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She didn't know what she was thinking, going skinny dipping with Billy Lockwood, but Meghan was going through with it anyway.
It was a little strange for her. They hadn't had sex yet. And, that, she thought, should have been odd for her. A Doyle girl, by fifteen, was supposed to be well versed in the practice of sex. Meghan was purposely behind on that score, and even as she peeled off her clothes, she was thinking of how she'd break the news to Billy that she intended to keep it that way.
She left her clothes on the rocks and stepped to the edge of one of the larger ones. Billy was below her, already in the water. He was treading water, his head back. She could tell he was staring up at her, trying to focus on all her naked features, despite the darkness. She glanced up at the night sky, thanked god that there wasn't a full moon and the stars weren't especially bright tonight. She wasn't too sure about this whole skinny dipping thing; she certainly didn't want to do it if she knew Billy could see her clearly.
She thought of diving, performing a perfect, graceful flight to the water below. She knew she was capable, and wouldn't he love that. But, she thought better of it, stepped off the edge of the rock, and dropped feet first to the surface of White Cove. The water was surprisingly cold for the middle of summer. Her feet struck the bottom and she shot straight up for the surface, eager to get out of the water, get her clothes back on, and get someplace warm.
But, Billy grabbed her as she emerged in the warm night air. "Come here," he said. Then, he pulled her to him, wrapped his arms around her, pulling her tight against him, her chest flattened against his, her legs kicking wildly, hitting against his repeatedly. He kissed her. They'd kissed many times before, of course. She subscribed to the whole kissing thing; she didn't consider that the exclusive domain of a Doyle girl. But, this kiss was different. Maybe it was the obvious intimacy of her naked body against his. Maybe it was that they were utterly alone in the middle of summer in White Cove, which should have been nigh to impossible. Maybe it was something else, like maybe the same thing that had convinced her to go through with this little late night venture, like maybe something resembling . . .
No, don't even think it, she said to herself. Don't even connect that word to Billy. It's not that. It can't be that. You're not even sixteen. It's not that.
Of course, if it wasn't that, then she had to admit that she was being a bit of a Doyle girl here, playing around more than heading toward something serious. It wasn't a pretty choice. Either option seemed horrific to her.
"What are you thinking," Billy said, taking a break from kissing her.
"You were kinda zoned out there for a second."
"Oh, it was nothing." Now, she kissed him, anything to keep him from asking anything else, anything to keep him quiet.
It wasn't that she didn't like to hear him talk or that she didn't find him interesting and entertaining when he spoke. It was just that, right then, she wanted everything to be quiet. She needed silence if she was to decide where this little adventure was headed. Was she finally going to give in to the Doyle girl pressure, finally lose her virginity? Did she want it to be with Billy Lockwood? Well, she had to admit he was quite a catch, not that a Doyle girl couldn't get any boy she wanted. Billy Lockwood, aside from being part of about the richest family in Diamond Bay, was smart, funny, cute, and pretty much any high school girl's dream guy. There wasn't anything wrong with him. But, for some reason, she kept finding herself looking for something, like maybe her urge to not be like her older sisters and the rest of the Doyle girls in town was not allowing her to find something great with this or any boy, no matter how perfect. And, in looking constantly for flaws, she inevitably grew tired of the perfection. She grew tired of Billy. So then, a question remained. Why was she there with him alone in White Cove on this summer night? If he spoke, she knew the magic would be broken, and then she could not know the answer to that question. And, she needed to know.
Billy's hands were moving now, drifting lower on Meghan's back. Both their legs were still kicking, his hitting against hers every few seconds. "Maybe we should find some support," she suggested. Billy let go of her, and they swam over to one of the flat rocks that dropped gradually into the water, and they sat on the edge that was under water. Billy grabbed her again, pulled her close to him. Now, his hands were a little more exploratory, given a whole new freedom since he no longer had to stay afloat. They drifted over her still small breasts, pausing there briefly, his fingers drawing small circles around her nipples. Then, down her stomach, finding promise between her legs. His touch excited her. she couldn't ignore that, couldn't pretend the feeling wasn't real. But still, she wasn't sure about this, wasn't sure how far she wanted to allow him to go.
"Billy," she said.
"Hm?" He was kissing her neck, her shoulders, heading for her breasts. She hadn't expected a clear 'what?.' She was surprised she got any response at all, even if it was basically a grunt with a question mark after it.
"I'm not so . . . " Sure about this, she wanted to finish, but suddenly, she didn't care too much about words. Whatever he was doing with his hands, she was sure he'd had lots of practice or he had lots of luck, 'cause it was fantastic.
His head came back up from her breasts, and Billy kissed her mouth again. This was even more magnificent than the kiss in the water, so much more rolled into it than your average kiss, a little promise of what was in store for her. His hands still between her legs, Meghan laid back, let Billy get on top of her. She was pretty sure now that she was going through with this. She'd be a Doyle girl finally. It just seemed the proper thing to do.
A few seconds later, Billy was fumbling to get himself inside her. Meghan was looking past him at the stars overhead. She closed her eyes, rested her head on the rock beneath her, prepared herself for what was coming, that thing she'd been avoiding for years now. She turned her head to the side, took a few deep breaths. Billy pushed her legs apart a little wider, positioned himself, and surely was about to be inside her.
But, that was when Meghan opened her eyes. And, there, wedged under the lip created by a larger rock next to the one on which they were laying, was a body.
Meghan screamed, pushed Billy off of her. He looked at her, his expression confused, hurt, angered, until he saw what she'd seen. Then, he knew she wasn't rejecting him. And, he jumped to his feet, pulled her up next to him, and they clambered up to their clothes and slipped into them.
"Who is it," he asked her. "Did you see?"
"I couldn't tell. It's too dark, and the face was turned."
"It's a girl," Billy said. "I could tell that much."
"We've got to tell someone."
They stood there, looking down at the legs and feet of the body, the only parts visible from where they now were. They were stuck, unable to move. Finally, Meghan snapped out of it, grabbed Billy's arm and shook him. "Come on," she said. "Let's go get someone."
At first, on their way around Grace Point, they ran, but by the time they got to the end of Cliff Drive, they were walking again, too tired to run, despite the adrenalin rush they both had from what they'd just seen. It was late, so they passed the houses and stopped at Grace Cove Liquor, used the payphone in front to dial the Diamond Bay Police Department.
Soon enough, two cops were there, David Marcus and Michael Thomas, the rookies as they were known around town. David did all the talking. "Okay," he said, "where's this body?"
"It's over in White Cove," Meghan replied, "under one of the rocks."
The next question was an obvious one, but Meghan hadn't expected it to come so soon.
"What were you two doing over there at this time of night," David asked.
"Just going for a swim," Meghan told him.
"Without swim suits," David asked.
Meghan didn't see why he was fixating on what they were doing when he should be going to see the body. "We've got suits," she claimed, "wanna see?" She made a move to lift her shirt.
David raised his hand to stop her. "That's not necessary," he said. "Now, take us to this body."
Meghan led the way, David Marcus next to her, Michael Thomas right behind her, Billy Lockwood a few feet back. Billy, she could see, the few times she bothered to look back, wasn't handling all this too well. She wasn't sure how to take that, whether to be impressed that he wasn't at all morbidly curious, or be bothered by the fact he seemed to be quite the wimp.
She stopped atop the higher rock, thinking back to jumping naked to the water below. It seemed like a great deal of time had passed, not the dozen or so minutes it had actually been. She pointed out the legs and feet visible protruding out from under that lip of rock. "There," she said.
David climbed down to get a closer look. Michael waited atop the higher rock for a minute then went down as well. Meghan stayed where she was, not eager to see the body again. It was bad enough seeing those dead legs and feet sticking out like that. It was bad enough seeing that silver anklet dangling loosely from that dead ankle.
Silver anklet? Meghan focused on that little trinket, saw that somewhat familiar heart charm, even in the dark and from a dozen feet up. She knew who wore that anklet, knew who that body was. It was Ally, not exactly a close relative, but a relative nonetheless, an occasional acquaintance, not quite a friend. "That's Ally Doyle," she said, just as David looked up at her and announced the same thing.
Now, Meghan found herself climbing down for a closer look. Was it really Ally? Could it be? Ally had only just turned fifteen. Meghan couldn't imagine that she was dead. She moved in close, kneeling next to David Marcus, and saw sure enough that it was Ally. There she was, naked, dead, and left under a rock. "Who would do this," Meghan asked. David obviously had no answer as he was silent.
"Call the ME up in Carlton Falls," he said to Michael. "Looks like we just might have ourselves a murder."
Meghan looked over at him incredulously. "You hadn't already called the Medical Examiner? What, didn't you believe me when I told you we'd found a body?"
David shrugged, as if to say that kids played just that sort of prank all the time, calling him up to lie about finding a dead body. Meghan wondered if that was the case.
David stood, pulled Meghan up as well. "Listen," he said, "it's late, and we can get official statements from you two in the morning."
"You want us to leave?"
"I'm just saying you don't have to stick around if you don't want to."
