TSP:Cold Case #1″Everything Burns” Ch. 5

Chapter 5.

The crime scene was sparse. A field that has once held beans before the historic floods had destroyed the crop. The body had been found near the center of it, in a mound of mud that had been left behind when the waters receded.

Jarrod studied the scene from every angle before he moved. He had one hand on Harris’s skinny arm.

“It’s open here,” she said. The wind ruffled the paper cap she wore. “How long did the remains sit out here?”

“Two days is the best estimate. In this field, anyway.”

“So, we need to account for that. There’s not going to be much evidence, detective. Not with time and the elements and floods.”

“I know. But there may be something we’ve missed that was buried with the body and washed up?”

She shook her head. “Long shot. Miracle odds. Autopsy results may tell us more. And Chuckie is processing the partial frame of the bike.”

“Why do you call her Chuckie?” he asked, to buy himself time to think.

“Madi started it. Just a joke.” She was all seriousness, Dr. Harris. Jarrod couldn’t help but wonder if she’d always been that way. “So, who saw him last? Where was he?”

“His parents. At his home. They lived with his grandfather at the time. He was several years younger than his siblings. He was often alone and isolated at the ranch. The nearest neighbors lived a mile that way, and he had a friend not quite two miles the other direction. It was suspected he was riding his bike to his friend’s house the day he disappeared. He did that frequently.”

“So, what was the weather like back then?”

“How the hell should I know?”

She sent a significant look at the phone in his hand. “Google it.”

He started to do that, but it wasn’t as easy as she said. Finally, she slipped off her gloves and grabbed his phone. In a fraction of the time she had the data displayed on his screen. “It was 80 degrees, and rain free. Wind was from the west at nine miles an hour. That’s about as calm as it gets.”

“What does that matter?”

“It just does. It’s just one piece of the puzzle.” She took a notepad from her bag and wrote down the information. “It was a clear day.”

“If someone was around, they would have seen him ride his bike down the road.” Jarrod tried to imagine what the place had looked like around there twenty years ago.

He took the turn on McGareth Road and they followed it for several miles.

“There’s Lacy Deane’s place,” Harris said, turning the page and labeling a crude map she’d drawn. “She would have lived there, then. I think.”

“Possibly. It depends on when she went into foster care.”

“Take that road there.”

He did. It wound through the countryside, past a little bungalow that looked like something straight out of a fairy-tale. “That place was probably there.”

“No doubt.” It had probably been there for at least one hundred years. There were workers in the yard. “I don’t know who lives there now.”

“That big man looked like Brynna’s brother-in-law. The one married to Jillian.”

“Rafe?”

“The governor’s brother, I think. But he had a tattoo.”

Jarrod grunted. “That’s Caine Alvaro. Doctor at Barratt County. Twins, one was adopted.” He wasn’t about to gossip about Beck family business. “But this isn’t his place. He bought the old Larson place just off Bracker’s Mill.”

“I see.” She made a small note on the map. “I still don’t know the name of the current owner of that place.”

“Probably his fiancée. She lives out here somewhere.” Jarrod had met the woman a time or two, hanging around the Becks. A small, whirlwind chatterbox, her constant humor had almost overwhelmed him. A cute little doll with a terrifyingly brilliant brain had been his main impression—a doll who was terrified of men. “Dr. Nikkie Jean Netorre.”

“I’ll pencil her in.”

I’ll pencil her in. So neat and precise. And irritating. “You do that.”

Killion Mill is a mile that way. It connects these two places, I believe.” She had a handheld GPS unit in her hand now. “This place was on the list of people they talked to. Do you think the current owner will know anything about them?”

Jarrod turned the squad car around in the nearest field turn off. “You could have asked that two minutes ago.”

“Sorry.” Her eyes told him she wasn’t the least bit sorry at all.

Jarrod parked the car off the side of the drive so the construction workers could get in and out if needed, and then killed the engine. “Come on. But let me do all the talking.”

She smirked. “You’d do that anyway.”

***

Haldyn studied the couple as they walked closer. Talk about a total mismatch. The woman was barely five foot tall, the man walking at her side all protectively–and that was hard to miss–was at least six foot six and three hundred plus pounds.

And absolutely beautiful, as far as male specimens went. He put Jarrod Foster to shame, and that was saying quite a bit.

Foster might be a real butthead, but he wasn’t an ugly one. But this guy…

Haldyn was having a hard time not staring.

