Friday, November 24, 2017 04:30 AM PST
For Sharon everything passed by in a haze. One moment she had been content and asleep in her bed, the next she was tearing up for a man she hadn’t truly loved in years. Now, she was sitting in her car with her fiance, the true love of her life, driving her to the morgue to determine whether or not the first man she had ‘walked down the aisle’ with was dead, or possibly a murderer.
She jumped slightly in the seat when Andy’s hand clasped her by the elbow. “Sharon, we’re here. I know you don’t want to go in there. Can’t we just release Jack’s dental records or something?”
Sharon hummed and shook her head. “As much as I wish we could, and it might come to that, if I can identify or rule out the body as Jack’s it will save us a lot of time.”
Andy nodded once before getting out of the car and moving to her side to open her door. When they’d first started going out -- even if just as friends -- the concept had seemed so chauvinistic and dated that she couldn’t imagine feeling comfortable with it. Today, it was the very notion that Andy would walk around the car to open her door and give her those few extra seconds to calm herself and let the mask of professionalism that usually accompanied any trip she made to the morgue to fall into place, that helped her to gather the strength she needed to move. Jack may be her past, but they had been connected for almost all of their adult lives, and despite the fact that she had moved well beyond her life with him, they shared two children that would forever bind them together in some way or other. Regardless of her current feelings for the man, this was not going to be an easy trip and it was one that she needed every ounce of strength that Andy was willing to give her.
Stealing one last breath, she slowly exhaled as Andy opened her door and offered her his hand. Sharon smiled solemnly and accepted it, though she would rarely admit it to him, he was right more often than he thought, and this was definitely one of those times. In just over a month they would be married, but it really didn’t matter when the vows were spoken and witnessed by their friends, family, colleagues and God -- they were already a packaged deal. And together they could get through just about anything.
Despite putting herself into ‘Commander mode’ on the way in, she never let herself lose contact with Andy’s hand. She gripped it tighter and gave his fingers a squeeze as they entered the corridor just outside of the morgue. Morales knew they were coming, of course, and was waiting for them.
He inhaled briefly before looking down at the floor and speaking. “This isn’t going to be pretty, and it definitely won’t be easy for you to tell either way. Are you sure you want to put yourself through this?”
Sharon sighed as Andy just rubbed his thumb along the back of her hand, silently letting her know that he was there. “Trust me, it wouldn’t be my first choice, Doctor, but considering the circumstances it’s the best option we have for a quick determination of whether the body you have in there is Jackson or not. If it is… the question becomes who was driving? If it’s not… then we have to figure out what happened and just where the hell he is?”
Morales nodded and turned toward the door. “I’ll be inside, just come in whenever you’re ready.”
After the door had closed behind him, Sharon turned to Andy and toyed with a button on his shirt. Normally, had they been dressed for work and not more casual clothing, she would have fiddled with his tie, in the absence of one she went for the next best thing. “Thank you for coming with me….” She paused to take another steadying breath before continuing. “But I need you to stay here and wait for me, okay?”
Andy clasped both of her hands in his and brought one to his lips so he could press a tender kiss to her fingers. “I’m right here if you need me.”
She swallowed past the lump in her throat and nodded before turning and moving through the doors.
The first thing that hit her was the smell. No matter how many autopsies you witnessed there was something about the smell of charred flesh and tissue that you could never forget and never again wanted to experience. She gasped slightly and Morales handed her the menthol tub he had nearby.
“We’ll do this as quickly as we can. Body appears to be that of a white male between the ages of forty and sixty-five. Approximately six feet tall, though with the damage done to the body we could give or take two inches in either direction. Weight could be a little harder to narrow down as we really have to examine the adipose a good bit and see how much seemed to be in the car. Nothing remarkable with facial features or teeth that might help us to narrow anything down off the bat and no surgical implantations that I could ascertain.”
Sharon’s head cocked slightly to the side as Morales spoke. “You said no surgical implantations of any kind? If he’d had a wire implanted to heal a broken thumb and it was later removed, there should be some evidence of it left behind, correct?”
Morales thought for a moment before picking up a tool from the tray to his left. “Right or left thumb?”
Sharon thought for a minute. “It was his left. He broke it during a football game when he was in college. He was still in the cast and playing bird with a broken wing when I met him. We’d been married for several years before they finally decided to remove the wire.”
Moving over to the body and examining the tissue before peeling a segment away from the bone and lowering a magnifier for a better view, Morales stayed silent for several minutes before he looked up. “We’ll have to run DNA and dental records to be absolutely certain, but I think it’s fair to say that this body does not belong to that of your ex husband.”
Sharon let out a sigh that she hadn’t realized she’d been holding in. “Thank you, doctor. If you’ll excuse…” She waved her hand in the general direction of the door as she turned.
“Of course, Commander.”
Provenza answered the call on the first ring. “What do you have?”
