Fifty-three

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking.  The National Weather Service tells us there’s quite a serious winter storm blowing down from Canada, so we’re going to take a bit of a detour to the south to avoid it.  There’s a lot of rerouted traffic flying into Boston as well, so we’ll be getting to the gate about forty minutes later than planned.  Delta apologizes for the inconvenience, and we’ll have revised connection information as we get closer to landing time.”

Molly bounced her head on the headrest in irritation.  She wasn’t in the mood to be stuck on an airplane.  The flight had been almost two hours late leaving Metro, and now the canned air was turning her sinuses to liquid, and she’d gone through most of her Kleenex already.  Not to mention whatever Lexi was up to on the ground.  She gritted her teeth, blew her nose, and picked up the airphone again.

At least the seat next to her was empty.  Thank God for small favors.  She called her office.  “Hey, Shannon,” she said when the receptionist answered.  “It’s Molly,” she added needlessly.  “I’m on my way back into town, but my flight’s going to be late.  Did you get the message I left this morning, about the name David R. Frederick?”

“Sure did,” Shannon responded, her voice as bubbly as her attitude.  Not for nothing was Shannon a career receptionist.  “I looked it up for you.  He’s a junior partner at a local law firm–Muhlberg, Rhoades & Rhoades?  Ring a bell?”

It sure did–MR&R was the Packard family’s pet law firm.  They shouldn’t have been anywhere near Lexi, so why was the name of one of their lawyers in her auction guidebook?  “Why was he in the paper?” Molly asked, biting her lip and staring at her knees.

“Nothin’ special.  He was just a part of some larger case.  It was only a passing reference.  You’re lucky I found anything at all.”

“Thanks a bundle, Shannon.”

“Just mention me when you get your Pulitzer,” Shannon replied cheerfully.  “Do you want your ghost messages?  There are four.”

“I’ll get them when I come in,” Molly said.  Her mind was about as far from her ghost column as it could be.  When she got off the phone with Shannon, she called Ian.  Making these expensive-ass airphone calls got easier with every swipe of the credit card.

Ian’s secretary put her through right away.  “Hello, Molly,” he said.  His voice was guarded, which was no surprise considering the way she’d told him off at Lexi’s house a couple of days ago. 

“I have a name for you.  David R. Frederick.”

“What about him?”

“What was he doing within ten miles of Lexi’s auction?  Oh, pardon me, I meant, within ten miles of your auction of a whole bunch of things that didn’t belong to you?”

“I’m not talking to you,” Ian said, mustering as much backbone as he could, which wasn’t much.  Molly had met fast-food clerks with stronger wills.

“Oh, you’re not?  Don’t make me drag this mess into court, Ian, because I will.  Something’s going on.  What the hell have you been up to?”

Ian hung up on her.

Molly looked at the phone for several seconds, surprised, and then called him right back.  This time, he answered the phone himself.  “You little shit,” she said.  “I’ll turn around and fly right back out there if you don’t answer my question.  You can’t hide from this!  What did you do?”

He hung up again.

“Son of a BITCH!” she yelled.  The elderly couple across the aisle was looking at her.  “Sorry,” she told them reflexively.  “Family emergency.”  Swiping her credit card yet again, she dialed Lexi’s house and waited for Eddie to answer.  “Something’s going on,” she said without letting him get a word in.  “You need to tell me what Ian’s up to.  As near as I can tell, he’s got one of the Packard family’s lawyers helping him out, and that is most assuredly not in Lexi’s best interest.  What’s going on?”

Eddie heaved a casual, patient sigh that made her want to reach through the phone and choke the life out of him.  “I have no idea,” he said.  “Did you ask Ian?”

“Of course I did.  The son of a bitch hung up on me.  Twice.  I’d call back again, but I’m not going to be able to talk to him coherently right now.  The last man who hung up on me, I divorced.”

“Why am I not surprised?”

“Do not fuck with me right now, Edward Sharp.”  Her voice was brittle.  “What’s happening?”

“Honestly, I have no idea.  But I’ll call Ian and talk to him.  Will that help?”

