The East Metro District Office of the Minnesota State Patrol was housed in a sprawling complex alongside Interstate 94 in Oakdale. Shared with the Department of Transportation, the building was serviceable, but by no means fancy. Cade parked the unmarked Chevy Impala next to a deer-damaged cruiser. In Minnesota, deer crashes were not uncommon. In fact, Cade had recently been called to an accident scene where a trooper—in his first shift in a brand-new Patrol cruiser—had hit a deer while traveling 120 miles an hour. As one might guess, the deer was obliterated and the cruiser totaled. Fortunately, the trooper was unhurt and back on the road the very next day—in an older Crown Vic.
“Hey Dawkins, the new captain’s looking for you,” was the greeting Cade received as he pushed through the entrance. Cade gave the trooper a thumbs up and wound his way through the clutter of admin desks. Receiving glances and a few smiles, he said his hellos to the staff who kept the place running.
Nick Javier, a trooper built lower to the ground than most law enforcement officers Cade had come across, chatted with another trooper. “Hey Cade, the captain’s asking for you. Her first day here and she’s already looking for trouble.”
“That’s what I heard.” Cade paused and walked back to the pair. “Keep an eye on this boy,” he said nodding down to Javier. “Did you know Nick’s the only trooper who’s short enough you can see his feet in his driver’s license photo?”
They both laughed as Cade continued to the back where the captain’s office was located. He’d heard Capt. Rejene had worked her way up through the ranks, after starting her law enforcement career out of state in Charlotte. Most recently, she’d been in charge of the Patrol’s Rochester district. This was her first day in her new position.
The office’s previous occupant’s name was still stenciled on the smoked glass: Capt. Dickey. Cade was more than happy to see that officious prick transferred away in the aftermath of the multimillion-dollar theft from patrol headquarters. Which, coincidently, was the case that made Cade Dawkins a household name in the Twin Cities. The story had received national attention—at least for the several weeks the media had been interested before they moved onto greener pastures.
He could see a woman with her back to him as she reached up to place a photograph on a bookcase. He caught himself staring at her calves as she strained for the top shelf. Focus, he told himself. This was his new boss, and he’d better be careful.
Cade knocked lightly and pushed the door open. “I’m Cade Dawkins,” he offered as he took her in. She wore the white dress-uniform shirt, a navy skirt and burgundy pumps. Brown curly hair, dark eyes, clearly too good looking to be his boss.
“Capt. Leah Rejene.” She shook his hand with a firm grip. “I wanted to meet you. You come with a reputation.” She seemed to size him up as the awkward silence filled the room.
“I hope it’s a good one,” Cade said. Plopping himself in the chair across her desk, he leaned back and hesitated. He was self-aware enough to know he’d always bristled under authority and needed to choose his words carefully when dealing with higher ranking members of the Patrol. “Can I run something by you?” he asked.
“Sure.” Capt. Rejene sat back, but looked interested.
“You’re aware of the Lake Elmo fatality this morning?” A nod. “May be nothing, but I’m seeing a red flag I can’t ignore.”
“Crash—Sgt. Simpson—called me out to the scene. The victim had gone off the road at approximately 2:30 a.m. Her vehicle ran aground in the ditch after spinning out on the highway. Initially, it appears she was killed by the facial trauma brought on by the violent spin. However, she was found with her seatbelt unfastened and yet there were seatbelt burns on her collarbone. And there was something about her clothes.” Cade hesitated.
“Well, it looked as if she was groped.”
Capt. Rejene winced, but Cade continued.
“Her skirt was pushed way up, her blouse was unbuttoned too far—too far for her coming from a work event. Our victim was an event planner and was at a banquet in downtown Minneapolis.”
“Tell me about the road evidence.”
“Straight section of two-lane highway, yaw marks leading to S pattern scuffs. Crash said the victim tried to correct, then overcorrected and ultimately lost control and went off the road.”
Capt. Rejene jotted a note on a desk pad and looked up. “The ditch stopped her forward progress?”
“That’s what Crash said.”
“Was there any other damage to the vehicle?”
“Yes, there was a crease in the driver’s rear quarter panel that may have been a parking lot souvenir.”
Rejene leaned forward. “It also may have been a bump designed to spin her off the highway. Sounds like a PIT maneuver.” The Pursuit Intervention Technique was a maneuver taught at law enforcement academies all over the world to end dangerous high-speed pursuits. Cade had learned the technique years ago and had the opportunity to use it successfully. One well-placed bump and the suspect lost control with little damage to either vehicle, and no injuries.
