All that remains, p.7
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       All That Remains, p.7

           Patricia Cornwell
 

  "Yeah."

  She was eyeing the parking lot out front. A van had just pulled up. "I told 'em pretty much the same things I told you. Except for some of the stuff I couldn't remember then."

  When two teenage boys sauntered in and headed straight for the video games, Ellen returned her attention to us. I could tell she had nothing more to say and was beginning to entertain doubts about having said too much.

  Apparently, Abby was getting the same message. "Thank you, Ellen," she said, backing away from the counter. "The story will run on Saturday or Sunday. Be sure you watch for it."

  Then we were out the door.

  "Time to get the hell out of here before she starts screaming that everything was off the record."

  "I doubt she'd even know what the term meant," I replied.

  "What surprises me," Abby said, "is that the cops didn't tell her to keep her mouth shut."

  "Maybe they did but she couldn't resist the possibility of seeing her name in print."

  The I-64 East rest stop where the clerk had directed Deborah and Fred was completely deserted when we pulled in.

  Abby parked in front, near a cluster of newspaper vending machines, and for several minutes we sat in silence. A small holly tree directly in front of us was silver in the car's headlights, and lamps were smudges of white in the fog. I couldn't imagine getting out to use the rest room were I alone.

  "Creepy," Abby muttered under her breath. "God. I wonder if it's always this deserted on a Tuesday night, or if the news releases have scared people away."

  "Possibly both," I replied. "But you can be sure it wasn't deserted the Friday night Deborah and Fred pulled in."

  "They may have been parked right about where we are," she mused. "Probably people all over the place, since it was the beginning of the Labor Day weekend. If this is where they encountered someone bad, then he must be a brash son of a bitch."

  "If there were people all over the place," I said, "then there would have been cars all over the place."

  "Meaning?"

  She lit a cigarette.

  "Assuming this is where Deborah and Fred encountered someone, and assuming that for some reason they let him in the Jeep, then what about his car? Did he arrive here on foot?"

  "Not likely," she replied.

  "If he drove in," I went on, "and left his car parked out here, that wasn't going to work very well unless there was a lot of traffic."

  "I see what you're suggesting. If his was the only car in this lot, and it remained out here for hours late at night, chances are a trooper might have spotted it and called it in."

  "That's a big chance to take if you're in the process of committing a crime," I added.

  She thought for a moment. "You know, what bothers me is that the entire scenario is random but not random. Deborah and Fred's stopping at the rest stop was random. If they happened to encounter someone bad here - or even inside the 7-Eleven, such as the guy buying coffee - that seems random. But there's premeditation, too. Forethought. If someone abducted them, it seems like he knew what he was doing."

  I did not respond.

  I was thinking about what Wesley had said. A political connection. Or an assailant who went through a lot of dry runs. Assuming that the couple had not chosen to disappear, then I did not see how the outcome could be anything but tragic.

  Abby put the car in gear.

  It wasn't until we were on the Interstate and she was setting the cruise control that she spoke again. "You think they're dead, don't you?"

  "Are you asking for a quote?"

  "No, Kay. I'm not asking for a quote. You want to know the truth? Right now I don't give a damn about this story. I just want to know what the hell's going on."

  "Because you're worried about yourself."

  "Wouldn't you be?"

  "Yes. If I thought my phones were tapped, that I was being tailed, I would be worried, Abby. And speaking of worried, it's late. You're exhausted. It's ridiculous for you to drive back to Washington tonight."

  She glanced over at me.

  "I've got plenty of room. You can head out first thing in the morning."

  "Only if you've got an extra toothbrush, something 1 can sleep in, and don't mind if I pillage your bar."

  Leaning back in the seat, I shut my eyes and muttered, "You can get drunk, if you want. In fact, I might just join you."

  When we walked into my house at midnight, the telephone started ringing, and I answered it before my machine could.

  "Kay? " At first, the voice did not register because I was not expecting it. Then my heart began to pound.

  "Hello, Mark," I said.

  "I'm sorry to call so late - " I could not keep the tension out of my voice as I interrupted. "I have company. I'm sure you remember my mentioning my friend Abby Turnbull, with the Post? She's here staying the night. We've been having a wonderful time catching up."

  Mark did not respond. After a pause, he said, "Maybe it would be easier for you to call me, when it suits."

  When I hung up, Abby was staring at me, startled by my obvious distress.

  "Who in God's name was that, Kay?"

  My first months at Georgetown I was so overwhelmed by law school and feelings of alienation that I kept my own counsel and distance from others. I was already an M.D., a middle-class Italian from Miami with very little exposure to the finer things in life. Suddenly I found myself cast among the brilliant and beautiful, and though I am not ashamed of my heritage, I felt socially common.

