All that remains, p.29
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       All That Remains, p.29

           Patricia Cornwell
 
"Nope. We went into his garage and took a look at it. Both tags were there, screwed on nice and tight. The tags were dirty like the rest of the car and they were smudged, which may or may not mean anything. I didn't lift any prints, but whoever borrowed the tags was probably wearing gloves, which could account for the smudges. No tool or pry marks that I could see."

  "Was the car in a conspicuous place in the parking lot?"

  "Aranoff said he left it in pretty much in the middle of the lot, which was almost full."

  "You would think if his car had been sitting out there for several days without license plates, Security or someone would have noticed," I said.

  "Not necessarily. People aren't all that observant. When they leave their ride at the airport or are returning from a trip, the only thing on their mind is hauling their bags, catching their plane, or getting the hell home. Even if someone noticed, it's not likely he's going to report it to Security. Security couldn't do nothing anyway until the owner returned, then it would be up to him to report the stolen plates. As for the actual theft of the plates, that wouldn't be very hard. You go to the airport after midnight and there's not going to be anybody around. If it was me, I'd just walk into the lot like I was looking for my car, then five minutes later I'd be heading out of there with a set of plates in my briefcase."

  "And that's what you think happened?"

  "My theory is this," he said. "The guy who asked you for directions last week wasn't no detective, FBI agent, or spook out spying. He was somebody up to no good. Could be a drug dealer, could be almost anything. I think the Oak gray Mark Seven he was in is his personal car, and to be on the safe side, when he goes out to do whatever he's into, he switches plates in the event his ride is spotted in the area, maybe by cops out on patrol, whatever."

  "Rather risky if he gets pulled for running a red light, pointed I out. "The license number would come back to someone else."

  "True. But I don't think he plans on getting pulled. I think he's more worried about his car being spotted because he's out to break the law, something's going to go down and he don't want to take the chance his own tag number's going to be on the street when it does."

  "Why doesn't he just use a rental car, then?"

  "That's just as bad as having his own plate number out there. Any cop knows a rental car when he sees it. All tag numbers in Virginia begin with R. And if you track it down, its going to come back to whoever rented it. Switching tags is a better idea if you're smart enough to figure out a safe routine. It's what I'd do, and I'd probably resort to a long-term parking lot. I'd use the tags, then take them off my car and put my tags back on. I'd drive to the airport, walk out into the lot after dark, make sure no one's looking, and put the tags back on the car I'd stolen them from."

  "What if the owner's already returned and found his tags stolen?"

  "If the ride's no longer in the lot, I'd just pitch the tags in the nearest Dumpster. Either way I can't lose."

  "Good Lord. The man Abby and I saw that night might be the killer, Marino."

  "The squirrel you saw wasn't no businessman who was lost or fruitcake tailing you," he said. "He was up to something illegal. That don't mean he's a killer."

  "The parking sticker..."

  "I'm gonna track that down. See if Colonial Williamsburg can supply me with a list of everybody who's been issued one."

  "The car Mr. Joyce saw going down his road with the headlights off could have been a Lincoln Mark Seven," I said.

  "Could have been. Mark Sevens came out in 1990. Jim and Bonnie was murdered in the summer of 1990. And in the dark, a Mark Seven wouldn't look all that different from a Thunderbird, which was what Mr. Joyce said the car he saw looked like."

  "Wesley will have afield day with this," I muttered, incredulous.

  "Yeah," Marino said. "I got to call him."

  March came in with a whispered promise that winter would not last forever. The sun was warm on my back as I cleaned the windshield of my Mercedes while Abby pumped gas. The breeze was gentle, freshly scrubbed from days of rain. People were out washing cars and riding bikes, the earth stirring but not quite awake.

  Like a lot of service stations these days, the one I frequented doubled as a convenience store, and I bought two cups of coffee to go when I went inside to pay. Then Abby and I drove off to Williamsburg, windows cracked, Bruce Hornsby singing "Harbor Lights" on the radio.

  "1 called my answering machine before we left," Abby said.

  "And?"

  "Five hang-ups."

  "Cliff?"

  "I'm willing to make a bet," she said. "Not that he wants to talk to me. I suspect he's just trying to figure out if I'm home, has probably cruised past my parking lot a number of times, too, looking for my car."

  "Why would he do that if he's not interested in talking to you?"

  "Maybe he doesn't know that I've changed my locks."

  "Then he must be stupid. One would think he would realize you would put two and two together when his series ran."

  "He's not stupid," Abby said, staring out the side window.

  I opened the sunroof.

  "He knows I know. But he's not stupid," she said again. "Cliff's fooled everyone. They don't know he's crazy."

