It’s pretty easy slapping chapters up here. I don’t know why the author thinks it’s so tough. And Sutter wonders why she hasn’t locked us up in some room yet for doing this. Sutter’s a chickenshit. Has anyone else noticed that?
Wordlessly, McCallister drove them down the country road. She minded the odometer and slowed to a crawl when she knew they were in the vicinity of the woman’s crash site. After spying the small orange flags planted by County, she pulled over and came to a halt.
Both peered out the passenger window into forest that seemed far too thick to have allowed the passage of a vehicle. Yet, it had. A burned area about a hundred feet in attested to that, as did a charred tree with a large chunk missing. Surreal ice sculptures stood as creations by fire department hoses.
She minded the woman’s ponderous silence and then tried to assure, “It was dark that night. Even someone with a perfect memory wouldn’t find this familiar.”
“What in the world was I doing out here?”
“I wish I could tell you.” Her eyes veered to the road ahead and then to the small ribbon of it in her rearview mirror. “This highway has several cities on it in either direction. Maybe you were headed for one of them.”
“But with your card in my pocket…” She paused in thought and then shook her head. “Granton is either home, or I was on my way there. That has to be right.”
“You could have been leaving Granton, too,” she proposed. “Somebody in the city gave you my card, maybe.”
“My God, this is frustrating!”
“I’m sure it is,” she acknowledged. She grew quiet as she thought of places that routinely dispensed her business card. Then, with apprehension concealed by a businesslike tone, she said, “The Rape Crisis Center and the domestic abuse shelter give my card to anyone requesting information or services.”
The woman seemed to scan her mind, and McCallister scrutinized her for a reaction, feeling both fearful and hopeful. Either would have been a painful realization, but just as equally, either would have explained a great deal.
Finally, the woman shrugged, and McCallister felt guilty for adding to her frustration. Still, the answers were somewhere reachable. Her mind conjured up a cranky, glow-in-the-dark dog, and she remembered telling Holly that rereading mysteries taught her to look at what was not obvious. “Let me see your hands,” she said.
She twisted her face in confusion and joked, “Do you read palms or something? My lifeline will tell it all, huh?”
Respectfully, she laughed. “Something like that. Can I see?”
With a smile, she held out her hands, palms up, and McCallister asked to see the tops.
Her hands were slender, delicate, and McCallister’s eyes went to her ring finger. Then, she looked to the others and pointed when she got to the ring finger on the right hand. A tan line encircled it.
“I wore a ring!” Her jaw hung for a moment as she tried to remember. “But I wouldn’t have lost a ring in the accident. I would have had to have taken it off beforehand, right?” She shook her head. “But wedding rings go on the left hand, though, right?”
“So I probably wasn’t married.” She humorously laughed through her nose. “You know, I don’t even know if I’m straight or gay. Which finger do lesbians wear rings on?”
The woman’s tone caused her to bristle. It was an assumption as much as it was a question. And based on what? Appearance? Demeanor? A sense? Did it matter? If not, why did it make her feel put on the spot? She answered, “Anywhere they want to, I should think.”
Her steely response caused the woman immediately to shift her gaze to McCallister. “Did I offend you or something? If I did, I sure didn’t mean to. You’ve been—”
“You didn’t offend,” she interrupted and summoned the glowing hound to her mind, imagining him guarding that far too tenuous line she had drawn in the sand. She shifted her hands to the steering wheel and stared straight ahead. Peripherally, she watched the woman resume the examination of her fingers.
“I wish I could remember.”
“I wish you could, too. I wish being here would have helped.”
“It still could. … Would it be okay if we went in there?”
Reflexively, they both looked out the window.
McCallister asked, “Are you sure you want to? Are you up to it? I’m sure County did a good search. I’m not sure we’ll find anything.”
“We’re this close. It’d be stupid not to do all I can. I can do this. You don’t have to—”
“If you go, I go.” She scrambled to remove her bomber jacket. “Put this on then.” She handed it to her, but the woman refused to take it. In a sterner voice, she repeated, “Put this on. Your sweat jacket isn’t warm enough. I have a police jacket in back I can wear.”
“In that case, I accept,” she said with a smile. “Thank you.”
They donned the jackets, and after McCallister turned on the dashboard police light, she exited. She rounded the car, and the woman came to stand by her.
She told her, “The police report indicates that you were headed east.” She pointed in the direction from which they had come, saying, “From that way.” Then she turned toward the woods. “If you look at the area, it’s obvious you were damn lucky. These big trees close to the road could have killed you. This spot gave you a little time before you hit.”
She shook her head. “I really don’t remember.” Tightly, she closed her eyes. “There was a man who helped me, though. That’s what the deputy said. I think I remember him. Well, maybe not him so much as his voice. It was deep, gravelly, and he kept yelling at me to get out of the car. I’m grateful he stopped to help, but he scared me.”
“He was probably upset. Your car was on fire. He saved your life.”
In an instant, tears filled her eyes. “Maybe I didn’t want him to.”
“Don’t say that,” she said without thinking, without anticipating how dismissive it would sound. She apologized. “I really hope that’s not what you were feeling, but if it was, I hope you can find a way to never feel that way again.”
