Conspiracy Girl, p.9Sarah Alderson
‘I’m OK.’ I still can’t look at him. ‘But if I feel like Snapple or peanut butter I know where to look.’
He hesitates for a moment, as though he wants to say something else, then he walks towards the bed. ‘And,’ he says over his shoulder, ‘a word of advice. Never sneak up on me. I normally sleep with a gun close by. I don’t want to take your head off. Or your dog’s for that matter.’
‘I didn’t sneak up on you!’ I protest.
Finn flops down on to the bed, raising his eyebrow at me.
‘I didn’t!’ I say again. ‘I knocked and you didn’t answer. I was . . . worried about you.’ My blood boils as a smile joins his arched eyebrow.
‘Goodnight, Nic,’ he says, burying his head under a pillow.
‘Whatever,’ I mutter, turning away from him.
I can’t concentrate. There’s too much running through my mind, so after an hour and a half of staring at the cop on the screen, whose only activity appears to be drilling for ear wax and checking his phone for messages, I start walking the length of the loft, back and forth, trying to replay everything and make sense of it. Where is Aiden? That’s my biggest worry. And what about Hugo? I still want to call the hospital but I know better than to try.
The desire to get away, to escape everything, starts to build again. I’m like an addict needing a fix. The need to be outside is making my skin itch and crawl. My head feels too crowded, with voices and images. I glance towards the door and then the bed, where Finn lies sprawled on top of the covers, and my thoughts are immediately diverted from plans of escape. Goz has snuggled up to Finn, who has his arm flung over him.
I suppress the urge to yell at Goz because I don’t want to wake Finn. His warning still plays in my head. His gun is lying on the nightstand not too far from his outstretched hand. But my irritation levels jump another notch or three. How dare he? That’s my dog. I shoot them both evil stares but they are both fast asleep, Goz snoring. I hope he slobbers all over Finn.
After a few more minutes of pacing I realise that I’m feeling pent up and on edge because I’ve missed my usual exercise routine. Normally I work out for between two to four hours a day. When I don’t, my body gathers up all the excess energy and it manifests in what my therapist calls ‘obsessive behaviour patterns’. I can end up spending hours checking and rechecking locks on doors and windows, spring cleaning, folding and refolding clothes. It took a lot of therapy to get control of all those compunctions. Exercise helps the most.
Feeling relieved because at least this is something I can fix, I grab my bag from the kitchen counter and take it with me into the bathroom. A few minutes later, wearing a pair of leggings and the same camisole top I was already wearing, I take up position on the other side of the cube from the bed and roll out Finn’s yoga mat. He doesn’t have a punchbag, unfortunately. Slowly I start stretching and then I fall, trance-like, into a power yoga routine. I keep going until I’m drenched in sweat and my arms are shaking.
Finally I collapse on the mat and curl slowly into a ball, hugging my arms around my body. Tears threaten like a storm building on the horizon, burning the back of my eyes and my throat, but refusing to come. I don’t know why. Maybe I’m just too tired. Or maybe I just realise the futility. After the trial and all the press coverage, I got good at hiding my feelings, burying them away from the prying eyes of the media and family friends and the long line of bereavement counsellors who tried to get me to relinquish my guilt and sadness – like they were suitcases I could just put down and walk away from and not something that was physically attached to me, welded to my bones and flesh.
A wet nose pokes under my arm and prods my chin. I move my arms and find Goz sitting by my side, looking at me with concern. I use his powerful shoulders to haul myself to my feet then walk over to the desk to check the monitor and see if the cop has moved, pulling my arms back over my head to stretch my aching muscles out. The cop is still leaning against the wall, yawning. What if he’s still there later tonight? How is Finn going to handle that exactly?
I jolt around. Finn is standing behind me, looking rumpled from sleep but alert. He’s staring at the screens over my shoulder but then his gaze switches to me and falls to my chest, then my legs. He frowns in confusion. ‘You’re all sweaty,’ he says.
Self-conscious, I cross my arms over my body and swipe at the hair sticking to my neck. ‘I was just . . .’
‘Practising yoga?’ he asks, glancing over at his mat.
