The Summer Children (The Collector #3)(6)

When I glance over, he just points up.

Okay, I can see how that might be a little discomfiting in light of the evening’s events.

A long shelf runs along all four walls in the bedroom, about a foot and a half from the ceiling, and it’s entirely covered with teddy bears. In the corners, small cloth net hammocks hang down to allow the largest and smallest bears to be seen. One sits alone on the nightstand on my side of the bed, a faded black-velvet creature with a red-and-white houndstooth bow tie. The fact that most of them are from after I aged out of foster care . . . well, there’s no way for the officer to know that.

“The one Ronnie was holding? Not one of mine,” I tell him.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.” I study the bears along the shelf, checking each one against my memory of when and where I got it, or who gave it to me. “None of mine are missing or moved, and none have been added.”

“I’ll, uh . . . I’ll let Detective Holmes know.”

Just to be on the better side of caution, I check the gun safe set into the floor under the bed, but both of my personal handguns are there, the ammo still in the lockbox in the closet by my shoes.

“I need to change, but I know you have to keep me in sight. Any chance you could keep your eyes on my feet?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I change quickly, leaving the dress on the bed. Despite the hour, I pull on something suitably professional, in case we end up going straight to the office from the Wilkinses’ house. We still have that damn seminar in the morning, and I don’t think the experience needs to be compounded with a reminder of the dress code.

In the kitchen, I climb onto the counter next to the fridge and reach into the short cabinet over the appliance, scraping my fingers along the side until I find the spare keys I’ve taped to the wood. Vic, Eddison, Sterling, and Siobhan all have keys of their own, but it seemed a good idea to have an extra set. Hopping down, I hold them out to the officer so he can see the dots of nail polish. “Yellow is top dead bolt, green is lower dead bolt, blue is the doorknob. The orange one unlocks the glass over the screen door in back.”

“Agents and cops,” he agrees. “Windows?”

“Basic switch locks, no keys needed.” When I gave Siobhan her set, she had a panic attack over how many locks there were. She feels four is excessive. As a result of that conversation, it’s actually written down on a Post-it somewhere that I am not allowed to ask her landlord to put more on her door.

The officer locks the door behind us, and I have to stand still and breathe against a deep churning in my gut. This is my home, the thing that’s always mine, and here I am being chased out of it for something I can’t understand yet.

Eddison grabs my bag, because his reaction to female distress is gentlemanly awkwardness. The ratio of gentleman to awkward varies depending on the person provoking the response. He even holds the car door open for me, so I do the only sensible thing.

I smack the back of his head, the blow cushioned by the dark curls starting to get a little too fluffy and shaggy. “?Basta!”

“?Mantén la calma!” he retorts, and leaves me to close the door myself.

Poor Eddison. With the exception of Vic, he’s doomed to spend his life surrounded by strong, prickly, opinionated women, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve never really been sure what he did to deserve such glorious distress.


Sandra and Daniel Wilkins live on the north side of Manassas in a solidly middle-class neighborhood, maybe a little past its prime and starting to get run down. Every house was built from one of three blueprints, with different paint jobs in the same palette to give a sense of variety, but everything sags a little and most of the cars are older models, many with mismatched panels replaced because of accidents or rust. The ambulance we pass is on its way out, lights and sirens off, and the medical examiner’s van in one of the driveways is a good hint as to why there’s no particular sense of urgency. Two patrol cars and an unmarked sedan that probably belongs to Detective Mignone flank the driveway.

There are a few neighbors out on their driveways, watching the illuminated house, but mostly the neighborhood is still asleep. Eddison parks halfway down the street to make sure we aren’t in the way of the cars or van, or blocking any of the residents in. I move my holster from my purse to my belt, slip my credentials into my back pocket, and finally shift my work cell from my bra to my pocket, because I forgot to do it while changing.

“Finished primping?” Eddison asks.

“I do like to look my best,” I retort.

He grins and opens his door, and we walk up to the house. When we present our credentials to the uniform at the door, he marks the time off on his clipboard. “There’s a box of booties outside the main bedroom,” he advises. “Careful where you step.”

That’s encouraging.

There’s no blood obvious on the white painted steps to the second story, or on the tan carpet down the hallway. “Detective Mignone?” Eddison calls out. “Agents Eddison and Ramirez; Holmes sent us over.”

“Bootie up and come on in,” answers a male voice from inside the bedroom. There’s a low murmur of other voices.

We bend down to pull the thin paper booties on over our shoes. It isn’t just to protect our shoes, but also to minimize impact on the evidence, to avoid things like dragging blood or putting fresh shoe prints on the surfaces. I pull on a second pair over the first, and after a moment’s thought, so does Eddison.

Dot Hutchison's Books