Bending the Paw
Read the Excerpt
St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
He reached over to the wooden block of serrated steak knives on the kitchen counter and yanked one out, clutching it in his fist. He slashed and slashed, and the blood splashed and splashed. Over the wall. Over the countertops. Over the floor. Over skin and clothing and shoes.
When he finished his bloody business, a little brown face looked up at him from the doorway. The French bulldog’s eyes went wide as she tilted her head in question, wondering about the strange events taking place in the kitchen of her home. She issued a soft whine. He tucked the thick roll of bills into his jacket pocket, zipped the pocket closed to keep the cash secure, and reached down to give the dog a quick pat on the head. “Don’t worry, girl. Everything’s going to be all right.”
Home is Where the Heart Stops
Fort Worth Police Officer Megan Luz
“What do you say, Megan? Shall we form a pack?” Seth, my hunky, blond, and broad-shouldered firefighter boyfriend was down on one knee in the foyer outside the police chief’s office, the place where we’d first met. Our K-9 partners, Brigit and Blast, sat beside him. Brigit was an enormous German shepherd mix with an abundance of fur and even more attitude. Blast, on the other hand, was a sweet, submissive yellow Labrador. All three gazed anxiously at me, Brigit and Blast with big brown eyes, Seth with sexy green ones.
“Yes!” I burst into happy tears as Seth leaned forward and slipped the beautiful brushed gold ring on my finger. It fit perfectly. The round diamond glittered in the dim after-hours light.
As he rose from the floor, I rose from my chair. We wrapped our arms around each other and held tight for a long moment, our chests pressed together, our hearts beating in syncopated rhythm. Appropriate, given that it was Valentine’s Day, a holiday in which hearts factored heavily. Not wanting to be left out of our love-fest, the dogs nudged our knees with their noses, trying to force their way between us.
I released Seth and wiped my eyes with my fingers, unable to stop smiling. I glanced at my watch. 9:15. My mother and father would still be up. “Let’s go tell my parents.”
“They’re not out celebrating Valentine’s Day?”
“They’ve been married forever, and Mom’s got classes in the morning. They probably got each other a card and ordered a pizza.” Despite having conceived five children, my parents weren’t exactly romantic, at least not in the traditional sense. They were too busy for poetry and picnics in the park, and too budget-constrained to splurge on expensive gifts for each other. Theirs was a solid but practical kind of love, expressed through laundry services, lawns mowed, and laughs shared.
Seth eyed me. “Think we’ll take each other for granted like that someday?”
I slid him a smile. “If we’re lucky.”
We made our way to the elevator, rode down to the ground floor, and headed out to the parking lot, where we loaded our furry partners into his seventies-era blue Nova with orange flames down the sides. We aimed for my parents’ house in Arlington Heights, an older neighborhood in Fort Worth where both I and popular folk singer John Denver had graduated from high school, though he’d proceeded me by approximately five decades and had later escaped the brutal Texas summers by moving to Colorado. My parents’ three-bedroom, two-bath wood-frame house could use a fresh coat of paint, but no matter how many times my father looked at the house and commented that he needed to go to the hardware store for painting supplies, he always forgot about the task once he’d crossed the threshold.
I used my key to unlock the front door, and Brigit and Blast trotted in ahead of us humans. As usual, they headed straight for the kitchen, hoping to steal what remained in the bowl of kitty kibble my mother maintained for her three indistinguishable orange tabby cats.
The dogs having cued a greeting, my dad appeared in the kitchen doorway. Thanks to his Latino heritage, my father had dark hair and warm brown skin, both of which he’d passed on to me. Thanks to time, his hair bore some silver streaks, more with each passing year. “Hey, you two,” he said. “There’s leftover pizza if you want any.”
Seth and I exchanged a knowing glance.
“Thanks,” I said. “But we’ve already eaten.”
We entered the kitchen to find the dogs with their heads shoved into the cat bowl, and my mother and my sister Gabby at the table with their homework spread out in front of them. Gabby clutched a handful of her dark hair as she struggled with pre-calculus. My red-haired, Irish-American mother was elbow deep in books on the Great Depression, working on a history paper for one of her college courses. She’d recently returned to school after taking a break of nearly three decades. She was living proof that it’s never too late to achieve your dreams and go after your goals.
While the two still had a way to go on their schoolwork, they’d made quick work of a large heart-shaped box of chocolates. Only three of the pieces remained, and two of those had a small bite taken out of them. Rejects.
I reached out with my left hand, turning it to and fro to catch the light from the fixture over the table, and grabbed the last remaining intact piece. Neither my mother nor my sister noticed my ring. Good thing they aren’t aspiring detectives. I took a bite of the candy. Dark chocolate-covered coconut. Yum! I eyed my sister. “Is this candy from T.J.?”
