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.
Waiting around wasn't one of Evan's strong suits.
Fortunately, it didn't look like a busy night, so she guessed she wouldn't have to cool her heels for very long. Stopping by here on her way home from the train station had been an impulse. She didn't usually give in to impulses, but lately, she'd been doing that a lot. Too much. She needed to get her focus back. And she needed to be honest about what she was up to.
She sat back on the hard bench and tried to enjoy the dim light and the quiet.
It always smelled like varnish in here. It was funny how that was the thing that resonated the most for her about this place—the smell. She found it comforting. She associated it with calm and order. Maybe that's what made her such a compulsive housekeeper. Her mother would laugh at that. She had never been much for keeping things tidy—the carnage of her personal life was proof of that.
Evan hated chaos. She lived her life to avoid it, and she did her best to insulate her daughter from it. Yet now, she felt like she was drowning in it.
Next to her, a wooden door opened and closed.
She got up and entered the small booth, closing the door behind her. After a moment, a slide in the wall moved back.
“May the Lord be in our hearts and minds.”
Evan was silent. After a respectful silence, the voice on the other side of the screen continued.
“How long has it been since your last confession?”
Evan sighed. “About 14 years, give or take.”
It was quiet again. Then she heard the man on the other side of the wall chuckle.
“It has been a while. What brings you here tonight?”
She sighed. “Beats me. I was passing by and saw that your lights were still on.”
He laughed. “How is Stephanie faring at school?”
Evan smiled. “She's doing just fine. She seems to have made the adjustment better than I have.”
She saw the shadow on the other side of the screen shift. “You know, we could always just meet for coffee, like normal people.”
“No. I kinda like this arrangement. It's easier for me to talk when I don't have to stare at your uniform.”
“So this is an official visit?”
“I don't know. You tell me.”
“Okay. Confess to something, and I'll let you know if it qualifies.”
Evan laughed. “If you weren't a priest, I'd have to marry you.”
“If you weren't a lesbian, I'd be hard-pressed not to take you up on it.”
She sighed. “I think I'm in trouble, Tim.”
“I'm working on something for Dan. A job. And it's getting—complicated.” She paused. “I think I'm fucking up, and I don't seem to be able to stop myself.”
“Is this about you and Dan?”
“So it's about the work?”
“Yes and no.”
Tim sighed. “Evan. I left my secret decoder ring in my other suit. Why not just tell me what you're concerned about?”
She was silent.
“Yeah, okay.” Tim could get away with calling her that—they'd been friends since they were kids together.
She sat tapping her fingers against her knees. She came here to tell him, so why was she dragging her feet? “So there's this woman. And she's married. To the guy I'm vetting.”
“I see. And you're attracted to her?”
That was putting it mildly. “You might say that.”
Tim was silent for a moment. “Is she gay?”
“Yes, but she's not out. Her situation is— complicated. ”
Tim sighed. “You mean, it's complicated by something other than the fact that she's married, she's gay, and you're getting paid to investigate her husband?”
“Yeah. I know that sounds ridiculous.”
“No, Evan. It sounds delusional . You have better sense than this. What's going on?”
She shook her head. “I don't know. I can't make myself walk away from it.”
“Are you in love with her?”
Evan felt like the walls of the tiny booth were closing in on her.
She was tempted to get up and leave. She had been crazy to come here. It was just another example of how out-of-control she was.
“Evan?” She could see Tim's shadow. He was leaning closer to the screen.
“I'm here.” She still hadn't answered his question. “I don't know. Maybe.” She waved a hand in frustration. “How in the hell would I know? I've never been ‘in love' before.”
She heard Tim exhale. “Describe to me how you feel when you think about her.”
That was easy. “Sick. Pathetic. Like something is eating its way through my insides. Like I'm the world's biggest chump.”
“I'm glad you find this so amusing.” His calmness was bugging the piss out of her.
“I'm sorry, Evan. It's just that there's no act of contrition that's going to get you out of this one.”
“What's that supposed to mean?” She was losing patience with this whole enterprise.
