The long-anticipated third book in the Seasons Mystery Series
Children dying is a cop’s worst nightmare. Throw drugs in the mix, and the nightmare gets worse. Dallas Homicide Detectives, Angel Johnson and Sarah Kingsly, who are still trying to sort out their partnership, race to stop the influx of a nasty new street drug that is killing kids as young as ten. Those kids should be playing in the park, not dying in it.
Who owns the streets of Dallas?
Can the detectives take them back before more kids die?
First place winner in the Page Turner 2022 Awards for Crime Fiction
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PRAISE FOR THE SEASONS SERIES: “Try this debut mystery by a journalist for its open treatment of current urban problems, clean prose, and realistic depiction of women working together. For readers who enjoy Robin Burcell and fans of police procedurals.” Library Journal
“ . . . gripping second mystery featuring Dallas, Tex., police detectives Sarah Kingsly and Angel Johnson. . . . The relationship between the women is just as absorbing as the search for the killer. Few readers will anticipate the closing twist.” Starred review for STALKING SEASON from Publishers Weekly.
When Sarah pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant, she found a spot between a patrol car and a large van with lettering, Tian An Men, a Chinese Buffet and Take-Out. She eased her brand-new Taurus into the space, making sure there was plenty of room between her car and the others. Her trusty old Honda had given up the ghost several months ago, so she’d decided to go American, but she wasn’t sure that trading gas mileage for patriotism was the best of moves. And she still wasn’t sure that trading in a dented old car was the best of moves either. She never had to worry about where she parked before. Or about car payments.
The restaurant was just one of the many little Asian places that had cropped up in recent years, and Sarah stepped into the large entry to be immediately surrounded by a sharp aroma of sesame oil and the prattle of a foreign language. Some of the wait staff clustered in a tight group by the front of the serving area, chattering with great excitement. In a far corner, she saw her partner, along with Ryan O’Donnell, talking to an Asian woman who could have been thirty or sixty. It was hard to tell. The woman was petite and rail thin, with jet black hair and a flawless complexion.
Sarah made her way over. “What do we have?” she asked. “McGregor didn’t say much.”
“Two dead girls in the bathroom,” Angel said.
“He told me that,” Sarah said. “Murdered?”
“Not directly,” Ryan said.
“Care to explain?”
“It appears the girls OD’d.”
“Okay. I’m confused,” Sarah said. “We’re already working a case. Why would McGregor send us here?”
“When this report came in, I was in the office with the Lieu,” Angel said. “The brass got wind of this right away and were all over Dorsett like sap on a pine tree. Somebody told the commissioner that there were seven deaths in the last six months from this Cheese. He didn’t like that. Told Dorsett to get on top of this any way she had to.”
“And that included pulling us off the Santos case?”
“No,” Angel said. “We’re just supposed to lend a hand for a day or two. That way the press can show the public what a fine job we’re doing.”
One thing, perhaps the only thing that Sarah and Angel had in common was their dislike of the press and the department’s penchant for doing things just to appease the public. Appeasing loud, screaming voices seemed to be the thing to do in this modern day, and it sure hobbled a cop when it came to doing the job.
“After McGregor talked to Dorsett, he must’ve called my boss,” Ryan said. “Walsh told me you’d be coming.”
Sarah looked to Angel, who merely shrugged.
“So? We’re working this together?” Sarah asked Ryan.
“Looks like it.”
“Come on,” Ryan motioned Sarah to follow him. “I got a couple of guys processing the scene and Walt is about to finish up.”
“I’ll talk to the owner again,” Angel gestured to the distraught Asian woman sitting at an empty table.
Sarah nodded and trailed after Ryan. When they got to the restroom, Ryan stepped aside. “Go ahead,” he said. “It’s crowded in there.”
Inside, Sarah caught the distinctive odor of death that comes with a release of bodily fluids. No matter how many death scenes she witnessed, the smell never got any easier to take. The odor at the morgue was only marginally better. She pinched her nose and walked over to where Walt was hunkered over one of the bodies sprawled on the floor. “Twice in one week, Walt. People might talk.”
He glanced up at her. “You should start carrying a clothespin in your pocket, Detective.”
“Funny, funny.” Sarah didn’t want to look at another dead girl, but she forced herself to do her job. The girl might have once been pretty, but death had not been easy. The aftermath of the drug overdose left her features contorted and her skin mottled.