A couple minutes later, Billy took David up on that offer and headed home. Meghan stayed behind. She still couldn't believe the whole thing. She knew people died, knew people died in Diamond Bay. It happened all the time, even people she knew, even one of her own sisters. Up until that moment, the only dead person she'd seen was her sister Ashley. Just as she'd waited then for Ashley to get up and move around, to be okay, now Meghan was waiting for Ally to slide out from under the rock and ask for some clothes then head home to her mother. It was stupid, she knew, but she was still waiting for it, even after the ME, Claire Ferguson, finally arrived, even as she watched the people from the Medical Examiner's office lift the naked body out from under the rock. She was waiting for Ally to jump up and laugh at all of them for falling for her joke.
But, Ally didn't jump up. She didn't move at all, except for a little accidental swinging of her limbs as she was carried to the waiting gurney atop the higher rock. Ally was dead and wasn't waking up, not any time soon at least.
"Since when does the Chief Medical Examiner make late night trips," David was saying to Claire Ferguson. Meghan approached them, glancing repeatedly toward the body on the gurney.
"I just knew you'd be on the site," Claire said, "and I couldn't pass up the chance to see you."
Were they flirting? Meghan was astounded. She reached them and quickly interrupted. "You ready for my statement yet, Officer Marcus?"
"Sure, Meghan," he replied. To Claire, he said, "excuse me."
"So, we were swimming," Meghan began before David could get out his little notepad, "and we came up on that rock down there for a brief respite."
"Rest, a break," Meghan explained.
"I know what it means," David said. "It just didn't--"
"-- sound like a word an immature teenager would use," Meghan finished. "Well, it is. So, we were on the rock for a brief respite, and I happened to--"
"You just happened to be there on that rock with Billy Lockwood?"
"And, you just happened to glance over at the body?"
"Yeah. If you're trying to imply I had something to do with her death, don't bother, and if you're just trying to get me to admit what was really going on between me and Billy, forget it. Even if Nicole Doyle is my sister, that doesn't mean I want the things I do to be public knowledge."
"So, you just happened to glance over, and you saw Ally laying under the rock there? Is that it?"
"Well, I didn't know it was her. Not until we came back, and I noticed the anklet. But, otherwise, that's it. Not much to it."
Meghan was watching the body now, as they wheeled the gurney away, headed around Grace Point to Cliff Drive where they no doubt had parked the van, that same makeshift ambulance that had carried Ashley's body away. David followed Meghan's gaze. "You gonna be okay," he asked.
"'Cause, if you want, I could have someone come talk to you."
"What, some psychiatrist? No thanks. I'm fine."
"Okay, if you say so."
Meghan looked down where the body had been, wondered why anyone would even think to leave a body there.
"Meghan," David said, "you know why anyone might want to hurt Ally?"
She shook her head. "No one would. She never did anything to anybody. I don't think she had a bad bone in her body. She was better than a lot of us, Doyle girls I mean."
"Well, if I have any more questions, which no doubt I will, I'll give you a call. For now, I'll take you home."
So, David Marcus walked with her to the squad car parked at the end of Cliff Drive. Michael Thomas followed close behind them, still saying nothing. "Does he ever talk," Meghan asked David.
"All the time. I can hardly shut him up."
"Yeah, he talks, but not much. He's got a lot of thinking going on in his head most of the time. It's been okay being partnered with him, though, despite the lack of conversation. He's good at the job, and that's what matters."
"What do you think happened to her," Meghan asked, as they neared the squad car.
"I don't know," David replied. "There were no obvious signs of trauma, no bruises, no cuts. If she hadn't been laying naked under that rock so late at night, I would have guessed she wasn't even dead. So, I guess figuring out who did this to her, whatever it is, depends on what the ME finds out."
"You like her?"
"Ally? I didn't know her too well. But, I liked her well enough, I guess."
"I meant the ME, Claire."
"How'd you know her name?"
"Ashley," was all Meghan had to say, and David understood how she might be on a first name basis with the Chief Medical Examiner.
"Well, I guess I like her a bit. We've gone out a coupla times."
Michael laughed rather loudly.
"Okay," David admitted, "we went out once. And, well, I wouldn't mind if we went out again."
"From the looks of it," Meghan said, "she wouldn't mind that so much either."
"No, I guess not. I'll just have to ask her."
They reached the car, and Michael got into the backseat. David opened the passenger side front door for Meghan. She thanked him, got in, then watched him go around to the driver's side.
Meghan realized then that there was something cute about David Marcus, something rather striking about his facial features. He wasn't exactly attractive, at least not in the ways she normally liked, but there was something to him that made her not want to look away.
"What is it," David asked as he sat down and closed his door.
David dropped Meghan off at her house, walking her to the door, explaining as much as he could to her parents why she was out so late, not realizing they had thought she was up in her bedroom. Meghan was actually a little glad that she'd found a dead body, as that would make her parents less likely to be angry that she'd snuck out her window. Of course, then she felt bad about feeling glad. And, that just made her look upset, and made sure her parents left her alone, let her go straight to her room and go to sleep.
That night, she expected to dream about Ally, about that naked, dead girl. But, she didn't. The next morning, she would not remember her dream except for a strange tower rising up from the center of King Pharmaceuticals. Why there would be a tower there, even in a dream, she didn't know.
The next morning, she awoke rather early, took a shower, then, wrapped in just a towel, stopped in front of the full length mirror in her room. She looked around, making sure no one could see her, which since she was alone in her room was rather silly, then unwrapped the towel, looked at her naked reflection briefly, then quickly covered herself again. That body in the mirror looked eerily like Ally's, and Meghan hated that thought. She got dressed, went downstairs, had some toast, then left the house before her parents had the chance to talk to her.
She thought of going to see Billy Lockwood, but there was something about him, the image of him she had in her mind, that was somehow tainted by the previous night. It wasn't that she was bothered by how little he'd been able to handle the whole situation; Meghan didn't believe herself capable of being like that, being able to reject him just because he couldn't show a little backbone when confronted by a dead body. There was just something different, something that would forever connect him in her mind to Ally Doyle, naked and dead, tucked under that lip of rock.
There was also something else, something not exactly connected to the body, but still linked to that night. When Meghan had stopped to look at herself in the full length mirror after her shower, she had seen something she never expected to see, something she thought only the vainest of the Doyle girls would ever see in her own reflection. She'd seen not the most exquisite girl, but a girl who was remarkably beautiful, a girl who could catch the eye of any guy she wanted, a girl who didn't have to stop at Billy Lockwood, even if he was rich. Afterall, Diamond Bay was still a small town, and Meghan had no specific plans for getting out of it any time soon, so what did money matter. And, besides that, she'd seen in that naked body in the mirror a strange echo of Ally Doyle, and Meghan had suddenly found the embarrassment she'd expected when she'd first removed her clothes atop that rock in White Cove. Between the tainted image she had of him, and the embarrassment she felt, Meghan didn't care to see Billy this morning. Maybe she would the next morning, or even before that, but not yet.
So, she walked up to Main Street and headed toward the center of town, not exactly intending to go toward the police department, but heading in that direction simply because there weren't many directions to go in Diamond Bay. It was when she was less than a block from the police station that she realized where she was headed, and she stopped.
"Is there a problem," someone asked her.
She turned and saw a guy she'd only seen a few times before, a new guy in town. He wasn't the best looking guy she'd ever seen, not even the best looking in Diamond Bay, but there was something about him that made her not want to look away, even more so than she hadn't wanted to turn away from David Marcus. This guy was tall, much taller than she was, thin but obviously someone who worked out quite often, and his face, well, she could find nothing wrong with his face, nothing at all. He smiled, and she wanted to melt.
"Is there a problem," he asked her again.
"No," she said, barely able to force her voice out. "Nothing's wrong. Why?"
"Well, the way you stopped, I thought maybe you'd seen something horrible up ahead." He moved toward her now. "Wouldn't that be just awful if you saw something bad this morning after what you saw last night?"
"What do you know about last night?"
"Allow me to introduce myself," he said, extended his hand. "The name's Arthur, Arthur Bandicot. You would be a Doyle, right?"
"Yeah, Meghan Doyle. You didn't answer my question."
"Well, I work for King, and we sometimes run some of the tests for the Medical Examiner when she comes down to the Bay, rather than her having to go all the way up to Carlton Falls for everything."
"Well, it seems your friend--was she your friend?--and relative, Alison Doyle--"
"Call her Ally, please. I've got a sister named Alison."
"There are two Alison Doyles in this town? Don't people get confused?"
"Not too much. Pretty much everybody knows Ally's Ally and my sister's AJ."
"Okay," Arthur said. "Well, it would seem Ally had sex shortly before she died. And, it was up to us to try to make a match between that we found inside her and, well, anyone who's previously been in a situation that would require him to provide the police a sample of his, well, you know. In this town, that's a very short list, by the way."
"So, you found no match?"
"Well, that's why I was waiting around. I wanted to talk to you."
"Well, you knew Ally, right?" Meghan nodded. "Well, officially, we've got no match. But . . . Can you keep a secret?"
"Well, we at King Pharmaceuticals happen to have DNA samples for just about everyone in town."
"How 'bout we just leave the explanation to 'it makes product development a little easier.'"
Meghan wasn't sure what to make of that, but didn't press the issue.
"And," Arthur continued, "unofficially, I happen to have two different names."
"What do you mean?"
