Jessica Tyson took a long sip of coffee and settled into the lounge chair in the entryway greenhouse of David Chapman's foyer. Absorbing the June morning sunlight through the skylight above, she drew in a long healing breath. Now that she'd moved in with David, her fiancé, at the home they shared in Fremont, Washington their life was mellowing into real comfort.
Melinda, David's fourteen-year-old live-in niece, had helped add color to this escape spot with a potted geranium and a bird of paradise. Jesse smiled, remembering their fun time at the florist in Pioneer Square.
"I have to go. I told them I'd be there." Melinda's shrill shout pierced the air from the kitchen.
Jesse's cell phone rang and she checked it.
"Sergeant Cardon." She groaned aloud. "Another interruption to spoil my quiet moment."
"Cardon here," his voice barked through the receiver.
From the kitchen, David instructed loudly, "You aren't going until I meet these kids."
Melinda's voice cut the air as she tried, but failed, to match David's calm tone. "It's a prom float. We were the only four sophomores chosen to work on it. It's just in Jimmy's garage."
"Cardon," Jesse growled into the receiver, "save me. Get me out of here."
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Can't you hear that racket in the background?" Jesse held the phone from her ear to make sure Cardon could hear.
David shouted, "Then bring Jimmy over here first, okay? Either that or I'll show up at his house and really embarrass you."
"How's he supposed to get out here?" Melinda whined.
Jesse returned the receiver to her ear. "David and Melinda are having a, I guess you'd call it, heated discussion."
"You already told me he's a junior," David continued. "That usually means he has a driver's license. I'll be home by five. Call me on your cell if I'm to meet you someplace."
Jesse jumped at the slamming back door.
"Whew," she breathed out. "The tornado's off to school."
"Well," Cardon announced, "I've got something a little different going on over here. I've got this small-town police chief calling me from Wisconsin. Met him last year at a forensics seminar here in Seattle. He's got some people missing and he's calling for help."
Jesse shook her head.
Same old Sergeant Cardon, right down to business.
"And of course you offered me? Right?"
She calmed her heart and held her voice steady. God had given her the gift after all. It started as a child and now had become her career. While standing at the scene of a murder she could actually see how it occurred and she'd helped the Seattle Police Department with several unsolvable cases already.
"What does that mean? Offered you? Just thought since you grew up in Wisconsin, maybe you'd like to pay a little visit."
She stared at the unread newspaper she'd just strolled out to retrieve from the corner café. "Sorry, I guess I'm getting hooked on this vacation time. Just never thought I'd become so popular that you'd ship me across the nation on cases."
She heard his sigh through the phone. "Meet me and we'll talk," he said. "You know it's your decision."
"When and where?"
"Same place, Duke's, and I'm on my way."
Jesse chuckled. "Of course. Let me get my shoes on."
Cardon laughed in response. "See you there."
Jesse drove up and parked in her usual spot on First Avenue. She turned off the car, pulled the key out of the ignition and hooked the ring through her forefinger. Gripping the steering wheel, she slid her open palms back and forth across the top.
A smile found its way to her lips as she stared at the sparkling of sunlight off car bumpers and shadows from a green-striped awning shading the sidewalk. A huge pot with red, yellow and blue flowers caught her eye.
"One day I'll retire and learn about flowers," she mumbled as she climbed out and into the sharp sunlight.
She pulled open the big wooden door to Duke's Hideaway and inhaled the familiar odor of beer and frying foods.
Place never changes.
She knew Cardon could be found tucked away in his regular spot--a booth near the bar. She slid into the seat across the table from him. A mug of coffee with two creamers on the side sat in front of her place.
"Pretty casual today, pedal pushers and tank top," he commented over the rim of his coffee mug and then slurped a sip.
Jesse smiled. "They're called Capri pants now. And I didn't think you'd mind. Something tells me my casual days will be ending very, very soon.
"And what's with the coffee?" she asked.
"Thought I might have to jolt you awake from your little vacation."
"Actually, it's a rocky vacation in that house. You heard it." Jesse emptied the creams into the steaming mug. "What's the matter? The guys down at the SPD can't screw up enough murder investigations locally? You have to farm me out now?"
"Yeah." Cardon's whole round body shook with his nod. "That's about it."
"So, tell me about your friend in Wisconsin."
"Chief Dodge, a young whipper snapper in Argus, Wisconsin. The whole village of all of two thousand people depend on him to keep them in line. But he's an indecisive kinda guy. Leans on other people to make his decisions, if you know what I mean. Says that a lot, too--'know what I mean?'
"Anyway, at the conference we talked briefly about what you do. You know, how you see the action where a murder has happened. He acted skeptical, but then we were attending a conference on forensics, so he tried to show an open mind."
