Conspiracy Girl, p.8Sarah Alderson
‘So, you’re saying it’s the same person behind both break-ins?’
‘Yeah. I mean, that was the supposition anyway. I just proved it, though.’
I frown at him because what he’s saying doesn’t fully make sense. If Maggie is claiming that someone inside the FBI is involved, then does that mean they were involved in the first break-in too? It’s impossible.
‘There must be a mistake,’ I say. ‘McCrory and Miles broke into my house in LA. So if what you’re saying is to be believed, they must be behind the break-in last night.’
Finn shakes his head at me. ‘Those two guys were innocent. It wasn’t them that broke into your house and killed your mother and stepsister. And it wasn’t them who broke into your house last night.’
My body floods with a pure, toxic mix of anger and adrenaline. ‘They had DNA evidence,’ I say, my voice shaking. ‘Fingerprints. Blood.’ I cast around in my head for more facts, ready to hurl them in his face. ‘And their alibis fell through. You saw their records.’
‘I’m not disputing that they’re lowlife scum,’ Finn says calmly.
‘They were trained snipers. Ex-marines!’
Finn gets slowly to his feet. ‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘And both of them are alcoholics, one had a meth problem and the other was suffering PTSD. Both had histories of mental illness. Just read the testimonies of the psychiatrists who assessed them . . .’
I don’t like him standing over me so I stand too. The thing is I still have to tip my head back to look at him and when I put my hands on my hips I feel immediately self-conscious, especially as my top is starting to stick to me.
‘The guys couldn’t tell you which way was up. They were jacked to their eyeballs.’
‘One had already killed someone in cold blood,’ I hiss.
‘It was manslaughter,’ Finn counters calmly. ‘Totally different circumstances.’
‘Killing someone is killing someone.’
‘Listen to me, the person who cracked your security system, then and now, is an expert. There are only a handful of people in the world who could do that, who could write a program like that and get in and get out without setting off alarm bells. Those guys probably don’t even know how to turn on a computer, let alone write code.’
‘OK, fine, say they didn’t hack into the security system,’ I spit. ‘It doesn’t matter. I don’t care. They were still the ones who broke into the house and pulled the trigger.’ I feel like a frustrated child about to stamp my foot and burst into tears.
‘I don’t believe it,’ Finn tells me.
‘Why?’ I say through clenched teeth.
‘Let’s see,’ he starts counting off on his fingers. ‘They had two alibis for their whereabouts the night of the incident. Both alibis happened to die in the same week. One from a drug overdose and the other from a fatal stabbing.’ He looks at me as if to say Coincidence, I don’t think.
‘They were friends with meth addicts. Not so unusual,’ I counter.
‘Neither of them can remember anything about the forty-eight hours either side of the crime.’
‘They were off their heads, you said it yourself.’
‘One of them has a permanent slur from a facial injury sustained while serving in the marine corps.’
‘Your testimony claimed you heard two men, both talking, possibly in an accent but with no slur. With all due respect, your testimony had holes in it. Huge ones.’
I suck in a breath, feeling like he’s just kicked me in the stomach. ‘What?’ I say, my voice coming out eerily calm despite the fury rushing through my veins.
‘I listened to your testimony again after the trial. The DA did a hopeless job at cross-examining you. But you had the sympathy vote with the jury. He couldn’t press you without coming across as a dick. It was a hard call.’
I can feel the hysteria rising inside me like a beast suddenly given wings. ‘There was a fingerprint,’ I yell. ‘There was DNA evidence.’
‘Nic, DNA evidence is easy to plant. You were in a state of severe trauma and shock. Your reliability as a witness is problematic.’
‘You’re calling me a liar!’ I say, disbelieving.
‘No,’ he says in a weary tone. ‘I am not calling you a liar. I’m just saying that what you think you heard and what you actually heard are two different things.’
It takes me a few seconds to process Finn’s words and then it takes every ounce of willpower in my body not to shove him backwards into his server stacks. ‘Screw you,’ I say. I spin towards the door, almost tripping over the chair in my haste. ‘Let me out.’
‘There were so many inconsistencies,’ he says, completely ignoring my request and keeping on talking to my back. ‘There’s no way the case should have come to trial, but it was a slam dunk. No one wanted to look bad. The media were all over the DA’s office. The LAPD needed a quick win. It wasn’t about justice. It was about calming the public. The guys were scapegoated. I just could never figure out why or by whom. But now we’re being thrown another bone.’
I whip around. ‘A bone? What do you mean we’re being thrown a bone?’
He shrugs at me. ‘Well, they’re back. Same people as before. They want something. Something involving you. And this time,’ he smiles and I see the glint in his eye – excitement, like he’s enjoying the thrill of this – ‘this time we can make sure no one gets scapegoated.’
He reaches behind me and for a second I flinch, not sure what he is doing, but he’s just unlocking the door. He looks down at me, his eyes gleaming in the shadows.
‘We can actually find the people who did this to you,’ he says. ‘The people who killed your mom and Taylor. And we can make them pay.’
