilled the impulse to ask him, remembering what Angel had told her about how young black men are taught from the cradle on up to be wary of the police. She wished it didn't have to be that way, but there it was. It wasn't going away any time soon, as Sarah could well attest to after her experiences with racism on both sides of the coin. She spoke in a well-modulated tone, "If we get any prints from the area, we need to eliminate yours."
Jeremy gave a slight nod, and Sarah watched his shoulders slowly relax. "This officer will get you squared away with one of our techs and get your contact information. Then you can go."
That was met with another nod, and Sarah started to move away. "Later, Doug."
He acknowledged with a wave just as the CSU van arrived.
Sarah walked over to Angel and Walt, who had moved a few feet away from the body. A girl's bicycle lay on its side where it must have fallen when the girl was shot. She still had a backpack strapped to her back and a helmet on her head. The helmet was a deep red, matching the blood that had seeped into the girl's white t-shirt. The ground where the girl's head rested was dark and damp.