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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Shattered Mirror

An Eve Duncan Novel

Eve Duncan (Volume 23)

Iris Johansen

St. Martin's Paperbacks

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

CHAPTER

1


The lights in the lake cottage sent out a cozy glow that lit the banks of the lake and made that house of death appear welcoming. Everything about the place and property spoke of beauty and a deceptive invitation that made one think that all was well with this world.

Because she was there, Rory Norwalk thought, as he moved a few steps closer, his gaze on the cottage. She was the heart of the house, the one who destroyed the balance, who had ruined everything when she could have saved. She claimed that she was a mender, a fixer, but Norwalk knew that was all lies.

He was the one who would fix what was broken. Eve Duncan only interfered and made a mockery of what was true and right. But that was going to stop; he couldn’t permit it any longer.

Laughter …

He stepped back in the shadow of the trees as a Jeep drove up into the driveway.

It was the father and the son. It was the little boy who had laughed. He laughed a lot; careless, joyous laughter that was as deceptive as this house. How could he be joyous when he lived with that woman who was so evil? Because he was evil, too? Norwalk had suspected it and was almost certain that the boy, Michael, would have to be fixed.

“Stay here,” Joe Quinn told his son as he got out of the car and started up the porch steps. “I’ll do it, but you’ll owe me, Michael. She told you not to do it again.”

“He wouldn’t listen,” Michael protested. “I tried, Dad. Just explain so that she won’t get upset. Okay?”

“No, it’s not okay. But I’ll call you in after I break it to her.” He’d reached the porch, and he looked back down at the little boy in the car. “You sit there and think about what you’re going to say to your mother. And you start off with telling her that you’re not going to do it again.”

“But I may have to do it again,” the little boy said quietly. “I can’t lie to her.”

Joe Quinn sighed. “No, you can’t. We’ll think of something.” He disappeared into the house.

Leaving the little boy alone in the car.

The boy was not often left alone, Norwalk knew. He was only six, and his mother was very careful since they lived on the lake. And Joe Quinn was a police detective, and he was wary of everything and everyone.

Was this moment of abandonment meant to be a sign to Norwalk? It was not why he was here, though he’d mentally already accepted that down the road it must be done. He was very quick, and children were so gullible. It would only take a few moments. He instinctively moved faster through the trees, his gaze on the boy in the Jeep.

But the boy was no longer in the Jeep.

He’d gotten out of the vehicle and was standing on the last porch step. He was dressed in jeans and a navy-blue sweatshirt and his legs were slightly parted. The light from the porch light was burnishing his red-brown hair as if it were a copper helmet.

Helmet? Why had that word occurred to him, Norwalk wondered. It was because the boy’s bearing looked almost military, he realized. He looked like a soldier guarding a fortress. Ridiculous.

As ridiculous as the idea that the boy was looking directly to where Norwalk was standing under the trees and could see him. It was pitch-dark, there was no way he could be seen.

But that little boy knew he was there.

And he was not afraid.

Norwalk instinctively faded farther back in the trees.

Oh, he had been right to judge that Michael Quinn would also have to be taken out before that cozy house would be cleansed of all that was broken.

But not right now.

Just a little longer, Sean. I’m just as eager as you, but we have to keep to the plan, don’t we?

And all good things came to he who was willing to wait.

* * *

“Lord, you smell good.” Joe slid his hands around Eve’s waist from behind. “Fried onions and bacon. Is there any scent more appetizing?”

“It depends if you’re hungry.” She turned around and went into his arms. “Not exactly an alluring perfume if the aim is seduction.”

“Is that the aim? If it is, you must have gotten the reconstruction off today.”

She nodded. “This afternoon.” She chuckled. “But since when did work stop us?” She leaned back, and her gaze narrowed on his face. “And since when did you decide to pussyfoot around instead of coming out with what you’re thinking?”

He sighed. “I was trying for mellow and soothing. I promised Michael I’d do my best.”

