Authors: Jane Haddam
“I think so.”
“And you think it’s connected with everything else? With the way she died? And with the bank robberies?”
“I don’t know,” Gregor said. “I just find the whole thing very odd. I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard of a guy named Ray Guy Pearce.”
“Sure I have,” Bennis said. “Knight Sion Books. The gold standard in conspiracy theories. Don’t tell me he’s involved in this, too.”
“He seems to be publishing books about the Chapin Waring case. The old one.”
“Of course he is,” Bennis said. “But, Gregor, for God’s sake. You can’t take Ray Guy Pearce seriously. He thinks the world is being run by reptilian life-forms who are the descendants of the coupling of human women with Satan’s demons. I don’t think he’s entirely sane.”
Evaline Veer was not a stupid woman, and she was not nearly so naïve as some people thought she was. When the reappearance of Chapin Waring in Alwych had been nothing more than a series of rumors about sightings up and down Beach Drive, she’d had reason to hope that the whole thing was just mass hysteria. Alwych had never gotten over the Waring case, and probably never would. Schoolchildren talked about Chapin Waring as if she were a cross between a ghost and a bogeyman. Girls at Alwych Country Day pretended she was their role model.
As soon as the body had turned up, Evaline knew she would have to go ahead whether she wanted to or not. It had been odd, getting that phone call. Chapin Waring was back, but she wasn’t wearing big black sunglasses at a fruit stand out on Route 7 or stopping for ice cream at the little place next to Lanyard’s. No, she was dead, with a knife up to its hilt in her shoulder blade. Evaline had known, as soon as she heard that, that all the reports would say that Chapin had been “stabbed in the back.”
It’s more like she stabbed us all in the back,
Evaline thought, pulling into her space in the Town Hall parking lot. She walked around to the steps leading to the Town Hall’s side door. Jenny’s car was parked right next to the steps.
Evaline let herself into the building. The Town Hall wouldn’t be officially open for another half hour. The tax collector’s office was empty. The long plastic shade was pulled down in front of the payment window. The probate judge’s office was empty, too.
On the second floor, there were finally signs of life. The door to the Office of the Mayor was open, and inside Jenny was singing something to herself about how all you had to do was put a drink in her hand. She stopped at the door to Jenny’s office and looked in. Jenny was wearing heels high enough to be stilts and a tight, straight skirt so short, it could have served as shrink-wrap. The skirt was sky blue. Her hair was neon green.
Evaline knocked against the doorframe to get Jenny’s attention. Jenny looked up and took the earphones out of her ears.
“I don’t understand what the point of the earphones is,” Evaline said. “I can hear everything you play. You must be blasting your eardrums to pieces.”
“It’s a good thing you’re in,” Jenny said. “I already have a pile of messages on your desk. The FBI called again.”
“What did they want?”
“They never want anything,” Jenny said. “They just go on and on about cooperation and being on the same side. Are we on the same side? I can never tell when we’re talking about Chapin Waring. I wish I was old enough to have known her.”
“There was nothing to know,” Evaline said. “She was like every little snotty party girl you’d meet at Alwych Country Day.”
“I didn’t go to Alwych Country Day.”
Evaline let this pass and went through into her own office. Light was streaming in through the two tall windows at the back. Her desk was pristine except for the little pile of messages. Evaline looked through them.
“Jenny?” she said.
“What’s up?” Jenny appeared in the doorway.
Evaline passed on the opportunity to give a lecture on the proper way to respond to a superior in a business setting.
“There’s nothing here from Gregor Demarkian,” Evaline said.
“Oh, I know,” Jenny said. “It was the police department who contacted him, so his messages go there. I don’t think we’ve ever talked to him directly, have we?”
“Well, you don’t have to worry. He’s coming in on the noon train, and the chief of police himself is going to meet him.”
“Has anybody told him that the state forensics lab lost its certification?” Evaline asked.
“I don’t know. Do you want me to call the police and ask?”
“No, really, that’s all right. If he doesn’t know already, he’ll know soon enough. Did we remember to get him his car and driver?”
“Yes,” Jenny said. “Of course. You checked all that out last week.”
“I just want to make sure everything is in order,” Evaline said. “When this is over, I never have to see any of it again.”
“Right,” Jenny said, teetering a little. “There’s something I forgot. We got a call from the Office of Health Care Access.”
“The Office of Health Care Access. That’s one we haven’t dealt with before.”
“The woman who called is sending over some papers,” Jenny said, “so I suppose we should read those. It was something about something being wrong at Tim Brand’s clinic.”
“Something being wrong that has to do with health care access? Really? The man provides free health care services to strays who wander in from Bridgeport.”
“She said something about the rules for emergency rooms.”
Evaline had been leafing through the messages, putting aside the ones she thought might be important. When she heard “emergency rooms,” she looked up.
“Somebody called from something called the Office of Health Care Access, talking about Tim Brand’s clinic and emergency rooms?”
“Exactly,” Jenny said. “But Tim Brand runs a clinic, not an emergency room. There’s an emergency room at the hospital. I tried to explain that to her, but she wasn’t listening, and then she said that she’d send over these papers. So I figure we just have to get the papers and read them.”
“It makes perfect sense,” Evaline said.
“I don’t see how.”
“I knew she was going to do something,” Evaline said. “I just didn’t know what. I wonder if she really thinks she’s going to get away with this.”
“Who’s going to get away with what?”
“She can’t imagine nobody will trace it back to her,” Evaline said. “The only hope she’s got is that it will take longer to trace than it takes her to get elected to the United States Senate. And I wouldn’t bet on it.”
Jenny brightened. “Oh, you mean Mrs. Westervan. Is she head of the Office of Health Care Access?”
“No,” Evaline said.
She got up from behind her desk and started pacing.
Evaline Veer had never much liked Virginia Brand Westervan, and she liked her less and less as the years went by.
“Damn,” Evaline said, sitting down again.
Jenny looked uncertain. “Are you all right? Can I get you something?”
“Yes,” Evaline said. “Get me Tim Brand. Get him out of bed. I don’t care. If he knows what’s good for him, he’ll be in this office in under half an hour.”
There were two times in the last two weeks when Kyle Westervan thought he might have pushed this thing too far, and both times he turned out to be wrong.
The first time was, of course, the night Chapin Waring had been murdered. There was no scenario on earth that started with Chapin Waring being murdered—even thousands of miles away in a brothel in Bangkok—that didn’t end in a hailstorm of Federal agents from one end of Connecticut to another.
He’d sat in his office in New York for days, waiting. He’d ridden home in his Saab every night very late, waiting. He’d woken up every morning in his bed at home, waiting. The waiting had felt like one of those long, slow nightmares where you know you’re asleep, but can’t make it out the other side no matter what you do.
And then nothing had happened. The Waring house was cordoned off as a crime scene. There were two officers stationed at the end of the drive at all times. There was another officer stationed on the patio in back, where the house overlooked the sea. People came and went, but nobody knocked on his door or called his office to ask anything about where he had been at the time of the crime.
The other time Kyle had been sure everything was about to fall on his head was last Saturday, when Hope Matlock called. Kyle got the impression that Hope was living hand to mouth these days. She was obviously not skipping any meals, but he thought that might be because she was skipping out on the utilities or making some other accommodation he found completely outside the pale. She was also very nervous. Talking to her was like plucking on a taut elastic band. She jumped if you did anything unexpected. She always seemed on the verge of tears.
In a way, it was because of all that—because he felt sorry for her—that Kyle had suggested the arrangement to begin with. At that point, Chapin Waring had just died, and he thought it made a certain amount of sense to stop carrying so much cash on him all the time. In a lot of ways, it couldn’t be helped. For a certain kind of client with a certain kind of problem, cash was all that would do.
Kyle regretted making the suggestion to Hope as soon as he’d made it. He regretted it even more on Saturday morning, when she’d gotten him out of bed and sounded completely hysterical. Hope was not a person who could be trusted in any situation in which stress was involved. She lost her nerve almost immediately.
For a couple of days after Hope woke him up that morning, Kyle had waited. He had waited at home and in the office, just as he did after Chapin Waring was killed. There was nothing but the usual.
Finally, Kyle had had to accept it. The Alwych Police Department didn’t think he was enough of a suspect to interview, never mind to demand an alibi from. He didn’t know if this was because they really hadn’t considered the obvious, or maybe they just didn’t want to bother the congresswoman’s ex-husband. The hiatus had given him just long enough to make sure he had nothing on him that could lead to the wrong kind of questions.
This morning, he had risen and packed up his briefcase and driven to the train station. He usually drove into the city, but he was running late. Just for once he didn’t want the bother of traffic and rush hour and Manhattan parking.
If anybody had opened his briefcase, they would have found it a model of rectitude. It had his phone, court documents from a bankruptcy filing that was being entered against his advice, a copy of
and a copy of
He found himself a seat alone near a window. The train car was almost empty. There was a buzz in his briefcase. He opened it and took out the phone.
“Yes,” he said, leaving the briefcase on the empty seat beside him.
“Where the hell are you?” Walter said. “I’ve been looking for you for the past hour.”
“I’m running a little late.” This was not an explanation. Kyle knew it. “The train is just leaving the station. I’ll be in in about an hour and a half.”
“You’re taking the train? You never take the train.”
“I couldn’t handle the traffic. Is this actually about something? Has there been some kind of crisis in the office?”
“Listen.” Walter was whispering. His voice was so low, Kyle almost couldn’t hear it. “I’m a little worried about this phone. Your phone. We need a secure connection. We could get picked up.”
“For God’s sake,” Kyle said again. “Those people would need a wiretap warrant. And to get a wiretap warrant, they’d need probable cause that a crime had been committed, or was being committed, or was about to be committed. What kind of crime do you think is being committed here?”
“Everything is a crime these days,” Walter said.
“For God’s—never mind. Walter, just tell me who it is so I’ll know what to expect when I get there.”
More hemming and hawing. Another cough.
“Walter,” Kyle said.
Walter gave one great, last cough and said, “It’s the guy from Washington. He flew in this morning. He’s at the Hilton.”
The train started to move. Kyle watched as he rolled slowly by cars and people and buildings.
“Kyle?” Walter said.
“I’m here,” Kyle said.
“He’s blowing steam out his head. I’m supposed to call him as soon as you get in.”
“You should both calm down.”
Kyle looked out the window again. The train was picking up speed. There was a billboard that said:
VIRGINIA WESTERVAN FOR U.S. SENATE.
Kyle wondered for the hundredth time why she hadn’t gone back to her maiden name after their divorce.
“I’ll be there when the train gets in,” Kyle said, and then slid the phone shut.
With the phone shut, the world was silent.
Tim Brand had been born into a lot of money. He had as much in a trust fund on the day after he was delivered than most people would see in a lifetime. He had money he was not allowed to touch except for the income. He had money he could do anything he wanted with.
Even so, he didn’t have enough money to run a full-service free clinic 24/7/365 unless he was very, very careful.
The letters from the Office of Health Care Access and the Office of the Healthcare Advocate had come Saturday. Tim hadn’t been able to get a full night’s sleep since. He’d pushed himself at the clinic until he thought he was going to fall over. It didn’t matter. He got home and lay down and found himself staring at the ceiling.
Part of being careful in the founding and running of the free clinic was his choice of where to live. He hadn’t been silly enough to think he could afford a house in Alwych at the same time he was telling single mothers they didn’t have to worry about getting a bill for Susie’s flu vaccination and Tommy’s set leg. Tim Brand lived in a “condominium townhome,” which had been ridiculously expensive, but at least within the realm of basic sanity.
This morning, he had gotten up and showered as soon as he accepted the fact that sleep was over for the night. Then he had gone to Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
After Mass was over, he went out to stand on the steps and look down the hill at the town. The priest stopped and asked him if he felt all right. He brushed it off.