"Shortly before her death, Ally Doyle had sex with two different men, or boys as the case may be. I'm new to Diamond Bay, so I can't quite place all the names to the faces yet."
"So, why don't you tell the police?"
"We've not exactly gotten permission when obtaining some of the genetic samples we've got, so it's best for the company if we don't let this get out to too many people."
"But, you're telling me?" Meghan found it hard to believe that King Pharmaceuticals had DNA for all the people in town, or even close to all of them. Even as small as Diamond Bay was, collecting that sort of thing seemed like a daunting task. And, she figured she would have heard something about it by now. Afterall, King had been in Diamond Bay longer than she had been. And, this didn't sound like something that could be kept quiet for too long.
"I don't want to see this girl's killer go unpunished," Arthur explained. "And, you looked like someone I could trust with this information. I know it's kinda a big bombshell if you think about the scope of it, so I'd ask that you just accept the two names and forget the rest of what I just told you. Then, you can tell the police that you heard somewhere, you don't know where, that Ally had been with these two guys. So, can you help me out?"
"What are the names?"
"You'll do it?"
"Keith Chance and Raymond Marsh."
"Is there something wrong?"
"The guy's like eight years older than Ally. I mean, Raymond's a couple years older than she is, was, but I can see that happening, but Keith Chance. He's not even that cute." Meghan couldn't believe she'd said that last bit. "I mean, Ally wasn't one to go for ugly guys," she added, as if that helped at all.
"Well, you give his name to the police, and see what they can do to him."
"I doubt they'll do anything. I mean, for the sex alone. Haven't heard of too many statutory rape charges in this town, but I've heard of plenty of couples who would fit the bill."
"Really?" The way Arthur said this bothered Meghan a little, like his interest in her wasn't just to get this information to the police and that bit she'd just told him was the best of news. Of course, Meghan wasn't one to frown too much on big age differences in couples. Two of her best friends were involved with older guys, Virginia Jones-MacAuliffe with Nikolai Januson, only about five years difference, Julie Sanders with Michael Payne with something more like ten years between them. And, since Virginia was nearly eighteen and since she was adopted, her parents were letting her do what she wanted to do. And, the biggest problem with the Michael Julie relationship was that the Paynes thought they were too rich to get their genes mixed up with Sanders blood, not the age difference. Herself, Meghan had little problem with either relationship; she was actually a big fan of the Nikolai Virginia thing. But, that tinge of interest she heard in Arthur Bandicot's voice bothered her a little. She didn't even know this guy. She didn't care for him to show an interest in her.
"Really," Meghan said. "And, I really don't see either of those guys as being capable of murder, but I'll give their names to the police, let them try to find something more if there is anything to be found."
"Thank you so much, Miss Doyle," Arthur said.
"It's Meghan. Not that I want you to be too informal or anything. Just, well, there's a lot of Miss Doyles in this town. I wouldn't want you to confuse yourself."
"Well, thanks for that, Meghan."
"By the way, have you had breakfast yet?"
"Well, I was thinking of trying the Ramrod Grill. I heard it has the best food in town. And, if you'd like, after you go in and drop those two names, maybe we, you and I, could go get some breakfast."
She was about to tell him she'd had breakfast, two pieces of toast, no butter. But, she knew that would sound stupid. But, she certainly didn't want to go with him. "Sure," someone said. She realized it was her and wanted to take it back, but didn't. "I won't be long," she said, then headed for the police station.
When she got there, David Marcus took a second from a phone call to wave to her from his desk. She walked in and sat in the empty chair in front of it. Michael Thomas was watching her from his desk, she realized. She smiled at him, and he smiled back. He still said nothing; she wasn't sure she'd ever heard the guy's voice. Still, he looked at her, so she diverted her own attention, glancing at the files laying open on David's desk. Aside from a new one with Ally's name on the label, there were three others. One had Sarah Doyle-Conroy on the label, the second had Tina Doyle, the last one Patrick Jamison. It took only a few seconds for Meghan to put two and two together. They'd each been found dead in the last few months, Meghan knew. And, as far as she had heard, no cause of death had been found in any of the three cases, and there were no suspects. Meghan wondered if Ally's death was somehow connected, but decided not to think about that, fearing what a connection between the four deaths might mean. So, instead, she listened to the end of David's phone call.
"So, was it or wasn't it a sex crime? Was the girl raped? Come on, Claire, you've got to tell me something." Now, he paused for a nearly a whole minute, listening to Claire Ferguson explain something or other. "Well then, how DID she die," he asked finally. "What do you mean you don't know? Well, run the toxicology again. Find something Claire. And, call me back as soon as you do." he hung up the phone without a goodbye. "Now, Meghan," he said, "what brings you by this early?"
"I just thought," she started, "since Ally was naked and all, that maybe there was a chance it was a sex crime. From what I just heard, you think it might be as well."
"It would make sense," David replied, "at least, if there was bruising or something. It almost seemed more like poisoning, except the toxicology tests are all coming up negative."
"You sound disappointed."
"Well, I thought I might have some useful information, but I guess not."
"Tell me what you've got, Meghan. Then, we'll see how useful it is or isn't."
"Okay." She took a deep breath, still unsure exactly how she was going to drop the two names Arthur Bandicot had given her. "Well," she said, "it's just, I've heard some things about Ally."
"You've heard what things?"
"Well, I've heard what guys she'd been with lately."
"Well, Raymond Marsh for one. I've actually seen them together a few times." That wasn't a lie, though she certainly had been clueless that Raymond and Ally were having sex. "The other guy, I've just heard things. I never actually saw them together."
"Who is it, Meghan?"
David seemed unmoved by the names, as if it weren't strange for a girl, barely fifteen, to have two different sex partners--and Meghan realized only now that from what Arthur had said, he'd gotten both names from the samples the police had taken from Ally, meaning she'd had sex with both Keith and Raymond shortly before her death. Of course, Meghan knew, that wasn't strange at all for a Doyle girl in Diamond Bay.
"Well," David said, "we'll look into them both, see where they were last night, what they were doing, see if either one had a reason to kill her. Thank you, Meghan."
"Just trying to help," Meghan replied. She got up to leave.
"Meghan," David said. She turned back. He hesitated, giving her the impression he had only said her name to get her to turn around, not for any specific reason. Then, he asked, "have you thought at all about who might have had reason to kill Ally?"
Meghan studied David's face, trying to see if he'd only come up with that question on the fly, trying to see if he'd just wanted to see her face again, or something completely guyish like that. Of course, she found herself wondering what it was that had seemed to fixate her on him the night before. What was it about his face that made it so impossible to turn away? What was so striking there?
"Well, have you," David asked.
Meghan snapped out of her daze, blinked, shook her head. "No, I hadn't really gotten a chance to think about it."
"Well, thanks for stopping by."
When Meghan turned and left this time, David didn't stop her.
Outside, Arthur Bandicot was waiting for her. Together, they walked the four blocks to the Ramrod Grill.
Once they'd been seated at a table, Arthur asked Meghan about the town. "What's the most important thing for a newcomer like me to know," he asked her.
"Well, for one, stop calling yourself a newcomer. You work for King Pharmaceuticals, right? Well, so does just about everybody in this town, so you'll fit right in as long as you don't try not to."
"Do YOU work for King?"
"I don't work, not yet anyway. I thought of getting a summer job, but decided against it. I needed at least one more summer free to do whatever I wanted to do."
"So, you're still in high school?"
"I'm a senior this fall."
"How old are you?"
"Fifteen, well sixteen in September."
"Fifteen? My God, I'm sorry. I just thought you were a bit older. I never would have--"
"Don't worry about it. The whole age difference thing doesn't seem to matter much in this town. Didn't I tell you that? I mean, I know I was a little surprised that Ally was doing anything with Keith Chance, but it wasn't really because of his age."
"It was because he's not that cute," Arthur replied.
"Yeah," Meghan said, smiling, "something like that."
"Well, Meghan, what if I told you that where I come from, the difference in our ages would be a big deal. If you were eighteen, maybe it'd be a different story, but you're not, and I've got to admit I'm a little old for an eighteen year old in the eyes of most people."
"Not in Diamond Bay."
"Maybe not. But, I'm not from Diamond Bay."
"Where are you from?"
"Pennsylvania, outside Pittsburgh, near Johnstown. King Pharmaceuticals used to be centered there. Until a couple years back, they still had some property there. It was my job to get the place sold. Then, I came here."
"And, this place in Pennsylvania--"
"Sunset- -it's a place that would frown on two people with a big age difference between them getting together?"
He nodded. "And, really, so would I, usually. I'm not even sure why I asked you here."
"Well, if you want, I'll go get breakfast someplace else." Meghan made like she was going to stand.
Arthur stopped her. "No, Meghan, stay. I offered breakfast, I'll buy breakfast. Afterall, you helped me out with the police."
Meghan wanted to inquire about that, to ask about the DNA samples King had, but the waitress came right then. "Morning Meghan," she said. Meghan looked up. "Hi Grace."
"Who's your friend," Grace asked.
"Oh. Arthur Bandicot, Grace Stanner. Grace Stanner, Arthur Bandicot."
"Nice to meet you," Grace said.
"Likewise," Arthur replied.
