In The Victim's Shadow

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Chapter 21

Katherine smiled and, keeping her eyes closed, stretched out her hand. When she felt the cold bed, she sat bolt upright. The sheet fell away, revealing her naked body. She saw the indentation on the pillow next to her. She grinned. “I guess it wasn’t a dream.”

She slipped from under the covers and pulled her robe around her. She padded down the hallway, calling, “John?”

She entered the kitchen and smelled the coffee, but when she crossed to the pot, she found it empty and clean. She wrinkled her forehead and looked around. Where was John? Then her eyes fell on a note sitting beside the pot. Look in the oven. She opened the oven, which John had left on warm, and moaned. “Bacon and eggs,” she said. But there was only one plate. Puzzled, she took out the plate and carried it to the table. There was an empty coffee cup and a coffee carafe sitting beside it. She picked it up, noting it was full. Well, that solved the mystery of the empty coffee pot. She poured some coffee into the cup, savoring the rich smell and bold taste of it.

She looked down beside her place mat. In the refrigerator, another note read. She went to the refrigerator and saw a tray sitting there. On the tray were margarine, jam, and a glass of orange juice. She carried the tray to the table and took her place.

She had taken two bites when the phone rang. She picked it up and said, “Hello.”

“Good morning, beautiful.”

A grin spread across her face. “John.” Just the sound of his name sounded different after last night. “Where are you?”

“Home.”

“Why?”

“Silly,” he said, “it’s a work day, and I needed to get work clothes.”

“Why didn’t you wake me?”

“And ruin such a beautiful sight?”

She blushed. “John.”

“How’s your breakfast?”

“Lonely.”

“Sorry about that. Other than that, how is it?”

“Delicious—and filled with calories.”

“You can afford them.”

She chuckled. “This coming from a man. I’ll bet the minute I put on five pounds you’re head’s going to swivel to someone else.”

He laughed. “Never, I’ve waited a long time for this, and you could gain fifty pounds, and I’d never look anywhere else but at you.”

She giggled. “I simply don’t know how I’m going to look you seriously in the face today.”

“You’ll manage.”

“If you say so,” she said.

“I can’t wait to see you again.”

She laughed again. “You just saw me.”

“True, but you were sleeping. I want to see you with your eyes open so that I can kiss you.”

“I’d better go now,” she said. “I need an extra half hour on the treadmill this morning to work off all these calories.”

“No, you don’t,” he teased. “You worked them off last night.”

She blushed and choked on a bite of toast.

John laughed. “See you,” he said and hung up.

Katherine ate a few more bites, took a long drink of orange juice, and carried her dishes to the sink. She rinsed her dishes and set them inside the dishwasher. She was halfway to the bedroom when the phone rang again.

She smiled as she picked it up. “What now,” she said, but no one answered. “John?” she called. Again, no one answered. “John?” she said, her heartbeat quickening. She was about to call his name again when the line clicked, and she heard a dial tone. She shivered, looking around—as if the call had come from inside the apartment. She shook her head—probably a wrong number.

She heard rustling in the den and let out a cry. Rainbow dashed out of the room and stood before her. She bent down and picked her up. “Rainbow, you scared Mommy.” The cat purred. Katherine set her down.

Eyeing the treadmill, she groaned. “I think I’ll skip it this morning,” she said to the cat. The cat gave an approving meow and wrapped her body around her ankles as if to indicate that meant she had more time to pet her. Katherine bent to pick her up. When she did, she saw something lying just slightly under the bed. “What’s this?”

She turned it over in her hands. “Metal of some sort.” She shrugged and set it on the bedside table. Maybe one of the maintenance men left it the last time they were there. She would shoot off an email to administration and let them know. She walked into the bathroom and turned on the shower. Ten minutes later, she was fully dressed and ready to start her day.

She poured food in Rainbow’s dish, picked up her purse, headed for the door. The cat meowed in protest. “Sorry, girl, Mommy has to go to work.”

