Disclaimers: See Part 1
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Copyright Ann McMan, May 2011. All rights reserved. This story, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any format without the prior express permission of the author.
On Thursday afternoon, Evan sat at a small table in Aspen 's famed Woody Creek Tavern. She was working on a pint of “Doggie Style Amber”—and wondering what you had to do to get a job naming beers. It occurred to her that she'd probably be pretty good at it. She was aware that people were staring at her. Correction. They were staring at her companion. She looked up at his handsome face.
Steve Kilgore was a five-year veteran of the Highlands Ski Patrol, and he had been the one who found Tom Sheridan's body behind a stand of trees near the Steeplechase run at Loge Peak . Kilgore looked like he had been ripped from the cover of a glossy vacation brochure—sandy-haired, bronzed, and fit. Evan thought his name should be Dirk, Brick, or Rock. Something else. Something butcher than “Steve.” She wondered what the average tenure was for one of these guys, and if their insurance policies paid for the gallons of bleach they must all use on their teeth.
He had been flirting with her ever since they sat down. Christ. She felt old enough to be his mother. Judging by the looks he kept getting from the plasticized dowagers at other tables, she didn't suppose that he viewed their age difference as much of an obstacle. These guys were like Olympian gods out here, and they knew it. But Evan had an agenda, and it sure didn't involve letting “Steve” plant a ski anywhere near her bunny slope.
“So,” she met his eyes. They were almost teal in color. She thought about Julia. God. Did all genetically perfect human beings have blue eyes? “You said you were the first person to see Mr. Sheridan after his accident?”
“That's right.” He popped a tortilla chip loaded with guacamole into his mouth.
“Did you notice anything unusual?”
He chewed. “You mean, other than the fact that he was dead?”
Evan sighed. This was going to be a long conversation. “Yeah. Other than that.”
He thought about it. “No. Not really.” He reached for another chip. “Well—maybe one thing.”
“He had G-wax on his skis.” Steve shrugged. “I thought that was odd, considering where we found him.”
“Yeah. It's a green-colored wax that you use when you're skiing the G-Zone—or the north-facing slopes.”
“And this was odd?”
“Yeah. Sheridan was skiing on the edge of the Y-Zone—the snow is nowhere near as cold there. He wouldn't have needed green wax.”
Evan thought about that. Julia said that Sheridan had been an indifferent skier. “Did you tell anyone about this observation?”
“No. I didn't think it really mattered.” He shrugged and reached for another chip. “He was plainly an amateur. The skis didn't even release when he fell.”
“What do you mean?”
“He still had one ski attached when I found him. In fact, that's how I found him—the end of the ski was sticking up out of the snow that had fallen overnight.”
Evan was curious. “What kind of skis was he using?”
He raised an eyebrow. “ K2 Apaches.”
That didn't really mean much to Evan, but then, she wasn't much of a skier. “And that was odd? I mean, since he was plainly such an amateur?”
He drained his beer. “I'd say so. You don't generally strap on high-dollar skis with the wrong bindings.” He saw their server across the room and held up his empty glass. “But I heard he was pretty toasted on the ride up there, so probably he was just drunk and careless.” He looked at her. “It happens a lot more than you realize. Only the high-profile accidents make the evening news.”
“Where did you hear that he was drunk? That wasn't in any of the news reports I read.”
He shrugged. “I heard it from the guy who took him up on the snowcat—Sheridan and some other dude were pretty obnoxious on the ride.” He leaned toward her. “It's a pretty exhilarating view. If you're up for it, I'd be happy to take you there.”
Yeah. I just bet you would . She ignored his offer. “There was another guy with Sheridan ?” Nobody mentioned that in any of the coverage.”
Steve sighed and sat back against his chair. “That's what Gene said.”
“Does this Gene still work here?”
He nodded. “Yeah. I suppose you wanna talk to him?” He smiled at her. “I can make that happen.”
Evan was surprised by his offer. “You can?”
“Sure.” He gestured toward the bar. “He's standing right over there.”
She turned in her seat and looked across the crowded room toward a tall, skinny man in a bright red Columbia jacket. He was leaning up against the bar, paying for what looked like a takeout order. This was shaping up to be her lucky day.
“Gene” looked like a modern-day caricature of Ichabod Crane. Clearly, the ski resorts didn't apply the same runway-ready standards to their heavy equipment operators. She turned back to Steve, whose eyes were fixed on her chest. She stifled an expletive. “Would you do the honors?” She hesitated, and forced herself to soften her tone. “I'd really be grateful.”
