He studied me a moment, then sighed heavily. “Ms. Lane, your sister’s arms had holes in them. The kind of holes that needles make.”
I flew to my feet, instantly livid. “My sister’s whole body had holes in it, Inspector! Not just her arms! The coroner said they looked like teeth marks!” Not of any person or animal he’d been able to identify, though. “And parts of her were just torn!” I was shaking. I hated the memory. It made me sick to my stomach. I hoped she’d been dead when it had happened. I was pretty sure she hadn’t been. The sight of her had pushed Mom and Dad right over the edge. It did the same to me, but I came back from that hellish place because somebody had to.
“We examined her ourselves, Ms. Lane. Neither animal nor human teeth made those marks.”
“Needles didn’t either,” I said furiously.
“If you’ll sit back d—”
“Are you going to reopen her case or not?” I demanded.
He raised his hands, palms upturned. “Look, I can’t afford to send men out on cases that have no leads when we’re up to our ears in ones that do. There’s been a recent spike in homicides and missing persons like we’ve never seen before.” He looked disgusted. “It’s as if half the damn city’s gone crazy. We’re short-staffed as it is. I can’t justify putting men on your sister’s case when there’s nothing to go on. I’m sorry for your loss, Ms. Lane. I know what it’s like to lose a loved one. But there’s nothing else that I can do for you. I suggest you go home and help your family get through it.”
And that concluded our interview.
Feeling like a failure, needing to do something that would yield a tangible result, I trudged back to the inn and collected my trash bags, boxes, and broom, then sprang for a cab because there was no way I could carry it all to Alina’s place. If I couldn’t do anything else right, at least I could sweep up trash. I did every night I closed at The Brickyard and was darned good at it.
I cried the whole time I swept. Sorry for Alina, sorry for myself, sorry for the state of a world in which someone like my sister could be murdered so brutally.
When I was done sweeping and crying, I sat cross-legged on the floor and began packing. I couldn’t bring myself to discard a thing, not even what I knew should get tossed, like torn clothing and broken knickknacks. Each item was lovingly crated away. Someday, years from now, I might pull the boxes from the attic at home in Georgia and sort through them more thoroughly. For now, out of sight was out of mind.
I spent the afternoon there and made a decent dent in it. It would take a few more days to finish up, clean the place, and see if there was any damage her deposit wouldn’t cover. By the time I left, it was overcast and pouring rain. There were no cabs in sight. Because I had no umbrella and was starving, I splashed through puddles and ducked into the first pub I saw.
I didn’t know it, but I’d just closed the book on the last normal hours of my life.
He was sitting at a table about a dozen feet from my booth, opposite a petite woman in her early thirties whose drab brown hair just brushed her collar.
She was a tad easier on the eye than mousy, which was why I noticed them, because he was drop-dead gorgeous. I mean, close-your-eyes-and-wish-some-guy-that-hot-would-ever-look-at-you gorgeous. Lots of times you see it the other way around, the sultry do-me-big-boy Betty Boop with a Jack Nicholson, but you don’t often see a Fabio with an Olive Oyl.
Tall and hunky, with a ripped, tanned body beneath his white T-shirt and faded blue jeans, he had long blond hair that shimmered like gold. His face had that exotic model look, his eyes were sexy brown, his mouth full and sensuous. Everything about him was gorgeous. He looked elegant yet earthy, graceful yet powerful, managed even in jeans to appear rich as Croesus.
I admit I was fascinated. Though the woman wore a frothy short skirt, a silk blouse, and was smartly accessorized and polished right down to her French-manicured toenails, the kindest anyone would ever call her was plain, yet he seemed to positively dote on her. Couldn’t stop touching her.
Then one of those stupid double visions began.
I’d just finished my cheeseburger and was leaning back in my booth, taking my time with my fries (I adore fries, by the way, or I used to, anyway; I’d heavily salt and pepper the ketchup, then slather them with it and eat them slowly, one at a time, after everything else was gone), when his gestures suddenly seemed more unctuous than charming, and his face more gaunt than sculpted.
Then, abruptly, he was gone and for a split second something else occupied his chair. It happened so fast that I had no idea what had taken his place, just that it wasn’t him for a moment.