She went still. “Do your best to do what?”

“Break it to you gently.”

“Joe.”

“He has a few bruises and a swollen lip.”

“What?” She pushed him away. “Who?”

“Same kid.”

She swore beneath her breath. “Same reason?”

He nodded. “He did what you told him to do. The kid wouldn’t listen. Boys aren’t usually receptive to persuasion or reason at that age.”

“He’s a bully.”

“And a head taller than Michael. I saw this Gary Walden when I picked Michael up from soccer practice tonight.”

“That’s the third time that he’s come home with bruises. The soccer coach should have stepped in and stopped it.”

“Probably didn’t know about it. Michael wouldn’t complain. You know that.”

Yes, she knew very well that Michael would keep his silence. Her son would quietly take whatever came his way and try to work his way through to a solution. That had been the way he handled problems from the time he was a toddler. Only this time the punishment he was taking was because of her, dammit. “Maybe I should talk to this Gary’s mother.”

“Which might make it worse for Michael.”

And that was why she had been avoiding doing that. “Kids can be savages.”

“Absolutely,” Joe said. “And TV and pop culture have led them to think that to latch onto something out of the ordinary and make fun of it is the way to go. But Michael will get bigger and stronger.” His lips tightened. “I’ve signed him up for a karate class. And a few more lessons in karate from me will even out the odds in the meantime. The problem will go away.”

Her lips twisted. “And this Gary will no longer tell Michael his mother is some kind of a ghoul who collects skulls for a hobby?”

“Not where Michael can hear him.” He smiled. “Come on, you’re the foremost forensic sculptor in the world. What difference does it make what that kid says?”

“It matters if it hurts Michael.”

“It doesn’t hurt Michael,” Joe said. “You know that, Eve. He’s only worried that it will upset you.” His hand reached out and touched her cheek. “That’s why he wanted me to break those damn bruises to you. He only wants to make certain that nothing ever hurts you.” He leaned forward, kissed her gently, and drew her close. “That’s what we all want. You know how smart Michael is. So give him a little time to work this out for himself.”

“He’s only six, Joe.” Her words were muffled against his chest.

“Going on thirty. You’ve always known he’s not like other kids.”

Yes, she’d known from the time Michael had been conceived that he was wonderful and special and he had never disappointed her. He was superintelligent and had the sweetest nature on the planet. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t her job to keep on protecting him. She had lost her daughter, Bonnie, who was only seven when she had died after being taken. It had nearly broken her heart. Michael was almost that age now, and whenever she thought about it, the fear returned. Block it. It wasn’t fair to Michael to live anything but a full and joyous life. “Yeah, I know. But maybe I’m not quite as grown up. I need a little bolstering on occasion.” She pushed him away. “Okay, I suppose you left him outside until you paved the way for him?”

Joe nodded. “In the Jeep. I told him I’d give him a call when you were ready for him.”

“I’m always ready for him.” She headed for the front door. “Watch the potatoes for me, Joe?”

“Sure.” He turned back to the stove. “Tell him, I did my best.”

“He knows that you would.” She smiled back at him. “And you’d better be quick about getting him very good at that karate. I don’t know how many of these sessions I can take.”

“An eternity,” he said softly. “I know you, Eve.”

He was right, she thought. There were no limits for her where Michael was concerned.

She went out on the porch. “Okay, Michael. Come out and face the music. Your father has given me the lowdown and he tried to—” She stopped. Michael was not in the Jeep, and there was something about the way he was standing on that bottom step that was … odd. “Michael?”

He turned and gave her a radiant smile that lit his entire face. “I’m coming, Mama.” He turned and ran up the stairs. “I was just looking out at the lake. It’s pretty tonight, isn’t it?” He hugged her. “I’m hungry. Can we eat before you yell at me about Gary?”

She held him close for an instant. “That might be possible.” She released him and opened the front door. “I thought you might want to stay out here on the porch and have it out first.”