He raised a sandy eyebrow before climbing to his feet. “Sure.”
Gene Simmons—Evan couldn't get over that irony—was more than helpful. Not only did he rescue her from the amorous clutches of Steve, he offered to ferry her up to Loge Peak so she could look around. He was working the afternoon shift anyway, and he insisted that it was no trouble to let her ride along. The mountain didn't actually open for skiing until November, but she decided that it couldn't hurt to make the trek to the ridge and see first-hand where Tom Sheridan took his fatal nosedive. Her appointment with the Pitkin County coroner's assistant wasn't until 3:00, so she had plenty of time to scope out the site.
Gene was mostly silent on the ride up. He responded to the majority of her questions in monosyllables. He stood silently next to her as she looked over the stand of pine trees where the ski patrol found Sheridan 's body. It was a desolate spot, far beyond the in-bounds runs. The air was thinner. Evan shivered as she thought about Sheridan lying there for two days.
“Steve said that some of the other passengers you carried up to the summit that day complained about how obnoxious Mr. Sheridan was.”
Her companion nodded.
“Was he drunk?”
Gene shrugged. “I can't say. I didn't really see him.” He jerked his head to indicate the snowcat. “The skiers ride in a car that's towed behind me.”
“But you heard people talking about it when you dropped them off at the summit?”
“What did they say?”
He looked over at her. “That they were loud and rude.”
Evan bit back her impatience. “Who was with him?”
Gene shrugged again.
“Was it another man? A woman?” She paused. “ A St. Bernard ?”
He looked at her again. This time, he looked almost amused. “A man.”
“Did you see him? Do you remember anything about him?”
“Not really. He was garbed up—carrying his skis. Didn't see his face.”
Gene thought about it. “Tall. Looked fit, from what I recall.”
“Not really. He had nice skis.”
“Skis?” Evan sighed. Simmons remembered nothing about the man with Sheridan , but remembered what kind of equipment he was carrying.
“Apaches?” Steve said that Sheridan was wearing Apache skis when he found his body. Correction. He was wearing one Apache ski.
“Are you sure it was the other man carrying the Apache skis?”
Simmons didn't even have to think about it. “Yeah. I noticed them because my son just bought a pair.” He shook his head. “They cost like a thousand bucks. Crazy, if you ask me.”
Evan kicked at a clod of snow with the toe of her boot. What the fuck? How the hell did Aspen law enforcement miss this piece of data?
“Did you notice what kind of skis Mr. Sheridan was carrying?”
Simmons shrugged. “Nope.”
“But he was carrying skis?”
“Yeah. Everybody who rode up on that trip was.”
“You mean that sometimes, people make the trek up here and don't ski back down?”
“Sure. Sometimes, people just want to hike from here to the summit. Then they ride back down later.”
Evan looked over at the stand of scrubby pines again. She felt like something was poking her in the gut. It was the same thing that poked at her last night, as she sat in the dark after reading all the news accounts of Sheridan 's accident. Marcus. Somehow, it all came back to Marcus. That motherfucker. There was no way to avoid talking with him now. She glanced at her watch. Then she looked up at Gene.
“Got time to run me back down?”
He looked surprised. “That's it? You done already?”
She nodded. “Yeah. I'm done.”
He turned and headed back toward the snowcat. As Evan trudged along behind him, she hoped her words wouldn't end up being prophetic.
The Pitkin County coroner's assistant wasn't a lot of help. She was a cranky, forty-something with a bad dye job, an attitude and a pronounced case of post-nasal drip. She made it clear that it was a burden for her to even discuss the Sheridan case. Fortunately for Evan, the records had not been sealed.
Sheridan 's autopsy revealed that the congressman died from blunt head trauma, not exposure. His BAC levels were extremely high, but the coroner's office was quick to say that these results were inconclusive, since the samples had been collected two days postmortem. Sheridan 's chief of staff arrived on the scene the same day his body was discovered, and took custody of the remains. Margo arrived a day later. In accordance with Indian tradition, Margo had Sheridan 's corpse cremated in Colorado , and returned to Maryland with her husband's ashes.
Evan asked for more detail about Sheridan 's injuries.
The assistant sniffed, and flipped through a stack of pages in a manila folder. “He sustained fractures to his skull and cervical vertebrae, and a lacerated spinal cord.”
God. “Does the file say where he sustained the skull fracture?”
The assistant sighed, and reopened the folder. “Yes. Sheridan sustained a linear fracture of the posterior left parietal region.”