“I think you know what it means. The question is what you decide to do about it.”
“How the hell do I figure that out?”
“The same way you figure everything else out. You get more information, and you try to make the best choices you can.”
She sighed. “I don't think I have any choices.”
“You're wrong. There are always choices. Sometimes, we just refuse to see them because we fear them—or because they're masquerading as something else.”
“Great. That's just what I wanted to hear.”
“Sorry, girlfriend. That's the best I've got.”
She sighed. “Life had to be simpler in the days when all you had to do was buy a few indulgences.”
He laughed. “Well, if it makes you feel better, you can always make a generous donation to our building fund.”
“I'm sure. What kind of scam are you running now?”
“We need a new gym floor in the community center.”
“Right.” She stood up. “I'll see what I can do.” She hesitated, and then laid the palm of her hand flat against the screen. “Thanks, Tim.”
“You've got good instincts, Evan. Use them. Listen to your heart. Don't confuse it with the noise coming from any other—extremities.”
Evan was startled by his use of the word ‘noise.' She had the freakish sense that coming here had been the right thing to do, after all.
“I'll say a prayer for you after you've gone,” he said.
“I know you will.” She opened the small paneled door, and walked out without looking back.
Margo Sheridan worked out of a small suite of offices located in a massive, multiuse complex in Reston , Virginia —one of the nation's first “planned” communities. Evan thought that Reston was a lot like the fictional town of Stepford : suspiciously glossy and perfect.
Just like Margo.
On paper, she was one of the chief liaisons between India 's Tata Group and the various Clean Development Mechanism brokers that had sprung up in the wake of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Her primary job was to oversee the buying and selling of Certified Emission Reductions, or carbon credits, for various Tata subsidiaries. This was the practice that allowed Tata and its tentacled companies to build international good will by investing in green energy initiatives in emerging markets. In exchange for their good deeds, they were permitted to skirt compliance with emission caps in their own business ventures—making millions of dollars in the process.
Vocal critics of this Kyoto “loophole,” led by Greenpeace, suggested that conglomerates like Tata used the CDM swaps as a smoke and mirrors routine to avoid cutting back the whopping CO 2 emissions that were being belched into the atmosphere at their own primary manufacturing centers. With enough green window dressing, they argued, no one would really care that Tata was rapidly turning India into the new China —especially when it came to breathable air. Other people argued that CO 2 levels were CO 2 levels, regardless of where on the planet you lived—and that multinational organizations like Tata were helping the planet more than they were hurting it.
Whichever side of the debate you came down on, one thing was certain: trading carbon credits was now big business—and lots of people were cashing in on the profits.
It wasn't clear how much of a stumbling block Tom Sheridan had become to Margo's meteoric rise within the Steel Group's multifaceted organization, but Evan guessed that her marriage to a Greenpeace apologist didn't play too well with the boys in Mumbai.
Like Tom Sheridan, Andy Townsend had become a mouthpiece for the green energy movement—but, unlike Sheridan , Townsend owed more of his political success to his financial backers in the private sector. More than one purveyor of nuclear power showed up on his campaign finance reports. Although she couldn't prove it yet, Evan would've bet her grandfather's farm on the likelihood that Tata, in the guise of some one or other of its subsidiaries, had helped to swell Townsend's campaign war chest.
On a personal level, she had to admit to being more than mildly interested in meeting Margo. She was Andy's longtime lover—and Julia's ex-lover. That second fact resonated for her almost more than the first. If she told herself the truth, she'd admit to being consumed by curiosity about the woman who had finally coaxed Julia into cracking the door of her high-class closet.
“Get more information,” Tim told her.
Well. Here she was, headed for the Reston Town Center , about to do just that.
She needed to talk with Margo, anyway—so why not kill two birds with one stone? Maybe some pieces of this puzzle would fall into place if she met the woman who Andy and Julia both found too enticing to resist.
Who was she kidding? She really just needed to see what kind of woman Julia found attractive. Correction. What other kind of woman—because she knew that, apart from their gender, she and the former Maya Jindal had next to nothing in common.