‘Yeah,’ I mumble. ‘I needed to,’ I add for no reason.
‘Cool,’ he says, smiling at me. ‘That’s how I wind down too.’ His gaze wanders to my shoulder, his hand reaching towards me before he catches himself and drops it to his side. My strap has fallen down my arm. I pull it quickly back up.
Finn walks past me, stretching languidly as he goes, and once again I’m struck by how casual he seems, given the situation we’re in.
‘Why don’t you take a shower and I’ll fix us some dinner?’ he says, opening the refrigerator door and then slamming it again. ‘Order us some dinner,’ he corrects himself.
I pick up my bag and head to the bathroom.
‘Don’t worry, take your time,’ Finn says as I open the door, ‘I won’t burst in on you.’
I look over at him but he’s busy playing with Goz, offering him the leftover chicken curry from the takeout box. I just shake my head at him and close the door behind me, making sure to lock it.
The shower turns on just as I finish ordering takeout. I move to the other end of the loft, trying to put some distance between myself and the images, now leaping into my head, of Nic stripping out of her sweaty exercise gear and stepping into the shower. Goz would have my balls on a plate if he could guess what was going through my mind, which is nothing to what Maggie would do if she knew.
‘Hello?’ I say.
It’s Maggie. There are street noises in the background and I can tell she’s walking fast by the clipped tone she’s employing.
‘Any news?’ I ask.
‘Nothing. They’re putting out a missing person alert on Nic. They’re speculating that it’s a double kidnapping. Her and Aiden together. I’ve got internal affairs breathing down my back. They’re bringing in extra teams, expanding the investigation. We’re keeping it out of the press for the time being but it won’t be long before it leaks.’
My mind flashes back to the media furore surrounding the Cooper case. Once this hits the newsstands it will go huge. Any privacy Nic has managed to carve for herself is going to be lost. She’ll be splashed across all the front pages. Not what we need right now.
‘You need to figure out who’s behind this, Finn, find out what they want.’
‘Yeah, working on it,’ I answer tersely. Hell, what does she think I’ve been doing? Sitting on my ass, meditating?
‘How’s Nic doing?’ Maggie asks. ‘Has she remembered anything? Does she have any clue what this is about?’
I head over to the windows to pull the blinds down. It’s cold outside, the glass is all fogged up apart from for a single handprint on one pane. Nic’s hand. I place mine over the top absentmindedly.
‘No.’ I listen to the sound of the shower. ‘She has no idea.’
‘Where is she? Are you keeping an eye on her?’
‘Of course I am. She’s in the shower.’ As I say it I realise how it sounds, but before I can verify to Maggie that I’m not watching Nic as she showers, Maggie interrupts. ‘And she’s OK? . . . With you, I mean?’ Maggie asks.
I draw the blinds and then flop down into my chair. ‘Well, she hates my guts but hey, give me a day or two, I’m sure I can win her around.’
‘That’s what I’m afraid of,’ Maggie states drily.
‘What are you talking about?’
‘You know exactly what I’m talking about. One word: Ricci.’
I press back into my chair, sucking in a breath. I shake my
‘Nic’s a witness, Finn,’ Maggie says. ‘Hands off the witness. You know the rules. You already broke them once and look what happened.’
Like she needs to remind me. I’m not going to forget Eleanor Ricci as long as I live. I’m not going to stop regretting what I did either.
‘I know Nic’s your type, but steer clear.’
‘What do you mean – my type?’ I ask angrily.
‘Beautiful, smart, got that whole vulnerable-yet-tough thing going on, doesn’t take any of your crap or act in any way interested in you. That’s your catnip right there.’
‘Just drop it OK? I don’t need a reminder or a warning. Are you going to update me or what?’ I say, trying to move the conversation on. ‘Any sign of Aiden Cooper?’
Pleasantries over, Maggie switches into professional mode, which I’m fairly sure she learned from watching Claire Danes in Homeland. ‘No. None. He’s vanished.’
‘Need some help?’ I ask, my fingers dashing over the keyboard. I installed a system which will alert me if his cards are used. Nothing’s come up so far. But a man like him probably carries a few thousand in cash just in his wallet and he’d probably be able to pawn his watch too if it came to it. That could get him far enough but not for too long.
‘Nope,’ Maggie says. ‘Give us a few more hours. We’ll find him. He can’t have vanished off the face of the earth. We’re checking car rental companies, trains and Greyhound. And there’s a team of agents checking CCTV. He got in a cab two blocks west of Nic’s apartment. Took it to Times Square. Taxi driver says he was agitated, gave him a one-hundred dollar tip.’
I prop the phone against my shoulder so I can type two-handed. ‘Or maybe he wanted to make sure he was remembered.’
Maggie doesn’t say anything.
‘Times Square?’ I ask, pulling up a map of Manhattan. ‘Did he take the subway from there?’
‘Possibly. We’re checking.
‘Interesting choice. I mean Times Square, around ten p.m. That place is heaving. Easy to lose yourself in a crowd. What’s CCTV show?’
‘We picked him up on the corner of Broadway, then he vanishes.’
I run the scenarios in my head, factoring in this new info. There are three: he went somewhere willingly, he went somewhere unwillingly, or he’s had an accident. But I’ve searched all the hospital databases for anyone having been brought in matching Aiden Cooper’s description, and nothing. Given the events of the night, I’m thinking he knew he was being pursued, so he’s either vanished on purpose or he’s been captured for some as-yet unknown reason. I’m leaning towards the latter, as I’m not sure Aiden Cooper has the skills to evade the FBI for this long without help.
‘You find anything in his emails?’ Maggie asks, interrupting my thoughts.
‘You getting anywhere with that subpoena?’ I fire back. ‘The man gets thousands of emails each week. I’m running a trace on any containing keywords.’
‘Anything involving money, anything that sounds threatening, any that contain images, you know the drill.’
‘You find anything yet?’
‘No. Not yet. Still looking.’ I ignore her sigh of impatience. ‘What about Hugo?’ I ask, knowing that Nic will want an update.
‘He’s still in a coma. They have two cops guarding him round the clock. I made sure of it.’
‘Good.’ Hugo could almost definitely give us a description of whoever shot him. Whoever is behind this will want to finish the job. ‘And how’s it going your end?’ I ask. ‘Any closer to finding out who took the shot at your partner?’
‘No. We’re still waiting on the ballistics report. But I don’t think it will tell us much.’
‘Your boss believe your story?’ I ask her.
‘Yeah, I think so. I mean, you should see the bruise I gave myself. I needed stitches.’
‘No one can doubt your dedication to the cause.’
‘They gave me a new partner by the way,’ Maggie goes on. ‘This guy called Wise. He was the one at the safe house last night when we got there.’
‘Could he be involved?’ I ask.
‘Right now I’m not discounting anyone,’ Maggie says. ‘I’m just working my way through the suspects. All those who knew where we were going.’
‘And Miles and McCrory?’ I ask, because it would be good to know we’ve discounted those two, and so I can finally convince Nic of their innocence.
‘Yeah, that’s the weird thing, Finn,’ Maggie says. ‘We can’t find them either. We sent local police to pick them both up and neither of them were home and haven’t been seen since yesterday morning.’
I lean forward, pushing Goz’s head off my lap and spin towards my other machine. ‘I pulled up his bank records – McCrory’s. He made a withdrawal in Anchorage at ten a.m. yesterday. If he got from there to New York in the space of fifteen hours I’d be surprised.’
‘He could have flown.’
‘This guy hasn’t taken a flight in his life, other than in an air force carrier to Iraq and back. And he’s not showing up on any flight manifest from Alaska to anywhere on the eastern seaboard.’
‘We’re prioritising them.’
‘Don’t. It’s not them.’
Maggie pauses. ‘OK, keep me updated,’ she finally says. ‘I’ll call you tomorrow morning.’
Just then I hear a sound like wet mud splatting against the ground. I spin in my chair. ‘Oh shit,’ I say jumping up.
‘What?’ Maggie shouts down the phone in alarm.
‘Nothing, nothing,’ I mutter. ‘The dog just crapped all over my floor. Look, I’ve got to go,’ I mumble.
