Authors: Kendra Elliot
“Yeah, Ben wanted one after Kirstin got hers. Now it spends most of the time dead on the floor of his room or kicked under his bed. Glad we didn’t spend a bunch of money on it. Kirstin is on hers nonstop. Texting. That’s all she does. It takes her ten minutes to text a conversation she could have wrapped up in one minute with a phone call.”
“What’s the fun in making a call?”
Ray snorted. He peeked through a small window in the door of Interview 3. “What the hell?”
Mason couldn’t see around Ray’s bulk. “What?”
“He’s got a dog with him.”
“The park ranger?” Mason glanced at his notepad. “Rollins?”
“No, the guy with Rollins.” Ray sighed and opened the door, muttering something about allergy medication.
A large shepherd/collie/lab mix eyed both men as they entered the room, but it sat quietly next to its human. Mason didn’t think the dog would be a problem, but the body odor in the room was about to choke him. The dog’s owner was a transient, brown clothes, brown hair, brown skin. A brown backpack leaned against his legs. Heavy hiking boots were planted on either side of the backpack; the owner’s gaze met Mason’s.
He’s not nuts.
Portland had a large transient population. An ongoing issue for the police, politicians, and people who wanted to help. Mason’s encounters with transients had convinced him the majority of the
people had mental issues that kept them on the street, unable to function in society. But a few were not mentally ill; they were people who’d purposefully chosen to live a different life or fate had simply dealt them a crappy hand.
Bud Rollins, the park ranger he’d met briefly last night, stood and held out a hand to the detectives. “This is Simon. He saw the girls going into Forest Park last night. I hunted him down this morning to ask if he’d seen anything, because I know he’s frequently in that area.”
Mason mentally added what Bud didn’t say.
Simon lives illegally in the park.
“What did you see?” Mason asked the brown man.
Mason didn’t care if the man had an illegal campsite. He just wanted to know what Simon saw and get a feel for whether or not he was credible.
Simon rubbed his dog’s head, his gaze calmly shifting between Mason and Ray. “I saw a teenage girl walking on one of the trails late last night. I followed her and watched for a bit, concerned because she was alone.” Simon spoke carefully in a low tone. “The park isn’t somewhere young girls should be alone at night.”
“When she met up with another girl on the trail, I relaxed and was about to leave when I saw one more catch up. I followed the three of them just because I was curious. They were all dressed in white and were clearly excited about something.”
“They see you?” asked Ray. “It was pouring last evening. What about coats and umbrellas? How were they able to follow the trails?”
“They all had coats and umbrellas. Flashlights, too.”
“If they wore coats, how’d you see the dresses?” Mason asked, searching for inconsistencies.
Simon wasn’t rattled. “Their dresses were longer than the coats.”
“Did you have a flashlight?” Ray sniffed and wiped at his nose with a tissue.
“Yes, but I rarely use it. I know my way around and batteries are expensive.”
“Did you see how they entered the park? Did a vehicle drop them off?”
Simon shook his head. “They were already a half mile in before I came across the first one. No, they didn’t see me. At least the girls didn’t. It was when the guy—”
“A man was there?” Mason interjected.
Their unknown death scene arranger?
Simon looked Mason in the eye. “Yes, a man, older than the girls. Tall, thin. He stared into the brush in my direction, so I left. I don’t know if he saw me or not. There were three girls with him when I left. I figured they were in a group big enough to be safe.”
“You’re the Lone Ranger of Forest Park? Watching out for people?” Ray asked.
The transient’s mouth twitched on one side. “I’ve broken up a scuffle or two. Drunken idiots. Usually I keep to myself.”
“You know your way around Forest Park in the dark? That’s a big place. Thousands of acres.” Ray sneezed again.
“I know that section of Forest Park perfectly. I don’t venture into the rest that much.”
Mason glanced at Bud, who was nodding along with Simon’s statements. The park ranger seemed to be comfortable with the
man and was taking him at his word. Nothing Simon said had set off any concerns for the park ranger.
“So why follow the girls?” Mason asked. He wasn’t getting a predator vibe from Simon. He seemed smart and composed, but some of the sharpest criminals fit that description.
Simon was silent and glanced down at his hand on the dog’s head. “I have a daughter.”
Mason wondered how long it’d been since he’d seen her.
Bud Rollins spoke up. “Simon’s given me a hand a time or two. He didn’t want to come down today, but when I explained what’d happened up there, he said he’d describe what he’d seen.”
“What else can you tell us about the man? Age? Clothes?” Ray had his pencil poised over his notepad. “Would you recognize him again?”
Simon looked thoughtfully at Ray, paused and then shook his head. “I don’t think so. What sticks with me the most is that he was the opposite of the girls. Dressed in black. The girls listened to him, seemed to know him well. He wasn’t their age, definitely not teens like they were… but not middle-aged either, somewhere in between… maybe twenties or thirties?”
“You said they seemed excited?”
Simon nodded. “Chatter, body language.”
“You didn’t catch any of the conversation?”
He shook his head. “Wasn’t close enough.”
“Were they carrying anything else?” Ray made a note.
Simon’s brows came together. “I think some of the girls may have been carrying a small bag or purse. The man had a large duffel he’d slung over one shoulder. I only saw three girls—you say there were six altogether?”
Mason nodded. “You didn’t go look at where they were found?”
“I went to look this morning after hearing about it. Saw the police everywhere and left before I could get anywhere near it. One of the girls survived?” Simon asked.
“So far,” Mason said. “Doesn’t look good.” He glanced at his watch. He hadn’t heard an update on the girl at Emanuel Hospital in more than two hours.
“I’m gonna have someone come take a full statement. Tell them everything you can remember, no matter how insignificant it seems,” Ray directed. “Anything else you think we need to know right away?”
Simon was silent for a few seconds and then shook his head.
“What’s your last name, Simon?” Ray asked.
The room was silent as Simon and Bud exchanged a look.
“Parker,” Simon stated, looking calmly at Ray.
Mason held out a hand to the man. “We appreciate your help.” Simon stared at Mason’s hand for a brief second and then shook it firmly. Ray did the same and the detectives left the room. Mason took a deep breath of fresh air.
“Seems like a decent guy,” Ray commented as they headed back to their desks. “Think he has a camp in the forest?”
“Probably,” Mason muttered.
“Think he’s nuts?”
“No. But I don’t know what to make of him. He’s a little hard to read. Very mellow, very in control, and thinks before he speaks. Not like the usual transient from the street.”
Simon seemed to be a straight shooter, and Mason respected that. But he knew to not rush to judgment. By offering his help, Simon became their first suspect to clear.
“I knew there had to be someone else with that group. What do you think about an older guy possibly influencing a bunch of high-school girls?” Ray asked.
“It’s possible. Now tell me why he did it.”
Ray was silent for a minute. “Good question. What did he get out of it? He didn’t get sex, according to the initial evaluation at the scene. At least last night he didn’t. Maybe it was to cover up what he had gotten previously from the group of girls? Dead girls tell no tales?”
Mason’s mind raced at a hundred miles per hour. He didn’t want to think about a man sexually abusing teen girls. “I’ll wait to hear back from the autopsy. It’ll show if the girls had been abused.”
“Maybe it was consensual sex. Maybe a group—”
“Jesus Christ, Ray. Turn it off.” Mason needed to focus on one thing at a time. A sexual angle was a definite possibility, but until he had some evidence indicating that direction, he wouldn’t obsess about it. “If you’ve got an angle to theorize on, write it down. Right now we need to get over to the medical examiner’s office and get some autopsy results to point us in a direction. Then we’ll put together a history on Simon Parker.”
Keys in hand, Victoria grabbed her purse and dashed out her back door. She’d told the medical examiner she’d be in early Sunday morning to help with the girls from the forest. It wasn’t early anymore; she’d slept through her alarm. She silently swore. She was never late. She darted down her steps, headed to her garage behind the home, and saw a figure move from the corner of her eye. Blood pressure rocketing, Victoria whirled to face the movement, planted her feet, and pointed her pepper spray in her attacker’s direction.
The girl shrieked and tripped backward, hands in the air.
“Trinity!” Victoria’s heart stopped as she registered her teen neighbor’s face. “You scared me to death!” She lowered the spray
and willed her heart to restart.