Evan smiled at her. “Translation?”
She stared back at her for a moment without speaking. Then she pointed to the area above the back of her own left ear. “Right along here.”
“So he got hit on the back of the head?”
“That's right.” She sniffed again.
“Does that seem at all odd?”
“Odd?” The assistant closed the folder. She seemed exasperated. “In what way?”
Evan shrugged. “Well, I'm not a practitioner of this particular sport—but it seems that an out-of-bounds skier would be likelier to hit a pine tree head-on.”
“Not necessarily. He had a broken tibia, too. He could have lost control when his binding didn't release, and then contacted the tree while he was tumbling.”
“I guess that's possible.”
The assistant looked at her watch. “Is there anything else you need?” She pulled a gnarled-looking Kleenex out of her coat pocket and swabbed at her nose.
Evan toyed with the idea of hanging around and asking inane questions for another twenty minutes, just to piss the bitch off. “No. Thank you. You've been very helpful.”
The woman nodded and walked off, leaving Evan standing alone in the small, dingy sitting room off the main foyer of the building. Jesus. Must be her time of the month . She left the building and headed toward her rental car, and the two-hour drive back to Denver .
Evan was beginning to wonder if Tom Sheridan's death was really an accident. But what she couldn't come up with was any kind of motive. At least, not one that held water. It appeared pretty clear to her that at the time of his death, Sheridan was poised to give up his congressional career and join ranks with other like-minded environmental zealots. And who would bother knocking off a Greenpeace activist? They were about as threatening as a fart in a stiff wind. None of it made any sense. And she didn't want to end up looking like one of those pathetic conspiracy theorists who clogged-up the Internet.
She knew she had to talk with Marcus—find out what he was doing in Aspen that weekend. And she needed to talk with Andy Townsend again. If for no other reason, he might be useful to parse whatever line of bullshit she was certain Marcus would feed her.
Thinking about Andy made her think about Julia. But that wasn't saying much. Ever since their unsettling encounter on Wednesday night, her thoughts hadn't strayed very far from the tall beauty.
She looked at her watch. She'd be at Penn Station soon. Then she was meeting Julia at her Upper East Side apartment. They were going to dinner. And on Sunday, Julia would leave for London . She'd be gone for two weeks. Two weeks . That should give Evan enough time to get her head out of her ass and think straight. And she needed to think straight. She was losing focus—and losing focus made her miss things. She couldn't afford that. Not now.
Just like she couldn't afford to get any more involved with Townsend's wife. It was insane.
Yeah. Insane. She shook her head. And that's precisely why she was riding this goddamn train right into the middle of her worst nightmare. Shit—she might as well be swinging a lariat and yelling “yee-ha!” She knew she was headed toward disaster, but she could no more stop herself than Sheridan could stop his last, wild ride into that stand of pine trees on top of Aspen Mountain .
Evan thought about Julia. She thought about what it felt like to touch her. She closed her eyes and tried to ignore the way her heart was beginning to race. Christ. She was like a horny adolescent in the throes of her first crush. For once, she was glad that Stevie wasn't around to witness her agitation—she'd bust her in about two seconds. Stevie was quick that way. She was like Dan.
She understood now that Dan was playing her—that he knew Julia would be too tempting a morsel for her to resist. Julia was the bait Dan dangled in front of her to keep her moving forward on this case. As pissed-off as that made her, she had to hand it to Dan. So far, his little scheme was working like a charm.
Evan jumped when a crackly loudspeaker roared to life and a garbled voice with a thick New Jersey accent announced that they'd be pulling into Penn Station in five minutes. She sighed, and flexed her fingers a few times to try and get her hands to stop shaking. She pulled the slip of paper with Julia's address written on it out of her jacket pocket and stared at it again, hoping that somehow, what it said might have changed in the ten minutes since she'd looked at it last. Nope. It still read 71 East 71 st St. —right smack in the middle of New York 's Gold Coast. Evan shook her head as she shoved the scrap of paper back into her pocket. It was like Julia, she thought, to give her the 71 st St. address—ignoring the more celebrated main entrance on Park Avenue . There were so many things about Julia that didn't fit—especially, her interest in Evan.
The car lurched and groaned as the train pulled to a stop at its platform. All around her, people began to stand up and collect their newspapers and laptops.
Toast, she thought, as she continued to sit and look out the grimy window next to her seat at the beehive cluster of activity that was Penn Station on a Friday night. I'm fucking toast.
Julia opened the door to her luxury 12 th floor apartment and stood there, framed in the backlighted opening like one of Botticelli's models. Except Julia had darker hair—and, regrettably, she wasn't standing on a clamshell in the nude. Instead, her feet were planted on polished marble tiles that probably had been imported from Carrara , back when this building had been constructed in the early 1930s. Evan stood there without speaking, holding the small slip of paper with Julia's address written on it out in front of her like a placard.
“You have got to be kidding me with this,” she said.
Julia looked amused. She shifted her weight and leaned against the massive door.
Evan dropped her arm. “Seriously. This is where you live?”
Julia cast a quick look back over her shoulder at the interior of the apartment. “Apparently. But, in fact, I spend more time in my office than I do here.”
Evan made no effort to enter the residence. Julia seemed to accept the curious standoff without question. Another minute passed while they stared at each other. Julia was casually dressed in faded jeans and a striped, boatneck sweater. She looked like a J.Crew ad.
“Do I need to take my shoes off?” Evan finally asked.
Julia rolled her eyes and glanced down at her feet. “Not unless you're wearing cleats.”
“No. I generally reserve those for game days.”
“That's right,” Julia said, smiling and meeting Evan's eyes. “And we agreed not to play games, didn't we?”
Evan thought about that. Right now, their agreement seemed like a bad idea. A very bad idea. Julia looked amazing in the subdued light of the hallway. But Evan knew that Julia would look amazing in any light—or in no light. That last thought made her feel even more awkward and flustered, and she didn't think that was possible.
“Yes, we did. And right now, I'm thinking that arrangement wasn't one of my better ideas.”
Julia leaned her head against the doorframe. “Well, why don't you come inside and we'll discuss the pros and cons of renegotiating?”
Evan sighed. “Before I do, there is one thing I have to ask you.”
Julia looked slightly wary. “Okay.”
Evan smiled at her. “What's it like to run into Vera Wang at the trash compactor?”
Julia threw her head back and laughed out loud. Then she grabbed Evan by the arm and yanked her through the doorway. “Get in here, you idiot.”
Julia's apartment was small, by Park Avenue standards—but it was elegant and tastefully furnished. She explained that her grandparents had purchased the single-level, three-bedroom residence when they moved the firm's offices from Boston to New York in 1935. Through the years, the Donne family had retained the coveted piece of real estate, which now sat right in the center of the nation's most expensive zip code. It was here that Julia lived with Andy, before he became governor of Delaware . And it was here that she'd had her ill fated, one-night-stand with Margo Sheridan.
Evan tried not to think about that as she stood in Julia's living room, admiring the tall windows and beautiful pieces of framed artwork.
“Are these all originals?” Evan asked, indicating a long wall lined with paintings.
Julia nodded. “I can't take credit for them, however. My grandmother was the collector. She had quite a good eye, as it turns out.”
Evan walked over and peered at a block-letter signature in the lower left corner of a large canvas. Corot. Jesus. She turned and faced Julia. “You think?”
Julia seemed embarrassed. “Like I said—I can't take any credit for these. Gramma was great friends with Electra Havemeyer—they bought many things together during their travels in Europe . Eventually, this collection will go to the Met, where it belongs.”
Evan was curious. “Eventually?”
Julia shrugged. “It doesn't belong to me. My parents still own it— and everything else in here.” She met Evan's eyes. “So you see, I'm really just a tenant.”
Julia smiled. “More or less.”
Evan raised an eyebrow. “Pretty high-class squatting.”
“Believe me when I tell you that these trappings don't take much of the sting out of the job description.”
“So why do you keep doing it?”
Julia looked at her. “I've been asking myself that same question.”
She slowly shook her head and looked away. “I don't know. There's just so much noise surrounding it all.”
She nodded. “Noise. Like voices—all shouting different things at the same time. Andy. My parents. Marcus. The firm.” She met Evan's eyes. “You.”
Evan hesitated. “What does your own voice say?”
“Ah, that's the million-dollar question, isn't it?” She shrugged. “I don't know—I can't hear it over the noise.”
Evan wasn't sure how to respond. “Maybe I need to stop talking, then.”
Julia stepped toward her. Her blue eyes filled up Evan's plane of vision. “Maybe.” The single word hung in the small space between them.
Evan knew the next move was hers to make. She made it.
When they separated, they both were breathing unevenly. Julia rested her forehead against Evan's. “This isn't in our rule book.” Her voice sounded shaky.
Evan closed her eyes, and pretended for a moment that this wasn't a titanic mistake. Julia's long body felt warm and strong. Her skin smelled like lavender. It was all making her feel dizzy. “I suck at rules.”
Julia laughed and tugged her closer. “I guess I do, too.”
Evan was moving in to provide another example of her disregard for rules when, someplace inside the apartment, a clock began to strike. The succession of notes rang out like blows from a hammer. Stop , they said. This isn't right. The two of you aren't right.
She dropped her arms and stepped back.
Julia looked confused. “What is it?”
Evan shook her head. “I can't. We shouldn't.”
After a moment, Julia reached up and laid a hand against the side of Evan's face.
“Not now—or not ever? ” she asked.
Evan closed her eyes and leaned into Julia's hand. “I don't know.” On impulse, she turned her head and kissed Julia's warm palm. “You know I'm right.”
Julia didn't respond. After a moment, she withdrew her hand and straightened her sweater. “How about we have some dinner, then? And you can fill me in on your trip to Aspen .”
Evan felt like a colossal fool—a horny , colossal fool. “Great,” she said, trying to sound upbeat. “What do you feel like?”
Julia chewed the inside of her cheek and didn't respond.
Christ. Evan knew she was blushing. “I guess I walked right into that one.”
“It's okay.” Julia smiled. “I'm actually way ahead of you. I already have dinner here for us.”
“You cooked?” Evan was amazed.
Julia turned and headed toward her kitchen. “Nope. I don't cook—remember? I got take-out. Great take-out.”
Evan followed her. “Really?”
Julia nodded. “Like dim sum?”
Things were looking up. “I love dim sum.”
“I had a feeling you might.” Julia opened the door to a tall, stainless steel wine fridge and withdrew a bottle. “Café Evergreen's are the best . I got us a grand assortment.”
Evan perched on a high stool. “Well slap my ass, and call me Sally. Maybe we have a few things in common, after all.”
Julia smiled as she handed her the bottle and a corkscrew. “Here's something else we have in common.”
Evan examined the wine—a Seghesio. Nice. When she looked up, Julia was watching her. Evan wasn't used to seeing her expression so unveiled. “What?” she asked.
Julia shook her head. “It's nothing. Open the wine and we'll eat. Then maybe later, when we've had a chance to relax, we can reconsider the parameters of our relationship.”
Evan began to remove the foil from the top of the wine. “Okay. But I've gotta warn you—It's pretty hard to get me to change my mind.”
“I hope so.” Julia gave her a look that made her toes curl up inside her shoes. “I love a challenge.”
Evan was glad she was already sitting down. It was going to be a long evening.
“Tell me what you'll be doing in London ,” Evan asked. They had finished their meal and were relaxing in one of the apartment's smaller rooms, enjoying the last of the wine. This room was more modestly appointed. There was a wood fire burning in a limestone fireplace, and Evan wondered who got tasked with the job of hauling those perfectly cut logs up to the 12 th floor.
Julia sat back against the sofa cushions. Evan noticed that she was shoeless, and that she wasn't wearing any jewelry—not even a watch. But then, Evan noticed everything about her.
“We're thinking about acquiring a smaller firm there—one that specializes in nonfiction and literary monographs. They do a fair amount of business in e-books. I'll be meeting with their board and discussing possibilities. I'll also be spending a few days in France with my parents—they live there, now.”
Evan was curious. “Has your father retired from the firm?”
Julia shrugged. “In fact, but not in deed. He still sits on the board, and is very quick to offer up bits of unsolicited, sage advice. Particularly when he thinks I'm about to do something that will royally fuck up the family business.”
Julia was eyeing her with amusement. “You find that idea entertaining?”
“Not at all,” Evan apologized. “I find your turn of phrase entertaining.”
Julia rolled her eyes.
“No, really,” Evan said. “It's like hearing Jackie O. say something like ‘cocksucker.' There's just no way to prepare for it.”
Evan looked around the elegant room with its 12' ceilings. Then she looked back at the beautiful woman seated next to her on a sofa that had probably cost a king's ransom.
“I'd have to agree with that.”
They stared at each other.
Julia waved a hand to take in their surroundings. “This doesn't define me, you know.”
“No, it doesn't. But I fear you'll never know that because you won't allow yourself the chance to see beyond it.”
Evan wasn't sure how to respond to that—especially since it was the truth.
She stared across the room at a paneled wall lined with family portraits. Generations of Donnes peered back at her from their gilded frames. Evan thought about her own family history, and the few, faded Polaroid images she had of her mother. These were the snapshots taken on birthdays or the occasional Christmas holiday at her grandfather's house in Chadds Ford—phantom images that had been captured before her mother stuffed her clothes and her CD's into a duffle bag and disappeared in the middle of the night, leaving a teenaged Evan to wake up alone in their southwest Philly rowhouse.
