Saturday, February 19, 2011

Telepaths: The Park Slope Conspiracy - 17

The last of the team comes together this week as Elise and Maggie work toward finding Andrew.*

*This chapter contains strong language, family time, getting caught looking and orange socks.

17. An Educated Guess 
"You actually met Dr. Maggie Lochlan?" Derek asked again. He reached across the water and handed me a soda. That's fucking amazing. 
I cracked the can and drank half of it, watching the snow blow past outside. It was cool in the sunroom but I was warm enough with my sweater on and my legs in the hot tub. The jets pounded into my calves and the bubbles tickled the soles of my feet. I talked to her on the phone once and managed to get on her bad side in under ten seconds. Very professional. "Trust me when I say, I did not make a good first impression." 
He blinked at me and laughed. If she still has that smoky voice she could yell at me any day. He waved off my dark look. His hand was wet from reaching in to fiddle with the jets. "You can't help having a job to do. She can't blame you for that. Besides, it's probably a 'shoot the messenger' thing. Didn't your boss force her friend into asking her to take the case?" But man, the Dr. Lochlan. I mean, her case set the precedent for capital punishment in criminal echoing cases. Did you ask her about- 
"Oh hell no. I barely talked to her and I thought I was going to get my ass handed to me." I get to stop by her place tonight and drop off more files. I might need some Tupperware for whatever parts she tears off, I corrected him with a sigh and kicked my feet in the swirling water. I had wanted to get off on the right foot with the famous psychiatrist. 
Derek kicked hot water my way and got it on my shorts. "Quit being so melodramatic. You're working with a living legend here. Hell, you're the legend's boss." Come on, Mom called lunch, he relayed. He lifted his legs out of the hot tub and handed me a towel. 
I swung my legs around to the steps and dried them off, patting my shorts dry too. I hung the towel on the rack built into the outer edge of the tub and turned off the jets.  
I followed Derek's wet footprints into the kitchen. 
Derek and Ian were already sitting down at the table. Both of them were hunched over their roast beef sandwiches like someone was about to take them away. 
"Get the coleslaw out of the fridge before you sit down," Mom said without looking up from the sweet tea she was mixing on the counter. 
Derek smirked at me over his shoulder. Yeah, we're hungry. He turned his attention back to Ian. "So what did Teresa say about Easter? You can't go to Montana when the whole family will be here," he said after he swallowed. 
"I understand there's something in marriage about compromise," Mom told him. She set the pitcher of tea on the table and took the coleslaw from me before I'd gotten two steps from the fridge. She winked and turned back to the boys. 
I'm sure Claire would love it if you picked up on that. I kicked Derek's leg while I was taking my seat. "Are you going to Montana to see her folks?" We all wanted Ian to stay for what was shaping up to be a family reunion but Mom, Tony and I knew that Teresa's family wanted to see the couple too. 
Ian frowned at me, sucked the mayo off of his thumb and took another bite with his eyes on his plate. After a moment's pause he tilted his head to one side and looked at Mom through his thick blond eyelashes. Thanksgiving there, Easter here. "Teresa wants to meet the rest of the family," he said and smiled at Mom. 
Derek nodded. "Then she can make an informed decision about kids. I mean, what if you have one that looks like Cousin Larry?" He took a huge bite of his sandwich, pleased despite his sarcasm. He made a slicing gesture with his hand. I bet it's a firm no after the holidays. You could always adopt. 
Mom and I ignored him. She beamed at Ian and touched his shoulder. "I'm glad. I don't know what I'll do with you all for dinner but we'll figure something out." 
Ian shrugged and looked thoughtful. We've got those card tables in the attic. If I took one of the sofas in the living room over to my house we'd have room. "This way Elise can't call me Easter day to gloat over eating your biscuits when I can't." He brought up the clear memory of my voice taunting him over the phone and projected it across the table. 
I rolled my eyes over a bite of roast beef. Once. I did it once and I was what? Sixteen at the time? 
"Derek, you didn't tell us about the awards dinner yet. Did Claire's supervisor win?" Mom asked, cutting across Ian's teasing. 
Derek nodded, his mouth so full his cheeks were puffed out.  
Roast beef must not be on the diet. I smirked.
He waved away my comment but Mom must have agreed with me and thought something at him, because he swallowed hard and took a sip of his iced tea instead of taking another bite.
