Authors: Dale Mayer
After a quick survey of the crowd, he took off to answer the silent call.
Alexis shifted her sore butt as she stood on the ladder. Fatigue like she'd rarely experienced had slid inside her bones. As much as she wanted to distance herself from what she'd found, she felt oddly protective of it too. She could have easily stood guard from above but hadn't been able to leave that little bit of skeleton alone and exposed. It had been part of a person once. To be so lost all this time made Alexis's heart ache. Rotating her tense shoulders, she waited. Her muddy jeans clung to her calves, and her shoes were a write-off. She shivered in the sunlight. Grief pulled at her for this lost child…and for her own sister. Memories slammed into her. Alexis slammed them back out. This wasn't the time or the place. Still the trigger refused to be ignored. After all, she'd just found a child's grave, a year to the day she'd placed her kid sister in one.
"What's the problem here?"
Startled, Alexis tilted her head and squinted up through the morning sun's rays, to find a man at odds with his voice. The suit fit the tall muscled frame a little too well for her peace of mind. The angular face and tone of voice said business all the way. She couldn't take her eyes off him. He had to be media.
Better to get rid of him fast. "The media booth is on the other side," she replied, eyeing his suit, the perfect contrast to her fashion statement in mud.
"I'm a cop." He rested his hands on his hips, gazing down at her.
A cop? She reassessed him. Deep-set grey eyes, high cheekbones supported by a square jaw. This man had little patience for fools, regardless of what he wore. Damn, was that a silk shirt? Alexis shook her head. No way he was a cop. "Look, I'm not an idiot. My morning wasn't going well before I got here, now it's pissed itself right down the drain."
"How appropriate, considering where you're sitting." He reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out his badge. "I repeat, what's the problem?" Exasperation sharpened his voice.
Alexis clambered up the last two rungs of the ladder. Seconds later, she stood before him, covered in drying slime. "Let me see that, please."
He held his badge before her face.
"Detective Kevin Sutherland." Okay, maybe he was telling the truth. She held out her hand. With her free hand, she gently unfolded the tissue.
His back stiffened and his angular face sharpened as he studied the bone. "Where did you get this?"
"When I fell in, I must have dislodged it from the wall. I think there's more down there." Alexis pointed in the general direction of the ditch.
"Show me." He was all business now. He stripped off his jacket and tie, discarding both on a spot of clean grass.
Alexis stared as he started down the ladder. You had to appreciate a man who had his priorities right. She moved to the side of the ladder and pointed. "Search through the third and fourth rungs, off to the left."
A moment later, his heartfelt whisper floated up to her.
ours later, yellow police tape cordoned off the entire park area. Uniforms worked alongside the coroner. A forensic anthropologist had just arrived from Portland, and investigators were collecting trace evidence. In general, there seemed too many police, but everyone was doing something. The gathered crowd showed no signs of dispersing, the police guarding the area a draw instead of a deterrent. She had to love the curious mindset of today's society.
Alexis grabbed her work coat from her red Toyota truck, but shivers still wracked her body. A hot shower would be perfect right about now, but she hadn't been able to leave.
Somber silence greeted the appearance of the tiny outline in an oversized body bag.
"It isn't right. It just isn't." Scott's Irish accent thickened with sadness.
Alexis tucked her arm through his, appreciating his support and happy to give in return. She'd become a loner over the years, first from necessity, as disease slowly decimated her sister, then out of preference in the aftermath. But this barrel-chested Irishman hadn't let her hide in her darkness. He'd pushed, prodded, and propelled her back to life. She'd hated him for it then. Now, he epitomized the father figure she'd never had, the older brother she'd always wanted, and the best friend she'd ever known.
"Life isn't fair. Better to learn that now and save yourself some heartache," she murmured.
His disgusted snort washed over her. "You don't believe that drivel. Better to feel and know you're alive than to walk through life as if you've never lived." His muscled arm wrapped around her shoulders in a clumsy, but caring, hug. "I know you're thinking of your sister. Be hard not to with all this going on." He swept his other arm wide to encompass the hub of police activity. "Don't hold all that pain inside. Lissa is gone. Time to rejoice in her living. Don't focus so much on her passing." He squeezed gently before letting her go.
