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"You look beautiful," Eve said. "Where are you going tonight?"
"I'm meeting Ron at Anthony's. He likes the food there." Sandra leaned forward and checked her mascara in the hall mirror, then straightened the shoulders of her dress. "Damn these shoulder pads. They keep shifting around."
"Take them out."
"We all don't have broad shoulders like you. I need them."
"Do you like the food there?"
"No, it's a little too fancy for me. I'd rather go to the Cheesecake Factory."
"Then tell him."
"Next time. Maybe I should like it. Maybe it's a learning type thing." She grinned at Eve in the mirror. "You're big on learning new things."
"I like Anthony's, but I still like to pig out at McDonald's when I'm in the mood." She handed Sandra her jacket. "And I'd fight anyone who tried to tell me I shouldn't do it."
"Ron doesn't tell me" She shrugged. "I like him. He comes from a nice family in Charlotte. I don't know if he'd understand about the way we lived before I just don't know."
"I want to meet him."
"Next time. You'd give him that cool once-over and I'd feel like a high school kid bringing home my first date."
Eve chuckled and gave her a hug. "You're crazy. I just want to make sure he's good enough for you."
"See?" Sandra headed for the door. "Definitely first-date syndrome. I'm late. I'll see you later."
Eve went to the window and watched her mother back out of the driveway. She hadn't seen her mother this excited and happy in years.
Not since Bonnie was alive.
Well, there was no use staring wistfully out the window. She was glad her mother had a new romance, but she wouldn't trade places with her. She wouldn't know what to do with a man in her life. She wasn't good at one-night stands, and anything else required a commitment she couldn't afford.
She went out the back door and down the kitchen steps. The honeysuckle was in bloom and the heady scent surrounded her as she walked down the path to the lab. The aroma always seemed stronger at twilight and early morning. Bonnie used to love the honeysuckle and was always picking it off the fence, where the bees constantly buzzed. Eve had been at her wit's end trying to stop her before she got stung.
She smiled at the recollection. It had taken her a long time to be able to separate the good memories from the bad. At first she had tried to save herself from pain by closing out all thoughts of Bonnie. Then she had come to understand that that would be forgetting Bonnie and all the joy she had brought into her and Sandra's lives. Bonnie deserved more than
She stiffened, then whirled around.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to frighten you. I'm John Logan. I wonder if I could speak to you?"
John Logan. If he hadn't introduced himself she would have recognized him from the photo. How could she miss that California tan? she thought sardonically. And in that gray Armani suit and Gucci loafers, he looked as out of place in her small backyard as a peacock. "You didn't frighten me. You startled me."
"I rang the doorbell." He smiled as he walked toward her. There was not an ounce of fat on his body, and he exuded confidence and charm. She had never liked charming men; charm could hide too much. "I guess you didn't hear me."
"No." She had the sudden desire to shake his confidence. "Do you always trespass, Mr. Logan?"
The sarcasm didn't faze him. "Only when I really want to see someone. Could we go somewhere and talk?" His gaze went to the door of her lab. "That's where you work, isn't it? I'd like to see it."
"How did you know it's where I work?"
"Not from your friends at the Atlanta P.D. I understand they were very protective of your privacy." He strolled forward and stood beside the door. He smiled. "Please?"
He was obviously accustomed to instant acquiescence, and annoyance surged through her again. "No."
His smile faded a little. "I may have a proposition for you."
"I know. Why else would you be here? But I'm too busy to take on any more work. You should have phoned first."
"I wanted to see you in person." He glanced at the lab. "We should go in there and talk."
"It will tell me a few things about you that I need to know."
She stared at him in disbelief. "I'm not applying for a position with one of your companies, Mr. Logan. I don't have to go through a personnel check. I think it's time you left."
"Give me ten minutes."
"No, I have work to do. Good-bye, Mr. Logan."
"Good-bye, Mr. Logan."
He shook his head. "I'm staying."
She stiffened. "The hell you are."
He leaned against the wall. "Go on, get to work. I'll stay out here until you're ready to see me."
"Don't be ridiculous. I'll probably be working until after midnight."
"Then I'll see you after midnight." His manner no longer held even a hint of his previous charm. He was icy cool, tough, and totally determined.
She opened the door. "Go away."
"After you talk to me. It would be much easier for you to just let me have my way."
"I don't like things easy." She closed the door and flicked on the light. She didn't like things easy and she didn't like being coerced by men who thought they owned the world. Okay, she was overreacting. She didn't usually let anyone disturb her composure, and he hadn't done anything but invade her space.
What the hell, her space was very important to her. Let the bastard stay out there all night.
She threw open the door at eleven thirty-five.
"Come in," she said curtly. "I don't want you out there when my mother comes home. You might scare her. Ten minutes."
"Thank you," he said quietly. "I appreciate your consideration."
No sarcasm or irony in his tone, but that didn't mean it wasn't there. "It's necessity. I was hoping you'd give up before this."
"I don't give up if I need something. But I'm surprised you didn't call your friends at the police department and have them throw me out."
"You're a powerful man. You probably have contacts. I didn't want to put them on the spot."