Yeah. She had a little trouble seeing beyond that.
And right now, she had the more immediate problem of seeing beyond Julia, who had managed to shift closer to her on the sofa. Evan turned and met her eyes.
“This is a mistake.” She didn't recognize her own voice. It sounded weak and unfamiliar.
Julia was now holding her face with warm hands. “Probably.”
Julia nodded and pulled her closer. “But we're going to, anyway.”
When they kissed, Evan gave up her fight. It was clear now that they were going to go everywhere, and nowhere. It couldn't end any way but badly. But as she pushed Julia back onto the sofa cushions, she knew that neither of them had the sense or the inclination to stop it.
“I should go.”
It was a little before 5:00 a.m., and Evan knew that if she left now, she could make it to Penn Station in time to catch the 6:10 back to Philly.
Beside her, Julia stretched and craned her head to look at the bedside clock. Then she dropped her head back onto the pillow and yawned. “It's barely five. Why not try to rest for a few hours?”
They hadn't done much sleeping.
“Don't you need to get packed for your trip?”
“Yes, I do. But I hadn't planned on starting before sunrise.” Julia sounded amused—and sleepy.
“What's the matter?”
“Nothing.” Evan looked over at her. Even in the half-light of the bedroom, she could make out the blue of her eyes. “Everything.”
It took Julia a moment to reply. “You want to run.” It wasn't a question.
“Not from you.”
Evan was silent.
Julia sighed and half sat up, leaning on an elbow. “I thought I would tell you this over breakfast, but I see now that I might not get the chance.”
Evan looked at her. “Tell me what?”
“I talked with Andy yesterday. I told him that I was filing for divorce.”
Evan was stunned. “You did?”
“Yes, I did. I don't see any reason to put it off any longer.”
“How did he react?”
Julia shook her head. “He was angry—tried to talk me out of it. Said it was a mistake—that we just needed more time together.” She met Evan's eyes. “Then I asked him if that meant he was planning to stop seeing Maya. Suddenly, he didn't have anything to say.” She sighed before continuing. “I told him he could have the two weeks while I'm away to figure out how he wants to manage the news. I'll file when I get back. I'm going to tell my parents when I see them next week—that's partly why I'm taking this trip.”
Evan didn't know what to say. She stared down at the tangle of bedclothes that covered their naked bodies. She knew she should be happy about this development, but she wasn't. All she felt was fear.
“Does this scare you?”
Evan looked at her. There was no reason to deny it.
Julia rested a hand on Evan's forearm. “Why?”
Evan shrugged. “Because I'm a chickenshit who now has no place to hide.”
Julia looked surprised. “I didn't expect you to be so honest.”
“How did you think I'd react?”
“I wasn't sure. Part of me thought it might guarantee that I'd never see you again.”
“Is that what you want?” Evan hoped she didn't sound as pathetic as she felt.
Julia smiled at her. “No. That's the last thing I want.”
Evan released the breath she'd been holding. “What's the first?”
Julia moved closer. Her breath was hot against Evan's neck. “I was kind of hoping you'd help me figure that out.”
Jesus. Julia's mouth was sliding down along her shoulder now.
“I still think this is a bad idea,” Evan whispered, as she dropped back against the bed and pulled Julia over on top of her.
She felt Julia smile against her chest. “I'm sure you'll find ways to prove it.”
They didn't talk much after that. There really wasn't anything more to say.
It was 2:20 that afternoon when Evan finally made it to Penn Station. She was in line at the ticket window when her cell phone vibrated. She smiled as she pulled it out of her jacket pocket, thinking it was probably Julia. The readout surprised her. It was from Marcus.
Got your message about meeting. Am now in New York , but will be back in DC on Tuesday. Can meet you then, if you don't mind coming down. Dan told me about Aspen trip. Eager to hear details. Marcus.
She stood there tapping her phone against her thigh as the ticket line inched forward. Where was he? Even if she told him she was in New York , too, there was no guarantee he'd be free to meet with her. She took a quick look down at her clothes. They weren't too rumpled. She could pass. And she'd had a shower. She smiled. Well. They'd had a shower. Sighing, she stepped out of line and walked over to a metal bench. She sat down and texted him back. Five minutes later, her phone vibrated again.
Am free until 4:30. Can you meet me in 20 min. at The Houndstooth?
