Last to Die
threat. Yet the invader walked into this room, crossed to the bed, and fired a bullet into your head.
“It gets worse,” said Frost.
She looked at her partner, who appeared haggard in the harsh morning light. This was more than mere fatigue she saw in his eyes; whatever he’d seen had left him shaken.
“The children’s bedrooms are on the third floor,” Maura said, a statement so matter-of-fact that she might have been a realtor describing the features of this grand house. Jane heard creaking overhead, the footsteps of other team members moving in the rooms above them, and she suddenly thought of the year she’d helped plan her high school’s Halloween house of horrors. They’d splashed around fake blood and staged garishly gruesome scenes, far more gruesome than what she saw in this bedroom with its serenely reposing victim. Real life required little gore to horrify.
Maura headed out of the room, indicating that they’d seen what was significant here and it was time to move on. Jane followed her back to the staircase. Golden light shone down through the skylight, as if they were climbing a stairway to heaven, but these steps led to quite a different destination. To a place Jane did not want to go. Maura’s uncharacteristically summery blouse seemed as glaringly incongruous as wearing hot pink to a funeral. It was a minor detail, yet it bothered Jane, even annoyed her, that of all days that Maura would choose to wear such cheerful colors, it would be on a morning when three children had died.
They reached the third floor and Maura made a graceful sidestep , maneuvering one paper-covered shoe over some obstacle on the landing. Only when Jane cleared the top step did she see the heartbreakingly small form, covered with a plastic sheet. Crouching down, Maura lifted a corner of the shroud.
The girl was lying on her side, curled up into a fetal position, as though trying to retreat to the dimly remembered safety of the womb. Her skin was coffee-colored, her black hair woven into cornrows decorated with bright beads. Unlike the Caucasian victims downstairs, this child appeared to be African American.
“Victim number three is Kimmie Ackerman, age eight,” said Maura, speaking in a flatly clinical voice, a voice that Jane found more and more grating as she stared down at the child on the landing. Just a baby. A baby who wore pink pajamas with little dancing ponies. On the floor near the body was the imprint of a slender bare foot. Someone had stepped in this child’s blood, had left that footprint while fleeing the house. It was too small to be a man’s footprint.
“The bullet penetrated the girl’s occipital bone, but didn’t exit. The angle is consistent with a shooter who was taller and firing from behind the victim.”
“She was moving,” said Jane softly. “Trying to run away.”
“Judging by her position here, it appears she was fleeing toward one of these bedrooms on the third floor when she was shot.”
“In the back of the head.”
“Who the fuck does something like that? Kills a baby?”
Maura replaced the sheet and stood up. “She may have witnessed something downstairs. Seen the killer’s face. That would be a motive.”
“Don’t go all logical on me. Whoever did this walked into the house prepared to kill a kid. To wipe out a whole family.”
“I can’t speak to motive.”
“Just the manner of death.”
“Which would be homicide.”
Maura frowned at her. “Why are you angry with me?”
“Why doesn’t this seem to bother you?”
“You think this doesn’t bother me? You think I can look at this child and not feel what you’re feeling?”
They stared at each other for a moment, the child’s body lying between them. It was yet another reminder of the gulf that had split their friendship since Maura’s recent damaging testimony against a Boston cop, testimony that had sent that cop to prison. Although betrayals of the thin blue line are not quickly forgotten, Jane had had every intention of healing the rift between them. But apologies were not easy, and too many weeks had passed, during which their rift had hardened to concrete.
“It’s just …” Jane sighed. “I hate it when it’s kids. It makes me want to strangle someone.”
“That makes two of us.” Though the words were said quietly, Jane saw the glint of steel in Maura’s eyes. Yes, the rage was there, but better masked and under tight control, the
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