A Private Eye and the Moral Dilemma

by Gina Marie Wylie

Copyright┬ę 2008 by Gina Marie Wylie

Mystery Story: A young woman is found dead in her bed. Our intrepid investigator seeks to find out who did it. Solving the mystery, though, isn't as hard as dealing with the moral dilemmas the case presents.

Tags: Historical  


Lydia Hernandez woke to the phone ringing; she rolled over and glanced at the clock on the radio on the table next to the bed as she picked up the receiver. 11:10 PM.

"Lydia, this is Reed, I'm sorry to disturb you this late."

Even half asleep Lydia knew how to reply to that. "Not as sorry as I am."

"Denny's in the hospital; they think it's a stroke."

Sleep faded away and she had a bitter taste in her mouth. "Sorry, Reed, I was stupid."

There was a muffled sound on the other end, mostly exasperation. "Yeah, they don't want to tell me jack, but I know a few of the ER nurses. They slipped me the word. They say it's touch and go."

"I'll get some clothes on and be there in a few minutes, which hospital?"

"Good Sam." He hesitated and then said, "Bring your notebook. I'll see you there in a few." She could hear the dial tone.

She stared at the phone, nonplussed. Her notebook? Her case notebook? Lydia went in the bathroom and splashed cold water on her face and ran a brush through her hair, used some toothpaste and dressed quickly; just jeans and a blouse, it was a warm night.

Rico was in the hall. "What's the matter, Lydia?"

"Tell the others I'll be back later; I don't know when. Denny is sick; he's in the hospital. They aren't sure if he will live."

Rico nodded, still not comfortable after a lifetime of hating police being friends with them, no matter how nice Reed or Denny were. "Be careful, Lydia."

"If I'm not back in the morning, see that the others get up on time and make sure Elizabeth and Nita have breakfast." Rico nodded, and Lydia went out to the van and drove quickly through the dark and empty streets.

Reed was standing morosely in the hospital lobby when she came in. "I have to do something to keep my mind off this." He said bluntly. "Let's get something to eat."

Lydia found herself snacking on a piece of chocolate cream pie and sipping from a cup of hot tea.

Reed was looking into some lost distance, but his voice was steady. "I went out a call last week; the parents came home late one night and went right to bed. When they got up the next morning they found their fifteen-year-old daughter stone cold dead in her bed. The girl had died sometime early the previous evening. The mother has gone a little batty, having slept in the house with her dead daughter overnight. The father is bitter that he didn't at least look in on her. A good girl, he told me. You could depend on her, he said; they never thought to check on her, it was late and both he and his wife were tired.

"The gross autopsy was inconclusive, but the pathologist said he suspected a drug overdose. Toxicology came back yesterday. The amount of heroin in her blood would have killed a horse, much less a person. Plus, there is evidence of some sort of sleeping pills, maybe Seconal. They have to do some more tests, but the pathologist believes the sedative was a normal usage dose." He looked at her. "Time of death was a little after seven in the evening. No teenager ever born would willingly take a sleeping pill to get to sleep that early."

Lydia had been writing everything down and looked up at Reed. He nodded and then continued. "The pathologist says that the heroin overdose was sufficient to have killed a person in one to two minutes; certainly after a few seconds the person could not have moved. The pathologist is sure that it was injected even if he couldn't find a needle mark. There was nothing in the victim's stomach.

"There was no syringe at the scene. The parents swear they wouldn't have removed it -- I don't know. He's a corporate tax lawyer; she's some sort of minor city bureaucrat. They were at a fundraiser dinner for the Mayor; a hundred people saw them there. They have cast iron alibis.

"The doctor is almost certain that after the injection someone washed the area of the injection to remove any traces, probably after she was dead. There was no sign of recent intercourse; she wasn't raped, there were no sign of sexual trauma. She wasn't a virgin, but that doesn't mean much these days."

He sighed and looked at the clock. "I hate this job, sometimes." He took a deep breath and Lydia could see him fighting to focus on what he was talking about. "Anyway, we are treating it as a homicide. I've talked to her teachers and some of her friends at school. They all say that while she was a little ditzy now and then and a bit of a hypochondriac, mostly she was an outstanding student, quiet and shy. She has never had any problems at school. She has no close friends; no one has seen or heard of her using drugs. No boyfriend that anyone knows about."