  Mark James was one of the privileged, a tall, graceful figure, self-assured and self-contained. I was aware of him long before I knew his name. We first met in the law library between dimly lit shelves of books, and I will never forget his intense green eyes as we began to discus some tort I cannot recall. We ended up drinking coffee in a bar and talking until early in the morning. After that we saw each other almost every day. For a year we did not sleep, it seemed, for even when we slept together our lovemaking did not permit many, hours of rest. No matter how much we got of each other it was never enough, and foolishly, typically, I was convinced we would be together forever. I refused to accept the chill of disappointment that settled over the our relationship during our second year. When I graduated wearing someone else's engagement ring, I had convinced myself that I had gotten over Mark, until he mysteriously reappeared not so long ago.

  "Maybe Tony was a safe harbor," Abby considered, referring to my ex-husband as we drank Cognac in my kitchen.

  "Tony was practical," I replied. "Or so it seemed at first."

  "Makes sense. I've done it before in my own pathetic love life."

  She reached for her snifter. "I'll have so passionate fling, and God knows there have been few and they never last long. But when it ends, I'm like a wounded soldier limping home. I wind up in the arms of some guy with the charisma of a slug who promises to take care of me.

  "That's the fairy tale."

  "Right out of Grimm's," she agreed, bitterly. "They say they'll take care of you, but what they mean is they want you to be there fixing dinner and washing their shorts."

  "You've just described Tony to a T," I said.

  "What ever happened to him?"

  "I haven't talked to him in too many years to count."

  "People at least ought to be friends."

  "He didn't want to be friends," I said.

  "Do you still think about him?"

  "You can't live six years with somebody and not think about him. That doesn't mean I want to be with Tony. But a part of me will always care about him, hope he's doing well."

  "Were you in love with him when you got married?"

  "I thought I was."

  "Maybe so," Abby said. "But it sounds to me as if you never stopped loving Mark."

  I refilled our glasses. Both of us were going to feel like hell in the morning.

  "I find it incredible that you got together again after so many years," she went on. "And no matter what's happened, I suspect Mark has never stopped l
oving you, either."

  When he came back into my life, it was as if we had lived in foreign countries during our years apart, the languages of our pasts indecipherable to each other. We communicated openly only in the dark. He did tell me he had married and his wife had been killed in an automobile accident.

  I later found out he had forsaken his law practice and signed on with the FBI. When we were together it was euphoric, the most wonderful day I had known since our first year at Georgetown. Of course, it did not last. History has a mean habit of repeating itself.

  "I don't suppose it's his fault he was transferred to Denver," Abby was saying.

  "He made a choice," I said. "And so did I" "You didn't want to go with him?"

  "I'm the reason he requested the assignment, Abby. He wanted a separation."

  "So he moves across the country? That's rather extreme."

  "When people are angry, their behavior can be extreme. They can make big mistakes."

  "And he's probably too stubborn to admit he made a mistake," she said.

  "He's stubborn, I'm stubborn. Neither of us win any prizes for our skills in compromising. I have my career and he has his. He was in Quantico and I was here. That got old fast, and I had no intention of leaving Richmond and he had no intention of moving to Richmond. Then he started contemplating going back on the street, transferring to a field office somewhere or taking a position at Headquarters in D.C. On and on it went, until it seem that all we did was fight."

  I paused, groping to explain: what would never be clear. "Maybe I'm just set in my "You can't be with someone and continue to live you always did, Kay."

  How many times had Mark and I said that to each other? It got to where we rarely said anything new.

  "Is maintaining your autonomy worth the price you're paying, the price both of you are paying?"

  There were days when I was no longer so sure, but I did not tell Abby this.

  She lit a cigarette and reached for the bottle of Cognac.

  "Did the two of you ever try counseling?"

  "No."

  What I told her was not entirely true. Mark and I had never gone to counseling, but I had gone alone and was still seeing a psychiatrist, though infrequently now.

  "Does he know Benton Wesley?"

  Abby asked.

  "Of course. Benton trained Mark in the Academy long before I came to Virginia," I replied. "They're very good friends."

  "What's Mark working on-in Denver?"

  "I have no idea. Some special assignment."

  "Is he aware of the cases here? The couples?"

  "I would assume so."

  Pausing, I asked, "Why?"

  "I don't know. But be careful what you say to Mark."

  "Tonight was the first time he's called in months. Obviously, I say very tittle to him."

  She got up and I led her to her room.

  As I gave her a gown and showed her the bath, she went on, the effects of the Cognac becoming apparent, "He'll call again. Or you're going to call him. So be careful."

  "I'm not planning on calling him," I said.

