It took all of ten seconds for him to realize that not only must the moon be full, but the planets must all be aligned as well.
Lee looked up from his printout as he felt a hand descend on his shoulder. "Morning, Billy," he began briskly, swiveling his chair to face the section chief.
"I need to talk to you, now," Billy ordered in an undertone, turning back to his office without waiting to see if the agent would follow.
Lee rolled his eyes at the peremptory command, but stood and straightened his tie as he crossed the bustling bullpen. His brows drew together in a slight frown as he noticed that Billy had drawn the blinds. He opened the door without knocking and moved to stand in front of the desk, casually shoving both hands in his pockets.
Billy sat for a moment, his hands toying with a file, trying to find a way to ease into a conversation that was sure to be unpleasant. "Lee, have a seat," he said gently, looking up at the agent briefly before dropping his eyes again.
Taken aback by Billy's uncustomary reticence, Lee slowly pulled his hands from his pockets and sat down, hands dangling between spread knees. "What? Why all the cloak and dagger, Billy?" he questioned, concerned when his supervisor wouldn't meet his eyes. Lee could see him fighting an internal battle, and his concern rapidly escalated to something approaching fear.
Billy drew a deep breath and closed his eyes momentarily, finally picking up a report and reluctantly pushing it across the desk toward Lee. "There is no easy way to tell you this," he said gruffly. "This was on my desk when I got here this morning."
Warily keeping his gaze on Billy, Lee reached to take the folder, trying to determine the contents by the expression on his friend's face. He glanced down and saw the neatly typed name on the tab. A rueful half-smile passed fleetingly across his lips as he realized that this had to do with Amanda. His anxiety ebbed somewhat as he wondered what she could have gotten into this time.
He opened the file and glanced over the familiar police report form, at first not registering the information the page held. Suddenly his eyes jumped back to the name at the top and the damning words "apparent suicide" printed next to it. Stricken, his gaze shot to Billy, and he saw confirmation in every line of the man's face. "Amanda?"
Lee sat in the passenger seat of the Agency car, staring vacantly out of the window. He felt enervated, unable to think coherently. He vainly tried to swallow a stubborn lump in his throat, but his mouth was parched; all the moisture seemed to have been diverted to the back of his eyes, where it stung like salt on an open wound. He cleared his throat and speared a sidelong glance at Billy, needing to talk, but not knowing what to say. He felt disconcertingly like a small boy, unable to come to grips with this twist of fate, and he had no words to explain the disturbingly familiar feeling. Billy was driving with his usual intense concentration, wending in and out of the busy morning traffic on the way to the morgue. The silence in the car was deafening, and after a brief inner struggle, Lee slumped back into his seat, returning his gaze to the window.
Billy pulled into the morgue parking lot, carefully negotiated the car into the only available space, and killed the engine. Lee felt the weight of Billy's gaze and slowly drew himself together. He shook his head slightly and abruptly got out of the car, slamming the door and resting his clenched fists on the hood. His jaw clenched as Billy faced him across the car. The sudden flood of anger swept away the constraints that had kept him mute.
"Damn it, Billy, Amanda wouldn't have committed suicide! You know that as well as I do," he seethed. "Something strange is going on here, and I don't like it."
Billy shook his head sadly and started for the door. "Lee, let's just get this over with. This isn't the time or the place."
Lee stared after him in disbelief. He slammed a fist against his thigh in helpless anger and followed, raking his fingers through his hair.
They entered the building and presented their identification to the guard at the front desk. He directed them to a room down the hall, and they were admitted to a cold, sterile area with gleaming white walls and shining metal instruments neatly arranged on gurneys throughout the room. Lee felt the hair on the back of his neck stand at attention when they were brought to a table covered with a white sheet, obviously concealing a human body beneath. He thought of the countless times he'd done this before, and realized how little his previous experiences had prepared him for this. He exchanged one last look of dread with Billy, then nodded to the examiner.
The man snapped on a pair of latex gloves, the sound echoing like gunshots in the quiet room. Carefully he pulled the sheet back from the figure's face, and Lee watched with the clench of desperate denial tightening his chest.
A bruised and battered face appeared, framed by a mass of dark brown curls. Dark eyelashes lay in crescents upon ghostly white cheeks. Lee searched the face, shock rippling through him as the woman's identity struck him, and he reeled backwards, sending a wheeled table crashing into the wall.
"Oh my God," he murmured, his hoarse voice betraying the conflicting emotions raging through him. Lee looked up at Billy, who showed similar signs of confusion. "It's not Amanda!" he whispered, hope spiraling wildly through his body.
Billy shot a stabbing glance at the technician who had accompanied them. "Where is the paperwork that this woman had on her? This is NOT Amanda King, it's a woman by the name of Sylvia Sampson." Billy bent his head and swallowed convulsively. He rubbed a trembling hand across the back of his neck and cast a defeated look up at Lee.
Though he was nearly lightheaded with relief, Lee nonetheless felt the older man's tormented struggle to exchange the image of one friend with that of another. He watched as the section chief straightened imperceptibly, drawing a mantle of professionalism over himself like a protective blanket.
Billy cleared his throat slightly and shook his head in frustration. "We've got a problem..."
Lee and Billy arrived back at the Agency in what must have been record time. Lee stopped off at the rest room on the way to Billy's office, needing solitary time to think. He stood shakily, staring at his pale reflection in the mirror above the sink. How had this happened? He could only imagine what must be going on at Amanda's house if the obituary had already been issued to the papers.
He rubbed his eyes wearily with his fingertips, trying to come to grips with the complexity of emotions that had him so off-balance. When he'd thought that Amanda was dead, he'd been filled with such despair. Everything that was right in the world was reflected in her eyes. She made him believe in what he was doing. Her absolute faith in him amazed him, and had rekindled in him the basic elements of trust. When someone believed in you so completely, it was nearly impossible not to return that faith. Her friendship had made him more than he had been, and it was a discomfiting revelation.
One last glance in the mirror assured him that he looked composed enough to go through the next phase of this debacle. Billy would be waiting, no doubt with Francine in tow, and they would work out the explanation of how Sylvia Sampson had come to have Amanda's identity.
Lee stood in Billy's office with his back to the windows, his hands deep in his pockets. He still felt drained, but more in control of himself than he had all morning. He and Billy had just briefed Francine on what had happened at the morgue, and were trying to piece together the chain of events that had led to Sylvia Sampson's death. He knew Amanda well enough to know that she would be more than a little upset at this mess, and no doubt would connect it to the Agency somehow. He wasn't looking forward to explaining how someone had ended up with her identification.
The silence that had fallen was interrupted by a knock on the door, and Amanda burst into the room, fairly bristling with irritation. Lee looked away quickly, a little surprised by the wave of relief that washed over him. Until he saw he that she was indeed alive and well, there had still been a small corner of his mind that needed the confirmation of her presence. He looked her over, a small rueful smile tilting the corners of his mouth. Not only was she alive, he thought, but she was vibrating with frustrated energy, waving a folded newspaper in their faces like a weapon.
Although he'd never admit it, he had never been so glad to see anyone in his life.