{twenty}

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Alessandra gripped the steering wheel so tight her knuckles turned white. She'd just gotten off the phone. Pat said she wanted to prepare her but couldn't say what was going on. She appreciated the heads up but hearing Pat—who was always so animated— being so quiet had been unnerving. If Alessandra got there quick, she could get some answers.

Nine minutes later, the red and white EMERGENCY sign at Mercy Hospital beckoned. Once inside, the alcohol, ammonia, and antiseptic took hold of her senses. Her eyes burned, but she went over to the closest waiting room where officers milled around. The lights were dimmed while some infomercial about the benefits of plant-based diets droned on the TV.

"Ms. Mareau." Alessandra nodded at the man who approached. "Follow me."

He led her to a door on the left of the room. He opened it so slowly Alessandra almost yelled for him to hurry it up. When he opened it she gasped. Dylan stood next to the wall. Most of his shirt was covered in blood. His entire suit was dirty and wrinkled. His face and hands were the only parts of him that looked reasonably clean.

"Dylan? What happened?"

"You need to process me."

"What?" Alessandra couldn't hide her confusion. "What happened?"

"She didn't make it." He slumped against the wall. "Her body's still in the operating room. You need to see what you can find on her too."

Who didn't make it? What was going on? Rather than throw her questions at him she got down to the matter at hand.

"Where do I start?"

"With me."

"I know. Where?"

Dylan unbuttoned his shirt and held it by the collar with a gloved hand. She got her bags ready and swabs out. Twenty minutes later, Alessandra was done and he had on a white undershirt and faded jeans. Dried blood still smeared parts of his arms. It occurred to her she'd never seen him so casual before. She hadn't realized she was staring until a young nurse walking by stopped and whispered to her.

"If I was gettin' that on the regular I'd be a happy woman."

Alessandra shoved everything into the box trying to ignore the way her body tingled at the thought. It had a mind of its own when it came to him. She was about to ask him more about what happened when Pat came over.

"ME's here."

Carla came in seconds later. Her rose perfume did nothing to help the acidic miasma which had taken residence in Alessandra's nose. After an almost nonexistent greeting in their direction she went to Dylan. They talked in hushed tones for a few minutes before she came back.

"Let's see what we got."

******

Alessandra checked to make sure her concealer was still in place. She washed her hands then sank against the wall. Nothing. As usual with this case. The victim's clothes were the only thing Alessandra could use, but she would have to wait for those until Carla had the body at the morgue. Her only course of action was to go to where the woman had been found.

She went back out to the waiting room where Eric Jay had shown up. He and Dylan were off in the corner. She could tell by Dylan's stiff stance it didn't mean anything good. So she probably shouldn't be trying to eavesdrop.

"Why did I get a call from the cops about some bloody man carrying in a half dead victim?" He crossed his arms.

Dylan moved forward. "I didn't identify myself at the start. But I—"

"Why didn't you say something as soon as you got here?"

"Everything happened so fast..."

"Because you just had to be the hero. Had to do it on your own." Deep lines creased Jay's forehead. "Did calling for backup even cross your mind? You guys could've worked together."

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