She was anxious to get into the office and start on Beth’s case. There was also the young woman Beth had befriended. She had a good feeling about that one. If only Beth’s case was going to be that easy. Of course, it could be if only Jack would step forward.

The elevator doors opened, and she could see Tony standing at the ready by the front door. He greeted her with a cheery hello. “A bit nippy this morning, Ms. Winters,” he said, opening the door for her. “You want me to bring your car around for you?”

“Thanks for the warning, but a little cold isn’t going to hurt me. It gets my heart pumping.” She patted his arm as she walked through the door. “Have a great day,” she said.

“That’s what I like about you, Ms. Winters. You always look at the positive,” he said. “You have a good day, too.”

Katherine pulled her light jacket close. Hard to believe it’s summer, she thought.

The street was surprisingly empty for this time of day. She gave it only a cursory thought and a quick glance before she moved on. She saw an old woman bickering with the grocer over a pile of apples, a store owner sweeping in front of his store, two men enjoying a cup of coffee in front of a café, and a young man wearing headphones, standing on the corner looking directly at her.

She looked at him, and they locked eyes. Neither of them looked away for a moment, and then Katherine raised her hand and waved. The young man gave her a polite nod and moved on. So did Katherine.

She pulled into her assigned parking spot in the parking garage and threw the car into gear. She grabbed her briefcase, exited the car, and looked around, her heart skipping a beat. What was she looking for? She half expected to see the young man, but, of course, she had left him four miles back. It was clear no one was around, so she pressed the button to lock the door and moved toward the elevator that would take her to her office. Her heels made a loud clicking noise, which, for some reason, made her more nervous. She shifted her weight to the balls of her feet, relieving herself of the noise. Why had the young man’s appearance put her so much on edge? Perhaps it had been the intensity of his stare.

Inside her office, Beth was in her usual spot—guarding her office. This sight of normalcy somehow eased her tension. “Morning, Beth.”

Beth didn’t look Katherine in the eye. “Morning, Katherine.” She swiveled around, pretending to look in her file cabinet for something.

Katherine stopped to look at her. Was Beth avoiding eye contact? “Everything okay?”

“Just fine,” Beth said, still not looking her in the eye.

Katherine took half a step then hesitated. “You sure? You seem a little distant over there.” She moved toward her, touched her lightly on the shoulder. Beth jumped. “Look at me, Beth.”

Beth looked up. Her eyes, usually bright, clouded with tears and were red and swollen. “What’s wrong?”

Beth shook her head, shrugged off Katherine’s hand, and continued her perusing. “Just let it go. Okay?”

Katherine shook her head and jerked it toward her office. “Not okay. Let’s talk.” Beth shook her head and buried her face in her arm. “As a friend,” Katherine said, placing a light finger touch on Beth’s arm.

That gentle touch was all it took to open the floodgates, and Beth began sobbing. “He came to my house last night,” she confessed.

Katherine took Beth by the arm and guided her toward her office. She sat her down in one of the conference chairs, handing her a box of tissue and a bottle of water. “Talk,” she said.

“He was waiting for me when I got home from the party. He took Timmy from me, and I thought how easy it was…him taking his son from my arms, rescuing me—my knight in shining armor—and all the foolish fairy-tale stuff.” She looked Katherine in the eye. “Despite what people think, I don’t have it together as much as I appear. It’s hard being a single mother. Just the act of lifting him from my arms eased some of that burden, so I let him carry him to the house and put him in his bed. I didn’t even realize until later that it was the first time he ever held his son.”

She stopped to blow her nose before continuing. She fidgeted with the tissue, trying to decide if she wanted to confide it all in Katherine. She looked at her friend—not her boss at that moment, not her lawyer, but her friend—sitting there, patiently waiting with open ears and an open heart.

