Authors: Marie Ferrarella
“And I'm very sorry about that, Mr. Harrison,” Malloy responded, his voice almost singsong in tone, even as he deliberately assumed a contrite expression. “You could write a letter to the department, detailing the inconvenience that this investigation is causing youânot to mention the money it's costing you,” he added, then approximated a sympathetic tone, saying, “Maybe they'll reimburse you.”
Again Harrison stopped walking, wonder written across his dour face. “They'd do that?”
Malloy eased himself out of the corner with the skill of a savvy con artist, something he had picked up by observing the people he tracked down and arrested.
“I don't handle that end of it, but nothing's impossible,” he told the nursery owner innocently.
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught the amused look on Sean's face. The latter had come closer and overheard him. It took effort for Malloy to maintain a completely unaffected and neutral expression as he followed Harrison the rest of the way up the incline and into the trailer.
The trailer's interior had a musty smell, thanks to piles of papers that hadn't been sorted and either filed away or disposed of in a long time. Harrison cursed roundly under his breath as he searched his desk.
“Here!” Harrison declared dramatically, finally finding the business card he was looking for. He all but slapped it into the detective's hand.
“You might want to call ahead and tell him I'll be stopping by,” Malloy advised. He slipped the business card into his wallet and tucked the wallet away. “Do you remember when you bought this property?”
Suspicion crowded the distrustful brown eyes. “Almost five weeks ago. Why?”
“That was going to be my next question,” Malloy told him, his voice deceptively friendly sounding. “Why?”
Harrison's dark eyebrows drew together in a perplexed look. “You mean why did I buy it?”
“Yes.” It seemed a simple enough question on the surface, Malloy thought. “Was it a lifelong passion of yours to surround yourself with greenhouses full of exotic plants? Or were you looking for a business write-off when you bought this property? Or...?”
He let his voice trail off. There was still the possibility that Harrison had somehow been involved in these murders that made up the cold case. Maybe the man knew about the bodies buried here and didn't want them falling into the wrong hands. In his haste to make money, he'd forgotten that the bodies were on this side of the property rather than the developed side.
Malloy watched the nursery owner and waited for him to respond.
Harrison stared at him for a few moments, then shrugged. “I just wanted my own business, and I thought that being in charge of a nursery like this would be relatively stress free.” He punctuated the sentence with a dry, self-mocking laugh. “How's that for a stupid move?”
“Not necessarily a stupid move, Mr. Harrison. Things'll be resolved one way or another,” Malloy assured him. “So, you didn't know the owner before the property changed hands?” he asked innocently.
“Didn't know the owner after it changed hands, either,” Harrison retorted. “All I know is what my lawyer told me. The nursery used to belong to this collector who got too carried away collecting. He opened up a nursery and did a fair amount of business. He died some fifteen, eighteen years ago and left the place to his sister. She kept the place going, turning it into a real thriving business. When she got sick, she put one of the employees in charge. Eventually she asked him to sell it for her and then I got it. End of story.”
Malloy glanced out of the window down to the site of activity at the far end of the property. From this vantage point, he could see his uncle, the two other members of the CSI team, not to mention the doctor with the killer legs, still working the multiple grave site, all under the entertained eyes of the four construction workers.
The latter group gave no signs of moving, the former gave no indication that they were about to stop. All of which put a decided crimp into Harrison's anticipated opening date.
He turned around to look at the new owner. “I'm sorry, I missed the last sentence,” Malloy apologized. “What did you just say?”
Harrison frowned at what he took to be the detective's inattention. “I said, âEnd of story.'”
“I'm afraid not yet,” Malloy corrected, looking at the man pointedly.
he Cold Case Division of the Aurora PD was not a very big department. Nor was it a very popular department to work for. Tracking down sometimes decades-old information was definitely not to everyone's taste. Patience was at a premium.
When Malloy had been promoted to the rank of detective and put in his application to join that division, he'd viewed working cold cases as a challenge, a way to prove his mettle and his tenacity. Because of his last name, he knew he had to work harder. Cavanaughs were scrutinized closely and held up to a higher standard. This was his way of proving himself.
But there was just so much of a challenge that a man could be expected to take, and working a cold case that had all the earmarks of involving more bodies than were regularly found on a major league baseball team was, in his opinion, over and above the call of duty.
It wasn't something that he really felt he could tackle alone.
So when Malloy got back to the squad room and saw that his partner was not sitting at his desk, he grew somewhat anxious and testy.
For the past week, Frank Weatherbee had been on vacation, but he was due back today. Malloy looked over toward his partner's desk to see if there were any telltale signs of lifeâlike Weatherbee's ever-present bag of barbecue chipsâon his desk. But there were no chips. Not a thing was out of place, which Malloy didn't take as a good sign. When Weatherbee was in,
on the detective's desk was out of place.
Malloy scanned the squad room. “Anyone seen Weatherbee?” he asked, raising his voice so it would carry throughout the room.
The detective sitting closest to him, Wade Cooper, shook his head. “Haven't seen Weatherbee since he went waltzing off on his vacation, the lucky SOB.”
