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FOUR

I HATE FINDING DEAD bodies. I mean, I really hate it.

And Ariel was definitely dead. I mustered the gumption to tiptoe closer, kneel down beside her, and feel for a pulse in her neck. Not so much as a flutter under my fingertips. I couldn't even tell whether she was warm or not, my own hands had grown so suddenly cold. It seemed crucial to know. I stood again, half-aware of wiping my palm against my shirt.

I don't like touching dead bodies much, either.

Why was it so important to know whether she was still warm? Something about how recently she'd been killed.

Murdered, actually. No question about it.

And that meant a murderer.

The thought clamped my jaw shut and sent whatever adrenaline I had left shooting through my veins like acid. I jogged to the stairs, pulling my cell phone from my pocket. As I moved, my attention ping-ponged around the room, an animal seeking a predator, fear sharpening my hearing and sight to something nearly supernatural. Air whistled through the ductwork above. Colors took on an eerie glow. One of Irene's sculptures seemed to leer at me as I hurried by.


I had a sudden flash that this could be what it felt like to go insane. Taking a deep breath, I muttered to myself, "This is old hat for you, Sophie Mae. Buck up. You've been through worse."

The 911 operator sounded ridiculously calm, given the fact that I was reporting a murder. She told me to stay on the line, and she'd send help.

"Sorry. I'll meet them outside," I said.

She didn't like me hanging up, but there wasn't much I could do about that.

I stood in the shade of the giant yellow cedar in front of the coop and placed another call. Thank God, Barr answered his cell phone after two rings.

"I found a murdered woman," I said.

A pause, then, "Could you say that again?"

I took a deep breath. "Ariel Skylark. The one I mentioned at Scott's funeral, the skinny little blonde from CRAG? Well, she's dead. Strangled at the co-op. I've already called 911."

He swore. Loudly. Not at me, of course, but still. Then, "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. I'm out front."

A flurry of voices in the background. "Hang on," he said.

A pause, more voices, and then he spoke into the phone again. "I have to go. Apparently there's a murder I have to look into."

"See you soon," I said.

He was grumbling something unintelligible as he hung up.



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