Vanished in the NightBy: Eileen Carr
To Debbie, Naomi, Marian, Elizabeth, and Kathy
and all the many nurses I’ve been blessed to know.
You are my heroines every day.
Thank you to my sister Diane, who gave this book its original title. We didn’t get to use it, but it kept me focused as I wrote the story. Thank you to my sister Marian, who devised ways to kill many of the victims in the book. Thanks to Susan and Virna for help in fleshing out the story, coming up with nicknames, and providing general moral support at a very crucial moment. Of course, many thanks to the usual suspects—Andy, Spring, Deb, and Carol—who talk me down, cheer me up, create backstories, and generally keep me sane.
As always, many, many thanks to my wonderful editor, Micki Nuding, who keeps me from disappearing down too many literary rabbit holes, and my ever-patient agent, Pamela Ahearn, for encouraging me to explore some of them.
Whoever the poor bastard was, he’d been dead a long time. All Sergeant Zach McKnight of the Sacramento Police Department could see in the bottom of the hole were bone and some hair held together by a few shreds of cloth. Crap, was that a 49ers jersey? He hadn’t seen one of those since 1989.
This case was beyond cold. It was freaking arctic.
His partner, Frank Rodriguez, came to stand beside him at the edge of the construction pit. “I think the first forty-eight hours have totally passed.”
“Gee, Frank, what was your first clue? The nearly total decomposition? Or the rotted clothing?” Zach slid down the side of the pit to crouch next to the body, which rested on top of a ripped black plastic bag on the dirt. Morning dew shimmered a bit on the exposed bone and dampened the red-and-gold jersey.
A dump job, for sure. No way had this skeleton been buried in this pit. Somebody had put it there.
“I’m going with the decomp. That’s always a dead giveaway.” Frank pulled the collar of his coat up around his ears. It was chilly this early in the morning.
All around them crime-scene techs combed the area, gathering bits of garbage that would probably amount to nothing, but which had to be collected and cataloged. Outside the chain-link fence the construction workers loitered, trying to figure out if they were going to have an unexpected day off or not. Uniformed cops were asking questions and looking for familiar faces amidst the crowd that had gathered.
Zach scanned the remains. The likelihood that he’d find anything helpful was between slim and none, but the job was 80 percent going through the motions, 20 percent making a difference. On a good day. “Who found him?”
“Foreman.” Frank slowly descended into the pit. “Swears on his mama’s grave that it wasn’t here at the end of the day yesterday. Then poof! It magically appeared overnight.”
“Magically? He said that?” Zach glanced up with narrowed eyes. Did he have whack jobs on his hands? Satanists digging up dead bodies? Halloween was right around the corner, so it wasn’t totally out of the question. At least he’d be looking at a crime that had happened recently enough that someone might care. As it was, would anybody give a rat’s ass about this poor son of a bitch? Zach would be lucky if he could even get an ID on the dude.
“Of course not, I’m embellishing slightly to make the story more compelling, moron. He didn’t swear on his mama’s grave, either. Keep up, will you?” Frank folded a piece of Juicy Fruit into his mouth and crouched next to Zach. “At least he don’t stink.”
Amen to that. The lack of eau de corpse was about the only advantage to working a cold case. Pretty much everything else about them sucked. Most people couldn’t remember what they were doing last Tuesday, much less some random day five, ten, or fifteen years before. Most of the forensic evidence had probably rotted along with the flesh off the body. “They have security cameras? A guard? Anything?”
“They’re getting the tapes from the security cameras together for me now. There’s a rent-a-cop who drives by all their sites in the area. I got his name and number. Uniforms are canvasing, but there’s not much to canvas.”
True enough. They were in the middle of downtown Sacramento; nobody lived down here. There were administration buildings, offices.