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.
In the end, they decided that Julia should cancel her trip to Paris , and return to the States with Evan.
As an added safeguard, Evan had Julia send Andy an email, telling him that the accident had led her to rethink her future plans—and that she was putting everything on hold for the time being. It was, after all, the truth—though perhaps not the truth he would choose to take away from it. Julia then called her parents and explained that her travel plans had changed, and that business at the firm was requiring her to return to New York sooner than she expected.
Only she wasn't going back to New York —not just yet. Until Evan could follow—through with her plans to talk with Dan—and Andy—Julia was going to stay with her in Chadds Ford. It was the only way Evan knew to keep her safe, apart from shipping her off to some undisclosed location. And that was something Julia flatly refused to consider.
Evan never suggested to Julia that she thought Andy might be directly responsible for her accident—and for the death of Tom Sheridan. She let Julia draw her own vague conclusions about who was directing these events. It was enough for her to suppose that her decision to sever all ties with Andy was the precipitating event that set everything in motion. Whether the culprit was Marcus, Maya, Andy, or some disturbing mix of the three, didn't really matter at this point—so long as Julia understood the danger she was in, and resolved to do what she could to keep herself out of harm's way.
There was another complication to consider, too. Stevie was beginning her Fall break on Wednesday, and she would be with them at the house in Chadds Ford next week. Evan hadn't mentioned anything about Julia to Stevie in any of their conversations—and she seriously doubted that Dan had said anything to their daughter, either. That wouldn't be his style—and, in any case, she didn't know how seriously he took their…whatever in the hell this was. But if Julia was going to be staying with them at Chadds Ford, she needed for Stevie to understand why .
That part was more difficult to navigate. She didn't want to lie to her daughter, but she didn't want to burden her with unnecessary details, either. She resolved to talk with Stevie—and with Dan—as soon as they got back to Pennsylvania on Sunday night. For her part, Julia seemed eager for the chance to get to know Evan's daughter—but she agreed that the circumstances for this first meeting were hardly ideal.
There were no two ways about it—it was a cluster. Evan style.
She was doing her mother proud with this one. The best she could hope for was that she'd somehow manage to leave less carnage in her wake.
And right now, that was looking pretty, fucking unlikely.
Julia was able to change the parameters of her return flight so she could leave from London with Evan on Sunday—instead of departing from Paris a week later.
It was Saturday night, and they were back in London at the Brook Street flat. They had both already packed for their early morning departure, and Julia was finalizing their transportation arrangements. She hung up the phone and filled Evan in on the trip details. Evan couldn't begin to guess what these feats of aeronautical acrobatics would end up costing—and when she asked, Julia just shrugged and gave her a shy smile.
Evan shook her head. “Life in the fast lane.”
Julia raised an eyebrow. “More like life with about four zillion frequent flyer miles.”
“Ah. I see. So how many of those did you just burn through?”
“About four zillion.”
“That's a pretty gargantuan price to pay for a change that probably cost British Airways less than five bucks.”
“Maybe…but the drinks are a lot better in first class.”
“You're flying back first class?” Evan tired to stifle her disappointment. She'd be riding in the cattle car.
“Uh huh. So are you.”
“You are. I just took care of that, too.” Julia fanned herself with a blue and red plastic card. “This thing is pretty much worthless now.” She held it out to Evan. “Got any use for it?”
Evan took it from her. “You never know.” She held it up and examined it. “I might be doing a little second—story work when we get back. These things are still nature's best universal door keys”
Julia looked stunned. “You must be joking?”
“Not so much.”
She made a grab for the card, but Evan held it behind her back. Julia waved her hand in frustration. “I…you—we….”
Evan laughed at her distress. “I'm glad to see that the benefits of a first—class education still include verb conjugation.”
Julia's jaw dropped. Evan could see the wheels turning behind her blue eyes. “Fuck you,” she finally said.
For some reason, that response pleased Evan. She loved this side of Julia, and she felt like they had just leveled their playing field—again. She held the card out to her. “Okay.”
Julia reached up a hand and tentatively took hold of the plastic card. “Okay?”
“Sure.” Evan shrugged. “I accept your terms.”
“You're confusing the shit out of me. What ‘terms' are you talking about?”
“I give you the card. You fuck me.”
Julia rolled her eyes. “Okay wise guy.” She snapped her wrist, and flung the card across the room like a Ninja throwing star. They watched it clatter against a wall, then slide down behind a couple of potted plants. “Now what?”
Evan sighed. “Well, that's a poser.” She looked up and met Julia's smug gaze. Smiling, she reached out and grabbed her by the lapels of her jacket and yanked her forward, so that Julia ended up sprawled across her on the sofa. “I think you fuck me, anyway.”
She felt hot breath against her ear. “I suppose there are worse ways to spend my last night in London .”
Evan smiled into her dark hair. “Now you're talking.”
In fact, Julia wasn't talking—but she was still managing to communicate just fine. Evan closed her eyes and quickly forgot about the location of the ‘universal door key.'
Truth be told, Ben Rush wouldn't need it, anyway.
After they'd checked—in at their gate, they hauled their carry—on luggage over to a couple of stiff, plastic chairs, and settled—in to wait out the two hours until their nonstop flight to Philadelphia began boarding.
Julia expressed interest in another cup of coffee, and wandered off in search of Anything—But—
Starbucks, while Evan rode shotgun on their bags. While Julia was gone, she sat and amused herself by watching an endless throng of people roll past their gate like a fast—moving stream. This place was like a microcosm of the U.N. People in every shape, size, and color—sporting every language, every mode of dress, and every other cultural earmark—drifted by. She felt like the grand marshal at a fucking parade. The only thing all these travelers seemed to have in common was a myopic level of intensity. Coming or going—they all appeared focused on one thing: reaching their destinations quickly .
