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CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE: a red scarf

The next morning Josie set out for Greensburg. GPS took her right to the park that Denise Poole had specified and Josie parked across the street, stretching her arms over her head before getting out of the car. She walked slowly toward the park, glancing furtively at the text Luke had sent earlier. “She said she’ll wear a red scarf, he had written.

The weather was warmer that day, inching upward of fifty-five degrees, and the park was busy with joggers and mothers pushing strollers and chasing toddlers around the playground area. There were benches on the periphery and Josie spotted Denise quickly. She sat alone, a Kindle in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other and a red knitted scarf tied loosely around her shoulders. She had dark hair, pulled back into an orderly bun, and was considerably bigger than Josie. Not fatter, just larger. A big-boned woman. But she was attractive, in an austere way, and stylishly dressed.

Josie sat beside her. “Miss Poole?”

The woman’s eyes flicked from her Kindle to Josie’s face with a hesitant smile. Josie noticed her eyes were light brown. “You must be Josie.”

She put her coffee down and extended a hand, which Josie shook. “Thank you for meeting with me,” Josie said.

Denise motioned toward Josie’s hand. “Nice ring. Luke didn’t tell me you were engaged.”

Josie stared down at the ring. Perhaps she should have removed it before coming to see Luke’s ex-girlfriend. But why should she hide the engagement? Still, it made the moment slightly awkward. “Oh, yeah, thanks.”

Denise looked back at her Kindle long enough to power it down. As she did, she muttered, “Enjoy it while it lasts.”

“What’s that?”

When Denise looked back up at her, her smile was stiff and pained. Her voice was laced with an almost patronizing sympathy. “He didn’t tell you, did he?”

Josie said nothing.

We were engaged,” Denise said. “Funny that he sent you here to meet me but left that little part out. Listen, you seem really nice, and I know you’re not here to discuss Luke, but you should know, he’s a serial fiancé. He likes to be engaged. He likes the newness. Then it gets old, he loses interest, and moves on.”

Engaged? Luke had called Denise his girlfriend. He’d never said anything about being engaged. Josie cleared her throat. “I’m only here for the Blackwell materials.”

Denise reached over and patted her arm. “Of course. Must be important for you to ask Luke to call me.”

Josie held her gaze. “I don’t know if it’s important or not. I haven’t seen it yet.”

Denise reached into her back pocket and pulled out a folded envelope, which she handed to Josie. “Then why did you need it?”

Josie shrugged. “I might not. If there is something important there, I’ll know it when I see it. That’s why I asked to see whatever you’ve got.”

“I googled her. Ginger Blackwell.” “Yeah, so did I.”

“Why would the police say that Ginger Blackwell’s case was a hoax when the rape kit turned up evidence of three different types of semen?”

Jackpot. Josie resisted the urge to tear open the envelope in front of Poole. She said, “They believed the sex was consensual.”

“Consensual sex with three different men at the same time?”

Josie shrugged. “Well, you know—desperate, lonely women will do just about anything for attention, or so I hear.”

Denise frowned. “I guess there are women out there who would do that sort of thing.”

Josie thanked her again and stood to leave.

“They weren’t run through the state database,” Denise said. Josie said, “What do you mean?”

Standing, Josie could see that Denise was even taller than she had initially thought. Probably approaching six feet. She tried to picture Luke proposing to this woman or even locked in a kiss, but she just couldn’t. Or maybe she didn’t want to. Why hadn’t he told Josie that Denise had been his fiancée? More importantly, why had Denise made Josie drive

four hours to meet in person to tell her something she could have told her over the phone and give her test results she could have faxed or mailed? What kind of relationship did they still have that Luke only needed to make one phone call? Josie wasn’t the jealous type, but the entire thing with Denise was strange, even by her standards.

“They collected the samples but never checked to see if they matched anyone already in the database. Any database. State or federal. They collected them but did nothing with them.”

Josie stared at her.

Denise gave her another smile but it seemed strained, this time with a tinge of nervousness. “Why wouldn’t they run them?”

“Because the whole thing was ruled a hoax,” Josie said. “No point in wasting the state’s resources on a crazy woman, right?”

Still, the fact that the results of the rape kit hadn’t been checked against any database was both useful and not surprising. Something definitely wasn’t right.

“You don’t believe that. You wouldn’t be here if you bought into the hoax idea. What’s really going on?”

Josie raised a brow. “What?”

Denise crossed her arms over her chest. “You asked Luke to call me about getting these DNA results. He asked me to give these to you even though we could both get fired. Why?”

Josie couldn’t answer that question, nor could she deny the feeling of dread building up inside her the more she found out about Ginger Blackwell’s case and the shitty investigation following her recovery. Josie’s off-the-books investigation was about to get them all into very deep water. She just hoped it would be worth the swim.

Josie sighed and decided to change tack. “There’s a teenage girl missing in Denton,” she told Denise. “Her name is Isabelle Coleman. I thought there might be a connection to Ginger’s case.”

Denise’s brow crinkled. “Is there?”

“I don’t know. I mean, if there is, I haven’t found it yet.”

“Why didn’t you just make the request through your department?” Josie’s cheeks colored. “I—I couldn’t.”

“Why not?”

“I’m on my chief’s shit list, and this,”—she waved the manila envelope in the air—“is a wild-goose chase. I figured if I found something useful I could get back in his good graces, and if I didn’t, no harm, no foul.”

“I see,” Denise said in a tone that implied she didn’t see at all. But if

Denise had been so worried about Josie’s motivations or about getting fired, then she would not have agreed—no, insisted—on this meeting.

“Listen,” Josie said. “I really appreciate your helping me out, but I have to get home.”

Denise narrowed her eyes. “Sure,” she said, gathering her things. “I have to get back to work.”

Josie turned and walked away from her. She was halfway to her car when Denise called after her, “Tell Luke I’ll see him when I come to get the painting.”

Josie stopped in her tracks and turned.

Denise gave her a breezy smile. “He’ll know what I mean.”

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Written by Amazing Thing Admin

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CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR: Luke

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX: Driving home