Chapter X: Retribution
As Conners left the hospital, moving carefully so as to try and avoid hurting his back further, Lawrence walked alongside him. Regardless of his insistence that he didn't need a babysitter, she'd been at his elbow ever since they'd left Bill's office… or what remained of it anyway. His body had been taken by the police for an autopsy. Many cops had assured him that they would find out what had happened, but Conners still held onto his doubts.
Part of it was after a year of doing their jobs for them, Conners had little trust in the law's ability to help solve crimes. The other part of it was because they didn't know about the written note he'd found in Bill's shirt pocket. Conners had tried to convince himself that he'd taken it because there was no proof it meant anything. However, the truth was that he didn't want to have the cops find Bill's murderer. He wanted to find whoever it was himself. Conners didn't really know what it was he wanted from meeting the murderer. He didn't really want to kill them, and arresting them wouldn't be satisfying. He just wanted to see them, and understand the why of it.
So he kept the note. As they exited the hospital, Conners made to call for a cab, but Lawrence stopped him.
"Given your relationship to William," she said slowly.
"Bill," he corrected her.
"Bill. Given your relationship with him and your profession, we need to keep you under watch for twenty-four hours."
"Conners, you're extremely rash and you're used to looking into things yourself. We don't let cops handle cases that are too close to them, and this is much the same thing."
"Well that's very flattering, but you really don't have any legal right to keep me under watch."
"You have three choices. You were released into my custody because I assured my lieutenant that you would be easier to keep out of trouble with me than you would be in a holding cell. So you can either spend that time in a jail cell, under hospital watch, or with me."
Conners scowled. As tempting at it was to just accept the cell just to spite her, his rational brain won that argument. Try as he might, he also couldn't convince himself to accept the hospital watch. It had been too much a reminder of his old life and getting the examination was bad enough. Besides, this time if he fled hospital care, he did have a legal name and papers attached to him.
"Fine," he said, already considering when he would have a chance to slip away.
"Alright, then get in and I'll take you to my place."
"Wait, why your place? I do have an apartment."
"And I'm sure it's a perfectly lovely place, despite the disgusting state it's probably in. However, I don't really feel up to crashing on a couch and there's no way you would have a second bedroom."
Aside from her assumption on his place's cleanliness, she wasn't wrong. His apartment was barely big enough for him. He didn't even own an actual bed, preferring to use his couch to save some room.
"You do have a spare bedroom?" he asked, slightly surprised.
"My sister and her son like to visit from time-to-time. After the twenty-four hours is up we'll discuss if we need to make other arrangements or if you can go about your own way."
Conners nodded. Twenty-four hours was a long time, and even police detectives needed sleep. It would hardly be difficult. She would presumably sleep for six to eight hours. He might have the whole case wrapped up by then. Lawrence's place turned out to be a fairly nice apartment on the outskirts of the main city. She'd also clearly taken a large interest in personal decorating. He noted a decent number of photos adoring the walls.
He was a picture with Lawrence and a woman who looked almost exactly identical, (who Conners took to be the aforementioned sister,) both being hugged by an elderly woman that he figured was probably their mother. There was another photo that appeared to be from her graduation day at the police academy. There we no photos of either her father or anyone that might've been a significant other. She was unattached, dedicated to work, and a family-indicated person.
There was another photo by the bathroom that surprised him a little. It depicted Lawrence being pulled out of a river by a smiling older man with several people gathered around.
"What's this one?" he asked, pointing.
Lawrence looked up at the photo he indicated.
"A photo from my baptism. My mom took the picture and refused to let me take one of all of us because she couldn't help crying. Don't know what she intended to do if I ever got married."
Conners chuckled softly. He'd read about baptisms but didn't fully understand the concept. To him is seemed eerily similar to a drowning that went incomplete and everyone celebrated. Still, he'd from Bill not to question too much when it came to religious beliefs.
Instead he sat on the couch and Lawrence began doing something in the kitchen. He leaned back, and felt this head hit the wall as he stared dully at the ceiling fan. What would Bill say if he saw Conners now?
Come on kid. What are you waiting for? You have a clue to go on. Hoping that they'll get away with it if you sit on your hands long enough?
"I'm sorry," Conners whispered, not even sure what he meant by it.
