All that remains, p.28
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       All That Remains, p.28
 

           Patricia Cornwell

  Our conversation at the Mayflower came back to me.

  When Abby had talked about someone breaking into her computer and had gone on to accuse the FBI or CIA, I had been skeptical. Would an experienced agent open a word processing file and not realize that the time and date might be changed? Not likely.

  "Cliff Ring went into your computer?"

  "I can't prove it, but I know he did," Abby said. "I can't prove he's been going through my mail, but I know he has. It's no big deal to steam open a letter, reseal it, and then place it back in the box. Not if you've made a copy of the mailbox key."

  "Were you aware he was writing the story?"

  "Of course not. I didn't know a damn thing about it until I opened the Sunday paper! He'd let himself into my apartment when he knew I wouldn't be there. He was going through my computer, anything he could find. Then he followed up by calling people, getting quotes and information, which was pretty easy, since he knew exactly where to look and what he was looking for."

  "Easy because you had been relieved of your police beat. When you thought the Post had backed off from the story, what your editors had really backed away from was you."

  Abby nodded angrily. "The story was passed into what they viewed as more reliable hands. Clifford Ring's hands," she said.

  I realized why Clifford Ring had made no effort to contact me. He would know that Abby and I were friends. Had he asked me for details about the cases, I might have said something to Abby, and he had wanted to keep Abby in the dark about what he was doing for as long as possible. So Ring had avoided me, gone around me.

  "I'm sure he..." Abby cleared her throat and reached for her drink. Her hand shook. "He can be very convincing. He'll probably win a prize. For the series."

  "I'm sorry, Abby."

  "It's nobody's fault but my own. I was stupid."

  "We take risks when we allow ourselves to love - "

  "I'll never take a risk like that again," she cut me off. "It was always a problem with him, one problem after another. I was always the one making concessions, giving him a second chance, then a third and a fourth."

  "Did the people you work with know about you and Cliff?

  "We were careful." She got evasive.

  "Why?"

  "The newsroom is a very incestuous, gossipy place."

  "Certainly your colleagues must have seen the two of you together."

  "We were very careful," she repeated.

  "People must have sensed something between you. Tension, if nothing else."

  "Competition. Guarding my turf. That's what he would say if asked."

  And jealousy, I thought. Abby never had been good at hiding her emotions. I could imagine her jealous rages. I could imagine those observing her in the newsroom misconstruing, assuming she was ambitious and jealous of Clifford Ring, when that was not the case. She was jealous of his other commitments.

  "He's married, isn't he, Abby?"

  She could not stop the tears this time.

  I got up to refresh our drinks. She would tell me he was unhappy with his wife, contemplating divorce, and Abby had believed he would leave it all for her. The story was as threadbare and predictable as something in Ann Landers. I had heard it a hundred times before. Abby had been used.

  I set her drink on the table and gently squeezed her shoulder before I moved back to my chair.

  She told me what I expected to hear, and I just looked at her sadly.

  "I don't deserve your sympathy," she cried.

  "You've been hurt much more than I have."

  "Everybody has been hurt. You. Pat Harvey. The parents, friends of these kids. If the cases hadn't happened, I'd still be working cops. At least I'd be all right professionally. No one person should have the power to cause such destruction."

  I realized she was no longer thinking about Clifford Ring. She was thinking of the killer.

  "You're right. No one should have the power. And no one will if we don't allow it."

  "Deborah and Fred didn't allow it. Jill, Elizabeth, Jimmy, Bonnie. All of them."

  She looked defeated. "They didn't want to be murdered."

  "What will Cliff do next?"

  I asked.

  "Whatever it is, it won't involve me. I've changed all my locks."

  "And your fears that your phones are bugged, that you're being followed?"

  "Cliff's not the only one who wants to know what I'm doing. I can't trust anyone anymore!"

  Her eyes filled with angry tears. "You were the last person I wanted to hurt, Kay."

  "Stop it, Abby. You can cry all year and it won't do me any good."

  "I'm sorry . . . ."

  "No more apologies."

  I was very firm but gentle.

  She bit her bottom lip and stared at her drink.

  "Are you ready to help me now?"

  She looked up at me.

  "First, what color was the Lincoln we saw in Williamsburg last week?"

  "Dark gray, the interior leather dark, maybe black," she said, her eyes coming alive.

  "Thank you. That's what I thought."

  "What's going on?"

  "I'm not sure. But there's more."

  "More what?"

  "I've got an assignment for you," I said, smiling. "But first, when are you returning to D.C.? Tonight?"

  "I don't know, Kay."

  She stared off. "I can't be there now."

