Authors: Marie Ferrarella
Instead of answering his questionâa question she knew that he obviously had the answer toâshe stated defensively, “That doesn't bond us.”
“No,” he agreed. “But it does give us something in common.” He moved closer to her, not to crowd her but to get a better view of the various bones that were spread out on the exam table in front of her. “Want any help?”
Kristin scrutinized him, trying to determine if he was being serious. “You're joking.”
He raised his eyes to hers. “Not at the moment.”
Rather than tell him outright what she thought of his offer, she pointed out the obvious. “You don't have a medical degree.”
His shrug was dismissive. “I have an excellent working knowledge of anatomy, and from what I've read, you actually don't need a medical degree to do this kind of work. It's preferred, of course, but smaller towns make do with laypeople as long as they're familiar with that old song.”
“Song?” she questioned. “What old song?” What the hell was this self-centered, conceited man going on about?
“You know the one,” he told her, trying to coax the title out of her.
She had no time for games. “No, I don't,” she told him sharply. “If I did, I wouldn't be wasting my breath, asking you, now would I?”
Rather than tell her the name of the song, he took her totally by surprise and began to sing it. “The leg bone's connected to the knee bone, the knee bone's connected to the thigh bone...”
Was he crazy? If he wasn't, he was a completely loose canon. Either way, she wanted him out of her morgue. He was just too utterly distracting.
“Stop,” Kristin cried, holding up her hand to reinforce her point.
Abruptly ending the song, he looked at her with complete innocence. “Something wrong?”
“You're actually going to sing that to me?” she asked incredulously.
“Sounds better than just saying it,” he told her. “And anyway, it was written as a song, so I just thought I'd get the point across better if I sang it to you. I was told I have a decent singing voice,” he added as if that might make her reconsider letting him finish the tune.
“Then go sing to whoever told you that.” She closed her eyes, trying to pull herself together. “You're giving me a headache, Cavanaugh, and I need peace and quiet to concentrate.”
“What part of âpeace and quiet' does that country and western song fit into?” he asked, indicating the music that was being piped in. “The peace, or the quiet?” His expression was the face of innocenceâannoyingly so.
She blew out a breath and, with it, just possibly the last of her patience. “I just like listening to it. It reminds me of my dadâand why am I bothering to explain myself to you, anyway?” Kristin demanded, stunned as she realized what she was doing.
“Because that's how people get to know each other,” Malloy said simply.
This was getting really out of hand now, and good-looking or not, this arrogant SOB was wasting far too much of her time.
“We're not supposed to get to know each other, Cavanaugh. We're just supposed to work together on this caseâfor now,” she emphasized.
“Friends work together better than strangers,” Malloy told her.
That did it. Kristin glared at him, biting back choice phrases.
Keep it professional, Kris. Keep it professional
, she told herself.
“I have enough friends.” The statement was delivered through gritted teeth.
“I don't,” Malloy countered, then added, “You can never get enough of a good thing, don't you agree?”
“Ordinarily, yes,” she replied icily. “But not in your case.”
Rather than take the cue she was so blatantly giving him, Malloy grinned, humor sparkling in his eyes. “I'm wearing you down, aren't I?”
“What you're doing,” she retorted, “is wearing me out.”
His grin just grew broader. “Same difference in the long run,” he assured her. Then, before she could resort to anything drastic, he left the room, promising, “I'll get back to you.”
He heard her release a guttural sound that amounted to a stifled shriek of frustration.
Yup, Malloy thought as he closed the door, he was definitely getting to her.
he lost track of time.
After a point, Kristin began to feel as if she had always been doing this, trying to ascertain which bone went where and if the right number of bones were on any given table.
In essence, what she was attempting to figure out was if more bones had been dug up than were needed to comprise twelve bodiesâbecause, in that case, it would mean that there had to be
than twelve bodies buried on the property, even if only twelve heads were found.
Twelve bodies, all murdered, was a difficult enough number to come to terms with. The idea of there being even more victims brought a more pronounced chill to her soul.
The morgue's part-time assistants who had been rendering some aid had all gone home for the night, leaving her to work alone.
Thinking he might still find her in the morgue, obstinately working despite the fact that he had told her to leave more than an hour ago, Sean looked in on Kristin just before he left for the night himself.
“You're still at it,” he observed as he peered into the room.
“Just a couple of minutes longer,” Kristin replied, removing one shin bone and putting another one, this one measuring a more appropriate length, in its place.
“The bones aren't going anywhere, Kristin,” Sean quietly pointed out. “They'll still be here in the morning. And reconstructing all these poor victims one day sooner is not going to change the ultimate outcome of what happened to them. Go home, Kristin,” he told her a tad more sternly.
“I will,” she responded in all sincerity. “I just need five more minutes and then I'm gone. Honest.”
