The usual disclaimers apply. This story is part of SMK's Virtual Season Seven--to find more of these awesome stories go to my profile and click on my homepage link--you'll love what you see :)
The Trouble with Ashley
by Jennifer Cannon
Georgetown University, Washington DC
Sunday, October 1, 1989
"Mallory?" Lisa Cantin called out as she knocked on the door. "Look I know you're upset about Jeff going out with Brandi, but this is nuts. Come on out."
No answer. Lisa sighed. "Everyone misses you. It's no fun having a birthday party when the birthday girl isn't there. Mallory!" A guy, holding a beer and none too steady on his feet, gave Lisa a curious look as he passed, probably wondering why she was standing there yelling at a door. Lisa ignored him.
"I'm getting pretty sick of this. Are you coming out or not?" More silence. Lisa took her key out of her pocket.
"Okay you know what?" Lisa put the key in the lock. "I'm coming in anyway—it's my room too, and you're going back to this stupid party even if I have to drag you there—Mallory?"
The room was pitch black, the shades drawn over the windows. The only noise that could be heard was the soft whirring of a fan. Lisa swallowed hard, feeling her heart racing in her chest. This wasn't normal. Even when Mallory went to bed she usually left the television on.
"Mallory?" Lisa reached up with a shaking hand to flip the light switch. The next sight that she saw caused her to gasp, falling to her knees because her shaking legs would no longer support her weight.
"Mallory," Lisa whispered. But there was no reply from her roommate who was sprawled across the bed, and whose now-sightless eyes stared back at her.
Tuesday, October 3, 1989
"Mallory Thomas." Billy handed both Lee and Amanda a file. "Twenty-one years old, a Senior at Georgetown University majoring in Economics. She was found dead in her dorm room by her roommate Lisa Cantin two nights ago."
Lee stared at a photo—a young dark-haired woman with intense blue eyes that stared back at him. "I heard about this on the news. Drug overdose at a party, wasn't it?"
"So the official story goes. However her father has reason to believe that she may have been a victim of foul play."
"Why not go to the police?" Amanda asked.
"Because her father is Federal Judge Samuel Thomas," Billy replied. "He's currently hearing the case of Akbar Quadiri."
"The man who's accused of plotting to blow up the Washington Monument?" Lee said.
Billy nodded. "Three weeks ago he started receiving threats. Notes, strange phone calls—all telling him the same thing—drop the case or we hurt your family. At first he thought it was some crank—high-profile cases tend to attract all kinds crawling out of the woodwork. But then the threats got more specific. Listen to this." Taking a tape out of his pocket, Billy popped it into the recorder and pressed play.
"Such a pretty little daughter you have at Georgetown." The quality was garbled and distorted—the voice almost mechanical. It was difficult to tell whether it belonged to a man or woman. "If you don't dismiss the case or acquit immediately, Mallory might end up having a little accident. Think about it, Judge Thomas." The sound of laughter following the statement sent a chill through Lee. Billy turned off the tape.
"That was left on the Judge's office phone only a week ago," Billy said. "There have also been threats made against his other daughter, Ashley. She's sixteen."
"Wouldn't it be the jury's decision to acquit?" Amanda wondered.
"Ordinarily yes." Billy unwrapped a stick of gum, popping it into his mouth. Lee swallowed hard as a distinct minty odor began to invade the room. He tried to concentrate on Billy's words and ignore the smell. "But Quadiri and his attorney requested a Bench Trial—they feel that any jury would be biased because of the large amount of news coverage concerning this case."
"Oh gee I wonder why," Lee said sarcastically.
"Exactly." Billy nodded again. "So it's our job—or should I say your job—to find out who's making the threats and to protect his other daughter until the end of the trial."
"Oh come on, Billy—that's the job of the Federal Marshal's office," Lee snapped. Bile rose in his throat—he fought hard to keep it down.
"No, it's our job," Billy told him. "Toxicology reports take anywhere from three to six weeks and the Federal Marshal's office refuses to step in unless it can be proven that Mallory Thomas didn't die of an overdose. Apparently she was known at the college for her wild behavior."
