Scream For Me

Excerpt

“Daniel.”

It was a surprised greeting from Ed Randall, head of the crime lab team. “I didn't know you were back.”

“Just today.” It was supposed to have been tomorrow, but having been away for two weeks, Daniel was next in the barrel for an assignment. When this call had come in, his boss had called him back in early. He stuck out his hand to the sheriff. “Sheriff Corchran, I'm Special Agent Vartanian, GBI. We'll provide any support you request.”

The sheriff's eyes widened as he shook Daniel's hand. “Any relation to …?”

God help me, yes. He made himself smile. “I'm afraid so.”

Corchran studied him shrewdly. “You ready to be back?”

No. Daniel kept his voice level. “Yes. If it's a problem, I can request someone else.”

Corchran seemed to consider it and Daniel waited, keeping his temper carefully locked down. It wasn't right, wasn't fair, but being judged by his family's deeds was his reality. Finally Corchran shook his head. “No, you don't need to do that. We're good.”

Daniel's temper settled and again he made himself smile. “Good. So can you tell me what happened? Who discovered the body and when?”

“Today was our annual Cycle Challenge and this road is part of the course. One of the cyclists noticed the blanket. He didn't want to lose the race, so he called 911 and kept cycling. I have him waiting at the finish line if you need to talk to him.”

“I'll want to talk him, yes. Did anyone else stop?”

“No, we got lucky,” Ed Randall said. “We had an undisturbed scene when we got here and no crowd watching – they were all at the finish line.”

“That doesn't happen very often. Who was first on the scene from your department, Sheriff?” Daniel asked.

“Larkin. He lifted only a corner of the blanket to see her face.” Corchran's stony face flinched, a telling sign. “I immediately called you guys. We don't have the resources to investigate a scene like this.”

Daniel acknowledged the final statement with a nod. He appreciated sheriffs like Corchran who were willing to bring in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. So many were territorial, viewing any GBI involvement as … a swarm of locusts descending on their town. Yes, that's how the sheriff of Daniel's hometown had put it only two weeks ago. “We'll work with you in whatever capacity you choose, Sheriff.”

“For now, take it all,” Corchran said. “My department is at your disposal.” His jaw squared. “We haven't had a murder in Arcadia in the ten years since I've been in office. We want to see whoever did that to go away for a long time.”

“We do, too.” Daniel turned to Ed. “So what do you know?”

“She was killed somewhere else and dumped here. Her body was found wrapped in a brown blanket.”

“Like a shroud,” Daniel murmured and Ed nodded.

“Just like. The blanket appears to be new, it's some wool blend. Her face was beaten badly and there was bruising around her mouth. The ME can give you more on that. There's no sign of struggle down there and no footprints up or down the slope.”

Daniel frowned and looked down into the ditch. It was a drainage ditch and the water ran down to the storm sewer about a hundred yards away. The sides were smooth mud. “Then he must have walked through the water to the storm sewer, then up to the road.” He considered it a moment. “This bike race. Was it widely publicized?”

Corchran nodded. “This is a big fundraiser for the local youth clubs, so the boosters put flyers in towns fifty miles away. Besides, we've had this race on the last Sunday in January for more than ten years. We get bikers from up north who want to ride where it's warmer. It's a pretty big deal.”

“Then he wanted her to be found,” Daniel said.

“Daniel.” The ME techs came over the crime scene tape. One of them went straight to their rig and the other stopped next to Ed. “Good to see you back.”

“Good to be back, Malcolm. What do you know?”

Malcolm Zuckerman stretched his back. “That it's going to be fun getting the body out of that ditch. The incline's steep and the mud's slick. Trey's gonna jerry-rig a crane.”

“Malcolm,” Daniel said with exaggerated patience. Malcolm was always complaining about his back or weather conditions or something. “What do know about the victim?”

“Female, Caucasian, mid twenties most likely. She's been dead about two days. Cause of death appears to be asphyxiation. Bruising on her buttocks and inner thighs indicates sexual assault. Her face has been beaten with a blunt object. Don't know what yet, but it caused significant damage to her facial structure. Nose, cheekbones, jaw are all broken.” He frowned. “The beating of her face may have been post-mortem.”

