Excerpt from Tell Me

“So, where is she?”

CSI Grace McColl ducked under the taped cordon at the edge of the crime scene and showed her ID to the uniformed constable stationed there. The policeman jerked his head in the direction of the band shelter as she signed the log.

“You'll have your work cut out with this one, though,” he said.

Grace frowned and moved on. She was already dressed from head to foot in her disposable white suit and she made sure she followed the designated pathway, picking her way carefully to avoid undue contamination.

The girl was on the stone steps in front of the band shelter, no more than sixteen years old but still a child, with dirty blonde hair. As Grace approached she could see the girl had her thin arms folded, as though hugging herself against the cold. And she must have been cold, to be out in the park in this weather in just a mini skirt and a skimpy top. Unless, of course, he'd taken her coat with him when he'd left her...

Over to the right, the rhododendron bushes grew thick and concealing. It might have been Grace's imagination, but she thought the girl's eyes turned constantly in their direction, as though something might still lurk amongst the glossy foliage.

Grace squatted down on her haunches next to the girl and waited until she seemed to have her full attention.

"Hello," she said quietly. "I'm Grace. I'm going to be taking care of you now. Can you tell me who you are?"

There was a long pause, then: "Does it matter?"

Grace eyed her for a moment. The girl might have been pretty if she'd taken a little time, a little care. Or if someone had taken a little care over her. Her hair was badly cut and her fingernails were bitten short and painted purple, the varnish long since chipped and peeling.

"Of course it matters," Grace said, keeping her tone light. "Finding out about you will help us find out who did this to you. Help us to catch him. You want that, don't you?"

"'Spose." The girl shrugged, darting a little glance from under her ragged fringe to see if her attitude achieved the desired level of sullen cool. The action revealed the livid bruise, like spilt ink on tissue, that had formed around her left eye.

Grace tilted her head, considering. "He caught you a belter, didn't he?" she murmured.

"I bruise easy," the girl said, suddenly defensive now. "And I'm clumsy."