“Don’t ever mention that name again!” Gabby broke down into a blubbering mass and bolted from the room.
Apparently, my question had been a wrong one to ask. I looked to my mother for answers.
“Gabby and T.J. broke up today,” she said. “He met some girl at a debate tournament and called things off.”
So my little sister had been dumped, not only on Valentine’s Day, but also on the day I’d gotten engaged. Talk about bad timing. “I’ll go talk to her.” I turned to Seth. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
Dad pulled open the fridge door. “That’ll give us guys a chance to have a beer.” He retrieved a couple of bottles of Shiner Bock and handed one to Seth.
I walked down the hall to the room Gabby and I had shared before I left for college. I rapped softly on the door. “Can I come in, Gabs?”
“Only if you promise not to tell me there’s more fish in the sea!”
While our mother and father had always tended to the physical needs of me and my siblings, they weren’t necessarily the best at attending to our emotional needs. Like many parents, they relied on stale platitudes in an attempt to quickly resolve problems they didn’t have time for rather than truly listening and empathizing. That’s why, when I’d been frustrated by my childhood stutter, I’d ended up pounding rocks with a hammer on the back patio, why I’d disappeared into books where other children suffered but found creative solutions to their problems, or didn’t solve them but learned to live with them. Biblio-therapy had done wonders for me. Still did.
I opened the door and stepped into the room, closing the door behind me. Though my twin bed remained pushed up against the far wall, the space was all hers now and she’d covered my bed with books and rumpled clothing she’d been too lazy to toss in the hamper. Gabby lay facedown on her bed, her pillow over her head. How she was getting any air was anyone’s guess. I sat down on her bed next to her, and rubbed my hand up and down her back. “I’m sorry, Gabby. Breakups stink.”
She spoke into her mattress, her voice muffled. “I thought T.J. really cared about me. I’m so stupid!”
“You’re not stupid,” I said. “Teenage boys are. You have any idea how many of those idiots I deal with every day?” Between fistfights, vandalism, and car accidents, teen boys kept the Fort Worth Police Department busy, that’s for sure.
Gabby rolled onto her back, but kept her pillow over her face. “T.J. is sort of stupid. He stayed up all night playing Fortnite a few weeks ago, and then he overslept and missed most of his shift at work. They wrote him up and said if he was late again he’d be fired.”
“See?” I said. “Total moron.” I’ll be in trouble for that statement if they reconcile.
She pushed her pillow off her face and clutched it to her chest like a security blanket. She turned her red-rimmed eyes on me. “When do boys stop being stupid?”
“It takes a long time,” I told her. Seth had been stupid, too, near the beginning of our relationship. Thanks to a father he’d never known and his young mother abandoning him with her parents when he was a child, he suffered severe attachment issues. When he’d developed serious feelings for me, he’d felt vulnerable and called things off. I’d been stunned and heartbroken. Of course, he’d later grown a pair, faced his feelings, and come crawling back with his tail between his legs. In the meantime, I’d had some fun with a sexy mounted sheriff’s deputy who rode a black horse named Jack. I reminded Gabby of the incident.
“But Seth didn’t dump you for someone else,” she said. “Besides, he came to his senses and begged you to forgive him.”
“True. But if he hadn’t, I would’ve had some fun seeing who else was out there.” Okay, so that was just a variation of there’s more fish in the sea. But at least I’d added a personal anecdote. “You’ll want to be free once you head off to college, anyway,” I added. “You’ll meet a cute boy every time you turn around. You’ll have way more fun if you’re not stuck in a relationship.”
Her face brightened at the thought. She sniffled and blinked to dry her eyes. She reached out a hand to take mine and give it a squeeze. “You’ll be a really good mom someday.”
Her words warmed my heart. “I hope so.”
As she moved to retract her hand, her fingers brushed my engagement ring. She looked down, spotted the diamond, and sat bolt upright on the bed, her eyes wide and mouth gaping, T.J. and his betrayal promptly forgotten. “You’re engaged? Since when?”
“Since twenty-three minutes ago. Want to help me plan the wedding?”
“For sure!” Fueled by a renewed faith in romance and a fresh sense of purpose, she bounced out of bed and bounded to the door, yanking it open to holler down the hallway. “Mom! Dad! Megan and Seth got engaged!”
I followed as she sprinted to the kitchen.
Raising his beer in tribute, Dad put his other hand on Seth’s shoulder. “Welcome to the family, Seth. You’ll be the son I never had.”
Dad seemed to have forgotten an important fact. “You’ve already got three sons,” I reminded him.