“Well, he should have come waltzing back this morning,” Malloy pointed out, annoyed.
“Maybe he decided to take an extra day,” Cooper guessed, a vague, careless shrug punctuating his statement.
“He knows better than that,” Malloy said, rejecting Cooper's suggestion. “We're shorthanded in the department to begin withâand he knows I'll kill him.”
Cooper shrugged again, his narrow shoulders hardly making a ripple beneath the wrinkled houndstooth jacket he wore. “Hey, I'm just guessing here. Why don't you ask Julie?” he said, referring to the department's administrative assistant. The woman's desk was just outside of their captain's cubbyhole of an office. “Maybe Weatherbee called her to say he's running late because of traffic.”
Malloy hoped that was all that it was, although it was getting on in the day and if his partner was going to be here, he would have already made it in.
It wasn't traffic.
When Malloy asked Julie Myers about his partner, he found out that Weatherbee
called in. But the word “traffic” had never entered the conversation.
However, something else entirely had. Something else that Julie went on at length to explain. As he listened, Malloy's mouth dropped open. Talk about rotten timing.
?” Malloy asked, staring at the woman who had been with the department longer than his uncle Brian had been the chief of detectives.
Patiently, Julie repeatedâverbatimâwhat she had just told the annoyed-looking detective. “Weatherbee said he broke his leg and can't come in.”
The hell he couldn't, Malloy thought in disgust. He'd seen some of his cousins power through with gaping holes in their sides, not taking a break until the case they were working on was all wound up and closed.
Didn't people believe in work ethics anymore?
“I need him,” Malloy argued. “Hasn't Weatherbee ever heard of crutches?”
Julie gave him a sympathetic look. “The detective said he was too banged up to use them.”
That had Malloy momentarily reconsidering his reaction. “Was Weatherbee in a car accident?” he asked Julie.
The older woman shook her head. “No, a bike accident. From what he told me, he and his wife collided while they were biking through the Los Angeles Forest.” There was a drop of sympathy in her voice as she told him, “Weatherbee's mother is taking care of both of them.”
“Biking?” Malloy echoed incredulously, still working with that piece of information. “What's he doing on a bike? The guy's as coordinated as an octopus crossing the Painted Desert.” He blew out a breath. It would have been funny if it wasn't so damn annoying and inconvenient. “Of all the stupid, harebrainedâ”
“Hey, don't shoot the messenger,” Julie protested, raising her hands to ward off his words before they became too colorful. “I just took Weatherbee's call. I didn't rent him the bikes.”
Malloy nodded, a somewhat contrite expression on his face. He shouldn't be taking his frustrationsâor Weatherbee's stupidityâout on her. Julie had nothing to do with the situation. It wasn't her fault that his partner was one sandwich short of a picnic.
“Yeah, sorry, you're right.”
Malloy frowned to himself as he looked back out at the squad room. It was small, as far as squad rooms went, with fewer than half the number of detectives that departments like Homicide and Robbery had.
Everyone was up to their eyeballs in caseloads.
He looked back at the older woman. “Hey, Julie, how would you like to get out from behind that desk and go out in the field to work a case with me?” he asked, only half kidding.
Humor quickly dissipated in the face of the less-than-eager look the woman gave him. “I know, I know,” Malloy sighed. “What was I thinking?”
Julie answered without even sparing him a glance. “Probably some illicit thoughts about the hot little number you spent the weekend with would be my guess.”
Taken by surprise, Malloy stared at the administrative assistant. “How did you know about that?” he asked, both amused and slightly mystified.
“Because, Malloy, you
have a hot little number to spend the weekend with,” Julie answered. There was a note of affection in her voice as she told him, “If you were my son, I'd have sent you to a monastery a long time ago.”
“No, you wouldn't have,” he contradicted with far more blatant affection, “because then you wouldn't be able to see my bright, shining face every week.”
Julie shook her head in amazement. “You really
flirt with every woman you come across, don't you?”
“Only if they're breathingâ” and then he winked “âand lovely, like yourself.”
“This is April, Cavanaugh, and way too early for you to be shoveling deep piles of snow. Go work your case before it gets any colder,” she advised, waving him on his way.
He had been right earlier, Malloy thought as he walked away. This definitely did
have the makings of one of his better days.
Hopefully, he thought as he got into his car again five minutes later, this day wasn't going to get any worse.
* * *
It didn't get worse, but it didn't get better, either. The man he had driven over to see, Roy Harrison's lawyer, was not in his office.
“When will he be back?” Malloy asked the inert-looking young woman at the front desk of William James, Esq.'s office.
The young woman, who Malloy assumed was either the lawyer's administrative assistant or his younger sister attempting to work off a debt, mechanically mouthed an answer to his question. “Monday.” Then added, “Two weeks from now.”
“Two weeks?” Malloy echoed. Was the man representing an out-of-state client? “Just where is he?”
The woman's expression couldn't have looked more bored if she'd rehearsed it for hours in her mirror. “He's on vacation.”
