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Authors: William Casey Moreton

Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Thriller

The Stranger Beside You (8 page)

BOOK: The Stranger Beside You
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Karly is, if nothing else, blunt.  If a filter exists between her brain and mouth, well, I’ve never witnessed the evidence.  She’s one those people in your life you’ve known so long you can’t remember how or when you met, you’ve simply known them forever.  She knows everyone, rich or poor, famous and not.   She’s hot, but more hip and chic than beautiful.  

Karly migrated to LA from London when she was seventeen to be an actor but quickly changed her mind and hitched a ride to New York City.  She scraped and clawed and saved every penny and never accepted a handout and never complained.  She started with nothing and never looked back.

“I can’t just sit,” I said.

“Do you still want to see the body?”

“Honestly, I don’t know.”

“Don’t do it.  You won’t get closure and it will give you nightmares for the rest of your life.”

“That’s the same thing Clive told me.”

“Well, he’s right.  There’s nothing to be gained.”

I spoke through tears, “I’d just like the chance to tell him goodbye.”

“Just tell him.  Anytime, anywhere.”

Then it hit me that eventually I’d have to tell the kids.

“My poor boys,” I said.  I put my face in my hands and slowly shook my head.

She said nothing.

In the movies you grow old together.  Hollywood sells happy endings, and I wanted mine.  I’d been denied my goodbye kiss.  There had been no last embrace.  Instead, my final moments with Tom had been in an FBI interrogation room.

Something pinged in the back of my mind.  Had Tom being trying to tell me something?  I set my glass on the floor beside my chair and stood.  Clive and two agents had been in the room with us, and there were others behind the two-way glass.  Perhaps Tom hadn’t wanted them to hear. 

I walked around behind the chair.

“Oh my God,” I said.

“What’s wrong?”

“He was trying to tell me something.”

“Who?”

“Tom.”

“When?”

“In the interrogation room last night.”

 “You said it was nonsense.”

“Exactly.”

“I think maybe you’re losing it, Brynn.  You’re grasping at straws.”

“It was the creepiest thing I’ve ever heard.”

I was pacing now, my energy building.  I could feel my pulse rising.  I had my hands raised to the back of my head, and for a moment, at least, the tears faded.

“The arrest,” I said.  “He must have known it was coming.”

“How?”

“I don’t know, but he saw it coming.  I feel it in my gut.”

“You said he was babbling, so what was the crazy thing he told you?  What were his exact words?”

The question stopped me cold in my tracks.  I shook my head.

“I don’t remember, but I wrote it down in my notes.”

“Where are your notes?”

“In my car,” I said.

We raced to the door.  

 

 

 

14

 

Mr. Z stood in front of Scotty Sheldon.  Sheldon felt a tremor of fear rising and he couldn’t bear to make eye contact with the man.

“It’s been an hour, Scotty.  Do you know what that means?”

No response.

“I was very clear that this would happen,” Mr. Z said.  “All of it was carefully explained to you, and you told me you understood, didn’t you?”

Sheldon knew that he should have packed his family into a car in the dead of night and driven to Mexico.  They could have gotten lost in the vast anonymity of South America.  It would have been hard on his wife and children, but anything would have been better than this.

“I told you an hour ago you had sixty minutes to make a decision or I would have to send Pierre back into that bedroom.  What’s it going to be, Scotty?”

Scotty Sheldon lifted his eyes and glanced at the closed bedroom door.  He felt the acid rising in his throat.  They could have been deep into Mexico by now.

“It doesn’t have to be like this.  You’re a smart guy, Scotty.  The secret is to think like a winner.  Find a way to make it happen.  You can do this.  It’s not that hard.  I’d rather be on a beach with a drink, but business comes first.  So let’s take care of this little inconvenience and get on with our lives.  Come on, Scotty, step up to the plate.”

Sheldon tried to push through the mind-numbing fear. 

“I…need more time,” he said.

“You’ll have to be more convincing than that.”

“Please.”

“We had an agreement.  You’ve had warnings.  None of what’s happening now should come as a surprise.”

“I just need a few more days.”

Mr. Z was silent a moment.  He was a master at motivating people like Scotty Sheldon.   

“Why should I believe you?  Why should I believe you aren’t just trying to buy time in an effort to delay the inevitable?”

“I swear, I just need a couple more days.”

“I’m really not much of a negotiator, but I know that you want to do the right thing here.  Tell you what, let’s take a drive.”

Pierre cut him loose from the chair.  They loaded into a Cadillac with dark windows, Pierre driving, Sheldon up front in the passenger seat, and Mr. Z seated in the back behind Pierre.  They drove for half an hour.  The road narrowed and turned to gravel.  The gravel ended at a dirt lane.  The Cadillac followed the dirt lane until there was nothing left but a vague track running through grassland.  When there was no visible track left to follow, Pierre stopped the car and they continued on foot. 

They were surrounded by swamp.  Trees with gnarled vines and branches crowded in on them. Clouds of flies and mosquitoes swarmed overhead.  It was a fifteen-minute trek.

They stopped at an opening in the middle of a grove of trees.  A patch of earth had been disturbed.  Sheldon saw a shovel with a long, yellow fiberglass handle leaning against a tree.  His stomach dropped.  Six shallow graves had been dug.  Two of them were already filled, topped with loose fill dirt heaped on by the shovel.  The sight of the fresh graves made Sheldon drop to his knees.

“The one on the end is yours,” Mr. Z said without emotion.

Several mosquitoes buzzed in Sheldon’s ears, then settled onto the back of his neck and went to work.  He ignored them. 

“Does this help put things in perspective?” Mr. Z asked.

“Please, no more.  I will get it for you.”

“Now you’re thinking like a winner.”

“Two days.  That’s all I need.”

“Look at me, Scotty.  Look me in the eyes.”

The aroma of freshly upturned soil and decay made Sheldon’s stomach turn.  His equilibrium wavered, but he managed to right himself.  He turned to Mr. Z.

Mr. Z took a step closer to him and squatted so they were nose-to-nose.  He gestured at the open graves with a flourish of fingers.  “Forty-eight hours,” he said.  “And then we start burying the rest of them.”

 

 

 

15

 

 “This is not Shakespeare,” Karly said, glancing up from the page.  “Not even close.”

“Are you positive?”

She was standing at the window in her office, holding the page of notes in one hand.  She pushed the Gucci sunglasses up onto the top of her head and glared at me.

“As it happens, I was born an hour outside of Stratford-upon-Avon, William Shakespeare’s hometown, so I know a bit or two about the man’s work.  The great bard did not pen this chicken-scratch you have written here, and it does not strike me as the words of Dickens either.”

I was seated at her desk and opened the browser to Google.

 “Are you certain this is what you heard him say?” she asked.

I hesitated a beat before answering.  “Ninety percent.”

She read it aloud.  “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, I will fearlessly make known the mystery for which I am an ambassador in chains.”

I began typing.  “Have you ever heard that in your life?”

“You’re asking if I remember everything I’ve ever read or overheard?” she asked.

I shrugged.

“Have you seen the way I drink?” she answered.

“Point taken,” I said.

I finished typing Tom’s words into the search field and hit
ENTER
.

The hard drive chattered for a couple of seconds and then the screen redrew and displayed the search results.  I stared at the fifteen-inch screen.  Karly stood directly behind me, watching over my shoulder.

She was the first to see it.

“The Bible,” she said.

I leaned toward the computer and squinted at the small text, then I clicked on a link at random.  A new page opened.

“It’s from a Bible verse,” I whispered.

Karly leaned over my shoulder and pointed at the screen. 

“Yeah, the book of Ephesians.  Who’d have guessed?  Didn’t see that coming.”

“Looks like it’s from chapter nineteen.”  I kept reading.  “Actually, part of it comes from chapter twenty as well.”

Karly was nodding.  “But there’s more to the actual scripture text than you have written in your notes.”

“If I heard him right, he had to have been actually quoting only pieces.”

“Read the verses in their entirety,” she said, and walked back over to the window.

I moved the mouse pointer to the beginning of verse 19 and tracked the words as I read them aloud.

“Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains.  Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”

There was silence between us for a long moment.  Karly stared out at the sunshine and the street.  I stared at the computer screen, trying to make sense of the craziness of what Tom had said to me inside the FBI interrogation room.

Now, understand, we have never been big churchgoers.  Nothing against organized religion at all, in fact, I’m for it.  Church is simply not a major part of our lives.  Whether or not I believe in God sort of depends on the kind of day I’m having.  On Christmas and Easter we usually slide into the back row at a chapel somewhere and sing the hymns and drop some cash into the offering plate.  We do it mostly for the boys.  The exposure is good for them, I guess.  But all of this is to say that Tom and I are not biblical scholars, so I wouldn’t have recognized a quotation from a book of the New Testament if it hit me in the head.  And Karly makes me look like the Pope. 

“He pieced it together,” she said.

I clicked on several more of the links the Google search had produced.  Each of them displayed similar results in varying interpretations and translations.  None of it pointed me in one direction or another.  I was every bit as lost as before.

“Am I looking for something that’s not really there?” I asked her.

She sat on a corner of the desk.  “Your husband died today, and you are trying to make sense of it.  I totally understand.  For some bizarre reason, his final words to you were a quote from scripture.  That’s got to be confusing, but maybe he was simply cracking under the strain.  I mean, given the context, his words were appropriate.  I honestly don’t think Tom intended this to be a puzzle.”

“I just…” I was on the verge of tears.  I clinched my fists and closed my eyes. 

“Take a minute,” she said.  I heard the office door open and close. 

Why did Tom run?  An innocent man has nothing to run from.  Special Agent Chapman and his men had arrested the wrong man, of that I was certain.  It was just a dumb mistake, so why had he run?  You can’t expect to just run away from the FBI.  Tom was smarter than that, and now he was dead.

I wanted to scream for so many reasons.  The grief was intense, but also, I was mad.  Mad at the FBI, and mad at Tom.  I squeezed my fists as hard as I could, tears streaming down my face. 

Then I decided Tom would not die for nothing.  Someone had to pay.  He was only dead because he had been falsely accused of a crime that he could not have possibly committed.  I would sue the FBI.  I would drag Chapman and his superiors in front of the media and make fools of them.  I would show the world what those idiots had done to my family.  I would settle for nothing less than justice.

Suddenly buzzing with adrenaline-fueled rage, I opened my eyes and grabbed my cell phone.  I dialed Clive’s number.

He answered, “Brynn?”

“I want to sue them.”

“Who?”

“The FBI.”

“Where are you?”

“They had no right to arrest Tom.  He would still be alive right now if it wasn’t for them.”

He was silent a moment.  For an instant I thought maybe the call had dropped.

Finally, he said, “Brynn, there’s something you need to know.”

“They have to be made to pay, Clive.”

“We need to meet.”

“I have to find Chapman.  I want answers, and I want them now.”

“Before you march down there and make a scene, we need to…”

“What do you know that I don’t?”

Another pause, then, “I know why they arrested him.”

I stopped breathing.  I could hear my pulse in my ear.

“I think Chapman was telling the truth,” Clive said.  “I think Tom might have killed her.”

•  •  •

We were back at 26 Federal Plaza.  In the elevator Clive said to me, “They are going to show you something that you will find very upsetting.”

I couldn’t help thinking,
my husband died this morning, what could they show me that could be more upsetting than that?

“I just want to prepare you,” he said.

“How could you doubt Tom’s innocence?”

“Everyone has secrets, Brynn.  I guess Tom did too.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“You’ll see.”

Chapman’s office was mostly glass, with a desk and a couple of chairs.  His secretary told us he was in a meeting and would be there shortly.  She pointed at the chairs and told us to have a seat.  She offered coffee but I declined.

A full minute passed in silence.  I was perplexed how Clive, one of Tom’s closest friends and the family lawyer, could believe such a thing about Tom.  My stomach was twisted in knots.  I had been a widow all of what, a few hours, and already Clive was telling me what a lying murderer Tom had been.  I wanted to tell him off, but I needed his help.  From my angle I had a clear view of a family photo on Chapman’s desk.  It was generic enough to have come with the frame. 

BOOK: The Stranger Beside You
10.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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