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"We didn't know who else to call. We've never seen anything like this before. We saw your name in the paper regarding a case you worked on with the Philadelphia P.D. We figured maybe you could help us, so we reached out to Ben Tyler."
Greg was standing in the lobby of what was the Brigantine Police Department thinking he was less than fifteen minutes away from Atlantic City. So close he could smell the salt in the air from the ocean. A cold sweat broke out on his brow and he considered how lucky he was that no one would notice with almost 90 percent humidity in the air.
The Jersey Shore, even in the waning days of summer, was no joke.
"How do you know Ben Tyler?"
The sheriff shrugged. "Everyone in law enforcement around here knows Tyler. He has resources that can be helpful for any number of cases. Also we recently worked with a former colleague of his on a cold case, Mark Sharpe. You know him, too?"
"Sad to say I do."
Ben Tyler was the head of the Tyler Group, a troubleshooting organization that pulled together some of the best minds in many different areas, including political strategy, criminal investigation, law, computer technology and well him.
Tyler was Greg's boss, for lack of a better word. Ben offered him various different jobs and Greg had the option of which ones he wanted to take. Which were all of them because they paid his bills. As for Mark, Ben's former colleague in the CIA, Greg tried to avoid him as much as possible, which wasn't easy because Mark and Ben seemed to be actual friends now.
Anytime the two of them were together, Mark would ask Greg to play poker with him because he wanted to see if he could bluff him. Nobody could bluff Greg. It was why the police had called him.
"Greg, are we doing this or what?"
Greg turned and found his roommate, Chuck, the man he credited with keeping him gambling sober for the past year, leaning over the lobby's counter trying to flirt with the young woman seated behind it. He was pointing to things on her computer, no doubt trying to enlighten her on more efficient ways to use the equipment.
Greg had told him dumping computer knowledge on women wasn't the best way to impress the ladies, but it was the only game Chuck had. Greg had to admit it actually worked sometimes. Lately, Chuck had had his fair share of female company.
Apparently computer nerd was the new hot.
Greg had asked his roommate to come along for the ride so that, in case his willpower faltered, someone would be there to back him up. He wasn't sure if Chuck's impatience had to do with the girl's lack of interest or if he was concerned on Greg's behalf.
Even Ben admitted he had hesitated before calling Greg for this particular job. He'd mentioned the case. Mentioned the location. Mentioned his concerns. Then asked, actually asked, if Greg thought he was up for it.
Up for it?
Screw that. He hadn't gambled in over a year. He could freaking handle a trip to the beach even if it was one town over from AC. He'd snarled at Ben and told him yes he could handle it. Then he'd hung up the phone and told Chuck to put on some real pants. Chuck preferred spending his days in their waterfront loft that overlooked Penn's Landing in clothes he referred to as his comfy-womfies. His assertion: a man who spent his life mostly on his ass in a chair in front of a computer needed to be comfortable. So pajamas, sweats and the occasional stretchy pants he referred to as men's yoga pants, were the norm. Some of them actually had small animals on them.
Since Greg refused to be seen out in public with him like that, anytime they went anywhere together he forced Chuck to wear jeans. While Chuck insisted they pinched-although at five foot six and barely a hundred and fifty pounds, Greg didn't know what the jeans were pinching-he usually agreed to put them on. Greg also tried to tell him that women didn't have sex with men who wore comfy-womfies in public.
"Can I see her?"
The sheriff nodded and escorted the two men back through a room that hosted a bunch of cubicles. They reached a door that led to a short hallway that ended in another door. No elaborate two-way mirror for a small town sheriff's office. Just a window that looked into a small room furnished with a stark wood table and two folding chairs.
The interrogation room.
Sheriff Danielson pointed to the door and Greg walked over and stooped a little to look through the window.
She was sitting in a chair, her shoulders slumped, her eyes dull, her demeanor defeated. Long, nearly white blond hair almost touched the table in front of her. Despite her posture, Greg could determine she was young, maybe late twenties early thirties, and slim in a charcoal-gray short-sleeved dress.
She might have been really pretty had it not been for all the blood.
"Okay, tell me the situation again. Ben gave me the details you told him, but I would like to hear them from you directly."
The sheriff nodded. "Officer Hampton was out on his normal patrol. He spotted her walking along the highway in the early morning. As he approached her he could see she was covered with blood. He pulled over, assessed that she wasn't injured, but when he asked for identification she couldn't provide it. When he asked her name, she said she didn't know it. When he asked her what happened-"
"She couldn't remember it," Chuck said, finishing the sentence for the sheriff. "Cool."
Greg gave him a severe look. "You want to wait outside?"
"Play a game on your phone. I'm working."
"Fine. I'll stay here and be quiet. But no more than an hour. You need to be in and out. You follow?"
"Yes, Mom." Chuck was like a mother hen. And he'd brought him along for exactly that reason. Despite the fact that his roommate was younger than him by seven years, he had a way of grounding Greg that was beneficial to Greg's continued gambling sobriety. He was almost like a sponsor, except as far as Greg knew, the only thing Chuck had ever been addicted to was hitting on women.
"You want me to talk to her and tell you if she's lying."
"It's a start. I don't really have any grounds to hold her on. She wasn't carrying a weapon. There is no crime that we know of, except someone is walking around without a lot of blood. For all we know that might be a deer she hit with her car. If you tell me she's lying, I'm going to come up with something to hold her for at least another twenty-four hours. Otherwise I don't know what I'm going to do with her."
"The hospital would be a good start."
"But she's not hurt."
"Sheriff, if her brain is not working, she's hurt."
He seemed to consider that. "True. Man, you don't think this is one of those bumps to the head that caused this?"
"Since bumps to the head that leave the victim this physically functional rarely cause memory loss, I'm going to say no."
"Maybe we should hit her on the head again and see if her memory comes back. You know like what was that show? Was that The Brady Bunch?'" Chuck asked.
"Gilligan's Island," Greg corrected. "And that idea is as ridiculous now as it was on the show. But thank you for your insightfulness."
"Dude, she's got amnesia. That's totally cray-cray."
"Chuck. You're almost thirty. It's time you stop talking like a teenager. It's only crazy if she's telling the truth. Which she most likely isn't. Sheriff, I don't know how much you know about memory loss."
"Nothing. Which is why I called you here."
"It's highly unlikely. True memory loss like you're describing is usually associated with a traumatic brain injury. As I said, if she'd suffered such an injury it's unlikely she'd be upright and walking along a highway. Hysterical amnesia, which could be caused by a traumatic event, is most likely what she's trying to emulate. However, in most cases this form of amnesia is temporary and only affects one's memory of a particular period surrounding the traumatic event and not a person's whole life. Like a rape victim who forgets the attack, or a child who suppresses abuse."
"You think she's faking it?"
"Until I talk to her I can't be sure of course, but my guess is most likely. Which, if she's covered in blood, means it's a good bet she's hiding a violent crime and you should consider holding her."
"Hiding a crime by walking down a highway on a Sunday morning in a bloody dress? That's not exactly covert."
"She could already be strategizing a defense."
"Dude, you are so cynical," Chuck noted. "Sheriff, please understand my friend here doesn't believe anyone, ever."
Greg considered the veracity of that statement. Chuck wasn't exactly wrong. "Only because I know they are lying. Okay, let me talk to her. We'll see how good of a show she can put on for me."
"Will it matter?" the sheriff wondered.
Greg shook his head. "Nope. Pathological liar or a great actress. None of it will fool me."
The door opened and she looked up. Another face. A man, a tall man with a kind face and dark curly hair that was too long and a bit ruffled. He wasn't wearing a uniform.
"Who are you?"
"My name is Greg Chalmers and I would like to talk to you, if that's okay."
No, it wasn't okay. He was going to ask her questions. Questions she didn't know the answer to. She closed her eyes and tried to breathe. She knew slow deep breathing was supposed to help. It was supposed to calm her.
She didn't know how she knew it. She just did.
He sat down, or more accurately folded himself into the chair across the table. She could see that his smile, while gentle, was wholly insincere. She didn't blame him for that. She was as skeptical as he was. This wasn't happening to her. This wasn't possible.
She couldn't even look down at herself because the bloodstains were still there and they were starting to make her nauseous. They'd given her a washcloth to clean her hands and her face, but the smell was still there. Also that hint of metallic flavor on her tongue as if some had gotten in her mouth. No matter how many glasses of water she consumed, it was still here.
Maybe that was what she was. A vampire. A hysterical idea, except it wasn't any crazier than what she actually was. A woman with no memory.
"Don't," she muttered before he could start. "I don't know what you want me to say."
"I want to ask you some questions."
"I know. I know this is a police station. I know this is blood on my dress. I know this. I don't I can't It's like I can't even explain it."
"What's the first thing you remember?"
She closed her eyes. "The sound of the siren. I heard a siren and I thought to move out of the way. Then I realized I wasn't in a car. I was walking. I stopped and the officer got out of his car and approached me."
"He asked you for identification."
"I didn't have my purse."
"Normally you do, though?"
"Of course. I carry a purse. I can't ever find my keys in it. It's big. I have a big purse and the keys are always at the bottom. I know that. I know that's true."
She couldn't see the purse in her head. She could only recall the sensation of digging in it with her hands. The jingling sound of keys. She struggled to latch on to that. Willed herself to see something, any picture in her mind of her purse or her wallet and where they might be. But there was nothing. Just this small room and this man with the eyes that didn't match his face. They were brown, but they weren't nice. Not like his smile or his casual attire or the way his body relaxed into the chair. It all suggested he was a laid-back person. A nice guy.
But his eyes weren't nice. They were cold.
She started hyperventilating.
"Hey, calm down. Deep breaths."
She nodded. She felt like that phrase had been her mantra at one point. "Deep breaths," she repeated. "Deep breaths." She tried to take one after each time she said it. Her lungs slowed.
"Okay. That's better. Now can you remember anything else? Any detail. Like your big purse or maybe a favorite place. Any small detail might help us find out who you are."
She looked at him then. At his eyes that were pinned on her face and then moved to her hands, then back to her eyes.
"You don't believe me." She couldn't say how she knew, but she did. It was as if he didn't care about the answer she gave, only how she said it. "You think I'm a liar."
"No. I'm only trying to help you."
She shook her head. There was no help in this room. The officer wanted to help her. When he found her on the side of the road he was worried she was hurt. Worried she was in pain. She knew what it felt like to have someone want to help her.
He shifted then as his lean body worked to find a more comfortable position in the chair. "Why do you think so?"
"Because your eyes are mean. I'm sorry if that's harsh. But you're sitting there like you're relaxed, but your eyes don't match. They're almost cruel. So I think you're lying. You think I know who I am. What happened."
After a moment, he shrugged. "Yeah, I do. I think amnesia is very rare, especially to the extent you're claiming."
Amnesia. It was a ridiculous word. A word from daytime TV and silly sitcoms. Bad fiction books.
It wasn't real. It couldn't really be happening to her. "I agree with you. That isn't possible." This was just a temporary lapse. A crazy event that would be reversed in a minute when her life and her name and this morning came back to her.
"Then tell me what your name is."
He said it so gently. As if he was helping her to say the thing she really wanted to say. And she really did want to say it.
My name is
My name is And I'm from My name is.
She closed her eyes and pushed her brain to function. She did math in her head. Odd numbers she added together easily. Multiplication tables. Eights. Nines. Twelves. She knew that without effort. She thought of books. She knew who Harry Potter was.
He was a wizard. With friends. The books were about magic.
Movies. The Sound of Music. When Maria finally kisses the captain. She knew that was her favorite scene.
My name is I like The Sound of Music and Harry Potter.
She met the man's eyes, the scary ones, and shook her head.
"I don't know it. I don't know my name. Please help me. Please, please help me."