Authors: LS Sygnet
Tags: #mystery, #deception, #vendetta, #cold case, #psychiatric hospital, #attempted murder, #distrust
"Poor kid," Devlin muttered. "What a
Crevan arrived first with three huge bags
stuffed with everything from ribs and slaw to a bucket of
strawberry soft serve. I took it as a good sign for the guest
list for the impromptu briefing over dinner. Ribs equaled
pork. Shelly was a devout Jew. Pork meant no
Shelly. No Shelly equaled no need for OSI.
I relaxed a little bit and started munching
on sliced pickles from a pint sized styrofoam container while
Crevan started unpacking more food than my house had held since my
first and last dinner party. He swatted at my hand.
"Save some of those pickles for the rest of
"Want me to get a bottle of wine?"
He squinted ever so slightly. "When
was the last time you took a pain pill, and should I be worried
about this love affair you're apparently having with Ernest and
"Ha-ha. As if I'd have something that
cheap in the wine cellar."
Crevan grinned. "As I recall, it's
more of a closet than it is a real cellar. Answer the
question, detective. Did you or did you not consume narcotic
pain medication within the past ninety minutes?"
"Guilty as charged." I nibbled more
pickle. "So who's this guy we need the State Department to
"Trevor Kent, aged twenty-eight, graduate of
Metro State three years ago."
"And he's already landed a foreign
"His father is former U.S. Senator Michael
Kent, retired. He had good connections, which from what I've
learned about becoming even something as lowly as an attaché to an
ambassador, seems to be a prerequisite."
I pointed my nose heavenward. "It does
help to run in the correct circles."
"Running in circles is right. I
thought I'd go blind trying to find someone who could help me pin
down enough on this guy to learn who his family is. You can
see why your connections will be so helpful."
"I think Devlin found a faster track than
people who may or may not be inclined to do a favor to the
disgraced former special agent," I said. "He's got Ms.
Journey Ireland wrapped around his little finger it would
"You talked to him?"
"And to her," I said. "We were leaving
MSUH when you called me. I really was wiped out when you
offered Jose's Diner as an alternative to dinner at home."
"Huh," Crevan grunted. "Dinner alone
in this mausoleum is no guarantee that you'd actually eat
anything." He slammed the freezer door after depositing his
soft serve and pinned me with a critical stare. "How bad is
it, Helen? Really."
"How bad is what?"
"I'm getting better, okay? And about
the weight thing and holing up in here alone all the time, I'm
dealing with that too."
I started to make the ever deceptive X over
my heart when his mouth slanted in an unfavorable direction.
"I promise. I'm on Prozac as of today. Happy now?"
"I'd be happier if I thought our reality
check this morning had anything to do with it."
"What reality check?"
"The one where I suggested you're looking
rather wan. You couldn't see it, could you?"
I stuffed half a dozen chunks of dill in my
mouth and muttered, "Wasn't really looking."
"That's what I thought. Sit," he
ordered with a point to a chair when the doorbell chimed.
"I'll show the rest of this motley crew in. I want to see a
full plate when I come back, and we're not leaving until you eat
every last bite."
The thought of more than pickles, which made
my gut feel stretched to the limit already, presented reason enough
for more panic. Oh that life could be filled with such
trivial problems. Ned, Devlin and Shelly strolled into the
kitchen. Ned's shock had worn off after our first encounter,
and Devlin had no idea what bad really meant.
Shelly's jaw dropped. "Helen..."
"Don't start. I've had enough lectures
for one day about letting myself go. It's one of the
unfortunate side effects of living from pain pill to pain
pill. Can we please eat and get this conversation
started? I'd like to snooze before my high abates."
Little nervous wings flapped in the middle
of starving Africa when I saw Shelly. It had less to do with
worry that she wouldn't have anything Kosher for dinner and more to
do with who else might join the party. (As it turned out, the
ribs were beef.) But nobody objected to my suggestion, and soon
enough, we were all eating and chatting about what everyone had
learned about Journey Ireland.
Point of clarification – they chowed
heartily. I nibbled and rearranged until Crevan's stern and
pointed stare resulted in the urge to simply sit on my hands.
"Start eating, Helen. I wasn't
I cleaned half a rib while
Ned told me that James Linder owned an insurance agency. "His
secretary said he called at about nine this morning and said he was
feeling a bit under the weather. I had to turn on the charm
to get the translation of that into the language of reality.
Apparently under the weather is code for
drank eight quarts of Jose Cuervo last night and need to sleep it
"He's a drunk? Helen, do you think
that could be why Journey dumped the guy?" Devlin asked.
"According to Vanessa the office girl," Ned
said, "Jim told anyone and everyone who would listen that he broke
it off with Journey. And I quote – he needed someone with a
higher level of maturity. She was fun enough for the midlife
crisis, but he snapped out of it."
"So Vanessa isn't a member of the Journey
Ireland fan club," I glanced at Devlin and read his opinion without
"I still say he's a pig, and sleeping off
his drunken binge is hardly an alibi. He called in after the
attack happened. God only knows where he was before it.
He could be the perp."
"Are you gonna talk to Linder in the
morning, Ned?" I asked.
"I'm planning to try. His girl Vanessa
was cagey about when and if he'd be back in the office. I got
the impression this wasn't the first time she covered for the bad
boss. Why do you ask? Want to tag along?"
Shelly cleared her throat. "Gentlemen,
Helen is still off the rotation. Until she's cleared by
medical, there's no way she's coming back yet."
I agreed, at least in part. "There are
a couple of things I'd suggest you do," Devlin and I shared a
tandem review of the conversation with Journey Ireland,
specifically her reluctance to say anything that might incriminate
Linder. "What you need to do is find a friend who is willing
to be honest about whatever her reasons for dumping this guy.
