At Close Range(5)

By: Laura Griffin

Ric watched her steadily, and Dani felt the heavy weight of his expectations. Shit.

“Fine, I’ll do it,” she said.

As if she had a choice.

He clamped a hand on her shoulder. “Relax, okay? We wouldn’t ask you if you couldn’t handle it.”

Sure they would.

“Don’t worry, you’re a natural,” he added. “It’s in your blood.”

Dani gave him a long look, trying not to get offended. It was no secret that some people thought she’d made detective through favoritism and not merit. Dani’s dad had been a cop, her oldest brother was a cop, and her other brother was a prosecutor with the DA’s office.

But Ric knew better than anyone else that she’d worked her ass off to make detective, so his comment probably wasn’t a jab. She was just being cranky.

“Where are we on the female victim?” he asked now. “We get an ID?”

She took a deep breath and tried to clear her mind. Holy hell, she was the lead investigator. She had to know everything, down to the last detail. Ayers had been positively identified, but the woman was still a mystery.

“At this point, no clue.” Dani pictured her on the autopsy table and stifled a shudder. “No ID with the car or the personal effects. No phone. No identifying scars or tattoos. According to the ME’s office, her prints aren’t in the system, and still no missing person’s report. Dr. Froehlich believes she’s late twenties, but that’s about all he’d venture to say at this point. He might have more in the formal report.” Dani paused. “You sure the wife doesn’t know who she is?”

Ric and Jasper had gone over there in the middle of the night to notify her.

“She said she doesn’t.” Ric rubbed the stubble on his chin. “I’ve got some other ideas, though. Let me keep working on that angle. Meantime, Reynolds wants you at the Delphi Center.”

She glanced at the building. “Doesn’t he want an update first? That’s why I came in.”

“I’ll update him. He needs you at the lab, lighting a fire under those people. All the evidence from the scene, we need it turned around ASAP.”

• • •

The Delphi Center occupied land that had once been a working ranch before it was donated as the building site for the nation’s largest private forensics laboratory. The lab was staffed by scientists called Tracers, who specialized in practically every forensic discipline under the sun.

After showing her ID at the security gate, Dani curved her way up the drive. The Greek-style building was surrounded on all sides by junipers and cedars and giant oak trees. Oh, and corpses, too. She couldn’t forget that. In addition to a world-class crime lab, the Delphi Center was home to a decomposition research center—also known as a body farm.

Dani spied a group of people in white coveralls clustered beside a pit. They knelt in the dirt, toiling under the relentless July sun. Despite the hot and stinky working conditions, they were lucky to be here, and they knew it. Students from the nearby university sat on waiting lists for years to learn bone excavation from one of the country’s top forensic anthropologists.

Dr. Kelsey Quinn glanced up from her work, and Dani waved but didn’t slow down. No time to stop and chat, and she’d had more than enough gore for one day.

At the front desk, Dani picked up a visitor’s badge and went straight to the back of the building, which housed the garage. The cavernous room could have fit a small plane, but right now it was all cars. Dani was glad to see the silver Accord in the center of everything and Roland standing beside it.

As she walked over, he glanced up. “I was beginning to think you forgot about us.”

“I was at the ME’s.”

Roland made a face and reached for a Slurpee on a nearby table. He took a big sip and offered her some.

“I’m good, thanks.”

With his gray coveralls, muscular build, and tattooed forearms, he looked more like a mechanic than a science geek, but Dani happened to know he had a master’s degree in criminalistics.

“We’ve been working since seven,” he said.

She glanced across the room at Brooke Porter, another one of Delphi’s trace-evidence experts. Brooke was hunched over a worktable with earbuds stuffed in her ears and didn’t look up.