Bailey sat in her car, trying to shake the profound sadness that always gripped her when she visited her mother. She clenched her jaw. No, not her mother. Only the shell of her mother. Her mother had slipped away months ago when Alzheimer's claimed her at a relatively young age.
She allowed her thoughts to drift back over happier times, snapshots of her life flashing through her mind—her high school graduation and them arguing over the dress her mother insisted she wear, her brief two years in college and them arguing over her acceptance into the police academy, the smiles and tight hugs from her mother and dad when she graduated, her brother's wedding day and another argument over the dress. She laughed quietly as she remembered the tuxedo she'd rented only to have her mother put a firm foot down and issue a warning, "over my dead body." So they compromised. The god awful flowery dress her mother had picked out was replaced with a sleek black pantsuit, one that her mother conceded looked "very attractive" on her. Turned out it didn't matter. Kevin's marriage lasted all of six months, and the four of them ended up going to the beach house to celebrate the divorce. But the happy times waned as the disease took over, leaving less and less of her mother behind. It had been nearly ten months since her mother even recognized her. Six months since she'd spoken a word. And now, as the doctor said, there was nothing to do but wait.
She took a deep breath, then started the car, glancing once over her shoulder to the care facility her mother had been in for the last year, ever since Bailey could no longer care for her herself. As always when she left here, she had to fight the guilt that tried to settle on her heart. She'd done the best she could, she knew that. But still...
Marty smoothed her slacks as she waited. She was ten minutes early for her appointment with the city attorney, James Garza, and she glanced at her reflection in the mirror, wishing she'd chosen the more businesslike skirt in her luggage instead of the beige slacks she'd slipped on that morning. She always tried to blend in, wearing something conservative and neutral, nothing to call attention to herself. She'd learned long ago to melt into her surroundings. And here in Brownsville, in the Rio Grande Valley at the tip of Texas, she suspected professional women were still the minority.
"Miss Edwards? He'll see you now."
Marty smiled and nodded, following the receptionist down a carpeted hallway. She was motioned inside a large office, the drapes pulled wide to allow in the morning sun. The city attorney was much younger than she would have imagined, and she stuck her hand out in greeting, flashing what she hoped was a charming smile.
"Mr. Garza, thank you so much for seeing me."
"Of course, Mrs. Edwards. Please have a seat."
"Miss Edwards," she corrected, "but please call me Marty." She settled in the plush visitor's chair and crossed her legs, again wishing she'd worn a skirt, albeit for a completely different reason. He wasn't wearing a wedding ring, and she was not afraid to flirt shamelessly to get what she wanted. "And I won't take up too much of your time. I know you must be extremely busy."
He nodded politely. "I understand you are a writer," he said.
She shook her head. "Journalist. Big difference," she said with a grin. "I found that out the hard way."
"I apologize. I have not had the pleasure of reading your book."
"Oh, please don't apologize. True crime stories don't normally make the top of the best sellers' list. Mine certainly didn't." She leaned forward slightly, pleased when his eyes found her cleavage. "Some police departments are extremely wary when a civilian wants a look at a cold case. Especially when that civilian is a journalist." She tucked her blond hair behind her ears and met his eyes. "I've found it best to get permission first." She smiled again. "That's why I'm here."
"You're doing another book on cold cases?"
"Eventually, yes. Only five cases made it into the first book. Five of probably twenty I researched."
"What brings you down to Brownsville? You're from Atlanta, correct?"
"I've been in Atlanta since college, but my research takes me all over." She handed him a piece of paper. "The case I'm interested in is a decade old. Carlos Romero. I was contacted by his sister. She read in my book where another ten-year-old case was reopened. With success. She thought I might want to include her brother's story in my next book."
James Garza folded his hands together and watched her. "I don't have a problem with granting access to old case files, Miss Edwards—Marty," he said. "Especially one that is ten years old. I actually came here from Phoenix a couple of years ago, and it was quite common for cold cases to be revisited there. Although here in Brownsville, as small as we are, I can't imagine there being many unsolved murders."
"Phoenix? What a coincidence. I'm heading there next," she lied. "Perhaps you have a contact I could get in touch with?"
"Of course." He reached for his business card and flipped it over, jotting down the information for her. "Ray Conaway is who you need to see," he said as he handed her the card. "He'll take care of you."
