Fatal Exposure - By Gail Barrett

Chapter 1

Cold case detective Parker McCall tightened his grip on the newspaper, his gaze riveted on the photo of the woman splashed across the Baltimore Sun’s front page. She could have been any affluent shopper strolling out of the pricey art gallery—her long, glossy hair tumbling over her shoulders, the collar of her woolen coat turned up against the brisk November wind.

Except for her wary eyes.

The eyes of his brother’s murderer.

The eyes that had eluded him for fifteen years.

He lowered the newspaper to his cluttered desk, the laughter and banter of the detectives beyond his cubicle receding to a distant buzz. Then, hardly breathing, he tugged his wallet from the back pocket of his jeans. Working as carefully as a scientist handling nuclear material, he extracted a worn, faded photo and placed it alongside the page.

For several excruciating seconds his gaze lingered on the image of his younger brother, his heart making its usual lurch of guilt and remorse. Sixteen years old, his cheeks badly hollowed, his body wasted by his addictions, Tommy leaned against a graffiti-sprayed wall near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, one emaciated arm slung over the waiflike girl at his side.

The girl Parker had failed to find.

Until now.

He shifted his scrutiny to the girl, taking in her sparrow-thin legs, the baggy sweatshirt dwarfing her scrawny frame, her unruly mop of auburn curls. Then he homed in on her eyes—bleak, world-weary eyes aged far beyond her years.

He sliced his gaze back to the woman in the newspaper. She was still petite, still thin and older than the adolescent slouching against the wall beside his brother, but he’d stake his life they were the same.

A punch of adrenaline making his heart sprint, he skimmed the article accompanying the front-page spread. Amazingly, the woman appeared to be B. K. Elliot, the world-renowned photojournalist whose exhibit had opened in the gallery that week—a photographer so reclusive that no one had known what she looked like until now. But rumors about her abounded, claiming she was everything from a traumatized war vet to a homeless woman disfigured in a fire.

Regardless of her identity, B. K. Elliot’s photos had caused a worldwide furor in recent years, winning both the Pulitzer for Feature Photography and the prestigious Hasselblad Award. Even Parker, who didn’t know squat about photography, could recognize the power in her unsettling work. Her photos chronicled the poverty and violence of street life with brutal, disturbing honesty.

A perspective only a former runaway could know.

The exhibit’s grand opening had been mobbed, bringing the bigwigs out in droves. Parker’s boss, Colonel Hugh Hoffman—head of the Baltimore Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division—had attended, along with his political mentor, Senator Alfred Riggs. Helping teen runaways was one of the Colonel’s signature projects, as was this cold case squad.

Parker switched his attention back to his brother’s photo, dead sure now that the women were the same. But he needed expert verification, something more concrete to go on before he charged off to find her, half-cocked.

Rising, he scooped up the paper and photo, then strode past the cubicles lined up like jail cells, the stained industrial carpet muffling his steps. Too late he spotted his supervisor, Sergeant Enrique Delgado, manning the coffee machine near the exit. Unable to avoid him, Parker slowed.

“Packing it in already?” Delgado asked, his shrewd gaze taking in the newspaper tucked under Parker’s arm. “Another exhausting day at the desk?”

Parker tamped back a spurt of dislike. Nicknamed “Iglesias” for his slick Latin looks and equally slick reputation with women, Enrique Delgado had transferred in from the gang unit when his cover got blown and a shoot-out nearly claimed his life. But Delgado considered this assignment in the cold case squad beneath him—an opinion he voiced freely, not earning him any friends. Even worse, the Colonel had put Delgado in a supervisory position over far more seasoned homicide detectives, like him.

Brownnosing and office politics at their worst.

Parker leveled him a glance. “Yeah, I threw my back out opening a drawer.”

“Whoa, you should put in for hazard pay.”

Ignoring Delgado’s mocking laughter, Parker shouldered open the door to the hall and strode out. Still scowling, he bypassed the snail-paced elevator and made a beeline for the stairwell, then started up the scuffed steps. Technically, he should have informed Delgado about what he’d found. Like it or not, the man was his supervisor—and with Parker’s dubious family background, he couldn’t afford to buck the rules. But there wasn’t a chance in hell Delgado would let him investigate his brother’s death.