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Born To Die
By Lisa Jackson
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2011 Lisa Jackson LLC
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBalancing a cup of coffee and a chocolate macadamia nut cookie from Joltz, the local coffee shop, in one hand and the case holding her laptop in the other, Dr. Acacia "Kacey" Lambert hurried along the sidewalk. Though it was nearly dawn, streetlights glowed, Christmas lights were strung and burning bright, dancing in the icy November wind that whistled through the small town of Grizzly Falls.
Winter had come early this year and with gale force, bringing early snow and ice, which was causing all kinds of electrical outages and traffic problems.
Just as it had a year earlier, she thought.
So much for global warming.
A steady stream of cars, this part of Montana's rush hour, was cutting through the surface streets on the way to the highway as people headed for work. Pedestrians in thick jackets, scarfs, wool hats, and boots walked briskly past, their breath fogging, their cheeks red from the cold.
Winters here were harsh, much more frigid than they had been in Seattle, but she loved this part of the country and didn't regret for a second moving back to the small town where she'd grown up.
At the clinic, located in the lower level of the town, a few blocks from the courthouse and the river, she juggled her keys and unlocked the front door. Another blast of winter air cut through her down jacket as it raced along the river's chasm, rattling storefronts.
Colder than a witch's teat. Or so her grandfather would have said. Alfred Lambert, eyes a mischievous blue behind wire-rimmed glasses, had never given up his salty language, though his wife, Bess, had forever reprimanded him.
God, she still missed them both. Sometimes achingly so. She lived in the farmhouse where they'd spent over fifty years together, and consequently thought of them often.
A truck rolled by, and despite the cold, the passenger window was rolled down a bit, the nose of a hound of some kind poking out, the strains of "Jingle Bell Rock" audible.
"Still too early," she muttered as the door unlocked and she slipped into the empty reception area of the low-slung building that housed one of only two clinics in town. A row of slightly worn chairs rimmed the walls, magazines had been placed on the scattered tables, a dying betel palm filled a corner, and there were a few toys for the little ones stacked neatly near the reception window.
Lights were glowing from behind a wall of glass, and Heather Ramsey, the receptionist, was already planted at the long counter that served as her desk on the other side of the window. Nose to computer monitor screen, Heather was rapt, her eyes rapidly scanning the series of pages in front of her.
The images weren't patient charts, records, or anything remotely to do with the clinic's business.
As usual Heather was reading the latest on the gossip columns and blogs before she settled down to her work routine. "Brace yourself," she said, without even glancing up.
"Your twin died," Heather said sadly. "Suicide."
"My twin," Kacey repeated, arching an eyebrow. "Since I'm an only child, who exactly would that be?"
"Shelly who? Oh, the actress who was in ... Oh, God, I can't remember the film." But she did remember Shelly's face as pretty and even-featured, with big green eyes, short nose, pointed chin, and high cheekbones. Heather's comparison was definitely a compliment.
"She was in lots of movies, just wasn't the star. Off the top of my head, there was Joint Custody and Sorority Night, but that was a few years back, and, oh, crap, what about Thirty Going On Fifteen?" Now she was scanning an article in the e-zine, getting her info from the computer screen. "Mainly she was known for her role on What's Blood Got to Do With It, you know, that vampire drama where Joey Banner got his start."
"Never saw it," Kacey admitted, but that wasn't surprising as she wasn't into television; just didn't have a lot of extra time. Between college, med school, residency, and her internship, she'd missed what seemed like a whole generation of pop culture.
"Wow, you missed out. But it's on DVD and Blu-ray. The whole series, starting with the pilot. It was great. She was great." Heather was really going now. Animated. "She was from around here, you know. Her real name was Michelle Bentley." Heather looked up, her brown eyes blinking with the adjustment to the light. "She was just thirty-five, or would have been this coming week."
Another thing in common. "And she committed suicide?" Kacey said. "A shame."
"Yeah, she didn't leave a note, either, or at least the police aren't copping to it ... Oh, get it, 'copping' to it?" Heather's smile was wide, showing off adult braces as she caught her own joke.
"Got it." Kacey was already passing examination rooms and snapping on the lights in the short hallway. "Too bad."
"Yeah ... weird. But she really does—did—look like you."
"Yeah, yeah, I know," Kacey said as she stepped into her office, a small room lined with bookshelves and one window overlooking the parking lot. Sleet was slanting from the still-dark sky, pinging against the window and drizzling down. Kacey set her computer on the desk, pulled it from its case, flipped it open, and plugged it in. As it warmed up, she adjusted the shade that allowed her to see out but no one to look into the office, then flipped through a stack of messages as she munched on her breakfast cookie and sipped her coffee.
