Authors: Marie Ferrarella
“Doesn't your phone work at all?” she asked him when he came bursting into the morgue. She silently upbraided herself for not being more annoyed to see him invading her space again.
The problem was, she wasn't really annoyed at allâand that sincerely worried her.
“Sure,” he told her, crossing over to her. “You called me on it earlier, remember?”
Her eyes narrowed. “That was a rhetorical question, Detective.”
“Malloy,” he prompted. “We agreed that you'd call me Malloy, remember?”
She needed to hold on to her bearings at all times, because the man had the ability to completely bury her in rhetoric. “Technically,
agreed. I didn't agree to anything.”
He flashed her that same smile she was positive had undone many a woman and was steadily getting to her, as well.
“I figured you were just being shy, Doc.” And then he got back to the reason he'd hurried back so quickly. “This is the kind of thing I figured you'd want to hear in person. We've got a name,” he told her, taking the paper Valri had given him and holding it out to Kristin. “A name to go with that prosthetic you discovered.”
She surprised him by not immediately reaching for it. Instead, she said quietly, “The first person to transition from âJane Doe' to an actual person.”
He caught the note of sadness in Kristin's voice. So, she wasn't as removed from all this as she was trying to appear.
“Makes it more real somehow, doesn't it?”
“You do surprise me, DetectiveâMalloy,” Kristin corrected herself. She felt that since he had brought this back to share with her rather than just running off and claiming the breakthrough as his own, she owed him that much.
“You're insightful as well as sensitive.” She was getting carried away. Kristin admonished herself and walked her comment back a little. “Both very good traits for a Boy Scout.”
Malloy laughed and shrugged. “I wouldn't know.”
“Didn't make the grade?” she guessed. He must have been one hell of a handful as a boy. Tom Sawyer on steroids. No scout master in his right mind would have taken him on.
“Didn't bother to apply,” he told her simply. “So, do you want to know her name,” he asked, once again offering her the printed paper, “or just go on thinking of her as Jane Doe number seven?”
He was right. Knowing the woman's name took the victim out of the realm of the anonymous and brought her into the real world. Once she had a name, there was a very good possibility that the broken-up skeleton on her table became someone's daughter, someone's wife, sister, lover, mother, a person who had once had a life that had been cut terribly short by some maniacal monster who fancied himself a god with the power of life and death over some unfortunate victim.
It was a lot to take in. But it had to be done.
“Her name, please,” Kristin requested.
He glanced down on the paper in his hand. “The hip belonged to an Abby Sullivan, and you were right. She was seventeen when she had the operation. The last known address her doctor had for her, according to this, was in San Francisco.” He planned to verify that himself right after he left the morgue.
“San Francisco,” Kristin echoed. “That's a bit of a ways from here.”
“She might have just been living there at the time and moved on after she was back on her feet.” His words echoed back to him. “Forgive the pun.”
Kristin gave him a knowing look. “The pun is probably the least you have to be forgiven for.”
He placed his hand over his heart. “You wound me, Doc.”
Her smile was quick and fleeting. “I try my best,” she commented. “Now what?”
He regarded the sheet of paper that she had handed back to him. “Now I see if I can track down Abby's family and explain to them why she hasn't been home for dinner for the last two decades or so.”
“After you track their address down...” she began just as he started to leave.
Malloy stopped and looked at her, waiting for the rest of her sentence. “Yes?”
“Let me know,” Kristin told him. “I want to go with you.”
alloy eyed her uncertainly. He was too young for his hearing to be going. Kristin couldn't have said what he thought she had.
“I'm sorry,” he apologized. “I don't think I heard you correctly. You didn't just sayâ”
“Yes, I did,” she told him. “I want to go with you when you notify the family that Abby Sullivan's body was found.”
That didn't make any sense to him. Why would she actually
to be there?
didn't want to be there, but it was part of his job to deliver the notification once the victim was identified. To a person, this was deemed to be everyone's least favorite part of being a detective on the police force.
“Don't you have enough work to do?” he asked after a moment had gone by and he was able to subdue his surprise over her request.
Kristin sighed as she looked back at the tables littered with bones. “Oh, more than enough.”
Malloy was still waiting for this to make some sort of sense to him. “Then why...?”
He saw the medical examiner raise her chin at the same time that she clenched her jaw. She looked as if she was bracing herself for an argument. He didn't want to argue with her, he just wanted to understand her reasons.
“Because,” she answered, “something like this, notifying a family about the death of a loved one, needs to be conveyed by someone with a sympathetic heart.”
“And I don't have a sympathetic heart?” Malloy questioned, then said in all seriousness, “No offense, Doc, but you really have no idea what my âheart' is like.”
“Okay,” Kristin relented, backtracking. “Maybe I used the wrong word. Something like this needs to be conveyed by someone with an
heart,” she corrected. “In other words, someone who's been through it, been on the receiving end of possibly the worst news they have ever heard and most likely the worst news they will
hear in their lives.