"I still don't see how—" Lee started to say. Billy held up his hand.
"Don't bother arguing, Lee. This one comes straight from Dr. Smyth. He and Samuel Thomas were old classmates and he was close to Thomas' late wife—he's also Ashley's Godfather."
"And suddenly it all makes sense," Lee said.
Billy peered at him closely. "Lee is something wrong? You look awfully pale."
"I'm—I'm fine." Lee swallowed hard. "It's just, that gum you're chewing—it—the smell is very strong and—" he couldn't continue his sentence, afraid that if he opened his mouth again he just might—
"It's a new antacid gum. Jeannie bought it at the store yesterday—she wanted me to try it. Has a nice minty flavor. Would you like to try some?"
Unable to speak, Lee shook his head violently.
"Lee?" Amanda's tone was concerned.
Putting his hand over his mouth, Lee ran for the bathroom.
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"I really think you might want to see a doctor about this," Amanda said.
"Amanda I do not need to see a doctor," Lee replied as they came down the stairs. "This is just a stomach flu—that's all it is."
"It's gone on awfully long for the stomach flu, don't you think? And also—" she looked at her husband's mid section, trying to think of a way to put it tactfully.
"And also what?"
"Well most people with the stomach flu seem to lose weight. And you've done the opposite."
Lee stared at her. "Are you implying that I have a weight problem?"
"Not exactly," Amanda said as they got into the elevator. "Just that a slight—weight gain doesn't fit with a stomach flu."
"I'm not the only one who's been throwing up here."
"Well, no." Amanda pressed the button as she looked at her husband. "But I have an excuse."
The elevator doors opened and they walked down the corridor towards the bullpen.
"Billy said that Ashley would be waiting for us in his office," Amanda told him. "Poor girl, she must be so frightened."
"What are we supposed to do?" Lee asked.
"Taking her home would be the easiest thing. Sixteen is awfully young to stay in a safe-house all alone."
"Home?" Lee's tone was incredulous. "Amanda, are you kidding me? We're squeezed for space as it is."
"Well Jamie and Phillip could share and Ashley could take Jamie's room." The doors to the bullpen opened and they entered. "It would only be until we find the one who's making the threats."
"Yeah and Lord only knows how long that would take. We could put her in a safe house with babysitters and 24-hour-round-the-clock protection. She doesn't have to come home with us."
Amanda stopped and turned to face him. "Lee—this is a girl who just lost her sister and is being threatened herself. She's probably scared to death at this point—the last thing she needs is to be left all by herself. What if Phillip and Jamie were in this situation? "
Lee took her hand in his. "You're right," he sighed. "I know you're right. It's just—"
"We can make it work," Amanda said firmly. "You'll see." Lee brought her hand to his lips, kissing it softly.
"Whatever you say, Mrs. Stetson."
"The little lovebirds, eh?" Dr. Smyth walked up to them, a toothpick clamped between his teeth. "How sweet. I hear you're going to be looking after my goddaughter."
"That's right, Sir." Amanda answered.
"That girl is very special to me," Dr. Smyth told them. "Therefore I don't want anything to upset her—is that understood?"
"We'll do our best," Lee said.
"Very good." Dr. Smyth removed the toothpick briefly, his mouth turning up at the corners in a thin-lipped smile. "Toodles."
"You know it's funny, but I never thought of Dr. Smyth as the child type." Amanda watched as the Agency Head exited the bullpen.
"Neither did I. Makes me wonder just how bad this Ashley is."
"I'm only saying, Amanda," Lee began. Amanda silenced him with a look.
Hand in hand they made their way across the bullpen towards Billy's office. Francine was seated at the desk just outside the door.
"Here to pick up the bad seed?" Francine asked.
"The bad what?" Amanda tried her best to ignore the 'I told you so' look from her husband.
Francine pointed towards Billy's door. "She's right in there—and don't say I didn't warn you."
Without another word Amanda pushed open the door to Billy's office. She stood in the doorway for a moment, staring at the sight before her.
