I never hear the word "Nevada" without thinking of Robert Dietz. This coming May, we would celebrate our sixth anniversary of barely ever seeing each other. Truly, in the time I'd known him, I don't think we'd been together two months at a stretch, and that was only once. But now I needed his Nevada smarts and I dialed his number in Carson City. Three rings and his machine picked up. I listened to his message, which was terse and to the point. I waited for the beep and said, "Hey, Dietz. This is Kinsey. I need a favor from you. I'm looking for a woman named Susan Telford in Henderson, Nevada, and I wondered if you'd see what you can find out. There are thirty-three Telfords listed, and it doesn't make sense for me to tackle the job from Santa Teresa. Pete Wolinsky put her name on a list of six women who are all connected in one way or another to a man named Ned Lowe. Before Pete was killed, he went to some lengths to do background on Lowe, who seems like an all-around bad egg. If you have questions, call me back, and if you don't want to do the job, that's fine. Just let me know."
I decided it was time to convert my investigation into report form. I was formulating a sense of the relationship between Ned Lowe and the six women whose names appeared on Pete's list, but so far the link existed only in my head.
I'd inserted paper into my typewriter when the phone rang. "Millhone Investigations."
A gentleman with a powdery voice said, "Miss Millhone, this is Stanley Munce, formerly with the Burning Oaks Police Department. Clara Doyle told me you'd spoken to her about a case I worked on some years ago. Is that correct?"
"Yes, sir. Absolutely. Thank you so much for calling. I was asking about Lenore Redfern Lowe."
"That was my understanding. I'm afraid I don't have much to offer on the subject, but I will tell you what I can. I was the coroner's investigator at the time of that young girl's death. In order to complete a death certificate, the coroner has to determine the cause, mechanism, and manner of death.
"Simply put, cause of death is the reason the individual died, as would be the case with a heart attack or gunshot wound. The mechanism of death would be the actual changes that affect the victim's physiology, resulting in death. In death from a fatal stabbing, for instance, it might be extreme blood loss.
"The manner of death is how the death came about. Five of the six possibilities are natural, accidental, suicide, homicide, and undetermined. The sixth classification would be 'pending' if the matter's still under investigation, which is obviously not the case here. There was no question about her ingestion of Valium and alcohol. The generic diazepam is a central nervous system depressant, the effects of which can be intensified by alcohol. However, when the toxicology report came in, it appeared there wasn't a sufficient quantity of either to say with certainty death resulted from the combination of the two.
"What seemed questionable, at least in my mind, was the presence of petechiae, which are tiny broken blood vessels, like pinpricks, visible in the area of her eyes. Hard coughing or crying are common causes; sometimes the strain of childbirth or lifting weights. Petechiae can also be a sign of death by asphyxiation."
"You mean she might have been suffocated?"
"Smothered, yes. There were no fractures of the larynx, hyoid bone, thyroid or cricoid cartilages, and no areas of bruising, which ruled out manual strangulation. Mrs. Lowe had been under doctor's care. With her history of mental problems, absent any other compelling evidence, Dr. Wilkinson—the coroner—felt a finding of suicide was appropriate. I put up what objections I could, but I have no formal medical training, and his experience and expertise prevailed. For my part, I was never fully persuaded."
"So there was never an investigation into the circumstances of her death?"
"A cursory assessment, I'd say. Dr. Wilkinson was of the old school: high-handed and a bit of an autocrat. He was in charge, he made the judgment call, and he brooked no argument. I was putting my job at risk even to raise the few questions I did.
"I wish I could offer you more. It's bothered me for years but yours is the first question ever raised about that girl."
Which was not quite the case, but Stanley Munce couldn't know that. There had been another question raised in the matter, and that was Pete's.
I'd barely hung up when the phone rang again.
It was Dietz. He skipped right over the greetings and the chitchat. "What have you gotten yourself into?"
I felt like someone had thrown a bucket of water in my face. "You obviously know more than I do, so you tell me."
"I can tell you who Susan Telford is. Everybody in this part of the state knows who she is. She's a fourteen-year-old white female who disappeared two years ago."
I felt myself go still. "What happened to her?"
"She vanished. She might as well have gone up in smoke. The cops talked to everyone including vagrants and registered sex offenders."
"Nobody saw anything?"
"Eventually her best friend spoke up. She was too damn scared at first, but she finally broke down and told her mother some guy approached Susan in the mall a couple of days before she disappeared. He was snapping Polaroids. He said he worked for a fashion magazine and asked if she's be interested in some freelance modeling—"
"That was all crap, of course. The guy was obviously cruising for young girls and she was gullible enough to—"
"Dietz. I've heard this story, only in the version I was told, her name was Janet Macy and she lived in Tucson. I talked to her mother on the phone a week ago. She last saw her daughter in 1986. She thinks Janet went off to New York to launch her modeling career. Some photographer claimed he worked in the fashion industry and thought she showed promise. He was going to help her put together a portfolio. Not even sixteen and she went off with him like a damn fool."
"Her mother did file a missing person report, but the officer didn't think she had anything to worry about. All this time she's been telling herself stories about where the girl was and why she didn't write.
"Dietz. This is Ned Lowe. I know it. And he's still out there."
Copyright © 2015 by Sue Grafton. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.