He didn't know if he was sorry for letting Bill die, for not having caught his killer, for leaving him in the first place, or for being stupid enough to run into a burning inferno just to pull Bill's dead body out.
Nothing made sense right now, and it was driving him crazy. Lawrence re-appeared a few moments later, holding a steaming cup of green tea.
"Drink," she said. "It'll help. Spare bedroom's the first door on the right there. You need extra blankets or anything?"
"No," he said, accepting the cup from her. "Hey, I just wanted to say thanks… for helping me. You certainly don't owe me anything."
"It's good," she said, nodding kindly. "I'm gonna lock the door and turn in for the night. There's an alarm, just in case you had ideas."
Conners held up his free hand in mock-surrender.
"I get it," he said, trying to think of a way around this new snag.
"Goodnight," she said, closing her bedroom door behind her.
Conners waited until he heard her breathing deepen, and Lawrence passed into true sleep. Then, he got up and went into the kitchen. After rummaging around for a little while he went and found a pad of paper and a pencil. The fact was that Lawrence had been kind to him, and even if he was going to break her rules, he owed her an explanation… if she woke up before he got back, that is.
Hey sweetheart, (not actually here so that whole "breaking my face" thing doesn't have to happen, right?)
Got a lead on what happened to Bill. Would've told you, but you would've stopped me from going. Don't expect I'll be gone long and if it turns anything up, I'll loop you in.
It was short but that was probably for the best. After all, too long a note would only give her more information that he wasn't sure he wanted her to have yet.
Getting out of the house without detection was a hair harder than he'd expected. Turns out that Lawrence's alarm system not only covered the door, but also the windows in the main room and the spare bedroom. However, he got a lucky break in the bathroom. Admittedly, the window was very small and if he weren't so lean, he would've have attempted it. However, he also knew that people tended to forget about their bathroom windows beyond making sure no one could peep in through them.
So, after several long minutes of careful contortion and standing on a painfully thin edge, he managed to navigate his way outside of the window and dropped down into the grass eleven feet or so below him. Getting back up would be an issue, but not one that couldn't be tackled. Besides, all decent plans required a bit of improvisation.
He jogged to the main road and hailed a cab. Luckily, Chicago had such a busy nightlife that the driver merely looked happy to get a fare that wasn't form a drunk. Conners gave him the address and let his mind run through its process while the man drove. Unfortunately it was basically impossible to start putting any puzzle pieces together just because so much of Bill's life had been unknown to him. So, when they reached the building, Conners felt he was no better than when he started.
As it turned out, the address in Bill's pocket had led to a very tall building that Conners would've taken for an office building, save that there was no security or janitorial staff present. At first, he merely assumed the building was locked up and he'd have to come back another time. But he was surprised when the door opened easily and he was granted access.
The floor was large and open, causing his footsteps to reverberate. There were several murals and pieces of art carved into the wall that made Conners think of an abandoned art display. At the end of the floor was an elevator with a post-it note stuck to the front.
It simple read: Top Floor, Michael.
That sent a chill through him. Bill's killer knew him, which meant they knew what he did for the old man. This, in turn, meant they had likely waited until Conners was actually out of the building. That was at least a little calming because it meant they likely didn't want to kill him too. Still, Conners didn't know who would have that much personal interest in him… maybe someone from his old life, but then why not call him by his old name… unless they knew he wouldn't remember?
He shook himself. There was no point trying to theorize this early. He needed more information. He pressed the button for the elevator and a few seconds later it opened. Conners pressed the button for the top level–floor 33–and tried to ignore the music that filled the compartment as it moved upward quickly. It was not like most elevator music, designed to calm people down or entertain them. It was ominous and unsettling. Before long, the elevator stopped and the doors slid open.
Conners found he had stepped into something like a grand dinning hall. The majority of the room was taken up by a large black table, which could've seated over twelve people, very comfortably. The floors were polished to a shine and hanging from the twenty-foot high ceiling was an ornate chandelier, sparkling like diamonds.
"Michael Conners," said a woman's voice and Conners turn his attention to the speaker. "It is good to finally meet you properly, dear."
The speaker was a woman, who appeared to be in her late fifties, perhaps early sixties. She wore a black, silk pants suit with a pressed, white shirt and a thin tie. Her hair was jet black, and fell just past her shoulders. She sat at the head of the table, and had some type of meal before her on a cast-iron plate, next to a very full glass of wine.