“How can we help you today?” the man rumbled.

“Hello, Detective Foster,” the woman said. She was small, and wore big glasses. Hospital scrubs–with cartoon beagles printed on them.

“We just have a few questions in regards to a cold case we have,” Foster said. “We don’t want to take up too much of your time.”

“I have to leave for the hospital in about five minutes,” the woman said. “I need to pick Jillian up on the way.”

“This shouldn’t take too long. When did you buy this place?” Foster asked, being all perfectly polite and almost personable. Well. At least he knew how to behave out in public.

“In July of last year. I bought it from Travis Worthington-Deane. He lives–”

“I know Travis,” Foster interrupted. “I’ll speak to him this afternoon. We’re trying to find out information on a family that used to live here twenty years ago. The Rooneys. They had four children, plus an elderly uncle lived with them.”

“Small house for such a large family,” Haldyn said almost to herself. She studied the small Craftsman style single story bungalow. There might have been an attic, but it would have made an extremely small bedroom. “How many bedrooms?”

“Three,” Dr. Netorre answered. She rubbed her stomach lightly. Haldyn calculated she was about twelve to eighteen weeks pregnant, just from the size of her stomach. She made a mental note for her records. “Plus the attic can be used as a bonus room, if you’re short.” She shot a grin at Haldyn. “I don’t have any problems up there, but Caine hated it when I had him up there this afternoon.”

“I felt like a hobbit. It’s a small attic.”

“Did Travis say where he got the property from? Do you have previous property records?” Foster asked.

Dr. Netorre  nodded. “I found more than that. I have a woman’s day planner and a teenage girl’s diary. They were in the attic in a box we had to go through this morning to check for water damage. It’s filled with things from the previous owners, I think. Travis never lived here. He bought the place ten years ago to work the lands around it. He sold it to me as a favor to Lacy. I was going to Velma and Scooby the previous owner and return the box whenever I got the chance.”

“We really do need that box. There might be something in it that will help us solve a twenty-year-old murder of a teenage boy.” Haldyn liked the coincidence of it all. The storm…was unearthing everything. First the body, now a box full of potential evidence. She’d always enjoyed how Mother Nature worked. Predictable, yet not.

“It’s yours.”

Dr. Alvaro went inside after walking Dr. Netorre to her purple Jeep Wrangler. Haldyn pretended not to stare as he kissed her and sent her on her way.

“You’re staring,” Foster said. “It’s rude.”

“He really loves her.”

Foster just grunted. No romantic bones in his body, that was for sure.

She’d never had a man look at her quite like that. Dr. Netorre was a very lucky woman.

But that was neither here, nor there.

Haldyn really wanted to see what was in that box.

***

The first thing Harris pulled out of the box was an old paper day planner. It was faux leather, chocolate brown, and faded. Clean, though. “It smells. Like attic and dust.”

“No surprise, Queen of Obvious.” The sarcasm just slipped out. Probably because she’d snipped and snapped at him when he’d forgotten to slip on a glove before removing the lid to the old box. Everything had to be cataloged and inventoried according to her exact specifications. Procedures.

Jarrod knew that. But he’d screwed up. Now she’d probably not let him hear the end of it.

He stepped back and watched as little Miss OCD-with-an-Attitude meticulously photographed and listed everything aloud. Her little buddy, Chuckie, took notes.

Jarrod was just superfluous and he knew it.

Harris slipped open the day planner. “There’s a name. Contact information. Sofia Rooney.”

“The neighbor. She was the last to report seeing Tommy that day,” Jarrod said. “What year is the planner for?”

She answered quickly. “The same year Tommy disappeared. Can we safely assume he was murdered within days of his disappearance? Has Dr. Jueran reported back in?”

Chuckie shook her head. “She’s working on the remains now. She expects to have us something the day after tomorrow. She’s backed up and since he’s a cold case–”

“He just became a lot warmer,” Jarrod pointed out, but hell, he understood. They had more pressing cases where time was of the essence. A boy who had been dead twenty years wasn’t going to be at the top of the list. He couldn’t be.

Jarrod was just impatient. He hated the idea that these parents had waited twenty years for answers.

The lack of answers was enough to eat at your soul.

“What’s that?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t gotten to it yet.”

Maddening. The woman was absolutely maddening.

Finally, the six items were laid out before them.

“What in the hell do they all mean?” Jarrod didn’t have a clue.

 

Previous Chapter.