Patients weren't due to arrive for nearly an hour, so she had time to catch up on paperwork, e-mail, and settle in for another day in the throes of flu season. She returned a couple of calls, heard the rest of the staff arriving, and through the window noticed steely clouds rolling in over the Bitterroot Mountains.
She'd just hung up from a consultation with a colleague in Spokane about a patient with breast cancer when Heather poked her head through the door, which Kacey kept ajar during most of the day. "Mrs. Ingles called and canceled, something about her nephew needing a babysitter."
"Okay." Helen Ingles was battling type 2 diabetes and had been scheduled for more blood work.
"Oh, and here. I ran off this article about Shelly Bonaventure."
Kacey looked over the tops of her reading glasses.
Heather dropped a couple of pages onto Kacey's desk. "Yeah, yeah, I know it's time to get to work, but"—she shrugged her slim shoulders—"she was a local celeb, and just look at how much she resembles you."
"Enough already," Kacey said, shaking her head, as she pushed the article to the side of her desk. For years, she'd heard that she and several Hollywood actresses had similar facial characteristics. Hadn't her wide grin been compared to Julia Roberts's smile? Even her ex-husband, Jeffrey Charles Lambert—oh, wait, just JC to his friends—had told her that her face had the same shape as Jennifer Garner's, which wasn't true at all. As for Shelly Bonaventure, the only real resemblance, as she saw it, was that their eyes were the same shape and color, that is, if Shelly hadn't worn tinted contacts.
"Okay, okay ... I get it." Heather held up her hands in surrender as she backed out of the office. "Mrs. Whitaker is here already."
"Great." Constance Whitaker was a hypochondriac who had too much time on her hands and spent it investigating illnesses on the Internet, then freaking herself out because she was certain she was contracting the latest disease du jour. "What about Dr. Cortez?" Kacey asked, shrugging into her lab coat.
"He called around fifteen minutes ago. He's on his way from the hospital," Heather said as headlights flashed across the window and Dr. Martin Cortez's Range Rover wheeled into the lot. "Record time."
Kacey shook her head. "He's been faster. When he had the Porsche."
Heather sighed. "I remember."
The sporty car had lasted one winter, and then he'd traded it in for an upscale four-wheel drive that could deal with the mountainous terrain and harsh winter weather.
The phone started ringing, and Heather retreated to the front desk just as the back door opened and closed sharply. Dr. Martin Cortez had arrived.
Kacey glanced at the article about Shelly Bonaventure, and yeah, she had to admit to herself, there was a slight resemblance between them, but it was minimal.
She tossed the article into the trash just as Martin stuck his head into the room. Already wearing his lab coat and a warm smile, he started the conversation with, "You pick up a triple-shot caramel mocha with extra whip this morning?"
"In your dreams." It was their morning joke. Every once in a while Kacey did surprise him with some outrageous, over-the-top coffee drink, but not today.
"How will I get through another minute?" He splayed one hand over his chest and looked to the ceiling, as if for holy inspiration.
"It'll be tough, but you'll manage," she said. "Soldier on, okay?"
"I'll try." His smile, a quick slash of white against his tanned skin, was infectious. No wonder half the single women in the county were interested. Dropping the Oscar-worthy pose, he turned serious. All local GP again. "So did you take a look at Amelia Hornsby's chart?" Martin knew the names of the family members of nearly everyone who stepped into the clinic. Amelia was an eight-year-old who had been through several rounds of antibiotics to fight a throat infection that just wouldn't go away.
Randy Yates, a male nurse just out of school, stuck his head into the door. "Hey, Docs, time to rock 'n' roll," he said, flashing a quick grin. His brown hair was shaved nearly to his skull, leaving little more than stubble over the top of his head, but he made up for it with a neatly trimmed goatee. "I've got exam one, two, and four ready to go. Vitals taken."
"I'll take Mrs. Whitaker," Martin said.
Kacey checked the chart on exam room two. Elmer Grimes. "I'm in two," she said and opened the door to her first patient.
Detective Jonas Hayes of the LAPD wasn't buying the setup. He hadn't last night, when he'd responded to the call to Shelly Bonaventure's apartment, and he didn't today, as he sat at his desk and clicked through the images of the crime scene on his computer. This morning the department was buzzing, phones ringing, conversations drifting from one desk to the next, footsteps shuffling, computer keys clicking, and somewhere a printer was clunking out copies.
Hayes took a swallow of his coffee, a cup he'd picked up at the Starbucks a few streets down, as he worked his way through the statements collected the night before. Again. He had perused them all around four in the morning and now was reading them more slowly five hours later.