"You're new in town, aren't you?"
Meghan could see something there, a spark between Grace and Arthur. "Arthur just transferred in from the King plant in Pennsylvania," Meghan said. "And, you know, he could probably use someone to show him around town."
Arthur looked over at Meghan, a little upset, but she ignored him. Grace smiled at Arthur. "Well, maybe we should get together some time," she said. "Now, what can I get you this morning?"
Arthur ordered the country fried steak with a side of hash browns. Meghan got the chef's special, an omelette with just about everything in it. Grace took their order and headed toward the kitchen, looking back once, smiling at Arthur.
"What was that about," Arthur asked Meghan.
"What do you mean?"
"You trying to fix me up?"
"Grace is a friend of my sister. She's a nice girl. I figured you might want to meet a nice girl."
"Well, thank you, I guess, but let's just not do that again."
"Okay, whatever you say."
They ate their breakfast mostly in silence. Afterward, Grace slipped a small sheet of paper with her phone number under their bill. When Arthur almost left it behind, Meghan grabbed it and forced it into his pocket. "She's really nice," she said. "She's not like us Doyles."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You'll find out soon enough about us, don't worry."
Arthur walked Meghan back to her house, thanked her again for helping with the police, and said goodbye. As she went inside, she realized she still hadn't had the chance to ask about the DNA samples.
"Where've you been," her mother asked as she passed by the living room headed for the stairs.
"I just went for a walk," Meghan replied. "Then, I had breakfast over at the Ramrod."
"How'd you afford that?"
"It's not that expensive, and I've got plenty of allowance money saved up." She hadn't decided until right then that she wouldn't say anything about Arthur.
Her mother came into the foyer. "Don't do that again. Don't go off without telling someone where you're going." Meghan could tell she was talking about the night before more than this morning. After what happened to your sister, and now Ally . . . "
"Okay mom, I won't do it again, I promise. I go somewhere, I'll tell someone where I'm going first."
Her mother rather abruptly moved closer and hugged her. It took a second for Meghan to react, putting her arms around her mother. "It's just not safe in this town anymore," her mother whispered. "Your father and I worry about you."
"I know mom," Meghan said.
She left her mother in the foyer and went up to her bedroom. Then, she called Virginia, got no answer, called Julie, got no answer. "Guess they're out with their boyfriends," she said to the empty room. She made a third call, this one to Billy Lockwood. His older brother Alex answered the phone after half a dozen rings.
"Hey Meghan. You want to talk to Billy, you're gonna have to call back. He's still a little shaken from last night."
"It really bothered him, didn't it?"
"Yeah, it did. So, call back later. Maybe he'll feel like talking."
Even as she asked, "should I maybe come by," she hoped the answer would be no. She didn't want to see Billy. Her concern was casual, not a girlfriend wondering how her boyfriend's doing.
"I don't think that'd be such a great idea," Alex said.
"Okay. Well, bye."
Meghan hung up the phone. She looked around her room, couldn't help but think about her sister Ashley. It had been her room before it was Meghan's. She'd been dead now for nearly two years. Meghan still missed her. Maybe not as much as her parents, especially her mother, sometimes seemed to miss Ashley, but sometimes, Meghan actually still cried a few tears over her sister. Now was not one of those times.
She walked out of her room into the hall, then knocked at her brother's door. "Tommy, you in there?" He wasn't. He was probably out somewhere with his girlfriend. And, Meghan didn't care to talk to Cari or Cori, though they both seemed to be in the room they shared--the door was open several inches, and Meghan could see them both sitting on Cari's bed. The twins were both headed for Carlton Falls Academy in the fall with plans to go on to Berkeley, but Meghan wouldn't miss them much and didn't need to spend too much time with them this summer. In fact, she'd spent almost no time with them so far. Right as she was about to head downstairs, Cori saw her through the gap between the door and the frame. "What are you doing," she asked.
"Nothing," Meghan replied.
"Well, then stop standing there. You're giving me the creeps."
Meghan went downstairs, glanced in at her mother in the living room. "I'm going out," she said.
"Out where," her mother asked.
"I don't know. I think I might go see if I can find Virginia, and I'll probably stop by the police station."
"Okay," her mother said.
Meghan left, walked up to Main Street then down toward Virginia's house. Virginia wasn't there, as Meghan expected, but rather than turn around and head up Main Street, Meghan continued down Cliff Drive, walked around Grace Point and found herself in White Cove.
It was a hot summer day, so the Cove was full of people, some sunbathing on the rocks, some swimming, some playing games on the flatter ground on the south end of the Cove. In Diamond Bay, everybody pretty much knew everybody, so Meghan saw plenty of people she could have joined for some lively conversation or a game or anything at all to pass her time. But, she didn't feel like it.
Instead, she went to the spot where Ally had been found. There was no yellow tape proclaiming POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS. There was nothing keeping anyone and everyone from that rock where Ally had been laying naked, dead. In fact, as Meghan climbed to the top of the rock where she had removed her own clothes the night before, she saw a kid duck under that same lip of rock to hide in a friendly game of hide and seek. She thought briefly of climbing down to tell the kid that a dead body had been there not twelve hours earlier, but thought better of it.
Despite all the people around, she flirted with the idea of stripping down to her underwear and diving into the water below, but thought better of that as well. She wished for her swimsuit right then. She figured a good swim would take her mind off things for a while. But, she didn't want to go home for her suit. And, skinny dipping was definitely out of the question. So, she sat down atop the rock and watched the game of hide and seek play out below her. The kid who was unknowingly hiding right where Ally's killer had hidden her was found surprisingly fast despite the good hiding place. Meghan chalked that up to the finder having used that particular hiding place before.
"Hey," someone yelled.
Meghan still watched the game of hide and seek. The finder was now rather close to finding a little blonde girl who was hanging half way in the water.
"Hey," someone yelled again. This time, Meghan turned around and looked. A little boy who wasn't more than about six or seven was half way up the rock on which she was sitting. Behind him were three of his friends, each looking younger than the one in front of him. "Can you move," the boy in front asked.
"We've kinda been dared to jump off this thing." He pointed to the side, and Meghan followed his gesture to a little girl with black hair standing on a nearby rock. "She doesn't think we'll go through with it. And, we can't even try if you're in the way."
"Okay," Meghan said, "I'll move." She got to her feet, flirted with the idea of jumping into the water below fully dressed, then decided it might make the boys look bad if she went first. So, she slid down the rock, missing the boy in front by mere inches. Then, she clambered over another rock, pausing at the top long enough to watch that boy take his leap from the higher one. The little black haired girl was laughing.
Meghan climbed over another rock, then another, and left White Cove, headed not around Grace Point, but out the west end of the Cove, toward the ocean and the highway. She reached the highway and crossed the bridge over the mouth of Diamond Bay. And, she couldn't resist the urge to stop at the middle of the bridge to look at the whole town, tucked into the little valley, stuck between the short cliff on the south and the tree covered slope on the north, the whole town split in two by the King Pharmaceuticals property and it's modern buildings. She thought of what she could remember of her dream from the night before, that strange tower rising out of the middle of the King property, and something in her mind clicked, and she connected that image to Arthur Bandicot. It took the logic part of her brain a few seconds to find that connection--Arthur was tall and worked for King, not much simpler or more complex than that. And right then, she thought it was too bad that he had a problem with the age difference. He was great looking, he had money, he was nice, he seemed to know what he wanted in life, and, well, he was available. And, of course, he did not seem at all like a guy who would be squeamish when confronted with a dead body.
Until right then, she hadn't wanted to think that was such a big deal. She hadn't wanted to think that it bothered her that Billy was having so much trouble with what he'd seen the night before. But, she had to admit that was a problem for her. She couldn't pretend it didn't matter. It DID matter, and now she couldn't really imagine being with Billy Lockwood ever again. She wanted someone more like Arthur Bandicot or David Marcus. She would have liked it better if they weren't both so much older than she was, but she couldn't change that, so she figured she could work around it. Afterall, unlike most Doyle girls, she wasn't just looking for sex. In fact, after the night before, she wasn't so sure she was looking for it at all. She'd reverted to her old position, not too eager at all to get the whole virginity thing put behind her.
She went the rest of the way across the bridge, then headed up Vista Park Drive to the center of town. She stopped in the park and watched the end of a softball game, then wandered over to the police station again.
David was in talking to Chief Bettermore, but Michael Thomas motioned for Meghan to have a seat. She sat down by his desk and expected to pass the time waiting for David in silence. But, Michael surprised her.
"You're not like the rest of them, are you?"
"The Doyles--you're not like most of them. At least, you don't seem to be."
"Well, I was wondering what were you and Billy Lockwood doing last night. Well, I know WHAT you were doing, but I was wondering why. Is there some switch someone pulls somewhere and you just become like the rest of the Doyle girls?"
"There's no switch." She said this with all seriousness. Michael just looked at her. "Oh right," she said "you didn't mean that literally, did you?"
He shook his head.
"Well, there's nothing specific, no switch, no trigger. I didn't even plan on being like my sisters, like all the Doyle girls. It just kinda happened. Somewhere along the line, I found myself having a boyfriend, and then things just escalated. It happened so slowly, I'm not so sure I even expected us to have sex last night, even when I took my clothes off and jumped in the water."
