tagRomanceFinding Elvis Ch. 13

Finding Elvis Ch. 13

byWine_Maker©

Chapter Thirteen: Reap the whirlwind

It seemed like I'd only just fallen asleep when the house exploded in light and noise. It was after I sat bolt upright in bed, I discovered that it was only my head that exploded. I winced in pain and covered my ears as some horrible cacophony, at what sounded like 150 decibels, blared from the portable CD player sitting on the dresser. Standing next to the open curtains and window was Gretchen, dressed in her ratty workout gear. She grinned evilly at me.

"I'm working out in here this morning," she shouted. "Hope that's okay."

I stumbled out of bed, and the waves of noise - was that country music? - washed over me, driving me back at the same time I was trying to move forward. Gretchen's grin didn't waver as I reached her, but she looked confused when instead of searching for the off switch, I picked it up by the handle and staggered back to the wide open window letting in about three million candles of early morning light. Without further ado, I tossed it out the window and there was a crash, followed by blessed silence. Then I closed the curtains, shutting out that damned star.

"Hey!" she objected, "I liked that CD!" Then she rushed to the window, leaning out to look down at the rear patio, the curtain swirling around her. "There are other people around here! You could have killed someone!"

"Better them than you," I growled. I sat on the edge of the bed and tried to hold my pounding head together with my hands and sheer willpower. "Tell me it was Lurch. Please. I need to start off today on a more positive note than I've had so far. And playing loud music when I feel like this - if you can call that music - is not being very considerate, given my head this morning."

Gretchen sat down beside me. "Well, you weren't very considerate last night, running out on me and getting drunk. Bad behavior shouldn't be rewarded and I won't enable you!"

I looked up at her astringent tone. Yeah, she was still pissed. Her smile looked too brittle to be real. This was still about last night. I sighed and covered my eyes. "Gee, Doctor Phil, do we really have to do this right now?" I muttered. "I feel like shit."

"Do you want fake sympathy or honesty?" she countered.

"Can't I have both?"

Gretchen took my hand into hers, turning my face to look at her. "Last night really upset me, Hawk."

"Me, too," I said, "but I know that's not what you mean."

"Dammit, we need to talk about this," Gretchen said quietly. "I don't like you shutting me out of your life when you're hurting. I don't like you drinking like a fish when life throws you a curve ball, either. Especially with you carrying our baby."

I took a deep breath and reigned in the initial urge to just lash out. "You're right. You don't deserve that. I could just clam up, but I won't. However, I don't feel like talking about it while my head's pounding. Your little demonstration of the pitfalls of getting sloppy drunk was effective, but it doesn't make me feel especially cooperative. So, you're just going to have to be satisfied with talking about this, and some of my concerns, when both of us are in the mood. Maybe tonight?"

She looked at me, her eyes opaque, telling me nothing, but then she nodded. "Tonight. Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. We each get to unload about what we need out of our relationship, and we get to ask questions with a reasonable expectation they'll get answered. Deal?"

I nodded and felt like my head was going to fall off. "Only if I can get rid of this hangover. I'm going to shower."

Gretchen bounced to her feet. "I'll go bring some food back to the room so we can eat in peace."

"I'm not hungry," I grumbled, rising slowly and heading for the bathroom. Stopping in the doorway, I turned to look at my wife. "I love you."

Her smile lit up her face as bright as the dawn outside the window. "I love you, too. Oh, and Ted told Lisa and me that he, um, got you settled in to sleep. Don't worry about it. I'm not upset, and neither is Lisa."

I searched my foggy memories and then it came rushing back to me. His hand between my legs, fingers inside me, and his mouth on mine as I writhed under his touch. I flushed and looked at my feet. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it, but I didn't ask for that."

Gretchen took me into her arms and kissed my cheek. "I know, Hawk. Everyone's okay with it. Besides, I think you needed that reassurance as much as he did." Wrinkling her nose, she pushed me into the bathroom. "Go shower. You smell awful. I'll have something out here to eat when you're done. Take your time."

"I'm not hungry," I repeated. "Just bring me some toast." Then I closed the door behind me and turned the dimmer switch for the lights to its lowest setting.