"Please, sit," she said, taking a long sip of her wine.
Looking down, Conners saw a note in the same writing as the elevator note simply reading his name. Whoever this woman was she clearly had a control or power fetish. As Conners took his seat at the far end of the table, he glanced down and saw a covered tray with a cover that appeared to be true silver. As soon as he was properly seated, a man dressed in a fine suit came and removed the plate cover, to reveal a fine-quality steak and fresh green beans on a similar cast-iron plate. Then, the man poured wine into a glass, setting it just above his plate.
Conners growled, looking down at the food. It was clear this woman expected him to play along. However, it wasn't as if he'd been searched. What if he just drew his pistol and shot her dead, here and now? He might not be a crack-shot, but surely he could manage that much. She didn't seem to be wearing a vest. However, he couldn't deny the burning curiosity in him.
There was also the fact that she hadn't openly been hostile towards him. Of course, he didn't trust anything about this woman, but if she'd wanted to have him searched, or put under gunpoint, she certainly could've long before now. As he sat examining the food, she spoke out.
"It's not poisoned," she said, a soft laugh to her voice that did nothing to relax him. "And if you do decide that you're going to shoot me, you might as well abuse my hospitality before you do, no?"
Conners felt as if she'd slapped him. He was sure his face had remained impassive. He hadn't touched his gun and it had to be safely concealed behind his back. How did she know he even had the gun? The look in her eyes had suddenly turned ravenous, as if she were a lioness about to pounce on her prey.
"Surprised?" she asked sweetly, seeing his face. "You can't be around dear William for so many years without picking up a few things. He really did have a knack for it, didn't he boy?"
"W-who are you?"
She sighed, as if somewhat disappointed by his question.
"Really dear, I had hoped he'd finally found someone special… someone interesting. It took him so many years to finally find a protege. I had to admit, I was excited when you started examining me while moving forward. That wasn't half bad. But 'who are you?' Really? It's so drawl, dear. I am William's very dearest friend… or at least the closest thing to one he is capable of having."
Conners mentally shook himself, trying to clear his head of the fog that seemed to have come over it, as he began to pressure himself to think faster.
"It's Bill," he said, solidly, and that thought gave him strength. "His name was Bill, not William. You're the one… aren't you? His ex-wife. Kelsey."
She smiled softly.
"Now that's better. Kelsey Richards, the one woman would could ever tame the insufferable William Scott. I'm pleased you've heard of me."
Conners mentally processed her words and what little Bill had said about her.
Definite narcissistic personality traits, he thought to himself.
"Only as an idiot who didn't know how to make a relationship work."
Anger flashed across Richards' face, and for a split-second, she appeared positively murderous. The pupils of her eyes almost seemed to elongate and grow into slits. Then, with a blink of her dark green eyes, it was over and there sat the prim business woman.
"So I know why I brought you here, but why have you come, Conners dear?"
"I wanted to see the woman who killed Bill," he said simply. "I wanted to know the person I'm going to hunt down."
"Oh, so you do mean to kill me. That's good to know. Why not do it right now then? I doubt William would've let you go unarmed for so long."
"He didn't," said Conners, pulling out his pistol.
Up until that second, he hadn't really been sure exactly what he intended to do when he met Richards. He didn't know for sure if he wanted to kill her or run screaming. However, something solidified in him in that moment, and it was almost as if he could hear Bill's voice, whispering in his ears.
Do it right, kid.
"I'm going to arrest you," he said, clearly. "Not today, and likely not soon. However, there will come a time when you're sitting across from me in a courtroom and I will bring you down. You'll blow these words off, even as you'll remember that I said this. Then, a day will come and I will destroy everything you are. When that day comes, I want you to remember this: Bill was a good man, and better than you ever deserved; and even if it wasn't directly, it will be his teachings that bring you to justice."
"How scary," said Richards. "I can see where you got some of his smarmy behavior. Well boy, all I can say is that I hope you're as good as that fool thought you were. The way he went on and on about you was disgusting. So, go and do your worst. Just know that I've been playing this game for a very long time. There's a reason I haven't lost yet. Goodnight."
Without another word, Conners rose and head back to the elevator, feeling the woman's eyes drilling a hole in the back of his head.