“I’ve held a gallon of olive oil, John,” Sam said.
“Well, then you imagine dozens of those suckers coming down on you,” John said.
Sam glanced to the side. A group of Sedge’s employees had gathered there. They were sobbing softly, from some of his cashiers—nearing retirement themselves—to his younger stock and bag boys and girls.
He walked over to the crowd. “I’m so sorry,” he said.
One woman let out a loud wail and fell into his arms. She took him by surprise, but he put his arms around her to pat her gently on the back. “So sorry,” he said again. “There, there,” he said ineffectually, but it seemed to help.
The woman tried to compose herself. “It was all my fault!” she wailed.
“Mabel!” another of the elderly cashiers protested. “Honey, it was not your fault. Mr. Sedge wanted that display, and he told everyone exactly how he wanted it set up.”
“No, no…” Mabel moaned. “I left. I left. I walked to the back and said that it was all closed up and I was leaving. And I told him to come lock the door. I should have waited. We should have left together!”
Sam kept trying to console the woman, but he felt a new spark of anger and suspicion. He held Mabel at arm’s length. “Mabel, you’re saying that you left him alone in the store, with the door open?”
“Oh!” She started to sob again.
“No, no, Mabel, this wasn’t your fault!” he said quickly and lifted her chin. “Was the store empty when you left?”
She frowned, looking at him. “Well, yes. I mean, well, yes, I think so. I did the call over the announcement system. I asked everyone to check out, and announced that we were closing. I turned off the lights—except, of course, we have the safety lights. And the lights were still on back in the office, but it gets kind of dark in here—shadowy, at least. Oh, that’s it! He didn’t see that he was going to run into the display. Oh! Oh, no, it could have been a child. But the shelving was behind the tins…” She broke down in tears again.
“There, there,” Sam said.
Jenna had come to stand quietly beside him. He looked at her helplessly.
She slipped in, putting her arms around the woman. “Mabel, none of this is your fault, and you get that out of your head.”
“He missed his wife, honey,” another woman said hopefully. “At least he’s with her now.”
“Yes, that’s true, that’s true….” Mabel agreed, but then she sobbed again. “But he loved his kids and his grandkids!”
“But he’s with his wife, and he probably missed her terribly,” Jenna said.
Jenna managed to get Mabel into the arms of another of the women.
She grabbed Sam’s sleeve. “I want to see the body,” she told him.
He frowned, staring at her.
“Sam, I’m an R.N. Not a pathologist or anything, but I’ve been around an emergency room a time or two. I want to take a look at the body.” She looked up at him with her green eyes earnest and clear.
He nodded, caught her hand and made his way to John Alden.
“You really want to allay my suspicions—and those of anyone else, should questions arise, which you know they will,” Sam said. He added, “Please.”
John started to let out a sigh of exasperation, but then he looked at Jenna, and he seemed to hesitate, perhaps remembering the fact that she’d brought in the horned god costume that yielded results.
He groaned. “What? What? What now?”
“I’d like to see him, please,” she said.
John scowled. “The medical examiner has cleared us to have the body taken to the morgue.”
“I’ll only need a minute or two,” Jenna said.
“What now, what now?” John demanded.
“What now—you’re a good cop. And, of course, that doesn’t mean that you have to agree to do any favors for me. But, come on, John. You don’t want me having to question you later, or say that you were willing to accept the obvious with no question.”
“Pain, royal pain, in my ass,” John told him.
“But I’m right sometimes,” Sam said.
“You got two minutes. And be careful—hell, I don’t want either of you dead or crippled by olive oil.”
Then John called to the officers who were holding the line at the door. “Let them in!”
Inside, techs were still marking off positions. It was obvious, though, that the rush had been to attempt to save a man’s life, not preserve the scene. Towels had hastily been spread on the floor to keep emergency help from sliding into mayhem themselves, and the offending cans had been tossed everywhere.
But a path had been cleared to the body, and Sam watched as Jenna carefully made her way to Sedge’s bloodied and crumpled form.
“Excuse me?” the medical examiner, who had been writing on a chart, asked with a frown.
“Alden’s permission, Doctor,” Sam said. The M.E. lifted an eyebrow, but he didn’t protest.
“We’ll be taking him out in just a minute,” the doctor said.
“There will be an autopsy,” Sam said.
