Authors: Jenna Black
Hillerman was Maguire’s attorney. I hadn’t yet met the man, but of course I’d been well on my way toward despising him even before hearing this.
“Why?” I asked.
I could almost hear Laura shrug. “He’s been a friend of the family for as long as I can remember, and I guess he took Jordan’s death hard. At least, that’s what he implies.” Her voice dropped even lower. “I suspect he just wants to win a high-profile case so he can make partner at his firm. He’s kind of a weasel.”
I was really beginning to like Laura Maguire. “May I talk to your father anyway? Maybe I don’t have much chance of convincing him to cut me some slack, but I feel like I should at least try.”
“Hillerman’s with him at the moment, so I’d say that’s a big no. But if you’ll leave me your number, I’ll do my best to convince Daddy to call you when Hillerman’s gone.”
That was the best deal I could hope for, so I gave her my number and then hung up. Then it was back to trying to find a way to while away the long, boring hours.
At three o’clock, the front desk called to let me know I had a package. I wasn’t expecting anything, but I headed right down to pick it up anyway. Anything to distract me from my brooding.
The package was the size of a small shoe box and was wrapped in brown paper. The return address was Adam’s, which definitely threw me for a loop. What the hell would Adam be sending me in the mail? I couldn’t even come up with a guess. I took the package—along with my latest pile of bills, which I’d be hard-pressed to pay—up to my apartment, then dropped everything on my dining room table.
I stared at the package, still unable to make a guess at what it might contain. Of course, unless I was on the verge of developing X-ray vision, staring at the package wasn’t going to tell me much of anything.
Still feeling weirded out, I picked up the package and tore the paper away. Inside was a plain white box, the lid held closed by a couple strips of Scotch tape. Like a child at Christmas—only a lot more suspicious—I shook the box. Nothing rattled inside,
though what a rattle would have told me was anyone’s guess.
With a shrug, I picked open the tape and lifted the lid. Whatever was inside was packed in tons of bubble wrap, which would explain why nothing rattled.
I patiently worked my way through the bubble wrap until I found the object at its center, an irregularly shaped lump wrapped in baby blue tissue paper. This was just getting stranger and stranger.
I picked up the bundle, frowning at the … odd texture. It was kind of hard, but also had a bit of give to it. I unwrapped the tissue paper and finally saw what was inside.
It was a rubber hand, closed in a fist, except for the extended middle finger. What the fuck? I turned it this way and that, and my gorge started to rise. I guess my body figured out exactly what I was holding before my mind did. It was only when I saw the severed bone at the wrist, surrounded by ragged, pale, bloodless flesh, that I realized this wasn’t a rubber hand at all.
I’m not much of a screamer, but if ever there’s an occasion for screaming, finding out you’re holding a severed human hand is it. I dropped the hand and the tissue paper, taking several steps back as if expecting it to attack. I stared at it in horror for a second, then ran to the bathroom.
After I finished puking, I scrubbed my hands frantically, trying to erase the feeling of that dead flesh against my skin, but of course I couldn’t. I gripped the sides of the sink and stared at myself in the mirror.
My face was ghost pale, my eyes red and swollen from crying, though I hadn’t even noticed the tears. I was easily stressed out enough now to break down the subconscious barrier that usually kept Lugh from speaking to me when I was awake, and right now I
desperately wanted to hear his voice, just to know I wasn’t alone.
You’re not alone
, his voice whispered in my head.
I wish I could say or do something to make you feel better, but I’m afraid I can’t
“No,” I said. “Not unless you can erase the last ten minutes or so from reality.”
I would if I could
, he assured me.
I stood there a little while longer, staring at myself in the mirror, trying not to think. But there’s only so long I could get away with that.
When I finally managed to shake off the worst of my shock, I slipped out of the bathroom and into my bedroom, averting my eyes so that I couldn’t see into the dining room where the hand still sat on the floor like some discarded movie prop. An image flashed into my mind of those fingers uncurling, beginning to drag themselves across the floor toward me.
