Home > Boundary Lines (Boundary Magic #2)(15)

Boundary Lines (Boundary Magic #2)(15)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

When I had untangled that particular phrase in my mind, I asked, “And unofficially?”

“I’ve spent most of my career trying to understand Old World systemics,” he explained with a little shrug. “Why we evolved the way we did. But the police don’t need to know that, obviously.”

“Got it.”

I knew the way to the massive, concrete-and-glass Public Safety building that housed the police department in Boulder—not because of my arrests, after which I was sent straight to the county jail, but because I stopped by every now and then to bring Elise some lunch or shoot with her in the basement firing range. The range wasn’t technically open to civilians, but sometimes Elise talked them into letting her ex-military cousin help her train for the firearms qualification.

When we arrived I parked in the small visitors’ lot in front of the main doors and showed Simon to the marble-floored lobby, where the receptionist called Elise for us. My cousin rushed through the security door a moment later, dressed in her street clothes: slim-fitting dark khakis and a lavender button-down. Her shift must have ended at six, which meant she was here on her own time now. Stifling a yawn, I made the introductions, and Elise shook Simon’s hand with enthusiasm. “Thank you so much for coming, Dr. Pellar.”

Simon shook back, subtly cocking an eyebrow at me to say See, she treats me with respect. I tried not to chortle. Teacher or not, it was too weird to think of Simon as a doctor of anything. He was only a couple of years older than me.

Elise used her ID card to swipe us through the security doors and led us down a long, narrow corridor. I looked around with interest. Though I’d been downstairs to the shooting range and upstairs to the dining area, I hadn’t spent much time on the ground floor. I had to admit, I didn’t hate the decor: some brave and optimistic interior designer had dared to pair the usual institutional beige with accent walls of a gorgeous deep teal. The hallway was lined with photos of cops: men and women who’d earned medals or other accolades, or who’d been killed in the line of duty. I wanted to stop and read some of the placards, but Elise was hurrying us along at a pace Simon could barely match.

We turned a few corners, enough for me to know I’d need help to find my way back out again, when I began to notice the smell, like vomit that had been left out in the sun for days. The deeper we got into the building, the worse it was. “What is that?” I asked Elise. “Did something die in the ventilation system?”

She smiled wryly. “I wish.”

Finally we turned one last corner and entered a small room dominated by an enormous table. A teeny cubicle office was attached, and Elise poked her head in. “Natalie? The expert’s here.”

There was a mumble, and then the sound of chair wheels squeaking. Elise backed up to make way for a Caucasian woman of around forty, with a cropped haircut and smile lines in her golden tan. I had been expecting a lab coat, like in the movies, but she was dressed in neat charcoal trousers and a boatneck sweater that flattered her figure. “This is our criminologist, Dr. Natalie Lafferty,” Elise introduced. “Natalie, this is Dr. Simon Pellar, and my cousin Lex, who’s sort of serving as his assistant today.”

That was a nice way of putting it. “It’s nice to meet you,” she said, her words turning into a giant yawn. “Sorry, haven’t had my coffee yet.”

“Right there with you,” I muttered.

“Where is the object?” Simon asked, ignoring me.

The woman gestured at the table. “Ordinarily I’d have it out already, but under the circumstances we didn’t want to stink up the building more than we absolutely have to.” She gave us a wry smile. “I did try to pawn it off on the CBI—that’s the Colorado Bureau of Investigation—but they won’t accept it until we take it apart. And Elise here”—she glanced at my cousin with a faint smile—“insisted that we couldn’t do that without a biologist present.”

I realized that Elise was very pointedly not looking at me. Wait a minute . . . was she blushing? I hadn’t even known she could blush, but there was definitely a little chemistry going on between her and the criminologist, no pun intended. I worked to keep the grin off my face.

Then Dr. Lafferty took a deep breath and stepped toward a closed door. “Breathe through your mouth,” she advised. She opened the cupboard, and I forgot all about teasing Elise.

The smell hit us like a concussion wave, violent and foul and revolting. Elise had already experienced the stench, so she just locked her fingers around her nose without comment. Simon gagged and covered his mouth and nose with both hands, but I got that sense that this was less to keep the smell out and more to keep his stomach contents in. I had smelled worse in Iraq and managed to keep my hurried breakfast down, but my eyes were watering. “Yeah,” said Lafferty, as though the word explained everything. “There’s that.”

She turned around, struggling under the weight of a metal tray, and we finally got a good look at the bundle. “Whoa,” Simon breathed. It looked like a number of wet objects had been compressed together into a brown, lumpy sphere, then covered in some kind of translucent liquid. It was much larger than I’d imagined, like someone had taken one of those big stuffed medicine balls and dipped it in snot.

“The hiker smelled it first,” Elise explained, her plugged nose subduing the words. “She thought maybe something had died near the trail, went to look.”

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