The Devil's Closet

CHAPTER ONE

Present Day

“We’ve got an Amber Alert!”

I looked up from my desk just in time to see Captain Naomi Kincaid poke her head in my office, inform me of the alert, then turn to rush down the hallway. Head of the major crimes division of the Richland Metropolitan Police Department, nestled within the hills of Mansfield, Ohio, she was my boss and had just given an order. I needed to get to the street immediately. A missing-child alert is one of the most serious situations any law-enforcement officer can, and most likely will, encounter.Growing up in a family of police officers, I never thought to question any order from a commanding officer—something my father, a thirty-five-year veteran of the force, drilled into my head. But when it came to Naomi Kincaid, I had to bite my tongue. My uncles, Mike and Max, and my husband, Eric, were with the department. I’ve known nothing but the life of a police officer since I was a small child—it surrounded me and consumed the lives of my parents. I understood the risks of the life firsthand when my father’s youngest brother, Matt, was shot on the job in the late 1970s. He survived, but he had to leave the force on disability.

I hope the kid is asleep in her basement, and this is all a mistake, I thought as I grabbed the keys to my unmarked detective car and headed out the door. I’m CeeCee Gallagher, a court-certified, expert detective in the areas of juvenile sex crimes and homicides. The few times I’ve responded to an Amber Alert, my adrenaline has gone into overdrive. Any crime involving a child as a victim always turns my stomach. Having two small daughters of my own, I could never imagine worse anguish than that of a parent who fears her child has been brutalized, molested—or worse, murdered.

Jumping into my car and turning on the police radio, I could hear a partial description of the missing child. I grabbed the radio mic and interrupted several other officers talking.

“Seven twenty-seven” (my unit number) “to seven hundred,” (our communications center) “can you re-advise the description of the female?”

They relayed the information immediately. “Affirmative. Child is Hanna Parker, five years old. White female, approximately three feet, six inches tall, with blonde hair, wearing blue-jean shorts, a pink T-shirt with the words Sesame Street on the front, and yellow flip-flops.”

“Seven hundred, where was the child last seen?”

“The child was last seen approximately thirty minutes ago playing in the front yard of her residence. Location is 1414 Royal Oak Drive. Mother advised she went inside to answer the phone. Child was gone when she returned. No suspects or vehicle descriptions. Do you copy, seven twenty-seven?”

“Copy direct,” I answered. “Has the alert been issued in the media yet?”

“Negative.”

I wasn’t surprised. Although the Amber Alert was a good idea, it still had many glitches; specifically, the amount of time it takes to announce it to the public. We had to immediately determine it was an actual abduction, which was sometimes difficult and took time. Since there were no witnesses or suspects in the Hanna Parker disappearance, there was also the possibility that she simply wandered off. Regardless, we were to treat it as suspicious until we were proven wrong.

I tried not to panic over the current alert. The incident occurred on Royal Oak Drive in Royal Oak Estates. A wealthy, private allotment, their “major” crimes ordinarily consisted of arguments over property lines and cats in trees.

Turning into the allotment, I called our sex-offender registration clerk. I asked her to find the addresses of all the