The other thing she noticed was the now ubiquitous use of cell phones. She chuckled when she noticed an orange—robed Tibetan monk wearing a Bluetooth earpiece. He was haphazardly pulling a small roller bag, and having an animated conversation with someone unseen. Behind him, an annoyed—looking businesswoman in a tight—fitting suit stayed right on his ass, looking for any opportunity to break out and pass by him. Unfortunately for her, the crowds were not cooperating. She was plainly pissed, and finally just gave up—stepping out of the mêlée to lean against a steel support column and make a phone call of her own. Something about her seemed familiar to Evan. When the woman turned around to face the windows behind Evan's row of chairs, she understood why.
Jesus Christ. What the fuck was she doing in London ?
It was Margo Sheridan.
It took a minute for Margo to notice Evan. When she did, the two of them stared at each other across the open expanse of the gate area like Will Kane and Frank Miller in the final scene from High Noon .
Margo was the first to blink. She lowered her cell phone and walked over to where Evan sat, stopping just in front of her.
“Fancy meeting you here,” she said, dropping her eyes to take in the assortment of mismatched bags. “Doesn't appear that you're traveling light .”
Evan looked her over, and then shrugged. “It's always hard to know how to pack for London in October. But I guess I don't have to tell you that.”
“Off to Paris with Julia, I suppose?” She looked around the gate area. “Where is the poor, misguided thing? Freshening her makeup?”
Evan refused to be goaded by her. “What makes you think I'm traveling with Julia?”
Margo laughed. “Oh come on, Evan. Even if we managed to overlook the unlikelihood of running into each other in the middle of Heathrow Airport , you could hardly suppose that Andy would've refrained from telling me about his dear wife's accident. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to connect the dots, now does it?” She shook her head. “Of course you'd fly across the Atlantic to be at her side.”
Evan nodded. “That might account for my presence here. What about yours?”
“I work in London . Remember?”
“I remember everything about you, Maya .”
Margo didn't miss the inference. Evan noticed her fingers tighten around the cell phone that she still held in her left hand.
“So, how is Julia? Has she recovered from her ordeal?”
Evan raised an eyebrow. “Andy must not be keeping you in the loop as much as you think.”
“What's that supposed to mean?” Margo was plainly becoming agitated.
“Just that Julia's near—death experience seems to have changed her mind about a few things.”
Evan sighed. “Well, you'll be pleased to know that your predictions about the tenure of my relationship with Julia have proved to be accurate. She no longer wants the divorce.”
Evan could see a trace of color spread across the skin above the collar of Margo's silk blouse. She didn't reply. Evan pressed her advantage. “Andy didn't tell you about that, either? Too bad— guess we might both be losers.”
There was an audible buzzing sound, and Margo lowered her gaze to look at the readout on her cell phone.
“I have to take this—I'm horribly late. She grasped the handle of her roller bag and started to turn away. “Tell Julia I'm relieved that she survived the accident.” Her tone seemed anything but sincere.
“Of course. Have a safe trip to—where did you say you were headed?”
“I don't believe I did say.”
She turned around, and walked back across the faded carpet to rejoin the fast—moving current of travelers. In seconds, she had disappeared completely from view. Evan looked down to examine the spot where she had been standing, expecting to see scorch marks on the rug.
Jesus Christ. What the fuck was that about? And what the hell was Margo doing in London ? And more importantly, where was Andy?
She began to wonder if he really had been in L.A. on the night Dan called to tell her about Julia's accident. That should be easy enough for Ben to check out.
Shit. At this rate, Evan was going to make Ben Rush a very wealthy man.
Running into Margo rattled Evan's cage.
She felt herself growing anxious about Julia. She glanced down at her watch. It was taking far too long for her to find a cup of coffee. She was just about ready to approach the gate agent to ask if she could temporarily stow their bags, when she saw Julia wending her way back toward her between the rows of plastic chairs. She was smirking, and she carried two large cups of what looked, impossibly, like Krispy Kreme coffee.
When she reached Evan, she held one out, smiling triumphantly.
“Searing hot, with no cream—as requested.”
Evan took it from her. “Where in the hell did you find this?”
Julia reclaimed the seat next to her.
“Terminal 3, right next to Burger King.”
Evan rolled her eyes. “We might as well be in Philadelphia .”
“We will be soon enough.”
Evan nodded and took a sip of her coffee. She looked over at Julia, who had propped her feet up on the edge of her roller bag, and was watching the passing tide of people outside their gate.
She decided to take the plunge.
“I just saw Margo.”
Julia looked at her with a shocked expression. “What? Where? ”
“Right here. About five minutes ago. She stopped to chat before taking off on her broomstick.” She paused. “I wonder if she earns frequent flyer miles on that thing?”
Julia was incredulous. “My god. What was she doing here?”
“I asked her the same question. ‘Business,' she said—but who really knows?”
“Or cares .” Julia shivered. “I'm glad I missed out on that little encounter.”
“I am, too.”
They both were quiet for a moment. “Was she traveling alone?”
Evan looked at her in surprise. “Funny. I wondered the same thing.”
“I don't really know. She was alone when she stopped in here.”
“Any interest in finding out?”
“Some. But I couldn't exactly strike out after her and leave all of our stuff unattended.”
Julia nodded and dropped her feet to the floor, setting her cup of coffee down on the chair seat next to her. “Which way did she go?”
Evan reached out an arm and held her back against the seat, preventing her from standing up. “Hold up there, Hoss. This ain't like tracking cattle—poachers on the Ponderosa.”
