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Chapter 25

THE NEXT FEW DAYS FELT LIKE A PLUNGE ON THE M IND E RASER AT Six Flags. After weeks of the slow climb, suddenly everything broke. But there was nothing amusing about the ride.

It was late afternoon when Ryan and I touched down in Charlotte. In our absence, fall had caught on, and a strong breeze flapped our jackets as we walked to the parking garage.

We drove directly downtown to the FBI office at Second and Tryon. McMahon had just returned from interviewing Pecan Billie Holmes at the jail.

“Holmes was coked to the eyeballs when they hauled his butt to the bag last night, yelling and screaming, offering to roll over on everything back to a Little League game his team threw in the fourth grade.”

“Who is this guy?” Ryan.

“A thirty-eight-year-old three-time loser. Hangs on the fringes of the Atlanta biker scene.”

“Hells Angels?”

McMahon nodded.

“He's not a full patcher, doesn't have the brains of a banana Popsicle. The club tolerates him as long as he's useful.”

“What was Holmes doing in Charlotte?”

“Probably here for a Rotary luncheon,” McMahon said.

“Does Holmes really know who phoned in the bomb tip?” I asked.

“At four A.M. he had an inside track. That's why the arresting officers phoned us. By the time I got there, a night's sleep had dulled the Pecan's enthusiasm for sharing.”

McMahon lifted a mug from his desk, swirled and examined the contents as one might a stool sample.

“Fortunately, at the time of his arrest the scumbag was on probation for bouncing rubber all over Atlanta. We were able to persuade him that full disclosure was in his own best interest.”


“Holmes swears he was present when the scheme was hatched.”


“The Claremont Lounge in midtown Atlanta. That's about six blocks from the pay phone where the call was made.”

McMahon set down the mug.

“Holmes says he was drinking and snorting blow with a couple of Angels named Harvey Poteet and Neal Tannahill. The boys were talking about Pepper Petricelli and the crash when Poteet decided it would be cool to diddle the FBI with a false lead.”


“Barstool brilliance. If Petricelli was alive, it would scare him into silence. If he'd gone down with the plane, a message would go out. Talk and the brothers erase you from the planet. A freebie.”

“Why would these assholes talk business in front of an outsider?”

“Poteet and Tannahill were doing lines in Holmes's car. Our hero was out cold in the backseat. Or so they thought.”

“So the whole thing was a hoax,” I said.

“Appears so.” McMahon moved the mug beyond the edge of the blotter.

“Metraux's backing off on his Petricelli sighting,” Ryan added.

“There's a surprise.”

Down the hall a phone rang. A voice called out. Heels clicked down the corridor.

“Looks like your partner and his prisoner just got on the wrong flight.”

“So the Sri Lankans are clean, Simington is up for Humanitarian of the Year, and the Angels are nothing but merry pranksters. We're back to square one with a blown plane and no explanation.” Ryan.

“I got a call from Magnus Jackson as I was leaving Bryson City. He claims his investigators are picking up evidence of slow burning.”

“What kind of evidence?” I asked.

“Geometric burn patterns on debris.”

“Which means?”

“Fire prior to the explosion.”

“A mechanical problem?”

McMahon shrugged.

“They can separate precrash from postcrash burning?” I pushed.

“Sounds like crap to me.”

McMahon grabbed the mug and got out of his chair.

“So the Pecan may be a hero.”

Ryan and I stood.

“And Metraux's not finding a seller's market,” said Ryan.

“Ain't life grand.”

I hadn't told Ryan about Parker Davenport's insinuations concerning himself and Bertrand. I did so now, outside the Adams Mark Hotel. Ryan listened, hands tight on his knees, eyes straight ahead.

“That rat-brained little prick.” Headlights moved across his face, distorting lines and planes rigid with anger.

“This should dampen that line of reasoning.”


“I'm sure Davenport's reaming me has nothing to do with you or Bertrand. That was a sidebar to his real agenda.”

