She thought back to the day of that clandestine meeting in a dimly-lit booth at Durant’s.
“If only I had thought to carry cash. At least I didn’t grab a credit card. Digging around for enough change, with people in line behind me, scared the crap outta me.
“Gauze and tape was the last thing I thought I’d need. No choice but to stop the bleeding before someone noticed.”
She pulled up her pants leg to look at the jagged, scabbed-over slice the dog had torn into her calf.
“My first battle scar,” she thought and smiled.
The teeth marks on her hand were visible enough that she’d started wearing gloves when Tripp was around. She told him she got into some poison plant in the garden and had to keep the rash covered. He bought it without so much as a raised eyebrow.
“I’m glad I took time to look at the bullet wound, but it may not have been worth tangling with that dog. I thought I had him occupied with the tug toy I threw into the alley. He sure went after it, dragging his mistress down with his leash. I thought she would freeze when I pointed the gun at her as she got up. I had anticipated an easy shot. Even with her coming at me, I kept my stance and fired.
“I almost hit the golden triangle dead on, yeah, dead on is right,” she chuckled. That woman was dead, dead, dead, and I can’t believe how good it felt to have hit a moving target. Maybe one more practice run before I draw down on Ms Sheila Barns. I’ll plan better next time. I’ll stock the trunk with all sorts of things I might need, including an overnight bag in case I have to avoid going back home for some reason.”
She desperately wanted to tell someone about her success! The thought kept rolling through her mind on an endless loop. “Who can I tell? Who can I tell?”
* * *
“Hey, EZ, you got a dog!” At least six people in the squad room gathered around the friendly lab when EZ came sauntering over to his desk trying to keep a low profile, an idea that was an obvious fantasy on his part.
“Relax, he’s only temporary,” Saddler told them. “Found him at a crime scene, so I thought I'd hang onto him until we can locate someone to take care of him.
“You should keep him, EZ,” Pam, the cop on the front desk called out. “You need a companion.”
“You could keep him for me, Pam,” Saddler offered.
“No way! I’m allergic.”
“No way! I’m allergic.”
“Sure you are,” Saddler returned skeptically.
“Hey, listen I really am, but I do love dogs,” she told him. “You got a call from some guy at a liquor store. Says one of his customers told him you were out front of his place earlier this morning. The guy had your card, so he decided to call. I think he’s a cop wanna-be or some such,” she said, handing the message to EZ. “He sounded excited about talking to you. Can you imagine?” she grinned.
Saddler walked back to his desk, and picked up the phone. Blackie flopped down on the floor, seemingly content to wait. The guy at the liquor store said the camera out front didn’t spit out the best footage, but he’d be glad to roll it back to see if it picked up anything significant.
“Hold off on that,” Saddler cautioned. “I’ll send a forensics guy over to see what you’ve got.”
“Well, as I said, it’s probably going to be grainy, and it doesn’t do very well at night either. I’d be glad to see if I can make it any better for you. I’ve got a movie editor on my computer that might do the job.”
“Thanks, but that would damage its use as evidence. Please don’t touch it until our tech gets there, okay?”
“Sure, sure,” the man said, his enthusiasm down the drain.
“I thought you were closed on Mondays.”
“We are, but I came in to do some inventory, and a neighborhood guy, who’s a regular, saw me in here and knocked. He talked with some of your people last night.”
“So will you still be there when our techie gets there?”
“Yeah, no problem.”
Saddler called forensics and talked to a tech, who agreed to run over to the liquor store and also to check in at the Circle K while she was in the area.
“We’ve already been over the convenience store footage from last night,” she told him. We’ve got a shot of the woman walking the dog for a block or so, but then she goes out of the frame. You might want to take a look at it because all of a sudden the dog lurches and takes off.”
“Okay, I’ll stop by the lab later.”
Saddler looked at his phone and noticed he barely had time to get the dog to his house and then get over to the morgue for the autopsy.
“Come on, Blackie. Let’s go home.”
That one statement may have just cemented Saddler having a new best friend, because later when he thought back on that first time with Blackie at the station, he realized he’d already made a decision to keep him if no one else showed up to claim him.
* * *
At lunch, Sam and EZ caught each other up on their morning.
“Where’s Blackie?” Sam went right to the most important things first.
“No worries. He’s got water, a shady spot, and my neighbor says he can put in a doggie door for him if I decide to keep him.”
“Nice neighborhood you live in.”
“Yeah, the guy’s a carpenter and works out of his house. He has a key to my backdoor, so he can let Blackie in when it gets hot later on. He’s got a little terrier of his own.”
“Perfect, because eventually you’ll need a dog sitter. You can’t just leave dogs alone all the time, you know.”
“Right,” Saddler said. “Don’t tell me anymore, okay?
“Deal. So what about the Sharon Lester autopsy?” Sam asked.
“Abby says Lester’s elbows and lower arms and hands were roughed up as if she’d been dragged, and her right wrist was broken. The large amount of blood on her hand and arm appears to be from touching the head wound and lying in the puddle of blood.”
“Any defensive wounds or DNA under the finger nails? That would be a bonus.”
“No, we didn’t get that lucky, but her stomach contents indicates she might have been out for a big dinner that evening.”
“That would account for her being out walking the dog at such a late hour,” Sam said.
“Do you think any of that blood on Blackie might be the killer’s?”
“I will take him into the lab when I go to check on the CCTV forensics has collected. I haven’t given him a bath.”
Sam drew in her breath and said, “We should have bagged that tug toy. We might have gotten fingerprints.”
“God, is that ever a rookie mistake,” Saddler moaned. “I got so caught up in getting the dog to jump in the car after the toy that I didn’t think about prints. I’ll bring it along to the lab with the dog.”
“It’s worth a shot at least,” Sam said. “I didn’t get much from our witness. Her parents were there with her. She’s taking a couple nights off work. She still seems traumatized by the experience,” Sam told him. “I asked her if she remembered seeing anything unusual on her way from the Metro to the alley.
“She said something interesting. She keeps hearing a dog barking in her dreams. When she woke up this morning she remembered seeing a black dog at the door of the Circle K when she went in to get milk and bread. It was barking relentlessly, so she thought its owner must be inside the store. When she left the dog was gone.”
“Do you think it might have been Blackie?” Saddler asked.
“Well, the Circle K is within walking of the alley, but why would the dog leave its owner’s side. Remember, Blackie was behind the dumpster like he was waiting there in case his owner came back. Do you really think he would stray that far away from the scene?”
“I’ll ask him.”
“Yeah, that’ll help,” Sam quipped. “Did you call Al about the bank and Verizon?”
“I spoke with him briefly while he and Kelly were doing a second canvass. We agreed to meet back at the station at three to see what they found and decide how to set up the investigation.”