Julia looked at her in confusion. “Which in English means?”
“I think Margo has the potential to be dangerous, and it's not in our best interest to fuck with her.”
Evan saw Julia wince at her choice of words. “Sorry. I didn't mean to—”
“It's okay.” Julia cut her off. “I know what you meant.”
“Look,” Evan continued. “It doesn't really matter who she's with—or where she's headed.”
“No, it doesn't. Trust me, I did my best to lob a few well—aimed hand—grenades over the wall of her reserve. She now thinks that you and I are on the outs—and that you're rethinking a reconciliation with Andy.”
Evan nodded. “If I had to guess, she's probably on the phone with him right now.” She lowered her hand to Julia's forearm. “Believe me—the more instability we can engineer between the two of them, the more time we'll buy ourselves trying to sort this whole mess out.”
Julia sighed. “Remind me never to piss you off.”
Evan nodded. “It's generally not a good idea.”
Julia smiled and picked up her coffee. “So what happens now?”
“Now we go home, and I make a couple of late—night house calls with my buddy Ben Rush.”
“Julia. Trust me, okay? This ain't my first rodeo.”
“I know.” Julia took hold of her hand. “I just want to make certain it doesn't end up being your last .”
“I'll be careful.”
Julia squeezed her hand. “And what do I do while you're off sleuthing?”
“For starters, you stay away from doors and windows. And then , you initiate a dialogue with Andy, and do your best to convince him that you have a new—found desire to put some spark back into your marriage.”
“God. I don't know if I can pull that off.”
“You can. I have faith in you.”
Julia shook her head. “It might be misplaced.”
“It isn't.” Evan tugged on her hand. “Look at me, Julia.” When Julia raised her eyes to meet Evan's, she continued. “This is important. We don't know who was behind your accident—but the surest way to stop them from trying again is to take away their motive.”
“And what if we end up being wrong about what that motive is?”
Evan raised Julia's warm hand to her lips and kissed it. “One step at a time, baby. One step at a time.”
It was well past midnight when Evan unlocked the front door to the house in Chadds Ford. They'd been able to grab a few hours of sleep on the long flight back across the Atlantic , but they both were too keyed—up to really relax and enjoy the first—class accommodations. Although Evan did have to admit that the booze up front was a helluva lot better than what they offered back in the cheap seats.
Julia leaned against her in the small, dark foyer as she pushed the door closed and locked it. Evan stood facing the door for a moment, and enjoyed the sensation. “Tired?”
She felt Julia nod against her shoulder. “Bone tired.”
“Then why don't we just go on up to bed and worry about unpacking all this stuff tomorrow?”
Julia's arms snaked around her waist. “Did you ever think I'd end up sleeping here with you?”
Evan chuffed. “The truth?”
Julia's arms squeezed her tighter. “Of course.”
She felt Julia pull away. “Why not?”
Evan turned to face her. “Because I'm a schmuck, Julia—and I have an amazing aptitude for making horrible relationship choices.”
“Is that what I am?”
“No—that's the polar opposite of what you are. And that accounts for why I never thought you'd end up here with me.”
Julia let out a tired—sounding breath. Evan wished she could see her eyes—but there was no moon outside, and with the lights off, it was pitch black inside the house.
“I'm not going to put up with these annoying bouts of self—deprecation forever,” Julia said. “But right now, I'm just too tired to argue with you.”
Evan knew she had dodged a bullet. “I guess that's lucky for me.”
“Don't count your chickens before they're hatched. I just said I was too tired to argue —not to engage in other forms of…intercourse.”
Evan smiled and took her by the hand, pulling her toward the short flight of stairs that led to the second story of the farmhouse.
“As I said…lucky me.”
Evan didn't waste any time the next day getting in touch with Dan. She took an early train into D.C., and met him at Café Europa on M Street. They sat at a small table away from the main seating area, and she quickly filled him in on the peculiar details surrounding the death of Tom Sheridan. She also told him that Andy Townsend owned a similar pair of the yellow K2 skis that Tom had been wearing when his body was discovered.
Dan sat chewing on the end of a plastic swizzle stick as he listened to her narrative. When she finished talking, he dropped the mangled stirrer on his napkin and shrugged.
“What's your point?”
Evan sighed. “What do you mean, what's my point?”
“Come on, Evan. Why was it so goddamn important for you to pull me away from two meetings and a conference call to tell me something that has nothing to do with anything?”
“Jesus, Dan. Can you fucking smell the coffee in that cup? Somebody obviously killed Tom Sheridan—and right now, your boy Townsend has the word ‘perpetrator' stamped all over his high—class forehead.”
Dan held up a placating hand and quickly looked over his shoulder.
“Christ, Evan. You wanna take it down a notch or two?” He leaned forward. “What the hell is the matter with you, anyway? You sound like a crazed extra from an Oliver Stone movie.”
Evan sat back against the plastic chair and took a couple of deep breaths. She was furious with Dan—but hurling a drink in his face wouldn't do much to advance her cause. She needed him to hear her out, and to at least consider the possibility that she was right about Sheridan —if not about Andy.
She resolved to try again.
“Okay, look. I'm willing to admit that Andy having a pair of the K2 skis might be a coincidence. But—Andy was on that weekend with Tom Sheridan. And so was Marcus. And somebody strapped those expert skis on the feet of an inexperienced drunk who had no business being anywhere near the runs on Loge Peak . We both know that Andy was screwing the Congressman's wife—and from my vantage point, he was the only person who stood to gain anything professionally and personally from Sheridan 's death.” She leaned forward. “So you do the math.”
