Chapter no 19

A Flicker in the Dark

“Cause of death was strangulation.”

I’m hovering over Lacey’s body, the pallor of her face an icy blue. The coroner stands to my left, clutching a clipboard; to my right, Detective Thomas hovers too close. I don’t know what to say, so I say nothing, my eyes flickering over the girl that I had just barely known. The girl who had wandered into my office one week ago and told me about her problems. Her problems that she had trusted me to solve.

“You can tell by the bruising, just there,” the coroner continues, pointing to her neck with a pen. “You can see the finger marks. Same size and spacing as the ones found on Aubrey. Same ligature marks on the wrists and ankles, too.”

I glance at the coroner and swallow.

“So, you’re thinking they’re related, then? It’s the same guy?”

“That’s a conversation for another time,” Detective Thomas interrupts. “Right now, we’re focusing on Lacey. Like I said, she was found in the alley behind your office. You ever go back there?”

“No,” I say, staring down at the body before me. Her blonde hair is wet from the rain, sticking to her face like a web of spider veins. Her pale skin is even paler now, somehow, making her collection of scars even more visible, those thin, red slits checkered across her arms and chest and legs. “No, I rarely go back there. It’s really just for the garbage trucks to empty the dumpster. Everyone parks out front.”

He nods, exhaling loudly. We stand in silence for a minute as he allows me to take it all in, to process the grisly sight before me. I realize, in this moment, that although I’ve been surrounded by death my entire life, this is the first time I’ve ever actually seen a dead body. The first time I’ve actually looked one in the eye. I imagine I’m supposed to be remembering right now—remembering La-cey’s face, the way it looked in my office that afternoon, the way it looked before this—but my mind is a blank slate. I can’t conjure up any images of Lacey with pink skin and twitchy fingers

and tears welling in her eyes as she sits in my leather recliner, talking about her dad. All I can see is this Lacey. Dead Lacey. Lacey on a medical table being poked at by strangers.

“Does anything look different to you?” he asks finally, nudging me along. “Missing any clothes?”

“I really can’t say,” I respond, scanning her body. She’s wearing a black T-shirt and faded jean shorts, dirty Converse sneakers with doodles on the sides. I try to imagine her drawing on her shoes in school, bored, passing the time with a ballpoint pen. But I can’t. “Like I said, I wasn’t really paying attention to what she was wearing.”

“Okay,” he says. “It’s okay. Just keep trying. Take your time.”

I nod, wondering if this is what Lena looked like a week after her life was taken. As she lay in a field or in a shallow grave somewhere. Before her skin peeled off and her clothes disintegrated, I wonder if she looked like this. Like Lacey. Pale and bloated from the hot, humid air.

“She talk to you about that?”

Detective Thomas nudges his head toward her arms, toward the tiny cuts in her skin. I nod.

“A little bit.”

“How about that?”

He glances at the larger scar on her wrist, that thick, fleshy purple lightning bolt I had spotted days before.

“No,” I say, shaking my head. “No, we didn’t get to that.”

“Fucking shame,” he says quietly. “She was too young to feel pain like that.”

“Yeah,” I nod. “Yeah, she was.”

The room is quiet for a minute, all three of us taking a moment of silence to mourn not only the violence of this girl’s death, but of her life, too.

“Didn’t you check the alley before?” I ask. “I mean, back when she was first reported missing?”

Detective Thomas looks at me, and I see anger flash across his face. The fact that the body of this girl was found mere feet from the place she

was last seen and it took almost a week to find her doesn’t look good, and he knows it.

“Yeah,” he says at last, sighing loudly. “Yeah, we did. Either she was somehow missed, or she was placed there later. Killed in another location and moved.”

“It’s a pretty small area,” I say. “Narrow. The dumpster takes up most of the space. If you checked back there, I can’t imagine you would have missed her. There aren’t many places to hide—”

“How do you know all this if you rarely go back there?”

“I can see it from my lobby.” I say. “My window points in that direction.”

He stares at me for a second, and I can tell he’s trying to make an assessment, determine if he’s just caught me in a lie.

“I obviously don’t have the best view,” I add, trying to smile.

He nods, either satisfied with my answer or filing it away to revisit at another time.

“That’s who found her,” he says at last. “The garbagemen. She was wedged behind the dumpster. When they lifted it up to empty it, they saw her body fall out.”

“Then she was definitely moved,” the coroner interrupts, tapping the backs of her arms. “That right there is livor mortis. The pooling indicates that she died on her back, not in a seated position. Or wedged anywhere.”

A wave of nausea rolls through my stomach, and I try to stop my eyes from scanning her body again, evaluating her wounds, but I can’t. She’s bruised, mostly, her pale skin looking marbled in places where I now know gravity forced the blood to settle. The coroner had mentioned ligature marks, and my eyes trace the length of her limbs, from her shoulders down to her fingertips.

“What else do you know?” I ask.

“She was drugged,” the coroner says. “We found heavy traces of Diazepam in her hair.”

“Diazepam. That’s Valium, right?” Detective Thomas asks. I nod. “Was Lacey on medication for anxiety? Depression?”

“No.” I shake my head. “No, I had prescribed her some. But she wasn’t taking anything yet.”

“The growth level suggests the drugs were ingested about one week ago,” the coroner adds. “So, at the time of her murder.”

Detective Thomas glances at the coroner after this new revelation, and I feel a sudden impatience reverberate through the room.

“How soon can you have the full autopsy?” The man looks at the detective, then at me.

“The sooner I can get started, the sooner I can have it for you.”

I feel both men glance over at me, a nonverbal cue that I’ve been less than helpful. But my eyes are still glued to Lacey’s arm. To the tiny cuts littering her skin, to the ligature marks on her wrist and the jagged purple scar stretching across her veins.

“Well, no offense, Doctor Davis, but I really didn’t bring you here for small talk,” Detective Thomas says. “If there’s nothing else that you can remember, you’re free to go.”

I shake my head, my eyes boring into her wrist.

“No, I remembered something,” I say, tracing the path her razor must have taken to make such a crooked mark. It must have been messy. “Something about Lacey that day. Something that’s different.”

“Okay,” he says, shifting his weight. He eyes me carefully. “Let’s hear


“Her scar,” I say. “I noticed her scar on Friday. I noticed she was

trying to cover it up with a bracelet. Wooden beads with a little silver cross on it.”

The detective looks down at her arm now, her wrist bare. I remember that rosary dangling there, in front of her veins, maybe a reminder for the next time she felt the urge to cut into her skin. It was definitely there, on her wrist, when she was sitting in my office that afternoon, fidgeting in my leather recliner. And it was there when she got up and left, when she was grabbed outside my front door. When she was drugged, when she was killed.

But now it’s not.

“Someone took it.”

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