Molly closed her eyes and counted to five.  “Yes.  That would be great.  I just need to know what’s going on.  I’d love to send the little shit to jail, but for now I just want to know what’s happening, okay?”

“I’ll find out for you,” Eddie said.

Molly looked around; her fellow flyers had lost interest in her raised voice.  It was almost noon.  Glen would probably be working on his interview with Lexi again–he’d said that was what he was going to do.  Part of her didn’t want to call him, but she needed to know what Lexi was doing, especially after the strange crossword message.  Part of her was far too eager to call him, and even though she wasn’t indulging it, she didn’t want to even encourage it.

But there was no other way.  Seriously, there wasn’t.  Molly dialed Glen’s cellphone.  The airphone was warm on her ear now.

She could hear an engine rumbling in the background when he answered; he was in a car.  “Hi, Glen,” she said.

He sounded surprised to hear from her, but she couldn’t tell if it was a pleasant surprise or an unpleasant one.  “Hi, there,” he replied.

“Where are you?”

“Riding with Lexi.  She won’t tell me where we’re going, but we’re headed east on the Ohio Turnpike.”

“God,” Molly said.  It just got better and better.  “I think you’re going to New York,” she said.

“Excuse me?  How do you know?”

“It’s not that great a leap.  Ren is buried in New York, at his family’s estate.  Lexi keeps saying the car is for him.  I’ll bet she’s taking it to him.”

“At the rate we’re going, we’ll be there before you are.”

Molly had made the trip from Michigan to New York with Lexi before, and had an idea of what Glen was talking about.  In the background, she heard Lexi ask Glen who was on the phone.  “Let me talk to her,” she said.

There was a murmured conversation.  “She says she shouldn’t talk on the phone and drive,” Glen said.  “Actually, just right now, I second that.  We’re going way too fast.”

“Fine,” Molly said.  “There’s something else going on in her head, though.”

“What do you mean?”

“I can’t explain right now.  Just please, try to keep her out of trouble.”

“I…ah…okay.”  Glen was hesitant, probably confused.

“I’m sorry to dump this in your lap, Glen, but it might be a really interesting day for you.  I think you may end up wishing you didn’t get in that car,” she added, thinking of what Cygnet had said the song Lexi had quoted was about.  A drugged-out celebrity being chased by cops, indeed.  Sometimes Lexi was too transparent.  She had joked in the past about leaving instructions for her funeral procession to be a race, and no doubt figured that Ren would have wanted it the same way.  If she had been lucid at the time of the interment, she might’ve even tried to arrange it.  “I’ll call you back later.  I’m on a plane right now.  I’ll call you when I know more.”

“Okay,” Glen said again.  God it was nice to be talking to a man who didn’t try to take control when he didn’t know what was going on.  She was going to have a hard time staying angry at him. 

Molly called Cygnet’s house next, and got the answering machine.  Undaunted and more than a bit agitated, she called Margaret’s on the hope that maybe she was still there.

Luck was with her.  “She’s right here.  Said she was waiting for you, actually,” Margaret said and put Cygnet on the phone.”

“So, you’re back,” Cygnet said imperiously.

“You need to get a cellphone.”

“I need to get a better job first.  But shut up, listen to me, this is important.  Went in the garage, found the usual working-on-a-car crap, but I also found a dog-eared copy of the Anarchist’s Cookbook.  I take it you know what that is?”

Molly closed her eyes.  “Yes.”

“Well, I didn’t until a few minutes ago, and I wish someone had given me one for Christmas.  This book tells you all about how to make bombs out of ordinary household items, and it looks like Lexi used it recently.”

“Why do you think that?”

“It was open on the table.”  Cygnet’s light tone masked deep worry.  “And there were bits of wire and…I don’t know, detritus, all around.”

“Jesus,” Molly said softly.

“Well, he’s dead, how else was she supposed to give it to him?”

“Oh, shut up,” Molly said lightly.  Both of them were asking themselves the same question:  was Lexi going to kill herself?  Neither of them voiced the thought.  “Thanks, Cygnet.  I need to call Glen again.”