“I know,” he said. “But none of them are handy like Seth is.”
It was true. Seth might not have received a lot of encouragement or affection from his grandfather, but at least the old coot had passed on his aptitude for fixing things.
My mother stood, a big smile on her face. She gave me a hug before embracing Seth, too. “I’m so happy for you two!”
As the news sunk in, though, her smile faltered and she bit her lip. I suspected I knew why. With two of their sons and my mother in college, my parents had no spare funds to pay for a wedding, fancy or otherwise.
“Don’t worry,” I told her. “We’re going to have a simple ceremony and reception. Nothing big and expensive. Besides, we’re adults with jobs. We’ll pay for it ourselves.”
Seth slid me some side eye. “We will?”
The grin tugging at his lips made it clear he’d been merely teasing, but I elbowed him gently in the ribs anyway. Might as well start this engagement off letting him know who’s boss. “Of course we will.”
My dad looked from me to Seth. “Mom and I can scrape together something to help out. Maybe cover the flowers and the cake?”
“That would be perfect.” I leaned in and gave my father a kiss on the cheek. “You’ll give me away, won’t you?”
“Heck, yeah,” he said. “I’ve been trying to get rid of you for years.”
I knew better. I’d seen his eyes grow misty when Gabby had dropped the news of my engagement.
Mom pulled out her planner and opened it, uncapping a pen. She’d never been very organized, but returning to school had forced her to develop better habits. She held her pen poised over the notebook. “What date are you planning on?”
“We haven’t gotten that far yet.” I’d been engaged less than an hour. Sheesh. I glanced over at Seth. “Maybe early fall?”
Seth shrugged. “Or we could just go down to the courthouse tomorrow. Get it over with.”
I’d never been the type of girl who dreamed about her wedding day but, still, I wanted my family and friends to share in the celebration. “You know that’s not happening, right?”
“It was worth a shot.”
My mom closed her planner and recapped her pen. “We don’t need a date to start looking at wedding gowns and mother-of-the-bride dresses. Why don’t we start first thing Saturday morning?”
“Works for me.”
Gabby chimed in, “Me, too.”
After another round of hugs and amid death glares from my mother’s cats, Seth and I departed and headed back to my place. My roommate Frankie was out with her boyfriend Zach. Only her cat Zoe was home at the moment. The calico met me, Seth, and the dogs at the door with a “Meow?”, demanding to know where we’d been. I gave her a scratch under the chin and a “Hey, girl,” before steeping inside.
In the living room, Seth pulled me to him for a soft warm, kiss that was clearly a prelude to something more. Unfortunately, that kiss was rudely interrupted by my phone blaring “Bad Boys,” otherwise known as the theme song from the “Cops” television show. It was my special ringtone for Detectives Audrey Jackson and Hector Bustamente, two of the investigators from my station.
Seth groaned as I gently pushed him away. “You’re not on duty tonight.”
“Not officially.” But as a K-9 team with a special set of skills, Brigit and I could be summoned at any time to assist in police matters. I reached into my purse and retrieved my phone. The screen indicated it was Detective Jackson calling. I touched the icon to accept the call. “Hello, Detective.”
Her voice was barely more than a whisper. “I’m at a crime scene. A grisly one. Can you and Brigit get over here?”
So much for basking in the glow of my engagement. “Of course. Where are you?” I slid my hand into my purse and rummaged around for a pen and notepad. As Detective Jackson rattled off the address, I scribbled it down. “Got it. I’ll be there ASAP.”
Seth groaned again as I ended the call. “What is it this time?”
“The detective used the word ‘grisly.’”
“A murder then?”
He sighed. “I should’ve realized what I was getting myself into when I fell for an aspiring detective.”
“Right back at you.”
Seth was not only a firefighter, but also a member of the city’s bomb squad. Blast was an explosives detection dog. Like me and Brigit, Seth and Blast could be summoned any time there was an explosion or bomb threat. Being continuously on call was an occupational hazard we both faced.
I leaned in and finished our kiss. Not to be crass, but if someone had been killed, they weren’t going to be any less dead if I took four seconds to kiss my fiancé one final time.
When I pulled back, Seth reached for the doorknob. “Go get ‘em, girls.”
As he left, I ran to my bedroom and changed into my uniform at warp speed. Brigit and I were back out the door in two minutes flat, and a mere five minutes later we turned onto May Street, the siren silent on our cruiser but the lights flashing. Like many of the neighborhoods in my south-central beat, the area comprised a mix of older houses in need of work, charming renovated homes, and new construction built on the proverbial gravesites of older residences that had been too long neglected to be economically updated and had instead been razed. Though it was too dark for me to easily read the house numbers, I didn’t need to look at the address I’d jotted down to tell which house Detective Jackson had called from. The yard was cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape. A Hyundai Kona SUV sat in the driveway beside a red Ford Fusion sedan. A Fort Worth PD cruiser, Detective Jackson’s unmarked sedan, and a crime scene van were parked at the curb.