In the artificial twilight, I showered in the hottest water I could stand, for as long as I could take it, and then climbed out, dried off and sat on the can. The steam made my head feel better. A little.

The knock at the door jarred me awake. I'd apparently dozed while sitting on the toilet. Pulling off some paper, I cleaned myself. "I'll be right out. Hang on."

When I came back into the room, the drapes were only partly closed now and the lights almost dim enough for my eyes. A small table with two chairs had been brought in from somewhere, and there was coffee. I could smell it. The life-giving elixir of the gods. The steam rising from the cups beckoned me closer, like a siren luring sailors to their deaths. The hidden rocks that destroyed the sailors' ships were the various other foods, and they made my stomach do terrible things when I smelled them.

I snared my coffee and retreated from the table to sit on the bed. I gestured to the food. "That's making my stomach flip-flop. I just want toast."

"You need to eat something more substantial than toast, Hawk," Gretchen protested. "You've got to eat for two."

"When my stomach feels up to eating more, I'll eat more. Right now I want coffee, toast, aspirin and water." I sipped the coffee and let the taste and smell of it calm my roiling belly. "When are Ted and Lisa flying out? I'd really like to tell them goodbye and apologize for how I behaved last night."

"Don't I get an apology?" she asked with a harrumph, one hand firmly planted on her hip. "They have an early afternoon flight so I agreed to have you presentable by nine. That gives us about half an hour for me to eat and for you to absorb something." She took a small plate and put some toast on it, with grape jelly spread on it.

"What if I don't want anything on my toast?" I grouched. "Dry is good."

"Eat the toast, Baby. You'll need the energy before we're done today."

She was probably right.

Half an hour later, we came downstairs and walked into the Brown Room. Ted and Lisa were there and so was Hans. I hadn't seen him since just after the murder, and suddenly I felt guilty for it. I walked over to him and wrapped my arms around him. "I haven't come to see how you're doing. I'm sorry."

Hans gave me a smile that had no life to it, but hugged me fiercely. "I've been working, so I've been avoiding everyone. I'll just stagger along until I get my feet back under me." He let me go and gestured for everyone to sit down.

I smiled at Ted and Lisa before pulling a chair next to Gretchen and sitting down gingerly. The aspirin was working, at least to the point that I didn't feel like someone should be chasing me with crosses and trying to drive a stake through my heart - with me more than willing to cooperate. Gretchen crossed her legs and took my hand in hers, paying attention to her father.

"I spoke with Gretchen's attorney this morning, and the news is mixed," Hans said. "The move to overturn bail was denied, obviously. However, he is still unable to shake any information loose from the police. Oh, and that police officer was by early this morning, and I sent him away rather than let him disturb you both."

"What more could he want?" Gretchen asked, exasperated. "Really now, what part of talk to my lawyer did he fail to understand?"

"He just wants to irritate you and piss me off," I assured her. "Standard procedure's to keep a suspect off guard. What I really need, Hans, is to get a look at the crime scene reports from the CSIs. Gretchen has one feeler out, but I don't consider it very likely to pan out. Is there any chance you might be able to get a copy?"

Hans shrugged. "Perhaps. I'll make some phone calls and see if someone might be able to help, but I'm not overly hopeful. If you can't get those reports, what's your plan?"

"The same as every day, Pinky," I said. "We try to take over the world."

Hans blinked at me and Lisa giggled. "Can we have a puppy, Brain?" she quipped.

I shook my head and promptly regretted it. "Just kidding. The plan is to dig deep into who might have wanted to kill either Kat or Cartwright, starting with a more in-depth look at Kat's office and its contents. Did she have a safe or safe deposit box?"

Hans nodded. "She had a wall safe installed and hidden behind one of the paintings. It seemed a bit melodramatic to me, but she wanted it. I have the combination in my office. Let me go get it while you say your good-byes in private." He walked over and shook Ted's hand and received a hug from Lisa before leaving us alone.

A moment of awkward silence filled the room as I wondered what to say to make it right, to take us back to where we all should be. Lisa, in her usual straightforward manner, just walked over and gave me a hug.

"Don't obsess, Hawk," she said with a smile. "We talked last night and it's all okay. Just give us, and yourselves, some time and space. Get to know Gretchen and get her out of trouble. Then we can all take a cruise together and see what happens, okay?"