“Nah.” His smile took on a hint of mischief. “I know Dad made sure that you wouldn’t be too mad at me. He’s a guy, too. He knows about these things.” He glanced at the lake and woods, then turned and headed for the door. “I don’t want to stay out here. I’d rather go in with you and eat supper…”

* * *

“Okay, talk to me,” Eve said as she cuddled Michael closer to her on the couch after supper. “I told you that if you couldn’t handle Gary yourself, you were to go to your teacher. Why didn’t you do it?”

“He would have got in trouble.”

“Exactly.”

“And he didn’t hurt me that bad. He was just scared.”

“He didn’t act very scared,” she said dryly as she touched his bruised cheek. “And your dad said he’s much bigger than you.”

He nodded. “But he’s still scared.”

She looked down at him with narrowed eyes. “Why?”

“Because I’m not afraid of what you do, and he is,” he said simply.

She stiffened. “That ghoul name he called me?”

“His dad was killed in a car wreck last year. Gary’s all confused, and he doesn’t like to think about it. I make him think about it. All those skulls that you work on bother him.”

“No, I make him think about it.” Her arm tightened around him. “I was wondering if it was my fault. I didn’t know about his father. Maybe I should go talk to his mother.”

He shook his head. “It would only make her feel bad. Sometime, Gary will let me talk to him about you. Then it will be okay.”

“But it’s not okay now. And what can you say to him that will make it okay then?”

“I’ll tell him that you work on those skulls to bring those people home. That they’re lost, and you have to help them.” He looked up at her. “That’s what you told me that first time I asked you. Remember?”

“I don’t remember you asking me.” She smiled. “But maybe you did. You always seemed to understand my work and why I was doing it.” She did remember Michael coming close to her worktable when he was only a couple years old and touching the skull of a young girl she was reconstructing. There had been such gentleness, such intensity of thought in his expression that she had been stunned. Then, after a moment, he had smiled and gone back to his toys across the room. “I don’t like the idea of waiting around until this Gary comes to his senses on his own. I may have to take action if you won’t.”

He nodded. “I know. But I think it’s going to be okay. He doesn’t like what he’s doing to me. It scares him almost as much as the stuff he won’t ask me about your skulls and the people who are dead like his dad.”

And how had Michael realized that? Eve just had to accept that he did. She had stopped trying to understand where those flashes of deep understanding came from. Even before the moment of his birth she had known that Michael possessed a kind of psychic connection with her, and who knew what other depths he might have? She didn’t believe he wanted her to know, or maybe he didn’t know himself. Either way, most of the time Michael appeared to be just a bright, happy six-year-old who was perfectly content in his life. It was only with her and Joe that he let his guard down and was totally honest.

She hoped. There were moments when she wasn’t certain that Michael was entirely open even with them. It didn’t matter as long as she knew that Michael loved them both, they could work on everything else. “It’s bad for Gary to think he can hurt you. I don’t want him to turn into a bully or you a victim. So you’ll try one more time, then I’ll have a talk with him.” She held up her hand. “Not his mother. Okay?”

Michael nodded. “He’s close to it, Mama. It’s the death thing. He’s missing his dad. It scares him.”

“Then we’ll try to explain and make the fear go away.” She gave him a kiss on the forehead and got to her feet. “Now go take your shower and get to bed.”

He grinned as he jumped to his feet. “Soon as I say good night to Dad.” He headed toward the back of the house. “And tell him that you didn’t yell too much at me. He’ll want to know.” He turned back. “Did Cara send me that CD of her last concert that she promised me last week?”

She nodded. “Morning mail. It’s on your nightstand. You can play it through once. Just once. Then you turn it off and go to sleep.”

“Once is enough. After that, it will play in my head until I fall asleep. It does that to you, too, doesn’t it, Mama?”