"Any signs of a break in?" Lydia asked.

Reed blinked and then grinned slightly. "I keep thinking you should be a cop. If it were up to me, I'd try to hire you away from Denny."

He shook his head. "There were no signs of forced entry; no sign that there was anyone there but the daughter alone. No fingerprints besides the three of them; forensics turned the house inside out. None of the neighbors saw or heard anything unusual and we've talked to all of them. No burglaries in the area for at least six months, no reports of vandalism or trespass. It's a quiet cul-de-sac. The semi-pros avoid places like that as there is only one way in or out. A real pro knows what he's after and doesn't care. But nothing's been reported missing. The parents report nothing stolen, either."

He steepled his fingers in the gesture that Lydia had long since realized meant that Reed was getting to the point he wanted to make. "The father asked me if I could recommend a private detective to look into who killed their daughter."

"Why would he do that if you're on the case?" Lydia asked, curious.

"Facts of life, Lydia. I know the type of parent; I've seen their kind a dozen times. Their only child, the center of their world, of their entire universe, is dead and gone. This is the biggest calamity of their lives. They are still dazed and in shock. But now the father is coming out of the initial shock and he's angry. Very angry. He wants something done yesterday about what happened to his daughter.

"Except this week I have another homicide and two robberies; one of the robbery victims is a major campaign supporter of the Governor and is buddies with the Mayor. So, guess what I'm working on? Garley is now the detective of record for the girl. And he's on vacation this week, so I'm working on it for him."

He laid his hands flat on the table. Lydia could see his knuckles whiten as he pressed down hard. "I told the father that while we were still looking, the looking wasn't going to be very hard. In a week or so, I'll send some patrolmen out to re-interview everyone on my list and see if someone remembered anything useful. Not too likely, but it happens. After that, the case will go on the shelf. If something turns up or if a similar crime occurs, then it might come back off the shelf. That's even less likely. I've seen this before -- unless someone confesses, we'll never know. I sent them to Denny; he saw them this afternoon."

He lifted his eyes to meet Lydia's. "Denny wants to make the agency work. You've done really good work so far; more than either of us could ever have hoped. He was, I'm sure, looking forward to working with you on this. But..." He sighed heavily, and looked away from her, talking softly.

"We were watching a Suns game. I thought at first Denny was making a joke; then I thought he was choking on a pretzel. I should have called for an ambulance sooner."

Lydia reached out and touched his hand. "I understand. Denny will understand, too. Lord knows, you two have a stable of practical jokes that leave me wondering half the time. You want me to work on this?"

Reed laughed bitterly. "I'm still one of Phoenix's finest. I can't say one way or another. I'd take it as a personal favor, though."

"Hey, I hired on, remember? That means I work for you guys."

He shook his head, "You're a partner, Lydia. A full partner. I'm supposed to be a silent partner."

A nurse, short and a little plump, came into the cafeteria, looking around. Reed's eyes seemed to pick her up almost the instant she entered the room. The woman brightened up noticeably when she saw Reed and headed his way.

"Reed," the woman in hospital greens said quietly, "Denny's awake. You could see him for a second, if you want."

"Sure." Reed stood and Lydia followed along. She was surprised when Reed took her arm and almost dragged her into the ICU room where Denny was.

"Christ, Denny. It's a little early for Christmas," Reed said.

Lydia shook her head, appalled. How could he say such a thing? Even if Denny had more wires and lights than any respectable Christmas tree would have?

"Leave the presents under the bed since they won't let me have a tree," Denny's voice was a slurred whisper. His left eye rested on Lydia, sparkling. His other eye didn't move. "Shouldn't you be home in bed?"

"Seemed like a good night for a drive," she replied. Only half his face smiled back; Lydia fought back tears.

A different nurse came in and told them, "You'll have to leave. The patient has to rest."

