My Sister's Grave

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My Sister’s Grave (The Tracy Crosswhite Series Book 1)

Tracy Crosswhite has spent twenty years questioning the facts surrounding her sister Sarah’s disappearance and the murder trial that followed. She doesn’t believe that Edmund House—a convicted rapist and the man condemned for Sarah’s murder—is the guilty party. Motivated by the opportunity to obtain real justice, Tracy became a homicide detective with the Seattle PD and dedicated her life to tracking down killers.

When Sarah’s remains are finally discovered near their hometown in the northern Cascade mountains of Washington State, Tracy is determined to get the answers she’s been seeking. As she searches for the real killer, she unearths dark, long-kept secrets that will forever change her relationship to her past—and open the door to deadly danger.


Her tactical instructor at the police academy had liked taunting them during early morning drills. “Sleep is overrated,” he’d say. “You will learn to do without.” He’d lied. Sleep was like sex. The less you had, the more you craved it, and Tracy Crosswhite hadn’t had much of either lately. She stretched her shoulders and neck. With no time for a morning run, her body felt stiff and half-asleep, though she didn’t remember sleeping much, if at all. Too much fast food and too much caffeine, her doctor said. Good advice, but eating well and exercising took time Tracy didn’t have when investigating a homicide, and giving up caffeine would be like cutting off gasoline from a car engine. She’d die without it. “Hey, the Professor’s in early. Who died?”

Vic Fazzio leaned his considerable girth against Tracy’s cubicle wall. It was an old Homicide joke, but never stale when punctuated by Faz’s hoarse voice and New Jersey accent. With a salt-and-pepper pompadour and fleshy features, the Homicide section’s self-proclaimed “Italian Gumba” could have served as one of those silent bodyguards in mafia movies. Faz held the New York Times crossword puzzle and a library book, which meant the coffee had kicked in. God help anyone if they had to use the men’s room while Faz was there. He was known to stew for half an hour over his answers or when reading a particularly compelling chapter. Tracy handed him one of the crime scene photos she’d printed out that morning. “Dancer over on Aurora.” “Heard about it. Kinky shit, huh?” “I saw worse working sex crimes,” she said. “I forgot. You gave up sex for death,” he said. “Death is easier,” she said, stealing another of Faz’s punch lines.

The dancer, Nicole Hansen, had been found hog-tied in a cheap motel room on Aurora Avenue in North Seattle. A noose was fastened around her neck and the rope threaded down her spine, binding her wrists and ankles—an elaborate setup. Tracy handed Faz the medical examiner’s report. “Her muscles cramped and eventually seized. When they did, she straightened her legs to relieve the pain. She ended up strangling herself. Nice, huh?” Faz considered the photograph. “Wouldn’t you think they’d have used a slipknot or something to get out of it?” “That would be logical, wouldn’t it?” “So, what’s your theory? Some guy sat there getting his jollies watching her die?” “Or they screwed up, and he panicked and fled. Either way, she didn’t tie herself.” “Maybe she did. Maybe she’s like Houdini.” “Houdini untied himself, Faz. That was the trick.” Tracy took back the report and photograph and set them on her desk. “So here I sit at this ungodly hour, just you, me, and the crickets.” “Me and the crickets’ve been here since five, Professor. You know what they say. Early bird catches the worm.” “Yeah, well, this early bird’s so tired she wouldn’t know a worm if it crawled out of the ground and bit her on the butt.”

“So where’s Kins? How come you’re having all the fun?” She checked her watch. “He’d better be buying me a cup of coffee, but at this rate I could have brewed it myself.” She nodded at the book. “To Kill a Mockingbird. I’m impressed.” “I’m trying to better myself.” “Your wife picked it out for you, didn’t she?” “You bet.” Faz pushed away from the wall. “Okay, time for my smart time. The Mockingbird’s singing, and I’m percolating.” “TMI, Faz.” He started from the bull pen, then turned back, pencil in hand. “Hey, Professor, help me out. I need a nine-letter word for ‘makes natural gas safe.’ ” Tracy had been a high school chemistry teacher before making a career change and attending the academy. She received her nickname there. “Mercaptan,” she said. “Huh?” “Mercaptan. They add it to natural gas so you can smell it if you have a leak in the house.”

“No kidding. What’s it smell like?” “Sulfur. You know, rotten eggs.” She spelled it. Fazzio licked the tip of his pencil and wrote in the letters. “Thanks.” As Faz departed, Kinsington Rowe walked into the A Team’s bull pen and handed Tracy one of two tall cups. “Sorry,” he said. “I was about to call search and rescue.” The A Team was one of the Violent Crime Section’s four homicide teams, each consisting of four detectives. Tracy, Kins, Faz, and Delmo Castigliano, the other half of the Italian Dynamic Duo, made up the A Team. They sat with their desks in the four corners of one large cubicle, their backs to each other, which is how Tracy preferred it. Homicide was a fishbowl, and privacy was already at a premium. In the center of their square, they shelved Homicide binders below a work-space table. They each kept the felony assault files they were working at their respective desks.

Tracy cradled the cup. “Come to me you bittersweet nectar of the gods.” She took a sip and licked foam from her upper lip. “So what took you?” Kins grimaced as he sat. A running back for four years at the U and one year in the NFL, Kins retired when doctors misdiagnosed an injury that had left him with a degenerative hip. He’d eventually need it replaced but said he was holding out so he only had to have it done once. In the interim, he dealt with the pain by chewing on Advil. “Your hip that bad?” she asked. “Used to just be when it got cold.” “So get it fixed already. What are you waiting for? I hear it’s routine now.” “Nothing’s routine when the doctor has to slip that mask over your face and tell you nighty-night.”

He looked off, still grimacing, an indication that something more than his hip was bothering him. After six years working side by side, Tracy knew Kins’s tells. She knew his moods and his facial expressions. She knew first thing in the morning whether he’d had a bad night or gotten laid. Kins was her third Homicide partner. The first assigned to work with her, Floyd Hattie, had announced that he’d rather retire than work with a woman, then did so. Her second partner lasted six months, until his wife had met Tracy at a barbecue and couldn’t deal with her husband sharing close quarters with a single then-thirty-six-year-old five-foot-ten blonde. When Kins had volunteered to work with Tracy, she might have been just a tad sensitive. Fine, but what about your wife? she’d asked. Is she going to have a fucking problem? I hope not, Kins had said. With three kids under the age of eight, that’s about the last fun thing we do together. She knew immediately he was someone she could work with. They’d struck a deal—total honesty. No hard feelings. It’d worked for six years.

“Something else bothering you, Kins?” Kins blew out a breath and met her gaze. “Billy stopped me in the lobby,” he said, referring to the A Team’s sergeant. “I hope he had a good reason to keep me from my coffee. I’ve killed for less.” Kins didn’t smile. The chatter of the morning news from the television hanging over the B Team’s bull pen filtered through the room. A phone rang unanswered on someone’s desk. “Something to do with Hansen? The brass busting his chops over this one?” He shook his head. “Billy got a call from the medical examiner’s office, Tracy.” He made eye contact. “Two hunters found the remains of a body in the hills above Cedar Grove.”


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Robert Dugoni