Jude Ch. 10

Well, I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted. Life keeps getting in the way. Here’s another chapter from Jude! I’m really starting to relate to her. I don’t have any children, of course, but how she deals with the physical challenges…I can’t imagine what it was like back then!

I hope you enjoy reading, 

Mel.

 

He liked the feel of her warm little body in his arms. Hughes would admit that easily. What he didn’t like was the reason she was in his arms was because she couldn’t walk between the wagon and the house. “How often does this happen?”
“Not often. Just whenever I do something stupid. Maybe once a month or so. The walk—last night…I fell on the steps when…you came. When I heard my brother yell.”
He remembered one of the women yelling out. Falling down. But he hadn’t looked at her too closely. He should have. He might have changed everything right then, if he’d gotten a good look at this one. “I’m sorry. Will you ever fully recover?”
“I don’t know. The bullet hit close to my spine. When the pain comes, it hurts all the way up in to my neck. My head.”
“What does the doctor say?”
“What doctor? The butcher who sewed me up? He was drunk every time we saw him. And Wharton bruised him up good the week after he helped us. He took off after that. Jami gave the girls instructions and they took care of the three of us. Even the night Jessi’s infection almost took her.”
His arms tightened around her. “He’s not going to hurt you, spitfire. I can swear to that.”
“For how long? Until you lose interest in getting me in your bed? You’re not the first man to try. Even Wharton wasn’t. My husband hadn’t been in the grave seven months, my baby was less than a month old when the first one came around. To make me an offer.” Sarcasm was clear in her words. “I accept no man’s offer.”
“Not even an honorable one?” He didn’t know why he pressed it so soon.
“You proposing?” She tilted her head and looked at him.
“Maybe I am. So what’s your answer? Be advised, a Barratt man meets his woman and he knows what he wants from her immediately. I wouldn’t be askin’ if I wasn’t serious. I mean to have you in my bed. Your young’uns raised up in that empty old house of mine. Damned sons insist on moving out. Place needs children. Lots of them. I’d like to be a daddy to girls this time around.”
“I don’t want another husband.”
“Why not? You’re a young, beautiful woman.”
“Who can’t walk all the time. Who has four young daughters to worry about. Nieces who need raising. When would I fit in time for a husband?”
“A husband can help you with those four of yours. At least one who can afford to. Like I can. Hell and damnation, woman, I’ve thought of nothing else since I had you beneath me in the barn. I’ve not felt that way about a female in fifteen years. And I’ve had plenty offer.”
“I’m sure you have.”
“Answer the question, if you want. You had any proposals? Or just offers?”
She was quiet for a moment. “I think you’re insane.”
He carried her up the steps and into the house his own grandfather had built all those years ago. “You got the room by the back door?”
“Yes.”
“I figured. It is the only one on this floor.”
“My brother insisted. Thought it might be easier for me that way.”
“He’s a good man.”
“He is. He and his wife raised me from the time I was eleven. Our parents were lost in a fire.”
“I’m sorry.”
“You can sit me down by the fireplace. Jacob will get one going soon. I need to deal with my children. I’ve been away from them all day. And I don’t like that.”
“Don’t figure you would. But they’re fine for tonight, I’m sure.” He settled her gently in the rocker by the fire. “Does the cold make it worse?”
“Sometimes. And worry.”
“I’m sorry for my part in this, spitfire.”
She leaned back against the chair and closed her eyes as one of her nieces lit a lamp nearby for her. Hughes grabbed a blanket and covered her with it. She hummed. “Thank you. I just can’t figure you out. How can you go from being the enemy to being…in just one day? It doesn’t make any sense.”
She hadn’t opened her eyes again. What the girls had told him earlier sank in. When she was hurting, she slept it away. “I’ll get a fire going.”
“Thank you.”
He wanted to take care of her. Provide for her all that he could. She’d spit and hiss at him when needed, but she was so achingly vulnerable.
She needed a strong man—not just a brother—to take care of her. He was going to be that man. He got the fire going then stood by her while she slept.
Until the feistier of her nieces shooed him away. “We’ll take care of her, Mr. Barratt. It’s time for you to go home. She needs to rest now.”
“Yes, ma’am. Young missy, you have any trouble keeping that boy of mine in line, you have my permission to box him upside the ears. Don’t let that preacher exterior full you. Mick can be a wild one when he wants to.”
“Somehow I doubt that. Your son was kind today, especially to the children. Thank you for the help you provided. Of course, we wouldn’t have needed it if you hadn’t stolen my sisters…”
He laughed. “Honey, had I known you’d have captured Mick’s attention so fast, or your aunt’s mine—or even that sister of yours and my Jackson—I would have scooped the three of you up as well. We’re Barratt men. And Barratt men know what women they want almost the instant they see them. Get their hands on them for the first time. Something for you to keep in mind with that son of mine. Because I can guarantee you that if you catch Mick’s attention, his intentions will be honorable from the very get go.”
She snorted delicately. “Sure they will. Good night, Mr. Barratt. My family…thanks you for dinner. Tell my kidnapped sisters they did a great job preparing it.”
He laughed quietly.
Spirit definitely ran in in the family.