Dan brought her up to speed on the few details he knew about Maya's background, and Evan's buddy, Ben Rush, a P.I. with fingers in every government pie, helped her fill in the rest of the blanks. Ben was a wiretap specialist who frequently did off the books “freelance” work for the justice department.
According to Ben, Maya was raised in a small town in the Punjab Province of British India, near the Pakistan border. Her family owned several lucrative pine oil and sugar processing plants, and were able to send each of their five daughters abroad for their educations. Three of Maya's sisters studied at Oxford . Maya and her youngest sibling, Chandra, attended Yale, their father's alma mater.
Maya's father was a distant relative of the Jindal Steel Jindals, but he fell out of favor with the family when he married a Sunni Muslim from Lahore . To make matters worse, his bride was the daughter of a Pakistan Steel executive—Jindal Steel's lead competitor in the expanding global market.
Maya spent most summers during her college years working for her maternal grandfather at his corporate office in Karachi . Her duties there were unclear—there wasn't much of a paper trail. Ben told Evan that the only way to get a beat on the details of that piece of missing history would be to travel to Pakistan —not something the U.S. Department of State would be likely to sanction, and not something Evan could expect Marcus to pay for.
Maya met Andy and Dan during their junior year abroad in Jordan .
After graduating from Yale with a degree in economics, Maya got her MBA at Columbia . She started working as a lobbyist for Corus America right before the Dutch conglomerate got snapped up by the Tata Group in 2007. Since then, she had gravitated toward managing the firm's international CER programs. She spent lots of time traveling, dividing her time between her home office in Reston, and the firm's corporate offices in London and Mumbai.
It appeared that she also spent a fair amount of time with Andy at his house in Old New Castle.
She was a “person of interest” at the State Department because of her business and family connections with Pakistan . Two of Maya's uncles were on the government's watch list because of their suspected involvement with Lashkar-e-Taiba; the Pakistani terrorist group implicated in the 2008 Mumbai bombings. Maya's own murky connections to Pakistan Steel made her file folder at the State Department a bit thicker, too. According to Liz Burke, her involvement with a sitting U.S. Senator raised more than a few eyebrows in the administration.
The more Evan learned about Maya/Margo, the more persuaded she became that Andy Townsend's back-door dalliance with her would prove to be the Achilles' Heel Dan had hoped to avoid. Julia's decision to file for divorce would quickly peel back the veneer of respectability and stability that Andy wore like a mantle. Once the media got hold of it, America 's Eagle Scout would soon be stripped of a few merit badges. Could he survive? Would exposure of his longtime sexual relationship with a Muslim who had questionable ties to militant political factions within Pakistan lead to his political undoing?
Not her problem.
She hopped off the bus at Reston Town Center Station, and made the short walk to Margo's office complex at One Freedom Square .
Margo was running behind.
She rounded the corner of the long hallway that led to her office too quickly, and snagged the sleeve of her blouse on a broken branch, projecting from an overgrown ficus tree. She tugged her sleeve free and looked at it in disdain. That's the same, sodded limb I tagged yesterday. They need to prune this damn thing—or move it. She glanced at her watch. Ten minutes late. She was sure the woman would be waiting for her. Andy said she was a stickler for being on time.
She felt agitated. Anxious. And that wasn't normal for her. She didn't like being dominated by her emotions. It clouded her judgment. It was too easy to make mistakes. And she couldn't afford any more fuck-ups. Not now. She'd already exhausted her quotient.
All last night, she tried to parse possible explanations for her reticence about this encounter. Explanations apart from the obvious ones that accounted for why Evan Reed wanted to meet with her in the first place.
Evan Reed. Her reputation certainly preceded her. She was a legend on Capitol Hill. Anyone inside the beltline who was even tangentially involved in national politics knew about her. Many had endured her scrutiny: few had survived unscathed.
Margo knew that today's meeting would happen. She knew it the moment Andy told her that Dan had hired Evan Reed to do his background check. The only question in her mind was how long it would take the tenacious little dust buster to follow the breadcrumbs that led straight to her doorstep. Margo guessed not long.
