“We know Greeley was also killed just minutes before he was found,” Ben said. “Maybe the killer doesn’t know that Mrs. Ajmera found the body. We all heard the call came from the yard service and assumed it was Mila. He may have seen her there and made the same assumption. Depending on whether the guy’s crazy or just mean, her showing up at the same place after the second murder could be some kind of omen to him.”
Sam lowered the tailgate on his truck, though it would be hot, and braced his butt against it. “Okay, you guys interview Mila again…after we find Poppy. If we find…” He couldn’t finish.
His nerves tingled down his spine, and he turned to look up. Mila was sitting on a window ledge in Jessica’s apartment, forlorn and sad. She looked so vulnerable. He wondered if that was how Jessica had found her after her daughter’s and son-in-law’s deaths: a quiet, sad little girl so lost she might never be found again.
He raised one hand, and she did, too, pressing her good hand to the window glass. It hurt his heart.
Behind him a horn blasted once, twice. Irritated, he turned to see a Mustang convertible stopped at the intersection. The two girls inside were standing up, gesturing and shouting at a car across the street.
Sam’s gaze never made it to the other car. Its dark color registered, its open passenger door, but the energetic ball of fur making a beeline for the intersection grabbed all of his attention. “Poppy!” He shoved away from the truck, running into the street without even thinking to make sure there was no traffic.
On hearing his voice, Poppy paused for a moment, then spun in his direction, her long legs and big feet eating up the distance. When a car on Main started to drive through the intersection, the driver of the Mustang blasted the horn again, and she and her friend wildly and loudly signaled the driver to stop.
Sam knew Ben and Daniel were behind him, knew they would both have their badges out to deal with the drivers. All he was focused on was the dog, loping along, tongue hanging out, as if she couldn’t be happier to see him. He knelt, and she threw herself against him, licking his face and chin all over, then pressing her face to his throat and giving a quiet little whimper. “Oh, puppy, I’m so very glad you’re okay,” he whispered.
“Poppy?” That shout came from a block back. Sam grabbed Poppy’s chain before she could dart off again and trotted to the sidewalk with her, then let her drag him down the street to Mila. She sank to the sidewalk, and the dog climbed into her lap, curling as tightly as she could and still give kisses, too.
Mila was crying, and Poppy was licking up every tear. She vibrated—tired, thirsty, hungry, hot, afraid she would never see Mila or Gramma again? Mila’s good arm was wrapped tightly around the dog, and her splinted arm rested gently on Poppy’s hip.
Sam slid down beside them, his arms around both of them. Poppy leaned over to lick him once more before sinking with a sigh into their embrace.
Ben came to stand in front of them. “The girls said a car turned west on First from Main, drove a half block, pulled over and the driver opened the passenger door. Poppy jumped out, and the driver took off. They were yelling at the guy that you can’t just put a dog out of the car and leave. Now they’re elated he did.”
So was Sam. Like his heart might finally start beating regularly again. He glanced at the Mustang, parked around the corner now, its occupants still talking to Daniel. “What are they—”
“I think they’re asking Daniel out.”
Sam shook his head. “Women hit you up like that when you were a young detective?”
“Nope. By the way, I’m your age. When did we become old?”
Sam looked at the females he held. “I think for me it was when I got Daniel’s call this morning.”
Ben grinned as if the thought was vastly amusing. “We’ve got a description of the car and direction of travel out for the guy. We’ll see if we can pull up video off anyone’s surveillance cameras and make sure everything’s good at the house.”
A moment or two passed, his heart rate finally settling, some of the tension that had knotted his muscles easing, before Mila finally raised her face from Poppy’s fur. “Thank you.” It sounded like the whisper was the very best she could manage after the day she’d had, but the tearful smile that accompanied it made the sweetest thank-you he’d ever had.