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Chapter Forty-two: Legend (OTHER)

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He went free before Nick Stokes. All of his frantic dealings and legal training had paid off at the last moment, and Abraham Claberson walked out of the police station without a scratch on him, no matter what Gil Grissom had wanted to do to him. Standing in a crowded room and listening to the conversations around him inevitably turn to Grissom and Flowers, Abraham couldn't help the feeling that he had been forgotten in the rush, somehow overlooked because he had been, after all, only the lawyer. He had not been the one to kill anyone, and he had not been the one to save anyone, and so he was safe to be turned out on the streets, left alone, and already fading from memory.

He went back to his hotel room, cut through the crime scene tape that didn't deserve to be there anyway, laid down on his bed, and slept undisturbed for almost fourteen hours.

When he awoke with a cramp in his neck and stiff, aching legs, he did what he had done every morning since law school - - he got up, showered, and drank some coffee. The steps for waking up and sobering up had always been the same. Then he went down to the continental breakfast, liberated a crueler from a glass plate, drank more coffee, and watched the aftermath on the news.

He connected Nick Stokes to the man he had seen in the interrogation room to the man he had met on the plane, and was a little surprised - - in a very distant way - - when he realized that it had been Stokes who had killed Flowers. Abraham had always thought that the person who would kill Flowers would be someone on a vendetta, someone determined, and certainly someone with more guts than Stokes had seemed to possess on the plane - - not a random, unaffected bystander who just happened to own a gun.

He would have put his money on Grissom killing Flowers. So much for all his psychology. How could he have seen love in Grissom's eyes back in Harvard (and taunted him with it, yes), but missed murder in Stokes's eyes in their every encounter?

When he checked out of the hotel, he bought a black-and-white tabloid that was theorizing that Flowers was still alive (possibly in Brazil) and that the man shot by Nick Stokes had been some kind of decoy or fraud, or, worse and more sensational, an innocent. Abraham read the article three times and decided he kept missing the writer's explanation of what, exactly, an innocent man was doing raping an innocent woman in an apartment full of expensive stolen property.

He sat in his car for a very long time, thinking.

He had gotten out of the whole mess smelling like - - and Flowers could just excuse this pun from his grave - - roses. In the end, it hadn't been the mastermind, the seemingly immortal killer, the decoy, or even the semi-innocent David Hodges that had made it out alive, well, and possibly without even a scratch on his record, depending on whether or not the officer who had threatened to file paperwork had actually done so. Abraham didn't think he would. He had looked like a man with plenty of other concerns, and the threat had had the flat, uninterested tone of a bluff.

He had told Grissom once that he liked to be in control. It felt like he had managed to keep his control of this situation. He had lost things a little in the middle through panic and a lingering bit of love, but he had made the right moves when it had counted. He had been terrified of Flowers, but going to the police had been the right thing to do, because it made him, however late in the game, one of the good guys. He had sold out Sara Sidle, and then sold out Flowers and whoever Flowers was working with - - the news networks had blared a name and photo at him, but Abraham hadn't recognized it - - and it had all been quite profitable, in retrospect.

"Things worked out well enough," he said. "I could get used to it."

He'd been getting tired of the law, anyway. There wasn't enough excitement in playing both sides - - in manipulation - - in selling out - - not when everyone else was doing it anyway. Law was getting a bad reputation, and the worst part about the bad reputation was that it wasn't even being caused by him. The field was too large and murky with growing disinterest.

Murder had memory. People were going to remember the White Rose killings long after they had forgotten any of the lawyers at Nick Stokes's trial. It was the crime that made the headlines. The various atrocities Flowers had committed had cast a shadow that would go on and on throughout eternity, longer than anything Abraham could envision or make.

"Flowers was a legend," Abraham said softly, "and legends just keep going on. People remember legends for the rest of their lives."

Whatever else, he wanted most to get out of Las Vegas. The city was bad luck. Underneath all the plastic and shine was something far more real and deadly, to him, to Grissom, to Flowers, to everyone. The city just wasn't kind to its people - - it ate them up alive. And, as much as he hated to admit it, it wouldn't hurt to get as far away from Grissom and Stokes as possible. No reason to stick around in a place where killers already knew his name and hated it. No reason to stick around with people who might be smart enough to see that even a legend like Flowers had to end eventually. No, he needed to go somewhere where the news of Flowers's death had yet to explode throughout public consciousness - - where people were still open and ready for some tragedy to rock them back on their heels. Somewhere where things hadn't fallen apart yet but were just waiting for someone to give them a good push.

There was a whole world outside of Las Vegas. He let names roll off his tongue - - Paris. London. Boston. Atlanta. New York. Chicago. Big cities that would love his scandal and paint it over paper, scream it over airwaves.

Cities that lived for legends. Cities just waiting for someone to take them in hand.

He tried out the words:

"My name is Matthew Flowers."

He tried to imagine saying those words just as he watched someone's eyes widen in horrified recognition, just as he crushed their skull - - or pulled a knife - - or drew a gun - - or kissed them. He tried to imagine saying them to Elizabeth, if Elizabeth had still been alive, and instead of horrifying him, he reveled in it. All those years he'd spent loving her and never getting a thing out of it . . . but if he had been Flowers, he could have made her love her. God only knew that Flowers had been with Elizabeth more and gone further with her than Abraham ever had.

"My name is Matthew Flowers."

He tried to imagine saying it to Stokes, who might even believe him and wonder if the Flowers he killed hadn't just been a copycat.

"My name is Matthew Flowers."

He giggled and bit down hard on his hand to stifle the noise. Jesus - - couldn't laugh like that in public, a person might think he was crazy. A person might think that he had lost his mind.

When he got out of town, he was going to stop at the nearest flower shop and buy a dozen white roses. No, two dozen. Three. After all, it was going to be a long drive from coast to coast, and he was going to have to have something to do to fill his time.

- - - the end - - -

We're done, can you believe it? I want to thank all of you for sticking with me through thick and thin - - through all the angst and the occasional long absence (sorry!), and most of all, for all your support and readership, when I couldn't have done without it. Now, go read something happy, cheerful, and uplifting - - if you've put up with me this long, you've earned it.