Terry Howard watched his old friend, Michael, walk away with Officer Sanders. Shaking his head, he turned back to the house. He’d always wondered when Michael would get busted for beating his wife or daughter. It was one of the reasons they’d stopped being friends. Terry didn’t have the tolerance for a man who took his job out on his family. Michael’s wife, Darlene, would never turn him in for the abuse. She was too afraid of him. But now, depending on what Jenna looked like when they found her, Michael may have crossed the line that would put an end to his career and put him in jail.
As a cop, Michael knew how far he could go before he’d get busted. He never hit Darlene in the face. It was always her back or ribs that took the beating. The same with Jenna, especially after she turned into an Amazon. It pissed Michael off to no end that his little girl had not turned out to be the fragile princess that he’d wanted. Terry always thought that was a good thing. He’d worried that Michael might have become sexually abusive if Jenna had turned out to be a Miss America type. Not that Jenna wasn’t a pretty girl, she was. She looked too much like her mother with her long blonde hair and cobalt blue eyes to not be pretty, but she was built like her father, big boned and tall.
Terry wasn’t surprised to find out Jenna was gay. He’d suspected it for a long time, but Jenna was always with guys when she wasn’t with Cara. There was a time that both girls had boyfriends, but Jenna had not been allowed to go out unless it was with a large group. Even then, Terry couldn’t remember too many times that Jenna had done that. That was a few years ago, before Michael and he had stopped being friends.
Michael and he had their falling out over a case around that time. Jenna had just turned sixteen. Terry remembered that because the case they’d been working on was a missing girl around Jenna’s age. She had been blonde too, but that was where the differences ended. That girl, Callie Keller had a rough life. Both parents were drug addicts. She’d been living with an aunt, but the aunt couldn’t handle her, so she was put in foster care. She’d run away two or three times. When she turned up missing the last time, few people believed that she hadn’t runaway, including Michael. Terry felt in his gut that that wasn’t the case. Something told him that girl had met with a bad end, but there was nothing to prove it.
After a few months of working the case, Michael was done with it, but Terry couldn’t let it go. Callie had been busted for possession a couple of times, once by Michael and him. She never got caught with enough to get her more than a few months in juvie. Callie didn’t have anyone to help her. She’d get out of the juvenile detention center, get sent to another foster home, run away, and start all over.
When Callie went missing the last time, the foster parents told Terry that Callie had straightened up. They were sure she’d quit using. Michael said it was just Callie blowing smoke up their asses. He was convinced that Callie had hooked up with a pimp that had moved her to another town. Terry wasn’t buying it.
Michael had been furious that Terry kept going over the case files. They’d gotten into some very heated arguments over it. Michael kept telling him to drop it, and then Callie’s body was found outside Mammoth Cave in central Kentucky. It reminded Terry too much of the case of T’Shenia O’Neal. T’Shenia was a pretty black girl, but like Callie, she’d had a rough life. One night she was partying with some friends and then she was gone. Her friends assumed she’d gone someplace to smoke the crack she’d scored. Her body turned up a year later in a field close to the Elk and Bison Prairie in the Land Between the Lakes National Recreational Area in western Kentucky. Both girls had tattoos on their lower backs that were symbols of a human trafficking ring that was supposed to be operating out of Cincinnati, Ohio. It was a huge shock for the people in the small city of Evansville, Indiana to find that two of their young women had been forced into sexual servitude.
After their falling out, Michael had taken a job with the Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Department. The two of them had barely spoken since. Terry saw Darlene, who worked as an emergency room nurse at Deaconess Hospital, often. He’d always been very fond of her. Too fond, to be truthful, but Terry prided himself in being a man with principals, one of those being you don’t hit on your friend’s wife.
Darlene was going to flip out when she finds out that Jenna is gone. The last time he talked to Darlene was a few weeks ago when he was waiting for a prisoner to get stitched up after a jail fight. She told him that she was thinking about leaving Michael after Jenna left for college. She had even started looking into jobs in Florida. Darlene knew she would have to leave the area if she split with Michael. He would never leave her alone if she left him. Terry would not even be surprised if Michael tried to kill her, he was that crazy.
* * *
Detective Howard went back into the house where Cara and Caroline were waiting for him. He took a new pair of booties that the female officer at the bottom of the stairs offered him and replaced the ones he’d had on when he walked outside. Putting the shoe covers over his shoes, he said to Cara, “Now, I want you to take me step by step, blow by blow, through what happened.” To both, he said, “Stay away from the cones marking the blood.” He turned to the officer. “We’ll be careful. I need to see things the way Miss Marshall saw them when she entered the house.”
Cara walked ahead of Detective Howard and her mother. “I ran up the stairs and into Jenna’s room.” Detective Howard and Caroline followed Cara up the stairs. “She texted me right as I got here and told me not to come over, but I was already here. I came into the room and she was standing right here next to her bed.” Cara stood in the exact spot Jenna had been standing. “I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her the way I always do. And then, her father came in the room. He glared at us, grabbed me by the arm, and flung me over there.” She pointed to the bookshelf where several books had fallen when she landed against it. “He backhanded Jenna so hard that she fell onto the bed. When I stood up, they were on that side of the bed.” She pointed to the space between the bed and wall where there were splatters of blood on the wall. “He was hitting her in the face with his fist. I ran over and started hitting him on the back with my fists as hard as I could.” She showed Detective Howard her small fists.
Detective Howard pulled a latex glove out of his front pocket and put it on. He gently took hold of one of Cara’s hands and looked at the bruises on the side of her hand. “Then what?”
“He turned and backhanded me, sending me flying across the room and into the door,” Cara said, pointing at the open bedroom door.
The indentations of where Cara had landed against the door were visible from where Detective Howard stood. “And Jenna was screaming at you, telling you to run?”
“Yes, so I did. I knew I couldn’t stop him, so I called 911, and ran home to get Mom,” Cara said. She turned and looked at the blood on the wall. “He was hitting her so hard. I know he killed her.”