“Yes.” Cara Delaney was Eve and Joe’s ward and one of the most magnificent violinists Eve had ever heard. She was only eighteen and a student at Carnegie Tech in New York, but she had already been a guest artist at several venues, and this CD was the one from a benefit concert at the university in Phoenix. She had been with them since before Michael was born, and Eve could not have wanted a more devoted or loving sister for her son. The two talked every week on the phone, and when Cara managed to come home, they were practically inseparable. “She texted me and said she might have a break next week or the week after.”

“She’s coming home?” His face lit up. “That would be great. When will she know?”

Eve shrugged. “Soon. She’s trying to arrange things. We’ll know when she does. She asked if Jane was going to be able to get away at the same time. She might be trying to coordinate her time with Jane’s.” But Jane MacGuire, her adopted daughter, had a schedule that was almost tighter than Cara’s. She was an artist and her agent had her constantly making public appearances at galley exhibits in London. “I don’t think she has a chance. Jane’s supposed to be in Paris all this month.”

Michael looked disappointed. “Maybe.”

Eve nodded. “Maybe. But at least we’ll have Cara. You know Jane gets here whenever she can.”

“Yes. I just miss her.” He turned and started back down the hall. “It would be nice…”

More than nice, Eve thought. She believed in family and having Jane and Cara out in the world and not being able to see them as much as she’d like brought a constant ache. But she was being selfish, she couldn’t have everything. Life was so incredibly good these days with Joe and Michael, and the occasional visits from Cara and Jane were like additional jewels in the crown. So she would accept what she was given with thanks and enjoy every single minute.

She flipped open her computer on the coffee table and checked for recent requests from police departments around the country. She usually did that on the day she sent the latest reconstruction back to its originator. She had a tremendous backlog of requests, but if anything appeared urgent that couldn’t—

“Be back in ten minutes or so.” Joe had come out of the bedroom and was slipping on his jacket. “Just want to check on something.”

“Check on what?”

“A bear.”

Her eyes widened. “What?”

“Michael thought he saw a bear earlier tonight in the woods on that west bank.”

“He never mentioned it to me.”

“But you were too busy giving him a lecture. He probably didn’t have time.” He headed for the door. “And it’s probably nothing. It was pretty dark out there. I don’t know how he could see anything.”

“But you’re checking it anyway.”

“He hit me where I live.” He smiled at her. “He asked if maybe I should tell you that you shouldn’t go around the lake until I was sure.” He opened the door. “What could I say? Be right back.”

Eve watched the door shut behind him.

A bear?

Strange. Yet there had been that moment when she had first seen Michael on that bottom step, and she had been aware of a tense … alertness.

A bear? There had been no bear sightings in this area for the last couple years.

Michael had thought something was wrong and had not spoken to her but gone to his father and told him he should protect her.

She could hear Michael’s shower running now.

He had finished with what he had wanted to do with Joe and was going about his life.

Yet he had thought something was wrong …

She instinctively moved toward the front door.

And that wrong must not touch Joe.

Whenever Joe went into the woods, he was always armed, but she didn’t like him to be alone out there.

She stood on the porch, her eyes straining toward the west bank.

The beam of a flashlight.

Joe.

It was moving over the trees, down to the ground, around the bank.

“Joe,” she called.

He froze. “Go back inside, Eve,” he called. “I’ll be right there.” He paused. “Lock the door.”

She stiffened. That last order was scaring her. Joe never took action without reason. She was tempted to go to him.

No, Michael was in this house. Someone had to be here to protect him. That was the unwritten rule she and Joe lived by. One of them must always be there for Michael. Tonight that was her job. She went inside and locked the door.

Come on, Joe …

She went to the window beside the door and looked out on the porch and the woods beyond.

She could still see the beam of Joe’s flashlight bouncing, moving through the trees.

And now Joe was coming back toward the house, she realized with relief. But the flashlight wasn’t aimed straight before him, it was focused on the ground.

He was tracking.

And whatever he was tracking was heading straight toward this house.

She opened the door again as he reached the driveway. “What is it, Joe?”