I nearly sprayed her.
Of course, there were worse things than being nailed with pepper spray. The stuff made your eyes burn and stole your breath until you wanted to puke, but you’d live.
“I’m so sorry, Dr. Peres. I was just about to knock on your front door when I heard you out back.”
Victoria blew out a breath. Her neighbor looked truly rattled. Well, that made two of them. Trinity lived a few houses down. Currently a senior in high school, she’d struck up a conversation with Victoria two years ago while she was weeding her yard. When she’d discovered Victoria worked for the medical examiner, she’d begged her to speak to her careers class. Surprisingly, Victoria had a blast interacting with the high-school kids, changing their beliefs that the medical examiner’s office was like
and telling them how it really worked. The teacher asked her to return the following year, saying he’d never seen the kids so fascinated.
Yes, death was fascinating when you studied it at a distance.
Hands-on experience was different.
Still fascinating, but much messier.
Victoria slipped her pepper spray back in her pocket and took a closer look at Trinity. The teen was pale, her eyes red with a look of desperation. “What’s wrong?”
In Victoria’s opinion, Trinity was a smart girl. Street smart and school smart. She’d been in the foster system since she was ten. Her mother had ended up in prison after too many drug convictions, and Trinity had been bumped through several foster families. Her current situation was stable, and she’d confided that she’d hoped to stick with her foster mom, Katy, through high school. Some of her previous homes had given more stress than help.
“Did you see those girls on TV? The ones found in Forest Park?” Trinity couldn’t hold still. She clenched and unclenched her fists. Her blonde ponytail bobbed as her feet shifted and her gaze pleaded with Victoria.
Victoria stiffened. “Did you know them? Do you know what happened?”
“I don’t know! My friend Brooke isn’t answering her phone. And I know she was going up there last evening. Can you find out the names of the girls who died?”
Victoria swallowed. “They don’t know who they are yet. There wasn’t any identification with them. What does your friend look like?”
“She’s got long dark hair. Blue eyes—”
Victoria’s heart fell.
“Oh my gosh!” Trinity froze, her gaze locked on Victoria. “You know? You know what they look like?” The teen looked ready to vomit. “I told her she shouldn’t go. The whole situation didn’t make sense!”
Victoria placed her hands on Trinity’s shoulders and held the teen’s terrified gaze. “Yes, they all had long dark hair. Each girl did. But that doesn’t mean one of them is your friend. I’m headed to the ME’s office now, and I’ll see what I can find out. Have you talked to your friend’s parents?”
Trinity looked at the ground and her shoulders slumped. “I haven’t. Brooke told them she was spending the night with me. I didn’t want to get her in trouble if nothing had happened to her.”
Victoria tightened her grip. “Listen to me. You’re not doing your friend any favors by covering for her if she’s doing something dangerous. You don’t know where she was last night?”
Trinity shook her head. “She was doing another photo shoot. She told me it was at Forest Park. But she didn’t say exactly where.”
“A photo shoot? At night?”
“I know, right? That’s what didn’t make sense.” Trinity’s voice cracked.
“Who’s taking pictures?”
“This guy. I don’t know who he is. A friend of hers from a different high school put her in touch with him. He was looking for a girl with long dark hair for modeling. He made Brooke darken hers. He said everything about her was perfect for his pictures, but her hair needed to be a little bit darker.”
Red flags were waving in Victoria’s head. “Some guy? Another student?”
“I don’t know! Brooke never said. I think he was older. He had all sorts of photography equipment and had already done some other photo shoots with Brooke and some other girls—”
“He took pictures of her with other girls? Did you see them?”
Trinity shook her head. “No, I saw pictures of just Brooke. They were really good.”
Victoria glanced at her watch. She needed to get Trinity to talk to Detective Callahan. Now. “Do you know Brooke’s parents’ phone number?”
Trinity shook her head. “I know where she lives.”
“Get in the car. We’re going to stop by there. And then I’m taking you to talk to the police. Let your foster mom know what’s up, okay?”
“I’ll call her.”
“Trinity.” Victoria paused. “Do you have a current picture of Brooke?”
The girl’s eyes widened as she nodded. “She texted me one of the professional shots. It’s still on my phone.”