A Hard Rain; chapter seven, part one

“Damn.  Where is she?”  Leslie scans the area outside the baggage claim for Rose.  Leslie only brought her duffle and her laptop with her, so she has no baggage to claim and has arranged to meet Rose outside.  Rose had said she drove a black Suburban, license plate RedRose.  Leslie is tired and grumpy, and she has no patience for this nonsense.  It’s five in the morning, which is not a good hour for her.  She waits five minutes, then ten, then fifteen.  By now, she is fuming.  She pulls out her cell and punches Rose’s number.  The phone rolls over to voice mail, so Leslie leaves a message at the sound of the beep.  “Rose.  This is Leslie.  Where the hell are you?”  Leslie clicks of her phone and waits some more.  After another fifteen minutes, she’s had enough.  She flags a taxi to go to Rose’s house.  The driver is an older white man who is laconic to the point of taciturn—which suits Leslie perfectly.  She has a running monologue in her mind of all the scathing things she’ll say to Rose when they finally meet.  All these thoughts flee her mind, however, when she sees three cop cars with their cherries blinking parked in the driveway.

“Shit.  Take me back to the airport,” Leslie says to the taxi driver.  “No, wait.  Take me to a nearby ATM, Wells Fargo is preferable.”  He doesn’t even pause as he changes course.  He pulls into a nearby gas station and waits as Leslie requested.  Leslie races inside and takes out $200.  Checking her wallet, she sees that she has a hundred in cash.  That should be enough.  “Take me to a nearby hotel, but not in this city.  Something around seventy bucks a night.”  The cabbie drives her to a nearby Best Western.  He gives her his card and tells her to call him if she needs a ride anywhere.   Leslie tips him handsomely for not asking her any questions before she goes into the hotel.  She pays for a room for two nights in cash and hurries to her room after making sure the hotel has wireless.  She plugs in her laptop, thoughts whirling in her mind.  She has no doubt that Rose has been killed as well, but she is not sure why.  Is it because Rose knows more than she told Leslie?  Or does the killer just think that Rose knows too much?  A thought chills Leslie—was Rose killed because she was meeting Leslie?  In other words, does the killer know about Leslie’s existence?  If so, how much has the killer figured out about Freddy’s new identity?  Leslie doesn’t want to jump to any conclusions, but it’s hard for her not to look over her shoulder to see if anyone is watching her—even though she is in the room by herself.

Once she is online, she goes to Google to see what she can find out about Rose’s death.  Oh, she probably shouldn’t jump to conclusions—wait, what?  Breaking news for Chicago.  Rose Duffy, aged forty-three, is missing from her home.  Missing—not killed.  She is single with no roommates, so it would have gone unnoticed if not for the fact that one of her neighbors had insomnia the night before and had heard noises coming out of Rose’s house.  The neighbor noticed what appeared to be a man helping a drunken woman—one who was resisting his efforts—out of the house and into a car.  There was something odd about it, the neighbor recalled.  After fifteen minutes of deliberation, the neighbor called the cops who discovered copious amounts of blood on the bed in Rose’s bedroom.  It is reported that Rose Duffy was a close friend of Federico Amato, the missing man who is the only suspect in the slaying of Amy Robertson, the daughter of Senator Robertson.  Leslie frowns.  If the papers play up that angle, it would mean that Amy’s murder would be thrust back into the spotlight.  Leslie frowns more deeply as she reads a quote by Chief Matthews.

“We have heard the rumors about a connection between the disappearance of Ms. Duffy and the death of Ms. Robertson simply because of a mutual connection.  We would like to state unequivocally that there is no connection.”

“Really, Chief Matthews?”  Leslie murmurs suspiciously.  It’s only been one hour, seven minutes, and twelve seconds since Leslie had seen the cops at Rose’s house.  That is pretty fast footwork on the part of the cops for them to ‘unequivocally’ declare that there is no connection between Rose’s abduction and Amy’s murder.  Leslie mentally moves Chief Matthews up the suspect list before moving him back down again.  His statement is suspicious, but it could be nothing more than the chief doing a favor for a friend.  Or an ex-roommate.  Still, whatever the reason, it just makes Leslie more certain that the disappearance of Rose is connected to Amy’s murder.  This time, it doesn’t seem like the killer—OK, kidnapper—wanted to get caught; he just had the misfortune of being seen by an insomniac neighbor.  Leslie frowns.  The neighbor had stated that she saw a man ‘helping’ a struggling woman into a car.  Could the man be a woman?  Possibly, but not probably.

