Though Sam had started the day feeling all law and order, truth, justice and the American way, about now he was thinking he just might be insane.
* * *
It didn’t take long for Mila’s body temperature to drop from borderline heatstroke to shivering like winter in her wet clothing. Her arms had goose bumps and her hands were shaking when she reached out to close the vents until only a thin line of air came out.
For a while she’d been lost in blessed numbness. She’d walked calmly out of the backyard, stopped Ruben and asked him to go with her. He’d taken one look at the body, shooed her away and called 911. Next he’d pushed her down onto the driveway in the miserable bit of shade the pickup provided, thrust a bottle of water into her hand and stopped the other two working. She’d had a few lovely minutes when she saw nothing, thought nothing, remembered nothing, when she was just a drifting soul in a distant universe where no person or thing could follow her.
Then she’d heard the sirens, reminding her of other sirens, other lives, other deaths. The noise and bustle of the first responders had drawn her back into this universe, reminding her to pull herself together. It hadn’t been easy gathering all the parts of herself back into a coherent being. Fortunately, these people, this police chief, would find nothing unusual about an incoherent being under these circumstances.
She waited for Chief Douglas to begin his interrogation. He was entering information into the computer mounted between them, and she watched peripherally, thinking his big hands were better suited to birthing cattle or catching footballs than typing on laptops. When his fingers went still, she felt his gaze shift to her.
“Are you all right?”
The question surprised her into looking at him. His eyes were blue and serious, and he studied her as if he could read everything he needed to know in her own eyes. Only one person had ever truly read her emotions—she confused her grandmother and her psychologist on a fairly regular basis—and that person was nothing more than dust and bones in a pauper’s grave. She would spit on it if she knew where it was.
The chief was still waiting. “Yes. I… I walked into that yard not thinking about anything other than the work and the flowers, and instead I saw—” With a shudder, she raised one hand that she knew would still tremble, would make him sympathetic, because he just had the look of someone who was very sympathetic, then sighed.
“I’m sorry.” His voice rang with sincerity.
Guilt twinged deep inside, but she forced it back. She wasn’t lying, just playing a role. Any other person in her spot right now would be entitled to sympathy without feeling guilty, and she was pretending to be any other person. “Better me than his wife or kids.” Her voice came out small, the way it did when she was trying to shrink out of existence.
That wasn’t a play for sympathy. She knew better than most that Carlyle’s six-and eight-year-old daughters didn’t need to see their dad like that, just as she hadn’t needed to see her father in all the ways she’d seen him.
Douglas watched her a moment longer before turning his attention to the report template called up on the computer screen. “I need to get some basic information from you.”
He asked questions; she answered. Some of her answers were even true. All of them felt true. She had been Milagro Ramirez for so long that it felt genuine. Cassie, Candace, Melanie…all the other names she’d answered to were like a long-distant dream. The name she’d been given at birth wasn’t even that. She was no longer any of those girls. She was Milagro, who had never had a mother or a father, who lived happily with her grandmother Jessica, whose life had begun at age eleven.
As she talked and he typed, yet another vehicle parked ahead of them. A man and a woman got out, retrieved a gurney from the back of the van and disappeared around back. Presumably they were from the medical examiner’s office. They would put Mr. Carlyle into a body bag, then wheel him back around front, no longer a husband, a father, a boss, just a package, evidence, to be delivered to people who would do even more damage to him than his killer had. They would take specimens and photographs and notes, and then they would send him on to some funeral director who would fix it all so his family wouldn’t recoil in shock.