The stories were all so different that it was anyone’s guess as to how it happened. “He nearly tore the braid right out of that poor child’s head,” a teenage girl had reported. “I saw her hair ribbon get caught on his jacket sleeve, and then he was running and pulling the braid along with him. Lucky for the girl that ribbon gave way,” the newspaper quoted the witness.
John sighed and closed the file. If Katherine knew he obsessed over the case, how would she feel? He picked up the phone and dialed the SFPD. “May I speak with Detective Dan Steele?” he asked.
He waited, and when the detective finally came on the line, he said. “Hey, Dan, It’s John.”
Dan sighed. “I know why you’re calling. Three months to the anniversary and you want to know if we have any new leads.”
John smiled. “They get so depressed when it gets this close. I just want to give them some answers.”
Dan sighed, and John heard some papers rustling. There hadn’t been any new leads on the case. Dan knew this without even opening the file, but he did it for his friend, even so.
Dan had taken over the case when the original officer, his father, retired. “Dan,” he had said, his big chest heaving. “This case is dear to my heart.” He had opened the file and pointed to the picture of Katherine crying. “This here child touched my heart with a wound so wide that nothing except catching her mother’s killer can close it.” He had closed the file and handed it over to Dan.
Dan accepted the file and worked the case with fervor, sure he could crack the case, but there just weren’t any new leads. With so many conflicting eyewitness accounts—and it seemed more people had concentrated on the screaming child than on the fleeing killer—that it just went cold. Dan hadn’t had the heart, any more than the original officer had, to turn it over to the cold-case files.
He went through the pretense of rummaging through notes, his hands lingering on the single fingerprint taken from the child’s coloring book the killer had touched while trying to steady her, before finally saying, “Sorry, John, nothing new.” He closed the file and stuck it back in the drawer, locking it to keep it safely by his side.
“Thanks, Dan.” He hung up the phone and sighed. Perhaps next year, he thought.
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