"I never blame the messenger." His gaze traveled around the lab. "You have a lot of room here. It looks smaller from outside."
"It used to be a carriage house before it was a garage. This part of town is pretty old."
"It's not what I expected." He took in the rust and beige striped couch, the green plants on the windowsill, and then the framed photos of her mother and Bonnie on the bookshelf across the room. "It looks . . . warm."
"I hate cold, sterile labs. There's no reason why I can't have comfort as well as efficiency." She sat down at her desk. "Talk."
"What's that?" He moved toward the corner. "Two video cameras?"
"It's necessary for superimposition."
"What is Interesting." His attention had been drawn to Mandy's skull. "This looks like something from a voodoo movie with all those little spears stuck in it.
"I'm charting it to indicate the different thicknesses of skin."
"Do you have to do that before you"
He came back and sat down beside the desk. "I'd like to hire you to identify a skull for me."
She shook her head. "I'm good, but the only sure ways of identification are dental records and DNA."
"Both of those require subjects to match. I can't go that route until I'm almost certain."
"It would cause difficulties."
"Is this a child?"
"It's a man."
"And you have no idea who he is?"
"I have an idea."
"But you're not going to tell me?"
He shook his head.
"Are there any photos of him?"
"Yes, but I won't show them to you. I want you to start fresh and not construct the face you think is there."
"Where were the bones found?"
"Maryland . . . I think."
"You don't know?"
"Not yet." He smiled. "They haven't actually been located yet."
Her eyes widened in surprise. "Then what are you doing here?"
"I need you on the spot. I want you with me. I'll have to move fast when the skeleton is located."
"And I'm supposed to disrupt my work and go to Maryland on the chance that you'll locate this skeleton?"
"Yes," he said calmly.
"Five hundred thousand dollars for two weeks' work."
"As you've pointed out, your time is valuable. I understand you rent this house. You could buy it and still have a lot left over. All you have to do is give me two weeks."
"How do you know I rent this house?"
"There are other people who aren't as loyal as your friends at the police department." He studied her face. "You don't like having dossiers gathered on you."
"You're damn right I don't."
"I don't blame you. I wouldn't either."
"But you still did it."
He repeated the word she had used with him. "Necessity. I had to know who I was dealing with."
"Then you've wasted your efforts. Because you're not dealing with me."
"The money doesn't appeal to you?"
"Do you think I'm nuts? Of course it appeals to me. I grew up poor as dirt. But my life doesn't revolve around money. I pick and choose my jobs these days, and I don't want yours."
"It doesn't interest me."
"Because it doesn't concern a child?"
"There are other victims besides children."
"But none as helpless." She paused. "Is your man a victim?"
He was silent a moment. "Probably."
"And you're sitting there asking me to go with you to a murder site? What's to stop me from calling the police and telling them that John Logan is involved in a murder?"
He smiled faintly. "Because I'd deny it. I'd tell them I was thinking of having you examine the bones of that Nazi war criminal who was found buried in Bolivia." He let a couple of moments pass. "And then I'd pull every string I have to make your friends at the Atlanta P.D. look foolish or even criminal."
"You said you wouldn't blame the messenger."
"But that was before I realized how much it would bother you. Evidently the loyalty goes two ways. One uses whatever weapon one's given."
Yes, he would do that, she realized. Even while they'd been talking he'd been watching her, weighing her every question and answer.
"But I've no desire to do that," he said. "I'm trying to be as honest as I can with you. I could have lied."
"Omission can also be a lie, and you're telling me practically nothing." She stared directly into his eyes. "I don't trust you, Mr. Logan. Do you think this is the first time someone like you has come and asked me to verify a skeleton? Last year a Mr. Damaro paid me a call. He offered me a lot of money to come to Florida and sculpt a face on a skull he just happened to have in his possession. He said a friend had sent it to him from New Guinea. It was supposed to be an anthropological find. I called the Atlanta P.D. and it turned out that Mr. Damaro was really Juan Camez, a drug runner from Miami. His brother had disappeared two years ago and it was suspected he'd been killed by a rival organization. The skull was sent to Camez as a warning."
"Touching. I suppose drug runners have family feelings too."
"I don't think that's funny. Tell that to the kids they hook on heroin."
"I'm not arguing. But I assure you that I've no connection with organized crime." He grimaced. "Well, I've used a bookie now and then."
"Is that supposed to disarm me?"
"Disarming you would obviously take a total global agreement." He stood up. "My ten minutes are up and I wouldn't want to impose. I'll let you think about the offer and call you later."
"I've already thought about it. The answer is no."
"We've only just opened negotiations. If you won't think about it, I will. There has to be something I can offer you that will make the job worth your while." He stood looking at her with narrowed eyes. "Something about me is rubbing you the wrong way. What is it?"
"Nothing. Other than the fact that you have a dead body you don't want anyone to know about."
"Anyone but you. I very much want you to know about it." He shook his head. "No, there's something else. Tell me what it is so I can clear it up."
"Good night, Mr. Logan."
"Well, if you can't call me John, at least drop the Mr. You don't want anyone to think you're properly respectful."
"Good night, Logan."
