All that remains, p.11
All That Remains,
Turning off Constitution, I finally found Connecticut, which eventually led me to a northwest section of the city that I suspected would have been little better than a slum were it not for the Washington Hilton. Rising from a grassy slope that covered a city block, the hotel was a magnificent white luxury liner surrounded by a troubled sea of dusty liquor stores, laundromats, a nightclub featuring "live dancers," and dilapidated row houses with broken windows boarded up and cement front stoops almost on the street. Leaving my car in the hotel's underground parking deck, I crossed Florida Avenue and climbed the front steps of a dingy tan brick apartment building with a faded blue awning in front. I pressed the button for Apartment 28, where Abby Turnbull lived.
"Who is it?"
I barely recognized the disembodied voice blaring out of the intercom. When I announced myself, I wasn't sure what Abby muttered, or maybe she simply gasped. The electronic lock clicked open.
I stepped inside a dimly lit landing with soiled tan carpet on the floor and a bank of tarnished brass mailboxes on a wall paneled in Masonite. I remembered Abby's fear about someone tampering with her mail. It certainly did not appear that one could easily get past the apartment building's front door without a key. The mailboxes required keys as well. Everything she had said to me in Richmond last fall rang false. By the time I climbed the five flights to her floor, I was out of breath and angry.
Abby was standing in her doorway.
"What are you doing here?"
she whispered, her face ashen.
"You're the only person I know in this building. So what do you think I'm doing here?"
"You didn't come to Washington just to see me."
Her eyes were frightened.
"I was here on business."
Through her open doorway I could see arctic white furniture, pastel throw pillows, and abstract monotype Gregg Carbo prints, furnishings I recognized from her former house in Richmond. For an instant I was unsettled by images from that terrible day. I envisioned her sister's decomposing body on the bed upstairs, police and paramedics moving about as Abby sat on a couch, her hands trembling so violently she could barely hold a cigarette. I did not know her then except by reputation, and I had not liked her at all. When her sister was murdered, Abby at least had gotten my sympathy. It wasn't until later that she had earned my trust.
"I know you won't believe me," Abby said in the same hushed tone, "but I was going to come see you next week."
"I have a phone."
"I couldn't," she pleaded, and we were having this conversation in the hall.
"Are you going to ask me in, Abby?"
She shook her head.
Fear tingled up my spine.
Glancing past her, I asked quietly, "Is someone in there?"
"Let's walk," she whispered.
"Abby, for God's sake . . ."
She stared hard at me and raised a finger to her lips.
I was convinced she was losing her mind. Not knowing what else to do, I waited in the hall as she went inside to get her coat. Then I followed her out of the building, and for the better part of half an hour we walked briskly along Connecticut Avenue, neither of us speaking. She led me into the Mayflower Hotel and found a table in the darkest comer of the bar. Ordering espresso, I leaned back in the leather chair and regarded her tensely across the polished table.
"I know you don't understand what's going on," she began, glancing around. At this early hour in the afternoon, the bar was almost empty.
"Abby! Are you all right?"
Her lower lip trembled. "I couldn't call you. I can't even talk to you inside my own fucking apartment! It's like I told you in Richmond, only a thousand times worse."
"You need to see someone," I said very calmly.
"I'm not crazy."
"You're an inch away from being completely unglued."
Taking a deep breath, she met my eyes fiercely. "Kay, I'm being followed. I'm positive my phone is being tapped, and I can't even be sure there aren't listening devices planted inside my place - which is why I couldn't ask you in. There, go ahead. Conclude that I'm paranoid, psychotic, whatever you want to think. But I live in my world and you don't. I know what I've been going through. I know what I know about these cases and what's been happening ever since I got involved in them."
"What, exactly, has been happening?"
The waitress returned with our order. After she left, Abby said, "Less than a week after I'd been in Richmond talking to you, my apartment was broken into."
"You were burglarized?"
Her laugh was hollow. "Not hardly. The person - or persons were much too clever for that. Nothing was stolen."
I looked quizzically at her.
"I have a computer at home for my writing, and on the hard disk is a file about these couples, their strange deaths. I've been keeping notes for a long time, writing them into this file. The word processing package I use has an option that automatically backs up what you're working on, and I have it set to do this every ten minutes. You know, to make sure I don't lose anything should the power go out or something. Especially in my building - "
"Abby," I interrupted. "What in God's name are you talking about?"
"What I'm saying is that if you go into a file on my computer, if you're in there for ten minutes or more, not only is a backup created, but when you save the file, the date and time are recorded. Are you following me?"
"I'm not sure."
I reached for my espresso.
"You remember when I came to see you?"
"I took notes when I talked to the clerk at the Seven-Eleven."