  Abby felt like a fugitive, and in a sense she was. Clifford Ring had run her out of Washington. It probably wasn't a bad idea for her to disappear for a while.

  She explained, "There's a bed and breakfast in the Northern Neck, and - "

  "And I have a guest room," I interrupted. "You can stay with me for a while."

  She looked uncertain, then confessed, "Kay, do you have any idea how that would look?"

  "Frankly, I don't care at the moment."

  "Why not?"

  She studied me closely.

  "Your paper has already fried me in deep fat. I'm going for broke. Things will either get worse or better, but they won't stay the same."

  "At least you haven't been fired."

  "Neither have you, Abby. You had an affair and acted inappropriately in front of your colleagues when you dumped coffee in your lover's lap."

  "He deserved it."

  "I'm quite sure he did. But I wouldn't advise your doing battle with the Post. Your book is your chance to redeem yourself."

  "What about you?"

  "My concern is these cases. You can help because you can do things I can't do."

  "Such as?"

  "I can't lie, hoodwink, finagle, cheat, badger, sneak, snipe, snoop, and pretend to be something or somebody I'm not because I'm an officer of the Commonwealth. But you have great range of motion. You're a reporter."

  "Thanks a lot," she protested as she walked out of the kitchen. "I'll get my things from the car."

  It was not very often I had houseguests, and the bedroom downstairs was usually reserved for Lucy's visits. Covering the hardwood floor was an Iranian Dergezine rug with a brightly colored floral design that turned the entire room into a garden, in the midst of which my niece had been a rosebud or a stinkweed, depending on her behavior.

  "I guess you like flowers," Abby said absently, laying the suit bag on top of the bed.

  "The rug is a little overpowering in here," I apologized. "But when I saw it I had to buy it, and there was no place else to put it. Not to mention, it's virtually indestructible, and since this is where Lucy stays, that point is important. " "Or at least it used to be."

  Abby went to the closet and opened the door. "Lucy's not ten years old anymore."

  "There should be plenty of hangers in there."

  I moved closer to inspect. "If you need more..."

  "This is fine."

  "There are towels, toothpaste, soap in the bath."

  I started to show her.

  She had begun unpacking and wasn't paying any attention.

  I sat down on the
edge of the bed.

  Abby carried suits and blouses into the closet. Coat hangers screeched along the metal bar. I watched her in silence, experiencing a prick of impatience.

  This went on for several minutes, drawers sliding, more coat hangers screeching, the medicine cabinet in the bathroom wheezing open and clicking shut. She pushed her suit bag inside the closet and glanced around, as if trying to figure out what to do next. Opening her briefcase, she pulled out a novel and a notebook, which she placed on the table by the bed. I watched uneasily as she then tucked a .38 and boxes of cartridges into the drawer.

  It was midnight when I finally went upstairs. Before settling into bed, I dialed the number for the 7-Eleven again.

  "Ellen Jordan?"

  "Yeah? That's me. Who's this?"

  I told her, explaining, "You mentioned to me last fall that when Fred Cheney and Deborah Harvey came in, Deborah tried to buy beer, and you carded her."

  "Yeah, that's right."

  "Can you tell me exactly what you did when you carded her?"

  "I just said I needed to see her driver's license," Ellen said, and she sounded puzzled. "You know, I asked to see it."

  "Did she get it out of her purse?"

  "Sure. She had to get it out so I could look at it."

  "She handed it to you, then," I said.

  "Uh-huh."

  "Was it inside anything? Inside a plastic window?"

  "It wasn't in nothing," she said. "She just handed it over and I looked at it, then I gave it back to her."

  A pause. "Why?"

  "I'm trying to determine if you touched Deborah Harvey's driver's license."

  "Sure I did. I had to touch it to look at it."

  She sounded frightened. "I'm not in trouble or anything, am I?"

  "No, Ellen," I replied reassuringly. "You're not in any trouble at all."

  15

  Abby's assignment was to see what she could find out about Barry Aranoff, and she left for Roanoke in the morning. The following evening, she returned just minutes before Marino appeared at my front door. I had invited him to dinner.

  When he discovered Abby in the kitchen, his pupils contracted. His face turned red.

  "Jack Black?" I inquired.

  I returned from the bar to find Abby smoking at the table while Marino stood before the window. He had cracked the blinds and was staring sullenly out at the feeder.

  "You won't see any birds at this hour, unless you're interested in bats," I said.

  He did not reply or turn around.

  I began to serve the salad. It wasn't until I was pouring Chianti that Marino finally took his chair.

  "You didn't tell me you had company," he said.

  "If I had told you, you wouldn't have come," I replied just as bluntly.

