Page 4 of Killer Secrets

“Chief.” Lois Gideon, the first female officer in Cedar Creek, removed her cap, dragged her fingers through her wet gray hair, then set it back. She wasn’t a detective and had no desire to be, but she still pretty much controlled the crime scenes. She was good at it.

“The victim is Evan Carlyle, owner of the house. He’s forty-eight, works for a pipeline company in Tulsa, lives here with his wife and two kids. They’re out of the country on vacation. Little Bear’s out back making a list with locating them at the top.” She quirked one eyebrow; Ben Little Bear was a compulsive list maker. People teased him about it, but while things might slip his mind, they never slipped his list.

“The body’s out back by the pool,” Lois continued. “No sign of a break-in, alarms on the house and the fence, security guard says no one’s been in besides those folks—” she gestured toward the lawn service “—and a plumber making a call at a house over there.”

“Who found Mr. Carlyle?”

“The woman.” Lois checked her notes. “Milagro Ramirez. The 911 call came from the older guy, Ruben Carrasco.”

Sam’s gaze went to Milagro again. She remained in the same position, as if the clunky boots she wore were the most intriguing thing in her world at the moment…or, at least, the safest thing. How long would it be before she could close her eyes without picturing Evan Carlyle’s lifeless body? How many nightmares would she have, and would there be someone to help her through them?

Not technically his worry, but the Cedar Creek Police Department had a reputation for going above and beyond. To protect and serve, their vehicles said, and he believed strongly in doing both.

“Let’s see the body.”

Lois crossed the fresh-cut grass to the driveway, then took a stone path that led around the side of the house. The gate there stood open, offering a glimpse of a flower garden that would make Sam’s father proud. Given that Samuel Douglas had spent the last thirty years running his own nursery, that was saying something. Of course, a man who could afford a ten-thousand-square-foot house for his family of four could also afford to pay someone to create garden magic for him.

Two more of his officers waited in the backyard, along with paramedics, a couple of firemen, the department’s senior evidence technician and, at a patio table as far from the scene as he could get, Ben, on his computer. He was the only one doing anything. The victim was beyond help, and the tech knew Sam would want to look over the scene before she started collecting evidence. Though none of them was within ten feet of the body, they all retreated a few steps when he approached.

Sam had seen enough death for twenty people. Sometimes it had been sweet, welcomed, a last breath before peacefully slipping away. That was the way his granddaddy had died, with Sam holding one hand and his cousin Mike holding the other. Sometimes it came as a surprise, just an instant to think It isn’t supposed to happen this way before it was over. Some people didn’t even get that much—just poof! Gone, like a light snuffed out.

Evan Carlyle had had more than enough time to understand that he was going to die. He’d seen it. Felt it. Feared it.

Sam looked a long time, his focus tight, not hearing anything but the buzz of insects, the distant wail of a siren and a muffled dispatch issuing from a radio. Nausea rose inside him, the way it always did, but he forced it down again, the way he always did, and walked away before taking a deep breath. As soon as he cleared that ten-foot mark, the evidence tech moved forward to continue with her tasks.

Sam detoured to the table where his detective worked, sunlight glaring on him. “You need any help, Ben?”

“Not yet. Unless you want to interview the yard service people.”

Ben was damn good in the interview situation when it was suspects across the table from him. He was tough, driven, could intimidate the worst of the bad guys and often did without so much as rising from his chair. But when it came to witnesses, the victims, the friends and families, he had trouble finding his stride. “Lois and I will take care of it.”

Without looking up from his computer—where the screen showed another list in the making—Ben grunted, and Sam headed back to the gate.