He stared back at her for a moment. Then he shook his head.
“Evan, you're adding two and two and getting five . You've got nothing here—and, frankly, I'm more than slightly concerned that you seem to be willing to toss around these ludicrous, unsubstantiated accusations. What the hell has happened to your judgment?” He narrowed his eyes. “Scratch that—I think I know exactly what's wrong with you.”
“ Wrong with me? What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Oh, come on. This happens every time you lose your objectivity and start thinking with your— girl stuff. ” He waved his hand toward her lap. “So, what's up?” He lowered his voice. “You worried that Andy and Julia might reconcile?”
Evan looked at him with incredulity. “What's the matter with you? Jesus, Dan. This has nothing to do with my feelings for Julia.”
“Ah. You admit it, then?” He sat back with a smug expression. “So Marcus was right. Hot damn. I knew it.”
Evan threw her napkin down with disgust. “I don't know why I thought talking with you was a good idea. Clearly, you can't see past your own frustrated libido.”
“Oh, baby—there's not a damn thing wrong with my libido these days.”
“Oh, really? You finally getting some, Dan?”
He laughed at her. “Nice try, Evan. We're not talking about my antics in the sack.”
She pushed back her chair. “Guess what? We're not talking about mine , either.”
He held out a hand to stop her from leaving. “Hang on—don't be pissed.”
“Seriously. Come on—I'm sorry. Sit down. Tell me what I can do to help out.”
She eyed him with suspicion.
“I mean it.” He sounded sincere enough. She sat back down.
“Okay. I want to meet with Andy—today.”
“That's not possible.”
She lifted her chin. “Why not?”
“Because he's in Toronto . He won't be back in D.C. until Monday.”
Her wheels were turning. She wondered if Ben Rush could shake free tonight. “All right. Then I want to meet with him on Monday.”
“Marcus won't like it.”
“Marcus can kiss my white ass. You can either set this meeting up for me—or I can call my friends at the Enquirer and let them ask the questions.”
He sighed. “Christ, Evan. Wanna dial it back a bit? I'll set up the damn meeting for you.”
“Don't get too excited—I have a couple of conditions.”
“I want to be there when you meet with him.”
She thought about that. It probably wasn't a bad idea—Andy would feel less threatened, and she'd have a witness to anything that transpired. “Okay.”
“And I get to pick the venue for the meeting.”
She knew Dan—he'd want to make it someplace public, so things couldn't get too out—of—hand.
Dan nodded and finished his cup of coffee. “I'll call you on Thursday and let you know when and where. And I want to get some time with Stevie, too.”
He obviously knew that Stevie's fall break was this week. She pushed back her chair and stood up.
She looked at him.
“You'd better be careful about how far you go with this bullshit. I won't be able to salvage your reputation if you push him too far, and it blows up in your face.”
She continued to stare at him without speaking. Then she picked up her messenger bag and slung the strap over her shoulder.
“I'll talk to you on Thursday about the meeting. Call me whenever about Stevie.”
She left him sitting there, and headed for the M Street exit.
Ben Rush was none too pleased that Evan was twisting his arm to get him to agree to an impromptu stint of B&E. It was a felony in the District—and pretty much everyplace else these days—and he'd more or less given up this kind of candy—ass crime when he started doing “special” projects for the Justice Department about six years ago. But his lucrative government assignments had slacked off since Obama took the oath of office, and money was scarce. He had two ex—wives and three kids in college—and his legit day job as an insurance investigator didn't come close to paying the bills. Evan knew that, and she waged a full—court press—with an accompanying stack of C—notes—to get him to agree to engineer her clandestine double—header.
She needed him to get her into two residences. The one in Old New Castle would be a cakewalk. It didn't even have a security system. The other? Well, that one was going to be a bit more complicated.
“You've got to be kidding me,” he said, when she told him the address.
“Do I look like I'm kidding?” she said, with a raised eyebrow.
Ben shook his head. “Forget it.”
“Come on, Ben,” Evan goaded him. “Where's your sense of history? If memory serves, you've got experience with this particular location.”
He scoffed. “Yeah—well, doing a four—year stretch in Lompoc was an ‘experience' I could've lived without.”
“Gimme a break. That place is a fucking country club, and you know it.”
“Hey, maybe it was by the time they sent Boesky there—but it wasn't a picnic in the 70s, lemme tell you. And I have NO desire to see how much it's improved.”
Evan reached out to take back the stack of bills that sat in an envelope on the tabletop between them. “ Fine. I'm sure I can find another porch—climber who still knows his way around Foggy Bottom.”
Ben slapped his hand down on top of hers. “Not so fast. Just gimme a goddamn minute to think about this. We're talking about the fucking Watergate , okay? I still have nightmares about that joint.”
Evan chewed the inside of her cheek. “In or out, Ben. This is a time—value offer.”
Ben's blue eyes searched hers. “When do you wanna do this, again?”
“ Tonight, Ben.” She glanced at her watch. “In about three hours. New Castle tomorrow night—if we need to.”
He sighed. Ben was in his late 60s now, and he hadn't done any bona fide breaking and entering since the mid—90s. The closest he got these days was listening in on peer—to—peer conversations, and unscrambling instant messages. And that he could do from his own living room, without ever having to change out of his t—shirt and boxer shorts.
He looked back up at Evan. Her hand was still beneath his, resting on top of the envelope full of hundred dollar bills. He knew she wouldn't wait much longer. What the fuck? He needed the money—and he might as well have some fun while he was at it.
“Okay,” he said. She pulled her hand free, and he could see a smile beginning around the edges of her gray—green eyes. “But we're going to do this my way—no arguments.”
