Skin Deep Page 17

“Well, this shouldn’t take long,” I said, leaning against the door frame and folding my arms, partially to block Tobias’s adoring stare. What he saw in the woman, I’d never know.

“I don’t have to do anything for you,” Liza said, making a good show of turning toward her computer screen, as if she had tons and tons of work to do. “You’re not involved in any kind of official case. Last I heard, the department had decided not to involve you anymore.”

She said that last part a touch too triumphantly. Ivy and J.C. shared a look. The authorities weren’t . . . particularly fond of us these days.

“One of your bodies went missing,” I said to her. “Isn’t anyone worried about that?”

“Not my problem,” Liza said. “My part was done. Death pronounced, identity confirmed, no autopsy required. The morgue had a lapse. Well, you can talk to them about it.”

Not a chance. They wouldn’t let me in—they didn’t have the authority. But Liza could; this was her department, no matter what she said.

“And the police aren’t concerned about the breach?” I asked. “Sergeant Graves hasn’t been poking around, wondering how such a terrible security snafu happened?”

Liza hesitated.

“Ah,” Ivy said. “Good guess, Steve. Push more there.”

“This is your division,” I said to Liza. “Don’t you even want to know how it happened? I can help.”

“Every time you ‘help,’ Leeds, some kind of catastrophe follows.”

“Seems like a catastrophe already happened.”

“Hit her where it hurts,” Ivy said. “Mention the hassle.”

“Think of the paperwork, Liza,” I said. “A body missing. Investigations, questions, people poking around, meetings you’ll have to attend.”

Liza couldn’t completely cover her sour grimace. Beside me, Ivy grinned in satisfaction.

“All this,” Liza said, leaning back, “for a body that should never have been here.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“There was no reason for us to keep the corpse. Kin had identified him; no foul play was suspected. I should have released the body to the family’s chosen mortician for embalming. But no. Not allowed. This corpse had to stay here, and nobody would tell me why. The commissioner himself insisted.” She narrowed her eyes at me. “Now you. What was special about that guy, Leeds?”

The commissioner? Yol had done some work to keep this body in custody. Made sense. If he’d had the corpse released, then given it some kind of crazy security, that would have advertised to the world that there was something special about it. A quick call to ensure Panos stayed in the city morgue, locked up tight, was far less suspicious.

It just hadn’t worked.

“We’re going to have to give something up, Steve,” Ivy told me. “She’s digging her heels in. Time for the big guns.”

I sighed. “You sure?” I asked under my breath.

“Yes, unfortunately.”

“One interview,” I said, meeting Liza’s eyes. “One hour.”

She leaned forward in her chair. “Buying me off?”

“Yes, and?”

She tapped the top of her table with an idle finger. “I’m a medical examiner. I’m not interested in publishing.”

“I didn’t say the interview had to be with you,” I said. “Anyone you like—anyone in the medical community you need something from. You get me as barter.”

Liza smiled. “Anyone?”

“Yes. One hour.”

“No. As long as they want.”

“That’s too open-ended, Liza.”

“So is the list of ways you’re annoying. Take it or leave it, Leeds. I don’t owe you anything.”

“We’re going to regret this, aren’t we?” Tobias asked.

I nodded, thinking of the hours spent being prodded by some psychologist who was looking to make a name for themselves. Another paper in another journal, treating me like a strange species of sea cucumber to be dissected and displayed.

Time was ticking though, and it was either this or tell Liza why the body was so important.

“Deal,” I said.

She didn’t smile. Smiling was far too human an expression for Liza. She did seem satisfied, though, as she grabbed her keys off the table and led me down the hallway, my aspects trailing.

The air grew appreciably colder as we approached the morgue. A key card unlocked the door, which was of heavy, thick metal. Inside the room, one could see why Liza had chosen to work here—not only was it frigid, all this chrome probably reminded her of the spaceship that had dropped her off on our planet.

The door swung closed behind us, thumping into place. Liza settled in beside the wall, arms folded, watching to prevent any shenanigans. “Fifteen minutes, Leeds. Get to it.”

I surveyed the room, which had three metal tables on wheels, a counter with various medical paraphernalia, and a wall full of large corpse drawers.

“All right,” I said to the four aspects, “I want to know how they got the body out.”

“We need proof too,” J.C. said, poking through the room. “Something to tie Exeltec to the crime.”

“That would be wonderful,” I said to him, “but honestly, we don’t want to be too leading. Maybe they don’t have it. Focus on what we know. Find me clues on how the thieves stored or moved the body, and that might lead us right to it.”

The others nodded. I turned around slowly, taking the whole room in, absorbing it into my subconscious. Then I closed my eyes.

My delusions started talking.

“No windows,” J.C. said. “Only one exit.”

“Unless those ceiling tiles are removable,” Ivy noted.

“Nah,” J.C. replied. “I’ve seen the security specs for this building. Remember the Coppervein case? No crawl space. No air ducts. Nothing funny about the architecture.”

“This equipment has been used lately,” Tobias said. “I know little of its purpose, though. Stephen, you really should recruit a coroner of our own eventually.”

“We do have Ngozi,” Audrey said. “Forensic investigation. Why didn’t we bring her?”

Because of you, Audrey, I thought. My subconscious gave you an important skill and inserted you into my team. Why? I missed the days when I’d had someone to ask about things like this. When Sandra had been with me, everything had made sense for the first time in my life.

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