The girl was leaning back in Billy's desk chair. A pair of Doc Martens rested on top of a stack of files—her legs covered by a pair of ripped fishnet stockings. That was followed by a short leather skirt, a purple tank top and a matching leather jacket. Ashley Thomas' hair was a white-blond color—Amanda vaguely remembered Phillip talking about a group of girls at school who colored their hair like this—he called them the 'peroxide heads'. The girl's face was almost as pale as the hair itself, but the lipstick and the eye shadow were both dark red. The red lips pursed, and then opened slightly.
"Hiya." Ashley looked from Lee to Amanda. "Are you and this old guy supposed to be watching me?"
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4247 Maplewood Dr.
"We're here." Lee pulled the car into the driveway. "Ashley?" He turned around to see Ashley in the backseat, her head swaying in time to the tune from her Walkman. Lee pulled at one of the earphones and spoke directly into the girl's ear.
"We're here," he spoke a little louder than necessary. Ashley glared at him and turned her Walkman off.
"This is totally bogus," Ashley complained. "I'm not a kid—I don't need to be taken care of."
"Well since you don't have a choice," Lee said, "you might as well make the best of it." They got out of the car. Lee opened the trunk and pulled out two large suitcases.
"What is this dump anyway?" Ashley asked.
"This is our house." Lee could tell that Amanda was fighting to keep hold of her temper. "It's where you'll be staying for the time being." After spending an entire day in this girl's company, Lee knew that his wife's patience must be exhausted. He squeezed Amanda's hand, giving her his support. She smiled at him.
"You've gotta be kidding me," Ashley gripped. "It's too small for one person, let alone three."
"Try six." Lee handed her one of the suitcases. Ashley's eyes widened and she shook her head.
"You've gotta be kidding me," she repeated.
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Once inside, Ashley dropped her suitcase by the front door, her nose wrinkling as she looked around.
"Where am I supposed to sleep in this place?" She asked. "A closet?"
"No," Amanda patiently said. "While you're here you'll be staying in my son Jamie's room."
"I'd rather stay in a safe-house. A nice hotel even— with room service—any place would be better than this poky little house."
"Nevertheless you're staying here," Lee said firmly.
"I'll hate it." Ashley stomped her foot.
"Well that's tough," he told her. Ashley clomped around the family room, looking at photos and picking up various knickknacks.
"These your sons?" She picked up a silver-framed photograph on the table.
"Yes," Amanda said. "The one on the right is Jamie and the other one is Phillip."
Ashley stared at the photo. "Well Jamie's kind of a shrimp, but Phillip is a little bit of a fox. Are they here now?"
"No they're at a friend's house." Amanda took the photo from the girl's hands, putting it back where it belonged.
"Shame." Ashley reached into the pocket of her leather jacket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. Amanda's face reddened, she drew in her breath sharply. Lee was about to say something when another voice broke in.
"Hold it right there, missy. There's no smoking here."
Dotty marched right up to Ashley, snatching both the lighter and the cigarette from the girl's fingers.
"What's it to you, old lady?" Ashley asked her.
"I live here," Dotty said. "And as long as you're staying here you'll follow our rules. One of those rules is no smoking. Do I make myself clear?"
"Geez what are you? A nun or something?"
"No smoking," Dotty repeated, crossing her arms. "Do I make myself clear or not?"
To Lee's complete surprise, Ashley nodded.
"Good." Dotty uncrossed her arms. "Now get your suitcases and go upstairs and unpack. Your room is the first on the right and dinner will be served in an hour. Any more smart remarks and I wash your mouth out with soap." Without another word Ashley grabbed the suitcases. The whole house shook as she climbed the stairs and the door slammed shut.
"Is that the judge's daughter?" Dotty asked looking up the stairs. "Ashley? The one you were telling me about on the phone?"
"That's her," Lee said.
"Well she's not as tough as she thinks she is." Dotty pointed to them. "But if you and Amanda ever have a daughter like that I'll disown you."
