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Authors: William Casey Moreton

Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Thriller

The Stranger Beside You (6 page)

BOOK: The Stranger Beside You
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“I’m, like, shaking.”

I changed lanes without signaling.

“Who do you think it was?”

“I don’t have a clue,” I said.

“Do you think it was related to Tom’s arrest?”

“I have no idea.”

“This is nuts.  I think we should meet in Manhattan.”

“No need.  I’ll call you when I hear something.”

“I need a drink,” she said.

“Have one for me.  Give the kids my love.  Talk to you later.”

“I’m praying for you.”

“I need it.”

I tried Clive’s cell a second time and got his voice mail again but didn’t leave a message, then I called his office and the receptionist answered.

“This is Brynn Nelson.  Where is Clive?”

“He’s out, Mrs. Nelson.”

“He’s not answering his cell.”

“I’ll tell him you called.”

I dropped off the line.

Traffic came to a standstill because of a wreck up ahead.  I could see lights flashing and a cop standing in the middle of the street directing cars with his arms out.  The lanes heading into the city were backed up at least a mile.  When my Starbucks was empty, I started cursing.  I decided to leave Clive a message this time.  “Clive, this is Brynn Nelson.  I’m in Manhattan.  I’ll be available all day.  Please give me a call.  Bye.”

Karly’s boutique is in Greenwich Village and she lives a block away from her shop.  She opens at ten, but I know Karly, and I know her sleep habits.  If the shop opens at ten, she’ll typically roll out of bed around ten-twenty, and she’ll actually begin to wake up about two in the afternoon.  Suffice to say, she’s not a morning person.  She parties and drinks, and doesn’t like to show up at work until the red has started to clear from her eyes.

I decided not to bother her for now so I parked and leaned between the bucket seats to unzip my bag.  I grabbed my notes and the digital camera, and scrolled through the photos I’d taken of the house.  My stomach twisted.  What a mess.  I was glad I’d gone out for the day. 

I shoved the camera into the glove box and studied my notes.  There was really nothing there.  The FBI had accused Tom of killing a female federal agent.  I tried to wrap my mind around it. There had been no warning, no signs, just a sudden knock at the door at midnight, and then they hauled him off to jail. 

I thought back over the past few days, weeks, and months, trying to remember if I’d noticed anything unusual.  Had there been strange phone calls?  Had he worked late or spent time away from home or varied his routine at all?  Nothing stood out.  Sitting with the morning sunlight warming my face, I couldn’t recall a single occurrence of what might pass for out-of-the-ordinary behavior.  Tom was Tom, day in and day out.  He has one of those personalities that never get flustered.  If he’d been hiding something, he’d hidden it exceptionally well. 

It was a few minutes before nine, and I was tired of waiting.  I crossed the street and ducked into a tiny bistro for coffee and a bagel and ate as I walked.  Karly’s shop was locked.  I stood on the sidewalk and stared at my reflection in the glass.  There was movement inside.  I cupped my hand over my eyes and squinted.  A sales clerk was straightening racks of clothing.  I tapped on the glass and she glanced up and frowned.  I gestured at the door.  She made a show of pointing at her watch and shook her head.  Still closed, she was telling me.  I tapped on the glass again and she came toward the door wearing a scowl.  I removed my sunglasses and smiled, and she made an “uh-oh” face and scrambled to find the keys.

“I’m sorry, Brynn,” she said as she held the door for me.

“No worries, Mira.”

“Karly won’t be here for a while.  Hangover city.”

I nodded.  “That’s fine, I’d just like someplace quiet to sit and wait.”

“Absolutely.  How about Karly’s office?”

“Perfect.”

Karly’s office was located directly above the shop.  I closed the door and dropped into the chic minimalist chair behind her chic minimalist glass desk.  The desk faced a window and I was thankful the sun was presently on the other side of the building.  Washington Square Park was visible in the distance but I wasn’t interested in the view. 

Her office smelled wonderful.  Karly has been all over the world, and she brings back lots of spices, candles, exotic perfumes and lotions, etc., and I could smell them all around me.  I opened her laptop and went to Google but I didn’t really know where to begin, so all I could do was start with the vague details I’d been given and hope to get lucky.  In the search field I typed: FBI AGENT, MURDERED, FEMALE, NEW YORK CITY.   