Daniel lifted a brow. “So he wanted her to be found, but not identified.”

“That's what I'm thinkin'. I'm betting we won't find her prints in the system. There is a pattern of bruises to the side of her mouth, could be from her assailant's fingers.”

“He held his hand over her mouth until she smothered,” Corchran muttered, his jaw clenched. “Then pounded her face to pulp. Sonofabitch.”

“That's what it looks like,” Malcolm said, sympathy in his voice, but weariness in his eyes Daniel more than understood. Too many bodies, too many sonsofbitches. “We'll get more once the Doc does the examination. You done with me, Danny?”

“Yeah. Call me when you do the autopsy. I want to be there.”

Malcolm shrugged. “Suit yourself. Doc Berg will probably start after Three-M.”

“What's Three-M?” Corchran asked as Malcolm went back to the ME rig to wait.

“Morgue morning meeting,” Daniel told him. “That means Dr. Berg will probably start the autopsy at nine-thirty or ten. You're welcome if you want to watch.”

Corchran swallowed. “Thanks. I will if I can.”

Corchran looked a little green and Daniel didn't blame him. It wasn't easy to watch the MEs do their thing. The sound of the bone saws still made Daniel queasy after years of autopsies. “That's fine. What else, Ed?”

“We got shots of all the area around the body and on both sides of the ditch,” Ed said. “Video and still. We'll search this side of the ditch first so Malcolm won't destroy anything getting her out of here, then we'll set up the lights and search the rest.” He waved at his team and they headed over the tape. Ed started to follow, then hesitated before drawing Daniel aside. “I'm sorry about your parents, Daniel,” he said quietly. “I know there's nothing I can say. I just wanted you to know.”

Daniel dropped his eyes to the ground, caught off balance. Ed was sorry Arthur and Carol Vartanian were dead. Daniel wasn't sure he could be. Some days Daniel wasn't sure his parents hadn't brought a large measure of their doom on themselves. Simon had been evil, but his parents had enabled his brother, each in their own way.

The people Daniel felt truly sorry for were Simon's other victims. Still … Arthur and Carol had been his parents. He could still see them lying in the Philadelphia morgue, dead at the hand of their own son. That hideous picture mixed in with all the others that haunted him, awake or asleep. So much death. So many lives destroyed. Ripples.

Daniel cleared his throat. “I saw you at the funeral. Thanks, Ed. It meant a lot.”

“If you need anything, you know where to call.” Ed gave Daniel's shoulder a hard clap, then followed his team. Daniel turned back to Corchran who'd been watching.

“Sheriff, I'd like to talk to Officer Larkin and have him take me down to the body the same way he approached earlier. I know he'll do a thorough report, but I'd like to get his memory and impressions straight from him.”

“Sure. He's stationed down the road, keeping curiosity seekers back.” Corchran radioed Larkin and in less than five minutes the officer had joined them. Larkin's face was still a little pale, but his eyes were clear. In his hand he held a piece of paper.

“My report, Agent Vartanian. But there is one other thing. I just remembered it when I was driving back here. There was a murder just like this not far from here.”

Corchran's brows shot up. “Where? When?”

“Before you got here,” Larkin replied. “It was thirteen years ago this April. A girl was found in a ditch just like this. She was wrapped in a brown blanket, and she'd been raped and suffocated.” He swallowed. “And her face had been beaten in, just like this.”

Daniel felt a chill race down his spine. “You seem to remember it clearly, Officer.”

Larkin looked pained. “The girl was sixteen, same age as my own daughter at the time. I don't remember the girl's name, but it happened outside of Dutton, which is about twenty-five miles east of here.”

The chill spread and Daniel clenched his body against a shiver. “I know where Dutton is,” he said. He knew Dutton well. He'd walked its streets, shopped in its stores, played Little League on their team. He also knew that evil had lived in Dutton, and had borne the Vartanian name. Dutton, Georgia was Daniel Vartanian's hometown.

Larkin nodded as he put Daniel's name with current events. “I expect you do.”

“Thank you, Officer,” Daniel said, managing to keep his voice level. “I'll look into it as soon as possible. For now, let's go take a look at Jane Doe.”

***

Copyright © 2008, Karen Rose Books, Inc.