  "She didn't tell me either," Abby said, testily. "So now that it's been established that we're all happy to be together, let's enjoy dinner."

  If I had learned nothing else from my failed marriage to Tony, it was never to engage in confrontations if it's late at night or time to eat. I did the best I could to fill the silence with light conversation. I waited until coffee was served before speaking my mind.

  "Abby's going to be staying with me for a while," I said to Marino.

  "It's your business."

  He reached for the sugar.

  "It's your business, too. We're all in this together."

  "Maybe you ought to explain what it is we're all into, Doc. But first" - he looked at Abby - "I'd like to know where this little dinner scene is going to show up in your book. Then I won't have to read the whole damn thing. I can just turn to the right page."

  "You know, Marino, you really can be a jerk," Abby said.

  "I can be an asshole, too. You ain't had that pleasure yet."

  "Thank you for giving me something to look forward to.

  Snatching a pen out of his breast pocket, he tossed it boss tile table. "Better start writing. Wouldn't want you t quote me wrong.

  Abby glared at him.

  "Stop it," I said angrily.

  They looked at me.

  "You're acting no better than the rest of them," I added

  "Who?" Marino's face was blank.

  "Everybody," I said. "I'm sick to death of lies, jealousy, power plays. I expect more of my friends. I thought you were my friends." I pushed back my chair.

  If the two of you wish to continue taking potshots at each other, go ahead. But I've had enough."

  Without looking at either of them, I carried my coffee into the living room, turned on the stereo, and closed my eyes. Music was my therapy, and I had been listening to Bach last. His Sinfonia Two, Cantata No. 29 began mid flight, and I began to relax. For weeks after Mark left, I would come downstairs when I couldn't sleep, put the, headphones on, and surround myself with Beethoven Mozart, Pachelbel.

  Abby and Marino had the sheepish expressions of a squabbling couple that have just made up when they joined me fifteen minutes later.

  " Uh, we've been talking," Abby said as I turned off the stereo "I explained things as best I could. We've begun W reach a level of understanding."

  1 was delighted to hear it.

  "May as well pitch in, the three of us," Marino said.

  "What the hell. Abby ain't really a reporter right now, anyway." The remark stung her a little, I could tell, but they were going to cooperate, miracle of miracles.

  "By the time her book comes out, this will probably be over with. That's what matters, that it's over with. It's been almost three years now, ten kids. You include Jill and Elizabeth, we're talking twelve."

  He shook his head, his eyes getting hard. "Whoever's whacking these kids ain't going to retire, Doc. He'll keep on until he gets nailed. And in investigations like this, that usually happens because someone gets lucky."

  "We may already have gotten lucky," Abby said to him. "Aranoff's not the man who was driving the Lincoln."

  "You sure?"

  Marino asked.

  "Positive. Aranoff's got gray hair, what little hair he has left. He's maybe five-foot-eight and must weigh two hundred pounds."

  "You telling me you met him?"

  "No," she said. "He was still out of town. I knocked on the door and his wife let me in. I was wearing work pants, boots. I told her I was with the power company and needed to check their meter. We got to chatting. She offered me a Coke. While I was inside, I looked around, saw a family photograph, asked her about the photo to be sure. That's how I found out what Aranoff looks like. It wasn't him, the man we saw. Not the man tailing me in Washington, either."

  "I don't guess there's any possibility you read the plate number wrong," Marino asked me.

  "No. Even if I had," I said, "the coincidence would be incredible. Both cars 1990 Lincoln Mark Sevens? Aranoff happens to be traveling in the Williamsburg - Tidewater area around the same time I erroneously record a plate number that just happens to be his?"

  "Looks like Aranoff and me are going to have to have a little discussion, Marino said.

  He called my office later that week and said right off, 'You sitting down?"

  "You talked with Aranoff."

  "Bingo. He left Roanoke Monday, February tenth, and hit-Danville, Petersburg, and Richmond. On Wednesday the twelfth, he was in the Tidewater area, and this is where it gets real interesting. He was due in Boston on Thursday the thirteenth, which is the night you and Abby was in Williamsburg. The day before that, Wednesday the twelfth, Aranoff left his car in long-term parking at the Newport News airport. From there he flew to Boston, was up in that area buzzing around in a rental car for the better part of a week. Returned to Newport News yesterday morning, got into his car, and headed home."

  "Are you suggesting someone may have stolen the tags off his car while it was in long-term parking, then returned them?" I asked.

  "Unless Aranoff's lying, and I don't see any reason for that, there's no other explanation, Doc."

  "When he retrieved his car did he notice anything that m
ight have made him think it had been tampered with?"

 
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