“Which is?”

“I have every intention of finding out.”

Ryan's jaw muscles bunched, relaxed.

“Who the fuck does he think he is?”

“Powerful people.”

His palms rubbed up then down his jeans, then he reached over and took my hand.

“Sure I can't buy you dinner?”

“I need to collect my cat.”

Ryan dropped my hand, flipped the handle, and got out of the car.

“I'll call you in the morning,” I said.

He slammed the door and was gone.

* * *

Back at the Annex, my answering machine flashed four messages.


Ron Gillman.

Two hang-ups.

I dialed Gillman's pager. He phoned back before I'd filled Birdie's bowls.

“Krueger says you've got a match on the DNA.”

My stomach and tonsils changed places.

“He's sure?”

“One chance in seventy godzillion of error. Or whatever figures those guys throw around.”

“The tooth and foot come from the same person?” I still couldn't believe it.

“Yes. Go get your warrant.”

I dialed Lucy Crowe. The sheriff was out, but a deputy promised to find her.

There was no answer in Ryan's room.

Anne picked up on the first ring.

“Figure out who your bomber is?”

“We figured out who it isn't.”

“That's progress. How about dinner?”

“Where's Ted?”

“At a sales meeting in Orlando.”

My cupboard would have made Mother Hubbard proud. And I was so agitated I knew sitting at home would be sheer torture.

“Foster's in thirty minutes?”

“I'll be there.”

Foster's Tavern is a subterranean hideaway with somber wood paneling and tufted black leather rising to midwall. A carved bar wraps around one end, battered tables fill the other. Blood cousin to the Selwyn Avenue Pub, the tavern is small, dark, and flawlessly Irish.

Anne had the Guinness stew and Chardonnay. Were I in the game, I'd have gone for a black and tan, but Anne always had Chardonnay. I ordered corned beef and cabbage, a Perrier with lime. Normally I ask for lemon, but the green seemed more fitting.

“So who's been ruled out?” Anne asked, fingertipping a speck from her wine.

“I can't really discuss that, but there's other progress I can tell you about.”

“You've figured out the early temperature history of the solar system.”

She flicked the particle. Her hair looked blonder than I remembered.

“That was last week. Did you lighten your hair?”

“A mistake. What's this progress?”

I told her about the DNA hit.

“So your foot belongs to whoever went soupy inside the wall.”

“And it wasn't any jive deer.”

“Who was it?”

“I'll bet the farm it was Jeremiah Mitchell.”

“The black Cherokee.”


“Now what?”

“I'm waiting for a call from the Swain County sheriff. With the DNA match, a warrant should be a piece of cake. Even from that medieval moron of a magistrate.”

“Nice alliteration.”


Over dinner, we decided on Wild Dunes at Thanksgiving. The rest of the time Anne described her trip to England. I listened.

“Did you see anything besides cathedrals and monuments?” I asked when she paused for breath.



“Totally bizarre. This guy named Francis Dashwood had them dug sometime in the eighteenth century. He wanted a Gothic atmosphere, so he had this corny three-sided stone structure built around the entrance. Cathedral windows, doors, and arches, a stone-bordered portal in the center, and a black wrought-iron fence at each side. Creates a sort of courtyard. Gothic chic, complete with souvenir shop, café, and white plastic tables and chairs for the thirsty medieval tourist.”

She took a sip of wine.

“You enter the caves through a long white tunnel with a low, rounded ceiling.”

“Why white?”

“It's all fake. The caves were chiseled out of chalk.”

“Where are they?”

“West Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. It's about an hour's drive northwest of London. Someone told Ted about the place, so we had to stop off on our way to Oxford.” She rolled her eyes. “Tempe, these caves are mondo bizarro. Passages meander all over the place, with little rooms and crannies and side branches. And they're filled with all sorts of creepy carvings.”


“Most of the engravings look like the work of kids, but they're way too grotesque.”

