The Dead Room


Page 11


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"Oh, honey, anyone can fake ID," she said with a laugh. Then she sobered. "I wish I could help you."


"Try."


"Okay." She opened her window and lit a cigarette. Exhaling, she began. "Genevieve. The cops asked about her, too. Such a pretty name for such a pretty girl." She inhaled deeply, just air. At that moment she didn't even seem to realize she had a lit cigarette. "I have a daughter. They took her away. She's in foster care. Genevieve came to see me. I gave her a hard time at first. The girl looks like she ought to be posing for Vogue or something like that. And I heard from some of the other girls that she's really rich, too…but she was the real deal. She really wanted to help me. Us. I even got her together with some of the other girls one time. She was so sweet. She wanted to know about our dreams, can you imagine that? Like, did we plan on doing what we're doing forever? Was it just to pull in some money? She wanted to help us get real jobs that paid enough to survive here. Enough to get legit. To get our kids back," she said softly.


"When was the last time you saw her?" Joe asked.


"About a month ago."


Right around when she disappeared?


"Did she visit you? Were you at a restaurant…on the street, what and where?" Joe pursued quietly.


"We were right where you picked me up tonight," she told him. "She knew where to find me."


"Why was she looking for you?"


"She thought she might have a job for me." Didi inhaled on her cigarette, exhaled the smoke, then flicked the butt out the window and looked at him. "She wanted to know if I was seriously-really seriously-ready to change my lifestyle. If I wanted my daughter back bad enough to stay clean. Squeaky clean."


"And what did you tell her?"


She folded her hands in her lap and looked down at them. "I said yes."


He nodded. "But she never came back?"


"No."


"When and how did she leave you?"


"A car pulled up, and I could tell she knew the driver. She walked over to it, and it looked like she and the guy-I think it was a guy-it looked like they were kinda arguing. I couldn't hear what they said, but she looked pissed, you know? Then she waved at me and said she'd get back with me about the job."


"And then she got in the car?"


"Yes."


"What can you tell me about the car?"


"It was a dark sedan. Black, blue, something like that."


"By any wild chance, did you get the plate number?"


Didi shook her head. "I wasn't looking. I…I didn't notice anything more."


"You didn't watch her go, maybe wave as she drove off?"


"No," Didi said softly, then looked at him. "Another car showed up. A regular of mine. I knew the guy; knew he was worth money. I forgot all about Genevieve then. I had to. I mean, I seriously would have taken her offer, and I would have stayed clean. But…well, I needed to eat in the meantime."


"Right," he murmured.


He drove her back to the curb where he had found her. After he slid the car into neutral, he pulled out a wad of bills.


"You don't owe me," she said.


"I told you I'd pay you to talk."


"It was about Genevieve. You don't owe me. I really hope that you find her. I pray sometimes that she's okay."


"Take the money, have some dinner. Give yourself a break."


She paused, looked into eyes, then took the money. "What makes you think I'm not just gonna buy some coke with it?"


"You might. I hope you don't."


She started to get out of the car. "You know, you're the only one who asked me that."


"Asked you what?"


"What I said to Genevieve. No one else cared if I meant to clean up or not. That was really nice of you."


"You could probably get yourself a real job, with or without Genevieve," he said.


"Yeah? I have great references. 'John Q. says I'm a great lay,'" she said dryly. She flushed, then dug into her small handbag. She produced a scrap of paper, a receipt from a coffee house, and scratched down a number. "If you think I can help you again, call me."


He accepted the paper. "Thank you. Are you sure you don't remember anything else about the car? Can you take a guess on the color?"


"Black. I think it was black," she said. Then she sighed. "I'm just not sure."


"Okay. Thank you. Really."


She touched his face, her eyes soft. "No, thank you, sweetie. You treated me nice. Real nice. And I'm serious. You call me." She gave him her dry smile once again. "And that wasn't a come-on. Good night."


She hopped out of the car.


He drove on down the street, past the site of the new dig. At night, it seemed huge, protected behind quickly rigged barbed wire. Hardly aware of what he was doing, he slid into a spot along the curb, stepped out of the car and started walking, making mental notes as he went.