“There is no âright' way to do it,” she allowed. “But there are so many wrong ways to break that kind of news, it's frightening. And, if it is done wrong, it can wind up scarring someone, if not forever, then for a very long, long time.”
He regarded her thoughtfully, reading between the lines. “This isn't just an abstract theory that you're spinning, is it?”
Her demeanor became impatient. “Do I have to give you a lengthy explanation for everything that comes out of my mouth?”
“Not lengthy, but a few succinct words that drive the point home wouldn't be unwelcomed.” He didn't think what he was saying was unreasonable. “Work with me here, Doc. I'm not a bad guy. I'm on your side, but I can't just take you on as a sidekick for this house call for no good reason. I do have people I have to answer to.”
Her expression was nothing short of skeptical. “I really doubt you answer to anyone if you don't want to.” He kept watching her, obviously waiting for something more. Kristin blew out an impatient breath. “Okay, you want a reason? I'll give you a reason. The person who notified my mother and me that my father wasn't going to be coming home to us anymore, that he had died on the job, did it so matter-of-factly, so
that it took my mother an entire year to crawl out of the depression she had sunk into.
“There were times that I thought she was never coming back to me and that I had lost not one parent but two that day, one to the ravages of a fire and one to the aftermath of that fire.”
As she spoke, it was hard for Kristin not to relive the absolute horror of that day. The only thing that had kept her from folding up herself was that she knew her mother needed her. Granted, there were her aunts, her uncle and, of course, her grandmother, who was stronger than the lot of them put together, but Kristin had felt, at least back then, that she and her mother had a special connection and that it was up to her to bring her mother around.
“A fire,” Malloy repeated. “Then your father was aâ”
She filled in the word for him. “A firefighter, yes. It was that summer that felt as if the whole state was on fire. His company was called in to help battle a fire that some pyromaniac started in the Los Angeles Forest. Three of my dad's friends got trapped while fighting the worst of that blaze, and my dad, being my dad,” she said with a touch of unconscious pride, “tried to save them. He died trying.”
She paused for a second and took a deep breath. Malloy made no effort to hurry her. He knew how hard this had to be to talk about.
“The man who came to notify us said, âAlan's dead,' the second my mother opened the door. No words of preface, no words to try to soften the blow in at least some way, just bam! âHe's dead.' And then, because he hated being the messenger, he left.” Kristin's eyes met his, and there was a fierceness in them as she made her point. “I don't ever want anyone to go through what my mother did.”
“How about you?” Malloy asked. “Didn't you have to grapple with the same abruptly delivered news? How old were you?”
Kristin realized she'd opened up far more than she'd wanted to. “I think I've explained enough to earn the right to come along.”
Malloy nodded. “I'll let you know as soon as I find out.”
Because she had no choice, Kristin had to assume that he was a man of his word, so for now, she accepted what he told her.
“I appreciate that,” she answered.
Kristin sounded rather stiff, but he knew it was because she was trying her best to retreat from what she had just told him. He could tell that it hadn't been easy for her to share something like that. He was rather open and easygoing himself, and he knew a couple of people who couldn't keep a secret even if they got to carry it around in a box.
But the thing about coming from an extended family as large as his, there was always someone in the family whose personality was a perfect match for someone he had encountered. And there were more than a few in the Cavanaugh family who not only kept their own counsel, but had to be all but dynamited out of their shell to render any sort of extraneous information.
The thought of getting the gorgeous medical examiner out of
shell presented itself to him. He found the idea rather appealing.
Dynamite didn't always have to be used to get the job done, he mused.
* * *
The following morning, Malloy was waiting for her in the exam room.
He had spent the rest of the previous day checking out his various sources. That eventually led to his finding an address for their only identified victim's family. By then he'd been pretty much wiped out. He didn't think that the medical examiner would have been thrilled to be woken out of a dead sleep no matter what news he was bearing.
So he'd decided to bring it to her in person, first thing in the morning.
Except that she wasn't here first thing in the morning. Given her dedication and single-mindedness, he found that rather surprising.
He decided to wait.
* * *
Kristin was running lateâand she hated that.
After all but baring her soul to the intrusive, not to mention pushy detective, when she'd closed up shop she'd given in to a sudden urge to spend a little quality time with her mother. Her mother had quizzed her to make sure nothing was wrong. Satisfied that there was nothing dire on the horizon, Josephine Alberghetti had gone into overdrive.
One thing had led to another, and Kristin had given in, spending the night. That, in turn, had led to her being behind schedule.
Which was why Kristin came rushing in five minutes late and trying to juggle holding on to a huge container of coffee from the local coffee shop with one hand as she opened the door to the morgue's exam room with the other.
“So you don't sleep here.”
Stifling a shriek, Kristin swung around toward the source of the voice. When their eyes met, there were daggers coming out of hers.
