I was totally exhausted after a long workday and what had felt like a longer family get-together with my mom and sister. Stifling a yawn, I tried to ignore my cell phone when it trilled and politely informed me, "You have an incoming call.... You have an incoming call.... You have an incoming ..."
I had a real love-hate relationship with technology.
I checked the caller ID and sighed wearily as I flipped open my phone. "It's after midnight. This had better be good, Junior." Junior Diaz was one of my most reliable informants and the only reason I'd bothered answering.
"Where you at?"
Nice opening. As if this was a social call or something. "I'm on my way home. What's up?"
"You gotta see for yourself, Detective."
"The body. This girl ... she ain't got no blood left. It's all been drained outta her."
"And you know this how?"
"I saw ..."
A muffled sound on the other end sounded like Junior heaving his guts.
"Where are you?"
It turned out he was maybe a half mile from my present location, west and north of the Loop.
"And don't you call for no backup," Junior gasped. "My deal's with you, no one else."
"I'll be right there. Alone," I promised. "Don't go anywhere."
In a little more than two minutes, I made the intersection in an area anchored to the expressway. Not really a neighborhood, just a couple of blocks of red bungalows and two-flats with little to recommend them. I turned down a side street, went a quarter of a block and turned again. Then I slammed on the brakes.
My headlights cut into the fog-shrouded alley. I flicked on the brights but still didn't see anything.
No Junior Diaz.
What was his game? I'd told him not to move.
Was he simply lying low until he was sure I was alone? I grabbed my cell and speed-dialed him.
"Hey," his recorded voice grunted. "Gimme reason to call you back."
Part of me really, really wanted to go home and forget he'd called at all. But another part of me - the cop who wouldn't let go of a lead - made me look hard enough to pierce the darkness and the blanket of fog.
Something lay in the middle of the alley. Junior or this girl supposedly with no blood?
Only one way to find out.
Cursing under my breath, I removed my weapon from its holster under my navy blazer, grabbed the combination lantern-flashlight from the floor in back and cautiously opened the door. This wasn't a particularly bad area, and I wasn't afraid, but it never paid to let down my guard.
"Junior?" I called out, turning and swinging the light around to make certain there were no nasty surprises waiting for me. "You there?"
No answer. My stomach knotting, I moved toward the lump in the middle of the alley. As if the fog decided to cooperate, it rolled off the body and framed it, giving me a picture I would never forget.
She was sprawled across the alley pavement, her skirt up around her waist, panties shredded, legs spread and bruised - she'd obviously been sexually assaulted. I moved closer, my eye caught by an intricate design high on her outer thigh - a winged gargoyle. A tattoo. Even in the dim light I could see how young she was. A teenager. Just a kid. Her jaw looked as if it had been dislocated, one of her eyes rolled partly out of its socket and an ear was half ripped off.
She'd fought her attacker like hell, I thought. She'd fought and lost.
Her caramel skin was ash-pale, and I knew a person's skin color came from the oxygen in the blood. Her body hadn't been oxygenated in a while. Even so, I set the lantern down next to her and felt for a pulse. Her flesh was icy against my fingertips. Nothing moved inside of her.
I looked for wounds and on the inside of her arm found a nasty slash that severed the median cubital vein - the primary site used to draw blood by medical personnel. Her arm was smeared with red and the gashed flesh lay open. If she were still alive, it would have been a gusher, but it wasn't bleeding because her heart wasn't beating and maintaining blood pressure. No other wounds that I could see. Only that gash, meaning she must have died of blood loss.
The problem was ... where had all the blood gone?
I flashed the light around through the fog, but there were only a few splotches on the ground near her arm. The short hairs at the back of my neck rose, and I tried to tell myself that this wasn't the primary site. That she had been killed elsewhere and dumped here. Only it didn't look that way.
Junior had said he'd seen her being drained of blood....
Where the hell was he?
I looked all around me again, but the only thing I spotted was a book bag tumbled on its side as if it had been tossed in the struggle. Fog rolled over it and swallowed it whole.
I heard a muffled noise, maybe a garbage can hitting a garage door.
"Junior, are you here?"
No response. No nothing.
Continuing to call out for him would be futile, so as the fog drifted over the body once more, I checked for my cell phone but couldn't find it. I raced back to my car where I'd left it. Since I was off duty, I didn't have a radio to call in to dispatch, so I dialed 911.
"This is Detective Shelley Caldwell, Area 4 Violent Crimes Unit," I said, squeezing my ears against a sudden weird, high-pitched noise. What the hell was wrong with the damn cell phone? I'd never heard anything like this before. I raised my voice as I settled back into the seat. The fog was too thick to see anything anyway. "Call Dispatch. I have a body ..."
Or I'd had a body.
By the time they arrived on scene a few minutes later - uniforms followed by a case supervisor and CSI - the fog had lifted, leaving me with a few bloodstains, a book bag and nothing else.
The dead girl's body had vanished.
Excerpted from Hot Case by Patricia Rosemoor Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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