"Good night, Eve." He stopped at the pedestal and looked at the skull. "You know, he's beginning to grow on me."
"She's a girl."
His smile faded. "Sorry. It wasn't funny. I guess we all have our own way of dealing with what we become after death."
"Yes, we do. But sometimes we have to face it before we should. Mandy wasn't over twelve years old."
"Mandy? You know who she was?"
She hadn't meant to let that slip. What the hell, it didn't matter. "No, but I usually give them names. Aren't you glad now that I turned you down? You wouldn't want an eccentric like me working on your skull."
"Oh, yes, I appreciate eccentrics. Half the men in my think tanks in San Jose are a little off center." He moved toward the door. "By the way, that computer you're using is three years old. We have a newer version that's twice as fast. I'll send you one."
"No, thank you. This one works fine."
"Never refuse a bribe if you don't have to sign on the dotted line for return favors." He opened the door. "And never leave your doors unlocked, as you did tonight. There's no telling who could have been waiting in here for you."
"I lock the lab up at night, but it would be inconvenient to keep it locked all the time. Everything in here has been insured, and I know how to protect myself."
He smiled. "I bet you do. I'll call you."
"I told you that I'm"
She was talking to air; he'd already closed the door behind him.
She breathed a sigh of relief. Not that she had the slightest doubt she would hear from him again. She had never met a man more determined to get his own way. Even when his approach had been velvet soft, the steel had shown through. Well, she had dealt with powerhouse types before. All she had to do was stick to her guns and John Logan would eventually get discouraged and leave her alone.
She stood up and went over to the pedestal. "He can't be so smart, Mandy. He didn't even know you were a girl." Not that many people would have.
The desk phone rang.
Mom? She had been having trouble with the ignition on her car lately.
Not her mother.
"I remembered something just as I reached the car," Logan said. "I thought I'd throw it into the pot for you to consider with the original deal."
"I'm not considering the original deal."
"Five hundred thousand for you. Five hundred thousand to go to the Adam Fund for Missing and Runaway Children. I understand you contribute a portion of your fees to that fund." His voice lowered persuasively. "Do you realize how many children could be brought home to their parents with that amount of money?"
She knew better than he did. He couldn't have offered a more tempting lure. My God, Machiavelli could have taken lessons from him.
"All those children. Aren't they worth two weeks of your time?"
They were worth a decade of her time. "Not if it means doing something criminal."
"Criminal acts are often in the eyes of the beholder."
"Suppose I promise you that I had nothing to do with any foul play connected with the skull."
"Why should I believe any promise you make?"
"Check me out. I don't have a reputation for lying."
"Reputation doesn't mean anything. People lie when it means enough to them. I've worked hard to establish my career. I won't see it go down the drain."
There was silence. "I can't promise you that you won't come out of this without a few scars, but I'll try to protect you as much as I can."
"I can protect myself. All I have to do is tell you no."
"But you're tempted, aren't you?"
Christ, she was tempted.
"Seven hundred thousand to the fund."
"I'll call you tomorrow." He hung up the phone.
She replaced the receiver. The bastard knew how to push the right buttons. All that money channeled to find the other lost ones, the ones who might still be alive . . .
Wouldn't it be worth a risk to see even some of them brought home? Her gaze went to the pedestal. Mandy might have been a runaway. Maybe if she'd had a chance to come home she wouldn't . . .
"I shouldn't do it, Mandy," she whispered. "It could be pretty bad. People don't fork out over a million dollars for something like this if they're even slightly on the up-and-up. I have to tell him no."
But Mandy couldn't answer. None of the dead could answer.
But the living could, and Logan had counted on her listening to the call.
Logan leaned back in the driver's seat, his gaze on Eve Duncan's small clapboard house.
Was it enough?
Possibly. She had definitely been tempted. She had a passionate commitment to finding lost children and he had played on it as skillfully as he could.
What kind of man did that make him? he thought wearily.
A man who needed to get the job done. If she didn't succumb to his offer, he'd go higher tomorrow.
She was tougher than he'd thought she'd be. Tough and smart and perceptive. But she had an Achilles' heel.
And there was no doubt on earth that he would exploit it.
"He just drove off," Fiske said into his digital phone. "Should I follow him?"
"No, we know where he's staying. He saw Eve Duncan?"
"She was home all evening and he stayed over four hours."
Timwick cursed. "She's going to go for it."
"I could stop her," Fiske said.
"Not yet. She has friends in the police department. We don't want to make waves."
"Maybe. It would certainly cause a delay at least. Let me think about it. Stay there. I'll call you back."
Scared rabbit, Fiske thought contemptuously. He could hear the nervousness in Timwick's voice. Timwick was always thinking, hesitating instead of taking the clean, simple way. You had to decide what result you needed and then just take the step that would bring that result. If he had Timwick's power and resources, there would be no limit to what he could do. Not that he wanted Timwick's job. He liked what he did. Not many people found their niche in life as he had.
He rested his head on the back of the seat, staring at the house.
It was after midnight. The mother should be returning soon. He'd already unscrewed the porch light. If Timwick called him right away, he might not have to go into the house.
If the prick could make up his mind to do the smart, simple thing and let Fiske kill her.