Another one that was too young to die.
“How old do you think she was?” Sarah asked Walt.
“Eleven? Maybe twelve?”
“My God.” Sarah gave a little shake of her head, then asked, “TOD?”
Walt leaned back on his heels. “This one’s easy. Narrow window between the time they came in here and when they were found.”
Damn. Maybe if someone had come into the restroom earlier…
Sarah let that thought drift away. Didn’t matter now. Wishing wouldn’t bring the girls back to life.
She stepped out of the crowded room and found Ryan leaning against the wall. “What’s the story? How’d they get here?”
“Owner says the girls were in the parking lot when she pulled in.” Ryan gestured to the woman with Angel. “She let them in to use the bathroom. Was busy setting up for the lunch buffet, so she didn’t notice whether they left or not. Later, one of her staff found them.”
“Do we have a timeline?”
“The girls came in just before nine. The waitress found them a little after 10:30. Patrol got here at 10:45. I made it about forty minutes later.”
“Nothing yet. There are two purses in there, but we don’t know which one belongs to which girl. I didn’t want to look through them until the techs finished documenting the scene.”
“Right. We’ll check the purses later.”
Angel closed her notebook and gave the restaurant owner a brief nod. She knew enough about Far East cultures to know not to offer a handshake. What a weird week this had been. Like visits to the United Nations. She made her way over to Sarah who looked up and asked, “Anything?”
“Not much. Owner didn’t know the girls. I asked her why she let them in if she didn’t know them. She said because they were desperate to use the ‘facilities’. Her word, not mine.”
“She have any idea where they came from?” Sarah asked. “They’re not old enough to drive, so they must have walked from somewhere.”
“She didn’t know. But she did say there are some apartments not far from here. They could live there.”
“Maybe we’ll get lucky. Find ID and addresses in their purses,” Ryan said.
Angel nodded just as Walt stepped out into the hallway. “Finished. My team’s coming to get the bodies. Should be here any second.”
“What about the rest of the tech crew?” Sarah asked.
“They’re winding it down,” he said, peeling off his latex gloves. “Room should be yours momentarily.”
Ryan hesitated a beat, then turned to Sarah. “If you and Angel can take care of the rest of this, I’ll go with Walt. He said he could start the autopsies this afternoon.”
“Sure thing,” Sarah said. Better Ryan handling that than her. The last thing she wanted was to watch Walt cut another small body open. She’d seen too many. He always did the autopsies showing as much respect as he could to the dead person, but there was not much dignity in lying naked on a steel table while someone dug through your insides.
Angel and Sarah walked into the main dining room where the owner was seated at one of the tables, head in her hands. The rest of the staff was gone. Angel touched the woman’s shoulder. She was so thin, Angel could feel her bones. “You okay?”
The woman jerked upright. “Bad for business. Bad for business.”
“We’re almost finished,” Angel said. “Maybe you can open for dinner.”
“No. Girls die. No work. No business.”
Angel didn’t know what to say to that. The woman had seemed calmer before, and Angel could deal with calm. She didn’t know what to do with hysterics, and the woman looked like she was on the brink now. But at least she had some concern for the dead girls. That was a point in her favor. Too many store owners were only worried about the inconvenience of something horrible happening in their establishments. Not good for the bottom line, you know.
When the first team from the coroner’s office came in with a gurney, the woman opened her eyes wide and sucked in a quick breath. Angel patted her shoulder before moving to block her view as the second team entered. Angel motioned toward the drink station that was toward the back of the room. “Could I have some iced tea?”
“Yes. Yes.” The woman rose quickly and almost ran to get the drink, looking like a little bird with arms fluttering and legs taking quick, short steps.
Angel followed. That way the woman would not have to come back and see the bodies being taken out. As she passed Sarah, her partner gave her a quick nod, as if she understood Angel’s move.
A few minutes later, the detectives were able to go back into the restroom. One CSI tech remained, but the rest had gone with the bodies.
With the dead girls out of the bathroom, Angel didn’t feel that clutch in her belly that she always got when she walked into a murder scene. The first time she’d seen a woman sprawled across the floor in death, she’d nearly lost her breakfast. Maybe one day she would get hardened to it all, but this wasn’t the day.