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Authors: William Casey Moreton

Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Thriller

The Stranger Beside You (9 page)

BOOK: The Stranger Beside You
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Chapman closed his door and greeted us.

“What happened to my husband?” I said the instant he took his seat.

“The investigation is ongoing,” he said. 

“The last time I saw him, he was with you, and he was alive.  Now he’s dead.  I demand an explanation.”

Chapman held eye contact with me for a few seconds.  He tapped his thumb against the desktop as his gaze moved past my shoulder to the office activity beyond the glass wall.  I could see he was choosing his words carefully.

“Let me be very clear,” he said.  “We arrested your husband this morning because he was suspected of murdering a federal agent.  While in custody, he attacked another federal agent and an NYPD officer, and attempted to escape.  That choice was his.  He died because he ran.  Had he not, he would still be in federal custody and would have received all the rights guaranteed him by the Constitution.  He would have gotten his day in court and had the opportunity to prove his innocence.  So, while I’m sorry for your loss, Mrs. Nelson, from my perspective he remains the prime suspect in the murder of a highly respected colleague.”

“I can’t believe my ears!  Why would my husband kill anyone?  He was a successful businessman.  He loved his family.  You mentioned this woman again.  Why should I believe he’d ever met her, and what motive would he have to kill her?”

Chapman paused a beat.  The leather of his office chair made a soft crinkly sound as he shifted his weight slightly forward.  He exchanged a short look with Clive, then he pulled open a desk drawer and removed a manila envelope.  He placed the envelope flat on the center of his desk.

“So you’re asking for a motive?”

My rage was simmering.  “Yes.”

“He killed her to shut her up.”

I was dumbfounded.  “Shut her up?  What is that supposed to mean?”

“My guess is she threatened to tell you.”

“Tell me what?”

“About them.”

“Who is
them
?  And what about them?”

“Your husband and the woman, Special Agent Daphne Fleming.”

“That’s her name?”

Chapman nodded.

“What would she have told me?”

“They were having an affair.”

My stomach dropped.  I stared at the man seated behind the desk but for a long moment my mind went blank.  Clive had tried to prepare me for this on the ride up in the elevator, but it was now clear he’d done a poor job.

There was an impulse to smile and to laugh at the absurdity of the accusation.  Chapman was pouring salt on an open wound.  My husband’s body was still warm, and yet Chapman had the audacity to call him an adulterer. 

“I should slap the crap out of you,” I said.  “How dare you.”

He was unmoved.

“My husband was the most faithful man who ever lived.”

“I think you are missing some of the facts,” Chapman said.

I was seething.  I could feel the color rising in my face.

“This conversation is over,” I said as I stood.

Clive stood quickly and touched my arm.

“Brynn, please.  You need to listen to what he has to say.”

I was so dizzy I could barely see straight.  I was ready to storm out but sat back down instead.  It was a very lonely feeling.

Chapman continued, “As I was saying, we have reason to believe that your husband and Special Agent Fleming had been involved in an intense physical relationship for some time.  At some point, for whatever reason, Special Agent Fleming must have threatened him with revealing their relationship to you.  Perhaps she was jealous of the marriage and wanted him to herself, or perhaps Tom had threatened to break it off with her and she wanted to hurt him by confronting you.  The details are a still unclear, but Tom couldn’t afford to let that happen.  He had to stop her by any means necessary.  Her body was found in a river with a single bullet hole in her head.  She would likely still be floating out there if we hadn’t received an anonymous email detailing the exact location of the body.  Then, a few days later, the same anonymous source sent this, again by email.”

Chapman tapped the manila envelope with his index finger. 

I stared at the envelope, my heart racing.  I pulled it to the edge of the desk and removed the photo.  My world stopped.  It was a photo of a man and woman kissing on a city street.  The man was my husband, but the woman was not me.  I stopped breathing.  Suddenly everything I had ever believed shattered before me like crystal.  All that I held as irrevocable truth simply exploded.  I had always viewed the world as mostly black and white, but now there was only gray.  Deep, dense, impenetrable gray, and I was lost in the middle of it.

I steadied myself.  “Where did you get this?”

“Like I said, an anonymous source.  It arrived as a JPEG file.”

“Who is that woman?”  I couldn’t take my eyes off the photo.