"It just kinda happened," Michael said, echoing her sentiment.
"Right," Meghan said. "And, that's when I saw Ally. And now, I doubt I could get that close again anytime soon."
"That's good to hear," Michael replied.
Meghan realized all she'd just said and blushed. "I can't believe I just told you that."
"Don't be embarrassed," Michael said. "You've no reason to be."
Now, David came out of Chief Bettermore's office, saw Meghan, and waved. "Hello again," he said. "Has my partner been entertaining you with his wonderful conversation skills?"
"Yes," Meghan said, "he has." Michael smiled at her, said nothing.
David pulled his chair around his desk, and sat in it just a couple feet from Meghan. "To what do we owe this visit?"
"I don't know. I was just wondering how it was going, the investigation I mean."
"Well, we took the leads you gave us." He glanced at his watch. "And, in less than four hours, we've managed to rule them both out. Well, that's not quite true. Raymond Marsh was home last night. His parents confirmed that. We, I, talked to him anyway. He admitted that his parents' confirmation was wrong, he hadn't been there the whole time. In fact, he had snuck out to see Ally, had sex with her even. There seemed to be no hostility toward Ally, so we went to see Mr Chance."
"Well, he was home alone last night, he says. And, he didn't seem too happy when I let it slip"--David made quote marks with his hands--"accidentally that Ally had been with Raymond Marsh. He didn't even try to hide the fact he was having sex with the girl. This guy's twenty two and he doesn't even try to hide that sort of thing."
"Did he have sex with her last night," Meghan asked. She regretted it, realizing that she only knew he had because of what Arthur had told her.
"Well, we don't know," David answered. "Claire did say there were two different . . . "
"Semen samples," Meghan said, letting David off the hook from having to be embarrassed by saying it.
"Yeah," he said, so it would seem Ally did have sex with two different guys before she die. One, we now know, was Raymond Marsh. The other just may be Keith Chance. And, I don't like this guy. I checked him out when I came back here. We've got a couple dozen reports on this guy. All of them were when he was just a kid, but still."
"What'd he do?"
"He started a couple fires, hurt some people's pets, that sort of thing. I'm just wondering now if he was a bed wetter."
"What," Meghan asked. Michael laughed.
"Your average serial killer, not that killing Ally Doyle would make Mr Chance a serial killer, as a child would most likely start fires, hurt animals, and wet his bed. That's just one of those weird things, you know, that killers have in common."
"So, you really think Keith could've killed Ally?"
David didn't answer at first.
"You do think that, right?"
"Well, I can't be sure. You see, this guy's place was a mess, not really the place in which a poisoner would live. A poisoner should be neat, a poisoner's house a well kept place."
"So, Claire told you Ally was poisoned?"
"Nothing definitive, but what else could it be. You saw the body. There were no exterior injuries, and this girl was only fourteen, well just turned fifteen, so I doubt she had any serious medical condition. Besides, that sort of thing would leave some evidence behind. A heart attack, a stroke--those things leave evidence behind."
"Doesn't poison leave any evidence?"
"Yes, but we've yet to find that either."
"So, you've got nothing?"
"Well, thanks to you, we've got a suspect. Now, we've just got to find something linking him to the girl's death."
"Did you arrest him?"
"Not yet. We've got to have something more conclusive, at least a cause of death, before we can do that."
Right then, Sean Doyle walked into the station.
"Now, if you'll excuse me, Meghan," David said, "I need to talk to Ally's mother."
Meghan passed Sean on her way out, found it hard to look the woman in the eye. Looking back, Meghan saw Michael was watching her. She smiled, waved goodbye, then left.
Billy Lockwood was out front on his way inside.
"Hey Billy," Meghan said. "How're you doing?"
"I'm fine," was all he said. He didn't look at her, didn't even really look up from the ground in front of him. He brushed past her and went inside.
Meghan turned and headed down Main Street, not sure of her destination. She turned up King Drive toward the main King Pharmaceuticals buildings. She passed Gail's Boarding House, where Nikolai Januson lived, thought briefly of going in to see if Virginia was there, but didn't.
When she got to King, she went in the front entrance of the main building. She asked the receptionist to call Arthur Bandicot, tell him she was there. A minute later, Arthur was there in the lobby. "To what do I owe the pleasure," he said to her.
"I'm not exactly sure why I'm here, actually," Meghan admitted. "Is there somewhere we can talk?"
"How 'bout my office?"
Once they were in his office, a rather large corner office with several large windows, Arthur asked, "you want something to drink?" His office was split in half between the area around his rather large desk, with his chair behind it and two chairs in front of it, and another area that consisted of four chairs around a low table. There was a small bar in the corner of this second section. Arthur gestured for Meghan to have a seat, then he went to the bar and got out two glasses.
"Nice office," Meghan said.
"Thanks. I asked if you wanted something to drink."
Meghan just looked at him.
"I'm fifteen," Meghan said.
"I won't tell anyone if you won't."
Meghan thought about it, could see nothing wrong with her having a little alcohol, and nodded. "Why not?"
"You have a preference?"
"All I've ever had is some wine and a couple beers. It's all new to me, so surprise me."
He poured a bronze colored liquid into the two glasses, added some ice, then came and sat in the chair next to Meghan, handing her one of the glasses, the one, she noticed, with less liquid in it.
"What is it?"
She took a sip, didn't like it at first, but tried a second taste, liked it better, and loved it by the third. That was almost more because it was forbidden than because of the taste, though.
"Well, what brings you here?"
"I was wondering about the . . . I know you want it secret and all, but I just got to ask about the DNA samples."
"I believe you can keep a secret, so ask whatever you'd like. I'll tell you what I can."
"How does King have samples for everyone in town?"
"Well, really, we don't. We have nearly everyone. We've gotten them different ways, when people got inoculations, that sort of thing. Not too many people are born here in town, or we'd have everyone. It's pretty easy to get a quick sample during the chaos of childbirth. But, most people around here head on up to Carlton Falls General to give birth. Do you know why that is, Meghan? It would seem to me more likely in such a small town that people would go for natural childbirth in a big way."
Was he trying to change the subject? Or, was he just curious? Meghan couldn't tell. "I wouldn't know," she said.
"Oh well, it's not that important. Now, would you go for natural childbirth or would you head up to Carlton Falls General, if you were pregnant I mean?"
"Are you trying to change the subject?"
Arthur laughed. "Yeah, I guess I am." Meghan hadn't expected that response. Arthur noticed her shock. "You didn't expect that answer, did you? I'm so used to trying to keep people from knowing about this, I didn't even realize I was trying to change the subject. I'm sorry. It's just, well, you've got to realize most people would feel sort of threatened by the idea we've got DNA samples of so many people. There is a legitimate use for the samples in our research department, you must realize, but most people wouldn't believe that. Most people would assume the worst, that we've got some secret plan cooking in this town, like we're experimenting with people's DNA or some way out there idea like that."
"So, you're not experimenting with this town's DNA?"
"You've got guts girl, to ask that question. That's good. I like that."
"Is King Pharmaceuticals experimenting with our DNA?"
"Would it matter much to you if I said we were?"
"I don't know."
"Well, we aren't. It just helps our Research Department to have the samples. That's why King, in its long history, has always been centered in small towns. You get a small enough group isolated from the rest of the country, but with enough people to get a nice cross section to represent the country as a whole, and you've got a great base for study."
"Yes. You see, Meghan, King Pharmaceuticals is not just about the manufacturing and marketing of pharmaceutical products. We're in for the long run, the human genome project, organ generation, and disease research, anything and everything to advance medical science. Having a good grouping of DNA samples makes our work a hell of a lot easier."
"Why are you telling me, if this is supposed to be secret?"
"You can keep a secret, can't you?"
"There's not much else reason except for that, and that whole police thing this morning. In fact, if we ever need to get certain information like that to the police in the future, you interested in a job? It won't be a full time job. You won't get a real paycheck. But, I could make sure you would be well compensated for your services, all under the table of course."
"You're offering me what, exactly? Isn't what your offering illegal?"
"Truthfully, yes, employing you that way I'm saying would be illegal. But, chances are we'll let the local police in on what resources we have, and they will be working with us, but they'll need someone who could be listed as an official source of information, someone who just happens to know things. And, the police will go for that, believe me. And, when they do go for it, it won't matter if it's technically illegal. The police will be in on it.
"Consider what we've already accomplished Meghan. I don't know if you know him or not, but Keith Chance may have seemed in the past like a nice guy, but he may be a murderer. And, because of you, the police should be able to get him for what he's done. This arrangement can do a whole lot of good for a whole lot of people. Don't answer now. Think about it, then get back to me."
"Wow," Meghan said. "I will think about it, but you should know I'm pretty much in."
"Yeah, I think so."
"Good." He smiled, grabbed her glass from her and went to the bar again. "I had a feeling you'd be interested," he said, pouring more scotch in both their glasses.
"So, what do you actually know?"
"What do you mean," he asked.
He came back and sat down, handing Meghan her glass again. She took a drink, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. "I mean, if you've got everybody's DNA, or almost everybody's DNA, what does that tell you about us. I mean, I've heard about the human genome project--it's the mapping of all human genes and their purposes, right?--so how much does King Pharmaceuticals know about each of us just from our DNA?"
