Chapter 30

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Barlow loved the way Pet lit up when he told her all the details he found out about Howie Boy Collier. Getting her mind off the accident worked like a tonic. Her mood improved, and she seemed eager to get to work on their case.

"One thing you never explained to me." Barlow removed the photo from his pocket. "How did you manage to get this?"

She squinted at the photo making her swollen eyes look even smaller. "The detective originally signed to the case gave it to me. Even though he had been ordered to turn everything over, he held onto this photo."

"Do you want another cup of tea?"

Pet glanced at the bottom of her cup. "No, thank you."

Barlow tapped his index finger against the photo. "Now that we know more, do you think he might want to join us to figure out what's going on?"

She shrugged. "Maybe. He's a school resource officer now, but this is the one case that he still carries in the back of his mind. Man's name is Custer Graham."

He picked up her empty tea cup and carried it to the sink. That name, Custer Graham, sounded familiar to him. When the reason why popped into his head, Barlow nearly dropped the cup. "Custer Graham is dead."

"What?"

Barlow shuffled back to the table and sat. "While you were recuperating in the hospital, his death was all over the local news. The man was murdered. The authorities speculate he got in the middle of a drug deal between two of his students."

The instant Barlow revealed Custer Graham had been murdered, Pet's memory returned as if someone lifted a veil from in front of her eyes

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The instant Barlow revealed Custer Graham had been murdered, Pet's memory returned as if someone lifted a veil from in front of her eyes. Chills danced the length of her spine as she put it all together. Unable to keep the panic from her voice, she said, "I have to leave and go into hiding. You and my mother are in danger being around me."

"Why?" Barlow asked.

"I didn't run off the road. I was pushed. Someone tried to kill me. They didn't succeed and are going to try again."

Barlow leaned forward and grasped both her arms. "Pet, you're shaking. Tell me what you're thinking."

"There's a leak. Somehow, word got back to the wrong people that I've been poking around in this case. They must know Custer Graham gave me that photo. They killed him and they tried to kill me. Don't you see, Barlow? Whoever these people are, they're getting rid of the loose ends."

"We're getting close to solving this thing," he said. "The Colliers are behind it. Who else could it be? They have the money and power to pull off something like this. What we don't know yet is why? What really happened that night? What is so important to cover up it would cause them to kill?"

"You already hit on the motive. Howie Boy has his eye set on politics. If word gets out he robbed the convention center and might be involved in the murder of Neil Mantener, he can kiss his political aspirations goodbye."

"Along with the political clout that can be leveraged to enrich his family businesses," Barlow added.

"I don't know what to do or who to trust. I can't take this information to my lieutenant."

"You don't trust him?"

She tamped down a rising panic. "I told him I was working a hobby case, but I never told him which one. I had a discussion with Trooper Morg Johansson about what it meant when a case was administratively closed, but I wasn't specific with him either. I don't think either one of them could be the leaker."

Barlow's expression took on a hardness she had never seen before. "Think, Pet, who else might have known? The attack on you happened too soon after we showed that photo around for them to have mobilized so quickly. It had to be someone who knew very early on what you were up to."

Pet mentally retraced her steps from the moment Barlow asked her to help. She was sure she hadn't spoken to anyone else. She never left any files out in the open or on her computer screen. She gasped. "The files! I contacted Troop H headquarters to see if there was anything in the original case file that hadn't been entered into the computer system. I spoke with a sergeant in the records department. I had to be fairly specific with him as to what I was looking for."

"Who?" Barlow asked.

The name came to her. "Tanzin. Sergeant Gus Tanzin. He has to be the leak."

"Can you go to your lieutenant with this?"

"He's seems like a good man, but I don't know who else Tanzin might have informed or who else might be in on it."

With her cop brain now fully focused, Pet saw a possible way out of her predicament, but it would take nerves of steel. The thought of what she needed to do frightened her, and she didn't know if she could carry out her plan. Her throat went dry, and she wished she had something stronger than tea.

"Tomorrow morning you and I are going to contact Tanzin," Barlow said.

"I was thinking the same thing. Except I'm law enforcement and have standing. You don't. You need to let me do this by myself. Alone."

Barlow reached across the space between them and rested a finger on her chin. He tilted her head so that they met each other's gazes. The determination she saw in his eyes and his words reassured her. "Not alone. I left you alone once before. That's never going to happen again. Not unless you're the one to tell me you want me out of your life."

"I never wanted you out of my life."

Barlow gave her a gentle kiss. The tingling sensation was a replay of their first kiss way back in middle school.

He pulled away. "You want to find out for sure if this Sergeant Tanzin is the source of the leak?"

It took Petronia a moment to refocus. "It's obvious to me he's the source of the leak."

Barlow looked puzzled. "So, what do we hope to accomplish by contacting him?"

"Fear is conquered by taking action. I'm going to take action."

"Against whom?"

"The people at the top. Barlow, I plan on going directly to the source of this problem and confront them on their home turf."

Pet can't let go

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Pet can't let go. Should Barlow try to talk her out of it?

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