"Yes. I remember."
"And I talked to a number of other people, including Pat Harvey. I intended to put the notes from these interviews into the computer after I got home. But things went haywire. As you recall, I saw you on a Tuesday night and drove back here the next morning. Well, that day, Wednesday, I talked to my editor around noon, and he was suddenly uninterested, said he wanted to hold off on the Harvey-Cheney story because the paper was going to run a series over the weekend about AIDS.
"It was strange," she went on. "The Harvey-Cheney story was hot, the Post was in one big hurry for it. Then I return from Richmond and suddenly have a new assignment?"
She paused to light a cigarette. "As it turned out, I didn't have a free moment until Saturday, which was when I finally sat down in front of my computer to pull up this file, and there was a date and time listed after it that I didn't understand. Friday, September twentieth, two-thirteen in the afternoon when I wasn't even home. The file had been opened, Kay. Someone went into it, and I know it wasn't me because I didn't touch my computer - not even once - until that Saturday, the twenty-first, when I had some free time."
"Perhaps the clock in your computer was off...."
She was already shaking her head. "It wasn't. I checked."
"How could anybody do that?"
I asked. "How could someone break into your apartment without anyone seeing them, without your knowing?"
"The FBI could."
"Abby," I said, exasperated.
"There's a lot you don't know."
"Then fill me in, please," I said.
"Why do you think I took a leave of absence from the Post?"
"According to the New York Times, you're writing a book."
"And you're assuming I already knew I was going to write this book when I was with you in Richmond."
"It's more than an assumption," I said, feeling angry again.
"I wasn't. I swear."
Leaning forward, she added in a voice trembling with emotion, "My beat was changed. Do you understand what that means?"
I was speechless.
"The only thing worse would have been to be fired, but they couldn't do that. There was no cause. Jesus Christ, I won an investigative reporting award last year, and all of a sudden they want to switch me over to features. Do you hear me? Features. Now, you tell me what
"I don't know, Abby."
"I don't know, either."
She blinked back tears. "But I have myself-respect. I know there's something big going on, a story. And I sold it. There. Think what you want, but I'm trying to survive. I have to live and I had to get away from the paper for a while. Features. Oh, God. Kay, I'm so scared."
"Tell me about the FBI," I said firmly.
"I've already told you a lot. About the wrong turn I took, about ending up at Camp Peary, and the FBI agents coming to see me."
"That's not enough."
"The jack of hearts, Kay," she said as if she were telling me something I already knew.
When it dawned on her that I had no idea what she was talking about, her expression changed to astonishment.
"You don't know?" she asked.
"What jack of hearts?"
"In each of these cases, a playing card has been found."
Her incredulous eyes were fixed on mine.
I vaguely remembered something from one of the few transcripts of police interviews I had seen. The detective' from Gloucester had talked to a friend of Bruce Phillips and Judy Roberts, the first couple. What was it the detective had asked? I recalled it had struck me as rather peculiar. Cards. Did Judy and Bruce ever play cards? Had the friend ever seen any cards inside Bruce's, Camaro? "Tell me about the cards, Abby," I said.
"Are you familiar with the ace of spades, with how it was used in Vietnam?"
I told her I wasn't.
"When a particular outfit of American soldiers wanted to make a point after making a kill, they would leave an ace of spades on the body. In fact, a company that manufactures playing cards supplied this unit with boxes of the cards just for this purpose."
"What does this have to do with Virginia?" I asked, baffled.
"There's a parallel. Only we're not talking about an ace of spades, but a jack of hearts. In each of the first four cases, a jack of hearts was found in the abandoned car."
"Where did you get this information?"
"You know I can't tell you that, Kay. But we're talking about more than one source. That's why I'm so sure of it."
"And did one of your sources also tell you that a jack of hearts was found in Deborah Harvey's Jeep?"
"Was one found?"
She idly stirred her drink.
"Don't toy with me," I warned.
She met my eyes. "If a jack of hearts was found inside her Jeep or anywhere else, I don't know about it. Obviously, it's an important detail because it would definitely link Deborah Harvey's and Fred Cheney's deaths with those of the first four couples. Believe me, I'm looking hard for that link. I'm not sure it's there. Or if it is, what it means."
"What does this have to do with the FBI?"
I asked reluctantly, for I was not sure I wanted to hear her reply.
"They've been preoccupied with these cases almost from the start, Kay. And it goes way beyond VICAP's usual participation. The FBI's known about the cards for a long time. When a jack of hearts was found inside the first couple's Camaro - on the dash - no one paid much attention. Then the second couple disappeared, and there was another card, this one on the passenger seat. When Benton Wesley found out, he immediately started controlling things. He went back to the detective in Gloucester County and told him not to say a word about the jack of hearts found inside the Camaro. He told the investigator in the second case the same thing. Each time another abandoned car turned up, Wesley was on the phone with that investigator."
She paused, studying me as if trying to read my thoughts. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised you didn't know," she added. "I don't suppose it would be that hard for the police to withhold from you what was discovered inside the cars."
"It wouldn't be hard for them to do that," I replied. "Were the cards found with the bodies, that would be another matter. I don't know how that could be kept from me."
Even as I heard myself say the words, doubt whispered in the back of my mind. The police had waited hours before calling me to the scene. By the time I got there, Wesley had arrived, and Deborah Harvey's and Fred Cheney's bodies had been tampered with, searched for personal effects.
"I would expect the FBI to keep quiet about this," I continued to reason. "The detail could be critical to the investigation."
"I'm so sick of hearing shit like that," Abby said angrily. "The detail about the killer leaving a calling card, so to speak, is critical to the investigation only if the guy comes forward and confesses, says he left a card in each couple's car when there's no way for him to know about that unless he really did it. I don't think that's going to happen. And I don't think the FBI is sitting on this thing just because they want to make sure nothing screws up the investigation."
I asked uneasily.
"Because we're not just talking about serial murders. We're not just talking about some fruitcake out there who's got a thing about couples. This thing's political. It's got to be."
Falling silent, she caught the waitress's eye. Abby did not say another word until a second round of drinks was placed on our table and she had taken several sips.
"Kay," she continued, and she was calmer, "does it surprise you that Pat Harvey talked to me when I was in Richmond?"
"Have you given any thought as to why she agreed to it?"
"I suppose she would have done anything to bring her daughter back," I said. "And sometimes publicity can help."
Abby shook her head. "When I talked to Pat Harvey, she told me a lot of things that I would never have put in the paper. And it's not the first encounter I'd had with her, not by a long shot."
"I don't understand."
I was feeling shaky, and it was due to more than the espresso.
"You know about her crusade against illegal charities."
"Vaguely," I replied.
"The tip that alerted her about all that originally came from me."
"Last year I began work on a big investigative piece about drug trafficking. As I was going along, I began to uncover a lot of things I couldn't verify, and this is where the fraudulent charities come in. Pat Harvey has an apartment here, at the Watergate, and one evening I went there to interview her, to get a couple quotes for my story. We got to talking. I ended up telling her about the allegations I'd heard to see if she could corroborate any of them. That's how it began."
"What allegations, exactly?"
"About ACTMAD, for example," Abby said. "Allegations that some of these antidrug charities are really fronts for drug cartels and other illegal activities in Central America. I told her I'd been informed by what I considered to be reliable sources that millions of dollars donated each year were ending up in the pockets of people like Manuel Noriega. Of course, this was before Noriega was arrested. But it's believed that funds from ACTMAD and other so-called charities are being used to buy intelligence from U.S. agents and facilitate the heroin trade through Panamanian airports, customs offices, in the Far East and the America's.
"And Pat Harvey, prior to your coming to her apartment, had heard nothing about this?"
"No, Kay. I don't think she had a clue, but she was outraged. She started investigating, and then finally went before Congress with a report. A special subcommittee was formed to investigate, and she was invited to serve as a consultant, as you probably know. Apparently, she's uncovered a great deal and a hearing has been set for this April. Some people aren't happy about it, including the justice Department."
I was beginning to see where this was going.
"There are informants involved," Abby went on, "that the DEA, FBI, and CIA have been after for years. And you know how it works. When Congress gets involved, they have the power to offer special immunity in exchange for information. Once these informants testify in this congressional hearing, the game's over. No way the Justice Department will be able to prosecute."
"Meaning that the Justice Department would be secretly thrilled if her entire investigation fell apart."
"The National Drug Policy Director, or Drug Czar," I said, "is subservient to the Attorney General, who commands the FBI and DEA. If Mrs. Harvey is having a conflict of interests with the Justice Department, why doesn't the AG reign her in?"
"Because it's not the AG she's having a problem with, Kay. What she's doing is going to make him look good, make the White House look good. Their Drug Czar is making a dent in drug crimes. What your average citizen won't understand is that as far as the FBI and DEA are concerned, the consequences of this congressional hearing aren't great enough. All that will occur is a full disclosure, the names of these charities and the truth about what they've been doing. The publicity will put groups like ACTMAD out of business, but the scumbags involved will suffer nothing more than a slap on the wrist. The agents working the cases end up with an empty bag because nobody gets put away. Bad people don't stop doing bad things. It's like closing down a nip joint. Two weeks later, it's reopened on another corner."
All That Remains by Patricia Cornwell / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes