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       Forgotten, p.26

           Catherine McKenzie
 
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  I walk to the door, flicking the privacy switch as I go. The clear glass reveals the curious stare of her assistant, who turns away quickly, busying herself with a stack of filing.

  I turn back. Sophie looks smaller somehow, like she’s been shrunk down to size. There are tears running down her cheeks. And now, for the first time, I feel something close to sorry for her. Or maybe it’s just empathy. No crying at the office. The professional woman’s code.

  “Get out,” she says again, angrily brushing her tears away.

  I nod and tuck my hand into my jacket pocket, placing my thumb over the warm, red recording light on the Dictaphone.

  Chapter 28: Nothing but Net

  I’m standing on the free-throw line of the basketball court at Karen and Peter’s community center, lining up a basket. The court is lit up by two square spotlights attached to the exterior of the building. The cold day has given way to a milder evening, making the snow that soft sugar snow of spring. The drip, drip of melting ice muffles the city sounds.

  I hold the basketball between my gloved hands. “What are we doing out here, again?”

  Karen adjusts her hat as she blocks my way toward the basket. “You wanted to talk.”

  “I was thinking we’d sit in the living room and have some tea.”

  She shrugs. “Too busy. The gala’s almost here. You get my exercise time.”

  I give the ball a few tentative bounces and lurch toward the basket. Karen blocks me and steals the ball. She pivots and launches it toward the net. It swooshes through easily.

  “Nice.”

  “Thanks. What’s on your mind?” She bounces the ball hard twice on the ground, then throws it to me. I catch it at the last moment, barely keeping it from barreling into my stomach.

  I guess Karen isn’t quite over her disappointment at me not taking the legal aid job.

  “I was wondering . . . if that job might still be available?”

  She wasn’t expecting me to say this. I take advantage of her momentary inattention to dribble around her and try an ill-conceived jump shot. The ball grazes the bottom of the net and falls to the ground with a sad thunk.

  Karen retrieves it. “I thought you were happy where you are?”

  “Yeah, well, it isn’t working out like I hoped.”

  “And we’re the sloppy seconds?”

  “No, of course not.”

  “Come on, Emma. I knew you were never going to take the job.”

  “How did you know that?”

  “Because all you talked about when we were building the schoolhouse were your cases, and the office, and Matt this, Matt that. It was quite annoying, really.”

  My face flushes. “I don’t remember talking about it so much.”

  “Relax, it wasn’t that bad.”

  “Thanks very much.” I grab the ball from her hands and bounce it on the cleared concrete. The hollow thawp echoes around us. “I’m curious, though. If you knew I wasn’t going to take the job, why did you ask me to take it?”

  “A girl can dream, can’t she?”

  I toss the ball at her as hard as I can. She catches it easily.

  “Why do you want the job now?”

  “I was working on this big case and I screwed up.” I explain it to her briefly. “So now, not only am I not going to make partner, but I might be out of a job.”

  “You really think Matt’s going to fire you?”

  “No, no, he won’t do anything that direct. He’ll just stop giving me cases, and I’ll have nothing to do and won’t make my hours.”

  “Death by a thousand cuts?”

  “Precisely.”

  She looks thoughtful. “But you solved the case, didn’t you?”

  “Yes, but the client doesn’t know that. Or the Management Committee.”

  “Then figure out a way to tell them.”

  “I have. I just haven’t decided if I want to go through with it.”

  “Seems like a no-brainer to me.” Karen passes me the ball. “Your shot.”

  I catch it distractedly, wondering if Karen is right. I bring the ball above my head with both hands and hurl it toward the basket. It drops through, nothing but net.

  I’m dragging my feet up my block after seeing Karen, dreading my empty apartment, wishing I’d made plans with Stephanie, Sunshine, anybody. The air feels wet, like it wants to rain. I see a shape huddled on my front step, and my spirits rise.

  “Steph!”

  Her head jerks up. A thick braid of red hair swings against her shoulder. I feel a moment of confusion before recognition clicks into place.

  “Emily. What are you doing here?”

  “I was waiting for Tara.” She stands and brushes the snow off the back of her simple black coat. Her china-blue eyes look tentative and reddened. The porch light emphasizes the porcelain perfection of her skin.

  “Did she stand you up?”

  “I don’t know. Maybe I got the day wrong.”

  She sounds lost, a feeling I’m all too familiar with.

  And maybe that’s why I say, “Why don’t you come in for a moment? You must be chilled to the bone.”

  She stays silent for long enough that I almost repeat the question, but just as I’m about to, she nods her head and mutters, “Thank you.”

  “Of course.”

  I unlock the door. Neither of us says anything as we remove our outerwear and I flick on the lights. A glance down the hall tells me Dominic’s door is thankfully still in the position I left it in—firmly shut against temptation.

  Emily follows me into the living room. Her eyes flit around the room, coming to rest on the boxes in the corner where Dominic’s handwriting announces their contents.

  “He’s not here,” I say. My voice sounds loud in the silence.

  “Yeah, I know.”

  Right. Of course.

  “So—” I start to say, meaning to offer her a hot drink, I think, though my thoughts aren’t fully formed.

  “Why isn’t he staying here anymore?” Emily asks.

  I falter, remembering Dominic’s admonishment not to tell her anything about us. I sit on the footstool, trying to buy time.

  “Why are you asking?”

  She shrugs and drops to the floor next to a box marked CAMERA EQUIPMENT. The tape seal is broken, and I know from looking in there myself the other day that it’s empty. Dominic made sure to remove what’s important to him. She reaches toward the flaps, pulling them apart.

  “What are you doing?”

  Her hands fall to her side, startled. “I don’t know.”

  “What’s going on, Emily?”

  She tucks her knees up under her chin, wrapping her hands around her shins. Her jeans are loose against her lean frame. “I think it’s really over.”

  My heart skips a beat. “You mean you and Dominic?”

  She nods.

  “Why do you think that?”

  “He made it pretty clear.” She winces, pulling her knees more tightly. “He told you about Chris, didn’t he?”

  I think briefly about lying, but what’s the point? “Yes.”

  “I don’t know why I did it.”

  “I can’t help you with that.”

  “No, I know. It’s funny, though. I feel like you’re affected by it too.”

  “Why?”

  “Because you’re with Dominic now.”

  “No, I’m not. I don’t even know where he is.”

  She releases her knees and flexes her feet against the floor. “He’ll be back.”

  “How do you know?”

  “I saw that picture he took at the exhibit—that was you, right? The woman opening the Christmas present?”

  “Yes.”

  “Dominic doesn’t usually take pictures of people—not like that, not of people he knows.” She looks down at her feet, and I can tell: Dominic never took any pictures like that of her.

  So why hasn’t he called me back?

  “We’ve had a bit of a falling-out since then,” I say.<
br />
  She folds the box back together. “You’ll work it out.”

  “Maybe.”

  “Do you want to?”

  I meet her gaze. Her face is so different from mine, but her expression seems familiar. Uncertainty, doubt, a life full of unanswered questions.

  “We probably shouldn’t be discussing this.”

  She nods and stands, moving toward the hallway. I rise to follow her. She plucks her coat from the hook, slipping into the sleeves. Watching her lace up her boots, I feel bewildered by our entire exchange.

  She straightens up. “If you want him back, you should tell him how you feel.”

  “Why are you telling me this?”

  “Because I want Dominic to be happy. I owe him that, at least.”

  She turns the lock and opens the door. The wet night waits for her.

  “Will you be all right?” I ask.

  “I’ll find my way.”

  Chapter 29: Lights, Camera, Action

  After Emily leaves, I sit in the living room for a long time, my phone in my hand, wondering if I should call Dominic again or whether his radio silence is all the answer I need. Maybe all he wanted to do was apologize and he never meant anything more by it. It occurs to me at some point how absurd it is that all I have to do is push a few buttons and I could be talking to him, or hearing his voice on his voice mail at the very least. After so many months without that option, how can I be so uncertain now?

  But I guess I was uncertain then too. Because after that day when I stood ready with my Schwinn but Karen wouldn’t go with me, the thing I haven’t told anyone—that only Karen and Peter know—is that I never made it back to the village-that-might-have-a-working-satellite-phone.

  At first it was because I didn’t want to get my hopes raised and dashed again; I’d been on enough ups and downs, and all I wanted was an even keel. And then, as I grew more skilled with the hammer, as I hoisted beams and laid in floorboards and took fewer and fewer walks away from the village, it all seemed to recede. To fall away. I may have spoken about home to Peter and Karen in the way you do when you’re working together on a project—exchanging funny stories, keeping it light—but it seemed, it was, half a world away, a world I couldn’t reach, a world I needed a break from.

  I didn’t think so at the time, but I can admit it now: I was being selfish. I was thinking of my own heart, my own head, and the break they needed from what I’d been through at home, the time they needed to heal. I knew that I could be doing more, that I could be trying harder to get in touch, that people must be worried. But Karen said to let it go, and I did. More completely than I thought possible. More completely than I should have.

  And then one day the real world came rushing back, and I thought I was ready to return to it. In many ways, I was eager to. But I was still really only thinking of myself. Thinking that now that my heart and head were okay, or close enough anyway, I could just waltz back in and do whatever I wanted to do. That it was my decision, alone, to make.

  These are not pretty thoughts, and they keep me frozen in place well into the night. And in the end I decide that there’s something I can do about it, at least one little thing, and so I put my phone away and leave Dominic to himself.

  A day later, I’m sitting in the In Progress audience watching as the touch-up girl applies loose powder to Detective Kendle’s face. Cathy Keeler is sitting next to her, flipping through her notes, muttering to herself. The room is hot and the air is filled with the sweaty smell of the audience’s excitement, thrilled to be this close to the queen bee of trashy journalism.

  The arc lights are turned on, and the supporting players flit away from the stage. I feel a nervous pricking in my thumbs, like something wicked is about to happen.

  Thankfully, Stephanie came along for the ride.

  “How did you persuade Cathy Keeler to swap you for Ms. Hatchet-Face?” she asks, tucking the loose ends of her hair behind her ears. She’s wearing tight jeans and a black sweater and has topped her outfit with a jaunty beret. Her artiste look, as she calls it.

  “Once I told Carrie that the detective who cracked the Bushnell case was available, she forgot all about boring little me.”

  Victor Bushnell—whose fingerprints were found on the lid to the hidden compartment and on the back of the painting, the part obscured by the frame—was arrested yesterday, and the news broke late last night. It’s all over the papers and the news channels today, but the public details are scanty. No surprise that Carrie had been all too happy to book Detective Kendle on the show, and even to keep my involvement from Cathy Keeler.

  Stephanie looks impressed. “Who knew you were so devious?”

  “I’m learning.”

  The assistant director puts up his hand, showing us three fingers. “Rolling in three . . . two . . . one.” The bombastic theme music blasts through the studio. Cathy Keeler’s face settles into its on-screen mix of deep intelligence and mild malevolence.

  “Good evening, I’m Cathy Keeler. Most of you will have heard by now about Victor Bushnell’s arrest for the theft of a valuable Monet painting. We’ll be exploring why he did this daring but misguided act . . .”

  “She sounds as if she admires him,” Stephanie mutters.

  “She probably does. He’s her people after all.”

  While Cathy fills the audience in, I watch Detective Kendle sitting uncomfortably in the wide leather chair, her mannish hands clasped tightly between the knees of her black slacks. She’s wearing a thick mask of makeup. Her pale hair shines under the bright lights.

  “We have a very special guest with us tonight, the detective who solved the case. But first, let’s learn a little more about Victor Bushnell.”

  The lights dim. The enormous flat screen behind Cathy Keeler is filled by Victor Bushnell’s face—a studio pose that projects confidence, trust, competence.

  “Victor Bushnell, president and CEO of Bushnell Enterprises, is a man of many talents. Inventive genius, maverick, daredevil, and patron of the arts, he first came to prominence in . . .”

  “Speaking of patron of the arts,” Stephanie says, “did you receive any more flowers from you know who?”

  “No.”

  “Have you spoken to him?”

  “No, but I did get a visit from his ex-girlfriend.”

  “What?”

  Several people turn in their seats. Cathy Keeler’s head snaps up, searching the crowd for the disturbance. I sink lower in my seat, willing the darkness to hide me.

  “Keep it down, will you?” I hiss.

  “When did this happen?”

  “A couple of nights ago.”

  “What did she want?”

  “She was looking for Tara, really, but she ended up telling me that she and Dominic were over, and that he’d be back.”

  She shoots me a look. “That’s kind of odd.”

  “I know. I don’t quite believe it myself.”

  “And he still hasn’t called you?”

  “No, but I think . . . I’m okay with that.”

  Stephanie gives me a look like she doesn’t believe me, but she keeps silent.

  The video ends and the lights come back up. Cathy Keeler stares into the camera. “With us tonight is Detective Kendle, the detective who broke this case wide open. How’d you do it?”

  Detective Kendle shifts uncomfortably in her seat. “The break in the case came from an outside source, actually.”

  “An accomplice who helped him steal the Monet?”

  “It was a Manet.”

  “Pardon?”

  “It was an Édouard Manet painting, not a Claude Monet.”

  Cathy Keeler laughs fakely. “Oh well, we don’t need to get caught up in minor details.”

  Detective Kendle gives her a contemptuous look. “There are no minor details in my profession, Ms. Keeler.”

  “Yes, of course not. You were saying something about an outside source?”

  “That’s right. We had covered the groundwork, but it was o
ne of the lawyers for Bushnell’s insurance company who cracked the case.”

  “Why did he do it?”

  “We believe it was because he had a loan he couldn’t repay that was guaranteed by the painting.”

  “Do you know why he stole it himself?”

  “I could only speculate.”

  Cathy Keeler leans forward eagerly. “Please do.”

  Detective Kendle lifts her nose in the air. “I deal in facts, Ms. Keeler. Not speculation.”

  A crease forms between Cathy Keeler’s eyebrows. Her dermatologist would be alarmed if he was watching.

  “This must be satisfying,” Stephanie says.

  “You have no idea.”

  “Will you tell us how Mr. Bushnell went about the theft, at least? How did he manage to evade the museum’s security?”

  “We haven’t worked out all the details yet.”

  Cathy Keeler gives her a treacly smile. “Yes, of course. Well, I’m sure you’ll be receiving a commendation for your great work.”

  “It’s Emma Tupper who deserves the credit, Ms. Keeler, not me.”

  “Emma Tupper? The lawyer who was missing in Africa?”

  “Yes. She’s the one who solved the case.”

  Cathy Keeler blinks rapidly a few times, putting the pieces together. “And, of course, she was a previous guest on our show. Perhaps you saw that episode?”

  “Yes,” Detective Kendle says huffily.

  “Yes. Quite. Ms. Tupper does seem to have a way of keeping her name in the media.”

  “That’s not what she’s like at all.”

  “No?”

  “No.”

  “Admire her, do you?”

  “I do, actually.”

  Stephanie slips her hand into mine. “You’ve got someone in your corner, at least.”

  Tears spring to my eyes. “More than one person, I hope.”

  The Management Committee wants to see you,” Jenny says to me nervously the next day.

  “Thank you, Jenny.”

  She twirls the end of her hair around her index finger. “You look nice.”

  I took extra care with my appearance this morning, putting on my most conservative suit and slicking my hair back into a sleek chignon.

 
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