  "Hard to believe he could have gotten as far as he has if he's crazy," I said.

  "That's the beauty of Washington," she replied cynically. "The most successful, powerful people in the world are there and half of them are crazy, the other half neurotic. Most of them are immoral. Power does it. I don't know why Watergate surprised anyone."

  "What has power done to you?"

  I asked.

  "I know how it tastes, but I wasn't there long enough to get addicted."

  "Maybe you're lucky."

  She was silent.

  I thought of Pat Harvey. What was she doing these days? What was going through her mind? "Have you talked to Pat Harvey?"

  I asked Abby.

  "Yes."

  "Since the articles ran in the Post?"

  She nodded.

  "How is she?"

  "I once read something written by a missionary to what was then the Congo. He recalled encountering a tribesman in the jungle who looked perfectly normal until he smiled. His teeth were filed to points. He was a cannibal."

  Her voice was flat with anger, her mood suddenly dark. I had no idea what she was talking about.

  "That's Pat Harvey," she went on. "I dropped by to see her before heading out to Roanoke the other day. We talked briefly about the stories in the Post, and I thought she was taking it all in stride until she smiled. Her smile made my blood run cold."

  I didn't know what to say.

  "That's when I knew Cliff's stories had pushed her over the edge. Deborah's murder pushed Pat as far as I thought she could go. But the stories pushed her further. I remember when I talked to her I had this sense that something wasn't there anymore. After a while I figured out what's not there is Pat Harvey."

  "Did she know her husband was having an affair?"

  "She does now."

  "If it's true," I added.

  "Cliff wouldn't write something that he couldn't back up, attribute to a credible source."

  I wondered what it would take to push me to the edge. Lucy, Mark? If I had an accident and could no longer use my hands or went blind? I did not know what it would take to make me snap. Maybe it was like dying. Once you were gone you didn't know the difference.

  We were at Old Towne shortly after noon. The apartment complex where Jill and Elizabeth had lived was unremarkable, a honeycomb of buildings that all looked the same. They were brick with red awnings announcing block numbers over the main entrances; the landscaping was a patchwork of winter-brown grass and narrow margins of flowerbeds covered in woodchips. There were areas for cookouts with swing sets, picnic tables, and grills.

  We stopped in the parking lot and stared up at what had been Jill's balcony. Through wide spaces in the railing two blue-and-whitewebbed chairs rocked gently in the breeze
. A chain dangled from a hook in the ceiling, lonely for a potted plant. Elizabeth had lived on the other side of the parking lot. From their respective residences the two friends would have been able to check on each other.

  They could watch lights turn on and off, know when the other got up and went to bed, when one was home or not.

  For a moment, Abby and I shared a depressed silence.

  Then she said, "They were more than friends, weren't they, Kay?"

  "To answer that would be hearsay."

  She smiled a little. "To tell you the truth, I wondered about it when I was working on the stories. It crossed my mind, at any rate. But no one ever suggested it or even hinted."

  She paused, staring out. "I think I know what they felt like."

  I looked at her.

  "It must have been the way I felt with Cliff. Sneaking, hiding, spending half your energy worrying about what people think, fearing they somehow suspect."

  "The irony is," I said, putting the car in gear, "that people don't really give a damn. They're too preoccupied with themselves."

  "I wonder if Jill and Elizabeth would ever have figured that out."

  "If their love was greater than their fear, they would have figured it out eventually."

  "Where are we going, by the way?"

  She looked out her window at the roadside streaming past.

  "Just cruising," I said. "In the general direction of downtown. " I had never given her an itinerary. All I had said was that I wanted to "look around."

  "You're looking for that damn car, aren't you?"

  "It can't hurt to look."

  "And just what are you going to do if you find it, Kay?., "Write the plate number down, see who it comes back to this time."

  "Well" - she started to laugh - "if you find a 1990 charcoal Lincoln Mark Seven with a Colonial Williamsburg sticker on the rear bumper, I'll pay you a hundred dollars."

  "Better get your checkbook out. If it's here, I'm going to find it."

  And I did, not half an hour later, by following the age-old rule of how you find something lost. I retraced my steps. When I returned to Merchant's Square the car was sitting there big as life in the parking lot, not far from where we had spotted it the first time when its driver had stopped to ask directions.

  "Jesus Christ," Abby whispered. "I don't believe it."

  The car was unoccupied, sunshine glinting off the glass. It looked as if it had just been washed and waxed.

  There was a parking sticker on the left side of the rear bumper, the plate number ITU-144. Abby wrote it down.

  "This is too easy, Kay. It can't be right."

  "We don't know that it's the same car."

  I was being scientific now. "It looks the same, but we can't be sure."