4247 Maplewood Dr.
Wednesday, October 4, 1989
Amanda didn't think she'd ever seen anyone eat quite like Ashley Thomas. The girl had piled pancakes with butter and syrup, four pieces of bacon and at least three pieces of toast caked with jelly. Not only that, but she tore into her food as though she hadn't eaten in a year.
"There's no need to rush," she told Ashley.
"Who's rushing? This is the way I always eat. He's eating practically nothing." She pointed her fork at Lee.
"Never mind what I'm eating." Lee took a sip of his coffee. He still looked so pale, Amanda thought. When this was all over she was definitely taking him to the doctor.
"Why not?" Ashley spoke through a mouthful of pancake. "Everyone's sticking their noses into what I eat."
"Probably because you have such bad table manners," Jamie muttered, looking down at his plate.
"Why don't you be quiet, shrimp?" Ashley told him.
"Ashley we do not call people names in this house." Amanda said.
"That's not fair," Ashley's voice rose. "He just said that I had bad—"
"Don't talk with your mouth full, young lady," Dotty said. Ashley sighed and rolled her eyes, turning her attention to Phillip sitting beside her.
"I don't understand how we could've gone to the same high school all this time and missed each other. I'm sure I would've noticed someone like you."
"Well we're probably in different classes." Phillip didn't meet her gaze. He stood. "I have to go, Mom. I promised Linda I'd meet her in the library before class."
Jamie stood, his face red, not looking at Ashley. "Yeah I have to go to."
"Have a good day, fellas," Amanda said. "I love you."
"We love you too, Mom," Phillip said. "Bye Lee."
"Bye Grandma." Jamie waved.
"Have a good day," Dotty called out before the door closed.
"Well I'm full." Ashley pushed her plate in front of Lee. "Sure you don't want the rest?"
Lee swallowed. This time his face wasn't just pale, Amanda realized. It was distinctly green. "Yeah I'm sure I don't—please excuse me." He pushed his chair away from the table and ran upstairs.
"That stomach flu of his isn't getting any better," Dotty told Amanda. "You should get that checked on."
"I plan to, Mother."
"In the meantime I need someone to help me with the breakfast dishes." Dotty rose from the breakfast table and shot Ashley a pointed glance. "Since you're not going to school today, I'm sure you wouldn't mind giving me a hand, would you?"
"But I'm tired."
"If you have enough energy to eat all that I'm sure you have enough energy to clean," Dotty said. "Let's get moving, shall we?"
Ashley rolled her eyes. "Whatever."
"I think Ashley's met her match in your mother," Lee said.
"If I didn't know better I'd almost think Mother was enjoying herself," Amanda said. "Who are we meeting here?"
"Lisa Cantin—she was Mallory's roommate," Lee said as they walked up the steps of Goldsby Hall. "According to all reports she was the last person to see Mallory alive."
"Think she knows something?"
"It's a possibility. Campus security is tight—you're supposed to have a student pass to get on the grounds and a card key to enter any of the residence halls. And yet someone was able to get on the grounds and murder Mallory."
"Someone from the University could be working for Quadiri?"
"It's not as far-fetched as it sounds," Lee said. "A man like Quadiri might have accomplices everywhere—not to mention sleeper agents waiting to be activated at any time."
Lisa Cantin sat at a table in the Commons area. Her dark hair, the same color as her tracksuit, was pulled back into a ponytail. The face that looked up at them was pale and puffy, eyes bloodshot. They showed her their identification.
"I'd be happy to talk to you." Lisa smiled faintly. "Sorry I look such a mess—I haven't been sleeping too well lately."
"We understand," Amanda said. "It must've been quite a shock for you."
Lisa nodded. "I never thought anything like that would happen. People our age—we're not supposed to die, you know? Certainly not people like Mallory."
"Were you two close?" Lee asked. The smell of the food they served in the commons made him feel just slightly ill. Not as queasy as he'd felt in the Q-Bureau yesterday, but still pretty bad. He watched as a kid at a nearby table took a nacho dripping with cheese and put it into his mouth, excess cheese dripping onto the table. Lee swallowed hard and turned away.
"Very. That's why I'd like to help catch the creep who did this to her."
