Twenty minutes later, we're back in the sheriff's office, the town's two
deputies having removed the body from the hardware store window display. I'm hanging up
the phone from checking my messages as Kelli pulls out a first aid kit, and pushes Jim
into a chair. Much to my surprise, he doesn't protest. I'd have figured him for one of
those 'I don't need no stinking Band-Aid' kind of guys.
She swabs his forehead with an alcohol-soaked cotton ball as she says, " Baldacci. Only been in town a few weeks. I've seen him around; never talked to him, though. Where did you say you saw him before? Okay, let me take a look at this " She bends closer to examine the now-clean cut.
"He was one of the men who tied up our M.E. and stole and destroyed Duval's corpse. What did you do with his body?" Jim asks.
"Hmm? Oh, the county coroner's way over in Lake Quincy, so I had the boys take it over to our local clinic." She applies a small bandage to his injury.
"Thanks. I appreciate that, but I'd like to examine the body if I may."
She shrugs and closes the first aid kit. "Well, I'm sure Doc Morrow wouldn't mind if we dropped by."
Blair, who still looks a bit queasy, and has been pretty quiet up to this point, states, "Uh I'm going to wait right here."
Jim gets to his feet. "Suit yourself. Let's go, Welles."
After a short walk down the street, Ellison, Kelli and I enter one of the Victorian houses that's been turned into a small clinic. The nurse behind the desk walks us back to meet the physician. Opening the door to an exam room, she announces us. "Steven, these are the detectives from Cascade."
The doctor is in his mid-forties, medium height, with a round face and dark hair. "Steven Morrow. Good to meet you both." Turning to his nurse, he asks, "Sandra, would you mind telling Mr. Eccles I'll be with him in about ten minutes?"
Answering in the affirmative, she leaves, and Dr. Morrow's attention returns to us. "So, you're the big city detectives."
"I'm Detective Ellison," Jim says extending his hand.
"Cassie Welles, Chief of Forensics," I state before Ellison can introduce me.
Morrow looks impressed. "Whole town's talking about you. Hasn't been this much excitement around here since Bob Haskell said that aliens abducted his cow."
Kelli snorts. "Everybody knows Bob Haskell drinks too much of his own home brew."
Shrugging, Morrow heads toward a second door in the room. "Oh, maybe, but they never did find that cow, did they? Body's in the back where I keep my medical supplies."
We follow the doctor down a short hallway through a door appropriately labeled 'Supplies.' "I turned the air conditioning on full blast to keep the body from decomposing," he states.
Shivering, I walk over to the body, which is laid out on a table. "Sure is plenty cold in here."
"Anything I can get you?" he asks.
Jim shakes his head as he puts on latex gloves. "No, I think we have everything we need. Thank you."
Reaching into my bag, I pull out my camera, then peel back the sheet covering the corpse. "I'll take some pictures first."
As I'm photographing any identifying marks on the body, the sheriff asks, "What kind of camera is that?"
"It's a digital camera," I tell her. "Doesn't use any film."
She looks a bit bewildered, and I'm reminded that not everyone is computer savvy even in this day and age. "What will they think of next?" she comments. "Guns without bullets?"
Jim's got hold of the perp's arm and is looking intently at his hand. "We can forget about fingerprints. They've been surgically removed."
This case is getting weirder and weirder. First the killer throws Duval out of an airplane, making identification all but impossible, then finishes the job by snatching and torching the remains. Then this Baldacci seems to have the same phobia about being identified. I take a look at his hands. "Hmm, yep, you're right."
"That's not the only surgery he's had." Jim points to Baldacci's face. "You see these scars around his eyes and his ears here? There's some up by the hairline, too."
I photograph the areas he's pointing to, hoping the faint marks will show up in the photos. "Facelift, right?"
"I'd say more like complete reconstructive surgery. This chin--this is an implant. His jaw line's been reconstructed. My guess is that's not the original nose." Ellison looks up at Morrow, who's still in the room. "What do you say, Doctor?"
Morrow seems a little thrown by the question, and stammers, "Well, I'm no plastic surgeon, but, uh in my professional opinion, I'd have to agree. This man's had a lot of facial work done."
"If he went to all the trouble to change his looks, it's a pretty good bet that the ID is fake, too. I'd be very surprised if his name actually is Baldacci," I say.
Ellison's moved on to the guy's arm, running his fingers over the skin on the inside of the wrist. "He's had some kind of surgical procedure on his forearm as well."
Raising an eyebrow, I ask, "What is it?"
"Uh, feels like a tattoo that's been removed. Of an upside-down cross and a star."
Okay, now that's really stretching it. I rub the area he was concentrating on with my bare fingers. I can feel a raised spot, like a very old burn scar, but "I can feel something but how can you possibly make out what that is?" Especially through surgical gloves .
