The Summer Children (The Collector #3)(4)

?Me lleva la chingada! Our team gives teddy bears to victims, or their friends and siblings, when we have to interview them, because it’s a bit of comfort, something to hold or squeeze—or in the case of one twelve-year-old, throw at Eddison’s head. But to give a bear to a kid after you’ve murdered his parents in front of him?

And he said “she.” That’s so fucking rare, if he’s right.

Eddison drives up, parking at the curb several houses down to keep out of the way of the emergency vehicles that should be arriving very shortly. Eddison and I live a fifteen-minute drive apart; a glance at the phone says it’s been just under ten since the call ended. I’m not even going to ask how many traffic laws he just broke. He’s still in jeans, his feet jammed into untied sneakers, but he’s got his badge clipped to his belt and an FBI windbreaker to lend him the authority his Nationals T-shirt leeches out. His hand is on his holstered gun as he approaches, stopping briefly to check in with Siobhan. They’re not, and probably never will be, friends, but they’re friendly enough given that their only points of commonality are me and the Bureau.

When he reaches the driveway side of the walk, he touches next to his eye, then twirls his finger. I shake my head, tilting my gun so he can see it still in my hands. He nods and draws his weapon and pocket flashlight, disappearing around the side of the house. After several minutes, he comes back into view and reholsters his gun. I stretch and hook my heel into my purse strap, pulling it toward me so I can put my own sidearm away, finally. I hate having a drawn gun near kids.

Before we get a chance to say so much as hello, an ambulance and a police car, followed by an unmarked sedan that is definitely also a police car, pull onto the street, sirens off but lights flashing. Fortunately, they cut the lights as soon as they park. Some of the neighbors get nervous enough living near an FBI agent; not waking anyone up with this would be preferable.

I actually recognize the plainclothes walking toward us. We worked a missing kids case together two years ago, and found the kids safe and sound in Maryland. Terrible as it sounds, I’m suddenly grateful for the experience, or this meeting would be a lot more awkward. Detective Holmes comes straight to the porch, one of the uniformed officers and both paramedics walking behind her. The other officer stays at the end of the drive to talk to Siobhan. “Agent Ramirez,” Holmes greets me. “Long time.”

“Sí. Detective Holmes, this is SSAIC Brandon Eddison, and this,” I continue, taking a deep breath and gesturing to the porch swing, “is Ronnie Wilkins.”

“Have you checked him over?”

“No. He said he wasn’t injured, so it seemed best left to you. Agent Eddison did a circuit around the house to check for others, but aside from that, there’s been movement only at the car, along the paved path, and where I’m sitting.”

“Agent Eddison? Anything of note?”

He shakes his head. “No visible blood trails, no signs of attempted entry around the windows or back door, no blood or dirt or debris on the back porch. No one in wait, no obvious footprints.”

“How much has he said?”

“I’ve tried not to ask him much,” I admit, but I relay what he’s told me.

She listens intently, tapping her fingers against a small notebook sticking up out of her pocket. “All right. I hope you know I mean nothing personal by this—”

“Where do you need us to stand?”

Her lips twitch in a smile, and she nods. “Curve of the path? I’d like you in sight, for his sake, but some space would be good. If you don’t mind introducing us?”


Eddison offers me a hand up, and I turn to face the child watching from the porch swing. “Ronnie? This is Detective Holmes. She’s going to ask you some questions about what happened tonight, okay? Can you talk to her?”

“I . . .” He looks between me and the detective, drops his gaze to the holstered gun at her hip, then shudders and stares at the floor. “Okay,” he whispers.

Holmes frowns thoughtfully. “I might need—”

“Just call out.” I poke Eddison in the shoulder blade to get him moving, and we walk down the path until we’re just short of disappearing around the edge of the house. “I haven’t told Vic yet.”

“I called him on the way,” he replies, his knuckles scraping the coarse stubble on his jaw. “He said to keep him updated, and not to bother Sterling with it tonight. We’ll tell her in the morning.”

“It’s not a Bureau case.”

“Exactly.” He glances over my shoulder to the end of the drive. “Siobhan doesn’t look happy.”

“I can’t understand why; we had a romantic date and came home to a blood-covered child on the doorstep. What’s to be unhappy about?”

“Ronnie Wilkins. Does the name ring any bells?”

“No, but there’s almost certainly a Social Services file on him.” I watch the paramedics and officer check Ronnie over, gathering samples and evidence. They pause between each step, checking in with him for permission. He looks confused by it. Not their touching him, just that they ask. Holmes leans against the front rail a couple of feet away, making sure not to crowd him or loom over him. They let him keep hold of the teddy bear, occasionally asking him to move it to his other hand but never touching it themselves. It’s good to see.

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