Authors: Marie Ferrarella
“I was referring to your professional opinion.”
Embarrassedâand hating itâKristin could feel heat traveling up both sides of her neck as well as along her cheeks. She struggled, snatching up various unrelated thoughts to get herself focused on something other than what an idiot she'd just been.
“I knew that,” she murmured.
At any other time, he would have probably taken the opportunity to tease her a little. He liked the way her blue eyes flashed when she got angry.
But he was short one partner and his competitive nature wouldn't allow him to remain stuck in the mud, not making any headway whatsoever, for long. Solving cold cases was what he was being paid for. He wasn't about to drop the ball now.
But in order to keep from dropping it, he first needed to
a ball not to drop. And right now, he had nothing to grasp on to except for the bare bonesâpun intended, he thoughtâof a mystery. He had all the questions without a clue as to where to even begin looking for some of the answers.
“So,” he began as if they were having just a friendly conversation, “what have you learned?”
Kristin made no reply. Instead, she just looked at him suspiciously. The detective wasn't being cocky, he was actually asking the question. Was this just another tactic, or was this the genuine Malloy Cavanaugh beneath the jaunty bravado?
She couldn't tell.
When in doubt, go on the offensive.
“Are you asking me to spoon-feed you answers?” she asked.
He saw the skeptical look on her face intensify. Maybe he needed to play on her sympathiesâprovided she had any, he qualified. Right now, the jury was still out on that one.
“I'm down one partner, and the only possible lead I have is on vacation in some unknown location that apparently doesn't have cell phone signals, internet or any kind of telephone service. I need something to go on,” he told her truthfully, then began with the most logical question. “Did you get a final count on how many bodies were in the ground?”
“At last count, there were ten. The CSI team uncovered ten skulls,” she told him. “But they're not finished digging yet.”
That must be making Harrison happy, he couldn't help thinking.
“Ten,” he repeated, digesting the idea. “That meansâif we're luckyâthere are ten missing persons flyers to go with those skulls.”
She inclined her head, as if agreeing with him. But it wasn't a wholehearted gesture. “
the reports were filed.”
Malloy laughed dryly. “Not much for positive thinking, are you?”
“Give me something positive to think about,” she countered, challenging him.
He would if he could, but he had nothing yet. “What else can you tell me?” he asked, then quickly qualified, in case they were still on the wrong foot, “About the case.”
“Of the ten people, nine of them are female,” she told him.
“And one male?”
Kristin bit back a few choicer comments and only said, “I can see why you'd be so sought after as a detective.”
He ignored the sarcasm, focusing on what didn't jibe for him. “Don't you find that kind of odd?”
“What, you being sought after?” she asked. “Actually, yes, very.”
The woman had a smart mouth, and he found himself wanting to shut it in the most effective way. Later, he promised himself. He'd get to that later. It would serve as a reward for a job well done. “I was talking about the fact that there was a male in the group,” he told her.
Kristin shrugged. He had a pointânot that she would say so to him. “Maybe our one male was a transvestite and managed to fool the killer. Oh, and there's one more thing,” she said, leaving the best for last.
“Go ahead,” he urged gamely.
“The bodies weren't hacked apart.” At least, not the ones she'd had time to assemble. She'd examined those sections very closely.
“So they weren't murdered in a fit of rage.”
Waiting a beat, Kristin gave him the second part of her findings. “They were broken apartâwhile the victims were alive.”
murdered in a fit of rage,” he said, amending his previous statement. And then he looked at her with a touch of impatience. “Well, which is it?”
Her eyes met his, and just for a split second, Kristin caught herself losing her train of thought.
Rousing herself again, she went on to tell him, “I just present you with the facts as I find them. It's up to you to do the speculation.”
With that, she lowered her visor and got back to the business at hand, putting together ten dismembered Humpty Dumpties.
Feeling almost as if he was experiencing whiplash, Malloy watched her work for a moment. This case was definitely
going to be easyâfor a hell of a lot of reasons, he told himself.
ristin could feel the detective's eyes on her. Ordinarily, she could block out her surroundings and work under any conditions, adverse or not. But she had this distinct impression that the detective wasn't watching her work, he was watching
, which was something else entirely.
And she didn't much like it.
“Why are you still here?” she asked, not giving the man the satisfaction of looking up at him as she posed the question.
Malloy's voice was mellow and easygoing as he replied, “I thought I'd broaden my education. You know, you can really learn a lot about a person by watching them work.”
Obviously the man's supply of lines was endless, Kristin thought reprovingly. Since ignoring him was obviously not working, she decided to put Cavanaugh on the spot instead.
“Oh?” she said skeptically. “And what is it that you've learned by watching so intently?”
“That you're precise and meticulousâand you don't like being observed.”
“I don't mind being observed. What I mind is the person doing the observingâespecially when he should be working.” The look she gave him left no doubts about how she felt about his standing there.
Rather than backing away because he'd been rebuked, Malloy smiled engagingly. “Do I make you nervous, Dr. Kris?”