As usual, she was right.
Andy said that his meeting with the mother of Dan's daughter that day in Old New Castle had been a surprise. She was younger than he expected. And better looking. A lot better looking. He was unprepared for that. He knew that Evan Reed was gay, so he assumed she would conform to the usual stereotypes.
He shared his impressions with Margo later that night, as they lay in bed together. “She's not really mannish at all—kind of hot, actually.”
Margo was incredulous. “What did you expect? That she'd show up dressed in flannel and hip waders?”
She rolled her eyes at him. Men were so predictable—they were reliably dense and literal. “Just like me—and your sainted wife, I suppose?” she asked him with a raised eyebrow.
She recalled the stunned expression on his face. “Julia isn't gay,” he said.
“Really?” she replied. “Could've fooled me.”
Andy colored. “That was an aberration.”
“Right. You keep telling yourself that.”
He ran a hand up the inside of her thigh. “And you're not gay either.”
She didn't reply. It was easier to let him believe what he chose. What was and wasn't true about her didn't really matter—it wouldn't change anything.
The door to her private office was open and, inside, she could see a woman standing near the windows that overlooked the plaza below. Margo entered the room, and the woman turned around.
Andy was right. She was attractive—in a Jodie Foster, girl-next-door, kind of way. She still had a leather messenger bag slung over her shoulder—so, Margo hoped that meant that she hadn't been waiting too long. She looked harmless, but Margo knew she was anything but.
“Ms. Reed?” Margo approached her and held out her hand. “I'm Margo Sheridan. I hope you haven't been waiting long.”
Evan Reed smiled as they shook hands. It made her look even more girlish. Margo guessed she was somewhere in her late 30s; she knew from Andy that her daughter was a teenager.
“About ten minutes. Not long.” Her voice was low. Sexy. “Please call me Evan. And thank you for agreeing to meet with me.”
“My pleasure.” She gestured toward a sitting area. “Would you like to sit down?”
“Thanks.” Evan walked over toward a pair of matching leather wing chairs and chose one, crossing her legs. She straightened the crease in her gray trouser leg with the fingers of her right hand. Margo noticed that her nails were short, but well cared for. “I can appreciate that this meeting might be awkward for you, so I'm thinking it might be useful just to acknowledge that, before we begin our conversation.”
Margo sat down opposite her. “On the contrary. I've been looking forward to meeting you. You have quite a reputation in Washington .”
Evan Reed looked amused. “Really? That statement covers a lot of ground.”
“In this case, I was talking about your professional reputation.” Margo paused. “But it is true that your other…interests…are somewhat legendary.”
Evan laughed. “ Legendary? Damn. I need to raise my rates.”
Margo smiled. She found the woman's demeanor infectious. “You don't seem surprised.”
Evan's gray eyes met hers. “Hell no. Nothing about this town surprises me.”
“It seems you're in the right line of work, then.”
Evan rested both hands on the arms of her chair. She looked perfectly composed, but Margo suspected that she wasn't.
“It's a job.”
Margo was intrigued. “Are you saying that you don't really enjoy getting paid to pick through the flotsam of other people's lives? I would find it fascinating.”
Evan stared at her a moment before replying. “It has its compensations.”
“So I've heard.”
Evan shifted in her seat, and re-crossed her legs. “Is there something you'd like to share with the rest of the class, Ms. Sheridan? I'm not sure I'm following your train of thought.”
“Aren't you? I thought I was being rather unsubtle.”
Evan pursed her lips. “How about we reboot this conversation? I can promise you that any lingering curiosity you might have about my private life is misplaced, and not worth your time.”
Margo smiled. She was enjoying this. “Don't be so modest.”
Evan ran a hand through her short, blonde hair. Her agitation was starting to show. She stared out the window for a moment. Then she sighed and met Margo's eyes. “It's clear that we're talking on several levels—why not just cut to the chase?”
This was a surprise. “Meaning?”
“Meaning, let's play trade.”