After making a U-turn at the next intersection, I eased my squad car into the lineup, retrieved Brigit from the backseat, and attached her lead. As I turned my attention to the house and my eyes adjusted to the limited outdoor lighting, I could see the place was one of the renovated structures, a single-story house sporting an ironically coat of paint that bordered the line between yellow and green, like the inside of a not-quite-ripe avocado. While the trim bore classic white paint, the door was painted an attractive, contrasting bright red.
My former partner, Derek “The Big Dick” Mackey, stood just on the sidewalk just outside the cordon tape, a clipboard in his hand. Looked like he’d been assigned the task of maintaining the scene, documenting those who moved in and out of the perimeter. Derek had red hair, bulging muscles, and big cojones, at least in the metaphorical sense. I had no idea how big his boys were in actuality, and I had no interest in finding out. Once upon a time, I’d used my Taser to send a well-deserved volt of electricity to his groin region. The lewd bastard had made one crude joke too many and I lost my cool. Luckily for me, while my use of my Taser on my partner was grounds for dismissal, so was Derek’s unprofessional language. Derek was buddy-buddy with the chief and the chief didn’t want to see his golden boy lose his job, so he’d had no choice but to let my offense slide, too. He’d reassigned me to work with Brigit. Though I’d resisted at first, sure the dog would be a burden, I’d soon learned she was the best partner an officer could ask for. She was hardworking and incredibly intelligent. While she was a sweet pet off the job, on duty she could summon her inner wolf to convince a suspect to quickly surrender.
Derek scoffed and smirked. “Well, well,” he said, his breath creating a fog in the cold night air. “If it isn’t the hairy bitch and her dog.”
Thanks to a recent waxing at the salon, I was only as hairy as I was supposed to be and, frankly, being called a bitch by The Big Dick was an indirect compliment. It meant he considered me formidable. I didn’t bother to greet him, just gestured for him to hand me the clipboard so I could sign myself and Brigit in.
“It’s a bloodbath in there,” he said. “Someone must’ve got their throat slit from ear to ear. Probably looked like a Pez candy dispenser when it was all over.” He ran his index finger across his throat and threw his head back, imitating the device.
Though his creepy description caused dread to slither up my spine, I ignored him once more. He was trying to psych me out. Jerk. Besides, from the way he’d phrased things, it sounded like he hadn’t got a good look at the victim or victims. Rather than the usual blue paper booties made to prevent officers from contaminating a crime scene, Derek handed me a white pair made of heavy-duty impermeable Tyvek intended to protect the wearer from biohazards. Not a good sign.
I slid the booties on over my tactical shoes and wagged my fingers. “Give me four for Brigit.”
Derek handed me four more booties. I slid them over Brigit’s paws and secured them with short stretches of cordon tape I laced around the tops. When I finished, the dog resembled an old west saloon girl wearing thigh-high stockings. I lifted the cordon tape and ducked under it.
As Brigit and I approached the house, Detective Jackson opened the front door and stepped out onto the porch to brief me. She wore a navy pantsuit paired with a cream-colored turtleneck, professional yet utilitarian attire. Her usual perky braids were gone tonight, her hair instead left natural, framing her face in loose black curls. As one of the few female detectives in the department, she served as a role model for me. She was also a mentor, having pulled me into earlier investigations once she learned that I hoped to become a detective one day and she realized how determined and hardworking I was.
While my eyes went straight to a small, jagged crack in the front window pane, her eyes apparently went straight to my ring. “You’re engaged,” she said, keeping her voice low.
Leave it to the detective to notice. I shifted my gaze to meet hers. “As of an hour ago.”
“Then I should apologize for my timing.”
“Not necessary.” After all, she’s not the one who chose tonight to commit a heinous crime.
“It’s ugly in there,” she warned, getting down to business and giving me a pointed look that told me to prepare myself. “Blood everywhere. Try not to step in it.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat and squeaked, “How many victims are there and how do they look?” Knowing what to expect would make it would be easier to cope when I saw the body or bodies.
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
Huh? “I don’t understand.”
“The amount of blood tells me it must have come from more than one person. But as for victims? Whoever they were, they’re gone now.”
“Gone?” I repeated. “What do you mean?”
