Cary Hagan came back in then, walking as smoothly and gracefully as a southern breeze, her smile as brilliant as the sun. She was carrying a silver tray with a coffee service, a cup of tea and a plate of fresh baked muffins. “Here we are. Mr. Griffin, I have your tea right here. Oh…! I should have asked. Would either of you prefer tea?” she asked Sarah and Will.
“Coffee is great, thank you,” Sarah said.
“Anything you have is just fine for me,” Will told her.
Sarah wanted to smack him. He was fawning again.
As Cary started serving, Mr. Griffin pointed to a painting on the wall. “That’s the old Castillo, done at the turn of century. Beautiful, isn’t it?” he asked. He clearly wasn’t going to say anything more about the murders. Will might be too smitten to see it, but Sarah was very aware that Mr. Griffin didn’t want to speak in front of his own nurse.
As soon as she politely could, Sarah made their excuses and dragged Will out.
“What’s the matter with you?” she asked the minute they were back on the sidewalk. “Don’t you see? Mr. Griffin doesn’t trust Cary.”
“Oh, come on,” he protested, looking back toward the house. “You’re just jealous because she’s so gorgeous, so you don’t want to trust her.”
“Will! I am not jealous. I’m…suspicious.”
“You’re being ridiculous, Sarah. Some sicko is doing this. How can you possibly think that it’s Cary Hagan?”
She shook her head and started walking more quickly.
“It’s pretty obvious that she’s having an affair with Tim Jamison,” Will said, hurrying to catch up with her. “So what do you think? She ditches Mr. Griffin, lures young women with some kind of drugs, kills them, bathes in their blood or whatever—and then sleeps with the cop in charge of the case?”
“Look, I didn’t say she was guilty of anything, I just said that she was suspicious,” Sarah told him. Her cell phone started ringing and she quickly pulled it out of her pocket, expecting it to be Caleb calling to say that he and Floby were at her house.
But it wasn’t Caleb. It was Caroline.
“Sarah, can you get over to the museum quickly? Please?”
“Okay,” Sarah said slowly, wondering why Caroline sounded so upset. Caroline wasn’t a fool; if there were a real emergency, she would have called 911. “Why?” Sarah asked.
“Just hurry, please,” Caroline said. “Oh, Sarah, it’s so awful!”
“What’s so awful?” Sarah asked.
Will was staring at her tensely. “Awful?” he echoed. “What’s so awful?”
Sarah frowned and waved a hand in the air, trying to shush him until she understood herself.
“Last night…last night Barry and Renee got into a fight. Barry left, Renee decided to go bar-hopping and…oh, Sarah! She was attacked.”
Floby looked at the body in the trunk and shook his head sadly. “Poor woman.”
“Well what? She’s practically mummified,” Floby said. “What do you want from me? Time of death?”
“Any opinions?” Caleb asked.
“Not at this moment,” Floby said slowly. “I’ll tell you, though, I would love to do the autopsy on this one. For the body to be as well-preserved as this one is…I’m thinking that she might have been drained of blood, like our Jane Doe from the beach.” He sighed. “Thing is, Caleb, this is another case for the university guys.”
“It’s a body found in a suspicious context in a private residence, Floby. You have every right to handle it.”
Floby didn’t answer as he knelt down by the trunk, opening his pathology kit. “First I’ll take a tissue sample—we should be able to get DNA, and that’s what interests you most, right?”
“It interests me, yes. Stopping the killing interests me more.”
“It would be impossible for this woman’s killer to be killing anyone else now,” Floby pointed out.
“I need to know how she died,” Caleb said. “I want to know about drugs in her system.”
Floby groaned. “I’ll do my best.”
“So call for a meat wagon to come get the corpse.”
“I can’t do that without calling the cops, and you know it,” Floby told him.
“I’ll call Jamison myself,” Caleb said. “This is important.”
Caleb reached for his phone, but as he did so, it began to ring. Sarah.
“Caleb—” she began, but her next words beeped out by his call waiting.
It was Jamison on the other line.
“Sarah, hold on.”
“Wait! I need to tell—”
He’d already switched over. “I need to know every little thing you’ve discovered since you’ve been here, and I need to know it now,” Tim Jamison said with no preamble. “Because Renee Otten was attacked last night.”
S arah had always loved what she did, and she loved where she did it.
But today she was ready to scream, because all she could think about was Renee. On top of that, one boy of about ten was fascinated with the legend of Osceola, and he was driving her crazy.
“How much of his head was cut off?” the boy asked. “The whole thing? I heard that he runs around St. Augustine at night looking for his head.”
The kid next to him stuck out his arms in a Frankenstein’s monster pose and started to chant, “I want my head. I want my head.”
The parents merely smiled benignly at their charming children.
“Excuse me, please,” Sarah said, glaring at Caroline across the room. “Miss Roth will help you with your questions.”
And then she escaped quickly to the employee lounge, where she dug through her purse, anxious to find her phone.
They hadn’t kept Renee in the hospital; she hadn’t wanted to stay, and the blow she’d taken on the head hadn’t caused a concussion, so it hadn’t been deemed serious enough for them to force her to stay.
Barry had, predictably, been feeling both upset and guilty, so he had taken the day off to be with her.
And now everything seemed to be going to hell, Sarah thought. She’d managed to get in one quick conversation with Caleb after he’d left her on hold for what had seemed like an hour. Despite her hope that everything could be kept low-key, he’d had no choice but to involve the police. Floby had claimed the body for an initial autopsy, but after that, the state would certainly be trying to take charge.
“But Floby is the state,” she said.
“Yes, but…there are all kinds of legalities when such an old corpse is discovered. Listen, I’ll talk to you later. I have to go talk with Jamison right now,” he’d told her.
And so, with a corpse in her house and Caleb with the cops, and Renee in a state and Barry with her, she’d been left with no choice but to offer visitors a plastic smile and do her best to be cordial.
But those two boys had about done her in.
She looked at her watch, praying that the day was nearing an end and disappointed that it wasn’t, and was about to put through a call to Caleb when Caroline came in, bringing Cary Hagan in with her.
Sarah closed her phone, surprised.
Cary must have seen the look in her eyes, because she hurried to speak. “I’m sorry, but I heard about Renee, and I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am. I never should have let her leave like that.”
Sarah shook her head blankly. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I feel responsible for what happened to Renee. She was with me last night,” Cary explained.
“Oh?” Sarah said, still confused.
“Renee ran into me at a bar over on South Castillo. She was angry with Barry, and she was downing bourbon and soda really quick. She seemed all right, though—just upset with Barry for not understanding that she likes to dance, and it doesn’t have anything to do with flirting. And then she got a call before she left, so I was sure she was meeting up with Barry again…. But with everything going on, I never should have let her leave alone, no matter what, and I just wanted to apologize and say how glad I am that she’s going to be okay.”
Sarah nodded and smiled. “Thank you. We’re grateful that she’s all right, too.”
“And, please, come by the house more often. You made Mr. Griffin’s day. Most of the time he just sits around, thinking about the past. The man doesn’t have a single physical ailment other than old age, but he needs to start living in the present. He was so much happier after you came by,” Cary said, offering her a brilliant smile.
“I’m glad to hear it. I’ll make a point of dropping in on him more often, then.”
“Wonderful. So…I’ll see y’all,” Cary said, and with a cheery wave, she was gone.
“What the hell was that all about—really?” Caroline asked.
“She wanted to apologize?” Sarah suggested. “Either that, or she’s just trying to be friendly.”
“Then she should stop sleeping with married men,” Caroline said with a sniff, before changing the subject. “Hey, my folks will be back in an hour or two, and then you’ll be able to leave. Take tomorrow off to make up for today, why don’t you? Barry will be coming back in, and Renee said she’d rather be working than sitting around being afraid.”
“Well, good for her, I guess. But it’s still terrifying to think of her being attacked that way.”
“I talked to her, and she said she felt kind of dizzy when she left the bar and knew she probably shouldn’t have been walking alone, and then suddenly she didn’t realize quite where she was. That was when she saw lights. She can remember the lights. Then…nothing. She was conked on the head and woke up in the hospital sometime around two a.m. Apparently someone saw her lying there and got her to the hospital, then took off.”