Caught on an inward spiral of pain, Alexis barely noticed his intense gaze. Horrified understanding overtook her confusion. Was he right? Had she focused so much on her sister's death that she'd forgotten to honor her life?
Please let it not be true.
One tear formed at the corner of her eye, hung for a brief moment, then slid down her face.
"Miss…uh, sorry, I need to get some information from you."
A fresh-faced policeman interrupted Alexis's painful musings. She made no attempt to wipe the tear from her cheek.
"I need to take your statement," he said. "If we could start with your name and address, please."
Scott gently prodded her. "Alexis."
A sidelong glance at Scott's concerned face prompted her to speak. "Alex…Alexis Gordon."
"What's your full address and phone number?"
Startled, she stared at the cop. He looked like he should be selling raffle tickets for a Boy Scout trip. "Why?"
"You found the body. We need your statement."
Shaken, she quickly supplied the required information, as Scott stood silent at her side. Just as they finished, her irritating district supervisor strode toward them.
"Do you do things like this on purpose? Show up late, sneak in through the back, and wreak havoc on everyone's plans?" 'Rick the Dick,' as the rest of them not so affectionately called him, glared at the mess of the opening day ceremony. He, too, sported a full three-piece suit, although his was more designer than business.
Alexis scowled at the stinging unfairness of Rick's words.
"What a disaster!" her boss snapped.
"That's one way of putting it, Rick." The detective, now with his jacket back on and looking very much the worse for wear, joined their little group. "Hey, Scott. Haven't seen you for a while. Sad day for a reunion." He glanced down at his mud-encrusted clothes, flicking off small clumps still clinging to the material. "These pants are history."
She turned her back on Rick to speak to Scott, trying to ignore the unsettling knowledge that everyone knew each other but her. "There's nothing for me to do here, so I'll go home and get cleaned up." She ignored Rick and had done so since he'd refused her time off for her sister's palliative care. She'd gotten it eventually…after going through the higher-ups. At a price. That being her relationship with her boss. That Lissa had lasted much longer than the doctor's had expected hadn't helped Rick's attitude toward the situation. For Alexis, every additional day had been a gift.
Alexis watched as Scott snuck a sideways glance at their fuming boss. "I'll walk her to her car. Back in a minute."
Scott ushered her toward the parking lot for their first chance to speak privately. He waited until they'd reached the relative quiet of her truck before the words exploded from him. "Now that we're alone, what the hell happened to you?"
Alexis stilled, almost convinced that the incident after her fall had gone unnoticed. "I don't know," she admitted. "Maybe I was just a little shaky from the fall."
"Well, you scared the bejeezus out of me." He clasped her face in his big mitts and studied the look in her eyes. "You've been in a fog all morning. If you hadn't let the paramedics check you out, you wouldn't be going home now, either." His hands dropped away.
"I'm fine," she retorted. Taking a deep breath, she tried to make light of his concern. "At least
normally awake." She grinned at the heavily wrinkled man who loved to nap at every opportunity.
His smile flashed and disappeared just as quickly. "You could've been badly hurt falling like that." He glanced behind her and frowned.
Alexis pivoted. The coroner's vehicle had made its way through the parking lot to the exit, where it stopped before heading out onto the road. She shivered, tugging her sweater tighter around her.
Should she mention the vision? No. If she couldn't explain it to herself, how could she explain it to him?
"Go home and rest." Scott nudged her toward her car. "I'll go back and sort things out with Rick."
Scott waited until she headed to her truck before heading back to his boss. Alexis had an uncanny ability to piss Rick off within seconds of them being together. Scott had warned her several times to button her lip and for the most part, she had managed pretty well. This morning's lapse only proved how badly she'd been affected by what she'd found in the culvert. He glanced behind him to make sure she'd really left. Something odd
happened down in the ditch, something besides finding a body, which was enough to rattle anyone. He'd have to wait until she recovered before quizzing her more closely.
