Audrey followed Gregory Pope as he walked down the trail, descended the stairs, and crossed the pedestrian bridge. She expected Pope to turn on her again before he got too far, telling her she was off the case or coming back to argue why her approach was wrong, but he just marched across the wooden bridge and up the stairs on the other side, ripping through the crime scene tape and going on his way. A nearby police officer looked like he would say something but then thought better of it as he moved to replace it.
They are all cowed by him. Pope’s not used to having somebody stand up to him.
If Audrey survived this, she should be in good with the man because she’d helped him refrain from doing something during his darkest hour that he’d later regret.
It also had the potential to backfire. She might be looking for a new job tomorrow.
“Now you’re just poking the bear,” Ramirez said a little loudly from behind her on the trail, probably because she wanted to be overheard. “A word of friendly advice: don’t poke the bear. I’m gonna follow Parker, just to make sure he doesn’t try to leave the city or anything. You know, in case you change your mind.” Ramirez gave Audrey a cold glare before she jogged back up the trail, headed for the stone bridge.
If looks could kill.
Audrey went back to the crime scene, too, taking steady breaths while trying not to be obvious about it. She’d been fine during the confrontation with Pope, but now it was over, and the moment had passed, her heart raced, and she was filled with anxiety.
This was not unexpected. She was usually calm during a crisis, but it always crashed down on her like a load of bricks afterward. This was why she was already doing a breathing exercise, so it wasn’t as bad when it all hit.
It was a doozy, but at least she could function.
The male detective hadn’t moved, and there were other police officers nearby too. The crime scene technicians had mostly finished with the scene, but several still lingered. She got the idea they’d stayed to watch how things played out with Pope. She was suddenly very conscious of how all these witnesses had seen everything that had just taken place. It made her anxiety grow.
What would Pope think when he calmed down?
Would he be grateful or vindictive?
There was no way to know, and she could drive herself crazy trying to figure it out. Pope likely didn’t know how he would respond. The best thing she could do was work on the case at hand.
As long as it’s my case to run.
She focused on the spot where the body was discovered, examining the blood smear on the trail from the tape. She forced herself to think through the possibilities of what may have happened.
The male detective approached and stood beside her, hovering for a few moments before clearing his throat.
“I’ve never seen anybody handle Pope like that,” he said quietly. “Kudos.”
Was he making fun of her? Audrey couldn’t be sure. His words sounded sincere, but…
“Who are you?”
“My name’s Barry Michaels.”
“I know who you are.”
“Do you think Parker did this too? Do you think I made a mistake letting him go?”
“Those are two different questions. I think it was the right thing to let him go. Pope might have done something he’d regret later if you had Parker stick around.
“As for whether Parker did it? It seems unlikely, but please don’t go spreading that around.” Michaels gave her a toothy smile. “Pope is convinced Parker’s the guy, and he’s just waiting for us to arrest him. You didn’t hear him talking because you were interviewing Parker. He knows Parker did it. You’re not gonna convince him otherwise.”
“I have my job cut out for me.”
“We both do.” He gave her that smile again. “Politics. The one thing they don’t teach you in the academy.”
Or law school.
“You new?” Audrey frowned. Every instinct told her Parker didn’t do this but were those instincts wrong? Was she just counterbalancing because Pope and Ramirez had an obvious bias against Parker?
No, she told herself, it doesn’t appear Parker is the murderer, so I responded accordingly. If he did this, we will find evidence that shows he did.
But what if there were microscopic drops of blood on him, and she’d just let him walk away? What if he now tossed his clothes into an incinerator, and the evidence was gone forever?
Audrey took in another deep breath and slowly let it out. There was no reason to arrest him, so there was nothing else they could do.
“I’ve been on the job for five years. Just made detective.”
At least his earlier reticence made sense to her now. Ramirez was a senior detective, and Michaels was just following her cues.
“Congratulations.” She didn’t mean for it to sound sarcastic, but it did. She went on before he could think about it. “What else can you tell me about what happened here?”
“The forensics team will soon finish their work, we’ll get a preliminary report from them within the next two days, but scuttlebutt is the perp didn’t leave much behind. All we have is that knife. We have uniforms going door-to-door to check for security footage from the surrounding area, but it’s gonna take some time before we get any of that in too. Most of it’s residential, so we won’t get much.”
“Any other potential suspects?”
“A family on a picnic. Several homeless people, neither of whom are coherent enough to answer questions, so I doubt they had anything to do with it.”
Audrey raised an eyebrow. “You sure?”
“One was barely moving, he was so high. It’s amazing he didn’t go into cardiac arrest. The other couldn’t even speak coherent English. All his words were gibberish. His teeth were all worn down to the nubs. I doubt he’s had a lucid day this year.”
“At a park this size in the middle of the day? There were others.”
“Of course there were, but those are all we’ve found. Rachel likely screamed as she died, and the bystanders probably ran.”
“Who called it in?”
“Don’t know yet. We’ll talk with dispatch. There’ll be a recording.”
Audrey nodded at the knife, which still hadn’t been moved. “What do you make of that?”
“It’s unclear if it means something.”
“Think it’s some sort of message?”
“I had the same thought, but Ramirez disagreed. She believed the murderer was in such a frenzy he just stabbed it into the ground before running.”
“Ramirez.” She left no doubt about her thoughts on the woman by her tone. “You think otherwise?”
“Whoever killed Rachel was saying something with that knife. I don’t know what, but perhaps we can make some better guesses when we know more.”
“Perhaps,” Audrey said. “So Rachel’s running, and somebody comes up from behind—”
“She was stabbed from the front.”
“Really? I didn’t know that because she was covered with a sheet.” Audrey felt sheepish for not knowing such an essential detail, but she quickly pushed past it. The anxiety from before was mostly gone. This was why she’d focused on the case.
It was helping.
“How many times?”
“Five to eight.”
“Any evidence of a struggle?”
“Not that I could see. I think the first went straight to the heart. The others were insurance. He wanted her dead.”
Audrey frowned. “You don’t think this was a crime of passion?”
“No. I don’t.”
“What’s your evidence?”
“The whole thing seems planned. She was jogging, which likely means she’s a regular on this trail. Whoever planned this knew she would be here at this time of day. They knew she favored this path. They were waiting behind a tree to pop out and attack her. It’s too planned to think this was passionate.”
“Do you have evidence?”
“No. Something about the stab wounds made me think this was done by somebody who knew what they were doing. They were almost too clean. I think he got her heart on the first try, so she didn’t put up much of a fight afterward.”
“You think this was a hit.”
Barry Michaels seemed surprised. “Don’t you?”
“Pope won’t be easily convinced.”
Michaels handed her his card. “I’ll let you know what I find.”