Babs stared in surprise as the car zipped by, going well over the posted speed limit. On top of that, the vehicle’s rear taillight was out. Calling in the violations, she pulled onto the road and went after the subject.

She followed the car for nearly a quarter of a mile before it finally pulled over, almost teetering into the drainage ditch. Babs radioed in as she checked the plates. The car was registered to a Jennie Michelle Carmichael. Place of residence was a good twenty or so miles from here. Babs called in for backup, then exited her cruiser.

The cold wind hit her like a fist as she walked up to the driver’s side window. She knocked on the glass. “Hello! Deputy Sheriff Mero with the Westing County Sheriff’s Department. May I see your driver’s license and proof of insurance, please?”

The moment the window rolled down, she smelled it, and she mentally rolled her eyes. There was no need to call for a K9 to come check for narcotics. There was ample evidence in what was coming out of the vehicle to give her probable cause for a search, whether the driver gave permission or not.

A woman squinted at her. “I don’t have my license with me.”

“How about proof of insurance?”

“It’s at home.”

“You know the law says you have to keep proof of insurance either on you or in the car at all times,” Babs reminded her as she withdrew her notepad from her pocket. “Can you give me your name and date of birth, please?”

“Why? Why are you harassing me?” The woman was evasive, which was understandable.

“I just need to double check to make sure you’re the registered owner of this car.”

“It’s my car,” the young woman snapped.

“That’s what I need to verify, ma’am.” Babs kept her voice low and her tone even. It was already evident the driver wasn’t one hundred percent in control. Worse, she was becoming belligerent.

The woman continued to glare at her, lips pressed together in defiance. Pulling her flashlight from her belt, Babs turned it on and shone it inside the car’s interior. A baby seat and toys lay on the back seat.

Little warning flags began to flutter. It was nearly nine p.m. Where were the kids?

Unless they’re with her mother, or their father. Or maybe she only gets them part-time. Any number of scenarios were possible, but something about this whole thing didn’t sit well with her.

Stall, Mero, her training reminded her. Don’t push it until backup arrives.

She checked the interior again and smiled. “I see you got kids. How many?”

“None of your fucking business. Can I go now?”

Babs sighed. “Not yet. The reason I stopped you is because you were traveling over the posted speed limit. And because you have a taillight out.”

“My taillight’s gone because some asshole on a motorcycle took a sledgehammer to it!”

Babs stiffened. “Are you…are you saying you were attacked?”

“Yeah! Not ten minutes ago! Why don’t you go after him, instead of harassing people like me?”

Motorcycle? Sledgehammer? Her mind refused to acknowledge the possibility. No. No, it can’t be. But the MO was almost identical to what had happened to Bedamaker last night. Was the man in red back?

“Did you happen to get a good look at him?” Babs questioned.

“Hell, yeah, I did! Some guy looking like Santa Claus came up behind me and smashed my taillight! What are you gonna do about it?”

Some guy looking like Santa Claus.

It was him.

At that moment, the guy’s voice came back to her, along with his comment.

“At least he won’t be beating up his old woman and kid anymore.”

A totally irrational thought came to her. What if the guy in red meant for her to be there when he confronted Bedamaker? What if the guy meant for her to pull over this woman, for whatever reason, and took out the taillight to make certain Babs had a good excuse to do so?

Her eyes involuntarily locked onto the car seat again, setting off the little red flags once more. A flash of light behind her signaled that her backup had arrived. Babs waited until Joelson walked up before putting her hand on the car’s door handle.

“Ma’am, please step out of the vehicle.”


“Please step out of the vehicle.”

Hell, no! It’s freezing!

Regardless, Babs managed to open the door, and together she and Joelson wrestled the woman out of the car, pressing her up against the trunk to snap on the cuffs. “I’m placing you under arrest for failure to identify. Mirandize her, would you? Then see if you can get an ID on her,” she asked her partner. Joelson gave a nod and guided the woman over to his vehicle.

Diving into the front seat, Babs grabbed the woman’s purse. There was no driver’s license, no credit cards. Nothing that would give a hint as to the suspect’s name or address. Just a couple of twenties and some loose change. The glove box was equally un-giving.

On the other hand, the center console was a treasure trove of drug paraphernalia, plus half a cookie of crack cocaine.

Joelson saw her triumphant smile as she straightened up. “What did you find?”

She held up a pipe and the sealed sandwich bag. “Christmas presents! How about you?”

He showed her the portable fingerprint scanner. “We got a hit. She’s got priors. Her name’s Jennie Michelle Carmichael. She lives off Portobello Drive.”

“Portobello Drive?” Babs frowned. “Sort of a long way from home this time of night.”

“Yeah. Well, if she was heading out to the smokehouse to score, it makes sense,” he reasoned, and gestured at her find. “That’s quite a score for a busted taillight.”

“Because some asshole on a motorcycle took a sledgehammer to it!” The words rang in her ears again. She laughed lightly. “Some days you win. Some days you lose.”

For the umpteenth time, her gaze fell on the car seat. “Hey, Hugh?”


“Call in and have a local do a welfare check at that address, would you?”

“Will do.” He didn’t ask why. If any of them ever made that sort of request, there had to be a damn good reason for it.

Babs glanced around at the surrounding countryside. It was as dark as it was silent. “If you’re out there somewhere, I’d like to have a long talk with you, Mr. I’m Not Santa. Now you got me damn interested in hearing your side of the story.”