“You make me irritated, Detective Cavanaugh,” Kristin corrected. “Now, if you want me to come up with some answers for you to work with, you're going to have to let me do my job,” she said, then added with finality, “alone.”
But rather than leave, the way he had initially begun to do, Malloy looked around at the other exam tables. There were six in all, brought in during the rampage of another serial killer several years ago. Now the tables were covered with bones that might or might not be part of the person whose skull rested at the top of each table.
As he glanced around at the various clusters of remains, a thought occurred to Malloy. “Do you think this might be related to a sex trafficking ring or something along those lines?”
Kristin stopped working and looked up. “Excuse me?”
“You know, sex trafficking,” he repeated, then went on to elaborate in case she missed his drift. “Unsavory types smuggling young women from around the world for the single purpose of making money by turning them into sex slaves.”
“That would be more profitable if they were alive,” she pointed out dryly as she got back to sorting. “For most men, dead women are not a turn-on.”
“Very true,” Malloy agreed amicably enough. “But maybe something went really wrong, and whoever was in charge of this group decided he or they had no other recourse except to kill all these women.”
Under normal circumstances, she supposed that the sexy detective's theory was plausible enough. But not in this case. “There's just one thing wrong with that,” Kristin said flatly.
“I'm all ears.”
No, he wasn't. He was a great deal more than that, Kristin thought grudgingly. Malloy Cavanaugh was all broad shoulders, a quirky, sexy smile and whimsical green eyes that she found vastly disturbing when they were turned on her.
Her unbidden observation came out of nowhere, and she tried to banish it back to the same location, but without much success.
This whole case was making her tired.
“These women weren't smuggled in from outside the country.”
The facts, Kris, deal with the facts. The scientific ones. It's the only way you're going to get him to go away.
“How do you know that?” Malloy asked, rounding the exam table in order to see what she was talking about.
Kristin drew in a breath. Cavanaugh was standing way too close to her, but telling him to back off might start him thinking the wrong thingâor the right thing, as was the case. She decided it was best to keep silent on that score. The sooner she got him to leave, the better.
“Their teeth,” she pointed out. “The ones who have had dental work done show that whoever worked on them did a decent job. The others just have good teeth. That isn't usually the case for those whose backgrounds include poverty and malnutrition.”
He had an adequate enough imagination, but it was hard for him to envision the remains that were arranged on the exam tables once being living, breathing women.
“So it's your opinion that this little band of not-so-merry women was homegrown?”
Kristin bit back a comment about his choice of descriptive words. Instead, she forced herself to make a dispassionate comment. “Appears that way.”
Okay, so far he had that the women were most likely from somewhere in the immediate areaâor at least this country rather than somewhere out of the country, and that all of them, except for one, were women. It was something, he granted, but still not very much to go on.
“Can you give me a rough estimate of when they were killed?” he asked.
She really wished he'd take a few steps back and stop crowding her. But since he apparently wasn't moving, as casually as she could manage, she did.
“Well, it wasn't all at the same time,” she told him. “My preliminary judgment would be that this happened between twenty and twenty-five years ago.”
“So this wasn't a mass grave,” he speculated.
His wording made her think. “More like a grave of opportunity,” she said. “The guy would keep coming back to bury his latest victim because apparently no one had discovered his previous transgressions.”
The medical examiner's conclusion interested him. He had no problem adjusting his own thinking to factor in good points. Ego had never been a problem with him. “What makes you so sure it's the same guy?”
“I'm not sure,” she admitted. “But judging from appearancesâby that I mean the way he dismembered themâit looks that way,” she theorized. As if she suddenly realized what she was saying, Kristin stopped working and raised her eyes to his. “Are you through picking my brain, Detective?”
“I haven't even gotten started,” he told her honestly, flashing a grin that held a great deal of promise, as well as sizzle.
Kristin found she had to struggle to ignore the unwanted effects he was having on her. How did she get rid of this man?
“That wasn't really a question,” she told him. “Let me be more clear. You're
picking my brain.”
“What's the matter, Doc?” he asked her good-naturedly. “Haven't you ever heard of teamwork?”
Her eyes narrowed to two blue lasers. “I have, Detective. Are you familiar with the concept of carrying someone?”
He cocked his head, as if that would somehow help him get into her thoughts, and asked her innocently, “Is that an offer?”
is an observation,” she informed him tersely. She was telling him that she was aware he was looking to her to do all the heavy thinking here and he was just absorbing her answers without contributing. “Obviously too subtle for you.”
His smile only grew more engaging. “I'm really not the subtle type.”
“Yes, I noticed,” she bit off. She didn't know how to make it clearer than this. “Now, this might get you to first base or whatever base you're aiming for with someone else, but I like to feel that I'm earning the money I'm being paid, so unless there's something else you either want to ask me or share with me, please, leave,” she underscored.
Instead of going the way she would have expected any normal male to do, he stayed exactly where he was, as if she'd just given him a choice. “Well, the idea of sharing doesn't sound bad to me,” he began.
She'd set herself up for that one, Kristin silently reprimanded herself. “Please, leave,” she repeated, and this time she made sure that there was nothing in her tone to leave any wiggle room for him to misinterpret her words.