MM25: Wow.

Wow. It’s all I can say right now, after everything that has happened. It’s going to take us a year to get through all of the things that are going on with these storms.

I’ll post more about what happened to Fin, Nikkie Jean, Annie, and Izzie–not to mention the guys involved–soon. We’re still waiting for the details.

In the meantime:

I’ve made it through another chapter of the journal. It’s Jude & The Barratt Eight!

 

TSP:Cold Case #1″Everything Burns” Ch. 4

Chapter 4.

 

“This is it?” Jarrod looked at the scarce pile of evidence. The enormity of what he was going to have to do in order to move forward with this case wasn’t lost on him.

“This is it. The case file is thin. You can speak with Detective Kimball, but to be honest, that can be a difficult task.” Harris looked at him, her gloved hand holding the frame of the boy’s bike. It wasn’t even the full bike. Just a partial, sawed in half, piece.

“Who cut it in half?”

“William Smith, apparently.” Harris checked the chain of evidence and frowned. “Tony Roth and Detective Kimball.”

Jarrod snorted. Those names were familiar, all right. “Big surprise there.”

“No kidding.” Her eyes met his.

It was the first time they’d agreed on anything.

“We’re going to have to start at the beginning with this,” Harris said. “How do you want to do it. I’ll start processing all of this again. If we can. It may be too degraded.”

Jarrod made a split second decision. “No. Give it to your girl here. We’ll hit the crime scenes ourselves. The floods are similar now to what they were back then. And Harris, bring your camera. And wear mudboots. It’s going to get sloshy out there.”

“Gee, great.”

“Hey, it’s all part of the job.”

***

Twenty minutes later he had Harris in his squad car–a Chevy Tahoe–and they were driving down the straight highway that connected Finley Creek County to the one just south. The victim had been from Finley Creek, but his body had been found in Barratt County.

Because of recent trouble that the Barratt County sheriff had had, the Finley Creek post was taking over the case. No surprise; Finley Creek had a better forensics department.

Not that Jarrod thought that was going to make much difference. Forensics didn’t work in every case.

No, it was going to depend on old-fashioned police work.

“Where exactly are we going?”

“Killion Mill Road. It was the smaller mill fifteen miles south of Bracker’s Mill.”

“Why?”

“Thomas Rodrigo lived on Bracker’s Mill Road–our side of the county line. That’s where his bike was found, as well. Signs point to it being the primary crime scene.”

“And his body was found where?”

“Just over the county line. There’s a small tributary that connects Bracker’s Mill with the greater Finley Creek. His body was washed out in the floods.”

“DNA was conclusive?”

“Yes. They ran it through the Wichita Falls lab. Called us this morning.” She’d changed into a pair of jeans that hugged perfect curves and a simple green t shirt. She had coveralls in the seat behind her. But Jarrod preferred his new partner in jeans. They made her look less uptight. More approachable.

Signs of storm damage was everywhere.

His new partner gasped.

“Not been out this way lately?”

“Not since right after the storm. The wind damage was bad enough; this is from floods.”

“Yes. But the floods are what found Thomas Rodrigo for his family.”

“True. What do you know about him?”

“I know nothing. I’m going to speak to the parents myself–without being tainted by old evidence.” The previous detectives on the boy’s case had turned out to be more criminal than anyone they had ever arrested. Jarrod had seen firsthand just how deadly and cruel they were. He doubted they’d given a thirteen-year-old son of two immigrants much priority. Two had retired in the last five years. But Kimball was still around. Still being a jerk to everyone who he thought was beneath him. Especially the women they worked with.

He bit back the anger that thought brought.

Anger didn’t bring answers.

Harris was taking photos as they drove. “What are you doing?”

