Read Never Sorry: A Leigh Koslow Mystery Online

Authors: Edie Claire

Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Thrillers, #Koslow; Leigh (Fictitious Character), #Pittsburgh (Pa.), #Women Cat Owners, #Women Copy Writers, #Women Sleuths, #Zoos

Never Sorry: A Leigh Koslow Mystery

BOOK: Never Sorry: A Leigh Koslow Mystery
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NEVER SORRY

 

Copyright © 1999 by Edie Claire

 

Originally published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc.

Digital edition for PubIt published in 2011 by the author.

 

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer's imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.

 

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.

 

 

Dedication

 

For Mark, Aster, Klaus, Scotia, Evan, Grace, and the sea monkeys—in order of age.

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Leigh cursed herself for becoming such a scatterbrain. She was fool enough to have agreed to work late, but leaving the zoo hospital without a flashlight was sheer idiocy, and being hopelessly infatuated was no excuse. A zoo is a spooky place to be after dark, and the Riverview Park Zoo was no exception. The hair on the back of her neck prickled as she walked down the steep path toward the employee lot, her imagination spawning unwelcome scenarios of ambush—both guerilla and gorilla. The trail lamps were off, as they generally were after the main gates closed, leaving her to navigate with a combination of memory and moonlight. The trail wound mercilessly through the jungle-like exhibits of cat country, each artistically tailored with dense vegetation. It was a lovely part of the zoo, but at 2:00 AM, she would have preferred savanna.

A cool sensation spread suddenly around her toes. "Blast Mike Tanner!" she cursed aloud, stepping out of the unseen puddle. She tapped her toe against the paved walk, but the action was fruitless. The canvas shoes were soaked. "Not a morning person," she mumbled under her breath, mimicking the sing-song tenor of her new boss. "I think surgery's more exciting after hours, don't you?"

But her tone belied an animosity she didn't feel. A smile spread over her face even as she mocked the zoo veterinarian, for recent events had brought some long-awaited satisfaction to the starry eyed sixteen-year-old she had once been.

Mike Tanner had entered her life as the twenty-four-year-old, soon-to-be-graduated preceptor of her father's veterinary practice, the Koslow Animal Clinic. She was a minor, and he was married. But to a teenaged Leigh, such barriers were only a temporary nuisance. The Southern-talking, turquoise-eyed charmer was destined to be hers.

Fourteen years tend to dull the memory, however, and she hadn't thought about him in the last ten. But after her untimely firing from Peres and Lacey Advertising, fate had intervened. The start-up agency she was forming with her fellow sackees was proving long on promise but desperately short on cash, and she was forced to use her homegrown vet tech skills to pull in some extra money. She hadn't been thrilled about working two jobs, but when she heard that the now-divorced Dr. Mike was looking for a part-timer, her attitude had improved.

Her first three days on the job had even been fun, despite her boss's disregard for the hours she had agreed on. But romantic intrigue or no, no sane person started surgery at 11:00 PM, and that was that. The fall wind was brisk, and she hugged the light jacket tighter around her, hurrying to reach her car and a heating vent at foot level.

She stopped when she saw the light. The tiger shed was illuminated, not with the full set of white spots normally highlighting the path behind the "staff only" gate, but with a dull, yellow glow that seemed to come from a single bulb. Carmen wouldn't still be here—would she?

Leigh hesitated. The cat keeper had been acting weird when she left the surgery earlier in the evening. Not that Carmen ever acted completely normal—but this time she had seemed unusually edgy. Why wouldn't she have gone home?

Leigh's fingers fumbled with the latch at the gate. It was unlocked. She swung the door open and stepped behind the tiger run. A rustling noise stopped her, but after a deep breath, she pressed on. It was only one of the tigers, tramping about in the wet leaves. "Is that you, Jenga?" she called quietly as she walked along the fence toward the barn. "Loki?"

She knew it must be one of the females, since the young males had been out all day. The zoo had more tigers than could stand each other's company, so they had to take turns in the exhibit. Carmen should have put the males in their cages for the night. Leigh squinted into the darkness, but could see nothing.

She turned again to the shed, then stopped. The light was out. Her heart skipped a beat. Was she sure there had been a light? Yes, she was sure.

"Is anyone here?" she called weakly. "Carmen? Security?" The only answer was more rustling of leaves, intensified this time.

She felt a prickling up her spine as she considered her options. She could go back along the fence to the gate, keep heading for her car, and convince herself she was seeing things. Or, she could take the last few steps to the shed and flip on the lights herself. The promise of quick illumination proved more alluring, especially since there would be a flashlight inside for the borrowing.

Before she could think better of it, Leigh lunged for the shed door, felt around the wall inside, and flipped the switch.

The first thing she noticed was that the back door of the shed was open. The second thing was the blood.

Red, brown, black. Spotted, smeared. On top of the wooden table. Dripping through the slats to the concrete floor beneath. In ragged, but obviously linear, trails through the open back door.

Leigh's breath caught in her throat. Her eyes fixated on the irregular trails, her mind replaying footage of lionesses dragging antelope. Images of Mao Tse, her own cat, howling in triumph as she paraded about with her stuffed mouse. But the tigers were on the other side of the fence. Weren't they? When the roar came from behind, it hit her already taut muscles like a mallet. She slammed the shed door closed behind her, then lunged to close the back. Grabbing a knife from the tool shelf, she held it against her chest, standing awkwardly in the shed's center, turning from door to door. She decided to start breathing again, and once begun, couldn't stop.