Denny tried to shake his head, but couldn't. "Reed talk to you?" Lydia nodded. "I wanted you to do it, anyway." His face was a horrible rictus and Lydia realized he was trying to laugh. "What do I know about teenaged girls?"

They were ushered out and Reed sank down onto a plastic seat in the hallway. "I'm on this. You take the other case." He handed her a business card with a personal address and phone number written on the back. "You keep me posted and I'll keep you posted. Go home and get some sleep."

Lydia slept badly, and when she woke up early, called the hospital only to find that both Reed and Denny were asleep.

She put on her best dress and a little after ten pulled up in front of the address on the card Reed had given her.

It had been a nightmare finding the place, even with a map. Usually in Phoenix it was a piece of cake; the streets were all at right angles, and it was just a matter of putting your finger on the right spot on the map and going there. The developer here had been fond of circles and cul-de-sacs. Reed was right, no one interested in a quick exit would ever consider 6615 West Crittenden. There were too many turns, only one way in or out, for nearly a half mile.

She got out of the van and looked at the houses around the address, scribbling down a few notes in her book, then walking up to the door. A few seconds later an older man, quite thin and slightly balding, answered. "Yes?"

Lydia held up her PI shield, "Mr. Wallace, I'm Denny Waller's partner, Lydia Hernandez. I've come to ask you and your wife a few questions about your daughter's death, if you don't mind."

He shook his head like he was plagued with mosquitoes. "Mr. Waller never said anything about a partner." He looked, Lydia thought, as though disbelief and prejudice were fighting it out for which would get to insult her first.

"Mr. Wallace," She paused, how to say this? "Mr. Wallace, all I would like is to see your daughter's room, and perhaps if you and your wife are up to it, asking a few questions. Did Denny give you one of our business cards?"

The other nodded.

"Our agency's name is Waller & Friends. If you read it, you will see the names, D. Waller, L. Hernandez and et alii. I'm Lydia Hernandez; you can check with Detective Sergeant Reed."

"Why not Mr. Waller?" the other pressed.

"Denny is currently doing something else and is going to be out of touch for a while. Working under the covers, so to speak." The last sentence just sort of slipped out; Lydia could not believe she had uttered such a palpable lie. Those two were contagious!

The older man sighed. "Well, I suppose it's okay. Please, come on in."

A woman of similar age to Mr. Wallace sat in a chair in the kitchen; if it hadn't been for the nearly empty bottle of vodka sitting next to the glass filled with reddish juice the woman was drinking from, Lydia would have assumed she was having a V-8 for breakfast.

"Dear, this is a detective, come to look at Linda's room."

The wife rudely turned away from Lydia, looking out the kitchen window at the immaculate green lawn and trees and bushes beyond, ignoring the other two people in the room.

The daughter's room was larger, even, than Lydia's now. It was on the second floor, looking out over the back yard, right above the kitchen. A pretty view, Lydia thought.

Ian Wallace stood in the door while Lydia looked around the room. "It's just like it was when we found Linda," he said sadly, "nothing's been changed."

Lydia glanced around the room yet another time. There was a desk with a venerable Apple II computer on it in front of the window that looked over the backyard, a book case next to the desk, a small component stereo system on one side of the bed and on the other side, a small dresser. There was a larger dresser along one wall and a walk-in closet. The bed was queen size, immaculately made up.

Lydia's eyes went from the bed to the older man. "Well," he said nervously, "we couldn't leave the bed the way it was."

"Did the police dust for fingerprints?" she asked softly, already knowing the answer.

"We had to vacuum three times," he replied with mild frustration. "It was very hard to get all that stuff up."

"Were there any clothes left out and subsequently washed? Anything left for the laundry or cleaning in general?"

"Linda was very neat." He gestured towards a partially open door, a bathroom. "There's a laundry chute in Linda's bathroom. The police didn't find anything in the basket downstairs. None of Linda's clothing is missing; the cleaning woman does the laundry nearly every day. Linda was wearing the same clothes she'd gone to school in, the day before I found her." You could see the visible shudders running through the man as he fought tears.

