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Skin Deep

Skin Deep

Page 18

“This place is secure,” Ivy said, sounding dissatisfied. “Inside job, perhaps? One of the morgue workers?”

“Could one of the workers here have been bribed?” I asked, opening my eyes and looking toward Liza.

“I thought of that,” she said, arms still folded. “But I was the last one in the office that night. I came in, checked everything and turned off the lights. Security says nobody came in overnight.”

“I’ll want to talk to security, then,” I said. “Who else was here that day?”

Liza shrugged. “Family. A priest. Always accompanied. This room doesn’t open for anyone other than me and two of our technicians. Even the security guard can’t get in without calling one of us. But that’s all irrelevant—the body was still here when I left for the night.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah, I had to write down some numbers for paperwork. I checked on it specifically.”

“We’ll want to fingerprint the place,” J.C. said. “Like it or not, we might have to go through the precinct.”

I nodded. “I assume the police have already done forensics.”

“Why would you assume that?” Liza asked.

We all looked at her. “Uh . . . you know. Because there was a crime?”

“A corpse was stolen,” Liza said dryly. “Nobody was hurt, we have no actual signs of a break-in, and there is no money involved. The official word is that they are ‘working on’ the case, but let me tell you—finding this body is low on their list of priorities. They’re more worried about the break-in itself; they’ll want someone’s hide for that . . .”

She refolded her arms, then repositioned and folded them again. She was trying to play it cool, but she was obviously worried. Ivy nodded at me, obviously pleased that I could read Liza so well. Well, it wasn’t hard. I picked up things from my aspects now and then.

“Security cameras?” J.C. asked as he inspected the corners of the room. I repeated the question so Liza could hear it.

“Just out in the hallways,” she said.

“Isn’t that a little sparse?” I asked.

“The whole place is wired with alarms. If someone tries to break in, the security guard’s desk will light up like Christmas.” She grimaced. “We used to turn it on only at night, but they’ve had it on for two days straight now. Have to get permission to open a damn window these days . . .”

I looked at the team.

“Stephen,” Tobias said, “we’re going to need Ngozi.”

I sighed. Well, it wasn’t too long a drive to go back and pick her up.

“Here,” J.C. said, pulling out his phone. “Let me give her a call.”

“I don’t think . . .” I said, but he was already dialing.

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“Yeah, Achmed, we need your help,” he said. “What? Of course I have your number. No, I have not been stalking you. Look, can you find Ngozi? How should I know where she is? Probably washing her hands a hundred times or something. No, I have not been stalking her either.” He lowered the phone, giving the rest of us a suffering look. He raised it back up, and a short time later, continued. “Great. Let’s video conference.”

Tobias and I looked over J.C.’s shoulders as Kalyani’s face appeared on the screen, perky and excited. She waved, then turned the phone toward Ngozi, who sat reading on her bed.

What to say about Ngozi? She was from Nigeria, with deep brown skin, and had been educated at Oxford. She was also deathly afraid of germs—so much so that when Kalyani held the phone toward her, Ngozi shied away visibly. She shook her head, and Kalyani was obliged to stand there, holding the phone.

“What’s up?” Ngozi asked with a clipped, Nigerian accent.

“Crime scene investigation,” I said.

“You’re going to come get me?”

“Well, I guess we kind of thought . . .” I hesitated, then looked to J.C. “I don’t know if this is going to work, J.C. We’ve never done anything like this before.”

“Worth a try, though, right?”

I looked toward Ivy, who seemed skeptical, but Tobias shrugged. “What harm can it do, Stephen? Getting Ngozi out of the house is difficult sometimes.”

“I heard that,” Ngozi said. “It’s not difficult. I just require proper preparation.”

“Yeah,” J.C. said, “like a hazmat suit.”

“Please,” Ngozi said, rolling her eyes. “Just because I like things clean.”

“Clean?” I asked her.

“Very clean. Do you know the kinds of poisons that are pumped into the air every day by all those cars and factories? Where do you think that all goes? Do you ever wonder what that crusty blackness is on your skin after you hold a handrail on your way down the steps into the subway? And think of the people. Coughing into their hands, wiping their snotty nostrils, touching everything and everyone, and—”

“We get it, Ngozi,” I said. I looked at Tobias, who nodded encouragingly. J.C. was right; phones among my aspects could be a valuable resource. I took the phone from J.C. Nearby, Liza watched me with what seemed like the first genuine emotion she’d displayed all morning: Fascination. She might not be a psychologist, but physicians of all varieties tend to find my . . . quirks captivating.

Good for her. As long as it kept her from thinking about how much—or little—time I had remaining of her original “fifteen minute” restriction.

“We’re going to try this over the phone,” I said to Ngozi. “We’re at the icebox. By all accounts, the body was here at night, but gone the next morning. Nothing suspicious on the hallway security cameras.” Liza nodded when I checked with her on this one. “There isn’t a camera in this room specifically, but the building does have an intense security system. So how did they get the body out?”

Ngozi leaned forward, still not taking the camera from Kalyani, but inspecting me with curiosity. “Show me the room.”

I walked around it, scanning the place, fully aware that to Liza’s perspective, I was holding nothing. Ngozi hummed to herself as I walked. Some show tune; I wasn’t certain which one.

“So,” she said after I’d spent a few minutes scanning the place, “you’re sure the body is gone?”

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