“ Trade? ”
“Yeah. Trade. It's a game kids play. I put something out there—something you want. And you put something out there. Then, we trade.”
Margo was intrigued. “You mean we swap information?”
Evan gave her a slow smile. “For starters.”
Margo began to sense that she was losing control of their interview. “How do we play?”
“You seem inclined to want to ask me questions. Here's your chance.”
Margo sat back. “All right.”
Why not? She was positive that Evan Reed already knew what she needed to know about her —why not satisfy a little of her own curiosity? She gave her an appraising look, and didn't attempt to conceal her appreciation.
“So, tell me—is Julia still great in the sack?”
She thought she saw a nerve twitch in Evan's cheek, but, otherwise, she had no visible response to the question.
“News certainly travels fast. I'm amazed at how well informed you are.”
Margo noticed that Evan made no attempt to deny her inference. She chuckled. “Andy's not as oblivious as you might think.” She leaned forward and touched Evan on the knee. “He'll never agree to the divorce. He won't let her go.”
Evan stared at the spot where Margo's hand still rested on her leg. When Margo withdrew it, she looked up and met her eyes. “He will, or he won't. That's between Andy and Julia. I have no part in it.”
“What do you mean?”
Margo laughed. “You're either lying, or charmingly obtuse. I don't think it's a happy coincidence that dear Julia suddenly wants her freedom. Do you?”
Evan chewed the inside of her cheek. “While we're on the subject of happy coincidences—your husband's untimely death certainly made things simpler for you and the aspiring senator.”
Margo colored. “Are you suggesting that Tom's death was not an accident?”
Evan raised an eyebrow. “Oh my—is that what I did? I thought I was just making an observation.”
Shit. That was stupid. She needed to calm down.
Evan was leaning forward now. “There's only one way you could be privy to so much information, Maya . Tell me about your relationship with Marcus.”
Margo was stunned. “What are you talking about?”
“You. Andy. Marcus—your perverse little troika. You're up to your shapely eyebrows in something. Just what kind of twisted angle are you working? And why drag me into the middle of it all if Marcus already knew about you and Andy—and about Tom's ‘accident'?”
They stared at one another in silence. The seconds ticked by.
“Marcus underestimates you.”
Evan smiled. “But you won't, will you?”
Margo stood up. “I think we're finished here.”
Evan sighed. “Too bad. We didn't even get to the good stuff.”
“That's all right. It turns out you don't really have anything I want to trade for.”
Evan stood up too. “I'll take that as a compliment.”
Margo turned and walked toward the door. “Enjoy your romp with Julia—it won't last long.”
Evan gave her a thin smile, and extended her hand. Margo shook it briefly. Then Evan left the office, and disappeared down the hallway. Margo shut the door and leaned her back against it. She closed her eyes. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
Everything just got a lot more complicated.
She walked over to her desk and unlocked a drawer. Pulling her cell phone out of her bag, she flipped it open and punched in a code. She sat down when the connection went through, and the phone on the other end started to ring. It was going to be a difficult conversation.
Outside in the plaza surrounding Margo's office building, Evan was trembling with rage.
Jesus H. fucking Christ . She made herself sit down on a low wall, overlooking a fountain. She needed to compose herself. What the fuck? That sure didn't go the way she thought it would. And this was the woman Julia slept with? God. She made Liz Burke look like Little Bo Peep. No wonder Julia was horrified.
Margo Sheridan. She certainly was— exotic . Sexy. Alluring. And dangerous — like a cobra. It was clear that she knew how to use her charms.
She was more persuaded than ever that Andy was a dupe—a rube. A pawn of some kind.
But what was the connection between Margo and Marcus? There had to be one—there was no other way for her to be so in the know about Evan's relationship with Julia.
Relationship. Christ. She shook her head to try and clear it.
Yeah. That's what it was, all right. She'd taken care of that. She was in it with both feet, now. What was it that Margo said to her when she was leaving? It won't last long? It was a parting shot—she knew that. But it found its mark—hitting her dead-on, right where she was most vulnerable.