Ignoring my question, Ellison says, "Well, whoever it is, we know he's done a little time. That's a prison gang tattoo."
Letting out a low whistle, Morrow looks away.
A short time later Jim, Blair and I are gathered in the parking lot
outside the sheriff's office. I head toward my van, wanting to upload the photos I took of
the dead suspect into my laptop.
"Is this yours?" Blair asks, as I open the sliding side door of my vehicle.
"Yep. I took out the engine, put in one from an old Porsche that I rebuilt myself."
He looks intrigued. "Oh, very impressive."
Climbing inside the van, I start showing off my home away from home. "Look what I've got in here. Spectrographic analyzer, full lab capabilities. I've even got one of those little portable x-ray machines. I've got more stuff in here than the department's forensic van has. Some of it I built myself, some of it I'm testing for some manufacturers." God, Cassie, can you sound any more geeky?
Jim's cell phone picks that moment to ring, and he walks a few steps away to answer it. Blair, however, is salivating at all my technology. "So what's next?"
Flipping on my laptop, I hook up the digital camera and transfer the photos over. Pulling them up in a photo composite program, I make some changes based on what he might have looked like before surgery. "Since our dead man had his face altered, I'm going to try and reconstruct his original face."
"Cool." Blair calls to Ellison to get his attention, "Hey, Jim, you should come here and take a look at this."
The detective sticks his head inside the van, and I explain what I'm doing. "I took the photo of Baldacci and programmed in the adjustments for the surgery to his nose and his jaw line. What do you think?" I click the "make changes" button, and Baldacci's old face appears on the screen.
It's a big hit with Blair. "Wow," is all he can utter.
I swivel in my chair to face Ellison. "You know what? If you're right about that tattoo, I can modem his picture up to some of the prisons in the Northwest. Somebody might recognize him."
Jim nods his head slowly. "That's a good idea. That's nice work."
I'm irritated by the little frisson of pleasure that shoots through me at his praise. I don't need his approval to validate my work. I sigh internally. But it is nice to be appreciated instead of yelled at. Maybe he's getting over whatever the hell his problem with me is. "Great, I'll get right on it. Give me about twenty or thirty minutes, and I should have something."
"All right. I'm going to ask around about our suspect. Sandburg and I will check back with you. Come on, Chief."
"See you later, Cassie," Blair says, then he shuts the door of the van as they leave.
Wiggling my fingers, I stare at the computer screen for a moment, then open up my law enforcement database. Someone in the system has to know our guy.
Closing the door to Cassie's van, I look at Jim. "So now what?"
Once again I catch him studying the skies. This time an airplane is passing overhead.
Jim stops a woman walking by. "Excuse me. The only airport around here is way over in Lake Quincy, right?"
She nods. "Except for Bob Leland's."
"He runs a crop dusting service," she explains. "He's got this little airfield north of town. Well, it's just a dirt strip, really."
"Thank you, thank you very much," Jim says as she walks off.
I can see his brain working, and for once I'm not two steps behind. "Crop dusters use pesticides, and that's what Cassie found on Duval's shoes. Wanna bet he was there?"
"I know he was," Jim says determinedly then heads toward the Ford at a trot.
"Hey! Hey, Jim, wait! Aren't you going to tell Cassie? She's going to want to get soil samples from there!" Amazing how someone with such great ears can have such selective hearing.
He's already inside the truck and starting the engine before I even take a step. Leaning out the window, he calls, "You coming, Chief?"
I look at Cassie's van, then back toward Jim. Shaking my head with a sigh, I run over to the truck and get in, wondering why I always get stuck in the middle whenever Jim has a problem with someone. I remind myself to pick up some dirt while we're there.
On the ride out to Leland's, Jim fills me in on the phone call he received
earlier. It had been Simon with the news that Jean Duval had been an Interpol agent on the
trail of a terrorist name Luc Resnais. Duval had been on his trail for months and had
followed a lead to Geneva two weeks ago. From there he had disappeared, only to end up
dead under the Cascade Narrows Bridge. What the connection is between an international
terrorist and Pinecrest, Washington, though, eludes me. But whatever it is, two people are
dead because of it.
I can't help the involuntary shudder that goes through me. Whoever we're hunting isn't afraid of killing cops. I don't mention my thought to Jim, though, and soon he's turning at a sign reading Leland's Crop Dusting Service. A short distance down a gravel road, Jim pulls up by a corrugated steel building in the middle of a large field.
A gorgeous yellow biplane with an open cockpit sits in front of the hangar. I can't help but comment on it as I get out of the truck. "Wow, look at that. Planes like this, man--beautiful. That's when flying was flying, you know? Wind in your hair, heart in your throat "
"Bugs in your teeth," Jim quips, ever the romantic.
I chuckle. "Yeah, I suppose."
Walking up to the building, Jim calls out a greeting, but no one answers. I try to peer through one of the windows, but it's been painted over.
"The windows are blacked out. That's weird." I head toward the other side of the building, looking for a door, when I almost run into a huge man coming around the corner.
He's taller than Jim is and twice as broad, with a grizzled beard and a ball cap on his head. "Looking for something?" he growls.
I take a step back instinctively, speaking only when I know Jim's come up behind me. "Uh, yeah, afternoon. Are you the owner?"
He eyes us suspiciously, and I get the feeling he doesn't like our looks. "Maybe."
I bullshit him. "Well, we were just wondering how much you charge for your services."
Again I feel his gaze boring into me. "You don't look like farmers."
Jim finally speaks up. "Actually, we were looking for someone to fly us into Cascade."
Leland doesn't even consider it. "I can't help you. You fellas have a nice day."
"We'll pay cash," Jim offers.
That doesn't tempt the pilot. "I don't need the business." Turning his back on us, Leland enters the building and closes the door firmly behind him.
I laugh nervously. "Well, he was real friendly." Jim starts toward the truck, and I follow, gazing at the biplane again, and the grassy runway beyond. "Hmm. Now that's funny."
Coming to a stop, Jim looks at me. "What is?"
I point toward the plane. "Well, the beautiful thing about these biplanes is they can land and take off on a dime, but check it out. Look how big his runway is."
Jim must consider my comment of some merit, because he walks past the truck and out onto the runway, his eyes on the ground. "Check out these tracks. Something's landed here, all right. You see these double lines? Something a lot bigger than that crop duster." He glances back at the building, then says, "Let's go, come on."
Shrugging, I get back in the truck, feeling more in the dark than I was before. It's not until we're halfway back to town that I remember I forgot the dirt.
After making some calls, and sending quite a few faxes, I finally get a
hit on our dead boy, Baldacci. I'm working on finding a connection to Duval when my email
pings. I open it, finding a note from Serena. Word just came down that Duval was one of
ours--Interpol. Shit. As if we don't have enough to deal with
A knock on the van door
interrupts my train of thought. "Yeah?"
I look over my shoulder as Blair opens the door, giving me a big smile. "Weeeeee're baaaaack!"
I'm about to answer him when Jim sticks his head inside. "Hey, Cassie, can you see what you can pull up for a guy named Bob Leland? And find out whatever you can on his crop dusting business."
"Crop dusting? That could be the source of the pesticides I found!" I make a dive for the driver's seat.
Ellison's outstretched arm stops me. "We've already taken a trip out there and didn't see any chemicals. I want some more information before I go back."
Before he goes back? Before he goes back? I'm about to let him have it when Blair says, "I was planning on bringing a soil sample back for you, but we ran into this big guy who chased us off, and I forgot."
Blair looks so disappointed with himself that my anger at his partner immediately dissipates. "At least someone was thinking about teamwork," I say, glaring at Ellison. Well, maybe I'm still a little ticked. "Both of you take off your shoes."
Jim gives me a strange look and starts to protest, but Blair gets what I'm after right away. Sitting down on the floor of the van, Blair pulls off his shoe and hands it to me. Opening a drawer, I remove some swabs, and take samples of the small amount of dirt clinging between the treads of his Sketchers. There's not much, but assuming it's from Leland's and not something he picked up off the street, we might be in business. Placing the samples in separate plastic bags, I label them, then perform the same procedure on Ellison's shoes.
As he's putting them back on and lacing them up, Jim says, "Now could you please look up Leland?"
"Okay, but first, let me show you what I found on our dead man. You were right about him being an ex-con. His real name's Ray Loomis. He was paroled in January from Duellmont Penitentiary." I click open the fax the warden sent me, and a pre-surgery mug shot pops up on the screen.
"What was he in for?" Jim asks.
Leaning back in my chair, I answer him. "Get this--seven years ago Loomis went to jail for his involvement in an organ transplant scheme. They were smuggling foreigners into the states, drugging them, taking out their kidneys and selling them on the black market."
Blair lets out a low whistle as Jim asks, "Who else was involved?"
I click through the file. "Um..the ringleader was a doctor named Vern Delanian. Released from prison last year."
"Bring up his record."
Geez, a please might be nice. But I do it without complaint.
While I'm waiting for the modem to link to the WSCIC computer, and my search to go through, Blair says, "You know, I remember reading about that. They'd bring in these foreigners, and they'd promise them jobs and a new life. And the next they'd know, they'd end up in some alley with one of their kidneys gone. I mean, could you believe that?"
I nod. "Yeah. Here it comes." A record begins to appear on the computer screen, along with a mug shot of a familiar face.
"Vernon Charles Delanian, hmm," Jim says sarcastically.
Blair leans over my shoulder for a closer look. "Hey, wait a minute. Isn't that--?"
Jim's expression is grim. "Pinecrest's finest physician himself--Dr. Steven Morrow."