  "You're just as bad as he is, then," she said. "Both of you hardheaded and unforgiving as hell. So there. That's my assessment of the situation, whether you like it or not."

  "I have to be at the office by eight," I said. "I'll make sure you're up by seven."

  She hugged me good night and kissed my cheek: The following weekend I went out early and bought the Post and could not find Abby's story. It did not come out the next week or the week after that, and I thought this strange. Was Abby all right? Why had I not heard a word from her since our visit in Richmond? In late October I called the Post's newsroom.

  "I'm sorry," said a man who sounded harried. "Abby's on leave. Won't be back until next August."

  "Is she still in town?" I asked, stunned.

  "Got no idea."

  Hanging up, I flipped through my address book and tried her home number. I was answered by a machine - Abby did not return that call or any of the others I made during the next few weeks. It wasn't until shortly after Christmas that I began to realize what was going on.

  On Monday, January sixth, I came home to find a letter in my mailbox. There was no return address, but the handwriting was unmistakable. Opening the envelope, discovered inside a sheet of yellow legal paper scribbled with "FYI. Mark," and a short article clipped from recent issue of the New York Times. Abby Turnbull, I read with disbelief, had signed a book contract to write about the disappearance of Fred Cheney and Deborah Harvey, and the "frightening parallels" between their cases and those of four other couples in Virginia who had vanished and turned up dead.

  Abby had warned me about Mark, and now he was warning me about her. Or was there some other reason for his sending me the article? For a long interval I sat in my kitchen, tempted to leave an outraged message on Abby's machine or to call Mark. I finally decided to call Anna, my psychiatrist.

  "You feel betrayed?"

  she asked when I got her on the phone.

  "To put it mildly, Anna."

  "You've known Abby is writing a newspaper story. Is writing a book so much worse?"

  "She never told me she was writing a book," I said.

  "Because you feel betrayed doesn't mean you truly have been," Anna said. "This is your perception at the moment, Kay. You will have to wait and see. And as for why Mark sent you the article, you may have to wait and see about that, too. Perhaps it was his way of reaching out."

  "I'm wondering if I should consult a lawyer," I said. "See if there's something 1 should do to protect myself. I have no idea what might end up in Abby's book."

  "I think it would be wiser to take her words at face value," Anna advised. "She said your conversations were off the record. Has she ever betrayed you before?"

  "No."

  "Then I suggest you give her a chance. Give her an opportunity to explain. Besides," she added, "I'm not sure how much of a book she can write. There have been no arrests, and there is no resolution as to what happened to the couple. They have yet to turn up."

  The bitter irony of that remark would hit me exactly two weeks later, on January twentieth, when I was on the capitol grounds waiting to see what happened when a bill authorizing the Forensic Science Bureau to create a DNA data bank went before the Virginia General Assembly.

  I was returning from the snack bar, cup of coffee in hand, when I spotted Pat Harvey, elegant in a navy cashmere suit, a zip-up black leather portfolio under her arm. She was talking to several delegates in the hall, and glancing my way, she immediately excused herself.

  "Dr. Scarpetta," she said, offering her hand. She looked relieved to see me, but drawn and stressed.

  I wondered why she wasn't in Washington, and then she answered my unspoken question. "I was asked to lend my support to Senate Bill One-thirty," she said, smiling nervously. "So I suppose both of us are here today for the same reason."

  "Thank you. We need all the support we can get."

  "I don't think you have a worry," she replied.

  She was probably right. The testimony of the national drug policy director and the publicity it would generate would put considerable pressure on the Courts of Justice Committee.

  After an awkward silence, with both of us glancing at the people milling about, I asked her quietly, "How are you?"

  For an instant her eyes teared up. Then she gave me another quick, nervous smile and stared off down the hall. "If you'll please excuse me, I see someone I need to have a word with."

  Pat Harvey was barely out of earshot when my pager went off.

  A minute later I was on the phone.

  "Marino's on his way," my secretary was explaining.

  "So am I," I said. "Get my scene kit, Rose. Make sure everything's in order. Flashlight, camera, batteries, gloves."

  "Will do."

  Cursing my heels and the rain, I hurried down steps and along Governor Street, the wind tearing at my umbrella as I envisioned Mrs. Harvey's eyes that split s
econd when they had revealed her pain. Thank God she had not been standing there when my pager had sounded its dreadful alert.

  5

  The odor was noticeable from a distance. Heavy drops of rain smacked loudly against dead leaves, the sky as dark as dusk, winter-bare trees drifting in and out of the fog.

  "Jesus," Marino muttered as he stepped over a log. "They must be ripe. No other smell like it. Always reminds me of pickled crabs."

 
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