Damn, had the whole world suddenly gone vacation crazy? Was he the only one who had missed that memo?
“Can you give me the number to his hotel or wherever it is that he's staying? I have some questions for him regarding one of his clients.”
The young woman made no move to retrieve anything. “I'm sorry, that won't be possible,” she said in a singsong voice. “Mr. James can't be reached by phone. He said he needed this time to unwind.”
Maybe it was his suspicious mind, but that sounded entirely too convenient. Refraining from making a comment, Malloy handed the woman his card.
“If he calls in, give him my number. Tell him to call me, day or night. It's about Roy Harrison. I need to clear up a few things. Tell him dead bodies are involved.”
He'd thrown in the last line to get the woman's attention, since she appeared to be half asleep, on her way to oblivion.
He succeeded. Her eyes opened so wide, it looked as if she might have trouble closing them again.
“Really?” she asked breathlessly.
“Really,” he confirmed with just the right touch of disinterest.
“You said âbodies.' Plural.” Her eyes were glued to his face. “How many?”
“Many,” was the only word Malloy offered. “Make sure you tell him to call me the minute he makes contact with you,” he emphasized.
Her hand covered the card he'd given her almost possessively.
When she answered him, her voice had dropped down a level, sounding almost conspiratorial. “The second I hear from him,” she promised. “Absolutely.”
He wasn't going to hold his breath, Malloy thought, leaving the two-story building where the lawyer's office was housed. But then, maybe he'd succeeded in getting a little movement going in that area, making James's secretary see how important the situation was.
Without anything tangible to go on, Malloy decided to pay the ME's office a visit to see if the sexy medical examiner had gotten any further with her examination of the mound of body parts.
Hopefully she could offer him something more to go on than she had in their last encounter.
It felt like he was spinning his wheels. While he had always been a fan of road trips, they involved real wheels and an actual physical destination. Spinning his wheels figuratively while trying to get somewhere on a case had the exact opposite effect of a real road trip. It only succeeded in making him feel exceedingly frustrated.
Malloy took a chance that the good doctor had returned to the morgue and had gotten started on making heads or tails out of the collection of bones she and the CSI team had gathered together. This was his first stop when he drove back from the lawyer's office.
Getting off the elevator in the basement, he followed the signs leading to the morgue. Malloy was faintly aware that there was music being piped into the building's corridor. It wasn't classical music, the way he might have expectedâsomething soothing to quiet any unsteady nerves or a queasy stomachâafter all, this was where the morgue was locatedâbut something twangy.
Since he listened to music only occasionally and then to just whatever was currently on the pop stations, it took Malloy a moment to place just what genre he was listening to.
And whose idea was that?
he wondered. Was that supposed to be some subtle commentary on the great circle of life? Down-to-earth folks returning to the earth, or some such circular reasoning?
Well, it didn't really matter one way or another. He didn't care for the music, but he wasn't here to indulge his aesthetic sensibilities. He was here for some sort of answer, or at the very least, a hint of a direction to go in. Right now, he had nothing, and he found that incredibly frustrating.
The door to the morgue was closed. For a moment, he debated leaving it that way and coming back later. He didn't want to disrupt anything that might be going on behind those closed doors.
But then, maybe it was business as usual and the medical examiner was just working with a giant, life-size jigsaw puzzle. In that event, he could even be of some help.
Anatomy wasn't his thing, but jigsaw puzzles were.
With that in mind, he knocked once, then turned the doorknob. When he found it to be unlocked, Malloy entered the room.
There was only one living occupant in the room. A bright overhead light illuminated the main exam table. There were other tables, with other overhead lights, but they were turned off. In general, other than the one bright light, the oversize, somewhat chilly room was somberly in the dark.
* * *
Engrossed in trying to recreate just one body out of all the various parts that had been dug up and were now available to her, Kristin hadn't heard the knock on the door.
She wasn't even aware that anyone had entered the room until Malloy was less than a foot away from her. At that point, he cleared his throat to get her attention and very nearly caused her to knock over what had taken her over an hour to assembleâa less than half completed body out of all the bits and pieces that had been carefully laid out on all the other unlit tables.
Stifling a shriek, Kristin spun around and glared accusingly at the man who had very nearly caused her heart to pop out of her chest.
The cocky detective.
She might have known.
“What the hell are you doing here?” she demanded angrily.
She didn't like losing her poise that way, especially not in front of an audienceâand most especially if that audience was comprised of a man she found to be unimaginably irritating for oh-so-many reasons.
“I'm interested,” Malloy told her simply, looking at the progress she'd made with the body parts. He was definitely impressed. This woman had serious jigsaw puzzle skills.
“I'm not,” she retorted coldly, her eyes narrowing as she continued to glare at him, hoping he would get the blatant hint and just go away. “I thought I made that clear this morning.”
When he raised his eyes to hers, Kristin instantly realized she'd made a gross mistake in her assumption. He wasn't here seeking her out for her company. He was here looking for her expertise.
The first words out of his mouth confirmed it.