“What am I supposed to do, Katherine? I love him. I can’t help it, but I do. Every day I wake up and think of him. Every time I look at my son, I wish he were there to do all the things dads do with their little boys. Every night when I go to bed, I feel the emptiness beside me. I can’t feel it with any other man, because whenever I think of going out with someone, I think of Jack.”

Katherine looked at her with a sad smile, nodding ever so slightly. A week ago, a few days ago even, she might have told her friend to let him go. She might have lectured her on the dangers of having him in her life…but after the union of her heart and body with John last night, she understood. She wrapped her arms around her friend. Beth laid her head on Katherine’s shoulder. Katherine said, “You love whom you love.”

Beth, not expecting this answer from Katherine, looked up sharply. “You understand?” she said.

Katherine nodded and then took on the stature of the lawyer. “So then, let’s see what miracle we can pull to get you both out of this jam you’re in.”

She stood and walked to her desk. “How can we get in touch with Jack?”

Beth shook her head. “I don’t know. He finds me.”

“What about his email? You could send him a message, couldn’t you?”

“I could, assuming he has access to a computer. But I don’t think that will be necessary.” Katherine looked up at her, urging her to continue. “I gave him an ultimatum. It will prove whether we belong together.”

“And,” Katherine prompted.

“He knows he has to turn himself in if he wants Timmy and me in his life.” She shrugged with more nonchalance than she felt. She sat up straight and took in a deep breath. “So, he chooses, and we see what happens.”

“I may not be able to keep him out of jail,” Katherine said, “but I can probably help with a lighter sentence.”

“He knows that. That’s why the decision is so hard for him.”

Katherine raised her eyebrows and turned away from her.

“What?” Beth asked, grabbing her arm and turning her back to face her. “Why do you have that look on your face?”

Katherine shrugged. “It just seems it wouldn’t be that hard a decision.” Beth’s face grew hard while Katherine’s softened. “Look, Beth. I’m just saying he got you into trouble with this exact thing before, and now he’s gone and done it again. It’s as if he hasn’t learned from his errors.”

“He doesn’t belong in jail again,” Beth spat.

“Maybe not, but the law is the law and—” she stopped, catching her words to do the least amount of damage. “Well, if he loves you, he’ll come forward and stand up for his mistake.”

“He’ll come,” Beth said, with more confidence than she felt.

There was a rapping on the door and John stepped in, carrying two cups of coffee. “Good morning, beautiful,” he said, grinning. He caught sight of Beth and blushed. Katherine smiled. “Morning, John.”

Beth looked at Katherine, saw the new glow there, then at John, who still blushed. “Wait—you two? No way! When did this happen?”

Katherine grinned. “We’ve been working toward it, but last night we sealed the deal, so to speak.”

Beth shot her a puzzled glance. “What about the guy who’s been sending flowers—you know the one from the party last night—the one I’d like to stand in front of a firing squad.” She narrowed her eyes as her face took on the appearance of an angry lion. “The one who took my son—and I don’t care what anyone says about that. I know he took him. Timmy’s never wandered away before.”

Katherine grimaced. “The guy’s creepy. I should never have let him come last night.”

“Why did you?” Beth said sharply.

Katherine flinched. “I invited him before all the creepy stuff started happening.”

“Doesn’t he live in your apartment building?”

Katherine nodded, chewed her lip thoughtfully. “Our tenancy bylaws are pretty strict. I’m wondering how he got past a security check.”

“He might look good on paper,” John said. “That doesn’t mean he would pass the personality check. Unfortunately, you can’t exactly interview each and every tenant.”

Beth grinned.

“What?” Katherine asked.

“I can’t get past the two of you. It’s so outlandish to think of you as a couple.”

“Why?” John asked. “We’ve been best friends since law school. It only seems natural we should move to the next step.”

Beth shook her head. “But you’re John—and Katherine—separately. It’s going to be so weird thinking of you two as a couple. You know—John and Katherine, versus John, and Katherine.”

For emphasis, John came to stand beside Katherine and put his hand on her shoulder. “I think it sounds wonderful.”

