Her stomach heaved.
Mila shifted so she was facing Chief Douglas, so the activity at the house was a blur she couldn’t easily follow. He gave the impression of being a big guy, but she doubted he was taller than six feet or heavier than 190 pounds. It was just this air of confidence about him, not boastful or brash but quiet, like he knew he could hold his own, and it didn’t matter if anyone else knew it.
He wasn’t a guy she would look at and think, Damn, he’s gorgeous, but he was definitely someone she’d look at and think, He’s in charge here. Authority accompanied that quiet confidence, backed up by the badge, the weapon and the Taser.
But he was good-looking, too. Light brown hair slicked down by the hat he’d worn, earnest blue eyes, a straight nose, a square jaw, a mouth that probably delivered impressive smiles…among other things. If he’d only had dimples, Gramma would melt in a pool at his feet. “I’m sixty-five” she liked to remind Mila. “That’s a long way from dead.”
And sometimes that was followed by a reminder. You’re a long way from dead, too, sweet girl. You should be grateful for it every single day.
She was grateful, more some days than others. She knew how fragile life was, how it could be taken on a whim, how the same hand that tickled or soothed or petted could also deliver pain so intense that it stole her tears.
She was very grateful. Mostly.
The chief’s cell phone rang, and with an apologetic gesture, he answered it. She narrowed her focus to him. If her attention didn’t wander outside this vehicle, it couldn’t go where she didn’t want it to. Instead, she wondered if he was married. He didn’t wear any jewelry, not even a watch, but that didn’t mean anything.
What was his first name? She would vote for something wholesome, middle America, untrendy: Joe, Tom, Jack. Gramma had bought her a subscription to the Cedar Creek newspaper, which had surely printed his name a thousand times, along with some personal information, but Mila didn’t often read it. She wasn’t interested in crime or politics or who got married, had a new baby or won the trout derby out at the lake.
She wasn’t interested in the police chief, either.
He kept the conversation relatively short. “…just the basic info for the reporters—name withheld until next of kin is notified, our investigation continues, so on.”
Mila wondered briefly if Chief Douglas and his officers had investigated many murders. As cops, were they good, bad or indifferent? Fifteen years she’d lived in Cedar Creek, and she’d never had any contact with the police, not even a warning. She’d made a point of not being noticed by them, either.
She took a sidelong look at the chief and drily wondered, how was that working for her?
* * *
In a lot of big police departments, the chief’s job was administration, political meeting and greeting, and dealing with the media. Cedar Creek’s department was small enough that if Sam wanted to work traffic or act as primary investigator on a routine case, he could. Today, he was grateful to leave this case in Ben and Lois’s capable hands. He’d made one too many death notifications, had dealt with one too many grieving family members and friends. He would be satisfied to make his notes on the interview with Milagro Ramirez, turn them over to Ben and get back to the work piled on his desk.
As soon as he dispensed with Ms. Ramirez herself.
“If you’d like me to call your boss and see about getting the rest of the day off…”
Her gaze slid his way quickly, shy or possibly furtive, then shifted forward again. She considered the offer, looking tired and pale and tempted. He didn’t know her situation. He did know an unexpected day off resulted in financial hardship for people who counted on every hour’s salary to pay their bills. It was a decision she would have to make.
She looked at him again, keeping the eye contact to a minimum. Her hands were clasped in her lap, long fingers, nails cut short, a bandage wrapped around one tip, a bruise discoloring another. Not delicate hands, no polish, almost certainly callused, but capable. Strong. “I—I would appreciate that.”
As he picked up his phone, she told him the number. “What’s his name?” he asked during the first ring.