Authors: Kendra Elliot
What went wrong was too much wine and too much reminiscing.
It’d been one kiss.
Its indications had been explosive.
Seth shook his head, forcing the memory out of his thoughts. The night hadn’t ended well, and Tori had left the conference without saying good-bye.
He’d flown back home to Sacramento to his wife, realizing he’d failed her and their daughter. But that failure hadn’t occurred in Denver. It’d occurred when he’d agreed to marry Jennifer for the wrong reasons. He’d always known it wasn’t the right path for either of them, but it’d seemed the best for their daughter.
How wrong he’d been.
He pictured Tori as she’d walked into the medical examiner’s building earlier.
Her looks were slightly exotic with dark eyes too large for her face. Her last name was of Hispanic origin, but she’d always appeared more Mediterranean, more Provençal. She’d eventually told him that she’d been adopted. She’d laughed and said her parents were lucky to adopt a dark-haired daughter instead of a blue-eyed blonde. Fewer questions.
In college, he’d felt instantly connected and later had wondered why he hadn’t missed her before he’d known her. Why hadn’t the giant hole in his heart been obvious? Once she’d filled that hole, he’d seen his emptiness with clear eyes.
Today he was back to square one with the gaping hole in his soul. Its emptiness resonating every time he thought of her. He missed the woman he’d clicked with so long ago. He placed part of the blame on Jennifer. She’d lied and manipulated him, capturing him where he’d been the most vulnerable. But he could have ended things better with Tori.
Or could he? A breakup sucked no matter how it was handled.
He’d asked “What if?” a million times over the years.
Now he was determined to make amends.
Dr. Campbell’s voice entered his thoughts and Seth started. “I’m sorry, what’d you say?”
The older man’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “You’re a million miles away.”
Seth smiled. “You don’t know the half of it.”
Dr. Campbell noticed more than he’d let on.
“Yes, she’s part of it,” he admitted.
“You two have a history? Is it something to keep you from working together?”
The question had been on Seth’s mind. “Yes, we have a history. But I don’t think it’s an issue. It is something I need to talk to her about. If I’m going to make her uncomfortable, then I won’t take the position.”
Dr. Campbell strolled over to study the X-rays of his next subject. He rubbed at his chin, his gaze on the black-and-white images. “Victoria’s the best forensic anthropologist I’ve ever worked with.”
Seth understood what the man hadn’t said out loud. “I don’t want to hurt her,” he replied.
The ME turned and took a long look at Seth. The ME’s scrutiny was intense, and Seth fought not to squirm. “You’re divorced, right?”
“The divorce process started quite a while ago. They take time.”
Dr. Campbell nodded. “Is it going to be messy?”
Seth took a deep breath. “It could get that way. That’s part of the reason I left. I need to be away from her while this happens. It doesn’t help her to see me. She needs to go on with her life and not trip over me once a week somewhere.”
“What about your daughter? She’s what, eighteen?” The older man’s eyes were fierce, flashing concern for the innocent girl in the divorce
Seth swallowed. “I waited until she was off to college. I’ve talked with her over and over about the divorce. She’s my primary concern, and she’s fully aware of the type of person her mother is. She told me she was surprised I stuck it out this long. She says she understands.”
“They always say that. They don’t want to hurt you.”
“I know. But she’s at least accepted it on one level. I don’t know if any child of divorce totally gets over it, even in the smoothest divorce. But she’s a smart kid, and I really believe she’ll get through it. She knows her mother and I still love her. We just can’t live in the same house. Or city.”
Dr. Campbell studied Seth for a moment, evaluating him as deeply as the X-rays. He had a hunch the doctor didn’t miss much. In that case, the ME would see no deception on Seth’s part. He’d left a marriage that’d been doomed from day one, and he was simply starting a new chapter in his life.
“I don’t know how retirement is going to treat me.” Dr. Campbell’s tone lightened as he turned back to the films. “I’ve
always had my finger on the pulse of this operation. I know the ins and outs, the dark corners, and where the dead bodies are buried,” he joked. “I hope this office and I can adapt to having my input abruptly cut off.”
“Maybe you should ease your way out,” Seth offered. “Work part time for a while.”
Dr. Campbell shook his head. “Sometimes a clean break with a fresh start is the healthiest way to handle the changes in life. People step up to the task when they are faced with challenges. Letting go slowly, hoping to smooth things out, often doesn’t help anyone.”
Seth silently exhaled, grateful for the doctor’s understanding.
Victoria skimmed the email from Anita and silently cheered. There was a reason the woman was the office manager. She could find anything and work miracles. Even though parents and press were clamoring for identities on the dead girls, Anita had managed to hunt down the location of the remains of the women found in Forest Park decades ago.
Victoria was one lucky anthropologist.
The three sets of skeletal remains were boxed in the cold case storage. No cremains.
She fought the urge to do a happy dance in her chair. The women could have been cremated and stored in canisters. Or buried. Instead, someone long ago had reduced the remains down to skeletal and placed them in boxes and stored them away, hoping their mystery could be solved in the future. Now they waited for Victoria to read them and search out answers about their identities.
The main question in the old case still ate at her. How could three women not be claimed? She tapped her glasses on her desk,
her chin resting on her hand. Didn’t they have families missing them? She’d caught the latest news update, which had expanded to include the event of so long ago. The three who had been identified had previously been runaways or suspected prostitutes. None of them had originally been from the Portland area, but their families had all stated that they’d deliberately left home. Two had fought with their parents and ran off. The third had informed her family she was leaving for greener pastures.
No doubt the similarities of the new case would send reporters digging deep into archives. Perhaps some fresh exposure would trigger memories or reach people who hadn’t known about the three unidentified women. In her opinion, the two similar cases had the potential to go viral on the Internet. It had the key ingredients—tragic death, young women, and nearly identical occurrences decades apart.
. That wasn’t the type of publicity the examiner’s office needed right now. Hopefully the sensationalism would stay out of the way. She scribbled the reference numbers for the storage room on a scrap of paper, her curiosity level hovering somewhere in the stratosphere.
Her cell phone vibrated on her desk. Intending to ignore the call, she stood and was pushing in her chair when the name on the cell screen caught her eye.
Oh, come on. Not now.
Her ex-husband was calling. Again. She spoke with Rory about once a month since the divorce two years ago. They were still friends—well, they were still acquaintances. She never felt the urge to meet him for a drink, and she only tolerated his phone calls. She classified that type of relationship as an acquaintance. Why was he calling so early on a Sunday? The Rory she knew should be sound asleep from being out too late last night.
Had she mentioned her ex-husband still thought he was in college?
Her hand hovered over the phone. And hit Ignore.
She headed for the storage rooms.
Trinity sat in the waiting room at the medical examiner’s office and tried to make herself disappear. She hunched over her clipboard, glancing occasionally at the growing number of people milling about the room, avoiding eye contact. No one asked her any questions. The growing crowd was mostly adults, and each one or couple had a clipboard with the questionnaire.
The room was tense. Some parents cried, others spoke in hushed tones, and more simply stared into space, their hands in a death grip or clenching a spouse’s hand. Cell phone screens were constantly checked and calls made. Trinity’s questionnaire about Brooke was finished, but she hadn’t turned it in. As long as she
didn’t hand in the form, Brooke wasn’t confirmed as dead. She clung to the clipboard, her fingers icy and her feet numb.
Ever since she’d seen the news on TV, she’d felt like she couldn’t get enough oxygen. Her brain was locked away, protected from thinking deeply. A door slammed in her mind if she started to consider Brooke’s fate. She’d floated, barely functioning on half power since speaking with Dr. Peres.
In her heart, she knew something was wrong.
Brooke always returned texts.
Trinity read the questionnaire for the hundredth time.
Hair color and length
Any unusual scars, birthmarks? Braces or tattoos?
Clothing last seen wearing
Brooke didn’t have braces or tattoos. Trinity didn’t know about any scars. The form was so sterile. It didn’t allow her to describe Brooke’s beauty or laugh. Or explain what a good friend she’d been… was. She’d filled in answers that were short and cold. Brooke’s sunny smile flooded her brain, and she immediately shut the image down.
Don’t think about her.
The parents in the room had filled out their forms as quickly as possible and given them to Anita. Some had demanded to view the girls’ bodies and were deftly turned away. Others sat silently in the chairs, staring at their cell phones, sending texts, and waiting. Trinity counted nine tissue boxes in the room. All were getting regular use.
“Oh, thank God!” shrieked a woman staring at her phone. She and her husband leaped up, and she fell into his arms, her shoulders shuddering. He hugged her hard, his head buried in her neck. Pulling apart, they stumbled across the room to Anita’s desk, tears spilling down their cheeks.
“My daughter just texted me back. She was at her boyfriend’s instead of where she’d told us she was spending the night.” The woman’s voice cracked as Anita dug through the questionnaires and pulled one out.
“I’ll shred this,” Anita said to the mother.
“No, I want it,” the mother said grimly, holding out her hand. “I want to show her what we went through because of her lies. Maybe she’ll learn something.”
Anita nodded and handed her the form. The couple headed out the door and all of the other parents watched them through the large windows. Halfway across the parking lot, the mother stopped and turned to her husband. She collapsed against him, her legs visibly shaking. They embraced in the lot, leaning heavily on each other.
The other parents looked away.
Trinity trembled. She wondered if her foster mom was on her way. She’d gone to church, leaving Trinity home with her upset stomach. Katy knew Trinity was with Dr. Peres at the ME’s office and had promised she’d arrive as soon as she could. How long would she have to wait? Dr. Peres had said the police wanted to talk with her.
She walked to Anita’s desk and quietly laid down the clipboard. The woman gave her a kind smile as she pulled Trinity’s form from the board and added it to her stack. “How are you doing, hon?” The woman had a grandmotherly quality that made Trinity want to curl up in her lap.
Trinity forced a smile, feeling her dry lips stretch. “Fine, thank you. Do you know when the police will talk to me?”
Anita’s brows came together. “Let me check with Dr. Peres.” She glanced at her watch. “Have a seat—”
“Trinity?” A blonde woman in scrubs stepped into the waiting room. “I’m Dr. Campbell. Dr. Peres asked me to get you.”
The woman was smaller than Trinity. And she was a doctor? Was she a real doctor or one like Dr. Peres, who studied bones?
Trinity followed the woman out of the waiting room and into the bright hallway.
“One of your friends is missing?” the doctor asked as they moved rapidly down the hall.
Trinity forced her legs to move. A fuzzy cloud still enveloped her senses, requiring extra effort to walk and focus. “I knew she was going to Forest Park yesterday. And now I can’t reach her.”
Sadness crossed the young doctor’s face. “So many girls.”
“Have you seen them?” Trinity whispered.
Dr. Campbell halted and turned to face her. “I have,” she answered. “And I’ll never forget it.” Her wide brown eyes were soft with sympathy.
“Are you a doctor like Dr. Peres is a doctor? Or a real doctor?” Trinity blurted.
The woman smiled. “I’m a dentist. I work for the medical examiner as a forensic odontologist. I study their teeth to help identify people.”
“So you looked at the fillings and stuff on those girls? And you’ll compare them to what their parents and dentists say they had done to their teeth?”