"Oh, he won. Officially the best marketing something or other in the state. The best part of it was the wife." He took a forkful of coleslaw that was only big enough to pouch out one cheek. His wife must've started in on the open bar five minutes after they got there. She was tanked, but somehow she kept it together enough to clap and even stand up without falling over her chair when he won. After they brought out the first course all bets were off. He swallowed and demonstrated her technique with his own fork. "She's cutting up her pasta with a knife and fork and flipped the whole plate into her lap." The look on her face had been surprised, like she'd forgotten she had a plate at all and had no idea where the pile of red pasta on her white dress had come from. 
We all laughed but Ian howled and slapped the table with one hand, his face red under his white-blond hair. 
I looked between him and Derek who scowled, the back of his neck pink. "What?"  
Derek shook his head. "It was nothing like that." 
I looked at Ian who hadn’t stopped laughing. Mom covered her mouth with her napkin, her laugh almost silent as she watched Derek with bright eyes.  
Ian gestured toward Derek. When we were at that house in Charleston and with that girl he had the crush on- 
"Mandy." I laughed into my hand and Derek glared. 
"Oh, he had just learned how to use a steak knife, leave him alone," Mom said and covered her mouth again. 
Ian wiped his eyes with his fingers and grinned. "What was worse, flipping his steak into Mandy's lap, or dumping the plate of beans into his?" 
The beans, definitely the beans. I could remember the red flush that went up the back of Derek's neck all the way to his ears, and Mandy's Mom wiping steak sauce off her daughter's neck with a paper towel. 
"Don't make me start pulling out your most embarrassing moments," Derek threatened. I've saved up a few from college.  Remember the Pine Bar, and Horseshoe Bay? He gave Ian and I each a pointed look and we both coughed into our napkins. 
"So, sis, working weekends again? I thought you got promoted," Ian asked, his eyes wide and innocent. We all know it's an excuse to avoid Danielle at dinner. 
I shook my head and held out my glass to Derek who narrowed his eyes at me before he filled it with tea. "I'd rather deal with drunk Dani than drive two hours round-trip to deliver files and answer a few questions." It's glorified gopher duty. I'm passing stuff around from Gates to the other two and back.  
"He did give you a raise," Mom pointed out. 
Moving up in the world, Derek agreed and nudged me with his cold foot. 
I ignored him and ate my sandwich, glad to let Mom shift the conversation back to Easter and where we were going to put all of the cousins. 
After lunch I went into Mom's room to change. I tried not to look at all the pictures of Dad. He stared at me from the top of the dresser, the nightstands, the desk and the vanity. More pictures of him now than when he was alive. I ducked into the bathroom, balled up Mom's old shorts and shoved them in the hamper under the sink. At least the bathroom was free of pictures. I felt guilty thinking it even though none of them were going to read me from the kitchen. I missed Dad too but I didn't think she needed to turn the house into a shrine. I shook the thought off, brushed out my hair and settled into the work frame of mind. And settled into the worry about Lochlan. I'd been professional but I had the distinct impression that I'd landed my foot in my mouth. She does want to ask you some questions about the case, I reminded myself. I buttoned my blouse and fixed the collar where it had folded under. The deep blue was a good color for me, it made my eyes stand out and my hair look more blonde than brown. I put in my gold hoops with the opal charms and the matching necklace. Office presentable, I decided and touched up my mascara. 
Mom let me escape after I promised to be home next Sunday for dinner. 
The directions to the house Lochlan was staying in were clear but the house itself wasn't what I expected. If it had been any bigger it would have needed its own moat instead of one doughy security guy for the whole community. 
I parked my car in the circular driveway, past the door. I couldn't see a garage and there were no other cars in sight.  She'd better be home. I opened the trunk, pulled out a box of files and trudged up the steps to the front door. It seemed too big, even for the enormous house, and had a leaded glass window cut into it so I could make out a chandelier hanging in the entryway. I had twisted my neck to see part of a long staircase before I realized that Lochlan wasn't coming to the door. The security guy had called ahead to verify before he'd let me through the gate. She should be able to feel me out here anyway. I glanced around and found the doorbell hidden behind some sort of potted bush. I shifted the box onto my hip and used my free hand to push the button. To my surprise the heavy chime played the familiar da-da-da-dum from Beethoven's fifth symphony. For some reason it felt ominous as I waited on the cold porch in the snow, wishing I'd remembered my gloves. 