Leslie takes a minute to ponder the chief.  On the surface, he doesn’t seem as if he is involved.  None of the stories Leslie has heard or the articles she’s read hints at anything untoward about the chief in his dealings with…well, anyone.  He has been a solid chief of police, according to the Google machine, dogged, if not brilliant.  He, too, attended Wheaton College, but there is no indication that he is too buddy-buddy with Senator Robertson—or his daughter.  In fact, there is a photo of him dancing with his wife at a charity function, and it’s clear that he’s deeply in love with her.  Leslie digs a bit more.  The only thing strange she can discover is that the chief had taken over the handling of Amy’s murder right from the start.  That’s not protocol, but that can be easily explained.  A high-profile case like hers would shine a very bright spotlight on the police, and it would behoove them to solve the mystery as quickly as possible.  In addition, it’s a sad statement of fact that the public wants the visual of a Very Important Person working on the case, whether or not that person actually accomplishes anything.  So, it’s not suspicious that the chief took over the case.  On the other hand, he is a friend of the Robertsons, which could argue a conflict of interest.  Would he be above helping the Robertsons, even if it meant fudging the facts about the case?  Leslie doesn’t know.  She does know that if a cop knows the victim of a crime, said cop is removed from the case.  Why is it any different in this case?  And, Chief Matthews has jumped to the conclusion that Rose’s disappearance is not connected to Amy’s murder awfully quickly.  And, John is not a mere ‘mutual connection’.  He was Amy’s boyfriend, damn it, and Rose’s best friend.  Leslie makes a mental note of all this and returns to the matter at hand.

Leslie cannot find anything else out about Rose’s disappearance, so she decides to let it rest for now.  Instead, she goes back and re-reads John’s commentary which she has brought with her to Chicago; she discovers in her excitement at narrowing down the suspects, she’s missed a few pages.  She starts reading again.  John’s voice is so strong, Leslie tears up again. She breathes a few times just to clear her mind and then returns to the commentary.  John talks about the evidence against him.  He admits that he had gone to her house the night she was murdered because she had texted him that she needed to see him and that it was urgent.  When he didn’t reply to the text, she texted him again, imploring him to go, saying her life was in danger.  John went.  When he got there, he rang the doorbell.  When no one answered, he started pounding on the door.  He had given Amy his key when he left her, so he had no way of getting into the house.  When Amy did not answer after five minutes, John went back home and called her, but her phone rolled over to voice mail.  He left a message telling her to call him back, no matter how late, but she never replied.

Leslie has read no mention of this in any article, of course.  It’s clear that whoever murdered Amy sent John the text from her phone and then deleted them afterwards, along with John’s voicemail.  But, John had the texts on his phone.  He could have taken them to the police as evidence for his story.  Leslie can imagine what the cops would have to say to that, though.  If they were determined to put John away for murder, it would have been easy to accuse John of sending the text messages to himself from Amy’s phone.  Leslie has no doubt that if John had stayed in Chicago, Amy’s phone would have shown up in his apartment or somewhere else equally suspicious.

John denies driving around Amy’s neighborhood that afternoon.  He hadn’t used his car that day, so it would have been easy for someone to ‘borrow’ it to drive around Amy’s neighborhood and then replace it.  Leslie snorts out loud at the thought of telling that particular idea to the cops.  Even to her, someone who believes in John’s innocence, it reeks of being manufactured.  She can just imagine what the cops would have to say if John actually tried to claim that someone had stolen his car for an hour or two and then returned it.  However, it makes perfect sense if someone had been trying to set up John for Amy’s murder.  It pisses Leslie off that the cops hadn’t even considered any alternative to John being the murderer—of course, they would have been eager to close such a prominent case fairly quickly—and there had probably been pressure from up above to boot.