This was getting to be a habit. One she really didn't appreciate in the slightest. She hated being caught off guard, especially by him.
“Is it your mission in life to sneak up on me until you succeed in giving me a heart attack?” she asked Malloy accusingly.
“Actually, my mission is more along the lines of granting your request,” he told her, each word slipping out slowly and almost seductively from his lips. Not to mention that his eyes seemed to be saying things to her that should have been censored.
Or maybe she was just reading things into it, Kristin told herself in self-defense. Maybe he was just talking to hear himself talk. The fact that his voice could create goose bumps was her problem, not his.
“I don't have a request,” she informed him coldly. “And you almost made me spill my coffee.”
“I would have paid for it if you had,” he assured her. “I'm good for it.” A sparkle entered his eyes. “I'm good for a lot of things,” he couldn't resist adding.
It was fun to tease her because he knew what she thought of him, and although he had enjoyed a very happy love life over the years, a large part of itâand his appealâwas discretion.
“I can't think of a thing that would interest me,” she informed him crisply. Okay, enough was enough. “Is there a point to all this?” she asked. “Or have you decided to become my personal albatross?”
“You said you wanted to come with me,” he said simply, after taking a leisurely sip from his coffee container.
“No, Iâ” Her automatic denial dried up instantly as the puzzle pieces suddenly sprang together. “You found Abby's family,” she guessed. That had been fast, she couldn't help thinking. Maybe the man actually
good at his job.
“What's left of it, yes,” he told her, getting up and following her to her desk. “I was going to head out first thing this morning to give her father the news and ask some questions, but I did give you my word that I'd let you know. So this is me, letting you know.”
She didn't want to just know that he was going to see the woman's family. The deal was that she would accompany him when he broke the news to Abby Sullivan's family. She doubted if he'd forgotten that.
But in case he did, she had no problem reminding him. “The deal was that I'd come with you.”
“You actually still want to?” he asked uncertainly. “A good night's sleep didn't clear your head and make you see that this was a good thing to avoid?”
“You can't live your life avoiding thingsâbecause then you're not living,” she told him in no uncertain terms.
“Did you get that out of a fortune cookie, or the inside of a greeting card, or...?”
Was he trying to get her angry enough not to go with him? Or did he have something else up that sleeve of his? She found that she was having trouble reading him.
Kristin sighed. “You are not an easy man to like,” she informed him.
Rather than daunt him, her retort amused him. There was also no lack of confidence in Malloy's voice as he said, “Sure I am. Just give yourself half a chance, Doc. I'll grow on you.”
“Like fungus,” she responded. “Not an experience I'd even remotely look forward to or want. How far away is this?” she asked, referring to the house. Malloy wasn't much on doling out details. For all she knew, the dead girl's next of kin lived in another state.
“Not far in miles,” he assured her. “Emotionally, however, is another story.” He'd done his homework on Abby Sullivan's family. It didn't make for warm storytelling. Something protective stirred within Malloy. He didn't really think that Kristin should be subjected to the ordeal she seemed so willing to take on. “Seriously, are you sure you want to do this?”
to do this,” she told him, avoiding directly answering the actual question.
He noted the evasion and decided to leave it alone. “Okay, you asked for this,” he said. “Let's go. The sooner we get out there, the sooner we'll get you back to those bones.”
“You'll be happy to know that our count stands at twelve bodies. O'Shea and Reynolds used that GPRâthe ground penetrating radarâon the surrounding area and didn't come up with anything,” she told him as they made their way to the elevator.
“I know what a GPR is, Doc,” he replied. “You don't have to spell things out for me.”
“Funny, I had the impression that I did,” she quipped as they got in the elevator car.
Malloy merely laughed to himself.
* * *
Abby Sullivan's father still lived in the general vicinity where she had spent her childhood and adolescence. Her mother had died ten years earlier, succumbing to the grief of having a child who had suddenly vanished without a trace, leaving behind no clues.
It was the not knowing that had killed her, Abby's father had maintained. Alone now, he had remained living in the area, afraid that if his daughter did someday return, she wouldn't know where to find what was left of her family.
Age and anxiety had not only stooped the retired college professor's shoulders, but his entire countenance as well, making him look much older than his years.
When Henry Sullivan opened his front door in response to the doorbell, he looked at the two people on the other side of the threshold. It was obvious by the way he stared at them that he was trying to place them.
Peering over rimless glasses that kept insisting on sliding down his nose, he asked, “Yes?”
“Professor Sullivan?” Malloy asked.
“Yes?” This time the word was uttered a bit more emphatically.
Malloy took out his badge and his ID. “I'm Detective Cavanaugh, this is Doctor Alberghetti.”
For a moment, the introduction seemed lost on the older man, and then a sudden understanding washed over the lined, drawn face.
“This is about Abby, isn't it?” Each word he uttered was more anxious-sounding than the last. “You've come about Abby.”