The smile faded before it gained any traction. Her eyes narrowed. “I've got a feeling that I'm not going to like this.”
Ben laughed and hauled the bills away from her. He sat back and looked her up and down. “I've got a feeling that you're going to hate it.”
“Will you hurry the fuck up?”
Ben was getting exasperated by how long it was taking Evan to walk across the pavement from the New Hampshire Avenue taxi drop off in front of the luxury apartment complex.
“Bite me, Ben. You try to walk in these goddamn shoes.”
“We discussed that, remember? Besides—you make a much better—looking ‘escort' than I do.”
“Yeah, right. I had to be insane to agree to this.”
He looked her over. “I don't know—you clean up pretty good.”
“I look like a goddamn hooker.”
He laughed. “That's the idea, love chunks.”
She glowered at him.
In fact, Evan did look pretty hot. They'd managed to score the items of clothing they needed from an obliging set of sales racks at the Nieman Marcus on Wisconsin Avenue . The makeup was easy—Ben's daughters had the equivalent of a goddamn Sephora franchise stashed in the drawers of his guest bathroom. The shoes were a bit of a harder sell. Ben had to strong—arm Evan into trying on more than a dozen pairs before they found a style that fit the bill.
“You can't possibly be serious?” she'd say, as he'd hold up another pair of peep—toe glitter pumps with four—inch heels. “You want me to bust my ass?
“No, I want you to look like you sell your ass.”
She scowled as she yanked the shoes from his hand. “You're enjoying this.”
“Hey—I'd wear them if I could.”
She gave him a smoldering look. “I really could've lived out the rest of my life without knowing that about you, Ben.”
“Just hurry the fuck up—we're running out of time.”
That was over two hours ago. Now they were approaching the entrance to the main lobby of the complex, and Evan's begrudging makeover was about to pay off. She was startled every time she looked down and saw her boobs pushing out from the deep, v—neck of the slinky dress she was wearing—if you could even call it that.
“How'd you finagle this invitation, anyway?” she hissed as they approached the doorman.
“Avery Waxman owes me. He has these little cocktail shindigs every Monday night. They're like little ‘welcome back' mixers. Williams & Jensen foots the bill for all of it. There's no telling who'll you'll run into up there.”
She looked at him with surprise. “We're not really going to this fucking party, are we?”
“Of course we are. We have to. Relax. Waxman lives on the same floor as your pigeon.”
“Jesus. What happened to the good ole days when all you had to do was jimmy a lock?”
“Hey—don't blame me. I didn't pick this fishin' hole—you did.”
“Just keep your mouth shut—I don't want to run the risk that anyone will recognize you.”
She scoffed. “That's not very likely.”
“Do it just the same—and now's a good time to start.”
They approached the doorman.
Ben held out a beige card. “Hello. Ben Rush to see Avery Waxman.”
The doorman glanced at the card, but spent more time giving Evan a good once—over.
“Go on up, Mr. Rush.” He gestured toward the elevators behind his station.
“Thanks. Have a great night.”
The doorman raised an eyebrow. “You, too.”
Ben palmed Evan's jersey—clad ass. “Oh, I plan to.”
Once they were safely sealed—off behind the big steel elevator doors, Evan jabbed a finger into Ben's chest. Her eyes were blazing. “Do that again, motherfucker, and you'll find out what it's like to sing soprano .”
“Jesus. What's with the Pippi Longstocking routine? Lighten up, will ya?”
“Let's just get this done , all right?”
Ben flicked an index finger off the bill of an imaginary cap. “Yes, ma'am.”
The elevator stopped on the 9 th floor, and the big doors rolled back.
“Showtime, baby cakes.” He took Evan by the elbow. “Let's go sell it.”
Evan had had just about enough of this.
Ben was making the rounds at the party, laughing and passing out his little beige cards—making sure everyone knew he was there. She was killing time, skulking behind a couple of behemoth potted palms, next to the balcony doors, nursing the same goddamn martini someone had thrust into her hands as soon as they crossed the threshold of Waxman's apartment. Under normal circumstances, she wouldn't have minded—it was a good drink. Belvedere, if she didn't miss her guess. Apparently, business was good at Williams & Jensen.
The guest list at this soirée was like a goddamn index page from the D.C. Social Register . Evan saw half a dozen congressmen she knew in passing, and another three or four who once had been objects of her professional scrutiny. Keeping a low profile was harder than she bargained for. Fortunately, her ensemble was engineered to prevent anyone from looking too closely at her face—and the skimpy outfit seemed to be doing its job quite well. Ben knew his business.
She took another tiny sip from her drink and stole an innocuous glance at her watch. They'd been there twenty—five minutes. Her feet were killing her. She shook her head and wondered what Julia would say if she could see her. Christ. When she'd called her earlier and explained that she'd be late getting back, there had been a moment of dead silence on the phone line.
“Do I want to know what you're up to?” Julia sounded concerned.
“No. I really don't think you do.”
Julia sighed. “Evan—”
Evan cut her off. “I'll be fine . Just don't worry. And don't leave the house. I should be back by midnight.”
“ Midnight? ”
“Yeah. Wait up for me?”
“Of course. Be careful?”
There was another pause.
Evan smiled into the phone. “I know. Me, too.”
That conversation took place more than four hours ago—and if Ben didn't light a fire under his ass, it would be another fucking four hours before they got to Andy's goddamn apartment.
Over the din, she recognized a familiar laugh.
With a sick, sinking feeling, she looked toward the sound. Jesus Christ. This was not happening . It was Liz.
Liz Burke had just walked in on the arm of— somebody —and she was making a determined beeline toward the makeshift bar set up just to Evan's left.