Can you tell I was a bit spooked?
One thing was for sure: it wasn’t Adam who’d sent me that package. Right after the Maguire exorcism, I’d gotten a series of death threats on my answering machine. I hadn’t received one in at least a week, and it sure looked like my admirer had decided to raise the stakes. Like I didn’t have enough other problems in my life at the moment.
Instead of calling 911, which I suppose is the proper protocol at times like this, I decided to call Adam himself. I don’t suppose this scare tactic was in his official jurisdiction, but he had enough status within the department to get away with occasionally stepping on other people’s toes. Besides, with his name on the package, he definitely qualified as an interested party.
He was on duty today, which meant I had to call
his office to reach him. Never fun. The staff at the Special Forces office seemed to have been hired specifically for their unpleasant personalities. The first time I called, I got put on hold and then dropped after listening to elevator music for about five minutes. Elevator music is about as soothing to me as nails on a blackboard, and in my present state of mind it had me practically climbing the walls.
The next time I called, I was put through to Adam’s voice mail even though I specifically requested not to be. The third time I called, I ranted like a lunatic, claiming it was a matter of life and death that I reach Adam immediately. I’m not sure the guy who answered the phone actually believed me, but maybe he was just sick of answering my calls. Whatever the reason, he transferred my call.
The call must have gone to Adam’s work cell phone—a number he had never given me, though I was pretty sure Dom had it. Hmm, maybe next time I needed to reach Adam at work, I should call Dom instead of the damn office.
I swear I could actually
Adam’s annoyance at my call through the phone. “I’m in the middle of something,” he said curtly. “Unless—”
“I just received a severed hand in the mail.”
That shut him up in a hurry. He was quiet for a moment, then I heard him mutter something, the sound muffled. I think he was holding his hand over the phone.
When he spoke to me again, there was a lot less background noise. I guess he’d moved to somewhere more private. “I’m on my way to interrogate a suspect,” he told me. “I can’t get away just now.”
“Don’t you have flunkies to do that kind of thing?” I think there was an edge of hysteria in my voice.
Adam sighed. “Sorry. Not this time. You need to call 911.”
“The return address on the package is yours.”
“Fuck,” Adam said after a moment of shocked silence.
“Yeah, that about sums it up.”
Another long silence. “All right. I’ll see what I can do about getting free to come over. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Adam was never big on saying hello or good-bye, so he just hung up.
There was nothing I could do now but wait. Shivering in a phantom chill, I fluffed up the pillows on my bed and made a nice backrest out of them. Then I sat and tried my hardest not to think.
Adam more than an hour to get to my place. Lugh did his best to keep me calm while I waited, but I was seriously rattled, and I was lucky I didn’t spend the whole hour bent over the toilet. I was so creeped out that when the front desk called to announce that Adam had arrived, I jumped so high I almost hit my head on the ceiling.
I was glad he was finally here. But my front door was locked, which meant I had to walk by …
… on my way to let Adam in. Feeling like a little girl in a haunted house, I held a hand up to my eyes to shield my vision. I didn’t even take my usual precautions to confirm the identity of my visitor. Luckily, it really was Adam, and not some homicidal maniac out to kill me.
“Where—” he started to ask, but I just pointed in the general direction, still trying not to look.
He nodded briskly and took a couple of steps toward the dining room. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him take in the scene and frown.
“I see you took good care of the evidence,” he said dryly as he pulled on some gloves.
“When I first opened it, I thought it was rubber,” I said, and my voice hardly sounded like my own. I liked to think of myself as a tough chick, but I wasn’t feeling so tough right now.
Adam must have finally noticed what bad shape I was in. He gestured to the living room. “Why don’t you go sit down? You look like you’re about to pass out.”
I’d have liked to argue with him, but I was afraid he was right. I made my way rather unsteadily toward the couch. Adam squatted to examine the hand, his body thankfully hiding it from view. I was pretty sure that was deliberate, and I felt absurdly grateful to him. He studied it in silence for what felt like forever, looking at it from every angle without touching it.