“There’s no bodies. A married couple lives here, Shelby and Greg Olsen. The wife came home from having dinner and drinks with her single coworkers and found the kitchen covered in blood. Her husband’s cell phone and wallet were lying on the floor. Both he and his car are missing. It’s an older model Volkswagen Jetta. No OnStar service. They bought it used for cash.”
In other words, there was no tracking device placed in the car by a lender intent on monitoring the location of its collateral, no immediate way to locate the car.
Jackson exhaled sharply. “I’ve sent out an alert to all departments in north Texas to be on the lookout for the vehicle. With any luck, someone will spot it.”
It seemed odd a married couple wouldn’t spend Valentine’s Day together. A happily married couple, anyway. Could the two have been having problems? Often, when a person was killed, especially in their own home, the culprit was the spouse or another family member who resided with them. “The couple didn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day together?”
“No,” Jackson said. “Mr. Olsen is an assistant manager at a movie theater. Since Valentine’s is a big date night, he had to work this evening. That’s why Shelby went out without him. He texted her an hour ago to let her know her know he was heading home. That’s the last she heard from him. Shelby’s coworker, Regina, followed her home. Regina was going to pet sit while the Olsens took a trip to Fredericksburg this weekend.”
Fredericksburg was a quaint town in the Texas hill country, known for its scenery, wineries, and charming bed and breakfast accommodations. The town would provide the perfect romantic getaway for a couple who’d been forced to postpone their Valentine’s Day celebration.
The detective went on. “Shelby was going to introduce Regina to the dog tonight and show her what to do. But when they came inside, they found the kitchen covered in blood.”
“So Mrs. Olsen was with other people all day?”
“She says she arrived at the office around eight thirty, ate her lunch in the break room, and was with coworkers from the time she left work until now. Regina is still in there with her.”
“Could it be a burglary gone awry?” Burglars sometimes became killers when they were caught in the act.
“Again,” Jackson said, “your guess is as good as mine. The only things Shelby has noticed missing are her husband’s green winter coat and her purple hat and scarf. They were all hanging on a coat rack inside. My guess is the attackers might have taken them to cover up the fact that their clothes were covered in blood. Shelby says Greg often makes the cash deposits for the movie theater. I spoke by phone with the other manager on duty tonight. He confirmed Greg made a deposit of around twelve-hundred dollars this afternoon. It’s possible Greg was targeted because he has access to the theater’s safe. Shelby said he mentioned a couple of weeks ago that he thought he might have been followed from the theater to the bank, but he couldn’t be sure. He didn’t give her any details about the car or who was in it. The other manager working tonight said Greg mentioned the incident to the general manager, too, but said only that it was a silver or gray vehicle. He didn’t get the make or model, or a good look at who was inside.”
“You think whoever came here planned to force Greg back to the theater after it closed to swipe the cash?”
“Exactly. Of course it’s just a theory at this point. Greg has no history of violence. For now, we’re operating on the assumption that he was the victim, not the perpetrator. We’ll have to run labs on the blood to know for sure. We’ve got officers stationed inside the theater in case anyone shows up to rob the place, but if that was the original plan my guess is they won’t go through with it. Anyone with a half a brain would realize that we’d be on to them.”
True. But a lot of criminals were like the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz. No brain at all. At this point, it seemed the only thing that we could conclude for certain was that Mrs. Olsen didn’t kill her husband. Not herself, anyway. There was always the chance she’d hired someone to do it, or that someone with an interest in seeing Mr. Olsen meet his maker had taken it upon themselves to do the dirty deed.
Jackson went on. “We need to figure out what happened in there, where whoever was in that kitchen went after they left the house.”
That was the detective’s cue for us to go inside and see if we could trail from the crime scene to the escape route. Of course, by “us” I really meant Brigit. Her nose was an incredible tool. I was merely along for the ride, to interpret her signals and make sure she didn’t inadvertently follow a trail across a busy street or into a dangerous situation. Yep, while I was referred to as her handler, I was really more of her sidekick and caretaker.
Detective Jackson turned to open the door, and I held tight to Brigit’s leash, keeping her close by my side. We followed the detective into a boxy foyer. A wide, open doorway sat to the left. A temporary plastic curtain had been affixed to the doorway to shield the room from view. The curtain swung forward slightly as we closed the front door and created a gap that gave me a glimpse into the living room before it fell back into place. A heavy brass coat tree had fallen over on the floor, one of its hooks causing the break I’d seen in the front window. Beyond the coat tree, a crime scene technician crouched with a flashlight to search for evidence on the floor, which was hardwood and dotted with faint, bloody paw prints.
Jackson motioned for me to follow her down the hallway to the right, which led to the bedrooms. As was routine procedure, she’d moved witnesses out of the primary crime scene to prevent them from further contaminating the evidence.