Malloy inclined his head, as if he'd finally gotten what she was telling him. “Until the next time,” he told her as he began to take his leave.
“Heaven forbid,” Kristin muttered under her breath just loud enough to be heard.
Opening the door, Malloy wound up all but walking into the two CSI agents who had been in charge of digging up the area where all the body parts had ultimately been found.
Ryan O'Shea and Jake Reynolds were pushing a gurney with what looked to be a black body bag between them.
“Where do you want this, Doc?” O'Shea asked.
Kristin didn't need to ask what they'd brought in. The sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach told her the answer to that one.
“More?” she groaned, temporarily forgetting about the annoying detective who had invaded her turf and was still in it.
O'Shea nodded. “It's the gift that apparently just keeps on giving.”
“How much more giving?” she asked warily as she eyed the body bag.
“We found two more heads,” Reynolds told her, aligning the gurney with one of the exam tables and unzipping the bag.
Kristin closed her eyes for a moment, as if trying to center herself before she spoke. Opening her eyes again, she looked at the body bag. It didn't look full, but it didn't appear to be empty, either.
“Just the heads?” she asked.
O'Shea had the good grace to look a little apologetic. “And a handful of miscellaneous bones that might or might not belong to the heads.”
“In other words, just like the rest of it.”
“Exactly like the rest of it,” O'Shea told her, then added quickly in a far more positive voice, “The good news is that I think that's it.”
“The bad news is that there are twelve of them.” Malloy offered up that observation. Three sets of eyes turned toward him as he continued, “Twelve people without their entire bodies, without names and without a clue why they were unlucky enough to join this exclusive boneyard.”
He studied the piles that were already out. Because of his upbringing, to him, bodies meant families. “And twelve families waiting for some word about one of their own who is never coming home again.”
Kristin glanced in his direction, wondering if the detective had just said all that for her benefit, or if Malloy Cavanaugh actually did have a sensitive side to him.
The next moment she decided that she was probably giving the man way too much credit. Someone who looked and acted the way that Malloy Cavanaugh did didn't have to have a more sensitive side to him. From what she had heard about him, he did just fine with what genetics had given him to work with. There was no need for sensitivity to enter the picture.
She was partial to sensitivity, responding to that far more than the good looks the man was so generously endowed with. No matter how gorgeous a person might be, looks only went skin deep. Sensitivity went clear down to the bone.
“So you're not digging any more?” Malloy asked the CSI agents.
“Nothing left to dig,” O'Shea replied. “Not unless we want our heads handed to us by that maniacal nursery owner, Harrison, because we're burrowing under his greenhouses and destroying those butt-ugly plants that the guy's got everywhere for no reason. We finished digging up the perimeter.”
“You do realize that there might be more bodies on the property,” Malloy pointed out, turning toward the men. “It's probably less likely,” he allowed, “but there is still that possibility.”
“We realize, Detective,” Reynolds replied with a hint of annoyance. “We didn't just start working crime scene investigations yesterday.”
“Good to know,” Malloy replied matter-of-factly. “So, what's the plan?”
“Come morning,” O'Shea answered, “we're going to use the GPRâthe ground penetrating radar machine that X-rays what's beneath the surface,” he explained for Malloy's benefit, “so if there are any more bones buried somewhere on the property, we'll know where to dig.”
Malloy looked at the two men, surprised. He knew from conversations around Andrew's table that department funds were tight. “When did CSI get that?”
“It took a bit of juggling,” Sean Cavanaugh said, answering his nephew's question as he walked into the morgue's exam room, “but I managed to appropriate the funds for it six months ago.” He nodded at Kristin as he continued talking to Malloy. “The last annual fund-raiser we had, after the department finished funding its usual widows and orphans charities, the rest of the money was allotted for new materials for the crime scene investigation lab.” He looked rather pleased as he added, “I thought this was a good way to utilize the money. This way, manpower isn't needlessly wasted.
“Once the boys sweep the property,” he concluded, this time addressing his words to Kristin as O'Shea and Reynolds left the morgue, “we'll know if there are any more bodies to put together and identify.” He looked at the different tables. “You've been busy.” There was admiration in his voice. “How are you doing?” Sean asked her.
She smiled ruefully at the table she was next to. It contained the body she was presently trying to reconstruct. “Not exactly like the jigsaw puzzles I used to love putting together as a kid, but I think it's coming along.”
It was obvious that Sean was pleased with the progress her efforts were making.
“If anyone can do this,” he told her, “you can.” He glanced at his watch. “Well, I've got to get back to the lab. Call me if you need anything,” he told her, then added, “Good job,” just before withdrawing.
Kristin turned back to her work and saw that, unlike the others who had come in, Malloy was still in the room. “Wouldn't that be your cue to leave, too?” she asked. By her count, he'd started to leave at least three times. Why was he still here?
Something she'd said to his uncle had caught his attention, and he wanted to ask her about it. “You worked jigsaw puzzles as a kid, too?”
The word was a warning. She gazed at him warily, wondering where he was heading with this. Was he going to turn this around somehow and use this to his advantage?