“Like what?”

“A face with a cross gouged into its forehead, another wearing a sorcerer's hat, the mouth and eyes perfect O's.”

She gave what she must have considered a ghostly grimace.

“Tunnels split, then rejoin, then change direction for no reason. There's a Banqueting Hall, and a River Styx, complete with fake stalactites, that you have to cross to enter a chamber called the Inner Temple. My personal favorite was a winding passage to nowhere stuffed with tacky mannequins of Dashwood and his cronies.”

“Why did Dashwood dig the caves?”

“Maybe he had more money than brains. The guy's mausoleum is there, too. Looks like the Coliseum.”

She drained her wine, swallowed quickly as another idea struck her.

“Or maybe Frank was an eighteenth-century Walt Disney. Planned to make millions opening the place as a tourist attraction.”

“Didn't they provide an explanation?”

“Yeah. Outside the cave there's a long brick corridor with wall hangings that give the history. I was taking pictures, so I didn't read them. Ted did.”

She rechecked her glass, found it still empty.

“Just down the road, there's an elaborate English manor called Medmenham Abbey. The place was built by twelfth-century Cistercian monks, but Dashwood bought and renovated it to use as a country getaway. Gothic walls, crumbling entrance with engraved motto arching above.”

She said this in a breathy voice, moving her hand in a semicircle above her head. Anne is a real estate agent and sometimes describes things in Realtorese.

“What did the motto say?”

“Damned if I know.”

Coffee arrived. We added cream, stirred.

“After our phone conversation the other day, I kept thinking about this guy Dashwood.”

“The name Dashwood is not uncommon.”

“How common is it?”

“I can't quote numbers.”

“Do you know anyone named Dashwood?”


“Uncommon enough.”

It was hard to maneuver around that.

“Francis Dashwood lived two hundred and fifty years ago.”

She was in midshrug when my cell phone rang. I clicked on quickly, apologizing with a grimace to the other patrons. While I find cell phones in restaurants the height of rudeness, I hadn't wanted to chance missing Lucy Crowe's call.

It was the sheriff. I talked as I hurried outside. She listened without interrupting.

“That's good enough for a warrant.”

“What if this asshole still won't issue?”

“I'm going to drop by Battle's house right now. If he stonewalls, I'll think of something.”

When I returned to the table, Anne had ordered another glass of Chardonnay and a stack of photos had appeared. I spent the next twenty minutes admiring shots of Westminster, Buckingham Palace, the Tower, the Bridge, and every museum in greater London.

It was almost eleven when I pulled in at Sharon Hall. As I swung around the Annex, the headlights picked up a large brown envelope on my front stoop. I parked in back, cut the engine, and cracked a window.

Only crickets and traffic noises on Queens Road.

I sprinted to the back door and slipped inside. Again, I listened, wishing Boyd were with me.

Nothing cut the silence but the whir of the refrigerator, the hammering of Gran's mantel clock.

I was about to call Birdie when he appeared in the doorway, stretching first one hind leg, then the other.

“Was someone here, Bird?”

He sat and gazed at me with round yellow eyes. Then he licked a forepaw, dragged it across his right ear, repeated the maneuver.

“Obviously you're not worried about intruders.”

I crossed to the living room, put my ear to the door, then stepped back and turned the knob. Birdie observed from the hall. No sign of any person. I took the package inside and locked the door behind me.

Birdie watched politely.

My name was written on the envelope in a swirly, feminine hand. There was no return address.

“It's for me, Bird.”

No reply.

“Did you see who left it?”

I shook the package.

“Probably not the way the bomb squad would do it.”

I tore a corner and peeked inside. A book.

Ripping open the envelope, I withdrew a large, leather-bound journal. A note was taped to the front cover, penned on delicate peach stationery by the same hand that had placed my name on the outer packaging.

My eyes raced to the signature.

Marion Louise Willoughby Veckhoff.


@by txiuqw4

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