“Nick, you’re gonna want to come listen to this.”
Detective Nickie Savage looked up from her monitor in time to see her Captain’s head ducking out the door. That was code for, ‘get your butt in my office.’ Shrugging, she took off her reading glasses and pushed away from her splintered desk.
It was nearly noon. Time had gotten away from her. Stretching, she looked at the empty soda bottles and crumpled papers that were multiplying in her tiny office. She’d missed her trash can. A few dozen times. Too bad growing up a Maryland Monticello didn’t allow for ball sports.
She barely made it into the commons area when her feet stopped before the rest of her. A copy of US Inquiring Minds sat at the corner of one of the many metal desks bunched in twos. The tabloid lay next to a donut grease-stained napkin and an ancient mug of coffee. Squinting, she noticed the small photo in the corner. Duncan Reed. The caption labeled him The Taste of L.A. She rolled her eyes. The cover picture was a painting he’d drawn of pop star Johnny Lyons and his new bride. Duncan did good work.
Her captain had the plush office. Made sense. Large windows lined the front. The blinds on each had been raised, so the impromptu meeting must not be too bad. His door was ajar, and he was expecting her. She knocked anyway before walking in. Shutting the door behind her, she opened with, “Sir?”
“Sit down, and don’t call me that.”
Trying not to smile, she prodded, “What’s that?”
Captain Dave Nolan had been her partner, her mentor and, in a way, the father figure she’d never had. She could still give him crap about his captain status.
He answered with a jeer. At six-foot-four he might look menacing, but she knew better.
Since he wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of an answer, she asked, “What’ve we got?”
“Listen.” Dave sat at his enormous desk. His chair was big enough to fit him—that said something—and tall enough to rise above his head.
She slid into a padded guest chair and set one black leather boot on her knee.
A voice came from the computer.
“9-1-1 dispatch. What is your emergency?”
Male, but she could tell it had been altered. He spoke calm and clear. “You need to come and get her.”
Nickie’s spine straightened as the recording continued.
“Get who, sir? What is your name?”
“I…I can’t give you that information. I’m going to hurt her soon.”
“We can help you, sir.”
Nickie presumed the sounds of movement were the operator waving for help.
There had to be more. Dave wouldn’t call her in for a beat officer’s work. She waited patiently.
He tapped the intercom system on his desk. “Lynx. Get in here. Bring your coat.”
Once he disconnected, Dave turned to face her. “We traced the call to the cell phone of a Serena Flats. Twenty-year-old student at Heritage College. We got a location on the phone. It wasn’t moving. I had the nearest B&W get over there. They found the phone, not the girl. Parents were called. They dismissed the threat and said this was the third time this semester the girl had lost her phone. The officer on clerk duty contacted the college. The girl’s two classes this morning were in lecture halls. No attendance taken. I want you and Lynx to check it out. You gonna be okay with that?”
It wasn’t her who wasn’t going to be okay with it. She would have sneered at the comment, but she was already thinking about the girl and the possibilities. The many bad possibilities. “S’okay.” Holding out her hand, she waited for him to give her the address that would be on one of the many sticky notes he always had on his desk.
Without knocking, Detective Eddy Lynx entered. His eyes went first to hers, then to the captain’s.
She knew why the captain hadn’t called the two of them in together. It was her job to keep their work professional. Great. One roll in the hay and the guy was the one who couldn’t get past it. So damned backward.
She listened to the repeat of the briefing as the captain explained to Eddy. Then again to the recording. This time she noticed the sound of running water in the background.
* * *
The black and white was parked at the top of a bridge. Good thing Nickie wore her thicker heeled boots. It looked like they would be hiking down the incline to the creek below.
It was warm for a fall day in upstate New York. And dry. The brittle grasses poked through her tight-fitting gray slacks as she maneuvered her way to the underpass. Eddy held out a hand. Resisting a sarcastic retort, she shook her head politely instead.
One of the officers straightened when they approached. The other lit a cigarette and leaned against the side of the enormous concrete tubing that went beneath the length of the bridge.
“Lucky for us the creek bed is dry,” Eddy said as they approached the officers. “Easier to spot anything left behind.”
They were encroaching on the officer’s turf. The easiest way to deal with it was to break the ice and blame it on the captain. “Hey, guys. You got an idea why the captain wants us out here?”
The one leaning on the concrete shrugged and inhaled his smoke. His partner held a gloved hand that carried an evidence bag containing the cell phone. “This is all we found, sir—I mean ma’am.”
