The night air, a grim mixture of wind and slanting rain, hit Boldt's face like needles. Seattle was a police beat where the weather could and did compromise a crime scene, often in a matter of minutes. On the advice of Bernie Lofgrin and his forensic team--the Scientific Identification Division, or SID--the department had issued foul weather directives for all first officers--the first patrol person to arrive on the scene. Regulations now required plastic tarps and oversized umbrellas as mandatory equipment for the trunk of every cruiser. But mistakes were still made, and that night seemed ripe for them.
As Boldt hurried up the home's short poured-cement driveway, he faced the garage, behind and to the left of the house, a basketball hoop and paint-chipped backboard mounted to face the street. His attention fixed onto the SID van parked there in the drive. Of all the divisions, SID should have understood the importance of protecting evidence, should have respected the department's attitude toward parking on private property. And yet there was the SID step van, inexplicably parked in the victim's driveway. One expected the occasional procedural error from the medical examiner's chuck wagon, even tolerated it when, as had happened earlier that night, an ambulance had been required to carry away a victim, and so had likely parked in the drive. But as the collectors and keepers of evidence, SID had no excuse for parking in a crime scene driveway for any reason. Some SID tech had wanted to avoid the rain, that was all and that wasn't good enough. The infraction incited Boldt's temper, and in a rare display of emotion, he exploded at the first SID tech he encountered. He ordered the van relocated to the street.
Privately, Boldt blamed the Blue Flu, SPD's first sickout by its officers in the history of the department. The Flu had so overwhelmed morale that it now apparently offered even civilian employees--like those who peopled SID--an excuse to turn in shoddy, rushed work. He wondered what chance law enforcement had if the five-day-old sickout continued? He also feared the consequences; shoddy work wasn't the only outcome of the Flu--officers, including Boldt, had been threatened by anonymous calls--lines were being drawn. Violence bubbled beneath the surface.
A first-degree burglary indicated an assault, in this case a broken neck and the possible rape of Sanchez, a cop. Boldt felt the urgency of the situation--this case needed to clear before the press had a chance to run with it, before the press became fixated on the vulnerability of a police department weakened by Flu.
Already on the job, detective Bobbie Gaynes offered Boldt and the investigation a ray of hope. Because of the Flu, and a lottery-like case assignment strategy that had the depleted ranks-- lieutenants and above, mostly--accepting whatever cases Dispatch threw at them, this crime scene belonged to neither Boldt nor Gaynes, but to Lieutenant Daphne Matthews, whose official posting was that of staff psychologist. Boldt expected Matthews on the scene momentarily, even looked forward to it. They worked well together.
A woman in her early thirties who regularly altered her looks for the fun of it, the diminutive Gaynes currently wore her hair cut short and colored a dark red. The heavy rimmed black Geek glasses and barely there makeup created a style that was a cross between hip urban single woman and computer programmer, which actually went a fair distance to describing her personality as well. Gaynes lived for computer chat rooms these days.
Her prompt arrival on the scene came as no surprise. Boldt had personally brought Gaynes to Homicide following her stellar work on a serial killer case some years earlier. Before that, she had worked Special Assaults--Sex Crimes, as her fellow officers called it. With the Sanchez crime scene initially reported as a burglary/assault, rape couldn't be ruled out. Gaynes was a good detective to have on hand.
Boldt kept expecting the press. The lights. The questions. They would need answers immediately.
"You knew Maria Sanchez didn't you?" Gaynes asked.
"I know her personally," Boldt corrected. "Yes."
"I only meant--"
Boldt interrupted. "She sat the kids a few times." He added, "The kids loved her."
Violent crimes against fellow police officers held special significance for anyone carrying a badge. All crimes were not investigated equally--a fact of life. Members of the immediate police family deserved and received special attention. Maria Sanchez would be no exception.
Daphne Matthews arrived and checked-in with Boldt and Gaynes. As lead, Matthews handed out the assignments. Boldt deferred to her--a reversal of their usual roles.
Boldt thought of Daphne as a thoroughbred: dark, lean, fit and strikingly handsome. His system always ran a little quicker when in her presence, in part out of necessity. She possessed both a facile mind and a trained eye. Technically it was her case, but they would all three work the crime scene together.
A civilian employee at first, a decade earlier Matthews had undertaken the six-week academy training so that she now carried not just a title but a badge, rank, and a weapon.
She assigned Boldt the second floor crime scene where the victim had been discovered, with Gaynes to assist. She would interview the first officer and speak to the SID team leader.
