Cursed(3)

By: S.J. Harper



Zack’s eyes, an intense dark brown, ringed with gold, linger a fraction of a second too long on my collarbone. I can’t help myself. For one, fleeting moment, I remember the feel of his mouth there. Suddenly I’m conscious of the rise and fall of my chest. My throat is dry. I push the memory aside. The last thing I need to be doing right now is dwelling on what happened in Charleston. I know I should say something. I just have no idea what. Zack breaks the ice.

“It’s been a while,” he says.

“Yeah. So, how are you?” Before he has a chance to answer, I add, “I should introduce you to the others.”

Zack lifts his hand in the air and shouts out, “Zack Armstrong, new guy.”

There’s a collective “Hey, Zack.”

He turns back to face me square-on. “I’m itching to get started. What have you got for me?”

I take a step closer and lower my voice. “That’s it? You have nothing else to say to me?”

He matches my tone. “I was hoping to postpone the awkward ‘what are you doing here?’ conversation for as long as possible. At least until lunch?”

Since I’m not anxious to go down that road, either, I gesture to the desk facing mine. “Have a seat. This one’s yours.”

When he sits, I check my reflection in the window behind him. The glamour I rely on is firmly in place. The lock on my powers under control. He shouldn’t be able to see through the wholesome “plain Jane” facade, to discover what’s underneath, what’s real. Thanks to Liz, no one should.

“You heard what the man said.” He leans back in his chair and spreads his arms wide, giving me a glimpse of what I know to be a well-muscled chest under the fabric of his shirt. “I’m all yours.” His look is serious, expectant. “What can I do?”

A thousand possibilities rush through my mind. Not one of them has anything to do with the case.

Focus, Emma.

I pull a sheet from the file and give Zack the rundown. “Amy Patterson has been missing for two weeks. She’s thirty years old, an artist. She lives alone. We got the case this morning.”

Zack pulls a pen and a small notebook from his inside coat pocket. “What kind of artist?”

I quickly scan the report. “Painter, Expressionist, mixed media mostly.”

“Kidnapping gone bad?” he speculates.

“Could be. She’s successful. But there’s no known family and, according to her manager, no request for ransom.”

Zack sets the pen and notebook down, centering them deliberately on the empty desk. “Who reported her missing?”

“The manager, Bernadette Haskell. She’s known Amy for years. Haskell owns the gallery in La Jolla where Amy’s art is exclusively exhibited and handles Amy’s gallery bookings and commissions worldwide. I spoke to her earlier this morning. She said Amy rarely leaves her apartment. She both lives and works there. Plus, she has a huge show coming up in New York. And before you ask, yes, she called there to see if Amy might have gone ahead to check the space out.” I shake my head. “She’s not in New York, either.”

His brow furrows. “Why is the FBI involved in a straightforward missing person’s case? Shouldn’t the local police be handling this?”

I nod. “They should. They are. But Haskell has a friend in the district attorney’s office and he’s calling in a favor. The relationship between Haskell and Patterson was more than purely business. Over the years Patterson became like a daughter to this woman. SDPD hasn’t made much progress. Officially, we’re just reviewing the casework.”

“Unofficially?”

“The fact that she’s missing hit the papers yesterday. The story is getting a fair amount of press. The DA wants us to close the case. It’s an election year and he’s out to win the hearts and minds of the voters. Something with this amount of visibility, if handled right, could clinch what is sure to be a close election.”

“Politics as usual. Where do you want to start?”

“SDPD already covered the usual stuff. They checked the psych wards, hospitals, and morgues. There haven’t been any recent credit card charges or bank withdrawals.”

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