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Vanished

By:Kendra Elliot

Vanished - Kendra Elliot


1

Mason Callahan hadn’t seen Josie in three months. The leanness of her face and the indentations above her collarbones told him she’d lost weight. In a bad way. Time hadn’t been kind to her, and the scabbed sores on her cheeks hinted that meth was probably the new love of her life. There’d been a time when he’d fought a bit of an attraction to the woman. She’d been sweet and eager to please, a pretty woman in a wholesome-country-song sort of way. She and Mason shared a rural background and a similar taste in music that’d made her more enjoyable than his other confidential informants.

But now she’d never work with him again. His fingers tightened on the brim of the cowboy hat in his hand, and he swallowed hard at the sight of her contorted body on the floor of the bathroom in her cramped apartment. Anger abruptly blurred his vision. Someone had taken a baseball bat to her skull. The murder weapon was dumped in the shower, blood and hair sticking to the bat.

“Holy mother of God,” muttered his partner, Ray Lusco. The two detectives had spent several years responding to brutal crimes as part of the Oregon State Police’s Major Crimes Unit. But this was the first time they’d both known the victim. Josie’s murder wouldn’t be their case. Their sergeant had assigned it to another pair of detectives, knowing that Mason had worked with Josie several times for information during a prostitute murder case.

Detectives Duff Morales and Steve Hunsinger were the team chosen to find justice for Josie.

Mason would look over their shoulders and ride their asses the entire time.

“You got your look. Now get out of my crime scene,” Morales said from the hallway.

Mason glanced back at the man but didn’t move. He and Ray were still studying the scene. Josie had broken fingers. She’d tried to protect herself against the bat, perhaps even tried to grab the bat from her attacker. Once she was on the bathroom floor, the attacker had continued to beat her. Arcs of blood trailed up the walls to the ceiling, where the weapon had flung blood as it whipped up for another swing at her head.

“What are the bits of broken green metal by her head?” Lusco asked.

“Earrings. Christmas balls,” answered Morales.

Mason silently swore. Did Josie’s family expect her for Christmas next week? Did she have family? He’d seen the decorated plastic tree in her living room. A few presents were stashed below, waiting for eager hands to rip them open.

Mason closed his eyes, remembering the last time he’d met Josie at the Starbucks four blocks away. She’d ordered the biggest, most sugary Frappuccino on the menu and talked a mile a minute. Had she already been using meth? He’d assumed she’d been overcaffeinated and lonely. Even prostitutes get lonely for conversation. They’d been an odd pair. The perky prostitute and the cowboy detective. He’d followed her back to her tiny apartment because she had some twenties from a john who was part of a recent big drug bust. Mason wanted to tell her the bills probably wouldn’t have prints or aid the investigation, but he went along because she wanted to help and seemed to need some company.

Being in her home had been a bit awkward. He’d been hyperaware of the intimacy of simply standing in her feminine space. She’d offered him a soda, which he’d declined, but he’d accepted her suggestion that he grab a bottled water from the fridge for the road. Her fridge held water, soda, and milk. Nothing else. What did she eat? He should have known then that she was using drugs instead of calories to function. He’d exchanged her bills for some out of his own pocket and offered her sixty dollars extra. She’d politely turned it down, but he’d tucked the money under the saltshaker on her kitchen counter, and she’d pretended not to notice.

Mason had seen enough of Josie’s blood. He turned and pushed past Lusco and the other pair of detectives, avoiding eye contact. He strode into her tiny kitchen. The kitchen was a nasty-smelling pit of dirty dishes and takeout containers. On his previous visit it’d been immaculate.

The saltshaker was still there—part of a set of silver cats—but the money was gone. He scanned the sad room. It wasn’t even a room, more like a large closet with a sink and small microwave. He wanted to open the fridge to see if she’d finally added food, but he knew he couldn’t touch anything until the crime scene unit had processed the apartment. The kitchen showed cracks in the counters from age and heavy use. Sort of how Josie had always looked. Her cracks had shown in the stress lines around her eyes and mouth. Lines that shouldn’t have been present on a woman younger than thirty.

Who slipped through your cracks, Josie?

She’d told Mason she never brought johns back to her apartment. She’d kept a careful line between her work and where she lived. Had she broken her own rule? Or had someone followed her?

“Just another dead hooker,” said a voice behind Mason.

He whirled around to find an unfamiliar Portland police officer studying him with sharp eyes.

“Show a little respect,” snapped Mason.

The officer smirked, and Mason wanted to use the bloody bat on his head.

“She’s been picked up three times in the last month. Twice for public intoxication and once for a catfight with some other hookers. I have a hard time feeling sorry for her,” the officer stated.

Mason was taken aback. That didn’t sound like the Josie he knew. Why hadn’t she reached out to him if she was having problems? He’d smoothed her way out of small jams before. Had she gotten into something she didn’t want him to know about?

“Let’s get out of here,” said Ray. Mason’s partner had silently moved to the doorway of the closet-sized kitchen and had probably witnessed the anger on Mason’s face.

Mason shoved his hat on his head and moved past the uniform. The officer barely turned to give him room to get by.

“Nice hat,” the officer muttered at Mason’s retreating back.

Mason ignored him. He didn’t mind the occasional jabs about his hat. Or his cowboy boots. He was comfortable with his clothes. Cowboy hats were rare on the west side of the Cascade Mountain range, but when he headed back to his hometown of Pendleton on the east side of the state, they popped up everywhere.

Right now he was upset that he hadn’t checked up on Josie. Usually he heard from her about once a month with information she wanted to sell. He hadn’t heard a peep from her in three months, and she hadn’t crossed his mind.

Guilt.

He followed Ray out the apartment door and down the dark stairwell. They avoided the elevator in the old apartment building. The stairwells might stink of piss, but it beat getting trapped for a few hours in an old creaking elevator. It’d happened twice to other detectives in other buildings. Mason didn’t care to share the experience.

He pushed through the outer door into the bright sunshine and sucked in a breath of icy air. It was one of those rare clear winter weeks in the Pacific Northwest when residents dug out their sunglasses and pretended not to need heavy coats. Mason’s skin soaked in the sun that’d been hiding behind dark-gray rain clouds for months. He’d nearly forgotten that the sky could be such an intense blue.

A few groups of people clustered on the sidewalk, squinting in the sun and speculating as they studied the four double-parked police cars. The Portland neighborhood was made up of dozens of short apartment buildings and old houses on narrow streets. It was a neighborhood known for its population of college kids and transient adults. No one ever stayed very long. Ray glanced at his watch. “Almost noon. Want to grab a bite?”

Mason muttered that he wasn’t hungry as he pulled out his silenced cell phone. He had five missed calls from his ex-wife.

Shit. Jake.

His heart sped up, and he returned the calls with abruptly icy fingers. “Something’s up with Jake,” he said to Ray. “Robin has called five times in the last half hour.”

“Is he home from college for winter break?” Ray asked.

“Robin picked him up from the airport two days ago. I haven’t heard a word from the kid except a reply to my text asking if he’d landed safely.” His son lived with his ex-wife, her new husband, and their joint young daughters. Mason had planned to reach out to his son this weekend to see if he wanted to go to the next Trail Blazers basketball game.

Just as he expected Robin’s cell phone to go to voice mail, she finally answered. “Mason?” she asked.

Almost ten years had passed since their divorce, but he knew from the tone of her voice that she was terrified.

“What happened? Is Jake okay?” he barked into the phone.

“Jake’s fine.” Robin’s voice cracked. “It’s Henley. She’s missing.” She burst into sobs.

Mason’s mind went blank. Henley? Who—

“Lucas is a mess,” Robin wept.

Aha. Henley was Robin’s stepdaughter. Mason couldn’t remember the girl’s age. Early teens? Jake rarely mentioned her, and Mason had met the girl only once or twice. She lived with her mother most of the time.

“When was she seen last? Did you call the police? How long’s she been missing?” Mason rapid-fired the questions at his ex.

“Of course we called the police. Clackamas County Sheriff. She’s been missing since this morning. She left for school, but they say she never made it.” Robin’s voice was steadier.

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