Sean shook his head. “Uh-huh.” He'd heard that before, including similar words from his own lips more often than he'd like to recall. He understood now his wife's frustration when he'd put her off with them. “Well, I've got a wife at home who gets out of sorts if I'm late for dinner without an active citywide crime wave as an excuse.” He paused just before leaving, adding significantly, “It's important to have a life apart from here, Kristin.”
Sensing he was waiting for her to acknowledge his words, Kristin looked up, her eyes meeting his. “I know that, sir.”
“I hope you do,” he told her earnestly. “Good night, Kristin.”
“Good night, sir.” Kristin picked up an instrument that looked like oversize tweezers. “See you in the morning.”
“Hopefully, not in the same outfit,” he told her.
Kristin glanced up again and grinned. “I've got a change of clothing in my locker.”
Sean sighed, temporarily surrendering. “I had a feeling,” he said as he walked out.
He knew it served no purpose to order her home; she was a tenacious young woman who listened politely and then quietly did exactly what she wanted to, making up her own rules. In a way, he admitted to himself, she reminded him of his daughters, all as stubborn as the day was long.
Kristin had meant what she'd said to the head of the CSI lab. She really did have every intention of going home in the next few minutes.
But matching up “one more bone” led to doing “just one more,” and then one more after that.
Time continued to dribble away.
The next thing she was aware of, Kristin heard the door to the morgue being opened again. Sean Cavanaugh had returned to make sure she'd kept her word, she thought, chagrined.
“I'm really going to go home right after I make sure that this one last tibia belongs to the body I'm working on, honest,” she promised, then confessed almost sheepishly, “It's just that joining these parts together is almost addictive.”
“Puzzles can do that to you.”
Kristin's eyes widened as her mouth dropped open. That was
the voice of the man who had told her to go home earlier.
She swung around.
Surprise turned to annoyance as she looked at the man who had walked in. “I thought you left.”
“Apparently, whoever you were just talking to thought the same about youâI filled in the blanks in your conversation,” he explained, taking the liberty of reading between the lines and answering the quizzical expression on her face.
“Never mind who you
I was talking to,” she retorted. “What are you doing here? Did you lose your way?”
There was no missing the sarcasm, but Malloy responded as if she'd asked a legitimate question.
“Not since I was a kid and my father had the entire family scouring the whole forest, looking for me,” he said matter-of-factly. It was an event that had taken him years to live down. “After you mentioned your thing for jigsaw puzzles, I had a feeling you might get too caught up in all thisâ” he nodded at the table in front of her “âand forget to eat.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Kristin asked testily.
She didn't like being second-guessed or anticipated, at least not by a hotshot who felt that all he had to do to get any woman into his bed was to crook his finger at her. She'd heard the stories, and Malloy Cavanaugh had two strikes against him before they'd ever exchanged a single word.
“Well,” he began in an easygoing manner, “I'm trying to tell you that's why I came back with your dinner.”
She scowled at him. “I don't have a dinner.”
“You do now,” he told her, producing a bag from the local sandwich shop and placing it on the only empty corner of the exam table. “I didn't know if you liked your hero sandwiches hot or cold, so I took a chance and had them heat it. If you'd rather have it cold, let it stand for a while. Just don't forget to eat it,” he added as a reminder.
She felt herself getting defensive. Where did he get off lecturing her? Or acting like her mother, for that matter? She got enough of that every time she visited home.
“I didn't ask you to bring me back any food,” she informed him as if she was disavowing any responsibility for his so-called act of kindness.
The simple response effectively took the wind out of her sails and succeeded in making her feel like a bad-tempered ogre.
“Thanks,” she muttered grudgingly. “What do I owe you?” Kristin walked over toward the small desk that butted up against the back wall to get her purse.
Following behind her, Malloy shrugged indifferently. “A lead when you come across one.”
He knew perfectly well what she was talking about, Kristin thought irritably. “I meant what do I owe you for the sandwich.”
Malloy's smile slipped through all the layers she had wrapped around her to keep her safe from people like him. “So did I.”
She took out her purse from the drawer, then pulled out her wallet.
“I like paying my own way,” she insisted. “Now, what do I owe you? Seriously,” she emphasized, her tone indicating that she wasn't going to stand for any more of his snappy patter.
“Okay,” Malloy replied gamely. “How does your firstborn sound?”
She stared at him. “What?”
“It's a large sandwich,” Malloy deadpanned. “And I had the kid behind the counter throw in two giant chocolate chip cookies.”
“How did you know?” she asked. When he made no answer other than to raise an eyebrow, she said, “About chocolate chip cookies being my favorite?”
“Lucky guess,” he admitted, “Besides, who doesn't like chocolate chip cookies?”
“My mother,” she answered before she could think to stop herself. “She thinks chocolate chip cookies are a cop-out. She's into much more complicated baking,” she explained, even though she just wanted to distance herself from the topicâand mainly, from talking to him, period. Malloy was definitely messing with her ability to think.
“Sounds like an interesting woman,” he commented. “I'd love to meet her.”
Yeah, and she'd probably love to meet you
, Kristin couldn't help thinking. If she knew her mother, all the woman needed would be one meeting with the handsome detective and she'd be ordering wedding invitations and reserving a church.
“Why did you do this, really?” Kristin asked him, unwrapping the foot-long sandwich laden with three kinds of meats and two kinds of cheesesâmelted together. Since it was heated, the aroma seemed to ambush her, tantalizing her saliva glands. “I mean, I haven't exactly been friendly to you.”
His shrug was carelessâand absolving. “I figured it was because you were hungry.”
“And?” she asked, waiting.
“And I drugged the sandwich,” he answered matter-of-factly. He glanced at his watch. “In exactly thirty-three minutes, you'll be unconscious, in my lair and I'll be having my way with you. Or, you'll have your way with me, whichever way you'll want to play this,” he added with a disarming wink.
Kristin silently regarded the sandwich, now unwrapped, on her desk. “I guess I had that coming to me,” she admitted almost reluctantly.
Malloy offered her a pseudoinnocent smile. “Mine is not to judge. By the way, don't forget to go home,” he told her as he began to head for the door.
“Cavanaugh,” she called after him. When he turned around, she asked, “which is the real you, the hotshot or the nice guy?”
“Yes,” he answered with the same seemingly innocent smile.
And then he left.
* * *
Malloy consumed a twin to the foot-long sandwich he'd picked up for Kristin on his way home, finishing it just as he pulled up into the driveway.
After parking his car and letting himself into the townhouse, Malloy began stripping off his clothes as he made his way to his bedroom. He kicked off his shoes, fell facedown on his bed and was asleep within ninety seconds of contact.
* * *
He remained that way until six thirty the following morning when a pronounced ache in his neck penetrated his dreams and woke him up. He'd spent the entire night on his stomach, never a good idea, he silently lectured. He felt like one end of a parenthesis.
Wincing, he stumbled into the bathroom, took off the last of the clothes that had remained on his body and showered. The ache in his neck kept him under the hot water an extra three minutes.
Mindful of the long-running drought that was very much still a part of California's long-term forecast, guilt finally had him turning off the hot water and reluctantly getting out.
This wasn't the weekend, he reminded himself. He didn't have time to indulge himself.
Approximately nine minutes later, Malloy was in his kitchen, eating what was left of a four-day-old pizza that was practically the last thing still sitting in his almost empty refrigerator.
He was going to have to remember to stock up on new leftovers, he told himself.
The thought was gone by the time he'd locked his front door a few minutes later.
* * *
Getting in early, Malloy fired up his computer and spent the next two hours going through twenty-to thirty-year-old missing persons flyers.
The number he found was nothing short of daunting. If he was strictly going by the database, it seemed as if at one time or another, close to half the population under the age of fifty had gone missing. Because of the information he'd managed to get out of the closed-mouth medical examiner, for now he ignored the one male victim who had been found on the property and restricted his search to women, but even that number turned out to be overwhelming.
He sat back at one point and just shook his head. In this day and age with all the various methods of social communication that were open to his generation and the one that was even younger, Malloy couldn't help wondering how anyone managed to fall off the grid this way and stay off of it.
Even those who had gone missing twenty years ago should have turned up by nowâprovided, of course, they weren't dead, he reminded himself. Which was what this was all about.
It took him all that time just to compile a secondary file of missing women from within the area who would have been between the ages of eighteen to thirty at the time, which, according to Kristin, was the approximate ages of the bodies. He'd decided to widen both ends of the spectrum.
Even that number felt incredibly overwhelming. Not because he would have to go through them one by one and make decisions, but because there were so very many people who had never been found, alive or dead.
How did families live with that sort of uncertainty, day in, day out? he marveled.
Malloy thought of his own family. Every last one of them would have moved heaven and earth to find a missing relative whether or not they had the resources of the police department to aid them.
Which, fortunately in their case, they did.
But what if they didn't?
Malloy shook his head. He had to block unproductive thoughts like that. If he dwelled on that aspect to any extent, he might not be able to get any further in his investigation than he'd already gottenâwhich was not very far at all.
He wondered if Kristin had progressed with her work. If connecting hip bones to the right pelvic bones had in any way moved the process of possible identification along, or if all those dismembered young women they'd found were going to be designated as “Jane Does.”
The idea haunted him.
Normally, working cold cases involved finding out howâand whyâa specific person had been killed. He'd never had a corpse remain unidentified before, much less an army of them.
Malloy reached for the phone on his desk a couple of times, wanting to call Kristin to ask her if she'd found anything on her end. But after several false starts, he never picked up the receiver.
Although patience wasn't his strong suit, he decided that perhaps the good doctor deserved a breather, at least from him. Maybe she actually did work more efficiently when she was alone, just as she had maintained.
He could only hope that once she did come up with somethingâand she looked far too intense not toâshe'd give him a call if only because she was the type to “pay her own way” as she'd maintained, and after all, the sandwich had been a form of a bribe.