By the time Detective Mackenzie Price’s car rolled onto the street lined with semi-detached homes and apartment buildings, it was raining cats and dogs. She easily spotted the house. It was the one with the CSI van and squad cars in front of it. The red and blue lights refracted through the water droplets. Cops and technicians were gathered outside in raincoats, filtering in and out of the front door.
Mackenzie parked the car and climbed out. She ducked under the yellow crime-scene tape, already drenched in the rain.
“You’d think you just moved to town.” Detective Nick Blackwood, her partner for nine years and closest friend, came to her side, holding an umbrella over them. “Not knowing to carry an umbrella at all times.” He towered over an already tall Mackenzie, strapping, with a chiseled jaw, black eyes, and black hair that was gray around the temples.
She shivered. “This is my umbrella, Nick. You stole it.”
“Oh.” He frowned and shrugged.
“Who’s our vic?”
Justin Armstrong, a junior detective with the unit, stood in the porch. He was big, with a bushy mustache that hid his upper lip and a perpetual look of paranoia on his face. He was known for his military-like demeanor and staunch discipline.
“Apparently her name is Mia Gallagher.” Justin joined them, handing them the protective gear.
“You’ll see. It’s on the second floor.”
Mackenzie braced herself and followed the directions. The loud pitter-patter of rain grew faint when she walked into the apartment, with Nick right behind her. The entire floor was crowded with uniform cops, barricading the unit away from prying neighbors who stood with their doors ajar, curious to see what the commotion was about.
The living room was filled with CSI. The first thing that hit her was the metallic smell of blood, stinging the inside of her nose.
She took in her surroundings.
The living room looked like a tornado had torn through it. The couch had shifted, center table toppled, the TV mounted on the wall drooped on one side, and the curtain was ripped off. A concrete pillar by the kitchen had bloodstains.
“What the hell happened here?” she murmured.
“A neighbor had just gotten home and saw the door was open. He peeked and called 911,” Justin replied.
“Guess nosy neighbors aren’t always a bad thing.” Nick’s eyes searched the space. “So, where is she?”
Becky Sullivan, the chief medical examiner, emerged from one of the rooms with a look of resignation. “There’s no dead body. What am I even doing here?”
“Is this an abduction?” Mackenzie gestured at the dried blood on the pillar. “That’s a lot of blood loss.”
“Not enough to kill her. Enough to knock her out, perhaps,” Becky replied.
“Did anyone hear anything? Looks like the attack was vicious,” Nick said.
“The neighbor she shares a wall with is an eighty-year-old man who uses a hearing aid. Peterson talked to him, and he said he was lights out hours ago. And it’s been storming.” Officer Peterson was a uniform who had recently begun assisting on cases. Justin handed Nick a purse in an evidence bag. “This was recovered next to the front door.”
Nick turned it over. “It still has her wallet and credit cards.”
“And that’s an expensive bag,” Becky remarked. “It’s Gucci.”
Mackenzie mused. “It doesn’t look like a robbery gone wrong. First thing they’d take is the purse.”
“We also haven’t been able to find her cell phone. And her car is in the parking lot.”
Mackenzie exchanged a loaded look with Nick. “Maybe it was on her when she was taken. Assuming the blood belongs to Mia.”
“The neighbor who called 911 rang Mia several times, but she hasn’t picked up,” Justin added.
Nick nodded. “Let’s ping the carrier. And flag the phone in case it’s switched on at any point.”
Mackenzie walked around the apartment, careful not to disturb anything or get in the way of tech collecting evidence. This was somebody’s home; there were plants by the windowsill that were probably watered every day and a bookcase that was filled with stories. But everything was destroyed now and a bunch of strangers, including Mackenzie, had descended to dissect and inspect every inch of it with detachment.
She noticed a bloody handprint on the fireplace and directed the CSI to it.
There were no signs of forced entry. The front door was screwed to the hinges with the lock intact, no signs of tampering. Mia’s purse and car were here, but she wasn’t.
Mackenzie spotted a framed picture of a young woman standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. The woman was strikingly attractive, tall and slender with blond hair being whipped by the wind. There was another picture of her sunning on a beach in Santorini. Her lips were full and wide. She had a long neck and a perfect string of teeth. Mackenzie wouldn’t be surprised if she were a model or popular on social media. She had a way of posing for the camera, knowing what angles and dips of her body to flaunt.
Mackenzie imagined how the attack might have played out. Her surroundings vanished and shifted as the scenario she predicted took shape in her eyes.
Mia Gallagher returned home after a long day. She entered her apartment and just as she closed the door, someone grabbed her from behind and lifted her. He clapped her mouth with his hand. Her screams were muffled. Her long legs and toned arms flailed and thrashed. She bit him. He released her, and she began throwing things at him to get away. He chased her around the apartment. The rugs shifted. The lamp and the fruit bowl fell. The clock and the paintings moved. He caught her and slammed her head against the pillar. She started fading, blackness dotting her vision. She stumbled away, leaving her bloody handprint on the fireplace. But this time she couldn’t get away.
Mackenzie’s vision faded, and she turned to Nick, who was discussing getting the surveillance footage with the super. “How did the perp get inside?” she asked.
“What?” Nick frowned, letting Justin take over with the super.
“There is no sign of forced entry. Unless he had a key, which probably means it’s someone Mia knows.”
Nick rubbed his chin. “There is a balcony.”
He led her to the door at the end of the narrow hallway next to the kitchen. The balcony was small, with one chair, which was toppled from the storm. The lashing rain blurred the view of the woods that the balcony overlooked.
“The door was unlocked when we got here.” Nick raised his voice over the booming thunder.
Mackenzie stayed inside, inwardly wincing at the rain spraying on her boots. She checked the flimsy door that hung loosely from the hinges. There was a dent in it. “Someone broke through this.”
Nick inspected it and gave it a shake. “It’s easy to break this down, I suppose. It’s the second floor. They probably just climbed up the pipe.”
“Can we get someone to lift any prints here?” Mackenzie gestured at the door when she noticed a faint outline on the floor, catching light from the thunder. “We got a footprint here!”
Nick knelt next to it. “It’s a partial.”
“Looks like a man’s.”
“We should check her car. See if it has a GPS system that can tell us where she’s been lately,” Nick said.
“Good idea. I also want uniform to talk to all the neighbors to check if someone was visiting frequently or hovering.”
On her way out, Mackenzie glanced at the smeared blood on the wall and tried to settle the whirring in her gut.