The Lost Bones by Kendra Elliot
Cate Wilde jerked Henry’s hand into the air as three boys darted between them. The children were playing an intense game of tag, weaving in and out of the crowds strolling the streets of North Sound during the outdoor market. Dr. Henry Powers whirled to say something after the boys and then shrugged it off, a grin crossing his face as he met Cate’s gaze. “I don’t think they’d hear me, let alone care, if I told them to slow down.”
“Nope,” Cate agreed. The daily outdoor market during July and August brought locals and tourists together on Widow’s Island. Moods were cheerful and smiles were plentiful. The sky was blue, the few clouds were fluffy and white, and the temperature was perfect. Music filled the street as a young man with a guitar and speaker sang halfway decent covers of Bruno Mars. No one noticeably winced as he hit an occasional flat note.
They headed for the shade in front of the Shiny Objects trinket store and joined Henry’s nurse, Julie Sanchez, who was taking a break from the warm sun.
“Watch this,” Julie told them with a nod to direct their attention across the street. Julie’s fiancé, Bruce Taylor, was in his deputy uniform and deep in conversation with the Bruno Mars wannabe. The young man handed the deputy the guitar, gestured at the microphone stand, and stepped back.
Bruce strummed the guitar for a few seconds and began to sing. Cate recognized Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”
“Bruce is amazing,” she murmured, unable to take her gaze away from the deputy. People stopped in the street and turned to listen, pointing at the law enforcement officer with the incredible voice.
“I know,” Julie said smugly. “His whole family is musically talented. Did you know he can play a half dozen instruments? His sisters are going to be in town for the Widow’s Day celebration. He’s scheduled to do a set with them that evening at the park.”
“We won’t miss it,” said Henry.
Cate and Henry had been together for eight months. She barely remembered what life was like before she’d returned to Widow’s Island last winter and met Henry.
That’s a lie. My life was work and not much else.
Cate had come to her childhood island home to recover mentally and physically after being shot on the job. Her FBI coworker had died in the shooting. After several months of indecision, Cate had resigned from the bureau. It’d been a hard choice. She’d loved her job, but the stress had worn her down, and she’d reconnected on a deep level with her island home after being away for nearly fifteen years. Now she was a bakery and bookstore owner, her stress at an all-time low and her happiness at an all-time high.
Bruce finished his song, and Julie gave a whoop as she dashed across the street and rewarded the deputy with a hug and big kiss.
“They’re cute,” Cate admitted. So young.
“I expect a wedding date announcement any day,” Henry said. “Speaking of . . .” He lifted a brow at her.
Cate knew exactly what he was speaking of. He wanted to set their wedding date, but Cate had struggled to find a date that felt just right. “I talked to Tessa about it the other day,” Cate told him. Tessa Black was her best friend and was engaged to Cate’s brother, Logan.
“She thinks I’m having a hard time deciding on a date because I don’t want to detract from her and Logan’s wedding plans. I believe she’s right. They’re working frantically to get everything arranged by September. It’s important that it goes smoothly, and I’m focused on doing what I can to help.”
Henry’s face cleared. He understood what Cate hadn’t said out loud. Tessa’s mother was losing her memory day by day, stolen by worsening dementia. Because of that the couple had planned a short engagement.
It really wasn’t that short. Tessa had had a crush on Logan ever since they were kids.
“What about late December for us?” asked Henry, pulling her into his arms. “A Christmas wedding? Maybe we’ll even have snow.”
Cate pictured the island with a light dusting of snow, its hills and trees gently frosted in white. She lived in one of the most beautiful places in the world. A cluster of hilly evergreen islands far off the Washington coast. A piece of the Pacific Northwest completely surrounded by blue ocean.
The image of Widow’s covered in a rare snowfall made Cate’s heart skip a beat, and she felt the perfection of Henry’s suggestion down to her toes.
“I love that idea,” she said, surprised by her acceptance.
Talking with Tessa gave me freedom to decide.
“Good,” said Henry. “I was starting to worry that you were having second thoughts about getting married.”
She looked quickly at him but saw only teasing in his eyes. “How about if I tattoo our names on my arm? Would that reassure you?”
“That doesn’t sound like something you’d do.”
She laughed. “You’re absolutely right.”
A woman spoke behind her. “Hey, Cate. I’ve got something for you.”
Cate reluctantly pulled away from Henry’s embrace, recognizing the voice of Marsha Bishop, owner of the Shiny Objects store and mother of her other close friend, Samantha.
“Morning, Marsha,” she said, visually evaluating the woman. Samantha’s mom had been a wreck for years after her daughter had been kidnapped, but Sam’s return last winter had turned Marsha into a new woman. For too many years Marsha had been a wisp, floating around the island, never quite mentally present.
Now she held a small flat cardboard box.
“This was addressed to you at the bakery,” Marsha said. “I don’t know why they delivered it here.”
“Because in the end, it would get where it needed to be,” Cate said absently. It was true. Widow’s Island was a very small community. They looked out for each other, and nothing was ever misplaced for very long.