Eileen Brideswell might just be right. Her niece had been working with prostitutes in the same area where a number of hookers had gone missing. She had been picked up by a dark, probably black, sedan off the street-in that same area. He needed Robert Adair's notes; he needed to know if any friends of the other missing girls had seen them getting into a dark sedan.


He kept walking, using the time as he often did to make sense of what he had learned.


He found himself standing in front of Hastings House once again, as if brought there by instinct.


Well, that was crazy as hell. What could Hastings House have to do with the disappearance of Genevieve O'Brien?


The place just bugged him, that was all. He couldn't shake the feeling that the blast had been intentional and Matt had been the intended target.


And that someone was getting away with murder.


He stood beneath the streetlight, staring at the house. It seemed to live and breathe; the old colonial windows were like eyes, the door like a mouth.


Unease filled him. Eileen Brideswell was right, he thought. Her niece had been the victim of foul play. Just as the prostitutes had been.


Someone was getting away with murder.


Just like at Hastings House.


At first Leslie slept deeply. Then, suddenly, she discovered that she was wide awake.


She glanced at her travel alarm on the Duncan Fife reproduction by her bed. Four in the morning. Much too early to get out of bed.


She plumped her pillow, but sleep wouldn't come. After half an hour she sighed and gave up. She slipped on a robe and went quietly downstairs.


So far, she hadn't gone into the room where the explosion had taken place. Was she ready for that?


Did she want to reach Matt?


In the entryway, she hesitated, then went into the first room off the entryway, now set up as a Colonial parlor. There was a love seat beneath the window, a table in the center of the room, a pianoforte to one side, and various chairs, along with a tea table. She stood there in the shadows and the diffuse glow cast by the the security lights. "Hello?" she said softly.


But the room was just a room, an image of a past that might or might not have been exactly as it was represented now.


She walked through the connecting door to the dining room, thinking that last night was now just a moment in history, like everything else.


Then she walked through the kitchen and back to the servants' pantry.


The hearth had been rebuilt. She could almost imagine Matt standing by it the way he had that night. She could almost see herself nearby, held captive in a different conversation. In her mind's eye, she could almost see…


But the room was silent. Just a room.


"Not even a Colonial gentleman here, huh? The lady of the house?" she said aloud.


Just an empty room.


She walked back into the kitchen, found the coffeepot and the coffee, and thought that if the supplies belonged to Melissa, the ticket-seller, she would make a point of replacing them. She set a pot of coffee on to brew. Upstairs, in her room, which wasn't part of any tour, she had a television. She could sip coffee and watch an early-morning news show soon.


That settled, she hummed while she made coffee, thinking that she might turn and see a ghost at any time. But the coffee brewed, and she saw nothing. She found a large cup, filled it, added cream that she found in the artfully disguised refrigerator and headed back up the stairs.


She set her coffee down and turned on the television, then walked to the window and looked idly down at the street. Her heart stopped.


There was a man on the sidewalk, standing under the streetlight.


Matt.


She blinked. He was still there. As tall as Matt, standing the exact way that Matt stood. It had to be Matt.


The man looked up.


Good God, it was Matt!


She forgot that she was wearing nothing but a robe over a short nightgown. She almost forgot about the alarm as she raced downstairs toward the front door, but at the last minute she suddenly realized that a siren would go off and the police would be alerted if she didn't punch in the code. She hit the numbers hastily, then threw open the door and ran down the walk.


At the picket fence, she slowed and swore softly. The man was gone.


She wrapped her robe more tightly around her body. The street was so quiet now.


Dead, actually.


She opened the gate and looked anxiously down the street. Nothing in either direction. The man under the streetlight must have been a trick of her imagination.


But if it had been Matt…. A ghost didn't have to run off down the street, so foolishly running around barefoot wouldn't do any good. But it probably hadn't been Matt; she had just wanted so badly to see him….


She let out a soft sigh. "Hello? Is anybody there?"


She felt a soft breeze touch her face, heard the sound of a distant horn and someone shouting "Taxi!"


The city never really slept. Not even down here, in the financial district.


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