•  •  •

The beard was gone, replaced by a simple mustache.  The nose was new also, replaced by one slightly larger, with flared nostrils.  A Yankee cap and a pair of drugstore sunglasses completed the look.  The effect was impressive.  He was suddenly a new man.

His name was Garcia.

Garcia had patiently tracked Brynn Nelson from the suburbs of New Jersey into the crowded streets of Manhattan.  A power adaptor trailed like a coiled snake from the side of his laptop down to the car’s cigarette lighter.  The car was a Buick and belonged to Rosemary Gladwell.   

Garcia had easily spotted the Volvo parked along the city street and he parked the Buick and sat and waited.  He eventually got out and cruised on foot past the entrance to the little clothing boutique owned by Brynn Nelson’s friend.  The sign on the door said CLOSED and he glanced through the glass and saw a young woman inside working.  He stopped at the corner of the building and pulled a Snickers bar from his pocket and took a bite while he casually glanced around at the door to the boutique.  He had instructions, and his boss had been very clear not to grab her yet.  That time would come, but for now, he was only to watch and wait and follow.

Garcia took out his cell and dialed his employer’s number.

“Mr. Z, this is Garcia,” he said to the voice on the other end of the line.  “I followed the Nelson woman into Manhattan.  She doesn’t suspect a thing.”

 

 

 

9

 

It only took about ninety seconds to realize I would need more information.  My Google search had produced several hundred thousands results.  There were dozen of murders in New York each year and many of them were female victims.  I’m sure more than a few FBI agents are killed in any given twelve-month period, but most of those details are likely restricted from public access.  It was clear that I could easily waste hours clicking on links that would lead nowhere.  If I hoped to get anywhere I would need to find out the name of the woman that Tom was accused of killing.

Clive still hadn’t called and my frustration was rising.  I wanted to see Tom and to know that he was okay.  I mean, look, what could be more stressful to a person than to be awakened from a deep sleep by men with badges, then dragged away from your home, accused of a hideous crime you were totally innocent of, and then be handcuffed and interrogated like a criminal?  If you ask me, Tom had every right to feel disoriented and to not act like himself for a few hours. 

Most of all I needed reassurance.  That’s all any woman asks for.  I wanted Tom to look me in the eyes and tell me everything was going to be all right. 

I sat at Karly’s desk and stared at the blinking cursor.  Tom’s words came floating back. 
Pray also for me
.  I pursed my lips and shook my head.  What an odd statement.  My fingers hovered over the keyboard.  His phrasing had sounded almost poetic, like a line lifted from a romantic sonnet or a Shakespearean play.

I puzzled over it, the cursor patiently awaiting my next entry. 


that whenever I open my mouth…I will fearlessly make known the mystery for which I am an ambassador in chains

I pecked slowly at the keys:  WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.

The middle finger of my right hand hovered a fraction of an inch over the ENTER key.  I hesitated, one beat, two beats, and then my cell phone rang. 

It was Clive Rozzell.

 

 

 

10

 

All he said was that we needed to talk.

“Fine,” I said.  “So talk.”

“No.  I think it’s best we do this face to face.”

“Where have you been all morning?” I demanded. 

“Um…working.”

“You haven’t answered your cell.”

“I’ll explain when I see you.”

There was something in his tone I found unsettling.

“What’s going on, Clive?”

“Let’s not do this over the phone.”

“What are you not telling me?”

“Let me buy you lunch.”

“It’s too early for lunch, Clive.”

“Coffee, then.”

“I’ve had too much already.  I can barely sit still.”

He sighed.  There was exasperation, but there was something else as well.

“Where are you?”

“Greenwich Village.”

“Meet me at the corner of Central Park West and 72
nd
.”

“Don’t play games, Clive.  What have they done with Tom?  Has he been formally charged?  Is the judge going to grant bail?”

There was silence on the line. 

“Clive?”

“I’m here.”

“Tell me what’s wrong.” 

“Brynn – ”

“Did Tom say anything?  Does he know this woman they are talking about?”

“Brynn, please.  Just meet me at the park.”