Jesse raised an eyebrow. "Kinda like you did during the first two cases we worked?"
"Hey, I caught on. You had me hooked by the end of the Queen Anne case."
Jesse glanced down at the table and chuckled. "Okay, sorry. Go on."
"Two women have disappeared from Argus, his little village of two thousand, earlier this year. One a battered wife and the other a single bank teller who made off with a deposit bag. So after a couple of months' search, he put them on the back burner. Figured they both wanted to run off. You know, like in our last case."
Jesse lowered her coffee mug and rolled her eyes.
"Wouldn't have called me," Cardon continued, "but there's a third. The mother of a teen's come up missing now. Her mother and the teen's grandmother, Mrs. Emerson, has threatened to call the FBI if the chief doesn't get off his ass and find her."
"He suspects they've all been killed?" Jesse asked.
Cardon shrugged. "Well it's the right area to have a serial killer running around, isn't it? Dahmer, Gein--you know what I mean?"
"Don't you criticize where I was born and bred," Jesse warned. "Only I get to do that."
Cardon held up his hand to stave off Jesse's arrows. "Hey, don't get your dander up. There's no sign of death and that's where you come in.
"But I want you to be extra careful on this one. I don't know how professional these guys are. Keep me posted step-by-step and maybe we can work on this together."
"Well, Of-fi-cer Car-don, we may pull you in from the stone age yet. If I'm going to keep you posted, you'll have to learn to use e-mail." She took a sip of the coffee. As it went down, she savored the warm familiarity of jousting with Cardon and grinned over the rim of the cup.
She fingered the side of the mug. "I suppose you haven't thought about the dynamics of my just picking up and moving from my present situation to across the country."
He reached and gently gripped her wrist. "How are things with you and David?"
He really is coming out of his shell. A real concern for me.
"We're doing well. Only there are three of us now, remember?"
Cardon let out his familiar belly chuckle. "Yes, so I heard this morning. And your mentioning e-mail reminded me. Your little charge, Melinda, sends me e-mails all the time and I have to ask for help to open them. At the station they thought I had a lady friend until she started calling me Gramps. They get a laugh out of that, too."
"She must be a handful. Are you ready to move out?"
"No, I just wonder sometimes where this is going. She actually gives David and me a center. Never run out of learning experiences--for all of us."
"And she's into boys now, you know." Cardon spoke over the rim of his mug. "You knew that was coming."
"Yes, but it's all about the trust. Communication and trust." Jesse shook her head. "Difficult and different."
Cardon nodded. "You're right."
Jesse wondered if Cardon really understood. "You've changed a lot since we first started working together, Gramps."
"I hope I'm helping us all grow up." Cardon let out a sigh and sat back. "Isn't that what a gramps is supposed to do?" He rested his head on the wooden back of the booth. "She e-mails me and I read about her friends and realize I have to be the adult with advice now. She says she thinks I'm a cross between Columbo and a rock star."
Jesse raised an eyebrow and growled, "C'mon."
"Pretty good assessment, don't you think?"
"I don't even want to go there."
Jesse drew in a long, deep breath. "Now what about Wisconsin? If I take this on, anything special I need to pack besides laptop and phone?"
"Yeah, your sense of small-town and big ears. There's no way they're not going to know exactly why you're there. Word'll travel within a couple of days."
"You kidding? I'm sure the whole village knows about me and my mission already. I'd be surprised if my face isn't already glaring across the front of the local Gazette."
Cardon grinned and eyed his coffee. "Three people--all women. One suspected of just walking out on an abusive husband, one older and alone and may have just wanted to leave her boring single life with a full bank bag and now this mother leaving behind a daughter, evidently with no reason to leave."
"The usual," Jesse mumbled. "But you have more information, right? I mean is there a husband and father to the mother and daughter duo?"
"No husband or father around, except the first disappearance with the abusive husband.
"I've made notes in this pad for you." He lifted a spiral notebook from the seat beside him and slid it across the table. "Chief Dodge will fill you in on the rest."
But she didn't comment. He'd have to learn to type to send e-mails.
"So you advertise my abilities all across the country?"
"Actually it was a hypothetical thing. We talked like 'what if there was a person who could read where a death occurred.'
"And remember, Jesse, you are only assisting. Got to make it look like the chief's in the lead at all times."
"So this Mrs. Emerson thinks her daughter may be dead and the whole village thinks she ran off?"
"Might be the other way around. The chief and the mayor, his buddy, keep hushing it all up. Mayor says people run away all the time--like runaways from high school. Nonconfrontational Chief Dodge just follows instructions from the mayor and his public. Now this lady, Mrs. Emerson's putting the pressure on. Threatened to bring in the FBI to find her daughter--dead or alive."