She noted the box didn’t have a return address or a postmark. “Did UPS deliver this?” She scanned each side of the box. It was addressed to Cate Wilde c/o Black Tail Bakery.
Marsha frowned. “Well, I’m not sure. The delivery people leave mail or packages on my counter if I’m busy when they come in. Didn’t see who left it.”
Henry offered the Leatherman tool he always carried. Cate slit the packing tape, opened the small box, and pulled out crumpled old newspaper and tipped the box, sliding the contents onto her palm.
The small delicate arch of bone made her catch her breath.
It has teeth. Baby teeth.
Someone had sent her the mandible of a small child.
Henry, Cate, and Deputy Bruce Taylor stood in the back room of Cate’s bookstore, staring at the mandible on top of the thin box. Henry watched Cate closely, noting her intent expression as she ran a search on her phone. She had flattened out the old newspaper packing on a table, and Henry had already read the circled article twice.
It was about a kidnapping seven years ago. The case had been Cate’s.
Her face showed she had directed all her attention to the matter at hand. Her bakery owner persona had been replaced by that of an FBI agent two seconds after she’d seen the mandible. He’d felt a thin wall insert itself between them as she shifted into work mode, but it didn’t bother him. He’d met her when she was still with the FBI and knew that this was how she operated.
“I can’t find anything new on the case,” Cate muttered, still studying her phone. “I know Phillip would have told me if it’d been solved. I just sent him an email asking for an update.”
There was a sharp knock on the door, and Deputy Tessa Black let herself in the room. “Where is it?” she asked without greeting anyone. Bruce pointed, and Tessa stepped closer, her gaze locked on the bone on top of the box.
“Are you sure it’s real?” she asked.
“Yes.” Henry had no doubt.
“Age?” asked Tessa.
“Three,” said Cate, still focused on her phone.
“That’s assuming it belongs to who you think it does,” said Tessa. She lifted a brow at Henry, silently asking his opinion.
“Age two to five,” he said. He’d done his own Google search to age the mandible by eruption of the teeth. “There’s a lot of leeway.”
“You’re sure this is related to your old case?” Tessa asked Cate.
“I’m ninety-nine percent positive this is from my old case. See the tiny silver crowns on her front teeth? And the silver fillings in the back? During the investigation, I talked to the dental student who did that work on Jade before she vanished. The FBI has dental x-rays of the girl’s mouth before and after the work was done. She had rampant tooth decay from the mother putting her to bed every night with a bottle.”
“I’ve seen toddlers with that before,” added Henry. “Sometimes they have to sedate the child to do the dental work. The parents are always upset to learn that what they thought was a comforting measure to help get their kid to sleep resulted in pain and a lot of dental work.”
“The mom, Kori, asked the dentist if it would be better to put diet soda in Jade’s bottle at night,” Cate said. “The poor guy was stunned. He said he had to tell her a dozen times that water was the only acceptable liquid.” Cate gave a sad smile. “Kori never finished high school and was very naive in many ways.”
“But there is a chance this bone could be from a different child,” Tessa stated.
Henry grimaced. “It’s possible but highly unlikely. Why would someone go to the extreme measure of finding a mandible of the right size with extensive dental work and deliver it to Cate if it wasn’t about her old case?”
“Who knows why people do anything these days,” said Tessa. “Who delivered it to Shiny Objects?”
“There’s no delivery label on the box,” said Cate. “I think it was dropped off by someone who didn’t want to be seen. Marsha assumed it was from a legit delivery service. And no, she doesn’t have cameras.”
“Hardly anyone on the island uses cameras,” said Bruce.
“I use them,” Henry stated firmly. A break-in at his medical clinic had once resulted in the loss of important police evidence. He’d installed cameras soon after. He wasn’t just the sole doctor on the island; he was also the coroner.
“Why wouldn’t they want to show their identity?” asked Bruce.
“Good question,” said Cate. “Someone feels nervous contacting law enforcement. Or they’re involved or don’t want to answer questions . . . but they want some truth to come out.”
“Start from the beginning, Cate. Tell me the whole story of this little girl,” Tessa ordered.
Cate pulled out a chair at the table and sat, taking a deep breath. “It’s been seven years this coming September. It was a kidnapping by the father. The mother came to us—”
“She went directly to the FBI?” Tessa asked sharply.
“No.” Cate pressed her lips together as she thought. “The case started with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. A young woman reported her three-year-old daughter had been kidnapped by the father. The three of them lived together in a small house near Oso, Washington, which is about an hour north of Seattle. It’s not really a town; it’s too small for that. It’s more like a community . . . the type of area that has a general store, a gas station, and not much else. The FBI was contacted two days after Jade Causey disappeared.”
“Why so long? I thought the FBI immediately jumped on missing-children cases,” Bruce asked.
“They do, but the sheriff’s office was familiar with the dad, Rich Causey. They assumed it was a simple domestic dispute and that he hadn’t gone far with his daughter.”
“Assumed.” Tessa looked furious.
“Exactly,” said Cate. “The mom, Kori Causey, had tried to convince them that Rich had no intentions of returning the girl, but no one believed her.” Cate grimaced. “Kori was young—only twenty-five—and Rich was nearly twenty years older. One of the responding deputies had been a drinking buddy of Rich’s and assured the other law enforcement that Rich would never leave his wife or hurt his daughter.”
