Judging by the way the woman had stared at her, Jane wasn’t at all certain that Sage—if that was indeed who it was—liked her or felt happy to have her there.
She didn’t ponder the question long. She felt a real presence nearby and turned.
Sheriff Trent was back. She glanced up at him, thinking again that he fit his Western town very well. He had the rugged good looks of a cowboy, a frontiersman. She was disturbed at feeling her heart rate increase as he stood before her; she was afraid she was going to blush. But, like it or not, he was a very attractive man, masculine, rugged, exuding casual confidence.
“May I?” he asked her.
“Please,” she said, indicating the seat across from her.
“Tables are at a premium right now,” he told her. “The show’s almost over.”
“I don’t suppose it would be a neighborly thing to do, refusing you a chair,” Jane said. Sloan Trent had made it fairly evident that he didn’t approve of her any more than the ghost seemed to.
“How do you like staying here?” he asked.
She smiled. “Well, I’ve only had a few hours. But the room is both historic and lovely, the employees and the theater people all seem very pleasant, and I’m about to judge the food.”
“Sorry, please, eat!” he urged. “Liz.” He greeted the waitress who’d seen him and she came over.
“Sloan, nice to see you!” Liz said with her natural warmth and enthusiasm. “What would you like?”
“Whatever our guest is having. It looks good,” he said.
“Sure.” Liz nodded and moved away.
“So, I guess you really were desperate for a chair—since you don’t seem to want me in this town,” Jane said lightly.
He grinned at that and shrugged. “Have I been an ass?”
“Yes. I would say so. Especially since you’re the one who called Logan and asked if he knew a forensic artist he could recommend.”
“I’m sorry. It’s nothing personal. And yes, I called Logan. I wanted the skull sent out, say, to the Smithsonian or something. But when Henri, as mayor, said no...” Sloan shook his head. “I don’t understand Henri Coque’s motivations. I’m worried that he wants to use a dead woman’s skull as a tourist attraction, a ghost story...a fabrication.”
“Maybe he’s just clinging to history,” Jane suggested.
“He’s got a notion that he can create some kind of great romantic story that will make the theater and the town even more appealing. You know, hit up the travel sites and magazines and so on.”
“Is that really such a bad thing?” Jane asked.
Liz delivered an iced tea to Sloan and he thanked her. “I don’t know. I just think that there are labs better situated to deal with this.”
“In my brief, I read that no one has any idea how the skull got where it was.”
“That’s right. Henri is always saying that one day he’ll get all the ‘treasures’ in the basement organized. Some of the things down there really are priceless. Old cutouts for advertising and promo, dressmakers’ dummies, mannequins—some are wire, some are wooden, some are cardboard. Some are junk and some are certainly collector’s items. The problem is, it’s such a hodgepodge, the actors seldom go down there. Now, the wigs are used, but they hadn’t been in about a year. What happened was that the show was about to open and Valerie’s wig had been damaged, so she went to see what else they had down there until it could be fixed. But...if she hadn’t needed a wig, the skull could have sat there for weeks or months or who knows how much longer. They hadn’t been touched in ages, so...”
“There was powder residue on it so I assume you tested for prints?” Jane asked. “Or was it just seen as an act of mischief—not really worth investigating—since no real crime was committed? At least, not a current crime.”
“Mischief, but the kind of mischief that infuriated Henri. Yes, we tested for prints and found none. It had been wiped clean. I mean, there weren’t even prints from way back when. Nothing at all. Someone wore gloves and knew enough to wipe it down.”
“So, you’re thinking maybe it was someone who’d been in law enforcement?” Jane asked skeptically.
He laughed. “No! I was thinking someone who’s seen a cop or forensic show at some time during his or her life—and that’s practically everyone. The woman’s been dead for over a hundred years, so as you said, we’re not looking at current crime. Also, Henri wants to exploit the skull—great for tourism. I also think he wants to know who it belonged to. That might help him figure out who put a wig on the skull, and he wants to know that so he can fire his or her ass.”
“You believe whoever did it had to be an actor or crew member or Gilded Lily employee?”
“It’s not like the place is locked up tight all the time. It’s unlikely that anyone not associated with the theater would have wandered in with a skull in hand to hide it under a wig in the basement,” he told her, shrugging. “So, yes, it had to be someone already here, someone trying to cause trouble.”
“Someone like...a trickster,” Jane murmured.
“A trickster?” Sloan asked, looking at her curiously. “Yes, I guess.”
“Ah, beware tricksters.”
“Nothing, just thinking out loud,” she said. “It’s hardly a good...joke when you consider that the skull once belonged to someone living and breathing.”
“Maybe after so many years that didn’t matter much to whoever put it there.”
“Are you investigating?”
“We did investigate,” Sloan replied. “Like I said, we dusted for prints. We checked out the basement area. Naturally, we did a thorough search. We wanted to make sure there were no more bones down there. But whoever messed around with the skull wiped it clean, and prints in the basement would mean little because everyone goes down there from time to time. Not necessarily for a wig, but there are boxes of fabric, costumes pieces, props, you name it. So, other than me questioning the cast, crew and staff, there wasn’t all that far we could go. Everyone here denied ever seeing the skull before.”
“I guess you’re at a dead end, if you’ll forgive the pun. And I understand that Henri Coque might want to know who put the skull there.”
“Everyone—other than the person who put it there, of course—wants to know who did it. Who the trickster, as you called him, might have been.”
“Someone with a warped sense of humor, I guess.”
Sloan frowned at her. “I’m surprised Logan let you come here. Don’t you and your group usually deal with felonies, serial killers, major crime?”
“So how could he spare you?”
“I’m an artist. You needed an artist. If something major occurs, he’ll call me back in. Frankly, I’m surprised myself. You don’t want me here, for whatever reason, but you called Logan.”
“I thought I explained that,” he said, a little testily. “I know Logan. I trust him. If we had to have someone in here, I’d prefer to go with a professional sent by someone I know.”
“Power struggle!” she teased.
“Not at all. Henri is a politician, I’m just a lawman. But I wanted it done right.” He hesitated. “Henri wanted to call in a local artist who does landscapes, caricatures and the like. When I suggested calling a friend who could recommend a legitimate