He visibly gathered himself. "They say she wasn't ... molested," his voice broke on the words. "She was just murdered in her bed! Oh my God! Our Linda! Dear, dear Linda! God how could you do this to us?" He was crying.

Lydia looked away, giving him a chance to recover. She noted the titles of the books in Linda Wallace's book case. There was some heavy reading there, mostly about medicine. Gray's Anatomy. Physician's Desk Reference. Several fat books on diagnosis and treatment of diseases. A few others, general reference, including a hefty dictionary.

None of those were inexpensive books. She glanced at the computer. There was no modem, but there were four disk drives. Odds were, she'd find the memory was maxed out as well and there was a printer.

Ian Wallace recovered and went on, his voice dull. "Linda wanted to be a doctor more than she wanted anything else. She was a sophomore at Maryvale High this year. We were going to enroll her in the local community college next fall to pick up some credits. She was going to apply for Pre-Med at University of Arizona."

"I graduated from Arizona State," Lydia said absently, the rivalry almost subliminal.

Lydia looked closely at the stereo. There was no record on the turntable and the cassette deck was equally empty. "Did Linda listen to music?"

Her father shook his head. "When she was younger, she liked to listen to classical music; Linda played flute in grade school. The last year or so, she just didn't seem to care. Linda spent most of her time studying or reading."

Lydia stepped back and looked around again. She'd been in Sarah's room a million times and not a few other high school girls as she'd been growing up. This room was almost sterile. There were no posters; the books in the bookcase were either school books or medical books of one sort or another. Even the few novels were medically oriented.

"Did your daughter ever have friends over?" Lydia asked.

The girl's father sighed. "Linda was very shy; she was never very good at making friends. Sometimes she would talk about people she met at school or at church, but she never invited them over to the house and none of them invited her to their houses. Linda was bitter about that, sometimes. I told her, if you don't sow bread on the waters, you don't get any coming back to you. Still, she was determined: she wasn't going to invite anyone here unless they invited her to their house first. And no one ever did."

"Did Linda visit anyone, even just to study?" Lydia pressed.

Her father muttered something Lydia couldn't hear. "No. My wife and I both have high-pressure jobs; sometimes one or the other of us doesn't get home until late. Linda was always home: she was the one who usually fixed dinner for us, or for whoever was going to be home. Studying, all of that. Linda didn't have much time for friends."

Lydia nodded. "I noticed the front door has a dead bolt. Do you remember if it was engaged when you returned home the night you found Linda?"

He sighed, exasperatedly. "Of course it was. You have to turn the key to the right to undo it; I always make the mistake of going the other way. That night my wife was in a hurry to use the bathroom; she hates it when I fumble with the door. She made a sarcastic comment when I did it the wrong way. Again. There's a separate key for the other lock; I usually turn that the right way." He smiled bitterly. "The next morning while I was waiting for the police, I checked the other doors; the dead bolts were all in place there. The police told me they looked for unlocked doors and windows and didn't find any."

Lydia nodded. "Did your daughter behave differently over the last few weeks or months? Did she change her eating habits or sleep habits? Was there any change in her daily routine, anything at all, no matter how trivial?"

"Linda was a straight A student in grade school," her father told Lydia. "Last year when Linda reached high school she became excited about biology and the possibility of becoming a doctor. She went from spending an hour or sometimes two studying a day to three or four hours and even more on weekends. Linda's biology teacher helped get her into honors sections of chemistry and math this year; she had to work harder than some of the other kids, but Linda was getting straight As in everything she took.

"Linda stopped going to church last year; she told us that she wasn't going anymore, unless we all went." He sighed. "We only go a few times a year; Christmas, Easter. You know what I mean. Maybe if we'd..." His voice trailed off.

When he started talking again his voice had turned quite firm. "You want to know if Linda had started drugs or running with a bad crowd. Lord, I can't believe it! She was always home! Linda was always studying for school or reading her medical textbooks, or typing at her computer. Some days she'd stay late at school and use the biology lab, the microscopes and stuff.

"Linda was looking forward to doing a science fair project in the spring, a warm-up, she called it for her junior and senior years. She was determined to win one of the science fair scholarships; she said it would mean she could have her pick of schools. She talked often of going to Stanford, or maybe Columbia or Baylor.