“Me, too, but at this point, I just want to know. Good or bad—I just want to know.”
“All right, then, let’s do this.” She scanned the area. “It seems muddy only out here by the road, but be careful. I’ll lead the way.”
Except she took a mere three steps off the road’s shoulder and realized that mud merely masked the frozen ground. Her foot wrenched in a deep tire track, and she slid and wiped out.
“Oh my God, are you okay?”
“I meant to do that,” she said and started laughing. Then, despite the sensation that her elbow was hanging on by only a tendon, she grasped the woman’s outstretched hand and let her help her up. “Okay, now that I’ve thoroughly embarrassed myself…”
“You don’t have to be— Oh no, you’re all muddy!” Instantly, she began wiping the sleeve of McCallister’s jacket only to realize she merely smeared it worse—and all over herself.
“Okay, now we’re both muddy.”
Each held out her hands and started laughing.
“I hope no one’s looking,” the woman said. “We make quite the pair.”
“Yes, if we’re talking stooges,” she replied and then turned a bit, her back near the woman. “Just wipe your hands on my jacket. There’s no sense in both of us looking like mud wrestlers.”
“No way,” she said and proceeded to wipe her hands on her sweatpants. “I’m not afraid of a little mud. Let’s just do this.”
That directive caused McCallister’s eyes to return to the route that led into the woods. She was a bit more discerning this time. “I think we need to take a different way in.”
She snickered. “Oh, that’s right. You’re a detective. What was your first clue?”
“Very funny.” Again, she inspected the area. “I think we just need to stay away from the tire tracks. The ridges only look hard. Just avoid them.”
“Do you want me to go first?” She laughed, and it proved contagious.
“Now you’re trying to be difficult. I’m quite capable of getting us in there without embarrassing myself and—”
“I’m just teasing. I’m sorry.”
“I can take teasing. I can even dish it out if need be.”
“Is that a threat?”
“Merely a friendly warning. Now, let’s do this.”
Carefully, they inched forward and had almost successfully negotiated the slight incline when the woman screamed. McCallister felt her clutch her arm, and she turned to grab her just before her feet went out from under her. She tried to help her get her balance and quickly discovered that the woman laughed to the point of incapacity.
Resisting the urge to surrender composure right along with her, she worked to keep her upright. When it seemed as though she had accomplished that, she asked whether she was all right.
Nodding as her laughter subsided, she said, “Man, my memory had better be in there after all of this.”
They crept a bit further, and McCallister heard her chanting under her breath, “Just one thing. Just one familiar thing.”
McCallister asked, “Such as what? What are you hoping to find here?”
“Well, my driver’s license for starters. I was driving so I should have had it with me—okay, assuming I had a driver’s license. I figure it should have been in my purse. I know I carried a purse, because I think I automatically look for it when I need a tissue or something.”
“That’s good reasoning.”
“That’s what I thought. But where’s my purse? Plus, any respectable woman with a purse would have put her money in it. So, I not only have to account for having a large amount of cash but for having it on me and not in my purse.”
“There’s a casino about an hour from here.”
A second from offering, she heard the hound growl. Heeding the warning, she said, “I bet Deputy Nichols would be happy to check that out for you. If that’s where you got it, they’d have a record, complete with whatever ID you provided.”
“That’s brilliant!” she said. “That’s why you’re a detective.”
They reached the small clearing, and McCallister read from the police report about how the car flipped. They both stared at the tree, trying to envision the car there, both for different reasons but to the same end.
“Anything?” McCallister asked. When she shook her head, she again found herself trying to assure, “The whole thing would have happened in a matter of seconds, and I can’t imagine it being anything less than horrifying. It’s rather amazing how our mind takes care of us when it’s overwhelmed.”
First, she nodded, but then anger seemed to wash over her. “But I’m not overwhelmed anymore. I’m safe. It’s over. I want my life back!” Tears streamed, and she tightly closed her eyes.
“You’ll get it back,” she encouraged, but she suddenly regretted having agreed to bring her there. She willingly walked her to the edge of something, and she was completely uncertain whether it was a dangerous drop-off. “Are you all right?”
She nodded and opened her eyes.
“I think we should just head back. We shouldn’t be forcing this. Maybe your mind’s not ready yet.”
Once more, she nodded as she wiped her tears. “But I don’t ever want to have to come back here again. Could I please just look around a bit and be done with it? Maybe something fell out of the car or off me when the man dragged me.”
“Dragged?” she challenged and instantly made eye contact. At the expense of her vow to slow down, she asked, “Did Nichols tell you the man dragged you?”
With narrowed eyes, she stared at McCallister. “I’m not sure.” Abruptly, she made a whiplashing turn toward the road. A second later, she pointed to a tree much further down from where they had entered. “There!” she yelled and took off like a shot. “He dragged me there!”
By the time McCallister caught up, the woman stood by a tree near the road. She madly scanned the area, nearly twirling in a circle. Her frenzied state made McCallister feel both saddened and concerned that she had been pushed too far.
“Oh my God!” the woman shrieked as she quickly dropped to her knees. She picked up something from the leafy area and then held it out for McCallister to see. “A keychain! My keychain!”
