Authors: Wyborn Senna
This side-part had perfect legs, but a quick check beneath her chic tweed hat revealed a missing hair plug near the part and a professionally repaired neck split. P.J. sighed and noted both flaws in writing.
Next came a geranium-lipped, cinnamon high-color AG wearing Disc Date. A rhinestone button on the fuchsia skirt was missing, but the white lace blouse was still crisp and vibrant. She had pinpricks near her ankles, but because the floor-length skirt covered them, she wouldn’t need to be redressed.
The white plastic helmet on Miss Astronaut popped off to reveal a silver-ash blond, high-color, side-part AG with a tan skin tone. Her flag, space suit, and boots were mint-colored. P.J. elected not to remove her outfit to see her legs. Instead, she gently bent them to hear the requisite three clicks.
A beautiful, pale blond, low-color side-part wearing Poodle Parade had all her accessories—tote bag, trophy, and dog show award—baggied and tied to her wrist with an olive ribbon.
“Darling, are you a side-part too?” P.J. already knew she was, but was reveling in the fact she had picked up more than a few of these harder to find AG Barbies.
“Let me see your eyes,” she said.
P.J. removed the doll’s sunglasses to view her perfectly painted blue irises. A faint rub on one eyelid required documentation, even though it was barely discernible.
“You know I really don’t need to be wearing a scarf when I’m wearing a hair band,” Miss Poodle Parade complained, her British accent stronger with her umbrage.
P.J. removed the pink scarf.
“I can fix that for you, darling,” she said, untying the baggie from her wrist and opening it. She flattened the scarf, which had been knotted beneath the doll’s chin, and slipped it inside the Ziploc. The turquoise hair band clashed with the olive sheath and diamond-patterned knit coat, but P.J. could always redress her another time.
“Much better,” Miss Poodle Parade said, sounding as chipper as Mary Poppins.
P.J. laid her back down after inspecting her legs.
“Are you talking to yourself?”
The voice seemed to come from nowhere.
It took P.J. a moment to register that it was not part of her reverie.
She looked up and saw a carrot-topped man in a red and white football jersey staring at her through the chain-link of the gated stall.
The crime scene in Oswego, New York, had been broken down into two locations: the Grace vehicle parked at SUNY Oswego and the Grace home, mere blocks away.
When police arrived and cordoned off the parking lot, the only two cars present were the remains of the Graces’ white Saturn and, ten spaces away, a putty-colored Mitsubishi Diamante that had been dinged, dented, and marred by flying debris. Beyond the perimeter, administrative personnel and students stood in the snow, most without coats, hats, and boots, trying to piece together what had taken place.
After photos had been taken, emergency personnel arrived and extricated Mike from the driver’s side of the Saturn. Since the passenger door had flown off and hit the stop sign on the corner, it was easier to remove Gayle.
“That’s Mike and Gayle!” a woman shouted from beyond the perimeter. Through the shattered car window, the woman saw fragments of the dark blue pinstripe suit and crimson and dark blue tie he had worn that day, now charred to his skin. The diamond tack he stuck in his tie had been blasted off and was now embedded in the crumpled and fragmented car hood.
Mike’s ear and cheekbone were partially intact, but graying dark hair hung like a washrag from his skull. Gayle’s face was entirely gone, but fragments of the pale yellow, high-collared blouse and white bra she’d worn that day were stuck to her shoulder blades. Some of her blond-streaked hair was stuck to the headrest, and a gold button earring she’d been wearing blinked in the harsh sunlight, yards away.
The thick, wet snowfall had slowed as the police formed a perimeter, but gathering evidence was still difficult.
Martin Phillips was concentrating on photographing, then watching forensics bag the remnants of speaker wire. The frayed end of the speaker wire nearest the fragmented engine was still partially wrapped around one of the spark plugs.