Great. Now what? Evan began to panic. If Liz saw her, she'd be totally busted. And how the fuck would she ever be able to explain this?
Lucky for her, Ben chose that moment to remember the reason for their presence at this goddamn party.
“Liz!” Ben called out. Evan closed her eyes and blessed God and the Holy Virgin that Ben seemed to know everyone in government—especially at Justice and State. Liz halted and turned around—giving Evan time to beat a hasty retreat. She rolled her eyes at Ben and jerked her head toward the door as she brushed behind Liz, headed toward the foyer of the apartment.
He took the hint.
In another two minutes, they were standing in the hallway outside Andy's condo.
“What took you so fucking long?” she whispered, running her fingers through the graying hair on the back of his head. It curled over the top of his shirt collar. He needed a haircut.
Ben was doing a good job making it look like he was fidgeting with his keys. “Quit bitching. You're just lucky I knew your girlfriend back there.”
“Liz is not my girlfriend.”
“Oh, really?” he asked. “Is there some other term for the girl—on—girl thing you got going with her?”
Ben now had both picks inserted into the lock. Evan was draped over his shoulder, doing her best to look bored and impatient as she concealed what he was up to. She wanted to kill him.
Just then, another drunken couple rounded the corner and weaved past them, headed toward the elevators. Evan bent forward and kissed Ben on the ear. “Just open the goddamn door.”
Ben chuckled as the pins in the lock finally cooperated, and he turned the handle. “Sweet talker.”
They quickly stepped inside and closed the door. Ben fished a small, pen—sized flashlight out of his jacket pocket.
“Okay. This is your party—where you wanna start?”
Evan stood still for a moment, trying to let her eyes adjust to the darkness inside the apartment. “Beats me. Closets? The bedroom?”
Ben swung the tiny beam of light around the room in short, measured arcs.
“What are we looking for, anyway?”
Evan laughed. “Skis.”
The blue halo of light halted. Ben turned to face her. “Say what?”
“You heard me. Skis . Bright yellow ones.”
Ben sighed. “Well, that sure narrows down where we have to look. And here I was all set to crack into a couple of wall safes.”
“Sorry to disappoint you. We're not doing a remake of The Thomas Crown Affair .”
Ben laughed. “Tell me about it. Besides—in that outfit, you look more like a stunt—double for Irma la Douce.”
Evan tugged at the short hemline of her red dress.
“I reiterate: you're a pervert.”
Evan pulled off her shoes and bent to stash them under a table next to the door. Ben swung his light around to illuminate the table.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“What's it look like I'm doing? These things are killing me.” She straightened up and was stunned to see a familiar face staring back at her. Andy had a large, framed photo of Julia sitting atop the foyer table, next to several other family photos. Evan felt her heart miss a beat as she stared at the photo. The absurdity of her situation overwhelmed her. It wasn't that she was dressed like a hooker, and had just violated about twenty federal laws by breaking into the apartment of a sitting U.S. Senator. It was more the surreal fact that she'd managed to become entangled with the Senator's estranged wife—a stunning socialite, who was as far beyond her in wealth and experience as these goddamn clothes were beyond her in fit and fashion.
Ben flashed the beam of light toward a long hallway to their right. “Let's start over here.”
Ten minutes later, they had finished sifting through about a dozen closets, and had come up with nothing. Evan had to hand it to the architects of this joint. No wonder the DNC had once picked this complex to house its offices—it was made for hiding shit.
They were just leaving Andy's bedroom when they heard the front door of the apartment open and close. Ben clicked off his flashlight and grabbed Evan by the arm, hauling her with him into the guest room off the main hallway. They crouched behind a large armoire just inside the door. Someone turned on a lamp in the living room—and then an overhead light illuminated the paneled hallway. They heard footsteps headed their way. Evan was holding her breath, and she knew Ben was, too.
This was a shaping up to be a fucking comedy of errors. What else could possibly go wrong? Was Andy back early from his trip? Her heart was about to pound out of her chest.
Whoever had entered the apartment stopped at the end of the long hallway near the doorway to the room where they were hiding, and slid back a sliding door that led to a moderate—sized storage area that Ben and Evan had already searched. They heard items being shifted around. Evan took a chance and strained against Ben to crane her head around the corner.
Jesus Christ. It was Margo Sheridan. What the fuck was she doing here?
Ben yanked Evan back and held her in a vice—like grip.
Margo finished whatever she was doing and closed the closet door. Then, they heard her retreating footsteps. The hallway light was extinguished, but the living room light remained on.
Evan's eyes grew wide and her heart rate accelerated as she remembered that her goddamn shoes were sitting there on the floor in the foyer. She stood there, frozen in Ben's grip for what felt like an hour, before the light finally went out, and they heard front door open and close. They didn't move from behind the armoire until they heard the sound of Margo's key turning in the lock.
Ben was sweating. “Who the fuck was that?” He grabbed a hankie out of his back pocket and swabbed at his forehead.
“ That was Andy's girlfriend—Margo Sheridan.”
Ben stopped swabbing. “Margo Sheridan? No shit?”
Evan nodded. “You heard of her?”
“Who hasn't?” He shook his head. “Your pigeon keeps pretty dangerous company.”
“Yeah—well, let's just see what she dropped off, shall we?”
They walked together to the big closet. Ben slid the door open and moved the beam of his flashlight over the interior. Everything looked pretty much the same as it had earlier when they'd searched it.
“Wait a minute, Ben.” Evan saw something poking out behind a rack that held several oversized garment bags. “What's that?”
Ben pushed the zippered bags apart. A long, black duffel piped in red leaned against the back wall of the closet.
