He wondered if Duane held out any real hope Maddie was still alive.
“Okay,” he said with a sigh. “You know what to do. Keep me updated.”
Both men stood.
Colin said slowly, “Wasn’t it just last year that girl’s bones were found out near Prineville?”
Those had been in Crook County’s jurisdiction. “I wonder if they ever identified them?” Duane said thoughtfully. “There was that other girl three, four years ago, too. At the foot of Angel Butte. Wasn’t she yours?”
“Yeah.” Colin had been lead investigator. The small volcanic cinder cone rose right in the middle of Angel Butte and was another city park, where the marble statue of an angel had “miraculously” appeared in the late 19th century to overlook the town.
That girl had been identified. Turned out to be a runaway from Salem, a really sad case. She’d disappeared when she was only fourteen, turned up dead here just before her sixteenth birthday—Maddie’s age. She had been pregnant, they could tell that much, but her body was so decayed no cause of death was ever determined. They hadn’t gotten anywhere near to figuring out how she’d come to be buried beneath a foot of red cinders.
Duane was the one to shake his head. “No reason to look for connections yet. This may turn out to be male. Or older. Hell, he probably got knifed in a drunken fight.”
After a momentary silence, Duane said, “You have a hunch.”
Colin moved uncomfortably. “Why don’t I make a few calls? You have enough to do here, and you’re right. Chances are it’s a waste of time.” But he had to satisfy this uneasy feeling, and Duane, like any other cop, would understand.
After a moment, his lieutenant nodded and turned away. “All right,” he called. “Folks, let’s get pictures, and then we’ve got some work to do.”
Colin was reluctant to leave, but he was, essentially, an administrator now. He had to demonstrate trust in not only Duane, but also his detectives. Let them do their job. If he stayed, all he’d do was make them nervous.
He knew from experience, too, that more bones would be uncovered slowly. Officers and evidence techs wouldn’t be digging with shovels; they’d use trowels. From here on out, this would more nearly resemble an archaeological dig than a normal crime scene. It was going to take days, maybe weeks, given the scale of the damage wrought by the bulldozer.
But some answers should be forthcoming soon. With teeth, a femur—assuming that was one—and a pelvis, the medical examiner or a forensic pathologist ought to be able to nail down age and gender. A good guess at how long ago the victim had been buried would provide a starting point, too.
Walking away, he was surprised to feel a clutch of something like grief.
Don’t let it be Maddie.
Damn it, he thought, her parents would probably be relieved if these bones proved to be hers, if they knew at last, once and for all, what had become of their daughter. Who was he to want to prolong the agonizing, fading wisp of hope that she was only gone, not dead?
No one. He had no right to wish that kind of suffering for them. And, Jesus, he didn’t like to think about what Duane was feeling right now.
But it was his own memory, his own sense of failure, that caught at him now. Instead of going straight back to his SUV, he went to the trail and walked back into the park. Not far—just to the curve where he had found the bike that night. Voices and the sound of distant traffic were muffled here. He stopped, looking at the spot where her blood had soaked into the earth. He remembered the darkness, the thick silence. The crime scene tape that by morning had wrapped from tree to tree, the careful search for evidence never found. And the photos the newspaper had run, not only the one he had kept, but also candid shots of Maddie when she was younger.
Never smiling. Only in the school photo had her lips curved in an obligatory smile. Otherwise, her face was always solemn. Today, he felt the same unease he had then, the same sense that the common description of her as an introverted dreamer wasn’t quite right.
He stood for a moment, as if at a grave site, then finally, shaking his head, turned away. Some old wrongs could be righted. Some couldn’t.
* * *
COLIN SPOKE TO a Sergeant Fletcher in the Crook County sheriff’s department about the bones that had been found by a rock hound out past Prineville the previous year. “Nah, we never identified that kid,” Fletcher said. “Medical examiner’s best guess was that she was maybe fifteen, sixteen years old. She thought female, but you know that was a big maybe.”
Colin made a sound of agreement.
“Thing is, we never found the skull. Probably carried away by an animal. With no teeth to match to dental records, no fingerprints...” Probably he was shrugging. After a moment, he asked, “Have you thought about checking with other jurisdictions? I have this feeling Deschutes County had some bones, too.”