"'Just from our DNA?' You say that as if DNA isn't the blueprint for just about everything that makes each of us who we are."
"Well, I tend to subscribe to nurture being just about as important as nature. So, what I'm wondering is, how much of our nature do you know?"
"The human genome project, as far as the public knows, is still an ongoing project, but all human genes were mapped years ago. Cloning, splicing--these are things we've been capable of doing for a long time, longer than most people would care to know. There's a lot of people in this world, Meghan, that hate the very idea of genetic manipulation. They don't understand the great promise that genetic engineering would provide all mankind. They don't see the benefits of being able to manipulate the basic building blocks of life itself. Even YOU asked if we were experimenting, as if that were some evil thing. It's not evil. It's research at its best."
"So then, King IS experimenting with all our DNA?"
"Perhaps I shouldn't answer that question, at least not until you've taken me up on the job offer. You're a smart girl, Meghan. You get As and Bs in school. You know how the world works. You should understand that there are some things you just shouldn't know."
Meghan took another drink of her scotch. Then, she looked at Arthur, and he was looking even more attractive than he had been that morning. It was really too bad he had a problem with her being so young. It was especially bad now, when he trusted her enough to offer her a job, and he had complimented her, told her she was smart, not beautiful which was the compliment she got most times. He'd said she was smart.
But, she thought, how'd he know that? He'd said she got As and Bs. That was true, but how'd he know?
"You look confused," he said to her.
"Well, how'd you know what grades I get."
"You caught me. We've got more than just DNA on people in this town."
"You've got our grades?"
"Grades, bank balances, buying habits, anything that's been recorded electronically and lots of stuff that hasn't been. For example, I happen to know that you've got a cat named Isis that most recently had kittens spring of last year."
"How do you know that?"
"You put an ad in the Diamond Bay Chronicle. I could quote it for you, if you'd like. I've got a pretty good memory, not quite photographic but close to it."
"Don't bother." Who was this guy, Meghan wanted to know. He just kept getting more interesting. And, he was cute, damn cute. And, he was tall. She liked them tall. And, he was thin. She liked them thin.
"You want to get some lunch," Arthur asked. "We could get something delivered, or go somewhere."
"I don't know," Meghan replied. She tried to stand up, felt light headed, and sat back down.
"Whoa, you okay? Guess I should have asked how well you could handle alcohol before I gave you some." He pulled her to her feet, walked her over to the couch by the window which she hadn't noticed until then. "Lay down," he said. "I'll get you some water, and I'll have my secretary order us some food."
"I'm sorry," Meghan said. "I've had a lot more alcohol before and been just fine."
"No need to apologize." He crouched down beside her. "If anyone should apologize, it's me."
Without putting much thought into it, Meghan sat up, grabbed Arthur and kissed him on the mouth. When she pulled away from him, he looked upset. "I'm sorry," she said.
"Again, Meghan, no need to apologize." He stood. "Now, I'll go see about lunch." He left her alone in his office.
Meghan felt stupid, embarrassed. She couldn't believe she'd kissed him. Why'd you do that, she asked herself. The guy offers you a cool job, and you ruin things by kissing him. He's not interested. And, neither, really, are you.
"Hope you like Chinese," Arthur said, coming back into the office.
"Yeah, that's fine."
"Here, drink this." She sat up, and he handed her a glass of water. She drank it all in no time at all. "Slow down," he said, but she was already done. He took the glass from her, set it on a nearby table.
Their lunch arrived. They ate, talking now about more conventional things, stuff about the town that a newcomer like Arthur should know. Then, Arthur walked her to the lobby, and she headed home. There was no mention of the kiss.
Meghan had dinner with her parents, her little brother, and AJ who came by for no apparent reason. Cari and Cori were gone, out with their current boyfriends. Who that would be--Meghan didn't know. After dinner, her father asked her how she was doing and Meghan told him she was fine. "Have the police talked to you about last night?"
"I went by there today," she told him. "They don't have much evidence, apparently. They're not even sure how Ally died."
"I'm sure they'll find something," he said. Jacob Doyle, ever the optimist, Meghan thought. He still thought they'd find evidence of who killed Ashley even after almost two years. "Yeah," he said more to himself than to his daughter, "they'll find something."
After dinner, Meghan went to her room to watch TV alone. Virginia called her late that night, apologized for not seeing her that day. "I only just heard what happened last night," she explained. "Nikolai and I left early this morning, went to San Francisco. We only just got back." Meghan wasn't offended that they'd done such a thing without inviting her. She had little interest in spending the day with them. They'd been a couple for several months already but they were still far too excited about each other's company and that made them as a couple annoying in large doses.
"How was it," Meghan asked.
"Oh, we didn't do too much. Just a trip out to Alcatraz, and we wandered around Fisherman's Wharf, saw the Presidio, drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, just the basics."
"I didn't ask what you did. I asked how was it."
"It was great. You'll know what I mean soon enough, I'm sure. You and Billy--"
"We're not together anymore."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, after last night . . . Billy was pretty shaken up seeing Ally like that." In the back of her mind, Meghan suddenly thought of the possibility that Billy had killed Ally, knew that was crazy, put that idea away. "I saw him briefly today, but something's different between us. I think's it's over. I'm pretty sure it's over."
"I'm so sorry."
"Not your fault."
"I know. But, here I am calling you up, telling you I had a great day trip with Nikolai, and you've just broken up with Billy."
"You didn't know. Don't be sorry."
"I know I shouldn't be, but I am."
"Well, thanks for that."
Virginia was silent for a moment. Then, she asked, "so, do they know what happened to Ally yet?"
"They don't even know how she died. They're thinking it was poison, since there's no signs of physical trauma. But, if you ask me, it wouldn't make too much sense for a poisoner to strip her naked and leave her in White Cove."
"Do they know who might have done it? 'Cause back when Patrick Jamison and Tina Doyle were found dead, not to mention Sarah Doyle-Conroy, or even Avery and Michelle Doyle down in LA, they never did figure out who did it."
"They think it might be Keith Chance. Seems he and Ally were having sex, had sex shortly before she died actually. Of course, she apparently also had sex with Raymond Marsh last night, too. So who knows?"
"You think he could have done it?"
"I barely know the guy, so I don't know." Meghan suddenly felt very tired. "You know, I'm pretty tired, so can we talk maybe tomorrow?"
"Sure," Virginia replied. "Good night."
"Good night." Meghan hung up the phone, got up, went to turn off the light, then barely made it back to her bed she was so tired.
Next thing she knew, it was morning, and she felt as if she hadn't slept at all, and her head ached. She got up, was about to go to the bathroom to get something for her head, when she saw out the window Arthur Bandicot standing on the sidewalk. She ignored her headache as best she could, grabbed the robe hanging inside her closet door, and went downstairs and outside.
"What are you doing," she asked him.
"I wanted to talk to you," Arthur said. "But, I wasn't so sure if I should knock on the door, maybe wake everybody, and raise questions you might not want them to be asking."
"So, you were just going to stand out here?"
"Well, I only just got here, and I was thinking of leaving, coming back later. But, now here you are, so are you interested in breakfast again, my treat?"
"Sure. Just, give me a minute. I'll go get dressed."
Meghan went inside, up to her room, got dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. on her way back out, she left a note on the kitchen counter. WENT TO BREAKFAST WITH VIRGINIA, it lied. She went outside and headed toward Main Street with Arthur.
"So, what'd you want to talk about?"
"Well, I'll be blunt."
"You kissed me."
"I know that."
"Well, despite myself, I didn't exactly find that idea that objectionable."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe, what I'm saying is that if you're interested, I wouldn't mind the idea of the two of us being, well, something more than what we are so far."
"Nice vague description."
"Well, I'm game if you are."
"For what exactly?"
"For whatever. I'm a Doyle girl. Anything goes."
"Well, no, I guess not. At least, up until now, that wasn't how things were, but things change."
"Yes, they do."
"Where are we going?"
"Well, I don't know about you, but what I had yesterday was pretty damn good, so I was figuring we could go to the Ramrod Grill again."
"You don't sound too enthusiastic."
"Well, whenever people eat out in this town, it's at the Ramrod."
"Well, next time we'll go somewhere else, but I'm pretty set on having that country fried steak again."
He nodded, then laughed. "Guess I like the stuff."
They turned down Main Street, and as they neared the Ramrod Grill, Meghan grabbed Arthur's hand in hers. He didn't pull away, so they walked the rest of the way like that, hand in hand.
"You know," he said, as they entered the restaurant, "there's another, less important reason I wanted to see you this morning."
"Well, I know you haven't said yes to my offer yet, but I was wondering if you'd do us another favor."
"Well, I don't know if you heard, but late yesterday afternoon, a kid found Ally's clothes between some rocks. It's her shirt in particular I'm interested in. You see, there's something that might be blood, like maybe she scratched or cut whoever killed her. But, the amount is so minute, the forensics people up in Carlton Falls aren't going to be able to get anything on it."
"But, you can."
"Yes, we can."
"And, this involves me how?"
"I want you to get us that shirt. We're not ready to let the police know about all our resources just yet, so we can't go through official channels."