Even though Maria had been whisked away in an ambulance, the importance and power of the crime scene preoccupied Boldt as he approached the bedroom. Out on the street, the first of the press arrived. There would be more.
"How'd we find her?" Boldt asked Gaynes. He felt surrounded by women: Liz, Daphne, Gaynes, his own CAPers captain, Sheila Hill, even his little Sarah. He felt isolated but not alone, actually far more comfortable surrounded by these women than by a bunch of car-talking, sports-crazed men who commented on every chest that passed. He wondered why, of the seventeen detectives and two hundred uniformed patrol officers remaining on the job, some eighty percent were women. Why, when the going got tough, did the men quit and the women stay behind? Maybe it would be the topic of one of his guest lectures over at the U.
Boldt felt time getting away from him. He hoped for a clean crime scene and good evidence--something obvious that pointed to a suspect. He might as well be asking for a miracle, and he knew it.
Gaynes answered, "House has a silent alarm installed. Security company telephoned the home when the alarm tripped, then responded in person, finding the place locked, then finally contacted us because they're not allowed to kick a door. All told, it took about forty minutes before our officers arrived."
"Nice response time," Boldt snapped sarcastically.
"First officer was Ling. Patrolman. He kept the security guys out, made the necessary calls and did a pretty fair job of protecting the integrity of the scene."
Boldt said, "Matthews and I will visit the hospital on our way home. See how she's doing. We not only want this one cleared, we need it cleared. A cop assaulted in the middle of the Blue Flu? Press will have a heyday."
"Got it," Gaynes confirmed.
The bedroom where Detective Maria Sanchez had been discovered naked and tied to the bed still smelled of sweat and fear. Sanchez's shoes, clothes and undergarments lay strewn across the pale carpet: gray blouse and dark pants heaped together to the left of the bed, underwear up on the foot of the bed, which remained made but rumpled. The woman's bra lay up by the pillow. An SID tech was working the adjoining bathroom for evidence and prints. Boldt studied the layout carefully, snapping on a pair of latex gloves almost unconsciously. He circled the bed carefully, like a photographer planning a shoot.
"No evidence of fluids," he observed, "other than the blood on the pillow. Not much of it."
"The ligatures?" Gaynes inquired, pointing to the head of the bed.
Boldt noticed the two boot laces tied to each side of the headboard. He glanced back down to the floor and the ankle high black leather soled shoes missing their laces. His stomach turned. The scene was confused. It didn't feel right to him.
"Ling cut the shoe laces himself, before the ambulance arrived," Gaynes explained.
Both laces had been cut with a sharp knife, though remained knotted where they had been tied to the bed.
The SID tech answered from the reverberating bathroom, "We shot a good series on her."
"Close-ups of the ligatures?" Boldt inquired loudly.
"Can't say for sure. You want it on the list?"
"Please," Boldt answered, now at the head of the bed, studying one of the cut shoelaces himself. He'd had a case earlier in the week involving rape and a young girl bound by shoelaces. The similarities were obvious. He regretted that. A serial rapist was the last thing anyone needed--and most likely the first thing the press would suspect.
"Done," the tech answered from the bathroom.
Boldt glanced around. "Tied the wrists, but not the ankles? His earlier rape had been tied by all limbs." The similarities suddenly lessened. "A copy cat?" Boldt wondered. The Leanne Carmichael rape had made the news.
Gaynes replied as if it were a test. "They worked this way together--pupil and student. I caught that too, L.T., and I could almost buy it if the bed were more of a mess. But a woman left with her legs untied? The bed covers should be a mess."
"Boyfriend? Lover? We want this wrapped and cleared," Boldt reminded her. Grossly understaffed because of the Flu, they each had too many cases to handle. A so-called black hole--an unsolved case--would incite the media and make trouble for everyone concerned--Maria Sanchez most of all. She deserved closure.
"You're looking a little sick, L.T."
"Feeling that way."
Gaynes, standing on the opposite side of the bed from Boldt said, "On Special Assaults I worked dozens of rapes, L.T." Unlike detective John LaMoia who out of habit addressed Boldt by his former rank of sergeant, Gaynes at least paid Boldt the respect of his current promotion, though called him not by name, but by his rank's initials. "Maybe in one out of ten, the clothes are still in one piece. Usually torn to shit. No fluids? Listen, if the stains aren't in the middle of the bed where you expect them, then you find them on the pillow or the bedspread or the vic's underwear. But a clean scene? You ask me, this is date rape. Look at those clothes! Not a button missing! Spread out in a line for Christ's sake."