I was about to ring again when I saw a flash of movement in the small window. Finally. Come on, it's cold. I bounced on the balls of my feet with the box of files in my arms. 
The door opened and I was distracted by Lochlan looking ten years younger than she had on tv, standing there in faded jeans and an old Columbia sweatshirt that was stretched out at the neck. Her dark hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail and she wore thin wireframe glasses. Her eyes met mine then dropped down to the box. "You must be Elise. Wow. I didn't think there'd be that many. Let me take that." She lifted the box out of my arms and set it on the tile by the door. 
I couldn't feel my fingers but she must've brushed one because her eyes got wider and she smirked. "Three more in the trunk? Step inside for a minute. I'll get some shoes." She closed the door and started up the stairs. After a few steps she stopped and turned to look at me. "Can I get you some gloves?" 
I stopped rubbing my hands together and put them in the pockets of my coat. "No, I'll be ok. Thanks." With her on the stairs my eyes were in line with her feet. She wore orange socks that clashed with the slate blue carpet.
She started back up and gave me what looked like an encouraging smile. 
It could have been for my cold hands or my nerves.  
I flexed my hands in my pockets and looked around. I knew it wasn't Lochlan's house but that didn't make her seem less out of place in it. The huge tiled foyer and the ridiculous chandelier had nothing to do with the woman Gates had told me about or even the more relaxed one I was faced with now. I couldn't see her surrounding herself with replicas of Ming vases and gilded mirrors. She belonged in something smaller, cozy. I wonder what Lochlan's old place looked like. 
"Much smaller and more comfortable," she said as she came down the stairs.  
With the goofy socks covered by her sneakers my eyes went straight to her legs. Nice, I thought. 
"Thanks," she said. 
My eyes shot up to her face and I could feel myself blush. As a path I could expect her to forgive a stray thought, but if I wasn't careful my second impression wasn't going to be much better than the first. "Boxes?" I asked and blocked most of my embarrassment. You might want your coat Dr. Lochlan. 
She smiled and held out a pair of gloves. "Call me Maggie, all right? My teachers always called me Lochlan when I was in trouble." 
"Thanks, Maggie," I said, understanding my slip was forgiven. I pulled on the gloves and followed her out. I tried to think of something neutral to say as all the questions Derek had asked me about her came to mind. The door chime is something. I don't think I've ever heard- 
"One that pretentious? That's Denny for you. We went to school together, he could never have anything ordinary.” She lifted the lid of the trunk, hefted one box out and turned to me. "Load me up with another and you can get the last one. We can put them in the living room." 
They're really heavy. I had to get George to help carry them to the car. "I can come back out for the last one, I've got gloves now," I said and leaned into the trunk for a box. When I stood up with one held to my chest she was already halfway up the walk without a word. I sighed. Classic. She probably thinks I'm trying to suck up.  
I was almost at the open door when she came back out and passed me with a wink. "Living room is at the end of the hall on the right." 
I watched her go down the steps until my box slipped. I shifted my hands under it and went inside. I followed the hall to the right and wondered if I should have taken my shoes off first. There were closed doors on either side so I went straight. "Holy shit," I breathed when I got to what had to be the living room. It had to be a living room because of the sofas and the TV. It was also the size of my mother's house and there was a fireplace big enough to belong in a castle. The fire going in it was dwarfed by the size of the hearth. You'd need a whole tree to fill that thing, I thought and put the box on the stack next to the coffee table.
"Give me a hand?" Lochlan was in the doorway with two boxes in her arms. The one I'd brought first and the last one from the trunk. 
"Sure," I said as I lifted the top box away. I was going to go back for this one. 
She shrugged and set her box next to the others. "You don't have to now." She flopped down on the long leather sofa facing the fireplace and opened the nearest box, tossing the lid aside. "This is all of them?" 
I put the last box near the table and straightened up. "Hard copy for everybody on the list." Something popped and I glanced over at the fireplace. Do you roast an ox in there on holidays? I asked, still nervous. 
"Pigs on special occasions," Lochlan said. She smiled when I turned to look at her. "Can I get you something to drink? I was going to have some tea,” she asked, on her feet again.  
"Um, OJ if you have it, or water." Didn't you have some questions for me? I hoped they had something to do with the case files she'd requested; she never said why she needed them. 