His assistant's opinions aside, it's safe to say there's more to
this story than we've gotten from anyone."
"I think Evans was telling the truth,"
Devlin said. "The guy was pretty shaken up when he found out
what happened to his old flame today, but it didn't make him waver
The doorbell rang again. Crevan jumped
before I could get up. "You. Eat. Right now."
When he left the kitchen, Shelly shook her
head. "I told him it was a bad idea to tell Briscoe about
this. No doubt he took the first flight back into town."
Ned frowned. "I thought Crevan was
against the idea."
"You know how he vacillates," Shelly
Crevan's voice floated into the
kitchen. "So like I said, Devlin and Helen were just telling
us about the interview with Journey and that they think this thing
might not be related to the Southerby thing after all."
Before I could brace myself for the mother
of all lectures on my health from Tony Briscoe, the responding
voice hit my ears, low, deep and definitely not one I wanted to
"Do we know for a fact that Linder isn't
tied to Danny Datello? Has anyone thought to check this guy
out completely, Crevan? Everybody's got an insurance
guy. If Journey knew something, or learned something during
the time she dated Linder and Datello found out about it, he
could've pressured Linder to shut her up for good."
My stomach pitched in revolt. I shoved
the plate away from me and jumped up from the table.
"Helen, what's wrong?" Shelly asked.
"I think I'm gonna be sick." I darted
away from the table toward the butler's pantry and into the
bathroom for the first floor guest room. It was situated on
the opposite side of the house that I typically inhabited. I
slammed the door and struggled to catch my breath after the scant
contents of dinner reappeared in the toilet.
Orion was in the
Oh God. I can't do
this. I can't –
A soft knock sounded at the bathroom
door. Either that or my heart was outside seeking entry so it
could jump back in my chest where it belonged. I turned on
the water at the sink and pretended not to hear.
Tapping resumed. "Helen?"
I splashed my face and
cupped water in one hand to rinse the nasty taste out of my
Don't talk and they'll all go
away. It's the Prozac giving a new twist on horrible
nightmares. Shelly Finkelstein did not follow me out of my
kitchen. She is not checking on me. None of this is
Rationality vied for
dominance over my pitching emotions.
Knock it off, Helen. Do you really want to give this
kind of importance to Orion in front of your…well, friends for lack
of a better word? This is a case. Plain and
simple. It happens to matter to Orion because he wants
Datello behind bars. Pull up your big girl panties and deal
with it. You can convince them that the pickles didn't agree
with your stomach. God knows, it's not far from the
"I'm all right, Shelly. I think I ate
too many pickles before everyone arrived," I called through the
door. "Give me a minute and I'll be right out."
"Are you sure?"
"Ask Crevan. He warned me to slow
Footsteps receded. I
braced myself against the sink and sucked in a slow, shuddering
See? Nothing to
this. Are you gonna let these people believe that you had
nerves of steel when Mark Seleeby was hunting you like Salem's most
elusive witch, but you can't stand the sight of a guy who claims
Couldn't even let reason finish that
thought. I patted my face dry and stiffened my spine. I
could do this. I would do this.
Crevan lurked in the hallway when I stepped
out the door.
"You warned me about the pickles."
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have insisted
that you eat so much. You're not used to it are you?"
"Tea and toast might've been wiser
choices. Not to worry. I've got the tea, and I'll
settle for a dinner roll to help quell the churning abyss now that
I'm empty again."
"Are you sure that's all this is?"
Crevan's eyes darted toward the kitchen door. His voice
dropped to a low whisper. "He's only here because of the
"It's fine." Great
big whopping fat black lie. My palms started sweating
profusely with every step toward the door. I'm not sure what
I expected when I stepped through. Pointed fingers and shouts
Cuffs and Miranda rights? Maybe another lecture on my
self-neglect, or Orion hanging around for another round of
let's see if Helen changed her
I braced for the worst, part of my mind
aware that such a thing was impossible, and stepped into the
kitchen. Forestalling the pity was easy enough.
"Don't mind me. Lesson learned.
Pickles and oxycontin do not mix well. What did I miss?"
I turned away from the group and headed
toward the tea kettle on the stove. Two minutes never passed
so quickly. The kettle's low whistle prompted me to dig
through the cupboard for tea. The only box available was
Sleepy Time, a gift from Maya when I wasn't able to relax a couple
of months ago. Before the injury.
"Johnny thinks we should do some digging
into Linder's background, see if there's a link between him and
Datello. What do you think, Helen?" Crevan asked.
I kept my back turned and
pretended great interest in steeping the hot tea. "I don't
think we should rule anything out at this point. We all know
how I feel about coincidences. The timing of this
attack…" Something utterly case related tickled at my brain
along with the last words I heard Orion speak. Journey
Ireland hadn't really
to us. Had her attacker inadvertently
"Helen?" This time Crevan's voice
spiked with concern.
"Excuse me for a moment." I abandoned
the tea and left the kitchen again. This time my destination
wasn't a hiding place with a lock on the door. I made a bee
line for the study. Footsteps were right behind me. I
ignored them and moved straight to the bookshelf and the bible for
my type – the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, or DSM, the
diagnostic guide of all guides for mental disorders.
"What are you doing?" Crevan
"I thought of something."
Sometimes a silent grin is audible.
"What?" I peeked over one
shoulder. He was shaking his head and laughing
"It's good to have you back, Helen.
"Don't be an ass." I skimmed the table
of contents and found the section I needed and walked past him back
to my guests. The case blocked out Johnny's presence
effectively for the moment.