Home > A Bone to Pick (Widow's Island #2)(7)

A Bone to Pick (Widow's Island #2)(7)
Author: Melinda Leigh

The medical examiner should be able to electronically submit the fingerprints into the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS).

“Have you found anything else?” Tessa scanned the evidence laid out on the spare desk.

“Not yet.” Bruce gestured to the organized piles. “I’ll keep at it.”

“Kurt should be back soon. He’ll help. Don’t forget to take a break. We don’t have many deputies, and we all work overtime when necessary, but you need to eat and sleep. And I’m sure your fiancée would like to see you at some point.” Tessa gave the air an exaggerated sniff. “A fresh uniform wouldn’t hurt either.”

“Noted.” Bruce grinned, the smile taking years off his face. “I’m meeting Julie for lunch. I’ll be sure to shower first.” Julie worked as a nurse in Henry’s office.

Tessa retrieved her jacket from the peg by the door. “I’m headed to Dante’s place.”

Even with his identity in question, it was easier to think of him as Dante than the victim.

She went out into the cold and climbed into her patrol vehicle. Jerry’s place wasn’t far from her house via a trail used by mountain bikers and horseback riders. But the forest on this side of the island was protected from further development, and the road made a huge loop around it. Fifteen minutes later, she turned into his driveway and parked in front of his bungalow.

The house looked like it belonged to a little old lady, not a bachelor of sixty. Painted bright yellow with white trim, it was small and dainty, with neat flower beds that were filled with blooms spring through fall. Even on a gloomy December day, the house looked cheerful.

Tessa walked up the steps onto the front porch. She knocked on the door, but no one answered. Shading her eyes with her hand, she leaned close to the skinny window alongside the door but didn’t see anyone inside.

Leaving the porch, she followed a brick path around the bungalow. There was no sign of Jerry.

She crossed fifty feet of grass. The property hadn’t been an active farm in many years. The barn had been painted white to coordinate with the house. Thick woods sat behind it. Tessa knocked on the door. When no one answered, she tried the knob and was surprised to find the door locked. No one locked their doors on the island, but Dante hadn’t been a native.

A rattling sound alerted her to someone coming. She turned around. Jerry was leaning a mountain bike against the side of the house. He removed his helmet and hung it on the handlebars by the chin strap. Then he walked across the backyard toward her, his face grave.

“I heard about Dante,” he said.

Of course he had.

“I need to get inside.” Tessa gestured toward the barn.

Jerry dug a set of keys out of his pocket. “No problem.”

“Did Dante live alone?” Tessa asked.

“Yep.” Jerry unlocked the door and stepped aside.

“Do you know if he had a cell phone?”

“He did not.” Jerry gave a small smile of approval. “He had an answering machine hooked up to the landline.”

“How long has he rented from you?” Tessa asked.

“Almost a year.”

“Did he pay on time?”

“Eight hundred dollars on the first of every month,” Jerry said. “And he was a quiet tenant, which I appreciated. I need my chill time.”

“Did he have your Jetta last night?”

“Yes. I prefer my bike when the weather is cooperative, so I let Dante use the car whenever he liked. The keys were in it. He’d leave gas money on the seat if he borrowed it.” Jerry reached for the doorknob.

Tessa stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. “I need you to wait outside.”

“Okay.” He stepped back. “I’ll be up at the house if you need me.”

“Thank you,” Tessa said. “I’m going to have questions for you when I’m finished.”

She donned gloves and opened the door. The blinds and curtains were closed, shrouding the interior in darkness. All she could see was the swath of light streaming through the open door. Though she heard nothing, the hairs on the nape of her neck lifted. She felt eyes on her. A floorboard creaked to her right. Her hand landed on her sidearm automatically. She drew her weapon.

A gray cat zoomed across the wood floor, hissing. Tessa placed a hand on her chest. Her heart thundered. Sweat dripped down her back.

Breathe.

She felt for the light switch on the wall, but it wasn’t where she expected it to be. She reached for the flashlight on her duty belt. Before she could pull it out of its loop, fabric rustled.

Tessa’s racing pulse jump-started again. She spun around just in time to see a dark hooded figure lunge out from behind the drapes. Something whirled toward Tessa’s head.

4

Tessa ducked. A floor lamp whooshed past her head. She pivoted, sweeping her handgun around as she moved, but she couldn’t shoot what she couldn’t see.

The hooded figure rushed at her like a bull. She turned to evade his charge but wasn’t quick enough. Tessa was five seven and very fit. Outnumbered by male cops on the Seattle PD, she’d made a point of lifting weights, running, and hiking to stay in top shape. She was strong for her size. Her attacker wasn’t overly big, but he had momentum. Their shoulders collided, and Tessa stumbled backward.

Dropping one hand to the floor, Tessa recovered and spun on the balls of her feet. But he was already looming over her.

An arm swooped down. With no time to bring her weapon around, she raised a hand over her head to block the blow. The blade of his hand struck a nerve on her forearm. Her fingers opened on reflex. Her gun dropped to the floor and skittered across the wood planks.

Tessa grabbed for her attacker’s arm with both hands. She couldn’t grip the slippery leather of his jacket. She drove an elbow hard into his rib cage.

He grunted, and the air rushed out of him. He spun behind her and grabbed her in a bear hug, his black-gloved hands linked at her waist. He pinned her arms to her sides and lifted her off the floor. Her feet kicked in the air.

She went limp, maximizing the effect of her weight. Then she smashed her head backward and struck his face. Something squished, but no blood spurted, so she must not have hit his nose. He twisted his face out of reach.

There was no space between their bodies. Tessa could not strike him. There was only one vulnerable area she could attack. Reaching behind her, she closed her fist around his testicles and squeezed hard.

He dropped her as if she were on fire. “Bitch!” he wheezed.

Tessa fell to her knees. The impact with the hard floor rang her bones from her kneecaps to her teeth.

The man turned and scrambled for the open door.

She stumbled to her feet. By the time she made it to the doorway, her attacker was fifteen yards away and limp-running for the woods.

She could catch him.

She dug into the floorboards and pushed off. She managed exactly one stride. Then her feet tangled with an object, and she went down hard. Her lungs expelled air like fireplace bellows. Something tugged at her trousers, and pain sliced through her leg.

“What the—?” Her pants leg was caught on a nail protruding from a floorboard. She pulled it free.

In the doorway, the cat arched its back and hissed. With an angry yowl, it bolted around the barn and disappeared. She’d tripped over the damned cat.

Tessa levered a knee under her body and stood.

Where is he?

She scanned the meadow. The figure had disappeared into the trees. She’d smooshed his balls. He wouldn’t be moving too quickly. She broke into a jog, intent on catching him.

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