“That wasn't there before,” Evan said.
“Nope.” Ben pulled it out. Near the shoulder strap, there was an embroidered K2 logo. “ Bingo .”
“Jesus Christ.” Evan reached around him to unzip the top half of the bag. A pair of bright yellow skis was neatly tucked inside the padded interior. “I'll be goddamned.”
She ran her hand over the bottom edges of the skis—they were smooth. No wax. She stood back, shaking her head.
“Ben zipped the duffel closed and stashed it back behind the hanging garment bags. “I guess our work here is through?”
Evan shook her head in amazement. “Not even close.”
“Well—you got what you came here for, so let's get the fuck out of here before she decides to come back .”
Evan nodded. Ben lighted their way back toward the living room, and stopped in the foyer so Evan could retrieve her shoes.
There was just one problem. The shoes were gone.
It was 11:15 when Evan got back to Chadds Ford.
Her appearance had certainly raised a few eyebrows when she walked across the lobby of the Watergate on Ben's arm—barefoot. Her pantyhose were ruined by the time they got into a cab and headed back to Ben's apartment so she could change. But that hardly mattered—she really didn't think she'd need the black, crochet—striped stockings again any time soon. She left them draped over the shower rod in Ben's bathroom as a parting gift. She smiled as she hung them up. Now that she knew about the old guy's eclectic tastes, she figured he probably could find a way to put them to good use.
Her head was still reeling from the events of the evening. How fucking unlikely was it that Margo would pick precisely the same night she had chosen to break into Andy's apartment to return the yellow skis? And why did Margo have them in the first place? Were they the actual skis Tom Sheridan had been wearing when he had his fatal accident? That seemed unlikely—the skis had no wax on their undersides, probably indicating that they hadn't been used before.
And who in the hell tipped Margo off that Evan might be looking for them?
The whole thing smelled like a first—class cover up—and Margo was ass—deep in the middle of it.
Evan was now fully convinced that Andy was the one who gave Tom Sheridan his fatal shove off the in—bounds run at Loge Peak .
But how could she prove it?
And how could she protect Julia?
Dan was no help. He already thought she was acting like a paranoid psycho. If she told him about her nighttime tryst with Ben, he'd probably have her ass locked up—and then sue her for custody of Stevie so fast it would make her head spin.
She had a sinking suspicion that the only way to bring all of this out into the open would be to force Andy's—and Margo's—dirty hands. That meant pushing them to make another attempt on Julia's life. But how could she risk that? It was impossible . There had to be another way.
An idea occurred to her. Maybe she could piss Andy off enough to make herself the target? Shift his attention away from Julia altogether. She knew Margo despised her already—it shouldn't be too hard to succeed with Andy, if she played her cards exactly right.
Evan had it on good authority that she could be very annoying when she set her mind to it.
Of course, she'd have to have Julia's cooperation with this scheme—and that didn't promise to be very easy to achieve.
Something else nagged at her, too. Why had Margo taken the goddamned shoes?
Smiling to herself, she figured that happy discovery probably wouldn't bode too well for Andy.
She unlocked the big front door to her house and stepped inside. There was a light on the living room, but the rest of the downstairs was dark.
“Is that you?” a voice called out from upstairs.
Evan shook her head. “You'd better hope so,” she called back.
“Wiseass. I saw you pull in.” Julia was now standing at the top of the stairs. She was wearing one of Evan's oversized Penn t—shirts—and nothing else. It occurred to Evan that she could stand there, in her dark foyer, admiring this view for a very long time.
Julia tilted her head to the side as they continued to stare at one another without speaking.
“Are you okay?”
“I am now.”
Julia smiled at her. “Hungry?”
Evan took off her jacket. “In fact, I am.”
“I'll put on some clothes and come down.”
Evan didn't like that idea. “How about instead, I just grab something quick and join you? ”
Julia thought about that. “I suppose that could work, too.” She turned away from the stairs and started to walk back toward the bedroom. “When you're finished grabbing something in the kitchen—you can come upstairs and try your hand at grabbing something in the bedroom.”
Jesus. This woman was going to be the death of her.
Her heart sank.
She had an eerie premonition that she might be right.
She hung her jacket up on a hook behind the door, and headed into the kitchen to see what she could find to eat.
It was going to be another long night.
Evan finished her peanut butter sandwich and the last of the white grapes she'd snagged from the fridge, and set the empty plate on the nightstand. She'd also thought to bring up the rest of an open bottle of red zinfandel, knowing that Julia liked it. They sat on top of the bed, facing each other, as they drank their glasses of wine.
Julia's long, glorious, bare legs were stretched out in front of her, crossed at the ankles. Evan had a hard time concentrating on what she was saying when so much tantalizing real estate was on full display.
Julia sighed and snapped her fingers, causing Evan to look up at her with a startled expression.
“Hello? Is anyone at home?”
“I'm sorry,” Evan said—although she really wasn't. “You were saying?”
“I was saying that I was really getting worried about what could possibly be taking you so long tonight. I don't suppose you want to fill me in?”
Evan shook her head. “No. And before you get pissed—it isn't because I don't trust you. It's just that you're better off—legally, and in every other sense—not knowing.”
Julia looked dubious. “I'm not sure I like the sound of that.”
“Believe me when I tell you that you'd like it a whole lot less if you actually knew the details. Suffice it say that all's well that ends well—and everything went off without a hitch.”
When Julia still looked worried, Evan rested a hand on her thigh. “No worries. I promise.”
“I don't like thinking that you're out there taking chances.”
“Sweetheart—the biggest chance I ever took came and went a long time ago.”
Julia looked confused. “What was that?”