Back in Chadds Ford that evening, Evan sat down in her grandfather's Bank of England chair and tried to work. She was making lists, trying to sort through everything she knew, and most of what she suspected, about the players in this bizarre little costume drama. She had filled half a legal pad with names—each with neat rows of facts, observations, and caveats listed beneath them. She was trying to make sense of it. Look for connections. Isolate things that didn't fit.
So far, she was being a hell of a lot more productive draining a large tumbler of Belvedere. She couldn't concentrate. Her thoughts kept wandering. She glanced again at her watch. Five hours ahead . She was probably in bed by now. It would be ridiculous to call. She'd only been gone two days. Christ. She was pathetic.
She forced herself to look at her lists again, and sat tapping her pen in agitation.
“It won't last long.” Margo's parting salvo bounced around inside her head like somber chords from a requiem.
Maybe it was over already.
She took another swig from her glass. The ice was nearly gone. All that remained was an opaque little wedge that rocked and fought to remain afloat. Give it up , she wanted to tell it. Embrace your fate. There are worse ways to wind up than becoming one with a glass of Belvedere. She should know.
She had no one but herself to blame. She knew better. She knew better, and she did it anyway. Just like Julia said she would.
Maybe she was like her mother after all? Always putting the cart of pleasure before the tired old horse that would somehow have to haul all the leftover debris back to the barn.
Clean up your mess. That was her mantra for Stevie—her best parental advice. The accumulated wisdom of her entire, shopworn life, rolled up into one, four-word platitude.
Well, she had one hell of a mess now. And no fucking clue about how to clean it up.
Her phone rang. She stared at it for a moment like it was an unfamiliar object that had just dropped from the sky. It rang again. She picked it up.
“Evan? It's Dan.”
She sighed. He knew about her meeting with Margo today. He was probably calling to fire her ass.
“Hello, Dan. I bet I can guess why you're calling.”
“No.” He sounded distressed. “Listen…I need to let you know that…Evan, there's been an accident.”
She sat up too quickly and vodka sloshed out of her glass. It ran down her forearm and dripped onto her notepad, blurring the lines between her tidy, printed rows.
“What happened? Is it Stevie?” Her heart was hammering.
“No. Not Stevie.” He paused. “It's Julia. In London . A car accident. She was on her way back to her apartment after a late meeting.”
Evan's head started to tingle. White spots flashed before her eyes, and she thought for a moment that she might faint. She grabbed the edge of the desk with her free hand. “Is she...?”
“No.” Dan cut her off. “No—she's in a hospital—injured, but alive. Her driver was killed, though.” He paused. “I'm sorry—I knew you'd want to know.”
Jesus. Alive? She's alive. “How badly was she hurt?”
“I don't know any more details.”
“Andy is in L.A. He's the one who called me.”
Evan's head was still reeling. She needed to think. She needed to plan.
“Is he going to London ?” Of course he would go…she's his fucking wife .
“I don't know. I think things are—strained—between the two of them right now.” He paused again. “He asked me to tell you.”
“Why?” Who was she kidding? She knew the answer to that.
“I don't think he wanted her to be there alone. He does still care about her, Evan—whatever their other issues are.”
“Her parents? They're in France ….” Her voice trailed off.
“I don't know any other details.”
She waved a hand in frustration. “I've been drinking. I can't….”
Dan cut her off again. “There's a flight to Heathrow that leaves at 7:50. I'll send a car for you. Just get your shit packed.”
She felt hot tears sting her eyes. “I owe you for this, Dan.”
He laughed. “Yeah. I'm a prince, all right.”
“Sometimes you are.”
“I'll be sure to remind you of that.”
“I know you will.”
“Think an eight-hour plane ride will give you enough time to sober up?”
Eight hours? Jesus. She smiled through her anxiety. “Barely.”
“I'll have the driver call you, and I'll text you the name of the hospital. Now get your ass in gear.”
He hung up.
She glanced down at the blurry mess the vodka was making, as it slowly seeped into the legal pad.
She pushed back her chair and ran for the stairs.
To be continued.
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