"Mr. Garza, I appreciate that. I hope you don't mind if I tell him you sent me."
"Please, by all means. And call me James."
"Excellent," she said, feeling that her face would break from the constant smiling she was doing. "Now, I've taken up enough of your time. What can I give to the police department to access the file?"
"In Phoenix, we had an actual authorization form." He reached for the phone, asking his secretary to join them. "My guess is, we have no such thing here. I'll have Lucila draft one up for you."
She stood and again reached her hand out. "You've been very accommodating, James. Thank you so much."
"It's my pleasure to meet you, Marty." He paused. "If you're going to be in town long, perhaps you would allow me to take you to dinner one night."
"Absolutely." As always, she hated this part of the game. But again, she smiled brightly, as if she couldn't wait for them to meet up for dinner. "If you'll allow me to get settled," she said, glancing at his card, "I'll call you later in the week."
"I look forward to it."
Ten minutes later, with her authorization letter tucked into her laptop bag, she walked down the steps of City Hall, the bright sunshine warm on this April day. Her normal routine was to head over to the police station immediately, and she didn't plan to veer from that today, despite the enticing smells coming from the many local restaurants lining Market Square. She took a deep breath, inhaling the aroma of fresh Mexican food, knowing she didn't have the luxury of lunch. She was anxious to get started.
"A ten-year-old cold case?" He shook his head. "Waste of time, ma'am."
Marty followed the uniformed police officer down the corridor to the old file room. He flipped on the light, the dusty florescent bulbs casting a yellowish glow over the rows and rows of neatly stacked boxes, all containing the physical evidence of thousands of cases.
"Well, I have a lot of time to waste," she said, glancing at the boxes as they walked past. "How many years do you keep in here?"
"A lot," he said absently as he slowed, his hands pointing at each box as if counting. "Here we are. Let's see...Case file #389044. Carlos Romero." He looked up quickly. "That's one of Lieutenant Marsh's cases. Have you cleared this with him?"
She shook her head and held up the letter from James Garza. "The city attorney, Mr. Garza, has given me permission. Remember?"
"Yeah, I know that, but I think we should still run it by the lieutenant."
"Fine," she said curtly, watching as he moved away and pulled out his cell phone. She thought it odd that he wasn't using the radio clipped to his belt, but she'd found that all police departments did things differently. She shifted slightly, feigning interest in other file boxes, trying unsuccessfully to listen to his muted conversation.
"He wants to see you first."
Marty let out a heavy sigh. "And he'll be right over?"
"No, ma'am. You're to report to him."
"Look, Officer, is this really necessary? It's a ten-year-old case," she said, pointing to it. "Look at the evidence marker. It hasn't been opened since," she looked closer, "two months after his murder. What's the big deal?"
"Not my call, ma'am. Head upstairs, third floor. Ask for Lieutenant Marsh."
"Fine," she said again, her tone anything but fine. Police departments, as a rule, were usually very accommodating to her. But there were always those few, apparently like Lieutenant Marsh, who were possessive and over-protective of their files, even those cases that were ten years old. Just the fact that the evidence box hadn't been opened since two months after the murder told her that no one in the department had given the case a thought since. Which also led her to believe Kesara Romero, the victim's sister, when she said the police hardly questioned or interviewed anyone; they had simply closed the case and called it a gang killing.
She stepped off the elevator on the third floor, finding herself in a narrow hallway facing swinging double doors. She heard papers being rustled and glanced to her right, finding someone who she guessed was a receptionist. The older Hispanic woman smiled warmly at her.
"May I help you?"
"I'm looking for Lieutenant Marsh," she said. She walked closer and returned her smile. "I'm Marty Edwards. I was supposed to ask for him here."
The woman nodded and picked up the phone, announcing her. The call ended quickly. "Go into the squad room. Turn left. His office is the second one."
The squad room was relatively quiet, only a handful of people, mostly men, talked in hushed tones. Again, it seemed odd, but she reminded herself that this wasn't a large bustling city. Brownsville was home to less than two hundred thousand souls.
She knocked lightly on the closed door, watching as the two men inside ended their animated conversation and motioned to her to enter. She had a feeling her charm and wit wouldn't get her as far with these two as they had with James Garza. But she put on her game face anyway, smiling brightly in what she hoped was a non-threatening, friendly way.