The rope, John dismisses.  He had done the handiwork around the house when he lived there, so of course his fingerprints would be on the rope.  It probably was the cording to a load of firewood or something like that.  Amy had loved to snuggle in front of a roaring fire during the cold Chicago winter nights.  Once, they had even pretended to camp out in their living room, roasting marshmallows to make S’mores and sleeping in sleeping bags.  The wistful tone of the last note touches Leslie’s heart.  In it, she can hear the love John had for Amy.  No matter how much hell she put him through, he had love her—very much.

John writes about the cufflink with hesitancy.  He had bought the pair two weeks after splitting with Amy, and the few times he saw her after they broke up, he hadn’t been wearing them.  However, the one time she was in his apartment, the cufflinks had been sitting on the nightstand.  Amy had commented on how nice they were—24-carat gold—and John had promptly forgot about it once she kissed him.  They had made love for hours before John fell asleep.  When he woke up, Amy was gone, and so was one of the cufflinks.  That’s what made him realize that he had to completely stop communicating with her.  She was unstable, and he wasn’t helping matters by talking to her and seeing her and sleeping with her.  He didn’t bother trying to get the cufflink back as he knew she would deny that she took it.  How the murderer knew about it, John could only speculate.

“It’s like a damn made-for-TV movie,” Leslie mutters in disgust.  All these twists and turns are giving her a headache.  She has to admit to herself that she has a twinge of admiration for Amy’s murderer because he had been so ruthlessly meticulous in his planning.  However, the same asshole probably murdered John, so it is her duty to take him down.

Leslie thinks a minute.  Is she sure that Rose’s disappearance is related to Amy’s murder, and by extension, John’s murder?  Yes.  She has no doubt about it in her mind.  If there is no connection between the three events, then life itself is more fucked-up than even she could have dreamed.  She returns to John’s commentary.  The last thing he says is that he’s getting close to the truth and that in a few days, he should have the evidence he needs.  Leslie’s hand shakes slightly upon reading this.  This evidence is what had gotten John killed.  This evidence…from whom?  About whom?  The problem is that she has no motivation for Amy’s murder except for the unborn baby.  What if the murder doesn’t have to do with Amy being pregnant?  Leslie wants to dismiss the thought from her mind if only so she can narrow her search, but she can’t.  While she thinks it’s probable that Amy was killed because she was pregnant, she can’t be a hundred percent sure.  For one thing, adultery isn’t that big of a deal these days.  Sure, it’s embarrassing for the rightwing morality scolds to keep getting caught with their pants down, literally, but none of them have faced any political backlash for their peccadilloes, so it’s certainly no reason to murder someone—especially not someone so notorious.

Leslie pulls up The Irish Black Rose file on her computer and rereads the email exchange between John and Rose.  She notices something in the last email that she had overlooked before—or forgotten.  John implores Rose to tell Leslie everything.  He then writes, “Give her everything.”  What does that mean?  What would Rose have that would be of any use to Leslie?  Did John have a packet prepared for Rose as well that he had sent to her after he died?  A flash of jealousy courses through Leslie as she contemplates the possibility.  What John had with Rose was something so deep and permanent, even she couldn’t touch it.  Then, Leslie remembers that Rose had told her there was ‘something else’, something better to talk about in person.  What can that be?  Again, jealousy courses through Leslie.  This woman knows John—Freddy—better than she did, than she ever will.  It’s not easy for Leslie to accept.

Leslie pushes the feeling aside and focuses on the case.  Briefly, she wonders if she should have just went home, but she knows better.  All the key players live in Chicago, so if she wants to find out the truth about John’s murder—it is best to be here.  She needs to solve Amy’s murder first if she has any hope of laying John’s death to rest.  What about Rose?  Does Leslie care what happened to her?  Not personally.  However, Rose has information that Leslie needs, and she’s very important to John.  For those reasons, Leslie will do what she can to find her.  Leslie is pretty sure that one of the four men on the list is the lynchpin of this whole orchestrated effort, if not the actual executioner.  She stops.  Would any of these men use a hit-man to get the job done?  Doubtful.  When a person is in a position of power, he can ill-afford to take a lackey into his confidence.

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