She shook her head and held up one finger. "Tea first. No point not warming up. Are you sure you don't want something hot? I've got tea, hot chocolate, coffee even." 
It was hard to tell if I was witnessing manners or actual concern. Even paths didn't always say what they were thinking. "Hot chocolate would be great," I said to be safe. Want me to start unloading these? 
She made a graceful arc with her hand, waving off the offer. "I won't need them all right away." She disappeared back down the hall, shoes gone again and her gaudy socks silent on the hardwood floor. 
I was left in the living room wanting to be productive and with nothing to do. I had no idea what she wanted to ask me or why I couldn't have couriered the files. I jumped when my cell went off. I looked at the caller ID and sighed. "Atwood," I said, schooling the irritation out of my voice. 
"I'm glad to see you're answering your phone. I was worried when I didn't get an update on the investigation today," Gates said in his most grating paternal tone. 
I didn't roll my eyes or sigh again. Has he never heard of a Sunday? "I'm meeting with Dr. Lochlan now. I can send you my report this evening.” I was careful not to admit to being wrong or make any excuses. To deal with the old man successfully you needed to sound like you knew what you were doing and had a damn good reason for doing it. 
"Ah yes, the case files she requested," his tone said classified without the word passing his lips. He never told me they were restricted, but even I knew that the Unregistered List didn't exist. I shouldn't have been surprised he had encouraged me to take them to Lochlan myself. "How is her profile coming along?" he asked.  
I pinched the bridge of my nose. How in the hell should I know? I just got here. I looked around at the carnage of papers and notes on the table and told him what he wanted to hear. "It's coming along."  
I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye and turned to see Lochlan head toward the table with two steaming mugs. The Senator, I told her with an apologetic shrug. 
She set down one mug in front of me and moved to the end of the table where a black laptop rested. She sat and alternated between typing and writing things down on a legal pad. 
"Glad to hear things are moving, I'll expect your report tonight. Tell Dr. Lochlan I appreciate her hard work." I could picture the kind smile that went with a comment like that. It was the sort of smile that inspired confidence and made a person want to try harder. I wished it worked on me.  
"I'll let her know," I said, willing him to hang up. 
"Good. Don't think your hard work isn't appreciated too, Elise. I'll see you on Monday." There was an edge under the obligatory praise and I wondered how bad the latest polls must have been. 
I'm going to have to look into that. Shaun would have posted all the results to our office email. "Thank you, sir. Goodnight." I didn't have to hang up; I wouldn't have dared to do it first anyway. His phone rattled in the cradle when he put it down. 
"Charming man," Lochlan said after I put the phone away. 
I shrugged and picked up my mug, there were little marshmallows floating around the spoon. "When he wants to be. He wanted you to know he's pleased with your work." Which he does mean. 
She laughed low in her throat, brown eyes crinkled in amusement. "Because I've done so much so far. I ran all of the school records you gave me access to against what we have on Andrew, but I couldn't narrow it down to less than a few thousand."  
Well shit. 
She took a sip of tea and shook her head. "There's also no guarantee that his records exist or that they'd be referenced to any government agency." She tapped her pen against the legal pad like she hadn't said anything devastating to our case. 
"So we're back to working with a physical description?" There was a sinking feeling in my stomach. I took a deep breath and tried to feel determined. There has to be something on him
She nodded, yawning at the same time. I saw silver in the back of her mouth before she brought her hand up to cover it. "Sorry. Yes, I have another idea. Which brings me to what I wanted to ask you." She set her mug down and balanced the legal pad on her knee. Her legs were crossed and her foot bobbed, the legal pad bobbed with it. 
"I'll answer whatever I can. I don't know much more than you do." If you can find him you might be my hero, I added with a slight smile. 
Her eyes darted up from the pad and then back down. "I'm sure you can help," she said with a nod before her tone became businesslike. "First and most important, how sure is the Senator about these 'sure victims' of Andrew's?" She gestured to a stack of case files I'd sent yesterday, the ones the Senator said were confirmed hits of Steadman's. 
"Sure enough to give us the information from his confidential source," I said. The old man was too invested in this investigation to mess around. It wasn’t his style anyway. He's not going to try and screw with the information you need. 