"Last year sometimes she'd come up to me and read me symptoms from one of her medical books and say she thought she was coming down with whatever. The first couple of times we took her to our family doctor. He told me privately that this condition is known as 'First Year Med Student's Syndrome, ' because you read about symptoms, some very general and vague, and think you've got some awful disease. It would never last for more than a few days; she seems..."

He stopped, his face frozen in pain. "Sometimes I think she's still alive. That I'll walk in here and Linda will be sitting at her desk, reading or typing on her computer." He took a deep breath; there were tears in his eyes.

He stared at Lydia, his face haunted. "God, I want the son of a bitch who did this to her dead! I want it more than anything I've ever wanted in my life! I don't care what it costs, what it takes! I want the son of a bitch dead!" His voice didn't rise during his diatribe; staying low and, Lydia thought, deadly.

He was silent for a second, composing himself. "This year she didn't have any symptoms; so I guess the doctor was right."

Lydia swallowed hard after the burst of raw emotion. "Mr. Wallace, if our investigation should lead to a possible suspect, we will communicate that information to the police. All we can do is tell them why we think the person is suspect and offer any evidence we might have collected. What happens then is out of our hands."

"I think I can promise they will take any leads you and Mr. Waller develop seriously."

Lydia shook her head. "Mr. Wallace, Denny is not likely to be working on this case; as I said earlier, he is otherwise occupied. I am a full partner in the firm, Mr. Wallace. Yes, I was brought in because of my expertise with computers and white-collar crime. Denny thinks and I agree, that white-collar criminals are a nicer class of criminal, safer to chase, and more importantly, the people who employ us to chase them down are a nicer class of people." She was rambling, but that seemed to settle his fears down, even so. At least she hadn't gotten to the part about how people like him were more willing to pay good fees.

He shook his head, bemused at her candor. "I look at you and can hardly believe you are who you say you are. Then I listen and you sound just like the policemen who were here."

"How is your wife?" Lydia asked abruptly.

He looked like he was going to cry again, chewing his lip. "Gretchen always wanted a daughter; Linda was the apple of her eye, a significant part of her life. After Linda was born though, my wife was tired of having monthly problems; in fairness, all of the women in her family, including Linda, have problems in that respect. Gretchen had a hysterectomy when Linda was four. She's seeing a therapist; I don't know -- the pain is so awful."

"For whatever it is worth, Mr. Wallace," Lydia told him, "Nine months ago my mother drove my father to work, just like she'd done a couple of times a week for twenty years. One second they were both alive, the next second they were both dead. We can never go back, Mr. Wallace, to what we once had, the only direction open to us is forward. But just because there is only one way to go, doesn't make it any easier."

He stared at Lydia for a moment, blinked then said in a low voice, "What else can I tell you?"

"A list of anyone your daughter ever had a friendly or unkind word for, for any reason. A note from you so that I can talk to the people at your church, her doctor, her school." She waved at the computer. "I'd like to look at her computer and read her school papers."

"Whatever it will take to catch the son of a bitch that did this to her." His voice was level, but full of emotion nonetheless.

"Why don't you start writing a list of names, and the notes while I check out the computer."

"The police took all the disk things."

Lydia blinked and looked at him. "Is that what they told you?" He nodded. Lydia reached for an overlarge Rubic's Cube on the desk and slid it towards her and flipped up the top. Inside were diskettes, tightly packed. "Just for my own amusement, Mr. Wallace, what was the name of the detective supervising the search?"

He shrugged, "He told me his name, but I don't remember." He spread his hands, "He was a very tall man, very skinny. Bald."

"Sergeant Gnarley," Lydia said with a grin.

"No, it was Garley, I think," Mr. Wallace corrected her, trying to be helpful.

"I suspect his mother called him Gnarley, too." Reed had told her once that if you ever committed the perfect crime, you would have made sure that Garley would be on the case.

Lydia was flipping through the diskettes, they were neatly labeled by subject and school year. For seventh and eighth grade, there were quite a few. Far fewer for high school, and none dated past November of last year. There were also a dozen floppies with only numbers that didn't make any apparent sense.