  I parked some twenty spaces away, tucking my Mercedes between a station wagon and a Pontiac, and sat behind the wheel scanning the storefronts. A gift shop, a picture-framing shop, a restaurant. Between a tobacco shop and a bakery was a bookstore, small, inconspicuous, books displayed in the window. A wooden sign hung over the door, with the name "The Dealer's Room" painted on it in Colonial-style calligraphy.

  "Crossword puzzles," I said under my breath, and a chill ran up my spine.

  "What?"

  Abby was still watching the Lincoln.

  "Jill and Elizabeth liked crossword puzzles. They often went out to breakfast on Sunday mornings and picked up the New York Times. " I was opening my door.

  Abby put a hand on my arm, restraining me. "No, Kay. Wait a minute. We've got to think about this."

  I settled back into the seat.

  "You can't just walk in there," she said, and it sounded like an order.

  "I want to buy a paper."

  "What if he's in there? Then what are you going to do?"

  "I want to see if it's him, the man who was driving. I think I'd recognize him."

  "And he might recognize you."

  "'Dealer' could refer to cards," I thought out loud as a young woman with short curly black hair walked up to the bookstore, opened the door, and disappeared inside.

  "The person who deals cards, deals the jack of hearts," I added, my voice trailing off.

  "You talked to him when he asked directions. Your picture's been in the news."

  Abby was taking charge. "You're not going in there. I will."

  "We both will."

  "That's crazy!"

  "You're right."

  My mind was made up. "You're staying put. I'm going in."

  I was out of the car before she could argue. She got out, too, and just stood there, looking lost, as I walked with purpose in that direction. She did not come after me. She had too much sense to make a scene.

  When I put my hand on the cold brass handle of the door, my heart was hammering. When I walked inside, I felt weak in the knees.

  He was standing behind the counter, smiling and filling out a charge card receipt while a middle-aged woman in an Ultrasuede suit prattled on, ". . . That's what birthdays are for. You buy your husband a book you want to read..."

  "As long as you both enjoy the same books, that's all right."

  His voice was very soft, soothing; a voice you could trust.

  Now that I was inside the shop, I was desperate to leave. I wanted to run. There were stacks of newspapers to one side of the counter, including the New York Times. I could pick one up, quickly pay for it, and be gone. But I did not want to look him in the eye.

  It was him.

  I turned around and walked out without glancing back.

  Abby was sitting in the car smoking.

  "He couldn't work here and not know his way to Sixty-four," I said, starting the engine.

  She got my meaning precisely. "Do you want to call Marino now or wait until we get back to Richmond?"

  "We're going to call him now."

  I found a pay phone and was told Marino was on the street. I left him the message, "ITU-144. Call me."

  Abby asked me a lot of questions, and I did my best to answer them. Then there were long stretches of silence as I drove. My stomach was sour. I considered pulling off somewhere. I thought I might throw up.

  She was staring at me. I could feel her concern.

  "My God, Kay. You're white as a sheet."

  "I'm all right."

  "You want me to drive?"

  "I'm fine. Really."

  When we got home, I went straight up to my bedroom. My hands trembled as I dialed the number. Mark's machine answered after the second ring, and I started to hang up but found myself mesmerized by his voice.

  "I'm sorry, there's no one to answer your call right now. . ."

  At the beep I hesitated, then quietly returned the receiver to its cradle. When I looked up, I found Abby in my doorway. I could tell by the look on her face that she knew what I had just done.

  I stared at her, my eyes filling with tears, and then she was sitting next to me on the edge of the bed.

  "Why didn't you leave him a message?" she whispered.

  "How could you possibly know who I was calling?"

  I fought to steady my voice.

  "Because it's the same impulse that overwhelms me when I'm terribly upset. I want to reach for the phone. Even now, after all of it. I still want to call Cliff."

  "Have you?"

  She slowly shook her head.

  "Don't. Don't ever, Abby."

  She studied me closely. "Was it walking into the bookstore and seeing him?"

  "I'm not sure."

  "I think you know."

  I glanced away from her. "When I get too close, I know it. I've gotten too close before. I ask myself why it happens."

  "People like us can't help it. We have a compulsion, something drives us. That's why it happens," she said.

  I could not admit to her my fear. Had Mark answered the phone, I didn't know if I could have admitted it to him, either.

  Abby was staring off, her voice distant when she asked, "As much as you know about death, do you ever th
ink about your own?"

  I got off the bed. "Where the hell is Marino?"

  I picked up the phone to try him again.

  16

  Days turned into weeks while I waited anxiously. I had not heard from Marino since giving him the information about The Dealer's Room. I had not heard from anyone. With each hour that passed the silence grew louder and More ominous.

 
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