Boldt studied a large dust ring on the dresser. A television had been removed. A small gray electronics device bearing a set of wireless headphones lay in a heap to the side of the same dresser. He picked them up in his gloved hands.
Gaynes said, "You use 'em so the spouse can sleep while you watch the tube."
"She was single," Boldt reminded.
"A visitor maybe," Gaynes said. "Date rape," she repeated more certainly. "Guy ties her up and gets too aggressive. Accidentally snaps her spine and takes off."
"The television?" he asked his former protege.
"Stole it to cover up it was him. Make it look like someone broke in. The papers have been filled with stories about all the break-ins since the Flu hit."
Studying the headphones, Boldt said, "Maybe she just appreciated music or maybe she subscribed to the cable music channels." He pointed to the stack of recent best sellers on Sanchez's bedside end table.
Boldt walked around the bed feeling a pit in his stomach. Gaynes traded places. Police ballet. Since the advent of the Flu, reports of robberies and burglaries were up exponentially. "We'll want to check our sheets," he suggested. "See if this fits any patterns."
"Got it," she replied. She lifted the top book off the end table, an Amy Tan novel. "Bookmarked with a receipt dated two days ago. And she's a hundred and seventy pages into it--"
"And we're in the midst of a Flu," Boldt pointed out. "Not like she has a lot of fun time."
"Maybe six, seven hours a night at home, max."
"So she didn't watch much television," Boldt concluded.
"Which means you're probably right about the cable music. A hundred and seventy pages in two nights? You think she's been entertaining a lover?" she asked rhetorically. "Sounds more like insomnia."
"Ask around the house about current boyfriends."
"I'm telling you, a rapist don't undress them like this, L.T. He tears her clothes off. It's rage, not courtship. And if he goes to the trouble to tie her up, he rapes her hard or fires juice all over the place. We're not seeing real good evidence here. She hollered to the SID tech, What's that bathroom like?"
"It's light," the tech fired back. "My guess? The guy wasn't in here at all."
Boldt migrated over to check the windows--all locked--so he didn't have to look at the bed while Gaynes talked so calmly about raping and beating and masturbating. Sex Crimes--Special Assaults--conditioned a detective in ways even a homicide investigator had a difficult time understanding. He looked out the window to where light from the house played on the small patch of backyard and the separate garage.
"Her underwear's clean," Gaynes reported. "So's the bra. This looks like someone she knew. And using shoe laces to tie her? A necktie maybe. A belt. Something handy and fast. What's the guy do: ask her to lie still while he unlaces her Hush Puppies and ties her wrists?"
"Maybe her neck was already broken," Boldt suggested. "Maybe she wasn't going anywhere."
"Then why tie her up at all?" Gaynes asked, confusing the issue.
An uneasy silence settled between them. Not a black hole , he pleaded.
Gaynes continued cautiously, "And that's another thing. The trauma supposedly occurred after she was tied to the bed? Is that the general consensus? Is that what we're thinking here? That's what's logical, right? He ties her up to keep her still. Goes for oral sex or something. Yanks her head a little too hard and snaps her neck in the process? Something like that? But he doesn't tie her ankles?" she said skeptically.
Boldt's only mental image was of the other case--little Leanne Carmichael, thirteen years old, the crotch of her pants cut away, her legs tied open. A dark basement. "I worked a rape/kidnapping earlier in the week. He tied up the girl with shoelaces."
"Carmichael," she said. "The case remained open; continued to make a lot of noise."
"We'll want the SID lab to make comparisons. The same knots? Anything connecting the two crimes?"
"The lab, sure," she agreed, "but not the media."
He said, "True enough."
Someone must have finally been moving the SID van, for headlights spread across the wet backyard. Boldt didn't like what he saw there.
"I'm going outside to look around," Boldt said.
"It's nasty out there," the SID tech cautioned from the bathroom.
"Check her boots and meet me outside," he told Gaynes. She cupped her hands to the window peering into the backyard. She knew Boldt well.
"Now," he reminded, his voice urgent.
"Got it," she said.
Nasty. Gaynes tugged the Gore-Tex hood over her head. Boldt made a similar move with the collar of his green oilskin. He switched on a flashlight borrowed from a patrolman--one of the ones with 6 D-cell batteries inside, enough weight to club a skull to pulp, the flashlight's second function. Hunched over, he and Gaynes approached a disturbed area of mud in the backyard. They walked single-file, electing to avoid the well-worn route leading from the separate garage to the house's back door.
"This is where he intercepted her?" Gaynes suggested, dropping to one knee.