"Mr. Wallace, later, when you have time, would you be so good as to call Sergeant Reed's office and leave a message saying that additional diskettes of Linda's were found and that I've taken them. He can send someone over to pick them up whenever it is convenient."

The father nodded, absently, his eyes running around the room. Remembering, Lydia thought.

"If it is all right with you, of course, Mr. Wallace." Lydia added smoothly.

He shrugged, unconcerned.

Lydia continued to look at Linda Wallace's desk with interest. So Denny and Reed were right; Garley couldn't find his -- nose -- with either hand. She'd read the inventory of diskettes they'd picked up; they were all master diskettes for various programs. These were school work; except Linda Wallace had stopped doing much after November of last year, at least on this computer. Maybe the high school had one? There'd been an inventory of items taken from her school locker, too. No diskettes. Curious. And then there were the mystery floppies. Maybe she'd started a new system, but hadn't converted the old data? That was common enough practice, even among computer professionals!

"Doctor Kendall will see you now," the receptionist was snooty, obviously not wanting Lydia to waste the doctor's time. Lydia showed the doctor her PI badge and handed him the letter from Ian Wallace. He was older, in his early sixties, sparse gray hair, thin and tall. His eyes, though, looked at her intelligently. Highly curious eyes.

He grimaced. "Linda Wallace. An awful, unbelievable tragedy. Ian called me earlier to tell me you'd be coming. He was forthright about my telling you anything I know. I don't think I know anything that can help, though."

"Doctor Kendall, how many times have you seen Linda Wallace in the last eighteen months? Since she started high school?"

He lifted a folder from his desk. "These are Linda's medical records. Ian told me to let you take them; I made you a copy." He shook his head sadly. "Linda was a healthy young woman, although when she first became interested in medicine, she was slightly prone to ego-centricizing symptoms. She was bright, quick and intelligent. Except for severe cramps the first day or so of her monthly cycle, she was as healthy as an ox.

"I saw her several times last school year for a variety of problems. There was nothing really wrong with her, just too much reading and not enough experience. She was a good student. She had the symptoms down pat for all sorts of things; my roommate at med school was like that. A different disease or condition every week."

"Did Linda ever ask you about drugs? Did you do any blood tests in the last year, year and a half?"

"She asked some questions about pharmacopoeia, but nothing about controlled substances. It was just about treatments for this and that. The first couple of times she came to see me, I did blood work. If she was using anything then, most likely we'd have seen it. I haven't seen her since last fall."

"Was she on birth control pills or any other prescribed medication?"

The doctor shrugged. "When she reached menarche, I referred her to Rachael Newman, an OB-GYN here in the medical center. Linda's periods were pretty rough, particularly in a young and sensitive girl; she was in fifth grade when they started. I never had any but the most cursory dealings with Linda on the subject. She was very uncomfortable being examined, even though her mother and one of my nurses were always in the room. She was a very shy, a very private young woman."

He saw Lydia's expression and hastened to add, "I've known Gretchen Wallace since she was a teenager; to say that she is a protective mother is a gross understatement. I never examined Linda alone, even when Linda was a baby."

"You said Doctor Newman is in the building?"

He nodded, "Like me, she's a doctor of the old guard."

"Doctor Kendall, did the police talk to you?" Lydia asked.

He sniffed. "A detective Garley called; he asked if I'd known that Linda was taking drugs. I told him, I certainly knew no such thing. He thanked me and that was all."

Lydia walked into the hallway and down to the elevator where there was a directory. She punched the proper floor and the ancient machine lifted her up to the right floor, creaking and groaning.

Doctor Newman was a sprightly grandmotherly woman, bright and quick. With a pang Lydia realized that but for the grace of God, Linda Wallace might have looked like this in another half century. "Miss Hernandez." The doctor extended her hand and Lydia shook it. "Gerry Kendall called me to tell me that you were coming."

"Doctor." Lydia sat down. She was never going to be at ease in a doctor's office, no matter what; particularly this kind of doctor.

"Gerry said you are looking into Linda Wallace's death."