“Well, it’s not a bear, unless it wears size twelve tennis shoes,” he said grimly. He was moving across the driveway, the beam focused on the soft earth bordering the gravel. Then he stopped, his gaze on the ground beside the passenger door of the Jeep. He flashed the beam inside the Jeep and slowly, carefully opened the car door. “What the hell,” he muttered. “Weird.”

“Tell me,” Eve said.

“It’s a box on this passenger seat.” He carefully examined the box before he took it out of the Jeep and placed it on the porch step. “It’s wrapped in some kind of gold foil. Like I said, weird.”

She started across the porch. “I want to see—”

“Stay where you are. I want to check it out first.” He strode toward the Toyota. “I’ll get that portable bomb-detector kit that I keep in my trunk and see if that box is giving out a reading.”

Joe had been trained in bomb disposal when he was in the SEALS, and Eve knew he still made a habit of carrying a portable unit with him as a detective with the Atlanta PD. He had used it more than once in past years.

She shivered as she looked at the glittering gold-foil box. Beautiful and glittering, and Joe thought it might be deadly.

But now he had the small mobile unit and was listening with the stethoscope to hear if there was anything that signaled a timer switch. “Nothing.” He looked at the edge of the box. “It’s not fastened.” He was placing the end of the water hose under the edge of the box and backing across the driveway to the water spigot. “Get back inside. I’ll turn on the water full force and blow this lid off as soon as I’m a safe distance.”

“And how do you know that it’s safe?”

“Inside,” he said curtly. “Michael.”

She went inside and slammed the door. Michael, the one unassailable argument. No matter what happened to either of them, Michael must survive. Her hands clenched on the drapes at the window as she watched Joe unwind the hose as he headed for the spigot.

She held her breath as she saw him connecting it to the spigot.

Then he turned on the water full force.

The lid of the box blew a foot in the air and then fell back onto the container.

No explosion. Just water pouring in a wild fountain over the gold box.

Joe jerked the hose aside and came back toward the box. “No C4.” He was looking down at the contents of the box. “I don’t know what the hell it is.”

“Maybe some kid’s idea of a practical joke?” She was coming down the porch steps now. “I feel a little foolish cowering inside.”

“I don’t,” he said. “Whoever was out there in the woods was there for a while, and he wasn’t a kid. That’s called stalking. And there are other people besides that kid, Gary, who think what you do is kind of scary.” He was examining the interior. “Or, what’s worse, that they don’t think it’s scary at all.” His fingers were carefully exploring something. “There’s a flat surface on the top that’s glittering in the light…” He leaned closer and muttered a curse. “It’s a mirror.”

“What?” She came down the rest of the stairs and looked inside the box. It was a mirror that occupied the entire upper diameter of the interior of the box. It was glittering, framed in gold and perfectly reflected her face.

And that reflection mirrored both her bewilderment and fear. Fear. It was only because this entire episode was so unexpected and bizarre that she was feeling this shaken, she told herself. It would probably turn out to be the practical joke that had been her first thought.

“That’s only the top layer, Joe.” She moistened her lips. “What else is in the box?”

“I’m working on it.” He was gently prying the frame of the mirror away from the sides of the box. “I’ll have it in a minute…” Then it came free and he lifted it out.

Glittering mirrored shards fell down into the box.

“Double mirror,” Joe said. “This side seems to be broken. It must have been cracked and, when I lifted, it broke entirely.” He reached down to pick up one of the broken shards. “It fell on this black—” He inhaled sharply. “Holy shit.”

Eve saw it too. The black velvet cloth had shifted to one side, uncovering something else equally black and very familiar to Eve. “It’s a skull.” She pulled the cloth completely away. Blackened. All flesh gone. “Burned. Someone burned this skull.”

“It’s the real thing?” Joe asked quietly. “Not just a good replica from a party store?”

“It’s the real thing.” She turned away as she saw the bullet hole in the temple. “And there’s nothing that even hints at a party. Bring it inside. I need to look at it.”

Joe didn’t move. “I could take it down to the precinct. It’s not really your problem. You don’t have to be involved. Forensics will have to go over it anyway.”

“I am involved.” She looked back at him, and added fiercely, “How could I not be? He delivered this skull to me. He went to a great deal of trouble on this presentation. He brought it to my home.” She gestured to the woods. “He stood there where my son could see him. Do you think that doesn’t make it my problem?”

“It makes it my problem,” Joe said. “I was hoping that I could keep you out of it.” He picked up the box and carried it up the porch steps. “Not going to happen.”

She nodded and held the door for him. “Put the box on my worktable and call Forensics and get them out here for testing right away.”

“I’ll do it while I take a look around the property.” He placed the gold-wrapped box on her worktable in the studio area. “Lock the door behind me.” He headed back toward the door. “I don’t have to tell you not to touch anything until Forensics gets through with the initial investigation.”

“Just get them here soon.” She followed him to the door. “Be careful.” She kissed him quickly. “And I’m not about to do anything with that skull until I make sure Michael is okay and safely in bed. I don’t like the fact that he was the one who sent you out there.”

“A bear,” he reminded her.

“Maybe.” She closed the door and locked it. Then she headed across the living room toward the bedrooms. She carefully averted her eyes from the gold box on her worktable as she passed by her studio. Beautiful gold paper covering a horror of blackened skull.

But skulls were never a horror to her, the horror was when monsters reached out to make them that way.

Michael’s nightstand lamp was on, and she paused a moment in his doorway gazing at him. His eyes were shut, but she knew he was not asleep. Clean and shining and beautiful, wonderful and yet also full of wonder.

She saw Cara’s latest CD on top of the CD player on his nightstand. His photo of Cara was beside it. It was a picture he had snapped of her with his phone camera down at the lake. Cara was dressed in shorts and a white shirt and sitting cross-legged with her violin in her hands. She was smiling, her long dark hair pulled back in a ponytail and her brown eyes were shining with affection and humor. Eve had always loved that photo and searched out a frame for Michael when he had brought the picture to her. It showed more than the Cara who had a certain dark exotic beauty inherited from her Mexican father and Russian mother. It showed the depth, the spirit, the clean intensity of the young girl. And the heart, she thought, definitely the heart …

“Mama?” Michael opened his eyes that were so like the rich, tea color of his father’s. “You came to say good night?”

“Among other things.” She crossed the room and sat down on the bed beside him. “Don’t worry, I’m not about to lecture you anymore. That’s over.” She took his hand. “Bear, Michael? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You would have gone out to see for yourself.”

“I guarantee I wouldn’t have confronted a bear without protection.”

“But Dad is protection, isn’t he? No need for you to have to do it.”

She shook her head. “And you think we all have our places and duties? Sometimes it doesn’t work like that. So come to me and tell me if you see a bear.”

He smiled. “I’ll tell you.”

But he didn’t say when he would do that, she thought ruefully. And anyone would think she was crazy to suspect him of avoiding that commitment. He was only a child.

“I want you to do that,” she said quietly. “It will make me unhappy if you don’t.”

He hesitated, then nodded. “Then I have to do it.” He burrowed close to her. “Good night, Mama.”

“Oh, I’m dismissed?” She smiled down at him. “Okay, I’ll accept it, Michael. But there’s another thing I wanted to tell you. A few of the people your dad works with are coming over soon. They may make noise. I’ll close your door, but I didn’t want them to startle you. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“I won’t be afraid of them.” His face was muffled against her. “Don’t you be afraid, Mama.”

She stiffened. “I won’t. Everything’s okay, Michael.”

“No. Not now.” He rolled back onto his pillow and pulled up his blanket. “Maybe soon…”

She sat there, gazing at him. “Soon?”

He smiled. “Cara’s coming. That should make it better.”