“Of course. Accidental death,” the M.E. assured him. “And that didn’t take a medical opinion. Just look at what happened here. Of course, that’s not official. As you said, certainly, there will be an autopsy.”
Jenna didn’t touch the dead man. She went down on her knees, heedless of the conditions around her, and studied the injuries. As she looked down, she felt a strange ripple down her spine. She looked up.
And the dead man was there, looking down at her and at his broken body, incredible sadness in his eyes. He looked from his mangled form to her eyes, and he formed a single word with his ghostly lips.
Jenna looked back to the corpse. Then, true to her word, she was up in a minute. She smiled her thanks to the M.E. and the techs that had paused to watch her.
“R.N.,” she said weakly.
“Honey, he’s way past that!” one of the techs said.
“Yes, I can see that,” Jenna assured the woman.
She walked to Sam, nodding, and they headed back out.
John Alden was right in front, still trying to soothe the crowd while writing in his notebook.
“See—death by olive oil,” he said, and there was no humor in his voice.
“Yes, definitely, the tins killed him,” Jenna said. “There was no sign of a heart attack, although, of course, I’m not an M.E.”
“No, you’re not,” John said firmly. “But why do you say that?”
She arched her eyebrows, playing for time as she sorted out what she had seen in her mind. She wasn’t going to tell John Alden that the dead man’s corpse had been standing over his earthly remains.
“Well, on the one hand, there were deep contusions and lacerations on his head. It would be like being beaten to death,” she said. “And, in my mind, his coloring—I’d expect different coloring from a heart attack. What time are they estimating time of death? I’m going to say early last evening.”
John stared at her, perplexed.
“Well?” Sam asked.
“Yeah, on cursory inspection, that’s what the M.E. believes. He must have had the accident when he was closing up,” John said.
“Who found him?” Sam asked. “The store is closed on Sundays.”
“His son came when his dad wasn’t at church. We’ve sent him on home. He has to tell his wife and kids. And…it wasn’t good for him to be hanging around here,” John said, sympathy in his voice. “Now, I called you. I let you see the situation—and the body. Can I get back to work?”
“Yes. Thanks, John,” Sam said, pausing before adding, “Oh, and, hey, by the way, if it’s an accidental death, why are you here? I thought you only worked homicide.”
Alden hesitated, looking at him. He sighed. “With the mess going on in Salem, naturally I’m going to be called to the site of any accidental death. And Sedge’s son called it in as a homicide. Since he might have been called as a witness in the one of the current murder cases, I decided I was going to stick with it and investigate it thoroughly. Happy?”
“You bet I am,” Sam said. “Thanks.”
“Thanks,” Jenna added as Sam set his hand on her back, leading her from the crowd. Local stations were setting up cameras. Sam saw that a cable channel was already live and he knew from experience each one of them was hoping for a sensational scene. If it bleeds, it leads. But if it wasn’t sensational, it wasn’t national.
Jamie, Jackson and Angela were once again around the kitchen table at Jamie’s house; they’d been watching the news. Jenna told them what had happened at the store.
She was surprised when Sam’s fist hit the table. He didn’t seem to give in to frustration frequently. “He was murdered. Death by olive oil. Like hell—it was murder by olive oil. Someone was in that store, and someone beat him to death with those cans.”
“Coincidence?” Jamie asked.
“I don’t believe in coincidence. Especially not when it’s this convenient,” Sam said.
“I don’t believe in coincidence, either,” Jackson agreed and began firing off questions that Sam answered wearily. No, the door hadn’t been locked. One of his longtime clerks had been the last to see him. No, Jenna was damned sure that he hadn’t died of a heart attack when the tins had started to fall. He’d been discovered by his son, who had called it in as a homicide.
Jackson’s phone rang as they were sitting there. Seeing it was Jake, he put the phone on speaker.
“Interesting news that might not have been easy to find, unless, of course, you thought to look in all the right places,” Jake told them.
“Quit gloating and tell us what you’ve got,” Jenna said.
“First, I found—public record, Jackson—articles for the Old Meeting House when it was founded, and when it was designated a house of worship. They requested more tax exemptions and conscientious objector status for some members, and a petition that was signed by most of the membership. Now, who didn’t sign, that I don’t know. That was something I had to dig for, so I’m thinking most of them signed it, assuming it was a private petition. I’ve emailed the list to all of you—including you, Sam. Your contact info was easy enough to find.”