She didn't seem put off by my defensive tone. She jotted something down and flipped to another page. "Ok, that's good. Very good. And it probably answers my next question but I'll ask anyway. The information on Craig and Breaker is accurate too? Up to date?" She looked up again and focused on me with bright intensity. 
We've already checked their departments for anyone matching his description. "It's all up to date." I leaned forward, my elbows on my knees, all attention. I she was leading up to something. 
She made another note, rested back against the sofa and uncrossed her legs. "Good because I'm tired of chasing my tail looking at old school reports. I'd rather find out where he's going next instead of where he's been," she said with a cryptic smile. "Let me ask you a couple of things about the interview with Harding. He said that he was certain that Breaker and Craig meant to kill him. Was he ever sure they actually touched him?" 
I cocked my head to one side and focused on remembering what his wife had shown me. I tried to picture the scene as completely as possible. They encouraged the others, they were in the group with the soap only he could never be certain it was them with the bricks. "Not for sure. Is that important?" 
She wrote fast, pad balanced on her knee which she'd propped up on the sofa so it was almost in her face. "Could be," she said after a long pause. She lowered her leg and the pad. "I think, if we're positive Steadman's working from this Unregistered List," she gave me a significant look and I nodded, "then we can figure out who he's going after next."  
She looked pleased with herself. I wasn't sure I could agree. "There are almost three hundred paths on the list”
Lochlan shrugged. "If we're willing to accept that he's going to keep working from the list, three hundred isn't that bad. With five confirmed targets and several probables we have parameters that point to what he's looking for." 
"We can't possibly put three hundred people under surveillance; this is a privately funded operation." The old man would never let me hire that many people, I explained, losing hope in her optimism. 
She shook her head. "No, I wouldn't suggest that. I'm saying we can narrow it down to one or two." She put her pad aside and leaned forward, one elbow on the arm of the couch, hand cupping her chin. Her eyes were distant. "When I profile a serial criminal," she paused and her mouth seemed to twist around the words, "I guess we can't call Andrew that if he's working for someone. It’s close enough, he's targeting a specific group. When I profile a serial there are thousands, maybe even millions of people that could fit the profile of what he's after. Here we've got three hundred. If we can look at the other confirmed targets and make a list of commonalties we can narrow the list down." 
I frowned in frustration. "Which would be great if he was a lone guy working off his own motives. We know he has a boss, has assignments. How do we know what they want?" It's not as if he gets to pick his victims. 
She made an impatient gesture and the silver cap on her pen flashed along with a ring on her index finger. "To a certain extent he is. They have this path agent picking up paths and he feels good about it. He feels righteous doing this thing that isn't legal, taking these people to god knows where. He is sure this is the thing he should be doing. Even if he doesn't pick his targets, which I grant you, he probably doesn't, someone's hand-picking them for him-" 
"Breaker and Craig?" I asked. 
Her head bobbed. "Two world class path manipulators. From your interview with Harding we can see that. They got him out of their unit and they got him beaten. He could have died and they never touched him. Not in a way anyone can prove. They twisted him into a situation where they could do it anonymously." 
My eyebrows went up. "So even if Steadman doesn't pick the targets they're custom picked for him?" Scary. They aren't even paths and they can steer him around like that? 
"You don't have to be a path to be a manipulative bastard," she said and I was sure she was talking about Gates. 
I made a sound that was between a laugh and a sigh. "You've got that right. I promise not to put it in my report." Any chance of having something by Monday? 
Her face became serious and reminded me of the footage from the trial. "Depends on what you're doing tonight." 


1 comment:

  1. We've already checked their departments for anyone matching his description. "It's all up to date." I leaned forward, my elbows on my knees, all attention. I she was leading up to something.

    Last sentence, maybe "I was sure she was...."

    Good chapter, pretty solidly written.

    My wife has a pair of orange toe socks, that are kind of furry, I call them her muppet feet..
    Really vivid in my mind though and helped me relate and visualize the orange socks.


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