“Reference photos. We probably won’t need them, but I’d rather be overly cautious.” She never spoke loudly, sometimes he had to strain to hear her. Was that what McKellen liked about her? How he had to lean closer to hear her? She had to do it on purpose.

Funny. He never would have thought she would be the type to manipulate a man that way.

Then again, she’d only yelled at him about a dozen times. She got plenty loud then.

“You really think forensics are going to help us determine who killed this kid–twenty years ago?”

“No. Forensics isn’t like a magic button that does the police work for you. No one in my department has ever said it is. What it does is supports theories. Or disproves them. It’s impartial. Not magical.”

She got snitty awfully quick. Especially with him. “I know that, Harris.”

“I know your opinion of forensics. You think we’re a waste of time and a waste of resources. You’re just like Kimball and all of his buddies.”

Now that was just being mean. Jarrod pulled the Tahoe over to the side of the road. “Ok, Harris, we’re going to talk this out. Right now.”

“I don’t know what your problem is. I’ve never done anything to disparage your position with the TSP. Yet, I’ve heard you say many times how you feel.” She shot him a look from those blue eyes of hers. “I just choose not to pay any attention to idiocy when it comes my way.”

Yes, Harris had a definite bite when she wanted to.

Jarrod fought the urge to grin.

He was going to have a lot of fun needling her. When he could.

“Look, I apologize for every time I disparaged forensics. We have to work together. We might as well give this a chance. Who knows? We may be good together. Yin and yang and all that. And look at this way, I’m just as nice as Daniel McKellen. You just have to get to know me.”

“What you are, Detective Foster, is a pain in the ass. The road to the crime scene is one and three-quarters miles ahead. Let’s get going. We have worked to do. Tommy Rodrigo has waited long enough, don’t you think?”

That was one point on which Jarrod would never argue.

That kid had deserved better.

“Let’s go.”

Chapter 5.

TSP: Cold Case #1 “Everything Burns” Ch 3

“EVERYTHING BURNS”

 

Chapter 3.

Most of the time she had no difficulty focusing on the evidence, but Detective Butthead was right in her space, distracting her. He did it on purpose–the looming. Haldyn had never been overly comfortable with people in her space; let alone men like Jarrod Foster.

He was just so much more untamed than Daniel. Daniel really was an old-fashioned gentleman.

Jarrod Foster was a cranky wild man. He made her nervous.

And he’d made it very clear he did not like her.

She remembered the first time she’d met him. It had been her first week off of second shift, and she had been in the former conference room with Bennett Russell, Gabby and Brynna.

Detective Foster had come in, looking all wild-eyed and scruffy. He’d seen her in Brynna’s seat and demanded the evidence they hadn’t had a chance to even process yet.

When she’d informed him of that, he’d jumped all over her.

Gabby and Brynna had defended her, and he’d apologized.

That time.

The next forty-two times they’d disagreed about something he hadn’t bothered to apologize. But then again, that first time, he’d wanted Brynna and Gabby on his precious investigation. Not Haldyn.

He hadn’t even given her a chance that day.

She hadn’t given him one since Gabby and Brynna had quit. He didn’t get to come into her department–she didn’t just run Computer Forensics now, she supervised the entire department–and cherry pick his technicians. Not anymore.

She’d considered Gabby and Brynna her friends. But Jarrod Foster?

No.

He played by her rules in her lab. Whether he liked it or not.

“Can you hurry it up a little? I have things to do. Probably long before your date with Danny-boy this evening.”

“I follow procedure now, you get to keep this evidence at trial. And my reputation stays intact.”

“Your precious reputation. Pristine. Lilly-white.”

**

He liked to needle her, and since seeing her with Dan the urge was stronger than ever. Enough to distract him from the fragments of a case she was laying out before them. She wore latex gloves but they didn’t disguise how delicate and pretty Harris’s hands were.

He’d never thought of Harris as having pretty anything before. Except her mouth.

It was a pretty smart one. At least where he was concerned. Where Dan was concerned it was soft and smiling and inviting. Sexy as hell, too.

No wonder Dan was taking her out tonight. And probably on Saturday, too.

Damn it.

Jarrod needed to get his head back in the game. “So…what do we have?”

“It’s an almost twenty-year-old missing persons case.”

“I know that.” He fought back the impatience. Jarrod had never been an extremely patient man.

