Today's Reading

Three hours ago, Burlington PD responded to a residence on Ash Way and found the body of Krystal Ballard on her living room floor, her life drained out on the beige carpet in a series of red stains. The cause of death: stabbing. And not the typical two or three jabs, either. She had been stabbed in the chest eleven times.

Eleven times!

Two or three is a kill—eleven is overkill.

Overkill speaks of anger or jealousy or revenge; it speaks volumes about the killer. I've seen it before, the sudden outflow of emotion at the point of a knife, relentless and punishing, until the wielder gets tired of hearing the soft wet thud of the blade and steps back to stare at the mess he's wrought.

It's almost always a he.

Knife work takes strength. It's personal and up close.

It comes as no surprise that the ex-husband is already in custody—that's what happens when you drop your cell phone during the commission of a crime. CSI found it on the living room floor halfway under the couch. It's surprising how often that happens: someone drops a cell phone, a wallet, even court papers.

"Why, exactly, are we going to a crime that's already been solved?" I ask Jimmy as we race down the freeway. The baying of the siren and the roar of air rushing past the SUV are giving me a headache; Jimmy just takes it in stride.

"It's complicated," he says after a moment.

"Really? That's your best response?"

He glances at me quickly, annoyed, and then turns his attention back to the road. "I got a call from a friend," he says. "He's a detective with the Skagit County Sheriff's Office."

I wait for more.

I wait for the friend's name, or the special circumstances of the case, or the reason the unnamed friend needs a tracker when the body has already been recovered and a suspect is in custody, but there's nothing but silence from the driver's seat.

"And?" I finally blurt when I can take it no longer.

Jimmy stiffens in his seat, but doesn't say anything. He can drive ninety-seven miles an hour on a crowded freeway and look like he's relaxing in a hot tub, but I press him for info and suddenly his spine goes rigid and his knuckles turn white around the steering wheel.

That's his tell.

Now I know something's up. Jimmy's not the secretive type, especially when it comes to tracking. Whatever it is, it's going to be bad, maybe even really bad. I open my mouth to press him further, but before the words come out, Jimmy cuts me off.

"Leave it be, Steps," he insists. "I don't know enough to give you the full brief, all right? I know just enough to piss you off, and I don't need that right now. We'll be there in a couple minutes and then we'll both know a little more." With that off his chest, he relaxes a little and gives me a forced smile, saying, "Cross my heart."

Cross my heart!

I was wrong; it's a catastrophe.

* * *

The two-story houses are lined up like dominoes on each side of the quiet street, each identical to the one next door and across the road except for paint scheme and the personalized décor spilled out upon the flower beds and yards.

It's a neighborhood of twenty-four cookie-cutter houses on twenty-four miniature lots, with twenty-four double-car garages opening onto two alleys, one behind each row of homes.

The regimented sameness of the neighborhood has its little charms—emphasis on 'little.' It's the type of neighborhood where barbecue grills are standard, where kids play ball in the street until annoying hours of the night, and where having a car up on blocks in your driveway for more than a day is a stoning offense.

As soon as we turn onto the street I spot our destination. It's the tenth cookie-cutter on the right, a charming clone dressed in forest-green with tan trim that looks like it has a hint of olive blended in.

The yellow police tape is not part of the décor.

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