Gone for Good Page 28

CJIS stood for Criminal Justice Information Services. Now that every police force was online—even those in the most hillbilly of Hicksville boonies like them—fingerprints could be sent over the Internet for identification. If the fingerprints were listed in the National Crime Information Center’s enormous database, they’d have a match and a positive ID in no time.

“I thought the CJIS was in Washington,” Bertha said.

“Not anymore. Senator Byrd got it moved.”

“Good man to have as senator.”

“Oh yeah.”

Bertha hoisted her holster and headed down the corridor. Her police station shared space with Clyde’s morgue, which was convenient if not sporadically pungent. The morgue had terrible ventilation, and every once in a while a heavy cloud of formaldehyde and decay floated out and hovered.

With only a moment’s hesitation, Bertha Farrow opened the door to the morgue. There were no gleaming drawers or shiny instruments or any of the stuff that you see on TV. Clyde’s morgue was pretty close to makeshift. The job was only part-time because, let’s face it, there was not that much to do. Car accident victims were pretty much the extent out here. Last year, Don Taylor had gotten drunk and shot himself in the head by accident. His long-suffering wife liked to joke that ol’ Don fired because he looked in the mirror and mistook himself for a moose. Marriage. But really, that was about it. The morgue—hell, the term was a generous description of this converted janitorial room—could only hold maybe two corpses at a time. If Clyde needed more storage, he used Wally’s funeral home facilities.

Jane Doe’s body was on the table. Clyde stood over her. He wore blue scrubs and pale surgical gloves. He was crying. Opera blared from the boom box, the wail of something appropriately tragic.

“Open her up yet?” Bertha asked, though the answer was obvious.

Clyde wiped his eyes with two fingers. “No.”

“You waiting for her permission?”

He shot Bertha a red-eyed glare. “I’m still doing the external.”

“How about a cause of death, Clyde?”

“Won’t know for sure until I complete the autopsy.”

Bertha moved closer to him. She put her hand on his shoulder, faking comfort and pretending to bond. “How about a preliminary guess, Clyde?”

“She was beaten pretty badly. See here?”

He pointed to where you might normally find a rib cage. There was little definition. The bones had caved in, crushed down like a boot on Styrofoam.

“Lots of bruising,” Bertha said.

“Discoloration, yeah, but see here?” He put his finger on something poking up the skin near the stomach.

“Broken ribs?”

“Smashed ribs,” he corrected her.


Clyde shrugged. “Probably used a heavy ball peen hammer, something like that. My guess—and it’s only a guess—is that one of the ribs splintered off and pierced a major organ. It might have punctured a lung or sliced through her belly. Or maybe she got lucky and it went straight through her heart.”

Bertha shook her head. “She don’t seem the lucky type to me.”

Clyde turned away. He lowered his head and started crying again. His body heaved from the stifled sobs.

“These marks on her breasts,” Bertha said.

Without looking he said, “Cigarette burns.”

What she’d figured. Mangled fingers, cigarette burns. You did not have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that she was tortured.

“Do it all, Clyde. Blood samples, tox screen, everything.”

He sniffled and finally turned back around. “Yeah, Bertha, sure, okay.”

The door behind them opened. They both turned. It was Volker. “Got a hit,” he said.


George nodded. “Top of the NCIC list.”

“What do you mean, top of the list?”

Volker gestured toward the body on the table. “Our Jane Doe,” he said. “She was wanted by none other than the FBI.”


Katy dropped me off on Hickory Place, maybe three blocks from my parents’ house. We did not want anybody to see us together. That was probably paranoia on our part, but I figured, what the hell.

“So what now?” Katy asked.

I had been wondering that myself. “I’m not sure. But if Ken didn’t kill Julie—”

“Then someone else did.”

“Man,” I said, “we’re good at this.”

She smiled. “So I guess we look for suspects?”

It sounded ridiculous—who were we, the Mod Squad?—but I nodded.

“I’ll start checking,” she said.

“Checking what?”

She gave me a teenager shrug, using her whole body. “I don’t know. Julie’s past, I guess. Figure out who’d have wanted to kill her.”

“The police did that.”

“They only looked at your brother, Will.”

She had a point. “Okay,” I said, again feeling ridiculous.

“Let’s hook up later tonight.”

I nodded and slid out. Nancy Drew sped off without a good-bye. I stood there and soaked in the solitude. I was not all that eager to move.

The streets of suburbia were empty, but the well-paved driveways were full. The paneled station wagons of my youth had been replaced by a vast variety of quasi-off-road vehicles—minivans, family trucks (whatever that meant), SUVs. Most of the houses were in the classic split-level mode of the circa-1962 housing boom. Many were bloated with additions. Others had undergone extensive exterior renovations circa 1974 involving too-white, too-smooth stone; the look had aged about as well as the powder-blue tux I’d worn to the prom.

When I arrived at our house, there were no cars out front and no mourners inside. No surprise there. I called out to my father. No answer. I found him alone in the basement with a cutting razor in his hand. He was in the middle of the room, surrounded by old wardrobe boxes. The sealing tape had been sliced open. Dad stood perfectly still among the boxes. He did not turn around when he heard my footsteps.

“So much already packed away,” he said softly.

The boxes had belonged to my mother. My father reached into one and plucked out a thin silver headband. He turned to me and held it up. “You remember this?”

We both smiled. Everyone, I guess, goes through fashion stages, but not like my mother. She set them, defined them, became them. There was her Headband Era, for example. She’d grown her hair out and worn a potpourri of the multihued bands like an Indian princess. For several months—I’d say the Headband Era lasted maybe six—you would never see her without one. When the headbands were retired, the Suede-Fringe Period began in earnest. That was followed by the Purple Renaissance—not my favorite, I assure you, like living with a giant eggplant or Jimi Hendrix groupie—and then the Riding-Crop Age—this from a woman whose closest connection to a horse was seeing Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet.

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