The door to the first bedroom was open. A number of cardboard boxes were stacked in the back corner, all of them marked with the words GUEST ROOM. The bedroom was spare and unadorned, the only furniture a queen-sized bed covered by a colorful crocheted afghan and a short, empty bookcase. A full-figured, thirtyish Latina woman sat on the edge of the bed. I took her to be Regina. Her arm was draped over the shoulders of a tall, willowy woman with silky-straight strawberry blond hair. The woman’s face was blotchy and tear-stained, much like Gabby’s had been only moments before. I pegged her as Shelby Olsen. Shelby looked to be in her late thirties, slightly older than her coworker. She wore black heels with a black pencil skirt and a fitted pink sweater, stylish office attire. She clutched both her cell phone and a French bulldog, and stared down at the floor in front of her as if in a daze. When the dog spotted Brigit, she wagged her tail, raised her smushed snout, and issued a friendly greeting. Yip-yip!
Brigit, who’d been trained to ignore such distractions when on duty, cast a quick glance the dog’s way, offered one side-to-side swish of her tail so as not to be rude, and looked up at me, awaiting instruction. Shelby Olsen looked up at me, too, her blue eyes wide with worry.
Detective Jackson stepped over to the woman and gave a quick introduction. “Mrs. Olsen, this is Officer Megan Luz and her K-9 Brigit. They’re going to see if they can trail from the kitchen and determine where whoever was in there went next. Okay?”
Shelby nodded. I didn’t bother extending my hand for a shake and neither did she. There was no need for formalities in this horrific situation, and the sooner Brigit and I got to work, the sooner Detective Jackson could figure out what had happened here.
The detective escorted me back down the hall and past the curtain, where she gestured to another wide doorway at the rear of the living room. Through it, I could see into the nicely renovated kitchen. The countertops were white quartz with gray-blue streaks running through them, the backsplash was a busy blue and gray mosaic tile, and the floors were durable vinyl plank in pale gray arranged in a herringbone pattern. But the stylish remodel job was overshadowed by the fact that every single surface seemed to sport splashes, puddles, or pools of blood.
Shortening Brigit’s leash to keep her right by my side, I led her through the living room. The Olsens had an inordinate number of framed photographs on their walls and bookshelves, their smiling faces amid ever-changing backdrops evidencing many happy times spent together in a variety of vacation locales. They’d posed in front of the metallic Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago, commonly referred to as the “Bean.” In front of the fountains at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. At the rim of the Grand Canyon. While Shelby’s straight, strawberry-blond hair gave her a distinctive look, her husband had no especially distinguishing features. Average height, average build, average looking with a clean-shaven face and medium brown hair. By all appearances, the two were living the happily ever after every couple hopes for. Shelby was already distraught, but I could only imagine the inconsolable grief she’d feel once this initial shock wore off. Seth and I had only just become engaged, but already I couldn’t imagine my life without him. I didn’t even want to think how I’d feel if he’d been senselessly and violently taken from me.
I continued to the kitchen threshold and stopped to take a closer look. Up close like this, I could see the term bloodbath had been an understatement. My leg bones seemed to melt as I took in the image, and I had to put an arm on the door jamb to support myself.
The room looked like a lesson in forensics, displaying every type of bloodstain pattern possible. Impact angles with spear-shaped ends and tails that showed the direction in which the blood was traveling at the moment of impact. Cast-off patterns with round spots becoming increasingly oval-shaped as they traveled in a line, showing were blood was cast off from a swinging object, in this case most likely a sharp instrument used to stab Greg Olsen. Contact patterns where a bloody object, such as a shoe, comes in contact with an otherwise unstained surface. A dotted line of blood drops marking the path a bleeding person or an object dripping blood took across a room. The most disturbing pattern however, was the one on the far wall near the table. The large volume of blood surrounded by flow patterns, radial spikes, and droplets indicated a high-pressure arterial spurt, very likely from a slit throat. The thought brought my hand reflexively to my neck as I swallowed hard, not wanting to imagine what it was like to suffer such an injury.
The blood displayed various degrees of viscosity. Some of the thin spatter on the walls, refrigerator, stove, and dishwasher had dried completely. Others spots on flat surfaces had dried around the edges, but remained wet in the center, forming miniature domes due to surface tension. The various puddles and patterns were designated with numbered plastic evidence markers, 37 in all. Given the volume of blood, I reached the same conclusion Jackson had, that the blood must have come from more than one source.