The car was rigged
, Phillips thought. His mind went through the steps the perpetrator would have taken to make it work. C
rude, but effective
Powell Griffin was busy following a trail of spike-booted footprints leading to and from the Grace vehicle from seven spaces away. Impressions in snow were hard to photograph because of lack of contrast, but Griff knew the procedure. First, he sprayed the boot-prints with orange spray paint, holding the can three feet away from each impression so the aerosol didn’t cause damage. By directing the spray at a forty-five-degree angle, the spray paint marked only the highest impression points. Then, since the highlighted impressions were liable to absorb heat from the sun, they were shielded with canvas tent screens until they could be adequately photographed.
When he had finished protecting the prints, Griff walked over to Phillips. He had something on his mind, and Phillips knew him well enough not to ask what he was thinking until Griff thoroughly formulated what he wanted to say and was ready to share it.
Phillips joggled his body back and forth in the cold, keeping his feet stationary so as not to mar the scene.
“Have you ever seen a woman in this town wear spike-heeled boots?” Griff asked finally.
“I’d have to ask my wife,” Phillips replied. “But I’d guess no. It’s too slippery. You’d fall down as soon as you hit the ice.”
Griff looked past the crime scene tape at the gathered crowd. Nearly all looked frozen, nearly all wore parkas and heavy hiking boots, and nearly all were undoubtedly locals or relatives of locals who had dressed them or advised them on what they’d need to survive upstate New York winter weather.
“Do we have any dental stone?” he asked.
“Always. Bags of it.”
Griff did the math in his head. He had over a dozen clear prints of both the right and left boots.
Dental stone with a compressive strength of at least eight-thousand psi was used for impressions in soil, snow, or sand. Phillips went to the forensics van and brought back an armload of premixed, re-sealable plastic bags, setting them at Griff’s feet in a trackless spot. Then he went and retrieved four gallon-sized jugs of water, bringing them back and setting them down beside the bags of dental stone.
Griff picked a bag up and grabbed a jug. He poured sufficient water into the bag, sealed it, and shook it up. “I feel good about those prints,” he said.
“You think a woman could have done this?”
“Think Mike was having an affair and this was the other woman getting back at him when he tried to cut things off?”
“Don’t know yet,” Phillips said. “But we’ll figure it out.”
He watched as Griff massaged the first bag of dental stone until it was the consistency of watered-down Bisquick.
“There are two good car tire impressions—left front, left rear—where the boot-prints start and return. Let’s get those two, while the wind is cooperating.”
Phillips nodded and headed off.
* * *
The man on the second floor of Sheldon Hall did not want to go outside. Other than the car that had been blown to bits, his was the only car left in the Takamine Road lot. If he went out now, there would be questions, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to get involved.
He had been gazing out at the parking lot when the blond woman was stood near the Grace car. The gas tank was on the right side of the Saturn, and it was parked in the right corner of the lot, so his view was partially obscured. After watching her a while, he decided she must be putting gas in the tank. He went back to reading his hardback copy of
A Winter Haunting
Movement caught his peripheral vision again, however, and he turned and looked out a second time. The woman stepped away from the car and looked heavenward. Then she gave a slight nod before scurrying, slipping and sliding in her white vinyl boots, over to an Altima parked three spots away from his Diamante. She was driving a rental car. Enterprise had slapped a substantial sticker advertising its website on the car’s rear bumper.
The man knew he had information that would likely mean something to those investigating the crime. He also knew he was not quick to get involved in situations that might prove troublesome.
Until he was ready to come forward—if and when he was
ready—what he witnessed would be filed away and forgotten. The only problem he really had now was how to kill sufficient time until forensics cleared out of the parking lot and he was free to get in his Diamante and head home.
He looked down at the book he was carrying and realized he had over 120 pages left to read. Glad he had brought a good novel with him that day, he moseyed off in search of a coffee vending machine and a more comfortable place to sit than the window nook he’d been resting in.
Apparently nonplussed by the fact Caresse was nearly sitting in his lap, Todd continued to talk. “All right. ’Cause the reason I brought it up was, I was listening to Sammy Stoudt’s show the other day on KVEC, and he had a show on sexism in the restaurant industry, about the way women are made to look in some restaurants, and one of his callers said, ‘well, you know, you should have a Barbie expert on.’”
