They went out to breakfast, and in a hushed tone she told him what June had shown her after Sherri Gosnell’s murder, following up with her theory that the Princess tongue barbell in June’s mouth actually belonged to Isabelle Coleman. He didn’t tell her she was crazy. He didn’t question her competence. He didn’t tell her she had too much time on her hands, or that she should give it a rest. Instead, he raised an eyebrow, chewed his toast thoughtfully, swallowed and asked, “Did you check June Spencer’s Facebook page to see if there are any photos of her with this tongue piercing?”
Her fork paused, floating over her plate. “I did. There wasn’t anything useful. Wait—you think I’m right?”
Luke shrugged. “Don’t know. I can see what the chief is saying. It’s not a definitive piece of evidence that points to Coleman, but given everything you’ve told me, I can also see where you’re coming from.”
“You think there is something bigger at work here? Like Drummond was involved with someone else? Maybe more than one person?”
He finished off his toast. “I don’t know. Anything’s possible.” “You think it’s some kind of trafficking ring?”
His brow furrowed as
he took a sip of coffee, then he said, “Traffickers spend a lot of time grooming
their girls. They don’t usually take
by force. I’m not saying they never kidnap women, I’m just saying the
usual MO is for them to find a girl with
low self-esteem—family issues,
desperate for attention, that sort of thing—and then they pull the bait and switch. It’s usually one guy
making the girl feel like she’s the most
special person in the whole world, that he loves her like
crazy, giving her all kinds of gifts, lavishing her with attention and
then when she is so gaga for him that she’ll do
anything, he introduces the sex-for- money thing.
It’s all about manipulation. It’s a game, and these guys are
good at it. We do a lot of busts at truck stops. I see a lot of these girls. Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of them. So a trafficking ring that abducts teenage girls and then either gives them or sells them to known sex offenders to keep? It’s possible, but I’m really not sold on that.”
“But you think it’s possible that the same person or people who took Ginger Blackwell also took Coleman, and possibly June Spencer?”
Another shrug. “Could be. Worth checking out. You should tell your chief to request a copy of the Blackwell file and check for any connections to the Coleman case—assuming that the Blackwell case really wasn’t a hoax. If there is anything useful, I’m sure he’ll find it. Who has the file?”
“The state police would have a file. They were the first responders, and they had the case until the chief raised holy hell and got an investigator from the DA’s office involved. The state police lab processed the evidence.”
“You got all that from Google?”
“Trinity Payne did a pretty detailed story on the whole thing.”
Luke said nothing and they ate in silence for a few moments. Then Josie asked him the question she’d been working up to the entire time, “Can you get me a copy of the Ginger Blackwell file?”
He stared at her. “Josie.”
“I know. I’m asking a lot. Especially because I’m not on the job right now.”
The truth was that even if she was on the job, asking for a copy of the file was putting Luke in an awkward position. It was a closed case and she was with another law enforcement agency. “Please,” she added.
He put his fork down and put both his hands on the table on either side of his plate. “Why?”
“Because I don’t believe that her case was a hoax, but I won’t know for sure unless I know what the police held back from the press. And what if there really are connections between her case and Isabelle Coleman’s? What if Coleman is being held in the same place Blackwell was taken? I could find her.”
He looked away from
her for a moment, at a point over her shoulder. A small vertical crease
appeared above the bridge of his nose.
He looked uncomfortable, like
the time she’d had to tell him that she was still, technically, married to Ray.
She could tell he was considering his words carefully. Whatever he was about to
say, he didn’t want to offend her or patronize her. Finally, he forged ahead.
“Josie, Denton PD is perfectly capable of following up on these leads. Googling
missing girls in this area and trying to connect their cases is one thing;
accessing a police file
illegally for no other reason than…” He drifted off, unwilling or unable to finish the sentence. “I know it’s hard for you, being suspended, especially with everything that’s going on right now, and I know you want to be a hero and find Coleman on your own, redeem yourself or whatever, but maybe you would… I don’t know, get more sleep at night if you found something else to, you know, take up your time.”
“What, like knitting?”
His cheeks colored. “No, yes… no. I mean…”
She stabbed her fork in the air in his direction. “This isn’t a hobby, Luke. I’m not doing this because I’m bored—”
He leaned his elbows on the table, folding his hands together over the top of his plate. “Then why? Why are you doing it?”
From the look in his eyes, she knew it was a genuine question. The flat white of her napkin was suddenly wildly distracting. Staring down at it, she ran her fingertips over the stippled edge of it. Because it’s who I am.
“I’m just saying that most people would be perfectly happy with a few weeks off from work. Most people have other things to do. Me? If I had time off from work, I’d be fishing from sunup to sundown. Sure, I’d miss the work, but I’d be happy for the break.”
She looked back up at him. “If I get a hobby, will you at least think about getting me the file?”
He shook his head, letting out a heavy sigh, but as he returned to eating she could see a half smile on his face, and she knew he would do what he could.
After they finished eating, Luke went to work and Josie went home. She had planned to get a few hours’ sleep—what else did she have to do? But she lay in her bed wide awake, sunlight slipping around the sides of her mini-blinds. She wasn’t sure why the Ginger Blackwell case bothered her so much, or even why she had asked Luke for the file. Why did it matter? What connection could it possibly have to June or Isabelle Coleman’s case?
Then it came to her. Ginger Blackwell’s disappearance had gained national attention. Within the first week, her face was the centerpiece of every news program in the country. Josie had even found stories about her abduction on the evening celebrity magazine shows: Access Hollywood, TMZ and the like. It was like the entire world had been wallpapered with Ginger Blackwell. Two weeks later she was dumped on the side of the highway.
“Why?” Josie muttered
to herself. Had the news coverage had something to do with her abductor letting
her go? Had Blackwell’s
abductor made a mistake? The woman could easily have been mistaken for a college-aged kid. Had her abductor, or abductors, taken her because they assumed she was young? Had they intended to keep her or even kill her, but felt compelled to release her under the relentless pressure of the media attention?
In spite of the sheer volume of news coverage about Ginger’s disappearance, there were few details about what the woman had experienced and seen during the three weeks she was missing.
Josie had to talk to Ginger Blackwell.