“That’s what we thought as well. It could have been a textbook case of the maneuver. The entire thing gets stranger though.”
Capt. Rejene’s forehead wrinkled. “You have my attention.”
Cade stood up, handing her his iPhone. “Here’s a picture of the deceased, Holly Janek. Several weeks back, another late-night one-car fatality happened out near Bayport. Check this out.” He pulled a photo from the file on the deceased attorney. “This was the victim, Attorney Jennifer Allard. See any resemblance?”
Eyes shifting between both images, Capt. Rejene asked, “What was the conclusion on the Bayport fatality? Any damage to the vehicle?”
“A lot actually. The victim’s BMW rolled after leaving the highway. It was Rob Zink’s case. He thought maybe she swerved to avoid a deer or possibly another vehicle crossing the centerline. Something like that.” Cade leaned back in the uncomfortable chair. “Sometimes you never know for certain. There are no traffic cams on these rural highways.”
Standing up, Capt. Rejene moved around to the front and leaned against her desk. “I agree this is highly suspect as far as coincidences go. You’ll need to look into both victims, see if there’s a common bond, something beyond physical appearance. Go check on the lawyer’s vehicle, see if there’s any indication a PIT maneuver was used there as well. Work with Zink, we need to know what we’re up against here. Maybe these are just coincidences, but I agree it doesn’t feel like it.”
Cade was halfway out the door when she stopped him. “Dawkins, one more thing. I’m a bit of a control freak, but a nice control freak. Keep me in the loop, and I’ll give you plenty of rope. If there really is a nutjob out there killing blondes on our highways, we need to stop it. Until we know something for sure, this stays quiet.”
“Exactly. If this becomes a full-blown murder investigation, we’ll be required to pass this off to the BCA. I would prefer to keep the investigation here with the patrol.”
As a former BCA investigator himself, Cade felt no small amount of professional rivalry where the BCA was concerned and was more than happy to hang onto the investigation as long as possible. He smiled at his new boss. “I can see we’re going to get along just fine.”
Cade was one of two full-time investigators on the east metro division payroll. Although he’d been with the Patrol for just a year, he was considered the senior investigator. Rob Zink, the other investigator, was a recent transplant from St. Paul. He’d worked as a patrol officer for years in the capital city’s west side. Switching between law enforcement agencies wasn’t uncommon. Sometimes you simply needed a change of scenery to keep your career—as well as your sanity—alive.
Cade found Rob at their shared desk. It was a unique arrangement, both investigators sitting on opposite sides of the same desk much as they had opposite shifts. They overlapped on three of the days each week, which gave the two investigators a chance to get to know each other. Each had their own cases but assisted the other as needed. Clearly not overloaded by his caseload, Rob had his feet up and was playing with an iPad.
“Angry Birds?” Cade asked as he glanced at Rob’s screen.
“No, Horny Penguins.”
“Not going to ask. What you do with your screen time is your business.”
“Funny,” Rob said, looking up over the device. “So, you meet the new boss?”
“I did. Better than the old boss.” Cade sized up his investigative partner. Rob was a large man—Cade’s parents would have referred to Rob as husky—with a mop of blond hair sitting on top. “She said I should bring you in on something, that is, if you’re not too busy.”
Putting down the tablet, Rob smiled. “Lucky for you, court doesn’t start until tomorrow. Have to testify in the Dearborn hijacking. Court never follows their own posted schedule though. Wouldn’t surprise me if it gets pushed until next week.”
Cade slid the paper file across the desk. “Remember the one-car fatality last month, the Bayport attorney?”
“Jennifer Allard.” Rob opened the folder, scanning the paper. “This was my case. What about it?”
Cade handed him his phone. “Here’s the victim of my one-car fatality this morning.”
Rob’s left eyebrow went up as he looked at the picture. “Really?”
“Really. Could be the same woman. And there are enough flags to suggest she was bumped off the road, then molested and killed. Capt. Rejene wants you to help me look into it. See if there’s a connection between the two victims.”
Rob stood up, tucking his shirt in below his ample middle. “I’m intrigued. Where do you want to start?”
“Let’s go look at Allard’s vehicle. It’s in the Lakeland impound lot. Maybe we’ll get lucky.”
“It’s been a while since I got lucky.” Rob smiled, “Let’s go find us a connection.”