Katherine beamed up at him. “Be happy for us, Beth.”

“Oh, I am happy for you.” She made a smirking face. “It’s just going to take so much getting used to.”

“Now, about that other issue,” Katherine said, sobering the conversation.

“I’ll just head on out,” John said. He turned to Beth. “I got you a double shot espresso. I left it on your desk. You want me to bring it to you?”

Beth rose. “I’ll get it. That way you two love birds can say a proper goodbye.”

When she left the room, John pulled Katherine to her feet, crushing her against him. “I missed kissing you goodbye this morning.”

Katherine’s cheeks reddened. She realized it was going to take some getting used to for her as well. “I missed you, too.”

John kissed her and forced himself to pull away from her. “I’m not sure I know how to be a couple.”

“We’ll learn together.” When John turned his body away from her, she touched his arm, pulling him back to face her. “Hey, are you having second thoughts about us?”

“God no,” he said. “I love you, Katherine. I think I always have. I’m just not sure about this whole work thing and being a couple. I’m wondering if I should find another firm.”

“Why!” she protested. “We don’t work for each other. We work with each other. We just make sure we exhibit the utmost appearance of professionalism at work, and we’ll be fine.”

He groaned. “That’s going to be pretty hard considering I want to throw you on that couch over there and make passionate love to you every time I see you.” She laughed, and John’s heart swooned at the beautiful sound. “What if Walker finds out?”

“So, he finds out. There isn’t a policy against colleagues seeing each other. As long as it doesn’t interfere with our cases, he won’t say a word. He can’t, legally.”

“I guess you’re right. Do you want me to have Andrew check out this Chad guy?” he said, changing the subject.

She shook her head. “Let me ask Daddy about it.”

“Did I hear my name?”

She smiled as she turned toward the door. “Daddy!” she cried “I didn’t know you were coming by today.”

“I’m on your calendar.”

She looked down at her calendar. There it was, circled in red. “The ballet recital. I completely forgot.” She smacked her forehead. “How could I have forgotten about that?”

“How indeed, Kitten. It’s Emily’s last performance before Madame` Chez steals her away from us.”

“Daddy,” Katherine scolded. “You aren’t still sore about that, are you?”

He laughed. “No. I’m not sore,” he protested. “I’m happy for her. But if we don’t hurry, we’re going to miss her send-off.”

Katherine retrieved her coat from the coat rack. She turned to John. “I’m sorry. I guess I forgot about this. Can we continue the conversation later?”

“Of course.”

John stood awkwardly, uncertain if he should kiss her in front of her father, or wait until she had a chance to talk to him about their new status. She solved the dilemma for him when she reached up on tiptoe and kissed him. She whispered in his ear, “I’ll see you tonight for dinner. My place?”

He nodded and followed them out the door.

Beth watched Katherine walk past her desk. “Where are you going?”

“Ballet recital,” Katherine said. “Apparently it’s on my calendar. I guess my assistant forgot, too.”

“I’m sorry. I guess I’ve been a bit distracted lately,” Beth said.

Katherine laughed. “It’s okay. I left a stack of files on my desk. Would you mind putting them away for me?”

Beth jumped to her feet. “I’ll take care of it right away.”

When they were in the car, and Peter was backing out of his parking spot, he said, “Okay, out with it.”

“Out with what?”

“You and John. I have eyes, so I can see for myself you’ve moved past the best friend stage.”

“Isn’t that what you wanted?”

He glanced over at her. “Is this what you want? That seems the better question.”

She hesitated. “I think so. It feels somewhat awkward. I don’t know if that’s hesitation or just unfamiliar territory.”

“He’s a good man, Katherine.” Peter rarely used Katherine’s given name. He had called her Kitten since birth, saving the use of her formal name for business matters, or for times when he was very serious about something, as he was now. “It will change everything for you.”