"I'm Marty Edwards," she said quickly, holding her hand out to the man standing just inside the room.
"Captain Diaz," he said with a slight nod.
"Pleasure to meet you, Captain." She turned to the man still sitting behind the desk, his face showing his annoyance. She ignored the blatant look of displeasure and held her hand out to him anyway. "You must be Lieutenant Marsh then," she said.
He snubbed her outstretched hand and motioned to the chair instead. "I'm curious as to why you're interested in this particular case."
She didn't acknowledge his rudeness and said evenly, "Nice to meet you, Lieutenant." She sat down, glancing at Captain Diaz as he did the same. "I'm a journalist by trade. From Atlanta," she added. "I'm interested in cold cases. I've researched them all across the country."
"And wrote a book about them, I understand."
"More and more police departments are actively working their cold cases," she said. "Several actually have websites dedicated to them, asking for help from the public to solve them." She hesitated, wondering how much of the information the sister gave her should she divulge to him. She decided none. Her instincts told her this man didn't want her near his case files. "I ran across this case while researching another gang-related killing," she lied. "Gang-related killings are the hardest to prosecute, I'm told." He seemed to relax a bit, and she was glad she hadn't mentioned Kesara Romero.
"So your next book is about gang killings then?" he asked.
"Yes," she said immediately. "Not to say that I'll even use this particular case in the book. In my first book, only five cases made the cut after I started with well over twenty." Again, she offered a charming smile, hoping he couldn't tell she was lying through her teeth.
"Even so, the captain and I are quite disappointed that Mr. Garza would agree to this without consulting the police. But then, he is new here," he said dismissively.
"Oh? I thought he told me he'd been here a couple of years."
"Exactly my point," he said, the quick smile he flashed not reaching his eyes.
"I guess I don't understand your qualms about allowing me access to the file, Lieutenant. It's ten years old. It wasn't classified as a sensitive case and sealed by a judge. I don't imagine there was controversy surrounding it, was there?" She laughed quietly. "But I doubt you would remember that. It's been so long ago."
"You're right. The case doesn't ring a bell." He looked at Captain Diaz, who had been quiet during the exchange. "Are you okay with allowing her access, Captain?"
"I don't see a problem with it, if you're agreeable," he said. "With security, of course."
"Security?" she asked.
"I'll have someone assigned to you," Lieutenant Marsh said. "You won't be allowed to photocopy anything, and obviously you won't be allowed to remove anything from the file."
Great. A babysitter. But she wasn't in any position to argue. "That's fine, Lieutenant. I appreciate that. I should be out of your hair in a couple of days." She stood, this time not bothering with a handshake. "May I start today?"
"In the morning," he said. "And you won't have unlimited access. I'll give you one hour each day."
She nodded, wondering why he felt the need to make this as difficult as possible for her. But again, she ignored his condescending attitude and plastered a smile to her face. "Thank you. I'll be by first thing."
She walked out, feeling their eyes on her. She had a feeling her stay in Brownsville was going to be anything but routine.
Bailey waited patiently in front of Lieutenant Marsh's desk as he totally ignored her. She hated when he did this—summoning her to his office only to make her wait while he finished whatever task he was on. It was his way of reminding her she was his subordinate, as if she needed reminding. She kept the same bored expression on her face that she'd sported for the last two years, knowing it pissed him off.
"I have an assignment for you," he finally said without looking up.
Yes, something else she hated. She was given assignments, not cases. Her face was expressionless when he glanced up at her.
"We've got a nosy reporter hanging around. I need you to monitor her, Bailey. She's going to be looking at an old case, doing a little snooping, I imagine. Sit with her in the interrogation room, make sure she doesn't do anything improper. I've given her access to the files for one hour each day. Got it?"
"Isn't this something a desk jockey could do, Lieutenant? Instead of a detective?"
"Detective?" His laugh was cold. "No, Detective Bailey, I want you to do it. Is there a problem with that?"
"It's the same problem I always have. You give me assignments. Menial tasks. I'm a detective, yet I'm not allowed to do my job. That's my problem."
He stood up and faced her, his stare piercing, but she refused to blink, refused to take a step back.