I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her cheek. "I don't deserve such good friends. I really do love you both."

Ted pulled Gretchen to us and we had, of all things, a group hug. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever envision myself in a freaking group hug. There was just something wrong about the whole concept. What was even worse was how much better it made me feel.

Finally, I pulled back and wiped my face. "I'll miss you both. Call me when you get home, and then every night, so I can give you the scoop on what's happening here."

Ted grinned "Count on it." Then he furtively looked at his watch. "Lisa, we need to get moving if we're going to get to the airport on time."

They both kissed me deeply and left me breathless. Then they repeated the process and kissed the shit out of Gretchen.

Gretchen was still flushed when we saw them out to the car where Lurch first held the door and then got behind the wheel to drive them to the airport. We stood there and watched them until they were out of sight. My wife kept her arm around my waist and hugged me tightly when they were gone.

"I already miss them," I complained.

"Stop whining," she said with a kiss. "You still have me. Come on, let's go see what that safe has in it."

Gretchen led us to her father's office, and we picked up the combination. The only problem was that when we tried it upstairs, it didn't work. Both of us tried it several times with the same results.

"Are we screwing this up, or is it just not working?" Gretchen asked.

I put my hands on my hips and stared at the recalcitrant door. "It's not working. I think it's different than the one she gave Hans. That makes the contents even more intriguing to me. We either have to guess the numbers or call a locksmith."

"Or see if it's hidden in here," Gretchen suggested, surveying the still rumpled office. "I can't see her memorizing squat. I really have to wonder what can be so important that it needs a safe with a secret combination. It's obviously more explosive than the blackmail materials she kept locked in her desk, but what could beat that?"

"Good question," I admitted. "Let's see if we can find a number written down or taped up somewhere. It's probably out of sight but not too far from where she sat."

It took almost an hour, but our perseverance paid off. Gretchen found the combination written on the back of a business card for the safe company in Kat's Rolodex.

When Gretchen opened the safe, we saw that it had some boxes of jewelry, some cash and a large manila envelope. I took the envelope and opened it, pulling out a sheaf of papers. They were notes handwritten on very nice cream colored paper.

The contents, however, were far from pretty. Written on the expensive bond paper were detailed notes on how to commit murder, followed by an after action report on how the plan had worked out. Gretchen was looking at the jewelry, bitching that it was probably her mother's. I was grateful for having a few minutes to get my mind around what I was reading. Kat had written down her plan: to kill Gretchen's mother and slide into Han's life. She had used access to the house through someone in the maid service to poison her and make it look like a suicide. Bribed a maid for access. I hoped Hans was using a different maid service now, but I made a mental note to check. The after action report was written like a diary entry, with her gloating over her success. I couldn't imagine why she would have kept these, and I wished to hell that she hadn't.

Part of me wanted to hide this from Gretchen, to shield her from the pain this was going to cause, but she deserved to know the truth. It turned out that Uncle David was right all along. That moved him back up in my sights as a prime suspect.

"Baby," I said, "sit down. I have some bad news"

Gretchen frowned at me and sat. "It can't be too bad. Hagatha is dead."

I handed Gretchen the papers, stood behind her, and put my arms around her as she read. She became more and more distraught as she read. I held her through that long, painful ride even as my head threatened to explode. When she reached the end, Gretchen turned in my arms, burying herself in my embrace. She railed against Kat, and then she cried like the little girl that had just lost her mother to a soulless beast. When her initial emotions were spent, I just held her.

"This hurts," Gretchen said, "but it doesn't really change anything. I already hated her, and she's still dead." Gretchen's voice was flat, emotionless now that she had cried herself out. I could feel her defenses going up to keep the world at bay. I guess we each had our own way of dealing with pain. Tonight, we'd talk about this, too.

"It changes one thing, Baby," I said quietly. "Your mother didn't leave you by choice. She was taken from you. She didn't just abandon you to take her own life. Keep that with you, please."

"And it means we have to take a closer look at David. He was sure she did this. What if he knew for certain? Giving the wrong details in a confession to a DA that wants to believe you're innocent goes a long way to providing cover. We'll have to talk to him again."

Gretchen stood up and hugged me. "I don't believe he did this, but if he did, I don't care. She deserved to die."