When her hands began to tingle, she realized she was hyperventilating. She dropped the knife and rubbed them frantically. When the second roar came, she closed her eyes and exhaled slowly
. The cages are right against the shed, idiot. It's just one of the males…in his cage.

She took another slow breath and tried to get a grip on herself. There were no man-eating tigers on the loose. It was hysteria—brought on by a walk in the dark, too little sleep, and, probably, too much daydreaming. She ran her hands through her hair and straightened her back.

Her bangs stuck to her forehead. She looked up out of the corner of her eye, and stopped breathing again.

It was blood. In her hair, on her hands. On the knife she had grabbed. She rubbed her hands on her pants madly, then grabbed the flashlight she had come for in the first place. This show was over.

She threw open the shed door and darted out, the flashlight sweeping wide arcs over the path to the gate. Nothing. She could hear the siamangs chattering from the ape house, as could anyone within a mile, but the tigers were silent. She whirled around and shone the light back over the covered cages that abutted  the shed. The gates into the cage area appeared shut—the two tigers inside were lounging peacefully on their metal perches. She moved the light to the outdoor exhibit, and could see one of the young males pacing near the cliff edge. Three. The fourth tiger announced his presence with a low growl.

She swung the flashlight toward the entry gate. Another young male lay in the leaves, his back against the inside of the exhibit fence.

Leigh exhaled. Four. She walked quickly toward the gate, passing within a few feet of the young tiger on her way. As she passed, she swung the beam full into his face. The light caught his round eyes, making them shine like cut topazes against an already striking landscape of orange, black, and white. The tiger's chin sported even more color—it was bright red.

The giant mouth opened in a hissing scowl, baring similarly stained teeth. A carnivore, guarding its kill. Leigh didn't look long at the object the tiger was guarding. Her imagination might be in overdrive, but this meal wasn't imagination. It was a human leg.

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

Reaching the employee lot was no longer Leigh's goal. Her legs propelled her past that exit and toward the main gates with a speed she hadn't known since high school—and would regret in the morning. She reached the wider road of the concession area and looked over both shoulders, anxious to find anyone with a badge. No one was in sight.

She kept running. The security building was a few hundred yards away, to the left of the main gates. She swerved toward it around the front of a pizza shack.

The collision that followed startled both parties, but the guard, having a larger abdomen with which to absorb the impact, recovered first. "Where the hell are you going?!" he snarled.

Leigh hands flew to her hip, which had collided painfully with the ring of keys on his belt. She tried to stop panting long enough to speak, but her mouth wasn't working right. "I was looking for someone—" she gasped. "I need—"

The guard stepped back, his eyes wide. "Did you cut your head?"

Leigh touched her hands to her forehead. It was sticky. A wave of nausea rolled up in her stomach. "No," she said, frustrated. "Someone else—I mean—there's been—"

The guard took a step back and barked an order into his radio. He eyed her up and down. "You work here?"

"Yes," she answered dutifully, glad of a question she could answer. She tried again to explain herself in reasonable-sounding words. "I need you to call the police. Someone's—" she faltered. There seemed to be no reasonable way of saying it. "One of the tigers is chewing on a person's leg."

The guard's expression, which had wavered from sympathy to cool skepticism, slid into open disbelief. He circled her upper arm with his hand and applied a firm grip. "Come on over to the office," he said gruffly.

 

***

 

In the ten minutes between the beginning of her house arrest in the security shack and the confirmation of her story by another guard, Leigh developed considerable empathy for the legitimately insane. Her captor had eyed her with a mixture of caution and amusement, as though at any moment she might note purple monkeys in the sky. Even after she was vindicated, his wary eyes followed her every move.

Excusing herself to go to the restroom, she hastily washed the blood off her face and hands. It was time to get a grip. She never claimed to be brave, but she refused to appear hysterical. She dried her bangs with a cardboard-like paper towel and curled them under with a finger. Her shirt was a lost cause.

She emerged from the bathroom feeling much calmer. Unfortunately, her new appearance had the opposite effect on the security guard, whose reaction was close to apoplexy. Apparently, she was supposed to have stayed bloody. He was in the middle of a earsplitting lecture, complete with gestures, when word of the police's arrival came through. Eager to dispose of his charge, the guard hustled her back up the path to the tiger run, where a small army of blue-coated men and women buzzed about with flashlights and yellow tape. A thin, unnaturally pale man came quickly toward them, blocking their path.

"This is the girl I caught running away," the guard announced with a sense of importance. Then, more irritably, "She snuck into the bathroom and washed all the blood off—I couldn't stop her."

Leigh turned on him with a glare. Enough was enough. "I am a woman, not a girl, and I was running to get help," she said indignantly. "And I didn't
sneak
anywhere. You said I could go."

The pale man held up a hand to quell the guard's response. "I'll take over from here," he said in dismissal.

The guard humphed and left them, and Leigh quickly surveyed her new captor. A detective, she assumed. He appeared to be in his forties, tall, but with a distinctly unhealthy appearance. His thick crop of hair was prematurely white, and his pale skin seemed yellowish in the dim light. His manner of dress, however, was impeccable, particularly given that it was the middle of the night.

BOOK: Never Sorry: A Leigh Koslow Mystery
8.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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