“I know that. It already has. Beth looked at us as if we dropped in from another planet. Honestly, it felt that way, too.”

“Second thoughts?”

“No.”

“And you aren’t just doing it to please me?”

She frowned at him. “I love you Daddy, but I wouldn’t marry someone just to please you,” she said. “I’m pretty sure I’ve proven that already. I’ve been wondering if this is why I’ve stayed single. I think I’ve been looking for John the entire time, only I was too stubborn to see it.”

“We seldom see what’s in front of us.”

“You do, Daddy. You knew you loved Mother from the beginning.”

Peter chuckled. “That’s fairy tale stuff. Your mother and I grew up together, and boy did we argue a lot in high school, but I loved her, even back then. Times were different then, not to mention we didn’t have the distractions of the city, as you do here.”

Peter pulled the car into the parking lot of the studio and threw it into gear. Then he shifted his body to look at his daughter. He remembered when he and Amber had first fallen in love. They had been much younger than Katherine was now, but for a moment, he saw his only true love sitting in his daughter’s place. He shook off the image. “Are you looking for my blessing?”

“I don’t need it, but yes…I guess I am.”

He cupped his daughter’s face in his strong hands and kissed her lightly on the lips. “I want only your happiness. If John makes you happy, then you have my blessing.”

She smiled and hugged him. “Thank you, Daddy.”

They made their way to the studio. From the corner of her eye, Katherine saw a young man walking across the street. He wrote in a notebook and intermittently looked up at her.

Peter followed her gaze. “What’s wrong?”

Her eyebrows pulled together, and she shook her head. “Nothing, I guess. That kid was outside the apartment building this morning, and now he’s here. He gives me the creeps.”

Peter stared hard, but the kid was already moving along. “Shall I catch up to him?”

“No. It’s probably just a coincidence. Let it go.”

They entered the studio, and the distraction of the preparation for the recital erased all thoughts of the kids. Katherine caught sight of Emily’s mother and waved.

The woman rushed to her side. “Isn’t this so exciting?”

“I hear you worked things out with Madame` Chez. When do you leave for Paris?”

“Next week. I can’t believe it. I’m going to be living in Paris.” She clapped her hands together. “Who would have thought?”

Katherine reached for her hands and held them in hers. “She’s going to be a golden star,” she said, smiling at the exuberant mother. “Be proud of her.” Her gaze became firm. “And don’t let anything stand in her way. She needs to be up on that stage.”

“Oh, I won’t. They’ve already scheduled her first production.”

“Good.”

They found seats and sat waiting for the curtain to open.

“That could have been you,” Peter whispered.

“I know. But then I wouldn’t be sitting here with you.” She picked up his hand and held it. He put his arm around her shoulder as the music started. Katherine sighed with contentment and snuggled down into her father’s shoulder as she watched the stage come alive, forgetting about her intention to speak with him about their mysterious tenant.

After Katherine had left, John wandered back to his office. He opened the door and entered the room. The office was decorated counter suit to Katherine’s office. Where hers was cheery, warm, and inviting—his was dark and masculine, which suited the majority of his clients.

John dealt primarily in corporate business law, and although society had come a long way toward equalitarianism, the male species still dominated the business world. One such client now waited for him. He held out a hand in greeting. “Mr. Quinow, how are you this morning?”

The man took the hand, giving it a firm shake. “I am well, John, and you?”

John indicated his guest should seat himself. Then he followed suit. “I couldn’t be better,” he said. “Thanks for asking. How was the fishing trip with your nephew?”

Barry Quinow beamed. “I had the time of my life.” He sighed. “Only wish my sister and her family hadn’t decided to move away.”

John pulled from his memory. “Montana, right?”

He nodded. “Yes, cowboy territory. Do you want some advice, John?”

John shrugged. “Sure.”

“If you ever have a daughter, don’t let her vacation at a dude ranch.”