I was already on my feet.  I sidestepped Karly’s desk and was halfway to the door when it suddenly burst open.  Karly was standing there with one hand on the door and the other hand balancing an enormous cup of coffee, a cigarette between her lips.  She wore huge dark sunglasses, her crimson-streaked black hair jutting out at every imaginable angle, the expression on her face that of the living dead.  She looked like hell.

I paused six inches in front of her then swooped around and out the office door, rushing toward the front of the store.

Clive was still talking in my ear.  “How soon can you be here?”

“Give me ten minutes,” I told him, dodging racks of clothing.

“Brynn, what the bloody hell?  Where are you trotting off to in such a hurry?” Karly said in her British accent.

I raised my hand over my head and waved her off.  There was no time for explanations.

“Come back here, woman!” she scolded.

I breezed past young Mira.  She was armed with a pricing gun.

“I’ll be there in ten, but you’re pissing me off.”

“I’m sorry,” he said.  “Truly I am.”

Something about his tone chilled me.

“Damn it, Clive, we are talking about my husband.  Tell me what they’ve done with him!”

I heard him exhale, followed by a short pause that seemed to linger forever.  And then he told me,  “Tom is dead.”

 

 

 

11

 

Sometimes you hear words your brain can’t process.  It’s like a fist that blindsides you.  The blow comes so hard and fast there is no time to react and you’re left breathless and punch-drunk.  You stagger because the words of the message have knocked you off balance and you know that you are going to fall and there is no one to catch you.  

Tom is dead

Clive may have said more, but that’s the last I heard before my knees buckled and I fell into a display of three-hundred-dollar skirts.  I dropped my cell phone because my arms went slack.  My ears filled with a high-pitched buzzing sound, a lot like when that explosive went off a few feet from Tom Hanks’ in
Saving Private Ryan
.  Time slowed down.  I could feel myself falling and could sense the floor rising up toward me.  I could hear Mira cry out, and I even caught a glimpse of her reaching out for my arm.  I didn’t have the presence of mind to put out my arms to buffer the fall, so when I hit the ground, I hit hard. 

•  •  •

I opened my eyes.

“Good, you’re alive,” Karly said as she shifted gears.

We were flying down a street in her Porsche.  The side of my face was mashed into the leather seat.  I twisted around in my seat and attempted to slowly sit up.

“A big thank you for trashing my store, love,” she snapped.

My head felt like it was pressed between the jaws of a vice.  I touched my forehead and found an open gash. 

Karly gave me a quick glance.  “Yes, you bled on my suede.”

The passing scenery seemed to blur. 

“Where…where are we going?” I groaned.

“The park.” She downshifted and swung through a busy intersection.  She was a tiny woman with an oversized personality, dressed all in black, from her boots to her skirt to the glossy black polish on her nails.  She ventured a quick look at me, arching an eyebrow over the frames of the Prada shades.

“After your little tumble, I picked up your cell and chatted with that lawyer chap.  He’s expecting us.”

Time was beginning to speed up again.  The fog was lifting.  The details of my conversation with Clive Rozzell slowly returned as I was again confronted by the reality of the horror of the past twelve hours.

I pushed myself up in the seat.

“Was it something you ate?” she said.

“What?”

“Well, something certainly came over you back there.  You went down like a bag of wet rice.”

My short-term memory was still momentarily fuzzy. 

“I haven’t slept.”

She snorted.  “I haven’t slept since 1989.”

“No,” I said.  “It’s Tom.  He’s…”  A wave of nausea arose as Clive’s words bubbled up in my brain.

Tom is dead.

My field of vision narrowed suddenly, reduced to a single point of light.  Sounds dulled, and again I felt myself falling, not physically but emotionally.  My throat constricted and suddenly I could hardly breathe.  I felt myself gasping. 
Oh my God…Tom is dead.

I pitched sideways, pressing my head against the window glass.

“Brynn?”  The sound of her voice was distant and muffled.

Clive’s words were impossible.  I had to have misunderstood.  Something had to have gotten scrambled in the transmission between his cell phone and mine.  I gasped for breath.

I didn’t know what to believe anymore.  We were moving through congested traffic as if we were inside a video game.  Karly took a hard right and within seconds we were passing through Columbus Circle onto Central Park West. 

BOOK: The Stranger Beside You
2.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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