Trace Evidence. Carla Cassidy
“Got a job for you, Clay.”
Clay James looked up from the microscope where he’d been studying a piece of fiber found on the latest murder victim of the killer who the local newspapers had dubbed the Shameless Slasher.
He frowned irritably at Glen Cleberg, the chief of police in the small Oklahoma city of Cherokee Corners. “I’m in the middle of something here. Whatever it is, can’t you get somebody else to take care of it? I’m trying to identify a fiber found on Sam McClane’s body.”
He was certain that would make Glen leave the small police lab and him alone. The chief had been chewing on his butt to find something, anything that might clue them into the killer’s identity before a third murder took place.
“As important as what you’re doing is, I still need you on this other case.”
Clay shut off the high-powered microscope, fighting against the foul mood that seemed to grip him tighter and stronger minute by minute, day by day. “What other case?”
“A break-in at the high school.”
“Since when do we process something like that?” Clay interrupted impatiently. He had a hell of a lot more important things to deal with, like unsolved murders and a missing mother.
A stab of pain ripped through him as he thought of his mother, missing now for just over a month with few clues to follow to discover her whereabouts or if she were still alive or dead.
“Since the classroom that was broken into belongs to Tamara Greystone,” Glen replied.
Tamara Greystone, local artist, teacher and Cherokee Corners’ claim to fame. The fact that she was Native American, like Clay himself, and a close friend of the mayor’s family was about all Clay knew about the woman.
“Clay, it’s already after seven, past time for you to knock off for the day. If you’d just go by the school and check things out, you’ll keep the mayor off my ass. He’ll be happy to know I have my top man on the job.”
Fighting a weary sigh, Clay nodded and stored away the specimen he’d been studying. Maybe some time away from the lab would give him a new perspective.
For the past two weeks he’d been putting in fourteen-hour days, studying, analyzing and cataloging trace evidence from the two murder scenes. That didn’t count the time he was putting in on his mother’s case. A little break away from the lab and intense work might be good for him.
“I’m on my way,” he told his boss, who grunted and disappeared from the lab door.
Within fifteen minutes Clay was in his van and headed toward the high school on the outskirts of town. The July sun was still hot and he could almost taste the dust in the air, stirred up by a faint evening breeze.
He flipped the air conditioner in the van on high and tried to empty his head of thought. But that process had been next to impossible since the night almost six weeks ago when somebody had come into his parents’ house and nearly killed his father, Thomas, with a blow to the back of his head.
Clay’s mother, Rita Birdsong James, had been nowhere to be found. A suitcase had been missing along with some of her clothes and personal toiletries. The official speculation had been that Thomas and Rita had had one of their legendary fights and this time things had spiraled way out of control. The authorities believed Rita had hit her husband, then panicked and ran.
The James siblings had known that was impossible. As much as their mother, a beautiful, petite Cherokee woman, and their father, a big, brawny Irishman had fussed and yelled, screamed and cursed each other, it was merely part of their chemistry.
Rita and Thomas James had loved each other as passionately as they’d fought with one another. There was no way one could harm the other.
If that wasn’t enough to fill his mind, there were the two murders to stew about. Greg Maxwell and Sam McClane had both been stabbed to death and left naked. Greg’s body had been found in front of the public library and Sam had been left behind the post office.
They had been vicious killings, filled with rage and there had been little left on and around the bodies to aid Clay and the other crime-scene investigators in finding clues to the killer.
He felt as if in both cases he was fighting the ticking hand of a time bomb. If they didn’t find his mother in time, she would probably eventually be found dead. And if he didn’t find who the serial killer was, there was going to be more bodies.
Ticking time bombs, that’s what he had on his hands and nothing was falling into place as it should. He tightened his hands on the steering wheel in frustration.
As the high school came into view, all thoughts of his mother and the serial killer fled from his mind. Two patrol cars were already in the parking lot and Clay shook his head as he pulled up and parked next to one of them.
Apparently it paid to be friends with the mayor. He could never remember a break-in anywhere that had warranted two cop cars and a crime-scene investigator…not in this small town.
Tamara Greystone must have pulled a handful of strings to get this kind of response. She was a big fish in a little pond here and he had a feeling she was probably one of those self-important divas in the art world.
He got out of his van and grabbed the metal suitcase that sometimes felt like an extension