He sounded so odd saying dude ranch that John could not help but laugh. The words, though, sobered John. What would he do if he were to have a daughter? Just a few short months ago, he and Katherine had been discussing how inappropriate their lifestyles were for raising a family.

John thought they had been just kidding around, but now he wondered if she had been. Was Katherine serious about wanting a baby? He hadn’t thought about that. He didn’t think he wanted children, but still the idea wormed its way into his head.

Barry waved his hand in front of John. “You okay?”

John waved him off. “Yeah, yeah, sorry about that. My mind just wandered for a moment.”

“So what did you find out?” Barry asked, getting down to business.

He was talking about an investment by his company in providing startup capital for a new nightclub.

“It’s risky. There must be a million night clubs in San Francisco.”

Barry Quinow spread his hands in a begging gesture. “Come on, John. It’s my nephew. The place is going to be classy, with big-name entertainment.” When still John hesitated, he added, “It’s not going to be your run-of-the-mill pick-up joint.”

John thought about Metro and the girl who had tried to pick him up that night. The girl whose number he still needed to pass along to Andrew. “Well, alright—but so that it goes on record that I warned you.”

He held up his hands to stay John’s words. “Just promise you’ll be there on opening night.” John extended his hand—a gentleman’s handshake—to seal the deal. “And bring your lady. You have one, right?”

John thought of Katherine and smiled. “But of course.”

He withdrew his hand and walked to a file cabinet against the wall, retrieving a desk set checkbook. The money would come from the trust of Barry’s deceased wife. Her father had fought the trust, trying to get the money to revert to the family, but it was binding, and no amount of manipulation on her father’s part could undo it. John had control of the trust. Barry’s allotment for living expenses was substantial. Anything beyond normal living expenses required John’s signature.

John handed him the check. “How’s the baby?”

“She’s beautiful.” His face saddened for a moment. “Just like her mother.”

“Have the police made any progress in the investigation?”

Barry shook his head. “They’ve gone nowhere with the case, and it’s eating me alive.”

“Katherine and I have a detective we both use. He’s good. I could put you in touch with him.”

Barry looked thoughtful for a moment and then shook his head. “Maybe I’ll think about it.”

They both stood and shook hands. Barry Quinow was a contractor by trade. He met the love of his life, Amy Whitman, three years ago. They married, much to the protests of her father, and got pregnant right away. She was in her seventh month of pregnancy and had gone into the bank, to sign over some papers for her trust when their whole lives changed in an instant.

Her father had protested the wedding explosively, demanding Barry sign a prenuptial agreement. Amy, outraged, had fought with her father. Barry had no problem signing the papers and said as much. Nevertheless, she refused to budge. After she had become pregnant, her father was even more insistent she protect her holdings. Barry suggested she have an executor of the trust. Amy’s father had no choice but to admit defeat.

While they were in the bank signing the papers, a man entered with a gun, demanding the teller take him to the vault. When a security guard tried to intervene and rushed the gunman, the gun went off. A stray bullet found Amy, lodging in her spine just inches above her swelling womb.

She lay in a coma for six weeks, hooked up to machines that breathed for her before the doctors determined the baby was strong enough to survive outside the womb.

They did a cesarean section and removed the perfect little girl from her mother. They urged Barry to make a decision about continuing life support, but it was too difficult. He turned inside himself, refusing to emerge from his home for four days. Finally, he made his way to the hospital, kissed his wife goodbye, and signed the papers that would take his Amy from him.

The baby, now a strong and healthy eighteen-month-old, ruled her home with grins and giggles. Even her crusty old grandfather had to put aside his feelings, and the two men bonded over the bubbly toddler.

John led him to the door and bid his client, who had become a friend, farewell. “Tell your nephew I said good luck.” He offered his hand.

Barry grasped the hand hard and shook with all his might. “I will, and I expect to see you there.”

John chuckled. “You bet you will. I’ll bring friends, too.”

