The medical Examiner’s offices sat on the edge of downtown and had its own parking lot, but it was quite a hike to the actual entrance. Since it was a Sunday, street parking was free and plentiful. I parked my boring to the point of invisible silver wagon in front of the double doors entrance. The weather had turned, yesterday’s sunshine pushed out by a chill north wind and an overcast sky. I’d beefed up my usual turtleneck and jeans with a sweater and a puffy nylon jacket, but that wind whipped around me, chasing me all the way to through the double doors before falling to the relative warmth of the lobby.
The interior of the building was a study in grays. Gray floors, gray walls, even the glass in the windows was tinted gray, bleeding color from the outside world. It was flat out depressing. As if you’d entered an alternate reality stale and pale and devoid of life. Probably the reason Gretchen somebody, the security guard, always had a book in her hand. I knew most of the guards faces, names were a little harder for me, but as a moniker Gretchen was memorable. Not a lot of African-American women named Gretchen. She took a break from her current cozy mystery to buzz me through more double doors, her face lighting up when she saw the bags in my hand.
“Oh my god, you brought them.”
“Fresh from the oven.” I handed her the still warm bag, “We also have your favorite blackberry jam.”
“You’re an honest to god angel”
“There are so many who would disagree with that assessment.”
“Fuck em.” She said, opening the bag and digging in.
Sound advice, if ever I’ve heard it.
“Jonna’s waiting on you in exam 2. Down the hall and to the right.”
“The right. Got it.
I made my way down the hall, went to turn the corner, halted by Gretchen’s shout, “Your other right.”
I waved a thank-you and changed direction. I did it every single time.
Jonna met me at the door. In green scrubs from head to toe. Tall, thin short dark hair and eyes that pointed to an Asian heritage, she had the best smile, genuine full of life. It was not to be seen today.
“I can’t believe this.” She said, handing me a white jacket, gloves, and a mask. I put the mask on first. The strong chemical smells always gave me a bitch of a headache. The mask didn’t prevent it, but it did postpone it somewhat. I slipped the jacket and gloves on, squinting as she led me through. The combination of white floors, metal tables, and the bright light beating down made for some brain numbing glare. We stopped at the table where the shell that had been our friend lay. “It doesn’t seem real somehow.”
“I’m surprised they let you do the examination.” I said.
“They didn’t, but I was on shift today. No sense in someone else coming in just to show you the body. And uh… I wanted to show you something.”
She pulled the sheet down. I avoided looking at the face. Focusing on the chest. There was no Y incision as the cause of death was staring us in the face.
“I haven’t mentioned this to anyone else cause it sounds crazy, but well, if anybody would understand…”
“Yes, crazy and I go way back.”
“Right. Look here. The most exterior wounds make a circle,” Jonna pointed to the topmost wound and moved her finger all the way around. “The rest of the wounds are inside it.”
“Right. watch this.” Jonna brought a sheet of clear plastic over and laid it on the chest, she then pulled a black marker from her pocket, and started doing connect the dots with the stab wounds and I could see why she’d not said anything.
Because that shit right there was freaky. “Is that a Celtic knot?”
“That’s what it looks like to me.”
“How the hell did you pick this up?” I’ve always been pretty good at seeing patterns, but that Jonna made this connection was flat out remarkable. If you didn’t connect the dots they looked completely random.”
“I would never have seen it if Sara weren’t binging that British baking show. One of the challenges was a Celtic knot made of dough. She spent an entire weekend making those things. I must have eaten five dozen. I dream about them.”
“Still, that’s remarkable, Jonna.”
“Which is why I’m stumped as to why someone would do this.”
“I can see your point.” It was so oblique, if the killer were trying to send a message it was a lousy way to do it. The odds of figuring it out were miniscule.
“Something personal, maybe.” Jonna suggested, “Between killer and victim?”
“I suppose that’s possible.” God, this is feeling more and more like a Stephan King Movie. Puzzling as it was, the knot would not clear Sachet. “What about the murder weapon?”
That caught and held me, “Pardon?”
“Not a box cutter?”
“No, absolutely not.”
“Absolutely. A box cutter is a razor blade, thin sharp on one side only. This weapon was much thicker and pointed at the end. Scissors.
So Sachet’s box cutter wasn’t the murder weapon. Holy Banana-Rama something actually went our way for once. “What kind of scissors.”
“The type you get from Costco. They come three in a pack.”
And we are back to crash and burn. “That’s no help.”
Everybody and their brother had a pair of those scissors. So did everybody’s sister, aunt and uncle, Mom, Dad, hell the weird one-eyed cousin you only saw every ten years at the family reunion, all of them had a pair of those scissors.
“So our killer was either smart enough to use a murder weapon he knew would be in every junk drawer or he just got lucky.”
“I’m guessing this clears Mark’s Mom?”
“What? Huh? What? Mom who?”
“You know,” Jonna shook her head, “You’re a very bad liar.”
“That will get info sure enough.”
Lena spoke the truth.
We were gathered in the living room around Allie. She was resplendent.
Her hourglass curves were wrapped in form fitting red satin, a sheathe dress reminiscent of the forties with a wide v-neck and three-quarter length sleeves ending in a black velvet cuff. Her hair was in one of those messy buns that looked effortless but took an hour of combing, pinning, and teasing. She wore a filigree of gold and garnets on her ears and a matching bracelet on her wrist. Her throat bare save for a simple locket containing our mothers picture. Her makeup was flawless and her shoes were instruments of torture. Thaddeus Jackson was toast.
“Lena, you need to get changed”.