"Looks like a possibility," Boldt said. "But there's no sign of dragging."
"Her shoes show mud. The tech bagged them. Black leather jacket, presumably hers, had a partial shoe print on the chest. A set of keys and a garage clicker in the pockets." She added, "And yes , I'll have the shoe print typed, if possible," anticipating the request.
Gaynes poked a raised rib of mud and grass with her gloved finger. "It's recent enough."
Boldt kneeled beside her, the flashlight illuminating the disturbance. The grass looked like a rug scrunched up on a hardwood floor. Boldt tore some grass loose and sealed it into an evidence bag for lab comparison. He lived for such work--his lifeblood. He heard more chaos around in front of the house. More press. More pressure .
Gaynes said, "I can see Sanchez stumbling upon him unexpectedly, surprising him, a struggle and she goes down."
From behind them, Daphne spoke. "At first it's a matter of survival for him: get her to shut up and get the hell out of here. But then there's a change. Something primitive takes over. Primal. It's about dominance now, about her struggling and him overpowering her. He finds he gets off on it. He wants more than to simply subdue her. He has to possess her."
"You're buying the burglary?" Boldt asked, peering up at her into the rain, the flashlight following. Even in the rain, Daphne Matthews looked good.
"Help me out," Daphne said.
"Shoelaces on both wrists. Same as Carmichael, my thirteen- year-old rape victim."
"But not the ankles," Gaynes said.
"Not the ankles," Boldt agreed meaning it for Daphne. This was a jigsaw, with three players picking at pieces.
"The burglary is intended to mislead us?" Daphne asked.
"We've got a crime scene with two MO's." Boldt said. "A burglar. A rapist. Neither fits perfectly. Why?"
Gaynes announced, "We've either got ourselves a twisted burglar, or a greedy rapist." She tugged on her hood. A trickle of water slid down her cheek and dripped off her chin into her shirt. Knowing full well it would be his next request, she asked, "You want SID to work this site?"
"It's a start," Boldt agreed.
Daphne said, "Leanne Carmichael was raped. There's no medical evidence yet Sanchez was."
"And if she wasn't, then you've got yourself a couple of contradictions," Boldt suggested.
"I don't want contradictions. I want a suspect. I want to clear this before it gets out of control." Daphne sounded unusually nervous. She wasn't used to leading a high profile case. The Flu had caught up to her as well.
Boldt shined the light over toward the garage. "She parked in the garage and headed for the back door. She either ran into this guy--"
"Or he was out here waiting," Daphne interrupted.
"I want to assign a guard outside her hospital room," he said.
"Lt...You're right, but who we gonna get to do it?" a frustrated Gaynes asked. The Blue Flu had taken four out of every five officers off the force.
"Notify hospital security. Let's move her to a private room away from a stair entrance. We'll require check-in at the nurse's desk. Some guy realizes he hit a woman cop, and maybe he decides he doesn't want any witnesses. Or maybe it's a boyfriend, and the same thing goes. I want her under protection."
Boldt felt the pressure of the investigation then--a sixth sense for a black hole and a case that wouldn't clear. He knew from the look in her eye that Daphne sensed this as well. "Contradictions," he said.
"Yes," she agreed. "Not this case, okay?" she pleaded.
"We'll each have six more cases on our desks by the time we get back," Boldt reminded.
Gaynes chimed, "And then our phones'll start ringing and Dispatch will dish out another couple each."
"We need the sickout over with," Boldt said.
"Dream on, L.T. They're firmly entrenched."
Daphne saw her investigation headed for a black hole. "With Sanchez gone," she said, "we're down to sixteen investigators left--detective or higher."
Boldt felt sick inside. A thirteen-year-old raped. A policewoman paralyzed. A burglar on the loose. The public was certain to panic. The Emergency Communication Center's 911 lines would be crippled with hundreds of bogus reports and sightings. Seventeen detectives had become sixteen.
"The press is going to screw us on this one," Gaynes whispered. "This is fuel to their fire."
"Yes," agreed Boldt, "that's just what we don't want." He had come here hoping for evidence. Perhaps the contradictions were the place to start. They didn't offer him much.
Daphne remained angry about the Flu. "It's a fellow officer! They've got to come back on the job now! It's time to circle the wagons."
"I wouldn't count on it," Boldt and Gaynes said nearly in unison.
Excerpted from MIDDLE OF NOWHERE by Ridley Pearson (c) Copyright 2000 by Ridley Pearson. Reprinted with permission from the publisher, Hyperion. All rights reserved.
Middle of Nowhere