I couldn't argue with her about that. If anyone deserved a knife in the heart, Kat certainly did. "Let's call Devon and make another house call on Uncle David."

----

We went back by David's, but he was out. A call to his cell netted only his voicemail, so I left a message. Gretchen was abnormally quiet, sitting in her seat, brooding.

I put my hand on her knee and squeezed. Leaning over, I spoke softly enough so that Devon couldn't hear us. "I'm sorry, Baby. I wish I hadn't showed you that. Giving it to you didn't do anyone any good."

Gretchen swallowed, but shook her head. "No, I needed to know. It hurts now, but I'll be better for it later. The person we don't need to tell is my father. This would destroy him."

I sighed and shook my head. "I'm not going to fight you on this, but he deserves to know what happened. I won't tell him. Whatever you decide to do is how we'll play it."

She smiled at me through her fresh tears. "Thank you."

Tapping Devon on the shoulder, I pointed forward. "We might as well head home, Devon. This looks like a dead end."

"How is de search goin'?" Devon asked as he pulled back into the street. "De papers are still harpin' on Miz Gretchen and printing all kinds of garbage."

"It feels like we're close," I said, "but there's still some information missing. When I see it, I'll be able to point at the real killer. Until then, I can only stumble around a little. Find a paper stand, would you? I want to see what the news hounds have dug up. Every once in a while they have something useful."

Devon popped out of the Hummer, picked up a few papers and brought them back for us. Gretchen and I started scanning them, looking for information.

I had just finished the local paper when Gretchen started laughing. I looked over at her, surprised. I didn't think she'd be laughing for a while. "You got something?"

Her eyes twinkled at me as she handed a paper over. "Sort of."

It was the interior of one of the tabloid rags. A two-page, full color spread had almost nothing but pictures. Pictures of Gretchen and me, both together and alone. From all over Boston and the mansion. From my dress I could tell that some were from the night our nuptials had been announced. Someone had gotten inside the house.

The text of the article was suitably inflammatory and sensationalist. It said that she and... I clenched my fists. "I. Am. Not. Shauna. Werner. I'm going to kill Lurch, that skinny old bastard, as soon as I see him."

Gretchen pulled me to her and caressed my hair. "Now Hawk, let's not get too carried away."

As she held me, I kept reading about all the chaos of the double murder and all the slanderous innuendo about Gretchen. Then, with a growl, I went back to looking at the pictures more closely. One at the bottom of the second page made me curse.

"What?" Gretchen asked, looking at the picture.

It was of the stairs and showed me charging up. It had to have been when Gretchen screamed. I pointed to the lower left corner of the picture. Clearly visible, facing the camera, were Uncle David and our charming senatorial candidate Kirk. They were sipping champagne and just starting to turn toward the trouble. Their shirts and hands were plainly visible and blood free.

"That screws up my entire set of theories," I said. "These two were my strongest suspects, and now there's proof, in blazing color, that they didn't have blood splatter just after the murders. So, the CSI evidence excludes you, though we haven't seen it yet, and this excludes Uncle David and Kirk. Your father was with a crowd at the time. So that drops us back to Lurch and Vanessa, and I really don't think either of them did it. That leaves us with only the people who were being blackmailed. Shit! Shit! Shit! I hate having to start over."

"We'll figure this out," Gretchen assured me. "There has to be evidence that'll point us in the right direction. We just have to find it."

On the drive back to the mansion, we scrutinized every photo in the paper. It took me a minute, but I finally noticed that the reporter was the jerk who had been stalking us. I really wasn't sure if I was pissed about him getting in or pleased that he had given us evidence I'm sure he would rather not have let slip.

As we turned into the drive, I saw that Elvis was back. Man, that guy sure didn't learn quickly. "Let me break him this time," I snarled at Gretchen. "I really need to hurt someone and he's looking real good."

"Let's see what he's here for first," Gretchen said, opening her door. "He might actually be here with something useful and not excuses."

Leo held up his hand, trying to ward me off when I climbed out. "Keep her back!"

Gretchen struck a pose that was both superior and arrogant, looking down her nose at him. "Give me a reason, Leo. She really wants to kick your ass, and I need something good to keep her on a short leash."

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