“Who’s Glen?”

Who indeed? asked a voice in the back of Molly’s head.  She squashed the thought.  She didn’t need to be thinking romantic thoughts right now.  “The guy who’s with her right now.”  There was a headache starting on one side of Molly’s head.  No, wait, it had been there for a while.  “He’s a reporter, a car writer.”

“I’ll bet she took him with instead of you ‘cuz she knew you’d figure out what she was up to.”

“Cygnet, you have a knack for pointing out the truth in just such a way to annoy me.”

“It’s my mutant power.  Make your phone calls.  I’ll be at home.  Keep me posted.”

“I will.  And I’ll make fun of you for using a six-dollar word like ‘detritus’ later, too.”      Instead of calling Glen, Molly called Lexi’s house again.  When Eddie answered, she was on him before he had a chance to even start.  “Did you talk to Ian?  What’s going on?”

“Good morning to you, too.”

“It has not been a good morning, Eddie.  Talk to me.  I’m stuck on an airplane while my best friend is doing something crazy and potentially self-destructive, and I’m getting really pissed off.”

“Okay, here’s the story.”  Eddie sighed, as if he were settling back in a chair and putting on a pair of reading glasses.  “When Warren died, the Packards wanted to seize everything he and Lexi had, as you know.  From the look of it, they knew there was no way they’d ever be able to do that legally, thanks to the living will he wrote that locked them out.  And Ian paid off the car company’s shareholders in time to avoid taking a bath in the market, and also in time to prevent the Packards from buying up all the stock and doing whatever they wanted with it.  It was pretty brilliant, actually; he shut the place down less than an hour before the Packards moved to buy it out, from what I hear.”

“So they took Lexi to court just to be assholes about it.”

“Pretty much.  Do not underestimate how much they hate her.”

Molly shook her head, rubbing her temple with two fingers.  “I don’t.  Believe me, I don’t.”  She heard the pilot announcing that they were beginning their descent, and that all electronic devices should be turned off.  Shit.

“So, while their lawyers were hassling Lexi–pro bono, incidentally.  The folks on the Packards’ side worked in their own time so that the firm wouldn’t be playing both sides of the case–they had another guy, a junior partner in the firm, someone no one had heard of, slip over to Ian and give him some advice, if you will.  Ian didn’t know who the guy was, or who he worked for.”

“David R. Frederick.”

“Yes.  Frederick was Ian’s legal counsel the whole time.  He was feeding Ian suggestions on how to reinvest Lexi’s money, and what to do with it.  Most of it quasi-legal.  By the time Ian found out, he’d laid out enough rope to tie his own noose.  That’s when he called me.”

“Excuse me,” the flight attendant said, tapping Molly’s shoulder.  “You’ll have to get off the phone now.”  Molly waved her away in agitation.

“All he needed me to do was keep a lid on Lexi until he figured out what to do.  He’s been trying to find a way to get himself out of this mess without going to jail.”

“I don’t see that happening.”

“Ma’am?”

“Could you possibly be less convenient?” Molly asked her.  “This is important.”  She went back to the phone.  “So basically the son of a bitch has been in bed with Lexi’s worst enemy all year, and now he’s trying to pretend it was an accident?”

“That’s one way to look at it,” Eddie said.

“Jesus, why wasn’t I THERE?” she snapped.  “You assholes have fucked with the wrong woman, that’s for sure.”

“Hey, I only just got here.”

“Ma’am, you need to get off the phone.”  The flight attendant’s voice was louder, more imperative.

“Shut up!” Molly snapped, aware that the woman didn’t deserve the abuse but not able to restrain herself.  To Eddie, she said, “Look, right now she’s on her way to New York in that car she built for Ren, and I think she just might have put a frickin’ bomb in it, okay?  Do you see what you assholes have driven her to?  Do you?”

At some point during this diatribe, the airphone was shut off.  Molly was ranting at dead air.  The plane angled smoothly into its landing pattern, and the stewardess was gone but no doubt vindicated.  “Son of a BITCH!” Molly screamed, causing several of her fellow travelers to recoil in shock.