"You want to know why? Because you're not one of us, Bailey. You're an outsider from Houston. You've got to earn your stripes here," he said. "I don't care what you did in Houston. I don't care how many commendations or medals you got. I don't care if your captain down there is friends with the chief here. I don't care that they pulled some strings and moved you in as detective when a lot of good men were passed over. I don't care about those things, Bailey." He paused. "You want to know why I don't care? Because I don't know you. And I don't like you. Therefore, I don't trust you." He sat down again. "My concern right now is this damn reporter nosing into a cold case. And that goddamn city attorney giving her written permission without consulting me—that concerns me as well."
Bailey wasn't in a position to question his concerns, and frankly, she didn't care. But reporters looking at cold cases...well, that happened all the time in Houston. Anything that helped shed light on the case was helpful, because in the end, it was all about solving the crime. But she kept her mouth shut, waiting to be dismissed.
"She'll be here this morning. I've arranged for her to be in the interrogation room. Please make sure the evidence box is sealed again properly after she's done."
Bailey nodded, taking that as her dismissal. He stopped her before she walked out.
"Oh, and Bailey, if there's anything suspicious about her, if she starts asking a lot of questions, you'll let me know, right?"
She left him, feeling as frustrated today as she had two years ago when she'd first transferred to Brownsville. Yep, Lieutenant, you'll be the first one I tell if she's asking questions. "You can count on me," she murmured to herself.
Bailey turned, seeing Mrs. Jimenez coming toward her. "Good morning, Rosaline."
"Buenos dias, Kristen," she said. "The lieutenant said to let you know when the reporter got here."
Bailey nodded. "What about the evidence box?"
"Yes, I sent word down to Officer Reyes. He'll bring it up."
"Thank you. Lieutenant Marsh said to put it in the interrogation room."
"Si. I take her there now, yes?"
"Yes, please. I'll be there in a minute."
Bailey stopped by her desk—her extremely clean and tidy desk—and picked up her coffee mug.
"What's up, Bailey? Saw you in the lieutenant's office."
Bailey glanced at Marcos, her so-called partner. "Oh, just more exciting detective work for me," she said. "I'm keeping a reporter company."
He nodded. "I heard. Some cold case, right?"
"Yeah. How did you know? He didn't tell me much about it."
"Oh, you know. Word spreads," he said
She filled her coffee cup, ignoring the others in the squad room. They all treated her the same way. As an outsider. Marcos treated her a little better than the rest, if only because technically, they were partners. It wasn't like they worked cases together. At least not in the field. Her job was usually phone work while he did the real police work. At first, she thought it was because she was a woman and they weren't used to working with women. But after a few months, she realized it was because she wasn't from there, she wasn't a native, and she didn't work her way up through the system. She was an outsider with connections. And so they didn't trust her, and they weren't going to let her inside their little team. Even after two years. It didn't matter that she put her time in at Houston P.D. It didn't matter that she had a bullet wound to prove it. It didn't matter how many commendations she came with. They weren't going to let her in. After a while, her response was to ignore them and go about her business, knowing she was just biding her time until she could leave here. Maybe go back to Houston. She missed the challenges there, she missed the camaraderie of the guys. They were a tight unit. They were a team. A good team. And they would welcome her back, she knew.
"How long have you been here, Marcos?"
"A long time, Bailey. Why?"
"I'm wondering how long I have to be here before you guys start treating me like a cop," she said.
"I think that's a beef to take up with Marsh. Everyone sees how he treats you and just follows his lead."
"What are you? In your forties? Why are you still a detective?"
Marcos laughed. "I like it. I don't aspire to be a sergeant or a lieutenant. Too much bullshit."
"You were military, right?"
"Army, yeah. Just four years. When I got out, I joined the force. I was twenty-three and tough as they come." He laughed. "Or so I thought." The smile left his face. "Stick with it, Bailey. Marsh can't ride your ass forever."
She blew out a heavy sigh and nodded, then made her way down the hall to the interrogation room. Reyes was just bringing the evidence box up on a cart, and she held the door open for him.
"Call me when you're done and I'll come back for it."
Bailey nodded and followed him inside. The reporter was younger than she'd expected, blond hair layered around her face framing her expressive hazel eyes. She returned the smile of the other woman and shook her hand.