"You want me to steal evidence?"
"Keep your voice down."
Right then, Grace Stanner approached them. "Morning Meghan. Morning Arthur. Table for two?"
"Yes," Arthur said.
"Follow me," Grace said, and she led them to the same table they'd had the morning before. Then, she left them to look at their menus. Meghan watched Grace leave then turned to Arthur. "You can't expect me to steal evidence from the police, Arthur. You just can't. I won't do it."
"That's fine, Meghan. It's just, well, if we could say for sure that it is blood on Ally's shirt and it is that of Keith Chance, then I might be able to persuade some people to make our resources available to the police earlier than currently planned. We could catch this guy, Meghan, make him pay for what he's done. But, we've got to know we've got the right guy, first."
Meghan thought about it.
"You're considering it," Arthur said. "That's a start."
"What harm could it really do," Meghan said, out loud but more to herself than to him. "You're gonna return it, right? So, what does it matter if you run some tests before they do?"
"Okay, I'll do it." She couldn't believe what she was agreeing to do. She figured stealing evidence from the police was a pretty big crime. She didn't know how big, but she figured it was big. And yet, she'd just agreed to do it. How to accomplish it-- that was a whole different matter.
They ate their breakfast, then Meghan headed for the police station. Arthur walked her most of the way, then headed up to King. Meghan went in the police station alone.
David didn't seem all that surprised to see her. "This is becoming a habit," he said as she sat in the chair in front of his desk.
As far as she could tell, Michael was not there. She asked David where he was.
"Oh, he's around here somewhere. I think he went out to the garage or something. Now, what can I do for you today?"
"I don't know. I just found myself walking over this way, and thought I'd stop by, see how you were doing, see how the investigation was going."
"Well, I'm fine. And, the case--well, it's going."
Neither David nor Meghan said anything for more than a minute. Meghan found herself looking at the stuff on his desk. He had the files on Patrick Jamison, Tina Doyle, and Sarah Doyle- Conroy still, but he'd added one. This one was open, and it didn't take long for Meghan to recognize the photo of her sister paper clipped inside.
"Why do you have that," she asked.
David looked down, then quickly closed the file. "Sorry about that," he said.
"Why do you have that? Ashley's death has nothing to do with Ally's."
"You don't know that, Meghan."
"Yes, I do."
"You can't tell me you're still subscribing to the idea that Ben Lafferty killed your sister?"
"The guy was like ninety one years old when your sister died, Meghan. He couldn't have overpowered a sixteen year old girl if his life depended on it."
"He killed my sister."
"Listen to me, Meghan. Your sister was found underneath rocks, not in White Cove but on the Ridge. She had most likely been sexually assaulted--"
"--before being beaten to death," Meghan interjected. "Ashley was not poisoned. Isn't that the theory you've still got for what happened to Ally, that she was poisoned? A killer wouldn't switch his MO like that."
"What do you know about killers?"
"I know a guy who rapes and kills one girl is pretty likely not going to poison the next one. Besides, Ashley was well hidden. Her body wasn't even found for a year. The only reason I didn't see Ally right away was it was dark. As soon as the sun came up, that lip of rock wouldn't have mattered at all."
"We can't just decide there's no connection at all. That would be limiting our investigation."
"Then, limit your damn investigation, David. How else are you going to solve it?"
"Marcus, get in here," Chief Bettermore yelled from his office. Right that very second, Meghan noticed the clothes in evidence bags sitting on David's desk. "Excuse me," David said, got up, then made his way to the chief's office. Meghan looked around, decided no one was looking, and took advantage of the exact opportunity she thought would never happen. She grabbed the shirt from the stack of clothes, quickly tucked it into the back of her jeans, making sure her own shirt covered it. Then, she got up and left.
She delivered the shirt to Arthur and was invited into his office again. "For a drink, or lunch, or whatever," he said. "We'll play it by ear."
Meghan went in, thinking this was it, she was finally going to be the Doyle girl everyone seemed to expect her to be. She had a seat, not in one of the chairs but on the couch by the window. "Well, where's my drink," she asked. The smile on Arthur's face told her that he was thinking just what she was. He quickly went to the bar, poured two glasses, then returned, sat down next to her.
She grabbed one of the glasses, took a big drink of the contents, could feel a bit of a buzz right away, and took another drink just as Arthur told her to slow down. "No point in taking things slowly," she said. "I'm sure you've got work to get back to."
"Yes I do," he replied. "But, that can wait."
He leaned close to her, tucked his head over her shoulder and kissed her neck. His touch was cold. She shivered. "Cold?" She shook her head. "I could turn up the thermostat." She shook her head again, took a big swallow of her drink. She hadn't expected to be this nervous. She thought it would be easy once she finally surrendered to her nature. Now she could see it would be anything but easy. She understood why Ashley had been so afraid of crossing into such territory. It didn't seem that there would be any coming back once the line was crossed. If she had sex now, with this older guy--how old is he, she wondered--then things wouldn't ever be the same for her. She'd be stuck in the role of Doyle girl forever. Like Nicole, like AJ, like Cari and Cori before her, she'd never be herself again.
Is that so bad, she asked herself. Is your life so great that it couldn't use a change? And, isn't it a change for the better? Sex is supposed to be fun, pleasureful. Stop being scared and get it overwith. Cross the line, for God's sake.
Arthur's hands were on her, one on her knee, one at her waist, the fingers reaching ever so delicately underneath the bottom of her shirt. The feel of his fingers against the flesh of her stomach excited her. But, she wasn't sure if she was ready for this. She wasn't sure she wanted to give in to the pressure, not now, not with him.
"Is something wrong," he asked her, his hand creeping upward, taking her shirt with it.
She shook her head. "No, nothing's wrong."
"You're sure, 'cause we don't have to do this."
That did it. She hadn't been sure. Now, she was. She'd do it. All it took was him making the offer of discontinuing this. All it took was him giving her a way out. She let his hands wander upwards, let him lift her t-shirt off her, let him unhook her jeans, pull them down her legs. She let him push her back so she was laying down on the couch. She realized as he did this that she still had the glass in her hand. She quickly drank the last of it, then dropped the glass to the floor as he unhooked her bra.
After it was over, she'd feel two completely different feelings. There was that feeling she had expected beforehand but not during--shame. And, there was that feeling she never quite understood--empowerment. Together, they'd make her head spin. Or, maybe it would be the alcohol. But, as he got the last of her clothes off of her, she felt nothing but an uncomfortable mix of pain and fear. When he was inside her, it hurt, but it also didn't hurt. It felt great, but it also didn't. It was like nothing she'd ever felt before, but it was also exactly how she'd imagined it.
When it was over, Arthur got off her, pulled on his clothes, then disappeared out the door of his office, still barefoot, his shirt untucked. If he'd only taken a few seconds, she would have been fine, but he was gone for more than a minute, and suddenly, she felt that embarrassment she'd felt the day before. She got up from the couch, messily got dressed. She noticed his glass of scotch, still pretty full--in fact it looked as if he hadn't taken even one drink--and she grabbed it and drank it down a little too fast. Then, she turned and looked around the office for no particular reason before she headed for the door herself.
She didn't expect to notice anything as she looked around, but there was something itching at the back of her mind, trying to make her see something in his office. She couldn't quite figure out what it was, so she left.
It wasn't until she was outside that she realized what that thing nagging at her brain was. The shirt was gone. He'd set it on his desk when she'd handed it to him. When she'd looked around his office, it was no longer there. There were only two explanations. Someone had come in and taken it while she and Arthur were having sex, or Arthur had gotten up right after finishing to take the shirt to the lab. She knew no one had come in. She would have noticed.
She stopped walking right outside the main doors to the building. "Why the hell would he do that," she asked the air. "Why would he take the shirt right after sex? Why the hell was it so important?" She turned around, thinking of going back inside. But, she felt too embarrassed about what had just happened to face Arthur. Whatever reason he'd had for dealing with the shirt when he had--she'd have to find out later. She didn't even want to think about seeing him again right then. She spun back around and, letting shame taking over, ran the two blocks home.
She didn't see Arthur again that day, though someone did call her house that afternoon, hanging up when her mother answered the phone. Meghan knew it was Arthur, knew he must be calling for leaving her like he did. She was glad her mother answered the phone, glad Arthur didn't know or didn't think to try the separate line in her bedroom; she didn't care to hear his apology just then. She had a good sense of what her reaction would be--she'd accept his apology and go right back to whatever was happening between them, this forbidden affair or whatever it might be called. And, she'd hate herself for it.
After dinner that night, she got three phone calls to the line in her bedroom. The first was David Marcus. He didn't ask about the shirt, which was exactly what she expected him to do when she heard his voice on the line. He said he was just calling to see how she was doing. "You only stopped by once today," he said. "I wanted to make sure you were okay." She told him she was fine, and she'd see him tomorrow. He wished her a good night, she did the same, and hung up. The second call was Billy Lockwood, explaining rather badly that he thought that maybe the two of them should put a little distance between them. Meghan told him she agreed, and the conversation was over. Then, just as she was thinking Arthur, who had so much information at his disposal, did not know about this phone line, the phone rang a third time.
"Meghan, it's Arthur Bandicot."