“But the daughter was sick,” Henry pointed out. This was the part of the story from the news article that he couldn’t wrap his head around. “And Rich didn’t believe in modern medical care—especially for children.”
“He kidnapped his own daughter to keep the mother from taking her to the doctor?” Tessa looked stunned.
“I’ve come across it a few times,” said Cate. “Especially in some of the more rural areas. Either modern medicine goes against their faith or they simply don’t understand it, so it’s easier to simply refuse.”
“Who isn’t willing to try everything when their kids are ill?” asked Tessa.
“Too many people,” answered Cate. “Anyway, from Kori’s description back then it sounded like Jade might have had measles. Runny nose with a fever, and then a rash showed up.”
“Isn’t measles something kids normally get?” asked Bruce.
Henry tightened his jaw. “It didn’t used to be normal thanks to vaccinations, but we’re seeing a resurgence of it. One to three in a thousand will die from it. Maybe that doesn’t sound like many children, but it’s too many when it’s your child.”
“How sick was Jade?” asked Tessa.
“Kori had said that Jade wouldn’t wake up at one point,” continued Cate. “The child was still breathing, and she could feel a heartbeat, but she couldn’t get the girl to respond. Kori was about to take the girl to the hospital, and her husband refused to let her go. Kori said she was on her knees pleading, and it made him angry. They’d already been arguing for a few days about Jade’s condition. Rich claimed Jade would pull through and that Kori just needed to wait it out.” Cate paused, blinking rapidly. “Kori had told me that she knew her daughter would die even if they made it to a hospital. She simply knew.”
“What happened?” asked Bruce.
“By the time we got the case and I met with Kori Causey, Rich and Jade had been missing for two days,” said Cate. “Kori was hysterical one moment and then would fall into deep despair the next. She kept begging us to find Jade but was convinced we never would. She said Rich knew how to vanish into thin air, and that is exactly what he did.”
Henry gestured at the article. “This was published three weeks after the kidnapping. It said you had no leads.”
“That was pretty much true. We dug into every aspect of Rich Causey’s life. No one knew—or no one would tell us—where he might have gone with Jade. I spent months on this case. I couldn’t find anything.” Cate picked up the box and looked closely inside. “I’ve often wondered if both Rich and Jade were dead. This jawbone is a pretty firm sign that Jade didn’t survive . . . along with that notation on the article.”
“What notation?” asked Tessa, sliding the newspaper closer.
Henry flipped it over. Someone had printed in pencil along the top. Tessa read out loud, “‘Jade didn’t make it, and now I’m worried he’ll do the same to my baby. Please help me.’”
The room was quiet for a long second.
“What the hell?” asked Bruce. The young deputy crossed his arms and glowered. “It sounds like Rich Causey is still causing problems with women and their children.”
“What if the penciled message is old?” asked Tessa. “The newspaper is seven years old—we don’t know that the message is new.”
“Maybe it’s not,” said Cate. “But the FBI needs to know about this immediately.”
“I agree,” said Tessa. “I’ll see that my office provides whatever support they need.” She tilted her head as she studied Cate. “You okay?”
Cate met her gaze, and Henry saw the pain in her eyes. “This was a tough case for me. Kori and I connected on a personal level. I lived in her house for two weeks, never letting her out of my sight while a team worked the case. She treated me like a sister. Now I feel horrible that I haven’t been in touch with her in over two years. I used to call or email her every few months and let her know that we hadn’t forgotten her daughter and were still looking for new leads.” She grimaced. “I haven’t done it since . . .”
Since I was shot.
“I hope the case hasn’t been overlooked by the bureau since then,” Henry said.
“I assume someone else is handling it and keeping in touch with her. It will never close until her daughter turns up. She told me several times how thankful she was that we were trying to find her daughter. She knew we were investigating every single lead.”
“Cate, is there any chance that Kori was involved in her daughter’s disappearance?” Tessa asked slowly. “And her husband’s?”
Henry swallowed. The thought hadn’t even occurred to him.
“Of course there’s a chance,” Cate answered with a shrug. “The team discussed it several times, but other than Rich’s friends telling us that Kori and Rich argued a lot, we never found any evidence to support that.”
“My question is, Who wrote this?” said Henry, tapping a finger on the table next to the handwritten sentence on the newspaper. “And how current is it?” He’d felt disgust for Rich Causey while reading the article. The written plea for help had cemented it.
“The FBI will look into it,” said Cate. “But no trace of Rich has ever shown up since he disappeared seven years ago. He’ll be hard to find.” She reached for the newspaper but pulled her hand back at the last moment. “I wish I hadn’t handled the paper. Hopefully I didn’t ruin any evidence.”
Henry looked from the newspaper to the tiny bone on the box. “No one expects to be handed murder evidence on the street.”
“It’s not murder yet,” said Bruce. “Right now, it’s still a kidnapping.”
Henry exchanged a look with Cate.
She thinks it’s murder too.