She was someone entirely different now. She’d created a life out of whole cloth, starting with nothing. But unless she someday had the money for plastic surgery, she couldn’t do anything about her face, and that hadn’t changed.
Nell almost laughed as she got behind the wheel and started the windshield wipers to combat the autumn drizzle. As if she’d want to be on camera anyway! There was a lot she didn’t know about who she’d been, but she had no doubt at all that she’d always been shy. Whatever dreams she’d had, being on television wouldn’t have been one of them. No one changed that much.
* * *
COLIN SPRAWLED ON the king-size hotel bed and reached for the remote control. He’d like to find something mindless. His brain was on overload after a day of listening to speakers talk about new technology undergoing trials in various police departments around the world. He was glad he’d come; knowing what was out there was worthwhile, but most of this was beyond the scope of his relatively small department.
He was to have dinner with Cait and a boyfriend who was apparently serious. Either that, or she was bringing the guy as a sort of screen, because she didn’t want to have to make conversation with her brother for two hours. Because of her work schedule they weren’t meeting until seven-thirty. Yawning as he flipped through channels, Colin realized he’d have to be careful not to nod off. He’d made the drive late last night and gotten up early to have breakfast with a group of other police chiefs and captains from agencies the size of Angel Butte, which had just over a hundred officers.
The news caught his eye. Some damn idiot had driven the wrong way onto I-5 in the middle of the night—blood-alcohol level sky-high. Killed a forty-two-year-old woman driving home from her job at Sea-Tac Airport.
“Son of a bitch,” he muttered.
There was a news flash: “Coming up, join Linda Capshaw for a visit to a shelter for runaway teens.” Then commercials. Colin left the station on, given that he’d been thinking about runaways a hell of a lot the past few weeks. Every major city and many minor ones had similar shelters, but he was interested in seeing what this one offered. Did they keep kids on their radar in any meaningful way? Did they see to it that the teens got dental care, which might mean X-rays?
Duane and the two detectives had gotten nowhere in their attempts to identify the latest bones that had appeared when the tree roots were pulled up. It had turned out that Klamath County also had an unidentified teenage girl, found two years ago; the body had been too decomposed for them to lift fingerprints, and they hadn’t turned up a dental match. Given that the bodies found at Angel Butte and Deschutes County had both turned out to be teenage runaways that had likely passed through Portland, Colin wanted to check with shelters there. Just a couple of days ago, Duane’s team had found a fragment of the upper jaw, with yet another dental filling, which meant that they could identify this kid for sure, and maybe the Crook County one, if they could find dental records. It was a long shot, but worth pursuing.
He had to wait through another report before his patience was rewarded when a perky blonde smiled and said, “Welcome to SafeHold. Yes, there are a number of shelters for teenagers in the Puget Sound area, but word on the street is that SafeHold is the place to go for real help.”
The camera panned a room in which teenage boys lounged on shabby furniture, ignoring the fact that they were being filmed. Then came a talking head, Roberta Charles, who was the director. The brief snippet was mostly the inspiring stuff, about how kids went there for sanctuary. Then, as the camera moved on to showing a group of girls in what appeared to be a modern dance class, followed by boys playing one-on-one basketball in what looked like an old school yard, another woman’s voice said, “SafeHold offers these kids hope in so many forms. Many practical, of course. Some kids go from here to group homes, drug treatment or foster care.” A man wearing a stethoscope was seen talking to a boy whose face was turned from the camera. “They get desperately needed medical care.” An earnest older woman sat at a table with a girl, the two poring over an open textbook as the voice continued. “They’re encouraged to resume schooling and get tutoring to help them succeed. Legal aid is available for those in trouble with the law.” A handcuffed kid was being placed in the back of a patrol car. Then back to the shelter: some girls hammed for the camera in another shabby rec room, a flickering TV in the background. The blonde journalist said, “Dedicated volunteers like Nell Smith, popularly known here as ‘the book lady,’ mean everything to these lost children.” Her back to the camera, a young woman was piling books into a bright red plastic crate. The next moment, she was talking to a girl who looked too damn young to be in a runaway shelter, too slight even to have begun to menstruate. And, sweet Jesus, she was pregnant. Colin should have been past being shockable, but he wasn’t. Linda Capshaw was speaking again, as the camera lingered on a touching moment, the young woman hugging the pregnant girl. There was only a glimpse of their faces, one he’d have missed if he’d yawned at the wrong moment, but he felt as if he’d been jolted by a Taser.