A cell phone lay in one of the puddles, the screen shattered. Beside it lay an open wallet. The corners of a couple of one-dollar bills peeked out from the cash compartment. Two plastic cards were nestled into the card slots. The face of a smiling but otherwise unremarkable man with brown hair peered out from a driver’s license tucked behind the clear plastic window. His eyes seemed to lock on mine. My stomach squirmed as if trying to hide behind another organ and my vertebrae turned from bone into ice cubes.
The fallen phone, wallet, and blood spatter told a tragic tale, a sad, sickening story involving a sharp blade plunged repeatedly into a human body during a wild struggle. The footprints and paw prints on the floor told a story, too.
Around the perimeter of the puddles and angling to the door that led to the garage were footprints indicative of women’s high heels. The sole under the ball of the foot formed a triangular shape, while the tips of the heels left small dots a few inches behind. Two of the triangles were elongated, telling me that Shelby’s feet had slipped in the blood. Footprints facing in the opposite direction led out of the kitchen, fading with the distance as the blood wore off the sole of the shoe. The pattern told me that Mrs. Olsen had entered the kitchen, run to the door to look into the garage for her husband or his car, and returned to the living room when she failed to find him.
Other footprints appeared around the kitchen, too, despite the fact that someone had evidently tried to erase them by running a mop over part of the floor and smearing the blood and prints. They seemed to have abandoned the effort mid-task, either realizing the effort was futile or panicking and wanting to leave the scene as quickly as possible. The mop leaned against the counter. Judging from the patterns of the remaining footprints, there appeared to be three different sets and, judging from the size, all three likely belonged to men. One set of the footprints, presumably, was Greg Olsen’s. It looked like he’d been outnumbered, two-to-one. Not a fair fight. But criminals didn’t care about fairness. Distinct bloody paw prints appeared all around the kitchen, the little bulldog having run rampant through the crime scene. I wondered what the dog had witnessed here, wished she could tell me, felt glad her life had been spared.
My gaze moved about, seeking a weapon among the blood and numbered plastic evidence markers but spotting none. A single steak knife appeared to be missing from the block on the counter, though, an empty slot evidencing its absence. Had one of the attackers held Mr. Olsen while the other took the knife to him? I didn’t want to think about it. But I had to. A detective had to face their cases head on. There was no room for squeamishness. If I wanted to make detective some day, I’d better get used to it.
The bloody scene was eerily similar to photos taken at the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago on February 14, 1929. I’d seen pictures in my criminology textbooks in college, the horror muted only slightly by the fact that the photos were in black and white. Today was the anniversary of that horrific event. In a barbaric act of gang warfare, seven members of the city’s Irish North Side Gang, which was led by George “Bugs” Moran, were lined up against a wall and mowed down by Thomson submachine guns. Al Capone, who led the South Side Italian crime syndicate, was suspected of orchestrating the executions as part of a ploy to control the profitable but illegal gambling, prostitution, and bootlegging trades in the city during the days of Prohibition. The only survivor of the shootings was a dog named Highball, who was visibly shaken at the violence he’d witnessed. This scene, too, was nothing short of a bloodbath, a modern-day Saint Valentine’s Massacre with a dog, once again, as the only witness. But while the long-ago crime had never been solved, I was determined to do whatever I could to ensure this one would be.
As I stepped into the kitchen, a floral fragrance met my nose. A dozen red roses in a glass vase sat on the kitchen table to the right. A white ribbon with red hearts was tied around the top of the vase. A heart-shaped Mylar balloon floated above it, the shiny surface reading Always and Forever. I cringed. So much for that sentiment. Shelby’s husband must have brought the roses home for her. A small pink gift bag adorned with tissue paper sat on the table, too.
A particularly large pool of blood seeped over the edge of the tabletop, releasing a slow drip onto the floor below. Had someone approached Greg Olsen from behind and slashed his throat as he placed the roses on the table? An open jugular vein would explain the blood spurts that appeared on the walls and cabinets. Had the men whose footprints appeared about the kitchen followed him in from the garage, or might they have been already waiting in the house?
The technician who’d been collecting blood samples from the various pools and puddles stepped back to give me and my partner room to work. I had no way yet of knowing exactly what had happened here, but whatever had occurred had been violent and vicious, brutal beyond belief. Brigit, too, took in the scene, though while I relied predominantly on my eyes to assess the evidence, my partner relied primarily on her nose. She sniffed at the blood on the floor in front of us, moving from one puddle to another and back again. She sniffed the puddles on each side of the dishwasher before turning her attention to the one in front of it again, as if she were comparing scents. Fortunately, she didn’t knock over the yellow plastic marker, which identified the puddle as number 23.