Sis balked. “What the hell for?”
“You’re tending bar.”
“How’d you manage that?”
“I know the caterer.”
“Why can’t you tend bar?”
“I’m cutting cake.”
“I know you are not about to suggest your youngest sister mix drinks for human consumption.” Christy doesn’t know a screwdriver from sex on the beach. And she was notorious for adding a little something-something to whatever she did mix up. If she got behind a bar half the men in the place would be unconscious before midnight.
“Uh, yeah,” lena agreed,”No, guess not.”
“Why are we even going?”
“Never hurts to have more eyes on a situation.”
“You have a wonky feeling.”
“I have a wonky feeling.”
“Well, okay then. Wonky trumps all.”
“You rented a limousine?”
“Of course.” Thaddeus Jackson held the door for her. Usually, the driver held the door. This registered in the tiny part of Allie’s brain not engaged in the desperate search for an excuse to not get in that car. She slipped into the seat and confronted her reality. Champagne on ice, tinted windows, the privacy glass up. Thaddeus Jackson slid in slid in beside her all smiles She was in so much trouble.
The fingers of her right hand fiddled with the ring she’d slipped on at the last minute. On her right ring finger, intricate silverwork and a single square cut garnet.
.Oh Dear Goddess. What was the penalty for drugging the ADA? She had to hold him off for ten minutes.
Thaddeus Jackson was an attractive man. Tall with the slim build of a runner or swimmer, hair cut in that short professional side sweep, physically, he was a George Clooney type. He wasn’t a bad person. His reputation was flawless, but he was ruthless and stubborn and ambitious. He bulldozed over all opposition and many times that put him at odds with her and her family. While his manners to her were always impeccable his disdain for Mckenna was well known. And well, that just slid him into the jack-ass column. Possibly, the decision to allow him to escort her had been a mistake.
“Champagne. How nice.” Normally she wouldn’t drink before an event, but she needed the line of defense.
She sipped. Slowly.
He watched. Silently.
He sat facing her one arm resting somewhere behind her head.
Allie cleared her throat.
The ADA tilted his head, “You’re nervous.”
Yes, she was. So much so that when his arm went to the seat stretching behind her and she felt the light brush of fingers on her bare shoulder… she just reacted.
Allie Kinkaid screamed.
Then she screamed again. Then she flew out of the seat, twisted around, and came down on the seat across from him, batting at her shoulder and shouting loud enough to rattle the windows.
“Where is it?” Do you see it? Is it a Black Widow? Oh God oh god. Get it off. Get it off.”
Well, that went well.
“Oh God, it could be a Brown Recluse.” And now she was beating at her hair, “We have them in Richmond. I’ve heard reports.”
Had she? “Allie…”
“They bite you and your flesh melts off your bones.”
She paused long enough for him to say, “There was no spider. It was me.
Those aqua eyes blinked, once. “What?”
“I touched your shoulder.”
“Are you sure?”
Thaddeus Jackson did not look happy. Poor man. Allie felt badly… maybe… just a little. Possibly. Oh his face. She tried to stop it. She did. But the giggle popped out.
And he did not like that. He downed his glass of champagne in one go. Allie grabbed her purse from the seat beside him and pulled out her compact, flipped it open and held it in front of her face, desperately trying to hold her snickers behind sealed lips.
The whir of the privacy glass lowering behind her head, “Is there a problem?”
Her snickers died. No, no she’d misheard.
The A.D.A. answered a clipped, “We’re fine.”
“I would like to hear that from the lady.”
Allie turned and there, under the jaunty chauffer’s cap, was a face both familiar and foreign, beautiful and terrible, and just what in the dickens was Andre doing? Mind spinning like a tilt-o-whirl, she opened her mouth…. and squeaked like a mouse
“Miss,” Andre prompted, “Is the man bothering you?”
Well, a little bit, if she were honest, but not so much so that he should pay with his life.
Allie swallowed and squeaked out, “I thought I saw a bug.”
“A bug?” Humor flowed into those devil’s eyes.
Allie cleared her throat and raised her chin, “A spider, actually.”
Sensual lips twitched in a hidden smile. “Shall I pull over and search the vehicle?”
“No.” The clipped denial brought Allie’s gaze back to the ADA. And oh, he was not the least bit amused. He slapped the button to raise the privacy glass.
Oh. Oh no. Allie ducked behind her compact.
He slapped it again and again and other than an ear-shattering grinding whine, nothing happened. The privacy glass stayed very much down. “What the hell?” ADA Jackson bit words through clenched teeth, “What the hell are you doing up there?”
Allie abandoned the compact, held her purse in front of her face, ducked her head, and hoped Thaddeus Jackson couldn’t hear her choking noises over his own near shout. “The privacy glass won’t go up.”
“How peculiar.” In contrast, the chauffer’s voice was infinitely calm and infuriatingly polite, “Perhaps there is a faulty fuse. Fortunately, we are only a few minutes away from your destination.”
Oh. Oh dear. Allie raised her head and peeked over her purse. The ADA’s face was a mottled red… and oh no…. were those hives? Mckenna got hives when she was upset and well, there was no mistaking the red welts covering Thaddeus Jackson’s face and neck as he fell back in his seat and took a swig of champagne straight from the bottle.
“I can see your shoulders shaking, you know.”
She supposed he could. She pulled her purse down, beat back her snickers and offered the same advice she’d given Mckenna many times. “You shouldn’t scratch.”
“You don’t say.”
The midnight velvet voice from the driver’s seat. “The lady is correct. It will only make them worse.”