But he knew she was. Just like Brynna and Gabby had had their quirks, so did Haldyn. Everyone knew the obsessive-compulsive diagnosis was a real one.

She had her obsessions.

And evidence was one of them.

This job they were going to be doing together wasn’t going to be a short-term deal. He had to get himself under control.

Jarrod couldn’t do this job if he was suddenly lusting after the only real ally he and Daniel were going to have.

No matter that she did smell like the faintest hint of vanilla.

**

He was still in her space. She blew out a breath and bit back the irritation. The conference door opened and one of her evidence recovery techs came in, looking for her next assignment. Charlotte Fields, known around the department as Chuckie, was fast. And extremely efficient. She hadn’t been in the city long, but she was good. Damned good.

If Haldyn had her way, Chuckie would take one of her open assistant supervisor positions within the month.

The other she’d already earmarked for a deputy one county south. As soon as she convinced Bailey Moore that Forensics was where she truly belonged. After Bailey dealt with some of her own things going on right now.

Bailey had had a really rocky road lately.

Elliot Marshall had told her to pick the people she thought could do the job the best–and not consider seniority. Told her that he had something new in mind. Soon.

It was all happening soon.

But first she had to work with Detective Butthead.

“Hey Hal, do you have anything else for me?”

Chuckie had a way of calming everyone around her. Haldyn included. She made a split-second decision. “Yes. Take photos for me. Foster can take notes.”

“We pull a case?”

“A boy’s body was pulled from the flood waters just this side of the county line,” Foster said. “I don’t think we’ve met yet?”

Chuckie nodded at him, but didn’t hold out her hand. She had never seen Chuckie touch a male under the age of sixty or over the age of twelve. Haldyn had the impression that men scared the slightly younger woman for some reason. Foster just looked at Chuckie.

A lot of men did. Chuckie was beautiful, with dark brown hair, bright green eyes and a nice body.

And Foster was a pit of a player. Everyone knew that.

“Dr. Charlotte Fields. I handle evidence recovery on scene. So what about this body?”

“He’s been positively identified as Tomas Rodrigo. Thirteen. He’s been missing for twenty years.”

 “Well, it just turned into a murder investigation. His body was found in the flood waters down by McGareth Road just this side of the county.”

“And there was enough to identify him?’’ Haldyn asked. The condition of a twenty-year-old body in the pool of sludge that would be flood waters by McGareth Road would make identification exceedingly difficult. Except for DNA and dental records

 “And this is all we have to go on?” Chuckie asked, eyeing the few pieces of evidence skeptically.

Haldyn completely agreed.

They had a single sweatshirt.

Parts of a red and blue bicycle.

And that was it.

Previous Chapter

Cold Case “Everything Burns” Chapter 2

“Everything Burns”

Chapter 2.

Haldyn kept her opinion completely to herself as she and her new partner walked out of the chief’s office and grabbed the elevator to the new annex where she spent most of her day. Her feet were killing her. She wasn’t used to wearing heels like this, but the DA had wanted her to appear a little taller. She hadn’t asked why. She would be the first to admit she didn’t often understand the sociological and psychological aspects of law enforcement. She was the scientist, not the sociologist.

Foster walked at her side, a big hulky man-brute who thought the sun rose and set in his own quick wits.

He wasn’t as quick witted as he thought.

The elevator stopped on the fourth floor and a friendly face stepped in. Daniel McKellen smiled when he saw her. “Haldyn.”

“Hi, Dan.”

“I’ve not seen you in a few days. Feeling better?”

“Hmmm. Fully recovered.” They’d been on a date–just friends, of course–down by the actual creekside and she’d gotten stung by a bee. Mildly allergic, she’d had to end the date early. They’d both been disappointed. Daniel was one of the few friends she’d made on the force who wasn’t a direct member of her department.

He’d gone out of his way after the bombing to stop off in her department every day and see how she was doing running things.

Haldyn had always been painfully shy; leading a group of fifteen people was not easy for her. And it probably never would be. Daniel had understood that.

“Good.” Daniel looked at the man who hadn’t said anything. Haldyn thought he and Daniel were on friendly terms. Both had been good friends of Brynna’s before she’d almost been killed. “Foster. Almost didn’t see you there.”

“Sure you didn’t.”

Daniel looked back at her and smiled.

He really was a beautiful man. He was taller than Foster and far more classically handsome. More importantly, Daniel was a geniunely kind man. He was also very busy running the Major Crimes division–which meant their dates had to be on an infrequent basis. “I have a quick question for you.”