Given Brigit’s behavior, I suspected that particular pool of blood might have been from a second person, perhaps an attacker. The volume of blood would be typical of multiple victims. Still, even with all three people involved in the incident being potential sources of the blood, the amount splashed about the room seemed extraordinary. Without enough blood, the body couldn’t transport oxygen to the brain and other organs, and they’d soon begin to fail. But only time and lab results would give us an accurate body count.
Once Brigit had gotten a good sniff around the room, I issued the order for her to trail. The dog lowered her snout again, inhaling with more purpose now as she searched for the scent trail that would tell her where the people had gone. She led me a few feet in one direction, before going back in the other, probably following the path the killers had taken as they attacked their victim. After performing this improvised two-step, she trotted straight to the door at the back left of the kitchen, which stood ajar. I noticed damage to the drywall behind the door, a tell-tale circle indicating where the doorknob had impacted the wall. Someone had shoved the door open, either to get in or to get out, or had bumped up against it, hard. Someone had also dragged something through the blood, leaving a long smear.
Both the smear and Brigit continued through the door and into the one-car garage, which contained miscellaneous lawn-care tools, a garbage can, a recycling bin, and a member of the crime scene team, who was dusting the wall-mounted opener for prints. As I followed behind her, Brigit sniffed along in a roughly rectangular pattern, outlining a compact automobile. The smear ended in a still-wet puddle where the trunk of the car presumably would have been. Brigit spent extra time at the back of the garage and on the far side before circling back around and sitting to tell me the last of the trail ended where the driver’s door would have been if a car had been parked in the garage.
Just to be sure, I asked the crime scene technician to open the garage door.
“No problem.” He pushed the button on the wall with the small end of his fingerprinting brush and the door rambled its way up and over our heads.
I led Brigit over to the open doorway and ordered her to trail, but when she did, she retraced the same rectangular track as before, lingering again where the trunk and passenger doors would have been before returning to the driver’s side of the car. Her behavior told me that whoever had been in the Olsens’ kitchen had left via a car that had been parked in this garage, and that the person or persons had spent some time at the rear of the car and the passenger door. The fact that Brigit had lingered in those areas told me the scent was stronger in those specific spots.
I bent down, looked my partner in the eye, and praised her performance. “Good girl!” Knowing she’d expect payment for her services, I reached into my pocket and pulled out three liver treats, feeding them to her one by one.
My partner and I went back into to the house. Detective Jackson motioned for me to follow her to the corner of the kitchen to give my report privately.
We huddled in the corner and I filled her in. “Whoever was in this kitchen left in a car that had been parked in the garage.” I told her how Brigit had paused where the trunk and passenger doors would have presumably been, assuming the car hadn’t been backed into the space.
Jackson thought aloud. “So the people who’d been in the kitchen put something in the trunk and one of them climbed into the passenger seat and one into the driver’s seat.”
“Looks that way.”
As far as the something that might have been put into trunk, my gut and the smear pattern told me the something was most likely a someone. I still wasn’t sure what had happened here, but one thing was certain. Cupid wasn’t to blame for what had happened. It would take more than an arrow to cause this amount of carnage.
Making Sense of the Scents
The kitchen had been an interesting place to explore. There’d been blood all over. Brigit knew what blood was. In her time working with Megan, they’d come across blood at some of the crime scenes. She’d smelled blood on dead squirrels and frogs she’d rolled on, too. Most of the blood here smelled the same, but one puddle smelled different from the others. She could scent the smells of three people in the kitchen and garage, too. One of the smells was very strong. The same smell seemed to be in the living room and hallway, though more faint. That person must live here. The smells of the other two people she scented were very weak, but she could still distinguish them. Her nose told her that the little dog had been in the kitchen, had run through the blood on the floor. Her nose also told her that there was a box of peanut butter-flavored doggie treats in the pantry. She’d been tempted to paw at the door to see if Megan might give her one, but she knew better than to mix business with pleasure. She was on duty now, and she had to stay on task.
Part of Brigit envied the tiny beast. Brigit was too big to fit nicely on Megan’s lap. She’d tried several times without success. But being able to curl up on a person’s lap is where Brigit’s envy ended. The poor thing had a smushed snout rather than a nice long one like Brigit. A flat nose like that wouldn’t be much use in scenting. But she supposed it didn’t much matter. The dog seemed to serve the same purpose as a toy. Whether she could scent well wouldn’t much matter. Yep, all in all, Brigit was happy being a big, furry working dog.
The fact that her partner had already paid her in liver treats told Brigit that she’d completed the tasks she’d been brought here to perform. Still, Brigit stood dutifully beside Megan just in case her partner needed her again. She wished she could get out of these weird booties, though. They felt strange on her feet and legs.