“I agree that she appears to be a walking billboard for hair colorists,” he said. “She might also be a far better actress than we imagine.”
“Doubtful.” Madison shook her head.
“Even so, she’s the wife—she’s not off the hook,” Sean said. “Finished with your meal?”
“Yes. Thanks. I can pay my share—”
“No worries. Your tax dollars at work, Madison. If we’d ordered fine wine, well, then, we’d have to argue about the cost.”
He stood, ready to move on. Madison got up, too. Their server saw them and quickly brought the bill, and in a matter of minutes they were on the road.
Headed to the morgue.
Madison had never supposed that in all her life she’d be headed to the morgue….
* * *
No matter how such a place tried to be aesthetically decent—pleasing was beyond the realm of possibility—the smell of chemicals seemed to pervade even the reception areas and offices. No room freshener could alleviate that smell.
Sean was growing accustomed to everything he was going to meet along the way in the career he hadn’t actually chosen, but which had found him. In Quantico recently, they’d trained in arms; thankfully, as a Texas kid, he’d grown up surrounded by those who expected a man to know about guns, even if he chose not to use or carry them. He’d excelled at the shooting range. They’d sat in on endless classes in behavioral sciences. They’d learned to profile, and they’d learned that profiles could be wrong, but if nothing else, they certainly helped winnow down the pool of suspects. In many cases that pool could be immense. It was necessary to start somewhere, and the best place to start was with logic.
While they were a “special” unit—chosen for exceptional talents that some might consider curses—they were still expected to follow all bureau procedure and to excel at all expertise needed to work as an agent.
That had included days and days at morgues and body farms across the country.
He would never feel at ease in a morgue. But, even in training, he’d never betrayed his discomfort.
Sometimes, in the busy daytime field of a morgue like this one, Sean felt as if he heard voices, dozens of them, crying out to him.
He didn’t acknowledge that, but he watched Madison—and it wasn’t out of idle curiosity. He had to know if Eddie Archer was right, and if Madison spoke with the dead. If she saw ghosts…
She was ashen from the time they stepped into the building. He didn’t need Detective Knox today; he’d made himself known as lead investigator on the case. Today, he’d be able to meet with the medical pathologist who had done the autopsy, Dr. Lee Chang.
“I wish there was more to tell you,” Chang said as they walked down the chemical-scented halls to the small room, where he’d ordered the corpse of Jenny Henderson to be brought. They were alone when they came to the small viewing room. Chang had his own charts and rattled off information as he withdrew the sheet, saying, “By my best guesstimate, Jenny Henderson was taken from behind. Her attacker was right-handed, seizing her by the left hand and holding it against his—or her—body and then slicing her throat thus, left to right. The artery was severed. The point was to kill, but not to decapitate.”
Madison went a shade grayer, staring silently at the corpse of Jenny Henderson. She inhaled on a shaky breath. He saw that the tears she was determined not to shed were crowding her eyes.
“You knew her,” Sean said.
“I can’t say I knew her well.” Madison’s voice was low and pained. “But yes, I did know her.”
“I’m sorry,” Chang said quietly.
Sean decided he liked Chang. The man was a professional with empathy. He didn’t let emotion overrule science, but he didn’t forget that his science had to do with human beings.
Madison moved closer to the corpse.
Chang cleared his throat. “She has a brother back in Rhode Island. He’ll be here tomorrow, although we haven’t released the body as yet.” He touched Madison awkwardly on the shoulder with a gloved hand. “You may go closer. You may touch her. She was your friend. None of us knows, but maybe she’ll sense that you came and you want to help her, that you care.”
Chang stepped back, looking at Sean then.
It’s easy for us. You and I, we never knew her in life. This girl is here to help. She needs space to breathe, to touch, to see, Chang seemed to say.
Sean nodded to him. He stepped back with the doctor.
Of course, he was using Madison. Watching to see what would happen, wondering what she might see and hear.
“Oh, Jenny!” she said very softly.
Madison, he thought, hadn’t wanted to come here. Jenny had been a casual acquaintance, someone she’d met through Alistair Archer. But she had known her, had seen the place where she’d been murdered; she’d heard Alistair’s rendition of the events that had stolen the young woman’s life.
And now, she was seeing her here, naked and lifeless on the gurney, the essence that had made her vital and beautiful and human long gone.
At first, it looked like the last thing in the world Madison wanted to do was touch the corpse.
Sean waited, feeling like a jerk, but knowing he had to.
And in a moment, Madison came forward. A tear dripped down her cheek and fell on her own hand.
She reached out, and her fingers gently brushed Jenny Henderson’s arm.
She closed her eyes.
She trembled suddenly, as if she’d been hit by a bolt of electricity. Chang almost stepped toward her, but Sean raised a hand and stopped him.
They waited. Madison stood by the corpse as the seconds passed by. She seemed frozen, unable to move.
At last, Sean took two steps and stood behind her, placing his hands on her shoulders. He looked down himself and saw Jenny. Once again, in his mind’s eye, Jenny’s eyes were open. And she was staring at the two of them, staring as though pleading for the help that hadn’t come to her in life.
Sean felt as if he was picking up on the end of a conversation.
Jenny was saying, Um, I don’t know. I suppose… I really care about Alistair! But yes, there were a number of people who knew that he and I were friends. All right, more than friends. That I liked to tease him and sleep with him because…because I care about him and because it wasn’t such a bad thing to sleep with him. We weren’t destined for life but— She paused, staring at them again. But I—and many others—have slept with people for much worse reasons. It wasn’t a secret. I was talking about it during…lunch at the old café down on Sunset…. I was with a girlfriend, Molly Ives, and I told her I was going to try to seduce Alistair that night, because I was desperate for a role in The Unholy. My roommate, Kathy McCarthy, knew. I was probably stupid. I should have been more discreet. I should have…
Jenny’s silent voice in Sean’s head was suddenly stilled.
Chang was standing next to Madison, holding her arm. “Breathe. Just breathe. I know the smell of the room isn’t great, but breathe deeply, and you won’t pass out.”
Sean was dismayed that he hadn’t seen how white she’d become. He cleared his throat.
“Definitely right-handed killer?” he asked.
“Or someone totally ambidextrous,” Chang said.
“Thank you. Call me when her brother schedules his appointment to see her. I’ll be here,” Sean vowed.
Chang nodded, covering Jenny’s corpse with the sheet. His action seemed to restore a degree of dignity to her poor abused body.
“Is there anything else, Agent Cameron?” Chang asked.
“No, not right now. Thank you. And I will be back. I know you’ve recovered what you can, but I don’t want the body released yet.”
“Then she will not be released,” Chang promised him.
Sean nodded. He set his hand at the small of Madison’s back and led her out of the room, down the antiseptic hallway and out to the light of day.
In the bright sunshine, she was even more pale.
“How are you?” he asked.
“I’m fine,” she said, gazing up at him. “Really.”
She had beautiful large eyes. He noted that they were perfect—not too large for her face, but the kind of eyes that seemed to give her vitality as well as beauty, that seemed to radiate emotion and life.
He let out a breath and looked at his watch. His team was coming, but they weren’t due for another few hours.
“How about we stop by your house?” he suggested.
“My house? But where will that get us?”
“It will get us to your house,” Sean said. “And give me time to think about what I want to do next, what I want to say to my team head and what I want to ask my team to start heading up for me.”
“Oh. Okay,” she said. She was trying to speak casually, but he suspected she was glad of the opportunity to go home.
She needed to regroup herself. She wasn’t admitting it yet, but she’d just carried on a conversation with a corpse.
“Fine,” she said. “Well, you’re driving, and you know where I live. Let’s go!”
So he did.
Her little car, an old Pontiac Vibe, was sitting in the driveway.
“That’s mine, too,” she said, pointing to the space beside it.
When he pulled in next to her car and parked, Madison quickly got out and he did the same. She walked to her door and fit her key into the lock.
“This is a wonderful old bungalow,” he said, standing back to admire it.
“Yes, all the houses in this neighborhood are.”
The door opened and he stepped into her house. Instantly, he felt an intriguing sensation of being watched—suspiciously.
Madison isn’t the only one residing here, he thought.
“Come in. Make yourself comfortable,” she told him.
She didn’t seem to be very comfortable herself. Her next words confirmed his feeling.
“I’m going to make a drink. Would you like one? I’m not exactly a full-service bar, but I have Scotch, rum, whiskey…”