"Yes, ma'am."

The doctor made a gesture with her hand, "I feel old enough as it is; call me Rachael, for God's sake, like everyone else!"

"Yes, ma'am. Rachael." Lydia shook her head; exasperated. You shouldn't let personal prejudices mess with your judgment.

The doctor smiled, understanding and said quietly, "I'll just cut to the quick. You're going to ask what I know about Linda Wallace. No, I never treated her for drugs or anything like that. I hate them! What they do to people, particularly young people, is so evil as to be unspeakable!"

Lydia shrugged, uncomfortable with the doctor's anger.

"Then you'd ask me about Linda's personal life." The doctor stopped and took a deep breath.

"When her mother first brought her in, the poor dear was in agony from menstrual cramping. Not many women experience the degree of discomfort as Linda or her mother, but there are some. I recommended after the first examination that Linda take what are commonly called birth control pills, which frequently serve to relieve the worst of such symptoms. Her mother was adamantly opposed, adamantly, no matter how much relief they might offer for her daughter's symptoms."

The doctor sighed. "Linda had a number of embarrassing accidents, as well as the discomfort, in her first few periods. She adapted by simply staying home the day her cycle was due to commence; she was reasonably regular and that sufficed.

"Last year, just before the Thanksgiving holidays, Linda came to me on her own. She said she'd talked to someone who also had bad cramps and who was using the pill to make them bearable. She wanted to know if I would prescribe them for her." The doctor lifted her eyes up to Lydia. "I wouldn't let a dog suffer like that -- of course I did! And yes, I knew that her mother wouldn't approve. It's a judgment call, but that's what I do as a physician.

"Six weeks later I had her in for a follow-up exam, to make sure there were no problems. Linda was no longer a virgin. I spoke to her about the risks involved, pills or not. She listened carefully and told me that it had been a spur-of-the-moment thing and probably would never happen again."

Doctor Newman looked at Lydia steadily. "She did not behave like someone who'd been assaulted, so I didn't press the matter. Preaching to a teenager is certain to make you ignored as a matter of principle. I let it go."

"Did she give any indication who she'd slept with?" Lydia asked.

Doctor Newman shook her head. "None whatsoever. She wasn't pregnant, nor did I feel she was at risk. Linda was bright, intelligent, mature young woman and on the pill. I talked to her about a few other things a woman can do to prevent problems, both personal as well as physical. After that visit I didn't see her again. The few times I spoke to her was concerning renewing her prescription. Routine questions and that was that. She was on my list of people that should come in this spring for a routine exam."

"Did the police talk to you, Doctor Newman?"

She shook her head and Lydia handed her a card. "If you think of anything else that might be germane, I'd like to hear from you."

The doctor took the card, and stared at Lydia for a moment. "Linda was a lot like you, Miss Hernandez. Reluctant in the extreme to be the object of a doctor's scrutiny, for all that she wanted to be one herself. Curious and fascinated about how the body works, embarrassed by how her own functioned."

Lydia made a wry face. "I am not embarrassed about how my body functions. At least, not as much as I used to be." She bit her lip, knowing she'd said too much.

Doctor Newman laughed; Lydia suddenly grinned and laughed too. "I'm not taking new patients, Miss Hernandez, relax."

"Maybe someday," Lydia muttered under her breath and the older woman simply smiled knowingly.

"Mrs. Samuels will see you." Lydia tried to ignore the way the school secretary treated her. It was akin to what Lydia imagined how a leper would be treated at a beauty pageant. What was it with secretaries?

The principal was an elderly black woman, thinner even than Lydia, gray-haired and looking like she'd swallowed the known universe of sour pickles. "Miss Hernandez," the woman's voice was brusque and stiltedly formal as she shook Lydia's hand. "I'm afraid that we are not going to be able to help you with your inquiries."

Lydia stood in front of the woman's desk. She'd never been in this position herself during school, but it had been described often enough in her hearing to make her uneasy. "Why is that?"

"This is a place of work; we expect it of our teachers, as well as our students. If you wish to carry out inquiries about an untimely death, it will have to be elsewhere; not here, not during school hours."

