Detectives. What the hell do they want from me? That was the first question that popped in my head, but then a million more sprinted in my brain, swirling around so violently that I failed to catch even one of them.
“Ma’am?” Gibbs spoke out softly. “Is there somewhere private we can talk?”
Private. That’s not good. Oh, God.
“Yes, sorry. We can head to one of the boardrooms down the corridor there.”
My body was on autopilot as I led them over. I felt like I wasn’t really walking. It was as though my legs were carrying me and I couldn’t even feel the weight of my own frame. I pushed on the double wooden entry, confident that no one was using the large space as it had been blocked out from any bookings. One of the men closed the doors behind us.
“What’s this about?” I asked when I turned and caught their attention. “I’ve paid all my taxes. Is that why you’re here?”
It was a stupid question. Really pathetic on my part. Come on, Ella. Two detectives wouldn’t come here about my taxes, and by the somber looks on their faces, I knew I was right.
This is bad. Really bad.
Avery urged me to sit down on one of the chairs next to the mahogany 12-seater desk. “No, ma’am,” he said. “This is about your sister, Nell Parsons.”
After that everything went dark and the sounds in my ears from my erratic heart were the only thing I could hear.
The men kept talking, and I only got glimpses of things detective Gibbs said, “A passerby found her body and we need to take you to the morgue so you can identify her.”
“I’m sorry?” I questioned. “You found my sister? So, she’s okay then?”
They snuck a glance towards each other with narrowed eyes before looking at me again. Detective Avery cleared his throat. “Yes, ma’am. We found her. I’m so sorry, but I’m afraid she was killed.”
That I heard.
But I didn’t want to believe it. No, they’re wrong. It’s not Nell. It’s not my sister. I didn’t realize I had muttered those words beneath my breath while vigorously shaking my head. It was also unnerving how it felt as though my heart was pounding against my ribcage.
“We’re extremely sorry for your loss,” one of them spoke softly. I couldn’t tell which one over my sobbing. “We tried to contact you over the phone and went to your home. Your neighbor mentioned where you work.”
My eyes stung with a thousand tears gushing down my face. I tasted their bitter flavor as they ran past my lips. It was as though I was burning from the inside and crimson blood was making its way out of my body for the world to see. I was vulnerable and alone. Utterly fucking alone. My sister was gone and my father barely knew who I was.
The detectives didn’t push me. They gave me whatever time I needed to compose myself. I didn’t know how long it was that I sat down, weeping for Nell.
“Are you sure it’s her?” I finally managed to croak out. “Are you sure it’s my sister?” I glanced up at them both, praying within the depths of my heart that they were wrong. That somehow, it wasn’t my sister. I knew that meant if it wasn’t her, it would be someone else, but I just didn’t want it to be her.
“She had her I.D. on her which was how we were able to contact you as her next of kin.”
I kept my head down towards the carpeted floor and nodded. The maroon color of the threads didn’t help my nausea and neither did the uneasy stench of mold.
The drive to the morgue was quiet. I kept my focus out the window while violently running my thumb over the palm of my hand. The need to focus on something other than where we were headed and why was intense. But no matter what I did to myself, the outcome would still be the same. I was in the back of a black vehicle, escorted by two detectives on our way to identify my sister’s body.
There was still hope in me, however faint, it was still there. I desperately wanted the person to be a stranger, and not my sister whom I adored. The longer I thought about it, the quicker the flicker of hope disappeared, until there was nothing left.
“What happened to Nell?” I asked. “How did she die?”
Gibbs was in the front passenger seat. He turned to me, and it was almost like he was unsure how to respond. “We believe she was killed elsewhere other than where she was found.”
That didn’t really answer my question though.
“Okay, but how did it happen?”
“They’re still running tests,” he replied. “Ms. Parsons, are you sure you want to know?”
I didn’t want to know how she died, especially when I still couldn’t believe it was her to begin with. But I needed to know. It was going to break my heart even more, but I had to find out.
“Yes,” I replied dryly.
“She was shot,” he confessed after a few beats of silence. “Once in the head, but that was probably after she was asphyxiated. Coroner still needs to do the autopsy.” His voice trailed off lightly as though his next words would hurt me the most. “She was severely beaten and we believe she was sexually assaulted too.”
“Stop the car!” I yelled. “Please stop the car!”
Avery slammed on the breaks so fast that I almost threw up over the seat in front of me. He pulled off to the side. I unbuckled my belt and opened the passenger door, grateful that whatever had come out was on the road and not inside their pristine vehicle.
My sister was raped and abused. Taken advantage of. Nobody deserved that. The idea that someone had put their hands on her without her permission made the bile in my throat explode and there was no way to stop it even if I tried. I trembled, feeling as sick as I did the moment they told me she was dead.
Gibbs and Avery checked on me. When I felt well enough, they offered me some tissues, something to drink, then continued the drive to the one place I didn’t want to go.
Even though it was light, I could still see my reflection against the window as I peered inside. A body lay beneath a thin sheet and a man stood beside the table waiting for my go-ahead. He had on a white coat and gloves, so I assumed he was the coroner. From the moment I gave him permission, I knew it meant that everything was real. That it was my sister and she was dead. So, I waited for as long as I could, until I felt Gibbs’ hand resting on my shoulder.
“Ma’am,” he said. “Are you ready?”
Ready? How could I ever be ready for this? How could anyone be ready? I shook my head, pleading for him to give me a little more time because I needed it.
I felt the sweat trickle down my forehead and my hands were clammy. My heavy breaths were the only thing I seemed to concentrate on. A blinding spotlight on my anxiety and grievance which I knew would worsen the moment the man pulled the sheet back.
And I was right. When I finally nodded giving him the okay, that’s exactly what happened. Tears flooded my eyes and mixed with my own sweat when they evaded.
The woman who lay on that table had pale skin. No color in her cheeks. If her eyes were open they would have been void of life. Her hair was matted as though it hadn’t had a brush run through it in weeks, but in truth, it was only one night. The body was bruised, and a few cuts were visible on her face. I wondered momentarily how they got there. She appeared different. Really different. But it was her. That was my baby sister, Nell.
As soon as my knees buckled beneath me, Gibbs and Avery held me up to stop me from collapsing to the ground. They helped me to a chair in the hallway and I sat down with a shivering body.
“It’s her,” I wept. “That’s Nell.”
I gave them what they needed. Confirmation that she was my sister, one of my favorite people in the entire fucking world, and she was dead.
And I wanted to die along with her.