“Go ahead.” She’d expected it to be about evidence. Daniel was good about keeping conversations professional when they were on the clock.

“My cousin’s wedding is coming up. Two Saturdays from now. Would you be free that day?” He leaned closer as he asked, one hand on her back. It surprised her. Until she met his eyes and realized he was doing it on purpose.

He knew of the acrimony between her and Detective Foster.

Everyone in the post knew of their history.

And Daniel was an extremely protective man.

Tenderness rushed her and she shifted a little closer. Her smile was real and just for him when she answered. “Of course. I’d love to.”

“Great. The wedding is at three. I’ll pick you up around one? We’ll do an early lunch at the Barratt again.”

“I’d like that very much.”

The elevator dinged and he smiled again. “Call me when you leave tonight. We can catch a movie or dinner.”

“Perfect.”

And then she was alone with Detective Foster. Again.

***

Was she sleeping with McKellen? She didn’t seem the type to get involved with a man she worked with but McKellen technically wasn’t anywhere near her department. Yes, he was the head of Major Crimes and she the head of Forensics, but the two were easily separated, if needed.

She would seem McKellen’s type.

Dan had had a real thing for Brynna Beck months ago. And Brynna and Harris were a lot alike. Both were tall and thin, redheaded, and reserved. Rigid and set in their routines. He’d known Brynna since she was a child and understood it was the autism that caused her need for order.

Haldyn Harris was just…persnickety.

Blue eyes met his and the challenge was there.

He had to rise to the bait, didn’t he? “You and McKellen been together long?”

“My relationship with Daniel is no one’s business but ours.”

What could Daniel possibly see in her? Jarrod had watched as Daniel had touched her.

She’d let him, silently telling Jarrod that Daniel had touched her before. Easily. And she hadn’t acted like his touch burned her skin like she had Jarrod’s the one time he’d accidentally brushed against her on a crime scene. She’d leaned into the other guy, like she’d wanted him to touch her.

Interesting.

“He certainly gets around.”

“What do you mean by that? Daniel is something you will never understand. He’s a gentleman.”

“How archaic.”

“Says the anachronism. What does who I date have anything to do with you? It has no bearing on this new position.”

The elevator opened on their floor. He motioned her in front of him. She stalked out. Jarrod watched for a quick second. The heels and shorter skirt than he was used to seeing her in showed off a very nice pair of legs to perfect advantage.

Maybe it was the legs and the hair. The eyes and the sweet mouth. It definitely wasn’t the attitude.

She was as prickly as a cactus with men.

At least she was with Jarrod.

Apparently she was soft and warm and welcoming with Daniel McKellen.

She entered the code into the keypad to let them into the new evidence locker.

After the previous storage room had been destroyed in the bombing, all remaining evidence had been secured as best as possible. It was gradually being audited–by Haldyn’s team–and chain of command double-checked and preserved. He did not envy her that task, at all.

But every cold case that had remained unsolved over the last fifty years was now his task. Because the corruption in the TSP had been that pervasive. What Elliot Marshall hadn’t told her was that they weren’t just doing cold cases.

They were checking for corruption.

That was Jarrod’s true purpose now. His.

And Daniel McKellen’s.

Hopefully, Dr. Harris wouldn’t prove to be too much of a distraction for the other man to focus on the job they had to do.

***

The box of evidence they were looking for had been misplaced. Haldyn hated to admit it, but a lot of the cases she’d looked for in the remains of the vault had been misplaced. She suspected a lot had been lost on purpose. It was a slow process to find anything in here.

And it was dusty and dirty and she wasn’t entirely certain it was fully safe.

They’d installed strong filters to clean the dust and debris out of the air, but she was super-sensitive to smells and chemicals and she wasn’t fully convinced the filters had worked the way they were supposed to have.

Another part of her was certain someone with the code was sneaking in and moving things on purpose.

She’d checked the security cameras herself four times already. Nothing.

She was probably just being ridiculous.

It took two hours, with Foster breathing down her neck the whole time, for her to find the box. On the highest shelf, furthest corner possible. If she hadn’t been so determined, she never would have found it.

Haldyn never gave up when evidence was involved. “I have it!”

She turned and looked at the man standing at the bottom of the ladder. She’d slipped her shoes off before climbing, but she’d had to arch to reach the box. Her skirt had ridden up higher than she wanted to think about.

She should have put on coveralls. But the skirt made that very uncomfortable. With her hands occupied, she couldn’t pull the skirt back to where it was supposed to be.

And Foster was enjoying the show.

She almost dropped the box of evidence on his head.

It would serve him right.

“Pervert.”

“What? I’m just making certain you don’t fall. Honest.” He shot her a look. “You’d be the last woman in the entire building I’d sneak a peek at, babe. You can bet on that.”

***

Jarrod was lying through his teeth. Now he understood why McKellen had seemed so interested in sniffing around Harris. Maybe she grated on Jarrod’s nerves, but the woman was built in a way he had never noticed before.

Not that it mattered to him that she was. A smart man avoided rattlers.

Haldyn bit when a man got too close.

She handed down the evidence box. He took it, forcing his eyes back on the task at hand and away from his new partner’s awesome legs. Besides, he wasn’t a pervert or a dog like half the rest of the men who worked in the post.

Some of them had been there for thirty years and had attitudes stuck thirty years in the past. Especially where women in law enforcement–any branch of it–were concerned. Jarrod considered himself to be better than that. He had no problem with women in law enforcement. His best partner had been a woman, after all.

He had a problem with the Queen of Evidencia, who snipped and snapped at him every time he ever questioned her precious “science”.

One small mistake and she had mistrusted him ever since. “Well, let’s open it up.”

“There’s a bit more to it than that, and you know it.” She went through the painstakingly tedious process.

Then everything was laid out on her table.

MM24: Another Chapter from the Journal

It has done nothing but rain here for days. Weeks. The counties around us have been kept busy preventing people from doing something stupid in the floods.

The road that leads to Lacy and Travis’s place has completely washed out. They’re using the old service road that connected her ranch to his for most of the traffic in and out of his ranch now. People have only been leaving when they have to.

She’s been staying with Jillian and Rafe so she can be certain she’ll make it to the hospital for her shifts. I don’t think she and Travis are too thrilled with that idea. Usually, Finley Creek isn’t this wet, but ever so often Mother Nature weeps above us.

Things will have to dry out, that’s for sure.

Barratt County is just as bad, and to top it off, I heard they found a body. Bailey’s been back to W4HAV but she refuses to give me too many of the details. Totally understand, since it’s an active investigation, and all.

I’ve been keeping myself busy going through the sheer amount of journals that are hidden throughout the Barratt Ranch. One of Houghton’s cousins is moving in permanently to take over the place, and Houghton’s been collecting what he and his father owned before that happens.

We’ve been separating Handley’s journals from the rest of his family’s. We’ll be reading them soon.

I’ve been reading one that belongs to Houghton’s great-great-great-great-grandfather Hughes, and another that belongs to Hughes’ second wife. She was actually a Finley.

Fin Coulter and Houghton are very distant cousins, I think.

But this  particular journal is full of four brothers who decided to ride to the next ranch over and take four daughters as brides.

Apparently, Barratts really do just find a woman and keep her. No wonder Houghton…well…

I’ve posted the next event in chapter form. You’ll have to take a look. It’s Jude & the Barratt 7.

If you’re not familiar with the story, you may want to start at the very beginning...

 

MM23: The Snotty Garlic

Well. It’s official. Rafe, Travis, and Marc are all aliens. And Houghton and Luc are in bed together.

The Snotty Garlic struck again.

This time it was relatively tame, though the articles mentioned aliens. Aliens–the little green kind–are always a favorite of the Garlic. I think that’s why Brynna and Gabby enjoy it so much.

We were mentioned again, but not too badly. Nothing wild or crazy, unlike the week when it was speculated that baby Sara Anne was…you guessed it…an alien.

I thought Brynna was going to never stop laughing. Chance…wasn’t quite as amused. Especially by the fact that they’d gotten a photo of the baby somewhere. But…the photo looked strangely familiar. As if I’d seen that exact photo somewhere before.

I’m more and more convinced that someone on the Garlic is someone that we know.

Anyway, I’ve linked to the issue we’re in. Take a look for yourself. They also mention some of the latest that’s been going on with Value. Apparently the sheriff–Houghton’s second-cousin Clay Addy–and one of his deputies, Bailey, found two bodies somewhere in the county.

I can’t wait until Bailey comes to W4HAV for her next therapy appointment. I have so many questions…

Sometimes I miss solving the puzzles. CSI video games just are not the same…

 

Anyway, here it is…

snotty garlic issue 1