"You don't think it was accidental?" Amanda asked. "The police think she died of a drug overdose."
"Yeah well the police are full of it," Lisa said.
"Can you tell us what happened that night?" Lee asked her.
"Of course. It was her birthday—we held a party for her. She didn't really seem like she was in the mood, but she went along with it anyway."
"Did anything happen at the party?" Amanda asked.
"Her ex-boyfriend Jeff came. He was always such a jerk, you know? And I thought Mallory was over him, but when she saw him with his new girlfriend I guess she really freaked out. Anyway, she must have had a drink or two after that because she started stumbling around and slurring her words." Tears welled up in Lisa's eyes. "When she went back to the dorm room I thought she was just going to sleep it off or grab some coffee. If I'd known—" Her voice broke off in a half-sob. Amanda reached over and patted the younger woman's hand.
"You're sure no drugs were involved?" Lee asked.
Lisa's eyes blazed. "Of course I'm sure. Mallory had a rep for a lot of things, but she didn't do drugs. She worked out every day at that gym, you know, California Bodies? She even took these special vitamin supplements they gave her."
"Vitamin supplements?" Lee and Amanda exchanged glances. "Do you know where they'd be now?"
Lisa shrugged. "The police, probably. They came here with boxes and took everything away—said it was evidence. You will find whoever did this, right? Make them pay?" Tears glistened in Lisa's dark eyes. Amanda touched the girl's shoulder.
"Don't you worry," she said reassuring her.
California Bodies Fitness Center
"Hello, I'm Tony Bryson." The man extended his hand first to Lee, and then to Amanda. His arms and chest were tanned and very muscular—the tank top he wore clung to his skin so tightly it looked as though it might rip open if he tried to move too much. "I was Mallory's personal trainer and I'm also an old family friend—we're all very sorry to hear of her passing."
"We just have a few questions, Mr. Bryson," Lee said.
"Well I'll answer anything I can. But I really don't see what good it'll do. They said on the news that she died of a drug overdose."
"Her roommate tells us that Mallory worked out at this gym on a daily basis," Amanda said. "Does that sound like a person who would take drugs?"
"Kids these days—who knows?" Tony ran one hand through his reddish-blond crew-cut. "I didn't think she was into that scene, but maybe she OD'ed on her first try—they say that can happen. I really don't see how I can help you."
Lee pulled the bottle out of his pocket. "The roommate also says that she took these supplements daily," he handed it to Tony. "According to her the gym provided them."
Tony shook his head vigorously. "Whoever said that was mistaken. Mallory never got those from us—we don't provide supplements of any kind."
"Do you know where she might have gotten them?" Amanda asked him.
"Health food store, probably." Tony shrugged. "I don't agree with supplements or drugs—of any kind." Lee noticed the man suddenly glance behind him—almost as if he were afraid that someone might be watching them.
"I really think you should go," Tony said. "Please. I've helped you all I can—just leave."
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"He seem nervous to you?" Lee asked as they left the gym and climbed into the 'Vette.
"Very," Amanda said. "I'd say he's definitely hiding something."
"Great minds think alike, Mrs. Stetson."
Amanda climbed into the passenger seat and fastened her belt. "So what's our next move?"
Lee shook the bottle of pills. "The agency lab. To find out just what exactly is in these 'special supplements.' The sooner we figure this case out, the sooner we can get Ashley home."
"Great minds really do think alike, Mr. Stetson."
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"I didn't tell them anything, Mr. Tambouri." Tony stood with his boss, watching as the Corvette pulled away from the curb.
"No," Mr. Tambouri, murmured, his thin fingers steepling together. "I didn't think you would."
"They won't trace those pills back to us, will they?"
Mr. Tambouri laughed softly. "The analysis will prove nothing—they'll end up with more questions than answers."
"It shouldn't have happened this way."
"No, Tony, it shouldn't have."
"So what happens next, Mr. Tambouri?"
"Now we move to Plan B," Mr. Tambouri said. "In the meanwhile we have a loose end that needs taking care of. You know what needs to be done."
"You can count on me."