Why does he use his whole name like that, she wondered. We had sex today. I think we can move past last names. "Hi Arthur."
"You left rather abruptly, he said.
"I left rather abruptly?"
"Oh, I'm sorry about that. I happened to glance at the clock, saw that the lab shift was about to change--we've got a strange schedule in the lab--and I knew I had to get the shirt to them before the shift change if I wanted it to be done by tomorrow morning, so you can return it. I should have said something. I would have if I'd known you'd bolt like YOU did."
Meghan could hear something strange in his voice. Just like she could tell the day before when he was trying to change the subject, now she could tell that he'd rehearsed that little explanation. As unprepared as it seemed, she could tell that it was just the opposite. He'd worked on it, said it over and over before dialing her number. For whatever reason, he was lying. There was no shift change. He'd had some other reason for getting the shirt out of there so quickly. But, what was it? And, for that matter, didn't he know that she could find out from someone else the shift schedule in the King lab?
Yes, she decided, he does know I could check that. He's lying, but he's purposely making it so I can see through it. Why would he do that? Is someone listening on his end of the line? Is he not supposed to tell me all that he has told me? Is he not supposed to tell me why getting that shirt out of there was so urgent that it couldn't wait more than a minute after we'd had sex? If he knows I can tell he's lying, then why's he bothering? Why'd he call me at all? And, should I ask him that?
"I didn't bolt," she replied. "I wasn't going to just sit around naked, waiting for you to come back. You didn't seem to be coming back soon enough, so I left. Excuse me if I felt a little embarrassed there with my clothes off."
"You felt embarrassed? Why? There was nothing to be embarrassed about, nothing at all."
"Yeah right. You get up seconds after sex, and take off to do God knows what--"
"I just told you what I was doing."
"So what? At the time, I had no idea what you were doing. As far as I knew, you could have been done with me after one time. Did her, done with her--that sort of thing."
"I'd never do that to you, Meghan."
"Sure you wouldn't. I wonder how many guys who've done just that sort of thing with my sisters would have claimed they'd never leave a girl behind like that. What was I supposed to think?"
"I wouldn't do that. I didn't do that."
"Not in your office, at least," Meghan replied. She wanted to regret saying it, but she didn't.
"Meghan, what's wrong with you?"
"I don't know. Maybe it's just that I lost my virginity to a forty year old guy--
"I'm thirty four, not-- "
"Whatever. You're older. That's what matters. You expected me to be thinking clearly after you finished with me?"
"Don't say it like that, Meghan. You wanted that as much as I did. In fact, I'd guess you were more eager than I was."
"Is that right? Arthur, go to hell."
She was about to slam down the phone, but thought better of it. "Please don't hang up," Arthur said. Suddenly, she had the feeling that he was watching her, that he'd seen her start to put down the phone. Considering all he'd told her, him spying on her didn't seem all that far fetched an idea. "Why not?"
"Regardless of what's going on between us, I still need your help with the police. I need you to return the shirt, and maybe clue them in to who killed Ally Doyle."
Meghan thought about it. "I'll come by tomorrow morning to get the shirt. Leave it with the receptionist."
"This is evidence," he said.
You should have thought of that before you had me steal it, she wanted to say. She kept that particular thought inside. "Fine," she said, "you be waiting in the lobby with it, or be waiting for my arrival. I'm not coming up to your office."
"I'll see you then."
"Yeah, whatever. Bye." Now, she slammed down the phone. That move was a little overdramatic now, but she did it anyway.
That night, she dreamt that she showed up at King to pick up the shirt and Arthur Bandicot claimed not to know her, claimed he'd never seen her before in his life.
That next morning, she woke late, felt surprisingly refreshed, though her head did hurt a little. She dressed in a simple sleeveless dress, a brown dress with a floral pattern, it's hem a few inches above her knees. Billy had liked her in this dress. She wondered for whom she was dressing up. For Arthur? She didn't think so. For David? Maybe.
She ate toast, no butter, for breakfast, then headed to King Pharmaceuticals. When she arrived, the receptionist picked up a phone and paged Arthur Bandicot before Meghan said a word to her. Arthur appeared in the lobby a minute later. He wasn't carrying anything. "Where is it," she asked him. "If it's up in your office, go get it. I'm not coming up there."
"What's so bad about my office?"
"Don't change the subject. Where's Ally's shirt?"
"Keep your voice down." He glanced at the receptionist to see if she was eavesdropping. Meghan did the same. The receptionist seemed to be minding her business, so either she was or she was a pretty good actress.
"Where's the shirt, Arthur?"
"There's a slight problem with the shirt," he told her.
"What do you mean?"
"One of our new employees screwed up, put the shirt into the wrong solution. The acid content was too high. It ate right through the cloth. There is no shirt."
"What? That was supposed to solve everything, Arthur. At least tell me you got some results before that. Please, just tell me that much."
He just looked at her. That was answer enough.
"I stole that from the police, Arthur. I broke the law to get you that shirt, because I thought you could find proof of who killed Ally."
"Calm down. No one knows you took it."
"You don't know that. David Marcus called me last night, you know. He didn't mention the missing shirt, but I could tell he had something on his mind other than my welfare." That was a lie, but the panic in Arthur's eyes made it worth it.
"I'm sure he doesn't suspect you," Arthur said.
"And if he does?"
"You keep me out of it," Arthur said, his tone changing, no concern for her left in it.
"Is that all you're worried about? I thought this was about finding Ally's killer. I thought you were trying to do something good, to do what's right."
Something occurred to Meghan that hadn't until right then. "Oh, really? What was on that shirt, Arthur?"
"What do you mean?"
"Do you know who killed Ally?"
"I'm sure it was Keith Chance."
"You're sure? Well, wouldn't it just be a little bit convenient if that shirt were destroyed if someone else had done it?" Meghan could tell by the calculating look in Arthur's eyes that he was about to ask her if she suspected that employee that had ruined the shirt. Scratch that. The employee who had allegedly ruined the shirt. If that employee even existed. "Why'd you want that shirt, Arthur?"
"To test the blood, to see if it came from Mr Chance. What are you trying to get at, Meghan?"
She gave up. She'd learned so much about King and its goings on in the last couple days, she didn't want to think King had something to do with Ally's death, or even that Arthur himself had something to do with it, that he had made everything up. Had he made it up? Was this all some ploy to get her to do his dirty work? Had he killed Ally then tricked her into helping him get rid of the evidence? "Oh, forget it," she said.
She turned and headed for the exit.
"What do you want, Arthur?"
"The job offer still stands."
"What job offer? What job?" With that, she left.
She made her way to the police station, wondering what she could tell David, wondering if she could tell him anything at all. Would he understand her side? Or, would he hear her out then arrest her for tampering with evidence?
She got there, went inside, and sat in front of his desk just as before. "Well, we're screwed," he said.
"Our best piece of evidence apparently just got up and walked away."
"What piece of evidence?" If he said the shirt, she knew she couldn't tell him anything. She had to play this as best she could, get any suspicion off of her. "I thought you had no evidence."
"We found Ally's clothes. Her shirt was covered with blood, which clearly was not her own, as she had no external injuries that would have bled so much.
"Covered?" Meghan couldn't believe she'd never bothered to look at the shirt. If she'd just looked, she would have known Arthur had lied to her.
"Yeah, covered. If we just could have got that up to the lab in Carlton Falls, we would have solid evidence as to who killed her. But, not now. We've got nothing to go on except that she was sleeping with Keith Chance."
"And Raymond Marsh," Michael said from his desk. His voice startled Meghan.
"And Raymond Marsh," David echoed. "We can't get enough on either one to charge them with anything, except maybe statutory rape on Keith, since he did admit to the sex. But, what's that gonna get us when Ally's dead?"
"So, you've got nothing?"
"Nada. But, we'll keep an eye on Mr Marsh and Mr Chance. They won't be able to do a thing without us knowing about it."
That's what Arthur wanted, isn't it, Meghan thought. He needed suspects but no convictions. He didn't want this thing solved. He wanted it confused. He wanted it put away.
"You won't stop looking for evidence, will you," Meghan asked.
"I've got to be honest with you," David replied. "Inevitably, we'll have other things to do. If we don't find something soon, this one will remain unsolved, at least in the books."
"Right." Meghan pretended to look at the clock on the wall, but really didn't even notice what time it actually was. "Well, I've got to go," she said. "I just wanted to see how it was going. I'm sorry it's ended up how it has."
"Don't be sorry. It's not your fault."
But, it is, she wanted to say.
"No, I guess not, but I did find her. I guess I just feel close to this thing. I can't help but feel bad." Quick thinking. Way to go, girl, she thought. Actually, it wasn't exactly untrue. She did feel close to it, but not just because she'd found the body. And, she did feel bad. She'd fallen for Arthur's ploy, whatever his reason--to protect himself or someone else, or to protect King Pharmaceuticals--and she hated herself for it, and knew it would only get worse in time.
She said her goodbyes to David and Michael, then left the police station. She stopped on the steps out front, thought of going back in and admitting to everything. It wouldn't matter if they believed her. She'd feel better just getting the truth out, regardless of how they took it. But, she didn't go back inside. She continued down the steps, and she walked home.
November 6, 1998 -- November 11, 1998