“Special Agent Daphne Fleming.”

“It’s a fake.”

Chapman shook his head.  “I’m sorry.  Our expects have confirmed it’s the real thing.”

“Someone could have Photo-shopped it.”

“It’s a hundred percent authentic.”

“Where was it taken?”

“We don’t know.  Our people have gone over it a thousand different ways.  There are no visible street signs, and nothing that provides any kind of specific location.  It could be any city in the world.  For the moment we’re going on the assumption they were here in New York.”

It was a humiliating moment.  More than anything in the world, I wanted to be able to look at the image in the photo and declare without hesitation that the man was most definitely not my husband.  But he was.  I was staring at Tom.  Their faces were pressed together and their embrace was intense and passionate.  He had one hand around her back, pulling her body into his, the other hand buried in her hair. 

For an instant, as the reality of the image hit me like a sledgehammer and white hot rage boiled up, I was glad he was dead.  But then, just as quickly as the emotion had arrived, I forced it away.

“Oh my God,” I groaned.

“I’m sorry it had to be this way,” Chapman said.

“There has to be an explanation.  Tom loved me.”

“I’m sure he did, but he was human.  Most of us have done stupid things that we later come to regret.”

“Tom loved me,” I repeated.

Chapman reclined back in his chair again.  He exchanged another look with Clive.

Clive said.  “Brynn, I’m certain Tom never intended to hurt you.”

“Tell me about the woman,” I demanded.

Chapman nodded.  He opened his desk drawer again and produced an eight-by-ten glossy.  He slapped the photo down on the desktop and pushed it toward me.  What I saw was a gorgeous blonde with penetrating blue eyes and full lips.

“Daphne Lauren Fleming.  Thirty-two years of age at the time of her death.  Graduated at the top of her class at Quantico.  Worked in LA and Chicago before transferring here a couple of years ago.  She grew up in a wheat field in Kansas.  Both her parents are still alive and still live on the farm where she was raised.  Three older brothers, two in the states and the third is in the Special Forces, currently serving in Afghanistan.  Special Agent Fleming never married.  She was a class act.  The FBI is deeply saddened to have lost her.”

I stared into her blue eyes.  It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see how Tom would have been attracted to her.  A sudden jealous pang hit me in the middle of my chest, and for an instant I was glad she was dead too.  I wanted to crawl into a dark hole and cry.

 “A third email told us where to find the murder weapon.  It was a gun, registered under your husband’s name,” Chapman said.

 “Someone obviously found out about the relationship,” I said without looking up.  “And that someone cared enough to catch them on camera, but Why?”

“I don’t have an answer to that.”

“And the same informant knew about the body.”

“All we have is a generic Gmail account.”

“What’s the user ID?”

“Please don’t go down that road, Mrs. Nelson,” Chapman said.

“I have no choice, because you’re not willing to go one inch beyond what’s required of you.”

Chapman deliberated in silence, then rifled through a stack of file folders on his desk.  He pulled one from the middle of the stack, opened it, and flipped through a couple of pages of reports.

“This is not public information.”

I remained unfazed.  “Great story.  Can’t wait to hear it again.”

“I have no business even discussing this.”

“I can’t wait to visit Tom’s grave and tell him how helpful you were.”

Chapman stared hard at me.  I stared right back.

He slapped the folder shut and dropped it back on top of the pile.  “Sorry, no can do.” 

Then he stood and waited for us to do likewise.  “Again, I’m sorry for your loss.”

I said, “ He would never have cheated on me.”

Chapman looked down at me with something bordering on pity.  “I’d say the photo speaks for itself.  He was living a lie, and where there’s one lie, there are more waiting to be discovered.”  He walked past me and stood holding the door open.

I walked out.  I didn’t wait for my lawyer.  On the ride down in the elevator I wept like a child.  I felt like a fool.  I had loved Tom with all my heart and he had betrayed me.  He had taken a lover, and because of his reckless infidelity, I’d been left to raise our children alone.  My tears now were partly of grief and partly born of anger.  If my husband weren’t already dead, I would have killed him.

 

 

 

16

 

Pierre knew it was bad news.  He stood at an upstairs window and watched Mr. Z below standing on the beach at the edge of the surf.  The call had come and it was clear from the sudden change in his boss’s tone that a significant development had occurred.  He rarely saw Mr. Z lose his cool, but a few minutes ago he had come very close.

Pierre cupped a hand against the bold sunlight.  After another minute of conversation his boss lowered the cell phone to his side and stared out across the water, gulls circling a school of mackerel in the distance. 

Mr. Z turned and trudged up the white sand toward the mansion.  Pierre met him on the stairs, Mr. Z on his way up, Pierre stepping aside with his back to the brass handrail.  Pierre looked at him expectantly.

“Tom Nelson is dead,” Mr. Z said without slowing.

•  •  •

I walked aimlessly through the city like a zombie for a couple of hours.  My cell phone kept ringing but I ignored it.  I had no concept of time or direction.  I couldn’t get the vision of Tom and the woman out of my mind.  I probably almost got killed a hundred times crossing streets without looking.  My legs burned.  I wanted to run away.  The kids crossed my mind, and the thought of them broke my heart.  Eventually I would have to tell them their father was dead.  Not today.  I just didn’t have it in me.  I needed at least a day to process it all and decompress.  I didn’t want to look like a complete train wreck when I sat them down to break the news.  They needed to see strength in their mother. 

Somewhere in SoHo I leaned against a brick wall and convulsed with tears.  I hated Tom so mcuh because none of this had been necessary.  All he’d had to do was keep his pants zipped and come home to me and he’d still be alive. 

My cell phone rang again.  It was Karly.  I decided to answer.  “Hey,” I said.

“Where are you?”

I glanced around for a street sign and told her.

 “Sit tight, I’ll be there in five.”

She was there in four.  The Porsche whooshed to a stop and I climbed in.

She took her eyes off the road.  “You look like hell.”

“He cheated on me.”

“Welcome to the human race, sweetheart.”

“How could I have not seen it?”

“You need a drink,” she said.  “Speaking of which, we’re meeting Todd and Ramón for a late lunch.”

Todd and Ramón were waiting at the bar.  They are gay partners.  Todd looks the part, he’s thin, with pink tennis shirt, tight black jeans, jelled hair, and he always smells wonderful.  He works a room like an aristocrat.  Ramón, on the other hand, you might not guess his sexual orientation right away.  For starters, he’s bald.  His scalp is perfectly shaped and smooth, and we like to call him Chrome Dome Ramón.  He’s got a thing for Harley-Davidson T-shirts and biker boots.  Todd is all American Idol and Celine Dion, whereas Ramón is more Dirty Jobs, Bruce Springsteen and Dennis Leary.  They make for an interesting couple.

Todd launched from his bar stool the instant he saw us and wrapped his arms around me.  His eyes were red and his face was glossy where he’d wiped away tears.  “This can’t be real!  It has to be a mistake!”  He dabbed at the corners of his eyes with a tissue.

  Ramón rose from his seat and kissed my cheek.  “Our condolences,” he said.

“I’m in shock, total shock,” Todd said.

I could barely see straight. 

“You know how much we loved Tom.”

I think I nodded. 

“He was like a brother.”

“I…I need a minute,” I said.

I found the ladies room and locked myself in a stall.  I sat on the toilet seat and doubled over.  I was suffocating.

“Breathe,” I told myself.  “Just breathe.”  I closed my eyes and there were points of light dancing on the back of my eyelids. 

The restroom door opened and closed a few times.  I heard the sounds of toilets flushing and water running at the sink and paper towels being yanked from the wall dispenser.  I opened my eyes and stared at the gap beneath the stall door.  When the ripples in my belly had sufficiently calmed, I unlocked the door and stood at the sink.  I splashed water on my face and studied my reflection. 

“What has happened to you?” I whispered.  “Snap out of it.  Pull it together.  Get a grip on yourself.  The rest of your life starts right now.”

Right then and there I decided that I wasn’t going to be a victim.  I refused to roll over and allow Tom’s reckless stupidity to totally derail my life.

I found them at the bar.  “Okay, girls, I’m back.  Where’s the whiskey?”

Ramón ordered me a shot and I knocked it back.  It burned all the way down.  The wall of ice in my chest started slowly melting.

BOOK: The Stranger Beside You
12.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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