"The inquiry we are speaking of," Lydia said evenly, "is into the murder of one of your students by a person or persons unknown. I do not understand why you would be unwilling to cooperate."

"That is your hypothesis. There has been no formal determination that it was homicide. It could simply have been a self-administered drug overdose. In that case it would have been regrettable, but such accidents happen all too frequently these days."

Lydia looked at the woman for some sign she had any idea what concerned Lydia; there was none.

"Mrs. Samuels, a student from your school died of a drug overdose. That overdose was almost certainly intentionally administered by another person with the intent to kill her. I would think you would like to know more about the circumstances and the perpetrator."

"If this is a police matter, Miss Hernandez, the police need to show up with a warrant and we will cooperate fully. We cannot afford to spend time and scare our students with hysterical searches after possible murderers."

"Linda Wallace was murdered," Lydia said firmly. "Can you really afford not to know by who?"

"Supposition, guessing; worst case," the woman rattled off the litany. "I can't run a school based on those."

Lydia sighed. "You understand I will take your refusal to cooperate in the worst possible light, with the least desire to explain your position should I be asked and the news media may well do so? In any case, I will interview the parties I need to; you are simply making it more difficult. Do not expect thanks."

The woman looked at her steadily. "You're wasting both of our time, Miss Hernandez."

The Reverend Wayne Gregory shook Lydia's hand, and invited her to sit down. At least he didn't have a secretary.

"I'm sorry it's taken so long to meet with you, it's been a busy week," the pastor told her. "Three weddings, two funerals and six births."

"I am investigating the death of Linda Wallace. Do you remember her?"

The man nodded. "She was young, full of life; it's hard to imagine her dead. But, to be blunt, she wasn't a very Godly person. We are evangelical Christians in this congregation. Miss Wallace turned her back on her God and on her savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. I'm not surprised she died the way she did."

Lydia tried not to show her curiosity. "What do you mean?"

"She had been an active member of our youth fellowship, but she was always telling the others about the false beliefs she held about evolution and science. I counseled her about them, but she was steadfast in her opposition. She was quite steadfast in those beliefs. It was obvious the hand of Satan was upon her. Her fate was preordained."

Lydia started. "The hand of Satan?"

"Yes. Miss Wallace accepted such things as Darwinism and the evolution of species. I am not a monkey's uncle, Miss Hernandez -- neither are you. She wanted to be a scientist, she wanted to spread those lies. I asked her to leave the congregation. It was obvious she was one of Satan's handmaidens."

Lydia leaned forward, unsure if she was curious or horrified. "Did you ask her parents to leave as well? Did you mention expelling Linda from the congregation to them?"

The minister looked confused. "Her parents are Godly people, they tithe to Our Lord, as they should. Their daughter was the one lost from the One True Faith."

"The last time you saw Linda Wallace?" Lydia asked again.

"Quite some time ago, more than a year I believe. She had just started high school and her biology teacher was teaching her the heresy about evolution. She became impossible after that."

"Mister Crane?" Lydia asked the man as he sat down. The man accompanying the biology teacher had been unexpected; reminding Lydia of the disapproving secretaries. Even if he was not at all like a secretary.

The teacher grimaced, sitting down most gingerly. As if he suffered from hemorrhoids.

"I am here under protest," Linda Wallace's biology teacher said formally. He was in his late twenties, Lydia thought, a little prissy. He was rather handsome, but the look on his face was more that of a fanatic. Oh, and he blow-dried his hair, which was always a strike against, in Lydia's estimation of men.

"I understand, Mr. Crane. Except of course, for the threat of a formal discovery proceeding. Please, this is not meant to be an adversarial forum, I am seeking information about Linda Wallace, so that we might understand how she came to die the way she did."

The biology teacher tossed a glance at the man sitting a few feet away. "I've brought my union representative."

Lydia smiled pleasantly. "This isn't a labor dispute, Mr. Crane. Still, I am interested in making you as comfortable as possible. Please, it isn't my intention to harass or intimidate you; I'm just looking into Linda Wallace's death. I am interested in anything you might know about her."

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