The Houndstooth? It was a gastropub about two blocks up 8 th Avenue . Anyone who was in and out of Penn Station a lot knew about it. She glanced up at the digital display over the ticket counter. She could walk there, meet with him, and be back in time to catch the 4:30 Keystone Express to Philadelphia . With luck, she'd be home by 7:00. She sighed. Might as well get it over with. And it would save her a trip to D.C. on Tuesday. She wrote back to Marcus, telling him she'd be there. As she was zipping her phone back into the interior pocket of her jacket, it vibrated again. She pulled it out and looked at it in confusion. It was another text message. And this time, it was from Julia. She smiled when she read it.
Shaking her head, she picked up her messenger bag and headed for the 8 th Avenue exit.
Evan had been in the booth for less than five minutes when she saw Marcus walk in. She noticed him right away. He was remarkable because he was unremarkable. Not really tall, but not short. Not thin, but not paunchy. Not yet old, but not young either. He stood inside the door for a moment, squinting into the bar area while his eyes adjusted to the lower light. If you took him out of his goddamn Brooks Brothers suit and tossed him into a crowd, he would completely disappear. He sure didn't look like a kingmaker. Yet he was. It would take more than the fingers on half a dozen hands to count up the members of congress who owed their Capitol Hill addresses to him. But he had never shown any interest in running a presidential campaign—until now.
She hated guys like Marcus. They would use anything to get their drones elected—and they'd never let a little thing like the truth get in the way. She had worked for him once before, about six years ago, on a senatorial campaign in Pennsylvania . It was a dirty race in a mid-year election—one of the most contentious in recent history. Control of the U.S. senate was up for grabs, and the stakes were high. The sitting president wanted a republican in the seat, and, thanks to Dan, the party hired Evan to vet their candidate—a former steel worker turned state representative and one-time mayor of Johnstown . On the surface, the guy was a textbook candidate. Nice family. Wife and three kids. Lived in a modest house overlooking the Conemaugh River in Cambria County . Taught Sunday school at the local Methodist Church . Coached little league baseball. And, as Evan later found out, liked to stay up into the wee hours, trolling Internet chat rooms for teenaged boys.
Somehow, that last tidbit never made it into the candidate's bio sheet. Marcus made certain of that. His man got elected, of course. And by the time the sitting senator got busted for soliciting sex from a minor in the workout room of a Cincinnati hotel, Marcus had moved on to his next campaign. His job wasn't to pass judgment on the morality of his candidates—it was just to get them elected. And he was very good at his job.
Evan didn't speak to Dan for six months after that episode. And she swore she'd never work for Marcus again. Yet, here she was—meeting the scumbag to discuss his latest cause c é l è bre.
She really needed to clean up her act.
Marcus finally saw her, and waved a bony hand in her direction. For some reason, his long fingers had always unnerved her. She suppressed a mental shiver as he approached her table and slid into the booth opposite her.
“You must walk fast,” he said, checking his watch. “I was only 15 minutes away.”
She shrugged. “I didn't want to waste any time—I've got a train to catch.”
“Going back to Philadelphia ?”
“What brought you to New York ?”
She met his level gaze. “Research.”
He chuckled. “Research?” He sat back and unbuttoned his jacket. “And how is Mrs. Townsend? Are you finding her a willing subject?”
“Now, now.” He gestured toward their approaching server. “Let's at least place our order before we start slinging expletives around.”
Evan ordered a club soda with lime. Marcus asked for a dirty martini. Evan found that strangely appropriate.
“It's not like you to mix business with pleasure, Evan,” Marcus said, as the server walked off. “The Senator might not take it well if he finds out you're fucking his wife.”
Evan saw no reason to argue with him. “He'd have to roll off Margo Sheridan to notice.”
Marcus was unfazed. “He wouldn't be the first one, now, would he?”
Evan leaned back. She felt her blood pressure rising, but she was determined not to let this motherfucker see it. “You're such a bright guy, Marcus. I wonder why you felt the need to hire me, if you already knew so much.”
He spread his hands before lacing his fingers together. “You never know. Even the best of us miss things from time to time.”
“Like who killed Tom Sheridan?”
He was silent for a moment. His dark eyes gave nothing away. “Tom Sheridan died in a skiing accident.”
“That's right,” Evan said. “You were there, weren't you? Funny how none of the news accounts mentioned that.”
The waiter arrived and deposited their drinks. Marcus stirred his martini with its long cocktail pick, before eating one of the fat olives.
“Is this what you wanted to talk with me about? My Aspen trip?”