‘What about the cameras?’ she asks, as I lock the cube behind us. ‘They must have picked up something.’ She’s still pissed at me. She’s not even trying to disguise it. Not even my convincing appeal to her that we can find the people who actually killed her mother seems to have worked. She really is certain it was those two guys.
I head to my desk by the window. I’d rather not use these computers for what I want to show her, I’d rather keep all my legit and non-legit work separate, but she looked like she was about to pull a server stack down on my head if I didn’t let her out. And it was getting hot in there.
‘That’s the thing,’ I say, switching on the screen, trying to focus. ‘There’s nothing. They were made to look like they were still functioning, but whoever overrode your alarm system and entry systems also cut the phone lines and switched off the cameras. Nothing recorded for a period of five hours.’
‘That’s not possible.’ She looks furious, her hands bunched into fists at her sides.
‘It is possible,’ I say, wondering what ludicrous amount of money she paid her security company, and hoping she gets a refund along with an apology. If they don’t offer one I’m going to make them. ‘Here’s the proof.’ I step aside, revealing the monitor screens.
She moves beside me, taking care to leave several inches between us. She stares at the snowstorm of static on the screens.
‘Look,’ I say, hitting a button and rewinding the recording. ‘There’s nothing from seven thirty-eight yesterday evening.’
I fast forward to 12.44 a.m. The camera blinks back on. Crime scene techs in white suits are sweeping every inch of the room. It’s been transformed into a bloodbath. Colour leeches across the screen.
Beside me, I feel Nic shudder. She wraps her arms around herself, her skin – which still glistens with sweat – now prickling with goosebumps. Without thinking I grab a shirt that’s slung over the back of my chair and put it around her shoulders. She jerks around, giving me a death stare.
‘Sorry,’ I say, backing away. ‘You were shivering.’
She looks away, colour returning to her cheeks. I think about taking the shirt back but then she slips her arms through the sleeves. It’s too big for her of course, and she has to roll up the sleeves, but
I shake it off. ‘How did your stepfather behave the night when he visited? It was two nights ago now, right?’ I ask.
Her brow furrows. ‘He was weird,’ she says guardedly. ‘Acting strangely. He kept looking out the window, and he asked about my security systems. He seemed worried about me.’ She swallows, presses her hands against her eyes as though trying to banish an image. Then she removes them and looks up at me. ‘Where do you think he is?’ she asks.
‘I called his secretary, pretending to be from the IRS,’ I tell her, seeing the instant flare of surprise on her face. ‘She hasn’t heard from him either. No hotels have a record of him. He didn’t take any flight out of JFK or Newark, or any airport on the eastern seaboard for that matter. I checked the manifests for all flights going to all destinations. There’s been no activity on his credit cards and he hasn’t logged into his emails since he left your apartment.’
Nic sinks back into my chair, staring into the middle distance. ‘Do you think he’s OK?’ she asks.
I shrug. ‘I don’t know. But I’ve been watching the footage from your apartment. He asked to use the bathroom before he left. Is it possible he hid something in your apartment and that’s what the people who broke in were after?’
Her shoulders press back into the chair. ‘Yeah,’ she says. ‘It’s possible, I guess.’
I nod. ‘OK.’
‘OK what?’ she asks.
‘Well, I guess we better go take a look and find out.’
She sits up right, Goz too, both of them staring at me, one salivating, the other glaring. ‘Back there? You want me to go back there?’
I watch the pulse firing rapidly in her neck as she turns to look back at the screen. The crime scene techs are photographing the blood spill and I wish I had fast-forwarded it. It’s stupid, walking back into the lion’s den. And to take her with me. Then again, Maggie told me not to take my eyes off her and leaving her here would require me to do just that. And besides, she’s the only one who’ll know if anything is out of place.
‘Yeah,’ I say, leaning past her and hitting a button so the view switches to another angle.
Her hands grip the dog tighter, her foot tapping on the chair. ‘OK,’ she says without looking at me. ‘When? Now?’
‘No,’ I say, shaking my head. I hit another key and the camera angle jumps so we’re looking at the vestibule. An NYPD cop is standing sentry just outside the door to Nic’s apartment. ‘This is real time,’ I tell her.
Nic has gone visibly paler. ‘So, how are we going to get in?’ she asks.
‘We’ll wait until later tonight,’ I answer, wondering if I should call Maggie and tell her my plan. Something tells me though that it’s best if I keep everything off the radar for the time being.
Nic doesn’t say anything. She just keeps staring at the screen in front of her.
‘I’m going to take a shower then get some sleep,’ I say quietly.
She nods without turning around and I back slowly away, watching her the whole time, battling a mix of emotions. I want to put an arm around her shoulders, but I can’t. She doesn’t like being touched, and even if she did, I’d be the last person she’d want comfort from. I just wish there was something I could do to make things easier for her.
There is, I remind myself: find the people who did this to her and make them pay.
He’s been in the bathroom over two hours. I doubt even a Kardashian takes this long. I prise Goz’s head off my lap and walk over to the bathroom door. My hand is half raised, ready to knock, when I stop myself. What if he’s . . . I don’t know . . . doing something in there? I stand there frozen.
But the fact is I’m freaking out out here on my own, with the only thing to occupy my attention a grainy image of my blood-streaked apartment, occasionally interrupted by the sight of a bored NYPD cop chomping his way through a box of Dunkin’ Donuts.
Finally, I tap on the bathroom door lightly. There’s no answer. A spurt of adrenaline rushes through me as I entertain a rush of ideas involving Finn lying dead on the bathroom floor. I don’t know. Maybe I’m paranoid and deluded, but I think I have grounds for both.
‘Finn?’ I say. I knock again and call his name louder, hearing the trace of irritation in my voice. I’m still angry at him. He called me a liar, saying my testimony was full of holes. I’ll give him full of holes.
Even if what he and Maggie are saying about the FBI being involved is true, it doesn’t mean that Miles and McCrory aren’t involved as well. But what did Aiden hide in my apartment? And did he even hide anything? It’s just conjecture.
I push my ear against the bathroom door but it’s hard to hear anything over the sound of the cube’s persistent humming. My hand slides to the door handle. Should I try it? Finally, I give in to my paranoia and twist the handle.
Finn’s lying in the bath, his head tipped back against the edge and his eyes closed. One arm trails down the side, his fingers brushing the rug. For a heart-stopping moment I think he’s dead and then I realise he’s just asleep. Clouds of steam envelope him and his face is flushed from the heat.
My heart rate amps up as my gaze dips, before I can stop it, to his shoulders and his chest and then . . . I turn in a fluster, almost tripping over Goz, who has also come to investigate. Goz struts right past me and pads over to the bath.
‘Goz!’ I hiss. ‘Come back!’
But Goz ignores me. He pauses by the bath and cocks his head to one side.
I tiptoe closer. ‘Goz!’ I whisper, grabbing him by the collar, ready to yank him out of there, but Goz won’t budge. He picks up a paw and in a moment of pure frozen horror I see exactly what he’s about to do. Before I know it I’m employing my Russian Olympic coach voice. ‘Goz!’ I shout as my dog’s paw touches the water, prodding Finn in the stomach.
Finn shoots upright in the tub, jumping straight to his feet, water sloshing in waves over the sides of the bath. Goz barks loudly. Finn stands there, totally naked, slightly unsteady on his feet, his muscles locked as though he’s about to start a race and breathing hard enough that it looks like he just finished one. I think we just scared him half to death.
‘I was worried,’ I say, trying not to stare anywhere but at his face. I close my eyes and turn around. ‘Sorry,’ I say. ‘He thought you were drowning,’ I add, embarrassment feeling like hot coals being strapped to my face.
‘Goz!’ I hiss furiously, snapping my fingers until I feel Goz rub against my legs. I haul him out of the bathroom and quickly, quietly, close the door behind me.
The sun is low in the sky, the sidewalks slick and shiny with rain. Puffs of smoke billow up from the vents set into the side of the building, making it look as though a dragon is sleeping beneath the city.
I rest my palm against the window, grateful for the coolness of the condensation-slick glass. I poke a finger at Goz and give him an evil stare. He does that whole head-cock thing as though he doesn’t get why I’m mad at him and pads to the other side of the room. I keep giving him the stinkeye as he rests his head dolefully on Finn’s chair and then I turn back to the window, but I don’t register anything beyond the fogged up glass because all I can see is Finn standing up in the bath, water sluicing off his shoulders and down his chest. Oh God. This is awkward. How am I going to look him in the face now?
The door to the bathroom opens. The muscles in my shoulders lock and I keep my back turned just in case he maybe forgot a towel or something and is still naked. I don’t want him thinking I’m desperate for another look or anything.
‘What time is it?’ I hear him ask and I risk a glance over my shoulder.
He’s crossing to the other side of the cube, towards his desk, and he’s fully dressed. Thankfully.
‘It’s nearly three,’ I tell him.
He’s wearing a clean pair of jeans and his T-shirt clings to his back in wet patches. He ruffles Goz’s head and turns to me, our eyes catching briefly. T
‘Sorry,’ I say at the same time he says:
‘You see anything?’
‘Huh?’ I stammer, my face burning hotter than the sun.
He tips his head, indicating the screen.
‘Oh, right, um,’ I head over to the desk, avoiding looking at him as I’m fairly sure he’s smirking at me.
‘Anything out of the ordinary? The cop still there?’ he asks, turning to the monitor.
I nod. ‘Yeah. He hasn’t moved.’
Finn’s expression has turned serious. He nods to himself. ‘OK, we’ll go tonight. Around three a.m.’
‘How are we going to get past him?’ I ask.
‘Don’t worry about that,’ Finn says rubbing his eyes. ‘Look, I’m going to sleep for a bit longer.’
I daren’t look his way so I just keep my focus fixed on the screen and nod.
‘You should nap too, before we leave,’ he adds.
‘I’m fine,’ I tell him, mainly as I’m wondering where I’m supposed to sleep if he takes the bed. There’s no way I’m sleeping beside him.
‘Are you going to be OK?’ he asks in a quieter voice. ‘If you want anything, just help yourself.’
Conspiracy Girl by Sarah Alderson / Young Adult / Mystery & Detective / History & Fiction / Romance & Love / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes