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17

AS BEST ANYONE could reconstruct events at this time, Benton had been lured to his dreadful death. We had no Clue as to what had drawn him to the small grocery store on Walnut Street, or if, perhaps, he simply had been abducted somewhere else and then forced up a ladder into the plenum of that small building in its bad part of town. We believed he had been handcuffed at some point, and the continuing search had also turned up wire twisted into a figure eight that most likely had restrained the ankles that had burned away.

His car keys and wallet were recovered, but not his Sig Sauer nine-millimeter pistol or gold signet ring. He had left several changes of clothing in his hotel room, and his briefcase, which had been searched and turned over to me. I stayed the night in Teun McGovern's house. She had posted agents on the property, because Carrie was still out there somewhere, and it was only a matter of time.

She would finish what she had started, and the important question, really, was who would be next and if she would succeed. Marino had moved into Lucy's tiny apartment and was keeping watch from her couch. The three of us had nothing to say to each other because there was nothing to say, really. What was done was done.

McGovern had tried to get through to me. Several times the previous night she had brought tea or food into my room with its blue-curtained window overlooking the old brick and brass lanterns of the row houses in Society Hill. She was wise enough not to force anything, and I was too ruined to do anything but sleep. I continued to wake up feeling sick and then remember why.

I did not remember my dreams. I wept until my eyes were almost swollen shut. Late Thursday morning, I took a long shower and walked into McGovern's kitchen. She was wearing a Prussian blue suit, drinking coffee and reading the paper.

'Good morning,' she said, surprised and pleased that I had ventured out from behind my closed door. 'How are you doing?'

'Tell me what's happening,' I said.

I sat across from her. She set her coffee cup on the table and pushed back her chair.

'Let me get you coffee,' she said.

'Tell me what is going on,' I repeated. 'I want to know, Teun. Have they found out anything yet? At the morgue, I mean?'

She was at a loss for a moment, staring out the window at an old magnolia tree heavy with blossoms that were limp and brown.

'They're still working on him,' she finally spoke. 'But based on indications so far, it appears his throat may have been cut. There were cuts to the bones of his face. Here and here.'

She pointed to her left jaw and space between his eyes.

'There was no soot or burns in his trachea, and no CO. So he was already dead when the fire was set,' she said to me. 'I'm sorry, Kay. I… Well, I don't know what to say.'

'How can it be that no one saw him enter the building?' I asked as if I had not comprehended the horror of what she had just said. 'Someone forces him inside at gunpoint, maybe, and no one saw a thing?'

'The store closed at five P.M.,' she answered. 'There's no sign of forcible entry and for some reason the burglar alarm hadn't been set, so it didn't go off. We've had trouble with these places being torched for insurance money. Same Pakistani family always involved one way or another.'

She sipped her coffee.

'Same MO,' she went on. 'Small inventory, the fire starts shortly after business hours, and no one in the neighborhood saw a thing.'

'This has nothing to do with insurance money!' I said with sudden rage.

'Of course, it doesn't,' she answered quietly. 'Or at least not directly. But if you want to hear my theory, I'll tell you.'

'Tell me.'

'Maybe Carrie was the torch…'

'Of course!'

'I'm saying she might have conspired with the owner to torch the place for him. He may have even paid her to do it, not having any idea what her real agenda was. Granted, this would have taken some planning.'

'She's had nothing to do for years but plan.'

My chest tightened again and tears formed a lump in my throat and filled my eyes.

'I'm going home,' I told her. 'I've got to do something. I can't stay here.'

'I think you are better off…' she started to protest.

'I've got to figure out what she will do next,' I said, as if this were possible. 'I've got to figure out how she's doing what she's doing. There's some master plan, some routine, something more to all this. Did they find any metal shavings?'

'There wasn't much left. He was in the plenum, the point of origin. There was some kind of big fuel load up there, but we don't know what, except there were a lot of Styrofoam peanuts floating around. And those things will really burn. No accelerants detected, so far.'

'Teun, the metal shavings from the Shephard case. Let us take them to Richmond so we can compare them with what we've got. Your investigators can receipt them to Marino.'

She looked at me with eyes that were skeptical, tired, and sad.

'You need to deal with this, Kay,' she said. 'Let us do the rest of it.'

'I am dealing with it, Teun.'

I got up from my chair and looked down at her.

'The only way I can,' I said. 'Please.'

'You really should not be on this case anymore. And I'm placing Lucy on administrative leave for at least a week.'

'You won't pull me off this case,' I told her. 'Not in this life.'

'You're not in a position to be objective.'

'And what would you do if you were me?' I demanded. 'Would you go home and do nothing?'

'But I'm not you.'

'Answer me,' I said.

'No one could stop me from working the case. I would be obsessed. I would do just what you're doing,' she said, getting up, too. 'I'll do what I can to help.'

'Thank you,' I said. 'Thank God for you, Teun.'

She studied me for a while, leaning against the counter, her hands in the pockets of her slacks.

'Kay, don't blame yourself for this,' she said.

'I blame Carrie,' I replied with a sudden flow of bitter tears. 'That's exactly who I blame.'


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