“Why were you there? You don't seem much like the skiing type.”
“I had business.”
He met her gaze, but didn't reply.
“Okay.” Evan reached into her messenger bag and withdrew a folder. She pulled out a copy of the photo she'd found at the Yale alumni site and pushed it across the table toward him. “So your ‘business' just happened to take you to the same bar where Sheridan was carousing with a bunch of his frat brothers—including Andy Townsend?”
Marcus glanced briefly at the photo—then he sat back and smiled at her.
“You've always been good at ferreting out the details, Evan. You're just a bit more challenged when it comes to connecting the dots.”
Asshole. “Well, then, it's fortunate that I have you to illuminate me.”
“I can assure you that there was nothing sinister in my presence there. The party approached me about Andy.”
He ate the second olive from his drink. “That's right. If you'll recall, this was the same weekend that Art Jacobsen announced his decision not to seek reelection to his senate seat in Delaware . The party had already been eyeing Andy as an up-and-comer—it seemed like a good opportunity to feel him out and see if he had any aspirations beyond the governor's mansion in Dover .”
Evan was still unconvinced. “ Dover is an hour away from your office on M Street. Why fly all the way to Aspen to have your little fireside chat?”
He shook his head. “You really need to do your homework, Evan. I'm from Denver . Ring any bells for you?”
Christ. She had missed that. It was true. Marcus studied at Colorado with Josef Korbel. He was in the same freaking class with Condi Rice. She closed her eyes. And that whole thing about Jacobsen. She'd missed that connection, too. This was exactly what she feared would happen if she allowed herself to get distracted.
“What's wrong?” Marcus asked without a trace of warmth. “Not enough sleep last night?”
Evan opened her eyes and glared at him. He'd made her look ridiculous and he knew it. He was all but smirking at her.
“You really ought to just take the plunge and get yourself laid, Marcus. It's a whole lot better than fantasizing about what the rest of us do.”
He laughed and drained his martini. “Classy comeback. Is that a bit of south Philly humor?”
He shook his head and looked her over. “Can't dress you up or take you out. I wonder how long it will take Ms. Donne to reach that same conclusion?”
Evan had two choices. She could retake control of this conversation, or she could toss the rest of her drink in his face and leave. As tempting as the second alternative was, she opted to try the first.
“Do any skiing in college, Marcus?”
He narrowed his eyes. “What?”
“Something wrong with your hearing? You went to Denver —it's pretty famous for its Alpine ski teams. You ever participate in any of that?”
He didn't reply. She noticed that he was tapping his middle finger against the stem of his empty martini glass. He'd be a shitty card player.
“Come on, Marcus. It will take me all of two seconds to find out.”
“I did a little skiing.”
“Keep up with it?”
“Where are you going with this, Evan?”
“According to you, I'm not going anyplace. I'm just trying to make polite conversation.”
He sighed. “Yes. I still ski from time to time.”
“Do any skiing the weekend you were in Aspen with Andy and Tom Sheridan?”
He had taken the cocktail pick out of his glass and was stabbing random patterns into his napkin. “I wasn't in Aspen for recreational purposes.”
“So, that's a no?”
He dropped the pick. “That's a no.” He folded his arms. “Are you accusing me of something?”
He exhaled. “Be careful, Evan.”
“Is that a threat?”
“No, it's a warning.” His voice was cold. “Stay on task. You were hired to investigate Andy—not me, and not Tom Sheridan.”
She nodded. “I'll keep that in mind.”
“See that you do.” He pulled his walled out of an interior pocket and extracted a twenty. Then he looked around the bar and waved their server over. “I'm not going to authorize reimbursement for any more of these random, fact-finding junkets of yours, either. Leave the SVU crap alone and do your job.” He met her eyes. “This isn't Pennsylvania .”
Evan sat back against the padded booth. “That reminds me. How's your favorite pedophile doing? Should be out of the joint by now. He gonna run for national office again?”
Marcus refused to take the bait.
“Just remember what I said, Evan.”
She smiled sweetly at him. “I remember everything you say Marcus.”
He got up. “I trust you can find your way back to the station?”
“Great. I'll tell Dan about our conversation.”
“You do that.”
He turned and left the bar.
Evan continued to sit there. The waiter approached the table and asked if she wanted anything else.
“Yeah. Bring me a Goose gimlet.” He nodded and turned back toward the bar. “Make it a double,” Evan called after him.
Why the fuck not? She wasn't driving.
And she wasn't going anyplace, either.
To be continued.
Return to the Academy