So few answers.
But she had others working on the information. Detective Natalie Jenkins was determined to find out the identity of the family that had adopted Jenna Hughes’s firstborn, and privacy codes or agreements be damned. Someone knew who had adopted the girl.
“Hey!” Double T said, interrupting her thoughts and pointing to an overgrown lane where the trees opened a bit. “I think we’re here.”
She might have sped right past except for the county deputy’s car about fifty feet into the private road. With lights flashing, the cruiser blocked further access to the property. Nash pulled in behind the cruiser. She and Double T climbed out of her Ford and with heads bent against the rain, made their way through the muck and mud to the cruiser, where a deputy in rain gear stood guard. Rain was sliding from his weatherproof jacket and dripping from the bill of his cap. He was young, around twenty-five, and pale as death in the darkness, his mouth a thin line, his beady blue eyes nearly luminescent.
Quick introductions ensued as he inspected their badges, shining the beam of his flashlight over the IDs.
As he nodded curtly, Nash glanced into the back of the county vehicle. It was empty. “Where’s Mrs. Nelson?”
“Not inside?” Nash asked, her heart dropping like a stone.
“No. No one’s here, but you’d better go in and take a look. My partner’s there and we’re waiting for the crime lab guys to show up.”
“Looks like a homicide.”
“But Mrs. Nelson is not inside?” Nash didn’t wait for an answer, just headed to the ramshackle cabin in front of which a Hyundai Santa Fe was parked. The SUV’s license was secured with a plate holder decorated with a cowboy upon a bucking rodeo horse and a couple of faded bumper stickers, one advising the reader to turn off his TV, the other professing love for the state of Oregon.
“This doesn’t look good,” Double T said, turning his collar against a rush of cold air that rustled the boughs of the trees surrounding the small clearing.
“You got that right.” They climbed up two rickety steps and stepped through an open doorway.
“Hold it right there,” a harsh female voice ordered and they both stopped to view the interior of the cabin, illuminated only by a flashlight held in the hand of a female deputy.
“Detective Rhonda Nash,” Nash said, once again flipping open her wallet to display her badge while Double T introduced himself as he flashed his own ID.
The room, in the harsh white light from the flashlight, was a mess, turned-over furniture, a broken lamp, glass underfoot, and a huge dark stain that had spread from a river rock fireplace across the dusty floors.
“Looks like someone bled out here,” the deputy said, running the beam of her flashlight over the wide stain. “I found no body inside. Could be on the grounds, or buried. We’ve got dogs on their way. Can’t tell whose blood it is, but it’s fresh, some not even dried.” She hitched a finger behind her toward the back wall. “Found a shell casing back there. Figured that’s where the shooter was when he fired.”
Nash let her gaze rove over the small interior and she felt an angry disappointment. Belva Nelson had been the key to her investigation, the turning point. Nash had felt it, that sizzle of anticipation upon reaching the turning point in a case. Now, the retired nurse was missing, most probably dead, the lead withered away.
Using her own flashlight, she swept the interior and decided that someone, most possibly Belva Nelson, had died here last night. She spied an open purse on the floor beneath a table, the stain of blood beneath it. Within the leather bag Nash found a wallet. ID and credit cards issued to Belva Nelson were inside.
This could play out differently. Maybe Nelson wasn’t the victim. Perhaps she was still alive. There was even a remote chance she had been the killer, but Nash’s gut instinct told her differently.
Damn, damn, damn and double damn!
They were too late. Which wasn’t really a surprise, considering that nothing in this case was ever easy, nothing fell into place. If only they’d had a chance to interview Belva Nelson. It was all so frustrating. “Son of a bitch,” she said through clenched teeth.
“So now what?” Double T asked.
Nash stemmed her disappointment. Collected herself. She couldn’t just wait here for forensics and the dogs. No, not with her feeling that time was running through her fingers. She checked her watch, then instructed the deputy to call her with information and left her card. They walked out of the cabin with not more information than they’d come with.
“You know,” she said to Double T as they headed for her car again, picking their way through mud puddles that reflected the pulsing red and blue light from the cruiser’s light bar. “If we wrap things up here and get back into town, we might not miss the end of the party for Dead Heat. You got a tux or extremely hip black suit you can change into?”
“You’re serious?” Double T asked.
“Oh, yeah.” She was nodding, sliding into the driver’s seat, wondering about her own change of clothes. “Serious as hell.”
Tonight the splendor of the Hotel Danvers, one of Portland’s most famous and historic hotels, was lost on Cassie. As she and Trent entered through a side door to avoid the reporters camped out at the main entrance she barely noticed the gleaming woodwork, elegant chandeliers, massive staircases, stained-glass windows, or thick carpets. She was too keyed up, still trying to sort things out in her mind.