“She always makes things better. Did you play her CD when you got to bed?”

“No, I’ll do it tomorrow.”

But he’d been so eager to play it Eve knew. Though she knew she would not be playing it tonight either. “Tomorrow will be good, too.” She kissed him on the cheek and stood up. “You can look forward to it.” She headed for the door. “Remember, if you wake up, it’s only the people from your dad’s work.”

“I’ll remember.”

She stopped at the door. “A bear. It was so dark out tonight. Clouds. No moon. Why did you think it was a bear?”

“I only told Dad it might be a bear.”

“Why?”

He was silent. “Big, still, hungry, full of darkness. A bear could be like that, too, couldn’t it?”

Too?

She could feel a chill go through her. “I suppose it could. Good night, Michael.” She closed his door behind her. She stood there a moment while she recovered from that sudden icy fear.

Full of darkness.

Whatever Michael had seen or sensed out there had been full of darkness. In that moment, darkness had reached out and touched him. All his life she had been trying to see that he was only surrounded by joy and sunlight. That he would never be drawn down into the darkness that would mean he would leave her as Bonnie had done.

No!

She would not have it. Never again.

Yet that darkness had come, wrapped in gold and mirrors, and it had called Michael toward it.

But she would fight it with all her strength.

And she would not let it come near him.

* * *

“They want to take the skull back to the lab,” Joe told Eve in a low voice. “In case they decide to do some more tests.”

“No.” She glanced at the four techs who were gathered around the skull. “They’ve taken DNA, tooth impressions, X-rays, made an impression of the skull itself. Taken samples around that bullet hole, done a dozen other forensic tests. They’re done, Joe. The skull is mine now. I’m going to do the reconstruction.”

“A reconstruction may not be necessary if they can get another form of ID.”

“It’s necessary for me.” She added jerkily, “It was necessary for him, or he wouldn’t have delivered her to me.”

“Her?”

“Female Caucasian from what I can tell. Forensics hasn’t let me get close enough to determine anything positively. I certainly can’t judge age or if this skull suffered additional trauma other than that bullet wound in the temple before he burned her.”

“You might run into a fight trying to keep her,” Joe said. “Forensics will want to be in control.”

“They can have control of the box. They can have the mirrors. They don’t get the skull. I’m ready for a fight.”

“I can see that.” His eyes were searching her face. “Would you care to elaborate?”

“I’ve been sitting here watching all those experts working on that skull, and I’ve been thinking of that man standing out there in the woods with that box in his hands. You said he must have stood there a long time.” She met his eyes. “That means he was there when you and Michael drove up.”

“Yes.”

“And you left Michael in the car.”

He went still. “Are you blaming me?”

“No, don’t be ridiculous. Michael was within calling distance. The property is usually safe. How could you know … that … he was out there.” Her voice lowered. “What I’m saying is that he saw Michael. And when he brought that skull to the house, he didn’t put it on the porch or in front of the door. He put it on the passenger seat of the Jeep where Michael was sitting when you drove up.”

“Son of a bitch.” Joe was swearing softly. “Why didn’t I put that together?”

“You’ve had a few other things on your mind,” Eve said. “I’ve just been sitting here looking at that skull.”

“And thinking that putting that skull on Michael’s seat was a warning.”

“Or a prediction. Either way, I’m not letting that skull leave the house until I know who she is, maybe not then. He wanted me to have it, and he took a lot of trouble to do it. Perhaps it means something to him. Maybe he’ll come back for it.”

“That’s the last thing I want to happen,” Joe said. “I’ve already started to think about how to keep you and Michael safe.”

“I’m not worried. Like Michael says, you are the protection. You’ll just take extra precautions.”

“Damn right I will.”

“Then go and tell those forensic people they can’t have my skull. As you said, it may be a fight.”

“Screw it.” Joe turned away from her and headed back to her worktable. “Possession is nine-tenths. In this case, it’s a big number ten.”


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