“It’s embalmed,” he informed me. “And from the looks of it, I’d say it was already embalmed when it was cut off.”
I crossed my arms over my chest, still feeling the chill that had descended on me the moment I’d realized what was in the package.
“Don’t you need a lab tech or something to make a determination like that?”
He glanced at me over his shoulder. “I’ve been a cop for fourteen years, and I’ve seen a lot of corpses. I can make an educated guess, though yeah, the lab guys will have to confirm it. I’m thinking there’s a funeral parlor somewhere that’s misplaced a hand.”
That was better than thinking someone had been killed specifically for the purpose of sending me this love note. But I still wasn’t exactly basking in relaxation.
“I’m going to have to call in a team,” Adam said.
“This bubble wrap should hold a print nicely, though if this is from the same guy who’s been leaving you the phone messages, I doubt he’d be so accommodating as to leave prints.”
I doubted it, too. My anonymous caller used some kind of voice-altering device when he called, and he seemed to be quite a pro. I couldn’t even say for sure whether it was a man or a woman, though I had automatically assumed man. I’m not sure why.
“If you call in a team, how am I supposed to explain that I didn’t call the police about the death threats?” I’d talked it over with Adam when I’d first started getting the threats, and he’d agreed with me that there wouldn’t be much the police could do. He’d also agreed with me that I was better off keeping a low profile as far as the police were concerned. There’d been a lot of seriously bad shit happening around me in the last couple of months, and more police attention was
something I needed.
“Tell them the truth: that you didn’t think there was anything they could do about the calls.” Adam covered up the hand with the sheet of tissue paper, then tore off his rubber gloves and came to sit on the love seat next to the couch.
“This isn’t something I can sweep under the rug for you,” he said. “We need to figure out who that hand belongs to and confirm my guess that the victim was already dead and embalmed before the hand was severed. Otherwise, we could have an actual murder here.”
I leaned back into the cushions of the couch and groaned. He was right, of course. The police weren’t going to be happy with me for not having reported
the death threats, but I was just going to have to suck it up.
“You still convinced you wouldn’t be better off with a bodyguard?” Adam asked me.
For half a second, I wondered if Adam really
sent me that hand, hoping to scare me into letting Saul stay in my spare room. But no, that wasn’t Adam’s style. He’d always been remarkably straightforward.
I guess I was quiet long enough that Adam assumed I hadn’t changed my mind—which I hadn’t.
“Maybe you should consider staying at Brian’s for a while,” he said. “And no, I’m not saying that because I hope you’ll let Saul stay in your apartment while you’re gone. It’s just that whoever’s threatening you is obviously escalating, and I suspect it’s going to get worse.”
Great. Just what I needed.
“I’ll deal with it,” I told Adam. I wasn’t any more likely to ask Brian to let me stay with him than I was to ask him for money at the moment.
Adam shook his head in disgust. “What is it with you? Why do you have to do every fucking thing on your own? Why can’t you accept help when it’s offered?”
I’d usually have bitten his head off for a comment like that, but I guess I was feeling rather vulnerable right then, so I answered him.
“I’ve learned from long, hard experience that the only person I can ever truly count on is myself. I just… don’t dare lean on anyone.”
He regarded me with cocked head and furrowed brow. I think he was genuinely concerned about my well-being, which was kind of a nice change. Usually, I had the feeling he only cared about Lugh and that he despised me.
“Is there some reason you can’t accept help and count on yourself at the same time?” he asked. “Just because you went to stay with Brian for a little while wouldn’t mean you were putting your entire life in his hands. You can still defend yourself even if you’re with him.”
“You wouldn’t understand,” I said, and it was true. Adam couldn’t know the utterly devastating feeling of trusting someone and having them fail you. It was easier just not to trust, to rely only on myself.
I expected Adam to get mad at my obvious brush-off, but he didn’t.
“How do you know I wouldn’t understand?”