Chapter Two

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Feedback is always welcome

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“I got here as fast as I could.”

Katrina glanced up at her boyfriend. Mentally, she reached out for a hug whilst she thanked him for his presence. Physically, she remained motionless. Her brain felt disconnected from the rest of her body. Zombified. A waking coma.

Katrina was sitting in the back of an ambulance. At some point, somebody must have wrapped a blanket around her and pressed a hot cup of tea into her hands. She couldn’t remember acquiring either item.

“They told me everything over the phone. I can’t believe…” Max paused and mentally chastised himself. “I mean, are you okay?” He sat beside her. He reached up, his thumb stroking her cheek.

Katrina nodded numbly.

“I know that’s a stupid question. I just meant – are you okay?” He sighed. “They’ll find her, alright? She’s a clever kid. She probably ran to find help or to –to -” He trailed off and moved to put his arm around her shoulder. It was like removing the lid from a pressure valve. Katrina’s senses flooded back. She felt the warmth of the mug in her hands and finally recalled where she was, in the same moment that she crumpled against him.

“I’m useless,” she mumbled. “I couldn’t even answer their questions properly.”

“You’re in shock. And putting yourself at risk isn’t going to help anyone,” he said. “Your team are doing their best…”

He looked around him. Police tape had cordoned off their home. Men in uniforms were walking in and out of the house, taking samples, photographing and bagging evidence.

Katrina put down the mug of tea. She placed her hand in Max’s, squeezing it lightly. Unspoken words fizzled through their touch.

   Thank  you.

She’d always found it frustrating when eye witnesses clammed up. Now, she regretted every time she hadn’t been more patient with a shell-shocked bystander.

“Katrina! Katrina! I got here as fast as I could.”

It was Blake. It had only been thirty minutes since Katrina’s discovery but he looked as though he’d been suffering for an age. As he drew nearer, he recognised Max and his face – if possible – sobered further. Katrina sighed. The last thing she needed right now was a confrontation between her ex-husband and current boyfriend.

“I’m fine,” she told Blake. “It’s Olivia we need to be thinking about.”

“I want details from A to B. Don’t miss out so much as a second.”

“She needs to rest.” Max stood, standing just inches away from Blake. At 6”1’ he was taller than police chief, although wiry in comparison.

“She can rest when I’m done with her.” Blake snapped.

“She’s already handed in her statement.”

“Don’t make me arrest you for impeding police procedure because I will.”

Max’s resolve could almost be seen leaking out of every pore like the nervous sweat that lined his forehead. He took a slight step back but it was enough.

“Right, Katrina– ” Blake continued.

“I handed in my statement.”

Blake raised his eyebrows warningly.

“I’m asking you as her father, not your boss.” He didn’t say it, but he might as well have added the words ‘you idiot’ onto the end. That was the thing with Blake. He could never give her a bloody break. In a way Katrina was grateful. A kick up the arse was what she needed to get her going. Somehow as she opened her mouth all the details of the afternoon poured out in a concise, almost clinical manner. She found her voice steadying, and her mind unravelling as she recounted all the details. Every now and then she paused, unconsciously accommodating his habit of interrupting her. However, Blake didn’t interject even once, and when she was finished, he simply nodded. Evidently her report had been satisfactory.

“Okay. Go and rest. I’m taking over.”

“And where exactly am I meant to do that? My whole house is being swabbed in case you hadn’t noticed.”

“Go to my place.”

“I can look after her,” Max said.

Blake raised his hands.

“Just a suggestion mate, okay? You’re both welcome.”

He turned on his heels and headed towards the house. Katrina took a step forward. Instantly, Max grabbed her hand.

“Where are you going?”

“Going inside. With Blake.” She said slowly.

“No.”

She raised her eyebrows.

“I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“Max, I love you. But if you even think about getting in the way between me finding my daughter, I swear I will cut your balls off with my car keys and string you up by the neck by your testes.”

She turned away before she could fully digest his reaction. Almost immediately she wanted to apologise, but her ego got in the way. She caught up with Blake. If he was surprised to see her at his side, he didn’t say anything. At the very least he knew better not to say anything. Glancing at him, she saw the worry etched on his face even if others couldn’t. You didn’t marry someone for seven years without gaining some inkling as to what each facial expression meant.

Re-entering the house made Katrina feel like a wrestler peeled from the floor only be punched in the guts again. Blake and Katrina joined Fletcher in the kitchen. The semi-balding coroner was staring at Alyssa’s body intently. He glanced up as the officers entered but looked through them, too. Katrina had been working with him long enough to know that he was thinking about how to phrase the news.

“Fletcher.”

“Boss.”

“What have you found?” Blake asked. His eyes had hardened, his jaw set and his shoulders squared. Despite his personal involvement, Katrina could already see that he was going to treat this case just like any other. For that, she both hated and admired him.

“The victim-”

“Alyssa.” The name tumbled from Katrina’s lips.

“Right. Uhm – Alyssa was hit in the back of the head with some form of blunt object. Whatever it was killed her instantly and she fell here and bled out.”

“Your best guess?” Blake asked.

“Flat side of a hammer,” Fletcher said. “Time of death…recent. No longer than two hours ago.” He began walking over to the door they had just entered. The handle was speckled with blood.

“So all the blood in this room came from one source?”

“Not quite.” Fletcher beckoned them closer. “The blood on the door handle can’t be the babysitters. Alyssa’s.  The blow would have killed her instantly and there is no blood dripping over to this door. Judging from the handle, the blood isn’t thick and concentrated. Whoever these prints belong to, wasn’t bleeding too much. There’s no way it’s the vic – Alyssa’s blood. It’s either the abductors or…”

“Olivia’s. “ Blake finished.

Fletcher nodded.

“I’ve already taken a sample for analysis.”

“You didn’t notice the blood on the handle?” Blake asked Katrina.

“I swung the door open,” she said. “I didn’t see the other side of the handle.”

Blake nodded.

“What about the handprints?” It was Katrina’s turn to ask the questions.

“I’ll get a sample down to the lab. It most likely belongs to somebody who managed to make it away from the scene. Either the attacker or the child herself.” He paused and adjusted the watch on his wrist. Katrina braced herself; the nervous watch-jiggle was never a good sign. The last time she’d seen it was three cases back, when Fletcher had informed her that they had a serial killer on their hands.

Blake must have noticed the watch-jiggle too.

“Say it,” His voice was soft; it was the reassuring tone he adopted when encouraging a particularly nervous perpetrator to confess to their crimes.

Fletcher glanced uncomfortably from his boss, to Katrina, and back again.

“Well it’s a lot of blood.” He continued. “If it’s the attacker’s, your best bet would be to set out a BOLO in all nearby hospitals. A wound like that would be need looking into.”

“And if it’s Olivia’s?”

“A child her age wouldn’t survive that type of blood loss.” Fletcher said quietly.

Katrina glanced back down at the body, the floor shifting beneath her feet. Blake himself was quiet for a long while. When he spoke, it was monotone:

“I need you to get the samples to the lab. I want to know who the blood belongs to ASAP. The second you find out, ring me. Before you log it. Before you perform any of the preliminary actions or write a report. Understood?”

“Yes sir.” Fletcher turned and left as quickly as possible.

Blake turned towards Katrina and, without any warning, pulled her towards himself in a warm embrace.

“We’ll find her, Kat. And I know you’ll hate me for this, but I can’t have my girl’s mother in danger too. I want you to take a break until morning.”

“I’m not leaving.”

“I know you don’t want to.” He sounded like he was indulging the whims of a small child who refused to get into the bath. Katrina recalled the many times she’d used a similar tone with Olivia. “But it’s a direct order.”

“You going to fire me?” she challenged.

“You should at least be suspended for that little stunt you pulled earlier.”

She looked confused.

“Going ahead without back-up and ignoring direct orders,” he reminded.

“With all due respect boss, if I leave, I’ll just continue to work the case.”

Blake narrowed his eyes.

“Have you been checked by the medics?”

“Yes. Blood pressure’s a bit iffy but I’m not about to pass out on the crime scene,” she retaliated.

“Fine. Upstairs. Go search the room.  It’s already been swept but you know it best.”

Katrina made her way upstairs. One of the forensic scientists had left a couple of protective slippers outside the door, which she slipped onto her feet before entering. Were

It took her half an hour to comb through every inch of the room. She looked in every drawer, underneath the bed and inside the cupboards. She even went through her bookshelf and flicked through the pages of every single book. As an afterthought, she went through her bookshelf and flicked through some of the books. Nothing was out of place and nothing had been taken either. Finally accepting defeat, she went back downstairs and through the front door. Removing the body suit helmet, she gulped in the fresh air.

Max walked anxiously towards her.

“Find anything?”

Her face must have said it all. He changed tact.

“Did they say how long the sweep is going to take?”

“I doubt they’ll be done tonight,” she shrugged.

“I can drive us to a hotel?”He suggested. “You must be tired.”

Another look passed between them. Max immediately understood.

“You want to stay at his?”

“I know it’s awful and I know it’s awkward, but I need to be as close to the investigation as possible. And I’ll need to go over documents with Blake, too.”

“Okay.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No – no. It’s okay. You need to do whatever you can to find her.”

“Sure?” Katrina asked, even though she had little intention of backing down.

“Well the idea of you sleeping round Blake’s is just about preferable to being de-balled and strung up by my testes so…sure.” Max winked.

Katrina hugged him quickly.

“Although it’s a very close call,” he added.

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