Stay Close

Page 29


THE BIG BREAK CAME WHEN Broome arrived at the ruins of the old iron-ore mill.
“Blood,” Samantha Bajraktari said.
The spot was remote. No cars or vehicles of any sort. Explaining the history of the eighteenth-century iron-ore mill, a New Jersey park ranger (a phrase that sounded suspiciously like an oxymoron) had marched them up a rather narrow path. The group consisted of Broome, an old-timer named Cowens, two county uniforms Broome didn’t know, and two crime unit technicians—one of whom was the aforementioned Samantha Bajraktari. The uniforms and crime technicians led the way. Cowens, a lifetime cigar smoker, huffed and puffed until he dropped to the back of the pack.
Broome bent down next to Bajraktari. She had been lead tech for five years now and was without a doubt the best Broome had ever known. “How much blood is that?”
“Don’t know yet.”
“Enough to cause death?”
Bajraktari did a yes-no tilt with her head. “Not what I’m seeing here, but it’s hard to say. It looks like some of it has been buried under the dirt.”
“Like with a shovel?”
“Or even a shoe, I don’t know. It’s just covered up.”
“How about a blood type or DNA match on Carlton Flynn?”
Bajraktari frowned. “We’ve been here five minutes, Broome. Shoo. Give me a little space, will you?”
The two uniforms surrounded the area with yellow crime-scene tape, which just looked plain silly out in the middle of nowhere. Night was starting to fall. They wouldn’t be able to work out here much longer tonight. It was too far to drag the big spotlights out. Broome looked at the remains of what had been a furnace two hundred years ago. He started pacing, realized that maybe he was too close to the crime scene and might mess something up, headed back down the path.
Cowens, cigar firmly planted in mouth, finally caught up. He bent down, his hands on his knees, trying to suck in oxygen. “Find a body?” he managed to ask.
“Not yet.”
“Man, I’d hate to have walked all this way for nothing.”
“You’re a people person, Cowens.”
“Plus if they find a body, they’ll get some kind of vehicle up here. I don’t feel like walking back. My feet are killing me.”
“You didn’t have to come. I told you that at that parking lot.”
Cowens waved him off and managed to straighten up. He adjusted his pants and patted his hair. Broome said nothing. Then Cowens made his way toward Bajraktari, pulling down the yellow tape as he did.
“Hey, Samantha,” Cowens said, offering up a big smile. “You look nice tonight.”
Bajraktari looked up at him with blank eyes. “You’re contaminating my crime scene, Cowens.”
“I was just saying. Even in that crime tech Windbreaker, you look really pretty.” Cowens smiled a little more, then suddenly dropped it. “Uh, I’m not harassing you or nothing. I’m just saying.”
Broome shook his head. Now he got why Cowens had wanted to come along. He was sweet on Samantha Bajraktari. Unbelievable.
“Just get behind the yellow tape,” Bajraktari snapped.
But suddenly Cowens wasn’t listening. He turned his head slowly side to side. A funny look crossed his face.
“What?” Bajraktari said to him.
Cowens narrowed his eyes. “I’m getting a little déjà vu here.”
“The trolling spot for trannies looks a little like this,” Bajraktari said.
Samantha Bajraktari went back to work. Still looking confounded, Cowens stumbled back toward the tape. Broome meanwhile had an idea. Holding up the photograph in his right hand, he began to circle, trying to figure out exactly where the picture had been taken. He moved up the hill a little, looking back every few steps, trying to calculate the spot. The journey took him off the path.
He stepped slowly, keeping his eyes on the ground and then… Bingo.
“Bajraktari,” Broome called back.
“I got what looks like a shoe print over here. Do you think you can get a mold? In fact, you guys should probably go over the whole area, see if you can find anything.”
“No problem, if all of us don’t clop around like a bunch of Clydesdales.”
Bajraktari said something to the other tech, a guy who looked to be maybe thirteen years old. The tech headed toward where Broome was standing. Broome showed him the shoe print and carefully made his way back to the clearing. He stood next to Cowens and tried to think it through.
Seventeen years ago, on Mardi Gras, Stewart Green had come to this rather remote spot and got—what?—stabbed before disappearing forever. Now Broome had a picture, not date stamped unfortunately, showing Carlton Flynn, another man who vanished on Mardi Gras, in this same remote area. Plus they had just found spilled blood, clearly not seventeen years old. And finally, seventeen years after Stewart Green vanished, there were two other new, strange developments. One, the sudden reappearance of the elusive Cassie—why had she come back, and was she telling the truth? And two, the possible sudden reappearance of Stewart Green.
Was his return related to Cassie?
If not, it seemed like a hell of a coincidence. If he was back at all, that is. Cassie could have just been making that up or her “source” could have been wrong.
So add up all the new clues and… Broome didn’t have a clue.
And right then, mulling it over in the Pine Barrens, the big break came from a most unlikely source.
“I remember now,” Cowens said.
“That déjà vu I was talking about before. I remember what it was from.” Cowens took the cigar out of his mouth. “That big murder case.”
That caught Broome’s attention. “What big murder case?”
“You remember. What the hell was the guy’s name? Gunner, Gunther, something like that.”
Broome tried to remember, feeling his pulse pick up pace. “He was stabbed, right?”
“Right. Some hikers found him up here, what, gotta be twenty years ago? Multiple stab wounds.”
“And you’re sure this is the spot?”
“Yeah, pretty sure, with the old furnace and that rock. Yeah, this is the place.”
“Do you remember when this was?”
“Like I said, twenty years ago.”
“I mean the date.”
“You’re kidding, right?
“How about time of the year?”
Cowens thought about it. “It was cold.”