Ma’am? What was she, a grandma?
“I placed a marker where we found it,” the officer continued.
Nodding, Nickie pulled out a set of plastic gloves, then took the bag.
Battery still alive. Location services activated. Was that an accident? Nickie didn’t like assumptions and hated gut instincts. She was only interested in facts. Which is why so many of her cases made it through the court system.
Last call made at o-seven-hundred. Six hours ago? A rush of clammy sweat beaded along her neckline. The air around her thickened and started to close in. She sat on the side of the incline and stuck her head between her legs. The smell of dirt and dead grass filled her nose. Breathe, Savage. There were people watching.
Within seconds, Eddy’s hands lifted the sides of her face. “Nickie, you okay?”
She would be if he’d let go so she could get some blood back to her head. Instead, she nodded and forced a smile. “Give me a minute. Start looking around, would you?”
Eddy was an excellent detective. They’d partnered up before. After eyeing her cautiously, he made his way beneath the bridge. When he squatted down to get a better look in the dirt, she couldn’t take it anymore and forced herself to stand. Ignoring the looks from the officers, she walked carefully.
“Drag marks.” He gestured to two ragged lines dug in the cracked dirt that looked like they might be from the skinny heels of shoes or boots. Other prints may have been from a man’s shoes. Maybe. Eddy pulled a small camera out of his pocket and took some pictures.
Following the trail, she noticed at the end closer to where the phone was found the marks were more like digs from heels, rather than dragging. They took more pictures.
In the middle of the underpass, on both sides of the concrete tubing, were perpendicular smaller tubes that must drain into the area where they were standing. A person could definitely fit in there. More than one person. She lifted on her toes and peered in. It took a few seconds for her eyes to adjust to the deep darkness. The place didn’t feel like water came through it. Didn’t smell like it either. It smelled dry and cracked.
Her phone buzzed in its holster. Caller ID showed Northridge Police Department.
“Savage,” she answered.
“We have the parents in here,” Dave said. “Get back when you can.”
She took the final round of pictures and pocketed the phone. After giving consolatory nods to the officers, she and Eddy hiked up the hill.
“Where’s the water?” She wasn’t sure if she’d said that aloud.
“Huh?” Eddy walked to the passenger side as she headed around the front.
“I heard water in the 9-1-1 call.”
Eddy smiled and leaned over the top of her unmarked. “I’ve got a blind friend in the city who says he knows where he’s at because the buildings sound different. That’s some shit, huh? Too bad we can’t use him.” He laughed as he got in.
Her hand froze on the door handle. She considered his comment, then smirked. Opening the door a crack, she told Eddy she would be just a minute and pulled out her cell.
“Hey,” she said softly into her phone.
“Good day, Detective.” The almost-baritone voice sent a wave of calm over her.
Running her fingers through the top of her hair, she asked, “Can I…uh…ask a favor?”
“Does it involve whipped cream or a hot tub?”
She smiled and ducked her head. “Not exactly. Can you come down to the station and listen to something?”
“Listen to something.” It wasn’t a question.
“Yes. A 9-1-1 call. I can get clearance for you. Are you in the middle of anything?” Stupid question. He was always in the middle of something.
“Twenty minutes?” he asked.
* * *
Nickie stood statue still at the back of the captain’s office as Serena Flats’ parents listened to the call. She positioned herself so she could see both Dave and the hallway. The mother crossed her arms. The dad folded his hands and rested his chin on his chest.
“It’s a prank,” the mother said. “Her friends are always doing this crap.”
Luckily, the captain asked exactly what Nickie wanted to know. “Your daughter’s friends have done this before?”
Serena’s mother shook her head quickly. “Not this exactly, no. They play stupid jokes. Make stupid decisions. She’s always hung around the wrong crowd. There’s only so much a mother can do, ya know?”
Kids? Twenty years old is a kid? She supposed some families might think so. Not in Nickie’s life. The dad looked sad, defeated and silent. It would be nice to have a parent who showed concern. Using her knuckles, Nickie pushed her chin to one side, cracked her neck, then did the same in the opposite direction.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him.
His coat came just over the pockets of his casual black pants. Dark chocolate waves brushed the top of a slate blue shirt that peeked above the coat. Duncan Reed strode through the stale third floor of the Northridge Police Department like he’d just stepped out of a magazine. Technically, he had.
Their eyes met. Blissful peace. In question, he jerked his head toward her office. She nodded slightly in response.
Turning her glance back to the group, she saw the muscles in Eddy’s jaws flex and release.