‘Let it do its business in the house, Finn,’ Maggie yells before I can hang up. ‘OK? Do not let her take the dog outside. Don’t go anywhere.’
‘Yeah, yeah,’ I say, ‘gotta go.’ I hang up and stare at Goz, who is whining as he deposits another flood of crap all over my floor.
‘Shit,’ I say.
The bathroom door opens and Nic appears as though her entrance has been scripted. She’s wearing dark jeans and a T-shirt. Her hair is wet and hanging loose over her shoulders. She sees the expression on my face and her gaze drops to the steaming piles of poop and her guilt-faced, slobbering dog, then she looks up at me and shrugs. And I swear she’s trying not to smile.
There’s something uniquely satisfying about watching Finn’s face as he contemplates Goz’s little gifts. I can’t help but smile. But then the fumes hit me.
‘You shouldn’t have fed him Thai chicken curry,’ I say, walking over to the kitchen. I grab a roll of tissue and throw it in Finn’s direction. He catches it in his left hand then, shaking his head, he gets down on his knees muttering in disgust. ‘You not even going to help?’ he asks. ‘He’s your dog.’
I sigh. Even though I would love to stand and watch him clear up dog poo for the rest of eternity, I guess I had better give a hand.
When we’re done we both wash our hands and then Finn walks over to the windows, pulls aside the blind and cracks one open. Straightaway frigid, cold air rushes in. My wet hair clings to my scalp and I get up and throw on my hooded sweater.
The door buzzes as I am pulling it on and I jump. Finn is already crossing to the door to check the monitor. He winces and presses his forehead to the brick wall, squeezing his eyes shut.
‘What?’ I ask, alarmed, my heart ramming itself against my ribs as though trying to break out of my chest.
He opens his eyes. ‘Nothing,’ he says quickly. ‘Just our delivery.’
I’m not sure why that should cause him to react in such a way but before I can ask he cracks open the door, just by a few inches, blocking the view of the hallway with his body.
A few seconds later I hear a girl’s voice, bright and breezy, calling, ‘Delivery!’
Finn mutters something I can’t catch. I edge closer. Over his shoulder I see a girl with lo
‘Well,’ the girl says, ‘I thought maybe you wouldn’t mind some extras with your steak.’
‘Won’t they miss you?’ Finn asks.
‘Nope, Sandy’s covering. Aren’t you going to invite me in?’
It suddenly becomes clear to me what’s going on. I must make a sound, a snort of disgust, because Finn jerks around, sees me standing behind him, and grimaces. He actually looks like a man who’s been caught cheating. A mix of contradictory thoughts and feelings rushes through me; disgust that he thinks it’s OK to hook up with the delivery girl, annoyance that women seem to just offer themselves up to him like hot slices of pizza, and embarrassment that clearly I’m getting in the way.
‘Oh,’ the girl suddenly says, spying me behind Finn. ‘I didn’t know you had company.’ She looks at Finn, her expression transforming in an instant. ‘Why didn’t you say so?’ she asks with a smile so tight it looks like it’s been stitched into place.
‘I ordered steaks for three,’ Finn mutters uncomfortably.
‘You always order three steaks,’ she snaps back before recovering herself and handing him the bill with a cold stare.
Finn takes it and without even glancing at it he hands her four twenties. I back away and head towards the kitchen, letting Finn finish whatever awkward apology he needs to make.
By the time he comes over, he is slope-shouldered, his feet scuffing the floor. He sets the bags on the counter. ‘I haven’t slept with her,’ he announces.
I stop what I’m doing – laying out plates – and give him a look which I hope conveys that I don’t need an explanation and am not interested in hearing anything at all about his love life.
‘She just works at my favourite steak house,’ he continues on, despite my look. ‘I had no idea she was going to deliver them in person. Usually they have a boy do it. She works the door.’
‘It’s OK,’ I say, ‘I don’t need an explanation.’ I throw some cutlery down on the side, more aggressively than I would have liked. I mean, why the hell am I annoyed about what he gets up to with the delivery girl?
Conspiracy Girl by Sarah Alderson / Young Adult / Mystery & Detective / History & Fiction / Romance & Love / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes