Everyone froze, momentarily immobilized by the unexpectedly loud sound where there should only have been the pop of a blank shell with a light load in it. Rachel slowly slid out of Tony's arms and onto the floor, but there was no fake blood spreading across her arm from a fake shoulder wound.
"What the—" Zack began, already dashing forward. Tony was bending over her, but Zack shoved him away. "Rachel?" he said, rolling her over. There was a small hole in her chest, but only a trace of blood was seeping from it. Zack's first coherent thought, as he shouted for someone to go get the ambulance and the medics while he felt frantically for her nonexistent pulse, was that this wound couldn't be fatal: Rachel was scarcely bleeding, the wound was nearer her collarbone than her heart, and besides, professional medical help was only a few yards away, on hand on the set, as required under law. Pandemonium was erupting everywhere; women were screaming, men were shouting, and the crew was rushing forward in a suffocating crowd. "Stay the hell back!" he yelled, and because he couldn't find a pulse, he started giving her CPR.
* * *
An hour passed while Zack stood just outside the stable doors, a few yards away from everyone else, waiting for some word from the hoard of medics and cops inside with Rachel. Squad cars and ambulances were parked all over the lawn and driveway, their eerie red and blue emergency lights whirling frantically in the still, humid night.
Rachel was dead. He sensed it, knew it. He'd seen death once before; he remembered how it looked. Despite that, he could not believe it. The cops had already questioned Tony and the cameramen. Now they were starting to question everybody who'd been in there when it happened. But they weren't asking Zack what he'd seen. He thought, as much as he was capable of rational thought, that it was very odd of them not to want to talk to him.
Above him a brilliant light began to sweep the area and he heard the loud whine of helicopter blades. He saw the bright red cross on the side of the chopper and relief poured through him; apparently they were going to airlift Rachel to the nearest hospital, which surely must mean the medics had gotten her vital signs stabilized. Just as the comforting thought took hold, he saw something else that made his blood freeze: The cops who'd cordoned off the entire area when they arrived were letting a dark sedan through. In the light from the descending helicopter, he could read the emblem on the side of the driver's door. It said County Coroner.
Everyone else saw it too. Emily began to sob in her father's arms, and Zack heard Austin's savage curse followed by a comforting murmur of words from Tommy. Diana was staring at the coroner's car with a pale, set face, and everyone else was just … staring at each other.
But no one was looking at him or attempting to approach him. In his dazed state, that seemed a little strange to Zack even though he preferred it that way.
The entire cast and crew were quarantined at their hotel the next day for questioning by the police. Zack spent the time in a restless stupor, while the police refused to give him any information and the news media spewed out a steady stream of it for the entire country. According to the NBC program he watched at noon, the gun that killed Rachel had been loaded with a hollow point shell, which was designed to break up and spread out on impact, inflicting total destruction in a wide area of the body rather than merely passing through it, which was why her death had been instantaneous. "CBS Evening News" provided a ballistics expert on their program who stood in front of an easel with a pointer and a diagram of Rachel's body and explained to America exactly what damage the shell had done and precisely where it was located. Zack slammed the off button on the television's remote controller, then he went into the bathroom and threw up. Rachel was dead, but despite the fact that there'd been no real warmth in their marriage, despite the fact that she'd intended to divorce him for Tony, he could not come to grips with her death or the gruesome, evil way it had occurred. The ABC 10 o'clock network news dropped a verbal bomb on him when it was announced that according to the autopsy report, which had just been released, Rachel Evans Benedict had been six weeks pregnant.
Zack sank back on the sofa and closed his eyes, swallowing bitter bile, feeling as if he was in the middle of a hurricane that was spinning him around. Rachel had been pregnant. But not by him. He hadn't slept with her in months.
Unshaven and unable to eat, he prowled around his hotel suite, occasionally wondering if everyone else was being detained and if so, why none of them had come to his room to talk or commiserate or pass the time. The hotel switchboard was under siege from people in Hollywood trying to reach him, most of them, he knew, more interested in getting the dirt than expressing any real regret at her death. And so he refused to answer phone calls from everyone except Matt Farrell and spent his time wondering who in God's name had hated Rachel enough to want her dead. As the hours passed, he suspected every single person on the set for one absurd reason or another, then he discarded that suspect and groped for another because his reasons for suspecting them were so impossibly flimsy.
In the back of his mind he was aware that the police might believe he had some very strong motives for murdering her, and yet the thought was so ludicrous that he remained steadfastly convinced that the police would realize that.
Two days after her death, Zack answered a knock on the door to his suite and glared at the two tall, grim-faced detectives who'd questioned him yesterday. "Mr. Benedict," one of them began, but Zack's patience and temper had been strained past the breaking point.
"Why in the living hell are you bastards wasting your time with me!" he exploded. "I demand to know what progress you're making finding my wife's killer—"
He was so enraged that he was caught off guard when one of them, who'd walked into the suite and positioned himself at Zack's back, suddenly shoved him into the wall, grabbed his wrists, and jerked his hands up behind his back. Zack felt the cold bite of the handcuffs at the same time the other one said, "Zachary Benedict, you are under arrest for the murder of Rachel Evans. You have the right to remain silent, you have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney—"
"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you've heard the shocking testimony and seen the incontrovertible proof…" Alton Peterson, the prosecuting attorney, stood perfectly still, his piercing gaze moving slowly over the faces of the twelve Dallas County jurors who were about to decide the outcome of a trial that had generated a holocaust of public attention with its scandalous revelations of adultery and murder among Hollywood's superstars.