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Skin Deep

Skin Deep

Page 19

“Of course it’s gone,” I said, pointing the camera toward the still-open corpse drawer.

“Well,” Ngozi said, “it’s going to be hard to do any traditional forensics here. But the question we should ask first is, ‘Do we need to?’ You’d be surprised at how often something is reported stolen, only to be found lost—or stashed—someplace very close to where the theft happened. If getting the body out of the room would be so hard, maybe it never did leave the room.”

I looked at the other drawers. Then, with a sigh, I put the phone aside and began pulling them open one at a time. After a few minutes, Liza walked over and helped me. “We did this,” she mentioned, but didn’t stop me from double-checking. Only three of the other drawers had corpses, and we checked each one carefully. None were Panos.

From there, I looked in the room’s cabinets, closets, and even drawers that were too small for a corpse. It was a long process, and one that I was actually pleased to find unfruitful. Discovering several bags full of elbows or whatnot wouldn’t have been particularly appealing.

I dusted off my hands and looked toward the phone and Ngozi’s image. Kalyani had joined her on the bed, and the two had been chatting about how I really did need to stop working so much and settle down with someone nice. And, preferably, someone sane.

“What next?” I said to the phone.

“Locard’s principle,” Ngozi said.

“Which is?”

“Basically,” she said, “the principle states that whenever there is contact, or an exchange, evidence is left behind. We have very little to go on, as the victim was already dead when abducted, and presumably still zipped up tight. But the perpetrator will have left behind signs they were here. I don’t suppose we can get a DNA sweep of the room . . .”

I looked hopefully at Liza and asked, to which I got a sniff of amusement. The case wasn’t nearly important enough for that. “We can try for fingerprints on our own,” I said to Ngozi. “But the police aren’t going to help.”

“Let’s do obvious contact points first,” Ngozi said. “Close up on the drawer handle please.”

I brought the phone over and put it very close to the handle of the corpse drawer. “Great,” Ngozi said after a minute. “Now the door into the room.”

I did so, passing Liza, who was checking her watch.

“Time might be running out, Ngozi,” I said softly.

“My art isn’t exactly something that can be rushed,” she noted back at me. “Particularly long-distance.”

I showed her the door handle, not really certain what she was looking for. Ngozi had me pull the door open to look at the other side. The door was heavy, made to swing shut after anyone who left. Once I was outside, I couldn’t open it again. Liza had to unlock it with a key card.

“All right, Leeds,” Liza said as I turned the camera to show the strike plate on the inside of the door frame. “You—”

“Bingo,” Ngozi said.

I froze in place, then looked back at the door frame. Ignoring the rest of what Liza said, I knelt down, trying to see what Ngozi had.

“See those dust marks?” Ngozi asked.

“Um . . . no?”

“Look closely. Someone put tape here, then pulled it off, leaving behind enough gum to attract dust.”

Liza stooped down beside me. “Did you hear me?”

“Tape,” I asked. “Do you have some tape?”

“Why—”

“Yo,” J.C. said from inside the room, holding up a roll of the translucent industrial tape that lay on the counter.

I brushed past Liza and fetched the tape—J.C. had to set down his imaginary copy before I could see the real one—then rushed back. I placed a strip of it over the strike plate, stepped out of the room, and let the door slide closed.

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It thumped into place. That thump covered the lack of a click. When I pushed on the door, it opened without needing help from the inside.

“We know how they got into the room,” I said.

“So?” Liza asked. “We knew they’d gotten in somehow. How does this help?”

“It tells us it was likely someone who visited the day before the body went missing,” I said. “The last visitor, perhaps? They would be in a position to tape the door with the least chance of discovery during the day.”

“I’m pretty sure I’d have noticed if the door were taped,” Liza said.

“Would you have? With the key card unlocking, you never have to turn or twist anything. It’s natural for you to push the door and have it just swing open.”

She thought about it for a moment. “Plausible,” she admitted. “But who did it?”

“Who was last into this room that day?”

“The priest. I had to let him in. The others had gone home for the evening, but I stayed late.”

“Had a FreeCell game that you just had to finish?” I asked.

“Shut up.”

I smiled. “Did you recognize the priest?”

She shook her head. “But he was on the list and his ID was valid.”

“Creating a fake ID wouldn’t be much,” Ivy said to me, “considering what was at stake.”

“That’s probably our man,” I said to Liza. “Come on, I want to talk to your security officer.”

As Liza pulled the tape off the door, I thanked Ngozi for her help, turned off the camera, and tossed the phone back to J.C.

“Nice work,” Ivy noted to him, smiling.

“Thanks,” he said, slipping the phone into a pocket of his cargo pants. “Of course, it’s not actually a phone. It’s a hyper-dimensional time—”

“J.C.,” Ivy interrupted.

“Yeah?”

“Don’t ruin this moment.”

“Oh. Yeah, okay.”

13

I hit the restroom in the hallway before going to the security station. I didn’t really need to go to the bathroom, but Tobias did.

The room was clean, which I appreciated. The soap dispensers were full, the mirror spotless, and it even had a little chart on the door listing the last cleaning, where the staff had to sign to prove they’d done their job. I washed my hands, looking at myself in the mirror while Tobias finished his pit stop.

My own mundane face looked back at me. I’m never what people expect. Some picture me as some sort of eccentric scientist, others imagine an action star. Instead, they get a rather bland man in his thirties, perfectly normal.

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