The Dead Room


Page 30


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Joe leaned in, resting an elbow on the bar. "Collectibles are big these days," he said, drawing Leslie's attention back to the conversation. "That includes artifacts that might not have been worth much when they were new but are antiques now," he pointed out.


Brad grimaced. "I still don't see the criminals of New York suddenly deciding to loot an archaeological dig. But, hey, Laymon lives for nothing but his work and probably thinks everyone else lives for it, too. Scary. If I ever start turning into him, hit me, Leslie."


"I don't see it happening," she assured him. Then she frowned as a flash suddenly went off in her face and turned to see what was going on.


"Hey!" Brad protested.


"Sorry," the offending photographer said with complete insincerity. He looked young, maybe twenty-two, with slightly shaggy brown hair, a clean-shaven face and brown eyes. He was dressed attractively enough in casual slacks and a tweed jacket, but he wasn't quite up to the designer labels most people in the room were sporting. He grinned and turned to hurry out-only to be met by a couple of burly doormen.


"Hey, buddy, no hassling the customers," one of them said firmly.


"But the world wants to know," the photographer protested.


"Out!"


"The world wants to know," Joe repeated. To Leslie's surprise, he pushed away from the bar, heading after the receding bouncers and the photographer.


Brad stared at her blankly. "What the hell is he doing? What was that all about?"


"I guess we're the most important noncelebrities in the place, and he's from one of the tabloids," Leslie said.


"I got that much," Brad said. "But what got Joe going?"


"I'm not sure."


"He's not going to wrestle the camera away and steal the film, is he?" Brad said worriedly.


"I don't think so." She smiled. Brad never tired of having his picture in the papers.


"Maybe I should go out there."


"Honestly, it's all right. Do you know what I think?"


"What?"


"I think you should head back to your position at the bar or Ken is going to steal the lady of your choice."


He stared at her, then laughed. "You know, you could be the love of my life. And then I wouldn't have to barhop."


"Brad, I don't think anyone is going to be the love of your life, or at least not for a very long time, and you wouldn't want to ruin a great partnership, would you?"


"Maybe I'm ready to settle down."


"Like hell."


He grinned, then sobered, saying seriously, "Don't go falling head over heels just because…well, because you're trying to turn this guy into Matt. I mean, he seems fine. Dryer says he's really respected, that people are willing to fly him all over the world for help, it's just that…he isn't Matt, and you can't turn him into Matt. I just hope you're not setting yourself up for…well, I don't know what I'm saying. I care about you, that's all."


"Thank you. I care about you, too, and I'll be all right. Really. And you don't have to hang around until he comes back. I'm a big girl. I'm okay at a bar by myself."


"I don't want to desert you."


"It's okay."


"Besides, I want to know what he's doing out there."


"Aha! The truth is out."


"Hey, there are wolves in this place. I really don't think I should leave you alone."


"Brad, you are one of the wolves in this place."


"Yeah, but not to you."


"Okay. So how was work? Anything new?"


"Yeah, workmen shoring up the walls. Only guys Laymon approves of, and even then he spent half his day on top of them, driving them nuts."


Leslie grinned. Maybe it was a good thing she'd taken the day off. She looked toward the door, wondering herself just what had gotten into Joe.


The bouncers didn't take the camera, but when it looked like they were going to get a little rough, Joe stepped in.


"Hey, guys…you got rid of him. Let it go now."


The bouncers turned around. "Just trying to protect you and your lady friend, buddy," one of them said.


"And I appreciate it."


The kid stared at him, backing away. "Are you going to take my camera?" he demanded.


Joe shook his head. "No."


"I'm free to go?"


"No. Let's take a little walk."


"Down a dark alley?"


"No. You're from The World Wants to Know, right?"


"Yeah," the photographer said carefully.


"You're Phil Brynner, aren't you?" When the kid looked at him warily, he added, "I saw your picture next to your byline."


"Uh…what do you want?"


"To ask you a few questions."


"About what?"


"Your article on Genevieve O'Brien."


"Oh." His brown eyes widened. "I…uh…who are you?"


"My name is Connolly."


"Are you a cop?"


"No, a private investigator. I'd just like to know what you know about the scandal surrounding Genevieve's birth."


The kid still looked distrustful, but he wasn't ready to bolt anymore, and he wasn't cringing. "I never met her, you know."


"You're aware she's missing, though, right?"


He nodded, looking a little ill. "You can't blame me for that."


"Exactly what were you saying?"


"It wasn't right out there, huh? It made you think?"


"I'm not going to play twenty questions with you," Joe said.


Phil swallowed. "I went through a bunch of records. Public records," he said defensively. "I sifted through gossip columns and all kinds of stuff-I worked really hard on that, and it was a good article."


"It was a masterpiece," Joe said wearily. "I want to know what you were saying. Genevieve couldn't have been another man's child. Have you seen her aunt's face? She's the spitting image of the woman, an O'Brien through and through."


Phil stared at him, then grinned broadly. "That's just it."


"What's it?"


"Eileen Brideswell isn't Genevieve's aunt." He stared triumphantly at Joe. "She's her mother."


Joe could feel his eyes widen in surprise.


"Hey," Phil said, "I found hospital records. I don't actually have proof per se, but that's why I danced around it. Eileen Brideswell wasn't married back then. Her upcoming engagement party was the talk of the city. I went through a million pictures, too. O'Brien's wife didn't look pregnant, then all of a sudden she looked like she had a pillow under her blouse. Eileen Brideswell was supposedly in New England when Genevieve was born, but I couldn't find a single piece of proof that she was actually there. And then all of a sudden she was home. And the O'Briens were all happy with their baby daughter and Eileen went on to marry a very rich man. You can come by and see my research, if you want. I'm in Midtown."


Joe accepted the card the kid produced, then handed over one of his own.


"This can't have anything to do with the fact that she's…missing," Phil said, but though he clearly meant it to be a statement, it came out as a question. A hopeful one.


"Honestly, I don't think so. But…who knows?"


The kid hesitated again. "Do you care if I print the picture? I won't write anything horrible about you and your friends, honestly. I just saw Miss MacIntyre at the table, and she's been on television lately, so I took the shot. I'll just say she had a nice night out with friends, including her partner and her deceased fiancé's…brother?"


"Cousin," Joe said flatly.


"Nothing bad, honest," Phil insisted. "Hey, do you think I'd be working where I am if I didn't have to get experience somewhere?"


"Print it. But I'd better like it. Let me put it this way-you'd better not say anything negative about Leslie MacIntyre, Brad or me-or Matt. I mean it."


"We still have freedom of the press, you know," Phil muttered a little resentfully. "Sorry, just kidding, I swear. I'm not out to hurt people."


"Right."


"Honestly. Come on, I have to write something titillating now and then. And I'd seen Genevieve O'Brien on the news, talking about society's lack of concern for the down and out. There she was, a socialite, gorgeous, and she was so passionate about working with the poor. Next thing I knew, I was delving into her past and-"


"Were you ever overseas?" Joe cut in irritably.


"Well…I was over in Staten Island. Sounds better to say overseas. Sounds far more exciting-and it is over water."


Joe shook his head in disgust, angry with himself for not having forced the issue with the man's rag magazine office. "All right," he said.


"All right?"


"You can go."


"You know where to find me."


"You bet."


Phil grinned, then cradled his camera to his chest and started at a leisurely pace down the street. A few seconds later, he started running.


Joe watched him go, then reentered the bar.


"So?" Leslie said, when they'd left the bar. "Spill the details."


He'd explained to her and Brad that he had seen an article the kid had written that interested him and assured Brad that his picture would make the paper, but he hadn't explained any further.


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