“No kidding.” Caresse was genuinely interested. KVEC was right in San Luis, and if she remembered correctly, her pal Marilyn in Classified Ads was Sammy’s good friend.
Todd continued, “Because he saw one being connected to the other, right? That here we have a doll that’s not like Raggedy Ann or anything. This is a good-looking, California, full-bosomed babe.”
“And is that the image women have to ascribe to as they’re growing up now?”
“No, they don’t, but the whole thing is that when you’re a girl and you’re playing with dolls, you don’t want to play with an ugly doll. So if you’re going to make her pretty, why not make her the ultimate of what’s conventionally considered beautiful?”
Todd studied Caresse’s face. “You’ve got the most amazing green eyes I’ve ever seen. Would it be all right if I kissed you before I went back to my side of the table?”
Manda the waitress had terrible timing. She was hovering, holding two plates of ribs, a copy of
tucked beneath her left arm.
“Were you guys talking about Barbies?”
She placed the ribs on the table and unfolded the newspaper.
Caresse’s gaze went straight to the bold headline, “Sister Claims Gayle Murdered For Barbies,” and her hand was out to take the paper before it was even offered. Immersing herself in the story, she finally looked up to see Todd dabbing rib juice from his beard. She hadn’t seen him return to his side of the table and had forgotten about the proffered kiss. Entranced by the bounty before him, Todd was fully absorbed in his meal, so she continued reading.
The byline read, “Megan Dailon Says Valuable Collection Ravaged.”
As recorded in the first news report she’d read, which was subsequently corroborated by Ilene on the BBB, Megan Dailon had lost her sister Gayle and her brother-in-law Mike Grace in a “suspicious” car explosion.
This story, however, offered additional details about Gayle’s collection.
“We updated my sister’s inventory list only six months ago,” Dailon told a reporter for
. “She had a choice vintage collection, but she was particularly attached to her American Girl Barbies and outfits from the mid to late ’60s. The robber chose to take at least one example of each rare outfit and the best of Gayle’s dolls, leaving those that were less mint or wearing duplicate or more common outfits rearranged uniformly, three to a shelf. I will have to go over the list, but I estimate that over four dozen dolls that were here are now gone.” Dailon is certain there is a connection between the robbery and the deaths of her sister and brother-in-law
At this time, law enforcement will not commit to robbery as a motive for the homicides, but Dailon insists otherwise
“Gayle and Mike didn’t have any enemies,” she said. “There was no reason on earth for anyone to want them dead.”
Caresse looked up from the newspaper, her mind buzzing.
The killer had a penchant for American Girl Barbies.
Juicy guy, juicier story
P.J. stared at the man wearing the San Francisco 49ers jersey.
He looked down at his shirt. “It’s a replica,” he explained, waiting for her reply.
She froze. On her lap was box number three, containing the requisite eight dolls. She had only checked the first five before the interruption.
When the man realized she wasn’t going to say anything, he opened the gate and approached her, offering his hand. “You must be Darby’s sister. I’m Michael.”
P.J. began to get up, but the box in her lap shifted and threatened to spill. Michael caught it and helped her keep it upright, whereupon she abruptly tugged it away from him and went to slide it back into the Rubbermaid unit.
“Your brother lets me use his parking space,” he told her.
She finally spoke. “Michael Hornberger. You’re the one with the new Explorer and the Fat Boy. Why does a guy with money live in this dump?”
Michael grinned shyly. “Me? I get restless and like to move every few years.” He looked around. “So you like dolls?”
P.J. disregarded his question. “Did you get the money from your parents?” It was a rude question, but she had no trouble asking it.
“No. I write for TV,” he said.
“Anything I would know?”
“I doubt it,” he said.
“Have you heard of
“Oh, sure,” P.J. said. She folded her hands and began wringing them.
“I must be bothering you.”
Michael started to back away, hoping she would stop him.
P.J. held up her left hand and flashed her diamond ring at him, wishing the substantial marquis cut could blind him