“Ms. Everett—Agent Everett!” Chet said, quickly correcting himself. “Anything you need, you let me know!”
Chet was only twenty-six. He was staring at Jane Everett as if Marilyn Monroe had risen from the grave and floated into their offices. He was as good and solid a deputy as Betty, just...young. Tall, a bit awkward, Chet had served in the military as a sharpshooter before returning to Lily—and a parade in his honor. Lily was small; the return of a serviceman was an occasion to be celebrated.
“Agent, come with me, if you will,” Sloan said. “I’ll show you your workroom. And the skull.”
“Well, show her the kitchen and where to find coffee, too, huh?” Betty said, frowning at Sloan before turning to smile at Jane again. “We’ve got sodas, coffee, snacks, you name it. Kitchen’s the first door on the left down that hall and you help yourself to anything. Oh, and you have an intercom in there. If you need me for anything, just push the button and call me.”
Jane thanked Betty and Chet and followed Sloan down the hall. He opened the door to Interrogation Room A. They also had Interrogation Rooms B and C, but they’d never actually used A to interrogate anyone, much less B or C.
He opened the door and turned on the lights. There was a desk with a computer and they’d also set up a graphic arts easel with a large sketch pad for their guest. As she’d said, Betty had supplied their guest with a camera, computer, scanner, tracing paper, “tissue markers,” wire and mortician’s wax. The skull itself had been set in the middle of a conference table in the center of the room; it was on a stand, minus the wig and with a few adjustments. Sloan hadn’t known much about reconstructing a lifelike image from a skull, but Betty had done some research and had some help from a professor friend in Tucson. The skull had been angled to the best of the professor’s ability at a “Frankfurt plane,” or the anatomical position of the skull as it naturally sat on the body.
The jawbone, disarticulated, lay in front of it, just as it had when it was found.
Jane seemed to have eyes for nothing but the skull. She walked right up to it, studied it for a moment and then picked up the jaw, testing the jagged lines that connected it.
“The M.E. was right,” she murmured. “It’s very old.” She glanced at Sloan. “If this was someone who’d died more recently, the structure would have more integrity. The years gone by create these soft spots. If you pressed too hard along one of these lines, it could just fall apart. I would agree that it’s the skull of a woman—probably in her late twenties or early thirties, judging by the fusion of the bones. She took good care of her teeth, since there’s very little decay.”
For a moment, she closed her eyes. She seemed to be in a trance; she looked like a medium standing there, as if she could communicate with the bone.
Irritated, he cleared his throat.
“Can I get you anything?” he asked her.
She turned to look at him, and she seemed equally irritated. “Sheriff, you are, after all, the sheriff. A very busy man. I’m sure I can find my own way around the office. I’ll help myself to coffee...if you don’t mind.”
“We change to the night crew at five,” he told her. “Please wrap up your work for the day by then. I’ll get you back to the Gilded Lily and then pick you up in the morning, about 8:00 a.m.—if that works for you.”
She nodded. “Yes, that’s fine.”
He left her and returned to his office, the one directly behind Betty’s desk. There were several folders waiting for him. He picked up the first—the arrest report for Arty Johnson. Arty was an old-timer with a penchant for drinking too much. He’d wind up banned from the Gilded Lily and the saloon, but he was really a decent guy, and he’d quickly work his way back into the good graces of the management. Last week, Arty had gotten a little carried away and joined the cast onstage at the Gilded Lily. Henri Coque, incensed at the time, had demanded that he be arrested. Arty had slept it off in one of the five cells, and then Sloan had driven him home. Arty had rued his behavior all the way.
He set the file aside. Hopefully, Henri wouldn’t press charges.
He picked up the next file, shaking his head. Jimmy Hough, local high-school senior and football star, was in the cells now. His father owned a beefalo farm; the meat hadn’t become as popular in the east as they’d expected, but Caleb Hough still made a fortune selling his hybrid meat. Jimmy had taken his father’s Maserati out for a spin and crashed into Connie Larson’s Honda. When he was picked up, he’d been as high as a kite—not even Lily, Arizona, escaped the drugs that continued to ravage schools.
Logan decided this was a good time to type up reports.
An hour passed as he dealt with paperwork. Then he became aware of a commotion out front. He looked up. Caleb Hough was accosting Betty, reaming her out for putting his son’s future at risk.
Sloan got up and went out to meet the big man. Caleb wore his wealth as if it were clothing. Maybe that was what happened to self-made men, at least in areas like this, where the population was sparse.
“Trent!” Hough bellowed as Sloan walked out. “You had the audacity to order your deputy McArthur to keep my kid in jail overnight. It was just a fender bender! Jimmy has a future—he’s a star! He’s being scouted by colleges across the country. If my boy has a record—”
“Hough, I had my deputy keep your boy in here when he was picked up because he was three sheets to the wind. I would think you’d want him learning something about accountability. No, he’s not a bad kid, and I don’t want to see him with a record. I didn’t just throw him in and forget him, either. I asked Doc Levin in to check on him. I also had a good conversation with him and with Connie Larson. Jimmy didn’t leave the scene, and he was concerned about hitting Connie. I kept him overnight because, for one, he needed to sober up. Two, he needed a lesson. I let him out this morning, since Connie doesn’t want charges pressed and there were no witnesses, and I believe that he’s a good kid. However...he knows I’m watching him now, even if you aren’t. I warned him that if he takes one step in the wrong direction, I’ll throw the book at him. He’s charged with careless driving. Now, get the hell out of here before I charge you with something.”
Hough scowled at him furiously. “Who do you think you’re talking to? Who do you think you are, putting in your two cents on how to raise my boy?”
“He won’t be a boy in a year, Caleb. He’ll be of legal age—and if he doesn’t learn his lessons now, he’ll face some real problems.”
“This isn’t the end of this!” Hough warned him.
“Let’s hope it is. For your son’s sake,” Sloan told him.
Hough seemed about to explode. But he turned on his heel and stalked out. Sloan followed him to the door and saw Jimmy Hough standing in front, looking as if he wanted to crawl into a hole. His father walked up to him and slammed the back of his head. Sloan reached for the door but felt Betty’s hand on his arm.
“Let it go. The kid’s okay. Maybe he’ll survive the old man,” she said quietly.
He nodded and went back to his office. Betty followed him. “He is pretty powerful, you know, with all his money. Maybe you don’t want to be enemies.”
“If money can buy this office, Betty, I don’t want it,” Sloan said.