| Have You Seen Her? |
By Karen Rose
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Present Day, Raleigh, North Carolina, Monday, September 26, 10:00 A.M.
THE FACT THAT HE'D SEEN MORE HORRIFIC SCENES over the course of his career should have made this one easier to mentally process.
Special Agent Steven Thatcher loosened his tie, but it didn't do a thing to help the flow of air to his lungs. It didn't do a thing to change what he'd found in the clearing after the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation received an anonymous tip leading them to this place.
It certainly didn't do a thing to bring the poor dead woman back to life.
So Steven centered the knot of his tie right over the lump in his throat. He stepped forward carefully, earning him a glare from the rookie Forensics had sent because the rookie's boss had picked the week they discovered a gruesome, brutal murder to take a cruise to the Caribbean.
Now, looking at the mangled corpse, heavily scavenged by whatever creatures lived in these woods, Steven couldn't help wishing he were on a boat far from civilization, too.
"Watch your feet," the rookie cautioned from his hands-and-knees position on the grass next to the body, irritation in his voice. Kent Thompson was reputed to be quite good, but Steven would hold his judgment. However, the fact Kent hadn't thrown up yet was a stroke in his favor.
"Thank you for the lesson in crime-scene investigation," Steven replied dryly and Kent's cheeks went redder than chili peppers.
Kent sat back on his heels and looked away. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I'm frustrated. I've checked this entire area three times. Whoever left her here didn't leave anything else behind."
"Maybe the ME will find something on the body," Steven said.
Kent sighed. "What's left of it." He looked back at the corpse, clinical detachment on his face. But Steven also noted the flicker of controlled compassion in the young man's eyes and was satisfied. Kent would do his job, but still remember the victim. Another stroke in the newbie's favor.
"Sorry, Steven," said a ragged voice behind him and Steven turned to find Agent Harry Grimes taking labored breaths as he slipped a handkerchief in his pocket. Harry's face was pale, although the green tinge had passed along with the Egg McMuffin Harry had downed on his way to the scene.
New to the SBI, Harry had been assigned to Steven for training. Harry showed a lot of promise, except for his very weak stomach. But Steven couldn't blame him too much. He might have lost his own breakfast had he taken the time to eat any. "It's okay, Harry. It happens."
"Have we found anything?" Harry asked.
"Not yet." Steven crouched down next to the body, a pen in his gloved hand. "Nude, no ID or clothing anywhere around. There's enough left of her to know she was female."
"Adolescent female," Kent added and Steven's head shot up.
"Adolescent female is my guess," Kent said, pointing to the corpse's torso. "Pierced navel."
Harry's gulp was audible. "How can you tell?"
Kent's mouth quirked up. "You could see if you put your face a bit closer."
"I don't think so," said Harry in a strangled voice.
Steven balanced himself on the balls of his feet, still crouched. "Okay, an adolescent female. She's been here at least a week. We'll need to run a check through missing persons." He gently rolled the body over and felt his heart skip a beat at the same time Harry cursed softly.
"What?" Kent asked, looking from Steven up to Harry and back at Steven. "What?"
A grimness settled over Steven and he pointed his pen at the remains of the young girl's left buttock. "She had a tattoo."
Kent leaned closer, then looked up, still squinting. "Looks like a peace symbol."
Steven looked up at Harry who wore a look of the same grim acknowledgment. "Lorraine Rush," Steven said and Harry nodded.
"Who was Lorraine Rush?" Kent asked.
"Lorraine was reported missing about two weeks ago," Harry said quietly. "Her parents went in to wake her up for school and found her bed slept in but empty."
"No evidence of forced entry," Steven added, looking at the corpse with new concern. "We had to assume she'd run away. Her parents insisted she never would run, that she'd been kidnapped."
"Parents always insist their kids would never run away," Harry said. "You still don't know that she didn't and just met up with some rough character along the way."
Steven could see in his mind's eye the picture of Lorraine as she'd been, the smiling girl in the photograph on the Rushes' fireplace mantel. "She was sixteen. A year younger than my oldest son." Steven let his thoughts briefly linger on his troubled son who'd undergone such a radical change in personality in the last month. But that was another worry. He'd dwell on his very personal problem of Brad when he'd put Lorraine Rush out of his mind. Whenever that would be.
"Damn shame," said Kent.
Steven pushed himself to his feet and stared down at what was left of what had once been a beautiful, vibrant young woman. Pushed back the primal rage at the monster who could take the life of another so brutally. "We'll need to inform her parents." He didn't look forward to that task.
Breaking the tragic news of a loved one's murder should have been easier after all these years.
Should have been.
Excerpted from Have You Seen Her? , by Karen Rose . Copyright (c) 2004 by Karen Rose Hafer. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top