Andy sighed and leaned against the sparse concrete wall of the morgue. “Not much at this point. Sharon’s in with Morales right now. Apparently Jack’s car went off an embankment on Mulholland tonight. No driver has been located. Sharon is trying to ID or rule out the body as Jack’s.” He rubbed a hand over his face and took another deep breath. “Is it just me or does this all seem off to anyone else? Claire, the boys, now Jack? Am I paranoid? Please, tell me I’m paranoid.”
“You’re not paranoid. In fact, I read Mike and Julio in on this right after you texted me about the boys. I don’t know if this is all connected to Stroh or not, but I don’t like it. Someone is definitely trying to turn up the heat.”
Andy groaned. “I really wanted you to tell me I was paranoid.” He paced a few feet and turned back toward the door to the morgue. “Sharon’s still in there. After this I want her to eat, the last thing we need is her getting run down. Think we can meet up at your place later? I’ll make sure we have the files that Chief Howard gave her. Maybe we can unofficially start a little investigation of our own.”
He could hear Provenza moving around the room. “Patrice and her sister will be out of our hair all day. There’s several fantastic deals that they just can’t wait to get to the store for. I’ll keep the coffee on and make sure Julio has someone who can stay with Mark.”
Andy knew that the identification process wouldn’t take too long, no matter which way it turned out, glancing back toward the door he moved over to a spot closer again. “Alright, we’ll be there about ten or so?”
“I’ll get the gang assembled.”
Andy hung up the phone and slipped it into his pocket, stepping away from the wall to get closer to the door just before it opened. He took one look at Sharon and wrapped his arms around her. He had no idea if that was Jack in there on the table or not, but he knew that she needed him there for her in that moment and that was all that mattered to him.
She accepted his embrace and sighed deeply into his chest. “We’re pretty sure it’s not him.”
Andy listened and nodded, not voicing a reply. They both knew the implications of that statement. If Jack wasn’t the body in the passenger seat it would be logical to infer that he was the missing driver -- and therefore the one responsible for the accident.
Sharon sniffled lightly and brushed some hair off of her face. “I need to make a call to Smith, give him the last address that I knew for Jack. I’d rather not involve either of the kids until I know more.”
Andy just nodded. He knew she was trying to get her thoughts in order, vocalizing her actions before she did them. “You can make the call in the car. We’ll grab some food and coffee, bring breakfast in for the kids.” He paused to move a lock of hair behind her ear. “Later, we have an appointment with some friends.”
She glanced at him, and he knew that she wanted to ask further but didn’t have the energy for it at the moment. Instead, she nodded, shook her head slightly and took his hand as they made their way out of the morgue.
06:30 AM PST
The pounding in his head would not quit. Slowly he rolled over and inhaled the musty linens of a cheap motel. He’d spent enough time in his share of them to recognize the bland scent of generic detergent. As Jack sat up he tried to figure out two things -- where he was and how the hell he got here? The throbbing increased as he sat up and it was only a few moments before the familiar churning of his stomach followed suit.
There was no way that he would be able to make it to the bathroom or even find a trash can in time. So he did the next best thing that he could think of. As the contents -- whatever they may be -- of his stomach decided to make a repeat appearance, he opened up the nightstand drawer and deposited the contents of his stomach inside. Should anyone decide to go looking for the absent Bible they would be sorely surprised.
By the time his system had resorted to dry heaving in an attempt to quell his stomach of its previous contents, Jack was on his knees next to the hotel bed. The ache in his head was worse and his entire body felt like he’d been hit by a truck, backed over and then run through a second time just for good measure. Every muscle in his body shook as he slowly made his way into the bathroom.
If he had any doubt earlier, the condition of the floor and the bathroom made it clear just what kind of dive he was in. Jack groaned as he crawled up the wall and flicked on the light switch. The flickering and humming of the incandescent bulb made his head pound even more forcefully and he felt that if it continued on its current beat his brain would surely start to puddle out of his ears. He wished he could remember what he drank, because it had been forever since he’d been this hungover.
He ran the water, which sputtered a few times before finally settling on a steady flow, cupped his hands a rinsed his face before he hazarded a look in the mirror. The face that looked back at him was almost unrecognizable.
There was a cut a good inch or two in length above his right eyebrow, his face looked like he’d gone half a round with a heavyweight champion, and the rest of his body was just faring much the same. His left shoulder was killing him to the point where he almost dropped to his knees just from raising the arm to test the area around the gash on his forehead. Jack groaned and let his head fall into his hands as he reflected back on his appearance. He hadn’t exactly been on the wagon in a while, but he’d had it under control -- to the extent that an alcoholic could drink and be under control, which basically meant that he thought he was hiding it well.
A good hot shower was what he needed. It would at least be a good start. Then he would need to figure out where he was and what he’d managed to do with his car.