She hurried to her. “It’s yours? You’re sure it’s yours?”
She smiled broadly. “It has to be. It even has a J on it. I knew my name started with a J!” She held it out for McCallister to see.
“I’ll be damned.”
“Call me J then. It at least sounds like a name. I’m so tired of being Hey You.”
She inappropriately joked, “I’ve grown rather fond of Hey You.”
“You wouldn’t be if you were the you.”
“No, you’re right. I wouldn’t be. I’m sorry.”
“So call me by the only name I have at the moment. Please?”
“It’s nice to meet you, J,” she awkwardly said and swallowed hard to stop unwanted tears from rising.
“It has a nice ring to it, I think. I could live with it.”
Her eyes noted the nearness of the road, and she seized the opportunity. “Let’s get you back to the hospital now.”
This time, she agreed without protest, seeming satisfied with what the trip had provided her.
A short time later, they entered the elevator at St. Mike’s.
The woman smiled at her and said, “I agreed to let them transfer me to the psychiatric ward.”
“That’s good to hear,” she replied. “I bet it won’t be as bad as you think.”
“Dr. Lythegow promised I’d be in the open unit, not lockup. He said I can leave anytime I want. And, there’s a psychiatrist who wants to try hypnosis with me.”
“That’s great. Maybe that will be the key for you.”
The elevator dinged, and the door opened. Before they stepped out, the woman asked, “It won’t bother you that I’m there, will it?”
“Of course not.”
“You’ll still come to see me there? You’ve been so helpful, but you must be getting tired of helping me.”
“It’s my job,” she said and then reprimanded herself for her coldness when she saw sadness overtake the woman’s face. The hound growled in her mind. “When are you being transferred?”
She shoved the hound away from the line it protected. “Would it be okay if I stopped by on Monday?” The dog yelped, and she redrew the line.
“I would love it if you did! But please know that you don’t have to.”
“I want to,” she insisted. “Unless something comes up at work, I’ll stop on my lunch hour, if that’s okay.”
“That would be perfect.” She took a step outside the elevator and turned around. “I’ll be fine getting to my room. Get out of here. You’ve done enough.”
She smiled at her and then watched her head down the hall. A multitude of strong emotions washed over her as the distance increased between them.
The doors closed, and she stabbed the lobby button.
* * * * *
She let herself in the front door to find Holly ready to lunge at her. Instinctively, she opened her arms, realizing how much she needed her.
“Hey, babe!” Holly said as she grabbed onto her.
“Hey, you gorgeous creature. How was your day?”
“It was good. Yours?”
“I missed you.”
They held each other for a long moment.
Then, Holly asked, “Why do you have this stinky jacket on?” She pulled back to look at her and discovered the muddy pants she was holding. “What happened? The news said they found a body in the woods. Is that how you got all dirty?”
“No, that one belongs to County.” Embarrassed, she admitted, “I wiped out at that woman’s crash scene.”
She took the pants from her and tossed them to the stool. “Good going, Grace,” she teased and kissed her on the cheek. “How did it go with her anyway? Did she remember anything?”
“Nothing definitive,” she said, believing it to be the truth. “Oh, except she remembered the man who helped her get out of her burning car that night, that he dragged her to safety.”
“That’s something and definitive. Now what?”
“She’s decided to let them move her to the psych ward to buy her some time. She doesn’t know where she belongs, so obviously she has nowhere to go. She’s going to try hypnosis.”
“That’s good news.” When McCallister nodded, she said, “Go get cleaned up. I have a pizza ready to throw in the oven.” She grabbed the muddy jeans and ordered, “Throw these in the laundry room on your way by.”
She took the pants and leaned to give her a kiss.
Holly asked, “Are we going to the bridge again tonight?”
“I was planning on it, but you really don’t have to alter your whole life because I need to do this.”
“You are my life, and besides, I’m your Watson. Plus, I need to find out the deal with the glow-in-the-dark dog.”
She kissed her again. “This is the last night until Sunday. Patrols are sufficient on Fridays and Saturdays. So, the weekend is yours to decide. Whatever you want.”
“Anything—well, anything as long as it meets two conditions.”
“Oh God, I should never have started that.” She laughed. “What are they?”
“Number one, ‘anything’ has to include me.” When Holly showed her willingness with a smile, she continued, “Number two, ‘anything’ has to revolve around me taking care of you. All you’ve done all week is take care of me.”
“Taking care of you is taking care of me.”
She shook her head and repeated the second condition.
“Fine,” she acquiesced. “I’ll think on it and let you know what my conditions are.”
Once more, she kissed her. “You’re right, Hol. You should never have started that.”
She swatted her. “Go. I’ll throw that pizza in the oven.”
She had just flung her pants into the laundry room when Holly called, “Babe, where is your good jacket?”
She grimaced. “Actually, I loaned it to the woman. She only had a sweat jacket. I forgot to get it back.”
“That’s your favorite jacket! You’ll be lost without it. Do you want to go get it? Or we could—”
“I’m seeing her again on Monday. I’ll get it back then.” She turned and completed the journey to the bathroom.