John went back to his desk and stood beside it. He mused over the circumstances that had led the two men together. The tragedy of the situation had an uncanny similarity to Katherine’s situation with her mother’s death. He wondered if the bubbly Amelia would someday share the grief Katherine felt each year on the anniversary date of her mother’s death. Or would she shiver every time she walked by the bank where her mother said her last words, as Katherine did every time she passed the corner market that became her mother’s death scene. To this day, Katherine had not stepped foot in the place.

He sat down at his desk and opened his computer. He had the file saved in a personal folder, locked with a password. He opened it, stared at it…as if the facts of the case might change.

There she was, five-year-old Katherine Winters shielded from the photographers’ cameras by a well-meaning police officer. Only she hadn’t been able to shield her well enough, and you could see the terror on the child’s face.

John’s face contorted with pain. No matter how many times he looked at this picture, he could not come to terms with the senseless death.

He read the article, as he had at least a thousand times—but nothing had changed. Katherine was still Katherine, both at the age of five in the newspaper photograph, and now today, at thirty-two.

The story told of the life of Amber Winters—about her rise from a common Iowa farm girl to the graceful ballet dancer, whose future was hers for the taking, to the graceful model with the angelic daughter. In subsequent photos of Amber, there had been some of her and Katherine together. John didn’t possess these, though—only the one of the terrified child.

He closed his eyes. As he did, he recalled the story as he had read repeatedly. She and Katherine had just finished an extra-long photo session. They were weary of the day’s activity, but when Katherine had begged for ice cream, Amber couldn’t refuse her. Too exhausted for the ice cream parlor, as Katherine had begged, they had stopped off at the corner market before making their way to their apartment.

Amber was caught up in what Katherine had been talking about and hadn’t even heard the shouting. When she bumped into the man fleeing from the market, their eyes locked—a mere nanosecond before his gun went off.

Stunned, he could only stare, as the beautiful model dropped to the ground and lay bleeding to death. The child’s screams are what spurred him to action, or so witnesses told the story. “It was as if she broke a trance,” one woman said. Another swore the man started crying.

The stories were all so different that it was anyone’s guess as to how it happened. “He nearly tore the braid right out of that poor child’s head,” a teenage girl had reported. “I saw her hair ribbon get caught on his jacket sleeve, and then he was running and pulling the braid along with him. Lucky for the girl that ribbon gave way,” the newspaper quoted the witness.

John sighed and closed the file. If Katherine knew he obsessed over the case, how would she feel? He picked up the phone and dialed the SFPD. “May I speak with Detective Dan Steele?” he asked.

He waited, and when the detective finally came on the line, he said. “Hey, Dan, It’s John.”

Dan sighed. “I know why you’re calling. Three months to the anniversary and you want to know if we have any new leads.”

John smiled. “They get so depressed when it gets this close. I just want to give them some answers.”

Dan sighed, and John heard some papers rustling. There hadn’t been any new leads on the case. Dan knew this without even opening the file, but he did it for his friend, even so.

Dan had taken over the case when the original officer, his father, retired. “Dan,” he had said, his big chest heaving. “This case is dear to my heart.” He had opened the file and pointed to the picture of Katherine crying. “This here child touched my heart with a wound so wide that nothing except catching her mother’s killer can close it.” He had closed the file and handed it over to Dan.

Dan accepted the file and worked the case with fervor, sure he could crack the case, but there just weren’t any new leads. With so many conflicting eyewitness accounts—and it seemed more people had concentrated on the screaming child than on the fleeing killer—that it just went cold. Dan hadn’t had the heart, any more than the original officer had, to turn it over to the cold-case files.

He went through the pretense of rummaging through notes, his hands lingering on the single fingerprint taken from the child’s coloring book the killer had touched while trying to steady her, before finally saying, “Sorry, John, nothing new.” He closed the file and stuck it back in the drawer, locking it to keep it safely by his side.

“Thanks, Dan.” He hung up the phone and sighed. Perhaps next year, he thought.

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