But he would.
Kevin and Rick were standing outside the perimeter of crime scene tape when he joined them. Rick glared at him, the words, obviously barely held in check, finally burst free. "Damn it, Scott what the hell is her problem?"
Scott narrowed his eyes. Slurs against his friends were never allowed. Damaged and hurting, gentle Alexis needed his support. Her life had been hell for a long time. She deserved a champion. It didn't matter if she hid her hurt so well that others were fooled by her apparent caustic comments. Behind all that, Alexis had heart. Besides, she never turned on anyone who didn't deserve a set-down.
He held up his hand, forestalling Rick's next outburst. "Her problem is that she just found the grave of a dead child. Come on, Rick, you know about her kid sister. Is it too hard to see that today might trigger some tough stuff for her? Hell, I'm not going to sleep well tonight after this, and I didn't lose anyone."
"What happened to her sister?" Kevin stood off to one side, his gaze going from one to the other.
"She died of cancer a year ago." Scott stopped and frowned. He glanced down at his watch. "Shit. She was buried a year ago today." He glanced up at Kevin. "Such a shame. Just seventeen years old."
Kevin nodded. "Today will trigger all sorts of issues for her. You might consider seeing that she gets some help."
"There's no room in the budget for stupidity." Rick stared ahead, a muscle in his jaw twitching.
Both men stared at him in surprise.
He glared at them both. "What? She didn't have to walk on that damn bridge. She knows the safety rules as well as anyone." Rick shoved his hands in pockets. "Shit, I don't need this now. I'm heading home. See you both later."
Scott watched Rick storm off.
"Is he really that cold to her plight? Or is she really a loose screw?"
How to answer that? Scott didn't know. Was Kevin asking as a cop, or as a buddy he'd shared a couple of beers with every month? Was there a difference?
"Alexis and Rick have a feud going on. For myself, I side with Alexis, but Rick's my boss and I don't want to lose my job. I'm not sure Alexis cares about that aspect anymore." He shrugged and glanced at Kevin. "I can tell you this – their issue has nothing to do with the body Alexis found."
Scott waited as Kevin studied his face before he nodded once. "Good enough. If she's earned your loyalty, she has to have something going for her."
Someone called Kevin's name.
"Excuse me, Scott. I have to go."
"No problem. Let me know what you find out."
There was nothing good about finding the remains of a child. But to find the child's family…now that would help.
Alexis made her way to her vehicle. "Rest, he says. After this morning? He's got to be joking."
The crowd was breaking up and filtering through the parking lot, making it difficult to drive. Alexis watched a young mother hug her child tightly to her chest. A grim heavyset man passed them. She sensed these people had experienced a paradigm shift today, one that could set in motion a complete re-evaluation of their lives. Alexis didn't need that shift. Her world had been jolted years ago when cancer moved into her home.
Before Lissa's death, Alexis had lived for every moment. She'd savored every remaining hour she'd had with her sister, and still the precious time had slipped away too fast. At seventeen, cancer had been a painful, wasting away of someone so bright, so vibrant, and so full of life. It wasn't fair.
And Lissa would laugh, saying, 'That's why it's okay for me to leave. I find joy in every second and beauty in all things. Life goes on for both of us. You'll see. I'll find a way to come back and see you.' Alexis always hoped that Lissa had been right, and she had to admit she'd been looking for a sign from her sister ever since.
Alexis shook off the heavy memory, determined not to focus on any more death as she rattled her red Toyota truck onto the main road. She just wanted to go home.
Long moments later, she pulled into her parking spot at her apartment building. Serenity Haven. What a joke. The cement building looked more like a juvenile correction center. She hated living here, but she'd sold the family home after Lissa's funeral, unable to deal with the memories. That aside, this place had no soul.
Maybe she'd rented it for just that reason, as a punishment. In what way, she didn't know or understand. Yet, it felt like a punishment to drive home to this cold concrete box every day. Maybe it was time to leave.