Evan leaned forward and kissed her. “Ring any bells?”
Julia raised a hand to stroke the side of her face. “I'm not really sure. Maybe you need to jog my memory a bit more.”
Evan took Julia's wine glass and set it down on the bedside table next to her own. Then she turned off the lamp, and crawled back across the bed in the dark to stretch out on top of her.
“Is this helping?”
Julia slid her warm palms along the bare skin beneath Evan's shirt. “Oh, I think it's definitely starting to come back to me.”
Evan kissed her again.
Tomorrow would be soon enough to discuss her plans for dealing with Andy.
When Andy arrived at Margo's townhouse in Reston on that same night, the first thing he noticed was how dark the place was. That was unusual because Margo rarely went to bed before midnight—and he knew she was at home because her black Saab was in the garage.
The second thing he noticed was that the single light she had left on was over the dining room table, and it illuminated a bright red pair of…shoes?
He stopped and picked one of them up.
“What the hell are these?” he asked aloud, as he turned the thing over in his hands. The heels had to be at least four inches high.
“My question exactly.”
Margo's voice shocked him, and he nearly dropped the shoe. He turned around to see her standing in the darkened doorway that led to the living room.
“Jesus Christ! You scared the shit out of me. What are you doing down here in the dark?”
She stared at him for a moment without responding. “Waiting for you.”
He noticed that she hadn't moved from her position in the doorway.
He held the shoe up. “What gives with these?”
She shrugged. “I was hoping you would tell me.”
He tossed the shoe back down on the table. “Am I supposed to know what the hell that's supposed to mean?” He walked over to the sideboard and turned on a lamp. Margo continued to stand in the doorway.
He sighed and pulled out a chair, thinking he might as well sit down. Clearly, whatever was on her mind didn't seem to be forthcoming, and he'd had a long day. He loosened his tie.
Margo stood there in stony silence for another full minute, before finally moving into the room and taking a seat herself. Andy noticed that she chose to sit directly across the table from him. He was certain that was by design.
“I took the skis to your apartment tonight,” she said.
He nodded. They'd talked about it that morning, after he'd arranged for the replacement skis to be delivered to her office at Freedom Square . If anyone inquired, she'd just say that she was getting her own pair refurbished before her upcoming trip to Gstaad.
“Did you manage to get in without anyone seeing you?”
“Of course. I took the service elevator up from the parking garage.” She picked up a piece of red glitter that had fallen off one of the shoes. “Waxman was having another one of his soirées—I had to cool my heels in the corridor for a few minutes to be sure I wouldn't run headlong into half of congress.”
Margo wasn't smiling. She continued with her narrative. “I got safely into your apartment and stashed the skis.” She picked up the shoes by their sling backs. “Then I found these beneath the table in your foyer.”
He was stunned. Obviously he hadn't heard her correctly.
“Excuse me?” he asked.
Her eyes were like chips of flint.
“You heard me.”
He looked down at the shoes with incredulity.
“Oh, come on, Margo. There's no fucking way you found these hooker shoes in my apartment.”
“Oh, I assure you that I did.”
He sat back against his chair. None of this made any kind of sense. Who in the hell could've gotten into his apartment—and why would they have left such a ludicrous calling card? He shook his head.
“I don't get it.”
Margo sat staring at him—then she put the shoes back down on the table. “You really don't know anything about this, do you?”
He met her frosty gaze. “Of course not.”
She sighed. “You really are a boy scout, aren't you?”
He was irked by her sarcasm. “What's that crack supposed to mean?”
She shook her head. “Never mind. If you really know nothing about these—then we've got bigger problems.”
He gave a bitter laugh.
This had to have something to do with the goddamn skis—but what? Who in the hell would have done this—and why
“It's about the skis, isn't it?” Her voice was cold.
He looked at her. “Why would you think that?”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh come on, Andy. It's a bit too much of a coincidence, don't you think?”
“I don't know what to think. You were there. Did it look like anything had been disturbed?”
She shook her head.
“Well. Whoever left these behind must have wanted them to be found.”
“That makes no sense.”
He was losing patience. “I didn't say it was rational —okay?”
She sighed. “If they were looking for the skis, they didn't find them. I arrived after they left their little present.”
He thought about that.
“There's only one person who's been nosing around and asking questions about Aspen .”
Margo laughed and gestured toward the high heels. “These could hardly be considered her style.”
“Didn't you say that Waxman was having one of his eclectic little parties tonight?”
“Yes….” She looked like enlightenment was beginning to dawn. “Jesus Christ.” She took a deep breath. “That bitch….”
He held up a restraining hand. “Relax. We have no idea if she's responsible.”
“Then who else could have done it? And tell me something else, while we're on the subject. Why is she so interested in you and your goddamn skis?”
“We've discussed this.”
“Well, maybe we need to discuss it a bit more. Maybe you need to explain to me again how it happened that Tom ended up going over a goddamn cliff wearing your sodded skis!”
“Will you calm the fuck down? And lower your voice. I don't need for this to make the goddamn Drudge Report .”
Margo was nowhere near calming down.
“I mean it Andy—if I find out that you lied to me about Tom's death, I'll—”
He cut her off. “You'll what, ‘Maya?' Have one of your ‘uncles' come and drag me off to the family Romper Room in Lahore ?”
She said nothing, but her gaze was cold and unflinching.
“Face it,” he continued. “You've got as much invested in this as I do. Until we know who's behind this, we need to stay calm .”
She sat staring at him for another minute—then she pushed back her chair and stood up.
“Just remember what I said.”
She turned and walked out, leaving him alone with the shoes.
And the skis. The goddamn skis.
To be continued.
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