Page 3

 Catherine Coulter

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He’d enjoyed his trip from San Francisco across the country, seeing friends and relatives on his way to his new posting in Washington, D.C., but he realized after two weeks with not much more to worry about than his Uncle Milton’s arthritis in Colorado Springs, and catching up with a couple of old friends, pleasant though it was, he was getting antsy and ready to get back to work.
Griffin looked up at the bloated dark clouds pressing down, promising more snow. He hoped he’d get to Maestro before his world turned white again. He eased onto State Highway 48, planning to cut across to the highway.
Griffin was sipping at the rich, thick coffee from the Thermos Jenny had handed him on his way out the door: “Rich, thick, and dangerous,” she’d said, and winked at him.
His cell buzzed. Since traffic was building up, Griffin pulled off the interstate. He saw the call was blocked, and that was weird. “Yeah? Who’s this?”
“This is Ruth—Agent Ruth Noble. I would have called you sooner, Griffin, to see when you’d be arriving in Maestro, and arrange to meet you, but we’ve got something of a situation here, and I’m helping my husband, Dix Noble—he’s the local sheriff—figure things out.”
Her tone made his brain buzz. “A situation?”
“More a puzzle. It’s pretty weird, actually. A Stanislaus student was found unconscious in her bathroom with a head wound. Usually that would mean she slipped and struck her head on the bathtub rim or somewhere else close. But the thing is, the neighbor who lives above her heard her scream, found her, and called 911. If she’d just struck her head, why would she scream? And there was no evidence she’s hit anything. All the blood we think was hers was found on the floor around her head. The puzzle is that there was a good deal of blood in the bathtub, probably not hers, like someone else had been bleeding in there and then left or been taken away. Dix saw the blood in the bathtub and of course he realized the implications.
“The back door was jimmied. So was it a burglary gone bad? Well, whatever, it wasn’t a simple burglary, what with all that blood in the bathtub.
“She’s not with it enough to tell us what happened. She’s in Henderson County Hospital. I’m here with her, waiting for her to wake up.
“She lived alone, so there’s no roommate to call, and we don’t know yet if there’s a boyfriend in the picture. I’m also trying to get hold of her parents, but no luck as of yet.”
“Any sign of a blood trail outside the bathroom?”
“Nothing obvious, but we’re bringing in the Henderson County forensic team to analyze the blood and go over the young woman’s apartment. They’ll check to see if any blood shows up under Luminol outside the bathroom.”
“It went wrong in the bathroom? That sounds strange.”
“Whatever happened, that person might have been injured or died, and was then hauled away. Don’t know yet,” Ruth said. “It snowed heavily last night, and any evidence outside the duplex—blood trail, tracks, anything—is long covered up. At least it stopped snowing here an hour ago, so the plows can catch up before the next storm comes in.”
Griffin felt wired. He loved puzzles; the more convoluted, the bigger the rush when he figured them out.
The bathtub puzzle sounded complex enough to fit the bill. “I can be there in an hour and a half, if it doesn’t start to dump snow on me. Have you talked to the neighbor who called 911 yet?”
“He’s next on my list. Dix talked to him at the scene, but he was so upset Dix couldn’t get much out of him. He’s had some time to settle. Hopefully he can fill in some of the blanks.”
“I’d be glad to help when I get there if you’ll let me. Who is she?”
“Her name’s Delsey Freestone. She’s a student at Stanislaus, like your sister.”
Griffin’s heart flatlined. “Ruth,” he said, and the words hurt coming out. “Delsey Freestone is my sister.”
He heard her sharp intake of breath. “I’m so sorry, Griffin. But listen, don’t worry, the doctors say she’s going to be okay, I promise. You all right?”
Griffin couldn’t wrap his brain around Delsey being attacked in her own bathroom. And with all the blood—maybe a body?
“I’m okay, Ruth. Hearing this, it’s difficult.”
“I can only imagine. But like I said, Griffin, your sister will be fine.”
He was silent a moment, calming himself, then, “Don’t bother trying to reach our parents—they’re in Australia, in the outback for another three weeks or so, out of touch, no cell phones.