Last night, from the minute he'd stepped through Shelly Bonaventure's front door, he'd been hit by the sensation that everything wasn't as it was portrayed. He felt as if the crime scene had been staged à la Marilyn Monroe some fifty years earlier. Half a century later there were still conspiracy theories and the question of murder still hung over Marilyn's grave. He didn't want the same controversy to be a part of Shelly Bonaventure's death. Not on his watch.
And the crime scene just hadn't felt right last night.
And that, in and of itself, was odd. A man of science, Hayes believed in cold, hard facts. He wasn't big into gut feelings or hunches. He believed that the truth of a crime was found in evidence.
But this case was different.
For one thing, he didn't believe that Shelly, no matter what her mental state, would call 9-1-1 while stark naked. If she'd had enough sense to make the call, then why not put on a robe at the very least? Was this a ploy for publicity? Did being nude ramp up the curiosity factor? Had she wanted to die sensationally?
Then where the hell was the suicide note?
Rubbing the back of his neck, he felt a craving for a smoke, but he'd given up cigarettes years before at Delilah's urging. God, he missed them. Almost as much as he missed her.
Scowling, he turned his thoughts back to the case. He expected, when the tox report came in, to find a concoction of pills and booze in her bloodstream. Xanax, if she'd taken her own meds. A bottle of the sedative had been right there on her nightstand, not in the medicine chest with the rest of her prescriptions. Only three pills were left in the vial, and according to the label, the prescription had been filled only last Saturday.
It was obvious she'd OD'd.
So, why was he not buying the pat suicide theory? She could have kept the pills at her bedside, he supposed, and she might have been naked because of a recent shower. The shower stall and curtain had been wet.
But her hair and skin had been bone dry; her makeup only slightly smeared and faded. More like worn off rather than scrubbed away. The shower cap hanging on a hook near the stall had been damp, so maybe she'd stuffed her hair in it so well that not even the tiny hairs around her face had gotten wet ... maybe.
And her cat wasn't inside, but out. Would she really kill herself and leave her usually pampered cat on the patio? He didn't think so, yet, of course, anything was possible. Maybe she thought it would be more humane than having kitty locked up with a rotting corpse.
Frowning, he tapped a pencil eraser on his desk as he pored over the crime scene photos. Shelly was sprawled on the bed, her right hand still holding her cell phone, as she'd used it to call 9-1-1 minutes before slipping into a drug-induced coma and dying.
Rotating the kinks from his neck, Jonas went over the past twelve hours in his mind. He had gotten the call around midnight and had driven to her apartment, where the responding officer had already started a crime scene log.
Hayes and Gail Harding, his junior partner, had waited for the crime scene guys from the scientific investigative division and the coroner's office.
Eventually Shelly's body had been sent to the morgue, the crime scene techs had come and gone, the next of kin had been notified, and a press release from the public information officer, already in sound bites for the morning news, had been issued. The tabloids had already been calling, as Ms. Bonaventure was much more fascinating in death than in life. Shelly's agent had given a short statement, lauding Shelly's talent, career, and good heart, then asking the public for privacy for the deceased's family.
Everyone he'd interviewed who knew her claimed she'd been full of life, a fighter, never too depressed. In a town where uppers and downers were tossed down like M&M's and rehab was a way of life, Shelly had seemed to stay relatively clean and out of trouble.
Hayes glanced down at the hard copies of the sworn statements they'd taken. According to the neighbor who lived above her, Shelly had been calling for her cat less than half an hour before the 9-1-1 call. He'd heard her front door open and close around eleven.
And within forty minutes she was dead.
The suicide theory just seemed too easy. Too pat.
And she'd died pretty quickly from the time she'd taken the pills, if she'd swallowed them all upon returning to her apartment. But maybe he was wrong; there were still phone records to check, friends and neighbors and old boyfriends to call. Leaning back in his desk chair, he eyed a five-by-seven of his daughter, Maren. Now in high school, she was blessed with her mother's good looks and wide smile. Her skin was a soft mocha, her eyes dark and vibrant, and she'd confided that she wanted to be an actress, that she saw herself as a new Angela Bassett or Halle Berry or Jada Pinkett Smith.
And she was good, too.
But, man oh man, Hollywood? For his kid?
He turned his gaze from the picture of Maren's smiling face to his computer monitor and the image of Shelly Bonaventure, her skin gray, her lips blue, death having claimed her. What, he wondered, had Hollywood had to do with her death?
Hayes climbed to his feet and heard the soft, unfamiliar ruffle of the heating system, which was barely used. Even in winter the temperature in the police administration building, where the robbery-homicide division was housed, rarely needed a boost.
Excerpted from Born To Die by Lisa Jackson Copyright © 2011 by Lisa Jackson LLC. Excerpted by permission of ZEBRA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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